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 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.

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.