A Rogue’s Choice: Episode 3, Part 1

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 & 2 are complete. You can read the whole series 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 🙂

Without further ado, here is part 1 of the newest episode.


For a bunch of do-gooders who probably give all their hard-won loot to the poor or something, Stormshard’s hideout isn’t half bad. From the outside, Lin didn’t even guess they’d arrived at the safe house until the leader of the rebel party tugged the door open. And that was with her Edge-sharpened vision plucking details from the darkest shadows and her hearing grabbing the cries of gulls from the sea crag so far beyond the harbor mouth it’s usually lost in the mist.

In fact, if Lin wasn’t planning to put Hajinal Port and the entire rotting Empire behind her just as soon as this job is done, she might even ask the rebel group if they’d consider renting a little corner of the dockside warehouse to a solo operator like herself. Lin’s various nests have served her well over the last year, but she’s never been too keen on leaving her precious loot unattended.

That would be the good thing about carving out a little piece of territory from Stormshard’s safe house. They’re so corpse-eaten honorable they probably wouldn’t even touch her stuff.

Of course, too long in their festering presence, and Stormshard’s goody-two-shoes behavior might start to rub off on her. Lin shudders at the thought and hikes her satchel—and the lockbox containing one thousand steel coins she recently pinched from the Veil crime syndicate—up higher on her shoulder. Better to just keep her cash close, finish this last gig, and buy passage on the first foreign vessel leaving port. Doesn’t really matter where she goes, as long as a former thief can find a plush squat and enough investment opportunities to live the good life for a few years.

“So when do I move on this target of yours?” Lin asks as she saunters up to the Dellen, the Stormshard man who offered her the gig.

He’s busy inspecting some of the plank siding that’s been nailed up all around the inside of the warehouse. In the rare gaps between boards, Lin spots what looks like ratty old wool. Must be part of how they keep the place so rotting discreet…a layer of wool between the inner wall and the splintery outer siding swallows the light and sound. Pretty clever for a bunch of prissy rebels.

“We’re waiting on word from some of our informants in the Atal district. We need to be absolutely sure the Emperor won’t make a surprise visit before we’re finished with the operation.”

“The Emperor? Just what exactly do you think I’m going to do for you?”

The man turns to her, then glances over her shoulder. When he gestures, the sound of footfalls on the warped planks of the floor tells Lin people are approaching from behind. A group of five scarred rebels comes to a halt in a loose semi-circle nearby.

Dellen returns his attention to her. “Your new friend, the Jalakyrisi merchant—”

“She’s not my friend,” Lin says, cutting the man off. “I only saved her that night because I figured it was the best way to get away from you people and the dead Protector in your wagon.”

“She seems to think you helped her escape the Veil organization because you want to see the scourge of spice addiction eradicated.”

Lin rolls her eyes. “Apparently, the world is full of people who see beautiful fluttering butterflies instead of blowflies gorging on a corpse. Maybe I owed her for telling me the truth about the bribe I was supposed to deliver on behalf of Veil”—she gives her satchel a little shake, causing the coins to jangle—“and maybe that’s why I guided her to a hidey hole. But that doesn’t make me some kind of upstanding citizen. Just so we’re clear.”

The man takes a deep breath. “Regardless, Reshiavi—that’s the merchant’s name—has committed her resources to Stormshard’s cause, as long as we agree to help her stop the spice trade.”

“Okay,” Lin says, circling her hand in the air to indicate he should hurry his story.

“She gifted us with a pair of mirrors. They’re enchanted with some sort of Jalakyrisi magic that allows us to look into one and see what is happening near the other.”

“Ahh. I get it. You want me to put one in the Emperor’s Hajinal residence. Why me? I mean, obviously I’m sneakier than you people, but I haven’t exactly given you reason to trust me.”

Dellen’s lips twitch, possibly in amusement, but more likely in annoyance.

A female voice cuts him off before he can speak. “Because I noticed a particular aura surrounding you, something I haven’t seen outside of a distant island group so far south that most ships are all but falling apart by the time they arrive.”

The Jalakyrisi merchant seems to glide as she crosses the warehouse from the front entrance. No longer clad in flowing silks, she’s wearing a tunic and trousers typical to the elite-class Atal citizens of Hajinal Port.

Lin wrinkles up her face. “An aura? What are you talking about?”

The woman cocks an eyebrow. “Are you sure you don’t know? Is there nothing you can think of that sets you apart from others of your…profession?”

Immediately, Lin thinks of her Edge and the little gold ear cuff responsible for the abilities. It’s a relatively recent acquisition, pinched as part of a routine burglary of an Atal mansion. Lin liked the look of the cuff—she’s never been much for jewelry, but the way it clamped on her upper ear reminded her of the tales of pirates she loved as a child. It was the only piece she kept from her haul…some nights she lies awake wondering if the whole maggoty treasure had the same enchantment.

It seems like everyone in the whole corpse-eaten warehouse is looking at her. She fights the urge to touch the cuff. The truth is, she kinda wants to know what the deal with her Edge is. Sure, she’d be okay if she never found out, but what if there’s more she could do? Of what if there’s a danger in wearing the cuff all the time?

“There’s no need for secrets here,” Reshiavi says gently.

Readers had a choice. Should Lin:

  • Admit the truth about the cuff. Stormshard gave her back one thousand clinkers. They aren’t going to try to rob her of a little piece of jewelry that might only work for her.

or

  • Play dumb. Maybe she can get more information from Reshiavi without a roomful of rebels listening in.

 

And…*drumroll*, with 67% of the vote, readers chose Option #2. Lin will keep quiet about her ear cuff, for now. Stay tuned for the next installment! 🙂

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.