The main character is from the same universe as Chasing a Rainbow, a short serial I hope to start posting soon. This runs just a little long; I hope you’ll forgive me.
Off the Cub
Chelina crouched in the alley, cursing her brother by every Dark Power she knew. “Never again will I make a wager with you, Chelinn!” she muttered, knowing she would. The potential thrill of beating him at his own game far outweighed the humiliation and (in this case) outright terror of losing once again.
She took a deep breath and stood — the Pirate Queen of Haven would not cower like a slave girl — then let her senses reach out. This city was enormous. She could feel the weight of it in her gut. More souls here than all of Haven, perhaps all of Termag. She stretched further — gods, iron was more plentiful than water here — there. A wide river, noxious with filth. That was where she would find it.
Taking a deep breath, she left the alleyway, her purposeful stride carrying her quickly. Tall as a man, more broad-shouldered than many men, she drew attention as she moved. True, she was dressed in the best work of Haven’s best tailors: black leather vest and short skirt, cut to enhance her beauty while providing freedom of movement; red sash; black leather boots, nearly knee-high to conceal her knives. Her long black hair, tied with red lace, hung halfway down her back. She grimaced as her brother’s advice rang in her ears: This world doesn’t like a visible display of weaponry. Nor are they thrilled with the kind of carnage you enjoy so, no matter how deserved it may be. Try not to draw attention to yourself.
“Not so easy, brother.” Chelina smiled. Men were the same everywhere: they looked upon her with longing and fear as they passed by. Am I strong enough to win her? Doubtful. Most of the men had a softness about them that she associated with the merchant class. Indeed, her brother was the only man she knew who could stand against her and even hope to prevail.
She reached the river and marveled. “What kind of world is this?” she whispered. “Even their ships are made of iron!” The smallest of them would be a treasure on Haven — if only she could carry it on her back across the rainbow, of course. At least the harbormaster’s office was easy to recognize; she walked in.
“How may I help you?” the man behind the desk asked her, giving her more than a once-over.
“I’m looking for the vessel Fletcher 4,” she replied.
He turned to a nearby panel, tapped at an array of buttons, then said, “Ah, Fletcher 4. That would be slip 74, down to the right.” He looked her over again. “Right. Might I ask what your business is with Mister Harvey?”
“It’s a private matter,” said Chelina, sliding a gold coin across the desk. “I’m expected.”
Those eyes stopped crawling over her body and focused on the coin. “Quite right.” He paused. “Ah, m’lady, this ain’t coinage of the realm —”
“It’s gold. Probably a week’s pay for such as you.” She slid another coin his way, then a third. “It occurs to me: I may need coinage of the realm, as you put it, to finish what I need to do here. Could you possibly trade me some of yours?”
The man stopped breathing for a long moment, staring at the gold coins. “Yes. Yes, that’s certainly possible.” He dug into his pockets, and produced both coins and slips of paper. “Not nearly the worth of one of your coins, mind you, but it’s all I have.”
She left the office a few minutes later, striding quickly to Slip 74. No guards in sight on the Fletcher 4 — but they were there, she was sure. She walked by the small ship, noting likely hatches. Slipping behind one of the huge iron boxes strewn across the docks like so much garbage, she worked a spell that made her hard to notice before crossing the gangplank and boarding. A task made for your talents, Chelinn had said. Board a ship and relieve it of its cargo. Except that she wasn’t on the high seas.
She’d guessed right about the hatch, and slipped below. She sensed the crew, but as long as nobody ran into her she would be unnoticed. Her nose and senses led her to her goal.
She dispelled her cloak; the bear cub looked at her from the far corner of its pen and made a noise at her. Another minor magic… “Food? Hungry.”
“Food outside,” she lied. “Come to your den.” Chelina put her hand on the lock and it fell open —
“‘Ere, what’s this?” A sailor approached, some kind of angular club in hand. Chelina turned and pulled open her vest, revealing her breasts. He never saw the knife that slashed his throat.
“Men. So predictable.” She smirked and covered herself, watching his blood pour into the deck. The bear cub squealed and shrank back, reminding her why she was here.
More magic: she calmed the cub, then cast a glamour over it. Its brown fur became a chaotic mop of hair, its round figure a chubby boy’s. She coaxed it out of the cage, then pushed the dead sailor in. Another glamour made her victim look like a sleeping bear cub, at least until dawn.
“Come,” she said, taking the cub by the paw.
A guard stood watch at the bow, but people coming out were not his concern. Even if they were a hot-looking Amazon and her fat kid. He watched them — her, anyway — debark and walk away.
“Cargo retrieved,” she said to herself. And return it to the London Zoo, was her brother’s final instruction.
One more familiarity: whores looked the same here as well. Chelina approached the first one she saw. “Greetings, sister.”
“Sister? I ain’t yer sister! Get on wi’ ya, or —” She hushed, seeing gold in Chelina’s hand. “Look, sweetie. You need to do somethin’ about the kid first.”
“That’s not your worry. I just need to know the easiest way to get to the London Zoo from here.”
“Ah! Is that all?” The whore snatched the coin. “Take the Number 47 bus. It stops just up the way there.” She pointed the direction.
Chelina had to calm both the bear cub and herself before they could board the bus. As it lurched away, she swore her brother would pay for this.