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Dungeon & Dragon – Part 5

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I spent  the night in an agony of fear and uncertainty. I was being held captive in a dungeon, and in the morning I was to be tortured by an evil wizard. The rancid air seemed to penetrate my entire body. I heard rats rattling in the corners, and from time to time I could see one flitting through the gloom

I shivered and moaned and drifted in and out of sleep. At least I think I was sleeping. I kept having weird dreams that little demons were hacking at my feet and hands with tiny but wickedly sharp swords. Whenever one of them would jab me, I would start awake out of my tortured sleep.

After a particularly nasty demon-jabbing (in a place on my body nearer and dearer than my hands and feet), I started awake to realize that I could very dimly see again. Gray, hazy daylight filtered through the bars of the window high on the wall. It was morning.

There was a shuffling and clanking at the end of the room. My guts coiled in fear – they had come to take me to the torture chamber! I hate to admit it, but I began to whimper and snivel. Please don’t hurt me, please don’t hurt me, I thought. The door opened, and a small, lumpy figure in a soot-dark robe scuttled into the room, tossed another bowl of gruel at my feet, and retreated out the door.

I looked wearily at the bowl. My stomach was in knots; there was no way I was going to be able to eat anything, especially that rancid-smelling swill. I just had to wait and get tortured on an empty stomach. Life in Fester sucked as bad in this world as it had seemed to in mine.

More time passed. Every minute of the day brought me closer to my date with the torture chamber. My head lolled, and I slumped, hanging from the manacles, wallowing in fear and misery. I was so despondent that at first I thought I was imagining the hissing noise coming from high on the wall.

“Hssst! Hssssssssst!” said a hushed voice. “Hey. Scott Gray.”

At the sound of my name, I looked up. A long, hairy arm was poking through the bars of the window, waving. “Up here, Scott Gray.”

“Rocko!” I cried. “Is that you?”

“Yes, yes. Do not be so loud – we do not need any attention. What I’m about to do is going to make enough noise.” The arm retracted, and two sets of hairy knuckles grabbed the bars. Rocko groaned with strain, and the barred window groaned with metal fatigue. There was a crackling pop, and the bars disappeared. Rocko leapt through the now-empty opening, hanging from the sill with one hand. He reached outside and pulled the barred window back into place, then dropped quietly to the floor.

“Rocko!” I cried. “Boy, am I glad to see you! They’re gonna torture me!”

“Yes,” said Rocko. “People who are kidnapped and taken to Fester are rarely there to be given a nice slice of cake.” He had a pretty dry wit for a proboscis monkey.

“How did you know to look for me here?” I asked.

“Last night, I went by Widow Jesson’s place to see how you were settling in. You weren’t there, so I was afraid that something had happened to you. Since Duke Noe and his lickspittle Ellas had been in town earlier, it seemed a safe bet that someone from the Duke’s household had snatched you, so I came to Fester and started sniffing around.”

“You made it all the way to Fester in one night? That’s a long walk – nearly 20 miles!”

“Who said anything about walking?” said Rocko. He reached up his arms; they extended a comical length above his head. “It’s nearly unbroken forest between Whipgate and Fester. I swung all the way here. It only took me two hours. Enough talk, though. We must see about getting you out of here.”

Rocko knuckled over to where I was chained to the wall, stood on his tiptoes and examined the chains that attached my manacles to the wall. “Hm, shouldn’t be too hard,” he muttered. “Try to brace yourself – this might stretch you a little bit.” Before I could move or even respond, he reached up and grabbed the chains, made a small grunt of effort, and the chains parted like they were made of wet construction paper. I still had the manacles on my wrists but was no longer chained to the wall.

“We can deal with those later,” said Rocko, flicking at one of the manacles. “Right now we need to get out of here before your date with the Iron Maiden.” He looked up at the window and shook his head. “I hoped I could just hoist you up, but it’s further up than I thought. Maybe if I went up and found a rope, I could …”

From the corridor outside the door, there was a shuffling and clanking. “Too late!” hissed Rocko. “We’ll have to improvise! Get back up against the wall and hold your arms up, like the manacles are still attached!”

I did as Rocko instructed; my stomach tight with fear. If Ellas was the one outside, we were doomed. Rocko retreated to the corner nearest the door and crouched down. In the gloom, he was almost invisible.

The door opened, and the robed gruel-peon shuffled back into the cell, going for the bowl. When he was halfway across the room, Rocko leapt from his corner with a soundless shriek. The robed gruel-peon fell backwards with a muffled cry that was cut off as Rocko throttled his windpipe. Rocko banged the peon’s head on the floor until he stopped moving.

I dropped my arms. “Did you kill him?” I asked.

“I don’t think so,” said Rocko, poking at the robe. “I think he’s still breathing. Let me check.” He reached out his long arms, grasped the peon’s robe and yanked it off.

We both gasped.

Inside the robe was a stunted, misshapen creature. He was naked, and perhaps he had once been a man. His limbs were wrinkled and twisted, his skin the rotten green-brown color of a moldy potato. His face was shriveled and sunken, like one of the dried apple “shrunken heads” they used to advertise in comic books when I was a kid. He was clearly breathing, which was a relief; I’d hate to think that we’d killed this pathetic creature.

“What is it?” I asked, shaken.

“I don’t know,” said Rocko. “This looks like more of Ellas’s handiwork. Maybe some castle servant who displeased him. I guess there are worse fates than being turned into a monkey.”

“Can we help him?” I asked.

“Not here,” said Rocko. “Not now. We need to get out of here – quickly – if we want to be able to help ourselves. Maybe one day we can return and help all of the poor souls who have fallen afoul of Duke Noe and his rotten mage Ellas. We must go. Now!”

He slipped the robe over his head – it was a good fit – and started for the door. I paused at the door and turned to look back at the wretched person shivering on the floor.

“Unless you want to join him in his fate, we must leave now!” hissed Rocko. I nodded and followed him.

“Can you swim?” asked Rocko.

I paused, unsure of what to think about this non-sequitur. “Yeah, sure,” I said. “I’m no Michael Phelps, but I can do a pretty decent Aussie crawl.” I used to go to the local Y in Seattle and do laps twice a week when I was younger and cared more about my health and appearance.

“Proboscis monkeys are good swimmers,” said Rocko. “Best swimmers in the primate world. Much better than those lousy orangutans!”

“Uh, yeah,” I said. “That’s great. What next? Where do we go?” I didn’t care how good a swimmer Rocko was – I just wanted to get out of here.

“No place to go but up!” said Rocko, and he darted out the door. I followed him out into a dimly-lit hall way. A sconce guttered on the wall at the end of the hall. Spaced at random intervals along the hall were doors like the one from which we emerged. I shuddered to think what horrors might lie behind them.

At the end of the hallway was a steep stone stairway. Rocko launched himself up the stairs, pausing halfway up the flight to urge me on. “Hurry, Scott Gray, make great haste. We have not a moment to lose!” He turned and darted up the stairs, with close behind.

At the top of the stairs was a wide landing, with a large oaken door bound with iron bands. Rocko listened at the door, then carefully pushed it open a fraction of an inch. He put his eye to the crack and almost immediately hissed and pulled his head back. I stepped up to the door to take a peek at what had bothered Rocko: Duke Noe, closely followed by Anlar Ellas and two men wearing black leather hoods and smocks.

“Shite and onions!” hissed Rocko. He eased the door shut, and turned to another staircase that curved out of sight to the left. “We have no choice but to keep going up. Go as quickly – and quietly – as you can.” He disappeared up the stairs.

I followed along behind nim, trying not to step loudly. Up ahead in the gloom, I could see Rocko moving on all fours, propelling himself up the stairs with hands and feet. There was a thud as the door to the main landing was thrown open, and Noe and his retinue came through. Won’t be long now, I thought. Ten seconds later, there was a muffled cry from down below, and the sound of feet running up the stairs.

Rocko stopped and turned, gesturing me up the steps. “Come on!” he implored. “We must move with all possible swiftness!” He turned and rocketed up the stairs, and I followed behind, keeping up as best I could.

We continued climbing, up and to the left. It became clear that we were in a large tower. Doors were set in landings at intervals on the staircase. As we rose higher, small embrasures in the thick walls allowed a view of the rest of the castle. It was in a state of high alert. Men and soldiers scurried about in the courtyard below. Word was out about our escape.

Again, Rocko urged me on. They were sure to send people up the tower to look for us, and then what? Unless there was a zipline at the top of the tower, we were boned.

With no other plan available, I continued to follow Rocko up the stairs. I came up to a landing that was larger than the most, with a large door midway down the landing. Unlike the others we had passed, this door had a small, barred window high up in the panel. Up ahead, I saw Rocko’s purloined robe disappear around the corner.

I sprinted to catch up, but pulled up short as a came to the door. Through the barred opening, I saw a feminine form with blond hair. She sat with her back to the door, staring out a barred window. Was this Lady Gieselle?

As soon as I thought this, she turned abruptly and saw me looking in through the window. Her eyes widened and she clapped her hands to her mouth. “It’s you!” she gasped.

“That’s right,” I said, unable to think of anything more pithy to say.

She leapt up from her chair and rushed to the door. “I saw you in the square at Whipgate,” she said. “I knew then that you were sent to save me! You’re the Traveler! Oh, thank you, Traveler, thank you!”

A moment ago, I was running for my life and now a beautiful princess was gushing over me. I was nonplussed. “My name’s Scott,” I said dumbly. “Scott Gray/”

“Oh, thank you Scott Gray!” said Gieselle, her eyes shining. “I will never forget this!”

I stared, mouth agape. She had looked beautiful on the steps of the hall in Whipgate; up close, she was enchanting. “Uh, you’re welcome,” I told her.

Something was yanking on my pants leg. I looked down, and Rocko was there with an impatient look on his long-nosed face. “Come on, fool!” he spat. “They are almost upon us!”

“But Lady Gieselle – she’s here!” I protested. “We have to help her!”

“There’s no time!” insisted Rocko. “We can’t help her if we wind up back in the dungeon!”

This was undoubtedly true, but I couldn’t bear to tear myself away from the fair Lady Gieselle. She sighed hugely and said, “Your companion is correct – you must go now! I know you will come back for me!”

“I will!” I enthused. “I swear it on my name! I will be back to rescue you!”

“I know it, Scott Gray,” she said. A thrill went down my spine when she said my name. “Now hurry! Your unseen companion is correct – you must escape! I will try to stall them. Now go!”

An increasing clamor was coming up the stairs behind us. Our pursuers were close behind.

Regardless, I was reluctant to leave the fair Lady Gieselle. “I will be back!” I said. “I swear!” She made an impatient shooing gesture and Rocko gave a mighty yank on my arm that nearly pulled it from its socket. I tore my gaze away from Gieselle’s radiant face and took off at a dead run, Rocko still pulling on my arm.

We tore up the stairs. I seemed to have much more energy, keeping pace with Rocko and even pulling ahead of him at times. The thought of Lady Gieselle’s smile provided me with an unreal burst of energy. My heart pounded – part fear and part love. I was smitten.

The curve in the stairs became tighter – it was obvious that the tower was narrowing as it went higher. The small rooms off the stairs no longer had doors – and they appeared to be stuffed full of broken furniture and junk.

At last, we reached a landing where the stairs ended. There was nothing there but a rickety wooden ladder that led up to a warped trap door in the ceiling/ I looked at Rocko and he gave me an impatient gesture, flapping his hands at the ladder. “Go, go!” he said “Where else?” From below us, the sounds of pursuit were getting louder.

I clambered up the ladder and shoved on the trap door. It didn’t want to budge. I thought again of Lady Gieselle, and her calling my name. I shoved on the trap door with my shoulder as hard as I could. It swung open with a loud creak, then flew off its rotten hinges. Rocko was right behind me on the ladder, pushing on my butt. I popped up through the hatch.

I was confronted with one of the oddest sights I’d ever seen. A fog had descended on Fester, and the top of the tower rose out of the clouds like an island. There was nothing else in sight, just the flat top of the tower rising from the clouds. We might have been alone in the world for all that could be seen.

I moved towards the edge of the roof and stopped abruptly. There was no wall or parapet – just a sheer drop-off past the fog-slick roof. I heard a scrabbling behind me, then something slammed into my back and I was falling, falling through the fog.

Part 6