Yup, you guessed it, it’s time for a brand new adventure story. I’ve had about six stories started this year and, when I went to outline the different story trails, found I wasn’t happy with where each story led, no matter which ending we discovered. So I appreciate your patience as I finally have a story I’m excited to share!
Let’s get started =)
There’s a hollow feel to the city even from the outside. The occasional gust of wind throws dirt from the walls and howls through the crenellations like the city is moaning in its loneliness.
“It’s alive,” someone whispers.
“Hush,” says the Commander, but even his voice isn’t that loud. You all call him Commander because he took charge of the group as soon as he joined it. You’re not actually sure he’s a military man, but that doesn’t matter. He offered a dim hope and you jumped at it.
The group stands in the tree line eyeing the great, empty city of Calla Sadum. The forest also leaves the city alone, only growing beyond a buffer of 500 yards around the walls.
You shiver, realizing you have to cross that empty space to enter the gates.
“The old apothecaries stored their wares in clay jars. You all know what you’re looking for.” The Commander’s been over this but you appreciate the time you get to stall as he talks. Personally, you’re looking for a jar about the size of your fist that’s painted red. “Watch yourselves,” he says, “Calla Sadum isn’t safe.”
“What will we find inside?” someone asks.
The Commander scoffs. “Your guess is as good as mine. No one comes back from Calla Sadum.”
You hold in another shiver.
This is a suicide mission, but then, you don’t have any hope beyond something insane like this. You touch your fingers against your thumb and withhold tears as there’s no sensation on your fingertips.
Everyone in the group has their own physical ailment. A man near the Commander barely stops himself from scratching at a sore on his neck. You fervently hope it’s not the plague. The boy standing beside you holds out a stick but it’s his milky eyes that hold your attention. He’s remarkably capable at getting around for being blind. Each illness just highlights the cruelty of your home village. They considered each illness so catching or so horrendous that they threw you out.
You eye the hollow city again. Calla Sadum offers a dim, but possible, hope. Before it’s abandonment centuries before, it had healers the like of which the world hasn’t seen since. To those healers, the Plague, or Leprosy in your case, was just another illness like the flu.
The city lets out a deep rumble you feel travel up your calves. The soles of your feet can’t really tell you much anymore.
“It’s alive,” someone insists.
Calla Sadum was abandoned and yet, no one knows why.
“We go in,” the Commander doesn’t even acknowledge the comment. “Pair off. It’s your job to watch your partner’s back.”
You go still. This is the first you’ve heard anything about going in pairs and you’re a decent scout on your own. You’re not sure about being stuck with someone whose skills, and illness, are unknown.
By the time you reconcile yourself to working with a partner, there’s only one man left.
A mass of scars cover the left side of his face and travel down his neck into the collar of his shirt. If some disease causes that, you’ve not heard of it. As he approaches, you realize he’s no taller than your shoulder.
“Angus,” he introduces himself by shoving a hand toward your face.
You hesitate before shaking it but he doesn’t seem concerned about touching you. You eye each other as the rest of the group begins approaching the city.
“Leprosy?” Angus guesses.
You try to hide your fingers in your sleeves.
He chuckles wryly. “Can see the white coloration on your hands.” He waves his fingers to emphasize his point. “No worries, my friend,” he continues, “been around a leper or two. Still haven’t caught it.”
“Cool,” you say, still trying to place what he has.
“Ah, you’re wondering about me,” he says. “Nothing contagious. Got caught in a fire a few years back.”
You raise a brow.
“You’re thinking old scars can’t be healed? Well, I hear there are treatments to help them fade.”
The scars running down his face boast deep purple coloring in the middle. They spider out into thin white lines like the branches of a gnarled tree. No amount of salve or ointment will lessen those, but you don’t have the heart to tell him that.
“What jar are you looking for?” you ask instead.
“Red and white,” he grins. The expression changes his face so much that you give a small smile in return. He jerks his head toward the city and turns away to amble in the group’s wake. His stride hitches on the left side and he leans like that leg is shorter than the other. The pack he carries slides off center, making him stumble.
This doesn’t even seem to register on him, however, and you suspect he’s so used to the motion that he doesn’t notice it any more.
It’s not near Angus. It’s not even near the main body of the group who are now halfway to the gates.
You keep watching until you see it again, thankful that the leprosy hasn’t affect your eyes—yet.
There, above the gates, something slides along the wall, creating a small puff of dust. The motion lasts only long enough for you to blink and then it’s gone.
“Angus!” you call and hurry to catch up.
“What’s up, my friend?” he asks.
“Watch.” You point toward the gates.
He watches. No questions asked. No skeptical comments. You wait for so long that you start to wonder if you imagined everything.
A puff of dust, just a hint of motion, and then nothing.
Angus hisses air through his teeth. “Good eyes,” he says. “Stones settling? Wind?” The words sound hopeful but even as he says them, you’re both shaking your heads.
“Too focused of a spot,” you say and he grunts.
“Should we warn the others?”
By now, the group is almost to the gates. You open your mouth to say ‘yes’ just as the ground lurches.
Screams fill the air but even those are cut off with a thud as the group disappears into a pit that rolled open directly beneath their feet. As quickly as it opened, the ground rolls again and the pit vanishes, leaving no trace of the Commander or anyone else. A line of dust, like a horse running but thinner, puffs up along the wall and then is gone as well.
You start to think you know why the trees give the city walls a wide birth.
“For all that’s holy!” Angus curses. “They didn’t even get inside.”
Your mind races. “They might be inside now,” you muse, “they might not be dead.”
“It was a pit,” you point out. “They might be held captive inside.”
Angus curses again but you can’t make out his words.
“We can’t approach in daylight,” you continue, thinking aloud, “and we probably need to find another way to enter besides the gates.”
“You still want to go in?”
“Have to,” you respond, holding up your white tipped fingers.
He grunts. “Fair enough. What do you propose now?”
You share a look and in his eyes you see the same drive that pushes you. That same pain of being cut off from all that used to be normal.
“Check this out.” He hunkers down in the grass and pulls from his pack a well-worn leather notebook. Flipping through it, he stops on a page and holds it open on the grass. “My Granpap used to tell me stories like he’d gotten inside once. Thought he was half gone from dementia but might be worth checking now.” A quick look at the city gates again makes him shudder.
The page he’s holding open displays a partial sketch of an aqueduct system.
“What’s this?” you ask about a circle with an arrow pointing to it.
“Drainage port in the mountain,” Angus points to the north of the city where the mountain rises as its back wall. “Granpap said that’s how he got in.”
“He called those the Bones.” Angus shrugs. “Creatures of some sort but I never could figure out what kind.“
“One option,” you tap the page with your finger and ignore the fact that you can’t feel the sensation. “There was also rumor of an escape tunnel for the King hidden in the forest to the south,” you say. “I hesitated it use it because all the stories say it’s littered with bones. Speculation says they didn’t get far even if they got out of the city.”
“Ayeee,” Angus grumbles. “All guess work! North or South, my friend?”
South Escape Tunnel
“I’ve commented my granpap was a bit loony, right?” Angus asks as you eye the end of the aqueduct pipe jutting from the side of the mountain. Just south of that pipe rests the wall of Calla Sadum, butted up against the mountain like it grew from the rocky giant.
You don’t answer Angus. As the day wore on and you got closer to the aqueduct, he grew increasingly jittery. Now, with the last rays of the sun highlighting the pipe, he’s wringing his hands and standing on your toes. You give him a gentle nudge and he steps away.
Who knows if he did any damage to your foot. You can’t feel if he did.
The pipe is basically a tunnel in the side of the mountain with a trough shape cut out of the bottom of the stone. When it was first built, it was probably spectacular to see water gushing from its end but now it’s dry with large chunks of stone broken in the walls. The supporting stonework that would have carried the water away from the city lies in shambles below the pipe.
“Looks inviting,” you say.
“Bring any torches?”
With a grin, the man squats down and pulls out a glow stone from his pack. Such stones are rare and from the way he cradles it, you can tell it’s one of his prize possessions.
You give him a smile, appreciating his preparedness.
“No time like the present.” You gesture for him to lead the way.
He hesitates, clutching the glow stone to his chest but staring at the aqueduct. Fear wins out over his treasure. He shoves the stone into your hands.
You lead the small climb to the pipe. The slope’s gentle, which you’re thankful for, if it were more of an actual climb, your hands and feet would prohibit you.
The stone makes a soft click against the rim of the aqueduct as your set it inside to haul yourself into the pipe. You offer to help Angus up but he grimaces at your hands and scrambles up without taking the offer.
You know he’s not squeamish about your leprosy, so you take his grimace for what it is. He doesn’t want to damage your skin if he can avoid it. The thoughtfulness, after so long of people cringing away in horror, brings a prick of tears to your eyes.
You turn away into the aqueduct before Angus can see the moisture threatening your sight. The circle of stone is large enough for you to fully stand in but the disrepair makes going slow. You won’t feel if you hurt your feet and that dictates a very cautious pace as you navigate around broken stone and small shrubs trying to grow through the cracks.
Angus doesn’t complain. He glances around your shoulder from time to time in order to see what the glow stone reveals ahead but otherwise, he simply follows your careful steps, humming a low almost comforting tune as he goes.
You grunt as the stone’s light lands on a boulder that fell through the ceiling. You’re far enough into the aqueduct now that you can’t see any of the dusky light filtering in from outside. A small space on the right of the boulder might be wide enough for you to squeeze past.
“Hold this,” you hand the stone to Angus.
A deep rumble deafens your ears at the same time as the ground shifts beneath your feet.
You’re instantly reminded of the ground rolling open beneath the rest of the group. In desperation, you lunge to grab at the boulder but instead of the ground rolling open, it simply drops away.
Angus yelps. The boulder tears at your hands but you have no purchase and you follow Angus downward.
Fear quickens your breath. You roll and tumble and bounce around like a doll pitched down a stairwell until you hit solid ground. Breath rushes from your chest as you hit and it’s a good moment before your lungs wheeze air back into your body.
Angus lays on his back not far from you but by the look on his face, he’s still fighting to draw in a breath. The glow stone is clutched tightly to his chest, illuminating his fingers and the underside of his chin. When you see his chest rise, relief almost makes you faint.
Motion, at the edges of that soft glow, freezes you midway as you start to rise. You regain motion after a brief moment of terror.
“Angus,” you hiss.
He rolls to his feet and hurries after you as you duck behind a stone column. When he’s near enough, you snatch the glow stone and bury it inside his pack. In that brief moment that you held the stone, you and Angus see the state of your fingers. The boulder above was not kind.
Angus rummages in his pack, heedless of the sound he’s making, and comes up with an extra shirt. In a few sharp motions, he has the shirt torn into strips. With gentle fingers, he winds the cloth around your numb but badly torn hands.
“Even a cure can’t fix that,” he says softly.
You try to smile. “If there’s a cure for your scars,” you respond, “there must be one for this too.”
Angus shakes his head. “A fool’s hope.”
“All of this,” you gesture around, “has been a fool’s hope, but it’s our hope and I’ll take it.”
He squeezes your wrists where you can feel the pressure. “Our hope,” he agrees.
His thick, purple scars and slouched figure might make him ugly to most of the world but you can’t think of a better, or more beautiful, soul to be stuck in Calla Sadum with.
Together you peek around the column you ducked behind.
The column was only the beginning. As your eyes adjust to the dim light, you realize the ceiling of the cavern glows just like your glow stone does, only fainter due to the height of the stone. That light touches columns and roofs and porches and streets and things moving about within the city.
“Bones,” Angus whispers.
He’s right. The faint light glistens off the stark white shoulders and then through the rib cage of what looks like a wolfhound as it passes by. Three more follow in its path, moving with silent grace despite the lack of flesh or sinew.
Before either of you can react, another shape, moving the other way, comes into sight. It’s head sways on a long neck and draped across its back are the thin, but long, bones of wings. A tail swishes across the dusty floor.
“A dragon,” Angus breaths.
“Did you see what was in its mouth?” you ask.
He gives a fuddled shrug.
“The blind boy’s walking stick,” you tell him. “We might not be able to find a cure down here, but maybe we can free the rest of the group?”
“You want to follow a dragon?” Angus stares after the fading shape.
“Or check out where it came from,” you suggest, thinking that maybe the dragon came from taking the stick from the boy.
“You mean follow the wolfhounds? What if the dragon’s headed back to eat the boy right now after chewing on the stick for awhile?”
Follow the Dragon?
Follow the Wolfhounds?
Outcasts-Follow the Wolfhounds
The underground city’s full of skeleton creatures wandering around as though living regular lives. You see bird skeletons hopping around on the roof of a nearby house, pecking at the lichen like growth covering the tiles. One decides to fly off only to realize after jumping that its bone wings don’t hold it in the air. It clatters to the stone below and bursts into individual bones.
“Ooof,” Angus mutters and then he sucks air in past his teeth as the bones rattle on the stone for a moment and knit themselves back together into a bird.
You move on and see two ferret skeletons working to hang a sign over the doorway of another house by standing on each other’s shoulders.
You and Angus don’t wait around to see one of them tumble to pieces on the ground. The sight of one skeleton pulling itself together was enough.
The hounds are easy to follow as they create a kind of wave among the other creatures. Everything gives them a wide space in which to pass. Finally, after an interminable amount of time, they pass below the city by taking a staircase underneath what looks like a castle.
Below, you and Angus pause in the darkened hall of the stairs because they open into another cavern. This one doesn’t have buildings or skeleton creatures. Large pits dot the floor, highlighted by small fires burning at their rims.
Angus grasps your arm. He stares at the fires and runs his free hand down the puckered scars on his face.
You nudge him with an elbow and point to the wolfhounds.
They’re circled around a pit to your right. One of them holds a bright gold goblet in its mouth while the others let down a ladder into the pit. A moment later, the Commander’s dark head pops up at the rim. He looks around, hesitating at all the skeleton hounds watching.
Several hounds growl. It makes a hollow tone like their bones are rattling against each other. The Commander needs no further encouragement to hurry up the ladder.
The hound with the goblet approaches and lifts its chin, offering the golden cup with a toothy grin.
Although the Commander tucks his hands behind his back, there’s a gleam in his eyes. The firelight catches the sheen off the gold as the hound lifts its head higher and growls at him.
He raises his hands and still hesitates, but then licking his lips, he accepts the goblet and caresses the gold at the rim.
The hounds hum. They sit back on their haunches.
Angus’ grip on your arm grows tighter.
The Commander drops the goblet and the nearest hound catches it before it clatters to the floor. Even from where you stand, the look of shock on the Commander’s face is clear. He shudders. You blink as his face becomes indistinct like you’re seeing it in a cloudy mirror. His skin floats away, dust on a cold breeze. For a moment his human bones are visible but then he hunches over and disappears within the group of hounds. When they back away, there’s a baby hound skeleton sitting with its head cocked to the side, clearly confused by its surroundings.
“Is that—?” Angus chokes.
“Commander?” hollers a voice that bounces around the cavern. “Commander, you there? You all right?” It’s a high-pitched voice.
“The blind boy,” you whisper.
The young hound glances down into the pit the Commander climbed from and gives a whine with that same tilt to his head. A thinner adult hound nudges it away with its snout and begins to play with the youngster by jumping over the smaller pits.
“Commander?” calls the boy’s voice but by this time, none of the hounds pay it any attention.
“We can’t leave him,” Angus says.
You have to agree. Being blind, the goblet might not lure the boy as it did the Commander, but then what would the wolfhounds do? If someone doesn’t accept the gold, what’s the alternative?
“We could try to capture the hounds in a pit?” Angus suggests even though he’s still rubbing a thumb over his facial scars. Surely luring the hounds into a pit would force you close to those fires.
“We could sneak the boy out?” you counter.
“What if he’s not the only survivor?”
You exchange looks and then Angus gives a shrug. The hand still holding your arm trembles, but he’s game for whatever you think best.
Capture the Pack?
Sneak People Out?
Outcasts-Sneak Group Out
“I don’t think we can take on the whole pack,” you whisper to Angus.
He squeezes your arm and gives a sigh of relief that you’re not even sure he’s aware of. As you both study the area, the pack continues to play with their new pup by jumping over darkened pits and raging fires. The pup stumbles into several of the later but the flames don’t seem to bother his bones as he rolls through and comes out the other side with a grin on his toothy face.
Their cavorting draws them farther into the cavern.
“Come on.” You nudge Angus and lead the way toward the boy’s pit by following the cavern wall where it’s darkest. Perhaps the wolfhounds can see and perhaps not but you don’t want to take any chances by walking directly in the firelight. Close to the pit, you sink to your belly and low crawl to the edge.
The blind boy stands in the bottom with his ear pressed hard to the wall. For once, his blindness is not a hindrance but maybe an asset. From the pit floor, he can’t see anything anyway, but with sharp ears, he might be able to hear what’s going on above.
You spot the ladder the hounds used to let the Commander out of the pit. It lies in a crumpled heap next to the fire on the far side of the pit.
“Stay here,” you whisper to Angus. “I’ll send the boy to you.”
You don’t wait for Angus’ reply as you low crawl to the ladder. Two heavy stakes anchor it to the top of the pit. A glance tells you the wolfhounds are still prancing around the cavern with their new pup but their antics are drawing them closer now instead of away.
Hand over hand, you lower the ladder, being careful not to let the wooden rungs clack against each other as you move the ropes through your hands. Finally, with it fully played out, you tap the inside of the pit wall with your palm. It makes a soft slapping, muffled by the bandages covering your fingers.
The boy’s dark head swivels. You tap again and peek over a shoulder to place the hounds. They’re two pits away, staring into the bottom of another pit. Who’s in that one, you wonder, but don’t have time to watch as the ladder gives a jerk.
The boy begins to climb one slow rung at a time. Midway up, his foot catches on a loose chunk of rock and knocks it free of the wall. The following clatter echoes through the cavern like the boy rang a bell.
Skeletal heads swing around. The puppy skeleton launches from the bottom of the pit the hounds were staring into moments before. A part of you breaths relief that it wasn’t another member of your group they were preparing to change, but that relief is muted as the hounds give a chorus of excited yowls.
“Hurry!” you shout to the boy below.
His caution disappears and he scrambles upward. He’s not going to be fast enough, though. The hounds bound over the first fire. You search for a stick, a rock, anything to defend the top of the ladder with.
As the first hound hits the floor next to your pit, there comes a bellow of mixed rage and pain. Angus meets the skeleton with a burning piece of firewood that he swings with all his might at the head of the hound. It connects in a shower of sparks and bones. The hound stumbles sideways, headless, and disappears over the edge of another pit. Moments later there comes the clatter of scattering bones.
The boy reaches the top of the ladder just as Angus takes on the second hound to arrive at the pit.
“Is there anyone else left?” you ask the boy.
“N-No,” he stutters. “The Com—“
“Do you know a way out?” you interrupt.
The boy nods so hard you wonder about his neck.
He chucks the burning club at another skeleton and races to catch up as the blind boy takes your hand and starts toward the cavern wall. His sense of direction is impressive as he avoids several spots of uneven floor until he can lay a hand on the wall.
“This way.” He lets go of your hand to race ahead. “There’s fresh air,” he calls back.
Angus’ heavy breathing sounds behind you. “They’re gaining on us,” he warns.
“It’s not far,” the boy yells back. Suddenly he disappears.
You realize as you reach the spot that he turned to the right into a small passageway.
The wolfhounds snarling bounces off the passage walls as they fight with each other for the lead in chasing you.
The passage ends abruptly in a solid wall with a ladder built into the stone. The boy’s at the top.
You follow him up and reach past him. It’s a trapdoor of some sort.
“I can’t lift it,” the boy whimpers.
“Hey friends,” Angus calls, “we need to move.” He starts pitching loose rocks at the hounds to slow them down but, other than knocking off a bone or two, it’s not working.
Your searching hands find a rope. When you pull, there’s a faint click from the far side of the door.
“Push.” The boy puts his shoulder against the wooden paneling to help you lift. After a moment of groaning, the door breaks free and dirt showers down into the passage. You throw the trapdoor open. As soon as you’re free, you turn on your stomach to help Angus off the ladder too. You reach to close the trapdoor when one vigorous hound jumps the distance to the top.
Angus grabs the blind boy away and turns to take the hound’s claws on his shoulder. There’s a clatter and everything goes eerily still.
The trapdoor thuds closed but you’re staring at the bones of the ambitious hound—er—what used to be a hound. A very human skeleton lies on the ground. It doesn’t move.
“We’re outside the walls of Calla Sadum,” you observe.
“Think they can’t leave the walls?” Angus asks.
“Only explanation I can think of. Maybe they can’t leave.”
“But this is human,” Angus nudges a hand with his toes.
“You saw what happened to the Commander,” you respond after a moment. “Perhaps now we know what happened to everyone inside Calla Sadum. It wasn’t actually abandoned.”
“Oh,” the blind boy says. “Oh, that’s terrible.”
You can’t help but agree.
It’s a very quiet night around the fire. You tear an old shirt into long strips and motion for Angus to hold out his hands. The burning club added to the man’s scars. You wind the cloth around his burned fingers.
“We’ll match,” he chuckles.
“You did good,” you respond as you tie off the end of the bandages.
He shrugs, “What’s a few more scars? We’re alive.”
The blind boy, Pearson, begins to snore from his bedroll across the small campfire.
Alive’s good, you decide. With everything you saw in Calla Sadum, there might actually be a cure for your leprosy there, but it could be a while before you can convince yourself to chance the place again. For the time being, you’re not alone and you’re alive, and that’s plenty to keep you happy.
Yay, you survived! Congratulations, and thank you for participating in this adventure. I love to hear your reasoning behind each choice.
Until next time, blessings,