I always enjoyed this debut from War of Nytefall: Lost. I noticed that this volume gets more love than the others. People seem to really like Lost as a character, so I like giving her nods at times. Enjoy her first scene!
The busy tavern stops when the front door creaks open and a strange figure pokes her head in for a moment. Slight points on her ears reveal the teenager’s half-elven nature, but the patrons are more enthralled by her crimson eyes and silver hair. Peeking around the corner, she sniffs at the air and wrinkles her nose at the potent stench of stale alcohol and sweat. Ducking out of sight, the girl knocks five times before opening the door and taking a few steps inside. The stranger stands barefoot in front of the crowd, her clothes nothing more than sleepwear that has been adorned with hand-drawn rabbit pictures. Several of the patrons turn away, the shirt and pants helping them realize that the girl cannot be any older than sixteen, which makes them think she is a homeless beggar. They still keep an eye on her, especially when she pulls a stuffed bunny out from behind her back. Hugging the toy to her chest, she skips over to the bar and hops onto a stool that spins. She repeatedly tries to talk when she is facing the bartender, but she is moving too fast to get more than a single word out during each pass. Wanting the fun ride to stop, the girl slams her hand down to catch the bar and her fingers crunch into the solid wood as if it was paper.
“Oops . . . Bunny will pay for that,” she says, holding her stuffed animal upside down. She shakes the toy until an emerald falls out, the gem dotted with a few flecks of blood. “He’s always eating things that he shouldn’t. That’s why I have to keep an eye on him. You don’t happen to have any tomatoes, do you? He likes those. By the way, I’m Lost and I’m trying to find my father.”
“Sorry to hear that,” the barrel-chested man states as he cleans a mug. He knocks on the window behind him to get it open and reaches into the kitchen to grab a tomato. “If you’re lost then it’s better for you to talk to the sheriff. This town is in the middle of nowhere, so your old man probably only passed through. Nobody ever stays here for long unless they’re interested in the jade mines to the west. Were you traveling with him and got lost in that storm we had last night?”
“No, I was on my own,” the girl happily claims. Offering the tomato to her bunny, she quickly gets frustrated and jams the food into its mouth. “Honestly, I’m not sure I’ve ever met my father. So, I’m following my mom’s scent to see if I can find him. That storm did get me turned around. Oh, are they playing Rodil darts? My friends and I used to play it all the time, but we had different rules. Mostly, you have to hit each other instead of missing. By the way, I’m not lost. My name is Lost. Although, I don’t know where I’m going, so I could be both. It’s best to only be one at a time, but I’m always Lost.”
“My apologies,” the bartender replies, his face having gone slightly pale. His eyes dart from his broken bar to the girl’s rabbit a few times before he realizes why he has been on edge since her arrival. “Is that thing dead? I’ve seen toys before and that looks much more realistic. It even has teeth.”
Lost holds up her bunny and opens its mouth to reveal the large incisors. “Of course, it has teeth. That’s what it used to bite me when I was a baby. Bunny bit my face, I snapped his neck, and we’ve been best friends ever since. Though, he is starting to smell now. That’s what happens when you travel and forget regular baths. How much for me to rent a room upstairs? I promise that I don’t snore and I really only need it for the night. Think I have a blue thing in here that I can trade. Open wide, bunny, and share your treasure . . . We’ve got an apple core, fingers, gold coins, magic ring that I broke, and a gnome’s gallbladder. Must have dropped the blue thing in the storm. Would you be interested in slightly used fingers?”
Without a word, the bartender goes to the other end of the bar and focuses on the other customers. Scratching her head, Lost considers going after him, but forgets the idea when she remembers that the stool spins. After several minutes, she is stopped by a strong hand on her shoulder. The smell of tobacco and cheap booze fills her nose, which she pinches closed to block the foul odor. Her eyes widen as she examines the five patrons who have surrounded her, all of them wearing leather armor. Lost is temporarily entranced by the throbbing veins in their necks, but a few hard blinks makes them disappear from view. Placing her bunny on her shoulder, she slides off the stool and offers her hand to the brown-haired elf that she assumes is the leader. The woman glances at one of the men, who reaches over to accept the gesture and turns the strange girl towards him.
“Do any of you know where I can find my father or are you just friendly?” Lost asks before the tall man can speak. Letting go of his hand, she abruptly leans forward to inspect a dwarf’s neatly braided beard. “Shouldn’t that be on the back of your head? Wait, that’s supposed to be like that. I forgot about your kind and the facial hair. All of you are pretty quiet considering you approached me first. I’m going to go back to this fun ride if you’re done because the spinning helps me think.”
“We don’t know anything about your dad, but we can give you a place to stay for the night if you need one,” the man says as he takes a seat. Reaching behind the bar, he grabs a mug of ale and slides it to Lost. “In fact, we run a hotel that isn’t very far from here. You get your own room and all you have to do is entertain a guest or two. A beautiful thing like you doesn’t even have to go too far. Just talk, flirt, and-”
“But I don’t have the chest to be a prostitute,” the girl claims while pointing at her body. She stands on the bar and looks at herself in the mirror behind the alcohol. “I guess they have grown a little since I left home a year ago. The butt might need some work too. Can we make another deal? I’d be happy to stay with you and play games with your guests. Nothing adult since I’m still a kid, but I can be fun in my own way. Oh, I recently learned how to juggle using my arms, nose, and left foot.”
The man snaps his fingers at his chuckling friends, his eyes never straying from the girl who continues to strike odd poses on the bar. “People won’t think you’re a kid unless you say something and you’d be surprised how many go for girls who look young. Still, I won’t force you into anything. I’d be willing to pay you for your services and you can leave in the morning if you don’t like the deal.”
“You’re a horrible recruiter.”
“Why is that?”
“Because you keep grinning.”
“I’m a happy guy.”
“More that you’re used to tricking drunk women and I’m neither one of those things,” Lost politely explains before sitting down again. She gently kicks her legs, which leave small dents in the bar every time they strike. “On the other hand, I’m tired of sleeping in trees, dirt, bushes, and the occasional bear. It isn’t like you can make me do anything that I don’t want to do. You’re all far too weak to be a threat to me and bunny always keeps me safe. Let’s go and I’ll make my final decision when I see . . . your . . . hotel. What’s that?”
“What’s what?” the man asks, confused by her frantic pointing. Looking down, he sees that there is a large hole in his boot, the patch he placed over it having fallen off. “Yeah, I need to get new shoes soon. These have served me well, but it’s time to throw them away. Don’t make a big deal of it. My feet are clean and all you can see is my sock.”
“I hate socks!” the girl shouts, startling everyone in the tavern. Grabbing the man by the face, she lifts him off the ground and bares her glistening fangs. “So gross and disgusting and gross. You aren’t a clean person if you’re showing me those. Back me up, bunny, because they’re going to make us wear socks.”
As Lost crushes the man’s head in her fist, the stuffed rabbit abruptly leaps off her shoulder and bites into the Elven woman’s throat before she can swing her sword. The animal continues burrowing into her flesh as its Dawn Fang master throws the recruiter across the tavern. In a blur of motion, she spins to the side to avoid a spear and repeats the dodge when the dwarf makes another jab. Hopping over the warrior, Lost shoves him in the back with enough force to knock him down. Turning around, she catches a sword in her hand and growls at the sensation of her flesh getting cut. With a playful smack, she separates the woman’s head from the rest of her body. The dwarf is about to get up when the bunny rushes into his face and tackles him through the bar. Blood and alcohol fly high enough to touch the ceiling while the final mortal tries to draw his crossbow. The man stops when he realizes that none of the other patrons are moving and turns in a circle to see that everyone is sitting perfectly still.
“I have to be a secret,” Lost whispers with a smirk.