The Pink Lady
It was the kind of night favoured by horror stories and mood pieces.
You know. A frigid, steel edged wind, taking up the leaves of the forest into its whirling embrace, rain slashing down beneath a soul-black sky, lit to brilliance by staggering whips of lightning and rocked with the thunder of their passing, that sort of thing.
On nights such as these, people would huddle around their homestead hearths and the stories they would tell would gravitate to tales of stark terror, of shadows moving through a moonless night, of creeping clthonic beasts invisible in the darkness.
Well, they used to. Nowadays the clthonic beasts were as real as the storm and the people huddled in the dark, fearfully wondering what brought their stories to life.
Hence the occupants of the Inn, which stood on the southwestern outskirts of the Eppi forest.
The Inn was still standing mainly because of its clientele. The self-proclaimed 'Good' King Lassic had abandoned this far-flung holding to the monsters, withdrawing his soldiers to patrol the forced peace of the twin cities of Camineet and Parolit. The Inn, isolated though it was, had somehow managed to attract the new breed of mercenary hunters who filled the gulf left by Lassic's troops, albeit for a price. The beasts had learnt to stay away from the Inn. Some of them, anyway. The ones that had not were not given the opportunity to make the mistake again.
They weren't the best of men, and right now they were drunk, which didn't help.
The rickety door had been rattling on its bolt all evening, so very few really noticed the noise of its opening. They all turned at the blast of cold air, though, and saw a pretty young lady pushing it closed.
With only one hand, it might be noted, and against the strength of the wind. Everyone in the Inn was too occupied or too drunk to really take heed of that.
Especially given the woman's clothing.
She was wearing pink. And purple. Specifically, she had a pink skirt and top, and purple, gold edged rigid leather armour. She wore powder yellow leggings and bright, pure white boots. Her hair was wet, and straight with it, but she didn't seem uncomfortable. The entire ensemble gave her a very child-like look, in spite of the fact she was an adult, although perhaps only just.
She secured the door and turned. Her eyes were not a mere eighteen years old. They were far, far older, but, again, no one noticed. She was carrying a walking stick, and had presumably come from some distance.
She smiled and walked to the bar, as the conversations started up again around her, punctuated by the requisite whistling.
The barman, a beefy bald guy, took up his best no-nonsense stance and waited for her to order.
The Inn went briefly silent, and then erupted into laughter. Only the barman didn't smile.
Now, what was she supposed to say next..? Oh yes.
"I'm afraid I don't have any money, but..."
The barman snorted and turned completely away from her. The drinkers continued laughing, and the lady waited.
Come on, someone has to.
The speaker was a big guy, really big. Plenty of muscle, but even more gut, and only a few teeth. From the smell it seemed likely they were rotting.
"I can pay for your drink, sweetie, and pay you a bit more besides."
The lady in pink tried to sound naive and interested. "Really?"
The man's hand crept towards her.
"Yeah. All you have to do is...Oh ho! I like a girl with spirit!"
The lady had brushed away his hand, and didn't even have to try to go red.
"Don't I lads?" the man called over his shoulder. More laughter, and suddenly the room was an audience.
Better and better.
"Now, see here girlie..." he started, grabbing her arm.
"Don't call me that! I'm almost nineteen! And let me go, lout!"
Even the barman joined in the laughter this time.
"Don't worry, we'll pay you well, won't be boys?"
A chorus of 'yeahs!' and a sea of smirks.
The man turned back from addressing the crowd, and looked at the lady's sweet-as-sugar smile.
"Now, that's more like it -"
And the lady brought up her knee.
Careful, she thought, we don't want them to know what they're dealing with. Not yet.
She resisted the temptation to follow through and twisted her arm out from his now limp grasp, rubbing it as if it was sore. Not that it wasn't. The brute had a grip like steel.
Most of the bar was laughing even harder, but a couple of what the lady could only assume to be his mates, had risen from their table, and were trying to walk menacingly towards her.
The lady sighed inwardly and cowered back against the bar.
The barman grabbed her hair from behind, a move that she was not really expecting and now held her immobile, and hissed something in her ear about not hurting his customers.
The lady checked her grip on her staff. This might be a little awkward, but she should be able to handle it...
Two seconds later, she moved.
After fifteen seconds, the rest of the bar joined in.
After a minute, her pole broke, and she had to start using furniture.
After a minute and a half, she found out that wine bottles didn't break as easily as you might expect. Her two bounced off around five skulls each before eventually breaking.
After two minutes, although very few were actually unconscious, nobody seemed interested in admitting it. The pink lady stood in the middle of the heaps of toppled bodies, panting, but pleased. It had been ages since she'd had the opportunity to give her skills a real workout.
She went and lounged over by the door, waiting for people to start getting up. It took a while. She smiled at any who seemed to want to try getting past her to leave.
"I have a proposition for you all," she announced when enough were standing. There was a long silence.
"Who are you?" someone risked eventually.
She quirked an eyebrow.
"I'm the person who demolished a bar full of hunters, but if you want more, then, well... I'm your queen."
She had expected everyone to burst out laughing again, and there were a couple of spasmodic smirks, but the hunters seemed to be unsure that laughter would be wise.
"Really," she assured them. "Lassic is dead. I killed him." And, although she tried to keep her light tone, she felt her face tighten.
"Why?" someone asked, a question the lady did not expect and she faltered for a moment.
"It needed to be done," she said quietly. "Anyway, here's the deal. You hunt monsters and I want you to keep doing it. You'll be paid for each you kill. Far more than the farmers could pay. I need to eradicate the monsters and re-open trade and communication. You can either profit by this or you can play host to a league of Lassic's Robotcops who would do the job for free."
That was a lie. The Robotcops were gone from the cities and she was replacing them as quickly as her guard Captain could train willing men and women.
"Destroy the nests," she told them. "Slaughter the females and the young. The aim here is to clear them out, not to provide for your job security. I can promise you the money will be worth it. Any of you who want to train at my expense can do so under my Guard Captain." She smiled. "He trained me."
"And if we don't agree?"
The pink lady smiled sweetly, but with a hard edge.
"Next time I'll bring my sword."
The Captain of the Royal Guard and one of the few trusted Advisers to the Crown stood under a tree not far from the Inn. The wind roared in the trees, and the air was full of fine rain, or possibly a thick mist. The sky was dark and heavy.
"It's gone quiet," said the adviser, a woman, who was hugging herself against the cold.
"Then she's won," said the Captain, a huge man who looked as though felling the tree he leant against would be the matter of a single axe stroke. "Don't worry about her. She's taken down serpents, dragons, the Medusa, Lassic and a five-storey demon. Truth is, Suelo, not even I would want to fight her now."
The woman tugged his arm. "She's coming, Odin."
They walked over to meet her.
"How did it go?" Odin asked.
"No problems," Alis said briskly. "I have their respect as a fighter if not their belief in who I am. They won't all switch over yet, but they will when they see the money we'll pay to those who do." Alis turned to Suelo. "I want the Hunters to be represented in the senate. Their needs and views are important for the planet right now. I want them respectable and accountable. I want to put them in the public eye – make people think they're our salvation – and force them to turn into a self-policing guild by public expectation before they have a chance to draw a breath and think for two consecutive minutes."
Suelo grinned at the plan and nodded.
"And we need a corp of engineers to go to Gothic," Alis continued. "As word spreads, we'll be getting refugees to Camineet and Parolit. We can't support them and I don't want them. They've already survived the worst and it's only going to get better from here. I want them in Gothic where they can help expand the civilised holdings. And as soon as this landmass is clear, that's where we move the Hunters, too."
"Gothic's to be a new city, then?" Odin asked.
"And a perfect trade centre for the three continents, with hunters for hire to protect shipments. We'll need a harbour to the north, though." Alis grinned broadly and rubbed her hands together.
"I need to get out more often. I enjoyed that."