Later on, he gave me a dare in the form of a piece of dialogue. I didn't have time to use it then, but I finally sat down and splattered a scene across the page this week.
As is often the case with writing prompts, the idea ran away in my imagination to happily sequester itself in my brain's File of Future Novels. As if I didn't have enough to write already! The Brightest Thread, my four-book fantasy work-in-progress, other ideas that can claim more seniority in my File of Future Novels than this little dare, etc. Anyhow. The first line is my brother's; the rest is what followed.
“I’m beginning to think your debts are going to cost you more than your life.”
I paused, playing card balanced between my index and middle fingers, and stared across the tunnel at Shin. He stared back, almond eyes burning dark the way they always did when he tried to sway me. I broke the gaze and laughed long and loud. The sound rattled down the metal-ribbed tunnel, a hollow noise.
Hollow like me.
“You’re just now catching on?” I chuckled. “My debts are such that I could not repay them with a hundred lives.”
Shin folded his leather-clad arms and raised his chin, as if waiting for me to admit my foolishness or produce a brilliant plan to correct it.
In contrast, I slouched lower against the tunnel’s curved wall opposite him, and turned my attention back to the playing card, a king of spades. It flipped back and forth crisply between my fingers. For a moment the only sound was the greyish stream of water running down the middle of the tunnel to some far-off drain.
“Kai, you have but one life like the rest of us. Or have you forgotten?” Shin’s burning eyes cracked his calm demeanor like lava welling up through deep crevices to split the earth. He jabbed a finger in my direction. “And if you don’t do something to pull that life out of the gutter, you’re going to drown and drag all of us with you!”
I folded the card in thirds. “Relax, Shin. You say my debts will cost more than my life, and I agree.” Quickly, I tore a small section out, then paused to grin wickedly. “It will cost me the kingdom.”
Shin’s hands fell to his sides. “You mean to say that after all you’re doing—dishonorably, I might add!—to reclaim your throne, you’re just going to parcel up the kingdom to satisfy your debts the minute you take the crown? You’ll gain nothing.”
“That’s exactly what I’ll do.”
“Thunder smite you, Kai!” Shin turned away and smacked a fist against the wall. The echoing sound was denser than my laugh—it rang with substance.
“And you, my friend, will help me do it.”
I stood, brushed grit off my pants, and walked down the tunnel, leaving the torn card on the ground.
“Where are you going?” Shin shouted after me.
I chose not to answer. He would follow eventually. He would see things my way, and then we could go about assembling the resources I’d stirred up over the last eight months. If we moved fast enough, I just might have something to appease the Guild when they came knocking at my door. If not . . . well, Shin was right. What I owed was more than I could pay, even if I were to spill every drop of blood in my veins. Next time the Guild came collecting, I wouldn’t be able to talk my way out.
Too many borrowed coins rode on my shoulders, too many favors, too many lives.
I chanced a peek over my shoulder and smiled. Shin stood in the trickle of water in the middle of the tunnel. He stood perfectly still, staring at something in his hand—the card I’d left.
The card with a torn hole where the king of spade’s face should have been.
I clenched the ripped out face in my own hand. It was time to take my rightful place. Thunder smite me if I failed to do so.