Sellswords, p.1Sandy Addison
Excerpts from Sellswords:
Book 1 of The Red Death Series
Copyright 2017 Sandy Addison
Cover Illustration by Anson
About the Author
Other Books by Sandy Addison
Connecting with Sandy Addison
I’d like to thank the following people.
To Matt G: for giving me that confidence so many years ago to actually start down the road that got me here.
To Matt O: for being my longest lasting test reader. His feedback has been invaluable.
To Cliff A: my newest and currently most enthusiastic test reader. I just hope he can last the entire series.
To Anson: for allowing me to use the image he created as my cover. If you like his work then I’d suggest taking a look at his other pieces at https://anson7.deviantart.com.
And a special thank you to: Bromwen F who insisted that I include shoe descriptions for Sasha and Miri as the got ready for dinner; because ‘every woman will want to know what kind of shoes goes with those dresses’
Finally, and a no less important a thank you to Gary Gygax; for creating a game that made me want to read; and then want to tell stories.
This eBook is dedicated to the memory of Alfred T Addison. Mr. Addison to strangers, Alf to his friends, dad to me.
Hey dad I did it!
This is eBook contains two stories from the soon to be released collection Sellswords. While I am deliberately publishing this free eBook as a way to promote the larger collection up coming book, to be released in November of this year. Both stories are complete and self contained. I hope the reader will enjoy the stories and that you’ll be curious about what happens to Sasha, and Miri enough to check out the full collection when its released.
The year that I was born the world started to die.
Twenty years ago, the first appearance of the Red Death was recorded by a ranger tracking the Broken Fang tribe of Orcs, and twenty years ago, I was born. I’d like to think that both events were momentous, one that the bards would sing about for ages. Sadly, only the Red Death will be recorded in song: there just aren’t enough bards around to compose any songs about lone heroes anymore.
Mind you there aren’t enough of anyone now a days. The Red Death took half the population in the five years it took to sweep the land. The Madness did even worst damage over the next ten. Mortal beings have only been able to consider a future in the past few years.
Of course, there are a lot of things out there that makes thinking about that future difficult for most mortals. Cults, demonic and otherwise, Titan Spawn packs, wild undead, the Phoenix New Empire, and just plain old fashion bandit/refugee bands. It’s enough to keep anyone’s gaze on the track just ahead of them and not bother with where the track is actually going.
But some people are looking at where the track they’re on is going; and it’s those people that hire me and my partner.
Why us? Well to answer that some introductions are needed. My name is Sasha Storm Crow. Four years ago, I was struck by lightning in the middle of the largest storm that had been seen around my village for decades. I survived the hit and along with a set of really cool looking lightning scars running across my body the bolt unlocked my latent magical ability and I became what in the old world was termed a ‘Storm Powered’ wild magic mage. Since then, with the help of Riley and various other arcane types I’ve not only been able to control my magical powers but grown them as well.
My partner, in more ways than one, goes by Miri. Officially she’s an Elf who rather than being a ‘longbow airy-fairy’ type of Elf, is an ‘in your face’ melee fighter with a longsword that’s as big as she is. Many question how such a petite ‘Elf maid’ could pick up such a big weapon let alone wield it in combat. Those questions usually end when she takes the head of a rampaging zombie with one swipe or splits a skeleton in two like so much cord wood.
Together we help smaller communities ‘handle’ some of their problems. Weather that’s boosting a town’s local militia as they clear out an ‘abandoned’ manor house, acting as caravan guards for the first merchants going through the hills after spring thaw, or dealing with a Titan Spawn scouting pack before it tells the tribe that’s there’s easy picking this way.
So far, these jobs have kept us in enough coin to keep us mostly fed with a warm place to stay between jobs. We always have to keep moving though. We’re women of prime breeding age; and sooner or later, in every village or town we deal with, someone gets it in their heads that we should be spitting out babies, whether we like the idea or not. Now both Miri and I can dissuade such people from acting on that idea but usually not without knocking a few heads together and occasionally leaving a body in the street.
Which is how we ended up heading west on an Old Imperial Highway in the twilight of a late Fall day; low on food, coin and most importantly luck.
Today that bad luck translated into a steady downpour of cold rain. The magic that kept the Highway in good repair still held, so the flat surface stones were intact and clear of dirt and grass. Unfortunately, the spell that allowed this to happen had been designed and cast in a dry climate. So, under the heavy rain the paved road became so slick that our horses were having difficulty keeping their feet. Our only recourse was to dismount and lead them. Fortunately, Riley loved the rain so he was flying above us, his eyes sharp for trouble. So, when my raven familiar landed on my shoulder I knew I wasn’t going to like what he was going to say.
“Crossroads coming up and it looks like they’re executing someone,” said Riley.
Well that wasn’t as bad, for us at least, as it could have been.
“Think we should bypass the situation?” asked Miri.
Looking over the side of the road towards the rain soaked brush that had once been productive farmland I shivered and said “We’d have to blaze a trail, and get even more soaked. Let’s stay on the road. At worst, they’ll ask us to bear witness,” I replied.
Miri nodded in agreement and we continued our walk in the rain, huddled in our great coats, our hair stuffed under beaver felt tricorne hats. As a Wild Storm Mage, people expect me to love bad weather like this; and while it’s true that I have some resistance to the elements, cold isn’t one of them. I love warm summer rains or intense lightning storms: Not ice-cold rainfalls with oppressive dark grey clouds with no hope what so ever for lightning. And yes, our hats. coats and boots were enchanted to wick off the wet, but in this kind of weather it hardly mattered; the wet and cold still got through.
The close heavy air and constant patter of rain on stone also damped any sounds around us. So, when the crossroads came into sight neither of us was prepared for what we saw. Whatever town used this crossroads for its executions must have found the need to use it a lot; because there weren’t just one gallows but four and each had its own crow picker cage. Two of the cages already had bodies in advance states of decay; while the third’s body had animated into something halfway between a zombie and a skeleton.
The fourth crow picker was empty. Its soon to be resident was currently tied naked to its base being flogged.
“It’s a woman; she’s Fey, our age maybe a bit older. She’s still alive but I doubt that she’ll be by nightfall,” said Miri as we approached.
Damn it; now I was curious. The Fey were related to Elves being taller, more ‘civilized’ and pompous then their woodland cousins. When the plague hit as a group the Fey had retreated to their home dimension and locked the gates behind them. Whether they’d done so in
“You sure she’s Fey? I mean it’s been twenty years,” I said.
Miri gave me a look that she usually gave me when she thought that I was being an idiot, then, despite carrying both a broad bladed short sword and dagger on her belt, Miri walked back to her horse and unslung her longsword. A coming of age gift from her father, the five-foot blade had a flared notched based and ornate hilt that all but screamed pain. It was a magical vicious weapon that seemed to tear wounds wider when Miri got a really solid hit in. With a practised ease, she slung the weapon across her back so that it was in easy reach.
While she did so, I took the time to retrieve Thunder and Lightning from my weather proof pouch of holding on my belt. The daggers had been made for me by one of my Dwarf uncles. Thunder was a ten-inch blade of blackened steel that allowed me to better channel and control my magic. Lightning was its twin only made of Silvered steel. Why two blades that basically do the same thing? Well as my uncle said ‘you got two hands don’t cha’? I’ve learned never to argue with Dwarf logic. Hanging the two daggers off great coat’s belt I nodded to Miri that I was ready, and only then did we continue towards the crossroads.
Along with the young woman being executed there were two hooded executioners and six witnesses. All of whom were dressed in black cloaks and hats. Six officials; shit. While it could be a coincidence, these days the number six tends to be a symbolic number for many of the Cults that have risen since the breaking of the covenant.
They were intent in their business and didn’t notice Miri and I until we were less than thirty feet from them. Hearing our horse’s hooves on the paving stones, the one who looked our direction nudged his companion who also turned to see who was there. Upon seeing us the second mortal raised his hand: A gesture that caused both of the hooded executioners to stop their flogging. Without even looking to see that they had stopped, he moved towards us raising his hat so that we could better see his face.
He appeared to have an open and honest face whose eyes were filled with blood. This marked him as one of the Lucky. He had contracted the Red Death and survived. Few could make such a claim and in many villages, those that did were considered destined for greatness.
“Greetings strangers: What brings you to this crossroads on such a solemn and wet day?” he asked looking up at the rain soaked clouds with a rueful smile.
I folded my great coat’s collar down showing off my face.
“We’re sellswords; between jobs. We’re just passing through,” I replied cautiously.
“Oh? Our town has need of mercenaries; just take the south fork until you hit the ten-mile mark. There you will find the road that leads to our town. Tell the guard Merlock directed you and he’ll take care of you till I return,” said the Lucky.
The hairs on the back of my neck rose at this. Why not ask us to wait and comeback with them? Merlock seemed confident enough in his power; he didn’t consult with others about making such decisions. What other decisions could he make arbitrarily? I glanced over to Miri and saw the ever so slight adjustment to her shoulder to move her sword from rest to ready. She agreed with me, this situation had just become dangerous.
“We just might do that,” I replied my tone as neutral as possible. “So, tell me, what did the prisoner do to warrant her death?”
“Malicious demands her blood and her soul. The safety of the town requires that we deliver on that demand,” said Merlock so matter of fact he might as well be talking about the crops.
“Funny how he only wanted my blood after I said ‘no’ to sharing your bed human,” said the Fey through gritted teeth.
Her comment really wasn’t appreciated by Merlock whose face lost a bit of that open expression. As if he sensed the man’s change of mood, one of the executioners brought his bull whip down hard across the Fey’s shoulder blades.
I tried to block her scream from my mind as I asked, again with as neutral a tone as possible, “And who is Malicious?”
“He is the one who has kept our town safe from harm these past years. The one to whom we have re-forged a covenant with. I am his voice within the town and the one who sees that his will is done,” said Merlock. His voice getting higher and more tinged with madness as he spoke.
Right it was a demon cult…Miri and I were so not going down to this town. But, just as importantly, we were not going to leave the Fey to them.
“Okay Voice of a Demon, my friend and I aren’t really interested in working with the truly insane, so we’re going to take the West fork and try to get as much space between you and your town as possible. However, before we leave were going to take the girl with us. Whatever, she’s done she sure as the Nine Hells doesn’t deserve what you’ve done to her.
Merlock didn’t like my answer but neither he nor his companions had a chance to react.
With speed that defied a mortal’s reaction, Miri seemed to ‘appear’ next to the Demon’s Voice her longsword not only drawn, which given that had been sheathed on her back was something magical by itself, but its too sharp edge now resting against Merlock’s neck.
“Move a muscle and I take your head,” she hissed, her fangs had extended and her now red irises looked hungrily at the cult leader.
I wasn’t idle as Miri made her move. Grasping Thunder’s hilt, I summoned the winds of a tornado and sent them circling around the Fey. While she stayed safe within the eye of the small storm, the two executioners were flung back some twenty feet landing with a soggy thud in the water-logged soil.
I then drew Lightening and let the magical energies run up and down its blade, as I pointed it towards the remaining officials.
“Leave,” I said, as I flicked the silver steel blade towards the caged zombie, releasing the magic inside the blade. The lightning bolt arced between the dagger and the monster’s head. What little remained of the creature’s brains turned instantly to steam and the resulting pressure caused the skull to explode sending bone fragments in a wide circle around the cage.
Saying ‘or else’ at that time really would have been superfluous.
Looking back and forth between Miri and me, one of the officials squeaked “what sort of demons are you?”
It was Riley who spoke up. “The one with the sword is a Daywalker. While my mistress is a Human Being: A magic wielding, storm manipulating, badass of a Human Being, but a Human Being none the less. I suggest that you follow her instructions and leave.”
While the officials were all members of a Demon Cult they appeared to still possess enough of a sense of self-preservation to actually start to leave. That was until Merlock spoke.
“Fools; once I’m done with the two of you, there won’t be enough for a proper sacrifice,” he said as his face started to ripple and bloat as he started to change into something else.
What the something else was I’ll never know because with a scream of rage Miri spun the longsword away from Merlock in a wide circle that continued as it cut cleanly through the transforming monster’s neck from the opposite side. With a spurt of arterial blood that rose some thirty feet into the air; the creature’s body fell to the ground before his minions and despite the heavy rain proceeded to burst into flame. The head fell right in front of the remaining five officials with a surprised, almost embarrassed, look upon its partially transformed face.
As if they were a flock of birds the officials, as one, turned and started to run down the southern branch of the crossroads. They were quickly followed by the two executioners.
“Miri see to the Fey. Riley keep an eye on the southern road,” I shouted to my companions as I moved back to the horses.
Grabbing the animal’s reins, I led them towards the gallows where Miri had dealt with the bindings that kept the Fey restrained with the simple expedience of cutting through them.
The nipple rings just made me feel like a badass.
Her hair when it was dry was probably the colour of spun gold, but now wet, slicked with her own blood it was shit brown in colour. But her all gold eyes looked up at me defiantly, despite her freezing to death and her back being so much tenderized stake.
Reaching into my horse’s saddle bag, I grabbed his extra blanket and moved back to the Fey. Miri took the blanket and wrapped it around the girl. A small whimper of pain passed her blued lips as the coarse wool touched her back.
“Miri, we need to get moving, we need to get out of here, and she needs a warm place if she’s going to survive,”
“Which road do we take?” asked Miri.
My partner is far from being stupid, but I am the cleverer of the two of us, so with anything that involves guile she always expects me to come up with the plan.
“North, we need to get as much distance between those cultists and us as possible while we still have some light,” I said. “When it’s too dark to see, we’ll make camp and see about keeping the Fey alive.”
My train of thought was interrupted by a sudden burst of evil laughter. Turning around, I was more annoyed than shocked when I realized the laughter was coming from Merlock’s head.
“So you’re the Storm Crow? I’ve heard of you, and your Vampire lover. Know that you’ve taken your last breaths. My master will hunt you down and…,” the head’s taunt abruptly ended in a scream of pain as Riley ripped out one of its eyes and swallowed it whole.
“What? Still warm eyes are a real delicacy,” said the Raven as a way of explanation to the rest of us.
I let of an annoyed sigh and pointed Lightening at the still screaming skull. Riley quickly took flight as I sent several bolts of blazing white energy into the talking head; burning flesh and boiling away grey matter, until like the zombie earlier, the skull exploded into pieces.
Once I was sure it could no longer listen, I turned back to Miri and the Fey. “Right North is screwed for us; they might expect us to take the West road which still might be a good option.”
I paused, thinking down several paths all at once. What I finally came up with would be a gamble but it was our best bet, “We’ll head back down the East highway again. A couple of miles back, there was the remains of a dirt road heading north. We’ll take that road and hope it leads to some sort of shelter,” I said to the others.
Miri just nodded in agreement and after quickly cleaning and then sheathing her sword she picked up the Fey as if she’d weighted nothing more than a child.
“I remember that road. Get onto your horse. You’ll ride with her while I lead the horses back to the road,” she said.
That made sense and as soon as I was in the saddle and had my feet in the stirrups, Miri handed me the Fey, who now safe, decided to start babbling deliriously. I grunted as I pulled her up in front of me and held her side saddle.
“Do you have her?” asked Miri.
“Yes, let’s get going,” I said. I’m not much bigger than Miri so there was more than enough room for both the Fey and myself, on the saddle.
With that Miri headed back down the eastern highway. She set a brisk pace jogging down the road and forcing the two horses into a fast trot. A mile into the trip my legs were feeling the stress of keeping up and away from the saddle but our delirious new companion didn’t seem to mind. Fortunately, soon after I’d started to curse Miri for having me ride a trotting horse, we came upon the remains of the dirt road. Once we were on non-magical dirt track she remounted and pulled the Fey girl onto her horse.
“We’re going to leave a pretty clear trail,” said Riley as he landed on my shoulder. During our trip back, the rain had stopped but the ground was still waterlogged enough to make it impossible not to turn up mud. As well the sky was still full of clouds, thus darkness would fall far faster and be far deeper than the time of year would dictate. Miri’s sharp elf eyes wouldn’t be much more use than mine.
“I know but that can’t be helped,” I replied to the Raven, as we set off on a steady walking speed up the trail. I was gambling that we’d be long gone by the time the townspeople would think of checking this way.
Despite the muddy conditions, we were initially able to make pretty good time. The horses were in good shape having walked unburdened most of the day, and Miri was still able to see through the mist and darkening skies long after things got to the point where I was barely able to see her horse ahead of me.
After an hour, Miri brought up her horse short. “Our luck may have turned Sasha, the fields up ahead looked tilled,” she said.
Reaching into my pouch of holding I pulled out a small box with a small door on one side. Opening the door, the glowing red light of a crystal with light spell permanently cast into it was released. The door allowed me to direct the light around me and hopefully didn’t give our position away to any hostile creatures of the night.
Looking around it appeared that my friend was correct, there were tilled fields around us, fallow and ready for the first winter snow; a hopeful sign. Two minutes later we were not only riding through cropland but further down the road Miri reported seeing the smoke and embers of cooking fires rising from what looked to be a well-kept cheery village.
“Maybe they keep the road near the highway in poor shape as a defensive measure,” said Miri.
I stayed silent and sniffed the air. As a wild mage, I lack the formal magical training of a book mage (aka wizard), but I make up for it by being naturally attuned to the patterns and flow of the magical energy around me. And right now, those senses told me that the natural flow of magic was being severely disrupted.
As we came to the village I could tell Miri was also becoming concerned. Unlike most post plague villages, this one had neither a wall nor blockhouse for defence. What was even stranger, was that the entire village appeared to not only be awake but in the village common. However, their attention was not on the three water logged strangers; instead they were all concentrated on the village well. As we looked on the village men were hauling on the bucket rope pulling up what appeared to be a great weight. Their efforts were rewarded by the head and shoulders of a teenage human male coming into view, in his arms was a young human girl and she held on tightly to what appeared to be a stuffed clothed rabbit. All of this was clearly visible under the warm glowing light from the village priest’s upraised staff. Seeing the priest, I realized why the lack of defences, while there was some danger, if we played this right we could use this situation to our advantage.
As soon as they came into view there were cries of joy and both children were wrapped in dry blankets and taken indoors, but not before the boy gave a couple of other male youths a hard stare that made them both flinch. Children rescued, the rest of the villagers started to return their homes, it was only then that a few noticed us standing on the edge of the light.
There were a few startled cries and a couple of the older men grabbed up handy clubs, while others disappeared into the gloom, no doubt to retrieve weapons. But the priest had a different reaction. Boldly he walked towards us, so that we were brought further into the light of his glowing staff.
“Hello strangers. What brings you to our humble village so late at night?” he asked. Like Merlock before, he had an open and honest face. His religious robes that he wore were obvious made from local cloth; sturdy and lacking any finery.
However, the fac
“We’re looking for a warm dry place to stay, your holiness. We found a fellow traveller beaten and robbed on the road and I fear for her life without proper shelter.
The priest’s face became concerned when he saw the blanket rapped Fey. “Merciful Gods, of course of course, bring her into my home I have a warm fire already ablaze. It’s late but I’m sure I can get some warm food for all three of you.”
One of the men moved towards Miri to take the Fey and my partner looked towards me with a look of confusion.
“Let the man help Miri,” I said, then turning back towards the priest I said “We have our own supplies, holiness there is no need for you to raid your winter stores for us; but if we can stable our horses that would be of great assistance.”
“Why of course, my house has a stable for visiting clergy, please come with me. Oh, I’m Benedict by the way, and welcome to the village of One Spot,” said the cleric.
“I am Sasha and this is Miri. Before we stable our horses, I’d like to see to our unfortunate companion,” Glancing over to the well I said, “Looks as if you had some excitement tonight as well.”
The cleric smiled embarrassingly “A game of keep away gone too far. Sarah loves that rabbit like a mother loves a newborn. Mathew and Gregory didn’t expect her to lunge for it when they threatened to drop it into the well. Both she and the rabbit went over the side. Thank goodness Samuel had the courage to follow her in and keep her head above the water, but I’d expect nothing less from the headman’s son,” said Benedict with obvious pride.
“Lucky, he was there,” I agreed.
“Oh, yes but such energy is expected after a winter of idleness. The children will all be tired enough once the planting starts,” said the cleric sagely, as we moved toward a well-built stone house next to a much larger building.
Miri paused by both horses to grab our saddlebags. Moving quickly, she fell in step with me and with a whisper asked “Sasha what are you doing? This place is all wrong, there’s no way it safe here.”
“There’s some danger yes, but I know what we’re dealing with and it’s the best chance the Fey has of living, and I have a feeling that no cultist would step foot in this village,” I replied.
One of the great strengths of our partnership is the trust we put in each other. Miri trusted that I knew what I was doing, and I hoped that that trust wasn’t misplaced.
We entered the cleric’s home and it appeared to be a warm and welcoming place of several rooms built around a central fireplace. The entrance opened into a large living area, which appeared to be used for both eating and company, it was filled with simple yet well-built furniture, including rugs on the stone floor and a table covered with parchment, ink wells, and several candles.
“My apologies; you caught me amid my monthly correspondence,” said Benedict as he tried to clean pens close inkwell and roll up paper all at the same time.
“The bedrooms to the right,” he said indicating the right-hand door.
“Thank you, Benedict, but I’m afraid that our friend is going to be in need of a more direct heating source,” I replied.
“Could you put our friend on that rug next to the fire?” I asked the man carrying the Fey.
He complied with a little grunt.
“Thank you for your help, now if you’ll excuse me were going to need the room,” I said to the men in my most dismissive voice. I then started to remove horse blanket from the Fey, showing far too flesh to be ‘proper’.
“Ah. Yes, well we’ll get your mounts into the stable,” said Benedict pulling the other man out of the room.
Alone I turned to Miri and said “There’s little that you can do to rewarm her, why don’t you see to the horses. Comb them out and dry them as best you can. Give them all of our remaining oats, but don’t let them eat anything from the village. Once they’re settled put all of their blankets over them, they’ll be dry but cold tonight.” As I talked I handed her the horse blanket that had been wrapping the Fey.
Miri just nodded, not fully understanding what was going on, but trusting that I knew what I talking about. She did however; loosen the Imperial short sword on her belt before leaving the house.
“Miri,” I called out to my partner just before she left for the stables. “Be polite to any of the villagers you talk to, and that goes double for Benedict.”
My partner gave me a look that was best described as ‘yes mother’ and left into the night.
Alone with the Fey I quickly wrapped her in my own bedroll, in front of the cheery fire in the hearth. The heat felt good on my skin and I had to slow my movement so that I didn’t break out in a sweat. Slowly I fed her one of our precious healing potions, and her colour started to improve as the welts and cuts on her back quickly healed leaving unscarred flesh in their place.
As great a lifesaving aid as healing potions are, they can’t heal exposure. Turning away from the fire, I hung up my outer clothing to dry and I stripped down to my undergarments before I joined the Fey in my bedroll so that I could warm her with my own body heat. I moved quickly before the chill of the home soaked into my body.
“This is very clever Sasha, and I think it will save the Fey’s life. I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t have survived in the open,” Riley said to me as he settled in for the night among the rafters. “To bad Miri wasn’t able to feed on any of those bastards. She’s too cold to take over for you.”
I nodded in both agreement and understanding. This was going to be an uncomfortable night for me but that couldn’t be helped. You see while Miri appears to be fully Elven, she’s actually half vampire, a Daywalker in today’s slang. Her father was once an Elf but at some point, in his life he was turned into a vampire. The necrotic magic that keeps a full vampire ‘alive’ is sometimes strong enough to keep them fertile. So, when they mate, beings like Miri can result. A still mortal being; that possesses, to a lesser degree, the powers and hindrances of their undead parent. So, for example, Miri doesn’t need blood to live. However, without it her body grows cold and her complexion pales to the point of being translucent.
After an hour, the door opened and Miri re-entered Benedict’s home our saddles and tack in both hands and her longsword once again on her back. “The horses are settled in,” she said as she stripped out of her wet outer clothing. Moving towards the fire she warmed her hands and then opened her own pouch of holding and pulled out her bedroll. Stripping out of her own clothing she turned and looked surprised at the fire. She moved back and forth from the fire to the door before Riley sighed and said, “just accept it for now. Wrap yourself in that chair over there and keep your sword handy.”
Miri muttered something about lower intelligent fowl and then did what my familiar suggested. “Is she going to make it?” she asked once she was settled in.
“If a Fey’s body operates like other mortals yes she should be fine. I got a healing potion into her for the physical damage and I can feel her body warming,” I replied.
“I hope she’s bloody worth it,” said Miri a note of frustration.
“Giving a damn can be a bitch sometimes,” I agreed as I wrapped my arms around the girl and settled in for the night.
Sellswords by Sandy Addison / Fantasy have rating 3.8 out of 5 / Based on34 votes