Hello to all my faithful subscribers, sorry to still be on break from The Callindra Chronicles. I know I’m a right bastard for keeping you waiting for the next chapter, but I needed to dedicate some time to re-igniting my players for the upcoming reboot of my World Lost campaign. I hope you enjoy!
“Things have changed mine Scion.” Illimen’s voice rang in his ears. “Thy story hath become perchance a nightmare to the enemies of the mortal realm. Thy triumph o’er the forces of the Endless Night and those of the Descending Stair hath caused quite a stir.”
“My Goddess.” Lirin said, not trusting himself to say more. He was conscious of sitting cross legged but also of his spirit beyond the mortal realm.
“Be thee at peace.” She said, reaching a hand made of purest incorruptible light to touch his forehead. “I shall never allow them to harm you. Allow mine light to shine through thee and naught shall stand in thy path. Be thou the light and the light shalt be thine sword and shield.”
Ecstasy and pain flowed through Lirin’s body, and he welcomed them equally. When the sensation faded, he drew in a gasping breath. “What would you have me do my Goddess?”
“Thou hast surpassed mine expectations Scion. Thy dedication doth humble me.” He caught a hint of hesitation in her presence, “I prithee gather more to the light of the flame of truth. We shalt need the strength of the masses to oppose what doth lurk on the horizon. Thou hast but seen a fraction of what lies outside the sanctuaries.”
When Lirin awoke and began his devotions he noticed something strange in his reflection. One lock of his hair where Illimen had touched his head was white.
“Dem don’t knows nothing.” The tiny bat winged shape declared, baring its fangs in a demonic smile. “You not parts of da Everwar, but dem think dem safe cause of dat.”
“What is the everwar?” Tabitha asked, feeding the creature a bit of dried meat. She couldn’t imagine how she had managed to convince it to talk with her so openly. It was probably that she was covered with fur with sharp fangs and claws. Or maybe just that her feline magnetism knew no bounds. Regardless, she had found it when prowling the parapets and spires of the outer wall and had finally gotten it to come and talk with her.
“It be’s da fight we be’s winning against da deads.” It said, chomping up the meat. “You gots to go see da fights by da tower. Dem deads gettin crushed by da hundred a second. Da Lords says we just gots to crush dem faster’n dey can come back.”
“The Lords?” Tabitha prompted, her feline features artfully puzzled.
“You be’s lucky to be having me.” The demon said, “You be’s so dumb. How did you stay so dumb and being alive? Everyone be’s knowing who da Lords be.”
“What are their names?” She asked, voice carefully innocent.
The tiny demon looked at her aghast. “We don’t be SAYING da names even if we be KNOWING dem.”
“Why wouldn’t you honor them with their names?” She pressed, “Isn’t it giving them the respect they deserve?”
“Because we want to be staying LIVING.” It said adamantly, “Do don’t be liking nobody to be knowing names.” It seemed to be getting nervous, glancing around with apprehension as though expecting something to drag it off to hell.
“Oh, I’d heard there was something about Demons and names.” Tabitha said in an offhanded tone. “I thought it was just a rumor.”
“I doesn’t be like dey say it used to be.” It said, “But da Lords be’s remembering.”
“Where is this Tower?” She asked, changing the subject now that she’d gotten the information she wanted. “I would like to visit it.”
“It be’s over dere.” It pointed with a clawed finger. “I be’s showing you if you wants.”
“How far over there?” Tabitha asked, “How will I recognize it?”
“I fly maybe twenty times between sleeps to get dere. You can’t missing it. It be’s da huge ting surrounded by da armies of da Lords.” It said, picking a piece of meat out of its teeth with a claw. “You be coming? Da Lords would be loving to know you.”
“Oh certainly. Lead on!” She said with her best smile. When the small demon turned to leap into the air she grabbed him and popped him in her mouth. He had a strange, almost spicy flavor and crunched quite nicely in her jaws.
SP was trying to meditate. It wasn’t working. The seemingly constant racket of the city wasn’t the problem, SP had managed to tune such things out out long ago; this was something different. The necromancer straightened a fold of snow white robe and tried to allow the feeling to reveal its source. Breathing slowly and deeply while thinking of the beautiful, perfectly clean white marble of the morgue where he used to reside and labor over the dead, SP was finally able to focus.
The answer was so simple that it almost went unnoticed. Ever since they had left the safety and security of Einn Boer, he had felt on edge. Something had always seemed to be just over his shoulder, watching, touching, pushing him forward but to what he couldn’t say. It was power.
Not just power, but power that wasn’t just accessible to him but that practically demanded to be used. Thus far he had not used it. Not intentionally. But this, he realized, was an offer and slightly more than an offer. It was also an intrusion.
With curiosity, he reached out to brush the offered hand. It was akin to what he imagined putting his hand on the sun would be like. Pure unfettered energy coursed into his body and he watched in fascination as frost formed on his fingertips, gradually flowing up his hand. When he exhaled his breath steamed in the early morning air.
Something noticed him. NOTICED him. Just for a moment. That was enough for him. SP tried to withdraw, but found that the ATTENTION of whatever it was held him fast.
“A. MORTAL.” It wasn’t a voice, it was a glacier in his mind, not speaking but scraping a place in his mind flat in order to insinuate itself. “HOW. CURIOUS.”
SP had stopped breathing. His heart fluttered in his chest like a frightened bird. It was all peripheral, the only focus was breaking contact with the PRESENCE.
“YOU. MUST. COME. TO. ME.” The ice was freezing his mind. A flickering vision of an ancient set of standing stones with an entrance in the center was followed by a series of runic symbols and a flash of blackness. The vision changed to be from above, distorted as through the eye of some alien creature, but the features were obvious and indelibly imprinted on his mind.
“THE. BROKEN. CROWN.” The presence intoned.
“Why are you doing this?” SP managed to ask.
“A. GIFT. FOR. A. TALENTED. SEEKER.”
“Who are you?” The Elf gasped.
“WE ARE ALL. ALL ARE WE. WE ARE LEGION AND WE ARE ONE.”
The grip on his mind was released and SP drew a ragged breath. His right hand burned with incomparable pain. To all outward appearances it was untouched, but he could feel the power raging like a river of frozen flame beneath the skin, begging to be used. Demanding to be used.
Teelos wasn’t feeling well. Something had disturbed the ebb and flow of arcane energies that he tapped from the Pact and he was getting strange surges in power that made him feel almost as though he had a virus after every time he tried to work even the smallest of arcane workings.
He tried to clear his mind, pushing a hand across his face and leaning back against the smoothly polished black bones of Legionnaire. The construct had obligingly twisted itself into a chair for his comfort as he attempted to find what the problem was.
“Focus is erratic.” The voice of the once living, now never dying construct said into his mind. “Not yours. Another’s I think. Things are not the way they were.”
“What does that mean?” Teelos asked, his frustration giving way to curiosity. “How do you know that and what do you mean by it?”
“I mean what I said and I know it because I can feel the patterns.” Legionnaire said, “It had not occurred to me that you did not feel it yourself, bound as you are to one of them.”
“I feel it, I just don’t understand it.” Teelos said, feeling the tension coming back. “What has changed?”
“Everything has changed. The gods are moving again. Belief is spreading again. The Others that have existed here for so long now feel the presence of them. And of you all.” Legionnaire paused, “Was this not your intention?”
“What? No! We wished to avoid detection at all costs!” Teelos protested, bringing his hands up to massage his temples. “I thought that would have been obvious.”
“You have opened the sealed cities. You have resurrected ancient warriors. You have given the fallen gods hope. You have defeated hundreds of our foes. The City of Gears has erupted into a mountain of fire. The blood of mortalkind has been spilled upon the thirsty sands. I would have thought the result would be obvious.”
“I … I hadn’t thought of it that way.” Teelos admitted, “So why is my magic resisting me? Why has this change influenced things so much?”
“Because it is trying to see you.” Legionnaire said, “Now that it knows you are what you are it wants to see how it can benefit. I suggest continuing with caution.”
Boris waved his hand over the corpse of the fallen demon and it wavered and changed. From where it had fallen the spiky growth of a cactus sprouted, growing with speed and vigor. The plant was healthy and sturdy and would survive quite well in the arid environment. He smiled in satisfaction, taking a drink from the skin of distillate and smacking his lips.
He knew this was a dream because he was outside the walls; something he never would have attempted while awake. It was true that some of the best bits of these creatures spoiled quickly and upset him to waste such interesting components, but it wasn’t worth his life.
“Well done, although it is an empty gesture.” The voice was conversational and sounded as though it came from someone standing next to him. He started and looked around for the speaker.
“Who’s there?” He blurted, reaching for a weapon.
“It is I, Jorda.” The voice said calmly, “I have been with you for some time now, although you reject my presence.”
“You are unnatural!” He said, remembering how the people had been twisted in the city of Fyrl Logi. “You changed those beings and forced them to be something different than they had been! You kept them drugged and unaware of what was happening!”
“We all tell lies to children to keep them safe.” Her voice was calm and sure. “What lies are you telling this cactus? The first demon or undead that finds it will destroy it utterly. Have you told it that it can thrive and grow? That its offspring will survive and have offspring of their own? That will not happen.”
Boris considered this for a moment, unable to come up with an answer immediately. “I haven’t given any promises.” He said at last, “I merely give it the opportunity to live.”
“That is not enough in this era.” Jorda said, “You are wasting resources that could be used in other ways unless you propose to destroy all of the enemies of this plane.”
“I’m not proposing anything.” He protested, “I’m just giving opportunities for life to begin again.”
“You are making false promises.” She said, her voice sad. “If you intend to make a change you must conserve your energy for something that makes a much larger impact.”
“I made no promises damn it! I get the impression you have something in mind.” He said suspiciously, “I’m not listening to someone who treats mortals like you have, get out of my head!”
“The engine to protect all life is there.” Jorda’s voice grew fainter, “I cannot maintain contact with you when your mind is closed. You are on the path. You must continue or all is lost.”
“What kind of cryptic garbage is that?” He demanded. There was no answer. The cactus had grown and even sprouted flowers during the brief time he had been speaking with the goddess of nature. He looked at it critically; noting that the production of seeds at this point in its life would likely mean it would expend all the energy it would need to survive. How peculiar.
Duty. Honor. Steadfastness. That’s what Trey supposed he was supposed to be thinking about. That’s what they would have said at the orphanage anyway. Probably. It seemed like a lifetime ago when he’d been there, in Einn Boer.
The world outside was so much different than he’d ever imagined. The folk out here didn’t all have magic. Hellfire, almost none of them seemed to have magic compared to back home. It must have been nice to grow up without being afraid of hurting people by accident. Well, not that he’d have wanted to live with those necromancers. Or those weird druids. Maybe home wasn’t so bad all things considered.
It was a relief in some ways to have his strength be not just useful but necessary. He was able, nay needed to fight to the absolute limits of his ability just to survive. Now he knew why some of the stories of his Orcish ancestors spoke of them taking pride in their scars. He was proud of his.
In his dream, Trey was sitting on the parapet of a massive fortress looking out over a battlefield strewn with the corpses of a decade’s long war. “Life out in the wild eh?” A voice from beside him said, “Must be nice to have that mobility, not that I mind being here defending the home front.”
Trey looked at the man who had sat next to him. He was powerfully built to a degree that was almost disturbing. He wore only a close-fitting pair of leather trousers and heavy boots. A massive double-bladed battle ax was resting across his knees. His long black hair was gray at the temples and bound with a heavy silver clasp at the nape of his neck. He had patches of bright golden scales like lizard skin that seemed to be growing on his forearms and across his chest.
The glance at the man made him look back up at the vast citadel that rose above them; tier upon tier of city; each level with its own crenelated wall. Huge war engines with their arms cocked and ready stood at each flat-topped parapet. This place was at least as big as Einn Boer.
“Greetings. My name is Trey D’Orc. May I inquire as to your name?”
“I am Ravlen Thraine, Third Watch battle warden of the great city of Malm Hrid; the last true bulwark of mortality against the hordes. Or so we thought.” His hand touched the worn haft of the ax with a familiar gesture, nodding absently. “I was getting to that. Trey D’Orc you are a candidate whose fate might one day lead the Third Watch if you choose it.”
“I doubt that I would choose such if remaining here were a requirement.” Trey said, “I did not know one was able to choose one’s fate.”
Ravlen laughed, a sound so loud that it actually startled his companion. “Well spoken Trey! The truth of the matter is that Cthrek Ra Chen is the one that actually gets to make that choice. These great weapons are quite adept at ferreting out the warrior most compatible and molding them to the task. You’re a little older than most candidates, but you also have more experience it would seem.”
“My companions need me. I wouldn’t abandon them to defend strangers.” Trey tried to keep his voice from betraying his anger at such an idea, but he was pretty sure he failed.
“Honest and true, I can see why she likes you.” Ravlen said, slapping Trey on the back hard enough to move him slightly on his seat; no mean feat. “You ought to give it a thought; life here is amazing for us warriors. The best food, the most attractive and frolicsome bedmates, the most comfortable chambers and the best calling in the world. The destruction of the Horde for the salvation of all!”
“You’re winning?” Trey asked, looking at the vast number of slain demons and shattered skeletons on the killing field below.
“We’re holding our own Trey. Where do you hail from and how is it that you’re in such fine battle form? I’ve only met one Wanderer who managed to make our gates.”
“I come from Einn Boer.” Trey said, “There I was an orphan, but we found a secret and have ventured forth…” He stopped noting that Ravlen’s face had drained of color.
“It cannot be. The End Times are here already? I never thought I would see such in my lifetime.” His eyes narrowed, “Or is this a plot? Has the greatest of cities fallen? Has the Horde stolen her secrets?”
“We killed some undead before we left. I don’t think there were any more, Iln Rektros sent us forth.” Trey frowned, “Ravlen, what do you mean by the End Times?”
Ravlen’s hand tightened on the haft of his ax. “I will say no more until… things are settled. I must go, the battle begins again.”
Trey looked out at the killing ground before the fortress and saw that to the north it was swarming with demons, some taller than houses. To the south it teemed with undead, many with the towering forms of giants but with bonfires the size of horses burning in their chests.
Ravlen strode away, leaping from the parapet and landing on the wall three stories below without visible effort. Trey watched him go, shaking his head. Was this man’s battle his battle? Well, they had a common enemy at least.
Shaena slept fitfully, flickering images of the battle with the horrible undead Eye Tyrant still fresh in her mind. It had been so powerful, so deadly, it had nearly killed them all. Would have if the city hadn’t opened the gates and sallied a force forth. The scene replayed, the gates swinging wide and the warriors charging out.
The three in the lead were clearly a cut above the rest. The man in front wore almost nothing and swung a massive ax. The figure in full armor to his right carried a large shield shaped like a kite and a bastard sword held in the other. The last was wearing flowing silk robes; her hair coiled into a battle braid and the beautifully lacquered quarterstaff she wielded was a blur in her hands.
They hit the ranks of the Dead like a fireball, bones flying in all directions and cut a path to their party. From this perspective, Shaena could see that the three were laughing and trading jokes as they fought. A great skeleton warrior loomed up before the woman as she watched, swinging a sword with dreadful strength at the slight form in front of it. As she blocked the strike, her staff broke into two pieces.
Pivoting smoothly, the staff became a pair of Nunchaku spinning in a bewildering set of maneuvers as she literally ran up the monster’s body, each strike breaking pieces of bone off. Her attack culminated as she stood on its right shoulder, the two weapons once again becoming a single staff that she swung in a two-handed blow that knocked the head from the body
She executed a perfect back flip off the falling pile of bones and landed leaning casually on her staff and staring Shaena directly in the eyes.
“Hiya. What’s a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?”
Several skeletons employed a tactic she’d seen before, three rushing in while three more fired arrows at the other woman. She grinned madly and moving so fast she seemed to be three places at once, she flicked her hand and redirected the incoming arrows to punch through the skulls of the charging warriors.
“Well. I can’t disappoint all these boys who want to tango dear. Come see me maybe when ya wake up.”
When she turned to weave and leap into combat again, Shaena thought she saw the suggestion of a long prehensile tail curling from the woman’s backside. But this was a dream after all. That thought brought her out of her uneasy slumber, sitting up in bed suddenly wide awake.