Continued from last month’s project, here are two more snippets from Mia, Descendent of Monsters. I should figure out a way to number these so it will be easier in the future to start from the beginning. . .
Also a BIG thanks to my Facebook weapons nerd friends! I think once you read this, you’ll know which weapon I needed help finding ;)
Also also, yes, I realize that I refer to my husband as M Fox and the name of this character is Mia Fox. I have a thing for foxes and apparently no imagination, okay? Sue me. ;)
An Old Dog
After decades of mercenary work, Colin Skydance earned a reputation as the best, and his other titles included unapologetic scoundrel and great lover of women. Colin was fortunate enough to have been hired by the winning side of the Horde War, but those in the know were very much aware that it could have gone either way.
After retiring, Colin had settled in a remote wooded area in a self-made cabin. One storming night, just as he was musing how the sound of rain was preferable to the usual silence, he heard a knock at the front door. His daughter was visiting her brother up north, but even if she was in town, she would never knock. Intrigued, Colin slid aside a small panel next to the door, undetectable from the outside, and appraised the visitor.
Drenched with rain, chest heaving. Tired, but excellent posture — a warrior. Shorter and younger than himself, long black hair tied back, robes. Thick blade tied to his waist. A Nishen warrior. Colin threw open the door.
“Well come in, come in, don’t be shy,” he said cheerily. “Just because you’ve been sent to kill me doesn’t mean all civility should be thrown out the window.”
The visitor stood awkwardly in the door frame for a moment, taking in the legendary mercenary. Colin had managed to keep a full head of curls, now the color of steel. Thick black eyebrows brooded over his light blue eyes, striking even in the dark and the rain. He still had the body of an agent, lean and tight. Colin made a grand sweeping gesture toward the hearth and the visitor entered, taking care to wipe his flat shoes on the “Grandpa’s House” doormat.
It was a solitary man’s cabin. There was one large room with a rug and some seating, a simple stove, open shelving. Lamps still running on oil hung off sconces on the walls, the sticky smell mingling with the scent of burning wood. Above, a dark loft with a wooden ladder.
“You can sit if you like, though considering your damp state, I’d prefer you stand. Oh, and not on the rug.”
“This is very hard for me to say,” said the visitor, his voice husky, on the brink of becoming hoarse.
“I can imagine. Who sent you?”
“No one sent me.”
“Revenge, then?” Colin meandered to his liquor cabinet and thoughtfully selected a bottle and a glass. “I suppose I’ve killed someone important to you. I am very sorry for that. Whiskey?”
“No. You haven’t killed anyone I know or care about. I’m here because of your daughter.”
Colin’s face remained impassive as he steadily poured himself another drink. “Elin can take care of herself. Go after her if you wish.”
“You misunderstand. She saved my life.”
A smirk tugged at Colin’s cheek and he raised his glass, careful not to show his relief. “That’s my girl.”
“She said I should pay my debt to you.” The visitor unsheathed his sword, made of black metal with a divot down the center, painted red. He held it flat in front of him and knelt before Colin.
The old mercenary slowly finished his second drink, his blood warming. Upon his last swallow, he hurled the tumbler at the visitor’s head and kicked the offered sword into his own hand. The visitor caught the glass and back flipped into a fighting stance.
Colin’s voice was smooth and low. “You know who I am, what I’ve done, and what I can do to you, yet you knock on my front door with little to no proof of what you claim. That’s pretty damn remarkable, if you ask me.”
“Elin said she’d send word of my arrival.”
“Well she didn’t. Who raised her to be so inconsiderate, tsk tsk.”
“My name is Soma Ikarukesh. Your daughter Elin Fox Skydance and I were on a job that went bad. She could have left me behind, but she didn’t. I live only because of her courage.”
“You know her name and you know she’s got stones. You and everyone else.”
Colin lunged, slicing viciously with the black sword. Ikarukesh noted that the mercenary’s technique was excellent, even with a Nishen blade. The Nishen warrior dodged the attacks, occasionally using the tumbler to deflect with perfect accuracy.
“Elin saved you? I should raise that girl’s allowance.”
Ikarukesh continued to evade Colin’s onslaught. Only when he realized that the old man had no intention of slowing down did he finally draw a black short sword from his person and attempt to push Colin back.
Colin felt the power shift and knew he wouldn’t outlast the younger fighter. With a swiftness that defied his age, he leapt backward against a wall and banged his fist on a knot in the wood. Something clicked and a loaded oxybeles magically unfolded itself from the wall. Colin swiveled the crossbow to point at Ikarukesh.
The Nishan warrior stared levelly at Colin. “How far would you like this to go, Skydance?”
“You’re holding back, Soma. Why?”
“I told you. Elin gave my life to you.”
“That’s very romantic, but I have no use for you. And I’m still not convinced you’re telling the truth.”
“You fell in love with Ember under a peach tree. She took the first bite.”
Colin’s face softened for a split second and it was all Ikarukesh needed. In one fluid motion, he jumped onto the top of the crossbow and held his blade at Colin’s throat, pinning him against the wall.
Colin smiled grimly. “You waited an awfully long time to use the magic words. You must be very special indeed. I yield.”
Ikarukesh did not move, his black eyes boring into Colin’s blue. “Elin impressed upon me that they were not to be used lightly. How many other weapons do you have hidden in this house?”
“Makes for some very exciting family get-togethers, I tell you.” Colin reached behind and pulled a lever. The floor disappeared beneath Ikarukesh, who managed to stop himself from falling by bracing his legs in a split on either side of the hole. Immediately a sandbag dropped from the rafters on top of him and he disappeared into the floor.
Colin wandered back to his whiskey glass and then back to the trapdoor, staring down at the Nishen warrior.
“You make it? Sometimes they don’t, you know. Most embarrassing.”
“Yes,” said Ikarukesh, miraculously conscious and assessing whether he had broken anything. He gingerly tried to shift the sandbag off his body. He would be feeling the six foot fall for weeks.
“Well done! While you’re down there and relaxed, why don’t you tell me more about the job with my daughter?”
Ikarukesh sighed and stared up at the old mercenary’s silhouette. He couldn’t see his face, but he assumed Colin was smug. “We were hired to damage the goods of a rival business owner. You know well that I cannot disclose exactly who. I will say that the novelty dessert industry is far more treacherous than you might expect. Unfortunately our scout had been bought and we were walking into an ambush.” Ikarukesh watched Colin disappear from the square of light and heard a glass being slammed down, followed by a rush of liquid. “There were ten of us-”
“Against how many?”
“I cannot be sure,” said Ikarukesh, carefully flexing a leg, “but I would estimate close to twenty on the ground and maybe a dozen aerialists. Elin had been in charge of site map memorization and fortunately had done her job well. She found a grate and we crawled through the ducts. We had already lost two agents by this point.”
Ikarukesh stood, satisfied that he was solid on his feet. He quickly climbed out from the trapdoor. He gratefully accepted his weapons from Colin before continuing. “They tried to smoke us out while systematically shutting down vents. We were blind, hardly able to breathe. She found an exit before they had a chance to block it.” The young warrior closed his eyes. “The scout had not been the only leak. Another agent betrayed us and began firing from behind as soon as Elin kicked out the grating into the open air. I was wounded by a crossbow bolt before I could take him down. In the smoke and the black, I couldn’t see who it was. But Elin got him.”
Colin allowed himself a silent moment of horror and pride. He cleared his throat. “I assume the other leaks have been dealt with.”
“I took care of it personally,” snapped Ikarukesh with a furious glint in his eyes. “Elin could have run with the others, but she stayed and killed my would-be murderer. I owe Elin my life. . . and she gave it to you.”
Colin laughed, “Don’t look so depressed. Fortunately for you, your life is useless to me. However, if you teach her what you know, then you will be guarding her for the rest of her life, something I care a great deal more about.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I only know a few Nishen parlor tricks. I want you to teach her to be as good as you. You’re resourceful and your swordsmanship is exquisite. I know crossbows and projectiles are all the rage now, but nothing beats steel.”
“But in the vents-”
“You had a bad day, it happens. And you’re good at being lucky, which is another valuable skill. Finally, and most important, I know she trusts you.”
“She is too old to be trained in Nishen.”
“Why are you arguing with me? I thought you live only for her. Bloody hell, that is so sickening to say aloud. . .”
Ikarukesh shrugged, trying not to wince as he eased himself into a chair. “Forgive me for saying, but further arming your family with more military knowledge will only escalate the types of enemies they come up against. I am sorry to say it will not make her less of a target.”
Colin sighed and suddenly he looked very old. He finished his drink. “If our family had a symbol, it would be a great bloody whirlpool.”
Ikarukesh stared at Colin for a long moment. “I will do it.”
“Elin, darling, I appreciate the gesture of sending me your life debt partner, but I explicitly remember forbidding you to take on any jobs.”
“Daddy, a girl has to make a living.”
“You’re intelligent and capable, there are hundreds of ways-”
“This is what I choose. It was good enough for you.”
“And you see where I am.”
“But I learned from the best!”
“Flattery will get you nowhere. You were careless in your choice of client and you lied to me. You said you were visiting Rhett.”
“I am! This was just a side gig. He and Sarah and the kids say hello, by the way-”
“Elin, if I find out you’ve taken another job, I am going to come out of retirement.”
“Oh hey, what did you end up doing with Kesh?”
“You’ll find out in good time. Did you hear me, young lady?”
“Alright, alright. I’ll stop.”
“I hate these damn contraptions. I can’t see your face. Promise me, Elin. Promise me you’ll stop.”
“Daddy, I promise I will take care of myself.”
“Daddy, I have to run, Artie and Saga want me in the living room for some stupid performance, you know how kids are.”
“Yes. I do.”
“I love you, Daddy.”
“Goodbye my darling. Now I forget, I just hang this up and that’s it?”