The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 45

Their mode of travel was strange and none of them ever got a straight answer about how it moved or what was powering it.  One thing they all agreed on was that it was fast.  Moving quicker than a galloping horse day and night they covered more ground than Callindra ever thought possible.

In just a few days they had traveled from the cool northern foothills deep into the mountains.  Once the ground outside was covered with snow, they slowed and stopped.  In the distance they could see the far-off cone of a volcano, a thin wisp of smoke rising from its summit.  The flat plain of a glacier separated them from the ashmount, and Callindra immediately recognized the place.

“That’s it.  That is where we are going.”  She said with certainty.  “That is Beliach’s forge, or at least where it used to be.”

“The old blighter is still there, I’m sure of it.”  Horace said, blowing air through his moustaches.  “Last I talked with him, he said he couldn’t ever get a better setup than that.”

Callindra stopped and stared at him.  “You’ve been there?”  She asked, her eyes intent.

“No, just the last time I talked with him that’s what he said.”  Horace said, “I sometimes chat with him.  Smith to smith so to speak, well to be honest, more like master smith to apprentice smith.  His ideas about metallurgy and composition are, for lack of another word, visionary.”

They all stopped and looked at him and Horace trailed off.  “Ah, well.  That’s not really the point is it?”

It was just after sunset when Durrak led Tuk up the road to his house.  The trading had gone even better than expected and he has surprises carefully chosen for each of his family members.  As he came around the last bend he saw something that made his heart catch in his throat.  The front door was kicked in, the stable was on fire and strange horses were standing in the courtyard as though they were used to this kind of thing.

He dropped the pony’s reins and ran to the house, grabbing a piece of firewood from the pile as he ran.  A human with a smile splitting his face sauntered out holding a bag of something.  That smile was obliterated by a single swing of Durrak’s makeshift club.  Others followed and his memory faded in a red haze of rage.  When he finally came to his senses again he was sitting among the ashes of a burned out house, crying and holding the remains of his family in his arms.

It was someone calling his name that brought him out of his dazed state.  Someone who could not be ignored.  Someone who could not be denied.

“Durrak, son of Storgar the Wyrmslayer.  I have need of you yet.”  Moradin’s voice demanded attention and respect.  “You will not end here, although a part of you has died.  I have work that needs doing.”

“Why did you let them take my family?” Durrak said, tears still streaming down his face, “My beautiful babies.  Why?”

“It was not my intention.  Your youngest called me here; I regret I was too late to save them.” Tears coursed down the God’s face, “If only they had summoned me earlier.”

“If only you had paid more attention to your people.” Durrak said, “You may have work for me but I will not do it.  From here I will find my own path.  From here I will forge my own future.”  He stood and walked away on feet much steadier than his mind was.

Moradin smiled a sad smile and watched him go. “You will be tempered in the fires of suffering.  You shall become stronger, even as Mithril becomes stronger in the fires of the earth.  If there was another way I would use it, but this is the only thing that will stoke the forge hot enough.”

They set off toward the flat plain of ice, carefully making their way down the side of a treacherous hill covered in loose shale.  As they approached the bottom of the hill a monstrous creature erupted from a cave that had been half covered by snow in a huge cloud of steam.  Dozens of legs propelled it forward, and its torso was raised revealing a mouth with insectoid mandibles.  Before any of them could do more than blink it leaped forward and swallowed Callindra with a single gulp.

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The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 44

Callindra took her hand and used the other woman’s strength more than she had anticipated to get to her feet, feeling a shiver run through her body at the name.  “That sounds bad, makes me feel all creepy.”

“As it should.  Your mission to find these artifacts must not be slowed Callindra.   It is of the utmost importance that you find the pieces and assemble the Avatar.”  Ellyn said.  “The Trickster’s Pipe will assist, where are you going next?”

“Oh, we’re well supplied.”  Callindra said, “From the shop I kinda destroyed.”

“We will bring you to your next destination.”  Ellyn said easily.  “The Trickster’s Pipe isn’t what it seems.”

“Well, to be honest we weren’t heading for the next artifact.”  Callindra said, “We were going to go find the smith who forged my blade.  So he could remake Brightfang.”

“Oh.”  Ellyn said, nodding in understanding.  “Well, I suppose you need to be able to fight to the best of your ability if you’re going to be able to stand against the forces of darkness?  Where exactly is this smith then?”

“North if my memory serves.  I was a little distracted when I saw it last.”  Callindra sheathed her sword and shrugged, “It’s in a volcano on a glacier though.  Can’t be that many of them right?”

“He has trouble near the glaciers.  She said with a frown.  “The extreme cold and ice makes travel difficult, but I can get you close.”

“Any help you can give us is more than we had before.”  Callindra said with a grateful smile.  “Maybe you can teach me more about sparring?  I’m always eager to learn a new technique.”

“Tomorrow perhaps youngling; I’m not up to two bouts like that in one day.”  Ellyn laughed, “Come on Callindra, let’s go take a bath and wash the sweat off.”

“Oh absent gods yes!”  Callindra said, feeling her smile widen.  “It is so refreshing to be in the company of someone who doesn’t mock my desire not to be a sweaty mess.”

“Follow me, dear.  You won’t be disappointed in the baths here.”

“Cardorzada!” Belladin called from the doorway of their house, holding back Noranna, their eldest daughter with one hand and gesturing with a basket laden with food in the other. “You’ve forgotten your midday meal!”

Durrak turned from where he was hooking up the wagon to Tuk’s harness with a wide grin, “I’d forget my own head were it not for you my heart.”  Noranna broke free and ran to him squealing for another kiss goodbye.  Dia, their youngest was thankfully down for a nap.  If she’d begged him to stay he would have been hard pressed to resist and she most certainly would have.

Belladin brought the basket and placed it carefully under the cart’s seat while he was covering Noranna’s face with kisses and promising that he’d only be gone for a fortnight.  With this trade completed, he’d be sure to make enough to buy provisions that would last all through the winter.  Durrak gave his wife a deep and lasting kiss, then patted the slight swelling of her belly with a foolish grin.  He hoped their third child would be a boy, but he would love another girl as much.

“Leave now my darling.  The sooner you go, the sooner we can celebrate your return.”

He checked the three chests of intricately carved jewelry to ensure they were secure and swung himself onto the seat.  He hated to go but it really was only for a fortnight.  With the gold this trading journey would yield, he would surely have enough to repair the roof before winter with enough left over to give the children something fun and perhaps some fresh and interesting spices for his sweet Belladin.

With a smile on his face and a song in his heart, Durrak set out on his way.

A candlemark later, they met in the common room again.  Jamison was serving pints of ale and the others were pouring over maps.  They looked up when the two entered.

“We’re packing it in.”  Ellyn said, “These youngsters need a lift and we’re going to give it to them.”

“You aren’t thinking about heading to the glacier are you?”  Driffen asked, raising his eyebrows.  “We’ve had trouble with – ah – certain folk in the past.”

“We ain’t gonna get within a day’s flight of Magera.”  Ellyn snapped, “I’m not crack brained enough to risk that much.”

“Oh.  Well.  Good to know.”  Driffen said sarcastically, “Here I was afraid you were gonna take an unnecessary risk.”

“A risk yes.”  Ellyn said, giving him a significant look.  “But not an unnecessary one.”

“What?”  Driffen asked, and then his eyes widened.  “Oh.  Are you … Ellyn are you sure?”

“If she says she’s sure.  She is sure.”  Horus said, his voice flat.  “That is all.”

“Right.  I’m sure that’s right.”  Driffen said, averting his gaze.  “We’re packing it up.  Time to go.  The Mistress of the Pipe has commanded it.”

Ginny frowned, following the exchange.  “We have another couple of leads to follow up on here.”  She said, and then seemed to figure something out. “But debts need to be paid first of course.”

“Debts?”  Tryst said, smiling at her.  “If anything we are in your debt.”

“Agreed.”  Callindra said, looking between them with a confused look on her face.  “What could you owe us?”

“Not a debt to you exactly.  It’s a long story.”  Ellyn said, “I’ll just say we owe Jorda, and you’re doing something for her.  This should balance the scales a little bit, but if not at least we have tried.  Enough, if you accept our gift of transport I will hear no more of it.”

“How are you going to get us there?”  Cronos asks, raising an eyebrow.  “What do you mean by ‘packing it in’ exactly?”

“My Trickster’s Pipe has well earned his name.”  Ellyn said with a mischievous smile.  “Keep your seat and drink your ale.  We depart now.”

Callindra sat next to her brothers and accepted a tankard from a smiling Jamison.  Ellyn drew an iron rod from her belt and shook it.  The heads of tiny keys erupted from all sides of it in a forest of bristling points.  Walking behind the bar, she opened a tiny door and thrust the rod into it, twisting and turning it a dozen times as she inserted it until it clicked completely home.

A hum of pure arcane power rippled throughout the room and it began to move ever so slightly.  It was so subtle that at first they didn’t notice it, but then the room tilted far enough to one side that it became obvious and Vilhylm moved to look out the window.

“We’re moving.”  He said, “What kind of thing is this?”

“My Trickster’s Pipe is my home, my place and my sanctuary.  It changes to fit my needs.”  Ellyn says, her voice reflecting her concentration.  “And right now I need to travel.”

A World Lost: Current Events in the City of Einn Boer

More setting the scene for a new Dungeons and Dragons game I’m going to be running soon.

Hedveig stood at the ancient rusted doorway and tried to stay awake.  The Great Gate hadn’t been opened in his lifetime or his father’s lifetime.  The rust scale on it was so thick he doubted the iron portal would even swing on its hinges anymore, even if someone did try to open it.  It was an important duty for the síðr vorðr; the Long Guard though; they had stood there for centuries, barring the way to any who would dare try and intrude on Einn Boer.

He stretched, feeling his joints crack and listening to the odd echo they made inside his armor.  As the old warrior settled back into his parade rest stance, heard the echo again.  It was coming from behind him, but was not coming from inside his armor.  Hedveig removed his helmet and put his ear to the door and he could hear a tapping sound plain as if someone had been tapping on his helmeted head.

Something was out there.  Something was trying to get in.  Hedveig pulled his long copper and bone horn from his belt and blew three measured blasts followed by two quick ones.  He continued the summons, watching for one of his fellow guardians to approach, the noise deafening him to the sounds coming from the great gate behind him.  He never heard the intruder.

When the runner arrived breathless and wild eyed, he found Hedveig laughing and joking.  Grudgingly, he admitted that his senior Guardsman had pulled one over on him and saw the humor in it.

“It’s not like you to pull something like this Hedveig.”  Reklar grumbled, giving him a wry smile, “What’s the occasion for you developing a sense of humor?”

“It’s the anniversary isn’t it?”  Hedveig said with another chuckle.  “Seven hundred years.  That’s long enough for even the memories of the less mortal races fade.

“Well, yes of course.  The festival is tomorrow.  Are you taking Bellia?”

“Probably.”  Hedveig smoothed his moustache, “You had better get back to your post.”

“Yes sir, right you are sir.”  Reklar said, snapping a smart salute.  The junior Guardsman retreated, his thoughts troubled.  Hedveig had not been acting like himself at all, and had in fact volunteered for guard duty during the festival.  For him to joke, for him to even smile on duty was unheard of.  Perhaps the old bastard had finally loosened up; but Reklar doubted it.

Lady Taryn Vaknair Torben the Third looked out over her city, feeling a glow of satisfaction despite the worry that gnawed at her.  The magic was faltering and nothing she or the Elders had tried seemed to be working.  All the symptoms pointed to the city’s Godheart dying and there didn’t seem to be any way of stopping it.

Below her balcony, the citizens gathered for the sesquicentennial, the seven hundredth anniversary of their retreat into Einn Boer.  The lights of their magic twinkled merrily as they danced, laughed, ate and drank.  They had no idea of what was truly happening, and it was imperative that they remain ignorant of it.  Order was an illusion only barely maintained by the thoughts of the people and she was well aware of that fact.

“My Lady, will you be attending the opening ceremonies?”  Londrak, her personal valet, lover, confidant and spymaster asked from the door.

“Of course I will.  You wouldn’t allow otherwise.”  She said, her voice distant.  “I am troubled Lon.  These developments and our lack of ability to remedy them frighten me.”

“The defenses are strong My Lady.”  He was holding a stylish jacket for her.  The newest fashion of ladies wearing jackets and trousers was a bit disconcerting to her at first, but sometimes it was most liberating.  When she was feeling vulnerable though, she needed the familiarity of her corset and skirts.

“Not tonight Lon.  I will wear my peach and cream gown, this being a formal occasion.”  She waved him off, “Now go away and fetch Droga.  Unless you wish to help me dress?”

Londrak grinned wolfishly, “I would be glad to help, but it seems putting these contraptions on is more difficult than removing them My Lady.  I will send her in.”

Gray crouched on an intricately carved gargoyle three stories above a square crowded with revelers.  He wasn’t so much looking for specific marks as he was watching for trends.  If enough well-off individuals were present and if they were intoxicated sufficiently he would send in the Greylings to do their business.  It was up to him to keep an eye on the ebb and flow of the crowd and choose the right time to strike.

The slightest scrape of boot on roof tile made him shift to the left.   Not enough to betray that he’d heard the noise, but just enough to give him a good throwing angle for his blades if he needed it.  Another sound identified the person attempting to sneak up on him.  He relaxed; it was only Lithia.  He could tell by the slight limp she had from a poorly healed broken ankle.

“I instructed you all to wait for my signal Lithia.”  He said in a low voice that wouldn’t carry beyond a few paces.

“Gray, we have a problem.”  She replied, not moving from the shadow of a nearby gable. “Someone has been poaching, and they’ve botched the job.”

He cursed silently to himself, “Show me.”  The last thing they needed was the Long Guard thinking his Greylings had been responsible for a murder.  They were thieves certainly and while they didn’t shrink from killing when necessary it was considered quite gauche, not to mention getting unwanted attention from Longshanks often led to someone having to be sacrificed.  Someone expendable usually, but that didn’t lessen the blow to his pride.

They slipped silently from the rooftop, shimmying down one of the building’s many carved pillars.  Homeowner’s vanity made these kinds of things easy.  The corpse wasn’t far away and it was strange.  A single circular hole in the back of the head was the only sign that any harm had come to the body.  No blood even leaked from it to stain the crisply ironed Long Guard uniform.

While he was investigating it, the body dissolved into dust.  Gray blinked in surprise, staring at the pile of dust that glowed with a slight greenish sheen.  “Well, at least we need not worry about disposing of the corpse.”  Gray muttered, “I don’t like it Greylings.  We’re leaving.  Someone get a sample of that for the Underman.”

When nobody moved, Gray spat to the side and pulled out a vial.  Scraping up a bit of the dust, he stoppered the vial and carefully placed it into his padded pouch.  “Come on you superstitious slugs, let’s get otta here before the shit starts flying.”

They slipped into the shadows, vanishing into the night, but not out of sight of a pair of glittering green eyes that watched from the windowsill.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 43

“You aren’t telling me everything.”  Callindra said, “How about we make a bet?  If I beat you then you have to tell me what you’re hiding.”

Ellyn’s smile came back and she laughed, “If you beat me I won’t be able to tell you anything.  Because the day you beat me I’ll be dead!”

“We’ll see about that!”  Callindra said, springing to her feet and drawing Brightfang from his sheath.  “Let’s go!”

A candlemark later, Callindra finally fell and couldn’t force herself to rise.  She was simply and utterly exhausted.  Although a dozen cuts were healing with tiny tendrils of Brightstar vines and a dozen more had already healed, Ellyn was unmarked.  The woman fought with a pair of narrow blades, shorter than swords but longer than daggers and she wielded them with a brutal and ruthless efficiency.  Despite her age, she moved like nothing Callindra had ever seen.  Not since Glarian.

She lay there, trying to slow her breathing and feeling the sting of Jorda’s gift as it stitched her cuts together.  Although she wanted to talk, to ask Ellyn questions, to try and understand how she had been so hopelessly outclassed, it was all she could do to keep from losing consciousness due to sheer overexertion.

“You fight just like he did.”  Ellyn said with a smile, “You don’t hold anything back.  As much as I admire that, it isn’t a good way to fight.  As you can see, when your enemies use your enthusiasm against you it’s only a matter of time before you are defeated.”

“Almost.  Had.  You.”  Callindra managed.

“Oh, I’ll admit that you’d have done a serious amount of damage if you had managed to hit me.”  Ellyn said, “But that wasn’t the exercise here was it?  We were sparring you silly girl, this wasn’t a battle.  You spent all your energy trying for a kill stroke and completely ignored dozens if not hundreds of chances to get a touch.

“I’m guessing you’ve never sparred before.  Not really sparred anyway.”  She tucked a slightly sweaty strand of hair behind one of her ears.  “This isn’t supposed to be life and death, it’s a chance to improve your skills by testing them against someone else’s.”

“If that was the… case…”  Callindra panted, “Why did you… have to… cut me?”

Ellyn smiled, “Because you fought with all your spirit little one.”  She said gently, “It was all I could do to keep your blade from touching me, and not all of us have the strength and resilience of youth.  Or those… peculiar gifts you seem to have.  Tell me, where did you find such an exquisite item?”

“Jorda gave it to me.”  Callindra said, finally managing to get her breathing under control by relaxing fully against the reed mats on the floor.

“Jorda?  The Goddess?”  Ellyn asked, raising an eyebrow.  “You’ve been to The Grandfather Tree?”

“Oh yeah.  Just about burned it down.”  She said, trying to make her tone light but feeling the bitterness twist her words.

“I’ve heard about the fire.”  Ellyn said softly, “I had hoped it was just a rumor.”

Callindra found herself telling the woman everything.  How they had moved from one place to another, always seeming to be one step behind.  How it felt like for every good deed they tried to accomplish, two worse things seemed to happen.  About how she had been kidnapped and tortured. How she had lashed out after, trying to be stronger, to be harder and faster.  Worst of all, how Brightfang had begun to bear the effects of her fear and anger.

“When we brought that evil into the High Forest.”  She said, “When we were just trying to help a woman… and then she tore her own throat out, summoned a demon from her blood and set fire to everything…”  Callindra’s voice trailed off and she was surprised to find tears on her cheeks.

“I have been through much in my life.”  Ellyn said, looking at her with sympathy on her face, “But never so much all at once at such a young age.”  She reached out a hand to Callindra, “We have long been searching for the answers to questions regarding Dergeras.  And his master, a being we only know as Morde.”

The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 42

Without waiting for another invitation, she sat down and set to filling her plate.  “You said this is ‘The Trickster’s Pipe’ didn’t you?  What does that mean?”

“The Pipe is what it is.”  Driffen said, giving her an annoyed look.  “Nothing less.”

“Right, like how when I walked down four stairs, I traveled nearly twelve feet right?”  Callindra said, taking a bite out of a rosy skinned apple.  “I forget what it’s called… an extra-something space right?  This whole building is just made of magic isn’t it?  No wood or stone, just Weave that’s forced into shape based on the will of the one who controls it?”

Tryst and Vilhylm looked at her with puzzled expressions, but Cronos nodded slowly as he looked around.  “Amazing that I didn’t notice it before.”  He said, “Now that you mention it, I can see what you mean.  It’s not … really there is it?”

“Oh, it’s solid enough boy.”  A soft voice came from behind Callindra and she spun to see the woman from the day before.  “This is my place.  You’re welcome here because I happen to know your companion, or more importantly the man who trained her.”

“I have to thank you Ellyn.”  Callindra said, touching Brightfang’s hilt and bowing from the waist until her body was bent at a right angle.  “Your swift and prudent action saved my life and likely my friends as well.  When I had lost control you brought me back.  I am in your debt.”

“I’ll remember that Callindra.”  Ellyn said with a wicked grin, “I don’t forget debts.”

“Neither do I.”  Callindra responded, looking her in the eye.  To her surprise, the other woman looked away first.

“Good.  I like guests with integrity.”  Ellyn said, “Sate your hunger and then meet me in the practice room.  I’m sure Jamison can tell you where it is.”  She turned and strode from the room.

“Well.  Where can I find the practice room?”  Callindra asked with a hesitant look around the table.

“You’re not serious are ya girl?”  Driffen asked, looking at her with his rheumy eyed gaze.  “She’s not known for restraint.”

Callindra set her mug of light ale down and started to laugh.  “That’s wonderful, exactly what I need to warm up in the morning.  Where is that practice room?”

“I’ll show you.”  Horus said, “That way I can intervene if things get out of hand.”  He led the way to the door she had walked through and pushed the door back toward the stairway instead of pulling it into the room as she had.  It opened on a completely different place, showing a practice room with a floor covered in woven reed mats.  Ellyn was stretching on the far side.

“You came.”  She said, sounding mildly surprised.  At Callindra’s scowl, she smiled and waved a hand in a dismissive gesture.  “Sorry, I just didn’t think they’d let you.”

“As though they could stop me?”  Callindra said, still annoyed.  “I love my brothers but they’re thickheaded sometimes.  A chance to spar with someone who has a different fighting style is always a welcome thing.  It keeps me sharp.”

Ellyn smiled and Callindra felt a strange familiarity with her again.  It was unnerving, but something about this woman spoke to her on a level she couldn’t understand.  She began to stretch as well, limbering up muscles stiffened by her exhausted sleep.

“I find a good spar tells me more about a person than a year in their company.”  Ellyn said, and her smile was feral.  “What will I learn from you today?”

“If it goes as planned, at least you’ll have a measure of me.”  Callindra responded, “Will you tell me how you know Glarian if I manage to impress you?”

“He used to travel with us.”  Ellyn said, “I heard he’d taken an apprentice but I didn’t believe it at the time.  You say that he is your master, and I sensed the influence of his magic on you.  That’s why I reminded you of his training.  You did not disappoint.”

Callindra was sitting with one leg behind and one in front, touching her forehead to her knee.  “How well did you know him?”

Ellyn didn’t answer right away.  When Callindra looked up as she switched legs, the older woman was staring; her face a neutral mask.  “He traveled with us for five years.”

“So you must have known him at least a little bit.”  Callindra said with a grin, “So was he always such a cryptic, annoying old man?”

“What?”  Ellyn was smiling in spite of herself now, “Oh he was a wild, impetuous person.  Always picking fights and although he won more than he lost he was never without cuts and bruises.”  The smile slipped away from her face.  “He was always so bent on defending that fool Title of his, killing men, women and weapons with equal disdain.  One thing never changes.  Nothing cuts like the wind.”