The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 27

They rested as long as they dared before continuing on, following a well-beaten path that had a few human footprints mixed in with the animal tracks.  They followed the trail to a giant bramble wall. Cronos approached the wall, curious as to what kind of magic made the brambles to grow that way. Vilhylm put his hand to the ground and attempted to contact the plants using the mask he had carved from Jorda’s gift.

Callindra had a bad feeling about the place that she couldn’t quite put her finger on.  Instead of approaching, she kept her distance and called out to the man she assumed was inside.  “Hey! Pierce! Let us in we need to speak with you!”

“These plants are dead. Not evil per se, but they are definitely dead. Cronos get away from there.” Vilhylm rose from where he had been kneeling. “Seriously Cronos get the hell away from the wall!”

When Cronos got close, the brambles reached out and slashed him across the leg.  He yelped and drew his sword, lopping the offending branch off as it coiled for another strike.  Dark green sap welled from it and the severed branch rapidly withered and crumbled to dust.

“I was just having breakfast, it’s a bit early for visitors.”  An opening in the brambles appeared, the thon covered vines writhing out of the way to reveal a man of middle age dressed in a brown cassock.  “I would have come sooner but your friend there was activating my defenses and I was trying to keep him from coming to further harm. Will you join me?”

Without waiting for a response, he turned and strolled back towards a sturdy cottage.

“What?  No, we need you to come with us.”  Callindra said striding after him.  “Mili says you’re the only one who can heal my brother, we spent too much time finding you and we can’t wait for breakfast!”  Her stomach growled at the enticing scent wafting out the open door.

Inside the cottage there was a table with a full breakfast spread. Eggs, bacon, fruit, fresh bread and cheese, even tea and cream. Pierce fussed around the table, smoothing the table cloth and seated himself in front of a plate of food with a satisfied sigh.

To her surprise, her brothers walked through the door without giving her more than a passing glance.  Cronos began to load a plate with eggs and fruit while Vilhylm poured himself tea and cut a steaming slice of bread.  In spite of the dire nature of their situation, they seemed content to sit and eat.

“Come in.  Sit and eat.”  Pierce gestured at the laden table, “Your brothers have already joined me, I’m sure your problem isn’t one that cannot wait until after I break my fast.  You look like you could use a good meal as skin and bone as you are girl.”

“Look. My brother is dying back at The Drunken Thief from wounds Mili says only you are going to be able to heal. I need you to come with us. Now.” Callindra’s nerves were stretched to their limit and she was out of patience. “We spent too much time finding you, we can’t wait for breakfast.”

“What kind of wounds? Mili should be able to handle most minor adventuring injuries. Besides my work here is too important to simply put aside.” Pierce took a bite of bread with honey on it and poured himself a steaming cup of tea.

“He fell to The Ravenger.”  She snapped, trying to keep herself calm.  “He’s not breathing but his heart still beats.  Mili seems to think that you’re the only one who might have the chance to save him.”

“Well if The Ravenger is involved I’m certain he’s beyond my ability to heal. Once the flames begin burning, it’s only a matter of time before the host is consumed by the corruption.” He sipped his coffee and reached for an apple. “Besides, it’s dangerous out there. Many infected creatures roam these swamps and I have no desire to leave my sanctuary except when gathering specimens.”

“It happened once before.”  Callindra said, “He got … hurt by the Abyss but he recovered somehow.  I saw it.”

“Callindra. If he won’t help us it’s not like we can force an old man against his will.” Vilhylm had finished his slice of bread and was eating a strip of bacon. “Why don’t you sit and have some food?”

Not paying attention, Callindra locked eyes with Pierce. “Listen up you poxy rat, I’m sick of all the gods damned cowards in this fetid swamp. First those weaklings whine and cry about The Ravenger when we could have ENDED that bastard with their help and now the person who can help my brother is too frightened of the boogeyman to leave his hovel?”

She took a step closer to the table and the Winds whipped around her, echoing her fury. “I don’t know what you’ve done to bewitch my brothers but it won’t work on me.  You come with me willingly or by the GODS I’LL DRAG YOU!”

The candles in the room were snuffed out in a violent gust of wind. She slammed her hands on the table and the air stilled completely, dust motes suddenly held in stasis and the tablecloth froze in mid ruffle. Callindra’s voice was deadly soft as she leaned in close to Pierce’s face. “Do I make myself clear?”

“You. Have quite a foul mouth young lady.” Pierce was leaning back in his chair, mouth pursed in speculation. “But you have piqued my interest.”

Vilhylm broke in before she could blow up at him again, “Callindra stop making things up. Tryst has never been infected before. He was just injured and that’s all that has happened this time. I’m sure he’ll recover just like he did before. Come now, you’re insulting this poor old man in his home it’s time for us to leave.”

Callindra looked at Pierce and slowly shook her head.  She hadn’t meant to say that about Tryst, she’d never told her brothers about it.  Pierce’s eyebrows rose but he said nothing. “Vyl we’re not going anywhere without him. You may have faith that Tryst will recover but I do not.”

“Tell me more about his condition. Perhaps he would be a good research subject.” Pierce leaned forward looking at Callindra intently.

“Research subject?”  She began hotly, “This isn’t some forest creature we’re talking about this is my BROTHER!”

Pierce shrugged, “Well regardless, I won’t be able to do anything for him without some additional mystic assistance. There is a crate that Mili sent me which was stolen by those blasted frog creatures. It had some components in it that I need. Then there’s the flowers that seem to grow wherever anything infected dies grow; they have properties that could be beneficial. Finally, the priest who taught me used a magic crystal as a focal point; its power will be most critical in the process. Help me find these things and maybe there’s a chance for your brother.”

The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 26

“Please calm down… Callindra is your name right?” Mili laid a hand on her arm and gave her a pleading look, “Pierce is only a couple days away I think. I promise I’ll watch out for your brother until you can bring him back here OK?”

“What’s a true innocent like you doing in this place in the company of these… people?” Callindra was trying to calm down with varying degrees of success. The men still wouldn’t meet her eyes.

“We just ended up here I guess.”  The woman shrugged, “Now Merel helps protect the tavern and I do what I can for the victims after the dust settles.”

“What aren’t you telling us? You know more about this creature than you’re letting on!” Cronos had approached from behind and the intensity of his voice startled Mili. “What are you keeping from me?”

Mili turned to look him in the face, “Honestly I don’t know anything other than it comes here and kills everyone it can when it’s not out slaughtering travelers.”

After a pause, Cronos spun on his heel and stalked painfully back into the tavern. “Is there a place I can carry Tryst? So that he will be as safe as he can be in this hell hole?” Callindra asked. Her magically augmented strength allowed her to easily lift her brother although the effort nearly cracked half healed ribs.

“Of course, he can stay in the infirmary. Bring him in, I’ll show you the way.” Once they had reached the infirmary they found Cronos and Vilhylm in a heated conversation.

“Listen Cronos, Tryst will be FINE. This has happened before and after a little time he came to on his own. We need to keep searching and more importantly stay out of the path of The Ravenger. It’s too powerful for us.”

“I’m not going to take that chance Vilhylm, he’s our brother.” Cronos said, his voice flat and stubborn, “If he recovers while we’re gone that’s fine but I’m not going to hang around here sitting on my thumbs waiting while he could be dying.”

“Calm down little brother.” Callindra carefully laid her brother on a table near to where Vilhylm was sitting. “I can’t believe I’m saying this but I agree with Cronos.  We can’t waste any time. If you are staying behind that’s your damn deal. I’m leaving as soon as possible.”

“Fine, have it your way Callindra. You always seem to anyway.”  Vilhylm said, “We’ll leave as soon as we are recovered.”

Before they left, Mili came to stand before Callindra, “Listen, I know we haven’t been much help but we’re doing what we can. Here’s something to use as a last resort since you don’t have a healer right now.” She pressed a small carved wooden box into her hands.

“These potions don’t permanently heal so be careful with their use. They will temporarily assuage wounds so that they can heal on their own. After they wear off though they are gone and you could go from healthy to stone dead in seconds.”

“Thanks Mili, they’re certainly better than nothing.”  Callindra smiled as she took the box.  “Thank you for watching Tryst too. I’d say you’re pretty much the only person here who I think is worth the skin covering their body, but maybe I’m too harsh a judge.”

On her way out she looked the men in the room in the eye with her hand on Brightfang’s hilt above her shoulder. “If anything happens to Tryst, you’ll answer to me.” The threat of a slender sixteen year old girl shouldn’t have made burly fully grown men flinch. But it did.

It had been several days and Callindra was getting impatient. “Where in the Nine Hells is that old man anyway? Maybe they just told us this to get us out of town.”

“Relax, at least we haven’t had any trouble sister.” Vilhylm was in a good mood.

A sound made her stop short and “Shut up I’m trying to listen!” A muffled roar came from a thicket ahead.

“Good call Callindra.” Cronos said, looking at some tracks on the ground and then pointing to some claw marks on a nearby tree.  “I think there are some cave bears around here and from the sound of it they’re hungry.”

“I don’t have time for this and neither does Tryst. Get ready boys, we’re going through these things as fast as possible.” Callindra drew Brightfang and he began to resonate with arcane forces as she invoked her most powerful spell. Another set of roars erupted from behind them and two giant bears lumbered into view, a thin green mist trailing from their mouths and the familiar emerald flame burning behind their eyes.

Moving fast enough that tears streamed from her eyes and leaves whipped in tiny cyclones in the wake of her passage, Callindra ran at the bears. One opened its arms wide to swipe at Vilhylm while the other attacked Cronos. Her entire body reverberated in a rhythm focused on Brightfang and as she approached one of the monsters her mere presence began to destroy its body.

Roaring in rage it turned to take a few clumsy swipes at her that she easily dodged, her blade digging a trench deep into the animal’s side. Before it could react she sliced it again, this time straight across the gut. Glowing green ooze leaked from the wound instead of the coils of intestines that should have spilled out.

The other bear picked Cronos up in a massive hug and began chewing on his shoulder. Callindra slashed at the beast that had her brother trapped but her blade slid harmlessly through its ribs and struck Cronos instead.

“Damn it that HURT!” Cronos twisted in the bear’s grip, still unable to get loose. Callindra managed to avoid a few attacks and put a few more slashes into the bear’s hide before suffering the same fate as Cronos.

She struggled in the bear’s grip as it opened its maw and spewed acidic vitriol that was only partially deflected by her sturdy leather armor. The winds still swirled around her, the gusts as sharp as knives and flayed the monster to the bone.

Although the fight had been short it had also been brutal. Cronos was on the border of slipping into death and if it hadn’t been for the Goddesses gift Callindra would likely have been in the same situation. Taking one of the potions she dumped a couple doses down Cronos’s throat.

“I know it’s not permanent but if we can just patch you up until your body heals on its own you’ll be OK.”  She said, frowning at his wounds. “I hope.”

The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 25

Consciousness assaulted Callindra.  There was no other way to describe it; she ached all over and her head felt like she’d been using it to break down stone walls.  Her shattered ribs made her want to scream in agony and she thought her right wrist was fractured. She tightened her left fist and felt the reassuring resistance of Brightfang’s hilt in her hand. At least she hadn’t dropped her blade. She slowly rolled onto her side and stood on shaky legs. Pain wracked her body as roots grew through her skin and into her side, setting a broken rib with ungentle strength.

Callindra shut her eyes against the pain, her breath coming out in a high pitched keening sound. When she finally managed to get her eyes open again, the sight that greeted her hurt worse than her ribs.

The colorful caravans that had been parked close to The Drunken Thief were now piles of ashes. Those children deserved better, creepy adult eyes or not. Her eyes swept over the destruction looking for her siblings and it wasn’t hard to find them.

Tryst lay in a small crater, his shield cracked down the center and breastplate caved in. He didn’t appear to be breathing. A short distance away Vilhylm lay in a puddle of his own mud mixed with blood that trickled from his mouth. Cronos wasn’t faring much better, one sword still sheathed, the other a short distance from his right hand and severe burn marks on his head and chest.

“Tryst. Wake up, Vyl and Cronos need you.” Callindra’s voice rasped in her ears. Tryst didn’t move. She put her face next to his and didn’t feel any breath. “Damn damn damn, I don’t know anything about this.” Moving to the door Callindra slammed her sword hilt against it. “Open up you thrice cursed cowards!”

The runes had begun to dissolve, or perhaps decay was a better word. The magic was rotting as though diseased and the impact of her inscrolled blade was the last straw. The protections that had enclosed The Drunken Thief fell to the ground like last year’s leaves. “Open this door or I’ll gods damned break it down!” Callindra’s shout was barely louder than a whisper, but despite the pain in her ribs the pommel of her sword made plenty of noise.

“Is it gone?” The voice reverberated from behind the door.

“What? Yes it’s gone.”

The door creaked inward showing a cluster of cautious eyes that resolved into some familiar faces. The bouncer was standing behind the door, his club nowhere to be seen. The bartender was crouching behind the bar and there was a solidly built man in the center of the room holding a forge hammer in one hand.

“Hey, do any of you know first aid or healing? My brothers need medical help.” The flames from The Ravenger had scorched her throat to the point where she could hardly talk. When she paused to take a breath a vine thrust itself into her mouth, nearly choking her.

When Callindra bit it in half and spat it out, the sap coated her mouth and wind pipe like a salve, soothing the wounds. The buxom barmaid who had approached with bandages in hand and a concerned look on her face looked startled. “I’m fine, just see to my family.” She continued in a more normal tone of voice.

Mili moved from Vilhylm to Cronos, bandaging wounds and casting small healing spells. “Merel, I need you to carry this one inside.” She was easily restraining a struggling Vilhylm with one hand; a testament to how injured he was. “He has burns all over his body and shouldn’t try to move.” Merel put his forge hammer down and lifted Vyl easily, carrying him inside.

“Why didn’t you help us instead of cowering behind your barrier? We could have beaten it if we’d had your help.” Callindra fixed the occupants of the room with a glare, “You call yourselves men? You were quick enough to throw me out when it suited you, it seems you only have the guts to pick on sixteen year old girls. You disgust me.”

“The only reason you survived is it thought you were dead. Nobody survives The Ravenger, everyone knows that.” The bartender wouldn’t meet her eyes.

“You might as well be dead.”  Callindra spat on the floor, “As for me, the next time I meet that monster I’m going to kill it. I’ll be ready this time.”

“I need help!” The barmaid priestess was bending over Tryst, “He’s not breathing and I can’t get his armor off!” Callindra and Cronos were at her side in an instant, both straining to bend Tryst’s breastplate so that it could be removed.

“Damn it, this thing is stuck. I’ll cut the strap.” Callindra reached for her blade.

“Wait, you’ll ruin the armor. Give me a second.” Cronos incanted a spell and touched himself, then the same spell again and touched Callindra. She was familiar with his strength magic and nodded.

“Good idea, let’s try again.” Even with their new strength they were barely able to bend the breastplate enough that Mili could loosen the buckle. The breastplate ran like a bell as it loosened but Tryst still wasn’t breathing.

“I can’t do anything for him.” Mili had a confused look on her face, “He’s dead. Or at least he’s not breathing but somehow his heart is still beating.” A greenish golden glow emanated from Tryst’s breast. “He’s beyond my ability to help, but maybe if you bring him to my Master he could help. He’s far more skilled than I am.”

“Your master? Who is he and where can we find him?” There was another awkward silence and when Callindra glared at them again the bartender Agon broke it.

“We exiled him from the village. He’s insane and believes he can cure the green flame curse. Not just that he was doing experiments on infected creatures. He was a danger to everyone and it wasn’t safe for the village for him to stay.”

Callindra’s anger showed in her eyes and the Winds echoed it, whipping through the space between her and Agon in a violent gust. “He’s the only person who can save my brother in this gods forsaken place and you THREW HIM OUT OF THE VILLAGE?”

The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 24

As she approached, pain seared her body. The air around the creature burned and her tiara began sprouting tendrils that attempted to heal the damage. Spinning Brightfang in a tight arc she struck at the creature’s leg but it contemptuously brushed her off with a massive fist, sending her cartwheeling away.

Slamming her hand down, Callindra flipped back onto her feet and skidded to a stop. Swinging Brightfang in a complicated series of arcs she began chanting, bending the winds and the weave to her will. The arcane sigils on the blade shone with flickering white light and the sword itself started to tremble violently under the pressure of the forces being focused upon it. Sweat broke out on her brow as she invoked the most powerful spell she knew. She was so intent on casting she didn’t notice her brother exiting a small tent next to The Drunken Thief.

Without warning a giant wave of mud erupted from the ground as Vilhylm, wearing a mask that seemed to be made of dripping clods of dirt, lifted it to hurl at The Ravenger. Before it could reach the creature it hardened into a solid wall from the heat the monster was generating. Dreadful intelligence pulsed behind its eyes; it knew Callindra was using powerful magic. With a single punch it shattered the wall between them, sending chunks of hardened mud flying. The winds whirled and deflected the larger pieces but couldn’t protect her from the other massive fist that slammed into her chest, rendering her unconscious.

A familiar golden light shone gently in her eyes and Callindra knew Tryst had arrived to give her healing.

“Thanks brother. With your help we won’t be defeated.” She stood on shaky legs, “Damn, he hit me harder than I thought.” Breathing was painful, she was sure she had cracked ribs. Several cracked ribs if the grating sound when she readied her sword was anything to judge by.

“We have to run! This is hopeless, there’s no way we can beat it!” Vilhylm was looking at the shattered remains of his most powerful attack, holding a javelin in either hand.

“Running away is for the weak! Besides even if we run it’s fast enough to take at least one of us down.” She inhaled deeply, the pollen from the tiny flowers blooming on her brow acting as a slight anesthetic and taking the edge off the pain. “The only kind of running I’m going to do is running straight at it.” Callindra sprinted towards the monster but it brushed the attack off without even looking at her, turning its back to her to focus on her brothers.

“Don’t underestimate me you bastard!” Reaching into the sealed case at her belt, Callindra withdrew a piece of vellum, yellowed with age and began reciting the arcana scribed upon it. The symbols began twisting around The Ravenger, breaking through a barrier of magic resistance and nearly transforming it into an unmoving statue of stone.

The creature roared in rage as the fires burning on the surface of its skin guttered and flickered, the spell coming close to putting them out. It raised its huge fists to slam them into Tryst, smashing him against the protection spell that surrounded The Drunken Thief.

“Don’t you dare turn your back on me like I’m some insignificant insect! Turn and FACE ME!”  She shouted.

Callindra’s body protested the movement but she forced it to move, attacking The Ravenger from behind. She dropped to one knee to avoid the backswing on another massive punch and slashed it behind the left knee. A fountain of scorching ichor fanned out from the wound but the Winds finally remembered their loyalty and protected her from the scalding substance.

Now that she had its attention Callindra was having wondering if maybe this had been the worst in a string of reckless decisions she had made. With a look bordering on pity The Ravenger backhanded her, shattering her already cracked ribs and flinging her aside. That look of pity burned in Callindra’s memory as consciousness blessedly fled.

Durrak put his hammer down and quenched the draw knife he had made in the warm water next to his forge.  The water hissed and bubbled, the steel cooling and hardening as he carefully moved it about to keep air pockets from forming and fracturing the glowing steel.  After a few moments of cooling, he pulled it out and took it to his grindstone and pumped the pedal a few times to get it spinning.  With extra care for the hardened, pattern welded steel he put an edge that could wound the wind on it.

With a smile, the young Dwarf tested the edge by yanking a hair from his beard and dropping it on the upturned blade.  It parted easily.

“Darling, are you coming in for dinner?”  Belladin called from the doorway in Dwarvish.  She stood leaning against the door frame, her hand resting comfortably on the swell of her pregnant stomach with a smile on her face.

“My beloved, my cazadora, I will be in just as soon as I oil this blade.”  He replied with a smile.  In the year since he had begun working as a smith, he and Belladin had courted and married.  While Durrak couldn’t deny that she had actively pursued him in a manner that her family had been slightly scandalized by, he was deliriously happy.

“Oh is that for Tilda?”  She asked, looking at the whirling patterns in the steel of the knife blade.  “It’s beautiful!  She will love it.”

“I hope so.”  He said with a chuckle, “This is a very good piece.  One of my best.”

“Every new piece you make is better than the last.”  She said, smiling and melting his heart.

“Cazadora I did make my masterpiece when forged your ring.”  Durrak said, switching to common because she liked his accent.  “It do be my finest work, I never will make better.”

She looked at the twisting, twining vines of Brightstar flowers that wound around her finger wrought in the finest gold.  Each leaf was carved from flawless jade and each flower a tiny rendition of the real thing.  Tiny chips of amber made the flowers centers and perfectly carved white opals made the petals.

“It is beautiful my love, but it’s hardly useful.”  Belladin said with a fond smile.

“It do be made for the sole purpose of beauty.”  He said, taking her hand and kissing her fingertips.  “To be making you more beautiful.  That do be why it do be my masterpiece.”

“You and your fool way of talking.”  She said, returning his kiss on the fingers with one on his lips.  “Now come and eat while the meal is hot.”

His powerful arms slid around her neck and pulled her back into the kiss.  Her protests faded away.  The dinner would be just as well cold.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 23

Callindra tossed her head back and laughed, “You mean to tell me that you throw caution to the winds to live in this swamp, gambling with your very LIVES for a few coins and yet you frown on tossing dice? You people astound me.”

“Go spend your money elsewhere. We don’t gamble here.” He folded his massive arms across his chest and Callindra sauntered out of the tavern, her blade tether rattling and jingling in some unseen draft, still chuckling.

Once outside she allowed her eyes to adjust to the darkness and after surveying her options, chose a campfire with a few capable looking warriors she had seen in the fighting earlier over the caravan. The hard, adult eyes of the children who peeked out a window at her were unnerving.

“Mind if I join you?” The man jerked his eyes from the flickering flames and glanced up at her.

“Ah- well…” He stammered, obviously about to tell her to leave until he saw she was proffering a flask. “Yeah of course you can. Thanks.” He shifted slightly to one side on the log he was sitting on and she sat down heavily next to him.

Callindra took out her pipe and tobacco and tamped the bowl full of Karalan Imperialis. Before accepting the flask back she concentrated for a second, igniting a tiny flame over the bowl of the pipe.  With a few puffs a thin streamer of smoke trailed from her mouth. Sighing in satisfaction she exhaled a plume of smoke, took the flask back and took a swallow.

“So, you here for fortune and glory too?” She asked giving the fighter next to her a sidelong glance. “Or do you actually have scruples?” His leather armor had seen some use as had the twin long daggers he was polishing.

“Well mainly for fortune.” He replied with a dry chuckle. “There’s a lot of money out in the swamp if you’re willing to pay the price for it. I think I saw you out there in the fray earlier. Once you get a little older and a little less impatient you’ll be one helluva fighter you know? That flip almost cost you more than you bet on. How ‘bout you? What’re you here for if not for fortune?”

“At least you’re honest. I’m here because my brothers and I have a job to do. We’re looking for an artifact of some importance and we have reason to believe it’s probably here somewhere. My luck it’s probably in the bottom of the swamp.” She blew a few smoke rings and fidgeted with the shackles on her wrists.

“Heh, so you’re here for the same thing we all are in spite of your high and mighty talk. No shame in it you know. In fact I could use some more good help, the weaklings keep dying off in my hunting party and only the suicidal go out in small groups. How ‘bout it? You want to join up with us?” He stuck out his hand, “I’m Gabriel by the way.”

“We aren’t looking for anything most of you would think of as treasure, they’re just small clay pieces broken from a statue.”  Callindra said, gripping his forearm in a swordsman’s clasp, “I’m Callindra. I’ll have to ask my brothers. Gabriel, that’s a strangely angelic name for someone with your outlook on the world.”

“Yeah, my old man wanted me to enter the priesthood. I never could stomach all that silence and the wardrobe leaves something to be desired too.” A familiar and dangerous scent struck her nostrils and she looked sharply to the sky.

“Night lights are out again tonight I see.” Wisps of vapor that glowed with a sickly green phosphorescence trailed from the swamp to wrap around one of the caravan wagons.

Callindra reached over her shoulder to loosen Brightfang in his sheath. Gabriel’s hand strayed towards the hilts of his knives, watching her nervously. “You smell that?” She asked, ignoring him.

He inhaled deeply, “Yeah, Sulphur.” Suddenly the wagon that had been enclosed in the vapor exploded as a massive figure seemingly made of black stone with glowing green lava pulsating under the surface landed on it. Raising its head to the sky it let loose a scream of rage, hunger and longing.

“Oh Gods it’s the Ravenger! Callindra, we gotta get out of here now!” He grabbed for Callindra’s hand and started backing away while the entire caravan burst into unholy green fire.

“You asked why I’m here Gabriel?” Callindra stood and unsheathed Brightfang whose steely ring sang eagerly in the night air. “This is why. Sometimes there are things that are so wrong they must be opposed no matter the cost. The forces of chaos must not be allowed to run free.”

“Nothing survives The Ravenger Callindra; come with me and live to fight another day!” Some people were running screaming into the night while others ducked behind the Drunken Thief’s imposing doors.

“I’d rather die with honor than live a coward. Pick up your blades and prove your worth.” She hefted Brightfang and thought to herself, “So this is the Ravenger eh? Those innocents are going to be killed unless I take it on. I’m sure Tryst will be here soon, there’s no way he’ll be able to avoid feeling this evil presence.” She sprinted towards the monstrosity without further hesitation.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 22

“So I suppose you’re here for the same reason as the rest of us eh?” Said a man, coming to sit next to her at the bar and taking a pull from the large earthenware mug of the thick bitter brew it contained, “Fortune and glory. There’s so much treasure out there it’s a wonder the whole world isn’t combing this marsh.”

She glanced around the crowded common room of The Drunken Thief taking in the contrast of the roughhewn tables and benches with the piles of glittering gemstones, gold and finely worked weapons that were being sorted on many of them.  All the men and women here were heavily armed; she counted no fewer than six daggers on one man’s belt.

“I can see the Fortune from here, but this place seems to be a little lacking of the other. My idea of Glory doesn’t include grubbing around in the dirt for some spare change.” She sampled from her own mug and sighed in satisfaction, “At least the drink measures up.”

“You’re lippy for a little tyke you know that? I suppose you acquit yourself pretty well with that toothpick of yours though, I think I saw you split one of those critters in half.” He looked at the two foot sword hilt extending above her left shoulder with grudging respect. “I haven’t seen a blade like that before, where’d you steal it?”

“He was a gift.” She replied shortly, the memory of the man who had given it to her and taught her how to use it still fresh in her mind. The Winds sensed her mood and a slight gust blew the tangle of her hair back from her face, accentuating the vines that twined through it to wrap around her brow, the tiny flowers in it twinkling like jewels. “Brightfang is my companion.” The breeze shook the Mithril chain that ran from the weighted pommel to a shackle on her wrist causing it to jingle merrily.

His eyebrows rose, “A bonded blade? Well that explains the chain I suppose. If you aren’t here for the gold then why the hells are you here? As you so bluntly pointed out there ain’t much more to this place than that.” A few other patrons who were close by had started to pay attention to the conversation.

“Callindra, are these gentleman giving you any trouble?” A hulking figure in mirror polished plate mail with a large round shield on his left arm approached the bar, setting a large battle hammer down with a resounding thud.

“You’re not bothering our sister are you?” A low voice asked, as a hand extended unseen from the shadows to rest on the shoulder of the man Callindra had been speaking with. He flinched in spite of himself, his skin crawling as though he had been touched by a corpse.

“There’s a misunderstanding, we were just having a casual conversation.” The man stood and backed away from the bar, coming into contact with a youth in black leather whose face told a story of pain beyond his years. Two bastard swords were nestled in a harness that crossed his back, their size looking almost comical until the way he moved spoke of his proficiency with them.

“Good. We don’t want any problems.” Cronos said, flicking a gold at the bartender who deftly batted it over his shoulder into the unseen cashbox and handed over another tankard of Bog Ale.

Callindra looked at her brothers and rolled her eyes, “You guys are so overprotective.”

“I wasn’t worried about your safety little sister, I was more concerned that you’d get us thrown out of here.” Tryst’s absurdly pretty face creased in a frown as he looked past her at the massive men with battle clubs the size of small trees who stood by the door, “We need to get information here.”

“Whatever, I’m going to go see if that little bald dude wants to toss some dice.” She stood and carried her ponderous tankard over to a table where a small man was inspecting some gems. “You up for a game old man?”

“Pull up a chair youngster, fifty gold buy in.” He rattled a dice cup and Callindra threw ten platinum on the table with a shrug. Tossing the dice, she grinned.

“Small straight, not bad. You might have trouble beating that.”

He deftly scooped the dice and spun them onto the table. Just before they stopped rolling his hand flickered as to move his wager into the center of the table, but Callindra saw him tap one of the dice with his sleeve, causing it to alter its course. Rather than cause a scene, she flicked a finger and sent a tiny zephyr out to make the die roll randomly again.

“What have I told you about funny business?” The bouncer was unbelievably fast and quiet for all that he was the size of a horse; she hadn’t seen or heard him approach. “When you cheat the patrons they don’t have money to drink.”

“There’s no problem, we just want to dice.” Callindra was enjoying herself and didn’t really care about the money.

Letting go of the little man who scooped up his gems and darted away leaving his wager on the table, the bouncer turned his gaze towards her and flexed his tree trunk arms. “We. Don’t. Gamble. Here.”

Callindra tossed her head back and laughed, “You mean to tell me that you throw caution to the winds to live in this shithole, gambling with your very LIVES for a few coins and yet you frown on tossing dice? You people astound me.”

“Go spend your money elsewhere. We don’t gamble here.” He folded his massive arms across his chest and Callindra sauntered out of the tavern, her blade tether rattling and jingling in some unseen draft, still chuckling.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 21

After following the lead of the Hand, they had been traveling for days and now ended up in hills that rolled in and out of a fetid swamp.  Rain was falling in a dismal drizzle and the cold water was beginning to soak through the seams of their thick woolen cloaks.  It fit Callindra’s mood perfectly.

“That god rotting thing is broken isn’t it?”  She said, glaring at Tryst as he was looking at the Hand where it sat on his palm.

“It is possible that what we seek has been lost out here.”  Tryst replied, although he didn’t sound convinced himself.  “Or maybe the rumors of a city of treasure hunters somewhere out here are real.  All we can do is keep following it.”

“Is the sun going down or coming up?”  Cronos grumbled, squinting at the sky.

“Going down.”  Vilhylm said, “We should find a place to camp for the night.”

They came to the top of a small hill overlooking a valley.  Swamp fire glowed sickly green in pools of fetid water.  There were other lights as well; torches surrounding a low stone building and a large bonfire surrounded by a semi-circle of wagons.  The flickers of swamp fire began to move forward, encroaching on the circle of wagons and they realized it wasn’t just glowing fungus, it was the light of abyssal fire in the eyes of a pack of hunched creatures charging the bonfire.

As one, the tired group found new strength and ran down the incline.  Calling up arcane power, Callindra easily outdistanced the others as the Winds gathered beneath her allowing her to leap dozens of paces over pools of stagnant water.  Her braid trailed after her like a banner as she landed in the middle of the fray, Brightfang slashing down on one of the creatures with brutal force.  The man who had been retreating from deadly claws and fangs blinked in surprise as the monster he had been facing fell, its body nearly cloven in twain.

Callindra was already kicking it off her blade and engaging another foe.  A gout of flames announced Cronos’s arrival to the fight, crisping three of the creatures where they stood and Tryst’s hammer mashed the skull of another into an unrecognizable mass of brains and bone.  Vilhylm methodically used the point and edge of his spear to stab and slice, leaving dead and wounded spawn behind him.  As quickly as it had begun, the battle was over; the few remaining monsters leaping into pools and swimming into the depths.

With a practiced flick of her left wrist, Callindra shed the blood from Brightfang and slid him into the sheath over her shoulder.  The others were looking at her and her brothers warily and Tryst stepped forward to speak with them.

“Greetings friends.”  He said, his voice smooth and confident.  “It seems we helped you out of a spot of trouble, could you perhaps allow us to share your fire for the night?”

“Them things is just what comes before The Ravenger most times.”  A grizzled man with a short hafted double bladed ax says, looking them each over carefully.  “They ain’t letting anyone into The Drunken Thief until they’re sure that pus bucket ain’t showing up.”  He spat to one side with a sour look on his face.

“Why won’t they let anyone else inside?”  Tryst asked, noticing children with wide serious eyes staring at them from beneath the wagons. “Surely there’s room for everyone.”

“Room fer paying customers maybe.”  He said, “We ain’t hit it rich enough to pay their prices yet.”

“Shut er gob Milt, they don’t need ta know nothin.”  Another, less savory looking man said, looking suspiciously at Tryst and his companions in turn.

“You’re being a tad uncharitable friend.”  Callindra said, her ire beginning to rise as she too noticed the children with creepy adult eyes.  “I’m pretty sure we just saved your lives.  I’m not used to people whose lives I just saved being so rude.”

“I ain’t used ta little girls who can’t keep their mouths shut.”  He snarled, putting his hand on the well-worn hilt of a short sword at his hip.

“Dax, knock it off.  There’s more’n enough out there, no need to get tetchy.”  Milt said, spitting on the ground again.  “He’s just on edge about this Ravenger business and we lost a couple good men out there yesterday, not to mention a good haul.”

“A haul?”  Callindra asked, keeping an eye on Dax as the man glared at her.

“Yeah.  Found a good stash of gold and even a suit of armor that wasn’t rusted so it must a been magic.”  Milt paused to spit.  “Damn boggers busted out a one of them pools and dragged ‘em under fore we could even pull steel.”

“You expect us to believe that there’s treasure out here?”  Cronos asked, his voice dubious.  “In this gods forsaken swamp?”

“Ha!  Believe what ya want kiddo, but I seen more gold in a month in this shit hole then I seen in my life.”  Milt spit again and Callindra could see now that he was rolling a quid of tobacco around in his mouth.  “You all seem capable enough.  Wanna make some coin?”

Before any of them could answer, the door of the tavern swung open and all heads turned to watch a beautiful woman with well-muscled arms and a stout cudgel at her hip stood in the doorway.  She brushed her hands on her apron, an action that emphasized the swell of her breasts against her dress.

“Danger’s over, come on in and have a drink if you want.”  She called out with a welcoming smile.  “The ale’s warm and it’s strong and the food’s as good as you’ll find in a hundred leagues.”

With a grin, Callindra sauntered into the tavern, noting the name on the sign above the door.  ‘The Drunken Thief’ seemed more like a fortress than an inn, thick stone walls and iron bound doors.  A man stood on either side of the door, their biceps as big around as her waist, looking at her with impassive suspicion.

“Relax boys, I’m just here for a drink.”  She said, patting the one on the left on a bulging arm and noting the resemblance between the two men.  “Twins.  That’s adorable!”

“Adorable.”  The hulking man replied, “That sword is adorable.”

“Yeah, he is.”  Callindra said with a grin and walked up to the bar.

“Whaddaya want?”  The wide man behind the bar asked, “We got bog ale and black death.”

“I’ll take an ale then.”  She said, tossing him a gold coin.

The bartender batted the coin out of the air behind himself where it clattered into a grate beneath the bar and pulled a clay mug from a shelf, filling it from a tap.

“They weren’t kidding about your prices were they?  She asked, “Gods and demons this ale had better be amazing.”

“It’s worth more’n that lass.”  He said with a smile.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 20

“Callindra, I need you up here.”  Tryst said.  They had stopped after walking for perhaps a quarter of a candle-mark, the smell of fresh air was getting stronger.  Callindra squeezed past the others and came to where Tryst was frowning at a closed door.

“I think it’s locked but I can’t tell.  I don’t want to break the latch by trying to turn it without unlocking it first.”  He said, “Can you take a look for me?”

She laid her hand on the door, leaning forward to look at the keyhole.  The hooded lantern Vilhylm handed to her illuminated the lock, but she set it down and shuttered it.  Pale moonlight shone through the hole briefly and then went out.  The fresh air was briefly fouled by a whiff of rotting meat.

Stepping swiftly back, Callindra gently pushed the others back as well.  “Something is out there, and I don’t think it’s friendly.”  She said in a low voice.  “I could smell rotten flesh, but I’m not sure if it’s undead or just has bad hygiene.”

“Is the door locked?”  Tryst asked.

“I don’t know, I didn’t want to stay close enough to be within reach.”  She said.

“Within reach of what?”  Cronos asked.

Before she could respond, the door was slammed in with terrible force.  It shattered the brickwork of the tunnel and half tore from its hinges and a huge hand reached in, groping for something to crush.  With a cry, Callindra sprang forward and hacked the last knuckle off the middle finger with a blur of shining steel.

The hand was jerked out of reach swiftly and Callindra ran after it.  “This might be our only chance to escape!”  She shouted, not looking to see if her brothers were following.

Once outside, she dove to one side, tucking and rolling to come up in a fighting crouch.  The others hadn’t followed and the giant didn’t seem to notice that she’d escaped.  It was a massive thing, all ropy muscle stretched taunt over heavy bones.  As she watched, it bent to reach its uninjured hand into the opening again.

She set her jaw, waited for her moment and ran towards the thing, ducking beneath the giant’s arm while whipping Brightfang in a wicked arc that cut the arm to the bone.  The creature stumbled backward, arm hanging uselessly and mouth gaping in a silent roar of pain.  Callindra’s triumph was short lived as its other hand slapped her aside like a bug.  Brightfang flew from her hand as the blow fractured her left arm and several ribs.

Callindra gritted her teeth and swung her right arm in a wide arc even as she spun through the air to land on her feet, sliding to a stop with a gentle guiding gust of wind.  The Mithril chain glittered in the moonlight as the motion of her arm brought Brightfang spinning in a wide circle that ended with the sword burying itself in the monster’s back.

The giant turned eyes burning with abyssal flame upon her and reached up to grab the chain with its good hand.  She could feel the roots of Jorda’s Gift growing through the flesh of her arm to wrench the bone back into place and the pain drove her to her knees.

“HELP YOU IDIOTS!” She screamed, hoping to galvanize her brothers into action and tried to yank on the chain hard enough to dislodge Brightfang from where he was embedded in the giant’s back.

An explosion of light from within the tunnel was followed by a blast of fire that bathed the monster’s legs.  Cronos leaped out in its wake, his twin swords flashing in the dying light of the fire.  Vilhylm leaped completely over the younger man, stabbing his bone spear into the giant’s leg shouting a harsh battle cry.  Tryst calmly walked forward, shield shining before him and hammer in his right hand.

Ignoring her brothers, the giant yanked on the chain, pulling her through the air by the shackle on her right wrist.  Callindra twisted in the air, trying to control the path of her flight and only by sheer luck and the blessing of the winds managed to swing sideways far enough to wrap the chain around it instead of being deposited directly into the giant’s mouth.

A sickening crunch sounded just next to her and Callindra saw that the giant had bitten down on the chain instead of her body.  Shards of shattered teeth were falling from its mouth as it shook its head in renewed pain and anger.  She managed to wrap her gloved hand around the chain and hang on as she was flung about.  The chain flung from its mouth and she swung briefly before Brightfang pulled free of the things’ flesh and she landed, rolling and painfully jarring her injuries.

Somehow knowing exactly where he would be, Callindra put out her right hand and caught her sword by the hilt as he flew toward her.  Standing with a wince at the pain in her ribs she took in the battle scene.  Working with precision, Cronos and Vilhylm flanked the monster while Tryst stood in front of it, the light shining from his shield seeming to confuse it.  When her brothers ran forward in a rush on either side, she struck out as well, summoning a single mighty blade of wind to slice across the giant’s back.  Their combined attack brought the monster crashing down, flattening some small trees with its death throes.

“We have to go.”  Tryst said, extinguishing the light on his shield.  “There are more of them. I can… feel them out there.”

Callindra looked at him, a flicker of concern flashing across her face.  She thought she saw a flicker of emerald green in his eyes, but it was gone so fast it might have been her imagination.  The lingering doubt that she thought she’d banished returned.  Had he been infected that night?  It seemed impossible that he had been able to fight it off for months.  Jorda had even let him enter her realm and he hadn’t shown any signs.

A crashing sound in the undergrowth snapped her back to the current problem.  “Tryst, I can’t run very far with these broken ribs.”  She said, “Can you patch me up just enough that we can escape?”

“No time.”  Vilhylm said, staring off into the trees.

“He’s right Callindra.”  Tryst said, frowning at her as though she had gotten injured on purpose.

With a groan, she gritted her teeth and followed Vilhylm as he led them away from the walls.  Behind them, the roar of battle erupted.  Callindra shuddered at the sounds of men and women dying in the night while they fled.  It didn’t seem right.  It didn’t seem fair.  But they needed to complete their mission or else more cities would fall.  Somehow she was hopeful that Denoria would fight off this invasion.  That huge dragon hadn’t been circling the city, and it was the real harbinger of destruction.

Kurien Alyemey

Crossbow bolts fell like deadly hail as Kurien ran down the street with a bag of coins clinking merrily at his belt.  The gold had been freely given, albeit under false pretenses, and he had no intention of giving it back.  He had sold the Lord of this Holding a batch of his ‘Famous Rejuvenating Elixir’ for an exorbitant amount of gold.  It was, of course, really worthless rotgut mixed with a few herbs to make it taste like medication, but how would the greedy old bastard ever learn his lesson if he didn’t pay for it?

He ducked under a bolt that would have punctured his skull, slipped sideways into an alley, put his back against the wall and got ready.  Pulling a dagger from his belt, he cut through a rope that held a stack of empty casks and sent them tumbling into the alleyway.

“Halt you thieving mongrel!”  One of the guards chasing him shouted.  “Come back with the Lord’s gold!”

When the guard came around the corner at a dead sprint, he collided with the tumbling barrels, crashing onto his face.  The second guard was running too fast and had to choose between stepping on his friend or hitting the barrels.  The first guard’s face made a funny squishing sound when it was mushed into the mud.

“Watch your step friends, these streets are slippery!”  Kurien said cheerfully, climbing up a nearby rain gutter to the third floor of a warehouse and vaulting into an open window.  A group of dangerous looking folk all turned to stare in his direction.  A case of something was open on a table between them and all of them were armed to the teeth.

“Raken, is this one of yours?”  A woman with a scar running across her left eye asked in an artificially casual drawl as her hand fell to the hilt of a nasty looking dagger at her belt.

“Jana, you know better, this punk isn’t attached to us.”  Raken said, giving Kurien a narrow glare.  “Although he might be your lackey.”

“Hey I’m just passing through, but The Lord’s Guard is hot on my trail.”  Kurien laughed, “Of course it’s all just a silly misunderstanding.  I didn’t mean to interrupt your er whatever this is.”

“Get him!”  Jana shouted, drawing her dagger.

Kurien struck a theatrical pose and a jangling guitar chord struck up from nowhere.  Jana’s dagger dropped from limp fingers and she stared at him with surprise clear on her face.  She made a calming gesture towards her ruffians as Kurien spread his hand wide.  “Come now friends, there’s no reason to hurt ME, I’m on YOUR side!”

The music continued and this time Raken relaxed, watching the half-elf as he almost danced through the room toward the door.  Kurien didn’t give the others the chance to decide to take matters into their own hands.

“Hey Boss… shouldn’t we be stopping him?”  One of the brighter ones asked.

“He’s fine.”  Raken and Jana said almost in unison.

“Hey wait a minute, that’s a spell!”  Another of the toughs yelled, but Kurien was already through the door and the guard was just struggling through the window.

Laughing merrily, he ran through the hallway, down a flight of stairs and out the door.  He pulled off the hat with its attached wig, stuffed it into a small pack and flipped his cloak so that the drab gray showed instead of the bright scarlet he had been wearing.  It hadn’t been much of a disguise in the first place but these idiots were easily fooled.

A young beggar sat a few streets down with a bowl that contained a single copper, looking up at him with hopeful eyes.  The poor girl was just skin and bone!  Kurien patted her on her grimy head and walked down the street casually, whistling a merry tune.  He was around the corner before she saw the handful of gold in her bowl.  It had been a wonderful day of fooling the so-called “Lord” of this city, and now it was time to redistribute his ill-gotten wealth among those who truly needed it.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 19

Callindra sprang out of sleep and out of bed in one combined moment.  With a rattle and musical chiming of tiny links, Brightfang leapt off the floor and flew toward her in a spinning unpredictable arc of razor sharp steel.  With a sound that was half laugh of joy, half cry of terror.  She flailed with an arm still wrapped in sheets and just barely managed to grab him by the blade, the flat smacking into her palm with a satisfying smack.

She was wearing a thin cotton shift and nothing else, her hair seeming almost to twine around her with its vines and flowers smelling of sweet summer afternoons.  The winds joyfully tugging at the hem of her shift made her smile.  The sun shining on her sword made her smile.  The sight of her brothers walking through the door rubbing sleep out of their eyes made her smile so hard she thought her heart would break.

“Thank you all.”  She began, but before she could say any more her brothers gathered around her each showing that they cared in their own way.  Tryst with a pleased, but concerned look as he used a magic Delving to make sure she was fully healed.  Cronos with an awkward one armed hug and off color joke.  Vilhylm with an examination of Brightfang and her armor.

“I think we need to go.”  Callindra said, “The people looking for me aren’t going to stop.  What you did to get me out.  I mean it’s the ORDER.”

“I don’t care who it is.”  Cronos said, “None of them want to hurt you as much as we value you.  But yeah, we should get out of here.”

“Although you’re likely to still be exhausted for a few days and you have a number of new scars, I think you’re still fit to be out of bed, at least for a short time.”  Tryst said, “The Goddess’s gift has extraordinary restorative powers, but it still draws the power to heal from your body.  You shouldn’t overexert yourself and you need plenty of food to help with the process.”

“Your gear seems to be in order.”  Vilhylm said, “Your armor is in perfect repair and that chain seems like it hasn’t disrupted the integrity of your sword, although the balance is likely to be off.”

The bells in the Monastery began to ring and Tryst looked up sharply.  “Those are the alarm bells, someone’s attacking the front gate!  We have to help!”

“We have to go.”  Vilhylm said flatly, “Odds are we’re the reason the attack is happening.  A few extra swords aren’t going to make a difference here; your Brothers and Sisters can handle it.  We need to go.”

“You may be right, but I-“ Tryst began, but the door being slammed open interrupted him.  Larcel stood there.

“What are you still doing here?”  She demanded, “You need to get out before these things get through the front gate.”

“Things?  What things?”  Callindra asked, as she tried to take off her shift and discovered that it was far more difficult now that she had Brightfang permanently bonded to the chain on her right wrist.

“I don’t know.  There’s a man in a black cowl with an army of green eyed freaks out there.”  Larcel said, “Nothing for you to worry about really, we can handle it.  They’re demanding we let them search our premises for fugitives, but they don’t have any legal right to do so.”

“Shouldn’t we stay and help?”  Callindra asked, freeing herself from the shift and beginning thread Brightfang’s chain back through it. “This is probably all my fault.”

“Not a chance toothpick.”  Larcel said with a good-natured poke at her ribs.  “We’ve got this covered.”

“Thank you.”  Vilhylm said before anyone else could respond.  “Come on then, let’s get moving before we make the defense of your sacred ground more difficult.”

“Green eyed freaks?”  Tryst said, worry creasing his forehead.  “I don’t like the sound of that.  They’re likely to be Abyssal Spawn Larcel.  Do not take them lightly.

“I was there at the briefing Sir Te’Chern.”  She said to Tryst, “I heard the report and your warnings regarding these so-called Spawn.”

“Don’t underestimate even the most harmless seeming opponent.”  Vilhylm warned, “We made that mistake and it nearly cost us our lives.”­­­

Callindra had disentangled herself from the cotton shift and grinned to herself at Cronos’s blush.  She was quite nude underneath but now was not the time to discover she was shy, and she found that she really wasn’t.  Just like the books she’d read about comrades in arms, these men were her battle comrades and companions; she did not look on them with any possible romantic feelings.

“Cronos where are my clothes?”  She asked, giving the younger man an excuse to turn away.  “I need to get dressed so I can get into my armor.”

Larcel chuckled, “Your things are on the shelf next to your bed.  Let the poor boy be.”

It took a bit of time due to Brightfang and his chain, but Callindra managed to wrap herself with a breast band, get her shirt and breeches on and finally get her armor strapped into place once more.  The pressure around her chest felt comforting, like a hug from a parent, not that she remembered her parents.

“All right.  Let’s go.”  She said, finally feeling herself again.

“We’ve been waiting on you.”  Cronos grumbled, still apparently feeling salty about her teasing him.

“We have a passage that leads out of the city.”  Larcel said, “I’ll show you where the entrance is once you’re ready.”

They followed her to a conspicuously blank section of wall and pressed a pair of bricks.  The wall slid smoothly inward at her touch revealing a stairway that spiraled into darkness.  A light breeze smelling of fresh mountain air came to curl around Callindra, tickling the ends of her unbound hair and sparring with the zephyrs that had accompanied her here.

“Take care.”  Larcel gripped Callindra’s forearm.  “I’ve seen some people roughed up before, but what they’d done to you was…”  She shuddered.  “Just take care.”

“My brothers fill in where I fail.”  Callindra replied, a pained look in her eyes.  “I try as best I can but I thank Jorda that I have good people watching out for me.  I never thought I’d come closer to dying from something like that, I always figured it’d be from mouthing off to the wrong person.”

It was a weak joke, but it brought a smile to Larcel’s face.  She nodded wordlessly and Callindra followed her brothers down the stairs.