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

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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

All right! It’s time for a new adventure. Let’s dig in and see what happens =)

Heart Beats

Photo Courtesy of Arthur Rousseau with Hope for Haiti

Eight heart beats.

From past experience, you know that’s how long it will be before your feet hit the ground.

Seven beats.

As you fall, you hold your coat tight to your sides to keep the wind from slapping the leather up against your face.

Six beats.

You bend your knees slightly to help absorb the impact you know is coming.

Five.

The walls of the tunnel, a vertical shaft leading from the forest floor above to the chalk caverns below, race by you, faster and faster, in a wash of white and red.

Four.

The air’s changing. It’s no longer cold and crisp with a hint of snow but damp and earthy like wet clay.

Three.

It’s growing dimmer, the sunlight from above only faintly touching the walls.

Two.

There’s a grunt from below. Markus touching down just a second before you do. The rustle of motion tells you he’s already rolled out of the way to allow for your own landing.

One.

Shock hits your knees as your feet hit earth. You tuck into a roll that carries you over your right shoulder and back onto your feet, away from the floor directly under the shaft. You run off your extra momentum with another five steps. Behind, there’s an ‘oomph’ and the shuffle of someone else landing.

Jama, the third member of your team runs to a stop beside you.

In the dim light from above, her narrow face looks pinched, hollow in the cheeks.

“Here,” Markus calls from the darkness ahead. “There are two tunnels. One must lead to the catacombs. The other heads toward the river.”

“Which direction would a murderer like Stevano run?” Jana wonders aloud.

“Any indication?” you ask Markus as you join him in the dark.

His silver eyes glint, two metallic circles in the hulking shadow of the hunter’s crouched figure. He scans the floor with those night seeing eyes and then shrugs.

“No,” he admits. “Which way, Captain?” he asks you.

You sigh. You’d hoped there’d be some clue at the bottom of the shaft. Stevano grew up exploring the catacombs. They’d be familiar ground to him. But he’s no simple criminal. Would he rely on the familiar ground to escape or would he avoid the catacombs, knowing you’d search for him there.

A. Catacombs?

Or

B. River?

Leave your vote in the comments below. We’ll return next Thursday to see where this adventure takes us.

Blessings,

Jennifer