I wanted to share a snippet from my upcoming "Drunken Faery Adventure" (aka The Lost Ancients world) novella coming out next week! The faeries aren't in this snippet-- these are the first pages, but trust me, they are there! And sadly being covered in fish is not going to be the worst thing Jadiera has to deal with. (sorry about the funky formatting--it looks normal in the book ;))
The anthology can be found here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B092R7VQ83/
My short story is The Dangerous Lady.
Jadiera tossed aside the fish that had landed on her head. And the ones that covered most of her body. The short rat bastards who’d tossed her out in the bin of fish and then threw more on her, would get what was coming. At some point. Might be years down the line, but they would get it. Their laughter as they walked away made it easier for her to judge when she was ready to climb out of the bin. After a few minutes of complete silence she stuck her head up and peered around.
The alley was empty, or mostly so. Zulc was still there. His bulky shadow as he leaned against the building blocked most of the light from the closest sputtering lamp. Of course, he’d have an excellent reason as to why he hadn’t helped her, then come with her hoping to get some of her meager food funds. Never mind that she’d shared what she had when they started this ill-fated trip.
Zulc was a minotaur, but sadly not one of the brightest of his kind. He was big and brawny, but also one of the biggest cowards she knew.
Jadiera walked over to him slowly, patting herself down to make sure all the fish were gone. If they were going to dump her in fish, the bastards could have at least done so in fish that was edible. The smollens were bait fish; only thing that ate them were bigger fish.
“Sorry, ‘diera. There were a lot of them.” He didn’t even look sorry. The least he could do would be to fake it.
Jadiera shook her head. “They were gnomes, Zulc. Gnomes. There could have been a hundred of them and you could have stopped them.”
Gnomes ruled the town of Liverport and most of them were fishermen. Still, Jadiera had acted on a tip and taken Zulc, herself, and her ship the Sea Queen to Liverport for a courier job. One that was a trap for someone else entirely and ended with her in the fish dumpster when they realized she wasn’t their target.
Jadiera supported herself by traveling between the islands that made up the Sendai kingdom. Usually she was fine alone, this time the job sounded larger so she brought on Zulc. The job was a fake and now she was stuck with him, no money, and nothing to carry off this wretched island.
Zulc wandered ahead of her as they made their way out of the alley. She was more focused on the damage done to her dress than anything else. The two thugs who jumped in front of her were not expected, but she should have realized this trip was only going one direction. Down.
“Hey, Marco, look at this fine lady. How much for a tumble?” The front male wasn’t much taller than her, most likely human mixed with gnome. His friend was about the same, only skinnier.
“I’m not the kind of woman you’re looking for.” She pulled out her dagger from its hidden sheath. It was almost long enough to be a short sword, but whatever it was called, it was pointed, sharp, and she knew how to use it.
“Aye, we’ll be the judge of that.” The closer one lunged forward, sniffed, and scurried backward so quickly that he bowled over his companion and they both fell in a heap.
Jadiera would like to think it was because they got a good look at her blade. But most likely they got a good whiff of her. The aroma was bad and getting worse. She stepped forward waving her dagger anyway. “I’d run if I were you, the curse of the fish hag will follow you everywhere!” She raised her arms high above her head and chanted a few harmless words she’d gathered from her last courier trip to the Othierian Islands. Lots of sorcerers there, but nice people. The words she shouted were from a menu of foods available at a pub there. But they sounded scary.
The words, dagger, and her smell got them to flee. All of that and still no Zulc in sight.
She finally found him in the pub of the inn they’d taken rooms at. He nodded to her from his seat. She sighed, nodded back, and kept going to the outside stairs. The smell of her clothes was making her eyes water and the people in the pub would probably lynch her if she stepped inside. The room she’d taken was small and shabby, but it had solid walls, and an uncommon and most welcome private bath. She’d paid for water to have been drawn and it was there. A check revealed they’d drawn it long ago and it was ice cold, but right now, she didn’t care. She used some of her precious soap supply to lather herself a few times, then got out and dumped her clothing in and scrubbed it as best she could. The room had a tiny fireplace with a single pathetic log in it, but after she put on something warm and dry, she got the fire going and hung out her damp clothing. Hopefully, she’d gotten enough of the smell out, but her nose had become numb to it, so she couldn’t be certain.
She dug through her pack to bring out some hardtack and a withered apple. She’d been looking forward to a hot meal in the pub, but the way this evening had gone so far, it was safer to stay in here. Not to mention, no job meant no more funds coming in.
She warmed some water for tea in her battered travel kettle, ate her meal, and climbed into bed. Hopefully, a good night’s sleep would make things seem better in the morning.
She’d just dozed off and was dreaming of a successful haul; carrying a single chest from one island to the next and getting paid riches each time she landed, when the world shook apart.
Jadiera always slept with her dagger under her pillow. It was in her hand and she was on her feet before the rumbling stopped. Fast reflexes were the only thing that had kept her alive this long.
The wall opposite her tiny fireplace had been hit so hard that cracks now ran through it.
“Crap.” Not only did it ruin her sleep, but that was the room Zulc took. He wasn’t really her employee, more like he felt she might help him earn money and she felt the same. Still, she should check on him. Maybe he just got too drunk and misjudged his bed. She kept her dagger out just in case anyway as she crept into the corridor.
“Zulc?” She lightly called his name before she knocked on the door. No answer but the door swung open at her touch. The bits of frame that flaked off as it moved told her someone had let themselves in before her. The room was dark, but there was no movement. Keeping her dagger up, she reached into her pocket for a small glow; a magically charged ball of light that could be used by non-magic users, or in her case, very low-level magic users. On her own, she could use small spells, nothing powerful. But wasting her little bit of magic on a glow was something she hadn’t had to do yet.
She held the glow up then started swearing and raised her dagger as well.
Zulc was dead. It had been his massive, broken body being flung against the wall that caused the rumble in her room. And there was no being she knew of that could survive with a neck bent at that angle. From her quick glance, someone had searched his room, possibly they were doing it when he came back up from the pub. Zulc might be a coward when it came to defending her, but if someone was after his things he would have fought with cocky surety. Which normally would have been well placed. Few people could beat a minotaur in a hand-to-hand fight. She shuddered at the fact someone had beat him, broken his neck, and managed to throw him across the room.
The smart thing would be to grab her stuff, get on the Sea Queen, and flee. But sailing in unknown waters at night was a bad idea. Her being alone would only make it worse. And she’d really like to find a courier job before she left. She darkened the glow and with a quick look down the hallway, got back to her room and bolted the door.
The few things she’d taken out of her bag were piled back in; she just left the drying clothes out. If need be, she’d leave them behind, but she only had three changes of clothes, so she’d rather not. Although, if whoever killed Zulc had done so because of some connection to her, she’d burn the clothes herself.
She moved the small table and even the chair with her damp clothes in front of the door to at least slow anyone down who tried to get in. Then sat propped up on the bed with her dagger out and waited.
She had no idea when she dozed off, but a pounding on the door made her realize that she had and that crumbled sideways while sitting on a bed wasn’t the best way to sleep. Luckily, she’d dropped her dagger and hadn’t stabbed herself with it. There were five-hundred-year-olds who felt less stiff than she did right now.
Light from the predawn stabbed its way through the thin curtain and the pounding on the door continued. She tucked her dagger into the sheath she had hidden in her skirts and opened the door an inch. “Yes? I paid through the day after next.” She seriously doubted that she was going to stay anywhere near that long, but they already had her money.
“You came in with a minotaur.” It wasn’t a question. This was the owner of the inn and pub, an old fighter, but still enough muscle that he could have been the one who beat up Zulc—if Zulc had been drunk.
“Yes? We traveled to Liverport together, I thought it safer to have someone his size travel with me.” She gave him her best winsome smile and blinked innocently. She had no idea what had happened to Zulc to leave him in the state she found him. But she did know that she didn’t want to be connected with it, or him. She was grateful that he hadn’t tried to help her with the gnomes who dumped her in the bait. Fewer people to connect them.
He scowled back. “You two weren’t together?”
“No…is he in trouble? He helped me on my ship, for a few coins, but if he needs something, maybe I can help?” She tried to put some sweetness into her voice. She really should have taken those acting lessons her father offered when she was a kid.
He leaned down to stare into her eyes. Then finally pulled back with a grunt. “He got himself killed. Last night. In the room next to yours.” He folded his arms and glared down at her.
“What happened? I wasn’t feeling well. Ship travel makes me dizzy sometimes, so a healer gave me some dolithia to sleep. I took it right when I got in here and only just woke up when you knocked.” Dolithia was a ground herb used by some outer islanders as a sleep potion. Usually on the other end of a dart or arrow and against their enemies, but it also could be used in a medicinal sense. Jadiera might not be a good actress, but she gathered knowledge like a miser gathered gold.
“Hmmm, heard of that. Dangerous. You might not have woken at all.” He rubbed his gray beard and stepped back. “I’m thinkin’ that minotaur got his nose into something he shouldn’t of. Nothing to do about you. Come on down when you’re ready, the missus will make you some breakfast.” He looked her up and down. “Get some meat on those bones.” He nodded and walked to the next room.
Jadiera shut the door and leaned against it. That was close. Hopefully if the local pub owner felt she wasn’t involved, that news would get spread around town. She wasn’t involved, but she did know Zulc better than she let on. She’d have to watch what she said around town.
A glance down at her now extremely wrinkled dress told her she was now down two outfits. She changed into leather pants with a loose tunic and shirt. Her dagger would be more noticeable in this outfit, which was one reason she preferred the skirts. But from what she’d briefly seen of the locals before her side trip into the fish bin, weapons were common. Who knew a small gnome fishing village needed to be well armed?
She made sure her few items of value: a long chain with a single leaf pendant, her glow, a few other pre-made spell packs of various forms, and her remaining funds were all with her in various hidden compartments. Better to have them with her than leave them here for the taking.
Cracking open the door and taking quick glances down each side of the hall revealed no one was out. When they’d checked in, the inn had been mostly empty, but many times these places made money off booking rooms to extremely drunk persons late at night. With or without their knowledge.