I left Annemarie and Brandon, closing the door softly behind myself and heading down the rickety flight of stairs. I needed a stiff drink and a walk, but I wasn’t quite irresponsible enough to seek out the former. It had to be nine in the morning, for Saints’ sake. 

“Might I join?” Callista stood from where she’d been lounging in the corner, feet up on a table. Brenna remained seated, cleaning her dirk with murder in her eyes. 

“Sure,” I replied. “If you’re feeling well enough.” 

Callista nodded. “Absolutely.” She held out her hand to Brenna, who grudgingly passed the knife over, and slipped it into her belt. “Always good to have something on hand.”

“Especially after last night.” Brenna folded her arms, gaze flickering over Callista and losing some of their bloodlust. Briefly. 

I couldn’t believe it. Brenna had a crush. 

“I’ve got my knives,” I reached over my shoulder, touching the handles. “We’ll be fine.”

“Good.” Brenna pulled out another dirk and began to polish that one, too. 

 

Greymerrow wasn’t much to look at. It was a mining town, most of the villagers working at the mountain a short cart’s ride away.  The few people out at the hour were haggard, wind-burned and tired. Gusts swept off of the plains behind us, pressing us into the sides of buildings until we finally ducked into an alley to escape the worst of it. 

“This makes me feel alive,” Callista murmured, looking up at the sky. 

“This is the gloomiest I’ve seen it in weeks, Cal.” 

She nodded. “Rainstorms. If it rains, we’ll be riding in green plains- not quite so dead and dry.” Her eyes lost a bit of luster. “I need that, I think.” 

“I get that.” I reached over my shoulder again. “I need… I need to pick a fight. The Soul Stealer put me on edge.” 

Callista grinned mischievously. “Who wants to fight?” she shouted. “Julia, scourge of all, awaits.” 

I snorted. “Are you out of your mind?” 

She shrugged. “No one’s around to hear, really. And I doubt those who hear care.” 

“Well,” said a voice from above, making me jump. “Since you asked.” And she jumped to the ground. 

 

I wish I could say that I moved immediately, leaped into position with knives in hand. In reality, I stared stupidly at the leather-clad girl crouched in front of me and said, “What?” 

“Julia, you idiot.” Callista had pulled her knife out and was rushing the girl.

I reached behind my shoulders again, drawing the blades just in time: the girl had ducked under Callista’s blow and lunged at me. I crossed the knives in front of me, catching hers and sending them clattering to the ground with a vicious jerk. Not very good of her.

I sheathed one knife, throwing one arm around her shoulders from behind and laying the remaining blade against her throat. “You aren’t any regular pickpocket, are you? Who sent you?”

She smiled and spat blood. It dripped down my forearm and I fought the urge to wipe it off. 

“Are there more of you?” I pressed the blade a little more firmly against the flesh.

This time, the girl laughed. 

“Julia.” Callista’s warning tone caused me to glance up. Lined up along the entrance to the alley were more people, all dressed in the same light leather that the girl had worn. Remembering her, my breath coming faster, I glared once at her arrogant face and slashed the knife across her throat. 

Her insolent smile now had a bloodier twin. 

Callista and I backed up, drawing extra weapons and standing together. We were penned in. The fight I’d asked for had, indeed, been granted.

 

Hardly five minutes later (though it felt like longer), Callista and I agreed on one thing in particular: neither of us felt much like continuing our walk. Weary and covered in blood- some of it our own- we made our way back to the inn. 

Melissa jumped up from her alcove when she saw us. “What happened?” 

Callista coughed. “Julia picked a fight.”

I fingered the token I’d picked off one of the bodies. “We were a little careless.” 

She looked us up and down, gaze lingering on my gore-caked clothing. I picked at a nail uncomfortably. “I can see that.”

 

Quick note: the featured images on my writing portfolio posts have little to nothing to do with the excerpt. The way that they formatted, however, was a bit nicer than they were without any pictures! I’m going to hopefully replace them with more pertinent images in the future, but this may take some time as I am using my own material. 

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