The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 51

“I am Callindra.”  She said, stepping forward with more confidence than she felt and holding out her right hand.  “My companions and I are attempting to rid as much of the Abyss from the Prime as we can. Seems as though we might have a common enemy in the Taken.”  Shadowsliver’s chain tinkled merrily where it hung from its shackle.

“Yes.  Names.”  The creature paused, becoming more still than any living creature could.  “Terevelen. I was called Terevelen once a long time ago.” He extended a hand that was all skin and sinew stretched tightly over bones and grasped hers.  Instead of being cold as she had thought it would be, his skin was so hot it nearly burned her.

“The Sol’Estin has chosen a successor.”  Terevelen grated, eyes shining from inside the hood and releasing her hand.  “I see. He has chosen his blood.”

“What?”  Callindra was startled out of her careful confident tone and struggled to regain her composure.  Of his blood? He must be referring to her magic. “Terevelen, we wish an alliance.”

There was a moment of hesitation once again, a stillness so complete that he could have been stone.

“You desire to ally?  With me?” Even his dead and dry voice, the disbelief was evident.

“Yes.  After all, you aren’t one of the Taken.  You aren’t from the Abyss. It matters little that I don’t agree with everything you do here, what matters most is that you are a child of this place.”  She met the azure pinpoints of his eyes evenly.  

“What do you suggest?”  He asked.

“A truce wherein we will attempt to help not harm one another.”  She kept his gaze and took a risk, “Also we will help you be rid of the Taken dragon that’s threatening your stronghold.”

Her daring was rewarded with a flicker of surprise from Terevelen.  A literal flicker, the bright blue of his eyes moved like a candle flame in an unexpected breeze.  “You guessed.” He stated.

“It was an educated guess.”  She said with a shrug. “You wouldn’t be bothering with these pitiful things if you had something like that at your command.  Or at very least you wouldn’t be making so many of them.”

“Ah.”  He said, “Very well.  How can I trust you?”

“We came in good faith without offering violence to you or your allies or your … creatures.”  She said, crossing her arms in a way that put Shadowsliver’s deadly blade on clear display. “I think a better question is why we should trust your word; but I will tell you why you will keep it.  If you do not we will destroy you.

“I am The Sol’Estin, Master of the Four Winds.  We were once known as The Brotherhood of Steel. My brother and I have witnessed the death of a God and yet we still live.  If you raise your hand against us whatever thin claim on life you still have will be forfeit. We came to offer you a choice.  Join us and live, oppose us and die.”

A wind swirled Terevelen’s robes despite there being no convenient place for it to enter.  It returned to tease the ends of Callindra’s ragged hair and make Shadowsliver’s chain tinkle merrily before fading away.

“And if I wish to be neutral?”  Terevelen rasped, not seeming intimidated in the least.

“There is no neutral.”  She said, “You will either join our enemy or simply be slain by them and thereby deprive us of a potentially useful ally.  Given your outlook on the living I would imagine you could be more sympathetic to any lie the Taken might tell you.”

Terevelen put his hands into the wide ends of his sleeves and inclined his head slightly.  “Show me you are stronger than my allies and the Taken then. Kill the dragon and we have an agreement.”

“I believe it was Jadev Blindfist that said ‘Competence is the seed of the crystal of Alliance’ wasn’t it?” Callindra asked, raising an eyebrow.

“I never read much of the irritable scratching of the warrior caste.”  He responded, “I found my calling early and have not strayed far from my true path of power.”

“But you speak with his voice nonetheless so at least you share his wisdom.”  She said with a grin. “I accept your challenge to our strength.”

Without hesitation, she turned and walked back the way she’d come, the others turned and followed behind her.  It took all her self-control not to look over her shoulder. 

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The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 50

They moved out into the tunnels, following the direction the goblins had taken cautiously.  Kain knew more of their language than Callindra did and she needed them to get close enough for him to hear what they were saying.

“They are talking about the dead ones and their master.”  Kain whispered to the others. “I’m not certain but it sounds like they mean the master of the dead ones.”  His tusked face turned down into a frown that made him look truly terrifying.

“You can’t mean a necromancer?”  She asked incredulously, “I thought the disciples of the darkest art had all been destroyed.”

“I don’t know, but they’re doing something with all these corpses.”  Kain said with a shrug. “It’s hard to sense anything other than the presence of the Abyss anymore, but I can feel something different here.”

Reed gave him a dubious look but remained quiet.  He seemed to be more worried about attracting the attention of goblins, or more likely the hordes of others he had imagined.  All doubt about what Kain sensed fled when they turned a corner.

The tunnel had been curving downward gradually the entire time and now it opened up into a chamber that had a massive circle of runes carved into the floor.  A wide pit that obviously contained hundreds of corpses dominated the left side of the room. There were a number of things moving about inside, however no sound came through the opening that led into it.  

The things were illuminated by a sickly yellow light that threw their rotting features and exposed bones into harsh relief.  They were clearly undead, and the creature that had raised and now controlled them was standing in the center of the circle, crackling energies leaping from his hands to the circle and then out to the pit.

Connor made a grunt of warning that halted them all and brought them back out of sight of the archway.  “Those are all runes of power.” He said, “I don’t know what else they do, but keeping sound from coming out is certainly one of their features.  Lets them do their foul experiments without anyone being able to eavesdrop.”

“They’re certainly raising the dead in there.”  Kain said, his eyes glinting with a harsh anger.

“They’re not Taken though.”  Callindra said, “I don’t like what they’re doing but they must be doing it to protect themselves.  I can’t imagine that even a Necromancer would be trying to eradicate life or whatever they were supposed to be after with the world overrun with Taken.”

“I don’t think we can afford to ask him.”  Vilhylm said, “He seems to have an army of these things.”

“If saving the world was easy everyone would be doing it.” Callindra said, “We can’t let leave the river polluted in any case which would certainly mean a fight.  We don’t have anything to lose by talking. Just be ready to fight if we have to.”

The others didn’t seem happy about it, but they didn’t argue.  “Connor, will we get hurt if we pass through this archway?”  

He flipped down another one of the lenses of his goggles and was quiet for a few moments.  “I don’t think so.” The strange little man said. “It will probably set off an alarm or make some kind of noise but I doubt it’ll actually do any damage.  The gobs went through after all, and they look alive enough.”

“I’m going first.  The rest of you stand behind me and look strong but not threatening.  If you can manage it.” Callindra took a deep breath and walked through the archway with Shadowsliver held at an angle up her left arm in what she hoped was a nonthreatening grip.

The smell of rotting flesh and the sharp tang that always hung in the air after a lightning strike were overpowering.  The creature finished its spell with a crescendo of chanting and the runes of the circle flared with dirty yellow light.  A rotting hand reached out of the mass of bodies in the pit and a dead woman in the remains of a dress dragged itself out and stood before the thing that had summoned it.

They locked gazes for a few heartbeats before the freshly created undead shambled out of the room through another archway.  The robed figure in the circle turned to them, focusing glowing blue eyes on them from the depths of a deep cowl.

“Ah.”  It rasped in a voice dry as autumn leaves.  “Visitors. How quaint.”

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 49

The stench of the rotting bodies was so strong it was almost a physical blow.  Connor had given them a paste that smelled vaguely of mint and something Callindra couldn’t quite identify to smear under their nostrils and that was the only thing that kept her from being violently ill.  They had all crept from their hiding places and leaped into the wagons as they rumbled along the road. The pace of the wagons and the possibility of being spotted had meant that they all had to move at once, and as a result they were spread over three different wagons.  

They rolled over a bridge made of thick wooden planks that spanned the fetid water backed up behind the dam and she carefully looked around, only moving her eyes just in case someone was watching.  They stopped and Callindra heard some ominous creaking and grinding noises from the frame of the wagon. Was it about to give way from the stress of the weight it carried?

Without warning it tipped sideways, dumping the entire contents unceremoniously into a pit.  She screamed in surprise, something she immediately regretted as the various fluids of the dead splattered into her face.  Although being on top was advantageous in case she’d needed to leap out, she now found herself to be in danger of being buried.

With reflexes born of fighting for her life for years, she flung Shadowsliver point first into the wooden side of the pit.  His tips didn’t dig in deep, but it was enough that she was able to swing closer to the wall and out of the way of the tumbling rush of bodies before the wood gave way.  A quick tug on his chain brought him back to her.

Callindra put her back to the wall, standing on the unsteady footing of the piles of corpses and watched as Reed used nearly superhuman agility to all but run up the torrent of corpses, using the body of a horse to push himself off in a leap that carried him out of the worst of it.  Kain was lucky and had been on the far side, so all he needed to do was choose his moment and jump. Holt managed to roll out of the way of most of the carnage. Connor had simply flickered out of his hiding place, and appeared next to Callindra, seeming calm and unaffected by riding in a wagon of the dead.

Vilhylm wasn’t so lucky.  When the wagon he was riding in tipped, he got caught in a tangle of limbs and vanished beneath tons of bodies.  Callindra bit back another cry of alarm and started pulling at the pile in a futile attempt to uncover him. Voices drew her attention; she couldn’t tell what they were saying yet, but they were getting closer.  They only had a few moments before whoever was approaching would see them.

“We have to stay against the wall.”  Connor said, putting his hand on her shoulder.  “Those goblins will see us otherwise.”

Now that she listened more carefully, Callindra could hear the harsh guttural sounds of the goblin language from above.  She knew a few words in goblin, most of them curse words, but managed to follow the general gist. They were here to keep the bodies flowing into wherever they were going.  She held a hand up to the others, signaling silence. After a few minutes and a few desultory pokes with some hooked sticks the goblins wandered off. The moment their footsteps faded from hearing, they all rushed to where they thought Vilhylm was buried.  

After a few tense minutes of frantic digging, Connor located one of Vil’s boots and after a few more they managed to remove enough of the corpses to get him free.  He was dazed from a rising knot where something had smashed his head on the way down, but after they got him up and moving he recovered fairly quickly.  

“That was not pleasant.”  He said, shaking his cloak in a vain attempt to remove some of the viscera that coated his clothes loose.  “What did I miss?”

“It looks like there are patrols of goblins that are doing something for whoever is in charge here.”  Callindra said, “Probably trying to make sure that these bodies are going where they’re supposed to I’d guess.  I didn’t hear enough of what they were saying to know more than that they’re not taking it too seriously and don’t like it very much.”

“Goblins don’t like doing anything for anyone but themselves very much.”  Vilhylm said, “But they won’t do it for someone who is weaker or less clever than they are.  While they’re weak as a individuals, they do have the ability to work together to do a lot of damage, so if there are any real number of them here whoever’s in charge must have some amount of power.”

“Do you think their leader is living or Taken?”  Callindra asked, looking at her companions. “I can’t imagine any living working for Taken, but then again we saw something similar when we found Holt and Kain.”

“It doesn’t matter.”  Reed said, “If they’re working to keep this river fouled then they’re the enemy.”

“It does matter.”  She said with more heat in her voice than she had intended. “If we’re going to survive, we need every living thing to work together to defeat the Taken.  There is no room for infighting Reed, if some living being is working to create this mess we need to find out why and explain why we need to put a stop to it.”

“If they’re doing THIS then I don’t think I want to meet them with anything but a knife point.”  Reed said, but his voice was subdued.

Callindra shivered and looked at the others.  “I’m not sure I want to either, but we need to try.  For all we know they’re just trying to keep these things from infecting more of the world.”

“A valid point Callindra.”  Kain said, “As misguided an attempt as it would be this could be an attempt to do good.”

“You have GOT to be shittin me.”  Reed said, looking at them in shock.  “They’re goblins! Only thing they’re really good for is the great curse words.  Besides, everyone knows that where there’s one of ‘em there’s a hundred or more. One’s no big deal, but fifty gobs with bows will take down just about anyone.”

“If they’re not Taken then they need to be on our side if we’re going to win.”  Callindra said grimly. “If you haven’t noticed the Taken seem to be winning.”

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 48

Durrak stared through the eyeglass, squinting his left eye shut against the glare of the rising sun.  The harbor was busy with crews intent on cleaning up the few remaining Taken who still shuffled about, mostly filling them with arrows or dispatching them with polearms.  The battle had been short and brutal, the Taken who had congregated around the docks were overwhelmed by the far superior numbers of warriors who had boiled up from the sewers.

“What do they be doing?”  He muttered, fumbling a cigar from his belt pouch.  

“That’s probably not advisable.”  Lorin said, frowning at the light yellow smoke that drifted lazily around the Dwarf’s head.

“They no will be seeing it.”  Durrak said with a shrug. “Surely they do be knowing the docks do be a lost cause.  The creature do hold sway over the deeps beyond.”

“They have some plan.”  Lorin mused, “Perhaps they’ve found a way to bypass the creature.”

“But what do be the purpose?”  Durrak asked, “They no do wish to leave and claim no to desire to be attracting attention, so why this?”

They watched the scene for a quarter candlemark before the answer was revealed.  A ship sailed toward the harbor under full sail. A white flag with a black hourglass containing red sand was its banner.  The Leviathan that waited to guard the deep water just outside the harbor writhed, making the surface ripple.

“They do be dead men.”  Durrak rumbled, “I no do be wishing that fate even on enemies.”

Before the beast could rise to shred the ship to splinters, it flickered.  There wasn’t any other word for it; the ship simply stopped being where it had been and appeared just outside the mouth of the harbor.  It was still under full sail and was piloted swiftly and expertly up to one of the long quays that extended out for deep water vessels. As before, instead of slowing gradually, it flickered and was abruptly docked with anchor and gangplank down.

“Thraingaar’s balls, what do that be?”  Durrak’s voice was a bit shaken. He was used to seeing displays of power, but this was beyond what he would have thought possible for any but the great adepts who had studied in this very city.  They used it so casually; not for a great last attempt to defend a city, but to dock a ship.  

“Disciples of Tido.”  Lorin said, his voice tight with tension.  “Dangerous heretics who twist reality about themselves regardless of the havoc it wreaks on others.”

“They do be what?”

“Tido is the goddess of time.”  Lorin said, still staring at the banner through his eyeglass.  “She does things. Terrible things. Her disciples get a measure of her power and they never use it for the benefit of others.”

“If they do be coming at the request of Ellen Eth we do be having problems.”  Durrak muttered, “Well, more problems.” He amended as the Elf raised an eyebrow at him.

“What possible reason would she have for bringing them here?”  Lorin mused, “Ellen Eth usually likes to be the most knowledgeable and powerful person in the room.  They obviously have power beyond what she can wield.”

“They do be bringing advantage that no do be available to her enemies.”  Durrak said, “It could be she no does know just how powerful their magic do be.”

Lorin rolled his eyes, “I’ve known you for over a month and I still get turned around by your way of speaking.  If they came at her request, I doubt she underestimated them. She is not the type of woman who makes mistakes of this magnitude.  If she brought them here, and it seems likely from the welcome they’re receiving, she has a plan for how to use them and for how to control them.”

“You do be right about one thing.  Ellen Eth no do be the type to make mistakes.”  Durrak puffed on his cigar and frowned at the harbor in thought.  “I do be having a bad feeling she do be using their power to fulfill her promise.”

“A bad feeling?  I thought you wanted to kill that dragon.”  Lorin said, “If she gives you the chance at Cerioth why would it be a bad feeling?”

“Because it do mean she do be taking steps to be making sure I do be successful.  Which do be meaning she do have plans for me after.” Durrak tucked the still burning stub of his cigar back into the pouch and as afterthought thrust a handful of dead leaves that had gathered in the corner of the balcony in as well.

“What’s your plan then?”  Lorin asked, leaning against the wall and crossing his arms.

“I do be intending to be making it clear that I no do be easy prey.”  Durrak said as a savage grin split his face. “If she do be bringing Cerioth here, I do be ready to be showing her exactly how dangerous it do be to be within reach of my Femurslicer.”