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Rrraff very faintly heard a grinding noise and what might have been a scream from the tunnel to the left. “That makes up my mind,” he said, and started down the tunnel to the right that promised to bring him to the Earthly Paradise. He just hoped it wasn’t the Balrukh’s paradise.

As he walked along the tunnel, it gradually got brighter and brighter. And it widened, and the stars came out, and Rrraff saw himself moving across unfamiliar territory on a flower-lined path, which led easily down a hill into a beautiful valley. In the center stood a magnificent palace made entirely of creamy white marble. A beautiful gauze-clad Trollop stood in the doorway to greet him. She looked deep into Rrraff’s beetle-browed, bloodshot eyes, and took his hand gently, and suddenly he found himself wearing a soft silken tunic of gold and green. There were rubies the size of ostrich eggs embedded in his majestic saffron turban.

You have found the earthly paradise.

She led him inside and introduced him to her six sisters, each more beautiful and delightful than the one before. They led him to a table and presented a magnificent feast, each one taking turns feeding him the finest pastries of sweetened bone. They poured flagon after flagon of delicious fire-wine for him to quaff. They stroked his brow and whispered in his ear, “Stay with us, Rrraff, you need never return to the hard life that the Trollgod will offer you.”

Rrraff dimly remembered that he had a race to win . . .

Meanwhile, SilverHorn made up his mind. The tentacles didn’t quite reach the floor. Dive and roll is perhaps not such a good idea on a rough cavern floor, but getting low and sneaking beneath the tentacles did seem to be his only way out.

He slithered on his belly like a reptile, inching forward, batting the occasional tentacle tip out of his way with his hands. The light from the exit just beyond the tentacles grew blinding. Apparently, it was full daylight outside. He felt a sharp talon rip and gouge at his back, but it barely reached him and only left a line of blood as he hurriedly scooted past it.

Twenty feet to go, fifteen, five – more and more tentacles brushed his body. Some seemed to be coated with acidic slime that burned him, others ended in some sort of sharp chitinous talon that gouged his flesh. At one point, he couldn’t help letting out a blood-curdling scream as he felt a tentacle tip penetrate the muscles of his back and hook on a rib. He lunged forward and tore loose from its grasp, dribbling gore all the way.

Then he was past them. He started to his feet, and rushed the exit . . . and slammed into a bright glowing wall. There was no exit – it was just a bright, magical trap – and now he saw the sign on the floor that he couldn’t see before. It said: ‘Certain Doom‘.

Then a tentacle, longer than the others shot out of the writhing mass behind him and wrapped around his leg. With an irresistible jerk, it pulled him back into the hideous tangle of tentacles and began lifting him toward the champing mouth that was in the center of the mass. SilverHorn’s courage deserted him, and his last scream was truly soul-splitting. With his last vestige of sanity, he remembered that he could be saved by pulling off his magic ring . . .

When all else fails, remove the ring

 

(to be continued)

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