The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 63

“I could have gutted her by accident.”  Reed said darkly, “Just walking in like that.  Don’t these people know that there’s a war on outside?  A year ago she’d have been bleeding out on the floor.”

“Somehow I think she was a lot more than she appeared to be,”  Callindra said, narrowing her eyes.  “She definitely checked us all out and I’m certain she will be telling her mistress what she observed.”

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Rrayu giving her a considering glance.  The woman who was to be her lady’s maid turned deliberately back to the closet and withdrew a brilliant red garment.  It had wide trouser legs that gave the illusion of skirts but still had the mobility of trousers.  The top was also flowing red silk that overlapped to tie and then be covered by a matching sash. Small vines picked out in an impossibly emerald green twined about the hems with tiny white and gold flowers peeking through.  Brightstar flowers.

“I think this will be an admirable compromise, My Lady.”  She said, laying it out on the bed.  “Now you go so that our Lady may dress in private.”  Reed rolled his eyes but left without dissent.

“You’ve been keeping this in reserve haven’t you?”  Callindra accused, sliding out of the robe and allowing Rrayu to assist her in dressing.  She couldn’t help but admire the feeling of the silk as it slid over her skin.

“Of course, although I was fairly certain I would have convinced you eventually, you must make an appearance in the dining room below.”  She surveyed the effect the outfit had and gave a reluctant nod.  “This will have to do.”

Callindra looked at herself in the mirror and barely recognized herself.  The shoulder-length ragged ends of her hair were now sculpted into a quite stylish and intentional looking cut.  The clothing fit her beautifully, managing to make her whipcord thinness look dangerously feminine like a hunting cat.  She smiled, and turned to Rrayu, giving the other woman a hug.

“You’re a miracle worker!  This looks amazing!”  She stepped back and performed a few lunges and cuts, Shadowsliver’s twin tips whistling through the air.  “And I can still move in it.  Do you really think this is going to make a difference?”

“My Lady is too kind.”  Rrayu said, “The transformation from your travel-worn self to this version should be sufficient to convince most that you have some claim to a title.”

“A title?  But I do actually have a title.”  Callindra said, lowering her sword and looking at her maid.  “I am the Sol’Estin, Master of the North Wind.”

She hadn’t ever spoken those words aloud, gods and demons she’d barely even thought them, but as they left her mouth she realized that they were true.  Glarian was dead, and with his death, the mantle of Sol’Estin was now hers and hers alone.  Even inside a building underground and far from the raging power of the Great Winds, a gust of air rattled the shutters briefly and a tiny zephyr tugged at Shadowsliver’s chain.

Rrayu was looking at her with a shocked expression on her face and jumped when the wind blew.  “Oh!”  She looked around, as though fearing something might step from a corner of the room and whisk her away to gods all knew where.

“My Master had many enemies however, so I think it might not be the most productive thing to spread around.”  She paused and looked at Rrayu.  “Are you alright?  You look like someone just walked over your grave.”

“I just didn’t know you were a …” She trailed off, staring at her feet and swallowing hard.  “That’s a Mage’s Title.”

“It’s much more than just a Mage’s title, but that is part of what it means.”  Callindra said, “Is that a problem?”

“Not with me,”  Rrayu said, still looking down.  “However, it may complicate things with Ellen Eth.”

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 62

After the bath and half a candlemark of fussing with a pair of scissors, carefully snipping at her hair, Rrayu had shown Callindra a wide variety of different dresses, but she turned them all down.  “I don’t want skirts.  How do you expect me to move in these things?”

“But a Lady does not wear trousers.”  Rrayu insisted, nervously twisting the dark blue silk in her hands.  “If you’re seen wearing trousers it would be most unseemly.”

Callindra crossed her arms, standing in her smallclothes it was surprisingly difficult to face down someone who was fully clothed.  “I hardly think a sword would be seen as ‘seemly’ for a lady either and it’s not like I can put Shadowsliver down.  Nor would I if I could.”  She shook her right wrist for emphasis and his chain jingled merrily.

“Of course that is an impediment to your overall appearance; however a Lady is not excluded from carrying accessories.” Rrayu said, “I can work with accessories.”

“If you can work with a four-foot-long double edge sword chained to my wrist then you can find something that doesn’t have skirts for me to wear.”  Callindra leaned against the bedpost with the air of someone willing to wait for a long time.

Rrayu sighed and turned to the closet.  As she did, the door opened and a washed and dressed Reed walked in carrying a bottle of wine and a tray with assorted bread and cheeses.  Callindra grinned at him and stepped forward to take the bottle.  She took a swig from it and turned to see the maid’s shocked face.

“A man must NOT see you in this state of undress!”  She said, clearly horrified.

“It’s just Reed,”  Callindra said with a shrug.  “We’ve been traveling and fighting together for months; he’s seen me naked and patched up wounds that would have killed me.  Besides, it’s not like I’m worried about my body.  Taken are killing every living thing they can find where the hell are your priorities?”

“I don’t know about the outside, but I know how nobility works.  I know how rumors spread.  I know what people will think already about a single woman traveling with a group of men.”  She gave Callindra a pleading look.  “If you want to maintain your credibility you must not continue to behave this way.”

Callindra took another swallow of wine from the bottle.  “Nobody is in here but us.  Are you going to spread these rumors?”

“My Lady!  Of course not!”  Rrayu clutched the dress she was holding hard enough for her knuckles to turn white.  “But the walls have ears and eyes, servants come and go to clean linens and sweep floors.  If your desire is for Lady Ellen Eth to take you seriously, you must maintain some air of decency.”

With a sigh, Callindra slid a thick robe over her shoulders, almost slicing the sleeve off when she threaded Shadowsliver through it.  She was just tying the belt around the waist when a liveried messenger strode into the room after only two sharp raps on the door.  She stopped and gave a greeting that was half-bow and half salute, fist to heart, completely ignoring the knives that appeared in Reed’s hands.

“Lady Callindra?”  She asked; a skeptical tone in her voice that suggested the ‘lady’ was extremely unlikely.

Rrayu stepped forward with a sharp rebuke.  “Even another woman should not so enter a Lady’s bedchamber without proper introduction or inquiry.”

“There wasn’t a servant outside the door or in the antechamber, and My Liege Ellen Eth wished me to deliver this message posthaste.”  She sounded mildly annoyed, perhaps at not having a scandalous or tawdry scene to report on.

“Reed, this woman is clearly not a threat,” Callindra said briskly.  “Rrayu if you would retrieve the missive, please?  Does your liege require an immediate response?”

The woman gave Reed a subtle but clearly calculated sizing up when he made the blades vanish up his sleeves with a deft motion.  She paid nearly no attention to Rrayu, but was not hiding she was also giving Callindra a thorough once over; her eyes lingering slightly on her bracelets, chain, and sword.

“Send a runner with your response.”  She said, turning abruptly and striding through the antechamber and out the door.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 61

Callindra followed the boy up the stairs, looking at the carved banisters, wood inlaid walls, and rich furnishings.  When they reached the top, she paused and looked over the railing to the floor below. The view took her breath away, the gentle light from the lamps made the polished wood glow and silk banners diffused the light in beautiful colors.

A gentle clearing of the throat made her turn from the view.  The young woman standing next to the door was wearing a perfectly starched and pressed uniform and appeared far more comfortable than the boy who had brought them here.

“My name is Rrayu, and I am here to serve you, My Lady.”  The emphasis was obvious, and Callindra gave her a closer look.  She stood primly with her hands folded before her and kept her eyes down.

“I don’t really need a servant,”  Callindra said, feeling awkward.

“Oh please My Lady, do not send me away,”  Rrayu said, her voice quivering just slightly with fear.  “If I have displeased you in some way I beg that you allow me to make amends.”

Callindra blinked, “I just met you, how could you have done anything wrong?”

Rrayu opened the door and gestured inside to a grandly appointed sitting room.  “If you will allow me to show you the suite?” With an inward sigh, Callindra entered.  

 “The gentlemen may avail themselves of the chambers there,” Rrayu said, indicating a set of doors to one side of the room. “I will show you to your wing My Lady, it’s just through here.”

Giving her companions a somewhat annoyed look and getting even more so when they grinned at her discomfort, Callindra allowed herself to be herded into a luxurious bedchamber.  The bed was big enough for the entire group to fit in if they slept close and was hung with silks that made it look like an exotic forest of flowering trees. The carpet on the floor was so thick her feet left a trail of impressions in it and the walls were hung with embroidered tapestries.

“We must get you out of those filthy clothes My Lady,”  Rrayu said, tugging on one of the buckles of Callindra’s leather greaves.  “The bath has been drawn, would you like rose scent or lavender?”

Almost before she knew what was happening, Rrayu had divested her of her boots and armor, tisking over not being able to remove Shadowsliver’s chain and fussing about the state of her clothes, skin, and hair.  The constant banter of her voice was distracting, a steady stream of polite requests and delicate comments that were all phrased in such a manner that refusing them would seem very rude. Rrayu ushered her into a tiled room with a steaming tub set into the floor.

“Lavender I think would suit you better.”  Rrayu was saying as she unnecessarily helped Callindra out of her clothes.  “This breastband really needs to be thrown away I’m afraid, are you certain this sword can’t be removed, it’s really too dangerous.”

Callindra sat on a stool and Rrayu poured hot water over her, sluicing the dried salt and dirt from her body before lathering a thick cloth with soap that smelled like flowers and scrubbing her gently.  After another rinse, she slid into the tub and lay back with a sigh of comfort.

“I will see what can be done about this mess My Lady,”  Rrayu said and began massaging oil into her hair. “Your hair looks like it was cut with your sword, who did this to you?”

“I was mistaken Rrayu.”  Callindra murmured, “I don’t know how I got along without you until now.”

“Yes My Lady, and if you are going to continue with this idea of being a Lady then you will need much more help,”  Rrayu said, her voice low. “The Lady Ellen Eth will have heard of your unorthodox display of power and will have certain expectations.”

Callindra blinked and focused.  “What?”

“She rules the Undercity with absolute authority.  News of your arrival will have reached her by now and I would expect her to be sending you an invitation soon, and you must be prepared if you wish to continue portraying yourself as a Lady.”

“This wasn’t my idea.”  Callindra said defensively, “I told those idiots to keep a low profile but they never listen.”

“It would be better, now that your sorcerer has shown himself in such a flamboyant manner, for you to be seen as powerful as well.”  She said, “Ellen Eth does not respect brute force, your swordplay may be impressive, but she can kill someone with a flick of her little finger.”

“Any idiot can kill someone.”  Callindra said, “It takes skill and power to keep people alive.”

Rrayu’s fingers stilled on her scalp for a moment, “Well said My Lady.”  She said, sounding like she meant the title for the first time.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 60

Callindra’s heart sank as she realized that none of them really had anything to trade.  There were a few useful odds and ends that they’d acquired over their travels, but the reality was much of it was important for their continued survival.  While they all dug through packs and pouches hunting for anything that she might take on trade, Connor was staring at the building and fingering something up his sleeve.  

“This place used to be beautiful.”  He said quietly. When he withdrew his right hand from the sleeve, he had taken his glove and a strangely delicate tattoo made of overlapping geometric shapes spilled out over his wrist.  He touched a portion of the railing carved with intricate flowers that had almost been worn completely away.

“I bet you used to look better before all yer hair got burnt too,”  Hagar said, obviously upset at the critique of the inn. “Me da built it after he quit bein a shipwright.  He did have a hand with a chisel, but times an war ain’t been kind.”

“Maybe I could… fix this for you?  In exchange for room and board for myself and my friends?”  He was lost staring at the building with a strange look on his face.  Callindra tried to catch his attention; she’d seen him ‘fix’ things before and this did not sound like a good way to stay inconspicuous.

“You fix the Fisherman and you cn stay as long as ya want boy!”  She laughed, “Drinks onna house and all!”

Connor closed his eyes and to their collective surprise his tattoo writhed off his arm, rivers of ink unfolding and winding about the building.  Wood warped and nails shrieked as the ancient boards folded and twisted like a massive blacksmith’s puzzle. After mere minutes, an immaculate four-story structure with bright green painted walls, polished brass trim.  Carvings covered almost every exposed surface showing a variety of aquatic scenes.

“How’s that then?”  Connor asked, shaking and sweating but with a triumphant smile on his face.  “I was fair certain this was old Dimgar’s work; never knew anyone else who would name their daughter Hagar.”

“You knew my father?”  She stood, staring at the inn with a stunned expression on her face.  “Boyo you and yours cn stay as long as ya want.”

“Nah, but I heard of him from my dad,”  Connor said, leaning on the railing and sliding his glove back on.  

“So much for keeping a low profile,”  Callindra said, giving Connor a look that mixed respect and annoyance.  “But at least we gained something from it.”

Connor grinned, “I’ll need the penthouse for my lady.”  He declared in a loud voice, “She’s been leading us in battle and on the road for weeks and is a bit worse for wear.  Our Callindra always gets a bit testy when she has to sleep in her armor.”

Reed took up the banter, “She’ll want a bath drawn with lavender soap and a silk robe to lounge in.”

“A pipe and tobacco should also be procured,”  Holt said, joining in without a hint he was having fun with her.  “She prefers Karalan Imperialis if you have it.”

Hagar opened the door with a flourish, “Only th best fer such a fine lass!”  She said grandly and then stared in shock.  

Inside, the Pickled Fisherman was set up as a hollow box with rooms on all sides that surrounded an open center.  A bar stocked with barrels and bottles stood on one side of the bottom floor and was offset by a large stage on the other.  The centerpiece of the room was a large dance floor made from mosaic wood tiles.  

“It’s all here.”  She whispered in amazement.  “Down to th food n beer.”

“I’ll bring them to their suite.”  A confused looking boy whose dirty face looked very out of place compared with his perfectly pressed and starched uniform. 

“Right.  Th top floor suite for th Lady.”  Hagar said, her voice faint. “Nothin but th best for Connor’s mistress.”

Callindra followed the boy up the stairs, looking at the carved banisters, wood inlaid walls, and rich furnishings.  When they reached the top, she paused and looked over the railing to the floor below. The view took her breath away, the gentle light from the lamps made the polished wood glow and silk banners diffused the light in beautiful colors.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 59

Callindra paused, feeling the tension of her friends behind her.  The creak of Holt’s bow. The random sparks arcing from Connor’s wands.  Vilhylm’s steady spear. Kain’s calm intensity. Reed’s barely contained violence.  Knowing they were with her, she lowered her sword.

“Very well, we would like to meet her.”  She said carefully.

“Excellent!”  He smiled disarmingly and turned to saunter back down the alleyway.  “Follow me, I will show you the wonders of the Undercity.  You look a tad road weary; you should rest, wash and change before meeting Ellen Eth.”

Glancing at her friends, Callindra tried to shrug nonchalantly.  “Well, we wanted to find survivors.  Let’s see who this Lady is.”

“I don’t like this.”  Holt said, arrow still on the string.  “This alley is surrounded by places that could easily be sniper nests.”

“It’s probably a trap.”  Reed said, checking the knives up his sleeves nervously.

“Maybe, but that soldier looked well equipped and well fed.”  Callindra said.  “I can’t argue with his assessment either. I’m tired of being hungry, tired and dirty.”

She squared her shoulders and followed him.  Halfway down the alley, Callindra could tell they were right, there were at least a half dozen pairs of eyes watching them from behind the glint of arrowheads.  It took all her willpower not to stare at them.

At the end of the alley Renfeld opened a door and then unlocked a reinforced iron door behind it with a key that hung around his neck.  The hallway beyond bristled with spear points in front and crossbows behind.

“Renfeld, you stain what’re you thinking?”  One of the soldiers holding a spear growled.  She had a scar that bisected her nose and left a thin white line underneath her right eye.  “You know better than to bring them straight in without the test.”

“We just saw them take on the giant squid and win.”  Renfeld laughed, “Angalus, you can’t be serious, not even the Tidoh maniacs fought their way in.”

“The test.”  Angalus hissed, pushing the spear forward.  “Now.”

“Sorry friends, she’s serious I’m afraid.”  Renfeld said, a pair of knives seeming to appear in his hands.  “You’re going to have to look into her eyes and not blink.”

Angalus held a small round mirror in her hand and muttered something under her breath.  A brilliant light shone from it directly into Callindra’s face.  Her eyes watered, but she knew what the test entailed and what failing it would mean. The light passed over the faces of all her companions, pausing for a few moments on each before finally being muttered to darkness again.

“I told you they were fine.”  Renfeld said with a grin that didn’t touch his eyes.  He didn’t sheath his daggers until Angalus grounded the butt of her spear and waved them inside with a curt gesture.

“Do this again and I’ll gut you.”  She said, giving him a flinty glare.  He ignored her, making the daggers vanish up his sleeves with a skill that rivaled Reed’s clever fingers.

Once they passed another door made of iron that only opened after another inspection and an exchange of passcodes they were assaulted with a riot of scents, sounds and sights that screamed of the everyday reality of a vibrant mortal city.  Hawkers cried wares, brightly painted buildings sprouted from the walls like giant mushrooms.  

It was like a sewer, but so much larger, and made of multiple tiers.  The walls were hundreds of times wider and taller than they should have been and had been altered to allow for the buildings foundations to gain purchase.  Some of the structures were obviously built after the city had been taken, but many of them seemed as though they had been transported from above. Some seemed to have fallen, walls cracked and patched as though from an impact, but others looked as though some agency of magic or industry of labor had moved them here brick by brick.

The structures were packed tight and a winding ramp wide enough for an ox drawn cart had been carved out of the wall.  Arcane lights shone on every street corner, high above the rooftops and smaller ones above the heads of many of the citizens.  Everywhere there were people talking, trading, eating, laughing and generally going about their daily lives. It was almost too much.

Renfeld stopped before a building that appeared to once have been grand, but was now long past its prime.  Peeling paint and broken boards adorned its porch and all but one of the windows was cracked. A sign hung from a rusted chain proclaiming it ‘The Pickled Fisherman’ in carefully stenciled letters.

“We should keep a low profile if we can to try and gather as much information as we can before we meet the Lady.”  Callindra said to her friends, trying to keep her voice low enough that their guide wouldn’t notice. He strode up the creaking steps and addressed the middle aged matron leaning on a stout oak staff and sipping from a tankard.

“Hagar, I’ve got some new faces for you.”  He said with a sweep of his arm that took in their bedraggled appearance.

“You always bring me the best surprises.”  She said, eyes roving over them with a mercenary gaze.  “Well new faces, whaddya have to trade me fer the privilege of staying under these venerable rafters?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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