Terrell stood just inside the forest at the edge of Pasland Gorge, the massive chasm that split the continent and marked the borders between Keamor and Praris. On the far side stood the decaying stone structure he sought, Fort Alnor. It had been abandoned nearly three hundred years ago when the chasm opened, but recently had gained an occupant. He pulled the missive from his bag and reread it. Charlotte Anderson, his target and a witch of the Silver Grass Coven, lived inside.
Terrell stepped from his hiding place and looked down into the darkness of the expanse before him. Turning his attention to the fort on the other side, he gauged that it was roughly a hundred feet to the far side, too far for him to jump. He pulled his silk rope from his bag as well as two small iron rods that fit into his hands. Pressing the button on the first, he checked that it locked itself in place, and was satisfied that he could lift himself on it. When he checked the other, it took two tries to get it to function.
“Shit equipment on a mission like this?” Terrell muttered, checking and rechecking the faulty one. “They knew I had to cross the gorge.”
Terrell pulled what looked like two ice clamps from his bag and attached them to each end of his rope before securing a rod in each. He tossed one end out in front of him and snapped the line. The clamp closed, pressing the button, locking itself in place. Terrell snapped it again and watched the end fall.
“So far, so good,” he shrugged as he coiled the rope in his left hand.
Terrell could feel his pulse in his ears as he secured himself to the middle of the rope. He didn’t like being exposed, and the worse part, he didn’t like relying on magic to do his job.
With a deep breath, Terrell swung the first end out into the gorge, giving the line a snap as it locked fifteen feet away from him. He checked that all his gear was secured properly and swung over the void beneath him. Halfway along, he tossed the second and snapped the line. Once again, the rod stopped and locked in place. He tugged the other as soon as there was enough slack behind him, letting it drop.
On the fifth swing, Terrell threw the rod and snapped the line and rather than lock, it shot back at him. He narrowly avoided getting hit in the face with it as it passed him, but as it reached the end of its tether, it snapped again and activated twenty feet in the wrong direction.
“Shit,” Terrell muttered as he stopped. He struggled for a moment in the rope before trying to ‘jump’ in his place in the air. As he did, the top one let go, and he plummeted, slamming into the second, which shut it off. He couldn’t hold back the scream as his stomach rose to his throat, and the darkness swallowed him.
A flash of radiant light illuminated the chasm around him, and suddenly he found himself lying on the flagstone floor of a stone room in desperate need of repair. Standing above him, a younger woman with brown hair and amber eyes looked down at him with concern. Her clothes were simple linen with a ribbon tied around the waist.
“I saw you falling,” the woman said, “are you okay?”
“I-I’m-wait, where am I?” Terrell asked.
“Inside my home,” she replied, “in the fort. I’ve seen many people get across that gorge, but you were definitely the most interesting until you fell. Why didn’t you just bring a fly potion or a levitate spell and kick off a tree?”
“I don’t like magic much,” Terrell said, watching the woman walk to the end of his rope and remove one of the rods.
“You’re using immovable rods, though,” she said, looking up at him, “and poor examples of them if I may be so bold. You know these are enchanted, right?”
“I know,” Terrell replied, gathering the rope ends to him as he got to his knees. “Why do you think I don’t like magic.”
“Magic also saved your life this time,” the woman said. “Nevermind that, I’m Charlotte, and you are?”
“Terrell,” he replied, looking around the room. “I thought you were a witch.”
“So, you came here for me then?” Charlotte replied, walking over to a simple wooden table against the wall where she set the immovable rod down and took a seat. “What can I help you with?”
“I-I just heard that a witch was living out here and wanted to see for myself,” Terrell replied, rising to his feet as he unhooked the rope.
“Ah, so curiosity, that’s your excuse?” she smiled at him. “I’ll have you know. I’m very good at seeing through lies.”
“I’m serious, I heard that you were out here, and I came to see for myself,” Terrell said, tying the rope to his bag.
“I see you brought silver weapons with you,” Charlotte said as she crossed her legs and set her back against the wall.
“You never know what you’ll run into out here in the wildlands,” Terrell said. His heart was still thumping loudly in his ears from the fall. “Thank you for saving me. I thought you’d be older.”
“And I thought the Shadowpaw wouldn’t send a trainee,” Charlotte replied, pushing herself up from the chair. Terrell, in a moment of panic, drew his hand crossbow and pointed it at her. “Really?”
“How did you know?” he asked.
“You weren’t warded in the slightest as you drew close to my home. I see everything that happens within a mile of here,” Charlotte said. “And now, after saving your life, you’re going to put a bolt in my heart?”
“This is the mission they sent me on to get my first rank. I have to-”
“You have to kill someone you owe a blood debt to? I don’t think so. If you don’t like magic, I wouldn’t recommend firing. Things get pretty dicey when people attack me,” Charlotte replied. “You could just return and tell them that I’m dead. I could give you a souvenir even to prove it.”
“I don’t think so, we don’t do have measures and negotiations,” Terrell said, his finger on the trigger.
“You mean they don’t. You aren’t technically one of them yet,” Charlotte said, putting her arms out and closing her eyes. “Alright then, have at it. You won’t be the first idiot I’ve seen cursed because they went against a blood debt.”
Terrell looked at her and second-guessed what he was doing for a moment. Charlotte stood perfectly still except for peeking out of one of her eyes every few seconds.
“What are you waiting for?” she asked, dropping her arms. “If you’re not going to kill me, maybe you could leave so I can get back to work?”
“How do blood debts work?” Terrell asked.
“Life for life generally, but there are other ways of repaying it,” Charlotte said, winking at him. “If you’re up for it.”
“No,” Terrell said, shaking his head as he repositioned the crossbow, “there will be none of that.”
“Not your type?” Charlotte said as she looked at him quizzically, then her eyes grew wide, “Wrong gender! I see. I’m so sorry, I assumed. Please, forgive me.”
“No! I like women. I just-I’m not going to do anything with a witch,” Terrell said.
“Can you at least put down the weapon while we talk about this before it goes off, preferably?” Charlotte asked. “And are you sure? I haven’t been with a man in quite some time, but I can tell you, you’ll never be the same after you’re with a witch.”
“I’m sure,” Terrell barked, returning the crossbow to its holster. He began pacing back and forth in the room, muttering to himself. “What the hell am I supposed to do now? She saved my life, so I can’t kill her, but I can’t go home until I do. This whole thing has gone sideways on me.”
“What whole thing? I could put you back in the gorge if you’d prefer,” Charlotte said, interrupting his thoughts. “Would that make things better?”
“I’m trying to figure things out. Give me a second,” Terrell said, waving her off.
“Sure! I’ll give you all the time in the world to figure out if you’re going to try to kill me,” Charlotte said, shaking her head as she walked for the door.
“Where are you going?” Terrell asked, looking up at her.
“I told you, I’ve got things to do,” Charlotte said, pushing the door open. “You take your time and let me know what you come up with, okay?”