Gnawed Bones

Life is bleak in a kingdom that hasn’t realized that it has fallen.

Ajax is lucky to be fed, sheltered, and valued by the Ternjac Monastery. Then he finds out exactly how valuable, and decides he’d rather not be eaten.

His escape lands him solidly in the middle of an adventure just like he’d read about—but as the victim, not the hero.

Redemption doesn’t come in the form of a bloodthirsty mercenary, but salvation does.

After Axel, the professional she-demon, tortures him and turns him in for a bounty, Ajax decides to kill her—and he is still considering it….

Or, more likely, he will have to come to terms with the devil in his own blood as he stumbles along a path that while rough, dangerous, and not exactly what he imagined, is nonetheless, his own.


Tentatively scheduled for release in late 2016!

Note: Jesse Dillon is the pseudonym of Audra Brown and Courtney Floyd.





Chapter 1
The Red Queen


With a quill he had taken from a dead man who had better taste in writing equipment than company, the captain of the Red Queen scratched another name off the list. He’d been in port for two weeks and still only a few miscreants had applied for the position. Petty villains were just fine for the crude work of crewing the ship and he’d hired a good portion of those who’d applied. In fact, they could be downright handy in a tight spot. One didn’t have to worry about making an example of a miscreant, and as a consequence, miscreants knew they had little choice but to do the grunt work given them.

But a good point man was crucial to any smuggling endeavor. Simple villainy could not succeed in the smuggling game; artistry, intelligence, and a particular madness were required. Failure to find such an individual could break him.

He lowered his head into his hands. To make matters worse, he was running out of time. He had to sail in the next two days or the weather would be too chancy. If someone didn’t turn up soon, he’d have to settle for one of the mediocre candidates. And delaying the trip was no option—too much of his borrowed capitol was invested in the cargo.

He slammed a fist against the countertop. Freemark was the last port before the long sea journey to Alfa, and the most disreputable place he had ever been. It had to be crawling with eligible men. So where were the professionals?

After a few moments, he lifted his head and sighed. There were a couple of men who had seemed more likely than the rest. He would hire both and pit them against each other during the voyage. By the time they reached Veltan, he would know who to use. Folding the parchment, he stashed it in the inner pocket of his coat and turned his attention to the bottles on the shelves behind the counter. “Something from east of here, please,” he addressed the barman. The small tavern had served him well as a recruiting base, and it was well-stocked with imported drink.

“How far?” the barman asked, his bald head outshining the glass he sat down on the bar, just polished.

“As far as possible, I think. It will still be swill, I’m certain, but perhaps close enough for me to imagine.”

The drink was indeed a pitiful excuse for Fafsar Brandy, but it was still far more comforting than any of the crude western concoctions that he had encountered since he left home.

After two more rounds, he paid the barman, grimaced at the lightness of his coin pouch and walked out into the night.

This part of the city, its crumbing facades obscuring any view of the new sections, was like a world unto itself. Law was mostly ignored and crime the main source of what little income the residents enjoyed. The dark grey stone that had been quarried nearby was forbidding, blending in with the deep shadows well. But the deep color had failed to convey the underlying infirmity of the soft stone. Being easy to cut and plentiful, it had been used widely. It had not aged well, tending to crumble and fall.

He avoided one such pile of rubble that had once been the street face of some forgotten shop and hurried on, not wanting to get mired in musings of the past.

He walked without stopping until he reached the dock where his ship was berthed. The Red Queen was much better suited to his purposes than the other, larger ships that obscured it from his place on the shore. It was large enough to contain a decent cargo, but light enough to be swift, maneuverable, and a more difficult target for cannons.

The red paint on the hull was faded and peeling, but she was still strong. Appearances were of little concern.

With a wave to the mate that was on watch, he crossed the plank. The deck was empty but for the watchman, the crew either asleep or still out reveling, spending the pay advance he had given. He would not allow it on the night before departure, but until then, it was better to let them roam free.

He entered the slim corridor that divided the upper deck into two cabin spaces. His room was small and the other smaller, but privacy was a treasure on any ship. He secured the lock on his door and removed his coat, carefully folding it and draping it over the back of the chair in the corner. He unbuckled his belt, wrapping it around the long sheath and putting his sword in the trunk that sat just beside the bed. He kept the dagger and placed it under the pillow.

Seated on the bed, he pulled the quill from his jacket and a bottle of ink and sat them on the trunk. He retrieved the small logbook from its hiding place in the wall and proceeded to recount the events of the day and anything else that might be pertinent.

“Aye, figures you’d be a lettered man.”

Grabbing the dagger, he searched for the speaker. He blinked and, impossibly, opened them to see a cloaked figure seated in the only chair in the room, legs and arms crossed. It sat still, face obscured by the compounded shadow of a deep hood.

“Get out of my cabin!” he said, pointing the dagger at the intruder.

The figure did not flinch.

“Come now, is this how you usually go about recruitment? It seems unlikely to be very effective.” The accent had changed, becoming more refined, but still annoyingly level.

“What? Who are you? And why on the name of Dragoneye are you in my private cabin?” He kept the dagger at the ready, but he preferred not to dive into a fight with so much mystery involved.

A laugh, very cold, followed his question.

“You put it so well, Captain Tiber. I prefer to demonstrate my skill before discussing any payment. That is why I am here. Though, I admit it was a shamefully simple task.”

Tiber coughed.


“Aye, you are in need of a point man. Traditionally it is a paid position.”

“You are too late. And far too bold. Leave now and I’ll not kill you.”

The figure responded with another laugh, amused, but still so cold.

“No. I will leave when our business is concluded. I know about your cargo and I don’t mean the Itrapsan rugs. Kakos smuggling is a dangerous venture, Tiber. Where do you expect to fence the beans? Alfa, presumably?”

“Not your business.”

“Aye, not yet. But let us forget that for the moment. You’ve never even seen Alfa? How do you expect to fence a large quantity of the most highly restricted substance known to man?” Leaning forward the intruder said, “You need a native. You need me.”

“You’re an Alfan?” Tiber chuckled. “I know enough to know that you don’t speak like one. Do you think me a fool?”

“Yes. I also know how bad you are at Stronghold, but that is another matter.”

Tiber lowered the dagger, slightly. “Nightblade?”

He’d lost miserably at the game, more than once, to a particularly infamous mercenary.

Axel Nightblade lowered the hood, revealing a head of black hair, braided and adorned with silver skulls. Her face might have been pretty or even regal on another woman, but the deep scar that started above her left eye and terminated at the corner of her grinning mouth spoiled any thought of innocence and the eyes killed any other ideas. They were dark blue, like the ocean at night, but colder than the most frigid sea.

Tiber lowered the dagger. He doubted it would be much use. “You’re hired,” he said.

“Of course I am. The question is, can you afford me?”

“If you know about the job, you know about the pay. I have nothing more. It is all invested in the cargo you are so familiar with.”

“That’s fine. You can pay me in kakos. I prefer it to gold anyway. Much more valuable. A fifteen percent share will do just fine.”

“Fifteen?” Tiber threw the dagger down where it imbedded itself in the wood, vibrating. He calmed himself down. Good fortune had brought him a well respected sword-for-hire and an experienced point man. Nightblade would be a good investment. Besides, it was dangerous job. The odds of her collecting were decidedly slim.

“Ten?” he asked.

“Aye. That’ll do. But I get the other cabin.”

His first mate would be furious, but Nightblade was far more important.

“Very well, Nightblade. We leave in two days. Be aboard.”

He turned away, reaching for the quill. He would have her sign the contract and it would be official. “If you would make you mark…”

A soft whoosh of air travelled across the room as the cabin door swung shut.

Tiber froze. She was gone, had disappeared into the darkness. No trace, no sound. Unfortunate, but not unexpected: the name Nightblade was well-earned.

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