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|Mindbender: Heroes for Hire|
By Dael Blackney
Copyright Dael Blackney
Smashwords Edition, License Notes
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
This is a book that doesn’t take itself very seriously – to be honest, it’s more of like a series pilot than a proper first episode. But there are still some people out there who deserve a word of thanks.
To my dear sisters Cal and Thali, who patiently endured my bouts of writing-related depression and enthusiasm over the last couple of months and helped me along the process of coming up with some of my best ideas ever. Thanks, girls. I owe you guys, like, 12% of the profit – maybe.
Also, I want to say thanks, Millie. The moment when you emailed me, saying that you’d be more than happy to draw me a cover, was the moment I realized that one day I might actually pull this off. May the cover of this book be the first of many things we work on!
And last but not least, to the reader who is about to give this book of mine a go, thank you. To a teenage first-time writer, this means a lot.
Chapter 1 – An Honest Girl and Her Awkward Monster
The Introvits are indeed a peculiar people. Dwarfed by their powerful imperial neighbours, the Extrovits, the Introvits cling to their small, cold, mountainous island empire to the far southwest, and pass their time in isolation by inventing, innovating, arguing and thinking. Compared to the Extrovits, and Sykee’s other major powers, the Introvits are divided, competitive, and have no respect whatsoever for absolute control; each vies for their own interests there, making it the home of some of the most terrible villains and criminals in history. But, perhaps because of the Introvits’ peculiar idea of absolute freedom and despite its small size, this isolated realm has also had more than its fair share of great heroes. The Realms of Sykee
A Cheap Little Tavern Room in a Mountain Somewhere
‘Dezo,’ a faint voice whispered softly. ‘Dez…come on, Dez…oh, get up, lazy fuzzball.’
In the early hours of the morning, a two-meter, grey-skinned monster was unceremoniously awoken from his sleep by a determined poke to the shoulder. Being very careful not to stick a hole in the sheet with one of his six horns (it was an expensive mistake that had happened to him too many times before while renting a room in a village tavern), he turned his head sideways, and opened an eye to see the fuzzy outline of his business partner’s small, chubby, rosy-cheeked face.
‘Hey, hey Dezolat, hey,’ Construde said. She was sounding rather excited. ‘I just thought I should let you know, the whole town’s going bonkers!’
‘Blaargh, zazzablaargh akkad blaargh,’ Dezolat growled back. He hadn’t slept well, and was way too tired to think too much about grammar, let alone Construde’s games. So, he closed his eyes, and let his head flop back into the little groove it had made in the inn’s soft, lovely bed. Construde responded by giving him another poke, a little harder this time.
‘Wrong language, Dezolat,’ she reminded him patiently.
‘Raagh!’ Dezolat shouted in pain, trying to grab Construde’s hand. ‘Whaarg…ah…what?’
Construde danced away from his flailing claws. ‘I already told you. Outside, in the town, everyone’s going crazy. Screaming, and running, like there’s a war going on!’
‘Say what…?’ Dezolat said incredulously.
I said that everyone’s going crazy outside! You should seriously come and look. It’s pretty cool – I mean I’ve never seen a village go psycho like this.’
With that, Construde ran back over to the room’s small window to peer out of it. Dezolat squinted at it; all he could make out were the drawn blinds and pure, white light from outside. Obviously, his night-vision-inclined eyes needed about another minute of adjusting. But, as he lay there on the bed, he thought he heard something strange; the distant, muffled sound of a crowd screaming. He inserted a claw into one of his long, pointed ears, twisting it round like a key in a lock to clear it before pulling his finger out and listening again. Outside, there was no doubt about it: people were definitely screaming.
Oh dear, he thought to himself as he gingerly hauled his weary body up and across to sit himself down in a heap on the side of the bed.
Dezolat was a Negavore, a rare species of mountain monster usually found in caves. He was skinny but large, was around two meters tall and had six long horns that grew out from behind his pointed ears. His skin was bluish-grey, his eyes large, round and luminous, and his long, copper hair exploded down his back like a wild, spiky waterfall. He had short, triple-jointed legs, splayed, clawed toes and spindly arms that were just long enough for his claw tips to dangle down around his knees. His waist and torso were a little thin, but his shoulders were thick and broad. With his delicate, pointy features and big, glossy eyes, for a monster he really didn’t look that intimidating.
What really made people look twice, though, was Dezolat’s third eye, a bulky, circular thing that sat smack in the middle of his forehead. Most of the time it was sealed shut, but in the right kind of situations Dezolat elected to open it up. To be more precise, those situations usually involved some kind of fight.
Dezolat wore a battered black shirt and a horrific-looking pair of thick leather trousers that had been stitched together from several different-coloured leather hides and repaired at least a dozen times. He reached over to the end of the bed and grabbed his similarly cobbled-together jacket and pulled it over his head before firmly planting his feet on the floor and standing up. He rubbed his aching forehead with a clawed hand, and glanced at the clock on the wall – it was seven in the morning. As usual, Construde wasn’t the sort to sleep when there was something exciting going on.
First, Dezolat thought glumly to himself, food.
The bulky Negavore took a quick glance around the inn’s cramped room. It was a pretty standard affair for a remote mountain town, bare-bones and claustrophobic (especially for a creature of Dezolat’s dimensions) but still warm welcoming. The walls were made of bright pine wood, and the floor paved stone; there was a small stove in one corner, still warm with the remnants of last night’s fire inside, and there was a wooden double bunk on the wall opposite the door. Before she’d even taken a breath, the first thing Construde had done upon entering their room the previous evening was establish herself as the owner of the upper bunk. Not that Dezolat really cared; when you weighed over 150 kilograms, even a small fall could be damn painful.
Dezolat spied his small shoulder bag, where he’d dumped it in the corner the previous night. He ambled stiffly over to it, his gait even more heavy and lumbering at this time of the morning, and fell forward onto his knees beside it with a clunk. He rummaged around in a side pocket for a moment, before withdrawing a small glass flask full to the cork with a dark blue fluid flecked with spots of grey and white. Dezolat didn’t need to read the label; it was an extract of loneliness that he’d collected from a sleeping traveller back at their little forest village a few months previously. It was a little strong for the morning, but he was feeling lazy, so he flicked out the cork with his thumb claw and knocked back about half of it in one go.
For Dezolat, eating negative emotions – or drinking them, really, they were sort of like a liquid – was actually pretty convenient. Sure, it freaked people out and sometimes made them want to kill you, but the world was full of unhappy people and although that was pretty sad when you thought about it, it meant that Dezolat wouldn’t starve.
Besides, it also meant that he could mindbend, or turn auras solid and manipulate the emotions in them like some kind of magical bender of the elements. The key to mindbending was basically a strong will that allowed you to move the emotions in your aura around at will, which Dezolat was lucky to have. Most mindbenders needed a special crystal tool, like a staff or a necklace, to substantiate their auras, but with his third eye Dezolat was a very special case. That he could mindbend at all made him pretty special anyway; in all his life, the Negavore had never encountered another mindbender. The general consensus was that they were almost completely extinct, and that it was a very good thing that they were.
It was kinda sad, but then again, it did mean that he had no competition.
‘Dezolat,’ Construde said, sounding really agitated now. ‘Stop slurping your breakfast and check this out. Seriously, the crowd’s thinning. You’re gonna miss it…’
Grumbling to himself, Dezolat slipped the bottle back into the bag, licked his lips and ambled up behind Construde. The window was level with his chest and about two feet square, so she was doing a pretty good job of blocking it completely. He crossed his arms and waited.
Sensing that something was amiss, Construde slowly turned around and looked up at him.
‘Is there a problem?’ She asked innocently.
Dezolat looked her up and down. Construde was a seventeen-year-old Introvit girl just past five feet in height, with a thick build and muscled little limbs. She was dressed in army boots, black knee-length shorts, a knitted blue pullover and a furry, dark-brown bearskin cape tied around her neck. Her pale, greyish freckled face was cute, petite and round, and her shoulder-length, sandy-blonde hair was tied into a pair of mini ponytails. Her bright violet eyes, which were currently fixed on Dezolat’s, were perfectly offset by a green headwrap that was constantly tied around her forehead. All things considered, she was a funny little creature to look at.
Sure, she didn’t have three eyes and horns like Dezolat did, but with her rosy cheeks and blonde hair, she was still pretty distinctive. In the ‘civilized’ northern parts of the island empire, the standard Introvitians were pale-faced with dark-brown hair. Lighter shades, such as blonde hair, red hair and copper hair were all marks of the tribal clansmen who’d been living under the rule of the Introvits for centuries – though not without a few major rebellions. People really didn’t like monsters like Dezolat, and they weren’t afraid to show it; they reserved a different kind of hate for Construde, though, the kind of hate you show one of your kind who’s betrayed you. Being widely disliked was one of the few things that they had in common, really.
‘I’d love to look at all the bad things happening, Construde,’ Dezolat said, scratching his head. ‘But you’re really hard to see through. Could please you move?’
‘You say it more like this: “could you move please”,’ Construde corrected him, skipping a foot or so sideways. ‘And sure thing, beasty boy, since you asked so nicely.’
Dezolat winced. Ever since he’d got the hang of huwoman language when he’d been in his early teens, he’d struggled with his deep, throaty accent and how he could never put the words in sentences together properly. Construde was usually uncharacteristically patient about it all, but when it came to people, she was the exception.
Dezolat stepped up to the window, bent himself over, wiped away the fog where Construde had been breathing onto the glass, and looked through. The village of Slite was a very traditionally built little place, with grey-stone buildings with black tile rooves and cute little windows and doors and weathered stone pavements. It was the middle of winter, so there was a dusting of fresh snow around. Slite was built onto the side of a mountain, and other than the odd boulder or cluster of pine trees the huge hills surrounding the village were completely smothered in snow.
And sure enough, it looked like a war had broken out outside; from the inn’s second-storey window, he could see at least a dozen villagers hastily dressed for the cold desperately hauling bags and small children in one general direction: down the main road, towards the village gate. Evidently, people were trying to get out of the place in a hurry. It all looked very ominous, and watching it all Dezolat felt unease stirring deep in his gut. He was a monster; he could trust his instincts.
Construde pushed herself in under Dezolat’s left shoulder, peeking through the glass and down at the village street below.
‘What do you think this is?’ She asked curiously. ‘Building on fire? Medieval plague? Someone dropped a rotten egg? Whatever it is, it’s sure got everyone freakin’ out down there.’
‘I have a feeling it’s worse than a fire,’ Dezolat replied, frowning. ‘I have a feeling also that we should be down there doing something…’
Construde slowly turned her head around, to give him a raised-eyebrow look.
‘You sure we should be giving the whole hero-work thing a break for a week or so, Dezolat? After what you and I’ve just been through?’
Dezolat sighed. They’d stayed at Slite the night before on their way home from a job that had gone badly wrong. They’d been hired to protect a remote inn from a bunch of casual road thugs, who’d been bothering the innkeeper for weeks. When they showed up the inn was thoroughly trashed in the fighting, so the two heroes had gone home more empty-handed than they’d came; to placate the inn’s furious keeper, Dez had had to pay him damages for his wrecked building. Put simply, it really hadn’t gone well.
The Negavore stepped away from the window, taking a few steps into the middle of the small room and giving his aching head another gentle rub.
‘You do some things right, Construde,’ Dezolat said, wincing from the fresh memory of their anti-success. ‘And you do other things wrong. But, you shouldn’t let that get in the way of a chance to do it right next time, yes yes?’
Construde’s eyebrow jacked up her forehead even further. She turned around to face him with her hands on her hips and a ‘
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