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 sits in your stomach as a constant companion. It gnaws at your ribs and rolls in your middle like a sea monster playing 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.
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.
Take the Direct Path?
Take the 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 honeycomb 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.
Honey 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…
Follow the woman?
Inspect the Ring’s Location?
Hunger-Inspect the Ring’s Location
The 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.
You 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.
Continue running at her?
Throw a hive at her?
Hunger-Throw the Beehive
You 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.
Congratulations! You survived without returning to the dungeons.
Thanks for joining in the adventure. I hope to see you all in a few weeks.