THE ROOM BEYOND WAS not a room at all. Instead it was a brightly lit corridor about fifty yards long.
The walls of the corridor where white. The same with the floor and ceiling. The only non-white object in the corridor was the red door at the other end.
Apart from the broken door that lay on the ground before me, the corridor stood empty.
That was when I’d noticed that the pull from the tracking spell had stopped pulling. That got me moving.
If the tracking spell had stopped working, well... It could mean a number of things. The most likely being that Maggie was...
I didn’t want to think about it.
I ran the fifty yards and threw open the red door without thought for what might be waiting beyond. The door opened toward me and through the opening I could see a thick haze. It was as if a wall of smoke stood in the opening. But it wasn’t quite smoke. It was... well, an obscurity. That’s the only way I could describe it.
A wall of obscurity.
I poked at the wall with the barrel of a pistol. It wasn’t solid. The barrel slid through the obscurity with no effort. When I pulled the gun out, there was nothing on the barrel to make me think that the obscurity was harmful... At least not to inanimate objects. It could eat through flesh like bleach through a red shirt for all I know.
But again, I didn’t have a choice.
Actually, that’s not true. I could turn around and go home. Maybe grill a burger. Binge-watch Friends on Netflix. But that wasn’t me. The burger and Friends was me, but I couldn’t just walk away from someone who needed my help
So I stepped through the obscurity.
It was like stepping through an icy waterfall that wasn’t actually wet.
The other side was another corridor. But this one was stone with fluttering torches set in the wall at regular intervals. The tracking spell kicked back in as well, pulling me forward.
The stone hallway ended about thirty yards later with an option to go right or left. The tracking spell pulled left. So I went left. Before I did, however, I pulled one of the chemical lights from the backpack, gave it a crack and a shake to activate it, then dropped it there on the floor. I didn’t know what kind of path I might take in wherever this place was, figured I might want something to help me get back out if necessary.
The left path took a sharp right a dozen steps later, then another right, three lefts, two rights, and then I found myself facing three possible options: Left, right, or keep moving forward.
I was in some sort of dern maze. It was like the goblin warren all over again, except this was man made.
I tried not to get frustrated. I had the spell to guide me, so I put my trust in it and made each decision based solely on where the spell pulled me, dropping more chemical lights as I went.
Fifteen minutes later, the spell pulled me into a room about half the size of a school gymnasium. Like the halls, the room was stone and lit with torches.
Unlike the halls, the room was occupied.
In the center of the room sat a cyclops in a large, stone chair. It rose as I entered, holding a spiked club. The creature was about twice my size and it smiled down at me as it licked it lips in anticipation.
“It’s about time,” it said. “I didn’t think you were going to come.”
“Parking was a real hassle. You should think about investing in a valet service, or maybe even a shuttle,” I said.
“You have a mouth on you,” the cyclops showed its teeth. “It’s been a while since I’ve have had a meal talk back to me. Why, I think I’m going to—”
The shot from the pistol echoed through the room like one of them super bouncy rubber balls.
The great thing about a cyclops is the eye. It provides the perfect target.
The monster dropped where it stood and I moved on, replacing the spent cartridge in the Peacemaker as I did.
With the tracking spell as my guide, I moved through the maze with speed and efficiency. The cyclops wasn’t the only monster I’d encountered on my journey.
Ten minutes after the cyclops, I entered a room full of goblins. Too many to shoot down before they could overwhelm me. I dug out one of the magical items I’d collected over the years. It was a small marble carving in the shape of an antique salt mill. I called it the Edith.
I pointed the Edith at the goblins and said the word “Salis.” Before I could so much as blink, each and every one of the short, green creatures had been turned into salt. I pocketed the carving and moved through to the other end and out of the room, leaving the salt goblins behind.
The Edith was probably one of the most powerful magical objects I owned. Unfortunately it can only be used once every five years, so I try not to pull it out but for a special occasion. A room full of goblins fit the bill nicely in my opinion.
After the goblins there was the giant slug. Not to be confused with a colossal slug.
A giant slug is just that, a slug the size of an elephant. The giant slug is a carnivore. It’s slow, sure, which meant most average folk could outrun one, but they didn’t depend on speed all that much. They’re trap hunters, laying down a pool of slime for any unwary creature to walk into. The slime contained a paralyzing agent. Not a big deal if you were a human being that wore shoes and such, but for anything smaller than a blue whale, skin contact turned it still in seconds flat. At the point the slug just crawled along and ate you up.
Beyond it’s immense size and paralytic slime, the giant slug was still just a slug. Which was ironic because the Edith sure would have come in handy there. I had nothing on me that could stop a giant slug, so I ran back the way I’d come. But not too quickly, like I said, giant slugs aren’t known for their speed, and I wanted to make sure this one followed me.
And it did just that, right into the room of salt goblins. The slug didn’t last long after that.
After a few more twists and turns I entered a room occupied by a three headed dog. He was a big fella too. Standing on all four legs it could look me in the eye.
The dog looked a bit like one of them pit bulls, all sinew and muscle, and the Brotherhood had him chained to the wall. Had it not been chained up, I could only assume that the dog would have been roaming the maze, looking for something to maul. I based this on the way it had reacted when I’d eased into to the room. It charged me as soon as it sensed my presence. The chain kept the three heads from chewing me to pieces, so I had to give thanks to that.
But I had to get by the dog to get to the exit on the other side of the room.
Luckily, I have a way with dogs. They love me. It’s just a thing I have. Of course, the hunk of cold roast beef that Grace had sent with me didn’t hurt.
I reached into the backpack and pulled out the meat, unwrapping it and then showing it to the dog. All three heads stopped barking and started sniffing. Three tongues lolled out of three slavering mouths and the dog sat back on her haunches. She even whined a bit before I tore the beef into three pieces and tossed them onto the floor. The three heads gobbled them up in no time.
Soon the dog was looking at me, three sets of eyes full of anticipation. Her tail wagged. I held out my right hand, palm up and let her sniff me. The sniffing was followed by licking. The wagging tail could have taken out the walls of Jericho.
I pulled the sandwiches from the satchel, four in all, and opened them up to find bologna and cheese on each. I kept the bread, the dog got the rest.
It wasn’t long before the dog was on her back and I was scratching her expansive belly. I had to use both hands. But in the end, I had to go.
“I have to leave you here, girl,” I said as I scratched away. “I’d like to take you with me, but I don’t know what I’m gonna to find when I reach the end of this maze. You look like you can take care of yourself, but I’d feel better knowing you were back here, safe and sound.”
I gave her one last scratch and rose. The dog rose with me, tail wagging.
“I’ll come let you lose on my way back, I promise,” I said.
The dog let out a whine from all three throats.
“Now stop that,” I said. “I’ll be back, I promise.”
Three slobbering tongues licked my face. I laughed.
“Heck, I ain’t owned a dog in a great long time. Maybe I’ll bring you home with me.” The tail, if it was even possible, waged even more frenetically. “Of course, you stick out quite a bit; we’ll have to see to that.”
Then all three heads barked and the dog changed right in front of me. The three heads became one and it shrank down until it was the size of a normal pit. The chain still held it to the wall somehow, so the change was more illusion than anything, but...
“That would certainly work,” I said, and laughed again. “You hold tight, I’ll be back soon. I promise.”
The dog, shifting back to its three headed form, sat to show me that it could wait patiently. I gave each head one last pet, then left, heading back into the labyrinth.
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