Hey there! If you’ve just found your way onto this page, this is an ongoing story I am writing in collaboration with my readers’ group (you can sign up in the little form on the right side of this page). Every couple weeks, I email out an installment followed by a choice the character has to make. Readers vote, and I continue the tale.
Episode 1 is complete. You can read it starting at Part 1 here. As a thank you to my reader group, I’m releasing each episode as a free ebook once they’re complete, so there’s another incentive to join the fun 🙂
And with that out of the way, here’s the first installment of Episode 2.
Lin is a spider. Motionless, she perches on a balcony rail polished by a thousand forgotten hands. Around her, shafts of moonlight fall through the ceiling of the ruined temple. Somewhere, in the warren of antechambers and worship halls, a rodent scurries over age-pitted stone. Pigeons roost in the temple’s main vault, cooing from time to time. Their droppings join the rainwater in a reflecting pool dedicated to a long-dead god.
Lin’s Edge, granted by the little gold cuff clamping her ear, sharpens her senses. She hears raucous singing from a tavern a half-hour’s walk back to the city. Her eyes scoop details from the deepest shadows. From outside, she smells a faint animal musk, the spots where a fox has marked his territory.
But here, there’s just the scent of old stone. The clicking of insects in the piles of leaf litter.
Lin’s completely alone.
And it’s as boring as watching corpses rot.
But her patience will be rewarded. Lin is gonna to be rich—technically, she already is. It’s just… she’s gotta be sure first. And that means enduring a few nights of eye-stabbing boredom, staking out her own satchel which she hid in an alcove opposite her perch.
Judging by the angle of the moonlight, she’s got another two or three hours to wait. She glances at the balcony floor. She’d be a lot more comfortable watching from there, but that’s just laziness talking. Dob was lazy. That’s why he stole ham from under the meatmonger’s nose rather than creeping in at night for the leavings. Mar was lazy. That’s why she tried to escape a life of quarry work by catching the lecherous eye of the Atal lord. Neither of them has the option of laziness now.
Lin might be a small-time thief with a stack of dead friends, but she’s not going to end up like they did.
Not going to make any more friends either. Stack’s plenty tall already.
On the overgrown path between the wagon track and temple, the brush crackles. Lin stiffens and shoots a hand to a stone pillar to keep her balance. Crunches join the snap of twigs. Footsteps, two pairs.
The entrance corridor darkens as someone moves through the doorway. Lin holds her breath as the insects stop moving, the click of their little legs silent.
“Bad luck, sleeping in a place like this,” a woman says in a low voice. Lin relaxes, just a little. Doesn’t sound like these are thugs sent by Veil to take back what Lin stole.
A man snorts. “Superstition. Anyway, it’s worse luck if the city guard catches us out.” Another shadow fills the entrance. His movements are heavier, footfalls thumping against the stone floor.
Definitely not Veil’s goons. Lin sags against the pillar in relief and takes her free hand off her dagger’s hilt. Not that she really believes she could win against determined thugs. But with one thousand steel coins as the prize, at least she’d be motivated.
The railing’s exposed. Better to stay hidden. As she carefully climbs off the perch, an attack of pins and needles swarms her left foot. She grits her teeth to keep from yelping.
“It’s only for a few hours, Emarie,” the man says.
As Lin presses her face to the gap between railing posts, the woman leans toward the reflecting pool and sniffs. Her nose crinkles. “I don’t think we’ll find fresh water here.”
“We have enough for tonight, anyway. There.” The man gestures toward the far wall. “We can bed down there.”
Lin jumps upright. Of all side chambers and alcoves in the whole rottedtemple… Her vision arrows to the little niche where a statue guards the hiding place for her satchel. Sure, there’s space for bedrolls on either side of the statue’s age-rounded plinth. But seriously, what are the chances that the one night Lin needed a spot to hide something… What kinda maggot-eaten luck brings a pair of travelers to a temple that’s been quietly decaying for centuries?
Lin grits her teeth.
One thousand steel coins. Maybe this is a little test the fates are tossing her way. Making sure she deserves it. Because to blunder into the riches she needs to rewrite her life… maybe that shouldn’t come too easily.
The thing is, last night when she found herself between a pair of criminal organizations, holding the bribe one wanted to pay the other, it seemed like a good idea to just abscond with the loot. She figured she was being set up anyway—otherwise, why contract out the delivery of such a large sum to a small-timer with no resume to speak of?
But then she got to thinking, if she was going to trust an unknown quantity with delivering an object of substantial value, she’d definitely try to make sure she could guarantee delivery. Veil is powerful. Maybe they have some method to track the little wooden chest that’s bundled up in her satchel. Maybe the chest’s latch is laced with poison for which only the intended recipient has the antidote. She just doesn’t know.
Which is why, before she even thinks of ways to safely extract the coins from the chest, she’s arranged this stakeout.
Deposit the treasure.
Retreat a safe distance.
Wait to see if the goons show up.
The plan didn’t account for some wayward travelers bedding down in the exact spot where she decided to hide the loot.
As the couple begins laying out their ratty bedrolls, the sound of hoof beats filters into the temple. The horses slow and more brush crackles outside.
She shakes her head in disbelief. No way. It would be about the rottingest, maggot-eating, dead-n-buried luck to have Veil’s people show up now.
“She’s in here. Bet you a cask of Ioenean red,” a man whispers from the path.
“I’d settle for a cut of the coin she supposedly stole,” his companion mutters.
Corpse’s rotting fingers! Of course it would be the thugs… Lin clenches her fists and glares at the alcove where the oblivious travelers are arranging their pathetic bedding. Even if Lin can manage to grab the satchel and escape out the back, the rotted thugs won’t hesitate to hurt the pair in search of information.
Lin mutters another string of curses. Why does she always get stuck helping people? Isn’t it hard enough to get by on the streets of Hajinal Port all by her lonesome?
“Get up. Leave your stuff.” She vaults the railing, snatches hold of a gargoyle jutting from the wall beside the balcony, and launches herself over the reflecting pool toward the alcove. She lands lightly on her toes, aided by her Edge.
The woman shrieks.
Lin dashes forward and clamps a hand over her mouth.
“Go!” she hisses. “And unless you want to start tomorrow as grave meat, shut up.”
They look at her stupidly. She tries to look fierce. They don’t budge. She drops a hand to her dagger and growls.
Finally, they seem to get the hint. The man, a thin type with hair the same sun-faded tone as his skin, grabs his stunned wife and pulls her toward the back of the temple. Their scurrying footsteps echo and then still.
Lin grabs the satchel and slings it over her shoulder. She pulls her dagger and faces the entrance, Edge-sharpened eyes piercing the moonlit night beyond. As a shadow darkens the low brush outside the doorway, she whirls and sprints for the deeper recesses—and back exit—of the temple.
And nearly collides with the couple, who are now backing away from the rear chambers, hands raised.
“Sorry!” someone whispers. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”
Lin’s jaw drops as Owell, the most annoying kid in the whole port of Hajinal, steps forward. The only reason he could possibly be here is that he’s still stalking her, waiting for another opportunity to beg entrance into her thieving endeavors. But for once, she can’t summon the energy to tell him off. Because, as she’s recently learned, the little flea has a few tricks up his sleeves. Strange abilities with water that could be useful here.
…Then again, his sudden appearance may also explain how the thugs found her. It may have nothing to do with the satchel and its contents. She narrows her eyes at him. Yes, the more she thinks about it…
“Thank you for ruining my stakeout,” she snaps. “Now, can you at least conjure some buckets of magical water to throw in the bad guys’ faces?”
He shakes his head, looking crestfallen. “Not enough humidity.”
Worse than useless. She shoves past him then reaches back and grabs the bumbling Prov man by the shirtsleeve. The wife follows, eyes wide. “I suggest you run, Owell.”
“Wait!” he says.
“I told you, I work alone—”
“There are more thugs out back,” he stammers. “But I know a better option.”
Now she remembers why she wants nothing to do with the kid. He’s an idiot. When it comes to thugs sent by Veil, there are no good options.
“Lin, you gotta believe me.” He dashes forward and tries to get in front of her.
When Lin ignores him and keeps dragging the couple forward, the rot-brained kid sprints ahead. To her abundant shock, he grabs the edge of the low wall surrounding the temple’s indoor well, vaults the crumbling construction, and… falls down the pit.
Distantly, she hears a thud. The woman balks, tearing free. Against her husband’s protests, she runs toward a side chamber.
Readers had a choice. Should Lin:
- Follow the kid. If Owell’s broken body is lying in a heap at the bottom of the well, at least he’ll provide some cushion. The temple is a maze; the travelers can probably manage to hide—if they’re smart.
- Throw the satchel down the well and guide the travelers to safety. The thugs’ appearance must be Owell’s fault, which means they can’t track the loot. It will be safe enough with Owell—or whatever is left of him after that fall.
And the choice is, with a very close 53% percent of the vote, Option 2. Despite her best intents, Lin just can’t escape her noble streak. Even with 1k coins at risk, she can’t bring herself to leave innocent travelers to the wolves. Stay tuned to see how things work out for her!