The Chronicles of Shadow Bourne Book 1: Drow Protector
Why does being a hero have to be so hard?
Drow Protector –
Putrid musk wafted from the dumpster five stories below. Ellis regretted her choice of lookout. Osteria Luigi was a good restaurant, but trash was trash. She felt like she was bathing in a giant’s burp.
Unfortunately, this was the only place she could see the alley and the building she’d overheard her brother talking about. On the bright side, she wasn’t hungry anymore.
The Westgate gang gathered on the pocket of asphalt behind the restaurant seemed impervious to the smell. They ate gas station meatball subs surrounded by a tight circle of gleaming motorcycles airbrushed with squinting eyes and razor teeth, metal warhorses with shark-like grins. Shadows bathed the alley, interrupted by orange sodium street lamps that reflected off gleaming paint and chrome.
The club’s president, Crush, a huge man and the only one who trimmed his beard, handed a bag of sandwiches to a scrawny kid drowning in a leather vest. The kid disappeared into a nearby darkened building.
Now that’s interesting. Ellis’ curiosity sparked. Given the suffering they caused, she doubted the gang was feeding the homeless.
Ellis hadn’t gotten her father’s pointy drow ears, but she had excellent hearing. Behind the ribald jokes and motorcycle maintenance tips was the sound of footsteps on stairs. Soon after the kid returned empty-handed, a window on the third floor cracked open, and a crumpled sandwich wrapper wafted down in lazy arcs.
The moon shifted position, and its light glinted off a small metal circle in the window. A gun barrel.
Her brother Landon had gotten into deep shit, and it wasn’t the kind that grew expensive mushrooms. He was twenty-five, a year older than her, but acted like he was barely out of his tweens.
Loud voices caught Ellis’ attention, and she swore under her breath. Landon and his idiot friends swaggered down the alley with misplaced confidence.
A low concrete wall cast a shadow across the gravel. Ellis focused on the dark pool’s contours, reached out with her will, and shifted the shadow into a lump at the top of the roof. She stepped into it cautiously.
It was a nice piece of shadow magic, although her father wouldn’t have approved. You only needed to hide if you went outside, and what self-respecting drow would do that? Ellis was only half-drow, so in the cloak of shadows, she was only half-outside.
“We come in peace,” a deep voice called. It was her brother’s voice, but she couldn’t see him yet. She squinted. Was he standing behind that mousy brown-haired man?
Her brother spoke again. “Hey-o. Are you there, Crush?”
Ellis realized her brother’s voice came from this pasty brown-haired human and peered closer in confusion. A golden talisman glittered at the man’s neck. The filigreed metal hoop looked like the underside of a mushroom.
A chill ran up Ellis’ spine. You little sneak. The talismans had been her bright idea, and Landon had stolen one.
For eight hours, the talismans would make you look like a human. No pointy ears. No purple skin. Ellis secretly hoped they would make the drow more understanding toward humans, but if her father got his way, the drow would never contact the outside world. It was hypocritical for a dark elf who had married a human woman, but that hadn’t ended well. Her father’s isolationism was hardly a surprise.
In any case, the talismans were tightly controlled. Her brother wasn’t on the very short list of approved users.
It was odd to see Landon looking as out-of-place as Ellis herself. Her brother’s skin, normally the deep purple of twilight, looked like the flesh of an oyster mushroom, and his pointed ears were rounded and hidden behind greasy brown hair.
Only his eyes were the same, the deep shadowy brown that made drow her age sigh and write terrible love poems. They were nothing like Ellis’, which were an ugly, almost colorless blue. Skim milk eyes, her father called them. When Ellis had finally tried skim milk, she decided it was an insult.
Crush stepped forward. He glanced at the window beneath Ellis’ feet, but since the shadow magic concealed her, his gaze slid past. Crush had more backup in her building, then. Ellis doubted that Landon had taken similar precautions. Landon wasn’t hiding his face. His friends wore thin black ski masks, but he was barefaced.
Crush cracked his tattooed knuckles. “I’m tired of shitty little skirmishes. It’s time for a truce so we can parcel out our territory downtown once and for all.”
“I’m a peaceful guy.” Landon twirled a dark elf dagger between his fingers.
Ellis sucked in a sharp breath. The weapon was an elegant sliver of shadow-hardened onyx trapped in a deceptively simple carved bone hilt. Generations of their family had passed it down, and it currently belonged to their father.
Crush ran a hand over his impeccable beard. “Cute knife. If you gotta get back to peeling potatoes, we can do this later.”
Landon didn’t take the bait. “There’s no rush. Make me a generous offer, and I’m happy to consider it.”
Crush didn’t twitch, but red crept up around his beard. The corner of Landon’s mouth quirked. He was getting to the old biker but talking a big game wouldn’t make up for being one step behind. She had to act.
Shadow magic wouldn’t conceal Ellis if she rappelled down the building in full view, so she headed to the stairs.
There were two heavy doors in the third-floor hallway. Ellis pressed her ear to the first one. Inside, a couple was arguing about the electricity bill. She doubted that Crush’s plant was a long-term resident, so she checked the other. Dead silence.
Ellis pulled a long onyx stick and a wavy moon-steel pin from her hair, which fell to her shoulders in clouds of rippling black. The wavy hair that turned blue in the moonlight like a crow’s wing was another thing that set her apart from the drow.
Ellis rolled the moon-steel pin between her fingers. Her brother might have their grandfather’s dagger, but Ellis had her grandmother’s lockpicks.
Unlike standard lockpicks, the tools were silent. They were relics from when drow had to sneak into human cities to steal supplies. She pushed the onyx into the lock and applied pressure to the handle. Then she inserted the wavy moon-steel pin and raked it across the pins until they lined up. The pressure on the onyx relaxed, and Ellis turned it.
There was a click. Ellis cracked the door open before twisting and pinning her hair back into place with the onyx and moon-steel. Then she slipped inside.
The place was hot and stuffy, even for a summer night. Maybe it was above the kitchen, and Crush’s guy hadn’t risked turning on a fan. That indicated more professionalism than she’d expected.
The living room had good bones, with hardwood floors and clean brick walls made dingy by the dirty mattress and hotplate that served as the only furnishings. Ellis padded across the room into a hallway, where she slid along the wall with the deepest shadows.
The farthest door was open. A large figure sat in the window. A seltzer water stood on the table beside him where she would have expected beer. That’s two points for professionalism. I’ll have to be careful.
Commotion drifted through the cracked window from the street below, and Ellis winced. Crush had kicked off his planned confrontation. She hoped she could take out his backup before he called for it. The man shifted, and Ellis saw the Glock in his hands. Three points.
The din outside grew, and Ellis took advantage of the noise to creep forward. She tensed and leaped when the man caught her reflection in the window.
Her black leather lug boot hit his gun arm and drove it against the brick with a splintering crunch. He tried to scream, but she filled his mouth with sound-absorbing indigo shadow.
Agony was plain on his face, so she relieved him with an elbow to the base of his skull. He relaxed as his eyes stopped seeing. For one sick moment, Ellis thought she’d killed him, but his pulse was strong when she put her fingers on his wrist.
Ellis rolled the man onto his side in case he puked and glanced out the window. In the street below, Crush and Landon were facing off. While she’d been kicking ass inside, the old biker had produced an enormous lug wrench. His grip on the gleaming metal was as businesslike as Landon’s grip on his knife.
The window on the other side of the alley remained cracked open, although the glinting gun barrel had disappeared.
Ellis sprinted back to the roof. She was two buildings away. Fortunately, the building between was lower. Ellis gauged the distance across the five-story gap, then took off running.
She launched off the edge of the building and soared through the air, arms windmilling, then let her legs crumple beneath her when she hit the roof. She rolled to a stop and got to her feet.
The next building was taller. It was too high to leap to the roof, but there was a window with a decent ledge. Ellis concentrated on the glass in the window and pulled the shadows behind it forward. The glass dissolved with a sizzle. Shadow magic was great at turning something into nothing.
She ran, jumped, and landed on the other side. Her ankle twisted, and she tumbled into the room beyond. Only a sprain. She kept going.
She was in an office. It was deserted at this time of night. She grabbed a bottle of water from a shelf on the way by, opened and drained it, then tucked the empty bottle into her bag.
This time, she didn’t have to pick a lock. Crush’s goon had left it unlocked—how polite—but the handle squeaked when she turned it, and the man inside shouted a casual greeting. Whoever he expected, it wasn’t her.
This suite of rooms was an office too. The goon had pulled a swivel chair over to the window and playfully twirled when she entered. So much for professionalism.
“Things are heating up out there,” he began, then spotted Ellis’ slight frame and shouted, “Who the hell are you?”
He might have had her if he’d shot first, but his yell gave her time to drop and roll. His Sig Sauer went off when she bowled him over, and the bullet shattered the overhead light into glass rain.
Ellis’ strength was akin to that of a strong human man, which gave her a hidden advantage. People, especially men, often became disoriented when a fight began. She pinned the goon’s arms from behind, and he flopped like a mystified fish.
The alley outside was chaotic, and Ellis decided it was time to contribute. She planted her feet and flung the goon through the window. Thug and glass alike plummeted to the asphalt.
Ellis twirled aside, then cautiously peered out. Crush had absorbed the goon’s landing and was staring furiously at the gaping hole in the glass. He turned his attention to the window above the dumpster, but no backup was forthcoming.
Ellis stifled a snort when she spotted her brother. His human face was red with frustration. Drow didn’t blush. Growing up, cruel kids had nicknamed Ellis Tomato-Face, knowing it would fit.
Landon and his friends soon recovered from their confusion. A tall drow behind Landon raised fists adorned with brass knuckles, and another brandished a small crossbow.
Landon was so focused on Crush that he didn’t hear the approaching sirens at first, but soon they were too loud to ignore. When Landon cocked one ear toward the sound, Crush took advantage of the opening and threw himself at Landon, reaching for his dagger with one hand and his throat with the other.
One of the drow pulled Landon away. They scaled a chain-link fence into a narrow alley between buildings and disappeared into the shadows. One biker moved to pursue, but Crush hauled him back and shoved him toward his bike. Within seconds, the gang roared out of the alley, their revving engines drowning out the sirens.
It was time to book it. Furious at her brother for his criminal behavior and stupidity, Ellis pulled a jet-black, crossbow-like device from a holster on her back. She kicked away broken glass and climbed into an awkward crouch on the windowsill, then aimed for the roof above the fence Landon and his buddies had vaulted. She shot a hooked arrow, which soared in a parabola over the roof and unspooled thin silky rope behind it. The arrow clattered onto something hard, and Ellis tugged.
The rope held. She sprang off the windowsill, hauled herself up the chain-link fence, then let the spooling rope pull her toward the roof while she gripped the grapnel launcher’s handle.
Ellis grabbed the ledge with her free hand and pulled herself over it before clearing the hook with a twitch of her wrist. All she had to do now was follow her brother’s gang across the rooftops.
She dropped noisily onto a dumpster in front of them. Landon skidded to a stop, and the drow following almost knocked him over. He kept his hood pulled tight. Landon’s face had returned to its natural purple, dark against a shock of silvery white hair.
“What are you doing?” she demanded.
“I could ask you the same thing,” Landon retorted.
“Hey, it’s Tomato-Face!” The tall drow behind Landon languidly removed his ski mask and ran his hand through silvery, sweat-matted hair.
Ellis glowered. Errol was a few years older than her and had bullied her relentlessly when she was young. Unlike some other drow who’d abandoned the homestead, no one had tried too hard to bring Errol back underground.
Ellis ignored him and told Landon, “You can’t walk around showing your face to half the city. It’s not safe.”
“So someone on skid row says they saw a purple elf. It’s not like anyone will believe them.”
Ellis was suddenly very hot and back in fine Tomato-Face form. “A lot of the people on skid row have a mental illness. That’s not fair to them.”
“Stop being such a hypocrite. You come into the city all the time,” Landon scoffed.
“That’s different,” Ellis retorted, although she wasn’t certain it was. She had an easier time camouflaging herself since her blue-black hair hardly stood out in a city full of six-hundred-dollar dye jobs, but those were pragmatic justifications. The truth was, she could understand craving escape. “What were you trying to do?”
Landon used their grandfather’s dagger to pick dirt out from under a nail. When he saw that it irked her, he cleaned the rest of them. “It’s none of your business.”
A chain-link fence rattled in the distance, and footsteps approached.
Errol pulled Landon’s arm. “We gotta bounce.”
Ellis crossed her arms. “Fine. Let’s go.”
“Not you, Tomato-Face.” Errol stepped forward, intending to push her.
Moving like water, Landon slid between them, although he gave Ellis a dirty look and ordered, “Leave us alone.”
The group of misfit drow took off down the alley. The thought of tailing them like a kicked dog made her sick, so she caught a nearby windowsill and hauled herself up.
Not even she could climb smooth concrete, but this wall was rough brick. She shoved her fingers into the minuscule ledges and kept her center of gravity close to the surface. Windows and ledges provided welcome breaks as she pulled herself up. She barely cleared the top before two police officers arrived in the alley.
Ellis flattened herself on the roof and listened closely.
Fighting bad guys is one thing, but when your brother is one of the bad guys, that is when things get complicated. Find out what happens next on November 9th when The Chronicles of Shadow Bourne Book 1: Drow Protector is released. Until then head over to Amazon and download it today!