The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 41

“A remarkably charming man for all that you’re as blunt as a tree trunk.  I am willing to wait, and I’m sure you’re eager for me to produce the promised results.”  She cocked an eyebrow at him, “You have a plan to kill her I assume?”

“Of course.”  Durrak took a satisfying drag on his cigar, waiting until she she grew frustrated enough that her left eyelid twitched.  “I do be going to cut her filthy head off.”

“With that?”  She indicated his Gisarme with an elegantly painted fingernail.

“Indeed.”  He was starting to feel slightly apprehensive at her look of honest concern.  “Femurslicer do be quite efficient at removing stubborn problems.”

“May I?”  Ellen Eth reached out a hand and Durrak shrugged and flipped the weapon easily into the air, catching it just under the blade.  The flat smacked into the plate steel that cased his forearm and he held the heavy counterweighted end out towards her.

She gestured absently, and the weapon leaped from his hand, shedding its coating of dried viscera as it flew toward her.  It stopped inches from her hand, lifted to point at the ceiling and began to slowly pivot.  Her eyes began to glow a vivid purple and she shouted a word that shuddered with power.  Violet light streamed from her mouth as she mouthed a long incantation that seemed to be all one long word.

The blade began to chime like a struck bell and the entire shaft quivered in response.  Runes of Power reluctantly faded into view, climbing the haft in twin spirals that eventually blossomed into an intricate latticework on both sides of the blade.

“It may do.”  Ellen Eth said, sounding as though she was surprised and grudgingly respectful.  “Cerioth has grown in power over these last few decades though.  I will do my best to make sure you are not simply throwing your life away.”

When she fluttered her hands at his weapon as though shooing away an annoying fly, it streaked back toward him, spinning through the air with blurring speed as though it was in a rush to escape the embrace of her arcane Power.  If he hadn’t been ready for something like this, Durrak knew he would have suffered serious injuries.  He caught it only using the thumb and forefinger of his right hand.  Just because he could.

Ellen Eth beamed at him.  “Yes, you will fit right in here.”

Damn.  He hadn’t meant to show off, but her display of magic had been more intimidating than he thought it would be.  She was better than he’d anticipated too, and he’d known she must be powerful to be able to maintain her leadership over these people under these circumstances.  He had underestimated her.  He bowed slightly from the waist, politely returning her acknowledgement of his earlier point in their mental fencing match.

“I do be out of practice.”  Durrak said, dropping the still smoldering cigar butt back into his belt pouch.  “Also I never did be the most skilled at court games.”

“It has been a fascinating evening Lord Caverstorm.”  Her eyes twinkled, “Thank you for the entertainment.”

“I do be thanking you for your kind hospitality Lady Ellen Eth.”  He said carefully, “By your leave, we do be departing.”

She nodded graciously and both he and Lorin bowed, backing away three steps before they straightened and turned to leave the room.

“Durrak.”  Ellen Eth’s voice cut through the room with a snap of command that his training couldn’t ignore.  He stopped and turned to look back at her.  “I will hold you to your word.  Do not think you can take from me without giving my price.”

He shuddered, feeling icy fingers crawl down his spine.  If ever there was a question about keeping his bargain, he knew he had his answer.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 40

“I have many capable men and women to defend my borders, but the two of you are unique.”  She fixed Durrak with a piercing look, “The last scion of the last great House of Farenholm who is also the Battlemaster of the nearly unrivaled Drakanda style would be a jewel to shine in any ruler’s retinue.”  She twirled her goblet and it sent rainbows dancing about the room.

“Of course, the Prince of the Blackthorn Wood is a prize nearly as fetching.”  She gestured and wine poured itself into a pair of golden goblets and floated toward them as though carried by invisible hands.  Durrak took his and drained it.  Lorin brought the cup near his lips but didn’t bother making much of a pretense about drinking.

“So.  You do be a collector of nobility?”  Durrak asked, simply letting go of the goblet and watching with interest as it was deftly snared out of the air once again.  “How interesting, who else do be in your menagerie?”

“Most of my warriors are boring, if competent.”  She said, smiling as he took a drag on his cigar.  The tip flared an astonishingly bright turquoise and when he exhaled smoke, it was black from his left nostril and yellow from the right.  “You are not only dangerous, you are interesting.  Such strange and complex pasts.  Such diverse reasons for becoming the beings you are now.”

“I do be having a single purpose and being a bauble dangling from a Lady’s necklace no do be part of it.”  He looked at her steadily.  “It no do be my wish to be an ungrateful guest, but I no will be staying.”

“What is this purpose pray tell?”  She purred.  At a gesture his glass floated back to his hand refilled.

“The idiot wants to try and kill a dragon.”  Lorin snapped.  He put his hand out in a familiar gesture and Durrak snorted in amusement, handing him a smoldering cigar plucked from his belt pouch.  The Elf took a drag on it and blew a sparking cloud of green smoke into the air.  “But not just ANY dragon.  Not just any run of the mill dragon will do for Durrak Caverstorm.”

“Revenge.”  Ellen Eth said, her voice a caress.  “You seek the death of Certioth the Black?”

“That do be my first goal.”  Durrak said, surprised at her depth of intuition.

“Then we can make a deal after all.”  She sat back with a predatory smile.  “I can give you the chance to kill her as long as you agree to be part of my household guard in return.  If you join me, swear fealty to me and promise to obey my orders I can give her to you.”

“If you do be providing this you do be having my oath.”  Durrak said, “But I will no give anything until you do be fulfilling your promise.”

Lorin gave him a stricken look, but Durrak continued smoothly.  “We do be able to be working out details once you do be fulfilling your promise.”

Ellen Eth was staring at him with a small smile curling up the corners of her mouth.  It made her look less amused and more like a vixen who had just seen the mouse slip into a small hole but knew it could wait outside longer than the mouse could hide.

“You have not let your Courtly wit wane over the years Master Dwarf.”  She said, sounding mildly annoyed, a tone he knew was precisely calculated to make him nervous.

“I do be but a humble warrior Lady.”  He said, bowing low to the creak of his war harness and the soft pattering of dried blood raining down on the pristine marble.  “I no do be knowing of the ways of nobility.”

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 39

As it turned out, Ellen Eth kept them waiting for a half candlemark.  Refreshments were brought, and although wine wasn’t really his preference Durrak sampled it.  One didn’t just waste alcohol.  It was dry and a little sour but had overtones of plumbs and hints of some kind of spice he couldn’t quite recognize.  It went quite well with the sharp cheese and freshly sliced apples that came alongside on the platter.  Lorin didn’t drink or eat anything.

When the door finally opened, it revealed a room with a polished marble floor that gradually widened and rose to a tiered dais.  A wide wooden chair with plump crimson cushions rested there and a stunningly beautiful human woman lounged on it.  Raven black hair was arranged in a way that was likely intended to look careless and she was holding a crystal goblet with a golden base negligently in her left hand.

The clothing she wore was obviously perfectly tailored to her, a long flowing gown of dark green with so much golden thread embroidery that the color was difficult to see along the sleeves and the neckline.  A choker of woven gold held a string of large rubies that shone with inner light and rings adorned every finger.

Durrak noted that none of the guards or attendants were permitted entry.  It was either an overconfident boast or a sign of power and control.  Noteworthy either way.

“So, you are the fabled warriors who are leading the daring evacuation of Starvale Above.”  She purred, “It is an honor to have you visit my humble hall.”

“I do be hearing that declining an invitation from your august self do be hazardous to one’s health.”  Durrak said, allowing cigar smoke to curl from his nostrils as he spoke.  “What do be the purpose of wanting to meet us?”

“Ah, a blunt Dwarf.  What a cliché.”  A touch of mischief twinkled at the corners of her mouth, but her eyes stayed cold and calculating.  “I have brought you here my dear Battlemaster Caverstorm of the Drakanda style because I intend to attempt to recruit you.”

Lorin’s breath hissed in through his teeth involuntarily and the Lady’s attention switched to him.  “My dear Elven Lord, I have not forgotten about you.”  She said, the slightest edge creeping into her voice.  “When you left without hearing my offer last time I was most put out.  It really was rude Lorin.”

“What do you be recruiting for and what do you be offering in return?”  Durrak asked, casually leaning on Femurslicer.  The ichor that clung to his armor had mostly dried and now was flaking off onto the perfect surface of the floor.  Durrak supposed he should feel sorry for the servants who would be required to clean it up, but that wasn’t the point right now.

Ellen Eth focused on him again and smiled in a way that once would have made his heart ache for his lost family.  Now all he could feel was contempt for the poor attempt to appeal to a base nature he had cut out of himself.

“The world above is no longer habitable for mortals.  We must take refuge in the few hidden places that still exist and defend them against any and all comers.”  She gestured with her wine glass and the red liquid inside sloshed over the rim.  Before it could soil the thick rug or even stain her pale white skin she frowned slightly in concentration and it reversed course, returning back to the glass.

It was a minor, but very obvious and casual display of arcane power.  Here was a woman who could afford to waste Weave on household tasks, even when alone in a room with a pair of very dangerous and accomplished warriors.  Her reaction time was also quite admirable, even if it was likely contrived.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 38

“Oh thank the gods!”  Alanna started to collapse, but caught herself.  She wiped and sheathed her knife carefully before bending to check on Reed.

Callindra watched her, trying to keep herself from shoving the girl aside and tending to Reed herself.  She’d have been almost as likely to kill him as to help.  It was better to wait for Kain.

Tears pattered onto Reed’s bloody face, leaving runnels in the blood.  “He was so brave.”  She said, her hands slipping as she tried to staunch the flow of blood from a wound.  “They just came out of nowhere and he didn’t even have a proper weapon but he killed one with the kitchen knife.  Just when the others were about to catch us he did something and this light blasted holes in three of them but there were so many.”

Kain walked calmly out of the bushes and knelt next to them.  “He will live child.”  He said, passing his hands over Reed with practiced motions.  “I have not arrived too late.  Reed is young and has not lost too much blood yet.  It was a near thing, but the spark of his life is strong.”

Alanna sat down hard, still shaking with emotion but looking less desperate.  She watched with wide eyes as Kain coaxed the power of the goddess of nature he revered to stitch together the many wounds on Reed’s body.  The rigid tension of pain relaxed from his face and his breathing steadied.

“This is what it means to be out here.”  Callindra said in a flat voice.  “You did fairly well for your first fight.”

“I didn’t do anything.”  Alanna said miserably, “I just stabbed one of them after Reed … fell.”

“You didn’t die.  That’s more than most people can say about their first fight.”  She pointed to a long shallow gash on the girl’s arm.  “You should let Kain see to that.”

With a squeak of surprise, Alanna’s eyes rolled back in her head and she slumped gracefully over on her side in a dead faint.

“We don’t have time to send her home.”  Callindra muttered to herself, “But she’s not going to last long here and now she knows it.”

Kain put a foul smelling ointment on Alanna’s arm and bound it with a clean bandage.  “This is superficial.  She will have a scar of course, but I can’t waste the energy on vanity.”

Callindra turned her gaze to Reed, eyeing his face that looked so much more like the boy he was when he was sleeping.  “Idiot.  Thirteen years old and thinking he can take on the world.”  By all the gods and demons how was she going to live with herself when she led them all to their deaths.

“Let me see to your wounds as well.”  Kain said, a touch of wary empathy in his voice.  “Some of these are quite serious.”

Callindra blinked, remembering that she had only barely survived the last battle herself.  “Right.  Thank you.”

“Remarkable.”  Connor said.  He had flipped down his goggles and his eyes were magnified and seemed to swirl.  “I have heard stories, but I’ve never actually seen someone wielding that kind of power before.”

As always, she was utterly exhausted and ravenously hungry after Kain’s healing magic, but she forced herself to focus.  “We are heading out.”  She said looking at the assembled companions.  “This is Connor, he’s not a Taken and that’s good enough for me for right now.  I want to be miles away from here before the sun is above the treeline.”

“You are hardly in any condition to travel.”  Vilhylm said, sounding halfhearted in his resistance.

“I am leaving whether or not you have the sense to come.”  Callindra snapped, “The amount of noise we made and the level of magic we expended here will have drawn the attention of every Taken for a ten mile radius or more.  I want to be gone in the next ten minutes.”

“I will carry Reed.”  Alanna said, her eyes daring them to deny her.

“If you can’t keep up, pass him off to someone stronger.”  Callindra said without rancor.

With that she began to strike her tent and pack her bedroll.  If she didn’t keep moving she knew she’d fall asleep.