This next piece is not from the Bianca Barrowbone “series.” It is from an entirely different novel I am working on. The excerpt specifically introduces one of the main characters in a series that I call The Messenger and the Hunter: Astrid Johansen. Without going into detail, Astrid is an up-and-coming bounty hunter/assassin in the middle of a pretty big job. I hope you enjoy her bad ass personality just as much as I do!
Astrid Johansen bolted through the streets of Capital City, her prey only yards away. A giddy grin lit up her face, stretching across her sunburnt cheeks as her legs burned with adrenaline and star-like fury. Her silver hair, tied in a loosening ponytail, whipped around her as she ran, revealing the long scar ripping down her left cheek. Her backpack beat at her spine with a vengeance, the weight of her supplies (a taser, a knife, a flashlight, lock-picks, a vial of some odd violet fluid, her phone, and a fake ID) beating against her back.
Her prey bolted around a corner, trying in vain to lose her, but there was no way she was letting this one go. Not again.
The fool Astrid was chasing for the third time in the past week was a man named Walter Riggins. Of course, that wasn’t his real name. His real name was John McNamara. No, Walter Riggins was just the name his wife and kids knew him by. Walter— or John, Astrid didn’t know what to call him— was a gambling addict who’d gotten himself into some deep shit with a local gang and long story short three men were now dead and this man had a higher bounty on his head than any other merc in the city. Astrid usually wouldn’t have cared, but when the gang Walter had wronged came knocking on her door, Astrid’s eyes lit up with giant flashing dollar signs.
Astrid researched this guy for two weeks, looking up records, gently beating up sources, and using her “gift” to pull information out of everything and everybody. It was a whole ordeal involving lots of punching, growling, and murdering, but hey, that’s all in a day’s work for your local bounty hunter/maybe-assassin.
It took over a week to figure out what hotel this guy was rooming in, but when Astrid found him, he was nowhere to be seen. It took the rest of the week for Astrid to finally gaze upon the wily bastard with her own eyes, and then another two days of trailing him until he dropped his guard. Now, all Astrid had to do was run, pounce, and do what she did best. Unfortunately, the last bit was not going her way.
This one was fast, annoyingly so. Walter was a middle-aged gambling addict, used to sitting in a casino or in front of a laptop. By all accounts, he should not be this physically fit. And he shouldn’t be able to hide so easily.
What the heck, dude?
Capital City was built just over one hundred seventy-five years ago by the Pantheon. The god that designed it, Palin: God of Pride, made it look kind of like an impressively intricate coin, with a sequence of concentric circles and more alleys and pathways than Astrid could count. The central circles always gave tourists a trip, what with all the glittering, silver and golden buildings surrounding them. Astrid was not in the central circles.
Astrid gave in to her senses, feeling her heartbeats quicken and her hands jitter. She let the adrenaline coursing through her veins fill her to the brim, letting it stab through every organ in her body. All at once, like clockwork, her eyes went sharp and her ears grew acutely aware of every sound in a three-mile radius.
Astrid stopped then, pulling into an alley and closing her eyes as she tuned into every sound in the city. She’d been trailing Walter for weeks now, so if there was anything she knew, it was the sound of his footsteps and the pace of his breaths.
Astrid was a Rager, a super-soldier by birth who, with enough adrenaline and practice, could become a merciless killer, capable of ripping an army to shreds all on her own. She quite liked her gift, but she was also acutely aware that her city did not think the same.
Then, she heard it: the tiniest hitch of breath. That was all she needed. She had him. Astrid bolted into the second alley to the left and used her rubber-based combat boots to climb up the slick walls surrounding her, pulling herself to a stop at the window of an abandoned second-floor apartment. Luckily for her, not so much Walter, the window was unlocked.
Astrid slid in, unceremoniously dropping to the floor, her blood beating in her ears. She didn’t breathe, didn’t speak, not until a lamp came swinging towards her. Her sight narrowed on the lamp, and time slowed just enough for her to catch it with her bare hand, crushing it right then and there. Astrid didn’t care about the blood running down her wrist. There were five thousand novas on the line, after all.
“Hello, Walter. Or should I say John? Omir’s breath, you guys always pick the most boring names,” She purred, stalking towards the shaking idiot that had evaded her grasp for far too long.
She struck lightning-fast, kicking up at Walter’s shocked, full form, hitting him right in the jaw just before she pulled out her knife and shoved it right against his already bruising neck, pinning him back against the peeling wall. He whimpered, but Astrid didn’t hear it. All she heard was the pulse of blood under his skin and the brief widening of his eyes. Her eyes shone blood-red.
“I believe you owe some men some money.”
Walter tried to kick, to fight back against Astrid’s iron grip, but it was futile. In this form, she was invincible. She could go five hundred to one and come out of it without a drop of sweat, or at least that’s what she told herself. She pinned his leg to a wall, and in one fell swoop pounded the hilt of her blade into the side of his head, knocking him out cold. Walter’s unconscious form slumped down the gritty wallpaper, but Astrid caught it and laid it down on the hard, concrete floor. She pulled out a small syringe full of a thick violet fluid, a sleeping serum her employer oh, so generously provided, and injected all of it straight into the side of his neck. He’d be out for another day.
Astrid felt her adrenaline drop and suddenly she could breathe again. Now the only issue, or non-issue, was bringing this sad motherfucker back to the tavern so she could get paid.
Astrid heaved Walter over her shoulder, muscles straining, and leapt out the window. Astrid was quickly embraced by the walls of her city as she hopped from wall to wall and roof to roof. Moving like this made Astrid almost think she had wings, guiding her as she floated above her city. Sometimes Astrid was convinced there were feathers on her back, only for her to look back and see the usual nothing between her shoulder-blades.
Every morning, Astrid would jump just like this, skipping through the circles until she got to the very edge of her city until she could see fields upon fields of green and the line where the sky meets the earth, where the sun scorches the land. Astrid wished she could go to her edge now, but the snoring body weighing her down snapped her out of her daydreams real quick.
Before she knew it, Astrid finally arrived at the place where hefting a body over your shoulder would only earn you looks in the other direction. Without hesitation, she marched into The Hollow Blade, greeted only by the smell of whiskey and blood like a blanket around her shoulders.
Home sweet home.