Time for another challenge from Terribleminds. This time, I needed to pick a random image and write a short story about it. This is the image I settled on. Here’s the story. Hope you like it!
Silent footfalls on matted leaves, still damp with the final rains of autumn. A body, passing quietly through the skeletal trees, no crack of twigs or branches disturbed to alert any watchers above. Rusted metal binding oak still clotted with rich earth.
Jade smiled as the ancient wooden door slid open without a single creak, exposing a rough dirt tunnel leading deep into the darkness.
“I’m in,” she said to the onyx pendant pressing firmly against her jugular notch.
“Subvocalize, Ms Leporidae,” a husky voice replied in her ear. “Remember, you are practicing stealth.”
“What’s the point, Bartholomew?” Jade muttered. “S’not like I can be killed.”
Jade had been stabbed, gassed, poisoned, and shot more times than she could count. Car accidents, plane crashes, hell, even one literal train wreak. She’d walked away from them all.
“Your days as a solo operative are coming to an end. Others will depend on your skills, on your silence. Are you ready to watch another of your friends die because of your caviler attitude?”
“Fuck you, Bart.” Wasn’t fair of him to bring that up. She’d told Murphy to leave her alone. She’d done everything she could to save him.
Bartholomew didn’t reply. Jade crept forward. Silent. She could do silent. But it would help if she could see where she was going. After the first few feet she switched on the night vision mode in her company issued sunglasses.
Skulls littered the ground. Human, mostly. Or mostly human. A few of the remains twisted and warped in ways she couldn’t really understand. She didn’t need to understand. Didn’t matter. None of the bones held what she was looking for.
“You sure this isn’t a gang initiation?” Jade whispered. “Stealing a silver candlestick from an old man’s house sounds like some eighth grade bullshit.”
“The catacombs don’t connect to the estate above. The floods last year uncovered something far stranger and more dangerous than anything you’d find in McGulicutty’s mansion.”
She walked in silence for a few minutes before the dirt path turned to cobblestones.
“Wait.” No fear in Bartholomew’s voice. No urgency. Just command. Jade’s foot hung an inch over the first stone in the path.
“The corridor is trapped. Not just with implements of pain and death, but warnings that will draw the things that guard this place.”
Jade eyed the hallway. After ten feet it turned back to dirt. If she were in better shape, she could jump it, or do some crazy parkor shit like she’d seen Bartholomew do in the training room. Too bad her condition prevented her from burning fat or building muscle.
“So, now what?”
Jade heard a low murmur in her earpiece. Another person with her handler. Jade couldn’t make out to the words. Soft. Almost hypnotic.
“Running jump over the first two rows of stones.” Bartholomew said after the other voice went silent. “Land on the third from the left. Step on the next two stones. Hop to second stone on the right. Hold still for thirty seconds. Crawl forward the last three feet.”
“Sure thing, sarge.”
Jade knew better than to question orders directly from their employer. She jumped. She stepped. She hopped. She started counting.
Before she got past two, she heard a sharp whistle and felt the telltale sting of a dart burying itself in the soft flesh of her calf. Numbing warmth spread through her body from the wound.
“What in the…?” Jade pitched forward, her legs no longer able to support her. The last things she heard before she succumbed to darkness were the sounds of several traps going off.
Jade gasped awake, uncertain of how much time had passed. No matter. Her luck held. No guards, and she’d landed only a few feet from the end of the cobblestones. She crawled forward, surprised to see a wound on her arm knitting itself shut. That should have hurt. A lot.
“You miss one, Barty?” Jade said, her voice raspy.
“You held for thirty seconds. You crawled forward. Everything went to plan.”
“You could have mentioned the dart.”
“The neurotoxin shut down your nerves, preventing you from feeling the pain of setting off the traps you couldn’t avoid.”
“So I should thank you?”
“You should hurry. The guardian’s of this passage have awakened.”
Jade took off at a moderate jog. At least her condition kept her from developing shin splints or a side stitch.
The winding passage led deeper into the hill, farther and further down than should have been possible. Her footsteps echoed through the tunnels. At every intersection, Bartholomew’s voice in her ear, telling her where to go.
Then she saw it. A bight green glimmer in her night vision. The damned candlestick. It sat on an alter of some kind, in front of a large symbol that writhed and shimmered anytime she glimpsed it from the corner of her eye.
“Got it. Let’s go.”
“Go back the way you came. Take a left at the third intersection. Hide for forty seconds. Run as fast as you can in the other direction. Don’t look back.”
Jade ran, her heart pounding in her ears. She almost missed the turn. Spun hard, jamming herself into a crevice. Tight, but as good a hiding place as any. She held her breath and counted. One. Two.
Twenty. Shivers ran down her spine as something crawled past her hiding place. Thump. Thump. Squish. Drag. Drip. The temperature dropped a few degrees as the humidity rose. She felt the cool, damp air sticking to her skin.
Forty. Jade shoved herself free of the crevice. She ran, still not daring to breath. Out of the corner of her eye she spotted something large, misshapen, covered in scales. She didn’t look back.
Jade angled hard. Pain shot up her leg as her ankle crumpled, but she didn’t care. Doors, only a few feet away. Light at the end of the tunnel. She hobbled forward, unwilling to take the time to let her leg repair itself.
With a gasp, she burst through the doors. Jade found herself in the middle of a bustling city street, a warehouse door slamming shut behind her.
“Well done, Ms. Leporidae.” Bartholomew’s voice came, not from her ear piece, but the well built man in a crisp suit standing a few feet away.
Wordlessly, she held out the candlestick. The imposing man took it from her with a smile.
“Good. That should set them back a few years at least. More than enough time to do a little recruiting, don’t you think?”
Jade nodded, wondering the hell happened to her life.