Title: Jak Barley Private Inquisitor, and the Case of the Dark Lords Conspiracy
Author: Dan Ehl
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Book Heat Level: 1
Buy at: Rogue Phoenix Press, Amazon, Barnes and Noble
Private inquisitor Jak Barley hates adventures, but once again he is caught up in a tangle of intrigue that includes an ancient prophecy, assassin wizards, and a menagerie of monsters.
Private inquisitor Jak Barley is ready for some down time after battling Ghennison Viper Mages, being attacked by piss dragons, and fighting off priests of Dorga the Fished Headed God of Death. That is why Jak was not a bit amused to have a scruffy mage insist that he is to be one of a group of questers decreed in an ancient prophecy that must cross the icy Alf Mountains to foil the return of the Old Gods. To do so meant using a map all too heavily dotted with "Here Be…" warnings that read like an "Idiot's Guide to Monsters."
And why are Westian Lizard Wizards targeting young red-headed maidens and who is behind the numerous and bizarre attacks upon Jak? Once gain Jak finds himself saying, "I hate adventures."
Its purplish tongue darting out to test the fetid air of the narrow alley, the four-inch long jackal lizard wove an intricate course through the garbage strewn about the damp cobblestone. Disappearing for a heartbeat beneath a shattered herring barrel, the small hunter emerged to fling itself to a moss-swathed brick wall and scamper with its tiny talons to a windowsill. Red pupils expanded briefly at the sight of its quarry.
The slight, furtive figure was hastening down the shadowy back street, shoulders hunched while tightly grasping the hooded cape at her neck. She paused to look nervously over a shoulder. To her ears and jade green eyes, the lane was empty except for the scuttling of rats amidst the heaped garbage already picked over by street urchins and now awaiting the weekly patrol of rubbish trolls.
The lizard's quarry exited the alley onto a broader avenue lit by irregularly spaced gas lamps and the light seeping out from around the shades and curtains of the neighborhood's cramped warrens. She paused again to squint up and down the street as if trying to penetrate the shadows that clung to the myriad doorways and small courtyard gates.
Nervously licking her lips, the hooded figure rushed up a flight of worn stone steps to a narrow, thick door also partially hidden by the shadows. It appeared a sinister black, but on a sunny day the entrance was a festive red trimmed in green.
The jackal lizard had only two things in common with the door. By night the creature appeared black and if it ever ventured into the clean light of day, it would prove to be red. It wasn't a festive crimson, but more the scarlet of a seeping, broken blister. Its job completed, the tiny reptile turned to retrace its evening journey.
One hour later, another hooded figure emerged from the alley. Instead of the panicky air of the early walker, this cowled form strode with boldness through the gathering fog. A gas lamp momentarily illuminated the gaunt features of the stranger. An observer might be startled by the freezing grey eyes or arrogant, thin lips. But what would first draw any eyes was the black tattoo of a lizard across the shadowy figure's forehead. Or at least it first appeared a tattoo – until a closer look would reveal the image to actually be restlessly shifting and stirring.
Minutes later, there was a startled shriek from behind the red and green door – to be followed by a tormented, drawn-out cry that sent everyone in earshot scrambling to check the locks on their doors and windows. The hooded figure left as arrogantly as he had arrived.
This scenario was to be replayed several times within the next three weeks in the city of Duburoake.
On the fourth venture, the jackal lizard was agilely darting among the feet of the unwary as it traversed a busy avenue in pursuit of a maiden barely out of childhood. The long cape failed to hide her slim figure and lustrous red hair spilling out from beneath her hood. The young woman muttered occasional apologies when she inadvertently collided with others in her anxious haste to get home.
The jackal lizard leaped a street curb and dashed beneath a cluster of outdoor tables, stools, and the thickly booted feet of the patrons of the King's Wart Inn. It paused to flick its purple tongue for traces of its prey's scent when a looming shadow descended to bring a blackness harsher than any gaslight shadow.
~ * ~
"By the dozen teats of the goddess Gendra, you almost spilled my ale," I yelped in admonishment as I grabbed for the teetering stein. Lorenzo Spasm had violently shoved the scuffed wooden table aside and brought his heel firmly down upon the ale garden's flagstone. Somewhere off in the crowd of celebrants for the St. Drubel's parade a strangled scream erupted above the din. I watched as Lorenzo lifted his boot to reveal the squished remnants of what appeared to be a small, red lizard.
"Nice going," I admonished my friend. "You just stomped some harmless creature seeking nothing more than to eat one of the numerous cockroaches that plague the King's Wart Inn."
Lorenzo ignored my reproach to stare intently at the remains. I glanced to my half-brother, Olmsted Aunderthorn, to see that he was also closely observing the deceased lizard.
I took another sip of the cellar-cooled ale. "I guess we could call Tem Rouster. He collects road kills, dries them, soaks them in cheap cologne, and sells them to cab drivers to hang in their coaches as air flavorer to ward off the scents of his more malodorous patrons. Now that I think of it, such a fragranced bauble would not be a bad thought in this establishment's water closet."
Both of my friends ignored my witty banter.
"What?" I asked in puzzlement.
"That be a jackal lizard, Jak," Olmsted answered.
Even in my slight ale buzz, his reply brought me up on my stool. "A jackal lizard, here?"
Lorenzo stood and peered into the crowd of drunken revelers. The street was lit by numerous torches installed just for the evening festival. Olmsted and I followed suit. Where there was a jackal lizard, there was bound to be a Westian Lizard Wizard. My friend abruptly waded into the throng.
The significance of the dead lizard and the earlier shriek finally sank in. Westian Lizard Wizards were notorious for blending their evil arts with those of assassins. Talk on the street was that one was in Duburoake plying his nefarious trade. A recent spate of mutilated corpses seemed to back up the conjecture.
I hurried to catch up with my friend, though following him in the densely packed mob wasn't easy. Drubel was the patron saint of brewers, which not only made him one of the more popular holy figures, but his devotees a rather raucous bunch. I emerged into a gap in the crowd – it was created by the celebrants frantically backing away from a wildly swaying figure.
I had never seen a Westian Lizard Wizard in real life, but there was no mistaking the cowled figure for a black order of necromancers. Across the brow of the mage was the lizard shaped indentation, now missing its customary passenger. The Lizard Wizards were the only magicians to carry their familiars in such a novel manner.
Judging by the muffled screams and curses emanating from the warlock, the death of his cold-blooded companion was extremely excruciating. He was pressing the heels of his hands into his temples. Thin rivulets of blood seeped from where he had raked his long, dirty nails across his cheeks.
The deranged mage froze in his pose of anguish to glare intently at Lorenzo.
"You!" the wizard shrieked at my friend. "You are the one who killed my lizard."
While other observers of the mini-drama pressed even farther away from the crazed wizard, Lorenzo calmly stood his ground and responded, "We're going to make the little bastard into an air flavorer."
The wizard gritted his teeth and drew in a ragged breath. "What?" he asked in bewilderment, as if Lorenzo had just told him that wet birds do not fly at night.
"I'm afraid all those splintered little bones would make it unfit to eat, so we're going to dry it, soak the flattened carcass in cheap cologne, and hang it in the water closet at the King's Wart Inn to ward off the lingering odor of urine."
The mage's mouth spasmed several times before releasing another horrendous shriek. He pulled a hand from his head to thrust his arm toward my friend. This caused a further panic among the revelers. I similarly retreated. No one wanted to be around wizards when they were pointing fingers. It was not only impolite, but deadly.