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Fantasy Humor Satire magic Monsters zombie funny zombies sword and sorcery walking dead

Bite Me

By Steven Harper
May 5, 2019 · 5,052 words · 19 minutes

Chicks in chainmail chicks and balances 7 2015


From the author: We all know zombies bite. Maybe the way to fight them is to bite back. When I was invited to submit to CHICKS AND BALANCES, the final CHICKS IN CHAINMAIL anthology, I realized I had no ideas for a story. Nothing. Bupkis. So I combed back through my files and thought it might be nice to find out what Dagmar and Ramdane have been up to. The deadline was only a few days away, so I wrote in a great hurry. Later I discovered the publisher had chosen "Bite Me" for the cover!

by Steven Harper Piziks

The zombie woman with her hair in a bun lunged at Dagmar, in as much as a zombie could lunge. It was more like a lurch. Or maybe a careen. Whatever she was doing, her teeth snapped like a turtle's beak. Dagmar batted her--it--aside with the flat of her blade and kept running.

"Eat, eat, eat," said the zombie in a kindly voice.

"Why didn't you cut it?" panted her brother Ramdane beside her as the zombie lady dropped away behind them.

"And get zombie goo on the both us?" she panted back. "No thanks." One bite or scratch, and it was an eternity of lurch for you, everyone knew that.

One zombie all by itself wasn't much trouble. You got some decent distance and fired flaming arrows at it. Fwoop and done. The trouble was, zombies always traveled with friends. Or companions. Or whatever it was zombies had. This one was no exception. Several dozen more were trying to lunge--or lurch or careen--toward her and Ramdane from the houses and shops that lined the village road. Their yellowed teeth snapped with a hundred cold clicks that chilled Dagmar to the marrow. So much for finding a kindly innkeeper or a friendly baker for the night. Dagmar had even been hoping for a handsome baker's son, though she would have taken strapping. Strapping was always good. You knew where you stood with strapping. Instead, they'd gotten zombies.

Ahead of them at the top of a hill near the north end of the village lay a stone keep. Ramdane ran for it as only a talismonger could run, with talismans bouncing and jingling at his belt. With his curly brown hair, whipcord build, and wide blue eyes, he looked like a terrified scarecrow. Dagmar had a blockier build and straight, ash-blond hair, with the marks and scars that bespoke her profession as a mercenary. A tired mercenary. Beside them trotted Ramdane's familiar Crystamel. She currently wore the shape of a small white dog and she looked not at all worried--zombies didn't lunge for animated clay statues, no matter how lifelike.

Zombies horded into the street like a swarm of elderly bees. They groaned and shuddered and reached for Dagmar and Ramdane while they ran beneath afternoon sun. The links of Dagmar's armor clinked and jingled. The mail was hot and it chafed, but at the moment, she was enormously grateful she had put it on this morning. The zombies couldn't bite through it. A warrior's armor protected her while she fought, to the death. Or the undeath.

Unfortunately, Ramdane didn't have this particular security blanket. On the other hand, she and Ramdane had puffed their way more than halfway through town, and the zombies at the other end apparently hadn't gotten the word about intruders, because the street ahead of them was still clear, even as the street behind them filled with undead townspeople.

"The entire town was zombified?" Ramdane panted. He wasn't in great physical shape--too skinny--and the big sister inside Dagmar filed this away to force him into exercising later, if they lived.

"Looks like." Dagmar grabbed his arm and hauled him forward. "Can't any of your talismans slow them down?"

"I can't concentrate and run," he puffed. "Head for that keep up there. They might be--"

"Look out!" Crystamel barked, literally.

They had drifted from the center of the road toward one of the houses. From the rooftop dropped a child zombie, a little boy. Dagmar shoved Ramdane aside, but the motion cost her time. The child zombie landed monkey-like on her back. The smell of bad meat engulfed her. Dagmar snatched at him to fling him away. She grabbed him, and his teeth snapped at her bare hand. She flicked him aside just in time, thank all gods. One bite, and she would be lurching--or careening or whatevering--along with all the others. The boy tumbled aside in a smelly heap.

"Run!" she shouted at Ramdane, because everyone knew that shouting run at someone who was already running made them run faster. They fled the village and headed up the hill toward the blocky keep, finally outpacing the zombie villagers.

A chilling laugh floated over the rooftops behind them. Clinging atop a chimney was a tall, thin man in a ragged coat. On his head he wore a tin crown.

"A talismonger and a warrior!" he whooped. "You will both join my horde!"

"Who the heck is that?" Crystamel demanded from ankle height.

Dagmar didn't bother to reply. They reached the blocky keep and pounded on the main gate. The place was too small to have a moat.

"Let us in!" Ramdane shouted. "Zombies!"

A head poked between the gaps in the crenelation above them. "How do we know you aren't zombies?"

Dagmar glanced over her shoulder and tried not to panic. The zombie horde was lurching up the road behind them. "Zombies don't demand to be let in."

"It'll take too long to open the gate." The man pointed to the zombies stumbling up the road. "They'll get here first. You understand."

"Oh, for--" Dagmar swore, and drew her sword. The zombies were close enough for the groaning to become audible.

"Don't panic yet." Ramdane felt among the talismans at his belt and came up with a tiny wooden ladder. He held it in hands and concentrated for a moment. "Climb," he said in a strange, deep voice.

"You'll be mine!" came the awful, chilly voice. The man with tin crown was in the thick of the zombie horde, and the little boy was riding on his shoulders in a parody of a piggy-back ride. The zombies were only a few paces away now. The zombie lady was among them. "Eat!" she cried.

For an awful moment, Dagmar was fourteen years old again, a young warrior at her mother's funeral, looking down at the cold corpse of the woman who had loved her and kissed her good night and then abruptly wasted away from a heartless disease that ate her from the inside out. The next day, the earl had gifted her with a chain mail shirt, and as the chilly metal settled on her shoulders, she swore to herself that she would spend the rest of her life fighting, to the death, if necessary. It was the warrior's creed: never give in, always fight.

With this in mind, Dagmar waved her sword at the zombies. Crystamel, feeling left out, jumped in front of her and barked.

Ramdane's ladder expanded in his hands. It spun itself into something made of air and light and expanded upward. The man pulled back as the ladder reached the top of the wall and hung there, not quite touching it.

"Come on!" Ramdane scooped up Crystamel and bolted for the rungs.

Dagmar eyed the rungs. "Are you sure--?"

"Climb!" Ramdane was already halfway up. The zombies were within reaching range now. Dagmar sheathed her sword and scampered up the slender rungs after her brother. It was like climbing fog.

And then thin man with the tin crown threw the boy. He landed on the ladder just below Dagmar and got his cold hands on her shin above her boot. He bit her, and she felt the pain straight through her leggings. Dagmar kicked out and managed to shove the boy off the ladder. He fell into the horde below, knocking down two zombies who were themselves trying to climb the airy ladder.

"Eat!" screamed the zombie lady.

Don't think, don't scream, she told herself. Just climb.

Heart in her mouth, she hurried up the ladder and dove onto the tower. Her leg throbbed. Zombies were making their way up the rungs, but the moment Dagmar was safe, Ramdane tapped the top rung. The ladder unraveled and vanished. Zombies tumbled like rag dolls to the ground.

"You will join me!" called the man with the tin crown. "You will all join my kingdom!"

Dagmar ignored him and slumped behind the crenelated barrier at the top of the tower wall. Crystamel, pushed by instincts she couldn't ignore, stood on her hind legs and put her nose into the guard's crotch.

"Good musk," she said, "with a delicate overlay of fear sweat."

"You're a talismonger," the guard breathed, ignoring Crystamel for the moment.

"Probably handy to have someone like me around," Ramdane said.

"Because you stopped that entire horde single-handedly?" the guard said.

"Little help here," Dagmar put in. Already, she could feel ice crawling up her leg.

"What's--dammit, no!" Ramdane knelt and yanked up her legging, despite Dagmar's accompanying screech of pain. The wound on her calf was festering, the flesh around it dark.

"Uh oh." The guard drew his sword. "Lady, in the name of Earl Biddlemeyer, I'm ordering you to jump back over that wall. Right now."

"Not up to it," Dagmar said through clenched teeth.

"I insist," the guard said through equally clenched teeth. "We have forty-five people in this keep, none of them are zombied, and we intend to keep it that way."

"She's not going to--" Ramdane began.

The guard's face went hard, and he pushed Crystamel away from his crotch again.

"Sorry," she muttered. "I can't seem to help it."

"Listen to me," said the guard, "somewhere in that horde down there, my own mother is shambling about because of the zombie king. I had to slam the keep door shut in her face because she wanted to bite me and make me one of them. It was either hide in here or cut her into pieces out there and I--" he paused to take a deep shuddering breath that made his sword arm shake "--I couldn't cut up my own mother, even if that thing down there is nothing but a monster wearing her body."

Dagmar pulled herself upright. "Your mother--a lady about this tall," she held out her hand, "hair in a gray bun, wants you to eat?"

The guard blinked at her. "Yeah."

"My mom was like that. I can sympathize," Dagmar said. The guard had fine, black hair, gray eyes, and a jaw you could strike flint on. He was actually quite strapping, now that she looked at him. And, like her, he saw what needing doing and did it, even when it hurt. Hm.

"Anyway," the guard said, "in this keep, we've got a lot of other people who've gone through the same damn thing and who we're trying to keep safe until we can figure out what to do. But, you, lady--" the sword swung around to point at Dagmar's heart "--you I don't know. You I'll slice, so jump."

"You're mi-i-ine," sang out the zombie king below.

"Shut up, Herbert!" the guard yelled back.

Dagmar looked over the battlements at the slithering horde of zombies below. Then she lashed out with her good leg and sent the guard's sword spinning away.

"I'm not hungry for brains yet," she said.

"Look," said Ramdane reasonably, taking his hand away from his belt of talismans, "this isn't over. Did you hear about that gorgon who was turning people to stone a few years back? My sister Dagmar and I were the ones who dealt with her. We can handle a zombie king."

"Right." The guard spat over the edge. "Show the zombie king a mirror and he'll wet himself, I'm sure."

"Just take us to whoever's in charge," Dagmar said.

"That would be me," the strapping guard said. "Earl Biddlemeyer at your service. And get your dog away from my crotch."

"Nice codpiece," Crystamel said.

Ramdane helped Dagmar up onto the cook's table. The cook would have protested, but she was outside the keep, banging the gate with meaty fists. The kitchen was otherwise empty--earl Biddlemeyer had ordered the other survivors to keep their distance in case Dagmar went on a sudden chewing spree. The thought that she herself would soon be joining the filthy, brainless herd of creatures gibbering outside the gate made Dagmar cold and panicky. Here was an enemy you couldn't fight, and she wondered if this was how Mom had felt.

Biddlemeyer personally kept guard over both of them with his sword out, even though Dagmar had adeptly demonstrated that she could whap him upside the head whenever she chose. She had to admire him for trying.

"What's going to happen?" Dagmar asked. "How does this work?"

"Zombies come from necromancy, not talismans. No intelligent person touches necromancy because it always gets away from you." Ramdane raked up a small fire in a fireplace big enough to toast a small elephant, and poured water into a kettle. Dagmar noticed how tension made his hands shake, which only made her feel worse. Her brother was a powerful talismonger and probably the smartest person she knew, and if he was scared, they were in real trouble. "Look most people don't know this because we talismongers keep it to ourselves, but zombies aren't really dead--undead. They're just people with a piece of demon inside. We don't talk about it because if we did, people would also start looking funny at a talismonger's familiar--and at talismongers."

"Why?" said Biddlemeyer behind his sword.

"A talismonger's familiar is the opposite of a demon. It's a spirit, but a good one, and it's conjured into a carved talisman instead of a living person. It stays there until the body wears out and we put it into a new one. You could conjure a familiar spirit into a living host, too, but it would eventually push the person's spirit out."

"You never told me any of this," Dagmar said, interested despite herself.

"Like I said, we don't talk about it. Right, Crystamel?"

Crystamel, who was sniffing around the hearth, heard her name and automatically sat up on her hind legs, then plunked back down again with an annoyed look on her face. "Speaking of," she said, "I want a new body. Every time you make me a dog, the stupid canine instincts take over. You think I like sticking my nose into people's privates?"

"Bitch, bitch, bitch," Ramdane shot back.

She cocked her head. "Was that supposed to be a pun? Because if it was--"

"Can we get back to the zombies?" interrupted Biddlemeyer. "Two weeks ago, I had a town. Now I have a sort of mobile graveyard, and if there's something I can do about it, I want to hear."

"Sorry." Ramdane poured hot water over Dagmar's wound, and she hissed at the pain, though the heat felt good. "I'm guessing the zombie king started by conjuring a demon into some poor schlub--"

"Did I mention the zombie king is my brother Herbert and the first zombie was our mother?" Biddlemeyer said, still gripping his sword.

"--into a lovely lady," Ramdane continued without pausing for breath, "for purposes of revenge or some such, but the demon got hungry, for both power and flesh. It bit someone else and put a piece of itself into that person too, and they bit two more people, and so on and so on. It doesn't take long. Except the zombie king is in something of a pickle himself. If he doesn't keep feeding the demon new victims, the demon will eventually turn on him."

The entire lower half of Dagmar's leg was turning dark, and she was losing sensation in it. "I don't feel much sympathy for him," she snapped. "What can we do?"

"There's no way to get rid of a demon," Ramdane said, his face tight. "That's why no intelligent person touches necromancy."

Dagmar's mouth went dry. The dark flesh was crawling up past her knee, and her fingertips were chilly. "Shit. Maybe I should have jumped after all."

Biddlemeyer drew back his sword. "I'll make it painless."

A dreadful idea came over Dagmar. An awful, terrible, dreadful idea. Just the thought of it made her cold and shaky inside. But it was better than becoming a zombie. She pushed Biddlemeyer's sword away.

"I know how to handle this," she said grimly.

"You do?" Ramdane said.

Dagmar looked down at Crystamel. The dog's ears drooped, and she backed away. "Oh, no," she said. "No, no, no."

"You wanted a new body." Dagmar plucked a heavy frying pan from a hook above the hearth. "Start chanting, little brother."

"Now wait a minute--" Ramdane began.

"No time to debate, Ram." Dagmar raised the pan. Crystamel backed away, but her rump came up against the table leg.

"What's she talking about?" Biddlemeyer asked.

"Now, Dagmar," said Crystamel. "Let's not be--"

Dagmar whacked Crystamel with the frying pan. The dog shattered like a little flowerpot. Ramdane swore and hastily set up a chant under his breath. A silvery mist rose up from the doggy bits. It gathered itself into a featureless silver ball that managed nonetheless to look pretty pissed off. Dagmar glanced nervously around despite her leg, which was now numb to the thigh. This was the point when a talismonger was most vulnerable. The last time Ramdane had done a hasty transfer, an enemy talismonger had captured Crystamel and blackmailed the both of them into going after a gorgon. Fortunately, Biddlemeyer was staring with his mouth open and didn't seem interested in trying such a thing. She was oddly glad that he looked impressed. Hm.

Ramdane stepped carefully over to Dagmar with the gleaming ball hovering over one hand and paused his chant. "I can't believe you did that," he said.

She steeled herself. Her armor wouldn't protect her against this. It was like letting in one enemy to fight another. "Just finish it," she said. "You know what to do."

Ramdane released the misty ball. Dagmar inhaled sharply and sucked it in.

A strange heat slithered through Dagmar's body. The warmth met a cold force, and the two clashed hard. She shuddered hard and fell squirming back onto the table, only vaguely aware that both Biddlemeyer and her brother were trying to hold her steady. She fought, both inside and out, but--

The warmth smashed the cold. The cold gave a little yelp and squashed down into near nothing, though Dagmar could still feel it, small and resentful, like a frog tossed off its lily pad. Dagmar slumped against the hard wood of the table. The zombie demon was still there, but powerless.

You went too far, Dagmar, said Crystamel inside her head. Now you've got about ten minutes to live.

"Yow!" Dagmar jerked upright, spilling both Biddlemeyer and Ramdane away. "No one said you'd be talking!"

"What's going on?" Biddlemeyer picked himself off the floor.

Ramdane did likewise. "It's my familiar. Crystamel's spirit will push Dagmar's out in a few minutes if we don't do something. But if we take Crystamel out, the zombie demon will just take over again, so we're booted either way. You only made it worse, Dagmar."

"No," Dagmar said, steeling herself a second time. "Now we move to phase two."

"Phase two?" Ramdane echoed. "When did we enter phase one?"

Dagmar flexed her leg. No pain, no cold. The wound had shrunk, too. Good. Except she was still dead in a few minutes if she didn't get a move on. Why did these things always come with a time limit? Gods, she was tired of this.

"Don't worry, Lady Dagmar. We won't let your spirit get . . . pushed out," Biddlemeyer said stoutly. "You're too fine a--you're a very good--that is--" he halted, a little flushed. "I mean, my brother has hurt too many people, and we won't let anyone else come to harm. Especially you."

Hm. Dagmar hopped clinking off the table and gave Biddlemeyer a sideways glance. A lot of men liked women who knew their way around a sword, and he was certainly strapping. But no. She had signed on to be a warrior, and warriors fought. To the death.

Inside her, Crystamel darted about like a mixture of grease and lightning, and it made her sick, but with it also came a strange sensation, like she was steadily filling with light and she would explode any moment.

"Come on," she said. "We don't have much time."

She towed a bewildered Ramdane out of the kitchen and into the main courtyard of the keep with Biddlemeyer coming behind. Clumps of frightened-looking village survivors scattered to get out of their way in a strange reversal of the zombie horde outside the gates.

"If Crystamel is the reverse of the zombie demon," she explained as they went, "then I can share Crystamel's spirit with the zombies, right? Her spirit will spread and push the demon out, and it'll cure all the victims." Right? she added mentally.

Oh. Er . . . possibly. Except . . .

Except what?

Except I don't know what'll happen in the end. The demon has to go somewhere, you know.

Does that matter at this stage?

"Cure everyone?" Biddlemeyer gasped. "Even my mother?"

"If I'm right, yes."

Hope crossed Biddlemeyer's handsome face like sunlight. "Lady, if you truly cure everyone, you can name your price. You can name two."

"Don't give her that kind of opening," Ramdane warned.

Hm. They were climbing the stairs to the top of the wall again. The zombies were still below, with the zombie king in the back. All the zombies, perhaps two hundred of them, were beating at the gate, and it was creaking a little. Eventually, they would break through, and the other villagers, reluctant to kill their own family members, would fall victim to the horde.

"What does Herbert want, anyway?" Dagmar said. The slick light inside was growing stronger, and it was hard to concentrate.

"He's a good talismonger, but a bad earl," Biddlemeyer replied. "I offered to make him captain of the guard, but I think he'd rather rule over zombies than live under his brother. Trouble is, he might get his way and spread all this to the entire kingdom--or the world."

The little boy who had bitten her pounded at the gate below. His fists were bleeding. Herbert the zombie king laughed. "Give up, Jack! I promise you won't feel a thing!"

"Button it, Herbert!" Biddlemeyer yelled back.

Crystamel stirred. The pulsing light inside grew stronger still, and Dagmar set her mouth. "Can you get me down there?"

Ramdane pulled a bit of string from his talisman belt, blew on it, and tossed it over the edge. The string hung in the air, then lengthened and thickened into a hawser. "How are you going to get Crystamel's spirit into the zombies?" he asked.

"The same way they got the demon into me." Before she could think overmuch about it, Dagmar jumped over the edge, grabbed the rope, and slid down.

The zombies saw her coming and reached up for her with their chilly hands. Most of them were covered with nasty sores, and the stench of rotten flesh hung on the air. Dagmar slid straight toward the morass. If this didn't work, she was going to need a whole lot of mint tea for her breath. Assuming she lived. But warriors fought to the--

"I knew you'd come back," cooed the zombie king. "With you on my side, pretty warrior, we'll take the keep and I'll rule the country forever."

"Eat, eat, eat," groaned his mother.

Dagmar didn't reply. She simply dropped into the middle of the zombie horde like a swimmer dropping into the world's nastiest swimming hole. The hawser above her vanished. The zombies clumped around her. They grabbed her arms and gnawed on her mail, but were unable to penetrate the links. The armor held.

Dagmar took a deep breath--the smell made her promptly regret it--grabbed a zombie of her own, and bit it on the arm. Her teeth sank into the soft flesh of its arm, easily breaking the skin. Dagmar's stomach threatened to come up and have a look around, but she fought it down and ran her tongue over the zombie's wound, giving it a good dose of spit before shoving the zombie away.

The zombie stumbled, but had no other reaction.

Uh oh, said Crystamel.

Other zombies were still pulling at her, gnawing at her and breaking teeth on her armor. They apparently hadn't twigged to the idea of going for her knees like the little boy. Dagmar grabbed another zombie.

"I love that you're so aggressive," giggled Herbert. "I'll make you my captain."

Dagmar bit the zombie's peach-soft flesh and shoved it away. Still no reaction.

I'm not getting in, Crystamel reported. And your spirit is losing ground.

She was right. Dagmar felt the interior light pulsing stronger and stronger, a star that was going to explode any moment. Grimly, she drew her sword. At least she would die like a warrior, defending her brother and earl Bidd--and those in the keep. More zombies closed in.

And then she knew. Crystamel had it at the same moment.

I'm the opposite of them, she said in Dagmar's head. If you want to share my spirit, you can't bite them. They have to--

No, Dagmar thought. But her sword was motionless in her hand.

You did it once. You can do it again.

This is different. More zombies were chewing on Dagmar now, still foiled by the chain mail. A warrior fights to the death!

Sometimes a warrior has to stop fighting, Crystamel said.

Dagmar looked up. Ramdane seemed far away at the top of the keep, but she could see the frightened look on his face. Biddlemeyer looked equally concerned. She remembered her mother--and Biddlemeyer's. She couldn't save her mother, but she could save his. If she stopped fighting. Like a warrior.

"Eat, eat, eat," said the mother zombie. The light pulsed so strong, she felt in a few more seconds she would burst.

It was the hardest thing she had ever done, there in a crowd of zombies, to drop her sword and shout, "Ramdane! Get this mail off me!"

"What?" he shouted back. "Why?"

"Just do it! Now!"

He threw something from his belt at her--she didn't see what--and in a flash of green light, her chain mail unraveled like bad knitting. The zombies fell back as wire coiled at her feet with a bouncy, springy sound. Dagmar spread her arms, standing vulnerable among the undead.

"Bite me!" she said.

For a heart-stopping moment, the zombies paused. Then they clustered around her again, grabbed her arms, and bit.

Dagmar forced herself to let them. Oh, it hurt. It was like being stung by a thousand wasps, stabbed with a dozen daggers. She cried out, but with each bite, she felt a little of Crystamel's light leave her, and the pressure eased. Each zombie that drew blood dropped away, squirming on the ground before the gate. And each one . . . changed. The festering wounds healed, the smell faded, the skin lost its pallor. From each one fled a small shadow that raced back to Herbert the zombie king. He staggered, and his tin crown went crooked on his head.

"What are you doing?" he screeched. "What are--?"

The shadow around him grew stronger, fed by the ones fleeing Crystamel's light. With each bite, each stab of pain, Dagmar felt more and more of the light leave her. The baker staggered, then stood upright, fully himself. The little boy bit her, then rose up, healthy and new. The last zombie was the mother zombie. Dagmar offered her an arm.

"Eat," Dagmar said. Biddlemeyer's mother bit, then staggered back. The sores and blackened flesh cured themselves. She looked around herself in wonder while the crowd of cured people cheered and embraced one another in sheer joy.

"No!" screamed the zombie king. "I'm the earl! I'm the king! I'm--"

The shadow surrounding him took on a deep and powerful blackness. Something stirred inside it, something black and hideous, the sort of the thing that might hide under the bed in a torture chamber. It swirled around the zombie king in a dreadful cloud. His face went pale, and wetness stained his crotch. Inside Dagmar's head, Crystamel made a sniffing sound.

You failed, the darkness said. You failed Me.

"No!" shouted Herbert in desperation. "I just need more time!"

But the dark cloud, filled with red eyes and scarlet claws, enveloped the zombie king. There was a rushing sound and a whump and a blast of wind. Dagmar shielded her eyes. When she brought her hands down again, the zombie king was gone. His tin crown spun a lonely circle on the ground.

"Eat," said Biddlemeyer's mother. "Eat, eat!"

"Thank you, I think I will." From her vantage point as guest of honor, Dagmar plucked more roasted turkey from the platter and surveyed the great hall. The entire town was there, feasting in celebration. Musicians played, food made the rounds, people laughed and danced. Biddlemeyer sat next to her, the kindly, generous earl. On the other side of him, also in a guest of honor position, sat Ramdane. Crystamel, now in the body of a plump tortoiseshell cat, perched on the arm of his chair. She didn't need to eat, but in the manner required of felines, shamelessly demanded a steady stream of turkey from Ramdane anyway.

I could get used to this, Dagmar thought, casting an eye toward the strapping, handsome earl Biddlemeyer--Jack--who cast an equally interested eye back at her. She didn't feel so tired when he looked at her. Maybe it was time to give up the wandering sword and sorcery thing, settle down with a husband and talismongers. Maybe her story was coming to a close.

Jack raised his glass. "A toast," he called, and the room quieted. "To the skilled and beautiful Dagmar, who saved our town."

"Hear, hear!" cried the room.

"I did help a little, you know," Ramdane said while everyone drank.

Jack leaned toward Dagmar, who found herself flushing. "There's a lot of room in the keep," he said. "And I hear we could use a new captain of the guard. If you were willing to . . . stay?"

"You know," Ramdane said wickedly, "I hear a town to the southwest is having trouble with a vampire. Maybe we should . . . leave?"

Without taking her eyes off Jack, Dagmar dumped her ale into Ramdane's lap. "Bite me," she said.

Steven Harper

Steven Harper is well-known for his fantasy, science fiction, and steampunk.