The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 33

After half a candlemark, they arrived at a closed iron door barely wide enough for a human to pass.  Belladonna took a dagger from her belt and rapped a staccato series of strikes on it and waited until a slot shot open and a sudden brilliant light blazed into the corridor.  Durrak cursed and flicked the butt of his latest cigar, a dark green cylinder with light orange sparks leaping from the smoke, through the slot to the sound of curses.

“You no do be treating us with respect.”  He said, his voice an angry rumble.  “I do be expecting such tactics from children, I do be expecting an apology.”

“It is done to expose some kinds of the Spawn who take on mortal guise.”  Belladonna said apologetically.  “If we told visitors about it, any infiltrators would be prepared and it wouldn’t work.

Durrak snorted, but his glare lessened.  “There do be other ways, but I do be understanding.”  He grumbled.

The door opened and a large man with a beard nearly as full as the Dwarf’s stood with a large double bitted ax over his shoulder.  “You nearly started me beard ablaze Master Dwarf!”  He boomed, “For one who don’t appreciate childish pranks you gotta funny way of showing it.”

He laughed, the sound filling the chamber.  “Enter and be welcome in Undercity.”

The chamber beyond the door was round, white and only had the iron portal they entered through and another much like it on the other side.  Belladonna knocked on that door and they were admitted once the guard on the other side saw the first door had been closed.

The view beyond was stunning.  Hundreds of buildings made of what appeared to be ruins or rubble from ancient and modern structures were stretched out below them in a tangled profusion.  Thousands of people were about, all armed and armored except for the very young, but even they had belt knives.  Arcane lights floated about everywhere, giving an approximation of afternoon sunlight.

There were tiers of pathways and catwalks that wound around the buildings and arched between them, connecting one to another stories above the stone of the streets below.  The crown jewel was what seemed to be part of a castle jutting from the wall.  It was sheathed in a checkerboard of white and black marble and had a formidable looking gate of spiked iron.

“Guests to see the Lady Ellen Eth.”  Belladonna said, approaching and ensuring her face was visible.

“They don’t look like they’re fit to meet the Lady.”  One of the guards growled, eyes on the pair still coated with blood and worse.  “Where’d you dredge up this gutter trash?”

Durrak bristled and Lorin did his best not to look down his nose at the guard; something aided by the guard being nearly six inches taller than the elf.  Before either of them could speak, Belladonna blurred forward with speed aided by subtle arcane flashes from her boots.  One hand ended up gripping the guard by the thick beard with the other inches from his face, glittering with scintillating azure energy.

“Do I need to repeat myself Gradach?”  She asked, her voice conversational.  “Perhaps you cannot hear me through all this hair.”

“No Mistress Belladonna.”  He said, face white.

“Good.  Ask your men to open the gate and to send servants to prepare baths.”  She smiled sweetly, “If you please.”

“I no do be needing a bath.”  Durrak said, pulling a cigar that looked remarkably normal from his pouch.  Noting with mild annoyance that it wasn’t lit, he touched it to the still glimmering energy surrounding Belladonna’s right hand.  The cigar immediately lit and he puffed contentedly on it, watching as the guards all stared at him in shock.  Even the ones that had come to meet them on the surface looked horrified.

“If Ellen Eth do be wanting to meet me she do be able to do it while I do be looking as I had to in order to be getting here alive.”  He blew a large smoke ring.  “Surely she no do be squeamish about a little blood?”

“The Lady will not wish her carpets and chairs to be ruined by your condition.”  Belladonna said, waving her right hand in a gesture of dismissal and banishing the writhing energies from it.  “That spell very well could have killed you Dwarf.  It should have burned that cigar to dust in an instant.”

“Tell Lady Ellen Eth that we will happily meet her in the first antechamber.”  Lorin said, “If I recall that one has carpets over stone floors.  My friend and I are needed back above if our folk are to survive long enough for us to bring her offer to them.  Our time is too limited to spend bathing unless she wishes us to leave all our other assets at risk.”

Belladonna gave them a considering look before nodding slowly.  “Thran, take them to the first chamber.  Servants will be sent to clear out the floor coverings.”

It was a minor victory, but it still put them in control of the where and when of the meeting.  Durrak strode forward confidently, following Thran and looking at the various splendors with a critical eye.  Everything here was fine to be sure, but it all looked chosen merely for its gold value, not for any sense of symmetry.  It was as though the person who had assembled the collection only cared about the monetary value of the artwork, not their intrinsic value.

Durrak was troubled in a way he had not thought possible anymore; his artistic soul cried out for the lack of appreciation of the individual paintings, tapestries, vases and other assorted works of art.  To be admired only for what they could give in return rather than for what they were was apparently part Ellen Eth’s makeup even more than rumor would suggest.

When Thran led them to the carved mahogany doors and barred them from entry with an imperious gesture, Durrak began to chuckle under his breath.  The chuckle became a full-throated laugh as the warrior glared at him darkly.

“If you do be thinking you do be able to stop me from entering the room at will friend, you do be sorely mistaken.”  Durrak said, still laughing.  “If you do be wishing to ask me to be staying outside it do be behooving you to ask politely.”

Thran opened his mouth to say something, closed it and swallowed after looking at the macabre grin that split the dwarf’s gore splattered face.  “Please wait here sirs.”  He said politely enough, although it was clear that rage seethed beneath the surface.

Durrak grounded Femurslicer’s steel shod butt on the marble of the hallway with a resounding crash that made tiny hairline fractures radiate out from it in a pattern of ragged lines.  “Very well.  We do be waiting on the Lady’s pleasure.”

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