The Men of Anderas III: Talon, the Assassin
He is the lone survivor of a brutal massacre. The intelligence that is his birthright and the vengeance that is his inheritance enable him to grow and learn--to mature into a man capable of tracking and destroying Draagon. He is Talon, a bounty hunter--an Assassin for law enforcement. Each capture brings him that much closer to his ultimate goal--justice for his slaughtered village.
Shadow is as elusive as her name. All she’s ever known is the hard, nomadic lifestyle of the band of mercenaries she lives and fights with. Rough, tough and more than capable of killing, she enjoys the thrill of battle, knowing her survival depends on her skills alone. She has the dubious ability to remember every obscenity she has ever heard and to employ them without hesitation at a moment’s notice.
His drunken lifestyle disgusts her.
Her never-changing aura intrigues him.
They were destined to fall in love--if they didn’t kill each other first.
Publish Date: 12/15/14
Word Count: 73,880
Genre: Sci-fi/Fantasy Romance
Available formats: PDF, RTF, Epub, HTML, Mobipocket (.prc)
© Cover Art by Jenny Dixon, October 2014
New Concepts Publishing
Lake Park, GA 31636
This is a work of fiction. All characters, events, and places are of the author's imagination and not to be confused with fact. Any resemblance to living persons or events is merely coincidence.
The Phantom Riders were systematically slicing his horse apart and he was trapped beneath what was left of the carcass. He couldn’t maneuver enough to look over the gelding’s shoulders to see where they were. If they came close enough for him to get off a shot he’d be dead before he raised his gun. He was fucked.
Struggling against the dead weight pinning him to the rocky ground, he raised his head looking for a target. Shots plowed into the sand and gravel around him. Pain and darkness exploded in his head..
“We did it, Talon. Can you sit up?” Dak asked.
“I think I’m okay, thanks to you. I have a bitch of a headache. Must have passed out since its dark now. Man, I’ve never seen such a totally dark night. Not even a star in sight.”
“Talon. Let me have a look at your head.”
“Come on, Dak. You can’t find your own head in this darkness. It can wait until morning. Did any of the Riders escape? I think the one that got away the last time we met brought his friends. They’re looking for Kierin. How is she, by the way?”
“Let me help you up, Talon. I’ve got to get you back to Kierin’s fortress. She’s an excellent healer. I’m sure there’s something she can do to help.”
“I’m fine, Dak.” He pulled his arm free.
“You’re not fine. A laser blast grazed your head. You were unconscious....”
“Just say it.”
“Damn it, Talon. It’s not dark. It’s the middle of the day.”
His knees buckled and he sat down hard. “Get the fuck away from me! Why the hell didn’t you mind your own business, Dak?”
“The Riders would have killed you.”
“They did kill me! Get out of here! Leave me the hell alone!”
“I’m not leaving you out here. Come back to Kierin’s. You know how talented she is with her crystals. There’s bound to be one that can heal the burn.”
“What if there’s not a way to fix it, Dak? What am I supposed to do then? It’s a little difficult being a bounty hunter when you can’t see to wipe your own ass. I have no desire to sit out my remaining days on a corner in some backwater town begging for coins and food.”
“I once offered to kill you to set you free. I now ask you for the same. Kill me, Dak. Set me free.”
Talon jerked awake, shaking and cursing the dream. Would he ever sleep through a night without reliving the nightmare? Two years! How long before he completely lost his mind and slit his own throat?
“Krebs is trying to bluff his way through this hand. He’s gonna raise.” The disgustingly dirty man at the bar announced.
“Not a chance. Yur wrong this time. He took four cards and that means he’s got nothin’ but shit in his hand.”
“Are you willing to put money on it?”
“I got a gold coin that sez you ain’t nothin’ but a drunk hustler.”
“Drunk--yes. Hustler--no. I never claim to be something I’m not nor do I attempt to hide my talents. Regardless of your beliefs, the time for action has passed. Krebs just pushed his pitiful pile of coins into the pot. Your sophomoric attempt at humiliation has saved your coin.”
Shadow watched the card game behind the glass partition progress with predictable results. Two players were lousy gamblers and losing heavily. One was on his way to being drunk off his ass and losing. That left a professional gambler and a bottom dealing card shark. Their game wasn’t inspired by any stretch of the imagination. The true game was happening on this side of the glass.
The crowd gathered around the dirty, smelly bum strained to hear every word he uttered. Seems he could predict what each of the card players would do before they did it. The body language of the two bad players and the drunk was easy to follow. She’d watched the pro for close to two hours now and couldn’t see the slightest tell. He was that good. For those same two hours, the bum never missed a call. More coins and drinks changed hands out here than in the glass room. Yep, that man was good--too good. No sound escaped the glass room so he couldn’t hear the game. He damn sure couldn’t see what was happening because he was stone-cold blind.
He was also the reason she was in this miserable dive in the most disreputable section of Cypriana. She’d been hired to find him. Too bad she didn’t know what she was going to do with him now that she had him.
“Ain’ he amazin’?” Whispered one of the girls working the tables.
Shadow gave her a quick glance before turning back to her quarry. “I guess.” She shrugged. “There’s got to be a trick to it. The bastard’s blind.”
“He don’ need no tricks. I heard he’s got some kinda magic rocks in his head an’ he can see a person’s aura. Don’ rightly know what that aura is but if he sez he can see it, that’s good enough for me. I’m Molly.”
“Magic? Auras? Sounds like you’ve been hittin’ the liquor barrel too many times tonight.” Shadow scoffed at Molly’s claim.
“It’s true. I got no reason to lie. He ain’ never wrong. You can test him. Jus’ walk up to him and he’ll tell you what yur thinkin’. It’s a real shame, though. He used to be a bounty hunter till he got blind. Now all he does is drink up the coins he wins.”
Shadow was saved from having to comment when Molly was called by a customer. The woman confirmed what Dak and Kierin told her about Talon. He could see the heat image of a living organism. Their concern for their friend is what prompted them to hire her to fix the problem. She’d followed him for two weeks now and managed to stay out of sight.
His routine was the same every night. Start at one end and hit every sleazy bar on this side of the street and when he reached the other end he’d repeat the trek down the opposite side of the street before staggering to the shack he called home. He’d sleep all day and at sundown, the cycle would repeat. He didn’t bathe or shave or change clothes. The only food she saw him consume was whatever the bars were serving for free.
She didn’t have much of a plan to follow but she figured it was about time for Talon to see her. Now that the game was winding down, let’s see his reaction to one of her special talents.
Pushing her way through the crowd, Shadow tossed a coin to the bartender. “Whatever you have that’s cold.” She nodded in Talon’s direction before ignoring him. When her drink arrived, she took a deep draught of the yeasty brew.
“Damn! That’s good for what ails you.” She felt Talon’s gaze but refused to look in his direction. Turning around, she leaned against the bar, sipped her ale and scanned the room.
“Haven’t seen you in here before. New in town?” Talon asked the stranger beside him. He guessed her height to be slightly above average and lean built, athletic. Her voice had that smoky, whisky-rough quality that made him think of long hours of slow foreplay. Not that he practiced much foreplay anymore. The women he slept with now didn’t care as long as he finished quickly so they could get back to work. He hadn’t visited one of the working girls in a couple of weeks and this woman’s voice had him ready for action.
“Let me buy you a drink?” He asked.
“No thanks.” She briefly glanced in his direction.
“Don’ be like that, babe.” He leaned closer. “Jus’ a drink so we can get to know each other. I want to fuck your brains out.” He visually traced the outline of her slender body. He might be blind but he remembered enough to imagine the good spots. “You’re different.” That was an understatement. He was too drunk to make sense of what he was seeing when he looked at her. Her color never changed.
“All things being equal--I’d rather fuck a Zikanthan slime slug than spend five minutes in the same room with you.” She announced.
Talon threw his head back and laughed until tears ran down his face. The sound was harsh from lack of use and sounded more like two rusty buckets fucking. Wiping the moisture away, he forced a half grin in her direction. Her quick wit was a welcome break from his morose routine. “If a slime slug doesn’t have a nine-inch dick, I’m still a better lay.”
“Rumors claim they run closer to fifteen inches.” She finished off her ale and slid the glass to the back of the bar. Without another glance, she left the bar.
How the hell does she control her body heat? No one has that much control. My insulting pick-up line didn’t faze her. Grabbing the bottle of cheap alcohol that kept his pain manageable, Talon headed for the door. He didn’t know who this woman was but she represented a challenge and that was something missing from his existence for longer than he cared to remember.
For the next four hours Talon searched for the illusive female. It only took a quick glance into every diner, club, bar and dive in this two mile strip of Cypriana to know she wasn’t there. The woman simply vanished.
Sunrise signaled closing time for anyone selling alcohol or sex and Talon knew his search would have to wait until tonight. He adamantly refused to name the spark of something burning in his chest as anything more than curiosity--or lust. To allow it to be anything else invited pain and abject, heartbreaking disappointment. Lust could be satisfied by any willing woman. Hell, he could take care of it himself and save the coins as well as the inevitable questions of how does it work. Being made to feel like a cheap, carnival, side-show freak killed whatever momentary sexual relief he derived from the encounter.
Turning into the nearest alley, he made his way through the maze of tents that comprised the “buildings” in this end of town. He knew where he was by the feel of the walls and the noise blasting into the night. He was lucky enough to find a deserted one-room shack built of rusted tin and tree limbs. It leaked when it rained; no heat in the winter; and the long hot summers turned it into an oven. It offered all the amenities he needed--a bed and a small measure of privacy.
He was only fifty yards from home when the headache slammed into the back of his head. Fuck! Not again! It’s only been eleven days since the last one! What the hell is happening? Sucking a breath through gritted teeth, Talon grabbed his head with one hand and reached for the bottle in his pocket with the other. He tossed the cap before guzzling half the liquid. There had been too many headaches and too many bottles for the alcohol burn to be more than a momentary discomfort.
Shit! Stupid fuck! You walked yourself sober looking for some nameless bitch! Calling himself names wouldn’t get him to a flat surface any sooner. He needed to lie down in the dark while he could still function. It would take a huge dose of luck to get him home before the alcohol in the bottle disappeared. If he still believed in any deity he’d pray that he remembered to replace his alcohol cache after the last headache. If he didn’t…it was going to be a very long and painful day.
* * * *
It didn’t take any degree of stealth for Shadow to follow Talon undetected. The skills that made him one of the best trackers in this end of the galaxy were the first casualties of his constant drinking. She knew the basic details of his injury but nothing about the man. Dak didn’t want to influence her reactions to Talon and she understood his reasoning. In the two years since Draagon’s Phantom Riders attacked him, Talon’s spiraling self-destruction practically destroyed the man he used to be. She needed to see him in his environment. Kierin told her to watch for signs of pain, especially headaches, and sent several medicinal packets, each labeled for specific events. If the headaches were serious, she had something that Kierin hoped would help. Dak just said help his friend.
At the end of a particularly smelly alley, Talon grabbed his head. He was obviously in pain. Looked like Kierin’s concerns were justified. Before she could offer assistance he took a huge drink and straightened. She could only imagine the monumental force of single-minded determination that propelled him down the alley. Maybe the man he used to be still fought somewhere inside the drunken hustler. When he stumbled through the door of his shack she knew he’d probably drink himself senseless and sleep through the day. She watched him until he flopped down on his cot and covered his head with a dark cloth. Pulling the door closed, she crept back down the alley. She needed rest as well. Her gut warned her that his time was running out and she never ignored her gut. Too many times in the past that warning made the difference in her being dead or living to fight another day.
It was time to put her plans into action. Talon, the Assassin--the Bounty Hunter--was about to reenter the world of the living.