Callindra arose before the sun, her internal clock awakening her as the first rosy fingers of the predawn glow reached above the horizon of the forest. The room she shared with the men she had come to consider her brothers had windows that looked out over the forest canopy. It was strange, knowing that they were hundreds of feet in the air even though the treetops only looked like they were perhaps twenty or thirty feet below.
Looking at the others, she startled when Vilhylm turned his head and stared at her, but after a moment she realized he was sleeping with his eyes open. She wasn’t one to question strange habits but that was weird. How would one come to acquire such an affectation?
She slipped out careful not to awaken anyone, no mean feat in spite of the amount of drinking the boys had done the night before. The Tree was immense, but after wandering for a time, she heard the sounds of swordplay. Following the sound, she eventually came to a door that led out onto a massive branch at least 50 yards wide. There were several dozen elves stripped to the waist working sword forms. The style was strange but it spoke to her nature; it was wild and reckless but strangely they used both hands. After watching them for a few moments Callindra approached one of the elves standing to one side.
“Good morning, may I join you for a morning workout?”
The elf gave her a scornful look, “How did you find this place? This training ground is for Bladedancers only. Aren’t you one of those outsiders who brought that evil and fouled the air our goddess breathes? I saw you soiling your blade with magic, and besides you fight with a single sword. Useless human child, leave immediately.”
“I was already going. Your fighting style isn’t nearly powerful enough for me to emulate, and I’d hate to make you look bad. Again. After all wasn’t it my magic wielding single handed fighting style that took down that golem before it could destroy your precious tree? Where were you all that time? Fighting some vicious and dangerous bugs I presume?” She laughed in the elf’s face and walked back into the tree listening to her spluttering indignation with satisfaction. Even so, she was sad that she had been turned away. It would have been interesting to spar with them.
After taking a few more turns and found herself on a secluded branch that was small for the Great Tree, only about twenty feet from side to side. Seating herself in the center of the branch with her sword across her knees she meditated and listened to the wind. Despite knowing how useless it was she strained to hear something from her master Glarian, remembering his last instructions not to follow him to Hellgate Keep.
“I will follow your instructions old man, but only until I’m strong enough to feed that black clad bastard his own balls.” She muttered. Standing Callindra began moving through her basic Stances. After the initial warm up she began running her own forms; the ones she used to keep opponents off balance so they couldn’t tell which attack was next.
Although she never would have admitted it to anyone she had given each one a name. Swallow Skims Across Water. Searching the Sea. Holding the Moon. Bird Returns to Tree at Dusk. Black Dragon Whips His Tail. Green Dragon Emerges From Water. Lion Shakes His Mane. Tigress Holds Her Head. Phoenix Spreads Its Wings. Wind Sweeps the Plum Blossoms. Wild Horse Leaps Over the Creek. Snake Strikes Twice. Lightning Splits the Tree.
Just as she was finishing the last sweep of Brightfang she became aware of another presence. Callindra leaped into the air, spinning with her blade held at the ready, Soaring Crane Strikes, and only barely managed to halt her blade before it split the skull of a young elf who stood in the doorway.
“Pox and rot! I nearly cut you in half; you need to be more careful!” She exclaimed.
“Oh my, you’re one of the Outsiders who saved us from those demons! I cannot believe that you are a girl! I would wager you are the strongest girl ever! Mother said I was not allowed to go see you but you came to me.”
Callindra raised her eyebrow at the girl, “What do you mean I came to you?”
“Well after a fashion anyway.” Her guest amended, “I always come here in the mornings; you can watch the Blade Dancers from here. I wish train with them so badly, but mother and father will not let me.”
Callindra shook her head warming quickly to the pipsqueak’s flattery, “Those stuck up prigs, why would you want to watch them? If they had been worth a damn they would have helped me take down that golem. Lucky for you I’m a mage, not just a swordfighter or this tree would probably be dead.”
The elf’s eyes widened in shock, “But this is the Grandfather Tree. Nothing can kill the Grandfather Tree. What is a prig?”
“Oh, of course you’re probably right,” Callindra didn’t think it was necessary to tell this kid the truth, she ran her fingers through her tangled hair and they got caught in the thorn and brightstar tiara Gode had given her. “Damn I thought I took this thing off last night. I guess I must have forgotten.”
The elf maid gasped, “That is a gift from Gode herself! I saw her give it to you in the Great Hall. I do not believe it comes off.”
“Doesn’t come off? What do you mean doesn’t fucking come off?” Callindra pulled at the tangle of vines in her hair but only accomplished hurting her scalp. Feeling at her hair she found it had vegetation growing all the way from the roots of her hair to the tips with tiny four petal brightstar flowers dotting it here and there. Strangely it didn’t seem to tangle her fingers as long as she wasn’t trying to take it off.
“It’s a Crown of Life, once you put them on they do not come off, otherwise they die. It is a living thing you know, made from Jorda’s hair. You’re really lucky to have it. I think you are the first Outsider to get one. What is your name brave warrior?”
She quit pulling on her hair with a sigh, oh well it was just a few flowers, but why Brightstars? Why not something that would make her seem to be more dangerous like Nightshade or Deathblossom? “My name’s Callindra, what’s yours?”
“Edelweiss” she raised her chin as though preparing for abuse.
“That’s a strong name. Did you know that’s one of the toughest plants in existence? So stubborn it will only grow high up on mountains, no lower than 2000 yards?” Callindra remembered Cronos talking about it before, “I know a lot of people only talk about its healing properties but it’s a really tough flower.”
“You are without a doubt the strangest girl I have ever met.” Edelweiss said, tilting her head to one side, “The Goddess was correct though, you really could be much prettier if you tried. The Crown really does add to your looks you know?”
“Bah. Who needs to be pretty? I find beauty in the dance of battle, in the edge of Brightfang, in the flare of Power when I bend the weave to my will!” She stepped back lightly and swung her blade in a whirling arc, a few leaves swept up around her in a whirlwind and her hair fanned out around her.
Edelweiss clapped her hands in delight. “Amazing! Here we don’t have anyone who taps into the weave. They have to sit around and wait for Gode to grant them power. She is wonderful and all, but it all seems so boring in comparison.”
“So you want to train with the Blade Dancers do you?” Edelweiss nodded emphatically, “Well I don’t have much pull with them but I can help you make a kick ass entrance if you want.”
“Whatever do you mean?”
“C’mere and I’ll show you.” Callindra was smiling a fiendish smile. Her small companion approached cautiously. “Come on now, if you’re nervous or hesitant they’ll never take you seriously!” She looked down at the practice yard far below them, mentally measuring the distance, then picked up the slight elf and yelled, “Hang on tight if you don’t wanna die!” and leapt from the branch.
Edelweiss let out a terrified shriek that nearly deafened Callindra but she hung on tight as the wind whistled around their ears. Far below there was a flurry of activity as the elves in the practice yard scurried about trying to figure out how to catch the falling pair. Laughing in wild abandon, Callindra twirled Brightfang in an intricate pattern, forcing the Weave to obey her whim and just before they hit the ground a blast of wind cushioned their fall.
The tiny elf maid opened her eyes and gasped in surprise. “What’s happening? Is this Magic then? It is isn’t it?” She was still hanging on to Callindra’s neck but less tightly now, her eyes shining with admiration. They had landed in the center of the practice yard amid a cluster of furious elves. The elf who had kicked her out before was the closest and in a rage.
“Edelweiss! What in the name of all that’s holy are you doing with this weave wielding savage?” Turning her baleful gaze at Callindra he continued, “What have you done to my son?”
Too stunned to respond, Callindra stared as Edelweiss retorted, “Leave over mother, she is an amazing and talented warrior. I accidently imposed upon her morning practice ritual and she saved me from falling.”
Not precisely true, but a close enough approximation she supposed… but wait, Edelweiss was a boy? Not possible he was far too pretty. “Sorry for the inconvenience. I need to pack for my journey so I’ll take my leave if you don’t mind?” Callindra didn’t suppose she had much of a chance at avoiding a few bruises at this point but it was worth a shot.
“I think not human. I think you need to learn a lesson in manners. As swordmaster I think it’s only fitting I be the one to issue that lesson.” Oh shit. “Why didn’t you tell me your MOM was the rutting SWORDMASTER?” She hissed at the other girl.
“No need to be afraid mortal.” The elf said coldly, “I will not kill one who bears the favor of my Goddess.”
“Well, no harm in a little practice I suppose.” Callindra said, “Maybe I might learn something. If there’s anything I’ve learned thus far in life it’s that pain is a good teacher and what doesn’t kill me has made me stronger.”
“In that case, prepare for a very good lesson girl.”
“Sorry I may have mistaken you for a man earlier. What is your name?” Callindra never could resist picking at scabs or antagonizing assholes. She wouldn’t mind being mistaken for a boy, but she bet this elf would take insult.
“To the hells with practice blades” the blademster snarled, “Let’s see what you can do with that little wisp of steel. You can have my name when you EARN it.”
Callindra sighed, oh well at least she wouldn’t have to worry about fighting with an unfamiliar weapon. But this was gonna HURT.