King’s Scepter 2

It’s been awhile since we ran an adventure a second time. Seems about time for it. And this adventure was just too fun not to explore again.

So let’s go get lost and see what we find.

King’s Scepter

cropped-dsc_0557.jpgPerhaps it’s curiosity or maybe just a desire to find new things but whatever the reason, you’re now driving down a dirt, four-wheel drive road in your tiny box of a car.

You were out for a drive to enjoy the changing leaves in all their glorious reds and golds when you spotted this side road leading up to a ridge.

It occurred to you, the ridge would be the perfect place to get a view of the entire valley, which would be spectacular to see. So you took the turn even though the condition of the road begs for a higher clearance than your car has.

You’ve driven such roads before, though. If you drive carefully, it shouldn’t be a problem…or so you tell yourself. The car shudders around you as the washboards in the road attempt to rattle the frame to pieces.

You give an ‘ahhhhh’ that comes out like someone’s pounding on your back just for the fun of it.

Your car doesn’t agree with the beating. You veer left to avoid a large rut, then cut right because of a boulder. Your car emits a grinding screech as something drags across the under carriage.

You make it a little farther before it starts to stutter. Just to be on the safe side, you stop the car and pull the e-brake.

Then you get out to peek underneath. Something that looks like oil is leaking onto the ground.

“Great,” you mutter as you sit back onto your heels to consider your situation.

Something catches your eye through the trees. A flash of light like sunlight on glass. Glass equals something human like another car or a house. Perhaps someone’s there who can help you out.

You pull out your cell phone to make sure but there’s no signal. You haven’t had a signal for most of the drive. Pocketing the phone, you head up the road on foot.

You round the turn ahead to find a cabin with large picture windows, wooden beams the size of trees holding up a covered porch and rockers occupying the entrance.

A vacation cabin perhaps. Maybe someone’s home although you don’t see a car.

You climb the front steps and knock on the door.

Knock, creek.

The door swings open. From where you stand, you see glass shattered on the hardwood floor and drapes pulled from their brackets.

“Hello?” you call.

No answer comes back. Apprehension makes your breath tight.

You could leave. The main road’s a ways back, probably a half a day hike to reach it but you’ve got good shoes on and it’s only noon.

Or you could investigate. Someone might be inside hurt…or someone might be inside stealing things.

Do you…

A.Leave?

Or

B.Investigate?

Kings Scepter Option A: Leave

The place seems still. You figure is there was someone around, they’re long gone now.

Plus, you need to get somewhere so you can call a tow for your car and you don’t feel like going farther inside the cabin to see if there’s a landline. You assume if there is one, it’s probably been cut.

You leave the porch with barely a glance back and head up the road. When you come in sight of your car again, you stop. Glass cabin-in-the-snow-2-950299-mfrom the windows sparkle on the ground like dew on the gravel.

The cabin wasn’t that far up the road, you would think something this destructive would’ve made enough noise for you to notice, but you heard nothing.

Approaching with more caution, you get close enough to peek inside.

There’s a squirrel sitting on the driver’s seat with his front paws up on the steering wheel. He’s making a ‘rrrr vroom vroom’ kind of noise.

Shock keeps you in place long enough for the squirrel to notice you.

“Uh-oh,” he says, “I didn’t do it.”

“Didn’t—“ you clear your throat. Maybe you’ve gone crazy. “Didn’t do it?”

“Nope, nope. Found the car this way. Thought it’dbefuntotestdrive.” He speaks so fast you have to decipher the jumble before you understand.

“Then who did?” you finally ask.

“Don’t knowbutthere’sprints—“

“Slow down!”

“Oh. Paw prints,” he scrambles onto the windowsill and points at the ground below.

Coming around the hood of the car, you spot paw prints as big as a frisbee.

“What’s that big?”

“Smells like cat. Gotta peanut? I smell peanuts too.”

You do a double take at him. This can’t be happening, surely.

But you can’t deny the condition of your car or the fact that Mr. Squirrel is staring at your pocket, where, sure enough, you have a bag of trail mix with peanuts.

Pulling out the bag, you hand him a hand full.

“Awesome!” he exclaims, cramming his cheeks full.

“Why would a cat break into my car?”

He shrugs while he chews. “That cat,” he points at the prints again. “He’s the Law Keeper. So what’d you do?”

“Law Keeper?”

“Yup. What’d you do? Ha?”

“Nothing but break down in the middle of no where,” you grumble.

cougar-on-the-prowl-1253662-mLaw Keeper? Really?

“Let’s go ask him then. Can I drive?”

“Car’s broken, didn’t you hear?”

“Oh, then I’ll lead. Let’s go.”

He takes off after the direction of the prints but scurries back when you don’t immediately follow.

“What’s up?”

“Ask him?” you repeat.

“Yeah,” he says, “or head back to the cabin. As I recall it looks bad too. Maybe the culprit’s there.”

At this point you’re not sure you can head to the main road without always wondering what happened here. You are, after all, talking to a squirrel.

So do you…

Aa. Find the Law Keeper?

Or

Ab. Head Back to the Cabin?

King’s Scepter Option Aa: Find the Law Keeper

You’ve taken a look into the cabin and from the looks of it, there’re no answers in the trashed place.gray-squirrel-on-a-log-1446406-m

“Let’s find this Law Keeper,” you say.

Mr. Squirrel takes off again after the prints. You question for a moment what you’re doing because those are some very large prints but then you look at your poor car and remind yourself you’d like some answers.

So you follow Mr. Squirrel as he scurries along the ground and sometimes through the trees. A few times you almost lose him but he keeps a constant chatter going so even when you can’t see him, you know the general direction to follow.

He stops on a branch. “Maybe he doubled back or he could’ve crossed the rocks which means…” he continues chattering but it’s clear he’s lost the trail.

You stare at him, hopeful he’ll figure it out because, if he doesn’t, you’re back to square one.

“He chatters so much, I could’ve eaten him a dozen times without him seeing me coming.”

You jump and your heart nearly leaves your skin.

Beside you stands a mountain lion with paws the size of frisbees. On his chest is emblazoned a pure white patch that resembles a star.

“Law Keeper?”

“That would be me.”

“We were looking for you.”

“I know. Alfred there,” he’s looking at Mr. Squirrel, “has asked to be a deputy for years. I keep telling him when he can be quiet, I’ll consider it but he just can’t do it. So I know he’s looking for me because he keeps saying it as he’s looking.”

“You broke into my car,” you accuse.

The lion turns gold eyes on you. “I did not. I investigated your car because whoever did break into it also stole the King’s Scepter. Your car reeks of him just as the cabin does.”

“Ha! Found him. Knew you had to be around here somewhere.” Alfred scurries down the tree to stand in front of the mountain lion. He bows. “At your service.”

“I’d refuse but I need assistance on this one,” the lion says. “I’ve found the culprit and he’s not alone.”

“Who is it? Who is it?” Alfred jumps from one foot to another.

The mountain lion eyes Alfred. If you didn’t know better you’d think he was considering eating him but you do know better so he’s probably just questioning if Alfred can stay quiet.

You help the poor squirrel out by handing him some peanuts. He crams his cheeks full and is quiet except for the slight crunching of him chewing.

Photo courtesy of Art Rousseau with Hope for Haiti.

Photo courtesy of Art Rousseau with Hope for Haiti.

“It’s the pika family,” the lion finally answers.

“Th—“ Alfred tries to exclaim but just sprays bits of peanut. He slaps a paw over his mouth and, if he could blush, he would’ve judging from the way he slumps and looks away.

“Why would they take the scepter and break into my car?” you ask.

“The King’s scepter has many capabilities, one of which is to change a creature’s size. When I spied them, they were attempting to make themselves bigger. At the time they’d managed to change their fur to green but it won’t take them long to figure it out.”

“And my car?”

“They’re mode of escape. If you hadn’t noticed, a few of the family stayed in the undercarriage of your car to fix the leak. I could hear their claws on the mettle when I was there.”

“Their mode of escape? So they’re going to make themselves big and go drive around.”

“They know little beyond our home. They won’t be welcome here, so they assume they’ll find somewhere new to live out there.”

“Great,” you grumble, picturing giant pika’s driving around in your car. “So what do we do?”

“We could lure them out and into a cage with your trail mix. I’d walk right into it if it were me.” Alfred grins, finished with his mouthful of peanuts.

“That’s one option,” the lion admits. “Or we can go in and arrest them. The three of us might be enough to intimidate them into surrendering.”

“Oh, I get to be deputized.” Alfred jumps up and down clapping his paws.

Do you…

Aa1. Lure them out?

Or

Aa2 Arrest them?

King’s Scepter Option Aa2: Arrest the Pika

You watch Alfred the squirrel while you’re trying to decide which option sounds best. He scrambles up a tree and then races back fox-squirrel-1404967-mdown to stand at your feet with his palms out, asking silently for more trail mix.

With just enough to fill his tiny palms, he stuffs the treat into his cheeks and races back up the tree. In seconds, he scampers down to stare at you with his palms out again.

It occurs to you any plan involving trail mix could be a bust simply because Alfred will try to eat it all.

“Let’s go in and arrest them,” you say to the Law Keeper.

The lion huffs a heavy breath in what you think might be approval. “Cabin’s this way,” he says and leads you farther into the trees.

You consider briefly calling to Alfred to let him know you’re leaving but then you see him jumping from one tree to the next in pursuit of the Law Keeper.

“Surprise is out best bet,” the Law Keeper says, “you take the front door and I’ll take the back. Just be sure to say ‘In the name of the King’ when you tell them to freeze.”

Before you can ask any questions, the lion’s gone with barely a sound.

You wait for only a moment before pushing into the cabin. The sight before you makes your stomach roll with unease. There are so many pikas the place seems to crawl with them.

“In the name of the King freeze!” Roars the Law Keeper as he barrels in from the back door.

The entire place goes still and all tiny paws rise into the air. The four pikas on the back of the couch drop the scepter as they move to comply.

You jump for it but the golden rod drops past your fingers to hit the floor. Light like the beam of a spot light shoots from it, hitting the Law Keeper and Alfred, who just rushed in to see what was happening. Both creatures drop to the floor, stunned and then, in the after glow of the light, you loose sight of them for a moment. When you regain focus, you blink in shock.

Alfred sits on his haunches staring at his human sized paws. The Law Keeper pushes up to stand and his head barely reaches the squirrel’s elbow.

The pikas scatter, giving off a sound like all of them are laughing. Several leap onto the scepter and start to drag it across the floor.

You clamp down on the end of it before they get too far and pull it back toward you. Angry hisses come from the tiny fur balls but when you tug at it, they all let go, rather suddenly.

The head of the staff hits the wall and it explodes with light again. Your body tingles like you’ve stepped into a too hot bath tub of water. Blinking furiously, you finally regain focus to see Alfred and the Law Keeper are back to their normal sizes…but what’s that smell?

chocolate-swirl-1158067-mIt reminds you of chocolate and cheerios. Your tongue salivates for the tasty treat. You reach into your pocket to eat some trail mix only to find the bag’s empty. When you look up to scold Alfred for eating it all, you see he and the Law Keeper have most of the pikas in hand.

Perhaps it’s not the best time to distract them but you still really want some trail mix.

Scampering out the door, you head out to see if you can find some more. It’s only after you’ve checked your broken car and headed back to the cabin to check the kitchen that you realize you’re running on four paws and the world’s huge.

When you reach the cabin, you take two seconds to peek in an unbroken window.

Huh, you look like Alfred except, well, maybe you look a little less scattered.

Oh well, you still want trail mix, so you head into the kitchen to see what you can find.

The End

Blessings and have a wonderful weekend,

Jennifer

Emma

Went on a quick vacation last weekend to a lake in Northern Idaho. So beautiful! and, of course, full of potential for writing. Here’s one of the ideas that came to mind from the trip. Hope you enjoy=)

Emma

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAExcept for the few feet that sit against the shore, the water of the lake stands frozen, held still by the weight of countless pounds of ice. Light plays over the white expanse of snow that sits like a blanket across the ice. You could almost believe it solid enough for you to walk out into the middle of the lake, almost.

But holes in the otherwise broken expanse warn you it would be a foolish idea to test. It’s spring. There are bound to be soft spots.

One of those holes might have been created by Emma. You shake your head, refusing to believe she’d be stupid enough to run out onto the ice. Surely you would have heard or seen her if she had.

But she’s nowhere in sight. You were just out for a short walk, a chance to get out of the village and break the cabin fever that’s been plaguing everyone.

Five of you left the village, enjoying the warmth of the sun on your backs and the fresh smell in the air created by the melting snow. You ate lunch on the sand of the lake, threw rocks onto the ice like you would to skip them on the water and then, when the sun warned you only a few hours of light remained, you turned for home.

None of you can say when Emma disappeared. She just wasn’t with you when you decided to leave. It almost feels like you lost time somewhere.

The others span the shore, calling for the young girl. Their voices ring in the woods that grow almost all the way up to the water. You listen but there’s nothing except their shouting.

Emma’s high soprano does not answer them. A sick knot of worry sits tight under your ribs.

“Perhaps we should go for help,” suggests Travis as he approaches from the left. His steps leave large divots in the wet sand.

You stare at those marks. Emma’s boots should’ve left similar divots. It’s not like the lake’s quiet tides would’ve washed them away.

Something’s not adding up but you can’t put your finger on exactly what.

“Maybe we should,” you agree.

The other two walk up just in time to hear your words.

“Should what?” Megan asks.

You explain and then, to your horror, they all look at you for a decision. How did you become the unspoken leader?

With more important matters, you don’t ask them.

Taking a look at the too quiet shore and the surrounding forest, you gauge there’s maybe an hour left before dusk takes away your light. The village isn’t far. Maybe a fifteen-minute walk.

Do you…

A. Head for Help?

or

B. Search a bit longer?

Emma Option A: Head for Help

You’ve already looked for about an hour with nothing to show for the effort. A more in depth search would be better conducted with the aid of the other villagers.

“Let’s head back,” you tell everyone.

They agree silently, perhaps feeling the same struggle you are. Leaving without Emma feels wrong. She’s the carefree one, the one that bounces down the street with enthusiasm, but she’s also the one who needs a hand finding the lake even though you visit it weekly during the warmer season. If she’s lost wandering the forest, she probably doesn’t know north from south, much less the way back to the village.

Picture courtesy of Arthur Rousseau

Picture courtesy of Arthur Rousseau with Hope for Haiti

It feels wrong leaving but you can’t think of a better option. Your feet trudge down the snowy, muddy trail back toward the village.

No one says a word, lost in his or her own thoughts or still looking around in hopes of spotting your lost companion as the light slowly fades.

Megan screeches at the back of the line and you spin just in time to see her booted feet disappear into the heavy pine branches above.

Travis jumps, trying to catch her ankles, but all he gets is needles in the face as whatever grabbed Megan cracks several large branches off the trees with its passage.

You stand in stunned silence.

“Any…anyone see what happened?” you ask, pulling it together.

Travis and Cooper shake their heads, still staring up into the treetops.

A small trickle of blood runs down Travis’ temple from where a branch smacked him.

“Then let’s run,” you say. Whatever grabbed Megan had to have been big and the three of you may not be able to fight it on your own. You desperately want the protection of the village.

You reach the village puffing for breath and immediately head for the tavern. It’s where half the village men stop before heading home for the night.

Bursting through the doors, all eyes swing your way but you’re breathing too hard to explain.

Travis blurts everything out instead. At first, everyone stares at him but then the room breaks out in a commotion as Emma’s father pushes toward the door.

You’re so focused on Emma’s father and the bright red tint to his face that you don’t see old Kevin until he taps you on the shoulder.

You look over and down to meet his light eyes. He stands no taller than your shoulder, so hunched that his already diminutive stature is gnarled like an old tree.

“Megan disappeared into the tree tops?” He whistles the question through his teeth.

You nod.

“Hmmm,” he scratches his stomach and nods. “Sounds like the Roc. It’d have chicks this time of year.”

“What?” Cooper leans over your shoulder to hear. Old Kevin’s considered kind of insane but after everything you just saw, you don’t want to discount anything off hand.

“The Roc,” Kevin whistles, “a gigantic bird that hides up in the mountains. Think it got lost and never found its way back to the east. Young Emma would be a perfect snack for its young.”

“You’ve seen this bird?” Travis asks, his brows low in a deep frown. Oddly enough, the three of you are the only ones listening to the old man. The others in the tavern are all talking, setting up a regular search party.

“Ah, yes, I’ve seen it. Even know where it lives.”

You all look at each other.

The rest of the villagers will never follow old Kevin. He has proven in the past to be rather cracked.

As before, Travis and Cooper look to you for direction. You stomach clenches.

Do you…

Aa. Follow Kevin?

Or

Ab. Join the Search Party?

Emma Option Aa: Follow Kevin

The village men seem to have a large enough search party without you joining them. You look to Kevin and say, “show us this bird.”

He grins and whistles delightedly through his teeth.

Before heading back into the forest, you grab several lanterns from the tavern keeper. He hands you a few knives as well. Just in case, he says, you actually find Kevin’s bird.

The knives make your stomach roll. What if Kevin’s right?saber-knife-1067468-m

But you put a confident face on for Travis and Cooper because they keep looking at you like they’re dubious about the whole situation. Their looks mimic your own doubts perfectly.

The slushy snow on the trail’s turned to ice now that the sun’s set. It crunches under your steps, echoing hollowly in the quiet.

Up ahead, you hear the searchers calling Emma’s name but before you reach the lake, Kevin leads you down a trail that heads up into the canyon. It’s not an area you visit often, particularly when there’s snow, because the canyon walls are perfectly slanted for avalanches.

But it’s almost spring and you hope the snow’s melted enough not to be a problem.

Kevin starts to whistle softly ahead of you. In the lantern light, his hunched form looks almost trollish. His shadow swings with the lantern’s motion, distorted even more than his twisted form by the trees and uneven ground the shadow passes over.

You hold in a shiver and glance back at the other two to reassure yourself.

“Won’t the Roc hear you whistling?” you ask as the sound starts to grate on your nerves.

“Oh, it hears all sorts of things. The other’s hollering, our steps in the snow. Won’t make a lick of difference if it hears me whistling.” Then he cackles under his breath like he made a joke.

But thankfully he stops whistling. Not long after, though, he starts humming, then kind of skipping down the trail.

“Emma and Megan are lost. What are you doing?” Travis finally speaks up.

Kevin just keeps on skipping. Travis growls behind you but doesn’t ask again.

Eventually, Kevin stops and points up toward a ledge on the canyon wall to your right.

“There,” he says, “the ledge recesses into the wall making a shallow cave. The Roc likes it for its nest.”
“How many chicks does it usually have?” you ask.

Kevin shrugs. “Couple, maybe. Don’t know.”

That’s helpful. Travis gives the man a dark glare.

“Well, let’s go.” You say.

Kevin doesn’t move. “My legs don’t work well enough to get up there.” He says.

You frown. “Then how do you know about the nest?”

“Climbed it once in nice weather. About cracked my noggin when I tumbled back down to the trail. Tricky business.” He skips in place and starts whistling again.

“Hush,” Cooper says before Travis can yell at the man. “Let’s not warn it we’re here if we can help it.”

Kevin stops the sound but keeps bouncing on his toes.

lantern-1165222-mYou give Travis a knife and keep one for yourself. Then you look Kevin in the eye as you hand him your lantern. “Stay here.”

He nods. “Of course.”

The climb’s slick with half frozen ground but thankfully there isn’t enough snow for an avalanche.

A screech ricochets off the canyon walls. Your ears ring in the silence afterwards and, when you glance over your shoulder, you spot a dark shape so large it blacks out the full moon’s light.

Above you, on the ledge, comes several answering screeches. They’re not as loud but there’s an insistence to them that reminds you of hungry children.

Then, just barely audible under the ringing in your ears, you catch a familiar voice.

“Help!” screams Emma.

You’re about to bolt up the hill to get to her when Cooper shouts behind you.

He’s holding Travis’ feet as the Roc tries to pick the boy off the hillside. The bird’s wings beat at you with their wind.

A cackling fills the air. “Feed my pretties!” Kevin cackles below. The lantern he’s holding bounces like he’s skipping again.

“Help!” Emma’s voice barely reaches you over the chicks screeching.

Do you…

Aa1: Help Emma?

or

Aa2: Help Cooper?

Emma Option Aa2: Help Cooper

Before your eyes Cooper’s feet leave the ground as he continues to hold onto Travis. He kicks wildly, making the giant Roc waver in its attempt to fly upward.

You hesitate only for a second before sliding back down the hill to reach him before the Roc lifts too far into the air for you to help.

In your mind all you can picture is Travis’ attempt to grab Megan before she disappeared into the treetops.

Your feet slide out from under you on the slick ground and you end up tumbling past Cooper instead of stopping in time to catch his feet.

Photo courtesy of Sebring's Snapshots.

Photo courtesy of Sebring’s Snapshots. his feet.

Throwing your arms out, you manage to stop, but end up loosing your grip on the knife in the process. It clatters down the hill and disappears into the darkness.

You wonder briefly where Kevin got to but, considering he led you here to be eaten, you push the thought aside, glad his bad legs keep him from climbing the hillside to help the Roc.

Scrambling back up to where Cooper’s still kicking wildly, you jump to catch his legs.

The added weight brings your feet back to the ground briefly. It’s enough for you to wrap your legs around the bare trunk of a tamarack.

Your legs scream in protest as the Roc regains the rhythmic beating of its wings. The buffet of wind from its movement brings water to your eyes but, even without clear sight, you see Cooper’s losing his grip on Travis’ ankles.

“Hold tight!” you encourage at the same time as you pull with all your might.

The Roc screeches and the tamarack bows and then cracks.

You pull again, hoping the dead tree will hold on a bit longer.

broken-tree-1022052-mIt snaps just as the Roc’s claws lose their hold on Travis’ shoulders.

Everyone tumbles to the ground. The boys roll head over heels down the hillside but your leg is pinned beneath the fallen tamarack. When the Roc circles and dives back to retrieve its prey, you’re the only one there for it to attack.

You scramble against the ground, trying to free yourself, but all you manage is to bloody your hands on the cold ground.

The giant bird grasps your torso in her claws and lifts into the air with ease, making the tree slide painfully off your leg.

You flail against her grip and below you, you hear the shouts of Travis and Cooper. When you look down, though, all you see are tiny dots on the ground. Only Cooper’s bright hair tells you which one’s which.

There’s a third figure down there too. It seems to bounce down the trail back toward the lake. You feel a small amount of satisfaction as you realize Kevin’s headed straight into the other search party.

***

You are never seen by the villagers again. They tell stories about how you drove the Roc away, saving your companions and, some of the more optimistic tales say, you wander the hills, keeping the bird from snatching more people but these tales are always accompanied by saddened smiles.

Your legend lives on, though, becoming larger and more extravagant with each telling until, eventually, you become known as the Roc Fighter who saved the whole village.

The End

Blessings and thanks for joining in the adventure!

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