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Iron Quill - Strings - Luck Runs Out


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Luck Runs Out


The weak candlelight barely penetrated the gloom of the dank hallway.  Tiny rivulets of water slithered lethargically down the mossy stone walls and disappeared into the cracked floor.  The intrepid treasure hunter tugged down the rim of his battered fedora and crept further into the darkness.


Lucky LaCroix (whose real name was Cooter, though he just conveniently ignored that fact) held the candle high with one hand while his other hand carefully unrolled a giant spool of rough twine to mark his path.  It was the only way he would be able to find his way through the labyrinth of tunnels.


He had long since lost track of how long he had been down in the ruins, and had no idea how deep beneath the bayou he was.  Measures of time and distance were not a gremlin’s strongest suits.  He only knew that there had to be something valuable down here, and he was going to find it.  He would pull something out of here that would prove he was a real treasure hunter and earn a little respect from his kin.


The scrawny gremlin crept down the hall, humming a slow ominous tune.  He carefully placed one flat foot in front of the other.  He’d lost a toe on a previous delve and wasn’t eager to lose any more.  The hall turned one sharp corner, then another, and another.  The labyrinth continued through a maze of intersecting hallways that all seemed to feed back into each other.  He shuffled along, always carefully bailing out his rapidly dwindling ball of twine


Lucky paused when he stepped into a large round room with six tunnels leading off in different directions.  Undaunted, he pulled out his trusty broken compass.  It so rarely steered him wrong that he figured it must be magic.  He gave it a spin with a flick of a long green finger.  Once it stopped its wobbly circuit he smiled with renewed surety and headed off down the tunnel it indicated, bailing out twine as he went.


He descended a long staircase, taking him even deeper beneath the swamp.  The air was even colder down here.  Cold, and a thousand years stale.  He noticed that his fingers were getting hot because his candle had burnt down to a nub.  He quickly lit another candle.  He may be an intrepid adventurer, but that didn’t mean he wanted to get lost down here in the dark. 


Further down the sloping hall he paused and scratched his ear, suddenly alert.  He was convinced that the gaudy faux-soulstone earring he wore made his ear itch to warn him of danger.  He scanned the hallway high and low.  Mostly low, since that was where he could see best.  Sure enough he discovered a thin tripwire strung across the hall.  With exaggerated slowness he drew a rusty scalpel from its pigskin sheath and carefully cut the thread.


A dozen spears jumped from their hidden ports in the walls, creating a thatch of death in front of him.  Lucky grinned smugly and scooted under the low gap left between the spears and the floor. 


“Lucky: one, Evil drippy ruins: zero.” He chortled.


At last he reached a vaulted ritual chamber.  Every inch of the floor was ornately carved with symbols and runes he couldn’t begin to understand.  He stepped carefully among the symbols, superstitiously avoiding any pictograms with faces.  In the center of the room squatted a stone altar surrounded by ancient yellowed bones.  Atop the altar stood a small golden idol in the shape of a creature with folded wings and a sword.


Lucky’s beady little eyes grew wide.  This was what he had come for.  He scratched his itchy ear and scrutinized the altar carefully, expecting some sort of trap.  Around and around it he walked, looking at every angle for some sort of clue.  Nothing obvious presented itself. 


“What would Lucas McCabe do?” he thought to himself.  He imagined the famous relic hunter deftly snatching the priceless artifact and making good his escape.  He imagined the hero emerging from the catacombs to the cheers of awestruck and adoring companions. 


It was a small leap to imagine himself in the role, returning to the village laden with treasures.  Everyone would be impressed.  Maybe even Ophelia would take notice.  A wide smile split his face as he imagined the hero’s welcome he would receive.  He sighed.  All the years of mockery and ridicule would be worth it.  They’d see that he was a real treasure hunter now.


Lucky shook his head and focused on the task at hand.  He stepped carefully through the scattered bones and peered at the idol, which sat on a short stone pillar protruding from the center of the altar.  He could hardly see over the edge of the altar, only his battered hat and eyes made it above the edge, and then only if he stood on the tips of his toes. 


As he craned his arm to reach for the idol his elbow brushed through the grit and dust on the long abandoned altar.  From his vantage point at eye level with the flat top of the altar he saw some of the dust and pebbles disappear down a crack around the base of the idol’s pillar.  His ear began tingling furiously.  He balanced awkwardly on a misshapen skull to lift himself high enough to examine the new discovery. 


After a thorough examination Lucky decided that it was probably a pressure trap.  He eyeballed the golden idol, trying to gauge its weight, then reached for his trusty bag of rocks.  He hefted the bag, guessing that surely it must be a similar weight to the solid gold idol.  He steeled his nerves and in one smooth motion swapped the bag of rocks for the idol.


Unfortunately the idol was far heavier than his bag of rocks.  Surprised by the weight, he fumbled it and knocked the idol off its pedestal.  It bumped and rolled across the altar and landed on the floor with a dull thud.  The loose bag of rocks immediately flopped off of the pedestal, which began to retract down into the altar with an ominous grating sound.  Lucky squeaked with alarm and unceremoniously tumbled off his skull perch.  He scrambled over to grab the idol and stuffed it in his sack. 


Around the room sections of wall were slowly rising, sloughing off centuries of dust.  From inside the hidden alcoves came ominous hissing sounds.  Six Razorspine Rattlers slowly slithered into view, shaking off the torpor of long statis.


“Snakes.” He muttered, “Why did it have to be snakes?”


Lucky half-stumbled, half-scurried backwards toward the door he’d entered through.  He scrambled to his feet and bolted, following the path of his carefully laid thread.  His remaining twine unspooled erratically as it bounced on his hip with each step.  Lucky had hardly gone twenty paces before his feet got tangled in the swinging thread.  He landed with a squeak and a thud.  He rolled over to see the giant snakes picking up speed as they slithered towards him.  He fumbled for his rusty scalpel and quickly cut the threads from around his ankles.


Lucky ran as fast as his spindly green legs would carry him, clutching the precious idol to his chest.  He followed his trail of string back along the dark hallway.  His battered hat fell off his head as he slid under the thicket of spears jutting from the walls.  He reached back and snatched it back just as a Rattler darted to strike at his hand.  The fearsome snakes hissed with frustration, stymied at least temporarily by the wall of weapons. 


“And did I panic?” He smugly narrated to himself, adjusting his battered hat, “No, I did not.”


He clambered up the slippery stairs, humming his own personal theme song.  His smile dropped and his pace quickened as the sound of snapping wood echoed from down below.  His triumphant trot turned into a dead run as he hit the top of the stairs.  He sprinted along the corridor, straight into the six-door room and came to a skidding halt.  Instead of one thread marking his path, now his twine split impossibly in six different directions, heading down each hallway.


He looked at each of the identical passageways and whimpered.  He thought he remembered which one he’d come from but he couldn’t be sure.  He hastily pulled out his trusty magic compass and gave it a spin.  It spun and spun, finally coming to rest pointing back the way he had come.  He shook it vigorously to get its mojo working then tried again.  Satisfied that at least it was pointing in a different direction, he headed down the hallway it indicated.


Lucky stopped when he reached the next intersection.  Again, his twine stretched off down the dark hallways in all four directions.  He gave his compass a quick shake and spin, then darted off down another random hallway.  Surprise quickly gave way to blind panic when he encountered another intersection with string heading down each hallway.  At each intersection he gave the compass a spin and tore off in the direction it told him to.  Lucky ran frantically, racing around corner after indistinguishable corner, always taunted by the hissing in the darkness just beyond sight.


Finally he charged back into the round six-door room.  He stopped in the middle, panting.  Strings extended in all directions.  He gave his compass a betrayed look, then tossed it over his shoulder.


“Why?” He asked no one in particular, “Why me?”


The only answer he got was a nerve-rattling hiss.  He spun in a circle with wide eyes.  Slithering into the candlelit arches of the six doors were the six giant snakes.  Lucky hugged the idol close, a treasure hunter to the end.



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Yeah, took me a while too.  :-p  I wanted the opening to be dense and purple prosey as a juxtaposition with the fact that the protagonist a bumbling gremlin.  Sort of playing it straight then switching gears.  It was cinematic in my head, but didn't translate well to text.  Meh.

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No, it's not up to my usual standards (and thanks for that - it implies that my usual fare is reasonably good... I hope!)  Life has been rather heavy lately - I've moved across the continent and started a new life - new town, new job, bought a house, etc. Writing hasn't been top of mind, but I wanted to keep the rhythm of writing for the Quill so I thought I'd try to submit something.  Writing off the side of my desk during snippets of lunch breaks is hardly ideal.  Meh, you can't win em all.  I'm sure I'll be back in form in a month or two!

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  • 2 weeks later...

My favorite part of the story was definitely the character himself. You did a great job building up a sense of him without telling us: it's all about his little quirks like insisting his nickname is "Lucky" and clutching the treasure as he dies. There's legitimate charm all built up organically.

I also very much like the structure of the story, you established the string at the beginning and then found a clever way to conclude using it. It felt like a logical progression while still surprising and clever.

Where I'd change it is that I'd reconfigure where you use some of your language: for example you put a lot into describing the water moving around the walls and the mustiness of the tombs, but the snakes you described as "Razorspine Rattlers" and relied on our outside knowledge. The thing is, the mustiness of the tomb is important atmosphere, but the snakes are the climactic threat that should drive a lot of terror, I think we could benefit from more language building up the snakes. Yes, I know what a Razorspine looks like, but that also makes them mundane to me since I see them from the perspective of a badass master on the table. I'd like to see them built up from the perspective of a Gremlin who has to flee like hell from them.

Overall it was a charming, fun read with a strong story structure. I left wanting to see more of Lucky's adventures (not that I expect to).

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