Tale of Fortune, originally published in spring of 2020, is a time-hopping prequel to Soldier of Fortune, and offers no spoilers.
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“I don’t know if you’re aware,” Renny said, kicking a rock past Gideon, “but all the cogs say it’s unhealthy to keep your emotions bottled up like this.”
“I guess that makes you Fortune’s healthiest psychopath,” Gideon muttered.
“Oh, sting,” Renny said, clutching at his heart. “Also, watch your step.”
“What?” Gideon asked, even as his toe caught on something sticking out of the ground.
Too spent to fight for balance, he fell flat out, his hands slapping onto the heated sand. He saved himself from a full-on face-plant, but his palms and forearms stung with the effort of catching his weight, and the bark of surprise caused his dried lips to split.
Tasting blood, he raised his head with a grimace and found himself facing, not Renny’s smirk, but the fleshless grin of a human skull, half-buried in the sand.
“Ack!” Gideon pushed off from his much-abused hands with enough force to send him flopping all the way in the other direction, to land on his back.
Renny’s face appeared directly over his. “Graceful,” was the hallucinaghost’s opinion.
“Smog off,” Gideon replied, sitting up and scooting back to lean against one of the several boulder-sized rocks that decorated the area. Possibly the owner of the skull had stopped here to rest, never to rise.
“You used to be a lot more fun to torture,” Renny said, poking a toe at the thigh bone Gideon had tripped over.
“If you’re bored, feel free to haunt someone else.”
“That might work, if I were actually a ghost, and supposing there were anyone I hated enough.” As he spoke, Renny squatted down on the far side of the skeleton. “Since I’m not and there isn’t, how about you tell Uncle Renny why you decided to take the long walk?”
Gideon’s eyes slid over. “I’d think it’d be enough for you to know I did.”
“Please. This barely scratches the levels of suffering I wished on you.” Renny eased back against his side of the boulder. “There was one fantasy, for instance, that involved you being staked over a scorpion pit. I had another where a silica worm took up residence in your brain. And of course, the most entertaining, the image of a viper sliding up your trousers to give you a right good bite in the ba—oh, do grow up,” he said, cutting himself off when the finger bone Gideon threw at him poinged off his head.
“Just wanted to see if you were solid.”
“I’d like to point out that you’re suffering from heatstroke and talking to a dead man,” Renny said, picking up the finger bone from where it had dropped. “My solidity may be part of your hallucination. And hallucination or not, don’t think I missed how you didn’t answer my question. Why,” he pressed, pointing the finger bone at Gideon, “did you decide to take the walk?”
Gideon eyed the bone before meeting Renny’s expectant gaze. “I could ask you the same thing.”
Renny let the bony projectile drop to join its fellows. “I suppose you could.”
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