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Pickle runs into grave trouble in the dungeon. Fanfic, by Emily Evans.

Breaking the Rules

[Emily Evans (née Bradshaw) / May 2002]

 

Treguard paced back and forth in front of the swimming portal, a look of concern and anger crossing his face. "He's gone too far this time - I knew it was only a matter of days before he tried something like this."

He uttered a few curses and slammed his fist on the heavy oak tabletop. The rage was blazing in his eyes as he searched the room for something, though he wasn't sure what it was. Pickle slipped out from behind the Dungeon Master's chair and held out a shining broadsword, encrusted at the hilt with green gems. "Do you plan to challenge him, Master?"

Treguard shook his head and waved away the elf's efforts. "I don't know yet - I knew he would not give a second thought to breaking certain rules, but I never expected him to kidnap a dungeoneer…"

"What has become of the Advisors?"

"They have been sent home - I have made sure of that." Treguard rested his hands on the side of the pool before him. After some thought, he raised a hand and waved it across the surface, his tone changing instantly:

"Lord Fear! Fear, show yourself and speak to me, you..." He struggled to find a word fit to describe the leader of the opposition. Lord Fear swam a second later in the waters, a twisted smile playing the corners of his mouth. "Treguard! What a nice surprise…for what reason have you chosen to…erm…grace me with your presence?"

"You know exactly why I am here - return her and we shall speak no more of the matter. Breaking the rules to this extent is a serious offence, and you are lucky I am willing to overlook this."

Lord Fear stared back at Treguard in mock terror, then uttered a low laugh. "And you expect me just to give her back? Just like that? Well I'm afraid you're wrong, my dear friend - our powers are matched, and I plan to grow stronger. By the time you find my domain, who knows what may have happened in time." There was a pause. "Sorry to leave you like this," he added, sarcastically, "but I do believe I have a few matters to attend to…" With that, he vanished from the waters.

"Blast!" Treguard waved a fist in thin air, words failing him for a moment. "Pickle, I need you to run a message to the towers - we need to inform those in the dungeons…" Silence hovered behind him. "Pickle?" Still no answer. He turned as he heard a 'whoooosh', the sound of someone being transported…just in time to see Pickle rushing through the portal to the dungeons!

"Damn it, you idiotic elfin! What on earth do you think you are doing?" He muttered a little more, as he set about finding his quill to send the message himself. A missing mortal seemed far more important than a runaway elf, who knew the dangers. His hand fell on an opened scroll resting on the arm of his chair. He recognised Pickle's childish scrawl and snatched up the parchment.

Master, please don't be angry. I have gone to get the dungeoneer. Don't worry about me. Lord Fear wont expect an elf to find him. Treguard groaned and held his head in his hands - he would never, in all his long life, understand how the minds of these forest creatures worked. Unfortunately, he was powerless in controlling the actions of one who is not a dungeoneer. However, he thought as he sat in front of the pool, I can keep an eye on him and speak to him occasionally… I just wish him the best of luck.

Pickle scurried over the stone floor of the first room - he had seen these dungeons before, and knew vaguely where the traps were.

"I'll be alright," he muttered, as he danced across a falling block in the floor. Spying a table by the door, he snatched up a knife and a small bottle, saying to himself, "If Fear can break rules, I can most certainly bend them, can't I?"

He grinned impishly as he slipped through the black doorway.

"Or tie them in knots…"

The next room was empty save a lone figure curled up in a corner. Pickle hesitated, seeing that it was a young girl, not Aesandra or another evil Lady of the dungeons. As he approached she raised her head and he gasped as he recognised the face as one of the last to see the dungeoneer:

"Gretel! Good grief, you're black and blue. What happened?" She rubbed her bruised arms as Pickle crouched by her side.

"The Dreadnort took her - I'm so sorry, I couldn't do anything to help! The goblins kept us back…" She sobbed quietly into her apron.

"Who's 'us'?" asked Pickle, cautiously.

"Motley and I…they knocked him out! Oh, please tell me he's alright!"

Pickle avoided her gaze. "I'm sure he's fine,"

If they didn't hit him too hard, he thought. He stood up, guilty at having to leave Gretel. "I have to go now, you helped the best you could - my master would be proud." She beamed at him as he headed for the next room, and he moved away as fast as he could without seeming too urgent. He stopped before he left, and took the bottle out of his pocket. He couldn't read the word on it, as it was in old English script.

"Gretel?" She looked up again. "What does this say?"

Gretel stared at the label. "Witchhazel - what's that?"

"It's a healing herb!" Pickle was relieved. "Use it where it hurts, I promise it will work." He handed Gretel the bottle and scampered away.

"Silly girl," he mused as he nimbly dodged the spears firing from the ground in the third room. "She needs to be more like those warrior princesses. Or maybe she's scared of them?" He had his mind elsewhere, and the last spear came closer than he expected and left a tear in his right upper arm. Falling to his knees before the doorframe, Pickle grit his teeth and clapped a hand over the wound…as the haunting sound of a goblin horn echoed through the dungeons.

"Oh good grief," he moaned, his arm throbbing persistently, "all I need…"

Treguard tapped the side of the pool anxiously staring into the dungeons from his gloomy tower-room. "Come on Pickle, get up!" He breathed again as Pickle dragged himself back on his feet and disappeared into the next room. "Our young elf here seems to be getting a bit big for his boots…if he had any," He smiled; "I believe he is learning that traversing the dungeons is a lot harder than advising…"

Pickle was halfway into the room when he was picked up by the back of his shirt and swung easily in mid-air.

"Well what 'ave we 'ere?" A familiar gravelly voice spat at him gleefully. "Summat 'scaped my goblins, did it? We'll see what Lord Fear got to say 'bout this then…"

Pickle snatched at his knife as one of the goblins picked it out of his belt. Left unarmed, he twisted in a desperate attempt to get away and sank his teeth into Skarkill's wrist as he tried to gag him. Skarkill shouted and snatched his hand away. He then whistled shrilly and dragged Pickle towards a spinning hole of black and grey, which they both disappeared into in an instant.

"No, no, no!" Treguard tapped the surface of the water, attempting to follow Skarkill's path. Seeing no result he dipped the nearby staff into the pool. A crackle of energy skidded across the shining liquid and spilled over the sides - the portal path was hexed. Untouchable and unbreakable. Throwing on his long cloak, Treguard sped down the tower steps to a steed waiting by the gates. He must travel to the Forest of Dunn and inform the messengers within…

Skarkill dropped Pickle onto the stone floor of this new dungeon room, and gave him a kick in the ribs as he passed. He grinned as he exited, shutting the huge cast-iron door and bolting Pickle into the room.

"Don't worry, imp. I'll be back soon, with me Lord by me side…" He cackled viciously and his footsteps echoed down the stony corridors of wherever they were. Pickle curled up in a corner and began to wonder why he ever set himself this task.

The door slammed back on its hinges and Lord Fear strode into the dungeon-like room, bringing in an icy wind as his cloak billowed around him.

"So, Elf. You thought you could come and rescue the Dungeoneer…perhaps come waltzing in here, then subsequently breeze back out with her - playing the hero? Well I'm afraid you're out of luck, little tyro- I've sent her home. What better way to apprehend him than by kidnapping his closest assistant?" He snapped his fingers. "Bind him."

Luminous green ropes snaked out of thin air and wrapped themselves around Pickle, binding him to a post that hadn't been in there before. He couldn't move at all, except for his neck. Fear clamped a hand firmly under his chin and turned Pickle's face towards him.

"I wouldn't try and escape, the corridors are a maze crawling with goblins. Oh, and if you thought this little adventure would make you a hero, you are very much mistaken - you're nothing but an overgrown pixie who was fortunate enough to be taken on by a dithering old fool like Treguard." He let go. "I'll be back later." And with that, he was gone.

Treguard threw himself back in front of the pool as Hordriss appeared by his side.

"I trust you have informed the forest?"

"Yes," sighed Treguard. "The elves are distraught - they dare not face Lord Fear but cannot bare to lose one of their kind in this manner. I told them Pickle is still alive but they have no hope for him…"

Hordriss scratched his beard as he tried vainly to remember the revealing spell for untouchable curses. Suddenly it hit him.

"Ah! Of course…Spellcasting - A-S-S-A-I-L-A-T-I-O-N…"

The liquid turned red and cleared to show Fear wringing the neck of Skarkill, who was pleading over and over on his knees.

"Lordship, Lordship! I can explain…there was nuffing I could do…"

Lord Fear loosened his grip and growled at him. "Then you'd better explain fast, man, or I'll have your guts removed and used as dragon's dental floss…"

"The goblins are on strike…"

"WHY?"

Skarkill choked as Fear squeezed his throat again. "Lordship - let me finish…it's that pixie brat, whatsername…Pixel! She's got all 'er pixie friends an' they're attackin' me goblins with their pins 'n' needle type things…I reckon the forest 'as bin informed…"

Lord Fear let go of Skarkill's neck and dropped him in a heap on the floor.

"NO! Why now, of all times? Anyone would think people had something against me…SKARKILL!"

His assistant stumbled to his feet.

"Get Sylvester Hands - I'm going to give you a metal-melting spell. Take it and use it on the little brats only. D'you hear me? If any of Treguard's dungeon dwellers come onto the scene, just try and stall them or something." Skarkill nodded and fled.

"RHARK!" Fear's voice shook the foundations of his territory. An ugly, leather-skinned creature limped into view and bowed idiotically before him.

"Get up, you stupid creature, and go and inform the elf that I'm on my way, and to get ready to answer a few of my questions. Can you remember all that, or should I break it down for you?" The goblin stared at him quizzically. "GO! Get out of my sight - you're making me ill."

Fear was left alone, seated in his chamber, tapping the sides of his helmet in frustration. After several minutes of mumbling to himself about the 'lack of competence in minions these days', he got up and swept out of view.

Pickle jumped as the door was flung back again, and the impressive figure of Lord Fear stood before him. It was only within the last few minutes he had really started to feel afraid, but the look of hatred on this opponent's face was terrifying.

"Name, sprite." He barked at the cowering elf.

"Pickle." Lord Fear grinned sadistically.

"Pickle - how humble. Have you anything to say for yourself, Pickle?"

Appearing braver than he felt, he glared at Lord Fear and summoned all that was left of his courage.

"My master will be here soon and you are no match for him…you aren't even fit to be called a Lord…" Pickle saw an explosion of colours, as his head snapped back with the force of the blow.

"Perhaps we can come to an agreement here - you are powerless. I am all-powerful. You are unable to move, whilst I can attack whenever it pleases me. I suggest you answer my questions fully or you will receive the full extent of my wrath."

Suddenly Pickle heard Treguard's voice echoing somewhere in the back of his mind. Don't tell him anything, Pickle. We're coming to get you. Just hold on a bit longer. Treguard, on horseback with Hordriss close behind, spoke into the spyglass in his hand. "Pickle, can you hear me? Say 'yes' if you can."

"Yes!" He called out. Lord Fear smiled wickedly. Treguard nodded to Hordriss and they sped in a gallop, heading towards level 3. "So it's a 'yes', is it? You agree to answer truthfully?" Lord Fear sneered. "So we'll begin, shall we? Now, what is Treguard's weakest skill?" Pickle responded with silence. Fear brought his face level with his and bellowed at him. "Answer me!"

Pickle took a deep breath and looked him in the eye. "Swordplay."

Fear's face contorted in fury. "You're lying to me!" He swung his fist and caught Pickle in the jaw, who shook his head and attempted to refocus. Before he could do so Lord Fear issued a blow to his already blood-soaked arm, which emitted a loud crack. His agonised screams echoed off the walls.

Adjusting his cloak, Fear looked upon the white, shaking elf below him. Skarkill burst in through the door and stopped at the sight of this battered creature. "Lordship," he grinned. "You have succeeded, then?"

"Not yet I haven't," He replied through gritted teeth. "I will ask you once more: What…is it?"

Pickle looked away, but Fear put himself face to face and spoke dangerously. "This is your last chance, you worthless fool…"

His weak opponent spat in his face. Fear raised his fist, but Pickle passed out first and didn't feel a thing.

Back in Knightmare castle, Treguard was staring out of the window into the darkness. He heard stirring behind him and turned to see Pickle's fingers twitch. It was the most life he'd seen in the elf since his ordeal three nights before. He was now lying on a dusty old couch in the corner of the tower room, right arm splinted and bound.

As Treguard approached his weak body, Pickle's eyes suddenly snapped open and he gripped the arm of the couch by his head with a gasp.

"Master?"

He then struggled into a sitting position, and Treguard held him there as he threw up onto the stone floor. Pickle cowered as if expecting more beatings, but Treguard just made him lie back and rest.

"Oh, Pickle. I will never understand you. What on earth possessed you to do such a stupid thing?"

"I…" words failed him. Why did he go? Pickle had no idea. He thought for a second, and that terrible night's events flooded back into his memory. Closing his eyes he tried to push them away…

Treguard shook the elf, who was curled up beside him, rocking in anguish. He shouldn't have said anything this early on - it was only putting the poor creature through torture.

"Pickle - snap out of it, get a grip on yourself!"

Eventually Pickle lay still, sobbing. If only I could read his mind, thought the Dungeon Master, resting a hand on his shoulder.

Pickle could only hear one phrase in his head at that moment: "…you're very much mistaken - you're nothing…"

"Don't listen to Lord Fear, Pickle," Hordriss turned out of the shadows where he had remained before, unnoticed. "He seems to have quite a bad judgment of character, if you ask me."

"What?" Pickle glanced sadly at the old wizard.

"I'm sure I've heard Lord Fear describe himself as 'all-powerful' at some point," chuckled Hordriss. "I would say that there is reason to question the reliability of someone who cannot judge even themselves, do you not think?"

After a minute, Pickle smiled for the first time, and Treguard smiled with him in relief.

"You know Pickle," Treguard commented. "What you did in there was quite brave…" The groggy elf stared in disbelief.

"I mean it! How many elves do you know who willingly have taken on the leader of the opposition? And if there are any others, did they live to tell the tale?"

Pickle went red.

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