Excerpt from Monstrosities

“In the shadow place,” she murmured. “Things are not what they seem.”

“You want your stew or not?” the cook grunted, and Jonmarc turned around, reaching for his trencher.

“The taken ones are watching you,” the old woman muttered. “Beware.”

“Show’s over for the day. Keep your predictions to yourself,” the cook snapped, shoving a trencher toward the old woman.

Jonmarc went back to join his friends, and cast a glance over his shoulder. “Do you know who what is?” he asked.

Dugan frowned, following his gaze. “The old woman?”

“She’s new. Just came on a few towns back,” Kegan said. “She’s a seer and a hedge witch. Says her name’s Alyzza.” He gave Jonmarc a look. “Why?”

Jonmarc shook his head. “No reason. Just hadn’t seen her around. Strange duck.” He took a drink of ale. “You talked to Linton?”

Dugan nodded. “He must be plenty worried to give us each a copper to check this place out.” Dugan was one of the most fearless people Jonmarc knew. As an apprentice rigger, Dugan scaled the high poles inside the caravan’s tents and ran lines to keep the canvas in place. It was dangerous work, but Dugan seemed to relish the risk.

“Is Pol coming?” Jonmarc asked.

“You mean Corbin’s nephew?” Kegan asked. “The one with the pox scars?”

Jonmarc nodded. “Have you met him?”

Kegan shrugged. “Only once. Keeps to himself, like you did when you first joined up. If he just lost his family, I don’t imagine he feels much like talking.” Kegan lacked Dugan’s daring, and did not share Jonmarc’s love of sparring, but he always knew interesting gossip, thanks to spending his days among the healers.

“Here he comes,” Dugan said.

Pol ambled toward them, head down. By torchlight, the scars on Pol’s face were not as noticeable as in daylight. From the way the young man hunched his shoulders and let his hair fall, Jonmarc guessed that Pol felt the weight of his disfigurement. Seeing him, Jonmarc was conscious of the long scar that ran from his ear down under his collar, a permanent memento of all he had lost.

Pol shuffled through the food line and stood just outside the circle where Jonmarc and the others ate. “Room for one more?” he asked in a tone that said he would not have been surprised to be turned away.

“Plenty,” Kegan said, sliding down to make a space on the log. “You in for the adventure tonight?”

Pol nodded, still not making eye contact. “Should be interesting,” he said without looking up.

“I’m thinking it’ll be pretty tame,” Jonmarc said. “After all, we’ve had vyrkin and vayash moru here in the caravan. Most people think they’re monsters, but they’re not. After that, what could still be strange?” Vyrkin shapeshifters and the undead vayash moru had sometimes sought refuge with the caravan.

“My grandfather told stories about a show like that,” Dugan said. “Said there were creatures who were cursed by the Lady, maybe even some that crawled out of the underworld.”

Kegan rolled his eyes. “I heard the master healers talking about it. They said such things happen when the body’s humours are shifted. Things get off center, odd, like when a wagon’s wheel isn’t on the axle right.”

“Guess we’ll see for ourselves,” Jonmarc said. “You ready to go?”