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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 68

“What was his name?”  Rrayu asked, eager to be helpful.  “Perhaps I know him.”

“He didn’t introduce himself.”  Callindra said, “Now I understand why.  He was above average height, wore clothing that usually had armor over it, and carried his longsword as though it was a part of his body.”

“What color were his eyes?  His hair?”  Rrayu asked, “I could narrow the number of people, but he sounds like one of the city guardsmen.”

“I have no idea what color his eyes were; I think his hair was black or dark brown.”  Callindra said, “Why would I notice things like that?”

“A Courtier needs to look at all the subtleties every person shows.  Their hair color and style can reveal much about who and what they are.  Their eyes can give the lie to any tale they may try and spin.  The cut and fit of their clothes can speak to their ability to choose their servants and how they treat them.”  Rrayu sighed, “But I suppose you are new to the ways of court.”

“Sounds like I have a lot to learn in the next two days, then.”  Callindra said, “I accepted a formal invitation to attend a ball and it’s up to you to make sure I don’t make a complete ass of myself.”

“Two days?”  Rrayu squeaked, “I cannot possibly even get you a proper gown in two days!”

“I’ll try to be the best student I can be, but I don’t know the first thing about being a Courtier.”  Callindra said, “I didn’t choose you as a servant exactly, but I’m choosing to trust you to with this.  Let’s see how good my judgment is.”

“Get out of those clothes immediately,”  Rrayu said, rising and moving briskly to the closet.  “If you wish to pass as a Lady, you will need to spend every waking moment getting accustomed to stays and skirts.”

“Shadowsliver sort of ruins the image though, doesn’t he?”  Callindra smiled lovingly at her sword.  “I’ll never pass for a Lady I’m afraid.”

“The only thing I have ever seen a Lady carry is perhaps a small bag,”  Rrayu said, gesturing to Callindra’s coin purse still tied to her belt.

“Ah, then perhaps I can simply carry a small bag.”  Callindra grinned, picked up her coin purse and thrust Shadowsliver inside.  Despite the sword being many times longer than the pouch, it vanished into the magical space, disappearing from view.

“My Lady, that is purely inspired,”  Rrayu said, relief evident in her voice.  “Now out of those clothes while I select you some appropriate after-dinner attire for you.”

With a sigh, Callindra began removing the garments she’d worn to the common room.  Rrayu began pulling garments out of the closet, muttering to herself and discarding them one after another.  She finally brought a set of strange looking undergarments, a dark blue dress with a cream bodice.  Matching tights and slippers completed the outfit.

“That’s a bit elaborate for me in my own sitting room, isn’t it?”  Callindra asked, looking at the pile of fabric.  “I’m not expecting any visitors.”

“This is the simplest and least constrictive garment that still meets the requirements of propriety.”  Rrayu said, “I’m going easy on you because I don’t think you’re ready for something more.”

Callindra stood and allowed Rrayu to help her into the tights, strap the stays over her chest and tie her into the dress.  The restrictive skirts forced her to take much shorter steps than usual and the pressure of the stays and bodice made it impossible for her to take a full breath.  If someone attacked her, she would be unable to defend herself properly.

“I don’t like this.”  She said, “I can barely move.”

“You can move as much as you need to.”  Rrayu said calmly, “A Lady’s battlefield does not require the use of swords.”

Callindra tried to sigh but found the bodice wouldn’t allow it.  She tried to flop down in a chair but found that the rigidity of the stays kept her back straight, and she ended up awkwardly perching on the edge.  The extra heat generated by the layers of clothes combined with her nervousness made her feel like she would sweat to death.

“I can’t do this.”  She said, clutching the coin purse that held her sword.  “I’m too vulnerable.”

“You have attendants who will deal with your personal safety Lady Sol’Estin.”  Rrayu said, “You must rely on them for that purpose and they will depend on you for defense against the politics of court.  I will do as much as I can to provide you the proper weapons to go along with your armor.”

Callindra let out her breath and tried to imagine that the clothes she now wore were armor, that the way she spoke to others would be like sword strokes.  “The first Korumn is of the Breath.”  She said, breathing gently in through her nose and out through her mouth.  Her shoulders relaxed as a feeling of calm descended over her.

“If this is what it takes to be a leader, then I will find a way to rise to the challenge.”  Squaring her shoulders, she looked Rrayu in the eyes.  “Teach me what you can.”

The Angel Murders – Jack Part II

“Hey Jackass!” Bryce bellowed, kicking his locker shut and nearly smashing his hand in the process.

“Bryce, how about you be my friend and carry my books to class?” Jack handed him a pair of textbooks and a notebook.

“Sure thing Jack,” Bryce smiled and took them from him without saying anything else.

Jack smiled and looked at the stunned faces of his classmates as he walked to his first class.  His new friend trailed obediently behind him, carrying his books.  

“Bryce, what the hell are you doing?” Jeannie said, dismay in her voice.

“Oh, Jeannie.”  Jack laughed, “Stop pretending you don’t want to be around me.”

“Gross,  I totally don’t want to be around you.”  She crossed her arms, “Come on Bryce, you don’t even go to the same class.”

“I’m just carrying his books, what’s the big deal?” Bryce asked, “I’ll meet you later.”

“You’re doing what he says instead of walking me to class?”  She spun on a heel and stalked away.

“Girls right?” Jack said, “Can’t live with ‘em.”

“Can’t shoot ‘em.” Bryce finished and they both laughed.

All day, Jack just had to nudge people with a suggestion and if he got his wording right they would do whatever he said.  At first, he was confused as to why Jeannie hadn’t done what he said, but eventually, he realized the problem was that she hadn’t been pretending that she hated him.  She really didn’t want to be anywhere near him.

 It was challenging; he didn’t want to be seen actually giving commands, but if he wasn’t specific enough they wouldn’t do what he said at all.  By the end of the day, he had the knack of being just specific enough to get what he wanted without anyone thinking he was making it happen.

“You’re really good at this,” Lorethla said, purring in his mind.  “I can’t wait to see what you do next.”

The demon had been stroking his ego all day.  He didn’t mind it, but he wished he could still see her.  Jack did have plans, big plans.

“I am going to be a superhero.”  He said, “I’m going to make everything better.  With this power, I can get rid of crime. I can make politicians actually help people.  I can do whatever I want.”

“Yes.”  She said, “You can do whatever you want.  I see great things in your future.”

There was a knock on the bathroom door, “Hey Jack, some of the rest of us might need to use the toilet sometime!” His sister said.

“Just go away, Amber!” He shouted back.  It wasn’t that he hated her or anything, she was just so annoying.  

“Of course, I can’t wait to see what you’re going to do!”  Lorethla said, “You’re going to change the world!”

“I’m going to change the world.”  He repeated softly to himself.

Jack searched through the matters of record, eyes lighting as he found what he was looking for.  A man just released on bail, charged with possession of fentanyl with the intent to sell. Most drugs were fairly harmless, but fentanyl was a tool of murder in his opinion.

“This is the one, Lorethla.”  He said, “This bastard is going to pay.”

“You’re so hot when you’re decisive.”  She said, and he felt her phantom lips on his neck.

A polite knock on the door made him look up in annoyance.  He sighed and minimized his browser tabs. “What is it?” He asked, voice not revealing his mood.

“Can I come in dear?”  His mother asked, “I wanted to see how you were doing.”

“OK, mom.” He said, not wanting her to think anything was amiss.

The door opened and she walked in.  He was shocked by her appearance; bags under her eyes and hair hanging in lank, unwashed disarray.  She stood uncertainly in his doorway looking at the perfect tidiness of his room before looking at him.

“Jack, are you doing OK?”  She asked.

“Of course mother.”  He said, “Why wouldn’t I be?”

“Amber has been missing for two days.”  She said, a catch in her voice, “You’ve barely come out of your room all weekend and I wanted to come and check on you.”

“She’s gone?”  Jack frowned, “I talked to her just the other day.  She was yelling at me to get out of the bathroom.”

His mom came into the room and pulled him into a hug.  “Sweetie, we haven’t seen her since Saturday morning. The police are coming today to get information, we filed a missing person report.”

“I’m sure she’s just at a friend’s house or something.”  He said, waving a hand vaguely.

‘You told her to go away.’ Lorethla whispered in his mind.  ‘She obeyed.’

Jack froze for an instant, a cold feeling of dread shivered down his spine.  He swallowed hard, not daring to reveal any guilt to his mother. Before anyone figured anything out, he could find her and make it right.

‘Necessary sacrifices Jack.’ Lorethla whispered, ‘If you’re going to change the world, you can’t expect it to happen without some growing pains.  Don’t worry about her Jack, you don’t need her.’

He relaxed.  Nobody would ever know, and after all, he really didn’t need her did he?

The Angel Murders – Jack Part I

“What’s the matter Jackass?” Bryce asked, kicking Jack in the stomach.  “I thought you liked dancing.  We’re just asking you to dance for us!”

Jack tried to draw in a breath but only succeeded in making a pathetic noise and throwing up.

“Bryce, that’s disgusting.”  Jeannie made a face, “I thought you were going to have a fight not just pick on some stupid little kid.  God, that puke reeks.”

“Hey, I thought he’d be more of a challenge.”  Bryce said, “Let’s go, babe.”

The two of them turned and walked away, leaving Jack laying in a puddle of his own sick.  Tears of humiliation streamed down his cheeks, this made an entire month of beatings in a row, and they’d only been getting worse.

He’d tried to eat his lunch, but Bryce had found him sitting behind the bus garage. Carson Academy was an elite school and he’d thought things would be different here, but they’d only gotten worse.  Jack finally got his breath back and sat up, wiping his mouth.  He went to the only place he knew they wouldn’t bother him, the library.

The door opened and he smelled the familiar scent of paper, ink, and the peppermint candies the librarian always had.  Jack walked in with his head down, turning toward the fantasy section.

“Oh Jack, are you OK?” Miss Fitzsimmons asked, “Looks like someone got the better of you .”

“Fine,” He muttered, trying to avoid her.

“Here, have a mint.” She offered a tin of Altoids peppermints and he took one gratefully.

“Thanks.  I think my lunch just didn’t agree with me.” He said.

“Your lunch didn’t give you that black eye.” Miss Fitzsimmons said, “But I don’t need to know if you don’t want to tell me, Jack.  What are you looking for today?”

“You don’t have the latest Callindra Chronicles yet do you?”  He asked hopefully.  “I heard it was going to be released this week.”

“Our book shipment is supposed to come in tomorrow.”  She said, “I’ll set it aside for you if we get it.”

“Thanks,” He said and walked back into the stacks.  Only once he was alone did he allow the tears to come.  Slumping against the bookshelves Jack sobbed into his arm until the fear and pain were gone.  He took a deep breath and wished he had something to wipe his nose on.  A crackle of paper under his hand made him glance down.

A corner of yellowed paper stuck out from underneath the bookshelf.  Jack tugged at it and pulled a piece of parchment that looked ancient out from where it had sat for who knew how long.  Although it seemed very old and it was written, not typed, he could read it easily.

‘How to get exactly what you want.’ Was written in elegant cursive across the top of the page.  Below was a set of fairly simple looking instructions for how to summon your own personal demon.

“What is it you desire?” A beautiful young woman in a simple black dress and four-inch stiletto heels casually crossed her legs exposing half her thigh.

Jack had thought about this for days.  He hadn’t really believed it would work, but if it did, he wanted to make sure he got exactly what he wanted.  Now that the ‘demon’ had arrived in the pentagram he’d drawn on his bedroom floor sitting on a three-legged iron stool he just stared.

“Oh dear, have I left you speechless?” She leaned forward, exposing a lot of cleavage. “Is this all you want little boy?  I’m more than happy to oblige.”

“I want,” Jack began, pausing to clear his throat, “I want people to do what I tell them to.”

She sat up straight and smiled, “Oh yes, that’s certainly possible.  All you have to do is agree to take me with you.”

“What?”  Jack blinked, this wasn’t what he’d expected. “I thought I had to sell my soul for a demon contract.”

“Only half of it boy.” She smiled, “I just need you to make room for me to ride along.”

“You’ll be with me?” He asked eagerly.

“Oh yes.  I’ll be with you forever.” Her smile seemed unnaturally wide, but all he could see were her eyes.

“I agree.”  He said, spellbound by the seafoam green of her eyes.  Then the pain began.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 66

With a sigh, she squared her shoulders and led them downstairs.  The eyes of hundreds of people followed them as they entered the common room.  An obviously freshly scrubbed barmaid led them to a table without them having to ask.

“I love the music.”  Trying to soothe the nervous maid as she leaned Shadowsliver’s naked blade against the table.

“Yes, Lady.” She said, bobbing an awkward curtsey.  “Drinks?  Food?”

“Please,”  Callindra replied, inclining her head in what she hoped was a regal manner.  Reed was obviously trying not to laugh.  She pulled a handful of gold coins from a belt purse that shouldn’t have been able to fit her fist, let alone that many coins, and put them on the barmaid’s drinks tray.  “Bring us some of whatever that heavenly roasting scent is, any vegetables you might have, some mead, some ale, and a round for the bar as well.”

This last pronouncement brought a ragged cheer from the patrons close enough to hear her.  She smiled in what she hoped was a magnanimous way.  The barmaid looked at the gold and glanced behind the bar.  Hagar nodded, and she smiled, striding away to a chorus of calls for drinks.

When the food came, it was far better fare than they’d had in months, and the drinks were as good as any they’d tasted.  The music continued, including some dance numbers, which added to the carnival atmosphere.  A few people started to dance and soon first Reed, then the other men at the table were pulled onto the dance floor.  Callindra sat, half wanting to join in and half relieved that she wouldn’t have to.

“If you put up your steel, I’d love a dance, Lady.”  A man dressed in clothes that, although clean, had noticeable wear marks from where armor straps were usually cinched.  He was extending a hand that had clear sword calluses on it.

“Ah, well, that’s not really possible,”  Callindra said, feeling a bit out of place in her fine clothes.  “We’re a bit joined, and I don’t have a sheath.”

His eyes followed the chain on the hilt to her right wrist with interest.  “Why no sheath?  That seems awkward.”

“That would be a long and dull story, why don’t you join me for a drink and tell me about yourself instead?”  She poured him a tankard of something random and gestured to an open seat.

He looked at her with a raised eyebrow for a moment before sitting, his foot moving to kick the scabbard of his longsword aside as he sat.  Callindra blinked; she hadn’t noticed that he was wearing a blade. It moved like it was a part of him.

“Lady Callindra!”  Reed sat down, his face flushed from drink and the exertion of dancing.  “Who’s yer friend?”

“Apologies, I fear I neglected to introduce myself.”  She stood and offered her hand to the man, “I am Callindra Sol’Estin.”

“I know who you are.”  He said, rising himself.  “Perhaps we’ll meet again.”  He spun and moved off into the crowd.

“Who the hell was that?”  Reed asked, “He seemed like a rude bastard.”

“I don’t know.”  Callindra said, “But I’m sure he’s going to be trouble.  He was asking me to dance as a pretext to get me to leave my sword behind.”

“You’re talking even fancier with the fancy clothes on.”  Reed grinned, “But you still get suspicious of anyone who tries to part you from that blade.  I think you’re just getting jumpy, relax and have some fun.”

“I somehow doubt having fun would be seen as very ladylike,”  Callindra said with a sigh, remembering Rrayu’s voice telling her about posture and poise.  “I’m supposed to keep up appearances, you know.”

“You’re carrying a sword chained to your wrist.”  Reed scoffed, “Nobody’s gonna think you’re much of a delicate flower.”

“I can tell you’re not a woman.”  Callindra said, “We’re rarely taken as seriously as we should be, especially when we’re dressed in pretty clothes.”

Reed looked at her, a quizzical expression on his face.  “Damn.  You gotta point there.  Your sword doesn’t look normal, and that chain looks a lot more delicate than it really is too.  I guess most guys would probably think it was just for show.”

“Precisely, young master.”  Callindra picked up her goblet of mead and looked at him over the rim before taking a sip.  “Just as they likely misjudge you due to your age.”

The Angel Murders Part V

Purdue stepped out of her squad, lighting the cigarette she already had between her lips, “Here we go again.”  She muttered.

“About time you got here.”  Officer Whitehead gave her cigarette a dark look.  “We gotta block off an entire street just because some psycho likes to finger paint with his victim’s blood.”

“A pleasure to see you as always officer.”  She said cheerfully, “Where’s the victim?”

“Victims.”  He corrected, “There’s three of them down there.”

She followed him under the police tape and looked around at the area as they walked.  A dusting of fresh snow covered everything, there were several sets of footprints on the sidewalk and a single set of vehicle tracks that went in and out.  The vehicle had stopped a hundred feet from the bodies and a single set of footprints walked to and from the bodies. There were no other footprints that came near.

“These are from the person who called it in.”  Whitehead said, “Nobody else has been here. How the hell the perp managed to get them here without leaving any marks is anyone’s guess.  I’m just a beat cop, you detectives get the fun job of figuring out the details.”

Three men’s bodies were laying in a triangle, their feet almost touching, their hands over their eyes and bloody wings almost touching where they unfurled from their backs.  Two of them were wearing clerical collars and the third wore an Armani suit.

“Any ID on these guys?”  She asked, walking carefully around the corpses.

“We got orders not to touch any of them.”  He said acidly, “They all got the wings. That means hands off.”

Purdue pulled on her gloves and removed the tweezers from her breast pocket.  Kneeling, she opened the mouth of the man in the suit carefully. Under his tongue was a familiar piece of parchment.  This one had a portion of a word on it. She bagged it with shaking hands and repeated the extraction from the other two.  

After pocketing the evidence bags, she found the men’s wallets, put them in their own evidence bags and handed them to Whitehead, “Get these to the lab please.”

“I ain’t your delivery boy.”  He grumbled, but took the bags and stalked down the street back to where the forensics van was parked. 

Purdue was about to take her necklace off when one of the men’s hands twitched.  She quickly knelt and put fingers to his throat. There was no pulse.

‘Don’t touch that.’ Nebecenezer said, ‘It’s dangerous.’

“If you don’t tell me what you’re talking about I’m going to ignore you.”  Purdue muttered, “I don’t see anything dangerous here.”

‘What’ll ya give me?’ He asked.

“You’re the one who wants something.”  Purdue said, reaching her hand out again, “What will you give ME?”

‘What?’  Nebecenezer exclaimed, ‘That’s not how this works!’

“Yeah, it is.”  She said, lighting another cigarette, “Just because the tables have turned doesn’t change the nature of the relationship.”

The demon paused, making a high-pitched keening sound. ‘Fine.  I’ll give you one favor if you don’t touch them.’

“Excellent.” Purdue said, “I have just the thing.  I’ll tell you about it later. I won’t even ask why.”

‘Wait, no!  You have to make the deal right now!’ Nebecenezer protested, ‘I can’t have something like that just hanging over my head.’

“Oh, you’ll get used to it.”  She said. “Some of us have had to deal with that for years.”

Purdue took the evidence bags from her pocket and held them so the tears all matched.  She shuddered as the symbol drawn on the whole piece of parchment was revealed. The random-looking lines resolved themselves into an outline of a rosebud on one side and a set of roman numerals on the other.  

The numbers XII-XII were significant.  They represented her birthdate and one other anniversary.  December twelfth was also in three days.

The Angel Murders Part II

“Where are you getting with these wing murders, Purdue?”  Dennis Lopez strode into her office with a pair of styrofoam cups of steaming black coffee.

She looked up from the file she was studying, “I just can’t figure out what the connection between them is Chief.”  Taking the cup he offered, she took a drink and shuddered, “God, did you brew this in one of your old boots?”

“Well, I have some bad news for you.”  He said, taking a sip from his own cup, “The mayor is running out of patience.”

“He wouldn’t give a shit except this is an election year,”  Purdue said pinching the bridge of her nose.  Almost absently, she drank half the cup of coffee in one long swallow.  It was so hot she exhaled a small cloud of steam.  She glared at the cup and Nebecenezer laughed in the back of her mind, the bastard.

“I’m not arguing with you there, but it is what it is.”  He shrugged, “I know you’re a good detective Purdue, but you’re the lead on this one and it’s getting a lot of attention after that kid got killed.”

“Interesting how nobody pays attention when it’s a few homeless people and a few people of color, but kill some rich white kid and suddenly it’s an epidemic.”  She picked up her jacket, “I need a smoke.  You wanna come?”

“You know I quit.”  He said, “I can’t stand the smell of tobacco smoke now.”

“Can’t resist it you mean.”  She tapped a cigarette from her pack and tossed it on the desk.  “I get it.  I know I should quit too, but it’s just one more straw on the camel’s back.”

Purdue walked out to the alley and lit up, drawing smoke deep into her lungs.  “Why can’t I find the common denominator?”

‘You know I could help you.’ Nebecenezer whispered, ‘It’d be easy.  All you need to do is ask.’

“Yeah, I know better you little bastard.”  She muttered through a cloud of smoke, “You’ve got enough of a hold over me.”

“What was that?” Lopez walked out the door with one of her American Spirits in his mouth.

“You quit.”  She said, “You don’t want to start again for something as stupid as this do you?”

“You ain’t telling me everything.”  He said, “You got a light?”

Purdue handed him her Zippo.  “You’re right, I’m not.  Are you sure you wanna know?”

He lit the cigarette, handed her lighter back, and looked at her with narrowed eyes.  “Yeah, I want to know.”

“I can’t prove it, I have no evidence, but my gut is telling me this is religious.”  She blew a smoke ring, “I know that might seem obvious what with the angel wings, but not everyone sees things in the same way.”

“What religion?  What sect?”  He coughed and sighed.

“I don’t know.”  Purdue said, flicking the ash off her cigarette, “Although Christianity is really the only religion with angels.  Other cults have winged humans, but really I don’t think it’s any of them.  What I can’t figure out is why angel wings would be involved with all the victims.”

‘I can tell you!’ Nebecenezer whispered mockingly.

“Maybe it’s some kind of cult, or some guy with a vendetta?”

“It could be any number of things.  There’s just not enough evidence.”  She stubbed out her cigarette and threw it into a trash can.  “Whoever is doing this is too careful.  All they’ve left is pieces of old parchment under the tongue of their victims.  No words or anything to identify what the significance of it is.  The only thing that forensics can tell is that the paper is likely torn from the same sheet, and that it’s old; around two thousand years old.”

“Who would use such an ancient piece of parchment and what kind of message would they be trying to send?” Lopez mused.

‘Pick me, pick ME!’ Nebecenezer crowed.

“Oh hell.”  Purdue said.  “This is bad.  This is really really bad.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Angel Murders Part I

“Whaddya got for me?” Inspector Purdue ducked under the crime scene tape, lighting a cigarette.  “I was just about to eat dinner, this shit had better be good.”

“Right up your alley Inspector.” The uniform holding the tape said, “Your wife will forgive you.”

She took a deep drag on her smoke and looked at the figure sprawled in the snow.  “The fuck she will. Terese hates it when I don’t eat her home cooking. I hate it too.”

The boy was laying with his hands covering his face, the school uniform marking him as a middle school student from Carson, a prestigious local academy.  Purdue flicked the cherry off her cigarette and tossed the butt into a trash can. She sighed and pulled her phone from her breast pocket.  

“You did right to call me in, Jackson.  This is obviously related.” She began taking pictures of the corpse, and more importantly the outline of wings that projected from the body.  They were drawn in blood, presumably the victim’s blood, although the boy didn’t appear to have any visible wounds.

“Ya think?”  Jackson said, quirking an eyebrow.   “The chief said to bring you in on any of these fucking wing things.  Any chance you’re gonna tell me what the fuck is going on?”

“Whenever I figure it out, you’ll be on my goddamn list.” She said, bending to look closely at the body.  “Has anyone touched the corpse?”

“No.  I mean orders have been clear from the top down.   When we see the wing murders we block it off, take photos, and keep our hands to ourselves.”  He said, shoving his hands into his pockets.

“As long as you’re sure.”  She said, taking a pair of gloves from her kit and pulling them on. “I don’t want to report something falsely.  We don’t want someone to go down for this who doesn’t deserve it.”

Reaching into the boy’s mouth with a pair of tweezers, she pulled an ancient-looking piece of parchment from under his tongue.  She unfolded it and scrutinized it for a moment before placing it in an evidence bag and sealing it.

“Jackson, get this to the lab.”  She said and waited until he had gone before taking an amulet from around her neck and placing it on the boy’s forehead.  For a few moments, the tiny golden rosebud sat perfectly still, and Purdue was just about to let out a breath of relief when the petals began to quiver and open.

“Shit.”  Purdue rocked back on her heels and took another cigarette from the pack with shaking fingers and watched the flower bloom.  A flutter of motion caught her eye, but when she glanced at it she didn’t see anything moving. “Is this the one?”

She crushed the cigarette out and flicked it at a trash can.  The shaking of her hands made her miss. Cursing, Purdue walked over and plucked the butt from the sidewalk.  A gasp made her spin around. The boy was sitting up with wide staring eyes.

“He. Is. Coming. For. You.”  The blood leaking from the twin holes just beneath each of his shoulder blades connected him to the shimmering outline of the bloody wings gently fanning around his body.  He collapsed sideways, the blood splattering down behind him.

“That’s not very helpful.”  She said, plucking the charm from his forehead,  “You’ve fucked over my crime scene too.”

“I sent that paper off for analysis.” Jackson paused, “What the hell happened?”

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”  Purdue lit another cigarette, “It doesn’t matter anyway.  Goddamnit, I’m dead anyhow.”

“What?”  He had his gun in his hand in a heartbeat,  “Did you find something on the body? Are you getting threats again?”

“Easy killer.”  She exhaled twin streams of smoke from her nostrils, “Some things you can’t stop with a bullet.  Nobody is gonna kill me today, I’m just embracing the inevitable.”

“So what happened here?”  He demanded, holstering his pistol.

“The demon possessing half my soul awakened this boy’s last breath.  It was supposed to allow him to tell me who killed him or at very least give me valuable information about how to put a stop to it.”  Purdue lit another cigarette from the butt of her current one, “All he told me was that his murderer is coming for me. Hardly the most helpful statement since we don’t know who the FUCK has been doing this.”

“Jesus.”  Jackson shook his head, “If you didn’t want to tell me you could have at least made something halfway believable up.”

“Yeah.”  She shrugged, “Let’s go get some coffee and a doughnut.”

‘Chocolate with bacon sprinkles.’ Nebecenezer demanded.