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.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 18

Durrak stood and wiped his brow and stretched, feeling his vertebra crack.  It had been hours since he had begun clearing this field and he was beginning to feel tired.  The Dwarf wasn’t exhausted, it was the good warmed muscle feeling of a morning’s honest work.  It had been years since he had stumbled out of the wilderness, bruised and on the brink of collapse and this human family had taken him in.

“Time for midday’s Durrak.”  Belladin said, surprising him.  She was only a few feet behind him, holding a large wicker basket and smiling mischievously.  He wasn’t sure why she took so much pleasure in sneaking up on him.

“My thanks Miss Verivan, the day do be growing quite warm.”  He said politely, taking off his hat.

“Come and sit with me in the shade.”  She said, turning to walk back to where a rock outcropping cast a shadow.  He followed, still unsure as to why she was paying him so much attention but appreciating it nonetheless.

Many of the other humans in this Holding seemed to dislike Dwarves for some reason, but she and her family had no such compunction.  Her father’s name was Thanel and he was a solid, no-nonsense kind of person, almost seeming to be Dwarfish in nature rather than human.

He sat with her, her father, two of her sisters who preferred work in the fields and one of her brothers.  Sandwiches with thick slices of roast venison, spicy horseradish spread and garden fresh tomato on dark heavy rolls were passed around.  Durrak sat with his back to the cool stone and accepted a mug of cool mint tea from a smiling Belladin.

“When are you going to quit this drudge work and get to what you’re good at boy?”  Thanel asked with his usual blunt directness.

Durrak blinked in surprise.  “What do you be meaning sir?”  He asked politely in his strangely accented Common.

“I mean you’re no farmer boy.  You know the forge or I’m a bald sheep.”  He took a large bite of his sandwich and looked at Durrak with calculating eyes as he chewed and swallowed.

“I do have a debt to you and it do be my intent to pay it.”  Durrak said, meeting the man’s gaze.

“I’d rather you incur more debt and pay me back faster.”  Said Thanel, “When I first inherited this property there was an old anvil, forge and a few hammers and other tools out in the back.  I ain’t got the knack but I always figured someone would come along who did, else I’d sell ‘em if times got tough.”

Durrak stared at him in surprise, his food forgotten.  “I…”  He let his voice trail off, not sure what to say.

“I ain’t one who’s lame brained enough to think all Dwarves are smiths, but I recognize the burns on your forearms.  Ya don’t get those from herding sheep.”  Thanel said, still studying Durrak’s face.  “Don’t waste that talent.  Besides, I got a plow with a damaged blade along with plenty of other things could use fixing.

“As you can see this ain’t entirely a selfless offer.”  The man said with a grin, “Don’t think you’ll get off lightly just ‘cause I want to put you to work doing something you’re trained to do.”

“Oh, I see.”  Durrak put down his mug and extended his hand, “In that case I do be accepting your offer.”

Thanel took his hand and shook it firmly.  “You still ain’t told me what brought you here son.  One day we saw the very mountain burn and you showed up about a week later.  No trade has come from the Dwarven halls there since.”

“It did be a dragon.”  He said, voice flat and dull.  “My father did take a raiding party out and killed her mate.  We no did know it had a mate, it was just threatening our city.  The Moragainnag did be warning about destruction did we not prevail against Krrakathanak.  Also her warning did say victory against him would bring peril.”

“More a gain…nag?” Belladin asked, trying to sound out the strange name.  “What is that?”

“The holy woman of their people.”  Thanel said, “Their seer.  The one with the closest relationship to their God.”

Durrak inclined his head, “Aye.  When Storgar slew her mate, Cerioth the Black’s breath did melt the gates of Farenholm to slag.  I know not if any survived, but I believe I do be the only Dwarf who escaped her mighty wrath.  As The Moragainnag did say, Death if we did kill him, destruction and chaos did we no kill him.  I must keep faith that Thraingaar spoke truly through the bones and that she did listen.”

“Well.  I am at least grateful that it gave us the opportunity to meet you.”  Belladin said, putting a small, warm hand on his large work roughened one.  Durrak felt a thrill race up his spine at her touch.  He shouldn’t be feeling happiness, to him it was as though feeling happiness was somehow dishonorable to his people’s memory.

Thanel stood, brushing the crumbs from his thighs.  “Come on boy.  I’ll show ya that forge and you can see what’s missing.”

Durrak started to his feet, breaking contact with Belladin and nearly spilling his mug of tea.  He blushed slightly at the man’s critical eye but also smiled.  It would be good to stand at a forge again.  Thraingaar would be pleased.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 14

A drip of something hot fell on Callindra’s forehead and she struggled out of unconsciousness.  Pain.  The smell of burning meat.  She hung from her hands, shackled to something above her head and her captor hadn’t bothered to dress her after taking her out of the bath.  Whatever drug she had been fed was not a kind one and hanging from her hands by a chain for hours hadn’t improved things.

Impossibly, a flow of molten rock made a ponderous, glowing river through one part of the chamber.  A smith’s forge was set up next to it, and part of the pain on her head was an irregular pattering of drops of lava from the ceiling above her landing on her.

“Ahh, you are back among us.  Excellent, I was beginning to get bored.”  A voice that seemed familiar cut through the haze of pain and drugs.

“What?”  She croaked, trying to open her eyes or raise her head.  The room swam and she closed her eyes again.

“Oh don’t strain yourself, I am not interested in causing you any more pain.”  A hand cupped her chin, lifting her head.  She opened her eyes slightly and saw a face she recognized, although it was hollow and sunken eyed now.

“Daleus?  Why?”  Callindra was limited to single words, anything more made lights flash before her eyes as pain spiked in her head.

It was the man who she had met over a year ago alongside the river while training under Glarian.  The young man with the whips and fire magic.  “I just want your master.”  He breathed, “Tell me where he is and I will set you free.”

“Why?”  She wanted to turn her head so as not to have to breathe the air he was exhaling, but the effort was beyond her.

“You don’t know what happens when we get separated from our weapons do you?  You might have read it in a book or your master might have told you something about it but you have no idea what it is like.”  His breath came in short gasps as though he had been running a marathon.

“He took my right and left hands from me girl.  He cut them off when he killed my Naji and Haji.  I fought my way through HELL and came out on the other side.”  A brutal gleam of emerald green fire seemed to flicker behind his eyes.  “So I ask you one last time before the pain starts.  Where is The Sol’Estin?”

Callindra whispered so quietly that he got closer in order to hear.  When his face was mere inches from hers she spat the thick gummy saliva that had gathered in her mouth, coating his cheek.  “Go to hell.”

“Haven’t you been listening?  I’ve already been there and back.”  He hissed, and a lick of bright green fire licked from his hand.  She realized he was holding a whip of flame in each hand.  Stepping back, he cracked the lashes against her body, flaying her skin into narrow bloody strips.

She screamed in pain, not caring if she was letting her enemy see her weak.  The pain was unlike anything she had ever experienced, it subsumed her existence.  It was her entire being.  When the lashes stopped, she slumped, whimpering, tears mixing with snot and blood dripping from her mouth where she had bitten her tongue.

“Come now.”  His voice was smooth and kind, “There is no need for this child.  That piece of scum is not worth the pain.”  Gentle hands touched her wounds where Brightstar vines were already attempting to knit the damaged skin back together.  “Just tell me and it can all be over.  Just tell me where he is and your … fascinating … hair ornaments can heal your hurts.”

Callindra looked up at him through the curtain of her unbound hair.  The pollen from her tiara didn’t begin to deaden the pain, let alone assuage it entirely, but it took some of the edge off.  She couldn’t get enough breath to speak, but the glare in her eyes was enough of an answer.

“You think I will hurt you again and you are right, but not in the way you anticipate.”  The look of glee flickered around his lips sent a tremor of real fear down her spine.  He was looking to the left where she saw the slender form of Brightfang unsheathed and sitting on the anvil.

“I do not approve of the torture Daleus.”  A voice rumbled as a huge mountain of a man stepped into the ruddy light.  “Come now girl, let us solve this without further unpleasantness.”  He picked up her blade with a pair of tongs and held him over the molten rock.

“No.”  She managed to croak, “No.”

“Tell me, or Thaeran will kill your sword.”  Daleus said, his voice flat and devoid of emotion.

“I don’t know.”  She said, sobbing through tears, “I don’t know.”

“She’s lying.”  Said Daleus.

“NO!”  Callindra screamed, thrashing wildly and sending waves of fresh agony down her flayed skin.  The huge man plunged Brightfang into the lava and after a few moments, withdrew the blade, glowing red hot.  The leather wrapping on the hilt was smoldering as he set the sword down on the anvil.  He lifted a massive hammer, his bonded weapon, and brought it down in a shower of sparks.

Brightfang rang like a crystal chime, a high clear note and Thaeran looked down with a frown on his face.  “That should have broken it.”  He said in a trouble voice.  Drawing his arm back, he slammed the hammer down harder with similar result.

Callindra felt fierce pride well up in her chest.  She had not broken, and he would not break either.  Unconsciousness beckoned and she couldn’t resist.  The tendrils of Jorda’s gift grew into her torn flesh, attempting to heal the terrible wounds.

“Curse it, she has gone under again.”  Daleus snarled, “Leave that thing here.  Our time schedule is too short if she will not give us what we need The Order may give us a reward for turning her in.  Perhaps not the promised immunity, but this chit must be worth something.”

With a gesture, Daleus used his magic to increase the occasional drips of molten rock to a slow, but steady flow.  “That should keep those damn vines from healing her.”  He said in satisfaction, watching as the tiny tendrils burned and crisped under the intense heat.

“Let us go and meet the representative.  I believe he is staying at the Chapter House.”  Thaeran said, not looking at the girl as he left the chamber.

“For all your strength you have always been too soft.”  Daleus said, watching the other man leave.  “No matter.  I won’t need you soon.”

Alex Feldspar, Mundane Investigator – Chapter 1

I sat in my office chair, gingerly leaning back so that I could put my feet up on my desk.  The chair was a decrepit piece of raksa and had a tendency to give way without warning if I put too much pressure on the hinge that allowed it to swivel and tilt.  It was one of many things that was on my list of things I’d like to replace.  I opened the carved cedar cigar box and cursed under my breath.  Only one left.

There was a tap on my door and I closed the box with a sigh.  “Yeah come on in, it ain’t locked.”

The slender form of a male elf slipped through the door with willowy grace.  I always resented how they were able to move like that.  “You’re Mr. Feldspar?”  He asked, his voice chiming like perfect crystal.

“Yeah.  I’m Alex, what can I do for ya?”  I said, my fingers twitching reflexively toward my cigar box.

“I have some work for you.”  He replied, leaning forward to look me in the eyes.  His were sparkling pools of liquid blue with sparkling golden motes deep in their depths.  Normally this kind of charm would make a mortal melt, but I was more than mortal.  Or less than one, depending on how you wanted to look at it.  I was Mundane.

“What kinda work?”  I asked, giving up and snatching the last cigar from the box. The attitude most Fey creatures had about their power and influence just rubbed me the wrong way.  “My specialties are pretty narrow, but I’m damn good at what I do.”

He sat back, folding his arms and giving me a guarded look.  “So it’s true.  You really can resist it?  It has no effect on you at all?”

“What’s the job?”  I asked, getting more annoyed and lighting the cigar with a match.  “If you came here to see if you were the one who could crack the Mundie’s shell then you can just turn around and walk out.”

“I need you to investigate something for me.”  The Elf said, “My name is Trillium Greenleaf, perhaps you’ve heard of me?”

“Yeah sure.”  I said, affecting a tone of indifference.  Of course I’d heard of Trillium.  He was a local musician who was apparently all the rage.  I hadn’t seen his act yet, but only because I had been wrapping up my last case.  This guy was loaded.  “What’s the job?”

“I think someone has been following me.”  He said, gesturing elegantly with his right hand, “I want you to keep an eye out for me.”

“You want me to be your bodyguard?”  I asked, “I don’t think so Mr. Greenleaf, that ain’t really what I do.”

“You misunderstand me Alex, I want you to watch who is coming and going outside my show.  No need for you to get directly involved in anything I have competent personal protection who will take care of that.”  Trillium said airily, “It’s just that they aren’t the most observant boys in the world.”

“Ah.  All brawn, no brains?”  I said, “I know the type.  Well, that I can certainly help you with Mr. Greenleaf.  My fee is three gold pieces per day plus expenses which will not equal more than an additional two gold pieces per day.”

“Oh Mr. Feldspar, surely you don’t need to charge me the full-“ He began, eyes sparkling

“Save it Elf.”  I said, “Haven’t I already convinced you that your charms don’t work on me.  My fee is my fee.  One day in advance.  Pay it or go elsewhere.”

He opened his mouth in surprise; something I’m used to by now.  They always think some part of their magic will function as it has for as long as they’ve been alive.  They’re wrong though.  They might as well be trying to charm a stone for all the good it does.

“You’d better be worth the expense.”  He said, the glamor on his face fading further until I could see his plain, almost gaunt features clearly.  The longer I was around an enchantment, the less power it had.  Eventually even others would be able to see through it.  With a flourish, he placed a small stack of gold coins on the corner of my desk.

“Oh I assure you Trillium, I’m as worth it as your new Mistress is.  Did you know she’s trying to kill you?  I’d guess she’s only recently figured out who you really are.  I’m guessing you used a more mundane disguise and not magic.”

“What?”  He said, glaring at me.  “What makes you say I have a Mistress?”

“Well obviously, the broken blood vessels I can see peeking out from beneath your collar.  You’ve been married now for quite a time now if I recall; no wife of ten years would give you a hickey.  My theory is also supported by the fact that you’ve only got another three gold in your purse, apparently she’s been bleeding you dry.”

I grinned at him, and inclined my head.  “Would you like more evidence?  The second finger on your left hand has a swollen knuckle.  This indicates to me that you’ve been removing your ring regularly but that this is a rather recent development.  That’s why I say you haven’t been using magic to disguise yourself.”

“What makes you say she’s trying to kill me?”  He asked, leaning forward and tugging up the collar of his shirt.

“You’re here, and you’re nearly broke.”  I said giving him my best feral grin.  “Why else would a person like you seek out the services of someone like me?  She’s discovered who you are and is blackmailing you perhaps?  Doesn’t believe you’re out of money?”

He blinked in surprise and then his shoulders slumped.  “My last tour didn’t generate as much profit as it should have.  I’d dressed casually and gone out just to get a couple of drinks and relax and Cassandra was so kind, so understanding…”

“I don’t need the details of your love life.”  I said, “Unless you think they directly pertain to the issue you want me to investigate.  Is Cassandra the only one?  What’s her surname?  What demands has she made?  When’s the last time you saw her?”

I rapped out the questions rapidly, knowing that a barrage of questions usually confounded and confused the Fey, especially when they weren’t anticipating them.  With any luck I’d be able to get real answers out of him before he recovered himself enough to start lying again.  Taking a deep drag on my cigar, I exhaled smoke out my nose and leaned forward to look him in the eyes.

Here’s the thing about being a Mundane.  Elves, Dwarves, Orcs, hell even Sektar with their faceted orbs on either side of their heads, all share some of that ability to communicate on an arcane level.  Then there’s me.  When you look in my eyes there’s nothing but the reflection of your eyes looking back at you.  Nothing but yourself.

Trillium reacted differently than anyone else I’d ever stared down.  His eyes rolled back into his head and he fell out of his chair, completely unconscious.  As might be expected, Spark chose this moment to make her cheerful, irreverent appearance.

“Holy shit, I knew you were ugly Feldspar, but I never thought you’d actually KILL someone just by looking at ‘em!”  She said, popping into existence in a shower of golden glitter.

“Who’re you running from now Spark?”  I asked, fixing the pixie with a baleful glare.

“Oh, now that’s just cold Feldspar.”  She said pouting and showering my office with more glitter.  “I take the time out of my busy schedule to come and grace you with my presence and you greet me with abuse!  Always with abuse!”

“Yeah.  You’d think it would be enough to… oh I dunno, keep you away!”  I snapped, staring at the comatose form of Trillium Greenleaf.

“Seriously what happened to him?”  Spark asked, her glitter starting to fade away like morning mist as my presence started to erode the magic that created it.

“He was stupid enough to look me in the eyes.”  I said with a shrug, “I guess he didn’t like what it revealed about himself.”

“I’m not all that surprised.”  She said, perching on the unfortunate Elf’s head.  “I think this one’s done some kinda terrible shit.”

“Nah, he just feels guilty.”  I said, giving her a meaningful look. “Really guilty.  Strong emotions do strange things to the Fey.”

Her laugh was a tinkling of silver bells.  “Oh Feldspar, I know!  That’s why I never bother with any emotion other than glee!”  She spun in a circle in the air, scattering a weak circle of glitter that faded before it touched the floor.

“That and frustration, malice, vengeful rage…” I said taking a puff on my cigar to keep it lit.

“Those aren’t emotions you fool.”  She said loftily, “Those are states of being.”

I laughed in spite of myself. “As you say Spark.  Now get out of here before he comes to his senses.  You know how they get around you.”  I pointed to the comatose Elf.

Spark sighed, “You’re no fun Feldspar.”  She said with a pout, “No fun at all.  But being around you should have masked my trail well enough to make leaving safe.”

She vanished in another muted shower of glitter and I poured a glass of cool spring water from the pitcher I kept on the far side of my office.  It was a magical cold box, but as long as I didn’t come near it too often it seemed to work more or less.  I brought the water back and dabbed a bit on Trillium’s face with a clean handkerchief.

His eyes fluttered open and he shuddered.  “Earth and sky, what was that?”

“You fainted.  I’d say you’ve been working a little too hard Mr. Greenleaf.”  I said wryly, handing him the water.

He looked at me, passing a hand over his face and accepted the glass.  As he did so, his eyes traveled up my lean, rangy frame.  It may come as a surprise to those of you who look at the androgynous, beautiful Elves to know that they place a lot of importance on gender.  Even though it can sometimes be difficult to tell, I’ve seen gang wars start over some careless human mistaking the sex of an elf.

Some of them find my lack of any overt sign of my gender disconcerting.  I like it that way.  My body is my business and I never mix business with pleasure.  Messing around with clients is a good way to ruin your reputation and that’s a slippery slope nobody in my line of work recovers from.

“I have some notes you could pick up later, but for now I think it might be better for you to experience things firsthand.”  He said, as though withholding information could somehow improve an investigation.  “I’m afraid I have to leave and prepare for the show tonight.  If you could stop by at twilight?”

I nodded and he rose, recovering some of his dignity as he swept his cloak around his shoulders and left.  Elves.  What a pain in the ass.  He’d paid in advance though and I had rent to pay.  I’d had a dry spell and if I didn’t get a few more clients Dilynn was going to throw me out on my ear.  She could too, literally.  Dwarves were tough.