1: TUNNEL TO NOWHERE
Life was so much simpler when Tinker didn’t have a horde of heavily armed elves following her everywhere, all ready to kill anyone that triggered their paranoia. It didn’t help that she was still recovering from hairline fractures to her right ulna and radius. Her shiny new status as a domana-caste elf princess meant she was expected to cast spells triggered by complex finger positions and vocal commands. So, yes, breaking her arm was a very bad thing. It didn’t mean she was helpless. With an IQ over one-eighty, and standing only five feet tall, she always considered her wits to be her greatest weapon.
Her Hand (the military unit of five sekasha-caste bodyguards, not the appendage attached to her arm) had spent the week acting like there were evil ninjas hiding in every shadow. With her Hand in protective overdrive, the last thing Tinker needed was a pushy stranger trying to talk to her. Not that Chloe Polanski technically was a stranger; the woman was one of Pittsburgh’s most popular television reporters. Elves, though, don’t watch TV. The tall sekasha towered between Tinker and Chloe like trees. Dangerous trees with magically sharp wooden swords that could cut through solid steel.
“Good morning, Vicereine.” Chloe greeted Tinker from the other side of the forest of warriors. “You’re looking—well-protected. How are you today?”
“Oh, just peachy.” Tinker sighed at the scale-armored back blocking her view of the reporter. Tinker loved her sekasha, especially her First, Pony, but in the last few days she just wanted to whack them all with a big stick. She suspected if she asked, they’d find her a suitable club. They might even stand still and let her smack them. She would feel guilty, however, since she had nearly gotten them killed the week before last. Cloudwalker and Little Egret still sported an impressive set of bruises, and Rainlily had a slight wheeze from smoke inhalation.
“Elves have these nifty spells that focuses magic into their—our natural regenerative abilities.”
Tinker put a hand on the center of Pony’s armored back and pushed him out of the way. Or at least, she tried; it was like trying to move a tree. “It sends our healing into overdrive. Compressing eight weeks of healing into one, though, hurts like—shit!” She made the mistake of using both hands and pushing harder. She hissed as pain flashed through her right arm. “Domi!” Pony’s hand went to his sword as Tinker curled into a ball around her arm. “Are you hurt?”
“No, I’m fine,” Tinker growled as she straightened up, forcing herself to ignore the pain. She’d learned the hard way that any sign of weakness on her part made her bodyguards extremely antsy. Nervous sekasha were deadly sekasha. She didn’t want them mowing down Chloe just because Tinker had been stupid.
“Are you sure, domi?” Pony looked down at her, his dark eyes full of concern.
“My arm is still bruised.” Tinker gave a few more futile pushes against his armor, careful to only use her left hand. “Can you give me space? I’m trying to have a conversation here.”
Pony gave her a worried look but shifted aside.
They were on the bridge that led into the Squirrel Hill Tunnels. It was the beginning of September, but heat blasted off the sun-baked concrete, scented with ancient gas fumes. They had been out of the air-conditioning of the gray Rolls-Royce for all of three minutes, but there was already sweat trickling down Tinker’s back. The only good thing about Tinker’s dress of jewel-green fairy silk was the breeze she could generate by flapping the skirt.
Despite the heat, Chloe Polanski wore her beauty like an impenetrable shield. Every hair of her pale blond bob was in place. Her makeup was so flawless that only the black eyeliner around her pale blue eyes and the glint of lipstick on her full lips betrayed the fact that she was wearing any. Her tortoise blouse and black slacks managed to be elf flamboyant and yet human formal at the same time. Chloe seemed completely at ease; only her perfectly manicured fingertips, nervously fidgeting with her amber necklace, betrayed her awareness of how dangerous the sekasha could be.
“What are you doing here?” Tinker really didn’t want to do an interview. It had been a weird summer, even by Tinker’s standards. So far she had accidentally changed from human to elf, unknowingly gotten married, ripped a hole in the fabric of reality, fallen off the planet, crashed a spaceship into Turtle Creek, and fought a dragon. If that wasn’t enough to set some kind of record for weirdness, there were twenty days left of summer to go. Trying to explain everything would take half the afternoon, a large whiteboard, and a great deal of advanced physics.
“I have a couple of questions that I wanted to ask you.” The corners of Chloe’s mouth tightened as she kept a predatory smile in check. Chloe didn’t cover the hoverbike circuit, so Tinker had been spared Chloe’s cat-and-mouse tactics. “You’re a bigger prize now that you’re vicereine.”
Tinker fought the temptation to stick her tongue out at Chloe. The reporter was wearing her signature face-to-face camera eyepiece, allowing her to film both herself and her interview subject without a cameraman. In a fabled remote and secure place, often sought out by those she interviewed but never found, everything Chloe saw was recorded. Only part of Chloe’s success was based on her eyepiece. None of the other Pittsburgh reporters had the eyepiece since much of Pittsburgh’s technology was stuck in the last century. The rest of her success was due to her vindictiveness: if someone tried to play hardball with her, she took a hatchet to their reputation. She had the “impossible to look away” quality of a train wreck.
It would behoove Tinker to play nice for her first official interview as the elf princess, even if the experience were akin to waterboarding. “So, what do you want to know?”
Chloe’s mouth curled up into her cat smile. “Everything,” she purred.
Tinker laughed. “Here? Now? You do realize we’re in a war zone?”
“As I stated before, you’re now very well-protected. You’re a very difficult woman—I mean female, since ‘woman’ doesn’t apply to you anymore—to nail.”
Judging by Stormsong’s soft growl, Tinker wasn’t the only one feeling like that statement had been loaded with subtle insults.
“This isn’t a safe place or time for an interview.” Tinker started to walk in hopes of scraping Chloe off somehow—perhaps against a wall or something. How had Chloe gotten to the stretch of abandoned highway in front of Squirrel Hill Tunnels? Had she walked? “Call Director Maynard of the Earth Interdimensional Agency and he’ll set up an interview for some other time. I’ve got tons of shit to do.” For her own subtle insult, she added. “Mind-boggling complex shit.”
Chloe began walking backward, keeping just a few feet in front of Tinker. “This is Chloe Polanski. I’m here with our own little Cinderella, Princess Tinker.”
“Do I need to use smaller words for you to understand me?” Tinker held up her fingers to indicate tiny words. “Call Maynard.”
Displaying what years of practice could achieve, Chloe sidestepped a pothole without glancing down. “Princess, please, the people of Pittsburgh could do with some reassurance in this time of uncertainty.”
Annoyingly, Chloe was right. Tinker stopped with a sigh. “Prince True Flame and Windwolf and Director Maynard are working closely together to protect everyone in the city from the oni.” “You don’t add yourself to that triumvirate of power? Or is this a male-only club?” “It isn’t male-only. Jewel Tear on Stone is currently the head of the Stone Clan. She and Forest Moss on Stone are also working with the prince and the viceroy. They’re all out right now looking for oni.”
“And you aren’t?”
“I’m still recovering from a broken arm.” Tinker pulled up her sleeve to show off the impressive bruising. It made for an easy excuse.
“Surely there were things you could have done while you were recovering.”
“No.” Because that felt too rude, Tinker added, “The healing spells forced me to sleep through most of last week. Today is the first day I’ve felt awake enough to leave the enclave. I’m certainly not up to running all over Pittsburgh to fight oni.”
Not that it had even occurred to her to join in the combat. It wasn’t the best use of her abilities.
Chloe changed tactics. “Each Stone Clan domana was given a hundred thousand sen of land as remuneration for their help in fighting the oni. Earth Son was killed by his own people within a week of arriving. What happens to his share? Will the Wind Clan still be giving up that land? Is it true that they will also receive part of the city?”
“I haven’t been paying strict attention to what’s going on” would be a truthful answer but would also made Tinker look stupid. She’d spent the last month or so either held captive or unconscious or busy trying to save the world or not even on the planet. She settled for “Jewel Tear has sent word of Earth Son’s death to the head of her clan in the Easternlands. Until the Stone Clan responds, all negotiations have been put on hold.”
Copyright © 2012 by Wen Spencer
Welcome to the world of Elfhome. Pittsburgh, to be precise. On a planet where wargs, dragons and man-eating trees stalk their prey, the elves and humans of the Steel City have long coexisted. But an invasion of merciless elf-eating oni may change all that.
Now it’s up to Princess Tinker—the genius former human street kid who rules Pittsburgh—to save her city and its melting pot of magical races. But time’s running out: Seven elf children are already missing, and genocide is next on the oni’s menu....
The saga that began in Steel City Magic—SFBC’s omnibus of Tinker and Wolf Who Rules—continues in Elfhome, from John W. Campbell Award winner Wen Spencer. If you like your urban fantasy heavy on the fantasy, explore Elfhome!
Hardcover Book : 384 pages
Publisher: Baen Books ( July 03, 2012 )
Item #: 13-610771
Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 8.25 inches
Product Weight: 15.0 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
don't be discouraged by cover, it would be nice if the artist had read some of the book.
Tinker ze domi likes real clothes.
Dragon is Imperial Chinese and red in color.
This book was a wild ride from laughter to sadness. It was one of the most fun books I have read in years. I strongly recommend it to all readers.
Reviewer: Get K