The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 23

Callindra tossed her head back and laughed, “You mean to tell me that you throw caution to the winds to live in this swamp, gambling with your very LIVES for a few coins and yet you frown on tossing dice? You people astound me.”

“Go spend your money elsewhere. We don’t gamble here.” He folded his massive arms across his chest and Callindra sauntered out of the tavern, her blade tether rattling and jingling in some unseen draft, still chuckling.

Once outside she allowed her eyes to adjust to the darkness and after surveying her options, chose a campfire with a few capable looking warriors she had seen in the fighting earlier over the caravan. The hard, adult eyes of the children who peeked out a window at her were unnerving.

“Mind if I join you?” The man jerked his eyes from the flickering flames and glanced up at her.

“Ah- well…” He stammered, obviously about to tell her to leave until he saw she was proffering a flask. “Yeah of course you can. Thanks.” He shifted slightly to one side on the log he was sitting on and she sat down heavily next to him.

Callindra took out her pipe and tobacco and tamped the bowl full of Karalan Imperialis. Before accepting the flask back she concentrated for a second, igniting a tiny flame over the bowl of the pipe.  With a few puffs a thin streamer of smoke trailed from her mouth. Sighing in satisfaction she exhaled a plume of smoke, took the flask back and took a swallow.

“So, you here for fortune and glory too?” She asked giving the fighter next to her a sidelong glance. “Or do you actually have scruples?” His leather armor had seen some use as had the twin long daggers he was polishing.

“Well mainly for fortune.” He replied with a dry chuckle. “There’s a lot of money out in the swamp if you’re willing to pay the price for it. I think I saw you out there in the fray earlier. Once you get a little older and a little less impatient you’ll be one helluva fighter you know? That flip almost cost you more than you bet on. How ‘bout you? What’re you here for if not for fortune?”

“At least you’re honest. I’m here because my brothers and I have a job to do. We’re looking for an artifact of some importance and we have reason to believe it’s probably here somewhere. My luck it’s probably in the bottom of the swamp.” She blew a few smoke rings and fidgeted with the shackles on her wrists.

“Heh, so you’re here for the same thing we all are in spite of your high and mighty talk. No shame in it you know. In fact I could use some more good help, the weaklings keep dying off in my hunting party and only the suicidal go out in small groups. How ‘bout it? You want to join up with us?” He stuck out his hand, “I’m Gabriel by the way.”

“We aren’t looking for anything most of you would think of as treasure, they’re just small clay pieces broken from a statue.”  Callindra said, gripping his forearm in a swordsman’s clasp, “I’m Callindra. I’ll have to ask my brothers. Gabriel, that’s a strangely angelic name for someone with your outlook on the world.”

“Yeah, my old man wanted me to enter the priesthood. I never could stomach all that silence and the wardrobe leaves something to be desired too.” A familiar and dangerous scent struck her nostrils and she looked sharply to the sky.

“Night lights are out again tonight I see.” Wisps of vapor that glowed with a sickly green phosphorescence trailed from the swamp to wrap around one of the caravan wagons.

Callindra reached over her shoulder to loosen Brightfang in his sheath. Gabriel’s hand strayed towards the hilts of his knives, watching her nervously. “You smell that?” She asked, ignoring him.

He inhaled deeply, “Yeah, Sulphur.” Suddenly the wagon that had been enclosed in the vapor exploded as a massive figure seemingly made of black stone with glowing green lava pulsating under the surface landed on it. Raising its head to the sky it let loose a scream of rage, hunger and longing.

“Oh Gods it’s the Ravenger! Callindra, we gotta get out of here now!” He grabbed for Callindra’s hand and started backing away while the entire caravan burst into unholy green fire.

“You asked why I’m here Gabriel?” Callindra stood and unsheathed Brightfang whose steely ring sang eagerly in the night air. “This is why. Sometimes there are things that are so wrong they must be opposed no matter the cost. The forces of chaos must not be allowed to run free.”

“Nothing survives The Ravenger Callindra; come with me and live to fight another day!” Some people were running screaming into the night while others ducked behind the Drunken Thief’s imposing doors.

“I’d rather die with honor than live a coward. Pick up your blades and prove your worth.” She hefted Brightfang and thought to herself, “So this is the Ravenger eh? Those innocents are going to be killed unless I take it on. I’m sure Tryst will be here soon, there’s no way he’ll be able to avoid feeling this evil presence.” She sprinted towards the monstrosity without further hesitation.

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The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 22

“So I suppose you’re here for the same reason as the rest of us eh?” Said a man, coming to sit next to her at the bar and taking a pull from the large earthenware mug of the thick bitter brew it contained, “Fortune and glory. There’s so much treasure out there it’s a wonder the whole world isn’t combing this marsh.”

She glanced around the crowded common room of The Drunken Thief taking in the contrast of the roughhewn tables and benches with the piles of glittering gemstones, gold and finely worked weapons that were being sorted on many of them.  All the men and women here were heavily armed; she counted no fewer than six daggers on one man’s belt.

“I can see the Fortune from here, but this place seems to be a little lacking of the other. My idea of Glory doesn’t include grubbing around in the dirt for some spare change.” She sampled from her own mug and sighed in satisfaction, “At least the drink measures up.”

“You’re lippy for a little tyke you know that? I suppose you acquit yourself pretty well with that toothpick of yours though, I think I saw you split one of those critters in half.” He looked at the two foot sword hilt extending above her left shoulder with grudging respect. “I haven’t seen a blade like that before, where’d you steal it?”

“He was a gift.” She replied shortly, the memory of the man who had given it to her and taught her how to use it still fresh in her mind. The Winds sensed her mood and a slight gust blew the tangle of her hair back from her face, accentuating the vines that twined through it to wrap around her brow, the tiny flowers in it twinkling like jewels. “Brightfang is my companion.” The breeze shook the Mithril chain that ran from the weighted pommel to a shackle on her wrist causing it to jingle merrily.

His eyebrows rose, “A bonded blade? Well that explains the chain I suppose. If you aren’t here for the gold then why the hells are you here? As you so bluntly pointed out there ain’t much more to this place than that.” A few other patrons who were close by had started to pay attention to the conversation.

“Callindra, are these gentleman giving you any trouble?” A hulking figure in mirror polished plate mail with a large round shield on his left arm approached the bar, setting a large battle hammer down with a resounding thud.

“You’re not bothering our sister are you?” A low voice asked, as a hand extended unseen from the shadows to rest on the shoulder of the man Callindra had been speaking with. He flinched in spite of himself, his skin crawling as though he had been touched by a corpse.

“There’s a misunderstanding, we were just having a casual conversation.” The man stood and backed away from the bar, coming into contact with a youth in black leather whose face told a story of pain beyond his years. Two bastard swords were nestled in a harness that crossed his back, their size looking almost comical until the way he moved spoke of his proficiency with them.

“Good. We don’t want any problems.” Cronos said, flicking a gold at the bartender who deftly batted it over his shoulder into the unseen cashbox and handed over another tankard of Bog Ale.

Callindra looked at her brothers and rolled her eyes, “You guys are so overprotective.”

“I wasn’t worried about your safety little sister, I was more concerned that you’d get us thrown out of here.” Tryst’s absurdly pretty face creased in a frown as he looked past her at the massive men with battle clubs the size of small trees who stood by the door, “We need to get information here.”

“Whatever, I’m going to go see if that little bald dude wants to toss some dice.” She stood and carried her ponderous tankard over to a table where a small man was inspecting some gems. “You up for a game old man?”

“Pull up a chair youngster, fifty gold buy in.” He rattled a dice cup and Callindra threw ten platinum on the table with a shrug. Tossing the dice, she grinned.

“Small straight, not bad. You might have trouble beating that.”

He deftly scooped the dice and spun them onto the table. Just before they stopped rolling his hand flickered as to move his wager into the center of the table, but Callindra saw him tap one of the dice with his sleeve, causing it to alter its course. Rather than cause a scene, she flicked a finger and sent a tiny zephyr out to make the die roll randomly again.

“What have I told you about funny business?” The bouncer was unbelievably fast and quiet for all that he was the size of a horse; she hadn’t seen or heard him approach. “When you cheat the patrons they don’t have money to drink.”

“There’s no problem, we just want to dice.” Callindra was enjoying herself and didn’t really care about the money.

Letting go of the little man who scooped up his gems and darted away leaving his wager on the table, the bouncer turned his gaze towards her and flexed his tree trunk arms. “We. Don’t. Gamble. Here.”

Callindra tossed her head back and laughed, “You mean to tell me that you throw caution to the winds to live in this shithole, gambling with your very LIVES for a few coins and yet you frown on tossing dice? You people astound me.”

“Go spend your money elsewhere. We don’t gamble here.” He folded his massive arms across his chest and Callindra sauntered out of the tavern, her blade tether rattling and jingling in some unseen draft, still chuckling.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 21

After following the lead of the Hand, they had been traveling for days and now ended up in hills that rolled in and out of a fetid swamp.  Rain was falling in a dismal drizzle and the cold water was beginning to soak through the seams of their thick woolen cloaks.  It fit Callindra’s mood perfectly.

“That god rotting thing is broken isn’t it?”  She said, glaring at Tryst as he was looking at the Hand where it sat on his palm.

“It is possible that what we seek has been lost out here.”  Tryst replied, although he didn’t sound convinced himself.  “Or maybe the rumors of a city of treasure hunters somewhere out here are real.  All we can do is keep following it.”

“Is the sun going down or coming up?”  Cronos grumbled, squinting at the sky.

“Going down.”  Vilhylm said, “We should find a place to camp for the night.”

They came to the top of a small hill overlooking a valley.  Swamp fire glowed sickly green in pools of fetid water.  There were other lights as well; torches surrounding a low stone building and a large bonfire surrounded by a semi-circle of wagons.  The flickers of swamp fire began to move forward, encroaching on the circle of wagons and they realized it wasn’t just glowing fungus, it was the light of abyssal fire in the eyes of a pack of hunched creatures charging the bonfire.

As one, the tired group found new strength and ran down the incline.  Calling up arcane power, Callindra easily outdistanced the others as the Winds gathered beneath her allowing her to leap dozens of paces over pools of stagnant water.  Her braid trailed after her like a banner as she landed in the middle of the fray, Brightfang slashing down on one of the creatures with brutal force.  The man who had been retreating from deadly claws and fangs blinked in surprise as the monster he had been facing fell, its body nearly cloven in twain.

Callindra was already kicking it off her blade and engaging another foe.  A gout of flames announced Cronos’s arrival to the fight, crisping three of the creatures where they stood and Tryst’s hammer mashed the skull of another into an unrecognizable mass of brains and bone.  Vilhylm methodically used the point and edge of his spear to stab and slice, leaving dead and wounded spawn behind him.  As quickly as it had begun, the battle was over; the few remaining monsters leaping into pools and swimming into the depths.

With a practiced flick of her left wrist, Callindra shed the blood from Brightfang and slid him into the sheath over her shoulder.  The others were looking at her and her brothers warily and Tryst stepped forward to speak with them.

“Greetings friends.”  He said, his voice smooth and confident.  “It seems we helped you out of a spot of trouble, could you perhaps allow us to share your fire for the night?”

“Them things is just what comes before The Ravenger most times.”  A grizzled man with a short hafted double bladed ax says, looking them each over carefully.  “They ain’t letting anyone into The Drunken Thief until they’re sure that pus bucket ain’t showing up.”  He spat to one side with a sour look on his face.

“Why won’t they let anyone else inside?”  Tryst asked, noticing children with wide serious eyes staring at them from beneath the wagons. “Surely there’s room for everyone.”

“Room fer paying customers maybe.”  He said, “We ain’t hit it rich enough to pay their prices yet.”

“Shut er gob Milt, they don’t need ta know nothin.”  Another, less savory looking man said, looking suspiciously at Tryst and his companions in turn.

“You’re being a tad uncharitable friend.”  Callindra said, her ire beginning to rise as she too noticed the children with creepy adult eyes.  “I’m pretty sure we just saved your lives.  I’m not used to people whose lives I just saved being so rude.”

“I ain’t used ta little girls who can’t keep their mouths shut.”  He snarled, putting his hand on the well-worn hilt of a short sword at his hip.

“Dax, knock it off.  There’s more’n enough out there, no need to get tetchy.”  Milt said, spitting on the ground again.  “He’s just on edge about this Ravenger business and we lost a couple good men out there yesterday, not to mention a good haul.”

“A haul?”  Callindra asked, keeping an eye on Dax as the man glared at her.

“Yeah.  Found a good stash of gold and even a suit of armor that wasn’t rusted so it must a been magic.”  Milt paused to spit.  “Damn boggers busted out a one of them pools and dragged ‘em under fore we could even pull steel.”

“You expect us to believe that there’s treasure out here?”  Cronos asked, his voice dubious.  “In this gods forsaken swamp?”

“Ha!  Believe what ya want kiddo, but I seen more gold in a month in this shit hole then I seen in my life.”  Milt spit again and Callindra could see now that he was rolling a quid of tobacco around in his mouth.  “You all seem capable enough.  Wanna make some coin?”

Before any of them could answer, the door of the tavern swung open and all heads turned to watch a beautiful woman with well-muscled arms and a stout cudgel at her hip stood in the doorway.  She brushed her hands on her apron, an action that emphasized the swell of her breasts against her dress.

“Danger’s over, come on in and have a drink if you want.”  She called out with a welcoming smile.  “The ale’s warm and it’s strong and the food’s as good as you’ll find in a hundred leagues.”

With a grin, Callindra sauntered into the tavern, noting the name on the sign above the door.  ‘The Drunken Thief’ seemed more like a fortress than an inn, thick stone walls and iron bound doors.  A man stood on either side of the door, their biceps as big around as her waist, looking at her with impassive suspicion.

“Relax boys, I’m just here for a drink.”  She said, patting the one on the left on a bulging arm and noting the resemblance between the two men.  “Twins.  That’s adorable!”

“Adorable.”  The hulking man replied, “That sword is adorable.”

“Yeah, he is.”  Callindra said with a grin and walked up to the bar.

“Whaddaya want?”  The wide man behind the bar asked, “We got bog ale and black death.”

“I’ll take an ale then.”  She said, tossing him a gold coin.

The bartender batted the coin out of the air behind himself where it clattered into a grate beneath the bar and pulled a clay mug from a shelf, filling it from a tap.

“They weren’t kidding about your prices were they?  She asked, “Gods and demons this ale had better be amazing.”

“It’s worth more’n that lass.”  He said with a smile.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 20

“Callindra, I need you up here.”  Tryst said.  They had stopped after walking for perhaps a quarter of a candle-mark, the smell of fresh air was getting stronger.  Callindra squeezed past the others and came to where Tryst was frowning at a closed door.

“I think it’s locked but I can’t tell.  I don’t want to break the latch by trying to turn it without unlocking it first.”  He said, “Can you take a look for me?”

She laid her hand on the door, leaning forward to look at the keyhole.  The hooded lantern Vilhylm handed to her illuminated the lock, but she set it down and shuttered it.  Pale moonlight shone through the hole briefly and then went out.  The fresh air was briefly fouled by a whiff of rotting meat.

Stepping swiftly back, Callindra gently pushed the others back as well.  “Something is out there, and I don’t think it’s friendly.”  She said in a low voice.  “I could smell rotten flesh, but I’m not sure if it’s undead or just has bad hygiene.”

“Is the door locked?”  Tryst asked.

“I don’t know, I didn’t want to stay close enough to be within reach.”  She said.

“Within reach of what?”  Cronos asked.

Before she could respond, the door was slammed in with terrible force.  It shattered the brickwork of the tunnel and half tore from its hinges and a huge hand reached in, groping for something to crush.  With a cry, Callindra sprang forward and hacked the last knuckle off the middle finger with a blur of shining steel.

The hand was jerked out of reach swiftly and Callindra ran after it.  “This might be our only chance to escape!”  She shouted, not looking to see if her brothers were following.

Once outside, she dove to one side, tucking and rolling to come up in a fighting crouch.  The others hadn’t followed and the giant didn’t seem to notice that she’d escaped.  It was a massive thing, all ropy muscle stretched taunt over heavy bones.  As she watched, it bent to reach its uninjured hand into the opening again.

She set her jaw, waited for her moment and ran towards the thing, ducking beneath the giant’s arm while whipping Brightfang in a wicked arc that cut the arm to the bone.  The creature stumbled backward, arm hanging uselessly and mouth gaping in a silent roar of pain.  Callindra’s triumph was short lived as its other hand slapped her aside like a bug.  Brightfang flew from her hand as the blow fractured her left arm and several ribs.

Callindra gritted her teeth and swung her right arm in a wide arc even as she spun through the air to land on her feet, sliding to a stop with a gentle guiding gust of wind.  The Mithril chain glittered in the moonlight as the motion of her arm brought Brightfang spinning in a wide circle that ended with the sword burying itself in the monster’s back.

The giant turned eyes burning with abyssal flame upon her and reached up to grab the chain with its good hand.  She could feel the roots of Jorda’s Gift growing through the flesh of her arm to wrench the bone back into place and the pain drove her to her knees.

“HELP YOU IDIOTS!” She screamed, hoping to galvanize her brothers into action and tried to yank on the chain hard enough to dislodge Brightfang from where he was embedded in the giant’s back.

An explosion of light from within the tunnel was followed by a blast of fire that bathed the monster’s legs.  Cronos leaped out in its wake, his twin swords flashing in the dying light of the fire.  Vilhylm leaped completely over the younger man, stabbing his bone spear into the giant’s leg shouting a harsh battle cry.  Tryst calmly walked forward, shield shining before him and hammer in his right hand.

Ignoring her brothers, the giant yanked on the chain, pulling her through the air by the shackle on her right wrist.  Callindra twisted in the air, trying to control the path of her flight and only by sheer luck and the blessing of the winds managed to swing sideways far enough to wrap the chain around it instead of being deposited directly into the giant’s mouth.

A sickening crunch sounded just next to her and Callindra saw that the giant had bitten down on the chain instead of her body.  Shards of shattered teeth were falling from its mouth as it shook its head in renewed pain and anger.  She managed to wrap her gloved hand around the chain and hang on as she was flung about.  The chain flung from its mouth and she swung briefly before Brightfang pulled free of the things’ flesh and she landed, rolling and painfully jarring her injuries.

Somehow knowing exactly where he would be, Callindra put out her right hand and caught her sword by the hilt as he flew toward her.  Standing with a wince at the pain in her ribs she took in the battle scene.  Working with precision, Cronos and Vilhylm flanked the monster while Tryst stood in front of it, the light shining from his shield seeming to confuse it.  When her brothers ran forward in a rush on either side, she struck out as well, summoning a single mighty blade of wind to slice across the giant’s back.  Their combined attack brought the monster crashing down, flattening some small trees with its death throes.

“We have to go.”  Tryst said, extinguishing the light on his shield.  “There are more of them. I can… feel them out there.”

Callindra looked at him, a flicker of concern flashing across her face.  She thought she saw a flicker of emerald green in his eyes, but it was gone so fast it might have been her imagination.  The lingering doubt that she thought she’d banished returned.  Had he been infected that night?  It seemed impossible that he had been able to fight it off for months.  Jorda had even let him enter her realm and he hadn’t shown any signs.

A crashing sound in the undergrowth snapped her back to the current problem.  “Tryst, I can’t run very far with these broken ribs.”  She said, “Can you patch me up just enough that we can escape?”

“No time.”  Vilhylm said, staring off into the trees.

“He’s right Callindra.”  Tryst said, frowning at her as though she had gotten injured on purpose.

With a groan, she gritted her teeth and followed Vilhylm as he led them away from the walls.  Behind them, the roar of battle erupted.  Callindra shuddered at the sounds of men and women dying in the night while they fled.  It didn’t seem right.  It didn’t seem fair.  But they needed to complete their mission or else more cities would fall.  Somehow she was hopeful that Denoria would fight off this invasion.  That huge dragon hadn’t been circling the city, and it was the real harbinger of destruction.

Kurien Alyemey

Crossbow bolts fell like deadly hail as Kurien ran down the street with a bag of coins clinking merrily at his belt.  The gold had been freely given, albeit under false pretenses, and he had no intention of giving it back.  He had sold the Lord of this Holding a batch of his ‘Famous Rejuvenating Elixir’ for an exorbitant amount of gold.  It was, of course, really worthless rotgut mixed with a few herbs to make it taste like medication, but how would the greedy old bastard ever learn his lesson if he didn’t pay for it?

He ducked under a bolt that would have punctured his skull, slipped sideways into an alley, put his back against the wall and got ready.  Pulling a dagger from his belt, he cut through a rope that held a stack of empty casks and sent them tumbling into the alleyway.

“Halt you thieving mongrel!”  One of the guards chasing him shouted.  “Come back with the Lord’s gold!”

When the guard came around the corner at a dead sprint, he collided with the tumbling barrels, crashing onto his face.  The second guard was running too fast and had to choose between stepping on his friend or hitting the barrels.  The first guard’s face made a funny squishing sound when it was mushed into the mud.

“Watch your step friends, these streets are slippery!”  Kurien said cheerfully, climbing up a nearby rain gutter to the third floor of a warehouse and vaulting into an open window.  A group of dangerous looking folk all turned to stare in his direction.  A case of something was open on a table between them and all of them were armed to the teeth.

“Raken, is this one of yours?”  A woman with a scar running across her left eye asked in an artificially casual drawl as her hand fell to the hilt of a nasty looking dagger at her belt.

“Jana, you know better, this punk isn’t attached to us.”  Raken said, giving Kurien a narrow glare.  “Although he might be your lackey.”

“Hey I’m just passing through, but The Lord’s Guard is hot on my trail.”  Kurien laughed, “Of course it’s all just a silly misunderstanding.  I didn’t mean to interrupt your er whatever this is.”

“Get him!”  Jana shouted, drawing her dagger.

Kurien struck a theatrical pose and a jangling guitar chord struck up from nowhere.  Jana’s dagger dropped from limp fingers and she stared at him with surprise clear on her face.  She made a calming gesture towards her ruffians as Kurien spread his hand wide.  “Come now friends, there’s no reason to hurt ME, I’m on YOUR side!”

The music continued and this time Raken relaxed, watching the half-elf as he almost danced through the room toward the door.  Kurien didn’t give the others the chance to decide to take matters into their own hands.

“Hey Boss… shouldn’t we be stopping him?”  One of the brighter ones asked.

“He’s fine.”  Raken and Jana said almost in unison.

“Hey wait a minute, that’s a spell!”  Another of the toughs yelled, but Kurien was already through the door and the guard was just struggling through the window.

Laughing merrily, he ran through the hallway, down a flight of stairs and out the door.  He pulled off the hat with its attached wig, stuffed it into a small pack and flipped his cloak so that the drab gray showed instead of the bright scarlet he had been wearing.  It hadn’t been much of a disguise in the first place but these idiots were easily fooled.

A young beggar sat a few streets down with a bowl that contained a single copper, looking up at him with hopeful eyes.  The poor girl was just skin and bone!  Kurien patted her on her grimy head and walked down the street casually, whistling a merry tune.  He was around the corner before she saw the handful of gold in her bowl.  It had been a wonderful day of fooling the so-called “Lord” of this city, and now it was time to redistribute his ill-gotten wealth among those who truly needed it.