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.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What do you suggest?”  He asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 47

“The aquatic ones aren’t as bad as some of their counterparts.”  Connor said with a shrug. “Not anything any sane person fights if they can avoid it, but I don’t think we can avoid it if your goal is to enable this river to flow freely once more.”

“If we could break that dam we could at least eliminate any advantage it has from being in its home element.” Reed said.  “I imagine it’s probably not as fast when it has to support all that weight right?”

“It’s also possible that it is drawing some kind of nourishment from the filth it swims in as well.” Kain said, “I saw similar things in Adbar’s filthy laboratories.”

“If the bodies are being fed to it, then we’d be in some pretty serious trouble if we end up where they do.”  Callindra said, “And I must admit that I don’t really relish the thought of being stuck in a wagon full of rotting bodies.”

“We would do well to prepare ourselves to exit at speed then once the wagons empty into the pit just in case.”  Reed said with a grin that made her question his sanity.

“You realize those wagons are probably full of other dangerous things, weapons, sharp splinters of wood and bone and the like correct?”  She said, frowning. “The more I think about this plan the worse it sounds.”

“Do you have any other idea how we’re going to get close enough without being seen?”  Vilhylm asked, “Unless you have a better idea or want to abandon the idea of trying to clean the mouth of the river I don’t see much of a choice.”

“No, I can’t escape the feeling that we need to clean the taint of the Taken from the land as we pass.”  Callindra said, running a hand through her ragged hair. “If we don’t, then what are we doing bothering to survive at all?”

The others looked at her for a couple of minutes.  It was the first time she’d voiced the growing feeling of purpose that Cronos’s death had planted in her heart.  Her fear, sadness and despair had brought her low, but she had realized what her only paths forward were. She had chosen to stand against the darkness and to ignore the other option.

“I’m done running.”  She said, “I’m done with hiding and being scared.  I’m going to start actually living again instead of just not dying.  It’s time we take a stand and fight back.”

“That’s what we’ve been doing.”  Vilhylm said. “Look at Woodfordshire.  That pace may have burned to the ground, but we saved the people.”

“It’s not enough to save the people.”  Said Callindra, “We need to save the land.  We need to find the Gods. We need to do something more.  I’m starting by making the river that flows from my brother’s grave flow clean to the sea.”

“We don’t have the best track record with Gods all things considered.”  Vilhylm said, but she could hear his wry tone that took the sting out of the words.  “I’m with you sister. To hell and back if need be.”

“I plan on staying as far away from any sort of damnation as I can for as long as possible.”  Reed said, “Because I also plan on engaging in as much sinful behavior as I can while I’m still alive.”

“Sounds like it will be interesting to document.”  Connor said. “The rise of a hero. Or the fall of one.  Or some mixture of the two.”

“I’m no damn hero.”  Callindra said, “I have no intention of fighting fair, being honorable or pulling my punches.  We’re going in hard and fast and not taking any prisoners.”

“What’s the plan then?”  Holt asked.

“We get in like Connor suggested, but be careful not to get stuck or discovered.  Whatever they’re doing with these bodies after they drop them off, we don’t want to be made a part of it.  Once we’re inside we must keep silent, find out what their purpose is if possible. All that is secondary to the goal of getting around the lake and finding a way to break the dam.”

She looked at Connor and raised an eyebrow.  “I don’t suppose you have any ideas on how we could go about doing that?”

“I might have an idea or two.”  The strange little man said. “Probably not safe but somehow I don’t think you’re worried about it being safe eh?”

“As long as it does more damage to the structure than it does to us and doesn’t kill us outright.”  She said. “Reed, you’ll take the lead. Holt you’ll cover us from behind. Vilhylm and I can quietly deal with anything that sees us before it can get away.  Connor, you save your magic for a last resort. No offense but you’re not as subtle as we might need, but you have plenty of power, and we might need that if this plan goes south.”

“It’s not much of a plan.”  Reed said, “But it ain’t like we got a lot of options.”

“I will keep anything that dares off your back until we get whatever information we can.” Holt said, his voice sounding quiet and assured in her ears.

Callindra took a deep breath and let it out slowly.  It was hardly enough to be called a plan at all, but she knew even this vague collection of ideas would be hard pressed to survive the first few seconds of a battle.

“All right.  The wagons seem to come every half candle mark or so.  Let’s see if we can get aboard then next time they come by.”  They settled down to wait.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 46

“We are not going to get by that.”  Vilhylm said, staring down at the valley that was teeming with some kind of Taken industry.  Caravans of wagons loaded with some cargo led toward a pit carved out of stone on the near side of a lake.  The lake hadn’t been there the last time they had traveled this road; the river had been dammed up by huge blocks of stone presumably carved from the nearby cliffside.

“We need to free the river.”  Callindra said, not knowing exactly why, but understanding that this dam was a problem.  “It’s in the way and we need to get down to the ocean if we’re going to make our way to Starvale anyway.  I feel like it would do Jorda’s spirit good to know this river flowed free to the sea without this … whatever this is making it filthy.”

“I appreciate the sentiment.”  Connor said, fiddling with his goggles, “However, I suggest caution.  There are many Taken down there and they seem to be doing something with all those corpses.  I don’t see how we could get through with a frontal assault, but I also don’t see any way to get by without them seeing us.”

“Corpses?”  Callindra asked, “What corpses?”

“That’s what they’re carrying in those wagons.”  He said, gesturing at the caravan.

“Can you see what’s pulling them?  Who is driving them?” She asked, squinting and wishing she had a far-seeing glass.

Holt shaded his eyes and shook his head, “I can’t see very well here but it seems as though they’re being pulled by oxen.  I don’t see any drivers.”

Connor flipped a pair of lenses over the eyes of his goggles and started cursing.  “The god rotting Taken are doing something new. I hate it when the bastards start to get creative.  Nobody is driving the wagons; those oxen are Taken and seem to be obeying orders.”

“What use could they have for dead bodies?”  Callindra mused.

“It doesn’t matter.”  Vilhylm said firmly, “If they want them for something we should be planning to deny it of them.”

“I agree.”  Callindra said, “But we should know what they are doing before we get too deeply involved.  It’s bound to be dangerous and we have no idea what’s waiting down in that lake.”

“I have an idea on how to get in.”  Connor said, “But none of you are going to like it, especially after you find out what’s in the lake.”

They all gave him an expectant look as he removed the lenses from his goggles that must have allowed him to see the wagons in closer detail.  He sighed, finally giving them his attention. “All we must do is crawl in amongst the carrion. They’ll bring us right into their midst and once inside we should have some time to figure out how to deal with the dragon turtle that’s in that disgusting lake of filth.”

“I have read Tershan Fesrik’s account ‘At Peril to Thy Vitality’ which is the only tome of arcane knowledge about dragons I am aware of, and even if he exaggerates the danger twofold, I’m afraid a dragon of any kind is likely more than we can handle.”  Callindra said, feeling a touch of fear shiver down her spine.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 45

“I’m Ritt.”  The girl said, “Who’r you?”

“I’m Callindra.  Go get your blade and come meet my friends.  Bring anyone you think you need to.”  She said, as she gestured for Reed to follow her and walked past Ritt to leave the trees.  “Get any food we can spare ready.”  She said quietly to her friends.

Alanna tried to fuss over Reed’s injuries but he brushed her off.  “Later.  We gotta look strong for the damn kids.”

She looked up as the group of ragged urchins hesitantly emerged from the trees clutching weapons and giving them suspicious glares.  Something changed in her demeanor and she stood away from him with determination in her expression.

“I am Callindra Sol’Estin.  It is no small feat to lead a group through the last few years Ritt.”  She nodded in respect.  “I have more experience with this than I want to.   We have all lost friends and family.”

“She’s the strongest person I’ve ever met.”  Alanna interrupted, stepping forward with her hands open.

“So what?”  Ritt asked, “You wanna take over?  You wanna take us out?  What you got to make us?”

“I don’t want to take over.”  Callindra said, trying to keep her voice from betraying her discomfort at the thought.  “I have things of my own to accomplish and I can’t have an entire village with me.  Staying here will eventually mean you’ll all die Ritt.  I think your talents could be put to use somewhere else.  Just a few days away is an entire city of people who could use your unique ability to set traps.”

“I’ll take you there.”  Alanna said, giving Callindra a look challenging her to say no.

“Are you sure you can handle it?”  Callindra asked, arching an eyebrow.  “This is a huge responsibility.”

“We just went through that area.  The presence of the Taken should be much diminished and we’re only a fortnight out.”  Alanna said.  “I can do this.”

“Very well.”  Callindra said, carefully concealing her relief.  “I charge you with this quest.  Bring these children to safety.”

“I will prove that I am worthy!”  Alanna said with a defiant look.

“I trust that you will.”  She said.  “In fact I’m relying on it.  These kids are as well, and that should be your main focus.”

“Hey.  We ain’t agreed to nothing.”  Ritt said, interrupting their conversation.  “Who says I’m goin with this bint?”

“You will go.”  Callindra said calmly, “You will go because you don’t want to die and you want to eat hot meals every day.”

She turned and walked past Ritt.  The girl’s eyes followed her as she strode away.  “They gonna give us food?”

“We need to supply Alanna with as much as we can spare.”  Callindra told the others, “She’s going to have enough trouble as it is.”  Within a quarter candlemark they had gathered the supplies they were able to spare for Alanna and the children who had agreed to accompany her.

“You have my respect for taking this on Alanna.”  Callindra said, giving her a firm handshake.  “You’ve grown from the person you were when you first joined us.  I think you have the potential to be a great leader if you rise to the challenge.”

“I will do my best.”  She said simply, “When I see you again I will be ready to fight.”  Her eyes were focused over Callindra’s shoulder and she knew without looking that Reed was standing there.

“Good.  We will need you.”  Callindra said, releasing her hand and turning to go without a backward glance.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 44

Callindra spun Shadowsliver and lifted a spell from his length.  Her feet lifted from the ground and she simply strode after him, keeping her eyes alert for the trip lines the Winds had shown her.  Reed was darting from tree to tree, keeping off the main trails.

Movement above caught her attention, but she didn’t have the chance to warn him before a pair of small figures threw a weighted net down on top of him.  Instinct made her leap sideways in the air and slash above her, cutting through the trailing edge of a second net meant for her.

The figures were running along narrow catwalks and tightropes, making much faster progress than she had anticipated.  Although she wanted to give chase, Reed was the priority.  The winds blasted her down to her imprisoned friend.  Two swift swipes of Shadowsliver parted the thick rope of the net and Reed sat up cursing under his breath.  His first act was to pull a pair of daggers and scan the trees.

“Did you see where they went?”  He asked, running his tongue over a swollen lip.  “Ain’t gonna fall for that shit again but they got more tricks or I’m a bald halfling.”

“We’re going.”  Callindra said, looking around at the trees.  “We don’t need to get more involved here.”

“What?  I thought you were all about finding out if this was survivors or what?”  Reed frowned, “I got bruises fer nothing?”

“They have things well in hand it seems.”  She said, “As much as I’d like to offer assistance, I don’t think we can help them without causing more harm than good.”

As she spoke, Callindra watched the branches above out of her peripheral vision, noting the leaves moving against the wind.  Keeping the smile off her face she continued, “They likely don’t need the food and protection we could offer, it seems as though they’re quite able to defend themselves from the hordes of Taken all on their own.”

Reed opened his mouth to reply but saw her eyes move from the trees to him and give a sly wink.  “Yeah.  Obviously they don’t need our help.” He said, giving her a considering look.

They turned to go and followed the path Reed had taken on the way in, both of them taking special care not to look around.  Callindra exchanged a glance with the boy next to her, knowing she shouldn’t be surprised that he had picked up on her plan so swiftly.  He gave her a wink that was only slightly spoiled by the bruise forming with alarming swiftness on his cheek.

Neither of them were surprised when a shape dropped from above and landed with a flourish of a wickedly sharp looking short sword.  “You ain’t deadmen so we ain’t killin ya but but you ain’t leavin.”  The girl said with a grin.  “We needs more blood.  You got good blood.”

She signaled and a full dozen small shapes revealed themselves in the trees above, more than Callindra had thought were there but not as many as she feared might be.  Standing tall, she gave Reed an almost imperceptible shake of her head before giving her full attention to the youngster in front of her.

“I do not wish to harm you or your friends, but we will not be staying.”  Callindra said, casually flipping Shadowsliver so that his length lay up her own arm instead of pointing at the girl.  “We have business elsewhere.  We could possibly point you in the direction of a settlement that could shelter you from the Taken though.  That’s what we call what you refer to as ‘deadmen’ I think.”

“You ain’t goin nowhere.”  The girl said, the tip of her sword not wavering a finger width.

“I do not wish to hurt you.”  Callindra said, “But I will if I must.”  Shadowsliver moved like a living thing in her hand, lashing out in a complicated series of twists that sent her opponent’s blade flying from her hand and ended with his razor sharp edge laying against the girl’s neck.

“How’d you do that?”  The girl asked, her eyes wide.  “You a witch?”

“I do use the Weave, but that was only my skill as a swordswoman.”  Callindra said with a vulpine grin.  She took her blade from the other’s skin.  “Now go and retrieve your blade.  I have people for you to meet.  But first tell me your name.”

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 43

“Everyone up!”  Connor was yelling, “Up and out!  It’s almost run out!”

“What?”  Callindra had sprung to her feet in her smallclothes and was looking around with her naked sword in her hand.

“When the spell stops this is going to become a wooden model again.”  He explained as though to an infant, “I would have thought that would be perfectly obvious.”

“Oh god’s balls.”  Reed gulped, grabbing his things and running toward the door.

The others were slower to respond, Vilhylm pausing to grab the last loaf of bread off the table and Alanna trying to pull on her clothes.  Callindra had already exited the front door when Alanna was ejected forcibly, obviously having been thrown out half clothed and Connor was running on her heels.  The instant he left the door, the structure seemed to twist around itself in an unsettling way and was abruptly the crude wooden model in the center of a perfectly round area of cleanly swept ground.

“That was too close.”  Connor mused, scratching at a healing burn scar on his forehead.

“Connor.”  Callindra said calmly, ignoring Alanna’s furious shouts as she tried to pull her skirts down from where they were tangled about her body.  “Next time you should tell us all the details before something like this.  We could have been killed when that spell ended.”

“Oh.”  He blinked a few times and adjusted his strange glasses on his nose.  “Right.  I should have thought of that.”  He took a few steps around the perimeter of their camp, inspecting the line and making notes.

Callindra performed an abbreviated Korumn to stretch her muscles and shake off the last of her lethargy while the others set about getting a brief breakfast.  She was dimly aware that Vilhylm was complaining about the bread having vanished the moment he had walked out of the magical inn.  Her body and mind were in tune with the winds that gently moved through the grass and around the small copse of trees nearby.

She could feel the eddies as they swirled about the tree trunks, through the branches and over small pits that were covered with thin twigs and leaves.  The breezes found ropes tied like giant rabbit snares, logs suspended in place with small sticks as triggers.

Her eyes snapped open and she called to the others, “This entire grove is full of traps and snares.”  She said quietly, “Although this is dangerous, it’s also a sign that there are living people here.  Taken don’t make traps.”

“If we set them all off getting through won’t we make them vulnerable?”  Reed asked as they walked up to one of the crude traps.  Despite its rough construction, when he peered through the thin wooden poles that covered the pit there were several bodies of Taken on the bottom impaled on thick wooden spikes.

“Looks like they’re certainly needed.”  Vilhylm said wryly.  “Reed, can you make it through without setting them off?”

“He’s not going alone.”  Alanna said just as Callindra was opening her mouth to say the same thing.

“You can’t come with.”  Reed said.

“I’m coming.”  Callindra said, in a voice that brooked no argument. “The rest of you stay here and guard our backs.  Signal if you see anything coming.”

“No offense, but you’ll only slow me down.”  Reed said slipping around the pit trap and into the trees.