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Low Elf Esteem
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Format:ebook (Digital original) $1.99 $2.99 CAD
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around May 16, 2017. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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A descendant from a long line of monster hunters, John Charming isn’t really in the business of saving monsters from humans, but Samuel Blanco is a monster who isn’t so. . .monstrous. Unfortunately, the road to a safe haven for Samuel is a treacherous path through ancient Chinese immortals, a commune where the supernatural do what comes supernaturally, a custody battle over a very special child, and a cult of half elves who are badly overcompensating for only being half elf. Forget happily ever after; it’s going to take all of John Charming’s brains, skill, and luck just to make it through this Midsummer nightmare.
LOW ELF ESTEEM
Once upon a time, I got my ass kicked. Not just kicked, owned, and I'm sort of partial to keeping that part of my body away from metaphors altogether. This was two years before I came down with a slight case of werewolf and had to run from the secret order of monster-hunting knights who raised me. Back in the 1960s, to be more specific. Love was free, the Vietnam War was a police action, and if you believed either of those things, there were plenty of people willing to sell you a bridge in New York or San Francisco.
I and three other knights were tracking down a Native American teenager named Eloise Garrett who had kicked her stepfather to death. The wrinkle was, Eloise's mother was swearing that her daughter's feet had turned to hooves and that fur had grown all over her legs before Eloise did so. Eloise was a deer woman, in other words. There's a kind of preverbal wild magic that sometimes makes Native American women transform into beings that renounce male civilization on every level, and when deer women first manifest, it is usually because they are being actively abused or betrayed by a man. Their new unfettered self usually kicks that man to bloody bits.
Some deer women never can break out of that cycle; they stay transformed and learn to hide their lower legs while they lure unsuspecting males to isolated spots and play a different kind of footsie than the man was counting on. Other deer women learn a degree of control over their new instincts and go back to leading relatively normal lives. They might snap and transform occasionally, given the right or wrong circumstances, but they don't have to live in forests or spend their whole lives being recluses who never let anyone see them naked. We weren't sure which path Eloise was headed down; all we knew about Eloise Garrett was that her stepfather had probably deserved his fate and that we wanted to find her before the police did. The authorities were assuming that Eloise's mom was delusional about the whole fur thing, probably from some combination of grief and shock and alcohol abuse, but her story had reached the ears of an Essex County reporter. That reporter had then mentioned the deer woman angle as an odd side note to give his article about the homicide some sauce. Knights don't like that sort of thing. Not then. Not now. Not ever.
My partner, Nick Arbiter, and I were just along as backup. One of the knights' lay servants—a meter reader in Essex County—had spotted Eloise at a greenhouse owned by a Chinese woman named Chunhua Wong. Unfortunately, that name was the only thing we could find out about the woman who had taken Eloise in, and the name was probably a fake. We knew for sure that the woman had chosen to get involved in the supernatural world, though, and it was possible—maybe even probable—that this Chunhua was some kind of cunning woman, and any kind of magic user can be trouble. I like to think that if I had been the one who had done the background research, things might have turned out a little differently. But you know what they say; it's called hindsight because every pain in the butt has it.
The knight who had done the background research on Miss Wong—which basically amounted to a few phone calls before giving up—was named Todd Johnson, which might go a ways toward explaining why he was such a dillhole. Not that I have a lot of room to talk where names are concerned. Mine is John Charming. Anyway, Todd was not an introspective guy. He believed initiative was more important than forethought and that decisiveness was better than analysis, and in some cases that's true. Hell, in certain kinds of messed-up situations, that "He who hesitates is lost" mind-set is the only way to survive. But not in every situation. People whose idea of fixing something is to jump in and start banging around, assuming they can make it all look okay in the end really don't belong on bomb squads, for example.
Todd and my partner, Nick, knocked on the front door with real police ID and a real search warrant that just happened to have fake names on them. They were both big, intimidating-looking men. Todd was wearing one of those lime-green sixties suits with wide, flaring lapels and an open collar instead of a necktie, which made him look like he was planning on going out and doing some fairly hideous dancing right after work. He had a full head of thick black hair that he combed back and laminated with hair product into a permanent half Elvis. His moustache was the kind that would later come to be associated with porn. Nick was a burlier, curlier, brown-bearded version in tan.
Todd's partner, some knight named Tony, took up a sniper position and covered the residence beside the greenhouse with an M40. We were in a fairly rural environment with no immediate neighbors, and I watched the back of the house from a small wooded area. That was all I could watch; all of the windows had drapes pulled over them.
When no one answered the door, Nick picked the lock, and they went in. About ten seconds later, I heard my partner's loud, startled curse and began moving. I knew all the shades and textures of Nick's startled exclamations, and that was the one he used when he was in over his head.
I didn't kick the kitchen door in. It was an old-fashioned lock that I probably could have picked with a stick from the backyard, literally a few seconds' work, and Nick wasn't actively screaming. The only sound was Todd Johnson loudly ordering people to stay still and explain their presence.
I opened the door and immediately understood why Nick had freaked out. Eloise was sitting at a dinner table, but there were two other supernatural creatures with her. A beautiful woman with dusky skin and freshly washed green hair was sitting at the long end of the table next to the back wall, a dryad probably. Mediterranean, maybe pure Greek. She was wearing nothing but a damp towel. Even more worrisome, at the head of the table was a tengu.
That's right. A tengu. In case you were about to say, "God bless you," a tengu is a member of an ancient race of birdlike humanoids who wander the earth, warrior monks devoting their lives to study and enlightenment and martial arts, not necessarily in that order. Tengu use some kind of telepathy to make normal humans see them as other normal humans, but knights are immune to such mind tricks, and we were looking at this one in all of its Big Bird–meets–Bruce Lee glory.
The sight was so completely random that it was hard to process. None of these creatures or mythologies or cultures generally had anything to do with one another.
It was the tengu that Todd was now ordering to move against the wall and sit on its hands. Or claws. Whatever. The tengu wasn't being threatening—it was staying very still while Todd kept yelling at it. I understood where Todd was coming from; tengu are supposed to be seriously badass fighters. For all Todd knew, this one could go from being reasonable to hurling a dinner knife hidden under its layered feathers before Todd could blink. But Todd still wasn't handling the situation well. Tengu also have a reputation for being rule-abiding, rational creatures who hate chaos, and Todd was creating confusion.
There were also signs that someone had been sitting at the east side of the table that was facing us; there was no plate, and the chair had been pushed in, but a ring of condensation showed where a glass had been sitting on the table, and a smattering of the vegetarian curry that everyone was eating was near it, as if some of the curry had been sloshed over while moving a bowl. I figured Todd had seen this, too—knights are trained to pick up on details like that, even dillhole knights—and he was screaming so loud because every second we wasted was a second we weren't dealing with whoever had been sitting there, probably the missing Chinese woman. If I was any judge, Todd was maybe three seconds away from firing the gun he was pointing at the tengu and to hell with it.
I moved to the corner where I could cover the living room area beyond the open kitchen. "Nick," I called out beneath the cadences of Todd's yelling. "Pull open the curtain next to you."
Nick got what I was saying. Todd had posted Tony outside in case anyone jumped out a window and ran for it, but that was before we knew what we were walking into. The window would give Tony a chance to help us cover the room or, at the very least, call for help if things spun out of control. Nick already had the dryad and Eloise keeping their palms flat on the table, and he tugged the curtain open with one hand while he covered them.
There was a phone on the kitchen counter next to me, and I picked up the receiver. Technology was a lot less twitchy around magic before everything went wireless, and the lights in the house were still working, so the landline should have been fine. We needed reinforcements, and I didn't care what Todd thought about it. But the phone line was dead. Cut, and presumably cut by whoever had left the table. My nerves turned into power lines; I had a very bad feeling that we were trying to play cat and mouse with wolverines.
Todd was about to shoot the tengu, who still wasn't moving, when the back door I'd come through opened again. The elusive Chunhua Wong stepped into the kitchen from outside. She was pretty calm, considering she was dragging our sniper behind her and that Tony's M40 was slung behind her shoulder. She was five foot two, with long raven-black hair and a slender body. Short and slight, and she had taken out an armed knight quietly. When she spoke, it was with a slight British accent: "Would all of you please stop screaming and put those guns away? Ibuki doesn't speak English, and bullet holes won't go well with the color scheme."
"Stop right there!" Todd barked. "What did you do to Tony?"
"He's fine." She dropped Tony unceremoniously to the floor. "Feel free to check his pulse for yourself. How about I tell Ibuki to obey you, and then we all talk calmly like intelligent people?"
That was a big no. "Drop the goddamn rifle!"
"Certainly," the woman said. "Could you give me instructions slowly, step by step? You seem freaked out, and I don't want you to get scared and do something rash." If she was trying to deliberately shame Todd into taking it down a notch, it worked.
"John, watch the bird." I had moved to cover the Chinese woman as soon as she entered, but now I negotiated my way around a counter so I could do as Todd asked.
"Ibuki's not a bird," the woman said. "You don't see him calling us apes, do you?"
"I don't care if he's a jive turkey!" Ummm…I kind of wish I didn't have to write that. But it was the sixties.
The woman put a hand over her mouth. "Oh, dear. Did that actually sound good in your head?"
"Baby, you do not want to me to lose my cool," Todd warned.
"I apologize. I'm going to tell Ibuki to do as you say now." Then the Chinese woman said something in Japanese. I didn't speak that language back then, except for knowing the names of some katas and weapons and breathing techniques, but the tengu moved slowly to sit on its hands while I kept my Ruger Blackhawk trained on it. In fact, the tengu moved so slowly and stiffly that I got the impression it was very old. Its breath rattled in a way that didn't sound good in any living creature, and when I looked closer, I could see that its eyes were coated and rheumy. Hell, maybe the thing was ancient.
- On Sale
- May 16, 2017
- Page Count
- 78 pages