The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 63

“I could have gutted her by accident.”  Reed said darkly, “Just walking in like that.  Don’t these people know that there’s a war on outside?  A year ago she’d have been bleeding out on the floor.”

“Somehow I think she was a lot more than she appeared to be,”  Callindra said, narrowing her eyes.  “She definitely checked us all out and I’m certain she will be telling her mistress what she observed.”

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Rrayu giving her a considering glance.  The woman who was to be her lady’s maid turned deliberately back to the closet and withdrew a brilliant red garment.  It had wide trouser legs that gave the illusion of skirts but still had the mobility of trousers.  The top was also flowing red silk that overlapped to tie and then be covered by a matching sash. Small vines picked out in an impossibly emerald green twined about the hems with tiny white and gold flowers peeking through.  Brightstar flowers.

“I think this will be an admirable compromise, My Lady.”  She said, laying it out on the bed.  “Now you go so that our Lady may dress in private.”  Reed rolled his eyes but left without dissent.

“You’ve been keeping this in reserve haven’t you?”  Callindra accused, sliding out of the robe and allowing Rrayu to assist her in dressing.  She couldn’t help but admire the feeling of the silk as it slid over her skin.

“Of course, although I was fairly certain I would have convinced you eventually, you must make an appearance in the dining room below.”  She surveyed the effect the outfit had and gave a reluctant nod.  “This will have to do.”

Callindra looked at herself in the mirror and barely recognized herself.  The shoulder-length ragged ends of her hair were now sculpted into a quite stylish and intentional looking cut.  The clothing fit her beautifully, managing to make her whipcord thinness look dangerously feminine like a hunting cat.  She smiled, and turned to Rrayu, giving the other woman a hug.

“You’re a miracle worker!  This looks amazing!”  She stepped back and performed a few lunges and cuts, Shadowsliver’s twin tips whistling through the air.  “And I can still move in it.  Do you really think this is going to make a difference?”

“My Lady is too kind.”  Rrayu said, “The transformation from your travel-worn self to this version should be sufficient to convince most that you have some claim to a title.”

“A title?  But I do actually have a title.”  Callindra said, lowering her sword and looking at her maid.  “I am the Sol’Estin, Master of the North Wind.”

She hadn’t ever spoken those words aloud, gods and demons she’d barely even thought them, but as they left her mouth she realized that they were true.  Glarian was dead, and with his death, the mantle of Sol’Estin was now hers and hers alone.  Even inside a building underground and far from the raging power of the Great Winds, a gust of air rattled the shutters briefly and a tiny zephyr tugged at Shadowsliver’s chain.

Rrayu was looking at her with a shocked expression on her face and jumped when the wind blew.  “Oh!”  She looked around, as though fearing something might step from a corner of the room and whisk her away to gods all knew where.

“My Master had many enemies however, so I think it might not be the most productive thing to spread around.”  She paused and looked at Rrayu.  “Are you alright?  You look like someone just walked over your grave.”

“I just didn’t know you were a …” She trailed off, staring at her feet and swallowing hard.  “That’s a Mage’s Title.”

“It’s much more than just a Mage’s title, but that is part of what it means.”  Callindra said, “Is that a problem?”

“Not with me,”  Rrayu said, still looking down.  “However, it may complicate things with Ellen Eth.”

The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 54

“Gods and demons, I knew those bastards would be looking for me after Shojin saw me at the smithy but I had no idea they’d get the word out this fast.”  She shook the chain into a merry jingle. “I need a sheath for you, I’ll have to gather some appropriate materials before we leave here.”

She got a distinct sense that this new blade didn’t want to be sheathed.  Like some newborn babies she had seen, Shadowsliver wanted to be held.  Well, she’d have to work on that.  For now, Callindra was simply thrilled to have her partner and soulmate back.  She would take him however she could get him.

They had been following the Hand for days, following a grueling pace and still they had no idea how close they were to their destination.  Callindra was beginning to feel apprehension about their destination though.  When they consulted their maps, she looked along the line of their travel and the only place that was directly in their path was Citadel Adbar.

“I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but we seem to be aimed straight at a place we don’t want to visit.”  She said after yet another uneventful day of travel.

Vilhylm gave her a questioning look and she winced, remembering his connection to the Countess who they had failed to protect.  Tryst seemed to understand and opened his mouth to speak, but she was faster.

“The only city along our current line of travel is the one surrounding the Citadel Adbar.”  She said, “I can’t imagine that the Countess Adbar didn’t get infected with the Abyssal disease at random, not if there is a piece of our puzzle there.”

She almost regretted her words when she saw the ashen look on Vil’s face, but it needed to be spoken aloud.  “I don’t want us to walk into anything with our eyes closed.”  Callindra said, “I’m sorry Vil, but we need to look at this right in the face.  She was under the control of the Abyss and if her citadel is also, we are in serious trouble.”

Visibly shaking off his dark mood, Vilhylm nodded.  “It would be foolish to enter into the situation blind.  How would we know without going in though?  Her infection was so subtle we never even saw it.  Not even Tryst saw it.”

“We can try to form a plan once we get a good look at the place.”  Cronos said, “There’s no reason to panic before we see the lay of the land.  Let’s go in with our guard up but without any preconceived ideas about what we’ll find.  That way we’ll be more likely to see anything unusual.”

“Good idea Cronos.”  Tryst said, “There is no reason to judge the situation until we see it for ourselves.”

“Yeah.  Maybe.”  Callindra didn’t sound convinced.  “You all can keep an open mind.  I’m going to keep my guard up.”

“When are you going to make a sheath for that sword sister?”  Cronos asked, giving her a quizzical look.  “I don’t think that’s a very safe way of carrying it.”

“What’s wrong with it?”  Callindra reached up to touch Shadowsliver’s hilt over her right shoulder.  Just touching his hilt gave her a thrill of happiness that was only slightly spoiled by the tickle of his edges cutting into her skin.  Instead of a sheath, she had begun simply tucking her sword between her skin and her armor.  He seemed very pleased with the arrangement, but unfortunately she was acquiring an unsettling number of small cuts every time she moved.

“Isn’t it cutting you?”  He asked, “That edge makes my shaving razor look dull.”

“Yeah.  But it’s not a big deal.”  She said, “I just haven’t found the right leather yet and I like to keep him close.”

“You realize that sounds a little unbalanced right?”  He said, giving her a wry look.  “That thing is chained to your wrist.  It’s not like it can go anywhere.”

“I don’t think you’ll ever understand what it’s like Cronos.”  Callindra said, “This goes beyond the relationship you have with your blades.  He is my life.”

“Yeah, but why let ‘him’ cut you?  You’re crazy sister.”  He said with a grin.  “What the hell kind of relationship is that?”

They crested a small rise and saw a deep valley below with a wide trade road entering a fortified city.  Dozens of wagons were coming and going.  The scene was so completely normal that it put Cronos and Callindra on edge as much as it seemed to relax Tryst and Vilhylm.

Gravelox and Gearslayer

Just another gaming character intro.  I know… seems like with all these games I’m playing I probably don’t have time to write, work, sleep… but hell, let’s just say I’d rather be gaming!  Besides, I need more little inspirational outlets, otherwise I’ll get stuck with the dreaded writer’s block.  Or have to admit that I’m stuck on some of my other stories.  Whatever.  Here’s some steampunk inspired fantasy fiction.  Hope you enjoy it.

Gravelox grumbled as he struggled to loosen one of the bolts on Gearslayer.  The adjustable spanner in his hand gripped the heavy iron hexagon in its steel jaws and the gnome hauled on it with a grunt of effort.  The rusted bolt shrieked as it twisted, the only warning that it was suddenly loosening and he very nearly split his knuckles on the construct’s thick leg.

“Blasted rain storm caught us out too long.”  He muttered, “Didn’t have time to clean and dry you off after that idiot Verlak and his blasted orcs forced us to mush ‘em into paste.  Blood gets into the joints and seizes things up.”

The bolt came all the way free and Gearslayer’s leg moved sideways, revealing half an orc’s torso that had gotten crammed into the massive iron scorpion’s leg joint near where it connected to the body.  The orc’s ax was tangled in the cabling there as well and was fouling the motion of the limb.

“Scummer and murrain, the pox take those crow’s eaten green skinned yellow livered inbred slugs!  One joke about the possibility of their mothers breeding with tusked slugs and they get all bent out of shape.”  With the assistance of a pry bar, he began levering the orc free from where it had been mangled into the leg joint.  “Sparkplug, a bit of light over here if you please!  I need the contrast of color to be able to see where to – oof – pry.”

With a soft hum and buzz, a mechanical lightning bug the size of the Gnome’s doubled fists flitted over on thinly stamped Mithril wings to land on Gearslayer’s side and light began to shine from his posterior.  After a few moments of careful prying, the orc’s helmeted skull popped free and the creature fell to the floor with a sickening splatter.

“Rust and ruin I’m going to have to release this cable and re-string it.  This poxy rat of a shoddy ax is crammed in here too tight.”  He busied himself with more spanners, pliers, lubricants and got the cable loosened.  The ax fell, but the gnome’s ears twitched in agitation when he saw that the blade had shorn through half the thick strands of steel.

“Good thing Verlak had some coin on him.”  Gravelox muttered darkly, “This is going to cost me more gold and you’ll be on five legs until I can get a new cable made.”

He shuffled back into the interior of his workshop, past the steam hammer and forge to his desk.  Pulling a pencil from his apron pocket, he sharpened it and scribbled an order with precise tensile strength, diameter and length down on it.

“Sparkplug, I need you to take this to Drandlain’s Ironworks.”  He said, folding the parchment and sealing it with a blob of dark green sealing wax.  “Tell her to deliver it.  And to hurry.  I’m far too busy to be mucking about leaving my shop and engaging in any more tomfoolery of the sort that pox ridden Verlak likes to engage in.  Not that he’ll be troubling anyone anymore eh?  EH?”  Chuckling at his own joke, the Gnome slid the message into his mechanized familiar’s message tube and sent it buzzing on its way.

Gravelox looked around his workshop and sighed.  So many projects he had started and not finished.  So many failures that had nearly ended in death.  So many years of study and research.  Finally, his project was finished.  Predictably, just when his masterpiece was going out for its walkabout, that big jerk had to pick a fight.

He scratched idly at the spot just behind his right ear where his skull was still healing around the steel shunt that plugged into his brain.  Although the others had all said he was insane for drilling holes in his head for the sake of his research, he sure had showed them!  Or he would.  Once things were ready.

“Pressure.  Just like the engine in Wrenn’s ship.”  He muttered.  “But not with the same kind of propellant.  Don’t like that hydrogen.  No booms.  That’s why I use heat, pressure, proper applications of springs, cams and cables, clockwork and just a touch of aethercrafting.  That’s why you’re my masterpiece.”

Gearslayer rattled its metal mandibles in response and Gravelox felt satisfied amusement in his head.  The same device that gave him access to control the metal monster without words or gestures also allowed its collection of gears, wires, crystals and aethercraft to respond with vague emotions and sometimes with single syllable words.  He smiled, thinking about how shocked his naysayers would be.

“Just like I said, once it’s awakened my dear little pet can think!  A thinking machine.”  His grin spread wider, “I think I’m only a few steps away from proving my theory about the former existence of the sentient steel creatures called Warforged that I found reference to in several historical texts.  It’s only a matter of time, eh Gearslayer?”

The metal construct tapped at the workshop floor with a foreleg as though impatient.  Gravelox chuckled, feeling his friend’s anticipation of things to come.

“Yes, while I’m waiting for that replacement cable perhaps I will finish your tail and its injectors hmm?”  He moved to his workbench where a rotating set of copper cylinders sat next to an apparatus with a sturdy, retractable needle.  Fiddling with his aether powered brazing torch he brought it to a fine point, heating the copper, brass and glass tubing so it could be twisted into the proper shape and soldered together.  Humming quietly to himself, he continued to work long into the night.

It was most of a week before the replacement cable came in.  During that time, Gravelox began playing with other high-pressure systems.  With the addition of aethercraft, he had constructed a modified bolt thrower that could outperform any crossbow.  The biggest advantage it offered, other than being more compact and being able to throw a much heavier missile, was the rotating cartridge that he had modeled after Gearslayer’s tail injector.

By spinning the machined steel tubes, he could fire a dozen shots as rapidly as any archer with a bow without sacrificing the accuracy and compact size of a crossbow.  Also, he could choose certain bolts and load them in certain barrels to be able to choose blunt, armor piercing or regular broad heads swiftly.  He chuckled in satisfaction after firing a series of practice bolts into a target across the workshop.

“Oh this will be perfect!”  He said.  Gearslayer clattered his front claws in derision.  “Of course you can cut them apart or mush them into paste, but I would rather not get that close unless absolutely necessary.”

Drandlin knocked on his front door.  He knew it was her because only that irascible Dwarf knocked instead of using the bell pull.  She always claimed to have forgotten, but he suspected she just liked to punch things.  Setting down his … bolt thrower?  He was going to have to come up with a clever name for it… Gravelox hurried to answer the door.

“Got yer bedamned cable.”  Drandlin grated, turning her head to spit a stream of tobacco juice into the alley behind his workshop.  “The hell’d you do to break the last one I sent ya?  Coulda lifted this pile of rat droppings you call a workshop with it.”

“Ah.  It got cut.  Maybe there was a flaw in it.”  Gravelox said, then had to duck another stream of tobacco juice as Drandlin aimed one at his face.  “I was only joking!”

“Yer sense a humor’s gonna get ya splattered onea these days gnome.”  She said.  “Where ya want this cable then?”

Gearslayer had come up behind Gravelox with far more stealth than a metal beast ought to be able, especially with one of his legs removed, and he reached over their heads to pluck the cable from the cart with its huge crushing claw.  Drandlin gaped as Gearslayer retreated back into the workshop.

“Just a few repairs.”  Gravelox said, and shut the door in her face.  Having the last word really was one of the best jokes ever.