QSFer Rhys Ford is re-releasing her queer urban fantasy Kai Gracen series, starting with “Black Dog Blues.”
Ever since being part of the pot in a high-stakes poker game, elfin outcast Kai Gracen figures he used up his good karma when Dempsey, a human Stalker, won the hand and took him in. Following the violent merge of Earth and Underhill, the human and elfin races are left with a messy, monster-ridden world, and Stalkers are the only cavalry willing to ride to someone’s rescue when something shadowy appears.
It’s a hard life but one Kai likes—filled with bounty, a few friends, and most importantly, no other elfin around to remind him of his past. And killing monsters is easy. Especially since he’s one himself.
But when a sidhe lord named Ryder arrives in San Diego, Kai is conscripted to do a job for Ryder’s fledgling Dawn Court. It’s supposed to be a simple run up the coast during dragon-mating season to retrieve a pregnant human woman seeking sanctuary. Easy, quick, and best of all, profitable. But Kai ends up in the middle of a deadly bloodline feud he has no hope of escaping.
No one ever got rich being a Stalker. But then few of them got old, either, and it doesn’t look like Kai will be the exception.
IT WASN’T a great day to be me.
The nick below the tip of my right ear itched, and when I scratched at it, the itch fled, traveling down my stomach and into my crotch. I willed it to go away, and after annoying me for a few seconds, it disappeared. I was cold, stinking of blood from the three elfin shadow dogs I’d already killed, and grumpy because there was still a live one out there I had to hunt down.
I smelled the last dog before I saw it. Nothing can mask the stench of an unsidhe cur. They reek like a week-old herring rolled in the juices of a bloated corpse left out in the sun. I checked the thunder gray sky for rain and sniffed for any water. Wet black dog could make a dead man vomit, and the smell would soak through the metal bed of my truck.
“Come to Kai, baby.” I snuck a peek at the thing, peering around the tree I’d hidden behind. “I need some groceries.”
The black dog looked like a mange-infested mastiff that’d fallen into an iguana’s gene pool and was about twice the girth of the others I’d already taken down. It appeared to be male, but gender didn’t matter if a dog got a lot of meat to eat, and this one looked like it ate well. Its long lizard tail doubled as a weed-whacker when it stomped through the brush, taking out huge arcs of grass with each step, and its belly dragged on the ground, a fat, happy lizard-dog bastard out for an afternoon snack.
Even though it was close to me, its forehead and short snout wove in and out of view behind boulders along the hillside’s slope, keeping me from a kill shot. The coarse ebony fur on its body ran to thick, wrinkled gray flesh on its legs, long claws growing out of its reptilian paws. One of its smaller back horns was broken, probably from a mating fight, but from what I could see as it opened its maw to scent the air on its tongue, all its finger-length teeth were intact.
Good thing, because I wouldn’t want to be only half-chewed when the damned thing ate me alive.
I pulled up my shotgun, cracking it open one last time to check its slugs. With the hound coming around the trees, I would have to wait for a clear shot. Dempsey liked a knife or a bow. Stalker should hunt like a man, he grumbled in my head. I liked having a sawed-off shotgun or a pair of Glocks I could reload.
“Fucking Dempsey and his crossbows. I’d have to shoot the damned thing five times with a bow when a damned slug can do it in one or two.” When it came down to it, I’d rather be alive with gunpowder on my skin than have my picture hanging up on the Post’s tribute wall to the manly Stalkers who died taking something down. “Crossbows are shit.”
“God, that thing stinks.” My eyes watered from the smell. Resisting the urge to check my ammo again, I waited as the wind shifted and sent a brief thanks to the slaughtered god when my nose cleared of black dog.
The dog was almost in full view, and the change in wind direction helped me more than the hound as the breeze stole my scent away. Its broad chest vibrated as it laid its head back and howled, the piercing keen of its eerie song echoing across the area as it called for the others in its pack. If I had any luck, it would soon be joining their dead bodies in the back of my truck.
The thing was going to be a bitch to drag down to the road. Bounty laws said I couldn’t leave the body behind, mostly to protect wildlife from eating a black dog’s acidic meat, so I’d have to drag out every pound of its dead body to the truck after I killed it. Carry out what you kill, Dempsey beat into me.
“Or find some stupid elfin kid to do it for you.” I snorted.
The hound didn’t have to worry about dragging me off the mountain. If it got me, it would eat me on the spot, probably spitting out the zipper of my jeans and my earring when it was done. With luck, I’d get the chance to pee myself first, because my bladder began complaining loudly, and the itch returned to my bits.
It turned, and a flicker of a red eye gleamed in the black of its face. Holding its head lower than its massive shoulders, it skulked across the ground, hitting on my scent. I couldn’t hide from its nose. Damned things could track prey over anything.
The dog snagged my trail, growling as it moved its head back and forth to scent. I held my breath, letting the scent-trail draw it closer. It crept quickly over the forest floor, making a slithering sound through the leaves. If it wouldn’t have given the dog the drop on me, I would have laughed. The thing was nearly as large as a tik-tik cab. The only way it could hide was if a lorry dropped down in front of it.
With its sloping body tucked down, the black dog stilled; its wide nostrils sniffed at the air. A curl of its tongue lapped around the brush of teeth, long strands of milky saliva roping down to cover a clutch of weeds. The leaves shriveled and burned when the hound’s spit struck, tiny wisps of smoke rising around the black dog’s head as the acid ate through the greens. The wind shifted again and caught my scent, carrying it to the dog. It turned, found me staring at it, and leaped straight for me.
Singlish is really an ugly language. It has its toes in many lingual puddles, from old Britain to Cantonese with hot dashes of wasabi Japanese, but there were times when only the ugly gutter back street Nippon would do.
This was definitely one of those times.
Rhys Ford is a firm believer in love and let love, short walks to a coffee shop and having a spare cat or two. Most days she can be found swearing at her laptop and trying to come up with new ways to kill off perfectly good random characters.
Rhys Ford was born and raised in Hawaii then wandered off to see the world. After chewing through a pile of books, a lot of odd food, and a stray boyfriend or two, Rhys eventually landed in San Diego, which is a very nice place but seriously needs more rain.
Rhys admits to sharing the house with three cats of varying degrees of black fur, a black Pomeranian puffball and a ginger cairn terrorist. Rhys is also enslaved to the upkeep a 1979 Pontiac Firebird, a Toshiba laptop, and a purple Bella coffee maker.
RHYS FORD | DIRT AND SIN… WITH A SIDE OF COFFEE: