The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 44

Callindra spun Shadowsliver and lifted a spell from his length.  Her feet lifted from the ground and she simply strode after him, keeping her eyes alert for the trip lines the Winds had shown her.  Reed was darting from tree to tree, keeping off the main trails.

Movement above caught her attention, but she didn’t have the chance to warn him before a pair of small figures threw a weighted net down on top of him.  Instinct made her leap sideways in the air and slash above her, cutting through the trailing edge of a second net meant for her.

The figures were running along narrow catwalks and tightropes, making much faster progress than she had anticipated.  Although she wanted to give chase, Reed was the priority.  The winds blasted her down to her imprisoned friend.  Two swift swipes of Shadowsliver parted the thick rope of the net and Reed sat up cursing under his breath.  His first act was to pull a pair of daggers and scan the trees.

“Did you see where they went?”  He asked, running his tongue over a swollen lip.  “Ain’t gonna fall for that shit again but they got more tricks or I’m a bald halfling.”

“We’re going.”  Callindra said, looking around at the trees.  “We don’t need to get more involved here.”

“What?  I thought you were all about finding out if this was survivors or what?”  Reed frowned, “I got bruises fer nothing?”

“They have things well in hand it seems.”  She said, “As much as I’d like to offer assistance, I don’t think we can help them without causing more harm than good.”

As she spoke, Callindra watched the branches above out of her peripheral vision, noting the leaves moving against the wind.  Keeping the smile off her face she continued, “They likely don’t need the food and protection we could offer, it seems as though they’re quite able to defend themselves from the hordes of Taken all on their own.”

Reed opened his mouth to reply but saw her eyes move from the trees to him and give a sly wink.  “Yeah.  Obviously they don’t need our help.” He said, giving her a considering look.

They turned to go and followed the path Reed had taken on the way in, both of them taking special care not to look around.  Callindra exchanged a glance with the boy next to her, knowing she shouldn’t be surprised that he had picked up on her plan so swiftly.  He gave her a wink that was only slightly spoiled by the bruise forming with alarming swiftness on his cheek.

Neither of them were surprised when a shape dropped from above and landed with a flourish of a wickedly sharp looking short sword.  “You ain’t deadmen so we ain’t killin ya but but you ain’t leavin.”  The girl said with a grin.  “We needs more blood.  You got good blood.”

She signaled and a full dozen small shapes revealed themselves in the trees above, more than Callindra had thought were there but not as many as she feared might be.  Standing tall, she gave Reed an almost imperceptible shake of her head before giving her full attention to the youngster in front of her.

“I do not wish to harm you or your friends, but we will not be staying.”  Callindra said, casually flipping Shadowsliver so that his length lay up her own arm instead of pointing at the girl.  “We have business elsewhere.  We could possibly point you in the direction of a settlement that could shelter you from the Taken though.  That’s what we call what you refer to as ‘deadmen’ I think.”

“You ain’t goin nowhere.”  The girl said, the tip of her sword not wavering a finger width.

“I do not wish to hurt you.”  Callindra said, “But I will if I must.”  Shadowsliver moved like a living thing in her hand, lashing out in a complicated series of twists that sent her opponent’s blade flying from her hand and ended with his razor sharp edge laying against the girl’s neck.

“How’d you do that?”  The girl asked, her eyes wide.  “You a witch?”

“I do use the Weave, but that was only my skill as a swordswoman.”  Callindra said with a vulpine grin.  She took her blade from the other’s skin.  “Now go and retrieve your blade.  I have people for you to meet.  But first tell me your name.”

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The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 43

“Everyone up!”  Connor was yelling, “Up and out!  It’s almost run out!”

“What?”  Callindra had sprung to her feet in her smallclothes and was looking around with her naked sword in her hand.

“When the spell stops this is going to become a wooden model again.”  He explained as though to an infant, “I would have thought that would be perfectly obvious.”

“Oh god’s balls.”  Reed gulped, grabbing his things and running toward the door.

The others were slower to respond, Vilhylm pausing to grab the last loaf of bread off the table and Alanna trying to pull on her clothes.  Callindra had already exited the front door when Alanna was ejected forcibly, obviously having been thrown out half clothed and Connor was running on her heels.  The instant he left the door, the structure seemed to twist around itself in an unsettling way and was abruptly the crude wooden model in the center of a perfectly round area of cleanly swept ground.

“That was too close.”  Connor mused, scratching at a healing burn scar on his forehead.

“Connor.”  Callindra said calmly, ignoring Alanna’s furious shouts as she tried to pull her skirts down from where they were tangled about her body.  “Next time you should tell us all the details before something like this.  We could have been killed when that spell ended.”

“Oh.”  He blinked a few times and adjusted his strange glasses on his nose.  “Right.  I should have thought of that.”  He took a few steps around the perimeter of their camp, inspecting the line and making notes.

Callindra performed an abbreviated Korumn to stretch her muscles and shake off the last of her lethargy while the others set about getting a brief breakfast.  She was dimly aware that Vilhylm was complaining about the bread having vanished the moment he had walked out of the magical inn.  Her body and mind were in tune with the winds that gently moved through the grass and around the small copse of trees nearby.

She could feel the eddies as they swirled about the tree trunks, through the branches and over small pits that were covered with thin twigs and leaves.  The breezes found ropes tied like giant rabbit snares, logs suspended in place with small sticks as triggers.

Her eyes snapped open and she called to the others, “This entire grove is full of traps and snares.”  She said quietly, “Although this is dangerous, it’s also a sign that there are living people here.  Taken don’t make traps.”

“If we set them all off getting through won’t we make them vulnerable?”  Reed asked as they walked up to one of the crude traps.  Despite its rough construction, when he peered through the thin wooden poles that covered the pit there were several bodies of Taken on the bottom impaled on thick wooden spikes.

“Looks like they’re certainly needed.”  Vilhylm said wryly.  “Reed, can you make it through without setting them off?”

“He’s not going alone.”  Alanna said just as Callindra was opening her mouth to say the same thing.

“You can’t come with.”  Reed said.

“I’m coming.”  Callindra said, in a voice that brooked no argument. “The rest of you stay here and guard our backs.  Signal if you see anything coming.”

“No offense, but you’ll only slow me down.”  Reed said slipping around the pit trap and into the trees.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 42

After three grueling days of travel, Callindra was finally able to slow down.  The hordes of Taken that had responded to their brief and explosive battle had been whittled down to a manageable number and finally been wiped out.  She had seen the last of them fall under Shadowsliver and they had backtracked for three hours to make sure there weren’t any stragglers on their trail.

“I’ll take the first watch.”  She said, in a voice that brooked no argument.  “Holt you have second watch.  Vilhylm can take third and Reed the fourth since you’re always up early.”

Connor gave her a questioning look and cleared his throat awkwardly.  At her nod he made a small bow that she was now used to as his sign of deference.  “I have been working on something that might assist us in our rest.  Now that we have the time to try it without interruption I thought perhaps I would attempt it.  By your leave.”

Callindra was wary of this; Connor’s experiments did not have the best track record.  He noticed her hesitance and laughed, “No, this won’t be like the last time, I put more effort into this one and I found the bones of it in an actual book of magic.  I had to fill in some of the blanks of course since the book was damaged by fire but I am quite sure this one will work.”

“You can try it by yourself.  Away from camp.”  She said, still remembering how narrowly they’d escaped his attempt to create a meal out of thin air two days ago.

“No everyone needs to be close or they won’t be able to get inside.”  He insisted, “I’ve tried it already once on a small scale.  I’m confident it will work when done bigger.  It will give us a save place to rest.  We can all rest.”

Although she was sure she would regret it, Callindra called everyone in.  “Connor has a spell to keep us safe for the night, but it’s a new spell so I can’t make any guarantees.  If it works we all get to sleep without posting a guard.”

“If it doesn’t work we’ll all sleep forever.”  Reed grumbled.  “Surely you don’t want to risk another mishap.”

“I’m too tired Reed.”  She said gently, “We’re all too tired.  If we try to post watches and fall asleep instead of being vigilant it won’t be much better.”

“Wait you fool!”  Reed squeaked, and they all realized that Connor had begun his spell already.

The strange little man took a small crudely made wooden house from his pocket, set it on the ground and grabbed the corners of the roof as he finished his spell.  With a grand flourish, he finished the spell and straightened, flinging his arms up and out.  The shelter responded to his gesture, growing nearly to the size of an inn, complete with swept courtyard, windows and smoke coming from the chimney.

Connor laughed and gave them all a crazed grin.  “It worked!  IT WORKED!”  He was all but jumping up and down.

“What good is a wooden house?”  Reed objected, “They’ll tear it apart.”

“He has a point Connor.”  Vilhylm said, staring at the structure with a dubious expression on his face.

“Hold my hand and back up.”  Connor said, still smiling a madcap smile.

Vilhylm frowned but did as requested and gasped in astonishment when his feet passed the clean area of the courtyard.  He was shaking his head as he came back within the circle.  “I couldn’t see it.  My arm vanished into nothing.”

Connor laughed again and danced a little step in place.  “Come inside.  It’ll only last for about six hours, but we will be totally invisible from anything outside.  Keep in mind if you actually leave you won’t be able to get back in.  The magic makes things avoid it.”

“This is incredible.”  Callindra said, “Amazing.  I can’t believe it.”

“That’s not even the best part!”  He said opening the door.  A table was spread with food and there were neat bedrolls along one wall and by all the gods and demons there was a big copper tub in front of the fire.

The food didn’t quite taste right, but the fresh fruits and vegetables that the unmistakable feel of fresh fruits and vegetables even if they were unfamiliar flavors.  The bread was almost sweet and the meat seemed like venison but it was prepared in strange spices but none of these things kept everyone from eating their fill and more.

Callindra had passed by the food other than to grab something that looked like an apple with golden skin in favor of immediately stripping and bathing.  The strange fruit tasted sweeter than anything she had ever eaten and shocked her by being slightly intoxicating.

After everyone had eaten, they all retired to the clean bedrolls.  Despite his misgivings, Reed was the first to drop off into sleep.  Alanna stayed awake, staring at the door with wide eyes until Callindra told her to get some rest.  It took her longer than she hoped but not as long as she feared to sleep.