The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 61

Callindra followed the boy up the stairs, looking at the carved banisters, wood inlaid walls, and rich furnishings.  When they reached the top, she paused and looked over the railing to the floor below. The view took her breath away, the gentle light from the lamps made the polished wood glow and silk banners diffused the light in beautiful colors.

A gentle clearing of the throat made her turn from the view.  The young woman standing next to the door was wearing a perfectly starched and pressed uniform and appeared far more comfortable than the boy who had brought them here.

“My name is Rrayu, and I am here to serve you, My Lady.”  The emphasis was obvious, and Callindra gave her a closer look.  She stood primly with her hands folded before her and kept her eyes down.

“I don’t really need a servant,”  Callindra said, feeling awkward.

“Oh please My Lady, do not send me away,”  Rrayu said, her voice quivering just slightly with fear.  “If I have displeased you in some way I beg that you allow me to make amends.”

Callindra blinked, “I just met you, how could you have done anything wrong?”

Rrayu opened the door and gestured inside to a grandly appointed sitting room.  “If you will allow me to show you the suite?” With an inward sigh, Callindra entered.  

 “The gentlemen may avail themselves of the chambers there,” Rrayu said, indicating a set of doors to one side of the room. “I will show you to your wing My Lady, it’s just through here.”

Giving her companions a somewhat annoyed look and getting even more so when they grinned at her discomfort, Callindra allowed herself to be herded into a luxurious bedchamber.  The bed was big enough for the entire group to fit in if they slept close and was hung with silks that made it look like an exotic forest of flowering trees. The carpet on the floor was so thick her feet left a trail of impressions in it and the walls were hung with embroidered tapestries.

“We must get you out of those filthy clothes My Lady,”  Rrayu said, tugging on one of the buckles of Callindra’s leather greaves.  “The bath has been drawn, would you like rose scent or lavender?”

Almost before she knew what was happening, Rrayu had divested her of her boots and armor, tisking over not being able to remove Shadowsliver’s chain and fussing about the state of her clothes, skin, and hair.  The constant banter of her voice was distracting, a steady stream of polite requests and delicate comments that were all phrased in such a manner that refusing them would seem very rude. Rrayu ushered her into a tiled room with a steaming tub set into the floor.

“Lavender I think would suit you better.”  Rrayu was saying as she unnecessarily helped Callindra out of her clothes.  “This breastband really needs to be thrown away I’m afraid, are you certain this sword can’t be removed, it’s really too dangerous.”

Callindra sat on a stool and Rrayu poured hot water over her, sluicing the dried salt and dirt from her body before lathering a thick cloth with soap that smelled like flowers and scrubbing her gently.  After another rinse, she slid into the tub and lay back with a sigh of comfort.

“I will see what can be done about this mess My Lady,”  Rrayu said and began massaging oil into her hair. “Your hair looks like it was cut with your sword, who did this to you?”

“I was mistaken Rrayu.”  Callindra murmured, “I don’t know how I got along without you until now.”

“Yes My Lady, and if you are going to continue with this idea of being a Lady then you will need much more help,”  Rrayu said, her voice low. “The Lady Ellen Eth will have heard of your unorthodox display of power and will have certain expectations.”

Callindra blinked and focused.  “What?”

“She rules the Undercity with absolute authority.  News of your arrival will have reached her by now and I would expect her to be sending you an invitation soon, and you must be prepared if you wish to continue portraying yourself as a Lady.”

“This wasn’t my idea.”  Callindra said defensively, “I told those idiots to keep a low profile but they never listen.”

“It would be better, now that your sorcerer has shown himself in such a flamboyant manner, for you to be seen as powerful as well.”  She said, “Ellen Eth does not respect brute force, your swordplay may be impressive, but she can kill someone with a flick of her little finger.”

“Any idiot can kill someone.”  Callindra said, “It takes skill and power to keep people alive.”

Rrayu’s fingers stilled on her scalp for a moment, “Well said My Lady.”  She said, sounding like she meant the title for the first time.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 60

Callindra’s heart sank as she realized that none of them really had anything to trade.  There were a few useful odds and ends that they’d acquired over their travels, but the reality was much of it was important for their continued survival.  While they all dug through packs and pouches hunting for anything that she might take on trade, Connor was staring at the building and fingering something up his sleeve.  

“This place used to be beautiful.”  He said quietly. When he withdrew his right hand from the sleeve, he had taken his glove and a strangely delicate tattoo made of overlapping geometric shapes spilled out over his wrist.  He touched a portion of the railing carved with intricate flowers that had almost been worn completely away.

“I bet you used to look better before all yer hair got burnt too,”  Hagar said, obviously upset at the critique of the inn. “Me da built it after he quit bein a shipwright.  He did have a hand with a chisel, but times an war ain’t been kind.”

“Maybe I could… fix this for you?  In exchange for room and board for myself and my friends?”  He was lost staring at the building with a strange look on his face.  Callindra tried to catch his attention; she’d seen him ‘fix’ things before and this did not sound like a good way to stay inconspicuous.

“You fix the Fisherman and you cn stay as long as ya want boy!”  She laughed, “Drinks onna house and all!”

Connor closed his eyes and to their collective surprise his tattoo writhed off his arm, rivers of ink unfolding and winding about the building.  Wood warped and nails shrieked as the ancient boards folded and twisted like a massive blacksmith’s puzzle. After mere minutes, an immaculate four-story structure with bright green painted walls, polished brass trim.  Carvings covered almost every exposed surface showing a variety of aquatic scenes.

“How’s that then?”  Connor asked, shaking and sweating but with a triumphant smile on his face.  “I was fair certain this was old Dimgar’s work; never knew anyone else who would name their daughter Hagar.”

“You knew my father?”  She stood, staring at the inn with a stunned expression on her face.  “Boyo you and yours cn stay as long as ya want.”

“Nah, but I heard of him from my dad,”  Connor said, leaning on the railing and sliding his glove back on.  

“So much for keeping a low profile,”  Callindra said, giving Connor a look that mixed respect and annoyance.  “But at least we gained something from it.”

Connor grinned, “I’ll need the penthouse for my lady.”  He declared in a loud voice, “She’s been leading us in battle and on the road for weeks and is a bit worse for wear.  Our Callindra always gets a bit testy when she has to sleep in her armor.”

Reed took up the banter, “She’ll want a bath drawn with lavender soap and a silk robe to lounge in.”

“A pipe and tobacco should also be procured,”  Holt said, joining in without a hint he was having fun with her.  “She prefers Karalan Imperialis if you have it.”

Hagar opened the door with a flourish, “Only th best fer such a fine lass!”  She said grandly and then stared in shock.  

Inside, the Pickled Fisherman was set up as a hollow box with rooms on all sides that surrounded an open center.  A bar stocked with barrels and bottles stood on one side of the bottom floor and was offset by a large stage on the other.  The centerpiece of the room was a large dance floor made from mosaic wood tiles.  

“It’s all here.”  She whispered in amazement.  “Down to th food n beer.”

“I’ll bring them to their suite.”  A confused looking boy whose dirty face looked very out of place compared with his perfectly pressed and starched uniform. 

“Right.  Th top floor suite for th Lady.”  Hagar said, her voice faint. “Nothin but th best for Connor’s mistress.”

Callindra followed the boy up the stairs, looking at the carved banisters, wood inlaid walls, and rich furnishings.  When they reached the top, she paused and looked over the railing to the floor below. The view took her breath away, the gentle light from the lamps made the polished wood glow and silk banners diffused the light in beautiful colors.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 59

Callindra paused, feeling the tension of her friends behind her.  The creak of Holt’s bow. The random sparks arcing from Connor’s wands.  Vilhylm’s steady spear. Kain’s calm intensity. Reed’s barely contained violence.  Knowing they were with her, she lowered her sword.

“Very well, we would like to meet her.”  She said carefully.

“Excellent!”  He smiled disarmingly and turned to saunter back down the alleyway.  “Follow me, I will show you the wonders of the Undercity.  You look a tad road weary; you should rest, wash and change before meeting Ellen Eth.”

Glancing at her friends, Callindra tried to shrug nonchalantly.  “Well, we wanted to find survivors.  Let’s see who this Lady is.”

“I don’t like this.”  Holt said, arrow still on the string.  “This alley is surrounded by places that could easily be sniper nests.”

“It’s probably a trap.”  Reed said, checking the knives up his sleeves nervously.

“Maybe, but that soldier looked well equipped and well fed.”  Callindra said.  “I can’t argue with his assessment either. I’m tired of being hungry, tired and dirty.”

She squared her shoulders and followed him.  Halfway down the alley, Callindra could tell they were right, there were at least a half dozen pairs of eyes watching them from behind the glint of arrowheads.  It took all her willpower not to stare at them.

At the end of the alley Renfeld opened a door and then unlocked a reinforced iron door behind it with a key that hung around his neck.  The hallway beyond bristled with spear points in front and crossbows behind.

“Renfeld, you stain what’re you thinking?”  One of the soldiers holding a spear growled.  She had a scar that bisected her nose and left a thin white line underneath her right eye.  “You know better than to bring them straight in without the test.”

“We just saw them take on the giant squid and win.”  Renfeld laughed, “Angalus, you can’t be serious, not even the Tidoh maniacs fought their way in.”

“The test.”  Angalus hissed, pushing the spear forward.  “Now.”

“Sorry friends, she’s serious I’m afraid.”  Renfeld said, a pair of knives seeming to appear in his hands.  “You’re going to have to look into her eyes and not blink.”

Angalus held a small round mirror in her hand and muttered something under her breath.  A brilliant light shone from it directly into Callindra’s face.  Her eyes watered, but she knew what the test entailed and what failing it would mean. The light passed over the faces of all her companions, pausing for a few moments on each before finally being muttered to darkness again.

“I told you they were fine.”  Renfeld said with a grin that didn’t touch his eyes.  He didn’t sheath his daggers until Angalus grounded the butt of her spear and waved them inside with a curt gesture.

“Do this again and I’ll gut you.”  She said, giving him a flinty glare.  He ignored her, making the daggers vanish up his sleeves with a skill that rivaled Reed’s clever fingers.

Once they passed another door made of iron that only opened after another inspection and an exchange of passcodes they were assaulted with a riot of scents, sounds and sights that screamed of the everyday reality of a vibrant mortal city.  Hawkers cried wares, brightly painted buildings sprouted from the walls like giant mushrooms.  

It was like a sewer, but so much larger, and made of multiple tiers.  The walls were hundreds of times wider and taller than they should have been and had been altered to allow for the buildings foundations to gain purchase.  Some of the structures were obviously built after the city had been taken, but many of them seemed as though they had been transported from above. Some seemed to have fallen, walls cracked and patched as though from an impact, but others looked as though some agency of magic or industry of labor had moved them here brick by brick.

The structures were packed tight and a winding ramp wide enough for an ox drawn cart had been carved out of the wall.  Arcane lights shone on every street corner, high above the rooftops and smaller ones above the heads of many of the citizens.  Everywhere there were people talking, trading, eating, laughing and generally going about their daily lives. It was almost too much.

Renfeld stopped before a building that appeared to once have been grand, but was now long past its prime.  Peeling paint and broken boards adorned its porch and all but one of the windows was cracked. A sign hung from a rusted chain proclaiming it ‘The Pickled Fisherman’ in carefully stenciled letters.

“We should keep a low profile if we can to try and gather as much information as we can before we meet the Lady.”  Callindra said to her friends, trying to keep her voice low enough that their guide wouldn’t notice. He strode up the creaking steps and addressed the middle aged matron leaning on a stout oak staff and sipping from a tankard.

“Hagar, I’ve got some new faces for you.”  He said with a sweep of his arm that took in their bedraggled appearance.

“You always bring me the best surprises.”  She said, eyes roving over them with a mercenary gaze.  “Well new faces, whaddya have to trade me fer the privilege of staying under these venerable rafters?”