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Bones of the Gods (update 4, excerpt)

I have reached the halfway point in writing Bones of the Gods, the fourth novel in my ongoing Sanyel series. These books are action/adventure with a touch of fantasy and include some elements of mystery, paranormal, and sci-fi. This entertaining, adventure-filled series features an astute, ass-kicking protagonist, the gifted daughter of a tribal shaman who becomes the catalyst for change in a male-dominated world. I have been posting occasional updates and excerpts. Following is the latest sample, preceded by a setup to the scene. The writing is still in an early stage, so expect further editing before the final version. Tribal shaman Sanyel is helping a former acquaintance, Kersla, find out what happened to his kidnapped wife and daughter. They have discovered that a mysterious society has been abducting selected individuals throughout the country for possibly thousands of years. They currently pursue a man named Skodan, a member of one of several kidnapping crews that roam the region looking for victims. Skodan has escaped in a boat down a river gorge, believing he has foiled his pursuers. Sanyel and Kersla, however, have lucked upon a second boat Skodan tried unsuccessfully to release downriver. As they float down the lazy waterway, Skodan is at least an hour ahead of them, but they are content to pursue unseen, not wanting Skodan to know they are still on his trail. However, an obstacle now confronts them. punch gun—a weapon from an ancient, vanished civilization rik-ta—knife Up ahead and to the right, several boats had pushed out from the shore. I counted four. Each craft held two occupants, and they were on an intercepting course. Who were they? Friends of Skodan? “What do we do?” Kersla’s voice held apprehension. We couldn’t outrun them. They had a perfect angle that no maneuver on our part could change in our favor. “Keep calm,” I told my companion. “We’ll have to see what they want. We can’t get past them. My weapons are ready to use if necessary.” I didn’t have the punch gun. That would have been an ideal weapon for this situation. I had my bow, plenty of arrows, and my rik-ta. They would have to suffice. The head boat had reached a point ahead of us, and the other three soon joined it, fanning out to block any hope of passage. A full-bearded man in the first boat pointed toward the right-hand shore, a clear signal for us to head there at once. “Do what he wants,” I told Kersla. He turned to me with anxious eyes. “Are you sure? Can’t you work your magic on them?” “I’m afraid there’s little I can do at the moment,” I admitted. Shooting my arrows at them was an option, but I didn't know their reason for detaining us. I might wind up killing innocents. We headed the boat to shore while the other boats followed. Beaching the craft, we jumped out onto a strip that was wider and sandier than most areas bordering the river. I had been searching that shoreline as we came in, seeking something that might give us an advantage over our detainers, should it prove necessary. All I spotted was a set of crumbling stone steps embedded in the canyon slope about fifty paces from where we beached, steps that rose from the sand strip and extended to the forested canyon rim above. I thought it a safe guess to assume this group had made its way down to the beach from there. If these men proved hostile, we would have several choices: stand and fight, accept capture, or try racing down the shoreline in an attempt to escape. I didn’t like any of those options. “Get on your knees, facing me,” yelled the bearded man as his boat touched shore, “and stay that way until told otherwise.” We did as told, although I was becoming more uncomfortable with this situation by the minute. I carried my bow around my shoulder and a pouch of arrows on my back, ready to respond if bodily threatened. The group’s leader currently seemed more interested in the boat than in us, so he must not have realized the bow was a weapon, even though he had glanced at it. My guess was he saw a girl carrying the unfamiliar object and thus automatically dismissed any danger. “Search their boat,” ordered the head man as the other boats landed. He was a thin man with a scratchy voice that sounded as if a rough tool had scraped away all its smooth edges. His age I couldn’t determine, though I thought he might be in his forties. He wore dirty clothes and sandals that had seen better days. All of his companions were men. They varied in age, but all seemed to reflect the grubbiness of their leader. They seemed a no-nonsense group. “What have you found?” the leader called to the two men examining our boat. “Just some food and a couple of paddles,” one said in reply. “We’re still checking an open space we found in the flooring.” The bearded man turned to us. “What valuables do you carry?” I pondered how to answer that. “None,” I then replied. That comment drew an unreadable stare. “Then you’re not much good to us are you?” he said, and he turned his gaze back to the boat. “I can get you valuables,” I responded, trying anything to stall a possible unfortunate outcome for us. He looked to me again, still with no readable expression. “Of course you can,” he then said in a bored manner, and he returned his attention to those searching the boat. It seemed he had judged, quickly and correctly, that my offer held no truth. The man soon ascertained from his men that no valuables lay hidden in the depths of the boat. He now came closer to discover what we carried on us, and again he spotted the weapon slung across my shoulder. “What is that?” “It’s a bow,” I said, saying it as if anyone with any brains would know that. “What’s it for?” the man asked, showing remarkable patience after getting attitude from me instead of a useful response. I had been telling others that the device was an exercise tool, but I judged this man too shrewd to accept that explanation. “It’s a weapon for taking down small animals, nothing to concern—” The man came forward with surprising quickness and grabbed the bow, yanking it from around my shoulder, scraping some skin in the process. “Show me how to use it,” the man commanded, “and no tricks.” Tricks? Me? How could the man think me capable of such a thing? “Do you mind if I stand?” The man eyed me with that expressionless stare. “Go ahead.” I pulled myself to my feet and instantly shot my right hand out to retrieve my bow from the man’s loose grasp. The powerful yank with my formidable right arm tore the bow from the man as if taking a toy from a child, causing his previous blank expression to turn to one of surprise. Faster than the batting of an eye, I grabbed an arrow from my back pouch, fitted it to the bow, and aimed the weapon at the man’s heart. “This is how the weapon works,” I said to him. “This pointed rod flies from this taut string pierces your heart and kills you. Would you like a demonstration?” The man’s companions began to edge toward me. “Tell them to stay back, or you’re a dead man.” The man raised a hand and his men halted. He appraised me with a keener interest than he had shown before. Imminent death does tend to sharpen one’s focus. I had noted that this crew carried only knives as weapons, so I felt I had an advantage with mine, a carrier of death from distance. I backed off a ways to put a little room between us. Kersla rose from his knees, followed, and then stood behind me. “We seem to be at a stalemate,” the bearded man said. “I’m afraid you misunderstand the word,” I replied. “We are not in equal positions. I could probably kill all of you before a single one of you could touch me. I am very fast and very efficient with this weapon. Still, even if I could kill only half your men, you would certainly be the first to die.” The bearded man contemplated that and remained stationary, but one of his men made a subtle shift forward. “Stay where you are,” I warned. The leader turned to look at the man I had addressed. “Do you have somewhere to go, Petak?” he asked the man in a casual tone. “Uh . . . no, Rettan.” “Good. I had a feeling you didn’t.” Rettan turned back to me. “So, how do we resolve our little dilemma?” “Well, if you can answer a couple questions of mine, I might just let you live and go your way.” Rettan chuckled, showing that his hirsute face was capable of even more expressions than just surprise. “I guess talk never hurt anyone. Ask your couple of questions.” “Did you see another boat pass by here not long before we came along?” “No.” “You must have. How could you have missed it?” “We just arrived.” Rettan then smiled and said, “That’s two answered questions. Now you can let us go, as you said you would.” “I said I might let you go.” This was a hairy situation. I was adjusting on the fly. I had no idea if I could handle all these men if they decided to rush me. Rettan smiled again, and only then did I catch the others' grins. They were furtively looking at something behind me and to my right, so I swiftly shot a glance that direction. Oh, crap! From the heights above, armed men descended, crowding the steps embedded in the canyon wall. They were still a good distance away, having negotiated only a third of the stairway. “Order them to halt and keep their distance,” I commanded Rettan, “or you’re a dead man.” The bearded man shrugged. “I am not in command. Our leader is among those men coming down the steps. He would ignore any order I tried to give him, but if you shoot me with your weapon, he would not be pleased. Your situation is hopeless, young woman, for if you kill one of us now, things would go very badly for you and your friend. Surrender, and I promise no harm will come to you. We are thieves, not murderers.” I didn’t know if he spoke the truth. I had no idea what to do. He knew I could not hold off all who now approached with my limited arrows. My bluff to kill him and those with him was no longer effective, and I had no other leverage. “Disrupter, what do we do?” asked a nervous Kersla. At Kersla’s words, Rettan’s countenance underwent a dramatic change. “Whoa!” he exclaimed. “Disrupter?” He stared at me with unabashed astonishment. “You are the Disrupter?” This was an interesting development. He had heard of me. Judging by their similarly surprised exclamations, his men had as well. “Yes, some people call me that.” The man studied me closely, probably weighing whether or not to believe me. Then, he thought of a way to determine the truth of my claimed identity. “Will you show me the palm scar?” I still held my bow stretched, with my arrow pointed to his chest, but I knew it was fruitless to continue pretending I had any advantage. Besides, Rettan had not demanded I show him the scar; his request had been polite. I released the tension on the bow and lifted my right hand to allow him to see the clearly defined red image of a spearhead burned into my palm, the mark of a childhood accident that had since become an infamous brand. A prophecy had mentioned the burn mark and identified its carrier as a person to be feared, a person the prophecy called the Disrupter. As I have related before, I fulfilled that prophecy a couple of years ago. “You can put your weapon away,” Rettan said after viewing the scar. He then added, “You have no enemies here, Disrupter.”

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