All the Crown Jewels. Part One

The entrance to the tunnel was his only way out, and it was filled with dwarves. He told her that this was a really bad idea and like always, she managed to wrap him around her little finger.

This was going to be an easy score, she said.

They won’t even know that they were there, she said.

Don’t be a coward, she said. This was going to be the heist of a lifetime.

Yeah right.

Now like always, he was left holding the bag, quite literally at the moment, and Kara was nowhere to be seen. Typical. One day he was going to learn that she was going to bring him nothing but trouble and that she was going to be his downfall. He knew this in his head, but damn it, other parts of his body disagreed and here he was yet again. All she had to do was smile that smile and like a bloody fool, he would end up doing whatever it was that she wanted doing. Kara knew exactly how to play him and he was starting to hate her for it.

One thing was in his favour, they didn’t know that he was here, yet. It was only a matter of time before some one discovered that the idol was missing. He had planned on being far away when that happened, but right now, there were a dozen or so dwarves standing between him and freedom.

He shrank back into the shadows and prayed to the laughing god for away out of this mess alive. He didn’t even want to think about what they would do to him if he got caught. After all, this was the most sacred relic of their faith and not only was he a heretic, he wasn’t even of the same race. He smiled to himself. If, by the blessing of the laughing god of thieves, he could pull this off, he would be named as one of the greatest thieves who ever lived.

This wasn’t the time for dreaming though. Everything had to happen in the right order. Never count the gold until you are away and free, Snark, he told himself. Stopping to count the gold when you have the constables on your trail is what gets good thieves caught.

He watched then from the shadows and cursed. The dwarves were calm and there was no sense of urgency or alertness to their actions. The theft hadn’t been discovered, but they were not moving on either. What he really needed was something to get their attention. For that kind of thing, he really needed his partner in crime and she was nowhere to be seen. The idea of going deeper into the underground didn’t appeal to him, it might be days or weeks before he would see the sun, if ever again, but there wasn’t really another choice. This was still the only way out, and it was only a matter of time before one of those dwarves looked in his direction at the wrong moment.

Snark jumped out of his skin when a hand tapped him on his shoulder. He spun around, his hand automatically going for his dagger, and meet laughing emerald eyes. He slowly let his relieved breath out.

She tilted her head and smile impishly. Her slender fingers flittered about in the intricate silent language of thieves. What are you still doing here? I thought that you would have left long before now.

He motioned towards the gaggle of dwarves milling about between them and the tunnel’s entrance in answer.

Her gaze followed his gesture and she shrugged. So? She rolled her eyes at him. What of them?

Snark shifted the weight of the bag so that he could reply, scowling all the while. The movement of his fingers flowed as gracefully as her’s despite their burden. They are between us and the way out. There is no way to sneak past them. The passage is too well-lit.

Details, details. She signed back.

Kara, as much as he loved her, was going to get him killed. The marker for his grave was going to read, “Here lies Snark. A good man who was lead to his death by a woman’s wiles. May he rest in peace.”

Do you know what they do to heretic’s here? Snark frowned at her. When it comes to their religion, dwarves are not a forgiving race.

Oh shush. Her fingered danced in fount of his face. It isn’t as bad as all that, besides. She tilted her head and graced him with her most beguiling smile. I have an idea.

Oh gods, he thought. I am surely going to die.

This wasn’t a typical dwarven city. It was much smaller and less grand than the great crags that he was accustomed to seeing in the north. He wouldn’t have dared to even attempt to steal anything from there. Foolish, he might very well be, however suicidal he was not. The dwarves their selves didn’t even speak the same language and everything else just felt more primitive. They had just as much treasure though. Gold was gold no matter what shape it was in and jewels sparkled just as much. The tunnels and pathways wound just as deep into the mountain, Now, that is what was really bothering him the most.

Snark just wasn’t built to spend any great deal of time underground. The mere though of the tons of rock that hung over his head was enough to send his heart racing and make his hands shake. It just wasn’t natural for any sane person to like having stone rather than sky above their head.

He did his best to put all thought of the ceiling from him mind and concentrated of following Kara back into the depths of the dwarven city. He followed her fleeting form as she kept to the fringes and found pathways that even the dwarves seldom used. The shadows were their friend and of those there was no shortage. He wasn’t a tall man by any means and Kara was just a mere slip of a girl, however, there was no chance of either of them being mistaken for dwarves should they be seen. They were both too tall and too slender.

It wasn’t until they came to the great iron gates of king’s palace loomed before him in all of their glory that he realized just what might be going through that pretty little red head of hers. Snark skidded to a halt and stared at the sight. The gates were thick and heavy, heavy in the way that only dwarves would build, which was bad enough. What really caused the hair on the back of his neck stand on end were the thin lines of eldritch force that shimmered before his eyes.

These were not the elegant spidery thin lines and glyphs that he was accustomed to seeing. These were set in blocky runes. They were solid, square and utterly impossible for him to read.

Snark snatched at Kara’s cloak and spun her around to face him.

“What?” she asked. He cringed as her soft voice bounced though the darkness and he clapped a hand over her mouth as fast as the words had left her lips. Laughter shone from her eyes as she gently pried his fingers from her face. “No one here can hear us silly.”

“Are you insane?” He growled at her in a hushed whisper. “Do you really want us to break into the palace?”

“Well, no.” Kara tilted her head in thought. “The treasury is where the crown jewels are kept. I think.”

His hands flew to his own mouth and he stomped his foot. It took every inch of his will power and training to keep himself silent.

The distant sounds of boots hitting the pavement caught their ears. Kara pushed them both deeper into the shadows and sighed.

It’s a great plan. She signed. Any minute now they are going to discover that the idol is gone. This is the middle of their high holy days after all. When that happens every dwarf is going to be out for blood.

Yeah. He agreed. Ours.

Yeah. Kara continued. And when that happens all but the most minimal guard will be sent to the gates and every other way out of the city. Why? Because that is what a good thief would do. No one would ever dream that we stayed to rob the royal treasury, much less steal the crown. It would be almost unthinkable and that is why they wouldn’t even think to look for us in the palace itself. We could swipe them, lie low and when they are searching the city for us.

A slow grin started to creep on to his face. We use the shock and confusion to escape the city.

Exactly. She grinned.

Okay, he thought to himself. It wasn’t that bad a plan. It would give them a far better chance of freeing themselves from the dwarven city with their necks intact. The odds just went from impossible to slim.

They turned their attention to the iron gate that arose before them. The new-found plan was simple, but implementing it wasn’t going to be. Snark studied the gates more closely with practiced eyes. It was clear that they would not be able to slip in through the front, which wasn’t a surprise. With the extremely rare exception, it was never a good idea to walk in the front door. A good thief always slips in through the most unexpected way, and that was what he was looking for.

He was ready for the challenge. They couldn’t go around, because the gate was set within the substance of the mountain itself. There was no wall to climb over and no window to climb into. It was a puzzle that was starting to fascinate him, if only because his life was depending on it.

The city shuddered with the sudden sound of blaring horns and pounding drums. Kara swore under her breath and pulled Snark back into that ally by the scruff of his neck.

They appeared almost from nowhere. Dozens of dwarves marching two a breast, sometimes three where the passage would allow it. Their armour was polished to a near mirror shine and the light from the lamps glinted from the sharp edges of their axes. On each chest the stamp of the royal house could be seen. There was a good chance that these solders were those who served and protected the king. They would be the elite, the best of the best, and they were marching away from the palace.

Snark peered around the corner of the building, taking care to not be seen. He didn’t need Kara’s tugging on his shirt to remind him that he shouldn’t stick his head out too far.

What are you doing? She frowned at him as her hands flashed the words before his eyes. Do you want to get us killed?

Snark shook his head and signed back. No, he replied. I just need to see where they are coming from is all.

Why?

He rolled his eyes at her. Because, his hands moved very slowly and deliberately as if he were signing to an apprentice who had yet to master the silent language. I think that this is the royal guard and the are marching from the palace. Not towards. They are coming from somewhere.

So?

He blinked. If they have a way out besides the gate, then we have a way in without being seen.

Kara’s eyes lit up, and he turned his attention back to the marching dwarves. He didn’t get a good idea of how many of them there were, but that didn’t really matter. What mattered is that they appeared to be going away from the palace and towards the centre of the city where the high temple stood. Some clever thief did steal their most holy artifact after all.

When the last of them passed by the pair of them slide from the depths of the shadows to peer down the passage. It looked like every other street in the city and at first glance it appeared to be unchanged. But as they watched, a pair of guardsmen surveyed the area and went back to their posts.

“And that is our way in.” Kara whispered into his ear. “We just have to get past them.”

“Easier said than done.” Snark murmured. “I think that we are going to need a distraction of some kind. I would suggest that you get their attention and lead them off somewhere, but that would give the plan away, and both of us need to get through those doors besides.”

“Or we could look for another way in.” Kara suggested. “If there is one door, there are bound to be others. In a cavern this size, there is bound to be vents to bring the air in. Maybe we could use one of those.”

Horn’s blared somewhere in the city again. The cavern walls of the city bounced the sounds around and made it difficult to pin point exactly where they were coming from. They couldn’t see the dwarven solders and guardsmen, but from the rhythmic pounding of boots on pavement that echoed through the ally, Snark could tell that they were getting close. While the dwarves were not searching for them within the heart of the city, it just wouldn’t do for the pair of them to be seem. It was absolutely essential that they remain unseen. Snark wanted the dwarves to think that they had escaped the city and to take their search out there.

Kara nudged him in his ribs. “Look.” She whispered. “I think that they are leaving. Foolish dwarves.”

Snark turned his attention back to the gate. She was right. While he was distracted by the blaring horns, a commander of some sort had arrived and was furiously yelling at the guards at their post. He couldn’t understand a word of what was being said, but it was clear from the waving of arms and stomping of feet, that the commander wasn’t having a good day. While it was impossible for him to understand exactly what was being said, Snark had a fairly good idea of what was going on. When the commander was done, he and the two guards followed the path of the column and disappeared into the shadows.

“Quick.” Kara whispered into his ear. “How fast can you pick a lock?”

Snark smirked. “Faster than you.”

They took a moment to be sure that no dwarven eyes were peering their way, then darted over to the door. It was made from a solid wood. Snark suspected that it was iron oak, but he couldn’t really tell because of the poor light. He didn’t really care much about the door. What interested him more was the stout lock that was embedded in it.

With dwarves being a paranoid lot, the locks that they make are the best of the best. High merchants, aristocrats and anyone else with anything of value for that matter, always paid top coin to get their hands on good dwarven locks. Which was why, Snarl had spent countless hours learning the art of opening them without leaving a trace. He pulled the specialized picks from his pocket and moments later they were inside with the door closed and secured behind them.

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Into the Wilds

They were close. She could hear the hounds baying as they caught her scent. She could smell the musk of the hunters who followed them. If they got too close, there would be no loosing them. They would catch her, then kill her.

She gathered all four feet beneath her and ran. She had no time for anything else. There would be no backtracking, no laying down of false trails, or for any of the other tricks that would throw them off her scent. She had no time.

Her world was nothing more than the pounding of her heart, the rhythm of her feet hitting the ground and the trees that rushed by.

Her only hope was to put as much forest between herself and them. She didn’t dare think about who they were, or what they had meant to her. She couldn’t afford to let the grief consume her. Her life depended on it.

It didn’t take long for her to for the hunters to fall behind. The same could not be said for the hounds. The dogs were almost nipping on her heels. No matter how hard she ran, they were still closing the distance between them. These dogs had been trained to relentlessly run down prey. They had been conditioned to do so from the day they were born. She has only had a few hours to learn how to be a wolf.

If only there was a creek or river that she could use to make them loose her scent. If only there was time for her to change back into a girl. If only she knew how.

Her only hope was to get as deep into the forest as she could and prey that there was a point where the hunters would not pass beyond.

From the time before she could walk, she had been told stories about the things in the forest. Those tales wound themselves inside her head. Her aunt had filled the evenings with yarns of the dark and unnatural things that lurked in the shadows of the trees. Things that always waited to pounce on the unwary.

Naughty children were particularly delicious, she had often been told.

She had no idea if any of it was true, and it didn’t matter. There might be something dreadful in the wilds, and then, there might be nothing. It might kill her, and then, maybe it wouldn’t. There was no way for her to know for sure. But she did know, those who hunted her, people whom she had known her entire life, most certainly would end her life.

Trees grew larger the deeper she went in. The undergrowth became more dense. Branches clawed at her fur and the ground became uneven beneath her feet. Having more legs meant only that there was more ways to trip.

She burst through the trees and skidded to a halt. A deep ravine split the earth open before her. It was too wide to jump and too deep to climb. She could go left or right, and she picked one.

She did her best to hurry, but the uneven stone forced her to walk. The granite edges were uneven and unstable for her to do anything other than to walk.

She came to a dead end before long. Looking up at the crumbling wall of stone before her, she sighed. It was over. There was no where else she could go.

Her tongue rolled out of her mouth as she panted to catch her breath. The baying of the hounds sounded on the air, and the hunters would not be far behind them. Every muscle in her body begged for rest, and she lay to rest, first on her belly, then on her side. She had nothing left to do but wait. They would find her soon enough and end it.

Even wolves can cry.

The cold seeped from the rock and into her fur. She didn’t notice that the cries of the dogs are her trail faded away and ceased. There was a part of herself that didn’t care. She didn’t even hear the sound of the person approaching her. Feet covered in leather boots appeared before her eyes and by then it was too late.

Gentle hands rubbed her ears and she whimpered at the touch.

“It’s okay, little sister.” A deep voice said. “You are safe here. Welcome home.”

Alien Hunters by Daniel Arenson

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One of the best things that I have discovered with owning an ereader, is the opportunity to experience a whole host of works by indie authors. In browsing the massive lists of for new reading material, I have discovered the rather clever marketing technique of posting select novels as free or for just a dollar or so, and every so often I find some true gems in the mix. As the saying goes, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” but in this modern age of kindle, Google books and my personal favorite, Kobo, I think that it would be better to say, “Don’t judge a book by its price tag.”
I down loaded Alien Hunters on a whim because I was looking for something  new to read. Because it was a free download, I really wasn’t expecting much from it. Cause hey it was free right? Then a couple of days later, I found myself downloading the other two novels in the trilogy. I was wonderfully surprised with just how much I loved the book. I even made it one of my go to reads for when everything is going wrong, because no matter how many times I read it, I always find something in Alien Hunters to make me smile.
Even now, I really want to see more adventures of Riff Starfire and his merry band of Hunters. I am quite sure that Twig has dropped her wrench into the pipes and that Romy has drank all of the fuel again.
But.. I digress.
All too often modern literature likes to take itself a little too seriously. We are told that great works are supposed to be dry and difficult to read. In short, most of the time, all of the fun has been sucked out of reading and that is a shame. It makes it all to easy to put the book down, and just watch some TV instead. The best thing about Alien Hunters, is that Daniel Arenson has put the fun back into reading. In fact, Alien Hunters doesn’t ever try to take itself seriously, or anything else for that matter.
So if you are looking for a serious novel full of serious reflections on the state of the world, Alien Hunters isn’t it. This is what makes the book great and so much fun to read. It is a wonderful romp through the cosmos with  a mismatch set of misfits on a quest to save a damsel in distress and perhaps save the known universe at the same time.
Alien Sky and Alien Shadows are also loads of fun to read, and I only hope that their adventures don’t stop there. It would be disappointing to have a universe without a dragon warship hunting aliens in it.

The Move…

I am not the most dedicated blogger.  There are about a hundred reason for this: like how I tend to spend a great deal of time working on my novel. what can I say, I have fallen in love with my main character. The time I tend to spend on smaller project, and well, a whole host of other stuff.

But most of all, I just wasn’t happy with the blogger platform. Not in the way that I used to be.  It just doesn’t have the same feel anymore and it is rather difficult for people to follow my posts. In fact, that was the last nail in the coffin.

So, I decided that it was time to make the move. In fact, with the grand total of three published posts, now is the perfect time to make the move. With the low content I just need the web equivalent of a backpack rather than a mac truck.