I was thrown out hard onto the ground. I bounced painfully onto a giant gerbil that snapped viciously at me. I started to get up when the Sheriff came flying out at me from seemingly thin air. I braced myself for the impact, preparing to be crushed, but fortunately his massive frame when bouncing past me. I looked up to see where we were and found I was surrounded by trolls, everyone who had been sucked through the hole. At least, it appeared we had all ended up together.
Toleuk walked over to her boss and helped him up. “What happened to us, Sheriff?”
“Looks like we all got sucked up and spit out, Deputy. Now, we’ve just got to figure out where we’ve got sucked to.”
I surveyed the empty landscape around us and spotted a hill not too far away. “I think I know where we are,” I said. “I think we’re back where I started.”
“Are you sure?” the sheriff asked.
I shrugged. “Looks like it. But then again, one desolate hillside looks like every other desolate hillside.”
“Who cares where we are?” one of the trolls yelled. Judging by her dress, she was no deputy, but instead a barmaid. “I want to know how we can get back home.”
“Yeah!” the others joined in.
“The only way to get home would be back through the portal,” the sheriff told them. They were slightly less enthused about that.
“I don’t see the portal, sheriff,” Toleuk said.
“Well that’s easy to solve.” The sheriff turned to his giant gerbil. “All right, Gnomenasher, find the magic!”
The gerbil moved slightly then pointed up. Then he moved again and pointed. Then moved again and pointed. Then moved again and pointed.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, confused by this action. “He can’t find it?”
The sheriff dipped his crowbar in at each spot. It shimmered each time. “There appears to be more than one portal.”
“More than one!?” a farmer exclaimed. “How will we know which one will take us home?”
“There’s really only one way to find out,” the Sheriff replied, twirling his crowbar.
“We’ve got to try them all?” Toleuk asked.
“No,” I said. “I’ve got to try them all. My friends are at the ends of the others. The rest of you don’t have to worry about them, you just have to wait for me to come back. Either I’ll have returned to the bar and I’ll come back immediately or I won’t have and I won’t have.”
“And I’m just supposed to let you do all of that all by yourself?” the Sheriff asked. “You could be jumping off to your death.”
“Maybe, but you’ve got more than a dozen people to worry about here, Sheriff. You can’t abandon them.”
“That’s why Darmuk invented deputies.”
“And we’re just supposed to let you go all by yourself without us?” Toleuk said. “We’re your deputies, sir. It’s our job to protect you.”
“No, Toleuk. It’s your job to do what I say and, yes, a lot of times that’s doing the dangerous stuff. But more often, it’s doing the stuff I don’t want to do. But when it’s something that needs to be done, well, that’s when I have to do it.”
“Sheriff,” said another of the deputies, “we can’t just let you go alone.”
“Don’t worry I’ll be going with this human. And I’ll be taking Gnomenasher with me.”
“No offense to anyone, but neither of them are trained to help you out. You need a deputy.”
“Or two,” Toleuk added.
“Fine,” the Sheriff conceded, “whoever wants to come with us can come with us, but at least two deputies have to stay behind to watch the civilians.“ After three deputies volunteered to stay, the sheriff said, “Any more questions or are we finally ready to get moving?”
“Let’s get moving,” I said, impatiently. “Every second we wait…”
“Agreed. You want to take the lead or should I?”
“I think it should be me. Because if the first thing whoever’s on the other end sees is you suddenly appearing…”
“Fair enough,” the Sheriff admitted. “Then go on ahead. We’ll be right behind you,” the sheriff said. “Do your best not to die before we get there.”
“I’ll do my best.” I jumped randomly through a portal because it didn’t really matter which one I chose at that point. I just hoped it led me to my friends.
to be continued…