Hanging across the chasm was a rickety looking rope bridge. “Come on,” Tug said as he hopped across.
Werz walked up to the bridge and looked at it. “I don’t know if this can hold me,” he said. “Especially not with her on my back.”
“It’ll hold,” Tug said.
“Are you sure?”
“It’s the Wizard’s Castle. Everything does what it’s supposed to do.”
“And what if this bridge is supposed to keep people out?”
“Good point. Then again, it didn’t keep me out. Why would it keep you out when it didn’t keep me out?”
“Because I’m heavier.”
“Like the bridge cares?”
“What other choice do we have?” I asked Werz. “She needs medical attention.”
“I’m fine,” the Sharkwoman grumbled from the shadoweater’s shoulders. “I can do it myself.” She tried to wiggle free, but Werz was not going to let her.
“Fine. To the Wizard, he needs to heal us both.” And the large shadoweater walked across the bridge while the Sharkwoman tried to get free. The bridge creaked and it groaned under their combined weight, but they managed to get across. As I did, as well.
It was a bit surprising that Tug had waited for us before going into the castle, but he did. We all walked through the entrance together. Inside, it looked much more like a cave than a castle. The walls were poorly dug stone and the hall was completely unlit. As we got further into the cave, I began to feel dizzy. I paused to get my balance when I noticed that the Sharkwoman had transformed completely into her massive shark form. “What are you doing?” I demanded from her.
“What are you talking about?” she sneered back at me, her voice as weak as ever.
“So have you.”
I looked down at my hands. They were larger than before. There was hair on my legs. And my chest! It was not the chest of a woman. I had been changed back into a man. How could that have happened? I wasn’t anywhere near a quantum stability chamber.
“You are in the Chamber of the Secret Soul,” came a strange voice. I looked around, but I couldn’t find its source.
“Secret Soul?” I asked, hoping if it answered I could find out where it was coming from.
“In this chamber, your true self is laid bare. None can walk in here with darkness in their soul.”
I looked at Werz and I was surprised to see the shadoweater was completely without shadow. His fur had been transformed into a gleaming white. Before, he had looked like a monster to me, but now he seemed more like some kind of noble hero. Was this his true self?
I turned then to Tug and was surprised to see that he looked exactly the same, a little furry creature in silly looking chainmail armor and a shiny helmet.
What then did I look like? Was this the true me? Were these my real hands? I hadn’t seen them in so long. It had been so long since I’d seen my true face. I wish there was a mirror. To see myself again, the real me, that would be a miracle. But we had other problems at the moment, more pressing than getting a peak at my face. “Who are you?” I asked. “Are you the Wizard?”
“And if I were?” the voice replied. “What would you say to me?”
“What would I say? Were you the Wizard, I would tell you that my friend needs help. I would tell you that she were dying and that we needed you to save her.”
“Is that all you need, human? Is that what you’ve come to me to ask?”
“No, that’s not why we’ve come, but that’s the more pressing concern.”
“Tell me what else,” the voice said. “Tell me what else you desire and I will tell you the price.”
“You thought I’d just give you everything you wanted just because you asked? What a fantasy world you come from, human.”
“It’s a fantasy world I want to go back to.”
“I want to be free of shadow,” the shadoweater said.
“And what of you, little one?”
“Me?” Tug asked, innocently. “Who said I wanted something?”
“We all want something. It’s best you tell me now.”
“What do I want? I have seen many amazing sights, met many great people. What I want, O great Wizard, is to meet you face to face.”
“Face to face? Hmmm,” the voice replied obliquely. “There are many things you want. The price will, of course, reflect that.”
“We have nothing,” I told him. “But what we have…”
“Is nothing I want. No, human, what you will do is go and retrieve something for me.”
“Get you what?” Tug asked, suspiciously.
“I want the Horn of the Tarrgair Beast.”
“The Tarrgair Beast? But that’s…!”
“What is the Tarrgair Beast?” I asked.
“It’s a very dangerous monster,” Tug said. “One I would not wish to ever have to face.”
“I’m not afraid,” the Sharkwoman said from where Werz had laid her on the ground. “We’ll do it.”
“You can’t. You’re too injured,” I told her. She never knew when to hold back. It was amazing she had lived so long without someone to watch over her.
“The other wishes can wait,” the voice said, “but a dying Gruesser is no help to anybody.” A table came walking over on its own accord. On its top was a wineskin. “You should all drink that, but the Gruesser will need a double. It will heal your bodies. Give you strength.”
Werz took the skin and drank from it, then helped the Sharkwoman with it. When she was finished, Werz handed it to me. I thought about passing, I didn’t know what it was, I didn’t know what it would do, but I was thirsty. It had been a long time since I had had anything to drink. When would be the next chance we would get? It could be a long time. I offered the last bit to Tug. He shook his head. “Let the Gruesser have it. She needs it.”
The Sharkwoman didn’t hesitate to finish it.
Another table came walking. “Here are some things that should help you succeed on your quest.” On the table was an assortment of attire. I was happy for the clothes. At this point, my clothes were so tattered I was basically naked. I quickly grabbed them and began to change. I was also happy I didn’t have to wear a dress anymore. I slipped on a pair of pants and a solid feeling shirt. I was also happy to slip on a pair of shoes on my aching feet. When I’d gotten to this dimension I’d been wearing heels. These were better.
Werz slipped on some clothes as well, but the Sharkwoman, who was already looking better, refused to accept anything, as did Tug. “And just where is this Tarrgair Beast we’re supposed to be looking for?” Tug asked.
“Are you so eager to begin?” the voice asked. “Then be off with you and do not return without the horn.”
Then the room filled with smoke and when it dissipated we were somewhere else entirely.
to be continued…