The boot bounced off of my chest and back into the sitting room. I readied myself to fight, if need be, by taking off the whip. Instantly, it felt like nothing more than an extension of my arm. It was so comfortable in my grasp. I was ready to take on anything.
However, the creature that threw the boot hadn't done so out of malice, as it hadn't even known I was there. I took a knee behind the door frame and peered around the corner in awe of what I was seeing. It was like someone gave life to one of those hideous garden gnomes that lived in most front lawns, and it was going through my steamer trunk of books!
I wanted to boot stomp the fucker, but if it was a legitimate life form, and not just a construct, then I couldn't do that. I needed to at least give it a chance to defect to my side. Oh, man! That would be both hysterical and adorable! As I got up to approach it, I had a sudden flashback of the sleeping gas attack that made me stumble for a step. Apparently that was enough. The gnome peered over the lip of the trunk and looked straight at me. All I could see was a big nose, its eyes, and that stupid pointed hat.
It shrieked at me and began chanting some kind of gibberish. I was so badly startled that I jumped back, bumping into the wall. It leapt out of the chest with little to no effort and toddled up to me. By the stars, this thing was hard to stifle a laugh from. When it approached, it lifted its arms and made an "ak! ak!" sound.
"You want me to lift you up?" I asked, legitimately trying to not poke fun at the foot-tall garden gnome. When it nodded enthusiastically, I obliged and knelt down to grab it. It seemed delighted that I was picking it up. Holding it at arm's length, I looked at it, narrowing my eyes. It felt like a real, living thing.
It mimicked my face, so I began making different faces, just to see what it would do. I wasn't entirely surprised to find that it copied them all perfectly. It pointed behind me, back out into the hall, so I began walking where it lead me. When it took me to the basement door, I hesitated.
"Dak! Dak!" it screeched at me.
"What's down there, little buddy? Are you going to rip my throat out if I take you down there?"
"Nak! Nak!" It shook its head, and pointed at the door. It had begun vibrating in a fit of what I assumed was excitement. I took a deep breath and opened the door, allowing a pungent odor of wildflowers, moss, and other general flowery scents. Then it dawned on me.
"We're going to see Tandamum, aren't we?"
"Ak! Ak!" It rotated its head a full 180 degrees and smiled an impossibly large smile that revealed rows of viscious-looking, needle-like teeth. I shuddered.
"Can't I save at least save one person first? I don't want to go alone."
"Mek!" it grunted. It seemed to consider this notion unhappily before sighing and then we were suddenly in another room, with no more sound than a "paf!" We were in the study, where my whole social circle, minus Sal (damn it), was tied to individual poles, the same poles as last night. As soon as the gnome and I appeared, all heads turned toward us.
"Jim!" they all gasped at once, making me feel like I rose from the dead. The gnome looked from me, to my friends, and back to me again, in one 360-degree rotation of its toothy head, seeming to be considering who it should set free. I carried it over to Tilly.
"Oh, Jim! They caught me! I was sneaking around back, and when I stopped to gather my fortitude, so I started playing with that pen you gave me. Almost immediately after, I heard your voice run screaming into the fray where my ex sucker-punched you! Then I stood and begged for you to stop, as I couldn't bear to watch you be hurt!" She had begun crying out of frustration as she struggled against her wrist and ankle restraints.
"Jim! They're gonna fucking sacrifice us, Jim!" Now it was Diego's turn to get my attention. "I think they killed Sal, Jim! They killed that guy we all thought was you, but when you showed up stupidly last night, he stopped looming like you and they killed him!"
"Allendriel...." I whispered. "Has anyone seen Allendriel?"
No one responded.
"Damn it!" I sighed, then turned to my gnome. "Okay, buddy. Who'd you pick?" It pointed at Diego, and suddenly the three of us were standing outside the cellar door once again, with no more than a "paf!" I looked at Diego.
"We're being led to Tandamum." I said, grimly. He reached over to the wall by the front door, and picked up two axes we kept for chopping down trees, and reated them on his shoulders.
"Then let's bring it." I clapped him on the back, and opened the basement door.