The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 16

Callindra strode toward the gate, her armor freshly cleaned, her short hair held in place with wooden pins and Shadowsliver’s jet black length settled across her forearm in a nonthreatening posture.  She was flanked by her brothers; Cronos’s sword hilts bristling over his back and his ragged cloak swaying as he walked and Vilhylm shrouded by the rippling folds of his black cloak strode confidently on the other side.  The hulking form of Kain loomed behind her; his shock of green hair standing in its usual unruly bristle and his scimitar swinging easily at his side.

They must have made an imposing sight because the soldiers at the gate began to swing it shut.  Callindra twisted Shadowsliver through a set of complex motions and when she spoke her voice carried like thunder.

“Do not close the gate.  We come in peace, merely searching for our brother in arms.”  Instead of stopping, this only seemed to make them move faster.

With a curse, she called upon the Weave again, this time drawing the winds from inside the city in a sudden burst that tore the gates free of their grip and flung them wide.  The soldiers began scrambling for weapons and shouting for backup.  By the time they arrived at the gate they faced a forest of spear points.

“There is no need for this.”  Callindra said, disdain in her voice.  “If I wanted you dead you’d be dead.  I have no desire to fight against the living.  My quarrel is with the Taken.”

“Disarm and you will be allowed entrance.”  An imperious voice said from behind the soldiers.  “We do not allow hostile strangers to enter under arms.”

Callindra flipped Shadowsliver back to rest his blade against her left forearm, cradling his hilt in her hand and gesturing with her right to show the chain.  “I cannot put my weapon down.  I am bonded to him and he is tied to me.  Answer me this; has my brother Holt been captured by your guards?”

“I know of no person named Holt.”  The voice said, still sounding peevish.  “We have no extra for freebooting vagabonds, if that is all you wanted then move along before I have my men move you.”

“If you have wounded we have a healer.”  Callindra said easily as though she hadn’t heard his insults.  “If you still take gold or jewels in exchange for trade goods or services we would like to resupply before continuing on our journey.  Also, a night under a proper roof would be welcome as would a bath.  No establishment that we stay in need fear attack; we have fought many times and left only the rotting corpses of our enemies behind.”

At the mention of the healer, whispers rippled through the assembled guards and out past them to the small crowd that was beginning to gather behind them.  The more she talked, the more uneasy the guards became.

“You’re welcome to stay at my Inn lady.”  A jovial voice called from behind the rank of soldiers.  “We don’t have much extra, but we’ll spare what we can for one what can pay and give protection.”

“I am no Lady.”  Callindra said with a derisive snort.  “I will take you up on that offer innkeep.”  Without waiting for the soldiers to move, she began striding toward their spear points.  When the first she encountered was too shocked to down his spear she brushed it aside with an open-handed smack.  To her profound relief the others parted and allowed her to pass.

The man who faced her had clearly been much heavier at some point but now his extra skin sagged where it had once been supported by fat.  Nonetheless he appeared healthy enough and gave her a wide grin.

“Thadrick Castille at your service.”  He said, extending a hand.

“Callindra.”  She said, leaving off the rest of her name but taking his hand in a firm grip.  “I thank you for the offer of hospitality Master Castille.”

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The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 15

Once Lorin had gathered the shafts he could, they made their way through the quiet streets, barely pausing to check at intersections before moving forward.  After a half candlemark, Lorin knocked on a nondescript door set in the side of a nondescript wall and there was slight motion in an upstairs window.  The door slid silently open a few moments later and they slid inside.

A beautiful young human boy waited just inside the door with a bowl of water.  Lorin took some and splashed it on his face.  After a moment, Durrak did the same, feeling the blood of the Abyssal creatures he’d slain boil off his skin as though burned with a torch.

“Holy water?  Where do you be getting holy water?”  He asked, slightly shocked.  “I no do be seeing such a thing for ages.”

“I am a vessel that fills with the Light.”  The boy said in a solemn voice.  “The Light always shines brightest in the darkness.  I am glad that you have come Master Caverstorm.”

“No do be calling me by that name boy.”  Durrak frowned.  “We have no been introduced and I no do be taking truck with gods.”

“My apologies.”  The boy said, “I am called Kris.  Your reluctance to face your fate has but small impact on that fate.  Meaning no disrespect sir.”

“We have had a tiring few days Kris.  Please let us in and to the baths.”  Lorin said, pushing the boy gently aside.  “I have little desire to watch you and this meat grinder of a Dwarf engage in a theological fencing match in the hall’s entryway.”

Durrak gave the boy a level look but followed Lorin through a passageway and down a flight of stairs to a large communal bath.  After undressing and sluicing as much of the gore and grime first off his armor and then off his body, he scrubbed his with harsh lye soap.  It burned as it came in contact with the myriad of cuts he had earned in the fight; it was a good feeling.   He rinsed again before wading into the steaming water of the pool to soak.

“You certainly managed to make a rapid impression.”  Lorin said, giving him a quizzical look.  “What was all that about?”

“I no do wish to talk about it.”  Durrak said, laying back against the wall of the bath and reaching for his cigar pouch.  He withdrew one and took a drag on it, reveling in the harsh bite of the bright blue smoke.  “Be asking the brat if you wish.”

“Has something to do with that dragon and your clan eh?”  Lorin asked.  “I shouldn’t have asked.  Pass me a cigar?”

Durrak grunted and took a strangely twisted cheroot from the pouch that immediately burst into a copper colored flame and passed it to the Elf.  Lorin gave the cigar a dubious look but took it anyway.

“Where do those come from?”  He asked, smelling the slightly acrid smoke suspiciously.  “Why are they always lit when you take them out?”

“The do be coming from inside the pouch.”  Durrak said with a wry grin, “They do be lit because it do be a magic pouch.”

“I saw you putting things in there though.”  The Elf persisted, “Why do you do that?”

“Nothing do come from nothing.”  He said with a shrug, “The Dwarf who I did trade tales for it did be saying putting things in did be making it interesting.”

Lorin took a drag and his eyebrows rose in surprise.  “It tastes … like the heartblood of the first deer I stalked and took myself and like honey and … memories.”

Durrak lay back against the wall of the bath and tried to relax.  First he needed to find Cerioth the Black.  Then if he couldn’t kill her he would die trying and after that it would be time to settle up with Thraingaar.  Either way he would be reunited with his family soon.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 14

Durrak followed Lorin down a path that led to a sheer cliff that overlooked Starvale.  The city stretched out below them, much of it burned or smashed to rubble, but a surprising amount of it was intact.  The spheres floated serenely in the air, unmoved by the strong breeze blowing from the sea.

“There is a path down here.”  Lorin said, pointing.

“You do be pointing out a stair carved in stone to a Dwarf?”  Durrak said with a chuckle, “I am seeing it, despite the disrepair it do look safe enough.  Do this not be a bit exposed?”

“If there were defenders interested in killing us they would have little trouble.”  Lorin agreed, “However the Abyss doesn’t seem to have taken much notice of this stair and has made no attempt to defend the city from this angle.  I suspect if there were more of us using it with more frequency that would change.”

They made their way down the precariously narrow path carved into the cliff face, one with an Elf’s lightness of foot and the other with the surefootedness of a Dwarf treading stone.  As Lorin had predicted, the only danger came from the possibility of a misstep and not from an attack.

“We aren’t close to my lodging, however there are many ways to approach unnoticed by the Abyss.”  Lorin slid from shadow to shadow with a dancer’s grace.

Durrak didn’t have any trouble following him, but was noticeably less stealthy.  The things that noticed gave no warning before pouring out of the side streets and leaping from buildings.

If he hadn’t spent the last few years learning to respond instantly to attacks from unseen angles they likely would have overrun him.  If he hadn’t clad himself in Bonecrusher’s Brace so that the spikes and overlapping steel plates covered his body many of the misshapen creatures would likely still have landed debilitating blows.  Instead he roared a battle cry and hurled himself into combat.

His forward rush smashed three of the monsters into the wall of a building, killing two and sending the third stumbling away only to meet the hooked bill of his gisarme coming back the other direction.  As neatly as a child picking flowers, Durrak sliced the thing’s head off in a shower of greenish ichor.  Spinning in place, he cut cleanly through two more and halfway into the thigh of another.

When the last one pulled back with surprising strength he nearly lost his grip on his weapon.  An arrow fletched with brown feathers sprouted in the thing’s left eye and it fell to the cobblestones with limp finality.  Durrak allowed the momentum of the falling monster to give him an extra boost of speed and he wrenched his gisarme free with a twist of his body as he passed to crash into another group, sending some sprawling and others to meet with the nearby stone buildings with bone shattering force.

The fight was over as suddenly as it had begun, only the bodies of the strange humanoid spawn littered the street.  Lorin was carefully attempting to recover his arrows from them, cursing under his breath at a broken shaft or loose fletching.

“We do need to be moving.”  Durrak said, looking around at the empty streets.  “A fight of this do be attracting attention.”

“They don’t coordinate very well.”  Lorin said, “Once we kill them all in that size of an area it takes them at least a day to show up again and sometimes longer.”

Durrak kept up his vigil regardless but didn’t see anything moving.  It was eerily silent, especially after the shouts and clash of combat.  There wasn’t a single living thing in the city other than themselves, even the grass that might have grown in the cracks between cobblestones was dead and withered.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 13

“You thought you’d help him?”  She asked, quirking an eyebrow.  “Why would you do that?”

“Hey, just cause I ain’t growed yet don’t mean I don’t see what’s going on.  Somma them are doin a lot better than others.  There ain’t no reason to beat up an old man neither.”

“They’re right to be suspicious, but they have no right to attack and imprison someone without giving them the chance to prove their innocence.”  Callindra said.  “We will rest until the sun begins to set and arrive at the gates just before they close for the night.  They do close the gates at night, don’t they?”

Reed nodded, “Yeah, but they close ‘em about an hour before dark.  Really the main gate ain’t open at all during the day either, but there’s a smaller one to one side they leave open during the day.  Don’t get there too late, they burn anything what comes close after dark.”

“You’re going back now?”  Although she was asking the question she knew the answer.

“Yeah.  They won’t notice me gone for a couple hours but if I come with you they’ll know it was me told you.”  Despite the short time and their conversation the bread and water were gone.  “I’ll try and be around if you need me.”

Callindra carefully kept her face neutral.  She didn’t want to offend the boy and she was sure he was at least capable of handling himself to some degree or else he never would have survived.  “Travel carefully Reed.  Thanks for the help.”

He turned to go but paused and looked at her.  “Ain’t you gonna ask what Holt promised me in payment?”

“You are welcome to accompany us when we leave Reed.”  She said, “Although it will not be safe.  More often than not we go to bed nursing injuries and more often than that hungry.  We’re fighting the Abyss most days and they play for keeps.  I’ve seen more piles of bodies than I can count.”

Reed’s eyes widened when she guessed his payment, but they quickly narrowed when she was describing the dangers.  “I ain’t no cherry.  I seen more death before the world went mad than most seen after it.  Of course most are dead so that don’t mean nothing, but I ain’t no damn kid.  I take care of myself.”

“The second you don’t you’ll likely die.”  She said simply, “But we’ve managed to keep one another alive this far.  Mostly.  Maybe my brother dying for us all changed something.  Maybe his sacrifice gave us an edge or some kind of favor from the Gods.”

“The gods.”  Reed said, still scornful.  “If they exist why would they let THIS happen?  For that matter why would they have let all that happen to me and me mates before the Abyss came?”

“I’ve seen at least one of them Reed.”  Callindra ran her fingers through stray locks of hair, the absence of the Brightstar flowers still fresh in her mind.  “She died to save my family.  I owe her something for that and I intend to make good on my debt to Jorda.”

“That’s on you.”  Reed shook his head, “I ain’t taking on your fool’s errands.”

“If you travel with us Reed you will be expected to fight when we fight and run when we run.  You don’t have to believe in it but you must do it.”  She shook her head, remembering.  “I didn’t believe in them either at first.  After fighting beside them though, it became a little difficult to ignore.  Gods and demons I learned to sword fight from one of them.”

“You don’t move like no god touched.”  He said, giving her a dismissive look.  “I’ll fight if I gotta and I run like the wind.  How you think I survived to be thirteen?”

“It took me much longer to learn that lesson.”  Callindra said, “You’d better get moving Reed, look for us two candlemarks before sunset.”

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 12

She had closed her eyes for only a few moments but when she awoke to a gentle touch on her right shoulder that told her an attack wasn’t imminent the sun had moved halfway to the horizon.  Cronos gave her a moment to awaken before rolling over into his cloak and falling asleep almost immediately.

Callindra stood up slowly, working the kinks out of her shoulders and back before working through a pair of Korumn that served to awaken her body and mind.  They weren’t a substitute for strong tea, but they would have to do.  After half a candlemark on watch, she began to let her worries get the better of her and was working through it by studying the map briefly to calculate how far they still had to travel when something caught her eye.

A slight motion at the edge of their small camp got her attention but she didn’t turn to look.  Instead, she kept looking at the map and allowed her awareness of the intruder to grow.  It wasn’t Holt, of that she was certain.

For one thing the old man had this annoying habit of sneaking up on her just to show her he could; she was certain she never would have seen him coming.  This figure was also much smaller; probably half his height.  Although Holt could have just been crawling she doubted it.  He’d never had to do so before.

Another barely perceptible motion sent her spinning into action.  Shadowsliver swept into a wide arc as she leaped forward twirling her entire body in a circle as she let his chain slip through her fingers to give her fifteen feet of extra range.  A startled squeak came from the dead bush as her blade cut cleanly through it only a hand and a half above the ground.

She whipped Shadowsliver back and snatched him out of the air, still running toward the intruder and a boy of perhaps ten summers rolled out showing empty hands.  He had a panicked expression on his face that seemed a little too earnest to be totally believable.  The jet-black blade whistled down toward him and stopped a finger from the tip of his nose; his twin tips humming menacingly.

“Wait, don’t chop me up or blast me lady!”  He said, “I’m coming to warn you, your friend got caught and they’re holding him in the tower of pain, but he managed to slip me a message for you.”

The words came out in a tumbled rush, but it almost seemed rehearsed.  Callindra’s eyes narrowed as she considered him.  “What is my name?”  She demanded, not moving the sword.

“He told me it was Callindra, but that flowery of a name don’t seem like it fits a warrior.”  The boy said, his voice not nearly as fearful as it had been a few moments earlier.

She had a sneaking suspicion that his change in tone was deliberate.  Very slowly lowered Shadowsliver and reversed the blade so that it lay up her forearm in was would look like a much less threatening gesture.  Not that it would impede her ability to strike all that much.

“Come over and sit.  I have water if you’re thirsty, and we have plenty of hardtack if you’re hungry.”  He nodded and followed her over to where the others rested.  She saw all of them move slightly as though settling back to sleep and knew they’d seen what she was facing and decided she could handle it.

Callindra rummaged through her pack, deliberately turning her back on him and kept her senses alert.  Removing a water skin and half a flat biscuit she turned to see him standing in the same spot he had been.  She handed them over without comment.

“I ain’t starving, but only a fool turns down food.”  He said, “My name’s Reed.  Yours is really Callindra?”

“It is.  Tell me what happened to Holt.”

“You gonna sheath that blade Callindra?  Naked steel makes me nervous and I swear I ain’t no threat.”  He took a drink of water and nibbled at the bread.

“He doesn’t have a sheath.”  She said shortly, “Answer the question.”

“Oh, uh the townsfolk found him skulking around and didn’t believe him that he wasn’t sick.  There’s rumors of greeneyes what don’t actually have green eyes and look like people.”  Reed said, his eyes focusing on Shadowsliver’s forked blade.  “They said if he wasn’t no greeneyes why would he be sneaking around and he tried to tell them there wasn’t no way to know if THEY was … Taken was what he called them and then the guards they’d had sneaking up behind him all tackled him.

“He put up a good scrap, but there ain’t a lot any one single person’s gonna do against ten.”  Reed’s mouth tightened into a hard line and he glared at the hardtack in his hand for a moment.  “I thought maybe I’d be able to help him out, so I snuck up when they wasn’t looking and whispered through his cell window.  He told me to come and see you, but only after he made me say I wasn’t just trying to find you so I could rat you out.”

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 11

Callindra waved her brothers back with a gesture of impatience.  “I am the best at being quiet.”  She insisted, “I’m the obvious choice to go and investigate this town.”

They were a couple of miles from a small walled settlement that appeared to be mostly intact.  “If approaching unseen is your goal I am uniquely equipped to handle such an endeavor.”  Holt said, speaking for the first time since they had begun their argument.

They all turned and looked at him in surprise.  “I am trained in the arts of stealth and hunting.  If I can stalk and kill a deer with a dagger, I should be easily able to investigate a town of people without any trouble at all.  I’m also more expendable than our leader.”  He said, looking at Callindra significantly.

She flushed, looking down.  She didn’t feel like her skin was worth any more than any of the rest of them, but she remembered the books she’d read what seemed like a century ago.  Having been bed bound while recovering from a shattered leg she’d taken refuge in books.  Some of those books had followed famed generals and war leaders.  Holt was right, if they were to be trusted anyway.

“Fine.”  Callindra grumbled, biting back a caustic comment.  “We’ll send Holt, but if he doesn’t report back before sundown we’re all going in together.”

Holt grinned and gave her a wink, “I’ll be back before you know it.”

“Take care grandfather.”  She said, finally unable to keep a sharp retort from her lips.

The older man adopted an expression of mock injury, “Grandfather?  Why I’m barely a handful of years older than you are Callindra.”

“Father?  Uncle?”  She suggested sweetly, “Go on now, you’re running out of daylight.”

Holt bowed and slipped into the dead undergrowth, not making so much as a leaf rustle as he headed toward the town.  Callindra watched him go with a frown on her face for a few moments until she lost sight of his lean and weathered form in the underbrush.

“Set up a camp, no fire.  We should eat and sleep in shifts just in case there’s trouble.”  She said, looking at her companions.  Cronos stared at her with folded arms and a disgruntled expression on his face.  Vilhylm was looking between her and the retreating form of Holt with a raised eyebrow.

Kain merely set his pack down, settled his weapon harness so he could sit easily and began unpacking a package of rations.  His expression was mild and satisfied as he performed the simple task, from what Callindra had learned from their brief conversations he had been a slave from youth.  The hulking half orc took joy from the simple acts of everyday life that didn’t revolve around fighting for survival.

His calm was almost a palpable thing, spreading to the others and allowing them to relax.  Callindra finally realized how tightly wound her nerves had been and accepted a flask of cold tea and a hardtack biscuit from Kain with a nod of thanks.

“He will be fine mistress.”  He said, seeing the look on her face.  “I have a feeling he has survived worse.”

“I wasn’t worrying about that old fossil.”  She grumbled around a mouthful of rock hard biscuit.  She had to be careful not to break a tooth.  “I’m worried about what he’s going to find in that town, or what he’s not going to find.  We need to find a safe haven, if it hadn’t been for most of the people we’ve come across being dead the shortage of wildlife to scavenge would have starved us out a long time ago.”

“That last farmstead gave us a good supply of rations.”  Kain said calmly, “I believe we’ve gotten through the worst of it Callindra.  It can only get better from here on out.”

“I wish I believed that.”  She said, taking a drink of tea to wash down the crumbs.  “We still haven’t found anyone who can tell us anything about the rest of the world.  Kain, we watched the goddess of nature die and now the wilderness is following her.”

“All things move in circles.”  He said in that infuriatingly calm voice.

Instead of replying, Callindra unlaced her armor enough that it didn’t chafe anymore and pulled Shadowsliver from where he lay next to her skin.  She winced slightly at the small cuts his razor-sharp edge had left on her back, but lay him across her knees and leaned back against her pack.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 10

“There do be folk living inside that?”  Durrak said, disbelief clear in his voice.  His hand reached into his belt pouch and he withdrew a cigar despite how ill advised it might be.  As always, it came out lit and he took a deep drag.  The smoke was vibrant purple in color and seemed to disperse rather more quickly than normal.

“A great many of us live there still, and there are also those who are trapped in the protective barriers.  We haven’t figured out how to get inside them yet and have no idea what kind of conditions they must be enduring.  The smaller ones especially, unless they have magical means they’re like as not all dead.”

“To be finding any survivors at all do be more than I was thinking to find after seeing the standing ranks and the destruction of the battlefield.”  Durrak mused, “There did be twenty million or more living within Starvale’s walls.  How many do be living still?”

“No way of knowing.”  Lorin said shortly, “There are perhaps two hundred of us living in a collection of fortified manor houses.  I believe there are more beneath the city, but none of the emissaries we sent below have returned.  I know of at least three other such defended locations with similar numbers.  Most of the city has fallen as you can plainly see, I expect less than one in a thousand survived.”

“Gods and demons.”  Durrak swore, “I did be expecting it to be bad, but that do be a slaughter.”

“Yes.”  Lorin agreed, running his hands through his long straight hair.  “It was terrible.  The only upside is that with so many dead there hasn’t been much of a shortage of food and supplies.  We can’t last for long though.  Without being able to replenish our supplies we can’t survive for more than another month or two.  That, of course, also begs the question of why the Spawn haven’t just wiped us out.”

“I do be thinking it do involve those.”  Durrak gestured with the stub of his cigar at the top of one of the largest floating spheres that could be seen over the hill.  “Until they do find a way to enter the spheres they do be conserving their resources.  It only do be good tactics.”

Lorin grunted, “That makes a certain amount of sense.  I didn’t consider the fact that they might be smart enough to use tactics.  They’ve never shown any inclination of the sort before.”

“The do be led by Cerioth The Black.  She do have a mind devious and strong will.”  He thrust the still burning end of the cigar back into his belt pouch an added a handful of dead leaves from a nearby tree.

Lorin raised an eyebrow, looking at the belt pouch with interest.  “You know of the dragon?”

“Aye.  My father did be slaying her mate.  Her vengeance did be destroying the halls of my ancestors.”  Durrak took a deep breath, “I do be intending to be returning the favor.”

“Forgive my impertinence sir Dwarf, as we have only recently met, but are you certain you are entirely sane?”  Lorin’s voice was carefully neutral.

“After what I do be seeing in the last year.  No.”

Lorin barked a short laugh.  “Good.  At least you’re realistic and honest.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 9

Durrak sat next to his evening campfire, roasting the last bit of meat from his pack.  It was salted pork, but not cured so well that it would have lasted more than another few days.  The weather had been far warmer than usual and the meat would likely have spoiled before too long.

The few folk he had met had been very closemouthed and tightfisted.  They’d been smart enough to know that gold wasn’t nearly as important as food and he hadn’t been able to replenish his supplies.  He sighed and thought over what he’d discovered near Hellgate Keep.

The folk there said Jorda was dead.  A goddess had died.  He shuddered just thinking about it.  Not only that, but the group who had apparently summoned her to die had escaped unscathed.  Of course they hadn’t been responsible for her death directly, but the Grandfather tree had burned.  That had hit like a blow to the guts.

Rumor had it that Starvale was still holding against the Abyss and that The Bane if Ignitium had been seen circling above it.  He would find and slay that dragon even if the attempt cost him his life, so he been walking for weeks.  Now that he was within a day’s march of the city though, things had changed.

Tens of thousands of Taken surrounded the city.  Cerioth was nowhere in sight, but she had been here.  He could see the fallout of her deadly breath having burned and destroyed everything a mile outside of what had been the city walls.  If he was to get into the city itself he would have to be creative.

While he watched the city, the slightest movement to one side caught his eye.  The dwarf kept himself from looking directly at the movement and saw a slight flash of light on steel.  A few more minutes of quiet vigilance was rewarded with the shape of a humanoid.  Durrak nearly jerked in surprise; it was an Elf.

The shock wasn’t that he was seeing one of the Fair Folk out in a wood, it was more that he was had managed to spot him.  This one was being careless, and carelessness would cost him his life.  Durrak deliberately let his heavy plate armor clink and looked in his direction.  He pitched his voice to carry and muttered a phrase of greeting in accented Elvish.

It was gratifying to see the Elf’s eyes widen in surprise.  Durrak made a couple of hand gestures, and they retreated several yards into the tree line before leaning back against a tree.

“You do be making a target of yourself.”  Durrak said in a low tone.  He itched for a cigar, but knew the smoke would be a bad idea this close to the enemy.  He settled for taking a drink from a wine skin instead and offering some of the sour liquid to his new companion.  “If I did be seeing you it did only be a matter of time before the enemy was seeing as well.”

“Your eyes are keen.  For a Dwarf.”  He replied, taking a practiced squirt of wine from the skin before wincing and passing it back.  “I am Lorin.”

“Durrak.”  He replied, taking the skin back and clasping the proffered hand.  “The city do be lost then?”

“Nay, while the fiends could have overrun us ages ago, they appear to be waiting for something.  I cannot imagine what it might be.”  Lorin shrugged elegantly, “That’s why I went scouting.  Getting out was surprisingly easy, but getting in seems to be a bit more of a problem.  I suppose partially because I don’t have the knowledge of the terrain I have of the territory within Starvale’s walls.”

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 8

“My apologies.”  He said, “I am merely communicating what my goddess revealed to me.  My name is Kain.  I am a disciple of Iilimin.  She revealed to me the light when I was surrounded by naught but darkness.”  As Kain spoke the name of his goddess, a gentle white light briefly shone from him.  Each person who stood close to him felt a blanket of peace fall over their being and watched as their wounds slowly closed.

Callindra was shaking; her façade of calm control breaking.  “I thought.  I hoped that we were wrong about Jorda.  I just…”  She wiped a hand across her eyes and took a shuddering breath.  Cronos put his hand on her left shoulder and Vilhylm put his on her right.  With effort she brought her self-control back.

“We need to get moving.”  She said, “I’m sure that Taken going missing didn’t go unnoticed and they usually don’t travel alone.  Kain, you’re welcome to travel with us.  For now.”

“What about the rest of us?”  A woman in a chainmaile shirt with a round shield and a large bearded ax said.  “You just going to let us fend for ourselves?  We’re just supposed to be bait while you escape?”

“I saved you once.”  Callindra said, “What more do you want from me?”

“Lead us.”  She said, “With your skills and abilities how could the Taken stand against us?”

“I’m not a leader.  I can barely keep myself alive, how do you expect me to lead all of you?”  Callindra shook her head.  “You’re better off on your own.  I’ve failed before and had the consequences reached beyond anything you could imagine.”

The room seemed to darken and wind began to fitfully tug at the hem of her cloak.  “I’m dangerous to those around me.  I can’t turn my brothers away, I owe Holt my life and Kain might be my only chance to redeem myself in the face of the gods.  The last time a goddess trusted me she died.  You don’t want to be nearby the next time I mess up.”

She turned and strode from the inn, past the wreckage of the common room and out into the incongruously cheery day.  Rank upon rank of perfectly still Taken humans stood staring blankly with glittering emerald eyes.

“Don’t move.”  Cronos whispered, “They don’t seem to have seen us yet.”

“Get back inside.”  She said in a level voice, “We need to find a back door.”

The closest Taken swiveled their heads to look at her and they began to run.  Not like living creatures, but with wild abandon, moving faster and faster to the sound of popping tendons and breaking bones.  They saw with horror that even though some had shattered their legs with the force of their speed they kept running faster.

They slammed and bolted the door just before the first Taken hit it hard enough to splinter the wood.  “Run!”  Callindra and Cronos shouted together, pushing back through the confused crowd of people still fighting off the grogginess of the drugs.  “They’re coming, RUN you idiots!”

The shattering impacts on the door and walls continued, splatters of blood and worse leaking through the cracks.  Splinters of bone jabbed through, broken femurs and ribs driven through from the force of the creatures smashing into the wood.  With a shriek of protesting wood, the door gave way and one of the Taken tumbled into the room, body half destroyed but still moving fast despite being mostly broken.

Callindra stopped trying to push her way through and turned to unleash a blast of wind from the twin tips of her blades that blew tables, chairs and broken pieces of Taken back out the door.  “I will hold them.”  She said, voice deadly calm.

“No!”  The woman in chainmaile said, standing next to her with shield raised.  “You go.  I’ll keep them off your back.”  She grunted in effort as she deflected a thrown Taken skull.  “Just swear to me that you’ll take them with you.”

Without waiting for a response, she shouted a wordless battle cry and planted herself in the doorway.  The sounds of horrible and deadly impact drove everyone else on, slamming doors behind them as they ran through the Inn.

Callindra tried to take up the rear, but the others shoved her to the front shouting that she needed to lead them out of the inn.  One by one, the folk behind her fell to horrible fates as the recklessly fast suicidal Taken ran through the halls after them.

Forcing herself to focus, she ran to the last room.  The wall was solid without a single window.  “Vil, break it down!”  She yelled, “You, you and you, move these crates in front of the door.  Holt put an arrow through anything that tries to break through.”

The others scrambled to do her bidding as Vilhylm put a wooden mask on his face, becoming his familiar hulking form.  Thick claws began tearing through the wooden wall even as Taken runners smashed their feeble defense into kindling.  Arrows flickered past her shoulder faster than she could have thought possible, bringing a brief reprieve in the attack.

Vilhylm broke through the back wall and all but vanished under a scrabbling mass of Taken.  With a roar of rage he began flinging them off and three of the remaining prisoners ran to his aid.  Cronos leaped through the hole in the wall, twin Bastard swords swinging and Callindra saw the last of the men holding the door fall with a shattered arm bone punched all the way through his skull.

With a sob of anger and fear, she shoved Holt out of the hole grabbed Kain by the back of his robe and dragged him behind her.  The half orc priest was gripping his holy symbol and chanting as they went.  A glow of light emanated from him, briefly repelling the Taken who were pouring into the room.

Callindra began spinning Shadowsliver in an intricate set of arcs, drawing on the Weave with all her will.  “Down!”  She shouted, and wind roared around her and she thrust her blade high as twin bolts of lightning leaped from the sky to her sword’s tips and splintering into dozens of scintillating lances that incinerated the Taken.  Lightning burned through them, leaping from one to another, blasting each one into shivering bits.

“Maybe I should have tried that first.”  She said, her voice a rough whisper.  Then she looked around and saw her brothers, Kain and Holt picking themselves up from the ground.  The rescued prisoners hadn’t been fast enough.  Their bodies lay among the Taken, burned and broken.

“I tried to warn you.”  She rasped, barely able to push back the wave of despair that threatened to wash her away.  She didn’t even have the energy to cry, the spell had cored her like an apple.

“Come on sister.”  Cronos got under one arm and Holt under the other and together they helped her to walk until she got her feet underneath herself.  Together they fled from the inn, leaving the dead behind.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 7

Callindra struggled to control her breathing and focus but the pain of her injuries was bleeding through her initial anger.  This was one of the Taken.  But it was talking.

“Allow me to extend the courtesy that I did to those two you just slaughtered.”  It continued, giving the two corpses a cursory glance.  “Lure in more of the living and you shall be spared.  As you have deprived us of our current servants you must take their place.”

“You should have brought an army.”  Callindra said, tightening her grip on Shadowsliver until she could feel her knuckles creaking.  “I’ll never serve your kind.”

“A pity.”  It said in that same emotionless voice and pointed a finger at her.  Emerald flames shot from the finger and she only barely dodged to one side.  The bolt turned the iron bars of the cage she’d been in into powder.  She swung her chain at it but the Taken ducked her strike easily, moving with boneless grace.

Callindra used the moment it had taken to dodge to close with it, running forward and sliding under another blast of green fire that singed her skin with the heat of its passage.  Shadowsliver bit deeply into its leg as her slide brought her to within striking distance but to her horror his blade stuck fast.

“One of the others will agree.”  It said, “Your time is finished.”  The green light began to glow from its finger again but a heavy chain with manacles attached smashed into the arm and the shot flew wide.  A gangling man with a touch of grey in his dark hair picked up another set of chains and began to spin them in a whirling arc.

Ripping her blade free, Callindra swung with all her might and buried Shadowsliver’s forked tip into the thing’s skull.  It leered at her and reached a hand that burned with flickering green flames toward her, but her unknown comrade flung his second chain.  His throw wrapped around the Taken man’s arm and pulled it down with a snap of breaking bone.

With a burst of will, Callindra forced arcane power through her sword and a blast of air made the flames within rage uncontrollably.  Its head exploded into a thousand fragments.

“Thanks for the assist.”  She rasped, all the energy draining from her limbs.  “I am Callindra Sol’Estin.”

“Holt.”  The man said, giving her a professional nod.  “You’re really something with that sword.  Think you could cut these cuffs?”

Callindra took a deep breath before shaking her head.  “No.  I wouldn’t want to risk him when it’s not absolutely necessary.  There’s a perfectly good anvil and tools here.”

Between the two of them, it was a matter of a few minutes to gather a hammer and chisel and break the manacles off his wrists.  They then set about waking the other prisoners and repeating the process.  Callindra searched the chained people for her brothers, nearly sobbing in relief when she found them safe and relatively unharmed.

“We need to find where they stashed our gear.”  Cronos said, his voice tense.  “Without my blades and armor I won’t be much use out there.”

“Nonsense.”  Said Vilhylm, “You still have your magic.  But I agree we should find our things and depart this place as swiftly as possible.”

They spread out along with the other prisoners and found to their relief that everyone’s possessions had been taken to a common storage room and tossed inside ostensibly for sorting after they had been given to the Taken.  The dazed captives gathered their things and looked around blearily; many of them still fighting off the effects of the drugs.

Callindra explained about the Taken, how it had been talking and making deals with their former captors.  Her brothers listened with serious expressions on their faces as they girded themselves with armor and weapons again.

“What do we do now?”  One of the others asked giving Callindra a confused look.

“I’m not your mother.”  She said tersely, “We will be getting the hells out of this cursed place as fast as possible.  What you decide is your own business.  There isn’t anything left here to provide evidence to a Magistrate even if there was such a thing around still.”

“This was the only place that still seemed to be untouched by the Wasting.”  Holt said, pulling leather armor and a cloak of mottled browns and greens over his lanky frame.  He picked up an exquisitely crafted bow and a pair of quivers along with a travel stained leather pack.  “Now we can see why it was spared.”

“There are other places.”  Cronos said, “Not many, but there are places where mortal kind still stands fast against the Abyss.”

“Are you going to one such place?”  Holt asked, appearing to address Callindra instead of her brother. “If so, would you allow me to accompany you?”

“I owe you for distracting that Taken.”  Callindra said with a toss of her head.  Instead of getting her unevenly shorn hair out of her eyes, it instead fell further forward, obscuring half of her face and sticking out at awkward angles along the side of her head.  “If you’re as good with that bow as you are with a thrown set of manacles then you’d be useful to have along.”

Cronos goggled at her and Vilhylm eyed Holt with mild suspicion clouding his dark eyes.  Callindra didn’t seem to notice.

“Holt, these are my brothers Vilhylm and Cronos.  He threw a chain at the Taken who was coming for us.  If he hadn’t been there I doubt I would have been able to last more than another moment or two.  He thinks quickly on his feet and made good use of his surroundings.”  She extended a hand to Holt and he clasped her forearm with a warrior’s greeting.

“Thank you for your assistance Holt.”  Vilhylm said with a considering look.  Cronos grunted and adjusted the hilts of his weapons over his shoulders.

“We’re heading for Starvale.”  Cronos said, “It’s a long and dangerous trip and we aren’t exactly the most pleasant or merry company.

“I would join you as well.”  A strong baritone voice said.  They turned to see a man with a shock of greenish hair cut in a mohawk.  He had jutting tusks that suggested he had orcish blood in his heritage.  “The Goddess spoke to me of travelers headed to the Vale of Stars.  She told me their need would be dire.  That they had lost their way when one of their number fell to the darkness.”

The three turned to look at him in unison, their eyes blazing.

“Which goddess?”  Callindra asked, her voice all but breaking with hope.

“Who are you?”  Cronos demanded, reaching for the hilts of his blades.

“Do not speak of Tryst.”  Vilhylm said, his voice dark with rage they had rarely heard before.  “Not even in metaphor.  Not even indirectly.  Not ever.”