|The Adventures of Sneax & Elaina Emboo|
My daughter Hannah drew this cover.
Here's the problem: small press publishing--especially self-publishing--is not a get-rich-quick scheme. That's fine. I have a job, and I think it would be a rather considerable mixed blessing to have to write full-time. However, sales of my books have slowed in the last couple of months, and while it's true that I'm not doing this to try to make a million dollars, I would nevertheless like to reach a larger audience. This isn't news, nor is it any different than what any other writer wants. Ideally, I'd like to get a contract for future work based on the strength of what I've already written and on the following that I've built through this blog. The blog is doing okay, and my D&D work has certainly found an audience, but my fiction hasn't yet done its part.
When I started writing these books, I considered running them as Sketch In My Notebook pieces, putting out a chapter each week. I don't know if that will help these stories find an audience, but at this point, I'm not sure what else to do. I mean, sure, I could spend my time going to writer's conferences, going hat-in-hand looking for an agent or the one publisher in the world who believes in these stories...
I'm just not good at that sort of thing. I also cannot afford to waste a lot more time on what is essentially a hobby. Writing is time-consuming enough as it is.
I mostly write these stories for my kids. I hope that you like them, too, and if you're a fan of Dungeons & Dragons, I think there's a good chance that you will.
Enjoy! And if you get a chance, please let me know what you think.
The Adventures of Sneax & Elaina Emboo
Part 1: Sneax & Elaina Emboo vs. the Fire Elf
Sneakatara Boatman sat at the top of the great stone arch overlooking cobblestoned streets that led down to Wanderhaven’s Docks Ward. The sun hung low in the sky above, lighting wisps of cloud with a fiery brilliance across the waters of Great Island Bay and leaving shadows lying long across Dock’s Ward’s crowded streets. The sight was glorious; it left more than a few passersby standing still, staring out across the water to marvel at Sol’s last, best display. Sneax, however, cared nothing for the mere colors of sunset. She saw these daily, leaving her eyes free to roam the throng instead, pausing only occasionally upon the better dressed among those who’d stopped to see the sight.
“Come on…” she said under her breath. “There’s got to be somebody down there with at least a few silvers in their pockets.” She shook her head. “Neptune’s blue beard, this is getting ridiculous.”
Because it was End Day, the last day of the week before the Sabbath, Sneax’s “rent” was due. She’d been hiding atop the brick-and-mortar edifice of the arch for hours, alternately watching for her “landlord”, the loathsome street thug Russitan Lassiter, and searching for a mark whose pockets she could pick to secure what she owed. Despite her patience, though, the day had thus far been a waste. She’d seen one elderly merchant whose purse she’d thought she could’ve snagged without anyone noticing, but the man’s clothes had been threadbare, and his mule looked even hungrier than Sneax was herself. She was hungry—but not hungry enough to steal from those who couldn’t afford to lose a little. Now, however, it was now getting dark, and she was no closer to securing the money she owed than she had been when she’d first taken her place alongside the arch’s keystone. She’d seen hordes of people coming up from the wharf, but of the ones she might have wanted to rob, all were surrounded either by burly bodyguards or by wagon-loads full of goods. Neither made for an easy target.
She felt herself growing despondent. Normally the arch could be counted on to supply at least a few absent-minded burghers or perhaps a pack of idiotic young nobles out for a bit of carousing, and from these Sneax had been able to make at least some kind of living over the past several months. Lately, however, her luck had changed. It had been weeks since she’d had a decent score, and she felt like she was slowly starving—and that was before she considered the effects of owing back-rent to Lassiter.
Well, she thought, at least now that it's getting dark, I might make it home without seeing Russ. He can't very well beat me if he can’t find me.
Sneax lived in a cubbyhole beneath the stone chimney above the Golden Ox, a beat-up old tavern down by the wharf. The place was hardly a palace, but it kept her dry, and the inn’s owners hadn’t yet noticed her presence atop their roof. More importantly, the Ox’s owners occasionally threw scraps of still-edible bread out with the night’s rubbish, and these, along with the proceeds from the occasionally well-picked pocket, were what kept her alive—if barely, at times. Despite the crudeness of her home, she felt lucky to have found the Ox and its roof. Instead of the usual piled thatch that covered most of the roofs in Docks Ward, the Ox’s roof was made from slabs of cut slate. That slate was far more resilient than thatching would have been, and as a result, she could move around her home without fear of falling through the Ox’s ceiling and into the common room below. That kind of security was worth a lot to a squatter living on the margins.
She sighed. The day had been a waste, and her prospects for the future looked no better. She knew that something needed to change, but what? And how? She had no education, no prospects, and no time to consider her future. Her every waking moment was bent towards ensuring her continued survival and even that looked iffy most days. She had exactly one friend in the world, and it was a friendship that she barely understood. Sure, she supposed that she could go back to the Temple of Apollo, to the orphanage where she’d been raised, but doing that would be admitting failure, and more to the point, it was no safer than living on the streets. At fourteen, Sneax stood three-feet-four. She was as tall as she was ever going to get, and that was not tall enough to keep her safe from the predators back at the orphanage. She’d been born a sprite—what some might call a wee one—and for whatever reason, her parents had abandoned her shortly thereafter. Maybe a full-sized human girl could’ve fought off the predations of her fellow orphans, but for a wee one, hiding was usually the best answer.
It was hard to hide in the orphanage, though. Out on the streets, Sneax at least had a chance.
She stood from her perch and stretched, reaching as high into the air as undersized frame would take her. The day was wasted, but there was no help for it. It was no use moping. So long as she avoided Lassiter, she could live with it. If she was lucky, there might even be some not-quite-stale bread waiting in the mizzen heap out behind the Ox.
Time to go, she thought.
She watched the crowd for a moment and waited, trying to get a feel for the ebb and flow of the passersby below. Eventually she saw her moment and leaped, diving out across the Arch with her hands outstretched. She felt a moment of weightlessness and then grabbed the lip of the Arch on the opposite side, catapulting herself into the air. Her heart soared along with her body. She felt free for a moment, her cares forgotten, the cobblestones of the street first receding and then rushing back upwards as she flew above the crowd. She grabbed the copper downspout of a nearby inn’s rain gutter and spun, swinging down and around until at last she dropped safely to the ground.
She landed with a flourish and bowed. “Ta da!”
Startled pedestrians backed away, most looking either surprised or agitated by her sudden appearance. Then a slow clapping sounded behind her, and she wondered if maybe she could hit up her impromptu audience for a few coppers. She lit her best smile and turned, just in time to see Lassiter towering above her.
“Very nice,” he said. “But it'd be nicer if you had my money, Sneakatara.”
“Russ!” she cried. She’d taken a step back before she even realized it.
The man looked like some kind of malevolent nightmare—all black eyes and scarred knuckles. Word around the docks had it that Lassiter wasn't exactly human, that either an orc or perhaps even a giant had found its way into his family tree somewhere back in the distance past. Sneax believed it. The man had an orc’s face, a pig nose alongside a marked under bite, framed by greasy black hair that he kept tied back in a ponytail. He’d obviously grown up fighting because his nose had been smashed and flattened at some point, and it had healed crooked. When he smiled, Sneax could see the jagged ruins of what had once been a mouthful of unnaturally sharp teeth. He enormous—especially to someone Sneax’s size—and scuttlebutt had it that his jaw was made of granite. No one could remember who it was who'd smashed Lassiter's nose, but whoever it was, they weren't around to brag about it anymore, that much was certain. On the docks, Lassiter reigned supreme.
He looked down at Sneax and gave her his hideous, broken-toothed smile. “You know, I almost didn't see you up there,” he said. He pulled a dagger from his belt and gestured with it. “If you hadn't done that flashy swinging thing off the side of that gutter, I might have missed you entirely.”
“I-I-I was just coming to see you!” Sneax said.
“I'll just bet you were,” Lassiter replied. “So, I take it that you do have the rent this time?”
“No?” Lassiter's smile disappeared. He pointed his dagger at Sneax. “That's two weeks in a row, Sneakatara. You owe me five silvers!”
“What?!” She was scared sick of Lassiter, but no way was she just going to stand there and let him rip her off. “The rent is only two silvers a week, Russ! Two plus two is four. What're you tryin' to pull?”
Quicker than thought, Lassiter reached down and grabbed Sneax by her ear. He yanked her head around, dragging her into a nearby alley and away from passersby. Then he laid his dagger under her chin and leaned in close, his voice a menacing whisper. “Two plus two is four, yes, but you forgot the interest. With interest it's five, and if you miss next week, you'll owe me a full gold. You miss after that, and I’m’a cut off your ear. You hear what I'm sayin' to you, Sneakatara?”
Lassiter released her, and she stumbled.
“I don't see why I owe you rent,” she cried. “I live on the streets.”
Lassiter held both hands out from his sides and turned, gesturing to everything around him. “They're my streets, little girl. You live on my streets, you got to pay my rent.”
“I don’t know if I can do five silvers, Russ. I mean, I don't think I can come up with that kind of money in a week, you know?” She swallowed hard. “Isn’t there something else? Can I maybe come work for you or something? You know, work off the debt? I’m a good worker, Russ. A good thief. They don’t call me ‘Sneax’ for nothing, and you know it. Come on, Russ, what do you say?”
Lassiter cocked his head and looked at her, and in that moment she saw herself the way that she imagined he must. She had curly brown hair that she kept trimmed in as neat a bob as she could manage, but it was tough, and living on the streets kept her thinner than she’d have liked. She was pretty enough, she supposed, but it wasn’t like she was a beauty or anything, and she was wearing all the clothes she owned in the world—an old, faded cotton work shirt and a pair of threadbare dungarees. Given her size, she was no threat to a guy like Lassiter, but she wasn’t exactly helpless. She also stunk, unfortunately, but living on the streets made it hard to take regular baths.
Still, if Sneax was thin and small and usually dirty, she was also quick—quicker than Lassiter, anyway, at least most days—and she was nimbler than a forest elf. If Lassiter needed something nicked, or if he maybe had something he needed watched without anyone noticing, he might have something she could do to work off her debt. The idea of working for such an ugly, mean-hearted ruffian was disheartening, but it beat losing an ear.
Lassiter thought about it for a moment, and then he smiled. “Sure,” he said at last, “I got something you can do. Meet me down by the Old Church tonight, just after moonrise. It’ll be worth two silvers to you. You’ll still owe me three, but it’ll be a start, yeah? After that, depending on how you do, maybe we’ll see what’s what.”
|Cover by Alan Evans from Rival Angels.|
Sneax let out a sigh of relief. “Thanks Russ. You won’t regret it, I swear. I’m your girl, you’ll see.”
“You’d better be,” Lassiter replied, “else you goin’ owe me a lot more than just an ear.”
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