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May 29, 2018

Teaser Chapter for GET BENT!

I am pleased to offer you a small taste of things to come for my new novel:

GET BENT! (the Hybrid of High Moon book 1)

THEY SAY I'M AN ABOMINATION.
I SAY WORDS HURT ... BUT NOT AS MUCH AS MY FISTS.

My name is Tamara Bentley, Bent to my friends, and I’m not supposed to exist. I was born of the forbidden union between a witch and a werewolf, and they’ve been trying their damnedest to hide my existence ever since.

But now my secret is out, and my uncle, the leader of the wolf pack, is pissed beyond belief. In his eyes, I’m something that should’ve never been born. He wants me dead and doesn’t care who he has to sacrifice to get the job done.

I’m far from helpless, though. Not only am I a champion athlete, but I’m strong enough to punch out a bus. Good thing, too, because a rare lunar event is about to increase my uncle’s already terrifying power. I’ll have to call on every last ounce of strength I have to survive the night and save the lives of everyone counting on me.

http://www.rickgualtieri.com/reader/219569
Rough hands reached out to grab hold of me, changing into ragged claws in the time it took the brute in the Phillies cap to close the distance between us.

For a moment, I was too stunned to react, but then he blinked and the dull brown of his eyes was replaced with bloodshot yellow – the same eyes I’d seen staring back at me from multiple hairy heads the night before.

No flipping way!

How? The full moon was last night. It was over, it wouldn’t happen again for...

The questions would have to wait. Whether or not I believed what I was seeing, my reality was about to become seriously hairy.

The man’s ... err, wolf’s claws tore painfully through my shirt and started to drag me from my seat. I instinctively grabbed hold of the table to stop myself from being pulled out and felt its moorings groan in protest.

That gave me an idea.

“Lean back,” I said to Riva.

There wasn’t time to say more. I just had to hope she trusted me. I gave a yank, adding my own strength to my attacker’s, and the table tore free from the wall. I flipped it up and slammed it into the waiting faces of both our would-be assailants, sending them staggering back.

Impossible as it had seemed only moments ago, apparently whatever I had in me functioned just fine in the light of day, too – a handy thing to know.

Pity that the same could also be said about our gracious hosts.

I turned to find the waitress and cook both changing. And I don’t mean their clothes.

Both of them were growing taller, more muscular, and a lot furrier.

“I told you we should have gone to Gib’s!” Riva screeched, huddled in her seat.

“Fair enough. Next time, you can choose where we eat. Stay behind me!”

Both Phillies Cap and Wife Beater recovered quickly and likewise continued to change. Hands became claws, ears became longer and pointier, and clothes ripped to shreds, affording me a far better view of them than I really wanted.

While I’d seen my fair share of horror movies, I didn’t really consider myself a connoisseur. Still, one of the more obvious mistakes in them is that people always stand around gaping when they should be moving. It’s like that old Michael Jackson video Thriller. The girl stands there for like five minutes as he turns into a monster, when she could have been halfway to the next county.

It was a lesson I took to heart.

The two truck stop werewolves were still busy snarling, snapping, and growing extra hair when I charged. I plowed into Phillies Cap, the larger of the two, shoulder-first. I half expected to rebound off the much bigger man – my mind still insisting we were playing by the normal rules. Instead, I took him off his feet, carried him across the room, and plowed into the mirrored wall of the diner hard enough to make the building shudder.

Glass shattered all around us and he let out a great big belch of air. Not satisfied that he was properly dissuaded, I drove a fist into his gut, the oddly undulating flesh giving way as I pushed the contents of his stomach up against his spine.

I backed up a step and he fell to his knees retching, just in time for me to sense movement from behind.

Wife Beater had double-timed his change, seeing that I wasn’t going to stand there and scream like a good victim. Eww, a werewolf with a beer belly – not a good look.

He raced forward and I half turned so that my profile was facing him. At the last moment, I bent low, letting his momentum carry him into me.

Oof! Damn, these things were strong.

I lifted him up in a fireman’s carry, meaning to dump his ass on the floor and put him in the danger position. But I underestimated my own strength and sent him flying instead. Oops.

“Um, I meant to do that.” Oh yeah, some practice was definitely in my future ... if I lived through this.

Fortunately, if there was only one upside to fighting monsters, as opposed to wrestling, there was no such thing as being called for an illegal move. So I, in a rare display of unsportsmanlike conduct, hurried across the room before Wife Beater could get up and planted my foot into his face with a satisfying crunch.

Two down – for now anyway. That left two more asses to kick.

“Bent! Look out!”

Or not.

Yeah, that’s what I’d been afraid of. Seeing that I was no pushover, it was only a matter of time before the other side threw the Marquess of Queensberry Rules out the window and rushed me all at once.

The others weren’t stupid either, not like their hick cousins. There was no grandstanding, no attempt to intimidate me. They simply slammed into me as I turned their way, one high and one low.

It was like being hit by a fur-covered truck.

The wind was driven out of my lungs and I landed atop of the one I’d just given the boot to, the meat in a werewolf sandwich. I didn’t consider myself a prude, but this was one kink I really didn’t see myself getting into. A little hair on a man’s chest was one thing, but even I had my limits.

Mind you, that was the least of my problems right then.

Fire raced up my leg as one of the wolves, the waitress I think, bit into my thigh, her teeth shredding my jeans and probably not doing wonders to the flesh beneath.

Before I could cry out, the one atop me – the cook most likely – slashed my face. There came a spray of blood, almost certainly my own, and my cheek instantly felt like it was on fire.

See if I leave you assholes a tip now.



Buy now for Amazon Kindle
Coming Soon to Paperback and Audio

May 15, 2018

Teaser Chapter - Are You Ready to Chase the Devil?

DEVIL HUNTERS, the long-awaited sequel to Bigfoot Hunters is here!

Deep in the woods, mankind is the endangered species.

Derek Jenner, the Crypto-Hunter, is back! Something is terrorizing the inhabitants of the Garden State, leaving a trail of missing persons and mutilated bodies in its wake. All signs point to the Jersey Devil, a creature long considered a hoax even in the cryptozoological community. Desperate for answers, the authorities summon Derek and his team to investigate.

Now, the hunters are about to become the hunted because what lurks in the forest is more horrifying than they could ever imagine – a nightmare of man’s own making that’s about to set its sights in their direction.

Sadly for them, a corrupt government official will do everything in his power to cover up the terrible secret that lies at the heart of the Pine Barrens … even if it means sacrificing Derek’s team to a fate worse than death.

Check out a small sample chapter below....



“What have you got there?”

“I think these are footprints,” Danni replied, “but it’s kind of weird.”

“What are they from?”

“That’s the problem. I’m not sure. Whatever it is, it’s pretty messed up.” She pointed to a large print in the mud that was more defined than the others. “See this? That looks like a fairly well-defined toe. But then here, that’s a claw mark. And this bump here, maybe an old break.”

“Or a deformity,” Derek said.

“Maybe. Whatever it is, it’s big and heavy. Look how far down that print goes. I’d say two-fifty, probably closer to three-hundred.”

Francis joined them in peering down at the strange tracks. “It’s on the low end, but still within squatch range. Juvenile, maybe? Could’ve had something wrong with it and was driven out of the clan.”

“Not usually their style,” Derek said.

Danni pointed to other parts of the print. “I don’t think so. Look at this indentation in the back. Could be a dew claw. Never seen a bigfoot with one of those, deformity or not.”

Derek leaned over and studied it as well. She was right. It did look like a dew claw, but more reptilian than anything. The rear of the foot was similar to the prints of a megalania, a giant monitor lizard thought to be extinct. They’d tracked one in New Zealand about three years back, but this print was far smaller. Definitely not a twenty foot dinosaur throwback. It was as if this print was cobbled together from different unrelated species ... which probably meant it was. “A fake?”

Danni stood up and wiped her hands on the seat of her jeans. “Could be. I mean, the way the ground is depressed looks like this came from a real foot, but then there’s the shape. If it is a fake, then whoever carved this was either really good at what they do or really lousy.”

“Oh, man!”

Derek and Danni turned toward Francis, but the big man didn’t appear to be in any danger.

“Sorry, guys. Leaned against a tree and put my hand in something nasty.”

“It’s a bog,” Danni replied. “Pretty much everything here is nasty.”

“You’re telling me.”

Derek started to laugh, but was interrupted by the sound of his radio beeping.

He motioned the others over and raised the volume so they could listen. “Derek here. Tell me you got something, Mitch. Over.”

“Something is an apt description.”

“Come again?”

“I called Arthur. The results were in. I had him read them to me over the phone. Then I had him read them again.”

“I take it they were interesting.”

“That’s just it,” Mitchell replied over the radio. “I’m not really sure what to make of it. I asked him to rerun the sequence to make sure it’s not a glitch.”

“What did they come back with?”

“Human,” Mitchell replied.

The three hunters shared a glance, as if they’d suspected all along.

“Kinda, anyway.”

“Wait, hold on,” Derek said. “Define ‘kinda.’”

“That’s exactly it. Normally I’d expect high eighties or nineties, even with a contaminated sample. This came back as a sixty-three percent match with Homo sapiens.”

“That’s not very high at all.”

“No, it’s not. Problem is, the rest of the results are all over the map, and that’s not even including the non-organic material in the sample.”

“Non-organic?” Francis asked. “So what you’re saying is the samples were fucked.”

“Maybe.” Derek could hear the frustration in Mitchell’s voice. “I don’t know. From what Arthur read to me, it sounds more degraded than contaminated, which doesn’t make sense either. When you guys are finished chasing ghosts out there, I need to get back to the lab and read it myself.”

“Not so sure about ghosts. Danni found some prints.”

“From what?”

“Hate to throw this one back at you, Mitch, but we’re not sure. They’re either faked or whatever made them is some god-awful mess that I don’t even want to imagine.”

“What do you want to do?”

“Start wrapping up on your end. We’ll head back, regroup, and double check those results. If it looks even remotely possible that we’re dealing with human DNA, then I think we hand this off to the cops where it belongs.”

“Roger that.”

“We’ll see you in a while. Over.”

“So we’re calling this turd hunt?” Francis asked.

“Yeah. I’m not seeing much reason to do otherwise. It’s a shit show out here. Let’s head in before we end up covered in leeches or something.”

“What about those prints?” Danni asked. “There’s one other thing we haven’t considered about them.”

“What?”

“If they are fake, then why bother making them all the way out here where nobody is likely to see them?”

Derek had to admit that was a good question, but he didn’t have a good answer to go along with it ... at least not yet. Still, she was right. In their line of work, one didn’t so easily dismiss potential evidence, even if later it turned out to be faker than a three-dollar bill. “Take casts of the best. We’ll take a look at them in the lab. Maybe in better light something will stand out.”

Danni nodded. “On it.”

She turned back toward the prints, while Francis took off his pack and began rooting inside of it. He knew the big man would be fishing out his handheld camera so as to get some footage on the way in. That way the journey wouldn’t be a complete loss.

He was about to turn away to ask Danni if she needed any help when he heard Francis zip up his pack, loud in the quiet woods.

Too loud.

It took Derek a moment, but then he realized the forest had gone completely silent around them.



Available now for:
Amazon Kindle / Kindle Unlimited
Coming soon to paperback and audio

Feb 14, 2018

Diving into the comic book business

I'm pleased to announce that soon you'll get a chance to enjoy the story of Bill Ryder as you've never see him before.
Introducing:

BILL THE VAMPIRE - THE COMIC BOOK

or Graphic Novel for those of you too "cool" to read comic books. Whatever floats your boat.

ISSUE 1 - A PARTY TO DIE FOR - is coming soon to Amazon.com, Comixology, and Print

Bill Ryder has a blind date with destiny in the form of a voluptuous piece of eye-candy he meets on the subway. It’s an opportunity too good to be true, but too awesome for him to pass up. Pity, because he’s about to bite off far more than he can chew.

Now, he finds himself trapped, surrounded by monsters, and with no pulse. He's about to realize that being a vampire doesn't mean much when you're still at the bottom of the food chain. 




FAQS:
Q: So you're in the comic book business now?
A: I guess so. Funny ole' world we live in, ain't it?

Q: How many issues can we expect?
A: TBD. A lot depends on the level of interest. If people are into it, then expect it to go on for as long as it can. If not, then consider this a cool collector's item.

Q: Are these going to be the novels retold in graphic format?
A: Initially ... at the very least Bill's origin story will be. My hope, however, is for this series to eventually encompass both - retellings of The Tome of Bill novels, as well as new adventures. As I said above, a lot depends on interest.

Q: Who's the team behind the scenes, because we know you can't draw for shit.
A: Quite true. Bill The Vampire issue 1 includes artwork by Antwon McNair and lettering by Percival Constantine.

Q: Hey! Bill / Sally / James / whoever, doesn't look like how I imagined they would.
A: Sorry about that. Consider it artist license. Well, that, and you can at least rest safe in the knowledge that I'm not busy rooting around in your thoughts.

Q: Yeah, really funny, smart guy. So how about at least a sneak peak.
A: Ask and ye shall receive. Click on the image to the right for a larger sneak peak.


Available for digital pre-order now from
Amazon.com

Dec 29, 2017

Adventures in VR (and AR)

While I can't exactly call it a theme with my Christmas presents this year, I did receive a couple of gifts aimed at either virtual reality or augmented reality. So I figured I'd so what anyone with a self-serving blog would do ... review them in a manner that's aimed at causing maximum ire.

STAR TREK BRIDGE CREW
I received a download code for Star Trek Bridge Crew for the Sony Playstation VR, an add-on system that's been somewhat underused since we got it last year. What better way to dust it off than to step into the shoes of a Star Fleet officer while doing my best to bed green alien women and take a big steaming dump all over the Prime Directive?

To boldly go where no dork has gone before
Controls: While it seems Bridge Crew should work with the Playstation move controllers, I didn't test it out. Instead I used the Dualshock 4.  All in all it's a pretty painless, if limited experience. The thumb sticks control your right and left arms, and the trigger buttons do stuff when the game allows you ... although, despite being captain of this crew, it seems to spend an awful lot of time telling you what you can't do.

Gameplay: It's fairly simple. You choose one of four stations and work the somewhat mundane controls. In essence manning a Federation Starship is the 24th century equivalent of writing Excel spreadsheets at the office, if your boss was capable of occasionally firing photon torpedoes at you.

Looking down in virtual reality, I noticed a shapely set of legs beneath me. I was playing a female captain and wearing a miniskirt (because what else are you gonna wear when commanding a quarter mile long starship?). Alas, you only have so much freedom with your virtual hands ... which I guess is a good thing, because otherwise this would be a completely different game.

Ultimately, this is an amusing way to kill a bit of time, but mostly comes across as more of a tech demo than a full game. There's no opportunity to roam the halls of your ship. You can't head down to sick bay and ask Dr. Crusher to examine the phaser in your pocket. And, despite being captain, there aren't any options to order Mr. Worf and Commander Data to fight to the death for your amusement.

As an aside, perhaps it's just me, but I sort of resent the game's enforced morality. You can't just open fire on every civilian ship or starbase you come across. But then, I guess the assumption here is that Starfleet Academy's psych evals would have probably weeded people like me out long ago. Damn it! You win this round, Federation.

Verdict: Geeky fun to kill an hour here or there, but not something I'd want to play for a marathon session. However, I see a lot of potential to expand this into a full-sized game.

STAR WARS JEDI CHALLENGES
Whereas Star Trek Bridge Crew assumes you're happy to sit in your chair, charting stellar anomalies until you can collect your Federation retirement check, Jedi Challenges offers a bit more options including the Holy Grail of gaming: fighting with a fucking lightsaber!

Controls: The game is controlled mainly by your phone, the augmented reality headset it comes with, and a rather cool lightsaber prop. Most of what happens includes looking, clicking, and occasionally slicing the shit out of opponents. Needless to say, one of these control types is slightly more engaging than the others.

Not pictured: dignity
Gameplay: Jed Challenges comes with 3 game modes. The first is a risk-type battle game, which at the time of this blog post I haven't tried yet. I hear it's fun, but can't comment quite yet.

Next up is holographic chess as first seen on the Millennium Falcon in episode 4.  This is cute, but ultimately it's a game of waiting to see who's going to make a stupid move first, you or the AI. Prepare to spend a lot of time moving the same piece and forth, while your AI opponent does the same. Fun to try, but I see this being the least used mode in the game.

Yeah, yeah, I know. The only one people really give a shit about is lightsaber battles. Well, it's a mixed bag from what I can tell. For starters, clicking on your handheld lightsaber and watching the blade ignite in VR (along with sound) is cool as all fuck. There are no two ways about it. However, it quickly becomes obvious this is a game limited by its hardware and the capabilities of your phone.

First off, the blade of the lightsaber has an odd tendency to stick out at an angle from your saber. I mean, I guess you could pretend to be using Count Dooku's weird-ass weapon, but it instantaneously makes things feel a bit off.

The saber itself reacts to your commands and moves as you move your arms, but there's a noticable lag. It's not 1:1, sadly.  It's not bad, don't get me wrong, but it's enough to remind you you're playing a game and not actually getting smacked around by Darth Maul. However, it's close enough to make me think that if they decide to release a Jedi Challenges 2.0, we'll finally be there and thus will have an excuse to forever more ignore this pesky thing called actual reality. 

Other thoughts: the upside of the AR headset is you can see your surroundings, so less chance of falling down a flight of stairs or force-punching your family in the mouth. Downside is that this thing eats up your phone's battery life and can cause it to heat up uncomfortably.  It's also a bit of a pain to set up as installing your phone involves a good chance of hitting your screen or a button and turning off the game ... meaning you have to pull it out and start it again. 

Verdict: Soooo close. A lot of fun and done in a way where you can see your friends pointing and laughing at you. But that lack of 1:1 lightsaber movement is just enough to cause a small tear to roll down one's cheek.

SKYRIM VR
Finally, a full open world game ported to VR (or at least the Playstation VR).  And, best yet, it's a game most of us have already sacrificed a significant chunk of life to. No introduction needed.

Sorry, dude, but I feel entitled to your stuff
Controls: right away, despite the awesomeness that is the land of Skyrim, the seams begin to show. You have a choice between using the traditional dualshock controller or the move controllers. The problem is, each involves a sacrifice of sorts. Using the normal controller is fine and dandy, but you lose a ton of immersion. There you are, smack-dab in the middle of Skyrim, but you can't forget you're using a game controller.

The move controllers make combat itself awesome. There's almost a 1:1 aspect between using them and swinging a sword. Pity they suck for everything else. Using the menus is an exercise in hating life. And walking ... err, teleporting that is, just feels ridiculously unnatural, all because Sony has yet to update their move controllers with thumbsticks. Bottom line here is, either way, you're going to find yourself bitter.

Gameplay: It's freaking Skyrim. If I have to explain to you, chances are you're just a spam bot. Combat is fun with the move controllers (even if the rest isn't), but aside from that the main appeal is you're standing right in the middle of freaking Skyrim. Giant monsters tower over you. Guards get right in your face. The graphics aren't great, limited by the PS VR's capabilities, but really the only thing missing is a friend to punch you in the face whenever your character gets hit.

Verdict: Again so close. And I can't even blame Bethesda Studios, as Sony's the one who has put out an essentially hobbled VR kit by not updating their controllers with freaking joy sticks.

Not Tested: Gran Turismo VR and Accounting VR.  Accounting looks fun, but short. And Gran Turismo is a racing game, which means don't hold your breath for me to test it.

Bottom line: VR and AR are here and they're pretty cool. But, outside of high end PC systems, I think we're perhaps one generation away from it being truly phenomenal. For now, accept it for what it is and that there probably will be some compromises along the way.

Closing thoughts: Why the fuck isn't Jedi Challenges available for PS VR???? The only issue with it is the lack of 1:1 movement, which the PS VR handles just fine. This game would absolutely rock on PS VR. Yes, I understand Sony and Disney probably hate each other, but c'mon. I can't be the only one here who sees this is pretty much a formula to print money.  Get over yourselves and get on that shit, guys!

Oh well. Until then, I hope everyone is having an awesome holiday season, and likewise wishing you all a Happy New Year!

UPDATE: I got a chance to try the tower defense game that comes with Jedi Challenges and it's a lot of fun. The controls are fairly simple, albeit it can be easy to forget to lower your lightsaber and aim with your head at times. That said, there's a lot to like playing a holographic Star Wars tower defense. Definitely a recommended mode to try.

Nov 6, 2017

Adding some swag to my bag ... custom USB drives.

If you follow me on Facebook or Team Twat-Waffle you've probably heard me talking about wanting to increase my branded non-book offerings ... aka swag as it's known in convention circles. And believe me, I'm hard at work looking to expand my current meager offerings (although those of you who were at Con Carolinas have gotta admit the Cursed Dice were way cool.)

https://www.usbmemorydirect.com/products/twist_usb_drives.htm

Well, I just got in a batch of custom 8GB USB Flash Drives from USB Memory Direct and I have to say I'm seriously digging them. Bill The Vampire's life may suck, but these definitely don't.

I can't wait to get them into people's hands.

Oct 26, 2017

This Halloween there's plenty of reasons to DIE LAUGHING!

Halloween is supposed to be terrifying, but some of us prefer our terror with a side of laughter. For those who like a good chuckle right before the masked killer steps out from behind the tree and takes them out for good we have a special treat this year...

http://larksandkatydids.com/dielaughing2017/

Ten books for under a buck each. We're talking:

Fat Vampire by Johnny B. Truant
Hell's Tittie's  by Robert Bevan and Steve Wetherell
Bubba the Monster Hunter Season 1 by John G. Hartness
Shoot the Dead by Steve Wetherell
Smalls' Soldiers by Renee Miller
Topher Nightshade vs. The Camp of The Undead Apocalypse by Drew Hayes

And the first four books of the Tome of Bill Series:
Bill The Vampire
Scary Dead Things
The Mourning Woods
Holier Than Thou

CLICK HERE to check it out!

Already scoped out Bill and the rest? Well, good news! The Tome of Bill Vol-2 box set is also out. The final four books (5-8) of the series all in one set for one low price.

Includes:
Goddamned Freaky Monsters
Half a Prayer
The Wicked Dead
The Last Coven
Available in ebook and audiobook!

Tome of Bill Volume 2

Oct 12, 2017

Teaser Chapter for Midnite's Daughter

MIDNITE'S DAUGHTER, a manga-inspired fantasy adventure here!

Check out a small sample chapter below....


A Child of Two Worlds - Belonging to Neither, Dangerous to Both.

All Kisaki really wants is to belong *somewhere*, but there are few places half demons can safely call home. Raised in isolation within the celestial palace, she longs to escape and explore the strange planet below - Earth.  So when an opportunity presents itself, she takes it, inadvertently stealing her mother’s greatest treasure in the process – the Blade of Heaven.

Exploring a whole new world is terrifying enough, but hot on her heels is her so-called guardian, the tiger-spirit Shitoro. If he catches her, he'll drag her straight back home. She thinks it’s to punish her. But in actuality it’s to save her.

She doesn’t know it yet, but there’s a very good reason Kisaki has been kept hidden away.  Half-breeds such as her are not tolerated by the demons lords.  If they find her, they’ll stop at nothing to take the blade and erase Kisaki, her mother, and everyone she cares about from existence.



Kisaki's head rocked to the side from the blow and she tasted blood.

She staggered back several steps but managed not to fall.

All at once, the world seemed to be moving in slow motion. Pain from the hit, the coppery taste of her own blood, her friend screaming her name, and the huffing laughter of the human who had dared lay a hand upon her – all of it happening simultaneously.

It was the first time Kisaki had ever been struck. She'd often read about such punishments, and much worse, in her studies, but had never experienced it herself. She'd expected it to hurt, and it did. What she didn't expect, however, was the cold logic that descended upon her mind, nor how the world seemed to grey out around her.

He didn't hit me that hard, did he?

Before her eyes, the world seemed to change. The sounds around her faded away and she was suddenly no longer in an alleyway. Instead, she stood in a large room. A man was there with her. He was wearing drab green clothes and seemed to be yelling at her for some reason. For a moment, she feared that she'd somehow accidentally activated her last crystal, abandoning the brown-haired boy as well as Tamiko and Shitoro. But then she realized something was wrong about what she was seeing. The man's lips were moving, but she couldn't hear his words. In fact, she couldn't hear anything.

Her body raced forward, seemingly with a mind all its own. Kisaki could only watch as her fist shot out, but it was all wrong. The hand and arm attached to her was much larger and coarser than her own.

None of this mattered to the yelling man, though. He grabbed hold of her and then she was airborne, flying over his shoulder to land roughly on the wooden floor where she...

Just as quickly as the vision had come, it faded away and Kisaki was back where she'd been, tasting her own blood as color returned to the world and sounds started up again.

The world was still moving way too slowly, but that cold logic in her mind demanded that she use the time to study the foes around her. She became acutely aware of everything about them – their size, their weight, the way they moved, how quickly they did so. All of it registered in her senses within the space of a split second, locking itself into her memory with perfect clarity as if she'd spent months, maybe years, studying nothing but these humans.

With that clarity came understanding. She realized how sloppy the attack against her had been. It was a miracle she'd been struck at all, probably more a result of her outrage than any real attempt on his part. If anything, she didn't feel anger against him so much as embarrassment for herself. Such a blow was easily countered. Everything that these men...

No. Warriors were men. These were boys, peasants, children – warriors in their minds only.

It was time to teach them the error of their ways.

Time sped up again to its normal pace, but still that cold logic remained. She stepped forward again. The male who slapped her saw her coming. He looked surprised for a moment before covering it up with a veneer of arrogance.

"Want some more, bitch? Good, because I'm serving it up all day."

This time, he balled his fists, but it didn't matter. Kisaki somehow understood what he was going to do, perhaps even before he did.

She raised an arm and easily blocked the punch. Her attacker's eyes opened wide in surprise. Then, just as quickly, she threw a blow of her own, an open-handed shot to his throat. It caught him dead on, as she knew it would, and he doubled over, gasping for breath.

As he did, she brought a knee up into his jaw. She heard teeth crack and then he dropped to the ground. Unlike when he'd shoved her, though, it didn't appear he would be getting back to his feet nearly as quickly.

Kisaki had barely a moment to be amazed at what she'd done. She'd never been allowed to study fighting or weaponry, no matter how much she had begged. Her mother had forbidden it, and Shitoro wasn't the type to go against her wishes.

But then the moment was over, as the other boy next to Robbie rushed at her. This one was short, but thickly built. He moved as one who knew what he was doing. Not a warrior, but perhaps one in training.

None of that mattered. Kisaki analyzed his moves in the time it took him to pass Robbie and came up with a counter strategy.

She feinted to the right, but he seemed to anticipate that, which was precisely what she expected him to do. She cut hard left, sidestepping him. As he passed by, she shoved him from behind, using his own momentum to propel him into a pile of refuse along the side of the alleyway.

Rough hands grabbed her from behind in a bear hug, lifting her from the ground. Blast! She'd forgotten about the pony-tailed one, Jack. Perhaps sensing she was a greater threat than her friends, he'd come up from behind her unawares as she battled the other two.

"The hell?" he cried. "You some kind of ninja?"

Kisaki allowed herself the ghost of a smile. Ninja had been mentioned in her studies. They were said to be masters of stealth and combat arts. It was something she'd never considered herself to be, but she was currently too distracted to disagree with him at that moment. Instead, as way of response, she threw her head back, catching him on the nose with a satisfying crunch.

He screamed and let go, allowing her to throw a kick back into his leg, which dropped him to one knee.

She immediately realized that these three had been little more than the warmup. The real fight lay before her. Robbie and his two remaining friends had disengaged from the brown-haired boy. She now had their undivided attention. The first two, mere minions, wore uncertain looks upon their faces. Their leader Robbie, however, looked sure of himself, a fact attested to by his wide grin.

He had a confidence about him that suggested he didn't expect to lose. Robbie had the look of one who was used to having the advantage. Indeed, he was larger than most of the humans she'd met, including fully grown males such as Mr. Yoshida. For all intents and purposes, Kisaki should have been terrified of him. But she wasn't. She didn't know what was happening to her, but whatever it was, she reveled in it.

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