I was thrilled to be included in this anthology for a few reasons. First, the story that got accepted was not an easy one to write. I love fantasy and I love adventure stories, but they don’t always come naturally to me the way horror and dark or urban fantasy does. Now, to be fair, I cut my teeth on those kinds of movies in the eighties and I’ve probably seen every episode of Xena and Hercules ever (not that same thing, I know, but in a similar vein), so I was excited to try this for myself. Five thousand attempts later, I had a story that I was pretty pleased with. It’s chock full of fights, prophecy, a strange post-apocalyptic setting, and some creatures thrown in for good measure.
I’m also stoked because there are a lot of women authors included, as well. If I may get on my soapbox for a moment (I’m short, what can I say…), there are times when it feels like the speculative genres are a boys-only club, especially when we’re talking about genres that are soaked in blood and the triumph over one’s enemies. It’s really satisfying to know that if I work my butt off and try to think outside the box (while keeping inside the theme), that maybe I can put out something that’s seen for what it is instead of the gender of the author who writes it.
I had a lot of fun playing with cliches, stereotypes, and expectations with The Ruins of St. Louis. I love the characters of Hunter Mann and Arsin, and I hope to be able to do more with them in the future. They definitely have miles of adventures to slog through before they’re done, and I hope to be there with them every step of the way. For the moment, though, here’s an excerpt from the story to enjoy. This features Captain Parthis of the ship The Wraith right after he’s taken Hunter, Arsin, and their crew captive.
Excerpt from The Ruins of St. Louis:
Parthis chuckled at the captive’s bleeding lip. “Not only have you been obvious enough to leave behind a trail of stories and complaints about your smuggling and thieving, but this gave you away, as well.” He took the sword in his plush hands and held it up to the blistering light. Sweat poured out from under Parthis’ hair, giving his leathery skin a smarmy sheen. “You’re the one that causes all sorts of trouble for honest men like me.” He tilted the blade in the sun as he admired it. It was hammered thin enough to do significant damage, but the real beauty was in the hilt. Forged from metal that no one could name, thin trails of gold spelled out ancient incantations in a long-forgotten tongue. Glittering gem shards formed a small firebird, the telltale crest of the most notorious and ruthless fighter in all of Newland.
“If you’re honest, then I’m a spiked river snake,” the tattooed man growled, tugging against his human bonds. They tightened their grip and promised a long and slow death if he didn’t keep his trap shut.
“Who says you aren’t?” the woman at his side snorted, drawing the captain’s attention back to her.
“A strong will. I like that in a woman almost as much as I like a full mouth and a nice rack,” Parthis laughed and beckoned to his laughing cronies. They dragged her forward despite her struggles. “I like to break strong wills,” he breathed and droplets of his spittle sprayed into her face. Deep green eyes held nothing but contempt over a small sneer of a smile that curled the full lips nestled below sharp cheekbones.
Parthis turned back to her male companion and grinned a horrible smile of half-rotted teeth. “You’re the one they call the huntin’ man, aren’t you? And now you’re the hunted. Not only am I stealing your cargo for my own fortune and my crew’s own pleasure, but I’m also going to drive you through with your own blade.” He paused and grinned down at the haughty woman in front of him. She barely came to his chest and looked as if a hard wind would blow her right off the ship into the steaming water. “But first, I’m going to wreck your little woman and make sure you watch me do it.”
Without another word he grabbed her by the lowest part of her neckline and yanked her into him. She didn’t have time to gasp before his mouth came down on hers, much to the raucous delight of the crew members that surrounded her fellow prisoner. He growled and cursed the captain, but it did nothing to stop Parthis’ boldly groping hands. When the captain finally pulled away, he spared the woman a sneer as he reached for his fly.
She was not sobbing like those that had been dragged below deck. She didn’t tremble. Instead, the insolent woman stood tall and grinned like one of the predators that lurked in the river’s steaming depths. The calm, patronizing look she gave Parthis unnerved him enough to momentarily forget about how he’d planned to humiliate her. “What the hell’s so funny, you ratty wench?” he snapped and grabbed her chin hard in his meaty hand.
She raised a dark eyebrow and stared boldly into his eyes. “Never keep your weapon out when you’re more interested in dueling with the sword in your pants,” she snickered and raised the intricate sword she’d lifted from the captain’s wandering hands. Without bothering to wait for a reply she slammed it down, slicing the hand that gripped her face clean off at the wrist. The woman backed away from the sudden rush of blood and slapped the disembodied hand from where it still gripped her.
Parthis’ screams rose higher than those of the women below.
Gripping the sword in both hands she swung the blade in a graceful arc that swept the disgusting man’s head clean off his shoulders. It landed with a thump and rolled in front of the stunned sailors that had stayed to witness her and her partner’s execution. The head gasped and blinked for a few seconds, teetering on the edge of the hole that led to the quarters below, then thumped down the stairs. The captain’s bloated body had already crumpled at the woman’s feet.
“My name is Hunter Mann, you idiot. If you’re going to be tricked by rumors, at least get the name right,” she grunted, and leapt onto Parthis’ back as the two men that had held her suddenly collected themselves and charged.
Want more? The links to the Kindle and Nook versions are under the cover, and the print version will be out later this month!