The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 69

“She’s barely left that room for two days.”  Vilhylm said, “I can’t imagine something’s going to have significantly changed in such a short time.”

“Maybe not, but I ain’t gonna be the one to mess up my part,”  Reed said, helping himself to a glass of wine.  “We’re all supposed to be escorts.  You’re all guards of one nature or another; that sounds easy enough to me.  I gotta be like a runner or something; hopefully, I can chat up some of the servants.”

“None of us have to change who we appear to be.”  Holt said, “She is undertaking a much more difficult task.”

“I’m certainly not a guard.”  Connor said, “I should probably just stay behind so I don’t mess anything up.”

The door to Callindra’s room swung open, and a vision in forest green silk with a matching handbag hanging from her right wrist on a delicate silver chain swept into the room.  The lines of her dress made a gentle hourglass shape, the bodice and skirt accentuating her figure.  Velvet slippers peeked out from the gold-embroidered hem.  Subtle touches of color highlighted her cheekbones and the seafoam green of her eyes.

“You shall indeed remain here and employ your arcane talents to study our situation further.”  She said, “The rest of you are to attend me at Lady ‘Orien’s ball.  Accord yourselves well and do not embarrass me.”

They all stared at her in momentary shock.  Reed was the first to find his voice.  “Callindra?  You actually look like a Courtier.  Gods and bloody demons, you SOUND like a Courtier.”

“Language Reed.  Holt, please close your mouth before you catch flies.”  The corner of her mouth quirked, and she started to laugh.  “By the nine hells, you should see your faces!”

“You’ve worked very hard, and the results are plain to see.”  Vilhylm said with a smile, “I didn’t think you could accomplish so much in such a short time, you will do us all proud.”

Callindra gave him a hug, a slight flush coloring her cheeks.  “I feel so bedamned awkward.”

“You look the part quite well,”  Holt said, seeming to recover from his shock.  “Hiding your sword in your magical bag is brilliant.”

“We need to be ready to depart shortly.”  She said, falling back into character.  “Please make yourselves presentable.”

Callindra moved to a table and sat primly, gesturing for Rrayu to bring her refreshment.  The others looked at her for a moment before realizing she was serious.  They left to make final preparations before presenting themselves for Rrayu’s appraisal.  She made minor adjustments, straightening and smoothing before sighing that they’d do.

“My Lady, I have asked for transport to be brought, they should be out front now,”  Rrayu said, giving Callindra a final once over.  “Gods all bless.”

The Angel Murders – Father Henderson Part I

“I just wish I could make more of a difference.”  The woman on the other side of the confessional booth said, “Every day I see so much suffering and pain, but I can’t do more and it tears me up.  So many of the children in my school are poor and in need.”

“We all do what we can and nobody expects more than that from us.”  He said, “That you feel this remorse truly shows that your heart is in the right place.”

“There has to be something more that I can do.”  She sniffed. “I just feel so hopeless.”

“There is something you can do Miss Fitsimmons.”  He said, kindness and understanding in his voice. “You can pray.”

“Thank you, Father.”  She said, “Coming here always makes me feel better.”

“I’m glad to have been able to take some of the burden from your shoulders.”  He said, “You take care now.”

Ralph Henderson walked her to the door and closed it behind her.  He knuckled the small of his back with a sigh. When he was walking back to the rectory he saw something in the confessional.  It was a small black book with a weathered black cover.

“She must have dropped this.”  He muttered, picking it up. “It looks old.”

Ralph carefully opened to the title page.  It was a handwritten journal written in Latin and dated the First of May in the year 299.  The name gave him shivers. The author was Athanásios Alexandrías, also known as Saint Anthony, the father of monasticism.  

Bethany wouldn’t mind him reading it if he was careful.  He would call her in the morning and get it back to her. Where had she gotten such a priceless artifact?  With shaking hands, he sat in a pew and began to read. All questions vanished as he began to read the ancient words.

It was midnight by the time he’d reached the last page.  He closed the book and set it carefully, shocked at what he’d read.  Perhaps Bethany couldn’t read Latin; the solution she needed was right here in this very book.  

What he discovered was a way to contact a divinity and ask a favor.  He assumed that it had to be a divinity, an angel perhaps, as there was no way that a Saint would write about anything else.  Wiping a hand over his forehead, Ralph came to his decision.

“I’ll do it.  For the children.”

The Angel Murders – Jack Part IV

Miss Fitsimmons smiled at Jack as he walked into the library, “Hello there Jack, I haven’t seen you in a few weeks.  You’re looking well, how are things?”

Jack gave her a wide smile.  “Things are great. I just wanted to get a little time to myself.”

“I’ve seen you surrounded by friends.”  She said, “I’m glad things are finally turning around for you.”

“I never thought they’d be more annoying as friends than when they were hassling me.”  He said, “But turns out even friendly people can get on your nerves when they won’t leave you alone.”

“True, well go ahead and find respite in the stacks.”  She said, “I won’t bother you, dear.”

“You know, somehow I feel lonelier now than I did before.”  Jack shrugged, and walked back into the tall bookshelves.

‘How can you feel alone?’ Lorethla asked, ‘I am with you always.’

“Sure, but I can’t see you or touch you anymore.”  He said bitterly, “I know those people don’t actually like me.  They’re just doing what I say. You’re the only one who really likes me and I can’t even hold your hand.”

“You mortals are so tied to this place.”  She said, “There is so much more beyond the prison of your meat body.  The things I could show you if you were to give it up.”

Jack shivered.  Her voice was full of terrible hunger and desire that made his pulse race.  He couldn’t imagine what could engender such an emotion. He wasn’t sure he wanted to.

The smell of old books was familiar and comforting.  Jack drew in a deep breath through his nose and caught another scent; something like iron filings or rust.  It instilled a primal fear that seemed ingrained in his very bones.

‘Jack!  Run!’ Lorethla all but shouted in his mind.

He responded without thinking about it; sprinting toward the emergency exit at the back of the library.  Something was coming, and it smelled like old blood. The fire alarm started screaming when he slammed the door open and pelted out into the snow-covered parking lot, but Jack didn’t stop running.

The sounds of the city ceased and their absence made his heart sound like rolling thunder.  The gently drifting snowflakes stopped in midair all around him and Jack looked wildly around, nearly tripping over his own feet.  A figure floated behind him on huge white wings

“Jackson Alden Jones.” The angel said, “You have allowed one of the Ones Below to corrupt your soul.  You have brought it into the World Between and used the power it has granted for your own selfish ends.”

He tried to run faster, to escape into a small copse of trees, but when he was crossing the street, pain exploded in his back.  Jack stumbled and his voice joined Loethla’s in a scream of agony. The angel floated in front of him, his beautiful face smiling down.  Blood coated each of his index fingers.

“Now you face judgment.”  The angel spread his arms and more pain wracked Jack’s body as blood was torn from the two wounds on his back.

Jack’s body landed in the middle of the street, the bloody wings falling around him to paint the snow red in the precise shape of wings.  

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 68

“What was his name?”  Rrayu asked, eager to be helpful.  “Perhaps I know him.”

“He didn’t introduce himself.”  Callindra said, “Now I understand why.  He was above average height, wore clothing that usually had armor over it, and carried his longsword as though it was a part of his body.”

“What color were his eyes?  His hair?”  Rrayu asked, “I could narrow the number of people, but he sounds like one of the city guardsmen.”

“I have no idea what color his eyes were; I think his hair was black or dark brown.”  Callindra said, “Why would I notice things like that?”

“A Courtier needs to look at all the subtleties every person shows.  Their hair color and style can reveal much about who and what they are.  Their eyes can give the lie to any tale they may try and spin.  The cut and fit of their clothes can speak to their ability to choose their servants and how they treat them.”  Rrayu sighed, “But I suppose you are new to the ways of court.”

“Sounds like I have a lot to learn in the next two days, then.”  Callindra said, “I accepted a formal invitation to attend a ball and it’s up to you to make sure I don’t make a complete ass of myself.”

“Two days?”  Rrayu squeaked, “I cannot possibly even get you a proper gown in two days!”

“I’ll try to be the best student I can be, but I don’t know the first thing about being a Courtier.”  Callindra said, “I didn’t choose you as a servant exactly, but I’m choosing to trust you to with this.  Let’s see how good my judgment is.”

“Get out of those clothes immediately,”  Rrayu said, rising and moving briskly to the closet.  “If you wish to pass as a Lady, you will need to spend every waking moment getting accustomed to stays and skirts.”

“Shadowsliver sort of ruins the image though, doesn’t he?”  Callindra smiled lovingly at her sword.  “I’ll never pass for a Lady I’m afraid.”

“The only thing I have ever seen a Lady carry is perhaps a small bag,”  Rrayu said, gesturing to Callindra’s coin purse still tied to her belt.

“Ah, then perhaps I can simply carry a small bag.”  Callindra grinned, picked up her coin purse and thrust Shadowsliver inside.  Despite the sword being many times longer than the pouch, it vanished into the magical space, disappearing from view.

“My Lady, that is purely inspired,”  Rrayu said, relief evident in her voice.  “Now out of those clothes while I select you some appropriate after-dinner attire for you.”

With a sigh, Callindra began removing the garments she’d worn to the common room.  Rrayu began pulling garments out of the closet, muttering to herself and discarding them one after another.  She finally brought a set of strange looking undergarments, a dark blue dress with a cream bodice.  Matching tights and slippers completed the outfit.

“That’s a bit elaborate for me in my own sitting room, isn’t it?”  Callindra asked, looking at the pile of fabric.  “I’m not expecting any visitors.”

“This is the simplest and least constrictive garment that still meets the requirements of propriety.”  Rrayu said, “I’m going easy on you because I don’t think you’re ready for something more.”

Callindra stood and allowed Rrayu to help her into the tights, strap the stays over her chest and tie her into the dress.  The restrictive skirts forced her to take much shorter steps than usual and the pressure of the stays and bodice made it impossible for her to take a full breath.  If someone attacked her, she would be unable to defend herself properly.

“I don’t like this.”  She said, “I can barely move.”

“You can move as much as you need to.”  Rrayu said calmly, “A Lady’s battlefield does not require the use of swords.”

Callindra tried to sigh but found the bodice wouldn’t allow it.  She tried to flop down in a chair but found that the rigidity of the stays kept her back straight, and she ended up awkwardly perching on the edge.  The extra heat generated by the layers of clothes combined with her nervousness made her feel like she would sweat to death.

“I can’t do this.”  She said, clutching the coin purse that held her sword.  “I’m too vulnerable.”

“You have attendants who will deal with your personal safety Lady Sol’Estin.”  Rrayu said, “You must rely on them for that purpose and they will depend on you for defense against the politics of court.  I will do as much as I can to provide you the proper weapons to go along with your armor.”

Callindra let out her breath and tried to imagine that the clothes she now wore were armor, that the way she spoke to others would be like sword strokes.  “The first Korumn is of the Breath.”  She said, breathing gently in through her nose and out through her mouth.  Her shoulders relaxed as a feeling of calm descended over her.

“If this is what it takes to be a leader, then I will find a way to rise to the challenge.”  Squaring her shoulders, she looked Rrayu in the eyes.  “Teach me what you can.”

The Angel Murders – Jack Part III

Tracking down the drug dealer Allen Stevens was a lot harder than he’d thought.  Partially because of his name being a fairly common one, but also because he didn’t have a publicly listed address.  After a lot of searching, he changed tactics and looked up the woman listed as his girlfriend in the court report. Katie Wolffe was a far less common name.

Jack was shaking with barely suppressed fear as he walked down the hallway.  His search led him to a rundown apartment building in a part of town he’d never been to before and probably never would have visited if he hadn’t been on a mission.  The sound of loud rock music came from the door, a steel-reinforced number with a sliding viewport. Raising his hand, Jack took a deep breath and knocked on the door.

The viewport opened and a man looked out through a fog of cigarette smoke.  His pale face made his bloodshot eyes look wild and dangerous.

“Whachu want, kid?”  He yelled over the music.

“I want you to shoot everyone in the room, and then kill yourself,”  Jack said, turning to walk back down the hall. He didn’t start running until the gunshots started.

Several other people were running from the apartment building at the same time and Jack blended in with the crowd, keeping his head down.  A couple of people were talking into cell phones and sirens sounded in the distance as they pushed through the doors. Gunfire continued for another minute and while the others were staring at the building he slipped off into the alley.

“That was amazing!” He said, feeling the adrenaline singing through his veins.

“You were amazing.” Lorethla purred, “So decisive and dangerous.”

“They don’t know what’s in store for them.”  Jack clenched his fist, “A storm is coming and I am its harbinger.”

A week later, Jack was eating breakfast with his parents and watching the morning news.  He poured himself another bowl of cereal and watched intently as the anchor began the local news segment.

“The Chief of police is going to issue a statement this morning about a rash of violence that has been sweeping the city.”  The anchor said, “We now go live to the press conference.”

The camera showed the front steps of city hall as Colin Peters, the Chief of Police stepped forward to a podium.  Once the camera flashes had died down, he cleared his throat and began to speak.

“Over the last six days, we have been investigating an outbreak of violence.  Despite coverage that suggests this is some kind of vigilante justice, we wish to bring to light that although these killings appear to be drug or gang-related, women and children have been among the victims.  These murders are not the actions of a hero.

“Yesterday one of the victims recovered enough to give us a statement.  Based on that information, have several leads and are bringing some suspects in for questioning.  If anyone has any additional information that can assist this investigation we urge you to come forward.  Are there any questions?”

A reporter stood and was recognized, “Chief Peters, can you release the identity of the victim?”

“Not at this time, they are under police protection as we fear their life may still be in danger.” He said, motioning to another reporter.

“Why has it taken so long for your department to make any progress?” The next reporter asked, “Your department has a history of catching violent criminals quickly.”

“These are unusual crimes.”  He responded, “Without revealing details of the ongoing investigation I cannot say more than that the doors and windows have always been locked and the murder weapons have always been found onsite.  I have put our best inspector on the case, Inspector Purdue has a solid track record.”

Jack stifled a giggle and his mother turned off the TV, giving him a concerned look. “I’m sorry sweetie, we shouldn’t have had that on.”

He stifled the urge to tell her to turn it back on.  The last thing he wanted was to make his parents suspicious.  Especially when he needed to find out who the pesky survivor was and deal with them before they revealed anything they shouldn’t.

‘That Purdue is dangerous too.’ Lorethla said, ‘We may need to eliminate her as well.’

Jack put another bite of cereal into his mouth to hide the smile.  Nobody was going to interfere with his plans.

The Angel Murders – Jack Part II

“Hey Jackass!” Bryce bellowed, kicking his locker shut and nearly smashing his hand in the process.

“Bryce, how about you be my friend and carry my books to class?” Jack handed him a pair of textbooks and a notebook.

“Sure thing Jack,” Bryce smiled and took them from him without saying anything else.

Jack smiled and looked at the stunned faces of his classmates as he walked to his first class.  His new friend trailed obediently behind him, carrying his books.  

“Bryce, what the hell are you doing?” Jeannie said, dismay in her voice.

“Oh, Jeannie.”  Jack laughed, “Stop pretending you don’t want to be around me.”

“Gross,  I totally don’t want to be around you.”  She crossed her arms, “Come on Bryce, you don’t even go to the same class.”

“I’m just carrying his books, what’s the big deal?” Bryce asked, “I’ll meet you later.”

“You’re doing what he says instead of walking me to class?”  She spun on a heel and stalked away.

“Girls right?” Jack said, “Can’t live with ‘em.”

“Can’t shoot ‘em.” Bryce finished and they both laughed.

All day, Jack just had to nudge people with a suggestion and if he got his wording right they would do whatever he said.  At first, he was confused as to why Jeannie hadn’t done what he said, but eventually, he realized the problem was that she hadn’t been pretending that she hated him.  She really didn’t want to be anywhere near him.

 It was challenging; he didn’t want to be seen actually giving commands, but if he wasn’t specific enough they wouldn’t do what he said at all.  By the end of the day, he had the knack of being just specific enough to get what he wanted without anyone thinking he was making it happen.

“You’re really good at this,” Lorethla said, purring in his mind.  “I can’t wait to see what you do next.”

The demon had been stroking his ego all day.  He didn’t mind it, but he wished he could still see her.  Jack did have plans, big plans.

“I am going to be a superhero.”  He said, “I’m going to make everything better.  With this power, I can get rid of crime. I can make politicians actually help people.  I can do whatever I want.”

“Yes.”  She said, “You can do whatever you want.  I see great things in your future.”

There was a knock on the bathroom door, “Hey Jack, some of the rest of us might need to use the toilet sometime!” His sister said.

“Just go away, Amber!” He shouted back.  It wasn’t that he hated her or anything, she was just so annoying.  

“Of course, I can’t wait to see what you’re going to do!”  Lorethla said, “You’re going to change the world!”

“I’m going to change the world.”  He repeated softly to himself.

Jack searched through the matters of record, eyes lighting as he found what he was looking for.  A man just released on bail, charged with possession of fentanyl with the intent to sell. Most drugs were fairly harmless, but fentanyl was a tool of murder in his opinion.

“This is the one, Lorethla.”  He said, “This bastard is going to pay.”

“You’re so hot when you’re decisive.”  She said, and he felt her phantom lips on his neck.

A polite knock on the door made him look up in annoyance.  He sighed and minimized his browser tabs. “What is it?” He asked, voice not revealing his mood.

“Can I come in dear?”  His mother asked, “I wanted to see how you were doing.”

“OK, mom.” He said, not wanting her to think anything was amiss.

The door opened and she walked in.  He was shocked by her appearance; bags under her eyes and hair hanging in lank, unwashed disarray.  She stood uncertainly in his doorway looking at the perfect tidiness of his room before looking at him.

“Jack, are you doing OK?”  She asked.

“Of course mother.”  He said, “Why wouldn’t I be?”

“Amber has been missing for two days.”  She said, a catch in her voice, “You’ve barely come out of your room all weekend and I wanted to come and check on you.”

“She’s gone?”  Jack frowned, “I talked to her just the other day.  She was yelling at me to get out of the bathroom.”

His mom came into the room and pulled him into a hug.  “Sweetie, we haven’t seen her since Saturday morning. The police are coming today to get information, we filed a missing person report.”

“I’m sure she’s just at a friend’s house or something.”  He said, waving a hand vaguely.

‘You told her to go away.’ Lorethla whispered in his mind.  ‘She obeyed.’

Jack froze for an instant, a cold feeling of dread shivered down his spine.  He swallowed hard, not daring to reveal any guilt to his mother. Before anyone figured anything out, he could find her and make it right.

‘Necessary sacrifices Jack.’ Lorethla whispered, ‘If you’re going to change the world, you can’t expect it to happen without some growing pains.  Don’t worry about her Jack, you don’t need her.’

He relaxed.  Nobody would ever know, and after all, he really didn’t need her did he?

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 67

A woman wearing an elaborately pleated green silk gown swept across the dance floor and favored Callindra with a dazzling smile and a graceful curtsey.  “Lady Sol’Estin, I am Miss Dinneh, may I join you?”

Callindra smiled back and gestured toward the seat across from her.  “Of course, Miss Dinneh, please have a seat.  Reed, won’t you pour her some refreshment?”

Reed barely missed a beat, pouring a goblet of mead and placing it before her with a flourish.  “With your leave, my Lady?”  He said, waiting for her nod before vanishing onto the dance floor, already taking a laughing girl by the hand.

“What brings you to my table?” Callindra asked, sampling her mead.

“I am an emissary from the Lady Ellen Eth ‘Orien.”  She replied, lifting her goblet in salute.  “I am here to bid you welcome to this last bastion of civilization in a world gone mad.  The Lady graciously offers to shelter you beneath the wings of her benevolent protection.”

“I confess, I find you a much more congenial companion than the last messenger the Lady sent my way,”  Callindra said, nibbling on a small sweet bread.

“Our sincere apologies, we were unaware that you possessed a Title.”  She winced,  “My Mistress wished to ascertain if you were an imposter and may have sent a rather less polite representative to see what sort of reaction would result.”

“Judging by your appearance here, I gather I passed her test?”  Callindra asked, raising an eyebrow.

“She sent me here to offer an invitation to a ball she is putting on two days hence by way of apology.”  Dinneh said, “I am here to bring your response back to her.”

“I gratefully accept both apology and invitation,”  Callindra said, smiling to keep the look of panic off her face.  “I look forward to meeting your Lady and her court.”

“Wonderful,”  Dinneh said, rising gracefully and dipping another curtsey.  “We shall be honored to host the Sol’Estin.”

Callindra kept her face impassive until the other woman had moved out of sight.  Someone had let her secret slip, and if there was anyone from The Order in the Undercity, she would be in danger.  More than that, she had told Rrayu specifically not to tell anyone and nobody other than her friends knew of her title.  It was time to go and have a chat with her maid.

She climbed the stairs with determined strides and flung open the door to her chambers.  “Rrayu, come here right bloody now and by the gods and demons explain to me why you revealed my Title to Ellen Eth!”

“Please, my Lady, I swear I did not say anything!”  Rrayu entered the sitting room, wringing her hands in supplication.  “I have not even made a report yet; I could not have betrayed your secret!”

Callindra looked at her with skepticism, “Where else would Lady ‘Orien’s agents have found out about it?”

“I don’t know my Lady, but please believe me; I didn’t breathe a word of it to anyone.”

A thought struck Callindra, and she knew her maid was telling the truth.  “It was that man.”  She said in a flat voice.  “He must have been from The Order.  I should have known by how he carried his sword.”