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 final installment of Episode 2. (Here’s Episode 2, Part 4 if you missed it)
Lin’s feet scrape and slide over the stones on the inside of the well as, bit by bit, the unibrowed thug grunts and lowers her into the darkness. Her hands ache from gripping fistfuls of her cloak which, tied to the goon’s jacket, acts like a rope.
“You can go faster.” She looks up to direct her voice then flinches and blinks furiously to clear the dust that falls into her eyes.
Up top, Maggot Brains just grunts and lets another length of cloak over the rim of the well.
And then he stops.
“Hey,” he says. “How do I know you’ll come back up with the loot?”
Now he asks… Quick thinking, genius.
“Because,” she says, her butt cramping as she pushes her feet harder against the walls, “I’m not going to spend the rest of my life down here.”
He grunts again. She can almost hear the rocks tumbling around in his skull as he thinks.
Not feeling too confident in her belayer, she starts scanning the wall for handholds. There. A chink between stones that looks wide enough for her fingers. And another. As she twists around, plotting a downclimb, she peers with Edge-sharpened vision into the depths. Faint brushstrokes of gray hint at a probable landing. There’s no sign of Owell, which seems to indicate that he at least lived long enough to drag his broken body out of the drop zone.
A shout echoes through the temple above. “Hurg! What in the storms-cursed wastes are you doing?”
His name is Hurg? Really?
The rot-headed man grunts again. “I thought you were…the girl said you were dead—Wait a minute.”
He starts pulling her back up out of the well. Lin rolls her eyes. When she lets go of the cloak and snatches the wall, the makeshift rope whips up and out of sight. Above, Hurg falls over backward with a thud.
Lin’s fingertips latch onto tiny ledges while her leather-soled feet continue to smear against the age-rounded stones. Little by little she climbs down the tunnel. If not for her Edge, she’d for sure be plummeting to her grave-digging death. Or at least to her considerable discomfort.
More shouts echo through the ruined temple above. As she slithers down the tube, feeling like an awkward combo between a spider and an earthworm’s latest meal, a torch appears in the well opening above.
Lin looks up. “The deal didn’t include your friends,” she calls with an apologetic smile.
The silhouette of a crossbow appears.
Okay, so much for a controlled descent. Lin clamps her eyes shut, lets go, and braces for impact.
The sudden agony of smacking hard stone doesn’t come. Instead, strong arms catch her and somehow yank her aside.
“Owell? How did you…?” She’s being held like an infant cradled against someone’s chest. Where did the little sewer rat get the strength—oh.
The man looking down at her has a hooked nose and canine teeth that could punch through sheet-metal. He’s massive.
The moment he sets her down, she scrambles away, only to run into another wall of flesh. Lin raises her hands and chuckles awkwardly. As she backs up, she takes in her surroundings. She’s in some sort of natural stone corridor which opens into a wider chamber. There, torchlight glistens off rivulets of water that stream down pillars and stalactites.
When no one moves to immediately shove a dagger through her, she straightens. “Okay, so which one of you has my loot?” Her voice only shakes a little bit.
She spins to see Owell standing at the corridor’s exit. The corpse-eating kid’s hands are empty.
“Tell me you didn’t give these people my satchel,” she says. “Especially after Veil followed you here and forced me to ditch it in the first place.”
He shakes his head. “That’s not what happened. We saw them coming after you and followed.”
Behind her, scraping sounds filter down the well. She looks over her shoulder in time to see one of the large men peering up it. Beyond the small cluster of brutes, the corridor continues into darkness. Judging by the slick stone of the floor and walls, it seems like an underground river used to flow through here.
“You really trying to fit through there, mate?” the man yells up the well.
“Look, Lin,” Owell says. “These people have an offer for you.”
“And who in the pond full of decaying corpses are these people?”
Another man steps up beside Owell, the strap of her satchel clutched in his fist. Lin groans when she recognizes him as the wagon driver from a recent misadventure that involved a dead Imperial protector. The man is part of Stormshard, a band of goody-two-shoes rebels.
Somehow, one of the Veil goons actually makes it down the well. His feet pop out from the hole in the corridor ceiling and dangle for a moment before he drops to the floor with a thump. One of the Stormshard men shrugs and clubs him on the temple.
“Idiot,” he mutters as the goon collapses.
“I work alone,” Lin says, narrowing her eyes. “I already told Owell that about a thousand times.”
The wagon driver sighs. “Why don’t we start with proper introductions? I’m Dellen.”
“Okay. You’re Dellen and I’m leaving. Now give me back my loot.”
He shakes his head. “It’s a maze down here. We need Owell’s guidance to get out. He can sense the waterways and air currents.”
“Give. Me. My. Loot.”
With an exaggerated sigh, he tosses the satchel toward her feet. It bumps roughly over the stone, coins jangling inside the small, iron-bound lockbox.”
“Lin, if you just hear me out. We’re prepared to—”
“Lead on, Owell,” she interrupts. “I’m sick of this—”
“—double the sum you plucked from Veil. It’s for a particular job. A dangerous one. But if you’re successful, we’ll pay that plus allow you to keep whatever you swipe from the location.”
Lin stops. Stares. Blinks.
“I don’t have to prance around and pretend I’m all noble and full of integrity, do I?”
“I take that as a ‘yes’, then?”
“If you’re not a grave-eating fibber…and you’ll have to show me you have the cash first.”
The Stormshard man—Dellen—smirks. “In that case, welcome to Stormshard.”
Lin rolls her eyes. They can pretend whatever they like, but this is for one job only. Then she’s getting out of this maggoty Empire.
Thanks for reading!
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