Monday, June 26, 2017

Black Hound snippet: smart dog

For the readers who've tormented themselves re-reading the solitary snippet (Wince! I know what that's like), here's some relief.
Yes, I'm better. A standing desk has solved some of my problems, and I'm about to have a quieter work environment, with all teens busy for the summer. Short of being struck by a stray bit of space junk, I should be able to focus on work. Dear God, please, I just want to work...
With one thing and another, this book is taking the longest of any I've ever written. On the bright side, spring allergies were managed the best ever, I have high quality bluetooth headphones to drown out the construction that's in my back yard and I've lost 16 lbs with calorie counting! I'm hoping that this year will be mas excellente. Most importantly, we'll hope the snippets come a bit faster.... 

From the next Convergence book. No release date yet.

Black Hound

After Ike’s wife Katie had fussed over and fed her, Rue went to her loft over Ike’s industrial size garage and took a nap. It had been a while since she’d worked up to her magical potential, and she was still groggy when she woke. Half-heartedly, she tinkered with a robotic cheetah, but gave up when she found she had only a gnat’s worth of power left. Clearly, she was going to have to balance money making work with anchoring the Yard, but that was a problem for later.
Many people assumed that as a metal mage, Rue could simply pull gold and precious metals out of the ground at will. While she could, deposits of any significance rarely occurred near pools of metal magic, limiting what she could access. That, and dwarves had an uncanny affinity for finding and claiming easily accessed deposits. They viewed mages like her as interlopers and were aggressive about driving her away from their territory.
Mage she might be, but she wasn’t going to traipse through the hostile wilderness seeking gold.
Fortunately, there were many opportunities for a clever girl to earn money; the copper wire in the Yard would be a good start.
Restless, she moved to the window to watch the sunset. Early fall had brought chill winds that made eighty degrees feel brisk, but it was stuffy in her room, so she cracked a window. The paved yard was neat, but filled with the typical mechanic’s collection of cars in various stages of repair. Ike and Rue both had black thumbs, but Katie had filled half barrels around the tiny yard with vegetables and some kind of red flower…geraniums? Rue couldn’t remember if that was what they were called, but they were pretty. As she was admiring them, a black dog trotted into view.
Rue hissed. She hated black dogs. “Get out of here! Go on, git!”
The dog panted at her. He sat, staring at her as if daring her to do something.
She narrowed her eyes and considered throwing something, but it was only a dog. Stupid, maybe, but it hadn’t hurt her. She looked around, searching for the big water gun she used to shoo the neighbor’s goat away. The stupid animal was always escaping and was murder on Katie’s garden.
By the time she found it, the dog had disappeared.
Uneasy, Rue rubbed the black mark inside her left wrist. The rune was a daily reminder that not all black hounds were family pets…

“I can help.”
The hound became smoke and reformed into a man. A tall black elf dressed in unrelieved black, he had no visible weapons. Instead of the usual long white hair and teak or gray skin, this elf’s military cut was inky, his skin like carved obsidian. Like all elves, his ears were pointed, but they looked particularly wolfish on him. Midnight eyes gleamed with iridescent green like the feathers of a Cayuga duck.
He didn’t give her time to stare. “Greetings. You’ll want to run; they’re coming.”
She sent a frantic look at the door and then her father, torn. “I can’t,” she whispered, even though she knew she would. Shock and grief insisted she couldn’t leave him like that.
The stranger seemed to understand. “Here.” He waved a hand and smoke rose from her father’s body, leaving a pile of ashes. He closed his hands as if holding an invisible ball and the ash condensed, leaving a smooth gray marble. He scooped it up and thrust it in her hand. “Ashes to ashes, right? Time to run.” Which he did, leaving her to follow.
She had little choice; it was either follow the devil she’d just met or meet some new ones. She ran after him, the precious marble clutched in her hand. Her captors had brought her down a mine shaft in an elevator and though a long series of corridors. The tunnels were dimly lit, smooth stone, and she had no idea where she was.
He sped up, racing around a gently curving corner, and came to an abrupt halt at the lip of a black river.
She skidded to a halt and looked with dread at the dark water. Did he mean to swim it? She could see stone steps on the other side, within swimming distance. She looked at the water with suspicion. Anything could be in there.
“Scared?” He was barely winded and didn’t seem concerned. “I can help.” He pushed her.
It was only a three foot drop, but dark and shocking cold. Her scream was cut off as she hit the water. Freezing water made her lock up, but panic drove her to swim.
“This way,” the elf said, swimming for the stone steps on the far side.
There was no time to debate. She wasn’t fast, but she could swim..something he might have asked before pushing her.
Something slimy brushed her leg. Adrenaline spiked her blood, made her faster. Next to her, something displaced water. She shrieked as whatever it was hit her thigh with bruising force and left a hot line of pain on her calf. She floundered and the elf was there. He muttered a word and there was a hot explosion under the water.
“Swim!” he ordered. As soon as they reached the stairs he seized her arm and tossed her up the steps. She scrambled up, dripping river water, shuddering with terror and cold.
He reached the top before her and hauled her up to the stone road, his hand somehow dry and warm. Behind him, a few dim lights announced the outskirts of a town.
Sure enough, he was bone dry. Stupid, smoke sniffing fiend.
“Are you trying to kill me? What was that?” she rasped as she yanked her hand away. This man was dangerous.
He scanned her, checking for damage. “A pet of sorts. We feed it prisoners,” he said absently.
“So you pushed me in?” she cried.
“So ungrateful. Can you walk on that leg?” He knelt and flicked away her shredded pajamas to check her calf.
She swatted his hands away. “No thanks to you!”
He pinned her with a stare. “You’re welcome to save yourself.”
There was a small silence. Finally she let out a harsh breath. “How do I know this is a rescue?”
“Hm. I suppose I could be luring you to my secret chamber to torture you.” He nodded in approval and stood. “I like it. Suspicion looks good on you.” He tilted his head to the road and began to walk. “This is the way to the prison. Since I’ve already helped a slave escape, I may as well cap the day with a prison break.”
Like it or not, he knew the way out. She limped next to him, bare feet silent on the cold stone. She wanted to retort with a snappy comeback, but she was too busy shivering. The air was as chilly as a root cellar and the water may have washed away the blood from a busy day of murder, but without soap she still smelled like a slaughter house.
Sickened by the reminder of her father’s death, she shivered harder.
He glanced at her. “Unfortunately we’ll have to get you washed and dry first. You won’t get far like this and I won’t be around to nursemaid you if you develop a sniffle. You’ll need clothes, too. The cartoon chickens are creepy.”
She laughed in disbelief. After the day she’d had, he thought her pajamas were creepy? Her laughter sounded so unnatural, it made her uneasy, so she laughed again.
He frowned. “A glass of liquor might be in order. You need something to steady you.”
He cast a bit of glamour to darken her pale skin and lighten her brown hair. If he did anything to hide her blue eyes, she couldn’t tell.
The laundromat he chose was depressingly run down, but it had a shower in back. The lady who ran the place barely glanced up from her TV as she took his money.
The shower tile was cracked and grimy. It had one crusty hand towel hanging on a hook. The soap dispenser on the wall was one third full of harsh orange soap, but the water was blissfully hot.
She blotted her hair with a paper towel when she was done, one eye on the locked door.
There was a quick knock. “Crack the door and grab this bag. I got you some clothes.” There were some baggy sweatpants and a shapeless hoodie, very large, probably from the laundromat lost and found. He’d bought a pair of cheap sandals from the minimart next door. They weren’t warm but at least insolated her sore feet from the cold floor. He handed her a hot sandwich and tea when she stepped out and took her to a cheap hotel.
“Lock the door,” he said sternly. “If you have to rest, sleep lightly. I’ll be back shortly with better clothes and some supplies. The dwarves will know the way out, but there’s snow in the air and you’ll have a long walk. Don’t hesitate to kill if anyone but me comes for you.” He turned to smoke and was gone.
Rue gingerly sat on the bed, wrinkling her nose at the smell of smoke, mildew and other unpleasant things.
She took the marble she’d found in the sweatshirt pocket and held it. She thought she’d dropped it in the river, but somehow the elf must have retrieved it. Why was he helping her? Who was he?
She closed her eyes and brought the fist with the marble to her heart. If felt like her chest was going to crack with pain. What would she do now?

Rue blinked and let go of the memory. It was over; she didn’t need to think about him. She’d been seventeen and naïve when she’d been taken. She was twenty-one now and dwarf trained, more powerful and a lot wiser in the ways of the world.
She’d been in shock, had fallen half in love with her “savior”. Now she knew a dark elf did nothing without a motive. He thought he owned her; she’d like to see him claim her.
She looked with cold intent at the yard, but the dog was truly gone.

Smart dog.

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