Outcasts Option Ab2: Sneak Group Out

If you missed the previous posts, you can read them here: Outcasts and Outcasts Option A. North Aqueducts and Outcasts Option Ab: Follow the Wolfhounds.

Or, here’s a recap: You and a group of other outcasts, who have been ostracized due to various illnesses, have decided to enter the abandoned city of Calla Sadum in hopes of finding cures to your ailments. Most of the group were swallowed into a pit before ever reaching the gate. You, with your leprosy, and a heavily burned man named Angus, decided to enter the city through an aqueduct system his granpap used to rave about. The Aqueducts got you in all right, but you were dropped into an underground city full of walking skeleton creatures. It doesn’t look like you’ll find any cures down here, but maybe you can help the rest of the group. You decided to follow a pack of wolfhound skeletons in hopes of finding the other outcasts and found the hounds holding the group in pits in the floor of a cavern with fires burning at the mouth of each pit. They pulled the leader of your group, The Commander, from a pit and turned him into a new wolfhound skeleton. You and Angus have decided to try and save the rest of the group by sneaking them out.

Let’s see how this adventure ends =)

Outcasts Option Ab2. Sneak Group Out

“I don’t think we can take on the whole pack,” you whisper to Angus.

He squeezes your arm and gives a sigh of relief that you’re not even sure he’s aware of. As you both study the area, the pack continues to play with their new pup by jumping over darkened pits and raging fires. The pup stumbles into several of the later but the flames don’t seem to bother his bones as he rolls through and comes out the other side with a grin on his toothy face.

Their cavorting draws them farther into the cavern.

“Come on.” You nudge Angus and lead the way toward the boy’s pit by following the cavern wall where it’s darkest. Perhaps the wolfhounds can see and perhaps not but you don’t want to take any chances by walking directly in the firelight. Close to the pit, you sink to your belly and low crawl to the edge.

The blind boy stands in the bottom with his ear pressed hard to the wall. For once, his blindness is not a hindrance but maybe an asset. From the pit floor, he can’t see anything anyway, but with sharp ears, he might be able to hear what’s going on above.

You spot the ladder the hounds used to let the Commander out of the pit. It lies in a crumpled heap next to the fire on the far side of the pit.

“Stay here,” you whisper to Angus. “I’ll send the boy to you.”

You don’t wait for Angus’ reply as you low crawl to the ladder. Two heavy stakes anchor it to the top of the pit. A glance tells you the wolfhounds are still prancing around the cavern with their new pup but their antics are drawing them closer now instead of away.

Hand over hand, you lower the ladder, being careful not to let the wooden rungs clack against each other as you move the ropes through your hands. Finally, with it fully played out, you tap the inside of the pit wall with your palm. It makes a soft slapping, muffled by the bandages covering your fingers.

The boy’s dark head swivels. You tap again and peek over a shoulder to place the hounds. They’re two pits away, staring into the bottom of another pit. Who’s in that one, you wonder, but don’t have time to watch as the ladder gives a jerk.

The boy begins to climb one slow rung at a time. Midway up, his foot catches on a loose chunk of rock and knocks it free of the wall. The following clatter echoes through the cavern like the boy rang a bell.

Skeletal heads swing around. The puppy skeleton launches from the bottom of the pit the hounds were staring into moments before. A part of you breaths relief that it wasn’t another member of your group they were preparing to change, but that relief is muted as the hounds give a chorus of excited yowls.

“Hurry!” you shout to the boy below.

His caution disappears and he scrambles upward. He’s not going to be fast enough, though. The hounds bound over the first fire. You search for a stick, a rock, anything to defend the top of the ladder with.

Burning woodAs the first hound hits the floor next to your pit, there comes a bellow of mixed rage and pain. Angus meets the skeleton with a burning piece of firewood that he swings with all his might at the head of the hound. It connects in a shower of sparks and bones. The hound stumbles sideways, headless, and disappears over the edge of another pit. Moments later there comes the clatter of scattering bones.

The boy reaches the top of the ladder just as Angus takes on the second hound to arrive at the pit.

“Is there anyone else left?” you ask the boy.

“N-No,” he stutters. “The Com—“

“Do you know a way out?” you interrupt.

The boy nods so hard you wonder about his neck.

“Angus!”

He chucks the burning club at another skeleton and races to catch up as the blind boy takes your hand and starts toward the cavern wall. His sense of direction is impressive as he avoids several spots of uneven floor until he can lay a hand on the wall.

“This way.” He lets go of your hand to race ahead. “There’s fresh air,” he calls back.

Angus’ heavy breathing sounds behind you. “They’re gaining on us,” he warns.

“It’s not far,” the boy yells back. Suddenly he disappears.

You realize as you reach the spot that he turned to the right into a small passageway.

The wolfhounds snarling bounces off the passage walls as they fight with each other for the lead in chasing you.

The passage ends abruptly in a solid wall with a ladder built into the stone. The boy’s at the top.

You follow him up and reach past him. It’s a trapdoor of some sort.

“I can’t lift it,” the boy whimpers.

“Hey friends,” Angus calls, “we need to move.” He starts pitching loose rocks at the hounds to slow them down but, other than knocking off a bone or two, it’s not working.

Your searching hands find a rope. When you pull, there’s a faint click from the far side of the door.

“Push.” The boy puts his shoulder against the wooden paneling to help you lift. After a moment of groaning, the door breaks free and dirt showers down into the passage. You throw the trapdoor open. As soon as you’re free, you turn on your stomach to help Angus off the ladder too. You reach to close the trapdoor when one vigorous hound jumps the distance to the top.

Angus grabs the blind boy away and turns to take the hound’s claws on his shoulder. There’s a clatter and everything goes eerily still.

The trapdoor thuds closed but you’re staring at the bones of the ambitious hound—er—what used to be a hound. A very human skeleton lies on the ground. It doesn’t move.

“We’re outside the walls of Calla Sadum,” you observe.

“Think they can’t leave the walls?” Angus asks.

“Only explanation I can think of. Maybe they can’t leave.”

“But this is human,” Angus nudges a hand with his toes.

“You saw what happened to the Commander,” you respond after a moment. “Perhaps now we know what happened to everyone inside Calla Sadum. It wasn’t actually abandoned.”

“Oh,” the blind boy says. “Oh, that’s terrible.”

You can’t help but agree.

***

It’s a very quiet night around the fire. You tear an old shirt into long strips and motion for Angus to hold out his hands. The burning club added to the man’s scars. You wind the cloth around his burned fingers.

“We’ll match,” he chuckles.

“You did good,” you respond as you tie off the end of the bandages.

He shrugs, “What’s a few more scars? We’re alive.”

The blind boy, Pearson, begins to snore from his bedroll across the small campfire.

Alive’s good, you decide. With everything you saw in Calla Sadum, there might actually be a cure for your leprosy there, but it could be a while before you can convince yourself to chance the place again. For the time being, you’re not alone and you’re alive, and that’s plenty to keep you happy.

The End

Yay, you survived! Congratulations, and thank you for participating in this adventure. I love to hear your reasoning behind each choice.

Until next time, blessings,

Jennifer

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Outcasts Option Ab: Follow the Wolfhounds

Wolf - Outcasts Adventure

This was a close vote but following the wolfhounds won out by one!

If you missed the previous two posts, you can read them here: Outcasts and Outcasts Option A. North Aqueducts.

Or, here’s a recap: You and a group of other outcasts, who have been ostracized due to various illnesses, have decided to enter the abandoned city of Calla Sadum in hopes of finding cures to your ailments. Most of the group were swallowed into a pit before ever reaching the gate. You, with your leprosy, and a heavily burned man named Angus, decided to enter the city through an aqueduct system his granpap used to rave about. The Aqueducts got you in all right, but you were dropped into an underground city full of walking skeleton creatures. It doesn’t look like you’ll find any cures down here, but maybe you can help the rest of the group. You’ve decided to follow a pack of wolfhound skeletons in hopes of finding the other outcasts.

Let’s see where your choice leads!

Outcasts Option Ab. Follow the Wolfhounds

The underground city’s full of skeleton creatures wandering around as though living regular lives. You see bird skeletons hopping around on the roof of a nearby house, pecking at the lichen like growth covering the tiles. One decides to fly off only to realize after jumping that its bone wings don’t hold it in the air. It clatters to the stone below and bursts into individual bones.

Wings - Outcasts Adventure“Ooof,” Angus mutters and then he sucks air in past his teeth as the bones rattle on the stone for a moment and knit themselves back together into a bird.

You move on and see two ferret skeletons working to hang a sign over the doorway of another house by standing on each other’s shoulders.

You and Angus don’t wait around to see one of them tumble to pieces on the ground. The sight of one skeleton pulling itself together was enough.

The hounds are easy to follow as they create a kind of wave among the other creatures. Everything gives them a wide space in which to pass. Finally, after an interminable amount of time, they pass below the city by taking a staircase underneath what looks like a castle.

Fire Below, you and Angus pause in the darkened hall of the stairs because they open into another cavern. This one doesn’t have buildings or skeleton creatures. Large pits dot the floor, highlighted by small fires burning at their rims.

Angus grasps your arm. He stares at the fires and runs his free hand down the puckered scars on his face.

You nudge him with an elbow and point to the wolfhounds.

They’re circled around a pit to your right. One of them holds a bright gold goblet in its mouth while the others let down a ladder into the pit. A moment later, the Commander’s dark head pops up at the rim. He looks around, hesitating at all the skeleton hounds watching.

Several hounds growl. It makes a hollow tone like their bones are rattling against each other. The Commander needs no further encouragement to hurry up the ladder.

The hound with the goblet approaches and lifts its chin, offering the golden cup with a toothy grin.

Goblet - Outcasts AdventureAlthough the Commander tucks his hands behind his back, there’s a gleam in his eyes. The firelight catches the sheen off the gold as the hound lifts its head higher and growls at him.

He raises his hands and still hesitates, but then licking his lips, he accepts the goblet and caresses the gold at the rim.

The hounds hum. They sit back on their haunches.

Angus’ grip on your arm grows tighter.

The Commander drops the goblet and the nearest hound catches it before it clatters to the floor. Even from where you stand, the look of shock on the Commander’s face is clear. He shudders. You blink as his face becomes indistinct like you’re seeing it in a cloudy mirror. His skin floats away, dust on a cold breeze. For a moment his human bones are visible but then he hunches over and disappears within the group of hounds. When they back away, there’s a baby hound skeleton sitting with its head cocked to the side, clearly confused by its surroundings.

“Is that—?” Angus chokes.

“Commander?” hollers a voice that bounces around the cavern. “Commander, you there? You all right?” It’s a high-pitched voice.

“The blind boy,” you whisper.

The young hound glances down into the pit the Commander climbed from and gives a whine with that same tilt to his head. A thinner adult hound nudges it away with its snout and begins to play with the youngster by jumping over the smaller pits.

“Commander?” calls the boy’s voice but by this time, none of the hounds pay it any attention.

“We can’t leave him,” Angus says.

You have to agree. Being blind, the goblet might not lure the boy as it did the Commander, but then what would the wolfhounds do? If someone doesn’t accept the gold, what’s the alternative?

“We could try to capture the hounds in a pit?” Angus suggests even though he’s still rubbing a thumb over his facial scars. Surely luring the hounds into a pit would force you close to those fires.

“We could sneak the boy out?” you counter.

“What if he’s not the only survivor?”

You exchange looks and then Angus gives a shrug. The hand still holding your arm trembles, but he’s game for whatever you think best.

Ab1. Capture the Pack?

Or

Ab2. Sneak People Out?

You’ve succeeded in finding the rest of the group! Leave your vote in the comments regarding how you’d like to proceed in attempting to save them. We’ll be back next Thursday to see how this adventure ends.

Until then, blessings,

Jennifer

Outcasts Option A. North Aqueducts

Outcasts Adventure

Welcome to part two of the Outcasts adventure!

If you missed part one, you can read it here. Or here’s a recap: You and a group of other outcasts, who have been ostracized due to various illnesses, have decided to enter the abandoned city of Calla Sadum. The city used to be well advanced in technology and science and may have cures to your ailments. Most of the group were swallowed into a pit before ever reaching the gate. You, with your leprosy, and a heavily burned man named Angus, have decided to enter the city through an aqueduct system his granpap used to rave about. There may be creatures granpap called the Bones, but no one knows if that was his dementia talking or his experiences.

Let’s see where this takes us =)

Outcasts Option A. North Aqueducts

“I’ve commented my granpap was a bit loony, right?” Angus asks as you eye the end of the aqueduct pipe jutting from the side of the mountain. Just south of that pipe rests the wall of Calla Sadum, butted up against the mountain like it grew from the rocky giant.

You don’t answer Angus. As the day wore on and you got closer to the aqueduct, he grew increasingly jittery. Now, with the last rays of the sun highlighting the pipe, he’s wringing his hands and standing on your toes. You give him a gentle nudge and he steps away.

Who knows if he did any damage to your foot. You can’t feel if he did.

Aqueduct - Outcasts AdventureThe pipe is basically a tunnel in the side of the mountain with a trough shape cut out of the bottom of the stone. When it was first built, it was probably spectacular to see water gushing from its end but now it’s dry with large chunks of stone broken in the walls. The supporting stonework that would have carried the water away from the city lies in shambles below the pipe.

“Looks inviting,” you say.

Angus snorts.

“Bring any torches?”

With a grin, the man squats down and pulls out a glow stone from his pack. Such stones are rare and from the way he cradles it, you can tell it’s one of his prize possessions.

You give him a smile, appreciating his preparedness.

“No time like the present.” You gesture for him to lead the way.

He hesitates, clutching the glow stone to his chest but staring at the aqueduct. Fear wins out over his treasure. He shoves the stone into your hands.

You lead the small climb to the pipe. The slope’s gentle, which you’re thankful for, if it were more of an actual climb, your hands and feet would prohibit you.

The stone makes a soft click against the rim of the aqueduct as your set it inside to haul yourself into the pipe. You offer to help Angus up but he grimaces at your hands and scrambles up without taking the offer.

You know he’s not squeamish about your leprosy, so you take his grimace for what it is. He doesn’t want to damage your skin if he can avoid it. The thoughtfulness, after so long of people cringing away in horror, brings a prick of tears to your eyes.

You turn away into the aqueduct before Angus can see the moisture threatening your sight. The circle of stone is large enough for you to fully stand in but the disrepair makes going slow. You won’t feel if you hurt your feet and that dictates a very cautious pace as you navigate around broken stone and small shrubs trying to grow through the cracks.

tunnel - Outcasts AdventureAngus doesn’t complain. He glances around your shoulder from time to time in order to see what the glow stone reveals ahead but otherwise, he simply follows your careful steps, humming a low almost comforting tune as he goes.

You grunt as the stone’s light lands on a boulder that fell through the ceiling. You’re far enough into the aqueduct now that you can’t see any of the dusky light filtering in from outside. A small space on the right of the boulder might be wide enough for you to squeeze past.

“Hold this,” you hand the stone to Angus.

A deep rumble deafens your ears at the same time as the ground shifts beneath your feet.

You’re instantly reminded of the ground rolling open beneath the rest of the group. In desperation, you lunge to grab at the boulder but instead of the ground rolling open, it simply drops away.

Angus yelps. The boulder tears at your hands but you have no purchase and you follow Angus downward.

Fear quickens your breath. You roll and tumble and bounce around like a doll pitched down a stairwell until you hit solid ground. Breath rushes from your chest as you hit and it’s a good moment before your lungs wheeze air back into your body.

Angus lays on his back not far from you but by the look on his face, he’s still fighting to draw in a breath. The glow stone is clutched tightly to his chest, illuminating his fingers and the underside of his chin. When you see his chest rise, relief almost makes you faint.

Motion, at the edges of that soft glow, freezes you midway as you start to rise. You regain motion after a brief moment of terror.

“Angus,” you hiss.

He rolls to his feet and hurries after you as you duck behind a stone column. When he’s near enough, you snatch the glow stone and bury it inside his pack. In that brief moment that you held the stone, you and Angus see the state of your fingers. The boulder above was not kind.

Angus rummages in his pack, heedless of the sound he’s making, and comes up with an extra shirt. In a few sharp motions, he has the shirt torn into strips. With gentle fingers, he winds the cloth around your numb but badly torn hands.

“Even a cure can’t fix that,” he says softly.

You try to smile. “If there’s a cure for your scars,” you respond, “there must be one for this too.”

Angus shakes his head. “A fool’s hope.”

“All of this,” you gesture around, “has been a fool’s hope, but it’s our hope and I’ll take it.”

He squeezes your wrists where you can feel the pressure. “Our hope,” he agrees.

His thick, purple scars and slouched figure might make him ugly to most of the world but you can’t think of a better, or more beautiful, soul to be stuck in Calla Sadum with.

Together you peek around the column you ducked behind.

The column was only the beginning. As your eyes adjust to the dim light, you realize the ceiling of the cavern glows just like your glow stone does, only fainter due to the height of the stone. That light touches columns and roofs and porches and streets and things moving about within the city.

Wolf - Outcasts Adventure“Bones,” Angus whispers.

He’s right. The faint light glistens off the stark white shoulders and then through the rib cage of what looks like a wolfhound as it passes by. Three more follow in its path, moving with silent grace despite the lack of flesh or sinew.

Before either of you can react, another shape, moving the other way, comes into sight. It’s head sways on a long neck and draped across its back are the thin, but long, bones of wings. A tail swishes across the dusty floor.

“A dragon,” Angus breaths.

“Did you see what was in its mouth?” you ask.

He gives a fuddled shrug.

“The blind boy’s walking stick,” you tell him. “We might not be able to find a cure down here, but maybe we can free the rest of the group?”

“You want to follow a dragon?” Angus stares after the fading shape.

“Or check out where it came from,” you suggest, thinking that maybe the dragon came from taking the stick from the boy.

“You mean follow the wolfhounds? What if the dragon’s headed back to eat the boy right now after chewing on the stick for awhile?”

You hesitate.

Aa. Follow the Dragon?

Or

Ab. Follow the Wolfhounds?

Please leave a comment with your choice. Whichever option gets the most votes will post next Thursday!

Until then, blessings,

Jennifer

Outcasts

Outcasts Adventure

Yup,  you guessed it, it’s time for a brand new adventure story. I’ve had about six stories started this year and, when I went to outline the different story trails, found I wasn’t happy with where each story led, no matter which ending we discovered. So I appreciate your patience as I finally have a story I’m excited to share!

Let’s get started =)

Outcasts

There’s a hollow feel to the city even from the outside. The occasional gust of wind throws dirt from the walls and howls through the crenellations like the city is moaning in its loneliness.

“It’s alive,” someone whispers.

“Hush,” says the Commander, but even his voice isn’t that loud. You all call him Commander because he took charge of the group as soon as he joined it. You’re not actually sure he’s a military man, but that doesn’t matter. He offered a dim hope and you jumped at it.

The group stands in the tree line eyeing the great, empty city of Calla Sadum. The forest also leaves the city alone, only growing beyond a buffer of 500 yards around the walls.

You shiver, realizing you have to cross that empty space to enter the gates.

Red Clay Pot-Outcasts Adventure“The old apothecaries stored their wares in clay jars. You all know what you’re looking for.” The Commander’s been over this but you appreciate the time you get to stall as he talks. Personally, you’re looking for a jar about the size of your fist that’s painted red. “Watch yourselves,” he says, “Calla Sadum isn’t safe.”

“What will we find inside?” someone asks.

The Commander scoffs. “Your guess is as good as mine. No one comes back from Calla Sadum.”

You hold in another shiver.

This is a suicide mission, but then, you don’t have any hope beyond something insane like this. You touch your fingers against your thumb and withhold tears as there’s no sensation on your fingertips.

Everyone in the group has their own physical ailment. A man near the Commander barely stops himself from scratching at a sore on his neck. You fervently hope it’s not the plague. The boy standing beside you holds out a stick but it’s his milky eyes that hold your attention. He’s remarkably capable at getting around for being blind. Each illness just highlights the cruelty of your home village. They considered each illness so catching or so horrendous that they threw you out.

You eye the hollow city again. Calla Sadum offers a dim, but possible, hope. Before it’s abandonment centuries before, it had healers the like of which the world hasn’t seen since. To those healers, the Plague, or Leprosy in your case, was just another illness like the flu.

The city lets out a deep rumble you feel travel up your calves. The soles of your feet can’t really tell you much anymore.

“It’s alive,” someone insists.

Calla Sadum was abandoned and yet, no one knows why.

“We go in,” the Commander doesn’t even acknowledge the comment. “Pair off. It’s your job to watch your partner’s back.”

You go still. This is the first you’ve heard anything about going in pairs and you’re a decent scout on your own. You’re not sure about being stuck with someone whose skills, and illness, are unknown.

By the time you reconcile yourself to working with a partner, there’s only one man left.

A mass of scars cover the left side of his face and travel down his neck into the collar of his shirt. If some disease causes that, you’ve not heard of it. As he approaches, you realize he’s no taller than your shoulder.

“Angus,” he introduces himself by shoving a hand toward your face.

You hesitate before shaking it but he doesn’t seem concerned about touching you. You eye each other as the rest of the group begins approaching the city.

“Leprosy?” Angus guesses.

You try to hide your fingers in your sleeves.

He chuckles wryly. “Can see the white coloration on your hands.” He waves his fingers to emphasize his point. “No worries, my friend,” he continues, “been around a leper or two. Still haven’t caught it.”

“Cool,” you say, still trying to place what he has.

“Ah, you’re wondering about me,” he says. “Nothing contagious. Got caught in a fire a few years back.”

You raise a brow.

“You’re thinking old scars can’t be healed? Well, I hear there are treatments to help them fade.”

The scars running down his face boast deep purple coloring in the middle. They spider out into thin white lines like the branches of a gnarled tree. No amount of salve or ointment will lessen those, but you don’t have the heart to tell him that.

“What jar are you looking for?” you ask instead.

“Red and white,” he grins. The expression changes his face so much that you give a small smile in return. He jerks his head toward the city and turns away to amble in the group’s wake. His stride hitches on the left side and he leans like that leg is shorter than the other. The pack he carries slides off center, making him stumble.

This doesn’t even seem to register on him, however, and you suspect he’s so used to the motion that he doesn’t notice it any more.

Something moves.

It’s not near Angus. It’s not even near the main body of the group who are now halfway to the gates.

You keep watching until you see it again, thankful that the leprosy hasn’t affect your eyes—yet.

Gates - Outcasts AdventureThere, above the gates, something slides along the wall, creating a small puff of dust. The motion lasts only long enough for you to blink and then it’s gone.

“Angus!” you call and hurry to catch up.

“What’s up, my friend?” he asks.

“Watch.” You point toward the gates.

He watches. No questions asked. No skeptical comments. You wait for so long that you start to wonder if you imagined everything.

A puff of dust, just a hint of motion, and then nothing.

Angus hisses air through his teeth. “Good eyes,” he says. “Stones settling? Wind?” The words sound hopeful but even as he says them, you’re both shaking your heads.

“Too focused of a spot,” you say and he grunts.

“Should we warn the others?”

By now, the group is almost to the gates. You open your mouth to say ‘yes’ just as the ground lurches.

Screams fill the air but even those are cut off with a thud as the group disappears into a pit that rolled open directly beneath their feet. As quickly as it opened, the ground rolls again and the pit vanishes, leaving no trace of the Commander or anyone else. A line of dust, like a horse running but thinner, puffs up along the wall and then is gone as well.

You start to think you know why the trees give the city walls a wide birth.

“For all that’s holy!” Angus curses. “They didn’t even get inside.”

Your mind races. “They might be inside now,” you muse, “they might not be dead.”

“What?”

“It was a pit,” you point out. “They might be held captive inside.”

Angus curses again but you can’t make out his words.

“We can’t approach in daylight,” you continue, thinking aloud, “and we probably need to find another way to enter besides the gates.”

“You still want to go in?”

“Have to,” you respond, holding up your white tipped fingers.

He grunts. “Fair enough. What do you propose now?”

You share a look and in his eyes you see the same drive that pushes you. That same pain of being cut off from all that used to be normal.

“Check this out.” He hunkers down in the grass and pulls from his pack a well-worn leather notebook. Flipping through it, he stops on a page and holds it open on the grass. “My Granpap used to tell me stories like he’d gotten inside once. Thought he was half gone from dementia but might be worth checking now.” A quick look at the city gates again makes him shudder.

The page he’s holding open displays a partial sketch of an aqueduct system.

“What’s this?” you ask about a circle with an arrow pointing to it.

“Drainage port in the mountain,” Angus points to the north of the city where the mountain rises as its back wall. “Granpap said that’s how he got in.”

“And this?”

“He called those the Bones.” Angus shrugs. “Creatures of some sort but I never could figure out what kind.“

Bones - Outcasts Adventure“One option,” you tap the page with your finger and ignore the fact that you can’t feel the sensation. “There was also rumor of an escape tunnel for the King hidden in the forest to the south,” you say. “I hesitated it use it because all the stories say it’s littered with bones. Speculation says they didn’t get far even if they got out of the city.”

“Ayeee,” Angus grumbles. “All guess work! North or South, my friend?”

A. North Aqueducts

Or

B. South Escape Tunnel

Please post in the comments which option you’d like to explore. Next Thursday, we’ll return and see what’s next in the Outcasts adventure!

Blessings,

Jennifer

Heart Beats Option Aa1. Warn the Keep

River

It’s time to finish this adventure and see if you survive =)

If you missed the previous posts, you can read them here (Part One, Part Two and Part Three) or here’s a recap:

You’re hunting the murderer, Stevano, with your two companions Markus and Jana. Each of you has specific abilities that makes you ideal hunters. Your search for Stevano has taken you down into the chalk caverns below the forest. Stevano grew up in the catacombs beneath the ruined city, which connect to these caverns. The caverns also lead toward the river but you and your group decided the catacombs were the better option to explore in your search.

However, when you headed that way, you were passed by a group of men, one of whom is wearing the same distinctive hair gel as Stevano. Although none of them are the murderer, you decided to follow them and end up back at the river where you find a bunch of loaded boats. An inspection showed they’re loaded with weapons for an attack on the Keep.

You decide to take one of the boats to warn the Keep but the river’s high and it’s going to be a dangerous ride.

Let’s see if you succeed =)

Heart Beats Option Aa1. Warn the Keep

Axe“We’ll warn the Keep,” you tell the others as you decide against trying to blow up parts of the tunnels. “But first,” you add, “take an axe and stave in the bottom of all the other boats.”

Markus grins at this last part.

You each find an axe among the weapons and soon the chop of metal into wood echoes in the cavern. You cringe at each thud but it’s better than simply cutting each boat lose and having to deal with the wreckage down stream at the grate. Plus, this’ll prevent the bandits from following you.

But it does make a lot of noise and it takes precious time.

The three of you make as quick work of it as you can but, as you finish with the last boat, you catch the heavy tread of boots back in the tunnels.

“Time’s up,” you holler to the others.

You rush to the last whole boat and, as you pull the line free of the shore, you see figures emerging into the cavern. The group’s lanterns flood the picture of slowly sinking boats as you flee downstream.

Markus takes up the only set of oars. His powerful strokes pull you into the raging river but then there’s a heavy thud and he falters.

Rowing oarHis face turns ashen. The point of a crossbow bolt protrudes from his right shoulder like a shaft of darkness. Its black wood almost hides the blood seeping out around the wound. He somehow continues pulling on the oars.

Jana half shrieks as two more figures on the shore raise crossbows but you move faster than she does.

Pulling the lid free from the barrel next to you, you stand in the rocking boat and catch the first bolt, aimed for Markus’ torso, in the center of the round lid. The force of it pulls you off balance and bucks your knees up against the bench behind you. Your knees collapse.

Landing solidly on your backside, your legs shoot into the air over your head and a second bolt thuds into your left calf.

A wry part of you finds this fortunate. If it hadn’t been your calf, it would have been Markus’ back, and subsequently his lung.

But then the pain hits you and all humor vanishes. Raging fire suffuses you leg like the bite of a giant wolf.

If you could remain still, you would, but the boat tosses along into the cave leading to the Keep and you’re soon not sure the boat, or any of its passengers, are going to make it to the grate in one piece.

Markus maintains some control until one of the oars catches a rock and the following crack tells you exactly how much control any of you have.

Markus rolls off the rowing bench and slams into the left hand wall.

“Left side! Left side!” he shouts.

Jana pushes herself against the side with Markus and they pull you by your arm pits to join them.

The boat tilts precariously but moments later you understand Markus’ maneuver.

A rock scrapes against the exposed hull of the boat. If you hadn’t rolled it up onto the left hand wall, the boulder would’ve taken out the whole side of your small craft.

The grinding vibrates through the wood like an ominous rumble of thunder. Then it’s gone and all three of you roll back to the center of the boat before it capsizes.

Your sigh of relief comes too soon, however, as a deafening crunch shocks the vessel. Wood splinters and whatever security you had in the boat vanishes.

Icy water tumbles over your head. It catches at the bolt still in your leg, sending a renewed burst of fire through your limb. It doesn’t take long, thankfully, for the freezing water to dull that fire.

But you’ve got bigger problems. There’s water everywhere and only brief spurts of air in which to breath. Between the dark and the churning cold, you’re hopelessly lost for direction.

A hand grasps your arm and latches on with a desperation that’s painful. That grasp pulls against the chaos and your head breaks free of the water.

Markus hauls you onto a small rock and holds you steady as you cough up enough water to drown a horse.

“Jana,” Markus tries to say.

“What?” you ask.

“I don’t know—” he stutters, “I lost her.”

There’s a desperate gulp but it’s not from the big man next to you.

That single sound is all the warning you get.

“Grab my feet,” you shout and dive back into the river, hoping you have a good gauge on how fast the current is carrying Jana past your rock.

You find fabric and latch onto it. Moments later, fire engulfs your leg anew as Markus grabs ahold of you.

The current tears at your grip. You tighten your fingers in the fabric until your knuckles pop.

Then you break the surface again and you haul Jana’s limp form after you. Jana coughs. She doesn’t regain consciousness, however. You try to hold your breath and listen for her breathing, for another cough, for a heart beat even.

After an interminable moment, You catch a tha-thump that even the river can’t fully drown out.

“Her heart’s beating,” you assure Markus.

The relief in his sigh is mimicked in your own chest.

“Grate’s right there,” Markus says.

***

It takes some time for your shouting to get the attention of the guard in the Keep but finally they send a diver to retrieve you and your companions.

You warn of the impending attack from infirmary beds. They send troops to the catacombs but only find the mess of destroyed boats and one cavern that appears to have been used to house a large group.

Maxim sends you hunting for more than Stevano once you recover.

The End

Yay, you survived =) Thank you for joining this adventure!

Until next time, blessings,

Jennifer

Heart Beats Option Aa: Follow the Men

River

Guess it had to happen eventually, but somehow, in my silly little world of a brain, I never figured out how to deal with it before hand.

Sigh, and maybe face-palm at my shortsightedness.

For the first time in six years, the vote was tied. I had no plan for this, so you’ll forgive me if I go with writer’s choice on this one. Out of curiosity, let me know in the comments how you’d handle a tie.

Now, without further ado, let’s follow the smaller group of men.

Heart Beats Option Aa.Follow the Men

“Follow,” you say simply after considering your options.

The hair gel Stevano uses is not a common item, as far as you’re aware. The fact that one of the men is using it, then, is not a coincidence.

Jana sniffs once you’re all free of the vent and points the way for Markus to lead.

Photo Courtesy of Arthur Rousseau with Hope for Haiti.

You fall into line and retrace your steps back to the cavern in which you entered the cave systems. Even here, the dry smell of the catacombs continues to permeate the air, but as Markus leads you down the second tunnel, the one leading to the river, that smell fades until it’s completely drowned out by the damp, chill scent of the river.

Your sense of the men’s footsteps, those faint vibrations, are also drowned out as you’re overwhelmed by the deep, pounding rhythm of a raging river.

At last, the tunnel opens up into a cavern so large that you have no sense of its far wall.

You do not need Markus’ gift of dark sight, however, to realize that there’s something wrong with the scene in front of you. Very wrong.

The river that runs through the middle of the cavern heads straight toward the Crimson Keep, your home and the seat of Maxim Artus, your employer. You’ve always been aware that the river feeding the Keep runs from the caverns and the ruins behind it.

What’s unusual are the shapes bobbing erratically on the surging water. Boats. Dozens of boats.

After a moment of stillness, Markus grunts. “No sign of the four men,” he tells you.

As there are multiple caves leading from this one, that does not entirely surprise you.

“Inspect the boats,” you instruct.

The three of you split up and approach the boats.

Photo courtesy of Sebring’s Snapshots.

The one you make your way to is nothing fancy, but it’s sturdy enough to manage the torrent of the river. And it’s deep enough to hold up to ten men plus supplies. You know the supplies part simply because the boat’s loaded down.

An inspection of one of the bundles reveals mostly weapons. A sword with several long knives in one, a bow, carefully wrapped against the cave’s damp, in another. Other than that, there are kegs. You sniff around the edges and shudder, realizing the powder these kegs hold is enough to blow a hole the size of a house in the Keep wall.

The water enters the back of the Keep through several large, heavily barred grates. There’s almost no room between the Keep’s back wall and the caverns housing the river, so it’s mostly protected. No one’s ever dared ride the river to approach the Keep at that point. No one until now, it seems.

Jana rejoins you and, even in the darkness, her face shows white, ashen from what she’s realized. Her heart rate pounds a steady but fast beat that you can hear even over the roar of the water.

“This is much larger than Stevano,” you mutter.

“Much,” Markus agrees as he joins you too.

“We could warn the Keep,” Jana suggests.

“That would be cutting it close,” Markus says. “From everything here, it looks like the group’s about to launch within hours. This river will take them to the Keep much faster than we could move on foot.”

“Take a boat?” Jana asks.

“How would you get through the grate into the Keep?” you ask, searching for options.

“There’s almost always a guard stationed near the inside, we shout loud enough, they’ll hear, especially with the river carrying our voices.”

“That still leaves us stuck against the outside of the grates,” Markus objects.

“There are small locked doors,” you mutter, “under the water that the guards can open for us. Few know of them but sometimes the outside of the grate has to be cleaned of debris.”

Markus grunts, not voicing his disagreement, but obviously not thrilled with this plan.

“Other ideas?” you ask.

barrelHe nods toward the powder. “The leadership of these riffraff is probably back in the catacombs. Take the powder and blow up the tunnels, trapping them inside. We can then go get help to take them all in.”

“Do you know all the exits?” you ask.

Markus, after a moment, shakes his head.

“So dare the river,” you muse, “and warn the Keep, or bring down the tunnels and hope we get them all.”

Jana and Markus nod and wait for your decision.

Aa1: Warn the Keep?

Or

Aa2: Blow up the Tunnels?

Leave a comment below with your vote. We’ll see how this adventure ends next week.

Until then, blessings,

Jennifer

Heart Beats Option A: Catacombs

Welcome to the second part of this adventure.

If you missed part one, you can read it here or here’s a recap:

You’re hunting the murderer, Stevano, with your two companions Markus and Jana. Each of you has specific abilities that makes you ideal hunters. Your search for Stevano has taken you down into the chalk caverns below the forest. Stevano grew up in the catacombs beneath the city, which connect to these caverns. The caverns also lead toward the river but you and your group have decided the catacombs are the better option to explore in your search.

Let’s go exploring.

Heart Beats Option A: Catacombs

Jana joins Markus’ hulking dark shape by the two tunnel openings. Beside the towering man, she’s a wisp of a figure but you know just how deceiving that ‘frail’ look is.

There comes the deep, slow inhalation of breath as Jana smells the slight breeze wafting from each direction.

“Clay, water, damp earth, dry bones, and something—” Jana mumbles, “unwashed bodies?” she guesses.

“Anything resembling Stevano’s hair gel?” you ask. The murderer slicks his dark hair back against his head. The gel, according to Jana, has hints of rose and jasmine.

After a moment considering, Jana gives a, “Nah, no hint.”

“Catacombs then,” you decide.

Markus leads the way down the left tunnel. With his silver night vision, the darkness is meaningless to him.

Jana follows and you take up the rear.

You trail your fingers along the wall. The clay leaves white powder that you can faintly see, like tiny ghosts on each finger tip. The powder’s gritty but not unpleasant. You continue to trail your touch on the wall until there’s a disturbance that meets your skin. A slight vibration. You time it with the steady beat of your heart.

“Stop,” you whisper.

Jana and Markus freeze.

The vibration grows a tiny bit stronger. You count.

“Forty Five seconds. Hide.” Your short-hand command sends the other two into a silent scurry.

Markus runs forward and then back tracks down the tunnel. His eyes glint as he scans for a place, any place, for the three of you to tuck away out of sight.

Jana does the same except she pauses periodically, scenting for subtle changes to the air that’ll tell her of hidden side passages.

Forty seconds.

You count the time in your head as you kneel down and lay your palms flat against the floor. The vibrations are there, fainter due to their path through the ground, but also more solid in an indefinable way.

Thirty five seconds. You lay down and press your ear against the clay. The vibrations thrum with the pound of each man’s heel. Four men, you can tell from the weight behind every footfall.

But the thrumming isn’t consistent. With the next footfall you count one, two—five, six—you get to twenty five and there’s a whoosh before the vibration continues, much diminished, toward your location.

“Follow,” you whisper and Jana and Markus fall in as you run forward. Within five seconds, you locate the grate, the vent in the floor, that muffled the approaching steps. If you hadn’t known to look for it, you wouldn’t have seen it due to the white and gray coloring of its bars against the chalk white floor.

With a heave, Markus lifts it free. Jana vanishes inside by descending a tight ladder down, and you follow. Markus brings up the rear and settles the grate back into place only five seconds before four men traipse by over top the grate.

Jana muffles an ‘ugh’ at their stench. Even though you don’t have her nose, you cover your face in the crook of your elbow to blunt the smell of sweat and urine.

But this doesn’t muffle your ears. You hear the distinct tha-thump of each man’s heart beat as they pass. You’re used to Jana and Markus’ and are able to ignore theirs as you listen to the heightened pace of the four above.

When they’re past for more than five seconds, Jana taps your foot on the rung above her head.

You wait until you can no longer hear the heart beats before relaxing.

“Yes,” you whisper to Jana, both giving her permission to speak and confirming the men are beyond ear shot.

“Under that ick,” Jana answers, “one of the men is wearing the same hair gel as Stevano.”

Markus grunts. “But none of them looked like him.” From his position directly below the grate, Markus would have had a clear view, even in the dark, of all four men.

“We’re almost to the catacombs,” she whispers, “and there are more men that way. Probably a group of them, judging by the smell.”

“Follow the smaller group or continue to the catacombs, Captain?” Markus asks.

Aa. Follow?

or

Ab. Continue to Catacombs?

Leave your vote in the comments below and next Thursday we’ll explore whichever option gets the most votes.

Until then, blessings,

Jennifer