We’ve got a final draft, folks. Probably. Barring squirrel attacks and other natural disasters. I present for your enjoyment the opening of the book.
The Greatest Sin #2: Harbinger
Chavali did not consider this a proper response to the current situation. Why Eldrack sent her with this madman, she had no idea, because he clearly suffered from at least four kinds of derangement. Although she’d carefully avoided touching him, and thus hadn’t sampled his thoughts, he played the part of a lunatic more than half the time. Such as now.
“This is a grand opportunity to get some hands-on experience with everything you’ve been practicing, Chavali.” Algie smiled brightly, holding his hands up in surrender. He did this because three men with blades held weapons on the pair of them. Another two stood in the tall grasses off the side of the road with bows ready to fire.
Chavali held her hands up, too, facing the five men. “Is it?” Although she had no intention whatsoever of giving anything up to some band of thieves, Algie’s desire to fight them left a sour taste in her mouth.
“Yes,” the more senior Fallen nodded gleefully, “I think so.”
“Shut up,” the apparent leader snarled as he approached. “Quit yer yapping, halfbreed, and hand over what you’ve got.”
“His manners are quite poor,” Chavali observed dryly. She had fear of these men. If any of them had great skill, they wouldn’t be out here, harassing travelers for whatever coin they might carry. Choosing her and Algie as targets did give her concerns about how far they might go, given they had neither horses nor any other outward signs of wealth. Care needed to be employed. Algie might not agree.
“This,” the leader shouted, “is a robbery! You give us whatever you have, and we let you live!” He desperately wanted them to take him seriously. Desperately.
Instead of doing so, Chavali lowered her hands and clenched them into fists, which she planted on her hips. “So you say. What if we intend to rob you instead?” Her eyes flicked about, noting the position of the sun in the cloudless sky, judging the distance to a stand of trees nearby, and considering if that low hill ahead might be close enough to use somehow.
“We certainly could,” Algie agreed, sounding serious and thoughtful for the first time since they left the Tower yesterday. “I could take three of them, that leaves two for you. You can take two of these idiots. Rush the archers and I’ll handle the rest.”
The leader’s eyes popped with indignation. “You can’t just stand there and discuss-” He made an angry, frustrated noise. “Tactics!” The word exploded from his mouth. “You’re talking about tactics for fighting us right in front of us!”
Snaking her hand out, Chavali patted the leader’s cheek hard enough to smart. “You poor thing. All out of control and about to die.” In the brief snatch of contact, the spirits showed her his thoughts: no different from his words and actions. This bandit bit off more than he could chew and groped for how to handle it without losing face among his men. They wouldn’t follow a leader who couldn’t lead.
Algie took that as a signal and wrapped an arm around her waist. A blast of magical power pushed outward from them, knocking the three men back on the dusty road. He shoved her towards the archers, and since she expected it, she used the momentum he provided to throw herself at the remaining two men. Too stunned to react, the idiots stood there as she plowed into both – one with a shoulder and arm, the other with her hip and knee.
Tumbling to the ground with them, she pulled her knife and rolled to be clear if either managed to attack in return. One of the archers hit his head hard enough to make him slow to stir. The other dropped his bow and rolled onto his hands and knees. “Head up, Chavali,” Algie called out cheerfully, “don’t lose your advantage!”
She ignored him and flung herself at the archer again, keeping him on the ground with her. All she’d learned so far covered only the most basic ways to use the small blade in her hand. If it got to be a fair fight, it wouldn’t go well for her.