by Zyra Caile
Can the fearless Lady Calixte survive the demonic forces of the Raevanic Horde?
Soul Storm Chronicles
The solemn winds often kept Calixte company as she traveled across the barren wastes of Artica. More often than not, the gentle sound of the soft breeze rustling the dead leaves along her path was the only companionship she was privileged to enjoy. Very little grew along the footpaths that cut miniscule swaths through the ravaged lands of her native country. Artica used to be a vibrant, flourishing land full of abundant life; now, it was a gray canvas whose palette was devoid of any colors worth savoring. Because of her failure to stop the Raevenic Horde from seizing the Kingdom she was entrusted to protect, life itself was being drug into the blackness of oblivion, which is death.
My fault, my responsibility…
Calixte paused, coming to a stop near the junction in the paths that would lead her from the Plains of Koa to any of the three Cities of Atonement. She removed the wool tunic from her shoulders, stopping only to brush the thick strands of auburn-colored hair from her face before tucking the ragged shawl into her side satchel. Her exile from the Realm of Tsyion had turned into an exodus from the heartlands of her country, taking her as far away from the reach of the House of Anaximander as she could get. If she meant to ever return for her family and her country, Calixte would have to be better prepared. She was immensely fortunate to survive banishment, let alone make it to the western reaches.
By her count, the former priestess-turned-drifter had been banished for almost three years now, give or take a few days. The darkness choked her country and made it difficult to keep track of the days anymore, though she had endeavored to try for the first little while. In any event, the cryptic shadows which overstretched the land would only grow more pervasive as the days passed. The season of the Articans was drawing to a close—the light of Calixte’s people waxing dimer and dimer. Unless she summoned the strength of her people in short order, there would be no hope of loosing the Glorious Kingdom from the churlish hands of the Anaximanders and the Raevanic Hordes they wielded control over…
Something disturbed the dead underbrush ahead of her. Calixte instinctively took hold of the deathly cold steel which she carried on her person, feeling the weight of her people settle in the palms of her hands. There was a grove of thorn bushes ahead to the right, and someone or something was causing it to gently shake. The movement may have been imperceptible to most, but Calixte’s senses betrayed the secretive attempt of an ambush—
—Or a scared mortal trying to hide…
Slowly creeping forward, Calixte quietly pulled her sword back into a fighting posture. The brush was especially dry and frail, making any disturbance in the briar patch readily detectable. Feeling more confident by the moment, she quietly knelt beside a ragged hole in the brush, shaking her head: “The next time you wish to hide from someone, perhaps you should work on actually hiding.”
There was a commotion in the thicket. Calixte backed away from the opening, watching as a pair of weathered sandals appeared from inside the small opening. A pair of torn pants followed behind the sandals, and a young woman emerged from the underbrush. Calixte sized her up as she meekly rose from the ground, trying to dust herself off. The girl was in her early twenties, if that; narrow shoulders set against a thin frame—not quite gaunt, but definitely getting there. Her short auburn bangs were cropped close to her eyebrows, barely covering the pale complexion of her shallow face.
“Please,” the young woman pleaded, nervously holding a small shoulder bag in her clutches. “I only have a few pieces of meat left; it’s all I have to give.”
Calixte lowered the sword, shaking her head. “Keep your food, girl. There are more dangerous bandits on the highways that could be bought off with a few scraps of meat.”
The young woman studied the warrior carefully, still holding out the bag. “You don’t mean to hurt me? We don’t see a lot of that out on the roads anymore.”
“A lot of what?”
The young woman shrugged. “Mercy, ma’am.”
Calixte stared after the young girl as she hefted the light bag back onto her shoulder, straightening the thick strap against the base of her neck. “Don’t anticipate receiving much more of it if you plan to make yourself such an inviting target. What were you doing in the brush?”
A sudden wave of apprehension flooded the young woman’s face. “I was hiding from the specters, ma’am. The risen dead.”
As she spoke, Calixte could feel sudden waves of coldness wash over her; the rancid stench of decaying flesh thick in the air up ahead where she meant to go. She turned to the girl, whose countenance was bowed up in a fit of fright. “You’re going to need more than a thorn bush to protect you from the specters, youngling.”
The woman opened her mouth to speak, but stopped short once the first utterances of the unclean rumbled from up ahead. Calixte pulled the girl behind her, bringing up her broadsword in a defensive posture. Then the first one appeared, crouching low along the edge of the path from around the bend. Half of the creature’s face was missing, along with a sizable portion of the left arm. It groaned as it steadied its gait, leading three more specters around the hill ahead. Within seconds, at least a dozen specters were hungrily trotting forward, some on all fours.
You’re going to have to use your power…
Calixte cursed under her breath, raising the sword in front of her face. Focusing her spirit directly, she began to channel the energy around her, chanting incantations that had not been given utterance for many moons. The young woman grasped her tightly as the skies began to open up above them. The horde of specters was less than two hundred feet away and coming on fast.
“Raz’ni Ga! Let the souls of the damned find their rest!” Calixte screamed loudly, thrusting her sword high into the air. The young woman stared in awe as a charge of a violet lightning bolted from the sky above, saturating the blade and causing it to glow brightly. The horde was fast approaching; she could smell the malodorous wave of decay begin to overpower her senses.
With a powerful swipe, Calixte drew the sword around in a swinging motion, ripping the air in front of the horde as they neared arm’s length. A brilliant wave of destructive energy flowed from the sword, sweeping through the mongrels in a fiery display of perfect desecration. The purple energy flowed in a kinetic frenzy of energy, cutting the specters asunder where they stood. In a moment, the display was over, and the two were alone on the path again.
You need to find cover, fast…
“What was that?” The woman stammered, slowly backtracking away from the warrior. “How did you just do that? Who are you?”
“My name is Calixte,” she sighed, sheathing her broadsword as the glow began to dissipate. “I’m a Sentinel, formerly in the graces of my liege, the sovereign regent of the Kingdom of Artica.”
The young woman gasped, her eyes widening in disbelief. “I’m Dariea… are you Lady Calixte?”
A slight nod was given in return as she knelt down to the ground, clinching a fist full of dry dust. “In your waking presence, youngling. The last of the Sentinels.”
“Oh, my!” Dariea stammered. “Oh, my, my! My folks won’t believe this! A real, live Sentinel? Not a chance they’ll—”
Calixte cut her off, feeling an uneasiness in the atmosphere around her. “If it were any other time, I would be happy to regale you with any exploit you wished to fawn over. But in five minutes, this entire valley is going to be swarming with specters sent direct from Tsyion. We need to find cover, and fast!”
The posture of the young woman dropped as Calixte’s words sunk in. She shook her head, trying to make sense of the command. “We, ah… my family’s cottage, it’s not too far from here! We could make it on foot if we go now.”
Calixte nodded succinctly, drawing out her short knives. “Lead the way.”