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April 21, 2013 / minusbar

Sunday Indie Excerpt: Rough Magic by Kenny Soward

A couple weeks ago I had the pleasure of reading Rough Magicthe debut novel by Kenny Soward. Upon contacting him, he was nice enough to offer me the opportunity to share an excerpt for all you lovely readers.

Niksabella the gnome has tinkered in the shadows for years, developing an invention that might change the world, even if she doesn’t know it yet. She has few friends and even fewer allies in the city of Hightower, where social and academic status is quite important. Her brother, Nikselpik, is a cantankerous wizard who drinks too much, sings dirty songs, and makes rude passes at gnomestresses. A dark addiction consumes him, a habit called bugging, which gives him increased power and feelings of euphoria while pushing him closer to death. Dark creatures from the ultraworlds have come calling. Niksabella must fight to protect her life and her invention, while Nikselpik engages the enemy as an unlikely guest of Hightower’s military elite. Niksabella and Nikselpik must find their true powers together, or perish apart. Will they heal the wounds of their childhood before it’s too late?

This particular passage is a rather fun one that I personally enjoyed. So please check it out and enjoy!

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Chapter 6

The temperature had plummeted since she had first entered Bombrick’s and icy fingers caressed her skin through the thin material of her shirt. A wind kicked up and tousled her hair. Somewhere a dog barked.

Thanks to the naysayers and the wine in her belly, Niksabella hardly felt the chill. Stumbling a little, she put her head down, hugged herself, and set a brisk pace for home. The sound of her hard-soled boots on the cobblestones echoed in the empty street. Cozy-looking homes leaked warm light from their polished windows, and Niksabella wanted to be inside one of them, safe, surrounded by family and friends. She sighed, hope flying away along with her breath. A life of comfort was just a dream for her. She would never be someone’s love, never be a mother, or even a good friend.

Break downs like tonight were all-too-frequent occurrences, spurred by her unwillingness to compromise on any subject. A sort of cold-sober drunkenness sunk into her brain as she walked, frustrated, her emotions cooling.

You ruined a fine time. You could have been more mature. Always on the defensive, you fool, thinking everyone’s out to get you. Like they don’t have better things to do!

Perhaps she had rained on the party, but her anger toward her brother was well-placed. He had not been around when she had needed him most. In fact, he never showed his face unless he desired something; rare elements only she possessed, or enlightenment on some technical detail regarding thaumaturgy. Lili wouldn’t understand until he put her through it. Even worse, Niksabella couldn’t get the images of his arm out of her head. The evidence of self-destruction: ugly marks, spotted skin, and the bulging black welt like a tremendous blood blister. If Nikselpik was bugging, he had already placed one boot in the barrow.

To her surprise, tears flooded her eyes.

The somber lamps of Longtowner Lane her only companions, aglow in soft, circular halos until she crossed the Immaculot Bridge, at which point they seemed to say, “Now, you poor dear, you’re on your own.”

In the Squads, the alleys darkened with each block, the impenetrable recesses hiding Hightower’s true squalor. Shops leaned over the streets, conspiring together, their window displays customarily empty of wares, evidence of their savvy owners’ usual precautions against thieving night rovers.

Niksabella had just passed into an uneven triangle of light squeezed out from between two buildings, when a noise stopped her. The sound floated above the familiar voices of the city: the distant factories, the wet-drippy echo of sewers, the occasional mewling cat. It was a shuffling, a grating, like a sack of rocks being dragged toward her from the darkness, one labored stride at a time. Was a shop owner taking out their evening trash? Was a vagrant dragging their worldly possessions deeper into the alley?

She might have frozen to the spot, terrified, if not for her buzzing head. A dull warning registered, urging her to walk away, and quickly, which she did.

The shuffling, grating noise faded, yet her stomach still squirmed. The hairs on her neck rose. Was she in danger? Actual danger? What would anyone want with her? She was obviously not well-off, not carrying anything of value.

Maybe that doesn’t matter, Nika. It’s getting colder, and desperate times breed desperate actions.

She’d tread these streets mere hours ago, devoid of cares while in the company of friends, but now the Squads were a hostile, lifeless place. Watchmen did not patrol this part of town as much as High Town, and when they did, their efforts lacked fervor. No, she was on her own.

Next time you storm out of a pub, remember your blasted coat! Not only would she have endured a warmer misery, but she had a small copper whistle in one of its pockets. Could it make a difference with no one around to hear?

Niksabella caught a flicker of movement from across the street. A figure approached, covering the distance between them in long, swift strides. Niksabella stopped with a short intake of breath. The figure stopped too, one foot on the curb, the other dipped in the street’s murkiness. Human-sized and impossibly thin, the individual bathed in fluctuating shadow, hidden so well not even Niksabella’s dark-piercing eyes could penetrate the barrier.

“Hello,” Niksabella called, her voice quivering. She licked her dry lips, continuing in a lower tone. “I’m armed with strong magic, you know. So, whatever you want, I suggest you leave me be and mind your business.”

A cloud broke overhead, permitting a few stray moonbeams to unveil some of the shadow, revealing a vaguely feminine form, lean and smooth, as if made from stuff other than blood, skin, and bone. Its head abound with thick ropes of woven hair, threaded at the ends with dangerous-looking, steel implements flashing in the moonlight. Niksabella’s mouth went dry, and her knees threatened to fail her.

An inky hand reached forth. Barbed, stiletto-shaped fingers stretched as if to clutch her in their grasp, or shred her to pieces.

Come. It whispered, warned, commanded.

Niksabella sensed something so alien and wrong with this being, her entire body shivered and her teeth clacked.

Niksabella couldn’t remember taking off, only that she was running, harder and faster than she’d ever run before. Weathered buildings flew by as she blew puffs of steam into the chilly air. Behind her came the soft footfalls of her pursuer drawing closer.

She looked everywhere for a savior, but not a single soul braved the cold night. At that moment, Niksabella would have gladly thrown herself at the ugliest Squads thug she found rather than face whatever was behind her.

You’re on your own, Nika. Think. Run and think!

She turned a corner and spied the entrance to her back alley only two blocks away. Hope rose, encouraging her to run faster, even though she had no clue what she’d do once she got there.

Something rough and sinewy slipped around her neck and shoulders, jerking her to a halt. Niksabella grabbed at her throat as she was pulled back two full strides and forced to her knees. Another wrench yanked her to the ground, the grip tightened, and Niksabella found herself being dragged down the walk.

She wiggled her fingers beneath the thick, suffocating cords, trying to catch enough breath to yell for help, but the strands were too tight. Niksabella reached out with one hand to grab something, anything. Kicking and bucking, she clutched at nothing, and panic nearly overwhelmed her.

Niksabella forced her mind to clear. She wouldn’t give in to terror, couldn’t afford to. Think rational thoughts!

An imbuement spell popped into her head, something she used to make her smaller tools sweat oil and grease for lubricating minuscule parts as she worked. Imbuing objects was easier if the object’s natural attributes could be expanded by the spell. Lead could be made heavier, gold shinier. In this case, hands greasier.

The mental image of her wellspring formed, and she retreated into it, focusing on tapping her power. The incantation sputtered from her grimacing lips. It worked! Her fingertips began to glisten, dripping a dark, oily substance. She wedged both sets of fingers beneath the sinews and twisted her body.

The ropey bonds jerked her around a corner into a slender lane. Her temple scraped against rough stone. Pain lanced up her shoulder. Niksabella reached out again, her arm slapping the side of a garbage bin. She turned her body, wedging the round shape against the wall with her chest and legs. Still, the sinews pulled tighter, strangling her. The world began to fade, consciousness falling away like an old, painless dream. Just when her life seemed over, the bonds slipped free with a wet, slewing sound, and Niksabella sucked glorious air.

Niksabella rolled onto her stomach, crawled, stood up, stumbled from the passage. Two steps later, her feet whipped out from under her and she struck the cobblestones chest first, her chin following with a smack. Half-digested wine and stew ejected from her gut, but her clenched teeth halted the mixture, and she sputtered on her own vomit. Tears stung her eyes as she rolled onto her back, flailing her arms.

Her assailant squatted at the end of the alley, a dark, exotic goddess, devilish sinews floating about her head like kelp in an ocean bed. Niksabella looked around for anything to buy her time. She spied a small pile of marked stones, likely left by street urchins playing neplers. The game pieces would hardly do this thing harm, but she had to try. A pang of regret struck her. If only she had studied high magic. If only she had learned some of the most basic of defenses like any self-respecting gnome academic.

If only.

Even as hope faded, she glanced up. Her heart leapt. There, right above her assailant’s head, perched on a wedge of iron supporting the building’s old, unused emergirail, was the figure from the tavern, the one sitting by the fire who’d briefly caught Niksabella’s attention. Hood thrown back, she was clearly a woman, but why wasn’t she helping? Why the wistful smile as her legs dangled, swinging with nonchalance? Niksabella tried to call out, but only a croak emerged.

Spurred by a sudden flare of angry disbelief, Niksabella reached out and snatched two handfuls of nepler stones, holding them against her stomach. She whispered another spell and the oil on her fingers caught fire, as did the stones. She chucked the tiny fireballs at her assailant. Some missed wildly, yet some hit their mark. The goddess-thing winced as if expecting great magic, but shook her head with noiseless laughter when she realized the attack was harmless.

When Niksabella ran out of stones, she bent forward and clutched the sinews around her ankles, willing them to burn. Flames belched from her fingertips, charring the twisted hair and sending a cloud of reeking odor into the air. The goddess-thing unleashed an ear-penetrating shriek and jerked Niksabella’s feet painfully, but the sinews finished burning to ashes and her legs kicked free!

The goddess-thing stalked her, ready to end the game, anxious claws twitching for her flesh.

Niksabella was scrambling to get away when the strange woman from Bombrick’s dropped to the ground between Niksabella and her attacker. The goddess-thing’s razor-tipped sinews shot forth to dice the woman, but she stepped deftly forward, within the range of attacks. Knives flashed into her hands—they seemed far too big for her—and she danced. The woman rose to her toes and held the knives straight up, tips pointed at the sky, her body as taught as a wire. With a downward dip, she plunged the blades into the thing’s middle, eliciting another jarring screech.

Bracing her left foot against the ground, she jerked the knives free, whipping dark fluid across the cobblestones. With the knives tucked close, the woman spun, barely avoiding a slashing sinew, and lunged, driving the blades into the thing’s chest with jarring force. The goddess-thing scrambled, a blur of wildly slashing talons, but the woman danced away, guiding the knives in an intricate pattern which deflected both talon and sinew while dealing vicious strikes.

The fight was over in seconds, and relief flooded over Niksabella when the goddess-thing finally collapsed.

Niksabella stood on shaky legs, swaying as the gore-splattered woman turned to her, a coy smile for an introduction.

“Why…did you wait to help me?” Niksabella was too weak to be angry, but she still deserved an answer.

“I wanted to see what you were made of, little Nika.”

Baffled, Niksabella took a moment to recover her breath, studying her rescuer, trying to place her race or discern anything about her. The woman picked up a rag from the gutter and wiped her knife blades clean. Niksabella was neither well-traveled nor well-versed in the peoples of Sullenor and had only seen a few humans, a spattering of dwarves, and even fewer of the mysterious elves, and this woman did not fit into any of those categories. Too slight to be human, yet not as fine-boned as an elf, the woman’s origins were simply undefinable.

“Well,” said Niksabella, dusting herself off, “delaying a rescue seems a bit rude, wouldn’t you say?”

“I didn’t follow you, and save you, because I was interested in making pleasantries. You are in more danger than you know, and you need to prepare yourself for what’s ahead. This little invention of yours has gotten a lot of attention.”

“My what? What invention?”

The woman sheathed her blades. “Don’t play dumb. There isn’t time. And it is beneath you.”

“Beneath me? Hmph! As if you know me.” Realizing the woman was not buying her lie, Niksabella conceded. “Alright, what about my invention?”

“I don’t understand it completely, but it’s like a fire without fuel; light and heat without all the fuss. Your invention has tremendous potential.”

Niksabella was taken aback. “Well, I’ll destroy it, then. I’ll just smash my tin doll and burn all of my notes and plans.” It crushed her to say, but she was shaken to the core at this mysterious woman’s disclosure.

“Doesn’t matter. Don’t you see? You have the knowledge up here…” She pointed to her temple. “In your head.” She approached Niksabella, who backed away. “You are as valuable as your tin doll. More so. And if someone wanted it badly enough, and they only had you, don’t you think they’d make you build another? Hmm? I doubt your personal comfort would figure in to the equation, do you?”

Niksabella’s shoulders slunk in defeat. “What should I do?”

“Go home. Get some rest. Be careful. I’ll be around, time to time, but don’t count on it. What I’ve done here tonight will send a message, but they won’t stay away long. Soon, they’ll come for you, or your device. Likely both.”

Niksabella nodded, a hundred questions crowding her brain.

“Oh, and one more thing. Don’t mention what happened tonight to your brother. It will only set him off.”

Before Niksabella could respond, the woman leapt with easy grace, pushing off a building with one foot, crossing the entire alley span, and bounding off the opposite wall. She went from window ledge to vent edge, up, and up some more.

“Wait,” Niksabella called after the ascending woman. “You never said your name!”

From the night sky came her fading reply: “Jancy.”

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Image of Kenny SowardKenny Soward grew up in Crescent Park, Kentucky, a small suburb just south of Cincinnati, Ohio, listening to AC/DC, Quiet Riot, and Iron Maiden. In those quiet 1970’s streets, he jumped bikes, played Nerf football, and acquired many a childhood scar.

At the age of sixteen, he learned to play drums, and did so with a passion. Kenny bashed skins for many groups over the next twenty years, and his musical tastes grew to include folk, alternative, bluegrass, and new age.

By day, Kenny works as a Unix professional, and at night he writes and sips bourbon.

ROUGH MAGIC is Kenny’s first high fantasy novel, Book I of the GnomeSaga.

Kenny lives in Independence, Kentucky, with three cats and a gal who thinks she’s a cat.

Please feel free to purchase Rough Magic here!

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Have a book or author you’d like me to feature? You name em and I’ll see what I can do!

As always, thanks for viewing!

Roger

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One Comment

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  1. J.M. Martin (@martinjm70) / Apr 21 2013 2:33 pm

    There’s no way in heck you can read this excerpt and NOT buy the book.

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