We swam onwards. Some of us had an easier time with it than others. Tam, whose suit propelled them forward, ended up towing the trolls behind them. But eventually we all got tired, even the native swimmer Pem. The city was much further away then we would have hoped. “Maybe we could go back and get another wagon?” Crag said.
“Another…what?” Pem asked, confused by the troll’s language choice.
“A transport,” I clarified. “He wants another transport.”
Pem was not put at ease. “Are you kidding me? Do you think they’re going to let me take another one out? I barely had permission to take that one. The only reason I was allowed that one was because they wanted you all out of there so badly that they would have done nearly anything to get it done. Bringing you back will just get me in trouble.”
“More trouble than dying out here in the middle of the ocean?”
“Yes. A lot more.”
“Oh,” I said because what argument could I make against someone who’d rather put his life at risk than risk getting into trouble with his superiors?
So we started swimming again because what other choice did we have. We had been going for a few hours before someone noticed Crag was gone. “Where did he go?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” Toleuk said. “He was here one minute and then he wasn’t.”
“How long ago was that?”
“I don’t know.”
“When did you last see him?”
“Hard to say. It’s not like there’s a sun to tell the time down here.”
“He was with us when we stopped,” the Sheriff said. “Did he start swimming with us when we started up again?”
“Wait,” Tam interrupted. “Where are the other deputies?”
We turned to see that we were indeed a few men down. “Where did they go?” I asked. “Did anyone see them leave?”
“They wouldn’t have just wandered off,” the Sheriff said. “I know my deputies.”
“Then where are they?”
And that’s when the giant clam erupted from the ground, opened its shell, and enveloped Domoban before pulling him back under the ground. The Sheriff raced to save him, but he was much too late. The giant troll couldn’t swim anywhere near fast enough to save his comrade. But he wouldn’t give up. The Sheriff immediately began to dig into the dirt. “There’s no point,” Pem said. “He’s gone. The clam-mine’s have him.”
“You mean they’re dead?” the Sheriff asked, aghast.
“Not necessarily,” Pem replied, though I couldn’t tell if he was being sincere or just trying to placate the large, desperate troll. “That all depends on the Lowardens.”
“You know who has my deputies?”
“You know where the blip is?” I asked. “You know where Gnomenasher is?”
“I wasn’t certain before, but there seems to be no doubt now. This is Lowardenite technology. And that is the last place we wanted to go.”
“And why is that?” Tam asked.
“Because the Lowarden are cruel and devious creatures. You’ve seen the technology they use.”
“I’ve seen their defensive devices that activated because we crossed into their territory.”
“You’re taking their side!?” Pem yelled, suddenly growing furious. “They kidnapped your jubel!”
“Gerbil,” Tam corrected. “And we don’t know why they took it. Maybe they were just trying to save its life.”
“Save its life?” Pem laughed. “These are the Lowardens we’re talking about here. They don’t save lives. They take them.”
Tam looked ready to argue, but the Sheriff jumped in. “What about my deputies? What about my people? Can we still save them?”
“Maybe,” Pem said. “But the smarter thing would be for us to turn around now and for me to take you back home. You should forget this.”
“Forget about my people?” the Sheriff was appalled. “Forget about my friends? I can’t believe you would suggest such a thing!”
“I’m suggesting you choose life over throwing it away. There’s no reason for any more of us to do die today.”
“I thought you said they were still alive.”
“I said they could be, possibly. But if the Lowardens have them, they won’t be alive for long.”
“Well, then we should stop wasting time and go get them!”
“I agree,” I told them. “Our friends need saving.”
“Why won’t any of you listen to me?” Pem asked, fervently. “There is danger ahead.”
“There’s always danger, that doesn’t mean we should avoid it. If you want to leave, Pem, then go ahead. We’re not going to force you to go with us to save people you don’t know.”
“And abandon a bunch of landbreathers in the middle of the ocean as they face off against dangers they are clueless about? What kind of man would that make me?”
“Don’t pressure yourself into…” I tried to say, but he cut me off.
“Let’s just do this.”
“Finally,” Tam grumbled and we began to swim forward, the five of us who were left. But it wasn’t long before they said, “We’re being followed.”
“What?” I asked, looking around.
“Don’t look, you idiot.”
But it was too late, I had already looked and, worse, they had seen that I had looked. And, so, they attacked.
to be continued…