The early morning sunlight awakened Callindra from troubling dreams. Her head throbbed and she wisely refrained from trying to sit up. “Mylee?” She whispered, even that level of vocalization sending daggers of pain into her temples.
She remembered seeing a horrifying scene of people fighting in her dreams. Thousands of people standing behind a row of glittering spear points, as soldiers bravely stood in front of a phalanx of charging horsemen. A boy running toward the horsemen with a bow made of steel on his back seemed to look right at her … did he shout her name? It was all hazy behind the pain and she shoved the memories aside.
“Mylee?” she croaked again, trying to raise her voice.
“My Lady.” Mylee said softly, but her voice was still too loud. “Please drink this tea. It will help your head.”
Callindra tried, but a wave of dizziness caused her stomach to flip and she nearly vomited. “I can’t.” She whispered, so faintly that the girl barely heard her.
The door opened and the sound of the footfalls coming across the wood plank floor made Callindra’s head spin. “Fool girl.” The Maalrah’s voice grated, “I dinne ken why yeh would do such a thing. I dinne ha time fer yeh ta be layin in bed.”
In spite of the roughness of her voice, the old woman’s hands were gentle as they carefully touched the back of Callindra’s neck. Coolness spread through her heated body and took the pain away. Her vision cleared and she was able to see the others in the room.
“That was healing magic wasn’t it?” She said, fixing the Maalrah with a mildly accusatory look.
“Of course you silly wench, now keep it to yourself. If word gets out, I’ll be swamped with nothing but idiots begging me to patch up their owies.” Callindra realized the older woman was speaking Auran and smiled. This was going to take some time to get used to.
“Mylee. We need to get the leaders together, our time is… limited. We need to act quickly before it’s too late.”
“I will see to it personally my Lady.” Mylee said, “Are you … feeling better?”
“Better enough my dear. Could you please set out that new dress I asked to have made and my sword belt?”
“Your sword belt?” Her maid sounded confused, “Are you sure?”
“It survived.” Callindra replied, “If Dorgaard will allow it, I’ll keep it. Seems like I owe it to him.”
“What? Why would you owe Dorgaard anything?” Mylee asked, confusion on her face.
“No, not Dorgaard, the sword.” Callindra said with a mysterious smile, “It feels like… I’ve done this before.”
“Sometimes I’m glad you don’t remember your past my Lady.” Mylee said, a slight frown on her face, “It almost seems like you used to be a very different person.”
“Well, regardless of who I was before I am who I am now. Nothing will change that.” The skepticism was clear on her friend’s face, “I swear it. Now go lay out my clothes.”
With a nod, Mylee left the sick room, but the frown was still on her face. One more step away from friend. One more step towards worshiper. Damnation.
“I asked you all to assemble and you have all gathered to hear my words. I thank you.” Callindra took in the assembled men; nearly every Clan Chief was here; more than twice what she had expected. Apparently the word of the little girl from the city who had the Berserk and slaughtered droves of Abyssal Spawn had spread quickly.
Callindra stood in the main feast hall wearing the dress she had commissioned. It was made of sturdy material and slit for riding, but cut in a fashionable style. The corset had metal bands instead of whale boning, allowing it to almost be armor. The rapier Dorgaard had given her looked impressive, but she had to always keep her hand on the hilt to keep the bedamned thing from tangling in her skirts.
“This threat of the Abyss is real, and it is possible that they are, for whatever reason drawn to me. I do not know why, but I do know I refuse to sit here and wait for them to try and kill me.” Her gaze swept over them, and she could see the effect it had. They were nearly in the palm of her hand, but why? She hadn’t even done anything.
“I intend on taking the fight to them, and I happen to know where this started. I know where their leader is. He almost fell to me once before although he sought to slip into my room unnoticed and stab me in my sleep.” Her eyes seemed to flash with anger to those watching and a swirl of wind caused the banners on the walls to flutter. Her hair blew out around her head, escaping from the silk ribbon she had used to tie it back.
“This time I am ready for him. This time, I am armed. If we are to win against the threat of the Abyssal monsters that have invaded our island we must face them together. That is why I am not riding to put Caer Corwell under a siege. I go to exterminate vermin.” Her voice was hard, “The so-called ‘lord’ Daleus ‘te Jerran is not just a traitor to his people; he has sold himself to the Abyss, and I will see him dead for his betrayal.”
I go to eliminate him and any of his kind who dare to tread on my island and this time I am NOT ALONE!” She drew her sword in a glittering arc, “If any of you have the stones to follow me into battle, I call you to do so now. I leave within the hour.” She didn’t wait for them to ask questions. She didn’t wait for any of them to agree. Instead, she spun on her heel and stalked from the room as though simply expecting them to follow. They followed.
“I hate this plan.” Mylee whispered, “I hate everything about this plan. I can’t believe I allowed you to talk me into it.”
“I refuse to let more of my people kill each other Mylee.” Callindra whispered fiercely, “Not if I can help it. We have plenty of Abyss to destroy if they’re interested in killing something.”
“Yes, but why do you have to be the one to do this?” The girl asked.
“I’ve told you already. I have to be seen defeating him. It has to be me, otherwise they won’t believe it. They won’t follow me.” Callindra tucked a wayward strand of hair back behind her ear. “If I don’t unite us we will all be swallowed up.” She shuddered, feeling the weight of the truth in her words.
“I … why does it have to be you?”
“Who else is there? Now keep quiet and find me a way up there!”
Dorgaard was the battle leader. He had lead the united forces of The Comhairle nan Eilean Siar to the gates of Caer Corwell. She wasn’t certain that Talcomnis had gotten her communication and hadn’t been able to wait to see what his response was. Either way, she hoped that the men outside the gates would be distraction enough even without a small fleet of ships threatening the harbor.
“I believe I can hook my grapnel over the crenellation up there, but we’ll have to be fast. His guards are actually fairly competent, which is a surprise.” Mylee whirled the rope and hook only once, releasing it at the top of the arc. “I’m going first.” She said and swarmed up the rope before Callindra could respond.
Callindra began climbing as soon as her friend had reached the top. To her surprise, it was actually quite easy and she reached the top of the wall in just a few moments. The view was quite literally breathtaking. The citadel was perched on the edge of a sheer cliff on one side and the city spread out below, all the way down to the bay. On the bay side of the city, the sun was just clearing the horizon, painting the clouds with a crimson brush.
She could see her forces arrayed threateningly outside the walls of the Citadel and to her distinct pleasure there were a number of ships in the harbor flying Talcomnis’s flag. The wind buffeted her playfully and she had to keep herself from laughing in exhilaration. Was this really going to work? Only if she could find Daleus, and quickly.
Mylee began a crouching run along the walls toward the city’s gates. The majority of the city guard were down there, addressing the clear threat of several thousand men doing what they did best. Making a lot of noise.
“I don’t see Daleus’s banner, do you?” Callindra asked, following the other woman and trying to keep a low profile. It was no easy task due to the steel boning in her corset, but she was willing to take the protection over the flexibility this time.
“It’s down by the gate.” Mylee said tersely, “I don’t think we’ll make it there without being spotted either.”
“As soon as we’re away from the Citadel we can just use city streets. Nobody is going to recognize us and pretty much everyone is going to be on the walls anyway right?” Even as she said those words, a pair of soldiers stepped from a hidden guard post, one lowering his spear at them and the other turning to run the opposite direction.
“Shit!” Mylee pulled something from her belt and flung it at the retreating figure. With a whirling sound, a set of weights strung on a rope flew from her hands and wrapped around his legs, bringing him down hard. The other man stabbed at Callindra with his spear, the point driving through her skirt as she leaped lightly into the air and landed directly on the haft of the weapon.
The crosstrees of the spear became tangled in her skirts and the frustrated soldier dropped it, drawing a short sword from his belt instead. With the speed of a striking snake, Mylee lashed out with her leg, her shin connecting with his face with a cringe-worthy thud. A quick investigation of the soldier who had run showed he had struck his forehead on the stone wall and was unlikely to raise a hue and cry any time soon.
“We got lucky.” Mylee muttered, “The sooner we’re off this wall the better.” The sound of a throat clearing behind them made them both spin, Callindra pulling her sword from its sheath and Mylee drawing a pair of daggers.
“My apologies.” Said Claymore, stepping out of the shadows.
“Claymore?” Callindra couldn’t believe it, “You survived? How?” The man had been her personal Reeve when she had lived in the city.
“Ah, well. I have… a variety of talents. One of the main ones is knowing how to survive and that mostly involves knowing how to remain innocuous.” He shrugged deprecatingly, “If you would like… I can bring you anywhere you would like to go in the city. You will get there quickly and unnoticed.”
“What? How?” Callindra asked.
“Yes.” Mylee said at the same time.
Claymore looked at Callindra and winked. “Magic of course.” With a wave of his hand, he shimmered and his clothes became the uniform of a guard captain. Looking down, she saw that she and Mylee both appeared to be a guardsman as well, wearing the polished breastplate with the gray and black of the Watch.
“Let’s go.” She said, not wanting to think about it too much. Magic was dangerous. At that thought, her mind whirled and she saw an old man’s face, long white hair caught in a wrist thick braid that hung all the way down his back. The man looked at her and spoke, something vast moving behind his steel gray eyes.
‘You are an awakening mage Callindra, nothing can stop that. Your unfortunate contact with Daleus seems to have accelerated your body’s ability to channel the Weave. Even as we speak the winds have been reflecting your mood.’
What in the hell was that? She shook her head to clear the cobwebs. She must have zoned out for almost a minute, they were much further down the wall, almost to the front gates. They were sailing past guards, all of whom saluted Claymore. Apparently his disguise was well chosen. The roar of her men was now clearly audible.
“Come on out an fight ya spineless coward!” That would have to be Dorgaard. The men around her muttered angrily, looking to where their captain stood on the wall. It wasn’t Daleus under the flag. Damn.
“Captain, how long we gonna sit here and take this?” A soldier grumbled, “These damn savages have no bloody right to insult us like this.”
“Easy now. He’ll will be here soon. He won’t stand for this.” The captain said, “Just stay calm. No need to do a damn thing. They can’t even hit us with arrows from here, there’s no point in us wasting our ammunition. Those… things are still out there. Hopefully they’ll take care of the gods damned savages for us.”
Behind him a door slammed open and Daleus walked onto the wall. “What in the Nine Hells is going on here? Goddamn northmen, what do they want?”
Callindra couldn’t wait; she felt something pulling at her. The winds came up beneath her, blowing away the illusion that surrounded her. She almost felt as though her body was rising above the ground as she spoke in ringing tones.
“Daleus, you are an agent of the unholy! I hereby charge you with a betrayal of us all. You have sold your soul to the Abyss. I judge you and find you WANTING!” Her voice echoed over the wall, the battlefield and all fell silent.
The man began to laugh, and as his laughter rang out over the city, something began to change. The sky seemed to darken and the very ground began to tremble. “I. Will. Be. Your. Undoing.” The thing that had once been Daleus took a single step toward Callindra and terror overtook her. She turned and ran, not even thinking about what she was doing.
Only through an extreme act of will was she able to stop at the corner of the wall. Behind her, the surf crashed against the bottom of the cliff. Callindra turned to see the end of a whip, curling with emerald fire cracking before her face. The explosion threw her from the wall, plummeting toward the rocks.
“You see what following this little girl will bring you?” The thing that had once been Daleus turned toward the men on the field. “I have ended her. She is NOTHING!”
Behind him, the form of Callindra rose, standing on the air. Her hand reached out and the air beneath his body exploded, knocking him off the wall. “I have judged you and FOUND YOU WANTING!” She screamed, turning and striking him in the chest even as he fell. The look of surprise on his face was almost comical as her hand hit him with terrible force.
The aftershock of Callindra’s attack echoed across the wall and over the battlefield. “I am Callindra Stormchild. I am here to destroy the Abyss that has infected our island. I will not rest until we are free of their threat. Let this promise be a bond, from me to the land and its people. All of its people.”