“How did we get here?” I ask, swirling a spoon of honey into my tea. At least I think that’s what fills my mug. It’s steaming, black and pungent, but the scent is all wrong. Like hickory and licorice, brewed with rat hair and possibly some old cheese.
“This is how we got here,” Danny Harmon pulls a locket from somewhere under his vest.
He hands it to me, and I turn it over, studying the symbols etched into the silver facings. Celtic wolves leap nose to tail in a perpetual circle on the front. The back is decorated with a knot-work tree, where the roots and boughs feed together in an endless, trance-inducing pattern. The metal hums and sparks with energy. I hand it back to him, and he tucks it away.
We’re sitting on a long, wooden bench in a dark tavern with low ceilings, lit by a handful of oil lamps. Pipe smoke clouds the air. The smell of roasted swine with baked apples wafts off a plate carried to the table behind us. The heady aroma of sweat an onions follows as the body odor of the chef catches up with his brisk walk.
A serving wench leans over Danny, offering him a clear view of her ample bosom while she sets a pewter tankard of a dark, heady ale in front of him. She trails a finger across his chin and bites her lip. An obvious invitation. He gives her a flirty smile and a smack on the ass as she walks away.
I flash him a look and he shrugs his shoulders as if to say, “Eh, it’s all in good fun.”
Somewhere across the tavern, a lute sounds across the din of hearty laughter and boisterous stories of battle and victory.
From the bar, a group of men with long, pointed ears eyes Harmon with interest. They’ve quieted their conversation and focused their curiosity at the quick flash of the amulet. Even though the device is safely stowed, the magical aura must have caught their attention. Their suspicion pours over us as I cast occasional glances at their rough, leather armor. Shields flank them, ready to be scooped up in a hurry. Swords hang at their hips; no peace knots secure them in their scabbards.
“And where is here?” I ask, casting quick glances back to the group of elves.
“I think it’s called Arynton.” Harmon takes a swig of ale from his tankard. He closes his eyes, and his features relax. “Wow, good stuff.” He waves a hand in the air. “This is all kinds of new for me, too. Kessa said to wait here. She’ll be back soon.”
My partner-and-guide in this rough environment fits in every bit as well as I do in his Pacific Northwest summer garb. Fleece over a polo shirt that’s tucked into a pair of cargo shorts. Keens water sandals. Oakley sunglasses hugging the back of his neck for quick access.
The elves stand as one, turning toward us.
“Hail, strangers. From where do you call… originally?” The tallest of the group asks, slowly scanning Harmon.
Their interest with Harmon and his origins has very little to do with his clothing, only somewhat to do with the amulet, but most likely entirely with the energy that dances at edge of his aura. They sense the demon that he fights moment-by-moment for mental control.
One of the elves in the rear of the group casually places his hand on the pommel of his sword.
“Oh, we’ve traveled a long way,” Harmon says, smile lines crease the corners of his mouth, but his eyes stay hard set. “We’re just passing through. Stopped in for a drink, is all. Let me buy you one.”
The elf takes two strides forward. He towers over Harmon by the good length of a hand. Harmon doesn’t seem to notice.
Harmon stands with his feet shoulder-width apart, and clasps his hands together at the waist. “Name’s Danny, and you are?”
“Master of the Docks, Arynton Guard.”
“Interesting name. Guess you always knew what you’d be when you grew up?” Harmon laughs.
The elf does not. He grabs a handful of Harmon’s vest.
I push back in my chair, shooting to my feet.
Another of the guardsmen circles behind me, yanking me back into my seat. He holds a hand clamped over my mouth.
Another elf tosses a magical binding that laces itself around Harmon’s wrists. His eyes widen, but he holds his ground.
“Gentlemen, please!” Emmon pushes through the swinging doorway, bursting in from the outside. “Such hasty unprofessionalism. This is how you treat an esteemed guest upon our shores?”
“What’s it to you, planehawk?” The lead elf asks, holding Harmon as he struggles against the bonds that constrict his wrists.
“These are my guests here in Arynton! They are friends of the Adept. Surely you can find it in your decency to give them safe passage.”
One of the elves pulls his sword halfway. The others glance back and forth at each other. Their leader surveys Emmon but says nothing.
Harmon’s eyes lock with mine and I nod. His hands fly upward, and his fists slam into the elf’s chin knocking him backward.
At the same moment, I bite down on the hand that holds my mouth. The guard behind me cries out in shock and pain, releasing enough of his hold that I’m able to grab his arm and propel him forward with a lunge out of the chair. He slams head-first into the third elf, who drops his sword as he attempts to unleash it fully.
The fourth guardsman bolts out the door.
“With me! Quick!” Emmon shouts, and Harmon and I immediately follow.
Daylight blinds me as we duck into an alley and around a corner, where Emmon slams himself up against a door. “Dammit! Locked!”
Emmon fumbles for a key. The shouts in the distance get closer.
“It’s not going to take them long to figure out which way we went,” I say.
The door opens from the inside, and we push past a scrawny young man with a shock of red curls. Emmon leads us through a maze of tables set with aromatic spices and exotic fruits. There’s no stopping to see what they eat in this place. We have to move.
“Through here,” Emmon says, tossing open a trap door. “Cover us!” He shouts at the kid.
We duck down a steep staircase into a natural cavern below the city. Emmon breaks into a run. Light floods from something he pulls from his pocket. We stick close behind him to stay in the light, trying not to trip over the uneven, hard-packed ground.
He comes to a stop, and I nearly skid into him. Harmon bumps into me and we fall forward. Emmon grabs us and flings us backward. “Careful! You must use caution!”
Emmon reaches out with a wand pulled from the sleeve of his tunic and prods at a spot on the wall. A flash of energy spirals down the cave path ahead of us. I’m reminded of carnival fun houses and almost say so, but we hear the trap door open behind us.
We bolt through the cave until Emmon stops again.
Same wand. Same motion. The energy flashes down the cave in reverse.
It meets its intended target and the trap fires. The walls alight, crackling and sizzling like a giant bug zapper. Flashes of energy rain down on the city guard, and they wail in anguish.
“Solves that problem.” Emmon brushes his hands together and urges us forward into the darkness.
*** *** ***
Most of Rising: Book One of the Adept Cycle takes place in the Pacific Northwest — specifically in the post-card-of-a-town Gig Harbor. It’s urban fantasy from an Earth-centric view. The sequel, Release, enters a whole new realm as Kessa learns the full meaning of becoming Adept, and Harmon explores his darker side. Rising tiptoes into the Ancestral Plane. Release is a wild ride, where this entirely new reality is introduced and its influence upon our own reality is unleashed.
Today’s blog challenge asks us to have a cuppa’ with a character. It’s impossible at this point to have a discussion with either Kessa or Danny without some element of suspense.
They’re in the thick of a realm where the citizens are fully aware of their own, inner demons… and some of them don’t mind the idea of sharing across the planar boundaries.
The battle is bigger. The stakes are higher. And the demons demand Release.
Who has time for tea?