We reappeared in a forest. The trees were all blue, had no leaves, and looked like they were made of rubber. The grass was orange and it felt like a carpet. We were all lying across it. The Sharkwoman immediately bounced back into the air. Her confusion and anger were very clear on her face. Eventually, the anger won out. “Where are we?” she growled at the little furry creature.
“Away,” it said. “Isn’t that what you wanted?”
She moved threateningly closer. “Where?”
The little creature smiled at her. “Where do you want to be?”
“On the other side of the Miboaq Carapace! On the path to the Doom Castle Fields.”
“Doom Castle Fields? Why? Where are you going?”
“To see the Wizard! What concern of it is yours?”
“The Wizard?” the furry creature grinned. “Really?”
“What is it to you?” the Sharkwoman growled.
“Well, I know how to get to the Wizard, as it so happens.”
The Sharkwoman turned away. “You can get us to the wizard?” I asked.
“Of course!” the creature said. “I know the Shreikers Forest like the back of my hand!”
“Shriekers Forest?” I did not like the sound of that.
“Oh, don’t worry about them. They’re not usually a problem. Certainly nothing a Gruesser can’t handle.”
“A Gruesser? What’s a Gruesser?” I asked.
“I am,” the Sharkwoman said. “I am a Gruesser. You really are lost, human, aren’t you?”
“So you are a human?” I did not like the way he said that.
“And what are you?” the Sharkwoman demanded. She certainly did not like this little guy. “Besides, a quick snack, I mean.”
“A friend, of course,” he said. “You can call me Tug, if it makes you feel any better.”
“I’d feel better if I ripped your head off.”
“But then you’d have no idea how to get to the Wizard.”
“I could find my way.”
“Oh? Which way then?” Tug clearly didn’t believe her and was quite amused as she starting looking around. After a while she pointed forward. He shook his head. “Actually, we’re going that way.” He pointed downward.
“Down?” I asked. “How is that even possible?”
Tug smiled, then bent down and pulled hard on a vine. The ground beneath me fell away! I was plummeting. Again. But it was worse this time because Tug was right beside me, laughing as if he were having the most fun. The Sharkwoman looked down at us from above, hovering in the air, and even as I was falling I could see the annoyance on her face as she came after us. I had already been ‘saved’ once from dying by falling. I didn’t want to die this way and more or less render the last couple of hours pointless.
Thankfully, the Sharkwoman caught up to me, but when she grabbed me she didn’t carry me back up. No, instead she went in pursuit of the furry little creature. But when she did, she didn’t grab him. “What’s wrong with you?”
“I’m taking you where you want to go,” he said. “Don’t you want to reach the Wizard?”
“Oh yes, bite-sized creature?” the Sharkwoman said. “You going to show us the way to the Wizard after you’ve been splattered on the ground?”
“Splattered?” Tug laughed. “See those? Those are Catchme Vines. They will reach out and slow my fall, passing me gently to the bottom.”
The Sharkwoman looked down dubiously at the wall of foliage. “There are no such things!”
Tug’s smile didn’t waver. “Oh, no?” and as if by command, the vines reached out for him and began to slow down his fall until he was moving so slowly that they started to pass him gently to the bottom instead.
The Sharkwoman grew angry as she watched. I was worried she might attack him, or the vines, or me, or do something else stupid. Instead she just rushed to the bottom. “Hurry up!” she yelled at him.
“Ok,” Tug said and jumped down from thirty feet up to join us. “Better?”
The Sharkwoman turned around and swam off. Tug walked after her and then so did I. But as we went she didn’t sloe down for us. I eventually began to worry that she would lose us. I didn’t really know either of these strange creatures very well, but at least the Sharkwoman had demonstrated a desire not to see me die. I couldn’t say the same thing about Tug.
Fortunately, when she got too far ahead she turned back around. “Let’s move!” she said, then began swimming off again. This pattern continued for a good while until she finally returned even more infuriated than before. I thought she had finally lost her patience with us, but it turned out to be something else entirely. “What is that?” she demanded, pointing forward. “That cannot be what I think it is, is it?”
“Maybe,” Tug replied.
The Sharkwoman flashed her teeth. “It had better not be.”
“What is it?” I asked, straining my eyes to see what was ahead of us.
Tug said, “The Wall of No Return.”
“What are we doing near the Wall?” the Sharkwoman roared. “We shouldn’t be anywhere near that! The Wall is nowhere near the Wizard!”
“That may have been true from where you were starting from,” Tug replied. “But from here? The Shreikers Forest? This is the only way to go.”
“What is the Wall?” I asked.
“The Wall keeps out the darkness,” the Sharkwoman said. “All that is evil and vile live on the other side.”
“All that is vile and evil? You mean the Miboaq wasn’t vile? How about the Grokloc? More vile than that?” I asked.
“Much more vile.”
“The creatures beyond the Wall are much worse than anything you’ve seen,” the Sharkwoman assured me.
“Oh, goody. Let’s go there.”
“Eh,” Tug said. “It’s not so bad. A lot of it’s just talk and hearsay. Besides, we’re just going in the Wall. Not beyond it.”
“In the Wall?” the Sharkwoman exclaimed. “How do you plan on doing that? That wall is made to be impregnable! The legions will not let us in.”
“Are all Gruessers such pessimists? No wonder you are all so disliked. I thought it was because of the bad breath.”
“If you mock my people again…!”
“Oh, stop delaying us. If you’re frightened just says so.”
“I am frightened of nothing!”
“Then let’s go.”
to be continued…