Running Toward, Running From

“Agreed,” I said. “We found Gnomenasher and I sent Tam ahead to the portal with him. Once we get the others, we should definitely get out of here. Whatever has gone on between your people and the Lowardians is not something I want to be trapped in between anymore.”

“Whatever has…?” Pem came to a stop. We had been trying to escape from Lowarden, near the wreckage of, where I had been trapped at the bottom of the ocean, but Pem completely stopped swimming now to turn on me. “Are you referring to the cruel and vicious behavior of the Lowardens toward my people? The abductions? The unilateral attacks? The slaughters?”

“Look, Pem, I don’t know your history and I don’t want to. I just want to get out of here.” I knew from my short time amongst the Lowardian people that they most likely would have argued the same thing about Pem’s people that Pem argued about them. Maybe they’d have different specific gripes, but it sounded like the violence between the two people were going both ways. Either way, it was not something I wanted to get involved with. I had more than enough problems on my plate as it was. I doubted Pem wanted me meddling in his people’s affairs anymore than I wanted to meddle. I needed to focus on getting my party back together and off this world.

“Then let’s get you out of here,” Pem said, sounding sour. “The last thing I would want you to have to do is help my people against the oppressive nation that has been killing my people for generations upon generations.”

“And what am I supposed to do?” I said. “Help you fight an entire city of people? There’s not even a dozen of us.”

“No, landbreather. I would never expect something like that from your kind. What help are the likes of you and your friends down here? None. I might as well ask a bunch of newborns for help. They would be about as effective in battle.”

That was harsh, I thought. But it seemed that we were both agreed, we must save the rest of my friends and then get out of here. So I stayed quiet and let him lead me through the destroyed underwater city to the blinking dots on his scanner.

And then another dot appeared on the screen of his scanner. One of a different color. And this one was much larger than the ones we had been tracking. Pem glanced back past me. The look on his face made me have to do the same. I couldn’t not look. But maybe I shouldn’t have because what I saw was terrifying. It was not just one giant robot eel, but a trio of them coming up right behind us, closing the distance between us very quickly.

“Move!” Pem yelled. I needed no more encouragement. I began to swim as fast as my arms would take me. But, as had so often been the case in this underwater adventure, I was quickly outpaced by my partner. Pem and his fishtail and webbed fingers left me well behind and the robotic eel with their fins and natural swimming motion rapidly gained on me.

“Pem, you idiot!” I yelled, angrily. “I can’t keep up with you!”

For his part, Pem did turn to look back at me and there did seem to be genuine sympathy on his face. But then again he was not human, so who knew really what kind of signals he was expressing with his face. “You need to try to swim faster!” he called back at me. “We just need to reach that room up ahead. That’s where your friends are being kept. If we can reach it, I can get you all out of here.”

“And if I can’t?” I replied because at the moment things weren’t looking good for me.

“You damn landbreathers are going to get me killed!” Pem shouted before he turned around and swam back toward me. He grabbed a hold of my shirt and began to physically tow me along behind him as he swim with all his might toward the room where my friends were being kept.

And even more surprising than that, we were making good time. Even with my added weight, Pem was really motoring. It looked like we might actually make it to the room before the giant robot eels caught up to us. And that was when they fired their torpedoes at us. The torpedos appeared from out of their torsos, one from each eel, and they began to rocket toward us, cutting the distance between us in a blink of an eye. It was looking like we wouldn’t even have a chance to get out of their way.

“Pem!” I yelled.

The fishman turned around with a look of annoyance on his – ‘oh, that landbreather, bothering me again with his air needing lungs’ – but that look was quickly wiped away when he saw the reason I was yelling for him this time. Surprise and then fear took over his face, then what appeared to me like a kind of morbid acceptance. He knew as well as I did that there was no escaping these torpedos. They were already upon us. There was nowhere to go, no way to escape. They had us dead to rights.

to be continued…

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Neither Shark Nor Gator Be

I went sinking down into the grimy dirt that had been stirred up into the water by all the explosions. It became hard to see more than a few feet in front of me. I worried about my ability to breath in this but the rebreather seemed to be handling filtering out all the muck just fine. It seemed I was going to be ok, if you considered being trapped in a sea of soot stuck sitting like a present under a Christmas tree for a bunch of squid people who, at best, wanted to throw me in prison for the rest of my life “ok”.

I hit the ocean floor with a thud that reverberated throughout my whole body. I was pulled down to the ground by the weight of the device ensnaring me, dust and soot puffed up around me. I couldn’t see inches from my face. I had to close my eyes to protect them from all the dirt. After a little while, I tried opening my eyes, but there was still crud all around me. I could barely see anything, but I could tell that there was something past it. Something…coming my way.

I tried to struggle, to get up, to get away, but all I managed to do was to stir up more soot. And now the creature was nearly upon me. I saw the dark shadow coming toward me, but all I could do was stir up more soot, only making it harder for me to see what was coming. A shark? An alligator? Some type of weird monstrous sharkgator? I didn’t know. This world was strange and had its own kind of terrors.

I tried to lay still, hoping it wouldn’t see me, or that it would lose track of me in all the grime. I stared at it, not wanting to lose sight of it as it continued to swim closer and closer until it was nearly upon me. Sitting still wasn’t working, maybe if I moved around a lot I could shake up enough dirt for it to lose me. The dirt made the creature all but disappear. The water around was so filled with soot that I could barely see inches from my face. It must have been just as bad for the gatorshark. If it was trying to sniff me out, all it could’ve smelled was the dirt.

So, I stopped and I lied down. It couldn’t see me. It couldn’t smell me or taste me. And if I didn’t move or speak, it wouldn’t be able to hear me. I could be invisible to it. The animal would swim on by, thinking I had gotten away. I just had to wait it out.

I lay still hoping that the creature would swim away. I couldn’t see anything, not only from soot, but because I had a bad vantage point, but changing my position, even raising my head, could have been too much of an indicator for the creature that I was still here. I couldn’t risk looking. So I lay there waiting, hoping that the danger was over, hoping that the creature was gone, that I was safe. When suddenly I saw out of the bottom of my eye a shadow, a darkness in the grimy water, coming toward me, swimming over me. I thought it was going to move past me. It looked like it was. And just when I thought I was free and clear, the monster then moved right back at me and grabbed a hold of me!

I let out a frightened yelp, but the face that appeared in front of me was neither a shark nor a gator, nor an amalgamation of the two. It was surprisingly human looking, though not, I realized actually human at all. “Frank, there you are. We’ve been looking everywhere for you.”

“Pem?” I asked, surprised to be looking into the fishman’s face.

“What are you doing down here? We need to get out of here before the Lowardians find us.”

“I…kind of can’t. I’m sort of trapped at the moment.”

“Trapped?” He pushed away the silt in the water with his webbed hands. “Oh. A Lowardian tentacular snare. Just be happy they didn’t set it to anti-struggle or it would have sunk its barbs into you and you’d probably be covered in vampiric sandslugs by now.”

“Vampiric sandslugs,” I repeated. “Wonderful. Now can you get me out of this?”

“Yes. Of course, I can,” Pem replied. “What do you think I am? A Kelporian Lartasian?”

“No,” I said honestly. “I would never think that.”

“You’d better not,” he said as he began to fiddle with my snare until it fell off. “See? Easy as Moldvian mud pudding.”

I stretched my arms out. It felt nice to be free again.

“All right. You’ve enjoyed your freedom. Now can we get moving. I don’t like to be out here in the open like this. Do you know what a Lowardian would do to me if they found me here?”

“I’ve had a bit of experience with them now and let me say most of our interactions haven’t been very fun.”

“Good,” Pem said. “So you understand that we need to get moving and get moving now.” He began to swim away and I did my best to keep up.

“Where are we going?” I asked.

Pem waggled some device at me, but he was too far ahead I couldn’t really see it. “We’re finding the rest of your group. I’ve got a few more bloops on my scanner. Once we find them, we’re getting out of here and not a second longer.”

to be continued…

Distracting the Squids

The quartet of squid man guards jumped back, in the manner that you can ‘jump’ in the middle of the ocean. They stopped and pushed away from me with their tentacles as if I was going to do them great harm. But when I just stayed there, more or less, unmoving, they began to move closer towards me, pulling out their weapons and pointing them right at me. “Try anything and we’ll blast you!” one of them yelled.

“I’m not doing anything,” I told them. “I’m unarmed. I surrender. All I want to do is talk.”

“You’ll talk to this!” One of them smacked me across the face with their gun. I went tumbling through the water from the impact until the squidman grabbed me with his tentacles. “Try something again…”

“I’m cooperating,” I yelled at him. My face hurt too much to be able to maintain any semblance of calm. “I surrendered already.”

“Yes, after you and your Merapolian friends have already destroyed our homes.”

“I don’t want to get into a blame game, worrying about who did what to who, or who was responsible for what. I’m surrendering. I’m ready to help you deal with what happened. Let’s just work together and fix everything. All right?”

“Oh, you’ll deal with it, all right,” the squid person said. “You and all your Merapolian friends. You’ll deal with all the destruction you’ve caused. We’ll make sure of it.” He took out his little device that turned into a a small spider-like creature and ensnared me with it.

“This really is not necessary. I’ve already surrendered.”

“Uh-huh,” the squid person grunted. “Look around us, Landbreather, and tell me how containing you isn’t necessary.”

I did as he said and I looked around at the destroyed city. Maybe he wasn’t overreacting after all. “You’re right. Maybe we went too far, but all we were trying to do come and get our animal that you have. But instead of welcoming us in or even cautiously coming out to meet us, you attacked us with robotic monsters and took more of our friends prisoner. What were we supposed to do, let you keep them?”

“I’m not falling for your Merapolian traps.” The squid person grabbed the device ensnaring me and pulled me over.

“Do I look Merapolian to you?” I asked.

“We know you work with them, Landbreather. You’re not…”

“ATTENTION! ATTENTION!” something called from every squid person’s hip. There seemed to be some kind of device there, a radio of sorts. “A portion of the habitat had begun to drift away. Wait…change that. The habitat appears to be under some kind of propulsion device. Attention! A part of the habitat is being stolen!”

“Repeat that, Center,” came a second voice. “Did you say a part of the habitat is being…stolen?”

“That’s what I said,” came the first voice, Center, again. “We’re tracking it, leaving the city at a quick pace. You need to hurry. I repeat hurry, before it gets away!”

I looked over as I saw the habitat moving away. It looked like Tam had gotten our plan off the ground. The squidpeople turned to follow my gaze. “No!” I called knowing I needed to buy Tam some time. “You need to stay here. You need to stay with me. You don’t want me to get away.”

“You’re going nowhere, landbreather,” the squidperson sneered. He pressed a button and the contraption ensnaring me suddenly got very heavy and I began to sink. “Enjoy the bottom of the ocean,” he said before turning to his partners. “Let’s go get our habitat back and destroy the treacherous Merapolians inside.”

As they swam away, I continued to sink quickly to the bottom. I could only hope that I had managed to hold them off long enough for Tam to be able to get away. I believed they had managed to save some of our friends already, so maybe they would all be able to get out of this world together. That was a nice thought as I sank to the bottom of the ocean. I couldn’t swim away as long as this device was on me. But at least it wasn’t interfering with my rebreather, so I probably wasn’t going to drown. I’d just be the Lowardian’s prisoner for the rest of my life. So I had that to look forward to.

to be continued…

How to Transport a Giant Gerbil through an Underwater City of People Trying to Kill You

“What’s this?” I asked, as we came up to the door.

“How am I supposed to know?” Tam replied.

“You led us here.”

“Because this is where my sensors led me.”

“Like they led to me.”

“Exactly,” Tam replied, looking at their arm display.

“So that means one of us is in there.”

“If there were an ‘us’, whatever’s inside wouldn’t be one of it.”

“Stop being difficult. You know what I mean.”

“There’s a non-native in that room,” Tam said. “I can tell you that. Whoever or whatever it is, it is emitting exotic material that is similar to the material that is emitted from your other ‘friends’. Is that clear enough for you? Because that’s all I can tell you with certainty.”

“Just open it,” I told them.

The door puckered open revealing the unmistakable giant gerbil known as Gnomenasher. But, before I could move, water began streaming into the room and I belatedly discovered that he had been kept in there with no rebreather. Meaning to keep him alive, they had kept him in a room filled with air. Air that was currently streaming out. In other words, I just killed Gnomenasher!

I hadn’t meant to do that. It had never occurred to me that the Lowarden wouldn’t have attached some kind of breathing apparatus to him, just as the Merapolian had done to us. But the air-filled room, now opened to the ocean, was beginning to fill with water and stream out all of its air. If we waited another second, Gnomenasher would surely be killed. Fortunately Tam realized this as soon as I did (perhaps sooner) and the two of us rushed inside, closing the door behind us.

The door sealed shut, but the room was already half-filled with water. And while Tam and I could conceivably keep breathing the oxygen in the water, Gnomenasher still needed the air to breath and we had just greatly reduced the amount of oxygen in the room. One would imagine, though, that the Lowardians were pumping air into this room, otherwise Gnomenasher probably would have died from CO2 poisoning hours ago. So, that meant there was a chance the room might even pump the water out of the room as well. It might just be wishful thinking, but I had to try to stay positive.

Unfortunately, getting out of there was still a major problem. We had to leave at some point, not only because we all wanted to get back to our homes, but also because the Lowardians would eventually figure out that we were hiding in here and imprison us, at the best. “Can you get Gnomenasher out of here safely?”

“Are you asking if I can somehow magically carry that big pile of meat out of here while somehow keeping him from drowning in that ocean of water we have to swim through and keeping him from being killed by the army of other dimensional beings that want us all to die?” Tam asked.

“I wouldn’t have used the word ‘magically’, but, yes, can you keep him from drowning and being shot?”

“And how do you think I can do that while also trying to escape with out dying myself?”

“I don’t know. A force field?”

“And I’d keep him from suffocating inside it, how?”

“The same way you keep yourself from suffocating.”

“Frank,” Tam replied, “I’ve been bioengineered to survive under extreme conditions. Your giant rabbit here, hasn’t gone through any of that. He’s going to die if we take him out there.”

“Ok. So then what are we going to do?”

“Well, the smart thing to do would be to just leave him and head straight to the portal and get out of this accident of a dimension, so that we can get back to saving all of time from those authoritarian watchmen run amok, but I get the sad feeling like that options off the table.”

“Yes,” I replied, unamused by Tam rhetoric. “Abandoning people in need who are counting on us is out of the question. We’re going to help these people, so tell me can you get all of us out of here safely? Or do we need to put our heads together and figure this out?”

“No, Frank. I cannot just carry your hamster out into the water and keep him safe. If you’re so desperate to save it, you’re going to have to come up with another solution.”

“Fine,” I told them. “I guess we’ll just have to come up with some other way to get us all out of here.”

“There’s no way out of here, except for that door, Frank,” Tam said. “Either we go through it or we stay here and return to the mercies of the Lowardians. Your friends aren’t going to come and save us, so you can count that out. We can’t just stay here. We have to move.”

“Except we have to stay here.”

“We can’t!” Tam growled. “We have to…”

“Stay here,” I said, getting an idea. “We have to stay here and we have to leave.”

“We can’t do both.”

“Except…we can! We can stay in here AND we can leave!”

“Maybe I should take a look at that rebreather,” Tam said, swimming closer to me.

I pushed them away. “I’m not loopy. I’m serious. All we have to do is leave the city without leaving the room!”

to be continued…

Moral Questions in Underwater Rescues

Tam started to swim off down the transparent tube and I did my best to keep up, but neither of us got very far before we were joined once again by the quintet of squid people looking slightly worse for wear. “I knew this was all your fault,” the lead squid said. “You tried to trick us, pretend that you and the Merapolian weren’t trying to spring a trap, but here it is, the trap. Now, we know. You were the distraction. And that,” he pointed at Tam, “was the trap. Or…are both of you the trap?”

“There was no trap!” I insisted.

“We’ve come for our people,” Tam said, shutting down the explanation I was about to make. “If you want the destruction to end, you’ll return them.”

“The only…” the squid person began to say, but once again Tam interrupted.

“I don’t care. You give them to us or we take them. Those are your only choices.”

“We can’t kill them,” I told them.

I can,” Tam replied, putting heavy emphasis on the singular pronoun.

“No.”

“He’s right,” the squidperson said. “You will not. It will be us who ends you.”

“Ok,” Tam agreed. Maybe I won’t kill you. But I will do this.“ They raised their hand and ice began to shoot out. Within seconds, the squidpeople were imprisoned in ice formations. Tam then looked at me. “See? Still alive. How about that?”

“You can shoot ice out of your hands!” I exclaimed.

“No. Don’t be ridiculous. I can modify the energy output of the molecules around me. The fact that water this far below the surface is already pretty cold only makes it all that easier.”

The water didn’t feel very cold to me, but I just chalked that up to the rebreather working its magic. “And they’ll be fine like that?”

“They will…” Then Tam turned back to the squidpeople and a threatening tone returned to their voice, “as long as they tell me where the others are.”

“We’ll…tell…you…nothing!” the squid man said, stammering from the ice.

“Fine. Then stay like that. I can find the others just as easily with my scanners. Come on, Frank.”

“Wait,” I said. “Is that true?”

“I found you, didn’t I?”

“And what about them?”

“What about them?”

“We can’t just leave them there trapped in ice!”

“And what would you rather us do, Frank? Bring them with us?”

“We can…”

“Forget them. They’ll be fine. They’re not humans. The cold isn’t so bad for them. You should worry about finding your friends or whatever they are.”

“That doesn’t seem right to me,” I said, though to be honest I really had no idea how the biology of these squid people actually functioned. For all I knew, their bodies would just go into a hibernation until the ice around them melted and they’d wake up fine.

“You know your problem, Frank,” Tam said. “You won’t take ‘everything’s fine’ as am answer. The amount of problems we have right now and you’re worried that the people standing in our way, who imprisoned you, who continue to threaten you, aren’t resting safely in a nice soft bed.”

“You know the problem with you, Tam,” I retorted. “You think ‘not killing people’ is an ask too far.”

“I’m not killing anyone.”

I pointed at the explosions beneath us.

“Ok. But I’m not killing these people. They’re fine.”

“And those people down there?”

“…They started it?”

“Are you kidding me? They started it?”

Tam gave me an unhappy look, then raised their hand. I could see the waves emanating outward, then I could feel the shaking. The eyes of the imprisoned squid people rolled up into the top of the heads. Then the ice around them shattered.

“What did you just do?” I demanded. “Did you…?”

“Relax,” Tam said. “They’re alive. I just sent an emission wave to break the ice that just so happened to have the effect of knocking our weakened adversaries out. Now, can we finally get on to saving your friends?”

I looked at the unconscious squid people and I looked down through the transparent floor at the destroyed city below. There hadn’t been any new explosions in a while. That was good, but I knew it was also bad. That meant they’d be coming for us now. No more explosions meant no more people getting hurt. Or at least, less people getting hurt. But less explosions also meant less distractions, which meant we were now the only thing this entire city of squid people had to worry about. “Maybe we should get going,” I said.

“Finally,” Tam said before quickly swimming away. I did my best to keep up.

After a few minutes, they took us through a hole in the transparent tube hallway and out into open water. I was surprised to feel little difference in the water. Was that the rebreather protecting me from the presumably very cold deep waters, I wondered. I didn’t need to worry about that for long because soon enough we were breaking our way back into another tube on our way to a part of the city that wasn’t see-through.

to be continued…

What to Do When You’re Trapped in an Underwater Exploding City

“Wha..? Me?” I asked, befuddled. “How could I have done anything? I’ve been here the whole time?”

“What did you do!?” they demanded again as the structure began to quake.

“Nothing, I swear.”

“This was a trick. A Merapolian trick! And you were the distraction!”

“What? No. I swear we…” And then stopped myself. Could they have done that? Could the Merapolians, knowing that we were coming out here, decided to use us as a distraction to launch some kind of attack? It seemed strange, but just how well did I know them? If these two groups of people hated each, it could very well be likely that they’d use any advantage that they could to strike at the other, including duping people they promised to help into acting as decoys.

The doubt must have showed on my face because the squid man then shouted, “Lock him in!” Then one of the grey squids hit a controller and I went flying into the wall. I tried to struggle but I was trapped, stuck there. The squid people then turned and swam away. They left me here, unable to move, with the whole city blowing up around me.

I could feel the vibrations running through me through the wall. I could see the explosions out of the corner of my eye. I was already surrounded by water, so I didn’t have to worry about drowning if the tube broke, but the rebreather was not going to protect me from the explosions and their shrapnel. Gnomenasher, on the other hand, if he was here, if he was still alive, probably had no such contraption on. The squidpeople didn’t seem at all interested in making sure that he survived. Though, if that were true, I had no idea why they would even save him in the first place.

And with the habitat exploding all around me, this was maybe not the best time to speculate, but on the other hand I was kind of trapped unable to move, so it wasn’t as if I had much else to do with my time. I had no tools on me, so taking the thing holding me apart wasn’t exactly a possibility. All I had on me was my pocket stabilizer and that wasn’t going to be able to save me this time. The leechvine had sucked out all my residual instability and I had not had enough time to build much more up. I was stuck in this body and this body could not get out of these bindings.

Which meant all I could do was sit here and hope that the squid men could get things under control and return to leading me to Gnomenasher. That was really my only hope at the moment, relying on my captors kindness or, if needs be, their gullibility.

But then things got worse before they got better. I saw a quick-moving object headed my way. It was fast like a torpedo, but it seemed to be homing in on me. It was glowing a bright hot red smashing through anything that got in its path and its path was looking like it was going to be right through me. But I just couldn’t watch it do that. I squeezed my eyes shut and waited for the end to come. At least this would be quick, though also probably very painful.

I heard an explosion, oh so very close to me, and felt it ripple through the water. Through the water and not through me. I opened my eyes. I was still alive and the torpedo was floating right in front of me.

I felt stupid now. I should have known from the glow. Of course, it wasn’t the bright red glow of great heat, but instead the red glow of a futuristic containment suit. It was the red glow of one I knew very well. The “torpedo” had been a friend all along. “Tam!” I yelled, gleefully. “What are you doing here?”

“All I did was follow that large creature that had captured the others,” they said, using their laser to free me from my bindings. “When I caught up to it I found I was just outside a large populated area.”

“So you decided to blow it up?”

“I decided to free our comrades. And when that giant fish contraption was destroyed, they attacked me. So I subdued them. Then I went looking for everyone else, but because your state of quantum instability is so strong I found you instead.”

“Destroying the entire city as you did.”

“They fought. I fought back,” Tam replied simply.

But I could still see the underwater explosions. “You invaded their home. What were they supposed to do? Let you?”

“Do you really want to argue about this now? I’m trying to rescue you. Would you rather I just leave you here?”

I tried to force my way out of the bindings, but though Tam had started to cut me free, they hadn’t completed the job. I was still held too firmly to the wall. “No. I guess, I would prefer if you just freed me and then we went about finding our friends and freeing them. That would probably be preferred. Then we could get out of here and maybe get back to solving our other problems that we had been trying to escape from.”

“Finally,” Tam grunted before freeing me from the wall. “Now let’s go find this giant gerbil you’re so obsessed with.”

“Obsessed? I’m hardly…just, whatever. Which way is he?”

“Oh, I’m supposed to do that, too? Of course.” And then they swam off. “Come on already.”

to be continued…

At the Mercy of the Squid People

“Who are you!?” the lead squidman shouted. “What are you doing here!?”

“My name is Frank and I’m…”

“What are you!?” the squidman interrupted. “What kind of strange creature have the Merapolians concocted now?”

“Um…well, I wasn’t concocted by anyone. I’m…”

“You are a spy for the Merapolians!”

“I’m not a…”

“Liar! You will die for your lies!”

“No, I’m not lying,” I pleaded. “I’m not a spy!”

“You came from Merapolis!” the squid man ylled. “We saw you! We saw you with those fishtail fiends and their mutated monsters! You invaded our homes in their transport!”

“We didn’t…” I tried to start.

“Liar!”

“I’m not…”

“Do you think we are blind! We can see! We can see you and your Merapolian creations swimming here on your transport, destroying our defenses! We can see!”

“I’m not…” I tried yet again.

“You are!”

“If you’d just let me finish, I’d…”

“You will nothing!”

“I just want to tell you what’s going on!” I screamed at them, bubbles rising from my rebreather.

“I know what’s ‘going on’,” he repeated. “You are being interrogated and you will tell us everything you know about your Merapolian masters and their evil plans to destroy our city.”

“There are no evil plans. I don’t want to destroy your city! No one does! We’re here to save our friends. I just want to save my friends. All of them. And you took them. All of them. I just want them back.”

“Your friends are dead,” the squid man replied. “All of them.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“And you will be dead soon, as well, if you don’t tell us what we want to know,” the squid man continued, as if I hadn’t said anything. “Tell us what the Merapolians have planned. Tell us what this attack was about. Tell us what that strange creature we found out in the waves was.”

“Strange creature?” Well, that caught my interest. “What strange creature? Maybe you should show me this strange creature and then I can tell you what it is.”

The squidpeople took a second to talk amongst themselves. I thought maybe I had gotten through to them, that maybe they’d show me where Gnomenasher was. “Then it’s decided,” the Squidman said, turning back toward me. This was it. They were going to take me to go see… “We’ll kill him.”

“What?” I exclaimed. “No. What are you talking about? I was trying to help you!”

“You think I am a fool, Merapolian spy?” the squidperson laughed. At least, I think it was a laugh. “I will not fall for your tricks. You came here for your monster and now you wish to unleash him!”

“Unleash him? He’s a gerbil and we’re in the bottom of the sea. What do you think he could do to you? Drown at you?”

“Yes. That’s what we thought at first, as well, but we know the Merapolians would never be so foolish as to try to attack us with a landbreather.”

“Except the Meropolians have nothing to do with Gnomenasher,” I told him .“They’ve never even seem him before. The only thing the Meropolians have to do with us is that they saved us from the tentacle monster, the giant leechvine.”

“Yes, the Leechvine,” the squidman said, casting strange glanced to his comrades. “Tell us how you destroyed it. You may be worth keeping alive, spy, if you tell us how your Merapolian masters caused it to implode.”

“We didn’’t…” I started, but realized an argument might not be my best course of action. “Ok. I’ll tell how we defeated the Giant Leechvine if you take me to Gnomenasher.”

The squidpeople convened again and when they were done, the leader said, “Fine, Spy. We’ll take you to your monster.”

And I prepared to leave, hoping we would just be able to go like this. But clearly I was a fool to think it would ever be that easy. One of the dark gray squid people tossed a metal disc in front of them, which immediately grew multiple legs and then shot toward me like a torpedo. The disc smacked me hard in the chest, pushing me back, and before I could recover, it wrapped itself around me, pinning my arms against my sides. I tried to fight it, but then I felt a tug and realized that I was in a worse position than I thought. Not only was I ensnared, but I was also leashed.

I tried to struggle against my bindings but there was no give, no room to slip out, no way I could break free. The squidpeople grew tired with my attempts to escape and began to pull me toward the door. It puckered open and they pulled me out through it.

At first I thought they had brought me out into the big open ocean as I could see it all around us. Everywhere I looked there was underwater life swimming in every direction. But I soon realized that we weren’t swimming free, but were instead in some kind of tubular structure made of a transparent material. As I looked out into the squid city, Lowarden, I could see various modules floating in the water of varying size. Presumably – though it was quite hard to tell with all the multicolored fish swimming about – the modules were all different rooms connected through the transparent tubular structure.

But just as I began to wonder which one of those rooms held Gnomenasher, the tranquil vista was thrown into chaos. Explosions at the base of the complex sent the sealife swimming for safety. The tube rattled and the squid people looked upset. They glanced at each other before finally turning their gazes, and weapons, on me. “What did you do!?”

to be continued…