Hero’s for Hire Excerpt

Heroes for Hire —
excerpt
            “There,”
Riley said, pointing ahead.  “In the
trees.  That’s where they’ll be waiting.”
            Peg panted
for breath and squinted in the direction that Riley pointed.  Something just behind the tree line made the
trees rustle, something large.  She
stiffened.  “What was that?”
            “What was
what?”
            “That… that
flash of green.”  At least, she thought
it had been green.  The light was still
poor this early in the morning.
            “Probably
Masie.  She really ought to stay back and
well out of view, but sometimes she gets curious.  Probably anxious to meet you.”
            “And Masie
is a…?”
            But Riley
was already moving again, leaving Peg little choice but to follow and resort to
merely shooting dirty looks at the back of his head.  “Watch your step,” he cautioned as they
neared the trees.  “Ground’s a bit uneven
here.”
            His warning
came a second too late, and Peg stumbled even as he spoke, landing on her hands
and knees.  Picking herself up off the
ground, she brushed dirt from her baggy new breeches and looked up to find a
large reptilian face mere inches from her own.
            Peg
shrieked and stumbled backwards only to trip and go sprawling onto her
backside.  This was it.  Not even officially on the road yet, and
already she was about to be eaten.  She
would have screamed again, but her mouth was suddenly too dry to make any other
sounds.  Cringing, she held her arms up
in front of her face as if that would somehow protect her and delay the
inevitable.  Yes, it was probably stupid
and a complete waste of time, but with the toothy creature this close to her
already, stupid was really all she had left.
            But it
didn’t bite her.  Instead, the beast
snorted softly and studied her with wide, curious eyes.  “Easy there, Masie,” Riley told her,
chuckling and patting her on the nose. 
“Give her a little breathing room. 
They don’t have dragons where Peg comes from.”
            Dragons
            Peg
remained frozen in place on the ground, her eyes and mouth open wide.  It really was a dragon, complete with scales,
wings, and those very large teeth.  The
only thing missing was a plume of smoke and fire coming from each nostril.  Maybe she would get to see that later, but
she wasn’t sure she wanted to.
            The
creature was larger than an elephant although much slimmer, and its scales were
a delicate shade of greyish green with flecks of brown and black that no doubt
served as excellent camouflage.  Its
wings, though—something seemed to be wrong with them.  Squinting again, Peg peered more closely, her
heart still pounding but perhaps not quite so fast as before since Riley was
still petting the dragon without any apparent fear of being eaten.  One of the wings looked as large as one might
expect to see on an animal this size, but the other was ridiculously small, and
there was no way it could possibly fly with wings like those.
            The dragon
hung its head then as if embarrassed by her scrutiny, and Peg quickly stopped
her gaping and looked away.
            “Look
sharp, folks,” Riley said, reaching out a hand to help Peg to her feet, and she
was too dazed to do anything but take it. 
“Meet Trukner’s replacement, Peg Brickner.  Say hello, Peg.”
            She
couldn’t have managed that single word right now no matter how hard she tried,
but she did raise her hand in a feeble sort of wave that faltered before it
even began.  She recognized Grodan when
he trotted out from the shrubbery, still in his doggy chainmail, but she had no
idea what to call the creature that followed him.  It looked like a cross between a squid and a
very large centipede.  Four eyes waved at
her from atop spindly eyestalks, and Peg had to muffle an exclamation.  It moved closer on its mass of tentacles as
if to get a better look at her, and she took a wary step back, her eyes on the
gooey trail the creature left behind itself.
            “Back,
Kraak,” Riley ordered the creature. 
“Mind your manners.  Humans have
different notions of personal space than Nirategs do.”
            A small,
metallic box that Peg noticed for the first time around its… neck, she finally
decided, beeped as the thing named Kraak made sounds like the squishing of
water-soaked tennis shoes.  “Sor-ry,”
came a mechanical voice from the box a moment later.
            “Nirateg?”
Peg repeated, her mouth still dry but finally capable of speech.  She swallowed.  “What’s the Nirateg idea of personal
boundaries?”

            “Never
mind,” Riley returned.  “Let’s just say
you’d consider his way of saying hello to be a little invasive.  In fact, on some worlds it would be
considered a felony.”  He rubbed his
hands together briskly.  “Let’s have a
round of introductions, shall we?”
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