104. Grief Encounters

I had no idea if Biadet’s note meant we should attack the giant’s penis or if we should watch out for him using it to attack us. Personally, I preferred to avoid both.

A goal I considered well within reach as we wouldn’t be facing the giant as enemies but prisoners. I imagined the conversation to go something like:

“What up, Keezy?”

“Yo, Gargantua. Delivery for the boss.”

“No problemo, go straight through. Ta ta for now.”

“Thanks. Cheerio.”

All very civilised, no fighting, no need for penis attacks. 

“Do you think the other group are in there?” asked Claire, snapping me out of my wishful thinking. She was referring to Gideon and the Cool Kids who Gullen had sent here on a reconnaissance mission. 

“Probably,” I said.  We were approaching the fort on a wide, dusty road that ran parallel to the canyon and led straight to the fort’s rear entrance. 

Keezy and the trolls had reverted to their soldier forms and wanted to enter the fort as though we were on official business and bluff our way across the bridge. This was what the trolls were good at and I was happy to go along with their plan.

“If things go south,” I said, “I’m sure the trolls will take care of it.”

“So am I,” said Claire. “That’s what worries me.”

I felt Claire’s concern for our fellow Visitors was unwarranted. It was obvious the trolls wanted to avoid any confrontation and even took pride in their ability to walk among their enemies undetected. 

And it wasn’t just their faces they could transform. They had also changed their merchant clothes into military uniforms, by turning them inside out. They had reversible clothing, uniforms on one side, normal clothes on the other. Proper spy stuff.

Everything was much easier when you were with people who knew what they were doing. And could shapeshift. And couldn’t be hurt. So much easier.

The fort was a wooden structure with walls made from entire tree trunks sharpened to a point like pencils, lined up like jagged teeth. We were out in the open and I expected to be spotted by a lookout, but as we got closer it became apparent the walls were unmanned.

It was also clear there had been some kind of battle here. The gates, which were huge, lay on the ground, broken and splintered like they’d been knocked down from the inside. 

The open gateway revealed a large, empty courtyard surrounded by various buildings, and another entrance opposite leading straight onto the bridge. 

“How did you defeat all the soldiers?” I asked Keezy. 

“I didn’t,” he replied.

Getting information out of the trolls was like getting blood out of a stone, which was appropriate, I guess.

“So we just go through the fort, across the bridge and then we’re in Monsterland?” asked Claire.

“Yes, but then it’s quite a long way to the castle,” said one of the trolls. “You should be prepared for a lengthy journey.”

“Plenty of time for more stories,” said another troll to Maurice.

Then again, maybe it was just me they were reticent to talk to. Everyone else seemed to be getting on like a house on fire.

A voice rang out from inside the fort. “Over here! Nice one!”

A small, flat object flew from one side of the entrance to the other. Then back again.

“What is it?” said Maurice.

“I believe,” said Dudley, “it is a Frisbee.”

Once he said it, it became obvious that’s what it was. They were tossing a Frisbee from opposing sides of the courtyard. How they’d made one, I couldn’t say. Obviously it wasn’t made of plastic.

The shouts continued as we got closer. Two people by the sounds of it. 

“Sick Hammer!”

“Chicken wing!”

The voices stopped as we passed through the entrance.

“Hey,” I said. “How’s it going?”

The interior of the fort was like a small town. There was a large main building and then dozens of smaller ones. The place had an eerie, empty feel to it. Other than the two tossers.

On the far left was a young man of Asian descent. When I say Asian, I mean from the Indian subcontinent or around there. Possibly Middle-Eastern. I know Americans use the term when referring to people from the Far East, but I’m not American. In any case, this guy had brown skin.

More noticeable than that, though, was his haircut. Half his head was shaved, while the other side was long and spiky. A striking look.

On the other side, was a white guy. With dreadlocks. They were blond and tied back with a red and white bandana. He had the Frisbee clutched to his chest like he thought we were here to take it away from him.

“You’re Gideon’s group, right?” Since we were going to tell them Gullen sent us, it made sense I would do the talking. I had the most experience handling pressure situations and was least likely to slip up. “We were in Probet with you.”

They started walking towards us from either side.

“Don’t recall seeing you there,” said Dreads. 

“Me neither,” said Half-hair.

Even though we had arrived here from another world, just twenty of us, nobody in our group had made the slightest impression on either of them.

“Oh wait,” said Dreads. “I remember her.”

He pointed at Jenny. Of course.

“Yeah? Well done.” Five seconds in and I was already annoyed. I took a breath to calm myself. No reason to get wound up. In and out, five minutes. “Where’s the rest of your group?”

“Why?” said Half-hair. 

“Why? That’s what you want to know? Why?” So much for playing it nice and cool. I had intended to make up some bullshit about Gullen sending us here and get across the bridge and we done. Instead I was getting attitude from some git with a ridiculous haircut. And even more galling, it actually looked quite good on him. “Oh, I don’t know, maybe because we’re the only human beings here from Planet Earth, trapped in a relentless cycle of fighting for survival in a world full of actual fucking monsters, and I thought it would be nice to say ‘Hi’. But if you can’t even show basic good manners or a little common courtesy, I guess I was wrong. My mistake. Please accept my apologies for interrupting your extremely important game of Ultimate Frisbee, you pair of surly fuckshits.”

I don’t think ‘fuckshit’ is an actual word, but I was too worked up to care.

They both looked somewhat shocked by my tirade. There was also quite a confused atmosphere emanating from behind me. This wasn’t part of the plan.

“I didn’t mean it like that,” said Half-hair in a slightly wavering voice. “I was just surprised to see you in the middle of nowhere and wondered why you were here.” He appeared to be on the verge of tears.

The other one closed in and put his arm around him, while giving me a disapproving glare. “You wanna take a chill pill, dude. We ain’t your enemy.”

Personally, I consider any white person with dreadlocks to be my enemy, but perhaps I had overreacted. 

I turned around to find my party edging away, like they were embarrassed to be seen with me. Even the trolls were decidedly unimpressed. Fuck the lot of them.

“Let’s try this again. My name is Colin.” I patted myself on the chest like I was identifying myself to mentally-challenged children, which was neither polite or courteous but fully justified as far as I was concerned (reasons: see above). “What is your name?” 

“I’m Marc, with a C,” said Dreads, which really didn’t improve my opinion of him. Did he want to make sure I spelled his name correctly in case I wanted to put him down as my emergency contact?

“Zane,” said the other one, wiping his nose with a sniffle.

My lot introduced themselves one by one. The trolls said nothing.

“Okay, good,” I said. “Do you think you could call the others? It would be easier to tell you why we’re here all together.”

Marc put his fingers in his mouth and let out a piercing whistle. I’d always wanted to be able to do that. And it wasn’t a tuneless blast; it pitched up and down in a pleasing skirl. The mere existence of these people infuriated me.

A window opened on the upper storey of the main building and a head poked out. “What’s up?”

“Visitors,” Marc shouted back, pointing at us like we weren’t the only other people within ten miles of the place.

“I’ll be right down.” The head disappeared.

A few seconds later, he came out of the main building. He was the one who had got into an argument with Tin back in Probet. The tattoo completely covering his right arm was hard to miss, but it was his face I couldn’t stop staring at, or rather, his facial hair. Back in Probet he had had a goatee, but it had evolved into something far more prominent—a handlebar moustache. 

“Hey now, I’m Gideon.” He stood with his arms crossed, sleeve-tattoo nicely positioned for full visibility, and looked us over. “Did Gullen send you?”

“Yes,” I said. “He wants you to wait for reinforcements. They should be here any time now. Anyway, he sent us on a special mission, so we’ll be on our way.”

If only it were that simple.

“You’re headed into Monsterland?” asked Gideon, grabbing the curled tip of his ‘tash and stretching it out.

“That’s right. Can’t talk about it. Gullen’s orders—you know how he is, right?”

Gideon let go of the elongated lick of hair and it rolled back up. “And you won’t be needing any weapons?”

He had a point. None of us were armed, not even the soldiers.

“Ah, yes. We lost our gear in a krimpers attack. Big herd of krimpers. Do you know about krimpers?”

“Of course,” said Gideon.

Now, I had planned to go into an elaborate explanation of how we lost our gear and weapons, but Gideon’s response threw me. Of course?! He knew all about krimpers, the creature that I had just invented?

“Right… so, you know how hard it is too outrun them. We ditched everything that would weigh us down and just pegged it.”

Gideon continued nodding like this was all old news to him.

“And, as you know, they’re obsessed with shiny objects, so we tossed our weapons to distract them. Best way to avoid them swarming us and picking the flesh off our bones.”

“I wouldn’t say it’s the best way, but not a bad move.”

Not the best way? Really? He knew a better way to deal with my imaginary monsters that didn’t actually exist? Pretentious fuck.

“Yeah, well, we did the best we could,” I said through gritted teeth. The important thing was to keep things moving and get out of there. “I don’t suppose there’s an armoury around here we could resupply ourselves from?”

“There is,” said Gideon. “You can help yourselves. Plenty of  everything.”

I looked over at Keezy who nodded. It would obviously be quicker for him to just kill Gideon and the Gidiots—and I wasn’t totally against that line of thinking—but Keezy was a roleplayer at heart and leaving here without being detected was a matter of pride.

“This way,” said Gideon, and he led us towards a building away from the main structure. He opened the heavy door to reveal a room stuffed full of weapons.

We took what we wanted and even found a bunch of useful tools and bags. 

“I don’t suppose you’ve got any spare spoons lying about?” I asked. 

“Zane,” said Gideon, “go get them some cutlery from the mess. And bring Stella back with you. She should be in the meditation room.”

Had the fort been built with a meditation room, or had they renamed one of the rooms like only true hipster douchebags would? 

Zane went off to get us some cutlery. 

Everyone grabbed some stuff. Dudley found a nice bow, Claire loaded up with all the daggers she could find, and I decided to try using a shield along with the sword I picked up. It was fairly pointless as I was sure the trolls would make us dump the weapons once we got across the bridge, but we all did our part in maintaining the charade.

It would have been nice to spend the night, have something to eat, maybe a bath, but I couldn’t see Keezy allowing it, and the sooner we left, the less chance of someone saying the wrong thing and giving the game away.

When I looked around to see if the others were done, I noticed we were alone in the armoury. Gideon and Marc had been in the room with us a moment ago, but now they weren’t. I went to the door, half expecting it to be locked, but it opened without any trouble. 

I walked out and found Gideon and his guys, now joined by a girl, waiting for us. They had got changed and were wearing armour and carrying swords. Everything was polished gold and silver, which made it hard to look at them. 

It wasn’t clear what had happened. Had we been sussed? Did they have orders from Gullen to kill us? If they wanted a fight, I had no problem setting the trolls on them. Have at it!

I turned to give Keezy the nod, but two things immediately seemed off. First, the trolls were at the back of the group—not the best place from which to launch an attack—and second, they looked terrified.

“This is Stella,” said Gideon. “She’s our secret weapon.”

And they had a secret weapon. Great. 

“Didn’t you have one more member in your group,” said Claire. “I think there was another girl.

“Yeah,” said Stella. She was a tall girl with black hair piled up in a beehive and heavy mascara around her eyes. “Roona. She’s back in Dargot. Gullen’s keeping her to make sure we do what he says.”

“Sounds like him,” I said, trying to act like I wasn’t bricking myself. “So, why are you guys all dressed up? Going somewhere nice?”

“Gullen’s sending you on an important mission, isn’t he?” said Gideon. “Probably quite dangerous.”

“Probably,” I agreed. “He wants us to find the Archfiend and negotiate a peace with him.”

Gideon turned to Stella, who nodded. “He’s telling the truth.”

Shit. She was a truth teller like God. Our whole plan was built on a giant stack of lies, and they had the perfect counter. We were fucked.

“How about this,” said Gideon, “how about you stay here and wait for the reinforcements, and we go on this mission for you?”

Wait, what?

AN: Thank you to all who have bought the ebook on Amazon. Book One is currently #20 on their Humorous Fantasy bestsellers chart!

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