The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 55

“I don’t like this.”  Cronos muttered.

At the same time Callindra said, “This can’t be right.”

“See, it seems to be untouched.”  Vilhylm said just as Tryst smiled.

“Nothing to fear here.  Normal trade wouldn’t happen like this in a place where the Abyss held sway.”  Tryst said.

They all stopped and looked at each other.  The look on her brother’s faces was so comical, Callindra started to laugh.  The laughter felt good and the rest joined in, even Vilhylm gave a rare wry chuckle.

“I think I’ve just been on edge since I was kidnapped.”  She said, feeling a knot in her chest loosen.  She hadn’t talked about it with them, had avoided even thinking about it and it took a huge weight off her shoulders.  “I need to learn to let go every now and then.”

“No, I think you’re right to be worried.”  Cronos said, glaring thunderstorms at her for making him laugh.  “There’s something off about this place.  Only servants of the Abyss would thrive in a world where it was gaining a foothold.”

“The same could be said for a place that is a stronghold against that same enemy.”  Tryst said, “If the people here have been sheltered from its influence they’d be equally at ease.”

“We need to all forget our prejudices and walk into this place open to outcomes.”  Vilhylm said, “Our reactions from even this distance prove that.  At least we won’t need to worry about having to sneak in, it’s obvious that plenty of common folk are coming and going at will.”

With the wisdom of his words settled, they all made their way down to the trade road and toward the gate.  As they joined the stream of waggoneers, famers and assorted others they listened to the happy chatter and felt their suspicion fade.

“Are you here for the contests?”  One of the traveling peddlers asked, struggling under a pack twice his size.

“Contests?”  Callindra asked, “What contests?”

“Uh, Lord Adbar’s contests of course.”  The peddler said, glancing at their weapons and travel stained clothes.  “Why else would you have come all the way out here?  You obviously aren’t locals.”

“Oh, the fighting contests?”  Callindra shrugged, “Yeah, I guess I didn’t think about it as a contest since we’re obviously going to dominate whatever competition there might be.”

“That’s the spirit!”  The man said with a smile, “I love to see this kind of newcomers, it always brings out the best spectators and that means I’ll sell everything!  Makes the trip worth it ya know?”  He moved on ahead with renewed vigor, whistling a happy tune.

“What do you suppose that was all about?”  Callindra asked her brothers, watching as the peddler strode toward the gate.

“Sounds like some kind of festival.”  Vilhylm said, brow furrowing.  “I’m not sure but maybe Count Adbar is trying to raise some sort of a resistance against the Abyss?”

All the people streaming toward the fortress city of Adbar seemed to be perfectly happy, and the atmosphere did indeed seem to be a festive one, but Callindra felt her brothers moving together as they walked.  They were unconsciously keeping close just in case things weren’t as innocent as they seemed.

The gates were wide open and the guards weren’t stopping anyone from moving inside them.  As they passed beneath the walls, Callindra felt her breath catch in her throat.  The Citadel Adbar was a towering series of structures built into a massive mountain that thrust up from the base of a lush valley.  With space being limited due to the constraints of the peaks that rose on all sides, the people of the Citadel had built up instead.  Even smaller houses had at least three floors and some of the larger ones had dozens.

“Rumor has it Dwarves built this place, or helped at any rate.”  Tryst said, “We used to have a Chapter House here, but haven’t for several score years.  I read about it in the Temple Archives though, when studying the effects and outcomes of city warfare.  This place was designed to be a fortress that could stand against any invading force and has repelled throngs of Goblins more than once.”

Callindra could see how the streets were organized in a series of long corridors that ended in blind corners and how the buildings on the ends of those blind corners had balconies or flat roofs that looked out and down those straight sections.  A few archers on each could do considerable damage to anyone who was trying to make their way down those streets without putting themselves in danger of reprisal.

The keep itself was high up above the city proper, and was built into a sheer cliff face of basalt.  It didn’t escape their notice that the wide stone gates of the keep were shut, showing polished bronze bands that gleamed in the early morning sunlight.  Tryst began asking about inn rooms, but Callindra smelled a scent that made her head turn.  Someone was smoking Karalan Imperialis.

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The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 54

“Gods and demons, I knew those bastards would be looking for me after Shojin saw me at the smithy but I had no idea they’d get the word out this fast.”  She shook the chain into a merry jingle. “I need a sheath for you, I’ll have to gather some appropriate materials before we leave here.”

She got a distinct sense that this new blade didn’t want to be sheathed.  Like some newborn babies she had seen, Shadowsliver wanted to be held.  Well, she’d have to work on that.  For now, Callindra was simply thrilled to have her partner and soulmate back.  She would take him however she could get him.

They had been following the Hand for days, following a grueling pace and still they had no idea how close they were to their destination.  Callindra was beginning to feel apprehension about their destination though.  When they consulted their maps, she looked along the line of their travel and the only place that was directly in their path was Citadel Adbar.

“I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but we seem to be aimed straight at a place we don’t want to visit.”  She said after yet another uneventful day of travel.

Vilhylm gave her a questioning look and she winced, remembering his connection to the Countess who they had failed to protect.  Tryst seemed to understand and opened his mouth to speak, but she was faster.

“The only city along our current line of travel is the one surrounding the Citadel Adbar.”  She said, “I can’t imagine that the Countess Adbar didn’t get infected with the Abyssal disease at random, not if there is a piece of our puzzle there.”

She almost regretted her words when she saw the ashen look on Vil’s face, but it needed to be spoken aloud.  “I don’t want us to walk into anything with our eyes closed.”  Callindra said, “I’m sorry Vil, but we need to look at this right in the face.  She was under the control of the Abyss and if her citadel is also, we are in serious trouble.”

Visibly shaking off his dark mood, Vilhylm nodded.  “It would be foolish to enter into the situation blind.  How would we know without going in though?  Her infection was so subtle we never even saw it.  Not even Tryst saw it.”

“We can try to form a plan once we get a good look at the place.”  Cronos said, “There’s no reason to panic before we see the lay of the land.  Let’s go in with our guard up but without any preconceived ideas about what we’ll find.  That way we’ll be more likely to see anything unusual.”

“Good idea Cronos.”  Tryst said, “There is no reason to judge the situation until we see it for ourselves.”

“Yeah.  Maybe.”  Callindra didn’t sound convinced.  “You all can keep an open mind.  I’m going to keep my guard up.”

“When are you going to make a sheath for that sword sister?”  Cronos asked, giving her a quizzical look.  “I don’t think that’s a very safe way of carrying it.”

“What’s wrong with it?”  Callindra reached up to touch Shadowsliver’s hilt over her right shoulder.  Just touching his hilt gave her a thrill of happiness that was only slightly spoiled by the tickle of his edges cutting into her skin.  Instead of a sheath, she had begun simply tucking her sword between her skin and her armor.  He seemed very pleased with the arrangement, but unfortunately she was acquiring an unsettling number of small cuts every time she moved.

“Isn’t it cutting you?”  He asked, “That edge makes my shaving razor look dull.”

“Yeah.  But it’s not a big deal.”  She said, “I just haven’t found the right leather yet and I like to keep him close.”

“You realize that sounds a little unbalanced right?”  He said, giving her a wry look.  “That thing is chained to your wrist.  It’s not like it can go anywhere.”

“I don’t think you’ll ever understand what it’s like Cronos.”  Callindra said, “This goes beyond the relationship you have with your blades.  He is my life.”

“Yeah, but why let ‘him’ cut you?  You’re crazy sister.”  He said with a grin.  “What the hell kind of relationship is that?”

They crested a small rise and saw a deep valley below with a wide trade road entering a fortified city.  Dozens of wagons were coming and going.  The scene was so completely normal that it put Cronos and Callindra on edge as much as it seemed to relax Tryst and Vilhylm.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 53

“I’m glad I didn’t get any closer.”  Karas said, standing just outside of the edge of the compass.  Callindra saw with surprise that the familiar pattern was actually cut into the floor instead of just blowing the dirt around.  “It looks like you could still use a little practice with that Stance though.”

Callindra glanced at a myriad of cuts on her arms and legs that were slowly starting to sprout flower buds and green shoots and shrugged.  “It’s how I know I’m pushing the limits.  That’s why I practice without my armor on; I don’t want to damage it.”  The woman gave her a steady look.

“OK and I’m still getting used to him too.”

Karas shrugged, “I’d offer to spar but I’ve got a couple feet of reach on you.”

“Actually I think the advantage would be mine.”  Callindra said with a feral grin, “I’m Callindra.”

“Yes, I remember from yesterday, well met Callindra.”  She readied her weapon, “Let’s see what you can do with that thing then.”

Callindra assumed the Heaven and Earth Stance, crouching with one hand nearly touching the ground, sword in the other fully extended towards the sky.  “I apologize if I cut you; my control is still slightly off.  This blade is a full hand longer than it was before.”  She held the Stance for a few moments and then leaped to attack.

Karas was an expert with her Halberd, deflecting and counter-attacking to keep Callindra at the end of the blade’s considerable reach.  Callindra used every conventional trick she had learned, but was still unable to get inside her opponent’s guard.  She took a half step forward and then flung her body into a backflip, swinging Shadowsliver in a tight arc and releasing him at the precise moment he was parallel to the ground.

The Mithril chain flew through her fingers and she tightened her grip just as the tip touched Karas’s flesh.  When the blade paused, she whirled the chain around the haft of the polearm and pulled.  As she did so, Karas shifted her grip and grounded the butt of her weapon.  Callindra nearly pulled herself off her own feet.

“Nice trick, but I can tell you haven’t used it against a stronger opponent.  Now you’re weaponless and I have you at the end of a string.”

“No, it’s just starting to get interesting!”  Callindra replied and ran forward.  When the blade of the Halberd came to meet her, she gathered her chain and pulled it off course, ducking and sliding under the strike.  She regained her feet and her hand found Shadowsliver’s hilt at the same moment.  As she brought the blade to bear she realized Karas had released the polearm entirely.  Her blade was touching Karas’s ribs but her opponent had a pair of daggers leveled at her throat.

“Well played, you managed to at least take me with you.” Karas said, “Something you Bonded types always forget is that most of us can use more than one weapon.  I prefer the Halberd because it keeps the fighting at a comfortable distance most of the time but I can easily defend myself in any number of other ways.”

“I can use more than one weapon.”  Callindra said, untangling her chain from the thick wooden shaft of the Halberd, “I just choose not to.  Shadowsliver is all I need.  All I want.”  The blade was still singing like a tuning fork.  “One more thing to keep in mind, had I not grabbed the chain when I did you would likely have died.  Your defense is good, but you can’t afford to rely on your weapon’s reach to keep you safe.”

Karas snorted, “Your defense is nonexistent.  I’d work on that if I were you.”

“It’s too late for me to change my style now.  My defense is a fast and effective offense.  Besides, if the muscle, leather, steel and weave fail me, the Goddess will always be there.”  A breeze rustled across the practice grounds and a small flock of butterflies settled on the Brightstar flowers blooming in her hair.

“Who are you?”  Karas asked, her eyes widening slightly.  “I thought you were just a runaway at first, but then I realized you were a girl, not a slight boy.  Your skills with that blade make me certain it belongs to you and is not stolen; it moves like a part of your body.  Those flowers… I thought you were silly, wearing them in your hair but Brightstar flowers aren’t in season for another three months.  The wind seems to obey your whim, to play at your feet like a puppy, I don’t know what to make of you girl.”

Callindra faced her, assuming the ready Stance, “I am Callindra Sol’Estin by Glarian Sol’Estin.  I am two and a half years old.”  The wind gusted sharply and the butterflies startled from her hair in an erratic cloud.  “The winds do not bow to my will just yet, but one day I shall be Master of the North Wind.”

“I have heard of ones like you; the Disciples of Weave and Steel.”  She hesitated, as though unsure if she should say any more.  “You don’t seem to be traveling with a sanctioned Master but you aren’t a Master yourself.  Be careful, they know you’re still alive and they won’t stop until they wring whatever information it is they want out of you.”

Karas grounded the tip of her polearm in salute then turned and walked off the rooftop practice floor.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 52

Callindra sighed and stood in one lithe movement, holding her sword in one hand.  The Mithril chain tinkled merrily as the ever-capricious winds whipped around her body, tugging at her hair and the Brightstar bramble tangling through it.  With a determined expression on her face, Callindra assumed the first Stance and began moving through the rest of the them at half speed.

She could feel the power building, releasing in fits and starts just as it had when she first started to learn how to harness it, only worse.  Thankfully she wasn’t hurting herself beyond a few cuts from the unexpectedly sharp edge or unfamiliar straight shape of the sword, but these practice sessions had deadly potential.  Callindra knew from experience what could result from a lack of focus.  Even this blade, specialized as it was, could shatter if she didn’t maintain control.

The sword began to tremble with Weave; she could see particles of it like glowing motes of dust gathering along the edges.  Without warning the Weave scattered and the blade sang in protest, the vibrations hurting her hands even through her gloves.

“God’s Balls!”  Callindra barely stopped herself from hurling the sword to the ground in sheer frustration.

“Having trouble?”  Callindra whirled, sword at the ready.  A woman with an impressive physique and even more impressive halberd stood just outside of the edge of the courtyard.  “Sorry, I didn’t know anyone else was up here.  I’m Karas.”

“Callindra.” She hefted her sword, “That damn Smith didn’t tell me that he was going to change this much when the blade was rebuilt.  He changed almost everything.  He just won’t listen to me anymore.”

“Bonded eh?  I’ve never seen a bond survive being re-forged before, you’re lucky to have found a smith talented enough to fix a broken blade.”

“That sonofabitch was the one who broke him so he’d damn well BETTER have been able to fix it.  Not that he really fixed the sword though.  Everything’s different.”  Callindra frowned at the pace long length of black metal.

“From my experience it’s impossible to remake a blade exactly the way it was; I’ve broken hundreds of them.  The balance is always a little off, the wind resistance changes, the edge cuts differently, it all changes.”  Karas gestured with her polearm, “I’ve discovered it’s actually easier to get used to a totally different weapon than one that has only changed slightly.”

“I can tell you haven’t ever been Bonded before.  It feels like being abandoned.”  Her voice dropped to a whisper, thinking about Glarian at the same time.  “I’m lost without him.”  Callindra didn’t know why she was able to speak like this with a stranger.

“I would imagine he feels the same way.  You say he’s not listening to you, are you listening to him?”  Karas asked.  “If you will be here tomorrow I will spar with you, provided you spend some time listening to your blade.”  With that she turned and strode from the rooftop courtyard.

“’The first Korumn is of the Breath.’” Callindra quoted, thinking of the beginning of Glarian’s instruction.  She moved to the center of the yard and sat, feeling the wind ruffling her hair.  Closing her eyes, Callindra allowed her body to relax using the breathing exercise her master had shown her.  The vagrant playful breezes stopped circling her; the air became still.

She could feel the ground beneath her, the weight of the sword across her thighs, only a thin layer of silk between the metal and her flesh and realized for the first time that even in this stillness the blade was singing with slight vibration.  Callindra listened to the music he was making, trying to hear a pattern.  Her awareness gradually went beyond hearing, what she felt was joy.

“Callindra!  It’s time to go!”  Vilhylm broke her concentration; he had been acting strangely of late.  Well stranger than usual.  His habit of issuing orders was annoying, even more so because the orders he gave were more often than not excellent choices, especially on the battlefield.

With a sigh she stood, “I could have used another few minutes Vil.”

“You’ve been up here for three candlemarks.  If you haven’t figured things out in three candlemarks I doubt another few minutes would make much of a difference.”

“I was just starting… never mind, you wouldn’t understand.”

‘Shadowsliver.’  She could feel it more than hear it.

Callindra smiled, “Shadowsliver then.  Let’s take this up a notch, to the nine hells with this slowed down shit.”  As they moved through all the Korumn she knew Shadowsliver ceased to be simply a piece of steel and instead became a part of her.  He filled in the parts that were missing, sealing the cracks of doubt and weakness with the strange jet black metal from which he was forged.

The final Korumn, Marking the Compass was finished and the small precise jets of air that always accompanied the last eight movements came as though they hadn’t been absent for the last fortnight.  She knew without looking that they had blown the dust that lay on the stone floor into a perfect compass rose.