Sneax and Elaina are off to collect a debt for Draks, and already there's trouble. Now they meet Nathaniel, a half-fire elf mercenary, and his companion Maleeka, a giantess of unknown origin. Looks like we may have even more trouble.
The Adventures of Sneax & Elaina Emboo
Part 3: The Priest of Loki
“Gimme the rat, or by all the gods of the Underworld, I’ll gut you where you stand.”
Nathaniel blinked. The girl looked like a fierce, smoke-smudged five-year-old dressed in black combat leathers. Despite the silvered short sword in her hands, he’d not have thought her threatening had he not just seen her dive from the second story of a burning building, only to then slide down the outside gutter like a particularly acrobatic orangutan.
He began unlimbering his shield as a precaution.
Behind him, the man who’d preceded the girl out the window started to stir. The girl took another step closer.
“I’m serious,” she said. “I don’t want any trouble, but that freak owes me money.”
Nathaniel looked at the man. He had a long face and unnatural-looking fur. He also seemed to be recovering from both his fall and from having been very nearly set on fire with remarkable speed. The man was a wererat, then, or some other, similar lycanthrope.
That explains the girl’s silvered sword.
“Maleeka,” Nathaniel said, nodding at the rat.
“Huh?” Maleeka asked. She reached down as though to pick up the wounded rat by the scruff of the neck.
“No, don’t touch it,” Nathaniel said. “Just keep it from leaving.”
Maleeka grunted. She hefted her hammer with casual ease and then dropped it on the rat’s head, right at the base of his neck. There was a sickening crunch. Nathaniel couldn’t help but wince.
He turned back to the girl. “You are Sneakatara Boatman, I presume?”
“What?! How do you—?”
The upper floor of the building exploded, cutting Ms. Boatman off before she could finish her thought. Another girl appeared at the window a moment later and jumped. Nathaniel stared, but the newcomer seemed to fall in slow motion, though she barely seemed conscious.
“Elaina!” Sneax cried.
Nathaniel nodded. “I think you’d best go see to your friend. The rat’s not going anywhere, I assure you.”
* * *
“So let me get this straight,” Sneax said, “you want me to go… where exactly… with you? And you think that we’re gonna somehow leave the day after tomorrow? Because that sounds like definite crazy talk to me.”
“The Isle de Mont Deserette,” Nathaniel replied. “Or that general vicinity, anyway. And it’s not so much a matter of what I want. It’s a matter of what our mutual employer wants. Which is you, apparently, learning the basics of his business outside of this city.”
Sneax shook her head, started to retort, but couldn’t quite find the words. Nothing about the situation made any sense. Two hours had passed since she’d met Nathaniel and his enormously scary bodyguard Maleeka. The pair had undoubtedly helped to retrieve the money Jaxon owed, and they’d similarly helped her carry Elaina back to Sneax’s apartment, but they were still a lot to take in. With his pink skin, two-tone hair, black armor, and courtly manners, everything about Nathaniel made Sneax uncomfortable. His giantess wasn’t any better. Maleeka was the largest person Sneax had ever seen, but that was stretching the definition of a “person” much further than Sneax usually allowed it to go. On top of that, Nathaniel had come out with this crazy story about Draks and some sailing trip up to the northernmost corner of the Kingdom’s frontier.
Sneax couldn’t wrap her head around it. She was tired and frustrated, and this was a new level of crazy, even for her. She needed some time to process the events of the day and some space from her admittedly helpful but decidedly weird new friends. The idea of leaving Wanderhaven with them was by far the most off-putting thing she’d ever been forced to consider.
“Look,” she said, “it’s not that I don’t appreciate your help today, really. But there is no way I’m just gonna up and leave with you. I don’t know you, and one good turn and a couple of healing draughts for my friend aren’t nearly enough to convince me that we ought to travel to the ends of the Known World together. Besides, even with those potions, you can see that Elaina’s in no condition to travel. How’re we gonna leave in two days?”
Nathaniel brandished the letter up he’d brought from Draks. Sneax had already read it—twice—but she’d set it aside and didn’t particularly want to be reminded of it just then.
“Your friend’s condition is irrelevant,” Nathaniel said. “Our mutual employer has made his wishes known. He is neither kindly nor generous to those who refuse his instructions.”
“That’s not—” Sneax began.
“Fair doesn’t come into it,” Nathaniel said. He gestured around the room. “All of this—everything that you have here—can and will be taken from you if you attempt to stand against the fire elf’s will. I think you know this already. Believe me, this is only the beginning of what Draks will do against you if you give him cause.”
“But I have responsibilities! I can’t just up and leave.”
“Draks seems to think that you can,” Nathaniel replied. “His letter stated as much, and I expect that he is correct.”
“But this is crazy!”
Nathaniel stood. “It is a lot to think about, I grant you. For now, merely consider what I have said. We’ll speak again in the morning.”
Sneax stood to let them out, and when they’d gone, she breathed a sigh of relief. She sat down and looked at Elaina. Her friend still looked pale and exhausted, but Nathaniel’s healing potions had seen to the worst of her injuries.
Sneax said, “You’ve been awfully quiet.”
“What is there for me to say?”
“I don’t know. Something. I mean, do you want to go to this place he’s been talking about, this Isle de Mont-whatever-it-is? I figured you’d be the first person to protest an assignment like this. You hate working for Draks.”
“I am not the one who works for Draks, Sneakatara. That’s you. I’m just your friend—though apparently not the kind you listen to. Like, ever.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means we’re supposed to be friends. But it’s never like that with you, is it? You just expect I’m gonna follow you around, no matter what. Frankly, I’m getting a little tired of it.”
“Come on, you know that’s not true.”
“Yeah? Then what was that at Jaxon’s place? You said you were gonna give Jaxon and his guys a chance to talk.”
“They were gonna kill us!”
“You barged into their house at dagger-point! How’d you think they would react?”
“All Jaxon had to do was pay what he owed.”
“Gods, Sneax! Do you even listen to yourself? Ever? You almost got me killed today, and it doesn’t seem like you care. What’s the matter with you?”
“Of course I care,” Sneax said. “How can you say that?”
“Then quit,” Elaina replied. “Quit taking these chances. Quit dragging me along with you. Quit Draks and this whole stupid business. It can’t possibly lead anywhere good, and you know it.”
“What’d’you want me to do?” Sneax cried. “Go back to living on the streets? There is no way in Hades I’m doing that! You think today was bad? Try sleeping in an alley on a night when it snows. Try eating that snow just to keep your belly from hurting because that’s how hungry you are, and snow’s all you got! I’ve got a life now, Elaina, and I am not gonna give that up. No way.”
“So what?” Elaina fired back. “I’m just supposed to follow you around while you play back-alley thug for a stinking fire elf? That makes sense to you? I mean, it’s not like Draks is some nice guy. You know what he is. He’s using you, Sneax.”
“It still beats starving.”
“Come on. You have more options than that. Melanie MacGonaghal at the Temple of Apollo would—”
“No! I can’t believe you’d even say that.”
“No! You don’t know what you’re saying, Elaina. If you did…” Sneax shook her head. “I’m not going back there. Draks may be a fire elf and a gangster, but I don’t care. At least with him, I have somecontrol over my life. Living at the temple—”
“You call this control? Draks is controlling you! It’s exactly what you always said you didn’t want, and you’re giving it to him.”
“You’re missing the point.”
“Am I? He’s gonna get you killed, Sneax.”
“He put a sword in my hand, and he taught me how to use it. If I get killed, that’s on me. And y’know what? So far, I’m good. I can handle this, whether you believe in me or not.”
“Can you?” Elaina cried. “Seems like I’m the one who did most of the handling today. And I’m the one who almost got killed.”
“I said I was sorry.”
“Sorry’s not good enough, Sneakatara! Goddess Athena, we almost burned to death back there!”
“What do you want me to say?!”
“That you realize how crazy this is!”
But Sneax wouldn’t say that, wouldn’t even look at her friend. She wasn’t going to give up what she’d worked so hard to get, not even for Elaina.
A long moment of silence passed.
“Fine,” Elaina said. “If that’s the way you want it.” She shook her head and got to her feet. She started for the door but stopped before she reached it. “I can’t go with you, Sneax. Not this time. I love you and I wish you the best, really, but I don’t want to go, and even if I did, there’s no way I could. Father would never allow it, and I can’t afford to miss that kind of time from my lessons with Master Marconi. This time you’re on your own.”
Sneax suddenly felt sick. “I haven’t even said yes yet.”
“You will,” Elaina replied. “You just got through telling me all the reasons why. So I guess I’ll see you when you get back.”
Elaina turned back towards the door. “Be careful who you trust out there, Sneax. This guy Nathaniel, he’s not just some weird-looking clown. He’s half-fire elf at the very least, and there’s a reason why Draks trusts him. Be mindful of that. There’s more to this guy than I think you’ve realized.”
“I can’t believe you’re leaving like this,” Sneax said.
“I can’t believe you’re letting me,” Elaina replied.
* * *
Two days later, Sneax stood at the Argo’s railing amidships. She looked down at Elaina Emboo, who stood on the docks looking up.
Things between them would never be the same between them again.
*******Want to know what happens next?
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Book 1: Sneakatara Boatman & the Priest of Loki
Book 2: Sneakatara Boatman & the Crown of Pluto