The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 49

“Oh come now. I know all about your little tricks. Knock it off.” With one hand he tapped her on the forehead and the Power fled.

Callindra fell to her knees, holding the hilt of her ruined companion in her hands. “No… no… this can’t be.” She stood up and looked him straight in the face. “You have to re-forge him. I’ll do anything if you re-forge him.”

Her brothers exchanged awkward glances.

“Nope, can’t be done. It was broken, can’t be fixed.”  He said, turning away.

“You HAVE to, he is my life.”  Her lower lip trembled, “He’s everything.  Beliach, please re-forge him for me. Please?”

“Fine, whaddya want to give me? Whaddya got to trade?”

“I told you I’d do whatever you want. I don’t have anything to give you, and even if I did anything I could offer would be an insult.” She was still holding her head high, looking him directly in the eyes in spite of the tears running down her face.

“Yeah. I do make one helluva blade don’t I?”  He said with a wide grin, “I’ll make you a new one if that’s what you want, but you have to promise me something.”

“Anything. Anything you ask!”

“Just promise me that when you go rescue Glarian from Hellgate keep you’ll stop by for a visit. I don’t get many visitors these days and when they do stop by they always want something from me. Come on over once you get that old bastard and tell him to bring some decent drink.”

“I swear it.”

He laughed, “No need to be so formal girl.  A word of warning though, when I re-forge this blade it won’t be anything like the old one.” She was taken aback by the sudden seriousness in his voice. “Especially if we leave this on there.” He plucked the chain from the hilt, disconnecting the charmed Mithril as though he wasn’t doing anything out of the ordinary. “You sure you want it back on there?”

“I need it but…” She hesitated. Did she need the chain? Was it really a sign of weakness? Why couldn’t she hold onto her sword, even in death? Did she just not trust him, or was it herself she didn’t trust? She had thought it would keep anyone from ever taking Brightfang away but Beliach had just pulled the chain off like he was picking a flower. Would having the chain just be a reminder of a painful memory?

“It’s your blade girl. I’ll put it back on there if you want it, I don’t care one way or the other but it makes a difference in the forging.”  He said, obviously thinking about different designs.

“At first I think it was a crutch. Something to keep my fear under control you know?” She said, coming to her decision. “But I’ve turned that weakness into a strength. I think I could even surprise Glarian with some of the new moves I’ve learned with it.”

“I don’t know about that but you’re going to need all the help you can get, especially if you’re facing off with The Order and Dergeras at the same time.” He reached out and deftly removed the Mithril cuff from her right wrist. “This chain is a weird one, I’ll give ya that. I’m not completely sure how it works, so be careful with it.”

He moved to one side of the room and pulled a curtain back, revealing a room with a lavish table set with almost every imaginable type of food. “Why don’t you all get a bite to eat while I work on this? Could be awhile.”

With that, he began sorting through lumps of metal next to his anvil.  Callindra watched him comparing them, tapping them with a hammer, filing pieces off with a large rasp and even touching them with his tongue.  After a few minutes, he selected a piece of metal that was covered in rough scales that flaked off as he tested it.

Walking to the anvil, he pulled a lever so massive that she had assumed it was a part of the structure of the forge.  The chains clanked and moved, pulling Megara’s head over toward the forge, while the forge itself rose to meet him.  The gentle exhalation of the massive demon’s breath instantly heated the piece of metal to an orange-red glow.

Once it came back down, Beliach began moving with inhuman speed.  Hammer and tongs were a blur as he began to work the steel, lengthening and widening the metal, re-heating and folding and drawing it out into the shape he desired.  She watched for a time, but the needs of her body eventually distracted her.

Despite her concern about the forging of her blade, Callindra was drawn into the room by the smell of roasting venison, mulled wine and freshly baked bread. She lost track of time, happily filling her stomach with rich food and drink. Finally after her hunger was sated she sat back, smoking a pipe of fine tobacco for the first time in weeks and feeling truly relaxed. Her shoulder nudged Vilhylm who was intent on some project or another and she murmured a sleepy apology.

 

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The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 48

Callindra spun, bringing her sword to bear on the man.  He was exactly as she remembered him; bald with a long salt and pepper beard, wearing a leather apron and covered in soot and forge dust.  Stripped to the waist in the heat, he exposed a well-muscled torso although he was obviously much older than she was.

“Expecting someone else were you?” He asked, giving her a quizzical look.

“Before I answer you I want to know what business you have with Shojin.”  She said, the tip of her blade not wavering.

“Oh he’s always making a fuss over one thing or another.” He pitched his voice like a petulant child, “Oooh, my leg hurts, I can’t use it as a pivot and it’s throwing off my swing. My blade needs to be lightened and balanced to compensate.”

She chuckled, “I gave him that limp. My name is Callindra, these are my brothers Tryst, Cronos and Vilhylm.”

“They aren’t yer brothers!” The man laughed.

“Brothers in all but blood.”  Tryst said, “That’s what really matters I think.”

“Some bonds forged in battle are stronger than blood.  There’s something to that.” He noticed the chain wasn’t looped over the obelisk any more. “This won’t do at all.” He inhaled deeply, “HEY MAJERA!”

“Hey, are you sure that’s a good idea?” Callindra was backing slowly away from the opening that looked out on the monster’s lair.

“Oh sure, he’s fine. MAAAAJEEEEERRRRRRAAAAAAA!!” He broke off into a coughing fit and seemed to hack up sparks, cinders and ash.

The immense demon opened one of his eyes a slit and fixed the smith with a baleful glare.  ”WHAT?”

“You’re missing one of yer thingies there.”  He pointed to the chain where it dangled loose.

Magera reached down, picked up the chain and looped it back over the obelisk. “FOOL.” His voice shook the room before he slipped back into slumber.

“What did you say your name was?” The smith looked at Callindra’s face for the first time.

“Callindra. Callindra Sol‘Estin.”

His gaze moved from her face to the hilt sticking up above her shoulder. “No… no, it couldn’t be.” He muttered turning towards the forge. Suddenly he spun back towards her, a massive forge hammer appeared in his hands and it brought a torrent of air with it as he swung it at her head. Callindra stood her ground, whipping Brightfang from his sheath and releasing a blast of wind that perfectly countered the blow the smith was aiming at her.

Everything stood motionless; her hair, dust motes, even the breath in her lungs was momentarily stilled. “Heh, not bad, but what’s this?” He had plucked Brightfang from her hand so quickly that she hadn’t been able to stop him and was examining the blade.

“What’s with the chain? You little fool, it throws the balance completely off.”  He began muttering angrily to himself, “Glarian, what in the world are you teaching your students? How the mighty have fallen.”

“It was better than having someone take him away again.  Have you seen Glarian lately? You are Beliach aren’t you?” The tension made her voice crack.

“He’s in Hellgate keep, supposedly trapped inside his sword last time I heard.” Beliach was still looking at Brightfang.

“Trapped inside his SWORD?”

“Yeah.” He said, obviously not paying attention to her.

“Can I have my sword back now?” Callindra was trying to restrain herself from trying to rip it out of his hands by pulling on the chain because she was pretty sure she would fail.

“I suppose so, it’s broken anyway.  The balance is completely off now. You ruined a perfectly good blade, dunno what the hell you did to it.”

“I guess someone like you doesn’t know what it means to be weak. To have others be able to completely dominate you?” She paused and her voice lowered to a whisper. “To have something inside yourself that wants to destroy you and will if you can’t channel it.”

Beliach barked a laugh, “So what? You think that chain makes you stronger? You think it keeps you safe? Why not just hold on to your damn sword?”

“You can’t hang on when you’re unconscious.”  She said, gripping her sword’s hilt tightly, “I won’t let anyone take him away again.”

“I’ve seen many a man dead on the battlefield with his fingers clutching the hilt of the blade.”

“Sure, and I’d bet you’ve seen many a scavenger pry that blade out of those fingers haven’t you?” She shook her head, “This is pointless bickering. I won’t let anyone take him away again. Look, I know this might be asking a lot but can you … can you re-balance Brightfang for me?”

“No point. You haven’t been listening to me have you girlie? Whatever you did to this blade it’s ruined, just look at these flaws.” He reached out with two fingers and tapped her sword directly in the center of the blade. Callindra watched in horror as spider web cracks spread from where his fingers touched and then shrieked in horror when it shattered like glass.

“See what I mean? Ruined.”

“What have you done? WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?” Callindra’s voice rose in a piercing scream. Weave broke from her mouth with the cry, winds whipping around her chaotically. “I can’t control it you stupid old FOOL!” A rumble of thunder seemed to sound in the distance.

Love Letter

I wrote this random bit of poetry while thinking about the next of my D&D sessions.  It’ll be found the room of a former lord of a fallen city.

 

The sun set upon our meeting
Darkness descended
Swallowed hope
Devoured rest
Consumed peace
The sun set upon our meeting

The stars died upon our meeting
I bid farewell to sanity
I bid farewell to knowledge
I bid farewell to understanding
The stars died upon our meeting

The moon fell upon our meeting
I lost the future
I lost the past
I lost the present
The moon fell upon our meeting

I love the destruction
I love the loss
I love the violence
I love the madness
I love the confusion

Take me
Make me yours
Let the rest of the world burn
Burn it
Let
It
Burn

 

The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 47

Climbing the stairs littered with broken blades would have been a slow painful exercise for most people, but Callindra practically flew up them without even thinking about it. Brightfang shone in her hand and the Mithril chain that connected him to her right wrist cuff whipped behind her in the wake of her passage. The slumbering God-Construct standing in the pool of molten lava to her right shifted his massive shoulders. Even so minor a movement caused his wings to fan heat that should have blistered her skin, but the motes of burning stone that crackled from around the demon became harmless puffs of ash before they reached her.

Her brothers were slowly making their way up the stairs behind her, but she was more intent on finding the source of the release of Weave she had sensed from above. The chamber at the top was mostly open, a massive forge dominated the room and a glistening white obelisk whose girth eclipsed any tree she had seen except for The Grandfather Tree thrust through the floor on the right-hand side.

What captured Callindra’s attention was the man stepping through a glimmering silver portal. Even if she hadn’t recognized Shojin’s face the blood red and black armor of Inquisitor would have frightened and angered her at the same time. She had given him the limp he now walked with and he had made her and Glarian fugitives, hunted across the ten continents.

“You’re still alive?” His eyes widened in surprise even as the portal he had just walked through closed.

“God’s balls.” Callindra gripped Brightfang’s hilt hard enough to make her hand ache, feeling the wire wrapping bite into her hand. This was going to be trouble in a big way. If the Inquisition was here everyone’s life was in danger. Something had been off about Shojin though, maybe that broken leg she’d given him was causing more trouble than she had dared to hope it would.

“What’s up sister?” Cronos was the first of her brothers to reach the top of the stairs. His usual attention to detail was once again making it tough to keep her secrets.

“Just saw a face that I thought I’d left behind me.” Cronos didn’t look convinced, but she didn’t care and didn’t elaborate.

Her other two brothers reached the room and they began to look around. Vilhylm was of course drawn to the forge where he examined some of the tools. Cronos was looking at the massive white pillar and Tryst was standing to one side, keeping a watchful eye on Magera. Callindra just stood with her back to a solid wall and tried to look everywhere at once. Who knew when they would return?

A powerful burst of Weave from the pillar grabbed Callindra’s attention. Cronos’s hand seemed to have been sucked into it. “What the hell are you doing?” She sprinted across the room and slammed into him as hard as she could.  He didn’t budge and cried out in pain at the strain on his shoulder and elbow.

“Gods and Demons that hurts!” Cronos was still trying to pull himself out but instead his arm jerked forward another few inches.

Tryst was approaching the obelisk, unlimbering his massive hammer. He slammed it into the wall just above Cronos’s arm with thundering force, sending spider web cracks all over the surface. Pieces of ice and snow showered down around them but her brother’s arm was still stuck fast and gradually dragging him closer as it was pulled inside.

Callindra ran to the forge and grabbed a blazing hot sword blank from the fire, pausing to marvel at the perfect balance it had despite obviously being a work in progress. Cronos yelling in pain as Vilhylm tried to pull his arm out brought her back to the reality of the situation. She ran back to her brother’s side and plunged the red hot brand into the pillar. Other than a hiss of sublimating ice her attempt to free him was completely ineffective.

“I can’t believe I ruined this blade.” Callindra tossed it regretfully over the edge to clatter with the other shattered, discarded blades on the floor.

“We have bigger problems don’t you think?” Cronos was now up to his shoulder into the sheer wall of ice. He incanted a spell, gesturing with his left hand and unleashed a wave of flame on the wall. Water poured off in sheets but his arm still didn’t show any signs of coming free. “This thing is pulling me in!  Someone get me OUT!”

”Pain pain pain. Thorns and brambles, thorns and brambles. Piercing roots and threading vines. Pain.” Callindra heard a voice in her head, almost as though someone was Wind whispering to her but somehow closer, more intimate.

Vilhylm had been staring intently at the wall for several seconds. “I see a field of blowing snow. A blizzard, driven by gale force winds.” He put on the mask he had made from Jorda’s gift and tendrils of vine grew from his fingers.  They found tiny cracks in the surface and grew into them, expanding the cracks until the top of the pillar broke free, tumbling down into the lava below with a titanic crash and a huge hiss of steam.

The chain that had been looped over it swung loosely from the collar of the giant demon.  It didn’t seem to notice or awaken from its slumber, but Callindra kept a nervous eye on it anyway.

“Thanks Vil.”  Cronos said, rolling his shoulder and grimacing in pain.

A small whirl of snow started forming on the base of the obelisk and in minutes a new gleaming spire of ice had formed as though it had never been destroyed in the first place.

“What are you all doing here? Who are you?” A voice rang out behind them, gruff and low.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 46

Tryst leaped forward, roaring a battle cry designed to attract the monster’s attention while Cronos hacked into its back with an overhanded swing of his favorite bastard sword.  When the blade met the things back, the steel came away red hot, the edge warped from contacting the creature’s hide.

“What the hell IS this thing?”  He shouted, “We have to get her OUT of there!”

Vilhylm ran forward, growing bigger and stronger; his brutish aspect coming out.  He grabbed the creature’s limbs and tried to pull them apart, struggling to tear it in half and release his sister.  Callindra felt the thing’s throat constrict around her and with horrible force.  With a herculean effort she managed to draw a sliver of Brightfang from his sheath and released a blast of raw magic.  A slash opened in the side of its throat and she gulped a breath of fresh air.

The monster reared up, shrieking in pain and anger.  A flailing limb slammed into Cronos, knocking him onto its back.  His armor began to blacken and burn and he rolled off into the snow, cursing a blue streak.  Vilhylm slammed his fist into the creature’s vulnerable underbelly, impacting Callindra’s body slightly and shoving her face halfway out through the hole her magic had punched.

“This god-cursed bastard.  Is trying.  To EAT ME!”  She grated, trying to free her sword further.

The monster turned and tried to run back into its lair, but Tryst jumped in front of it, dropping his shield and gripping the sides of the wound, pulling with all his strength.  Vilhylm joined him, and they each pulled on a side.  As they pulled, Cronos discarded his damaged sword and drew another, hacking down and opening the cut far enough that Callindra spilled out in a burst of superheated blood.  The digestive fluids of the creature had done their work; her hair was burned off as were her clothes.  And her armor. And her sword sheath.

She shivered uncontrollably and felt as though she was sunburned all over.  “Gods and demons.  I feel burned and chilled to the bone all at once.”

“We must get her into the monster’s cave and build a fire or else she will freeze.”  Tryst said, sweeping his cloak off his shoulders and wrapping her in it.  Callindra winced at the rough wool touching her burns but pulled it around herself with her right hand, grateful for the warmth.

“That bastard burned up all my clothes.”  She said, her voice rough with pain.  “Bring its carcass into the cave, I’ll make boots from its blasted hide.”

“I’m not sure we have time for that.”  Cronos said, looking at the still steaming corpse of the monster.  “Don’t we have somewhere to be?”

“I’m not hiking across a sarding glacier nude Cronos.”  She said acidly, “I think it won’t matter for the short term if they aren’t completely cured since it’s so cold, now shut up and help Vil drag it inside.  We can probably start a fire from its damn hide.  Tryst, can you please do something about these burns?  I think I’m going to … just pass out for a bit.”

Callindra crumpled into Tryst’s arms and he carried her into the cave, followed by Vilhylm and a cursing Cronos as they dragged the beast’s body into the cave.  As Callindra had suggested, the heat from the red hot organs on the creatures back continued to give off enough heat to keep the interior of the cave warm.

After Tryst healed the worst of her burns, Callindra gradually regained consciousness.  Cronos had found some of his spare clothes that more or less fit her, and although she didn’t have the support of a breast band she at least wasn’t naked and shivering.

While her brothers rested, she deftly skinned the beast using her sword as she had so many times before.  With the creature’s brain and a bit of magic, she managed to cure the hide in a matter of candlemarks and made herself a surprisingly serviceable pair of boots that laced all the way to her knee.  She also cut out a rough breastplate that she could later reinforce to replace the beautifully embossed armor she had bartered for so long ago.  Before she could finish that, she would need buckles and more advanced tools though.

After a meal of trail rations and snow melted in a pan on the still warm back of the monster, they set off across the glacier.  Callindra found she didn’t much mind being forced to always keep Brightfang in her hand; his weight was a comfort to her although her hand quickly became stiff from the cold chilling the steel ice cold.

The next night, they camped in the lee of a massive snowdrift, setting up a tent barely large enough for all of them to fit in.  The cramped conditions at very least allowed them to benefit from each other’s warmth.  In the morning, they were able to make it to the base of the ashmount.

There was a large tunnel opening at the base of the mountain.  An unguarded opening that had a stiff breeze blowing at their backs as they walked inside.  The floor was littered with blades.  Swords, scimitars, daggers, polearms and axes were scattered like leaves from a weapon tree.  Some were broken, but others looked flawless at first glance.  There were thousands of weapons more perfect than any blade they’d ever seen for sale in any shop.

A staircase wound around the outside of the room with broken blades scattered over the steps carved into the stone.  The dominant feature in the room wasn’t the collection of weapons.  In the center of the volcano was a pool of lava thirty feet across.  Standing in the center of that pool was a figure Callindra could only think of as a demon.  It was over fifty feet tall with red skin and jet black wings.  Two huge chains ran from an iron collar about its neck to massive pillars of white stone or ice.

Anniversary Night: The Folk of Einn Boer Gather.

The Dungeon Master takes the threads the players have provided and weaves it into the tapestry of story.  I see myself as more of a narrator of an epic epoch than anything else.  Here begins our adventure.  Let’s meet the souls who will shape this world to their will.

 

It was the Day of Anniversary, and the entire city was alive with light, song and the smells of the delicacies that were always baked, roasted and fried in celebration.  Even deep below the city, the feeling of excitement and anticipation hummed like a plucked lute string in the air.  Arn alone did not share any of the other’s thrill at the upcoming event.

“Herdsman Castille.”  Arn looked up to see the slight form of Morrigan, her hair in its perpetual bun.  “It is a special day.  You should be above with the others.”

“I am waiting for the evening.”  He replied, “I wish to avoid the crowds.”

“You mean you wish to go and see the cage fight that ridiculous halfling is staging?” She said mildly, raising an eyebrow in amusement.

“Shepherd, I – “ Arn began, feeling flustered and uncertain.  He had never asked for time out of the monastery.  Quite the opposite, he had usually resisted leaving until recently.

“It is normal for youngsters to want to be entertained.”  Morrigan said, “I noticed your attendance at my own sparring match.  What would you offer as critique?”

“You danced as though reciting a Sutra, Shepherd.”  He said, responding to her request without thought. “The Commander Shepherd … you might as well have been trying to strike the wind.  It seemed he always knew where you would be.”

“It is not the first time we have sparred.”  Shepherd Morrigan said, “He knows me better than almost anyone else.  Your eyes do at least see to the surface Herdsman, even if what lies below the water remains largely hidden from you.  The difference in our fighting styles is distinct, however there is a very valid reason why he is the Commander.”

Arn realized he had offered a very stern criticism of her and felt even more flustered, but Morrigan gave him a slight inclination of the head.  Over the years he had learned that this was a gesture of approval.

“Go to your fights if you wish.”  She said with a hint of a smile.  “But please do not pick up any bad habits.  You are on the cusp of the Stillness.”

“Yes Shepherd, of course Shepherd, thank you Shepherd.” He said, grinning at the memories of the enthusiastic halfling and her strange, wild leaping fighting style so different from anything he had ever seen here.  “I think, in all honesty that many of the fights may be staged.”

Her only reply was a soft laugh that could have been amusement or agreement.

Boris rubbed his hands together, chuckling to himself.  This latest batch of ale had failed, but instead of throwing it away, the Dwarf had left it out uncovered overnight and some form of wild yeast or another had infested it.  Now instead of sitting quiescent and sullen, it was nearly bubbling over with activity.  Quite possibly toxic and deadly activity, but he could work with that.

After giving it a good stir and scooping off the unhealthy looking violet froth from the top of the fermenting cask, he carefully covered it and went back to bottling.  His experiments had all but bankrupted him last month and he didn’t want to resort to eating summoned food again.  Over the last few years he’d begun to think there was something wrong with it, and besides, after eating real food, he couldn’t imagine anyone enjoying that magic stuff.  Tasted like the grains left over from brewing; all the flavor and character drained out of it.

Tonight was the Anniversary Celebration.  Seven hundred years.  He had turned out a lot of ales for this event; he relied on the patronage of the folk who tasted his strange concoctions to keep his neighbors from encroaching upon his tiny tavern.  They were always willing to pay handsomely for a new diversion.

Speaking of diversions, Shaena was bringing her hooligans into his basement again tonight.  Fighting.  In this day and age.  He would never have thought it would be something folk would be interested in, but he supposed boredom would lead to all sorts of deviant behavior.  Besides, if he was honest with himself, it really was amusing to watch them beat the everloving shit out of one another.  As long as it wasn’t his bones being broken, what harm could it be?

It brought in more customers and other interesting individuals as well.  Humming happily to himself for the first time in ages, he set about starting another brew.

“Lirin, you aren’t going out tonight of all nights are you?”  Anna stood in the doorway with her hands on her hips.  “You promised to watch Zoey and Zyrus tonight so that Tobias and I could mind the store.  This is our busiest night of the year!”

“Anna, I’m only going after the youngsters will long be in their beds.”  Lirin soothed, “I have some things that need looking after.”

“Well, don’t expect me to spend an hour getting blood out of another tunic.”  She said frostily, “I don’t like this new obsession some folk have with violence.  Not one bit.”

“The Long Guard has a history of sparring Anna, I fail to see how this is all that much different really.”  He said, “Father would say the more of us who know how to defend ourselves the better.”

“As if this were about self-defense.”  She huffed, “They’re taking bets I hear.  BETS Lirin!  You might as well be going to a gambling den.”

“But there are folk who get hurt.”  He said, “Some of them are my friends too.  I can’t just let them go to some street hack who will dose them with intoxicants for the pain and nothing else.”

“I don’t like you keeping company with those low sorts Lirin.”  She said, “Honestly the Guard has a long tradition of training, but they don’t do it for entertainment.  That’s just wrong.”

“No, you’re right.”  He said, “I shouldn’t have compared these fights to the Guard.”  Lirin smiled at her, “You always were the grounded and sensible one.”

Her expression softened, “You always did think more with your heart.  I can’t keep you from helping others Lirin, just … I worry about you.  When are you going to find your own life?  You should find a woman and start a family.”

Lirin stiffened, a feeling he couldn’t define gripping him.  “I have to take care of mom and da.  There are enough children as it is.”  He couldn’t quite keep the resentment from his voice, “Besides, if I had a wife and children of my own who would watch Zoey and Zyrus while you worked the shop on Anniversary Night?”

“I didn’t mean-“ She began.

“No, I’m the one who should apologize.”  He said, taking a deep breath and giving her a rueful smile. “I guess it’s just that I see your family and can’t help but feel a little jealous Anna.  It doesn’t mean I don’t still love you all; sometimes it’s just hard to see what you’ve made of your life and not feel like a failure.”

“Oh Lirin don’t say that.”  She came to him and caught him in a fierce hug. “You’re a wonderful uncle and a great brother.  I’m sure your calling will come.”

At her words, Lirin felt an echo of something he couldn’t quite grasp.  A touch on his spirit that called to him and made him yearn to be able to hear it, but somehow it was just out of reach.

It was Anniversary day and Shaena was even more of a ball of energy than ever.  After her third breakfast and fourth ale she felt finally calm enough to face the day.  Tonight she had enough fighters for a full card, and that meant… well… something.  The Halfling tried to keep track of the business end of things, but it was all just so god’s cursed boring.  Good thing Garrett had offered to handle all that for her; he really was a dear, even if his weird color changing mane of hair and odd clothing seemed a bit off.

The fighters though, that was exciting!  She’d finally gotten a dragonborn and had pitted him against the Catfolk because all those weird critters fighting one another would be really something.  She had wanted to be the first one to fight him, but she’d also gotten her first Goliath to fight and there just wasn’t any way she couldn’t be the one to face him.  I mean come on!  A halfling against a Goliath?  She got the giggles just thinking about it.

Thankfully that nice Lirin gentleman had agreed to come again.  He really had quite the hand for setting broken bones and all that which was lovely and the strange Elf had helped too when that one boy had accidentally almost died.  Probably would have died.  But really, they’d all signed the waiver and fighting was fun!  That Elf seemed to act as though he didn’t even want to use the spell to save the boy’s life too which was quite weird but that’s those Elves for you really.  I mean Elves right?

She was going to try something new tonight too, something for Anniversary night.  This human made the most fantastic patterns with magic, lights and she heard he could even sometimes make a fog seem to roll across the stage.  It would be fun.  Good old Garrett had come through on that one too.  He really was a treasure.

SP put on a tunic and of finest white silk and belted it with a white on white embroidered sash.  Contrary to what most believed, black was not the color of death or mourning after all; at least not among the Elves.  To walk at night down the dim streets in all white was to proclaim that you were such a part of the night you did not need to hide in it.  Not that the streets were likely to be darkened on Anniversary night.  Which was an annoyance.

Straightening the collar of the tunic, SP made final adjustments to ensure the clothes fell properly and turned to leave.  Gathering an ivory topped cane of carved ash, the Elf strode out the front door of the mortuary and into the throngs of folk gathering for the celebrations.

It was nearly time for those pit fights to begin.  They were really quite delicious actually.  Who would have known fighting would be so intriguing and satisfying?  Death was inevitable of course, but watching healthy folk with everything to lose and nothing to gain being so willing to throw it all away for no immediately apparent reason was addictive.

It so defied logic that it made SP want to understand the contrary thinking.  The Elf simply had to understand it.  There must be a reason for that illogical and self-destructive behavior.  It was a knot that made SP’s fingers itch.

Using magic to bring that unfortunate boy back to life had been more instinct than intentional.  SP had discovered something very interesting while studying the necromantic arts that needed further testing.  The Elf had begun to theorize that healing magic, especially the magics that prevented death, were actually a type of necromancy.  The gap between preventing death and returning life was so razor thin that it was often difficult to determine the difference.

That balance was something SP found to be the subject of obsessive interest.  There was a lifetime of study there.  Perhaps more than a lifetime.  Perhaps even more than an Elven lifetime.

Tabitha (The Wind in the Storm) crouched on the edge of a rooftop, peering out over the city.  Her tail twitched and thrashed as she watched the preparations for Anniversary day below.  She was up early; it was barely midday after all, and she was irritated at losing the hours of sleep.  The irritation was mitigated by the presence of those deliciously muscular jugglers in the plaza below.

They were performing for a small crowd of children and harried looking adults or older siblings and this angle was perfect to ogle muscular arms and shoulders.  The men and women in the square were now tossing pony kegs of ale between them; a seemingly impossible feat.  She decided the kegs must be empty.

Then the thought that the kegs weren’t empty occurred to her.  If they weren’t empty and the did contain the Brannagann’s Dark Ale that was branded on one side then she wanted some.  With that thought came a sudden impulse and as she always did, Tabitha acted on it almost before the idea had fully formed in her mind.

Leaping from the third story was, she thought as she fell through the air, a far more interesting and astonishing feat than throwing around some empty ale kegs.  Probably only truly impressive if she didn’t die or break her legs though.  That was why she had aimed for the flagpole.  Her claws caught and she slid down the wooden shaft, peeling spirals of it off as she plunged toward the ground.  Just before she struck the cobblestones, Tabitha leaped off toward the troupe from behind and then bounded high enough to land on the shoulders of the shortest of the jugglers, neatly snagging the barrel out of the air.

The barrel was full.  It hit her like … well … like a barrel of ale.  It hammered her slight form clean off the startled man’s shoulders and knocked the wind out of her in a startled “Oof!” and a second impact when she hit the cobblestones with the barrel on top of her drove the remaining breath from her lungs.  The bung that was driven into the top of the keg popped out and a thick brown stream of Brannagann’s Dark poured into her face.  She was in heaven except for the wet; but it was worth it.

All of the assembled adults and children burst into an uproar of laughter, clapping and cheers.  The man she had stolen the barrel from looked at her in baffled astonishment as trinkets, sweets and small coins showered into the hat they had set out to collect donations.

“Well.  Well now.”  The massively muscular man said, stroking his prodigious moustache and giving her a speculative grin.  “Lass if you ever want a part in our act, all you need do is ask.”  He bent to pick up the cask, still able to easily lift it although she continued to cling to it and to guzzle the ale as it poured out.

When he set it down bung up she gave him a reproachful look and a sulky pout.  “That was mine!  I stole it fair and square!”

The rest of the troupe burst out laughing, as did the assembled crowd who were now unsure if they had seen an accident or a carefully constructed prank that was part of the act.  “She’s got you there Fortus!” One of the other jugglers said, laughing so hard that tears streamed down his cheeks.

“I like a man with some heft.”  Tabitha said, licking ale from her furred cheeks and leaning forward to run a hand lightly over his bulging bicep.  “What are you doing for the next hour or two?”

He blinked, and the crowd laughed again, although it was mostly the adolescents this time; the youngsters not understanding and the parents trying hard to keep straight faces.  Fortus seemed to not be able to make up his mind if she was serious or crazy.

“I guess it’s true about the kitties eh?”  He managed to say, and threw in a waggle of his bushy eyebrows to the crowd.

“I could make you purrrrrrr.”  She said, tail twitching.  A motion over his shoulder caught her eye.  A man in a garish purple vest with bright steel studs and a mane of hair spiked straight up that slowly changed colors was shouldering through the crowd on the other side of the square.  It was Garrett.  Well shit.

“Sorry.  Gotta go cutie.  Maybe I’ll find you later.”  She slipped into the crowd before the bookie could see her.  She owed him too much money to have him see her now.  But she was gonna beat that Dragonborn in the fights tonight and she could finally pay him off.  It was either that or she’d have to move to another part of the city.  She never would have thought a place that once had felt so large would feel so small.

The song ended and Telos allowed the patterns and shapes that his magic had been causing to shift in front the white screen of silk to fade away.  The assorted gentry sitting in the audience applauded politely and the musicians stood and bowed.

Although this wasn’t his preferred scene, these people paid better than most and he always got to eat the prepared, not simply summoned, food they made and that was worth putting up with the slightly stodgier and prim attitudes they often had.  Also, the songs that were fashionable among the highborn were quite beautiful and accompanied his artistic passions quite well.

Then again, his best paying, and most exiting gig was happening tonight.  It was so strange to him to think that people would really enjoy fighting.  Enjoy getting punched, kicked and choked.  Weapons were of course not allowed, but when a rather wildly dressed half elven man named Garrett had approached him and asked to hire his services for the show.

Garrett’s foot high Mohawk had flashed assorted colors as the man had gesticulated and explained his idea to make the intro “really pop” and his ideas about showing the fights in larger than life size on the wall were interesting, although Telos wasn’t sure if he was going to be able to pull that off or not.  Thus far he wasn’t having much luck with moving images.  Perhaps with practice though.  He had seen others who had managed as much, albeit not for this specific purpose or on this scale.

He had managed considerable success with creating images that were complimentary in nature that could overlap to create fascinating and captivating pieces of art.  Even better, the art he had been creating thus was temporary and unique.  Like the sand paintings he had seen one of the older monastic orders create, the moment it was complete, it was gone.  This quality made it the perfect accompaniment to music which was also always unique and only truly lived in memory.

Telos paused for a moment, thinking about the interchange of blows that made up a fight.  Perhaps the folk who fought did so for similar reasons.  Some of them anyway.  Could a physical expression of one’s abilities hold the same beauty as an intellectual expression?  Pondering this idea, he began preparing his mind for the display he was planning.  It was Anniversary Day.  A day for celebration.

Trey was following Headmistress Trencher’s orphans as they were heading back to the alleyway that led down to the Little Goblin Orphanage.  He made sure that they didn’t stray, although one or two seemed as though they would try and escape so as to stay out past curfew.  The hour was late, but after the youngsters had been put to their beds the Headmistress turned to Trey with a questioning look in her eye.

“Aren’t you going to ask to be released for the evening?”  She asked, when he remained silent.

“Released?”  He scratched his head with one hand, fingers not quite able to fully unclench due to the restraint gauntlets.

“For the Celebrations.”  She said, “Surely there is something out there that you would like to see?  A dance perhaps or to get one of the actually prepared pastries that Lady Taryn hands out every year?”

The Half-Orc remembered smelling the things being cooked.  He hadn’t ever tasted actual cooking before.  His mouth began to water.

“If it’s all right Headmistress.”  He said.

“I wouldn’t have offered if it wasn’t all right.”  She all but snapped.  It seemed that showing overt kindness was difficult for her.  “It’s Anniversary day.  Seven hundred years today.  You helped with the rugrats today, saved me some work. Get out of here and don’t say I never gave you anything.”

Trey walked out, feeling mildly confused at the Headmistress’ contradictory seeming words and actions.  Heading for the square where he thought he’d seen Ldy Taryn Vaknair Torben the Third’s attendants handing out sweets.  Following his nose, he almost ran over someone.

He looked up to see Lirin’s serious face looking into his own.  “Trey, where are you going with your head in the clouds?”

“Oh.  Hi Lirin.  To get a pastry.”  Trey said, “You?”

“The Anniversary pastries are this way.”  Lirin said with a smile, “Follow me, I’ll show you.”

“But where are you going?  Isn’t it a little late?”

“I am going to a …”  His voice trailed off as he looked at the other man.  “A place where people might get hurt and need my help.”

“I won’t let you go alone.”  Said Trey.  “You are a friend who has done much for me.  If there is danger I will be there.”

“It’s not really necessary Trey, they won’t be putting me in danger.  It’s a sparring ring.  The combatants there will be hurting each other, not hurting me.”

“I have seen fights get out of hand.” Trey said with a voice that brooked no argument.  “I am coming.”

Lirin gave him a rueful smile, “After all the time I have tried to spend with you learning that violence is not the only answer, I lead you into a place where people are using violence as the answer.  Thank you for your company my friend.”

Tension that he hadn’t known was there unclenched from Trey’s shoulders.  His friend would not turn him away.  He would not go into danger unprotected.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 45

Their mode of travel was strange and none of them ever got a straight answer about how it moved or what was powering it.  One thing they all agreed on was that it was fast.  Moving quicker than a galloping horse day and night they covered more ground than Callindra ever thought possible.

In just a few days they had traveled from the cool northern foothills deep into the mountains.  Once the ground outside was covered with snow, they slowed and stopped.  In the distance they could see the far-off cone of a volcano, a thin wisp of smoke rising from its summit.  The flat plain of a glacier separated them from the ashmount, and Callindra immediately recognized the place.

“That’s it.  That is where we are going.”  She said with certainty.  “That is Beliach’s forge, or at least where it used to be.”

“The old blighter is still there, I’m sure of it.”  Horace said, blowing air through his moustaches.  “Last I talked with him, he said he couldn’t ever get a better setup than that.”

Callindra stopped and stared at him.  “You’ve been there?”  She asked, her eyes intent.

“No, just the last time I talked with him that’s what he said.”  Horace said, “I sometimes chat with him.  Smith to smith so to speak, well to be honest, more like master smith to apprentice smith.  His ideas about metallurgy and composition are, for lack of another word, visionary.”

They all stopped and looked at him and Horace trailed off.  “Ah, well.  That’s not really the point is it?”

It was just after sunset when Durrak led Tuk up the road to his house.  The trading had gone even better than expected and he has surprises carefully chosen for each of his family members.  As he came around the last bend he saw something that made his heart catch in his throat.  The front door was kicked in, the stable was on fire and strange horses were standing in the courtyard as though they were used to this kind of thing.

He dropped the pony’s reins and ran to the house, grabbing a piece of firewood from the pile as he ran.  A human with a smile splitting his face sauntered out holding a bag of something.  That smile was obliterated by a single swing of Durrak’s makeshift club.  Others followed and his memory faded in a red haze of rage.  When he finally came to his senses again he was sitting among the ashes of a burned out house, crying and holding the remains of his family in his arms.

It was someone calling his name that brought him out of his dazed state.  Someone who could not be ignored.  Someone who could not be denied.

“Durrak, son of Storgar the Wyrmslayer.  I have need of you yet.”  Moradin’s voice demanded attention and respect.  “You will not end here, although a part of you has died.  I have work that needs doing.”

“Why did you let them take my family?” Durrak said, tears still streaming down his face, “My beautiful babies.  Why?”

“It was not my intention.  Your youngest called me here; I regret I was too late to save them.” Tears coursed down the God’s face, “If only they had summoned me earlier.”

“If only you had paid more attention to your people.” Durrak said, “You may have work for me but I will not do it.  From here I will find my own path.  From here I will forge my own future.”  He stood and walked away on feet much steadier than his mind was.

Moradin smiled a sad smile and watched him go. “You will be tempered in the fires of suffering.  You shall become stronger, even as Mithril becomes stronger in the fires of the earth.  If there was another way I would use it, but this is the only thing that will stoke the forge hot enough.”

They set off toward the flat plain of ice, carefully making their way down the side of a treacherous hill covered in loose shale.  As they approached the bottom of the hill a monstrous creature erupted from a cave that had been half covered by snow in a huge cloud of steam.  Dozens of legs propelled it forward, and its torso was raised revealing a mouth with insectoid mandibles.  Before any of them could do more than blink it leaped forward and swallowed Callindra with a single gulp.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 44

Callindra took her hand and used the other woman’s strength more than she had anticipated to get to her feet, feeling a shiver run through her body at the name.  “That sounds bad, makes me feel all creepy.”

“As it should.  Your mission to find these artifacts must not be slowed Callindra.   It is of the utmost importance that you find the pieces and assemble the Avatar.”  Ellyn said.  “The Trickster’s Pipe will assist, where are you going next?”

“Oh, we’re well supplied.”  Callindra said, “From the shop I kinda destroyed.”

“We will bring you to your next destination.”  Ellyn said easily.  “The Trickster’s Pipe isn’t what it seems.”

“Well, to be honest we weren’t heading for the next artifact.”  Callindra said, “We were going to go find the smith who forged my blade.  So he could remake Brightfang.”

“Oh.”  Ellyn said, nodding in understanding.  “Well, I suppose you need to be able to fight to the best of your ability if you’re going to be able to stand against the forces of darkness?  Where exactly is this smith then?”

“North if my memory serves.  I was a little distracted when I saw it last.”  Callindra sheathed her sword and shrugged, “It’s in a volcano on a glacier though.  Can’t be that many of them right?”

“He has trouble near the glaciers.  She said with a frown.  “The extreme cold and ice makes travel difficult, but I can get you close.”

“Any help you can give us is more than we had before.”  Callindra said with a grateful smile.  “Maybe you can teach me more about sparring?  I’m always eager to learn a new technique.”

“Tomorrow perhaps youngling; I’m not up to two bouts like that in one day.”  Ellyn laughed, “Come on Callindra, let’s go take a bath and wash the sweat off.”

“Oh absent gods yes!”  Callindra said, feeling her smile widen.  “It is so refreshing to be in the company of someone who doesn’t mock my desire not to be a sweaty mess.”

“Follow me, dear.  You won’t be disappointed in the baths here.”

“Cardorzada!” Belladin called from the doorway of their house, holding back Noranna, their eldest daughter with one hand and gesturing with a basket laden with food in the other. “You’ve forgotten your midday meal!”

Durrak turned from where he was hooking up the wagon to Tuk’s harness with a wide grin, “I’d forget my own head were it not for you my heart.”  Noranna broke free and ran to him squealing for another kiss goodbye.  Dia, their youngest was thankfully down for a nap.  If she’d begged him to stay he would have been hard pressed to resist and she most certainly would have.

Belladin brought the basket and placed it carefully under the cart’s seat while he was covering Noranna’s face with kisses and promising that he’d only be gone for a fortnight.  With this trade completed, he’d be sure to make enough to buy provisions that would last all through the winter.  Durrak gave his wife a deep and lasting kiss, then patted the slight swelling of her belly with a foolish grin.  He hoped their third child would be a boy, but he would love another girl as much.

“Leave now my darling.  The sooner you go, the sooner we can celebrate your return.”

He checked the three chests of intricately carved jewelry to ensure they were secure and swung himself onto the seat.  He hated to go but it really was only for a fortnight.  With the gold this trading journey would yield, he would surely have enough to repair the roof before winter with enough left over to give the children something fun and perhaps some fresh and interesting spices for his sweet Belladin.

With a smile on his face and a song in his heart, Durrak set out on his way.

A candlemark later, they met in the common room again.  Jamison was serving pints of ale and the others were pouring over maps.  They looked up when the two entered.

“We’re packing it in.”  Ellyn said, “These youngsters need a lift and we’re going to give it to them.”

“You aren’t thinking about heading to the glacier are you?”  Driffen asked, raising his eyebrows.  “We’ve had trouble with – ah – certain folk in the past.”

“We ain’t gonna get within a day’s flight of Magera.”  Ellyn snapped, “I’m not crack brained enough to risk that much.”

“Oh.  Well.  Good to know.”  Driffen said sarcastically, “Here I was afraid you were gonna take an unnecessary risk.”

“A risk yes.”  Ellyn said, giving him a significant look.  “But not an unnecessary one.”

“What?”  Driffen asked, and then his eyes widened.  “Oh.  Are you … Ellyn are you sure?”

“If she says she’s sure.  She is sure.”  Horus said, his voice flat.  “That is all.”

“Right.  I’m sure that’s right.”  Driffen said, averting his gaze.  “We’re packing it up.  Time to go.  The Mistress of the Pipe has commanded it.”

Ginny frowned, following the exchange.  “We have another couple of leads to follow up on here.”  She said, and then seemed to figure something out. “But debts need to be paid first of course.”

“Debts?”  Tryst said, smiling at her.  “If anything we are in your debt.”

“Agreed.”  Callindra said, looking between them with a confused look on her face.  “What could you owe us?”

“Not a debt to you exactly.  It’s a long story.”  Ellyn said, “I’ll just say we owe Jorda, and you’re doing something for her.  This should balance the scales a little bit, but if not at least we have tried.  Enough, if you accept our gift of transport I will hear no more of it.”

“How are you going to get us there?”  Cronos asks, raising an eyebrow.  “What do you mean by ‘packing it in’ exactly?”

“My Trickster’s Pipe has well earned his name.”  Ellyn said with a mischievous smile.  “Keep your seat and drink your ale.  We depart now.”

Callindra sat next to her brothers and accepted a tankard from a smiling Jamison.  Ellyn drew an iron rod from her belt and shook it.  The heads of tiny keys erupted from all sides of it in a forest of bristling points.  Walking behind the bar, she opened a tiny door and thrust the rod into it, twisting and turning it a dozen times as she inserted it until it clicked completely home.

A hum of pure arcane power rippled throughout the room and it began to move ever so slightly.  It was so subtle that at first they didn’t notice it, but then the room tilted far enough to one side that it became obvious and Vilhylm moved to look out the window.

“We’re moving.”  He said, “What kind of thing is this?”

“My Trickster’s Pipe is my home, my place and my sanctuary.  It changes to fit my needs.”  Ellyn says, her voice reflecting her concentration.  “And right now I need to travel.”

A World Lost: Current Events in the City of Einn Boer

More setting the scene for a new Dungeons and Dragons game I’m going to be running soon.

Hedveig stood at the ancient rusted doorway and tried to stay awake.  The Great Gate hadn’t been opened in his lifetime or his father’s lifetime.  The rust scale on it was so thick he doubted the iron portal would even swing on its hinges anymore, even if someone did try to open it.  It was an important duty for the síðr vorðr; the Long Guard though; they had stood there for centuries, barring the way to any who would dare try and intrude on Einn Boer.

He stretched, feeling his joints crack and listening to the odd echo they made inside his armor.  As the old warrior settled back into his parade rest stance, heard the echo again.  It was coming from behind him, but was not coming from inside his armor.  Hedveig removed his helmet and put his ear to the door and he could hear a tapping sound plain as if someone had been tapping on his helmeted head.

Something was out there.  Something was trying to get in.  Hedveig pulled his long copper and bone horn from his belt and blew three measured blasts followed by two quick ones.  He continued the summons, watching for one of his fellow guardians to approach, the noise deafening him to the sounds coming from the great gate behind him.  He never heard the intruder.

When the runner arrived breathless and wild eyed, he found Hedveig laughing and joking.  Grudgingly, he admitted that his senior Guardsman had pulled one over on him and saw the humor in it.

“It’s not like you to pull something like this Hedveig.”  Reklar grumbled, giving him a wry smile, “What’s the occasion for you developing a sense of humor?”

“It’s the anniversary isn’t it?”  Hedveig said with another chuckle.  “Seven hundred years.  That’s long enough for even the memories of the less mortal races fade.

“Well, yes of course.  The festival is tomorrow.  Are you taking Bellia?”

“Probably.”  Hedveig smoothed his moustache, “You had better get back to your post.”

“Yes sir, right you are sir.”  Reklar said, snapping a smart salute.  The junior Guardsman retreated, his thoughts troubled.  Hedveig had not been acting like himself at all, and had in fact volunteered for guard duty during the festival.  For him to joke, for him to even smile on duty was unheard of.  Perhaps the old bastard had finally loosened up; but Reklar doubted it.

Lady Taryn Vaknair Torben the Third looked out over her city, feeling a glow of satisfaction despite the worry that gnawed at her.  The magic was faltering and nothing she or the Elders had tried seemed to be working.  All the symptoms pointed to the city’s Godheart dying and there didn’t seem to be any way of stopping it.

Below her balcony, the citizens gathered for the sesquicentennial, the seven hundredth anniversary of their retreat into Einn Boer.  The lights of their magic twinkled merrily as they danced, laughed, ate and drank.  They had no idea of what was truly happening, and it was imperative that they remain ignorant of it.  Order was an illusion only barely maintained by the thoughts of the people and she was well aware of that fact.

“My Lady, will you be attending the opening ceremonies?”  Londrak, her personal valet, lover, confidant and spymaster asked from the door.

“Of course I will.  You wouldn’t allow otherwise.”  She said, her voice distant.  “I am troubled Lon.  These developments and our lack of ability to remedy them frighten me.”

“The defenses are strong My Lady.”  He was holding a stylish jacket for her.  The newest fashion of ladies wearing jackets and trousers was a bit disconcerting to her at first, but sometimes it was most liberating.  When she was feeling vulnerable though, she needed the familiarity of her corset and skirts.

“Not tonight Lon.  I will wear my peach and cream gown, this being a formal occasion.”  She waved him off, “Now go away and fetch Droga.  Unless you wish to help me dress?”

Londrak grinned wolfishly, “I would be glad to help, but it seems putting these contraptions on is more difficult than removing them My Lady.  I will send her in.”

Gray crouched on an intricately carved gargoyle three stories above a square crowded with revelers.  He wasn’t so much looking for specific marks as he was watching for trends.  If enough well-off individuals were present and if they were intoxicated sufficiently he would send in the Greylings to do their business.  It was up to him to keep an eye on the ebb and flow of the crowd and choose the right time to strike.

The slightest scrape of boot on roof tile made him shift to the left.   Not enough to betray that he’d heard the noise, but just enough to give him a good throwing angle for his blades if he needed it.  Another sound identified the person attempting to sneak up on him.  He relaxed; it was only Lithia.  He could tell by the slight limp she had from a poorly healed broken ankle.

“I instructed you all to wait for my signal Lithia.”  He said in a low voice that wouldn’t carry beyond a few paces.

“Gray, we have a problem.”  She replied, not moving from the shadow of a nearby gable. “Someone has been poaching, and they’ve botched the job.”

He cursed silently to himself, “Show me.”  The last thing they needed was the Long Guard thinking his Greylings had been responsible for a murder.  They were thieves certainly and while they didn’t shrink from killing when necessary it was considered quite gauche, not to mention getting unwanted attention from Longshanks often led to someone having to be sacrificed.  Someone expendable usually, but that didn’t lessen the blow to his pride.

They slipped silently from the rooftop, shimmying down one of the building’s many carved pillars.  Homeowner’s vanity made these kinds of things easy.  The corpse wasn’t far away and it was strange.  A single circular hole in the back of the head was the only sign that any harm had come to the body.  No blood even leaked from it to stain the crisply ironed Long Guard uniform.

While he was investigating it, the body dissolved into dust.  Gray blinked in surprise, staring at the pile of dust that glowed with a slight greenish sheen.  “Well, at least we need not worry about disposing of the corpse.”  Gray muttered, “I don’t like it Greylings.  We’re leaving.  Someone get a sample of that for the Underman.”

When nobody moved, Gray spat to the side and pulled out a vial.  Scraping up a bit of the dust, he stoppered the vial and carefully placed it into his padded pouch.  “Come on you superstitious slugs, let’s get otta here before the shit starts flying.”

They slipped into the shadows, vanishing into the night, but not out of sight of a pair of glittering green eyes that watched from the windowsill.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 43

“You aren’t telling me everything.”  Callindra said, “How about we make a bet?  If I beat you then you have to tell me what you’re hiding.”

Ellyn’s smile came back and she laughed, “If you beat me I won’t be able to tell you anything.  Because the day you beat me I’ll be dead!”

“We’ll see about that!”  Callindra said, springing to her feet and drawing Brightfang from his sheath.  “Let’s go!”

A candlemark later, Callindra finally fell and couldn’t force herself to rise.  She was simply and utterly exhausted.  Although a dozen cuts were healing with tiny tendrils of Brightstar vines and a dozen more had already healed, Ellyn was unmarked.  The woman fought with a pair of narrow blades, shorter than swords but longer than daggers and she wielded them with a brutal and ruthless efficiency.  Despite her age, she moved like nothing Callindra had ever seen.  Not since Glarian.

She lay there, trying to slow her breathing and feeling the sting of Jorda’s gift as it stitched her cuts together.  Although she wanted to talk, to ask Ellyn questions, to try and understand how she had been so hopelessly outclassed, it was all she could do to keep from losing consciousness due to sheer overexertion.

“You fight just like he did.”  Ellyn said with a smile, “You don’t hold anything back.  As much as I admire that, it isn’t a good way to fight.  As you can see, when your enemies use your enthusiasm against you it’s only a matter of time before you are defeated.”

“Almost.  Had.  You.”  Callindra managed.

“Oh, I’ll admit that you’d have done a serious amount of damage if you had managed to hit me.”  Ellyn said, “But that wasn’t the exercise here was it?  We were sparring you silly girl, this wasn’t a battle.  You spent all your energy trying for a kill stroke and completely ignored dozens if not hundreds of chances to get a touch.

“I’m guessing you’ve never sparred before.  Not really sparred anyway.”  She tucked a slightly sweaty strand of hair behind one of her ears.  “This isn’t supposed to be life and death, it’s a chance to improve your skills by testing them against someone else’s.”

“If that was the… case…”  Callindra panted, “Why did you… have to… cut me?”

Ellyn smiled, “Because you fought with all your spirit little one.”  She said gently, “It was all I could do to keep your blade from touching me, and not all of us have the strength and resilience of youth.  Or those… peculiar gifts you seem to have.  Tell me, where did you find such an exquisite item?”

“Jorda gave it to me.”  Callindra said, finally managing to get her breathing under control by relaxing fully against the reed mats on the floor.

“Jorda?  The Goddess?”  Ellyn asked, raising an eyebrow.  “You’ve been to The Grandfather Tree?”

“Oh yeah.  Just about burned it down.”  She said, trying to make her tone light but feeling the bitterness twist her words.

“I’ve heard about the fire.”  Ellyn said softly, “I had hoped it was just a rumor.”

Callindra found herself telling the woman everything.  How they had moved from one place to another, always seeming to be one step behind.  How it felt like for every good deed they tried to accomplish, two worse things seemed to happen.  About how she had been kidnapped and tortured. How she had lashed out after, trying to be stronger, to be harder and faster.  Worst of all, how Brightfang had begun to bear the effects of her fear and anger.

“When we brought that evil into the High Forest.”  She said, “When we were just trying to help a woman… and then she tore her own throat out, summoned a demon from her blood and set fire to everything…”  Callindra’s voice trailed off and she was surprised to find tears on her cheeks.

“I have been through much in my life.”  Ellyn said, looking at her with sympathy on her face, “But never so much all at once at such a young age.”  She reached out a hand to Callindra, “We have long been searching for the answers to questions regarding Dergeras.  And his master, a being we only know as Morde.”