The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 73

“The Lady do be conversing with me,”  Durrak said, giving the man who had spoken last a stern look.  “I no do appreciate a pleasant interlude being interrupted with rudeness.”

“Stay out of this, Caverstorm.”  He said, all but spitting the words.  “This is not your concern and she is no ‘lady’ at all but an imposter, trained by a rogue mage who defied the-”

Durrak abruptly stood and hurled one of his spiked gauntlets in the man’s face, cutting off his tirade.  “I no do be taking insults to Ladies who do be sharing time with me lightly.”  He said, voice simmering with contempt.  “Be picking up my gauntlet or do be departing after formal apology.”

Callindra paused, left hand reaching into her bag, and waited to see what would happen.  Lorin was leaning back in his chair with a boyish grin on his face, watching with apparent glee, but she could see he had his hand on a knife hilt under the table.  The man stared at Durrak for a moment, ignoring the blood coming from wounds the spiked glove had made on his face.

“We are both Inquisitors of The Order.”  He said after a moment, indicating the woman who stood next to him. “You may not have understood who you were speaking with before you made that challenge.  I understand if you wish to withdraw it.”

The Dwarf began to laugh, a rumble that built until it was a full belly laugh that shook the fastenings of his armor.  “You do be thinking.”  He started, before lapsing back into laughter.  “You do be thinking I do be withdrawing my challenge because you do claim some bloody title?

“Before I do be coming to this place, it did be my life’s work to be taking titles from fools too weak to be keeping them.  Do be apologizing to this Lady and departing with your comrade or do be preparing to fight.”  Durrak folded his arms over his armored chest, a move that emphasized the broadness of his shoulders and the spikes on his armor.

“Lord Caverstorm, please.”  Callindra said, “There is no need to intercede thus.  I would not want you to be injured for making such a noble gesture.”  Although her voice was calm, her eyes flashed with anger.  The Dwarf suspected she wished to defend her own honor.

“A gentleman no do be able to do less.”  Durrak said, “It no do be a gesture; it do be my obligation and my pleasure Lady.”

The entry chime sounded again, and the light illuminated a beautiful woman wearing a simple yet elegant dress of silver.  “The Lady Ellen Eth ‘Orien.”

Her eyes swept the ballroom, occasionally pausing on one group or another until they eventually came to rest on Durrak.  She took in Lorin, Callindra and the Inquisitors in silence, not offering support or rebuke.  Her presence seemed to calm the confrontation down, and the man bowed from the waist to Callindra.

“Lady Sol’Estin, please accept my apology for my behavior.”  He said, his voice perfectly polite.  “I should not have intruded on your private conversation and aired my grievances in front of others.  We shall discuss this later in private.”

“I fear I do not know your name, sir, for we have not been introduced.”  Callindra replied, stiffly formal, “May I please have your name?”

“I am Inquisitor Revchek.”  He said,  “We will speak privately of personal matters soon.”  The two Inquisitors stalked away, backs straight with tension.

“Seems to me that man intends to kill you,”  Lorin said laconically.

“The feeling is quite mutual.”  She said, watching the two as they retreated.  “I don’t think I’m going to give either of us a chance though.  Too much risk for not enough reward, as much as I’d like to see his liver on a stick.”

“You did be saying you no did know him,”  Durrak said, seeming confused.  “Why do you be wanting him dead?”

“I appreciate your chivalrous offer Lord Caverstorm.”  She said, “However, my quarrel with them is only due to the Order’s quarrel with my Master.  Now that he’s gone, I appear to have inherited his debts.”

“The offer do stand.”  Durrak said, “I did make it more for his sake than yours.  That man do be in need of a touch of humbling.”

“I find his arrogance in the face of the end of the world a little refreshing.”  Callindra said with a weak smile, “Or at least I would if I could find room for levity.  Thank you for the conversation and support.  If you find Cerioth tell her hello with that polearm for me.”

“You no do be staying?”  Durrak asked, raising a bushy eyebrow.

“No, I’m afraid this city has shown itself to be as dead as every other place.”  Callindra said, “Despite the people who shelter here, none of them are living.”

She stood from the table with a grace that Lorin now recognized.  It wasn’t the smoothness of a dancer or a Lady trained from childhood to move just so.  It was the litheness of a predator trained to kill.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 72

“Why did I be letting you be talking me into this?”  Durrak asked Lorin, “Look at these bedamned fools in their frippery.  Do they not be knowing there do be monsters from the Abyss feasting on human flesh above their heads?”

“Durrak, my friend, you need to relax and enjoy yourself,”  Lorin said, surveying the crowd.  “There are so many beauties here tonight, how can you focus on the problems of the world above with such delectable butterflies flitting about?”

“How do you be thinking of women now?”  Durrak took a lit cigar from his belt pouch, puffing a cloud of thick blue smoke.

“One has to enjoy things when one can, my friend.”  He smiled over Durrak’s right shoulder, “Like this vision of loveliness for example.”

A woman in a dark green dress with a matching bag incongruously strung on a silver chain that was bound to her wrist was walking purposefully toward them.  Lorin thought her a bit slender, but she moved with grace and confidence that he found alluring.  The only sign of nervousness was the way her hand clutched the bag’s chain.

“Lord Caverstorm?”  She inquired, ignoring Lorin completely and dipping a curtsey to Durrak.  “Might I impose on a moment of your time?”

Durrak chuckled at his friend’s stricken expression.  He grounded the butt of his Gisarme and bowed with a creak and scrape of armor.  “I do be at your disposal, Miss.”

“Apologies Lords, my name is Lady Callindra Sol’Estin.”  She curtseyed to Lorin as well, “Would you care to join me at a table so that we can converse with proper refreshment?”

“For you to be using Mithril, you do be showing much caution or that you do value the contents of your pouch most greatly,”  Durrak said, glancing at her wrist.  “I do be happy to join you Lady Sol’Estin.  This do be Lorin, I do be apologizing in advance for he do be a terrible flirt.”

“Please ignore the crude and uncultured Dwarf, my Lady,”  Lorin said with an elegant bow.  “We would be honored to sit with you.”

Instead of returning to the table she’d shared with a few other courtiers, she led the way to a small table and perched on the edge of a chair.  She signaled to a servant who brought an assortment of small snacks and a tray of wine glasses.

After the servant had left, she smiled at Durrak, but the words that came out of her mouth belied the expression.  “I hear you have an interest in the dragon Cerioth.  If you desire her death as intently as I do, perhaps we can help one another.”

“What quarrel do a Lady have with The Bane of Ignetium?”  Durrak asked, “A gentle lass like yourself no do be having cause to be picking fights with dragons.”

“I’ve killed one dragon already.”  She said, her voice fierce but calm.  “It wasn’t easy, but by all the gods and demons, I intend to do it again.”

“I think we may have misjudged you, my Lady.”  Lorin said, “It seems as though you aren’t a delicate flower despite looking the part almost perfectly.”

“I’m flattered that my ruse worked so well.”  She said, still smiling as though they were flirting or making small talk.  “I fear I’m even less of a Lady that you likely think.  I came here to try and figure out what the most powerful city ever constructed had done to survive the hordes of Taken, and instead, I discover a den of petty idiots pretending that someone’s claim to nobility still matters.”

Realization dawned on Lorin’s face.  “I remember that name now.  It’s not a surname, but a Title from a school of battle magic.”

“It is the Title of a wanted criminal.”  A woman’s voice from behind and to the left Callindra’s chair said.  “A Title that cannot be rightfully claimed by a half trained apprentice.”

“Come along quietly, child.”  Another voice said, this one behind and to the right. “All we want is you to lead us to your Master.”

The Angel Murders – Father Henderson Part 2

The Thurifer swung gently, wafting Frankincense into the air and Ralph Henderson intoned sacred words, drank blessed wine and lit candles.  The incense smoke swirled into a vaguely humanoid shape floating in the center of the Maltese cross he had drawn on the floor in pure salt.

“Mortal man.”  A voice echoed throughout the rectory, “What is thine request?”

“I can’t believe it.” Ralph whispered, “It actually worked.”

“This realm pains me, mortal.”  The angel said, “Make your request that I may depart.”

“Please, give me the power to help  those in need.” He said, kneeling in reverence.  

“Do you accept this power of your own free will?” The angel asked.

“Yes,” Ralph said, trembling in anticipation.

The Angel’s hand touched his head and pain exploded in his temples.

“What is stopping you from helping those in need?” The Angel demanded.

“I don’t have the money or connections.” Ralph gasped.

“Why do you lack these things?” The Angel asked.

“I-” Ralph hesitated, “Being a priest doesn’t pay well and-”

“If you are seeking material gain and your cause is just what is to stop you from taking what you require?”

Ralph’s eyes went blank and the pain spiked.  He answered with utmost honesty. “The law and lack of ability.”

“If your cause is true and just the law has no sway over you.” The Angel proclaimed, “The ability to take what you need shall be yours.”

The pain vanished and its absence was like a drug.  Ralph fell sideways, laying on the floor and panting.  There was a liquor store down the street. They sold alcohol, regardless of the lives it destroyed.  With the money from just one day of sales, he could feed the vulnerable in his parish for a week.

Ralph gathered some simple tools, pins, Allen wrenches, a screwdriver, wire cutters, and a flashlight.  The clothes he was wearing were already black. With a smile, the priest adjusted his collar, slipped on a thin pair of leather gloves, and slipped out into the night.

It was a matter of minutes to tease open the back door using the pins for picks and a small Allen wrench for a torsion wrench.  A glance at the security panel told him it was a simple model that would be easily disabled by cutting the ground wire. He twisted the panel open and snipped the wire.  The numbers kept counting down but he ignored them.

Ralph saw the camera pointed at the back door.  It took him a few minutes to follow the cables back to a closet and unplug the camera system.  He opened the system’s panel and removed the hard drives, slipping them into his coat pocket.

Moving to the safe, he knelt in front of it, gently testing the handle.  There was just enough play in it that he knew it hadn’t been set properly.  If a combination lock isn’t spun after the combination is put in, all one need do is put pressure on the handle and gently turn the dial clockwise.  When he got to 50, the tumblers clicked and the safe door opened.

“Praise God.” Ralph breathed, stuffing his pockets full of bills. “Thank you, Lord.”

The Seven – Part 2

The problem with being a bank teller is it’s boring.  For most of the day you literally have nothing to do, but you can’t surf the web or whatever because your position is so public and obvious.  All there was to do was sit and stare out the window for hours on end, but really, I couldn’t even enjoy being lazy. It was just so damn boring.

Then the flip side was that when you needed to do work it required a lot of focus.  People were picky about their finances, and rightly so. It was hard enough to see your hard-earned money dwindle just from bills; let alone someone making a mistake with a deposit.

“Sweetheart, you’re new right?  You’re new.” I snapped out of my daze to look at the little old lady standing in front of my teller window.

“Yes, I-” I began.

“I don’t like working with new girls.”  She said, turning to the person behind her.  “You can go first, I’ll wait for Samantha.”

I sighed in resignation, “Can I help you sir?”

“I need to get into my safety deposit box.”  The man said, fiddling with his key.

I got his account number, had him sign and let him into the vault.  Taking his key and the master key, I opened the fiddly little door and pulled out his surprisingly heavy box.  Brining it to the private room, I set it on the table and withdrew so he could do whatever he was going to do. I leaned against the wall and zoned out for a few minutes.

A crash from inside the room, muffled by the thick door, snapping me out of my thoughts.  I knocked on the door, “Sir? Excuse me Mr. Anderson are you OK in there?” There was no answer.

I bit my lip, knocking again before trying the handle.  The door was locked, but I had a key and carefully opened the door.  “Sir?” I looked in the room and saw him sprawled on the floor. His safety deposit box had fallen to the floor, and small bars of gold with a swastika stamped on them were scattered around the room.  Still inside the box were wads of 100 dollar bills bound with rubber bands.

Fucking Nazi gold?  I felt a flash of rage and swiped a bundle of bills.  Fucking Nazis, this bastard didn’t deserve this money.    In a flash of insight, I quickly stood on the chair, lifted a ceiling tile and tucked the cash inside.  I didn’t know what possessed me to do it, my pulse was racing in exhilaration. Jumping back down, I checked for his pulse and almost threw up.  He had no pulse. Turning back to Mr. Anderson, I took out my cell phone and dialed 911.

“I work at State Bank downtown, our address is 11 West Second street, we need an ambulance.”

“What is your name and what is the nature of your emergency?”

“A man collapsed, I don’t think he has a pulse.  Oh gods I don’t know CPR.” I felt myself panicking.  What had I been thinking, taking that wad of cash?

“Just stay on the scene miss, emergency personnel are on their way.”  She sounded almost bored.

“OK, thank you.”  I said, “I’m going to hang up and tell my boss.”

I ran out to tell the bank president that there was a corpse in his safety deposit room.

“Nice push with the anger at the Nazi’s, Wrath.” Said Greed.

“You started it with those twinkling gold bars, Greed.” Wrath said with a nod. “But let’s not forget Envy’s contribution.”

“We make one hell of a team.” Envy agreed.

“If you two are done jerking each other off we need to plan our next steps.” Said Lust.

“There’s nothing wrong with a little well-deserved satisfaction.” Pride said.

“Oh good, it’s lunch time.” Said Gluttony.  

Sloth was asleep.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 71

“Oh please, simply call me Drake.” He said, smiling.  “I assure you the honor and pleasure of our meeting is certainly mine.”

She lowered her eyelashes and walked next to him, allowing him to guide her to a group of people sitting at a table.  “Pleasure can be shared, Count.” Flirting was not something she excelled at, but Rrayu had given her some tips and to her surprise, they seemed to work far better than she would have imagined possible.

“Indeed,”  Drake said, giving her a brief but through leer.  “Perhaps we can share more later.”

Callindra suppressed a shudder and kept her face down in case she couldn’t keep her feelings from showing.  “Perhaps.”

“Drake, you old letch!”  One of the men at the table laughed, “Always getting to the newest and prettiest girls first.”

“Come now; she’s not just a pretty face,”  Drake said with a smile. “This young lady is The Sol’Estin.”

Most of the courtiers at the table made polite noises, either ambivalent about or ignorant of the title.  Two of them stopped and gave her looks that did little to disguise their hostility.

“I thought they were warriors or sword fighters or something.”  A young woman in a low cut black dress said, “Or is that just a title?”

Callindra took a glass of wine from a passing servant, ignoring the question.  She focused on her surroundings and covertly kept an eye on the two hostile courtiers.  One was a woman of striking beauty dressed in a comparatively severe gown and the other was a man who looked old but still well-muscled and hale.

“Nay Kapirnika, the title requires training and skill.”  Drake said with a smile, “Rumor has it, Lady Callindra is quite accomplished with a blade.”

“Hardly seems proper for a Lady,”  Kapirnika said, giving Callindra a mildly scandalized look.

“Well, in this age, we all must make sacrifices,”  Callindra said, sipping her wine.

“Too true.”  The woman across from her said.

Before the others could comment further, the chime sounded again, this time followed by an officious voice.  “Lords Durrak Caverstorm and Lorin Blackthorn.”

The light illuminated the staircase and an odd pair, a tall and elegantly attired Elf standing next to a heavily armed and armored Dwarf.  They were chatting as they walked down the staircase, apparently not paying any attention to the eyes that followed them. The Dwarf pulled something from a belt pouch and blew a cloud of bright blue smoke into the air with an accompanying exclamation.

“That pair finally showed up at a ball,”  Drake said, looking at them with narrowed eyes.  “I wonder what our Lady offered or threatened them with.”

“I don’t think the Dwarf would respond to threats passively.”  The older man who had been glaring at her said.

“He has a history of obliterating threats quite actively.”  Kapirnika said enthusiastically, “I don’t think the Elf should be assessed as any less capable, however.  Have you seen him shoot his bow? Gives me chills.”

“Drake, see if you can get them to come over here.”  The severely dressed woman said, “I’d love to take a closer look at that polearm he carries.  Word has it Herself enchanted it for him so he could get his revenge on that menace of a dragon.  More power to him if he can, for all I think he’s insane to try.”

“Zinneah, you’re only ever interested in whatever magic someone has.” Kapirnika said, “Don’t you ever think of anything else?”

Zinneah glared briefly at her before her gaze returned to Callindra, focusing on her right side.  “Oh, I think of many things, Kapi dear, but I always come back to what’s important. Magic, power and weapons matter now more than anything else.”

Callindra toyed with the stem of her wine glass, “You mentioned a dragon?  Would that be Cerioth?”

“What would you know of that?”  She snapped, giving Callindra a more appraising look.  “How did you manage to make it here alive anyway? Your guards must be quite competent.”

“Please excuse me,”  Callindra said, setting her wine glass down as she rose.  “I must go and speak with Lord Caverstorm.”

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 70

The ‘transport’ had turned out to be a handcart pulled by two burly men, and it was only big enough for Callindra to ride.  Since the rest of her friends were posing as her guards, she thought it was fitting that they walk, regardless of how much Reed grumbled about it.  Besides, there was no way she could have walked that far in the gown and shoes.  Even if it wasn’t so tight she could barely breathe, she would be worried about soiling her hem in the dirt of the street.

Following the winding wooden platforms that connected the dirt and cobblestone streets, they arrived at Ellen Eth ‘Orien’s mansion.  It was three stories tall, each story made of a different color of marble.  The courtyard was paved with gold coins instead of gravel, and guards in matching jet black livery stood at the polished blackwood doors.

Callindra stepped from the cart, gratefully accepting Reed’s hand to steady herself when her bloody skirts nearly tripped her.  Now she understood why Ladies had attendants.  Approaching the guards at the door, she gave them a slight inclination of her head and walked through the door.  The ballroom was so breathtaking it took her a moment to notice her companions hadn’t entered behind her.

A man in black livery with a staff of office stepped from behind a podium, looking at her appraisingly.  “And you are?”  He inquired in a voice that suggested she was dressed in strips of rotting meat.

Her temper flared, and a gust of wind swirled around her before blowing an inkwell over onto a stack of paper before also blowing the documents to the floor.  “Invited.”  She said shortly, gliding past him as he jumped to try and save the parchment.

“My attendants should be joining me shortly,”  Callindra said over her shoulder, and then she had to focus on her surroundings.  The arched entrance led down to a floor inlaid with gold and jade in intricate swirling patterns.  Richly dressed men and women stood in groups, talking and listening to an orchestra playing in a minor key.

As she walked through the archway, a gentle chime sounded, and the assembled folk turned to look in her direction.  A light above illuminated her as she walked down a wide staircase, and a servant in white livery came to offer escort.  A man in a perfectly tailored suit of dark red satin with lace ruffles at the cuffs and collar approached and bowed.

“Delgrin did not introduce you, but I gather you must be Lady Sol’Estin?”  He took her hand and brushed it with his lips.  “I am Count Drake Ardent.”

Callindra took her hand back to curtsey as Rrayu had taught her, “I am indeed, it is a pleasure to meet you, Count Ardent.”

The Seven – Part I

I stood outside my new home with my single suitcase clasped in my arms.  The stiff wind blowing off the lake made me shiver and I wished I’d been able to afford a thicker coat.  Minnesota was colder than I thought it would be, I was unprepared for how strong the wind could be, nothing had gone as planned.

Originally I was supposed to be moving into an apartment building right downtown, but when I’d arrived the apartment management hadn’t gotten my deposit, hadn’t reserved my space and had been totally unhelpful.  With the majority of my funds having been lost in the check I’d sent the apartment manager I was unable to put a deposit down on another apartment.

Aimlessly wandering around Canal Park, watching idiots feed seagulls and take their pictures in front of a weird fish fountain I’d eventually wound up slouching between the Dewitt Seitz building and a Mexican restaurant; enjoying the smells of tortillas frying from one side and smoked fish and Vietnamese cuisine from the other side.

“Hey, kid.”  I jumped at the voice, having been lost in my thoughts.  “You got a light?”

I looked at the short man who had exited from a side door, an unlit cigarette held between his lips.  He looked like he must be a cook from one of the restaurants, white apron, white pants, white kerchief holding back his mass of blonde curls.

“Yeah.”  I fished in the pocket of my jacket and produced a battered Zippo lighter.  It was scarred from being used to open beer bottles and from me drunkenly dropping it on more than one occasion but it always lit on the first flick of the wheel.

I took my last precious hand-rolled smoke from my cigarette holder and lit it, then extended the flame to the man sharing the alley with me.  He leaned in and lit up and gave me a curious look that took in my suitcase, travel-worn appearance and seemed to pierce through to lay all my troubles bare.

“What you doing out here?”  He asked, exhaling smoke through his nostrils.

“Just keeping out of the wind.”  I said, trying not to show how uncomfortable I found his piercing green eyes.

“You gotta place tonight?”  He asked, pointing his chin at my suitcase.  When I didn’t answer he shrugged, “None of my business, but I know of a place that’s up for rent.  Landlord really wants to get someone in it and he ain’t too picky about background checks and whatever.”

I shoved my braids back and blew out a cloud of smoke.  “What’s this then?”

He pulled an order pad and a pen from his pocket and scribbled a phone number on it.  Holding it out he shrugged, “Tell Dave that Jon gave ya his number.”  When I took it, he flicked the cherry off his cigarette, tossed the butt in a dumpster and went back inside.

That was how I’d ended up taking a bus a few miles down the narrow strip of land that divided the St Louis River bay and the mighty waters of Lake Superior to a cluster of tiny cabins nestled in a copse of evergreens.  The number 7 hung crookedly above the door and I had a feeling foreboding that I just couldn’t shake.

My landlord had said he’d stop by in the morning to, “Talk about my rent and whatever.” He’d also told me the key was under the mat, which didn’t make me think anyone gave a shit about this place, much less him.  Still, I needed a place to stay and it was fucking cold.

I found the key as promised in its spot under the mat, unlocked the door and walked inside.  The cabin smelled of cedar, candle wax, and wood smoke.  I fumbled about for a light switch, found it, flicked it on and winced as the bulb flashed once and died.  A flick of my thumb brought the flame of my trusty Zippo to illuminate my surroundings and I lit a few candles that were placed conveniently close to the door.

After looking at the propane heater for a few silent minutes, I decided to make a fire in the woodstove instead.  If the light bulb had randomly exploded I didn’t want to tempt fate with my dubious skills with natural gas.  Although honestly maybe it would be better if I just blew myself up.

A few tears leaked from the corners of my eyes, as I crumpled newspaper and stacked up kindling.  What I really needed was a little food, a nice fire and maybe a beer.  My finances were so strained that it was silly to think about it, but I was so hungry and I’d had such a horrible day didn’t I deserve a little treat?

I lit the fire with my zippo and smiled; getting a lift from knowing I could at least build my own fire.  A flash of anger at the apartment manager who had cost me my security deposit made my decision for me.  I pulled my phone from my pocket and a quick search pulled up a food delivery service.  They even offered to stop by Hoops brewing to pick me up a couple of beers.

There were a few dog eared paperbacks on the windowsill, and I picked up a Danielle Steele novel I hadn’t read yet.  Trashy romance novels were a guilty pleasure; I don’t know why, but the lurid scenes made me feel better. I wished to be one of those characters swept up in her lover’s arms, just letting him take care of everything.

When the pizza arrived, I ate the entire thing and drank both the 24-ounce beers.  I even convinced the delivery boy to give me a couple of cigarettes and sat close to the fireplace smoking and feeling too full, but too lazy to try and walk it off.  I leaned back in the chair and stared at the ceiling, already feeling better.

‘Wow, I never would have seen this coming.’ Said Pride, ‘She actually understands.’

‘Hungry enough to stuff herself silly.” Said Gluttony.

‘Giving in to her addiction enough to talk a couple of smokes out of the delivery boy.’ Said Greed.

‘Reading that awful romance novel.’ Said Lust.

‘And wishing to be one of those damsels who doesn’t have to worry about anything.” Said Envy.

‘Angry about those who have wronged her.’ Said Wrath.

‘Too lazy to bother doing anything about it.’ Said Sloth.

‘We’ve kept everyone else from this place without meaning to.’ Pride said, looking down on the girl asleep in the chair before the fireplace.

‘Now one who truly understands us has arrived.’ Greed said, ‘We must help her and make her stay.’

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.