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Meleena’s Adventures

Welcome to my page for everything to do with Meleena and her adventures.

This is the place where you’ll find all the latest info on what Meleena is up to including the latest releases and everything to do with her home town of Bug Flat and the continent of Gallin.

Volume one of Meleena’s Adventures, Treasure Of The Umbrunna is out now! It was released 30 November, 2015, the first of Meleena’s many adventures begins with the search for a valuable pearl.

All she wanted to do was get rich. However, when she has to sacrifice it all to help another, she’s afraid if the word gets out, people may think she’s a nice person.

The ISBN numbers are:

ISBN: 978-1-934051-86-3/Paperback

ISBN: 978-1-934051-91-7/E-Pub

You can find it in both paper and e-book forms on line at Amazon and Barnes & Noble!

Book 2, Gods Of The Blue Mountains is now with the publisher and set for release soon. I’ll provide more details as they become available.

I’m hard at work on Book 3, Across The Endless Sea as well.

You can contact me at: fred@fredrayworth.com

I also have a Meleena’s Adventures Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/MeleenasAdventures/

05/31/15

Just went through an extensive edit and finished it last night. Whew! Once it’s compiled, I’m sure I’ll have to go through it once again to make sure we didn’t creat more errors fixing the other errors! That’s all part of the process. What amazes me is that I got it done so quick and that I still missed what I did. Like I’ve said in many of my articles, forest through the trees!

06/27/15

My latest article is about Treasure Of The Umbrunna. I also tried to start an author page on Amazon and ran across a roadblock. The same happened when I tried it on Goodreads. Unless the book is actually out, they make it extremely difficult to start one. I haven’t given up yet, but…

11/30/15

Now that the book is out, I have pages on both Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

11/13/16

Always scroll to the bottom of the page. The latest updates to this page, which are now What’s Meleena Up To, are down there. The latest events with the books will be on my Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=meleena’s%20adventures

WHAT’S MELEENA UP TO?

NOTE: Since time accounting in Meleena’s world has no correlation to ours, I’m using our calendar and time for simplicity…when I feel like it.

Tuesday, sometime in the past:

A gust of wind almost threw off the shot. Not that wind at this distance mattered that much, but the dust that blew in her eye, did. “Blow Harvel to the winds!”

She drew back, wiped the grit out of her eyes, and re-aimed. “One…two…three!”

The nut-sized rock flew from her sling shot down to the rump of a mule hitched to a cart loaded with pottery.

“Heehaww! Heeehaw!”

“Hey! My cart.” Jaloob Spaglat ran to catch up with his runaway cart, tripped on his long robes and fell face-first in a pile of donkey dung.

Meelena rolled over on the roof, out of sight of anyone below, and laughed so hard, she had to gasp for breath. She timed her fit with the moment the Esveen church tower next door rang the mid-day bells.

“Gods, I needed that.”

Ten moments later, she broke into the street below and moseyed past Jaloob, still trying to wipe the donkey dung off his shirt and pants.

“Maybe you should just tie your robe over yourself and go home and change.” She gave him a wink and headed down the street toward the Pig Splat.

With the cursing Jaloob fading behind her, she muttered, “I love the simple life.”

Today, July 3, 2015:

Chit Chit, Meleena’s best friend and confidante stopped by her usual table at the back of the room and dropped a fresh mug of ale in front of her. He clicked his mandibles and blinked all four of his eyes. “What’s with the somber mood?”

“Huh?”

The green-skinned half bug-half human made his chitting sound and said, “never mind.” He walked back to the bar.

Meleena glanced at the retreating figure. “Did you say something? I’m not somber, by the way. I’m concentrating.”

Chit Chit threw a hand in the air, but kept going.

“Hmmm.” Meleena took a big gulp, wiped the foam off her lips and burped. She continued eavesdropping on the three Dwarves at the next table who argued about a Dwarf girl named Della and whether she looked better with two braids in her beard instead of three. They thought nobody else in the room could understand them because they spoke in their native tongue. What they don’t know.

Today, July 4, 2015:

Since there’s no such thing as a specific date like July 4 in Meleena’s world, let’s just say this is a special celebration run by the city elite. The upper class is throwing a birthday celebration for three of theirs who happen to fall within days of each other. An excuse to celebrate with festivities and pytrotechnics that evening, to the exclusion of the regular populace, of course. A perfect time for Meleena to do her thing.

From the Otraph River, Meleena knew an easy way to breach the wall at the outskirts of the upper class enclave. It was here, where there was less chance of a fire, that the magick users set up the racks of fire bursts they’d light and send into the sky. With dusk settling in and a few ales in her belly, she had little time to do her damage before they set them off. I’ll see to that.

The breach in the wall came out at a construction area. She weaved through the planks and barriers, careful of the guards surrounding the courtyard, and made her way to a nearby stable. “Unreal. They’re so worried about guarding those fire things, they never thought of the horses.” She didn’t even bother to whisper. There was nobody close by.

With the gate open, she unlatched the door to each stall, then took her flint and lit a pile of hay at the back of the stable.

Havoc ensued. The horses stampeded out of the stable into the square.

Meleena giggled, huddled back into the shadows and watched the fun.

Soon, all attention went from the square with the magick fire bursts to the fire in the stable. Meleena crept to the racks of devices. Using them for cover, she noted the angles, aimed to burst over the rich homes. Let’s see what I can do about that.

Though she worked as quick as possible, they almost had the horse stable fire under control and the animals gathered before she finished. Attention turned toward the fire bursts again.

“Oh gods, time to go.” She finished her work and skulked away into the dark.

“What was that?” One of the magick users threw a light ball toward a shadow.

Meleena already made it around the corner of the building and waved at the ball when it poked past. “That was close.” Nobody could see her from this angle. She rushed away.

Twenty moment later, she stood along the shore of the Otraph river, turned and waited.

A single fire burst shot into the air, exploded in a bright blue star. Then over the buildings, where the single fire burst came from, bright flashes in all colors burst in a tight dome of chaos. She heard faint screams. Then nothing.

She wiped her hands. “My job is done.”

Another Morning In Bug Flat. “Oh, the Cliché! (Actually, morning, July 5, 2015 in our world):

Meleena wakes with a hangover (that’s #1), goes to the water closet (uh, that’s toilet…bathroom…loo) looks in the mirror (that’s #2), describes herself to the readers (that’s #3).

I got up too early and my head still hurts.

She plops back into bed and covers her head with her pillow.

All you writers, editors, agents and publishers, you can stop screaming now. “Oh, the humanity!”

I’m done.

Seven sun cycles (years in Meleena’s world) ago, one spring morning:

“Come onnn. Move away from that door.” Meleena kept one eye glued around the corner on a door across the alley. The other, with a twist of her head, on the iron gate at the end of the walkway behind her. So far, so good. Nobody tried to open it and disturb her.

Meanwhile, two dandies yapped on in front of the back door to the jewelry shop. They blocked her way into a treasure trove on the second floor. Her half-rat, half-human friend Vaaaven said the owner of the store kept his most valuable pieces secured there. I can’t wait to give those locks a try. If these two sons of Snorgs would just move on!

The short one pulled out a flask, took a swig and handed it to the other guy. They leaned back and started a new subject.

“Gods, no!”

With her back to the wall, she put her hands over her face and grit her teeth. In all of her sixteen season cycles (or thereabouts), she still hadn’t learned patience.

Snort. Grrumph.

“Whoa.” The smell hit her at the same time more of those weird animal noises crept up from the alley around the corner.

Chit chit once told her that to avoid bad smells, breath through your mouth. She tried that and though she could almost taste the combination of dung and dead meat, at least she resisted the urge to gag. Meleena crept to the corner and peeked around.

The two dandies, upwind, jabbered  on, unaware that twenty paces away, a sewer grate near the wall across from them raised up. Ten paces in front of her, deft, clawed tentacles lifted the grate and moved it to the side. A horror of a beast, a Gleeb, squeezed through the wide opening.

Perfect! All I have to do is get that stupid thing to charge at those two guys. That’ll clear the door.

Meleena fingered her brand-new sling shot. Though she’d practiced a bit, she still wasn’t that good. This close. I can’t miss. She eyed the wall on the other side of the alley. I don’t want to hit that thing anyway. I want it to think those two over there did. All I need is a good rock.

A cross between a small rhinoceros and a lizard, Gleebs had a soft horn sticking out front. Three tentacles with suckers along the length and four-fingers tipped with claws at the ends, grew from their back for grabbing. They ran on four legs with padded feet similar to a lion. The biggest danger was their ugly disposition, fast movement and the mouth that could expand four times the size of their body. However, they couldn’t bite down hard with their two rows of stubbed molar teeth on the upper and lower jaws. Unless the victim was stunned or stupid, poking inside the tender upper part of the giant mouth could usually force their mouth open. Most received damage from the lashing claws on the tentacles or getting run over. Gleebs usually stayed in the sewers but were known to prowl above ground occasionally. As long as one left them alone, they usually went back underground without incident. Meleena had a few close calls before.

Not this time. “Heh heh heh.”

She backed from the corner and fished on the ground for a suitable rock. “Now, I put it in here and aim it like this? No, like this.”

When she figured she had it right, she crept to the corner, gave another peek, saw the Gleeb browsing in a trash pile. The two dandies took turns with the flask and ignored the beast.

Meleena swung the sling shot around and around. She took aim at a spot high on the wall so it would bounce back and hit the Gleeb from the other side.

She turned the corner and let go.

The rock flew out of the sling and right at the horn of the Gleeb!

“Oh Gods!”

“Rrrowagh!” Flailing tentacles, angry yellow eyes aimed for her.

Her feet took on a life of their own. Aiming for the iron gate, she slipped and fell on her face.

“Rrrowagh! Aaarghmph!”

A slimy tongue grabbed her legs, then teeth clamped onto her waist. She clenched her hands on the cobblestones but lost her grip. Her whole body slipped into the gaping maw.

She vomited, screamed, jabbed at the soft flesh.

“Rrrowagh!”

The thing tried to swallow her, but the gullet was too small. She felt the teeth gnashing around her, missing. She couldn’t breathe, or see, her eyes clamped closed. A little voice in her head said, “The soft part, top of the mouth.” What’s up or down?

The tongue rolled under, trying to force her into the gullet, but her feet were too big. Tongue… under. She twisted around. With nothing but her hands, she poked with blind fury at the soft tissue.

“Hack hack hack!”

She flew through the air in a somersault, a whirl of black, white and yellow bile and slime. Her face hit the cobblestones but she slid at least ten paces backward, lubricated from the goo covering her.

“Hack hack hack!”

Arms flailing, she tried to get up, but could get no traction. Blind also from goo in her eyes, she screamed.

Whoosh!

Cold water splashed on the back of her head.

“Sit up, Girl!”

Still afraid to open her eyes, she struggled to a sitting position.

Whoosh!

More cold water poured onto her head. This time, enough came down to clear her eyes. She wiped her hands in her wet hair and rubbed her eyes, then opened them.

A man with a leather apron stood before her. Nest to him were two empty buckets.

“Good, you can see now. My job is done. Maybe next time you’ll know better than to mess with a Gleeb.” He shook his head, grabbed his buckets and walked to the iron gate. “Geez, kids.”

Meleena stood, covered in black, white and yellow slime, and gave one last yearning glance at the alley. “I need more practice with my sling shot.”

Seven sun cycles (years in Meleena’s world) ago, later that day:

“Whew! You stink!” Chit Chit waved a hand in the air then clicked his mandibles. “You’re not coming inside like that.”

“I need to get washed off. I can’t stand out here in the alley forever.” Meleena wiped goo from her hair, let the yellow mucus drip to the ground.

Her best friend and mentor let out a long breath. “Hold on.” Over his shoulder, he called out, “Get some buckets of water… make it warm water. And soap.”

Meleena emptied her pockets and placed her few items on an empty crate by the door. She unbuttoned her shirt and took it off, then her undershirt, pants, underpants, but left her leather boots on.

“You’re going to stand out there in the alley, like that?” Chit Chit said.

She glanced at her feet. “Oh.” The boots slipped off into the pile with the discarded clothes.

“Oh, gods, I don’t mean the boots. You’re standing naked. You do realize, you’re… you’re… well, for a full human or whatever you are, you have all the uh… well..”

“Lots of men have seen me naked. So what?”

“But you’re still a child, well, sort of.” His mandibles clicked.

“I’m sixteen, or thereabouts!”

Commotion interrupted Chit Chit’s next retort. Four of his assistants squeezed by with buckets. When they caught sight of her, each raised eyebrows.

“What?” she said.

“Just get about it. Wash her off.” Chit Chit stood with his arms crossed.

I’ve bedded two of these guys. The other two I wouldn’t touch. They try anything, I’ll let them know who I am. “Come on, give me the soap.” She pointed to the one with the blonde hair. She didn’t remember any of their names and didn’t care.

It didn’t take long to get wet, soap up and rinse off. With some left over water, the helpers made an attempt to rinse off her clothes, but they were a total loss.

The four men disappeared inside with the buckets.

“I need to go to my room and get some new clothes on.”

Chit Chit held up a hand. “You’re going to walk through the place like that? With a full crowd inside?”

She folded her hands over her chest. “How else am I supposed to get there?

“Gods! You have no idea what your naked body does to a drunk man.”

“I do, but they’d better not touch me.”

“Yeah, and I can’t afford the damages. Hold on.” He disappeared inside.

The alley remained clear both ways. This is the perfect way to go out in the night. The alley curved both directions so nobody walking by from either end could see.

A blanket hit her in the face.

“Whatever you got into, I hope you think better next time.”

“Gleeb…it was a Gleeb.”

A Few Months Ago (Our Time) – A Four Pocket Run

“You can’t do it.” Vaaaven’s rat-nose twitched, his long white whiskers twitched on his half-human face.

Fingers flexed, two deep breaths, Meleena closed her eyes. “Thanks for the vote of confidence.”

“Heh heh.” He put a hand on her shoulder. “I don’t want to see you end up in jail, that’s all.”

“I’m rusty. I need to prove to myself I can do it.”

“Four in a row? Those dandies keep their bags tight. They never take their hands out of their pockets. That’s the worst bunch in Bug Flat.” The rat man let out a sigh. “You’re asking for big trouble.”

“That’s exactly why I picked this crowd, my rat-faced friend. It’s not much of a challenge over in The Digs, now is it?”

“In The Digs, everyone’s pockets are empty.”

“Just be prepared with the diversion…in case.”

“Nnnngg.”

Meleena eyed the crowd moseying along the avenue in their finery. Lots of dandies in the rich neighborhood. The men carried their coin purses tight to their waists, hands clamped around them as if everyone nearby were a thief. Like her. “Keep your eye out.”

“Go, and make it quick!”

She slipped out of the alley, blended into the throngs and moved toward the intersection.

The first target turned to gaze in the window of an apothecary.

With her knife in her hand, under her vest, she slid next to him. Shorter, by two hand spans, she could point the blade up at the bottom of his pocket, slice and open her side pocket in one smooth movement. His coin purse emptied in a split moment, the noise covered by the crowd around them. She slipped into the crowd while he still looked into the window.

Target two wore a blue velvet robe.

The blood and adrenaline rushed through her veins. She maneuvered in front and glanced back where she could see his right hand fondling a money bag on his right hip. Meleena fell back and waited.

Mr. Velvet Robe stopped at a flower vender and commenced arguing over an arrangement.

When he bent down to point at something, his robe bulged in the right spot. She brushed by, sliced, scooped, and left in one swift movement. This is great!

Target three had his bag out to pay for some bread.

No good. Have to wait.

The man paid, then left with the bread but left the bag on the counter. The vendor didn’t notice.

No challenge at all! Meleena swept by and grabbed it. She shoved a basket of loaves into the stall to distract the vendor.

A moment later, yelling and screaming came from the stall. “Heh heh heh.”

Target four walked toward her with leather armor.

A soldier, not a dandy. Don’t do it, girl. That’s a working man. You just did three good ones, leave the guy alone and pick someone else…come on. Don’t do it. Don’t do it!

The guy spotted her and sneered.

Do it!

Her Elven blade cut through the leather like cloth.

Ten moments later, she found Vaaaven lurking in the same alley. She hefted her heavy pocket from her waist. “A four-pocket run. I knew I could do it.”

Labor Day, September 7, 2015 (In Meleena’s World, just another day)

The hand cart wheels creaked in protest as Meleena tugged it along the cobblestone path back toward Bug Flat. Nestled within the rails were eight cages full of trapped black beetles she’d just harvested for Chit Chit. Since he was too busy to get away from the bar for his staple meal, she often went out to Farmer Carbenell’s bean fields to get them for him, if she was in a mood. Sometimes, it was good to get away from it all. Lately, the pressures of her life warranted mundane things like this to keep her from going berserk.

Like on the trip out, she passed old lady Frella’s farmhouse. The grump was hanging laundry then and called her a harlot and a useless thief. “All true except the useless part. Heh heh.”

Humming came from inside the closed door. Heavy blue curtains covered the windows. The laundry flapped in the breeze. Meleena stopped in mid stride.

“Don’t do it,” she said through clenched teeth.

The temptation urged her on, especially with the old hag humming away in total bliss, unaware someone was outside. A good thing the old bat doesn’t have a dog.

“How many times have I passed by here and put up with her insults?”

It was no decision. The brat always won out. The real problem came with whether she could pull off the spell. Would it work? This time?

“I’m terrible at magick… terrible. But I practiced. Maybe, just maybe…”

She practiced the spell with several unfortunate outcomes, and finally got it right. Now was the time to try it for real and put Frella in her place…at least drive her nuts for a while.

With a glance both directions down the path, she crept closer to the clothes line, keeping an ear to the humming in the house. She pulled a vial of sulfur, a stick with markings and a diamond from her magickal pouch. She rubbed the sulfur on the stick, then holding the stick up so the markings were exposed, she tapped the top marking with the diamond. “Glabzeep hzakbahtgap traszshab dnabastash!” She then skipped a marking and tapped the third one.

A faint blue aura surrounded the clothing and sheets on the clothes line. They shrunk enough that she could see it when she did it, but not enough that anyone could tell right away.

“Heh heh heh. Wait until you try to fit into that stuff, you old hag. Call me useless again.”

She started to turn, but jerked back, and waved a hand over the stick and tapped it with her palm. “Gast!”

“Whew. Almost forgot!”

The last few times she practiced she forgot to close off the spell, which resulted in some unpleasant aftereffects.

With the cart wheels squeaking behind her, she sauntered merrily down the path and into Bug Flat.

Yup, Meleena is a brat!

September 26, 2015 (Meleena Tips A Few)

The air tickled her nose. A pipe tobacco and ale aroma pushed against her face like a heavy pillow. Meleena lifted her mug and took a deep swallow of Chit Chit’s finest ale. The tickle subsided.

“Gods, girl, how many of those have you drank?” Vaaaven rubbed his rat-shaped snout of a nose and his coarse whiskers bristled.

“I don’t count. I drink until I stop. Period. I don’t feel like stopping yet.” I’m not slurring my words yet. I’m still good.

“I’ve had three and I’m already dizzy. Chit Chit makes a good brew.”

The rat man couldn’t help but slur. He had a body mass about two thirds of Meleena and none of it was muscle. She said, “You can slow down. I don’t want you to get mugged on the way home.”

“Heh heh.” His beady eyes darted back and forth. “I can get home okay.”

He knew every sewer in town and every trap along the way. “Still, take it easy. You aren’t me.” I never used to care about you. Things change.

“I just…every time I tip a few with you, I’m shocked. Where do you put it all?”

“Well, it sure don’t stay in me long.” She nodded toward the hall with the water closets.

“You still spending from that four pocket run?” Vaaaven took another drink, wiped his mouth, then slammed the mug on the table. With a loud burp, he added, “That was quite a haul.”

Meleena moved her eyes around the room. With her back to the wall, she had a good view of everyone. “I’m running low. Time to build up my stash.”

“Oh, please tell me.”

First, she chugged what remained of the mug, then slid it aside and grabbed the next one in line. If Vaaaven had wanted to, he could’ve kept count. There were four empty ones to her right and five full ones to her left. This wasn’t even a heavy night. “The Esveen chapel.”

Vaaven,who’d been in the middle of another gulp, spat all over the table. When he recovered his wits, he gasped out, “You’ve got to be kidding! The most heavily guarded places in town? Which one?”

Meleena took the fresh mug she’d just grabbed, tipped it up and gulped the whole thing down. She slammed it on the table, let out a loud burp. “Now, that hits the spot. The one at the border of The Digs.” There were seven Esveen chapels in Bug Flat but only one sat on the border with The Digs.

“You’re going to rob from the poor? Isn’t that low even for you?”

Meleena grabbed another fresh mug, tipped it and drank it down in one huge gulp. She slapped it on the table and let out an even louder burp, loud enough to draw stares from the surrounding tables. She aimed a finger toward the hall to the water closets. “Time to remove that ale.” She pointed to one of the empty mugs in the row on the right. “I’d say that one right there.”

The rat man glared at her. “Unbelieveable. Robbing the poor.”

She stood, steady on her feet, turned to the hall and said, “We’ll see.”

March 30, 2016 (Watching)

“Look at them, like sheep going to slaughter.” Meleena peered through a gap in the crenellated roof of a tower across the street from Our Holy Father of Esveen Chapel Of The Blue Almighty Number Four. That mouthful of a name designated the only holy building servicing the slums of Bug Flat known as The Digs.

Poor people from the neighborhood filed in and out at random to do their prayers to Esveen.

“You don’t think much of other people’s belief’s, do you?” Vaaaven poked his head up, then backed away.

“Pffft. Never have. That stuff is for the weak-minded.” She scrunched her face.” On the other hand, I don’t fault anyone for believing in something beyond them, if they want. I’d rather just believe in myself.”

He rolled over and aimed his beady eyes at hers. “You think people that do are weak?”

“I…I don’t know. I can’t say. Maybe foolish?” Why that bothered her, she could not fathom. Heat crawled up her face.

“And…how long has it been since you said you were going to take that place?” Vaaaven jerked a thumb toward the chapel.

“Bah! You’re not getting the plan at all.”

He peered hard into her eyes. “I’m not sure whether you’re avoiding my question or are just hiding something from me.”

A little of both, but I’ll never tell you that. Meleena peered over the edge of the building again. The breeze coming from below cooled her face.

Movement caught her eye. That same wagon she’d seen five sun cycles before appeared from the back of the chapel. A tarp stretched over the back tight enough to strain the hoops holding it up. “There, see that wagon?”

“Wha? Oh, that? What about it?”

“How many wagons have you ever seen around here with such a tight top and sealed so perfectly? Notice there isn’t a single gap anywhere?”

“So, they’re great at stretching the canvas? So what?”

“They don’t want anyone to see inside.” Meleena tapped her head. “That’s not the real clincher. Take a look around the wagon.” She poked a finger. “What’s so important they not only don’t want anyone to see inside, but they need six armed thugs guarding it, but trying to pretend they’re not guarding it?”

Vaaaven did a double take. “Well, don’t that beat…” His head whipped around. “What is it you’re really after?”

“Hhhhhh….” Meleena eased back and stared into the cloudless sky. “Something I never would’ve dreamed of doing before.”

May 19, 2016 (Springing Into Action)

The wagon approached Red Bridge. Meleena always wondered why it got that name because there was nothing red about it. The same gray rock that made the castle rose from the crenellated towers along the sides of the largest bridge in Bug Flat. It had to be the largest because this was where the Otraph River split into the East and West forks, making the span at least five-hundred paces across. This was also the main trade route into town. She pulled back into the shadows of the bushes beyond the bridge. Vaaaven’s breath tickled her neck.

“You can ease back a bit. I don’t need your spicy dinner aroma in my face.”

“Uh, sorry.” Vaaaven eased back against a fallen tree trunk, his eyes still toward the road. “What’s really going on? Why wait so long and why this particular wagon? There’ve been lots of them. I thought all along you were going to hit the church.”

Meleena eased back, blinked. “Okay, we have a moment. Those flunkies are taking it slow.” She chanced one more peek, the dusk fell, casting shadows all around.

“Do you really think I’d bother with the till in the poorest church in town?”

“Snrrgh.” Vaaaven scratched his long nose. “Well…”

“Okay, I probably would under normal circumstances. However, for once, I’m thinking bigger.” She tapped the side of her head.

The rat man frowned, glanced around her at the approaching wagon. His frown deepened. “Oh…they’re not as poor as they make out to be!”

“Hhhhh…” Meleena let the breath out, shook her head, glanced at the wagon then leaned back against the tree. “Yes and no, but not the way you think.”

“I’m all ears.” He flicked his large, pink rodent ears.

“Not to mention…” She almost said teeth, but choked it off. “We don’t have time to go into it more, but let’s just say that we’re getting what’s in that wagon….in…” She noted the position of the wagon. It came parallel to a boulder across the road, the driver and guard next to him oblivious. She’d timed this after watching the same routine for a long time. She knew there would be no other guards until they reached the next town. She turned her head to face Vaaaven “…three…two…one,” and snapped her fingers.

A bright flash turned the dusk into daylight for a split moment.

“Aaagh! What happened?” Vaaaven rubbed his eyes.

Meleena would have warned him, but he was already facing away when it happened. Now she turned toward the wagon, crossing her fingers before she looked.

The driver and guard were froze on the bench seat, their eyes glazed over. The two horses, their feet posed as if they were prancing, stood still as statues. “Gods, it actually worked! Thank you Grel!”

“I didn’t figure you could do something like that.” Vaaaven stood and walked into the open. “You never told me a thing about this…about what you’d planned.”

“I couldn’t take the chance, sorry.”

Meleena came around the tree and into the road. She hurried to the wagon. No signs of anyone either from Bug Flat or coming the other way. That isn’t going to last.

“Come one, hurry!” She went to the back and unbuckled the strap holding the back flap. When she tore it away, two rows of at least twenty children, all bound and gagged, stared back at her.

“Mother of gods! What’ve we got ourselves into?” Vaaaven stared at the desperate faces.

“Come on, help me get these brats loose.” Meleena pulled her knife and went to work on the first one. Thank the gods they tied them with leather instead of chains.

Her Elven blade made quick work of the cheap leather. After a stunned pause, Vaaaven joined in and in ten moments, Meleena stood next to the wagon with a crowd of…kids. Sniveling and whiny. I didn’t count on this.

“Uh, I hate to break this to you, but what are we supposed to do with them now?” Vaaaven’s nose and whiskers twitched.

“I’m just interested in…Peeps, over here.” She waved at a human lad of about a dozen years. “You and your two buddies.”

“Thanks, Meleena! You saved our tails. We’ve been holed up in that basement since last winter. They finally sold us. How did you know?” Peeps wrapped his arms around her in a hug.

“Not so fast!” She shoved him back and grabbed her change purse out of his hand. “Now that’s not being very grateful.”

“We need to eat.”

“I could always give you back.”

The kid’s face reddened. “What do you want?”

“You three were my best spotters. What do you think? We take care of each other, right?”

Peeps blinked. “Really? You did that for me? You have my back?”

Heat rode up Meleena’s face. “Now wait a moment. I need spotters and you guys are the best. Just be more careful and don’t get caught by these religious crazies.”

One of Peep’s friends said, “Oh, they’re not religious crazies. At least not the ones that took us.”

“Oh?” Meleena glanced between them.

“I want my mommie!” A tiny girl, screamed at the top of her lungs.

“Just what I need.” Meleena threw up her hands. She went over to the screaming tot and yelled back, “Well, then go find her. What do you want from me?”

Taken aback, the tiny girl stared at her a moment, cranked up, then continued screaming. “Mommie!”

“Oh, gods!” Meleena walked back to Vaaaven and the others. “Anyone know what to do with that…that…” She turned to the other kids and noticed more than half of them were not much older than the little one. Most of the older ones had tears in their eyes also, though were a bit less vocal.

“She’s only a baby of three. She can’t find her mommy. She’s no orphan, either. She was stolen.” A girl with green skin, about Peep’s age approached. “I was too. I know about where she lives.”

Meleena wiped her hands. “Great. Problem solved. You can take you both home. I have some drinking to do after such a heroic day.” She turned to walk away.

“Ahem.”

“Grrrrr.” She stopped in mid stride and turned slow. “What now.”

“It’s almost dark, I don’t know the way from here and there are bad people looking for us. We need help getting there.” The girl hesitated, grinned. “Besides, there might be a reward.”

Meleena did not care about any reward. Then again…No! My reputation.

In the gloom, except for Peeps and his two buddies, twenty-odd young faces stared at her, teary-eyed, hopeful, expecting.

“Gods, I hate this!”

July 27, 2016 (A Harried Trip)

“I’ll tell all of you this only once.” Meleena had their rapt attention. Those young, wide eyes, snotty noses, fat cheeks. Don’t run off screaming. Keep it together. “Do exactly as I say and maybe you’ll get home safe. Ignore me at your doom.”

A tiny girl raised her hand.

“Sssss…” Meleena let out a long breath. “Whaaat?”

“What’s doom?”

“Oh…gods!” Meleena slapped her thigh. “Just shut up and follow me. Do what I say!”

She headed across the bridge, watched the road for signs of travelers…or worse. Lucky there’s no traffic this late.

“Uh, Meleena.”

“What Vaaaven,” Meleena said over her shoulder, not bothering to look back.

“What about those guys in the cart?”

“They should be that way for at least a bell. We’ll be long gone…and no. I know what you’re thinking. If someone comes along, they can’t wake them up either. Relax. Just keep an eye out for any traffic. We need to keep out of sight.” The nearest buildings loomed fifty paces ahead. She remembered an alley near there and crossed her fingers.

Despite her stomach lurching at every shadow, she managed to get the group to that alley without losing anyone or meeting someone else. “Okay, let’s stop a moment. Now, where—”

“I gotta pee.”

“Who said that?” Meleena scanned the shadowy faces.

A tiny hand stuck up in the back of the crowd.

“Right there.” She pointed to the wall behind her. “And hurry.”

“But—”

“Do you want to be left behind?”

“Waaaaa!”

“Gods, someone shut her up before the entire queens’ army comes down on us!” Meleena glanced both directions.

“If you don’t mind, I got this.” The older, green-skinned girl tugged on her sleeve. “Please be patient.”

Meleena ground her teeth together. “Five moments and we head out again…wait. You never told me where we’re going. Where do you live? Where do the rest of these kids live? My time’s limited, you know.”

“Let me take care of her first and I’ll guide you.”

She let the green-skinned girl take care of the baby. In the meantime, she found an old crate and took a seat.

Vaaaven pulled himself up next to her. “I must say I’m surprised.”

“If you ever breathe a word of this—”

“Hey, we both have reputations. I don’t want anyone to know I helped you do this, either.” The rat man rubbed his ears.

***

Halfway through their trip across town, Peeps and his two buddies took their leave. Meleena let them go. “Remember our deal.”

“We’re in your debt. We’ll never forget!” With that, Peeps and his crew disappeared into the shadows.

“Okay, you know where you are yet?” Meleena said to the green-skinned girl.

The young girl led the way to the semi-rich neighborhood a few blocks from the good side of Sivrisinek Castle.

“Okay, what’s your name ma’am.”

Meleena tensed, her jaw tightened, the blood rushed to her head. “What did you just call me?”

“Uh, sorry, Ma’am. I don’t know your—”

Through clenched teeth Meleena said, “Don’t you ever call me Ma’am!”

“Bu—”

“Her name’s Meleena. Call her Meleena,” Vaaaven said.

“Uh, sorry, Meleena. I need your name so I can tell my father who to give the reward to.”

“Ssssss.” The pressure eased in her head. “Oh…kay. That’s okay. So, which house is yours?” She eyed the crowd of kids. “What about this bunch?”

“Oh, my dad will see they get home. My house is that red one right there.” She pointed to the left side of the street.

Meleena followed her finger, peered at the building. All the blood drained from her face. “Ah…uh…oh.”

“Blow Harvel to the winds,” Vaaaven said with a badly disguised snigger.

She tried to elbow him but he was too far away. “Uh, tell you what. Why don’t you just go ahead and take the kids inside.”

“What? Don’t you want the reward?” The girl gestured toward the house.

“Uh, not this time,” Meleena said. “Why don’t you do me a big favor. After all, I rescued you, right?”

“Well—”

“RIGHT?”

The green-skinned girl nodded.

“Good. Forget my name. Go inside and tell them strangers helped you escape but they just left and you have no idea who they are. Got it?”

The girl arched her brows, stared from Meleena to Vaaaven, then her eyes brightened. “Ah, I get it. You want to be unsung heroes. Wow, you’re even more awesome!” She rushed Meleena and grabbed her in a tight hug.

Meleena blushed. Nobody hugged her that tight since that drunk got a little too handsy with her in the Pig Splat the other night. She pushed the kid back. “Just go, okay?”

“Got it! You’re the best!”

Five moments later, she and Vaaaven skulked down an alley toward home. “That reward would’ve been nice.”

“Look at it this way.” Vaaaven kicked an old discarded shoe out of the way. “At least you got your spotters back.”

“And we didn’t have to get face-to-face with that green terror, Crongar.” She shared a shudder with Vaaaven.

Thanksgiving 2016 (PROWLING GREL’S OLD LAB)

Meleena fumbled the bag of sunflower seeds in her hand, tossed it in the air, and pretended to drop it.

“Ah! Careful with that.”

She smiled at the sound of the squeaky voice coming from a dark, dank passage in front of her. It had been a while since she’d snuck into the dungeons of Sivrisinek Castle. Now, she needed a guide to find her way to Grel, the royal magick user’s old lab. At least she hoped it was his old lab. The sunflower seeds provided the perfect bribe for Tweet the Quick, her obnoxious but reliable…well…usually, source of all things to do with below the castle. “Come on Tweet, show yourself.”

A glimmer of light flitted in the distance along the ceiling of the passage, it grew and a small, bird-like being flitted around her head, reminding her of an oversized dragonfly at times, a pixie at others. “Been a while, Tweet.”

“Not long enough, from the trouble you usually bring.”

“Well, if that’s the case, I can always take these—”

“No! Sorry, that’s okay. What do you want?”

Meleena handed the bag to Tweet. It always amazed her because the bag was not only larger but had to weigh at least twice what the creature did. Yet, he held it and flew like it weighed nothing.

“Hold on…” Tweet flitted off, disappeared around a corner in the dark then returned a moment later. “Okay, once again, what do you want?”

“Take me to Grel’s old lab.”

“Pffft! What do you mean, old?”

“He still uses it?” She figured since he became the royal magick user again, he had the run of the castle. He could set up his lab anywhere now. Why keep it in that depressing dungeon?

“A couple of times every few days. Besides, he has to feed that dung eater of his.”

“Uhhhg, Gods! I forgot about Woof!” Meleena leaned back against a nearby wall. Grel had a pet dung eater. That vicious beast could be a problem. “Is there a way around Woof?”

“Depends. That horrid thing wanders all over now. Then again, Grel keeps it well fed so it’s not as aggressive as it could be, I suppose.”

“Just great!” Meleena puffed. This isn’t going to be easy.

“Why do you want in his lab, anyway?”

“Just stuff. I don’t know. Something I can use, that’s all.” She did not really know what she was looking for. With all that junk he had down there, she hoped to find something she could use to cause a little mischief around town. Maybe help her steal something. “I don’t know why I’m telling you this, but I’m bored. I want to stir things up. He’s got to have something even my crummy magick skills can handle.”

Tweet flitted around, his color changing from satin white to pink and back again. “I never knew you to be suicidal. Messing with the most powerful magick user in the kingdom’s stuff is asking for…for…well…”

“Will you just try and get me there, safe?” She thought a moment. “And not like the last time, giving directions and running out on me. I don’t remember the route, and besides, I want to do less crawling this time.”

“Hmm…” I guess I can take you the long way, but I can’t guarantee we won’t find either Woof or Grel himself. You also have to worry about wards. What if he has it warded, trapped?”

She had never thought of that. “I guess I’ll just have to use my best skills to avoid them.” Now, it was a matter of the adventure and the quest as much as finding anything.

“Lead on.”

 

*          *          *

 

Though Meleena had prowled the dank, dark passages many times, she always got lost. There were just too many twists and turns and not enough landmarks. Her navigation always came to a bribe with a bag of sunflower seeds, and Tweet. Her sort-of friend never turned down that “gift”, or asked questions about what she stole from the castle. On the other hand, she had never asked him to deliberately bring her into Grel’s lab before. Tweet had not only a healthy fear of the old, once considered crazy magick user. Grel’s pet dung eater scared Tweet as well, even though he was much faster than the lumbering, slithering beast.

“These walls look familiar. Where are we?” Meleena noted sconces with torches in them, red brick walls with green slime in the mortar and a channel down the middle with effluent flowing against the direction they moved.

“You’ve been here at least twenty times that I can recall. We’re near the jail.” Tweet flitted in a figure eight. “That passage on the left leads to the jailmaster’s office. Up here on the right, that leads to the lower kitchen storeroom.”

“How do you remember all this?”

“Geez, how do you not?” Tweet surged ahead, keeping well ahead.

Meleena had an urge to draw her sword. I’m sure he just insulted me, but it’s not the first time. I need him too much to get even. She actually did remember this area, but could not help testing the little guy. Sometimes she wondered about him. In many ways, she probably could navigate some parts of this place on her own, but only if they went up, not down. In this case, they were staying level, which never happened before.

“This way.” Tweet reached a four-way junction ahead of her and went to the right.

When she reached the spot, all three choices glowed a sick orange, fluorescing from some kind of moss oozing out of cracks in what were now stone walls. No more brick. “Where are we?”

“Under the foundation of the main tower.” Tweet twirled in a loop, waved at her. “Come on, and careful. Be quiet.”

The hair stood on her arms. Meleena drew her sword. All this time, she had ignored the overwhelming mustiness and mixed odors so as not to get sick. Now, she detected something even more foul. “Is that what I think it is?” She whispered ahead to Tweet, who was almost too far ahead to hear her.

“Shhh! And yes, Woof is close. At least I think he is.”

Outside of the sickly glow, she could not see a thing amiss, yet she felt a presence somewhere ahead. Something animal…hostile. Her hand tightened on the sword.

The passage curved ahead and Tweet disappeared for a moment. Meleena slowed and crept forward, ears perked, eyes straining for any movement. She continued around the curve and caught a flicker of light. Tweet.

The creature waved at her and put a finger to his lips.

She crept forward to another junction.

“Around there,” Tweet whispered.

Meleena bent around the corner and caught a glimpse of Woof. The dung eater slithered along the floor, a huge blubbery blob of flesh, the size of a large cow. Two tentacles stretched from the mass with gaping claws, a huge mouth in the middle of his body gaped, full of razor sharp teeth, surrounded by seven eye stalks longer than her arms fully extended, each aiming a different direction. One claw grabbed the haunch from a dead cow, chomped on it, taking a few bloody bites, then threw it down. With a loud rumbling burp, it went still. Four of the eyes closed. The other three gazed randomly at nothing in particular.

She drew back around the corner. “What now?”

“Good question. Did you notice that door the carcass was lying in front of?” Tweet said. “That is, until Woof grabbed it for a bite?”

“Uh, not really. I was too busy taking in what Woof was doing.”

“Well, that’s the main door to Grel’s lab.”

A twinge went through Meleena’s stomach. “That meaning main, as in there are other ways in?”

“As in, no, not in this lifetime and not unless you are shrunk down to my size.”

“Blow Harvel to the winds!” Meleena leaned back against the wall, slipped on the slimy moss and stood up again. “Gods! What now.” She clamped a hand over her mouth.

Tweet flitted to the corner, peeked, then back again. He whispered, “No reaction. We were lucky. I don’t know how that thing hears. As far as I know, it has no ears.”

“Maybe vibration through the air…rock…who knows?” Meleena wanted to wipe the back of her hair, but did not want to find out what she just leaned against.

Instead, she crept to the corner, peeked around again.

Woof flailed his claws. All seven eyes were open, aiming the other way down the hall. His gaping maw clamped shut. “Grrrbubbb.” With that, he slithered down the hall, away from them.

“Hey, he’s heading off. Something’s up.”

Tweet flitted over her head. She felt a soft rush of air against her face and a faint whiff of cinnamon.

“I guess if you’re going to try and get in, now’s the time.” Tweet said. “Woof just headed to the main drainage system. If he goes all the way, you have probably ten moments.”

Meleena strained to see down the hall, the orange glow going green in the distance. She saw no sign of Woof now. “Okay, please…” she hated being that nice…“please keep an eye out while I go inside. I’ll try to be quick.”

“How are you sure Grel isn’t in there?”

“Well, ah…” She had not thought of that. “I’ll knock first.”

“Just be careful.” Tweet flitted off down the hall.

Meleena rushed to the unobtrusive door. The cow carcass lay down the hall ten paces. It reeked of death. Without another thought, she knocked.

No response.

She knocked again.

Nothing.

Wards? Many season cycles of skill and practice taught her the signs to look for, or so she hoped. After a careful scan, she found nothing. Was Woof his only ward? Did Grel retire this place after all?

“Here goes.” She gave a quick glance down the hall, saw no sign of Tweet and opened the door. Nothing happened.

The large, cluttered room was as she remembered it from the last time she’d been there. It had been a long time since she’d gone after that Umbrunna egg and the visit here. Over against the wall was the window, now dark where Grel showed her a birds-eye view of Bug Flat. She still could hardly imagine that weird image, coming from so far underground. Now, like everything else in the room, it took on a neglected, dusty appearance. Cobwebs lingered in the corners of the frame, the same with everything else in the room. Only the center and a few of the tables showed any signs of recent use. A few books looked like they’d been opened recently and the chair she’d seen him plop down in the last time looked disturbed.

She heard noise down the hallway. “Gods, already? I just got in here!”

In a rush, she scanned the cluttered shelves, full of so many odd trinkets, she could not begin to sort them in her mind. She went over to a shelf and ran her fingers over item after item, with no plan, no idea what she really wanted. Her fingers fell on a reddish wood stick, wrapped in thick paper. Something compelled her to pick it off the shelf.

Tweet flitted into the room. “You need to be quick. I think Woof is headed back this way.”

“I just got in her. Geez. I haven’t had time to…What’s this?” She pulled the stick out of the paper. It was reddish wood with a rich dark grain. Along the thick base, it had a few green gems embedded in a collar before it tapered to a point. “Hmmm. This looks pretty neat.”

“Looks like a wand to me.”

“I guess so.”

Tweet flitted around near her head. “Looks like it came with instructions. You going to read them?”

“What? Oh, these? Well…” She unrolled the paper.

With this device, you can focus a spell. Simply create your spell, aim the wand at your target and it will precisely target for you. Now for a word of caution. There are certain things to keep in mind…

Meleena zoned out after that. “Good enough. This looks—”

“We’d better go. I hear Woof.”

“Well, at least this is something.” Meleena tossed the paper aside and tucked the wand into her vest.

She came to the door, took one last look around the musty room and closed the door behind her. “Lead the way out my friend. I guess I have to take what I can get and be happy.”

 

*          *          *

 

“Te he he he he. This is going to be great!”

Meleena sat at a table by a window in Nerdal’s Books & Coffee in the middle of Bug Flat. The place, one of her hangouts when she wanted to scope the dandies coming from the shops along the boulevard, provided a great view of the street. Plus, she could get a good cup of coffee and even read something, if she had a mind.

Today, she sat amongst the usual gang of intellectuals. A few scholars, decked in glasses, two to five lenses, depending on their race, gazed at various tomes and sipped on exotic brews made at the counter next to the half man, half lizard who ran the establishment. He sat in a throne-like chair, counted his coins and calculated things on a complicated device with levers. Across from her at the other end of the long table, two Dwarves sat, puffing pipes and browsing thick books with gold trim. Two females of cat-like appearance, given the feline faces and tails, talked in hushed whispers and leafed through a pair of books at another table across the room.

Meleena sipped on a cup of coffee, strong enough to stand her spoon straight up in, black, nothing in it. With over thirty varieties to choose from, she always had a hard time picking her poison. This time, she chose the red label, maybe because of the color of the wand, which she held under the table with her free hand.

Outside, the dandies rolled by, some with a wife or lover on one arm. Many by themselves, all primped and full of themselves. “It’s time to give them something to think about. Heh heh heh…”

“Ma’am”

“What did you call me?” Her face flushed. Meleena glared at the five eyes staring at her…or tried to.

The man blinked. “Uh, huh? Ma’am? I’m sorry. Did you say something?”

Meleena suppressed her anger. This fool did not know. “Nobody calls me ma’am. I’m no lady.”

“Well, I—”

“Just remember that.”

The scholar went back to his book and scooted further away at the table. His face reddened. One of his five eyes cocked her direction, but rolled back in line with the other four. A wisp of blonde hair fell on his cheek. He brushed it away.

Meleena turned back to the window. Riled now, she spotted one particular man, frilly green shirt, haughty manner, as if he were above everyone else. He came from a hundred paces away, plenty of time to prepare.

Meleena started the itch spell. The last time she’d performed the spell, it had not gone so well for the victim. That was in a far off place. Since then, she’d practiced and practiced. She recited the words, fingered the ingredients with one hand, then, making sure five-eyes and anyone else wasn’t looking her direction, she raised the want just enough to aim at the dandy.

Zzzzap!

“Aieeee!!!”

Wait a moment. That scream came from inside here!

The dandy in the street did not react at all. However, all around her in the bookstore, chaos.

She tucked the wand into her sleeve and dared look around her.

The beards of the two Dwarves at the other end of the table lay on the table and in their laps, spread in a halo of gray and white! She had never seen a Dwarf without a beard. “Gods, you look…look…normal! Well, except you have knobby noses.”

“Bu…bu…” The pair grabbed their faces, chunks of hair from their laps, the table.

“The books! The books!”

Meleena jerked around. “What’s going on?”

“The books are blank…well not exactly.” Five-eyes leafed through the book he’d been reading. “What you have there? Open it. What do you see?”

Meleena grabbed the book she’d randomly selected from a shelf when she’d entered the place. It was an illustrated book on birds. She opened it and noticed it was mostly blank, except for the colored inks. Anything in black ink was gone.

“My books! My books! What happened to the black ink?”

Meleena slunk down in her chair. She closed the book, took another chug of her coffee and slinked out of the bookstore.

She made it two paces and ran right into Grel.

“Give it…now!”

“But!”

“NOW!”

Meleena pulled the wand out of her sleeve.

“If you’d bothered to read the instructions, you’d have seen that…well, never mind. Too late now. I just hope you didn’t kill anyone.”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“You know, I warded that door and the only reason I wasn’t there to stop you was that I was tied up and couldn’t get away. I also warded this, but once again, couldn’t get here in time to stop you. Wish I could’ve neutralized it.” He shook his head. “The next time you want to snoop around, just ask. You’ll do less damage that way.”

With a huff, he turned and then…

Pop! He was gone…vanished.

“Guess I won’t be reading any books at Nerdal’s for a while.” Meleena kicked a discarded piece of stale bread on the ground, watched it land in the middle of the street. She walked back toward the Pig Splat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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