Rogue Mage, Path of Heroes Book One
By Brandon Barr and Michael Anderle
From Chapter One…
Perched on a slender branch, Payetta watched the cloaked men through the eyes of a sparrow. Her human form knelt far away, safely out of range of the three men winding their way through her woods. Each had a sword in its sheath with a second weapon in hand. The first two carried a bow with an arrow fitted to fly and the last twirled a knife playfully as he walked.
The sparrow had served its purpose and she thanked it for allowing her control.
She released it, then opened her eyes.
Justen’s eager look was waiting for her. “How many? How far off?”
“Three men. Just on the other side of the glen, heading toward South Meadow. Two bowmen, and the third looks good with a knife.”
“I don’t like it,” said Justen. “How many of Titannus’s men can we kill before he catches on to us?”
“It’s a pity they interrupted our picnic,” sang Payetta without a trace of sadness in her voice. An eager smirk twisted her lips as she glanced around the old ruins where she and Justen had been eating lunch. A shank of venison lay half eaten on the remains of a blackened stone hearth that stood at the center of the ancient structure.
Resting nearby was their skunk, She Grunts, licking herself under an armpit as she was fond of doing. It had been just another cool spring day for Payetta and her husband when she had sensed the intruders’ presence.
“Come on, hotass,” grinned Payetta. “Let’s go say hello.” She stretched out her hands to Justen and he pulled her up from the mossy stone floor.
Justen frowned, his brow raised in a pensive arch. “Be cautious, darling. Remember the last time raiders came to our woods, one of them almost got away to tell of your magic wood sword. Promise me you won’t use it.”
Payetta smiled. “Promise me you will use yours tonight. Wood sword, magic, and all.”
He laughed lightly and winked. “You drive a hard bargain.”
Payetta sped close behind him as he led her into the woods toward the familiar glen. The thrill of finally hunting down bad men felt like a cold blast of air—invigorating her sense of purpose. It had been six months since the last time they brought down any of Titannus’s men, and she was feeling too at ease of late, and had almost let these three raiders slip by.
“We should follow them,” said Justen. “See where they are going and what they’re up to.”
“Or you could just take two out with your arrows real quick and let me get the third with my wood sword. I’ve been dying to use it again. Come on, darling. Let me have some fun. Don’t make me disobey you.”
Justen sighed. “You know I’m right about hiding your magic.”
She sped up just enough to get in range of him. Then she gave him a fierce crack on his ass.
“I’ll take that as a disgruntled yes,” replied Justen.
Payetta laughed. “You know the truth of it. What were you thinking marrying a crazy girl like me?”
“I was thirteen. You were a great kisser. How was I supposed to know you were as stubborn as a wild jackrabbit!?”
“So I can use my wood sword then?”
Justen looked back at her, his eyebrows bent in a frown over his green eyes. “I swear, changing your mind on something is like moving a boulder the size of a cow.”
“Shush,” replied Payetta. “Women don’t like to be compared to boulders or cows.”
Justen glanced back over his shoulder with a grin.
Damn she loved that man. She didn’t deserve him or his fierce love and devotion. Sometimes she found herself admitting that he’d gotten the tougher end of the marriage deal. He had to put up with her and what did she have to do? Bask in his kindness and respect? Endure his logical brain when she’d rather shut off reason and do whatever the blazes she wanted? Hardly seemed fair.
Justen wove around a thicket of bushes, following an animal trail. The trees grew thicker and the sunlight dimmed as they entered a stand of aspens.
Payetta glanced behind her and saw She Grunts skittering along behind.
“Hold on,” Payetta called softly. “Let me track them again.”
She put her hand to the ground and closed her eyes. Her mind absorbed her surroundings through living things, like a blank canvas soaking in the colors of the room, only the colors were trees and plants, insects and animals. She’d developed this skill two years ago at sixteen and it had been growing stronger ever since.
Now she pushed her focus in the direction the men had been walking and her Eartheye coned out in obedience, stretching further south, but shrinking in all other directions.
She felt the men’s footfalls again. Heavy, tromping steps that sent vibrations through the roots of trees and made little insects scurry for shelter.
Payetta released her grip on the forest and stood and found Justen’s eyes. “They’re moving fast, toward the edge of the woods. Let’s pick up our pace.”
She turned and clapped her hands at She Grunts. The skunk trotted over and Payetta scooped her up and tucked her under one arm.
They ran without care of making noise, thrashing through brush and splashing through puddles left from yesterday’s rain.
When they neared the edge of the woods, Justen slowed.
Payetta closed her eyes and the ground beneath her feet soaked in her consciousness.
The men were near. She found an animal suitable for her. A brown-furred hare that looked out from its burrow at the three raiders. They had stopped and were talking to themselves as they peered over the enormous swath of land that was South Meadow. Fields of lettuces, potatoes, squash, and tomatoes were interspersed with farm cottages and rows of apple and cherry trees.
She sent the hare dashing out of its hole and the sound startled the three. Neither of the two bowmen tried their luck with the swift animal as it darted past them. She released the hare and attempted to enter a much nastier animal that was deep in its den, contentedly licking the last morsels from a bird egg. It was a large, red-tailed badger, and it was certain to be a challenge, as were all predatory animals.
The fight with this particular badger’s will was like a mental sparring match of fists versus claws and teeth.
“What are you doing?” she heard Justen ask, his voice barely audible as only a trace of her conscious mind remained there beside him in her body. She didn’t have the energy to answer back, or she’d lose her battle with the sizeable beast.
The badger’s fury began to subside, and its breathing eased as she gained control.
She shifted some of her energy back into her body. “They’re just beyond that berm,” she said to Justen.
“What kind of animal did you get?”
“A creature to fit my temperament.”
“Did you find a mule out in the woods?”
“A badger, you jackass.”
“All right,” he laughed. “Like last time, they won’t know what hit them.”
Justen raced away and Payetta refocused nearly all of her awareness to the badger. She never abandoned her body completely. One day, she promised herself, she would try it.
She stalked out of her den and sniffed irritably at the scent of the three men, then scurried toward them. As she drew near she tried to walk a silent path, maneuvering between fallen trees and following a trail made by the wild dogs. As she neared, she heard the raiders talking.
“I want one of the farms with fruit,” said a man with a jutting chin that looked like a buttocks. “Vegetables give me the runs.”
“Stupid,” growled another, whose greasy face was covered in stubble. “The wild boar gave you the runs, either that or those mushrooms you ate made you think you had the runs.”
“Magical runs,” laughed a third man who looked to be the biggest and strongest of them all. He was one of the bowmen, but the longsword strapped to his back didn’t fail her notice. He was the one she wanted.
Payetta could smell Justen in the distance now and with a careful search to the northeast of the men, she spotted him creeping within arrow range beside a tangle of aspens.
“I gotta take a piss,” said the big man, setting down his bow and arrow. He turned and walked in her direction. He came up right to where she hid in a bush, pulled the front of his trousers down and whipped his manhood out.
Her badger eyes narrowed. The bastard was going to pee on her.
She bared her teeth in a grin. It wasn’t often opportunity came right up and knocked on her door, but whenever it did, she was happy to answer.
Payetta sprang out for the one thing that could bring the man down in an instant. She couldn’t help herself. He’d stuck it out like a dangling carrot.
The man’s high pitched scream tore the air.
Payetta shook her snout viciously, her foreclaws hooked into the man’s thighs for a solid hold. With one last violent shake of her head, she sprang away before his fist or sword could find her.
The stubble faced man and the one with the buttocks for a chin had turned toward the screams of their friend, but stood frozen with terror.
Whether their shock came from the blood staining her snout, or the fact that their friend had been partially castrated before their eyes, she didn’t know, but the look in their eyes told her she’d done her job well.
The stubbly-faced man’s body lurched forward suddenly, an arrowhead protruding through his leathers. The man collapsed to the ground without a word, shot through the heart.
Butt-Chin turned, knife in hand as Justen came running out of the woods with his sword.
Payetta was about to attack and aid her husband when suddenly her body—her human body—felt strong hands seize her shoulders and throw her down on her back.
Disoriented, she abandoned the badger and opened her eyes. Two men stood over her, one grinning like he’d just found a nice toy to play with, the other looking out at the woods, his jaw tight with concern.
Two more raiders? How had she missed them?
“Hello, pretty,” growled the man leering over her.
That’s it for now! I hope you enjoyed this little glimpse of Payetta and Justen (and She Grunts…much more to come of She Grunts in the story!)
Look for Snippet 2 from ROGUE MAGE with the Big TKG character connection revealed! 🙂
To find out more about Brandon Barr and his books http://www.brandonbarr.com