Friday, August 10, 2012

Return of the Hapless Hobbits - Part II

The Abandoning of Elizabeth Warden

There they stood facing the wooden door behind which were imprisoned the lovely Elizabeth Warden and her dear father. However, having broken the incredibly massive Déjà vu Ischandar was loath to attempt to try the lock for the zillianth time and set off the alarm once again. This time, finally, instead of picking the lock, Ishcandar whispered to the girl behind the door, “I’m sorry, but I can not get you out of here just now. I will have my father bring the town guard here to rescue you. I’m sorry but we must get out of here in order to save you.”

With this, the girl began crying.  And so they left her, and her poor father, in their rush to avoid both the alarm triggered by touching the handle of her door, and more pressing on their minds in fact, the horrifying  Déjà vu.

They moved to the prison exit. Bernie disabled the thin wire, picked the lock and opened the door. They were in the outer corridor again. This time however the Déjà vu was not compelling them into the pale blue light again, so they went to the next door where the light had been before, and Bernie, none the wiser about any of it, listened carefully. There was no noise on the other side. He picked the lock and with a low “click” the door swung open. Inside the next room, the same room where the master of the Five Animals Hall had cured Ishcandar of the Tears of the Black Lotus poison in his finger, they found no one. The room itself was filled with tables and shelves packed with ancient dusty tomes, burning cauldrons, glasses with bubbling fluids, strange mists and vapors, brown and green bottles lining antique wooden shelves, and innumerable apparatus on various desks. The walls were lined with heavy wooden shelves or long tapestries. Ishcandar tried his best to find anything that looked even remotely like a bottle of wine. There was, however, nothing of the sort there, and even he did not dare attempt to swill down what he saw in the dim glass jars round about him. They passed through the room as quiet as Hobbits who are sneaking, which is to say in utmost silence. Not even a rat would have noticed their passing. As they passed the center of the room Ishcandar considered taking the red marble statue of the Phoenix on its pedestal. However, it was far too large and heavy for him to move, so they passed it without comment and kept moving. At the far end of the room in the corner there was a thick red curtain with gold tassles along the bottom.

Bernie moved forward and very carefully slid the curtain aside slightly, and peered out. He motioned for them to follow. And so they entered the central hall, known to them as White Tiger Hall, as in the center of the otherwise empty chamber was a white marble statue of a ferocious tiger. However, around the statue Ishcandar saw a pale blue glow. And then he noticed that in front of the statue there was a silloutte of a man in black platemale carrying a shield and a sword.

A voice echoed throughout the chamber. “There is no time left, … there is no time left, … there is no time left…”

The man was walking towards them. However, he made no noise at all. Not even the faintest stirring of sound.

Ishcandar took out the scrap of the calendar he had found. He looked at it, but he could not make out the month, day or year. However, he could see that there was a picture of a little angel holding up a clock with her little wings behind her back. He could not get a bead on the date, no matter how hard he tried. He took his eyes off the calendar, and looking up found that they were all standing in an old musty attic room. There they saw the girl from the calendar picture holding a clock in her hand, and staring out the attic window dreamily. It was a sunny summer day outside, old willow trees swaying in the wind, and beyond a grassy field was a lovely little brook burbling into a pond covered in lilacs and lily pads. The girl was crying.

The Girl That Was No More

The black knight stood in the room towering over the girl. He seemed poised to strike as his sword was raised over his head. They still heard the echoing voice repeating, “… There is no time left, …there is no time left, … there is no time left…”

The girl began turning the clock hands backwards with her little finger. And as she did she seemed to get younger and younger and younger. Ishcandar suddenly wanted to tear the terrible clock from her hands and began running towards her. But he felt as though he were moving in slow motion, and as she turned the clock hands backwards and grew younger and younger, the black knight, also moving in slow motion, slashed downward with his sword. It all happened so slowly, and yet too quickly for Ishcandar to do more than watch helplessly as the events tumbled forward. The girl grew younger and younger until she became a tiny infant, and less than that, and then vanished, as the knight’s sword swung in a long slow arc just over her head. Having missed his target the knight stumbled forward and tripped, falling headlong into a bookshelf, from which many books slowly tumbled into the air, scattering papers, including a wall calendar that had been poised on the top of the bookcase. The calendar’s pages broke free and tumbled through the air like so many leaves in the wind.

The scene faded and they found themselves back in the White Tiger Hall. The black knight was gone, but the pale blue glow remained. However the glow was also slowly fading, and then finally vanished from view. Ishcandar and Lido heaved a huge sigh of relief. Bernie, however, was shocked to the core by what had just happened. He had never experienced anything like that in his life, and was not sure that he had not gone completely insane.

“Bernie, let’s not worry about that now,” whispered Lido. “Let’s get out of here, and we can discuss it later over some tall drinks and dinner.”

“Oh? Drinks? That’s an excellent idea! Let’s go!” Ishcandar chimed in with a whisper.

When Hobbits Fumble

“Ok, ok,” said Bernie, seeming to snap out of it. Lido dragged him by the sleeve and they moved past the white tiger statue. They moved quietly past another red curtain. Inside they heard voices. They tip toed as quietly as possible. Lido moved passed as silently as a shadow. But oddly enough Ishcandar, still somewhat drunk, and a bit disoriented from the most recent events, scuffed his foot on the floor, making a slight noise. Bernie, who was still completely weirded out by what had just happened almost tripped over him when Ishcandar stopped momentarily to adjust his balance. This made another slight noise. Now one would think that only a titmouse would have noticed those two noises. But the master of Five Animals Hall had senses that even a titmouse would envy. He stood up.

Hearing motion in the room beyond the curtain, the two Hobbits and their rescuer very gingerly made haste across White Tiger Hall to the far curtain where Bernie was leading them. As they dodged through the red curtain the white haired master was drawing aside his own curtain. Ishcandar paused to look back and see if anyone had come to investigate. When the master saw the ruffling of the curtain on the far side of the room, and the little Hobbit face peering out from behind it, he grew quite angry.

“Men! Get them!” he barked behind him. A group of men in black robes burst out of the room and ran full tilt across White Tiger Hall. By then, however, the Hobbits and Bernie were already on the other side of the next room, running pell mell past a large marble statue of a bear. They followed Bernie and dodged through an open archway. They entered another room and ran to a door, which Bernie opened and ran though. They came to a small corridor and Bernie ran to another door, one of several, and dashed through. They followed. They ran down a corridor and ran through another open archway. Bernie, it should be said, was running randomly, terrified out of his wits by what he could not possibly comprehend.

“Bernie,” asked Lido, finally when they paused in a corridor. “Do you know where you are going?”

“I’m pretty sure this is the way,” said Bernie looking this way and that. There was a door. An old and musty door. It looked a bit familiar to Lido. As they heard the sounds of foot falls running in their direction, Bernie ran to it and tried to pull it open. It would not budge. He took out his lock picking tools and with shaking hands fiddled with the lock. Finally it opened. They dashed through into the darkness.

They stood still. Bernie, fortunately, had the wonderful ability to see clearly in the dark if he focused his mind on it. He did so.

“We’re in a spiral stair going down,” he whispered.

“That sounds familiar,” replied Lido hesitantly. “Are you sure this is the right way? I mean this is the way you came in, isn’t it?”

“I’m not entirely sure,” replied Bernie. “I don’t recall a spiral stair. There was a ladder. But anyway, we don’t have any choice; we certainly can’t go back. Besides, it has to lead out of here one way or another,” he concluded.

“I’ve been down here,” said Lido.

“You have? What’s down here?” asked Bernie and Ishcandar incredulously together.

“A lot of really weird stuff, actually,” replied Lido nervously.

“Can it be any weirder than the freakish thing that just happened in the White Tiger Hall?” asked Bernie, growing upset.

“Well, I have to say, it’s possible,” answered Lido slowly.

“Really??” exclaimed Bernie. “Gah! I’m getting out of here,” he choked out as he moved back toward the door.

“Wait,” said Lido. “You can’t go back that way. As you said, they’re close behind us. You’ll surely be captured,” he reasoned.

“Ok, right,” said Bernie, coming back to himself again. “We better forge ahead, then.”

Down The Spiral Stairwell

And so they went very slowly downward. Since he’d been there before Lido knew that there was a nook in the wall in which there was a brass lantern. He mentioned it to Bernie who took it and lit it. Now they had light. With that they crept down the long spiral stairs very slowly.

As they made their way down the stairs Lido recounted the entire tale of what he had seen down there before, except he left out the part about the bizarre stick men from hell that he’d encountered. For all he knew they were still looking for him. Better not to mention it, he thought, as it might send poor Bernie straight over the edge. But he did tell them all about the strange apparitions he'd witnessed, and the hour glass that the master had instructed him to turn over. He tried to leave out the truly frightening bits.

“What would happen, do you suppose, if we broke the hourglass?” asked Ishcandar.

“You … would … ask … that,” commented Lido.

A wind began to blow down the spiral stairs. It was a cold wind. Lido got a chill. They noticed that the dust on the stairs began to stir. He noticed cobwebs billowing in the corners of the steps. It did not bode well, he thought, not for the last time.

“As strange as it may seem, you may be on to something, Ishcandar,” said Lido. “Perhaps if we do something to the hourglass, something will happen. But unfortunately, we don’t have any idea what.”

“I say that we take away from the master what he cherishes most. The hourglass,” pronounced Ishcandar boldly.

“You are a small man,” replied Lido, “but never let it be said that you have small dreams.”

Eventually they came to the bottom of the stairs. There they found a door just like the one they came through at the top. Above the door along the lintel Ishcandar read an engraved script that Bernie had pointed out.

“As above, so below,” he read.

Bernie, who was not well educated, wondered vaguely what it could mean, but he didn’t spend much time thinking it over. He opened the door. Inside they found a large circular room. It was completely dark. They saw by the light of the lantern, the glinting of metal on a table in the center of the room. Ishcandar pulled out his sling and a stone as he gauged the distance. He would have liked to have taken a pot shot at the hourglass, but it was really too far away.

Bernie looked dubiously at the Hobbit. He didn’t care for this plan at all. Who knows what in the world might happen if they broke the hourglass. To his mind, unstable as it had recently become, it sounded like a recipe for disaster.

“Sometimes I find it’s best to give him space to let him do what he’s going to do,” Lido said to Bernie, trying to shore up his confidence. “It always seems to work out for the best somehow,” he added unpersuasively.

Bernie raised an eyebrow. In any event Ishcandar found that he was out of range. He walked into the room. Lido followed him, watching the side of the room where he had seen the apparition the first time he had been there. Bernie remained in the door holding up the lantern, which was giving off a pale blue light.

In the center of the room was the three legged table, on which was a large hourglass inside a brass globe of sorts. It was very intricately designed. Sand was flowing from the top section of the hourglass to the bottom. Ishcandar felt as though he was moving in slow motion.

“… there is no time left,… there is no time left, … there is no time left…”

Ishcandar broke into a run in order to get himself in range of the hourglass as quickly as his little Hobbit feet could, but he was moving in slow motion and it seemed to take forever for him to make it a few steps.

“… there is no time left,… there is no time left, … there is no time left…”

“You keep saying that,” yelled Lido into the chamber, “but you will notice; we are still here!”

“… there is no time left,… there is no time left, … there is no time left…”

“I’m starting to get rather irritated with that statement! Quite peeved, in fact!” he said stamping his foot.

The Blond Boy Who Turned Pages Backwards

Ishcandar pulled out the calendar page again from his pocket. This time, oddly enough, the picture was different. Now it was of a little blond haired boy outside sitting under a tree reading a story book. Ishcandar could still not make out the date. When he looked up again, he found that they were standing in a field of grass. There, not far off, was the blond haired boy, who was staring out at a beautiful sunset. The boy was reading a story book. But he was turning the pages backwards. And as he did he grew younger and younger. Ishcandar tried to grab the book, but found he could not reach it in time.

From behind the tree stepped out the black knight who swiftly swung his sword toward the boy’s head. Ishcandar could not, no matter how hard he tried, move quickly enough. The light of scene began changing, and everything was moving in slow motion. The leaves were billowing slowly, as was the grass, and people’s cloths, but the sun was setting ever so rapidly, and all of the shadows moved swiftly across the landscape forming fantastic and bizarre shapes as far as the eye could see. The clouds billowed past the stars as though time was speeding ahead, but the boy turned the pages with incredible slowness. A leaf fell to the ground, taking a hundred years. An ant climbed a blade of grass for a thousand years before ascending to the top. The twisting of time was utterly maddening, and it’s a wonder that anyone’s mind was able to survive it at all.

And yet, the Hobbits minds were not at all destroyed. They merely watched, astonished, amused, and even terrified, … but were not driven to insanity. Bernie, on the other hand, it must be said, did not have a mind so resilient as that. He stood in the doorway; gaping in absolute unmitigated horror, sweat pouring down his face, his entire body trembling uncontrollably. At that moment Lido was looking over his shoulder to see how Bernie was faring, and caught sight of his back as he turned to flee back up the spiral stairs, madness having overtaken him with horror.

The black knight was carving an arc through the air towards the boy ever so slowly. They could hear his voice from the armor yelling “Nooooooooo!!” as the boy turned into an infant, and less, and then vanished completely. The scene faded and they found themselves back in the dark hourglass chamber.

An Amazing Discovery from the Past

Against one wall they saw a blue glow as though being shined on by a stage light. The Hobbits watched as two apparitions formed within a scene. It was a scientific laboratory, much like Doctor Lobe's. There were two men standing there. One of them stood with his back towards the Hobbits, and the other facing that man. The second man was an aristocrat with blond hair. The other looked to be a scientist with a white lab coat, and gloves. At first it appeared that they were talking but no sound was being made. Slowly they began to hear the voices, at first as though from a great distance, and then more clearly until they could hear what was being said.

“What do you make of these discoveries, Doctor?” asked the blond man.

“It is certainly intriguing,” said the scientist as he turned towards the aristocrat. As he turned the Hobbits recognized the man. It was Doctor Lobe. But a much younger Doctor Lobe. “We’ve done a number of experiments thus far. It’s been very interesting, and I’ve managed to collect a great deal of very valuable data,” said the young Doctor. “I suggest you try it.”

“What do you think the risk is?” asked the blond aristocrat.

“I don’t know, frankly. We’ve tried a number of artifacts thus far, and nothing dreadful has happened. And we’ve gotten a better understanding of their nature.”

“Ok, I’ll try it,” said the blond man. He walked over to a suit of black platemale and as soon as he touched the gauntlet to take it, he vanished into the armor as though it came up and surrounded him like a ghost. The armor stepped forward and picked up the sword and the shield and held them.

“Doctor Lobe, I can see,” said the suit of armor in the voice of the blond aristocrat, “behind you!”

The armor stepped forward as Doctor Lobe stepped quickly to a box and turned some dials and flipped a switch. Lights flickered along the front panel. Then a blue glowing ball of light appeared in the scene, and the black knight merged with the blue glow and vanished. Doctor Lobe raised an eyebrow and stroked his beard with his hand. He then turned and went to another odd looking box with switches and lights on the table and began turning dials.

“Is it done?” asked a voice that sounded low and powerful.

“Indeed, it is done,” replied Doctor Lobe.

“Lord Dunn won’t be bothering us anymore,” said the low voice with a sinister laugh. “You had better take the next step.”

And then the scene faded, and the Hobbits found themselves standing in the hourglass chamber again. Lido and Ischandar both realized that the man in the black armor must be Lord Dunn. How strange. As far as they had learned or ever heard, Lord Dunn had been one of the great barons who had come with the expedition across the mountains from the Kingdom of Oswald to try to find and rescue the King’s twin children, Sun Prince and Moon Flower. There had been a great avalanche high in the mountains back blocked their way back to Oswaldia, and so the Lords followed the mysterious Queen Watho and her brother to Glendale Valley. The Queen, it was rumored, had captured Lord Dunn’s affections, and the other barons became angry with him, or jealous perhaps. The army was divided and so Lord Dunn and his followers made their way, with the Queen’s guidance, to Hobbington, and populated that ancient mountain city for the first time in hundreds of years. In the end, though a mighty hero and savior of the people, Lord Dunn, it was said, hurled himself off of the Dunn’s Brook Bridge Tower in a fit of madness, though the reason why was shrouded in mystery. Some said his lover, Queen Watho, drove him mad. Others said that his discovery of ancient artifacts beneath Hobbington were the cause. Now, it seemed, there might be another explanation for the Lord’s disappearance after all.

Lido took out a piece of paper. He scribbled on it “Lord Dunn is black knight ghost in Dunn’s Tower”. He stuffed the paper in his pocket. It was a precaution in case somehow he slipped backwards in time and forgot, or went mad, or some other calamity befell them. At this point Ishcandar was nearly within sling shot range of the hourglass.

Playing Mind Games with Time

“There is no time left, … there is not time left, … there is no time left…” the voice echoed throughout the chamber. Suddenly Ishcandar noticed a shadow, like a panther, circling the chamber near him.

“Who are you?” asked Ishcandar. The shadow beast growled. It had a leering sound in its voice and spoke, “It’s dinner time.”

“But you said ‘There is no time left’”, replied Ishcandar. With that the shadow seemed to shift towards Ishcandar. It seemed to be moving to intercept the Hobbit and get between him and the hourglass. Lido stood gaping, his sanity not terribly far from it’s limit. The shadow shifted closer to Ishcandar another twenty feet suddenly.

Ishcandar stopped and took out his calendar again, asking the shadow panther, “Do you know what this is?”

The shadow beast turned to look at the page in Ishcandar’s hand.

“Time is on my side,” said the shadow panther with a sinister laugh.

“What do you propose to do?” asked Ishcandar nervously.

“It’s dinner time,” replied the creature.

“You do realize, that Hobbit over there as a bit more meat on his bones, don’t you?” asked Ishcandar impulsively.

“That’s true,” admitted Lido to the shadow beast, “but I have to say, that Hobbit has such a distinctive pickle flavor. I’m sure he’s quite tasty!”

“Ishcandar,” said Lido, “I think maybe we should get out of here.” He looked over his shoulder as he began to back away. Bernie was gone, but the door was still open. Lido was turning toward it in slow motion.

Ishcandar decided to tear the calendar in half. As he tried he felt his hands age. They got creaky with arthritis, became wrinkled, cracked and his fingernails grew long. Remembering what he’d seen before, he turned himself to the right. As he did so, he heard the shadow beast growl.

“There’s no time left, left, left…” echoed through the hall. Ishcandar as he turned grew younger. His hands healed. But he kept turning and so grew younger and younger. He kept turning, until he was nine years old.

“Ishcandar, what are you doing?” shouted Lido. “You’re too young to drink!”

With this Ischandar deeply regretted his action, but he saw no choice but to keep turning. It was a strange compulsion that had taken him over. With that Lido gave up, and abandoned Ischandar to his dreadful fate, and turned to run through the door.

As he did, he saw the black knight silently enter the chamber, running past Lido in slow motion. Lido crept away up the stairs, keeping his eye toward the door through which he could see the knight running into the room in slow motion. He watched terrified as Ishcandar turned into an infant, still turning himself around.

The black knight came running toward Ishcandar with his sword raised.

“It was the best of times!” the black knight called out. With that the shadow creature shifted again, Ishcandar had the impression that the creature swept past him and changed form.

“It was the worst of times!” squeaked Ishcandar, the infant, and with that the shadow turned back into a panther, growled ferociously, and leapt towards the hapless Hobbit.

“It was the best of times!” cried Ishcandar, and he began turning himself in the other direction, hoping to grow older. In fact, that worked, and he did begin to grow older as he turned.

“There is no time like the present,” said the black knight, and with that Ishcandar suddenly returned to his normal age.

The shadow panther leapt at the knight, sailing over him, and the knight slashed upward with his sword, grazing the creature along its right side. It landed and rolled into a ball and then sprang again with a ferocious growl.

“There is no time like the future,” called out Ishcandar to no effect. The knight lunged with his sword again catching the shadow beast, piercing his leg.

What to Say, and What Not to Say

Meanwhile Lido watched the scene from outside the chamber. He marveled at how time seemed to be flowing at different rates within the room, to the point where even some parts of Ishcandar appeared to be moving quickly, while other parts looked to be moving in slow motion as though wading through molasses. It was a terrifying experience. He felt truly on the verge of losing his mind. He decided he should not try to re-enter the chamber, and so he stood outside, transfixed to the spot, a look of dread covering his face.

“You’re out of time,” said the shadow panther to Ishcandar. Lido watched with horror as Ishcandar vanished, softly fading away. However, Ishcandar was actually still there. Or rather we might say he was still at the location. But he was trapped inside a kind of bubble that had trapped him outside of the realm of time. What he saw there no one will ever know, for it was as though he could see every time at that spot all mixed together into a vast, breathtaking and unimaginable vortex that swirled around the bubble stretching off into eternity. Fortunately, the young Hobbit’s drunken mind was undisturbed by any of this. He found himself rather amused, and tried to focus as best he could on the time at hand.

At that moment, the knight leapt forward, and grazed the shadow thing with a sweeping slice of his sword. The panther-like creature landed and turned toward the knight with a terrible growl. It appeared to be bleeding some sort of shadowy substance which vanished into thin air.

Lido, desperate to find his dear friend, thought to run into the chamber to search for him. Lido is a very loyal little fellow, and in particular to Ishcandar. As it turns out, Lido felt that Ishcandar, of all people, was someone that he aspired to be like. Rich, friendly, adventurous, and good with the ladies. Poor Lido.

Lido activated the Ring of Telepathy. “Ishcandar! Can you hear me?”

“I can hear you!” said replied Ishcandar from within the time-bubble.

“Where are you!?”

“I’m not entirely sure! I’m trying to watch the knight battle the shadow panther!”

“I can’t see you!” thought Lido loudly in his mind.

“Yes, somehow I am trapped inside some sort of very peculiar bubble. It would be hard to describe what I’m experiencing. In any case, be careful what you say about time. Come into the room, and help me! The knight is fighting on our side. He seems to be trying to kill the shadow panther!”

“Time makes fools of us all!” shouted Lido through the doorway.

Everyone there experienced a strange thing when he said that. Their collective wisdom was instantly siphoned off somewhere, and they all felt suddenly dumbfounded, and even a little bit retarded, perhaps. It was apparently, just the wrong thing to say. The Shadow Panther smiled as it circled around the black knight, calculating its next attack shrewdly.

“Ok!” said Lido, impressed, “Now I have a real cunning plan,” he said thickly. It may be that he became too stupid to be afraid. Taking a deep breath, he stepped inside the room. It felt strange indeed, but he did not go insane.

“Time is the great healer!” he shouted loudly into the chamber.

Lord Dunn stood up a little taller, and felt stronger. What wounds he'd received and fatigue he felt vanished suddenly.

“It’s knight time!” Ishcandar shouted, somewhat excessively delighted with his little pun.

By luck or brilliance it happen to be just the right sort of pun, however. Lord Dunn began to move more swiftly until he was seemed to Lido to become a ribbon streaking through the air at nearly blinding speed. The shadow panther growled wildly, and coiled to strike at him, but the knight was faster still, to the great alarm and shock of the beast. He raised his sword high and cleaved downward through the creature so that his sword passed straight through it's hideous head, hitting the stone floor so hard that sparks flew in every direction. The shadow panther shrieked with a dreadful cry, and vanished. All of the time distortions gently ceased.

Lord Dunn was leaning heavily on his shield, his black platemale seeming to shimmer in the process of coming into normal time. The effort he just expended in that final blow was enormous, and though healed, he was nevertheless exhausted and panting heavily.

The time shell that surrounded Ishcandar dissolved and he found himself standing in the chamber. Time seemed to have returned to normal for them all.

The Time Hunter, Lord Dunn

“Thank you, Sir knight!” said Ishcandar with a bow and graceful flourish of his hand.

“Lord Dunn?” asked Lido.

The knight in the black platemale stirred slowly. He stood up and sheathed his dark sword and slung the black shield on his back.

“Indeed, I am he," said the black knight. "Finally, I have slain that wicked beast!” panted Lord Dunn with evident relief and satisfaction. “I had been chasing it for a long time, indeed. The beast had committed many crimes,” he said grimly. “But now justice has been done, and the wicked thing is gone.”

“We are most grateful to you, Sir, that you chose this time to succeed,” said Ishcandar.

“I did not choose it,” he replied sincerely. “Had it not been for the luck of you two Hobbits, and your quick wits, and courage, I might never had succeeded, but had continued following after it forever, coming only close enough to slaying it to behold each time-ravaging-murder that it committed, and being blamed for each one, as had happened countless times already. I must thank you both, indeed, it is I who am very grateful,” concluded Lord Dunn with a bow.

“Did this help you at all?” asked Ishcandar holding up the calendar page.

“You ought to burn that,” said Lord Dunn. “It has grave powers, and could cause you troubles, perhaps, if you hold on to it for long,” he suggested vaguely.

“I should burn it?!” asked Ishcandar, loath to lose anything so powerful.

“You may bring it to the temple in Hobbington. The monks at the Heavenly Harmony Pagoda should know what to do,” he said.

“What would happen if we destroyed the hourglass?” asked Ishcandar.

“I dread to imagine,” said Lord Dunn looking over at the device in the center of the chamber.

“What if we turned it on it’s side?” queried Ishcandar again.

“It is an interesting question. I don’t know,” he said.

“We have a dilemma, my Lord. You see behind us, at the top of the spiral stairs, I fear there are very ruthless men waiting to kill us. Is there another way by which we might exit this chamber?” asked Lido, his wisdom returning to him in its entirety.

“This chamber,” answered Lord Dunn thoughtfully, “is called ‘The Wheel of Time’. From here, I have found that you can go… anywhere.”

“Can we go to ‘anywhen’?” asked Ishcandar, his (somewhat scanty) wisdom also returning to him.

“I have seen the Shadow Beasts use this chamber to go to other places, and other times. I am not entirely sure of how the mechanism works. But it has to do with the placement of the hourglass, and the position of the globes on the table. They are very precise about how they use it, I believe,” said Lord Dunn.

“He said ‘Beasts’”, murmured Ishcandar to Lido looking around fearfully.

“In this armor I am able to hunt them. The armor, it seems, anchors me in time somehow.” said Lord Dunn, “and the sword is the only thing I know of that they are vulnerable to. The shield, of course, is able to deflect their attacks. The only thing I have lacked thus far is the ability to catch up with them. The creatures seem to swim through time somehow, speeding up or slowing down at will. They are very elusive!”

“That’s awful,” said Lido.

“Unfortunately, I should tell you, that I am nevertheless trapped. It would seem that somehow I am caught in some sort of Time Eddy, and have been unable to escape it. I shall soon fade from you, I fear, and you will see me no more,” said Lord Dunn gravely.

“That’s awful, too,” said Ishcandar. “Is there anything we can do to help you?”

“I wish there were, my young Hobbit friends,” he said, a certain bleakness entering his voice.

“We saw a vision of you with Doctor Lobe earlier. We saw you in some other time, perhaps. He looked much younger then, and so it must have been an earlier time, I should think. It seemed as though it was the moment that you first took the armor from Doctor Lobe,” Lido explained.

“I am trapped in a kind of whirlpool of time. I cannot tell what your time is, but I do recall, I think, that the year I took the armor was 141 New Kingdom, though,... I can't be certain anymore,” he said.

“That was ten years ago by our reckoning,” said Ischandar in wonderment. It was the same year, as he recalled that Lord Dunn had reputedly hurled himself into Dunn’s Brook. Ishcandar noted to himself that their little adventure had netted them a great treasure’s worth of information for the Guild, but he said nothing of that at the moment.

Lord Dunn walked silently to the hourglass. He put his hand to it in order to turn it on it’s side, but his hand passed through it as though the mechanism and the table were made of shadows. Ishcandar put his hand to it, and turned the hourglass on its side. There was a blue light in the hall, and they saw an archway appear, from which glowed a pale blue light.

“You must go that way, and without delay,” said Lord Dunn, pointing. The young Hobbits were eager to be on their way, but loath to leave Lord Dunn in his current helpless state. Already they could see that he was becoming translucent and his voice echoing faintly.

“We will help you if we can!” said Ishcandar earnestly.

“Beware of Doctor Lobe… doctor lobe… doctor lobe…,” his voice echoed as Lord Dunn faded away and vanished. And with that the Hobbits ran across the chamber and leapt through the archway.

Off to a Far Away Place

They found themselves running pell-mell into a small vale surrounded by rocky hills and cliffs. There was snow on the ground. Ahead of them they saw an old worn down shack. There was an old woman in the front yard shoveling snow. She grunted and heaved snow from the path with her broom. Something about her gait seems a bit odd.

“My good woman,” shouted Ishcandar to her, “kindly tell us, what year is this?”

The woman was so startled that she dropped her broom.

“Oh my goodness! You gave me such a fright! Where in heaven’s name did you come from?” she demanded, with her hands raised to her cheeks.

“Over there!” said Ischandar pointing behind them. Glancing back he noted that they had apparently just exited the solid wall of a cliff that overhung behind them. He ignored that, and acted as though it were an entirely normal thing, and repeated his question.

"Why I'm not sure..." replied the old woman still flustered. "I think it is the year 151, or so," she said, bewildered by the fact that two Hobbits had mysteriously come through the side of the cliff, and were asking such a bizarre question.

"Thank you kindly, ma'am. And could you also please tell us," asked Lido, "where in the name of the Elkron we are?"

This question seemed to fluster her even more. However, after a few moments of gaping she said, "Well, if you want to know, this is my home! I live here!" she said finally.

The Hobbits grunted.

"Ma'am would you be able to tell us where the closest town is?" asked Lido.

"Oh, the closest town is Hamfest, over that way," she said, pointing a bony finger over the hills. "But how rude of me! You must be cold and weary from your travels. Why don't you come inside and I'll give you a nice warm bowl of soup," said old Biddy Mable.

And so it was that the Hobbits found themselves in front of a cozy fire, with delicious warm bowls of soup, chatting amiably with poor lonely Biddy Mable. She was so happy to have guests, she was besides herself. The Hobbits were very well attended indeed, and eventually they found her company as warm and soothing as the delicious herb soup. They noticed how cozy and comfortable her home actually was after all, with so many pillows and a pantry full of foods and herbs, and a warm fire, and nice looking beds for guests. The only thing missing, thought Ishcandar as he began to doze off, was a certain lack of wine...

Previous Episode: Return of the Hapless Hobbits - Part I
Next Episode: Interlude: The Little Brass Box

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Return of the Hapless Hobbits - Part I

The Prisoners of Five Animals Hall

Meanwhile... about nine days earlier in Hobbington ...

Ishcandar and Lido watched as the student in the black robes closed the door behind him. They wondered vaguely if they would ever see the light of day again, but shrugged it off lightly. Ishcandar uncorked the wine on his night table and took a swig of the rich aromatic liquor. Lido sat at the desk and pulled out a piece of parchment paper and ink kit from his backpack and began studiously drawing the map of the dungeon as he remembered it thus far. Ishcandar laid down on his bed and swigged from the bottle contentedly. He felt very alert, his senses practically tingling from the Jarrow Tea. He gazed at the fine silver band with the small turquoise stud on it that was on his finger. This ring was given to him by the Guild Master Rothmon with the instructions to use it to communicate with any of the other six ring wearers when need be. Lido was another ring wearer, as was Rothmon himself. The other three rings the Guild Master had left in the wooden box and put away. All of the rings were identical, finely crafted, and softly glowing with mystical energy.

As Lido finished up his map, he heard Ishcandar uncork the other bottle of wine that was on his table. He looked up briefly, and his friend smiled congenially, raised the bottle in the air saluting him, and took a long happy swig. Lido was considering taking a morsel of cheese or piece of fruit from the tray on his night table when, at that moment he caught a movement out of the corner of his eye. A quick glance allowed him to spot a rat skittering under the bed. He noticed that the rat had a brown patch over one eye and long white tail, and recognized it immediately as Bernie’s rat. He went over to the bed and knelt down to look under it. Yes, indeed it was definitely Bernie’s rat, now up on two legs sniffing. Lido took a cube of cheese from the tray, and offered it.

“Eeep eeep,” squeaked the rat, and took the cheese in his little paws and began gnawing away at it greedily. Though he didn’t really care much for Hobbits generally, the rat had begrudging respect for them, as they were practically the only creatures he knew that could in a pinch actually sneak up on him. But in this case it was no concern, he had been sent to find them, and so he had, and now they had rewarded him. He decided these Hobbits were so bad after all.

“It’s Bernie’s rat,” said Lido.

“Oh really. Well if you don’t mind, I think I’ll have a bit more of your wine.”

“Well, leave a bit of cheese, at least, will you?”

“Not too worry,” Ishcandar replied merrily. “I don’t touch the stuff.”

The rat made his way along the shadows beneath the bed, and slipped through a hole in the stonework. He was making his way back to Bernie who was waiting for his return in a nearby corridor.

After a few minutes there was a sound at the door, ever so gentle. The door handle moved. Both Ishcandar and Lido perked up and stared at it.

“I do hope they brought more wine,” said Ishcandar.

Lido went to open the door for the unknown person in the hall. However, he found that the door was locked. This did not entirely surprise him. He waited as someone from the outside unlocked the door with a skillful twist of a metal pin. Both of the Hobbits were familiar with the technique, and at this point were not surprised either to see Bernie slide the door open and slip in, quiet as a rat.

The Rat Arrives

“Bernie!” shouted Ishcandar happily, and raised the bottle in the air again before taking another three glugs. Bernie glared at him, silently slid the door shut, and looked around the room. He casually sat down by the tray of cheese.

“Friend!” exclaimed Ishcandar, now deeply puzzled, “how about a drink?”

“No thanks,” he replied coolly. “I didn’t come to drink.”

“Are you here to … ?” asked Lido with his voice trailing off.

“You may not realize it, but you happen to be in quite a bit of danger here. I’ve come to rescue you,” said Bernie finishing his sentence for him.

“You know something, then, of the Five Animals that we should know?” asked Lido.

“Why do you think the door was locked?” asked Bernie.

“Well, now that you mention it, I don’t figure it was for our protection,” answered Lido thoughtfully.

“It wasn’t,” replied Bernie as he poked a cube of cheese with his dagger and popped it into his mouth.

“Perhaps it was for their own protection from us,” offered Ishcandar grinning drunkenly.

“Yes, you do cut a fearsome figure, you two,” Bernie commented dryly with a sideways glance.

“I take it you made your way here unnoticed?” asked Lido.

“Of course.”

“And you can get us out the same way?” he continued.

“That will be more difficult,” said Bernie as he gave his pet rat a cheese cube to nibble on. “Your accommodations are in fact located at the center of a prison block.”

“I must say, this prison has the nicest bed I’ve slept on, ever, I think,” responded Lido, not quite convinced of Bernie’s story.

“Mine is a bit lumpy,” put in Ishcandar, taking another swig from his wine bottle.

“Yes, well it’s a form of torture. ‘Lumpy bed’. It’s very annoying after many many years. Quite diabolical, isn’t it?” replied Bernie sarcastically.

“I’m used to a pile of dung on the floor,” said Lido sincerely. “Sometimes there’s a little bit of straw on top of the dung. If I’m lucky, it’s fresh and soft, otherwise I must suffer with it being hard and crusty.”

“Ayeee… that’s enough. I’m leaving,” said Bernie, with a disgusted glare.

“What? My family is very poor,” said Lido with a hint of injured pride in his voice.

Bernie turned back toward the cheese plate and took another piece as he sized up the two hapless Hobbits. He glanced around the room while giving another bit of cheese to his pet rat who greedily nibbled away at it, also glancing around the room.

“What is your plan, then, good Bernie?” asked Ishcandar.

“My plan is get you out of here,” he answered plainly.

“Well as you can see, we are doing splendidly,” said Ishcandar lifting the wine to his lips yet again.

“On my way I discovered that the master of the Five Animals Hall is not such a pleasant fellow after all,” continued Bernie. “In fact, he has here quite a number of prisoners. Many of them are children. Most are emaciated. I fear he intends them no good.”

“Well,” said Ishcandar, finally perking up with a serious look around. “We must get everyone out of here, then.”

“Wait a second,” answered Bernie, putting up his hand. “I didn’t say anything about getting anyone else out of here… just you,” he concluded with a dark gaze.

“What of Hermel?” asked Ishcandar. “Is he going to get a brigade to come and break us out of here? He’s a trustworthy friend if there ever was one,” said Ishcandar enthusiastically.

“Well, um… well, I’m not so sure you can rely on him for that,” answered Bernie, annoyed at the suggestion that there might be any alternative to his own escape plan. “He did seem quite peeved any time he mentioned you two, actually. Something about Hobbits being lousy, no-good, unpredictable, drunken fools, or some such,” he concluded.

“I can’t see how that could be!” protested Ishcandar. “We got along so fondly together, like brothers practically!”

“I always thought he liked us,” said Lido.

“Well, I can see why he would like you,” answered Bernie, his eyes shifting. “But he kept mentioning something about Hobbits causing so much trouble… being so crazy…”

“He must have been talking about some other Hobbits,” said Lido, quite perplexed.

“I-I-I-I… suppose… it’s possible…” answered Bernie slowly.

“Does he even know any other Hobbits?” asked Ishcandar.

“He did mention, however, that Ishcandar’s father would be very … “ said Bernie.

“My father?” asked Ishcandar glugging down the last of his wine suddenly.

“Yes, he said your father would be rather upset that you were captured. I happen to overhear him speaking with some fellow who showed up at the Guild Hall claiming he was sent by your father to look for you. He said he was your teacher, in fact.”

“My teacher?” exclaimed Ischandar, looking down the barrel of his wine bottle to see if there was at least another drop left.

“Yes, a Mr. Stoutheart I believe,” answered Bernie.

“I need more wine!’ Ischandar exclaimed as he put the empty bottle on the table with a bang. “At any rate, I feel rather content here in prison after all. I don’t see any need to leave. We’ll get along just fine here. No need to bother. You may as well get along now Bernie. I’ve decided to stay!”

“Well, to be honest, there is another matter at hand of some import. This Mr. Stoutheart happen to mention that your father, as it turns out, is a rather wealthy man about town,” explained Bernie.

“Well yes, that can be said,” answered Ishcandar hurriedly.

“And, he went on to add that anyone who was able to bring you back home would be sure to get quite a handsome reward for the effort,” Bernie continued.

“Hmmmm…” said Ishcandar thoughtfully.

“Do you think that’s true?” asked Bernie.

“Hmmmm… my father? Offering a reward for … me?”

A Gentleman’s Agreement

“Well, as it happened,” Bernie went on, “Hermel, whom I’m sure likes you very sincerely, suggested to Mr. Stoutheart that he return to your father and advise him to use his enormous wealth to raise a large force of fighting men to come here and extract you from this prison. When I heard that I thought to myself, ‘Oh my, that would be sure to get those two poor innocent Hobbits killed!’ So I took it upon myself to come and rescue you right away. I can’t imagine what terrible fate would be in store for you if a force of fighters came blundering in here demanding your release!”

“Well, Elkron knows, I will certainly take care of you,” said Ishcandar, suddenly quite eager to depart the premises. He felt for his money pouch, but found that it was missing. Instead he found a much smaller pouch with only two silver pieces in it. He then recalled vaguely that Hermel had demanded his money back at the bar in exchange for saving his life yet again.

“Well, I don’t know… it doesn’t look like there is very much money in there,” said Bernie doubtfully.

“Well, I will certainly make sure my father pays you handsomely when I return safely home,” said Ishcandar. “Take this as a small down payment,” he added, tossing Bernie the pouch with two silver.

“That’s a pittance, but I’ll take it for my troubles thus far,” replied Bernie, not entirely satisfied.

“I’m sure Ishcandar’s father will pay you handsomely later,” offered Lido.

“Let’s just say there’s 98 more silver where that came from,” said Ishcandar.

“Ok, that sounds good then. Let’s shake on it,” he said offering his hand. They shook hands.

At that moment Ishcandar noticed an pale blue light coming from beneath the door.

“Uh… fellows?” said Ishcandar pointing to the crack at the bottom of the door. They all stared at the pale blue glow coming through the crack at the bottom of the door. Lido thought it looked rather reminiscent of the strange blue light that they encountered in the basement room at the base of Dunn’s Bridge Tower when Doctor Lobe had been doing his bizarre experiments. He thought it did not bode well.

A breeze began to blow in the room. They noticed dust floating across floor.

“Maybe there is someone coming down the corridor with a lantern,” offered Bernie whispering. He sent his rat through a hole in the wall, and said, “He will take a look and let us know who is out there.”

After a while the rat did not return. Bernie grew nervous. He decided to go and take a look outside.

“Stay here,” he said, as he opened the door, and went out into what looked like a pale blue fog. Time went by. They waited. Bernie did not return. Lido then began to hear a voice coming from outside the door. The voice sounded terrifyingly familiar.

“There is no time left, … there is no time left, … there is no time left…” said the voice in an spine chilling tone.

“You hear that?” asked Ischandar looking around for another bottle of wine.

“Yes. I’ve heard that voice before…”

Escape From Deja Vu

Some papers began fluttering across the floor. They didn’t know where they came from. One of the papers flipped against the wall and stuck there. Ishcandar went and picked it up, as Lido backed away from the door. The paper had a picture on it. Ishcandar could not quite focus on it, but it seemed to be a page from a wall calendar. Lido noticed that there were now cobwebs on the walls billowing in the breeze. The blue light became deeper and deeper.

“I think we should probably consider leaving this room,” said Ishcandar, as he noticed Lido backing away from the door with a look of terror on his face. “Come on! You only live once!” and with that he went to the door and put his hand on the brass doorknob.

Suddenly they both found themselves having been moved, as though they just woke up from a dream. Lido was sitting at the table just pulling out his parchments and ink to draw the map, and Ishcandar was laying on the bed again, taking his first swig of the wine he’d picked up from the table with the cheese. They both felt as though they were experiencing an incredibly vivid Déjà vu. They watched powerless as they went though all the motions they had before. Ishcandar drank and babbled, while Lido made the map. The rat showed up and went under the bed, and Lido gave it the cheese. Bernie arrived and they made their escape-bargain. Everything happened exactly as before down to the minutest detail. It was increadible. And then the blue light came, and the voice… “…there is no time left, … there is no time left… there is no time left…” echoing troughout the room. And again Ischandar panicked and ran to open the door. And again, upon touching the brass doorknob they found themselves again where they had started. And this went on, over, and over, and over and over again. Ten times. A hundred times. A thousand times. And each time there was no change, and no matter how hard they tried they could not break free of the Déjà vu. And each time the terrible voice echoed, “… there is no time left…”

“This is the most wonderful thing in the world,” thought Ishcandar deep down inside. “I have more wine! An everlasting replenishing of wine! And behold! No hang over!” And so it was that every time the Déjà vu started over again, Ishcandar grew happier and happier. This was, as it turned out, Ishcandar heaven.

After a while Lido noticed that he had, through sheer repetition, studied and learned every single facet of the scene down to the minutest detail. He counted the stones on the floor. There were 365. He knew the exact configuration of the rat’s spots. He had counted the number of papers blowing, and knew their trajectories, and how many flips they made as they blew across the floor. Even the number of spider webs billowing.

It wasn’t until somewhere around the 4380th time through the Déjà vu that Lido noticed something, one single thing, which was different. As Ischandar was putting his mouth to the bottle of wine (‘a fine Chianti produced from selected grapes grown in the township of Lilac Brook. It is an elegant, well-balanced, full-bodied wine with a very long aging potential’, Ishcandar had learned though thousands of readings of the label), this time, he noticed… on the plate of fruit and cheese … there was … a fly.

Lido was absolutely certain that it had not been there before. And this gave him a sudden surge of hope to try once again, as he had done 4379 times before without the slightest hint of success, to somehow break free of the Déjà vu. This time, because of the fly, he suddenly was able to move one muscle differently, and so he twitched his left eyebrow ever so slightly as he glanced at the fly on the cheese. He suddenly felt completely liberated. And so the Déjà vu was as suddenly broke as it had begun.

Ishcandar, whose senses had been heightened earlier by a cup of Jarrow tea, noticed the fly and without a moment’s hesitation swatted it. Fruit and cheese went airborne, but the fly, a tiny little thing with shiny yellow-green chitin and black wings, flitted away and disappeared somewhere.

Lido was at first rather annoyed, as he had been considering having a bit of cheese after his map was done, but then, realizing what had happened, rose and calling Ishcandar’s name affectionately gave him a great big hug.

Lido then backed up into the middle of the room and began turning himself around to the right. He then pivoted back the other way.

“For joy!” he said, “We’re not repeating ourselves anymore!’

Ishcandar, however, stared at his furry-footed friend in disbelief. For as Lido turned himself around the first time, as far as Ishcandar could tell, Lido appeared to age… older and older until he stood there a little old Hobbit with a head of long hoary hair. As Lido turned himself back the other way, he reverted to his previous age, and when he stopped pivoting he was quite back to his old self again. Ishcandar drank heartily from his bottle, emptying it in a few large gulps.

Suddenly, a rat came into the room and skittered under the bed. Lido’s memory of the extreme Déjà vu was almost completely vanished. He could not remember any details specifically, but he did have an overall sense of what was going to happen, as did Ishcandar, who went to the door to welcome Bernie. They quickly agreed on the arrangment, to Bernie’s surprise.

“Yes, yes, I understand completely, Bernie,” Ischandar said as soon as Bernie came into the room and sat down. “I’ll give you whatever you want,” he said.

“Whatever I want?”

“Yes, yes, absolutely.”

“Ok. How about 10,000 Iron?”

“Fine, fine. Let’s shake on it and be off,” said Ishcandar reaching out to shake Bernie’s hand with his other hand having crossed fingers behind his back. It was not an easy matter to deceive the likes of Bernie, but Ishcandar managed to pull it off, and so it was that they were very quickly ready to leave. Lido and Ishcandar both wanted to get away well before the pale blue light showed up again. And so they went out into the corridor together.

Trapped Like Rats

At this point Ishcandar remembered that he was wearing the mystical ring given to him by Rothmon. He had been told that it would allow him, and Lido, who also had one, to communicate back to Rothmon for up to one minute each day though a psychic link that formed between each of the six rings. So he focused on the gemstone and felt his mind reaching outward. He felt that he was suddenly in contact with another mind, and so burbled forth all of the recent events, explaining how he and Lido had come to be trapped in the Five Animals Hall, and of their current attempt to escape.

Lido, who was wearing one of the other rings heard Ishcadnar’s thoughts clear as day coming through into his mind. However, they both noticed that Rothmon’s mind could not be contacted. It felt to them that Ishcandar’s thoughts were somehow bouncing off of the walls of the corridor’s ancient stones, and not making it to Rothmon at all. They were both quite disappointed by this, and had a sense for the first time just how trapped they really were. There was nothing else to do, then, than trust Bernie and forge ahead. They quickly took a look at Lido’s map, but Bernie already knew everything on it, and so it did not provide any assistance under the circumstances, except that it made it suddenly clear to them that the Five Animals Hall was approximately twenty feet directly below the Dunn’s Bridge Tower where they had originally seen the pale blue light. They wished to be away from there.

They spent a few minutes trying to determine the best route out. In the end Bernie advised them to follow him along the route he came in. He had slipped in through the water tunnels beneath the Five Crows Tavern into the complex on the other side of the main Hall where the white tiger statue was. They quietly crept along the corridor in the direction Bernie recommended. There were doors along the way, but they were sealed.

“How many guards are there?” asked Ischandar.

“I’m not sure. I hid when I heard them coming, but the whole prison complex has guards. We have to be as quiet as possible,” replied Bernie. “Don’t get nervous. Just follow me.”

Lido wondered how it was possible for Bernie to have come into the complex through the main Hall without being seen. He speculated that Bernie might have been able to do that if he had turned into a rat. He considered that perhaps his pet rat was in fact Bernie, but then remembered that he saw them both at the same time. A little perplexed, he nevertheless thought that somehow Bernie and his rat were one in the same person. Hard to imagine how, but he just could not quite get over that impression. In any event Bernie insisted that they would be able to escape through the White Tiger Hall if they hid in the shadows and moved silently as possible. While there were many guards in the complex, the school itself tended to be occupied only by the few students of the master. Their best chance was to go straight through the tiger’s lair. But quietly!

They turned left down the corridor and headed to the large banded wooden door that the corridor ended in. They passed several doors along the way. As they passed one of the wooden doors on their right Ishcandar heard a voice.

“Help!” cried the plaintive voice. It was a girl. She sounded quite cute.

“I say was save her,” said Ishcanar immediately.

“Help us, please! Somebody!” cried cute, but sad little voice.

Lido, who was not particularly interested in taking on additional risks, crept to the main door that lead the way out of the prison block, and listened there. He heard nothing on the other side.

“It sounds like the coast is clear,” he whispered. Bernie came up behind him and also listened. He nodded his agreement.

“What about the girl?” inquired Ishcandar, a bit puzzled by his compatriots’ attitude.

“Bernie is here to save you for quite a bit of money. I, myself, wish to escape first, and then seek help from the outside to rescue anyone within the prison. We can’t help anyone if we get caught trying to rescue others,” said Lido.

Bernie took his pet out from the sleeve of his cloak. He whispered into the rat’s ear and put him down on the ground. The rat skittered away and through a hole in the stonework.

“He’ll be back soon, and let us know if anyone is out there,” he said.

Meanwhile they decided it would be prudent to check the door for traps. Bernie, who had a lot of experience with such things, took a look.

“We just came through this door on the way in,” Lido whispered, “I don’t think it is trapped.”

“It’s trapped,” said Bernie pointing to a small wire. As it happened he was quite right. The wire was rigged to trigger some mechanism inside the wall if the lever of the door handle were moved. Fortunately, having seen the trap, Ischandar, who was trained in such things, found it relatively easy to disable. He wondered what the trap actually triggered, but there was no way to know that.

While they waited, Ishcandar went back to the door where he heard the girl’s voice.

“Who are you?” he asked.

“My name is Elizabeth. I’m here with my father. Please help us.”

“Your father is there with you?”

“Yes,” she said.

Lido came up to Ishcandar. “We are going to have enough trouble escaping, without trying to rescue an old man and a little girl.”

“We will send help as fast as we can. But for now we have to get out of here,” whispered Ishcandar through the door. They heard the girl on the other side begin to cry.

The rat returned. Bernie motioned to them that the coast was clear on the other side. Lido looked at his map.

“There is no way that Bernie got in here by going through the White Tiger Hall. He must have turned into a rat!” thought Lido to himself.

“Where are you from?” asked Ishcandar through the door.

“We’re from High Street. Your voice sounds familiar to me. Please help us,” she whispered.

“What’s your name?” asked Ishcandar.

“Warden. Elizabeth Warden. My father is John Warden. I think we met on High Street not long ago. Please help us!”

“Bernie. Can you check for traps on this door?” asked Ischandar.

“No. I’m here to rescue you. I’m not taking any chances,” answered Bernie.

“Well then, maybe you can go on your own way then,” replied Ishcandar, now determined to rescue the girl.

Return of the Déjà vu

“Ok. Fine. I’ll check it. But this better not cause us any problems!" he hissed. He checked for traps, but found none. Ischandar decided to pick the lock, and took out his tools to do so. As soon as he touched the door handle, however, a bell suddenly began ringing loudly. A door at the far end of the corridor suddenly flung open with a thud. Inside they saw the silhouettes of several large hulking figures. Behind them several flames belched upward in orange billows silhouetting the enormous men rushing through the doorway with spiked clubs in their meaty hands. Several large red toads with dimly glowing yellow eyes and long yellow fangs hopped out of the room, each one belching fire as it came.

“Uhm… sorry, Miss! But we gotta get out of here! We’ll come back for you later!” shouted Ischandar as he ran back toward the exit door. Lido watched with horror as three huge men came charging down the corridor bellowing loudly. He realized suddenly as they came into the light that they were the same muliti-eyed men that Ishcandar and he had encountered down in the dungeon just before the students of Five Animals Hall had captured them. The master, if he remembered correctly, called the creatures, Polyvizus. Each of them had twelve eyes wrapped around his head, and bellowed like mad bulls. It was not comforting to have them charging with heavy studded clubs in their hands towards the mushy little Hobbits.

“Bernie!… time to get out of here…” Lido shouted as he edged backwards. Bernie was crouching over the handle of the door and with a final flick of his tools opened the lock. He rubbed his finger nails against his chest and smiled smugly.

“Let’s go,” he said. They ran though the door. Ishcandar closed it behind them and locked it. There were heavy thuds against the door as the Hobbits and Bernie turned to the right and came to the next door. There was a soft blue light emanating beneath the doorframe.

“…there’s no time left, … there’s no time left… there’s no time left…” echoed endlessly through the corridor

Bernie stopped at the door.

"There is someone with a blue lantern coming," he whispered.

“No, it’s magical light,” said Lido. "For heaven's sake, ignore it!"

“Oh great,” said Bernie, not entirely disbelieving that. He’d seen plenty of strange things in his short years, and magic was something he'd come to at least partially believe in. He reached for the doorknob. Touching it Ishcandar and Lido suddenly found themselves back in the prison room. Lido was pulling out his parchment and ink, and Ishcandar took his first sip of wine as he reclined easily on the bed.

"Ah," thought Ishcandar, "I have returned to Paradise!"

Over and over and over again for thousands upon thousands of times they repeated every single thing exactly as before. The Déjà vu was unquenchable in its ferocity. The madness resulting from seeing the same events play out thousands upon thousands of times took a strange toll on them both. Everything was exactly the same each time. Even the swatting of the fly, and escaping the first round of Déjà vu lost all sense of victory as they were entirely engulfed in the second round, over and over and over again endlessly. And all the while, “… there’s no time left, … there’s no time left, … there’s no time left…” echoed with sinister abandon throughout their souls. All the way up to the moment when Ischandar went to put his finger gingerly on the girl’s door to try to help her escape in the 52560th cycle. For the first time then he noticed that on the door handle there was … a tiny yellow fly with black wings.

“Thwap!” Ishcandar struck at the fly with his hand. Suddenly the time loop was broken! And so they escaped the Déjà vu’s deadly clutches once again. The little yellow fly buzzed away and vanished into the shadows, laughing with delight.

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