Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Night Phoenix - Chapter One, Part Two

Viggo hesitated, shooting a quick glance at Rowan. The shapeshifter was standing motionless, his bright, copper-colored hair tousled and messy. He looked remarkably like a young man who had just gotten out of bed—not dangerous at all.
“Both of you put your hands up. Now!” snapped the tall man. “Or me and Ron here will shoot you right off.”
Ron was as short and stocky as the other man was tall and thin. He swallowed and shifted from foot to foot. “Zeke, maybe we shouldn’t—”
“Shut up!” Zeke didn’t look over at his comrade as he spoke; he kept his eyes on Viggo, who was watching the exchange with one eyebrow higher than the other.
“But Zeke, we’re already gonna be in trouble for kidnapping the girl…”
As Ron continued to complain—and Zeke continued to ignore him—Viggo shifted his gaze to the fireplace behind the kidnappers. Aelfcynn was still there, standing in a half-crouch. Her fingers twitched with pent-up energy and adrenaline—though she was in human form, her behavior reminded Viggo of a wolf getting ready to ambush its prey.
“All right, we’ll just shoot them and bury the bodies. No one will ever know!” Zeke snapped, interrupting Ron.
Viggo turned his gaze sharply back onto Zeke. The man slid the hammer back on his revolver, aiming at the spot where Viggo’s heart was.
Anois, Aelfcynn! Now!” Rowan shouted.
Viggo threw himself to the ground, just as Zeke fired. The bullet whispered past Viggo’s head a millisecond later.
Aelfcynn had darted out of the fireplace and wrapped her arms around Zeke’s head in a chokehold, throwing off his aim. He was screaming curses now.
Ron lunged for the door, dropping his gun. Viggo jumped up and dodged in front of Ron, cutting off his escape. Ron stared at him with eyes that were wide with disbelief.
“Just do what I say, and you won’t get hurt,” Viggo asserted.
Ron yanked something out of his jacket pocket. It was a knife encased in a leather sheath, which he threw down immediately.
Viggo leapt forward, seizing Ron’s arm before he could move and twisting it sharply backwards.
He didn’t break any bones, but the man screamed just the same and the knife clattered harmlessly away across the ground. Rowan sprang forward and picked the knife up, pushing it safely into the pocket of his jeans.
Viggo released Ron’s arm, and then sent three quick punches at him. Ron crashed to the floor and did not move.
Viggo ran towards the corner of the room and retrieved his gun. Then he turned around, ready to defend himself from Zeke.
He need not have worried. Aelfcynn’s chokehold had restricted Zeke’s breathing for so long, he had blacked out. She let him drop to the floor with a loud thud.
“Thanks,” Viggo said, addressing both Rowan and Aelfcynn. “I swear, you guys are absolutely amazing.”
“You’re welcome,” Rowan said, grinning happily at the praise.
“It’s about time you admitted our superiority. Or mine, anyway,” Aelfcynn replied, crossing her arms with a smirk.
Viggo laughed quietly, and then looked down at the limp forms of the kidnappers. “We probably should have asked one of them where Connie was.”
“We can find her easily enough,” Aelfcynn countered. “This cabin isn’t all that big.”
“She’s right.” Rowan nodded. “We’ll stay in human form for now, so we can open doors and other things like that.”
“All right,” Viggo said. He went over to the door, where he had dropped his duffel bag, and rummaged around in it for a minute. He pulled out a coil of rope and tossed it onto the ground next to the unconscious kidnappers. “First, though, tie those guys up. I’ll start searching for Connie.”
Aelfcynn and Rowan busied themselves with the task of tying the men up, while Viggo walked down the hallway, opening doors and peering into the rooms behind them.
When he was sure that there was no sign of the kidnapped girl downstairs, Viggo turned around and headed back to the staircase. Before climbing up the steps, he saw that Aelfcynn and Rowan were just finishing tying knots in the rope.
A door was ajar on the second floor. Viggo moved towards it with a silent tread, and looked inside the room.
One glance told him all that he needed to know. A girl who looked as though she was about six years old sat on the bed, blindfolded. Her hands were tied behind her back.
Viggo’s fists clenched at his side, and he fleetingly wished that he had roughed up the kidnappers more than he had.
As he moved forward, Connie shrank back against the headboard of the bed. Why wouldn’t she? She couldn’t see who was coming. For all she knew, it was the kidnappers again.
“It’s all right,” Viggo said, talking in the same tone of voice he would use to soothe a trapped animal. “I’m a friend.”
Connie did not seem to be convinced. She pressed herself harder against the headboard, as though she could disappear into the walls if she did so.
Viggo took out his knife. He tried hard to keep it quiet, but it gave a metallic clink when he took it from its sheath. The girl, panicking, tried to jump off of the bed.
Viggo lunged forward and took her by the arm. “Wait a minute, Connie. I’m not going to hurt you. I’m trying to help you.”
Connie froze, not moving as he cut her bonds. Once he finished, Viggo reached up and gently pulled the blindfold away. “There you are. You’ll be back home in no time at all.”
Connie stared at him. He gave her a reassuring smile, quite aware of the fact that he was dirty from spending all night in the woods and had blood on his face from where the kidnapper had punched him. I wouldn’t be surprised if she thought I was some sort of man out of a nightmare or something, he thought wryly.
Connie blinked a few times. Her eyes began to grow misty, and her lower lip trembled.
Viggo frowned. “Hey, don’t cry,” he pleaded. “Everything’s okay now.”
Despite his efforts, tears started to roll down the little girl’s cheeks.
“Oh…no, don’t…” Viggo murmured, sighing. Without thinking twice, he moved forward and put his arms around Connie. “No, don’t cry, please. Calm down…no one’s going to hurt you now,” he whispered, gently pulling her onto his lap.
The little girl managed to get out something about being ‘so scared’ and ‘wanting Mama and Daddy’ in between her sobs. She buried her head in Viggo’s black coat.
Viggo absentmindedly stroked Connie’s hair, trying to soothe her and decide how he would get her home. Town was a three-hour drive away, and Viggo had parked his car about a mile from the cabin.
Eventually, Viggo got Connie to settle down; she had fallen asleep, her head resting on his shoulder.
Poor kid’s worn out, Viggo thought, picking Connie up and heading back down the stairs.
When he got downstairs, he saw Aelfcynn and Rowan standing by the tied-up kidnappers, vigilantly keeping watch while they waited for him to come back. They looked up as Viggo entered the living room.
“All right, come on, you two,” Viggo said, shifting the little girl to his other arm. “Let’s get out of these woods and back to town. Then I’ll call the police and have them come and arrest these guys.”
Aelfcynn and Rowan both nodded. They left the house, talking quietly to each other. Viggo followed them, using his foot to pull the front door of the cabin shut behind him.
Sorry it was so long!

The Night Phoenix - Chapter One, Part One

Hi, all. I'm new here...this is a chapter out of my novel I just edited this morning, so I'd like some input on it. I had to put it in two parts, since it's kind of long. Let me know what you think! : )
A cold, gray mist had fallen over the forest. The sun was just beginning to rise, a pale pink glow on the far horizon. At first glance, it seemed as though there was no life in the woods. A few birds and animals, perhaps, but nothing else.
But there were other things hidden in the undergrowth.
Viggo Steele slowly sat up, stretching to ease the kinks out of his muscles. Leaves were caught in his hair. He winced. Unsurprisingly, staking out forest cabins all night long tended to make his body stiff.
“I’m getting too old for this, Aelf,” he muttered, turning his gaze back to the cabin that he had been watching the night before.
Aelfcynn was one of Viggo’s two companions. Currently, she was in the form of a pure white wolf, but that was apt to change, seeing as she was a shapeshifter. Rowan, Viggo’s second companion, was in the shape of a rusty red fox. Both of them rarely left his side.
Shapeshifters weren’t exactly what one would call typical companions for a man living in the modern times. Then again, Viggo wasn't exactly someone who could be called normal.
He wished he was normal. In his thirty-three years on earth, he had already encountered several magical beings. He had seen most of those beings in Ireland, which was where he had met Aelfcynn and Rowan.
He had saved them from an evil sorcerer, and now they were wholeheartedly convinced that they owed Viggo a life debt. No matter how hard he tried, Viggo could not dissuade them from thinking in that way, which meant he was stuck with them. The truth was, however, that he did not really mind—he enjoyed their company.
Aelfcynn shook her head. “No, you’re not too old,” she replied. “Now, come on. We need to enter the cabin before the sun rises completely; the element of surprise will be much stronger.”
Viggo nodded, knowing that his friend was right. He pushed his shoulder-length hair away from his face, and began to creep down the slope. Along the way, plenty of cover was provided for them from the trees and boulders.
Viggo did not stop moving until he reached the bottom of the slope. When he did, he accidentally stumbled, and a stick cracked underneath his foot.
Viggo froze, holding his breath. No one came out of the cabin to investigate. I guess it wasn’t as loud as it sounded…
Rowan nudged Viggo in the back of the leg. “Go on, then! The coast is clear!”
Viggo glanced back at his two companions, and then continued moving. He tried hard to keep his steps light, but spending all night in the cold watching the cabin had taken its toll, and every muscle in his body was sore.
Every time a twig snapped underfoot, Viggo cringed. But no one ever appeared at the windows or door of the abandoned cabin.
Even so, Viggo was relieved when he reached the front door. He waited a moment, and then slowly tested the doorknob. The door was locked.
“Why is there no guard?” whispered Rowan.
"Tú amadán!" Aelfcynn scoffed, using her first language--Irish. "They’re probably asleep. Even if they’re not, they didn’t expect anyone to follow them." Aelfcynn's pointed ears twitched.
Viggo ignored them, fiddling with the lock picking tools he had stored in his duffel bag. He chose one and inserted it into the lock.
Within seconds, there was a faint click. Viggo felt a hint of satisfaction that he had picked the lock in such short time. Well, I’ve had enough practice with it, I guess.
“One of you go around to the window and make sure no one’s keeping guard,” Viggo whispered.
Rowan nodded, and, in a pale shimmer of light and mist, shifted into the form of a sparrow. He took flight, darting around the corner of the cabin.
Viggo waited, tensely rubbing his palms together—partly to warm them, and partly because of his agitation. With every moment that passed, he was sure that Rowan had been killed somehow. There were plenty of creatures in the forest that would not hesitate to hunt down a bird to eat.
Just as Viggo was about to go search for Rowan, the shapeshifter came around the corner, and transformed into the shape of a fox. “It’s clear,” he reported.
Viggo silently turned the knob and crept inside, leaving the door open. As Rowan had said, the room and hallway he entered were empty.
Too empty. There were a few pieces of furniture covered with dusty sheets, but no humans in sight. It was impossible that the kidnappers were that stupid. Viggo started to search the room for any sign of the kidnapped girl he was supposed to save, taking care not to make any loud noises.
As he methodically investigated the room, Viggo contemplated the reason he had agreed to take this job. He was always willing to take a job that would help a young person. He felt protective of all children, and was more than ready to help them—even for free, if the need arose. It was what he wished someone would have done for him when he was young…someone to stand up against his abusive father.
Shaking his head to rid himself of the memories, Viggo returned to the task at hand.
At length, it was clear that there was nothing to see in the living room, which was where he now was. Frustrated, he turned to go down the hallway to explore the rest of the cabin.
“Viggo! Look out!”
Aelfcynn’s cry of warning came not a moment too soon. Viggo instinctively dived behind a dusty couch. Gunshots split the air.
The kidnappers had been waiting after all. Perhaps they had expected a rescuer to come for the girl; perhaps they had heard him. Either way, it was too late now.
Viggo yanked his own revolver out of its shoulder-strap holster. He waited for the shooting to pause, and then jerked upright, firing off three shots of his own.
There were three of the kidnappers, and they all scattered. One of them dodged back into the room they had appeared from, and the other two shoved over a table to use as a defense.
Viggo fired once more, and then ducked back down as the two kidnappers shot back.
While he waited for the guns to fall silent, Viggo did two things. He reloaded his revolver, and looked around for his two companions.
At first, he didn’t see them. Then he noticed them—they had shifted into their human forms, and were crouched inside the fireplace to take shelter from the flying bullets. The kidnappers hadn’t noticed them yet.
Abruptly, his enemies’ guns fell silent. Viggo waited, unsure of what was going to happen next.
Before he could decide on his next move, someone lunged around the corner of the couch and tackled Viggo to the ground. Viggo’s revolver clattered across the floor.
The kidnapper still had his handgun, however. Viggo focused on keeping it pointed somewhere else besides his head. The kidnapper had him pinned down and was repeatedly punching him in the face, making it hard for Viggo to keep a grip on the hand that held the gun.
Viggo lost his grasp on the kidnapper’s arm. Just as the thought entered his head that he might die, there was a challenging yell. Someone rammed into the kidnapper from the side, knocking him to the ground and thus freeing Viggo.
Viggo stumbled to his feet. The kidnapper had been bowled over by Rowan—the shapeshifter was still in human form. Viggo kicked the man’s gun away, and then turned to see how Rowan was faring.
Rowan had slammed the man’s head into the floor with deadly accuracy, with enough force to render him unconscious, but not enough to kill him.
Reassured that Rowan was safe for the moment, Viggo began to turn around. When he did, he saw that one of the kidnappers had their guns trained on him. The other one was focused on Rowan.
“Hands up,” commanded the man watching Viggo. He was a tall fellow; and, when Viggo looked closer, he saw that the man was missing part of his earlobe. “Both of you.”