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A Devil of a Solstice: A Legends of Lasniniar Short (Bonus Edition)

A Devil of a Solstice: A Legends of Lasniniar Short (Bonus Edition)

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Demons roam Lasniniar, hidden in plain sight. The dwarf adventurer Paige and her companion Claire hunt them.

In the months since the demon war, the pair’s reputation has spread across the land. Two days before Solstice, they find themselves hired to solve a tricky problem in the human city of Nal Nungalid. But things get messy before they even reach the city gates, even though everyone should be celebrating the upcoming holiday.

...Because more than one soul hangs in the balance, and not all evil stems from demonkind.

Celebrate Solstice with the unlikely duo of Paige and Claire in this dark humor, stand-alone misadventure story from the Legends of Lasniniar fantasy series. (This story takes place after the World of Lasniniar novel Harbingers.)

This edition includes a bonus chapter. (Direct exclusive.)


Paige tramped along the snow-packed dirt of the Great North Road and wondered for the umpteenth time whether she had made a mistake. She inhaled the crisp air and nearly moaned as she caught the scent of even more snow to come. Her short legs already burned from plowing through so much of the stuff in her sturdy, dwarven-made boots. Her chain mail jingled softly as she walked, a steady rhythm in her own ears that overlaid her inaudible grumble. She craned her neck and narrowed her blue eyes at the large, gray cloud bank that loomed overhead, blocking most of the last rays of the afternoon sun. The days were short enough at this time of year without throwing a bunch of clouds and snow on top of things. She shook her head, her pair of honey-blond braids swishing against the fabric of her gray cloak from where they peeked out beneath her polished metal helm.

The woman walking beside her showed no signs of distress over the promise of more snow, even though Paige had no doubt her companion had noticed it already. Then again, Claire didn’t show signs of distress about much of anything. The inscrutable woman walked with smooth, even strides, which she kept deliberately shorter to accommodate Paige’s dwarven legs. Deerskin breeches and a deep-green tunic clung to her long, slender frame beneath her billowing cloak, which was a matching gray to the one Paige wore.

Unlike Paige’s crunching footsteps, Claire’s tall leather boots made no sound as she walked along the snowy path. Her long, dark hair spilled over her shoulders in shining waves as her beryl-green eyes looked into the distance, contemplating only the First Father knew what.

The shores of Sky Lake stood to the left of the road in the snow-covered open grassland that surrounded them. The dark waters were still, and most likely frozen over. Paige shivered as an icy wind brushed her face and tried to cut beneath the folds of her cloak. She paused for a moment to take a swig of mead from the skin that hung from the side of the large pack that burdened her shoulders—a gift from a patron in Nal Huraseadro. The smooth, rich drink warmed her as it went down. She knew it wouldn’t help her for long, but at least it was something. For a moment, she considered offering some to Claire, but she stoppered the skin instead. Claire probably didn’t even notice the cold.

Once again, Paige felt her thoughts dragged back in the direction of their destination—the human city of Nal Nungalid, which sprawled in the distance on the north side of the lake. Lazy spirals of smoke rose from the large cluster of buildings, adding to the natural gloom that already hung overhead.

It’s only two days until Solstice. I should be back at Barlo’s burrow by now.

This would be the first time since her emancipation from the slaver, Lord Waterbrook, that Paige would be celebrating the holiday without the dwarf who had rescued her and become her adopted family. If she closed her eyes, she could imagine the inside of Barlo’s underground home filled with tinsel and other holiday decorations, the burning singe of whatever baking experiment he was currently working on filling the air, along with Iarion’s subsequent laughter.

Paige swallowed the lump that had formed in her throat. As unlikely as it seemed, Barlo’s elven best friend had become family to her as well. She loved to listen to tales of Barlo and Iarion’s adventures, especially when Barlo tried to twist things around to make them sound more impressive and Iarion called him out on it (or tried to top him).

Even after Paige had gone off to have adventures of her own, she had always returned to Barlo’s burrow for Solstice. And under normal circumstances, this year would be no different. Her gaze slid back to the woman walking the path beside her.

Claire was her responsibility now.

She could have brought the woman along with her to Barlo’s for the holidays. But Paige knew Claire’s presence would only make Barlo uncomfortable. He would put a good face on things, but Paige couldn’t bring herself to put a damper on Barlo’s Solstice—not after all he had done for her. Even though she knew Barlo would miss her, he would be much happier celebrating with Iarion than he would have been if Claire had showed up on his doorstep.

Of course, Claire could have just made camp somewhere and entertained herself for a few days. She had even offered to do so. But Paige had felt bad about the idea of abandoning her new friend during the holidays, and claimed they could spend them working instead.

…Which was why they were on their way to Nal Nungalid.

Since the fall of Focalor and the scattering of his demon army, the pair of them had worked tirelessly to root out any demons who had fled the battlefield and disguised themselves among the unsuspecting populace of Lasniniar. She and Claire had become a rather effective team, and had earned a reputation among the human cities in particular for their unique ability to locate and cast out demons.

If any of their patrons ever learned exactly how Paige and Claire managed to identify and handle demons so well, they probably would have had second thoughts about hiring them.

Every time Paige looked at Claire, she struggled to forget the sight of the demon woman’s crimson eyes the first time they had met. Claire was a Snatcher demon—someone who could take over another person’s body and inhabit it as their own. But Claire’s current body wasn’t exactly stolen. She had taken up residence in it immediately after the rightful owner had died of illness, keeping it alive after the original inhabitant had departed. And Claire wasn’t like other demons. She had offered her soul in exchange for the life of her deathly ill sister when she had been a child, in another world and another time. She had also helped to overthrow Focalor, and saved Paige’s life several times over in the months since they had met.

Not that Paige had any interest in trying to explain any of that to their potential clients…

She and Claire had been contacted by the ruling lord of Nal Nungalid while they had been wrapping up a case in Nal Huraseadro. The letter was vague (which wasn’t unusual, since demons were a touchy subject now that the war was over and many of the humans realized they had been unwittingly fighting on the demons’ side of things). But it had sounded promising, and it was something to help keep Paige’s mind off of Solstice with Barlo. Besides, Paige had already played tag along with Barlo and Iarion on a few of their adventures. Hadn’t she always wanted to earn a reputation of her own?

She struggled to keep those thoughts firmly in mind and forget all about roasted chestnuts, fireside stories, and Solstice gifts. Not that she hadn’t given some thought about what to give to Claire… But did demons even celebrate Solstice? Even if they did, Paige had no idea what kind of gift Claire might like. The demon woman was by far the strangest person Paige had ever met, and given how widely traveled she was, that was saying something.

A new pair of boots? No, that’s too boring and practical. But Claire is practical. Maybe some kind of weapon…

Paige was so caught up in her thoughts, she was barely paying attention to where she was placing her feet. The toe of her boot caught at something hidden beneath the snow by the edge of the road. Her eyes widened and she pinwheeled her arms in a desperate attempt not to land face-first in the snow-packed dirt.

A hand gripped her shoulder just before she hit the ground and hauled her upright. Paige blinked up at Claire. Even though she knew she should be used to her companion’s unnatural reaction time by now, it still caught her off guard.

“Um, thanks.”

“You are welcome,” Claire said in her smooth, contralto voice with her usual air of formality. “Do you wish to investigate?”

Paige snorted. “What, my own clumsiness? Or the fact that I should watch where I’m going?”

Claire blinked, her green eyes unreadable. “I meant the true cause of your fall.”

“Huh? What are you talking about?”

Claire pointed. Paige’s gaze followed the line of her arm to something poking out of the snow. Paige felt herself shudder in response.

It was a human hand.

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