Searching: Part 3

One should never wish for bandits, Ferra realized, just in case the universe chose to oblige at inconvenient times. She was only hours from Westport, the only place she knew to start her search, and now had to stop for a rather disappointing robbery attempt.

The men were skinny, not much older than she, and lacking the quintessential verdant wardrobe a childhood spent around the stage promised. “Git down girl.” The first barked. Between the three they had two knives and what could have been called a club. She thought it more likely one of the bandits hadn’t wanted to be left out and had picked up a hearty stick. Ferra made no move to obey. Not only did she need the horse, but she felt somewhat insulted by the effort.

She shook her head. “I’m in a hurry and you are very bad at this.” She nudged her horse forward but the animal shied to the side, less sure than her rider.  The first and bravest shook the knife at her. Ferra rolled her eyes. “You are scaring the horse.”

The bandits looked to each other, unsure how to deal with the girl who was not responding appropriately to her situation.

But as long as they were delaying her… “I’m looking for someone. He is sixteen, hair like mine and if you bothered him like this he would probably just talk a lot.” She thought for a moment. “And if he felt bad for you, which he probably would, he might give you something for your effort. Have you seen him?”

The bandits blinked between themselves. “Are you addled girl? We are robbing you.” One of the men took a step forward, and made a swipe at the reins. Ferra maneuvered her mount to the side and glared down at them. She was not crazy and they were not robbing her. So far they’d only gotten around to threatening. Ferra reached behind her to the rolled blankets behind the saddle. With a quick motion she drew her sword and leveled it at them. “Let me by, or tell me something use—“

It was at this point that Ferra’s horse reached the end of its patience. It was troupe animal, happy to spend its days pulling carts and letting the occasional scout ride ahead, but swordfights and armed ruffians were entirely out of the question.

The animal reared and Ferra, currently distracted and not an experienced rider, tumbled over the saddle and onto the ground. The horse took its chance and promptly sped away from those who would steal it or brandish swords on top of it.

Ferra, flat on her back, blinked up at the late afternoon sky. This was not how she’d pictured this adventure.  When she pushed herself up, wobbling a little from impact, the bandits had circled her.

“Give us the sword.” The leader licked his lips when he looked at the impeccably maintained steel in her hand. Ferra watched the tension in their shoulders, they were braver now.

“No.” Ferra moved her foot through the dust, shifting into a defensive stance. She looked him in the eyes. “Let me go or I will hurt you.”

That was enough for the men. The one behind her grabbed for a shoulder. Ferra spun, sword darting like a viper’s strike. His wrist bloomed with red and he screeched stumbling back.

The leader swore and made his fellow’s mistake, his hand brushed her arm, Ferra’s blade whipped around slashing across his chest. He screamed and Ferra stepped close to flick the knife from his fingers.

The third jumped forward, aiming to cut where the other’s had grabbed. It was a clumsy rush that Ferra sidestepped, pulling her sword across the back of his leg, cutting muscle. The man crashed into the dust. Aren had taught her to dance but Nico made sure she knew how to  end the steps.

Ferra straitened, sword in guard as she regarded the now bleeding thieves. Shallow cuts all, she’d not aimed to kill. Nico’d promised it was an experience no one should rush to. But the way the bandits looked at her, it was if she’d murdered someone.

“Please.” The leader said, his hands holding the rags of his shirt to his chest wound. “We didn’t–“

Ferra did not alter her flat expression nor lower her guard. They had meant to rob her at the very least, she wasn’t naive. But she didn’t care, they could lie, it wasn’t her problem. “You’ve lost me my horse. Give me your knives.” If she was walking to Westport she didn’t want them dogging her because of hurt pride or desperation.

“What?” The leader said. The third bandit had turned himself over and was attempting to stand.

“I’m robbing you. Leave your knives and walk away.” She didn’t move, didn’t start towards them, just waited staring. The two standing looked to each other. The man with the club made to toss it and Ferra shook her head. “You can keep it, its just a stick.”

He left her with an affronted look, helping his fellow from the ground before the three hobbled back into the treeline. Ferra watched them go before picking up the knives and resuming her journey to Westport.

 

Prior installments can be found here: Parts 1 and Part 2 . Part 4 will be up next week. 

Searching: Part 2

Ferra watched curiously as the dark haired girl turned another circle around the stage. Eli’s twin sister Lena had the same delicate features and dark hair, but far more common sense. Or so Ferra thought, the girl stopped and hopped up and down on the stage boards frowning at something.

Ferra climbed up the side and went to look at whatever was so interesting.  “What is it?” She asked and Lena jumped, spinning.

“Dam—Ferra you really shouldn’t sneak up on people like that.” Lena said breathing hard. Ferra just blinked. She hadn’t been sneaking. It wasn’t her fault people didn’t pay attention to their surroundings. “It’s fine. I’m checking for creaky boards, the actors were complaining and ….” Lena stopped. “You don’t care.”

“No.” Ferra agreed. The actors were usually complaining and the stage staff was usually dealing with it. It was how these things went.

Lena closed her eyes and breathed through her nose. This meant she’d managed to frustrate her cousin already. Considering she was running out of people to go to, this was not good. “I think Aren’s in trouble, he’s not back yet.” She said quickly. Ferra was the same age as the twins, but Lena often felt older and the adults trusted her. “None of the adults will listen to me.”

“Have you asked Eli? They’re always scheming together. If Aren is up to something, Eli will know.” Lena said and began her course around the stage, giving little hops to test the boards.

Ferra followed her, stepping carefully as to not make sound. “Eli was unhelpful.”  Lena just nodded,  not surprised. Ferra continued, “I don’t think Aren’s up to something. I think he’s in something.”

“Grandmother doesn’t seem worried.” Lena reasoned and took a stick of chalk from her pocket to mark the offending floorboards.

Ferra clenched her teeth. She’d already knew that. “No one is worried.”

“Ferra, Aren turned sixteen.” Lena said in the tone normally reserved for explaining obvious things to children. “He’s allowed to go off by himself. I know you miss him but wait a little, if he doesn’t come back in another week or two they’ll send out the guard, if Nico goes he’ll bring you along.”

A week or two? She was beginning to regret going to the pragmatic twin. Of course she missed Aren, never more than now, when no one would listen to her or take her seriously. “That’s too long.” She said stubbornly.

Now Lena looked as frustrated as Ferra felt. The dark haired girl straitened and crossed her arms, chalk getting on her sleeves. “Ferra. It’s almost like you want something to be wrong.”

Ferra frowned. She shook her head, “I do not want something to be wrong. I want to get Aden back.”

“Then go and get him back.” Lena snapped with a huff and turned back brandishing the chalk with a renewed vengeance at the stage. “It’d be easier arguing with a brick wall, really between the actors and the guards…”

Ferra left her cousin muttering. She had things to do and more advice to take.

—-

Eli and Lena looked forlornly at the empty horse stall.

“We are so getting blamed for this.” Lena said. Saddle and tack were gone too. She’d heard their grandmother grumbling about absent supplies last night. It was only a matter of time before Nico missed his apprentice.

“We?” Eli looked askance at his twin. “You are the one who told her to go. I told her to shove off. Big difference.”

Lena glared at him. “I didn’t think she would!”

Eli snorted. “Well she did. And she took a horse.” Around them the camp stirred. Only his sister’s insistence had dragged him this early from bed, and now he wanted to be far away when the adults figured out what happened. He was in enough trouble already. Aren was old enough to be out travelling, Ferra was not.

“Do you think she’ll be okay?” Lena was nervously peering into the stall as if she could will its occupant and thief back into existence. Her fingers shredded the edges of her sleeve.

“Well, she has the people skills of brick.” Eli started. When Lena choked on the beginnings of tears he amended quickly.  “And the resilience to match. She’ll be fine.”

Lena sniffed. “I don’t think you are telling the truth.”

“Ferra’s propensity for physical violence could be problematic, or incredibly helpful, one of those.” Eli was getting twitchy, the camp was waking up. Standing at the scene of the crime ensured they’d be the first questioned. “Hell, she might even find him, and then he can bring her back. Everyone wins.”

Lena gave her twin a dark look but allowed him to pull her away from the stable. “I’m telling someone.”

Eli groaned but fell silent as they ducked around the tents and slipped back into their family’s camp.

Thanks for reading all, the next installment will be up next week! You can read Part 1 HERE. 

Searching: Part 1

A bandit raid would be great about now. It’d been months since anything had come close to threatening the troupe and she was starting to feel it. Ferra didn’t count the bear a week ago, even if the adult’s still talked about it over their fires. The confused animal had wandered too close to their camp and been promptly chased off. Ferra, even at fourteen, hadn’t been impressed.

Part of her felt duly guilty to be actively wishing danger on her home. But really, what was the point of training to be a guard when there was nothing to guard against? Her hours of self-imposed training each day felt entirely wasted.

Now that they were safely posted outside the city walls it was unlikely to get any more exciting. The stages were half built and the tents were up. Until they moved on again in a few months Ferra would keep a perimeter and help haul out the occasional drunk and disorderly.

The city’s lord even offered them extra men, which her Aunt, the de facto leader of the troupe, politely declined, preferring to keep security a family matter.

A shadow fell over her perch. Ferra looked up at Nico. “Watch is over.”  He said.

“Was Aren at breakfast?” She asked.

The older man shook his head. “Still not back.” He noticed her slight frown. “Stop worrying over it, he’ll wander in, they always do.”

Ferra stood, readjusting the sword at her hip. “He’s never been a week late.” She pressed. Two months gone and now more than a week late, there was no reason Ferra’s older cousin shouldn’t be back, trading didn’t take that long. Her concern was a little selfish. Aren was the only one outside the guard willing to spar with her, and her only relative in the entire camp who didn’t grumble when she pestered for second and third matches.

Nico put a hand on her shoulder and pushed her towards the camp proper. “Let the actors worry about actors. Go eat.”

Breakfast was packed away but her grandmother snuck her strawberries and a thick slice of brown bread before shooing her away, also not interested in Aren’s absence. Ferra licked the red juice from her fingers as she went about taking Nico’s advice.

She didn’t bother checking the stages where most of the actors blocked their steps or mouthed lines. Instead she turned towards the dicing tables in the camp commons. Aren’s younger brother was currently taking the stage hand’s wages at cards.

“Aren’s not back yet.” She said in way of introduction, standing at his shoulder and looking at his cards.

“Strait to the point as always Ferra.” He glared at her annoyed and flipped the hand, hiding the cards on the flat of the makeshift table. “I’ll tell him his shadow is looking for him when he comes back. Hmm?”

She shook her head. “He’s late. Something might have happened.”

“He likes being late, thinks it’s fashionable.” He said. She glared at the dismissive spin of his wrist.

One of the other men chimed in. “If he’s not here you might actually have to learn some lines Eli. That is what an understudy does, you know.”

The young teenager grinned at them, pointedly ignoring her.

“Eli.” She warned.

“Aren can handle himself Ferra.” Eli rolled his eyes and pushed a substantial amount of silver into the middle of the table. “You two share an unhealthy obsession with sharp objects and sticking people with them, remember?”

She didn’t point out that it wasn’t an obsession and it wasn’t unhealthy. “You are being unhelpful.” Ferra stated flatly instead.

“I’m endeavoring to be. If Aren’s away from this dull little city enjoying himself do you really think I am going to help you ruin his fun?” He looked over his shoulder and smirked, taunting her.

Ferra weighed the benefits of giving in and showing Eli just how far her ‘unhealthy obsession’ with weapons went. But then she would have to explain why she beat the troupe leader’s son into a black and blue mess. She didn’t have the time. Especially if Aren was in trouble.

She met his laughing eyes. “He’s got cards up his sleeve and another stack in his boot.” Ferra said loudly. She enjoyed the way Eli’s smirk froze and then slid off his face. If the men were worried about explaining bruises to the camp masters they didn’t show it. Ferra walked away as the stage hands shoved aside chairs and proceeded to literally shake their money out of the cheat.

Any desire to deal with glib actors entirely shot, Ferra sought a more practical source of information.

This story will continue next week. Thanks for reading all. 

Flash Fiction: Lady Assassins

Two very young women waited on a roof as the sun went down.  The younger groaned and flopped back so she laid belly up next to the older.

“This is so not what I imagined.” The younger said picking at a strand of dyed yellow hair and pulled the split end apart.

The older glanced to the side. “Keep your hood up.” She ordered flatly and went back to her post behind the sight.

“Its too hot.” But she tugged the hoodie back into place and started examining the chipped polish on her short nails. “We’ve been here for hours and we haven’t done anything.” She turned her head to the side watching the other girl, who stayed perfectly still, shoulder to stock and eye to sight. “I expected something to happen, and more leather.”

“Leather?”

“Lady assassins always wear leather.” She explained, looking pointedly at her own black sweatpants and her companion’s nondescript jacket and loose jeans.

“Leather doesn’t move well.”

“We haven’t moved. At all. I thought it would be exciting. That’s why I agreed to come in the first place.”

The older girl shifted slightly, frown lines between her light brows. “You agreed to deal with the cameras.” She wriggled her shoulders to ease the stiffness. It had been a long time. Her target was running late.

“And I did.” She rolled to the side to check the screen of the laptop and its solar hookups. Blinking text and lines of code maintained her vigil on the screen. She smiled. “See, they are dealt. Seriously though, I expected some fighting, or running….” She looked at the impressive rifle set over the lip of the building. “Shooting.”

“That comes after the waiting.”

“Have you ever strangled someone with your thighs?”

“What? No.”

The younger rolled her eyes. “It happens in the movies.”

“That’s stupid.” The older said back.

“I think its badass.” She set the laptop down, content that her virtual blockades were running against the local security and surveillance. It was small time stuff, most of the units in this district hadn’t been updated in ages.

“Its not, I don’t think it would work.” She considered it for a moment, nope. It would not work.

The younger turned her head, taking in the still pose and rapt attention. “That’s disappointing. Whats the point of being a Lady Assassin if you don’t wear leather, get into high kicking fights and strangle people with your thighs?”

A quick shot cut the air, the rifle kicking back with a curt motion. A small smile graced the older girl’s mouth as the screaming began on the street below. “The pay mostly.” She sat back her eyes alive in the dying sun.

The younger closed her mouth and nodded, feeling goosebumps rise on her arms as the other packed up the rifle with swift and sure hands. Sirens echoed through the narrow streets.”Mostly?” She asked.

“Mostly.” The older stood, shouldering the guitar case. “Come on.” The younger grabbed her laptop and followed the older as quickly as she could.

Ivory and Fury

A prompt from Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie.

 

Branwen breathed in and slipped from the alley, avoiding the eyes of the few milling about as she stalked over the pitted sidewalk. The beast was close; she could feel the fear curling in her stomach. It was clearer than any other beacon.

The sword buzzed against her palm, voicing its alarm and displeasure with its static like burn. She spared a moment to glare at it and bend the panic down. She couldn’t risk losing the monster again, even if there were other hunters she could call upon. This was the fifth city she’d tracked its insidious trail through; Branwen was intent on it being the last.

****

The streets emptied before her, vapor curling in the sudden vacuum she prowled. Whatever her thoughts on the masses beneath her sandaled feet she valued the attendance to instinct.

Unlike the younger generations she remembered when her mere shadow would have sent settlements running to the four winds. Times had changed; the world was smaller and less wild. In most minds, even the ones unknowingly shying in her presence, she was a fairy tale.

****

Under shop overhangs couples hissed inimical words and evening bar goers lit cigarettes and watched the street warily.

Streets off still and people were nervous, a herd around a hidden predator. Humans were used to the top of the food chain and few understood the primal fear the proximity to the beast created.

Branwen increased her pace, pushing past the coiled threat hanging in the air.

****

A shadow of a frown creased her smooth brow. She spun and caught the human’s wrist, tip of an ivory sword hovering a hairsbreadth from the swell of her chest.

The human’s eyes were round, whites showing about the green iris.

She squeezed and the woman sucked in air. There was a pop and the human’s wrist fractured under her fingers, crunching into a mess of splintered bones. A ragged scream echoed across the street.

She sent the woman rolling with a flick of her hand.

****

Branwen coughed and spat dirty water, cheek pressed to the asphalt. Her sword, paces out of reach, burned with a fury she could feel past her own pain. With a grunt she pushed herself up and dashed towards the sword.

The creature watched Branwen pluck her blade from the ground. The agony pulsing from her wrist lessened and she rolled the appendage. A grim smile spread across Branwen’s face. “Monster.” She hissed and charged.

The beast did not shy from her blade, she did not dance away. Each furious swing was blocked, Branwen’s wrist, arm, shoulder met with the monster’s own. The thing never did let the sword touch her flesh though.

****

She tired of this. The mephitic mess of human and spirit before her did not weaken and the sword hardened the normally frail frame. She threw the human’s arm wide and sent a fist crashing through the woman’s ribs.

The scream sent a shiver of pleasure down her spine. The human went down on its knees before her and she smiled, placing a sandaled foot against the woman’s wrist. The fingers scrabbled against the sword’s pommel before she kicked it away.

Separated from the blade the woman before her was mortal, same as the rest of the species. A quick twist and yank and the human died, neck snapped past its threshold.

She approached the sword with far more caution than she had the hunter. It too was an ugly mix of spirit and other. Ivory and fury. Her mouth twitched looking at the weapon now humming on street.  Slowly she bent and gathered the fuming blade in the folds of her skirt.

Lets do this- Bookshelf Tag

I have been challenged (or tagged, whatever) by a particularly interesting Apprentice to complete a bookshelf questionnaire of sorts. Its the bookshelf tag and here is mine.

1. Is there a book that you really want to read, but haven’t because you know that it will make you cry?

No. I don’t seek out books that make me sad, but I don’t avoid them either. If a book happens to make me cry I usually congratulate it on besting me.

If someone I trust with book recommendations tells me to read something, I usually do despite any unpleasant emotional reactions I might experience. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green was a pleasant surprise, and by pleasant I mean I was bawling and no one knew how to console me.

2. Pick one book that helped introduce you to a new genre.

This is hard as I am rather boring when it comes to my reading breadth. Deviation requires time and time is my rarest asset.  The Stand by Stephen King dipped my toes into the horror genre when I was a teenager. I still frequent the genre and mix it with my more standard fantasy fare.

The ‘Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark’ series may have beaten The Stand to the punch though. I was reading aloud from the moment I realized I had a better tolerance for the spooky than my younger sisters and cousins. I am not sorry.

I have a sneaking suspicion I would love mysteries but have yet to find any that will humor my silly fascination with rogues, demons and assassins.

3. Find a book that you want to reread.

I have moved from the habit of rereading as there is oh so many books I haven’t read. That said I read Mary Stewart’s Merlin trilogy and Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Mists of Avalon before I could really appreciate them. There are some things an eleven year old just wont get. Those are on my to-do list.

4. Is there a book series you read, but wish that you hadn’t?

No, perhaps aside from the foolhardy choices of my youth, which I look back on with chagrin, not regret. I don’t have time to read bad books.

Even the Twilight Series, which I read solely so I could explain why I didn’t like it, doesn’t really enter into the category of “wish I hadn’t”

5. If your house was burning down and all of your family and pets were safe, which book would you go back inside to save?

There is a leather bound copy of The Hobbit which my father read to my sisters and I many times. It would come first. Then the leather bound copy of The Lord of the Rings which he read only to me.

 

6. Is there one book on your bookshelf that brings back fond memories?

Look to question number five

Additionally Homeland by RA Salvatore and the rest of his early books regarding Drizzt. So many afternoons after high school were spent discussing drow and the larger world attached to Dungeons and Dragons world. It was this series that spawned my love of high fantasy and the pulpy enjoyment you can find in a quick read.

Also the person who lent me the book was not my friend at the time but would become one.

7. Find a book that has inspired you the most.

These questions are getting heady. The problem lies with the prompt “a book”. One book has never inspired me. Lines, characters, plots, ideas and execution from books inspire me. Some of which are Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin, The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson, and The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch. These are a few, there are more as well as a host of short stories which tend to affect any writing of mine more than larger novels.

8. Do you have any autographed books?

Yes a few. Only a couple of them have been signed in person. Some I will treasure (Tamora Pierce was nice enough to sign a few) and the other I will probably get rid of it as it killed a good series that could have been (I’m looking at you Words of Radiance).

Not bitter at all, nope.

9. Find the book that you have owned the longest.

Another hard question as book ownership was fluid in my household growing up. Mostly because books found their way from my father’s shelves into mine with what he felt was alarming consistency.

But oldest book that I possess that was definitively mine? Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny.  Got em for my second birthday and they are still on my shelf next to battered copies of Nancy Drew and The Lioness Quartet.

 

10. Is there a book by an author that you never imagined you would read or enjoy?

Author? Joseph Conrad. Heart of Darkness is a book they make you read in high school and I had little interest in the subject matter. But his prose is ominous and weighty and I found myself looking forward to simply reading the words.

 

And now for my meager challenge.

Oh Raw Rambler, this challenge was made for you.