And with a snap of his fingers from Tug, we were standing outside the Wizard’s cave. Lu Wu was taken aback. He eyed the little furry creature suspiciously. “That was quite a feat. Sending all of us here, so close, so soon after fighting a gigantic monster.”
“It was nothing,” Tug said. “It is just what I do.”
I looked up at the Wizard’s castle, out across the chasm, down at the rickety bridge. It felt like quite a while since we had been here. “After you,” Tug said to Lu, gesturing toward the bridge.
Lu Wu glared back. There seemed to be some animosity between the two of them. I wondered what was the cause, but before it got any worse I decided to try to break the tension. “How’d you find us, Lu?” I asked. “It’s not like you could’ve asked for directions or anything stuck where you were. How’d you even know where to look?”
“I just followed the energy of the Seal of M’lthak. That’s the reason I gave it to you before I fell. I knew I could locate it no matter where it was. I knew that if you could stay alive and keep it in your possession that I would be able to find you. I’m just sorry it took so long,” he paused and turned to the Sharkwoman who was still pouting, “and you, as well, Shayu. But you all seemed to bounce around quite a bit. One second you’re here, the next you’re somewhere else.”
“You can thank Tug for that.”
Lu Wu turned to the little furry creature. “Yes, he does seem quite hard to pin down.”
Tug smiled. “We mustn’t keep the Wizard waiting.”
“No, we shouldn’t,” Werz said, stepping past the rest of us to the rickety bridge. I followed after him. I didn’t know about the rest of them, but I for one wanted to go home about as much, I gathered, as Werz wanted to be cured of his condition.
Lu Wu followed after me then the Sharkwoman and finally Tug. We continued on into the castle in the same order ready to finish our deal with the Wizard. As we walked through the cave-like passageway, I noticed Lu Wu began to change. His tattered clothes began to mend and grow. Suddenly, he was skinnier and taller. He even looked wiser. He was dressed in a long cape and a red blousy shirt with rings on his fingers. He was very much the image of a Great Sorcerer.
Then it suddenly made sense to me why his appearance had changed. We had reentered the Chamber of the Secret Soul. I looked at Werz and he had returned to his more noble, less shadow-corrupted appearance. I looked at the Sharkwoman and was surprised that she had not taken on her full shark form as she had last time. Instead, she looked like a beautiful, fully human Asian woman. Tug, as last time somehow, remained unchanged. And what about me? Was I back to my original body?
“What happened to you?” Lu Wu exclaimed when he looked at me. I guess I was back to my real body as well.
“This is the Chamber of the Secret Soul,” I explained. “It shows us who we are in our deepest part of our soul.”
“And in the deepest part of your soul you are a man?”
I sighed. I guessed my cover was blown. And at this point, in this strange world, what was the point of trying to conceal the truth any longer? “I’m actually Frank Clay. I was working undercover for the US government when you brought us here.”
“You’re that man whose body changes every couple of days?” Lu asked, taking it better than I had expected.
“Yes. I hope you’ll keep my secret.”
Lu eyed me up and down. “I thought you were propaganda made up by your government.”
I shook my head. “No. I’m very real.”
“Well,” Lu said with a smile, “that explains some things.”
“Explain what things?” Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t hide my irritation.
“Like why you walked so awkwardly in heels. Why you held yourself so much like a man. Why you were so focused on Zlodeyskiygrad. Why it took you so long to return my flirtations.”
“I never returned your flirtations.”
He smiled at me and winked. “Ok.”
The Sharkwoman stepped forward and pushed Lu hard causing him to stumble. “You were flirting with him? What about me? Did you forget me?”
“No! You really weren’t looking for me, were you?” She started to change. I could see her teeth turning sharp. Her eyes turned black and her skin started to turn grey and she started to grow. I took a few steps back. Did she somehow figure out how to change within the Chamber or was this her secret soul morphing? Was I seeing the external manifestation of the Sharkwoman’s heart breaking?
“No, Shayu,” Lu admitted. “I was on a mission. I was hurt. I was eaten by a Derlov. No, I was not thinking about you. I’m sorry.”
The Sharkwoman, now in the form of a massive shark, swam away. Lu Wu started after her, but Tug stepped in front of him. “Well, that was fun,” Tug said. “Now, perhaps we should get on with things.”
“Yes,” came the Wizard’s voice. “Perhaps we should.”
“The Great Lu Wu,” the voice replied. “Once again you come when you are not invited.”
“I invited him,” I said. “He was the one that brought me here in the first place.”
“Of course, he did. How else?” the voice laughed. “Did you bring the horn?”
The shadoweater held the Tarrgair Horn up. “We brought it.”
“You slayed the Tarrgair Beast?”
“Maybe,” Lu said.
“Or maybe it still yet lives…A problem for another day.”
“Yes,” Werz replied, impatiently. “Now we should deal with today’s problem’s. Give us what we were promised.”
“The Shadoweater, so quick to be free of his shadows. Very well.” The walking table emerged with a green fruit on its top. “Eat this.”
Werz picked up the fruit and began eating. Three bites in, he began to scream as pools of darkness began to drip off of him. Lu and I stepped back as the ground became covered in liquid shadow. Then it suddenly all ignited like it was all made of flash paper. Then it was gone and Werz dropped to the ground. “Now, who is next,” the voice said. “Perhaps it is time we sent the humans home?”
“No,” Tug said stepping forward. “It’s my turn, Wizard. It’s time you revealed yourself. It’s time we met face to face.”
to be continued…