Chapter 1. The Quest
Acolyte Spew waddled across the muck floor of the hovel, a bone stiletto jutting tooth-like from her fist. “Forever don’t always take so long as you think it might, boy,” her croaking voice sawed the sweltering air like a bog owl’s screech, “sometimes it takes but a moment.”
“Blow it out your arse, hag.” Malving’s vision began to clear. To focus. Where was he? His hovel. The floor. His hands were bound! “RRRrrrrg… What the Craw do you want?”
The croaker crept forward with amphibian coolness, her round red croaker eyes blazing.
“Let me go!” Like some half-drowned kitten, he batted at her stiletto.
“After I just finished tying you up?” Spew hopped closer, the slap of her belly against the ground splashing slime and brown putridity alike. “Pretty-pretty pink.” She draped her slim fingers on his forehead. Petted him. Left four snail trails glimmering. “So soft. So smooth.” Her eyes narrowed. “I could cut out your heart and wear it beating round my neck as a pendant, boy,” she loomed over him, eclipsing the light, “or … I can not.”
“Huh?” Malving grunted. “What?” What in hell was she saying? If he could just slip free. Just his hands. One hand. Almost… He was bigger. Stronger. He’d beaten stupid croakers raw before. His face burned crimson as he struggled. “Cannot what?”
“Can … pause … not.” Spew articulated the stiletto like a teacher’s pointer.
“What!?” Malving spat. Come on.
“Cretin!” Spew raised her stiletto overhead.
“I know you are but what am I!” Malving barked.
“I’ll shut you up for good!” Two-handed, Spew stabbed down.
Malving jack-knifed a squirm.
Snap! Spew missed wide, breaking her stiletto blade off at the hilt. “Damn you!”
Malving wriggled further back through the muck. The blade had landed behind him. Somewhere. He had to get it.
Laughter filled the hovel.
Spew whipped around. Her glare choked the laughter dead.
Malving’s newfound hope plummeted through him like Swamp Rat stew. The fat croaker hag wasn’t alone. He squinted past her. Into the dark corner of the hovel. A shadow gallery of silhouettes stood lined up against the far wall. Watching. Snickering. Five of them. Elbowing each other. Whispering.
Yes… Now he remembered. Villains. Blackguards. Weirdos. All of them. Spew had come to his sty. To buy a pig, she’d claimed. And when he’d gone out back? All six had jumped him.
Malving squirmed closer to the blade. She hadn’t noticed it. Almost…
“Ahem…” Spew adjusted her purple wig. “As I was saying before I was rudely interrupted,” she cast the gallery a fell glare, “I can, or conversely, I can not cut out your worthless heart. It depends solely upon you and your attitude. Forthwith.”
“Wartback,” Malving hissed.
“Tsk. Tsk.” Shaking her head, Spew withdrew a fish club from within her bag.
“I’m just a kid,” Malving pleaded at Spew. At the five. But his fingertips touched the blade! “You gonna just stand there and let her gut me?”
A blanket of rotten silence stifled the room.
“Well, that was the plan,” one finally admitted.
“Ridiculous,” another scoffed, “can’t gut anyone with a fish club.”
“You bunch of sissies!” Malving seized the blade! “Took six of you to kidnap one kid.”
“Is he questioning our villainhood?” One was obviously taken aback.
“It was five, really,” another confided behind a hand. “Spew barely helped.”
Behind his back, Malving sawed feverishly at his bindings.
“A worm on a hook you are, boy.” Spew polished the fish club on her robe sleeve. “And the nether-gator’s come cruising.”
“GET BACK!” The bindings split off his hands, and Malving surged to his feet, stiletto blade forth. “I’ll cut you!”
Feet pounded across the mud floor as the shadow gallery trampled one another fighting for the exit.
Malving smirked as he watched them fighting at the door. He turned to Spew, “Just you and me now, hag” and tore after her—
“!@#STOP#@!” Spew’s command reverberated through space and time, sundering reality in waves of purple energy. A cavernous echo whipped swirls of indigo energies devil dusting away.
Magic. Black Magic.
A hair’s breadth from stabbing Spew, Malving stood quivering still as a statue, teeth gritted, sweating, whimpering, arcane forces slithering on him, in him, through him.
“Pathetic.” Taxed ragged, gasping, Spew wiped her mouth.
Malving sneered, the only thing he could do.
“You’re nothing but a fodder, boy.” Spew plucked the bone blade from Malving’s inert hand, turned to the shadow gallery, all five of them jammed in the doorway. “Grab him. The Ribspreader wants him.” Her grin oozed evil. “A new project.”