Prince - Paul Collins
Guild apprentice Crocodile Sal is sitting her prac exam, Deceit
and Daring 101. Her goal is to find a job and stay in it for
at least three months. During this time, she has to steal something
really valuable and use it in a successful, diabolical crime.
Simple enough. But she hasn’t reckoned on royal and political
intrigue, assassins, shape-shifters, betrayal, kidnapping gypsies,
rift-world travel, trolls and murderous swamp creatures. Can
anything else go wrong?
Suddenly the creature’s ears twitched forward as though training
them on its prey. It gave an almighty roar of triumph and straightened,
thumping its chest in exultation. Its companions surged forward.
‘I don’t suppose you have a spell for this?’ Fac
‘You’re right. I don’t,’ Sal said. ‘Nothing
that will work that quick, at any rate.’ She discarded her machete
and drew her sword instead.
‘You can’t possibly be serious?’ Fac said. ‘They
must weigh all of six hundred pounds apiece.’
‘If they bleed, they can be beaten,’ Sal said. She stepped
out of the foliage and met the first creature.
Although not a swordswoman, Sal had learnt many deft tricks with a
blade. A friend of hers, Corran, had taught her many underhanded tricks
? manoeuvres that would be frowned upon in courtly contest.
The first and second creatures were injured in quick succession. Their
companions, too eager to tear and sunder the rift travellers, got
in one another’s way. Sal skewered another in the arm, but sheer
weight of numbers drove her back. She turned and saw Fac retreating
before three rampaging beasts. Her heart lurched. There was no way
she could help him.
Fac back-pedalled furiously. He tripped twice, recovered, and stumbled
backwards, forever keeping his sword swishing in front of him. By
sheer luck, Fac stepped back on to a clump of solid swamp reeds. He
almost lost his balance and threw his hands out to save himself. The
creatures swept forward, and sank to their knees in the gurgling swamp.
Fac leapt from the tussock. He barely made solid ground, his back
foot sinking to the ankle. He pulled his foot out and tumbled to the
ground. Behind him, the creatures were fast disappearing into the
swamp, their screeching cries unheeded.
He watched in morbid fascination, or perhaps shock, as the creatures’
heads sank without trace. Then Sal’s frantic gasps and grunts
snapped him out of his stupor.
‘Hold on!’ he called, waving his sword. He lunged into
the jungle. The next moment he ran straight into the back of a creature.
His sword arm jarred. A creature bellowed its pain and fled into the
jungle. Another swung around, its beastly eyes drilling into Fac’s.
In sheer terror, Fac clenched his eyes shut and threw his sword at