The Seven – Part 3

“You know what I mean?”  The intoxicated man asked me, leaning too close into my personal space. “These fuckin liberals’r fuckin up everything.  With their PC bullshit, a guy can’t even make a joke anymore.”

“You want another?” I asked, leaning forward so he’d get a good look down my shirt.

“Make it a double.” He said, his eyes almost falling into my cleavage.

I poured half a shot of rail whisky over ice and slipped water in while he ogled my tits.  I hated this piece of shit, but I wasn’t going to be responsible for him getting alcohol poisoning.  Maybe I’d change my mind after I saw what he tipped.

I’d found that being a bank teller didn’t pay well enough for me to meet my obligations, so I’d tarted myself up and went to a bar just down the street from where I worked 9-5 and asked if they needed help.  I knew I wasn’t the hottest thing on two legs, but I was fairly confident my boobs would land me a bartending job as long as the person interviewing me was a man.

My suspicions had been confirmed when Jordan had hired me without even asking me if I’d bartended before.  I wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about the patriarchy, but I was damned if I wasn’t going to take advantage of whatever I could.

“Hey.  Your break time?” Mel asked, glancing between me and the drunk patron.  I grinned, she really was the best.

“Yeah, I’m about due.”  I said, giving her my best smile.  I blinked when she blushed slightly.  Oh my, maybe this was going to be a better night than I’d thought.

Mel couldn’t keep her eyes from glancing down at my chest when I squeezed between her and the beer taps and I resisted the urge to grab her head and plant it in my cleavage.  I was floating on clouds as I slipped out the back of the pizza joint and lit an American Spirit.

“Hey.  Gotta smoke?”  A man in dirty clothes and a backpack stuffed with random possessions.  

“Damn straight.”  I said, offering him the pack.  “Hell you know what, you can have what’s left of this pack.  I have a feeling this is gonna be a good night for tips and I’ve got another pack in my purse inside.”

“Appreciate it.”  He said, taking the proffered cigarettes and fumbling one out.  “I’ve hit a rough patch you know. Been homeless for a couple months.  It’s hard to get a job when you can’t get regular showers.”

I reached into my pocket and pulled out my YMCA card and held it out.  “Hey, take this man. I’ll report it lost next month; I don’t have time to go to the gym right now anyway.  At least someone will get some use out of it.”

He stared at me for a few seconds before taking it with a slightly shaking hand.  “You sure?” He asked, “I mean, nobody does anything for nothing.”

“Well, I’m not nobody.”  I said with a grin, and exhaled smoke from my nostrils.  “Good luck out there man.”  

He walked down the alley, glancing at me over his shoulder once and waving with a huge grin on his face.  I felt even more like a million bucks when I went back into the bar. I walked past Mel as I came back in and let my hand slide across her back and felt my heart thrill at the blush and widening of her eyes.  I hadn’t been wrong then.

“Can I get a peach hazy?”  A man asked the second I was in view. 

“Sorry, Blacklist only has that on seasonal, we have their CraHazy right now though.”  I said, “It’s like if cranberries and an IPA got together in a mosh pit.”

“Sounds good.”  He said with a smile.

I pulled his pint and looked over my shoulder, “You starting a tab hon?”

He fumbled with his wallet and I was able to get drinks for three others while he found the card he wanted to use and handed it over.  I swiped it and handed it back along with his pint. The night continued on and by the time my shift was over I was exhausted.

“Hey.  You heading out?” Mel asked, wiping the bar.  

“Yeah, I need to get home so I can get some sleep.”  I said, “I gotta get up for work early.”

“What?  You’re working the morning shift?”  Mel’s face creased into a frown. “I’ll talk to Jordan, you shouldn’t have to work the late night and the morning shift!”

“Nah, this is my second job, even if it’s the one I like better.”  I said, lowering my lashes, “It comes with better perks.”

“Perks?”  She asked, brow still furrowed.

“You know.  More friendly working environment.”  I said with a tiny smile.

“Ah.” Her cheeks reddened again, “Well, yeah.  I get that.”

“Anyway, I’m getting an uber home.  To my cabin. On Park Point. Where I live alone.”  I said, letting the invitation in my voice hang between us.  

My heart raced, I’d never done anything like this before.  I’d never even considered it. Suddenly my confidence crumbled and I all but ran out the door, fumbling for my cigarettes.  I opened the fresh pack, flipped the front center one over for luck and shoved it back in before snagging another at random and flicking my Zippo to life.

My ride showed up in less than five minutes and I was actually relieved that Mel didn’t come to find me. What had gotten into me in there?

“I think my work is nearly done here.” Said Lust.

“You’re making my life difficult, but at least she didn’t walk home.  And she gave away that damn gym card.” Said Sloth.

“It’s good to see someone who is good at what they do and knows it.” Said Pride.

“Channeling her anger at drunks into better tips is amusing.” Said Wrath.

“You and I play well of one another.” Said Greed.

“They didn’t deserve their money anyway.” Said Envy.

“Since Lust struck out I’m sure that pint of Ben and Jerry’s won’t last long once she gets home!” Said Gluttony.

The Seven – Part 2

The problem with being a bank teller is it’s boring.  For most of the day you literally have nothing to do, but you can’t surf the web or whatever because your position is so public and obvious.  All there was to do was sit and stare out the window for hours on end, but really, I couldn’t even enjoy being lazy. It was just so damn boring.

Then the flip side was that when you needed to do work it required a lot of focus.  People were picky about their finances, and rightly so. It was hard enough to see your hard-earned money dwindle just from bills; let alone someone making a mistake with a deposit.

“Sweetheart, you’re new right?  You’re new.” I snapped out of my daze to look at the little old lady standing in front of my teller window.

“Yes, I-” I began.

“I don’t like working with new girls.”  She said, turning to the person behind her.  “You can go first, I’ll wait for Samantha.”

I sighed in resignation, “Can I help you sir?”

“I need to get into my safety deposit box.”  The man said, fiddling with his key.

I got his account number, had him sign and let him into the vault.  Taking his key and the master key, I opened the fiddly little door and pulled out his surprisingly heavy box.  Brining it to the private room, I set it on the table and withdrew so he could do whatever he was going to do. I leaned against the wall and zoned out for a few minutes.

A crash from inside the room, muffled by the thick door, snapping me out of my thoughts.  I knocked on the door, “Sir? Excuse me Mr. Anderson are you OK in there?” There was no answer.

I bit my lip, knocking again before trying the handle.  The door was locked, but I had a key and carefully opened the door.  “Sir?” I looked in the room and saw him sprawled on the floor. His safety deposit box had fallen to the floor, and small bars of gold with a swastika stamped on them were scattered around the room.  Still inside the box were wads of 100 dollar bills bound with rubber bands.

Fucking Nazi gold?  I felt a flash of rage and swiped a bundle of bills.  Fucking Nazis, this bastard didn’t deserve this money.    In a flash of insight, I quickly stood on the chair, lifted a ceiling tile and tucked the cash inside.  I didn’t know what possessed me to do it, my pulse was racing in exhilaration. Jumping back down, I checked for his pulse and almost threw up.  He had no pulse. Turning back to Mr. Anderson, I took out my cell phone and dialed 911.

“I work at State Bank downtown, our address is 11 West Second street, we need an ambulance.”

“What is your name and what is the nature of your emergency?”

“A man collapsed, I don’t think he has a pulse.  Oh gods I don’t know CPR.” I felt myself panicking.  What had I been thinking, taking that wad of cash?

“Just stay on the scene miss, emergency personnel are on their way.”  She sounded almost bored.

“OK, thank you.”  I said, “I’m going to hang up and tell my boss.”

I ran out to tell the bank president that there was a corpse in his safety deposit room.

“Nice push with the anger at the Nazi’s, Wrath.” Said Greed.

“You started it with those twinkling gold bars, Greed.” Wrath said with a nod. “But let’s not forget Envy’s contribution.”

“We make one hell of a team.” Envy agreed.

“If you two are done jerking each other off we need to plan our next steps.” Said Lust.

“There’s nothing wrong with a little well-deserved satisfaction.” Pride said.

“Oh good, it’s lunch time.” Said Gluttony.  

Sloth was asleep.

On Writing: Editing

On writing: Editing.

I don’t have a professional editor.  I’m sure this comes as not even kind of a shock to anyone who has read my writing… but honestly after reading books that I’m SURE must have had a professional editor, I’m not completely convinced it’s necessary.

That’s not to say my writing wouldn’t benefit from one.  I just can’t afford it.  I had an aspiring author who hasn’t even published a single book yet condescend, “I just read the sample of your book that you have available on Smashwords.  My suggestion is to hire an editor right away and to work on basic grammar and punctuation.”  Apparently, he has not one, but TWO editors as well as a publicist, a web developer and probably a stylist.  I haven’t read his book though.  It’s not done yet.

I’ve read books published by major publishers with misspellings, bad grammar, awful sentence structure, and worse but still loved the book.  I’ve also read books with perfect grammar that were just awful train wrecks… so to what extent is having a perfectly edited book necessary?  I suppose it probably means more to English majors, literary agents, book nerds, and publishers than it does to your average reader.

I dunno, but every time I read one of my books I re-write at least some of it.  Every time I re-write something in one of my books it usually gets better.  I know that’s not really ‘editing’ like normal people do it but there it is.

I’ve used Grammarly for all my books now, so at least I can be marginally sure that they all meet minimum spec for “Remember to put a comma instead of a period at the end of a sentence that’s a character talking if the sentence isn’t finished,” which is IMO the monocle, top hat, white-glove, raise the pinky while drinking your tea version of who gives a shit editing.  I mean 50 Shades of Grey sold millions of copies.  Did you ever read the dialogue in that pile of rancid rat droppings?  How’d that pass muster?

I’d love to have a dedicated editor who I could pay to argue with me over story consistency, sentence structure, and that horrible accent I want the street urchin to have.  Sadly, at this point, I’m stuck to just hacking at it with a dull hatchet and hoping the rough-hewn timbers of my stories don’t give my readers too many splinters.  I just can’t afford it.

May your edits be swift, may your intuition be spot on, may the fees be small, and may the royalties flow freely.

Waking Fever Dreams at 12:45 in the Morning

Rambling thoughts of a feverish writer at 12:45 in the morning.  Created from real live notes written on a notepad illuminated by cellphone screen, for whatever that’s worth.

~

Wearing pajamas for the first time in thirty years, huddled under every blanket I could steal from the linen closet I absently wondered why I was shivering.  Even though my immune system was flooding my veins with magma in a Scorched Earth campaign against the viral intruders, I could not get warm.

Well, that’s not quite true.  I was warm.  The digital thermometer’s frantic beeping had notified me that my temperature was 103.1 five minutes ago.  I knew I needed to exhume myself from my mountain of wool, felt, and fuzzy acrylic to get more ibuprofen but every time I poked my nose out of my little cave the chill of the seventy-degree air on my skin made me shake uncontrollably.  So I retreated and tried to come up with a better plan.  Nothing useful came to mind.

I stayed curled up, waiting for the shaking to go away from my last fruitless attempt to venture forth and spent those moments cheering on the tiny soldiers who were attempting murder me by boiling my brain in order to eradicate the enemy.  Was my brain aware that it was trying to kill us?  I’m guessing not.  I appreciated the effort anyway.  At least someone was doing something.   I was pretty useless all things considered.  I couldn’t even get out of bed.

Inspiration struck.  I remembered that I had put a pair of socks at the foot of the bed.  Socks make me too warm all the time.  Maybe if I could find those socks with my toes I could get them to my hands and put them on.  Surely that’d allow me to make the twenty-foot super marathon to the medicine cabinet.  I sent my right foot, the one with the most prehensile toes questing about and to my amazement located them easily.  This must be a sign.

After armoring my feet against the chill of the hardwood floor, I finally slithered out of bed and washed down a pair of tablets with a mouthful of cold water.  By the time I managed to get my carcass back beneath the blankets I was shaking uncontrollably, but victory had been achieved.

Within a few minutes, I went from being chilled to the bone to frantically shedding layers.  The drugs had made my brain realize its possibly deadly mistake and instead of shivering it was time to sweat.  Finally, after removing my socks and all the coverings but the flannel sheet I prepared for sleep hoping my legions of faithful defenders would rest and be ready to offer a less violent and self-destructive resistance.

Before I could sleep I reached to the side table where my faithful notepad waited.  Notes from this great battle must be recorded.  For posterity, and so I could share my near delirium with you, my faithful readers.

(Author’s note, I did go to the doctor today and got antibiotics for my fucking bronchitis.)

April Horoscopes

April Horoscopes; Drinks Edition

Aries: Stout.  You need sustenance to keep you warm while you’re waiting for the snow to melt and the weather to warm.  It’s springtime but you’re still hibernating.

Taurus: Whisky.  It’s always whisky for you.  You know it; don’t fight it.  Just don’t overdo it like you always do.

Gemini: Gin, but not just any gin.  You need a Velvet Crush this month.  I know, KoolAid and Gin isn’t classy but it’s your month to slum it.

Cancer: Bloody Mary.  The more extra’s the better.  Seriously, if you can find a way to put a pizza in there do it.

Leo: Tequila.  Doesn’t matter if it’s shots or margarita’s.  It’ll remind you of spring break and vacations in sunny climes.

Virgo:  Lite beer.  I don’t know what’s wrong with you that you’re to be subjected to lite beer but there it is.  Sorry.

Libra: Chartreuse.  I know right?  You’ve probably been wondering what the hell it tasted like.  If you can’t handle it straight try a Green Dragon which is Chartreuse mixed with champage.

Scorpio: Vodka martini.  But you’re not James Bond so stir it and make it dirty.  Three olives.

Sagittarius: Boilermaker.  You must hate yourself.  Well if you don’t now, you probably will at the end of the month.  Just take it easy and you’ll probably survive.

Capricorn: Cider.  Not that fake ass ‘malt beverage’ crap either.  Something good.  Probably something from England.  Make sure it’s cold.

Aquarius: Highball.  Use decent bourbon and brewed ginger ale damn it.  Don’t drink the cheap stuff.

Pisces: White Russian. Take it down a notch, chill with The Dude.

March Horoscopes

March Horoscopes.  Because why not.

Aries: Beating your head against that obsessive thing you do is leading you to dent the door.  Just open the fucking door, I know you’ve got a hard head but seriously, this opportunity has just been waiting for you.  The door hasn’t opened from your pounding yet and FFS remember that if you see hinges it opens toward you.  Protip: This one opens toward you.  Stubborn bastard.  And stop swearing at your kids, even though they think it’s funny.

Taurus: Nice poker face.  Now call them and say sorry.  Come on, you’re a lover not a fighter and life’s too short to stay mad.  You’ve got that outwardly cool thing going on but that internal turmoil is making you crave a cigarette and you quit years ago.  Trust me, it’ll be worth it.  If you don’t believe me ask your mom, she’s always been your touchstone anyway.  And she’d love to hear from you, even if it requires a seance.

Gemini: You’re laughing on the inside, but we love to see you laugh on the outside too.  It’s cool.  We won’t think you’re laughing at us.  Or at least the decent ones won’t.  You’ve been holding a lot of your shit in just because you’re worried about being judged for being too happy when things are bad or that if you’re down a little bit people will think you’re gonna snap.  You’re your own worst critic.  Nobody even noticed that one time you wore the same outfit two days in a row; they don’t have you under a microscope.  Relax.  Do you.

Cancer: Feeling extra outgoing this month, right?  That’s cool but remember not everyone wants a hug.  Ask first.  You won’t regret it, hugs are awesome and meeting new people is fun, especially when hugs are involved.  Oh, and don’t put that thing you’re planning on doing off like you always do because this time it’s important.

Leo: This month is your month off.  You’ve been trying to be compassionate and have come in like the Lion you are, but let that energy taper off.  Stay inside, read a good book and get some introvert time.  It’s been a long winter and you’ve been caring for everyone but yourself.  If you want proof just look at your book shelf and see the new books you haven’t had time to crack yet.  See?  Remember, only terrorists put the milk in the cup before the hot water when making tea.  Don’t make me come over there.

Virgo: It’s gotten to the point where nobody even knows if you’re being sarcastic or not.  Not even you.  I mean in some ways that’s a pretty funny inside joke that only the outsiders can get inside your outside, but that didn’t make sense and you gotta quit.  On a positive note, once you quit being such a dick there’s someone who will take notice of you and even though it won’t last more than a few months it’ll get you back in the swing of being personable again.  It’ll probably end well, as long as you’re open to outcomes and not attached to expectations.

Libra: Seriously.  Keep it up, even though you think you suck.  You’re right, currently you’re not doing nearly what you could be but damn it these things take practice.  Don’t just try and force it, get out there and experience it.  I mean hell, you’ve been struggling on your own for the last couple of months and that obviously hasn’t gotten you much more than frustrated.  Pick up the first thing you tried and abandoned when it didn’t go perfectly the first time and try it again.  Then get out there and connect with others trying the same thing.  Networking always inspires.

Scorpio: You might think people are distancing themselves from you because you’re too badass, but really they think you’re too shy and don’t want to scare you off.  You don’t really have resting bitch face like you think; it’s more like they can’t see your face because you keep your hood pulled too low and your face down all the time.  I’m not saying you have to smile and be the cheeriest fucker in the world.  Just be a tiny bit more accessible.  Yes, you should get that tattoo.

Sagittarius: I know you’re only trying to help but let’s be honest.  You’ve been giving shit advice lately.  Try listening instead of talking for a change, it’ll be as instructive for you as it will be for them.  I know that you’re already trying to interrupt me but since this is text you can’t.  Don’t be mad about it, quit being defensive and do a little introspection.  See?  Despite being crappy at giving advice, you’re good at listening and it will be appreciated.  I promise.

Capricorn: Almost everything is going well.  This doesn’t mean you can ignore the few things that aren’t going well.  At least one of them is going to attempt to bite you straight in the ass if you don’t pay attention to it.  If you know a Virgo, yes they were being sarcastic and no they didn’t get your even better and more twisted reply.  Don’t worry about it, you’ve got the less is more thing down and besides sarcasm is a personal pleasure, it’s no fun if you have to explain it.

Aquarius: You’re starting to thaw out, this is good… but beware the cold snaps.  It’s hard to break free of those things, we all know this.  Don’t be afraid that minor setbacks are ruining all the progress you’ve made so far.  Keep in mind that two steps forward and one step back is still forward motion.  Try doing something nice for someone.  Nothing warms the heart faster.  Also, quit posting while drunk.  Nothing good has ever come of that.

Pisces: Hey, you’ve discovered that organized religion isn’t for you!  Congratulations, we’ve been waiting for you to figure that one out.  This does NOT mean you need to fill a room with crystals though.  Just relax and let it happen.  The universe doesn’t need to come to you, it’s surrounding you all the time silly.  No nag champa.  NO.  Put that incense stick down.  Right.  Now.  Circle back to some old friends.  You might find they’re easier to get along with now.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 57

They found the Brass Rose to be closer and have clean beds which was all they needed to hand over the rather steep cost of two gold each for a night in a shared room.  The bath was communal and Callindra got some strange looks when she walked in carrying an unsheathed sword.

“No blades in the bath.”  The attendant said, giving her a glare.  “You’re going to have to leave that out here.”

“Sorry, but he’s attached.”  Callindra said with a smile, shaking the Mithril chain and showing how it was attached to the cuff on her right wrist.

“At least get a sheath for it then.”  She grumbled, “Can’t have a bare blade in there.”

“I don’t have a sheath for him yet.”  Callindra said, “I’m still looking for the right leather.”

“Then you don’t come in.”  The attendant said, crossing her arms over her ample chest.

“Oh leave off Jendra.”  Someone said from inside the room, “It ain’t like that little chit is gonna be able to overpower us anyhow.”

“Look, the chain is pretty long, I’ll leave the blade over here.”  Callindra said, leaning Shadowsliver against the wooden bench.  “I can still reach the bath and I don’t want to get the leather on his hilt any wetter than necessary.”

The attendant grudgingly let her into the bathing chamber and Callindra stripped, a process made awkward by the chain and Shadowsliver’s razor sharp edges, then sat on a stool to sluice and scrub the dirt of the road away.  When the worst of it was gone, she slipped into the pool of steaming hot water with a sigh.  Her unbound hair floated out around her like a fan and the tendrils of Brightstar flowers released their gentle fragrance into the humid air.

“What’s with them flowers?”  A husky voice asked.

Callindra identified it as the same one who admonished the attendant Jendra to relax and grinned.  “Thanks for your help back there, being Bonded can be a challenge sometimes.”

“Bonded?  To your sword?”  The woman chuckled, “What kinda affliction led you to wanna do that?”

“It’s a long story.”  Callindra said with a matching chuckle, “I’m Callindra.”

“Tarinaotfsatalis.”  The other woman said, “But I go by Arina because that other monstrosity shouldn’t be visited on anyone.  You here for the contest?”

“Well, I guess.”  Callindra said, “Really we’ve just been on the road for a long time and finally arrived at civilization again.  Hasn’t the Abyss come to this place?  I’ve seen some horrible things, even in the most remote regions but here everything seems to be normal.”

“We’ve had some infected here, but they got handled right quick.”  Arina said, “Count Adbar don’t take no damn chances, that’s why we doing so good here.”

“Oh, I was wondering about that.”  Callindra said, running her hands through her long hair and working some tangles out.  “This place seems so much different from other large cities we were a little apprehensive at first.”

“What?  Why?  If we’re not showing any signs, why would you be wary?”  Arina asked, her brow furrowing.

“I guess we’re just a suspicious lot.”  Callindra said with a self-deprecating smile.  “When you’ve been through the things we’ve seen I guess it’s less of a reflection on any given area and more of a commentary on our experiences.  Gods and demons this bath is exactly what my road weary body needed.  Arina, do you know anything about the contests?”

The other woman grinned, “Well, not really.  But there’s said to be great prizes for the winners and Adbar has been solid so far.  His guards get the best of everything and entering their ranks is no easy task.  If this is something special beyond that it must be pretty amazing.”

Callindra finished her bath in silence, drying off before carefully collecting her sword from the bench and exiting to dress.  She looked at her dirty clothing with a disconsolate sigh and decided to simply shrug into her tunic instead of donning all her travel stained garments.

“I cn wash ‘em for ya mistress.”  A girl child with a clean if rather threadbare smock said hopefully.  “Have ‘em ready inna candlemark fer a silver.”

Callindra held out a gold piece, “If you can get me an extra set of trousers, another tunic and two breast bands as well as washing my gear and tending my armor this is yours.”  The girl’s hand flickered out to grab the coin, but Callindra rolled it across her knuckles and out of reach.  “I’ll be able to find you if you take it and run.”

“Oh mistress I ain’t no scapegrace.”  She protested, “They ain’t gonna lemme in if I were nickin from th custom.”

“Not unless you were very good at it.”  Callindra said with a grin, “I’ve seen lightfingers work before and if you aren’t one you certainly have the knack.”

“Jus means I’ll get ya th best deals don’t it mistress?”  The girl said with a gap toothed smile.

“Now that’s what I like to hear.”  Callindra said, “I’m on the second floor, first room on the right.”

“You wif all them boys?”  The girl goggled, “An you stayin inna room wif ‘em?”

“They’re my brothers.”  Callindra said, “It’s fine once you get past the smell.”

That brought a laugh and the girl scampered out promising again to get everything she was sent for.  Callindra went to the common room, belting her tunic at the waist and deciding it was long enough for the demands of modesty.  She walked up to the bar, set Shadowsliver next to her and tossed a silver piece at the bartender.  He caught it and walked over.  She ordered an ale and a meal and gave him an extra gold piece to cover her meal.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 46

Tryst leaped forward, roaring a battle cry designed to attract the monster’s attention while Cronos hacked into its back with an overhanded swing of his favorite bastard sword.  When the blade met the things back, the steel came away red hot, the edge warped from contacting the creature’s hide.

“What the hell IS this thing?”  He shouted, “We have to get her OUT of there!”

Vilhylm ran forward, growing bigger and stronger; his brutish aspect coming out.  He grabbed the creature’s limbs and tried to pull them apart, struggling to tear it in half and release his sister.  Callindra felt the thing’s throat constrict around her and with horrible force.  With a herculean effort she managed to draw a sliver of Brightfang from his sheath and released a blast of raw magic.  A slash opened in the side of its throat and she gulped a breath of fresh air.

The monster reared up, shrieking in pain and anger.  A flailing limb slammed into Cronos, knocking him onto its back.  His armor began to blacken and burn and he rolled off into the snow, cursing a blue streak.  Vilhylm slammed his fist into the creature’s vulnerable underbelly, impacting Callindra’s body slightly and shoving her face halfway out through the hole her magic had punched.

“This god-cursed bastard.  Is trying.  To EAT ME!”  She grated, trying to free her sword further.

The monster turned and tried to run back into its lair, but Tryst jumped in front of it, dropping his shield and gripping the sides of the wound, pulling with all his strength.  Vilhylm joined him, and they each pulled on a side.  As they pulled, Cronos discarded his damaged sword and drew another, hacking down and opening the cut far enough that Callindra spilled out in a burst of superheated blood.  The digestive fluids of the creature had done their work; her hair was burned off as were her clothes.  And her armor. And her sword sheath.

She shivered uncontrollably and felt as though she was sunburned all over.  “Gods and demons.  I feel burned and chilled to the bone all at once.”

“We must get her into the monster’s cave and build a fire or else she will freeze.”  Tryst said, sweeping his cloak off his shoulders and wrapping her in it.  Callindra winced at the rough wool touching her burns but pulled it around herself with her right hand, grateful for the warmth.

“That bastard burned up all my clothes.”  She said, her voice rough with pain.  “Bring its carcass into the cave, I’ll make boots from its blasted hide.”

“I’m not sure we have time for that.”  Cronos said, looking at the still steaming corpse of the monster.  “Don’t we have somewhere to be?”

“I’m not hiking across a sarding glacier nude Cronos.”  She said acidly, “I think it won’t matter for the short term if they aren’t completely cured since it’s so cold, now shut up and help Vil drag it inside.  We can probably start a fire from its damn hide.  Tryst, can you please do something about these burns?  I think I’m going to … just pass out for a bit.”

Callindra crumpled into Tryst’s arms and he carried her into the cave, followed by Vilhylm and a cursing Cronos as they dragged the beast’s body into the cave.  As Callindra had suggested, the heat from the red hot organs on the creatures back continued to give off enough heat to keep the interior of the cave warm.

After Tryst healed the worst of her burns, Callindra gradually regained consciousness.  Cronos had found some of his spare clothes that more or less fit her, and although she didn’t have the support of a breast band she at least wasn’t naked and shivering.

While her brothers rested, she deftly skinned the beast using her sword as she had so many times before.  With the creature’s brain and a bit of magic, she managed to cure the hide in a matter of candlemarks and made herself a surprisingly serviceable pair of boots that laced all the way to her knee.  She also cut out a rough breastplate that she could later reinforce to replace the beautifully embossed armor she had bartered for so long ago.  Before she could finish that, she would need buckles and more advanced tools though.

After a meal of trail rations and snow melted in a pan on the still warm back of the monster, they set off across the glacier.  Callindra found she didn’t much mind being forced to always keep Brightfang in her hand; his weight was a comfort to her although her hand quickly became stiff from the cold chilling the steel ice cold.

The next night, they camped in the lee of a massive snowdrift, setting up a tent barely large enough for all of them to fit in.  The cramped conditions at very least allowed them to benefit from each other’s warmth.  In the morning, they were able to make it to the base of the ashmount.

There was a large tunnel opening at the base of the mountain.  An unguarded opening that had a stiff breeze blowing at their backs as they walked inside.  The floor was littered with blades.  Swords, scimitars, daggers, polearms and axes were scattered like leaves from a weapon tree.  Some were broken, but others looked flawless at first glance.  There were thousands of weapons more perfect than any blade they’d ever seen for sale in any shop.

A staircase wound around the outside of the room with broken blades scattered over the steps carved into the stone.  The dominant feature in the room wasn’t the collection of weapons.  In the center of the volcano was a pool of lava thirty feet across.  Standing in the center of that pool was a figure Callindra could only think of as a demon.  It was over fifty feet tall with red skin and jet black wings.  Two huge chains ran from an iron collar about its neck to massive pillars of white stone or ice.

Anniversary Night: The Folk of Einn Boer Gather.

The Dungeon Master takes the threads the players have provided and weaves it into the tapestry of story.  I see myself as more of a narrator of an epic epoch than anything else.  Here begins our adventure.  Let’s meet the souls who will shape this world to their will.

 

It was the Day of Anniversary, and the entire city was alive with light, song and the smells of the delicacies that were always baked, roasted and fried in celebration.  Even deep below the city, the feeling of excitement and anticipation hummed like a plucked lute string in the air.  Arn alone did not share any of the other’s thrill at the upcoming event.

“Herdsman Castille.”  Arn looked up to see the slight form of Morrigan, her hair in its perpetual bun.  “It is a special day.  You should be above with the others.”

“I am waiting for the evening.”  He replied, “I wish to avoid the crowds.”

“You mean you wish to go and see the cage fight that ridiculous halfling is staging?” She said mildly, raising an eyebrow in amusement.

“Shepherd, I – “ Arn began, feeling flustered and uncertain.  He had never asked for time out of the monastery.  Quite the opposite, he had usually resisted leaving until recently.

“It is normal for youngsters to want to be entertained.”  Morrigan said, “I noticed your attendance at my own sparring match.  What would you offer as critique?”

“You danced as though reciting a Sutra, Shepherd.”  He said, responding to her request without thought. “The Commander Shepherd … you might as well have been trying to strike the wind.  It seemed he always knew where you would be.”

“It is not the first time we have sparred.”  Shepherd Morrigan said, “He knows me better than almost anyone else.  Your eyes do at least see to the surface Herdsman, even if what lies below the water remains largely hidden from you.  The difference in our fighting styles is distinct, however there is a very valid reason why he is the Commander.”

Arn realized he had offered a very stern criticism of her and felt even more flustered, but Morrigan gave him a slight inclination of the head.  Over the years he had learned that this was a gesture of approval.

“Go to your fights if you wish.”  She said with a hint of a smile.  “But please do not pick up any bad habits.  You are on the cusp of the Stillness.”

“Yes Shepherd, of course Shepherd, thank you Shepherd.” He said, grinning at the memories of the enthusiastic halfling and her strange, wild leaping fighting style so different from anything he had ever seen here.  “I think, in all honesty that many of the fights may be staged.”

Her only reply was a soft laugh that could have been amusement or agreement.

Boris rubbed his hands together, chuckling to himself.  This latest batch of ale had failed, but instead of throwing it away, the Dwarf had left it out uncovered overnight and some form of wild yeast or another had infested it.  Now instead of sitting quiescent and sullen, it was nearly bubbling over with activity.  Quite possibly toxic and deadly activity, but he could work with that.

After giving it a good stir and scooping off the unhealthy looking violet froth from the top of the fermenting cask, he carefully covered it and went back to bottling.  His experiments had all but bankrupted him last month and he didn’t want to resort to eating summoned food again.  Over the last few years he’d begun to think there was something wrong with it, and besides, after eating real food, he couldn’t imagine anyone enjoying that magic stuff.  Tasted like the grains left over from brewing; all the flavor and character drained out of it.

Tonight was the Anniversary Celebration.  Seven hundred years.  He had turned out a lot of ales for this event; he relied on the patronage of the folk who tasted his strange concoctions to keep his neighbors from encroaching upon his tiny tavern.  They were always willing to pay handsomely for a new diversion.

Speaking of diversions, Shaena was bringing her hooligans into his basement again tonight.  Fighting.  In this day and age.  He would never have thought it would be something folk would be interested in, but he supposed boredom would lead to all sorts of deviant behavior.  Besides, if he was honest with himself, it really was amusing to watch them beat the everloving shit out of one another.  As long as it wasn’t his bones being broken, what harm could it be?

It brought in more customers and other interesting individuals as well.  Humming happily to himself for the first time in ages, he set about starting another brew.

“Lirin, you aren’t going out tonight of all nights are you?”  Anna stood in the doorway with her hands on her hips.  “You promised to watch Zoey and Zyrus tonight so that Tobias and I could mind the store.  This is our busiest night of the year!”

“Anna, I’m only going after the youngsters will long be in their beds.”  Lirin soothed, “I have some things that need looking after.”

“Well, don’t expect me to spend an hour getting blood out of another tunic.”  She said frostily, “I don’t like this new obsession some folk have with violence.  Not one bit.”

“The Long Guard has a history of sparring Anna, I fail to see how this is all that much different really.”  He said, “Father would say the more of us who know how to defend ourselves the better.”

“As if this were about self-defense.”  She huffed, “They’re taking bets I hear.  BETS Lirin!  You might as well be going to a gambling den.”

“But there are folk who get hurt.”  He said, “Some of them are my friends too.  I can’t just let them go to some street hack who will dose them with intoxicants for the pain and nothing else.”

“I don’t like you keeping company with those low sorts Lirin.”  She said, “Honestly the Guard has a long tradition of training, but they don’t do it for entertainment.  That’s just wrong.”

“No, you’re right.”  He said, “I shouldn’t have compared these fights to the Guard.”  Lirin smiled at her, “You always were the grounded and sensible one.”

Her expression softened, “You always did think more with your heart.  I can’t keep you from helping others Lirin, just … I worry about you.  When are you going to find your own life?  You should find a woman and start a family.”

Lirin stiffened, a feeling he couldn’t define gripping him.  “I have to take care of mom and da.  There are enough children as it is.”  He couldn’t quite keep the resentment from his voice, “Besides, if I had a wife and children of my own who would watch Zoey and Zyrus while you worked the shop on Anniversary Night?”

“I didn’t mean-“ She began.

“No, I’m the one who should apologize.”  He said, taking a deep breath and giving her a rueful smile. “I guess it’s just that I see your family and can’t help but feel a little jealous Anna.  It doesn’t mean I don’t still love you all; sometimes it’s just hard to see what you’ve made of your life and not feel like a failure.”

“Oh Lirin don’t say that.”  She came to him and caught him in a fierce hug. “You’re a wonderful uncle and a great brother.  I’m sure your calling will come.”

At her words, Lirin felt an echo of something he couldn’t quite grasp.  A touch on his spirit that called to him and made him yearn to be able to hear it, but somehow it was just out of reach.

It was Anniversary day and Shaena was even more of a ball of energy than ever.  After her third breakfast and fourth ale she felt finally calm enough to face the day.  Tonight she had enough fighters for a full card, and that meant… well… something.  The Halfling tried to keep track of the business end of things, but it was all just so god’s cursed boring.  Good thing Garrett had offered to handle all that for her; he really was a dear, even if his weird color changing mane of hair and odd clothing seemed a bit off.

The fighters though, that was exciting!  She’d finally gotten a dragonborn and had pitted him against the Catfolk because all those weird critters fighting one another would be really something.  She had wanted to be the first one to fight him, but she’d also gotten her first Goliath to fight and there just wasn’t any way she couldn’t be the one to face him.  I mean come on!  A halfling against a Goliath?  She got the giggles just thinking about it.

Thankfully that nice Lirin gentleman had agreed to come again.  He really had quite the hand for setting broken bones and all that which was lovely and the strange Elf had helped too when that one boy had accidentally almost died.  Probably would have died.  But really, they’d all signed the waiver and fighting was fun!  That Elf seemed to act as though he didn’t even want to use the spell to save the boy’s life too which was quite weird but that’s those Elves for you really.  I mean Elves right?

She was going to try something new tonight too, something for Anniversary night.  This human made the most fantastic patterns with magic, lights and she heard he could even sometimes make a fog seem to roll across the stage.  It would be fun.  Good old Garrett had come through on that one too.  He really was a treasure.

SP put on a tunic and of finest white silk and belted it with a white on white embroidered sash.  Contrary to what most believed, black was not the color of death or mourning after all; at least not among the Elves.  To walk at night down the dim streets in all white was to proclaim that you were such a part of the night you did not need to hide in it.  Not that the streets were likely to be darkened on Anniversary night.  Which was an annoyance.

Straightening the collar of the tunic, SP made final adjustments to ensure the clothes fell properly and turned to leave.  Gathering an ivory topped cane of carved ash, the Elf strode out the front door of the mortuary and into the throngs of folk gathering for the celebrations.

It was nearly time for those pit fights to begin.  They were really quite delicious actually.  Who would have known fighting would be so intriguing and satisfying?  Death was inevitable of course, but watching healthy folk with everything to lose and nothing to gain being so willing to throw it all away for no immediately apparent reason was addictive.

It so defied logic that it made SP want to understand the contrary thinking.  The Elf simply had to understand it.  There must be a reason for that illogical and self-destructive behavior.  It was a knot that made SP’s fingers itch.

Using magic to bring that unfortunate boy back to life had been more instinct than intentional.  SP had discovered something very interesting while studying the necromantic arts that needed further testing.  The Elf had begun to theorize that healing magic, especially the magics that prevented death, were actually a type of necromancy.  The gap between preventing death and returning life was so razor thin that it was often difficult to determine the difference.

That balance was something SP found to be the subject of obsessive interest.  There was a lifetime of study there.  Perhaps more than a lifetime.  Perhaps even more than an Elven lifetime.

Tabitha (The Wind in the Storm) crouched on the edge of a rooftop, peering out over the city.  Her tail twitched and thrashed as she watched the preparations for Anniversary day below.  She was up early; it was barely midday after all, and she was irritated at losing the hours of sleep.  The irritation was mitigated by the presence of those deliciously muscular jugglers in the plaza below.

They were performing for a small crowd of children and harried looking adults or older siblings and this angle was perfect to ogle muscular arms and shoulders.  The men and women in the square were now tossing pony kegs of ale between them; a seemingly impossible feat.  She decided the kegs must be empty.

Then the thought that the kegs weren’t empty occurred to her.  If they weren’t empty and the did contain the Brannagann’s Dark Ale that was branded on one side then she wanted some.  With that thought came a sudden impulse and as she always did, Tabitha acted on it almost before the idea had fully formed in her mind.

Leaping from the third story was, she thought as she fell through the air, a far more interesting and astonishing feat than throwing around some empty ale kegs.  Probably only truly impressive if she didn’t die or break her legs though.  That was why she had aimed for the flagpole.  Her claws caught and she slid down the wooden shaft, peeling spirals of it off as she plunged toward the ground.  Just before she struck the cobblestones, Tabitha leaped off toward the troupe from behind and then bounded high enough to land on the shoulders of the shortest of the jugglers, neatly snagging the barrel out of the air.

The barrel was full.  It hit her like … well … like a barrel of ale.  It hammered her slight form clean off the startled man’s shoulders and knocked the wind out of her in a startled “Oof!” and a second impact when she hit the cobblestones with the barrel on top of her drove the remaining breath from her lungs.  The bung that was driven into the top of the keg popped out and a thick brown stream of Brannagann’s Dark poured into her face.  She was in heaven except for the wet; but it was worth it.

All of the assembled adults and children burst into an uproar of laughter, clapping and cheers.  The man she had stolen the barrel from looked at her in baffled astonishment as trinkets, sweets and small coins showered into the hat they had set out to collect donations.

“Well.  Well now.”  The massively muscular man said, stroking his prodigious moustache and giving her a speculative grin.  “Lass if you ever want a part in our act, all you need do is ask.”  He bent to pick up the cask, still able to easily lift it although she continued to cling to it and to guzzle the ale as it poured out.

When he set it down bung up she gave him a reproachful look and a sulky pout.  “That was mine!  I stole it fair and square!”

The rest of the troupe burst out laughing, as did the assembled crowd who were now unsure if they had seen an accident or a carefully constructed prank that was part of the act.  “She’s got you there Fortus!” One of the other jugglers said, laughing so hard that tears streamed down his cheeks.

“I like a man with some heft.”  Tabitha said, licking ale from her furred cheeks and leaning forward to run a hand lightly over his bulging bicep.  “What are you doing for the next hour or two?”

He blinked, and the crowd laughed again, although it was mostly the adolescents this time; the youngsters not understanding and the parents trying hard to keep straight faces.  Fortus seemed to not be able to make up his mind if she was serious or crazy.

“I guess it’s true about the kitties eh?”  He managed to say, and threw in a waggle of his bushy eyebrows to the crowd.

“I could make you purrrrrrr.”  She said, tail twitching.  A motion over his shoulder caught her eye.  A man in a garish purple vest with bright steel studs and a mane of hair spiked straight up that slowly changed colors was shouldering through the crowd on the other side of the square.  It was Garrett.  Well shit.

“Sorry.  Gotta go cutie.  Maybe I’ll find you later.”  She slipped into the crowd before the bookie could see her.  She owed him too much money to have him see her now.  But she was gonna beat that Dragonborn in the fights tonight and she could finally pay him off.  It was either that or she’d have to move to another part of the city.  She never would have thought a place that once had felt so large would feel so small.

The song ended and Telos allowed the patterns and shapes that his magic had been causing to shift in front the white screen of silk to fade away.  The assorted gentry sitting in the audience applauded politely and the musicians stood and bowed.

Although this wasn’t his preferred scene, these people paid better than most and he always got to eat the prepared, not simply summoned, food they made and that was worth putting up with the slightly stodgier and prim attitudes they often had.  Also, the songs that were fashionable among the highborn were quite beautiful and accompanied his artistic passions quite well.

Then again, his best paying, and most exiting gig was happening tonight.  It was so strange to him to think that people would really enjoy fighting.  Enjoy getting punched, kicked and choked.  Weapons were of course not allowed, but when a rather wildly dressed half elven man named Garrett had approached him and asked to hire his services for the show.

Garrett’s foot high Mohawk had flashed assorted colors as the man had gesticulated and explained his idea to make the intro “really pop” and his ideas about showing the fights in larger than life size on the wall were interesting, although Telos wasn’t sure if he was going to be able to pull that off or not.  Thus far he wasn’t having much luck with moving images.  Perhaps with practice though.  He had seen others who had managed as much, albeit not for this specific purpose or on this scale.

He had managed considerable success with creating images that were complimentary in nature that could overlap to create fascinating and captivating pieces of art.  Even better, the art he had been creating thus was temporary and unique.  Like the sand paintings he had seen one of the older monastic orders create, the moment it was complete, it was gone.  This quality made it the perfect accompaniment to music which was also always unique and only truly lived in memory.

Telos paused for a moment, thinking about the interchange of blows that made up a fight.  Perhaps the folk who fought did so for similar reasons.  Some of them anyway.  Could a physical expression of one’s abilities hold the same beauty as an intellectual expression?  Pondering this idea, he began preparing his mind for the display he was planning.  It was Anniversary Day.  A day for celebration.

Trey was following Headmistress Trencher’s orphans as they were heading back to the alleyway that led down to the Little Goblin Orphanage.  He made sure that they didn’t stray, although one or two seemed as though they would try and escape so as to stay out past curfew.  The hour was late, but after the youngsters had been put to their beds the Headmistress turned to Trey with a questioning look in her eye.

“Aren’t you going to ask to be released for the evening?”  She asked, when he remained silent.

“Released?”  He scratched his head with one hand, fingers not quite able to fully unclench due to the restraint gauntlets.

“For the Celebrations.”  She said, “Surely there is something out there that you would like to see?  A dance perhaps or to get one of the actually prepared pastries that Lady Taryn hands out every year?”

The Half-Orc remembered smelling the things being cooked.  He hadn’t ever tasted actual cooking before.  His mouth began to water.

“If it’s all right Headmistress.”  He said.

“I wouldn’t have offered if it wasn’t all right.”  She all but snapped.  It seemed that showing overt kindness was difficult for her.  “It’s Anniversary day.  Seven hundred years today.  You helped with the rugrats today, saved me some work. Get out of here and don’t say I never gave you anything.”

Trey walked out, feeling mildly confused at the Headmistress’ contradictory seeming words and actions.  Heading for the square where he thought he’d seen Ldy Taryn Vaknair Torben the Third’s attendants handing out sweets.  Following his nose, he almost ran over someone.

He looked up to see Lirin’s serious face looking into his own.  “Trey, where are you going with your head in the clouds?”

“Oh.  Hi Lirin.  To get a pastry.”  Trey said, “You?”

“The Anniversary pastries are this way.”  Lirin said with a smile, “Follow me, I’ll show you.”

“But where are you going?  Isn’t it a little late?”

“I am going to a …”  His voice trailed off as he looked at the other man.  “A place where people might get hurt and need my help.”

“I won’t let you go alone.”  Said Trey.  “You are a friend who has done much for me.  If there is danger I will be there.”

“It’s not really necessary Trey, they won’t be putting me in danger.  It’s a sparring ring.  The combatants there will be hurting each other, not hurting me.”

“I have seen fights get out of hand.” Trey said with a voice that brooked no argument.  “I am coming.”

Lirin gave him a rueful smile, “After all the time I have tried to spend with you learning that violence is not the only answer, I lead you into a place where people are using violence as the answer.  Thank you for your company my friend.”

Tension that he hadn’t known was there unclenched from Trey’s shoulders.  His friend would not turn him away.  He would not go into danger unprotected.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 29

As her brothers prepared themselves, Cronos by beginning to incant a spell and Vilhylm by withdrawing a mask, Callindra began swinging Brightfang by his chain.  The sword wasn’t balanced for it, and instead of spinning smoothly in a circle, the blade began to roll as its curved edge caught currents of the wind.  The effect was a low rumbling thrum; much like the bullroarers village children played with.

Running forward, she launched herself off a lichen encrusted sarcophagus to leap high in the air.  Brightfang’s arc changed, the blade swinging high into the sky to gather a crackling nimbus of living lightning around its spinning length.  With a shout of anger, Callindra brought her sword flashing down with all the power she could muster.  It struck The Ravenger on the right shoulder with a flash of electricity and an impact that she could feel even through the chain.

Her feet touched the ground and she yanked hard on the chain, sending her sword twirling back towards her.  She shook from exhaustion, this wasn’t her first fight of the day and the others had taken a lot out of her already.  The Ravenger covered the distance between them so quickly that it nearly reached her before Brightfang did.

The monster’s intense heat once again scorched her body, but she had a smile of satisfaction on her face.  Its right arm was hanging uselessly by its side.  Unable to dodge its oncoming rush, all she could do was brace herself.

Vilhylm slammed into the attacker, knocking him off his feet even as he reached for her with a flaming arm.  As the monster turned to face this new threat Cronos attacked it from the other side, hacking into it with his broadsword with a spray of blood.  The Ravenger roared, spinning to attack him but Callindra slashed it across the spine and it retreated back into the chapel.

“You can’t run from me!” Callindra yelled, sprinting after it.  Coming through the door, she emerged into a scene from nightmare.

A charnel house of slaughter littered the floor, bodies torn and shredded.  A portal of glowing silver light stood on one side, the view beyond an unending field of fires and torment.  Laughter echoed throughout the chapel, seeming to come from everywhere but Callindra ignored it.  Running inside she gathered the Weave about her and her steps became faster, every movement accentuated by winds and magic.

“I have waited so long.”  The Ravenger rumbled, “I have been waiting for one who can break the seals for what seems like hundreds of years.  Perhaps it has been hundreds of years.”

“To the nine hells with your waiting.”  Callindra said, spinning in a whirlwind, Brightfang a razor sharp extension of her arm as she slammed into her enemy.  As she struck, scintillating bolts of lightning followed each swipe of her sword, hammering into The Ravenger with elemental force.

The creature staggered backwards in the face of her onslaught and she continued pressing her attack in spite of the heat that singed her hair and blistered her skin.  A series of magical bolts streaked over her shoulder in the pale violet color of Cronos’s magic, hammering into the creature one after another.  It staggered back from the onslaught and Vilhylm’s brutish form leaped forward, his arms extended in a parody of a mountain ape but with twining vines growing all throughout.

Vilhylm charged into The Ravenger with a rolling shoulder block as inexorable as an avalanche, smashing his hands into the stone floor of the chapel to give himself more leverage.  As he did so, vines exploded from the floor behind the creature, further throwing it off balance.  With a shriek of rage, Callindra spun Brightfang in a wild arc and the power of Nordji himself burst through the sword’s tip striking The Ravenger in the chest and sending it spinning backward into the shimmering portal.

“NO!”  It howled, “You know not what you do!  I was holding the power and now it returns!”  As it fell, the huge burning body began to shrink and unravel, twisting in a hideous parody until Pierce was revealed at the center, his eyes sunken and burning with emerald fire.

“Return to the Hell that spawned you!”  Callindra cried, and flung her sword forward to strike him squarely in the throat.  With a gurgling cry the desiccated form fell backward into the opening, fully consumed by it and Brightfang sang in protest as she yanked him out of the collapsing portal.  A rumbling, grinding sound began to resonate throughout the chapel and they all ran as best they could to escape before the building collapsed into rubble.

Panting and shaking with battle frenzy, Callindra slowly began to understand the import of what had just happened.  Her brother’s only hope had been of the Abyss.  When she wiped Brightfang off before sheathing him, the cloth caught on her hand and a sliver of metal sliced her palm open.  Staring at her beloved sword in disbelief, she saw that a tiny fracture had begun to form on the thick flat of the blade.  Her bonded blade Brightfang was beginning to suffer the same fate as all the other practice swords she had used.

“No.”  She whispered, not even noticing as tiny vines sprang up to stitch the small wound on her palm.  “I cannot lose you.  Not you too.”  It was too much, and she fell to her knees in the ancient graveyard and let tears fall unheeded from her eyes.  Vaguely she felt gentle hands leading her away, settling her on a bedroll and prying her hands from where she gripped Brightfang’s blade.