A brief excerpt from The Ghost Princess:
When it rains, it pours.
The thought crossed Katrina Lamont’s mind as she heard the rain outside. The raindrops were hitting the ground so hard she heard it over the crowd. She figured it just as well—she had no intention of leaving any time soon.
Rasul Kader didn’t follow after she stormed out of the bar. That was good for his sake, because if he had, she was certain she would’ve wound up punching him in the throat. The fresh air did her good, and after smoking two more cigarettes, she calmed down and got something to eat at the Pilgrim’s Stop.
However, any appetite she might have had dwindled upon seeing the three Sentries and their Mage. They were talking among themselves and paid no mind to her, but seeing a group of soldiers and magic-user— mostly likely on some mission or quest of their own—so soon after listening to Kader’s pitch made Katrina feel uneasy and tense.
Barely touching her food, she eventually returned to the bar, hoping Kader would be gone. He was thankfully nowhere to be found, so she decided to forego any sense of pacing herself and started hitting the ale as soon as she arrived. The first two pints stung her throat and made her stomach tumble, but she developed a pleasant buzz that made it fade away.
Unfortunately, drinking did little to ease the growing paranoia nagging her mind. She sat in the back corner, by herself, scanning the bar for anyone who might be staring at her. Most of the other patrons were regulars she recognized from previous nights, and she noted more than a few guys leering at her—all seemed as it should be.
Nevertheless, she couldn’t shake an increasing dread someone was watching her and Kader was only the beginning. The beginning of what, she didn’t know … nor did she want to.
That word—destiny—rang in her mind, and every time it did, she would shudder and feel something prickle in her gut. First Kader—with his talk of quests and sacred tasks. Finding some girl and preparing her for some grand purpose …
There was a young girl, once. Five years old, sitting in an orphanage, being approached by a woman with long, white hair. The girl was asked if she believed in destiny …
Katrina convulsed upon thinking it, feeling lightheaded and faint. She shook her head and took a deep swig from her ale. She forced the thought aside and buried it deep down.
Kader was followed up by seeing Sentries and their Mage. What next? Treasure seekers? Demon hunting? Dragons? She feared it was only the start. The first rocks before an avalanche. She couldn’t shake the horrible feeling the world was spinning out from under her—that she was being caught into something she had no control over and couldn’t stop.
Just like before …
She snapped out of it and realized she’d been tugging at her own hair. She shook her head and finished the last of her pint. She wasn’t as drunk as she ordinarily liked to be, but the rain outside had slowed to a drizzle, and she decided it might be best to call it a night.
Once outside in the fresh air, feeling the gentle spray of precipitation, she felt better. Navigating her way through the deserted and dark streets, with a kind of walking on air feeling, she found she didn’t mind being only “pretty drunk” instead of “black-out.”
She’d get to her apartment, wash up, and ease into bed—as opposed to the floor—and (hopefully) have a nice, comfortable, dreamless sleep. She could always pack up and ditch Dictum the next morning, leaving any problems behind.
She took a shortcut through a narrow alley on her way back to the inn. Walking through the close quarters, the breeze died down to dead silence, and the misty rain reduced to thick drops falling from the roofs. The quiet heightened, Katrina found—despite her intoxication— her instincts and senses, honed and sharpened since childhood, were as clear as ever.
She was being followed. At least three.
Without realizing it, her hand drew to her side where a sword would have been if she was armed. The familiarity washed over her, and she felt a strain on her heart knowing that in spite of the years wallowing in bars—slowly destroying herself, cutting years from her life with every new drink—she was still as skilled and deadly as ever.
There was a profound feeling of helplessness with that realization. A sense she—even now, after everything she’d endured—still had no real control over her own life. She was still the weapon she was bred to be. It made her feel sick.
Her hand shaking, she closed her fist and took a deep breath. She hoped she was wrong and the people following her weren’t a threat. Maybe it was just some drunks from the bar, following her like puppydogs, hoping she’d invite them back to her room? Maybe it was just a misunderstanding? Maybe …
The first one lunged from the shadows, his arms stretched out, either looking to wrap her in a headlock, or strangle her with a rope. In an instant, she was stone sober again, and in the blink of an eye, she sidestepped her attacker without even looking at him. He stumbled forward—a large, lumbering shadow in the dark, lightless alley—and let out a confused grunt.
Before he could react, or his partners assist, Katrina threw her knee into his gut while slamming her elbow into the back of his neck. Her attacker let out a guttural gagging sound, slumping forward over her knee.
Behind her, the second attacker charged—this one armed with a sword. She caught him by the wrist and broke his arm at the elbow. He screamed and dropped his sword, clutching his arm that was bent at an unnatural forty-five degree angle.
He was so consumed with his howling, he offered no resistance as she drove his face into the stone building in front of him—punctuating the assault by pounding her foot into the back of his head.
There was an ugly smatter sound, and he sank to the ground. Dead, maybe—she wasn’t sure and tried not to be troubled by her own indifference.
The last of her attackers stood at the end of the alley. There was enough light to see he was a young man, in his twenties, with shaggy, black hair and wearing a dark coat. He stared at Katrina with wide eyes—not necessarily frightened, but certainly shocked.
She stood waiting for him to make a move, and he looked like he was about to reach into his coat for something, but paused and said, “Yeah … no,” before turning and running away.
Katrina considered giving chase—demanding who they were and who sent them (Kill him too, maybe)—but she decided against it. The adrenaline was already dying down, and all she wanted was to find a dark place to hide and be left alone.
She approached the first attacker, who was making sickening groaning noises on the ground, and planted her foot on his throat. “Who sent you?”
In between coughing and gagging, he snarled, “I ain’t telling you nothing!”
She pressed more weight down on his neck and repeated, “Who sent you?”
“Go to hell, bitch!”
Katrina suddenly had a flash of times before. Years ago, when she was younger and had to deal with assassins and enemies at every turn. Demands for information, threats, hundreds of variations of the word “bitch” and other insults. It came in a sudden burst of stinging red, and with it, came an intense mixture of fury and panic.
Without thinking, she stomped her foot down and shattered his neck. There was a disgusting crunch, and he let out a quick croak before going limp beneath her foot.
The flash passed, and Katrina felt her heart pounding. Sweat poured from her forehead, and a wave of horror washed over her. Without realizing it, she started tugging at her hair, muttering to herself, “Not this again … I can’t do this again …”
Despite being shocked into sobriety, she didn’t remember much of the rest of the night. She woke up the next morning, huddled in a corner of her rented apartment, with a clump of her hair in her fist.
The Ghost Princess is currently available on Amazon in paperback and for Kindle.