|This is my daughter Hannah's cover.|
Sneakatara Boatman was abandoned as a child by parents she never knew. Life in the orphanage was tough for a tiny girl with few ways to defend herself, and she lit out as soon as she was able. But the streets of Docks District are no safer than life was back at the orphanage, and now the loathsome street criminal Russitan Lassiter has Sneax at his mercy.
Elaina Emboo is a rich girl from a nice family, but her controlling father has her entire life mapped out already. Elaina envies Sneax's freedom without truly understanding its cost. Still, she agree to help when Sneax asks her to head up to the Old Church to meet with Lassiter.
Sneax and Elaina get the scare of their lives when they realize that Lassiter has an appointment with Draks, the fire elf.
The Adventures of Sneax & Elaina Emboo
Part 1: Sneax & Elaina Emboo and the Fire Elf
Elaina pulled Sneax's hand away from her face. “Holy crow! Is that torchlight?”
“Yeah,” Sneax replied. “But who in the world would be comin' up here on a night like this?”
“Half the town, it looks like.” Elaina pulled a small collapsible telescope from one of the pockets in her cloak. “Let's take a look.”
“Omigosh!” Sneax cried. “I didn't know you had one of those. Is that thing magic?”
Elaina wanted to laugh, but she knew that if she did, it would hurt her friend’s feelings. Instead, she extended the telescope and put it to her eye. “No Sneax, it's not magic. See, the lenses on the ends curve the light to make it seem bigger when it hits my eye. It's a mundane effect but still quite useful.”
Elaina shook her head. “Being a wizard is about a lot more than learning magic. It's about understanding the world and how it works. Here, you take a look.”
Sneax put the telescope to her eye. “Wow! It's like they're right next to us. But that's—”
“Thorin Battleaxe. And it looks like he's got Melanie McGonagall from the Temple of Apollo with him—along with half the City Guard.” Elaina waited until Sneax put the telescope down, so that she had her friend's full attention. “We should get out of here, Sneax. We don't want to be involved in what's about to happen.”
“But we can't!” Sneax said. “Russ'll cut off my ears if we don't warn him. I think he means it!”
“Russ is going to have a lot more to worry about than just your ears once Commander Battleaxe gets up here with all those Guard troopers. Come on, let's just go.”
Sneax shook her head and grabbed Elaina's arm. “But I can't! Do you really think some stupid dwarf in battle armor is gonna be able to catch a guy like Russ Lassiter in a maze like this at night? I can't take that chance, Elaina. What if Russ gets away? He's gonna know we betrayed him.”
“But what can we do?”
“W-w-we can, uh... shoot up one of those sparkly thingies you're so good at! And then I'll go down there and try to lead ‘em away just like Russ said. That'll give Russ and that Draks some time to go... or do whatever else it is they gotta do.”
“Sneax, that's crazy!”
“No,” Sneax said desperately. “We can do this.”
Even in the dark, Elaina could see the fear in her friend’s eyes.
“Fine,” Elaina said. “But I'm gonna regret this, I just know it.”
Elaina was mad, but there wasn’t much that Sneax could do about it. So long as they didn’t get caught, Sneax could make it up to her later.
Sneax slid down off the rubble of the roof, leaving Elaina in place to begin working the magic that would warn Lassiter. By now Sneax’s eyes had adjusted to the gloom—or maybe she was just used to working in it. She fairly flew down the side of the rubble, descending in bounds across the jagged surface towards the torchlight ahead. She leaped the last few feet and rolled, coming up behind a broken-topped pillar that was more than big enough to hide her tiny body from prying eyes. Her heart was hammering so loudly that it seemed like Thorin and his men ought to be able to hear it, but Sneax knew that there was no way that she’d been seen—not on a night this dark by men carrying torches. Even a dwarf like Thorin would struggle to see against torchlight that close to his eyes.
Sneax pulled her sling from the back pocket of her dungarees. She loaded it with a stone—barely more than a pebble since she didn’t actually want to hurt anyone—and waited. It took a moment, but then the roof of the Old Church began to glow with a flickering rainbow of light. Sneax knew that there was supposed to be thunder to go along with Elaina's spell, but the spell had obviously misfired.
“Come on, Elaina,” Sneax muttered. “I really need that distraction now...”
“What in the name of Hades?” Thorin’s voice sounded a few feet away. “’Ware men. It don't look like much, but there's s'pposed to be—”
Sneax rounded the column, sling spinning. She sighted on the torchbearer and let fly. The man holding the torch was standing next to Thorin, who was even then unlimbering his shield and titular battleaxe. Sneax’s stone struck the burning torch squarely, knocking the thing from the man’s hand and nearly setting Thorin’s beard on fire as it fell.
“Hey!” Thorin cried. “Watch that ye blasted—”
“Sir, it was struck! We’re under attack!”
“I knew it!” Thorin cried. “To arms, men! To arms!”
Uh oh, Sneak thought. Time to go!
Sneax dashed into the night, running headlong towards the forest of stone that was the ruins of the Old Church. Behind her Thorin shouted orders, trying to get his men in order and after their attacker. Sneax could hear Melanie McGonagall further back, calling on Apollo to light the way. Guard troopers started moving, and McGonagall raised her shield. The power of the sun god burst forth like a beacon. Night disappeared, washed away by the power of Apollo's light.
They'd seen her. Sneax dove headlong and scampered under a pile of rubble, searching frantically for shadows amidst ruins that were now lit like midday. She shimmied under and around the stone obelisks, fighting her way back into whatever scraps of darkness she could find. Guard troopers pursued, but behind them Sneax saw Thorin pause and confer with McGonagall. She couldn't hear what they were saying, but it was a good bet that they were trying to decide what to do. Thorin was apparently not ready to commit fully to the search for what looked like a single minor threat, possibly accompanied by mage-light that could easily have come from harmless natural faerie fire. Something other than a would-be search for two miscreant teenagers had brought Thorin and Melanie McGonagall up to the Old Church, and whatever it was, a professional Guard commander like Thorin Battleaxe wasn't going to abandon his search just because of a few weird but isolated incidents.
Sneax knew that she could make good her escape, but that wasn't what she needed to do. Lassiter probably hadn’t gotten away yet. Since Elaina's spell had misfired, he might not have even noticed anything was amiss. The City Guard could stumble into Lassiter and Draks at any second.
There was no choice. Sneax loaded another stone in her sling and ducked forward. She slid to a halt behind another piece of broken stone, less than a foot from where the nearest guardsman stood. He was looking for her, but though he was close enough to touch her, it was obvious that he wasn't sure in which direction she'd gone.
Sneax waited until the guardsman looked away.
This was her chance.
She popped out from behind the ruins and let fly. Her stone shot out into the night.
It struck Thorin square in the head, right on the crown of his steel helmet. The shot didn't hurt him—Sneax could see that and was glad of it—but Thorin's face went from concerned but contemplative to thunderstruck and enraged in the span of two heartbeats. He roared in fury, and she was off again, running as hard as she could for the darkest part of the ruins. The City Guard trailed hard on her heels.
Elaina started by preparing two spells at once and trying to trigger them both simultaneously. The first was a simple wave of colored lights—a straightforward enchantment, but one that would be spectacular when cast in the dead of night with just a sliver of moon hanging in the sky. The spell was intended to disorient at close range, but over the centuries wizards of all stripes had modified it for a variety of purposes, not the least of which was as an arcane enhancement to simple fireworks. Elaina wanted to add only a single modification. She wanted to make it louder.
That was tricky.
With her focus split between a Color Wave and a Concussion Blast, Elaina fumbled the gestures that shaped both spells. She could have recovered if she'd been in a quiet classroom with plenty of light and a clean place to work, but atop the ruins of the Old Church in the middle of the night, it was more than she could handle. Her heart was already racing, and once the spell had begun, she grew nervous. She tried frantically to tie both spells together, but the harder she worked, the more the twinned magicks began unraveling. The Color Wave went off but fizzled; the Concussion Blast disappeared entirely into the ether.
It was barely enough to distract Thorin and his men.
Elaina was shaky and nervous after that. She wanted to go home. She wondered what her father would say. However, Sneax had engaged the Guard with a few well-placed shots from her sling, so flight had become impossible. The Guard knew that something was up, and though no one was hurt, the chase was on in full. Melanie McGonagall soon lit the area with the power of the sun god.
Sneax is gonna get caught! Elaina realized. This is all my fault.
Elaina knew that her friend needed her, needed the distraction that she was supposed to provide, but all she could do was stare down at the disaster unfolding below.
Get a grip, Elaina, she told herself. Calm down. Master Marconi always says that a wizard is calm in the face of adversity. Be calm now. Think!
Elaina took a deep breath. Slowly she began gathering power to herself again.
Sneax was almost at the end of her race, and she knew it. She'd twisted and dodged and slid and hid for what seemed like an eternity. There were now a dozen burly guardsmen after her, including Thorin Battleaxe himself, who directed the chase. Sneax had managed to get away from nearly disastrous situations three separate times, but the ruins of the Old Church were only so big, and once the Guard caught up to her, that would be it. Sneax hid beneath a bit of stairs out where the ruins of the Old Church’s pillars had once given way to the main sanctuary. At one time, the pillars had defined an avenue leading up to the church’s main steps, but when the roof fell in, the pillars were knocked in every direction, leaving a maze of fallen stone. If it had been dark, Sneax knew that she could have gotten away. But Melanie McGonagall's spell had put an end to the darkness, and Sneax had reached the end of the maze. The only thing left was the depths of the ruins themselves, and Sneax couldn't afford to lead the Guard there. That’s where Lassiter was with his men.
This was it. Sneax was hiding out for the last time, and when they finally caught her, she going to have to make up some crazy story and hope for the best. Odds were she'd spend at least one night in jail, and if there was a fine, she might never see daylight again.
She looked out. The guardsmen still hadn't seen her, but it was obvious that they'd worked out where she had to be. They spread out in a skirmish line, looking warily towards the main section of the ruins. Thorin stood behind them with his shield out, but he'd stowed his axe and was using his free hand to direct his men. Sneax loaded another sling stone, though at that moment she wasn't exactly sure what she was going to do with it.
On the roof of the Old Church, Elaina finally got her breathing under control. Her heart slowed. She began casting again, and this time her spell-weave came together. She could do this. She felt a moment of triumph, but then she blocked it out. This was no time for feelings. She had to maintain her focus and shape the magic into the thing that she wanted it to be. Sneax needed her. More to the point, Elaina needed to prove to herself that she could overcome her anxiety and her fear. If she was ever going to be more than some helpless rich girl, she had to learn to master moments like this one. If she couldn’t control herself, she’d never be able to control her future.
At last, Elaina spoke a word of power. A torrent of magic exploded into the night.
“There she is!”
One of the guardsmen saw Sneax, and she made ready to bolt. The others cried out and started running towards her. Sneax ducked, but then there were hands everywhere, holding her tight.
“I've got her!”
“Hold her down!”
The Old Church erupted in arcane fire, and thunder split the night. Sneax could do nothing but stare in stunned silence. The guardsmen were similarly shocked. Suddenly nobody was looking at Sneax, and the hands that held her relaxed a fraction of an inch.
That was all Sneax needed.
She squirmed free and dove, rolling between the feet of confused and concussed guardsmen. Even Thorin Battleaxe was caught staring up at the Old Church and Elaina's magical display. Sneax let fly with her sling. The stone struck Melanie McGonagal on the side of the head, and she went down like a cut tree. Sneax winced. Apollo's light faltered and winked out, and then Sneax was off and running. Thorin roared at his men, but it was too late. Sneax knew they weren’t going to catch her. Not in a maze of ruins in the middle of the night.
Elaina ducked behind the lip of the Old Church’s roof. She was not particularly surprised when Sneax appeared next to her a few minutes later.
“Not a bad bit of distracting, if I do say so myself,” Elaina said. She felt inordinately proud of herself.
Sneax patted her on the shoulder. “Your timing was perfect. Another moment and they'd have had me trussed up like a High Fair goose. Why if I didn't know better, I'd say you were trying to... Wait! Do you hear that?”
Elaina heard yelling and then the crash of metal on metal. “Fighting,” she said. “The Guard must have found Russ’s men.”
Sneax’s eyes went wide. “Come on!”
Sneax led Elaina down the side of the roof, moving as quickly as she dared. Elaina still couldn’t move very quickly in her mage’s robes, and Sneax couldn’t help feeling like her friend’s night vision had gotten worse than it had been before. By the time they got there, the fighting was over. Thorin and his men were wholly consumed by what had happened, so sneaking up on them was so easy that even Elaina managed it, though Sneax made no effort to get particularly close. They saw that a couple of Thorin’s men had taken minor wounds, but it looked like they were mostly cuts. Only one man who was down, and even he was obviously still breathing. He cursed loudly when one of Thorin’s men began struggled with the buckles on his armor. Another prepared bandages and a canteen of water.
Sneax could hear Thorin from where they hid. “…darned fire elves!” he was saying. “When we got that tip down at the station, I was afraid it was gonna be bad, but fire elves?! What’re fire elves doing in Wanderhaven? If word’a this gets out, it could start a panic.”
That was certainly true. Known primarily for their penchant for human sacrifice, fire elves were a kind of bogeymen to Wanderhaven’s common folk. Supposedly their sacrifices were required by Hephaestus, their evil volcano god, but it was confusing because in Wanderhaven Hephaestus was worshiped as the god of fire and the forge. He wasn’t known for having any kind of a nasty streak. But the Fire Islands had a bunch of volcanoes, so perhaps things were different when one lived so close to the physical manifestation of a particular god’s power. Sneax had heard from some of the Docks’s older merchantmen that fire elves were talented sailors and tradesmen from down near the Southern Continent, but she’d never seen—or even thought about seeing—one until that very night. Still, the rumors made sense. There had to be a reason why Draks, who was terrifying but obviously intelligent and even refined in his own way, would deal with scum like Russitan Lassiter. Lassiter was probably the only man in Wanderhaven who’d have anything to do with a fire elf.
However, the fire elves were Thorin’s concern. Sneax was more worried about Lassiter—and whether or not he was going to try to cut off her ears for letting Thorin and his men get too close. She backed away quietly, grabbing Elaina’s sleeve.
“Come on,” she whispered. “And be quiet!”
The fighting had occurred perilously close to where Lassiter’s men had been stashed with the Distilled Tiger Essence. As she made her way back towards the center of the ruins, Sneax started to worry about what she was going to find. Would Lassiter be mad? Would Draks be waiting with his swords drawn? Would he try to sacrifice her to Hephaestus? Sneax wanted to flee, but there was no escaping Russ, and even if there was, what if he went after Elaina? Sneax couldn’t stand the thought of her best friend being hurt on her account. The only thing to do was to face up to it and to see what was what. If Sneax lost one of her ears, well...
She shuddered. She couldn’t even think about it.
When Sneax and Elaina got to the center of the ruins, no one was there. Lassiter’s men were long gone, though it was easy to tell where they’d been. Burnt cigars littered the area, and there was one spot where blood had stained the temple stones. It wasn’t a lot, thankfully. Of the fire elves, there was no sign whatsoever. Sneax was only partly relieved. The fact that there was blood meant that there had been fighting, and from where she stood, Sneax could still see the torchlight from Thorin’s men. The only thing that was still where it had been was Lassiter’s crate, the one that had held the Distilled Tiger Essence.
The crate was open.
The Distilled Tiger Essence was gone!