Hunger Option Bc2: Throw the Beehive

Hunger Option Bc2: Throw the Beehive

crown-1151877-mYou doubt you’ll reach the woman in time to keep her from claiming the crown. Already your chest aches from hard breathing and what little strength you had is now gone. It’s like you didn’t taste honey less than an hour before.

Your stomach groans as you slow down and come to a stop beside a medium sized hive.

It hums softly beside your head. You hesitate as you reach to pull it from the tree but your doubts don’t last long as the woman stops inspecting the crown and moves to place it on her head.

In one swift move, you break the hive free and pitch it. Instantly the hum turns to a dull roar in your ears. Most of the angry bees follow the hive but some stay with you, stinging you in the face and arms and neck.

Pain brings you to your knees. You try to protect your face with your arms but somehow the angry bees keep sneaking through. Breath hisses through your tight throat and your face goes from the gaunt, shallow cheeks you’re used to, to swollen and painful in a matter of moments.

Through the trees you make out the woman. She’s screaming, you realize, but the sound’s dull in your ears and the sight of her turns hazy around the edges.

The crown’s nowhere in sight.

Relief sends a shock of euphoria through you. Then you tilt forward onto the ground and your last thought is that it might not be euphoria, it might be lack of oxygen.

***

“Made quite a mess of things,” says a man.

You attempt to open your eyes only to find them swollen shut. Instead, you moan.

“Rest while you can,” he continues. “It’s back to the dungeons once you can see again.”

“Wh-“ you swallow and wince, then try again. “Who won?”

There’s a snort. “No one. Can’t win without all three objects and, well, no one found their ring.” The man might have shrugged but you still can’t see. “And your ring I had to destroy to get off your finger before it cut off your circulation.”

You try to ask something else but then you realize you hear him walking away.

For a while you lay still, just thinking. There’s something incredibly sad about the fact that no one won the competition.

Experimenting, you wiggle your fingers. The knuckles bend with ease, no longer swollen. You turn onto your side and feel something shift against your upper thigh.

Perhaps it’s a wild hope, but you check your pocket. There, warmed from close contact with your skin, is the second ring, the one the woman left on the pedestal and you took when you followed her.

An idea occurs to you. A crazy, wild idea.

Carefully, hoping no one is watching, you lift a hand to your face. With gentle fingers, you pry open an eye. The walls look fuzzy but you can tell from the line of beds that you’re in the infirmary, which sits next to the castle.

Other patients fill some of the beds but none of them are stirring. And, for the moment, no doctors are standing around.

There’s only one door but fate’s smiling at you and it’s to your left, just two rows away.

You swing your feet to the floor. You’ve no shoes and your boots aren’t under the bed but you shrug it off. This wouldn’t be the first time you’ve gone without shoes.

You stand up while holding the wooden bed frame. With the other hand, you pry an eye open to check around again.

Then you head for the door.

The cry of alarm you’re expecting comes once you’re out the door and halfway down the hall. You make a run for it, probably looking like some skinny ape holding its hands to its face because you’re holding your eyes open.

But you make it to the door before anyone catches up to you. The infirmary grounds are well planted. You take to the side of the building, crouching down in the bushes there and lying still. You’re in no condition to keep running.

Moments later three men in long coats crash through the door. They give the grounds a quick sweeping look and rush on.

You stay put, even napping, until the daylight fades and you can slip away more easily.

You’re a fugitive, homeless and hungry beyond belief, but you’re also free, and you have a gold and jasper ring in your pocket that could feed you for years.

Things are looking up.

The End

Congratulations! You survived without returning to the dungeons.

Thanks for joining in the adventure. I hope to see you all in a few weeks.

Blessings,

Jennifer

Hunger

Welcome to the adventure! Read on and, at the end, vote for how you’d like to proceed. Just be careful, you never know what you may find around the next corner.

Hunger

Hunger sits in your stomach as a constant companion. It gnaws at your ribs and rolls in your middle like a sea monster playingbread-1426350-m with your insides. That’s why the bread, still soft and warm from the baker’s oven, tempted you even though common sense raged in your head that the constable stood just a few blocks away at the corner.

You might have gotten away unnoticed except for the beggar boy in the doorway behind you. His shout brought several constables down on you in a tussle you had no strength for. In the skirmish, the boy scooped up your bread and ducked into an alley unseen by the authorities.

No honor amongst thieves. At least not in Abben.

After a week in the dungeons, the competition rolled around and finally you struck upon a bit of luck.

Your name was one of the four called.

The competition’s simple fun for the upper class, but for you, and any other criminal, it’s a chance at forgiveness, a clean slate. If you win, you walk free. If you don’t, you end up back in the dungeon for the next year. No one comes out better off after a year under the castle.

So now you sit under a tree in the arena. It’s a gigantic circle built with high walls from which the upper class can watch. But within the arena all you see is stone and dense forest.

You wait for dusk as you were told. Only then are you allowed to move.

Somewhere out in the forest three other competitors sit waiting under their own trees.

You’re not sure who else the competition masters picked or what their crimes are but hopefully the other three only worry about themselves. You’ve heard that, in the past, some competitors set traps for the other players.

Picture courtesy of Arthur RousseauThe sun slants through the trees at a sharp angle. It’s almost time.

You envision the ring, a gold band twined around a perfect circle of jasper, and contemplate where it might be hidden. The ring is the first of three objects you must retrieve.

The constable who led you to your tree gave you a clue. “Look for blue needles and angry bees,” he said.

You were blindfolded when brought into the arena, so you’ve no idea if you passed any blue needles but you did smell something sweet. Being hungry all the time has a way of sharpening your sense of smell apparently. You also know he brought you in from the left. So you could head that way in hopes the sweet had something to do with honey.

But you also know the other competitors were brought in from the same direction since there’s only one entrance to the arena. Would they have smelled the sweet? The streets have taught you caution. Maybe it’d be better to head inward and swing back toward the sweet smell, taking an out of the way path in hopes of avoiding the others.

The slanting rays of sun disappear, chilling the air around you as the light moves below the high walls of the arena.

It’s time to move.

Do you…

A. Take the Direct Path?

or

B. Take the Indirect Path?

Hunger Option B: Indirect Path

Caution wins out and you decide to take the indirect path back toward where you entered the arena.

The thick foliage slows you down to a crawl and before long you’re moving through the gray of twilight, which quickly turns into the dark of a moonless night. You realize you’ll have no chance of seeing blue needles on a night like this so you focus on finding that sweet smell that alerted you earlier.

Before you find it, there’s an ‘ugh’ followed by a high-pitched hum.

A moment later there’s a scream and thrashing in the foliage. The screaming continues and it sounds like an elephant’s crashing through the arena.

You freeze, waiting for the competitor to move away. Eventually the sound of his pain and confusion registers as only a dull nightly noise and you move forward again.

A sweet smell fills the air and then you step in something. Looking down, you find your foot firmly planted in the middle of a bees-1444939-mhoneycomb that must have been knocked off the tree recently.

You realize what must have happened to the other competitor as you look up to see the remains of a beehive. All around you lay bits and pieces of honey thick comb.

When you lift your foot, half the comb comes with it. You barely hold in an ‘ugh’ of your own but then the ‘ugh’ turns into a groan when the sweet smell of disturbed honey overwhelms you.

Your stomach moans in response, reminding you your last meal was dinner the night before. And that had only been stale bread and water.

Something snaps just as you lean over to pick up a piece of honeycomb. Everything in you wants to drink the sweet insides but then another twig snaps under a booted sole.

You wince and crouch down right where you’re at, your fingers inches away from your next meal.

A moment later a young woman moves through the foliage to your right with a chunk of honeycomb in one hand and a round object in her other.

From the comb she sips honey as she slips a ring onto one of her fingers. She passes you without looking over.

i-love-honey-bees-1442702-mHoney covers both her hands but she seems completely unperturbed by this as she grins a gap-toothed smile at the gold on her finger.

She holds her hand up to inspect her prize just when a sliver of moon peeks over the arena wall.

The ring lights up with a greenish glow. The woman chortles and then she disappears into the trees.

You’ve no idea how she knows where she’s going. Part of the competition is that you only get more hints when you find each object.

Is the ring the hint or is the hint back where she found the ring?

You’re not sure. Contemplating, you break off a chunk of comb and sip the sweet honey. It fills your mouth with an explosion of flavor.

You could simply follow the woman, hoping she interpreted the hint correctly or you could inspect where she found the ring in hopes of finding the hint for yourself.

You guessed the first location correctly on your own, so you’re sure you can figure out the second hint if you know what it is.

While you continue to eat honey, do you…

Bb. Follow the woman?

Or

Bc. Inspect the Ring’s Location?

Hunger Option Bc. Inspect the Ring’s Location

i-love-honey-bees-1442702-mThe honey fills your stomach with a sweet ache. You sip the remaining stickiness from your fingers while you give the woman a moment longer, just in case, before you move.

Your first instinct says to follow her but then you hesitate as the sliver of moon lights up the trees right in front of you. Blue needles. The constable was very specific about his hint.

You decide to check out the location where she found the ring.

Extracting yourself from the honeycomb stuck to your foot takes some time but eventually you free yourself enough to move. Loose needles and dirt stick to your soles but it’s not so cumbersome you can’t walk.

Up ahead you find where the woman broke open a chunk of hive to pull out her ring. The chunk proves to be brittle when you pick it up and another half hits the ground. It shatters. In the remains of honey and hive glint three more gold and jasper rings.

One for each competitor, you realize. You never considered that each competitor might be able to retrieve all of the objects.

You retrieve the rings from the mess. Then, on impulse, you find a stick and dig a hole where you bury two of the rings. You cover the hole and toss part of the broken hive over the area to disguise it even more.

Satisfied, you slip the last ring onto your index finger.

The world lights up and you’re no longer looking at broken hive and trees but at a bird’s eye view of the arena. The vision swoops in to focus on the very center of the arena where a meteor deeply cratered the ground. Right in the center of that crater sits a pedestal with a necklace of jade sitting on it.

Your next object.

The vision disappears as quickly as it appeared but the ring still glows softly on your finger.

The small amount of success and the honey you just ate fills you with a sense of euphoria. As you head toward the center of the arena, you barely see the trees or feel the extra weight of sticky dirt and needles clinging to your boots.

The euphoria disappears with a snap as a bright light shoots skyward from the direction you’re headed.

mountain-caves-1378704-mYou break into a run and careen into the open crater just in time to see the young woman walk through a door in the side of the hole in the ground. Just as suddenly, the light vanishes and you’re left with the imprint of white on the backs of your eyelids.

When your vision finally returns to normal, the door’s nowhere to be found. Instead of looking for it, you head over to the pedestal. The necklace you saw in your vision isn’t there but the woman’s ring is. Unlike with the rings, apparently there’s only one necklace. Which means you’ll have to take it away from the woman to win. Great.

You pick up the other ring and inspect it, trying to figure out how it opened the door.

It doesn’t look any different than the one on your finger. You set it back down.

The ground shakes and that blinding light reappears. In its glow, you see the high walls of the arena and, at the very top, you make out tiny moving dots. The upper class watching the competition. You realize the lights tell them how the game’s going. It makes you feel like a mouse in a maze.

Shrugging off the feeling, you grab the second ring and race for the door in the crater. As soon as you enter the tunnel beyond, the door slides closed and you’re washed in darkness until your eyes adjust and you see your ring’s still glowing softly. You pocket the second ring, glad you grabbed it so the other competitors can’t open the door.

Following the tunnel, it heads straight with no variations until it dumps you out into the forest again. Just ahead is the arena wall. You’ve now crossed the entire arena.

To your left stands a solid line of trees. To your right, through a thinner patch of pines, you make out the back of the young woman. She lifts an object into the air and you see the shape of a crown.

If she puts it on, the competition’s done. You’ll lose.

You sprint toward her. In your rush, your only intent is to knock the crown away.

You brush against something and it gives a familiar hum.

More hives.

Do you…

Bc1: Continue running at her?

Or

Bc2: Throw a hive at her?

Hunger Option Bc2: Throw the Beehive

crown-1151877-mYou doubt you’ll reach the woman in time to keep her from claiming the crown. Already your chest aches from hard breathing and what little strength you had is now gone. It’s like you didn’t taste honey less than an hour before.

Your stomach groans as you slow down and come to a stop beside a medium sized hive.

It hums softly beside your head. You hesitate as you reach to pull it from the tree but your doubts don’t last long as the woman stops inspecting the crown and moves to place it on her head.

In one swift move, you break the hive free and pitch it. Instantly the hum turns to a dull roar in your ears. Most of the angry bees follow the hive but some stay with you, stinging you in the face and arms and neck.

Pain brings you to your knees. You try to protect your face with your arms but somehow the angry bees keep sneaking through. Breath hisses through your tight throat and your face goes from the gaunt, shallow cheeks you’re used to, to swollen and painful in a matter of moments.

Through the trees you make out the woman. She’s screaming, you realize, but the sound’s dull in your ears and the sight of her turns hazy around the edges.

The crown’s nowhere in sight.

Relief sends a shock of euphoria through you. Then you tilt forward onto the ground and your last thought is that it might not be euphoria, it might be lack of oxygen.

***

“Made quite a mess of things,” says a man.

You attempt to open your eyes only to find them swollen shut. Instead, you moan.

“Rest while you can,” he continues. “It’s back to the dungeons once you can see again.”

“Wh-“ you swallow and wince, then try again. “Who won?”

There’s a snort. “No one. Can’t win without all three objects and, well, no one found their ring.” The man might have shrugged but you still can’t see. “And your ring I had to destroy to get off your finger before it cut off your circulation.”

You try to ask something else but then you realize you hear him walking away.

For a while you lay still, just thinking. There’s something incredibly sad about the fact that no one won the competition.

Experimenting, you wiggle your fingers. The knuckles bend with ease, no longer swollen. You turn onto your side and feel something shift against your upper thigh.

Perhaps it’s a wild hope, but you check your pocket. There, warmed from close contact with your skin, is the second ring, the one the woman left on the pedestal and you took when you followed her.

An idea occurs to you. A crazy, wild idea.

Carefully, hoping no one is watching, you lift a hand to your face. With gentle fingers, you pry open an eye. The walls look fuzzy but you can tell from the line of beds that you’re in the infirmary, which sits next to the castle.

Other patients fill some of the beds but none of them are stirring. And, for the moment, no doctors are standing around.

There’s only one door but fate’s smiling at you and it’s to your left, just two rows away.

You swing your feet to the floor. You’ve no shoes and your boots aren’t under the bed but you shrug it off. This wouldn’t be the first time you’ve gone without shoes.

You stand up while holding the wooden bed frame. With the other hand, you pry an eye open to check around again.

Then you head for the door.

The cry of alarm you’re expecting comes once you’re out the door and halfway down the hall. You make a run for it, probably looking like some skinny ape holding its hands to its face because you’re holding your eyes open.

But you make it to the door before anyone catches up to you. The infirmary grounds are well planted. You take to the side of the building, crouching down in the bushes there and lying still. You’re in no condition to keep running.

Moments later three men in long coats crash through the door. They give the grounds a quick sweeping look and rush on.

You stay put, even napping, until the daylight fades and you can slip away more easily.

You’re a fugitive, homeless and hungry beyond belief, but you’re also free, and you have a gold and jasper ring in your pocket that could feed you for years.

Things are looking up.

The End

Congratulations! You survived without returning to the dungeons.

Thanks for joining in the adventure. I hope to see you all in a few weeks.

Blessings,

Jennifer

Chalice

Welcome to a new adventure! The last one ended quite well for you. Let’s hope things go as well this time=)

Thanks for stopping by and hope you enjoy.

Chalice

The fog’s dense white mass obscures everything but a five-foot circle around you. It makes finding the cave difficult but finally you hear the soft roar of the water falls inside, echoing out of the cave’s mouth like a deep exhale of breath.

You approach the shhh-haaa of water falling on soft feet. Sound carries all too easily in the valley and you’re not the only thing out and about. You breathe heavy air and wish for the kiss of wind. There is none. Drops of water bead on your cheeks like the fog’s shedding on you, cold and clammy, but you ignore the discomfort.

A dark shape looms ahead in the otherwise unbroken gray. A few more steps and you see it’s the cave. Inside hides the Chalice, a crystal-goblet-287758-mcup of solid crystal that, according to legend, lends the drinker perfect skin. In normal circumstances, its very uniqueness would make it valued by treasure hunters.

However, your purposes are far more personal than money. Back in the village waits your little sister. She hides in her room, nursing her bruises from a few days earlier when she tried to venture a trip to the store and was beaten for looking like a monster.

Even being her sibling doesn’t keep you from shuddering sometimes when she’s not looking. She lacks color, completely. Which makes her eyes, slightly tinted red, all the more disturbing. But she never complains, never yells at you for looking normal, never stops making your breakfast or folding your clothes simply because she can and she knows you’re out working to support her because no one will hire her.

If anyone deserves better, it’s her. When the traveling tinker mentioned the chalice when he saw her, you listened. This isn’t the first time you’ve gone on a wild chase in hopes of helping your sister, but this might be the most dangerous.

The Chalice is protected, the tinker warned, by creatures known as drakes. They hide in the fog and you never hear them coming, or so the tales told. What truly caught your attention about the tinker’s story, though, was that you recognized the valley it described. It was a place you’d been to before.

As you step into the dark cave, you try not to imagine the drakes tracking you into the confined space. The idea of being caught in the rocky tunnels with gouts of flame chasing you isn’t exactly your ideal way to go.

You trail your fingers along the rough wall. The air smells stale and musty and the ground squishes like moss beneath your feet. You don’t light a torch even though you brought one. With the fog and the otherwise solid dark, a torch would stand out like a beacon to anything around.

Your fingertips hit empty space. The wall falls away, not naturally, but as though someone cut it with a knife. Upon further exploration, you find the wall turns a sharp corner and becomes perfectly smooth beneath your touch.

You continue on and the ground goes from soft and squishy to hard and flat. A burnt smell singes the back of your nostrils. It feels similar to if you inhaled the heavy smoke from a campfire. You swallow and keep a cough from escaping your throat.

The smooth wall ends and, just ahead, you feel a wooden door. You find the handle but hesitate before opening it. Faintly, just under the door, there glows a bluish light.

Photo Courtesy of Arthur Rousseau with Hope for Haiti

Photo Courtesy of Arthur Rousseau with Hope for Haiti

Finally, with a steadying breath, you turn the knob and push the door inward.

The blue light makes you squint but you’ve no idea where it’s coming from. It simply lights up the stairs beyond the door.

The stairs lead upward on the right and downward on the left. The upward direction has the word Falls above it. The downward direction has the word Water.

According to the tinker’s story, the Chalice collects the water from the cave’s river, but the story’s not specific as to how this works.

Do you go…

A. Up?

Or

B. Down?

Chalice Option A: Up

stone-stairs-959699-mWithout anything more to guide you, you shrug and decide to head up the stairs. As you climb, the roar of the waterfall grows until it throbs in your ears.

Because of the overwhelming thrum of sound, you don’t immediately hear the other noise. Some sixth sense stands your hair on end, making you look over your shoulder.

The stairs are empty except for the steady blue glow but as you stand there perfectly still, you catch a scraping like metal on stone. You hold your breath, hoping it’s your imagination, but just as you’re about to turn around, the sound comes again. A barely perceptible scraaaatttccchh below the roar of water.

Your teeth feel like you ran your nails against a stick of chalk. You back up until your shoulders hit the outside wall. Then you slowly sidestep up the stairs, swinging your eyes up and down to keep everything in sight.

Out of the corner of your eye, you catch a shadow. With the ever-steady, blue glow, the shadow’s faint, just a shade darker blue on the wall below you. When you look directly at it, you can’t make it out but when you turn your head and glance out of the corner of your eye, it’s there, like a flicker of light on a window.

You continue sidestepping upward and keep your head tilted so you can see that faint but darker shade of blue. It follows you up the stairs, growing bigger by infinitesimal amounts.

The stairs end and you find yourself on a broad balcony with a river cutting through the middle of it to run over the edge and

Photo Courtesy of Arthur Rousseau with Hope for Haiti.

Photo Courtesy of Arthur Rousseau with Hope for Haiti.

plummet into the cavern below. The river flows from the cavern wall to your left. At the other end of the balcony is a solid wall. No more stairs, no more rooms. It’s just the balcony and the river.

You’ve nowhere to go but you’re sure whatever’s following you will catch up soon. With an effort of will you keep the image of a sharp-toothed drake out of your head.

A shimmer in the water catches your eye. You have to squint to make it out under the waves but right at the edge of the waterfall you see the wavery outline of a cup.

The Chalice.

Approaching the edge of the balcony, you keep from looking over the edge into the chasm below only by keeping your eyes firmly on the cup in the water. It isn’t laying on its side like you expected but standing up in the water, creating a small eddy around its bowl.

You lay on your stomach at the edge of the river and reach into the rush of water. The current pulls hard and you tilt your body to keep it from pulling you toward the chasm.

As your fingers close over the cool crystal of the Chalice, a grunting roar comes from behind you. You glance back.

Sharp toothed barely touches the surface of this monster’s description. Its teeth hang over its lips almost to its chin. The scales along the legs and back come to points like the spines of a plant. Golden eyes glitter at you with horrible malice.

The drake breaths in a heavy gust of air and then huffs out a small bit through its nostrils. Gouts of blue flame sprout from it and you’re pretty sure the drake smiles as its chest expands on an even bigger intake of air.

You’ve nowhere to go except into the water. Do you…

Aa. Dive over the Waterfall?

Or

Ab. Swim Upstream?

Chalice Option Aa: Dive Over the Waterfall

Photo Courtesy of Arthur Rousseau with Hope for Haiti.

Photo Courtesy of Arthur Rousseau with Hope for Haiti.

With no time to spare, you clutch the chalice tight in one fist and shove yourself into the river, flipping over immediately so your feet are headed over the falls first.

Above you, the world turns bright with flame. Even below the water, the heat of it warms your skin.

Your stomach hits your throat and the world drops out from under you. You’re in freefall but your can’t see what’s around you or under you as water’s in your hair and mouth and eyes.

Still you fall and your stomach doesn’t leave your throat. Then, like hitting the ground instead of leaves when you jumped from the barn roof, you hit the water and all air leaves your chest and your body screams from the impact. But still you’re being pushed downward and your chest burns from lack of air.

In panic, you realize the chalice is no longer in your hand. You can’t even feel your arms. The edges of your vision spark and your sight narrows like the closing of black curtains.

Something grabs you. Your mind screams it’s the drake but you can’t fight. You can’t feel it grasping your body. All you can really tell is you’re moving against the push of water and fast.

Your head breaks into the open air. A gasp burns down your throat and convulsions of coughing double you in half.

Only when you hit rock and are dragged out of the water do you look over to see who saved you.

Perhaps because you’re still coughing weakly, you don’t scream. Huge blue eye observe you over a snout that shimmers like water.

The eyes blink and they click with hard scales. The head sporting those eyes is as big as you are.

This is no drake, this is a full-grown dragon and she’s so close all she’d have to do to eat you is flinch.

Photo courtesy of Sebring's Snapshots.

Photo courtesy of Sebring’s Snapshots.

Her lips pull back in a toothy grin.

“You’re either very stupid or very brave,” she says. It’s then you notice the chalice in one of her clawed fists. The crystal reflects the blue of her scales. “But either way, you managed to bring the chalice to me.” Her grin grows wider. “So I’ll grant you one boon. What do you ask for, human?”

She doesn’t seem hungry and her voice isn’t mean. Other than her size and teeth and claws, she hasn’t given you any reason to fear her, yet.

But you’ve never heard of a friendly dragon. Do you dare ask to use the Chalice for your sister?

Or do you ask for your life?

Aa1. Chalice?

Or

Aa2. Life?

Chalice Option Aa1: Chalice

Photo courtesy of Sebring's Snapshots.

Photo courtesy of Sebring’s Snapshots.

You hesitate, eyeing the chalice in her clawed fist, but then you think of your sister and decide you’ve come this far and can’t leave without asking.

“May I take the chalice to my sister?” You phrase the question so hopefully the dragon notices you’re not asking for yourself.

“Very brave or very stupid,” she says again. “I really can’t decide.” She lowers her head a bit so you’re looking directly into one jewel like blue eye. When she blinks, you hear the click of her scales but you hold perfectly still, waiting.

“For your sister?” The dragon asks.

You simply nod.

“You’re aware the chalice isn’t a cure all?”

“Per…perfect skin,” you stutter as she shifts her head and you feel the warm puff of her breath in your hair.

“Yes,” she says, “it’ll give her that. But it won’t replace you if the drakes kill you on your way out and it won’t fix her family if her problem is genetic. It will pass on to her children.”

The thought of dying and leaving your sister alone lodges a lump in your throat but you got in, so you’ve got to believe you can get out without the drakes catching you.

Seeing your resolve, the dragon nods. “Fair enough. Be aware, the chalice will return to me immediately after being drank from.” She lifts her head and rumbles deep in her throat. Then she spits into the chalice and hands it to you.

You can’t help but frown into the crystal bowl, eyeing the dragon spit dubiously.

An earth-rumbling chuckle comes from the dragon. “No regular water will do the trick,” she laughs. “Now run, before the spit dries.”

The thought horrifies you. To go to all this trouble only to have the spit dry.

The dragon points toward a door behind her.

You race to it, cradling the chalice in one hand, and then realize you’ve got to set the chalice down to open the dead bolt on the heavy, iron door.

Once it’s open, you scoop the chalice up and shout a quite “thanks” over your shoulder as you scamper into the hall beyond.

Immediately the walls brighten with the warning of fire. You feel the heat a second later and realize there must be a drake in front of you.

At the door, the dragon huffs, pulls in a big breath, and breathes out a gust of cool air that shoves you forward. It also seems to meet the fire and push it back.

“I’m a sucker for humans,” the dragon mocks herself, “Run!” and she sucks in another breath.

You time your dash with her second gust of air. It lasts long enough for you to race up the stairs, dart past the startled drake at the top and duck out into the dark fog beyond.

You don’t stop running even though you can’t see more than five feet in front of you. A gout of flame lights up the fog from behind and you stumble, hitting your knees.

Instead of pushing back to your feet, you roll into the bush beside you and hold still.

Moments later, a dark, hulking shape runs by, emitting another gout of flame as it passes.

You roll out of the bush and keep moving.

Unfortunately, you’re horribly lost until the sun marks east for you. Then you make your way back to the village with the chalice.

When you enter your sister’s room, she looks up in surprise from where she’s reading a book in her chair. From the looks of it, she hasn’t slept all night, waiting for you to return.

“You’re home!” she jumps up and races to you.

crystal-goblet-287758-mAt the last moment, you hold out the chalice and stop her headlong rush.

“Drink,” you encourage.

She glances at it and you do the same, relieved to see the spit hasn’t dried even though it took you all night to get home.

With a shrug, she drinks and then waits. Like a shower drenching her from head to toe, you notice the difference in her skin on her forehead, then her ears and chin, moments later it hits her hands and then reaches her bare feet. You grin and look up to meet her eyes.

Your grin wavers. Her eyes are still bright red.

She spins to look in the mirror and one hand reaches up to cover her eyes. Like she’s playing peek-a-boo, she covers them and then drops her hand, hoping for a change.

It doesn’t come.

“I’m sorry,” you whisper.

In the mirror, her grin returns even though it’s a bit watery. “It there’s a chalice that fixes skin,” she says, “there’s bound to be a book or a stone to fix my eyes.”

She spins back to you and gives you a hug. It’s only then you notice the chalice is gone, vanished into thin air.

The End

Blessings and have a wonderful week,

Jennifer

Performers and Bounty Hunters

Welcome to a whole new adventure! Read on and, in the comments, vote for how you’d like to proceed. Choose wisely, for there are all sorts of unsavory types in the world. =)

Performers and Bounty Hunters

The night chirps with the familiar sounds of crickets and frogs. You lay on your back enjoying the cloudless expanse of stars winking at you like they’re old friends.

To your left, Lenny snores softly under his wagon. You can tell by the gentle rumble of it that he didn’t drink tonight. It wasn’t loud enough to be his drunken snore.

wagon-wheel-343204-mOn your right, Mira shuffles around putting everything away before she settles in for the night. Except for her perpetually hunched form, Mira’s ageless and her movements are sure and subtle, quiet enough not to wake Genna and Roy with their newborn.

Genna and Roy sleep in their wagon across from where you lay. In about an hour or so, Regan, the newborn, will start to fuss but this is becoming a common sound for everyone and only Genna tends to wake to it anymore.

For the moment, the world slumbers peacefully. This is the most relaxed you’ve been in a long while.

You met the traveling performers six months before in a small town outside the capital. When you asked to accompany them, they didn’t question you or treat you with suspicion although traveling performers are looked on as the dregs of society. No one asked to join them unless something was wrong.

But they never pried, never asked about your past, never looked at you with speculative eyes even when the king’s soldiers passed through every town they performed in passing out fliers with your likeness drawn on them.

Instead, they painted you like a performer, gave you small tasks in each of their acts, and paraded you around in front of the soldiers like one of their own. If you hadn’t been so tense the whole time, you would have found it funny.

The soldiers slowly faded the farther you got from the capital. At first, you planned to leave the performers once you thought it was safe to be on your own, but you’ve come to feel at home with them and each day you come up with an excuse to continue on with them.

A rustling in the trees disturbs the night’s chirping. The crickets fall silent. Mira goes still with the teakettle midair in her hand. She hisses and pitches the kettle into the trees. There comes the clank of mettle on mettle.

This wasn’t just Mira being eccentric, there was someone out there. You roll to your feet, shoving free of your bedroll as you move.

The night erupts into the rough shouting of men and the startled cries of those suddenly wakened. Regan’s pitiable cries pierce the night above the other sounds.

At first you fear it’s the King’s soldiers but as one of them lifts a lantern to view the small clearing, you see the men surrounding you wear a mismatch of armor and carry everything from short swords to axes to bows.

Not soldiers. Mercenaries?

The man with the lantern spies you and holds up a sheet of paper. His lips split in a grin that displays his stained teeth.

“You’re gonna make us a pretty penny,” he says.

Bounty hunters, you realize with a sinking in your stomach.

The man gestures and one of his men grabs your arms and ties your wrists behind you.

Lenny steps forward and hesitates. He’s a big man and, for once, sober, but he’s no match for five at once. He gives you an apologetic grimace.

Several of the bounty hunters laugh at him and then they shove you into the forest away from your friends.

“Wait!” Mira calls. She runs toward you, stooping more than usual and twisting her face to make it look like that of an old hag. It’s one of her performance faces.

The bounty hunters are caught off guard enough that she crashes into you and gives you a hug. “Safe travels.” She sniffs and steps away just as one of the men moves to grab her.

He misses and, before he can try again, Mira’s moving back toward her wagon with an exaggerated shuffle.

***

It’s a long night. Finally, at sunrise, the bounty hunters stop for some breakfast and tie you to the trunk of a pine. You’re bemoaning that the princess’ cruelness has caught up to you when one of the bounty hunters approaches and drops a chunk of bread by your knee. He unties you and gestures at the bread, then he sits back to watch you eat.

The bread’s hard and, although you’re hungry, the knot in your stomach makes the little you eat roll in your stomach like a boat bread-1426350-mtossed at sea. You hold the rest of the bread up for the man to see and then tuck it into your pocket.

Your fingers encounter something other than the bread there.

You keep a smile from bursting across your face. Good old Mira. From the long, cylindrical shape of the object, you can tell it’s her penknife.

Before withdrawing your hand, you slide the knife into your sleeve, trusting your leather bracelet to hold it against your skin.

Not long after, the bounty hunters tie you to the pine again and lay down to catch a few winks.

One stays awake and finds a large rock to sit on to keep watch. His back is to you but you’re sure any sound and he’ll swing around to check on you.

You could cut the ropes now and try to slip away but admittedly, your woodcraft isn’t great and it’d be a bit of luck to escape without the man hearing.

Or you could wait, hoping for a more opportune moment, maybe at night, to slip away.

Do you attempt…

A. Escape now?

Or

B. Escape later?

Performers and Bounty Hunters Option B: Escape Later

The thought of sitting still and simply waiting for a better moment sticks in your throat like dry bread you can’t quite swallow. However, the sentry keeps stirring like he’s fighting to stay awake, which means he’s looking you’re way more often than you’d like.

You decide to bide your time even though every day of travel brings you closer to a very angry King.

You thought working in the palace would be the perfect job for you. However, when the princess lost her tiara and blamed you, itwedding-tiara-894085-m turned into a nightmare. Now, the King won’t stop until you’re found and punished. You don’t even want to guess at the reward these hunters were in for when they returned you.

But there’s at least a week in between now and when you reach the capital if you head directly there. That should be more than enough time to find a different escape.

You relax against the tree, letting the press of the penknife against your skin reassure you.

After a while, the sentry stands and wakes another. They switch places, barely glancing your way to make sure you’re still where you should be. You relax back and eventually drift into a light sleep.

You wake to the soft tread of booted feet near you. Squinting up, you see it’s another of the bounty hunters. A quick glance around tells you he must be the current sentry, which means you’ve slept for at least a few hours and missed the last change over.

The man’s heavier than his companions and carries double swords over his shoulders. His mouth droops and his face is soft, reminding you of the few dimwits you’ve met. But the likeness stops there. His eyes glitter with an intelligence that’s more than a little frightening.

He crouches beside you so you’re eye to eye. Then he holds up the wanted poster with your likeness drawn in the middle. With a
thick finger, he points to the word tiara.

“You give me this, I let you go,” he whispers so softly you barely pick up his words.

You don’t have the tiara but he doesn’t know that. Can you play it off long enough to escape?

Do you…

Bb. Nod agreement?

Or

Bc. Shake You Head in Refusal?

Performers and Bounty Hunters Option Bb: Nod Agreement

Escaping one man will be far easier than five, you decide, although this man’s hard eyes make you want to shiver.

You nod agreement and a toothy grin breaks out on his rough face. He places a finger to his lips for your silence, and then slices through the rope that holds you to the tree. He leaves your hands tied behind your back.

The two of you head off quietly into the trees. When you think about taking a moment to breathe, he points for you to keep going. The corners of his mouth turn down and his eyes sparkle dangerously. You keep moving.

Finally, after what must be about an hour of hiking, he places a hand on your shoulder for you to stop.

“Where we headed?” he asks.

You’ve been thinking about this the entire time you’ve been walking. Under no circumstances do you want him headed toward the performers. They welcomed you in and helped you every step of the way. You’ve no desire to bring this type of danger to them.

“Didn’t feel safe carrying the thing,” you answer. “Found a good spot to stash it in the last town we performed.”

“Hayden?” he guesses.

You nod.

Without further conversation, he pushes for you to lead the way to Hayden.

***

It’s just after dusk when you reach the edges of Hayden. The town’s small and the only noises along the main drag come from the one tavern on the far side. Everything else sits still like the sidewalks rolled up after dinner and the inhabitants turned blind eyes on the night.

You couldn’t ask for a better situation.

The town’s folk set up a stage in the main square for the performers when they passed through. That was only two days ago and the stage still stands like a skeleton in the gathering shadows.

lantern-1165222-mThe bounty hunter gives you a questioning look and you nod toward that hulking structure.

He grunts and shoves you forward. In the dim light from the street lanterns, you catch the dangerous narrowing of his eyes. He’s starting to suspect you. Perhaps it’s because the stage comes apart and, if you hid the tiara there, the chances of someone finding it would be high.

“Old stages like that,” you say, “always tend to have hidey holes. Little boxes tucked into the planking where performers can pass news to other troops without the town’s folk knowing. Handy when you want to hide something. Especially when there aren’t many troops in these parts.”

The man grunts again. You’ve no idea if you allayed his fears or not but you don’t want to press your luck, so you keep your mouth shut.

The bit about hidey-holes isn’t entirely untrue. However, you could care less if this stage actually has one. What you care about is the stage is broken…kind of.

Lenny found the default in the wood in the middle of his juggling act. He went straight through the flooring. He didn’t break it. He fell through because two of the boards were set on pivots for some long forgotten magician’s show. The great part about it though, is there wasn’t a way to escape from under the boards without an assistant on the outside.

You reach the stage without running into anyone. On the way, you slide Mira’s penknife into your palm. If something goes wrong, you’d prefer to have your hands free.

The knife’s tiny and cutting through the rope makes for slow work but you can’t make large gestures without the Hunter noticing knife-1390018-manyway, so you keep at it until you feel a slight give in the tension around your wrists.

The planking of the stage thuds softly under your boots. The Hunter, although he’s got heavy boots on too, moves silently. You try to ignore how disturbing this is.

“Where’s this hidey-hole?” he asks.

You tilt your head toward the back of the stage where there’s a slight roof to allow for props.

He takes five steps until he’s at the corner you just indicated.

You stomach hits your throat. He just walked directly over the spot Lenny fell through. With sinking realization, you conclude the town’s folk must have fixed the stage. That’s why it hasn’t been taken down yet.

He’s looking at you, waiting for further instructions. The glitter in his eyes tells you he’s seriously starting to suspect you’ve been lying.

With little time to consider, you see there’s a stage chandelier directly above him. If you move fast enough, you might be able to drop it on him. Or you can run. There might be a few places you can hide if you get a big enough lead on him.

Do you:

Bb1: Drop a stage prop on him?

or

Bb2: Run for your life?

Performers and Bounty Hunters Option Bb1: Drop a Stage Prop on Him

The Bounty Hunter’s a hard built man. One of those people who, just by looking at him, you know he’s lived a hard life and hasn’t complained about it. Without something to slow him down, you highly doubt you’ll be able to outrun him.

Penknife in hand, you lunge for the rope holding the chandelier in place.

One slice and the rope pops, but it’s not enough to drop the stage prop.

Behind you there’s a grunt of surprise or perhaps rage but you don’t look back to see for sure. You slice at the rope again and it chandelier-1324178-msnaps like a violin string.

Then you look to see what you’ve accomplished.

The chandelier drops with a crash of splintering wood. It catches the Bounty Hunter by the legs and sinks him through the floor.

But he’s not out of the game. With a beast like growl, he pulls one of his swords free and starts to cut himself loose of the wreckage. The intense determination on his face convinces you, you shouldn’t be around when he gets free.

You bolt, jumping off the stage and hitting the ground running in a plume of dust.

Not long after, there’s a thud of feet behind you.

You dart down the next road and randomly start zigzagging your way through the streets.

No matter how sporadic you are though, you can still hear the Bounty Hunter closing on you. The one time you glance back, you see he’s got both swords out now, held in such a way that they aren’t slowing him much.

If he catches you, he’s not going to wait for you to say something. You’re sure he’ll use the swords and gain the bounty with your dead body.

ForestYou reach the edge of town sooner than you wanted. There’s a stretch of open ground between the buildings and the trees. By now, though, you doubt even reaching the trees will save you.

But you’ve got to try. You’ve always been a fighter. So you put everything into reaching those pines before the Bounty Hunter catches you.

Breath heaves in and out of your chest and your legs start to shake in exhaustion. You reach the dark trunks just as your legs give beneath you. A few feeble attempts to get to your feet tell you, you’ve got nothing left.

Huddling, you wait for the bite of those swords.

There’s a whoosh…and a heavy thud.

Nothing touches you.

Startled, you look over your shoulder to see a heavy shouldered man standing there. He doesn’t have swords but a heavy cudgel.

“Lenny?”

At Lenny’s feet lays the Bounty Hunter. Out cold with a rapidly growing welt on his left temple.

“Felt good,” Lenny says, giving you a hand up. Then, more serious, “looks like we should find different ground to perform on for awhile.”

You’re so shocked to see him, you just grin wordlessly. He offers you a drink from his flask as he turns you into the trees. You shake your head and he gladly takes a sip for you. “Rest of the troop’s that-a-ways,” he gestures. “Let’s go home.”

You just grin even wider in agreement.

The End

Congratulations! You not only survived but it looks like you’ve got a new family =)

Thanks for joining in the adventure. If you enjoyed this one, look for a whole new adventure starting on the 3rd of February.

Blessings,

Jennifer

Witness Protection

I’m loving the snow on the ground. To me, it just epitomizes this time of year. So, even though I posted this story a while ago, I figured it might be fun to revisit it.

I hope 2015 has kicked off to a fabulous start for everyone=)

Witness Protection

Wind howled around the eves from the time the sun went down to just before it rose. The cabin was solid enough to take the beating but Gwen lay awake listening to the banshee scream.

Then it went still and left her ears ringing. She stretched, groaning as the chill sept into the covers.

Get the fire going. Awe no! I forgot the water. Gwen rubbed her forehead as she slid out of bed. She pulled on her wool socks before touching feet to floor. Even still, the cold bit through to make her toes ache. Donning more layers than just her wool underwear, she even added her cloak after watching her breath cloud around her face.

Then she set to lighting the kindling she’d prepared the night before in the hearth. Sweet warmth built from the small flames. Gwen sighed with an ‘ah’ as she held her hands close. She rubbed her fingers until they turned red and then shoved them into her mittens. Last she wrapped her scarf around the lower portion of her face.

Water. 

Leaving the cabin exposed Gwen to the brutal cold but she’d forgotten to fill the water the day before. Brant left her oatmeal. She needed water to eat. He hadn’t apparently considered how cold the next month would be when he set her up at the cabin.

Making her way to the river was a slow process. The wind pushed the snow into drifts and each step sunk Gwen up to her knees in the crusty white.

Snow was supposed to be powdery. Gwen had always thought so but not here. Here it froze so solid that each step dented in a small crater with a crunch.

Nearing the river, she slowed and tapped the snow ahead with the water bucket. After three taps, the snow slid and was swept away by the river.

She learned her first day at the cabin that the wind shoved the snow-turned-solid-ice into a berm over the river. She’d fallen through the berm into water so frigid it’d taken her a good thirty seconds to convince her lungs to draw breath. Then it’d taken a whole day to warm herself by the fire in the cabin.

She’d used too much wood that day. Now she was rationing it. Curse Brant for not educating her on the dangers of the mountain cold. She would just melt snow for water instead of going to the river but melting snow required more wood. Curse Brant again. One mistake and now she feared freezing before Brant returned for her.

He had to return for her. No one else would look for her here. That was kind of the point. But now she feared being left, forgotten. She was just an asset to Brant, nothing more. If, for some reason, he no longer needed her to testify, would he come back for her? She couldn’t say. She didn’t really know the man.

Drawing water, Gwen set the bucket on the bank beside her and watched the horizon as the sun peeked over.

That was the one thing she loved about this place. Those first rays of sun touched the snow with gentle fingers, making it sparkle, pristine and untouched. It made her heart ache that something so beautiful could exist without being seen by most souls.

She’d never seen it herself until Brant left her here. He’d acted like this place was the most natural, common place in the world. Perhaps, for him, it was. He was, after all, the King’s ranger.

The King tasked him with hiding her, the only witness to the theft of the crown, until the man she’d named as guilty was found. Brant guessed it’d take a month, at most.

Gwen sighed. This was her fourth week. She’d marked out the days on a piece of firewood.

Being a noblewoman, she’d never spent so long with only her thoughts. Her thoughts scared her. Was she always so superficial?

Probably. After a month to consider, she could admit it. At least to herself. Sighing, Gwen started and scrunched her face.

“Not again!” Her breath had frozen to her brows and lashes. It was the one drawback to covering her face with a scarf. If she sat too long, her breath was directed up against her face and froze to any exposed hair.

Picking up the water, which had already formed a fine crust of ice, Gwen rubbed her face with one mittened hand to break the frost from her brows as she retraced her steps to the cabin.

It probably wasn’t much warmer inside but to Gwen it felt like a toasty bath, just lacking steam.

Breaking the crust of ice, she poured water into the kettle and added a piece of wood to the fire. She warmed the water just enough to make the oatmeal bearable and then sat back to eat breakfast.

When she went home, she swore she’d never touch oatmeal again.

***

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGwen added her cloak on top of the bed that night. Two more days. She’d give it two more days. If Brant didn’t return by then, she’d head out on her own.

The wind started its howl just as sleep was pulling her under. She started at the shrieking and then flopped back, groaning. After a month, she should be used to the high keening around the eves. She wasn’t, though. It made her ears ring something fierce every morning after listening to it all night.

Finally a light sleep pulled her under but the howl crept into her unconscious mind.

A banshee chased her through the snow, hissing and spitting as it clawed its way closer. Snow, crusted hard, crunched into deep craters beneath her running feet. Crunch, crunch, crunch, thunk.

Gwen bolted upright.

The door.

She rolled just in time to avoid the man who’d barreled into the cabin.

She knew who he was without seeing his face. She’d never seen another person with ears like his. Floppy lobes due to gauging, which elongated his already long ears. They framed his face like he was part elephant.

She’d described all of that for the King but apparently it hadn’t been enough for here was the thief, not the ranger.

Hitting the floor on hands and knees, Gwen darted for the hearth where a metal poker leaned. She didn’t make it.

The thief caught her ankle and yanked her back. Digging her nails into the wooden floor, she reached, while twisting and kicking, for something to fight with. Her fingers latched onto cold metal.

Swinging with all her strength, Gwen slammed the water bucket against the man’s head. The water sloshed across the floor and the bucket hit with a crunch. Thudding to his knees, the thief groaned. He released her ankle to hold his head. Gwen snatched her cloak from the bed, shoved her boots on and raced out the door as it swung in the wind.

He’ll kill me.

But so would the cold.

As soon as Gwen left the cabin’s walls, the buffet of wind almost knocked her over. It whipped her hair across her face in angry gusts from the east.

Can’t stay exposed.

One hand to the cabin wall, she struggled around to the west side. Stepping into the windbreak from the cabin, she glanced back. Even with the dark and the blowing snow, she could tell her foot prints were gone. One plus to the insane weather.

But the windbreak of the cabin wouldn’t keep her from freezing. Already her fingers were numb to the point she could barely hold her cloak around her shoulders.

She couldn’t wander out from the cabin either. Between the dark and the snow, she’d be lost and dead long before morning.

Bury myself it is then.

She’d heard of people surviving storms by digging snow caves and hiding inside. She’d scoffed at the stories. A snow cave couldn’t possibly be warm enough to keep a body alive, could it?

Hopefully the stories were true. They were her only option unless she wanted to go back and face the thief. She’d broken his nose. She was sure of it, but that hadn’t knocked him out. He’d be after her soon.

Kneeling, Gwen dug into the drift of snow at the corner of the cabin. She used the edges of her cloak to protect her hands but even still, the exertion warmed her and it was enough to tell her hands were taking a beating.

Finally, having a large enough hole to fit her body into, Gwen packed the walls until they were slick and then curled into the small cave.  It wasn’t comfortable or warm but in comparison to the outside, it was protected.

Gwen’s hands throbbed. Folding her cloak and hood tight to her skin, she tucked her hands into her arm pits where her core could keep them bearably warm.

She lay shivering as she tried to gauge how late the night was. How long before morning? She didn’t really have a way to tell although the wind always died down before sunrise. She hoped it’d died down soon.

Something dripped onto her cheek. Gwen frowned and touched the roof of her cave. Her fingers came away wet. The roof was slicked with a fine layer of water from her body heat. As her hands searched, she found a point where the water was collecting. Packing the point smooth, Gwen shifted her cloak some to keep her dry.

Brant gave her the garment when he left her. He said at the time that a water resistant cloak lined with fur could mean life or death out here. She’d chuckled, thinking she wouldn’t be here long enough to need it. Now she could kiss him for it…or stab him for not catching the thief.

Shivering continued to rack her body. She clamped her teeth closed but that only kept her teeth quiet. It didn’t keep her body from shuddering.

Curse men altogether.

It was a man who stole the crown. Then it was a man who ordered her ‘kept safe.’ Then a man who dumped her out here and called it good.

If a woman had been the thief, she would have had the courtesy not to be seen. Or if the Queen decided on ‘safe,’ if would’ve involved joining her ladies-in-waiting, not trudging to a cabin in the middle of no where.

Her thinking wasn’t fair but while she shivered in the night and listened to the wind, she didn’t care.

***

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe wind died down and the silence woke her. It was that time of morning just before the sun rose when the air was brittle with cold and eerily quiet.

Crunch.

Gwen sucked in a breath and held it.

Crunch.

The sound of a slow step in the crusted snow. The thief was up and moving.

Crunch.

He wouldn’t know she stayed by the cabin, would he? Perhaps he thought the night and cold killed her. It should have. Her, a noblewoman, with no knowledge of the frozen mountains.

Crunch.

The sound was way too close. Gwen couldn’t move.

Her cave crumbled as he pulled on her cloak. The thief had the edge of the garment in his hand. He yanked again and Gwen cried out as he reached for her.

Her arms and legs ached, screamed at her as she flailed after being curled in a ball for hours.

He yanked a third time and the cloak slid from her shoulders.

Gwen stood and spun away but had to brace a hand on the wall when her legs protested. Bloody hand prints trailed the wall, leading right to her spot.

She shoved away and tried to run toward the river but her steps sunk her up to her knees until she was crawling and scrambling instead of running.

The thief yelled but she couldn’t, and didn’t really want to, hear his words. He was chasing her. With his longer legs, he was gaining fast.

Seeing the river ahead, Gwen stopped and crouched, turning as the thief reached for her.

She grabbed his extended hand and pulled. Caught off guard, he stumbled. He stepped once, then twice to regain his balance. Gwen braced her legs and shoved him past her.

He stepped onto the ice berm over the river. It held for a second before crumbling and then he disappeared into the river, windmilling his arms on the way down. He bobbed to the surface farther down with his mouth open in a silent shriek.

Gwen could relate to that feeling.

The thief caught on a rock down mid-stream.

“Now I’ve got to fish him out.”

Gwen shrieked and spun.

Brant stood there eyeing her.

“He’s your problem,” she said and then clamped her teeth together. Her body was still shivering. She couldn’t feel her feet and her hands felt like she’d grated them on a wash board. She flexed her fingers and finally figured out why she’d left bloody hand prints. She tore several nails in her struggle with the thief. Probably left grooves in the cabin floor.

“That he is. I’m glad he finally took the bait.”

“Bait? I was bait!” Gwen wanted to scream and yell and maybe hit him but all that came out was a lot of half words. “yo–cruel–why-” She gave up. She was railing at him in her underwear and shivering so hard she couldn’t keep her teeth quiet.

Spinning, she trudged back to the cabin for her clothes. She didn’t offer to help him retrieve the thief.

***

By the time Brant came in, he and the thief were both drenched and shivering with ice forming in their hair.

Gwen had built up the fire to thaw her frozen limbs and the cabin was toasty warm. She found the sled Brant must have hauled in. Half of it was covered with wood. The other half more food stuffs. He would have left her here as long as it took to lure the thief in apparently.

But he brought firewood, for which Gwen could almost forgive him his plans. Almost.

Seeing both men come back crusted with ice cooled her ire even more. They deserved the experience, both of them, and it was satisfying to see, but she didn’t begrudge them the warmth in the cabin either. It wasn’t like she wanted them dead.

The thief now had a crooked nose to add to his elongated ears. He sat in the corner of the cabin with his shoulders slumped and head down.

After a silent breakfast of oatmeal, Gwen helped Brant clean the cabin.

“Time to go,” he announced and then frowned at her. “Where’s the cloak I gave you?”

“Out under the snow,” Gwen announced, “where I spent the night while this man enjoyed the cabin.”

Brant finally had the decency to look sorry. “He was here all night?”

“Duh genius. Your master plan had a few glitches. Although I could kiss you for the cloak. It saved my life.”

He looked flabbergasted. Gwen’s day was looking up. She turned away to go find the cloak. She planned to enjoy one last morning of the sun sparkling off the snow before she returned home.

The End.

Blessings,

Jennifer

 

The Season

I hope everyone is having an amazing holiday season! May this day be blessed with family, friends and hot chocolate=)

After a year of massive change for my husband and myself, we get to spend some precious time with those we love. So off we go to enjoy good conversation and delicious food.

Many blessings to all. May this season be filled to overflowing with the people we hold dear =)

JenniferScan 3

Poison Inn

Welcome back to a whole new adventure! The changes in my writing schedule so far have helped immensely in helping me focus and enjoying the writing process again. So I’m rather excited to start this week’s adventure.

Let’s get started=)

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

Photo courtesy of Sebring's Snapshots.

Photo courtesy of Sebring’s Snapshots.

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.

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 small 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 Option Aa: Apothecary’s Assistant

No matter how nervous it makes you, being honest has always helped you in the end.

You swallow hard and answer, “Apothecary’s assistant.”

“What!” Marl’s got ahold of your collar before you have a chance to react.

“It’s got to be that one!” The old woman screeches, pointing at you.

Marl lifts you so you’re eye to eye with him. Your feet swing free of the floor and the bar hits you in the back of the legs.

“Why poison the serving woman?” Shouts the goateed chess player. His axe is free and in his hands like he wants to take your head off.

“I—“

“Who hired you?” Marl growls, cutting you off.

Everyone’s shouting. You try to speak again but it’s cut off by someone else. This time, you can’t pinpoint the speaker.

You look around helplessly. With Marl still holding you eye level with him, you’ve a good view over the room. Movement catches your eye just as the old woman slips out the door. No body notices the gust of cold wind she lets in on her way out.

You look frantically for the old man, wondering where he’s gotten to.

You’re just in time to see him head for the kitchen. Thankfully, you’re not the only one who sees him. The woman with the knives steps in his way before he ducks through the swinging door of the kitchen. They face off.

Still unable to be heard over the other’s shouting, you struggle to get a hand in your pocket. You almost drop the ebony stone when Marl shakes you like a rag doll. Clutching at it desperately, you finally get the stone up where the bar keeper can see it.

He goes still, staring at the satiny stone. “Oh,” he says, dropping you back onto your stool none too gently.

Everyone goes silent, surprised at his sudden release of you.

“The old woman’s gone,” you point out in the quiet.

The old man tries to bolt. The knife woman catches his jacket in one hand and his hair in the other. The hair comes free in her hand but the jacket pulls him up short.

“By golly,” the heavy shouldered chess player exclaims, “you can’t be older than twenty!”

It’s true, without the gray hair, the man’s blond locks stick out in disarray for all to see.

“Wait now,” the axe man steps closer to him, “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 man matches the blond haired man so closely you’d think he sat for a portrait.

Hired assassins come to kill a serving woman? Somehow that doesn’t quite fit.

You look at Marl with his club and massive stance. Between him and Wallin, you’d think they were the world’s most capable Inn owners. Not only were they able to attend to a poisoned woman, they’d kept, mostly, everyone in the Inn from leaving when everything went south. It reeked of soldier material more than Inn keepers.

Perhaps the serving woman’s not as she seems.

You want to ask. Knowing who she is might lead you to the ‘old’ woman…and gain you a portion of 20 silvers.

Asking might just get your head bashed in though. Particularly if Wallin and Marl are the woman’s protectors, as you suspect.

Do you…

Aa1: Ask?

Aa2: Keep quiet?

Poison Inn Option Aa1: Ask

It does you no good to remain quiet, so you gather your nerve and force the words from your mouth.

“Who’s the woman upstairs?” you ask. “People aren’t hired to assassinate someone without a reason.”

Marl eyes you darkly for a moment but everyone’s looking to him for an answer and finally he grunts and answers, “she’s Count Lassetter’s daughter. If she’s killed, he’ll have no chance to marry her off and save his house.”

The chessmen nod at each other like this makes perfect sense. The knife woman huffs.

“Who stands to gain if the Count can’t marry her off?” you press on.

“Baron Emry. He’s been promised the land and title if something were to happen because of a distant kinship.” This was Wallin answering from the bottom of the stairs.

Everyone jumps at his voice as no one heard him come down the stairs despite his size.

Although he startles you, you have the good fortune to be watching the male assassin when Wallin speaks. At the mention of Baron Emry, he looks down, trying to hide the recognition on his face. But you clearly see he knows the baron.

“Won’t the female assassin return to the Baron for her pay?” you ask. The male refuses to look at you.

Wallin and Marl look at each other as though they’re conferring silently. Then Wallin says to you, “if you watch Miss Lassetter while we check the Baron’s estate, we’ll give you a share of the reward for the Bradley Assassins.”

This one’s a no brainer for you. As an Apothecary’s Assistant, you have plenty of experience sitting with ill people.

You agree and watch, a bit surprised, as the two chess players join Wallin and Marl in their venture. The knife woman offers to sit with you while you wait.

This catches you off guard more than anything else because the woman hasn’t seemed all that friendly but finally you agree and the two of you sip on drinks while the others catch the second assassin.

When you leave in the morning, you leave with the knife woman, who’s also headed to the capital, and have three and a half extra silver pieces weighing down your purse quite nicely.

The End

Yay! Being bold in this adventure has paid off. Hope you have a wonderful weekend =)

Blessings,

Jennifer