Authors: Marie Andreas
THE GLASS GARGOYLE
Table of Contents
In memory of my dad, William, and my like-a-sister, Noelle. And for my mom, Ruth, and sister, Lisa—thank you for believing in me.
The Lost Ancients Trilogy
Book One: The Glass Gargoyle
Book Two: The Obsidian Chimera
Book Three: The Emerald Dragon
Damn and double damn, Crusty Bucket was drunk again.
I looked around as a snippet of song rang out over the noise of the pub. A song sung by only one creature I knew—my faery, Crusty Bucket—and only when she was dangerously drunk. I had no idea where she was in the pub. The Shimmering Dewdrop was deep in a raging bar fight and, from the bodies littering the floor, it had started long before I pushed open the door. Pretty much the norm for a Saturday night . . . except this was Tuesday night and the mayhem seemed more focused than usual. The smell of spilled booze and cheap tallow candles was far stronger than it had been for a long time.
I took a deep breath and shook off some of the rain that had hounded me the entire way here. Maybe I was wrong, maybe I hadn’t heard her. But again the high pitched singing flew over the noise of the fighting.
“Bring me the dancing minkies!”
I froze, wondering if anyone else heard it. Faeries aren’t beloved by most creatures—drunken ones are often hunted down and smashed. Not that they stay smashed, mind you.
The last thing I needed right now were my faeries out and about. And drunk. The main reason I’d taken this bounty hunting job to find this Alric person was to make sure those tiny hooligans and I stayed off the streets.
I’d been chasing him for the last two hours in the pouring rain, only to be told that he’d gone to ground in my pub. No, I don’t own the Shimmering Dewdrop, but I've spent plenty of time and cash here. The fact that the son of a hag was holed up in my home away from home was enough to annoy any self-respecting woman.
Crusty’s song trailed off—most likely she’d jumped into another bottle of ale—and I let myself ignore her for the moment. The thin whistling sound of a chair flying at me suggested that ignoring the pub fight would be more difficult. I ducked, then looked around to see that far more chairs were being used as weapons than as seating.
I didn’t have time to get involved in a fight right now. I needed to find Alric, deliver him to the wizard, Cirocco, and then pay my landlady with the bounty money. Otherwise, my faeries and I would be on the streets by tomorrow night. And it wouldn’t be long before they did something to land us all in jail.
In my effort to keep an eye on the fighting in the main part of the pub, I failed to watch the floor and crashed to the ground. I had somehow managed to miss the two massive minotaurs wrestling on the floor.
I jumped to my feet. Staying down too long during a pub brawl could be fatal. Besides, I knew what was on the floor here. With a shudder, I tapped one of the minotaurs with the toe of my boot. I had assumed they had been fighting, but neither of them had budged since I fell on them. I jabbed the other one a bit harder than the first. Nothing. Dead or just really focused, and I didn’t want to know which right now. I stepped around them with only a modicum of swearing.
It was hard enough adjusting to the idea of having to bounty hunt for a living. I shouldn’t have to wade through bodies to get it done. Sadly, the natives were not only restless, they were potentially homicidal.
There was no way I was going to find my quarry in this mess. Hell, he could be one of the unmoving bodies shoved up against the walls. My best bet would be to wait until the locals finished their playtime and then scoop him off the floor and drag him in by his heels.
Which would be easier if I had more than just a vague description of what Alric looked like.
He was a newcomer to the town of Beccia—tall, unfashionably long black hair, maybe some backwoods low-ranking fae in his family line. The guy who hired me sold him as a pretty boy, an easy collar.
I should have been suspicious immediately.
If this job didn’t pay three months’ rent, I’d walk away right now. Actually, even with the rent issue, I should’ve walked. This night was not going to end well— I could feel it in my left elbow. But I never was a bright one, so instead I moved to the far wall and started slowly picking my way through the mess. I had to flatten myself up against the wall a few times as the fighting surged back into full force.
“Taryn!” The voice that greeted me seemed to have come from the far right, but in the melee it was hard to tell. “Over here before you get hit!”
I finally spotted Foxmorton, owner and barkeep of the Shimmering Dewdrop, at the far end of the bar. He didn’t seem too worried about the fight going on around him, but he stayed clear and ducked as a stray barstool flew his direction. I made my way over to him. Foxy looked like a cross between a troll, a wild boar, and a neighbor’s pet dog. But at seven feet plus, no one messed with him. Ever.
“What the hell happened?” I yelled to Foxy.
He shook his head with a frown, his long floppy ears competing with his fierce tusks in a mishmash of heritage. “He did.” He pointed to the far side of the bar where a space opened around two people.
A handsome dark-haired man sat calmly at the bar and flirted with Dogmaela, the tavern wench, like there wasn’t a barstool out of place. My eyes widened with disbelief. Dogmaela was a full four hundred pounds of troll; few men trifled with her and lived. But whatever the cutie was feeding her, she was eating it up like it was a freshly killed knight.
The fighting surged closer to them and a random fist swung out at the handsome man’s head. Without looking away from Dogmaela, he grabbed the fist and shoved it, and its owner, back into the crowd.
It took me a minute to realize who he must be.
“Oh crap.” His description matched Alric’s. “He started all this?”
Foxmorton nodded. “Two of Largen’s gang came in a bit ago. Anyways, our friend there was working on getting as drunk as possible, nice for me since he has expensive taste, but when he sees these two come in he gets real white, ya know? Like he’s seen a full-blooded goramtroll during breeding time.” Foxy’s eyes got real big. I nodded to keep him talking. “Ways as it were, our friend there seems to decide the four gents behind him all need their faces rearranged and launches himself right at them. Pretty soon the whole bar is up in arms and our friend goes back to drinking.”
I looked at the battle in front of me and rubbed my eyes. Who in the hell was this Alric? And who else, besides the crime lord who hired me, had he pissed off enough to have them hire a thug like Largen to do the same?
“So where are Largen’s goons?” I looked around, but it was hard to identify anyone except Alric and Dogmaela.
Foxy pointed to the corner at a pile of bodies. “Didn’t last the first round of fighting. I hope they’re still alive. I’d hate to have to explain it to Largen. She gets testy about them type of things.”
The bodies he pointed to were covered in blood and were being carefully avoided by the few pub regulars who managed to stay clear of the fighting. Clearly, they weren’t going to hinder my collar.
It’d been over two years since I’d had to do any bounty work, but the recent death of my archaeology patron left me with little choice. Even a small town like Beccia had rules against working a dig without a sanctioned patron or patroness. Unfortunately, mine had been dying fairly frequently as of late. With little in the way of marketable skills, I’d resorted to bounty hunting. I really missed working a dig site right now.
“Thanks, Foxy.” I grabbed a bar rag from under the lip of the bar. “Mind if I borrow this? I have a bounty job and our friend there is it.”
A worried frown crossed Foxmorton’s impressive face. “How are you gonna bring in someone like him? He’s a danger I tell ya.”
I knew where Foxy was coming from. I was a bit on the slender side, and at 5’9” wouldn’t even come up to Dogmaela’s chin. My ancestors on my father’s side hailed from some of the few remaining pure human stock in the Kingdom, and it was all wood nymphs on my mom’s end. Dark brown hair that got a green tinge in the summer, a tendency to tan well, and bendable bones didn’t give me much of an intimidation factor.
“Oh, I have a few tricks up my coat sleeves,” I told Foxy. “I’ll bring our friend in, get paid, and be back before you know it.”
He studied me with those sad droopy eyes, then shook his head and muttered to himself. Which was my cue to head off before a long-winded lecture came out of those wide lips.
I draped the bar rag over my left arm, using it to cover the slap cuffs I had in that hand. They were pre-spelled so all I had to do was slap and wait. The stinging they caused was enough to keep most folks from fighting back and would give me enough time to get Alric to the hoods minding Cirocco’s store.
Too bad the gent in question was worth a few months much needed rent money. He wasn’t bad to look at, that was for certain. Tall and slender, obviously in good shape by the way his clothes hugged his muscles. But he held himself more carefully than someone who was supposed to be that drunk should be able to. There was a tenseness to his body that a truly drunk person wouldn’t have. That told me a lot. He wanted people to think he was drunk. He leaned just a bit farther into Dogmaela’s space than a sober man would. But I’d bet my last meal it was an act.
I knew almost nothing about him and I usually preferred it that way when I had to do bounty work.
But this one was different. Aside from being even better-looking the closer I got, he was clearly something much more than he was pretending to be. And that always made me want to know why. The story of my entire life could be summed up in that—I always wanted to know why. Which often wasn’t a good thing, and led to problems such as my guardianship of a bunch of faeries with drinking issues.
I slowly walked toward his end of the bar, trying to look like a tipsy barmaid. I was still a few feet away when I heard raucous, high-pitched giggling. Not as bad as Crusty’s singing, but I knew those giggling snorts.
I peered over the bar to the bartender’s counter. Sure enough, three little faeries were having a grand old time. My three faeries. Not mine in ownership, but mine in that I’m responsible for them. I was surprised that Crusty wasn’t singing again, but she was barely able to stand so maybe she could only focus on one thing at a time.
I gave the three of them my best scowl. “Why are you here? And why is she drunk?”
Three tiny winged beings in blue overalls and flower petal caps looked up at me with artfully innocent faces. Well, two did. Garbage Blossom and Leaf Grub were both bright and cheerful; Crusty Bucket was smiling at the post next to me and trying to dance. “Minkies! I want dancing minkies!”
“We were sucked in here by the wind.”
Garbage and Leaf spoke at the same instant. Leaf’s speech was far too amped up; she was heading into the truly drunk state, although not on Crusty’s level.
“I don’t want to hear it.” I grabbed a full bottle of ale and pried it open. Luckily Foxy still used old-fashioned cork stoppers for his ale. Ignoring her cries for dancing minkies, I grabbed Crusty by her dark blue wings and dumped her in the bottle. I then wiggled the cork back in place, closing the singing, and now swimming, faery inside. It was a good thing faeries could go for hours without air. Leaf looked like she hoped I was going to toss her in there too, but she was still fairly sober.
“Leaf, you sit on this bottle. No one takes it, you hear me? Cork stays shut, bottle only moved by me or Foxy.”
Leaf looked sullen, but nodded her tiny green head. They were the smallest sentient creatures in the known world, but few people would be foolish enough to cross a faery when she’s been set to guard something. Their obsession when set on a task was known to start week-long fights. Crusty and her bottle would be safe.
“Garbage Blossom, since you’re here, stick with me. We’re on a case.” Garbage stuck her tongue out at Leaf, then flew to my shoulder and ducked into my jacket. With a sigh, and a final stern nod to Leaf, I resumed my approach to Alric.
Whether out of accident or planning, Foxy called for Dogmaela to come back to his side of the bar when I approached the pair. It was probably deliberate. Like most trolls, Dogmaela could be unpredictable. And if she’d taken a shine to Alric, she might make it difficult for me to get him out of here.
I kept a watchful eye on the fight as I moved closer to Alric. He seemed engrossed in his drink but something about his stance told me he knew where I was. I had the eeriest feeling he knew where everyone in this room was. Of course there weren’t that many folks still standing at that point, the fight was finally winding down due to lack of players.
I got within a foot of him and he still hadn’t looked up, so I gave a cough. I like my prey to at least acknowledge my existence.
He took one final swig of his drink, then spun toward me with a sigh. One that I almost echoed. This guy could get rich simply letting wealthy women look at him. The longest eyelashes I’d ever seen on a man framed a pair of exotically shaped, leaf-green eyes. His face was elegant and sensuous, with just enough ruggedness to keep him from looking feminine. The only thing off was his hair, it dusted just past his shoulders, but the black color looked flat. Of course it could be the cheap candles Foxy used in here.