The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 47

“The aquatic ones aren’t as bad as some of their counterparts.”  Connor said with a shrug. “Not anything any sane person fights if they can avoid it, but I don’t think we can avoid it if your goal is to enable this river to flow freely once more.”

“If we could break that dam we could at least eliminate any advantage it has from being in its home element.” Reed said.  “I imagine it’s probably not as fast when it has to support all that weight right?”

“It’s also possible that it is drawing some kind of nourishment from the filth it swims in as well.” Kain said, “I saw similar things in Adbar’s filthy laboratories.”

“If the bodies are being fed to it, then we’d be in some pretty serious trouble if we end up where they do.”  Callindra said, “And I must admit that I don’t really relish the thought of being stuck in a wagon full of rotting bodies.”

“We would do well to prepare ourselves to exit at speed then once the wagons empty into the pit just in case.”  Reed said with a grin that made her question his sanity.

“You realize those wagons are probably full of other dangerous things, weapons, sharp splinters of wood and bone and the like correct?”  She said, frowning. “The more I think about this plan the worse it sounds.”

“Do you have any other idea how we’re going to get close enough without being seen?”  Vilhylm asked, “Unless you have a better idea or want to abandon the idea of trying to clean the mouth of the river I don’t see much of a choice.”

“No, I can’t escape the feeling that we need to clean the taint of the Taken from the land as we pass.”  Callindra said, running a hand through her ragged hair. “If we don’t, then what are we doing bothering to survive at all?”

The others looked at her for a couple of minutes.  It was the first time she’d voiced the growing feeling of purpose that Cronos’s death had planted in her heart.  Her fear, sadness and despair had brought her low, but she had realized what her only paths forward were. She had chosen to stand against the darkness and to ignore the other option.

“I’m done running.”  She said, “I’m done with hiding and being scared.  I’m going to start actually living again instead of just not dying.  It’s time we take a stand and fight back.”

“That’s what we’ve been doing.”  Vilhylm said. “Look at Woodfordshire.  That pace may have burned to the ground, but we saved the people.”

“It’s not enough to save the people.”  Said Callindra, “We need to save the land.  We need to find the Gods. We need to do something more.  I’m starting by making the river that flows from my brother’s grave flow clean to the sea.”

“We don’t have the best track record with Gods all things considered.”  Vilhylm said, but she could hear his wry tone that took the sting out of the words.  “I’m with you sister. To hell and back if need be.”

“I plan on staying as far away from any sort of damnation as I can for as long as possible.”  Reed said, “Because I also plan on engaging in as much sinful behavior as I can while I’m still alive.”

“Sounds like it will be interesting to document.”  Connor said. “The rise of a hero. Or the fall of one.  Or some mixture of the two.”

“I’m no damn hero.”  Callindra said, “I have no intention of fighting fair, being honorable or pulling my punches.  We’re going in hard and fast and not taking any prisoners.”

“What’s the plan then?”  Holt asked.

“We get in like Connor suggested, but be careful not to get stuck or discovered.  Whatever they’re doing with these bodies after they drop them off, we don’t want to be made a part of it.  Once we’re inside we must keep silent, find out what their purpose is if possible. All that is secondary to the goal of getting around the lake and finding a way to break the dam.”

She looked at Connor and raised an eyebrow.  “I don’t suppose you have any ideas on how we could go about doing that?”

“I might have an idea or two.”  The strange little man said. “Probably not safe but somehow I don’t think you’re worried about it being safe eh?”

“As long as it does more damage to the structure than it does to us and doesn’t kill us outright.”  She said. “Reed, you’ll take the lead. Holt you’ll cover us from behind. Vilhylm and I can quietly deal with anything that sees us before it can get away.  Connor, you save your magic for a last resort. No offense but you’re not as subtle as we might need, but you have plenty of power, and we might need that if this plan goes south.”

“It’s not much of a plan.”  Reed said, “But it ain’t like we got a lot of options.”

“I will keep anything that dares off your back until we get whatever information we can.” Holt said, his voice sounding quiet and assured in her ears.

Callindra took a deep breath and let it out slowly.  It was hardly enough to be called a plan at all, but she knew even this vague collection of ideas would be hard pressed to survive the first few seconds of a battle.

“All right.  The wagons seem to come every half candle mark or so.  Let’s see if we can get aboard then next time they come by.”  They settled down to wait.

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The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 46

“We are not going to get by that.”  Vilhylm said, staring down at the valley that was teeming with some kind of Taken industry.  Caravans of wagons loaded with some cargo led toward a pit carved out of stone on the near side of a lake.  The lake hadn’t been there the last time they had traveled this road; the river had been dammed up by huge blocks of stone presumably carved from the nearby cliffside.

“We need to free the river.”  Callindra said, not knowing exactly why, but understanding that this dam was a problem.  “It’s in the way and we need to get down to the ocean if we’re going to make our way to Starvale anyway.  I feel like it would do Jorda’s spirit good to know this river flowed free to the sea without this … whatever this is making it filthy.”

“I appreciate the sentiment.”  Connor said, fiddling with his goggles, “However, I suggest caution.  There are many Taken down there and they seem to be doing something with all those corpses.  I don’t see how we could get through with a frontal assault, but I also don’t see any way to get by without them seeing us.”

“Corpses?”  Callindra asked, “What corpses?”

“That’s what they’re carrying in those wagons.”  He said, gesturing at the caravan.

“Can you see what’s pulling them?  Who is driving them?” She asked, squinting and wishing she had a far-seeing glass.

Holt shaded his eyes and shook his head, “I can’t see very well here but it seems as though they’re being pulled by oxen.  I don’t see any drivers.”

Connor flipped a pair of lenses over the eyes of his goggles and started cursing.  “The god rotting Taken are doing something new. I hate it when the bastards start to get creative.  Nobody is driving the wagons; those oxen are Taken and seem to be obeying orders.”

“What use could they have for dead bodies?”  Callindra mused.

“It doesn’t matter.”  Vilhylm said firmly, “If they want them for something we should be planning to deny it of them.”

“I agree.”  Callindra said, “But we should know what they are doing before we get too deeply involved.  It’s bound to be dangerous and we have no idea what’s waiting down in that lake.”

“I have an idea on how to get in.”  Connor said, “But none of you are going to like it, especially after you find out what’s in the lake.”

They all gave him an expectant look as he removed the lenses from his goggles that must have allowed him to see the wagons in closer detail.  He sighed, finally giving them his attention. “All we must do is crawl in amongst the carrion. They’ll bring us right into their midst and once inside we should have some time to figure out how to deal with the dragon turtle that’s in that disgusting lake of filth.”

“I have read Tershan Fesrik’s account ‘At Peril to Thy Vitality’ which is the only tome of arcane knowledge about dragons I am aware of, and even if he exaggerates the danger twofold, I’m afraid a dragon of any kind is likely more than we can handle.”  Callindra said, feeling a touch of fear shiver down her spine.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 45

“I’m Ritt.”  The girl said, “Who’r you?”

“I’m Callindra.  Go get your blade and come meet my friends.  Bring anyone you think you need to.”  She said, as she gestured for Reed to follow her and walked past Ritt to leave the trees.  “Get any food we can spare ready.”  She said quietly to her friends.

Alanna tried to fuss over Reed’s injuries but he brushed her off.  “Later.  We gotta look strong for the damn kids.”

She looked up as the group of ragged urchins hesitantly emerged from the trees clutching weapons and giving them suspicious glares.  Something changed in her demeanor and she stood away from him with determination in her expression.

“I am Callindra Sol’Estin.  It is no small feat to lead a group through the last few years Ritt.”  She nodded in respect.  “I have more experience with this than I want to.   We have all lost friends and family.”

“She’s the strongest person I’ve ever met.”  Alanna interrupted, stepping forward with her hands open.

“So what?”  Ritt asked, “You wanna take over?  You wanna take us out?  What you got to make us?”

“I don’t want to take over.”  Callindra said, trying to keep her voice from betraying her discomfort at the thought.  “I have things of my own to accomplish and I can’t have an entire village with me.  Staying here will eventually mean you’ll all die Ritt.  I think your talents could be put to use somewhere else.  Just a few days away is an entire city of people who could use your unique ability to set traps.”

“I’ll take you there.”  Alanna said, giving Callindra a look challenging her to say no.

“Are you sure you can handle it?”  Callindra asked, arching an eyebrow.  “This is a huge responsibility.”

“We just went through that area.  The presence of the Taken should be much diminished and we’re only a fortnight out.”  Alanna said.  “I can do this.”

“Very well.”  Callindra said, carefully concealing her relief.  “I charge you with this quest.  Bring these children to safety.”

“I will prove that I am worthy!”  Alanna said with a defiant look.

“I trust that you will.”  She said.  “In fact I’m relying on it.  These kids are as well, and that should be your main focus.”

“Hey.  We ain’t agreed to nothing.”  Ritt said, interrupting their conversation.  “Who says I’m goin with this bint?”

“You will go.”  Callindra said calmly, “You will go because you don’t want to die and you want to eat hot meals every day.”

She turned and walked past Ritt.  The girl’s eyes followed her as she strode away.  “They gonna give us food?”

“We need to supply Alanna with as much as we can spare.”  Callindra told the others, “She’s going to have enough trouble as it is.”  Within a quarter candlemark they had gathered the supplies they were able to spare for Alanna and the children who had agreed to accompany her.

“You have my respect for taking this on Alanna.”  Callindra said, giving her a firm handshake.  “You’ve grown from the person you were when you first joined us.  I think you have the potential to be a great leader if you rise to the challenge.”

“I will do my best.”  She said simply, “When I see you again I will be ready to fight.”  Her eyes were focused over Callindra’s shoulder and she knew without looking that Reed was standing there.

“Good.  We will need you.”  Callindra said, releasing her hand and turning to go without a backward glance.