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Melee magic puke, p.1
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       Melee, Magic & Puke, p.1

           S.R. Cassady
 
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Melee, Magic & Puke
Melee, Magic & Puke

  A Pinty Lightbottom novel

  by S.R. Cassady

  Copyright © October 2014 S.R. Cassady

  Cover Art: Eumir Carlo Fernandez

  Editorial and Process Support: Shelly Fausett

  Editorial Support: Robin Thompson

  Please respect the work put into this book by complying with copyright laws. All rights reserved. This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. It may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please visit the website SRCassady.com for information on where to purchase a copy.

  This is a work of fiction. All the characters, organizations and events portrayed in this novel are products of my imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental. Seriously.

  Plot Summary

  At three-and-a-half feet tall, Pinty Lightbottom is the shortest psychopathic bar owner and professional adventurer in all the realms.

  When his ex-fiancée is kidnapped, her father conscripts Pinty to bring her back home. Things get more complex when the rescue mission leads Pinty into the middle of a full-on war inside the local thieves guild.

  In doing what he does best, Pinty is abused, beaten, stabbed, sliced, clawed, drowned, berated, poisoned and otherwise exploited by everybody he meets. It doesn’t help that his ego well exceeds his cranium (so one might say the abuse is well earned).

  As he cuts a bloody swath through the mystery of the guild war, we meet his many companions, including his ever-loyal Muel; Mavis, the head cook at his pub the Bottom Up; and Gloom, a cat with the nasty habit of turning invisible in a murderous rage of hunger.

  Acknowledgements

  The thought of the author toiling away, a single individual who by force of will brings forth a manuscript, is completely unfounded in reality.

  The following people were brave and foolhardy enough to read a first draft (a confirmation of insanity if there ever is one) and provide feedback: Jason Steadman, Wayne Gilbart, Blake Houchin, Faye Marchetto, Lori M. and, especially, Mark Tudor — who is always the very first to say yes when I ask for help with any endeavour.

  To Robin Thompson, who for years has been editor extraordinaire and has put up with me through several endeavors. She continues to be extraordinaire.

  To Shelly Fausett, because of whom this book is better than it should be. For working with me through the first draft and the second, for her editorial work, suggestions and critical feedback, I am supremely thankful. The lady has talent.

  To Pinty, who let me write his story.

  And finally, to Lonnie, who has embraced my “adorable quirks” these many years. For your constant support, thank you.

  Chapter 1

  With the mineshaft reverberating from the sound of metal striking wood, I roll out from under the sword that has just hewn a three-inch notch into one of the support beams. The man at the end of that blade, with massive arms that flex as if they have lifted a thousand tons of ore in his lifetime, is exceptionally angry for someone I met only a minute ago. This is refreshing, as it usually takes at least twice that long for someone to get this enraged with me.

  He heaves the steel out from the timber and looks down at me. Admittedly, I’m not very imposing – at a mere three-and-a-half feet, I barely stand as tall as his belly button. However, my handsomeness is phenomenal and, combined with my height, this makes me universally harmless. I flash him a smile all filled with perfect teeth and draw my own blade from its sheath on my hip.

  “Oh now,” I mutter, sizing up the full three-feet of sword he has again hefted and once again cleaves back down towards me. I mentally compare it against the seven inches (or so I keep saying to anyone who will listen) of knife in my hand. “Well, this will be fair.”

  I actually mean it.

  Digging coal and stone from the depths of the mine may have given him more strength than an Arcadian bull, but it certainly hasn’t improved his speed.

  Rolling forward with the knife in my left hand, I grab his pants with my right and, using my momentum, spin around and between his legs. The knife goes up and strikes home, finding the only real jewels in the mine. Then faster than one blinks, I am methodically puncturing his back with my knife as I climb up and wrap my itty-bitty legs around his neck.

  My mouth by the man’s ear, I whisper, “Climbing you was only marginally harder than your wife,” and plunge the blade into his throat. He instantly collapses in a wash of body and blood. As he tumbles I leap to the side, landing on my feet. The final sounds of the fight echo down the miles of tunnel, fading into a dark silence.

  I probably shouldn’t have said that. I mean, I’ve never even seen him before. I don’t even know if he had a wife. It just seemed like the appropriate thing to say in the poor man’s last second. Seriously, I have no idea why everyone doesn’t find me adorable.

  Wiping down the knife and replacing it into its sheath, I heft the small bag of spoils I have looted from the depths and tread back to the mouth of the mine.

  Emerging, I blink twice in the light of the sun and stop, hand on the knife, till my eyes decide to acclimate. To my left, the coarse breathing of another man punctures the white glare still in my eyes. I take my hand off the hilt as I recognize the breathing of my open-mouthed companion.

  “Awww, boss, you’ve done it again, and this time you promised that there would be no killing, no blood. ‘Not a drop,’ you said. Now look, I’ll be all day tomorrow just scrubbing down your suit to rid it of the blood. You know how hard it is to hide in the shadows when you smell like a butcher shop.” Muel, who on a good day seems only slightly less like his similar-sounding animal namesake, stands up from the log he is sitting on and wanders over. “Seriously, what is that, intestine?”

  “More like liver. Look, head in, and after you pass a body, you will come a junction. Take the left-hand passageway till you come across a table. From the table take the three big, heavy bags tied with red rope and whatever else you like. Just make sure you take those bags. I need them. And no wandering. Just stay to and follow the tunnel to the left.”

  “Right’o.” And Muel walks into the mine.

  “Your other left.”

  “Right, thanks!”

  A bit later the two of us start back to town. Though I’ve failed to convince Muel to piggyback me home (I think he’s actually upset about the blood this time), we do make good speed and arrive in time for the late evening mead and revelry before bed. 

  Chapter 2

  Waking up should never be this difficult.

  With my eyes still closed, I hear the soft throat murr of Gloom, the 26-pound, insanely angry, jealous and juvenile Visaus cat that, in the face of every possible action I have taken to stop it, has bonded with me.

  I’m pretty sure Gloom can’t hear the terror that lines my words. “Hey there, kitty, kitty, kitty. Good kitty, kitty, kitty. How’s my little Gloom?” Actually, that’s a lie. I’m absolutely sure he can hear the terror in my voice and, as a cat, is completely loving it.

  I open my eyes, not like that is going to help me. Not one bit. See, there are at least two things that I really hate about Visaus cats.

  The first, they get really upset when they haven’t been fed every couple hours. The second, and what makes Visaus cats unique beyond their murderous personality and steel-shearing claws, is the amazing ability to turn invisible. Something they especially relish doing when they’re hungry.

  The room is completely empty.

  “Ah shit, Gloom. Where’s my favorite kitty?” Nothing. “I h
ave a thought — why don’t you show yourself and then I can get up and find you something to devour. Something nice, maybe a delicious warm rock soup.”

  The room remains empty except for that slight murr. This isn’t good.

  I’m pretty sure I was drinking last night because it’s a complete alcohol-induced blackout. Scanning the room shows a bit of last night’s revelry: clothing I don’t recognize is draped on the furniture and tossed on the floor, there are several empty bottles of an exceedingly fine wine and, importantly, no blood. “Well, at least whomever I slept with last night made it out alive.”

  Pulling down the covers and rolling to the end of the bed, in one swift movement I grab my clothes from the night before, swing my legs over the side of the bed and drop to the floor. I land directly on something soft. A something that stops murring and instantly vocalizes a pissed-off howl of rage.

  There is a small bit of the brain that deals only with reflexes and the agility required to avoid danger. For me, it can be said that this normally small bit of grey matter takes up a disproportionately large amount of my head. For that I am completely indebted.

  It happens automatically — my feet lift me off Gloom’s tail and land me back onto the bed with what most people would say are lightning-fast reflexes. Those reflexes are only slightly faster than the cat, as Gloom shreds the blanket hanging over the mattress edge, a spot only inches away from my toes. I remain only slightly faster than the cat as he shreds the rest of the comforter, then the pillow beside me and then the space some of the most precious parts of my body had occupied a second before.

  “I’m sorry!” I scream, followed by the staccato listing of everything Gloom loves: “Catnip, salmon, six live mice!” I leap first to the dresser, then to my chests full of adventuring gear and finally to the ancient armchair carved by some of the finest craft elves in all the realms. With each of my leaps Gloom’s claws trail just behind — first rending through pine, then oak, and then the finest hardened and aged darkwood imported to this side of the Great Chasm. The splinters of the armchair arrow straight at me and embed themselves into my bottom.

  “Whiskerwood, a month without baths, nine pints of cream ale!” I somersault onto the door, swing down to release the lock and handle, spin around the panel and slam it closed. The whack of kitty face and claws hitting the door is followed by the nails of one claw making it through the two inches of solid wood.

  Then, silence.

  Quietly, I back up through the hallway and down the stairwell to the Bottom Up’s main room, never once letting my eyes move from the bedroom door. 

  Chapter 3

  Picking the splinters out of my butt, I stop at the bottom of the stairs and survey the main taproom of my bar, the Bottom Up.

  I inherited it from my long (long) lost (very lost) uncle four years ago. With the bar came an assortment of debts, liens, bad loans and a staff with way too many problems, idiosyncrasies and issues. Over the years, with a few minor exceptions, the debts have been paid off and the staff has remained. Suckers.

  Muel I inherited with the bar. He acts as bouncer, errand boy, porter, tailor, washer, bill collector, and when I’m on adventure, steadfast companion. He’s suited for it too, being freaking huge and able to lift anything not nailed, bolted and hammered into place all at once. While not the brightest person, he is fanatically loyal. If I asked him to carry an immovable stone, he would give it his all without hesitation. Most likely, a minute later with a grin on his face and the stone secured within his backpack, he would succeed.

  There is Mavis, our in-house cook, alchemist and brewer. It’s her mead and meats that have kept the regular customers happy over the years. It’s her poisons that have successfully removed a couple of patrons before they caused too much trouble.

  Horace is the bookkeeper and manager. It’s no secret that he’s also paid by his Lord Governor Petapeterich to track exactly how much I make in the bar and from adventuring. Horace appears constantly perplexed over how I continually keep losing money, thereby avoiding the payment of most taxes, while the bar seems to prosper. The answer is simple. I pay him far more under the table than his Lordship does. For that reason he never records all the revenue into the ledgers and definitely embellishes my costs.

  In addition to those three, there is a handful of maids, sculleries and wenches that excel at keeping everything tidy and in good order no matter how much I neglect the establishment.

  All in all, they are an amazing group of people.

  Dominating the center of the main taproom is an elder Berrywood tree that Uncle must have planted a couple decades ago in the basement, when it was illegal to own plants of Elvin origin. Over the years it had grown too large for the basement so he cut a hole in the taproom floor to let it flourish. When it outgrew the taproom ceiling he cut a hole in that too. Now it stands as the centerpiece to the entire room. Several times a year it blooms and Mavis collects the fruit and brews Bottom Up mead. She has deservedly won awards from around the nation for her brew, as it is absolutely delicious.

  Around the tree a dozen or so tables fill the room, and around the walls a half-dozen curtained booths offer a small amount of privacy to clients seeking a quieter night or to transact some business.

  Opposite the front door, a massive bar lines the north wall. It has a beautiful copper foot rail, inlaid wood carvings and a baby-smooth top from years of glasses sliding along the surface and the worry work of the bartender’s cloth rubbing the counter clean between customers.

  Behind the bar is not one mirror, but a hundred framed mirrors of all sizes, shapes and origins. From gilt work worthy of a king to common frames not much more than rough, hand-cut wood cast-offs, each is unique.

  Surrounding the myriad of mirrors, numerous shelves hold the knickknacks and junk that give the bar character. In the years I’ve owned the Bottom Up, more and more of my uncle’s collection of mementos have been replaced with tokens from my adventures — bits of broken weapons, writs commending me for saving this damsel or that one, banners, pennants and other pieces of my own junk.

  It also displays one object I hold very dear. It’s a small blue and white urn of alabaster and ivory, glazed in a simple pattern of flowers and doves. Within, if you were so uncouth as to open it, you would find the ashes of my wife, who died a little before I inherited the bar. We were school sweethearts and truly, madly in love. I keep it, a reminder of happiness I once had and of how short life may be.

  I wander behind the bar, step up onto the footstool kept there just for me, and scan the customers. As expected for so early in the morning, only a few hardcore regulars are here enjoying a traditional breakfast.

  Not unusual, Mavis is pulling double duty this morning. Instead of focusing solely on the love of her life – cooking – she’s up front managing the bar, covering for staff that habitually come to work late.

  “I saw you come down the stairs. You’ve been playing with your cat again.”

  “I, uh, wouldn’t exactly call it playing. Maybe more of an attempted act of ownercide on behalf of Gloom. I’m worried that he’s getting much better at it.”

  Mavis gives me that motherly tilt of her head that either says she’s truly concerned over my well-being or she’s jealous that the cat might kill me before she successfully poisons me. Not that I think she’s tried to poison me in these last four years, but it’s that kind of look. Of the two, I’m pulling for the first.

  “Gloom’s just looking for some attention. Cats need attention and here you are running off on adventures and leaving him home, all helpless and sad. Poor little pussycat.”

  “Mavis, the damn cat must be twenty-six pounds. I think he’s more than capable of handling himself. Indeed,” I add as I find one last splinter, pull it out of my butt and lay it on the bar, “he seems pretty good at making his point.”

  She sweeps the sliver of wood off the bar and into her hand. “Well, you may be right, but I still think a little love from you wouldn’t be a bad thing. I
ll get rid of this little reminder of your lack of sympathy for cute kitties” — at this point I’m rolling my eyes — “and find you some ointment for those wounds. Not that you should get ointment, but to each their faults.”

  Mavis looks to the front of the Bottom Up where two men in worn, unkempt clothing and leathers have entered and are heading directly towards us. They each bear both blade and dagger, which is a minor, never enforced, violation of a town law against wearing more than one blade within the city proper. “Speaking of faults,” she continues, “I think we’ve got two right here.”

  I know both of them from when we used to run together in the local rogues guild, generally stealing and performing petty crimes. A murder here or there, but mostly small-time stuff. That was until I got caught by the guild master doing something kind of stupid and I left. “Hey there, Squints,” I say to the one bearing a lovely and most distinguished scar (that I put there) that runs from his hairline, splits his ear and goes on down the neck. “I thought I made it perfectly clear that you, and anyone that you’ve ever shared a crap with in that hovel of a neighborhood you’ve drawn your lazy ass from this fine and refreshing morning, are barred from the Bottom Up.”

  Squints takes a barstool, sits, and glares at me with pure, unadulterated rage while his companion, Janis, stands beside him, slack-jawed and giggling. After trying to hold my gaze and failing, Squints says, “Long time no see, Pinty, and as friendly as ever. Never let it be said that your boyish charm will ruin you, hey? Anyways, it’s not our choice to visit this sty.” He pauses here to gather up his spit and hock a giant lugie onto the bar. “Guild Master Tavos thought you might just ignore one of those written invitations to come visit, you know, for old times’ sake, and sent us here instead to accompany you back.”

  I put a hand out to stop Mavis from grabbing a cleaver and hacking him in two for spitting on the bar. That Squints would even step foot in the Bottom Up means something’s up and I need him alive to find out what. “Well, I’m not interested hanging out with people who still want to have my head. I didn’t leave on good circumstances.”

  “Tavos thought of that, too,” says Squats, looking over at Janis, who continues to chuckle away to himself, “and asked that I kind of make it a requirement. Like, if you don’t want to visit, that’s all fine. But I’m sure going to miss him when he ends up in the bay.”

 
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