To read the previous adventures of Sabine, click here. The story continues below. *** Sabine sat on a small rock at the center of a circle of other rocks at the edge of Lake Dressen.
To read the previous adventures of Sabine, click here. The story continues below.
Sabine sat on a small rock at the center of a circle of other rocks at the edge of Lake Dressen. A bad, pulp-paged chapbook was in her hands, layers of seaweed were secured around her legs, and a hollowed-out scallop shell was strapped across her chest. The last detail had to be fought for, but as Cecilio defended in the negotiation room, Sabine maintained a strict no-nudity clause in her contracts.
“This is terrible. All of it.” Sabine licked a finger and turned the page. Her contract, which was a collective job by the stepmothers of six different young women, simply specified she stand in for the one child of the bunch who had not yet been kidnapped, a redheaded, prepubescent mermaid named Hannah. Sabine considered pointing out that, apart from their hair color, she and the twelve-year-old looked nothing alike. But the stepmother paying for the job was much more of a beluga sturgeon than she was woman, so it seemed reasonable all human-like girls probably appeared the same to her. Having once been married to a man-atee, it was familiar territory for Sabine.
What’s terrible, exactly? Dahkhal asked.
“This situation, this book, this outfit—”
Indeed. You should have told them you couldn’t fill a seashell; you can barely fill a B-shell.
Sabine scowled, yanked off Dahkhal’s ring, and threw it toward a nearby hollow reed. The ring slipped down the center as the warlock shouted. Then the jewelry piece flew upward with a gust of air and below the surface, a figure completely hidden by moss and foliage said, “Watch where you’re tossing things!”
“Sorry, Keiji,” Sabine said.
Keiji Kuroda was a mercenary skilled in a foreign style of martial arts called, “ninjitsu.” It was said he could dress in dozens of outfits to avoid detection, ate a strict vegetarian diet to ward off any possible body odor, and was skilled in all killing arts ranging from poisoning to knife throwing.
The spat-up ring ended up in a second hollowed-out reed nearby. Bubbles came up from the water and an incredibly conspicuous black-clad man came up to the surface, spat the reed from his mouth, and gagged. After some struggle, he coughed up the ring and glared at Sabine. “Oi, what was that for? Who tries to choke the great Bullshido?”
Without even coming up from his hiding spot, Kuroda admonished, “Sit your dumb ass back down, or we’ll never pull this off.”
“A true ninja accepts no offense!”
“A true ninja knows when to sit down and shut up.”
Sabine occasionally overheard arguments between the two back at the tavern. She knew nothing of the mysterious ninjutsu herself, but when she considered the extreme flamboyance and bravado Bullshido brought to every assignment, it was hard to believe he hadn’t gotten himself killed years ago. He came from a wealthy family and only did merc work for the fun of it, so he could afford to charge even less than Sabine did. That was probably the only reason the sturgeon stepmother bothered to hire him.
Bullshido tossed back the ring, Sabine slipped it back on and resumed the terrible chapbook. The sturgeon said her beloved stepdaughter Hannah began to act impudent a year before, when someone who claimed to be her “fairy godmother” began to appear to Hannah in the stone circle. The godmother, whoever she was, put whispers of subterfuge into the girl’s head and gave her the wretched book Sabine now held. It was about a mermaid who cut out her tongue in the name of sleeping with some sailor she’d never met.
The stepmother of the girl Eleanor insisted something similar, that the girl was patient and loving before someone told her she was working too many chores. “Of course, I made her cook and clean all day, we’re barely scraping by! My own girls cook and clean all day too, that’s what happens when you work as servants!”
There was also Bianca, who claimed she would run away to live with dwarves in the woods. Callista insisted on staying in bed all day when there was wheat that needed harvested. And then there was the girl with the utterly unpronounceable name that was eighty percent vowels, who had been availed of the notion that her sex deserved the same rights as men.
Sabine snapped back to attention as the sky went red with the sunset. She breathed out a sigh, laid down on the rock, and buried her face in her hands. This whole plan was stupid, in her opinion, but all she really had to do was get the kidnapper close and let Kuroda fire a poison dart. Occasionally, for effect, she faked a wheeze, the closest analogue to sobbing she could manage.
Nearly twenty minutes later, she felt a warm hand on her shoulder. “Here you are again, my sweet.”
The mercenary froze up. She supposed the voice of the kidnapper would have to be gentle and pleasant, but she hadn’t been prepared for what she heard. This child thief, whoever she was, spoke like a smooth melody and sounded sweet as honey.
Oh hells, Dahkhal said. She came up on the wrong side.
Sabine whispered, “Eh?”
Kuroda can’t get a clear shot of much more than your behind, Dahkhal said. You need to get her turned around.
Face still hidden, Sabine repositioned herself on the rock and said, “Godmother, is that you?”
The kidnapper was silent for a moment before she said, “It is, Hannah. My, how much scratchier your voice has become.”
Sabine reflected for a moment on what years of drunken shouting in bars had apparently done to her before she said, “Womanhood is upon me. The better to praise you, sweet godmother.”
“Oh, my dear.” She set a hand on Sabine’s bare back.
The mercenary cursed; she was still in the wrong spot. “My eyes hurt with tears. Can you come here so I may see you?”
There were no steps upon the stone, it was now clear to Sabine that this woman, who or whatever she was, levitated. With her now before Sabine, the mysterious one cupped the mercenary’s cheeks and raised her face up. Sabine opened one eye and saw one of the reeds in the lake turn in their direction.
When the two came face to face, the floating woman’s eyes went wide, and she scowled. “What? Who are you supposed to—”
A dart flew out of the reed.
At the same time, with the speed of a sailfish, another body leapt out of the lake. “GODMOTHER!”
Sabine got a look at a younger woman she looked nothing like, save for her red hair, who reached for the kidnapper and accidentally intercepted the dart with her tail for her trouble.
With a cry, the godmother shouted, “My Hannah!” and hugged the mermaid to her chest.
The dart was non-lethal, the stepmothers all still wanted to know where their girls had gone. But Sabine figured the kidnapper didn’t need to know that, slipped a dagger from under her false-fins, and crawled up behind the woman with the weapon raised.
“Evil wench, what dishonor you have brought to our mission!” Bullshido jumped up from his hiding spot and pulled a set of nunchakus from his belt. As he whipped them around, he said, “Prepare yourself to—”
Without batting an eye, the kidnapper raised one finger and a spark of magic sailed. One of the batons flew up, smashed Bullshido between his eyes, and knocked him unconscious. Sabine cringed and was sure the effort wasn’t worth it. The idiot would have done that himself a few seconds after.
“Let’s skip the theatrics here, sweet,” the woman said. “You wanna get out of here?”
With a shaky voice, the mermaid said, “Yes please.”
She snapped her fingers and the stone shimmered. Sabine flinched at the glow, then raised her dagger and jumped toward the kidnapper. The women and the girl sank into the stone and Sabine was thrown off her path. When she hit the ground, she collided with a floor of some soft, pink and white substance. The air was heavy with pollen and, as she scrambled to her feet, Sabine saw the sky itself appeared green.
“What… what in the—”
Gods, you’ve really bitten off more than you can chew this time.
Sabine looked down at Dahkhal’s ring. “What do you mean? Where are we?”
We’ve slipped between the cracks of the mortal world and into the land of fae below: The Under Where, Dahkhal said. And… gods, we’ve entered the Column.
The gravity in her partner’s voice made Sabine nervous. “The Column?”
It is the domain of Queen Orchid. And it seems all those stepmothers had it wrong. Dahkhal shook his tiny head. You’re not dealing with a fairy godmother. You’re dealing with a Faerie God mother.
To Be Continued…