Callindra awoke in the pre-dawn glow just before sunrise, unwrapping herself from around Brightfang’s scabbard. She was glad the others weren’t awake yet, her habit of cuddling her sword as though he was a lover was a tad embarrassing. Standing quietly and stretching, she moved away slightly to avoid waking the others. On her way out of camp she saw Felix stand from where he must have been standing guard.
“I’m gon ta go lass. Yeh got things from here?” He smiled at her, “Yeh truly do belong ta tha blade.”
“You mean he belongs to me?” She said, finding his comment a bit disconcerting.
“Nah lass. Yeh know as well’s I do tha yeh rely on tha blade.” He shouldered his substantial pack and his feet sank visibly into the ground. “I gotta go. Take carea tha sword an he’ll take carea yeh in return.” With that, he stood and took a single step that covered a hundred paces. The next one spanned more than a mile. I stared after him in astonishment.
Instead of wasting time trying to follow him, she walked to a small clearing a short distance from her sleeping friends and began her morning practice of the Korumn. When she was complete she was sweating but energized and ready for the day. Brightfang was singing when she sheathed him and Callindra felt close to the same herself by the time she returned to camp.
“Rise and shine boys!” She said as she entered camp. The winds capered around the embers of last night’s fire and the kindling she tossed down burst into merry flames. It wasn’t her turn to cook, but since the others were busy sleeping in she had a pot of water boiling and was getting ready to start the porridge by the time Vilhylm stopped her.
“Better you leave this to me.” He said, “Your last attempt at porridge was more suited to paving roads than breakfast.” If she hadn’t been in such a good mood, Callindra would have taken offense… but he had a point. She wasn’t the gods gift to cooking.
After two days of uneventful travel, they saw smoke on the horizon. “I think we’re only about a half day’s travel from a town.” Tryst said, frowning at his map.
“We could be there by midday.” Cronos said, hand on the hilt of one of his swords.
“I’m not sure if it’s a good idea to get involved with an attack of that magnitude.” Vilhylm said, “I think there must be at least a hundred fires burning there.”
“We’re not going to turn our back on those people.” Tryst said, his voice grim. “Or at least I’m not going to.”
“We can handle it.” Callindra said, her eyes narrowing dangerously. “Anyone who’s cowardly enough to attack a defenseless town is no match for what we can dish out.”
They saddled their horses and rode out, setting the pace at a mile-eating trot. In a few hours they were looking down on the smoldering ruins of the small town of Cedar. Only one building was still intact, the streets were littered with bricks, fallen timbers and other detritus from the destruction.
As they dismounted, their horses snorted in fear and ran, pulling the reins from their hands. The reason for this fear was clear in moments as three dogs the size of ponies stalked into the street, growling menacingly. Their voices weren’t the most frightening thing about them though, their feet burned into the ground and smoke trailed from their nostrils.
“Hounds of Hell!” Tryst shouted, “Your will shall not be done this day!” A nimbus of silver light surrounded him and he began casting another spell while Callindra threw caution to the wind and ran at them, Brightfang whistling from his sheath in a shining arc.
As she approached, flanked by Vilhylm in his flowing black cloak, the Hounds unleashed a blistering blast of flame from their mouths. Vilhylm swirled his cloak around himself, avoiding the worst of the fire and Callindra vaulted high over the flames, their eager licking tongues singing her hair and clothes.
Then she was among them, Brightfang flashing red in the light of their fires. She struck the head of one completely off with a mighty overhand blow but the landing made her stumble. One of the beasts ran past her, leaping for Tryst but before it could bite him it shook its head uncertainly. His magic had confused it.
The momentary hesitation was all Cronos needed. He swung his sword in a blurring arc of steel and buried it halfway into the monster’s chest. It fell with a gurgle to twitch on the ground. He turned to look at the empty field of battle with a frown making his youthful face look old.
“This can’t have been all of them.” The youth said, “There’s no way a handful of dogs did all this damage, even if they could breathe fire.”
“Their handlers must be close.” Tryst agreed, “Monsters like these need close supervision.”
They moved through the streets of the town, weapons drawn and eyes open for danger. When they got to the center it became obvious that the fire raging in the central square was magical in nature. A huge pile of corpses was being devoured by roaring flames. Three figures stood looking at it with grim expressions on their faces.
“What happened here?” Tryst’s voice rang out in challenge. “Who are you and what have you to do with this massacre?” Callindra hadn’t heard true rage in her friend’s voice before and it was frightening.
“Who are you?” The leader said, “What do you have to do with the killings?”
Tryst fought to restrain himself and Callindra stepped forward instead. “I am Callindra, these are my companions Tryst, Vilhylm and Cronos. We have come from the city of BLARG on a mission from the high Biscop himself to-”
“Callindra! It is you!” One of the men stepped forward with a noticeable limp. “I heard rumors that you were still alive but I didn’t believe it until now.”
“Inspector Shojin!” Callindra exclaimed, staring at him with hatred. “How’s the knee?”
“I look forward to finding out what you know.” Shojin said with an evil smile, “I will find out, where the Sol ‘Estin is, as well as whatever else I want to know.”
“You’ll have to kill me.” She said, “I won’t allow you to take me alive!”
“Oh, I have a few things in mind little girl.” Said Shojin, “We have ways of-” He was interrupted by a blast of wind, harsh with the bitter cold blowing down from the Teeth of the Sky.
“You will do nothing to my apprentice!” A voice thundered and Glarian was there, arriving like a bolt of lightning out of a clear blue sky.
Callindra’s heart caught in her throat, she wanted to scream, wanted to cry but most of all to her surprise she wanted to run up and wrap her arms around him. The man she saw was different though. Gone were the slumped shoulders and slightly defeated demeanor, the figure that stood before her was like a honed blade.
“Ahh, Sol’Estin.” Shojin’s voice dripped malice, “How wonderful to see you.”
“Go Callindra, I can handle these insects.” Glarian said with a grim smile.
“No Master!” Callindra protested, “I will fight with you!” She ran toward the Inquisitors with Brightfang gleaming in her fist.
“I said STAY BACK!” Glarian shouted, pulling his Greatsword Sakar from his back. A blast of wind burst from his left hand, holding her back from the battle. He slammed his blade into the ground and shouted words of Arcane Power. A whirlwind sprang up between him and their enemies.
“Master!” Callindra’s voice cut through the roar of the gale. “At least take this back!” She took the leather cord that held his Sigil from around her neck and threw it toward him. It spun through the air, the leather thong looping around the hilt of Sakar where she was still driven into the earth.
The winds blew the tears of frustration from her face and she turned and ran. She knew she was too weak to help him fight and that the only way to be of any use was to leave. Callindra looked at her companions, all of whom were readying themselves for a fight and felt her heart rise at their resolve.
“No!” She yelled, “This is a fight we can’t win, we have to go! RUN!”
They paused in their flight at the top of a rise and took another look at the battlefield below. Glarian was surrounded now, his enemies flanking him in a triangle. The vortex of with that had kept them at bay now swirled menacingly above his head. Callindra felt something in the patterns of the winds change and screamed a warning that was impossible for him to hear.
“Master, look OUT!”
The swirling column of dust and debris above his head became pitch black and began to flash with brilliant
emerald green lightning. They watched in fear as it concentrated overhead, forming into the shape of a man. Dergeras dropped from the suddenly still air, landing behind Glarian with serpentine grace, a sword of glittering green fire in his fist.
“NO!” Callindra screamed, her throat tearing.
As if warned by her shout, Glarian turned with inhuman speed, leaping out of the way just before the emerald sword cut him in half. Instead of ending his life, Dergeras’s blade rebounded off Sakar with a resounding clang that they felt more than heard.
“Run you fool girl, RUN!” Her master’s voice whispered in her ear, “I can’t hold for long against Dergeras. You have to get as far away as possible before he realizes you four are gone. He doesn’t want me he wants you.”
“We have to go.” She choked her tears off, wiping them of with an angry hand. “He’s holding Dergeras off so we can escape.”
“But isn’t he going to die?” Cronos asked in his usual blunt manner. “I mean that demon killed me before.”
“Don’t compare yourself to him.” She laughed in spite of her frustration and fear, “He is in a league of his own.”
“Yeah. I can see that.” At the tone of his voice, Callindra glanced over her shoulder. Glarian was suspended in the air, crucified on a cross of emerald flame.
Without hesitation she turned to run back, to help him, to do something. Hands gripped her arms, holding her back and she fought with every fiber of her strength. There were screams of anger and fear ringing in her ears. Her screams.
“I will be waiting for you little girl. When you want to pick up the scraps that remain of this old man meet me at the Fang in the Teeth of the Sky.”
“Callindra we have to go. We have to GO!” Tryst was shouting. He and Vilhylm were pulling her back from the edge of the cliff. Had she just been about to leap off that precipice?
She allowed them to pull her back, her brow creasing in sorrow when she noticed the sword wounds on her friend’s arms and the blood dripping down Brightfang’s length. “I’m sorry.” She said, her apology attempting to encompass them, her Master, her inability to do anything.
“Later. We can discuss it later.” Tryst said.
“It is nothing.” Said Vilhylm, “They are just scratches.” She now saw the blood on his arm as well.
“That thing isn’t a man.” Cronos said, and then continued almost grudgingly. “But that man you call Master seems stronger than most. We will find a way to help you if we can, but staying here is suicide and dead people can’t help anyone.”
Seeing that Callindra was coming with them of her own volition now, the two men let her go. They all ran, having to leave their horses and gear behind. It was a bitter defeat, but this only sought to increase the emotion Callindra felt building inside herself. The shame and fear she had been feeling were being replaced by a burning desire for revenge.