The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 32

Durrak wore Bonecrusher’s Brace and held Femurslicer angled across his shoulder as he approached the meeting place.  His only concessions to visiting an important personage were that his armor and weapon were polished and he had added a grey cloak with the hammer and tongs of the Drakanda style picked out on it in dark blue.

Lorin, on the other hand, had foregone his usually flamboyant style and only wore nondescript brown and green that would seem more at home in the forest than city streets.  He still carried his beautifully carved and polished bow, but he’d covered the jewels on the hilts of his long knives with leather wrapping.

“I don’t like this.”  Lorin said in a low voice.

Durrak snorted a laugh, “You no do like any of this.  How do this be different?”  He strode into the alley like he owned it, but he kept an eye out for Taken.  When the flood of monsters boiled out of the second story of the buildings surrounding them in a tide of humanoid beings that clung to the bricks with multi-jointed claws the pair were ready for them.

Not bothering at first to even use Femurslicer, Durrak ran forward with a battle cry that rattled the remaining window glass as he charged and smashed bodily into the creatures with the spiked pauldrons of his armor.  Bodies crushed to black ichor beneath his onslaught and a steady stream of arrow shafts from Lorin pinned a dozen of the hapless creatures to the wall before they’d moved more than a dozen feet.

Within minutes, all but three of the creatures were dead; either crushed to disgusting paste or filled with arrows from Lorin’s bottomless quiver.  A solid section of stone at the far end of the alley slid aside and a half dozen armed warriors sprang forward ready for battle.  They stopped in confusion at seeing Durrak glaring at them, his spiked armor dripping with black blood.  Lorin stared down an arrow shaft at their leader, the tip beginning to glow with sullen red light.

“You do be a bit late to the party.”  Durrak rumbled, swinging his Gisarme in a casual arc that cut two of the remaining creatures in half.  “I do be sorry we no did save you any playmates.”

The woman in the lead gave him a cautious look, but flicked a finger at the last monster, sending five bright purple bolts streaking into its head.  The bolts left neat round holes clearly through the skull and it dropped like a puppet with cut strings.

“I apologize gentlemen.  We thought this entrance to be secure.”  She said, “I am Belladonna, these are my companions; members of the Blood Guild.  We protect the Undercity as the Blackfist Guard used to do above.”

Durrak was fairly certain she wasn’t telling the truth, but she was telling a good lie if she was truly unaware of the monsters waiting in the surrounding buildings.  Perhaps she hadn’t been told of the ploy.  It would put them on uneven footing if they’d had to be rescued by Ellen Eth’s guard.  Or perhaps he was becoming overly suspicious in his old age.

“Those things ruined the god rotting polish on my boots.”  Lorin said mildly, slinging his longbow over his back.  “You must not use this entrance much for it to be so compromised.”

“Peace Lorin.”  Durrak said, shaking the blood from his gauntlet and withdrawing a cigar that glowed with a dim pink light and released thin wisps of jet black smoke that hung in the air for a few moments before simply vanishing instead of dissipating like smoke usually did.  “There do be no reason to doubt these folk.”

Belladonna relaxed slightly, a loosening of tightness round her eyes and mouth that Durrak hadn’t noticed until they had smoothed away.  Apparently his instincts had been on the mark; they’d best tread even more carefully than Lorin wanted them to.

The brick corridor was dark as they entered, but the humans carried no light.  The darkness was no impediment to their eyes as Durrak and Lorin followed them down, their inhuman senses allowing them to see the passage and their escort clearly albeit in grayscale.  There were places that had obviously once been side tunnels but they were bricked over now.

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The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 31

Durrak puffed on his cigar and sipped ale.  It was decent ale for a change, gotten in trade from a strange source.  A Matriarch who lived under the city named Ellen Eth had sent it along with a note and an address in the city.

‘Dear Battlemaster Caverstorm.  It would be my pleasure to make your acquaintance.  As a person of great influence in the Undercity of Starvale, I would like to invite you to come and visit.  We could use an individual of your talents to assist us in the defense of our assets.  I include a barrel of the finest Dwarven ale as a gesture of good faith.  Very truly yours, Ellen Eth.’

He let smoke trickle out of his nostrils as he considered the signature on the note.  It was full of flourishes and embellishments; quite different from the other writing.  This woman had taken the trouble to find a scribe to write her letter, even in these dire circumstances.  What kind of person would do that?

“I’d say someone who thinks very highly of herself.  That or someone who wants you to know she is rich.  Or possibly someone who is insane.”  Lorin said cheerfully from the doorway.  He closed the door to his private chamber softly.

Durrak snorted to hide his surprise; he hadn’t realized he was talking to himself.  “Do that be Dane?”  He gestured with his cigar, “You know I no do approve of you being seducing the girls.”

“Good thing for me your approval doesn’t mean all that much to me.”  Lorin said, smiling wider.  “Besides, she’s the one who slipped into my bed.  I couldn’t very well be rude and turn her away.  Would have crushed the poor girl’s spirit I’m sure.  Isn’t it a bit early in the morning for drink?”

“The honorable Ellen Eth did be sending me a gift.”  Durrak said through a cloud of cigar smoke.  “It would be most insulting not to be sampling it.”

The smile fled from Lorin’s face.  “Ellen Eth sent you a note?  What’s that scheming …” His voice trailed off and he looked carefully about the room, swallowed hard and dipped a mug of ale.  Taking a long drink, he licked his lips.  “What did she want?”

“She do wish to be meeting with me.”  Durrak said calmly, handing over the letter.

Lorin took it and scanned it quickly.  Sweat broke out on his forehead, and he took another swallow of ale before wiping it away.  “She’s trying to recruit you.”

“It do be seeming so.”  Durrak said, taking a lit cigar from his pouch and handing it to his friend.  “I no do be interested, but it do be rude not to be responding.”

“You can’t go meet her.”  Lorin said, accepting the cigar and taking drag; flinching at the green and gold sparks that burst from it like a Firstday firework.  “She’s dangerous.  If you don’t agree to her terms or to work with her she’ll kill you.”

“You do be knowing her?”  The Dwarf asked, refilling his mug and dropping the stub of his cigar back into the pouch.  “Do be telling me of her.  She do know her ale well.”

“She used to run the Welcomers.”  At Durrak’s blank look he blew a cloud of smoke out in exasperation, “The guild of the rogue in Starvale; and likely beyond also.  They orchestrated the removal of the Iron Fist’s leadership, undermining their organization until it was nothing but a shell.

“I’ve never met a more thorough and ruthless killer.  A mind like a bag full of cats with anger issues.”  The Elf shuddered.  “She approached someone I used to work with.  Asked him if he was interested in helping her with a problem.  He apparently declined because the next time I saw him he’d been flayed alive.”

“Hmmm.  She do sound to be a formidable individual.”  Durrak mused, taking another cigar from his pouch and filling the air with bright purple smoke.  “Could she be what the city do be needing?”

Lorin choked on his ale, “What?  NO!  Durrak, she’s insane and selfish.  She’d love to see the city burn if it increased her holdings. She’ll murder the weak so that she can feed her cadre of trained killers.”

“In that case, I do be needing to deal with her.”  Durrak said, “There no do be a point in helping people to escape if she do be as bad as the Taken.”

“You can’t.”  Lorin said, “She doesn’t fight fair; she’d swarm you with a hundred men just so a hundred archers could fill you full of poison arrows.”

“But if I do be ignoring her she do be taking offense.  Or she do be assuming that I do be refusing since I no do be showing up.”  Durrak folded his thick arms over his chest.  “I do be going.”

Cursing, Lorin downed the rest of his ale and produced a whetstone.  With quick, practiced motions he began sharpening first a knife and when he’d put a razor edge on it, he began working on arrowheads.

“You no do have to be coming.”  Durrak said, exhaling smoke to hide his smile.

“The hells I don’t.”  Lorin said, “If she gets you and I knew you were going Dane would never let me hear the end of it.”

“Ah.  We no can be having that can we?”  Durrak asked, taking a drink.

“Was that a joke?”  Lorin asked, “That was a joke!  Gods all bless, it’s a momentous day, the Dwarf made a joke!”

“I do be making jokes often.”  Durrak said, “The stupid Elf no do be understanding them.”

Lorin chuckled and went back to sharpening his arrowheads.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 30

“We’ve all lost friends and family.”  Holt said, his voice rough with memory.  “We’ve all been defeated in battle.  Every one of us has made decisions we regret.  Those things all cut us deeply, but it’s when we stand up again that we allow those scars heal into greater strength.”

“I appreciate the effort Holt.”  Callindra said, struggling to keep more tears from falling.  “Some day perhaps I will appreciate the words.”

When they returned to the river, they found the townsfolk gathered.  A man stood in front of the rest, looking strange as he held his hat in calloused hands and addressed Callindra.  He was twice her size and half again her age, but still looked like a boy asking his mother permission to go and play.

“Lady, we were wondering if we might be allowed to settle here.”  He said, twisting his hat in an unconscious gesture.  “The other side of the river has bad memories and what with the new spring and all…”

“What’s your name?”  Callindra asked, “And why do you think you need my permission to do anything?”

“Well.  It’s your brother’s place of rest Lady.”  He said, hurriedly adding.  “Onell is my name Lady, we owe you our lives the most of us.  We didn’t want to presume.”

“I’m no ‘lady’ Onell.”  Callindra said tiredly, “You don’t need my permission, but you have my blessing.  All I would ask is that you respect the grave of my brother.”

A ripple of whispers ran through the crowd.  Onell blushed slightly and cleared his throat.  “We were thinking Lady of calling the new stedding Cronosholt with your permission.”

Callindra sighed and glanced at Vilhylm.  Her brother was looking straight ahead and nobody else would have recognized it but, despite the grief they had endured he was laughing at her.  She couldn’t help but smile back at him.

“We will offer you what advice we can in constructing it to be defensible.”  Callindra said, “Holt and Vilhylm have been in more battles than most and could likely give you some help.”  She turned and went to sit by the stream, letting the others talk to the villagers.

Closing her eyes, she sat and leaned against a boulder with Shadowsliver across her knees.  Light footsteps approached after a few minutes, the winds bringing the sound to her ears.  They were the steps of a small person, not a larger person trying to be quiet.

“I brought you some food Lady.”  A small boy’s voice, “Eating always makes me feel better.”

Callindra opened her eye just enough to see a roughly carved wooden bowl with a green salad topped with freshly grilled fish in it.  The sight of greens made her mouth water, but she didn’t move.

“You probably want to be alone.  But I want to say thank you.  Me and sissy would have been…” He swallowed hard, “We would have been killed by those things.  The guard was too busy fighting to get any of us littles out.  We were too scared to do anything until I saw you.

“There was this huge bear and it had glowing green eyes and I could see half its skull.  It was eating someone.  It bit half her arm off and she was screaming and there was so much blood.  A flash of light almost blinded me and a blast of lightning hit it in the chest but it wasn’t just lightning it was a sword.  On a chain.

“I saw you leap and land on the guard of your sword with both feet, driving it all the way through the monster.  You screamed a word, I don’t know what it was, but it blasted your sword out of the wound and you did a back flip and landed with blade in hand as the bear thing just flew apart into bits.  I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Callindra didn’t remember this exact moment of the fight, which was surprising.  She would have thought if she’d been doing that kind of reckless acrobatics she would have remembered.  Of course there was a time when her rage at the Taken had made her forget everything but killing as many of them as she could.  Small wonder she was so tired.

“What’s your name boy?”  She asked, her voice sounding harsh and grating to her ears.

“Gorian Lady.”  He said, his voice rising in a squeak of surprise.  Evidently, he hadn’t expected her to talk to him.

“Thank you for the food Gorian.  I am glad you and your sister are safe.”  She couldn’t help a tear leaking from her left eye.  Shifting slightly to take the weight off a healing cut on her shoulder she winced as a wound on her thigh gave a twinge.

“Yes Lady.”

“Gorian, I’m no lady.  Just call me Callindra.”  She sighed and opened a red rimmed eye to look at him.  He was a little twig of a half elven child with hair a brilliant white gold, violet eyes shining with hero worship from a filthy soot stained face.  She idly noted that his hands were clean.

“You’re a Lady to me.”  He said, “A great Lady who came in on the winds and burned the monsters to dust.”

She took the bowl and made a shooing motion.  “Off with you Gorian.  If your sister is anything like I was she’s probably getting into trouble without you to mind her.”

He bowed, gods and demons BOWED to her and scampered away.  Finding that the smell of the fish overwhelmed her, Callindra ate every scrap of food in the bowl and wished she had more.  As she rinsed the bowl in the stream and drank clean water to wash down her meal she wondered what Glarian would think of the tale of her riding in on the winds.

He’d probably laugh himself sick.  If he was still alive.  That dragon couldn’t have killed him just by eating him; he was a god after all.  It would take more than a dragon to kill a god.  Even that dragon.  Wouldn’t it?