Shape Changer

Trees and snowChill wind howls through the mountain peaks and tall pines, calling in the cold like a shrill old woman. Darkness fell barely an hour ago but the warmth of the day is now long gone.

You huddle against the rock wall at your back and extend your fingers toward the warm fire before you. Its heat radiates off the stone, helping to stave off the chill.

Your contact is late. You’re expecting a grizzled old man who boasts bright red hair sprinkled with a healthy serving of white. Although you’ve never met the man, Vincent’s descriptions are usually exact, his attention to detail rarely failing.

It’s unusual for a contact to be late. You shift slightly sideways to let the fire warm your leg. If someone hires your services, it means they’re desperate and desperate people don’t tend to want to insult you by making you wait.

You shift to the other side and reach for the clay mug that sits on a stone next to the fire. A groan of appreciation escapes you as you sip the strong coffee. Half an hour longer, you decide, and then you’ll leave, just long enough to finish your coffee.

Trees and Night SkyYou’re swallowing the last of the coffee dregs when the snap of someone stepping on a dead branch echoes off the rock wall. Not long after, there’s a sniffle, probably from the person’s nose being cold.

A few seconds more and the expected, grizzled man steps from the dark line of trees.

He pauses, taking in your fire, your pack that sits beside you, and the weapons along with it, and finally yourself. He fidgets with the edge of his coat.

“Join me,” you say with a gesture at the other side of your small fire.

He bobs a nervous bow and sits. Like the warmth overrides all caution, he slides his hands free of his gloves and stretches them toward the flames. An ‘ah’ of relief sighs from between his lips.

“Quite the meeting place you picked,” you comment.

“Had to keep it remote.” He glances over his shoulder as though, even this far out, he’s nervous about being watched.

Not one to waste time, you ask, “What is the item you need retrieved?”

“Not what,” he says and leans closer, “but who.”

You give a questioning look.

“Arion Westfall was kidnapped a week ago by the Eastbrooks.”

You lean back against the stone wall and eye the man. You saw Westfall at the Winter Festival two nights ago. Is he playing you for some reason?

As though he notices your reaction, he continues speaking, “So far we’ve been able to keep the kidnapping quiet. We’ve used his double, the boy we have stand in at large speeches and such, to make general appearances. But Westfall’s supposed to attend the Princess’ birthday in three days and she’ll know it’s not him. If the princess finds out, she’ll name him an incompetent and choose another champion. The Westfall’s will be ruined.”

“The families kidnap each other all the time and, through ransoms, regain their children on a regular basis. What’s different this time?” you ask.

“No ransom’s been asked. In fact, no one’s claimed responsibility.”

“Then how do you know it was the Eastbrooks?”

He looks away and fiddles with the edge of his coat again. You simply wait for an answer. You’re good at waiting.

Finally he admits, “The Eastbrook boy boasted at the Winter Festival that he’d be the new Champion soon.”

“That’s your proof?”

He nods.

“Three days? That’s my time frame?” you ask.

He nods again.

“Deal,” you say.

Relief washes from his face, into his shoulders as they droop, and then down the rest of his body.

“Payment’s been delivered already?”

Fire

Photo courtesy of Sebring’s Snapshots

“At the Morrowtown Inn,” he confirms, “Vincent was specific on the details.” During the conversation he’d relaxed, leaning closer to the small fire. Now, he backs up a step as though this last comment reminds him of exactly who he’s dealing with.

You grin and shove your mug into your pack. He takes this as the dismissal that it is and starts to back away. At the tree line he pauses.

“You can do it, right?” he asks.

Your grin grows wider, almost feral, “we shall see.”

He gulps and turns away.

You finish snuffing out the fire while you consider the options. The Eastbrook castle is familiar to you as it’s not the first time you’ve retrieved something from it, but the grizzled man didn’t have a lot for you to go on. The Eastbrook’s could be keeping Westfall in their tower because of his status or in their dungeons because they want him to disappear.

Depending on those locations, your infiltration method will be different. Do you decide to check the Tower or the Dungeon first?

A. Tower?

or

B. Dungeon?

Post in the comments which option you’d like to try. Next Thursday I’ll post the next part to the adventure and we’ll see where it takes us!

Blessings,

Jennifer

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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

The Troll Chaser

It’s time for Caleb’s adventure!pen-and-pencil-1534991

If you missed the last several weeks, just know that I helped my sister’s kids with their creative writing last semester and now we
get to share in the adventure stories they wrote. It’s fantastic to see their imaginations at work.

This week you get to meet Caleb.

In his own words:

Hello, my name is Caleb. I am 9 years old, and this is the first story I have ever written. I love video games, especially Halo! My favorite series of books is the Amulet Series. If you like mythical stuff, you might really like it too! I hope you enjoy my story.

And now for his adventure!

The Troll Chaser

Jaskinia Mylna - Okna Pawlikowskiego

You’re asleep in your cottage at night when you hear your mom scream. Jumping out of  bed, you see your mom being dragged out the door by a troll!

You grab your flashlight and your knife and race after them. Until sunrise, you follow them through the forest. The massive, muddy, smelly troll leads you to a cave big enough for four of your cottage to fit in. Right before the troll disappears into the cave, you see your mom is okay and still conscious.

You sit down on a pile of moss to think when black smoke trails from the cave.  You go in front of the cave and notice the smoke smells like rotten flesh and makes you want to throw up. Going in and following the smell, you notice there is gold on the floor. You follow the trail of gold and find a dragon that stands in your way!

So do you:

A: Sneak around it?

Or

B: Go over it?

Troll Chaser Option A: Sneak Aroundthe-lighted-door-1464933

You feel like going over the dragon is too dangerous, so you go around. Tiptoeing around the massive, blue dragon takes you a half an hour. During that time, you notice a light coming from a doorway on the other side of the room. As smoke trails from the dragon’s nostrils, his eyes start to open! You tiptoe faster than you ever have. The dragon stirs less and less and finally goes back to sleep. 

You keep sneaking towards the light, when his tail whips around and knocks you off your feet! You grab your gut and glance at the dragon to see if he’s awake. He is not. When you finally get to the light, you look in and see the troll and your mom, so do you:

Aa: Sneak around the troll?

or

Ab: Scream and fight?

The Troll Chaser Option Aa: Sneak Around the Troll

You think you can sneak around the troll and save  your mom because the troll is asleep. Your mom is tied up to a bedpost. 

You are glad you grabbed your knife. When you get there, your mom is happy to see you but she is very pale. She whispers, “I am saber-knife-1067468-mso happy to see you, please untie me now.” 

You start to cut the ropes but as you finish, the troll awakens with a roar! You throw your knife at the troll’s eye and grab your mom’s hand and run out!

The troll is in too much pain to follow and the dragon doesn’t wake up. You make it home and move away because your mom doesn’t feel safe. Your new home is so fun and safe!      

The End  

Yay! You bested the troll and saved your mom. Well done!

Thank you again Caleb for sharing your adventure. =)

We’ve got one more story to explore from the nieces and nephew. Next week I’ll introduce you to Esther and her adventure, Emerald.

Until then, have a wonderful week!

Blessings,

Jennifer