No One Will Listen to Pem

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…


The Rescue Mission Hits a Bit of a Snag

Having gotten Tam on board, I turned to the Sheriff. “If you and your deputies are too tired to come, they don’t have to. We’ve got this.”

“Whether it’s Gnomenasher or your friends,” the Sheriff replied, “we’re in as well. We came to help get you home. We’re not quitting now.”

“Well, I’m not going,” Haf said, putting a damper on our growing mood of unity,

“Oh, thanks,” Pem grumbled. “You know one of us is going to have to go with them until they’re out of here.”

“You’d rather deal with the LeechVine that doesn’t realize its people now? Because if you would…”

“No,” Pem stopped her there. “I’ll deal with the bipeds. You can have the leechvine all to yourself.”

Haf gave him an insincere smile. “You’re so kind.”

With that resolved, Pem led us down to the garage where we piled into what resembled a hovercraft if it had been designed to work underwater. There was no top, only a windshield, presumably to protect us from drag, except in this case the drag would be coming from water not wind. So I guess that makes it a watershield.

After we all piled into the craft, we sailed off into the ocean. It was a bit of a new experience for me, driving around under the sea without a roof over my head. But as far as strangeness goes, it really barely registered compared to the rest of the trip. I was driving out to save a giant gerbil with a bunch of trolls and a surly time-traveler.

“We’re coming up on the location of the blip,” Pem said as he slowed the seacraft down. “We’re going to have to be very careful. We don’t know what’s waiting us, but I’m getting a lot of activity up ahead. So be prepared for anything.”

And that’s when tentacles shot out of the ground and began trying to grab us. They were everywhere! It was like a forest of them. For a second, I began to fear that leechvine had returned. I didn’t want to be caught by that thing again. That was until I saw what it really was and then I reconsidered. It was a giant squid creature. It’s central body was several times bigger than our craft and it had over a dozen massive limbs.

Pem was able to keep us from its grasp but he couldn’t avoid the limbs altogether. We were struck hard by one of them and the craft went tumbling. We had no choice but to scatter and abandon our transport. Some of managed to get free of the vehicle with greater ease than others. Pem and Tam got away fine with almost no difficulty. But the trolls, however, had a much more difficult time. They became easy prey for the monster. It wrapped them up in its tentacles one after the other and I seemed destined to join them. But as a gigantic tentacle reached for me, and escape seemed unlikely, the giant squid suddenly began to convulse. The squid’s tentacles began to flail about randomly. Unfortunately, randomly flailing tentacles were still fairly dangerous to us all.

I was tossed back and forth by the surging waters, thrown upside down and all around. And just when it seemed to be at its worse. The squid exploded and I was thrown back through the waters with incredible force. If we had been on land, I would’ve smashed headlong into a wall or a cave or just slammed into the ground, but since we were in the ocean, I was slowed down by the water that pressed back against me. For the most part, it left me confused and mildly bruises, which was much preferred to broken legs and mildly concussed.

After righting myself, I swam back to the others. “What the hell just happened?”

“That was clearly a Lowardian borderbot,” Pem replied, “but I have no idea why it malfunctioned like that. They’re usually much better made.”

“It was made fairly well,” Tam said. “For primatives. But they completely slacked on their hackingware. I was able to override it easily. I slipped into its CPU, rearranged its mission statement, randomized its targeting systems, and greatly overclocked its OS. Piece of Cake.”

“Huh?” Crag grunted.

“They made it explode,” I explained.

“You couldn’t have done that before we lost our transport?” Pem grumbled, unhappily.

“Maybe you should build better transports,” Tam retorted.

“We have better transports! But I don’t get to check them out just so I can taxi landpeople around.”

“Fair enough,” I said, cutting in before they got into a fight, “but we can still follow the signal, right?”

“Yes, we can follow the signal,” Tam said. “I don’t need any of the Merapolian technology to track the ‘exotic particles’. I’m not even sure why we even needed this merapolian in the first place.”

“Because this is their home. He knows things about this world that we don’t.”

Tam glared at me, presumably unhappy that I had actually had a semi-valid answer. “That didn’t save us from that giant mechanical cephalopod, did it?”

“I had hoped that we’d be able to avoid the borderbot,” Pem said to his own defense, “since we were not in an attack vessel. But apparently the size of our vessel was not seen as little of a threat as I had hoped.”

“Never underestimate what mayhem one can get up to, no matter the size of their vessel,” Tam said, straight-faced.

“But can we still get there?” the Sheriff asked. “We need to save Gnomenasher. He’s counting on us.”

“The Giant Gerbil?” Tam snickered.

“Yes. The Giant Gerbil.”

“No offense, Sheriff, but I don’t think the gerbil has any idea we’re coming to rescue it.”

“It doesn’t matter if he knows or not,” I said, once again trying to keep Tam from instigating a fight. “What matters is that he needs us and that we’ll be there whenever he does.”

“That’s all well and good,” Pem said. “But how are we going to get there to save him? We don’t have a transport.”

“We swim,” I said.

“What about the traps they have laid out for us?”

“Avoiding ones like this shouldn’t be a problem,” Tam said. “Now that I know what to be on the lookout for.”

“And traps that are not like this?” Domoban asked.

“We’ll all just have to do our best to avoid those, won’t we?”

to be continued…

That Girl was a Monster, That Monster was an Island

“Ok,” Pem said. “Who is she?”

“It’s the island,” I proclaimed, pointing at the madwoman on the other side of the glass. “It’s the tendril monster!”

“What?” Tam asked. “How does that make any sense?”

“The tendril monster’s main form of offense is to entangle its prey in its tendrils and to feed on their life-force, correct?”

“To oversimplify things,” the merwoman said, “Yes.”

“But because of my accident, long story, I’m filled with unstable quantum energy. So when the tendrils were feeding on me, they were really feeding on that. That’s why I’m awake when most of the others are not.”

“Your point?” the merwoman asked.

“My point is, you see, when the instability builds up to a certain degree I have to drain it.”

“And when I drain the instability it has an effect on my body.”

“What effect?”

“My body changes…into another body. So when we were in trouble and things looked bleak, I went on the assumption that it had absorbed enough of my instability. And I used my pocket stabilizer on the creature. Soon after the island collapsed, so I’m thinking now it must have worked.”

“I’m sorry,” Crag said. “What does whatever you just said have to do with the island collapsing?”

“The island was the tentacle monster,” I tried to explain. “The island wasn’t actually a real island, it was just a disguise to trap us.”

“It’s true,” the merwoman, whose name I really should have known by now, but she never introduced herself, said. “The Giant Leechvine is known for disguising itself with a lure like a tropical island to capture land animals to eat.”

“That monster was the entire island?” Crag asked.

“Yes,” I told him, “so when I used my stabilizer on the monster it changed. And when the monster changed, it must’ve changed into something smaller, meaning that there was nothing holding the island together.”

“Leaving a lot of empty space,” Tam said. “So the island collapsed.”

“Yes,” I said, happy that someone else got it. “The island collapsed. When the monster became a smaller creature, its disguise, all the island accoutrements that it was using to hide itself, fell in on themselves.”

“Fell right on top of us,” Tam added.

“Yes. Maybe it turned out that wasn’t the best strategy. But, hey, here we are. Still alive.”

“So, that thing in there…?” Crag asked, looking through the observation window.

“Is the monster, Yes.”

“The Giant Leechvine,” the merwoman corrected.

“So the monster was an entire island and is now that person in there?”

“That’s how I understand it, Crag.”

“Ok,” Tam said. “So now what are we going to do with it?”

“Leave it here,” I said.

“With us?” the merwoman asked. She clearly was not happy with that answer.

“You have a facility that it’s already locked up in. Leaving it here seems like the wisest move.”

“And you and your friends just wander off taking none of the responsibility?”

“What else do you want us to do?” I asked. “Take it with us?”

“No,” Pem said. “This creature is going to bear some observation. It needs to be studied before we can consider releasing it.”

“You would, wouldn’t you?” The merwoman glared at him.

“Yes, Haf. I would. Sometimes science is the best solution. Even you have to admit that.”

“Fine.” She did a complicated thing with her arms that might have been a shrug. “We’ll take your monster…for science.”

“Thank you,” Tam said. “Then we should be leaving.”

“We can’t leave without the others,” I told them, thinking of the Sheriff and his other deputies.

“We have responsibilities, Frank. We have a mission to complete. Enemies to vanquish. And since Lu, G’fon, and Kink aren’t here. I assume we have to go and save them, as well.”

“I know we have responsibilities, Tam,” I told them, “but I have a responsibility to these people, as well. They risked their lives to help me find you. They didn’t have to, but they volunteered. I owe it to them to get them back safely.”

“Fine,” Tam said. “We’ll return them to wherever you found them and then we will go off to find the others.”

We left the transformed Leechvine and were brought into a small room. The water was drained and food was brought. It was all raw fish and seaweed. Nothing was cooked. Everything was a little too slimy. Tam didn’t seem to mind. As we ate, the others were brought in. First Toleuk and then the Sheriff and then finally the other deputies.

“Now that you are all together,” Haf said. “you can head out.”

“But we’re not altogether,” the Sheriff said. “We’re missing Gnomenasher.”

“Gnomenasher?” Tam asked.

A giant gerbil,” I replied. “Don’t ask.”

“This is all of you that we found,” Pem said. “There’s no one else.”

“But we need him.”

“What’s so important about this creature?”

“Without Gnomenasher there’s no way we can find our way home!”

to be continued…

Drown Your Troubles?

“Drown your friend?” the other merperson repeated. “Why would we do that?”

“Because you’re crazy!” I yelled at her, frantic over having to watch Tam drown on the other side of this glass. “Because you said they were a problem!”

“We’re not drowning anyone. Relax. We’re just filling up the room so that we can safely open the door.”

I wasn’t buying her act. “You don’t need to fill the room all the way just to open the door! Look at them, Tam doesn’t even have a rebreather on!” The water had nearly reached neck height, soon Tam wouldn’t be able to stay above the waterline! However, there was still a couple feet of air left in the room, we could still save them. But for some reason instead of taking advantage of the last couple of breathes of air, Tam dropped down into the water. Did they not see us? Did they not know me and Crag were out here fighting for their life? “Hold on, Tam!” I yelled, banging on the glass, trying to make them see that we were here, that they weren’t alone. “We’ll save you!”

Crag moved to help me get past the merpeople. He wasn’t very agile in the water, but he was large.

“What are you doing?!?” Pem demanded, as Crag pushed him back..

“Trying to save my friend!” I yelled, moving toward the controls.

“Save them? But they’re fine! Look! Look inside!”

I turned to see that the entire room was now filled with water and Tam was floating in the center of it, motionless. They was dea…no, wait…They were moving now. They turned their head toward us and strangely seemed to be in no hurry. They was surrounded by water, no air anywhere, but they didn’t seem to be having any trouble. Was they…ok? Tam looked right at me and signaled for us to wait. The door opened and they then swam out to join us.

“You don’t have a rebreather on,” I said, uncomprehending.

“Why would I need a rebreather?” Tam asked. “This body was designed to survive in the vacuum of space. A little water’s not going to be a problem for it.”

“Oh,” I said. It was the best I could do. Crag seemed even more dumbfounded. I looked at the merpeople with a look of apology. Then I turned back to Tam. “It’s just when I saw you in there with the water rising, I thought you were in trouble. Pem told me that one of us was being a problem, so when I…”

Tam looked offended. “So you thought it was me?”

“It looked like they were trying to drown you! What was I supposed to think?”

“You would think we would drown someone?” Pem gasped.

I could see there wasn’t really an answer that could get me out of this. I knew the only recurse I had was to change the subject and change it quickly. “Ok, if not Tam, then who is causing you guys trouble?”

“That’s not a bad idea,” the merwoman said. “We should take them to her.”

“Her?” I asked, thinking of Toleuk, the only woman currently in our group. If something was wrong with Toleuk, we had to see her immediately. I was fairly sure that she could be drowned. “Yes, take us to her right away.”

“Come on,” Pem said, leading us down the hall. At the end of the hall was another room, but it was not Toleuk on the other side of that window.

“I have no idea who that is,” I said, honestly.

“You have no idea?” Pem asked me and then the others. “We found her with your people. When we tried to save her, she attacked us.”

“She’s not one of us,” Crag confirmed. “The rest of our team were Trolls like me. Frank was the only, uh, whatiscalled…human among us.”

“And Tam,” I added. “Who we came here to rescue. But that person…I mean, no offense, but she looks like one of you.”

“Like one of us?” the merwoman laughed. “Are you joking? Look at her dorsal fin, her coloring, her strange face.”

I didn’t know about the other things, but I had to admit that upon closer inspection the face did look a bit different than the other merpeople I’d seen, more human, less fishy. Still, as far as I was concerned that didn’t change anything. “She’s not one of us,” I told them.

“She was with you,” Pem reiterated, “attacked the people who tried to save her.”

“Ok, I still don’t know who she is.”

“If you don’t know her, then what was she doing with you then?”

I didn’t like his accusatory tone, even through the distortions of the water, as if I was to blame. “I don’t know what she was doing there with us. I didn’t see her there. I was too busy having rocks fall on my head and trying not to drown.”

“Well, you nearly failed at both of those things,” the merwoman retorted, sourly. “If we hadn’t saved you, you’d be dead, so sink the attitude.”

I tried to take a deep breath with the rebreather on and it mostly worked, creating some large air bubbles in the process. “Right. Sorry.” To hide my embarrassment, I turned to the woman again on the other side of the window. I watched her as she thrashed about frantically.

“She’s like a madwoman,” Crag said. “Are we sure she’s not possessed by a demon?”

The merpeople exchanged a glance. “Is he serious?”

Tam shrugged. “I think it’s highly unlikely that this is some kind of possession, but then again, I’ve seen much weirder things.”

The woman’s limbs moved as if they had minds of their own. Each finger moved wildly, as if the woman didn’t understand how they worked. But there was something else, the way her limbs moved, almost…almost…almost as if she were…trying…trying to eat through her fingers? Why would she be tr…And then it suddenly all made sense to me. “I know who she is! I know what she is!”

to be continued…

At the Mercy of the Fishmen

“Ow! What the hell was that? Your collar just attacked me.”

“One,” Pem replied, seemingly bored with my pain, “it’s a rebreather and, two, it didn’t attack you.”

“It did!” I yelled back at him. “I felt it!”

“No. That was just the rebreather injecting a tube into your blood stream.”

“It did what!?” I exclaimed, redoubling my efforts to remove it.

“How else do you expect it to be able to oxygenate your blood?” Pem asked like a man who didn’t have a collar injecting itself into his neck

“You could have warned me.” I wondered what else they might be pumping into my system without me knowing it.

“You know, you are very accusatory for a landbreather we just saved from suffocating at the bottom of the ocean.”

I didn’t like his tone or the subtext, but I was really at his mercy. If I wanted to get anywhere or see anyone I had to play nice. “So this means I should be able to get around your city, right?”

“Right. You can come with me and we can see your friends.”

So I slowly crawled down from the bed and into the water. I was now submerged to up a little over my waist. Pem slipped under the water and swam out of the room. I took a deep breath and tentatively went down into the water. I continued to hold my breath as I considered following after the fishman into the hall. If I went, I’d lose the only air bubble I knew existed anywhere nearby. If this rebreather didn’t work or if it suddenly stopped working I’d be in serious trouble. I waited for my lungs to start to burn, but it never came. It felt weird not breathing, but I seemed to be able to stay alive without it for the moment. I guess the rebreather really was doing its job. I was getting good at accepting weird things, I was in a city of mermaids at the bottom of the ocean in a different dimension after all.

I swam out the opening into the hall. “Just this way,” he said, it was a weird muted, echoey, high-pitched sound. I gave the ‘ok’ sign, but he didn’t seem to understand. “Is there a problem? Do you need to visit the restroom? Is that what that gesture was?”

I shook my head then made swimming gestures before pointed ahead of us. Pem snorted, bubbles coming out of his gills. “You know you can speak, right? The rebreather makes it so you communicate underwater like normal people.”

“It does?” I asked, tentatively, not trusting that it would actually work.

“Yes. It does,” Pem said. “Now, tell me, are you doing ok?”

“I’m…doing fine. Apparently. Everything seems to be working surprisingly well.”

“Surprising? What’s so ‘surprising’ about it?”

“Nothing,” I said, remembering that I was kind of at this guy’s mercy at the moment. “It was just…a figure of speech. My friends?”

Pem was quiet for several seconds then said, “Yes…right this way. Most of your…companions are still recovering, but I can take you to the one that is awake.”

“We were attacked by some kind of monster,” I explained as we swam. “It was all tendrils wrapping around us, feeding on our lifeforce.”

“Oh, you got tricked by a giant leechvine.” He said it all a little to matter-of-factly “That explains the symptoms. I hear those things can be quite deadly.”

Pem brought me to the cell where Crag was being held. I banged on the window to get his attention. He looked confused, seeing me swimming next to the fishman. I tried to signal for him to wait and not panic, as Pem started to let water into his room. When it was nearly a third full, Pem swam in and I followed.

“What’s going on here?” Crag asked as we came to the surface.

“Pem and his people saved us,” I said, hoping the rebreather wouldn’t have any issues now that I was back in the air. “If you want to come out here. You’re going to put on one of these rebreathers. They will have to inject themselves into your bloodstream.”

Crag looked worried. “Do I have a choice?”

“You could just stay in here and let me worry about finding everyone else.”

“I can’t let you do that. I’m a deputy. I swore an oath. It’s my duty to look after you and my fellow deputies, and my sheriff. I’ll wear the collar.”

Crag took the collar without complaint. His was, of course, much bigger than mine, but it fit around his neck easily. He snapped it home and joined us in the water. We all swam out into the water-filled hall. “All right, what about the others?” Crag asked, after I explained to him that he could now speak under water.

“Most of your kind are still recovering, but there is one of you that has been a problem since we brought you all in. I would like to take you to them in the hopes that you could calm them down.”

“Of course,” I said. “We’ll do what we can to help.”

We swam down the hall. Crag seemed to have some problems keeping up, which made me wonder if he even knew how to swim. He ended up making his way mostly by crawling along the floor. It wasn’t the fastest or easiest way to get around but it more or less did the job.

When Pem came to a stop, there was already another fishperson there waiting for us. I moved passed them toward the window looking into the next room. I was surprised by who I saw on the other side. It was Tam! They were in a room like the one Crag and I had been in. They were filling the room with water, but whereas with Crag and I they had stopped the water when it reached the height of the bed, here the water had already risen past it and it was showing no sign of slowing down. It became clear that they weren’t just partially filling the room so that they could move in and out easier. No, they were trying to fill the entire room with water! They were trying to drown them!

“Stop!” I yelled at the second fishperson. Pem quickly grabbed a hold of me. I tried to swim at her. I struggled against him, trying to get free. “Let go of me! I won’t let you drown my friend!”

to be continued…

The Island Becomes Quantumly Unstable

“What?” Tam shouted back as they tried to dodge tendrils. “You know how to beat them? Then what are you doing standing there like an idiot? Do it already!”

“Right,” I said before reaching into my back pocket for my travel instability extractor. I pulled it out and extended it. Then I slammed it hard into the closest tendril I could find. I pressed down on the bottom and instantly the tendril began to glow!

I watched as the glow spread down the tendril. Then the other ones began to glow. Soon the entire room was lit up by the glowing tendrils. “Frank,” Crag yelled. “What the hell is going on?”

“It’s ok,” I told him. “This is supposed to happen. I’m stabilizing the instability. This should give us a chance to escape.” But then, as if to defy my comment, then tendrils began to thrash wildly.

Oh, right. Here comes the painful part.

As the tendrils convulsed, we did our best to avoid them, but our best turned out not to be so good. The trolls especially took a beating. Tam and I who were a good deal smaller than them, managed slightly better. But then the brightness got too bright. Covering our eyes wasn’t enough, we had to squeeze them to keep from being blinded by the light. And that still wasn’t enough. Dodging became impossible. All that was left for us to do was curl into little balls trying to block all the light we could and hope for the best.

Then the shaking stopped and I realized that the light was gone. I started to open my eyes. I could hear the others start to make relieved sounds. As I blinked away the leftover spots in my eyes, I began to look around. There were no tendrils in sight. None. They had completely disappeared. We had won! It was over! The monster was g…

And then, just as we began to feel happy in our seeming victory, the island began to collapse underneath us.

The ground beneath our feet was caving in right under our feet. We had to run as fast as we could, but every one of was so worn down. We couldn’t escape the collapse. Even if we had had the energy it might have been impossible, but in this state we barely managed to put up much effort. Almost as one, we all fell down into the hole beneath us. I was expecting to hit rocks and be crushed from the avalanche coming down from above, but there was no floor. We fell for several feet and then hit water, smacking into it hard and with great surprise. It hurt when we hit it but at least it wasn’t rocks, I told myself.

Though there was no hard floor, that didn’t mean the ceiling still wasn’t falling on us. There was no way to go up and most of us were too tired to swim, so we sank. We sank further and further under the water. We did our best to stay away from the falling rocks, but we could only do so well in the slowness of the water.

I lost track of the others quickly. It became increasingly dark. And everywhere I looked there were rocks. I had no choice but to swim down away from them. And as I got deeper any source of light got further away. But then air started to become a problem, specifically my lack of it. I could feel the need for more start to grow in my chest.

Except going up wasn’t an option. Up were rocks and those rocks were coming down. So I was forced lower and lower, away from my next breath. I could feel my lungs starting to burn with the need for more oxygen. I tried to swim around them. I couldn’t worry about the others, wherever they were. I couldn’t save them and myself. And saving myself was looking to become my abilities. The only light that remained down where was Tam’s and it was growing dim.

I had no choice. I had to go. Me dying wouldn’t save anyone else. I tried to swim up, but there really was no way past the rocks. So around it would have to be. I swam down and out, but I couldn’t swim fast enough. I had gotten too close to the rocks. They were coming down too quickly and I couldn’t get away from them. Down I went again to try to get around them, but I was too slow. I couldn’t get past them.

This seemed to be the end for us. We escaped dying at the hands of a giant lifesucking tendril monster only to drown when it collapsed in on itself. The monster had pushed us to the limit and now here we were being pushed past that limit by water and falling rocks.

But I couldn’t give up. I knew I was going to lose, but I had to keep trying. I had to keep trying to get around these rocks. I had to keep trying to get back to the surface. I had to keep trying to help my friends and I had to keep trying to get back home. I couldn’t give up even as the entire island fell in on us, pushing us down into the bottom of the ocean.

But as I swam with all my remaining strength, my lungs continued to sear in my chest. I couldn’t keep from thinking that this was the end.

And then I saw a light.

At first, I thought it was Tam, but the light was not red and hadn’t they fallen in the other direction? The light was coming toward us and it was getting brighter. It distracted me enough to slow my swimming and get hit by a falling rock. The little air I had left in my lungs was knocked out of it. I watched with terror as bubbles escaped from my lips. I tried to push off of the rocks, but it was pushing me down too fast. I couldn’t escape it! This was going to be the end.

And then the bright light was upon me. I could feel something grab me. Something hard and unyielding wrapping around my waist. I could feel it pull on me into its bright light. And that was the last thing I saw before everything went black.

to be continued…

The Island is Going to Kill Us

The floor of the cave, the entire cave itself, was shaking. For a second, I thought there was an earthquake. But. no, I realized, it was the tendrils. They were beneath the ground and they were angry and they were all trying to come up.

I ran to the nearest troll I could find. It was Toleuk. She was lying on the ground, unconscious. I tried to shake her awake, but I couldn’t shake her any stronger than the ground was already shaking her. “Toleuk! Wake up! Or we’re all going to die!”

Toleuk’s eyes slowly opened, but only half-way. She was still very groggy. The tendrils had sucked out too much of her lifeforce. “Come on,” I told her, trying to pull her up, but she was too big, too heavy, to just pick her up. “You have to get up. We have to get out of here.”

“Huh…?” she mumbled, clearly not registering anything I was saying.

“We have to go! We have to go right now!”


“Yes, we nee…”

Then tendrils began to erupt from the ground! They were larger tendrils than the ones we had faced before, thick like tree trunks, and they began to tear the ground beneath us apart as they bursted out into the surface. They were going to tear the cave apart. “Up! Up! Up!” I yelled at Toleuk and thankfully she started to get to her feet. “Come on! Come on!”

“I am, I am,” she said. Her voice was barely more than a whisper. Her movements were almost in slow motion. I looked to the others. They weren’t doing much better. Tam was trying to get Domoban to his feet. Crag had one of the deputies up, I couldn’t see which one. We were all so weak, but the tendrils they were going strong and the ground was being pulverized from below. It would be gone soon enough and then all there would be was us and the tendrils.

“We need to move,” Tam said, coming toward me, holding Domoban up. I would’ve been impressed with their strength if the entire cave wasn’t threatening to come down on our heads. “What’s our plan to get out of here?”

“Our plan?” I replied, still working on getting Toleuk up.

“Yes. Where’s that magician friend of yours? Or Kink? Do you have a transport?”

“Are you kidding me?” I said. “We had a gerbil, that’s it.”

“A gerbil?” Tam growled. “You came to rescue me with a gerbil!?”

“We had a gerbil. It’s gone now.”

“So then we have nothing?”

“We have what you see here. That’s it.” I gestured around us. We could barely make out the trolls amidst the tree trunk tendrils.

“We need to go!” Crag yelled, two deputies leaning on him. “We have to get out of this cave before it kills us!”

“I don’t know if climbing is going to be enough”

“There has to be somewhere on this island that is safe.”

“I doubt that,” Tam yelled back trying to be heard. “I don’t think this is an island at all.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” Crag asked.

“It means,” Tam said, “that I’m pretty sure that this creature is actually the entire island.”

Crag looked like he wanted to argue further, but we were quickly losing ground that didn’t have giant tendrils sticking out of it and the cavern ceiling had started to fall in on us. The ways we could die was quickly increasing and the means of escape were vanishing.

“We need to escape and we need to escape now!” Tam yelled at me, but that was looking less and less likely. The rocks beneath us were being smashed, a line of escape was disappearing. The walls were coming to pieces, climbing out seemed unlikely.

Giant tendrils were everywhere and more were appearing every second. And everyone looked like they could barely even stand up. The trolls were out on their feet. Only Crag was managing it without any great effort and that was because he barely spent time in a tendril. Tam was standing, but they were doing it with great concentration.

I, on the other hand, was feeling surprisingly strong. How could that be? I had been wrapped tightly in tendrils and been seconds away from being eaten. I’d felt the energy being pulled out of me. And yet, I felt nearly as strong as I always did. There was something I was missing. What made me different than everyone else?

Well, I was the only unmodified human here. That was different.

…Or wait, I’m not unmodified, am I? I do have a modification, don’t I. My quantum instability, that was what separated me from every other person in the world, across the timestream and all the dimensions. That’s what I had going for me that no one else had. My quantum instability had been building up for the past couple days. And if that’s what the tendrils had pulled out of me, then that would explain why I was feeling so strong and no one else was.

So if the tendrils had absorbed my instability that meant it was in them now, meaning… “I know how to beat them!”

to be continued…