A Rogue’s Choice: Episode 2, Part 4

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 fourth installment of Episode 2. (Here’s Episode 2, Part 3 if you missed it)


“Oh, Mr. Protector! These bad men are chasing me! I was supposed to be back at the servants’ quarters hours ago, but they think it’s some stupid game.” Lin puts on doe eyes even though its dark and protectors never fall for that kind of stuff. It still helps her get into the role.

The imperial Protector grunts as he stomps forward, dead eyes shifting between her and the thug that just popped over the hill. Actually, make that two thugs. One of his maggot-brained friends has just barreled into him.

With Edge-sharpened movements, Lin whirls in the dusty road and starts sprinting downhill. She dodges a wide swipe of a thick arm, sticks out her tongue, and waves.

“Buh-bye.”

Fire gobbles the brush on the side of the road opposite the temple, the smoke stinging her eyes and clinging to her throat. In the middle of the dirt track, the badger-damaged Veil goon is sitting in the dust with a hand cupped over one eye. Blood leaks out the gaps, and Lin grimaces. Of the badger, there’s no sign. Probably escaped unscathed. That’s good, because Lin was starting to feel kinda guilty about throwing it into a group of meat slabs.

Between the rot-brained dope crying in the road and the two numbskulls having a discussion with the protector, that leaves one of Veil’s heavies unaccounted for. As Lin dashes past the temple, she keeps an ear cocked.

Corpse-nuggets. From the stomping feet and crunch of grit as something gets slid around on the temple floor, it sounds like the last guy is inside, either hassling the pair of Prov travelers or—much, much worse, as far as Lin’s concerned—snooping around the dry well where she threw her loot. She definitely can’t have him making off with her windfall.

And maybe she feels a little responsible for the kid, Owell. The Prov bumblers, too.

But it’s really about the loot.

Eventually, the big baby in the road is going to stop whining over losing an eye. Better if he doesn’t surprise her while she’s dealing with his companion. Dashing close, she pulls out a dagger and clubs him in the temple. He slumps into the dirt.

Inside the temple, she pulls up and starts creeping forward all stealthy-like. With her Edge, she knows she’s all but invisible. With just one snorting rhino of a thug inside, should be no problem to stay hidden.

She spots him back where she thought she might, in the small chamber with the old well. He grunts as he leans to peer behind a pile of rubble. She scoffs. Like she’d hide somewhere so exposed.

Lin keeps her ears pricked for sounds of the Prov couple. She left them cowering in an antechamber opening off the room where the goon is nosing around. No doubt they’re still huddled in there like a pair of spooked pigeons.

She squints at the goon and considers her odds. Two of his friends are occupied with the imperial Protector—she almost snorts in amusement at that turn of luck—and the other bully is taking a nap in the road. None of them will be interfering for a while. If Lin can’t handle one of these fools by herself, especially with her Edge, maybe she doesn’t deserve the satchel of steel coins.

She strolls forward and starts whistling like its midday on the waterfront and she just sold off a dozen fish for triple their price. The goon looks up, heavy brow lowered, face slack with incomprehension.

“Bad news, friend,” she says.

He lets out a vaguely questioning grunt.

“Your associates have perished. It’s a tragic scene out there.” Lin folds her hands behind her back, dagger snug in her palm. She approaches at an angle, all casual, glancing at the ruined architecture like the temple is a palace worth admiring.

“You’re lying,” the man growls. He seems to remember that he was hired for his considerable musculature, not his brains, and takes a menacing step forward.

Lin shrugs and sniffs audibly. “You don’t smell the smoke? I regret to say that the brush was ripe for burning. They meant to flush me out, but ended up swallowed by their own fire.” She shakes her head. “Like I said, tragic.”

The brute’s nostrils flare as he takes a whiff. “Smoke doesn’t prove nothing. They ain’t dead, but you will be.”

He yanks his cudgel from his belt.

“Now wait,” Lin says, raising her hands. “You came for the coins, right? Obviously, I don’t have them. If you come back empty-handed, crowing about how you beat up a thief half your size, I don’t think the Veil bosses will be too happy with you.”

“Then I’ll pull out your fingernails one by one until you tell me where you hid Veil’s property.”

She wrinkles up her nose in disgust. “Really? That’s your threat? So… messy. And for what reason? So you can deliver five thousand twinklers back to your bosses in exchange for a pat on the head and another assignment?”

A jolt travels Lin’s spine when she spots movement behind the guy. An eye-blink later, though, she realizes its the Prov couple slipping out of their dead-end chamber. At least they finally wised up. Could have chosen a better time though.

Lin scuffs her feet to cover the sounds of the couple’s escape. She narrows her eyes as she peers at the thug. A sly grin twists her mouth.

“You didn’t know, did you?” she says loudly. “Five thousand steel coins is a lot of money. I’m not surprised your bosses hid the size of the sum from you.”

Of course, there aren’t five thousand. That would be enough for her to buy her own rotting ship and sail away from this maggoty empire. But it sounds a lot more tempting than the one thousand she pinched from the Veil organization.

The dumb brute looks genuinely torn now, primed for the hook.

Lin gives an exaggerated sigh and sets the barbs. “Oh, fine. We can split the loot if that’s really what you want. What do you say to two-thirds for me, the rest for you? But you gotta agree not to tell your bosses. They wouldn’t be real happy with you anyway.”

A greedy gleam comes into his eyes. “I could be interested.”

She spits into her palm and holds it out, dagger still behind her back. As he clasps her hand, she thinks about trying to jab the blade into his eye, but a miss would pretty much bury her.

“You better not cheat me,” the thug says.

Lin pastes on an insulted look. “What kind of person do you think I am?”

“So where’s the loot?”

Readers had a choice. Should Lin:

– Try to get him to help lower her into the well. He probably won’t fit even if he tries to follow, and Owell did say it led to some sort of escape. Problem is, if it doesn’t, she’ll be trapped.

or

– Give him a bogus location. On the way there, she’s bound to think of a way to trick him without giving away the actual location of her windfall.

 

AND, with a whopping 93% of the vote, she’s going in the well! Or trying, at least. We’ll see what happens! Stay tuned for the episode conclusion! 🙂

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. You’ll also get free ebooks of the episodes once each is finished.