Inside the Jungle on the Island in the Middle of the Ocean

The Sheriff turned to the well-pierced man. “Domoban, stay with Gnomenasher.”

“With your gerbil? Out here!? You mean I came here for nothing?”

The Sheriff didn’t let the other troll’s outrage rattle him. “I need someone to watch that gerbil. It’s the only way we’re getting back home.”

“Fine,” Domoban pouted. “But if I hear any screaming, I’m coming in to rescue you.”

The Sheriff chuckled. “Deal.”

“All right,” I said, impatiently. “Let’s go find my friends.”

“You heard him,” the Sheriff said. “Let’s go!” and into the forest we went.

As we walked, I paid especially close attention to the trees, keeping my eyes open for any possible suspicious movement or behavior. After the last forest I was in turned out to be a monster in hiding, I wasn’t going to chance it. No more forest-monsters for me thanks.

“So,” Toleuk said after we had been walking for a while. “How are we planning on finding these people?”

“I don’t know,” I told her honestly.

That was not she wanted to hear. “You don’t know? You don’t have any ideas?”

“I figured we’d just look around until something found us.”

“Found us?”

“I don’t tend to need to go out looking for trouble. Trouble usually just finds me.”

And as if on cue, that was when trouble found us.

Without warning, little creatures fell down from the canopy, dropping on us and immediately began to attack us, bite us, scratch us, grabbing and pulling. They were only the size of squirrels and looked even smaller on the massive bulk of the trolls, but they were everywhere! There were at least a half a dozen on me, maybe two dozen on the sheriff, and there was nothing we could do to shake them off.

I grabbed one on my shoulder and pulled him off, throwing him out into the forest and before he was out of my hand another had jumped down to replace him. “We need to do something!” I yelled.

“Any ideas?” the sheriff asked, trying to squish the creatures inside his massive hands

“I’d hoped you had some.”

I tried to bat them off. Toleuk dropped to the ground and began rolling around. Two deputies tried to pick the creatures off of each other. But nothing any of us did seemed to have any lasting effect. Suddenly, we heard a loud yell and we all turned to see a massive form coming racing toward us. It was Domoban, charging at us like a wild rhinoceros. “I’ll save you!” he roared, barreling into us.

The little squirrel creatures were fast enough to get out of the way. Unfortunately, I was not. Domoban came plowing into me, knocking me hard into a tree. He then tripped over Toleuk and went flying into the other two deputies.

The Sheriff went stomping over to his fallen form. “What the hell are you doing here?” “

I came to rescue you,” he said from the ground.

“Rescue us? I told you to stay with Gnomenasher!”

“But,” Domoban said, sitting up, “I heard screams.“

The Sheriff sighed. “Let’s go back and make sure Gnomenasher is still there.”

“Go back!?” one of the deputies repeated, aghast. “But we just got out here!”

“And if something happens to Gnomenasher, we’ll be stuck out here. Forever.”

And so we retreated back the way we came. It was disheartening how quickly we reached the end of the forest. How short we had traveled before getting assaulted became very clear. But even worse than that, when we reached the beach, it was empty. No one was there. We looked left and right, up and down the beach. And found nothing.

“Oh, no,” the sheriff said.

“Where is he?” Toleuk asked.

Domoban rushed to the edge of the island and looked down to the sea. He cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted, “Gnomenasher!

“I hope he didn’t go down there,” I said.

“Me neither,” the Sheriff agreed. “Eitherwise, we might never be able to find him again. And if we can’t find him, we’ll be stuck here with no way to get home.”

“And it’ll be all your fault, Domoban,” one of the deputies said, harshly.

“Don’t do that, Crag,” the Sheriff said. “How many times have I warned you not to be mean to the people we’re supposed to be protecting?”

“I’m sorry, Sheriff,” Crag replied. “I didn’t mean it.”

“For that, I’m putting you and Domoban on a team. The two of you and Frank will head down that way. The rest will come with me down the other way. We’ll meet on the other side of the island.”

“What?” Domoban exclaimed. “You’re going to put me with just one deputy and a little human? I’m just a cobbler!”

“You’re a troll, Domoban. So act like it,” the Sheriff retorted harshly. “You’ll be fine. Now, hurry. Gnomenasher could be in danger.” The Sheriff led his team down the beach, leaving us behind.

“Don’t worry,” I told Domoban. “We’ll be all right. I’m sure there’s nothing here we can’t handle.”

“Really?” Crag asked. “We just got attacked by little squirrels and they almost had us beat.”

I glared up at him. “We’ll be fine.”

Crag looked away chastised. With nothing left to say, I began walking down the beach and the trolls followed after me.

to be continued…

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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…

Traveling Through the Miboaq’s Carapace

“It’s carapace, yes,” the Sharkwoman said as she raced down the pathway, dodging the thrusting tubes right and left, as I held onto her dorsal fin for dear life. “Be happy. There are worse places we could be traveling.”

The tubes continued to snap at us along every turn. We just couldn’t get away! I began to wonder just what those tubes really were. Were they fingers? Tongues? Hair follicles? At least I was pretty sure we weren’t literally inside the creature, though it was all around us. Dear god, it was everywhere! This path seemed to never end. I suddenly began to wonder, “Just how big is this thing?”

Then one of the tentacular tubes finally grabbed a hold of the Sharkwoman. Just the sheer amount of them, it was only a matter of time until they did. The tentacle wrapped around her tail and it pulled her in. I was thrown off, but I didn’t go flying far. Without the Sharkwoman to dodge, I was quickly caught up by one of the tentacles. It was slimy and gross and it gripped me like an anaconda.

A second tentacle wrapped around me and I was expecting the worst. Were they going to crush me or tear me apart? But surprisingly they did neither. In fact, the first tentacle let go. Then a third tentacle grabbed me and the second one let go. It seemed like they were passing me down the line. Were the tentacles carrying me to the other end of the cave? Could we be so lucky?

I could see the Sharkwoman was being passed as well, but she was taking it a lot worse than I. She thrashed about, then suddenly she grew into her full shark form and burst from the tentacle’s grip. She quickly swam forward and tore at the tentacles holding me. She ripped me free, but that allowed the Miboaq to grab her. Three held onto her, one on the end of her tail, one at the base of her tail, and one around her head. I climbed onto her and pulled at them. She shrunk again, even more than before to just a human body with a shark’s tail. I wrapped my arms around her neck as she swam free!

“Why didn’t you fight?” she growled.

I replied, “I hoped that maybe they were passing me to the other side of the cave.”

“They were passing you to its mouth,” the Sharkwoman said bluntly. “It was going to eat you! And it’s still trying to eat us both!”

The tentacles continued to lunge at us. “Well, what are we supposed to do?”

“Not get caught again. I was hoping we could get through it without waking the Miboaq, but that seemed beyond our luck. You otherworlders just taste too good. The creature is becoming frenzied, going down the pathway may just not be possible.”

“Then what can we do?”

“We only have one other choice. We have to use magic. This is something Lu Wu taught me,” she said, grabbing the pendant from her necklace. It was the one she had taken from me, the one Lu had given me. She mumbled something incoherently as she dodged around another couple of tentacles that were grabbing at us. Her hand began to glow bright red. Then she opened her hand and a bright red light burst from the pendent and burnt into the wall in front of us. The Sharkwoman flew inside it.

There were juices dripping from the top. I almost hoped it was blood. Of the many possibilities, that was probably one of the better ones. The tentacles tried to follow us, tried to grab us, but they couldn’t. They could only reach so far and we were past that in seconds. The tunnel was longer, and grosser, than I would have liked, but it wasn’t long until we were nearly at the end. I could see the sky ahead.

The tunnel began to shake, but it did little more than get gunk on me before we burst free of that whole mess. I almost laughed with joy as we broke free. I glanced back at the carapace and was surprised to see the whole mountain shaking. It began to quake violently. “Is that bad?” I asked.

The Sharkwoman glanced back. “Crap. Maybe I shouldn’t have burnt a hole through it. I may have pissed it off.”

“Yeah,” I said. “What does that mean?”

“Uh… I think it might mean that it’s coming after us.”

“Coming after us?” I looked with horror as the Miboaq began to rise. It was like the whole mountain was coming to kill us! Massive rock-laced tentacles whipped around, like as if a giant had multiple rock covered octopus hands and it was reaching for us. I was pretty terrified at the sight. I was pretty sure the Sharkwoman was just as scared. I don’t know how anyone could have not been.

Escape seemed impossible. The thing was just too big, too fast. We couldn’t outrun its reach. And then a small furry creature appeared in front of us. I thought it was a teddy bear for a second. It looked so much like one. I couldn’t figure what the hell it was doing there. The little creature grabbed a hold of the Sharkwoman as we flew past, as if it were the easiest thing. “Get off me, you little monster!” she yelled.

“In a rush, are we?” it asked.

“Well, there’s a giant monster trying to kill us,” I said.

It looked back at Miboaq, its many arms reaching. “Is that all?” the creature asked as the world quaked around us. “Well, I can solve that.” The little furry beast snapped its fingers and we were gone.

to be continued…