Chalice 2

I started two new adventures for this week, got about 200 words into the opening of each story, and then just stared at the page with a blank mind. This doesn’t happen very often but I figured, instead of giving you an adventure that meandered because I had no direction for it, we could explore an old adventure and see what new ending it brings.

So here we are, looking for a Chalice in a cave with drakes. =)

Chalice 2

forest-and-fog-1406291If the fog’s dense white mass didn’t obscure everything but the five-foot circle around you, you might have found the cave sooner. As it is, though, you find it only because 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 cup 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.

As you step into the dark cave, you try not to imagine the drakes tracking you into the confined space. Being caught in the rocky tunnels when one breathes gouts of flame 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.

the-lighted-door-1464933Finally, 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.

Stairs leading 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?

Vote in the comments for whichever way you’d like to explore. We’ll be back Thursday for the next post =)

Until then, Blessings,

Jennifer

Prince’s Game Option Aa1: River

This adventure could definitely be longer! Once I got into writing the posts, I realized there could be a lot more places for the reader to make a choice. Perhaps I’ll expand it for the next run through, but for now, please forgive how long these last few posts have turned out.

Now on to the end of the adventure!

Prince’s Game Option Aa1: River

cathedral-1309351The back of the Cathedral juts up against the riverbank. Although you’ll have to wait for a boat to pass by, it’ll probably be faster than tracking down a carriage.

“River,” you tell the group.

Before the others notice your gathered group, Grandma, Red and Glasses shuffle toward the side door like the grandkids just took Grandma to visit the Cathedral. Glasses holds her free arm and points out the different statues while Grandma uses the cane to move forward. Red rushes ahead and holds the door open for them.

You and Rapier kneel down between two pews and wait for them to make their exit before you stand and move to leave as well.

“Hey you,” calls a haughtily dressed lady from the other group. “You notice a group of five in here recently?”

Rapier glances over.

“Well,” you consider, “it’s been pretty quiet.”

Rapier nods, “quiet.” He agrees.

The woman gives an ‘ugh’ like you’re simple and saunters off.

You make a quick exit and find the others already waiting on the dock jutting out from the riverbank. They’ve got a boat waiting and, to your surprise, Rapier digs in his pocket and pays the fair without even asking the boatman the amount.

The bald boatman glances at the money, nods and pushes off from the dock.

“Been to this fencing area before?” you ask Rapier.

He grunts, which might mean yes.

The boat coasts through the rest of the city and then exits the city walls without fanfare. Not long after, the boatman angles the vessel toward the shore and it bumps softly onto the sandy beach that’s next to the dueling field.

Rapier gives him a polite salute in thanks and you all disembark over the side.

“I’m not much use here,” Grandma mutters as you all take in the fencing field. It’s a patch of green surrounded by willows. On the far side of the patch stands a man with his sword drawn and the point stuck in the ground. He leans on the hilt while watching you. Behind him, you can just make out the hilt of another sword stuck in the ground.

“This is my part,” Rapier mutters. “He guards the sword.”

“All the time?” Glasses asks.

“Never seen him leave,” Rapier answers over his shoulder as he approaches the waiting man.

“Back again?” the man calls.

sword-1420556Instead of verbally answering, Rapier bows and pulls his own sword.

“Hey,” Red rushes up to your teammate and whispers in his ear, then he backs away again.

“What was that?” Glasses asks when he rejoins you.

“The guard use to be a Rat member,” Red whispers. “He’s got a weak left knee.”

Again, you wonder what kind of interaction Red’s had with the Rats but then you forget the question as Rapier and the guard face off.

In your short time with Rapier, you never noticed how graceful he moves, but now on the dueling field, he becomes a dancer.

You’ve never seen the like.

Except, the guard’s just as graceful.

Grandma grunts when Rapier misses a step. She sighs when he regains his balance and presses the attack again.

It’s Glasses who cries out softly when he barely parries a series of swift strokes. Then, so quickly you miss his actual steps, he turns and attacks the guard’s left side.

The man tries to respond but the move’s too much and his knee buckles.

In moments, he’s kneeling with Rapier’s sword at his throat.

“Wow,” Red says.

The same sentiment runs through your own mind.

“Our sword,” Rapier nods to the weapon stuck in the ground.

While he holds the guard, you pull the sword and return to the group.

On the hilt spirals a deep purple, silk ribbon.

“That’s the Princess’ color,” Grandma fingers the fabric.

“Doesn’t she always wear two?” you ask.

Grandma nods. “We need the second ribbon.”

It’s then you realize that, to get to the castle, you’ll have to retrace your steps back into the city. You wrap the sword in cloth and tuck it into your belt.

“How do we get back?” you ask Rapier.

“Boat can take us back to the Cathedral but we’ll have to walk from there.”row-in-sunset-1553775

So you wait for a boat and then head back.

At the Cathedral, you head toward Under Town again because Grandma assures you she can get you all to the part of Under Town just outside the Castle.

The lid’s half off the hole into Under Town when you hear a muffled scream and look up from lifting it with Rapier to see two man hauling Red farther down the alley. They turn a corner and disappear.

“Rat Gang,” you say and drop the cover to race after them.

Rapier heads the other way to cut them off.

You reach the next turn and race down the street but you meet Rapier at the next corner. Neither one of you saw Red or the two men.

***

You search until dawn and realize the game has been lost. But more disturbing to all of you is the disappearance of Red. You determine after a brief break that it’s unthinkable not to find the boy. You bane together to free him from the Rat gang, no matter how long that might take.

The End

Thanks for participating in this adventure!

The next one will start on the 27th, so until then, blessings,

Jennifer

Prince’s Game Option Aa: Under Town

Readers voted to explore the under side of the city in hopes of avoiding Rat territory. Let’s see if this choice awards you the cane you need in the Prince’s game.

Aa. Under Town?

Grandmother suggested Under Town, so you trust she can handle the stresses of climbing. With any luck, you’ll avoid the Rat gang all together.

“Under Town it is,” you nod to Grandmother.

Red breaths a giant sigh and his freckles fade a bit as his color returns. Whatever interaction he’s had with the Rats, it can’t be good.

“There’s an entrance to Under Town here,” you point to a road on the map. It’s in front of the library, “and here,” a spot just risk-1425796outside of the city baths.

“That one,” Glasses points at the library, “we can’t access. There’s a giant book fair and the entire street’s blocked off.”

“All right,” you fold up the map, “to the baths.”

***

Grandmother’s a trooper but her eyesight must be poor as well as her back. She shuffles cautiously along, swinging her head side to side instead of craning her neck to look straight up.

Eventually, you thread her hand around your arm and guide her along.

Glasses takes her other side and Rapier takes the lead ahead.

Red trails behind, getting more nervous the closer you get to Rat territory.

The bath’s domed roof finally comes into sight with steam trailing out the open doors of the building.

“Almost there,” you encourage.

“I won’t be such a burden once we get to Under Town,” Grandma squeezes your arm.

“We’ll make it,” you tell her.

She flashes you a broken toothed grin and sighs as you stop over the manhole cover leading into Under Town.

You and Rapier lift it free and then he disappears into the darkness below.

“It’s dark,” he hollers back up.

“Not to worry,” Grandma yells back, “I know the way.”

Glasses gives her a confused frown but by now, you’re starting to think Grandma’s got something up her sleeve, so you’re willing to wait to see what she does.

The group lowers themselves into the darkness. When your feet touch bottom, they make a slight splash. Being below the baths, the water’s heated and it warms the soles of your boots.

“All right, Grandma,” you say. It’s completely dark, so you can’t look directly at her. “Lead the way.”

“With pleasure,” she says and she splashes a few steps away. Then she slaps her palm against the tunnel in a rhythmic pat-papap-pat-papap.

“What is this,” Rapier gripes as Grandma continues without a break in the sound for several moments.

“Shhh,” you say because you catch a different sound. Not a splash, exactly, but a subtle swish like a reptile entering a lake. And it’s rhythmic in a way that mimics Grandma’s palm.

Then she stops and the group’s breathing fills the silence.

“Don’t speak,” Grandma whispers. “Just climb on and let them take us to the Cathedral.”

“Wha—“

You smack Rapier, who you located earlier by the sound of his voice, in the stomach and his spoken, and loud, question breaks off in a grunt.

“Just ride,” you whisper and nudge him toward the thing you felt touch your leg. You’ve heard of these creatures. People mistake them for reptiles living in the sewers. Alligators or something but no one you’ve spoken to has actually seen one. Some say they’ll eat you alive, others say they befriend those in desperate need. But to find someone who actually knows them, can call them, is rare indeed.

You climb onto a scaled back and the creature starts running. The water’s too shallow for it to swim but the motion’s just as smooth. In the dark, you grip a spike on the creature’s neck. It’s smooth and curved.

Red giggles and your creature shudders as though the sound runs through it. Perhaps it does. Grandma’s slapping wasn’t loud, so perhaps the creatures pick up vibrations.

After a time the running slows and then stops. You slide off and your boots splash onto the floor.

“All here?” Grandma questions.

There are four affirmative replies.

“That was awesome!” Red exclaims while you find the ladder to take you up to the surface.

“Grandma’s got some useful secrets,” she chuckles.

“Indeed,” Rapier mutters but his tone is disturbed.

cathedral-1309351Upon reaching the surface, you find yourselves in the alley beside the Cathedral with its tall spires and buttresses obscuring the sky.

The others follow you inside and then span out as you check the alcoves for Mother Sanchez’ cane.

Finally, Glasses gives a soft call that she’s located it and you converge on her.

In the girl’s hand is a twisted piece of oak with a rubber stopper on the end. Without the need to discuss it, the girl hands the cane to Grandma, who leans on it in relief.

“Note?” you ask.

Glasses hands over a tiny piece of paper. It’s a map with the river circled at a spot just outside the city wall.

“That’s the dueling grounds,” Rapier says. “There’s a sword there, stuck in the ground to mark the place. Do we take the river to get there or catch a carriage?”

They all look at you again. Both options require money. You run some quick math but before you finish a noise distracts you.

A small group of people just entered the Cathedral.

“The other team,” Red whispers.

It’s definitely time to go, so do you pick…

Aa1: River?

or

Aa2: Carriage?

Grandma’s certainly resourceful! You’ve succeeded in the first part of the game. Now how would you like to proceed?

Blessings and see you Thursday for the end of the adventure,

Jennifer

Prince’s Game Option A: Address Him Directly

It’s so good to see everyone for this adventure! We’re being bold in this next part and addressing the Prince directly. Hopefully he doesn’t get mad!

Prince’s Game Option A: Address Him Directly

The hazel eyed proxy waits, holding you with an unsettlingly steady stare.

“I’m sorry, Sir,” you apologize with a bow of your head. When you look up, you shift your gaze to the younger man, “I don’t know this game but I certainly can learn it.”

red-roses-1410101You bow deeper and lower your eyes from the Prince’s.

The man standing beside you gives a strangled grunt.

“Noon today,” the Proxy tells you. “Be at the fountain in Central Square.”

Then they pass and your heart beats so hard you think it might break a rib.

“How’d you know?” the man beside you whispers.

“Roses,” you mutter.

 

***

The Central Square bustles, giving off smells of roasting meat, fresh peaches and human sweat.

You sit cross-legged on the fountain, eating your lunch of meat, cheese and grapes while you watch people hurrying about their day. You’re early but the knot in your stomach makes you wish you didn’t have to wait so long for the Prince’s men to show up. Your lunch doesn’t want to settle.

The press of people adds to the warmth in the square and, since it rained the night before, there’s a heaviness that beads sweat on your skin.

You finish your grapes and tuck the bag you brought them in into your pocket. It bulges out the hip of your dress pants but you refused to change before coming, so now you have to deal with the slight oddity.

The clatter of hooves on the cobblestones draws your eye and you see the Prince’s proxy enter the square on his horse.

“All but those picked, leave the square,” he bellows.

It’s a scurry of frantic motion. Carts get packed up and closed, smaller vendors toss their bobbles into baskets and packs and hustle away.

Before five minutes is out, the Square stands quiet with just you and four others who must have stood in line that morning with you.

You all gather around as the proxy dismounts.

“Welcome,” he says. “Look around, because this is your team. You either make it with your team or you lose.”

You glance around, finding an older woman so hunched she has to strain to look up at the proxy, a boy maybe ten years old with bright red hair and freckles, a man sporting a rapier and high leather boots so caked in mud you can’t tell if they’re died black or just stained that way, and a girl with glasses and a small bag over her shoulder with the spine of a book sticking out of the top.

Once he’s sure you’ve taken each other’s measure, the proxy unfolds a map and places it on the ground.

“The goal,” he tells you all, “is to make it, with everyone of your team, to the castle courtyard by tonight. The challenge is you must arrive with three objects before the other team,” he gives a dark look as you all mutter in dismay. “Your first object is Mother Sanchez’ cane. There will be a note at the cathedral telling you the second object. I suggest you get moving.”

risk-1425796With that, he backs away from the map and mounts his horse. Then he’s gone and you’re left with your team.

No one move for a long, silent moment.

“All right,” you break the silence and kneel by the map. “We’re here at the Square. The cane’s in the Cathedral on the west side of the city—“

“That’s on the other side of Rat territory,” the red haired boy mutters and backs away a step.

“What?” the girl in glasses asks.

“Rat territory,” Rapier says, “it’s gang territory. We walk in a group through there, we’ll get our throats slit.”

“There’s another way,” Grandmother croaks. “Under the streets.”

“Can you make it?” you ask her. “Under the streets requires several ladders.”

She grins a crooked and broken smile. “I can get anywhere I need with enough time.”

“Time,” you agree, “it might be faster if we bribed our way through. The Rats are greedy.”

“How much would that cost?” Rapier asks.

“For five of us,” you run the numbers, “maybe two silvers.”

“What should we do?” Glasses asks.

They all end up looking at you.

So is it…

Aa. Under Town?

Or

Ab. Bribe?

Vote in the comments and we’ll continue the adventure on Tuesday.

Until then, blessings,

Jennifer

Prince’s Game

Welcome to a brand new adventure. I was given the idea of using a game in this one. What a fun idea, my brain went a little crazy trying to settle on only one option. So hopefully this entertains you as much as it did me =)

Let’s get started so you can vote at the end for how you’d like the adventure to continue!

Prince’s Game

The wool pants itch against your legs. They’re clean and pressed, with a crisp line running down the front and ending just above your shiny boots. Your black shirt is tucked in and the sleeves boast a crease just like your pants.

You pull the shirt straight and remind yourself not to shove your hands in your pockets while your wait in line.

basket-1188846Today could decide your life’s course but only if you make a good impression. Back home, your sister sits beside your ailing mother, trying desperately to take up her basket making business. You tried to help her but your fingers stumble over the little details that make your family’s baskets so specialized.

The morning air bites at your nose, crisp after the sun chased away the dawn mist. Hundreds stand in line with you to make their own good impression, in hopes of standing out somehow amongst the crowd. They’re all in their best cloths, all pressed and standing tall.

You swallow your anxiety back into your stomach.

A horn breaks the general mutterings of the crowd. Silence falls after everyone shuffles their way into a more orderly line against the city wall.

Far to your left, you make out the very tops of three men’s heads as they ride down the line.

As they ride closer, their voices carry to you but it’s their single question to each person that you’re able to make out.

“Can you play the game?”

You’ve no idea what they’re asking. Every person in line answers an emphatic “Yes, your Highness.” But he doesn’t respond to this answer, he just keeps walking his horse down the line, visually inspecting each candidate and asking, “Can you play the game?”

Such an answer does not seem to be what he’s looking for. Perhaps admitting you don’t know the game but can learn it would be a better course. Your mother emphases honesty as a quality the Queen highly values and she should know, she makes the woman’s clothing baskets, sometimes even sitting in her chambers while she makes them in order to size them just perfectly for the Queen’s needs.

red-roses-1410101The group of three moves closer and your eyes are drawn to the horse blanket sticking out below the Prince’s saddle. The Queen’s Rose insignia flourishes across the rich, purple fabric in gold thread that glitters in the sun.

The workmanship is that of Ander Wilkins. He lives two doors up from you, above the small shop he runs on the street.

You frown. Ander Wilkins’ work is precise, verging just this side of perfection, but the Rose is missing a petal. The Queen’s insignia always has eight petals. The lead man’s blanket only boasts seven.

“Can you play the game?” he asks the man beside you.

“Yes, your Highness,” the man says boldly, going so far as to take a step forward.

The prince’s lips roll inward in a sign of slight displeasure and then his coppery hazel eyes shift to you.

“Can you play the game?” he asks.

You actually meet his gaze. There’s a slight crinkling around the eyes but whether they’re laugh lines or worry lines you can’t decide.

The two men trailing the Prince bookend him in age, one’s much older, one’s much younger. You run some quick math through your head and check the horse blanket on the younger man’s horse.

Eight petals.

The Prince is hiding.

Do you…

A. Address Him Directly?

Or

B. Answer His Proxy?

Blessings and see you Thursday,

Jennifer

Will-O’-The-Wisp

The Blog-o-shere is an interesting world. Some blogs come and go quickly, some hang in there, with time proving a dogged and admirable perseverance. Some fascinate with the voice of their writing and others with their content. Some manage both.

One of the things that fascinates me most about this cyber world is the interaction with people I will probably never know, but who I let into my living room with their words on a  weekly basis. There are some I’ve interacted with for several years now. I can’t pin down the exactly quality that drew me to one blog over another and kept me coming back but I can say that this adventure came from one of those blogs.

J.C. Wolfe posts everything from short stories, to odd word definitions (and I thought I was good with vocal. This woman puts me to shame!) to What If writing prompts. I love it. This blog feeds my inner nerd.

Here’s the prompt that planted the seed for this adventure:

What if… you saw a will-o’-the-wisp while you were out camping with your friends?

I veered a bit from the original prompt but the gist is there. Thanks, J.C. for the idea for this!

Will-O’-The-Wisp

Photo courtesy of Sebring's Snapshots

Photo courtesy of Sebring’s Snapshots

Within the glowing red coals of the campfire, you picture his face. The narrow nose and cheekbones of a boy too small for his age. The brilliant emerald eyes reflecting a lively spirit barely contained in his tiny frame. The two short scars over his left eyebrow, the only remnants of a fight another boy started, picking on him for his short stature, but that Alex finished.

You’d stood beside him in that fight, fending off the bully’s friends. You fingers find the longer scar running half the length of your arm that you earned from one of the other’s rings when he punched you.

That was only one of many fights you’d stood together in, but now you find yourself alone beside the dying fire.

Alex should be sitting beside you, recounting the many times you’d gone exploring the marshes. But he’d lost his last fight, his fight with the will-o’-the-wisp, and you hadn’t been beside him.

You’d shown up late to the campsite that night. Everyone knows the dangers of the marshes, so it’s standard practice to only go in groups.

Alex had wanted to build a lean-to to sleep in. He assured you he’d only be out here alone during the daylight and so you arranged to join him after work.

You showed up maybe a half hour after sunset, found the lean-to, found a smoldering fire, but no Alex.

“He’s just gone,” Mr. Leon, the head of the search party, tried to console you when they gave up.

“It’s only been a few nights,” you protested but none of them listened. Their downturned eyes told you stronger than any words their fear of the night and the haunting reality that Alex was just another victim of the marshes.

But Alex would never give up on you if the will-o’-the-wisp pulled you away from safety.

The coals at your feet glow a dull, angry red. Soon, you tell yourself, soon the wisp will find you and entice you from the camp. And you’ll follow it into the dark marshes, chasing the elusive flame, because somewhere out there Alex waits for you to find him.

The lids of your eyes droop. You slump against the outside wall of Alex’s lean-to with your legs outstretched and ankles crossed, waiting. Time creeps along, sluggish. You watch those angry coals flicker around the edges like the heat dances on the edges.

You jerk. No sleep. You cannot sleep or you’ll miss the wisp.

But the coals at your feet are almost black now and the night hangs heavy and dark. How long you snoozed you can’t say because clouds and trees cover the sky.

Stupid, you scold, stupid. You had one task and instead you fel—

A flicker over your left shoulder makes you freeze. Slowly, you turn your head.

blue-flames-1630978There, distant but there, flickers an ice blue light. It dances between the trees, ghosting closer, then farther, then closer again as though it’s waltzing.

Everyone says a will-o’-the-wisp will follow you if you try to move away but chasing one is futile.

You hadn’t thought beyond finding it and following it. But how to go about that?

Do you…

A. Stay still until it’s close?

or

B. Try to follow it?

Will-O’-The-Wisp Option A: Stay Still

When you were very young, you tried to chase a will-o’-the-wisp. It teased you, getting almost within reach before ghosting away so quickly that you stumbled into the swamp in your attempt to follow it.

blue-flames-1630978So now you hold very still beside the dead coals of your fire and watch that ice blue flame dancing its way toward you. It weaves an erratic pattern amongst the trees that leaves an imprint on the backs of your lids every time you blink.

You try not to blink. Try to hold that wisp in your sight like you captured it there.

Then it’s across from you in your camp, wavering with the soft breeze.

“You brave the night for your friend?”

You stifle a gasp. In all the stories of the wisps, you’ve never heard of one speaking. The voice doesn’t even sound solid. It mixes with the breeze like a soft sigh, barely audible.

“Yes,” you answer and the wisp dances away for a moment as your exhale seems to push on it.

You hold your breath and it ghosts back to its original position.

“Will you brave more? Will you brave the water and the marsh, the light and the wind?”

You’re not sure what all that means but before your nerves make you question your goal, you say, “Yes.”

The wisp giggles and the breeze tickles your ear.

“Then follow if you can.” And the flame darts away with the same breeze that tickled you moments before.

You bolt out of the camp after it. Within moments, water soaks into your shoes and the bottoms of your pant legs.

The flame dances in place as you slog after it and that giggle floats by you again. The wisp might be playing with you but by now, it’s the only light you have to go by.

Once you’re a bit closer, it takes off again, ghosting through the trees just at the edges of your sight.

a-real-swampland-in-florida-1374930Your right leg sinks into the marsh up to mid-thigh. Before it sinks farther, you grab a tree trunk and try to pull free but the mud around your foot tries to suction your shoe from your toes.

You place your left foot on a root in an almost painful splits move and try to pull your foot free in a forward motion to push your shoe on while you free your foot. With a ‘s-w-u-i-c-k’, the mud releases you and you almost stumble forward into an even deeper part.

Braced against a tree, you take in your surroundings.

The wisp is nowhere in sight. The marsh’s heavy air closes in against your skin and the dark cuts everything off about five feet in any direction.

A giggle bounces around the otherwise silent marsh.

“Step carefully now,” that soft voice cautions, “to brave the marsh and the wind.”

Panic wants to steal your courage as you realize you’ve no sense of where you are.

“Brave the marsh and the wind,” the voice whispers again and this time there’s a direction to it.

With the dark, you can’t really tell solid ground from marsh, but you can tell the slight white shimmer off of the roots of trees. One careful step at a time, you move from tree trunk to tree trunk toward the direction of the voice.

A circle appears on the ground in front of you, deeper, inky black than the rest of the night. No tree trunks appear for you to keep moving.

“Brave,” the voice whispers on a gust of air.

That damp air picks up harder and then, with a solid push, it howls. Your feet slide off the root you’re standing on and your fingers only grasp air as your try to keep your balance.

You tumble into that inky black hole and find yourself falling through nothing. The wind howls and then your fingers clamp onto what feels like a vine. The muscles in your shoulder protest but you hold on and get your other hand on the vine.

The wind pulls and gusts, trying to break you free.

“Let go,” the voice howls with it.

Do you…

Aa. Hang on?

Or

Ab. Let go?

Will-O’-The-Wisp Option Ab: Let Go

With the wind howling past you, going up isn’t an option. You debate hanging on and hoping the wind will let up but serious cypress-sentries-duotone-1457769doubts plague you about whether or not you can hold out long enough.

Plus, the wisp told you to “Brave the wind,” and you trusted it this far.

With a gulp and a squeezing tight of your eyes, you let go. Your stomach lurches and for a moment your dinner threatens to find its way out your throat. It burns and your muscles tighten like you’re choking. But then everything relaxes even though you’re still falling. There’s a moment of weightlessness. The wind still howls and whips around but you’re part of it, moving but without sensation.

All perception of movement comes to a perfect standstill. The darkness turns to a dull gray like predawn and, below your feet, you’re looking at what appears to be sky.

But you’re not falling any longer. Your feet stay in the air, pointing at that dull sky.

You glance up and see the circular hole you fell through. Wind still buffets you from that hole, like a jet of water, it keeps you suspended in place but gravity feels upside down now. You wiggle away from the wind and find dirt beneath your hands.

When you attempt to put your feet on that dirt, you flip back over. You’re in a perpetual handstand in an upside down world. So you walk on your hands with your feet up in the air.

After getting over this impossibility, you start exploring this world.

clouds-in-pond-1492637Trees hang with their roots free and their leaves and branches buried in the soil…above you. You cross over several half buried branches and around large, umbrella like plumages of trees.

A glow catches your attention. There’s a blue hue to it that reminds you of the wisp. Waddling on your hands, you approach and stop just within the leaves of a branch sticking out of the ground. You have to push the branch up a bit, against the dirt above your head since your face sits so close to the ground, but then you blink. It’s the oddest thing yet.

It’s a field. Trees surround it on all sides with their roots spread wide to the gray sky. Their trunks are lit in the bluish hue cast from the crop in the field.

A crop of people. Their hands and arms are buried up to the elbows with their bare toes pointed toward the sky. Those nearest you appear solid, fully normal except for the awkward position of their planting.

Beyond the more normal looking people is where the glow starts. The third and fourth rows of people seem to emit a blue light from their skin.

The next rows grow progressively less solid looking and more blue fire-esque.

Between the rows flit bits of fire. Wisps tending their crop.

Horror ties a knot inside you. So many people being changed into little bits of flame.

Your eye snags on a familiar face.

Alex.

He’s planted like the others on the far left edge of the field.

Around him glows a faint bluish hue but he’s in the second row. His skin hasn’t turned yet.

Do you try to free Alex now or wait for a time when the wisps go away?

Ab1. Free Him Now?

Or 

Ab2 Wait?

Will-O’-The-Wisp Option Ab2: Wait

Maybe if you were right side up and could run, or crouch, or simply move like a regular human being, you’d consider freeing Alex now. But you’re stuck walking on your hands like some circus act and you’re pretty sure you’ll eat dirt if you try to move too fast.

So wait it is.

tree-branches-1461022You let the tree branch you’ve been holding return to its usual spot and back away from the field a few hands. Even with the branches obscuring most of your view, the faint blue light from the crop and the wisps filters through the leaves. The crop doesn’t move, so the wavering quality of the light is either the branches swaying or the wisps moving about. Since there’s no wind, you assume the flickers come from the wisps.

You lean your feet against a tree in an attempt to relieve your shoulders but the ache around the base of your neck doesn’t recede.

You continue to fidget until you realize that you can lie down. Now comfortably on your stomach, you shuffle forward to peek beneath the branch.

You come face to face with a blue flame.

Although your body wants to run, the flicker of transparent blue holds you. It weaves back and forth in an undulating motion that draws your eyes right and left.

“Brave,” whispers in your ears, “and possibly stupid.” There’s a long sigh that pulls tears to your eyes. So much emotion plays through that single, almost inaudible sound. “No one comes this far for a friend.”

“I do,” you say. Your voice comes out soft for your human voice but here, where words play on the wind, it sounds harsh and loud.

“You do,” the wisp agrees. “For that, I will help you take your friend home. Will you be brave one more time?”

You nod instead of voicing your agreement.

“Hold your breath.”

Before you can react, the wisp rushes over you and you’re wreathed in flames.

A scream threatens to escape but the wisp hushes you as though anticipating the reaction.

“Hold your breath and walk with me.”

The flame surrounding you does not burn, you realize. It caresses your skin like a glove and nudges you to walk into the field of humans.

You walk, following the gentle nudging of the flame surrounding you.

“Walk to your friend,” the wisp instructs and moves with you as you move, on your hands, to face Alex.

His eyes are alert and he grins when he makes out your face within the flames.

“Dig him up,” whispers the wisp.

Balanced on one hand, you scoop dirt away from Alex’s arms until he’s able to pull his hands free.

“Now race for the hole and dive into it. You must dive feet first. Now go. I can protect you no longer,” the wisp leaves your skin and rushes away through the field, making the planted humans sway away from its wake of wind.

Alex grins and you both take off, racing on your hands for the hole in the swamp.

Blue flame races after you.

“Watch this,” Alex yells and spins to run on his hands backwards. He puffs up his cheeks and blows a gust of air at the chasing wisps. His breath seems to push on them, forcing them backwards for a moment.

blue-flames-1630978You alternate who runs backward to push the wisps back until you reach the hole. For a moment, you have to pause, to catch your breath and fight off the giggles threatening to overcome you.

“Time to dive,” you tell Alex and, just before the wisps overtake you, you both spring from your hands and dive feet first into the hole.

The world goes topsy-turvy and your equilibrium flips in a way most unsettling to your stomach.

Then you find yourself clinging to a tree root in the light of day of the swamp. Alex gages beside you, retching into the hole you just left.

“That was crazy!” he exclaims as soon as he can talk. “And no one will ever believe us!”

You give him a long look. “They might,” you say and pull his hand up so he can see his skin. It glows a faint blue. In the daylight, it’s hard to see, but when night falls, he’ll light up a campsite with an azure glow.

“Well, that’s new,” he says but the change to his skin can’t keep the grin from his face for long.

The End

Yay! You succeeded at saving Alex. Well done!

Blessings and see you for the next adventure starting on the 6th,

Jennifer

 

The Tournament 2

Welcome back to the adventure! This week we get to explore an adventure for a second time and see what other kinds of dangers and treasures exist for the reader to find. Let’s get started =)

The Tournament

Rainwater drips from the porch above you and the siding of the building weeps with moisture but, for the moment, you’ve found a rain-4-1520316dry spot. It’s just a sheltered piece of cobblestone. A two-foot by two-foot section where the rain isn’t drenching the ground. There’s not even enough space to lie down but the spot’s yours and, as long as you don’t move from it, no one will challenge you.

You’re not homeless. You just can’t find an Inn that’s not already full because of the tournaments being held at the coliseum. For the moment, you may as well be homeless. But at least you’re a well-armed homeless.

Thus why no one will challenge you for your shelter.

A sword peeks over your right shoulder from its holster on your back. From your belt hangs a woodsman’s knife the length of your forearm and, unstrapped since you’re not hunting, you hold a bow in your right hand. Over your left shoulder, the fletching of arrows plays peek-a-boo around the hood of your cloak.

All of the weaponry right now is just extra weight. Your cloak is the prize possession with the rain.

But you’ve come here for a purpose. The tournament boasts a multitude of challenges. Fencing, archery, jousting, hand to hand combat. They all pay well for the winner.

You’re not here for the pay, though, you’re here for a person. For years you’ve heard nothing from your family, ostracized because of your choice to be a woods ranger instead of following in the family baking business. But last week a messenger found you.

“They took Ruben,” the messenger said, “because your family couldn’t pay the rent on the bakery. He’s being forced to work the quarry until he pays off the amount due.”

“And what do they want from me?” you asked. Working the quarry was hard, dangerous work but, considering the amount on the bakery couldn’t be that high, Ruben shouldn’t be there that long.

“The family hasn’t paid in over a year,” the messenger explained, “so Ruben’s assigned the quarry for the next five years to pay everything off.”

No one survived the quarry that long.

“All right,” you conceded, “what does the family want?”

“In the tournaments, you can ask for the release of a worker if you win one of the challenges.”

You have an ‘ah ha” moment. No on in the family could win such a challenge, expect you. You considered briefly refusing. The family hasn’t spoken to you in years, much lest lent a hand whenever you needed something.

But this was family and a man’s life. You couldn’t refuse.

“When does the tournament start?” you asked.

“Beginning of the week.”

And thus why you’re hunkered under a porch instead of sleeping in an Inn. By the time the messenger found you, you only had two days to get to the capital. It was a three day trip.

An Inn wouldn’t have helped much anyway. There’s only an hour or two before sunrise and then you have to be at the coliseum to check in as a contestant. So as you wait for the warmth to arrive from the rising sun, you debate whether to try archery or fencing first. You’ve never attempted jousting and don’t want to start now. As a last resort you can try hand-to-hand combat but that’s not your forte and you’d prefer to start with your stronger skills.

So do you try…

A. Archery?

or

B. Fencing?

The Tournament Option B.Fencing

roman-coliseum-1479942The rain subsided with the morning sun and now you’re standing in line to register for the tournaments with the sun warming your shoulders. It burned off the mist within an hour and your cloak’s almost dry as you approach the table at the entrance to the coliseum.

The man behind the table holds his pen over a sheet of paper. He waits for you to say which challenge you want to participate in.

“Fencing,” you inform him.

He grunts and accepts the papers you hold out containing your information. They tell him everything from your name to where you were born and to which family.

“Isn’t this a baking family?” he asks, pointing at your last name.

“Mostly,” you reply, perhaps a bit shortly but you’ve been questioned like that your whole life.

He eyes you and your weaponry and then shrugs and hands your papers back.

“The fencing field’s to the left past the archery section,” he says, “first tournament starts in an hour.”

You thank him and move on.

The coliseum’s huge, made to support gaming events and trials but today, instead of hosting a single event, the ground is split into five wedges like a pie. Spectators mill around the seating above, able to see all five areas.

On the ground, however, you can only see the wedge you’re standing in and the two neighboring wedges.

Archery is immediately to your left and beyond it you can see the fencing square. To your immediate right sits the hand-to-hand combat arena and you guess jousting is on the other side of the coliseum because you can make out the heads of several horses in that direction.

The fifth wedge you can’t guess at. All you can see in that area is a crowd milling about.

You pass through the archery wedge and make your way to the table in the fencing wedge. You hold out your papers to the man standing behind it. He grabs them from your hand and holds them directly in front of his watery eyes.

He snorts. “Baker. They’ll let anyone in these days.” He tosses the stack of papers onto his table and points to the outline for the fencing square. “Stand in line. Your turn’ll come soon.”

His attitude rubs you wrong but you hold your tongue. People always comment on your family heritage. You’ve found the only way to silence such ridiculous assumptions is to show them you’re capable. No verbal argument seems to work.

You move to stand in line beside a man twice your height. His shoulders are broad enough to shoulder a wagon.

He glances over at you and raises a brow.

“Speed?” he guesses.

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“Perhaps,” you kind of admit. “Power?” you gesture at the broadsword he’s carrying.

A toothy grin splits his face. “Perhaps.”

You grin back as you set the rest of your weaponry against the side of the fencing ring. You won’t be needing the bow and arrows and they might get in your way.

“First contestant,” shouts a man standing at the opposite side of the square. “Obstacle or Multiple?”

“What’s that mean?” asks the huge man.

You shrug. “Guess we’ll see.”

The first man in line shuffles from one foot to the other, then blurts out, “Multiple.”

The announcer gestures him into the ring, then he gestures at the big man beside you, at you and then the woman behind you.

“Multiple contestants it is!” the announcer shouts as you all move into the ring as well.

It’s not a lot of space for four people swinging swords.

“You must overcome two of the three others in the ring,” the announcer explains. “If you step out of the ring, you’re done. If you strike with anything but your sword, you’re done. Good luck, Contestants.”

You get a sinking feeling in your stomach. Before, they’ve always blunted the swords. There’s no attempt at this tournament to do so and the rules stated nothing about not killing. This could turn ugly really fast.

“Work with me?” the big man asks out of the side of his mouth.

You know nothing about him. He could turn on you without warning. On the other hand, someone watching your back could be a huge asset.

Do you…

Bb. Work with Him?

or

Bc. Go It Alone?

The Tournament Option Bb: Work with the Man

Considering your odds, you’d rather have someone on your side in this contest. You nod to the man in agreement.

He smiles and, as you watch, he squares off against the other man in the ring, turning his back to you completely in a show of trust that’s startling.

The woman contestant smirks and moves like she’s going to surprise your partner from the side.sword-1420556

Not on your watch. You move to put yourself between her and the big man.

Then you all wait for the fencing match to begin.

“All right contestants,” the announcer stands on the corner of the fencing ring to be seen above the crowd, “remember, you must overcome two of the other three in the ring. Good luck. And GO!”

The woman’s fast. You duck her first swing and catch her return swing on your sword. The clash of it sends a shock into you hands.

You throw her off with a shove and take a step back to rebalance. The crowd in the stands roars. It’s deafening in the way a trumpet makes your ears ring. You go on the offense and beat the woman back several steps.

There’s a deep-throated scream behind you that sends chills down your spine. It’s your partner’s voice, you’re sure of it, but you don’t chance a look back as the woman tries to use the moment of distraction to her advantage. She swings and steps closer, trying to get within your longer reach.

You fast step and get out of her way, then reverse your motion the instant her swing goes past you. Before she knows it you’re beating her back again.

You’ve no desire to actually harm her but judging from your partner’s scream, a gentle hit won’t end the contest. The announcer said ‘overcome’ two of the three in the ring. So it’s knock her out or force her from the ring.

The fence around the ring sits just above her hips. To force her out will require some extra momentum but the longer you fight her, the more you realize that knocking her out just isn’t going to happen.

She’s extremely careful about her head. So force her out of the ring it is. Your chance comes when she stumbles in an effort to side step. She keeps her sword up, but you push it slightly to the side with your own blade, step in close by taking three quick, almost running steps and throw your shoulder into her sternum. Then you lift with your legs as you keep moving forward.

She huffs as the air is forced from her chest. Then the back of her knees hit the fence and she goes flying over the top rail.

The spectators scream their encouragement of your tactics. You stomach rolls as the woman’s head hits the ground and she’s knocked unconscious.

Only then do you turn to see what’s happening with the other two in the ring.

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Your partner’s right arm drips blood in a steady stream from a slice across his bicep. The wound must have cut deep because he’s struggling to keep his broadsword up as he blocks a strike from the smaller man.

He pushes the smaller man away and attempts a swing but his movement is just too slow and the other man ducks inside his reach for a killing blow. The smaller man isn’t going to pull short. His face scrunches in determination and the muscles along his back and neck tense in total abandonment to his course of action.

You switch your grip on your own sword. You rear back and throw. At any sort of distance the throw wouldn’t be effective but the fencing ring’s small. The sword flies through the air and lands with a heavy thump with its hilt against the smaller man’s temple. He crumples in a boneless heap.

There’s a moment of stunned silence before the crowd above jumps to its feet in ecstatic joy. Your ears ring as you join the big man and check on his bleeding arm. Tearing the sleeve from his shirt, you tie it around the wound.

“This isn’t fencing,” you grumble as you work, “this is butchery.”

“Yeah,” the big man agrees. “Thanks for the save.”

Before you can respond, the announcer steps up onto the corner of the ring and raises his hands for attention.

“Well done!” he shouts. “Now, since you obviously worked together, you can pick between Obstacles or Mastery?” he holds out his hands for your choice. You glance at the big man and he shrugs. Neither one of you have any clue what those options mean. If they’re like the last two, they’ll involve more bloodshed then you’d like.

Do you pick…

Bb1: Obstacles?

or

Bb2: Mastery?

The Tournament Option Bb1: Obstacles

Your partner’s arm has bleed through the bandage as you considered your options. If mastery is a test of his swordsmanship, he won’t do well. You’re not sure what obstacles means but it’ll at least give the man a chance with his wound.

“Obstacles,” you tell the announcer.

“Obstacles it is!” he shouts and waves for several men standing beside the ring to prepare things.

They haul two heavy wooden boxes into the fencing ring and set them in the corner.

Then a man stands on top of the boxes and waits to be told when to open them.

“What do you think is in them?” the big man asks.

You shrug but there’s a skittering coming from inside that makes your skin crawl.

“The goal,” the announcer shouts for all to hear, “is for our two contestants to fence with each other. Three strikes wins. But they must deal with the rats while they fight.”

“Rats?” the big man grumbles.rat-1343687

He sounds exactly as you feel. Rats. Of all things, they had to pick rats.

You help the man to his feet and you each take an opposite corner.

You nod you’re ready and the bout begins.

Although your focus stays on the big man and his heavy sword, you hear the scrape of wood on wood as they release the rats into the ring.

At first you think the tactic unrealistic. What’s to keep the little beasts from simply escaping the ring? But the rodents don’t head for the crowd. Instead, they race around the wooden fence several times and then head in small groups for you and the big man. They’ve been trained for this. Great.

The big man takes two steps and is within range to swing. When you take the strike on your own sword, your hands go numb. It’s then you know you’re in trouble because, although you can’t feel your hands, you can feel the rats trying to climb into your pant legs.

They swarm over his legs as well but he’s got high boots and his pants are tucked snugly into the tops.

You manage to duck around him on the next attack and tap him on the side.

“Strike one!” the announcer shouts.

The big man grunts and comes at you again. You almost drop your sword with his strike.

The longer you fence, the more the rats warm their way up your pant legs. One seems to have made it to your knee and has latched onto the skin at the back of your leg.

You kick in an effort to break him loose but all this does is set you off balance. The big man takes the advantage by taking a note from your own book. As you stumble, he rushes you and shoves one heavy shoulder into your stomach.

Before you can react, he lifts and you sail backwards. Your heels clip the top of the fence but there’s no way to stop your backward motion.

“Sorry,” he says as you land on your backside outside the ring. “Didn’t want to hurt you.”

You can’t blame him. With his heavy sword, which they never blunted, simply striking without bruising or worse is quite difficult.

You nod and shake your leg hard to dislodge the rat still hanging onto your knee. The beast flies from the end of your pant leg and you kick it back into the ring.

***

They line the contestants up in front of a pavilion once the day of contests is finished. You end up behind the big man as the second to win in the fencing matches.

The King steps forward to congratulate him. “What would you have as your prize?” He asks for all to hear.

“My daughter from the query,” the big man responds without pause.

You hold in a smile. Of all people to loose to, you couldn’t have picked a better one.

As he turns from the field, his eyes glisten with unshed tears.

“Thank you,” he whispers as he passes by.

Those who came in second place are handed a small purse of coins.

You pocket yours and head out to pay off a portion of Ruben’s sentence with your prize. Then you head back out to the woods.

A messenger finds you later.

“There’s another tournament to the south,” he explains, “the family would like you to compete again and use the purse to free Ruben.”

Considering how the last tournament went, you tell the messenger the family can make their own contribution to getting Ruben out.

You don’t hear from the family again but years later, Ruben tracks you down.

“Think I’m done with the bakery,” he tells you, “the family made no effort other than contacting you to help me. Maybe I’ll open my own shop.”

He spends the night beside your fire and does indeed open his own shop, a confectionary, in the city.

The End

Yay, you didn’t die and, in a way, you helped a man save his daughter. Well done and thank you to everyone who participated!

Blessings and see you next time,

Jennifer