The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 59

Durrak sat in the smoothly swept courtyard, eyes closed and legs crossed, feeling the bones of the earth beneath him.  The weapon he had begun to wield as an extension of his own arms was on the stone before him.  It was twice his five feet in height with a razor sharpened bill and a broad point.  They called it a gisarme, and over the last six months he had trained with it relentlessly.

“I have never seen one as old as you as immersed and dedicated to the craft of destruction.”  He hadn’t heard the master of the school approach, but he did not move from where he sat.  “Your drive cannot be a healthy one.  A man of your age should be thinking of craft, croft and family.”

“No do be speaking to me of family Master Corrine.”  He said, his voice calm and as even as the edge of the blade on the stones before him.  “Twice now the gods do be choosing to give me a life beyond my fondest dream and twice they do tear it from these hands.”

“So you will instead choose to fight until there is nothing left?”  She asked, leaning on her cane.

“I do be intent on finding these gods.”  He said, breathing slowly and evenly.  “When I do find them I do be asking them why.  If the answer they do be giving no do be to my liking they do be answering to my blade.”

“Ah.”  She said.  “This is what I feared Durrak son of Storgar who was known as the Wyrmslayer.  You are turning away from the true path of the warrior; that which is to protect the weak and uphold the tenants of your god, lord or discipline.”

“If that do be the true path of the warrior then yes Master Corrine, I do be turned from it.  I did never tread upon it.”  Durrak rumbled, still calm and quiet.

“You were a craftsman once.”  Corrine said, “I can tell by the way you still admire work well done.

“With my own hands I did forge the weapon Storgar did use to slay the dragon and be dooming my people to destruction.”  He said, almost in a whisper.  “My skill as a craftsman of fine jewelry did be why thieves came to be burning my home and murdering my family.  I no will be touching the hammer or tongs ever again and I do be asking Thraingaar why he did curse me with such a skill when we do be meeting.”

As he was finishing the words, the sound of displaced air sent him smoothly rolling backward, right foot hooking out to spin the handle of his gisarme into his hand as Corrine’s stick flashed out at his head.  With a smile opened his eyes as he rolled to his feet, weapon in both hands.  She was standing just out of range of a strike with an answering smile on her own face.

“At very least we have taught you how to be an effective warrior, even if you do not share our reasons for fighting.”  She said, “There is little else I can teach you and I believe you will learn it eventually yourself.  Remember that wherever you tread you will be carrying the honor of our ancestors with you boy.  We have not taught these skills of battle to you in order for the fulfillment of selfish goals, but to make you a stronger, better and more honorable person.  I truly hope that in time you will come to accept this.”

“That do remain to be seen.”  Durrak said, the smile fading from his face.  “If I do be leaving this school, I do be taking the name with me.”

She looked at him with a flat stare.  “If you’re wishing to take the name of the school, then we’ll be meeting in the arena.  I suggest you bring more skill than I have ever seen you show in the squared circle.”

“I do apologize Master.”  Durrak said. “I do be taking your life this day.”  He bowed low and touched his hand to his heart, mouth and forehead.

“The contest does not have to be to the death Durrak.”  She said with a frown.

“I no do know any other way to fight with all of the strength I possess.  I do be killing you or dying in the attempt.”  He bowed again, “I do be sorry, it no do be my wish but it do be the only thing I am knowing how to do.”

“Well then.”  She said, “I will show you what it means to be a true master.”

“I do be looking forward to it Master.”  He said, bowing again.  “I will be learning a final lesson one way or the other.”

She turned and walked toward the dojo, leaning on her cane as she went. “Perhaps.  If you have the potential you will indeed learn a final lesson Durrak.”

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The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 58

That brought a laugh and the girl scampered out promising again to get everything she was sent for.  Callindra went to the common room, belting her tunic at the waist and deciding it was long enough for the demands of modesty.  She walked up to the bar, set Shadowsliver next to her and tossed a silver piece at the bartender.  He caught it and walked over.  She ordered an ale and a meal and gave him an extra gold piece to cover her meal.

She listened to the chatter in the room as she ate but didn’t learn anything new.  Eventually Cronos and Vilhylm entered as she was enjoying a pipe and an after dinner ale.  They were clean as was their clothing, which explained the duration of their absence.

“Little urchin brought us a meal while we waited for him to wash our gear.”  Vilhylm said with a grin, “Charged the moon for it but I say it was worth it.”

Cronos grumbled a bit but sat and ordered a mug of mead.  “Tryst went off to see about things.”  He said after his first sweet sip, “I’m guessing what we’re looking for is going to be in the keep but we didn’t want to sign up for this contest before being sure.”

“Weren’t you all just saying we should stick together?”  Callindra asked mock innocently, “Have we changed our minds?”

“Well, we had already sent our clothes off to be washed so we couldn’t go with him.”  Cronos said.

“The deadline to apply for the contests is tomorrow morning so we had to be sure before we committed to it.”  Vilhylm added.

“Ah.  Because we couldn’t just wait a candlemark because that would be too long?”  She asked, exhaling twin streams of smoke from her nostrils.  “I see.  At least I have the fortitude to admit when I’m wrong boys.  You should probably work on that.”

Tryst strode in a few moments later, a grim expression on his almost pretty face.  “We have trouble.”  He said in a low tone.  “Finish your drinks and we’ll discuss it in our room.”

“An ale for my brother.”  Callindra said, tossing the bartender another coin.  When he moved away to pull the pint, she gave him an admonishing look.  “You can’t just show up and then we leave like that Tryst, it’ll look suspicious.  Sit and have an ale with us before we retire.”

Callindra saw her would be laundress slip up the stairs with a bundle in her arms and excused herself.  Returning to their room, she dressed properly and thanked the girl sending her on her way with another silver coin.  The clothes were simple, yet well made and her armor was cleaned and polished perfectly.  She was smiling to herself and changing into a fresh tunic to sleep in when her brothers came in one by one.

When they were all together and the door was closed again they all say around the small table and Tryst took out the Hand.  He set it on the table and it pointed directly at the keep.  As it pointed it moved backward and forward ever so slightly as though tracking the movement of a pacing animal.

“I believe the next piece is in the Keep, but I also believe there may be more than one.”  He said, and as he spoke it abruptly pointed in a slightly different direction almost as if it was illustrating his point.  “At least one of the pieces appears to be on the Count’s person, or someone inside the keep.”

“So we have to enter this contest then?”  Callindra said, not really asking a question, and the others nodded.

“Yes, however this isn’t a city of refugees being led by a man only gifted because he has a silver tongue from the gods.”  Tryst said, his tone serious, “This is a man who has built a city that is a stronghold from the Abyss from all we have seen so far, and built it well.  From what I’ve seen thus far, there can’t be more than one or two pieces left and if the Count has two of them, we may be putting ourselves and our entire mission in danger.”

“There is also the fact that this place seems to be free of the Abyss.”  Vilhylm said, his voice low and sounding a bit worried.  “If we remove the things that are keeping it at bay what will happen to all these folk?”

“Can we afford to worry about one city when the fate of the world is at stake?”  Callindra asked, “I do not wish to visit the horrors we have seen on this city; however we have a mission we cannot afford to abandon.”

“I believe we must attempt to gain an audience with the Count of Adbar.”  Tryst said, “If he is a wise leader he will see the necessity of our quest.”

“If he isn’t we’ll be in serious trouble.”  Cronos said, before Callindra could voice the same thought.  “He has a city of devoted and capable warriors at his command.  Even if he is a wise leader, it is a rare man indeed who would trust a band of adventurers to take artifacts that keep his people safe from the terrible destruction that they will surely face once that protection is gone.”

“What is to stop him from seizing what we have gathered ourselves?”  Vilhylm asked, “We cannot afford to leave them here and to separate ourselves is folly.”

“We have to trust that we are the ones sent here to complete this task.”  Callindra said, feeling surprised by the conviction behind her words.  “Jorda herself sent us on this quest and we cannot and will not fail her.”  Her brothers looked at her, the grim determination she felt mirrored on their faces.

“In this, we are agreed.”  Tryst said.  “I have signed us up for this contest.  We will go there, meet Adbar’s challenge and gain an audience with him.  It is the only way we can complete the journey the gods themselves have set us to walk.”

The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 57

They found the Brass Rose to be closer and have clean beds which was all they needed to hand over the rather steep cost of two gold each for a night in a shared room.  The bath was communal and Callindra got some strange looks when she walked in carrying an unsheathed sword.

“No blades in the bath.”  The attendant said, giving her a glare.  “You’re going to have to leave that out here.”

“Sorry, but he’s attached.”  Callindra said with a smile, shaking the Mithril chain and showing how it was attached to the cuff on her right wrist.

“At least get a sheath for it then.”  She grumbled, “Can’t have a bare blade in there.”

“I don’t have a sheath for him yet.”  Callindra said, “I’m still looking for the right leather.”

“Then you don’t come in.”  The attendant said, crossing her arms over her ample chest.

“Oh leave off Jendra.”  Someone said from inside the room, “It ain’t like that little chit is gonna be able to overpower us anyhow.”

“Look, the chain is pretty long, I’ll leave the blade over here.”  Callindra said, leaning Shadowsliver against the wooden bench.  “I can still reach the bath and I don’t want to get the leather on his hilt any wetter than necessary.”

The attendant grudgingly let her into the bathing chamber and Callindra stripped, a process made awkward by the chain and Shadowsliver’s razor sharp edges, then sat on a stool to sluice and scrub the dirt of the road away.  When the worst of it was gone, she slipped into the pool of steaming hot water with a sigh.  Her unbound hair floated out around her like a fan and the tendrils of Brightstar flowers released their gentle fragrance into the humid air.

“What’s with them flowers?”  A husky voice asked.

Callindra identified it as the same one who admonished the attendant Jendra to relax and grinned.  “Thanks for your help back there, being Bonded can be a challenge sometimes.”

“Bonded?  To your sword?”  The woman chuckled, “What kinda affliction led you to wanna do that?”

“It’s a long story.”  Callindra said with a matching chuckle, “I’m Callindra.”

“Tarinaotfsatalis.”  The other woman said, “But I go by Arina because that other monstrosity shouldn’t be visited on anyone.  You here for the contest?”

“Well, I guess.”  Callindra said, “Really we’ve just been on the road for a long time and finally arrived at civilization again.  Hasn’t the Abyss come to this place?  I’ve seen some horrible things, even in the most remote regions but here everything seems to be normal.”

“We’ve had some infected here, but they got handled right quick.”  Arina said, “Count Adbar don’t take no damn chances, that’s why we doing so good here.”

“Oh, I was wondering about that.”  Callindra said, running her hands through her long hair and working some tangles out.  “This place seems so much different from other large cities we were a little apprehensive at first.”

“What?  Why?  If we’re not showing any signs, why would you be wary?”  Arina asked, her brow furrowing.

“I guess we’re just a suspicious lot.”  Callindra said with a self-deprecating smile.  “When you’ve been through the things we’ve seen I guess it’s less of a reflection on any given area and more of a commentary on our experiences.  Gods and demons this bath is exactly what my road weary body needed.  Arina, do you know anything about the contests?”

The other woman grinned, “Well, not really.  But there’s said to be great prizes for the winners and Adbar has been solid so far.  His guards get the best of everything and entering their ranks is no easy task.  If this is something special beyond that it must be pretty amazing.”

Callindra finished her bath in silence, drying off before carefully collecting her sword from the bench and exiting to dress.  She looked at her dirty clothing with a disconsolate sigh and decided to simply shrug into her tunic instead of donning all her travel stained garments.

“I cn wash ‘em for ya mistress.”  A girl child with a clean if rather threadbare smock said hopefully.  “Have ‘em ready inna candlemark fer a silver.”

Callindra held out a gold piece, “If you can get me an extra set of trousers, another tunic and two breast bands as well as washing my gear and tending my armor this is yours.”  The girl’s hand flickered out to grab the coin, but Callindra rolled it across her knuckles and out of reach.  “I’ll be able to find you if you take it and run.”

“Oh mistress I ain’t no scapegrace.”  She protested, “They ain’t gonna lemme in if I were nickin from th custom.”

“Not unless you were very good at it.”  Callindra said with a grin, “I’ve seen lightfingers work before and if you aren’t one you certainly have the knack.”

“Jus means I’ll get ya th best deals don’t it mistress?”  The girl said with a gap toothed smile.

“Now that’s what I like to hear.”  Callindra said, “I’m on the second floor, first room on the right.”

“You wif all them boys?”  The girl goggled, “An you stayin inna room wif ‘em?”

“They’re my brothers.”  Callindra said, “It’s fine once you get past the smell.”

That brought a laugh and the girl scampered out promising again to get everything she was sent for.  Callindra went to the common room, belting her tunic at the waist and deciding it was long enough for the demands of modesty.  She walked up to the bar, set Shadowsliver next to her and tossed a silver piece at the bartender.  He caught it and walked over.  She ordered an ale and a meal and gave him an extra gold piece to cover her meal.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 56

“I’ll be right back.”  She said, heading toward the source of the smell.

“Hey, wait!”  Tryst said, “We’ll go together.  What’s going on?”

“I think I need to find someone.  It’s said only a select few smoke this blend and I think I can trust the one who I find.” She said, moving through the crowded streets.

She quickly found a small stand with pipes laid out on trays and approached the man sitting on a stool in front of it smoking a long stemmed pipe.  Walking right up to him she smiled and held out a hand.

“It takes a sophisticated palate to enjoy that tac.”  Callindra said, “Not many enjoy the Imperialis blend.”

The man gave her a considering look, “Even fewer sprouts barely young enough to be out of their mother’s skirts.” He observed with a sour expression.

Callindra bristled and the winds reacted to her temper, fluttering the awning over the stand and blowing dust and pipe smoke into a waist high cyclone that whirled briefly before fading away as she took a breath to calm herself.  “True, good thing there don’t seem to be any fragile young things about then.”

His face split into a grin, “I haven’t met anyone could recognize the scent in years.  Bit of a shock if you get my meaning.  You looking for just the tobacco?”

She grinned ruefully in return, “Nay, I need a pipe and case too.  Lost mine when I was swallowed whole by a monster in the northern glaciers.”

“Sounds like a tale.”  He said, blowing a plume of aromatic smoke into the air.  “I’m always interested in a good story.”

“I’m afraid my brothers are in a bit of a hurry.”  She said, glancing over her shoulder as they approached, pushing through the crowd that her slim agile form had navigated far easier.  “Perhaps I could simply pay in gold?”

His eyebrows rose slightly at the clink of coin when she patted her belt pouch, “Well now, gold does tell a tale with a sweet voice.  If you get the chance I wouldn’t mind”

“If I have the time, over a pint.”  She said with a grin.  After looking over his wares, she chose a long stemmed pipe carved of dark wood, a sealed case and striker.  “I’m not sure how long we are going to be here though.”

“Surely you’re not that pessimistic about your chances in the tournament?”  He asked, raising an eyebrow.  “You all look capable enough.”

“We’ve been traveling for a long time and just happened across this place actually.”  Callindra said, “What’s all this about a tournament anyway?  Is Adbar looking for warriors or something?”

“Everyone has a theory about why he’s putting on a tournament but nobody knows for sure.  The mystery is part of what has brought so many contestants in from all around, the Count has promised a fantastic prize for the winners though.”  He said, “I’m not competing myself, but I’m definitely going to be attending.”

“How does one sign up?” She asked, tamping the tac into her new pipe and lighting it from a splint the shopkeeper proffered.

“Just go up to the keep, give them your information and you’ll receive a chit for entry.”  He said, “Best of luck…”  He trailed off, looking at her expectantly.

“Callindra.”  She said absently, shaking his proffered hand.

Cronos was the first to arrive, looking suspiciously at the shopkeeper and then glaring at Callindra.  “Gods and demons; running off just to get that pipe weed?  We might have gotten separated.”

“Not if you’d just stayed put like I asked you to.”  She retorted with a grin.  “You’re acting like I’m some helpless damsel.”

“You’re far from that sister.”  Vilhylm said, “However this is an unfamiliar city and it would be wise for us to stick together.”

She knew she had let her enthusiasm get the better of her judgement and ducked her head.  “You’re right of course.”

Their eyebrows rose in surprise at her admission; normally this would be a time when she would say something brash in denial.  She shrugged, feeling almost as surprised as they looked.

“Can you recommend a decent Inn for us sir?”  Tryst asked.  “I do not believe there is a chapter house here that I could impose upon.”

“That’s for sure.  From what I gather there isn’t a lot of respect given to the religious orders hereabouts.”  The shopkeep said, spitting through his front teeth.  “You could try the Silver Mantle or the Brass Rose.  Either one is a decent enough place but not too expensive.”

“I really need a hot bath.”  Callindra said, “And a decent ale.”