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NaNoWriMo 2017 - Story 7 - Part Two

The road you were following finally ended at a dockside market town called South Point Landing. The ground here was mostly paved unlike in Mapledale, and the market near the docks was a raucous, bustling place. There were rows of market stalls selling a wide range of different products. You expected it all to be fish as there were clearly fishing vessels moored at the harbour but along with the fish were stalls of exotic spices, pottery, rugs, fabric of vivid colours and patterns, and much more. South Point Landing must be a major port for the import of goods from foreign lands you realised, and with so many different kinds of people here, you felt you were going to blend in much easier in this place than you had at Mapledale.

You and Ashley found a group of inns near the harbour and chose the one which looked to have the better stables to moor your horses in. You took a room each and stashed your bag containing the fraction of your hoard underneath the bed. Ashley suggested you both explore the market so you grabbed a few coins from your bag and the two of you headed down there together.

One of the stalls was filled with shiny gems set into jewellery from far off places and you were completely enamoured by everything there. You wanted to grab everything in your talons and fly back to your hoard in the castle which had been your home for so long, but you suppressed your dragon's instinct and Ashley eventually managed to drag you away from the stall without you making a single purchase.

One stand was selling very fine coats made of thick, warm material and when Ashley tried one on they were smitten with it and you bought a coat for yourself and one for your companion, matching but in different colours, and you felt like a very fine human playing at dressing up as you both strode down the market street in your new threads.

You went for a drink at the inn you had taken a room in, after wandering the market for as long as Ashley's feet had allowed. As you sat there with your jugs of ale, Ashley somewhat nervously spoke.

"I, er, I have a bit of a confession actually."

"A confession?" you asked, a little worried. Did they know your true form, had you been found out?

"Yes, a confession. I'm having a truly fantastic time travelling with you, and I honestly hope that we get to go on many adventures together."

"That's what you're confessing?" you asked confused. "If so, I confess the same!"

"That's not what I'm confessing." Ashley's head bowed towards the table, unable to look you in the eyes. "I didn't feel that way when I met you. In fact, when I first accompanied you, I was actually intending to rob you."

"So you were a thief!" you exclaimed.

"Yes, I'm afraid you did have the right of me at the very start."

"But you're not now?" you asked dubiously.

"Well, then I got to know you, got to like you. I've never actually had someone I could call a friend before."

"Probably because you steal from them," you growled.

"Yeah," Ashley sighed. "I shouldn't be surprised I know."

"So, just to be clear, you're not going to rob from me now?" you asked uncertainly.

"Absolutely not! I would never steal from a friend! Well, I guess I've now learnt that anyway, I now know that I would never steal from a friend."

"I abhor thieves," you state firmly. "And I couldn't possibly be friends with someone who is a thief."

"Those days are behind me!" Ashley declared, and you believed them, at least for as long as they were with you anyway.

You slept well that night; the bed was comfortable to lie in and you somehow felt a little happier knowing that Ashley had told you the truth about themselves, and the confession certainly made sense of how you had so quickly made a friend. It did make you think about how easy to trick you had been though, your lack of experience with human interaction could cause you trouble if you weren't careful, although you did now have a friend to help you with that. Perhaps since Ashley had been so honest with you though, it was time for you to be honest with them about your true nature, or would that just make them run a mile and you would lose your first and only friend. But on the other hand, how true a friend could they really be if they didn't want to know the real you? You put that thought out of your head as you remembered the fun and jokes you had had on the road with Ashley and you decided that if the time felt right to confess your true self then you would, but there was no point forcing the issue, and you slept like a log, or rather you slept like a dragon.

You woke up the next day to an urgent knocking on the door to your room.

"Kersym! Wake up!"

You woke with a start at the sound of your name. "Ashley? Are you alright? What is it?"

"Can I come in?"

"I guess so." You swung your legs around onto the floor and levered yourself up from the bed, tiredness making you feel ten times heavier, and you sloped across the room to the door and unlocked it. As soon as the clunk of the lock sounded, Ashley turned the handle and burst into the room, rushing right past you and straight over to the window. As you roused to more wakefulness you realised why you had felt quite so heavy crossing the room and it hadn't just been the tiredness, your human form posterior had your dragon form's tail hanging from it!

As Ashley unlatched the shutters, you focussed your magic and transformed your tail away, just as they turned around to look at you, face bright in excitement, having opened the shutters. "Come and see!"

You took a moment to switch gears from hiding your tail to Ashley's excitement, they were pointing at something out of the window. You walked over and took a look.

"Isn't it amazing?" Ashley asked in wonder. You looked down at the street below where a few people walked along, carrying baskets of things and then at the harbour where the various fishing boats were moored and a series of smaller rowing boats too. "Not there, there!" said Ashley, pointing out beyond the harbour and then you saw it and wondered how on earth you had missed it before.

Anchored a little way out from the harbour was an enormous ship. It had three gigantic masts and so many sails and so much rigging you had to wonder how it didn't all get tangled up in the wind. There were a couple of small boats rowing from the huge ship towards the docks, filled with crates and barrels and a couple more heading back to the ship, empty but for a couple of humans.

"It's massive!" you breathed, awed by the sight.

"Isn't it incredible?" bounced Ashley, you had never seen them so excited before.

"Shall we see if we can go on it?" you asked and Ashley's mouth dropped open.

"Do you think the captain would let us?"

"We don't know unless we ask, right?"

"I'll go get my stuff!" declared Ashley as they ran out of your room and back to their own.

You quickly got dressed yourself, grabbed your bag and headed downstairs to get some food before you started the day; all this walking around as a human made you need to eat a lot more often than when you sleep for a couple of decades. You ordered some food for Ashley too and when they came downstairs they practically inhaled it as they were so excited to get going. As it turned out, there was no need to though, as the door to the inn swung open and a human who was clearly the captain of the ship from his clothes walked in, followed by a couple more humans also well dressed.

"Three ales please innkeeper, and some food too," he said to the human behind the bar before turning to the rest of the inn. "We are seeking people looking for a life on the seas," he announced loudly. "The pay is reasonable and you enjoy extensive travel. No experience necessary, we provide training aboard the ship if necessary, although experienced seamen are preferred." He sat down at the largest table in the inn, with the humans we was with sitting either side of him.

"I think opportunity just knocked!" said Ashley smiling widely. "Come on then!"

You both headed over to the captain's table where he was being served the food and ale he had asked for as you arrived. The other two at the table both had papers in front of them but the captain evidently didn't feel a need to write anything down.

"Name?" the captain said without even looking up at the two of you.

"Blackthorpe," said Ashley quickly. "Ashley Blackthorpe." Both of the people accompanying the captain began writing.

"Experience?" said the captain.

"No experience at sea but I'm good with my hands and willing to learn," said Ashley earnestly. Good with their hands must be their thieving experience you supposed.

"Sign here," said one of the humans with the papers, turning one around and pushing it towards Ashley. Ashley took the quill and used it on the paper making some funny looking mark.

"Report to the docks at noon," said the captain, through bites of food. "Next. Name?"

Ashley stood to one side and looked expectantly at you. "Er... Kersym," you replied.

"Full name," said the captain with a sigh and looked up at you.

"That is my full name," you replied.

"Your name is Kersym, like the dragon?" asked the captain seeming to be very unimpressed. You nodded vigorously.

"Fine. Experience?"

"No experience at sea or on boats," you replied honestly.

"Nor on ships then I suppose," said the captain with a frown. You shook your head.

"Sign here," said the same human as before, pushing a piece of paper and a quill towards you.

"Sorry, I do what here?" you asked, not sure what you were supposed to put on the paper.

"Sign your name or make your mark," said the human with the paper impatiently. You decided that a dragon should have a mark, that sounded like a good and proper thing to have. You took the quill and used it to draw what you thought looked like the fire you breathed from your mouth in your true form.

"Report to the docks at noon" said the captain and with that you were both dismissed.

Ashley was bouncing around like a child the rest of the morning and you spent a little more of the coins you had in your bag in order to purchase some warm clothes as you both thought it was likely to be cold at sea. You kept a watch on the time on the clocktower which stood over the little town and as noon approached, you made your way to the harbour and saw the captain and the two who had been with him before stood near the rowing boats with a few other humans standing around.

They took your names again and crossed them off on their list and you were shown into one of the rowing boats and before you knew it, you were being rowed away from land and towards the ship.

You found sitting in the rowing boat to be quite a pleasant experience, but standing on it was something altogether different and you wobbled around, unable to find your balance easily without the floor being stable, so getting onto and off the boat was a little trickier and you hoped you wouldn't have so much difficulty standing on the ship or you might have to forego that particular adventure.

Thankfully, when you climbed the rope ladder up to the deck of the ship, you found it to be perfectly easy to stand on, although the way it moved did make you feel a little strange in your head and in your stomach.

Someone showed you and Ashley to your quarters which turned out to be a cramped room with quite a few other people, a box in which to put your belongings and something they called a hammock which was a piece of fabric hanging between two posts which was where you were meant to sleep. After a few attempts of trying to get onto the hammock you managed it and found that once you were on it, it was actually very comfortable and although you thought it would be swaying around all the time as the boat was moving, it actually stayed still whilst the boat moved around it and it was a wonderful break from the motion.

------------------------

The work on board the ship was almost entirely centred around the control and maintenance of the ship itself and the captain was strict but fair making the days aboard the ship hard work but gratifying. When you asked how long the journey would take, you were laughed at which was a little unnerving and you wondered how long you would want to carry on this sailing adventure before you got fed up of it and wanted to start a new one. Ashley told you that they had never worked so hard in their life but they strangely seemed to enjoy this new purpose. Your favourite job on board the ship was when you were on watch in the crow's nest, where the world felt like a very big place when you looked across the ocean, but nothing compared to the horizon to horizon view of the night sky on a clear night and the sea of stars it was filled with. You never flew particularly far in your true form and you wondered if you would be able to fly as far as the stars or not.

It was one such night when you were on watch that by the light of the moon you saw something strange in the waters ahead. You alerted the crew and the captain directed a change of course but on a still night there was little they could do and the ship was being dragged towards the anomaly. It wasn't long before someone told you what the peculiar thing was, a whirlpool.

Some of the crew were disbelieving, swearing there couldn't be a whirlpool here in the middle of the ocean but as they climbed the rigging and saw for themselves soon they all realised the trouble they were in.

"How have we angered Poseidon?" cried out the captain in despair. "Has someone here been disrespectful to the God of the Sea?"

The crew were panicking then, sure too that this must be a punishment from the god they were at the mercy on every time they set sail.

"Sacrifice the horses!" one man cried out, and the captain agreed. The two horses which were part of the cargo of the ship were brought up onto deck and forced overboard, but this must have been too little, too late for Poseidon as the whirlpool raged on and the ship drew ever closer.

"Abandon Ship!" came the cries from all around you as the ship started to be dragged to the left, following the current caused by this phenomenon. You looked around desperately for Ashley, your only friend and you found them below decks, trying to get into your lockbox.

"Kersym, you're here at last! Quickly!" Ashley gestured towards the lockbox and you felt a pang for piece of your hoard that was inside.

"Are you mad?" you asked. "That bag is so heavy, never mind the whirlpool, you'd sink as soon as you hit the water."

"But the treasure, the possibilities..." protested Ashley.

"That is but a tiny fraction of the whole and not worth a life. We need to leave now!" you said firmly and grabbing Ashley's arm you dragged them up to the deck where most of the crew had now boarded the little rowing boats and were gone from the ship.

When you looked over the side of the ship, you saw all those boats with the crew desperately rowing as fast as they possibly could, but only a couple of them had been able to get away from the strong pull of the whirlpool. You could feel the ship gaining speed now as it started to spin around the edge of the swirling waters and there were no boats left for you and Ashley to try to leave on, and you could see from the others that it wouldn't help either. The ship was doomed, the crew would go down with it and worst of all your friend, your first and only friend, was doomed along with the rest.

You couldn't just let that happen, you couldn't let Ashley die.

You grabbed Ashley by the arms and looked into their eyes. "There's something I haven't been telling you," you said as Ashley looked confused.

"Now isn't the time, we need to get out of here," protested Ashley, trying to wriggle free of your grip.

"Now is exactly the time," you insisted. "I haven't been honest about my true nature."

The ship suddenly lurched as it started to tilt at an angle, leaning over the edge of the swirling mass. "I don't care," said Ashley. "Tell me later, right now we need to survive this!"

"I know!" you yelled, taking a step back from Ashley now. "I can help with that."

"You what?"

"I can help us survive." You took a few more steps back so that your back was now pressed again the railing at the side of the ship. You put your arms out to either side and yelled "I can save you!" before focussing your magic on your true form.

You closed your eyes and felt the power surge and bubble through your body, ripples of energy flowing down every limb. You felt your wings spring out from your back and your tail burst through the side of the ship. You felt your head smash through a sail and once you felt the changes subside you opened your eyes and saw the world in the colours it was meant to be.

Ashley was still stood in the same spot on the deck, staring open-mouthed up at you but all that mattered was that they were there and alive. You flapped your great wings and pushed off from the ship, rising into the air and grabbing the ship by the sails and masts with your feet as you did. You pulled the ship free of the water, flew a couple of miles away and dropped the ship down into the calm water there.

You were tempted to transform into human again then, find a way to pilot the ship on your own with Ashley, but you couldn't leave the crew to die, not when you could do something about it. You checked Ashley was safe before taking off again and flying back to the whirlpool.

The little rowing boats were now spinning around inside the whirlpool, gradually going lower and lower beneath the water and speeding up as they did; there was no way you would be able to grab them all, you'd be lucky to manage to grab one of them. If you were to have any chance of saving them, you were going to have to tackle the source of the problem. You filled your enormous lungs with air, flew around so that you were close to the whirlpool but not on top of it, and you dived into the water.

Swimming was a lot like flying; your wings propelled you through the water like they propelled you through the air and in no time at all you had reached the ocean floor. You landed on the uneven surface and looked around until you saw what you came for, there was Poseidon himself. He had his trident stuck into the ground and he seemed to be levering open a crack and it was into this crack that the whirlpool had formed, a tiny spinning cyclone of water at first but as it rose in the ocean, it grew larger and larger and looking up you could see the dark spots spinning around which must be the rowing boats. You needed to seal that crack.

Where you had landed, Poseidon has his back to you and of all the things he would be expecting, you were fairly sure a dragon wouldn't be one of them. You crouched down on the ground and then used as much strength as you could to spring forwards, helped by your wings, so that you were going so fast by the time you reached Poseidon that you simply grabbed him by the shoulders as you flew past and he was yanked up and dragged along with you, his trident left behind still jammed into the crack in the ocean floor.

With the element of surprise on your side, you used your momentum to fling Poseidon as far as you could whilst you turned around and swam back towards the trident.

You felt a growing power behind you as you swam towards the fork sticking from the ocean bed, you felt it in your bones before you felt the surge of current grab you just as you reached it. The current was so strong you couldn't fight against it, but you had managed to get a hold of the trident just in time before it had taken you and as you swirled around in the ocean, trident gripped in the claws of your right foot, the crack in the ocean floor closed and the whirlpool above started to gradually tail off.

You couldn't fight the current as it tumbled and span you in the ocean and you were feeling dizzy by the time it suddenly stopped and you fell right into an enormous hand. Poseidon had grown to twenty times his size when you had surprised him and he looked angry, very angry. He plucked the trident from your grasp and in his hand it too grew to be as tall as he was.

It didn't matter what happened to you now, you had done what you set out to do, you had saved the crew of the ship you had been calling home, the crew who could now find their way back to ship and get Ashley safely back to land.

"How dare you?" boomed Poseidon.

"I'm sorry Poseidon, God of the Seas, but I had to save my friend."

"Friend?" laughed the god. "What friend could a dragon have?"

"A dragon can make friends as much as any being, maybe you should try it some time," you retorted but as Poseidon's eyes narrowed as you, you regretted it almost immediately.

"I have friends in other gods, are your friends also dragons?" Poseidon sounded curious now, not so threatening any more.

"I took human form and made a human friend," you replied. "I'm sure that is within your power too."

"You took human form and pretended to be one of them?" he asked before laughing a great belly laugh which shook the seabed beneath them. "Oh that is a jape, wait until I tell Zeus about this one!"

"May I leave your seas and continue my adventuring, Poseidon?" you asked hopefully.

"Oh yes, this I have got to see!" he declared, still laughing as he opened his hand and lifted you up through the waters until you reached the surface where you could finally take another great gulping breath.

The waters were calm again and you flew back over to the broken ship where you saw Ashley helping crew members who had managed to row back there aboard. The other boats were all making their way back too and as you approached the ship you saw the crew on board start screaming and running to the other side of the deck. You touched down onto the deck at the same time as focussing on human form and as you landed, you finished your transformation. Ashley ran over and gave you a great big hug which was like nothing you had experienced before.

"You're alive!" they shouted joyfully. "You saved us!"

"Heh, yeah. Couldn't let you all drown now could I?"

Cautiously the crew came over and you told them all the tale of how you came to be a dragon on board their ship.


How the Dice Were Used:
Fairy - The fairy you freed from the birdcage
Old Woman - The fortune teller you met on the road
Birdcage - The birdcage you freed the fairy from
Friends - You friendship with Ashley
Ship - The ship you became a crew member of
Trident - Poseidon and his trident
Market Stall - The market at South Point Landing
Dragon - You
Cart - The fortune teller's wagon

NaNoWriMo 2017 - Story 7 - Part One

Dice Used: Pink sets (Enchanted, Mythic, Medieval)


Once upon a time, in a faraway land, you were a majestic, green and purple dragon of about average size and with a slightly below average hoard which you spent almost all of your time guarding. Endless days and nights you spent inside the castle you had claimed as your own, after evicting the previous tenants, lying on top of a great mountain of gold coins, jewels, crowns, weapons, and many more things, which doesn't sound very comfortable but with a dragon's tough hide, you never longed for a cosy bed. You did long for something though, for company.

Once every five or ten years, some plucky human would come to your castle, determined to steal something from your hoard, and if there's one thing you really didn't like, it was thieves. Some of them even came along armed with weapons to try to slay you with, which was even more irksome. Had any of them tried to bargain from you whichever item it was they wanted, then you probably would have traded for them. You always liked the shiny things the best, so if they brought something precious and shiny to exchange for what they wanted, that would make them equal value as far as you were concerned and you would have traded with them. None of them seemed to appreciate that you were quite capable of negotiations and trading though, and instead just marshalled as much force as they could and came to steal.

It never ended well for them, and you hated to do it too, but when they refused to run away when you roar at them, is the fault entirely yours when they end up burned to a crisp?

You didn't count the time you spent there, you spend most of it asleep after all, so you didn't really know how long you had been in that castle, guarding your hoard, but what you did know was that it was too long. These humans who came to steal your hoard seemed to be having such adventures, albeit that was always their last adventure, but what fun they must be having you always thought. One day, after waking from a particularly long sleep, perhaps a couple of decades long, you decided it was time to act. No longer would you slumber your life away on top of your hoard, you were going to go on an adventure!

First things first, there was no need to ruin the castle by leaving it in your full dragon form, it was time to transform into the human shape you took long ago when you entered the castle which would become your home for so long. You hadn't summoned the magic for a shapeshift in such a long time, you weren't even sure if you would remember how to do it. You closed your eyes and held the shape of what you wanted to become in your mind, really focussed on that shape, and concentrated hard. You felt the magic rippling through you, you felt your body contorting into different positions and your skin rippled like a thousand bugs were crawling all over it. Finally, your body came to rest from the change and you opened your eyes.

The first thing that struck you was how different the colours looked, dull in comparison to through your natural dragon's eyes; the treasures beneath your feet not holding quite so much allure as they had for so long. You looked down at your new body and saw how very pink you looked, the humans that came to steal from you never looked so pink normally, and then you realised what was different, they all wore clothes and armour, things you never needed as a dragon but with this thin, fragile skin you were going to want too.

Humans lived in this castle before you took possession so they must have had some clothes to wear somewhere and so, in your new, and very pink, form you took to roaming the castle until you found a large dressing room full of clothes. You picked out ones you thought were the nicest, which were the most colourful, and after several attempts you managed to put the clothes on and get them to stay on. You found shoes to go on your very soft feet too and you tied them on and had a stomp around the room. After a bit of a practice you got used to how restrictive it was to have these clothes on and you went back to the main hall in the castle again, the room which had been your home for a long time.

You took a last look through your hoard of shiny things, picking out the prettiest of what you saw and putting them into a bag you found next to one of the unfortunate thieves whom had paid you a call. You had so very many of the gold coins as well, you decided to take some of those with you too. You found a nice sword and sword belt and worked out how to tie it around your new waist and you picked up a particularly colourful shield to carry with you too; the humans liked to hide behind the shields, though they just got really hot when you breathed fire on them so you always thought that was a bit silly, but with your skin as fragile as it felt now, you were glad of something to hide behind if you felt the need.

And so it was that you left the castle which had been your home for probably a few hundred years, and headed out for a new adventure.

------------------------

You travelled along the road you found near to your castle home and decided that if adventuring meant this much walking by yourself then it was just as boring as guarding a hoard but a lot more tiring too. You decided you had walking far enough for now and it was time for a sleep, although probably not one which would last a couple of decades in your usual dragon form, not if you wanted some adventures. You stopped at the side of the road, put your bag of shiny things down and curled up into a ball to sleep, finding it odd not to have a tail to curl around your body and nuzzle your face into.

You had been asleep for a while when something made you suddenly alert, a sound perhaps, or a movement nearby. You slowly opened your eyes and saw a human hunched over your shiny things bag. You went to let out a roar as was instinct, and just an odd, throaty wail came out. It startled the would-be thief though and they jumped, turning to look at you.

"Oh good, you're awake!" said the human.

"Awake now," you growled in reply, remembering only as you did that you could speak the human tongue and you vaguely remembered such things from so long ago before you settled on your hoard in the castle, back when you had taken this form before.

"I scared away some thieves just now," the human said gravely. "They had seen your bag and were going to take it when I came along and scared them off and I was just checking that the bag was fine before I woke you and you woke up by yourself!"

"My bag," you said gruffly, and standing up and grabbed the bag off the human.

"There's no need to thank me," said the human. "Your gratitude is shown in your smile," and with that the human broke into a large grin and bowed before you in an exaggerated way. There was something which didn't seem quite right about all of this. You looked in the bag and it looked to have everything in it. You slung it over your shoulder and started walking along the road again. The human cantered after you.

"I am Ashley," the human said, bowing dramatically again as you kept on trudging along the road. "I may be able to offer you some assistance on the road, keep off any other potential thieves that may come along?"

The human, Ashley, seemed to be expecting something from you but you weren't sure what.

"May I accompany you along your travels perhaps?"

"No thieves," you bark at the human.

"Exactly, I can make it so that there are no thieves and you can travel unhindered to wherever you're going to with a bag of such treasures."

You sighed, maybe this human was part of adventures and maybe they would help you find something more interesting to adventure than this walking too. "Ok," you say to Ashley, "No thieving from me, and find me some adventures."

"Absolutely!" replied Ashley. "And may I ask the name of my adventure-seeking companion?"

Your name? You hadn't had to think about your name in such a long time it was difficult to think that you had ever even had one. You frowned and stopped walking, sure you could remember, it was in there somewhere.

"Do you.... do you know your name?" asked Ashley, seeming a little concerned.

"I have one," you confirm. "I know it..." You think back, further and further, haven't humans yelled it at you when they have come to attack you? Foul beast? No that isn't right. Great wyrm? No, not that either. "Kersym!" you exclaim suddenly. That's it, that's your name.

"Kersym?" asked Ashley dubiously. "That's a bit pompous, naming yourself after a dragon."

"That's just my name," you say, confused why the human would find your name odd, their name sounded odd to you. "I don't remember how I got it."

"Not to worry, I'm sure you'll live up to it, you've already got the hoard after all!" the human said breaking into a great belly laugh as they began walking again.

"How do you know about my hoard?" you ask worriedly, you didn't like leaving it unguarded as it was so hearing this human so casually refer to it really unnerves you.

"Well I saw it, didn't I?" asks Ashley, sounding a little confused. "In your bag? The bunch of gold and stuff?"

"Oh this?" you reply in relief, holding up the bag. "Oh yes, this is my hoard," you say grinning, an odd feeling on your face. If the human wants to think of this little trifle as a hoard then who are you to argue. These humans can be so naïve.

------------------------

You make conversation with Ashley as you walk together and the more time you spend with the human, the more you enjoy their company. You decide that meeting humans and talking to them must be part of adventuring because you're enjoying it so much.

After far too much walking for your liking, you finally reach a place that Ashley calls Mapledale.

"It's pretty late so we want to find the inn," said Ashley.

"And that's the place we stay and eat at, yes?" you confirmed with the human.

Ashley laughed at you but kindly. "Yes, the place we stay and eat at."

"And what do we eat?" you asked, as it had been a long time since you ate as a human and you rarely needed to eat when you slept so much in your normal dragon form.

"Whatever they have," replied Ashley with a shrug. "Here it is!" they said, pointing to a sign hanging from in front of a building with three bells painted on it.

"Bells?" you asked. "I thought bells were in churches."

"It'll be the inn's name," replied Ashley. "The Three Bells no doubt."

Ashley pushed the door to the inn open and you followed them inside.

There were tables and chairs covering the room, most of which had humans sat at them with a drink. Some had food too and one even had small cards on it and the humans at that table looked very intense. Ashley walked over to where there was a long bench with shelves of bottles behind it and you realised that this set up was familiar to you, you must have been to an inn a very long time ago when you had taken human form before. You were still stood near the door and staring around at the room when Ashley waved you over to an empty table and you sat down with them.

"The innkeeper has some food and ale for us and a couple of rooms upstairs," explained Ashley. "You should get one of those gold coins from your bag out to give to him when he brings the food over."

You lift up your bag and start to open it on the table. "What are you doing?" asked Ashley urgently, putting a hand over the top of the bag.

"Getting the coin out like you said," you replied, confused about why the human told you to do something then immediately stopped you from doing it.

"You can't let people in here see what's in your bag," the human whispered to you. "Put the bag back on the floor and very carefully open it, grab a coin and close it again."

"Oh, ok," you agree and put the bag back on the floor but your human companion threw their arms in the air in exasperation.

"Well I think everyone in this place heard that jangle of coins," they whispered angrily at you.

The human from behind the wooden counter hurried over then, carrying two big jugs with foam on top, put them on the table and said in a low voice "I can't guarantee your safety even in the rooms upstairs," and then left the table.

"You see!" exclaimed Ashley quietly, but you didn't see. "That was a warning that people are going to rob us and this place isn't going to do anything to help."

"I don't like thieves," you said in a low growl.

"You should probably stop inviting them then."

"I don't invite thieves."

"What you seem to be failing to grasp is that by informing random strangers, like those here in this inn, that you have anything worth thieving, like by jangling that lovely bag of yours, that there is an invitation to anyone even thinking of thievery."

"They will regret it if they try."

"Well you've got that big sword and lovely fancy shield which is a nice enough deterrent when you're walking down the road, but not when you're sleeping in a room in an inn."

"I don't need to sleep," you informed the human, your slumber lasts for a long time and your wakefulness can also. You needed to rest but there was no need for actual sleep.

"Fair enough," said Ashley. "If you want to spend all night awake then that's on you."

The human fell silent as the human who brought the drinks brought over some plates with good smelling food on them over. "I'll take payment in advance if you don't mind."

You opened the bag again, fished out a gold coin and handed it to the human there, who put it in between their teeth and tried to eat it for some reason. They didn't manage to eat it and this seemed to satisfy them and they walked away.

"Let's eat this and get out of here," whispered your human companion.

The food tasted good and the drink went down very nicely. As soon as you both finished, you were led upstairs to a couple of rooms. Ashley offered to take the bag in case anyone came to thieve from you but you said that you could handle anyone who tried. You've faced plenty of thieves in your lifetime as a dragon and none of them have got past you so far.

You lay down on the bed and rested your eyes. You were quite alert but it may have looked to anyone else that you were asleep. It was deep into the night when Ashley's prediction turned true and you heard some slow and careful footsteps on the floorboards outside the room.

You hadn't locked the door because you thought that if Ashley was right and someone was going to try and thieve from you, then there was no need to force them to cause damage to the room, that wasn't fair on the owner. Consequently, the would-be thief found their way into your room to be quite unbarred. The door slowly opened and you heard their steps bring them inside the room.

Your bag was next to the bed you were lying on and the intruder slowly made their way over to it. Just as they reached the bag you spoke, without opening your eyes still.

"I wouldn't if I was you."

The thief froze, no doubt deciding if you were asleep and dreaming or if you were fully conscious of what they were trying to do. You heard the human place their hand on the bag and you suddenly sat bolt upright in the bed.

"I told you not to do that," you said and you could feel your anger boiling away at you, anger at not just this thief but every thief, every one of those humans who thought they could come to your hoard and take what they wanted, all the ones that wanted to prove something by coming to beat you and every one of them didn't live to tell the tale.

The thief cried out suddenly terrified and fell backwards, sprawling across the room. You realised then that your head was getting heavier, getting harder for your human form neck to support. You raised a human hand up to your head and felt the scaly hide of your natural form there, your anger had caused your head to transform to your natural state, albeit far smaller than it would normally be. Grinning then, showing all your dragon teeth, you let out a great roar! It felt fantastic to roar again, how you had missed being able to release your anger and frustration in a great bellowing, satisfying roar.

The force of the roar was so great that the thief was blown backwards across the room and when they got to their feet they fled from your room as fast as they possibly could. You laughed at their terrified retreat and you focussed on transforming your head back to the human form it had taken before. Slowly as the change took place again, you could hear your laugh change from a deep, dragon boom to the tinny sound that humans make.

Your human companion Ashley burst into the room just as you finished your transformation and looked around.

"Are you alright?" they asked, frantically rushing over to your bed whilst looking around the room. "I heard a big animal, was there a bear in here or something?"

"Something like that," you replied smirking.

"Are you sure you're alright?"

"I'm fine, the thief who broke in might not be for a while though."

"There was a thief? I should have known. You fought them off?"

"They won't be bothering me again."

"I think we'd better move on from here in the morning," your companion suggested. "We don't want to cause any trouble."

"Of course," you replied. "You should get some more sleep before we leave though."

"If you're sure you don't want me to take over guarding your bag?"

"I'm quite capable," you reply with a smile, showing a little more teeth than you had planned to. Ashley frowned a little at you and reluctantly left the room and returned to the adjacent one.

The rest of the night passed without further incident and you wondered if the would-be thief would even tell anyone what they had seen when they tried to rob you.

------------------------

You set out the next day, first of all procuring a couple of very nice horses from a human in the town. When you tried to sit on the horse, it got very worked up and tried to throw you from it. You eventually settled on having the horse carry your bag whilst you walked alongside it. Ashley had no such problems with the other horse and you thought perhaps the beast could detect your true nature and as horses were food for you normally, it was perhaps a perfectly rational reaction to you.

After travelling along a road leading to another town for a few hours, you caught up to a wagon being pulled by a couple of weak-looking, small horses and an old woman holding their reins. Ashley greeted the old woman and she stopped her a wagon to talk to the two of you.

"Have you ever had your fortune told?" the old woman asked. Ashley laughed but you were intrigued.

"You can tell the future?" you asked curiously.

"I can tell your fortune in many ways, some may speak of the future, some may speak of your past," she said mysteriously.

"How?"

"I can't reveal the secrets of my trade, but if you cross my palm with silver then I can tell you what the fates are willing to share."

You traded a look with Ashley, whose eyes rolled back in their head which struck you as a peculiar gesture. You dipped a hand into your bag and grabbed a coin. "I have no silver but will this be sufficient?" you asked.

"Oh yes," said the woman greedily, snatching the coin from you. "This will do for as many readings as you would like."

She clambered down from her wagon, refusing the help offered by yourself and Ashley and, leaning on a big stick, walked round to the back of the wagon. She flipped a couple of latches and some steps folded out allowing her to climb into the back of the wagon, where she disappeared into. You stood waiting for her to re-emerge but she didn't, then after a few minutes her arm appeared at the doorway and beckoned you to come inside the wagon.

You walked up the little steps and though the curtain which covered the doorway inside the wagon. The wagon was larger inside than you were expecting, with shelves of things lining the walls and a table and two chairs set in the middle. There were little lanterns around the room providing illumination and in the middle of the table was a glass sphere set on a stand.

"Take a seat," said the old woman, gesturing to the seat at the table closest to you. You sat down at the table and peered at the glass sphere in front of you which seemed like such a peculiar decoration. "Drink your tea," said the woman, placing a cup down next to you. "It's important so that I can read your leaves."

"My leaves?" you asked.

"Your tea leaves," she replied. "Once you've finished your tea, I'll see what the tea leaves say."

"So I shouldn't drink the leaves then?"

"Of course not."

You picked up the cup and drank some of the hot liquid. It was an odd, savoury taste you were unfamiliar with, but it was pleasant enough.

"Now, whilst you drink that, I want you to concentrate on the crystal ball," she said, indicating the glass ball on the table in front of you.

"Concentrate on it?" you queried.

"Focus on what you want it to tell you," she replied. "Ask the question in your head over and over whilst focussing on it."

You thought about what you wanted to know and really the deepest question you had was whether you were going to have fun on your adventure and return home to find your hoard still there. So you focussed on that, staring at the glass sphere and repeating in your head 'Will I have fun and then find my hoard in tact?'

The woman started to wave her hands over the glass and she threw back her head dramatically. "Yes, yes! I'm getting something, there's something coming through." She snapped forward so that she was suddenly hunched over the sphere and she moved her hands around it but not touching it and seemed to be staring into it, though you could see from where you were sat that all she would see was distorted reflections of the inside of the wagon and the pair of you. "I see a figure!" she exclaimed. "A dark figure, walking."

"Who?" you asked, annoyed by the vagueness of her words.

"They are walking with another figure, two walk together." She bent backwards again and took a great, noisy breath in and snapped forwards over the sphere once more. "There is an animal, a large animal."

"A dragon?" you query hopefully, you'd like to know that you would be returning to your natural form.

"No, smaller than a dragon, much smaller." Your shoulders sag with disappointment. "But dangerous still," she cautioned. "Dangerous and following the two figures."

"Small and dangerous," you confirmed.

"Not small, but much smaller than a dragon. Dragons are very large you know?"

"Yes, I've some experience," you replied with a small smile which the old woman doesn't seem to notice.

"There's something else," she said, waving her hands around the sphere. "Something bigger, a house, an inn, a boat, I can't quite tell... it's gone." She slumped forwards and then slowly straightened back up to an upright sitting position. "That is all the crystal ball will tell us now."

"But it didn't tell me anything," you protested.

"We cannot dictate what it will or will not tell us, the question may have been foggy in your mind or that may have been all the information you needed to answer it."

You frowned dubiously at the old woman, this didn't seem to be particularly helpful.

"Have you drunk your tea yet?" she asked.

"What? No, I was concentrating on the question like you told me to," you protested.

"Finish your tea and we will see if the leaves will speak any more to us."

You drank the rest of your tea, slowly so that you wouldn't drink the tea leaves too, which was harder than it sounded. Finally there was just a tiny bit of liquid left which it was impossible to drink without consuming all the tea leaves suspended in it too.

"Ah yes, this is enough," said the old woman as she tilted the cup down for her to see inside it. "Now hold the cup like this," she demonstrated holding the cup with both hands.

You cupped your hands in the way she had shown so that you had a full grip of the cup.

"Now, concentrate on the question you want to ask and swirl it around three times, then slowly turn it upside down onto the saucer."

"Swirl it around?" you asked. "Like this?" You moved the cup in a circular motion so that the little bit of liquid swilled around the sides of the cup.

"Yes, exactly right. Three times and then stop. Now slowly turn it upside down onto the saucer." You tipped the cup upside down over the saucer and left it there.

"Now we wait until only the leaves are left." You saw a small pool of the remaining liquid and some smaller leaves form around the rim of the cup against the saucer. "That is enough," she said, lifting the cup from the saucer and peering inside.

She turned the cup around, looking deeply into it, it was very puzzling behaviour to do with a drink but she was the expert so you sat quietly whilst she performed her routine.

"I see many things in here, many things."

"What like?" you asked.

"It is not the things themselves that we need concern ourselves with, but what they mean together as a whole, the interpretation is the most important thing."

"And what are the things you are interpreting?" you asked.

"I prefer to just give the interpretation itself." She turned the cup around a few more times and made some noises like things were making sense. "Yes." she said at last.

"Yes?"

"Yes, I have the meaning now, it is very clear. You will go on a journey and you will encounter some people. There will be further travel and some of it will be dangerous. You will meet someone whom you could call an enemy in the process and you will get what you seek."

"That's...interesting," you said doubtfully. "That sounded like a lot of things but it was actually not that specific."

"I can only tell you what the fates are communicating and that seemed quite specific to me," she replied a little testily. "You have paid for the full fortune telling experience so the method left for us is the cards." She took the teacup and saucer off the table, placed a cloth over the glass sphere and moved that inside a cupboard before opening a drawer and removing a deck of cards. The cupboard she placed the sphere in looked to have a light emanating from it which struck you as strange, why would a cupboard need a lamp to be lit inside it? You turned your attention back to the old woman with her cards.

"Is it a card game?" you asked, having seen something like it on a table at the inn you stayed at.

"The telling of fortunes is no game," she said, sitting back at the table. "And the fates do not like to be toyed with."

"How do the cards work then?" you asked curiously.

"These are no playing cards," she explained, fanning the card faces out to you and you could see that each bore an elaborate picture on it. "These are tarot cards and have been used for readings for a very long time. This deck belonged to my mother and her mother before her and has the wisdom of ages contained with it." She held the deck out with both hands, presenting it to you. "We need the deck to absorb your energy. Take it and shuffle it."

You took the deck from her hands and started to pull cards out from the deck and push them back into it in different places. "Is there a certain way I should be doing this?" you ask, having never seen anyone shuffle a deck of cards before to know how it was normally done.

"Any way you wish, just focus on the cards and let your energy pass through to them as you do, the cards will know what to do."

This seemed like an odd thing to expect of cards but this was an odd woman.

"Now, hold the deck and focus on the question you wish to ask."

You held the deck in your hands but you were distracted by what seemed like a rattling sound coming from elsewhere in the wagon. "What is that?" you asked.

"Concentrate on your question!" chided the old woman and you tried to focus back on the cards again, but that rattling was still there. "Now place the deck on the table and cut the cards."

You put the deck on the table. "Cut the cards? Why would you want me to cut them, I thought you said they were an heirloom?"

The old woman rolled her eyes before explaining, "Take part of the deck, lift it up and put the other half on top of it." You followed her instructions but were still a little confused about the cutting. Then you heard that rattle again and it was sounding more insistent somehow.

The old woman took the deck of cards and turned over the top card, placing it in what seemed to be a very specific part of the table. "The Eight of Wands," she said and you could see that the card had what looked to be a load of straight branches on it, all drawn at an angle.

"The eight of wands?" you asked, wondering if you were supposed to know what that meant.

"The wands themselves represent fire and driving purpose. The Eight of Wands is specifically about swiftly unfolding events, you see here how the wands are represented like a flight of arrows loosed by a group of archers at the same time. Change will be swift and possibly challenging. You should trust yourself to get through this period of change and you may find that you are all the better once you have."

You began to think about what this meant for you but the rattle turned into a thud and you had to ask about it again. "What is that noise?"

"It is nothing for you to concern yourself with, you must concentrate on the cards."

"It's something in that cupboard," you said, pointing to the cupboard which you saw the old woman put the glass sphere into. "I think it's something that wants to get out."

"It's nothing, it'll be quiet again soon enough."

"It doesn't sound like nothing," you said and you stood up and made to go to the cupboard but faster than you thought possible the old woman sprang up and barred your way.

"It is none of your concern," she said angrily now. "Either return to the table to finish your reading or leave my wagon having had all you would pay for!"

The thudding increased in frequency and you knew in your heart of hearts that you had to help whatever creature was seemingly trapped in that cupboard. Your anger welled inside you and you felt the strength of your true form course through you. You moved the woman to one side like she was a mere feather and when you opened the cupboard, the door came off its hinges. The glass sphere from earlier rolled out and a birdcage lay on its side inside the cupboard. You then saw that the light coming from the cupboard earlier was buzzing around inside the birdcage, too fast for you to see what it was.

You pulled the birdcage out of the cupboard and stood it on the table.

"You can't have it, it's mine!" the old woman yelled, trying to grab the cage, but you held her back with one hand and bent over to look at the cage better.

"What is it?" you asked.

"It's not yours!" yelled the old woman.

"Ashley!" you called out to your travelling companion.

Ashley appeared at the entrance to the wagon. "What's up? Oh my gods, you've got a fairy!"

"A fairy?" you asked, astounded. "This little light is a fairy?"

"It's my fairy, you can't have it!" screeched the old woman. "I'll cast a spell on you if you try to take it!"

"She's bluffing," said Ashley. "She's no more magical than I am a cockatrice." You pondered that possibility for a moment, wondering if cockatrices could take a human form like you were able to, but realised that it was meant as an impossible statement by Ashley.

"I'm certain that fairies don't like to be caged," you said, glaring at the old woman and with your free hand, you summoned your dragon strength to your hand and snapped open the locked door to the cage.

The little light from inside the cage whizzed out of the cage door, flew around the wagon a few times and then whooshed straight past Ashley's head to the wide open outdoors.

"Any other prisoners in here?" you asked the old woman, still holding her back whilst you scanned around the wagon for any others signs of life.

"It was mine," the old woman said defiantly. "I bought and paid for it. It didn't belong to you, it belonged to me, and you need to pay me for it now you've gone and let it free."

"You can't own a fairy any more than you can own a dragon," you said to the old woman, wondering if she had any inkling of what manner of being she was trying to extort.

You marched out of the wagon, preceded by Ashley and went back to your own horses. "I don't expect to see you again," you said menacingly to the old woman as you set off and left her and her wagon behind you.

After a couple of miles down a road, a little light started to fly around in the road in front of you and when you got closer it landed on the back of your horse and you saw that it was a little fairy.

"Thank you," said the fairy. "I was a prisoner of that woman and I thought I would never escape. You freed me and I owe you my gratitude."

"That woman had no right to imprison a being like yourself," you said to the fairy. "It was an honour to free you."

"It is an honour to have been freed by one such as yourself," the fairy said and you wondered if that meant that the fairy could detect what your true form was.

"You are welcome to join us on our journey," you said, looking to Ashley for confirmation that this was something they would have no problem with.

"I must return to my family, but perhaps we will meet again. May I ask your name?"

"I am Kersym and this is my travelling companion Ashley."

"Ah Kersym, it has been an honour. My name is Applina. My family will owe you their gratitude also."

"There is no need for gratitude Applina, just try not to let yourself get trapped by humans again."

The tiny fairy saluted to you and then bowed to you before flying off into the woods and out of sight.

"That's the first time I've actually met a fairy," said Ashley. "They're a lot more polite than I'd heard."

"They are often dismissed as being unimportant beings but in numbers, they have a very great strength indeed and it never hurts to have the fairies on your side," you explain to Ashley with a wink.

------------------------

NaNoWriMo 2017 - Story 6 - Part 2

After telephoning Professor Gaunt and relaying his suspicions about the students' activities, Antonio agreed to accompany the professor later to a location which she had determined may be where the students had been gathering; between them they thought it might be the location of the site they had been using for the summoning ritual.

Antonio took a taxicab down to the dockside, gave a handsome tip and asked the driver to return for him in an hour. He walked up to the water's edge, peering over as though he would be able to see an elder god rising from the waters below him.

"Doctor Bianchi," came a voice right behind it and it startled him, though he covered the fact well.

"Professor Gaunt," he replied, turning round to face the professor. "Have you located the building?"

"Yes, I believe so. This way."

She led him along the dockside, past many different buildings which at this time of night were all locked up and they didn't see a soul about the place. They wound between stacks of shipping containers and wharf buildings until they reached one marked 'Warehouse 16'.

"This is it," she said. "Warehouse Sixteen. Let's see if we can find a way in without breaking anything."

"Indeed," replied Antonio, who could sense power coming from inside the building and wondered if the professor could feel it too. He had a bad feeling about what might be inside, but he was far more curious about what there was to discover. He had long come to terms with the fact that his fear of beings from the netherworld was far outweighed by his lust for knowledge and understanding. If it led to his demise in the pursuit of it all then so be it, he had lived enough years by now.

The professor, torch in hand, was already away and searching the building for a way in, it was all Antonio could do to keep up with her at first. He was able lend his own torchlight to the quest once he was keeping pace with her and it didn't take long before they came across a door with no obvious locks on the outside and when the professor tried the handle, it swung open inwards.

Antonio took an instinctive step to the side when the door opened, as though leaving a passage through for any being inside to go past them, but there was nothing of course and he felt a little foolish for his actions but it seemed the professor hadn't noticed.

"I think I've found a lightswitch," said Professor Gaunt and a moment later, fluorescent tube lights from high above flickered to life. Antonio blinked and looked away until his eyes adjusted and then he was able to look at what was on the warehouse floor before them.

The first thing that struck Antonio was the blood. There was a lot of it, too much for someone to have bled and survived, but there were five students missing so perhaps enough for five to have bled and survived. Despite all the blood, there were no body, and thankfully no body parts either. As the two of them stared at the blood, Antonio realised that the metallic smell in the air wasn't just warehouse smell as he had assumed, but the smell of blood.

He was the first to move, breaking the spell which had frozen both of them.

"Oh god," said the professor as Antonio stepped towards the centre of the expansive space.

"I rather think it may have been one, yes," he replied. "A god that is."

"What?" asked the professor.

"An elder god, an ancient one, a great being from beyond."

Antonio reached the circle which had been painted on the floor, surrounded by symbols meticulously painted, most of which he recognised, a few of which he didn't.

"They spent a lot of time on this, getting it right," he said crouching down and looking at how carefully and perfectly the symbols had been painted. In the centre of the circle was a metal fire-bowl, some charcoaled remains in the bottom of it so Antonio could see that it had been used. The professor made he way around to the other side of the circle and picked up a piece of paper from the floor.

"What's this?" she asked. "From the black land you are drawn forth, as of old. Bound to my will, as of old. By the words of the old ones, by the covenant of old."

"I wouldn't read any more of that if I were you," warned Antonio. "Or let me know if you're going to so that I can get out of here first."

The professor looked shocked at what this meant. "You think it worked?" she asked in surprise as Antonio picked up a bell from a pool of blood and let the clapper chime against the side once before setting it back down again.

"Do you have an alternative hypothesis?" he asked.

She stared around at the scene before them. "Someone tricked them into doing this ritual and then killed them whilst they were carrying it out?" she surmised dubiously.

"And the fact they didn't all go missing at the same time?" queried Antonio. "Did the students not return to their institution of learning, and go missing one at a time? Like they were trying the ritual over and over again to try to get different results until they were all consumed perhaps?"

Professor Gaunt looked at Antonio in disgust. "I suppose you're right, but you sound like you're relishing the thought, doctor."

"Of course not, I'm just remaining objective about the facts."

"Do you not think there is any chance they could be alive?"

"Alive and in another dimension you think perhaps? I can't see how they could have survived the ritual, over and over again, and still be missing."

"We need to call the police," said the professor firmly, reaching into her handbag for her phone.

"If you don't mind, professor, I'd rather I wasn't here when the police are summoned. We, ahem, haven't seen eye to eye recently and I think they would try to use this against me."

"What could they possibly use against you doctor?" asked the professor surprised.

"They find me at a scene with all this blood, with text from a book which I own and these symbols which anyone looking at my work would know are of interest to me. They would try to put me away for their murders professor, and with the right jury they might even succeed."

"But you have nothing to do with this!" exclaimed the professor. "I was the one who asked you to help look into their disappearances, you didn't know anything about this!"

"Nothing more than the newspaper reports in any case," corrected Antonio, always one for detail. "In any case, I would rather you wait until I'm no longer present before you telephone the police and keep my name out of it as much as you are able to if you would be so kind." The professor looked as though she was about to say something. "Without telling an untruth of course, if asked then you should answer truthfully that I consulted with you on the case, but there is no need to volunteer any information on my involvement."

The professor thought for a moment and then nodded soberly. "I understand doctor, and I don't want to see you blamed for this horrible lack of judgement by my students. I will keep your involvement from the police as much as I am able."

"Thank you," Antonio said, bowing his head to the professor. "Now I think I will go and wait for my taxicab to return if you don't mind, he shouldn't be long.

"Of course."

"And I look forward to meeting the student thespians you are arranging to help me with my little project!" he said as he walked out of the warehouse door.

------------------------

The following day, Antonio checked the paper and was surprised not to read anything about the horror scene they discovered at the docks. He guessed that the reporters had not been aware of the discovery in time for a story to make that edition of the paper. He was also surprised not to have had that annoying detective hammering on his door already, when surely he must be desperate to use this discovery to try to lock him up again. What the detective had against him, he wasn't quite sure but he hoped he would get over his obsession quickly.

He spent the day expecting a knock at the door and otherwise organising an area in the sitting room of the lighthouse where he could stage a performance of the play when the students were able to come around and perform it. By the afternoon he was shocked that there still hadn't been a visit from his least favourite detective and he telephoned for a taxicab to take him to the local reprographic office where he could take the copy of the play and have copies made for each of the players.

The copies weren't cheap as he had them bound into book forms just like the original but without the leather cover but it was worth it for some level of professionalism with his performers; if they had to be reading from the book for the performance then the book at least ought to look respectable was how he saw it.

When he took the taxicab back to the lighthouse, he was disappointed but not surprised to see a car parked on the gravel and a surly looking detective at the door.

"Good afternoon detective," Antonio said with false cheer after paying the driver and seeing him off the grounds. "May I help you this afternoon?"

"I'd like you to come down to the station with me," Detective Malone replied gruffly.

"May I ask what about Detective?"

"I don't think you need to ask."

"I can check my schedule to see when it would be convenient to fit in a visit to the police station."

"Don't get smart with me doctor," he said angrily. "You know happened to those kids and I'm gonna prove it!"

"What students choose to do and not do is nothing to do with me Detective," Antonio replied tersely. "I never met those students, I never had any contact with them and I didn't know anything of them until the newspaper reports and your insistence on pursuing me. This is harassment and I'll be reporting it to your superior forthwith."

"You'll come down the station with me or I'll be back with a warrant for your arrest and you'll go down there in handcuffs," growled the detective, barely keeping his temper.

"Then I'll see you when you have a warrant. Now please remove yourself from my grounds, this is private property and I don't consent to your presence here."

The detective threw the disposable coffee cup he was holding against the door of the lighthouse, coffee spraying across the surface, and stormed over to his car, slammed the door, skidded his wheels in the gravel and sped off down the driveway. Antonio wondered if he might regret having antagonised the detective but he was damned if he was going to be taken down the station for no good reason once again and if the detective could convince whoever he needed to convince to get a warrant to arrest him then so be it, he hadn't done anything to those students and he wasn't going to take the blame for it.

Once he got inside, he needed to calm down so he poured himself a glass of whiskey and sat down in his leather wingback chair next to the fire. As he sipped the amber liquid, he felt himself start to calm down and decided to telephone the professor to see if she had arranged a date and time for the thespian students to be with him.

He telephoned her office but there was no response and it rang through to a departmental administrator. He asked to leave a message for her to contact him and to his delight he was told that she had in fact left a message for him, having tried to call him whilst he had been out that afternoon at the reprographic office. The message gave him a contact number for one of the students and some possible dates and times that they were available, the soonest of which was that very evening.

He telephoned the number left to him for the student and arranged for them to arrive at seven o'clock that evening and he would be paying them in cash for their time and trouble. He explained that it was a play to be acted out straight from the book and that no memorisation of the lines was expected. The student seemed a bit confused by the proposition but happily agreed to the full arrangements once they had agreed on a price.

------------------------

"I hate that man!" yelled Jim Malone as he stormed back into the office and slumped down at his desk.

"The doctor guy?" asked Abernathy from the next desk over.

"Of course the doctor guy," replied Jim grumpily. "You should have seen the blood Abernathy, and this weird circle thing on the floor, it's just like the kind of stuff that creepy, old doctor has all that stuff about. It's got to be him!"

"Why are you so sure Malone?"

"I know it in my bones," he said.

"Means, motive and opportunity," said Abernathy reasonably. "He got those three?"

"Sure he does."

"Talk me through them?"

"He just does!" yelled Jim and marched off to pour himself a cup of coffee from the jug on the side. The coffee sloshed over the side of the cup as he poured it with too much vigour and he just felt like giving up on it all at that moment.

He sullenly slunk back to his desk, feeling more deflated than angry now, taking a sip of the coffee he now realised was quite stale, probably made that morning and been sat there all day.

"I can't get an arrest warrant," he told Abernathy. "I haven't got enough on him yet. I need a search warrant to get that but I can't get a search warrant either, judge won't go for it."

"You ever thought it wasn't this guy?" suggested Abernathy.

"It was him," he snarled. "I just need something to nail him with, something solid."

Jim resolved then, to go back to the doctor's lighthouse that evening. He had already found a way to get in and out without being detected and he was sure he would be able to do it again. If he could just see what the doctor was up to then he might be able to get something he could use on him. He told Abernathy he was headed home for the evening and would take a fresh look at the case in the morning, but when he left, he drove down to the coast to where the lighthouse stood, just in time to see the doctor herding a fresh batch of students into the place. He was going to do it again, but this time he could stop him!

------------------------

"Come in, come in," Antonio said to the students when they turned up at his door. "You can hang your coats here," he indicated the hooks on the wall behind the door. "No need to remove your shoes if you'd prefer not to."

The students trampled up the spiral staircase a couple of floors until they reached a large sitting room which occupied a floor of the lighthouse to itself. The floor had been cleared, furniture pushed against the walls on all sides and a large, leather chair sat at one end of the room facing towards the open area.

"The play space is a bit basic I'm afraid, but it's all going to be a bit of an improvisation in any case."

"Works for us," said the boy named Steve whom Antonio had spoken to on the phone earlier. "We'll make it work."

"Excellent to hear!" said Antonio excitedly. "Can I get you any beverages or light snacks at all?"

"A jug of water and some glasses would be great please," replied Steve and Antonio bustled off to get a pitcher of water with ice and lemon and a collection of matching glasses from the kitchen.

"I expect you're all keen to see what the play tonight is," said Antonio, unable to keep the excitement off his face.

"Yeah," said Steve. "It would be good to start looking through it."

"Well," Antonio paused. "I'd rather you didn't look ahead in it actually, and just acted it out page to page so to speak."

"How can we get a sense of our characters that way?" asked a young lady standing next to Steve.

"Well, it doesn't need to be a groundbreaking performance, this is just a dramatic read-through after all." Antonio chuckled to try to cover his nerves. "It's important to the performance for me that you don't read ahead."

"Ok then, we'll just wing it as we go then," said Steve, looking meaningfully at the others.

Antonio handed out the copies of the play he'd had made earlier that day, keeping the original copy for himself to read along with if he so desired and he settled into his familiar wingback chair.

"I'll be Cassilda," said the young lady who had spoken earlier.

"I'll be Camilla then," said another young lady.

"I guess that makes me The Stranger then," said Steve with a smirk. "Places everyone."

------------------------

Jim picked the padlock as he had done before and made his way quietly into the cellar laboratory. The giant insect in the middle of the room still gave him the creeps but he crossed the room and opened the door to the stairs up into the rest of the lighthouse.

As he crept up the stairs, he was able to hear voices above him, that must be the students he saw entering as he arrived. As he went through the kitchen, he made a detour to the knife block and drew out the largest knife, he didn't know what the doctor was planning to do to these students but he was going to make sure he could stop him.

Slowly and quietly, he worked his way up the spiral staircase, the voices getting louder, until he reached a point where he could peek over the steps above him to see what was happening there.

The students were there alright, and when he craned his neck, he was able to see the doctor sat in a leather chair in the middle of the room down one end.

"You, sir, should unmask," said one of the female students.

"Indeed?" answered a male student.

"Indeed it's time. We have all laid aside disguise but you." said a different female student.

"I wear no mask," said the male student.

"No mask? No mask!" exclaimed the first female student in mock terror.

They seemed to be acting out a play for the doctor, holding books of the script out in front of them as they read the lines from the copies but in normal clothes and there was certainly no stage here and an audience of one. Something about the scenario struck Jim as being salacious in some way. There was nothing wrong in the eyes of the law with having students perform a play in your home though so Jim decided to watch the performance from the stairs to see if anything more insidious happened.

When the first act of the play finished and the doctor burst into applause, Jim thought he was going to have to make a quick run for it when the doctor offered them some beverages but the students just helped themselves to the drinks they already had. Was the doctor drugging them with that drink perhaps? It looked like water but could it contain some substance which would incapacitate the students or cause them to become suggestible perhaps? Jim felt he had better stay to make sure the students were not being interfered with in some way.

"Are we ready to begin act two?" asked the doctor excitedly.

"Absolutely," replied the male student. "This is quite interesting actually. Places please!"

Jim, the doctor and the students would never get to appreciate what would happen in act two of the play however. They hadn't even reached the end of the first page of the second act, when all of them were driven to madness with the horror.


How the Dice Were Used:
Police Siren - Detective Jim Malone
Line-up - Jim's suspicions of Antonio throughout
Chess Piece - One of the items from the museum
Tentacles - The Great Old Ones
Scientist - Doctor Antonio Bianchi
Peering through Grate - Jim watching Antonio in the cella laboratory
Intercom - At the lighthouse
Lighthouse - Doctor Antonio Bianchi's home & lab
Interrogation - The opening interrogation

NaNoWriMo 2017 - Story 6 - Part 1

Dice Used: Purple sets (Clues, Fright, Strange)

"I'm telling you, I know nothing about it."

"We know you're involved Mr. Bianchi," the police officer growled. "It's better than you come clean now and don't waste any more of our time."

"I can't tell you what I don't know," said Antonio Bianchi calmly. "And without any evidence, you can't hold me any longer."

"We can hold you for forty-eight hours to find the evidence."

"Then I guess we may as well all make ourselves comfortable then officer. Do you have that coffee I asked for yet?"

The officer interviewing him nodded at the mirror on the wall and a moment later the door opened and another office came in holding a polystyrene cup and placed it down in front of Antonio.

Antonio picked it up and looked at the muddy coloured water inside the cup and couldn't prevent his lip from curling in disgust. "I asked for coffee."

"And you got it, and I didn't have to do that for you," replied the officer.

"This," he tilted the cup towards the officer, "is not coffee."

"You can drink it or not, makes no difference to me."

Antonio was not desperate enough to drink it and he shoved it off to one side of the table so that he wouldn't smell it either.

"We're going to get a warrant for your lighthouse Mr Bianchi, and we're going to find out what you've been up to in there."

"And I'll be suing the police force and you personally if any of my experiments are disturbed in the process. I'm doing nothing illegal sir and I strongly resent being persecuted for pursuing a scientific interest in my own time."

The interview continued in this vein until Antonio Bianchi was confined to a cell in the police station whilst the police attempted to gain a warrant for the lighthouse where he both lived and spent his scientific studies. The police failed to get the warrant, and Antonio was confident they would; the judge who they requested the warrant from was someone who was interested in his work and wouldn't want it to be disturbed by a gross of clumsy police boots disrupting all of this experiments and pulling his work out from its organised filing.

He was released in the morning, long enough for him to have spent an uncomfortable night there but with no justification to hold him for longer than that. Antonio was disgruntled at the interruption to his work and annoyed at the police for their intrusion to his life, but he made his way back to the lighthouse in a taxicab and felt a smug kind of satisfaction when he unlocked the door knowing that the police hadn't been able to gain access. What did those fools know anyway, they were blind to the universe of possibilities that he was spending his life's work on exploring. His name would be remembered through history for the discoveries he would make, and what would the thief-catchers be known for, if anything it would be for disrupting a genius from his work.

He checked on the experiments first of all, which thankfully seemed to be unchanged for his absence, and then he made himself a proper cup of coffee in the lighthouse's small kitchen, something he suddenly had a much greater appreciation for having been denied it for almost twenty-four hours.

He took the coffee and went to his sitting room where the fire had gone out but he spent some time relighting it and stoking the flames to try to get some heat back into the room. The morning paper had been delivered in his absence and he went over the stories it contained looking for anything which might be relevant to his work, or any reports about himself which might prove inconvenient. He was pleased to find no report of his trip to the police station, probably because they hadn't been able to charge him, but there was a report of a third student to go missing from the local university which peaked his interest, this might relate to his studies, he would have to investigate when opportunity allowed. At the moment the police would likely be watching him to try to arrest him for some unlawful doing, but he was careful not to break the law, that was a bother he wanted none of.

When he checked on his lab, his prize experiment seemed restless. In the centre of the room in a large cylinder sat a creature which resembled a wasp in shape, though the body was not striped and rather was pink in colour and where a head should be was instead a mass of antennae. Where the wings met the body, a green furry substance lay on the skin and partially on the wings like a fungus growing on it. The creature was about two foot in length in the body and the wings were that long again and from what Antonio had seen when he captured the creature, this had been one of the young, the adults being more than twice the size and much more the terrifying.

He placed his hand against the glass of the cylinder than the creature inside pressed its mass of antennae up against the glass on the other side; Antonio didn't know if this was affection or aggression from the creature and if he was quite honest with himself, he didn't care either way. The thing was a curiosity, evidence of another world beyond this one and not a thing to be cared for or pitied. This was the thing which the judge was most interested in too, so he supposed he ultimately had the thing to thank for his avoiding a search warrant, but he couldn't feel so positively towards something so diabolically repulsive.

Before the interruption to his work by the police the previous morning, he had been contacted by a professor at the local university about the disappearances of a couple of students recently, and in the paper now he saw there was a third, which was potentially of interest to him. Also though, a curator at the nearby museum had notified him of some interesting pieces arriving in their latest delivery which they thought he may be interested in. Both of these avenues of investigation held potential but he considered which was the most likely to have some pay off to his studies and he made a phone call accordingly.

------------------------

The afternoon was drawing to a close and the sun was setting as Antonio Bianchi arrived at the museum. He didn't go through the front entrance but around to the rear of the building has he had been instructed to. There was a staff entrance at which he stood and pushed the intercom button.

"Yes?" came a crackly voice over the speaker.

"I'm looking for Miss Hazard," he said clearly into the microphone.

"And you are?"

"Doctor Antonio Bianchi."

"Is she expecting you?"

"I should think so, yes."

The intercom went silent for about ten seconds.

"Ok, come on up."

The door buzzed and Antonio pulled the handle to open it and made his way up the staircase inside.

"Doctor Bianchi?" a woman asked as he neared the top of the stairs. She was dressed in a pencil skirt and smart shirt with brown hair tied back into a neat bun and large glasses dominating her face, the prescription so strong that Antonio could see the indent of the side of her face about an inch further in through the lenses.

"Yes, Miss Hazard I assume?" he queried.

"Yes, though people just call me Tripp. I'm the one who wrote to you last week," she said, sounding a little nervous if Antonio was any judge of such things.

"Indeed," replied Antonio as he reached the top of the stairs and held out his hand for her to shake, her delicate hand swallowed in his thick-skinned clumsy fingers.

"It's good to meet you doctor."

"You said you had some things to show me that I might be interested in?" Antonio asked, never having been one for small talk.

"Yes, I think so anyway from what I've heard of your work. If you'd like to follow me?" She turned and led him down the corridor before coming to a stop in front of a room marked 'STORAGE'. There was a number keypad next to the door which she entered an eight digit code into before the door clicked and she pushed it open.

Inside was a series of what looked like bookcases which were flush against each other except for a pair in the middle. Miss Hazard walked over to the end of one of the cases in the middle where there was a crank handle and proceeded to quickly turn the handle and as she did, the shelving slowly moved, closing the gap which was currently open between the case and the one to its left and opening up a gap between it and the one to its right. She proceeded to do the same to the next case and so on until she had opened up the case she was looking for and she led Antonio into the aisle between the cases.

"We had a delivery of items discovered at the mansion house of someone who deceased. The family didn't know what to do with them so they sent them to us," she explained.

"Sounds logical," replied Antonio. "The uneducated often do not know what it is they are looking upon, it is far better to pass such objects to more informed minds."

"Well, yes," said Miss Hazard, frowning a little at the doctor's attitude but not wanting to come across as impolite. "I was wondering if any of these were relevant to your research and if you could give us any more information about them so that we might set up a display."

"Oh my dear," said the doctor with a humourless chuckle. "You don't want to display these unless you want to challenge the sanity of our plebeian citizens."

Miss Hazard simply stared at the doctor, not sure how she could possibly respond to something which went so much against her very ethos of sharing and educating any who wanted it and the sweeping insults given to the patrons of her institution.

"I shall be happy to study these things back in my laboratory though. Have them delivered by tomorrow," and he turned and started to walk out of the room.

"No, but Doctor Bianchi, I can't just-" stuttered Miss Hazard after the doctor but the door closed behind him and she came out of the door herself just in time to see him disappear down the stairs to the exit. She sighed and resigned herself to a load of paperwork to transfer temporary custody of the items to the doctor.

------------------------

The following day, Antonio had been planning to take a trip to the university to speak to the professor who contacted him about the missing students, which he read in the paper that morning now totalled four, but as he took his morning walk on the clifftops he saw a large van approaching the lighthouse and realised it must be delivering the items from the museum.

A large wooden crate was carried inside the building and up two floors of narrow spiral staircases by a very disgruntled driver who kept insisting this wasn't his job but Antonio simply emphasised his reliance on a cane to hammer home the point and the driver conceded as Antonio made it clear that he wouldn't be signing the paperwork that it had been delivered until it had been delivered to his preferred location.

Antonio levered open the box once the driver had left and examined the contents. The interior of the crate had been filled with packing straw to cushion the contents from any knocks they might endure under the care of persons such as the driver and it looked as if everything had arrived in tact.

A curious item he hadn't noticed when perusing the collection at the museum was a chess set, each piece exquisitely carved but unusual in design; the king for example was represented by a hooded figure sat on a throne, wearing no crown and with the face not visible under the shadow of the hood. What was most notable about that particular piece though, was that carved in the back of the throne was what Antonio knew as The Yellow Sign. The symbol was unmistakable, a three pronged symbol with an almost complete loop for the top, a curled hook for the bottom right and a mostly straight prong for the bottom left, looking a little like tentacles gradually unfurling to Antonio. It was a symbol which gave a shiver down his spine at the sight of it.

Another item of particular interest from the crate was a small jar containing what looked to be a far smaller specimen of his own prize capture; this one wasn't even a foot long and must surely have only just hatched from lava to have been so small when it was preserved. Who was this collector who shared such pursuits as he but whom he wasn't aware of?

After pulling out many other pieces of interesting paraphernalia, there at the very bottom of the crate, was an object which Antonio had been searching for since this obsession took hold of him over two decades ago, and when he had seen it at the museum it had taken all of his restraint not to just grab it from the shelf there and then and he was relieved they had included it in the delivery. He lifted the book out from the crate and bushed the straw off it. The cover was leather-bound and very worn but the The Yellow Sign was emblazoned across the front and the title clearly read 'The King in Yellow'. This was the play, the play he had read references to countless times in his research, the play he had mused upon so often.

He went to open it, but stopped himself, he would not make the same mistakes that lesser men had made, he would not suffer the madness reported by those who had read the play, but perhaps, he wondered, he would be able to see it performed one day. It was then that he thought of the university students, perhaps he could kill two birds with one stone so to speak, upon visiting the professor at the institution he could perhaps recruit some students of the arts to perform for him, they need not know the contents of the play, although if they were performing sight unseen then he should likely need to procure more than one copy of the manuscript.

Antonio placed the play-book in his safe before he telephoned for a taxicab and left the lighthouse for the university.

------------------------

Upon arrival at the reception, he learnt that the professor he was to see was a lecturer and researcher in History of the Arts and was directed hence to the professor's office, where to Antonio's annoyance, the professor was absent; no doubt performing some lecture to unworthy students. Antonio found a seat in the corridor nearby and in a greatly uncouth he manner much to his dislike, he sat in the chair in the corridor and waited for the professor to return, several students and even a member of faculty passing him without comment during his wait but the looks he received from them spoke their thoughts clearly enough to the doctor.

After what felt like an age, but had in fact been an hour, the professor finally arrived back at their office, identified to Antonio only by virtue of unlocking the door and entering the room. He stood up from the awkwardly positioned seat he had requisitioned, walked back to the office door marked 'Professor N. Gaunt' and knocked loudly three times.

"Come in!" called the voice from inside and Antonio opened the door, stepped inside and closed the door firmly behind himself.

"Professor Gaunt I assume," said Antonio to the very stern looking woman in a tweed trouser suit wearing half-moon spectacles sat behind the desk.

"Obviously," she replied tersely. "And who might you be?"

"Doctor Antonio Bianchi," he replied in the same tone of voice she had used.

"Oh, Doctor Bianchi!" she exclaimed, the harshness leaving her voice as her face

changed from scowl to delight.

"Indeed," said Antonio, sitting down in the chair opposite her before being asked to do so.

"Yes, of course, do take a seat," she said a little too late. "I hadn't expected you to come so quickly."

"Well the issue is escalating as I understand it," he raised an eyebrow as he spoke.

"Yes, I rather fear it is," replied the professor sombrely. "That's five missing students in total now."

"Five?" he asked. "I read this morning it was four."

"Yes, the papers are a little behind I think, I was missing another student in my class this morning and I'm sure it's the same cause."

"And what exactly do you determine the cause to be Professor, if I may cut to the chase somewhat?"

"I set one of my classes a group project at the start of the semester. They were to find a historical art object of interest to them and do their own research on the origins and meaning behind it before coming to their own conclusions regarding it. I encouraged them all to visit the museum which seems to have a wealth of interesting pieces and it seems that one particular group have been studying something which I believe you yourself have studied."

"And what might that be?" asked Antonio suspiciously, for he guarded his work jealously and was furious when a reporter recently wrote an article about his work, which of course led to the ridiculous situation with the police he found himself in this very week.

"It was a book," replied the professor. Antonio narrowed his eyes slightly, he knew of only one book currently held at the museum which was of interest to him. "A book called 'The Necronomicon'."

"I see."

"I care about these students Doctor Bianchi," she said earnestly. "I would like to know what has happened to them and I understand the police are unlikely to be asking you to consult for them on this matter."

"You seem very well informed on the activities of our provincial police force," he said questioningly.

"I was at the station a couple of days ago to answer their questions about the students, given that they are all attendees of my class," she replied. "I overheard one of them mentioning they were holding you and attempting to get a warrant to search your property."

"Indeed. They didn't."

"I gathered from that exchange that they had not ingratiated themselves with you so they wouldn't be seeking your expertise on the matter of the missing students."

"And you would be right, Professor."

"So I am asking you, with your knowledge of what they have been studying, if you have any idea what could have happened to my students?"

"There are many possibilities Professor, and none of them are pleasant. If they have been dabbling in things they don't understand, in the great power which lies in that book, then I'm afraid they have most likely lost their minds completely, if not their bodies and their souls also."

Professor Gaunt looked sickened at his words.

"There are great beings lying just beyond the cracks in the universe, Professor. And there are certain things which will open those cracks. I have come across only the smallest and weakest of these horrors myself and I have barely survived with my mind and body in tact. If your students took a look beyond the known and into the unknown, they might never have come back."

The Professor just stared at Antonio, speechless at first, but then she pulled herself together. "So, is there anything specific you can direct me to in regards to at least finding out what has happened to them?" she asked hopefully.

"If you follow down their path Professor, you will find yourself in the same place they are now. I recommend you forget they ever attended your class and forget anything you know about 'The Necronomicon' for it will only bring you nightmares, both in dreams and in the flesh."

"Right then," she replied, somewhat flustered. "I will perhaps stop trying to carry out my own investigations and leave that to the police then."

"That would seem the wise thing to do," replied Antonio. "Now, I was wondering if you could help me with something?"

"If I'm able to, then I will of course."

"I require a handful of drama students for a play reading."

------------------------

Detective James Malone slammed the folder down on his desk.

"Didn't go well then, Jim?" asked Abernathy, the detective from the adjacent desk.

"He's got the bloody judge in his pocket," Jim growled angrily. "How do these bastards always get away with this shit?"

"Money. Power. Connections," suggested Abernathy.

"All the things we don't have basically," Jim said as he slumped into his worn chair.

"Technically I guess we're meant to have power," Abernathy said.

"Our power is worth shit with these people."

"You going to bounce it upstairs?"

"You reckon that's going to do me any favours? If he's got the judge in his pocket then he's probably got the higher-ups too."

"You've lost faith in the establishment?" asked Abernathy surprised. "I thought you were a cop to the core."

"I am!" Jim exclaimed. "But I can have my eyes open about the ones who aren't. When the establishment shits on your investigations enough times, you can't help but lose faith in them."

"So what are you going to do now?"

"I'm going to find something on this bastard, I'm going to find something they can't just sweep under the carpet."

"You're sure this guy is dirty?"

"You didn't meet him Abernathy, there's an aura about him you know? Cops' instinct, he gives me the creeps like I ain't ever had before."

"I've not known you to be that wrong about someone Jim, I reckon you're on to something, but you're gonna need more than an cop's instinct to get somewhere with this guy."

"Yeah, and I'm gonna find it."

------------------------

Jim sat in his car a little way down the main road from the coast, the road he knew the doctor would have to use if he was coming from the lighthouse to get anywhere. He watched a taxicab drive out of the side-road from the lighthouse and head north. This was his chance. He waited until the taxicab was out of sight and he started up his engine and drove down to the lighthouse. He parked the car in the most secluded place he could find, just inside the treeline where he hoped it wouldn't be obvious if the doctor came back soon.

It hadn't been a functioning lighthouse for about a decade and it was much wider than he remembered it being; he always thought of lighthouses as being quite small but this one was big enough for a rich old man like this doctor to want to live in, big enough for whatever weird experiments the man carried out, just the thought of which made Jim's lip curl in disgust.

He went to the entrance to the lighthouse and found it was not only double bolted but also required a number code on some kind of intercom system to open too. This was beyond his abilities so hopes of breaking in and having a sneak around deserted him. He walked around the circular building, assessing it as he went around. There were some ground floor windows but they were completely covered from the inside, there was no way to see what was in there. Standing back, he could see that the windows on higher floors hadn't been given the same treatment but they were too high for him to reach. He needed another way in but he couldn't very well get a ladder up to those windows. Could he? No, no that was foolish, he needed another way.

He walked another circuit around the building, looking up at every window, every crevice, every drainpipe, trying to work out if there was a way he could break in without it being obvious that he had. As he walked around on the gravel and grass that surrounded the building, he walked across a metal panel and realised he was looking in the wrong direction, he should have been looking down.

He stepped back off the metal panel and saw it was padlocked closed, this must be a way into the cellar of the building. He reached into his back pocket and pulled out a lockpicking kit, he had come prepared for breaking in but was expecting to be picking a doorlock rather than a padlock but this did just as well, he had had more practice on padlocks in any case. It was a big lock and it was stiff but Jim got into it without too much trouble. He took the lock out and then hooked it back through just the loop on the ground so that from a distance it wouldn't look obviously wrong once the door was closed again. He pulled his torch out from his belt and turned it on, took a deep breath and lifted up the metal panel.

There was a set of stone steps leading down into darkness and Jim started to descend them, closing the door over his head behind him.

The steps led down to a metal gate which was unlocked and swung open to reveal a cellar. Jim's torch reflected off what seemed like hundreds of glass jars, the torch light bouncing off preventing Jim from seeing clearly what was inside them. He looked around until he found a lightswitch and he flipped on the main light, turning off his torch to save the battery and took a look at the cellar room.

It was like a picture from a horror movie of a mad scientist's laboratory, glass jars filling shelves containing who knows what, books and papers stacked overflowing on a bookcase, some piled on the floor in front of it, bones and stone objects on racks next to a long wooden bench stood on a flagstone floor and was that a cauldron in the corner? The thing which drew Jim's eye more than anything else though, was in the very centre of the room on a large pedestal, a very large glass cylinder with something suspended inside it, something which Jim knew he saw move. He gingerly approached the creature, getting a better look as he did and wishing he hadn't yet unable to take his eyes off it. It was like a gigantic insect but gooey and repulsive, its head was a mass of wriggling antennae and as Jim got within a couple of feet of the glass, the thing started to go crazy. It was thrashing about inside the confines of its glass prison, flinging itself against the glass with massive thuds, the wings bashing into the sides and top of the container a hundred times a minute and Jim felt a primal fear, deep down from the very depths of his being, he feared not only for his life but for very soul. He wanted to look around this laboratory, at every detail, to find something he could use against this monster of a man, but he couldn't bear to spend any more time in the room with that thing.

He rushed to the doorway on the stairs and pulled the door open, flicking off the lightswitch as he did. As soon as the light was turned off, the creature quietened and Jim paused, letting his breathing settle, trying to stop his hands from shaking so much.

In the quiet left in the wake of the creature's thrashing, Jim heard the sound of a car driving away; the doctor must have arrived back whilst the creature was making such a noise and he hadn't heard. As he heard the door above him unlock with a series of thuds from the various bolts, he turned on his torch and looked around for the way back to where he had come in.

He leapt across the room and got through the metal gate just before the door the to laboratory opened and the light came on.

Jim froze. If he moved back up the stone steps and out the metal door, the doctor would definitely hear him, there was no way that door had been quiet enough for him to do that undetected, there was nothing else to do but crouch down and hope he wasn't noticed. He peered through the gaps between the bars on the metal gate and watched the doctor come into view as he walked up to the creature in the centre of the room.

"What is wrong, my beauty?" the doctor asked the creature. "You seem a little agitated. Did you not like being left alone perhaps?" He walked right up to the glass and put a hand against it, the creature in turn pressed its mass of antennae up against the glass on the other side. "Not to worry my love, I'll be sure you have an inclusion in the plans I'm making. In fact, I think you'll have a starring role."

The doctor took his hand away from the glass as he laughed a little. "Speaking of starring roles, I think I've managed to procure some willing thespians for a performance my lovely, although there appears to be no part for a mi-go that I could see so you'll have to give this particular show a miss."

Jim watched him take a very large book from his bookshelf, which looked to be bound in leather but the leather didn't look like any he had seen before. The doctor went out of view then and the light was suddenly off and he heard the door to the laboratory close. This was Jim's chance to get away.

He dashed back up the stone steps as quickly as quietly as he could. He paused at the metal door, unsure if it was best to open it slowly or quickly as he wasn't sure which would make the most noise. He settled on quickly, as if there was a noise it would be over faster than the doctor could register what it was. He flung it open, jumped through and closed it as quickly and gently as possible. It had made a little noise but not much, hopefully not too much. He hooked the padlock back through both loops and clicked it closed again with a little effort. He crouched down and ran to his car tucked behind the trees.

Once he was in his car, he realised that the doctor was very likely going to hear his car driving away. He could either drive off and hope the doctor didn't see it was him or his car, or he could try and do something to cover up his presence there, he went for latter.

Jim let the handbrake off and quietly let the car roll backwards, back onto the gravel next to the lighthouse building. He stopped it there, got out and loudly slammed the door of the car closed, announcing his arrival. He walked over to the door to the lighthouse and pushed the intercom button. It rang a few times and Jim wondered fif the doctor was going to pretend he wasn't home; he pushed the button again.

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Antonio had just opened up the Necronomicon at his desk and started to look for any idea as to what the missing students had been meddling in when he heard a car door followed by the buzzer at the front door. He leaned back in his chair and looked up at the ceiling, could he not go five minutes with some peace? He wasn't expecting anyone so did he even want to answer the door? The buzzing of the ringer kept pounding relentlessly into his head and even when it should have ended, it carried on buzzing and buzzing and Antonio picked up the handset just to stop the noise.

"What?" he barked down the receiver.

"Doctor Bianchi," came a familiar voice. "It's Detective James Malone, I was wondering if you could spare me five minutes."

"I think we've said all we want to one another, don't you?" answered Antonio irritably. "You don't have a warrant and I've done nothing to break the law, so if you don't mind removing yourself from my property, detective, I would be most grateful."

"Sure thing," replied the detective, giving up suspiciously quickly considering he had driven all the way out there.

Antonio went to the window and watched the detective get back into his car, turn around and drive off the property grounds. The detective must have known he wouldn't speak to him after the overnight stay he had been given, so why would he come out here to try and then give up so quickly? Perhaps he was hoping Antonio wouldn't be in so that he could take a look around, a bit of breaking and entering perhaps detective? Well not today Detective James Malone.

He returned to the Necronomicon and to the issue of the missing students and he looked through the tome with a view to what a group of idiotic, disrespectful youths would have thought the most entertaining thing in the book would have been to try. When he eventually turned the page to a summoning ritual which was described in a great amount of detail for how exactly to carry it out, he had a feeling he had just found it.

'Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn' read the start of the summoning words, "In his house at R'lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming" translated Antonio aloud, "oh this can't be good."

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NaNoWriMo 2017 - Story 5

Dice Used: Prehistoric, Animalia, Explore

It was whilst Bob was baling water out of the ship that he started to regret his life choices, mainly the decision to become a pirate, although more recently not checking the hull himself after their most recently sea battle when one of his shipmates had said it was all fine below.

The ship listed steeply and all of the crew were desperately trying to empty the water out faster than it was coming in whilst a couple of them tried to patch up the hole, but it was a lost cause. The deck was dipping into the water now and the boat was at such an angle now that baling was a pointless activity.

They had all looked to their captain for guidance when they realised what was happening, but he had locked himself in his quarters with the last of the rum and he would be going down with the ship. Bob wasn't ready to go down with the ship though and he looked about for anything he could grab to try and help him survive.

He grabbed the knife from his belt, cut a big length of rope from the rigging, cut a section of the sail and ran about for something to do with it all. He was acting on instinct and had no idea what he ought to be doing to survive a shipwreck. Another life choice he currently regretted, not educating himself on what to do when your ship goes down. The captain was always more concerned with making sure you knew how to work the ship and rob the merchant ships than survive if it went down.

Just as the ship tilted up to such an angle that running about the deck was no longer an option, Bob slid down the deck and landed on the side of a barrel of rum they had recently liberated from a ship. He realised then that the barrel was exactly what he was looking for, but empty ideally. He opened the tap at the base of the barrel and watched the beautiful dark amber liquid pour out, a sorry right indeed.

Once the barrel was empty, he managed to close the tap again and was just tying the rope around himself and the barrel when the ship gave a final lurch and was all underwater. Bob saw then that there were a lot of his fellow shipmates who had also made the questionable life choice to become a pirate without ever learning to swim.

He rolled about on the barrel, falling underwater and coming back up a few times before he managed to get the barrel to feel stable in an upright position with him sat cross legged on the top of it. By the time he had managed to sort himself out and look around to see if he could help anyone else, he saw he was completely alone.

Right he thought, Step one, survive the sinking complete. Step two, get to safety might prove a little trickier.

He floated around on the barrel, letting the current take him along since he had no idea what direction it was best to head in, he hadn't been the navigator and he didn't even know if there was land anywhere nearby at all.

Perhaps he would float into the path of a merchant ship and they would pick him up and he could have a new career since the pirate one hadn't worked out so well.

At some point, Bob dozed off as he sat on his barrel. Night fell and although he woke up, he kept falling back to sleep again. He felt pretty thirsty now, which struck him as pretty ironic when he was surrounded by this much water, but he knew the salt water would do him no good, he could do with some rum really he thought.

He woke again when the sun rose and this time he woke to a wonderful sight, he could see land and if he was any judge, which he wasn't of course, then it looked as if he was being carried right towards it.

Luckily for him, he was right and the barrel was washed ashore to the beach where Bob was able to untie himself from the ropes and the sail wrapped around him and lie on the sand, appreciating more than at any other time in his life, the feeling of solid ground beneath him.

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Bob turned out to be quite resourceful, which even he would never have guessed about himself. He had knocked some coconuts down from a tree and after smashing one open and finding that wasted most of the coconut water inside, he found a sharp rock and managed to split the coconuts so that he could drink the water from them and then eat the flesh. There were only so many coconuts so he knew this wasn't a sustainable plan but it got him through his first few days ashore his new home, which he would later discover to be an island.

After the first night on the island, he realised that he was going to need a shelter; although the weather was fine now, he had experienced tropical storms and they were not something you wanted to be in the open for, and the nights were chilly besides. He found some branches and leaned them together, tied them with vines and tied some big coconut tree leaves over the top as well. It wouldn't stand up to a storm but it was some shelter for now at least.

Bob tried to explore a bit more of the island every day, but he was also fishing for something to eat each day and trying to make improvements to his shelter so he wasn't always able to. Sometimes he would bring back interesting or useful things he found along the way, like the really great stone he found which was wide and sharp and great for splitting wood, or the day when he found a fallen tree and managed to drag it back to his beachside home and most of all the day he found a chicken.

He had been fighting his way through the undergrowth, swinging a branch in front of him to clear a path, when he broke into a very small clearing and there in the middle of it was a chicken. The chicken looked as surprised to see him as he had been to see the chicken but it cocked its head to one side looking at Bob, and then resumed its pecking at the ground.

"Hello,” said Bob to the chicken, his voice sounding odd in his throat as he hadn't spoken aloud in so long now.

The chicken looked up at him again.

"Want to come and live with me?” he asked the chicken.

The chicken cocked its head to the side once more.

"I will call you Pablo,” Bob told the chicken. "I'm Bob. I was Bob the Pirate but I think now I'm Bob the Castaway, but you can just call me Bob.”

The chicken scratched at the ground and resumed its pecking.

"It's nice to meet you too Pablo.”

Bob picked up Pablo the chicken and took it back to his little shelter. Pablo seemed quite content to be picked up and carried and when Bob set the chicken down next to his shelter, it simply resumed its scratching and pecking at the ground as though nothing had happened to it at all.

The next day, Bob found an egg where Pablo had been sitting earlier and he realised that Pablo was in fact a female chicken, which was great because he loved eggs.

After a few days, a storm hit the island, testing the improvements Bob had made to the shelter. He lost some bits of the shelter and about half of his bed got quite wet but he was just pleased that the shelter stayed on the ground and half of his bed stayed dry. He had tried to tell Pablo that she needed to come into the shelter before the storm hit, but nevertheless she persisted with her pecking and scratching at the ground and Bob had to pick her up and move her inside and she survived the whole storm unscathed and remarkably dry.

Once the storm subsided, Bob discovered that all sorts of things wash up on shore during a storm. There were lots of bits of broken ship which he would find very useful for the improvements he needed to make to his shelter, there was even a beached octopus which Bob helped back into the ocean before he realised that could have been his food for later on. The most interesting thing to wash up on the shore though, was a glass bottle, stoppered and with a scroll of paper inside. This was the most exciting thing to happen to Bob since the day he had met Pablo.

Relishing the moment, he collected the bottle and took it back to his shelter. He called Pablo over to investigate the contents of the bottle with him but she ignored him, so he picked her up and carried her over to resume her pecking next to him.

He pulled the cork out of the end of the bottle, a whiff of rum escaped the bottle and Bob felt a pang for the stuff. He stuck a finger inside the bottle and teased out enough of the paper that he was able to pull the whole thing out. He smoothed the paper out in front of him to see what it had written on it.

The ink which had been used had faded but Bob could still make it out and it looked like a map. There was a collection of three islands drawn out and some parts of the islands labelled. There was also a big X drawn in the middle of the island on the right. Was this a treasure map? Had some pirate known his demise was inevitable and he had drawn a map for someone to recover his treasure? But Bob was stuck on this island of course, so this wasn't any use to him at all. He then frowned and turned the paper on its side and studied the far end of the island on the left side. If he wasn't very much mistaken, this could well be his island, the very island he was stood on right now, the island he had named Bobtopia though he would probably never tell anyone that, not even Pablo.

If he was correct and this map showed Bobtopia, then he had only explored about a third of his island so far and if he went a bit further then there were two much larger islands right next door too. He could even find the treasure if he followed this map, and then maybe he would try and find a way off Bobtopia and the other islands.

Bob had a renewed sense of purpose and although he did spend some time making improvements to his shelter first, he needed to know he could come back to somewhere reasonably solid, he set about exploring the rest of his island and making sure it matched up with the map he had found in the bottle.

------------------------

It took a full day for Bob to walk from the side of Bobtopia where he had come ashore and made his settlement to the other side of the island, and according to the map, his island was much the smallest of the three. When he reached the opposite shore though, he saw that the map was definitely true, there across a short stretch of ocean, was a much larger island. Bob had named that island Middleton, by virtue of it being the middle of the three islands, although he would freely admit to anyone that he shouldn't be in charge of naming new lands. He needed to get across to Middleton and since he didn't know how to swim then that definitely wasn't an option. Time to build a raft!

The raft took Bob 4 days to build in total, which Pablo watched him do with much curiosity. Finally, the raft was ready and Bob pushed it down to the water's edge. He had actually finished he raft the day before but he decided he needed an oar as well and he had spent the past day fashioning an oar from a piece of driftwood; the last thing he wanted was to be carried away from the islands on his little raft because he forgot to make an oar.

As he stood at the shoreline with his raft, he turned around to take a look at Bobtopia before he left it. As he did, Pablo came hopping down the beach towards him.

"I don't think you want to come with me now, Pablo,” he said to the chicken.

The chicken looked back at him.

"I mean there's some things labelled on this map which aren't very chicken friendly you know.”

Pablo continued to stare at Bob.

"I don't want you to sink in the swamp or get eaten by whatever this drawing is of,” he said to Pablo, showing her the picture of the islands.

She cocked her head to one side, scratched the sand and then hopped onto the raft.

"Are you sure?” he asked her dubiously.

She pecked the raft in reply.

"Ok then, I gotta say, I'm glad to have you along for the journey still Pablo,” he said smiling as he pushed the raft into the water, grabbed the oar and hopped onto it.

To his relief the raft floated and stayed together. The waters were nice and calm and although there was a current trying to tug him off course away from the islands, he was able to comfortably row over to the island of Middleton.

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The first thing Bob did when he and Pablo landed on Middleton was to build a shelter. Actually the first thing he did was to stash his raft safely and cover it with some undergrowth, and then he worked on building some shelter. Much like the first shelter on Bobtopia, the shelter was very rudimentary, but Bob wasn't going to be stopping here, he had treasure to find after all.

That night, Bob and Pablo's first night on Middleton, they had a visitor during the night, and not an entirely welcome one at that. Pablo was sleeping soundly at the foot of Bob's makeshift bed with a couple of branches and leaves covering the pair. Bob was then woken very suddenly by a deafening screech right by his ear, accompanied by a panicked sounding squawk from Pablo. Bob sat up in shock, knocking the branches forming a shelter over them and causing the whole thing to come tumbling down.

Bob quickly pushed aside the leaves and pulled Pablo out of the mess and find out what had caused the problems. Pablo seemed panicked but unhurt and Bob tried to soothe her in his arms whilst lifting one of the leaves to see what was moving about underneath it. To his surprise, there was an owl there, one leg trapped underneath one of the branches which had formed their temporary shelter moments before.

"Did you attack Pablo?” he asked sternly of the owl.

The owl screeched loudly in reply, still trying to free its foot from the branch.

"If I free you, how do I know you won't go for Pablo again?” asked Bob.

The owl screeched again, flapping its wings and scratching at the branch with its free foot.

"You're not giving me any reason to trust you,” said Bob. "But equally, I can't keep you here all night, so I guess I'm going to have to let you go.”

The owl flapped about again.

"Don't you hurt Pablo again though, she's a sensitive soul.”

Pablo cocked her head to one side and the owl screeched again. Bob tucked Pablo safely under one arm and lifted the branch slowly off the trapped owl who blew a load of sand into Bob's eyes with the force of the wind as it took off and flew away as fast as it could, screeching again as it flew off.

"I don't come near her again!” he yelled after the owl.

He put Pablo down and spent a little while reconstructing the shelter in the moonlight whilst Pablo sat huddled on the ground. Bob knew she was upset because she wasn't doing her usual scratching and pecking at the ground. After he pieced the shelter back together, they settled back down in it but neither of them really slept again that night, too worried that the owl would come back and Pablo wouldn't be so lucky a second time.

In the morning, Bob consulted his map again. Middleton was the largest of the three islands and the quickest way across it was right through the middle of it. That also gave Pablo a chance to find some food too, since she never found anything on the beaches, although that fact never seemed to stop her relentless pecking and scratching at the sand.

And so, Bob and Pablo set out to cross Middleton. Bob estimated it would take at least two days since it took him a day to cross Bobtopia and Middleton was much larger, but it could take even longer depending on the terrain.

The map maker had drawn some things like looked like small bushes and perhaps some water in the middle of the island of Middleton, Bob chuckled at the 'middle of Middleton', so he was hopeful they would be able to get something to drink which wasn't coconut water or leftover rain water.

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After most of a day of walking, the ground was noticeably softer under foot. Pablo had been out of sorts all day and hadn't laid an egg and they were no where near the water for Bob to fish so he had to look for something to eat.

"What do you fancy tonight Pablo?” he asked the chicken. "Anything but chicken, eh?” he laughed before realising that really was a poor taste joke to say to his companion. "Ahem, well, I'm sure we'll find something.”

They didn't. Bob was not really a skilled hunter and he was terrible at even discerning if there were any animals on the island other than himself and Pablo. He also knew nothing about foraging and there were no coconut trees here which was his one reliable source of food and water. He put together a rickety shelter for himself and Pablo and went to bed hungry.

Pablo had faired much better than her companion, finding that the ground yielded lots of tasty worms in this area and she went to sleep with a much fuller stomach than she usually did.

Bob awoke to find he had sunk into the earth and was currently half covered in mud. Pablo was sat on top of him having found an easy way to avoid sinking, using Bob as a mud raft.

"Good thinking girl,” he said to her, and when she stood up, she had deposited an egg on his belly. He stomach grumbled so hard it made the egg roll off and he scooped it up before the mud could steal it. "Thank you Pablo, you're looking after me, aren't you?” and he stroked her feathers in gratitude.

Soon enough they were walking on but the pace was much slower this day, as with every step Bob sunk into the mud and it took a big force of effect to pull his foot out with a slurping pop of mud before planting it again in front of him. Bob was moving slowly and tiring quickly and as he needed his arms for balance with his feet glued in place each step, he was finding it hard to carry Pablo but there was no way she could walk through the mud.

For the first time since the ship sank, Pablo started to feel distressed. He was so exhausted that he wanted to just collapse into the mud, but it was Pablo who kept him going, he had to keep her safe. Eventually, he had it to a large, gnarled old tree in the middle of the sea of mud. He grabbed onto a branch was was hanging out low and far and used it to pull himself to the base of the tree, which stood on much firmer ground. Once he was out of the mud, he put Pablo down and let himself collapse on the ground, leaning his back against the tree trunk and exhaustion sent him into a dozing sleep.

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Bob dreamt as he dozed and he dreamt he and Pablo were on a beautiful beach together, it was Bobtopia and they were sunbathing on the sand. Then Bob was getting a hug, it was a lovely, warm, furry hug and it made Bob feel warm and furry inside. But he realised that wasn't Pablo he was hugging so who was he hugging? He work with a start, his head had been lolled onto his shoulder and he got a sharp pain as he jerked it upright; he reached a hand up to his neck to try and soothe the pain and then put it back down again, onto the soft, warm fur.

He took a second, blinked a few times, and looked down to find he was indeed getting a warm and furry hug. A long-limbed, round-faced animal was lying on his belly, its arms hooked around Bob's shoulders and its legs wrapped around his waist. It sleepily blinked its eyes, looked up at Bob, then closed them again and went back to sleep.

"Excuse me?" Bob said to the animal, but it ignored him and continued sleeping. He coughed and decided he ought to introduce himself formally as he had to Pablo. "I'm Bob the treasure-hunter, formally Bob the Castaway, formally Bob the Pirate but you can call me Bob. I will call you Craig."

Craig continued to sleep. "It's nice to meet you Craig, I hope you like chickens."

Pablo pecked at Bob's leg a couple of times.

"Not to eat that is, I hope you like chickens to be friends with."

Pablo resumed her scratching and pecking at the ground, getting herself a nice breakfast.

"Would you mind if we got up now Craig?" he asked the clingy animal, but it just continued to sleep. Bob pushed himself up from the tree and found that Craig was very happy to just hang from him, the animal's hands and feet seemed to be designed to hook onto something and allow it to just hang there.

"I was actually expecting you to, erm, well never mind. If you'd like to come with us, then who am I to stop you, eh Craig?" The animal didn't respond. "What do you think then Pablo?" Bob asked the chicken at his feet. "A new travelling friend?"

Pablo looked up at Bob, cocked her head to one side and then resumed her pecking.

"Ok then, new travelling companion it is then."

As Bob continued his way, struggling through the mud swamp carrying Pablo once again, Craig pulled itself up around Bob's neck, swung around his shoulders and settled again now hanging onto Bob's back with its arms looped around his neck and legs around his waist again. Bob actually found this a lot more comfortable so was grateful to Craig for readjusting and it gave him more space in front for holding Pablo too.

Finally, Bob made it out of the quagmire and back onto more stable ground. He put Pablo back on the ground which she was glad about as she could resume her pecking and scratching of the ground once more. Bob tried to set Craig down on the ground too but he couldn't unhook all of Craig's limb from him at once; whenever he unhooked a limb and moved onto the next one, the animal would just hook the unhooked limb back on again. Bob tried this for a couple of minutes before he realised it was a waste of time and effort and Craig would get down only when it wanted to, which judging by the sleepy face he saw over his shoulder, may not be for a while.

They found a rock and Bob got the map out again and smoothed it out against the stone.

"We're here I think," Bob said to Pablo and Craig, although neither of them seemed to be paying him or the map any attention.

"And we're trying to get here." He pointed to the X on the third island.

"So we need to keep going here until we get to the end of Middleton and then cross the water over to Trinia." He tapped his finger on the shoreline of the third island.

Pablo tilted her head to one side at Bob and then sat down on the ground. Craig yawned.

"We're all ready for action then!" he said to them both. Pablo ruffled her feathers a bit but bobbed along next to him as he set off walking towards where he hoped he would find the end of the island of Middleton.

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Bob heard the waves hitting the shore gradually getting louder as they neared the edge of the island, but it was also getting dark once more and it was no time to be looking at leaving the island, so before they reached the beach Bob decided they should settle down for the night before they lost all the light.

"Craig, are you any good at putting a shelter together?" he asked the animal still clinging to his back. There was no answer but Pablo's scratching of the ground. "Well I already know you're no help at all Pablo, but you do lay nice eggs at least."

Bob spotted a tall plant with a very wide and thick leaf and decided that would be enough shelter for them that night. The walking had been hard the past couple of days and he had been carrying at least one animal for all that time too and with the prospect of building another raft ahead of him, he just couldn't face putting a lot of work into a temporary shelter.

And so, he settled down underneath the plant. Craig hooked himself onto a tree nearby and Pablo roosted on the branch of the tree next to Craig. Bob said goodnight to his companions as the sun set and he fell into a deep sleep.

Bob dreamt of a big blanket wrapping him up. He was someone snug and warm and completely enveloped in something soft and a little constricting. He thought maybe he was a baby again, wrapped up in a blanket by his mother, but he woke up from his dream and he wasn't a baby again and it wasn't his mother wrapping him in a blanket that he could feel. Everything was green, he was in a soft, green box, but not a box. Where was he?

He struggled around to see if he could wriggle out of whatever he was inside but it was all enclosed all around. He tucked himself up tight in order to put his back against one green wall and his feet against the other and pushed with all his strength but the walls didn't budge. As he shuffled around in the confined space, he realised that the box he was in was bouncing around in the air. This was very disorienting for Bob who was starting to not be able to tell which way was up or down anymore.

It was as he was bouncing around inside the green box that he realised the walls were wet and sticky. They hadn't been wet and sticky a minute ago but they were now, and his skin where the sticky substance was touching was starting to tingle and burn a little.

"HELP!" he yelled out. "Pablo! Craig! Are you there?" What he thought the animals could do to get him out he didn't know but he was out of options from inside the box and his skin was really starting to hurt now and was going quite red, he even saw a blister appearing on one arm. "HELP ME!" he yelled out again as he bounced around again.

Suddenly, the side of the box behind him opened up and he fell a few feet to the ground with a thump. He rolled over and looked up to see the large leaf he had taken shelter underneath was folded around and the edges of the leaf interlocked like teeth; he had been trapped inside the plant. The leaf was slowly unfolding and he saw that Pablo and Craig were on different parts of the plant, bouncing the leaves. Bob realised that must have been what caused the plant to open up and let him go, they really had rescued him!

As the leaf opened wider, Bob saw that if Craig and Pablo stayed where they were, either one of them might be next to fall prey to the giant plant trap monster (Bob needed to think of a better name for this horror), and he jumped up and scooped them both down from the plant and scurried away from it as fast as he could. He turned around, still holding both animals and watched the plant to make sure it wasn't following them. Thankfully, it looked like it couldn't move beyond where it was rooted and they were safe now, although Bob did check around thoroughly to make sure there wasn't a second one nearby. He could honestly say he had never seen anything stranger in all his days.

Bob found the beach not very far away and he took off his clothes and soaked all of his burned parts of skin in the salt water, which hurt a lot at first but then felt very soothing. Unfortunately, when he got dressed again and looked around at where they were now, he couldn't see the island of Trinia. He got the map out again and laid in out on the beach, Craig and Pablo were both nearby, Pablo scratching and pecking at the sand and Craig hanging off a branch from nearby trees. He checked every curve of the island outline and he looked at every detail drawn into the island itself. He then spotted a little picture of the plant he was almost eaten by! It was up near the top of the island on the drawing which is why he hadn't noticed it sooner, he thought they had headed right through the middle. It looked as though when he stopped at the tree in the mud swamp, he set off again in the wrong direction, a mistake that nearly cost him his life with that plant, but he had his animal companions to thank for him making it to the shore.

He unhooked Craig from the tree and hooked it onto his back, and called over Pablo and together they walked around the island shoreline until they reached the point closest to Trinia, the third island of the trio.

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Bob made a shelter for the three of them for that night and over the course of the following day, he made another raft and in the evening he whittled a branch into an oar ready to set off towards Trinia the next day. Pablo and Craig could sense Bob's excitement and were a bit unsettled when they all went to sleep that night.

Bob woke before the sun was up as he was that excited to be setting sail again to a new island. Hopefully Trinia would be as nice as Bobtopia had been and not have the dangerous plantlife of Middleton.

Once Pablo and Craig were both settled on the raft, Bob pushed the raft out into the ocean and began paddling towards Trinia.

The current wasn't as strong as it had been between Bobtopia and Middleton and Bob had an easy time with the rowing, albeit with a momentary panic when Craig slipped off the raft but it turned out Craig was faster at swimming than they were on the raft and it beat them to the shore and was sunbathing by the time the raft hit the beach.

Bob, with Craig hooked onto his back, was dragging the raft up from the water to hide amongst the undergrowth again, when Pablo started to flap about and even cluck at him.

"What is it Pablo?" Bob asked her, stopping his dragging and turning around to see what had bothered his little friend.

"Oh!" he exclaimed, as he was met with the sight of a dozen men, all wearing garments made from plants tried around their waists and most notably, all brandishing spears.

"Hello," Bob addressed the group, who started to slowly walk towards Bob with their spears held out in front of them. "Er...nice to meet you," he said dubiously. "I'm Bob the treasure-hunting explorer, formerly Bob the Castaway, formerly Bob the Pirate, but you can AARGH!"

A spear was jabbed into his side as the men got within reach of him and he promptly stopped talking. Whilst Bob had been talking, he had felt Craig quietly climb down his back and drop onto the sand behind him. He glanced around to check that Pablo was ok and she was nesting herself into the sand behind the raft, it looked like he was going to have to leave his companions as the men tied a vine around his wrists and used it as a leash to lead him off the beach.

Trinia was not like Bobtopia at all he thought.

The men led him through the trees until they reached a large clearing. There were some sturdy looking huts and a large fire in the middle of the clearing. They tied Bob to a tree at the edge of the clearing whilst some of the men went into the largest of the huts.

"Excuse me?" asked Bob to his captors. "You couldn't tell me what you're planning to do with me could you?" The men ignored him completely.

After some time, finally a woman came out of the largest hut, followed by the men who had entered after capturing Bob. She was a young woman, and was covered in all sorts of fabrics, some of which were very ornate, which Bob thought had maybe washed up to the island from the cargo of a wrecked ship.

"Hello madam," started Bob as she approached him. "I'm Bob the treasure-hunting explorer, formerly Bob the-." She held up a hand to silence him and he immediately stopped talking.

"Bob," she said in a thick accent which Bob didn't recognise. "Bob does not belong here," she said to him.

"You're quite right," answered Bob. "I'm actually a castaway, I didn't mean to be here at all you know!"

"You came here on a boat," she stated.

"The raft?" asked Bob. "I wouldn't call the raft a boat, it was only good enough to get me from Middleton to here. That is from the next island over to this one," he hurriedly added.

"You came here on purpose," she said frowning. "What is your purpose?"

"Well, yes, you have me there," said Bob gingerly. "I got this map you see, and-"

"A map?" interrupted the woman. "Show me map."

"It's in my pocket and I can't get it out as I'm a bit tied up right now I'm afraid," replied Bob, gesturing his tied wrists.

"Where?" asked the woman.

"Trouser pocket, here," said Bob, thrusting forwards his hip on the side where the map sat folded in his pocket. One of his captors reached into his pocket and pulled out the map then handed it to the woman with a bowed head.

She opened up the map and frowned at it, turning it around a couple of times. "What is this mark on our island?" she asked.

"X marks the spot," replied Bob almost automatically. "It's what we pirates use to mark where we've buried out treasure. Well, those of us who get enough treasure that it's worth burying in any case," he said thinking about how his cut had always been spent at the next port each time.

"Where did you get this map?" she asked.

"Well, that's a bit funny really," Bob laughed. "It washed up on the shore at Bobtopia, that is the other island on there, in a bottle.

"A map in a bottle?" she asked dubiously.

"Yeah, now I say it out loud it does sound like an odd thing for a pirate to have done with a map to their treasure."

"You still think it is map to treasure?" she asked with a sly smile.

"I did," said Bob. "But I'm having my doubts now." He started to look around a little worriedly now, he had just assumed that the X meant it was where treasure was buried and he realised now that it didn't actually indicate that anywhere on the map.

She said something which Bob didn't understand to the men around him and they led him through some trees to another clearing with some huts.

In the middle of the huts was a cage made from branches and vines and it was this which his captors led him to. They opened a hatch on one side of the cage, pushed him inside and closed the hatch, securing it closed by winding vines around it and then around some pegs in the ground.

"Excuse me," called Bob to his captors as they walked away. "I don't suppose you'd let me go would you?" They walked out of the clearing and out of heading range of Bob.

He sat down in his cage and sighed, how did he get himself into these messes?

He was feeling thoroughly sorry for himself when he heard a scratching behind him. He leaned forwards and swivelled himself around and to his surprise, there was Pablo, scratching and pecking at the ground right beside him.

"Pablo!" he cried, then realised that might draw the attention of his captors and he didn't want Pablo to be their next meal! "Pablo!" he whispered instead. "You found me old girl!" She carried on scratching and pecking as thought she didn't even know Bob was there, just like she always did thought Bob.

"What happened to Craig?" he asked his companion. Pablo looked at Bob and cocked her head to one side before continuing to scratch at the ground. Bob looked around but sadly he couldn't see Craig anywhere. But then a little hand hooked over a rock a little way behind Pablo and Craig's happy face lifted up from behind it.

"Craig!" whispered Bob, overjoyed to see that both of his animal companions had found him. Bob watched as the animal pulled itself along the ground slowly towards him, each step frustratingly slow. Finally Craig reached the cage and easily slipped through the gaps and hooked himself familiarly onto Bob and Bob gave his friend a comforting hug.

"I need to get out of here," he told both of his companions. "Do you think you can help me?" Craig blinked slowly and closed its eyes, Pablo didn't stop scratching.

"If you can untie or cut through those vines holding the hatch closed then I should be able to escape," Bob explained to the two of them. There was no reaction from either.

"Please?" pleaded Bob, "I don't know what they're going to do with me but I don't want to be locked in a cage. Look, the vines are tried just over there." He pointed to the pegs in the ground that the vines were wound around and Craig followed the line of Bob's arm with its eyes and looked at the pegs. Slowly, the hands and feet unhooked from Bob and Craig slipped back through the gaps in the cage.

As Craig slowly crawled along the ground towards the pegs, Pablo's pecking and scratching moved over that way too. After what felt like a lifetime but was actually a couple of minutes, both of Bob's animal companions were at the pegs.

Pablo started to peck at one of the vines whilst Craig clamped its teeth around the vine and started to slowly chew on it.

After not much time had passed, Bob heard voices getting closer and tried to warn his companions but they didn't have time to move and just stayed still when the people approached.

It was a group of the island folk led by the woman he had spoken to earlier. She walked up the cage in front of Bob and smiled at him whilst one of the men pushed half a coconut through the cage. Bob scooped it up and quickly drank the coconut water inside.

"Have you understood yet, Bob the Pirate?"

"Formerly Bob the Pirate," replied Bob. "Currently Bob the Prisoner." She laughed at him.

"Have you understood yet, Bob the Prisoner?" she asked him.

"I didn't know I was meant to be working anything out," replied Bob, actually confused about it.

"I drew that map," she replied smirking. "It is much easier to get our sacrifices to find their own way here than to go out and find them." She laughed at him then and Bob did understand then. There was no treasure, the X was marking this tribe and his doom.

"Wait, what do you mean sacrifice?" he asked, suddenly realising what she had said in its fullness.

The woman laughed in reply. "You will see," she said. "The great winged Eaglesaurus likes to take his prey whole back to whereever it nests. Who knows, you may live longer than we expect." She laughed a great belly laugh and then, satisfied with her gross tormenting of her prisoner, she left, followed by her entourage.

"Ok gang," Bob whispered to Pablo and Craig. "We need to get out of here now!" The pair immediately resumed their work on the vines but Bob had seen that they hadn't made a dint on them yet and he didn't know how long he had left. He checked around the ground in his cage for any stones he could use to try and cut the vines from where he was, but they had cleared the ground well and there were no stones, sticks, anything at all to be found.

Bob was desperately trying to think his way out of this situation when there was a deafeningly loud bird screech which sounded like it came from everywhere at once. Pablo, terrified hopped quickly towards Bob and flapped up into his arms; with his wrists tied he was still able to hold Pablo in a scoop of his forearms held against his chest. Craig was obviously scared by the noise too as the animal immediately stopped crewing on the vine and pulled its way across the ground towards Bob, slowly still but faster than it had done before. When it reached Bob's cage, it hooked itself onto Bob's back and Bob found the animal on his back and the other in his arms very comforting but he knew then that he had lost hope of an escape.

A group of men and women all came jogging towards Bob, babbling excitedly in a language he couldn't understand. They quickly released the hatch for the cage and ushered Bob out, not seeming to even notice he was clutching a chicken and had another animal on his back. They led his quickly out of the clearing and into another clearing.

This one had no huts and only one thing in the centre of the clearing, a very large nest. A ramp had been leaned up against the side of the nest and Bob was shoved up the ramp and pushed into the hollow of the nest before the ramp was taken away. He was just thinking about whether there was any way for him to climb out when another deafening screech echoed around, even louder now and directly overhead.

Bob looked up to see a colossal bird of prey circling as it descended to the nest. All reason left him at that point and he just hugged Pablo, Craig still on his back too, and screamed.

The Eaglesaurus screeched again just before it swooped down and grabbed Bob in its massive talons. With a force strong enough to blow back any of the people standing nearby, the gigantic bird flapped its wings a few times and lifted off into the air, Bob, Pablo and Craig all held within one of its mighty feet. Bob didn't stop screaming through the whole abduction, but once they were in the air, he found a calm take over him, as though the worst had now happened and so he didn't have anything to fear anymore.

Craig crawled around to Bob's front and took to chewing on the vines which tied his wrists together. Bob didn't know how long that flight took but Craig had finishing chewing through the vines by about halfway through the journey.

Bob was feeling so relaxed in the flight that he even fell asleep, cradled in the Eaglesaurus's talons but he was woken up abruptly when the bird let out another of its deafening screeches and started to circle and descend.

"We're going down," Bob told Pablo and Craig. "Can you see where it is?" he asked the pair but of course he got no reaction. He wriggled about until he was able to see through a gap and saw below them, to his surprise, a small town. The humongous bird was circling down to a huge nest which looked to sit on the top of a hill next to the town.

As the bird neared the nest, it let out another tremendous screech before landing and opening it's claw to release Bob and his companions. There was an entire dead cow in the nest as well and Bob watched in horror as the Eaglesaurus ate the cow in front of him almost whole. He started to scream again, seeing his own fate in the cow right there. As he screamed though, the bird finished its meal, flapped its wings again and took off, leaving Bob, Pablo and Craig behind in the nest.

He heard shouts and calls of people nearby and he wondered if they were coming to kill him because the Eaglesaurus hadn't.

"We've got one!" he heard a man yell.

"Is he alright?" yelled a woman.

"We'll soon see!"

A ladder was leaned up against the nest and a smiling-faced man peering into the nest above Bob, who had stopped screaming now.

"Hello," said the man cheerily. "I imagine you've had a bit of a scare."

Bob stared back at the man, still in shock.

"I'm George, this is my wife Sandy," he gestured to somewhere out of sight.

"Coo-ee!" called a woman's voice.

"Do you have a name?"

"I'm Bob," Bob managed to say.

"Well Bob, we'll soon have you out of there, you're safe now."

George and Sandy helped Bob out of the nest and were very pleased to meet Pablo and Craig too. It seems that the islanders regularly liked to 'sacrifice' people to Eaglesaurus but the bird liked cows and not people, but it had learnt that if it brought a person to the nest at this town, it got a cow in return. And so, they had been saving people from the Eaglesaurus sacrifice in this way for many years.

Bob didn't return to pirating and instead settled down to work on George and Sandy's farm. Pablo made friends with other chickens there and Craig loved the trees in the orchard. Bob made it his mission to always help anyone else who was brought to the nest by the Eaglesaurus as George and Sandy had done for him.

THE END



How the Dice Were Used:
Claw - Eaglesaurus
Tree - The tree in the swamp
Tribesperson - The islanders who capture Bob
Chicken Coop - Pablo the Hen
Owl - The owl attack
Sloth - Craig the Sloth
Shipwreck - The start of Bob's story
Message in a Bottle - The map Bob finds
Venus Flytrap - More like Venus Mantrap!

NaNoWriMo 2017 - Story 4

Dice Used: Rampage, Powers, Rescue

Scientists are warning that this could be the strongest earthquake ever felt in San Bartopolis if the readings they have been taking over the last 24 hours are to be believed. Citizens are warned to find shelter, don't travel unless necessary and fill any containers they have with water now. This might be a rough one folks. Now over to Bob with the sports, Bob.

Louise turned the news off and walked over to her bookcase. She pulled on the leather-bound book of The Pickwick Papers and the bookcase slid into the wall and then to the side, leaving a doorway for Louise to slip through and turn the light on before the bookcase closed behind her. She walked down the steps into the secret lair below her house; all the best heroes had a secret lair so when she had gained her superpowers, she took a leaf out of their book and installed her own.

She turned on the computers and looked up at the wall of screens. There certainly was something coming, but she wasn't sure it was going to be an earthquake. She had seen one of those awful movies on the television a few days ago with giant spiders spewing molten lava and gave a shudder at the thought, it couldn't be anything like that surely. In any case, it was going to be big and the citizens of San Bartopolis were going to need her help so she needed to be ready.

Only a select few people knew that The Magnificent Morph was really Louise but she had confided in people she could trust, and one of those people had now become her sidekick; it was time to call him in.

She pushed a big button on the console with a picture of a mask on it and the wall of screens became a giant facetime call. After a couple of rings, Robin picked up.

"Hey boss.”

"I need you,” she said soberly.

"Be there in 10.”

Robin was reliable and if he said he would be there in 10, Louise was confident he would be.

In the meantime, she linked in to the local weather station computers and pulled up the data on the recent tremors. San Bartopolis was no stranger to earthquakes, she had seen tremors before a quake before and these didn't look right, there was something else happening here and whatever it was, it was getting bigger.

When Robin arrived, right on time, he was already in his costume.

"How many times have I told you?” Louise asked, rolling her eyes at him. "Don't wear the costume when you arrive at my house, people might put two and two together and come up with superhero team.”

"Sorry boss,” replied Robin. "Do you want me to get changed?”

"Probably best to, I don't know when we'll be needed as our alter-egos.”

Robin put his civilian clothes back on, on top of his Bumper Boy costume, ready to change again as soon as needed.

"Take a look at this,” Louise told him, pointing to the data on the screens.

"I don't really know what I'm looking at boss,” replied Robin. "Is this about the earthquake?”

"Yes and no. I don't think it is an earthquake. I think we'd better get ourselves ready, this might be a long twenty-four hours.”

"Right boss.”

The pair went through the equipment they had stored in Louise's secret lair and got themselves tooled up with everything they thought might be useful and that they could comfortably carry, made sure their costumes were all ready under their normal clothes, and headed out towards downtown San Bartopolis on their respective motorbikes.

------------------------

It was already much quieter than normal in the city as the residents were taking the warning about the impending earthquake seriously. Louise thought it would be a good idea to check in with the mayor, who was one of the few people who knew she was also The Magnificent Morph. They headed to City Hall and the mayor's assistant let them straight through.

"It's good to see you M,” the Mayor said.

"Is there anything we can do ma'am?” Louise asked. "We're ready to spring into action as we're needed.”

"I'm sure the first responders will be glad of any assistance you'll be able to give them,” said the Mayor. "You know, we've faced earthquakes before, but I have a funny feeling in my bones about this one.”

"That's what the boss was saying too,” piped up Robin.

"It's true,” said Louise. "I don't know if I've just watched too many made-for-tv movies, but I'm convinced it's something else that's coming.”

"If I hear anything from my experts M, you'll be the first to know,” replied the Mayor.

"Shouldn't you be taking cover somewhere yourself ma'am?” asked Louise, concerned.

"I can't manage the situation as effectively from a bunker,” dismissed the Mayor. "I'm not going to hide from anything that hits my city.”

"That's admirable ma'am, but you need to stay safe for the sake of San Bartopolis too.”

"I'll be sure to do as my security tell me when the time comes M.”

The three of them walked over to the panoramic window at the end of the Mayor's office and looked down over the city, watching the people whom the three of them had sworn to protect in their different ways.

The earthquake struck then, or they thought it was the earthquake, but it only lasted a couple of seconds and then there was another one, and another one, and another one. As they looked out across the city and over to the harbour, they saw what had been causing all the tremors and what was causing the earthquake like shaking now. A gigantic monster was wading through the sea, approaching the harbour rapidly.

"Not an earthquake!” cried the Mayor as Louise and Robin hastily transformed themselves into The Magnificent Morph and her sidekick Bumper Boy. They both had the traditional look of skintight stretch fabric with their initials MM and BB adorning the centre of their chests. The Magnificent Morph's fabric was specially developed by some top scientists to expand as far as she could and contract as much as she could as well, whilst fitting comfortably the whole time; it was good to have friends in scientific circles but it helps when you save their lives and they want to express their gratitude of course.

The two heroes jumped on their motorbikes and headed off directly towards the harbour.

------------------------

The monster looked like a dinosaur with reptilian scaly skin, mottled green and glistening from the water it was emerging from. It walked upright but had four arms, each ending in a three-fingered hand with long claws, which it held forwards as though it were reaching for the city's buildings. As it rose from the water as it reached a shallower approach, a huge tail became visible, flicking from side to side as the monster walked through the water, sending great waves crashing off to either side of it. Its back had a line of great big spikes running down the spine like a stegosaurus, the spikes didn't look to be covered in skin but were instead bare bone and looked razor sharp. As the monster nearer the city, it opened its massive jaw wide and let out a deafening roar, displaying a mouth full of rows of sharp teeth.

"Heaven help us all, it's a kaiju,” said The Magnificent Morph as they reached the public park close to the harbour and parked up their bikes.

"A what boss?” asked Bumper Boy

"Have you never seen a monster movie?” asked Morph

"I saw that Godzilla one once, it wasn't very good.”

"Well, that's a kaiju, this is a kaiju, what we have here, it a monster movie in real life Bumper Boy.”

"I see that boss.”

"And we're San Bartopolis's line of defence.”

"Right you are boss,” replied Bumper Boy unfazed. "The Magnificent Morph and Bumper Boy versus the kaiju, I can see the story now.”

"This isn't a comic book, Bumper Boy,” said Morph, frowning at her sidekick. "You do know this is real and serious, right?”

"Yes boss, genuine peril boss.”

"And people's lives are depending on us, you get that too right?”

"Saving the city, one innocent at the time boss.”

"Ok then,” she said, still looking worriedly at her sidekick. "Right, we need to identify weaknesses. What weaknesses do you see Bumper Boy?”

"It's very big boss.”

"I don't think that's a weakness Bumper Boy.”

"It means its head is very high up in the air.”

"Yes, I can see that.”

"So it can't see the ground very well boss.”

"Very good Bumper Boy, susceptible to trip hazards.”

"Unless it just crushes or rips through any trip hazards.”

"Potentially susceptible to trip hazards,” amended Morph. "What other weaknesses can you identify?”

"It's not good at making friends boss.” Morph raised an eyebrow at her sidekick. "We could have the advantage of numbers boss, if we call in the army and everyone, but there'll only ever be one of them.”

"Let's assume the Mayor got right on the job of calling in the army and assume we have friends on the way, but in the meantime, we need to contain this thing by ourselves. Any other weaknesses Bumper Boy?”

"If it's a reptile then it might not like the cold boss.”

"Right, not a lot we can do about freezing it though short of taking it to the arctic circle.”

"Yes boss.”

"Is that all of its weaknesses you can identify?”

"Yes boss.”

"I'm thinking it's not likely to be very quick to manoeuvre, we might have the advantage of speed of movement on our side.”

"Good thinking boss.”

"That's what I do Bumper Boy, I think good.”

"Do you always have to say that boss?”

"I sure do.”

"What's the plan then boss?” asked Bumper Boy as the kaiju neared the quayside.

"First, we're going to need to get its attention,” said Morph, looking around for inspiration. "Then maybe we can make it chase us back out to see and away from the city.” As she looked around, it was a flag flapping in the wind which caught her attention. "Ok, let's go!”

They ran down to the quayside, directly towards the monster approaching them.

"Bumper on!” cried Bumper Boy as he flung his arms out in front of himself and The Magnificent Morph knew that he was projecting a shield out between themselves and the kaiju.

"Do you know if it's strong enough against something that big, Bumper Boy?” asked Morph.

"No idea boss,” he replied, concentration on his face. "But thinking negative about it isn't going to help!”

Morph shrugged and replied "If it's not though, you need to get out of here!”

"Thanks for the vote of confidence boss!”

Morph jumped onto a yacht moored at the harbour climbed up the mast and then concentrated on the flag she had seen flapping in the wind. As she focussed on how thin and wide it was, she felt herself stretching out. Her hands were still clinging to the mast but all of the rest of her now looked like an enormous flag, with MM written in the middle of it. She felt the wind and worked with it, flapping about as much as possible to be as noticeable as possible.

The monster approached and was focussed on the city and didn't look down to see the boats in the harbour at all. Time for Plan B thought Morph and she let go. The wind picked her up and spun her around and Morph used the wind to catch the right parts of her wind, flappy body to steer herself exactly where she wanted to go, and she plastered herself right across the monster's face.

It let out a terrible roar and clawed at its own face in an attempt to shift the thing plastered across it, but Morph had hooked herself around its nostrils on one side and its eyelid on the other and was clinging on.

The monster roared and clawed at its face until finally it hooked a claw around Morph and her grip wasn't good enough to hang on as it ripped her off. She morphed herself into a boat shape as she landed on the water and saw the monster wade the final steps in the water, pushing the boats aside with its legs, snapping the mooring ropes easily and finally putting its first giant foot onto dry land, right in front of Bumper Boy.

Morph raised an arm which she morphed into a sail and steered for the harbour, yelling to Bumper Boy to "Get away! It's too strong for you!” Finally she saw him make the right decision, turn and run to the side of the monster. Bumper Boy's shields were good, but they had learnt before that they have their limits and there's nothing quite like a kaiju to test limits like those.

Within seconds of stepping foot out of the harbour, the great monster had already caused massive amounts of property damage and Morph had a fleeting thought of hoping people's insurance policies covered acts of kaiju.

The buildings down by the quayside weren't that tall but Morph could see the kaiju was setting its sights on the taller buildings in San Bartopolis's financial district and it started to walk down the streets directly towards it, the monster's tail swishing back and forth behind it, destroying the buildings it was swiping into. There was no time to wait for the army to arrive, it was up to The Magnificent Morph and Bumper Boy to save as many lives as possible and contain this monster as best they could.

Morph finally got herself back to dry land and Bumper Boy was waiting for her.

"What's the plan boss?” he asked anxiously.

"We need to catch up with it.”

"Then what boss?”

"I'll let you know when I know!”

They sprinted to their motorbikes which were still parked up where they had left them and went full throttle after the kaiju.

They only caught up with the monster because it had stopped walking. Unfortunately, it had stopped walking in order to stand and smash the tall office buildings of the financial district. Morph knew most people will have been home with the earthquake warnings, but there were always going to be some still around. The streets were impassable around the kaiju now as they were littered with rubble, bit of building smashed off from high above. As The Magnificent Morph and Bumper Boy pulled up to the scene, someone who was on the ground saw them and yelled at them, although Morph couldn't make out what they were saying. They kept yelling though and they were pointing at something over to the right of the kaiju. Morph's heart sank when she saw what they were pointing at, it was a public bus.

Morph looked up at the kaiju, which was punching away at a building, and back down at the bus, which had a huge piece of rubble just behind it so couldn't go back and in front of it was the kaiju. Morph and Bumper Boy sprinted towards the bus, which they could only hope was running empty but as they got closer Morph could see there were people inside, huddled around the emergency exit at the back of the bus but they didn't seem to have been able to open it. Morph knew just what they had to do.

"Shields please Bumper Boy,” Morph said to her sidekick as they reach the bus

"Bumper on!” cried Bumper Boy, raising his arms above his head and Morph knew there was now a shield covering the bus. It turned out that Bumper Boy got that shield up just in time as well, as an iron girder and concrete projectile came plummeting from the air above and would have landed right through the middle of the bus, but instead bounced off the shield and landed on the street nearby.

"Amazing work Bumper Boy!” praised Morph as she ran up to the side of the bus. "Get back!” she yelled to the passengers inside. She morphed her hand into a giant hammer and smashed the window where she stood. She then stretched herself into the bus whilst keeping her feet on the road next to the bus and grabbed a passenger, lifting them up and out through the window, putting them down gently on the road. "Get out of here as fast as you can!” she yelled at the rescued passenger, not sure what else she could advise them to do but knowing they were still at great risk no matter where they went, at the mercy of the whim of the kaiju.

The Magnificent Morph continued to pull the passengers out of the bus whilst debris from above bounced off Bumper Boy's shield until all of the passengers were out.

"Your turn,” Morph said to the driver, who was still cowering over by his seat, but he didn't move. Morph stretched over to him at the front of the bus. "Please sir, you need to leave the bus.” He didn't respond to her in any way and just as Morph was about to put her arms underneath the armpits of the driver to scoop him up, a gigantic hand grabbed the bus around the middle and lifted it into the air. The bus had lifted off from Morph before she realised what was going on and Bumper Boy was lying on the ground next to her. She quickly shrunk down to her normal size and knelt down next to her sidekick.

"Bumper Boy!” she yelled at him. "Bumper Boy! Are you alright?”

"It was too strong for my shield boss,” groaned Bumper Boy. "Smashed right through it like it wasn't there at all.”

"You'll be ok,” reassured Morph. "Just take a moment to recover, I need to save that driver!”

Morph concentrated and slowly she stretched her feet until they turned into big coils. She bounced herself up and down until she had the feel for the springs and then in one great bounce, she flew up into the air. The bus was still clutched in the hand of the kaiju and was being flung around so Morph stretched her body out in the direction of the bus and managed to get hold of a wheel as it swung past her. Keeping hold of the wheel with her hands as the bus flew wildly through the air like the worst fairground ride ever made, Morph stretched out her body so that her legs found the window she had smashed earlier and slithered inside the bus. Once she was mostly in, she let go of the wheel and shrunk back down so that she was all inside, just in time to get plastered to the ceiling as the kaiju swung the bus downwards before hitting it on the building in front of the monster.

The force of the impact with the building sent Morph into the floor of the bus at a tremendous force and she feared for the driver's life under such forces.

As she pulled herself up, she saw that the driver was still in his seat at the front of the bus and she realised he must have put his seatbelt on at some point. That seatbelt must have saved his life several times over that day and she could think of no better advertisement for people to wear their seatbelts.

"I need to get you out of here, sir!” yelled Morph as she clawed her way to the front of the bus. "Before this bus falls to pieces!”

The driver didn't manage to say anything but he nodded which was good enough for Morph.

"I'm going to need you to remove your seatbelt,” she said to him, and he immediately put his hands over the seatbelt mechanism, obviously aware that the seatbelt had saved his life and reluctant to take it off. "We need to get you out of this bus sir,” insisted Morph, "Which means getting you out of that seat first of all.”

He shook his head still covering the mechanism and Morph stretched out one arm, gently lifted his hands and pressed the button to unlatch the seatbelt. It was at that moment that the kaiju smashed the bus down into a building again and both the driver and The Magnificent Morph slammed into the ceiling of the bus.

Morph kept her head and stretched out one arm to loop around the driver and the other arm to hook around the smashed open window and in one movement pulled both herself and the driver out of the bus through the window just before the bus was slammed into the building again and that time crumpled into pieces.

The Magnificent Morph clung onto the drive with both hands and very quickly stretched out all of the rest of her body to form a kind of human parachute. Bumper Boy from the ground was watching what happened and as the pair of them came close to the ground, he through out a shield which he lowered to the ground slower than the speed they were falling just as they landed on it so as to soften their landing. They both touched down on the ground, unhurt except for some minor cuts and bruises though the driver was badly shaken.

"You need to get out of the area as quickly as you can sir,” Morph said to him as she grasped him by the shoulders and tried to get the message through. "Run if you can but go carefully and watch your footing, there's is debris everywhere.”

The driver still looked shell-shocked but he nodded and set off in the opposite direction to where the kaiju stood.

Once the driver had gone, it was just The Magnificent Morph and Bumper Boy against the kaiju once again as they hoped for the army to arrive soon.

"We need to get it away from the city,” said Morph. "Who knows how many people are still in the buildings, or it might head for the suburbs next, so many families could be in danger.”

"You're right boss,” replied Bumper Boy. "But what can we do? It's so big, how can we get its attention?” And that's when Morph had an idea.

------------------------

The heroic pair arrived back at City Hall to find only a couple of security guards left in the building, and of course the Mayor who was refusing to leave whilst there still might be something she could do for her citizens.

"It's good to see you still alive M,” said the Mayor. "And you too of course Bumper Boy.”

"You really ought to get to safety ma'am.”

"I'll only evacuate if I have to M.”

Morph peered out of the window as the building shook from the kaiju punching another building. "I really think that time is now ma'am.”

"I'll decide when it's time.”

"If you insist on staying then ma'am, there may be some things you can help us with.”

"I'll do anything I can M.”

"We need some floodlights and any drones you've got access to.”

"Why do you need...”

"We don't have time to explain, are you able to help ma'am?”

"I think I just might be able to.”

The Mayor spoke to the security guards and managed to get The Magnificent Morph and Bumper Boy access to the equipment stores at both City Hall and the Police Headquarters and between them they had the equipment they needed. The police were glad to see the heroic pair but all of their resources were being used to evacuate people and try to keep the peace as people started to loot and violence easily broke out as people feared for their lives.

There was no time to move the floodlights to the financial district where the kaiju was still stomping on buildings so they just had to hope that they would be effective enough from outside of City Hall where they were positioned on the ground in front of the building and on top of the roof of it. They turned all of the floodlights to face the kaiju and The Magnificent Morph stretched herself out so that she had a different finger on each switch, both on top of the building and in front of it, to turn them all on at once.

She had set up a two-way radio link with Bumper Boy who was stationed ready on the ground and she gave a countdown to when they would start the plan.

"Three, Two, One, GO!” shouted Morph and she flicked on the switches for all the lights at once.

The kaiju stumbled back and let out a mighty roar as it was suddenly blinded by so many lights directed straight into its eyes. This was the opportunity they were hoping for.

As soon as Morph had flicked the switches, she shrank down to her normal size and Bumper Boy had the drones all ready and he was poised on top of one of them, both of them had guns strapped to their backs now thanks to the police, and he had a remote control in each hand. He tossed one of the remote controls to Morph as she hopped onto the other drone and the pair of them used the controllers to fly their respective drones directly towards the kaiju from the source of the light where it wouldn't see them coming from.

The kaiju hadn't yet recovered from the suddenly blinding light as the heroic pair, riding their drones, appeared out of the light to swarm around the kaiju's head. They weaved in and out, getting close to the kaiju's face and then ducking back away again before the kaiju could do anything to them and generally making themselves as annoying as possible to the monster.

"Time to head towards the harbour!” yelled The Magnificent Morph down the radio to Bumper Boy. "I think we've got its attention now!”

They continued their annoyance of the monster as they started to also move towards the harbour, directly along the path of destruction the creature had taken to get there; there was no point creating more devastation than they needed to after all.

It was working, the kaiju was following them, lumbering along, swiping at the air where the pair were flying around, always a little too late to hit them.

Finally, they reached the quayside and the next step would take the kaiju back into the water, but unfortunately for Bumper Boy he would never get to see that step.

Just as he dodged another swipe of one of the great clawed hands, the kaiju lashed its head to the side and Bumper Boy flew straight into the mouth of the kaiju. Before he knew what was happening, the monster had swallowed him.

"NOOOOOOOOO!” cried The Magnificent Morph as she saw what happened and flew towards the creature's mouth herself. "Bumper Boy!” she shouted.

"Boss!” came a crackly reply across the radio. The link still worked and Bumper Boy was still alive. "Boss, I think I've been eaten boss.”

"Can you cut a way out?” asked Morph. "Can you tell whereabouts you are inside it?”

"Hang on boss, I'll try a shield.” There was a moment's pause and then a big bulge suddenly protruded from the kaiju's stomach to one side.

"I saw that!” yelled Morph and she flew her drone down to the point she had seen but wasn't sure what she could do which wouldn't also hurt Bumper Boy and she was still having to dodge the great monster too and it was a bit easier for it to aim with only one of them now, she had to stretch out of the way a couple of times. Just as she was deciding whether she could morph her hand into a point sharp enough to pierce the skin, she heard the sound of helicopters approaching and she knew the army must be here at last.

She felt such relief that the help they needed to take down the kaiju was finally here, but then on the other hand, they would have no interest in trying to get out Bumper Boy, they needed to do something now.

"I'm on it boss!” she heard through the crackly radio and then she saw the stomach bulge in the same spot several more times.

"What are you trying to do Bumper Boy?” she asked.

"I've got that gun from the police,” he replied. "I'm trying to blast my way out.”

"I'm not sure that will even work,” said Morph.

"I can't stay in here doing nothing boss,” he yelled. "I don't know how much oxygen I've got left in here.”

"Just hold on a little longer!” she cried as the helicopters flew overhead and started to fire missiles at the kaiju.

Finally the kaiju fell backwards, into the water of the harbour and The Magnificent Morph followed the monster down, landing on the spot on the stomach where she knew Bumper Boy was right inside of. She got her own gun out and shot until she had made a hole in the skin, morphed her hands into blades and ripped the belly of the beast open.

"I'm coming Bumper Boy!” she screamed as she pulled apart the stomach lining and dragged out the unconscious boy. She dragged him onto the quayside and just before she started to try CPR he coughed and spluttered into life and she hugged her faithful sidekick tightly, having survived the worst challenge they had ever faced, together.

------------------------



How the Dice Were Used:

Pointing - A bystander pointing to the bus
Kaiju - The Kaiju
Teeth - Bumper Boy eaten
Bus - The bus rescue
Costume Change - The heroes did a costume change!
Stretchy Power - The Magnificent Morph's power
Floodlight - Several of them, used against the Kaiju
Drone - The heroes rode drones at the end
Rubble - the destruction of the city



------------------------

NaNoWriMo 2017 - Story 2

Dice Used: Pink Sets (Enchanted, Mythic, Medieval)

Balgret was an unusual dwarf. For one thing, she didn't like being underground and for another, she didn't like mining and didn't find any joy in the precious gems and gold her fellow dwarves were so obsessed with finding. She didn't get on well with the other dwarves as a result so it was no surprise to anyone when Balgret announced she was leaving the huge, underground Dwarven colony and was off to explore the world.

She didn't take much with her but she had always been a keen cook and made sure to take some of her own treasure with her, her beautiful spices. She was travelling to the nearest big city, walking along the road by day and camping near to the road by night. She didn't have any shelter when she was camping, this wasn't something dwarves had much experience of needing, so she always got a few branches and leaned them together to make a rough shelter and she thought of this as all part of her new adventure.

After about a week of travelling in this way, and having heard from someone with a horse and cart travelling in the other direction that she would probably be doing this for a couple more days yet before she reached the city, she made he usual camp for the night. She caught a rabbit in the woods and was cooking it in a small pot over a fire made from twigs with a little of her precious spice in the broth; the smell was fantastic and Balgret was feeling very content as she waited for her rabbit to get nice and tender. It was at this point that she met her very first goblin.

Balgret heard a rustle behind her as she was giving the pot a stir and turned around to see a big pair of eyes glinting at her from in between the trees. It's probably an animal she thought, and hopefully not a dwarf-eating one.

I don't taste good,” she called out to the eyes, hoping just shouting at it would scare it away and she could carry on cooking in peace. “And I'm only small so I'm not worth trying to eat anyway.” The eyes blinked. “I'd rather you left me alone if you don't mind.” The eyes blinked again and then they grew a little closer.

Balgret could hear the shuffling along the ground and see the light from the fire reflecting in the eyes but couldn't see the rest of the body the eyes belonged to, which was very unnerving especially as Balgret had excellent night-vision having grown up living underground.

Finally, the eyes got close enough that she was able to see what the eyes were attached to, a creature about the same height as herself with a big head, big pointy ears, thin body with gangly arms and legs, completely naked and as black as coal all over. With that skin, no wonder she hadn't been able to see it.

Oh hello,” she said as the creature approached.

Smells good,” said the creature in reply, sniffing the air and as it spoke Balgret could see the rows of pointed teeth filling the mouth.

I don't taste good!” exclaimed Balgret again, alarmed at her smelling appetising to such a thing.

Not you,” said the creature and it pointed to the pot of rabbit cooking behind her.

Oh, my rabbit!” said Balgret in relief. “Thank you, I have plenty enough if you'd like some too.”

Yes please!” said the creature, coming over to the pot and smelling it up close. “Doesn't smell like rabbit.”

That would be the cumin.”

Cumin?”

Yes, it's one of my spices, it adds a lot of flavour to otherwise bland food.” Balgret reached into her pack and brought out the small pot of cumin. The creature took the pot from her hands and opened it. “Be careful!” she said, cupping the pot around the creatures hands. “I don't know how to get more and a little goes a very long way.”

How little?” asked the creature. Balgret pinched a tiny bit of cumin into her fingers and pointed to the pot.

This much in there,” she said and dropped the pinch of spice back into the pot, took it back from the creature and closed it up, returning it safely to her pack again. “I'm Balgret. What's your name?”

Scroggle,” it replied.

I'm a dwarf, Scrobble. I come from underground and I've never met anyone like you. Can you tell me what you are?”

I'm a goblin” replied Scroggle sadly. “I don't like being a goblin, no-one likes goblins.”

Well I don't see why not, you seem perfectly nice to me.” Scroggle's face lit up with a smile.

I've never met a dwarf before, I thought they were more like trolls.”

What are trolls like?” asked Balgret curiously.

Big and mean and angry and nasty,” enthused Scroggle, “I don't like trolls!”

They don't sound anything like dwarves to me,” smiled Balgret.

Are other dwarves like you?” asked Scroggle. Balgret broke into great waves of laughter for about a minute before she was able to catch her breath enough to reply.

I mean to look at, sure, but I'm not exactly a great example of a typical dwarf,” she said through gasps of laughing.

Balgret proceeded to tell Scroggle about her life in the Dwarven deeps and how she longed for a different life. In turn, Scroggle explained to her how he had been ostracised from his own Goblin kin because he didn't like to terrorise the human children in the villages near where they lived. To Balgret's horror, he explained how they would kidnap the children, and eventually kill them and cook them over an open fire. Scroggle hated it and had tried to make friends with one of the kidnapped children and managed to free them from the irons they were being held in; when the rest of the goblins found out what he had done, they banished him, promising him the same fate as the children if he ever returned.

So we're both outcasts I guess,” said Balgret, finishing her bowl of rabbit stew.

I want to be outcast from them,” said Scroggle, his mouth curling into a disgusted grimace. “I don't want to be anything like them.”

Do you want to come to the city with me then?”

The city?” asked Scroggle, his eyes lighting up. “You mean Strongheim?”

If that's the city,” smiled Balgret. “I'm only a couple of days away from now I was told.”

I've never been to Strongheim!”

Is that a yes then, you'll travel with me?”

Oh yes, I want to go to Strongheim very much, let us go there together!”

They another shelter in the tiny camp for Scroggle, even though he said he didn't need it, and when they awoke in the morning, they packed up their things and headed along the road to Strongheim together.

The pair got along so well as they walked along the road each day, it was like they were old friends and Belgret could barely believe it each day when the sun started to lower in the sky and they set up camp. They arrived in the sprawling city of Strongheim a couple of days later just as the sun was nearly setting.

Balgret was overwhelmed by all the humans in the city. The ones she had met before had been on the road and usually in a cart, she hadn't really appreciated how big they all were and in such numbers it was quite scary for her. She saw some other types of people besides humans too but she had no idea what they were and thought it best she didn't ask right now.

So, where do you think we should go?” Balgret asked.

I've only been to villages, I don't know what city is like,” said Scroggle sadly.

Ok, well they must get people arrive in the city all the time, there must be somewhere that people who have just got here can stay.” She looked around to see if there was a signpost for visitors or anything like that. “Or maybe people let new people stay with them maybe?” she said quietly, thinking about what she would have done if anyone had come from outside to visit in the Dwarven deeps.

They don't look very friendly,” said Scroggle, looking up at the humans who were all avoiding eye contact with the small pair.

Over there!” shrilled Balgret, pointing to a sign with a picture of a drink and a bed on it. “They have beds on that sign which look a lot like the bed I had with the dwarves.”

And so they went to inn, but when they went inside, they found it very noisy and cramped with so many big people inside. One seated human directed them to what he called the bar but it was so high that they couldn't see the top of it. A woman carrying six huge glasses of beer nearly tripped over them and shouted at them to get out of her way, but when she saw Scroggle she screamed and dumped the beer over the top of him. A great, big man came around from the bar then and pushed them both outside and told them that goblins aren't welcome here and they'll find no quarter in this city.

You should go back in and get one of those beds,” said Scroggle as he walked over to a drinking trough for horses to wash the beer off him.

But they said that goblins aren't welcome,” frowned Balgret.

Yes, you should go, I'll find something else.”

What?” exclaimed Balgret. “I'm not leaving you on your own, especially not if everyone is going to be that mean to you here!”

But they don't have a problem with you, there's no point you suffering because people don't like goblins. You haven't even started to find out how you can get more of your spices here or anything.”

Well I don't know about other goblins but I know I like you and we're going to stick together, and if that means running out of spices then so be it.”

The unlikely duo left the city to set up camp with what they could find nearby, which turned out to be using a cart which had been smashed beyond repair as both firewood and shelter, though with no woods the only food they had that night was some mushrooms and berries they had collected before and taken with them. Balgret stomach rumbled sadly but she didn't regret sticking by her friend.

------------------------

You see?” Zeus said to his wife Hera, as the pair lay on their fronts leaning over the edge of a cloud. “I told you I'd show you something new.”

You're right there dear,” she replied, “I have never seen a dwarf and a goblin as best friends. Now can we get back to the baby?” Ares was born recently and was already proving to be quite a handful for the gods so Hera didn't like to leave him alone for too long.

You get back to him, I want to watch these two for a while longer.”

Fine, you do what you want to dear, you always do,” sighed Hera.

What was that?” asked Zeus vaguely, not taking his eyes away from the earth below.

Is there anything I can do to help?” asked Hera, knowing there was no stopping her husband when he had taken an interest in mortal affairs; she only hoped he wouldn't have a child with any of them this time, they had enough to deal with at the moment with Ares.

Oh yes, get Hermes to send a message down to Hades will you?” asked Zeus excitedly. “Say, 'You'll never guess what I've found'.”

I'm sure he'll be very amused dear,” and with that Hera left Zeus to his latest amusement and asked Hermes to send the message he had requested.

Hermes hated getting requests for messages to the underworld, he didn't like dogs, he didn't like the dead and Charon, the ferryman, was never friendly. When Zeus asks you to take a message though, you take a message, that god was not fun when he was angry. Hermes arrived at the river Styx where Charon stood in his boat. There were two souls already boarded which gave Hermes the creeps but he tried to bypass the boat trip to get into the underworld by just flying there once, and a traumatising experience with Cerberus, the giant, three-headed dog which guards the underworld, made him vow never to do that again.

Hermes stepped onto the boat, waved his hand behind his back to produce a coin and handed it to Charon. The hooded figure took the coin silently and with his big pole he pushed the boat off from the shore. Hermes found it easier to just sit down and close his eyes until the journey was over, he was scared of dogs so it was better if he just didn't even see Cerberus and he could pretend the three sets of gigantic teeth weren't there at all.

When the boat ride was finally over, Hermes waited patiently whilst Hades dealt with the newly arrived deceased. The god of the underworld was kind and surprisingly gentle with the new arrivals, despite the fact he must have done this for a million people before them, and he led them away to usher them into the underworld. After some time, Hades returned to Hermes, now alone.

You didn't upset Cerby this time then?” he asked Hermes with a chuckle. Hermes did not find this funny and didn't like to be reminded of the encounter.

I have a message,” he replied tersly.

Let me guess,” said Hades smirking, “Zeus has decided it's about time he had a turn at being the god of the underworld and he wants to do a job swap?”

No,” replied Hermes. “Zeus s-”

Oh no wait,” interrupted Hades. “He's not gone and knocked up another mortal has he?” Hermes cleared his throat and the expression on his face grew sterner.

Zeus says to tell you, 'You'll never guess what I've found'.” Hades rolled his eyes.

Really? That's the whole message?”

If you would like me to repeat the message then I can,” replied Hermes, insulted at the mere suggestion that he would have delivered only a part of a message.

I'm pretty sure I got it the first time,” said Hades with a wink. “Do you know what he was doing at the time, anything that might give me hint?”

I was given the message by Hera who was far too busy with the new baby Ares to provide unrequested context to a message she was confident would be delivered accurately. If you have further questions, I could deliver a response if you request.” His lip curled slightly as he said this, it was obvious that he didn't want this to become a back and forth correspondence leading to further trips down to the underworld each time.

There's no point,” said Hades with a sigh. “You know what he's like when he gets excited about something, he's not going to stop until I go up there.” He went to get his best hooded travelling cloak, which he didn't need of course but he liked the look it gave him, and he muttered under his breath, “If he would just provide holiday cover or something, you know a sabbatical would be nice.” He put the cloak on in a dramatic swoosh and said to Hermes, “Right, let's go then.” He clicked his fingers and vanished as Hermes glumly turned around and stepped onto the ferryman's boat again.

------------------------

You came!” enthused Zeus, “I knew you'd be excited!”

I wouldn't exactly say that,” retorted Hades, “and I came mostly to shut you up, some of us are busy you know.”

You'll understand when you see it,” said Zeus, beckoning Hades over to the edge of the cloud where he was still leaning over watching the mortal world.

Mortals again, of course,” said Hades under his breath as he walked over and joined his brother.

Look, look!” Zeus pointed down to the mortal plain and Hades followed where he was indicating.

Some small mortals,” said Hades dryly. “Yes brother, they are very small, remarkable. May I return to my duties now?”

They're not just small!” grinned Zeus. “Look closer. Look! It's a dwarf and a goblin!” Hades peered closer and saw that Zeus was correct.

Is the goblin going to eat the dwarf or something?” asked Hades.

No no,” cried Zeus, “They're friends!” Hades raised one eyebrow sceptically and peered at them again.

What is a dwarf even doing outside of a mine anyway?”

Exactly!” yelled Zeus, raising his arms up into the air. “So many questions! Isn't it just so interesting?”

Well it's curious, I'll give you that.”

What shall we do with them?” asked Zeus, standing up with a big grin on his face.

You just can't help it can you?”

It's like they're there exactly for us!”

Have you been sweet talking the Fates again recently?” asked Hades suspiciously.

I had some mead with Clotho a week or two ago, but that's beside the point I think.”

Maybe, maybe not,” said Hades with a sigh. “Well I guess you're not going to be satisfied until you've had your fun with them.”

Your fun too. We can both have a go.”

I'm rather busy brother, the other mortals don't stop dying just because you've found some new play things.”

I could have a word with Atropos, ask her to hold off on cutting the mortals' thread of life for little while?”

I know you think anyone would do anything for you brother, but I don't believe even you can get Atropos to neglect her duty.”

Well it doesn't hurt to ask,” replied Zeus grumpily. “I have my ways,” he said with a wink and Hades rolled his eyes.

Fine, I'll play if it will stop you trying to create more chaos.” Zeus clapped his hand on Hades' back in happiness. “Are we getting our brother involved in this too?”

Poseidon? Oh no, we don't need to bother him,” replied Zeus dismissively. “He's got his hands full enough and it's not like they're at sea.” Hades gritted his teeth but decided in the end it was best to just not start that argument, he would just let his own work mount up whilst they played Zeus' latest game.

------------------------

BALGRET!” yelled Scroggle, jolting her awake. “Balgret wake up!” She slowly blinked her eyes as she forced herself out of her slumber.

What is it?” she asked.

I think you need to see,” said Scroggle from nearby, to Balgret's left. She yawned and stretched before standing up and rubbing her eyes as she blearily walked over to her friend.

So what is it?” she asked, her eyes not yet focused.

Are you serious?” Scroggle gaped at his friend. “This isn't where we went to sleep!” Balgret finally focused her eyes and saw around them.

Instead of being at the side of a road at the edge of a sprawling city, they were in a forest, but the trees were really strange, growing into shapes which seemed like walls.

Er, what?” asked Balgret as she took in her surroundings. “Where are we?”

Exactly.”

Is this a city made of trees or something?”

Maybe this is where forest fairies live?” suggested Scroggle, who had met some forest fairies before and knew how mean tempered they could be.

Or we're dreaming?” hoped Balgret, though she didn't feel tired at all anymore, the shock of what she had seen had woken her up fully now. “Is the city inside there do you think?”

Maybe.” Scroggle looked worried as he paced around the little clearing they woke up in. “What if we're not even near Strongheim at all? What if we've had a spell cast on us and we're somewhere completely different?”

People can do that?” asked Balgret amazed.

I've heard of some wizards with powerful magic,” said Scroggle, dubious of his own words as he said them out loud.

Why would a wizard want to transport us somewhere else?”

Maybe if they didn't like goblins either,” he said glumly.

And friends of goblins?” asked Balgret, thinking of why she would be taken too in that scenario.

I guess so.”

Only just arrived at the city and already there's a wizard upset with us, we have quite a record already!” smiled Balgret at her friend.

They packed up their things, which had stayed with them, as had the broken cart they had sheltered beneath, and made their way through the wall-like trees. It didn't take them very long to determine that this wasn't a city made of trees as they had wondered at one stage, as the tree walls were all simply walls, it was a series of many, many walls. They found dead ends to the paths between them and had to retrace their steps to try to find a different route.

Do you think there is a way out of this?” asked Scroggle worriedly, after they had spent a few hours trying to find their way and feeling like they hadn't gone very far at all.

There must be,” replied Balgret optimistically. She had found a stick of the right height as they walked, that she could drag along the ground to show where they had been already. This had already proved very useful when retracing their steps after finding a dead end, and they marked the branch points to those dead ends with a cross in the ground too. Balgret had explained that she used to do this with chalk on the walls when lost in the mining tunnels in the deeps where she grew up. “It's a matter of logic, we'll find the way out eventually if we just keep on tracking where we've been.”

Sometimes they came across a tree which bore fruit and they ate what they could and took more with them for later. They were still lost when the light became too dim for them to see the lines on the ground anymore and they found a nice spot where a tree with soft, downy leaves was growing which they used to make a little camp for themselves. Balgret cooked some apples in her pot with a little of a spice she called cinnamon and went to sleep.

They didn't get to sleep the whole night though.

------------------------

You made the maze, so I get to do the next thing,” said Hades, who always had to battle his brother as Zeus was so used to getting his own way on things.

But they've been in a maze for a day now, I want to do something else,” sulked Zeus.

I'm doing something else, it's my turn.” Hades sat thinking for a while.

Come on then,” said Zeus impatiently.

I'm thinking maybe a thunderstorm,” said Hades thoughtfully. Zeus stared open mouthed at him.

That's a joke, right?”

What?”

A thunderstorm?”

Yeah, would be a nice way to wake them up don't you think?” smirked Hades.

A thunderstorm?”

Yes, a thunderstorm. You know, torrential rain, deafening thunder, terrifying lightning...oh, oh yeah.”

Yeah. It's kind of my thing,” said Zeus. And to illustrate the point, he pulled a lightning bolt from behind his back and flung it into the air.

Yes, yes brother, very smooth,” said Hades, rolling his eyes. “Fine, you can do the thunderstorms, I won't step on your toes.” Zeus grinning in satisfaction and sometimes Hades felt like the ruler of the gods was more like a child than an all powerful god. “Hurricane it is then, that'll blow away the cobwebs for them.”

Hades rubbed his hands together vigorously, before slowly opening them and blowing through them, down towards the mortal plain where Balgret and Scroggle were soundly sleeping.

------------------------

Scroggle woke up to high-pitched animal noise in his ear and a feeling of being pushed off a cliff. As he came to, he realised the pushing feeling was the incredibly strong winds rolling him over in his sleep and the noise was Balgret screaming in fear. He reached out to her to hold her arm. “It's ok, it's just the wind,” he shouted over the noise of it.

What's happening?” screamed back Balgret. “Is the world ending? Are we going to die?”

Winds like this usually mean a storm is coming in, the world isn't ending and we'd better not be going to die!” shouted back Scroggle, counting off the answers to the questions on his fingers as he went. “We need to get to shelter though!”

I feel like it's ripping my skin from my bones!” cried Balgret and Scroggle realised in that moment that she had lived all her life in the mines underground. Sure there would be winds in the tunnels, he knew that from dens of his own kin, but nothing like the winds of a storm.

I don't know how firm these trees are,” yelled Scroggle as he helped Balgret to her feet. “The winds are strong enough to pull up any trees which aren't firmly rooted and we don't want to be anywhere near them when that happens.” Scroggle stopped trying to find her belongings which had been scattered about in the wind, though thankfully her spices were safe, to gape around at the tall trees completely surrounding them.

But everywhere is next to the trees!” she cried in exasperation. “They're all around us!”

We need to find some shelter and we need to do it as soon as we can,” shouted Scroggle, trying to keep calm so that Balgret wouldn't panic. “Let's just keep moving and keep looking for anything which might shelter us, a cave would be ideal.”

A cave,” said Balgret as she finishing grabbing everything which had caught on the trees near them, she would never get back anything which had escaped the trees and blown far away. “Shelter, a cave would be best, shelter, shelter.” Confident that Balgret was calm and focussed, Scroggle motioned for them to leave their camp and get moving. Balgret pulled her cloak around her to protect her from the chill of the wind. “Do you want a blanket?” she yelled at Scroggle as they fought their way around a corner; Scroggle never wore clothes but Balgret felt cold just looking at his bare, black skin. The goblin nodded fervently and Balgret pulled a blanket she had rescued from a tree from her bag and wrapped it around her friend.

Balgret tried to use the stick to keep a track of where they had been, but it was useless as the wind was covering up any marks the moment she left them. They had a particularly scary moment whilst working their way back from a dead end, a tree uprooted in front of them and they had to sprint to get through the path before it fell, otherwise they would have been blocked in to the dead end.

After hours of battling this terrifying wind and after the sun had been up for some time, the duo turned a corner and found a clearing surrounded by the maze of trees. In the middle of the clearing was a little house with a thatched roof and dotted around the clearing where a variety of animals and there was an animal pen in one corner, currently empty. It was only when Balgret noticed the smoke rising gently from the chimney that she realised that there was no wind in the clearing. “Is that normal?” asked Balgret, who knew little of the ways of winds as the friends stepped back and forth between the maze and the clearing.

I don't think it is,” replied Scroggle. “But then, what about this whole maze is normal?”

So I guess we go see who lives there?” Scroggle shrugged.

I guess we do.”

As they walked across the clearing, walking around a particularly stubborn sheep, a divine smell hit their senses. Both of their stomachs rumbled in unison and their mouths started to water. When they reached the cottage and walked around to the front, they saw the source of the delicious smell, a whole pig was roasting on a spit, fat dripping down into the fire and the skin just starting to go crispy. Balgret thought she had never seen a more welcome sight in her life.

There's plenty to go around,” said a voice to their right, startling them. They hadn't noticed the plump, old woman in the doorway to the cottage as they stared at the pig. “You're welcome to join me to eat it once it's ready,” she offered.

Oh yes please!” exclaimed Scroggle.

That would be wonderful,” replied Balgret, sinking to her knees in relief.

I'm sure we can find somewhere for you to rest while we wait for it to cook too,” said the old lady with a smile before going over to the pig to turn the spit a little. “Come on inside.”

Scroggle helped Balgret get back to her feet and they went into the little cottage.

Inside was full of simple home comforts and Balgret had a sudden pang of homesickness as she realised the last time she had been anywhere so homely, was home. As the old lady pottered about gathering blankets and pillows, Balgret introduced herself. “I'm Balgret,” she said. “I'm a dwarf but I decided to see what more there is to the world than mining.” She said this in such a matter of fact way that it felt odd to Balgret to be talking about the profoundly life-changing decision she made in such a casual way.

I'm Scroggle,” said Scroggle, grinning. “I'm a goblin but don't worry, I'm not mean.” He broke into a very wide smile and Balgret thought all those teeth probably wasn't the best way to convince someone that you're not mean.

I'm Kirsten,” said the old lady. “And I don't believe I've met a dwarf or a goblin before. I thought you might be children until I saw your magnificent beard my dear,” she said addressing Balgret, who put her hand to her beard to find the wind had tangled into into such a mess it was going to take a long time to smooth it back out.

If you don't mind me asking,” said Balgret hesitantly, “why are the winds not blowing around your house?”

Oh is it windy today?” asked the old lady in surprise as she poured a couple of drinks out from a pitcher she kept on the side. “I never know what's going on outside of my little cottage. I had a lovely wizard visit me once and he put a nice spell on the place to protect it. Now here, you two drink this, you look like you need it.” She handed a cup each to the travelling friends. Scroggle drank it immediately whilst Balgret peered inside at the blue colour of the drink and gave it a sniff to find it smelled very unpleasant.

Would you mind if I just had water instead please?” asked Balgret. “I don't mean to be rude, I just haven't had a drink like this before.”

Oh you should try it,” encouraged the old lady. “It tastes better than it smells, I promise you. You can have some water once you've emptied the cup if you'd still like it of course,” she said smiling and Balgret decided it would be very rude to try to refuse the drink again and drank it down in one go. The old lady had been right that it tasted better than it smelled but it still didn't taste good.

Thank you,” she said, “I'd love some water now please if that would be alright?” She needed something to take away the taste of the drink.

Why don't you have a lie down on those blankets whilst I get you some water,” said the old lady, gesturing to where Scroggle was already curling up.

I guess I am pretty tired,” said Balgret, who hadn't slept long before the winds had woken her, and she had been doing a lot of walking. She made her way over to the blankets and sat down next to her friend who was already asleep.

Here you go dear,” said the old lady, “you just drink that down and have a good sleep, I'll wake you up when the food is ready.” Balgret took the cup of water and as she was feeling thirsty she gulped it all down in one go. It was only when she lowered the cup from her mouth that she noticed there was an odd aftertaste. Perhaps it was just that the water here tastes a little funny she though and wondered what affect that would have on the taste of a stew. She was thinking about stews and spices as her head collapsed onto the pillows where she sat and she immediately sank into a deep sleep.

------------------------

You sent them to Circe?” asked Zeus.

I thought it would be interesting to see what she would do with them,” said Hades a little amused. “I'll stop her before she doesn't anything irreversible.”

Maybe I'll send a hydra in next,” pondered Zeus.

Really?” asked Hades dubiously. “They're not fighters, how long do you think they'd last against a hydra?”

Depends if the dwarf cooks for it really,” said Zeus, roaring a great belly laugh at his own joke.

No hydras,” said Hades firmly.

You tell me no hydras but you sent them to Circe,” complained Zeus. “That's hardly fair.”

Circe is on the leash, she won't be turning them into pigs or any other animal for that matter.”

Is that what you said about the rest of her menagerie there?” asked Zeus, looking at the animals roaming around the cottage.

She wasn't on the leash when she did that,” said Hades matter of factly. “I don't usually have the time to meddle in mortal affairs you know brother, my job guiding the dead into the underworld keeps me pretty busy.”

Speaking of which, who is doing that whilst you're here?” asked Zeus curiously.

Well, Charon sometimes does it when I'm not there, but really I think the waiting room is going to be filling up.”

You have a waiting room?”

Of course I have a waiting room, what do you think I do when a great number of people die at the same time like when there is a big battle?”

I never really thought about it,” admitted Zeus. “Just bring them all in together I suppose.”

And would that be what you would want your welcome to the underworld to be, a mass induction with all the people who fell in the same battle, friend and foe, no personal service?”

Well, no, but...”

Exactly, so I have a waiting room,” Hades said firmly. “It expands as it is needed so it should be sufficient until I get back, as long as Sparta doesn't wage war against Troy or anything in the meantime.”

I knew you'd have things in hand brother!” cheered Zeus, slapping Hades on the back.

I have to actually clear the backlog though brother, so we don't want to play with these two for much longer.”

I suppose,” said Zeus begrudgingly. “Wait, if you're not letting Circe turn them into pigs then what is she doing with them?”

We'll have to wait and see,” smirked Hades.

------------------------

Balgret was in the mines, lost in the tunnels. She had a stick and she was drawing a chalk line on the floor with it. The tunnels winds grew stronger and stronger and a tree fell across the path of the tunnel and she couldn't get through it. She turned around and Scroggle was there and he was smiling, no he was grinning and his teeth were growing bigger and sharper and he was going to eat her. She ran, but the tunnels were a maze and she was getting more and more lost. One tunnel wall had a door which she opened and the human woman from the city carrying all the mugs of beer was there toweing over her. The woman threw the beer over Balgret and the beer was alike a waterfall, gushing and flowing over her like it would never end and she couldn't breath for all the beer.

Suddenly the beer was gone and she took a great gasp of air and opened her eyes. Her arms were pinned back to the wall behind her and she was bent forwards with her head soaking wet.

Time to wake up,” said Kirsten, though as Balgret lifted her head and tilted it back, she saw that she was no longer a plump, old lady, but a slender, young and beautiful woman with a twisted smile on her face.

Scroggle,” gasped Balgret, looking around for her friend.

Ah yes, let's wake your little friend up too,” replied the woman. She picked up a bucket of water and walked over to Balgret's left. Balgret craned her head around and saw Scroggle; his wrists were clamped in irons, chained to the wall behind and his body was limply leaned forwards, it looked as though his arms would be wrenched out of the sockets if he stayed like that for much longer. The woman poured the bucket of water over Scroggle's head and the goblin sprung to life, coughing and choking on the water and screaming when his throat allowed him to utter a sound.

Did you have a restful sleep?” asked the woman, unable to stifle a chuckle.

What did you give us?” demanded Balgret. “That was a potion of some kind, I knew that dream wasn't right.”

It was a dream?” asked Scroggle.

Yes, a warped and twisted dream from some magic performed by this witch!” declared Balgret.

I'm not a witch,” corrected Kirsten, “I'm a sorceress.”

Is there a difference?” asked Balgret, who had never met either before. Balgret suddenly found herself completely aflame; she struggled against the irons she was locked in but couldn't free herself and the flames were licking around her face and then they were gone. She held her breath for a moment and realised that she hadn't been burned, she felt fine, well apart from being chained up she felt fine.

Yes, there is a difference,” replied the woman tersely. Balgret realised the flames must have been an illusion of some kind and that a witch mustn't be able to do that.

Balgret?” cried Scroggle. “Are you alright? Did she hurt you?”

I'm ok,” replied Balgret.

Oh how touching,” said the woman sarcastically. “A goblin and a dwarf, how very sweet.”

What are you going to do with us?” asked Scroggle angrily. “Don't hurt my friend!”

Well I promised you a meal, but I never said you wouldn't be a part of it,” replied the woman, laughing to herself.

I don't think you're going to finish that pig just by yourself,” reasoned Balgret. “So why bother making us part of the meal too? Just let us go and we can leave you be.”

And why would I do that?” asked the woman, smirking.

She can make the food taste amazing,” volunteered Scroggle. “My friend here has a talent with spices and she can make you food like you've never tasted before!”

But only if you let us go,” added Balgret firmly.

The woman stood there looking at the pair of prisoners, thinking about the offer. She then looked up at the ceiling but seemed to be looking beyond it, shrugged and said “Deal.”

She released Balgret and Scroggle and the pair worked away in the sorceress's kitchen, using the food they found there along with Balgret's spices and made accompaniments to the pork that Balgret was so proud of that she put some extra in a bowl to leave out as an offering to the gods.

------------------------

Is that good enough for you brother?” asked Hades when the dwarf set out an offering to them. “I need to get back to my work you know.”

I think I need to try this dwarven food, if it's good then I'll leave them be,” said Zeus, smacking his lips.

And if it's not good?” asked Hades, raising one eyebrow.

Then it's my turn again,” smirked Zeus. He held out his hand and the bowl of food appeared in it which he started eating straight away.

And?” asked Hades. “Is it good? Let me try it too.”

Sorry brother, none left!” laughed Zeus, licking the last of the bowl. “I guess they earned their release.”

Zeus clapped his hands and the maze below vanished, the hurricane stopped blowing and Circe vanished, leaving the dwarf and the goblin surprised, but safe and right next to the city where they had been taken from when the gods interfered.



How the dice were used

Dwarf - Balgret
Goblin
- Scroggle
Mind Warped - Drugged by Kirsten/Cerce
Maze - The tree maze
Zeus - Appeared as Zeus
Charon (the ferryman) - Appeared as Hermes travelled to see Hades
House - Kirsten/Circe's house
Spit Roast - The pig roasting outside Kirsten/Circe's house
Locked in Irons - Locked up by Kirsten/Circe

NaNoWriMo 2017 - Story 1

Dice Used: Original Set

The wind howled between the towering buildings of the city as the moon hung like a spotlight in the clear night sky. As Lara sat huddled under blankets in her tiny studio apartment on the sixteen floor, her ears pricked up as the howling she could hear became a different sort.

She squeezed her eyes closed and pulled the blankets over her head. “No, no, no, this isn't happening,” she kept saying to herself, trying to ignore the tingling feeling in her hands and feet. “It's impossible, it can't happen, it's not true,” she whispered to herself as her whole face started to tingle. “I can't be, I refuse to be,” she shouted now, as the recent scars on her back started to burn with pain. Soon her whole body felt like it was on fire and as she writhed around in agony, she gradually and unconsciously moved to a position of crouching on all fours.

It was dark under the blankets and she hadn't turned on the light in the room, but she found her eyesight improving in the trickle of light penetrating beneath the covers from the moon outside the window. She gradually saw her forearms come into view as her night-vision allowed and when she saw the thick fur-covered arms ending in swollen, taloned paws instead of her usual slender, toned arms ending in soft, manicured hands, she started to sob. Or she tried to sob, but she couldn't for the enormous teeth sprouting in her mouth and she could feel her face being pulled forward, stretched out into a face which isn't human at all.

Lara was a junior reporter for a newspaper in the city she lived in; about a month ago, when investigating a story in her own time, Lara had been attacked by what she suspected was a werewolf. Despite investigating for that very reason, she couldn't quite believe in the existence of werewolves and so when she survived the attack, she was in denial that she would be facing the monthly transformation herself. She had been dreading the approach of the full moon just in case it was all true and had added several locks to her apartment door before that moon arrived tonight.

The apartment looked very different through wolf eyes but what struck her the most were all the strong smells it was filled with. She barked out a cough as she felt like she was choking on so many odours and vowed never to light a scented candle again. She slowly looked around the whole room, taking in everything with her new sight when she realised that she was still thinking and feeling like herself, just herself inside of a very different body. She had added all the locks to the door as she had expected that she would be an uncontrollable animal when she transformed (well, she had hoped she wouldn't be transforming at all but she always planned for the worst) but instead she felt she had complete autonomy over herself, she hadn't turned into some wild beast who would smash up her apartment and devour anyone she came across.

This put the attack she had suffered from the werewolf a month ago into a different perspective; she had assumed the beast couldn't control themselves and it was her fault for having got too close to it which had been the cause of the attack, but she knew now that it had been deliberate, a vicious attack by a fellow human in wolf form. She felt herself getting angry at this the more she thought about it, and as she went over the attack she realised that the werewolf had deliberately left her alive when they could have finished her, they chose to curse her with the same affliction they suffered with all the consciousness of a human.

As she became more angry, she felt her lips retract over her gums and a rumble of a growl roll out of her mouth. She needed to find the werewolf that turned her and... and what? Hurt them? Maybe. She'll cross that bridge when she finds whoever it was.

------------------------

Throughout the next month, Lara continued to deliver the low level reporting the newspaper asked her for, going to a local supermarket opening, reporting on a city council meeting and so on, whilst in her own time still working on investigating the werewolf which had attacked her and turned her into a werewolf herself.

Her investigations led her to local business entrepreneur Robert Grant whom she tried to pay a visit to at his out-of-town mansion but was turned away at the intercom by the gates to the property.

This wasn't just a story any more for Lara though, this was personal, and she was determined to get to the bottom of it all more so than any other story in her life.

It was two nights before the full moon, as that was how Lara thought about time now, when she took a late night trip to the Grant mansion; if they wouldn't let her in then she would have to see what she could find for herself, and if that involved a bit of breaking and entering then so be it, all in the name of a story.

She parked her car some distance away and circled round to approach the house through the wooded area which lay to the sides and rear of the property. The sky was clear and the moon was providing enough light that even through the trees she was able to comfortably see where she was going with no need for a torch. She was impressed at her own stealth as she picked her way through the trees hardly making a sound and she wondered if she was benefiting from some wolf-like tendencies even when she was her normal human self. As she neared the mansion, she saw there was a high brick wall with two rows of barbed wire running along the top of it.

Undeterred, she walked up and down the wall, studying it as she went and looking for security cameras. She couldn't see any cameras from this side of the wall and at last she found a section of wall with a few broken bricks and worn cement, enough for a bit of grip to try and climb the wall.

After a few attempts, and at one point making it close to the top before losing her footing and falling, finally Lara managed to launch herself up the wall and get two hands onto the top of the wall and one foot in a strong enough foothold to give her some leverage. She lifted herself up, grabbing on to a bracket which was sticking out of the top of the wall to hold the barbed wire in place. 'Nice of them to give me something to grab other than barbed wire there,' thought Lara. She got both feet onto the top of the wall and carefully stood up to step over the barbed wire.

Surveying the other side of the wall, Lara could see some well maintained gardens with several fountains and a large pond leading up to the large house which was her target. She could see some security cameras on the walls which seemed to be directed around the base of the house more than into the garden. She will have to approach carefully and the doors are bound to be covered by the cameras so she'll need another way in.

She jumped down to the ground, dropping to all fours as she landed and she found herself quite comfortable in that position so she started to make her way across the garden, sticking to hedges and fountains and anything else that provided her cover as she got closer to the house. This reminded her of playing Metal Gear Solid in the late 90s but in that game, you knew straight away if a security camera had seen you and you just had to hide under or box or something until the guards stopped looking for you. Here, she would have no way of knowing if she had been seen on a camera or not and that was the most nerve-wracking part for her.

She crouched behind a topiary bush to the right of the garden and peered around it at the house from a closer view. There was a large double door leading out to the garden in the middle of the house with two cameras above it and along to the left of that was another much less formal door. She squinted a little and then saw, yes, there was a camera above that door as well. She craned her head further around the bush slowly and looked to the right. There were a few windows along the back wall, presumably for various different rooms as she couldn't imagine it was one long room. She looked at the angles of the cameras she could see and it was hard to tell but she was reasonably sure that last window on the right either wouldn't be covered or would be right on the edge of the coverage, that had to be her target.

After taking a circuitous route through the garden to get to the end of the house under as much cover as possible, Lara reached the window. It was a standard double-glazed upvc window but on the warm night, the top of the window had been left propped open. Lara had always been a small woman and her flexibility had been increasing dramatically over the last couple of months; she sized up the window, comparing it to herself, pulled it open as wide as it would go and folded herself through it arms and head first.

She came through into the room by planting her hands on the windowsill with the weight of her body rapidly following through the gap. Lara suddenly saw a future of her knocking everything off the windowsill as she collapsed in a heap onto the floor, but instead she kept her arms straight as he legs cleared the window and she somehow performed a graceful backflip landing on her feet in front of the window. She had never even attempted anything as gymnastic as a back flip, she could barely perform a cartwheel when she was at school and she quietly thanked her newfound agility for her surprising athleticism.

As no alarm seemed to have gone off and there were no sounds coming from elsewhere in the house, Lara had a look around the room she found herself in; there was a large desk near the window, with drawers on each side of a large, leather chair with two small chairs facing it on the other side. The sides of the room had various cupboards as well as a very large, old-fashioned painted portrait of an old man holding a large hunting rifle in one hand and leaning on a walking stick with the other. Lara walked over to the portrait and read on the plaque underneath it that it was a portrait of Robert Grant himself. She took a closer look at the man and there was a look in his eyes captured by the artist which sent a shudder down her spine. She dragged her eyes away from the picture and started to look around the room.

Almost every cupboard and drawer was locked, the only one which wasn't locked turned out to be the drinks cabinet which made Lara wonder what was locked away if those expensive looking bottles of spirits weren't worth keeping behind a lock. In amongst the bottles and glasses, Lara found an ice pick and she thought it had to at least be worth a try. She took the ice pick to the nearest cupboard and jammed it into the keyhole and started to wiggle it. After a couple of minutes of doing that, she gave up on it, but proceeded to the next cupboard and tried again there; she was eventually successful on the fourth cupboard she tried as she heard a satisfying click.

Inside the cupboard was a real assortment of things, including battered, old leather-bound books, religious crosses and most worrying of all, a couple of boxes of bullets which when Lara looked inside them looked distinctively like silver bullets. She pulled out one of the books and tilted it towards the moonlight from the window and read the title on the cover was 'A Study of Lycanthropy'. She flicked through the book and the text was written in calligraphy which made it too difficult to discern in the darkness even with her enhanced night-vision but there were also illustrations throughout the book; they started off showing the transformation process which Lara herself had undergone almost a month ago and then showed the werewolves as snarling beasts, quite unlike Lara's own lupine form and then to her horror the illustrations were of the killing and dismemberment of various werewolves and she found she couldn't look at it any more and quickly put it back onto the shelf.

There were some papers in a folder which she looked through and to her relief weren't written in calligraphy. One paper contained a diagram of the map of a castle which according to the legend was called Blackheath Castle, a name which rang a bell to Lara. On another paper she found a list of names, most of which had been crossed off and written in blue biro at the bottom of the list she saw her own name, Lara Seberg. She stared at the name for a couple of minutes, somehow willing it off the piece of paper but of course it didn't vanish.

When she snapped out of it, she scanned up the list until she saw another name which wasn't crossed out, Joseph Halfpenny. She committed the name to her memory, put the papers back in the folder and put the folder back where she found it, closed the cupboard but without locking it, and returned the ice pick back to where she had found it; she needed to get out of here and fast, before she became the next crossed-out name.

She carefully pulled herself back through the window and pushed it closed to the small amount it was open when she found it, dropped to all fours again and made her way much more directly back through the garden, heading towards the wall she had scaled.

As she approached the wall, she looked behind her and saw a light on in a room on the top floor and as she looked, another light came on on the floor below; something she had done had alerted them to her presence, she needed to get out of there fast.

She ran along next to the wall, looking for a section of wall which would offer her some grip when she saw a water butt against the wall a little further on. She broke into a sprint and as she jumped onto the water butt and sprang up the wall, floodlights burst to life and lit the whole garden up. In her haste to get out of sight, Lara cut her palms on the barbed wire but within a couple of seconds of the lights going on, she was on the other side of the wall and sprinting away.

Lara didn't miss a beat when she got back to her car, jumping in and speeding back into the city as fast as possible. It was only once she was safely back in her studio apartment with all the bolts locked that she caught her breath and wrote down everything she had discovered.

------------------------

Knowing it would be the full moon that night and having spent the previous day preparing, and getting her actual work done so that her boss would be off her back, Lara started the drive out to Castle Blackheath. She had never heard of the castle which she read is mostly ruined and needs serious work to make it safe for the public but it lay only an hour drive away from the city. Lara had seen enough horror movie tropes to know that going there at night would be a really bad idea, so it was nine o'clock in the morning when she arrived at the ruins of Castle Blackheath. Unlike the castle she had been to on a school trip when she was younger, there was no car park and visitor centre here. She found a reasonably flat piece of grass and parked her car up there, got out the things she had packed up in the boot of the car and started to walk over to the ruins.

The ground dipped down in front of the castle ruins, which Lara thought must have been from a moat, she remembered pictures from her history lessons of castles with a moat around them. The wall marking the outer defence of the castle still stood quite high in some places, with arrow slits clearly visible, but for the most part the wall had toppled with stones filling in the moat and no way of getting up to the still-standing sections that Lara could see.

The gate which demarked the entrance to the castle was mostly whole but the right-hand side was partially collapsed and Lara felt nervous as she walked underneath the archway and saw a rusty portcullis hanging overhead as she did. Once past the gate, the open area within the walls was very large with a few buildings scattered about which isn't what Lara was expecting at all but she realised that the Disney castle and Hogwarts were possibly not accurate depictions of castles and she shouldn't base her expectations on them.

As she walked across the open land, she could see that there were stone outlines of walls interspersed on the ground and so there probably used to be buildings there. The grass was uneven and she almost lost her balance at one point but her reactions to the wobble were very swift and she kept walking. The tallest building, a tower which looked in one piece from where she was entering, once she got closer she could see that it was standing with only two remaining sides, some rotting wooden steps still spiraling in one corner with chunks missing and a tree growing in the middle. She sighed as she thought that was where her best hope of finding something would be.

She stood in the middle of the castle area and turned on the spot, taking in a full three hundred and sixty degree view of the crumbling ruins. A single story building in the far corner caught her eye as looking like it might be in one piece still and she marched her way over to it.

There was a thick, wooden door, surprisingly well in tact, barring the way into the building. Lara pushed down the latch and gave the door a hard shove with her shoulder and opened the door a couple of feet wide. It was dark inside the building and it took her eyes a moment to adjust when she stepped inside. Before she got a chance to take in the interior of the room though, she was grabbed from behind and a knife was at her throat.

Who are you?” growled a voice in her ear.

L...Lara,” she stuttered in terrified reply, “Lara Seberg, I'm a r..reporter.” The knife pressed a little harder against her skin and she felt something wet trickling down her front. “Please don't hurt me!”

Why shouldn't I?” rumbled the voice in her ear. Lara's whole body shuddered in fear and to her shock, she felt the teeth in her mouth grow a little and her lips automatically curl up into a snarl and her own growl left her throat.

The knife dropped away from her throat and her attacker spun her round so that her face was against his as he peered at her mouth. She recognised him then and as relief replaced fear she felt the very unpleasant retraction of fangs.

Mister Halfpenny?” she asked cautiously. “Joseph Halfpenny?”

You're her aren't you?” he asked in reply. “The one I turned that got away.”

So it was you,” replied Lara calmly as she faced her attacker from a couple of moons ago. Then to her surprise, he wrapped his arms around her and squeezed her tightly in what she realised was a great, big hug.

She stood there, passively receiving the hug but too startled to do anything until he let her go and looked at her with a big grin on his face.

You found me!” he exclaimed to her joyously, his hands gripping her arms with the knife pressed flat against her bicep.

Yes,” replied Lara, “now please remove your hands.” He paused a moment and then dropped his hands from her slightly abashed.

I thought it was him,” said Joseph, “the old man.”

Robert Grant?”

I don't know his name, I should have known you didn't smell like him though. I just panicked a bit.”

That's rather beside the point at the moment though, don't you think Mr Halfpenny?” asked Lara sternly.

What? Why?”

YOU TURNED ME INTO A WEREWOLF!” she yelled at him, dropping all pretence of calmness. “How could you do that to me?” she continued, taking a step towards him as he took a step backwards. “How you you do that to anyone?”

I'm sorry!” protested Joseph, “I'm so sorry, I had to.”

You had to?” barked Lara. “Oh this should be good. And why, exactly, did you have to turn me into a WEREWOLF?” Joseph flinched as Lara yelled in his face, his back now against the wall having taken a few steps away from her.

Because of him,” he replied sadly, looking at the floor. “Because of the old man.”

Robert Grant made you turn me into a werewolf?” asked Lara sceptically.

Not specifically.” He raised his head and looked up into Lara's eyes and she saw they were wet with tears and took a step back from him. “He's been killing us. He killed them all, there was only me left.” The tears broke free from his eyes and streamed down his cheeks, a single sob escaping his control.

Who did he kill, Joseph?” asked Lara gently now, her anger washing away with his tears.

My pack.”

Your family?”

A pack is stronger than family,” he said firmly. “We'd been together such a long time. We never hurt anyone. They were all such good people.”

A pack of werewolves?” asked Lara and Joseph nodded. “If you never hurt anyone, why did Grant kill them?”

Because he's a monster!” With that, Joseph sank to the floor. “He's a monster.”

What kind?” asked Lara and Joseph looked up puzzled. “Like a vampire or something?” Joseph let out a single laugh.

Oh no, not that kind of monster, a regular old human monster. I think I need to fill you in, don't I?”

I think you owe me that much.”

Fine, I've got some chairs and a camping stove through here, let's go have a cuppa and I'll explain.”

They went through to the adjoining room, which was in tact but just bare stone. There were a few arrow slits in the wall letting in a little light, though neither of them really needed it. Joseph filled a pan with water from a five gallon water container, one of several he had stored there and put it on the camping stove to boil. He made the tea in a couple of stainless steel mugs which made the tea taste slightly metallic when Lara had a slurp and wasn't helped by the UHT milk either but she was still pleased to have the drink.

They sat down in a couple of fold-up camping chairs and Joseph proceeded to tell Lara his story.

I was born a werewolf. My mother was one, my father wasn't but he knew; whether he liked it or not I'll never know but he knew and he helped me to understand when I was old enough to. We all lived together, the pack. We had all four houses of a terrace near the edge of a little village and we were so close it just felt like one big house.” He smiled wistfully. “I had it all then and I never even realised. Most of them in the pack were werewolves but there were a couple like my dad who weren't but it didn't make them any less a part of the pack.

I met a girl when I was a teenager, Angela, and the pack welcomed her in. When I came of age I had the pack's permission to tell her about us and she didn't leave. I think she was just glad to know to be honest, she always knew I was hiding something but didn't pressure me on it. She was amazing.

She became a part of the pack in more ways than one, she asked me to turn her and after a lot of discussion with the pack, everyone agreed to it. Running with her when we were both wolves I think was the best experience of my life. But all good things come to an end don't they. And that end was the old man.”

Robert Grant?” asked Lara.

If that's what you say he's called. Turns out rich, old men get bored. They need new hobbies, and when they like hunting then normal hunting just doesn't do it for them anymore.”

How did he even know about you?” asked Lara.

Angela wasn't as careful as the rest of it, it happens with new werewolves; they get all excited and they want to see how far they can go, what they can get up to. She was running around the woods around his house and, well, I guess she must have done something which wasn't very wolf-like as he knew, or suspected I suppose. He shot her, the bastard.” With that Joseph broke down into sobs. Lara quietly waited for him to compose himself and carry on.

He shot her and she was bleeding badly, so when she made it back to us, she left an easy to follow trail for him. She died that night, I never got to see her as a human again. We didn't know he'd followed her either, we had no idea who we were dealing with, what kind of monster she had stumbled across.

Maybe he came back the next night and found we weren't there, as we were human again by then, maybe that's when he figured out what we are... what we were. So we had no idea of the danger at the next full moon and we went to our usual area of the woods, we thought we were safe, we thought there was nothing to worry about. He was waiting for us, him and his man servants. They picked us off so fast that it was all I could do to run, to get out of there. He killed them all, all of my pack, every one of them. I lost Angela a month before and then I lost my whole pack.

You can't know what that's like, like a limb has been severed, like all your limbs have been severed. We were one unit, one pack, we're not meant to be alone. I'm not meant to be alone. And what could I do against him then? He's still hunting me, he knows I got away and he's hell bent on killing me too. I can't keep running from him on my own!

So you turned me?” asked Lara critically.

You weren't the first,” replied Joseph sullenly. “I thought if I could make a new pack, maybe we could take him on, but any time I turned someone else, he found them, he got to them. Until you that is.”

What's different about me?”

I didn't know who you were to make contact with you, I couldn't tell you what had happened to you or why, I couldn't help you. But equally, he didn't know who you were either, he doesn't know that I turned you, he doesn't know anything about you.”

But I didn't want to be turned, I don't want to be a werewolf!”

I'm sorry, I didn't give you that choice and that was wrong of me, I was scared and desperate, and I still am, and I just thought of the legend and maybe you were the right person and.... and I don't know.”

Legend? What legend?”

Just something my mum used to tell me, a story I guess but she always called it a legend. Maybe it's all just made up but I always believed it. The legend is basically that the destroyer of wolves tries to destroy our kind and they are stopped, slain, by a red-haired wolf under a shooting star. I saw your red hair and I thought maybe, maybe it would be you.”

Well I've been called a lot of things for having red hair, but never a legend before,” Lara stated. “You're joking though, right?”

What?” exclaimed Joseph. “What about this whole situation makes you think I'm joking? The hiding out in a ruined castle with a camping stove and a sleeping bag? The loss of everyone I've ever loved? Or the fact that if I don't do something drastic then I'll be as dead as them as soon as the moon is full again, which by the way is tonight

There's no reason to be mad at me!” shouted back Lara. “I didn't ask to be a part of this whole mess. Oh and you might want to ask how I found you here!”

How did you find me here?”

Grant has a plan of this place in his house, along with a list of what I assume is all the werewolves he knows of, including me, with all but your name and mine crossed off.”

What? Then he's coming here, we have to go!”

Or we make a plan, knowing he's coming. We stand and fight, we don't let him get away with this any more.”

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There were a few clouds in the sky but not enough to block the bright, full moon from casting its light onto the ruins of Castle Blackheath as Robert Grant approached, accompanied by his driver and two hunting assistants. They parked their immaculate off-road vehicles right next to the moat on the approach to the gate into the old castle and unloaded the hunting gear from the back of the vehicles.

Don't forget the special bullets,” Grant said to one of his assistants, “we want to finish him off this time.”

The group of men loaded their rifles and made their way into the castle.

Once through the gate, the men diverged, two going left around the wall and two going right, circling around the inside of the castle ruins, assessing the area as they went. A cloud drifted in front of the moon just as the men were all close to the opposite side to the gate and nearly at the door Lara had met Joseph through earlier, when the portcullis slammed down inside the crumbling gatehouse. The men turned to look at the great noise the gate made but the sudden loss of the moonlight and the distance meant that they didn't see the wolf sprinting away, agilely leaping amongst the crumbled walls.

Robert Grant ordered two of the men to go back across to the gatehouse to check that out, it could have been the gate finally giving way but more likely it had been the wolf.

The cloud passed the moon and in the returned light, Grant could see the wooden door recessed in the surviving building next to them. He motioned to the remaining man who went to the door and shoved it open and they entered the building.

It was once they were inside the building that a wolf attacked the two men who had gone to investigate the gatehouse. Their short-lived cries of pain and terror were not heard from inside the building before they were silenced forever.

Get a torch out, man” whispered Robert Grant angrily at his employee as he tried to pick his way through the inside of the building. “Can't see a damned thing in here!” He thrust his rifle out in front of him as he blindly crossed the room. “A torch I said!” he snarled angrily behind him. But instead of seeing a torch being lit, he heard a heavy thud and saw a flicker of a shadow at the shaft of light let in by the door.

Furious at the incompetence of his servants now, he retraced his steps back to the door, and nearly fell flat on his face as he tripped on a large, heavy object on the floor. He crouched down to see what it was an realised it was his driver. “You fool!” he yelled at the deceased man, before going through the man's pockets to retrieve the keys to the vehicle he had arrived in and the spare bullets he had been carrying. He then slung the man's rifle over his back, no point in leaving perfectly good weapons behind. That wolf had to be somewhere nearby to have done this, and so quietly too, this one might be a challenge. And once he has finished off this one, he can find that reporter and mount her head next to it, these creatures are a danger to everyone and he's the hero that will save them all. Maybe her newspaper will write an article about what a hero he is, that would be a sweet finish indeed.

Cautiously, Grant stood with this back to the wall next to the door and then slowly peered out of the doorway. The moon was lighting everything up nicely and he could clearly see the ruins now, but couldn't see any sign of his other two men, they should be back by now. He leaned around the frame a little more and caught sight of some movement over at the tower, that must be the beast. He checked his rifle was loaded with the silver bullets and the safety was off before edging around the door and silently making his way along the building wall to work his way around to the tower unnoticed.

The two wolves sat in their positions, watching the old man work his way around the ruined castle walls. It was interesting to watch a human thinking they were progressing undetected whilst being so obvious to a wolf's senses. Lara felt a little sick at what she had seen Joseph do to the two men by the gatehouse and she couldn't bring herself to take down the other man who was with Grant either so Joseph had to do that too. Lara couldn't help thinking they were just doing their job and they didn't deserve that but at the same time, in her heart she knew that those men knew what they were hunting, that they were hunting people no matter what form they are in, and that they would kill her given a blink of a chance, but it didn't make her any more capable of carrying out the act.

She wondered, as she watched the man, if she would feel any different about the leader of this hunt, the man who had hunted and killed all of Joseph's family, all of his pack, knowing that they were people, and the man who has her name on his kill list too.

Lara sniffed the air and could tell that Joseph was in position; she was still in awe of the incredible senses granted to her when she was in her wolf form. As the old man neared the base of the tower, she knew it was time for her to move. Just as she was about to make the jump from the castle wall onto the broken section of wall of the tower in front of her, something above caught her eye; it was a shooting star, and there was another one, and another one. Lara knew Joseph will have seen this too, he was already convinced in his legend and now he had to be thinking that this confirmed it. Perhaps his confidence would give them the boost they needed in the end, Lara could only hope that would be the case.

Grant stepped into the tower just as a small stone fell from one side of the tower. He looked up just in time to see the wolf jumping down from the wall and onto one of the decaying floors above him. He instinctively brought his rifle up and fired a few rounds but he didn't want to waste the silver bullets and he wasn't sure how accurate they would be shooting through the rotting wooden floors. The beast had the high ground and he needed to gain himself an advantage too and he looked around for a recess he could hide himself in to try and snipe the monster.

Lara had done the first part of the plan, she had been the distraction to allow Joseph to get into place at the base of the tower in anticipation of Grant trying to flee once the action became up close; he was equipped for violence only at a distance but her teeth were meant for a more personal encounter. At least the old man hadn't managed to get a shot off on her as she moved, he was a faster shot that she was expecting though, she needed to be careful not to underestimate him, he is a very experienced hunter after all, but tonight he has also become the hunted.

As he looked around for somewhere to hide himself, the best place Robert Grant could find was the corner of the tower, underneath a rotting and largely collapsed spiral staircase, where some fallen stones and parts of the staircase formed a bit of a shelter. He wedged himself in there as quietly as he could, controlled his breathing and silently started to look all around himself and strained his hearing for the tinest noise which would give away the beast's location.

Lara crouched down at the top of the tower, waiting for Joseph's signal for her to spring into action. She was more still that she could ever have imagined it was possible to be, a silent statue, muscles tensed and ready to leap.

The signal came at last as Joseph let out a great, deafening howl to the moon. “Awhooooooooooooo!”

The split second the sound started, Lara had jumped from the top floor to the floor below, landing with a thud on the wooden boards still remaining, relying on the sound of Joseph's howl to cover her landing. What she didn't see, was that the boards were too weak to take the force of her landing on them, and to her shock, she felt the board break and the whole floor began to collapse. There were some large stones on the floor which must have formed part of the walls of the tower at one point and they crashed through along with the splintering wood.

When Lara came to, still in wolf form, she saw that Joseph was licking her leg. When she tried to move it, she felt pain shoot through her body and she realised Joseph was licking blood off her. She tried to ask him what had happened to Grant, but only a whine came out of her muzzle and she felt so frustrated at not being able to speak.

Joseph grabbed the scruff of her neck gently in his teeth and started to drag her out of the ruins of the tower. As she was sliding along the floor, she saw for herself what had become of Robert Grant as a large stone stood where the man's head should have been.

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How the dice were used
Moon - the werewolves Lara Seberg & Joseph Halfpenny
Walking Stick - Robert Grant, the old man
Tower - the tower in the castle at the end
Die - the twist of fate which led to Robert Grant's demise
House - Robert Grant's house
Shooting Star - part of the legend
Tower Block - where Lara lives and we first meet her
Learner Badge - Lara is learning to be a werewolf

2017 - Short Stories

So this year I am writing short stories based on the rolls of a selection of Rory's Story Cubes.

As I finish each story, I'll post it in here, along with the dice which were rolled to create it.

The first one I finished this morning, so I'll post that up shortly.