“I suppose the green, spooky glow bodes ill for us,” Darren said. He was tired. The adrenaline was wearing off from his heroic stunt to save his friend. He had had enough of this beastie.
“Not certain, Darren,” Esmeralda said. She scanned the flickering green light along the walls. Her eyes then fell to the floor in the hallway, the source of that nightmarish glow.
“Well, there is only one way to know for sure.” Marcus grunted and stood to his feet. He picked up his bent shield with a smile. He brandished it toward Darren. “My sweetheart has served me well this time around.”
Darren rolled his eyes. “We really need to have a conversation that shields are not the same as barmaids.”
Marcus tapped Darren twice on his head as the warrior walked passed him. The floorboards creaked from the stress of his weight and the collapse of the floor ahead. Marcus cracked his neck. Darren cringed, he heard that sound over the tortured murmuring and chanting from below.
Esmeralda moved forward as well. She reached a hand to Marcus’ shoulder. Her voice was low, but full or urgency. “I have a hypothesis about what is happening down there. If I’m right, I’ll need you and Darren’s help more than ever.”
“You got it,” Marcus said with a smile. He pushed out his chest as if he had been given a challenge.
“Whoa,” Darren said, walking forward, “no speaking in riddles, Ez. What exactly is it that you think is happening?”
“My classmate summoned something from an outside reality and it consumed her and many others,” Esmeralda began. “This world is so alien to it that I think the laws here are causing it great pain. If Clarice used a portal to summon it and the portal is not closed, the thing may be near the portal to lessen the pain, or heal it, or increase its power. I mean to close that portal.”
Darren shrugged. “Well, why didn’t you say so? Seems easy enough.”
“Then, enough talk, let’s go.” Marcus took the lead again, sword in hand and bent shield at the ready.
There was a throbbing vibration as Marcus approached the hole in the hallway. The sound rattled Darren’s his ear drums. The green light mimicked the vibrations, releasing circular auras of greenish light with every vibration. The vibrations were quickening.
“Can it operate the portal?” Darren asked.
Esmeralda rolled her eyes in contemplation. “Depending on how much of Clarice’s intellect remains, possibly.”
With a wave of her hand, a flash of sparkling feathers appeared in the hole before them. Darren gulped, he remembered the first time she cast this spell. Marcus went first, stepping over the hole and slowly drifting down into the cellar. Darren followed with Esmeralda close behind.
The cellar was a wreck. If this had been a wizard’s laboratory, nothing would hint that. Well, except maybe the glowing vertical ellipse of magical energy casting a blinking green light into the room. The portal. But that wasn’t all Darren saw the liquid flesh of the creature gliding across the circumference of the portal. Numerous teeth gnawed on the metal brace around the glowing portal.
Esmeralda gasped. “It wants to consume the portal!”
“No idea. Perhaps to carry a portion of its reality with it. Lessen its pain. Or even keep its roots in this reality and its own.”
Marcus was steadfast, staring at his foes new change. “What’s the plan?”
“I have to close the portal. That should give us an edge. I’ll need your protection, this could take a bit.”
Marcus spit at the portal. “Got it.”
A face, a women’s face, peered out of the flesh, mouths, and eyes. It protruded from the creature on a neck of dripping otherworldly flesh.
“Go away!” It rasped. “This is my time now.” The face raised her fleshy eyebrows. “Time? Me? Possession? Such strange thoughts, such order.”
Tendrils of flesh erupted from the borders of the portal.
Marcus was ready. He leaped with the zeal of gladiatorial combatant. His sword sliced through the first tendril while he held his shield to glance the blow of two more. Darren was surprised by his agility. The creature’s blows had a lessened effect, but the tendrils were smaller than the pillars of flesh it had used in earlier confrontations.
“It must be too focused,” Darren mused.
He moved to confront the creature. Four more tendrils of flesh poured from the thing. It was difficult to focus with the green light flashing throughout the room. He pierced one tendril into the floor with a dagger and pin another into a splinter table. The tendril lifted the table and Darren into the air to shake him lose.
Marcus followed behind his friend and ripped through tentacle pinned to the floor and ripped through the second holding Darren aloft.
Darren dropped deftly to the ground. He rolled from another tentacle swinging into his vision. He grabbed his dagger still embedded in the amputated tentacle. As he stood to his feet, he felt something slimy wrap around his leg. It was the amputated tentacle! It pulled him to the ground.
“Shit!” he exclaimed. “They still function if not attached down here.”
Marcus carved through another tendril as he heard the warning. He turned with a start to see his first causality inching toward Esmeralda. She was on her knees covered in pulsating blue light. Her eyes were shut tightly as she chanted. She was defenseless.
Marcus rushed the tentacle as he felt a second wrap around his right ankle. A third grabbed his left ankle. They pulled at him. He spread his stance and refused to budge. Slowly they pulled him from his foe. From Esmeralda.
The fleshy face appeared next to him. “Would you like to see where we come from?”
Darren rushed to action and ripped through one of the tentacles holding Marcus. In response Marcus pierced the fleshy face beside him with his sword. The electrical sparks from the blow exploded its eyes into milky liquid that pooled on the floor. It screamed and pulled away. Marcus yanked his sword out in response. The hold on him weakened. He surged toward Esmeralda.
Another tentacle shot at Marcus, smashing into his back with thunderous force. He fell to the ground, but pierced his sword through the crawling tentacle just before it lunged at Esmeralda.
Darren was screaming. Three severed tentacles slithered and constricted him as he writhed along the floor. He stabbed furiously at the tentacles, but his fear made his attacks useless.
Flesh from the portal reached at Darren and the tentacles that covered him. Some the flesh fused with one severed tentacle around Darren and lifted him into the air.
Darren saw a face, Jacob, beside him. He was grinning in the liquid flesh of this creature.
“Now, we get to share the same fate. And some day, I’ll find your sister again.”
Numerous mouths along the length of the tentacle began to laugh, mimicking Jacob’s grating laughter.
Darren reached at the tentacles with his daggers, but Jacob was out of his reach. “I’ll kill you!”
“Someday, right?” Jacob laughed harder with every futile swing.
A sharpened tentacle protruded from Jacob’s mouth. It leaned in. “I’ve been waiting for a little payback,” another mouth said.
Darren squirmed, but the tentacle stabbed his side. Stabbing pain ripped through Darren’s side. He felt the dagger, like an appendage, move inside of him as if little fingers were playing the piano with his innards.
However, Jacob’s head was within reach now. Jacob’s chortling laughter turned to drowning screams of pain as Darren put both of his daggers into Jacob’s fleshy eyes. Darren repeated the attack, again and again. Flesh ripped from the face tentacle and was flung across the room.
“Not me! And not my sister!” Darren screamed.
He felt the tentacles around him constrict. There was a pop from his rib cage followed by radiating pain up his chest and down his back.
This was it, this is how I go, Darren thought.
So, he kept swinging and cutting, dismembering whatever this creature was that had shaken his tiny worldview. This impossible monstrosity. He saw Marcus stand with fleshy bits all around him. They looked like giant leeches and they still inched toward Esmeralda.
Darren was nearly on the verge of unconsciousness when Esmeralda’s eyes opened. She stood with immediate purpose and blue light exploded from her. The giant fleshy leeches were blown toward him. One hit Darren right in the face. He shook it off. Esmeralda launched a blue glow from her outstretched fingers that hit the portal center mass. The greenish light turned blue and spun like the clouds of a maelstrom. The creature was being pulled into the portal and Darren with it. The flesh along the sides of the portal were sucked into the collapsing portal.
Jacob’s eyeless mutilated face still laughed. “You’re coming with us!”
Marcus’ voice carried a finality. He reached his hands toward Darren and pulled him from the constricting mass of tentacles. The tentacles couldn’t hold him as they plummeted into the portal.
The creature was gone, the portal collapsed into a pinpoint of light and winked out in a puff of smoke. Darren and Marcus fell to the floor.
Esmeralda stood over them, triumphantly holding her staff. She smiled. “That wasn’t so bad was it?”
Darren slowly caught his breath. He held is rib cage and the wound. The puncture had been too small to cause a serious bleeding injury, but damn if it didn’t hurt. He gave a weak, informal salute to his friends. “Now I’m completely knackered. Can I sleep right here?”
“I think I saw a cat,” Marcus grunted.
Darren craned his neck to look around. He had not the strength to leave the floor. His body ached with the pain in his ribs.
All Darren heard Marcus laughing victoriously. It was the best laugh Darren had heard all night.
© 2017 C.J. Staryk. All Rights Reserved.