Guild of Blood has finally found its champion in Senior Literary Agent Stephanie Hansen of Metamorphosis Literary Agency!
In this coming of age fantasy, the Rimmelon Convocation Guild, a group of mercenaries, is encountered with a new enemy–or, rather, a very old one. The Dragon Prince Calcenon will stop at nothing to claim the throne and rule over the entirety of the mortal realm. The only things standing in his way is the Guild and the six members, who all share with the reader their own parts of the story. Join them as they struggle to overcome vices, ineptitudes, and personal biases before the enemy destroys them from both the outside and from within–unless they want the first casualty in the war to be one of their own.
Chapter One Preview
The humidity in the bathroom was unnatural, not unlike the damp that existed in the belly of a ship, and a bead of sweat descended my face, dripping into my open wound. I was lucky to be whole since, until today, the only encounter I’d ever had with a vampire was a peaceful one. Mostly.
I blew a cluster of loose hairs from my sweating brow, bringing my bleeding hand to my lips and licking away the rusty-tasting red pearls. Through the unidentifiable muck on the tiny mirror, I met my own gaze and snorted at what a mess I was. Tired, dirty, drained–and that was all since this morning in the woods when I’d had the misfortune of stumbling across an unlikely sight.
The trees were unusually still as I walked into their midst, breathing in the fresh air to mix in my lungs with the pipeweed I was smoking. All around me, the ivy grew wild, giving the humble woods the look of an enchanted forest. The leaves crunched beneath my feet, and I took particular satisfaction in chopping raucously through the branches and vines that hung in my path.
The sun was high in the sky, which meant that, despite the coverage the trees provided, the frost which coated La Roix from dusk until the early afternoon the next day had melted. I could easily move through the woods without fear of sliding.
I passed a small outcropping of large stones where my brother and I used to play as kids before my father’s neglect forced me to work at the ripe old age of thirteen, and I stopped for a moment, running a hand over the chiseled initials.
W&B: Wren and Bael.
I was on my way to fetch Bael now, knowing he was likely to miss the weekly guild meeting if I didn’t.
I got to the deepest part of the woods in minutes–the part where the trees grew so thick that it felt like nighttime, and the only reprieve was the road which cut through, parallel to where I was walking. The still was calming, if not eerie, and the crinkling leaves beneath my boots seemed almost to echo for the absence of other noises.
But from the depths, I heard a scream. A tearless sob that was masculine in nature, and my head was on a swivel, desperate to find it.
As a member of the Rimmelon Convocation, a guild of mercenaries contracted by the King, it was heavily implied that any altercations within Rimmelon should be handled–when at all possible–by the guild itself. At least, that’s what our ten-thousand sho per year contract established–t. The contract that barely kept the holes patched in the guildhall floor.
I darted towards where the sound was emanating, and a young man’s deep voice was crying out.
“Help, please! Anyone!”
“Silence,” a woman’s voice said. “I loathe your pathetic screaming.”
I urged my legs forward, feeling the beers I’d had for breakfast sloshing around within me as I ignoredand ignoring the urge to spill them onto the ground as I dashed.
I could smell the blood before I saw the upended carriage, and when I broke free of the tree line, I could see a thin man clutching his arm by the side of the dusty road. He was shadowed by a tall young man with eyes that glowed like embers.
A few feet from where I stood was a woman with red curly hair wearing forest green leathers and brandishing a shining, razor-sharp blade. She had her back to me and, thankfully, my years of training allowed me to gain a few feet on her before she became aware of my presence. Unfortunately, the foolish young man looked straight at me and yelled, “Run!”
The armored woman spun on her heels and faced me, a pointed-tooth grin dancing on her lips. A vampire.
“This must be my lucky day,” she said with unhinged glee. “I’m not allowed to eat them. Can’t say the same for you.”
My fingers inched down my torso to my belt, where six steel knives and one wooden dagger sat at my hip. After the vampire attacks a hundred years ago when my grandfather was slaughtered along with the rest of his guild, we had never left the safety of the guildhall without at least one vampire-killing weapon. I blanked my face, not giving her any satisfaction for her menacing appearance, and the psychotic smile morphed into a snarl before my eyes.
“Back away from the carriage,” I commanded in a steady, emotionless voice, drawing the wooden dagger free of its holster. The woman laughed, and I took a meticulous step forward. Her eyes flared with delight, and she matched my approach, spinning her sword with a flourish. I was smart enough to know that a duel of words would serve no one, and instead chose to attack swiftly.
“Be careful!” the amber-eyed man called to me, and my attention was drawn away for just a moment.
The distraction served to give her an advantage, and I felt a stinging as her blade grazed my hand. I had trained myself years ago, at the behest of my mentor, to numb myself to pain during a fight, and as her momentum slowed, I tilted my wrist and gripped the blade, whichfeeling it cut my fingers down to the muscle.
Her eyes dilated as she visibly caught the scent of my bloodShe visibly caughtI could visibly see her catch the scent of my blood, and I used the diversion to pull her to me, burying my wooden shank deep into her chest. She froze in shockHer eyes widened, and this gave me just enough time to pull from my belt the most important thing to ensuring the true death of a vampire. Particularly in overcast areas like this one, a vial of liquid sunshine was the difference between life and death.
I shook the ampoule and thrust it towards her, the radiance blinding even me as the air filled with a burnt smell, and the vampiress emitted a sound like bacon cooking on heat that’s too high. My heart pounded with adrenaline, and I panted from the combination of pain and the physical exertion.
The blinding light faded quickly, and I glanced only briefly at the pile of ashes already beginning to blow away in the breeze before clutching my bleeding hand and looking over to where the man and his driver had been cowering. But the creaking of wheels to my right drew my eyes up the road to find that the ungrateful wretches hadn’t even waited to thank me, instead righting their carriage and speeding off towards the city.
“Assholes,” I muttered, retrieving my dagger from the ashes and replacing it in its sheath. This kind of snub came often but never ceased to bother me, and I turned on my heels to follow it back to the city. Bael would have to wait.
Which is how I came to find myself doctoring my wound in the repulsive toilet, using torn strips of my shirt as a bandage. The smell was almost worse than the sight, and I rushed the mending in an effort to escape the fetid prison.
Using my boot, I kicked open the bathroom door which creaked on its hinges. I needed to find anesthetic—specifically, the kind that was liquid and made all your problems vanish into a haze of cheerful carelessness and smoky splendor. I sidled up to the bar, waving to get the bartender’s attention and laying down my last twenty sho.
“Whiskey. Consider this prepayment for what I intend to consume.”
Harry, the bartender, gave me a side-eyed look, challenging my desire to consume that volume of liquor, but I returned the expression and made a gesture at him that told him to mind his own damn business.
Did I drink more than was probably becoming of a woman my age and stature? Yes. But alcoholic, as the whispers often accused, was a strong word. Alcoholics couldn’t function without liquor–I simply preferred not to. When you spent your days killing people for coin, even drunkenness couldn’t fully make you right. But I’d be damned if I didn’t continue to try.
The mahogany counter glistened as he slid the caramel-colored shot down the bar to me, leaving a trail of moisture in its wake. I grabbed the whiskey and downed it quickly, gesturing to Harry that he might as well prepare for the next. It worked as a placebo more than a curative, with the anticipation of drunkenness being the actual remedy. But the throbbing in my lacerated hand had already started to fade.
I was just beginning to relax when I felt a shoulder brushed mine, and a man slid into the seat beside me. I didn’t move my head, instead using my peripheral vision to size up my neighbor before deciding whether he was a threat.
It wasn’t uncommon for me to be on edge about people being this close. As an assassin, plenty of men wanted me dead. As a woman of some traditional beauty, even more wanted me in their bed. In either scenario, I had to be cautious.
This time the offender was an older man with a long white beard and the distinct features of a dwarf. As usual, my first action was to attempt to put distance between myself and this unfortunate individual who had absolutely no idea who–or what–he was currently undressing with his eyes. But like most situations of this nature involving males, he ignored my disengagement and grabbed for my wrist.
“Where you off to, girly?” he said in a tone dripping with sexual appetite. I smiled to myself, despite my disgust. This poor, stupid bastard was about to have his day ruined.
I slowly turned to face him, trying as hard as I could not to let my eagerness and irritation show on my face. The excitement of this idiot engaging me filled me with an almost psychotic elation.
“I will give you one chance,” I said to him in my most polite but firm voice. “One chance to remove your hand from me.”
The room fell silent.
Those who were regulars here had seen this scene play out repeatedly, and I could hear them in hushed tones, placing bets on me against their less savvy drinking mates. The dwarf appeared to hear them too, but, regrettably for him, he mistook the wagers to be in his favor.
He moved an inch closer, and I closed the gap between us, then used both of my hands and all my strength to propel the man onto the ground, where he hit the floorboards like a ton of bricks.
Instantly, I was upon him, and his lust turned to anger, then to fear. I used both of my knees to pin his hands to the floor, purposely putting all of my weight into the points of contact I knew would be the most painful. He made a noise that sounded like a cry for help, but the patrons of the pub sat in awe and silence.
I moved my left foot so that my boot took the place of my knee, and I dug it into his hand, making sure I heard each finger crack. Blood rushed through my body, and it was all I could do to stop myself from continuing the retribution, relishing in how pathetic and frail he looked.
I held my breath to steady myself, and then, after one final grind of my boot into his fingers, I stood and re-braided my hair, glaring at him for effect before returning to my drink.
I downed my second shot of whiskey with a satisfied smile, hearing sho exchanging hands and grumbling concessions from the losers. Without another word to anyoneThen, I made my way out of the pub and into the soggy afternoon streets of La Roix. If there was one thing I had learned over the years, it was you could either pick a fight or finish drinking, but you could never do both.
I supposed that now was as good a time as any to fetch my troublesome twin from Convictus–the island of debauchery and danger–and haul him boots first back to the guild. If I hurried to the docks I could make it before the next ferry left, and perhaps I’d be able to find Bael by nightfall.
La Roix was built at the top of a hill with the guildhall sitting at the bottom, right next to the docks. The pubs and other businesses existed at the top of that hill, spreading out like a sunburst, all overseen by the stone white stone palace of King Edward. To the east of town were fields and forest, and, to the west, only ocean as far as the eyes could see.
I could feel stones kicking up under my feet as I traversed the cobbled downward slope of the main drag, and I attempted to aim one at the guildhall as I passed it. The rock ricocheted off my toes and hit a covered carriage that looked like it belonged to nobility–likely someone placing a contract with Ignys.
Indeed, just as I passed the front door, it swung open, and I could see my best friend–and guildmate–inside, scribbling away at the book of jobs. Exiting the hall, however, wasn’t a lord or duke as I’d expected. Instead, two men made their way down the guild steps and out to the carriage. One, an older, tall gentleman, and the other–
My jaw clenched as I realized the carriage was the one I’d rescued that morning during my stroll through the woods, and I made a mental note to inform Ignys that several hundred sho should be added to their bill for my services rendered. I had no time to stop for a confrontation now, but I’d be damned if payment wouldn’t be obtained from the ungrateful jerks.
I turned away as I approached the dock and ripped my eyes off the thankless ponces, tugging at my guild cloak as I passed the dockmaster. The guild offered protection for the sailors and tradesmen in exchange for the travel we required–a key issue in keeping my brother sober. If Bael rode for free, there was nothing keeping him planted in the guild where he was safe.
Within ten minutes, the wind whipped at my face, and I closed my eyes, taking a deep breath of the sea and leaving the stink of La Roix’s piss-covered roads behind. It was home, but it certainly wasn’t glamorous.
When we docked at Convictus, the first mate of the ferry tipped his hat at me, giving me a weary smile, and I nodded. His shoulders slumped, and he looked at his pocket watch.
“See you soon, then,” he said, turning his face to the sea once more.
I disembarked and looked down the thin landscape of the isle of pleasure. From where I stood, I could see both shores on either side and a long stony pathway that poked out through the sand and led tourists like a guidepost straight to the island’s main attraction: The Lusty Mermaid. It was a bar and a brothel, and the best place to get a chemical high, which was exactly why it was Bael’s favorite place in the world.
With a slow, deep breath and a few rolls of my shoulders, I mentally prepared myself to fetch my twin and prayed to the gods that this wouldn’t be the time I found him dead.