The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 58

“We don’t have time to use kid gloves.”  Callindra said through gritted teeth. “Just set the bone and be done.”

Kain was looking at her leg with a concerned expression.  “This would be difficult to set in a controlled environment, doing so on the deck of a moving ship will be dangerous.  It might not heal properly.”

“Kain.  You have to set the bone before you can heal the sword wound.”  Callindra said, trying to stay patient. “If you can’t staunch the bleeding it won’t matter if my leg heals crookedly because I’ll be dead.”

He blinked and looked at her other thigh, noting the bone deep slash with surprise.  “Oh, I didn’t know that was your blood. There was so much of it I just assumed it was from the monster.”

“It didn’t have red blood you god rotting fool!”  She snarled, and then screamed in pain when he quickly jerked and twisted her leg.

“Apologies, but I had to distract you into relaxing before I could set the bone.”  He said, giving the leg a critical look. “Your muscles had tensed to the point that I would have had to tear them in order to set the bone.”

He gently touched the slash next and green gold light shone from his palm, closing the wound and knitting the muscle back together.  When the healing magic spread to her broken bone, the lessening of pain was nearly euphoric.  

“Apologies aren’t necessary.”  She gasped, “Thank you Kain.”

“You really shouldn’t be putting weight on that yet.”  He said, frowning. “I know, I know, we don’t have time.”  The half orc raised his hands in surrender.

Callindra accepted a water skin from Holt with a grateful nod and let him help her to her feet.  “We have to move now. Fast.”

The ship wasn’t in the best of repair, but her sails and rigging were in good enough shape to move forward.  Under Connor’s direction they got the ship underway again and managed to get her into the harbor even as the seas behind them began to thrash with other unseen threats.  To their relief nothing seemed inclined to follow beyond the harbor mouth.

“Ship seems to be sinking.”  Cronos said in a detached voice, “I’m afraid the bonds of Weave I’ve put about her are failing.”

“What?”  Holt said, just as the timbers began to crack and the sound of water rushing into the hold rumbled like a miniature thunderstorm.

“Probably won’t totally fail for another thirty seconds.”  Cronos said, sweat beading his brow. “If someone else could formulate a plan while I hold it together that’d be best.”

Callindra braced her shoulders and whipped Shadowsliver in an intricate pattern.  “Run off the Starboard side!” She said and released the spell, creating an invisible ramp of air.  When nobody moved, she ran off the side, the air as solid as stone under her feet.

As the ship crumbled the others followed on her heels. “Stay close, I can only make it two paces wide.” Callindra said as she ran as best she could.  Holt slid under her right arm and helped her move faster. She managed to keep the spell active until her friends had reached the dock, but only barely.

Looking around the quay, Vilhylm pointed at the most intact building with his spear.  “That looks like the most likely place if we want to find survivors.”

“We need to find a way into those spheres.”  Callindra said as they moved toward the building.  “If there are survivors I would imagine that’s where they would be.”

“Survivors aplenty in the undercity.”  A voice from a side alley said. “Come on down, The Lady Ellen Eth was quite impressed with how you took down that leviathan squid out there.”

Weapons were drawn in seconds and Callindra felt the exhaustion and pain vanish as adrenaline took over.  She drew a spell from her blade, feeling the Winds gather around her to grant speed and power.

“Hey now, no need for that.”  A man in light armor walked out of the shadows of the alley with his hands in clear view.  “I’m here to extend an invitation from the Lady Ellen Eth, mistress of the Undercity. She bids you welcome to her domain and wishes to meet adventurers who could defeat such a dangerous opponent as the leviathan squid that patrolled the waters outside the city.”

“I am Callindra.  We’ve come here to try and find the survivors.”  The winds still swirled around her with a promise of violence.

“Well.  You found ‘em.”  He said with a grin, “If ya wanna find the rest of us you gotta come with me, and I’d appreciate it if you decided not to try and carve me up with that toothpick of yours.”

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 57

Callindra sprang into action without hesitation, sweeping Shadowsliver in a vicious arc that hacked the last two paces of the tentacle in front of her completely off.  It fell thrashing to the deck, nearly knocking her off her feet when she didn’t skip out of the way fast enough.

Connor took a piece of parchment out of a pouch and began furiously scribbling arcane symbols on it.  Reed scrambled into the rigging, frantically trying to shove the book back into his haversack. Vilhylm cut with the point of his spear, opening a gash in one of the other tentacles that threatened the ship.  Kain gestured with his holy symbol and a light golden nimbus surrounded him. Holt strung his bow and began firing arrows into one of the tentacles, pinning it to the deck and forcing it to further damage itself to withdraw the limb.

The massive monster ignored their attacks, instead wrapping its huge sucker covered arms around their small craft and squeezing.  The timbers creaked in protest as its terrible strength was brought to bear.  

“I’m going for the body!”  Callindra shouted, “Try to cut these loose!”  Before anyone could stop her, she ran and vaulted over the rail, summoning the winds to bear her aloft before she struck the water.  Beneath her, the voluminous body of the monster stretched out nearly twice the length of their craft. Running along a breeze as though it was solid ground, she began to search out the thing’s head.

Behind her on the ship, the others began to hack at the tentacles with whatever was at hand except for Connor who still wrote so fast that his quill tore the parchment in places.  The ship groaned and the railing shattered as the huge squid kept the pressure on.

Callindra realized that the thing’s head was actually right next to the ship itself, not at the end of the long undulating body.  With a cry, she dove downwards with Shadowsliver held in front of her like a lance. She took a deep breath and dove into the water at a speed that made the impact feel like being slapped by a giant.  

The speed of her dive drove the twin points of her sword into the creature with such force that she was buried in its soft flesh up to the elbow.  It began to thrash wildly and one of its hideously powerful arms let go of the ship to wrap around Callindra’s waist. She was torn from the water, and her blade was pulled free of the monster’s flesh so abruptly that her fingers lost hold of his hilt.

Black spots filled her vision as the tentacle wrapped about her tighter and the air rushed from her lungs.  Her small stature in comparison with the beast was all that kept it from crushing her in a single ripple of its muscles.  She desperately clawed at it with her free left hand, but her efforts only seemed to make it grip tighter. With superhuman effort she managed to shove her right wrist up and out between two of its huge grasping suckers.

Using the last of her strength, Callindra grabbed Shadowsliver’s chain and began to pull him up.  The indestructible Mithril chain cut into the squid and its grip slackened very slightly. When the razor sharp edge of the sword came into contact with the creature a convulsive shudder ran through it, driving the blade to cut into it even deeper.  

Callindra would have cried out in pain if she’d had the breath.  The tentacle was crushing her body, but worse was that Shadowsliver was double edged.  She welcomed his razor’s caress if it would free her from the monster though. The squid released her abruptly, blood flowing from the sliced limb and she fell toward the waves.

Jerking Shadowsliver back to her left hand with a flick of her right wrist, she screamed out another spell, drawing the Weave and the Winds to her bidding.  Even as she fell, a thousand razors of wind exploded from her blade’s twin tips and shredded two of the tentacles clutching the ship into bloody meat. She felt her heart sink her as she realized her trajectory was taking her towards the unyielding deck of the ship instead of the waves.

Connor laughed in triumph and threw the paper he’d been writing on overboard.  The ocean around the ship began to boil, superheated steam rising with a rush so sudden that it slowed Callindra’s fall.  She crashed to the deck of the ship, rolling with the fall but feeling shooting pains going up both her legs.

The squid released the ship, thrashing in the waves in agony.  Callindra forced herself to her feet and threaded a spell through Shadowsliver, calling up the winds to blow them into the harbor.  The pain from her legs and the exhaustion from the spellcasting made her head spin, but she forced herself to stand and grab onto a safety line as the ship heeled into the wind and lurched forward.

Kain dropped the ax he’d been using to hack at the monster and ran up to her.  “Callindra, your leg!” He said, even as her right leg buckled underneath her. She looked down and saw her leg bending at the shin.  

“Oh.  God’s balls.”  She said, crumpling to the deck.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 56

It was a frightening way to discover her plan had succeeded.  She was right, if the Abyss was to be defeated, it would take every living thing working together.  No matter the differences they may have had before, life was all that was important.  

Sitting in the bow of the ship with the wind whistling through her hair, Callindra felt a weight settle on her shoulders.  She had to build on this, she had to spread the word, she had to build an army.

“What’s got you all pissed?”  Reed asked, swinging down from the rigging.  “That face, you look like you’re going to do something stupid and violent.”

“We have to recruit everyone we find Reed.”  She said, taking out her pipe and thumbing the bowl full of tac.  “The only way to defeat the Abyss is by banding together.  No matter what, we can’t afford to alienate any living things.”

“What’re you on about?”  He asked, sitting on the rail and pulling a book from his pocket.  The boy opened it and idly flicked through a few pages before reading with a furrowed brow.

“The Taken have to be opposed Reed.  We all have to work together or we’re going to get wiped out.”  She lit her pipe and let the smoke trail from her nostrils. “This has to be our new mission, and the first part of it has to be finding what their weakness is.”

“How you gonna do that?”  Reed asked, sounding distracted.  “Ain’t like anyone knows anything about them other than how to kill the Taken.”

“That’s the thing Reed, Terevelen told me about a place in Starvale.  He thinks it leads to a place where we can finally get some answers.” Callindra said, “That’s just one more reason we need to go there.”

“Yeah.  Like I trust the words of a Necromancer.”  Reed said, flipping to the next page in his book.  Callindra looked closer it, frowning.

“Where did you get that book Reed?”  She asked, eyes narrowing. “It looks familiar.”

“Uh, I found it?”  Reed said, looking at her guiltily and tucking the book back into his pocket.

“That’s one of Cronos’s books.”  She said, giving him a dark look.  “What are you doing with one of his books?  What book is it?”

“It’s his spellbook.”  Reed admitted. “I didn’t want those ungrateful townsfolk to use it for toilet paper, so I swiped it.  I never thought it’d do anything for me, but it’s fascinating stuff really. I mean, once I got past how hard his handwriting is to read anyway.”

Callindra paused, remembering how Reed had thrown lightning at the Dragon in their last battle.  If he hadn’t they all might well be dead by now. She smiled and touched his shoulder in a fond gesture.  “I think he’d have wanted you to have it.”

“It’s not like I stole it I-“ He paused, “What?  You’re OK with it?”

She grabbed him in an impulsive hug, “Yeah.  It’s like having a part of him along with us, but without the horrible puns.”

Reed stiffened at her embrace, but was careful not to let on that he felt the tears falling on his shoulder.  “Actually, there’s an entire chapter of puns. Just wait until I decipher them and I’ll make your life miserable with the horrible legacy of Cronos’s humor.”

Her arms tightened around him and he tried not to wheeze as his ribs creaked. “Gods and demons you’re strong.”  He croaked.

“Oh, sorry.”  She let him go and wiped at her eyes.  “I forget sometimes.”

“Starvale off the Port bow!” Connor shouted, breaking the moment.

They turned to look at their destination as the ship rounded a promontory of land.  Huge colored spheres of light floated above a city devastated by war. The walls were breached in several places and fires still sent columns of black smoke into the sky.  The harbor was in shambles, craft of all sizes smashed and clogging the docks. There was no sign of life anywhere within it.

“Looks dead.”  Reed said, and that’s when the tentacles of the giant squid rose up from the depths to wrap around the ship in a deadly embrace.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 55

The small ship rocked on the swells as it sped nimbly along the shoreline.  Connor checked one of the lines, trimming the sail slightly and turning the wheel slightly to eke another knot or two of speed out.  He grinned at Callindra, his light complexion having suffered in their week at sea if not his mood. She couldn’t help but smile back, traveling at sea was truly amazing.

The time spent sailing had given her opportunities to think on the strange conversation she’d had with Terevelen.  Much to their surprise, the Necromancer had kept to his word without any hesitation or attempt to change or get out of his promise.  Far from it, Terevelen seemed to respond to her display of power by accepting her as an equal and they had spent two entire days sharing what knowledge of the current state of things.

For all that his aspect was frightening and his manner cold, Terevelen had a wealth of knowledge from being centuries old.  Despite her relative youth and inexperience, Callindra knew a lot more about the goings on in the world than he did. Together, they managed to piece together some important information that she thought might even be clues to slowing the spread of the Abyss or maybe even stopping it.

“There is a place of Power in Starvale.”  He had rasped, “A place that holds a gateway to what I believe is the heart of the power of the Abyss.  There is something wrong with the power I wield. The souls of the dead no longer relinquish their power to the great void.  

“Some remains in the bodies of the fallen, this being the reason I have been gathering them here.”  He gestured toward the door which led to the chamber where he performed his dark magic. “The majority, however, is taken somewhere beyond my reach.  Almost as though the souls have been imprisoned.”

“You think this is a gateway to where they draw their power from?”  Callindra asked, tamping tac into her pipe and concentrating for a moment to summon a flame over it.

“Indeed, but it is not a one-way road.  It is my belief that they do not just draw power from it, they also are sending power to it.”  He glanced at the smoke that trailed from her nostrils with a mild frown. “It is power that does not belong to them.”

“It must be Morde.”  Callindra said through the wisps of smoke.  The name made her shiver as she spoke it aloud.  “He has broken free of his prison, wherever that was.  I saw him kill a Goddess. If something is reaping the souls of the dead, he’s the only thing I can imagine doing it.”

“A Goddess you say?” Terevelen’s voice sounded hungry, pinpoints of brilliant blue light shone from the black pits where his eyes should have been.  He became completely still and the temperature in the room fell several degrees.

Callindra kept her face neutral, not betraying the fear that crawled up her spine.  She blew a fat smoke ring across the table, watching as it broke on the Necromancer’s face.  He twitched and waved a hand to clear the smoke away.

“It must have been something to see that.”  He said in a hoarse voice, “The fall of a divine being.”

“I am more concerned with what we do now.”  Callindra said. She took another deep drag on her pipe and blew out a cloud of smoke.  “I will try and find this prison you mentioned. If there’s anything you can do to help undermine Morde from this side, I’m relying on you to do it.”

“Ah.” Terevelen said, seeming to recover some of his composure.  “Yes. I will give you what assistance I am able. Mayhap we will be able to unmake some of the damage wrought by this Abyssal infestation.”  

“I never thought I would be grateful for assistance from a necromancer.”  She said, smiling as she knocked the dottle out of her pipe.

“Strange happenings seem to have resulted in stranger alliances.”  He said, extending his hand. She blinked, and took it, shaking it firmly, surprised by how strong his frail looking hand was.  “Fare thee well human child, if we are able to survive perhaps we can meet again.”

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 54

Callindra brought her blade back to her hand with a tug on his chain and managed to get half a spell cast before she slammed into the expanding pool of mud at the base of the dam.  The winds tried to gather underneath her and cushion her fall but were only partially successful, and she lay stunned and unable to move for a few moments.

She tried to roll over to get to her feet but sunk into the thick mud up to her elbows, planting her face into the disgusting sludge.  A strong hand closed on the strap on the back of her armor and lifted her out of the muck. Vilhylm stood on a solid island of hardened clay, his cloak billowing around him as he set her down.

“We need to go.”  He said and began to run across the mud.  Each time he put his foot down a section of the surface dried into clay.  Callindra staggered after him as best she could, still trying to shake off the shock of her fall.

Groggily, she looked around and tried to find the dragon.  It appeared to have the same problem she was, getting to its feet and sending jets of superheated emerald steam out in random directions.   “Is Connor ready?” She asked, her voice coming out slurred and indistinct.

“Yes you god rotting reckless fool!”  He said, glancing over his shoulder at her in exasperation.  “Which is why I’m trying to get you out of the way!”

The monster seemed to shake off its confusion and began to focus on them.  Whatever was left of its intelligence kindled behind the green glowing eyes and it opened its mouth to unleash its terrible breath.  Then a series of explosions shook the ground and the rest of the dam fell on top of the dragon in a roar, burying it in tons of rock, mud and water.

Blinking weakly, Callindra realized she and Vilhylm were a short way up the valley only just clear of the blast and the flood.  Whatever Connor had used to collapse the remaining structure on top of the dragon had worked better than she had dared to hope.

She sat down heavily, staring over the destruction with numb astonishment.  “Gods and demons. It actually worked.”

Vilhylm glared at her.  “Yes. You’re wounded and exhausted, Holt is completely out of arrows, Connor used all the alchemical and arcane means he has to blow things up, Reed almost died climbing on that dam to set up the trap.  Kain wore himself to a single thread destroying some horde of Taken creatures in the water that would have killed you and I risked everything to drag you out of the path of the blast, but it worked. Glad you were so confident of success.”

Callindra began to laugh, not able to stop even when it became obvious she had some broken ribs and burned at least some of her right side along with severely straining her right arm and wrist where she had swung from Shadowsliver’s chain.  Her whole body ached from falling off the top of the dam, but it didn’t matter. They had won.

“No time to lose.”  She gasped, finally choking down the laughter.  “We have to go right now and meet with Terevelen before the shock of our victory wears off.”

Vilhylm blinked in surprise.  “You’re still planning on going through with that?”

“Of course.”  She said grimly, running her hands over Shadowsliver’s edges to make sure they were still flawless and getting a pair of cuts despite taking extra care.  He was probably just punishing her for using him like a grapnel hook. “I may have taken a beating but I’m far from finished.”

Connor, Kain and Reed approached as she was gingerly testing her right arm and deciding it was good enough.  Reed was limping and Connor looked tired but elated. Kain was implacable as usual but he shuffled along with slumped shoulders.  They had all risked everything for her mad plan and none of them had escaped unscathed, but they all seemed willing to keep following her lead.

Behind them the stones erupted in all directions as the mortally wounded dragon turtle threw off the stone that covered it, roaring in fury and pain.  It charged, breathing out a noxious cloud of superheated steam. They all acted in concert, Vilhylm leaping forward and blocking most of its breath with his shield.  Holt rose up and loosed two arrows in quick succession, one striking each of the monster’s eyes.  

Callindra ran forward with Kain at her side and when she shouted, he dodged in front of her, cupping his hands into a stirrup.  She jumped and he threw with all his strength, sending her flying high over the blinded creature’s head. Landing on the thick shell just behind its head, she drove Shadowsliver into its neck up to the guard.

Reed gestured, shouting a word and a bolt of incandescent golden lightning leaped from his open hand to strike the monster’s shell.  Vilhylm cast his spear with deadly accuracy when it opened its mouth once again and the deadly weapon vanished between its jaws. The monster staggered and fell to the ground.  It didn’t even twitch when Callindra wrenched her blade from its flesh. She was certain that now it was well and truly dead. Dead again that is.

“Right.  Let’s go remind someone of a promise.”  She said and stalked off toward the other side of the rapidly emptying reservoir with a small breeze whipping up the dust in her wake.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 53

A huge and terrible dragon that was killed and taken over by some powerful force from they Abyss that only desired the destruction of all life was chasing her.   So far everything was going to plan. Callindra fought the urge to laugh hysterically.

She could hear the monster gaining on her despite running flat out and reminded herself to focus only on maintaining the spell and her course.  A steady rain of arrows began sinking into the dragon’s neck with solid sounds of impact. The attack barely slowed the beast, but that was all she needed to open the gap.  

Her desperate sprint took her directly toward the jumbled dam made from the rubble of a destroyed city that blocked the natural flow of the river with the monster close behind.  Callindra looked at the wall in front of her, scanning for Connor’s signal. A pinpoint of blue light flashed near the center of the structure. That’s when the sound of the dragon inhaling behind her and a glance that revealed it was close enough to steam the flesh from her bones no matter which way she dodged.  

The sight of the huge mouth opening like a cavern and the roiling green steam made her concentration scatter like a flock of startled doves.  Callindra lost her grip on the Weave and the spell abruptly ceased. She skipped once, the speed of her pace making the surface of the water as hard as stone before she slowed enough to sink below the filthy waves.  It saved her life.

The water just above her head was boiling and she could feel the heat even though it was dissipating rapidly in the water.  Before she could recover, the dragon swam past at full speed and she tumbled in its wake, losing all sense of direction in the murky water.  Her lungs screamed for air, but Callindra forced herself to relax and think. Releasing a tiny bubble of air from her rapidly dwindling supply, she felt it roll out of the corner of her mouth and past her ear.  She had been swimming in the wrong direction.

Spots swam behind her eyelids and she opened her mouth to take a desperate breath of fetid water when her head broke the surface.  Choking and coughing, Callindra struggled to tread water and take in the state of the battle. The coughing turned to hoarse cursing.  General Delanous had been correct; her plan hadn’t survived the first contact with the enemy.

Instead of chasing her until it slammed into the wall Connor and Vilhylm had weakened, the monster had stopped short and was casting about, most likely searching for the annoying bug that had escaped beneath the water.  There was no way for her to lead it into the wall now, but she wasn’t out of ideas yet. The only problem was she couldn’t tread water and cast a spell at the same time.

Arrows still flew from the far side of the lake, striking the monster with little effect but to annoy it.  Callindra swam forward as best she could but could see there was no way she could make it before the dragon lost interest or worse, found her as she swam.  Concentrating as she never had before, she formed the spell in her mind, moving her hands under the water and pulling Shadowsliver out at the last possible moment to release the spell.  

Whirling blades of air blasted from her blade to strike the wall mere yards from the dragon.  For a moment nothing happened except for the dragon turned in the water to focus on the source of the magic.  Then the wall gave way for a dozen yards, sending a torrent of water and a very surprised monster through the broken dam.  When the current began to draw her toward the rupture in the dam, she realized the flaw in her plan.

She opened her mouth to scream or curse and was rewarded with a mouthful of disgusting brackish water.  Spitting and coughing, Callindra frantically cast about for something to keep her from following the dragon over the dam.  Just as she got to the edge, she desperately hurled Shadowsliver at a crack between two jumbled pieces of stonework. His chain looped around a jutting piece of wall and she swung wildly out over the precipice, hung for a moment and then fell with a shriek as the chain slipped free.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 52

“That was intense.”  Connor said, rubbing his hands through his scorched hair.  “I thought he was gonna sic his god rotting zombies on us for a minute there.”

“God’s balls what were you THINKING?”  Reed demanded, turning on her with wild eyes.

“We cannot trust that he won’t attack us after we deal with his dragon problem.” Holt said, a frown creasing his face.

“Yes we can.”  She said with more certainty than she felt.  “His kind respects power, all we need is an overwhelming victory against that dragon and he will treat us with deference.”

“Oh good, all we have to do is destroy a Taken dragon.”  Reed said with mock sincerity.

“No, we must have a decisive victory.”  Callindra said, “Just winning isn’t enough, we have to show that it was no match for us.”

The others stared at her in disbelief.  She kept walking with purpose in her stride.  If she allowed herself to flag at this point she might not get the resolve back.

“You’re serious.”  Holt said at last. “Very well.  How do we do this?”

“Holt, you’re as crazy as SHE is.”  Reed all but shouted, pointing at Callindra with a finger that all but trembled with anger.  “We can’t kill a dragon. I ain’t saying is hard or whatever, I’m sayin we just don’t have … I mean it just ain’t possible.”

“I hate to say it sister, but Reed has a point.”  Vilhylm said. “We can’t swim and fight at the same time.  The instant it sees us in the water that thing will just swallow us.  Even if we lure it out of the water it’s the size of a house. What can we possibly do that will be more than an inconvenience?”

“I can think of a thing or two.”  Connor said, “But I’ll have to be close but preferably not close enough to be eaten or to fall victim to its breath provided the beast has retained such abilities now that it is one of the Taken.”

The others turned to look at Connor with surprised expressions on their faces.  “Ah, and it would be best if it was out of the water also.” He said apologetically, “I know that’s kind of a tall order but if we could manage that we might have a pretty good chance at victory actually.”

“I have a plan.”  Callindra said, “It’s not a safe plan for any of us; least of all me.  It will have just the right amount of danger that if we pull it off this necromancer will eat his own servants before he pits them against us.”

She brought them out past the ramp leading to the pit and up into the remains of a building.  From this vantage they had a decent view of the dammed up river, the wall made from the remains of whatever town had been here and the surrounding terrain.  Pulling out her last wineskin, she took a drink and passed it off to Connor before beginning to explain her battle plan. The longer she spoke the more interested and less skeptical their faces became.  By the end even Reed had lost most of his frown.

Callindra was performing the first Korumn and trying to calm herself.  This was the first time the practice of controlling the breath hadn’t brought her racing heart under control.  Of course this was the first time she had thought out something this complex and the first time she’d put everyone’s life on the line this deliberately.  

Certainly there had been fights before, but this was a real battle.  According to General Delanous, fights just happened, but battles were deliberate and planned.  Battles had strategy and were designed to make use of the talents of the fighters to their best ability.   Delanous had also mentioned that the plans of a battle rarely survived the first engagement.

“Are you ready?”  She whispered the words and they slipped into the tiny breeze that furled around her, tickling her neck with the ragged ends of her hair.  With one last flip of the errant wind flew off to find Connor. Within seconds it returned.

“As ready as I was last time you asked five seconds ago.”  His reply came back. She could tell he was beginning to get annoyed.  Then the monster made its appearance and she forgot about everything but her first move.

The beast looked equal parts dragon and snapping turtle, massive shell and huge armored limbs with a head the size of a large wagon on a short, powerful neck.  It surfaced meters from shore and began to move with frightening speed across the water. Emerald fire blazed from its eyes and bright green steam vented from its nostrils.

Before she could convince herself to abort or alter her plan, Callindra swung Shadowsliver in a series of fluid motions and drew a spell of speed followed quickly by another that let her tread on air as easily as ground.  Then, she was off at a sprint that left water sheeting away from her passage in a filthy wake.

The head of the dragon swung to focus on her instantly and a jet of superheated steam lanced from its mouth, tracking across the surface of the lagoon and following her path.  The spell that quickened her footsteps kept her well ahead of its breath, but she didn’t dare slacken her pace for an instant. With a tremendous splash, the monster leaped into the water and gave chase. 

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 51

“I am Callindra.”  She said, stepping forward with more confidence than she felt and holding out her right hand.  “My companions and I are attempting to rid as much of the Abyss from the Prime as we can. Seems as though we might have a common enemy in the Taken.”  Shadowsliver’s chain tinkled merrily where it hung from its shackle.

“Yes.  Names.”  The creature paused, becoming more still than any living creature could.  “Terevelen. I was called Terevelen once a long time ago.” He extended a hand that was all skin and sinew stretched tightly over bones and grasped hers.  Instead of being cold as she had thought it would be, his skin was so hot it nearly burned her.

“The Sol’Estin has chosen a successor.”  Terevelen grated, eyes shining from inside the hood and releasing her hand.  “I see. He has chosen his blood.”

“What?”  Callindra was startled out of her careful confident tone and struggled to regain her composure.  Of his blood? He must be referring to her magic. “Terevelen, we wish an alliance.”

There was a moment of hesitation once again, a stillness so complete that he could have been stone.

“You desire to ally?  With me?” Even his dead and dry voice, the disbelief was evident.

“Yes.  After all, you aren’t one of the Taken.  You aren’t from the Abyss. It matters little that I don’t agree with everything you do here, what matters most is that you are a child of this place.”  She met the azure pinpoints of his eyes evenly.  

“What do you suggest?”  He asked.

“A truce wherein we will attempt to help not harm one another.”  She kept his gaze and took a risk, “Also we will help you be rid of the Taken dragon that’s threatening your stronghold.”

Her daring was rewarded with a flicker of surprise from Terevelen.  A literal flicker, the bright blue of his eyes moved like a candle flame in an unexpected breeze.  “You guessed.” He stated.

“It was an educated guess.”  She said with a shrug. “You wouldn’t be bothering with these pitiful things if you had something like that at your command.  Or at very least you wouldn’t be making so many of them.”

“Ah.”  He said, “Very well.  How can I trust you?”

“We came in good faith without offering violence to you or your allies or your … creatures.”  She said, crossing her arms in a way that put Shadowsliver’s deadly blade on clear display. “I think a better question is why we should trust your word; but I will tell you why you will keep it.  If you do not we will destroy you.

“I am The Sol’Estin, Master of the Four Winds.  We were once known as The Brotherhood of Steel. My brother and I have witnessed the death of a God and yet we still live.  If you raise your hand against us whatever thin claim on life you still have will be forfeit. We came to offer you a choice.  Join us and live, oppose us and die.”

A wind swirled Terevelen’s robes despite there being no convenient place for it to enter.  It returned to tease the ends of Callindra’s ragged hair and make Shadowsliver’s chain tinkle merrily before fading away.

“And if I wish to be neutral?”  Terevelen rasped, not seeming intimidated in the least.

“There is no neutral.”  She said, “You will either join our enemy or simply be slain by them and thereby deprive us of a potentially useful ally.  Given your outlook on the living I would imagine you could be more sympathetic to any lie the Taken might tell you.”

Terevelen put his hands into the wide ends of his sleeves and inclined his head slightly.  “Show me you are stronger than my allies and the Taken then. Kill the dragon and we have an agreement.”

“I believe it was Jadev Blindfist that said ‘Competence is the seed of the crystal of Alliance’ wasn’t it?” Callindra asked, raising an eyebrow.

“I never read much of the irritable scratching of the warrior caste.”  He responded, “I found my calling early and have not strayed far from my true path of power.”

“But you speak with his voice nonetheless so at least you share his wisdom.”  She said with a grin. “I accept your challenge to our strength.”

Without hesitation, she turned and walked back the way she’d come, the others turned and followed behind her.  It took all her self-control not to look over her shoulder. 

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 50

They moved out into the tunnels, following the direction the goblins had taken cautiously.  Kain knew more of their language than Callindra did and she needed them to get close enough for him to hear what they were saying.

“They are talking about the dead ones and their master.”  Kain whispered to the others. “I’m not certain but it sounds like they mean the master of the dead ones.”  His tusked face turned down into a frown that made him look truly terrifying.

“You can’t mean a necromancer?”  She asked incredulously, “I thought the disciples of the darkest art had all been destroyed.”

“I don’t know, but they’re doing something with all these corpses.”  Kain said with a shrug. “It’s hard to sense anything other than the presence of the Abyss anymore, but I can feel something different here.”

Reed gave him a dubious look but remained quiet.  He seemed to be more worried about attracting the attention of goblins, or more likely the hordes of others he had imagined.  All doubt about what Kain sensed fled when they turned a corner.

The tunnel had been curving downward gradually the entire time and now it opened up into a chamber that had a massive circle of runes carved into the floor.  A wide pit that obviously contained hundreds of corpses dominated the left side of the room. There were a number of things moving about inside, however no sound came through the opening that led into it.  

The things were illuminated by a sickly yellow light that threw their rotting features and exposed bones into harsh relief.  They were clearly undead, and the creature that had raised and now controlled them was standing in the center of the circle, crackling energies leaping from his hands to the circle and then out to the pit.

Connor made a grunt of warning that halted them all and brought them back out of sight of the archway.  “Those are all runes of power.” He said, “I don’t know what else they do, but keeping sound from coming out is certainly one of their features.  Lets them do their foul experiments without anyone being able to eavesdrop.”

“They’re certainly raising the dead in there.”  Kain said, his eyes glinting with a harsh anger.

“They’re not Taken though.”  Callindra said, “I don’t like what they’re doing but they must be doing it to protect themselves.  I can’t imagine that even a Necromancer would be trying to eradicate life or whatever they were supposed to be after with the world overrun with Taken.”

“I don’t think we can afford to ask him.”  Vilhylm said, “He seems to have an army of these things.”

“If saving the world was easy everyone would be doing it.” Callindra said, “We can’t let leave the river polluted in any case which would certainly mean a fight.  We don’t have anything to lose by talking. Just be ready to fight if we have to.”

The others didn’t seem happy about it, but they didn’t argue.  “Connor, will we get hurt if we pass through this archway?”  

He flipped down another one of the lenses of his goggles and was quiet for a few moments.  “I don’t think so.” The strange little man said. “It will probably set off an alarm or make some kind of noise but I doubt it’ll actually do any damage.  The gobs went through after all, and they look alive enough.”

“I’m going first.  The rest of you stand behind me and look strong but not threatening.  If you can manage it.” Callindra took a deep breath and walked through the archway with Shadowsliver held at an angle up her left arm in what she hoped was a nonthreatening grip.

The smell of rotting flesh and the sharp tang that always hung in the air after a lightning strike were overpowering.  The creature finished its spell with a crescendo of chanting and the runes of the circle flared with dirty yellow light.  A rotting hand reached out of the mass of bodies in the pit and a dead woman in the remains of a dress dragged itself out and stood before the thing that had summoned it.

They locked gazes for a few heartbeats before the freshly created undead shambled out of the room through another archway.  The robed figure in the circle turned to them, focusing glowing blue eyes on them from the depths of a deep cowl.

“Ah.”  It rasped in a voice dry as autumn leaves.  “Visitors. How quaint.”

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 49

The stench of the rotting bodies was so strong it was almost a physical blow.  Connor had given them a paste that smelled vaguely of mint and something Callindra couldn’t quite identify to smear under their nostrils and that was the only thing that kept her from being violently ill.  They had all crept from their hiding places and leaped into the wagons as they rumbled along the road. The pace of the wagons and the possibility of being spotted had meant that they all had to move at once, and as a result they were spread over three different wagons.  

They rolled over a bridge made of thick wooden planks that spanned the fetid water backed up behind the dam and she carefully looked around, only moving her eyes just in case someone was watching.  They stopped and Callindra heard some ominous creaking and grinding noises from the frame of the wagon. Was it about to give way from the stress of the weight it carried?

Without warning it tipped sideways, dumping the entire contents unceremoniously into a pit.  She screamed in surprise, something she immediately regretted as the various fluids of the dead splattered into her face.  Although being on top was advantageous in case she’d needed to leap out, she now found herself to be in danger of being buried.

With reflexes born of fighting for her life for years, she flung Shadowsliver point first into the wooden side of the pit.  His tips didn’t dig in deep, but it was enough that she was able to swing closer to the wall and out of the way of the tumbling rush of bodies before the wood gave way.  A quick tug on his chain brought him back to her.

Callindra put her back to the wall, standing on the unsteady footing of the piles of corpses and watched as Reed used nearly superhuman agility to all but run up the torrent of corpses, using the body of a horse to push himself off in a leap that carried him out of the worst of it.  Kain was lucky and had been on the far side, so all he needed to do was choose his moment and jump. Holt managed to roll out of the way of most of the carnage. Connor had simply flickered out of his hiding place, and appeared next to Callindra, seeming calm and unaffected by riding in a wagon of the dead.

Vilhylm wasn’t so lucky.  When the wagon he was riding in tipped, he got caught in a tangle of limbs and vanished beneath tons of bodies.  Callindra bit back another cry of alarm and started pulling at the pile in a futile attempt to uncover him. Voices drew her attention; she couldn’t tell what they were saying yet, but they were getting closer.  They only had a few moments before whoever was approaching would see them.

“We have to stay against the wall.”  Connor said, putting his hand on her shoulder.  “Those goblins will see us otherwise.”

Now that she listened more carefully, Callindra could hear the harsh guttural sounds of the goblin language from above.  She knew a few words in goblin, most of them curse words, but managed to follow the general gist. They were here to keep the bodies flowing into wherever they were going.  She held a hand up to the others, signaling silence. After a few minutes and a few desultory pokes with some hooked sticks the goblins wandered off. The moment their footsteps faded from hearing, they all rushed to where they thought Vilhylm was buried.  

After a few tense minutes of frantic digging, Connor located one of Vil’s boots and after a few more they managed to remove enough of the corpses to get him free.  He was dazed from a rising knot where something had smashed his head on the way down, but after they got him up and moving he recovered fairly quickly.  

“That was not pleasant.”  He said, shaking his cloak in a vain attempt to remove some of the viscera that coated his clothes loose.  “What did I miss?”

“It looks like there are patrols of goblins that are doing something for whoever is in charge here.”  Callindra said, “Probably trying to make sure that these bodies are going where they’re supposed to I’d guess.  I didn’t hear enough of what they were saying to know more than that they’re not taking it too seriously and don’t like it very much.”

“Goblins don’t like doing anything for anyone but themselves very much.”  Vilhylm said, “But they won’t do it for someone who is weaker or less clever than they are.  While they’re weak as a individuals, they do have the ability to work together to do a lot of damage, so if there are any real number of them here whoever’s in charge must have some amount of power.”

“Do you think their leader is living or Taken?”  Callindra asked, looking at her companions. “I can’t imagine any living working for Taken, but then again we saw something similar when we found Holt and Kain.”

“It doesn’t matter.”  Reed said, “If they’re working to keep this river fouled then they’re the enemy.”

“It does matter.”  She said with more heat in her voice than she had intended. “If we’re going to survive, we need every living thing to work together to defeat the Taken.  There is no room for infighting Reed, if some living being is working to create this mess we need to find out why and explain why we need to put a stop to it.”

“If they’re doing THIS then I don’t think I want to meet them with anything but a knife point.”  Reed said, but his voice was subdued.

Callindra shivered and looked at the others.  “I’m not sure I want to either, but we need to try.  For all we know they’re just trying to keep these things from infecting more of the world.”

“A valid point Callindra.”  Kain said, “As misguided an attempt as it would be this could be an attempt to do good.”

“You have GOT to be shittin me.”  Reed said, looking at them in shock.  “They’re goblins! Only thing they’re really good for is the great curse words.  Besides, everyone knows that where there’s one of ‘em there’s a hundred or more. One’s no big deal, but fifty gobs with bows will take down just about anyone.”

“If they’re not Taken then they need to be on our side if we’re going to win.”  Callindra said grimly. “If you haven’t noticed the Taken seem to be winning.”