Spotlight: The Guardian of the Opera: Nocturne + Excerpt

The Guardian of the Opera
Nocturne Cover
The Guardian of the Opera: Nocturne
by Cheryl Mahoney
Genre: Historical Fiction, Gothic Romance
Published June 5th, 2020
by Stonehenge Circle Press

 

Set against the backdrop of 1880s Paris and the stunning Opera Garnier, The Guardian of the Opera: Nocturne brings you the familiar tale from a different direction. Meg Giry met the Phantom of the Opera once when she was twelve years old, a new ballet dancer lost in the Opera’s maze. Years later, when an Angel of Music offers singing lessons to her best friend Christine Daaé, Meg is sure she knows what’s actually happening. But as strange events unfold and the pieces stop adding up, Meg has to wonder if she truly understands the Phantom–or Christine.

Erik is a man of many talents and many masks, and the one covering his face may be the least concealing. The opera house is his kingdom and his refuge, where he stalks through the shadows as the Phantom of the Opera, watching over all that occurs. He never intended to fall in love; when he does, it launches him into a new symphony he’s certain can only end in heartbreak.

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Excerpt:

Sometimes I believe the course of my life was set because I got lost one day when I was twelve years old.  I got lost often that year, but only once that mattered.

I had first come to the Opera Garnier only three days before, and I defy anyone to learn that labyrinth of rooms and passages so quickly.  It didn’t help being a girl from a small village, come to Paris with my mother just a week earlier.  The city was bewildering, unimaginably bigger than my little village of Leclair.  And the Opera was the heart and center of Paris, stranger and wilder and even more confusing.

I was supposed to be on my way to ballet practice.  I was a petit rat, the lowest tier of society among the Opera’s performers.  Madame Thibault the ballet mistress presided over us, and she did not tolerate tardiness.  I didn’t want to be late.  I desperately wanted to be at ballet practice—but I was lost.

Some wrong turn mixed me up somewhere, and from there I could only fly through the maze like a small ghost, unable to find the way back to my intended path.  The Opera held too many similar corridors, with their polished marble floors, gilt paneled walls, and long arrays of mirrors.  No space in the Opera was plain or generic, until the dizzying amount of detail, the carvings and the gold designs and the patterned grates overwhelmed me, so that I couldn’t pick out one familiar note in the crashing, thundering symphony of it all.

It felt equally impossible to ask for directions from anyone I passed, the looming scenechangers with gap-toothed grins or the elegant sopranos with their noses in the air.  By the time I might have built up enough reckless courage to speak to someone, no one was left.  I had got below ground level, probably not very far, but low enough for the halls to be deserted, low enough for it to feel cool despite the summer warmth above.  I’d left behind the human smells of the upper corridors, the grease paint, perfume and cigar smoke.  Down here the air smelled damp, reminding me of the fabled lake said to be even farther down.  In stark and jarring contrast, these walls were plain, white-washed stone, unevenly lit by flickering gas lamps.

When I came to a bleak and empty dead-end, I gave up.  I slid down to sit against the cold stone wall, one arm around my ankles and forehead against my knees.  With my other hand I held tightly onto my small gold necklace, the barest of comforts in the desolation.  My hair fell forward like a golden curtain around my face, blocking out the dismal, silent, baffling corridor.  I half-believed that I would never get out, that I would die lost in the depths of the Opera.

Part of me found that the preferable option.  To stumble in late to ballet practice would mean facing the ballet mistress’ mocking disapproval.  She would hate me, the other girls would laugh at me, and my entire life, not to mention dancing career, would be over forever.  I’d never earn any money to help Mother afford to stay in Paris, and we’d have to go back to Leclair where nothing would ever happen to me ever again.

So I sat in that dead-end corridor and cried.

“It can’t be as bad as all that.”

The voice that broke the silence was the most beautiful I had ever heard.  Perhaps that was a strange adjective for a male voice, but it was a true one.  It was a melodic voice, every syllable flowing smoothly into the next while the pronunciation stayed crisply clear.  And it was a kind voice as well, sympathetic with a bracing amount of levity.  It was a voice I would have had the courage to ask directions from, just a little earlier.

By now, the situation felt too far gone to be salvaged.  Ballet practice would start within minutes; I couldn’t imagine getting there in time now even if I knew the way.  So I just sobbed out, “I can’t find my way to practice and the ballet mistress is going to kill me.”

Only then did I lift my head to push my hair back, wipe my eyes and look at the man who had spoken.  And then—sob catching in my suddenly tightening throat—then I got scared.

The other ballet girls had already taken great delight in telling me about Le Fantôme, the Phantom of the Opera, the specter who stalked the corridors, harbinger of death and disaster.  I froze, staring at this strange figure so tall above me.

He was wearing the formal, all-black evening clothes the stories had promised.  The legend also mentioned hands covered in blood, which his weren’t.  His eyes weren’t the glowing yellow of the tales, but he did wear a molded white mask over the right side of his face in a more mysterious touch, while a broad-brimmed hat cast another layer of shadow.

A mask and evening clothes in the morning were unusual, but we were in an opera house.  My instinct that he was the Phantom came from clues harder to define than a mask: a shroud of mystery surrounded him, from the swirling black cloak to the inexplicable way he seemed as much shadow as man, indistinct in the dim light, as though he was so used to blending in that he forgot to stop.

Somehow I thought of the Phantom at once, before he even had time to say, “In that case, I understand why you’re upset.  There are many people I would rather cross than the ballet mistress.”

It was a sympathetic remark, made in that perfect voice, with a faint smile as well.  However, my mother had warned me often enough not to trust strange men just because they smiled, and this one was stranger than most.  “Who are you?” I gasped out, though I felt horribly sure that I already knew.

He fingered the brim of his hat, and I read thoughtfulness in his stance.  “I am a sort of…guardian of the Opera,” he said at last, which only confirmed my worst fears.  “You seem unfamiliar.  Are you new?”

I could think of no answer that felt safe, so I chose the truth and said, “Yes.”  In a way, everyone was new.  The Opera Garnier had opened in January, and this was only June; I couldn’t imagine learning every face in six years, let alone a mere six months.

“I see.  Old hands have no business getting lost, but when new it is difficult to avoid.  I will help you.”  And he extended one black-gloved hand.

My heart pounded in my chest so loudly he must have heard it, and my fingers tightened, wrapped around my legs.  I stared at his hand, unmoving, for so long that he took it back again and said, “Not too new, I see, to have heard of the Phantom.”

So it was true, and only more terrifying that he admitted it.  I looked up at his green eyes, at that mask, and squeaked, “Are you going to kill me?”

He crouched down, bringing his face nearly to my level, black cloak pooling around him.  Closer now, I could see his eyes through the shadows, greener than anyone’s I had ever seen.  “I will tell you a secret, but you mustn’t tell anyone else because it would ruin my reputation.  I do not eat girls’ hearts.  I have never drenched any walls in blood, at least not in this country.  I cannot read minds or send nightmares, and—brace yourself, this one will be shocking—I am not actually a skeleton with glowing yellow eyes.”

He said it with such perfect solemnity that a giggle escaped me in spite of myself.  It may have been slightly hysterical.

He nodded once.  “I swear on Mozart, Beethoven, and Stradivari that if you come with me, you will reach ballet practice unharmed.”

When he extended his hand again, I took it.  Even though I knew it was probably just a trick of voice, I was obscurely reassured by the vow—and I was also acutely conscious that he could kill me whether I went voluntarily or not.

His fingers closed around mine and he rose to his feet, drawing me up.  For a supposed ghost, he had a warm and solid hand.

“One story that is true—I walk through walls.”  He reached out to the wall behind me, and I turned my head in time to see a panel pivot out, revealing a dark space behind it.  How many doors like that existed in the Opera, if one had happened to be right next to me all along?

He waved his hand through the air, a candle appearing between his thumb and forefinger.  He lifted the candle and blew lightly over it.  I was still noticing that he was a ghost who could breathe when the candle crackled to life with flame.

“How did you do that?” I asked, eyes widening.

His half-smile broadened.  “Magic.”  He stepped through the opening, candle illuminating a narrow tunnel of bare stones and wooden cross beams, more a space between walls than a proper passage.

Following him was either the bravest or most foolish thing I had ever done.

The Phantom guided me through endless turns and up a multitude of tight curved steps, the candle seeming to cast as much shadow as light.  At first I walked stiffly, spine tingling with terrors, but slowly my breathing began to steady and my heartbeat to settle down, as we kept walking and he kept up a pleasant, if mostly one-sided, conversation.

He told me that the ballet mistress, though fearsome, had never actually murdered anyone.  He advised me to stay away from the cellars, and if I got lost in the future I should keep going upstairs, never down.  Some time when I wasn’t lost, I should go up to the roof to see the excellent view.  He also told me I was not to worry if the ballet girls weren’t friendly at first, and I was never to feel that their opinion defined who I was, a statement that at the time seemed absurd and yet became remarkably comforting in later days.

I peeked at him when I dared, though with the shadows around us, the shadows cast by his hat, it was hard to see even his unmasked features.  I thought he maintained a friendly expression throughout, rarely looking at me, focusing instead on the path ahead.  I couldn’t hazard much of a guess at his age.  No gray hair or stooped shoulders, definitely not an old man—but also definitely belonging to the foreign realm of mature adults that any people at least ten years older than me seemed to inhabit.

I had little time to contemplate.  That dark walk didn’t last more than five minutes, though I would spend far more time remembering it.  That day, he was soon reaching out to another wall.  A movement of his fingers and a panel slid to the left.  Beyond it, I could see a brightly-lit hallway, empty of people, full of the Opera’s characteristic decorations.

“Turn left, go right at the first intersection, and you should be just in time for ballet practice,” he said, handing me over the threshold.

I stepped out into the light, flexing my newly-released fingers.  For feeling so reluctant to follow, I now felt strangely adrift to be sent back on my own.  I hesitated, looked back at him in the shadows.  “Thank you.”  It felt inadequate.

He touched the brim of his hat in acknowledgement, stepped back a pace and vanished into the darkness.  The wall slid shut, looking no different from every other panel in the corridor, as if it had never existed.  As if he had never existed.

I tentatively reached out and touched the wall, patterned in pale blue with generous gold molding.  Nothing moved, and I couldn’t even see a seam amidst the intricate design.  I drew my hand back and shook my head, fuzzy, as though I’d just woken out of a remarkably vivid and extraordinary dream.

Here in the waking world, I still had to get to ballet practice, with no minutes to spare.  At that thought I dashed off down the hall, spun right at the intersection, and arrived breathless at the mirrored practice room just ahead of my time.

The ballet mistress looked down her narrow nose at me as I came in the door.  “Do save some breath for dancing, Mademoiselle Giry.”

But that was nothing; that was harmless.  I was on time to take my position at the barre and she wasn’t angry with me, and besides—I had met the Phantom of the Opera and lived to tell the tale.  In the afterglow of that, even Madame Thibault didn’t seem so terrifying.

He waited until the rapid beat of her footsteps faded around the corner, then turned to make his way through the narrow passage towards the nearest descending staircase.

He didn’t often intervene so directly.  It wasn’t safe.  But he found it hard to consider a crying little girl dangerous.  She was small and alone.  Before she lifted her head, he had thought she was even younger than she was.  Helping her had seemed harmless enough—even amusing, to show off that candle trick.  Mere sleight-of-hand, but enough to impress a Persian Sultana, and certainly good enough for a little ballet girl.

Nothing was ever unmixed though, and for all he had found the encounter pleasant, it hadn’t been without a pang.  He hadn’t liked hearing the fear in her voice.  Surprising, when it was exactly what he wanted, what he had spent these past months carefully composing.

He needed the fear.  He needed the Opera Company to think that he was the dangerous one, so it wouldn’t occur to them that they, with their numbers and their confidence and their ability to cooperate, were the true dangers, the ones capable of hounding and harrying and hunting down the outcast in their midst.

He ran his fingertips along the rough wall of the passage, mere inches from the busy life on the other side.

Any attack would be more complicated than a raging mob with pikes; France was a civilized country, outside of her sporadic revolutions.  But the result would be the same.  The guillotine, or even worse—a cage.  He was guilty of the crime of being different, the world had convicted him at birth, and he had ample precedent to suggest how they would sentence him.

But not while he possessed the Opera Garnier.  Not while he was the Phantom of the Opera, stalking as ruler through its hidden passages, shadowed vaults and lofty catwalks.  They would never catch him.  They would never cage him.

Not again.

He would do whatever was necessary to ensure that.  For all their melodramatic complaints, the Opera Company was happy enough to be occupying a haunted theatre—a high-quality ghost lent a certain prestige—and if Monsieur Poligny the manager was not so happy about paying a salary to a ghost, well…the man should have chosen more wisely than to marry a woman with his wife’s background.  The Opera Ghost had recently obtained some very interesting information, and a little judicious blackmail should resolve any further issues with the management.

As for the little blonde girl, likely it would turn out for the best with her in the end.  The ballet dancers and chorus girls loved telling tales about the Ghost, and they much preferred blood-curdling horror stories to ones about a helpful specter.  She would be absorbed back into the anonymous crowd of little dancers, all much alike.  It had been merely an educated guess that she was new—he didn’t really know every face, at least not yet.  By the time she was telling the adventure to a dozen giggling friends, it would be about how the terrifying Phantom had nearly abducted her and she’d barely escaped with her life.  He wouldn’t waste his time watching that conversation.  He knew that was how it would go.

And it was better that way.

Author Bio

Cheryl MahoneyCheryl Mahoney lives in California and dreams of other worlds. She is the author of The Guardian of the Opera trilogy, exploring the Phantom of the Opera story from a fresh perspective.  She also wrote the Beyond the Tales quartet, retelling familiar fairy tales with new twists. Cheryl loves exploring new worlds in the past, the future or fairyland, and builds her stories around characters finding their way through those worlds–especially characters overlooked or underestimated by the people around them.

She has been blogging since 2010 at Tales of the Marvelous. Her weekly Writing Wednesday posts provide updates about her current writing, including excerpts. She also posts regularly with book and movie reviews, and reflections on reading. She has been a member of Stonehenge Writers since 2012, and has completed NaNoWriMo seven times.

Cheryl has looked for faeries in Kensington Gardens in London and for the Phantom at the Opera Garnier in Paris. She considers Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness Quartet to be life-changing and Terry Pratchett books to be the best cure for gloomy days.

Book Blitz: Saddles & Racks, by Kimberly Knight

SADDLES & RACKS SB BANNER

Title: Saddles & Racks (Books 1-3)
Author: Kimberly Knight
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Hosted by: Lady Amber’s PR
Blurb:
Strong. Sexy. Suspenseful.
The first three books in USA Today bestselling author Kimberly Knight’s Saddles & Racks Series. Get to know the men and women of S&R while they take on the seedy underbelly of Las Vegas!
Angels & Whiskey, Saddles & Racks Series, Book 1
Whiskey, women and sleepless nights …
United States Army Captain Gabriel Hastings knew he would always follow in his grandfather’s footsteps. Serving his country was his destiny.
Until he fell in love …
When Gabe’s love affair is cut short, he turns to whiskey for comfort and swears he will never fall in love again.
Until he bumps into an unexpected angel …
By all appearances, Autumn Jones has the perfect life. Her husband, Richard, is a loving man who wants to be a father to her unborn children. But Autumn knows the truth. Richard has a controlling, dark side that leaves nothing to chance, especially Autumn. He’ll stop at nothing to make her the trophy wife he wants her to be.
When Autumn bumps into Gabe, he consumes her every thought, but she can’t act on her feelings. She’s married to a dark man she can never leave.
When he learns who Autumn’s husband really is, Gabe knows he will stop at nothing to protect her. Or is it too late for him to save his angel?
Tequila & Lace, Saddles & Racks Series, Book 2
Army Strong and dripping with sin …
Paul Jackson had his dreams mapped out. He’d graduate from high school, attend college, go pro for football, marry his high school sweetheart and live happily ever after. Until she threw away everything he never knew he wanted. Throwing caution to the wind, he put his country’s dreams before his own.
The Army was a perfect distraction from her. It helped him become a man. To serve, to protect, to fight, to become strong. But when Paul returns home after three tours, he knows there’s nothing better than sexy woman, a shot of tequila and a pocket full of cash.
But he still thinks about her …
Joselyn Marquez’s life changed the night of her seventeenth birthday. A forty-eight hour roller coaster trip sent her running for her life. She was homeless, and her family had disappeared. All odds were against her.
But sometimes the odds work out.
Years later, she’s an FBI agent serving as an undercover escort to investigate sex trafficking in Las Vegas. When the investigation connects her past, will she be able to do the right thing or will she still keep running from the night of her seventeenth birthday?
Tensions will rise.
Sparks will fly.
Passions will soar.
And the past will come knocking …
Champagne & Handcuffs, Saddles & Racks Series, Book 3
Young love is just the beginning …
Seth McKenna had wanted to be a police officer for as long as he could remember. Protecting people was in his DNA, especially when it came to his two best friends, Joselyn and Catherine. From the moment he laid eyes on Cat, he knew she’d be his one day.
 
Kimberly Knight is a USA Today Bestselling author who lives in the mountains near a lake in California with her loving husband, who is a great research assistant, and daughter, who keeps Kimberly on her toes. Kimberly writes in a variety of genres including romantic suspense, contemporary romance, erotic romance, and paranormal romance. Her books will make you laugh, cry, swoon, and fall in love before she throws you curve balls you never see coming.
When Kimberly isn’t writing, you can find her watching her favorite reality TV shows, binge-watching true crime documentaries, and going to San Francisco Giants games. She’s also a two-time desmoid tumor/cancer fighter, which has made her stronger and an inspiration to her fans.

Book Blitz: Let There Be Dragons, by Janet Post

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Let There Be Dragons
by Janet Post
Genre: Dark Fantasy

Published: October 2020

Publisher: Tell-Tale Publishing

In a post-apocalyptic world, dragons, elves, vampires and demons war for control of Earth. A girl with powerful Gifts is the only hope the world has to destroy Slygon, a demon from the Pit come to rule all.

With the aid of a half-orc, his friends and a fairy, Annabelle tames dragons and rides to fight Slygon on his home territory. On a mission to rescue her sister from Slygon’s power, Annabelle will stop at nothing. When everyone around her is saying it’s time to quit, Annabelle is just getting started.

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Excerpt

 

Chapter Three

Jackal

 

We be getting mighty close the city, Jackal,” Slag said.

I glanced at my green friend sitting astride the Belgium draft mare he’d named Bunny even though she was mean as a snake. Slag was three-quarters orc. Slag’s mother had been a halfling, his father an orc who raped her when she was hunting. Slag had been given to the same wet nurse taking care of me. We were raised together along with Chub, our third companion, another half-orc.

Slag’s frown emphasized the pointed ivory tusks that rose at the corner of his mouth from his bottom jaw to above his upper lip and nearly to his flat nose. At seven feet of solid muscle Slag weighed in at three-hundred pounds, and was two inches taller than me, and twenty-five pounds heavier. When I noticed the sun shining off the top of Slag’s head I grinned. Slag kept his head shaved to show off what he thought were his best features, a broad forehead and small, slightly pointed ears, each pierced with three golden rings.

Aye, the city be close” I said as I glanced around us. “The big lake be over that hill. The walls of New Orleans be about a league to the south of us.”

This be dangerous ground,” Chub said. “It’s getting’ late and I’m terrible hungry. Let’s stop and cook up some of that shoat we bagged this morning.”

I laughed. Chub was always hungry, a huge halfling who besides food, loved me, Slag and no other being in the universe, except perhaps the draft mule he rode. The mule was always hungry too. Chub shared other qualities with his mount, such as strength, tirelessness, and a foul temper. A dangerous combination. But then all of us are dangerous.

I’m good with that,” I said. “You two set up camp. I’m gonna ride up to the top of that hill and get a look see.”

I spurred Thor, a black Friesian with feathered feet and too much mane. The big horse was a gift from my mother, the elf queen, Ashera. It was the only thing besides my light skin, pointed ears, and thick brown hair she’d ever given me. That, and she’d carried me to term and not killed me at birth, which was the custom, because I was the result of an orc rape. Instead of killing me, she sent me to the village of Wildwhisper. She’d never raise a half-orc babe herself. Elves were all racists. They believed in the purity of the elf race and any mixing of blood was considered an abomination. I was glad she’d sent me to Wildwhisper. Life in the village suited me down to the ground. I’d learned to forge and use the weapons I made.

My two warrior friends and I were raised in the same small village outside the elves’ mountain fortress in what used to be Arkansas. It was also near Edenvale, a hidden sanctuary populated with humans who didn’t care to be serfs to the Magics or live within walls. The people of Wildwhisper maintained themselves by hunting in the forest, tanning hides, and forging weapons. They mined ore and coal in the mountains and found old steel and metal in abandoned cities to melt in forges fueled by the coal. Their swords were highly-valued, the metal folded and then sharpened to perfection and modeled after the Japanese blade, the katana. They also forged enormous axes to be used as weapons and smaller ones for cutting down trees. If it could be made of metal, it was forged in Wildwhisper. I always carried a satchel full of weapons to use in trade if we needed food or lodging, and sometimes I sold them for the most common form of money, silver coins.

As I galloped Thor to the top of the hill, reveling in the strength and immense power of the horse beneath me, I surveyed the landscape. Below stretched the big lake and the wall built around the city of New Orleans. The city center was too far to see clearly, just the spire of a great church, and the remains of tall buildings now crumbling ruins. Inside the wall, small farms were green with summer’s bounty.

I squeezed Thor’s sides sending him charging into a valley and up another hill. At the top, I spotted a group of orcs camped in the bottom of the next valley inside a copse of oak saplings. Smoke from their cook fire rose between the leafy boughs. I couldn’t see all of them, but the usual orc raiding party was ten or twelve. Seven were visible, tending to the huge boars they rode. The hogs grunted and snorted from their position tied to trot lines. I was close enough hear the restless animals.

This was good news to me. Finding a raiding party before it found you was always good news. Then I spotted the girl. She looked about ten and was tied face down across the back of a hog. One of the orcs dragged her off the massive pig and tossed her to his fellow who laughed and ripped off her clothes.

I felt my animal nature rising. Anger at the terrible treatment of the child, for the girl was no more than that, warred with my inner voice cautioning me to take care. I wanted nothing more than to tear down the hill and fight all of them.

I whirled Thor around on his hind feet and galloped back to camp. It was almost dark. Slag and Chub would appreciate the chance to kill some orcs.

I pulled the big Friesian to a sliding stop at the edge of the camp. Slag grabbed my reins. “I see that light in yer eye.” Slag grinned. “Ye found us a bit of work, didn’t ye?”

Orcs have a girl. We gotta go now. Setting up camp can wait. Mount [JP1] up and let’s ride.”

Slag and Chub leapt on their mounts[JP2] . Chub still had his long bow slung over his shoulder, a quiver full of arrows and his axe in a holster attached to his leather body armor. Slag favored a broad sword, a crossbow with bolts tipped with rattlesnake venom, and a spear. I still had my katana and sheath hooked to the back of my armor. Armed to the teeth, we thundered down the trail, knowing the girl might soon be dead, or worse. A ten-year old was a woman to orcs.

We stopped at the top of the hill overlooking the orc encampment. The sun had set, and a huge moon slowly rose over the trees behind them. The ghostly-blue light illuminated the troop of orcs gathered in a raiding party. We sat still and silent, impatient as we watched the orcs move out. When the orcs crested the far hill and headed toward the city, I dismounted, left Thor ground-tied, and slunk down the hill staying in the cover of shrubs and underbrush. Chub stayed with the horses, but Slag followed.

The fire I’d seen earlier was extinguished, but the orcs obviously planned to return to this camp. Two huge, ugly, green monsters squatted close to the girl. They weren’t touching her, just sitting there watching. Two hogs wandered around behind them, saddled and ready to go, but eating acorns and snuffling in the leaves beneath the trees.

I waved, sending Slag off to the left, while I went right. The hogs scented us and squealed an alarm. The two orcs jumped to their feet. One held a massive hammer, the other a multi-bladed mace, crude but effective. A brace of spears leaned against one of the trees. The hogs came close to inspect me and I shooed them away. One charged, its tusks gleaming blue in the moonlight. I held my katana high over my head in a two-handed grip as I waited for the hog, then I stepped aside and sliced its head off with my razor-sharp blade. The head rolled, foam dripping from its gaping maw as blood gushed from the body. The other hog squealed and ran away.

Alerted, the two orcs raced around in circles searching for us. Slag stepped up behind them and put two poison bolts into the biggest one while I slashed the other diagonally across its body from neck to thigh, opening its belly. Guts and blood poured onto the ground as the stunned orc took a minute to figure out, he was dead, then toppled over.

Smiling, I do love a good fight, I wiped my blade on the grass to clean it. “Get the girl.”

Slag moaned. “Really? Like we ain’t got enough problems?”

If we leave her here, the orcs will find her and their two dead friends and come looking for us after they kill her.”

Happen, they’ll come for us, no matter.”

Not if we catch them first.”

Slag lifted one bushy eyebrow.

We have to go after them. They’re headed for the city.”

When did you become a lover of the Magics?”

It’s not the Magics I care about. The regular folk die too, and they don’t deserve it.”

Slag sighed. “Let’s be off then. Chub’s missing his dinner and that will put him in a right bad mood.”

We found the girl curled into a ball under a rough blanket made of sacking. I pulled the sacking off her face. She was red headed, with pale skin and bright blue eyes. She pounced on me, clawing at my eyes. “Whoa, there filly.” I pulled her off my head. “I ain’t an orc.”

You are!” she screamed. “You might not be green, but you look just like them.”

I know I ain’t pretty, but it’s not kind of you to remind me. I might be half orc, but I always thought I was better looking than orcs.” I held her out in front of me and noticed she was younger than I’d thought, and feistier. “We just killed your captors and we plan to get the rest.” She kicked and scratched at my leather wrist guards, tried to bite me, and shrieked bloody murder.

I can always give you back, if you’d druther.”

She stopped shrieking. “Put me down.”

Are you gonna run?”

Duh.”

Where to?”

Away from you, that’s for certain.”

Slag stepped forward in all his hugeness and laughed. “Jackal be your onliest chance of surviving, missy. I’d stick with him if I was you, for a kinder heart in a bigger ass you’ll never find.”

 

About The Author


Janet Post is a self-described military brat from Hawaii. She worked as a reporter for years before retiring to write books. Horses and dogs are her passion along with writing adventure and fantasy for young adults. She currently lives in the swamplands of Florida.

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