Scorpion Dragon Option Aa1: Swing for the Edge

Welcome to the end of the adventure! Let’s see if you can defeat the dragon.

Scorpion Dragon Option Aa1: Swing for the Edge

Scorpus continues to grow bigger.

torch-953230-mYou consider the dark hole you’re suspended over and shudder. You can’t see down into the darkness beyond your feet and Scorpus admitted it leads to the dungeons. Sounds like you might be jumping from the pan into the fire if you drop to get away from the dragon.

Instead, you swing for the edge. On your third swing, you land your entire palm against the sand but all you get is a handful of grains before swinging away.

Scorpus laughs and the ‘hahaha’ echoes off the rocks.

You swing again and aim for a rock. You catch it but it slides with your weight and falls into the hole.

Just as you let the rock go, you realize you could have used it as a weapon since the sword’s inaccessible at the moment. But too late, the rock disappears into the hole.

Claws close around your waist and you’re lifted into the air.

Scorpus’ red face fills your vision.

“Got quite the fight in you, I see,” he grins. “Most just drop into the dungeons.”

You struggle for the sword while he’s gloating. Strapping it to your back may have helped you crawl over the rocks but now you can barely brush the hilt with your fingertips. With a twist of your torso that makes your back pop, you grasp the hilt firmly in your hand and draw the sword.

The grin on Scorpus’ face disappears. You swing, trying to catch his shoulder so he’ll drop you, but your aim’s thrown off as the he squeezes with his claws.

The tip of the sword draws an angry line across Scorpus’ snout and he roars in your face.sword-1420556

Apparently he can’t breath fire. You go to swing again when his tail comes over his head and a stinger the size of your arm hits you in the chest. You can’t breath. All the strength drains from your arms and your vision swims.

Scorpus plucks the sword from your limp fingers and tosses it. A moment later, there’s a far away splash.

In your fuzzy mind, you can’t get the thought out of your head that, somehow, the sword’s going to return to your mother.

Scorpus laughs again and you see his maw open wide. Blessedly, your blurry vision goes dark.

***

I’m sorry to say the dragon Scorpus ate you but the history books change, with out anyone knowing how, to mention the scar left on his snout by the brave soul who dared defy him.

The End

Sorry this ending did not go your way. =( I promise, this adventure will happen again so you can find a happier ending but for now, have a wonderful weekend!

Blessings,

Jennifer

Scorpion Dragon

Welcome to the adventure. This story’s bones came from the amazing imaginations of some very creative nieces and nephews I know. When lacking inspiration, they’re an awesome source of fuel for the muse. =) Hope you enjoy.

Scorpion Dragon

“It costs a King’s ransom, though,” the doc warns you.

“But a cure exists?” you ask again.

He nods and lays a sympathetic hand on your shoulder before leaving your one room cabin. The dirt under your feet and the paper over the windows just accentuates what the doc meant. You’ve no money.

You take a steadying breath before heading into the lean-to off the back of the cabin. The lean-to, and the only private part of your home, belongs to your mother. You built it for her when she fell ill in hopes she’d sleep better. But no amount of sleep will cure her.

You’re mother smiles at you when you look at her. You stop, taken a back. The haunted look in her eyes from moments before when the doc told her she had only a few weeks left has been replaced with a gentle sort of peace.

“Mom, are you all right?”

Instead of answering you, she points to a book on the table. It’s the history book she taught you from when you were younger.

“Flip to the back section on regional myths,” she says.

You sit on the three-legged stool beside her bed and do as she asked. She never covered this section in your education, so you’re unfamiliar with the picture of a large dragon that graces the top of the page. The picture’s colored in red and highlights the dragon’s tail that hangs like a scorpion’s over its head. Even the end of the tail has a stinger but clearly the rest of the creature represents the fire-breathing drake.

“Read there,” you mother taps the page.

 

island-1502822The island of Scorpus sits far off the coast, and looks like nothing but a pile of rock and sand to passersby. But myth claims it the home of the scorpion dragon who sank Princess Maya’s ship in 1102, capturing her gold and keeping her prisoner. According to the myth, Maya is kept in a castle in the cliffs of the island and is forced by Scorpus to polish his red scales daily.

 

You frown at your mother. Perhaps the disease already took her mind, but she’s looking at you with such hope. You shrug, not getting why she showed you this.

She points again at the page.

“Look,” she says, pointing to the bottom of the page at another picture.

It’s a detailed sketch of a sword. You pull the book closer and then glance from the lean-to into the main room of the cabin. The only thing of value the family owns hangs over the fireplace mantle. A family heirloom, a sword with bluish steel.

You glance between the sword and the picture several times but there’s no mistake. The sword’s distinctive engraved handle is sword-1420556perfectly depicted in the picture. Below the drawing is the caption “The only weapon known to hurt the scorpion dragon.”

“I never showed you this because everyone in our family dies looking,” your mother admits, “but if the sword exists, so might the island and the princess’ treasure.” She flips the page to show you a poorly drawn map. “Find the island for me?”

“How do we still have the sword?” You ask. Surely someone thought to take it with them.

“They all took the sword. It finds its way back, they do not,” she shrugs, clearly hurt at the memory. “Find the island for me?” she asks again.

***

The hope in your mother’s eyes when you said yes lends you strength as you row toward the island. This is the third such island you’ve checked out but this one just feels right. And if any island simply looks like a pile of rock and sand, this is the epitome of rock and sand islands.

You row one more time and your boat hits the sand. Far out in the water you can still see the Wind Born. The captain agreed to wait for two days while you explore. If you’re not back, he’ll chalk the rowboat up as a loss and leave you behind.

You heave the rowboat onto the beach and retrieve the sword and your pack from inside. All you brought were food and water. Wasn’t like you owned anything else to prepare you for this trip.

The book stated the castle of Princess Maya is hidden in cliffs but it doesn’t say if the cliffs are inland or on the beach.

Do you…

A. Explore inland?

Or

B. Explore the beach?

Scorpion Dragon Option A: Explore Inland

island-1502822The beach lays barren around you except for the occasional rock that breaks up the smooth, dark sand. But before you, toward the center of the island, the rocks grow bigger until you’re pretty sure they turn into cliffs. It’s hard to tell for sure because of how the rocks break up the skyline, but if a castle’s hidden here, you figure it’d be back where it’s hard to get to.

So you strap the sword around your waist and sling your pack over your shoulder and head inland.

Almost immediately the slap of the sword against your leg makes you stumble. You hold it with your hand but that hinders you climbing over the rocks. Sitting down, you take the sword off and use the belt to attach it to your pack. Satisfied, you slip the pack back on and head over the rocks again.

Not two steps in, you realize the sword wasn’t your only problem. The rocks, although they appear stable, move beneath your feet like each one sits on a pivot similar to a teeter-totter.

The pessimistic side of you grumbles with each step. The optimistic side delights in the fact that, the more secure the island is, the more likely it’s that way be design and you might actually be in the right place.

You’re trying to focus on that brighter side when a tiny giggle catches your attention. Rocks and sand meet your confused glance. The place seems dead of other life. You scour the area one more time before attacking the next obstacle, a larger rock, a boulder really, that requires you to climb over it.

Stuck half way up and scrambling for a hold on the top of the boulder, the giggle sounds again, a tiny chirping like a cat with the hiccups. You give a desperate shove with your feet, catch the top of the rock and haul yourself up by scrapping your belly on the rough surface.

You roll over and lay on your back to catch your breath. The giggle comes again.

“Could’ve helped me there,” you accuse aloud.

“No, I really couldn’t have,” whistles a soft voice.

“Why not?” you ask. By this time, your patience is limited.

“Well, look and see.”

You roll your head to the right and find a red creature with a stinger in its tail. A scorpion.scorpion-1315063

You keep from giving a cry and rolling away only because the tail’s raised, ready to strike and you’re not sure you’re fast enough.

“Oh, sorry,” the scorpion says, lowering his tail.

Now that you’ve relaxed, you see the creature’s only about an inch and a half long.

“I couldn’t help you, see, because I’m not big enough. But I can show you an easier way.”

“Easier way to what?” you ask, still eyeing the tail.

“The castle, of course. What else?”

“Why would you help me?” Your mother’s words, the ones about none of your family returning home, ring loud in your mind. This island’s full of pitfalls. This scorpion could be helpful…or he could be out to get you.

“Scorpus likes to eat us for fun.” If a scorpion could look morose, this one would have. As it is, his shoulders slump and his tail hangs near his head. “And showing you the castle’s my little way of getting back at him.”

Do you…

Aa. Accept his help?

Or

Ab. Decline his help?

Scorpion Dragon Option Aa: Accept His Help

scorpion-1315063“All right,” you say, “show me this easier way.”

The scorpion jumps in glee and you flinch back, away from his wildly swinging tail.

“Oops,” he covers his face with a claw, “sorry about that.”

You just shoo him with your hands.

“Right then. This way,” he turns and leads you along the top of several boulders that, thankfully, don’t turn under your weight.

On the fifth such boulder, the scorpion uses a small vine to scamper across and you jump the gap. Your foot touches down and the boulder shifts. You throw your arms wide but there’s nothing you can catch yourself on as everything tilts.

You try to roll when you hit the ground below but the sand sinks, sucking you downward. Your stomach hits your throat. Then the downward sensation stops and you’re hanging with sand still moving downward.

Sand continues to fall but you’re suspended by the sword strapped to your back like a pig over a roasting pit. You take stock and see the sword caught the edges of the hole you almost fell through. Now that the sand’s slowed to a trickle, you make out the trap door and a dark hole below. A chill wind rushes up from that hole, bringing with it the smell of mold and sweat.

“Well, that’s just awkward,” says the scorpion.

“Easier way?” you growl at him.

He shrugs. “It gets you into the castle. I never said how.”

“And where does it put me in the castle?” You watch him scamper off the rocks to circle the trap. He makes his way to the hilt of the sword and gives the end an experimental shove with a claw. Your weight holds the sword in place and his shove only pushes him backwards.

“The dungeons,” the scorpion admits, testing the hilt of the sword again with more vigor. It doesn’t budge.

You sigh in relief. You can’t reach the edges of the hole from where you hang, suspended directly above the center of the open trap door, but at least the scorpion can’t push you in either.

“That just won’t do,” the scorpion says. His words deepen toward the end and you look over in surprise. He used to be only an inch and a half long but, right before your eyes, his body starts to thicken and his tail grows.

He grins at the shock on your face.

“Scorpus,” you realize, the dragon.

He’s still growing bigger. In no time he’ll be large enough to pick you up and drop you in the trap door like a tiny doll…or pick you up and eat you. You sway your weight to see if you can touch the edge of the hole with a little help. Your fingers brush the sandy edge.

Scorpus snaps his claws experimentally. They make a snapping sound similar to the clap of two boards thrown together.

Do you…

Aa1: Swing for the edge?

Or

Aa2: Drop into the trap?

Scorpion Dragon Option Aa1: Swing for the Edge

Scorpus continues to grow bigger.

torch-953230-mYou consider the dark hole you’re suspended over and shudder. You can’t see down into the darkness beyond your feet and Scorpus admitted it leads to the dungeons. Sounds like you might be jumping from the pan into the fire if you drop to get away from the dragon.

Instead, you swing for the edge. On your third swing, you land your entire palm against the sand but all you get is a handful of grains before swinging away.

Scorpus laughs and the ‘hahaha’ echoes off the rocks.

You swing again and aim for a rock. You catch it but it slides with your weight and falls into the hole.

Just as you let the rock go, you realize you could have used it as a weapon since the sword’s inaccessible at the moment. But too late, the rock disappears into the hole.

Claws close around your waist and you’re lifted into the air.

Scorpus’ red face fills your vision.

“Got quite the fight in you, I see,” he grins. “Most just drop into the dungeons.”

You struggle for the sword while he’s gloating. Strapping it to your back may have helped you crawl over the rocks but now you can barely brush the hilt with your fingertips. With a twist of your torso that makes your back pop, you grasp the hilt firmly in your hand and draw the sword.

The grin on Scorpus’ face disappears. You swing, trying to catch his shoulder so he’ll drop you, but your aim’s thrown off as the he squeezes with his claws.

The tip of the sword draws an angry line across Scorpus’ snout and he roars in your face.sword-1420556

Apparently he can’t breath fire. You go to swing again when his tail comes over his head and a stinger the size of your arm hits you in the chest. You can’t breath. All the strength drains from your arms and your vision swims.

Scorpus plucks the sword from your limp fingers and tosses it. A moment later, there’s a far away splash.

In your fuzzy mind, you can’t get the thought out of your head that, somehow, the sword’s going to return to your mother.

Scorpus laughs again and you see his maw open wide. Blessedly, your blurry vision goes dark.

***

I’m sorry to say the dragon Scorpus ate you but the history books change, with out anyone knowing how, to mention the scar left on his snout by the brave soul who dared defy him.

The End

Sorry this ending did not go your way. =( I promise, this adventure will happen again so you can find a happier ending but for now, have a wonderful weekend!

Blessings,

Jennifer

 

Jace

“Look,” Jace points ahead, “trees!” Then he takes off running for said trees with his pack bouncing on his back.Forest

You jog to keep up but, since you’re carrying most of the gear, he keeps his lead on you.

“Jace,” you call, “slow down. You’ve got longer legs than I.”

He turns, still running, and trips over his own feet.

You cringe as he tumbles and his pack slides over his head to tangle awkwardly around his shoulders.

At first you think he’s crying but when you come even with him, you find his convulsions are silent laughter.

“I cart wheeled!” He announces in his slightly slurred speech.

“That you did. It was glorious,” you respond while untangling him. You consider that maybe you should view life more like he does. A ten year old’s enthusiasm in an adult’s body. Life is never dull for Jace. He’s aware enough to live on his own, but as his neighbor, you still check in on him every day. In essence, you’ve become his best friend.

You don’t begrudge helping him cook his meals or clean his house when, without fail, he brings a smile to your face.

You race him to the trees and teach him how to set up the tent by the river that runs just inside the tree line.

His grin about splits his face. It’s been there since you agreed to take him camping the day before.

You gladly agreed when he asked. The area where you live is relatively safe, unlike the larger cities to the west of you, and Jace loves the surrounding forests.

As you settle in for the night, his grin is the last thing you see before falling asleep.

***

Twigs crack close by and you bolt upright, fully awake.

“Hear that, Jace?”

There’s no response.

Jace isn’t beside you. The door’s on your side so you’d wake if he got up, but the flap is still tied closed. A breeze brushes your skin anyway. In the dark, you crawl over Jace’s empty spot to find the far wall of the tent sliced and now flapping free.

“Hey, hey no—“

You recognize the slightly slurred speech.

You shove through the open wall of the tent in time to catch a disturbance on the north side of the camp. Following, you stumble on to the edge of the river and see a small boat with two silhouettes rowing away. A shock of light hair, definitely Jace’s, shines on the side of the boat in the moonlight.

Slavers, you realize with a sick sensation. They’ve been plaguing the coast but you thought this was far enough inland to be safe. Apparently not. They must have used the river to sneak inland.

And now they’ve got Jace. Why didn’t they take you too?

You’ve no idea but now you’ve got to save Jace.

Do you…

A Follow Them?

Or

B. Head to the coast to find their ship?

Jace Option A: Follow Them

You can still see the boat meandering away down the river. Your gut clenches with the thought that, if you lose sight of that small vessel, you may never see Jace again.river-at-yarragil-1491745

The river meets the ocean in a wide cove surrounded by cliffs. It’s not useful as a dock, so usually no ships use the cove. However, if you lose sight of the small rowboat, there’s a chance the slaver’s ship will leave the cove before you reach it since they’re traveling by water. Then you’ll have no chance of finding Jace.

You can’t chance that.

You take off down the riverbank but it’s not long before you run into vegetation creeping into the water. It blocks your way as surely as if the slavers had set up a gate.

Heading inland a bit, you try to work your way past the area only to find the trees grow thicker. By now the rowboat’s got to be well beyond your sight but you try to go back in order to check the river for it.

When you do finally make it, sure enough, the river’s empty of any boat. Tears prick at your eyes. Jace’s thrilled smile plays through your mind. Camping should’ve been a fun, safe activity for him but now he’ll never want to go to the woods again. That’s if you can find him and bring him back.

You have to find him. There’s just not another option in your head.

With renewed determination, you head back to the camp, realizing now that in your initial rush, you left your lantern and hatchet behind.

Items in hand, you make your way back to the impassable spot in the river and move inland again, swinging the hatchet through the brush to make a trail wide enough for you to pass through. Branches still scrape at your face, arms, and legs though, and it’s not long before small trails of blood trace your skin.

Dawn brightens the treetops by the time you’re able to follow the riverbank again. Sweat drips from your nose and off your hand as you swing the hatchet but thankfully there are a few small rivers meeting up with the main water that help cool you down when you have to cross them.

Exhaustion clouds your eyes as you scan the river for any signs of the rowboat. You’re close to the cove and can hear the ocean. Rushing ahead, you pan your gaze across the cove and your heart sinks.

No rowboat, no ship, no Jace.

Your knees hit the sand but then you hear a scuffing sound and what started out as a sob of disappointment turns into you ducking into the brush behind you. The sound comes again from inland, toward the cliffs along the cove where the trees grow thick.

cliff-face-1471259Then you see it. Men on top of the cliffs. And there, in the middle of them stumbling along, you make out Jace’s blond head.

The only thing that makes sense would be if the men never had a ship but headed up one of the smaller rivers that you crossed on your way to the cove. Who knows all the details, the why or how or what are they doing, but you’ve got Jace in sight again.

Do you…

Aa. Climb the cliffs?

Or

Ab. Head back up the river to go around the cliffs?

Jace Option Aa: Climb the Cliffs

Jace is in your sights again and the thought of losing sight of him just about makes you sick. Heading back up the river to go around would be the safer way to go, less likely to be seen, but by the time you reach the top of the cliffs, the men and Jace may be gone. That’s not acceptable.

You head into the thick forest at the base of the cliffs, moving as fast as you can so Jace is out of your sight for only a few moments. The sun’s already warming the air and sweat glistens your skin within seconds.

Beneath the foliage, you realize how small you are in comparison to the towering trunks and mossy hides of the trees. They vibrate with life and dozens of shades of green that mix together to form the scope of tree, brush, moss and flower.

Insects buzz in your ears.

cliff-face-1471259Then, you’re at the base of the cliffs. You’d hoped to still be able to see the men above but rocks fill your vision. Faint sound carries to you, voices. They’re still up there.

You rub your palms against your pants to dry them and reach for your first hold.

Even on the rock, away from the foliage, the humidity in the air slickens your skin. The rock turns slick as ice in your grip and your right foot slides off the tiny nub you were standing on.

In a desperate grab, you push off with your left foot just before it slides off too and reach upward for the small ridge above your head.

Your fingers hit the ridge and sink into the slight bowl rain carved out there. Your fall stops with a sudden jerk and you swing on your right arm. Relief almost makes you dizzy as your grip remains firm and you’re able to pull yourself into the rock where you find two solid spots for your feet.

Your arm throbs from taking your weight so suddenly. You swap hands and let it hang free for a second to rest. Sweat drips from your nose and your breath rasps in and out of your throat but over the harsh sound you still pick out the faint mutter of voices.

You listen but it doesn’t sound like your fall alerted them to your presence. Shaking your hand one last time to make sure you’ve got full feeling in your fingers, you look up and make your goal the crack that’s three feet above you. You make it there and you can sink your body into the crack far enough to rest.

More sweat drips from your face. You scrub your hands one at a time on your pants to dry them and keep moving.

Finally, you reach the crack in the rock and slide into it sideways, using your hips to wedge yourself in place. With both hands free, you shake them to relieve the tension in your forearms. They’re tight enough now that you can barely close your fingers.

As you take a moment to recover, the voices above drift to you. After a moment of listening, you realize you understand what they’re saying.

“…pay or you get nothing,” one deep male voice insists.

“That’s not what we agreed,” another responds. This second one seems angry, more so than the first, which surprises you as it sounds like the first is the slaver and the second the buyer.

“You never mentioned he’d be an idiot the whole way. We get paid for our trouble!”

“You get nothing but my silence. Now give me my boy.” Such command. You shiver despite the heat.

“Hey.” It takes you a moment to realize this last word isn’t part of the conversation. It’s quiet, like someone whispering. You look up to find Jace looking down at you from the top of the cliff. He grins as he lays there on his stomach. “Hey,” he says again.

shhhh-1433634“Shhhh,” you lay a finger to your lips and he grins even wider. It’s a game you’ve played with him many times. Hide and Seek. He loves it but giggles while hiding. You always lay your finger across your lips to remind him he’s got to keep the giggles silent.

He copies your move, letting you know he understands.

“It’s my dad,” he whispers, almost too quiet for you to make out the words.

“See, he’s an idiot!” Shouts the deep voice above. “Hanging over the cliff like he’s going to tumble off. I’ve known life long slaves with more sense.”

“His brain’s none of your business. Now go. I won’t say a word about your business in the area.”

There’s grumbling and then the men break out into an all out shouting match in which you can’t make out what each is saying.

Did Jace’s dad hire the slavers to kidnap his son? It certainly sounds like it. Everyone knows in the village that Jace’s mother keeps a close eye out for his dad because the man’s rather unscrupulous.

Do you…

Aa1: Have Jace Sneak Away?

Or

Aa2: Wait until Jace is alone with his dad?

Jace Option Aa2: Wait until Jace is alone with his dad

The argument above echoes over the cliff without any indication of slackening. You meet Jace’s gaze and give him the ‘shhh’ sign again while you consider your options. He giggles and slaps a hand over his mouth.

To the left there’s a tree line that meets the sloping edge of the cliff but it’s a good distance away. Jace would have to be either nonchalant about getting there or sneaky like a spy. He’s neither so you decide to wait until only Jace’s father is left.

You wedge yourself a bit tighter into the crack to wait out the argument. Eventually, Jace get’s bored of staring at you and he disappears. You hope he doesn’t say anything.

The arguing stops and you hear heavy footsteps leaving. Perhaps the slavers have gone but you wait a little longer until you hear Jace’s father call to him before you move to finish climbing the cliff.

By the time you haul yourself over the edge, you catch the sight of Jace and his father following a path into the tree line on the left. Although you’re huffing for breath and covered in sweat, you push to your feet and take off after them.

They’re much taller than you, though, and their strides take them down the path at a rate that has you almost running to keep them in sight.

Then you brake to a rapid stop. It’s the offshoot of the river that the slavers must have used to get Jace to the cliff. On it sits a row-in-sunset-1553775sleek boat with several more men sitting inside. They give Jace a hand as he climbs aboard and deferentially step back to allow his dad to climb in on his own.

“To the compound,” his dad says and the men start rowing.

Your stomach rolls like you want to throw up. There are too many men for you to get Jace back on your own.

You walk down to the very edge of the river and watch them rowing away. Something catches your eye, another boat. A tiny rowboat left on the riverbank farther up.

You might not be able to save Jace by yourself, but you might be able to follow them to see where they take him.

You climb aboard the tiny vessel and put your back into rowing. It’s tough work to keep the sleeker boat in sight but, determined, you keep going until the sun’s gone and it’s the lights of the ‘compound’ that tell you you’ve made it to their destination.

The compound’s a house a top a hill with a wall surrounding it. On the wall walk sentries.

Definitely too much for you to save Jace alone. You watch them take Jace inside the gates and then slip away to head home.

***

A part of you always regrets not getting Jace back alone but the logical side of you admits you wouldn’t have succeeded. As it is, the village spends several months figuring out weaknesses in the compound before they’re able to sneak inside and steal Jace back.

Turns out, Jace’s dad wanted to pass along the family business of drug running. Since Jace was his only son, his dad spent hours with him trying to instill the details of the business even though Jace, who loved simple things, wasn’t interested and didn’t really understand the gravity.

What’s harder on you is it takes Jace another year to trust you again. Something about letting him go to spend time with his dad just didn’t sit right with him. You consider explaining to him that it wasn’t your idea but, in the end, it’s just easier to let him relearn to trust you.

The End

Blessings,

Jennifer

Poison Inn 2

It’s a good time to rerun an adventure. I could make it sound like I planned this but, honestly, my days got away from me and Monday night rolled around like a snowball that got out of hand. I wrote the start to a lovely adventure that harkened towards Alice in Wonderland but when I looked back over it, it doesn’t make sense to even me. Oops =/ Plus, I only have the beginning to it and no outline. That’s just a disaster waiting to happen, trust me.

So here we go with an adventure from the beginning of the year. It has snow in it, which, when it’s over 100 degrees outside, appeals to me like the ice cream truck’s jingle does to a child.

Hope you enjoy and thanks for stopping by =)

Poison Inn

You’re sitting in an inn well off the beaten path enjoying a hot beverage that wafts the scent of cinnamon under your nose and warms your hands through the wooden mug.

You were on your way to the capital to buy supplies when the storm hit. It started out as sleet but as the day grew later and the temperature dropped, the sleet shifted to snow. Beneath the growing layer of white, the sleet turned to ice and it was all you could do to keep your feet to get to the next town.

Photo courtesy of Sebring's Snapshots.

Photo courtesy of Sebring’s Snapshots.

Once you reached the town, however, you found the main inns were already full from travelers like yourself. So you were forced to move deeper into the town to find this run down place that boasted only a few rooms above and a stable for four horses out back.

It wasn’t the safest part of town either.

Since you sat down, you’ve kept your eye on a pair of men next to the hearth. Their heads are bowed over a chess table but you’ve yet to see a piece move. One of them, a great bearded fellow whose shoulders remind you of a troll, fingers an axe that hangs by his side. The other strokes his ragged goatee with one hand while tapping his nails on the table with the other. From his belt also hangs an axe. It’s double bladed. Not a woodsman’s axe, but a war axe.

They’re not the only ones that give you pause. At the bar sits a woman with high-topped black, leather boots. This wouldn’t give you cause for alarm except, when the woman shifted on her stool last, you spotted the tops of at least three knives sticking out of the right boot cuff. One, maybe two, would make sense for safety, but three?

Lastly, at the far end of the bar sits what appears to be an older couple. You’d think them sweet with their holding hands but the woman’s shrill voice hasn’t stopped since you entered the place. Every once in a while the man’s gruff responses cut her off but it doesn’t stop the woman’s tirade for long. You’ve been questioning their age for about five minutes when the serving woman approaches your table. It takes you a minute to respond to her because you’re staring at the older woman. Her glasses slid to the end of her nose and when she moves to push them back up, you could swear her hand looked like that of a twenty five year old, not an eighty year old.

“We’re out of beef stew. Want mutton?” The serving woman asks again. Her voice is flat.

Mutton’s disgusting unless cooked right but you’re hungry, so you nod and say, “that’ll do.”

She thumps a plate with bread, butter and a small square of cheese onto the table and moves away toward the chess players.

All you want is to get a decent night’s sleep and leave for the capital in the morning. Behind the bar stands the bar keep. He’s a giant of a man with flaming red hair. Over his shoulder, held on the wall by two iron hooks, is a club he must use to keep the bar peaceful. It’s only a little reassuring.

The serving woman’s half way across the room, headed back toward the kitchen, when it happens. She catches herself on a table’s edge but it’s a pedestal table and the weight on only one edge serves to flip it. She hits the floor and doesn’t move.

There’s a moment of shocked silence before the bar keep’s over the bar and kneeling beside her. He leans in and sniffs. The look on his face when he raises his head makes you shrink back in your seat.

“One of you low lifes poisoned her!”

Another man appears from the kitchen at the bar keep’s bellow. He’s an exact match to the bar keep with flaming red hair. You guess he’s the cook due to the apron he’s wearing. He scoops the woman off the floor and heads for the stairs, saying over his shoulder, “I’ll see what I can do.”

Once he’s up the stairs and out of sight, everyone moves. They don’t get very far.

“No one leaves!” bellows the bar keep, “until I know who’s responsible.”

You sink back into your chair.

“You!” he points a finger your way, “Wallin will need his bag,” he points to a bulging sack just behind the bar by the kitchen door. “Take it to him.”

You nervously move across the room with all eyes on you, guessing he picked you because, one, you’re alone, and two, unlike the woman at the bar, you’re not heavily armed.

It’s this thought that makes you look twice at the knife sitting on the edge of the bar. Everyone watched you reach the bag but then looked away when the bar keep pointed at the goateed chess player and started asking questions.

As you pass the bar again to head up the stairs, you might be able to slip the knife into your hand and up your sleeve.

Do you…

A.Take the Knife?

or

B.Leave the Knife?

Poison Inn Option A: Take the Knife

Photo courtesy of Sebring's Snapshots.

Photo courtesy of Sebring’s Snapshots.

Without a weapon, your stomach knots with anxiety. You slide past the bar and palm the knife into your hand and up your sleeve. No one cries out at your move but your back itches as you head up the stairs, just waiting for someone to point you out.

At the top of the stairs, you pause. You’ve no idea which of the two rooms Wallin took the woman to. Then you hear a muffled step from behind the right hand door.

You knock softly and hear a deep “come” from inside.

The room’s so small you almost stumble into the foot of the bed. The giant Wallin kneels on the left side close to the serving woman’s face.

He sniffs and then glances at you. “Come here,” he beckons toward the right side of the bed.

You hold the bag up so he can see why you’ve bothered him but he simply waves for you to set it down and gestures toward the side of the bed again.

“Smell her breath,” he says and tilts the woman’s head your way.

It’s only then you realize she’s still breathing. It’s shallow, not enough to raise her chest, but enough to be felt on the skin of your face when you lean close. The faint scent of almonds tickles your nose.

“Sweet or sour?” Wallin asks.

“Almond,” you answer.

He scowls. “I know that. Sweet or sour?”

You take another sniff. “Sour.”

Before he can respond, there’s a thumping on the floorboards from below. You jump and Wallin cracks a smile.

“Marl wants you back down there,” he says. Your hand’s on the doorknob when he speaks again. “Leave the knife with me.”

He must have noticed the bulge of the knife beneath your sleeve. Even still, you turn, trying to keep an innocent but confused look on your face but he just shakes his head.

“You’re not the poisoner,” he says. “I would’ve known if you were.” He gestures at the woman on the bed. “You could have tried to mislead me here.”

“I’ve no weapon,” you admit, “and, well—“

“The room’s full of them,” he finishes for you. “I get it, but if Marl finds you with his prize knife, he’ll slit your throat, poisoner or not. Take this,” he holds out a round stone. When you hold out your hand, he drops it onto your palm. It’s satiny smooth and ebony in color.

At your questioning look, he explains. “Marl will know I trust you because of that. Let his club do the rest.”

You nod and hand over the knife you took from the bar.

As you leave, the stone feels cold in your palm. Compared to the knife, it offers scant reassurance but you didn’t want to argue with Wallin.

In the room below, Marl’s got every one sitting at the bar now, lined up like school children. There’s one stool left.

The club’s off the wall and swinging in Marl’s hand, its round head whistling through the air as he twirls it.

You take the last stool and Marl points at you. “Occupation?” he demands.

Considering the situation, saying Apothecary’s assistant could be the worst thing you could do. You could shorten it to simply Master’s assistant but he might dig more and then it’d look like you were hiding something.

Do you say…

Aa. Apothecary’s assistant?

Or

Ab. Master’s assistant?

Poison Inn 2 Option Ab: Master’s Assistant

The room crackles with tension as Marl eyes you, waiting for your response. You can just imagine his reaction if you say Apothecary’s assistant. Even to you that sounds suspicious with the poisoning.

“I’m a Master’s assistant. I was headed to the Capital for supplies when the storm hit.” You hold Marl’s gaze as your say this. It’s all technically true but his eyes narrow, perhaps sensing you’re holding information back.

“What supplies?” he asks.cinnamon-1439426-m

“Spices mostly,” you respond. “Sage, Thyme, the Cinnamon ships should have arrived a few days ago. My Master wan—“

Marl waves for you to stop. You snap your lips shut, relieved because those were the only three well-known spices on your list and you’re a horrible liar. Much more talking and he’d have known for sure you weren’t telling everything.

After a moment longer of eyeing you, Marl moves to question the old couple at the end of the bar.

“Who are you?” he asks them.

“Th—we’re the Nichols,” the man swallows and grasps his wife’s hand so tightly his knuckles look white. “We were headed to visit Maria, our daughter. It’s her birthday, you see, and we were going to surprise her with…” his voice reminds you of the rasp from a harpsichord as he rambles on about surprising his daughter.

You clasp your hands together against the rough bar to stop them from shaking, only catching half of the man’s words as he continues to ramble.

Marl simply watches him, his silence pulling more words than questions would have. You don’t blame the man. You know exactly how that furious stare feels.

The old woman pulls her hand free from her husband to push her glasses back up her nose. Her hand shakes and she pauses for a second before pressing on the bridge.

You stare hard at her fingers. She’s almost totally silver haired. Her face bares the signs of liver spots, but her hands, they’re long fingered and elegant. Smooth skinned like they’ve never seen the sun.

hands-1383864-mYou scan her appearance again, trying to reconcile the smooth white of her hands with the brownish spots on her chin and forehead. You’re eyes catch on something else.

She’s silver haired but tucked behind her right ear is a lock of black. It’s hard to catch because the white hair overlaps it in several spots and that side of her head hides in her husband’s shadow cast by the lamp behind the bar, but you’re fairly sure the hair isn’t even the same texture.

While you’ve been staring, Marl’s asked a few more questions that you didn’t catch the answers to. He seems satisfied with the old man’s response though and moves down the bar to the chess players.

You don’t even listen to their reasons for being in the Inn this evening. Instead, you continue to watch the old woman. She waits for a bit, fidgeting with her glasses and pulling at her jacket like she’s cold. Then she slides off her stool and steps away from the bar like she’s stretching her old legs.

Something tells you she’s about to bolt. You really want to blurt out a question about her hair. Is she wearing a wig? But if you ask and you’re wrong, Marl’s going to suspect you even more.

Do you…

Ab1: Ask?

or

Ab2: Keep quiet?

Poison Inn 2 Option Ab1: Ask

As you debate whether to say something, the old woman speaks up and you hold your breath, a bit surprised.

“Can I use the restroom?” she whispers. “My old body doesn’t do well sometimes.”

The room’s silence is so profound you can hear Wallin click bottles together from his bag upstairs.

You realize this is your moment. If you’re going to ask, this is it.

“Um,” you raise a hand to draw Marl’s attention. If you’re wrong, you’ll deal with it, but your gut tells you your suspicions are justified. “Is she wearing a wig?”

The woman’s hand flies to her hair like the wind just stole her hat but the move’s not fast enough. The knife-yielding woman snatches the gray hair from her head and long, black tresses tumble out from beneath.

Unmasked, the woman bolts for the door. The knife woman snakes a foot out, and catches her, tripping her into a table, which tips and hits the floor with a thud. Between Marl and the knife woman, you don’t catch much of what happens next, you just see it when they lift the woman off the floor and haul her back to the bar.

“Wait now,” One of the axe man steps closer for a better look, “I’ve seen you before. Hey Alex, hand me my bag.” He holds out his hand to his goateed partner. When the bag’s handed over, he rummages inside and pulls out a badly crumpled flier. “That’s it.” He holds the flier up for all to see.

Wantedwanted-poster-1207509-m

Bradley Couple Assassin Team.

20 silvers reward for their capture.

Below the words is drawn a likeness of two people, a man and a woman. The woman’s sketch is rough but her dark hair stands out. It’s uncommon in the area.

It’s then you look around for the old man, wanting to compare him to the drawing as well.

“He’s gone,” you speak up. “The old man’s gone.”

Ms. Bradley sneers while everyone looks around for her husband. Sure enough, he’s nowhere to be seen. Marl grumbles and looks at you.

“Head upstairs. Let Wallin know what’s happened.”

You take the stairs two at a time, both excited and happy to be out of the room. When you explain everything to Wallin, he nods and gestures for you to sit with the serving woman.

“She won’t wake for a while,” he says. “But she’s the baron’s daughter, so I’d prefer not to leave her alone. You probably don’t want to be a part of our questioning the assassin anyway.”

You readily agree, realizing this all has to do with politics and you’d prefer to be left out of it anyway.

You sit with the girl until Wallin returns. Her color’s improved to a light pink tone and he gives you a smile.

“We’ll probably never catch the guy,” he admits, “but you helped us catch half the assassin team and maybe who hired her. The baron owns the inn. So you can stay here for free anytime you like.”

It’s a great deal for you since you make the trip between home and the Capital all the time for your Master.

You’re always curious about Mr. Bradley but Wallin, when you see him, doesn’t ever bring up the subject, and you don’t ask.

The End

You caught half the assassin team! Well done =)

Blessings,

Jennifer

The Jamison House

Yay! It’s time to return to the adventure =) Moving is now done and settling in, which will take a while, has commenced. So it’s time for some fun.

Thanks for joining the adventure.

The Jamison House

The work hours grow longer as the days lengthen into summer. With the heat of the sun comes the oppressive humidity from the open tubs of water you use for washing.

Everyday you walk into the washroom and the damp heat hits you like a wall. In less than an hour your hair’s plastered to your bucket-3-226313-mscalp and your shirt sticks to your back. This is normal, your life as a wash person for the Jamison house. With five years of work, you’ll be free to do as you please but since the Jamison’s paid your fare to the new land, you’ve two years left to your service.

As work goes, you can’t complain.

But this morning it’s not just the heavy heat that meets you at the door. The stench doubles you over, gagging. Only with a supreme force of will do you keep your breakfast in your stomach.

Never in your last three years has the washroom smelled like this. It’s urine and warm flesh. Sure, you’ve cleaned sheets the kids peed on, but this isn’t the same.

You hold your apron over your mouth and nose in an effort to soften the smell and then brave opening the washroom again.

Nothing in the immediate vicinity looks off. It’s just the smell that says something’s horribly wrong. You venture farther into the room.

The tubs steam around you, which means Michael’s been in already, working hard to fill them before you and the other washers arrive. It’s then you spot the oddity.

Seven out of eight washtubs are steaming; the last one in the far corner is not. With all the others giving off damp mist, it’s hard to see that the eighth one’s different but, drawing closer, you see there’s no water inside.

Something else occupies the tub. At first you see a shoe, then the homespun pants, and by the time you’re close enough to see Michael’s face, you’re positive you don’t want to see. But somehow you can’t look away.

He’s a color of blue no person should be. Dark marks on his neck remind you of fingers. Whoever did this had to be strong because Michael was not a small man. Clutched in his hand is what looks like fabric from maybe a gray, wool coat.

You back away and race from the washroom with your stomach rolling again. Poor Michael. Although you didn’t know him well, he always smiled at you. One of the few people who made the effort to be friendly.

You should take this directly to the Jamison’s. Michael was their responsibility. But you hesitate. The Jamison’s care very little about their workers as people. It’s possible they’ll just clean everything up and brush the details under the rug.

But what are your other options? Do you investigate the murder yourself? What do you do if you figure out who killed Michael? It isn’t like you’ve got a way to punish the killer.

But you have to do something. The other wash people will be in soon and, if you’re going to investigate yourself, they’ll have to be a part of it. They’re young, really young, and you’re not sure how they’ll handle it either way.

So do you…

A. Tell the Jamisons?

Or

B. Investigate Yourself?

The Jamison House Option B: Investigate

The image of Michael, blue and unnatural, sticks in your mind. You try to picture him smiling like he always did to greet you in the morning but the other image is just too fresh for you to push it aside.

You can’t take the chance the Jamison’s will brush this under the rug. Michael deserves better than that.

Gathering your courage again, you head back into the washroom for a closer look at the murder scene. You want this part done before the others arrive. They shouldn’t have to face it with you.

Upon closer investigation, you find a black spot in the back corner of the room like someone used the dirt floor to snuff out a torch-953230-mtorch. The room’s full of windows to allow light and air flow, so the idea of a torch doesn’t make sense unless someone was in the room at night.

You also find two poles tucked against the wall with heavy scuffing on the floor at the backside of the tub. As far as you can deduce, someone used the poles to roll Michael into the tub.

“Hello?”

The call’s timid but you recognize that it’s Sam, the boy who works beside you. Since you’re in the back of the washroom, he probably can’t see you.

“Over here,” you call. “Don’t let the others in.”

When Sam appears out of the steam, he’s holding his arm over his nose and tears stream from his eyes.

He spots Michael and stops, staring. “He was so excited yesterday,” Sam mumbles.

“What?”

“He said Mr. Jamison offered him Maurice’s job at the house. He was going to be the Butler for the rest of his term.”

This was news. “Did Maurice know?”

Sam finally raises his eyes to look at you. He shrugs. “Don’t know.”

“All right, let’s get Michael out of here,” you gesture for him to give you a hand.

Using the poles that were left against the wall, you and Sam lift the tub to carry it into the woods. The sight of you moving the tub isn’t strange, the poles fit into rings on the side of the wooden frame. It’s how you empty it each night.

shovel-and-pick-axe-1229530-mYou return to the washroom for some shovels. You’re about to head back to the woods to dig the grave when you feel a chill breeze against your face. Since you’re in the washroom, the touch stands out like someone trailing their fingers over your cheek.

You approach the back wall and the breeze grows stronger. Then you see it, a line in the dirt like the grains are falling into a hole. When you trail your fingers along the line, sure enough, a larger line appears. You follow it with your fingers until you have the outline of a trap door.

Lifting it, you peer down into the dark depths of a tunnel. The need for a torch makes more sense now.

You task Sam with digging the grave with a few of the others and then, finding a lantern, you head down into the tunnel to investigate.

It’s a tiny space, just wide enough for you to slide through sideways. Thankfully, it’s a short tunnel but you estimate it’s just long enough to lead to the main house. You set the lantern on the floor and lift the hatch at the end barely an inch, just enough to see what’s on the other side.

The smell of fresh bread wafts through. Then the bustle of the kitchen reaches your ears. From the angle you’re viewing everything, the trap door must be right by the oven in the corner. The cook’s tall, lean frame passes in sight as he carries a bag of flour to the kneading table.

He grunts in pain as he lowers the bag and holds his back for a moment, looking around his kitchen as he does. You let the door fall back into place and sit on the dirt floor of the tunnel to think.

Whoever strangled Michael had to be strong because Michael wasn’t a small man. But the person also had to be thin enough to fit through the tunnel and need the poles the get the body into the tub.

Last, he or she had to know about the tunnel.

Maurice, the current butler, might fit all of those criteria. And, from the sounds of it, he was about to loose his position to Michael.

How to check the theory though?

You could lure Maurice out to the woods to show him the body and confront him there—

Or maybe a few of the smaller kids could keep a watch on him for the next few days. If no one speaks up about finding the body, he might get nervous and check to see what’s happened.

Do you… 

Bb: Lure Maurice out?

or

Bc: Spy on Him?

The Jamison House Option Bc: Spy on Him

There’s just not enough evidence for you to feel comfortable confronting Maurice, and the wash crew readily agrees to help you in spying on him.

So, you decide it’s time to repair the drying lines outside and start hanging the laundry out again instead of hanging it up in the fresh-laundry-1209862-mroom attached to the washroom. With the weather warming and the days lengthening, it’s the perfect time of year for this anyway.

Toward the end of the day, Maurice wanders over with a heavy frown on his face that droops his mustache below his chin. He walks through the lines and then heads into the washroom where the tubs no longer steam.

“Had hot water this morning?” he asks as he turns sideways to fit between two of the tubs.

You nod an affirmative.

Could he fit through the tunnel? Maurice is shorter but round. You wonder if he’s got scrapes on his belly or if you’ve got the wrong person.

“Isn’t there usually ten tubs?” he points to the empty back corner.

“Repairing one,” you answer on the fly. “We set it under the trees so the sun wouldn’t damage the repair. It’ll be back up by the morning.”

Maurice nods with a satisfied grunt and leaves.

“Think he’s getting nervous?” Sam asks after the Butler’s gone.

“Maybe.” You specifically mentioned the trees to see if Maurice would investigate later and find the grave.

But you spend the next several days watching with nothing more. You move the tenth tub back into the washroom and sleep there at night to both keep an eye on the woods and fill everything with hot water in the morning since Michael’s no longer around to do it. The work gives you a whole new appreciation for the man.

On the morning of the third day, Mr. Jamison calls everyone to the porch of the main house. He stands proudly beside Maurice and holds up a page of paper. It’s cream, heavy stock, and the writing on it is bold.

rough-pastel-scroll-1441200-mThen Mr. Jamison holds the page against the porch railing and signs it. After giving it a moment to dry, he folds it neatly and hands the page to Maurice, who smiles for the first time you’ve ever seen.

They shake hands and Maurice leaves the porch, a grin splitting his face.

“His freedom,” someone whispers. “He served his five years, now he’s free.”

Sam sidles up to you. “Maurice didn’t have a reason to kill Michael,” he whispers.

You nod your head but don’t say anything because you’re still watching the porch. Brandon, the cook, climbs the steps to stand beside Mr. Jamison. He’d be the same height as the landowner except for his hunched back. He can’t stand straight.

You recall seeing Brandon with his sack of flour the other morning, recall him clutching his back after setting it down. Strong enough to strangle Michael, but weak enough to need the polls to move the body.

Mr. Jamison hands Brandon a new vest, the sign around the house of the Butler’s position. They shake hands and dismiss everyone by entering the house. Before he follows the landowner inside, Brandon discards his apron and tosses it to one of the kitchen workers.

“It’s him,” Sam says. “Brandon’s wanted out of the kitchen for forever. “

You agree but you’re focused on the apron. “Sam, get that before it disappears.”

He sees where you’re looking and takes off into the gathered people. Before long, he reappears beside you with the discarded apron in his hand.

You pull from your pocket the piece of cloth Michael clutched in his death grip. It fits perfectly with the inside, torn pocket of the apron.

“What do we do?” Sam asks.

Do you…

Bc1: Take the Pocket to Mr. Jamison?

or

Bc2: Confront Brandon with the Wash Crew?

The Jamison House Option Bc1: Take the Pocket to Mr. Jamison

Confronting Brandon, making him pay for Michael’s death, would be wonderful, but by yourself would be foolish and with the wash crew, all of whom are younger than you, would endanger them. You just can’t do that.

“We’ll take the apron to Mr. Jamison,” you tell Sam.

He nods and goes to hand the apron to you. You refuse to take it.

“Brandon’s the Butler now,” you say. “We’ve got to go through him to see Mr. Jamison. You hang on to the apron. I’ll keep the pocket.”

Sam clutches the apron and then shoves it into the pocket of his own apron. When you turn toward the house, he follows you souther-plantation-porch-1429791-mwith his hands stuffed deep into his pockets and his shoulders hunched. He looks like a dejected street urchin. You hope that’s not a bad sign.

All of the workers have scattered back to their respective tasks by the time you climb the porch steps. Your stomach rolls with apprehension but you make sure your knock on the door is firm, confident.

Moments later Brandon opens the door and scowls at you. “What?” he asks.

“Here to see Mr. Jamison about a problem with the water,” you say. There kind of is a problem, Michael’s not around to fill the tubs. You hope the words ring true.

“The Master’s busy. I’ll come around later to look,” Brandon moves to close the door.

You catch it before it latches by shoving your toe in the way. Even with your heavy boots, the smack of the wood sends a pain into your foot.

“It needs attention now,” you insist, “Or the Master’s going to be lacking in sheets come tonight.”

Brandon’s scowl deepens, if possible. He’s a thin man and the expression pinches in the corners of his lips until you can’t see the pink of his mouth anymore.

“This way,” he finally says and opens the door wide enough for you to enter. He leads you to the library. “No soiled aprons in the house,” he says and holds out his hand for Sam’s apron.

Sam’s eyes go wide. “It’s clean,” he insists, stuffing his hands deeper into the pockets.

Brandon just stands there, his hand still out for the apron.

“What’s this?” says a voice behind you.

Spinning, you find Mr. Jamison amongst the books. You could of sworn the library was empty when you entered and, looking around, you see no other door, but despite this, Mr. Jamison’s right there.

“Making him presentable, Sir,” Brandon explains.

Mr. Jamison waves his hand in dismissal. “Leave him be.” He turns to you. “What are you here for?”

You glance at Sam and then hold out the torn pocket. As quickly as possible, you explain where you found the piece of fabric and Sam holds out the apron when you reach the part about Brandon throwing it to the kitchen crew just a little bit ago.

Mr. Jamison accepts the evidence without a word. He listens until you’re done and then fingers the fabric while eyeing Brandon.

The thin man, surprisingly, does not say a word in his defense while you explain. It’s unnerving to say the least.

Finally, he speaks up, “Sir, there’s no way I could’ve done this. I have to be in the kitchen that time in the morning. Someone would’ve noticed my walking between the kitchen and washroom.”

Mr. Jamison nods and you realize you forgot to mention the tunnel. You open your mouth to bring it up but Mr. Jamison holds a hand for silence.

mountain-caves-1378704-m“You play me for dumb?” he asks Brandon. “I’m fully aware of the tunnels on my land.”

A worried look finally hits Brandon’s face. He opens his mouth to protest but then snaps his lips shut without saying anything. Spinning on a heel, he bolts for the door and escapes out of it before anyone can react.

You cry a protest and head after him.

“Not to worry,” Mr. Jamison calls, “I’ll have the hounds hunt him down.”

You turn back toward the landowner and see he’s already pulled the cord on the wall for someone to respond.

“However,” Mr. Jamison continues. “There’s the issue of you and the boy. I cannot have servants in my household who keep a murder from me. I’ll sign your papers over to my neighbor, Mr. Colter, to finish your term.”

Whereas Mr. Jamison just doesn’t care, you’ve heard far worse about Mr. Colter. “Keeping it from you was my decision,” you protest. “Keep Sam on. He’s invaluable and loyal.”

Mr. Jamison considers and then nods. “You’re off my land by morning.” He says and dismisses you.

***

You fight Mr. Colter for an extra three years before he signs your freedom papers but Sam’s released in his usual five and Brandon’s caught. He’s still serving his time in the local jail as far as you know.

The End

Blessings and have a wonderful weekend,

Jennifer

Chaos

We’re buying a h-h-house. *Waves hands in the air like a mad woman*

power-of-nature-657395-mJust realized the chaos that ensues. Imagine the cartoon that’s stuck its finger in a light socket. Hair two feet in all directions, perfectly on end, and muscle spasms from too much to do in too little time. I will refrain from an actual picture as that might give you nightmares.

So, in a mad grasp at sanity, the adventure here must take a break to make way for the adventure of real life.

I will see you in June. =) And by then my brain will need the writing outlet, so I promise great fun in the adventures to come.

Blessings,

Jennifer

Smuggler

It’s time for a new adventure! Let’s get started =)

Smuggler

The work’s not usually difficult and, with your brother, Ian, in mind, you don’t mind putting in the extra hours. The swing of the axe no longer produces an ache in your shoulders and the calluses on your hands keep you from blistering while cleaning.

When it does hurt, you remind yourself of Ian back on the island. You picture the dirt floor he has to sleep on and the rough clothes he has to wear. All the work’s worth it if you can pay for his passage to the mainland soon.

You’re reminding yourself of this as you walk. This new task’s adding blisters to a new part of you… namely your feet. When Simon, your boss, told you to head to the coast to pick up a shipment for him, you welcomed the chance of a few days away. Then he informed you his horse wasn’t available for the trip and your excitement waned a bit.

It disappeared altogether when he filled you in on the details of the shipment.

the-lighthouse-1445739-2-m“You’ll head to the coast and meet Eli at the old lighthouse to the north of the docks,” he said.

The old lighthouse? What was Simon into now?

“Eli will provide the wagon,” he continued. “All you have to do is drive it back, and don’t touch the cargo.” At this point he laid his hands on the counter of his shop and leaned toward you. “You’ll have three days to get the cargo back here after pickup, or the cargo’s ruined.”

“What kind of payment am I getting?” you asked even though you knew it’d make him go red in the face. Eli and the old lighthouse were sending warnings off in your mind.

Simon didn’t, in fact, go red in the face. Instead, he straightened up and flashed a toothy grin. “Arrangements for your brother to join you here.”

Simon knew you’d been working tirelessly to raise the money for Ian’s passage. It was the perfect bait.

The lighthouse’s tall spire materializes ahead when you crest the last small hill. The top of the building gaps like a toothless grin with half the windows broken out. No longer in use, the aging structure suffers the abuse of time and pillage.

wagon-wheel-343204-mEli’s slim form appears once you’re close enough to pick him out against the backdrop of the ocean and sky. Behind him and to his right, the wagon’s end peeks out from behind the lighthouse.

“’Bout time,” he grumbles. “Want this thing done.”

You toss him the payment Simon sent and Eli leaves without another word. You round the lighthouse to look at the wagon. The cargo’s a long box bolted into the open bed. This isn’t so strange, Simon bolts cargo down all the time since he trades in anything he can find, including pottery and fine china. But this box is coated in tar, like the sealing you’d find on the bottom of a ship.

Several small holes poke through the lid, too small to see inside, but definitely big enough for air flow.

You shrug and climb up front. Simon said to not touch the cargo and you plan to follow his instructions exactly.

The wagon tilts over the uneven ground you have to traverse to get back on the road. There’s a soft sloshing from the box, then a long ‘ohhhh’ sound and a pattering like small wings beating against the inside.

Chills run over your skin. Is the cargo talking to you? Is Simon smuggling a person? But no, there’s water inside the box. You can see little bits of it where it’s spattered out the holes in the lid.

You drive on but your ears seem hypersensitive to any sound coming from the bed of the wagon. You stop for the night just as the sun sinks past the horizon.

There’s another pattering sound and you jump. Climbing stiffly down, you round the end of the wagon and put your ear close to the wooden box.

The ‘ohhh’ that comes from it is loud enough to make you jump back several feet.

There’s something alive inside. Simon said after three days the cargo would be ruined. Does that mean dead?

You reach for your bag to pull out your knife, thinking to pry the lid open, but then hesitate. Ian. You open the cargo and Simon won’t pay for Ian’s passage.

Do you…

A. Open the Cargo?

or

Leave It?

Smuggler Option A: Open the Cargo

You think of Ian and realize you’ll never be able to face him if you let someone die in order to get him passage.

Another long sigh comes from the box and that decides you further. You can’t smuggle something alive.

You slide the tip of your knife in between the lid and the box. It groans as you pry but doesn’t give. You put more of your weight wooden-case-1034497-minto it and your knife starts to bend. Whoever closed the box really didn’t want it opened without a heavy bar. Like whatever’s inside realizes what you’re doing, there come several resounding thuds in rapid succession.

You stumble back and catch yourself on the side of the wagon. The thudding continues, growing to the point that the motion inside the box rattles the boards under your feet.

It stops as suddenly as it began and, in the following silence, there issues a long sigh so light it reminds you of the wind that blew across your face all day.

You lean close and whisper “hello?”

Silence like a long, indrawn breath of surprise and then, “hello.”

A woman? But that doesn’t make any sense. Little specks of water sparkle in the fading light where they escaped the air holes in the lid. From all indications, the box is full of water.

“What are you?” you ask even as a lump forms in your throat at feeling foolish.

A weak chuckle answers. “Smart human. I’m the current in the ocean and the salt in the water’s spray.”

You frown. “Why are you here if you belong in the ocean?”

“Captured for human’s curiosity, but not held for long.”

At this you sit back and take a look around. “Someone’s coming for you?”

“Yes, and they’ll kill whoever holds me.”

This was more than you bargained for when Simon sent you on this trip. You sit next to the box to think.

“I can’t get the box open,” you confess to whoever’s inside and then, on impulse perhaps, you explain about Ian and why you took the job.

By the time you’re done, night fully surrounds you and a chill wind blows across the wagon.

Your companion doesn’t immediately respond but you can hear soft tapping on the wood. You imagine the woman inside drumming her fingers while she thinks.

“Perhaps we can help each other,” she says. “You get me back to the ocean and I’ll get your Ian to you.”

It sounds good and you open your mouth immediately to accept but then you hesitate. How would she get Ian to you? And if you don’t deliver her to Simon, you’ll be out of a job. What then? How will you provide for Ian and yourself without work?

Do you trust in someone you can’t even see? So many questions plague you that, for a moment, you don’t realize someone’s approaching.

ride-through-farytale-forest-1407139-mWhen you do catch the sound of their horses, you look up to see two of Simon’s men riding toward you. You know them because of their bright-red coats. Even in the near dark, they shimmer just a touch.

If they reach you, your decision will be made for you. Simon’s men will make sure you keep moving back toward the shop with the cargo.

“Someone’s coming,” the woman inside the box says. “If you don’t help me, I’ll make sure to hunt you down later.” The words grate harshly but you can’t tell if it’s from desperation or anger.

You climb up onto the seat of the wagon.

Do you…

Aa. Race Away?

Or

Ab. Meet Simon’s Men?

Smuggler Option Aa. Race Away

As Simon’s men approach, you can’t get the woman’s voice out of your head. And then you think of what Ian would say if you told him you smuggled a woman in a box to get him passage to join you.

His light eyes would widen, not in awe at your bravery, but in horror, and he’d back away from you like you’d just said his birthday was cancelled…for life. He had a fine sense of right and wrong and this was just too far over the line.

You’ve no desire to see that look on your brother’s face.

Pulling the wagon around, you smack the reigns and grit your teeth as the horses take off over the rough ground.

Behind you the men shout but you can’t make out their words with the rumbling of the wagon. Your mind races.

A wagon’s too slow to outrun two men on horseback, so how do you lose the men chasing you? The trees are tight but weaving a Old wagonwagon through them in hopes of losing your chasers sounds like a bit of insanity.

You’re contemplating taking a hard turn to the left and heading for a different road when the wagon hits something in the dark. The right side bounces clear of the ground and crashes down with a hard crunch. The wagon lurches with the next rotation of the wheels and then the entire right side tilts to drag on the ground even as the horses continue to race forward.

You slide to the right and catch yourself just before you tumble off the bench. You hold on so tightly the wood digs into your skin.

The wagon hits a tree with a crunching, splintering crash followed immediately by the gush of salt water. In the dark you see a shape fall from the broken box. Slender and shimmery, almost like scales, but definitely humanoid.

The woman screams softly.

You scramble out of the wreckage of the wagon to get to her and find when you roll her over that she’s half human, and half fish. A mermaid.

She gasps and grasps at your arms. “Water,” she begs.

You look back to the box that contained her but the water’s gone, drained onto the ground like sand.

“I’m sorry,” you say. “I tried.”

But she’s definitely dying as you hold her and you know trying wasn’t enough.

The thunder of hooves fill the air and you bend over her, trying instinctively to protect her from Simon’s men even though she probably can’t hear them over her harsh breathing.

But when you catch movement in the dark, you don’t see the red coats of Simon’s men. You see feathers and long hair, you see high leather boots and ringed hands clutching a variety of swords.

“Chase ‘em off, boys!” shouts one as he brandishes his sword.

“Yours?” you ask the mermaid softly.

Before she can answer, the lead man, no pirate, gestures at you and then back the way they came from. “Get ‘er in the box before she’s gone.”

water-drops-782811-mIt’s then you see a horse with poles running along its sides to drag behind it. On the litter is what looks like a tub, sealed with tar. One of the pirates pulls the lid from the tub and you see the sparkle of water inside.

Relief washes through you and you lift the mermaid over your shoulder, glad for your months of swinging an axe and the muscles you now have.

Within moments of lowering the mermaid into the water, her eyes open, bright green and piercing.

She grabs your arm, “Only trust the one with green feathers.”

The what? You open your mouth to ask but one of the pirates lowers the lid back over her and starts nailing it into place.

The lead pirate swings an arm around your shoulders. “Well done, mate, that was quite the thing you did. Now head back with us and we’ll show you this mermaid’s ability to swim.”

Your job with Simon’s done. He’ll never trust you again. You take in this pirate and blow a feather from his hair away from your face. He’s got a collection of them tied into his braids but the majority are green. Was this what the mermaid meant?

You start walking with them back toward the ocean mostly because you haven’t decided what to do next.

Another man sidles up to you. He’s also got feathers but they’re woven together like a tail down the back of his neck. They alternate between blue and green.

“Take this,” he passes you a small bottle and you slide it up your sleeve before anyone notices. “Before you release the mermaid, make her drink it.” Then he fades back into the group behind you before you can ask him why. The tiny bottle weights heavy in your hand. Whatever’s inside it looks dark and thick. Will it help her or kill her?

The man could be the green-feathered one the mermaid spoke of. But then the captain also has green feathers, so that’s a bit ambiguous.

Do you…

Aa1. Discard the Bottle?

Or

Aa2. Give the Bottle to the Mermaid?

Smuggler Option Aa: Discard the Bottle 

The pirate’s ship happens to be anchored in the harbor just below the lighthouse. Dawn turns the surface of the water a soft gray as you follow the men loading the tub with the mermaid on board the ship.

As you walk up the gangway, you stumble and throw your hands wide to catch yourself. This puts you right next to the edge ofshipwreck-1442444-m the gangway and from there, it’s a simple matter to let the bottle drop from your sleeve into the water of the harbor below. You don’t even look to make sure it doesn’t hit anything on the way down. Instead, you laugh nervously while pushing yourself back up.

“Clumsy me,” you mutter.

Then you’re on the ship and the bottle’s gone. The dark, thick liquid just gave you the willies. You decided to go with your gut instinct and have nothing to do with it.

“Sit with the tub,” says the captain, “that’ll keep you from under foot for now.”

You pick your way across the deck to the tub. On the left side is a smaller wooden box. You sit and draw your feet up.

“You awake?” you ask the box beside you, low enough no one should hear.

There’s no answer.

You drum your fingers across the lid, debating what to do now. The captain’s said nothing about what he plans next and you’re sure the other man will show up sooner or later to make sure you follow through on his instructions. You’d like to have a plan in place before he confronts you.

All you’ve really decided by the time the ship’s out of the harbor and the captain approaches is that you’re not going to leave the mermaid alone. You don’t trust anyone’s intentions.

“No one believes in the mermaids,” says the captain as he leans against the side of the ship. “I plan on keeping it that way. No one believes, then they leave the creatures alone. They believe, and the luck of the sea becomes the hunted of the sea. That’s unacceptable.”

You nod, wondering where he’s taking this.

“To that end, you’re a lose end.” Someone grabs you from behind and pulls your arms around behind your back. You cry out but the man already has your wrists tied together. When you get a glimpse of who has you, you see it’s the blue and green feather man.

Where the captain can’t see, he feels your arms and you realize he’s looking for the bottle. Panic climbs your throat but instead of the anger you expect, he actually looks pleased not to find the bottle.

“Over board,” the captain gestures at the side. You’re far enough out from the harbor that there’s no chance you’ll be able to swim back.

The blue-and green-feathered man shoves you toward the side and the crew cheers. You fight, trying to shove against the side with your feet but the man’s strong and you only manage to drive some air from his lungs when you hit his stomach.

He lifts you into the air and holds you out over the water like you’re no bigger than a ten year old.

As the crew cheers at his torment of you, he leans close and you smell fish on his breath.

“You passed,” he whispers quickly. “You’ll find a knife in your sleeve. Help’ll be by soon to get you.” Then he backs away and saber-knife-1067468-mshouts, “away with you!” He lets go.

Wind rushes past your ears with a high-pitched keening that reminds you of a lonely dog. But then there’s cold water in your mouth and nose and you forget about the keening.

Your chest burns. You fumble around the ropes holding your hands until your fingertips encounter something sharp. You’re sure you cut your ring and pinky fingers but you don’t release the feel of the knife.

The water’s dark and freezing. You kick, hoping to move upward toward the surface but somehow you seem to continue to sink. It’s then you realize you’re not sure what’s up and what’s down.

With a little twisting, the knife’s handle slides into the palm of your hand. You start cutting.

The outside edges of your vision sparkle and fuzz. Your chest aches like it might explode but you keep cutting.

Something touches you. Something gasps your shoulders and then touches your lips. The burning in your chest explodes and your vision sparks brightly before clearing to a brief moment of clarity.

That moment’s all you need. You see bright green, piercing eyes right in front of you and you relax in the mermaid’s grip as she forces more air into your lungs. With the second breath, the air tastes sweet and your vision clears completely. By the time you break the surface of the water, you’re major discomfort lies in the cold, not the lack of air. Feeling’s gone completely from your fingers and toes.

The mermaid seems to know this is a problem. She takes off for the distant land on the horizon while holding your hands, then your feet in a circular process until you feel sand touch your body.

***

You’re laying on a vacant part of the shoreline, absorbing the warmth from the sun as the mermaid explains to you what happened.

“Finnigan’s bottle was a test,” she says, “if you’d kept it, he wouldn’t have given you the knife. If you didn’t have the knife, I’d have let you drown.”

You frown, seeing multiple problems with their plan. “What if I’d dropped the knife? Or what if I hadn’t found a spot to discard the bottle?”

She shrugs. “It’s not foolproof but then, the whole situation’s fraught with dangers. I almost died last night.”

“And what’s with green feathers? None of them have only green feathers.”

She flashes a grin. “That’s the point. We were testing your instinct, not your ability to follow instructions.”

You sigh, seeing you won’t change her mind about the way they handle things. You’ve more pressing matters anyway. “My brother?”

Her grin returns. “Of course.”

She’ll follow through on getting your brother to you. Now all you have to do is figure out how to support the two of you. But that seems like a small matter at the moment. You stretch, enjoying the sun on your skin.

The End

Blessings and have a wonderful weekend,

Jennifer