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…

In Search of a Giant Gerbil

“No way?” Haf laughed. “Really?”

The Sheriff glared at her. “Yes, really. Not only do we care greatly for him. But Gnomenasher is also a magic finder. He can sniff out a drop of magic miles away. We’ll never be able to find the portal without him. The portal is invisible and over open water. There are no landmarks. Without Gnomenasher, we’ll be stuck here forever!”

“Well, no one wants that,” the merwoman said. She seemed to think this was a joke, but no one else was laughing. “But if he is a airbreather like you, then I don’t know what to tell you. It must be too late for him by now.”

“She does have a point,” I said. “We lost contact with him when we were on the island. The island’s gone now. I think we may have lost him for good.”

The trolls were quiet for a few moments, then the Sheriff said through gritted teeth, “Fine. If there’s nothing we can do about it, then there’s nothing we can do. But that still leaves the problem of getting home. Without Gnomenasher, how are we going to find the portal home?”

“We should be able to find your portal no problem,” Haf said.

“We can?” Pem asked.

“Sure. We just use our satellites to search for exotic matter.”

“Assuming that the portals are always open,” I said, “as I guess we hope they are, they should be expelling some form of matter at all times. Even if they’re just on the subatomic level, something should be coming out, like an accretion disc on a black hole.”

“Whatever that means,” the Sheriff said. “But will it work?”

“I don’t know,” Pem replied, “but it’s certainly worth a shot.”

We all swam off to their communications laboratory where dozens of other merpeople were working. As we made our way toward the lab, I took in the city around us. It was strange seeing all these mermen and merwomen and merchildren just living their lives. They were strange and exotic to me, but here I was the strange one. Though, to be honest, I think they found the trolls even stranger than they did me.

When we reached the lab, Pem swam right up to the machine and moved a few columns about. The crystal display bursted into life. “That should do it.”

“This is us,” Haf said, pointing at one of the dots on the display. “So presumably that is you. This one is near where we found you, so that must be the portal.”

“Wait,” I said. “That’s us. That’s the portal. Then what,” I said pointing to the third dot on the screen, “is this one?”

“That’s…” Haf started, but came up short. She looked closer at the screen. “I don’t know what that is.”

Pem moved closer so he could see. “Whatever it is, it’s on the move.”

“Where’s it going?” I asked.

“I don’t know.”

“I can’t help with the where it’s going,” Tam said. “But it certainly looks like where it was coming from, is right around here.”

“Something else came through the portal?” Pem asked, sounding concerned. “What other creatures could you have unleashed on our unsuspecting world?”

“No one,” the Sheriff said. “We left people by the portal, but they would have never come through without my command.”

“That’s what you say.”

“It’s the truth.”

“If not some other weird creature from your world, then what could that thing be?”

“You misunderstand me,” the Sheriff said. “I think a weird creature from our world is exactly what this thing is.”

“Excuse me?” Pem said, confused.

“You see, I think this creature is Gnomenasher.”

“Your magicfinding giant gerbil?” Tam asked


“That’s incredibly unlikely,” Pem said. “It is highly improbable that your ‘gerbil’ could have survived in this environment. Judging by the rest of you, it’s most likely he’s also a land dweller and unable to breath water.”

The Sheriff countered simply with, “It’s him.”

“I think it’s worth a look,” I said.

“Oh, come on,” Tam countered. “We’re not going to waste time because a blip could be a gerbil, are we?”

“Tam, we need to the gerbil to find the portal.”

“Are you kidding me?” They pointed at the screen. “The portal’s right there!”

“Ok,” I relented, seeing that that wasn’t getting us anywhere. “How about we do it because Gnomenasher is important to them.”

“You know what should be important to them,” Tam replied. “Living to see another day. Having other days for them to live to see.”

“Fine. Fair enough. But what if that blip isn’t Gnomenasher? What if it’s Kink? Or Wu? Or G’fon? Shouldn’t we go looking for them?”

“It’s not G’fon or Kink or your friend, Lu Wu,” Tam replied, growing frustrated with me.

“How can you know that? You were sent here. Why not them?”

“Yes, I was sent here by those mysterious cloaked figures, but you were not. We weren’t all sent to the same world. Whatever those hooded figures were, they wanted us to be scattered across the omnibrane.”

“Maybe. But you have to admit there’s a possibility that that is a friend.”

Tam glared at me, then sighed. “Fine…there’s a possibility.”

“So we’re agreed. We’re going to go find out who that is and we’re going to save them.”

“Unless that someone turns out to be something horrible that wants to kill us,” Tam said. “And then we will all die.”

“We just escaped from something horrible that wanted to kill us. We want to go back to something horrible that wants to kill us. When isn’t there something horrible that wants to kill us? That’s the life we live. We might as well try to save someone while we’re at it.”

“You win, Frank. We’re going to go risk our lives and the future of the omnibrane for some stupid gerbil. Let’s just do it already.”

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…

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…

The Mysterious Floating Island

“We have to run!” one of the deputies exclaimed in a panic, as we stared at the large green object heading directly toward us. “Swim. Whatever. We have to go now before it gets us!”

“No,” the Sheriff told him in as calming a tone as he could manage while treading water in the middle of an ocean. “If it’s going to attack us, it’s going to attack us. We can’t out-swim whatever that is. There’s nowhere to swim to. Eventually, we’ll get tired and then it’ll be able to pick us off one by one. If we’re going to have to fight it, then we’re going to need to make our stand now, as one.”

“But we can’t stand,” Toleuk said. “We’re stuck in the ocean and the ground is far beneath us.”

The Sheriff gave her a side eye that would have been far more effective if we weren’t all being splashed by giant waves.

All attention turned to the strange green object. It continued to get closer and closer and as it did, it also continued to get bigger and bigger. Escaping this behemoth seemed more and more impossible. It wasn’t as if it were a single rowboat that we could have just spread out and stayed away from. It was a leviathan that could swallow us whole. It was like being chased by a whale or a city or a…a…island? “Is it me,” I began, “or does that look like a…”

“A floating island?” the Sheriff finished for me. “Yeah. It kind of does. It kind of really does.”

The green, we could see now, was a forest. There were trees with big green leaves. And in front of the forest was a beach, a long, sandy, dry beach. And before the beach was a small outcropping of rocks that looked like they would hurt quite a bit if they hit us, but they also looked like maybe, just maybe they could be climbed.

“Everyone just wait a second,” the Sheriff said and he began to swim toward the island. We watched with trepidation as he got closer and closer to the island. I think we were all waiting for something bad to happen, like natives coming out to attack him or maybe the island growing a mouth and eating him whole.

But neither of those happened. He reached the island safely and began to climb up the rocks. He quickly made his way to the top. When he reached the beach, he sat down and waved toward us. “Come on,” he beckoned. We needed no more encouragement. None of us could wait to get out of this water.

We all immediately began to swim as fast as we could toward the floating island, but the trolls were all bigger and stronger than me, their strokes were much longer. I had no chance at keeping pace with them, but worse than that, as I fell behind, I quickly got caught up in their wake. I was thrown violently back and forth. I could barely stay afloat against their wake. I almost drowned again as the swam past me.

Eventually, they got far enough ahead of me that I was able to regain control. And, as I started to swim again, I could see that the fastest of them had already begun to start climbing onto the floating island. They climbed up it with ease, just a few handholds and they were onto the island.

I finally reached the island as the last troll was climbing up. I looked up at the wall of rocks before me. From down here, it looked a lot higher than it had when I had started swimming. Those giant trolls had made the thing look like it was nothing. But I was much smaller than they were and I realized I was much more tired. After getting caught in their wake, I was gassed out. Not to mention, I had been out here longer than any of them. I could feel that I was low on energy and that my arms were already fatigued, but I started climbing anyway. What other choice did I have? Drowning? So I put one hand on top of the other and began to pull myself up as best I could. But I was tired and my feet couldn’t find any purchase, not with the waves crashing down on me. I didn’t think I was going to make it.

And then I saw a massive hand appear in my line of sight. I looked up at Toleuk leaning down above me. “Come on, little guy. Let me help.”

I reached out for her hand and her giant hand enveloped mine. It looked like a small child taking the hand of their parent. With relative ease, she pulled me up onto the land. When she put me down, I fell down right to my knees. I was so tired and so grateful. I kissed the ground. Then I looked up at here, with sand sticking to my face, and told her with great sincerity, “Thank you.”

She blushed. “Just part of the job.”

But before I could really catch my breath, one of the deputies asked, “Where are we?” I looked past the trolls and beyond the beach where we all sat. There was a dense jungle beyond it.

“I don’t know,” the Sheriff told his deputy, then turned to me. “Frank?”

I was a bit surprised that he had looked to me for answers. He was the one with the big hat and fancy badge, though he had lost the hat. It was presumably somewhere in the water right now. As I caught my breath, I looked at him, then the jungle, and then glanced back at the ocean. I then slowly rose to me feet and faced him again. “I guess we only really have one choice. We go into the jungle.”

“The jungle,” the Sheriff said with a sigh. “Trolls aren’t really made for jungle.”

I couldn’t help but laugh at that. “You made any better for the ocean?”

The Sheriff snorted. “Jungle it is.”

to be continued…

So Many Holes to Choose

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…