I was writing short stories and I’ve been editing them. I wrote a piece I called, A story’s price, but it didn’t feel right to submit it for a journal or something to publish. It’s bigger than a short story, it’s got its own world and everything. But, I don’t want to novelize it. So I thought, what the heck make it a choose your own adventure.
This is the first time I’ve tried something like this, so I’m interested to see how it goes. Heck, I don’t even think anyone regularly reads my blog so it might be a while before I get a vote.
At the end of each part is a choice–and you get to vote what are unnamed hero does.
I could hear the fog. There was no life here, the last field mouse I had seen plunged into a brush two miles back. Fleeing the Vapor Basin. The lake of water sourced the fog peeling off the water’s surface. The Vapor Basin was a ruined city seemingly floating on top a poison lake. This route was a shortcut east-west. I couldn’t be late for the harvest out west. The Vapor Basin road was safe if one brought their own water and avoided breathing the air. Supersitions kept the foolish away, which was most everyone else.
Around my mouth, I tied my scarf. Deep fog kept my vision limited to about an arm’s length.
I kept to the main road. Many inviting ruins defied entrophy to the left and right. Everything useful had long been scavenged.
Then a metallic rattle cracked. From a manhole a thing–four legs, gangly, big head, grey but what wasn’t–it crept up from the manhole and whisked away into the fog.
This was the first I’d seen of life in the Vapor Basin. I ran after it. This would be a great story for the tramp trail.
I dashed around and through a building. Then slowed. I would never see the thing again, let along catch it. Surely it knew the alleys and could see through the fog. I stood in a ruined house.
Through a punched-out window, I gave one searching look into the fog.
It had stopped too. The grey form sat on a rock that merged in and out of the fog. It sat on his hunches. Nibbling at something. Mindful of the ring, I unsheathed my sword. The creature may be dangerous.
it spoke, “I know you are watching me.”
The sword was only token protection. I knew quarry work and picking fruit. Strong but little martial skill. If the thing had unnatural strength or subtle means I would be ripped to pieces.
The thing turned. I could see it clearly now. Pale blue, small. Arms and legs like stretched tar. “have no fear. I am not dangerous. I only have sharp ears and quick feet.”
“And the ability to speak.” I couldn’t deny such a novel creature conversation.
“And the ability…” He muttered, trailing off, “Why are you here? This city has been plundered long ago. Unless the outside world has dire need of rusted manhole covers.”
“Things haven’t got that bad yet,” I quiped, “I should be asking the same of you.” I have traveled through the Vapor Basin before and have never seen the likes of you before.”
“I live underground,” the blue gremlin had no face covering. The fog must not harm him. I needed to know more. Every tall tale on the labor trail I paid no mind. This may be my only chance to satisfiy my curiousity.
I asked, “You said the city was plundered long ago?”
“I’d like my question answered first. Why are you here?”
It was his home after all. I obliged. “Citrus trees on the west coast are nearing harvest. I will be spending the summer there.”
“You’re a migratory worker then?” I hadn’t expected to engage in small talk. Certainly the gremlin would be obsessed with caverns and perhaps a tribal culture of sun haters.
“Looking for stories to share?”
“Care to learn some history? And not the babble you are perhaps used to.” I instinctively touched my temple. The creature was reading my mind. I shook the thought away. I wouldn’t allow such paranoia. I was merely connecting with a cave denizen of a poisoned land.
“Gladly,” I said.
“I’ll tell you a story for a price.”
“What’s your price?” I asked.
The gremlin licked his lips, “I want to eat a finger. It has been years since I’ve had fresh meat.”
“my finger?” I recoiled, glad that I’ve kept my blade drawn the whole time. I was no longer connecting with the fiend. On my sword, water beaded in it’s blood gutter.
“Any finger. I recommend the littlest of your hand. You shouldn’t miss it.”
A finger for a story. I wished I hadn’t finished my own supply of meat. He might have traded for that. I couldn’t give my finger. Just meeting this gremlin was a story all by itself. When I worked at the quarry, I kept my fingers clear from my chisel. Anyone does the same. And now should I whack off a digit?
Yet, my curiosity grows. How could I cut this story off in the middle for want of a little finger?
I said, “How do I know you story is worth it? Or even if you are good for it. You could very well run away after you have my finger.”
The gremlin pouted, “I’ll tell you the beginning.” He said, “All this here you call the Vapor Basin was an ancient city. At the height of it’s glory, a man of hundred dying would be mourned for being cut down in his youth. Women and men worked the same offices. They could choose when to bear children and all the physical jobs were replaced by magic. Lightning sent messages to the far corners of the world. This culture tamed every beast. Even lesser-dragons were lap pets for society ladies. The poor were poor by choice alone. Monks studying virtue of having little.
“All of history hinges here in this city. Like a pinch in an hour-glass. You only know of four races–now five, including me. Believe me when I say, forty races used to live here.
“This is merely the frontispiece of my knowledge. More than idle curiosity, my reward can make you rich. Cities full of treasure are out there, undiscovered by your ignorant generation. I would give you the beginning of your new life, all it costs is a finger.”
I was convinced. But the anticipation of parting with my finger held me still. It would take some focus. I placed my finger under the edge of my sword. It had been a while since I chiseled anything off. Quarry workers were increasingly locals draining me of the few jobs I could get. To think I would chisel off my finger.
The thing leaned forward on his rock, spearing a long arm out for balance. “So?”
I said, “This is harder than it looks.”
One. Two. Three.
My hand screamed murder. I bound my hand with my handkerchief. Staining the last bit of clean cloth I owned. Once done, I tossed the finger to the gremlin. He snatched it and chew on it with needle teeth. Showing every evidence of pleasure.
I ignored his wet chewing. I held out my right hand. The otherworldliness of a four fingered hand was to be as familiar, as say, the back of my hand.
A forked tongue flicked and snatched a drop of blood off his lip. It said, “Payment given deserves reward.”
The gremlin told me everything he knew about history. The gods created the races in their own images. After thousands of years, the first civilizations began. After much bickering by sword and law, they collated into an empire. The empire mastered magic. The gremlin said there were two kinds of magic, but I had even heard a credible claim to even one type of magic. The empire crumbled and, in its crashing wake, every evil imaginable swept the earth. In no small to uncontrolled magic.
As a last hope for life, many races buried themselves in the ground and waited.
When they emerged, these people made the city. The city now ruined at the pit of the Vapor Basin. There was only one city, so it was called Polis. Magic poured from the ground here. In Polis, they only knew one type of magic. It was powerful enough alone to make a society like the one he previously described. The gremlin said the creation story I was told as a child originated from the races emerging from the ground. Safe from the magic wars of the past. Our religion denied many thousand years of history.
There were seven towers spread out to all corners of the compass. These outposts were where Polis sent lightning-messages too. The gremlin told me where one was. In the valley between Mt. Raven and Mt. Carval. Here I could prove if the story was worth my finger. Buried treasure.
For unknown reasons, the gods poisoned Polis’s water and drove the peoples away. From here on, the myths and history I knew were more-or-less accurate.
Intently, I listened. Struggling to file away every word. I had paid a finger after all.
He finished by saying, “And that is all I know. I must apologize.”
“For what?” Other than taking my finger, of course. This fact was ever present on my mind.
“This was a trap. My brethren have been trapped under the city for thousands of years. All I needed to bring them to the surface was the scent of fresh blood.”
I leapt up and looked behind me.
The ground writhed with gremlins. Each grinning with needle teeth. Their pale forms crawled soundlessly in the fog. Dilated nostrils.
A pause while everyone calculated the turn of events.
They leapt at me and I leapt away. I ran away from the crowd of gremlins toward the first one. The first gremlin leapt at my face. I severed that educated head from it’s twitching body. Behind, I heard countless naked feet slap the stone streets. Immediately, rubble and walls emerged from the fog. I dodged. The sounds of feet ever present on my heels. At any moment a half ring of needles would sink into my calf.
Suddenly, water appeared on both sides. The ground narrowed from a path to a pier. I ran across the pier of stone over the lake. I wheeled my arms in from for balance. Then the pier stopped. I just about fell into the water. Threw my arms forward and regained balance on the pier.
All around me was the poison water. The air was warm.
Behind me the gremlins crept on the walk way. Not one of them swam in the water. The one at the front stopped just out of my swords reach. “You can either give up now, or wait till sleep takes you. Why prolong your suffering?”
They wouldn’t risk the water and they knew I could hold them off one by one.
I stabbed at him. He lost his balance and plunged into the water. The others panicked and retreated. They stopped once they reached a thicker part of the pier, four abreast. I was trapped. Poison water on one side, gremlins the other. I went back to the end of the pier. None of the gremlins followed me back–they could wait. When I fell asleep, they would cut my throat and then down their throats.
Perhaps I could fight through the gremlins. With my sword, and a little luck, I could cut through them.
Over the water, lay the shore. It’s image wavered in the fog. I could swim for it.
He will swim for shore. Part II to be released soon…