The Callindra Chronicles Book 2 – The Rise of Evil: Chapter 35

“Something here is influencing our minds.”  Cronos said, his voice deceptively calm.  “Trying to frighten us away would be my guess.”

“What risk do we run by accepting the challenge?”  Vilhylm asked, his face set in angry lines.  “I’ve never backed down from a head on fight before.   Why should I now?  They’ve thrown down the gauntlet, I say we take it up.”

“Where is the Hand pointing Tryst?”  Callindra asked, her voice haunted.  “If it’s in there we don’t have a choice do we?”

Gill reefed the sails and The Flounder slowed, not entering the pass.  “What’s it gonna be?”  He asked, looking at them in turn.

Tryst withdrew the Hand from beneath his armor and focused on it.  The hand swiveled above his palm and pointed directly toward the twin pillars of stone.  He sighed and put it back beneath his breastplate.  “Well, it looks fairly clear.  Our resolve is being tested.”

“Wait, are you serious?”  Callindra looked nervously at him, “Seems like this was more of a warning that we shouldn’t take lightly.”

“I hate to agree with her, but the vision I had didn’t leave a lot of room for success.”  Cronos said with a dour look.  “Even if I was able to barely escape things didn’t go well for the rest of you.”

“Wait. You survived in your vision?”  Callindra asked, her brow furrowing.  “I didn’t survive in mine.”

“I watched you all die.”  Vilhylm said in a flat tone.

“Everyone else perished in my vision as well.”  Tryst said, “What happened in yours sister?”

Callindra swallowed hard, “I tried to stop the walls from falling in, but I couldn’t keep the walls out and the ship moving forward at the same time.  The magic was too much for my blade.”  She closed her eyes and remembered what she had seen.

Cronos put his hand on her shoulder.  “I know what that sword means to you.”  He said softly.

“No you don’t.”  She said bitterly, “Without him to help me I lost control.  I killed us all Cronos.  My magic tore us all to shreds.”

They all sat still for a moment.  Callindra opened her mouth to answer, but Tryst responded first.  “I do not believe you would ever do such a thing Callindra.”

“I’ve seen you fight against things that should have sent you running.”  Vilhylm said with a calm certainty.  “You’ve fought for us, for strangers and for what is right.”

“You’re crazy, but you aren’t that crazy.”  Cronos said, his tone dry.  “I’m not worried about fighting next to you, even if you sometimes cut me with that damn pig sticker I know you’re more dangerous to my enemies than to me.”

They didn’t understand, but she was too overcome with gratitude to correct them.  She knew all too well how dangerous losing her control could be.  Visions of the ancient tree in her Master’s front yard disintegrating, followed by the recent vision of destroying her family.  Wiping tears from her eyes, she turned to face the pillars.

“I’m not going to let this storm cursed thing stop me with visions.”  She touched Brightfang’s hilt briefly and smiled at her family.  “It doesn’t have any power over us and I refuse to allow it to stop me from accomplishing my goal.”

“Right.”  Tryst also stood straight and faced the strait.  “I am with you sister.  Instead of running from this, we must work together to overcome it.  I cannot stop the stones from falling but I can shield us from them slightly.”

“I can raise the wind to ensure it blows us swiftly and in the right direction.”  Callindra said with a smile.

“I may be able to cause any plants beneath us to pull us through or possibly restrain the walls and slow their fall.”  Vilhylm said, placing the mask he had carved from Jorda’s gift over his face.

“When the walls begin to fall, I believe I can slow their descent with a spell.”  Cronos said frowning, “I’ve never tried it against something that wasn’t living, but the principle is the same.”

“You all are sun mad.”  Gil said, “If the walls fall, The Flounder will be swamped and if she is not, we will have no way of getting out.  I am not risking The Flounder.”

“We’ll take the longboat then.”  Callindra said, “It’ll take a little time to rig a sail so we can use wind power, but I think you can manage it.  You built this thing out of leftover scraps after all.”

Gill gave her a flat look, but shrugged.  “I suppose.  I’ll need a deposit in case you sink my longboat though.”

Tryst sighed and handed over another pouch of gold.  Gill grunted and got to work fitting a makeshift mast and sails to his longboat.  By the next morning the boat was ready.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 2 – The Rise of Evil: Chapter 34

“Oh.  Well, make the best of it while you can?”  She said, “Just because the Wind does what I ask it to sometimes doesn’t mean it listens every time.”

“We’ll take as much advantage as we can.”  He said with a grin and released a rope.  A third sail caught the wind with a snap and The Flounder seemed to leap over the water much faster than a ship of her size and shape should have been able to.

By the end of the first day they had covered most of the distance to The Whalebone Islands.  On the way, they’d discovered that the archipelago was a collection of perhaps a hundred tiny islands surrounded by treacherous reefs and plagued by capricious winds.  There were few safe places to drop anchor close to any of the islands and Gill wasn’t willing to risk The Flounder.  Once they got closer they would be reduced to rowing the Longboat he kept onboard.

At highsun the following day they passed between a pair of islands that were nothing more than pillars of stone that towered several hundred feet into the sky and Gill announced that they had crossed the barrier reef that surrounded the islands.  Brightly colored fish darted away from the ship, not used to the unfamiliar shadow she cast as she sailed over their frigid home.  Callindra hung onto the railing, looking down with avid interest and a smile on her face.

“Look at that one!  It’s bright orange!”  She shouted, pointing a finger down at the water.

“Callindra, could you maybe step back from the edge?”  Cronos asked, “If you fall in I don’t think we can turn back to get you.”

“Relax Cronos, since when have YOU become the worry wort?”  She laughed, “Look that one’s bright blue!”

She turned to look at her brothers, smiling and laughing.  That’s when the sides of the pillars slammed into the ship.  The Flounder ground to a stop, flinging everyone but Tryst off their feet.

Tryst watched in horror as a stone fell from above, crushing Callindra to a bloody pulp on the deck.  Cronos twisted, trying to get out of the way as the deck of the ship slammed into him, pulverizing his body against one of the pillars.  The ship groaned under the pressure and his other companions and family were pitched into the chill waters of the Sea of Swords.

He turned, trying to find a way to escape, and as the walls slammed closed on him, he grabbed onto a rope, cut it with his belt knife and swung out barely swinging free of the stones before the mashed the ship into toothpicks.

Blink.

Vilhylm saw the pillars begin to slam together and looked around with careful deliberation flung a grapnel up towards the clifftop high above.  He climbed up the rope just in time to avoid the slabs of rock meeting, but lost sight of the ship except for broken fragments of wood fell to splash into the ocean below.

Blink.

Cronos saw the stones begin to move and sprang into action.  He whirled his hands and waves of Power coursed from his hands, hurling him up and away from the ship.  Even as he tried to find a way to help the others, the ship was crushed into kindling, his family with it.

Blink.

Vilhylm roared in fury, growing strong and leaping forth in a futile attempt to stop the walls from smashing together.  He struggled against the inexorable force of the stone, feet digging furrows into the decking.  All the power he could summon wasn’t sufficient to keep the inevitable from happening though.  The stone pillars continued to grind together, crushing Vilhylm, the ship and his family.

Blink.

Callindra summoned all the force she could as the pillars began to fall.  Drawing so much power into herself that her entire body shook with it.  Drawing Brightfang, she swung him in a circular arc and blasted Wind out in a torrent around her.  Rising off the deck of the ship and spinning faster and faster she screamed in desperation, trying to shove the walls back and the ship forward at the same time.  It was close, but at the end the power was too much for her sword.  Brightfang exploded into a shower of steel shards and without him to help her channel it, the wind itself tore her and her family into bloody shreds.

Blink.

They were sailing towards the twin pillars and Tryst grabbed Gill’s arm.  “Wait, we can’t go in this way.”  He said, his voice tense.

“I saw such horrible things.  Such awful things.”  Callindra said, “What I did was unforgivable.  Unforgivable.”  She was sitting with her back to the mast, holding Brightfang and running her hands up and down his length.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 33

The next morning they set out, burdened with food and supplies and in much better spirits than they had been for some time.  They saw almost no living things in the bog, which was a blessing as many of the creatures they had encountered before had been infected by the Abyssal disease.  By the time they arrived at the small collection of fisherman’s huts their mood had improved dramatically.

Callindra began playing her tin whistle around the fire in the evenings again and Vilhylm told stories he’d learned from the man who had taught him how to make masks.  Cronos cooked more often and created meals that were remarkably delicious, especially considering the limited variety of basic ingredients.

Their good mood evaporated when they reached the shoreline as the sun was going down a few days later.  Burned out huts and broken fishing boats littered the shoreline.  A single boat seemingly tacked together from several damaged ones was beached near a small campfire.  A young man looked up at their approach with haunted eyes.  He seemed ready to bolt, but Tryst strode forward with a smile and gentle words.

“Fear not good sir, we are not here to harm or steal from you.  In fact we wish to engage your services if you’re willing to transport us.”  Said Tryst, “We will pay you one hundred gold to bring us to The Whalebone Islands.”

“Show me the money.”  He said, voice suspicious.  Tryst took out a pouch and opened it so the other man could see the gold shining inside.

“You can count it out yourself.  My name’s Tryst, this is my sister Callindra and my brothers Vilhylm and Cronos.”

“Gil.”  The man said shortly, “We leave with the tide tomorrow morning.  Candlemark after dawn.”

“What happened here?”  Callindra asked, looking around at the wreckage.  “Was this your village?”

“Nah.  Coulda been though.”  Gill turned his back on them and began turning the fish he had cooking on long sticks thrust into the sand.

Callindra looked at his ship, taking note of how tacked together it seemed.  After a moment, she realized this wasn’t just a ship, it was a floating house.  “You have been attacked?”  She asked hesitantly, “Your village?”

“We all left before they could find us.”  Gill said, “Made boathouses.  Spread out.  Lost track of ‘em.”

“Oh.  I’m sorry.”  She said, not really knowing what to say.

Gill just grunted and took a fish from the fire, tested it and handed the stick to her.  “Eat.  More’n I can use myself anyway.”

The next morning, Callindra awoke just as the first rays of sun were cresting the horizon.  It was her first time truly seeing a sunrise over the ocean.  The winds playing around her were stronger than usual; having nothing to slow them down as they danced over the water.  She performed the Korumn, dancing with them and found Gill staring at her when she finished.

“What was that?”  He looked at the perfect compass rose left at the end of her exercise.  “How did you do that?”

She took a deep breath, feeling the relief of the power that had built up overnight being gently discharged without harm.  “Just my morning exercise.”  She said cautiously.

“No it ain’t.   You’re one of the Order ain’t ya?”  He said, gesturing with a shrewd look at Brightfang.  “Ain’t seen a sword on a chain before but I ain’t seen a sword like that one either.  Bonded blade or I ain’t captain of th Flounder.”

Callindra shrugged and sheathed her sword.  “What do you know about them?”

“I know they got power.  If you got wind control I bet you could help me launch.”  He gave her a steady look.  “That’s all I know what I care about.”

She nodded and gave him a cautious half smile.  “I can probably help you with the wind, especially since it seems like it’s favorable right now.”  Looking past him to where Cronos was poking a fire to life she found her appetite demanding attention.  She had gotten used to his cooking.

After a breakfast of fresh crabs wrapped in seaweed and roasted to perfection over hot coals, everyone but Callindra climbed on board The Flounder.  The ship wasn’t a pretty vessel, but she bobbed in the tide, her bottom only barely scraping the sand.  When Gill hauled up the anchor, she wallowed slightly in the current, but didn’t quite manage to slip out to sea.

Callindra drew Brightfang and began a slow, measured dance.  As she moved through the complex Stances of the Eighth Korumn, the slight shore breeze began to pick up.  It spun around her as her blade moved in intricate spinning circles and by the end, her feet barely touched the ground between Stances.  With the release of the magic, the wind rose in a steady rush and The Flounder heeled over, sails billowing out.

Using the last residual bits of the Power she’d gathered, Callindra ran lightly across the waves and leaped onto the deck with a triumphant smile.  “How was that for a launch?”

Gill grunted, “When’s it gonna stop?”

She frowned and glanced at the swiftly receding shoreline.  Biting her lower lip, she shook her head. “Um.  Not sure.  Is that bad?”

Gill shrugged, “Just wanted ta know how long I could rely on it.  Winds ain’t th most reliable out here.”

“Oh.  Well, make the best of it while you can?”  She said, “Just because the Wind does what I ask it to sometimes doesn’t mean it listens every time.”

“We’ll take as much advantage as we can.”  He said with a grin and released a rope.  A third sail caught the wind with a snap and The Flounder seemed to leap over the water much faster than a ship of her size and shape should have been able to.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 32

Tryst walked into the common room of The Drunken Thief feeling weak as a newborn lamb and hungry as a bear after his winter sleep.  The scent of roasting fish and potatoes fills his nostrils and his mouth began to water.

“Hey brother, come have some food and an ale!”  Callindra said with a smile and a wave of her pipe. “They’re grilling catfish and tubers.  The ale is flowing and we have a lead on where the bits we’re looking for might be.”  Her cheeks were slightly flushed with alcohol.

“I see not much has changed.”  He said, a grin spreading across his face, noting Cronos sitting with a pensive expression on his face and three empty plates stacked in front of him and Vilhylm was chewing on a mouthful of food.

“Oh come off it Tryst.”  Cronos said, crossing his arms.  “You’ve been out of it for weeks.  Come and eat something.”

“it’s good to see you out of bed brother.”  Vilhyl said, grinning around a mouthful of potatoes.  “Quit the tough guy act, it doesn’t fit you.”

Laughing, he sat with his family, for he thought of them as such even though they weren’t related by blood.  They talked and ate; Tryst catching himself up on the events that had transpired since he had been indisposed.

“In the end it all comes back to Adbar.”  Tryst said grimly, “The Countess nearly burned down the Grandfather Tree, we should have known the Count would be involved as well.”

“How could he have figured it out?”  Callindra asked, “Jorda gave us this mission herself, how is it possible that anyone else knew about it?”

“I would imagine that if one God knew about it another could have as well.”  Tryst said, helping himself to another serving of fish.  “I think we would be foolish not to anticipate there being more than one interested party in this matter.”

“You mean you think we have been foolish right?”  Callindra said, raising an eyebrow.

“Well, we know that Dergeras is trying to set the abyss free, but we never thought that there might be others out there who are also looking for these artifacts.”  Tryst said, “We need to recover the remaining ones as swiftly as we can and then go face Count Adbar.”

“We’ve got one advantage over any others though.”  Cronos said with a smile, “We have the Hand and it points us towards the nearest piece.  Vil and I have been checking where it points now against a map while waiting for you to get up and for Callindra to finally get out of the bath.  We’re pretty sure it is aiming us at the Whalebone Islands.”

“At least that’s the only thing of significance in that direction within a reasonable distance.”  Vilhylm amended.  “If it’s not just laying somewhere at random, that seems like the only place it could be.”

“I know it’s out of the way and not part of the plan, but I must get to the glaciers of the north.  I don’t know exactly where it is, but there’s an old burned out volcano there.”  She put a gentle hand on Brightfang’s hilt.  “I have to bring him there and get him repaired.”

“Without you to fight beside us we would be sorely lacking to be sure.”  Tryst said, “Of course we will venture there with you to find your smith.”

Callindra let out a breath, feeling the tension in her shoulders release slightly and gave her brothers a smile.  “Thank you.”

“There is a fishing village on the shore of the Drakkenmore.”  Mili said, arriving with fresh plates of food and tankards of Bog Ale.  Setting the food and drinks down, she indicated a spot on the map.  “You might be able to pay one of them to take you out to the Whalebones.”

“Thanks Mili.”  Tryst said, digging for some coins.

“Your money is no good here.”  She said firmly, “You all rid us of The Ravenger.”

“You have to make a living somehow.”  Callindra said, “What are you going to do now that all your customers are gone?”

“Oh they’ll be back.”  Mili said, “Or others will come.  There’s too much treasure out there in the swamp for them to stay away for long.  Without The Ravenger to keep them away, we will probably have to put a new wing on The Drunken Thief.”

The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 31

Gabriel shook his head, “Maybe if we’d listened to her and fought it together you wouldn’t have been hurt so badly.  I guess we’ll never know.  Important thing is before I could tell her anything about this person who was looking for those simple clay artifacts she mentioned.”

Tryst sat up with a gasp of pain and swung his feet over the side of the bed.  “What?  Who is this person?”

“Adbar.  The Count Adbar said he was gathering them for a reconstruction project.”  Gabriel said, “He claimed they were part of an ancient statue that it was his lifetime obsession to put back together.  Called it the idle interest of a wealthy old man, but I heard a rumor it was supposed to bring the dead back to life or something.

“We figured it was just a story, but maybe not?”  Gabriel sheathed his knife.  “I thought you would want to know; he found a piece of it here and it wasn’t the first one he had acquired.”

“Adbar.”  Tryst said, running his fingers through his hair.  “Things do have a way of coming full circle.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”  Gabriel asked.

“Nothing that concerns you really.”  Tryst said with a sigh, “But as long as I’m confessing my sins as it were; we attempted to save his wife from the Abyssal infection.  We failed.  She tore out her own throat, summoned a demon and set the High Forest ablaze.  We managed to defeat that horrible golem, but the cost was great.”

“We saw the fire from here.”  Said Gabriel, his voice awed.  “You were there, fighting alongside a goddess?”

“Yes.  We fought alongside Jorda and between us we stopped the monster.”  Tryst said, his voice reverent. “It is a miracle we survived.  A real miracle from a real Goddess.”

A commotion outside brought a smile to Tryst’s face.  “-god rotting turnip eating slime!  I’m going to go see my brother and if you stand in my way I’ll cut off your hand and shove it so far up your ass you’ll never get it out in time for a priest to re-attach it!”

“They’ve returned.”  Tryst said, his smile growing wider.  “I’d better get out there before she does someone harm.”

The door slammed open and a figure splattered in road muck and dust stalked into the room.  Her hair was in a braid as thick as his wrist and hung all the way to the floor and tiny Brightstar flowers shone in it.  A sword hilt protruded from above her right shoulder and a thin brilliant silver chain ran from the pommel to a bracelet on her right wrist.  Incongruously, a mass of butterflies was flitting around her head, landing on her hair and her shoulders.  She didn’t seem to notice them.

“Tryst!  They didn’t want to let me in but they’re stupid.”  She yelled, seeing him sitting up she ran to him and flung her arms around his neck.  “You’re all right!  Tryst you jackass we were so worried.”

“Easy Callindra, I’m not really in a position for this level of manhandling.”  He croaked, “I just managed to regain consciousness, I’m practically an invalid!”

She let go immediately and stepped back, concern plain on her face. “Oh gods Tryst, I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

“I must look like hell if you’re giving me that kind of consideration.”  He said giving her a wry look.  “But really you’re in no shape to be in a medical ward.  Go and bathe sister, I’m not going to die any time soon.  Once we’ve all had the chance to get clean we can discuss our next steps over a hot meal.”

To his surprise, she looked at him with tears making muddy tracks down her cheeks.  “Yes, of course Tryst.  I just had to see you.  We were so worried… I was so worried.  I don’t know how we would continue without you.”

Before he could respond, she turned and all but ran from the room.

“You could have handled that a little better.”   Mili said, “But I’m sure she will forgive you.  After all, you just woke up from a week’s long coma.”

“Yeah.  I’m sure she’ll forgive me.”  Tryst sighed, “I’ll probably survive the bruises too.”

“She loves you very much?”  Asked Mili.

“We have been through much together.”  Tryst said, making an effort to get out of bed.  He paused, blushing slightly.  “Do you suppose I might be able to get my clothes?”

Mili laughed, “Of course Sir Tryst.”  She handed him his clothing and left him in peace to get dressed.

“I’m not a knight or a Lord.”  He said after her retreating back, “Just Tryst please.”  If she heard, she didn’t respond.

Sai’Li Learns of a Storm

One night as Sai’Li is sitting by the fire drinking tea, idly petting Ignis in his tiger form and enjoying the low rumble of his purr, she begins to reflect.  She muses about the past he has shared with her about losing his parents early, the discipline of the monastery, the isolation of his druidic life.  The gruff way he acts is typical of most Dwarves she knows, however the way he closes himself away from almost everyone goes beyond racial attitude and bearing.

She has seen this body language before, although it is usually from folk hardened from birth by the rigors of unkind training in her Lord Father’s rigorous guard training.  His methods of starting with very young children is effective, but certainly weeds out empathy and any semblance of kindness or compassion.  When she recalls the way he bridles and glares when Aurora tries to pet him, the promise of deadly violence clear in his posture reinforces her thoughts.

Taking a sip of tea, Sai’Li wonders if she is the first in his memory to touch him in a gentle manner. She can’t help but smile that the only time he opens himself up to her is when he is also at his most dangerous.  There is no doubt that the six hundred pounds of killing fury sitting contentedly by her side could tear her to shreds in moments.

Covering the smile behind her fan, Sai’Li muses on how things have progressed.  Ignis the Dwarf is still the uncouth and irascible man he has always been.  When a creature feels powerful and comfortable in its skin though; that is ironically when they are the most vulnerable.  One of her most effective and honed skills is to make beings feel comfortable and powerful.

In this case, it has not been her doing; or at least not entirely.  Her vampiric heritage does protect itself by making her mere presence sway others to her will, but there seems to be more here.  Part of it must be the lack of clothing animals are required to wear, as Ignis has shown nothing but disdain for clothing, for the rest… she has known men whose only chance of survival was to become a Tiger.  Of course, those men did not literally become an actual tiger; but instead took on the fierce predator’s killing instinct and lack of mercy.  Here, she judged the physical predator had come to appreciate her abilities as an emotional and psychological predator.

‘Anyone can cut a man in half child.’ Her Honored Father used to say, ‘But a true Master will convince the man to first give everything he has to you of his own free will and then die in the manner of the Master’s choosing.’

She shivered and wondered if it was in horror at the memory or in admiration of his great talents and seemingly limitless power.  Her Honored Father had the prowess of every form of predation she knew existed.  Someday, she hoped … but she did not know what it was she hoped for.  Freedom?  Equal power?  To take his empire?

Sai’Li buried her fingers deep into her tiger’s fur and allowed herself a small sigh of satisfaction at the rumbling of contentment from the bottom of his chest.  For now, she was content to plan and grow stronger.

After a few nights in Burnholm, Ignis has become increasingly irritable with each passing day. Late into one evening while pacing in front of the fire in his Dwarven form, he abruptly turns to Sai’Li. Speaking in a measured, quiet tone he says, “I understand you are more comfortable here than on the road, but I think we have been here long enough.  I smell a fierce storm approaching, we should take our leave tomorrow at dawn.  If we make haste and don’t let that damned wagon slow us.” His voice rises slightly, “We can likely dodge the worst of it.  If we stay, I’m not sure how long it will keep us trapped here.”. Folding his arms, he stares at her intently waiting for a response.

“We are not on the water. I do not fear the rain. What is it about this storm that worries you?” Sai’Li looks up from where she had been using an ivory and obsidian abacus to tally an account of her most recent shipment of fine instruments and goods sent through the ring to Ako, her capable assistant in her Coastwood Blossom House. “I know you are not a coward; what is different about this storm in particular?”

Ignis’s brow furrows and he turns to stare into the crackling flames.  After a few breaths, he flexes his hand like a claw and speaks again.  “Something I can’t explain feels off about it.”  He sighs and continues, “Perhaps, it is nothing more than that these are unfamiliar lands with unfamiliar storms.”

He stares at the fire for another moment before turning back to face her. “However, I can tell you that this storm feels angry and it means to linger.  The winds alone will make it too dangerous to travel in it and waiting it out will delay us more than the few days it will take for it to calm.  The roads will be mud and puddles for who knows how long after. That’s to say nothing of how many downed trees we will have to clear from our path.” Ignis gives her a small grin “And besides, if I have to stay here too much longer I’ll never get the stink of these folk out of my nose.”

“Perhaps it will be a storm from the other world; a storm that crosses the veil.”  Sai’Li muses, tapping a perfectly lacquered inch long blue fingernail against lips that sported matching lip color.  “While that might be a thing to witness it is indeed not something I wish to experience on the road.  Are you certain we will be able to avoid it if we begin our journey this morning?”

She looks out the window at the clear blue sky without a hint of cloud or wind showing just after the sun has chased away the night, trusting her Tiger’s innate weather sense in the face of what her own eyes suggest.  “Perhaps after a bit of tea.  Also, we must warn our allies here of the impending storm.  If it is as fierce as you sense then they must prepare themselves for it.”  She snaps her fingers, a sound almost a whip crack and a striking young man in a short kilt and tunic almost seems to appear at the door.  His face is not quite shining with admiration; he hides it well.

“My Lady Shirasiu?”  He inquires, bowing at a right angle and staying there.

“Please wake the others if you would be so kind Brynhild.  Prepare for them to break their fast in a quarter candlemark and inquire as to if Grandmother Mabel or Uncle Lufan would be willing to join us.”

Brynhild backed two steps before straightening and setting off at a run.  He really was such a good boy.

Ignis looks at the ivory and obsidian abacus, then back to Sai-Li.  “This is not a question of numbers, one can never be certain.”

“Certainty is more often created and believed than it truly exists my Tiger.”  She says, hiding a smile behind her fan.  “The numbers only lie if you make them do it; but they can and will without complaint when the time arises.  If you had been raised under the roof of my Honored Father you would understand that certainty is not certain and uncertainty is power.  All things can be turned to one’s advantage.”  She looks out at the brilliant sky again.  “All things.”

The sky above Burnholm is a bright blue and the sun just clearing the treetops from the east shines warm and bright.

I looks like it’s going to be a good day, but the people of Burnholm do not know what is coming. They do not know that anger and hatred and unending hunger come their way. It is drawn towards them like a shark to blood in the water, like a ghoul to a new corpse.

As morning chores get underway in the little town, the first strange thing the townsfolk notice is the number of large birds flying east this morning.  Stranger still, flocks of smaller birds are flying with haste, almost as if in pursuit of the larger more powerful birds.  When swarms of the wee Fay, the pixies the sprites and others, are seen flying with desperate speed above and around the town word is sent to Grandmother Mabel and Uncle Lufan perhaps the Elders can tell what is happening.

By the time they are found and told of the strange sightings, word from the wall comes where the watch reports movement in the trees. They claim to have seen herds of beasts moving quickly in the wood. But strangest of all is that it is both prey and predator moving together.  As they stand discussing one of the young men of town comes with word that the Lady Sai’li sends for the elders.

They both exchange a worried look perhaps the outlander knows something about these unnatural happenings. They quickly head for the Inn.

“I see by your faces that the news has reached you as well?” Sai’Li says from behind her fan, “Are you preparing the town? If you are waiting for this meeting, please do not fear insult of brevity, instead go and rally your folk to their tasks.”

“I would have you heard of the strange news we bring from those that have seen it.”  Grandmother Mabel says.  She gestures to the people who have come with her and they each give report of what they have seen.  When they finish she turns to Sai’li her head tilted a little to one side.

“Now child.” she says, “What do you know of what is happening?”

“A storm seems to be brewing.” Sai’Li folds her fan and her face is completely calm, “The exact nature of this event is unknown to me but I can tell you that it is unprecedented in nature. Perhaps from beyond the veil. I wanted to warn you of its approach that you might prepare yourselves for its arrival.”

Upon hearing her words Grandmother and Uncle exchange looks Uncle turns to Sai’L,i bows slightly turns and walks out of the room.  Grandmother turns to Sai’Li, “He will begin preparing as best he can. I hope we do not lose any more people. We have suffered so much since being taken across the veil.”  She smiles sadly, at the rembrance of those lost.

“If you are not familiar with a storm like this, then it is not likely from your world as I had hoped.  The most likely explanation then is that when our worlds were thrust together we had a storm from each world collide.  They must have fed off one another to become something new and more dangerous.”  Sai’Li says, “Excuse my rudeness would you care for tea?”

At Grandmother’s nod, she moves with elegant grace, sifting some bright green Matcha into a delicate porcelain cup and pouring hot water over it.  With a horse hair brush set in a carved wooden handle, she mixes and froths the tea before sliding it across the table to Grandmother Mabel on a matching saucer.  “Do not fear grandmother.”  She says, voice calm and reassuring.  “Your town is strong and your people stronger.  After all, as someone once said to me these predictions aren’t precise numerical formulae, they are intuition and what I have heard called an ‘educated guess’.  Perhaps we have a certain Dwarven survivalist who would wish to put her skills to the test and give us a report?”  Sai’Li suggests, giving Ignis a sidelong glance.

“After all, I know Nerata has been itching to show off.  Ah, of course I mean display her many skills and talents.”  Sai’Li says, taking a sip of tea.

Ignis lets out a deep chested hum of satisfaction.  “As much as I like that idea, it would mean staying here and waiting out the storm.  Also, it may prove to be.”  He pauses, giving her a considering stare, “Unprofitable for you.  Go or stay, the choice is yours to make.”

“I believe we can discern if this is indeed a weather event or something … other.”  Sai’Li takes the baby Elven Pine Starseeker gifted her with out and sets him on the table.  “What nears this place little one?  Is it storm or is it foe?”

The tiny figure moved and swayed, chattering in incoherent fear waving its branches.  After a few moments, Ignis shook his head.

“It says its mother’s Dryad Starseeker will meet us at the great oak in the town square.”  He said, turning and beginning to walk out of the room.

With a sigh, Sai’Li put down her teacup and rose, bowing slightly to Grandmother Mable before departing.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 30

“Here now sister, that’s not doing any good.”  Surprisingly it was Cronos that was wiping tears away and pressing a warm drink into her hands.  “I’m sure we can find something to help.  If one man can concoct a bit of healing magic what’s to say another cannot duplicate it?  Pierce’s apprentice mayhap or myself or even Vilhylm might be able to give some insight.”

She took the mug of steaming tea in shaking hands and looked at her brother through tear blurred vision.  “But my sword.  My precious Brightfang, the blade that I bound to my life and my magic with a piece of my soul.  I have broken him and there isn’t anyone in the world who can make another because there can be no other.”

“If there is a sword, there was a smith.”  Vilhylm said, coming to join them.  “If there is a smith, the sword can be forged once again.”

“You would venture to the glaciers of the north?”  Callindra asked, turning her tear streaked face towards them, “To the great mountain with the heart of fire where the demon of war Majiera sits chained to pillars of ice and the smith Beliach forges weapons for the gods?”

Cronos stared at her in shock and Vilhylm opened and closed his mouth in an attempt to form words.  Callindra wiped tears from her eyes and took her whetstone from her belt pouch.  “I will not allow him to break.  I won’t allow him to weaken.  I will fix this.  I can fix this.”

“It appeared to me that it was your last attack that caused the blade to fracture.”  Cronos said, “When it scraped along the portal’s edge as the magic was being unraveled I think it was weakened.”

Callindra smoothed out the sharp piece of metal so that it was no longer a sliver that would cut into her hand and only then noticed how she had sliced herself on Brightfang’s razor sharp blade.  The vines and tendrils that grew around the wounds quickly made any motions requiring dexterity difficult and she put her whetstone back into its pouch reluctantly.

“What will we do about Tryst?”  She asked, “We don’t have the amulet that the traitor Pierce claimed to need in order to complete whatever spell he was going to use to revive him.”

“I have an idea that perhaps the death of the Ravenger will serve to help revive him.”  Vilhylm said, “After all, it was that creature’s foul magic that laid him low to begin with.  We have to have hope Callindra.”

Hope.  What an elusive and tenuous thing.  But as she thought about it, she realized that she did feel hope.  It was all she could do, but it went beyond that.  She had seen folk brought back from the very brink of death by her brother Tryst and she felt certain that the Gods he revered would not allow him to die when he had saved so many.

Tryst stirred, trying to remember where he was.  The scent of wet peat moss and antiseptic filled his nostrils.  With an effort of will he opened his eyes and saw a ring of worried faces staring down at him.  A soft golden-green glow lit the room and he realized it was coming from him.

“How long was I out?”  He managed to ask, and at his words the folk of The Drunken Thief let out a collective breath of relief.  Tryst realized that they had all been holding weapons ready to hack and smash and that they’d all been terrified anyway.

“It has been nearly a fortnight.”  Mili said, “We were beginning to lose hope.  This must mean your companions were able to reach Pierce.”

“What would that have to do with my recovery?”  He asked, “Was this a curse?”

“You fell under the influence of the Abyss.”  She replied, “We had lost all hope, but your friends refused to give in.  Especially the young girl.  They went to find my old training master as he has made a study of such things.  If anyone has the ability to remove the curse of Abyssal Spawn it is he.”

“He can cure the Abyssal sickness?”  Tryst asked, incredulous.  “If he can, that is… I must find him!  That knowledge must be shared before it’s too late!”

Tryst tried to sit up and found his muscles too stiff to move properly.  With a groan of effort he managed to roll to one side and Mili helped him to a sitting position.  His head spun and he was desperately hungry.  One of the huge twins who served as bouncers at the Inn brought him a bowl of broth and it was all he could do not to bolt it down.

As he took careful sips, Tryst tried to martial his thoughts.  Was he finally free of it?  Could this Pierce have the key to truly fixing the infestation?

“I there was someone who was looking for these pieces your – uh – sister Callindra was talking about.”  Said a man with bandages on his chest.  He was honing a dagger where he lay in a bed convalescing from near mortal wounds.

“I’m Gabriel.  Callindra sat with me around the fire before the Ravenger attacked.”  He sighed, “I had invited her to join me after seeing her fight the bog creatures.  She turned me down of course; I had no way of knowing how far out of my league she was.  I’ve never seen anyone do anything like that before.  Running into the face of certain death with a smile on her face and fire in her heart.”

The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 29

As her brothers prepared themselves, Cronos by beginning to incant a spell and Vilhylm by withdrawing a mask, Callindra began swinging Brightfang by his chain.  The sword wasn’t balanced for it, and instead of spinning smoothly in a circle, the blade began to roll as its curved edge caught currents of the wind.  The effect was a low rumbling thrum; much like the bullroarers village children played with.

Running forward, she launched herself off a lichen encrusted sarcophagus to leap high in the air.  Brightfang’s arc changed, the blade swinging high into the sky to gather a crackling nimbus of living lightning around its spinning length.  With a shout of anger, Callindra brought her sword flashing down with all the power she could muster.  It struck The Ravenger on the right shoulder with a flash of electricity and an impact that she could feel even through the chain.

Her feet touched the ground and she yanked hard on the chain, sending her sword twirling back towards her.  She shook from exhaustion, this wasn’t her first fight of the day and the others had taken a lot out of her already.  The Ravenger covered the distance between them so quickly that it nearly reached her before Brightfang did.

The monster’s intense heat once again scorched her body, but she had a smile of satisfaction on her face.  Its right arm was hanging uselessly by its side.  Unable to dodge its oncoming rush, all she could do was brace herself.

Vilhylm slammed into the attacker, knocking him off his feet even as he reached for her with a flaming arm.  As the monster turned to face this new threat Cronos attacked it from the other side, hacking into it with his broadsword with a spray of blood.  The Ravenger roared, spinning to attack him but Callindra slashed it across the spine and it retreated back into the chapel.

“You can’t run from me!” Callindra yelled, sprinting after it.  Coming through the door, she emerged into a scene from nightmare.

A charnel house of slaughter littered the floor, bodies torn and shredded.  A portal of glowing silver light stood on one side, the view beyond an unending field of fires and torment.  Laughter echoed throughout the chapel, seeming to come from everywhere but Callindra ignored it.  Running inside she gathered the Weave about her and her steps became faster, every movement accentuated by winds and magic.

“I have waited so long.”  The Ravenger rumbled, “I have been waiting for one who can break the seals for what seems like hundreds of years.  Perhaps it has been hundreds of years.”

“To the nine hells with your waiting.”  Callindra said, spinning in a whirlwind, Brightfang a razor sharp extension of her arm as she slammed into her enemy.  As she struck, scintillating bolts of lightning followed each swipe of her sword, hammering into The Ravenger with elemental force.

The creature staggered backwards in the face of her onslaught and she continued pressing her attack in spite of the heat that singed her hair and blistered her skin.  A series of magical bolts streaked over her shoulder in the pale violet color of Cronos’s magic, hammering into the creature one after another.  It staggered back from the onslaught and Vilhylm’s brutish form leaped forward, his arms extended in a parody of a mountain ape but with twining vines growing all throughout.

Vilhylm charged into The Ravenger with a rolling shoulder block as inexorable as an avalanche, smashing his hands into the stone floor of the chapel to give himself more leverage.  As he did so, vines exploded from the floor behind the creature, further throwing it off balance.  With a shriek of rage, Callindra spun Brightfang in a wild arc and the power of Nordji himself burst through the sword’s tip striking The Ravenger in the chest and sending it spinning backward into the shimmering portal.

“NO!”  It howled, “You know not what you do!  I was holding the power and now it returns!”  As it fell, the huge burning body began to shrink and unravel, twisting in a hideous parody until Pierce was revealed at the center, his eyes sunken and burning with emerald fire.

“Return to the Hell that spawned you!”  Callindra cried, and flung her sword forward to strike him squarely in the throat.  With a gurgling cry the desiccated form fell backward into the opening, fully consumed by it and Brightfang sang in protest as she yanked him out of the collapsing portal.  A rumbling, grinding sound began to resonate throughout the chapel and they all ran as best they could to escape before the building collapsed into rubble.

Panting and shaking with battle frenzy, Callindra slowly began to understand the import of what had just happened.  Her brother’s only hope had been of the Abyss.  When she wiped Brightfang off before sheathing him, the cloth caught on her hand and a sliver of metal sliced her palm open.  Staring at her beloved sword in disbelief, she saw that a tiny fracture had begun to form on the thick flat of the blade.  Her bonded blade Brightfang was beginning to suffer the same fate as all the other practice swords she had used.

“No.”  She whispered, not even noticing as tiny vines sprang up to stitch the small wound on her palm.  “I cannot lose you.  Not you too.”  It was too much, and she fell to her knees in the ancient graveyard and let tears fall unheeded from her eyes.  Vaguely she felt gentle hands leading her away, settling her on a bedroll and prying her hands from where she gripped Brightfang’s blade.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 28

“Help you? You mean you’re coming with?” Callindra said, surprised by his sudden change of heart.  She decided to take refuge in sarcasm to hide her confusion.  “I’m glad to see you’ve gotten over your debilitating fit of cowardice. Don’t worry I’ll protect you from the big scary beasties.”

Ignoring her he turned to Vilhylm, “Would you like to see my latest research? These bears are most fascinating.” The pair of them wandered off to a fenced enclosure where a monster was being held captive, paying no mind to Callindra’s impatient outrage.

“NO!”  Callindra shouted, and the Weave leaped to her aid.  Her voice cut through the room like a thunderclap and all three of the men jumped.  Cronos and Vilhylm seemed to come out of a kind of trance, blinking momentarily in confusion.  Pierce had the good grace to appear a bit contrite.

“You were using magic on us.”  She said, realization dawning on her.  “You were trying to charm us into doing your bidding!”

Cronos edged a hand towards one of the sword hilts that protruded over his shoulder.  Vilhylm set his plate down and looked at Pierce with suspicious eyes.

“Is this true?  Have you been altering our perceptions?”  Vil asked, his eyes dark.

“Of course it is true.  Be thankful that you have at least your … sister … has the ability to see what any idiot should be able to.”

“Eh?”  Cronos drew an inch of steel, “You saying we’re idiots?”

“YES!” Callindra shouted, smacking her hand down on his and forcing the blade back into the scabbard.  “You two came in here thinking only with your noses and stomachs and proceeded to sit here wasting time while our brother is back there dying.  You ARE idiots, even if I love you both.”

“It was not their fault girl.”  Pierce said, his demeanor changing.  “You passed my test but it was really just luck.  As to your brother or whatever, if he didn’t die immediately he probably won’t for a while.  I really do need some items from the wilds in order to make a tincture to wake him up.”

“That wasn’t just something you were saying to distract us?”  Callindra asked, “Well then tell me where we can find those things and we’ll go and retrieve them.”

“I will mark them on a map I’ve made of the area.”  Pierce said, “Best hurry I’d say.”

Gripping her sword in two hands, Callindra hacked through the leg of the monster.  It howled in rage and pain, falling to the ground.  Vilhym’s fists brutally smashed into its head moments later.  Spinning in place she scanned the battlefield and saw the remaining beasts had been dispatched.

“Gods and demons, that’d better be the last of them.”  She panted, flicking the emerald green blood off Brightfang.  “These things just keep coming.”

“No, another group is approaching from the south sister.”  Cronos pointed at motion in the trees.

“Enough.”  Callindra hissed, looking up at the roiling clouds.  “GET DOWN!”  She shouted and thrust Brightfang into the air, forcing the Weave to her will through him.  Lightning crackled and a lance of pure power slammed down into her sword before arcing out to immolate her enemies where they stood.

“That was … helpful.”  Vilhylm said, wiping the sweat from his face and giving Callindra an appraising look.

“Maybe next time you lead with that.”  Cronos said, wincing as he cleaned his broadsword, a long pair of slashes across his chest making the motion painful.  “Could have saved us a lot of trouble.”

“I didn’t know it would work that well.”  She said, shaking from the exertion of the spell.  “I’ve been experimenting with lightning.  I guess I have an affinity with it, and the storm helped.”

“We got the vials from the box and the flowers, now all that’s left is the crystal that the priest has.”  Vilhylm said, removing his mask and reverting to his own normal shape from the hulking form the mask granted him.

“According to what Pierce told us, this ruined city is where the priest was interred after he perished.”  Tryst said, glancing around.  “His focal crystal should be with him.  As distasteful as it is we must now go grave robbing.”

They moved through the abandoned streets warily, alert for anything that might be threatening.  It was eerily quiet after the combat and they encountered no further resistance.  The graveyard seemed to be the only place that was in good repair.

“This doesn’t feel right.”  Callindra said, “I don’t think-“

The door to the burial chapel exploded outward and The Ravenger strode out, its body setting everything around it on fire.  A scream of rage and pain burst from it, nearly driving them to their knees.  Callindra gritted her teeth in a rictus smile.

“Oh, you’re here for a rematch.  Only this time I’m ready for you.”  Thunder rumbled overhead, “It’s time to get some back for Tryst you bastard!”

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.”