Saturday, April 28, 2012

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.”

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