The Solitaire Series Reminder: Each week, a story will appear here, and be free to read for one week only. The next story will take its place, and the first story will be available on Amazon and other e-retailers. But if you follow this blog, you can read the stories for free every single week! Read more about the Short Story Deal here.

Throughout the series, there will be collections of stories, and we will even be producing some really cool swag along the way. Watch for contests, prizes, and even some fun “in-person” events. Let’s get started.

Nine of Spades

Three Months Ago

To say the decor was ornate would be an understatement. The room was open save four giant pillars strategically placed to hold up a vaulted ceiling. There were eight windows, four on each side, but no light came through them, not just because it was midnight on a moonless Saturday. Shutters held fast by iron latches held the light at bay.

The only light came from several torches set in holders affixed to the walls. The floor was wooden, clearly hardwood with a faded path going down the center, and paths with the same wear leading to either side. Viewed from above, they would have formed a cross, the center one leading to the altar up front.

Once a church, Stephan thought. But there are no pews now, and no one is here tonight for a holy purpose.

The figure came at him, dressed all in black. It moved with grace and smoothness that didn’t match its large form. Stephan prepared himself, dropping into a defensive stance and focusing.

His opponent’s face wasn’t visible. It was hidden behind one of those ridiculous black masks, like the ones you see in ninja movies. His feet were clad in those silly black booties.

Stephan wore a loose-fitting shirt, jeans, but stretchy ones that weren’t overly tight or restrictive, and Chuck Taylor’s basketball shoes. They were light, had just enough traction, and were so common even if he did leave a footprint at the scene of some unfortunate and perhaps questionably legal events, no one could trace them back to him.

He focused on his breathing and watching his opponent’s core as he moved. You could fake a punch or a kick, but there were things that always gave away your movements first. Stephan was trained to see those things.

He blocked a kick aimed for his head and blocked the striking foot as its owner tried to kick him in the kidneys, then the knee. Each blow fell short, but with every block, he felt the power in that leg.

This was no amateur. If he got past his defenses, Stephan would be down, hurt at least.

And so the dance began.

Punch, blocked.

Kick, blocked.

Each blow was audible with its force.

Stephan stepped forward to give the elusive figure a test.

Sweeping kick, low. His opponent jumped. Stephan stepped in, threw a blow intended for the sternum. It was blocked, but the figure staggered for a second.

There it was. Weakness. Not a big one, but—

A counterpunch came toward his head, and he ducked and covered, a good thing. Another strike aimed for his ribs stung his bicep instead.

Bruise number one.

Adrenaline meant he didn’t stop. Instead, he countered himself. Faked a kick, turned it into a knee that landed on a thigh muscle. Not the intended target, but it elicited an “Oof.”

Both fighters were panting now, but neither said a word. There were no strange grunts other than those of pain as they traded blows.

A kick to the ribs got through, and Stephan gasped, but covered and countered with a powerful punch of his own. His opponent hissed, drawing breath between clenched teeth.

He followed that punch with another and another, body shots intended to tire as much as wound. Fast tiny punches landed one after the other, and his opponent went purely defensive, darting free of his range and grasp, staying at a reasonable distance, trying to recover.

“Come on,” Stephan said once he had enough breath to speak. “Let’s finish this.”

The figure in black stopped moving, standing perfectly still, silent. Steel gray eyes stared through him, around him, anywhere but at him.

Stephan approached, cautious. He stared.

He could do anything. The black-clad menace was just standing there.

The figure was taller than Stephan, with wider shoulders and a long reach. But there was something—

A kick, fast and smooth, struck the side of his head. He spun, letting himself absorb the momentum he could, but the dark figure moved faster, following him. Another blow landed, this time on his shoulder, pushing him off balance again. Then a foot struck the back of his knee, sending him pitching forward. The floor rushed up to meet his face.

Stephan tried to perform a shoulder roll but missed horribly. His head struck the hardwood under their feet, and the maneuver turned into an odd flop.

He rolled to his back, ready to defend, and saw the figure standing over him, motionless.

“Jesus, that’s creepy,” he said.

A foot moved, but he was fast enough to grab the slipper clad heel, spinning it with all his strength. His opponent staggered and struck the opposite wall with a thud.

Stephan rolled to his feet in an effective but not a graceful manner and pursued the fight. He was on the figure in three quick strides.

Thud went the blow to the ribs.

Thud went the blow to the back.

Thud went the blow directed at the head as it struck an arm.

Now the figure lay, rather than stood, still.

Stephan waited.

No single blow had knocked this person out or done enough damage that they could not move. No. This was intentional, designed to draw him in.

“Who are you, anyway? I’m supposed to meet—“

You can now find the rest of this story, the second in the Solitaire Series on Amazon. Check out the next in the series, The King of Hearts on my blog, and you can now find the first story on Amazon here. Be sure to follow this blog for regular updates!