Getting carried away with back story… that’s OK right?

So the DM of my new D&D campaign decided to allow us all to up the level of our characters to second instead of being first… so of course that meant I had to write a BUNCH more story to justify how he’d gotten that level… right?  Right?  Yeah… I was stuck at a spot in Post Mortem anyway so…

~~~~~~

It had been a long and boring day for Fermin.  Although he was one of the least reputable moneylenders in the city he hadn’t needed to crack one single skull yet and and that always put him in a bad mood.  His hired toughs slumped in their chairs behind the silk curtains that hid their presence.  Even though this was a disreputable place, there was money here to be sure and many of his clients were wealthy even if they weren’t noble.

The bell rang and he sat up straighter, lighting a cigar that was laced with Kreenweed that supposedly sharpened his mind, although he wasn’t sure if that was true or not.  At first he didn’t see the client, but then he looked down and saw a young halfling coming up the four stairs to where his desk was.

“Four stairs.  Lucky number!”  The youngster said cheerily and proceeded to climb on a chair.  He set his pack down and sat on top of it, affording him a much better vantage to see across the desk.

“What may I do for you today sir?”  Fermin said smoothly, stroking his moustache.

“Ha!  Those other guys said you were a crook, but they all called me Little Master’ as though I was a child from a noble house instead of a halfling!  Of course I am from a noble house but that’s beside the point.”

Fermin looked him over with a practiced eye.  No jewelry, although his ears were pierced.  Short curly hair that looked as though it had recently grown in from being shaved bald.  A lute that likely cost as much as a horse, if the instrument inside matched the fine quality of the case.  Very fine silk robes, much too fine for a peasant… but he was carrying a traveling pack with rope and a bedroll.  The last piece that didn’t fit were his hands.  They were rough, callused and showed signs of broken knuckles.

“Well of course sir, I am the most talented and least discriminating of all my associates.”  He said, tapping the ash from his cigar, “I would be pleased if I could render some assistance to a halfling man from a noble house.”

“Great!  Ok, so here’s this thing I found.  Can you tell me what it is?”  He stood on his bag and pulled a roll of parchment from a belt pouch.  It was tied with a piece of silk ribbon that smelled like perfume.

Fermin took the thing gingerly, it was high quality vellum and cut at a very precise size with perfectly square corners.  Untying the ribbon, he rolled it out on the table.  It was a receipt of deposit from the Grimmvault Repository written in a very obscure dialect of Banker’s Shorthand that entitled the bearer to remove “Any and all items stored upon remittance of the storage fee.”

Nobody stored anything mundane or inexpensive at Grimmvault.  Of course, their storage fees were usually exorbitant and not listed on the receipts; to do so would be considered most uncouth.  If you had to ask, you couldn’t afford it.

“I’m not used to being unable to read things, especially things that look like they should be written in Common but this looks all funny.  Like it’s a little … I dunno, but I think this is a bank right?”  The halfling pointed to the top right corner of the page where the Grimmvault logo was clearly emblazoned.

“Ah, this is merely a piece of discarded garbage from a bank ledger.”  Fermin said, “I can dispose of it for you if you’d like.”  He stroked his moustaches again and made as if to toss the vellum into a garbage recepticle next to his desk.

“Oh no, that’s OK.”  The parchment seemed to evaporate from his fingers, re-appearing in the Halfling’s.  The little man carefully wrapped it up and tied it again.  “What bank is it from?  I really want to learn this writing for some reason.  It almost looks like it moves…”

“Really, there’s no reason for you to keep such a thing.”  Fermin insisted, reaching for the parchment again, “If they know you have a sample of their code they might cause trouble for you, especially if they learned you were trying to translate it.  Grimmvault is very particular about their cypher.”

“Oooo, Grimmvault?  That doesn’t sound like a very cheery place.”  He tucked the parchment back into his belt just ahead of Fermin’s reaching fingers, idly slapping the man’s hand away as though by reflex and not even seeming to notice he was doing it.  “Not that banks are usually all that cheerful really…”

A mild commotion began to sound outside the shop, but Fermin ignored it.  He had to have that deposit slip, if he could scrape together the finances to make the trip and pay for the storage fee the odds of this being a real find were just too good to pass up.

“Is the weather still sunny outside?”  He asked, the code words alerting the men hiding in the silk covered alcoves that he intended to kill the client and take the goods.

“Sunny?”  The halfling looked at him sideways.  “How long has it been since you went outside?  It’s been overcast for like a week.”

The sounds of scuffle outside the shop were muffled as the door was firmly closed and latched.  The halfling looked around confused, “Why’re you shutting the door?  Won’t it get stuffy in here with all those drapes and all those guys sitting in those little rooms?  Blech, stinking human breath!”

He waved a hand in front of his nose and took a smallish gourd from the row of gourds strapped like a bandolier across the front of his chest.  Popping the cork off, he took a big drink and belched a cloud of foul alcohol fumes across the desk.

“Sorry little master, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to take that piece of vellum from you.”  The four men stood and stepped from their alcoves, each holding a wicked cudgel and Fermin took the crossbow from its holster beneath the desk.

“Oops!”  The halfling had dropped his gourd and suddenly bent nearly double to catch it.  The bolt from Fermin’s crossbow took one of his guards in the eye.

“Careful, thosh thingsh are dangeroush.”  His speech was slurring, “Well thanksh for the help mishter.”  He jumped from the chair and stumbled backward momentarily as he struggled with his pack.  One of the guards broke his club over the edge of the table where he’d been standing just a moment before.

“Shorry, you broke your shtick.”  The halfling bent to pick up the piece of club and swung awkwardly around apparently to offer it to the man but ended up catching him between the legs.  The man grunted in pain and stumbled into another man who was running to help.  They went down in a tangle and ended up in a motionless heap at the bottom of the stairs.

The last guard approached cautiously, but the moment he came close enough to attack, the halfling jumped into the air, bringing the heel of his foot down on the hand holding the cudgel, making the man drop it and then smashing his first thumb joint into his eye in a brutally efficient strike that made the sickening crunch of breaking bone reverberate in the room.  The halfling landed slightly unsteadily on his feet with a mildly astonished look on his small face.

By this time, Fermin had reloaded his crossbow and held it carefully, watching the slowly swaying halfling.  He looked at his fallen guards and then at the small person in front of him.  He had his fingers twisted in a manner that made the finger and thumb joints point out at awkward angles, but Fermin could see that each of those jutting knuckles had hardened ridges of bone.  It was ridiculous, but Fermin felt… afraid of him.

“Shorry fellash, I sheem to have made a mesh of thingsh.”  He rubbed his eyes with the back of his hand, “Ooohhh… I think I drank the wrong shtuff.  That washn’t water…”  He fell heavily on his back, overbalanced by the pack and began to snore loud enough to make the ashtray rattle on Fermin’s desk.

Fermin walked carefully around the desk, keeping the crossbow trained on the snoring halfling.  He had gotten close enough to cautiously nudge him with the toe of his boot when the door slammed open, revealing the bruised and bloodied form of a raging half orc carrying a wicked looking sword.

“BAHN YOU LITTLE BASTARD!!!”  He bellowed, literally foaming at the mouth.  “I HAVE YOU LIVER ON ROASTING SPIT!”

Fermin looked up at the interruption, his crossbow following his eyes unconsciously.  “There’s no Bahn here.  My name is Fermin and I deal in … information, among other things.  I’d be happy to assist you in finding this Bahn character.”

“I don’t need help! HE RIGHT THERE!”  The enraged half orc pointed his bloody sword at the comatose halfling.

“He has something of mine which I will confiscate and then you’re welcome to him.” Fermin said, reaching for the belt pouch.

“HANDS OFF!” The half orc yelled, advancing up the stairs, “Whatever he got MINE!”

At the sound of this less than melodious tirade, Bahn rolled over abruptly his bag swinging to strike the surprised Fermin in the knees.  The man’s finger tightened on the trigger of his crossbow reflexively and the bolt struck the raging barbarian in the chest.

“Wha?”  Bahn mumbled, staggering to his feet as Fermin drew a wickedly sharp short sword from his belt and prepared to defend himself.  “Burn my bacon, how does he keep finding me?”  He rolled under Fermin’s desk and discovered a cleverly hidden bolt hole.  By the time they noticed he’d gone, it was too late.

Bahn emerged from the small tunnel in a back alley a block away.  After a brief pause to orient himself, he trotted down the street toward the city gates, making sure to keep to alleys and less traveled streets.  The sound of an angry crowd reached his ears and, as always, curiosity overrode good sense.

“I’m no demon you insolent mortals!”  A ringing bass voice carried easily to Bahn’s ears, “I have noble blood in my veins!”

He peered around the corner and saw a demon shouting at a crowd of people carrying makeshift weapons.  They all had fearful, angry looks on their faces.  Bahn took a gourd from his bandolier and sniffed it carefully this time to make sure it wasn’t the flamewater the monks had told him never to drink.  This gourd was the only one of the ten that held normal water.

The demon… probably was one of those ‘Tiffler Things’ he’d heard so much about.  They supposedly had one parent from somewhere else, like Hell or something, and this one sure looked the part.  His curling black horns looked for all the world like they had come straight from a stage set and the ruddy red color of his skin made him look even more unsettling, especially when coupled with the tail that twitched like an agitated cat’s from underneath his cloak.

Looking around the alley, Bahn saw an advertisement for a traveling show plastered to the back door of a tavern.  Inspired, he pulled the devil mask he had worn in one of the silly performances at the monastery from his pack and put it on.  Pulling his cloak over his head, he shoved a bent stick through his belt in the approximation of a tail and pulled his lute from its case.  Strumming a dramatic tune, he twirled and strode between the mob and their target.

The all gasped and drew back.  Cries of “An Imp!” and “He has summoned allies!” Rippled through them, but then Bahn threw back his cloak and removed his false tail.  He took a bow and pulled the mask from his face.

“Well done my friend!”  He said to the … demon.  “You have done a wonderful job of promoting the show, but now we must return to the wagons and rest before it is time to perform!”  He flourished the parchment toward the leading person in the mob.

“That’s… makeup?”  The man asked, snatching the paper from Bahn’s hand.

“Of course, what do you think, that he’s really a demon from the abyss who must be burned at the stake for his evil deeds against the” here he paused to imitate the … demon’s rolling bass voice “FOOLISH MORTALS!?” And then broke into a fit of laughter.

The mob began to shift uneasily and the … demon had the good sense to laugh along with them although his eyes still flashed with unsettling anger.  He pulled his hood up to hide the distasteful sneer on his face.

“Come my friend, we must inform the boss about our successful promotion.  Uh, half off if you present that playbill at the show tonight!”  Bahn said, half reaching for the … demon’s arm before changing the motion into a gesture and striding down the alley away from the mob.  He turned a corner and then broke into a run, the … demon following.

He heard the telltale sounds of a tavern and ducked through the back door into the invitingly dark interior, the … demon right on his heels.  Bahn chose a corner table and when they sat, the torch above his companion sputtered and died out, leaving him obscured by dark shadows.

A barmaid approached and for once, Bahn just paid her instead of attempting to play for ale and a meal.  He even paid for his companion, even if only so he wouldn’t have to take the chance of him revealing those huge horns.  When she had gone, hips swaying saucily, he turned to his new … demon.

“So, you’re one of those Tiffler Things right?”  He said brightly.

“My name is Mordai Creed.  I am the First Son of the Creed Family.  I am a Tiefling, the noble blood of dragons and demons runs in my veins.”  Mordai said, “Although I could have handled those … mortals back there I appreciate not having to kill them.”

“Yeah.” Bahn said, “It’s usually better not to have to kill people cause then the mobs get bigger and they have torches and stuff.  I’m Bahn Thistlefingers, you may have heard of my family.  We are of a noble bloodline too.”

Mordai laughed, a rumbling sound much like a growl, “Noble halflings?  Now I have heard every story there is.”

Bahn sighed, “Why does everyone always laugh?  Oh well, it doesn’t bother me, I’m used to it.  You could learn a lesson from that I think, all these humans are rude generally.  You need to be able to ignore it because there’s so darn many of them.  Usually if they insult you they do it out of ignorance, not because they’re mean.”

The barmaid returned with drinks and food and Bahn set to with a will.  He was ravenous after his afternoon’s exertion.  “But the mean ones are easy enough to deal with.”  He said through a mouthful of roast beef and thick hearty bread.  “Ya just trick ‘em and run!”

“I do not run from a fight.”  Mordai said in a haughty tone of voice.

“Uh.  Sure.  Sure you don’t.”  Bahn said, not trying to hide his amusement.  He took a drink of his ale, “Look, when there’s a dozen there’s no dishonor or whatever in running.  They’re the dishonorable ones for coming at you in such numbers!”

Mordai considered this for a moment, “You have more wisdom than I gave you credit for Bahn Thistlefingers.”

“I think that’s what the masters really meant when they called me a smartass.” Bahn said, licking the gravy off his fingers.

The rumble of Moradai’s laugh sounded again.  This halfling was an amusing sort, he hadn’t felt this relaxed in days.  He realized Bahn was still speaking.

“…anyway, I figure we should travel together right?  I mean you with your demon powers or whatever and your awesome horns and stuff and me with all my talents I figure we could be good traveling companions.”  He gave Mordai a big grin, only slightly spoiled by the piece of beef stuck between his teeth.

“Sure.  Why not?”  He could always ditch the halfling if he needed to, and besides… he swore he’d seen that face in a dream and his dreams had been so dark lately.  “Where did you say you were headed?”

“I was thinking Greening.”  Bahn said.  Mordai couldn’t have been more surprised if the halfling had said he was traveling to his home city.  That was the place he’d been feeling drawn toward.  The place that filled his dreams with swirling darkness, the screams of the dying and the scent of brimstone.  It must be fate, and only a fool fought against his fate.

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Post Mortem Chapter 11

The sun was setting, showing angry and red from the smoke of the fires still burning throughout the city.  Ciudad Obregón must have been beautiful once, but now it was painted from the palate of war.  It was about to get worse.

“Renyovalia?”  Cor’s voice intruded on my thoughts. “What exactly the FUCK are you doing?  We’ve been waiting here for you to tell us what was going on, the city is completely overrun with Broken, shit’s burning everywhere and … you seem … you seem dead.”  His voice dropped to a whisper, “I thought you were gone.”

“I’m not gone yet.”  I replied, “I’m just doing what needs to be done.  But you and Miranda are supposed to be miles away.”

“You sound dead.”  He said, ignoring the orders I’d given.  “What happened to you?  Are you … all right?”

“I’m fine.  You all should get out of here before midnight.”  I wasn’t sure why I cared, but for some reason I felt as though my Spawn should survive.

“My Sire, I want to help.  What is happening?” He sounded afraid.

“I’m going to send them all to the Final Death Cor.  They have earned this end.”  I said, “They will pay for what they’ve done and I will mete out justice as I see fit.” I could feel him shiver.

The lines of my Power were extended throughout Cuidad Obregon like invisible wisps of mist.  They wrapped around the buildings, swirled between the legs of the Broken that were milling aimlessly in the streets and threading through the flames and smoke.  I was nearly ready… just a little more.

“Here’s the last one I could find.”  I brought my eyes back into focus and saw Donchivo standing in front of me.  He threw a mewling human boy on the ground in front of me.  The boy looked up at me, his eyes glassy with fear.

“Please.” He whispered in terrified Spanish, “Don’t kill me.”

I grabbed him by the shirt and pulled his neck to my mouth.  With my heightened sense of awareness due to the sheer amount of blood I had consumed in the last few hours I could feel the red blood cells trembling in his veins.  I could also feel the archo-scientific trap waiting for me there.  I cursed under my breath; it was a trap.  Perhaps I could use that hidden trap for my own selfish vendetta, after all before it had made my power too strong to control and that’s what I wanted this time.

“Sorry.” I said, not even hesitating before biting his neck drinking deeply and allowing the tainted garbage that my former friend had designed to infect my Gift.

The stage was set, the players were falling into place and I was ready.  I could feel the Power growing inside me, flaring hotter with every breath.

“What are you doing?”  I turned and saw Miranda coming up the top of the stairs to the rooftop.  Although the sun had set I was glowing like a tiny sun.

“I told you to go away.”  I said, my voice sounding flat and far away in my ears.  “You came anyway and now you will pay for it with your life.  After all I did to keep you alive, what a waste.”

“But why are you-” She began, before the door slammed open behind her and Donchivo stormed onto the roof.

“You LIED to me!”  He raged, every vein in his body glowed bright purple and tendrils of Power snaked through the air around him.

“You knew better, or you should have.”  I said, “I told you I was going to kill you all even if you decided not to listen.”

“It doesn’t have to be like this.”  Miranda said, “You don’t have to do this.”

“Yes.  I do.” I looked into her eyes and she recoiled from whatever she saw there. The torrent of power inside me writhed and thrashed like a living thing.  Miranda backed away further, her face distorting slightly in pain.  “This will end in a blaze of power, in a flash of light.  It’s a better end than they deserve but I am in a generous mood.”

“You will not take ME!” Donchivo advanced on us, but as he drew near, the light froze his questing tendrils of Power and they shattered into glittering fragments.  I could see steam rising from his body and Miranda’s breath misted in the air.

I hesitated, this wasn’t how it was supposed to work.  Something was wrong with my Gift.  Fear skittered across the blank surface of my emotions, but I couldn’t stop the Power now.  The air chilled further, ice crystals formed on Miranda’s skin as she turned to run.  A wave of absolute cold rolled from me in all directions like an arctic tsunami and I stood in the center of a frozen wasteland.  I had never experienced such silence and stillness.  At last I had found peace.

Then my Gift snapped back to normal and the peace was destroyed in a flash of pure Destruction.  Everything in a mile radius flashed to a negative image of itself for a fleeting moment before vanishing without a trace.  I knew I was drained, I knew that in spite of the dozens of humans I’d eaten in preparation that I would likely be easy prey for anyone or anything that came along, but I was beyond caring.

I sank down to the completely smooth perfect surface left behind by the Destruction of my Gift and sat in the Lotus position.  Here I would wait until the sun rose.  Here I would welcome the Final Death.

I had been sitting for nearly an hour when a sharp pain struck the back of my neck and I felt myself slumping sideways.  The soft report of the rifle reached my ears a heartbeat later.  It was an impossible shot; after all for the impact and the shot to have been so separated the shooter must have been a mile or more away.

As consciousness gradually dwindled I felt a tear leak from the corner of my left eye I heard the sound of an approaching helicopter.  No rest for the wicked I supposed.  In that case it was fitting that I was immortal.

The Callindra Chronicles Chapter 10

Callindra was hauling water. She had gotten into the habit of filling the cistern early in the morning, that way it was full and she wouldn’t have to do it after a hard day of training. She paused, looking at her reflection. A much different person than she remembered stared back at her. Face with hard lines and more than a few scars. Hair that had been cut for function, short and uneven, causing it to stick out at strange angles. She smiled, wondering if any at the Keep would even recognize her.

Something wasn’t quite right, she could sense it as she was coming close to the edge of the forest. Setting the yoke down as quietly as she could, Callindra drew her sword and slunk towards the house on the balls of her feet. Peering through the leaves. She could see a tall, broad man leaving the house. He looked familiar. She had seen him in a vision, but he had been holding a hammer and standing in front of a forge.

As the man left Glarian bowed low from the waist, saying something unintelligible from this distance. The man laughed loud enough for her to hear, then seemed to fold in half, sliding sideways into nothing. When he vanished, a cloud of fireflies seemed to erupt from the spot where he disappeared from.

Forgetting about the water, she ran towards the house with her sword still in hand. Glarian looked her direction long before she was visible at the edge of the tree line and patiently waited for her to arrive.

“Who was that Master?” She asked, out of breath.

“I have told you that rash action will lead to your undoing Callindra. If you ran thus to a swordfight you would find your opponent’s blade sheathed in your guts! I will thank you however, for pointing out that I must add some additional endurance training to your daily regimen.”

Callindra calmed her breathing and waited for him to answer her question; barely refraining from grinding her teeth. She swore the old bastard winked at her.

“Good. So you can be patient when it is required. That was an old friend of mine who owed me a favor.”

“Why would a smith owe you favors?” She smiled, he hadn’t been expecting that.

Glarian raised an eyebrow, “Very perceptive apprentice, his name is Belach. He is the finest smith in the known realms.”

“He was making something for you, what was it?” Both his eyes widened sharply and a smile played at the corners of his mouth.

“Do you know what day it is today?” She shook her head, “Today is the anniversary of you becoming my disciple. I thought I’d get you a little present to celebrate.”

Callindra followed him inside the house, what could he mean? On the table there was a bundle wrapped in soft suede. She looked up at him and he nodded. The leather revealed the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. The blade was a full pace long, gently curved with a single edge that looked sharp enough to slice the wind.

Her hands trembled as she picked it up. The hilt was long enough for both her hands although the blade felt balanced for one handed use. The guard swept back over half the hilt on the edge side and swept up over the back of the blade on the other, making a neat mirror image. Although it looked like it might get in the way, Callindra found it was perfect.

“You’re serious? This is for me?” For once she didn’t care about the tremor in her voice or the tears that leaked from the corners of her eyes, “He’s so beautiful.”

Glarian nodded, “Just make sure you take care of him. From this day forward he is the last blade you will wield. As I said, Belach is the finest smith I have ever met and I had him forge this blade specifically for you. He claims the metal came from a fallen star and I see no reason to question him. It’s flexible enough to withstand your power while still being light enough for you to wield.”

Reaching over his shoulder he drew his long straight blade and cradled it tenderly in his weathered hands, “This is Sakar. She is my bonded blade and has carried my honor in more battles than I care to recall. The thing that sets us apart from mere swordfighters is this bond; we choose to limit our study of swordplay only to one unique weapon and that gives us power that they shall never experience. Instead of begging a God for favors like members of Holy Orders or simply relying on our minds to manage the Weave like Mages do we are able to truly harness the power that changes the world.

“For you and I, the element of air is strongest, although I have found other para-elements that respond favorably also. Take care though, if you lose or break this sword, you will lose your power and likely break your spirit.”

“All those weapons…” Callindra’s voice trailed off. There must be two score broken swords, whips, axes and daggers hanging on the wall in the other room. “You took that from all those challengers?”

“Yes.” He watched her intently over the bowl of his pipe, “But I spared their lives. They may fight on and find another way to channel their power or they may give up and live mundane lives. You are the first person I have encountered who has such an affinity with the weave that it forces itself upon you.” His voice fell almost below her hearing, “None as misfortunate as you.”

“I swear this to you now Master Sol’Estin. I shall master both swordplay and blademagic!” Her eyes glowed with imagination, “With you as my instructor and this sword in my hands there is absolutely no way I can fail.”

She felt the winds swirl around her, catching the ragged ends of her hair and making the edge of her shirt ruffle. With a flourish she kissed the flat of the blade as she had read of in a book titled The Swordsman’s Creed and after a sudden gust that blew dust into a swirling cone in the corner the breezes that had teased her for days dissipated. Once they quieted, she realized just how continuous their presence had been and their absence was most disconcerting.

“Now that you have accepted your abilities and chosen your sword, you have the ability to actually accomplish that goal.” He smiled, “I will hold you to that promise Callindra.”

She had the distinct feeling that he had training in mind that would make the training she thought of as intense and rigorous seem as a stroll through the meadow on a summer afternoon.

As Glarian deftly parried a clever strike incorporated into a tight series of feints Callindra called “Oak Leaf Falls” he had to admit she was getting good. He disapproved of her habit of adding unnecessary actions to attacks, but it did add a personal touch to her style and she was now finally able to do it smoothly without causing her to fumble her weapon like it had in the past. “Well done, that’s enough shoulder strikes, let’s do some work on your parry/riposte patterns.” He was taken aback at the sudden wolfish grin on her face.

“I have been working on something; let’s see if I can pull it off.” He moved in swiftly to attack using the first Stance which instead of parrying she smoothly sidestepped, sword moving in a shining arc that would have disemboweled him had the edge and tip not been covered with blunting. At the last second she missed her footing and nearly fell when her left leg buckled under the unforeseen pressure. In spite of the mistake she still looked at him proudly and he realized that this was the first time she had ever scored a hit on him… even when they were practicing the basic Stances.

“Very good Callindra, how did you think of using that type of strike?”

“I’ve been reading The Dance of Blades by Klaret Teria. He wrote of a legendary skill he called Atonement that he described as ‘Showing the opponent the price of Failure.’ The idea being to wait until your foe makes a mistake and take advantage of it. I’m not sure if I could do it against an opponent whose moves I didn’t have memorized or not though. It would be much more difficult but I want to keep practicing it!”

“I can help you but you must be careful. The skill is also called a counter-strike and although it is not well known these days I had nearly mastered it before I left The Order. Keep in mind it was a counter-strike that ended the life of Klaret; never underestimate your opponent’s abilities.”

Glarian’s belief that training this girl was his destiny was only strengthened. She had managed to figure out the rudiments of how to counter without any formal instruction… a skill that he himself was one of the few custodians of. It had to be the Fates taking a hand; things were in motion in the world that could not be stopped.

He was having to push Callindra harder than he would like but without finishing her training she would be unable to defend herself. To his surprise and relief she seemed to be rising to the challenge, even going as far as to assign herself extra training when she thought he wasn’t looking.

Glarian knew The Order wasn’t going to keep taking the information Thaeran was feeding them forever. Even if they knew him to be a bit on the slow side there was no way that he’d bought more than a few months’ time.

The Inquisitors who would be sent next would be much less tolerant, much better trained and far more difficult to deceive. He would likely be reduced to killing them and with the storm he felt was brewing far on the horizon not one single life could be needlessly expended. Misguided and arrogant though The Order might be they could not help but oppose the chaos and destruction he knew was coming.

“Excellent work Callindra. One more set and we shall have our afternoon run.” Glarian had taken to running with her; he needed to increase his endurance as well. After all, the coming storm cared not if those it raged over

were young or old. All would be consumed in its path if all did not stand in its way.

This time show me what you know of this counter-strike. I want to study and master it as well.” She smiled, an expression that lit her face like a sunrise. “Every time I think I’ve learned something you show me how to take it one step further.

Glarian wasn’t sure how to respond, so he took refuge in what he knew. “Get a drink of water apprentice. We leave as soon as you’re ready.”

As they ran Glarian began drilling her on the finer points of swordplay, “What is the optimal striking edge?

“The last three inches towards the tip, moving to the last half inch as the strike completes.”

“Why do you make the cut more shallow the further you slice.”

To prevent the blade from getting stuck. So you can follow up with another if needed or guard against a counter.” She replied without even having to think.

“What is the proper counter for the Sixth Strike?”

“The Tenth Strike, or step in far enough that the swing is ruined.” She said.

They had reached the stream and she leaped from rock to rock, crossing ahead of him. If he hadn’t known better he would swear she was keeping her footing by magic. Well at least he didn’t have to worry about that leg anymore; although the bone wasn’t exactly straight it didn’t look like it was giving her any trouble.

He considered her answer to his last question as he crossed behind her, imagining what would occur if one stepped inside the wide, gut-level slash of the Sixth. If you were quick enough it just might work, but if you weren’t it would be a death sentence.

“I wouldn’t try gliding in on most opponents. A larger blade is going to give you more ground to cover and a smaller one will be moving swiftly. If you weren’t fast enough you’d likely be sheared in half.” He said.

Callindra glanced over her shoulder and gave him an impish grin, “That’s why I would wait until the attack had begun and then leap over the blade, coming down in the wake of the strike and bringing my sword down on my opponent’s outstretched arms!” She jumped over a low-hanging branch that blocked the trail, drawing her sword and spinning to neatly slice it off less than an inch from the trunk.

“Impressive, I will admit that much. Those kinds of antics will get you killed on a battlefield though. Save the flashy tripe for exhibitions or for when you need to scare off a crowd of untrained ruffians in a town square. Although I wouldn’t recommend killing in a town; constables tend to frown on unexplained bodies.” Glarian tried to frown sternly but luckily she was already turning to continue running down the trail, smoothly sheathing the sword over her shoulder and missed his failed attempt at strictness.

“Everyone will know who I am one day Master. They will have heard of Callindra, the greatest swordswoman who ever put hand to hilt!” Her voice rang with excitement and she gave him a beaming smile over her shoulder.

“I hope that is not the case apprentice, for if you have notoriety then you always have to face down idiots who think they know how to swing a sword. If you want my advice, simply be content with knowing your own skill, use it when you must and maintain a modest demeanor whenever possible.”

“Easy for you to say Old Man!” Her temper flared and he could see the Weave pulling breezes about her body in response. She really was quite odd. “You carry two paces of steel and swing it around like it’s a twig! I’m just a slip of a girl who could be mistaken for a slightly feminine boy, for me a modest demeanor means letting others walk all over me. Or worse.”

“Nay, most who see a man with a sword this size believe he has something to prove. Many of them decide they want to find out what. Being a man makes it difficult to be unobtrusive and carrying a blade this large makes it impossible. Often, a polite and civil bearing is your greatest weapon when upholding the First Oath.”

“Battle shall always be my last resort.” She dutifully repeated.

“My honor belongs to those weaker than myself.” He stated the Second Oath.

“The edge of my sword stands against the Unlawful.” She continued.

“Always seek peace, equilibrium in the world mirroring the balance of my blade.” Glarian said.

“The wind blows impartially on sea and wildfire, on forest and mountain, bringing the seasons to pass. I am as the wind.” They said together, then Glarian continued alone, “And The North Wind names me Master.”

They ran for a time in silence, Glarian pleased to see that she was not fighting for breath even after speaking the Four Oaths and Benediction of the Wind. She was beginning to increase the capacity of her lungs, something she would rely on heavily in a fight.

When she ran into a small clearing ahead of him, he shouted, “Defend yourself!” and drew Sakar, launching a vicious attack.

Callindra spun, drawing her sword, barely able to parry in time. With a smile of pure enjoyment, she threw everything she had into the fight. As they sparred, Glarian began to notice small bursts of Weave being channeled through her body to erupt from her sword. With a series of tightly controlled swings he managed, with difficulty, to

ground her blade and knock her off balance by slamming his shoulder into hers.

“Well fought Callindra, now back to the house double time.” He said, sweeping Sakar back into her sheath and running at a much faster pace back the way they had come.

Soon she would need to leave, to make herself anew, to forge a union with her sword and give him a name. Her power grew every day and unless she managed to Bond her blade it would consume her. He had seen a Blademage who had been unable to bond a weapon once before. The unfortunate man was forced to performing the Second Korumn more and more often in order to relieve the pressure of building power inside. Eventually, it was nearly continuous for him; the weave barely allowing him time to eat.

The end was abrupt and brutal, exhaustion causing him to make a fatal misstep. One mistake followed another and the Power that ran through him first claimed the blade he was wielding and then his own body. His power was a candle beside the raging bonfire that Callindra commanded, but even so it had torn him into bits too small to be recognizable.

Glarian decided he would instruct her in the first of the true spells she would be able to use. It was dangerous to do so without the Sigil that would one day be integrated into the pommel of her sword, but it would give her a head start once she and her sword established their final rapport.

New D&D Character Means Back Story!

So I’m going to be playing in a 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons game soon, and whenever I start a new campaign I always write back story.  This time I’m slacking a little bit… I’ve written as much as 20 pages in the past… and in fact The Callindra Chronicles started out as back story for a D&D character.  So this isn’t likely to go too far, or at least won’t develop into a full length novel but here’s a start on my silly little Halfling.

Torg the Strong pushed open the door to the Tipsy Tankard and waited for his eyes to adjust to the dimly lit interior. Supposedly he was here to meet someone who had information about a job in a noble house, although he hadn’t ever heard of an informant with as frivolous a name as Bahn before. He looked around the common room, there were plenty of people here, but he didn’t see anyone who he thought fit the bill. A bawdy tune was being played, slightly off key, but the patrons were all clapping, stamping their feet and singing the refrain.

She spread wide her arms
To welcome us in
She’s free with her charms
And laughs at her sin
Her love knows no bounds
I can’t count her chins
With each kiss she drowns
The sorrow within

Torg saw a portly Halfling in fine silk robes standing on the bar, strumming a beautiful ten string lute and singing at the top of his lungs. When he finished his song with a flourish half a dozen coins were tossed in his direction. He caught them all and they seemed to vanish up his sleeve, although they likely were tucked into a pouch.

The Halfling bowed deeply, plucking a mug of ale out of the hand of the man nearest to him and draining it in one long draft. “Hey!” The man protested, but the diminutive thief was already staggering down the bar.

Walking up to the bartender, Torg tossed a pair of copper coins on the bar and accepted a lukewarm mug of ale. It was strong and bitter with a lingering citrus tang that felt good on his parched throat. He nodded at the Halfling.

“Who’s the little one?”

Almost as though he’d heard the question, he turned and wove through the mugs of ale and plates of salty sausage rolls back towards them.

“I dunno. Showed up an hour or so ago, asked if he could play an seemed like he knew one end a the lute from the other, so I said sure. He’s tripled my custom.” The balding heavyset man said with a wide grin, “I might ask him to stay.”

“I’m looking for a man named-“ Torg broke off as the Halfling sat down heavily on the breadbox directly to his left.

“Bahn.” He said, flashing a cheery smile. “At your service my good sir!”

Torg’s jaw worked to find words and eventually he just shook his head and took a swallow of ale instead.

“Here’s the deal. I have some folk who’re looking for a caravan guard or two. They say they’ll pay for the best, and judging by their dress and jewelry I’d say they can afford them.” Bahn casually reached for Torg’s ale jack, but the man twitched it out of reach. He seemed to realize what he’d just done and tossed a copper to the bartender and got his own mug.

“So what do you get out of it?” Torg asked, raising a skeptical eyebrow.

“Finder’s fee.” Bahn answered, drinking half his ale in one swallow. “So how about it? Are you good enough?”

“I ain’t met better.” He said with a shrug, “That’s why I’m still alive.”

“Good, because here comes your test.” Said Bahn with a cheerful grin. The door was kicked open with a crash and a towering half orc with a huge club walked through the door. He had to duck to fit beneath the lintel.

“BAHN! YOU SWINDLING LITTLE SHIT!” He bellowed, loud enough to shake dust from the rafters, “THAT SWORD WASN’T MAGIC AT ALL! I BARELY ESCAPED WITH MY LIFE!”

Torg turned to look for the Halfling, but he was gone. He stood with a grin, “Bartender. If I take care a this problem for ya I want free drinks.”

“No drinks unless you don’t wreck the place!” He said, pulling a crossbow from beneath the bar. “I’d rather not have to clean blood off my floor.”

Torg drew his sword with a grin, “If you want the Halfling you’re going to have to go through ME!” He said, and vaulted out the window.

Bahn saw his opportunity and slipped out the back door. With any luck, Torg would distract Urod long enough that the stupid tuskface would lose his trail for good this time. Whistling a merry tune he began trotting down the road. He’d heard Greenest was nice this time of year.

Post Mortem Chapter 10

My body was weak and I was starving.  I heard the rapid heartbeat and shuddering breathing of a panicking human next to me.  I smelled the fear as it rolled off her in waves.  Ignoring the screams of fear and the ineffectual blows from her fists and feet I dragged myself to her, unable to rise from my hands and knees.  I bit and drank and her vitae was absorbed by my body as the land absorbs rain after a drought.

When I could process thought beyond hunger I took stock of my situation.  I seemed to be in a small cell with a barred steel door, the dry corpse of a woman I thankfully didn’t recognize and nothing else.  I was still wearing Cor’s flak jacket and the much abused pair of scrub pants.  The room was completely dark and I didn’t hear the hum of the generator.  I wasn’t sure if I was even still in the same building.

I reached for my Gift and found it to still be fractious, but otherwise unaffected.  I stiffly walked toward the door, idly noting the scrapes on the floor and trails of blood along the edges next to the latch.  It had been a very long time since I had been disturbed by the thing I had become, but seeing the bloody scratches and broken pieces of fingernails stuck in the metal door frame made my skin crawl.

Although I had killed many people before, the vast majority had brought ruin down upon themselves.  This woman had sat for hours in the darkness next to something that she knew was a blood drinking demon from her nightmares.  She had torn her fingers apart trying to open the door and died in agony.  Had she screamed?  I shuddered.  I couldn’t remember.

“Are you calm now?”  A vaguely familiar voice came through the steel of the door.  I could also see other marks on the door.  I put my fist into a dent and found that my knuckles fit perfectly.

“Yes.”  I said, “But I won’t be for long.  Who are you and where am I?”

The latch outside creaked and the door opened.  The man standing on the other side was wearing nondescript civilian clothes, his faded jeans and threadbare t-shirt seeming strange and out of place in the dark hallway.  His eyes glowed a faint purple though, and that fact seemed to fit the scene perfectly.

“You let us go before.” He rasped, his voice sounding like a file running over iron, “Now you led us to our best meal in … our best meal ever.”

“I’m sorry; you will have to excuse me for being a little out of sorts.  I demand you bring me to the remaining survivors at once.”  I said, “I need proper clothing, a decent weapon and… you wouldn’t happen to have a cigarette would you?”

He gave me a surprised look, “What?”

“One of my … friends was in the room where you found me.  Strapped to an operating table?  Burns on her torso?  How the hell long have I been here?   What’s going on out there?”  I stepped out of the door my face intent, “Are we even still in the same building?”

“Uh, I don’t think that girl is still alive.  She was burned almost beyond recognition… she’s probably still there.”  He said, “We’re in the basement of the building in the holding cells where the rest of the humans were.”

I pushed past him at a run, “Where are the stairs?  How many floors down are we?  Damn it take me to her right NOW!”

“Wait, it’s daylight out there!”  He shouted.

I paused with my hand on the door.  “It can’t be daylight everywhere.”

“We… might have destroyed most of the building when we took it.”  He said, “I’m sorry, but… there’s just no way one of your kind would still be alive out there.”

“She isn’t one of my kind.” I said, “If she’s out there still and there’s even a chance of her being alive I have to get to her.”

“Stay here.” He said, “I will have some of my followers go and get her, even if it’s her corpse I’ll have her brought to you.”

I looked at my hand still on the doorknob, and then back at him.  “What’s your name?”

His eyes grew distant for a moment, “Donchivo.”

I cracked the door and flinched involuntarily at the sunlight that streamed in even though it wasn’t close to touching me.  “Well Donchivo, is there a place other than the cell you locked me in last night where I can wait for you?”

“There’s some kind of research lab down the hallway.”  Donchivo said, “I guess you could wait for us there.  The rest of the complex is unstable or else exposed to the sun.  As I said, we were not gentle to this place when we took it.  We took the strength from those we devoured and turned it on the others.”

I narrowed my eyes, “If you have been even a little untruthful, I will destroy you.  I’m a bit short on trust.”  Hell, I really should kill him anyway, but I didn’t need to tell him that.

“What reason would I have to lie?”  He asked, seeming truly offended.

“What reason would I have to trust you without question?” I shot back.

“The fact that you awoke in a room with blood and not in a sunbeam should be plenty.”  He said.

“Prove you aren’t just playing some game and I might let you live.” I said, my anger flaring.

He shrugged, “I don’t care.”

“What the fuck’s that supposed to mean?”  I ran my fingers through my hair, “I’m not in the goddamn mood for this shit!  Give me a straight answer or I’ll fucking kill you now and to HELL with the consequences.”

“We’re going to die off.” He shrugged, “There are so few of the Hunters left, and our Fallen brothers and sisters … well all they can eat is humans, and humans aren’t enough.  Human flesh will never be enough, not for us.”

“Oh.”  What else could I say?  I remembered Hex and how he had fed upon the Hunters we had met, tearing their beating hearts from their chest with his bare hands.  Devouring them and stealing their powers for a short time in the process.  I don’t know if it was that I wanted to believe him or that he really convinced me.

“I’ll go get your friend personally.”  He said, “I’ll try and find some smokes for you too, and then we can discuss payment for my kindness.”

Donchivo walked out, and I was unable to follow into the sunlit world beyond.  All I could do was wait.

It only took perhaps a quarter hour for my host to return, he carried a limp form in his arms and had a pair of other Broken behind him, one with a heavy army rucksack and one with a variety of firearms.  He gingerly set the body in my lap and stepped back.

“Sorry.” He said, and offered me a fresh pack of cigarettes.  When I ignored him he set them on a nearby table and left me to my inspection of Svenka.

She had no pulse and her body was stiffening from what I could only assume was rigor mortis.  I forced myself to be calm and exerted my Gift slightly to ensure I was seeing what was really here.  The chance that I was being fooled once again by a Glamor was fairly remote, but I didn’t want to risk it.  I couldn’t afford to be fooled again and it would be nearly impossible for that trick to work if I focused my Power properly.  It was her without a shadow of a doubt.

I bit my wrist as I had the night before to whoever the imposter had been and allowed a trickle of my blood to run into her mouth.  There was no way to tell if she had truly died or if I might still be able to rouse her blood to my call but I had to try.  She didn’t stir, and I felt something inside of me change.  The part of me that still cared for others turned its face to the wall.

To my surprise and bemused relief, I realized that I did not feel as though I should end my existence because she was gone forever.  Instead, I felt liberated as I hadn’t felt in a very long time.  I was hungry for power and revenge.  Far from wanting to enter Final Death, I discovered that I instead wanted to bend the world to my will more than I ever had in the past.

“Donchivo, how many of you are there?” I asked, snatching the pack of cigarettes off the table.  I lit one and stalked away from the body on the floor, allowing any emotional attachment I might have felt at one point to stay there dead on the floor with it.  “I have some things I’d like to accomplish.  I believe I might have a use for you and your fallen people.  Who knows, maybe I’ll even find some more Hunters for you to eat.”

“I have thirty survivors and perhaps a thousand Fallen.”  He said, “We are always hungry, even right after we eat.  Even as we eat.”

“You control them.”  I said, blowing a cloud of smoke.  “How?”

“They listen when we speak.”  He said with a shrug.  “Why do you ask?”

“How far away can you call them from?”  I asked, opening the haversack and selecting a clean set of clothes from the variety of sizes inside.

“They all listen if we speak loud enough.” Said Donchivo, watching intently as I took off Cor’s torn jacket.

I ignored his scrutiny and pulled a shirt over my naked torso.  “Then shout.” I said grimly.  This struggle had gone on long enough.  It was time to end it.

“It will likely take them some time to get here, perhaps as much as a day.”  He closed his eyes, and then frowned.  “There… don’t seem to be as many as there were.”

I shrugged, “Yeah.”  I took off the shredded scrubs and tossed them on the floor, sorting through the clothes until I found a pair of cargo pants that looked like they’d fit and pulled them on.

“What’s your plan?”  He asked, still staring at me as I found a pair of socks and boots.”

“We will lure the ones who need to die here and then I will destroy them.”  I said, my expression hard.

“What of us?”  He looked at me with dead eyes.

“Those of you who survive can do as you please.” I said, turning a baleful eye on him.  “I will stop slaughtering you pathetic, weak, worthless pieces of shit and will let you leave.”

Donchivo stared at me for a moment, his eyes still flat and unemotional but his left eyebrow twitched with the effort of keeping himself still.  “Why?”

“Because I just don’t give a shit anymore.”  I said, “You can kill every Hunter in existence, your fallen kin can eat everything in sight or you can all burn.”

He stumbled backward, tripping over Svenka’s body and falling on his back.  I realized I had been advancing on him, my fingernails extending into six inch razor sharp talons while my teeth had extended far enough that my jaw had unhinged to accommodate them.  I stopped and composed myself with effort.

“Gather your brethren.  I want them here by midnight.”

The Callindra Chronicles Chapter 9

Callindra was dazzled by the array of weaponry laid out on the table where she had expected to find breakfast.  She had slept hard and awakened feeling tired but not nearly as exhausted as she was afraid she would be.  The sounds of metal on metal had brought her out of sleep and she had assumed Glarian was setting out bowls of porridge.

Instead of tin spoons and wooden bowls of oatmeal she saw a dozen or so polished steel swords.  They ranged from a straight and slender toothpick with a basket hilt to a wide double edged blade with sturdy crosstrees.

“Where did you get all these?”  She asked.

“I’ve kept them for a long time.” Glarian said, “These are all blades I tried before I found the style that fit me.  Today you will do the same.  How are your hands feeling?”

Callindra had forgotten about her injuries in spite of the wrapping on her palms.  She carefully took the linen bandages off and was shocked to see the skin underneath was unbroken.  Wordlessly, she showed him her palms.

“Good, I’m glad to see the Brightstar balm works as well even after all these years.  Jordah hasn’t forsaken me yet.”  He said with a smile, “Now then, why don’t you choose a blade and try it out.”

She looked at the swords, hefted one or two and finally picked one up that was just over a pace long, had a straight, narrow blade with slightly curved crosstrees and a hilt long enough for her to hold with both hands.  She tested the balance and nodded in satisfaction.

“I like this one.  It’s light enough for me to swing but feels like it has a good backbone.”  She flicked the blade and it rang, a bright cheerful sound.  “He has a good voice too.”

Glarian nodded, “Very well, bring it outside and let us begin our morning meditation.”

“Where is the sheath?”  Callindra asked, “I don’t see sheaths for any of these swords.”

“I don’t have sheaths for them.  You’ll just have to carry it for now.”  He said, “It will give you the chance to get used to the balance.”

She followed him into the courtyard and sat to perform the first Korumn with him.  As she breathed, the sword began to tremble on her lap, singing with the Power that coursed through her during the exercise.  When she finished and opened her eyes, Glarian was looking at her with furrowed brow.

“I’m not certain that sword will be able to survive the second Korumn; look how it is reacting already.”

The sword was trembling violently, the tip moving nearly a hand span.  Callindra stood up and whipped the blade as she had read a sword fighter might do to shake an opponent’s blood off the end.  When her arm and sword were fully extended the vibration ceased completely and the sword silenced itself.

“I think it will be just fine Master, he’s flexible enough to handle it for a little while.  If I’m careful I think it will be OK.”

Before he could stop her, she began the second Korumn.  The blade quivered and sang but just as she had hoped, it held together.  When Callindra finished, the whisper of wind that calmly dispersed from the tip of the sword seemed anticlimactic.  She didn’t feel like a cored apple this time though, in fact she felt absolutely energized even though her left leg throbbed from the effort.

“Wow, that was amazing!  Is that how it always is?”  Glarian was watching her carefully, a mixture of pride and apprehension on his face.

“Yes, these exercises are intended to make you ready for the day and that includes a feeling of exuberance.  Shall we begin the day’s training?”

He led her a short distance to a small meadow.  There was a large pile of wood sitting next to a flat stone.

“I want you to split this wood; however you must not hit the stone.  Hitting the stone would damage the blade.  Allow me to demonstrate, pay close attention.”  He lifted a section of tree trunk onto the stone, took a step back and drew his sword.

She watched him lift the six foot blade over his head and bring it down with a savage motion, stopping just above the wood, which shuddered and split in half with a sharp crack.

“What just happened?”  She asked, “Could you show me again?”

Without saying anything he put one of the halves back on the stone.  She intuitively schooled her mind and started to see the other world he had exposed her to.  The weave gathered in an orderly and precise fashion around his body, in through his nose and trickled down the blade of his sword from his fingertips.  When he stopped the sword over the wood, this time she saw the magic continue to move, slicing it in half.

“Wind!  It’s wind!  Of course, I should have guessed, ‘Master of the North Wind’ isn’t just a Title is it?”  Her voice was tinged with awe, “You really are the master of the winds aren’t you?”

Glarian nodded in satisfaction, “Split it all.  You’ll need to continue to perfect your control if you don’t want to keep shattering swords.”  He set a water skin and small basket on the ground and turned back towards the house leaving her to complete the task.

Her first try accomplished nothing.  On her second try she managed to slam the sword far enough into the wood that getting it out was a ten minute endeavor.  She sighed and blew her hair out of her face.  This was going to be harder than she thought.

Glarian watched his apprentice from a hilltop.  The task he had set her to was nearly impossible without proper training but he had to push her harder than normal.  Maybe she could find a way to cut some corners and teach herself.  He had to rely on her innate creativity to tame and shape the incredible power that swirled just beneath her skin.

With her first few swings she appeared to have forgotten what her task was and merely waved her sword at the wood or got it stuck in it.  After a moment she stopped and stood quietly in the Ready Stance.  Her shoulders relaxed and Glarian could see the Weave begin to circle around her.  When she raised her sword over her head even at this distance he could feel wind rush past his face towards her.

She was using too much, but if he interrupted her now it might be worse.  Callindra brought the sword down slowly, as though making sure of her target and tapped the firewood.  An explosion of wind in a perfectly straight line cut a razor sharp fissure through the center of the meadow, flowers, blades of grass, stones and anything else that got in its way was sliced neatly into two pieces.  The firewood, however, was still in one piece.

The string of curses she let loose must have come from her time in the keep, or else maybe from one of the new books he’d just brought home.  Either way they were colorful enough to make him raise an eyebrow.  Interesting vocabulary for a slip of a girl; he wondered how old she really was.  When he’d asked before she claimed to be sixteen but if she was over twelve when he pulled her out of the woods he’d be surprised.

“Strange choice for an apprentice Glarian.”  He whirled, Sakar half out of her sheath and found himself staring up at a massive hammer.  “Hand off the hilt or else I will smash your head like a grape.”

Glarian followed the hammer down to the hand that was holding it which was connected to an arm the size of a modest tree trunk.  “Thaeran, they let you out?  I thought Lord Edlras locked you up and threw away the key.”

“I have you to thank for that, The Order sprung me when you started stirring up trouble again.”  The huge man smiled, “They even let me test for Master again.  You’re speaking to Hammermaster Thaeran.”

“Congratulations, surely they didn’t spring you for nothing though?”  Thaeran had betrayed a mission, assassinated a crown prince he was supposed to have been protecting and been caught red handed.

“Of course there’s a catch, I have to keep an eye on you.  My hammer is the only weapon in existence that you can’t break.  We know all about your aversion to killing, so they figured I was the best bet for keeping you in line.”

There was also the fact that Thaeran was an Earth mage and his powers were physically stronger than any other member of The Order and that Earth opposed Wind diametrically but Glarian didn’t mention those.

“So what are their terms?”  He asked, knowing he wouldn’t like the answer.

“You are to stop training this girl immediately, surrender your Title to the next challenger and turn yourself in for breaking your oath.”  Thaeran said with a satisfied smile.  Glarian had been the leader of the internal investigation that had revealed his treachery and sent him to prison for his crimes.

“Do you know what will happen to her if she stops learning?”  Glarian asked gliding closer, “She will destroy herself and likely take anyone or anything that’s in the area with her.  You look at her and see a girl trying to learn to wield magic, but I see a girl fighting for survival.”

Thaeran laughed, “I don’t much care Glarian, it’s your fault she started learning so her death will be on your head.”  He shifted his grip on the hammer that he still had poised overhead and in that moment Glarian sprang forward, slamming his shoulder into the other man’s chest.

Thaeran stumbled back, but before he could recover, Glarian had swept Sakar from her sheath and called the Weave to his aid.  The blunted tip of the sword whistled through the air, first to the four points of the compass and then to tap Thaeran gently between the eyes.  “You will report back that you believe I am breaking Oath but that you cannot prove it yet.  You will feed them useless scraps of information to string them along and keep them from sending backup.  You will tell me the moment they send another to replace you.  You will not do violence unto myself or my apprentice.”

The spell was completed with the fourth command and Glarian held his blade at the ready, just in case the big man somehow managed to withstand his magic.  Thaeran shook his head as though trying to clear it, then shouldered his hammer and trudged off in a seemingly random direction.

“If they’d sent someone a little more adept I would have been on the losing end of that encounter.  It’s a good thing I have made a little bit of a name for myself shattering weapons; they’re hesitant to send their most capable and instead release criminals to do their dirty work.”  He muttered to himself.

Looking back at the meadow where he had left Callindra, Glarian frowned.  “I’ve been pushing her but I need to push harder, we’re running out of time.  I didn’t expect them to react so quickly but I guess breaking all those weapons made them angry.”

A black butterfly floated down and landed on the tip of Sakar with a distinct clink of metal touching metal.  Glarian felt a tremor of Power rush through his blade and Belach’s voice came from the steel insect.

“I’m bringing her sword in two weeks.  Had to burn some time in the forge but after speaking with her yesterday I decided it needed to be done sooner rather than later.  I’d bring it today but the damn thing’s taking an ungodly long time to cool and that’s the only part I can’t rush.  Have a care, they let Thaeran out to come get your title.  He brought that monster Darangar in to make sure it was ready to smash whatever stood in his way and of course I had no choice but to inspect him.”

The butterfly flexed metal wings and soared on unseen thermals, spiraling high into the air.  Glarian sat on a large, flat stone and leaned Sakar against his shoulder.  So he had Named his hammer.  Darangar, was that ‘Soul Crusher’ in Dwarven?  He thought so.

Glarian looked back at his disciple, she had a stack of kindling piled in a neat row on the left side of the stump.  He blinked and looked again.  Callindra was more than halfway done with the wood he’d left her and working quickly through what remained.  She had actually managed to gain control over the Weave, even though she was using an old sword he’d only kept for sentimental reasons.  He grinned, this was going to be a lot of fun.  The Order was in for a big surprise.

“We just might make it.  It’s a slim chance but I’m betting on your skills Belach.  By the icy gales of Njordi, if there’s any chance of this working the sword you send her must be absolutely perfect.”

The Callindra Chronicles Chapter 8

Callindra sighed and buckled her sword on.  The walk back to the trees was short and she was soon cutting through another log.  To her surprise it was much easier to make the precise final cut without scoring the tree trunk underneath.  Even so, the sun was falling behind the hills before she had finished.

Her triumph over the task gave her a burst of energy and she ran back to the house to tell Glarian.  When she approached, she found him hanging something in the lean-to.

“Master!” She called and he whirled, his sword seeming to appear in his hand.  Without thinking she had drawn her sword and moved to parry a blow but he stopped before their blades could touch.  She could see he was hanging a pair of whip handles next to an array of sword hilts none of which had more than six inches of blade left on them.

“Sorry Callindra, it has been an interesting day.”  His voice sounded tired.  He sheathed his sword, but she couldn’t take her eyes off the broken weapons.

“It’s you!  You’re the great mage he was looking for?”  She still held her sword in her clenched fist.  “He came to take your Title but you killed him instead.”

“You’re partially right Apprentice.  I am the Titled mage he sought and he came to take that Title from me.  As you can see though, I do not take the lives those who come to challenge me.  I instead kill their weapons and send them on their way.”

“Why did you keep this from me?”  Callindra backed away and a gust of wind cut between them, actually scoring the ground.  Her eyes widened in fear and dust began to whirl about her.  The wind tugged at her hair, moved the scabbard over her shoulder and ruffled her shirt.  “What are you doing this for?”

“Ssshhhh, quiet now.”  Glarian’s voice was low and the winds calmed themselves.  She could see him through the dust now; he was sitting cross legged on the ground.  “Callindra, control yourself.  What you’re doing is dangerous, the winds are my domain but as with everything else in my life you seem to turn it on its head.”

She still held her sword, but Callindra managed to get her breathing under control using the exercise he had taught her.  As with Daleus, she had to believe that if he was going to harm her he would have done it long before.  She sat a few feet away from him and laid her sword across her knees, mirroring him.

“What is your Title then Master?”  She asked, hoping it would help her to better understand.

“I am The Master of the North Wind.”  He replied, and Callindra gasped.  She had read about him.  Nobody knew his real name; he was a master of Masters, had fought in countless battles and defeated a multitude of opponents.  Then one day he had simply vanished, taking his Title with him and leaving the balance of the Compass of the Winds off kilter.

“What are you doing out here?  Why did you leave The Order?  What is someone like you doing teaching someone like me?”  She was trying to make sense of it all but the idea that he might not be telling the truth never crossed her mind.

“I have been exiled.  I had a … disagreement … with the other Masters about how and when our power should be used so they attempted to strip me of my Title.  When that failed, they did the only other thing they could.”

“When that failed?  What does that mean?”

Glarian sighed sadly, pressing his palms flat onto the hilt and flat of his sword.  “I had to kill a few of them.  They left me no choice; when they attacked one after another I couldn’t defend myself without taking lives.  Killing their weapons would have tired me to the point of defeat.  When they realized they couldn’t defeat me in single combat, they surrounded me and forced me to take oaths never to practice or teach magic again.

“From the moment we met, some part of me knew you would bring me to break those oaths Callindra.  They were taken against my will and therefore I do not regret breaking them, although doing so will likely cost me my life.  You are my most worthy student and the one who shall inherit my style and my Title.”  He let that sink in and she gradually realized what he was trying to say.

“What do you mean?  I’m no mage, I don’t like magic Master, I just want to learn The Sword.”  She started to feel the fear encroaching on her calm again, a breeze tousled her hair and she nearly jumped to her feet.

“You are an awakening mage Callindra, nothing can stop that.  Your unfortunate contact with Daleus seems to have accelerated your body’s ability to channel the Weave.  Even as we speak the winds have been reflecting your mood.  If I hadn’t gotten you to calm down you very well might have summoned a tornado right here in the courtyard.”

“WHAT?”  She was trying hard not to panic but this was too much.  Winds tore through the clearing and with each gust they grew more violent.  Glarian didn’t bat an eye; he sat like a boulder in the middle of a stream.  The winds seemed to slow as they neared him.

“Remember your training Callindra.  The first Korumn is of the breath.”  He began the breathing exercise and she joined by reflex.  To her amazement, she could see tiny shining threads flowing into his nose as he breathed in and then arc gracefully out of his mouth when he exhaled.

He opened his eyes with a smile “So you can see it?  Being able to see the Weave is the beginning.  I will now teach you the second Korumn.  It is of release.”

Glarian led Callindra through the Stances slowly, one at a time.  He was much more strict than normal, correcting even what appeared to be inconsequential mistakes; the position of her foot a few inches to the left or the angle of her arm down slightly.

The last rays of sun had gone and the practice yard was now illuminated by the full moon.  Callindra felt an uncomfortable tightness in her entire body, as though she was swelling from within.  She looked at a hand that shook from exhaustion.

“I know you’re tired Apprentice, but now you must perform the entire second Korumn from start to finish without making a single mistake.  You have built up too much power within yourself and since it’s rooted in fear it is the most dangerous of all.  This Korumn will allow you to safely let go of the Weave you have gathered without injuring yourself or others.”

Callindra nodded slowly, noting the myriad of glowing threads that seemed to be swirling around and through her for the first time.  All those times she had wondered at the wind gusting around her… had been this?  An involuntary shiver coursed down her spine as she moved her body to assume the Ready Stance.  To her surprise, Glarian moved to stand next to her.

“Let us do this as one Callindra.”  Together they moved through the intricate motions of the Korumn of Release.  She could feel the pressure building even further as they linked each of the Stances together; it burned inside her like a forest fire.  Her steps began to falter, her weak leg shook with the effort of holding her upright and sweat poured down her body.

“You must complete the Korumn Callindra, all the way to the end.”  The tension in Glarian’s voice spurred her on and she pushed through the pain and fatigue; if she couldn’t do this she might die.  She might take him with her.  The final Stance was the most difficult, but also her favorite.  A leaping spinning motion that ended with a powerful downward strike, the blade stopping inches from the ground.  Her left leg crumpled underneath her as she completed the landing of the last Stance, driving Callindra to one knee.

Instead of the gentle feeling of relaxation she had been experiencing thus far when performing it, a violent torrent of wind exploded from the tip of her sword, striking an ancient elm tree that shaded the house.  The elm exploded into splinters, no piece of the tree remained that was larger than her palm.  What remained of the trunk looked hacked off at a hundred angles as though slashed with a myriad of impossibly hard and unbelievably sharp blades.  The blade of her sword ended in a jagged break a mere hand span from the hilt.

“Absent Gods.”  She collapsed, completely drained.  “What was that?”

Glarian helped her stand, a look of pride warring with concern on his face.  “Confirmation that I was right to begin your training now, with that much power built up inside of yourself you could have leveled the house in your sleep.”

He didn’t say that she likely would have killed them both, or mention what could have happened if she had released that torrent in a direction other than the tree.

“Now you realize the importance of using the correct positioning when performing a Korumn.”  He said as he helped her back to the house.

“My sword is gone.  How will I train now?”  She felt tears begin to sting the corners of her eyes.  That blade had been her companion for months.

“I was hoping that one would last a little longer but we’ll try again tomorrow.”  Glarian’s voice had a strangely gentle timbre.  “Fear not my apprentice; nothing will keep me from completing your training.” She scrubbed an exhausted hand across her eyes and followed him.  Was that resignation or something else in his voice?

Once in the house, she attempted to go straight to bed, but Glarian forestalled her.  He made her sit before the fire and while he filled the tub from the cistern he ordered her to stay awake.

“I don’t want to bandage your hands while you sleep; it’s much easier to get them tight when you’re awake.”  He explained, “You can set that hilt down on the table too.  We can start a wall of failed steel for you tomorrow.”

Callindra sat numbly and looked at her hands.  To her surprise, the right was still clenching her sword hilt.  The left was raw and bleeding, each of the lines on her palm that a fortune teller might use to tell her future was bleeding as though cut with a razor.  She set the sword hilt on her lap and saw her right hand was the same.

“That is what happens when you lose control of your power Apprentice.”  Glarian was carrying an earthenware pot of some lightly fragrant substance and some clean linen bandages.  “This salve is made from the pollen of Brightstar flowers; it’s a healing balm that will help your hands.”

He took her hands and carefully dabbed the salve into her abused palms.  It did sting as she feared, but it faded quickly from the feeling of being jabbed by needles to something akin to the sun shining on her skin.

Glarian had finished bandaging her hands and was holding a cup of warm tea out to her.  “Drink this while you are in your bath.  Don’t worry about scrubbing, this is to soak the soreness out of your muscles.  It’s important not to get your hands wet while they are healing.”

He gave her privacy to strip and clamber awkwardly into the bath, he had put some herbs in the water too.  Presently she smelled burning tac and knew he was on the front stoop smoking.  She sat in the tub with the water all the way to her neck, holding her hands on the sides to keep the bandages dry and let the tension soak out of her muscles.  Her mind was completely blank but something tickled on the outside of her awareness.

“Belach.  How comes the work?”  Glarian’s voice echoed hollowly.

“It is heating for the one thousand sixteenth and final fold.”  A rough voice rumbled like thunder.  “I am using metal from a fallen star and it is reluctant to melt even under the fires of Majiera.  Every time it takes longer and if the temper is to be properly completed perhaps another month.”

“I will make do for a month.  You have my thanks.”

“You can’t come pick it up yourself you stubborn bastard.”

Callindra seemed to fly away from her body, feeling winds rushing past her face.  She spun faster and higher, crossing unknown lands with vast forests, a tree reaching past the heavens themselves, over rivers so wide they seemed to be lakes, across an unending sheet of ice to a mountain with cinders and ash issuing from its summit.

She plunged down the cone and there stood an impossibly large creature.  It stood taller than a keep in the center of a pool of molten rock, with horns twice as long as a man protruding from its head and wings that were larger than the sails of a ship, even when folded against its back.  The creature’s skin was black but cracked all over and in the seam of these cracks the light of magma gleamed forth.  Enormous black chains, each bigger around than a wagon ran from a thick spiked collar around its neck to the four points of the compass, their ends looping around pillars of sheer ice.

Standing at a forge that was on a shelf of rock level with the creature’s head was a man with arms like tree trunks.  The ground beneath his feet was covered with half-finished and broken weapons, each one appeared to her eyes to be a flawless masterpiece and yet he trod on them as though they were trash.  Above his head, a myriad of delicate shapes fluttered and flitted in the heat from the forge.  Callindra realized these were butterflies made from razor thin sheets of metal, each one blackened by the smoke of the fire that burned beneath them, suspended solely by the heat coming from below.

The smith spoke, “You can’t come pick it up because The fucking Order watches this place.  You know they have been waiting for the day that you would break your oath.  I will bring it to you my friend.”  He paused and looked right at her, “You don’t need to check up on my work you crazy bitch, you can see he is making himself ready for your hand.”  He gestured toward the forge and she saw a slender arc of metal heating in the fire.  It called to her, seeming to pulse as though it had a heartbeat.

“This is a dangerous thing you’re doing.  I see you’ve come further along than he anticipated though, I’d better hurry.  Take her the hell home.”

One of the metal butterflies from the air above the forge left the company of its fellows and fluttered around her head.  One after another followed until she was surrounded by a cloud of them that obscured her vision.  She felt a strange falling sensation in her gut and opened her eyes, sitting in the bath before the fire.  Perched on the edge of the copper tub was a perfect black steel butterfly.

The door opened and the butterfly started into the air, circling once around her head before flitting out the window.  Glarian entered and gave her a stern look.

“You’re still in the bath?  Time to get to bed apprentice, tomorrow is going to be a very busy day.”  He held a towel for her and she climbed out, too tired to be shy.  Her leg buckled under her again and Glarian picked her up as though she weighed nothing and deposited her gently into her bed.

“Master?”  He paused at the door, “Thank you.”  She was asleep before she could hear his response.

Post Mortem Chapter 9

The doors in the hallway behind me burst open and armed men poured out, firing as they tried to box me in.  I ran toward them, my speed to allowing me to run from the floor and along the wall.  They tried to follow me with the barrels of their guns, but I was moving fast enough that I was among them before they could adjust their aim.  By that point it was too late.

I tore them apart with brutal efficiency and leaped sideways into an open door, dragging the last of them with me with my teeth in his throat.  I only just managed to get out of the hallway before the Hunter who blazed like the rising sun stepped into it.  My only option was to use my Gift.

“I have your filthy little Bloodslave.”  A dread voice echoed down the hallway, “I’ll let you talk to her again.”

“Ren, you have to run.  Get out of he-“ Svenka’s voice echoed in my head for just a moment.  It was all I could do not to run to her.

“This was a gift from a dear friend of yours.  Call him Mec, The Machinist, or James… I called him Mentor.  He gave us many tools and although my ability to use a Glamor is much less than his was, I can at least use it to interfere with your blood magic.”

I wasn’t about to run and we all knew it but I couldn’t just lash out blindly.  Thankfully I had been killing plenty of humans and as a result wasn’t in the least bit hungry.

“Cor.” I tried to reach him through the Mindlink but it was dead again.  Whatever this Hunter was doing to disrupt my power was disappointingly effective.  A crackle of static nearby grabbed my attention.  I plucked the radio from the body of the man I’d dragged into the room with me.

“Cor, if you can hear me come back.” I said, hoping the Hunter was too cocky to have his radio on, “I need you to get out of here and bring in the reinforcements.  There’s a Hunter out there who somehow makes sunlight and can intercept the Mindlink. So watch your ass.”

“Copy.” He said, and the radio broke out with a flurry of commands from others listening in.  I ignored them, I only had one thing to focus on.  I reached out to Svenka over the visual portion of our Mindlink, completely disregarding the audio aspect.  It was much shorter range and a lot more difficult but under the circumstances I knew she would be trying anything in her power to reach me.

A clouded version of the hallway overlay my vision without warning.  I closed my eyes and saw a dozen human guards approaching the door to the room I was in.  Directly in front of what I could see was a person shaped outline of pure light and as I looked down I could see her burned flesh and an arm circling around her neck.  She looked to the left and I could see down the stairs.

She was being held behind by someone other than my horrid sunlight producing Hunter, and I knew exactly where she was.  Soldiers ran into the room, sending hot lead my way as they came but it didn’t matter.  My wings of light unfurled and I unleashed Destruction on any who dared oppose me.

First were the half dozen armor clad Hunters who ran into the room on supernaturally fast legs.  I let my Gift claim them from the waist up, the aftereffects singing the ceiling above my head.  Then I closed my eyes and allowed Svenka’s vision to guide me.  The hallway outside groaned in protest as I annihilated the Hunter with sunlight skin, not allowing even the floor he stood on or the roof over his head to survive.

I rolled out of the room, pistol aiming towards where I knew my lover’s captor held her.  He was still attempting to recover from the shock of the Hunter who had been standing in front of him vanishing in a flash of light.  I put one round through each of his eyes.

Behind them a dozen men exited the stairway, weapons held at the ready.  With a caress of Destruction I made them go away, the Power flaring outside of my control for just a moment and destroying the stairwell and half the wall behind it. Pain gripped me and I knew I was nearly exhausted but the thrill of victory ran through my veins.  They had tried to kill me and the ones I loved and I had thwarted them.

“Baby.” Svenka’s voice was beautiful. “You came for me.”

“Of course.”  I whispered, “I couldn’t stay away.”

“Are you hurt?” She asked, looking at me with concern on her face.

“No.” I smiled so hard my face hurt. “But you are.”  I took her in my arms, horrified at the burns that covered her.

“I have never felt better my love.” She said.

“Take some strength from me.” I bit my wrist and allowed some of my vitae to drip into her eager, open mouth.  “You will need it; we’re far from out of this.”  The pain nearly undid me.  The euphoria nearly overpowered me.

“Oh Renyovalia, I’ve missed you so.” She said, gently licking at the wound on my wrist.  I watched in satisfaction as the burns on her body knitted together, the worst of the damage healing.  It wasn’t perfect, but there were some distinct advantages to being an active Bloodslave.  She needed to drink my vitae or she would go into terrible withdrawals after

“I love you Svenka, but right now I need the Mork Varg.”

She smiled a truly horrifying smile.  “I was hoping you weren’t going to demand we leave because I didn’t want to start off by starting trouble.”

“What do you mean?”  I asked, too relieved to be holding her in my arms to think about much else.

“I’m not leaving without them.”  Her eyes narrowed although the smile remained and grew more fierce, “All of them.”

“How many are we talking about here?”  I asked, frowning.  I had no way of taking care of myself let alone a bunch of other people.

“Maybe two hundred.”  She said, “I haven’t seen everyone all at once, but they took all the girls-”

“What?”  That was enough to snap me out of my reverie, “Are you serious?  What the FUCK am I gonna do with a few hundred girls?  In this fucking wasteland?  You’ve gotta be kidding me.  I love you forever, but you’re crazy.  Where would I put them?  How would I feed them?”

“I have a plan baby.”  She said, “You can trust me right?  Let’s deal with these pieces of human waste first.”

At least on that we could agree, “I came here thinking I’d have to kill them all to get to you.  Turns out I found you and now we get to do it together.”  I kissed her and was lost for just a moment in the embrace.  I heard a door scrape quietly open and fired Cor’s .45 without looking or breaking the kiss.

“Fucking hell.”  Svenka said, looking up from my lips to survey my handiwork.  A guard was slumping out of the doorway with a hole in his head, “I’ve missed you so much.”

“Ok, so lead me to these assholes.”  I shot a second guard who was attempting to sneak back up the stairwell, catching him in the leg and then in the head as he fell, “I don’t have your knives, and the ones I brought with me are in a store room along with the rest of my clothes… I’m sorry.”

“Why did you get naked in a storage closet?”  She asked, smiling at the thought and raising an eyebrow.

“Long story.” I said, watching her approach the hole I’d made in the floor and inspect it with curiosity.

“I’ll make do somehow.”  She said, “You’ve already done away with most of them anyway.  I think we can get to the proper floor through here.”

I came up to her side and looked down.  Apparently I had let a touch more Power loose when I took the Hunter down than I had thought; it went down several floors.  From below, I could see what appeared to be tendrils of smoke lazily making their way up.  The whole building was suspiciously quiet.

“So, which floor do we need?”  I asked, keeping my voice low.  I hadn’t attempted to use the Mindlink because apparently our enemies could intercept our thoughts.

“We need to go up two floors.” She said, pointing.  I grinned and picked her up.  “Hey!” She protested with a smile on her face.

I crouched slightly at the edge of the hole and leaped upward at an angle, barely breaking momentum before pushing myself back the other direction to land lightly at the edge two floors higher than we had started.  Setting Svenka down gently I spun, taking stock of the hallway we were in.  It was still eerily quiet.

“So where to from here?” I asked, frowning.

“The door is right there.” She indicated an innocent looking door.  Like all the others in the building it was made of steel and had a deadbolt.  “Are you all right?”

“Never better.”  I said, “Why?”

“Because this is going to be … difficult.”  She folded her arms and I was startled to see tears glistening in her eyes, “There are a half dozen armed guards in there and I know they’ll start killing hostages as soon as we get in the door.”

“So we have to move quickly.  That shouldn’t be a problem.”  I said. “We might lose a few hostages but I’m sure I can keep most of them alive.  Why is it so quiet though?  That’s what is bothering me the most.”  I focused on my hearing, straining to hear anything.

Svenka’s breathing was controlled but her heartbeat was elevated.  There was nothing coming from behind the door.  I could hear a mouse crawling through the duct work overhead, and the far off rumble of the generator but nothing else.  There weren’t even footsteps of guards on lower floors.  I relaxed my focus on hearing, very loud noises could stun me if I wasn’t careful.

“They have some kind of Archo-Scientific machine in there, you can’t hear anyone who is more than a few feet away from you.” She said,  “It blocks the Mindlink too…”

“What the hell is really going on here?” I asked, “The group of Hunters I overheard earlier were saying this was a trap for me… like they expected me to come here.  They sounded like they expected to defeat me easily too.”

The radio I had absently clipped to my belt crackled, “Renyovalia, do you copy?”  It was Cor.

“I read you Cor, what’s up?”  I said, moving slightly away from the door and trying to look everywhere at once.

“You need to get out fast.  The Broken are converging on your location.  Thousands of them.  You might not even be able to blast your way out.”  He said, “That’s not the worst of it either.  They are being led there… the ones who seemed smarter and less uh, well, dead are actually leading them.”

“Shit!”  I looked at Svenka, “You heard, there’s no possible way we’d be able to escape from here with a couple hundred women.”

Tears leaked out of the corners of her eyes, but she folded her arms resolutely.  I knew that look; I’d seen it quite a few times.  I was in trouble.

“Svenka, babe, it just isn’t possible.”

“They’re experimenting on them.”  She said, “Trying different formulae on them to see what happens.  I guess a lot of Mec’s work was poorly documented and these few surviving Hunters are trying to figure out how to make more of their kind.”

I set my jaw, “What good is it to save them from that only to turn them over to be eaten?  The best I can offer right now is a quick death.”

“Don’t you dare.”  She said, eyes flashing, “There are girls in there… girls and a few pregnant women, how can you even think that?”

“Fine, what’s your plan then?”  I demanded, not breaking eye contact.

“First we kill the Hunters, then we hole up in here until the Broken go away.” She gestured at the door, “This place is pretty well fortified, I think we can hold out for awhile.”

I hesitated, on the one hand I really didn’t think I’d be able to persuade her to leave and the likelihood of us getting out was pretty slim if Cor was to be believed.  On the other hand, I worried about the maybe dozen Hunters inside this room.  Even one or two of them would be trouble if I couldn’t use my Gift.

“OK, here’s my compromise.” I said in a tone that let her know I was serious, “We try and kill the Hunters, but if I get in there and it looks too bad we bail.  I’m willing to try, but I’m not going to get us killed for a bunch of people we don’t know.”

“I know them.” She said softly, “And if you leave, I’m staying.”

Well fuck.  I took stock of my weapons.  A single .45 with a half spent magazine and my hands.  I could run back to the corpses of the dead to scavenge more, but by the time I got back I would have wasted more time than we had to spare.

“I’m not leaving you, so I guess that puts me in a tough spot.”  I handed her the pistol and let my fingernails harden into claws again.  It was a testament to how worried she was that she took the gun.  She hated guns.

“I’m going in hard and fast.” I said, feeling the floor with my toes.  “Once I get inside, I need you to keep as many of them off my back as possible while I attempt to destroy the machine.”

“Who cares about the machine?”  She asked, “I just want to kill those fuckers.”

“If they’re using it to disrupt some of my Gift, I don’t want it to be around anymore.”  I said, “Besides, if it can mess with one aspect, who’s to say it won’t influence other things too.”

I didn’t wait for her to say she was ready, I just ran at the door and slammed my foot into the deadbolt with all the force my body could muster.  Although it was heavily reinforced, it didn’t stand a chance.  My foot shattered the lock and the door slammed against the wall, leaning drunkenly on warped hinges.  I ran inside, looking for the nearest target and skidded to a halt.  The room was empty except for a man in a wheelchair, an operating table with a limp form strapped to it and a huge machine emitting a rhythmic humming sound.

A reinforced steel shutter slammed shut behind me and the figure on the table moaned and twitched slightly.  I froze in disbelief.  It was Svenka.

“It works so flawlessly!”  The man in the wheelchair said, laughing with maniacal glee, “You never suspected, not even for a second that my doppelganger wasn’t your precious Bloodslave!”

I blinked, feeling as though I’d been sucker punched.  How had I not even known?  I couldn’t focus, all I could think of was how I’d seen Mec use his Glamor to make people believe horrible things.  I’d seen men tearing at their own skin with their fingernails, certain that there were insects crawling in their flesh.

That machine had to be destroyed.  I attempted to gather my Gift, but when I tried I found the well of my Power had gone dry.  “What is…”  I stumbled and fell against the wall.

“Drink deep my precious.”  The man purred, touching the machine lovingly, “Take what is hers and give it to me.”

Post Mortem Chapter 8

With judicious use of the radio and my natural ability to be a sneaky little bastard, I managed to scout much of the building without being seen. Now, however, I was cornered in a small room that apparently had a goddamn board meeting going on outside.
“Jake hasn’t reported in, does anyone have a 20 on him?”

“No sir, he was last assigned to check the generator wasn’t he?”

“Does anyone know what Smith is up to? I thought he was holding off a potential threat across the avenue.”

“I haven’t been able to reach him by radio sir; however he often turns it off when he’s facing off against someone who requires his full attention.”

“Cut the chatter.” This voice held authority, something I was accustomed to hearing in my own voice. Hearing someone else use it to the same amount of advantage… put my hackles up for lack of a better term. Here was someone else who was a pack leader, and the animal part of me cried out to put him in his place.

“Jake hasn’t reported in. I believe he is dead, and I imagine Smith has shared his fate.” The voice snapped, cutting across the other voices and even seeming to make the ventilation system stop running. “She is here you idiots! Our target is here and we don’t have the slightest goddamn clue as to where to start looking. You know what she can do if we don’t stop her.”

“Boss, you can’t mean that. If she was really here wouldn’t she have given herself away in at least some small way? We have the entire complex under surveillance.”

“Yeah, if she was here, we’d know.”

“You fucking MORONS just don’t get it do you?” The ‘boss’ was losing his cool now, “This isn’t some fucking amateur this is the goddamn Angel of Destruction we’re talking about. She doesn’t take prisoners you dipshits, she strikes without warning and leaves no trace of her targets. We brought these bitches here to make sure we could catch her, she has a thing for not hurting innocent women, but if we don’t lock it down right NOW the mission fails.”

I froze, knowing that it was pure luck that I was waiting within earshot. I forced myself to relax, allowing my breathing and heartbeat to completely stop. This was a trick Hex had inspired me to try. After all, if someone was looking for anything other than a corpse this would throw them completely off my trail.

“Boss, are you sure we should be allowin this? I mean, I hate beaners as much as the next guy but hell… I seen what them things are doin out there. It aint’ right.”

“None of that matters. If we get the Wolf, her keeper will come and we can exact our revenge.” His voice became feverish,

“She must pay, surely the Master is not gone for good. If we enact his vengeance he will come to save us!”

“Yeah, you know the Master wanted to cleanse the humans. He wanted to eliminate the ones who couldn’t evolve to a higher form. That’s why he used himself as the first test subject, to prove he was worthy.”

I wasn’t sure whether to come out guns blazing, try and sneak away or keep listening. Curiosity won out in the end and I snuck closer to the door in order to try and get a look at the group. Besides, I still didn’t know where Svenka was. With any luck these assholes would let slip where their captives were being held. There was a clink and a hiss.

“I smell something.” The Boss’s voice had a euphoric quality to it. He must have shot himself up with that glowing sludge. “She’s here.”

“Renyovalia, where the hell are you?” Cor’s voice broke into my mind, forcefully enough to make me flinch. “Never mind, I can feel you now. You need to get out of there!”

“Come get me. Fast. They’re on to me.”

The shadows next to me elongated and twisted, reaching out to grab my leg. I admit to making a most undignified squeak of alarm as I was unceremoniously yanked through nothing.

“What the hell was that?” I demanded, glaring at Cor. “Where were you, why didn’t you respond? I thought you were dead.”

He coughed and took off his jacket, holding it out to me. I realized I was totally naked. I took the jacket and put it on, holding out my hand expectantly. When he looked at me with slightly panicked look on his face I grinned.

“I want your sidearm, not your pants.” I accepted his .45 and looked around the room. “Where the fuck are we and why did you ditch my gear? I’m sure it wasn’t just for an eyeful.” His jacket barely covered my hips. I resisted the urge to tug it down.

“I can’t bring other things with unless I am able to focus on them individually.” He said, “My clothes and my weapons are all familiar to me… but in a moment of stress all I had time for was you.”

“Huh. Well that’s interesting.” I said, checking the action on his pistol. “They’re bound to wonder what a plié of clothes is doing in that room. Never mind that, where did you bring me?”

“We’re in a storage room on the second floor.” He said, “This was as far as I could get without raising an alarm. Do you know where the… where your… where she is?”

“I don’t yet. They set this as a trap for me Cor, this isn’t going to end well for anyone.” I tore open a cardboard box and found medical scrubs in tidy plastic wrapped packages. A short search turned up pants that fit. I didn’t return Cor’s jacket.

“Why don’t you just start breaking things?” He asked, “Then when they show up you can just… destroy them.”

“Because I don’t know where Svenka is.” I said, “I can’t just go around blowing shit up without knowing where they have her.” I ached for a cigarette, but of course they were back in my flak vest. Not that smoking would be a great idea anyway; it’d give us away.

A crash sounded loud enough to quiet us completely.

“Was that a door being kicked in?” I asked over the Mindlink.

“Yeah, I think so.” He responded, moving to stand on one side of the door. I ran to the door and jumped above it, holding myself up by wedging fingers and toes into cracks and corners.

I held my position for a few minutes, and heard boots approaching.

“Go.” A quiet voice said, and the door was slammed open. Three men leaped into the room, scanning with flashlights mounted beneath the grips of sub machineguns. Even as they saw Cor, I shot each of them point blank in the head. His .45 was not silenced and the sound was truly shattering in such a small space.

I barely saw a pair of small projectiles fly through the door and I dropped from my perch, left hand batting the first of the grenades out the door and right foot hitting the other with a crunch that would have made me flinch if I had been focusing on it. The second one clipped the door frame and barely bounced back into the hallway before they both exploded.

The force of the blast sent me spinning into a pile of boxes, although I managed to escape most of the damage. The men in the hallway weren’t as lucky.

“Come on Cor, it’s on. We just have to kill our way to the hostages. Looks like we’re using your break shit plan after all!” I ran from the room and threw myself on the one remaining guard who was apparently shaking off the effects of the shockwave from the explosions. Judging by his scent I identified him as human. He died with my fangs in his throat.

I barely paused to grab his gun on the way by, my hunting instinct was up and I was out for blood. My initial feeling of wrath toward those who dared touch my family had died down to glowing embers, but now I fanned it to a bonfire’s flame again. It was time for these impotent little bastards to pay. They weren’t going to get away with messing with The Angel of Destruction. My reputation was earned with blood and fire. It was time for them to learn exactly how I had forged that reputation.

“Find her!” I shouted through the Mindlink, “Steal their gear, take one of their places and for fuck’s sake keep me apprised of where they are!”

“How am I supposed to do all that?” He demanded, obviously still shaken by the sudden turn of events, or perhaps the violence, or maybe just the explosion.

“Get a radio. Sweet Christ, do I have to tell you how to do everything?” I ran down the hallway, surprising a group of guards coming down the stairs.

My nails were sharp as daggers, shredding through Kevlar and flesh with equal ease. Blood and worse splattered the stairwell and I ran down, bare feet leaving a trail of carnage that even a child could follow. The only difference was a child would know not to follow it.

“She’s gone down the North stairwell.” The voice crackled over the Mindlink, Cor had simply turned his confiscated radio on loud enough to transmit loud enough for me to hear.

“Roger, follow at a discreet distance. Do not engage target until la Sonraisa arrives.”

My knowledge of Spanish wasn’t complete, but I recognized that bit. The sunrise. My skin shivered in the memory of pain.

Was this the bastard they’d sent to kill me? Was he the reason my Svenka had been taken from me? I was ready now. More than ready.

When I reached the bottom of the stairs, I kicked the door completely off its hinges, watching in satisfaction as it shattered the arm of the man who had been reaching to open it. A flick of the wrist removed his head from his shoulders, silencing his screams of pain. I absently licked his vitae from my fingers as I strode confidently through the spray of aortal blood.

“Wait!” The warm rain spurting from the remains of the man’s neck painted my face but I hesitated at that voice. Miranda stood at the base of the stairs, looking at me with wide, innocent eyes.

“What the fuck are you doing here?” I demanded, “I told you to wait outside of town where it was safe!”

“Please.” She looked imploringly at me, “Just wait.”

I hesitated, and that was almost my undoing. For just a moment, her face flickered and I dove back through the door. A blast of brilliant yellow light seared the exposed flesh of my left leg as I rolled free. It took much of my blood reserve to repair the damage… this was what had created the artificial sun that had nearly killed me before.

“Ren get out of there!” Cor’s voice screamed over the Mindlink and at the same time I heard the voice through his radio.

“Move in! Corner her, she can’t be allowed to escape!”

The Callindra Chronicles Chapter 7

Glarian led the way downstream to a grove of oak trees that stood evenly spaced about a meadow. The trees were huge, their limbs spreading to cover several spans. Callindra could hear the stream still, but knew it was a little way off. She set the cloth wrapped bundle that contained her lunch and water skin in the shade next to one of the trees.

“So what is the training today?” She asked, hoping for more sparring. Glarian had been testing her skills lately with what he called the direct method. Even though she had bruises and cuts covering her arms and legs from the last couple of days, it was exhilarating.

“I have completed my assessment of your strengths and weaknesses and have designed this training course for you. It will strengthen your arms and shoulders while at the same time improving your blade control.” He gestured to logs lashed to the tree trunks, many with wedges of wood behind them, holding them at odd angles.

“You must cut through these logs using this axe.” He handed her an axe with a strangely shaped handle, “Your methods are your own but with one stipulation. The bark of the tree underneath must be untouched. Come find me when you have finished.”

He walked back upstream, leaving Callindra to survey the work ahead of her. The sun was barely above the horizon but it was already hot. She stripped to her chest wrap and attacked the first log with vigor.

Cutting through the first part of the log was no problem, despite the shock of the axe impacting the solidness of the wood. She ran into trouble when the log was nearly cut through. It was so difficult to ensure the last cut did not carry through into the trunk of the tree that it took more time to sever the last inch than it had the first ten.

The sun was high in the sky by the time she had finished just the first two of the eight logs she was assigned to cut. Callindra took her lunch and headed for the welcoming chatter of the stream. Her body was soaked with sweat; it would feel wonderful to cool off in the water before eating.

She was in luck; there was a large pool of water with a wide flat rock stretching out into it. After carefully sinking the axe into a large log of driftwood and hanging her sword high and dry from it she shed the remains of her clothes and leaped into the water with a gleeful yell.

The water was cold, but it felt wonderful after sweating under the sun all morning. She dove under and held onto a large rock; looking back up towards the sky through the clear water. A strange flash and swirl of light caused her to quickly surface and when she did she saw a young man standing at the edge of the stream.

“Good morrow lass, I apologize for interrupting your swim.” He was a good enough looking man, dressed all in rather garish red leather armor with a pair of steel tipped whips at his belt.

“Not at all.” Callindra replied, doing her best to walk unabashedly from the water. In books she’d read, men and women often bathed together when they were soldiers, she didn’t want to appear prudish.

“Perhaps you could help me out. I’m looking for a powerful mage who lives in the area.” He said, not seeming at all interested in her nudity.

Callindra walked to where her clothes were sitting and tugged on her underbreeches, trying not to look hurried. While she wrapped her chest, she answered him. “I’m Callindra. I don’t know of any mages around here at all, let alone powerful ones. I’ve only been in the area for a year and a half though. Why don’t you join me for a midday meal and tell me about yourself and what brings you here.”

“Gladly, I have been walking for six hours now.” He sat on the rock and watched Callindra set out bread, apples, cheese and cuts of cold venison. “My name is Daleus, and I have been teaching myself to use a blend of weapons and magic now for five years.”

Callindra glanced involuntarily toward the place she had stashed her sword. “Magic? Why would you try to learn to use magic?”

“Magic is power and I need to become stronger in order to accomplish my goals.” He said, not noticing the fear and mistrust in her voice, “Now that I have mastered the whip I seek to challenge a Titled mage. If I can just find him I know I can take that Title from him but instead of claiming it as my own I will turn it in to The Order in exchange for admittance to their school. Then there will be nothing that can stop me.”

She forced herself to be calm and cut a slice of cheese with her belt knife. “Why would you need to go to a school if you have mastered your weapon of choice? If you have the skill to defeat a mage with a Title what more do you have to learn?”

Daleus laughed, “This Titled mage is old, it won’t be a completely fair fight but the fool has recently put up his Challenge talismans. What I might lack in skill I can make up for with youth and endurance.” He jumped up, forgetting the food set out before him.

“I’ll show you how much I have learned on my own, imagine what I could do if I had Masters to learn from!” He unlimbered his whips and began moving through the steps of what she realized was a Korumn. Halfway through, she could see something happen to his weapons. She looked closer, there were tiny glowing threads wrapping around the braided leather, all the way down to the steel tips. When the threads reached the ends, bursts of flame exploded from them every time they cracked. By the end of the Korumn Daleus was surrounded by a roaring wall of fire.

Callindra was terrified, but fascinated at the same time. To calm herself, she used the breathing exercises Glarian had taught her. Something about him seemed so familiar, but she was positive they had never met before. Her back bumped up against the driftwood that her sword rested behind, she realized she had retreated to the protection of her weapon by instinct.

Daleus turned towards her, stepping over the guttering flames with a smile on his face. “Little rabbit, I apologize. It was not my intention to frighten you. To be honest I am a bit nervous about facing a Master and I wanted to at least show someone what I was capable of before the moment of truth. I mean no harm to a young girl who has offered me a meal, what threat could a woodcutter’s daughter be?”

In spite of her fear, his dismissiveness tweaked Callindra’s pride. “I may not be a threat but that is only because I choose not to be.” She reached behind the tree trunk and retrieved her baldric, “But I am also no woodcutter’s daughter.”

He gave her an appraising look, and his eyes widened slightly. “No wonder I walked straight to this place. I can tell you don’t know it yet but you have an affinity with the Weave Callindra.” Daleus said, coiling his whips and sitting next to the meal she had laid out.

She approached cautiously, “Me? You must be joking, I’m a sword fighter, not a magician.”

“You may be both. After all, I can only command the power through my whips. Without them I’m as mundane as anyone, but I can still feel it. I can still see it.” He helped himself to bread, cheese and venison, “It sparks all around you Callindra. You positively glow with it.”

“I’ll take your word for it Daleus.” She edged up to the rock and sat across from him, setting her scabbarded sword next to her. If he had wanted to harm her he would probably have done it but magic was dangerous and unpredictable, he might kill her by accident.

“You’ve got grit Callindra, I’ll give you that.” He said with a grin, “Most girls would have run at the sight of a strange man, never mind my little flame show.”

She grunted around a mouthful of food and swallowed before answering, “I’m obviously not like most girls.”

While they ate, she asked him about the rest of the world. He spoke of a king she had only read about, lords who she did not know and his travels across the realm. Although he seemed young it was clear he had seen many strange and fantastic things in his travels. Callindra nibbled on an apple core, not wanting him to stop talking but she knew there were many more logs to cut before the day was out.

Daleus seemed to have a similar realization, because he stood and brushed the crumbs off his armor. “I had best be on my way Callindra. I thank you for the meal and the conversation. Perhaps we will meet again someday. Train hard.”

“Good luck finding your mage Daleus. Thanks for talking with me; I’ve spent over a year with only that damn old man for company.” She said and grasped his forearm in a swordsman’s handshake. He returned her clasp and left without a backward glance.