The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 33

After half a candlemark, they arrived at a closed iron door barely wide enough for a human to pass.  Belladonna took a dagger from her belt and rapped a staccato series of strikes on it and waited until a slot shot open and a sudden brilliant light blazed into the corridor.  Durrak cursed and flicked the butt of his latest cigar, a dark green cylinder with light orange sparks leaping from the smoke, through the slot to the sound of curses.

“You no do be treating us with respect.”  He said, his voice an angry rumble.  “I do be expecting such tactics from children, I do be expecting an apology.”

“It is done to expose some kinds of the Spawn who take on mortal guise.”  Belladonna said apologetically.  “If we told visitors about it, any infiltrators would be prepared and it wouldn’t work.

Durrak snorted, but his glare lessened.  “There do be other ways, but I do be understanding.”  He grumbled.

The door opened and a large man with a beard nearly as full as the Dwarf’s stood with a large double bitted ax over his shoulder.  “You nearly started me beard ablaze Master Dwarf!”  He boomed, “For one who don’t appreciate childish pranks you gotta funny way of showing it.”

He laughed, the sound filling the chamber.  “Enter and be welcome in Undercity.”

The chamber beyond the door was round, white and only had the iron portal they entered through and another much like it on the other side.  Belladonna knocked on that door and they were admitted once the guard on the other side saw the first door had been closed.

The view beyond was stunning.  Hundreds of buildings made of what appeared to be ruins or rubble from ancient and modern structures were stretched out below them in a tangled profusion.  Thousands of people were about, all armed and armored except for the very young, but even they had belt knives.  Arcane lights floated about everywhere, giving an approximation of afternoon sunlight.

There were tiers of pathways and catwalks that wound around the buildings and arched between them, connecting one to another stories above the stone of the streets below.  The crown jewel was what seemed to be part of a castle jutting from the wall.  It was sheathed in a checkerboard of white and black marble and had a formidable looking gate of spiked iron.

“Guests to see the Lady Ellen Eth.”  Belladonna said, approaching and ensuring her face was visible.

“They don’t look like they’re fit to meet the Lady.”  One of the guards growled, eyes on the pair still coated with blood and worse.  “Where’d you dredge up this gutter trash?”

Durrak bristled and Lorin did his best not to look down his nose at the guard; something aided by the guard being nearly six inches taller than the elf.  Before either of them could speak, Belladonna blurred forward with speed aided by subtle arcane flashes from her boots.  One hand ended up gripping the guard by the thick beard with the other inches from his face, glittering with scintillating azure energy.

“Do I need to repeat myself Gradach?”  She asked, her voice conversational.  “Perhaps you cannot hear me through all this hair.”

“No Mistress Belladonna.”  He said, face white.

“Good.  Ask your men to open the gate and to send servants to prepare baths.”  She smiled sweetly, “If you please.”

“I no do be needing a bath.”  Durrak said, pulling a cigar that looked remarkably normal from his pouch.  Noting with mild annoyance that it wasn’t lit, he touched it to the still glimmering energy surrounding Belladonna’s right hand.  The cigar immediately lit and he puffed contentedly on it, watching as the guards all stared at him in shock.  Even the ones that had come to meet them on the surface looked horrified.

“If Ellen Eth do be wanting to meet me she do be able to do it while I do be looking as I had to in order to be getting here alive.”  He blew a large smoke ring.  “Surely she no do be squeamish about a little blood?”

“The Lady will not wish her carpets and chairs to be ruined by your condition.”  Belladonna said, waving her right hand in a gesture of dismissal and banishing the writhing energies from it.  “That spell very well could have killed you Dwarf.  It should have burned that cigar to dust in an instant.”

“Tell Lady Ellen Eth that we will happily meet her in the first antechamber.”  Lorin said, “If I recall that one has carpets over stone floors.  My friend and I are needed back above if our folk are to survive long enough for us to bring her offer to them.  Our time is too limited to spend bathing unless she wishes us to leave all our other assets at risk.”

Belladonna gave them a considering look before nodding slowly.  “Thran, take them to the first chamber.  Servants will be sent to clear out the floor coverings.”

It was a minor victory, but it still put them in control of the where and when of the meeting.  Durrak strode forward confidently, following Thran and looking at the various splendors with a critical eye.  Everything here was fine to be sure, but it all looked chosen merely for its gold value, not for any sense of symmetry.  It was as though the person who had assembled the collection only cared about the monetary value of the artwork, not their intrinsic value.

Durrak was troubled in a way he had not thought possible anymore; his artistic soul cried out for the lack of appreciation of the individual paintings, tapestries, vases and other assorted works of art.  To be admired only for what they could give in return rather than for what they were was apparently part Ellen Eth’s makeup even more than rumor would suggest.

When Thran led them to the carved mahogany doors and barred them from entry with an imperious gesture, Durrak began to chuckle under his breath.  The chuckle became a full-throated laugh as the warrior glared at him darkly.

“If you do be thinking you do be able to stop me from entering the room at will friend, you do be sorely mistaken.”  Durrak said, still laughing.  “If you do be wishing to ask me to be staying outside it do be behooving you to ask politely.”

Thran opened his mouth to say something, closed it and swallowed after looking at the macabre grin that split the dwarf’s gore splattered face.  “Please wait here sirs.”  He said politely enough, although it was clear that rage seethed beneath the surface.

Durrak grounded Femurslicer’s steel shod butt on the marble of the hallway with a resounding crash that made tiny hairline fractures radiate out from it in a pattern of ragged lines.  “Very well.  We do be waiting on the Lady’s pleasure.”

Advertisements

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 32

Durrak wore Bonecrusher’s Brace and held Femurslicer angled across his shoulder as he approached the meeting place.  His only concessions to visiting an important personage were that his armor and weapon were polished and he had added a grey cloak with the hammer and tongs of the Drakanda style picked out on it in dark blue.

Lorin, on the other hand, had foregone his usually flamboyant style and only wore nondescript brown and green that would seem more at home in the forest than city streets.  He still carried his beautifully carved and polished bow, but he’d covered the jewels on the hilts of his long knives with leather wrapping.

“I don’t like this.”  Lorin said in a low voice.

Durrak snorted a laugh, “You no do like any of this.  How do this be different?”  He strode into the alley like he owned it, but he kept an eye out for Taken.  When the flood of monsters boiled out of the second story of the buildings surrounding them in a tide of humanoid beings that clung to the bricks with multi-jointed claws the pair were ready for them.

Not bothering at first to even use Femurslicer, Durrak ran forward with a battle cry that rattled the remaining window glass as he charged and smashed bodily into the creatures with the spiked pauldrons of his armor.  Bodies crushed to black ichor beneath his onslaught and a steady stream of arrow shafts from Lorin pinned a dozen of the hapless creatures to the wall before they’d moved more than a dozen feet.

Within minutes, all but three of the creatures were dead; either crushed to disgusting paste or filled with arrows from Lorin’s bottomless quiver.  A solid section of stone at the far end of the alley slid aside and a half dozen armed warriors sprang forward ready for battle.  They stopped in confusion at seeing Durrak glaring at them, his spiked armor dripping with black blood.  Lorin stared down an arrow shaft at their leader, the tip beginning to glow with sullen red light.

“You do be a bit late to the party.”  Durrak rumbled, swinging his Gisarme in a casual arc that cut two of the remaining creatures in half.  “I do be sorry we no did save you any playmates.”

The woman in the lead gave him a cautious look, but flicked a finger at the last monster, sending five bright purple bolts streaking into its head.  The bolts left neat round holes clearly through the skull and it dropped like a puppet with cut strings.

“I apologize gentlemen.  We thought this entrance to be secure.”  She said, “I am Belladonna, these are my companions; members of the Blood Guild.  We protect the Undercity as the Blackfist Guard used to do above.”

Durrak was fairly certain she wasn’t telling the truth, but she was telling a good lie if she was truly unaware of the monsters waiting in the surrounding buildings.  Perhaps she hadn’t been told of the ploy.  It would put them on uneven footing if they’d had to be rescued by Ellen Eth’s guard.  Or perhaps he was becoming overly suspicious in his old age.

“Those things ruined the god rotting polish on my boots.”  Lorin said mildly, slinging his longbow over his back.  “You must not use this entrance much for it to be so compromised.”

“Peace Lorin.”  Durrak said, shaking the blood from his gauntlet and withdrawing a cigar that glowed with a dim pink light and released thin wisps of jet black smoke that hung in the air for a few moments before simply vanishing instead of dissipating like smoke usually did.  “There do be no reason to doubt these folk.”

Belladonna relaxed slightly, a loosening of tightness round her eyes and mouth that Durrak hadn’t noticed until they had smoothed away.  Apparently his instincts had been on the mark; they’d best tread even more carefully than Lorin wanted them to.

The brick corridor was dark as they entered, but the humans carried no light.  The darkness was no impediment to their eyes as Durrak and Lorin followed them down, their inhuman senses allowing them to see the passage and their escort clearly albeit in grayscale.  There were places that had obviously once been side tunnels but they were bricked over now.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 31

Durrak puffed on his cigar and sipped ale.  It was decent ale for a change, gotten in trade from a strange source.  A Matriarch who lived under the city named Ellen Eth had sent it along with a note and an address in the city.

‘Dear Battlemaster Caverstorm.  It would be my pleasure to make your acquaintance.  As a person of great influence in the Undercity of Starvale, I would like to invite you to come and visit.  We could use an individual of your talents to assist us in the defense of our assets.  I include a barrel of the finest Dwarven ale as a gesture of good faith.  Very truly yours, Ellen Eth.’

He let smoke trickle out of his nostrils as he considered the signature on the note.  It was full of flourishes and embellishments; quite different from the other writing.  This woman had taken the trouble to find a scribe to write her letter, even in these dire circumstances.  What kind of person would do that?

“I’d say someone who thinks very highly of herself.  That or someone who wants you to know she is rich.  Or possibly someone who is insane.”  Lorin said cheerfully from the doorway.  He closed the door to his private chamber softly.

Durrak snorted to hide his surprise; he hadn’t realized he was talking to himself.  “Do that be Dane?”  He gestured with his cigar, “You know I no do approve of you being seducing the girls.”

“Good thing for me your approval doesn’t mean all that much to me.”  Lorin said, smiling wider.  “Besides, she’s the one who slipped into my bed.  I couldn’t very well be rude and turn her away.  Would have crushed the poor girl’s spirit I’m sure.  Isn’t it a bit early in the morning for drink?”

“The honorable Ellen Eth did be sending me a gift.”  Durrak said through a cloud of cigar smoke.  “It would be most insulting not to be sampling it.”

The smile fled from Lorin’s face.  “Ellen Eth sent you a note?  What’s that scheming …” His voice trailed off and he looked carefully about the room, swallowed hard and dipped a mug of ale.  Taking a long drink, he licked his lips.  “What did she want?”

“She do wish to be meeting with me.”  Durrak said calmly, handing over the letter.

Lorin took it and scanned it quickly.  Sweat broke out on his forehead, and he took another swallow of ale before wiping it away.  “She’s trying to recruit you.”

“It do be seeming so.”  Durrak said, taking a lit cigar from his pouch and handing it to his friend.  “I no do be interested, but it do be rude not to be responding.”

“You can’t go meet her.”  Lorin said, accepting the cigar and taking drag; flinching at the green and gold sparks that burst from it like a Firstday firework.  “She’s dangerous.  If you don’t agree to her terms or to work with her she’ll kill you.”

“You do be knowing her?”  The Dwarf asked, refilling his mug and dropping the stub of his cigar back into the pouch.  “Do be telling me of her.  She do know her ale well.”

“She used to run the Welcomers.”  At Durrak’s blank look he blew a cloud of smoke out in exasperation, “The guild of the rogue in Starvale; and likely beyond also.  They orchestrated the removal of the Iron Fist’s leadership, undermining their organization until it was nothing but a shell.

“I’ve never met a more thorough and ruthless killer.  A mind like a bag full of cats with anger issues.”  The Elf shuddered.  “She approached someone I used to work with.  Asked him if he was interested in helping her with a problem.  He apparently declined because the next time I saw him he’d been flayed alive.”

“Hmmm.  She do sound to be a formidable individual.”  Durrak mused, taking another cigar from his pouch and filling the air with bright purple smoke.  “Could she be what the city do be needing?”

Lorin choked on his ale, “What?  NO!  Durrak, she’s insane and selfish.  She’d love to see the city burn if it increased her holdings. She’ll murder the weak so that she can feed her cadre of trained killers.”

“In that case, I do be needing to deal with her.”  Durrak said, “There no do be a point in helping people to escape if she do be as bad as the Taken.”

“You can’t.”  Lorin said, “She doesn’t fight fair; she’d swarm you with a hundred men just so a hundred archers could fill you full of poison arrows.”

“But if I do be ignoring her she do be taking offense.  Or she do be assuming that I do be refusing since I no do be showing up.”  Durrak folded his thick arms over his chest.  “I do be going.”

Cursing, Lorin downed the rest of his ale and produced a whetstone.  With quick, practiced motions he began sharpening first a knife and when he’d put a razor edge on it, he began working on arrowheads.

“You no do have to be coming.”  Durrak said, exhaling smoke to hide his smile.

“The hells I don’t.”  Lorin said, “If she gets you and I knew you were going Dane would never let me hear the end of it.”

“Ah.  We no can be having that can we?”  Durrak asked, taking a drink.

“Was that a joke?”  Lorin asked, “That was a joke!  Gods all bless, it’s a momentous day, the Dwarf made a joke!”

“I do be making jokes often.”  Durrak said, “The stupid Elf no do be understanding them.”

Lorin chuckled and went back to sharpening his arrowheads.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 30

“We’ve all lost friends and family.”  Holt said, his voice rough with memory.  “We’ve all been defeated in battle.  Every one of us has made decisions we regret.  Those things all cut us deeply, but it’s when we stand up again that we allow those scars heal into greater strength.”

“I appreciate the effort Holt.”  Callindra said, struggling to keep more tears from falling.  “Some day perhaps I will appreciate the words.”

When they returned to the river, they found the townsfolk gathered.  A man stood in front of the rest, looking strange as he held his hat in calloused hands and addressed Callindra.  He was twice her size and half again her age, but still looked like a boy asking his mother permission to go and play.

“Lady, we were wondering if we might be allowed to settle here.”  He said, twisting his hat in an unconscious gesture.  “The other side of the river has bad memories and what with the new spring and all…”

“What’s your name?”  Callindra asked, “And why do you think you need my permission to do anything?”

“Well.  It’s your brother’s place of rest Lady.”  He said, hurriedly adding.  “Onell is my name Lady, we owe you our lives the most of us.  We didn’t want to presume.”

“I’m no ‘lady’ Onell.”  Callindra said tiredly, “You don’t need my permission, but you have my blessing.  All I would ask is that you respect the grave of my brother.”

A ripple of whispers ran through the crowd.  Onell blushed slightly and cleared his throat.  “We were thinking Lady of calling the new stedding Cronosholt with your permission.”

Callindra sighed and glanced at Vilhylm.  Her brother was looking straight ahead and nobody else would have recognized it but, despite the grief they had endured he was laughing at her.  She couldn’t help but smile back at him.

“We will offer you what advice we can in constructing it to be defensible.”  Callindra said, “Holt and Vilhylm have been in more battles than most and could likely give you some help.”  She turned and went to sit by the stream, letting the others talk to the villagers.

Closing her eyes, she sat and leaned against a boulder with Shadowsliver across her knees.  Light footsteps approached after a few minutes, the winds bringing the sound to her ears.  They were the steps of a small person, not a larger person trying to be quiet.

“I brought you some food Lady.”  A small boy’s voice, “Eating always makes me feel better.”

Callindra opened her eye just enough to see a roughly carved wooden bowl with a green salad topped with freshly grilled fish in it.  The sight of greens made her mouth water, but she didn’t move.

“You probably want to be alone.  But I want to say thank you.  Me and sissy would have been…” He swallowed hard, “We would have been killed by those things.  The guard was too busy fighting to get any of us littles out.  We were too scared to do anything until I saw you.

“There was this huge bear and it had glowing green eyes and I could see half its skull.  It was eating someone.  It bit half her arm off and she was screaming and there was so much blood.  A flash of light almost blinded me and a blast of lightning hit it in the chest but it wasn’t just lightning it was a sword.  On a chain.

“I saw you leap and land on the guard of your sword with both feet, driving it all the way through the monster.  You screamed a word, I don’t know what it was, but it blasted your sword out of the wound and you did a back flip and landed with blade in hand as the bear thing just flew apart into bits.  I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Callindra didn’t remember this exact moment of the fight, which was surprising.  She would have thought if she’d been doing that kind of reckless acrobatics she would have remembered.  Of course there was a time when her rage at the Taken had made her forget everything but killing as many of them as she could.  Small wonder she was so tired.

“What’s your name boy?”  She asked, her voice sounding harsh and grating to her ears.

“Gorian Lady.”  He said, his voice rising in a squeak of surprise.  Evidently, he hadn’t expected her to talk to him.

“Thank you for the food Gorian.  I am glad you and your sister are safe.”  She couldn’t help a tear leaking from her left eye.  Shifting slightly to take the weight off a healing cut on her shoulder she winced as a wound on her thigh gave a twinge.

“Yes Lady.”

“Gorian, I’m no lady.  Just call me Callindra.”  She sighed and opened a red rimmed eye to look at him.  He was a little twig of a half elven child with hair a brilliant white gold, violet eyes shining with hero worship from a filthy soot stained face.  She idly noted that his hands were clean.

“You’re a Lady to me.”  He said, “A great Lady who came in on the winds and burned the monsters to dust.”

She took the bowl and made a shooing motion.  “Off with you Gorian.  If your sister is anything like I was she’s probably getting into trouble without you to mind her.”

He bowed, gods and demons BOWED to her and scampered away.  Finding that the smell of the fish overwhelmed her, Callindra ate every scrap of food in the bowl and wished she had more.  As she rinsed the bowl in the stream and drank clean water to wash down her meal she wondered what Glarian would think of the tale of her riding in on the winds.

He’d probably laugh himself sick.  If he was still alive.  That dragon couldn’t have killed him just by eating him; he was a god after all.  It would take more than a dragon to kill a god.  Even that dragon.  Wouldn’t it?

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 29

“I told you to run.”  Cronos said between gritted teeth, blocking an overhand swing from one of the monsters with crossed blades that cut its arm to the bone.  “Now I have to get us BOTH out of here.”

“I’m not leaving you behind.”  She snarled as a set of razor sharp claws slashed through her upper arm before she could dodge it.

“Sometimes you need to learn to take orders from others.”  He said, a strange tone in his voice.  “Sorry you had to learn it this way.”

An explosion erupted from beneath her feet, catapulting her through the air and onto flat third story roof of a building.  Looking down, she saw that her brother had been transfixed by four of the creature’s clawed hands.  The bloodied tips had punched all the way through his body, sixteen points of stained ivory spelling out a death sentence.

Something broke inside her and Callindra slumped to her knees, crying like she hadn’t since she was a child.  With a crash, Vilhylm, Kain and Holt broke through another alley with the small contingent of guards at their back.  They were too late.  It was all her fault.

Her brother was dead.

After the ill-fated battle where she had been lured into the ambush where Cronos had died saving her life, the city had burned.  All the Taken inside had died in the ensuing inferno, as had any surviving humans.  Vilhylm had managed to get her and their brother’s corpse out before the fire destroyed everything.  Callindra was grateful that they would have something to bury.

She and Vilhylm stood before the grave they had made for their brother.  Between them they had formed something out of stone that would seal forever.  They both knew that Cronos wouldn’t want to take any chances of coming back as a Taken.

The people of the town they’d saved had softened, seeing what they had sacrificed to defend complete strangers.  Hearing the reports from the soldiers about how many Taken they had slain and about how many more townsfolk would have died had they not fought.  Their understanding only made Callindra feel worse.

“It wasn’t worth it.”  She told Vilhylm bitterly.

“It was not your choice.”  He said, putting a hand on her shoulder.  “You may have decided to help those people, but he is the one who chose to save you.  We made you our leader for many reasons, one being your sense of duty and honor.”

“I shouldn’t have gone that last time.  I should have listened when he told me to wait.”  She squeezed her eyes shut, but the tears leaked out anyway.  “He should not have died protecting me.”

“Tryst died for us too.”  Vilhylm said softly.  “A person’s life is theirs to spend.”

Holt came up behind them.  “Kain and I have something to add for the memorial, if it is acceptable to you.”

Kain stood behind them, fiddling with his robe nervously.  “I thought that since evil is supposed to have more difficulty crossing running water, and that this seems to be near a small underground spring I could purify it.  Holt found the spring and I think I can do the rest.”

He stood behind Cronos’s coffin and held his holy symbol in both hands.  Speaking in his native Orcish, the words of prayer and reverence seemed strange, but as he prayed they could feel the presence of the Divine.  Kain put his hand on the stone wall behind the coffin and a brilliant white flame began to burn.  The stone cracked and water flowed out over the sealed coffin and down the hillside.

“He shall never be corrupted by the forces of evil.”  Kain said, weary satisfaction in his voice.

“Thank you two.”  Callindra said, wiping tears from her cheeks.  “This means the world to us.”

The water of the small stream flowed down and into the river below, its purity obvious as the waters mingled.  Something began to throb, sounding for all the world like the slow beating of a heart.  It should have sounded ominous, but as the pure, clean water began to filter into the muddy river, Kain assured them this was something good.

“The earth is attempting to cleanse itself.” He said with a smile, “I know it isn’t much, but everything starts off small.”

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 28

They all wrapped cloths damp from Kain’s rainstorm around their faces and followed Callindra as she led the way more cautiously through the streets.  The blessed water that had soaked into their clothes lessened the heat dramatically and more than once saved them from what would otherwise have been deadly burns.

In the next candlemark, they managed to find several knots of civilians trapped by Taken in blind alleys and after a brief fight send the people back to the river.  A few more soldiers began to follow them even though Callindra had suggested that they guard the people by the river instead.  It seemed these townsfolk didn’t trust outsiders very much.

“I just want to take one last look.”  Callindra said, frowning at the flames that had now nearly completely engulfed the city.  “We haven’t gone all the way to the north east side yet.  One of the soldiers told me there was a school there and I want to make sure no children are still waiting for someone to rescue them.”

Her companions looked as exhausted as she felt, but she wasn’t ready to stop.  “I don’t think it’s a good idea sister.”  Cronos said, echoing her thoughts. “You’re dead on your feet and so are we.”

“Just one more.”  She said, hearing the hard edge of command come into her voice.  Cronos’s eyes narrowed slightly at her tone, but he gave her a curt nod.

“One more.  Then I’m sitting on you if you try to drag us back in there.”  He said, folding his arms over his chest.

“Fine.”  She said, adjusting her armor and noting with surprise that there was a huge slash that cut all the way through one of her greaves, rendering it all but useless.  She shook her head in disgust and unbuckled it and put it in her pack just in case she could repair it later.

They went back through the streets, swiftly dispatching a few aimlessly roaming Taken along the way.  As they turned down a side street, Callindra could clearly hear children crying.  She passed her hand over Shadowsliver’s blade and commanded the Winds to bring the sound closer to her.  The sounds firmed a decision for her and she turned to her companions.

“Do you hear that?  I KNEW there were children in danger here!”  Without waiting for a response, she turned to run toward where she could hear the crying.

“Wait you impulsive fool!”  Cronos yelled after her, but instead of slowing she ran faster.

When she vaulted over a low wall into a courtyard the flames had not yet calmed she realized her mistake.  The wall was solidly at her back, but before her were a dozen misshapen monsters with long arms tipped with claws that resembled fish hooks.  A pitiful sobbing sound was coming from their throats.  She had been tricked.

Whirling Shadowsliver in a complex arc, she cut left and right, injuring the two monsters who were closest to her but knowing it was hopeless if she couldn’t escape.  Callindra tried to blast the three on her left with a spell, but when she began to summon the Weave, the creatures on her right attacked.  Although she managed to dodge most of their strikes, the pain of the injuries left by their terrible hooked claws ruined her concentration and the magic vanished in a harmless gust of wind that blew a plume of dust into the air.

Sweat and tears of pain threatened to blind her, but she grimly kept dodging, blocking and making ripostes when she could.  One such cut severed a tendon and felled an opponent, but there were still eleven of them and she was beginning to succumb to exhaustion.

With a shout, Cronos landed in the midst of her enemies like a thunderbolt.  When his boots hit the cobblestones, a deafening concussion radiated out from him, flinging the creatures to all sides.  The blast knocked Callindra backward, her head rebounding off the wooden wall behind her and momentarily stunning her.

All she could do was watch as Cronos fought like a steel dervish.  His blades were an extension of his arms and where they struck, they left great wounds and removed limbs.  Callindra tried to shake off her daze as her brother fought like she had never seen anyone fight before.

“Get OUT of here!”  He screamed in frustration and to her surprise, in fear.

The fear in her brother’s voice cleared the fog from her head and Callindra dove forward into the fight, dodging one attack and parrying another with a vicious cut that took the attackers paw off at the wrist.  Her back touched his and they fought together like only a brother and sister could.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 27

Breathing heavily, she raised her head just enough to look down the alley at the group of warriors.  “Apologies for the bad first impression.”  She said, “We’re here to send these things back to the Abyss where they belong.”

“Just.  Stay away.”  One of the men said, leveling his sword at her.  “We don’t want trouble.”

“Hey, we just saved your asses you ingrates!”  Reed shouted, “Show a little respect.”

“Respect is earned Reed.”  Callindra said, frowning at him.  “We may have killed these few Taken, but I very nearly…”  She shook her head, “We’re going to take these things apart.  I don’t need their adulation or respect to do it.  I’m doing it because it’s the right thing to do.”

A roar shook the buildings and Callindra didn’t hesitate.  Flourishing her jet-black blade and making his chain flash in concert with the whistle of his twin tips she ran towards the danger, rage still boiling in her veins.  When they rounded the corner the crackle and smell of burning buildings washed over them.  A humanoid perhaps eight feet tall had cornered a group of unarmed townsfolk, but it wasn’t the size that was intimidating.  It was wreathed in green and black flames that twisted about its entire body like a living thing.

“We have to take it down before it gets to them.”  Callindra panted, the head of the flames and her exertion making her breath come in short gasps.  “I’ll distract it and dodge out before it can hit me.  Holt, you hit it with arrows.  Cronos, if you have any water or ice to throw do it.  Kain, just be ready to heal me if it all goes to hell.  Vilhylm, if you can distract it or deflect it from turning directly on us do it.”

“I have something that could be helpful.”  Kain said, frowning in concentration.  “It will take me some time to prepare the working however.  If you can manage to keep it off them?”

Callindra ran forward, coaxing a spell from her blade and firing a single streak of bright blue lightning that lanced into the monster’s back.  She was afraid to use wind in case it fanned the flames hot enough to make approaching the creature at all impossible.

Arrows flashed over her shoulder only to burst into flame before touching the creature, the steel of their heads hitting with a splat of melting steel instead of punching through its hide.  A lance of ice came down from above, sublimating to steam without touching the monster.  They had its attention though, it turned and walked toward Callindra as though on a casual stroll.  The cobblestones beneath its feet began to bubble and melt as the heat around it grew more intense.

“Down!”  Vilhylm shouted and she leaped flat even though she had been running full speed forward.  A cobblestone sailed over her head, swiftly followed by another larger one.  The first missed the creature, but the second hit it squarely in the face.  The stone immediately began to melt and the thing stopped to scrape the molten rock out of its eyes before continuing to move towards Callindra.

She rolled backward to her feet, frantically trying to think of anything she could do to stop its advance.  The heat was so intense that she could feel her skin begin to blister.  Instinctively, she tapped the slightest bit of Weave and sent a blast of wind to blow the heat back.  The effect was immediate and devastating, the monster burst into white hot flame that immediately set the very stones beneath its feet on fire.

Callindra tried to scream, but the air was being torn from her lungs.  Behind the monster, the buildings exploded into ash and beyond them the flames spread.  The creature perished in its own flames and the city became a firestorm.

Kain stood from his meditation and held his palms to the sky.  The heat of the flames all around him seemed not to touch him.  Out of the cloudless sky rain began to fall in a relatively small area, only covering the small courtyard they were in, but it instantly snuffed the flames and cooled the burns on their skin.  Even the still smoldering remains of the Taken monster went out without so much as sputtering.

When the rain stopped after a few moments Kain looked drained and wan, but his ugly tusked face shone with beatific happiness.  “My Mistress shines with rightness and goodness.  Her light banishes the darkness.”

“Thank you.”  Callindra said, looking at the charred square with awe.  She swept a finger through the ashes and smudged some under each eye and pointed at the raging inferno that was burning through the town. “I am responsible for that.  My impulsive mistake is going to destroy hundreds of lives unless we help these folk escape.  Thanks to your goddess’s grace I have a chance to save some of them.”

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 26

Ahead of them, the town of Woodfordshire was burning.  Callindra could hear the screams of people and the clash of steel on steel and bone over the roar of the flames and a flame of rage had begun to burn within her breast.  She had seen enough of people being slaughtered.

“We are going to get in there, save as may of those people as we can and put an end to the Spawn of the Abyss that are causing this destruction.”  She pointed to a small beach on the river bank.  “Land there, we don’t want to risk the boat.”

With grim determination, they checked their weapons and armor once on shore.  Callindra hadn’t seen them this focused in a long time if ever.  They’d seen what the results of a town being overrun by Taken was a few days earlier.  None of them were soon to forget or forgive the destruction of so many, even though the townsfolk hadn’t all been friendly.

“Let’s make this fast and hard.  Hit anything Taken that’s in the way but focus on anything that is attacking humans.  I’m leading, Holt and Kain you flank, Reed you’re behind me as lookout.  Cronos, rear guard and damage control is on you, I’m counting on you to keep us from getting swarmed or pinned down by anything big.”

She looked at them all to see their nods of confirmation before calling on the Winds and Weave to speed her sword arm.  They moved through the outskirts of the town at a swift trot, keeping their eyes moving.

“Ware high.”  Reed said in a tense voice.  Two arrows flashed from Holt’s bow almost before Reed finished speaking, punching through the skulls of two Taken humans standing on rooftops.

They rounded a corner and saw a mob of Taken humans, animals and monsters attacking a group of warriors who were guarding the entrance to an alley.  Callindra broke into a run and slammed into the rear of the Taken, cutting two of them down with a slash to the left and right.  She was dimly aware of her companions attacking behind her but her focus was on the monsters ahead.

With a shout of anger, she swung Shadowsliver in a broad sweeping arc and released a raw blast of wind focused into tiny whirling blades that exploded into their midst.  Her spell severed limbs and carved great holes in flesh and she kept running, dodging a sword thrust.  The anger she felt at these THINGS for the atrocities they had committed against the living had reached a critical breaking point.

Three monsters that might have once been bears converged on her, reaching with wickedly curved claws.  She ducked one, parried a blow from another with a strike that split the creature’s paw to the wrist.  The third one caught her across the stomach, ripping through the tough leather of her armor and scoring the flesh beneath.

She snarled in fury, spinning to disembowel the one that hit her.  Her follow up strike took it up under the jaw as it slumped forward and punched through the top of its skull.  Callindra danced sideways, whipping Shadowsliver out of the falling monster.  The motion caused it to land in the path of the second, giving her time to dispatch the first with a slash that nearly removed its head from its body.

A rumble of thunder from above made everyone but her momentarily stop and look up.  She raised Shadowsliver over her head and a bolt of lightning lanced down into his twin tips.  She pointed five splayed fingers at the enemies on her right and scintillating bolts flashed out at her enemies, burning them to charred and smoldering flesh.

Callindra turned to the remaining foes, electricity crackling over her skin and making her hair stand on end.  They would pay for this.  She would send them back to the Abyss.  Lowering her blade, she prepared to unleash her fury on them but a ringing slap to her face made her blink in surprise.

She realized Vilhylm was shouting at her.  Looking around, she saw dead chopped and burned Taken all around them.  Her brother had narrowly stopped her from blasting the soldiers they’d been trying to protect into oblivion.  The Weave still seethed through her, demanding release.  With a curse she grounded Shadowsliver, the heat of the discharge turning the sand under her feet to glass for a pace in every direction.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 25

“Thraingaar’s BALLS lass what do you be doing here?”  Durrak thundered, shaking the girl’s arm.  “I did nearly be splitting you in half you little fool!”

“Easy Durrak.”  Lorin said, gently removing the Dwarf’s thickly calloused hand from its grip.  “You’re shaking the teeth out of her head man.”

Durrak’s anger faded and he stalked to the pile of rubble, tossing huge chunks of stone aside with ease until he managed to unearth the haft of his dropped gisarme.  With a grunt of effort, he pulled the weapon free and turned back to see the girl looking at him with wide eyes.  Something about her seemed too calculating, but he dismissed the thought with a shake of his head.

“I do be sorry little one.”  He said, kneeling and looking her in the eyes.  “I do be Durrak.  What do you be doing here?  It do be dangerous.  Do you be having family we could be helping you find?”

“You talk funny.”  She said, looking at him suspiciously.  “Why you talk like that?”

“Because he’s a weird person.”  Lorin said with a smile.  “Now who are you and what are you doing out here all alone?”

Durrak pulled a cigar from his pouch and watched the girl carefully as he exhaled jet black smoke that faded to red as it dissipated.  Something didn’t seem right here.  She wasn’t scared.

“I’m here from the Lady Ellen Eth Orien, Mistress of the Undercity.”  The girl gave a little curtsey, spreading the ragged ends of her tattered dress.  “If it please the gentlemen, she would like to visit with you.”

Lorin and Durrak exchanged a glance.  One or two of the refugees had mentioned rumors about someone who had set up some kind of enclave below the city, but they’d never found anyone who could corroborate them.

“I do be honored by the Lady’s invitation.”  Durrak said with a bow, “When do be a good time to visit the Lady?”

“She awaits your pleasure Lord Caverstorm.” The girl said, grinning and giving another deeper curtsey.  “Although I think she would appreciate you and Lord Lorin cleaning the ick off your armor before you present yourselves.”

“I think that can be arranged.”  Lorin said, looking at his friend over the girl’s head.  “Why don’t you come and refresh yourself as well?  We have food and water in plenty.”

“If it is not too much trouble it would be greatly appreciated.”  She said, standing next to Lorin with an expectant look on her face.  When he offered her his arm her face lit up and she tucked her arm into the crook of his elbow and let him lead her away toward one of their lesser safe houses.

Lorin was being cautious and that was good.  There was much more to this child than met the eye.  Durrak had noticed that humans were often like that.  He fought away memories that threatened to rise up as he followed, motioning for the others to take up the rear.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 24

Durrak flicked the gore from his Gisarme’s blade with an abrupt snapping motion of his wrists and brought it back to a guard position.  The last of the Taken in the square had once been an ogre and its legs were as thick as his torso.  There were two score arrows stuck in its thick hide but they hadn’t seemed to even inconvenience the monster.

“I do be getting bored of this one Lorin.”  He said laconically.  “It do be big enough to be falling hard.”

Lorin laughed, used to his friend’s dry humor by now and sent a veritable storm of arrows flying at the monster’s head.  At the same time Durrak put his head down and ran forward.  He hooked the bill of his polearm around the Ogre’s hindmost knee and jerked forward at the same time he slammed his shoulder into its thigh just above the knee.

The impact jarred him, even through Bonecrusher’s Brace, and the monster got one strike in with a fist fully half the size of the Dwarf.  He grunted in pain, but didn’t lose his grip on the haft of his weapon and used the force of the blow to rip most of the way through the joint of the knee before the blade tore free.

Landing with more grace than most would expect from his stocky form, Durrak took two swift strides and used his weapon as a lever to vault.  Hitting the Ogre in the chest with both feet was enough to make it stumble and the weakened leg crumpled beneath the weight.  The impact of it striking the cobblestones rattled windows of nearby buildings.  One swift strike with the blade side of his Gisarme made sure it didn’t rise again.

“You’re mad.”  Lorin said, laughing again.  “I swear Durrak, you have a death wish.”

“I do be wishing the death of my enemies.”  He replied, taking a cigar from his pouch and puffing on it in satisfaction.  Looking at the destruction around them his expression sobered.  “They do be seeming to be getting closer.”

“I don’t think it’s anything we need to worry about.  It’s a big city, but there are just so bedamned many of the things they’re bound to find us eventually.”  Lorin shrugged, “You always manage to make short work of them regardless.”

“My luck no do be lasting forever.”  Durrak said through a cloud of light blue smoke.  “We do be needing to get the rest of the living out before it do be too late.”

“As luck may have it, we moved the last of the refugees out just yesterday.”  Lorin said, “Unless we’re waiting to be able to get into those and see if anyone is still, alive inside.”  He pointed to the multicolored spheres of magic that floated high above the city.

“We do need to be thinking about them.”  Durrak said through a cloud of silver smoke with blue swirls in it.  “If they do be needing help we do be the only ones who may be offering it.”

“When are you going to quit pretending you’re some kind of philanthropist?” Lorin asked, “Why are you really here?”

“I did be telling you when we first met.”  Durrak said, dropping the still burning stub of his cigar back into his cigar pouch.  “I do be looking for Cerioth.”

A pair of warriors cleaned and sheathed their swords, giving Durrak a respectful bow.  “Lord Caverstorm, the last two have been slain.”

Durrak grunted, not comfortable or interested in any of this ‘Lord’ business but accepting it as an expedient way of getting and keeping respect without having to beat it out of them every day.  Something caught his eye and he went from leaning at his ease on the staff of his polearm to leaping halfway across the square in two huge bounds, bringing the wicked edge of his gisarme down fast enough that it clove the air with a sharp whistle.

When he saw the target was a child, he redirected the blow with a savage wrenching of his arms, burying the Adamantine blade in the stone wall of the building instead of the child’s head.  The stone was sheared in half with an ear-splitting crash and Durrak barely managed to scoop the child back out of the way before the entire wall of the house came tumbling down.