Sneax and Elaina went to collect on a debt for Draks, but found more than they bargained for. Luckily for them, they met Nathaniel, a half-fire elf mercenary, and his companion Maleeka, a giantess of unknown origin. But it turns out that Nathaniel works for Draks as well, and that he's in Wanderhaven to take Sneax to Ellesburg, a tiny timber town lost in the hinterlands of the Kingdom's northern frontier. Sneax soon finds herself on a ship with her new companions, her friend Elaina far behind.
But that's only the beginnings of Sneax's problems. Soon she and Nathaniel realize that the so-called "deal" Draks worked out is really more of a rescue mission. They and their companions soon find themselves heading north, into the trackless wilderness in search of the goblin bands who've been raiding the local logging settlements, cutting off the flow of valuable timber to the heart of the Kingdom far away.
Sneax is nearly killed in her very first battle, and that's only the beginning. Trekking north, they find an abandoned logging camp and a pack of worgs stalking their trail...
These next two chapters are my favorites, for whatever that's worth.
The Adventures of Sneax & Elaina Emboo
Part 3: The Priest of Loki
Zelda heard Quiver bark, heard Sneax’s sharp intake of breath, and then her bow was in her hands and strung. She knocked an arrow, drew, exhaled, and fired, all before her brain had even fully registered what she was shooting at—a small pack of worgs moving down out of the tree line. There were five, moving in a loose wedge and—oddly—led by the smallest in the pack. Zelda didn’t let that worry her. It didn’t matter. What mattered was the bow in her hands, the feel of the string on her fingers, the way she exhaled before she released the shaft. Time slowed. A part of her knew that the worgs were getting bigger, moving closer, that Nathaniel and Maleeka were moving to meet them, that Sneax seemed frozen to the spot where she’d been standing when the worgs emerged. Zelda put all that away for later. It was not important. Death was coming, but Zelda found the calm at her center. She kept her breathing even, letting her hands and fingers work.
Arrows flew downrange in a steady, murderous stream.
She’d put four shafts into the leading worg before the beast faltered and fell, and then she shifted targets, putting two more shafts into the brute to the leader’s left. After that, the worgs were too close for archery. Zelda dropped her bow and dove. Massive jaws snapped, but she was already moving, her blades out and ready.
The big dog snarled and struck at the nearest worg’s rear, forcing the beast to turn away to defend itself. Zelda stabbed with her short swords, sinking one blade deep into the near shoulder while the other turned on the worg’s thickly matted fur. The worg yelped and whipped around, fangs bared. Zelda skittered back. The beast came on in a snarling rush, limping but enraged, and it was all Zelda could do to fend the thing off. If it got her on the ground, she was dead. Quiver leaped atop the worg’s back, but it was too late. The worg was focused too completely on Zelda. Quiver wasn’t big enough to kill it, and nothing less would keep Zelda alive.
She was on her own.
Nathaniel saw the worgs coming, but he didn’t panic. Zelda took the leader down with her bow before the pack had half crossed the clearing, and then she wounded a second. Four worgs remained, and there were four companions to match them. Even if Sneax was too shocked to fight, Nathaniel figured Zelda and Quiver were good for one worg between them. He and Maleeka would simply have to handle the other three.
“Maleeka, take the one on the far side and try to finish it quickly. I’ll hold these others until you can join me.”
Nathaniel set his shield, drew his sword, and moved up. He’d assigned himself two of the beasts, but he didn’t have to kill them. He merely had to hold them in place with his heavy armor and shield until Maleeka could finish hers. Teamwork, that was the key. His allies needed time to defeat the beasts they faced, and he needed to give them that time. As the worgs’ numbers dwindled, the companions would overmatch those that remained. But while his rational mind knew that his tactics were sound, the animal part of his brain screamed in terror. Two wolves the size of horses bore down on him, and it took every ounce of courage he could muster to set his feet and meet their charge.
The leading worg lunged at him, leaping up and trying to drag him down under the weight of its foreclaws. Nathaniel blocked up his shield, but the worg was far too big and heavy. He staggered and nearly went down beneath its weight, but he somehow managed to keep his balance—barely. He wound up down on one knee with the worg draped bodily across his shield, it fangs snapping hard at his armored head and neck. He thrust with his sword and forced the worg back, but before he could get back to his feet, the other caught his shield-arm in its teeth. Fangs pierced his armor, and pain exploded across the upper part of his arm. His sword flashed again, and the second worg yelped and let go, but now he had a worg on either side, and he was already bleeding. He scrambled back to his feet and slashed at the first worg, but the beast danced back, and on the other side, the second one attacked. It nipped his leg, and though its teeth didn’t pierce his armor again, he staggered. He tried to whip around, but the first worg came on again, and it was all Nathaniel could do to ward it off with his longsword.
This is not the way, Nathaniel thought. Come on, Maleeka. Hurry up!
Nathaniel glanced over and knew at once that he was in trouble. Maleeka was still engaged, but her blows weren’t falling nearly quick enough. Her worg was too swift for her to land a clean blow. Nathaniel gave ground, hoping that by backing up, he could keep the two worgs he faced in front of him, but they kept working in tandem, kept turning him, kept attacking from different angles. He whirled with his sword and shield and did what he could to keep them off, but he was already losing blood, and he could feel himself tiring.
He’d gotten into a fight he couldn’t win. The outcome was not in doubt. It was just a matter of time.
Then the lead worg got back up again—the small one, the one that Zelda had shot at the start of battle—and all at once, Nathaniel saw his death.
It wasn’t a matter of time. It was coming now.
“Sneax!” he cried.
But Sneax was gone. She’d disappeared, and she was not coming back.
Sneax heard Nathaniel calling, but she couldn’t move. She could barely breathe. She was hidden in a hole in the roof of one of the burned out cabins, heart beating so loudly that it was a wonder the worgs below didn’t hear it. She wanted to move, but there was nothing she could do. Her body was frozen in place, her limbs refused to answer. She was a little girl with nothing, and these were worgs. Creatures from nightmare. The last time she’d tangled with one, it had nearly torn out her throat. She kept reliving the moment—the fangs in her face—and it kept her in place and trembling. That had been just one worg. Now there were five, and one of them had just shrugged off four arrows to the chest.
“Sneax!” Nathaniel called again. His voice was frantic.
Sneax forced her fingers to grab her hand crossbow. She pulled it from its holster, but then she shook her head. Her body felt locked in place.
“Sneax, help me!”
Sneax watched as the smallest worg—the leader, the one that had shrugged off Zelda’s arrows—started stalking towards Nathaniel. She could see Nathaniel’s eyes widen in terror. He wasn’t quite holding his own against two of the beasts; the third would end him.
“Sneax!” This time he sounded panicked. He stumbled and went down, had to punch with his shield just to get back up to one knee. The worgs moved in and out and started circling. It wouldn’t be long.
Sneax would never remember making a decision. She’d meant not to intervene, to wait it out, to try to sneak back to Ellesberg on her own after it was over. And yet she found that herself down on the ground with her crossbow loaded. She snapped off a shot, loaded another bolt, took deliberate aim at the rear haunches of the nearest worg.
Her crossbow fired, and a worg yelped and stumbled. Its head whipped around, and in that moment Nathaniel struck, driving the point of his sword frantically into the worg’s flank. The beast screamed and whipped back around. Sneax loosed a third bolt, sending it straight into the soft spot under the backside of the wounded worg’s skull.
The beast collapsed in a heap.
As one, the other two worgs turned and started stalking towards Sneax. On the ground, Nathaniel struggled to rise.
Sneax swallowed. Well, at least I got their attention…
Nathaniel saw the wounded worg go down and whirled to face the other two, his breath coming hard in his chest. He struggled to his feet and lumbered after the worgs, but he was moving too slowly. Sneax was staring at him. Whatever courage she’d had, it was gone, used in the saving of Nathaniel’s life. He would not be fast enough to return the favor. The smaller worg turned, and he struck with his sword.
The other charged straight for Sneakatara.
Zelda slashed with her short swords, drawing a line of blood across the worg’s flank. The thing was bleeding from a dozen such wounds, but they were mostly superficial. Zelda was wearing it down, and Quiver was helping as best he could, but her dog was not large enough to do any lasting damage, and Zelda herself could not afford to stand still long enough to set her feet and deal a killing blow. Now Sneax was in trouble, and neither Nathaniel nor Zelda herself could do a thing to keep the girl alive. Zelda needed to finish her fight quickly, to aid Sneax before the girl went down for good, but hit-and-run tactics weren’t getting the job done. She was going to have to try something desperate. Against a worg, that could cost her dearly.
Quiver came in again, snarling and snapping at the worg’s tail, forcing the beast to turn at last. The worg snarled and whipped around, and Zelda came back hard, slashing it again with her short swords. The worg’s head whipped back before Zelda’s swords sank deep. She landed another pair of cuts, but again, the beast’s fur saved it from a potentially lethal strike.
Across the clearing, Sneax screamed.
Zelda fell back a step, letting the worg get its bearings. The thing snarled and let its hackles rise. It started stalking forward in a crouch, growling low. Zelda took another step backwards, baiting the beast. It came on and leaped. It was a predator the size of a horse, but it launched itself at Zelda’s head like a fur-covered catapult-stone. She dropped low, barely managed to fend off the worg’s fangs, and felt its claws rake across her shoulders and back.
She and the worg toppled and stated rolling.
The worg’s claws cut through the hide and fur-lined vest that Zelda wore as armor, but now she was in close. They rolled and wrestled, Zelda fending off vicious fangs with one hand, stabbing low for the worg’s belly with the other. The worg yelped and then bit down hard on Zelda’s shoulder, but before its jaws could snap her clavicle, the strength went out of it.
Zelda staggered to her feet. Her bow lay a few feet away.
The beast at her feet was already a distant memory.
Nathaniel slashed down, hacked at the worg leader and turned, but it was already too late. The last of the worgs leaped at Sneax. She was frozen, unable to move. They went down in a heap of blood and rending fangs. Nathaniel started running, saw Zelda reaching for her bow, and then he himself went down, a weight like a boulder crashing into him from behind.
He rolled and tried to bring up his shield, but vicious claws raked across his armored torso. They didn’t penetrate, luckily. Then he was pushing back, wrestling the thing that had attacked him—amazingly, the smallest worg, the pack leader. It was still alive after four arrows to the chest and a killing blow that Nathaniel himself had delivered with his own hand. He cried out and reached for the power of his god, but the god of mischief lay remote and unreachable. That left just Nathaniel and the worg leader wrestling desperately in the mud. Nathaniel had his armor and his shield, but one arm was weak from blood loss, and the worg already had him down on the ground.
Maleeka’s maul slammed into the pack leader’s head, knocking it sideways and throwing it bodily off from where it had Nathaniel pinned. She reached down and grabbed Nathaniel by the arm—his good arm, thankfully—and then yanked him to his feet. She was breathing hard, and she had a collection of cuts and bleeding wounds, but she was very much alive. Her worg was not.
Nathaniel took up station beside to her, and they advanced on the worg leader together, backing the thing up and looking to surround it the way that it and its allies had surrounded Nathaniel. The beast looked back and forth between its foes, a cunning intelligence evident behind its eyes. It snarled and backed away and then finally bolted.
Nathaniel was happy to let it go.
He looked back to find the last of the worgs dead, a pair of Zelda’s arrows buried deep in its neck and shoulders. Zelda herself knelt next to the worg, struggling mightily to move the beast’s body out of the way. Beneath it, Nathaniel could just make out the tiny form of Sneakatara Boatman, prone and bleeding out into the earth.
There was too much blood. This time, it would take a miracle.
“Move the body, Maleeka!”
Maleeka jumped to comply, grabbing the carcass of the dead worg and heaving it with inhuman strength. Nathaniel began pulling at his gauntlets. Loki, god of mischief and father of lies, aid me now, your humble servant. This girl saved my life. Now help me save hers.