Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Adventures of Sneax & Elaina Emboo (Part 11)

Our Story So Far:
Sneax and Elaina are off to collect on a debt for Draks, and already there's trouble.  Now we meet Nathaniel, a half-fire elf mercenary, and his companion Maleeka, a giantess of unknown origin...

The Adventures of Sneax & Elaina Emboo

Part 3: The Priest of Loki

Chapter 2

Nathaniel stood at the portside railing of the three-masted caravel Argo, watching the sailors make the ship fast to the docks.  The city of Wanderhaven stretched out before him, but Nathaniel was turned inward, lost in his own thoughts.  The Argo belonged to Nathaniel’s father, and Nathaniel had been aboard her for two full weeks now—ever since his stint at the Imperial Sentralian Military Academy had come to an abrupt and unexpected end.  He would be aboard for quite a while longer, he knew.  Without the Academy, Nathaniel had no real prospects anymore.  There was nothing promising in his future at all.  He had only the Argo and whatever assignments his father could dream up for him.
Alas, he is the master of all that I survey, Nathaniel thought.  I sail upon his every word and whim.
Nathaniel sighed and turned to look at his companion, a towering giantess of a woman named Maleeka.  Standing six-foot-eight with chopped burgundy-red hair, a scarred, hatchet face, and arms like tropical pythons, Maleeka had been his father’s choice to be Nathaniel’s... traveling companion.  He refused to think of her as his bodyguard.  She was an enormous and imposing figure, so much so that it made Nathaniel wonder at her genetic provenance.  He was sure she wasn’t entirely human because Maleeka’s skin was tinted a muddy green, and also because, well, who’d ever heard of a six-foot eight-inch woman with arms as big around as a grown man’s head?  There was a chill wind blowing in off the water, but Maleeka still wore a fur-covered halter that bared her midriff, an indecently short loincloth, and a pair of soft moccasin boats.  She seemed as unimpressed by the weather as she was by the city of Wanderhaven itself.
She stands out a bit, Nathaniel thought.  Still, at least she’s not half-fire elf.  
His own white-with-red-streaked hair and phosphorescent pink skin were at least as attention-grabbing as was Maleeka.  Neither of them were what one might call inconspicuous.
In theory, Nathaniel and Maleeka were meant to protect the Argo from pirates as it crossed the Endless Sea and headed for the Kingdom’s northern frontier.  In reality, Nathaniel had the feeling that his father had simply wanted to get Nathaniel out of the way.  With Sentralia’s military academy no longer an option, his father had been forced to come up with something else, and this make-work voyage to the Kingdom’s hinterlands served that purpose magnificently.  Nathaniel supposed he was lucky that the Argo had even made port.  The port call itself was something of a last, civilized reprieve before the real journey began.
Nathaniel looked at Maleeka.  “So, have you ever been to Wanderhaven?”
“Hmph,” Maleeka replied.  
Not for the first time, Nathaniel wondered if he was missing some of the essential subtleties of the way Maleeka spoke.  Her entire vocabulary seemed to consist of grunts and half-formed words that were as yet totally unintelligible to him.  She clearly understood what others said, but whether she couldn’t speak or simply chose not to, Nathaniel had no idea.  Either way, she had yet to utter anything that he had actually understood.  They’d been together a fortnight, and already it seemed an eternity.  
Before Nathaniel could fall further into maudlin thoughts, the sailors finished tying up the ship and laying out the gangplank.  “Well, come on,” he said.  “Let’s go find our contact.”
Maleeka grunted again and grabbed her maul, a massive two-handed warhammer with a forged iron head that must have weighed some three stone at the very least.  
That thing’s gonna draw stares, too.  
But then, so too would his armor.  He’d painted it black just before his separation hearing from the Academy, and it now made a statement that even the lowest sort of man understood instinctively.  It told people to back off, that Nathaniel was a villain.  He didn’t even have to open his mouth to get the point across.  Nor was that all.  If anyone realized that the symbol embossed on his shield—the crimson serpent eating its own tail—was actually Ouroboros, the emblem of Loki, the Norglander god of mischief…
Stares would be the least of Nathaniel’s worries.
Nathaniel no longer cared what people thought.  He wished he didn’t have to care what his father thought, either, but since he’d been expelled from the Academy, he no longer had much choice about that.  Still, if he had to be about his father’s work, he would at least do it on his own terms.  People could stare, but that was their problem.
He led the way down the Argo’s gangplank and out onto the docks.  His father had sent him a message with his contact’s name and a brief description along with the letter detailing his current assignment.  His contact was an odd one, but given that Nathaniel was himself a half-fire elf and a priest of the dark god of the Norglanders, and that he traveled with a green-skinned giantess, he supposed there was no reason to pre-judge the poor girl.  She was a wee one and a teenager, and if the note was to be believed, a former street-person turned dockside enforcer as well.  Odd combination, Nathaniel thought.  When he imagined adockside enforcer, the image that came to mind was someone who looked a lot like Maleeka, not some underage sprite-girl who almost certainly weighed less than Maleeka’s hammer.  
But there’s bound to be a reason Father’s got her on the payroll.  Probably as soon slit your throat as look at you. 
Nathaniel had only the vaguest idea of where in Docks Ward he was headed, and the further he walked, the more confused he became.  The area around the wharf was open but crowded with both people and the taverns that served them.  As he and Maleeka moved up and away from the water, Nathaniel soon found himself becoming turned around.  The throngs of people didn’t help.  Even on the side streets, there were sailors of every description, stevedores hauling loads, traders meeting in the alleyways or looking to set up stalls, pack animals seemingly resting in the middle of the cobblestoned squares...  After just a few hundred yards, the cacophony of sights and sounds had Nathaniel blinking and wondering how he’d gotten so far off track.  He’d been in cities before, but the bustle of Wanderhaven was like nothing he’d ever experienced.  After a fruitless quarter-hour spent jostling his way through the crowd, Nathaniel ducked into a narrow alley to catch his bearings.  He thought he was headed in the right general direction, but there was a maze of streets, and they all looked the same.  This particular alley had rude two-story row houses running along a narrow cobblestone footpath, each leaning sullenly to one side or the other.  The street was so piled with trash in places that it was almost impassable.  A bluff rose at the end of the alley, hemming the denizens in and making the entire area feel like equal parts cityscape and urban enclosure.  Everywhere Nathaniel looked, he saw evidence of ruin and neglect.  
He began to despair of ever finding his way when a sound like thunder rocked the area, shaking one of the little row houses all the way to the ground.  Thunder echoed up and down the alley, and then a second blast sounded, this one accompanied by a sizzle like the frying of bacon on a massive scale.  Suddenly a little house burst into flame from the inside out.  Glass shattered and exploded, and the door to the house flew open.  Dazed, scraggly-looking men began pouring out, their clothes scorched and smoking, their hair still smoldering from the effects of the fire-blast.
More smoke began pouring from the building, and Nathaniel turned to Maleeka.  “Come on!”
But before he could get much closer, the glass on one of the upper windows shattered, and a dark-looking figure was hurled outside.  The figure flew for a moment and then smacked the cobblestones with a wet thud.  Nathaniel looked up to see another figure standing in the window, a naked blade gleaming in its hand.
Sneax reacted without thinking, rolling backwards and kicking out with her feet.  Jaxon’s claws came within an inch of her face, but she ducked, and then he was past and flying backwards, propelled by the force of her kick.  She rolled through to her feet, sword out and down, hand crossbow drawn in her other hand.  Jaxon came up slower, now fully a wererat—all fur-covered claws and dripping fangs.  Sneax snapped off a shot with her crossbow, catching Jaxon in the shoulder.  He grunted, but the wound was temporary; the bolt was steel not silver.  As if to make the point, Jaxon ripped the quarrel from his arm.  Blood sprayed, but the wound closed instantly, and Sneax had to fight back a wave of despair.
“You’re not gonna make it out of this one, girl,” Jaxon hissed.  “Not without a little fur, anyway…”
Beside her, Elaina let off another spell, and the building shook again.  The little office started filling with smoke thick, black smoke.
“Tell me you’ve got a plan here, Sneax,” Elaina said.
“We’ll get through this,” Sneax replied.
Jaxon was already coming towards her again, stalking her like an animal.  Sneax backed away from Elaina and dove behind Jaxon’s desk, rolling even as Jaxon slashed with dagger-like claws.  She came up next to the window behind the rat-leader’s desk, and Jaxon pounced.  Sneax saw her moment and dove though, beneath Jaxon and between his legs.  He slashed, opening a cut on the back of her shoulders, but then Sneax was behind him.  She landed on her back and turned, stabbing up with her short sword and taking Jaxon in the hamstring.  He cried out in pain, and she kicked, sending him flying out through the window and down to the street below.  
Sneax climbed up into the window and looked down to where Jaxon lay, now twisted and broken on the cobblestones below.  She realized it was getting hot.  She turned, saw a wall of flames building just outside Jaxon’s office, and heard coughing.  Elaina was holding one hand over her mouth, and her face was covered in soot.  She looked like she might collapse at any moment.
“Elaina, come on!” Sneax cried.
“No, you go.”  Elaina staggered but righted herself and started working her way towards the window.  “I’ve got... just enough magic… left.  But I can’t… take… both of us…”
Sneax ignored Elaina’s words and started to hop down out of the window.  Then she saw the look in Elaina’s eyes.
“Go,” Elaina pleaded.
Sneax didn’t know what to do.  The smoke was so thick that she couldn’t breathe, and she didn’t know if the tears streaming down her cheeks were for Elaina or just because the smoke had started burning her eyes.  Reluctantly, she turned back towards the window.  She sheathed her sword and began looking for a handhold.  
She saw a rain gutter and leaped.
Sneax was weightless for a moment, hands outstretched and sailing through the air.  She caught the rain gutter running down the side of the townhouse and let her momentum carry her feet out past her body.  Sneax’s stretched out horizontally like a flag before gravity reasserted itself.  She planted both feet on the downspout and let herself slide downward, landing lightly in a crouch on the ground.
In front of her stood a complete freak of nature.  Shining red eyes, bright pink skin, long white hair streaked with red highlights, and black scalemail armor.  He stared at her for a long moment and then started reaching back for his shield, which was black like his armor but polished to a shine and embossed with a stylized red rune that looked like an “O”.  It was actually some kind of snake eating its own tail.  To his left and just behind stood the single largest, scariest woman Sneax had ever seen.  The woman was more than twice Sneax’s height, and her gaze made Sneax’s blood run like a river of ice.  She clapped eyes on Sneax and grunted, hefting what had to have been the largest war hammer in the Known World.  
Behind those two Jaxon was slowly trying to clamor to his feet.  The wererat leader’s hair looked singed, and the fall hadn’t done him any favors, but those injuries would heal, Sneax knew.  Only the wounds she’d dealt him with her silver sword would keep bleeding, and they were comparatively minor.  Sneax didn’t like her chances against Jaxon now that they were out in the open street.  If the two newcomers came in on Jaxon’s side…

Sneax might’ve risked her best friend’s life for nothing.
Want to know what happens next?

You don't have to wait. This book and its sequel are both out now for your Kindle or the Kindle App on your iPad or Android tablet.

Book 1: Sneakatara Boatman & the Priest of Loki

Book 2: Sneakatara Boatman & the Crown of Pluto

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