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…

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…

Crumbling Expectations

“But how will you get to the rest of your people?” I asked him, trying desperately to reason with him. “How will you get in contact with them? It’s not like your planet is anywhere near here. You don’t have a ship. You don’t have any kind of device capable of instantaneous communication. I can help you get in contact with them! I can bring you to them!”

“I need no help from you.” Na Fru raised his good arm and began to slowly close his hand. I could feel the stone covering my body begin to tighten, crushing me. Just when I thought it was over, that this was the end, the rock around me suddenly shattered. I dropped to the ground, gasping, my lungs in desperate need of air. I looked up at Na Fru in surprise. He looked as confused as I was. “What did you…?” he started before falling right through the ground.

A fraction of a second later, I felt the ground give out beneath me and I went falling through the floor right after him. But it wasn’t just the ground beneath that was collapsing. It was the entire rock giant. I instinctively tried to swim against the fall and the air was so thick with chunks of rock that it might have actually been helping at first, but soon the rock had all broken into tiny pieces and it had all turned to dust.

I squeezed my eyes and mouth closed to keep the dirt out. It’s not like I needed to see where I was going. I was going down and there wasn’t really anything I could about it. I couldn’t slow myself down. I couldn’t stop the fall. I couldn’t even really protect myself from the impact. There was really nothing for me to do but try not to choke on dust before I slammed into the ground.

But as I started to surrender to the inevitable, I realized I had stopped falling and it had been without any kind of sudden impact. This new revelation was so mind-boggling that my eyes shot open. I was staring down at the ground below me and I had just opened my eyes in time to see Na Fru slam heavily into the dirt. But I wasn’t falling with him. I wasn’t getting any closer to the ground. So, I turned my eyes upwards and saw to my surprise Lu Wu hovering over me. “What the hell is going on?” he asked.

“You’re awake!” I exclaimed with equal parts surprise and glee.

“I got that part.” He looked around with bewildered look, as if he had just woken up, which I guess he had. “What are we doing up here?”

“Well, after the giant-sized giant General made you pass out, Na Fru saved me from being stomped on by making a giant of his own out of rocks. Unfortunately after we defeated the General, Na Fru turned on me,” I summarized. “I’d probably be dead if you hadn’t dissolved the stone giant.”

“Me?” Lu Wu shook his head. “I didn’t do that. I didn’t do anything. I just woke up and I was falling.”

“You didn’t do it? Then who did?”

But we had no more time to ponder these questions because a giant stone hand shot out from the ground and grabbed us before we had a chance to react. The hand pulled us back toward the ground where Na Fru, none the worse for wear from his fall, stood waiting for us. “That was a dumb move, angering me like that. Desperate,” he growled. “I should tear you apart for what you did. And I will. I will squish you into tiny organic pieces of goo…just as soon as you tell me how you did that. How did you destabilize my rocks?”

“He didn’t do it, idiot.” The General suddenly rose from the ground as if he were in some kind of invisible elevator. Na Fru turned toward him and instantaneously snake-like rocks rose from out the earth. The rocks shot out toward the General ready to squash him flat, but the General didn’t move. He didn’t try to get out of the way. He didn’t even flinch. He simply smiled. “I did,” he said and the rocks all turned to dust.

The rock hand holding us dissipated and Lu and I dropped to the ground. I wasn’t sure if I should be relieved or distressed. Na Fru wasn’t going to crush us, not yet at least. But General Zlodeskiy was back and showing a dangerous level of control over his magical horn.

Na Fru was furious. “How dare you!” he roared. “I control the rocks, the stone, the inorganic. You are an organic worm! You are weak, fragile, breakable. You are nothing!”

“I am Zlodeyskiy,” the General said. “There is nothing stronger in the universe.”

to be continued…

This Time It’s the Horn That Causes the Man to Grow

The Sharkwoman snarled as she charged at General Zlodeyskiy. Her mouth was open, showing everyone of her teeth, as she prepared to bite into him, but she never got the chance. The General swatted her away as if she were a fly.

“Shayu!” Lu Wu screamed. Lightning flew from his finger tips and shot out at the still growing General. He grimaced in pain. The General reached out and grabbed Lu in his gigantic hand. Lu continued to shoot lightning out as he was lifted up into the air. Then the General began to squeeze.

“Boost, Frank?” Tilly prompted. I nodded, as I figured out her plan. She ran toward me, stepping into my interlocked hands. As I threw her upwards, she phased greatly reducing her mass, allowing her to fly much higher. Tilly went soaring upwards, but before she reached Lu she began to slow down. It didn’t look like she would make it. The General was just too tall now. But he wasn’t paying us any mind. His full attention was on squishing Lu and stopping the lightning. So he didn’t move his hand away and it was looking like maybe, just maybe, Tilly would be able to do it. She would be close.

She reached out with her right hand toward Lu’s foot. She tried to grab him, but I couldn’t tell from my perspective. Did she get him? But then I saw she was falling back down and she was alone. Lu wasn’t with her. She failed. She couldn’t reach him. We couldn’t save him!

I could still see Lu in the General’s hand and the General squeezed with all his might. It looked like he had squished Lu flat. I feared the General must’ve killed him because Lu didn’t make a sound, not a single cry of pain. Then Lu disappeared inside the General’s hand, so large had it grown…no, wait! It wasn’t the fist that had grown. It was Lu! He was slipping! Lu was sliding right through the General’s enormous fist! And he was falling free!

Tilly had done it! She had freed him! She had been able to reach him and turn his molecules out of phase. The General couldn’t hurt him anymore! He couldn’t even touch him!

But then I realized Lu wasn’t slowing down. He wasn’t stopping his fall. Lu could fly. He had that power, but he wasn’t using it. All he was doing was falling! Oh, no! He was unconscious! He had passed out under the pressure! “Tilly!” I yelled. “You have to save him! Only you can touch him!”

Tilly looked at me. She was still in the air. She had remained in her phased state as she fell. Had she unphased, her mass would’ve returned to normal and she would have fallen too quickly. She would have hurt herself. At the moment, she couldn’t do much. But she was close enough to the ground that she could turn solid without harming herself. So she sighed. “OK, Frank. I got this.”

But the the General was paying full attention to us. He wasn’t about to let us get away with this rescue. He opened his arms wide and said, “No.”

At first, nothing seemed to have happened. But then Tilly hit the ground and instead of landing on the ground as a I solid object was supposed to, she continued to fall right through the ground. She looked at me with panic in her eyes. “Frank?”

I ran toward her and reached out for her hand, but my hand went through her. The General had made it so she couldn’t unphase. He had trapped her in her intangible form. There was nothing I could do! I couldn’t even touch her! Nothing could! All I could do was watch as she disappeared into the earth. “Tilly!”

But I had no time to grieve, I had to rush to catch Lu Wu. He was still falling. I had to hope that he would be tangible enough for me to catch or he would join Tilly falling through the earth. As I ran toward him, I noted he seemed to be falling quickly, much quicker than Tilly had. Which, I concluded, meant that he had reverted to his normal phase, which meant I would be able to catch him. But it also meant he was going to hit the ground soon and if he did, he might not survive it.

I sprinted toward him, as fast I could. I held my arms out to catch him. Lu’s weight went crashing into me and sent me to the ground. Ignoring my own pain, I rolled him off of me to see how he was. Clearly, he was tangible, so that was one problem out of the way. And he was breathing, that I could see, so he was alive. Nothing seemed to be broken on either of us. But he wasn’t conscious. He was completely out of it.

And just like that, I was on my own again.

to be continued…

Saved by Only the Shirt on Your Back

The first thing I noticed was how much better the Sharkwoman looked. Most of her wounds had healed and she was able to support herself in the air again. I was so glad to see that that it took me a couple seconds to realize that she had returned to her humanoid form.

When I noticed that I immediately turned to Werz. He, too, had returned to his former appearance. His shadows were back. His dark monstrous visage had replaced the heroic one he had worn in the Wizard’s Chamber. I then looked at myself and saw that I had regained my old appearance, as well. I was back to being a woman. Surprisingly, my clothes still fit even though I had been a man with somewhat different bodily dimensions when I had put them on.

“Where are we?” the Sharkwoman asked. I could see she was enjoying being back in the air, but she was trying to hide it.

“The Fields of Koras Lhee,” Tug replied. “And we should get a move on before the Dautul notice we’re here.”

“Dautul? Yes, we should go.” The Sharkwoman led us forward, suddenly in a hurry.

“What are Dautul?” I asked.

“You don’t want to know,” Werz said. “Just keep moving. Quickly.”

After a while, Tug said, “You hear that?”

“Hear what?” I asked, doing my best to keep up with the others.

“That screeching howl.”

I closed my mouth and tried to listen carefully. I thought I heard a high-pitched sound. It sounded like the wind. “I think so. What is it?”

“The Dautul,” he said. “They’re coming for us!”

We sped up then. As I ran, I glanced back and saw a single creature in the distance bounding toward us. When I looked back moments later, it was much closer. As I watched, two more joined it. When a fourth appeared, I noticed that there were also other packs chasing after us. Two more packs of three and four off on the left. Three more groups on the right. They were all converging on us and there were more behind them! They were silver hounds with evil tentacle mouths. They were racing like they could go on forever. Forever chasing us.

We ran and we ran. Surprisingly, we were able to run for a long time. Despite all the adversity we had already faced, I wasn’t tired. Even the Sharkwoman was able to swim on, but for how long could we go? And did it matter, the Dautul were catching up quick!

“I guess it’s time to see if any of this stuff the Wizard gave us works,” Werz said.

“Works?” I asked between breaths. “What do you mean?”

“Watch.” He stopped, as did the rest of us a half-step later. He adjusted the gauntlet on his wrist while the Dautal came rushing toward us. They were much too close. Then he punched the ground beneath us and I stood waiting for what he would do next, but instead of the shadoweater, it was the ground beneath us that began to move. The earth began to give way, crumbling beneath our feet. We fell.

I looked up and saw the Dautal staring down at us. Then I looked down and I saw danger! There were sharp rocks below, coming quickly! I saw the Sharkwoman swimming toward me, but she was too far away. Even if that potion had healed her completely, she wasn’t strong enough or fast enough to catch us all. Certainly, not in such little time.

Then suddenly I saw Werz put his arms out and he seemed to magically stop. I could see he had begun to float as if he had just pulled the string on a parachute. How had he done that? Could shadoweaters float? The Sharkwoman could, why couldn’t he? Or was it something else? As I continued to plummet I hoped that it was.

Seeing I had little other options, I tried to imitate Werz and hope for the best. I stretched my own arms out wide as the ground got closer and closer. It was working, I realized. I was slowing down! But not fast enough. I was still going to crash way too hard into the ground! There was nothing I could do! Nothing would slow me down any more!

Just as I could see the end coming, I felt a hard tug from behind. “Careful, human,” the sharkwoman said through gritted teeth as she held tightly to my shirt. “You don’t want to go splat.”

She gently placed me on the ground and we watched as Werz floated down beside us. “What just happened?” I asked.

“The clothes the Wizard gave us are made of weatherwing,” he said. “It allows one to soar through the sky like a fish!”

And then I remembered our fourth member of the group. “Oh, no! What about Tug? He didn’t take any of the Wizard’s clothing!”

“I’m fine,” the little teddy bear-like creature said, walking toward us. “But we won’t be. If we just sit around here gabbing away!”

“How did you…?”

“You think the Dautal are the only monsters in our path? Let’s move before we meet the next batch!”

to be continued…

The Monsters in the Wall

He rushed off and all we could do was try to follow. Tug leapt about like a grasshopper on speed. I couldn’t keep up. The Sharkwoman grabbed me because I was slowing her down. She rushed off chasing after him, but just when she started to catch up the floor roots began to thrash at us. The Sharkwoman dodged them easily enough. Tug even easier. But then we heard the growl.

And then the shadows moved.

A monster jumped from the shadow. Or…no. The shadow was the monster! It was a monster of shadows! The Sharkwoman had to dodge so quickly I fell from her grip. She caught me with one hand, but the shadows moved in on us! The Sharkwoman dropped me as she morphed into a giant shark. “Run!” she snarled, her word barely understandable.

I ran with all the speed I could muster as the shadow monsters emerged from everywhere. I ran wildly, only thinking of escape, but then the Sharkwoman let out a pained scream that brought me to a standstill. I watched as the shadow monsters surrounded her, tearing at her skin. I had to help her!

I ran to one of the writhing roots and snapped off its end. I hurled the root at the monsters, momentarily earning me their full attention. In that short break, the Sharkwoman shrunk back to her smaller more humanish form. The Sharkwoman swam toward me and together we ran from the shadow monsters, but they were close behind us!

We barely got thirty feet before the Sharkwoman suddenly collapsed. I could see her wounds, deep blackish cuts, but I had no time to tend to them the shadow creatures were coming upon us quickly. I threw her onto my shoulder and began to ran. She was heavy and my body was only so strong, but I wasn’t going to be caught. I couldn’t!

But despite my determination, her weight knocked me off balance. I stumbled and tried to keep on my feet, but instead I went tumbling into a pile of roots. The shadow monsters came closer and closer. I tried to get up, but as I rose I heard the roots snap beneath my feet. I didn’t dare look up. I didn’t want to see the monsters coming upon us. I could only move as fast as I could move, so I focused all my attention on the Sharkwoman. She wasn’t moving, so I would have to pick her up. I started to lift her, but she was so heavy. I heard the roots snap and crack beneath us. Just when I thought I might be able to hold her and get away, the roots gave away and we began to fall down a deep hole!

We plummeted, further and further down. We fell further than I thought we had climbed up the stairs. It was much too far. And tt was not a smooth fall. It was a windy path. We were bounced back and forth off of roots and stones and who knew what else. And then with a hard thud it came to end. We were at the bottom with no way to get back up to where we had been and very little desire to do so. At least down here, the shadows weren’t trying to kill us.

My body was hurting, but I slowly climbed to my feet. I looked down at the Sharkwoman. “Hey,” I said, but she didn’t say anything back. She didn’t even move. I tapped her on the shoulder, then when that did nothing I shook her. “Hey! Get up!” Sadly, I came to the conclusion that the Sharkwoman was not going to be getting up.

I checked her wounds. They were many and deep. The cuts were dark and oozing. Was that how sharkpeople bled? Or was this just as bad as it looked?

Unfortunately, there wasn’t much I could do for her. My clothes were in such tatters that if I tried to make bandages I’d be completely naked. And even then I would have barely even managed to start to cover up her many wounds. I needed to find another way to help her. One that could actually be of help. I looked around and saw that we were on a small island. An island meant water! If there was water, I could clean her wounds!

I rushed to the beach, but before I stepped in I saw a root sitting in the water, smoking. That was not water! Whatever it was, it seemed to be acidic. I obviously couldn’t use that to clean the Sharkwoman’s wounds. And now I had a new problem, how was I going to get us out of here? The Sharkwoman could probably have flown us out of here, but she was out cold. I couldn’t jump back to the hole above us, it was too high, and there was acid all around us. She was dying. It was only a matter of time until I joined her.

The only thing at hand were the broken roots that had fallen with me. Perhaps I could make something with them? A boat? A ladder? I picked up a small root and went to see how quickly the acid would eat through it. That was when I noticed the acid was eating the island. I grabbed a root and tried to use it to see how deep the acid was, but as I started to lean over the island began to lean as well!

I jumped back. The island rocked back into place. How could it rock? It couldn’t be attached to anything for it to be able to do that. We weren’t trapped on an island, we were on a boat! A quickly dissolving boat, but a boat nonetheless. That meant we could move! I grabbed one of the larger roots and began paddling. I aimed for what I thought was a shore when I noticed bubbles starting to rise from the acid.

At first I thought they were from my rowing, I hoped that they were, but the bubbles were too far away and they were getting larger. It was almost as if there was something underneath coming up to the surface. I tried to row faster, but I was only on one side so I was careful not to start us spinning in a circle. Plus, I didn’t want to splash myself.

The bubbles came faster and grew larger. I saw the shadow coming up from the bottom. It was coming up and coming up fast! And then it burst onto the surface. It looked like a massive cabbage, a massive cabbage with very large teeth!

to be continued…

The Furry Little Creature Called Tug

We reappeared in a forest. The trees were all blue, had no leaves, and looked like they were made of rubber. The grass was orange and it felt like a carpet. We were all lying across it. The Sharkwoman immediately bounced back into the air. Her confusion and anger were very clear on her face. Eventually, the anger won out. “Where are we?” she growled at the little furry creature.

“Away,” it said. “Isn’t that what you wanted?”

She moved threateningly closer. “Where?”

The little creature smiled at her. “Where do you want to be?”

“On the other side of the Miboaq Carapace! On the path to the Doom Castle Fields.”

“Doom Castle Fields? Why? Where are you going?”

“To see the Wizard! What concern of it is yours?”

“The Wizard?” the furry creature grinned. “Really?”

“What is it to you?” the Sharkwoman growled.

“Well, I know how to get to the Wizard, as it so happens.”

“So?”

“Do you?”

“Yes!”

“From here?”

The Sharkwoman turned away. “You can get us to the wizard?” I asked.

“Of course!” the creature said. “I know the Shreikers Forest like the back of my hand!”

“Shriekers Forest?” I did not like the sound of that.

“Oh, don’t worry about them. They’re not usually a problem. Certainly nothing a Gruesser can’t handle.”

“A Gruesser? What’s a Gruesser?” I asked.

“I am,” the Sharkwoman said. “I am a Gruesser. You really are lost, human, aren’t you?”

“So you are a human?” I did not like the way he said that.

“And what are you?” the Sharkwoman demanded. She certainly did not like this little guy. “Besides, a quick snack, I mean.”

“A friend, of course,” he said. “You can call me Tug, if it makes you feel any better.”

“I’d feel better if I ripped your head off.”

“But then you’d have no idea how to get to the Wizard.”

“I could find my way.”

“Oh? Which way then?” Tug clearly didn’t believe her and was quite amused as she starting looking around. After a while she pointed forward. He shook his head. “Actually, we’re going that way.” He pointed downward.

“Down?” I asked. “How is that even possible?”

Tug smiled, then bent down and pulled hard on a vine. The ground beneath me fell away! I was plummeting. Again. But it was worse this time because Tug was right beside me, laughing as if he were having the most fun. The Sharkwoman looked down at us from above, hovering in the air, and even as I was falling I could see the annoyance on her face as she came after us. I had already been ‘saved’ once from dying by falling. I didn’t want to die this way and more or less render the last couple of hours pointless.

Thankfully, the Sharkwoman caught up to me, but when she grabbed me she didn’t carry me back up. No, instead she went in pursuit of the furry little creature. But when she did, she didn’t grab him. “What’s wrong with you?”

“I’m taking you where you want to go,” he said. “Don’t you want to reach the Wizard?”

“Oh yes, bite-sized creature?” the Sharkwoman said. “You going to show us the way to the Wizard after you’ve been splattered on the ground?”

“Splattered?” Tug laughed. “See those? Those are Catchme Vines. They will reach out and slow my fall, passing me gently to the bottom.”

The Sharkwoman looked down dubiously at the wall of foliage. “There are no such things!”

Tug’s smile didn’t waver. “Oh, no?” and as if by command, the vines reached out for him and began to slow down his fall until he was moving so slowly that they started to pass him gently to the bottom instead.

The Sharkwoman grew angry as she watched. I was worried she might attack him, or the vines, or me, or do something else stupid. Instead she just rushed to the bottom. “Hurry up!” she yelled at him.

“Ok,” Tug said and jumped down from thirty feet up to join us. “Better?”

The Sharkwoman turned around and swam off. Tug walked after her and then so did I. But as we went she didn’t sloe down for us. I eventually began to worry that she would lose us. I didn’t really know either of these strange creatures very well, but at least the Sharkwoman had demonstrated a desire not to see me die. I couldn’t say the same thing about Tug.

Fortunately, when she got too far ahead she turned back around. “Let’s move!” she said, then began swimming off again. This pattern continued for a good while until she finally returned even more infuriated than before. I thought she had finally lost her patience with us, but it turned out to be something else entirely. “What is that?” she demanded, pointing forward. “That cannot be what I think it is, is it?”

“Maybe,” Tug replied.

The Sharkwoman flashed her teeth. “It had better not be.”

“What is it?” I asked, straining my eyes to see what was ahead of us.

Tug said, “The Wall of No Return.”

“What are we doing near the Wall?” the Sharkwoman roared. “We shouldn’t be anywhere near that! The Wall is nowhere near the Wizard!”

“That may have been true from where you were starting from,” Tug replied. “But from here? The Shreikers Forest? This is the only way to go.”

“What is the Wall?” I asked.

“The Wall keeps out the darkness,” the Sharkwoman said. “All that is evil and vile live on the other side.”

“All that is vile and evil? You mean the Miboaq wasn’t vile? How about the Grokloc? More vile than that?” I asked.

“Much more vile.”

“The creatures beyond the Wall are much worse than anything you’ve seen,” the Sharkwoman assured me.

“Oh, goody. Let’s go there.”

“Eh,” Tug said. “It’s not so bad. A lot of it’s just talk and hearsay. Besides, we’re just going in the Wall. Not beyond it.”

“In the Wall?” the Sharkwoman exclaimed. “How do you plan on doing that? That wall is made to be impregnable! The legions will not let us in.”

“Are all Gruessers such pessimists? No wonder you are all so disliked. I thought it was because of the bad breath.”

“If you mock my people again…!”

“Oh, stop delaying us. If you’re frightened just says so.”

“I am frightened of nothing!”

“Then let’s go.”

to be continued…