A Colbana Files Prequel
The events of this short story take place between A STROKE OF DUMB LUCK and BLADE SONG. It can be read as a stand-alone.
For the first time in her life, Kit Colbana’s life was going just fine. She had a nice, easy job. She’d managed to escape the not-so-loving attentions of a family who’d rather see her dead than look at her. She had a roof over her head and she didn’t have to fight for every little thing she had.
Then she finds herself tangled up with a green-eyed witch by the name of Justin. He’s looking for somebody and for some bizarre reason, he seems to think she can help. All she has to do is say no, and she can go back to her safe little existence. That’s exactly what she needs to do and she knows it.
Too bad she’s not very good at following her own advice.
“So, who wants to talk and who wants to die?”
The voice coming from the alley behind TJ’s was cheerful, just a little too cheerful, considering the grim message in his words. It was a little scary, though, because that cheer was not false. Whoever he was, he was all too excited about the thought of making somebody talk, then bleed, then die.
In that order.
I could smell the blood in the air and it wasn’t shapeshifter blood. I knew that smell all too well, but that was just because I worked in a bar where blood was spilled. A lot. Shapeshifters liked to fight, after all, and those fights led to bloodshed. Lucky me, I got to clean it up.
Go inside. That was the voice of common sense.
I was done working. Nothing for me to do, really. I never did anything, other than work. Well, other than lock myself in my room and read. Or lock myself in the little gym TJ had let me set up and work out. I could do either one of those and pretend the rest of the world didn’t exist.
This one night, I’d felt an odd little pull, something that had tugged me out of the bar. Go back inside, I told myself.
Something sizzled in the air and I felt it dance across my skin.
Then there was a yell, followed by a grunt and a series of thuds.
It was getting really hard to pretend this wasn’t happening. If I went back inside and acted like I hadn’t noticed anything, I’d have a hard time facing myself in the morning.
My inability to mind my own business will be the death of me. Here lies Kit Colbana, killed by her own curiosity. That will be my epitaph. Still, I couldn’t stay there, shifting from one foot to the other while I listened to somebody getting the hell beaten out of them.
Keeping to the shadows, I moved down the maze of twisting, narrow little paths and paused when I reached the junction up ahead. It was there. Just ahead and to the right. The smell of blood was stronger and I could hear somebody laughing. It was the man I’d heard earlier—
“Oh, come on, you can do better than that…”
His voice sounded thick now. Not quite so eager to make something talk, then bleed, then die.
Of course, he was the one talking, in a voice that was thick and wet. He was bleeding, too. I could see that when I peered around the corner. There he was, caught between two wolves—shapeshifters—while a third drew back a hand and slammed it into his gut.
He crumpled around the fist.
“Who are you working for?” A new voice now, somebody big and mean. He drove another fist into the man’s gut as he spoke. I raked him with a look, sized him up. A werewolf.
The entire tableau was surreal. There were three weres, the one doing the pummeling, while the other two held a brown-haired man immobile.
“One more time, you little fuck.” The were smashed a giant fist into the man’s face and I winced as blood splattered out in an arcing spray. “Who are you working for?”
There was no answer, just a nasal sort of groan.
The werewolf in front of him fisted a hand in the man’s hair and jerked his head up, leaning in to snarl at the man. He looked…human. I didn’t feel that weird kind of energy I sensed around all shifters, which meant if this kept up, he’d be dead.
Nervous, I glanced behind me. Could I get back to the bar and Goliath?
I didn’t know.
Sliding a hand inside my vest, I touched one of the silver knives.
“Come on, witch. You aren’t down here asking about night just because you want to.” The wolf reached up, caught the man’s face, started to squeeze.
Horrified, I bit my lip to keep from making a sound. I couldn’t look away as I watched those fingers dig in. I knew how strong shifters were. They could crush bone, stone, metal.
The man groaned hoarsely.
Shit. I can’t watch this. I had to do something—had to help.
Abruptly, it was like the fight drained out of him.
“There. That’s what I thought.” The wolf backed up and now, all I could see was his back. “Give me the name, boy. You don’t want me telling TJ you been running around behind her back and fucking her over, do you? Selling drugs to kids, skimming her profits?”
“Did you hear that?” One of the other wolves looked up, eyes narrowing.
I’d bumped something on the ground. It wouldn’t have been loud enough for anybody human to hear.
But we weren’t dealing with humans. The NH—non-human—population had sharper senses and I had all but shouted my presence.
I gripped the knife and shot a look once more toward TJ’s. If I ran, they’d catch me. If I called for Goliath, he’d hear me, but probably not in time.
Son. Of. A. Bitch.
I should have gone to my room and finished my damn book.
A shadow stretched out along the ground in front of me—so close.
Instinct moved me and I lunged out, threw the knife.
I hadn’t taken out a target since the night in the sewers, but I never once doubted my aim.
I am aneira—
The words echoed in the back of my mind. I’d heard them, so often, in the years before I’d run away. Time seemed to slow.
My aim is true.
And it was. The blade flew, straight and true and so very fast. So fast the shifter didn’t even have time to avoid it. The silver buried itself in the shifter’s heart. Without waiting to see what happened, I lunged at him and as he hit the ground, I wrenched the knife around, twisting it. The scent of smoke filled the air. I didn’t waste another second. I came up and dove forward in a somersault. I landed in a crouch as I faced the other two shapeshifters.
The man pinned to the wall looked at me with greener than green eyes. To my surprise, he grinned. “It’s about fucking time.”
* * * *
Side note…in things that annoy me…an opening to a book can be either a nuisance, trying to figure out the perfect hook, or a thing of beauty, because it’s so damn perfect.
When I sat down to write this, I immediately knew how I wanted to do it, because I could hear Justin’s mocking, smart-ass voice in the back of my head…saying that line.
I thought it was sheer brilliance.
And now I want to stop reading books, forever…ugh. Because while I reading over the weekend, actually, glomming…I’ve been on a Jeaniene Frost kick again, that line was painfully similar to one Jeaniene Frost’s Vlad had said in one of the Cat & Bones books. Who wants to talk and who wants to burn to death…
The book was written several years ago, and nooooo… I wasn’t piecing through it trying to find clever lines. :( dear jeanine, i love that line from vlad and now my line doesn’t sound so brilliant…
I realize it’s possible that things like this can (and well, it did) happen, but sometimes I wish I could dump all things I’ve read into one giant system and compare it to all the stuff I’m writing so I can keep stuff like this from happening. I figure that will happen about the same time I get that ‘brain to screen’ program I’ve been hankering for.
Anyway… the story is out, it’s up almost everywhere, just waiting for it to hit BN, which hopefully will be soon.