Into the Mouth He Goes

I was being pulled down lower and lower, closer to Tam. They watched me get closer, our eyes met. They reached out toward me. I reached out and took their hand. “It’s not over yet,” I told them. “We can still get out of here.”

“Oh,” Tam whispered, thin tendrils stuck to their face. “How?”

“We’ll find a way,” I told them. “We always do.”

“Do we?”

“We do,” I assured them, though things were looking pretty grim, all of us captured by these tendrils, our live energy being sucked out of us. The Sheriff and his deputies were already too weakened to help. And me being pulled down further toward hole at the bottom of this cave. I could see it beneath us, widening, undulating. This was where the tendrils had sprung from, this was where the monster lived. It reminded me so much of a mouth that it was hard not to believe that this creature was trying to eat me.

“Hold on, Frank!” I heard Crag yell. I glanced over and saw him still climbing down the wall. “I’m coming!”

Crag was still free and mobile. He was the only hope we had left, that I had left, but he was still several feet up and many, many yards away. It seemed impossible that he could reach me in time. But, then, to my utter surprise he made the stupid decision to push off of the cave wall and let himself drop down to the cave floor. No, I wanted to yell to him, don’t. Stop. It was suicide. He was going to hurt himself. But, even if I’d had the energy to yell loud enough so that he could actually hear me, it wouldn’t have mattered. It was already too late. He was already falling. There was no stopping him now. All I could do was pray that he’d survive it.

Crag dropped like a brick toward the bottom of the cave. But there was one thing I hadn’t take into consideration, that I hope he had, and that was that the cave floor was covered in tendrils. It wasn’t the rocky cave floor that he slammed into, but the rubbery tendrils laying across it. Crag bounced when he hit and went flying back up into the air. He came down again and bounced again, coming closer and closer. By the third time he hit, the impact had diminished enough that was able to turn it into a run. But before I started to have hope, I realized that it was only a matter of time before those tendrils turned on him. Sooner or later they’d grow tired of being stepped on and they’d wrap themselves around him and he’d be ensnared like the rest of us.

But did I even have that long to wait? I was being pulled even further down. My feet were nearly at the gaping mouth. I clung tightly to Tam’s hand. Even though they were very clearly weakened, their grip was still surpringly strong. I could feel myself being pulled between them, between Tam and the tendrils, between the tendrils holding me and the tendrils holding Tam.

Suddenly, Tam let out a pained gasp and I realized that it wasn’t just me in peril here. Tam was being pulled at, as well. Holding their hand, tugging on them, was hurting them. They were weak and I was pulling at their arm while the tendrils holding the rest of them there, suspending them. I had to let go. I was going to pull their arm out of their socket and I couldn’t bear to hurt them anymore. Tam tried to grab me again, but they were in no position to help, not anymore. With nothing holding me back, I was pulled down quickly toward the gaping mouth. My feet disappeared inside before I heard the scream.

It was Crag. He was running toward me with long bouncing strides. “Hold on, Frank! I’m coming!”

Desperately, I tried to find something to hold on to, something to slow my descent. I was too far away from Tam. I couldn’t reach them. I was now halfway down the hole. Everything below my waist had been pulled into the creature’s mouth. Crag was still bouncing toward me.

“Frank!” he yelled, as he came ever closer. But he would be too late. I was sinking lower and lower. He was getting closer and closer, but I was now pulled down below my chest. I had to crane my neck to see him and only then when he bounced at the top of his arc.

I was down to my neck. I held my hands out, reaching for him, even though I knew he’d never get there. I was being pulled lower and lower. I could see Crag running. I could see him dive toward me as I slipped beneath the hole.

I remember thinking it was the last I would see of him, the last I would see of anyone. The only place to look was directly above me, to Tam lying there, suspended in the air, unable to move. My hands were the only part of me above the hole. It was down to my elbows, my forearms, my wrists, my palm, my fingers… I was almost completely consumed. All seemed lost. I thought that was the end and then…something grabbed me.

to be continued…

The Source Revealed

I continued crawling onward, closer and closer to the red light. Warm became hot, bright became searing, the itch became a burn. But I was getting closer. I was nearly there!

But then a tendril curved down toward me! I didn’t see it coming until it was too late. It grabbed me and wrapped itself around me. I reached out toward the figure at the center of it all, the source of the light, but I was being pulled up by the tendril, away from the source. I yelled at it in desperation and, to my surprise, the figure turned its head and looked directly at me. I gasped. I knew who it was. I think I did. It was hard to see. But I think, I’m pretty sure – I think that the figure was Tam!

“Tam!” I yelled as the tendril pulled me away.

The figure raised their hand to reach out toward me, but I was much too far away. I couldn’t reach them and they couldn’t reach me. They disappeared beneath the bright light, but I swear I heard them say, “Frank. Help me.” I swear I did.

“I’m coming back!” I yelled, hoping they could hear me. “I’m going to save you. I promise!” But the tendril had me and it was pulling me up and further away. I could feel it leeching energy from my body. I was going to have to escape soon or I’d never be able to escape at all.

Then I heard a voice. It was soft at first, but it got louder. I could tell they were calling my name. “Frank!”

“Tam!?” I yelled back.

“Frank!” I heard again, louder this time. I wasn’t a hundred percent sure, but it didn’t seem to be coming from below me. There were echoes and reverberations in this large cavern, but it seemed like the yelling was coming from above me. I looked up and saw Crag waving his hands and yelling. He was still alive and he was free! The tendrils hadn’t captured him again! It looked like my attempts to free myself hadn’t been for nothing. Yes, I was captured again, but at least he was still free. Someone could still save us.

“Crag! The source of the light, it’s my friend. They’re down there! You have to go down there and save them!”

“Ok.” He looked down from the cliff he was standing on, then back at me. “How am I supposed to do that?”

“I don’t know,” I told him, “but do it quickly! I don’t know how much longer the rest of us can survive like this.”

“Oh, great,” he muttered loud enough so I could hear, which may have been a volume that disqualified it from being a mutter. “No pressure.”

Crag began climbing down the side of the cave. I wanted to hurry him on, but I didn’t dare rush. I knew how hard it was what he was doing. Still the tendrils were draining my energy, I could feel it being pulled out of me. And I knew the others were even worse off than I was. Crag was our only hope and I knew that he knew that. I didn’t want to make an incredibly difficult task even harder.

I watched impotently as he climbed down the cave wall. As he started to slip out of view, I began to look for ways that I could help. I quickly found there weren’t many options. I was really only left with the same choice I had been left with before: using my teeth. So I opened my mouth wide and I prepared to bite down, but, to my great surprise, a small tendril grabbing the back of my head stopped me. Even smaller tendrils shot out of it across the rest of the back of my head, taking full control of my ability to bite down. Then the largest tendril let go of me and I was left hanging in the air by the tendril holding the back of my head. It was not fun.

I grabbed at the tendril with both of my hands and tried to pull it off, but it held on too tightly. I tried to pull the tiny tendrils off individually, trying to dig my fingers beneath them, but I couldn’t get them to pull free. But, too my shock, I realized I was going down anyway. The tendril was slowly lowering back down to the bottom of the cave. Why was it doing that? I couldn’t comprehend why it would. Was it bringing me to Tam? Why would it do that? It couldn’t want me to free them. Then why? Was I to join Tam on the ground to have my lifeforce drained from me? Why’d it need me down there to do what it was already doing?

As I got closer, I saw Tam begin to rise. They were being held up by tendrils, too, but they looked like a different kind of tendril, different than the ones holding the rest of us. Their color was darker and they were much thinner. Liquid dripped from them. I saw more of them rise from beneath Tam. As I was brought closer, I could see that they were indeed a different kind of tendril. They were covered in a saliva-like moisture. I could feel the moisture as they grabbed onto my legs, seeping into my pants legs. The sensation was pretty stomach churning. They wrapped around my legs and began working their way upward. The tendrils on my head let go. I now belonged to these new ones.

These lower tendrils coiled their way up my legs to my waist to my chest. I tried to struggle against them, to fight them, to pull them off. But they wouldn’t come off. I couldn’t get myself free. I was stuck. I was trapped. They began to pull me down.

to be continued…

Falling Toward the Light

I could see Crag lying, crumpled at the bottom of the pit. No matter how much I called to him he wouldn’t answer. He didn’t even look up at me. He wasn’t moving at all. Not even a twitch.

Unfortunately, the tendrils were moving and, worse, they were moving right toward him. “Crag!” I yelled again and again. “Wake up! Crag! Get up! It’s coming for you! Get up! Get up!”

Finally, Crag’s head began to rise. I felt a wave of relief. He wasn’t dead. But I had to remind myself he was from out of trouble. The tendrils were nearly upon. He wouldn’t have time to get away. Even if he was magically all right and he was able to bounce to his feet, it was unlikely he’d be able to move quickly enough to escape the tendrils. They were going to get him and his fall would have been for nothing. I had to do something and I had to do it now.

But what could I do? I had to think. I had to figure out something. I had nothing in my hands and I couldn’t get to my pockets. I couldn’t squirm my way out and there was no help coming. I was really out of options. There really wasn’t much I could do, except…well, there was one thing. I didn’t know if it would work and it didn’t seem like the smartest idea I’d ever had. But what other option did I have?

I bent down and bit into the tendril holding me. As my teeth sunk into the flesh, a green goo began to seep out. It tasted antiseptic. The tendril reeled spastically, loosening its grip on me. Suddenly, I was falling. Great idea, Frank.

As I fell I could see that the bright red light was right below me. It was practically all I could see. What was it, I wondered, I worried. I could tell most of the tendrils, if not all of them, had originated from down there. Was the light coming from this creature? Was what it really was some kind of glowing monster? Or maybe it was a rip in space/time? Another portal? Sure I’d never encountered a portal that glowed so brightly, but that didn’t mean that none existed.

Since there were so many tendrils beneath me, I tried to grab a hold of one of the them to stop my fall, but instead I ended up bouncing off of them. I ricocheted from one tendril to the next, falling further and further into the bright red light. I could barely see where i was going. I tried to keep my eyes closed it was so bright, but with every bump my eyelids bounced open and my sight was filled with bright red light.

As I plummeted ever closer to the bottom and the ominous light, I feared what awaited me. What horror was at the bottom of this pit? I theorized a portal in space/time, but a giant gaping mouth seemed to be the much more obvious conclusion. Either way, I feared that this could be the end. The fall alone should have been enough to kill me, but when I hit, it wasn’t hard sudden stop that awaited me or even a mouth full of sharp pointed teeth. Instead, it was a soft landing, like falling onto a large mattress.

A slimy, writhing mattress.

This must not have been the true bottom I decided, but merely where the tendrils had squeezed out of the ground. So maybe I wasn’t going to die falling or get chomped to death, but I was far from safe. There were still all the tendrils, not to mention the looming issue of the ominous red light.

I looked over toward it, squinting my eyes, partially blocking the light with my hand. But even with obscuring my view as much as I was, I thought I saw something, something in the center of all that light.

It was warm down here, but dry. The humidity of the higher level must have been evaporated away by all the heat. I began to worry if I could stand such an extreme temperature. The heat seemed to be emanating from the source of the light, but I moved forward anyway, crawling on my hands and knees over the slimy writhing tendrils. It got difficult to keep moving forward, the hear and the light had become so strong, but I forced myself to press on. I had to find out what that thing in the middle causing all this light was. I had to find out what it was and had to turn it off, whatever it was.

It was bright and it was hot and it was starting to hurt, but I was close enough now that I could start to be able to make out what the light source was. I saw a figure, a person. I thought it did. I thought it was a person. It looked sort of like a person. If it was that meant that someone else was trapped by this monster. Or were they the monster? Were they responsible for all of this? I didn’t know, I couldn’t, but I knew, whatever they were, I had to rescue them.

Or stop them. One or the other. Or maybe both. I had no choice. I had to put an end to this!

to be continued…

All Wrapped Up with Nowhere to Go

I followed the tunnel at the bottom of the cave, moving slowly as I covered my eyes from the light streaming in from ahead, careful not to trip over anything. I ran my hand along the wall to better follow the path. It was warm and I could definitely feel some kind of vibration coming through it. Then to my great surprise, the wall moved. It almost…shivered. The light suddenly got dimmer, almost as if something were now…blocking…the…tunnel.

Oh no!

I froze as large tendrils came slithering out the tunnel toward me. As they came nearer, I swung around and ran awayy as fast I could. But it turned out, I was too slow. The tendrils had already caught me, snaking around me, tangling me, binding me. I tried to fight it, tried to slip free. I tried to climb out, to punch my way out, to push my way out, but it was no use. I couldn’t escape their grip.

Bound tight, the tendrils pulled me back down the tunnel. The tendrils carried me quickly deeper toward the reddish light. The tunnel came to an end at a massive cave. It had to be at least a quarter of the width of the entire island, if not more, and it went down…

Beneath me was the red glow. It was so bright it took me a couple minutes for my eyes to adjust, all while the tendrils brought me further into the room. Even as my eyes were getting used to the bright light, I could see there were other thick tendrils moving about in the massive cave. Slowly, I began to be able to see that the closest one to me was holding onto something. Holding onto…someone! It was Domoban! I could tell those piercings from anywhere! He, too had had been caught in the grip of the tendrils.

But where was Crag? I turned my head so I could see the other tendrils undulating in the air. Some of them were just writhing unencumbered, but some of them weren’t. Some of them were holding people. My eyes were adjusted enough that I could see it was the other trolls! They were all here! There was Crag and Toleuk! And there was the Sheriff! It was all of them! But we were all ensnared by these tendrils and it seemed no one could get out. Some of us were down lower than others. I had to imagine that that was not a good, that the closer they got to the bottom of the pit the worse things were for them. At the bottom of the pit was the source of the bright red light and I couldn’t imagine it would go for anyone.

“Sheriff!” I yelled at the top of lungs so I could be heard over the vast distance. I could hear my voice echo back. “Do you know where we are? What has us? What’s going on?”

The Sheriff’s head moved slowly toward me, but he said nothing.

“They’re out of it!” Crag yelled to me. “None of them will say…anything. And I’m feeling a bit…a bit drained as well.”

“It’s the tendrils,” I told him, though he must’ve realized that himself. “They must be draining our energy, feeding off of us! We have to get free of them!”

“Yeah? But how?”

That was an excellent question, I thought. Struggling against the tendrils had given me no results. Not to mention that the Trolls were much stronger than I was, if any of us were going to muscle our way out it wasn’t going to be me. “Do you have any weapons?” I asked him.

“On me?”

“Of course on you.”

“No.“

“Nothing you can use to free yourself?”

Crag took a second to look. “No,” he said.

I had no weapons on me either. Things have been too chaotic lately to gear up. But maybe I still had something that could be used. Maybe in a shoe or in a pocket, if only I could get to them. Not that I had anything in there that I thought could be much help, nothing sharp. No knives, no blades, not even a pin. I almost laughed at the thought of stabbing these thick tendrils with a tiny pin. But of course a pin, I conceded, might actually be something I could get to as it most likely wouldn’t be trapped in one of my pockets, but instead it would probably be attached to my shirt…just like…“Your badge!” I yelled.

“Huh?”

“Your badge! You can use it to get yourself free!”

“How’m I gonna do that?”

“By stabbing it with it!”

Crag looked at his badge and grasped it as if it were precious, then, looking around at our predicament, he must have realized we had no other choice. Crag pulled the metal badge off of his shirt and stabbed down hard with it into the flesh of the tendril. It responded immediately. The thing began to shake violently. Crag tried to hold on, but he couldn’t fight it as it threw him across the cavern.

“Crag!” I yelled, my voice echoing across the chasm. I heard the thud of him slamming into the far wall and watched as he slid down. “Crag!” I called as loudly as I could. “Crag! Can you hear me? Are you all right? Crag!”

But there was no answer. He wasn’t moving.

to be continued…

Down into the Island

I laid there catching my breath. What could I do? I had to go after them. I really had no choice. Crag and Domoban were in danger and I had to save them. Without them, I had no way off the island. Which meant, I had no way to get back to my home dimension. I had no way to find the rest of my friends.

But that wasn’t all. Aside from my selfish needs, they were also living, breathing people. They might be trolls, but that didn’t make them any less of a person. I couldn’t just let them be captured. Who knew what was going to happen to them down there. Whatever it was, it couldn’t be good. I had to save them. I had to.

I finally reached the spot where they had disappeared. There was a crack in the ground, but somehow the hole was resealing itself. How could rock do that? I didn’t know. I got down on the ground and quickly slid inside, carefully lowered myself down into the hole. But as I lowered myself down, I couldn’t find a place to put my feet. There were no footholds, no ledges, no nothing! I thought I was going to fall and fall far. I started to pull myself up, but I was still tired from all the running and swimming. Trying to keep up with the larger trolls had worn me out. I didn’t think I was going to have the energy to pull myself back up. But I kept trying and just when it looked like I just might have been able to get myself up, my hands slipped and I was falling.

Fortunately, I didn’t fall far. I fell hard, but not far. I had hit a rock ledge and the impact knocked for a loop. I laid there to catch my breath. As I sat up, I took in my new surroundings. I had fallen down into a hole, but it wasn’t what I had been expecting. There were rock outcroppings, but the walls seemed to be made of something else. They were smooth and warm to the touch. The hole above me had sealed itself, but the place wasn’t dark. There was a light and it was coming up from below me.

I rolled over, so I could look down. I could see various outcroppings below me. There was a dim reddish glow to everything. I could see that the glow got brighter further down, but I couldn’t see where the light was coming from. There was only one way to find out.

I got to my feet and backed myself up against the wall, feeling its warmth against my back. I swear I felt some kind of pulse go through it. But that was a worry for another time. I took three quick steps forwards and leapt across the chasm, reaching for the ledge across the way. I slammed hard into the ledge knocking the wind out of me. I immediately began to slide off. Fear of falling overcome my inability to breath and I immediately began to search for something to grab a hold of as my body continued to slip downwards off the ledge. I desperately tried to slow my downward progression by holding onto the cliff, pressing my nails into the rock, but it was no use. I was going to fall.

I continued to slide back off of the cliff. Desperately, I scrambled to find something to hold onto. But just when it seemed that all was lost, I found a bump in the ledge. I held to it as tightly as I could and stopped my slide, but I was now trapped, barely hanging onto a ledge who knew how far up with barely the strength to hang on for more than a few minutes. I glanced around and saw there was a ledge below me, a little off to the side. I began to rock back and forth side to side. When I got a little momentum going, I let go and fell down onto the other ledge, rolling as I landed. Unfortunately, I almost rolled too far and nearly went right off the ledge. I just managed to save myself at the last second.

I took a deep breath as I lay there, thinking about my latest near death experience which had been preceded very closely by at least two others. This life was getting a bit too dangerous, I thought, and then instantly burst out laughing. When hasn’t it been dangerous? Not for many, many years.

I sat up, crawled over to the ledge, and looked down. There was still way too far to go. It was slow going. I didn’t want to kill myself. But I eventually made my way to the bottom of the hole. At the bottom, the cave was lit up brightly. Light streamed in from a tunnel off to the side. It was the only path. Obviously, I had to go down it. If I was going to find the others, if I was going to save them that was the only way to go.

to be continued…

Frank and the B-Team

I definitely was feeling like I got stuck with the B team. Our team dynamic wasn’t exactly filling me with much confidence as we started walking down the beach. I glanced back at the retreating sheriff and his two deputies and I wished I could’ve gone with them. Instead I was stuck with Domoban Rosef the well-pierced cobbler and Crag, the deputy he couldn’t get along with. This was going to go well.

Surprisingly we weren’t immediately attacked by any crazed beasts or giant monsters. There weren’t any traps around to harm us. Domoban and Crag even got along. If ‘got along’ could mean ‘stayed quiet and didn’t interact with each other’.

Even more shocking, it seemed as if we had managed to reach the other side of the island without incident, not one thing tried to kill us. We didn’t find Gnomenasher either, so it wasn’t all good news. Plus, the others hadn’t arrived. “Maybe we’re not there yet,” Domoban said.

“It is hard to be sure,” Crag agreed. “It’s not as if there’s any real way to tell besides eyeballing it. Just to be sure, we should keep going.”

So we kept going, but no matter how far we went there was still no sign of them. “We must’ve crossed halfway by now,” I said.

“We might not have,” Crag said.

“Maybe the sheriff found Gnomenasher and decided to circle back?” Domoban suggested.

“Without sending someone to tell us?” I asked. “I doubt it.”

“Yeah,” Crag agreed. “The Sheriff wouldn’t do that.”

“Maybe they got held up?” I offered hearing the worry in Crag’s voice.

“Held up by what?” Domoban asked.

“I’m just saying, I’m sure they’re fine. That we shouldn’t worry.”

“Who’s worrying?” He replied making it very clear that the answer to that question was him.

“I am,” Crag said, starting to walk quickly down the beach. “We should keep going. They might need us.”

“Need us? Need us to what?”

“Save them! What else do you think? They could be in trouble and they might need us to save them!”

Domoban looked around as if he might find someone besides just the three of us. “Us? Save them? How would we manage to do that?”

“We’re trolls, Domoban. We do what we have to when we have to save the people we care about. That’s what we do.”

“Yeah, but we’re just us. They had the Sheriff. We have a little wee man. I don’t know what could’ve stopped the Sheriff that we could beat.”

“What happened to the Domoban that rushed foolhardily into the forest trying to save all the rest of us?”

“But those were just little things.”

“You didn’t know that when you ran in.”

“I guess,” Domoban admitted. “But you guys were in trouble, I heard you screaming.”

“And they could be in trouble now. It’s time to go rushing in foolhardily and save them, Domoban. Do you think you can do that?”

The cobbler nodded. “Yeah. I think I can.”

“Then let’s go do it!”

Crag and Domoban began to ran down the shoreline and I did my best to keep up. It was not easy. Not only did they have much longer strides than I did, but their feet also kicked up a lot of sand. I had to cover my face as I ran. When the sand eventually stopped hitting my face, I opened my eyes expecting to see I had caught up to them or that they had stopped. Instead, it turned out I had fallen way behind. I tried to run faster so I could catch up, but that was pointless. They were just too fast for me.

“Hey!” I yelled. “Wait for me!”

After a few minutes of yelling, they finally heard me and came to stop. “What are you doing back there?” Crag yelled back. “Hurry up! We need to get going. If the Sheriff is in danger, we can’t waste time with you screwing around.”

“Screwing around?” I huffed. “You’re twice my…”

But that was as far as I got because that was when I noticed something coming up behind them. “Twice our what?” Crag asked.

“Look out! Behind you!” I yelled, but I was too late. Tendrils reached out to them, wrapping around them. Crag and Domoban screamed as they were pulled backwards.

I tried to run faster to save them, but I was already at a sprint and quickly nearing exhaustion. The trolls fought against the tendrils as best they could, but they couldn’t stop from being pulled down backwards toward a large gaping hole. They tried to grab a hold of something, but all they came away with was sand. I dove to reach them, but I was too late. All I managed to catch was a face full of sand. They were gone, pulled down into the pit.

I couldn’t save them. I was too slow.

to be continued…

Inside the Jungle on the Island in the Middle of the Ocean

The Sheriff turned to the well-pierced man. “Domoban, stay with Gnomenasher.”

“With your gerbil? Out here!? You mean I came here for nothing?”

The Sheriff didn’t let the other troll’s outrage rattle him. “I need someone to watch that gerbil. It’s the only way we’re getting back home.”

“Fine,” Domoban pouted. “But if I hear any screaming, I’m coming in to rescue you.”

The Sheriff chuckled. “Deal.”

“All right,” I said, impatiently. “Let’s go find my friends.”

“You heard him,” the Sheriff said. “Let’s go!” and into the forest we went.

As we walked, I paid especially close attention to the trees, keeping my eyes open for any possible suspicious movement or behavior. After the last forest I was in turned out to be a monster in hiding, I wasn’t going to chance it. No more forest-monsters for me thanks.

“So,” Toleuk said after we had been walking for a while. “How are we planning on finding these people?”

“I don’t know,” I told her honestly.

That was not she wanted to hear. “You don’t know? You don’t have any ideas?”

“I figured we’d just look around until something found us.”

“Found us?”

“I don’t tend to need to go out looking for trouble. Trouble usually just finds me.”

And as if on cue, that was when trouble found us.

Without warning, little creatures fell down from the canopy, dropping on us and immediately began to attack us, bite us, scratch us, grabbing and pulling. They were only the size of squirrels and looked even smaller on the massive bulk of the trolls, but they were everywhere! There were at least a half a dozen on me, maybe two dozen on the sheriff, and there was nothing we could do to shake them off.

I grabbed one on my shoulder and pulled him off, throwing him out into the forest and before he was out of my hand another had jumped down to replace him. “We need to do something!” I yelled.

“Any ideas?” the sheriff asked, trying to squish the creatures inside his massive hands

“I’d hoped you had some.”

I tried to bat them off. Toleuk dropped to the ground and began rolling around. Two deputies tried to pick the creatures off of each other. But nothing any of us did seemed to have any lasting effect. Suddenly, we heard a loud yell and we all turned to see a massive form coming racing toward us. It was Domoban, charging at us like a wild rhinoceros. “I’ll save you!” he roared, barreling into us.

The little squirrel creatures were fast enough to get out of the way. Unfortunately, I was not. Domoban came plowing into me, knocking me hard into a tree. He then tripped over Toleuk and went flying into the other two deputies.

The Sheriff went stomping over to his fallen form. “What the hell are you doing here?” “

I came to rescue you,” he said from the ground.

“Rescue us? I told you to stay with Gnomenasher!”

“But,” Domoban said, sitting up, “I heard screams.“

The Sheriff sighed. “Let’s go back and make sure Gnomenasher is still there.”

“Go back!?” one of the deputies repeated, aghast. “But we just got out here!”

“And if something happens to Gnomenasher, we’ll be stuck out here. Forever.”

And so we retreated back the way we came. It was disheartening how quickly we reached the end of the forest. How short we had traveled before getting assaulted became very clear. But even worse than that, when we reached the beach, it was empty. No one was there. We looked left and right, up and down the beach. And found nothing.

“Oh, no,” the sheriff said.

“Where is he?” Toleuk asked.

Domoban rushed to the edge of the island and looked down to the sea. He cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted, “Gnomenasher!

“I hope he didn’t go down there,” I said.

“Me neither,” the Sheriff agreed. “Eitherwise, we might never be able to find him again. And if we can’t find him, we’ll be stuck here with no way to get home.”

“And it’ll be all your fault, Domoban,” one of the deputies said, harshly.

“Don’t do that, Crag,” the Sheriff said. “How many times have I warned you not to be mean to the people we’re supposed to be protecting?”

“I’m sorry, Sheriff,” Crag replied. “I didn’t mean it.”

“For that, I’m putting you and Domoban on a team. The two of you and Frank will head down that way. The rest will come with me down the other way. We’ll meet on the other side of the island.”

“What?” Domoban exclaimed. “You’re going to put me with just one deputy and a little human? I’m just a cobbler!”

“You’re a troll, Domoban. So act like it,” the Sheriff retorted harshly. “You’ll be fine. Now, hurry. Gnomenasher could be in danger.” The Sheriff led his team down the beach, leaving us behind.

“Don’t worry,” I told Domoban. “We’ll be all right. I’m sure there’s nothing here we can’t handle.”

“Really?” Crag asked. “We just got attacked by little squirrels and they almost had us beat.”

I glared up at him. “We’ll be fine.”

Crag looked away chastised. With nothing left to say, I began walking down the beach and the trolls followed after me.

to be continued…