The Callindra Chronicles Chapter 16

The official repeated the rules in a bored voice and once again stepped aside and allowed their contest to begin.  Genric immediately pressed the attack and Callindra was only barely able to dodge to one side in order to avoid being hit.  The rapid strikes didn’t cease, she found herself desperately defending from swing after swing, completely unable to return even one single attack.  Just when she was backed up to the edge of the ring, Callindra saw an opening in his uninterrupted series of attacks.

Dropping to one knee, she swung her practice lath sword to connect soundly with Genric’s ribs.  Moments later, his sword slammed into her left shoulder.  She bit back a cry of pain; he had nearly broken her collarbone.  But how had he managed to strike such a blow with a loosely tied bundle of lath?

She rolled sideways and came up in a defensive crouch.  The answer was clear when she saw the look in Genric’s face; his practice sword had a steel core.  Callindra’s mouth thinned into an angry line, there was no way she was going to give up when facing someone who resorted to breaking the rules to win.  This called for drastic measures.

Rising from her crouch, she assumed the Earth and Sky Stance, left hand nearly touching the ground sword pointing towards the heavens.  She looked him straight in the face, “You have talent Genric, why in the nine hells would you lower yourself to this?”

“You know little about the world girl.  I can take no chances.”

“Even with your preparations you will fail.  Doubting your own skills shall be your undoing.”  She held the awkward Stance perfectly, knowing it would allow her to explode into action without warning the instant an opening presented itself.  Either Genric was familiar with the Stance or it confused him because he kept a safe distance, circling her slowly.

Callindra altered her footing slightly in order to keep him in her threat range.  She faltered slightly when her right foot encountered a rock and Genric sprang forward, swinging his sword at her head with a snarl.  In near panic, Callindra swept her practice blade in a wild arc from the apex, nearly scraping the ground and coming into shattering contact with the steel-cored sword threatening to fracture her skull.

Instead of merely breaking apart, her sword exploded, an unexpected and uncontrolled burst of Weave breaking free as a result of her panicked loss of control.  Slivers of lath flew in all directions from the epicenter of contact, showering everyone sitting around the ring.  Genric’s lath sword didn’t fare any better and the steel core was revealed as it flew from his grip to fall in the sand, bent at an angle where the power of her strike had bent it.  Hardly anyone seemed to notice it shining in the sunlight.

“What in the name of Gode was that?” Asked the official.

“You have the gall to accuse me of being dishonest?” Genric said incredulously, “That power… I would kill for that kind of power.”

Callindra looked around and saw the glow of Weave surrounding a man in robes who was making his way towards the ring.  Without thinking, she ran to the edge of the ring, snatched Brightfang from where he sat leaning against the low bench and sprinted out of the courtyard.  The sound of confusion erupted from behind her as she fled into the afternoon traffic outside the gate.

The door to the cathedral building where she had last seen Tryst was still thankfully open.  Callindra burst through, surprising some men in rough robes as she ran inside, breathing heavily from her mad dash.

“Do you know if Tryst is around?”  She managed, catching her breath.

“Slowly child, this is a place of rest and peace.”  One of the men said, reaching a hand towards her shoulder.

Callindra slid sideways, avoiding his touch.  “I need to find Tryst Te’Chern.  I believe he was going to leave tomorrow morning.  I’d like to join him.”

“Come, sit for a moment and I will see if young Tryst can be found.” The monk said, leading her back to the public area she had sat in before.  She let him settle her at a table with a mug of sweet white wine.  After he had gone, she shifted to have her back to the wall and waited nervously.

People came and went, largely dressed in the simple robes of monks although she could tell some of them had military background by their bearing.  None gave her more than a passing glance though and gradually she began to relax.  Her wine cup was empty by the time she was joined by Tryst.

“So, you’ve come back?”  He asked, his voice heavy with exhaustion.

“Yes.  I’ve decided I want to leave with you tomorrow.” Callindra said.

“Whatever trouble you have gotten yourself into is unfortunate Callindra.  However, I will not have it jeopardize my mission.” Tryst looked at her gravely, “If you cannot leave here in peace you are unwelcome, regardless of how useful your talents would be to my cause.”

“I did not come to this place in peace Tryst, yet you asked me before.”  She looked at him with haunted eyes, “I will not say that I am of no danger to you.  The men that are after me will kill me if they are able to catch me, but first they will torture me for information that I would not give if I had it.  Please, at least let me stay with you until I’m strong enough to defend myself.”

Tryst listened pensively.  “Maybe it’s the will of the Gods that I haven’t been able to find any others willing to join me.  I had wanted an army or at least a reasonably sized fighting force, but perhaps a small group would be less obtrusive.  We leave tomorrow before sunup, why don’t you stay here tonight?  You could meet the others who will be traveling with us.”

“Sure, I don’t have any reason to go back to the Empty Keg anyway, except for maybe to say goodbye to some people.  I think they’ll understand though, life can change without warning.  I’ll see them again someday.”

“Very well Callindra, come with me.  You aren’t the only one who needs shelter from something.  Vilhylm is an interesting person, I think he hides more than he reveals about himself.  Maybe that’s why he wears the masks.  Cronos seems to be fairly straightforward but I do occasionally catch him muttering to himself in some guttural language that I don’t understand.  Regardless, both of them are trustworthy and willing to undertake this mission of mine.  Of ours.”

Callindra left her half glass of wine on the table and stood to follow Tryst further into the halls of the cathedral.  As they walked, the tapestries grew sparser, the bare granite walls revealing the austerity the monks and priests who lived here subjected themselves to.  After a few turns, he arrived at a nondescript door and after knocking twice entered.

A young man or possibly boy sat at a low table, polishing a hand and a half sword that looked two times too big for him.  Barely visible in the shadows near a slit of a window was a cloaked individual, the hood pulled over its face as it carefully sanded a thin strip of wood.

“Cronos, Vilhylm, I wish to introduce the last member of our party.  Her name is Callindra.” Said Tryst in a bright voice.

“Her?  You’re bringing a girl onboard?” The boy asked, his voice nearly cracking, “Tryst really, you must be joking.”

“Welcome Callindra.” Said the hooded figure in a raspy disused voice, “I trust you are able and willing to use that toothpick?”

“Come now gentlemen, this is hardly the way to greet a new member.” Said Tryst, “Callindra is a true warrior.  She is fearless, I saw her face down three opponents without flinching.  She will be a good addition.”

“A hooded recluse and a little kid?  Tryst, I can’t believe you thought twice about bringing me with.” Said Callindra with a laugh, “Really, we are the best you could do?  Well I suppose nobody else is desperate or foolish enough to think about throwing their lives away for nothing.”

“Cronos is my brother and Vilhylm is a friend.  They have their own reasons for doing what they do.”  Said Tryst with a sigh.

“Well I’m tired and more than a little sore from my day in the ring.  If you don’t mind, I’d like to turn in early tonight, especially if we’re leaving before sunrise.” She said, “I need to run the Korumn tomorrow before we leave to make sure I’m ready for anything that comes.”

A look of surprise flickered across Cronos’s face but before he could say anything Tryst led her to a small room with a bed against one wall.  “If you wish to wash I can show you to the women’s bath.”

“Yes, it would be good to wash the dust and sweat of the day away.  Unfortunately I don’t have clean clothes but it will be better than the alternative.”  Callindra said, “Who knows when we’ll see another bath house once we are on the road.”

“I fear the robes most wear here would not suit you or I would offer.”  Tryst said with a wry chuckle.

Callindra rose earlier than usual, responding to a mental exercise Glarian had taught her.  He said it was useful when traveling or on a battlefield and had been surprised at how easily she had learned to use it.  Thinking of him gave her a pang of regret which she quickly suppressed.

“Bastard thinks I’m just going to sit here and wait for him?” She muttered, angrier at him for making her worry than anything else.  She rose and frowned at her sweat crusted underthings.  “I don’t think so, not while he’s out there running for his life because he taught me how to fight.  I owe him and I owe it to both of us to become strong enough to pull my weight.”

She pulled on her clothes with a sigh and padded barefoot out through the common room with a sheathed Brightfang slung over her shoulder.  Her hair moved as furtive gusts of air tugged at it.  “Yes, good morning.” She mumbled, walking to the staircase Tryst had pointed her to the night before when she asked for a place she could practice.

The light of the setting full moon illuminated the small courtyard that was at the end of the stairs.  A whiff of burning tac caused her to look over the carefully groomed shrubs and combed sand to see a man sitting on a bench.  He was wearing the simple robes that the rest of the monks here did but he was older.  A gnarled walking stick sat next to him and he gave her a nod in passing before returning to the simple pleasure of his early morning smoke.

Callindra put him out of her mind and stepped onto an area of manicured sand.  Facing north she began the first Korumn, breathing the power of creation and exhaling that of destruction.  Once she was calm and focused the remaining six beginning Korumn flowed naturally, Brightfang whistling cheerfully through the air.

The final Korumn, Marking the Compass completed the set and Callindra sheathed her sword with a flourish.  A light sheen of sweat beaded on her forehead but her breathing was slow and even.  The ever-present capricious breezes had ceased to pester her, all was at peace.

“You’ll need to rake that sand lass.” Callindra jumped at the old man speaking from the shadows, “You don’t seem to have left many footprints but we don’t need a compass rose in the center of our tranquil garden.”

She looked and saw that the release of Weave and winds at the end of the Korumn had all but erased the marks of her feet and instead a perfect compass pointed in eight directions radiating out from where she stood.

The scent of tac reminded her of Glarian and the surety of his voice automatically engendered respect, Callindra didn’t even think of questioning his authority. “Sorry about that, I just needed a quiet place to practice.” She said, walking to where the coarse-toothed rake leaned against a large rock.  “I’ll put it back the way it was.”

Closing her eyes, Callindra tried to remember what the pattern on the sands had been.  Something with circles, moving around the few large stones that were arrayed on the sand in a seemingly random fashion.  After a short time, she managed to get a fair approximation of what she thought it should look like, set the rake down and nodded to the man.

“Thanks for letting me practice here.”  After she left, the man studied the patterns she had traced on the sand with an inscrutable look on his face.

“That one.  She is going to be trouble.  Even so she was able to put the tumult that surrounds her on the sand so artfully.” He mused, drawing on his pipe, “The patterns she has left are exquisite, perhaps there is hope for her yet.”

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Post Mortem Chapter 15

The harsh lights of the operating room would likely have been difficult to withstand, however I couldn’t see a damn thing.  I could only distantly feel the needle as it pierced my flesh and the drag of the thread as I was stitched closed was barely more than the stroke of a feather.  Even had I been able to feel the pain I doubt it would have registered; I was in a state of shock.

“What’s with her do you think?”  One of the nurses whispered, “We had orders not to use anesthetic and yet she’s not even flinching.”

“Quiet.  Vladimir told us not to speak.”  Another whispered back, “I don’t know what the fuck is going on and I don’t want to.  She’s not even bleeding.”

“Why are we doing this anyway?  I’m pretty sure she’s not breathing either.”

“Shut up.” I said, shaking off my stupor. “I don’t want to hear any shit from you goddamn mortals.”  I could barely see their tiny candle flame souls burning; they didn’t interest me in the slightest.

“Leave us!” A sharp female voice cut across the room and I heard footsteps retreating.  “Listen to me bitch, I don’t give a shit about who you are but the Boss wants you stitched up and kept quiet.”

I looked around the room and saw a small campfire burning beside me.  I was feeling tired, irritable and hungry.  “Who the hell are you?” I demanded.

“You don’t need to worry about who I am.” She said, moving close enough that I could feel her breath on my face.  “You need to worr-aaaaaa!”

I sprang up toward her neck with bared teeth and was snapped back by the restraints on my wrists I hadn’t noticed before.  My nerves had apparently deadened to the point that I couldn’t even feel shackles against my skin.

“Jesus fucking Christ!” She exclaimed in surprise.

“Not even close.”  I said, straining against the handcuffs.  The chains hummed in protest and the cuffs dug into my wrists but they stayed intact.  “But give me half a chance and I’ll be your own personal Devil.”

“Well, you won’t be so tough in a second.”  She said, sounding much more reserved now.  I heard a click and a low electric hum.

The chains on my wrists dragged me back down link by inexorable link until I was pinned to the cold steel of the table.  Similar shackles on my ankles also tightened, leaving me in a spread eagle position barely even able to move my hips.

“That’s so much better, don’t you think?”  Her calm and smooth voice was infurirating.

“Fuck off.”  I growled and tried to thrash away when a thick leather strap was placed over my forehead.

“Oh we can’t have that.  The Boss wants you to be nice and safe until he needs you.”  After the strap was tightened, more were fastened over my chest, hips and knees.  To my horror, I felt a needle pierce the skin of my face right next to my mouth.

“Don’t struggle now or you’ll tear the thread.  It’s made of Kevlar and quite strong in spite of being exceedingly thin.  It would be such a shame to slash your lips to ribbons, especially since you can’t really heal anymore.”

I went absolutely still.  Struggling was useless without the strength of my Gift anyway.  I couldn’t imagine a more humiliating way of being treated.  The rents in my flesh were efficiently stitched up after my mouth was sewn shut and then the table I was on slid forward on smooth bearings to click into place.

This was a morgue shelf.  I was being stored like a lifeless corpse.

An indeterminable amount of time passed, hours blurring into days.  I distantly heard people moving outside my prison and wondered absently what they were doing.  Vlad had called this the ‘lab’ so likely he was performing some kind of experiments but I was just too tired to care anymore.

“Not that one.” A voice said as my drawer was partially pulled out.  “Rebecca said that one’s supposed to stay in storage.”

“Oh fuck Rebecca.”  An annoyed voice responded, “I don’t see her around here and if she’s hiding some secret I want to check it out.  If the Professor didn’t authorize this little pet project I’ll see her expelled for it.”

“OK, but just a quick look Ian.”  The first one said, obviously nervous.

“Hell with that, I’m getting a sample.”  Ian said and the drawer slid all the way out.  Ian let out a low whistle.  “Get a load of this shit.”

“Where do they dig this shit up?  Is her mouth stitched closed?”

“Yeah, and look at these wounds man.  Why bother to sew up the stab wound on the eyeball… and it looks like the body was already dead when these wounds were inflicted.  Look at how the dermis is peeled back from the flesh here; there’s very clear necrosis.”

“I don’t think this is a good idea.”

“I’d bet there’s something in the mouth.  You know, like some burial ritual.  She always goes in for that kind of shit as though those ancient rites really have the power to bring something back from the dead.”  Ian said, “Look, if you’re losing your nerve Phil…”

“No, it’s fine.”  Phil said annoyed, “You aren’t the only one who wants to see Bec taken down a notch or six.  Just because these cadavers were donated doesn’t mean the donors or the staff are OK with them being used for her weird shit.”

I felt the snip of scissors cut the Kevlar threads holding my mouth closed.  The men were breathing quickly and unsteadily; their hearts racing.  One tried to pry my mouth open, but I kept it closed.

“Damn Ian, hand me something to pry these teeth apart.” Phil said, “This is just weird.”

“Untie me.” I said, making my voice deliberately low and gruff.

“Holy fuck!” I heard them stumble backward to the accompaniment of a variety of glass and steel implements crashing to the floor.

“Untie me or I will suck the marrow from your bones when I free myself.”  I rasped, “It is only a matter of time before I break free on my own Phillip.  When I do you and your accomplice Ian will either be very high on my list of people to kill or will share an equally exalted position on my list of people to thank.”

“Goddamn.  She really did it.”  Ian whispered, “She brought one back.”

“Rebecca is currently on my bad side.”  I said, turning the eye that wasn’t stitched shut to stare at him.  “Release me or you will join her there.”

It was Phil who approached and unbuckled the strap around my forehead.  He touched my face, “You were so beautiful once.  Who were you?”

“Am I so distasteful now?” I asked, “Well I suppose I am.  No matter.”  My lover was dead.

The mechanical hum announced the release of tension on my restraints and then there was a problem.  “Hey… where’s the keys to these cuffs?”

“I don’t know, but it hardly matters.  Surely you’ve got acid or something here.”  I said, “Don’t make me wait.  I am not a patient person.”  I sensed some hesitation from them, “Or a person really.”

“Uh, I don’t know…”

“Get a fucking hacksaw or a file or ANYTHING, because I swear if I have to break free from these metal bracelets myself you will both be in for a WORLD of pain.”  I said, baring my teeth.

“Oh shit.” Said Ian.

“Ohhhh… fucking hell.” Said Phil at the same time.

I licked my lips and felt the razor sharp points that all of my teeth had grown into.  It was strange that my being a moving corpse didn’t truly frighten them until they saw my teeth.  I guess knowing that I wasn’t a human creation, made the difference.

“Yes.”  I said, keeping my voice calm and quiet. “Those are appropriate reactions.  Another appropriate reaction would be doing as I request.”

“She… Rebecca didn’t make you did she?”

“Very astute Ian.”  I said, “I have been alive for over a hundred years, feeding off the blood of your kind.  If you don’t want to be part of that statistic I suggest you do as I say.”

“Shit Ian, if she was trapped by Becks do you think she poses any challenge to us?” Phil said, “We’re gonna be rich once we-”

“She did not trap me you stupid mortal!” Power coursed through me in a random burst and I raised my right wrist to my mouth and bit through the chain with a snap of my jaws.  “Just because I ask you do accomplish something does not mean I cannot do it myself.”

A hacksaw began rasping against one of my leg shackles.  It took a lot longer than I had thought to cut through the metal that circled my ankle than I thought it would, giving me ample time to puzzle over exactly why I had regained a touch of my Gift?  Or A gift anyway.  That strength of jaw and teeth hadn’t been mine.

My shackles were gone and I stretched my stiff limbs.  Just how long had I been stuck in that gods forsaken drawer?  “Find me some clothes.” I ordered, it was difficult to be commanding or intimidating while naked.

“I don’t have any… uh you can have my lab coat.” Ian offered.

I held out my arm, “Better than nothing.  Then you can take me to whatever you call your home.”

“Uh… you want to go to the dorm?” Ian asked, sounding genuinely confused.

“I want to go somewhere that is not.”  I paused and looked directly at him.  His intake of breath led me to believe that my gaze was perhaps not the least distressing thing in the world.  “A fucking morgue.”

“Yeah.  Yeah, sure.”  He said, sounding frightened to within an inch of his life.

“I will not tolerate these conditions.” I used my haughtiest tone, “Bring me to your home.  I tire of this.”  If one of Vlad’s flunkies came down here I’d be back where I started, only worse.

“I don’t know how we’re going to get you out of here without being discovered.” Phil said, “You don’t know what you look like, but it’s pretty bad.”

Here is where I lost my temper.  “I don’t give a FLYING FUCK about your tender feelings you piece of human filth!”  I shouted, “You will do as I say or I will EAT you!”

“Temper temper Renyovalia.” Vlad’s urbane voice cut through my anger and I felt fear creeping around my carefully constructed walls of indifference.

“Vlad.” I said, my voice dripping venom.  “How wonderful to meet you here.”

“Professor?” Phil said, his voice trembling.

“Oh Renyovalia, you have convinced these cute little puppies to do your bidding?  How adorable.”

“If I thought it would do me any good I would flay the flesh from your bones and drink your bitter marrow.” I said, looking around the room in an attempt to find him. He was nowhere to be found.

“Where-”

“He isn’t actually here.”  I said, interrupting Ian.  “But he’s close.  If you don’t want to die you’d better get me out of here as fast as you can.”

“I am closer than you think little rabbit.” Vladimir said, stepping out of a shadow next to me.

I wanted to scream, to run, to do anything but face a demon from my past without anything I could use to defeat him.  It took all my self-control to turn and face him without flinching.

“Oh Vladimir.  There you are.”  I said, smiling a toothy, hungry smile.  “I think I’m quite done being stored like some common corpse don’t you?  If you want my help I demand you give me clothes, a decent meal and start to treat me with a little more respect.”

“I am glad to see that you have recovered some of your fire Renyovalia.  You are going to need it tomorrow night.”  He purred.

“Why, are we going on a date?”  I asked flippantly.

“Yes.  We’re going to a Tribunal formal inquiry hearing.”  He said.

“I thought you didn’t give a shit about the Tribunal and their summons.”  I said, “What changed?”

“Oh, it is not MY formal inquiry meeting.”  He said with a dangerous laugh, “We are going to be uninvited guests.  I do hope that you can properly … prepare yourself by then.”

The After-Death Chapter 1

So I thought I’d put the first chapter of The After-Death up here for throwback Thursday… I hope you enjoy!

Chapter 1: Awakening

­­I forced my gritty eyelids open, expecting to see the glare of the early morning sun shining through that single crack in the curtains that I can never quite block out and was slightly surprised to find total darkness instead.  A feeling of foreboding crept over me as flashes of nightmares about being buried alive leapt to the front of my mind.

The surface I was on was hard and cold and I failed to choke down panic when extending my arms met a similar surface and trying to sit up earned me a sharp crack to the skull.  The pain brought the rational part of my brain back online and I began to explore my tiny prison.  A chill that had nothing to do with the temperature of the metal box ran down my spine… I was not able to force my chest to draw a breath.  Kicking hard with my feet slid me down against the wall which gave way slightly.

My vision was assaulted with a brilliant white light that shone through the opening, another pair of hard kicks and the shelf in the morgue where my body lay slid out fully into the harsh metal halide lighting of the room.  What happened last night?  If my body really is dead then why do I burn with the desire for vengeance, and vengeance against whom?  Looking at the stitches crisscrossing my body, and the unwholesome pallor of my skin, I decided that my primary course of action must be covering myself.  Then I would find answers if there were any to be found.

There is something decidedly disturbing about taking clothing off a dead body; even when you yourself are dead.  I cast about the room for anything else that I could possibly do, however the only other option was to cut holes in a body bag which would have drawn at least as much attention as my pale scarred flesh.  The young man whose clothes I was stealing didn’t complain despite the fact that I had to dislocate his shoulders to get his Led Zeppelin t-shirt off without tearing it apart.  It shocked me how easily I was able to do it; perhaps he had some sort of muscle weakness or joint problems.  My fingers and wrists felt stiff either from rigor mortis or maybe just from laying inside the cold steel embrace of the morgue drawer.

I had never been in a morgue before, the stark cleanliness of the stainless steel drawers and white tiled floors, walls and tables suggested either a new facility or else a very fastidious caretaker.  I decided on the latter as I surveyed the neat tidy rows of scalpels, saws, needles and even a tape recorder set out at precise distances from one another on a nearby shelf.  I felt a sudden uncomfortable pressure inside my head as though I was in an airplane making a rapid descent, as though there was a bubble behind my nose, eyes and ears pressing against them.

The pressure kept increasing at an alarming rate; I attempted to force air into my estuation tubes only to find that drawing a breath was a physical impossibility.  Afraid that my eyes would be forced from their sockets, I grabbed a steel probe from the table top and plunged it into my ear.  A burst of air and fluid shot out with enough force to leave a trail of phosphorescent vitriol from the edge of the counter to my shoulder its glow barely visible in the brightly lit room.  Before I had the chance to study the strange glowing purplish green substance I suddenly became aware of voices and the sound of footsteps so close I was astound that I hadn’t heard them before.

“-omething in the water or maybe an infection or some airborne agent.  I can’t wait for the next episode, seriously I was so pissed off when it was over.”

“Yeah and Fox will probably cancel it just like they have every other decent show.  I wonder what they have against making money.”

A sudden burst of adrenaline startled me, I drew a ragged breath and my heart suddenly thundered in my chest.  A pair of middle aged men dressed in white clothes walked into the room.  “What the hell are you doing in here?  This is a restricted area; you aren’t supposed to be here.  Are you one of those weirdoes who gets off on touching dead people?”  I backed up against the counter and grabbed the first thing my hand touched; the microcassette recorder.

“Gentlemen, I’m with the World News Daily paper and I’m looking to dig up a story on just such a subject, can either of you comment?”  I was shooting from the hip, desperate to distract them long enough to get out the door.  I held the small tape recorder in my hand out in front of my body like it was a weapon “I’ve heard there were some instances of necrophilia in this morgue, I promise I won’t mention your names.”

“My wife reads that shit God only knows why… get the fuck out before we throw you out.  We could lose our jobs just by you being in here!”

Needing no encouragement, I walked out of the room as fast as I could without, hopefully appearing any stranger of a spectacle than I imagined myself being.  I would ponder the sudden flush of life that was rapidly fading from my system later when I felt safe.

I broke into a run the moment I was out of view of the morgue attendants. I had to get out of this place and fast. There was too much I didn’t understand, I needed some time to figure it all out or at least get a handle on my body. What was with me suddenly starting to breathe and my heart beginning to beat again? Why did it stop? I stepped through a door and found myself in a busy hospital emergency room. It was easy to avoid notice in all the commotion despite the fact that my lungs no longer functioned and heart had ceased to beat once again. Once outside I ran blindly, taking advantage of not needing to breathe until I reached a park that seemed more or less deserted. As I slowed to a walk an old man approached me

“Spare some change youngster?” I dug in my pockets, surprised to find a couple dollars which I proffered to him. “I’ll take whatever you have in your wallet too.” he said lifting his other hand to show a knife with a wicked looking edge. In light of all that had happened I tried to laugh, all that came out was low groan. Suddenly fear blossomed on his face and he backed away slowly “Just a joke, you understand just a joke! Here take it back, I don’t need it!”

He dropped the money I had given him and the knife, took a few stumbling backward steps then turned and sprinted away. I sat down with my back to a large tree. The look in the old man’s eyes had been one of fear growing into stark terror. What was I becoming and what did he see that frightened him so much? The answer became clear to me as the sun began to set. I could see every vein illuminated from within by a faint glow, mapping out my now defunct cardiovascular system in a beautiful but disturbing trail of interlacing lines. My eyes were bright enough to shine a faint light wherever I looked, and everything I looked at seemed outlined in fairy fire, some green, some blue, some red. I put my hands over my face in disbelief almost dropping the forgotten cassette recorder. Of course, why didn’t I think of it earlier? With a morbid curiosity I re-wound the tape to listen to the coroner perform my autopsy.

“The time is currently 1900 hours 25 minutes, the subject is a John Doe who was found alongside the road apparently the victim of a shooting.  The subject is wearing leather protective clothing and a motorcycle helmet, he was found a few yards away from a motorcycle, there is a hole approximately 3 centimeters in width in the front of the jacket, no exit wound is visible.  This will be an attempt to exhume the projectile and ascertain the cause of death.”

I hit the stop button on the player as memories came flooding back.  It had been late, I was on my way home after a long day of work and despite the fact that the sun had gone down and it was far past rush hour I could see a long line of cars stretching out ahead of me in a traffic jam.  At the last minute I decided to take an exit, driving on the shoulder for a short while and then roaring up the ramp, smiling to myself at the disapproving looks from the officers directing traffic.  I knew these back roads well and although they took longer than the freeway it would be a pleasant ride with only a few places where I would have to stop.  The long swooping corners were the perfect stress relief; my dark mood from having to work late was lifting as I pushed my big cruiser to her limit.

Suddenly I saw lights in my mirrors, they were approaching at a speed that I considered borderline suicidal on this narrow winding road.  Looking for a safe place to pull off and finding none, I increased my speed.  I knew there was an overlook just on the other side of a small hill and was sure I would have plenty of time to reach it.

Topping the rise and turning on my signal I suddenly heard the high pitched scream of a sport bike exhaust.  The rider behind me blew by so close the wind nearly unbalanced me, his high intensity headlights illuminating vehicle that resembled a smaller Humvee parked in the overlook parking lot.  It was painted flat black except for a white reflective plate that I could clearly see marked “MUETF” I felt a sudden impact to my chest and my last memory is the motorcycle moving away from me in slow motion, my hands unable to keep a grip on the bars.  The illumination of a lonely street light behind me showed my bike loosing balance, tipping on the right side and knocking over a set of road cones on its way over an embankment.

“After cutting away the outer clothing I am making a vertical incision centered on the entrance wound.  It is a precision shot, appearing to enter the exact center of the sternum.  There is very little blood which is odd for a wound of this size.  Something else that is strange; as I was removing the clothing I note that none of the bones appear to be fractured despite the estimated speed of impact being in excess of 40 miles per hour.

“Other than being dead, this is a very lucky man.  Heh.  I am now peeling away the layers of skin and flesh, the hole in the sternum is clean without any splintering; I have never seen a bone puncture that is this perfect, almost as though a high speed drill was used instead of a projectile.   Probing inside I cannot feel the bullet, I am going to spread the chest in order to investigate further.“

Here the recording was interjected with a high pitched whirring.  I fingered the raggedly stitched vertical incision over my breast bone through my shirt and shuddered involuntarily.  The sun was now truly below the horizon, and the soft phosphorescence emanating from whatever lay in my veins was much too conspicuous for my liking.  I decided to try and make it home regardless of whoever or whatever might be waiting for me there; at least I could stay long enough to get some clothes that fit and covered my arms and hands.  And maybe a pair of dark sunglasses.  I could listen to the rest of the tape there.

The Callindra Chronicles Chapter 15

“Name?”  The man sat behind a desk with a ledger open before him.  He looked hopelessly out of place in the arena, old and thin with only a few wisps of hair left on his head.

“Callindra.”  She replied, watching as he marked it down.  He looked up expectantly and she shook her head, “That’s it.”

He marked an X in the surname column, “Age?”

“Eighteen” she replied, staring down his disbelieving look until he shrugged, muttering and marked it down as well.

“School?”

Callindra had given this a bit of thought.  She knew she wasn’t supposed to mention her master.  After all it was teaching her that had gotten him into trouble in the first place.  Saying she was self-taught seemed to dishonor his teaching though; she was proud of the things he had shown her.  After some consideration had decided to give a generic enough name that nobody would question it.

“Northwind.”  He glanced at her briefly before marking that down as well.

“Class?”

“What?”

“Classification.” He said patiently, obviously having had to repeat the same speech several times today, “The type of position you wish to try out for.  I’m guessing light infantry?”

“No, I want to be a scout.” She said, having heard this was a coveted position.

“Everyone wants to be a scout.  Can you shoot?” He asked, “I notice you don’t have a bow.”

“No, I never had a knack for the bow.  I’m sort of a specialist.” Callindra said.

“A part of the trial for entrance into that particular group will be an archery contest.  Only the best get in girl, it’s the only way they can maintain an elite unit.”  He paused and set down his quill.  “I can’t stop you from wasting your time, but I might rethink that choice if I were you.”

Callindra was surprised by this turn of kindness, “What would you suggest sir?”

“Take the trial for light infantry and if you do well enough you might convince some Lord or another to make you his daughter’s warden.  It’s decent work, and since you’re a girl it would allow you to keep guard even when she is in places where her father would never let a man attend.”

“Sit in a room and watch some spoiled brat all day?  I don’t know, sounds like a waste of my training to me.” She sighed, knowing he was probably right, at least about the Scout position she wanted.  Maybe she could get some experience and try to join the Wolves after she’d proven herself. “Thanks for the advice, put me down for light infantry then.”

He marked that down as well, nodding in satisfaction that she had followed his suggestion.  “You’re a little early, you can go warm up in ring six.  Since you are a sword specialist, most of your testing will revolve around hand to hand combat, you will be provided with a practice blade.”

Callindra nodded and made her way past a lavish tent towards her appointed station.  A man stopped her as she walked past, “You, girl!  Where did you get that armor?”

“A master of leatherworking by the name of Markson made it.”  She said, “His shop is in the–“

“I know where his shop is.”  The man interrupted, “To think he would throw it in his lordship’s face.”  He snorted, “You’re playing a foolish and dangerous game girl.”

“What do you mean?”  Callindra asked, but the man had already spun on his heel, causing his richly embroidered cloak to flare as he stalked away.  She shrugged, the fool didn’t even have a sword.  Besides, wearing armor certainly couldn’t get her into trouble; even if it had once been intended for someone else.

Much to her surprise, the majority of the morning had been spent on drills, tests of military terminology and tactics.  Callindra felt she had done fairly well, the books she had read were slightly outdated but much of the knowledge they contained was still relevant.  She hoped it was anyway.  The sun was hot and sitting in her armor was beginning to get uncomfortable.

“Right!  Head to mess and report to your assigned ring for combat testing!”  Said the man who had most recently been grilling them individually about infantry strategies.

Callindra rose and followed the rest into a large tent where bread, meat, cheese and water were being doled out in large quantities.  She took her share with a nod of thanks and sat at the nearest table.  In spite of the training she’d endured, the promise of a fight against an unknown opponent was a frightening prospect.  The feeling seemed to be prevalent among many of her peers, there wasn’t much talking among them.

Between bites she glanced around the room, noting the wide variety of armaments and armor.  Twice when idly looking about she caught a man in nondescript clothes staring at her.  The second time he met her eye his mouth parted in a vicious grin and pushed through the line of people waiting their turn to eat.

She finished her meal, eating out of necessity rather than because she wanted to.  She brought her plate back to the table and then returned to the ring.  She sat cross-legged with Brightfang across her knees and allowed the trance of meditation to overtake her.  Her breath was the breath of the Winds and calm fell over her like a warm blanket.

“Callindra of Northwind, you’re facing Fash Con’Anin from Stoneforge.  Enter the ring.”  The official looked at Callindra, “Leave your blade there.”

Reluctantly, she unbuckled Brightfang and lay him down on the sand.  She stepped into the ring and took the bundled lath practice sword from the official, hefting it to feel the balance.  It wasn’t too bad, although the blade was slightly too heavy.  Her opponent was doing the same.

“The fight is over when one combatant achieves three hits.  Hands, feet, neck, groin and face are off limits.  This is a test of control as well as skill, you are not to hit full strength.  Leave the ring and you are disqualified immediately.  I want a clean fight.” Said the official, checking each of them in turn to make sure they understood.  When they both nodded he stepped back, “Begin!”

Callindra could hear Glarian’s voice in her head, ‘When you aren’t sure of your opponent, attack quickly with a shallow strike that will not leave you vulnerable.  That way you can set the rhythm of the fight and feel out your adversary’s skill at the same time.’

She leaped forward, striking like a whip crack at Fash’s right shoulder.  He flinched backward and Callindra realized this practice sword was a hand span shorter than Brightfang.  When her opponent offered no counterattack, she pressed on, striking a rapid series of blows.  She struck chest, right leg, left shoulder in a flowing series of attacks, the bundled lath making a satisfying *clack* with each successful blow.

When she had struck three times, Callindra stepped back into the Ready Stance and waited.  The official gave her an appraising look and nodded sharply.  “Victory goes to Callindra of Northwind.  You may rest in the shade until your next match.”

She put her right fist over her heart, still gripping her sword in her other hand with the blade reversed to run up her left forearm and bowed from the waist to the official and her opponent.  Fash was staring at her in shocked disbelief.

“But you’re a girl!”  He bleated, “Just a stupid girl!”

Callindra walked back and reclaimed Brightfang.  Slinging his comfortable sheathed weight over her shoulder she turned to fix Fash with a baleful stare, “Take your loss and learn from it, never underestimate an opponent based on foolish prejudice.”

One or two of the other fighters assembled laughed as she walked the few steps back to a sun shade behind the ring.  Callindra realized she was the only female she had seen in her group and scanned the others and only saw a handful of other women.  She looked back at the fight in the ring before her; wanting to gauge the potential opponent’s strength against the chance she might be facing them across a blade.

While she sat, a young girl approached her.  A man at arms was awkwardly accompanying her and holding a parasol to stave off the sun’s rays.

“Good morrow.” The girl said, bobbing a practiced curtsey.

Callindra glanced at her, and then turned her attention back to the current fight.

“My name is Miss Blackforge, Nina Blackforge.”  The girl continued, pausing to see what affect her name had.  When Callindra didn’t react, she pressed on.  “Are you really a strong fighter?  I mean my father wants me to have a protector but I cannot tolerate the thought of a man with a sword attending me all the time.”

The fight below was over and while the combatants were changing places Callindra looked directly at the girl, “Looks like you’ve already got a man attending you all the time Miss Blackforge.”

“Well, he is not with me all the time.”  She blushed artfully, “Certainly you understand my meaning?”

“What are you worried about someone breaking in on you when you’re bathing or taking a shi- er potty break?” Callindra asked, watching as the next two fighters entered the ring.

Nina blushed a deeper shade of red, “I’m sure I don’t know, but I would just feel more comfortable with female company.”

“I don’t know about that, but I can understand there are times it’s better to have girls around than boys.” Said Callindra, “Listen, I don’t know who your father is and I don’t know why you think you need protection but if you want my honest opinion the only way to be protected is to take matters into your own hands.”

The guard holding the parasol gave her a shrewd look, half approving and half incredulous.

“What, you mean learn to use a sword?”  Nina broke into a silvery peal of laughter, “You surely must be joking!”

“No I’m not.” Callindra retorted, “Why do you think I demanded my master teach me the Sword in the first place?  I refuse to allow anyone else to dominate me.  I won’t be subjugated because I’m too weak to stand up for myself.”

“But here you are, trying out for a position in the military.  You do know that you will be required to follow orders in the military don’t you?” Nina raised an eyebrow, “I wonder just how independent you would be then?”

“I suppose that is true Nina but for me this is simply a means to grow stronger.” Callindra said, “I must have experience if I am to attain the strength needed.  Training will only get you so far and I’ve reached the limits of what can be taught.  Now it is up to me to bend the world to my will and wrest the knowledge I need from it.”

“What are you after that you need to pursue this kind of power?” The girl asked, “You can’t be much older than I.”

“I fear I’m older than I look.  You are perhaps fourteen?”  Nina nodded, “I thought as much, I’m four years your senior.  It’s less what I’m after and more what’s after me but I am searching for someone as well.  It’s complicated.”

Nina looked at her thoughtfully, “Well if you win I’m going to ask daddy to hire you anyway.  Maybe I can help you find the person you’re looking for.”  With that, she turned and glided away, her unfortunate soldier striding in her wake and holding the parasol to keep her shaded.

“Stupid to hold that damn sun shade, he’d never be able to draw his sword in time.” Callindra muttered, turning her full attention back to the ring.

Most of the other combatants were unremarkable; with the man she had seen watching her from the doorway to the mess tent being the only exception.  He dispatched his opponent with brutal and precise attacks that spoke of an experienced warrior, not a green recruit.  After his victory he came and sat next to her on the bench in the shade.

“Nice fight.” She offered, not sure why he had chosen to sit so close since there was plenty of other room.

“He was a weakling.  I hate being forced into this stupid formality; the Lord should know already that I’m worthy.”

“What do you mean?  Isn’t it good to test your skills against other schools?”  Callindra asked.

“Why don’t you just quit.  Quit right now and I won’t have to lower myself by fighting you.”  He was looking at her with disgust on his face, “What sort of a test is fighting a stripling girl?  It’s humiliating that I’m even asked to do so.”

“Why don’t YOU just quit?”  Callindra’s voice lowered dangerously and a gust of wind blew dust into his face. “I will teach you the meaning of humility when I defeat you.”

The man broke out laughing, “You have spirit, I’ll grant that little one.  Don’t let it put words in your mouth that you can’t back up though.  It’ll be the death of you.”

“You aren’t the first to underestimate me.  You’ve already seen what results from it in my last fight.”  She gave him an evil smile, “Tell Lord Graylocke he should have just purchased this armor if he wanted to avoid humiliation, if he’ll even talk with you after your defeat that is.”  A sharp gust of wind whipped between them, causing the canvas of the shelter to shudder and strain against its moorings.

Before he could respond, the official below called out, “Callindra of Northwind, you will face Genric of Stonearm.”

She stood and strode to the ring, closely followed by the man she had just been verbally sparring with.  Once again, she reluctantly left Brightfang just outside the raised level of the ring before stepping up onto the packed sand.  Once Genric entered on the other side, she assumed the Ready Stance.

Post Mortem Chapter 14

The pain of my many injuries faded slowly away.  It wasn’t the same as the regeneration that my Gift had given me, but it was a damn sight better than nothing.  I could care less about the reality of being injured as long as it didn’t hurt.

I was still blind, but I could see after a fashion.  It was as though I was looking through frosted glass or a waterfall at small fires.  Two before me were dying embers and one very close to me was a roaring bonfire.  A sound like shattering glass interrupted the relative silence of the room and Rakk’s voice thundered in my ears.

“-will rip the flesh from your bones!”  He was shouting.  Ah.  Gem’s barrier must have failed.  Did I kill her?  I’d barely scratched her…

“Oh, by all means.”  I said, my voice echoed with power that I hadn’t ever experienced before.  “Flay me.”

“What did you do to them?”  Rakk sounded astonished, his tirade abruptly stopped.

“The same thing I will do to you.” I bluffed, since I had absolutely no idea what was going on.

A group of small flames and some larger blazes were approaching quickly.  “You’d better hurry if you don’t want to be here when Vlad’s goons get here.” I said

Those fires seemed to be associated with … strength or power, and I was pretty sure that our little exchange earlier had set off some kind of alarm.  These things running our way must be people, I had little doubt of that.

“I will kill you.”  He said, “You will die by my hand.”  Then the flame of his Power vanished down the hallway.

The flickering flames came around a corner that I couldn’t see and shortly a quavering voice asked, “What the hell happened here?”

“Not sure.”  I said, “I heard some sounds of struggle and felt my way over here but I can’t see what happened.  Can you tell me what is here?”  I felt around with my hands as if reaching out for the speaker.  I could see his flame.  It wasn’t worth my trouble.

“There are … things that might have been bodies on the floor.”

A group of small flames and some larger blazes were approaching quickly.  “You’d better hurry if you don’t want to be here when Vlad’s goons get here.”  I said.

Those fires seemed to be associated with … strength or power, and I was pretty sure that our little exchange had set off some kind of alarm.  These things running toward me must be people.  My suspicions were confirmed when shouts of anger preceded the arrival of a pack of idiots.

“What the hell?”

“On the floor!”

“Hands behind your head!”

“No sudden moves!”

The cacophony was deafening.  I managed to summon a trembling lower lip and a quivering voice, “I don’t know what’s happening!” I wailed, “Where’s Vladimir?”

“What the fuck?  I thought this chick was supposed to be some kind of badass.”  A gruff male voice said, “Why don’t she have any clothes on?  The hell’s going on here?”

“Dunno Sanzo, but I wouldn’t mind finding out.”  Another voice said, and a hand ran down my back and cupped my ass.  I managed not to elbow anyone in the face, but I’m sure my face reflected my revulsion.  A chorus of crude laughter followed.

“You moron, get your hands off the girl, what’s wrong with you?”  Sanzo said angrily, “The boss said she’s off limits and only a complete idiot crosses the boss.”

The others stopped their chuckling and shuffled uneasily.  The hand hastily withdrew and I stepped closer to Sanzo.  His voice was the loudest and he seemed to be in charge… and he burned like a campfire instead of a candle.  The snack I’d had when I bit Gem had served to whet my appetite, and he smelled like dessert.

I reached for him, grabbing him easily in spite of the fact that he was stepping backward quickly, trying to avoid my touch.  “Oh please, what’s happening?”  I said, “Please tell me, it’s so terrible being here alone and blind with all these horrible sounds all around me.”

“Well.  I’ll give ya the horrible part.” Sanzo said, making a halfhearted attempt to fend me off.  “Whatever killed these two melted them into piles of sludge.  Just who were they anyway?”

“I don’t know.”  I said breathily, “How can I ever thank you for rescuing me?”  I pressed myself against him, suppressing a shiver of disgust at touching a man.  Damn, I thought I’d ditched those feelings.  My words set off a rumble of amusement through the assembled goons.

“What precisely the fuck is going on here?”  An urbane voice cut through the voices of the men.  “You aren’t trusting this devious cunt are you?”

Sanzo shoved me away, “Of course not boss.  She’s freaking out and I’m not far from it myself.  Look at this shit.  It’s like they melted or something.”

Vladimir was a cloud of blackness amid the bright fires of the others.  That was strange; what was wrong with him?

“Yes.  How odd.”  Vlad didn’t sound overly concerned, “Who were they?”

“We don’t know boss, that’s what I was trying to figure out when this girl started-”

“I don’t care.”  Vlad interrupted, grabbing my wrist.  “You’re coming with me.  Right now.  The rest of you clean up this shit and repair that door.”

He pulled me along and I slipped over whatever was on the floor as we left.  Things that didn’t have any power or life were still invisible to me and my Gift was still conspicuously absent.  I looked directly at Sanzo as we left and gave him a vulpine smile.  He took a step backward from me and my grin grew even more predatory.

I made sure to wipe my face clear of any gleeful or confident expression before turning to look in Vladimir’s direction.  “What is going on?”  I demanded, “You have no idea what it’s like to be blind like this.”

“The others did not notice in the heat of the moment my dear Renyovalia, however the blood on your lips did not escape my notice.  You’ve been quite naughty haven’t you?”  His grip was painful on my arm, but I found that I was able to tolerate it.

Whatever had been done to me was gradually being influenced by what I’d eaten and likely by the strange ability my body still had to preserve itself in spite of being dead.  I wasn’t about to let Vlad know about it though.

“You’re hurting me.” I said, sounding defiant but weak even to my own ears.  I was a little too good at this subservient thing for my own taste.

“Good!”  He shoved me forward and I stumbled with my hands out in front of myself.  I was less worried about actually getting hurt than I was about looking foolish.  Of course I needed to worry about injuries now that healing was an uncertain thing.  I had to find out how things worked before it was too late.

Vlad had reined in his temper and was once more casual and calm.  “Now it is time for you to tell me what happened.”

“It was Rakk, Gem and Dog.  They found me and decided to torture me for some reason”  I said, not seeing any real reason to lie. “Can I have some clothes?”

“Why were they torturing you I wonder.”  Said Vald, “Some people are good at holding grudges I suppose.”

“Well I did kill quite a few of their friends before the Reapers-”

“Why aren’t you injured then?”  He said, moving toward me in a sudden burst of speed.  I only barely managed to keep from flinching away.

“Gem was healing me somehow.  She splattered her blood on my face and then touched me… she said it was a secret she had been keeping.”  I said, “Please can I have some clothes?”

“No, you will remain nude.  It’s the easiest way for me to ensure that everyone who sees you knows precisely who you are.”  He said with a chuckle at his own cleverness.

I started feeling around for a chair, but he grabbed my bruised wrist again, “We aren’t done yet Renyovalia.  What happened to them?”

“Why don’t you tell me?” I retorted, “I’m blind, remember?  I don’t even know what country I’m in, much less state, city or building.  Shit, the only way I knew them is because of their voices.  Dog started to gurgle like he was drowning, Gem started stabbing me and then Rakk ran away and your goon squad showed up.”

He was silent for a few long moments, but then let me go.  I fumbled for a wall and found a chair.  There were small flickers that faintly outlined inanimate objects; I assumed they must be the life force of far away things that were only barely visible to me.

“Damn.” He muttered, pacing the floor as though he’d forgotten I was there.  “I will have to take steps to keep the other disruptive elements don’t come into contact with her before I’m finished.”

I realized that he didn’t think I could hear him at all… and that meant my hearing was becoming even sharper than it had been when I had full control of my Gift.  He continued muttering and I kept listening.

“That room isn’t secure enough.  I’ll bring her to the lab.  Nobody goes there anymore and there’s nothing she can get into as handicapped as she is.”  Vlad paused in his pacing and I assumed, by the outline of his body turned to look at me.

“OK my darling, I am going to bring you to a place where you can’t get into any more trouble.”  He said.

“Do you mean where nobody will find me?”  I said trying not to sound as annoyed as I felt.  “It’s not my fault people want to kill me.”

“Yes… well… not entirely your fault.”  He said, amused.  “I’ll get someone to stitch you up down in the operating room.”

“Stitch me up?” I said, truly puzzled.

“Can’t you feel it?”  He asked, “I thought you would be in agony, although it seems this amount of damage has overcome what your brain can still process.  Honestly, I doubt it will do much good since you can’t really heal but at least you won’t be falling apart… and there’s nothing we can do about the eye.

I touched my leg where Dog had bitten me and still felt the jagged lacerations.  My trembling fingers found the wound in my abdomen and the ruin that had been my eye.  “Oh no.” I whispered, feeling truly terrified, “What did you do to me?”  All I could remember was Hex and how the wounds he had sustained before he had re-awakened stubbornly refused to heal.

“I?”  He said genially, “I merely found you and brought you here.”

It took all I had to not scream myself hoarse.

The Callindra Chronicles Chapter 14

She walked out the front door of the inn, noting the sign read “Empty Keg” before strolling towards the market place.  Even this early the sounds of hawkers crying their wares filled the air as many folk looking similar to her were making their way in the same direction.  Callindra realized that she was likely the youngest looking person here, although she was willing to bet some of the boys were younger in spite of being nearly twice her size.

“Watch it you!”  A man yelled, bumping into her, “Show some respect for your elders!”

“Please accept my apologies grandfather.” Callindra replied with a sardonic grin, “I was careless.”  He was hardly old enough to be her father, and his face reddened with anger at her slight.

In a twinkling, he had a dagger drawn.  “I should teach a little chit like you some respect perhaps?”  Two more men emerged from an alley, leading Callindra to suspect this wasn’t the first time they’d run this little game.

“Yeh gotta pay fer disrespec lil un.  Fee’s six gold.”  Said the first.

“Ifn yeh aint got it then we’ll just take tha sword.” The second said.

Callindra swept Brightfang from his sheath in a blur of shining steel, knocking the dagger aside with ease.  Compared to sparring with Glarian this was going to be nothing.

“Three on one does not seem like fair odds!”  A voice with rich timbre sounded behind her.  Callindra half turned and saw a wall of polished steel chainmaile that reflected the morning sunlight and a shield that seemed unnaturally bright.  The man’s face was almost beautiful, his rich blue surcoat had no sigil but she was pretty sure he was in a knightly order.

“I don’t need your help Sir Knight; this scum will likely run before their blood fills the gutter.”  The men looked slightly nervous.

“Alas I am not a knight; however there is perhaps some assistance I can render if necessary.”  He drew a huge hammer from where it rested in a reinforced loop on his belt, then dropped it to the ground with a thud that she swore she could feel reverberate through her feet.  “I must warn you that I will not allow anyone to be killed.  From the look of things I may be forced to restrain you young lady.”

“Alas I am no lady, and if you attempt to restrain me I am not responsible for the injuries you will sustain.”  Callindra said.

“Your voice could raise frost on this shield I believe.”  The man said, “Our conversation seems to have deprived you of entertainment however.”

Callindra saw that her would-be assailants had melted back into the crowd, some of whom were still watching in hopes that there would be a fight.  She sheathed her sword and extended her hand.

“I’m Callindra Sol’Estin.”  It was customary for an apprentice to assume the surname of her Master once out in the world and she had decided that she was taking it even if Glarian wasn’t here to give his approval.

“Tryst Te’Chern.”  He grasped her hand firmly, “You really should watch yourself in this city Callindra.  There are many who would try to take advantage of you.”

“Yes, they may try, and if they have the brains of a dung beetle they may live to run away.  I won’t be here for long and by the time I’m leaving I’m sure my company will take care of me.  Thanks for your concern though Tryst.”  Callindra turned to go.

“Wait, if you are looking for employment in a mercenary company perhaps I can be of assistance.  I have been asked by the leader of my Temple to find worthy associates for an important task.  Mayhap the Gods have had a hand in our meeting?” He said, carefully restoring his hammer to the loop on his belt.

“I don’t think so Tryst.  I haven’t seen anything that would lead me to believe in Gods.  I live by the edge of my sword, the worth of my training and the strength of my body.”

“Is that so?  How then did you come to this place?  Your garb suggests a slightly more… wild upbringing.”  He quirked an eyebrow, an expression that would have made most men look silly but simply made his face seem even more innocent and attractive.  “Of course I mean no offence.”

“I’m not sure, but I expect my Master had a hand in it and if that old man is a God then I’m afraid you’d be disappointed in your faith.” Callindra replied, “If I can’t find a company here that fits my needs where can I find you?”

“Leave me a message at the Temple to Harn and I will get it.” Tryst said, “There is something about you that leads me to believe you will join me Callindra.  I sense in you the strength and daring needed for a task this dangerous.”

She watched him stride purposefully down the street, wondering what the task he had mentioned entailed in spite of herself.  It wouldn’t be a terrible thing to have that mountain of metal on her side.

It was late afternoon and Callindra was tired, thirsty and frustrated.  The only companies that had even allowed her to try out insisted that she was too young to campaign and would have to spend at least an additional year or two training before she was permitted to fight.  She’d had enough training, she needed to be in combat if she was going to progress fast enough to catch Glarian.

She leaned against the side of a building with a sigh, enjoying the shade for a moment.  A door opened and she started to move away before the shop keep could rebuke her for loitering.

“Callindra?  Is that you?”  She recognized the voice of the priest who had attempted to rescue her earlier in the day.  “I didn’t expect you to come so quickly.  Come inside and take some refreshment.”

Tryst wasn’t wearing his armor, now he was clad in a simple but well-fitting linen tunic and trousers with the sigil of a shining shield on the breast.

“Sorry Tryst, I didn’t mean to come here.  I was merely seeking a moment’s shade before pressing on.”  She said, fearing that if she entered it would give the man the wrong idea.  She still intended to find her own way in the world.

“Oh.”  His face fell, “I was hoping… well, no matter.  Come inside anyway, I can offer you shade and cool wine before you continue your search.  Our door is open to all without obligation.”

With a cautious glance, Callindra could indeed see that the doors seemed to be rusted open.  These hinges had not been moved for a long time.  “Thank you Tryst, I’ll take you up on that.”

Once inside the temple Tryst moved in an unhurried stride, even so Callindra found herself having to trot to keep up as she took two steps for each one of his.  The furnishings were austere; the only decorations were hammers and shields, each one with a plaque detailing the accomplishments and eventual demise of the wielder.

He led her to a simple room, apparently a common eating area of some sort.  There were a few similarly attired men and women sitting in quiet conversation. Callindra was painfully aware that she was the only outsider present, even though nobody made an issue of it.  Tryst sat at a table and poured two cups of wine, taking a sip and gesturing to the seat across from him.

“Thanks, I was getting parched out there.”  She said, accepting the cup and sitting gratefully, “So tell me about this mission of yours.”

Tryst gave her a quizzical look, “I thought you weren’t interested?”

“Well I figure if I’m enjoying your shade and drinking your wine I should at least listen to what you have to say.  Besides if we don’t have some kind of conversation it’s going to be a touch awkward don’t you think?”  She sipped the wine and found it to be a simple, yet refreshing white.

“I’m sure you have heard tales of destruction in the North, but even more troubling is what’s not being said.  My order has seen and fought demons there with terrible causalities.  Creatures that burned from within, infecting others with the bright green flames of abyssal fire even as they died.”

“I was always taught that Gode and Onde, the elder gods kept the world in balance and would not allow devils or angels to touch it.”

“Here I thought you didn’t believe in Gods?”  Tryst gave her that quizzical look again and she blushed in spite of herself, “Regardless of that, with so many of us busy fighting there are few left to undertake tasks for the Biscop and so I am forced to recruit from outside our walls.”

“I’ve never met a God, therefore I don’t have any reason to believe in them.” She said.

“How sad to believe in so little.” Tryst said, “If I only acknowledged that which I could see I would limit myself to almost nothing.”

“As for your Biscop, what is the task he asks of you?  Or can’t you tell me unless I agree?”  Callindra asked, leaning back against the cool stones of the wall.

“I don’t know the details, only that they wish me to gather capable companions and venture west.  I have heard rumors though that they are trying to make contact with some older powers.”  He lowered his voice, “I think they want me to contact the forest folk, the Old Ones.”

Callindra laughed, “The Fey haven’t existed for an age, if they even existed at all!  Your superiors can’t expect us to find something that isn’t there.”

“Demons walk among us, I have heard it from the mouths of men whose word is above reproach.” Tryst said gravely, “Something is changing Callindra, and I fear things will get worse before they get better.”

“So who else have you found to assist you on this errand?  When do you leave?” She asked, not entirely certain why she was entertaining the idea of joining him.

“I have a pair of warriors.  You can meet them if you choose to join us; I will allow them to introduce themselves.” Said Tryst, “We leave first light day after tomorrow.  I must be in the main cathedral in a fortnight’s time.”

Callindra finished her wine and stood with a smile, “I don’t know why, but I’m thinking about joining you Tryst.”

“I do hope you will come with us Callindra, I believe we would benefit from your impulsive spirit.” He said with a wry grin.

“You sound like an old man Tryst, if your companions are anything like you I think I’d go insane after a couple of days.”

“Or perhaps we would be a calming influence upon you.  There must be balance in all things Callindra.”

“If I calm down I’m likely to be destroyed.  I’ve only survived this long by being unpredictable.”  With that she turned and walked quickly out the door without waiting for his response.

On her way back to the Empty Keg, Callindra walked through a different part of the city.  She partially wanted to scout for some other mercenary companies but had also just wanted to explore a little.  By some random chance she happened down a row of shops carrying arms and armor.  When she paused to look at a set of leather armor, the proprietor all but chased her off.

“I don’t do custom work here, only basic fittings and I don’t carry anything for females!”  He said, scowling at her ragtag appearance.

“I wouldn’t want to buy something with that kind of sloppy stitching.”  She retorted, “This looks like it would fall apart just from being worn, I’d hate to see what would happen if someone struck it with a blade.”

The man appeared to be choking on his own tongue but the man standing in the door of the shop next door laughed.  “Looks like she’s got your number Kerrik!  Come here girl, I’ve got the quality you’re looking for.”

Callindra sauntered across to him, adjusting her baldric with a smirk.  When she stepped into the room, she could immediately see this man was selling very good work.  She could also see there was no way she would ever be able to afford anything he would be selling.

“Amazing.  I’ve never seen craftsmanship like this before.” She said, “I wish I could buy some.”

“I think I might have something that would suit you.”  He replied, “I can’t sell it because it’s not complete and the Lord who ordered it has decided to purchase merchandise of lesser quality.”

“I really can’t afford to buy…” Her voice trailed off as he opened a cabinet and withdrew a full upper body set of leather armor.  Beautifully tooled with a delicate pattern along every edge, it was dark brown and had royal blue highlights.

“It was made for the Lord’s daughter.  For when she went hawking I gather, but when he realized the price wouldn’t be negotiable simply because he had a title and he could find others to do decorative work for less he refused to pay.  I haven’t been able to find anyone slight enough of form that it would fit but I think this might just work for you.”  He unlaced the pauldrons from the breastplate and held it out to her.

Knowing she couldn’t afford it didn’t stop Callindra from unbuckling Brightfang and carefully setting him within easy reach.  With the shop keep’s help, she put the breastplate on and adjusted the buckles so that it would fit her properly.  It hugged her body as though it had been designed specifically for her.  There was even a set of straps to affix her baldric in place over the right shoulder.

“It’s beautiful.  I can’t believe how well it fits.”  She said, bending and feeling the armor flex with her.  “How do you get it to be this strong and yet so supple at the same time?”

“That’s the secret of good leather armor, or any armor really.  It has to be sturdy enough to turn a blow but still leave the wearer sufficiently mobile to fight to her full potential.”  He was studying her closely and reached out to tighten one of the buckles before settling the pauldrons over her shoulders and fitting them in place.

With the armor completely strapped down, Callindra felt invincible.  The thick boiled and waxed leather would turn most blows she was unwary or unlucky enough to allow to land but it seemed to barely impede her movement at all.

“I knew I’d saved this for a reason, he is going to die of apoplexy when he sees you wearing this.”  He chuckled, “What’s your name girl?”

“I – uh Callindra.” She responded, a bit taken aback by the look on his face.

“No, your full name.  I know you’ve been formally trained just by the way you walk, but the way your sword moves with you is a dead giveaway.  Your trainer did tell you about Naming right?”

“I took my Master’s name.  I am Callindra Sol’Estin, and you are?”

“Gerard Markson.”  His eyebrows rose slightly and he extended his hand.  She shook it firmly, “Pleasure to make your acquaintance Callindra.  OK, I’ll make you a deal.  You attend the Trials this afternoon and wear this armor.  If anyone asks you where you got it from you tell them from Markson.  If you win, I’ll give it to you for free.”

“What?  Why would you do that?”  She touched the armor almost reverently, “This is … I’ve seen what your work is worth.  I don’t think I can accept it.”  The regret she felt was palpable.

“You’ll get my name out there a little more, especially when you win.  You can win can’t you?”

“I don’t know what these Trials are, but if it’s a fight then I will win.”  She smiled dangerously, “If I have this kind of incentive then I’m guaranteed to win.”

“Good, it’s settled then.  Make sure you get someone to help you adjust it before you get in there, otherwise it’ll throw you off.”  She could hear him mutter under his breath, “He’ll never live this down, the bastard.”

“What was that?”  She asked, wondering what other strings might be attached.

“Lord Graylocke will be completely humiliated when you are seen wearing this armor.  After all, it has his House colors and similar patterns to his Crest but you are certainly not his daughter.  Of course I waited to make the final additions that would complete it as a registered piece of Graylocke regalia, so you are technically allowed to wear it.”  Gerard said.

“I’d wear it even if I wasn’t allowed!  Armor like this is wasted simply sitting in a cupboard.”  Callindra smiled, “I’ll put it to good use.”

Post Mortem Chapter 13

I paced the room, my right hand on the wall so I could get some idea of where I was.  My left arm I held cradled close to my chest; Vladimir had left after burning me and true to his prediction I was not healing.  It hurt like hell.

The room seemed to be twenty feet or so square and other than the bed and nightstand had no furniture.  I had sadly broken the bed, it seemed as though the frame had shattered down the middle under the impact of my speed.  Although I felt the outline of a door, there was no handle that I could feel.  I was stuck here, at least for the time being.

I didn’t know what was really going on, but knowing Vlad he had some insane scheme or another.  Most likely the idea was to use her as a puppet to overthrow The Tribunal and then kill her off and assume command.  That seemed simple enough, but without knowing the politics and background of the situation she might as well be … blind.  How fitting.

Sighing in resignation, I sat on the broken bed and lit a cigarette.  What a fucking pain in the ass.  I didn’t even have a way to kill myself.  A sound reached my ears.  It was faint, but it sounded like an argument.  I focused my hearing and the voices became more distinct.

“-seems to think she’s well in hand, but I don’t know.  This is the Angel of Destruction we’re talking about.” A female voice said.

“Well, as to that… if she were going to destroy everything don’t you think she’d have done it already?  There must me something to that serum he claims to have developed.” This was obviously a male voice.

“I suppose you’re right.  Still… I have a hard time trusting Vladimir.  He’s …”

“Unreliable.”

“Yeah.  Unreliable.”

The two moved off and I lost track of their conversation but at least I knew that not everyone agreed with my captor.  That was some consolation, even if I was trapped, blind and powerless in a room without a door I could open at least I had one or two people who might think Vlad was… unreliable.

Well fuck.  At least I had something to go on.  I focused, but everything was silent.

Why did my Gift work to allow me to hear and move quickly but not to heal or to Destroy?  What had he done to me?

I stayed seated, taking advantage of not needing to breathe, allowing myself to be perfectly still.  Now I could hear soft footsteps on the carpet in the hallway outside.  There were three of them.

“You sure she’s in there?”

“Yeah, and she’s helpless too.”

“I owe her for the last time we met.”  I recognized that voice, “Cairo, 1948.  She killed the target I was supposed to be protecting and I didn’t even find out until the next morning.  As a result the bombing only killed a couple dozen when it should have killed hundreds.”

Shit.  These were members of The Reapers who I’d messed with before they had recruited me to join their ranks.  I couldn’t remember their names, but that didn’t matter.  They were here to kill me and I was nearly helpless.

I reached out and tried to access any dregs of my Gift, more out of habit than anything else.  To my surprise, I found I could still feel Cor through the Mindlink.  When I attempted to touch him, I felt something radiating from him like heat from a stove.  I pushed it away and focused on the problem at hand.

Rakk was an ancient being, I was surprised he had survived for this many centuries simply by being a brutal, efficient killer.  I supposed he managed to kill his enemies at a rate that equalled how rapidly he created them.  Gem was relatively new, she had only joined The Reapers a year or two before I was recruited.  She earned her name not only because of her power, but also due to her obsession with precious stones.

I wasn’t sure about the third, but I guessed it was most likely Gem’s shadow, a Korean man who she had managed to give the Final Kiss but still maintain an iron clad amount of control over.  Most of us know how to give simple commands to our ‘children’ but Dog did whatever she said without question or hesitation.  This was not going to be easy.

What should I do?  I knew the answer.  I stifled a chuckle and moved next to the wall near where I could feel the nearly invisible door opening.  What I should do was kill all three of them when they assumed I was helpless.  There was a marked difference between ‘helpless’ and ‘nearly helpless’ and this was something these pieces of shit were about to find out.

The door opened with a whisper of technology.  I would have appreciated the machinery under normal circumstances, but now I was focusing on the footsteps and the sound of their breathing.  Wait… why were they breathing?  Either they had lost the control needed to shut their lungs off or they were arrogant enough to believe I wouldn’t hear them.  Judging by my past experience with them… it was probably both.

I swung my right arm in a blurring arc that moved from waist to neck height.  I couldn’t see

them, but I damn well knew they were there somewhere.  I connected solidly with one of them, and felt the crunch of bone as my forearm slammed into something softer than it was.  Now I was thankful for all the training and conditioning Svenka had insisted I keep up with.

“I ain’t always gonna be there to watch your back baby and that Power is gonna fail you one day.  You can make your body something that you can always count on though, and I can help.”

The instant I made contact, I spun low, whipping my leg in a powerful sweep that knocked my target off his feet.  My intention was to jump on whomever this was and bite them, but I was out of time time.  The only advantage I’d had was surprise, and that was long gone, now the fact that they could see and I could not made my defeat all too easy.  Well, that and the fact they still had their Gifts.

I slammed into something impenetrably solid; that would be Gem.  A deep canine growl of anger rumbled and a jaw filled with horrendous teeth closed around my leg announcing that Dog had been the recipient of my first attack.  Something slithered around my waist and brutally strong, abnormally jointed fingers gripped my throat.

“So the parasite’s parasite survived.”  Rakk’s breath smelled of death.  Not the stink of decay though, the scent of old death; long rotted flesh, cast off snake skin and dried bones.  “Well, I will have to fix that little inconsistency.”

The growling increased in volume and Gem snapped her fingers.  The teeth released slightly.  “Dog has a point.  I thought we were just going to hurt her.  Since she cannot heal.”  Gem spoke in a precise accent that I couldn’t place.

“You really hold a grudge.”  I managed to croak before Rakk’s fingers completely cut off my airflow.  I’d forgotten how much it hurt to be injured.  A crunch told me that he’d crushed my windpipe completely.

“Of course we do, but it’s not just that we have hated you for years.  You killed him and he was going to make us Gods again.”  Rakk hissed, “But you ruined everything with your stupid -”

“That is enough.” Gem interrupted, “You are telling her things she does not need to know.”

“I don’t care.” Rakk purred, “I’m going to kill her so it doesn’t matter anyway.”

I twisted slightly and Dog’s teeth clamped down, slicing me to the bone.  My body shook as I attempted to scream in pain.  Dog let go with a whine and began a long howl that trailed off into a bubbling gurgle.  “NO!” Gem screamed.

Rakk let go of me and I fell to the floor, trying to keep the blood from flowing out of my wounded leg by sheer force of will but knowing it was only a matter of minutes before I would enter Final Death.  At last, I was truly getting what I wanted before Vladimir had ‘rescued’ me.

Blood splattered on my face.  I couldn’t stop myself from licking it, my instinctual self-preservation kicking in.  A small, warm hand touched my throat and my leg.  To my intense surprise, the wounds healed.  Not all the way, but the bleeding stopped and my crushed larynx re-formed to the point where I could breathe and speak.

“Now you will tell me what you have done to Dog.”  Her voice was a deadly whisper in my ear.  “I have hidden this Gift for a century and now I must use it to heal one of my most despised enemies.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” I said, my vocal chords burning from the pain.  “He bit me.

Maybe whatever cocktail of shit Vlad gave me that keeps me from being able to use my Gift is blood born.”

“Vlad may be an idiot, but he wasn’t lying when he told me he hadn’t done anything to you.” She said, “Try again.”  A knife slammed into my abdomen and pain exploded through my mind.  The blade was twisted and withdrawn.  I writhed on the floor for a few agonized minutes before the blood was carelessly splashed on my face again.  I hated myself for not being able to resist its coppery scent.

“I tried to help him but it’s like his blood was turned to mercury and this blade came out of your guts without a single drop of vitae on it.  When he bit you there was no bleeding.”  Gem said, “Now my sweet little puppy is on the floor, whimpering in pain and I can’t do anything about it.”

“Where is Rakk?” I asked, trying to organize my thoughts.  No blood?  But I had felt it oozing out of my lacerated leg… hadn’t I?

“Do not fret about that one.”  She said airily, “He may be flexible and hideously powerful but nothing breaks one of my barriers.  Now let’s try again.”

“Vlad told you I no longer possessed my Gift too didn’t he?  I’m obviously blind and powerless otherwise you’d all be de-aaaaa!”  Her knife had pierced my right eye this time and it was impossible for me to keep from screaming.

“All right, I believe that you’re blind.”  Gem said calmly, “Now convince me that your Gift has truly been taken.”

I couldn’t consider trying to speak, the pain was just too intense.  At this rate I’d just tell her whatever she wanted to hear just to make it stop.  I opened my mouth to beg her to kill me but all that came out of my mouth was a pitiful mewling cry.

The answer hit me in a flash.  It was blood.  Somehow I was surviving without any blood in my system.  Gem’s blood spattered on my face again, but this time I lunged up at her, my mouth gaping.  I didn’t feel hungry but that didn’t mean I wasn’t starving.  My mouth found her wrist and bit.  The sun rose inside me.

The Callindra Chronicles Chapter 13

When she arrived at the door to the bath house, Callindra folded her garments and placed them on a shelf. When it came to her sword, she hesitated and glanced at the old woman who guarded the door.

“Is this going to be safe? If anything happened to it…” she let her voice trail off.

“No problem dearie, I will hold it behind the counter for you.” The woman said, “I’ll remember you and return it when you leave. Now go and get clean, you don’t want to look like that going outside you know.”

Callindra blushed and handed Brightfang over, “Thank you.”

Picking up a towel she walked into the baths. The steam momentarily obscured her vision, but she made her way to a washing bench. Dipping a bucket of water, she dumped it over her head and rubbed herself down with the heavy bar of rough soap, pouring another bucket on herself to rinse most of the grime off of her body before making her way to the main bath.

There were a few women here; most of them had the soft curves of city born folk who led easy lives. Almost by instinct, Callindra made her way towards the tougher looking women laughing raucously in the deepest, hottest part of the bath.

An then he says somethin about me havin ta make do with the pommel of my sword an I says it’s more like ta give me pleasure than tha flaccid flesh flap tween his legs!” Said a woman with red hair and deep scars on her arms.

Aint it th truth though?” Responded a chortling blonde whose beauty was marred by a puckered line that ran across her right eye, “Men jus don understand why we don swoon at their feet when they flaunt that little sword of theirs.”

Callindra was out of her element, but felt more comfortable here than with the shocked, tittering maids on the other side of the room. She tried to hover on the outside of the group, but was soon spotted.

“Hey now, no need to be shy! Here for the trials eh?” Said the blonde.

The redhead smiled, “Looks like ya got strong shoulders. Whas yer fighting style then?”

Callindra responded without thinking, using words Glarian had drilled into her psyche. “I fight one or two handed, single blade.” She took a breath, leaving out the name of her school and master, My name is Callindra, I am just over a year old.”

Ahh, I knew ya had a formal Master. No question about the base laid there.” The redhead reached out and grabbed Callindra’s upper arm, “Whoever yer master is, yeh got somethin ya can work with here.”

Wha yeh lookin for? Merc? Army?” Said the blonde.

“Sorry, who are you?” Callindra asked, forcing herself to stand her ground.

“Bad form, ‘pologies.” The blonde stuck out her hand, “Kris.”

“Fen.” Said the other, “If yer lookin fer merc lemme know. I got leads in a couple companies myself.”

Callindra shook their hands, “I just want to look for a place I can continue to get stronger. I have some ground to make up.”

“Good answer.” Said Kris, “Yer a bit young fer most though. They don like ta let us women fight, let alone girls.”

“Torn tween wantin ta protect us an pay unwelcome court.” Fen said, rolling her eyes.

Callindra’s eyes narrowed, “I don’t intend to allow anyone to take advantage of me, especially a man.” She ducked under the water and came back up, wiping her ragged hair out of her face. “If they underestimate me they will pay a most costly price.”

“I bet they would a tha.” Kris’s eyes twinkled with amusement, “Yeh noble born? Yeh talk like a noble born.”

“I don’t remember my parents. My brothers tried to stuff me into a convent when they went their separate ways and I ran off to work for a Lord’s holding first chance I got.”

“Atta girl!” Fen clapped her hard on the back, “Yeh gotta get a couple more years though. Build some more muscle.”

“What I lack in strength I make up for in speed.” She said, “Besides, I’m not likely to gain a whole lot more muscle than this, at eighteen I’m probably done growing.”

The other women stared at her in shock for a moment before bursting into laughter, “Eighteen? If yeh wan

ta fool folk a least pic a age close ta whas real girl!” Said Kris.

“I’d mark yeh bout fourteen outside.” Said Fen, looking at Callindra’s slim form critically.Yeh migh pass fer sixteen once yeh fill out a tuch up top.”

Callindra stiffened and folded her arms, “I don’t care what you want to believe. I AM eighteen and I have been training under a true Master for three years. Do YOU think a Master would train an eleven year old girl?” The wind swirled the thick mist away, leaving an open space around her before she could get herself under control.

“Easy Callindra, easy. Yeh say yer eighteen then yer eighteen.” Fen reached behind herself and grabbed a tankard with condensation beading on its pewter surface. Taking a long drink she leaned back against the edge of the pool and sighed in satisfaction. “I been on tha road long nuf all I wanna do is soak an drink. I aint lookin ta scrap wi a youngster.”

“Where have you been?” Callindra asked, curiosity overcoming her anger. “I’ve been almost completely secluded from the outside world for the last few years.

Fen took another drink and Callindra looked respectfully at the size of her biceps. It wasn’t fair that some women were built like that.

“I been a caravan guard fer six moons, but it’s painful boring. Now I’m lookin fer a place in a company headin North ta check out some trouble r nother. Suppose ta be some action there.”

“I’m jus gettin otta bedrest.” Said Kris, “I took a spear ta th guts an been healin up fer nigh on five moons. Now I’m out lookin fer some mercs what needs experienced infantry.” She stood and showed Callindra a nasty scar that dug through the lower left of her abdomen.

“What about your Company? Didn’t they take care of you when you were injured?” Callindra asked, confused.

“Eh, life aint like it is in th books hon. Commander didn’t like me ta begin wi and moved on afore I was healed up.” Her mouth thinned, “Ended bad ferem too, wen north an ran inta somethin. Somethin took ‘em out ta a man.”

Ya aint gonna talk me otta goin ya know?” Said Fen, “Thas jus tha kinda fight I wanna get inta. Somethin a girl can sink her spear inta.”

“How bout you Callindra? You lookin fer some action or jus a quiet spell wit a caravan?” Asked Kris.

“I dunno.” She said, picking up some of their speech unconsciously. “I just want to get out there and keep learning. Honestly I wouldn’t mind being in a regular company or force at a keep so I could train with experienced campaigners.”

“Well I could get yeh inta all kinds a trouble but I don think thas what yeh need.” Fen said, raising an eyebrow, Where’s tha Master yeh trained wi?”

“I don’t know where he is. He wasn’t supposed to teach me; it’s because of me he’s in trouble and now he’s out there somewhere running for his life. I can’t even watch his back.” Callindra said, “I have to get stronger so I can stop being a burden.”

She stood up, steam rising from her skin. I’d better get going if I’m gonna get around before the day’s out.”

“Good luck Callindra. If yeh need a vouch lemme know. Us girls gotta stick together ya know?”

“Thanks Fen, I appreciate it.”

Callindra looked at her clothes with a skeptical eye. With a sigh, she put them back on despite how dirty and worn they were. On her way out, the old woman handed Brightfang back with a nod.

“That’s quite the blade you have there. I can see why you wanted to take care of it.” She said with a knowing smile, “I haven’t seen work like that in an age.”

“Thanks for watching him for me.” She said, not sure what else to say.

“You watch that blade close you hear? Not many carry something forged by Belach.”

“He is my life.” Callindra said, “How do you know about Belach? Is he famous?”

“Infamous is more like it. He used to make swords for nobles and kings, but fell from favor after he refused to add unnecessary embellishments to weapons.” She clucked her tongue and shook her head, “Nobody says no to the royal court, he should have known that.”

“How do you know so much about it?” Callindra asked, and then winced, “No offense intended of course, I’m letting my tongue get the better of my discretion.”

The woman gave her a thoughtful look, then seemed to decide she hadn’t meant to be rude. “You would do well to remember that no one is born old youngling. I was a merc for years before I retired here. Nasty wound to my back laid me up for a couple years and when all was healed I decided I’d had enough fighting.”

“What are mercenary companies like? Are they as rough as…” she glanced toward the soaking pool, “As some seem to think they are?”

“Depends on which company you end up with. Most are, young girl like you needs to be careful around here.”

“I can take care of myself.” Said Callindra with a shrug of her shoulders.

“Since you own that sword I believe it, but they don’t always fight fair. In fact they almost never do. Besides, what recourse do you really have when you are out on campaign? You just watch yourself youngster, learn from the mistakes of your elders.”

“Thank you. My name’s Callindra by the way.”

“Meghan. Most call me Meg.”

“Thanks Meghan.” Callindra grasped the woman’s forearm and was pleased to see her eyes widen at the sign of respect. “I’m sure I’ll see you once or twice more before I sign on somewhere.”

The Callindra Chronicles Chapter 12

When she came to, Callindra saw the ceiling of an unfamiliar room with her right hand cramped on Brightfang’s hilt. She sat up; she was in a narrow room, lying on a bed with a rough straw tic.  Sounds of others waking and moving about in nearby rooms reached her ears shortly before a familiar voice tickled her ears.

“Apprentice, I regret I was unable to see your triumphant return.  Those Inquisitors were waiting for me and found you instead.  Fear not, they will now believe you dead.  Be careful, this town I have brought you to is unknown to you.  The room in which you stay is mine and therefore yours as long as you want it.  I will find you when it is safe, do not look for me.”  With that Glarian’s voice faded and made her wonder where he was now.

Callindra stood, sheathing her sword and stretching as best she could in close quarters.  Her stomach rumbled and she hitched her baldric off a spot that had rubbed while she slept awkwardly and made her way downstairs.

The common room was bustling with activity, serving wenches bringing tankards of beer, water and wine to patrons as well as platters of bread and sausages.  She sat at the end of a table and a rounded young woman sauntered up almost immediately.

“Wha’ cn I get yeh then?” She asked.

“Beer, bread and sausage.  And water if you please.”  Callindra replied, conscious of her ragged appearance.  “Is there a bath house near?  I’m long overdue.”

“I’ll say.” The girl gave her a languid wink, wrinkling her nose, “Got un onsite.  Yeh got in late las nigh?  Stayin n Master Sol’Estin’s room?”

Callindra nodded, “Yes.  Do you know when he’s expected?”

“We don’ know when he’ll come, but we allus know when he do.  I’ll get yeh food n then summat cn show yeh to th baths.”  She set a tankard of sharp ale on the table and made her way through the throng, handing out more beer as she went.

“Mind if I join you?”  A man with a mass of blonde curls and an inviting smile asked, standing across the bench from her.

“Sure.  I’m Callindra.”  She took a drink of her ale, idly tightening the buckle of her baldric.

“Karath.” He replied, extending a hand, “You here for the trials then?”

“Yeah.”  She had no idea what he was talking about, “You too?” She said, grabbing his forearm with a swordsman’s clasp.

“Oh, I’m smarter than that.  Last year I came here with delusions of grandeur about the Duke’s Guard but soon discovered it was way too much sitting around and not enough actually doing anything.”  He snagged a foaming tankard from a barmaid that passed by.  “That’s why I’m a caravan guard.  The work is relatively easy, the pay is good enough and you get to see the world.”

Oh, now she knew where she was, Duke Gladthorne’s Holding also known as Thornehold.  He held a hiring faire every year, and due to the wide variety of swords for hire that showed up it had come to be called Blademeet.  The Duke did generally skim the cream off the top of the pool of warriors, but there were plenty of others who showed up as well.  Mercenary companies, wagoner’s, small town militias and even some of the local Lords began coming to fill their needs.

Gods and Demons, she was nearly three hundred leagues from home!  How had she gotten here?  Glarian apparently had some sway here, the room in which she stayed was his and the inn staff didn’t seem to be upset about someone staying in it.

“I did not mean to throw you off girl, try for the Griffins if you must.” Karath said, taking her silence for rebuke, “Seems to me like a place someone like you just wouldn’t fit in.”

“I’d sooner be in the Wolves.”  She said, thinking of the elite raiding party the Duke kept for his most dangerous or discrete work.

“You?  In the Wolves?”  Karath threw his head back and laughed merrily, “Nay youngling, you’re far too green for them.  Besides, the Duke’s men are too serious.”

Callindra bristled and only barely managed to keep her temper in check.  Even so a gust of wind swirled her short, tangled hair and tugged at Karath’s cloak.

“I mean to make something of myself, not waste my life sitting on a wagon hoping for a bandit attack to break the monotony.”

“I’ve heard the same before, no harm in trying.  If you change your mind, I’m with Raven Company.  East side of the Market, you can’t miss the banner.”  He tossed a few coins on the table for his ale and wove through the crowd to the door.

Callindra couldn’t help but notice the smoothness of his steps and as her eyes traveled over his slim form was almost shocked to see a heavy axe on his belt.  He carried it so naturally she hadn’t even noticed it was there.

A serving girl set a thick clay plate down with a resounding thunk, it had a pair of thick sausages straining against their gut casings and three thick slabs of still warm bread slathered with butter.  Realizing how famished she was, Callindra set to with a will.  When she had finished, the girl who collected her empty dishes scooped the coin off the table as well.

“What do I owe you?”  Callindra asked, realizing she didn’t have any coin.

“This’ll do.  Karath done fer yeh.” She replied, “Bathhouse’s through th back, second left an all th way t th end.” She indicated a door with a jerk of her head and swept back through the crowded room.

It took Callindra a moment to understand that the girl meant Karath had paid for her meal.  She shrugged uncomfortably, now she was going to have to find Raven Company just to pay him back once she found a way to earn some coin herself.  She stood and bit her lip in consternation.  The clothes she was wearing were rough and worn, obviously made by someone without proper tools or supplies.  Her hair was matted and …

She took a deep breath, reminding herself that she was a warrior.  Nobody would dare mock her appearance once they saw her skill with a blade.  Squaring her shoulders, Callindra made her way to the bath house for a good soak and scrub.

Post Mortem Chapter 12

Light bright enough to shine through my eyelids woke me.  I instinctively reached for my Gift, but nothing happened.  Even if I was completely drained I could always feel it there… and I didn’t feel even the slightest bit hungry.  I should have been ravenous.

I squinted against the light, feeling with my other senses while my eyes adjusted.  I was naked, laying on very high thread count sheets and a very soft and sumptuous mattress.  There was a scent of lavender and ocean in the air.  I could also smell Egyptian tobacco, sulfur, and coffee.  Chimes sounded in the wind and someone was sitting in a wicker chair in the room.  That person was not breathing.

I opened my eyes all the way and my vision still didn’t clear.  I sat up, looking directly at where I knew the person was sitting.  “Who are you and where am I and why can’t I see?”

“Ah, you are awake.  This is good.”  The voice had a pleasant Italian accent, “I understand you were involved in a bit of… unpleasantness in Mexico recently.  Do not worry yourself; that is all over now.

“I am Natele.  You’re in my villa.  We are safe from the light and for the moment, safe from The Tribunal.”

“Why did you take me from Cuidad Obegeron?”

“You would have died my dear.”  He said

“I WANTED to die!” I snapped.

“I am not one to leave a lady in distress.” He said smoothly, “I came to your timely assistance.”

“You SHOT me in the HEAD.”  I growled, my hands reaching, feeling for the edge of the bed.  I was unable to feel the sides with either of my hands.

“Well, you seemed to be in a slightly … unstable state, and you had recently shown yourself to be quite effective at eliminating any and all threats arrayed against you.”  I heard a rustle of cellophane and the scratch of a match head, the hiss of it lighting.  “Here, these are Fatimas.  Your favorites I understand.”

I reached out and took the lit cigarette from his hand, although I was certain he moved his hand to where I was reaching which annoyed me even more than I already was.  “You’re a regular Prince goddamn Charming.”  I took a drag.  The familiar taste of the smoke and the ritual was calming, “But you still haven’t told me why you brought me here at all instead of leaving me to die like I wanted to.”

“Because dear lady, the revolution still has need of you.”  He said, “You have created something even if it was not your intention in the first place.  I am afraid I have selfish reasons for bringing you here.  If you died under those circumstances it would have given much support and credence to The Tribunal.”

“What do you mean ‘under those circumstances’ exactly?” I asked, sliding myself to the side of the bed and succeeding in bashing my shins on the legs of a side table.  I felt on top of it and found an ashtray.

“Well… dying by suicide would confirm their claims that you are insane, unstable, dangerous and suicidal.”  He said, sounding mildly amused, “Even if it is true, I still need you alive.  I have been spreading rumors that it was all an elaborate trap that went horribly awry when they attempted to spring it on you.”

“Those rumors are true.”  I shuddered, feeling completely empty.  “What did you do to me?”

“I?  All I have done is render you unconscious and transport you here to be bathed and laid in a comfortable bed to recuperate.”  Said Natele, sounding a touch defensive.  “Please understand that although my reasons for saving your live are not altruistic in nature my uses for you are strictly political in nature.”

“Then why the FUCK can’t I see?”  I demanded, fumbling on the table for the pack of cigarettes and lighting a fresh one from the first.  “Why am I not ravenous?  Where is my goddamn GIFT?”

“What?”  Natele’s voice was horrified, “Your gift is gone?  It cannot be, the Dark Gift is forever.  It cannot be used up, it merely must be fueled.”

“You’re babbling Natele.  The fact remains that I am blind, unable to heal it and…” My voice trailed off to a whisper, “I can’t even feel it.”  I put my head in my hands and let out a slow, agonized breath.

“Well.  That changes things a bit, but doesn’t change my overall idea.”  Natele said, “Instead of a military leader, you will become a martyr.”

“I will not let you trot me out in front of the ignorant masses as some goddamn cripple.”  I hissed, “You’d better figure out another plan.”

“Oh no, I don’t think that’ll be necessary.” He said, his voice cold and harsh, “I have you here and you’ve admitted to being helpless.”

I stood from the bed so rapidly that the backs of my knees hitting it broke something judging by the splintering sound and covered the distance between us in less time than it would take for a normal person to blink.  My ears were not enough to show me his exact location, but they were enough for me to grab the front of his shirt.

“Do you understand me?”  I said, breathing smoke out of my nose.  “Try and play with fire and you get burned.  I burn hotter than the surface of the sun.”

“No my dear, you used to but not anymore.”  He said.  I could feel his breath on my face when he spoke.  “Your Gift has abandoned you.  You’re alone in a body that cannot heal with a mind that has memories of centuries.”

A cold sweat broke out on my skin, but I did not release him.  “I don’t give a rancid rat’s ass about life or death.  You may recall I was attempting to die when you intervened.”

“That’s as may be, however I am not allowing you to do so.”  He said, “As a result you are under my contro-“

I slammed my left hand into his throat and squeezed, cutting off his ability to speak.  “You don’t get to make decisions.  You don’t get to make demands.  I will do as I please regardless of whatever happens to me.  You cannot keep me from dying if I choose to any more than you can keep me from killing you right now.”

“Well then.” He croaked, barely able to get the words out, “I had better give you a reason beyond threats.”

My hand tightened and it was as though I was attempting to crush a solid steel bar.

“I am not as frail as you presume.”  He said, his voice not betraying even the slightest discomfort.  “I am one of your people, not some mortal weakling.”  A hand like a vice closed on my wrist and I was forced to let go.

“Make an enemy of me and you’ll regret it woman.” He said in Russian, “I know who you are.  You would best remember where you have come from and who allowed you to become what you are.”

Now I recognized his voice.  He had dropped the urbane Italian accent and the music of his native land was clear.  I knew him.  His name was Vladimir, a typical Russian mobster name… also quite the archetypal horrible vampire name, a reminder that sometimes stereotypes existed for a reason.

“Oh Vlad, certainly you’re beyond threats.  Especially with old friends.”  I kept my voice neutral, “Although you aren’t beyond deception which either means you’ve changed or you’re afraid.”

He chuckled, a truly dreadful sound.  “My dearest Renyovalia, you have always been at your most beautiful when you’re defiant, afraid and helpless.  This is just how I remember you.”  He sighed in satisfaction, “I never should have attempted to deceive you, but I needed to know if you had slipped.”

“What have you done to me?” I demanded, not sure if I really wanted to know the answer or not.

“As I said before, I have done nothing to you.” He said, his voice amused. “This affliction of yours is a truly puzzling and I must admit, a most entertaining surprise.”

“If that’s the case, then why did you bother with the accent?”  I said, “I know your face and there is no FUCKING way I would be misled by an accent alone.  You knew I would be blind.”

He was silent for a few moments, I almost thought he’d left.  I finished my cigarette and flicked the butt in the direction I’d last heard his voice.

“Same old Renyovalia.” He purred, “Always perceptive.  Always too free with your words.”

“What’s the game really Vlad?”  I asked, trying to keep my voice light.

“I told you why you are still alive.”  He said, and I felt the cigarette I’d flung in his direction burn my forearm.  “Do not press your luck.”