Afraid I have to apologize for the lack of a post last Friday. It was a bit of a crazy week, and this week hasn’t been much different. I’m currently wading through the edits for Orphan’s Song, so needless to say, those have been consuming the bulk of my writing time. Still, I wasn’t heartless enough to make y’all wait another week before you could discover what happened to Alexander. Once again, poor Alexander’s fate was decided by a single vote. So you see, your votes do matter. (Be sure to vote at the end of today for the next week!) In the meantime, I’m very pleased to be able to announce the arrival of Installment Four!
Confound the woman! Of all the exasperating, irritating, high-falooting people he had ever met, she had to be the worst. With mud plastered hands, Alexander tugged the hood of his cloak down over his sodden hair and squelched through the noxious pools of the swamp where Miss Destiny had deposited him.
“Oh, no, Alexander. I’m sorry!” He muttered in an exaggerated attempt at a falsetto. “That would be telling, wouldn’t it? No, it wouldn’t! Because apparently it’s absolutely impossible for you to tell anyone anything! Like maybe that an umbrella would have been more helpful than dueling pistols!”
The tail of his cloak caught on a branch, and he yanked it free, splattering his face with mud droplets. He stood there, dripping wet, pistols damp and useless in his belt, while the swamp sucked noisily at his boots. He watched the mud creep up toward his ankles and sighed.
Miss Destiny must have also forgotten to mention the quicksand. A minor oversight on her part.
Cold mud crawled up his shins. He fought the urge to panic and instead set his mind to mentally skim through all of the survival guides he had ever read. By the time he reached the chapter on Quicksand and How to Escape from It from A Ranger’s Guide to Roving, the sand had reached his knees. After a moment’s refresher course, he flung himself forward and belly-flopped into the quicksand, tugging his feet free with a plop, then crawled forward on hands and knees until he reached a hummock of solid ground in the midst of the swamp.
He rolled over onto his back and stared up at the vines and shaggy moss dangling from limbs above. Brown, slimy gook covered every inch of his body, clothes, and equipment. Paragraph seven of chapter thirteen of A Ranger’s Guide to Roving scrolled through his head, reminding him that he really ought to unsheathe his sword and pistols and tend to them to keep them from rusting. But for now, he was too exhausted to rise.
Three days on the road with Miss Destiny was enough to try the patience of a mule. Three days of riddles with answers that weren’t really answers and Miss Destiny’s signature frosty glare, delivered with all the force and tact of a musket ball. Then without any explanation whatsoever, she had led him straight to the edge of the swamp, and after a pursed-lip grin, a reminder to stay far away from ogre cooking pots, and a fluttering of her fingers, she had vanished. Into thin air. Or thick air, rather. The swamp was about as humid, rank, and sweaty as the toes of the aforementioned ogres.
Something crashed in the woods to his left, and Alexander instinctively reached for his pistols. But even as his hand settled on the muddied grip, he knew it was useless. Damp gunpowder was about as helpful as Miss Destiny’s instructions. And a simple dueling pistol didn’t use nearly a large enough caliber bullet to make a dent in an ogre, let alone kill one. Pity he couldn’t have brought his cannon along on this little misadventure.
So he simply lay there, flat on his back in the mud, as the thing crashed nearer and nearer, hoping whatever-it-was would go away, and hoping he wouldn’t scream, and hoping he wouldn’t die before he discovered the history behind his family’s curse.
Option 1: “Get up, Alexander. Heroes don’t loll about in the mud.”
No mistaking that voice. Alexander peeked one eye open and could just make out the stiff form bending over him, a familiar look of disapproval on her face. He closed his eyes again. “I’m not lolling. Just taking a very well deserved nap in the word possible location in the worst possible conditions in the worst possible company in the world! It’s a talent. One that I have to employ thanks to you.”
Miss Destiny sniffed. “You mean one that thanks to me hasn’t gotten you killed yet. You’re welcome, by the way.”
With a groan, Alexander rolled into a sitting position, then did a double take. “Is that … is that ogre blood on your hem?”
Option 2: The earth trembled as the massive thing crashed through the woods just a few feet behind Alexander. He lay very still, trusting in the fact that most monsters have notoriously poor eyesight. Unfortunately, there was rarely anything wrong with their sense of smell.
He caught a whiff of something that smelled like it have been dead and buried for a week before being unearthed and left to fester in the sun. Ogre. No doubt about it. Something wet and sticky dripped on his face and crawled down his chin. He pinched his eyes shut. If he was about to die, he didn’t want to see it coming.
Option 3: A high pitched scream brought Alexander reeling to his feet, pistols drawn. “Hullo? Miss Destiny, is that you?” He turned in a circle, scanning the dripping woods for any sign of the exasperating woman. He found it hard to believe that such a high pitched scream could have come from her throat. She just didn’t seem the type.
A second cry rang out, and this time Alexander dove into action. He darted off through the swamp in the direction of the cry, wet pistols held at the ready, wet cloak flapping about his legs, wet sword rattling in its sheath. He could only hope he wouldn’t be too late.
Help decide what happens next! Vote by leaving a comment with your favorite of the three options!