Prelude to Destruction

The door to the Tower of the Mistress of Darkness was flung open and Zenrakk Velana staggered forth, gasping at what the portents had revealed.  An ancient power was stirring and she did not know if it was going to save her people or utterly destroy them.

“Get me the high priests.”  She rasped to the attendant standing outside the door.  Her voice was rough from the hours of screaming in pain when she was in the Embrace.  It was so difficult to leave the rapture of that agony, but she had her duty and that duty required her to live.

The attendant fled at the sound of her voice and she allowed her Maidens to wrap her body in her silken robes, careful to make sure the white silk clung to her properly so as to show the blood flowing from the wounds the Embrace had left.  She waved them away and sat on the Obsidian Throne, accepting a goblet of dark red wine from a servant.

The black robed acolytes entered first, their censers of incense making a low fog that spread over the floor.  They were closely followed by her high priests in their blood red garb.  They entered and saw the blood that had seeped through her clothing to drip onto the black throne where she sat, running in sluggish streams to pool on the floor.

“You are dismissed.”  She said to the acolytes, and drank a second goblet of wine as they filed out.

“For what have you summoned us?”  The most senior of her priests asked, stepping forward to touch the blood at her feet and touch it to his mouth.

“Ancient power once again runs through the veins of my city.”  Zenrakk said, holding her glass to be refilled again.  “I can feel it flowing.”

“The Embrace has revealed the return of our strength!” One of the others exclaimed, taking a half step forward.

She flicked her eyes toward him and lashed out with her will.  His mouth opened in a silent scream as blood began to flow from his eyes.  “You were not recognized.”

She drank the rest of her wine and tossed the goblet aside to shatter on the floor.  “It moves through my city.  I can feel tainted power from other filthy sources that seek to dilute our perfection.”

“What does this mean Mistress?”  The senior priest asked, ignoring the other who was thrashing on the floor.

“The portents suggest this is a prelude to something greater.”  She said, “But they do not indicate that it is beneficial to us.  I have reason to believe it intends to consume us and leave us an empty husk, why else would they seek to dilute our purity?”

“Is there nothing to be done?”  He whispered.

“I shall grind myself to bloody meat before I allow interlopers to harvest my city for its power.”  She hissed, “Your task is to prepare for war.”

The roots of the Great Tree began to drip thick sap onto the floor the cavern.  “Ah.  So autumn has come at last.”  Jorda said, a tinge of sadness in her voice.

Above, the children began to watch in stunned silence as the leaves of the trees around them began to turn brown and fall to the ground.  Slowly, the adults began to rouse from their various states of intoxicated stupor.

“All that has been stored will soon be required once again my dears.”  Jorda’s voice rippled through the glade.

“Is this what we have been studying for all this time?”  Demanded one of the older children, fists on her hips as she glared around for the source of the voice.  “Or have I just finally gotten old enough that whatever is in the air around here is making me crazy?”

“Nah, I feel it too sis.” A boy with tangled hair said.

“Who you think it is?”  She asked, still looking about suspiciously.

“I dunno, but the leaves are falling off.”  He replied, “That can’t be good.”

“Prepare for changes, for after autumn comes winter and this one has been centuries in the making.”  Jorda said, “You are the future, take the seeds of knowledge and plant it.”

“Just who the hell are you?”  The girl demanded.

“Elenna, it is all right.  I am Jorda, the power that has kept you and those before you safe for years.”  She said, “You and your siblings are the product of generations leading up to this moment.  You will rise to the challenge my dears.  I have faith in you.”

“I thought gods were supposed to be the ones people had faith in.”  Elenna said, frowning.

“Yes.  That is what we all thought.”

The volcano that used to be the Machine City of Megin Dugr continued to burn, spewing a cloud of thick black ash into the sky.  Nothing moved within a hundred miles of it.

“Warleader!” Ralven Thraine, the Third Watch Battle Warden saluted crisply as he entered the room.

Elre Veleren turned from the tower windows where she was keeping an eye on the fighting below.  As General of the Nightwatch she was Operational Commander and needed to carefully mind the ebb and flow of the battle below.

“Ralven.  What is it?”  She asked, returning his salute before stretching to get a kink out of her back.

“The Battlemaster needs to see you.” He said, licking his lips nervously.

“Now?  There is a full on assault that needs my full attention Ralven.”  She looked back down at the battle and touched one of the gems on the railing, “Archer teams, focus on the fourth quadrant, they’re in danger of being pushed.”

“Right now.” Ralven said, “Battlemaster Torm Rektros needs to see you immediately.”

She blinked, “Oh.” A feeling of trepidation bordering on panic hit her.  “Can you keep an eye on things here please?”

“Of course Warleader.” He said, saluting again.  “I would consider it an honor.  Please hurry back.”

Elre moved to the center of the chamber and exerted an effort of will.  The floor collapsed into a spiral staircase leading down.  She walked swiftly down the stairs into the chamber where Torm resided.  His massive metal form creaked as he turned toward her.  As he did, she could see the entire wall behind him was pulsing with glowing azure light.

“Welcome Warleader.”  Torm said, “As you can see there is a slight anomaly.”

“What is that?”

“Da Ultor Ithrun.” He said, “The Final Sword is active.  The power the Gods gave our ancestors is ready to be unleashed.”

“Does this mean our mission is finally at an end?”  Elre asked, a smile tugging at one corner of her mouth, “That we’re finally going to be free?”

“Your responsibility to defend Malm Hrid will be reduced, although I do not believe it will be gone entirely.”  He said, “However you will need to continue without me.  The power that keeps me active will likely be depleted.  The purpose I was created for will be fulfilled.”

“Why are you telling me this?”  She asked, the feeling of trepidation returning.  “What aren’t you telling me?”

“You will take my place as Battlemaster.”  He said.  “You have the best qualifications.  Your instruction will begin now.”

Elre sighed, her hopes of a simple life crushed.  “As you say Battlemaster.”

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The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 34

Callindra awoke to the scent of roasting meat and the sound of pitched voices the next morning.  One was Reed’s and she didn’t recognize the other.  Reed was clearly not happy about something.  There had damn well better be tea if she was going to be awakened to this racket.  Perhaps even with a tot of brandy in it.

“I thought you bloody well said you could cook!  How inna nine hells didja burn TEA?  No, don’t bother putting more water in there, you’re gonna need sand to scour out the pot or it’ll always taste like burned socks.”

“I never cooked over a campfire before.”  The other voice responded haughtily, “I only used the stove in the kitchen.  This pot isn’t a teapot either, and I didn’t have any way to lift the pot off the flames without burning my hand.”

“So ya just let it BURN?”  Reed hissed, “By all the gods n demons I oughta – well never mind.  Go get sand and clean the charred tea leaves off the bottom.”

Callindra staggered out of her tent only wearing her smallclothes of cotton shorts and breast band with Shadowsliver in her left hand.  His chain was jingling merrily, but the rest of her face could have curdled milk.  She looked at Reed who was speaking to a young woman with hair in a complicated braid that fell halfway down her back.

Reed winced at her expression and the girl spun around, her rosebud mouth in a perfect ‘O’ of surprise.  She dropped into a curtsey, her braid nearly touching the ground as she did so.  Callindra let her gaze pass over the pair, only feeling a momentary pang at the girl’s hair in contrast with her own ragged locks that barely brushed her shoulders.  Without comment, she stalked past them to a small area of shoreline and began her morning meditation.

As usual, the Korumn drove the last vestiges of sleep from her mind and left her feeling sharp and prepared for the day.  Who was that girl and what the devil was she doing in their camp?  They had some serious distance to cover today if they were going to reach Daggerford in anything like a reasonable amount of time.