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The Unwelcome - Part 2

 “Team,” Treguard continued. “We shall have to do the strictly forbidden. Mark, stand up! I’m afraid you will have to turn back!”

The advisors were silent. They gave each other confused glances. How could Treguard say this? It is the one prominent rule of the dungeon that had never changed in its infinitive history, and one that Treguard himself had always stuck to under all occasions. Perhaps Treguard wasn’t thinking straight. All the confusion of recent events had really disturbed him. Even so, he stood boldly without any look of hesitation and repeated to Mark that he was to stand.

Mark stood and waited for further instruction. Treguard told the team that Mark had to turn and walk back, as this was the only option open to them. The main advisor told Mark to turn 180 degrees… and walk forward.

The team waited, as did Treguard. None of them knew what to expect. Even Treguard did know what the consequences of turning back would be. He only knew that it had been forbidden by the most powerful sorcerer of the dark ages, long before the dungeon became open to the other side.

Slowly and cautiously, the dungeoneer walked back in the direction he came from. He walked by the view of the magic mirror, but the view in the mirror did not turn to follow behind Mark – as it had been designed by magic only to look ahead, not back.

Nobody could see Mark. One of the advisors shouted out to him. But there was no reply.

“Mark! Can you hear me?” Treguard then yelled. But a loud bell chime suddenly interrupted him, closely followed by a second. Treguard’s heart sank, as he knew what these chimes meant. He had heard them countless times. Mark had not survived the dungeon. The quest had failed.

“Well team, I am truly sorry. I did what I thought was best, and I’m sure you agree.” Treguard said sincerely. One of the advisors nodded in agreement. “Well team, all I can say now is farewell!”

“Spellcasting D-I-S-M-I-S-S”

The team vanished. It had been a while since Treguard had used this technique to see off the advisors, his magic staff was not with him. Majida had taken it with her to look after when she was last seen.

“Treguard!! Treguard!!” came a call from the magic mirror. Treguard rushed over to it and was surprised to see the three advisors standing on the path home but without Mark. “What’s going on team? I dismissed you! Why have you called me?”

“We have called you because our dungeoneer Mark has not returned to join us. We do not think he has survived.”

“Do not talk nonsense!” Treguard replied. “Mark may have been killed in the dungeon, but he survived in your reality. There must be an explanation for his disappearance.”

“Spellcasting: M-A-R-K”

Suddenly the magic mirror cleared away the view of the advisors and revealed the image of Mark. He appeared motionless and still, but was falling through a heavy mist of blackness and grey.

“Mark! Mark wake up! Can you hear me?” Treguard called, but there was no sign of a reply, or even that Mark had heard him at all. Treguard noticed that Mark was still wearing the helmet of justice. This was extremely odd as usually when a dungeoneer did not succeed in the dungeon, he returned home and the helmet was immediately removed by magic and returned to Treguard in Knightmare Castle. It suddenly struck Treguard that the team was right. Mark had not survived, either in the dungeon or in his own reality.

The bad feeling, which had been in the pit of Treguard’s stomach for a long time now, came to the surface. He realised he finally had to accept it. Since the dungeon did not have any interest in killing the dungeoneer, there must be an outside source at work. A source which had made itself at home in the dungeon. A source that had brought in new obstacles to the dungeon. A source that had brought in that terrible endless corridor, tricking dungeoneers into turning back. A source which seemed to want for dungeoneers to die in the real world, but keeping them in the dungeon. Treguard knew one thing for sure – this intruder of the dungeon did not belong, and most of all, was unwelcome.

Treguard continued to watch the image of Mark until finally he had completely faded into the mist. What had happened to him? Where had he gone when he turned back?

There was only one person who could possibly even hint at what was happening – Hordriss. And he had gone stark raving mad when Treguard last saw him.

Treguard paced back and forth in his chamber wracking his brains as to what to do next. The quest had failed and his was his duty to bring in the next team and start all over again. But how could he could he do this knowing full well that the team was headed straight for either certain death by low life force on the conveyor belt, or by turning back?

Despite all the horrors Treguard had seen down in the depths of the dungeon, Treguard had never faced such a dilemma. There was a time when the task was simple. A team would travel through the dungeon in an effort to complete a task. There was no opposition. There were no devious plots. Of course that was in the past. Back in the days before Pickle or Majida. Back in the days of Merlin the wizard.

“Hang on!” Treguard yelled out loud. “I still have one chance. Hordriss the Confuser may have dropped into the depths of insanity, but Merlin is still somewhere in the depths of the dungeon.”

“Malefact! Malefact! Malefact!”

In a puff of smoke, and with a loud bang, an old twisted man with long white hair appeared in the chamber before Treguard, wearing what appeared to be pajamas.

“What on earth…” said the man, “What in the name of goodness is going on? One minute I was lying in my bed… oh no, don’t tell me I’ve fallen into one of my own dreams again! Oh no… now what did I do last time this happened…?”

Treguard watched with a slight smirk on his face as the man struggled to work out what was going on.

“Umm… where’s my wand?”

The man turned round and found himself looking right at Treguard. There was a long pause as the two gentlemen studied each other.

“Is that… Treguard?? Treguard! Oh my goodness!” “It’s me Merlin.” Came the reply.

The two men shook hands, and then hugged each other as old friends do.

“Why I haven’t seen you since… since…” stammered Merlin.

“Since 1990, Merlin. It’s been a long time”

“1990?” replied the old wizard. “I thought this WAS 1990!”

“Um. Not quite, Merlin.” The two old friends continued to talk, and spent a moment catching up on old times, until matters turned more serious.

“Dungeon Master,” Merlin said.” Why have you summoned me here?”

There was an awkward silence while Treguard decided what to say.

“Old man, I’m afraid things have changed somewhat in the dungeon since you retired home.”

Merlin’s face became serious. “In what way?”

“Well, I’m not sure exactly. There’s a … a presence. And it’s influencing the fate of the dungeon.”

“A presence you say? Hmmm, very curious”

“Yes my thoughts exactly. But there’s more. We’re right in the middle of the quest season. I need to call in the next dungeoneer soon and…”

“And what?”

“And I know he isn’t going to come back out. I’m afraid our last dungeoneer perished.”

“Oh Treguard!” Merlin laughed. “Surely you know that’s the risk of going ahead with a quest!”

“No Merlin. That’s not what I mean. I do not mean he did not survive the dungeon. I mean he did not survive… at all.”

“Great Goblins Treguard!! That is not supposed to happen. The dungeon has no interest in killing human beings.”

“That’s what I mean when I say there is a presence at work”

“I fear you may be right, Treguard. An evil presence by the sounds of it. And if word gets out to the other side, no one will dare tackle the dungeon! You did right to call me, Treguard. For this is all dreadfully familiar to me.”

“Too familiar…”

Treguard became worried. Merlin had a very concerned look on his face, and told Treguard he needed to sit down before he fell down. Treguard took Merlin’s arm and directed him to his chair by the fire.

“Treguard there is something I need to tell you,” Merlin began. “Something I have kept to myself for many, many years.”

“I’m listening.”

“Treguard, many centuries ago, when I was young and healthy, I… I…”

Treguard waited in silence.

Merlin went on. “I was standing here in this room. In fact I was sitting right here in this chair. You see Treguard, I used to be Dungeon Master.”

There was a long, long silence. At first Treguard did not know what to say. He had always believed that he alone had mastered the dungeon. There had been Dungeon Guards before him, who merely watched over the castle, the chamber, and the entry to the dungeon. But they had not actually travelled through, and certainly not actually mastered the dungeon all the way to level 3. Treguard had been the only one to actually retrieve all four quest items, defeat both Mogdred and Lord Fear and hold power over all things good in the dungeon.

And now all this had changed. Why had Merlin, a life long friend of Treguard never told him that he was once dungeon master?

“Because I did something I’m ashamed of,” Merlin said, as if reading Treguard’s thoughts. “I felt I had to resign from my post as Dungeon Master.”

“What did you do?”

“Well, it’s a long story. And this business at the moment of this so-called “outside presence” in the dungeon has taken me right back to when it happened. I fear history may be repeating itself.”

Treguard waited for Merlin to continue. The old man began to stammer and confuse his words. Treguard offered him a drink and went out of the room to see what he could do. Merlin sat shaking his head muttering “Oh dear, oh dear…”

Meanwhile, down below the castle, somewhere in the deepest depths of the dungeon, was a gate. A large iron gate with vertical bars covering the entrance to a small cave where someone had once been kept prisoner. The cave was dark and damp with no signs of life apart from spiders and insects scurrying around. Where a guard had once stood at the entrance was now nothing more than a rotten skeleton. The door of the cage had been burst open; the bars had been bent. There were what appeared to be blood stains on the walls and it looked as though there had been some sort of struggle.

Someone had escaped.

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