Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Deliverance Klondike ninja

I realized earlier today that although I've started working on developing a writing habit, I hadn't actually tried working on any fiction in that time (granted only two days, but still).  So here's my first attempt.

This is the first work of fiction I've made public in more than a decade, so it's rather a landmark for me.  It's also a completely unplanned first draft, created from a three-item prompt (the words in the title) from the Brainstormer app.  So while comments are definitely welcome, keep in mind that I warned you.

3,625 words, approx. 2 1/2 hours

It was the rabbit that tipped me off.  Normally you saw a lot of rabbits in these parts, so I never paid them much mind, but the way this one was moving was different.  Scared like most rabbits, but not of me. Of something bigger.  Something inside me said this rabbit knew what it was talking about, so I moved back into the entrance to the mine.

That was almost all the warning I got before the rumbling started, like a big ol' freight train was barrelling through about a half inch from where I was standing.  Knocked me flat on my ass, and in the time it took me to get my wits about me it was on top of me.

Avalanche.  Big one too, seemed like half the damn world was coming down on top of me.  

'Cept it wasn't on top of me thanks to that rabbit.  That couple of steps back saved my bacon, and while a mess of snow and ice came in the entrance it didn't do me any harm.  Once the entrance to the mine was blocked off, everything else ran down over the top.  So I managed to be spared being crushed by a mountain's worth of crap.

Nah, just meant I was stuck in this mine 'til I starved.  That wasn't so bad. Yeah, I had all the damn luck in the world didn't I?

Thought I'd had tons of it up to that point, though.  Come up north lookin' to make my fortune in the gold rush like everyone else, and damned if I didn't find it.  Staked my claim on a set of natural caves that turned out to have some real substance to 'em, and that saved me having to dig as much as I would have otherwise. They went pretty deep, so who knows how far they went, but what I got to so far had a couple of good veins of the shiny stuff and even a stream that ran through, carrying some pebbles and dust from upstream for days I didn't really feel like diggin'.

Every girl's got a few of those, you understand.  Happens.  Least I didn't need to swing a pickaxe while I had cramps, that'd probably have made me give up the whole mess right there.

Any rate, this mine was my whole damn world now.  At least for a few months until enough snow melted.  I had some supplies of course, and fresh water from the stream, but no way I'd manage stuck in this whole for that long.  I figured I had a few days, maybe a week or so, tops.  And by the sounds of what went over my head, it was going to be a stretch digging myself out of that.

And wouldn't you know, right then is when I heard a powerful creaking and groaning, and you don't have to tell me twice to get the hell outta the way when a mine starts doing that.

So I skedaddled further down the line, with the creaking getting louder until it started crashing instead, and there goes the front section of the mine entrance.  Not to mention, a good half my supplies which were only a little ways in.  Just great.

Now there are a lotta things you can do in a situation like that.  You can panic, but honestly I've never been the panicking type.  You can roll up your sleeves and get digging, hoping you can get through a couple dozen feet of rock and earth on your own without more of it dropping on your poor head.  You can even give up, but I've never been much good at that either.

So I did the only sensible thing.  I went and made myself some coffee.

Remember that stream I told you about?  That had some bits of gold you could pick out if you were patient?  Well that was only the number 2 good thing about it.  The number one good thing about that stream is the water from it made amazing coffee.  I remember a girl in Dodge telling me that if you're gonna make coffee worth drinkin', you gotta start with water worth drinkin' even without the coffee in it.  And that's what this stream was, pure and fresh and crisp.  Best damn coffee water I ever had.  I could say the hell with the gold and bottle this stuff, probably make double the fortune.  But y'know, some things you only want to share with someone special.  Spread it around too much, and you lose something.

So I sat me down on a big rock with a cup of that damn good coffee and closed my eyes for a bit, tried to listen to the sound of the stream instead and forget about all that crap that just happened.  Maybe I'd never be able to dig my way out, but tying myself in knots over the whole thing wouldn't get me out either.  So I just let it go for a bit, tried not to think about much of anything.

Didn't entirely succeed, but I didn't mind because my mind managed to wander away to something a lot nicer on the nerves, my girl back in the city.  Not the girl who knew her coffee, though.  Cute as she was, she couldn't compare to my gal Sal.  I knew Sal was the girl for me from the first time we met, not long after I got into Dawson City and was getting the lay of the land.  She was with the Mounties up here, special personnel for the detachment that got started up when the boom got going.  Answered directly to that big shot, Sam Spade himself, and everybody's heard of him.  Even down south.  What they didn't know was that the RCMP brass stationed one of their ninja Mounties to back him up, and that's what my Sal was.

She was a special ninja for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, sent there to help keep order in the Klondike.  And I loved her to bits.

We got together right after I got to Dawson, actually.  Part of Sal's job was to suss out any new arrivals, see if they were on the up and up, you know?  Stuff like making sure they didn't have any guns, or were more interested in prospecting than settling grudges in what they figured was the wilderness where they'd get away with it.  So she'd sneak into their rooms, spy on them, stuff like that.

Well, I manage to get a feel for her presence when she tried it on me.  See, I'm from one of them back country towns, like you'd find all over Canada, and like most of them we had our ambitions to send ninjas to help out the Mounties or the Canadian Forces.  Lots of honour for a town to have one of ours in the navy or whatever.  Folks down in the States, they don't know about this stuff, but any town less than a thousand folks in Canada sure does.  Even in Toronto they keep their mouths shut, because they know if they don't they'll get it shut for 'em.

Well, it was like that for me.  All kid's stuff, playing hockey, working on farms in the summer and dreaming of becoming a real ninja.  Never made it of course, which was why I ended up prospecting.  Couldn't pull off stuff like vanishing or long steps or nothing like that.  But I was a good hand with a shuriken and I could sense like crazy.  Wasn't enough though, you needed the whole set of skills to pass the government tests so I ended up giving it up and went into 4-H instead.  

Ain't nobody ever snuck up on me since though.

Well, Sal was pretty shocked 'til I told her all that, and she got all smiles.  Damn, her smile was like gold and then some.  Even better than the coffee stream (which reminded me to take another swig - damn that's good).  And I smiled back and we spent the whole rest of the night talking about how she got there, and how she came from some little place on the east coast while I grew up just south of Hudson's Bay, and all the foolish Americans who came up and suddenly found that their guns wouldn't work or their bullets were missing or something and then Spade would just shake his head and confiscate the weapons that weren't any good anyhow.

From then on, every time I came into town while I was searching for a good claim, Sal appeared in my room.  To be honest, it made me not want to go back out into the wilds, but she had a job to do and I had a fortune to make.  Just one of those little tradeoffs you gotta make now and again in your life.  But in the end, somehow the two of us fell in love.

I sighed.  Sal was the reason I was so happy to find this claim.  Once I got enough out of here and squirrelled away enough of a nest egg, I was planning to cut the place loose, sell the claim and get back to her for good.  Not that I'd take her away from her job, she obviously loved it.  But maybe I'd settle in somewhere near Dawson, doing something that didn't require climbing a half-mile into the dirt.

Well, it was a nice thought anyway.  Avalanches and cave-ins had a way of getting in the way of a girl's dreams.  But at least by now I felt a bit calmer and more able to reason my way through this.  

Fact is, I definitely couldn't go out the way I came in.  Even if I could dig that far on my own, it was unstable and likely to give way even further.  Fortunately, the part of the cavern with the stream was far enough away and seemed pretty sound, so it was a bit of a haven.  One reason I'd placed some permanent lights around and thank goodness I did.  I learned the trick of them when I was about 13, away at a ninja camp with some kids from the local communities.  Useful skill to learn, and definitely the sort of thing you didn't tell the Americans about.  Sure it's an unfair advantage when you're mining, but you gotta take advantage where you can.

So the only way out seemed to be through.  Like I said, my mine started out as a series of natural tunnels, which I hadn't fully explored before I found what I was looking for in them.  So there was always a chance that there may be another way out if I looked hard enough.  A slim hope, but at least it was a hope.

It was with this somewhat happier feeling that heard the sound, and my heart sank like a stone.  

I looked around as it came again and I knew there was no mistake.  That wasn't the sound of stone on stone, or supports letting go, or snow and ice coming down the side of a mountain.  No, this was a sound that came out of a beast.  A beast that doesn't like to be disturbed.  A beast that had cost the lives of too many careless prospectors.

Canadian Human-eating Underground Denizens.  We just called 'em cave trolls.

And I was stuck in here with them while they went on the warpath.  Too much to hope they wouldn't notice me.  A cave troll's so connected to the tunnels it's like a part of their body, so they'd know exactly where the cave-in was and where to look for it.  They must have been way far back in the tunnels to start with since my mining didn't flush 'em out before this.  But something like an avalanche followed by a collapse was going to bring them out fast to find out what's up.

I started grabbing anything I could to use as a weapon.  I had a few shuriken on me, enough to protect myself from claim jumpers or a wolf or two looking for an easy meal, but nothing near enough to take on a pack of angry trolls.  And from the howls getting closer, I knew it wasn't just two or three of the buggers.

I got my hands on a new shovel I'd just gotten for this trip out to the mine, glad I'd sprung the extra cash for a good one, and broke the blade off.  I was never much of a swordswoman back in my camp days, but I got good marks in staff fighting.  Maybe the skills would apply to shovel handles, one way to find out.

With that, I started to move.  I couldn't stay in the well-lit part of the tunnel, and if I was super duper lucky, maybe I'd pick the right way out and bypass the beasts while heading for the exit.  So I picked a side passage and started running for it.

By now the damned roars were getting loud enough they were echoing all over the place, from trolls mad at finding signs of humans all over their caves.  It was impossible to tell where they were coming from, but clearly they'd made it up to the areas I'd been doing a lot of my digging.  Cave trolls were pretty territorial and not too fond of humans to start with.  No way were were gonna work out our differences, I thought to myself, and tried to move through the darkness even faster.

It didn't last.  The tunnel cut out before too long, telling me I'd made the worst choice I could, even as the air filled with a new wave of roars as the beasts found the cave-in.  The sounds told me they probably wouldn't believe it wasn't my fault but I didn't have any choice but to run towards them.  Maybe I could get to a side passage before they got to where things split off.

As it turns out I wasn't that lucky.  When I got into the main passage, dimly lit from the stream cavern further down, I clearly saw the figures of five of the meanest, maddest looking trolls you could possibly imagine.  And believe me, I can imagine them pretty mean and mad.  These guys, they were beyond that, and looking right at me.

No running, I thought in that split second of decision that seems to last ten minutes.  There's nowhere to go, and what ninja spirit there was in me, even if it weren't enough for the Mounties it was enough that if I was gonna die, it was with the name of the girl I loved on my lips.

"Saaaaaaaal!" I screamed, hoping it might confuse the trolls a bit.  No such luck, but the few shuriken I had made up for it, lodging in the eyes of the foremost two or three, leaving them flailing and generally getting in the way of the ones in back.  I started wailing away with my shovel handle, which stood the abuse surprisingly well, and I had a brief, delirious moment where I thought I might even walk away from all this.

And then one of the trolls who could see got past and thrust its paw through my weapon, breaking it in half and sending one end flying, bashing me in the chest as it followed through on the swing.  I felt ribs crack, and pain shot through me asit raised me up to scream in my face.  I screamed back, although not quite as voluntarily, taking the moment to swing the jagged remains of the shovel handle into the side of the beast's face.  

The blow struck home, but I think I surprised it more than actually injured it.  In any case, it threw me away from itself in order to claw the sharp wood out of itself, and then the whole group turned to advance together.  They knew I didn't have any fight left in me, so they could take their time with the task of tearing me limb from limb.  They were right, there was no way I could have even fended off the rabbit I'd seen earlier that day, assuming it had a grudge against me or something.

"Sal," I murmured to myself, fully expecting them to be my last words, "I love you."

"Well thanks!," came a cheerful voice to my left.  "I love you too!"

With that, before I could even register what was going on, a flash of something went past me straight into the knot of trolls, who started bleeding from multiple slash wounds.  I struggled to follow her motions through the pain, but could only manage to get fleeting glimpses of her as she severed a vein here, dodged a blow there, shoved a tiny explosive charge into a mouth over there, all the while throwing a volley of darts and daggers, most of which were probably poisoned.  I could see why the Mounties turned me down back in the day, this was entirely out of my league.

The battle didn't last long.  Cave trolls may be fearsome and strong, but they're no match against an elite Royal Canadian Ninja.  It wasn't long before the five hulking brutes I'd stood no chance against were reduced to a pile of meat, and my saviour was standing over them, covered with gore and working to calm her bloodlust.

God, she was gorgeous.

Despite myself, I let out a groan as my broken ribs decided to speak up.  I was no longer running on adrenaline, so the pain decided to let itself back into my consciousness.  Faster than I'd even expect a ninja to move, Sal was next to me.

"Oh Rose, look at what they've done to you!  Here, I've got to make sure you're okay.

Without waiting for my answer, which I'm not sure I was up to giving anyway, she was undressing me.  Well, not undressing in the usual way, more shredding my blood-soaked clothes in order to get at my wounds.  Not a terribly romantic moment, even if Sal was even sexier than usual.  I love her intense looks.

After a short while, she began to take the shredded remains of my shirt to make bindings out of.  Apparently I wasn't hurt as badly as I looked, my ribs hadn't punctured anything and most of the blood was from fairly shallow cuts.  I would have the mother of all bruises on my chest for a while, and I wouldn't be able to really move around much for a while, but I'd live and mend pretty much as well as when I'd started.  

Once she'd finished binding me up, which was far from painless, she finally looked up at me.

"I'm glad you're safe, Rose.  I don't know what I'd do if you were hurt even worse."

I looked at her and smiled.  "Same here, I'm just really glad you showed up when you did.  Wait..." I thought for a moment.  "Why the hell did you show up when you did?  You should have been back in Dawson."

Sal grinned.  "It was supposed to be a surprise, honey.  Guess it was a bigger surprise than I'd meant."  She paused a moment to smooth down my hair before continuing. "I wanted to see your claim, maybe spend some time with you at work.  So a few weeks ago I put in for leave.  I didn't tell you about it, since I didn't know when my relief would show up, but she got in yesterday.  Once she was briefed and I got a night's sleep, well, I was headed out here like a shot.  Just in time to see the avalanche."

"But how did you get in?  Even if you got through the snow the entrance caved in."

She nodded. "That's right, but when all that debris came down, it loosened up some of the rocks further up.  It took a little while, but I used some of my village's techniques and found a back entrance.  It's down that way," she gestured off the direction I would have gone had the trolls not caught up with me.  "Shame you didn't go down there just a few minutes sooner, I'm pretty sure you would have gotten away."

"Took a wrong turn I guess," I smiled and shrugged, then winced at the pain and told myself not to do that again.  "Good for me, I guess."

Sal cocked an eyebrow.  "You're alive, but it's beyond me how this is good exactly."

"It's not every day I get rescued by the most beautiful woman north of the 49th parallel."  I grinned.  After a moment, she grinned too, and then leaned in to press her lips against mine.  It was a long, slow kiss that I'm sure would have turned into the most passionate of my life if I were healthy.  Not just beautiful, but considerate.  I'm a lucky woman after all, I thought.

Pulling away from the kiss, Sal looked thoughtful.  "Only problem we have now is you're sort of stuck in here.  The way I came in is pretty rough, and there's no way of getting you through there, let alone back to Dawson, without hurting you worse.  So we need to stay here a while.  I can tend to your needs, and troll meat really isn't that bad if you cook it right.  We just need a good source of fresh water."

"Sal, my love," I said, grinning from ear to ear. "There's nothing I'd like more right now than to make you a cup of coffee."

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