So one of the changes in the current draft is I want to increase the pace and flow of the story. That’s meant taking out a few of the sub plots I’d been considering, although they’ll most likely appear again in the future in another story. So this time, we meet a few of the anatagonists for this adventure (actually, this is the second they’ll appear in the full novel). Don’t forget to check out part one if you can, but in the meantime enjoy this excerpt from the upcoming Asterion:
By a country lane stood a house. A cottage with overgrown and blackened walls. With no light from within, most driving down that lane in the dead of night would not have seen it unless they knew it was there. Even in daylight the General was almost driven past it but another soldier was already waiting to flag them over. Some bleary eyed pale redhead yawned and approached Glauce’s party as they stepped out of the car, pulling a pair of purple headphones that seemed too big for her head down to hang around her neck and shoulders.
“Glaucoma, I presume,” she groaned. “You’re finally here. Good. Don’t like being out in the open like this. I’ve looked around and there doesn’t appear to anyone inside, so…”
Doria glared and sneered. “General,” she insisted.
The redhead peered up at the huge woman. “What?”
“You are addressing a superior officer, so you will do so by her proper rank.”
“I’m not in your toy army, dumdum. I’m freelance. Thale hired me to gather information about this town and your missing assassin.”
Doria’s nostrils flared in anger, but Glauce gently held her back. “Patience, Dory,” the general said. “We’ll be done here soon enough.”
Thale sighed and finished the introductions. “This is Stasia Kava. She’s supposed to be a genius.”
“Supposed to?” Stasia scoffed. “Not to blow my own trumpet, but I was the one who found this place, after you lot had been bumbling around for more than a decade.”
Glauce started to march up to the cottage. “Let us confirm that it is the target before we do any trumpet blowing,” she said, finding the front door already open.
Inside was bare. There were all the things you would expect to find in a modern home, such as TV, computer, microwave, but not much more than that. The few picture frames here and there just contained some store bought prints and the other ornaments were equally tacky. It was almost as if whoever decorated this place had only ever seen what a home was supposed to look like in a furniture store.
“Phaedra never did have any style,” Glauce remarked bitterly.
“I’m sure your own quarters will be preserved as a great cultural monument,” Stasia said. “The grave I found is out back.”
In the garden a broken swing hung from one of the trees around the edge. The grass hadn’t been tended to for at least a few weeks, and the grave in question was in a corner. Just a pile of dirt and rocks with worms crawling around it. The general ordered two of her soldiers to start digging, and she waited. After a time, the corpse was revealed, and the general let out a breath.
“Well, General Glaucoma,” Stasia asked confidently, “Is it her?”
Glauce answered, “It is.”
“Then I’ll give you a moment,” the freelancer bowed and curtseyed and slunk back into the house.
Doria had turned a little green, her face scrunched up as she tried desperately not to breathe in any of the foul air around the rotting corpse. “A-are you certain? I could have our doctor run a DNA check…”
“I am,” Glauce cut her off. Although her face betrayed little of the emotion she was feeling, Doria could tell her commander was not pleased. “She was my friend, then my rival, then hated enemy for many years. I have no doubt this is her.”
“At least you have what you wanted,” Thale said, holding her nose. “The traitor’s dead. Your quest is over.”
“What I wanted…?” Glauce thought. “It… wasn’t this. Not to be the one finding her remains. How did this happen?”
“Does it matter?” Thale sighed.
“It does,” The general turned on her and glared.
Thale gulped, but tried hard to stand her ground. “From the state of the house, i-it looks like there was a fight here. Burglars or mercenaries… who knows?”
Glauce sneered. “Do you think burglars would have buried the body before they left?”
“I-I…” Thale flushed red with fear and embarrassment. Nevertheless, she had her own task to accomplish and steeled herself for it. “None of this matters. You should be pleased. Your mission is finally over. You and your soldiers can return home to Bensala…”
But the general evidently had other plans, brushing past her. “I’m going to look around,” she told Dory.
At that point, Thale’s frustration boiled over. She reached out to grab hold of the general, declaring, “I am a daughter of Lord Locke, holder of The Lamp and keeper of the ancient mysteries. You will obey my order…” She was swiftly cut off by a blow below her ribs, collapsing to her knees unable to breathe for a few seconds.
“You’re a halfwit,” the general scolded, shaking her fist before she carried on.
Inside in the kitchen, Stasia had found a drinks cabinet. Glauce saw that it was well stocked, giving her a better idea as to how her old rival ended up like this.
The freelancer wore a wide grin. “So, you all find what you were looking for? No need to thank me. Just remember me if you ever need anyone to do your job for you again. You’ll find my rates very reasonable,” she explained taking a swig.
Doria looked to her commander, inquiring, “I take it we’re done with this one?” Glauce nodded.
“What are you…?” Stasia turned to see Dory positively beaming as she pulled out a dagger and was closing in on the freelancer. The redhead yelped and jumped back into a corner. “Woah! E-easy there, dumdum. Think about what you’re doing. I mean, we’ve had some good times together, right? Remember the trumpet blowing and digging up a corpse… huh?”
Dory shoved her back againt the wall with ease, her hand glasping around the smaller woman’s throat almost lifting Stasia as she drew back her dagger. “You need to shut up now,” she said.
Stasia’s eyes searched desperately for a way out. The other soldiers were outside, not that they would be much help as their general was in here calmly watching. Thale had made it to do the door, seeming a bit worn as she leant against it. Stasia looked pleadingly to her, but the lady just winced and turned away. The freelancer then knew that she had to do the opposite of what Doria had said. She had to keep talking.
“T-there’s a kid,” she croaked.
“What?” The lieutenant crunched her face, confused. But the general had heard.
“Wait,” Glauce commanded. “Put her down a moment,” she approached to look the freelancer in the eye. “A kid?”
Stasia nodded as she rubbed her sore throat. “Uh-huh. Check upstairs. You’ll find a room with toys and clothes belonging to a little girl.”
“A daughter…” Glauce took her eyes away, a glint in them as she stared into space.
“Unless your assassin had some very peculiar habits, I’d say most likely, yeah.”
“Where is she now?”
“Well, she didn’t die with her mother, that’s for sure.”
Doria growled, brandishing her dagger once more. Stasia quickly held up her palms. “Okay, okay! It may be that I already did a little extra digging. This brat, she goes by the name of Tenley Tych. She was home-schooled. But, a little while ago, probably not long after her mother was killed, someone forged some records, altered a database here and there, and now her legal guardian is someone called Jennifer Airhart.”
“You have an address for this person?”
“Sure do,” Stasia proudly beamed. “But, um… are we good? No more stabby-stabby, right?”
Glauce turned to face her again. “You were holding back this information in order to use it to bargain for your life.”
“Well, a girl’s got to be careful. All sorts of nasty, backstabbing people out there. Tell you, everything’s gone downhill since they elected a toupee as president…”
“Please let me kill her,” Doria pleaded, but the general shook her head.
“She is irritating,” Glauce explained, “but she may yet prove useful. Bring her, but watch her closely.”
“Where are we going?”
“To learn the truth,” The general answered on her way to the door. “And then, to murder my niece.”