The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 14

Durrak followed Lorin down a path that led to a sheer cliff that overlooked Starvale.  The city stretched out below them, much of it burned or smashed to rubble, but a surprising amount of it was intact.  The spheres floated serenely in the air, unmoved by the strong breeze blowing from the sea.

“There is a path down here.”  Lorin said, pointing.

“You do be pointing out a stair carved in stone to a Dwarf?”  Durrak said with a chuckle, “I am seeing it, despite the disrepair it do look safe enough.  Do this not be a bit exposed?”

“If there were defenders interested in killing us they would have little trouble.”  Lorin agreed, “However the Abyss doesn’t seem to have taken much notice of this stair and has made no attempt to defend the city from this angle.  I suspect if there were more of us using it with more frequency that would change.”

They made their way down the precariously narrow path carved into the cliff face, one with an Elf’s lightness of foot and the other with the surefootedness of a Dwarf treading stone.  As Lorin had predicted, the only danger came from the possibility of a misstep and not from an attack.

“We aren’t close to my lodging, however there are many ways to approach unnoticed by the Abyss.”  Lorin slid from shadow to shadow with a dancer’s grace.

Durrak didn’t have any trouble following him, but was noticeably less stealthy.  The things that noticed gave no warning before pouring out of the side streets and leaping from buildings.

If he hadn’t spent the last few years learning to respond instantly to attacks from unseen angles they likely would have overrun him.  If he hadn’t clad himself in Bonecrusher’s Brace so that the spikes and overlapping steel plates covered his body many of the misshapen creatures would likely still have landed debilitating blows.  Instead he roared a battle cry and hurled himself into combat.

His forward rush smashed three of the monsters into the wall of a building, killing two and sending the third stumbling away only to meet the hooked bill of his gisarme coming back the other direction.  As neatly as a child picking flowers, Durrak sliced the thing’s head off in a shower of greenish ichor.  Spinning in place, he cut cleanly through two more and halfway into the thigh of another.

When the last one pulled back with surprising strength he nearly lost his grip on his weapon.  An arrow fletched with brown feathers sprouted in the thing’s left eye and it fell to the cobblestones with limp finality.  Durrak allowed the momentum of the falling monster to give him an extra boost of speed and he wrenched his gisarme free with a twist of his body as he passed to crash into another group, sending some sprawling and others to meet with the nearby stone buildings with bone shattering force.

The fight was over as suddenly as it had begun, only the bodies of the strange humanoid spawn littered the street.  Lorin was carefully attempting to recover his arrows from them, cursing under his breath at a broken shaft or loose fletching.

“We do need to be moving.”  Durrak said, looking around at the empty streets.  “A fight of this do be attracting attention.”

“They don’t coordinate very well.”  Lorin said, “Once we kill them all in that size of an area it takes them at least a day to show up again and sometimes longer.”

Durrak kept up his vigil regardless but didn’t see anything moving.  It was eerily silent, especially after the shouts and clash of combat.  There wasn’t a single living thing in the city other than themselves, even the grass that might have grown in the cracks between cobblestones was dead and withered.

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The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 13

“You thought you’d help him?”  She asked, quirking an eyebrow.  “Why would you do that?”

“Hey, just cause I ain’t growed yet don’t mean I don’t see what’s going on.  Somma them are doin a lot better than others.  There ain’t no reason to beat up an old man neither.”

“They’re right to be suspicious, but they have no right to attack and imprison someone without giving them the chance to prove their innocence.”  Callindra said.  “We will rest until the sun begins to set and arrive at the gates just before they close for the night.  They do close the gates at night, don’t they?”

Reed nodded, “Yeah, but they close ‘em about an hour before dark.  Really the main gate ain’t open at all during the day either, but there’s a smaller one to one side they leave open during the day.  Don’t get there too late, they burn anything what comes close after dark.”

“You’re going back now?”  Although she was asking the question she knew the answer.

“Yeah.  They won’t notice me gone for a couple hours but if I come with you they’ll know it was me told you.”  Despite the short time and their conversation the bread and water were gone.  “I’ll try and be around if you need me.”

Callindra carefully kept her face neutral.  She didn’t want to offend the boy and she was sure he was at least capable of handling himself to some degree or else he never would have survived.  “Travel carefully Reed.  Thanks for the help.”

He turned to go but paused and looked at her.  “Ain’t you gonna ask what Holt promised me in payment?”

“You are welcome to accompany us when we leave Reed.”  She said, “Although it will not be safe.  More often than not we go to bed nursing injuries and more often than that hungry.  We’re fighting the Abyss most days and they play for keeps.  I’ve seen more piles of bodies than I can count.”

Reed’s eyes widened when she guessed his payment, but they quickly narrowed when she was describing the dangers.  “I ain’t no cherry.  I seen more death before the world went mad than most seen after it.  Of course most are dead so that don’t mean nothing, but I ain’t no damn kid.  I take care of myself.”

“The second you don’t you’ll likely die.”  She said simply, “But we’ve managed to keep one another alive this far.  Mostly.  Maybe my brother dying for us all changed something.  Maybe his sacrifice gave us an edge or some kind of favor from the Gods.”

“The gods.”  Reed said, still scornful.  “If they exist why would they let THIS happen?  For that matter why would they have let all that happen to me and me mates before the Abyss came?”

“I’ve seen at least one of them Reed.”  Callindra ran her fingers through stray locks of hair, the absence of the Brightstar flowers still fresh in her mind.  “She died to save my family.  I owe her something for that and I intend to make good on my debt to Jorda.”

“That’s on you.”  Reed shook his head, “I ain’t taking on your fool’s errands.”

“If you travel with us Reed you will be expected to fight when we fight and run when we run.  You don’t have to believe in it but you must do it.”  She shook her head, remembering.  “I didn’t believe in them either at first.  After fighting beside them though, it became a little difficult to ignore.  Gods and demons I learned to sword fight from one of them.”

“You don’t move like no god touched.”  He said, giving her a dismissive look.  “I’ll fight if I gotta and I run like the wind.  How you think I survived to be thirteen?”

“It took me much longer to learn that lesson.”  Callindra said, “You’d better get moving Reed, look for us two candlemarks before sunset.”

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 12

She had closed her eyes for only a few moments but when she awoke to a gentle touch on her right shoulder that told her an attack wasn’t imminent the sun had moved halfway to the horizon.  Cronos gave her a moment to awaken before rolling over into his cloak and falling asleep almost immediately.

Callindra stood up slowly, working the kinks out of her shoulders and back before working through a pair of Korumn that served to awaken her body and mind.  They weren’t a substitute for strong tea, but they would have to do.  After half a candlemark on watch, she began to let her worries get the better of her and was working through it by studying the map briefly to calculate how far they still had to travel when something caught her eye.

A slight motion at the edge of their small camp got her attention but she didn’t turn to look.  Instead, she kept looking at the map and allowed her awareness of the intruder to grow.  It wasn’t Holt, of that she was certain.

For one thing the old man had this annoying habit of sneaking up on her just to show her he could; she was certain she never would have seen him coming.  This figure was also much smaller; probably half his height.  Although Holt could have just been crawling she doubted it.  He’d never had to do so before.

Another barely perceptible motion sent her spinning into action.  Shadowsliver swept into a wide arc as she leaped forward twirling her entire body in a circle as she let his chain slip through her fingers to give her fifteen feet of extra range.  A startled squeak came from the dead bush as her blade cut cleanly through it only a hand and a half above the ground.

She whipped Shadowsliver back and snatched him out of the air, still running toward the intruder and a boy of perhaps ten summers rolled out showing empty hands.  He had a panicked expression on his face that seemed a little too earnest to be totally believable.  The jet-black blade whistled down toward him and stopped a finger from the tip of his nose; his twin tips humming menacingly.

“Wait, don’t chop me up or blast me lady!”  He said, “I’m coming to warn you, your friend got caught and they’re holding him in the tower of pain, but he managed to slip me a message for you.”

The words came out in a tumbled rush, but it almost seemed rehearsed.  Callindra’s eyes narrowed as she considered him.  “What is my name?”  She demanded, not moving the sword.

“He told me it was Callindra, but that flowery of a name don’t seem like it fits a warrior.”  The boy said, his voice not nearly as fearful as it had been a few moments earlier.

She had a sneaking suspicion that his change in tone was deliberate.  Very slowly lowered Shadowsliver and reversed the blade so that it lay up her forearm in was would look like a much less threatening gesture.  Not that it would impede her ability to strike all that much.

“Come over and sit.  I have water if you’re thirsty, and we have plenty of hardtack if you’re hungry.”  He nodded and followed her over to where the others rested.  She saw all of them move slightly as though settling back to sleep and knew they’d seen what she was facing and decided she could handle it.

Callindra rummaged through her pack, deliberately turning her back on him and kept her senses alert.  Removing a water skin and half a flat biscuit she turned to see him standing in the same spot he had been.  She handed them over without comment.

“I ain’t starving, but only a fool turns down food.”  He said, “My name’s Reed.  Yours is really Callindra?”

“It is.  Tell me what happened to Holt.”

“You gonna sheath that blade Callindra?  Naked steel makes me nervous and I swear I ain’t no threat.”  He took a drink of water and nibbled at the bread.

“He doesn’t have a sheath.”  She said shortly, “Answer the question.”

“Oh, uh the townsfolk found him skulking around and didn’t believe him that he wasn’t sick.  There’s rumors of greeneyes what don’t actually have green eyes and look like people.”  Reed said, his eyes focusing on Shadowsliver’s forked blade.  “They said if he wasn’t no greeneyes why would he be sneaking around and he tried to tell them there wasn’t no way to know if THEY was … Taken was what he called them and then the guards they’d had sneaking up behind him all tackled him.

“He put up a good scrap, but there ain’t a lot any one single person’s gonna do against ten.”  Reed’s mouth tightened into a hard line and he glared at the hardtack in his hand for a moment.  “I thought maybe I’d be able to help him out, so I snuck up when they wasn’t looking and whispered through his cell window.  He told me to come and see you, but only after he made me say I wasn’t just trying to find you so I could rat you out.”

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 11

Callindra waved her brothers back with a gesture of impatience.  “I am the best at being quiet.”  She insisted, “I’m the obvious choice to go and investigate this town.”

They were a couple of miles from a small walled settlement that appeared to be mostly intact.  “If approaching unseen is your goal I am uniquely equipped to handle such an endeavor.”  Holt said, speaking for the first time since they had begun their argument.

They all turned and looked at him in surprise.  “I am trained in the arts of stealth and hunting.  If I can stalk and kill a deer with a dagger, I should be easily able to investigate a town of people without any trouble at all.  I’m also more expendable than our leader.”  He said, looking at Callindra significantly.

She flushed, looking down.  She didn’t feel like her skin was worth any more than any of the rest of them, but she remembered the books she’d read what seemed like a century ago.  Having been bed bound while recovering from a shattered leg she’d taken refuge in books.  Some of those books had followed famed generals and war leaders.  Holt was right, if they were to be trusted anyway.

“Fine.”  Callindra grumbled, biting back a caustic comment.  “We’ll send Holt, but if he doesn’t report back before sundown we’re all going in together.”

Holt grinned and gave her a wink, “I’ll be back before you know it.”

“Take care grandfather.”  She said, finally unable to keep a sharp retort from her lips.

The older man adopted an expression of mock injury, “Grandfather?  Why I’m barely a handful of years older than you are Callindra.”

“Father?  Uncle?”  She suggested sweetly, “Go on now, you’re running out of daylight.”

Holt bowed and slipped into the dead undergrowth, not making so much as a leaf rustle as he headed toward the town.  Callindra watched him go with a frown on her face for a few moments until she lost sight of his lean and weathered form in the underbrush.

“Set up a camp, no fire.  We should eat and sleep in shifts just in case there’s trouble.”  She said, looking at her companions.  Cronos stared at her with folded arms and a disgruntled expression on his face.  Vilhylm was looking between her and the retreating form of Holt with a raised eyebrow.

Kain merely set his pack down, settled his weapon harness so he could sit easily and began unpacking a package of rations.  His expression was mild and satisfied as he performed the simple task, from what Callindra had learned from their brief conversations he had been a slave from youth.  The hulking half orc took joy from the simple acts of everyday life that didn’t revolve around fighting for survival.

His calm was almost a palpable thing, spreading to the others and allowing them to relax.  Callindra finally realized how tightly wound her nerves had been and accepted a flask of cold tea and a hardtack biscuit from Kain with a nod of thanks.

“He will be fine mistress.”  He said, seeing the look on her face.  “I have a feeling he has survived worse.”

“I wasn’t worrying about that old fossil.”  She grumbled around a mouthful of rock hard biscuit.  She had to be careful not to break a tooth.  “I’m worried about what he’s going to find in that town, or what he’s not going to find.  We need to find a safe haven, if it hadn’t been for most of the people we’ve come across being dead the shortage of wildlife to scavenge would have starved us out a long time ago.”

“That last farmstead gave us a good supply of rations.”  Kain said calmly, “I believe we’ve gotten through the worst of it Callindra.  It can only get better from here on out.”

“I wish I believed that.”  She said, taking a drink of tea to wash down the crumbs.  “We still haven’t found anyone who can tell us anything about the rest of the world.  Kain, we watched the goddess of nature die and now the wilderness is following her.”

“All things move in circles.”  He said in that infuriatingly calm voice.

Instead of replying, Callindra unlaced her armor enough that it didn’t chafe anymore and pulled Shadowsliver from where he lay next to her skin.  She winced slightly at the small cuts his razor-sharp edge had left on her back, but lay him across her knees and leaned back against her pack.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 10

“There do be folk living inside that?”  Durrak said, disbelief clear in his voice.  His hand reached into his belt pouch and he withdrew a cigar despite how ill advised it might be.  As always, it came out lit and he took a deep drag.  The smoke was vibrant purple in color and seemed to disperse rather more quickly than normal.

“A great many of us live there still, and there are also those who are trapped in the protective barriers.  We haven’t figured out how to get inside them yet and have no idea what kind of conditions they must be enduring.  The smaller ones especially, unless they have magical means they’re like as not all dead.”

“To be finding any survivors at all do be more than I was thinking to find after seeing the standing ranks and the destruction of the battlefield.”  Durrak mused, “There did be twenty million or more living within Starvale’s walls.  How many do be living still?”

“No way of knowing.”  Lorin said shortly, “There are perhaps two hundred of us living in a collection of fortified manor houses.  I believe there are more beneath the city, but none of the emissaries we sent below have returned.  I know of at least three other such defended locations with similar numbers.  Most of the city has fallen as you can plainly see, I expect less than one in a thousand survived.”

“Gods and demons.”  Durrak swore, “I did be expecting it to be bad, but that do be a slaughter.”

“Yes.”  Lorin agreed, running his hands through his long straight hair.  “It was terrible.  The only upside is that with so many dead there hasn’t been much of a shortage of food and supplies.  We can’t last for long though.  Without being able to replenish our supplies we can’t survive for more than another month or two.  That, of course, also begs the question of why the Spawn haven’t just wiped us out.”

“I do be thinking it do involve those.”  Durrak gestured with the stub of his cigar at the top of one of the largest floating spheres that could be seen over the hill.  “Until they do find a way to enter the spheres they do be conserving their resources.  It only do be good tactics.”

Lorin grunted, “That makes a certain amount of sense.  I didn’t consider the fact that they might be smart enough to use tactics.  They’ve never shown any inclination of the sort before.”

“The do be led by Cerioth The Black.  She do have a mind devious and strong will.”  He thrust the still burning end of the cigar back into his belt pouch an added a handful of dead leaves from a nearby tree.

Lorin raised an eyebrow, looking at the belt pouch with interest.  “You know of the dragon?”

“Aye.  My father did be slaying her mate.  Her vengeance did be destroying the halls of my ancestors.”  Durrak took a deep breath, “I do be intending to be returning the favor.”

“Forgive my impertinence sir Dwarf, as we have only recently met, but are you certain you are entirely sane?”  Lorin’s voice was carefully neutral.

“After what I do be seeing in the last year.  No.”

Lorin barked a short laugh.  “Good.  At least you’re realistic and honest.