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…

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The Wizard’s Price

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.

“You changed!”

“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.”

“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…!”

“Yes.”

“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…