The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 77

“Where are my other retainers?”  She demanded, eyes sweeping the room.  “My reeve needs immediate attention, and I find myself reluctant to trust any help that might be provided here.”

The room remained silent; everyone still staring at her in shocked silence.  “God’s balls!”  She cursed, thrusting her hand into her bag to withdraw the hilt and first inch of Shadowsliver’s blade.  An effort of will brought the Winds to do her bidding, and she sent them to bring her words to her companions.

A blast of wind flew out from her in every direction, resolving into a half dozen little zephyrs that each carried her words with them as they flew.  They also blew every plate of food and glasses of wine and spirits off every table, tore hair free of pins and combs, unbuttoned shirts and coats, and plastered skirts against legs.

Half the people in the room ran for the exits in a panic at the sight of the blood or because of the overt use of magic.  The other half were cursing and wiping at their clothes, pulling concealed daggers and glaring at Callindra.

“Don’t.”  She said, helping Reed to sit before turning to face the room.  “Enough blood has been shed tonight; there is no need to add yours unless you have a burning desire to die.”

“You think there’s a chance you could stand against us.”  A man in a black silk tunic splattered with wine sneered.

“Without a doubt.”  She said calmly, drawing Shadowsliver fully from her bag.  “I have no desire to kill any of you.  Yet.  I suggest you keep it that way.”

The others looked less confident now that she was holding her sword.  Before any of them decided to attack or retreat, a rush of wind came back through one of the doors bearing Kain’s voice to her ears.

“I am coming.”

She glanced at Reed and saw that although his eyes were closed, blood still flowed from between the fingers he still had clamped over his neck.  Thank the gods; he was still alive.

“Just put the sword down.”  A young woman said, a ring on her left hand glittering briefly.  “We’re all friends here.”

Callindra blinked, wondering why she was threatening these people.  They clearly meant her no harm, and she had recklessly blasted them with magic.  Her good friends began to come closer, but she had a nagging feeling that something was wrong.  They weren’t smiling, why weren’t her friends smiling?

Shadowsliver’s tips sang with a discordant complaint as her left arm relaxed enough for him to touch the stone floor, and the spell shattered.  Five enemies were arrayed in a semicircle, all holding daggers.  The woman who had charmed her was gathering Weave into a handful of bright white darts that hovered over her right hand.  None of them seemed to have noticed that she’d broken free.

The first of them came within reach of Shadowsliver’s chain, and she flung her sword like a spear, stabbing him in the chest.  She quickly ripped her blade back to her hand with a sharp yank on his chain, leaving a ragged wound behind.  The man cursed and dropped his knife to staunch the bleeding.

“Well, now I’m afraid you’ve given me a reason to show you the color of your blood.”  She said calmly, whipping her sword to one side to flick the blood off the blade.  If she used magic in this close of quarters, the odds were she would hit bystanders, so she settled for intimidation.  “How much of it do you want to see today?”

The mage released the bolts she’d summoned, and they flew in a series of zigzagging lines, skirting around tables and people to slam into Callindra, knocking her back into the wall.  With coordinated precision, her other four assailants lunged forward with blades out.  She staggered, trying to draw a breath and twisted to avoid one dagger, parried another, and took one in the arm and one in the side.

With a snarl of defiance, she cut left and right, felling two more of them and ducking a thrust but taking a slash across her thigh.  The mage began chanting, and something began to form between her hands.  Desperately, Callindra tried to run toward the woman, but her skirts wouldn’t allow her to, and she nearly tripped on them.

She hurled her sword at the mage, but she smoothly stepped back out of range and parted her hands.  A dark green sphere rotated into existence, and a black arm with emerald green veins reached through.  The remaining bystanders in the room ran at the sight of the monster crawling from the Abyss.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 76

Durrak was going to follow anyway but was distracted momentarily by Lorin coming back.  He glanced away from Reed, “Ah Lorin, I did be wondering where you did be getting to.  This youngster do be looking for Lady Sol’Estin.”

“What youngster are you talking about?” Lorin asked, pouring himself a glass of mead.  He took a drink and made a wry face, spitting it back into the glass.  “Ugh, this mead has a bad aftertaste.”

Looking around, Durrak saw that Reed had vanished, “He did be right here.”  He said, annoyed.  Picking up the bottle of mead, he dipped a thick finger into it and tasted it before quickly spitting it out.

“Tastes awful, doesn’t it?”  Lorin asked with a grimace, pouring a glass of wine instead.

“It do be xepherin,”  Durrak said, spitting again.  “Xepherin do be a type of poison that do be loosening the tongue.”

“That could be bad depending on what kind of questions Ellen Eth asked.”  Lorin said, “We should think about getting out of here.”

“I no do be feeling right about leaving that girl here after she do be drinking xepherin,”  Durrak said with a frown.  “But that Reed boy do seem to be capable enough.”

Callindra tried to walk in a straight line, but the room felt like it was tilting to one side and she moved with a distinct weave as she tried to remember where the exit was.  She knew that she hadn’t had that much to drink, not even a single glass of mead all told, so something else must be wrong.

“Pardon me.”  An elegant lady said, gliding to one side to avoid her with a look of disdain clear on her face.

“Not bloody likely,”  Callindra said, and the woman gave her a startled look.  “Where’s the god rotting exit?”

“Well!”  The lady turned and stalked off.

“Ya can’t talk to Lady’s like that.”  Reed’s voice made her jump slightly, “I thought you knew better.”

“God’s balls Reed, I just about soiled myself.”  She said, “Where the hell did you come from?  Where are you for that matter?”

“Gods and demons, you’re drunk!”  Reed said, emerging from the shadows to grab her by the forearm.  “Come on; we gotta get out of here.  Some of these supposed servants are trying to pick fights with the boys and I don’t know how much abuse they’re willing to take before someone gets hurt.”

“I am not drunk.”  Callindra said indignantly, “I didn’t even finish a single glass of mead, and I’m certainly not slurring my words you little ass.  Something is not right though; I don’t quite know what it is.  Like I’m off balance or like I’ve lost a lot of blood in a fight.”

“Oh, hell, they drugged you,”  Reed said, looping her arm over his shoulders.  “Come on and lean on me.  I gotta get you to Kain before there’s damage.”

“I – drugged?”  Callindra stopped and blinked, “Yes, actually, that would explain a lot, I think.”

“What do you think of me?”  Reed asked, giving her a shrewd look.

“You’re sort of a pain in the ass and can be god rotting rude at times, but I know you’re loyal and that you have my back.  I think you’re running from something, but really who isn’t?”  She said without hesitation.  “Why do you ask?”

“Oh.”  Reed gave a strange little laugh, “Yeah, a truth serum I think.”

“That’s not good,”  Callindra said, biting her lower lip and trying to remember exactly what she’d told Ellen Eth.  “I just got done meeting with Lady ‘Orien.  I probably said some things I shouldn’t have.”

Reed began cursing in a low voice, displaying an impressive variety of languages and creative phrasing.  “What did you tell her?”  He asked once he’d exhausted his vocabulary of profanity.

“I don’t remember.”  Callindra said, “But I think something about the gods?”

They reached an unobtrusive door, and Reed reached forward to open it.  He grunted in pain and stumbled sideways, looking in surprise at the knife sticking from his neck.  The drugs raging through her system made Callindra a half second slow, but she didn’t run or freeze in shock like the attacker likely thought she would.  With a defiant shout, her hand dipped into her purse and withdrew a pace long razor sharp twin tipped sword.

Wind sprang up around her, whipping her hair free from the pins holding it in place.  She drew the Weave from Shadowsliver, unleashing a flurry of blades made from air that slashed through a tapestry, obliterated a vase, and opened dozens of cuts on a man who had his arm pulled back getting ready to throw another dagger.  Reed gurgled something that might have been a curse, pulled the knife from his own throat, and hurled it into the would-be assassin’s left eye.

Reed’s injury and Callindra’s drugged state made escape doubly difficult, but they didn’t stop to see if anyone had noticed the altercation.  Holding her sword and channeling some of the Weave had helped to clear Callindra’s head, and she felt slightly more stable on her feet.  Reed was holding his hand over his neck, but blood was pouring out between his fingers.

“Show me where to go Reed.”  She said, reluctantly shoving her sword back into her pouch.  “I’ll carry you if you need me to, but I have to get you to Kain.”

He was pale from blood loss and leaning heavily against her, but stubbornly refused to let her try to carry him.  They walked down a corridor meant for servants to a staircase that ended in a large open room where a variety of people stood in groups or sat at tables chatting.  All conversation stopped as Callindra staggered through the door, supporting Reed, soaked in blood.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 75

“Where is he now?”  Ellen Eth asked, leaning forward.  “Surely he has told you how you could find him.”

“Luftin was eaten by the same bedamned dragon that Lord Caverstorm is looking for.”  Callindra said, savoring the dry bite of the mead.  “It was right after Jorda was killed saving us.  A few of her siblings came with him to avenge her death and there was a huge battle and Cerioth just ate him.”

“Luftin?  I was told your Master’s name was Glarian.”  Ellen Eth frowned and leaned forward.  “Why did you call him Luftin?”

“Turns out he was the god of wind the whole time.  I have no idea why or what a god would want with someone like me.”  Callindra was definitely feeling strange.  She set the goblet down with a frown.  “Why would the gods care about an orphan who never knew her real parents?”

“Why indeed?”  Ellen Eth said, “I know they rarely do anything without a reason, so that makes you a curiosity my dear.”

Callindra couldn’t take a deep enough breath, the bedamned stays were digging into her ribs.  She stood slightly unsteadily and bobbed a curtsey.  “Pardon me Lady ‘Orien, but I feel the need for a breath of fresh air.  I am going to just step outside for a moment.”

Ellen Eth watched her go, a slight but genuine smile on her lips.  This youngling was a puzzle and a prize.  She made a slight gesture and one of her spies slipped from the shadows and followed.  The girl wouldn’t get too far with that amount of the truth telling drug raging through her system, but she wanted to be certain that The Sol’Estin did not get beyond her reach.

Durrak toyed idly with a dagger, spinning it between his fingers and flipping it to catch the hilt.  Lorin had been gone for a quarter candlemark and he was starting to wonder where the blighter had disappeared to.  In any other situation he’d think his friend was off scandalizing the courtesans, but here and now he felt there was cause to worry.

“Hey.”  A low voice interrupted his reverie.  “You don’t look like the rest of ‘em.  I mean cause of the armor not cause you’re a Dwarf.”  A young human dressed in finery that looked out of place despite it fitting with perfection slipped into the chair that Callindra had recently vacated.

“You no do be talking like a court boy.”  Durrak observed with a wry grin.

“Huh?”  He stuffed some of the small sandwiches into his mouth and talked around the food.  “Yeah I ain’t from around here.  I’m lookin for a friend who ain’t from around here either.”

“Who do your friend be?”  Durrak asked, “A certain willful young lady?”

The boy’s eyes narrowed slightly, “Maybe.”

“If she do be Lady Callindra, she did be walking toward the exit less than half a candlemark ago.”  Durrak said, “If I do be seeing her again I do be happy to be giving her a message.”

“Which way’d she go?”  He asked.  When Durrak gestured with the point of his dagger, he nodded, “If ya see her tell her Reed was here and said time to go.”

“Maybe I do be joining you Reed.”  Durrak said, sheathing his dagger and rising from his chair.  “I do be getting bored of sitting anyhow.”

Reed looked at him and chuckled.  “You think I’m actually supposed to be here?  With all that armor you’d give me away in a second.”

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 74

“If you do be finding Cerioth, your best option do be running.”  Durrak said, “If I no did be a fool, I no would be looking to fight with her.  But she did be destroying Farenholm, killing all my people and taking up residence in the halls of my ancestors.  For that, I do be owning her.”

“She ate my Master.”  Callindra said, “I plan to cut her open and see if he’s still inside.”

With that, she turned and walked from the table.  Lorin watched her go, eyes searching for a hint about what possible danger she thought she could pose to a fly, let alone a dragon.

“Did you be noticing her hands?”  Durrak asked, “She do be a left handed fighter, light blade, fast footwork.  She do be wearing that ‘lady’ disguise well.”

“You really think she’s dangerous?”  Lorin asked, still mesmerized by the sway of her hips as she walked away.  “Beautiful as a naked blade, but other than how she moves, I would never have guessed…”

“Oh, I do be certain, Lorin.”  Durrak took a cigar from his pouch and blew a plume of dull red smoke to curl through the air.  “If there do be one who might beat me to Cerioth, it do be her.  We should be working together, but I no do be knowing if we can be trusting her.”

Abruptly, Lorin stood and hurried in the direction Callindra had gone.  “What the hell, why don’t we ask her?”  He said, giving Durrak a grin.

Callindra was worried about her friends after they hadn’t followed her in, but even more, now that The Order had threatened her in public.  If Ellen Eth allowed this type of behavior at a ball, there was little doubt that worse was to come for guards and servants.  She also wouldn’t be at all surprised if knives in the night were next.

As she walked toward the stairway where she’d come in, a guard stepped forward from an alcove where he had been watching unobtrusively.  “Pardon Lady, but my Lady ‘Orien would like to speak with you.”  He gestured toward a raised dais where she could see Ellen Eth sitting at a low marble table.  The woman was staring at her.

“Of course, I would be delighted to make her acquaintance.”  She said with forced enthusiasm.  “I wouldn’t have thought she would want to meet me personally.”

“My Lady meets with all of her guests personally.”  He said, “She only invites those with whom she wishes to speak.  Lady ‘Orien finds these casual parties to be far preferable to a formal audience.”

“I see.”  Callindra said, “It makes sense to wish to meet informally first.”  It certainly did make sense.  In this setting, most of her potential enemies would be unable to carry a weapon, and if they did, it would be difficult to conceal anything in formal wear.

With a nod to the guard, she made her way toward the dais.  She saw movement out of the corner of her eye, glancing back she saw the Elf Lorin walking toward the guard with a purposeful stride.  If he was following her, she decided to deal with him after Ellen Eth.

Callindra approached the table and curtseyed deeply while keeping eye contact.  “Lady ‘Orien, it is a pleasure to meet you.”  She said as she rose.

“Charmed, I’m sure.”  Ellen Eth said, giving her a smile that did not touch her eyes. “I must say you are not at all what I imagined you would be.”

“We are rarely exactly as expected, Lady.”  Said Callindra with a slight inclination of her head.  “I trust the differences are positive ones?”

“Based on the exploits I’ve heard of the Adamantine Brotherhood and the reputation of battle mages from The Order, I rather thought you would be more martial in both appearance and manner.”  She said, “I was surprised when you did not send Rrayu away and even more so when I heard the reports of your drastic changes in appearance and manner the evening you arrived.”

Callindra hesitated but decided that the truth was as likely to work as anything.  “When my life required me to know how to be a warrior, I became a warrior.  When I had to be a Lady, I learned to be a Lady.”  She shrugged, “Off hand, I would say being a warrior is easier and less dangerous.”

Ellen Eth blinked, the only thing betraying her surprise.  “Ah, well.  I suppose your training to become The Sol’Estin could hardly have included courtly arts.”

A laugh burst from her before Callindra could stop it.  “Oh, gods and demons no.”  Just thinking about Glarian trying to teach her how to wear stays or walk in skirts nearly made her dissolve into helpless laughter again.

“Of course.  Rumor has it that he was a bit of a recluse?”  She gestured, and a servant stepped from the shadows with goblets and a pair of bottles.  “Is it true that The Order disbarred him?”

“I don’t know all the history, but from what he told me, they could not remove him without trial by combat, and none of them had the skill or power to defeat him,”  Callindra said, watching as the servant poured her a goblet of mead.

“Why would he break the bylaws and train a student after being forbidden to do so?”  Ellen Eth mused, accepting a glass of dark red wine from the servant.

“I’m sure he had his reasons,”  Callindra said, taking a sip of the excellent mead.  “But I saw him practicing the Korumn and wouldn’t stop begging him to teach me the Sword until he agreed.”    Her head felt lighter than it should.  She’d never told anyone that before, and it seemed as though she should be thinking more before she answered.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 73

“The Lady do be conversing with me,”  Durrak said, giving the man who had spoken last a stern look.  “I no do appreciate a pleasant interlude being interrupted with rudeness.”

“Stay out of this, Caverstorm.”  He said, all but spitting the words.  “This is not your concern and she is no ‘lady’ at all but an imposter, trained by a rogue mage who defied the-”

Durrak abruptly stood and hurled one of his spiked gauntlets in the man’s face, cutting off his tirade.  “I no do be taking insults to Ladies who do be sharing time with me lightly.”  He said, voice simmering with contempt.  “Be picking up my gauntlet or do be departing after formal apology.”

Callindra paused, left hand reaching into her bag, and waited to see what would happen.  Lorin was leaning back in his chair with a boyish grin on his face, watching with apparent glee, but she could see he had his hand on a knife hilt under the table.  The man stared at Durrak for a moment, ignoring the blood coming from wounds the spiked glove had made on his face.

“We are both Inquisitors of The Order.”  He said after a moment, indicating the woman who stood next to him. “You may not have understood who you were speaking with before you made that challenge.  I understand if you wish to withdraw it.”

The Dwarf began to laugh, a rumble that built until it was a full belly laugh that shook the fastenings of his armor.  “You do be thinking.”  He started, before lapsing back into laughter.  “You do be thinking I do be withdrawing my challenge because you do claim some bloody title?

“Before I do be coming to this place, it did be my life’s work to be taking titles from fools too weak to be keeping them.  Do be apologizing to this Lady and departing with your comrade or do be preparing to fight.”  Durrak folded his arms over his armored chest, a move that emphasized the broadness of his shoulders and the spikes on his armor.

“Lord Caverstorm, please.”  Callindra said, “There is no need to intercede thus.  I would not want you to be injured for making such a noble gesture.”  Although her voice was calm, her eyes flashed with anger.  The Dwarf suspected she wished to defend her own honor.

“A gentleman no do be able to do less.”  Durrak said, “It no do be a gesture; it do be my obligation and my pleasure Lady.”

The entry chime sounded again, and the light illuminated a beautiful woman wearing a simple yet elegant dress of silver.  “The Lady Ellen Eth ‘Orien.”

Her eyes swept the ballroom, occasionally pausing on one group or another until they eventually came to rest on Durrak.  She took in Lorin, Callindra and the Inquisitors in silence, not offering support or rebuke.  Her presence seemed to calm the confrontation down, and the man bowed from the waist to Callindra.

“Lady Sol’Estin, please accept my apology for my behavior.”  He said, his voice perfectly polite.  “I should not have intruded on your private conversation and aired my grievances in front of others.  We shall discuss this later in private.”

“I fear I do not know your name, sir, for we have not been introduced.”  Callindra replied, stiffly formal, “May I please have your name?”

“I am Inquisitor Revchek.”  He said,  “We will speak privately of personal matters soon.”  The two Inquisitors stalked away, backs straight with tension.

“Seems to me that man intends to kill you,”  Lorin said laconically.

“The feeling is quite mutual.”  She said, watching the two as they retreated.  “I don’t think I’m going to give either of us a chance though.  Too much risk for not enough reward, as much as I’d like to see his liver on a stick.”

“You did be saying you no did know him,”  Durrak said, seeming confused.  “Why do you be wanting him dead?”

“I appreciate your chivalrous offer Lord Caverstorm.”  She said, “However, my quarrel with them is only due to the Order’s quarrel with my Master.  Now that he’s gone, I appear to have inherited his debts.”

“The offer do stand.”  Durrak said, “I did make it more for his sake than yours.  That man do be in need of a touch of humbling.”

“I find his arrogance in the face of the end of the world a little refreshing.”  Callindra said with a weak smile, “Or at least I would if I could find room for levity.  Thank you for the conversation and support.  If you find Cerioth tell her hello with that polearm for me.”

“You no do be staying?”  Durrak asked, raising a bushy eyebrow.

“No, I’m afraid this city has shown itself to be as dead as every other place.”  Callindra said, “Despite the people who shelter here, none of them are living.”

She stood from the table with a grace that Lorin now recognized.  It wasn’t the smoothness of a dancer or a Lady trained from childhood to move just so.  It was the litheness of a predator trained to kill.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 72

“Why did I be letting you be talking me into this?”  Durrak asked Lorin, “Look at these bedamned fools in their frippery.  Do they not be knowing there do be monsters from the Abyss feasting on human flesh above their heads?”

“Durrak, my friend, you need to relax and enjoy yourself,”  Lorin said, surveying the crowd.  “There are so many beauties here tonight, how can you focus on the problems of the world above with such delectable butterflies flitting about?”

“How do you be thinking of women now?”  Durrak took a lit cigar from his belt pouch, puffing a cloud of thick blue smoke.

“One has to enjoy things when one can, my friend.”  He smiled over Durrak’s right shoulder, “Like this vision of loveliness for example.”

A woman in a dark green dress with a matching bag incongruously strung on a silver chain that was bound to her wrist was walking purposefully toward them.  Lorin thought her a bit slender, but she moved with grace and confidence that he found alluring.  The only sign of nervousness was the way her hand clutched the bag’s chain.

“Lord Caverstorm?”  She inquired, ignoring Lorin completely and dipping a curtsey to Durrak.  “Might I impose on a moment of your time?”

Durrak chuckled at his friend’s stricken expression.  He grounded the butt of his Gisarme and bowed with a creak and scrape of armor.  “I do be at your disposal, Miss.”

“Apologies Lords, my name is Lady Callindra Sol’Estin.”  She curtseyed to Lorin as well, “Would you care to join me at a table so that we can converse with proper refreshment?”

“For you to be using Mithril, you do be showing much caution or that you do value the contents of your pouch most greatly,”  Durrak said, glancing at her wrist.  “I do be happy to join you Lady Sol’Estin.  This do be Lorin, I do be apologizing in advance for he do be a terrible flirt.”

“Please ignore the crude and uncultured Dwarf, my Lady,”  Lorin said with an elegant bow.  “We would be honored to sit with you.”

Instead of returning to the table she’d shared with a few other courtiers, she led the way to a small table and perched on the edge of a chair.  She signaled to a servant who brought an assortment of small snacks and a tray of wine glasses.

After the servant had left, she smiled at Durrak, but the words that came out of her mouth belied the expression.  “I hear you have an interest in the dragon Cerioth.  If you desire her death as intently as I do, perhaps we can help one another.”

“What quarrel do a Lady have with The Bane of Ignetium?”  Durrak asked, “A gentle lass like yourself no do be having cause to be picking fights with dragons.”

“I’ve killed one dragon already.”  She said, her voice fierce but calm.  “It wasn’t easy, but by all the gods and demons, I intend to do it again.”

“I think we may have misjudged you, my Lady.”  Lorin said, “It seems as though you aren’t a delicate flower despite looking the part almost perfectly.”

“I’m flattered that my ruse worked so well.”  She said, still smiling as though they were flirting or making small talk.  “I fear I’m even less of a Lady that you likely think.  I came here to try and figure out what the most powerful city ever constructed had done to survive the hordes of Taken, and instead, I discover a den of petty idiots pretending that someone’s claim to nobility still matters.”

Realization dawned on Lorin’s face.  “I remember that name now.  It’s not a surname, but a Title from a school of battle magic.”

“It is the Title of a wanted criminal.”  A woman’s voice from behind and to the left Callindra’s chair said.  “A Title that cannot be rightfully claimed by a half trained apprentice.”

“Come along quietly, child.”  Another voice said, this one behind and to the right. “All we want is you to lead us to your Master.”

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 70

The ‘transport’ had turned out to be a handcart pulled by two burly men, and it was only big enough for Callindra to ride.  Since the rest of her friends were posing as her guards, she thought it was fitting that they walk, regardless of how much Reed grumbled about it.  Besides, there was no way she could have walked that far in the gown and shoes.  Even if it wasn’t so tight she could barely breathe, she would be worried about soiling her hem in the dirt of the street.

Following the winding wooden platforms that connected the dirt and cobblestone streets, they arrived at Ellen Eth ‘Orien’s mansion.  It was three stories tall, each story made of a different color of marble.  The courtyard was paved with gold coins instead of gravel, and guards in matching jet black livery stood at the polished blackwood doors.

Callindra stepped from the cart, gratefully accepting Reed’s hand to steady herself when her bloody skirts nearly tripped her.  Now she understood why Ladies had attendants.  Approaching the guards at the door, she gave them a slight inclination of her head and walked through the door.  The ballroom was so breathtaking it took her a moment to notice her companions hadn’t entered behind her.

A man in black livery with a staff of office stepped from behind a podium, looking at her appraisingly.  “And you are?”  He inquired in a voice that suggested she was dressed in strips of rotting meat.

Her temper flared, and a gust of wind swirled around her before blowing an inkwell over onto a stack of paper before also blowing the documents to the floor.  “Invited.”  She said shortly, gliding past him as he jumped to try and save the parchment.

“My attendants should be joining me shortly,”  Callindra said over her shoulder, and then she had to focus on her surroundings.  The arched entrance led down to a floor inlaid with gold and jade in intricate swirling patterns.  Richly dressed men and women stood in groups, talking and listening to an orchestra playing in a minor key.

As she walked through the archway, a gentle chime sounded, and the assembled folk turned to look in her direction.  A light above illuminated her as she walked down a wide staircase, and a servant in white livery came to offer escort.  A man in a perfectly tailored suit of dark red satin with lace ruffles at the cuffs and collar approached and bowed.

“Delgrin did not introduce you, but I gather you must be Lady Sol’Estin?”  He took her hand and brushed it with his lips.  “I am Count Drake Ardent.”

Callindra took her hand back to curtsey as Rrayu had taught her, “I am indeed, it is a pleasure to meet you, Count Ardent.”

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 69

“She’s barely left that room for two days.”  Vilhylm said, “I can’t imagine something’s going to have significantly changed in such a short time.”

“Maybe not, but I ain’t gonna be the one to mess up my part,”  Reed said, helping himself to a glass of wine.  “We’re all supposed to be escorts.  You’re all guards of one nature or another; that sounds easy enough to me.  I gotta be like a runner or something; hopefully, I can chat up some of the servants.”

“None of us have to change who we appear to be.”  Holt said, “She is undertaking a much more difficult task.”

“I’m certainly not a guard.”  Connor said, “I should probably just stay behind so I don’t mess anything up.”

The door to Callindra’s room swung open, and a vision in forest green silk with a matching handbag hanging from her right wrist on a delicate silver chain swept into the room.  The lines of her dress made a gentle hourglass shape, the bodice and skirt accentuating her figure.  Velvet slippers peeked out from the gold-embroidered hem.  Subtle touches of color highlighted her cheekbones and the seafoam green of her eyes.

“You shall indeed remain here and employ your arcane talents to study our situation further.”  She said, “The rest of you are to attend me at Lady ‘Orien’s ball.  Accord yourselves well and do not embarrass me.”

They all stared at her in momentary shock.  Reed was the first to find his voice.  “Callindra?  You actually look like a Courtier.  Gods and bloody demons, you SOUND like a Courtier.”

“Language Reed.  Holt, please close your mouth before you catch flies.”  The corner of her mouth quirked, and she started to laugh.  “By the nine hells, you should see your faces!”

“You’ve worked very hard, and the results are plain to see.”  Vilhylm said with a smile, “I didn’t think you could accomplish so much in such a short time, you will do us all proud.”

Callindra gave him a hug, a slight flush coloring her cheeks.  “I feel so bedamned awkward.”

“You look the part quite well,”  Holt said, seeming to recover from his shock.  “Hiding your sword in your magical bag is brilliant.”

“We need to be ready to depart shortly.”  She said, falling back into character.  “Please make yourselves presentable.”

Callindra moved to a table and sat primly, gesturing for Rrayu to bring her refreshment.  The others looked at her for a moment before realizing she was serious.  They left to make final preparations before presenting themselves for Rrayu’s appraisal.  She made minor adjustments, straightening and smoothing before sighing that they’d do.

“My Lady, I have asked for transport to be brought, they should be out front now,”  Rrayu said, giving Callindra a final once over.  “Gods all bless.”

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 67

A woman wearing an elaborately pleated green silk gown swept across the dance floor and favored Callindra with a dazzling smile and a graceful curtsey.  “Lady Sol’Estin, I am Miss Dinneh, may I join you?”

Callindra smiled back and gestured toward the seat across from her.  “Of course, Miss Dinneh, please have a seat.  Reed, won’t you pour her some refreshment?”

Reed barely missed a beat, pouring a goblet of mead and placing it before her with a flourish.  “With your leave, my Lady?”  He said, waiting for her nod before vanishing onto the dance floor, already taking a laughing girl by the hand.

“What brings you to my table?” Callindra asked, sampling her mead.

“I am an emissary from the Lady Ellen Eth ‘Orien.”  She replied, lifting her goblet in salute.  “I am here to bid you welcome to this last bastion of civilization in a world gone mad.  The Lady graciously offers to shelter you beneath the wings of her benevolent protection.”

“I confess, I find you a much more congenial companion than the last messenger the Lady sent my way,”  Callindra said, nibbling on a small sweet bread.

“Our sincere apologies, we were unaware that you possessed a Title.”  She winced,  “My Mistress wished to ascertain if you were an imposter and may have sent a rather less polite representative to see what sort of reaction would result.”

“Judging by your appearance here, I gather I passed her test?”  Callindra asked, raising an eyebrow.

“She sent me here to offer an invitation to a ball she is putting on two days hence by way of apology.”  Dinneh said, “I am here to bring your response back to her.”

“I gratefully accept both apology and invitation,”  Callindra said, smiling to keep the look of panic off her face.  “I look forward to meeting your Lady and her court.”

“Wonderful,”  Dinneh said, rising gracefully and dipping another curtsey.  “We shall be honored to host the Sol’Estin.”

Callindra kept her face impassive until the other woman had moved out of sight.  Someone had let her secret slip, and if there was anyone from The Order in the Undercity, she would be in danger.  More than that, she had told Rrayu specifically not to tell anyone and nobody other than her friends knew of her title.  It was time to go and have a chat with her maid.

She climbed the stairs with determined strides and flung open the door to her chambers.  “Rrayu, come here right bloody now and by the gods and demons explain to me why you revealed my Title to Ellen Eth!”

“Please, my Lady, I swear I did not say anything!”  Rrayu entered the sitting room, wringing her hands in supplication.  “I have not even made a report yet; I could not have betrayed your secret!”

Callindra looked at her with skepticism, “Where else would Lady ‘Orien’s agents have found out about it?”

“I don’t know my Lady, but please believe me; I didn’t breathe a word of it to anyone.”

A thought struck Callindra, and she knew her maid was telling the truth.  “It was that man.”  She said in a flat voice.  “He must have been from The Order.  I should have known by how he carried his sword.”

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 65

“We are what is left of a group of adventurers who went on a mission given by the Gods themselves.”  She quickly sketched out the bare bones of their travels and misadventures, trying to gloss over as many of the finer points as she could.  Rrayu sat quietly and listened, her eyes getting wider as the tale progressed.

“After killing that thrice cursed squid Connor managed to hold the ship together until we could debark and then we made our way here.”  She finished.  “We’re looking for survivors to see if we can gather assistance to somehow turn the tide against the Taken or reverse the magic that is causing the plague to happen.”

“You’re fighting for the Gods.”  Rrayu said, a bit of awe in her voice.  “I thought them all but gone.  Betimes prayers would be answered in the past but with all that’s happened and them letting it happen I’d all but lost hope.”

“It’s not like they’ve been much help to us either.”  Vilhylm said wryly, “Almost more of a hindrance in most ways.”

“You said your swordmaster is Luftin?”  Rrayu asked, looking at Callindra with such an unabashed look of wonder that she began to feel uncomfortable.  “You’ve met him?  And Jorda?”

“Well, I didn’t know who he was.”  Callindra said, “I was pretty awful to him at first and he didn’t seem much like a god.  Jorda was a much different story; she was much more like what one would think of as a goddess.”

“Not everyone looks upon the gods with reverence.”  Vilhylm said with a frown, “We must ask you to keep this bit to yourself.”

“What are you hoping to find here?”  Rrayu asked, looking between them.  “This city is lost, most of the people here are dead, why would you come to a place like this?”

Again they all looked at Callindra and she said for the first time something she had been mulling over ever since she saw Luftin devoured by Cerioth.  She took a deep breath and forced her left hand to relax on Shadowsliver’s hilt.

“An ally told us there was some power center for the Abyss here, I want to find that gods bedamned dragon and get some answers.”  She said, “It ate my Master, it destroyed this city, it has been present at many of the worst moments in this war.  If anything knows what Morde’s plans are it does, and I have heard it comes and patrols Starvale.”

The room fell silent as they all stared at her.  Even her companions seemed stunned by her words.  “We should also look at those spheres.”  She said, pretending not to have noticed their reaction.  “Anyone powerful enough to have created those is likely powerful enough to fight well against the Taken.”

Connor nodded slowly, “I also want to look at those things.”  He said, “Perhaps we can find more information about how they resist the power of the Taken and of that dragon.  Could be that there’s a way for us to harness that protection for ourselves.”

“You’re off yer nut.”  Reed said, “You wanna fight that bedamned dragon?  What do you think we can do that a whole city of mages couldn’t?”

“We can talk more once we’ve had time to think about it.”  Callindra said, refusing to give ground.  “For now I think we need to go be seen if we’re to keep in Ellen Eth’s good graces.”

“You can’t be seriously thinking about fighting that dragon.”  Kain said, “You won’t have a dam to collapse on this dragon will you?  I don’t know if we’ll get that lucky again.”

Rrayu’s mouth dropped open in shock.  “You’ve already killed a dragon?”

“I might have left that part out of the tale.”  Callindra said with a shrug.  She hadn’t wanted to mention Terevelen, since most people wouldn’t understand making an alliance with a necromancer.  “Perhaps that’s a story for another time.  Right now I believe we need to be seen downstairs.”

“I say we give ‘em a show.”  Reed said with a grin, “Enter with style, buy ‘em all a drink and talk a good game.  All we gotta do is get Ellen Eth’s attention, sounds like being flashy is the way to go.”

“Only if you all promise to only tell tall tales about yourselves and leave me out of it.”  Callindra said, “I have enough to deal with trying to be this ‘Lady’ you’ve all talked me up to be.

“Wouldn’t dream of doing otherwise.”  Reed said, not fooling anyone who knew him with his innocent expression.