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(If you missed the first chapters, check them out online at http://newrichlandstar.com!)

Martin’s shoulders drooped in frustration as he gazed pensively at his childhood creations, Fix and Bit. “Of course it couldn’t be easy,” he said to them.

“It’s not that we can’t get you back to your home,” Fix explained, “but it’s taken us a long time to figure out how to get Shedeerbit there and back again with you in tow.”

“Well, now that you know how, it should be easy to do again, right?” queried Martin. He looked around for the creature he’d designed back in fourth grade. Shedeerbit was sitting under a large tree, basking in the shade from the pink sun overhead. The animal looked exhausted. “Or maybe not,” said Martin. “Let me guess: rest is needed.”

“We believe so,” purred Bit. “That was only Shedeerbit’s second trip to your plane of existence, and last time she wasn’t able to move much for two days.”

Martin’s head dropped at that. Two days? What must Pam be thinking? Surely she’d noticed he wasn’t home by now. Someone would’ve found his abandoned vehicle and the tracks he’d made. But what then? The tracks would’ve ended abruptly. He barely remembered encountering the animal that had brought him here. There was a bright light and once he’d gotten within five feet of her, the light had intensified and he’d found himself here.

When Martin looked up again, he saw the various creatures surrounding him looking nervously about. “Ahem, Sir Martin,” started Fix, “perhaps we can move this conversation somewhere less… out in the open.”

Martin sighed. “I guess as long as I’m stuck here for a couple days, I can learn more about why you wanted me here.”

As they trudged deeper into the forest, Martin brightened a bit. While he was still worried about his family and how to get home, he realized what a tremendous setting it was in which he found himself. He strained his memory to come up with other creations he’d made over the years. Were they all here in this land? “Hey, do you have a name for all this?” he asked his guides.

“Of course, Sir Martin,” replied Bit. “You created all this, and named this territory…”

“Steinland!” shouted Martin. “Of course! And this is the Foggy Forest, right?”

“Quite so,” said Fix. “It’s become quite a bit more foggy as of late, though it seems to be thin right now.” Something seemed to spark behind his eyes as he noticed this.

Martin looked around more closely. He hadn’t seen it at first, being in such a gnomic situation when he arrived, but there was a light mist in the air. “Do you all live here in the forest?” he asked. “Doesn’t anyone live in the Flowing Fields or down by the Rocky River?”

Fix looked at him sadly. “We used to, Sir Martin, but to roam too far from the Foggy Forest now brings one into a danger that is hardly worth the effort.”

“Yeah, you said there was trouble,” responded Martin. “What’s going on? How can I help?”

Bit looked around nervously. “It’s best discussed away from possible spying eyes,” he said. “We’re nearly to the Cozy Caves; we’ll talk more there.”

Martin realized how much he’d been into alliteration when he was younger; every name had repeating starting sounds. What else was there here? Before he could come up with any other locations, he noticed a large opening in a jumble of rocks ahead of them: the entrance to the Cozy Caves. Standing outside were a couple of his fiercer-looking creations, brandishing spears. Their eyes brightened upon seeing Martin and they gave a slight bow as he passed by and entered the caverns.

Fix and Bit led him about half a mile into the caves and brought him to an open chamber that was lit by piercing rays of light from openings in the rock above. Logs were set about and Martin was invited to sit upon one of them. As he sat, many of the other creatures filed into the room; some sat on logs and others stretched out on the floor if they were better designed for that.

“So now can you tell me what’s going on?” he asked. As he spoke, trays of nuts and berries were brought out; the provisions were welcome as Martin realized just how hungry he was after trudging through the forest.

“A great evil has plagued Steinland these past years, Sir Martin,” began Fix. “It has been growing steadily until now it threatens every living thing here. This evil originates from…”

“The Too-Tall Tower!” interrupted Martin. He’d just remembered another creation of his, a tower fueled by magic that could keep growing, if needed, to keep enemies from reaching the top. “But what could be evil here in Steinland? Wait,” he paused, remembering the darker time of his teenage years. “You don’t mean?”

“Yes, Sir Martin,” answered Bit. “Mundrago has taken over the tower and is on the verge of destroying everything we hold dear!”

To be continued!

— — —

Happy birthday to my lovely wife, Michelle, this week! You’ve caught up to me again, my lobster!

Word of the Week: This week’s word is gnomic, which means puzzling or ambiguous, as in, “The gnomic movie left those who viewed it scratching their heads, trying to figure it out.” Impress your friends and confuse your enemies!

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