The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 6

Callindra burst out laughing and she reached into a belt pouch, placing a sapphire the size of her thumbnail on the bar.  “Drinks are on me.”  She declared with a smile and the bar erupted into cheers.  The barkeep’s eyes bulged at the sight of the gemstone and he began pouring drinks for the rowdy crowd who began swarming the bar.

The bar crowd began to get louder and more raucous, but a troupe of musicians began playing and the groups of patrons split up to their own tables, laughing and singing along to their favorite verses.  The night wore on and Holt found himself at the bar next to the trio.  The girl was well in her cups and seemed to be attempting to tell a story that involved a daring rescue of a group of villagers from a cave of goblins led by a group of nefarious humans.  He couldn’t be sure if she was one of the villagers or one of the rescuers or if it was just a tale she’d heard.

Glancing around, Holt saw that half the patrons were asleep on their tables.  Everyone hadn’t drunk that much.  He hadn’t drunk enough for his head to be this fuzzy either.  The last thing he thought before he lost consciousness was how stupid he had been for dropping his guard because of a pair of pretty eyes.

Callindra awoke with a blinding headache to the sound of shouting voices.  It took her a moment to realize that the voices weren’t shouting at all, but were talking in a normal tone; it was only that her headache was causing the perceived increase in volume.

“I’m telling you Shen, we can’t break the god rotting thing.”  Said a low rumbling voice she vaguely recognized.  “It shattered my axe and broke that chisel and the hammer besides.  I tried cutting the chain with the blade and it shocked me.  Near as burned my hand to the bone.”

“Well we can’t very well send her off with a weapon, now can we?”  This one was higher.  Callindra knew this one; it was the bartender from last night.  “Either we kill her and miss out on a hefty payday or we figure this out.  We can’t shelter anyone, if we do they void the contact.”

She pried her eyes open and turned her head to look in the direction of the voices.  Her sword’s chain was pulled tight against her wrist and led out through the bars of a cell to a crude smithy setup.  Hundreds of iron manacles hung on the walls and dozens of folk she vaguely remembered from the bar the night before were slumped against the wall.  With rising horror, Callindra could see their hands had been shackled together, pins forged into the manacles.

Adrenaline surged through her and she pulled on the chain with all her strength.  Shadowsliver leaped off the anvil, sliced deeply into Torver’s arm and spun through the air towards the cell.  Torver screamed in pain and Shen dove to one side to avoid the razor-sharp blade as it spun past his face.  The sword cut halfway through one of the thick iron bars of her cell and stood there quivering.

Callindra struggled to her feet and pulled her sword free.  “You should have killed me.  When you had the chance.”  She panted, “Because now it’s too late.”  With a two-handed swing, Shadowsliver hacked completely through the tops of three of the bars.  Her backswing took cleaved through the bottoms of those same bars and they clattered to the stone floor at the same time as Shen pointed a hand at her.

Five bolts of sickly green light lanced out from his fingers and burned into her body, but Callindra stepped through the bars and deliberately stalked toward him with death in her eyes through the smoke of burning clothes and smoking flesh.  Torver threw a heavy forge hammer and her sword blurred, cutting it out of the air.

“Time to pay my bar tab.”  She snarled and spun her sword in a fast arc by the chain before letting go and sending him arrowing across the room and through Shen’s torso.  A crackle of electricity leaped down the chain and blasted him across the room to land with his arm in the forge fire.

Torver stepped on the chain and reached for it, but Callindra sprinted around him with the speed of a gale, whipping the chain around his injured arm and pulling hard.  The big man grunted in pain but took hold of the chain with his other hand and began to reel her in.

Callindra laughed and sent another jolt of electricity through the chain he held so tightly.  The magic she wielded charred his hand to the bone.  His body twisted in agony and the chain burned into his arm with a sickening sizzling sound.  Torver fell to the stone floor twitching and jerking in his death throes.

With a practiced tug on the chain, Callindra shattered the charred bones of her foe’s arm and brought Shadowsliver back to her waiting hand.  The initial adrenaline rush was wearing off and she was beginning to feel the effects of her night of drinking along with whatever drug they had used to sedate her.  The door on the other side of the room opened and a man with burning green eyes strode into the room.

“Ah.  It appears we have a lively one.”  He said in a dead voice, his lips hardly moving.  “How interesting.”

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The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 5

A man of indeterminate middle years walked into the crowded common room of the Fox and Pullet.  Straightening his hat, he hung his cloak and bow on the hooks inside the door reserved for weapons.  The inn was tucked away in a small valley that seemed to be prospering despite the area that surrounded it being desolated by the fires and plagues that had affected so much of the world.

Just as the door closed behind him, Holt was startled as it was slammed open once again.  A travel worn trio entered, cloaks pulled tight against the rising wind.  The first was a slight figure with a long sword hilt protruding above her left shoulder.  She was closely followed by a young man in chainmaile armor with twin swords strapped to his back and a tall figure in a swirling dark cloak.

“Gods and Demons you’d better have something to drink in this place!”  The leader said, “I’m so dry I’d drink purple hippogriff!”

The hunter’s eyes widened as he took in her appearance.  The skin of her arms had a latticework of healed scars; most of them faded until they were barely visible lines.  The two and a half hand hilt of the sword was far too large to fit the size of the slender four foot long blade.  A delicate looking silver chain ran from the faceted pommel of the sword to a gleaming bracelet on her right wrist.

It was her eyes that caught and held him though.  Tempestuous seafoam green with a glitter of mischief and humor, although there were grief lines around them.  Far too many lines for one as young as she seemed to be.  The world wasn’t as kind as it had been when Holt was her age he supposed.

The innkeeper waved at the large man leaning casually against the wall and he stepped forward.  “Have to leave your weapons at the door.”  Torver said in his mild baritone, “Inn policy.  Makes for much more polite company.”

“As much as I would love to comply, as you can clearly see that isn’t an option for me.”  The girl said with a smile, lifting her right hand and shaking it.  The chain tinkled merrily.  “We are a little attached to one another.”

“I can fix that easily enough.”  Torver said, patting his wide bladed axe with a smile, “If you’d like me to I could take care of that problem for you.”

“Oh really?”  Her eyes glittered with amusement and a tinge of malice.  “A big strong man like you would help out a poor weak girl like myself?”

“I don’t wanna be responsible for damaging your weapon little one.”  He said, narrowing his eyes.  “I’ve seen this game before.”

“Let everyone witness!  If this gargantuan lump of muscles damages my Shadowsliver’s chain I will not hold him accountable for damages any more than he would hold me accountable if it was his axe instead that was broken.”  The girl said, her poorly cut reddish brown hair bristling like an angry cat’s as she addressed the bar.  The patrons were all paying attention; this was the first bit of sport they’d had in days.

Torver laughed, a booming roar of amusement.  “Done, and if I can’t cut the chain, I guess we have no choice but to allow you entry.”

The girl didn’t draw her sword, but instead laid her wrist on the bench, a heavy thing made of an oak log split lengthwise.  Torver’s laugh died and his mouth stayed open in astonishment.  “You’re not gonna put the blade down there?  What if I miss?”

“You think I’m going to risk damaging the wire wrap on the hilt?  You think I’m putting HIM in danger because of YOUR stupid rules?”  Her voice was genuinely indignant, “Or is it your own skill you doubt?”

“Callindra.”  The figure in the black cloak said in a low bass voice, “Keep a leash on your temper.  The man is just doing his job.”

“Or maybe it’s your skill with that ungainly monstrosity you doubt?”  Callindra continued, still glaring at Torver.

With a speed belied by his huge frame, Torver swung his axe in a whistling arc.  It slammed into the chain with a musical tinkling sound and tiny pieces of metal flew about the room, bouncing off walls and clattering against tankards.  Most of the people in the room burst out laughing and went back to their drinks.

“I hope that chain wasn’t important.”  The bouncer said with a sympathetic look and wrenched his axe out of the bench.  Half of the blade stayed embedded in the oak, a neat crack running from where it split over the tiny chain.  The room went from raucous laughter to stunned silence.

Callindra pulled the chain free from the crack in the wood and winced.  “Sorry.  I probably shouldn’t have goaded you into that.  I get unreasonable when I don’t have a bath or a drink for a week.”

Torver just stared at his broken weapon in disbelief.  “Gods and demons.  Who in the nine hells are you?”

“Thirsty.  We’re thirsty.”  Callindra said firmly, and moved past him towards the bar.  “Barkeep, if it makes you feel better you can keep him behind the bar.  But don’t you dare try and touch him.”  She withdrew the sword from where it was thrust beneath her armor with a practiced motion and wiped off the black steel with a practiced motion before setting the weapon carefully behind the bar with a rattle of chain.

“Wouldn’t dream of it.”  The barkeep said faintly, placing a tankard, a bottle of wine and a jug of spirits on the bar.  “I didn’t know what your preference was Mistress.”

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 4

“Good alewife do be bringing Felix a tankard.”  Durrak said, “It do be many a moon since I have shared a cup with another Dwarf.”

Felix slapped him on the back hard enough to nearly knock him from his seat. “That is indeed most kind Durrak Caverstorm.  Perhaps I can offer something in return?”

“May I be imposing on you for one of those cigars?”  Durrak asked, “They do be smelling of home.”

“That may be inadvisable my friend.”  Said Felix, but he produced one anyway and handed it over.  “They don’t often seem to be the same.”

Durrak took the cigar and smelled it.  The scent was of brimstone and iron.  The smell of the Adamantine Forge itself, the tip was glowing sullenly, already lit.  “This do smell even more of home.”  He said, drawing on it to light it properly.  It took a bit of puffing but when the cigar lit, the smoke was an acrid yellow and diffused very quickly.  Angry red sparks shot out and split as very high quality steel would.

“You are a smith.”  Felix said; a statement not a question.  “You are from Farenholm itself.  I know that accent and the smoke does not often lead me astray.”

The alewife brought a pair of foaming tankards and set them before the pair with a smile.  “Roast is near done.  Would your friend like a meal as well?”

“My dear, I would be forever grateful for a meal.”  Felix said.

“I do be accounting for his meal also.”  Durrak said at the same time, putting another handful of gold on the bar and waving away Felix’s protest.  “It do be a pleasure to share the company of a kinsman.  I do be insisting Felix.”

The cigar, for all its strange scent and odd behavior, brought a tingle to Durrak’s tongue and a pleasant thrill to his senses.  The smoke was harsh, but he found it was much like working at the forge, something he had always enjoyed.

“I take such kindness to heart and insist on returning it in kind.”  Felix said gravely, “What would you have me trade?”

“The cigar and the companionship do be more than sufficient.”  Durrak said.  “Did you be knowing Farenholm?  Did you be walking the ancient halls of my ancestors?  Do you be knowing of Cerioth the Black, Bane of Ignitium?”

“Certainly I once walked the halls of Farenholm.”  Felix said with a wistful smile, “Her tall arches and endless caverns are a bright spot in my long memories.  The splendor and grandeur of the King’s front hall has stayed in my mind as one of the triumphs of mortal engineering and craftsmanship.

“As for your other question; I heard a report that she was seen near Hellgate keep.” Felix said, “But I didn’t see that myself so I can’t speak for the accuracy of that particular rumor.  Have a care speaking that name aloud my friend.  Ill luck comes to those who invoke the names of those fell things who have made compacts with dark forces for power.”

“When?”  Durrak asked, his voice sounding harsher than it had before.

“I heard the rumor a month ago.”  Said Felix, “The man I spoke to said he’d seen the dragon fly out of a swirling cloud of black smoke that rained emerald green rain down on the ground.  He didn’t stay to watch, even abandoned his herd and ran until his horse was blown.  I don’t know more than that.”

“I do be going there.”  Durrak said flatly, “If I no did need to resupply I no would delay one moment.”

“Now I see the resemblance.”  Felix said, “You father-“

“Did be a fool.”  Durrak interrupted.  “He did embark on a mission knowing it did be the undoing of my people.”

“Perhaps.  However, I seem to remember the Moragainnag stating that the doom would be worse if he did not set forth.”  Felix said, pausing to take another lit cigar from his pouch and flick the stub of his first into the fire.  “I was there when the doom of Farenholm was pronounced.  Unlike most of your folk I had the wisdom to leave.  If I’d thought for a moment they’d disregard her words I’d have tried harder to convince them.  I am sorry.”

The pewter mug in Durrak’s hand shrieked in protest as his hand tightened on it, mashing the thick metal into an hourglass shape.  The dwarf blinked in surprise and unclenched his fist.  “I do be sorry Alewife, I do be paying for the damage.”

She swiftly replaced the mug with a fresh one full of ale.  “Not to worry master Dwarf.”  She said, looking at the mug with wide eyes.  “These things happen ye ken?”

“I do be insisting.”  Durrak placed a platinum piece in her free hand.  “I no do wish to be an unwelcome guest.  I did simply lose control, it no do be anything.  Please do be thinking nothing of it.”

She took his gold without further comment and retreated behind the bar, setting the mug carefully on a shelf behind the bar.  Filling a fresh tankard with beer, she returned and set it in front of him without meeting his eyes and left without speaking.

“I do be spreading fear.”  Durrak said sadly, “I no do wish to be a harbinger of fear and despair.”

“None of us do.”  Felix said, “Doesn’t change that what we know changes how we influence the world.”

Durrak drained his tankard in a single long pull.  “Aye.  Our desires no do mean a bedamned thing.”

Felix put his hand on Durrak’s shoulder and squeezed.  “That tale requires something in return.”  He said solemnly and placed the cigar pouch on the counter.  “The wizard who traded this to me warned me not to keep it too long.  I find the results got more interesting when I began adding other things to it.”

Durrak made as if to protest, but Felix smiled broadly.  “Keep it my friend.  Keep it and remember this day as I fear pleasant memories will be few and far between in days to come.”

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 3

Durrak Caverstorm; Battlemaster of the Drakanda style and sole survivor of Farenholm trudged down the road at a mile eating pace.  It didn’t look like he was moving very quickly, but his short legs moved steadily, not slowing when going up a steep incline or indeed at all until the sun reached its zenith.  He might not have stopped even then, but a roadside inn and rest hove into view and he decided it was worth a look.

The prodigious bag of provisions he had been carrying had shrunk drastically over the last few weeks and if these folk had anything to spare he would buy it and damn the cost.  Shifting the straps of his pack he transferred his Gisarme to slant across his right shoulder as he approached The Ox and Cart.  Smelling the scent of cooking meat made his mouth water as he rapped smartly on the door with the butt of his polearm.

It had been a year since he’d won his title and the world had changed substantially during that time.  Folk were less trusting and he had discovered seeing an obviously capable traveler who was alone sometimes made them more nervous so it paid to be up front.

“Hello the Inn!”  He said in a voice that would carry but hopefully not inspire fear.

“Who’s that then?”  A woman said from within, “No need to rattle the door off the hinges; come on in if you can pay and bugger off it you can’t!”

This was a pleasant surprise; many of the people he’d found didn’t take coin anymore.  “I do be able to pay alewife; what do that delicious scent be?”  He pushed the door open and strode inside; his Dwarven eyes piercing the slight gloom with ease.

The room was set in a familiar pattern low tables with benches instead of chairs and a small bar at one end next to a hearth where a haunch of meat was turning on a spit.  The woman who regarded him with a jaded eye as he entered was shockingly young; perhaps fifteen summers, although she took in his appearance with ease that suggested she had grown up in a tavern.

“Let’s see the coin and you can have what you want.”  She said, touching a crossbow that was cocked and loaded sitting over the taps.  “We don’t have prejudice against Dwarves or adventurers as long as your coin is good.”

Durrak grinned, setting his pack and polearm down on a rack by the doorway before walking up to the bar and plunking down a half dozen gold.  “Lady, please do be letting me know when this runs out.  I do be famished and parched from many long days on the road.”

She brightened a bit at the sight of the gold and even further when she scratched them with a wicked looking belt knife and revealed them to be pure.  Pulling him a large wooden tankard of frothy ale, she set it down on the bar.  “This will help with the thirst master Dwarf.  That roast won’t be done for another hour, but I got some cheese and bread, maybe some leftover sausages.”

“I do gladly be sampling your ale and nibbles until the roast do be ready.”  Durrak said, drinking deeply and smacking his lips.  The ale was a bit light for his taste, but it was quite refreshing.

As Durrak ate and drank, several more folk entered chatting amicably and ordering drinks and inquiring about the roast.  They took him in without comment, a few nodding politely and some staring but not in an aggressive manner.  All of them had also put a weapon of some sort aside as they entered even though they were obviously villagers, not adventuring types.

Thunder rumbled outside, but no rain fell.  It hadn’t rained for ages and the land was parched and dry.  The winds seemed to be blowing erratically of late, not bringing the moisture from the sea to nourish the soil.  All signs of bad times and possibly worse to come.

The door opened to admit another traveler, his cloak black and ragged at the ends.  Setting an immense pack down next to Durrak’s with a heavy thump he grinned and rubbed at his huge red beard.  A fellow Dwarf; a rarity in these parts.  He stumped up to the bar and sat next to Durrak.

“How’s the ale?”  He asked in Dwarven, giving him a grin.

“Light, but quite potable in quantity.” Durrak said in the same language, returning the grin.  “From where do you hail?”

“I am a traveler.  Felix is my name.” The other replied, offering a hand thick with calluses.

“My name is Durrak Caverstorm.”  Durrak said, shaking the offered hand.

“Caverstorm?”  Felix asked, “Have you the title from the Drakanda school?  Never did I think to see the Mistress of that school fall from aught but old age.”

“I took her title.”  Durrak said, feeling the sadness of that memory even now.  “Took it by fair trial of combat.  One of many regrets I carry on my shoulders.”

“Ah.” Felix said, reaching into a pouch and removing a smoldering cigar.  He puffed it alight to a small explosion of purple sparks.  The smoke he exhaled was bright blue and sank to the floor instead of rising.  The smoke had the scent of a meadow high in the mountains in the dead of winter.

“I have been traveling for some time and have not seen another of our kind.”  Durrak ventured, “Do you know how our people fare elsewhere?”

“Farenholm has fallen.  Vanterholm stood last I saw, although it was beset by hordes of goblins.”  Felix replied, “I do not stay in one place long.”

Durrak saw the looks the others were giving them and continued in the common tongue, “Perhaps we do be doing better to converse in a language the others do be knowing?  I no do want to cause suspicion.”

“Yes, perhaps that would be best.”  Felix said in unaccented common, “It has merely been so long since I spoke to a fellow Dwarf in my native language.  My apologies to our gracious host.”

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 2

“Callindra stop picking on the locals.” Cronos’s voice came from the doorway.  Even though he was younger than her, he had grown a lot in the last year and looked several years her senior.  He wasn’t wearing his twin bastard swords and looked strange without them.

“What can I get for you sir?” The barkeep was bravely attempting to do his job, and Cronos looked slightly more normal.  Especially since the sleeves of his shirt covered the tattoos that proclaimed him a powerful mage.

“Fruit juice, or water if you don’t have juice and some bread.  Callindra isn’t it a little early for the hard stuff?  Why not just have an ale, save the falling off your chair for later.”  His voice sounded harsh, but she could hear the concern.

“You must be Cronos?”  One of the strangers was still standing uncertainly, holding his glass of whisky and looking at him with a confused expression on his face.

“These gentlemen are looking for The Brotherhood of Steel.” Vilhylm said, “I have invited them to return on the morrow to discuss whatever business they wish.”

“I’ve told them they have to drink to the memory of things lost.”  Said Callindra.  She pulled a withered and dried crown of woven plant stems from her hair.  It did not come loose easily, but she disregarded the pain, tearing hair from her scalp without flinching.

“I waited a for her.”  Tears began coursing down her cheeks, “I wanted so badly to believe that a Goddess was truly immortal.  She showed me the power of putting others before yourself and inspired me like only one other has.  Then she died.  Because of me.  Just like Glarian did.  Just like Tryst did.  Because I’m too weak.”

“Stop the whining, since when did my sister become a sniveling little girl?”  Cronos said, “I don’t remember you asking anyone for help.  You are cheapening the sacrifices of those who CHOSE to make them because THEY believed you would pick up the torch of their cause.”

“This has gone on long enough Callindra.” Vilhylm said, “It’s time to let go of your sorrow and move forward.  There is work to be done.”

“I don’t care.”  She said, picking up her glass again.  Vilhylm knocked it from her hand with a lightning fast maneuver that she hadn’t anticipated.

“I’m not going to let you do this to yourself anymore.  It has been months since I saw you practice.”  He towered over her, rage burning behind his eyes.  “You’re less than useless like this, you disgrace the memory of your master!”

“You want to trust me?”  Callindra’s voice rose, “You want to rely on ME?  After what’s happened you want ME watching your back?”  Unnoticed by her, the winds began to blow about the room for the first time in a year.  “I am not strong enough to watch your back brother, find someone else.”

“There is no one else.”  Vilhylm looked at the floor, a grimace on his face.  “Even if there was, I they couldn’t replace you.”

“What are you going to do?  Beat it out of me?”  She grabbed the bottle and took a drink.

“If I must.”  Vilhylm took her by surprise, grabbing her by the shirt and bodily throwing her out the door of the tavern.  Shadowsliver’s chain rattled after, finally reaching its limit and jerking the sword through the air toward her.

Callindra tumbled into the street, staggering to her feet just in time for Shadowsliver’s edge to cut deep into her shoulder.  A whirlwind began to form around her as the pent-up rage at her loved ones for dying, at her inability to do anything to stop it and the world for allowing her to survive was released in an uncontrolled torrent as she pulled the sword from the deep wound it had carved into her body.

“What do you want from me?”  She shouted at the sky, at the world, “WHAT MORE CAN YOU ASK OF ME?” Thunder rumbled in the distance, her hair began to stand on end from the static charge in the air.  “What more can I POSSIBLY give to you?”

The hair that once had Brightstar flowers twining through it showing the blessings of Jorda now tangled around her as the wind began to pick up.  “Gods curse it!”  Callindra had been so proud of that hair, but now like everything else it was getting in her way.  She held her hair in a lose bundle with one hand and cut it off with one smooth stroke of her sword.

Outside of town, coruscating bolts of lightning struck the earth and overhead dark clouds billowed.  Wind whirled around her, rattling the shutters of nearby buildings and picking up plumes of dust.  Cronos stepped outside, Vilhylm close behind him.

“Callindra you need to stop this, it’s dangerous!” Cronos said, looking nervously at the sky.

“YOU are the ones who wanted this.  YOU trusted me, this is on YOUR heads!”  Callindra said, “I wanted to GIVE UP but you are forcing me, FORCING ME back into the world.  You want me to use the power again?”  She raised Shadowsliver above her head.  “FINE I’ll turn it loose.”

A bolt of incandescent electricity lanced from the heavens, slammed into the tip of her sword and ran through her into the ground.  The crack of thunder shattered windows and knocked her brothers off their feet.  Callindra stood in the center of the madness, lightning swarming around her like a mass of serpents while a whirlwind kicked up dust and debris.

“You want to trust THIS to watch your back?”  She shouted in a voice that made the lightning strike sound like a whisper.

Vilhylm had picked himself up and walked unsteadily through the chaos towards her.  Without hesitation, he folded his sister into a crushing embrace, disregarding the electricity that scorched his flesh.    “Callindra, I’ve already lost one of my brothers.  I refuse to lose my sister too.  Yes.  More than anything else I want you to be by my side for this fight.”

The lightning scattered and she burst into tears, leaning on his shoulder and crying like a child who had lost everything.  With those tears, rain began to fall.  The first rain that had fallen here in almost a year.  Even after the storm had passed, breezes once again began to blow.  Something had changed.  It was something small, but nothing comes into the world large.

On the outskirts of town, a dry brittle circlet of vines fell from the whirling winds above.  A seed pod fell, the rain beating it into the soil.  A bright green sprout sprang up as though it had been waiting for this moment.  Curiously enough, the plant that began to grow looked more like a tree than a vine; its small trefoil leaves waved defiantly against the wind.  Despite all the destruction that had been visited on the land, life refused to be defeated.