The Callindra Chronicles Chapter 21

After a week of travel, Callindra was once again growing tired of traveling by horseback.  Her new equipment was getting a good breaking in due to excessive sweating and they hadn’t seen any signs of civilization since leaving Arkasia.  She heard the sound of running water in the distance and called out to Tryst.

“Can we break for lunch?  My ass is killing me and I’m out of water.  I think there’s a river ahead, I wouldn’t mind a swim and a good scrub.  I might start attracting flies at this rate.”

“I suppose, it is around midday.” Tryst said, squinting at the sun.  “We don’t have time for getting side tracked though, we are close to the ruins of Lin Lamorak.”

They left the roadway, which was really more of a trail at this point, and found a beautiful little brook.  Bright green moss grew thick on rocks that surrounded a tranquil pool overhung with weeping willows.  Butterflies flitted from flower to flower in a small partially shaded meadow and birds sang sweetly from the trees.

Tryst had dismounted from his horse and was looking around the clearing with a strange look on his face, “This place has some kind of power to it.  I’m not exactly sure what it is, but the growth seems to be slightly unnatural.”

“It looks like paradise to me.”  Callindra said, she dismounted and tied her horse’s reins to a tree branch.

“Yes it does.” Said Vilhylm, “That’s what has him on edge.”

“We haven’t seen anything that looks this lush for days.  You have to admit it’s suspicious.” Said Cronos, loosening his bastard sword in the scabbard.

“Look, there is a trail leading off in this direction.  Let’s check it out.” Tryst pointed with his hammer.

Callindra stared longingly at the cool water before following the others.  The trail wound around behind the small hill all the way to the top.  An ancient tree, gnarled and bent by age, disease and a partially healed lightning strike seemed to circle protectively around a small cottage.

Although the hill wasn’t very high the absolute stillness of the winds made the hair on the back of her neck stand up, “OK you are right.  Something’s wrong here.” She said, drawing her sword.

Vilhylm knocked on the door with the butt of his spear and it shifted partially open.  After glancing inside, he looked over his shoulder at them, “Seems to be abandoned.  It’s a one room house.”

Callindra looked inside, there was a small bed against one wall, a tiny wood stove and some cupboards and shelving along one of the walls.  “Something’s not right here; the inside of this house is far smaller than the outside.” She said.

They all moved in cautiously together but as soon as Cronos, who was bringing up the rear, had entered the door slammed, plunging the room into darkness.  Mere seconds later the floor dropped away beneath her and she fell with a frightened shriek.  Without any way of knowing how far away the ground was, Callindra slammed into the ground much harder than she would have normally only able to avoid a painful sprain by tucking and rolling to fetch up awkwardly against a wall.

“What a rough landing.  How are the rest of you?”  She wondered how Tryst had fared in his heavy armor.  Callindra squinted, trying to see through the curtain of blackness before her but she couldn’t see anything and her companions did not respond.

“Tryst?  Cronos?  Vilhylm?”  She raised her voice slightly, but still didn’t get a response.  “Absent Gods, they must have fallen somewhere else.”  The wall next to her was rough stone, she followed along it with her right hand, Brightfang gripped in her left.  After what seemed like hours she saw a dim light ahead.

The light came from a hole in the ceiling above her head, at least fifteen feet up.   She could see the walls of the cavern were indeed naturally carved out by some long since departed river, now roughened with age.  Voices came from above, too faint for her to make out.  Sheathing her sword, Callindra began scaling the wall.  As she neared the hole she could make out the voices above.

“-will be dead before you can move.”  A guttural voice said, dripping with malice.

“NO, you can’t!” This was a woman, she sounded near panic, “You’ve done enough haven’t you?  Without proper help he’s likely to die anyway, just leave us be.”

“I enjoy seeing you like this Tyreen.  Tears streaming down your face, near hysterical with fear and grief.  I can taste the despair as it radiates from you.  These pitiful children will not help you any more than you helped your people when you abandoned them to live with this hermit.”

Callindra braced herself against a large stalactite, barely able to reach the edge of the hole with her fingertips.  Uncertain of whether she would reach it or fall she gathered her body and made a wild leap from the wall, scrabbling for grip on the rough stone and losing some skin and a fingernail in the process.  What she saw over the edge drove the pain to the back of her mind.

Through a doorway surrounded by glowing runes, a figure draped in tattered shadows and black silk was standing with its back to her, facing a beautiful woman with pale brown skin and waves of thick green hair. She was half draped over the fallen figure of Vilhylm and Cronos lay in the center of the room with a hole the size of Callindra’s fist in his chest.

Without thinking, Callindra moved toward the doorway, but before she could reach it a hand landed on her shoulder.  She spun in place, drawing her sword and swinging all in one motion.  Only her extensive training allowed her to halt the blade before it bit into Tryst’s neck.

“Don’t try and pass through the door.” He said in a low voice, “It’s protected against entry with strong magic.”

“I’m not going to just sit here while that bastard kills my companions!” She hissed, turning back towards the door.  His grip on her shoulder tightened to immovable iron.

“You think I want to wait and watch?  That’s my brother in there lying dead on the floor, but I don’t want either of us to join him.”

Even as he spoke, Cronos stirred on the floor.  His body jerked erratically as though it was a puppet being manipulated by invisible strings.  The motions smoothed out as he struggled to gain a standing position.  The hole in his chest was now only a hole in his armor, his hands were steady and his voice calm as he incanted a spell.

“WHAT?” The black clad figure spun to stare at Cronos, “You were dead before, I’ll make you so again little worm!”

“You shall not have him yet.” The voice that issued from Cronos’s lips was deeper and more guttural than it had been before.  “For now this one is lost to you.”  The spell he had been casting was released from his hands as he spoke and a scintillating bolt of energy burst from his hand.  The figure in black fled before it as darkness does before the dawn.

“You have already attracted some powerful enemies younglings.”  The voice continued as Cronos turned to look at Callindra and Tryst, “Beware of Dergeras, he is dangerous and I won’t always be here to protect you.”  His eyes narrowed, “Especially you daughter of Sol.  He seeks to hurt you most of all.”  The shimmering runes surrounding the door flickered slightly and ceased to glow.

“Grace take me, what was that?”  Tryst said, rushing through the doorway to catch Cronos as he fell like a puppet whose strings had been cut.  Once he had been lowered to the floor safely, he checked his vitals, “He’s alive.” He said, his voice reflecting the disbelief on his face.

“Of course I’m alive.” Cronos croaked, “I feel too horrible to be dead.”

“Your companion may live now, however this one’s life is in grave danger.”  Tryst turned to look at Tyreen as she spoke, “I fear he has been poisoned; only my presence is keeping death at bay.”

“Who are you and what has happened to Vilhylm?” Tryst demanded, turning to face her.

“My name is Tyreen.  I am a Dryad and you are currently within my tree.”  She gestured to the wooden walls and floor before continuing, tears streaming down her face.  “I grew him from a cutting of Grandfather Tree when I had to leave.  When we left to come east and serve as we could here.”

“What has happened to Vilhylm?” Callindra asked, “How can we save him?”

“In the nearby village of Vonlar there is a healer known as Jasmine.  She will be able to provide you with the medicine that can help him.”  Tyreen said, “Jasmine is known in these parts for her healing abilities.”

“If it can help Vyl, I’ll do it.” Said Callindra, her sentiments echoed moments later by the other two.

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Post Mortem Chapter 19

“What the fuck happened here?” Chief Inspector Micheal Donnovan stuck a piece of nicotine gum into his mouth as he walked into the building, ducking under the police tape that one of his deputies held up for him.
“You still trying to quit Mike?”

“Shut up Dan. Whadda we got?”

“It’s … it’s bad Mike.” Dan’s face twisted as though he’d bitten into spoiled meat. “It’s real bad. We gotta real sick motherfucker here Chief.”

They moved into the tent that was set up over the ruined front door of the building and Micheal fought down bile. The two bodies of the guards had been mutilated horribly. Although he knew it was utterly impossible, it almost looked like someone or … something had punched through their chests and torn their hearts out.

One of them had many broken bones and the other had a pair of gunshot wounds that, according to the initial report he scanned had been inflicted after the body had been dead. He swallowed hard and held out a hand. Dan wordlessly put a pack of cigarettes into it.

“It gets worse Mike.” He held the lighter out. “It gets a lot goddamn worse. Charity’s waiting down there with the circus act that’s the coroner’s report.”

“Yeah, OK. Keep the press out would ya?” He lit the cigarette and walked down into Hell’s charnel house.

“Now what the hell are we supposed to do?” The Fifth demanded, “The First are all dead, our secrets exposed to the cattle and we have no idea what or who is responsible!”

“It is the revolution.” Said the Fourth, “It can be naught else.”

“Those worms do not have the fortitude, the knowledge or the raw power to accomplish something like this.” The Third retorted, “It could not have been them.”

“Who else? The Hunters have been all but eliminated with the death of The Architect and it is not as though the cattle know anything.” The Fifth said.

“It matters not.” Said the Third speaking in a formal meeting for the first time in a decade. “Now we must focus on guarding against the threat that stands before us. We must accept that there is a new enemy. Perhaps a new predator.”

The others quieted, allowing this to sink in. “We all know now that Burnham was designing a disease to kill the cattle.” The Fifth began.

“I have felt it.” The Third said, raising the mask. The others gasped in shock. The face beneath was a mass of half healed wounds, some of which weeped blood. Now that the Third’s voice was no longer reverberating behind the mask, it sounded weak and strained.

“Third!” The Fifth exclaimed, “What are you doing?”

“I… will… show… you…” There were gasps of effort and pain between the words. Or were those gasps of pleasure? The wounds broke open and blood oozed from them, the coppery smell rich, thick and inviting to the other immortals in the room.

All they saw was a brief image. The last moments seen by dying eyes. A mass of ropy muscle and tendon extending like some grotesque serpent following the music of an insane snake charmer. It paused for a moment in front of their collective vision and they could all see an eyelid open from one part of it.

A piercing green eye peered at them, sparkling with hunger and malice. The eyelid blinked and the eye had been replaced by a maw of serrated fangs. It struck, faster than even Immortal eyes could follow and the vision was gone. Something still gripped the seer, although it had released the others in the room.

The Third drew shuddering, hesitant breaths, tears of pure vitae flowing down its cheeks to mix with the blood already there. “It ate his eyes. I could feel it looking at me. It sees me.” Its voice trembled with abject terror and rose in pitch and volume, “IT SEES ME!”

I floated in a wonderful sea of ecstasy, feeling warm and contented. The hunger that had nearly torn me asunder was sated and I was in a state of dreamy bliss. A vague feeling of something being wrong nagged at the corner of my consciousness, but I paid it little mind.

Something intruded upon my relaxed state, a bright light and the sound of human voices. They came and went, and I paid them little heed. There was nothing to fear from them. The voices went away, but the lights stayed opressively bright through my closed lids.

When the sound of footsteps and more human voices came to me again I was forced to take notice. Where was I? Memories filtered to the forefront of my mind. I was in the Tribunal’s formal audience hall. Something had happened… I had…

I tried to open my eyes, tried to sit up, tried to move at all, but nothing happened. I didn’t seem to have arms, legs, or anything that resembled a normal body. Centering myself, I forced calm.

“Jesus H fucking christmas, what the hell is this?” The voice was grating and gravely. I sensed the sharp, acrid scent of burning tobacco and I wanted it.

“Well sir, from what we can tell there are at least five bodies here. The confusing part is that they all seem to be… mixed somehow.” This voice was crisp and professional, but I could hear an undertone of tightly controlled terror. I liked this girl.

“No shit, they look like they’ve been put through a fucking wood chipper!”

“Yes, well… “ She took a breath and exhaled it sharply, “There’s no blood. There’s no viscera. With this many bodies there should be entrails, human waste, and a lot, I mean a lot of blood. But there isn’t any. Forensics collected over a thousand spent shell casings and they’ll have one hell of a time pulling everything out of the walls, but all this flesh looks like it’s been dead for days!”

“Who’s to say it hasn’t been?” He asked, the tobacco smell coming strongly again.

“Well, that’s the thing. The necrosis I’m seeing here indicates varying degrees of decay but it’s not like rotting meat at all. It’s more like frozen or very well refrigerated meat, and even then that doesn’t explain the lack of blood.” She paused as if steeling herself for what she was about to do, “But there’s more, take a look at this.”

“Sweet mother of… What the fuck is that?”

“I have no idea. It’s some kind of organic compund. At first I thought it was gelatin, but it’s nothing I can identify. I really don’t know what it is.”

“Goddamn it Charity, you gotta give me something.”

“Sir. This is way above my paygrade.” The click of her heels was getting closer. “I need some air, mind if I…”

“No, it’s fine, go ahead.” He said, “Is Ramirez here?”

“Not yet sir.” I felt her foot touch me. She had stepped on me. What the hell? I reacted instinctively, reaching up and felt a shock when we met skin on skin. My flesh melded with her flesh.

I could see the room now, the beauty of the destruction my hunger had wrought. This body was new to me, but it seemed fit and until recently it had been full of life and vigor. It wouldn’t last long, but I didn’t need it to. I took a step and faltered slightly, not having full nerve control yet.

“Hey Charity… you holding up all right?” I looked at his face, the rough stubble of beard and the deep shadows under his eyes. A cigarette was burning in his hand and even though he had spoken to me, is eyes were on my chest. It seemed to be as much a habit as the smoking.

I reached into the breast pocket of his shirt and took out his pack of cigarettes. “I think I need one of these.” I said, taking one out and waiting expectantly for him to proffer a lighter.

“I didn’t know you smoked.” He said, looking warily at me.

“I don’t.” I said, feeling the first nicotine buzz I had experienced in a century. With a feeling of giddy excitement, I turned and walked from the room and out the front door of the building.

I wept real, actual tears as the warmth of the sun touched my skin with a benevolent caress. Turning my face up toward the sky I let the sun wash away the despair that I’d felt ever since Svenka died. The sun was shining, I was free, and I knew where my lover’s killers were hiding.  Perhaps there was something to live for after all.

~fin

The Callindra Chronicles Chapter 20

The next morning, Callindra awoke later than she had intended. She shuffled out of her room into the common room between her and the boys room in her underthings, feeling a little disoriented. Looking out the window, she saw that the courtyard below was empty of the practicing figures she had seen the day before.

Pulling on rumpled breeches and wrapping her chest tightly, she looked blearily around the room. She found a plate of fruit and ate an apple, core and all while staring down at the practice yard.

“Damn, I didn’t ask how to get there last night.” She muttered, helping herself to a glass of water from the pitcher on the table. “Well nothing for it but to jump.” She grinned, slung her sword belt over her back and leaped out of the window, the winds whipping around her body as she fell.

She landed in the courtyard lightly, whipping Brightfang from his sheath with a flourish. “Awesome, there are even practice dummies!”

“Indeed. What is your name girl?” A low voice sounded behind her.

She spun to face the man, moving her sword into a guard Stance.

“Easy, you are the one intruding upon my practice grounds.” She had seen this man the day before, striding through the drilling acolytes with a severe look on his face. He was the only one who hadn’t been wearing armor, his only protection was a massive shield strapped to his back. The top was almost a foot above his head and the bottom nearly dragged on the ground.

“My apologies sir.” She sheathed her sword with practiced ease. “I meant no offense, I was merely looking for a place to work my morning Korumn.”

His eyebrows rose briefly, then his eyes narrowed slightly. “Show me then.”

Unsure what to make of his scrutiny, she walked to the middle of the courtyard and sat with Brightfang across her knees. Her morning meditation came easily here in spite of the breezes that tickled her neck and played with the ragged ends of her hair.

When the First Korumn was finished, she rose and began moving through the Stances, eyes almost closed, feeling the passage of the air over her body. Brightfang’s tip whistled through the air, as she moved, and she almost missed the slight sound to her right. She jerked him to a stop just before his razor sharp edge cut into her observer’s scalp.

“What are you doing, moving into the line of a practicing sword fighter? Are you mad?” She could feel the energy that she had built in the first half of her practice quivering within her sword.

“Just testing to see if you had any control.” He snorted, “You wouldn’t have had the chance to cut me.” She looked above him to see the bulk of his shield.

“There’s no way you could move that monster fast enough to stop me. It’s on your back!” She said, “You took a serious risk you know, I’m still just an apprentice.”

“Just because it’s on my back doesn’t mean it’s not still protecting me.” He shifted his weight forward and the shield slipped slightly to cover most of his head. With a practiced motion he swung it off his back to land between them with a resounding thud.

“Those moves look pretty polished, but I know from experience that polish isn’t always a good thing. Makes you predictable, which is something you can’t afford to be in a real battle.”

“Look, if you want to spout some lecture save it for your initiates or whatever you call them.” Callindra said, tossing her head irritably, “I just came here to practice. Without practice I get a little too unpredictable.”

A stray wind whipped across the practice grounds, strong enough to set the dummies dancing on their ropes. “I’d rather not waste the morning away with idle chatter.” She said.

He moved to a nearby bench, carrying his shield as though it wasn’t a six foot wall of steel. Instead of sitting, he set the shield down and leaned on it. Callindra gave him a level look, then rolled her eyes and resumed her Stances. The Korumn flowed easily and at the end she felt refreshed, ready for the day and more importantly as though she had managed to put somewhat of a leash on her fractious connection to the Weave.

“Now that dance class is over, let’s spar.” She had forgotten the shield-toting instructor was there, he hadn’t even moved while she was practicing. He had a heavy wooden mallet in one hand and was lifting that monstrous shield with the other.

“Dance class? Big talk for a man hiding behind a castle portcullis!” She stood lightly on the balls of her feet, Brightfang’s edge glittering like a gemstone. “I am Callindra Sol’Estin of Glarian Sol’Estin. I am two years old. The wind hones my edge and guides my steps. My enemies bend before me like reeds before a gale.”

Now she was certain she saw his eyebrows raise, but she was too busy launching an all-out attack to give it any thought. Just as she had predicted, the sheer mass of his tower shield made it nearly impossible for her to reach him. She did manage to put a few notches around the edges and make it ring like a bell though.

The blur of the mallet’s motion was too fast for her to even think about dodging. Her opponent used the bulk of his shield to mask his attack until the last second, the steel bound end of the mallet hit her shoulder like a charging bull, sending her sprawling on the ground. She rolled and came up smoothly to her feet, only to find she had to leap backward to avoid another blow.

How had he closed on her so fast? That shield must weigh as much as a horse but it had been foolish of her to believe carrying it would make him slow. Just as her feet touched the ground, he seemed to appear before her, still running full tilt.

His shield connected with a solid head to toe blow, knocking her flat on her back with the wind rushing from her lungs.
Callindra tried to shake off the shock and pain that dazed her, it was all she could do to roll to one side as she felt more than heard the mallet slam into the turf where her head had just been. Was he truly trying to kill her? The thought made her break out into a cold sweat.

She had to be faster. Rolling to her feet, she was grimly satisfied that all her training had paid off; she still held fast to Brightfang’s hilt. Her opponent was a few feet away, giving her just enough time to act. She ran to her right, circling him as fast as she could, but moving ever closer. Instead of trying to attack, she was waiting for him to make a move.

The instant his right arm was visible, she jumped to the left, completely changing her direction, leaping over his attack and slashing Brightfang in a flashing arc. The head of the mallet was neatly separated from the shaft, Callindra grimaced, she had been aiming for his wrist. She landed lightly and immediately sprinted in the other direction again, dodging the edge of the shield as it slammed into the ground.

She had removed one weapon, but he treated that shield like a much more deadly one. She needed to be more unpredictable. With a madcap grin, she ran toward him, calling up arcane energies from the flat of her blade. Just before she was within range of a shield bash she released a blast of wind that should have knocked him over. Dust exploded in a cloud in the courtyard, making it difficult to see.

Callindra attempted to jump over her opponent, but ended up coming up short and landing on the top edge of his shield. Trying to take advantage of her mistake she brought her sword down, attempting to force him to surrender. To her surprise, a burly hand grabbed her forearm and flung her flat on her back, twisting her wrist as it did so and sending Brightfang tumbling from her grip.

When she had recovered from the brutal full body impact with the ground, she could see the cloud of dust had settled and the man who had so completely defeated her was nowhere to be seen. A group of novices had arrived and were righting racks of weapons and shields, sweeping dirt and dust from a cobbled square and raking the earthen practice grounds smooth.

“What’s your name?” A burly youth in a simple grey smock asked, offering her a hand up.

She back flipped to her feet, landing next to her sword, “Where I come from, it is customary to introduce yourself before asking another’s name.” Picking up Brightfang, she carefully inspected him. The wrapping on his hilt appeared to be a little loose.

“Sorry, I wasn’t trying to be rude. I’m Tam.” He said, “That was quite the show you put on. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone disarm the Sargent before.”

“You all use blunt weapons, it would be difficult for you. Besides, I missed. I was aiming for his arm.” She saw the shock register on his face, “I’m Callindra.”

“Ca lin drah?” He seemed to be rolling her name around in his mouth, “Callindra, why were you trying to cut the Sargent’s arm off?”

“He was trying to kill me Tam. If I hadn’t rolled away… I swear, that mallet came within inches of my head.”

Tam chuckled, “You aren’t the first to mistake his actions for killing intent. He just wanted you to stop holding back. How did you do that anyway?”

He gestured to the general disarray of the courtyard, overturned benches, spilled weapon racks and now she saw trenches on either side of a section of untouched ground. Her blast of wind hadn’t managed to dislodge her opponent and instead had been deflected around his shield, carving twin trenches in the packed earth of the practice ground and destroying the neat order of the equipment along the walls.

“Northwind style.” She said shortly, it had been reckless for her to use magic in a city as large as this one. Tam looked at her a little askance, but before he could comment further she asked, “Is there a bath somewhere around here? I need to clean up, we’re leaving today and Gods know when I’ll be able to bathe again.”

“Yeah, if you help me rake I’ll show you where it is.” He said with a grin.

“Fine. I guess it’s my mess anyway.” She sheathed Brightfang stiffly, her left shoulder was going to be one big bruise from that mallet strike. At least the bone hadn’t broken, though from the way it felt it had been a near miss.

Taking a loose toothed rake from the wall, she helped Tam level the grounds. In about a half hour they had smoothed out the worst of it and left two other apprentices to sprinkle water and pack it with large stone rollers.

“Bath is through here.” Tam said, walking in to a large changing area. There was no door on the entrance and Callindra could see a few men and women with damp hair getting dressed. Huh, a mixed bath.

She wasn’t wearing much, just her chest wrap, over shirt and under breeches and it only took her a few moments to disrobe. There were cubbies for personal effects, and she folded her clothes and laid her sheathed sword on top, wrapped in his baldric.

“I wish I had brought a change of clothes.” She muttered, then turned toward the bath. Tam was staring at her wide eyed.

“What?” She asked, looking at the mixed company in the changing room. “Never seen a naked girl before?”

“I – uh” he blushed, “I thought you were a boy. Sorry.”

Callindra shrugged, “I’ll take that as a compliment.”

She sat on a wooden stool and scrubbed the dirt and sweat away, trying to ignore Tam’s scrutiny, before rinsing and padding to the wide pool of steaming water for a good hot soak. Now that she was covered in water up to her neck Tam seemed a little less awkward.

“So you’re a sword fighter eh? That’s pretty cool.”

“Mmm.” The water must have soothing herbs or minerals or something in it, Callindra could feel the pain of her shoulder and her other scrapes and bruises easing.

“You must have seen quite a bit of action. Because of all your scars I mean.”

“Most of those are from training, the ones that aren’t from whippings when I was a kid anyway. But the biggest ones are from the road. Kobolds.” She raised her leg out of the water to point to the newly healed shallow cut that ran across her thigh.

“Whoa, that looks nasty.” He said, then his brow furrowed, “Your master gave you scars? What the hell kind of training is that?”

Callindra smirked and sunk back into the water. “My training wounds were all self-inflicted. Learning to wield a sword is a lot different that learning to use a hammer, and learning this fighting style is even more dangerous than normal swordplay. It suits my reckless nature, or at least that’s what I’ve always thought.” Well that’s what Glarian had always jokingly said. Thinking of him gave her a pang of loneliness.

She sat and soaked, mumbling answers to Tam’s curious questions and breathing in the thick steam that rose from the water. At the edge of hearing she could discern a voice, layered with disdain.

“-believe he is sending these children on a mission of this import!” This voice was high to the point of being shrill.

“Who else is there? We need the experienced hands we have here to train the initiates and the rest of our able bodied fighters who could be trusted with this task are currently committed to the field.” This voice was low, almost too quiet for her to hear.

“It’s better not to send anyone than to send these untried kids. The risk that they will ruin any further communication with the ancients is more than we can afford.”

“I disagree. They have definite potential. I tested one of them today as a matter of fact; she’s reckless, disrespectful and dangerous.” The voice paused, “But she has more strength in her than she knows.”

“Master Sergeant, I cannot condone-“

“Nobody is asking for your permission Deacon. It has been decided. The Biscop has spoken.”

The voices drifted off and Callindra felt a warmth that had nothing to do with the water. He thought she had potential did he? She grinned, “Well I had better get back to my companions. I’m sure if I don’t return soon they won’t let me eat before we leave for the ruins of Lin Lamorak.”

“Lin Lamorak?” Tam goggled at her, “Wait, you’re with … you are traveling with The Te’Chern?”

“Yeah, Tryst recruited us in Thornehold. I gather we just had to come here to get the instructions from the biscuit or whatever himself.” She stretched languidly. “Damn they put something in this water don’t they? It’s so relaxing.”

“You’re traveling with The Te’Chern?” His voice rose an octave, “I don’t believe it! I – uh no disrespect for making you help out there. I didn’t know who you were and…”

“What? That? It was nothing, this bath was totally worth the effort.”

“Do you have spare clothing? I will get your spare clothing, and make sure your soiled clothes are washed before you leave.” He scrambled out of the bath, “Just stay here and I’ll be right back. I’ll be right back.”

Callindra watched him rush out of the room, barely stopping to grab a towel on the way. Priests were weird she decided, even warrior priests. She soaked for a while, letting the water work its magic on her sore muscles and then reluctantly exited the pool, drying herself with a rough towel and padding back to the locker area.

Tam had taken her clothes but left a clean robe underneath Brightfang. She shrugged into it with an indifferent sigh and wondered how the hells she was going to get back to her room. She sighed again, deciding there was nothing to do but wait for Tam to return.

In a few minutes he came back into the room at a run, carrying a bundle of things in his hands. “Sorry it took so long, when I went to your room your … brother? gave me the supplies you asked for and your armor too.”

He set down a tall pair of boots, a set of thick leather greaves for her thighs along with her breastplate and a pile of clothes.
“Thanks Tam. He’s not my brother, unless brother in arms counts though.” She took off the robe and began dressing. The boots were a surprisingly good fit, they had a half dozen buckles that kept them tight to her calves all the way up to the knee the greaves felt strange on her thighs but didn’t seem to impede her movement as she had feared they might.
“Can you get this buckle?” Callindra asked, motioning to one of the sides of her breastplate, “It’s a pain in the ass to get completely tight.”

Tam hesitated but cinched her armor tight, his eyes going slightly wide. “Do you need anything else?”

“Just directions to my room. I sorta jumped out the window instead of using the stairs this morning.” She said, fastening her baldric over her shoulder and smiling at the shocked look on his face.

“But. Your room is on the third floor.”

“Really? It didn’t seem that high up to me.” She said with a grin, “Can you show me the way?”

“Uh yeah.” He turned and hurried into the building with her following close behind.

The Callindra Chronicles Chapter 19

The City of Arkasia was much larger than Callindra thought possible.  The wall was visible from miles away and there were quite a few carriages and wagons on the road as well as other horses and a multitude of foot traffic.  In spite of all the travelers the traffic barely slowed at the gate.  A system of checking wagons and processing visitors allowed efficient entry without impeding the majority of them.

It only took a few minutes to give names, origin, destination and duration of stay.  Tryst handled the majority of the questions and all the others had to give were their names.  Inside the gate was a scene of chaos, throngs of people selling everything hungry, thirsty, tired travelers might want, sedan chairs being carried by well-muscled footmen, men and women in livery hurrying about on some errand or another for their House.

The noise was deafening and had it not been for Tryst’s sure knowledge of his destination and single-minded determination to reach it they would surely have been swept into the crowd and separated.  After the initial crush, the people thinned out and they were able to re-mount their horses.  They wound their way through the streets at a trot and arrived at a towering cathedral built from huge basalt blocks.

There was a large courtyard but no gate or fence.  Tryst handed the reins of his horse to a waiting stable boy and walked straight through the open front door.  “Tryst Te’Chern to see Biscop Mida.” He said to the first acolyte he came upon.  The unfortunate boy stared at the mountain of chainmaile and gaped in open-mouthed awe.

“Te’Chern?  THE Te’Chern?”

“The Biscop is engaged in a meeting with his advisors at the moment.” A man with greying hair, “You may wait for him in the antechamber.” He wore a simple robe but Tryst bowed in deference.

“As you wish Sir.  Do not trouble yourself, I know the way.”

He led them down a long hallway and through a plain wooden door.  A simple oak table had bread, fruit, salted pork and wine laid out for them to eat.

“THE Te’Chern?” Cronos asked, raising an eyebrow at his brother.

“I may have made a bit of a name for myself in the academy.” He replied with a hint of chagrin, “Think nothing of it.”

Callindra sat at the table and poured herself a cup of wine.  It was cool and soothing on the back of her throat.  She loosened the straps on her armor and leaned back in her chair, looking around the room with idle curiosity.

In spite of the size of the cathedral, this room wasn’t all that much larger than the ones she had seen in the much smaller church in Thornehold.  The windows were tall, narrow slits with steel shutters that could be closed against weather or attack but still left ample room for an archer to fire from.  What reason could anyone have to build such a defensible structure in the middle of a large city?

“This was one of the first buildings to be completed when this area was first settled.” Tryst said, noticing her taking account of the militant construction of the room.  “We are also an Order that strives to uphold justice and peace, defending the weak and protecting the defenseless so much of our training revolves around combat.  The austere aspect of the building quickly winnows out those looking for a life of ease among the Priesthood.”

“Well-spoken young Te’Chern.”  A deep voice spoke from the hallway as a short, thick man entered.  He was barrel-chested and his arms were the size of Callindra’s waist.  His robes were the same rough woven wool that every other priest she had seen wore; however he wore a richly embroidered alb around his shoulders.

Tryst started, then turned and dropped to one knee.  “Lord Biscop, may I please have your blessing?”

The Biscop placed one hand on Tryst’s head and the other on the rim of his shield, “An arm to defend.  A mind to discern.  We offer Sanctuary of body and soul in a world of chaos.  May your arm be swift and your mind strong.”

He turned to the rest of them with a quizzical look on his face, “So these warriors have agreed to join you and complete the task I have set you to?”

“We agreed to hear you out anyway.” Cronos said, looking up from where he slumped at the table.  “Nobody’s said more than that yet.”

“The news I share with you is grave indeed.” He turned to face Cronos, “We began feeling a disturbance some time ago.  The Gods were restless, which is never a good thing and after a time we became aware that the followers of Gode had ceased to have their prayers answered by their God.”

“What?” Tryst sprang to his feet from where he had been kneeling, “How is that possible?  If the God of Creation is no more, then Onde can destroy everything!”

“Calm yourself child, if Gode was indeed gone we would cease to be.  This is not a problem that will end all of creation; it is merely a problem that faces us here in this realm.”  He paused and shook his head gravely, “Although the further a stone begins rolling downhill the more difficult it is to stop.  Tryst, you and your companions must find the remnants of the Lost Order.  Only they have the knowledge needed to re-establish contact with Gode.”

“Sounds interesting.  What’s in it for me though?” Asked Vilhylm.

“Your needs will be provided for along with suitable reward upon completion of your task.” The Biscop said, “We offer each of you the sum of one thousand pieces of gold for returning with the information we need.”

Callindra gaped in disbelief, she could buy a farm or a business, she could live comfortably for years.  More importantly she could finance her journey to find Glarian easily with that kind of money. “Done.” She said as soon as she recovered her composure.

After a few moments the others also voiced their assent.

“Excellent.” The Biscop said, “Now you will need to keep the horses lent from our Brothers in the south, we can ensure you have rations for the trail and coin for re-supplying.  Do any of you require armor or armaments?”

“I could use some greaves to complete my leather.”  Callindra said, “But Brightfang is all the weapon I need.”

“You don’t have anything I could use.” Vilhylm said, “Thank you for offering though.”

“A brace of daggers wouldn’t hurt.”  Cronos said, “I wouldn’t mind a chain shirt too if you can spare it.”

“I will have someone show you to your rooms then and make sure that your requests are fulfilled before you leave in the morning.”  The Biscop clapped his hands and a pair of figures wearing identical gray robes with the hoods pulled over their faces entered, beckoning them to follow.  “Tryst will be along shortly, he and I have some Church business to attend to.”

Callindra followed the robed figures to a room that could have been the exact same one she had slept in while in Thornehold other than the window looked out on a practice yard instead of a busy street.  Dozens of figures drilled with hammers and shields under the watchful eyes of several armored men.

There was a pitcher of chilled white wine and a plate of bread on the table in the common room and two separate sleeping quarters.  Feeling tired from her long time on the road, Callindra found a bath, then a bed.

Post Mortem Chapter 18

“What is that disturbance?” Demanded the Elder wearing the Mask the First of the Tribunal.  “Balif, you will go now and deal with it.”

A hulking monster of a vampire stepped from the alcove where he had been standing motionless and stalked far too silently out of the room for his prodigious size.  There was a crash and clatter of small things falling to the floor.

No sound came from the hallway.  After a moment, a slow trickle of strange viscous fluid flowed down the three steps and into the meeting room.  A pair of shatteringly beautiful voices sang out of tune with each other in discord that ground against the ear.  The words of the song, if there were words, were in a language that escaped even the learned Elders in this chamber.

A figure in a torn Armani suit tumbled down the stairs, bleeding from a set of claw marks across its face.  The wounds didn’t seem to be closing even though the figure was obviously one of their kind.  What manner of madness was this?

The First gestured sharply and a cadre of heavily armed and armored guards moved forward to make a shield wall between the Elders and the door.  He sat back, fingering the cane next to him.  It contained a yard of knife sharp steel inside its polished ebony shaft.

The sharp click of a woman’s high heeled shoes striking the polished marble floor echoed throughout the silence of the chamber.  The guards raised the muzzles of their assault rifles and waited.  What walked through the door was a twisted parody of beauty.

Her body was long and graceful, her gait a sinuous stride that made her movements seem slower than they really were.  The tatters of an elegant silk robe still clung to her mutilated torso, shreds of flesh hanging with bits of white bone showing beneath.  Her left arm hung limp and useless and broken but what truly drew the eye was her mouth.

Instead of the elegant pair of sharp canine fangs, or even the sometimes the row of needles that appeared when one of their kind was truly starving, hers showed a bristling forest of spikes.  Some were so long that they overhung her lower jaw and many jutted out at obscene angles, punching through her cheeks.  There were rows of them, and her mouth kept opening wider and wider as more formed.

The sound coming from her mouth was a painfully beautiful, yet off key set of tones that made the air seem to quiver in protest.  When they didn’t respond, the creature paused and an expression that could only be described as primal rage crossed its face.

“Please, you have to kill her!”  The suited man said, crawling toward the line of guards.

“Vladimir?”  The First said, recognizing the vampire on the floor, “What is the meaning of this?”

“Shoot her, SHOOT HER!!!” Vladimir screamed.

The First crooked the little finger on his left hand and a single gunshot tore through Vladimir’s head.

“Stay where you are or be executed.”  The First said, watching in satisfaction as the leader of the Revolution twitched his last, the idea of soaking a rowan wood core in holy water and sheathing it in silver for a bullet had been his.  It was most effective..  “Blessed weapons made of silver and rowan are aimed at your heart, your brain and your gut.”

The creature tilted its head to one side, as if trying to consider something so far beneath or above it.  Like a human trying to understand a dog or a dog trying to understand english.  Then it made an unmusical, croaking sound that resolved into something that resembled words.

“Exe-cute-d?”  It said, “Ble-ss-ed?” It asked, the tangle of its teeth tearing chunks of cheek and lip as it spoke.  Then it turned its gaze to the soldiers in front of it. “Row-wan?”

“What, you don’t understand my words?  You don’t know the danger you are in?”  The First said with a smile.

“Heart brain and gut.” The creature said with startling clarity, “These your weaknesses?  Thank you.”  It smiled and froze the vitae in the First’s heart, as he realized he wasn’t hearing it speak.  This thing was inside his head. “That is where the best flavors will be.”

“Kill her!” He snarled, and the guards opened fire.  The projectiles ripped through the woman, shards of bone and flesh exploding from dreadful exit wounds.  Even the Tribunal Elders who were accustomed to violence and meting out Final Death winced at the carnage.  Those weapons were harsh reminders of how they could suffer if their weaknesses were exploited.

After absorbing dozens of rounds, what was left of the woman stumbled backward against the wall, her head was half demolished and one of her arms had been completely severed.  She swayed for a moment and then slid down the wall to the floor.  Graceful even in death.

“Go finish it.”  The First commanded.  One of the men reloaded his weapon and approached.  Drawing a silver hatchet from his belt, he bent to hack the woman’s head from her shoulders.  The body was obscured by his for for a moment and even as he swung he seemed to flinch away from the thing he was executing.

The flinch was followed by the sound of a whip cracking and he fell with all the grace of a rag doll.  The hatchet rang with a high, pure tone as it struck the marble floor.

“What the hell was that?  Get over there and KILL THE BITCH!” The First stood and leaned forward.

Three men came forward, pulling similar pure silver weapons from their belts.  The beautiful, but jarring sound of the woman’s musical chiming voice reverberated throughout the room and the soldiers closest to her dropped their weapons to clap their hands over tortured ears.

Heedless of their companions being in the way, the rest of the guards opened fire again, the sheer volume of projectiles shattering the marble sheathing on the walls and filling the air with the smell of cordite and burning blood.  The First realized that the chiming sound was laughter.

What rose from the ruined mess of flesh and bone was vaguely humanoid in shape, but gave the impression that it was just a shape made of untold thousands of things working together to accomplish a goal.  Thin threads of ropy muscle strengthened by shards of bone shot from it, impaling each of the guards three times, once in the head, once in the heart and once in the gut.

The chiming laughter made the world seem to tremble.  The First used his Dark Gift, calling upon his blood to grant him power, speed and the most powerful of all, foresight.  He could see possibilities stretch out before him, every movement showing a faint suggestion of what would come.

He blinked, focusing on potential futures, reaching as far ahead as he ever had.  Then the figures on the floor all stood, turning in unison to look at him from eyes that seemed to seethe like spheres of maggots.

“Mine.”  The woman’s voice grated against the inside of his skull as though attempting to bore through the bone.  “All the flesh, old and withered.  All the blood, fresh and vibrant.  All the bone, strong as steel.  All the Powers, bright and fair.  All the curses, black as hell.”

Every future he could see held nothing but the Final Death.

The Callindra Chronicles Chapter 18

The group had spent five days riding and thankfully had not seen any more trouble.  The sun was close to setting and they were approaching a small town.  Callindra seemed to remember Tryst calling it Gomreed apparently after the name of the grasses that grew at the edge of the lake from which many of the townsfolk made their living.

While Vilhylm and Cronos went to find lodging, Callindra and Tryst asked directions to the constable so that they might report the trouble they’d had with Kobolds.  Although it had been seven days this was the first place that had someone who would be able to send word to a Lord and Tryst was adamant that someone of authority be notified.

The cut on her thigh was healing nicely thanks to an ointment Tryst had given her, but it still itched bad enough to make her irritable.  After days in the saddle and sleeping on the ground at night Callindra was ready for a hot bath and a real bed, but Tryst insisted on seeing the constable before they secured lodgings.  She would have let him go on his own but he had asked her to accompany him.

“Callindra, I would welcome your input when reporting this matter to the authorities.” He had said, “I think you would give good perspective if they ask specific questions.  I am less skilled in tactics and warfare than you are.”

It was flattering and she agreed to go, in spite of her desire to slip into a hot bath.  As they made their way through the hard packed dirt streets of Gomreed, Callindra noticed they were attracting a lot of attention.  Some even went as far as to shutter windows and bar doors.

“Do you think there has been trouble here lately?  I don’t remember villagers being this fearful before, do you Tryst?” She asked.

“It just depends on where you go Callindra, every village is different.  Some fear outsiders and others welcome them.”  He sounded exhausted, worn to the limit.

They entered a business district with shops and a few taverns with music pouring out of their doorways. “Well either way let’s just find their magistrate or whatever and get to the inn.  My skin feels like it’s going to crawl away and I’m really looking forward to a hot meal.”  The familiar scent of tac touched her nostrils and she turned her head to find the source.  A small store was nestled between a pair of taverns, the sign above the door read ‘The Dry House’ and a man stood outside smoking a long stemmed pipe.

“Pardon me sir, would you know the way to the local constable?” Callindra said with a smile.  “We have something to report.”

“Run into trouble on the road?” He said, blowing a large smoke ring.  An errant breeze blew it spiraling erratically over their heads, although strangely enough it kept its shape.

“Something like that.  My name’s Callindra, this is my traveling companion Tryst.” She said, extending her hand.

“Fredrick.” He said, firmly shaking her hand, “The local magistrate’s office is just down the road on the right, you can’t miss the sign hanging over the street.  It’s a noose with a raven flying overhead.  Stop by on your way back, I can tell you’re interested in my wares.” He smiled and released her hand.

“Thanks Fredrick, maybe I will.” She said, “The smell brings back some memories I don’t want to lose.”

“Good luck.”

They continued down the street and soon saw the aforementioned sign.  Tryst stopped in the doorway, “Excuse me, is this the office of the Magistrate?”

A large man wearing a doublet stained with rust from armor came to the door.  “Yeah yeah, what is it now?”  He grumbled, “Someone had better be murdered.”

“I apologize sir, allow me to introduce myself.  My name is Tryst Te’Chern and this is my traveling companion Callindra.”  Tryst said, “I wish to report that a caravan was waylaid along the road approximately one sennight ago by kobolds.  There were no survivors.”

“What do you want me to do about it?”  He asked, “Out of my jurisdiction.  I don’t have any sway along the road, let alone the manpower even if I did have the authority.”

“Well as to that, we dealt with the problem.” Tryst said, “I just wanted to have the influx of those creatures to be reported to someone of authority.”

“Then why are you telling me?  If the problem’s solved then there’s even less I can do about it.”  He said, turning to go back into the building.

“Sir!” Tryst burst out, causing him to pause.

“Was there something else?  I have my dinner waiting inside and a tankard of good ale that’s getting flat.”

“I apologize for the inconvenience sir but could you please pass along messages to the Lords of nearby Holdings if I pen it out tonight?  It would carry more weight coming from a local Magistrate.”  Tryst almost managed to keep the sarcasm out of his voice.

“Fine.” The Magistrate said and slammed the door in Tryst’s face.

“That fat, worthless…” Tryst took a deep breath, “He’s a disgrace to his position.”

“Come on Tryst, let’s go get a drink and some rest.” Said Callindra, reaching out to touch his elbow.

The bath was wonderful.  It was a wide, deep copper affair, set before a roaring fire in a tiled room.  A bottle of chilled wine sat within arm’s reach and there was an attendant with strong fingers to rub scented oils into her scalp and tense shoulder muscles.

“Can I get you aught else Miss?” The maid asked, setting down a thick robe next to the tub.

“Mmmm?”  Callindra raised her head slightly, “No, this is heaven.”

“You really a warrior?”

“Huh?”  Callindra reached for her wine glass and took a drink, “What’s your name?”

“Donna Miss.”

“Please call me Callindra Donna, Miss doesn’t quite fit.” She grinned and drained her goblet, “Yes I am a warrior, why?”

“Well, I never seen a woman what used a sword before.” Donna said, glancing at the sheathed Brightfang who lay within easy reach of Callindra’s right hand.  “Why you keep it so close?  Ain’t like someone gonna attack you here.”

“Brightfang isn’t just a sword Donna, he is my companion.” She smiled at the confused look on the woman’s face, “He is my friend who will never betray me as long as I stay true to him.  We are bonded.”

“Oh.” Donna gave her a direct, doubtful look, “That mean you don’t like men?”

“What?”  Callindra burst out laughing, “No, it just means that I don’t have to worry about anyone taking advantage of me, man woman or monster.”

Callindra’s laughter was infectious and the maid laughed along with her, “Sounds lonely, I wouldn’t mind that knight with the hammer takin advantage of me.”

“Knight?  Oh you mean Tryst?  He’s a priest, although I don’t know if his order is a chaste one or not.”  Callindra shrugged, “He’s pretty enough if you like that sort of thing.  I guess I never gave it much thought.”

She stood and Donna gasped, “Gods; that wound!” She exclaimed, pointing at the newly healed gash across her thigh.

“Yeah, it was a pretty nasty one.” Callindra said with a shrug, “It’s healing well though, mostly thanks to Tryst’s skills.  This one hurt too.” She said pointing to a long shallow scar across her rib cage, “Without my armor it might have killed me.”

“So many scars…” Donna’s voice trailed off as she saw the myriad of thin lines that crisscrossed her arms. “How you get em?  How old are you anyway?”

“I’m eighteen.  Most of these are from training, many are ones I gave myself.  Learning to wield a sword isn’t without its hazards.”

“Eighteen?  My younger sister’s eighteen, she’s been settled for near two years now.  Has the sweetest pair of boys you ever seen.”  Donna glanced over Callindra’s lean, muscled form and decided to stop talking about babies.

“Donna I wonder if you could get a couple pairs of men’s breeches that would fit me?  Maybe a shirt too.  I could do with some extra clothes.”

“Sure, no trouble.” Said Donna, “Well I best get to work.  Good ta meet you Callindra, I’ll bring the clothes you wanted up when we get em.  Should be with breakfast.”

Callindra regretfully looked at the empty wine bottle, but knew she should stick to water lest her head get the better of her the next morning.  She sighed, wrapped the robe Donna had left around herself, picked up Brightfang and made her way up to her room.

The next morning when Callindra woke she could hear the maids moving through the hallways.  Opening the door she found her new clothes folded and sitting outside her door just as Donna had promised alongside a tray with three small grilled fish, a pitcher of milk and half a loaf of bread so fresh it was still warm to the touch.

She dressed quickly and only paused to buckle Brightfang on over her tunic and grab the loaf of bread before heading out into the street, making her way back to The Dry House.  It had been a long time since she had smelled the particular blend of tac that Glarian used to smoke, but yesterday the scent had been strong.

When she arrived, Fredrick was just opening his shop.  A pot of strong tea was brewing over a small coal stove just inside the door and a heavy loaf of bread similar to the one she had consumed on the way here sat next to it.

“Ahhh… Callindra wasn’t it?” He said, looking up as she approached.

“Fredrick, I am interested in that blend you were smoking yesterday.”  She said, “I think it was an old friend’s favorite blend and the scent really brought back some pleasant memories.”

“You’re here very early my dear.  Why don’t you sit and have a cup of tea with me.  You can tell me of your travels and then we can talk business.”  He gestured to a pair of chairs outside the shop door with a steaming cup of tea.

“Thanks.” She said, sitting across the door from him.  “I’m not sure how much time I’ll actually have to chat though.  I need to stretch and practice before my party awakens.  I’m afraid we will be leaving today.”

“Tell me about this friend of yours at least then.”  He said, blowing on his tea to cool it, “It’s not just anyone who smokes Carilan Imperalus you know.”

“He saved my life.”  She sipped her tea and found it to be harsh and bitter, “I guess I don’t know much about him really.  As sad as it seems, we lived together for years and I never took the time to ask about his life.  I always thought there would be more time.  I won’t make that mistake again.”

Fredrick gave her a quizzical look over the rim of his teacup.  “That particular blend is one favored by the Keld’Ima.”  When she didn’t react he added, “The King’s personal bodyguards.”

Callindra laughed, a breeze swirling around her and playfully tickling the back of her neck, “I’m pretty sure he wasn’t a bodyguard.  He lacks any real desire to take orders I think.  Besides you don’t seem the type either but I certainly smelled it coming out of your pipe yesterday evening.”

“True enough.” He said with a grin, “I acquired a taste for the Imperalus blends years ago.  Strong yet subtle, just the right balance of aroma and body.  I don’t know what the curing process is but it takes time and skill.  Your friend, whoever he is, has good taste.”

He rose and walked into the shop, refilling his teacup then making his way behind a counter to a wall set with a myriad of small doors from floor to ceiling.  He opened one and slid a drawer out, selecting a sealed leather pouch before closing it firmly again.

“Here you are, twenty silver for a packet of memories.”

Callindra balked slightly, her room for the night had only cost half that.  “Gods, I’ll need a pipe and flint as well at that price.”

“Consider it done.” He took a long, narrow box from beneath the counter and took a slender pipe with a long stem from it.  She could see delicate carvings of flowering vines all down the stem and around the bowl.  “This should fit your character quite nicely.”

She was about to protest until she saw the vines were climbing roses with thorns clearly defined.  “I suppose it does at that.  The next time I’m in town I will take the time to sit and share some stories of the road.”

Fredrick smiled and gave her a small bow from the waist, “I look forward to it Callindra.”

Post Mortem Chapter 17

Riding in a car when blind except for the strange flickers of what I was becoming accustomed to as the flames of the life force of the beings around me was a very unnerving experience.  I could feel the world moving beneath me, even the Earth itself seemed to have a life force of its own.

It was distracting and the thrum of life from below in concert with the flickering flashes of red and gold flying by us at speed made me feel almost dizzy.  Or intoxicated.  I was hungry.

“Focus!” Vladimir had been speaking to me for some time and I’d been ignoring him.  Partially out of principle and partially because I hated the sound of his voice.  “This is important damn you, if you don’t remember-”

“Oh shut up you old windbag!”  I said, “If you wanted me to know anything in advance you should have told me, oh I don’t know IN ADVANCE!”

“It does not really matter in the end does it? Either you will die for my cause and be a martyr or else you will win and kill my enemies.” Vlad said, his annoyance fading into smug satisfaction.

“There’s a third possibility.” I said, my voice a gutteral animal growl.  “I just might decide to eat you and damn the consequences.”

“What did you say?”  He demanded, “What language was that?”

“I have no interest in your petty revolution.  I don’t care about your personal issues, your vendetta or the Tribunal.”  I said, fixing him with what I’m sure was an unsettling stare.  “And what I said was that I might.  Decide.  To.  Eat you.”

The car hummed on in silence for a few moments.  “So you figured it out did you?” He said with a mixture of hesitation and fanatic glee in his voice.

Now it all came together.  The pain.  My Dark Gift fleeing.  Not being able to heal.  The lack of vitae in my veins.  He had infected me with … I shuddered in revulsion and anger.

“You gave me the gods damned virus.”  I said flatly.

“Yes!”  He said with insane fervor, “You will be my triumph where they failed!  I changed it so that the Hunter carrier gene would mutate inside an Undead body instead of a dead body and you, my dear sweet Renyovalia are my crowning achievement.  The ulitmate predator, the perfect weapon!”

“Why shouldn’t I kill you right now?”  I asked, my fingers flashing out to close around his throat.

“Because I alone have the ability to change you back.”  He said, barely able to get the words out as I increased the pressure around his neck.  “You do want the antidote do you not?”

I shook, every animal instinct screaming to kill him and it took every ounce of self-preservation not to.  “If you are lying to me I will stake you out for a sunrise Vladimir.”

He laughed as I forced one finger at a time away from his cold, lifeless flesh.  Was I making a huge mistake?  Probably, but this old fossil didn’t have nearly enough life force for me.  His fire was buried deep and stoked low.  I wanted something more.

“When do we arrive?” I asked, licking a mouthful of razor sharp needles.  “I’m starving.”

Vladimir’s laugh cut off as though it’d been severed by a knife.  Perhaps he was having doubts about his ultimate creation.

The two guards standing outside the doors of the Tilton Corporation’s main headquarters knew to expect extra traffic tonight.  They’d already seen several limousines and a few high end sedans drop off unfamiliar but distinguished guests.  The Bentley Mulsanne was a far cry from the other cars that they’d seen tonight though.

It glided to the curb nearly noiselessly and the driver who exited was wearing an impeccable white suit and chauffeur’s cap.  The large buttons on his jacket gleamed with a color that could only be real gold.  He opened the door with a bow and a man in a flawless grey suit stepped out and offered his hand to someone within.

An arm with all the pigment of a snow drift save for the strange nail polish the color of a day old bruise extended to accept the assistance.  A leg of the same pale color with a small foot clad in a red silk slipper daintily stepped out and a woman emerged with boneless grace.  She wore an embroidered Kimono, obviously modified for comfort, and a pillbox hat on her head with a veil that covered her face.

Unconsciously straightening to an even more rigid ramrod stance, they watched with interest as the pair approached.  Just as his counterpart was extending his hand to ask for their invitation, the guard on the left experienced a slight twinge of pain on his neck.

His Dark Gift flared in response and he moved with unnatural speed, twisting to bring the long knife from his belt so quickly that it appeared as a single arc of steel to the naked eye.  When he turned to see what had touched him, nothing was there.

Turning back with the same blinding speed, he saw only the man and woman.  The man was handing a simple card of embossed paper to his partner and the woman was slithering up to him with that same sinuous grace she had exhibited when exiting the Bentley.

“Excuse me Miss, I’ll have to ask you to wait until your invitation has been verified.” He said, sheathing his knife.

She smiled and looked at him then.  One of her eyes was sewn shut with tidy, even stitches of black thread that contrasted with her pale, bloodless skin.  The other eye had no iris and no pupil but instead was a sphere of unblemished white.  Her smile was a forest of needles.

“Shit!” He yelled, drawing the knife again and slashing at her throat.  Instead of trying to duck or block the strike, she glided forward and his forearm struck her shoulder instead of the blade hitting her neck.  It hard enough to shatter her bones anyway, but she didn’t even flinch.

“Oh yes.”  She said, her voice musically beautiful.  “You are much more to my liking.”  She had grabbed his knife hand with her undamaged arm and now she bit his wrist hard.

He stared at her in shock, his muscles were getting rubbery and unresponsive.  His face even slumped as though the flesh was made of gelatin.  When he tried to speak, it came out as a gurgling, bubbling noise.  Then the pain started.

The woman’s hand punched through his tailor made suit and the reinforced Kevlar vest beneath.  He barely felt the pain on top of the agony that was already making him blind and deaf to everything around him.  The last thing he saw before entering Final Death was his heart vanishing between those spiked teeth.

“Fuck the hell YES!” I said, ecstasy thrilling through my body in a rush of pleasure and, more importantly, Power.  Unlike Hex who had been alive when infected, I had been dead for a very long time.  The only strength I still retained was dedicated to keeping my body functioning and the ‘meals’ I’d had weren’t sufficient to do more than keep me moving.

This young vampire had been healthy, full of vitae and vitality and I felt his strength fill me.  He had clearly been chosen because of his destructive strength and speed; both Powers that were now mine.

To my frustration, I found that I still did not have much in the way of healing.  The bones in my left arm grated and scraped but even though they were broken it didn’t hurt and I still retained some of the motion in it.  Maybe one of the other food inside the building would have what I needed.

Something changed within me with this influx of Power.  My consciousness narrowed to exclude the unimportant details, a process made much easier by my lack of normal sight.  The bits of flame around me were like Willow-the-Wisps.  I wanted to follow them to their source.

I turned to look at the flames next to me.  The smaller one wasn’t interesting but the larger one was beginning to flicker and fade.  I had to consume it quickly or it would be gone.  I removed the guttering flame and ate it with relish.  It was delicious, but already I craved more.

The things between me and my meal shattered beneath my touch.  The tread of my feet would shake this place until all of it broke into pieces.   My hunger would consume it all.

The Callindra Chronicles Chapter 17

Callindra returned to the room just in time to find Tryst setting out breakfast. Porridge and fruit with fresh baked bread, humble fare but filling and flavorful.
“Good, you’re back.” He said in greeting, “Come, break your fast and we will speak of the day to come. We will leave by the postern gate under my banner. Unless there is any reason to expect delay it should take us a fortnight to reach the Cathedral. Once there we will meet the Biscop and he will give us his blessing and the particulars of our mission.”

She set to with a will having worked up an appetite with her morning practice. “What are the travel conditions like around here?”

“Probably much the same as when you arrived.” Said Cronos, giving her a confused look.

“Yeah. I suppose.” She said around a mouthful of bread.

“The Lords do a fairly good job of keeping the road free of bandits and the like. Much of the upkeep of the surface itself is undertaken by locals who wish merchants to be able to easily pass by their farms and holdings.” Said Tryst, “I do not know about travel to the North and West but I would imagine the main trade route between the Capitol and Holding as large as Duke Gladthorne’s would be well protected and properly maintained.”

“Now all we have to worry about is making a graceful exit from this city.” Said Vilhylm, “I gather I’m not the only one who is leaving ahead of some… unwanted attention?” He looked pointedly at Callindra.

“When we are finished here we can leave by the postern gate. It should not be much of a challenge, we will be under my banner.” Tryst said. “The monks here have been kind enough to lend me horses for those of you who do not own one.”

True to his word, Tryst led his small group of warriors through the quiet morning streets and out the west gate without incident. Once on the road, Callindra discovered she had little skill with and less love for horse travel. The animal seemed to lurch in an ungainly fashion; she was forced to grip its wide barrel with her legs to keep her seat.

She was sure her inner thighs would be rubbed raw by the time they reached their destination. Her skirt was far too short to offer any protection and straddling the animal revealed a startling amount of leg. Too much even for the demands of her minimal modesty.

When they stopped for the midday meal, she gladly dismounted and stiffly stretched sore muscles. When she looked up she could see Vilhylm eyeing her horse with a questioning look on his face.

“What?” She said irritably rubbing her sore backside.

“I think your stirrups are a little too long.” He said, reaching out to adjust the buckles. “That should help a bit. I don’t think those priests are very familiar with riding further than the market or perhaps out to some of the outlying farms.”

Callindra stared at him for a moment, and then nodded in appreciation. “Thanks, I don’t know much about horses.”

“I’ve been living on the road for a long time. You pick up some things out of necessity.” He said, “You need to take the saddle off and walk him a bit before you water him, otherwise he might strain a muscle in the afternoon.”

Vilhylm showed her the basics of caring for the animal before they took some time to toast some bread and cheese over a small fire. Accompanied by a savory sausage and some wrinkled apples it made a good lunch.

They had saddled up and ridden for about an hour, thanks to Vilhylm’s modifications to her stirrup length a much more comfortable hour, when a thin column of smoke became visible ahead.

“That looks too large to be a campfire.” Said Callindra.

“Too dark, there’s cloth and leather burning in that fire.” Said Vilhylm, looking critically at the smoke, “I think we should prepare for trouble.” He paused and pulled a strangely carved mask from inside his cloak. Callindra could see several others in large pockets before his cloak covered them again.

Tryst was tightening the straps on his armor and Cronos was muttering an arcane incantation. Callindra shrugged and loosened Brightfang in his sheath.

“We should leave the horses here, out of danger.” Tryst said, “Unless any of you prefer to fight from horseback?”

They tied their animals to pickets in a small meadow a short distance from the road and continued on foot. Once they had topped a small rise, Callindra could see a scene of destruction displayed out in front of her. A small caravan lay in disarray, some wagons were burning, some turned on their sides, crates were smashed open and corpses lay strewn about.

Tryst rushed forward, checking the bodies for any signs of life. Callindra was appalled by the carnage; she had never imagined a human body could contain so much blood. Cronos didn’t even seem to notice the dead, walking past a caravan driver with his head nearly hacked off without batting an eyelash. Vilhylm plucked an arrow shaft from one of the caravans and examined it.

“Looks like Kobolds, not a human raiding party. Isn’t it strange for them to be this far south?” He said, “I thought they were mostly contained in the mountains and foothills.”

“They did a thorough job here.” Tryst said sadly, “No survivors.”

Callindra turned away from the carnage, towards the wooded hills. A light gust of wind moved the branches of the trees and she saw the outlines of small shapes. “Ware the hills!” Was all she managed before black fletched arrows filled the air.

Arrows struck the thick leather of her armor; others struck the caravans behind and the ground around her. With a steely rustle, she drew Brightfang from his sheath and whirled him in a complex series of arcs, harnessing the Weave and releasing a blast of wind that scattered the rest of the incoming shafts off course. The creatures ran from the cover of the trees, brandishing mostly clubs and rusted daggers, Callindra smiled and ran to meet their charge.

She glided through the incoming creatures, Brightfang sliding beneath the clumsy defense the first attempted and severing its arm. Adrenaline raged through her veins and her training took over. Callindra sidestepped an inept strike and lashed out, opening a terrible gash across the green skinned monster’s chest.

She could see Vilhylm’s black cloaked form slam into the charging Kobold’s and glanced in shock. The wooden mask on his face seemed to move as though it was part of his skin. His arms and shoulders were massively muscled and he used his hands as well as his feet to run and then pounce on one of the creatures with savage force.

“On your back!” Shouted Cronos, and Callindra could feel him close behind her. Thankful that she wouldn’t need to worry about an attack from behind, she focused on the foes in front.

The battle was short and brutal, the half-sized creatures had not the skills or the weapons to stand against their better trained and armed opponents. Although it seemed to last for hours, the fight took no more than minutes, leaving Callindra and her companions standing over their fallen foes, breathing heavily and bleeding from minor wounds.

“Is anyone badly hurt?” Tryst looked them over, concern evident on his face.

“I’m fine. I’ve had a lot worse.” Said Vilhylm, shrugging off any injuries he might be hiding under his black cloak.

“I have wounds that need dressing, but nothing serious.” Callindra said, gesturing to a particularly deep cut on her thigh with a wince. The adrenaline was wearing off and the pain of her injuries was beginning to surface.

“What do you think brought these monsters so far out of their normal range?” She looked around at the dead Kobolds and then at the dark blood that still clung to her sword blade and drew a shuddering breath, trying to calm her nerves.

“I don’t know, but it bodes ill.” Said Cronos, displaying more knowledge of the world than one so young normally would. “Likely it’s related to something worse inhabiting their caves.”

Callindra cleaned Brightfang on the canvas of one of the caravans, careful not to leave any of the acrid blood on the steel and tried to stop her hands from shaking. The others were still discussing the portent of the Kobolds presence but she couldn’t hear them anymore. How could anyone treat killing so casually? The reality of having just taken the lives of so many living beings rocked her to the core.

A hand fell on her shoulder, jolting her back to herself. “Are you OK Callindra?” Tryst asked.

“I just…” She took a deep breath, “That was my first battle. The first time I ever killed with my sword. It was not as I had imagined.”

“When it gets easier is when you should question yourself.” He said with a sad smile, “I am conflicted any time I’m forced to raise my hammer to do violence upon another. That hesitation has nearly cost me my life more than once, but that risk is worth the preservation of my humanity.”

“I fear we may not have the luxury of hesitation if fell things are invading the world of men.” Vilhylm said, walking over to where they sat. “The lives of many may well depend on our swift and decisive action.”

“I will always strive to uphold the First Oath my master taught me.” Callindra said, “Battle shall always be my last resort. My honor belongs to those weaker than myself. The edge of my sword stands against the Unlawful. Always seek peace, equilibrium in the world mirroring the balance of my blade. The wind blows impartially on sea and wildfire, on forest and mountain, bringing the seasons to pass. I am as the wind.”

“Those are flowery words girl, but try and apply that when facing a mob of angry villagers who blame you for something that’s gone wrong.” Sneered Cronos, “Besides, don’t you think these are weaker than you?” He said, kicking one of the Kobold corpses.

“There’s nothing wrong with having ideals as long as you don’t let them get you killed.” Said Vilhylm.

“I have been the weakest before; I know what it’s like on the bottom. None of you have any idea what it’s like to be a girl working in a Lord’s Holding.” Callindra retorted, “I won’t abuse what I have been given, nor will I allow others to do so if it’s within my power to stop them. These creatures slaughtered an innocent caravan not to mention they attacked us without provocation, their actions forfeit the peace of the First Oath.”

Cronos gave her a critical look, “Just don’t put your ideas about justice before my life; I don’t share your ridiculous optimism about the world.” He spun on his heel and walked back towards where the horses were tethered.

Vilhylm looked after his retreating form, “I’ve been here before Callindra and I’ve been where you are also. I admire your convictions. I wish I still shared them.”

“Someone has to; otherwise what’s the point of being alive?” She sheathed Brightfang with practiced ease.

“I trust you won’t turn up your nose at the spoils of battle?” He asked holding out a small pouch, “Those Kobolds had a bit of silver on them. It’s not much but we all have needs. That armor of yours will need to be repaired after today at very least.”

She took the pouch and held it in her hand. “This was likely the property of these caravan drivers recently. It probably belongs to their families.”

“There’s no way of knowing that now.” Vilhylm said, “If you want to survive you are going to have to think of yourself eventually. It’s impossible to always put others first Callindra.”

“I will accept this, but there are more important things than money.” Callindra said, tying the pouch to her belt, “I fought back to back with Cronos today. He treated me like an equal on the battlefield, you all did. I don’t know if I can explain what that means to me other than to say I will lay down my life to protect you.”

“Well said Callindra, let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.” Tryst said with a wry smile.

Post Mortem Chapter 16

“So… we’re supposed to be your attendants?” Ian asked me with trepidation in his voice.

“Yes.”  I said, “Now get me a cigarette.”

I had no idea what to do with these two idiots, but I was getting used to being waited on hand and foot, although it’d been a long time since I’d had the luxury..

“Go damn it!” I prodded him with the toe of my slipper.  I had insisted on having proper clothes and was now swathed head to toe in a luxurious silk robe that whispered against my skin like butterfly kisses.

In short order I had a cigarette, and sat smoking idly and trying to figure out what Vlad had in store for me.  Either he was going to sell me out, he planned on making me a marytr, or he was relying on me to somehow regain my Destruction and remove his biggest enemies.

I was hoping he didn’t think I was going to be able to anihilate the factions arrayed against him.  Even though I was getting used to this strange method of ‘seeing’ my regular powers hadn’t returned at all.  I sighed, trailing smoke out of my nose.

A feeling like the first thirst, only not quite as strong tickled at the back of my awareness and it was starting to get annoying.  I didn’t need blood, I needed something else.

“Hey, you morons don’t know anything about what Vald is planning do you?”  I asked, more for a distraction than anything else.

“What?  The professor…” Ian was still having trouble adjusting to reality, “I mean we didn’t even know there was anything going on at the university…”

“I don’t think anyone really knows what’s going on.” Phill said quietly, “I wish I didn’t know.”

“Oh relax, so the world’s full of monsters…” I laughed, “And you’re trapped in the room with one of them.”

“Uh.  Great.”  Ian said, but my moment of levity was gone and I was back to puzzling over my problem.

“Damn it, what’s he thinking anyway?  Why wouldn’t he fill me in on the plan beforehand?” I muttered, crossing my legs and kicking a slippered foot in irritation.

“Maybe he wants your surprise to be a part of it?  Like maybe it’d be more authentic if you were actually shocked by what happens?”  Ian suggested, “Otherwise it wouldn’t make much sense.”

“That’s not a bad idea actually.”  I admitted, “I mean your comment, not his stupidity.  What could he possibly be planning?”

“No idea, but my guess would be it’s not good.”  Ian said, “Not good for you anyway.”

I decided I was starting to like this boy.  “I appreciate your concern.”  I said with a wry grin, “But I’m probably going to be fucked one way or the other.  When a true blue bastard like Vladimir wants you to come to trouble, you tend to come to it no matter what.”

“Well shit.” Phil said, “Is… is there anything we can do?  I mean I’m not hero, but it seems like our lot is thrown in with yours and…”

I would have been touched if I didn’t know that he was just trying to save his own ass.  “Yeah… why don’t you go ask around and see what you can come up with?  Someone must know what the hell is going on.”

“I don’t know anyone here.”  He protested, “I haven’t seen even one single student and everyone seems so…” He trailed off.  I got the impression he was trying to choose his words.  “So unfriendly.”

“Yes, well, most of them are probably bloodsucking fiends like me.” I said, “So you’re probably being prudent.  But that’s not my problem, get out there and see what you can dredge up.”

“I don’t know…” Phil began

“Oh shut up man, we’ve been in and out of this place a hundred times.” Ian said, “There’s no reason someone would try and kill you now if they hadn’t before is there?”

Phil paused, making me wonder what was really passing between them.  Damn but I hated not being able to see expressions.  They were plotting something; I’d stake my … death on it.

“Yeah, fine.”  Phil said, “I’ll probably get killed but what do you care?”

“I’ll be honest.  I don’t give a shit about either of you… but you probably feel the same about me.”  I said, stubbing my cigarette out on a nearby table without bothering to find an ashtray.  “Other than the fact that you know I can eviscerate you in a heartbeat.  I’m probably doing you a favor by sending you away Phillip.  Aren’t I?”

“What?”  The tone of his voice told me I’d hit the mark.  “You’re cracked.”

“Yeah, whatever.”  I said, holding my hand out toward Ian.  He put another lit cigarette into it and I smiled.  I liked an attendent who could anticipate my needs.  “I’m fine with it anyway, you’re free to run away with your tail between your legs.  I wouldn’t mind if you gave me a touch of intel to work with, but you’re a liability if you don’t want to help so get the fuck out.”

The door slammed open and I looked over to see a bright flame moving through the door.  It was Vlad; I’d recognize the signature of his flame anywhere.  How strange that I’d grown this accustomed to seeing beings with this new sight.

“I trust you’re ready for battle Renyovalia?” He asked, and then paused, I assumed looking at my attire in disbelief.

“Battle?”  I asked, “BATTLE?  If you wanted me to be be ready to fight then why the fuck didn’t you tell me?”

“What did you think was going to happen?  We are showing up uninvited to a Tribunal inquiry.  A full meeting at that.”  He chuckled, “Then again it won’t really matter.  Your weapons don’t care what you’re wearing do they?”

“I’ve told you.  My Gift is gone.”  I said, shaking my head at him, “If you wanted me to be able to do anything for you maybe you shouldn’t have broken my power.”

“Don’t sell yourself short.” Vlad said with a strange fanatic glee in his voice.  “Where is Gem?  What happened to Dog?”

“I don’t know.”  I hissed, losing my temper in truth now, “Why don’t you tell me?  In case you hadn’t noticed I’m blind, Powerless and it seems my body is coming apart at the seams from cuts that don’t seem to want to heal.”

“As I said, you’re far from Powerless, and as to the healing… if you do what I want, I will look to some of that.” Vlad said with some of the insane pitch bleeding from his voice to be replaced by a scholarly tone. “Rebecca has some interesting ideas about necrotic regeneration that I think you will appreciate.  But first you must prove your usefulness.”

I sighed in resignation.  Either this was only so much noise or else he really could help.  Either way it wouldn’t matter in a few hours, I’d be dead or they would be.  Maybe both.