I am ridiculously happy to be working in the Kutherian Gambit Universe and writing stories in the Age of Magic epoch.
My entry into TKG is called The Righteous Dregs. Here is an introduction to the main character.
Astrid is a warrior far from home, exiled from her native land by a conflict that claimed the lives of her family. After wandering through the forest for three years, she comes to a place that, for a brief moment, gives her hope for a better life. Those hopes are dashed when she discovers the land is governed by a system that exploits people and worse.
Instead of finding a new home, Astrid finds her calling. With the help of some new friends, she leads the fight against injustice.
Astrid finds herself on a well-maintained, unmarked road. She encounters an Assessor and his henchmen, who demand she pay a toll to pass. They insult her and threaten her with arrest if she can’t pay.
Astrid draws on her training and powers as a Knight of the Well.
Astrid shook her head as if trying to wake from a bad dream or shuck off a bad joke. “I saw no notice of tolls on this road,” Astrid said. “I wouldn’t have walked this road, otherwise. I saw no territory markers.”
“Ignorance of the law is no excuse. All who have the privilege of standing in the Protector’s domain must pay tribute.”
“And I will pay,” Astrid said, losing her cool. “Just as soon as I work for the coin to do so. What part of that don’t you understand?”
“As you are a stranger,” Pleth said. “I’ve extended you the benefit of the doubt, but you don’t seem to understand. You will pay for your passage in jail and with hard labor.”
“This is not just,” Astrid replied, voice flat. “The law says I have to pay, I’ll pay. But I’m not giving up my freedom for being broke.”
At that, the fat man jumped up from his seat, face instantly red. “Not just!” he raged. “Take this fool!”
Astrid let out a breath. Well, I tried to be nice. Time to break some bones.
She dropped back on her right heel and swung her arm with the rope far back. She came forward again as the large guard rushed her with his club. Her arm moved in a smooth, almost leisurely arc as she locked eyes on the large man’s neck. The supple rope looped once around the target neck. As soon as she saw the line cross itself, she jumped back and to the left, drawing her arm back again.
The rope cinched briefly and she backed off just enough to grab the man, but not snap his neck like she could have. It was best not to slaughter assholes immediately in an unfamiliar land. She wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt just to say she tried.
The burly guard tumbled down into a shoulder roll that impressed Astrid even as she kicked him in the face.
Again, she spared him the worst of it. She could have used the ball of her foot to drive the cartilage of his nose into his brain. Instead, she gave him a firm love tap in the forehead. His head snapped back and pinched the nerves at the base of his skull, knocking him out.
“Have a nap,” she shouted.
Astrid loved a good fight, but this was not one. This was a petty disagreement with ill-trained, weak-willed men with no discipline. They were obviously used to beating on people far less capable than her. She was rusty. In her anger at realizing all this, she let the crossbowman take a shot.
The bolt sank with searing, white-hot pain into her right shoulder. With two other guards rushing her and two more coming from the other side of the wagon, she had to work fast.
She pulled back the rope and brought her arm high over her head. With all the strength in her right arm, she swung the rope down, then pulled it back with equal force.
CRACK! The rope popped, becoming a whip that opened a bloody gash on the guard’s forehead. He screamed, dropped his club, and fell to the ground, wailing. Blood rushed between his fingers. He would have a nice scalp wound to remind him of his time with Astrid.
Her old master would have kicked her ass for laughing. Gloating was not seemly for a Knight of the Well, but sometimes, it just felt good. But the loss of focus didn’t help her. She felt the energy drain, but she didn’t need The Well to finish them.
Seeing the short work Astrid made of two of their buddies, the other guards slowed down and tried to flank her. It was another stupid move because it gave her time to rush the closest one. She took a chance that paid off by faking a wrestling lunge.
Just as she predicted, the dumbass tried to take her out with a haymaker swing of his club. She swung again with her rope, and it wrapped twice around his weapon arm. Pulling him into her shin, she made solid contact with his balls as she jumped aside deftly to avoid his vomit. He fell down and groaned in a puddle of his own puke.
“See how inconvenient those balls are, asshole? You shouldn’t think with them. I don’t have those, but I have two of these!” She turned to the remaining guards and held up two fists, knuckles forward. Corded muscles bunched and flexed beneath her skin.
One guard stopped dead in his tracks, then turned and ran down the road. He had left behind his club, helmet, and what looked and smelled like a trail of piss.
But the other guard was still in the game. Astrid circled until his back was to the wagon as he tried to work up the nerve to strike her. Just before he tried to swing, she lunge-kicked him in the gut. He flew back and slammed hard into the wagon with a loud thud. The guard then fell to his knees before collapsing face down in the dirt, gasping for the air she had kicked out of him.
In a moment of pity, Astrid gave him a nudge with her foot to turn him over. He was inhaling dust as he tried to breathe again. She kicked his dropped club under the cart.
“Stay down,” Astrid advised. “Really. Just rest and rethink your life.”
A weapon sound made her whirl towards the crossbow guy. He had managed to reload the cumbersome weapon. Astrid took him out with a flying tackle, clearing the cart by three feet.
She didn’t think about it as she simply called on the energy again, and it became her strength. The crossbow flew from his arms and twirled down the embankment. The fat man screamed.
“What the fuck are you bleating for!” Astrid bellowed as she stood, then pushed the barbed bolt through her arm. It went clear through, coming out below her armpit. “I’m the one your flunky just shot.”
Fatso fainted, and Astrid was happy to hear his big, melon head hit with a thock against whatever was behind him.
“Fucking amateurs,” Astrid growled as she bent down to pick up the rope that had slipped off her shoulders.
“Damn it,” she said, resisting the urge to kick the wheezing crossbowman she had just tackled. He definitely had some broken ribs, but he wasn’t bleeding from the mouth, so she guessed it wasn’t all that bad. “You got my rope all tangled,” Astrid complained. “Best climbing rope I ever had. Makes a nice weapon, too.”
As much as she wanted to, she couldn’t kick a defenseless person who posed no threat to her. “Damn my ethics,” she said, spitting in the dirt. “You’re so lucky you’re a crappy soldier. Barely worth my damn time.”
The blood streaming down the inside of her ram’s hide tunic had already slowed. A wound like that didn’t take much energy from The Well to heal. She drew on her Knight’s training and focused energy into the wound. The skin sizzled as the hole closed.
The disappointment at finding assholes like those, however, was another matter. That really stung.
After all that time in the wilderness, she so hoped that she would find someplace without all the tragic bullshit that destroyed her House and drove her into exile. Right then, she guessed it was the same everywhere. But then again, she had never been more than thirty miles away from Nistria.
She finished coiling her climbing rope again and slung it back over her shoulder. Astrid hopped up on the wagon and looked down at the fat man. Unconscious, he was almost palatable. Almost. She searched his pockets until she found what she was looking for.
With a feather quill pen, a pot of ink and parchment, she wrote a note. With a chuckle, she went back over to the discarded crossbow bolt. She used the bloody spike to nail her message to the cart.
The note read: “My name is Astrid Sala. Let it be known that I fully intend to pay my debts to the rightful authority of this land. Let it also be known that I will not bend to injustice.”
For good measure, she left a bloody thumbprint.