The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 15

“What do you mean she wasn’t seen leaving?”  Cronos said, his voice dark and dangerous.

The hotel attendant leaned back in her seat, “Sir please, I am only telling you what I know.  She didn’t pass through here this afternoon sir.  I have been on duty since the noon bell.”

“Cronos, we did not see her leave our rooms either.”  Vilhylm said, putting a placating hand on the younger man’s shoulder.  “Thank you for your assistance miss.”

“She knows something I know she does!”  Cronos snarled, “Where’s the maid?  What about the drugged wine I found in her cup?”

“Drugged wine?”  The attendant squeaked, her eyes going wide in shock.

“Come on Cronos, we should find Tryst.”  Vilhylm’s hand tightened and he pulled Cronos away.  “He will know what to do, he knows this city.”

“Hell with that, I’m going back to the room.  Just in case we missed something.”  Cronos said, running a hand through his hair.  His voice became subdued, “Or if she comes back.”

Vilhylm looked at him for a moment before turning back to the nervous attendant.  “Pardon me miss, but you wouldn’t know where I could the chapter house of Gode is would you?  I need to find my companion and brother in arms Tryst Te’Chern.”

“I think it’s about thirty miles from here.”  A familiar voice came from the door, swiftly followed by Tryst himself.  The man was sweaty, but had a smile on his face as he entered, still wearing his armor.  “Oh it was good to be among those men and women again.  Their strength, their confidence …” His voice trailed off as he took in their faces.

“What’s wrong?”  He asked, brows knitting in concern.

“Callindra was taken.  From her bath.”  Cronos said in a flat tone.

“Cronos, not here.”  Vilhylm said, glancing around at the growing number of curious bystanders.

“Nobody saw anything.”  Cronos continued, “Or so they say.  The maid is gone too.”

Tryst’s eyes narrowed.  “Vilhylm is right Cronos, we need to discuss this in private.”

The priest led his brothers back to their room, a grim look making his chiseled features harsh.  Once they were inside with the door closed and locked, he turned to them and crossed his arms over his armored chest.

“What is this about our sister being taken?  How did you let it happen?”  He shook his head, “No I didn’t mean that, I’m sorry.  Tell me everything.”

“We don’t KNOW anything.”  Cronos said, “She was just gone.  I mean after an hour we started to worry when nobody came out, we went in and there wasn’t a sign of Callindra or the maid.”

“Nothing suspicious at all?”  Tryst asked.

“There was something in her wine.”  Said Vilhylm, “A drug of some sort.”

A slight noise made them all spin to confront a frightened looking girl who had apparently just climbed through their third story window.  Although dressed in skirts and a loosely tied bodice, the prettily plump Tallie had managed the feat without apparent difficulty.  Cronos snarled and reached for his sword but the maid put up her hands.

“Hey, peace!  I seen where th bastards took er ye ken?”  Her eyes were wide with sincerity, “Oi, I only did it ‘cause I owed sommat a turn and th shite said they ain’t gonna hurt er.  How’s I supposed ta know she’s on th lam?”

“You believe their lies about her?”  Cronos spat, half drawing his sword before Tryst could get a hand on it and push it back into the scabbard.

“You have some explaining to do young lady.”  Said Vilhylm, his voice deadly serious.  “Surviving the next few minutes relies quite heavily on your ability to do that explaining swiftly and accurately.”

“Now brothers, she would hardly have come back if she was guilty would she?”  Tryst said, “Why exactly did you come back miss…”

“Me rats call me Tallie.  Name’s Tallisk.”  She sighed, “I dinne spect folk wi family ta get me.  I ain’t had shite but wha I took an tha’s next ta naught.  Jest tryin ta keep body an spirit on th prime.  Vex said ta do a lil job, drug a flagon a wine an play nice an there’d be a fat purse in it fer me an me rats.”

“Uh…”  Cronos looked at her as though she’d been speaking Goblin or Orcish.

“She has been living on the streets.  She has much younger friends, possibly family but not likely, and she steals things for a living.”  Tryst said, “This was a job that offered lucrative payment for whoever passes for the rotten piece of dung that runs her part of the city, apparently a person named Vex.”

Vilhylm and Cronos both looked at the priest, Cronos with his mouth agape and Vilhylm with a raised eyebrow.  Tryst ignored them both and focused on the nervous girl.  “Go on.  Where did they take my sister?”

“She ain’t yer blood.”  Tallisk said, “Nae more’n they’s yer blood.”

“Where.  Is.  Callindra.”  Vilhylm seemed to get larger as he spoke, his aspect more threatening, becoming hunchbacked and barrel chested.  Arms the size of tree trunks nearly split the loose sleeves of his robe and when he looked at Tallisk his face was covered by a carved wooden mask.

“Ahhhh shite!”  The girl backed up until she smacked against the wall.  Cronos looked grimly at her as Tryst took his hand from his brother’s arm, allowing the younger man to draw his sword.  “Th Guild!  Th Hammer fightin hall grounds in th merc district!  I saw ‘em take th girl inna carriage, there’s a panel in th bath what goes down ta th stables!”

“Show us.”  Tryst said, his voice cold.

“I cn show ya th panel but it’s good’s me own death if they see me wi ya in th streets.  Vex ain’t stupid an I ain’t riskin me rats.”  She was still scared but crossed her arms resolutely.  “Them kids ain’t earned what they got.  I ain’t gonna get ‘em killed so do yer worst.”

Cronos noticed that the girl had positioned herself next to the window while appearing to back away from Vilhylm in fear.  His warning cry came too late, Tallisk executed a smooth backward shoulder roll over the window sill and vanished from sight.  They rushed to the window but when they looked out the girl was nowhere to be seen.

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Sai’Li plots during her recovery

Sai’Li sat in her bed in the Blossom House; having disdained going to any of the common healing areas.  Of course, part of her refusal was related to the disturbing rumors she had heard about this place.  Those rumors, she was sad to find, were substantiated.

The Madam here was lax in her enforcement, many of her people were ill-treated and the customer base didn’t seem to be screened at all.  The conditions were quite simply unacceptable.  A gentle knock at the door made her sit up and lean forward; senses questing.  She caught the faint scent of clove cologne.  Ah, good, it was Kay.  She let her robe slip down her shoulder another three inches, exposing an expanse of snow white skin.

“Please forgive the intrusion mistress, but it is once again time for your medication.”  He slid the door partially to one side, waiting for her permission before entering.  He really was such a good boy.

“Kay, my dear boy you know you need not knock at my door.  You are of course welcome in my presence at any time.”  She said, snapping her fan open in front of her face, “Please forgive my lack of decorum; I am in a bad state.”

“Nonsense my Lady.”  He said, blushing to the roots of his hair.  “You could never look anything less than absolutely splendid.”  Oh he really was such a dear.

“Sadly sweet Kay, this is hardly my most flattering pose.”  She said, sitting up straighter and accepting the glass of medicine from him.  At the same time, her robe artfully slid a few more finger widths down her shoulder.  His deepening blush was most gratifying.

“My Lady, please allow me.”  He pulled up the coverlet to her chin, but as he moved in she leaned forward and pressed her lips to his.  The kiss was sweet, made even more so by his surprise and lack of expertise.  This really was too easy.

“Darling Kay, I hear there are some irregularities in this House?”  She said, parting their lips and accepting the glass from him.  When he attempted to withdraw, her other arm snaked around his waist and pulled him to sit on the bed.

“Uh, My Lady…” He began, but she silenced him with another kiss.

“There is no need to be so formal sweeting.”  She purred, pulling him closer.  “You know that those of us who have shared intimate passion need not stand on formality.”  Although she hadn’t thought it possible, he blushed deeper.  He really was too adorable.

“Please, I am not worthy…”  He began.

“Of course you are not worthy little mouse.”  She said, lightly biting his neck.  “Your worthiness was never the question.  The simple matter of you not being worthy shouldn’t be an impediment to you striving to become worthy.”

“I – uh – “ He struggled, trying to form words.

“Hush now.”  She said, “First we can enjoy ourselves and then you can tell me everything I want to know.”

“My Lady!”  He protested, but it was halfhearted.  The eager smile on his face belied the supposed objection.

An all too brief time later, she relaxed in her bed, enjoying a pipe of tac and listening to the gentle breathing of her companion as he slept beside her.  Mortals really were all too easily exhausted.  He had told her some very useful information however; information she intended to use.

Slipping out of bed, she put on her kimono, sliding her arms into the sleeves and touching the magic contained within to summon dark green and black silk to cover her body.  Kay muttered and rolled over in his sleep, but she snuck out of the room before he had fully awakened.

Although the illness still caused her pain, she knew she would be up to the task of dealing with such an irrelevant and unimportant figure as a Madam who had forgotten her obligations.  She walked down a hallway and climbed the stairs behind the standard secret door at the end of the second floor corridor.

“Who dares disturb my rest?”  A petulant voice shouted somewhere ahead.  “If you cannot find the initiative to handle such trivial matters on your own then you deserve the treatment you receive!”

A young woman came running down the corridor, tears streaming from her eyes and a grim angry expression on her face.  Sai’Li caught her sleeve, “Please young mistress, allow me to be of assistance.”  She said, her eyes shining with the glimmer of intrigue.

“You can’t help me.”  She said bitterly, “I have displeased the Madam and her rule is law.”

Sai’Li inclined her head slightly, “I was referring to resolving whatever the little issue you came to her about.  One as lowly and insignificant as myself can hardly be expected to solve a problem of politics here, but I will do anything I can to assist.  After all, I believe you were one of those who assisted in tending me through my recent indisposition.”

“It is nothing.  I have some training in the medical arts that do not revolve around magical healing.”  She ducked her head, bowing with her hands on her thighs, the perfect image of poise and civility.  “I apologize that the Madam would not authorize a more competent caretaker.”

“Please, if you would join me for some tea?”  Sai’Li asked, seeing the steel and simmering anger just below the surface.  “I would take it as a personal favor if you would allow me to serve you a cup of my best smoked Matcha.”

After a moment of studying Sai’Li’s face, she bowed deeper. “I would be honored My Lady.” She said, leading Sai’Li back to her room.  Upon entering, Sai’Li carefully scrutinized the room’s walls, looking for the watchers that dear Kay had told her might be lurking.  They were thankfully absent at this late hour.

Once they knelt at the low lacquered table in a tiny sitting room, Sai’Li withdrew ingredients from her enscrolled silk purse.  Humming in satisfaction, she began carefully mixing the tea powder and warm water with a fine horse hair brush in delicate porcelain cups.  “Now please, tell me your name and your troubles my dear.”

“I am called Rinna.”  She said, accepting the cup. “My lady, there truly is nothing you can do to help me I am afraid.”

“Oh little Rinna, what you say is partially true.”  Sai’Li said, “But only while she is Madam.  If another was to take her place things would be quite different would they not?”

The other woman gasped, looking wildly around at the walls.  Sai’Li waved a calming hand, snapping her fan open in front of her face.  “I believe us to be alone, but of course I was only speaking in the hypothetical little sister.”  She said with a smile hidden by the painted silk of her fan.  “One would never be so irreverent as to propose a coup so openly.”

“I have a repeat customer, a local businessman.  He does not follow the protocols, subjecting me to treatment that is outside the proper guidelines.”  She pulled up her sleeve slightly, revealing a bruised wrist.  “I am not skilled in any arts that would allow me to defend myself, and the guards are under orders to obey only the Madam.”

“Ah.  Well that is something easily remedied.”  Sai’Li said with a smile that was the barest crinkle around the corners of her eyes.  “Please, hand me two of your hair pins and enjoy your tea.”

Rinna gave her a confused look, but did as she asked.  Running first one, and then another of the delicate steel pins through her fingers.  The venom that flowed through her body slid from the pores of her fingertips, coating each of them with deadly poison.

Sai’Li sat back and drank her tea, thinking about how the Blossom Houses kept order.  Mostly this bylaw of their code was a good thing.  It kept individuals from starting uprisings unnecessarily, but in cases like this one it had allowed things to go too far.  Her course of action was clear.

“Now my darling Rinna, all you need do is wait until the subject in question returns and attempts to take advantage of your Madam’s laxities.  One little scratch from one of these pins and he will shortly become too weak to even lift his own flabby limbs.  Then you are free to do with him as you choose.

“Keep in mind they will only work once.”  She said, carefully sliding them across the table.  “I am giving you two on the off chance that he is strong enough to resist a first attempt.  If the first one works, then perhaps you might find another use for the second one.”

Confident that these seeds would bear excellent fruit, Sai’Li enjoyed the rest of her tea, chatting idly about trade, politics, and fashion.  This particular Blossom House would soon be under new management.  Management that would be most certainly be friendly to her and the criminal empire she was planning on constructing.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 14

A drip of something hot fell on Callindra’s forehead and she struggled out of unconsciousness.  Pain.  The smell of burning meat.  She hung from her hands, shackled to something above her head and her captor hadn’t bothered to dress her after taking her out of the bath.  Whatever drug she had been fed was not a kind one and hanging from her hands by a chain for hours hadn’t improved things.

Impossibly, a flow of molten rock made a ponderous, glowing river through one part of the chamber.  A smith’s forge was set up next to it, and part of the pain on her head was an irregular pattering of drops of lava from the ceiling above her landing on her.

“Ahh, you are back among us.  Excellent, I was beginning to get bored.”  A voice that seemed familiar cut through the haze of pain and drugs.

“What?”  She croaked, trying to open her eyes or raise her head.  The room swam and she closed her eyes again.

“Oh don’t strain yourself, I am not interested in causing you any more pain.”  A hand cupped her chin, lifting her head.  She opened her eyes slightly and saw a face she recognized, although it was hollow and sunken eyed now.

“Daleus?  Why?”  Callindra was limited to single words, anything more made lights flash before her eyes as pain spiked in her head.

It was the man who she had met over a year ago alongside the river while training under Glarian.  The young man with the whips and fire magic.  “I just want your master.”  He breathed, “Tell me where he is and I will set you free.”

“Why?”  She wanted to turn her head so as not to have to breathe the air he was exhaling, but the effort was beyond her.

“You don’t know what happens when we get separated from our weapons do you?  You might have read it in a book or your master might have told you something about it but you have no idea what it is like.”  His breath came in short gasps as though he had been running a marathon.

“He took my right and left hands from me girl.  He cut them off when he killed my Naji and Haji.  I fought my way through HELL and came out on the other side.”  A brutal gleam of emerald green fire seemed to flicker behind his eyes.  “So I ask you one last time before the pain starts.  Where is The Sol’Estin?”

Callindra whispered so quietly that he got closer in order to hear.  When his face was mere inches from hers she spat the thick gummy saliva that had gathered in her mouth, coating his cheek.  “Go to hell.”

“Haven’t you been listening?  I’ve already been there and back.”  He hissed, and a lick of bright green fire licked from his hand.  She realized he was holding a whip of flame in each hand.  Stepping back, he cracked the lashes against her body, flaying her skin into narrow bloody strips.

She screamed in pain, not caring if she was letting her enemy see her weak.  The pain was unlike anything she had ever experienced, it subsumed her existence.  It was her entire being.  When the lashes stopped, she slumped, whimpering, tears mixing with snot and blood dripping from her mouth where she had bitten her tongue.

“Come now.”  His voice was smooth and kind, “There is no need for this child.  That piece of scum is not worth the pain.”  Gentle hands touched her wounds where Brightstar vines were already attempting to knit the damaged skin back together.  “Just tell me and it can all be over.  Just tell me where he is and your … fascinating … hair ornaments can heal your hurts.”

Callindra looked up at him through the curtain of her unbound hair.  The pollen from her tiara didn’t begin to deaden the pain, let alone assuage it entirely, but it took some of the edge off.  She couldn’t get enough breath to speak, but the glare in her eyes was enough of an answer.

“You think I will hurt you again and you are right, but not in the way you anticipate.”  The look of glee flickered around his lips sent a tremor of real fear down her spine.  He was looking to the left where she saw the slender form of Brightfang unsheathed and sitting on the anvil.

“I do not approve of the torture Daleus.”  A voice rumbled as a huge mountain of a man stepped into the ruddy light.  “Come now girl, let us solve this without further unpleasantness.”  He picked up her blade with a pair of tongs and held him over the molten rock.

“No.”  She managed to croak, “No.”

“Tell me, or Thaeran will kill your sword.”  Daleus said, his voice flat and devoid of emotion.

“I don’t know.”  She said, sobbing through tears, “I don’t know.”

“She’s lying.”  Said Daleus.

“NO!”  Callindra screamed, thrashing wildly and sending waves of fresh agony down her flayed skin.  The huge man plunged Brightfang into the lava and after a few moments, withdrew the blade, glowing red hot.  The leather wrapping on the hilt was smoldering as he set the sword down on the anvil.  He lifted a massive hammer, his bonded weapon, and brought it down in a shower of sparks.

Brightfang rang like a crystal chime, a high clear note and Thaeran looked down with a frown on his face.  “That should have broken it.”  He said in a trouble voice.  Drawing his arm back, he slammed the hammer down harder with similar result.

Callindra felt fierce pride well up in her chest.  She had not broken, and he would not break either.  Unconsciousness beckoned and she couldn’t resist.  The tendrils of Jorda’s gift grew into her torn flesh, attempting to heal the terrible wounds.

“Curse it, she has gone under again.”  Daleus snarled, “Leave that thing here.  Our time schedule is too short if she will not give us what we need The Order may give us a reward for turning her in.  Perhaps not the promised immunity, but this chit must be worth something.”

With a gesture, Daleus used his magic to increase the occasional drips of molten rock to a slow, but steady flow.  “That should keep those damn vines from healing her.”  He said in satisfaction, watching as the tiny tendrils burned and crisped under the intense heat.

“Let us go and meet the representative.  I believe he is staying at the Chapter House.”  Thaeran said, not looking at the girl as he left the chamber.

“For all your strength you have always been too soft.”  Daleus said, watching the other man leave.  “No matter.  I won’t need you soon.”

The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 13

“By the four Winds that’s a welcome sight!”  Callindra said, removing Brightfang’s baldric from her back and beginning to unbuckle her armor.

“Greetins, I’m Tallie an you must be th young warrior lass what’s in need of a good soak an scrub.”  The maid said, favoring her with a dimple cheeked smile.  “Th wine is cold an th water’s hot.  I’ll wash yer back an help with gettin yer hair brushed out.  Jest get otta that sweat soaked mess an we’ll get ya sommat clean ta wear in th meantime.”

Callindra was already halfway out of her leathers, the pauldrons had been unbuckled and she was struggling with a strap on the breastplate.  “Can you get this strap for me Tallie?  I’ve been having trouble with it since taking an injury a few days ago.  Shoulder is bedamned stiff.”

“Sure an I’ll take th blade out ta be sharpened an oiled if ya like.”  The other woman came close, looking very light and sure on her feet in spite of her plump frame.  When Callindra snatched Brightfang’s sheath from the floor and clasped him to her chest, Tallie stepped back, her mouth in a surprised O.

“He stays with me.”  She said, more sharply than she intended.  Shaking her head, she sighed.  “I’m sorry, it’s just… I don’t like being parted from him and I don’t allow anyone else to sharpen or take care of him.  That’s an interesting accent, what part of the Realm are you from?”

Accepting the change of subject with aplomb, Tallie smiled.  “I’m from th Isles of Ravenshir Lady warrior.  Nae part a th Realm such as it is really.  For all we pay a bit a tribute ta th King now and again, we’re a fierce independent lot ye ken?”

“That’s off the coast in the Drakenmore Sea right?”  Callindra asked, letting Tallie unbuckle her armor and help her out of the sweat stained padding beneath.

“Oh aye, not so far from here by ship, but quite a distance nonetheless.  Where’d ya get fresh Brightstar flowers this time a year?”  Asked Tallie, tugging at the twining vines of the Tiara Jorda had given her.

“That’s a long story – ow!”  Callindra winced, “I should have explained, they don’t come out.  They’re… rooted in my scalp it’s –OW!  Curse it Tallie they don’t come out!  It’s magic.”

“Gods an Demons.”  Tallie breathed, her eyes wide. “Now that’s a sight sure an it is.  Where’d ya come by a thing like tha?”

“It was a gift.”  She said, stripping out of the rest of her clothes. “I don’t really want to talk about it.  It doesn’t get in the way of brushing, braiding or whatnot.”

“Not ta worry lass.  I’ll shut me gob an get ya clean.”  She helped Callindra scrub her body with hot soapy water while sitting on a stool before rinsing off and climbing into the tub with fresh herbs floating in it.

Callindra relaxed into water just barely cool enough to touch with a contented sigh, allowing Tallie to knead scented oils into her hair.  “You jest lay back an relax lass.”  She said, “Have a drink a chilled wine an I’ll be back with a robe fer ya afore th water gets cool.”

The wine was cold, and the bath was hot.  She had just had a wonderful scalp massage and in spite of the slight pinching of Jorda’s gift on her head, Callindra allowed herself to slip into a drowsy state of slumber.

A figure entered into her vision from the left side.  A man wearing black leather armor stared down at her.  “Is she out?”

“Oh aye.  Ain’t gonna be movin fer a few hours.”  Tallie said.

“Good.  You’ve earned your … pardon.  I’ll tell them.”  The man said, “You have done as you were told.”

The last thing Callindra could see before her eyelids became lead weights was the concerned face of her maid.  The young woman’s voice was tinged with worry, even though it was faint and distorted through her drugged haze.  “You ain’t gonna hurt her right?  That’s what ya said afore.  Just gonna ask her about th man what broke some laws right?”

“Yeah.”  The man’s voice dripped false sincerity.  “Sure, I ain’t gonna hurt the little bitch.  Run along to Vex and give him this.”  There was a clink as a bag of coins changed hands.

Trumpets blared and drums rumbled; the gates of Gauntlgrym opened to admit the triumphant return of Storgar and the warriors he’d led to stop the advance of Krrakathanak.  Some of the warriors had wanted to remove the beast’s head and their leader hadn’t been able to bring himself to deny them.  So many of their comrades had fallen in the fight.  Their grisly trophy was carried on a stretcher made of six tower shields lashed together and required eight of the strongest warriors to carry.

From his vantage high on the Shieldwall where he waited with his mother, Durrak could feel the very earth tremble with the roar of approval that went up from the assembled Dwarves.  Nearly the entire city had turned out into the square between the outer gate and the Shieldwall.  In spite of the noise, he could still hear Brenlena’s voice.

“I knew he would be victorious.  I knew it in my bones that he would come back to me.” She sounded fiercely proud, but he could also see tears glistening in her eyes.

Durrak himself had no compunction about expressing his joy and relief at seeing his father return.  He shouted as loud as the others assembled and tears streamed down his face into the beginnings of his adult beard.  Storgar had been gone for six months and there had been little or no word from his party.

As the war band drew closer, Durrak’s voice faded away.  He saw the way his father walked; as carefully as a mountain cat stalking prey.  His eyes were searching the crowd, never stopping for more than a moment anywhere and his right hand kept straying to the hilt of the massive blade strapped to his back.  Something was wrong with him.

“Mother.  Do you see that?”  Durrak asked.

“Your father’s triumphant return!  This is a day that will be written in the annals of the Caverstorm family.”  She said, her voice vibrating with pride.  “Nothing can spoil this moment.”

He quieted, deciding to allow her to enjoy the feeling.  He didn’t feel her elation or triumph though.  All he could feel was dread.  The memory of the Moragainnag’s arthritic finger pointing at him made Durrak shiver.  Something was happening and this homecoming was central to it.  He was central to it.

A blast of foul air raced up the valley, alarm bells tolling in its wake.  Vast black wings blotted out the sun and a roar of pure rage and hatred shook the very stones under his feet.

“To the walls!  Battle stations!  Secure the city!”  Brenlena shouted.

Storgar turned towards the vast dragon, massive Greatsword raised in both hands.  His battle standard flying above his head, snapping from the end of a war spear.  Behind him, the doors of their mountain fortress slammed closed.  The sound boomed, a death knell for the brave warriors outside as the dragon landed on the outer wall.

“YOU INSOLENT WORMS WILL PAY FOR YOUR TRANSGRESSION.” The dragon’s terrible voice drove Durrak to his knees, tears of sheer terror rolling down his cheeks and soaking into his beard.  “YOU DARE TO BRING MY LIFEMATE’S HEAD BACK LIKE A BATTLE TROPHY AFTER YOU MURDER HIM WHILE HE SLUMBERED.”

Durrak could not stay to listen.  The overwhelming force of the monster’s presence drove him deep into the mountain.  He ran without thought and when he came to himself it was because of the intense heat of the Adamantine Forge.  A thought exploded into the forefront of his mind.

“Maegera!”  He shouted, “We need you!”

“IS IT TIME AGAIN?”  The Demon of the forge rumbled.  “IS IT TIME FOR THE WAR AGAIN?”

“Yes!”  Durrak cried, “There’s a dragon outside the gates and it’s going to kill my father and –“

“TINY DISPUTES AND MEANINGLESS FIGHTS MEAN NOTHING LITTLE MAGGOT.”  Maegera interrupted him.  “YOU WILL KNOW WHEN THE WAR BEGINS, FOR THE WORLD WILL BURN.”

“No, you must help!”  Durrak said, fear making his voice shrill.

“I AM NOT YOURS TO COMMAND LITTLE MAGGOT!  YOU DO NOT SEND ME TO FIGHT YOUR ENEMIES.  FIGHT YOUR OWN BATTLES OR DIE TRYING.”  The massive demon tilted its head to one side as though listening, “SOMETHING CALLS…”

A swirl of black butterflies in a profusion of different sizes swirled around Maegera’s horned head, thousands of them dancing on the currents of superheated air that surrounded him.  One of them floated down and Durrak reached out to touch it, confused in spite of himself.  The butterfly’s wing cut his hand to the bone and he could see they were made of unimaginably thin sheets of metal.

“Maegera.  Bringer of fire and destruction.  I summon thee with the power granted me by thy father and thy mother.  I summon thee by the power of the blades I have forged.  I summon thee with the promise of rest until the War begins again.”  A voice boomed hollowly through the Adamantine Forge.

“YOU DARE REQUEST MY PRESENCE ONCE AGAIN?”  Maegera rumbled.  “I THOUGHT I HAD KILLED YOU THE LAST TIME YOU SUMMONED ME FORTH FROM A DWARVEN KINGDOM.”

“Belach, the greatest smith to put his hand on a hammer don’t get killed by his forge fire!  Felix is still bitching about me stealing you last time ain’t he?”  The voice asked, barking a laugh.  “This ain’t a request or a theft anyway.  It’s a gods damned summoning.”

Twin loops of chain made from something that looked like ice exploded from the swarming cloud of butterflies, one catching around each of Maegera’s huge black horns.  He leaned back, almost seeming to gather himself to strike out, his wings mantling like a hawk about to take flight and with a flash and flurry of razor sharp black winged butterflies he simply disappeared.

“FIGHT YOUR OWN BATTLES LITTLE MAGGOT.”  His voice echoed throughout the chamber, even after his body faded away.  “THE WAR IS COMING AND YOU MUST FIGHT OR PERISH.”

The heat of the Adamantine Forge faded and Durrak shivered in the chill that descended swiftly on the chamber.  He saw an opening beyond where Maegera had been standing moments before.  One of the strange metal butterflies was floating into a passageway that he could just barely see.  With determination to survive, he made his way into that tunnel.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 12

The gates of Denoria towered above them and Callindra couldn’t keep herself from gawking.  The walls were fully fifty feet high and the gates were open a full forty feet wide.  It was so thick that there were five separate gates that could be lowered if an invading force tried to break through.

Tryst was handling their entrance into the city as his credentials as a priest of Gode to pass the stringent requirements at the gate.  There was a chapter house of his faith here and he had been able to send messages ahead to them with a well-placed bit of coin.

“There’s a good place to stay called the Golden Mantle, it is a trusted establishment according to the guards at the gate.  You will be expected there, I sent a runner ahead to reserve you some rooms.”  Tryst said.  “Go and make yourselves at home.  I wish to go straight to the Chapter House and meet with the members of my order.”

“I need a bath and I need it now.”  Callindra said, trying to run her fingers through her hair and shuddering when she found it impossible.    “You can go and pray as long as you want if I get to go and get clean.”

“Since when were you so concerned about being all pretty and clean?”  Cronos asked, punching her in the shoulder.

“You could stand to get the stink of a few days without bathing on top the smell from a gods damned forest fire yourself brother mine.”  She said, giving him a punch that was noticeably stronger that the one he had given her.

“Hey!”  He said laughing, but rubbing his arm, “I don’t smell bad…”

“Right.”  Vilhylm said, “Keep telling yourself that.  We could all use a bath and a good meal.  Tryst, come and join us once you check in with your people.”

It was a short walk to the Inn, and as they drew closer Callindra began to have her doubts.  “I don’t think we belong here.  I mean look at these buildings.”  She said, pointing to the five story structures surrounding them.  All of them were immaculately painted and well cared for.  No doxies leaned out of second story windows, there wasn’t even any dung in the streets let alone garbage.

“Don’t worry little sister, Tryst is picking up the tab.”  Vilhylm said with a wry grin, “Just as long as his runner actually made it and we don’t get thrown out.”

The Golden Mantle was massive, taking up half a block and rising six stories.  The rambling structure seemed to have grown, multiple roof lines meeting and diverging but somehow looking grand and opulent in spite of the appearance that could have otherwise looked tacky.  At the entrance, a pair of guards wearing matching armor gave them matching skeptical looks.

“Gentlemen, I think perhaps you are looking for a different establishment.”  One of them says, stepping in front of the door and putting his hand on the hilt of the rather large sword at his side.  “We cater to a very specific clientele, there are plenty of places that serve travelers and adventurers closer to the gate.”

“Excuse me?”  Callindra said, her doubts momentarily overcome by ire at being called male. “You think that just because someone carries a sword and wears armor they’re automatically a man?”

“Uhhh…”  The guard looked at her and then glanced at his cohort, a slight blush coloring his cheeks.  “You were standing behind your companions miss, I didn’t see you.”

“THIS girl could cut your arms off before you were halfway through reaching for your sword.”  She said, “Especially if you don’t let her inside to take a bath.  We’ve been on the road for a week and I haven’t seen hot water for twice that.”

“Trust me man.”  Cronos said, “You don’t want to get between Callindra and her bath.”

“Callindra?”  The other guard asked, “You mean you’re the group that they sent a runner from the gate about?”  She scratched her chin and Callindra realized with belated chagrin that she was a woman.

“Yeah.”  Callindra said, “Tryst Te’Chern sent him.  This is Vilhylm and Cronos.”

“He didn’t mention anything about you being so … travel worn.”  The female guard said, “No matter, your suite is ready.  Please sign in at the front desk inside.”

“I am sorry, we’ve had a difficult week.”  Vilhylm said with an apologetic smile, “Her maybe more than the rest of us.”

Callindra mumbled something that might have been an apology and might have been a curse word and strode through the door, followed closely by her brothers.  Her soft leather shoes were quiet on the floor, but the man behind the desk looked up with a smile that might have been tattooed on.

“Ah, the exalted friends of the Church!  Welcome!”  He rang a small gold bell and a youth in a uniform seemed to appear by the desk.  “Alex, please take their bags to the suite and give them the tour.”

“Right this way miss, gents.”  The youth said, taking Callindra’s pack from her and leading the way up the stairs at a trot as though she wasn’t a filthy, armor wearing girl whose long hair had living flowers growing in it.

Too tired and dirty to argue, she followed him to a set of rooms that eclipsed anything she had ever imagined.  The floors had plush carpets, the beds had silk and they had their own private bathing chamber.

“There is hot water in the cistern enough for three baths.”  Alex said crisply, “I will have an attendant come up as soon as you are ready.”

“I don’t need help.”  She said, walking toward the bathing chamber like a moth to a candle flame.

“I’ll send one of the maids up to help.  Tallie I think is her name.”  Alex said, turning and moving swiftly from the room.

“Wow would you look at this place?”  Callindra said, spinning in a circle and laughing.  “I don’t believe it!  Gods and demons I have no idea how Tryst thinks he’s going to pay for all this, but I’m going to live it up before they try and collect.”

She walked into the bathroom and found a pleasantly plump maid in a gown that would have been modest if it hadn’t been unlaced halfway to her navel standing next to a steaming tub.  A flagon of wine with condensation beading invitingly on its sides was set next to the tub and the scent of fragrant herbal soap filled the air.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 2; The Rise of Evil- Chapter 11

Everyone looked at her, and Callindra realized that she had been speaking as though she was in charge.  She pretended not to notice their scrutiny and puffed on her borrowed pipe.  Wiping away a tear that was threatening to spill from her eye, she adjusted herself on the cushions, settling Brightfang’s sheath more comfortably and shifting her injured leg.

“Well Lass.  Ya gotta point there.”  Malachi said. “I been captain a this ship for fifty years an it’s hard ta think about givin him up.”  He patted the floor fondly, “But I suppose all things come ta pass.”

“Give up your ship?”  She asked, confused.  “What do you mean give up your ship?”

“When I was designin this beauty a century ago I…”  He trailed off, looking at the expressions on their faces.  “Well it’s a long story an ya probably don’t want ta hear it now.  Suffice it ta say I needed a power source and Jorda gave me one.  Asked me ta keep it until tha ones she tasked would come for it.”

“She gave you a power source?”  Tryst asked, raising a golden eyebrow.  “What do you mean?”

“Ahhh.. maybe it’s better ta show ya.”  Malachi said, standing and moving toward the door.

“I’ll be fine.”  Callindra said, waving off her brother’s moves to help her.  “I’ve got to learn to move when I’m all messed up or else I’ll be easy prey any time I’ve been hurt.”  She struggled to her feet, wincing in pain and looked up to see approval in Malachi’s eyes.  He didn’t say a word, instead striding out of the cabin toward the ladder leading to the hold.

They followed him in silence other than the occasional grunt of discomfort as their injuries were strained by a difficult step.  Callindra did her best on the ladder, although the pain of bending her knee sent tears trickling down her face she made it to the bottom without assistance.

It was hot and loud below decks.  The scents of burning coal and hot metal, both old and stale assaulted her nose. Callindra sneezed so hard that the blast of air knocked Cronos off his feet as he stepped off the ladder.  He looked at her in surprise, shaking his head.

“Sorry, I guess something in the air is tickling my nose.”  She said, wincing.

Malachi gave her an inscrutable look, his mouth frowning slightly around the stem of his pipe.  “We ain’t burned coal since Jorda entrusted us with her gift, but the smell does still linger.  Some folk I knew once were sensitive to it like that.”

“Did the Goddess give you a piece of the clay mold that made the original human?”  Tryst breathed, “Why would she do such a thing?”

“Betimes the best place to hide sommat important be in plain sight.”  The Dwarf rumbled, “Sides which I ain’t in one place for more’n a day or so.  Nobbut would ever suspect it to be used in such a way.”

A whirring, clattering sound dominated all the other sounds as they approached the center of the ship.  In front of them, a complicated latticework of steel cables and wooden beams moved in steady rhythm.  This was the contraption that allowed the ship to fly.  At its heart was what appeared to be the lower torso of a human working a treadle at a furious rate.

“What in the name of the Absent Gods is that?”  Vilhylm said, staring at the strange sight.

“This be the heart a the Grungie and a marvel of engineering.”  Malachi said with a wide grin.  “But afore I had the legs he ran on coal and steam and quite frankly did no function as well as he could have.  Of course it ain’t just the wings, there’s a fair bit of wind magic at play as well.”

“Are they always so… big?”  Callindra asked, “The other bits aren’t really to scale.  Gods and demons, I don’t even know if we could carry them.  We certainly couldn’t hide the bedamned things.”  She paused, as if digesting what he had just said.  “Did you just say wind magic?”

“Indeed I did.  That was a gift from another, slightly less friendly Immortal.”  Malachi said, his eyes turning flat.  “But that ain’t a story I share.”

“Was his name Glarian?  No, can’t be… you said Immortal.”  She sighed, and a mischievous breeze untied the ribbon holding her hair in place, allowing it to fan out around her head.  The flowering vines growing through it smelled sweet.  “My Master is no God, he’s just an old man.  A talented and powerful one, but an old man nonetheless.  If he was a God he wouldn’t need rescuing.”

Malachi was looking at her with a strange expression on his face that was hard to read.  “I’m sure he ain’t the one I knew.  His bargains have more’n one sharp edge.  There ain’t a safe way to hold them.”

“If we take this artifact will your ship still be able to fly?”  Cronos asked, looking up from where he was inspecting the apparatus.  “It looks like it will, and handily at that.  You hardly need the support of these.  They just make it more convenient.”

“Not entirely true.”  The Dwarf said, a bit defensively.  “But also I was charged with handing over the artifact to the hero’s the Goddess had in mind when she put it in my care.”

Wordlessly, Tryst brought the small hand seemingly made of clay from his belt pouch and held it in his hand.  It spun around one full turn before stopping pointing directly at the legs powering the airship.  The thumb and all fingers but the index curled in as it ceased moving.

“I think that’s likely all the proof you need.”  Tryst said quietly.

After looking between them all for a few tense moments, Malachi sighed.  “You’re all so young.  I expected… well… when we land outside Denoria in two days’ time I’ll surrender the legs to you like I was charged to.”

Callindra blinked in surprise.  Now that the tension of the moment had passed, she processed what he had said.  “Two days to Denoria?  That can’t be, Denoria is at least two week’s travel away!”

Malachi chuckled, obviously happy to tout his ships’ prowess.  “This here lassie will cover the distance in less than two days but I don’t want to land her in the city so you’ll have to walk the last half day.”