A Rogue’s Choice: Episode 2, Part 3

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 third installment of Episode 2. (Here’s Episode 2, Part 2 if you missed it)

“Go!” Lin hisses. “Get!”

She rushes the horses, flapping her arms. The closest animal snorts and tosses its head then inspects her with a single dark eye.

She gives her most menacing growl. “Leave, you overgrown numbskull rats!”

One of the beasts starts nosing in the bushes and soon comes up with a mouthful of grass.

Worthless, maggoty… dog food.

She yelps and claps her hands. Grabs the reins of the nearest horse and presses her face right up near the rotted thing’s eyeball. Gives the beast her meanest stare.

The horse flicks an ear.

Near the temple, brush crashes and shouts pepper the air. Shadows press through the undergrowth. Lin clenches her fists. No rotting time for this.

She jumps into the road, looks at the set of moonlit hindquarters and slowly swishing tails. One animal stomps a foot, skin twitching to banish a night-biting insect. With a screech, Lin springs forward and delivers a stinging slap to two of the rumps. Horses squeal and toss their heads. A kick brushes by her head.

Lin leaps back, clapping a hand over her ear to protect the little gold cuff that provides her Edge. Horses stamp and jostle, agitated now. She snatches a pair of stones from the road, slings them into the shifting wall of horseflesh. “Run, you corpse-eaten beasts!”

Finally, one of the animals bunches its legs, digs hooves into the road. Clods of earth go flying as it bolts. The others jump to follow, a full stampede pounding toward the edge of the city.

Veil’s thugs roar in anger.

A crossbow bolt hisses by her shoulder.

Rotting week-old meat. She didn’t count on them having ranged weapons.

Lin dives for the brush on the other side of the road. Twigs snap and leaves crackle, filling her nose with the musty smell of dry rot as she squirms into a rabbit tunnel. Elbow crawling, shoving with her toes, she wriggles forward.

Heavy footfalls thud as the first goon plows onto the road. He grunts and starts beating at the brush, trying to locate her.

Panting, Lin scooches forward every time he whacks the brush and covers the sound.

Her hand lands in a pile of warm rabbit pellets. Lin’s stomach turns over. Stupid animals.

“She can’t be far,” one of the goons growls. “Just gotta flush her out.”

Ahead, the low tunnel splits. Lin contorts her body to squeeze into the branch heading left and away from the city. Somewhere ahead, the undergrowth rustles. Probably the rotting rabbit.

Someone shoves aside brush just paces from her shoulder. Lin stiffens.

“Wait. There’s an easier way.”

The cracking of sticks halts. “Huh?”

“We’ll burn her out. Here.”

Light shifts over the leaves overhead as someone hands a torch forward.

Rotting midden. Lin scrambles forward, worming through the tunnel like a greased weasel.

Straight into a pair of glinting eyes.

“Get!” she hisses.

A mouth opens, exposing teeth that definitely don’t belong to a rabbit.

Lin jumps up as the badger snaps at her.

“There!” a thug shouts.

Lin stands frozen for a heartbeat, submerged to the waist in brush, kicking at the possibly-rabid badger attacking her leg. Then she snaps her hand down, grabs the rotted animal by the scruff of its neck and drags it up into the air.

Her Edge-sharpened eyes snap between the thugs until she spots the crossbow. The thug holding it stands just a pace back from the brush.

“Got something for you,” she says.

“Huh?” Smoke begins to curl from the dry brush where the thug with the torch works to set it ablaze.

With a grunt of effort, Lin hurls the badger at the goon with the crossbow. The animal lets out an unholy noise as it flies through the air, all teeth and claws and stench. It slams the thug in the chest and immediately goes into a frenzy, hissing and snarling and scrabbling for the man’s face. He falls back under the assault, and the other goons stare.

Lin springs from the brush, sails over the tangle of branches, and lands in the road. She sprints uphill, away from the city and the badger-wrought carnage.

“Get this monster off me!” the thug shrieks.

She hears a few confused grunts, the crackle of fire, and finally the thud as someone lands a blow on the badger.

Moments later, footsteps speed to a trot. Lin pushes energy into her legs. Speeds her feet. Crests the hilltop.

And arrives at a crossroad.

A man is standing there, stone-faced and wearing the insignia of the Emperor’s protectors. He glances at her, perplexed, then seems to notice the fire burning down the slope.

His brow lowers in suspicion.

“Heya,” Lin says with a wave.

He reaches for his cudgel.

Just then, the first Veil goon pounds up the slope and into view.

Readers had a choice. Should Lin:

  • Try to team up with the thugs against their common enemy.
  • Double back into the chaos down below, trusting the fire and the sudden appearance of the Empire’s soldier to help her give Veil the slip.

HA! Well, the results have been close for the last few episodes, but not so here. 85% of readers chose option 2. So check back in a couple weeks for that installment. (Or if you’d like to start getting these in your email along with the chance to vote, scroll up and drop your contact in the form on the right)