This short story, taken from the Lesser Earth universe, introduces several new characters unique to the upcoming book, New Heroes: A Novel of Lesser Earth. I wrote it as sort of a character sketch of a few of the players in the book, just to give me some insight into their personalities. The book itself depicts events which occur forty years or so after the end of the Heroes of Lesser Earth webcomic, although this story is some ten years prior to that. This is both a gift to you, and a teaser of things to come.
Their world was called Corlianth by learned men and magicians, the Lesser Earth by the gods who occasionally scraped the mud off of their boots there, (on their way to more exciting locales) and simply ‘the world’ by everyone else. It lay at the bottom of a cosmological heap of existences, dimensionalities, and vibratory planar realities.
Also, it leaked. Ideas, creatures, devices, language, bigotries and more occasionally seeped in from higher universes, creating a world in which much was possible, although pretty much nobody understood how any of it worked.
Children Shouldn’t Play With Any Things
It had been a hell of a fight.
Dred had sent his best two bounty hunters, Venaldo and Rake, to bring back the head of the necromancer Yerpen Mortballs. Both men were allowed to pick the members of a small team of mercenaries to bring with them, and while Venaldo had dismissed Circe out of hand citing her youth and inexperience, she knew that Rake wanted in her pants enough to invite her along without a second’s hesitation. Which is exactly what he did.
In a group full of frightening looking professional soldiers and a few women who were even scarier, Circe was perfectly well aware that she was a painted target for the cocksure Rake.
Because Yerpen had been a necromancer before he had so recently gotten his head chopped off, the hunters had been obliged to battle their way through numerous undead things (and even a demon) on their way to the wizard’s tower. Circe had seen other towers like this before — there was an almost identical one in her home village of Domsalt, although it had been ages since a real, guild wizard had lived there.
In the topmost room, velvet drapes had been torn down for better light. Rake was holding Yerpen’s head, stuffing it into a bag. The necromancer’s limp form lay on the floor opposite Venaldo’s stiff one.
The brusque hunter’s arms were outstretched and propping him slightly off the ground, giving him the impression of a mannequin that had fallen onto it’s face. Circe kneeled beside the muscular Venaldo. Leech, the mercenary team’s de facto medic, had just retired from the room.
“Leech says you’ll be fine,” she told him, running one index finger along a ridge of his black leather armor, and twirling an errant strand of her pale, blond hair with the other. “You got hit with some kind of, um, paralyzation dart? He says he thinks it’ll wear off soon, ’cause, um, you’re still breathing and everything.”
She placed her hand on his chest, feeling the warmth of him. He was big, dark, and scary. (Though a bit less so for being paralyzed.) She had fallen for him almost immediately.
“I was thinking, you know, maybe after we get back —”
“Hey Circe,” Rake called out. He had bagged the head and was standing over by one of the windows. “C’mere.”
Circe turned and made a face only Venaldo could see, just to let him know that she was not excited to be called over by Rake, then got up and went. “What?” she asked.
Rake was tall and rangy, with an easy smile and friendly eyes that she could just imagine had gotten him into huge amounts of trouble. Hell, if it weren’t for Venaldo, she could see herself getting into that kind of trouble.
As she approached, Rake looked up from her chest to her face with visible effort.
“Did you see that dart gun thing whatsisface shot Venaldo with? I can’t find it anywhere.”
Circe could feel the weight of the necromancer’s tiny steel crossbow in her bag, pressing against her back. It was pretty, with intricate whorls and designs spun out of the steel. She thought it might be ancient. Maybe even elven made. She had snatched it almost before Yerpen had finished falling to the ground.
“Uh-uh,” she replied, “Maybe one of the others has it, or something.”
Rake scowled and looked around the room, absent-mindedly feeling his pockets, maybe in case he had picked up the device and somehow forgotten, she thought with an internal chuckle.
“Hunh,” he said and shrugged, “It’s not important.” He turned to her with his most direct smile. His eyes practically glowed blue. “So I was thinking, maybe after we get back —”
“What do you think those giant stone balls are for?” Circe interrupted, pointing out the window. Yerpen’s lawn was littered with them. Stone spheres, some mere inches in diameter, some as much as ten feet across, lay in haphazard non-patterns, as if dropped randomly from height.
“Since the magic guy is already dead, I’m thinking I don’t really care anymore,” Rake said, sliding up to her. She liked Rake, he was close to her age, and there was no denying that he was kinda sexy. Wait, was Venaldo looking at them? She couldn’t be sure, it seemed he was staring at the floor — could he even move his eyes?
“Um, Leech said Venaldo would be mobile again in a minute,” Circe said hurriedly, trying to back away sideways.
“So? He’s no fun. Certainly not as much fun as I am.”
“I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t have gotten, you know, hit by that dart thing or whatever it was if you hadn’t, um, tripped and pushed him into it.” She spoke without looking him in the eyes. No need to complicate matters. “He might be pissed or something when he wakes up.”
Rake moved a half-step back, taking stock. He looked at Venaldo’s rigid form and tugged unconsciously on his own short beard. “There is that,” he said distractedly, “It probably wouldn’t be a terrible idea to be elsewhere when Mr. Crabby-Pants comes to. Give him a moment to cool off.”
Rake paused, considering, then turned back to Circe and grinned. “And, I’ll get to be the one to hand the necromancer’s head over to Dred, annnnd brief him on how amazing I was during the mission!” He leaned in, hooking her around the waist with an arm. “Fantastic! Let’s go, Killer!”
Circe was about to protest when there came a shout from the yard below, followed immediately by a thunderous crash which caused the stone floor beneath them to jump and lurch abruptly to the left.
“What the fuck?” Rake exclaimed as he released Circe and leapt back to the window. She followed and dared a peek outside.
Below them the stone spheres were shifting, cracking, and shattering as hammering blows rained against them — from within.
Enormous stone insects, snakes, animals and other monsters with huge, sharp-looking teeth, claws, and horns erupted from the rock eggs surrounding the tower. A ten foot tall granite ape was directly below their window, smashing the wall to dust with his powerful fists.
“No kiddin’,” Rake said to himself as he calmly stood, looking out the window. “So that’s what those things were.” He smiled again at Circe. “That’s one question answered.”
“They’re all around us! How are we gonna get out of here?” Circe yelled, eyes wide as she stared out the window. She turned and grabbed Rake by his leather and ring jerkin. “We have to get out of here!”
Below them the rest of the bounty hunters had begun to pour out of the tower into the yard. They were shouting and trying to beat a path through the stone monstrosities. Somehow Circe had no problem making herself heard over the din.
“Yeah, darlin’. You better stick real close to me,” Rake said. There was another crashing boom below and a crack began opening across the floor beneath them. “It’s looking pretty hairy out there.”
Circe nodded, and with Rake leading, they began making their way back to the staircase, swords in hand. At the doorway Circe grabbed Rake by the shoulder. “What about Venaldo?” she cried.
“You’re right,” Rake said. The young bounty hunter ran nimbly across the room, hopping over the deepening split in the floor. He grabbed Venaldo by one stiff arm and pulled, flipping the black haired hunter over to face him.
“You’re not getting paid for this next part, you lazy bastard,” Rake told him with a grin. Then he ran back, grabbed the reluctant Circe, and sprinted down the stairs towards the cacophonous battle in the yard below.