PS, This post here breaks my word record! I wrote over 3000 words, just in this part! Whoo-hoo!
portal. The dwarf wondered fleetingly if there was a world out there where people could walk on the moon.
It took much faster to climb the viney stalk without having to worry about the centaur. Rather than use the leaf platforms, Boldaphist now just climbed straight up like the thing was a tree, clinging to the vines and shimmying up. It was certainly easier, but after a while Boldaphist became lonely. He hoped Ryder was having as easy a time going down. Then he figured he probably ought not to worry too much. The sheriff looked like he could take care of himself.
At long last, the end was in clear sight. The stalk grew thinner and thinner until it was a beanpole, and Boldaphist could see the tip of the stalk bent and curling at the top, as if it was... running into a ceiling?
That didn't make any sense. Boldaphist frowned with confusion and cautiously kept shimmying up the green, viney pole until he was just near the place with the stalk bent.
As it turned out, the stars were, in fact, close enough to touch. Literally! The dwarf stretched up a hand above his head, and he could feel an invisible flat surface, like a ceiling painting to look like the night sky from below, stopping the giant bean stalk from getting any taller than it already was.
"Blooming boulders," muttered Boldaphist, patting the ceiling wherever he could reach, continuing to hug and hold onto the stalk. It looked like this was the end of the line, but where was that boy Jack? Had he been too late? Had Jack already fallen off and plummeted to his death, and Boldaphist had been too busy and focused on his climbing to notice? It didn't seem possible.
His hand ran up against a little groove in the ceiling, and when he felt it, Boldaphist guessed that it was a door of some kind. A secret door in the sky? Well, after all that he'd seen already, it didn't really surprise him that much. It seemed like it could be a sliding door, so he shifted it to the side, and...
Cold, slushy snow fell from the ceiling right onto Boldaphist's head, and he coughed and spluttered with shock. A loud, powerful blast of wind slapped his cheeks, instantly making his wet face freezing and threatening to deafen him, so he quickly shut the little sliding door. The beanstalk wobbled a little from the force of it, and the dwarf clung to it for dear life until it stopped moving.
Whatever was up there, Jack had to have come this way. There wasn't anyplace else to go. So Boldaphist slid the door open again, ignoring the cold, and pulled himself up into the little square hole in the starry ceiling.
Everything became sensations of noisy, white and freezing. He found himself in a world swirling with snow, buffeted by strong winds that nearly knocked him over. He could barely see 5 feet in front of him, everything was so white.
Boldaphist slid the little door under him shut and started to move, snow crunching under his boots, eyes squinting, head bent low as he went against the wind.
Winter could be quite frigid and snowy up in the Dwarvian mountains, but dwarves are really tough creatures. Their thick skin coupled with their hairy faces and bodies are usually enough to combat any kind of cold weather. However, Boldaphist had never encountered a climate such as this, and he couldn't help shivering a little as he inched forward through the snow.
"Jack? Jaaaack!" Boldaphist roared as loud as he could, but he could barely even hear himself over the winds. "Jack! Are you out there?"
His heart sank as fast as the temperature had sunk. He had no idea what to do, but to keep moving and yelling out for the boy, though his situation looked bleak, and Boldaphist started imagining the worst. If he didn't find Jack soon, he'd have to assume that he got lost and froze to death in this awful place. He didn't look forward to telling his mother what had happened...
Oh no. Boldaphist halted, frozen by a certain thought. How was he going to get back? There was nothing for him to draw a Plot Portal on, not even the snow-covered ground. He couldn't go back to the little sliding door that led to the beanstalk, because he had no idea where it was anymore. He was completely trapped.
But he couldn't give up. He had to keep trying. The brave dwarf trudged on through the snow, shouting at the top of his lungs, "JACK! WHERE ARE YA, LADDIE?! JACK!"
Suddenly, he felt the ground shake beneath him, even under all the snow. He squinted up, and through the haze saw a very large, monstrous figure approaching him, stomping through the thick blizzard.
Boldaphist didn't think the thing looked very friendly. He turned tail and ran in the other direction, away from the snow monster. He kept tripping and falling on his face into the snow, because the winds kept pushing him down.
"No!" yelled the dwarf. The monster had caught up with him, and he could see a giant, hairy white beast standing over him. It's extremities were a frozen shade of blue, but the rest of it was thick with shaggy fur. The hands and feet were enormous, but its face was tiny and squished close together. With little beady black eyes and a mouth filled with little, but sharp looking teeth, the monster found the dwarf and smiled evilly at him. It bent down and scooped the dwarf up into its blue hands, stomping away with Boldaphist trapped in its thick fingered cage.
Some time later, the giant snow monster finally came to a place where the blizzard winds stopped blowing, and the sudden silence was deafening to Boldaphist. Not only that, but it was much warmer in there. Up to that point, the helpless dwarf had simply huddled inside the monster's palms, but now he tried to peek through the cracks between its fingers and see the kind of shelter they'd come to.
It looked like a humongous cave with a fire roaring in the middle of it. Huddled near the fire, trapped in a little wire cage, lay a thin, bony-looking lad, huddled and asleep.
The white monster placed the dwarf down on the ground and put him in a similar separate cage, a wiry box with 4 walls and a ceiling, but no floor.
The monster laughed at him and clapped it's giant hands together. "Mmm, Yeti make good dinner now. Yes. You small, but more meat than scrawny human," it said to Boldaphist in a deep, rumbling voice. "Yes. Yeti eat good." It turned its back on the dwarf and went to tend to the fire and build a rotisserie.
The dwarf looked at the Yeti, stunned that the thing could speak. He then looked about his wire prison, grabbed the bars and simply lifted the whole thing up.
The cage would have been heavy for Jack, who had been weakened by the cold, but it was easy for strong Boldaphist. The Yeti may have been smart enough to know how to talk, but otherwise it was pretty stupid to think a cage like this could hold a dwarf.
He escaped quietly, placing the cage back down as gently as possible, then tiptoed over to where Jack lay in his prison. The Yeti didn't pay any attention, humming happily to itself. "Hum hum hum, Yeti gonna eat. Yum yum yum, fresh warm meat!"
Boldaphist picked Jack's cage up, got inside and rushed to Jack's side. "Oy, Jack laddie, you okay?"
He lifted the boy's head, and heard a tired moan escape from his lips. "M-mom?" He opened his eyes weakly. "You're not my mother. What's going on? Where am I?" he said in a sick, feverish rasp.
"It's alright, Jack. I'm gonna get ya to yer Ma safe and sound," Boldaphist whispered. "We jus' gotta keep quiet."
"Hum yum hum, time for the meat!" The yeti turned around to Boldaphist's cage, but then frowned in confusion when it saw that it was empty. It picked the wire box up and looked around the area. "Meat? Where you go?"
Boldaphist realized he had to work fast. Pulling the magical chalk out from the pocket in his tool belt, he drew a rushed circle on the cave floor, big enough to fit him and Jack. "Think of yer Ma now, Jack," the dwarf told him. He pictured Mrs. Green's little shack, miles down below, and willed the portal to take him there. The outline began to glow.
The yeti heard the low hum of the Plot Hole, and turned towards the noise. It saw the meaty dwarf and the scrawny human in the same cage somehow, standing over a shiny white hole in the ground. "Meat!" The monster roared, furious about being tricked, and went to grab the cage and eat them both.
It was too late. The dwarf lifted Jack's body over his shoulder and jumped through the Plot Hole, and the instant he did the portal sealed itself up, so the Yeti only grabbed thin air.
"Nooo! Come back, meat! Yeti hungry!" The yeti cried, but it didn't come back. The monster became very sad, realizing it should have eaten the little human while he still had the chance to, even if he had been pretty bony. Now it had nothing, and it would be a long, long time before it could find anything else to eat again.
Ryder finally reached the bottom of the beanstalk, glad to have his hooves back on solid ground. All he'd had to do was hop down from leaf to leaf, and he was down in half the time. Lucky the bright moonlight made it easy to see where he was jumping down to.
The sun was just beginning to rise by the time the centaur had returned. Exhausted, he trotted over to the window and saw Jack's mother in her bed, sleeping peacefully. The sheriff smiled, crouched himself down next to the house and curled up his horse legs under him to go to sleep, leaning his head against the wall and shutting his eyes. He hoped he'd made the right choice, leaving that dwarf to his own devices to rescue poor Mrs. Green's son.
A little while later, Ryder felt himself being shaken awake by someone. "Goodness! Sheriff Ryder? Wake up, wake up!"
It had to be Jack's mother. Ryder rubbed his eyes looked up at her. "Howdy, ma'am. Looks like a beautiful morning, doesn't it?"
"Oh sheriff, please tell me what happened. What are you doing back down here? Where's your little friend? And where is Jack?"
Ryder stood up to his full height, stretching his arms tiredly. "Sorry Mrs. Green. I couldn't manage climbing the beanstalk near the top, so I had to let Boldaphist carry on without me. I'm not sure what's become of him."
Jack's mother gasped and put her hands to her cheeks. "You didn't save Jack? Oh, dear me, no! I'm sure he must be dead by now! My poor, sweet little boy!" She grabbed her apron and started sobbing into it.
"Please, dear little lady, no need to leap to conclusions. That dwarf Boldaphist is brave and true, and he won't let anything happen to your son. I just know it. I'm sure he found Jack safe and sound and they're both coming back down to you right now."
No sooner had the centaur finished speaking when both of them heard a thundering crash inside the shack. Ryder and Jack's mother jumped in surprise, and they rushed around to the front door to see what had happened.
Upon opening it, they found Boldaphist and Jack moaning in a pile on the ground, having landed right on top of the table and breaking it.
"Well, start a stampede and call me a pancake!" exclaimed Ryder.
A weak Jack slowly lifted his head and found the eyes of Mrs. Green. "Mom? Is that really you?"
As much crying and embracing between mother and son ensued, Sheriff Ryder tapped Boldaphist on the shoulder and made a motion to follow him out of the house. The dwarf walked out with him, and Jack and his mother never even noticed that they'd left.
When they were far enough from the Greens' little shack and the beanstalk, Ryder turned and smiled down at Boldaphist. "You sure did good, partner."
Boldaphist grunted. "Thanks."
"I'm sorry I left you alone up there."
"Hmph. 'Pology accepted."
"Was it very hard returning with Jack?"
"Great granite, ya wouldn't believe what was atop of that cursed beanstalk," said Boldaphist excitedly. "The sky was just a ceilin'! There was a trapdoor that led to a blizzard world! I was freezin' me boots off, and then I got captured by a dumb giant called Yeti, and it was gonna eat me and Jack! If I didn't 'ave yer special chalk, I doubt we'd ever 'ave gotten outta that place," he said, pulling the Chekhovian chalk out of his pocket and handing it back to the centaur.
Ryder took the piece of yellow chalk. "Sounds like quite a Story, Boldaphist. I'm glad you made it out safely. Now, if you'll allow me," said the centaur, halting their walk, "I want to ask you something before you say the magic words and go on home to your mountain and your dwarf pals. It's not something you have to answer right away. You can think about it as long as you want to."
"Oh? And what's that?" asked the dwarf, puzzled.
"Partner, how would you like to become an official agent of Ouathea?"
Boldaphist hadn't expected that. "What?"
"If you want to, you can be like me, a World-Hopper. An explorer of new lands. A critter who goes about helping people when they need someone. The job doesn't pay and there's no guarantee of your safety, but the rewards are great, and you get to make your own hours."
"Hmm, I don't know, laddie..."
The centaur bent down and put a hand on Boldaphist's shoulder. "I know it's a lot to ask, Boldaphist, so again, I won't ask you to make your decision now. But I can tell that you're a good person, with a good heart. You're clever, you're quick-witted, and when you have a mission, you do whatever it takes to succeed, even when things look their bleakest. You are brave, Boldaphist.
"So, if you ever decide you want to go on another adventure, you just find your world's Ouathea Plot Hole again, come find me, and you'll receive your own piece of Chekovian Chalk. If not, well... It was a real pleasure knowing you." Ryder offered his hand for a shake.
Boldaphist didn't reveal anything in his expression, keeping a poker face as he shook the centaur's hand. "Same to you, I s'pose. Thanks fer the adventure and all, but I'm feelin' mighty knackered right now. I'll have to get back to ya."
"Fair enough, partner." The sheriff straightened up and tilted his hat. "You can say it now."
Boldaphist nodded, clenched his fists together, and said, speaking the truth this time, "And they all lived happily ever after."
"Except for the Yeti," Ryder threw in.
Boldaphist looked at the sheriff and chuckled in agreement. "Except for the Yeti," he added.
In literally the blink of his eye, Boldaphist was suddenly home, standing in his own living quarters! No more dealing with centaurs or beanstalks or Yetis ever again. He was never so happy to see these boring, everyday things he'd taken for granted. There was his stone work bench! There was his hot springs bathtub! There was his soft, warm bed!
There was a knock on the door. Before he could collapse happily onto his cockatrice feather-stuffed pillows, the dwarf went over to see who it was. He opened the door and was met with Rokarm, his level's dwarf in charge of daily work assignments.
"Mornin', Boldaphist, m'boy! Ya ready to start a brand new day's... work?" Rokarm looked up from his stone clipboard and took a closer look at Boldaphist, noticing his damp clothes, his dirty boots, and his disheveled hair and beard. "Good graphite, are ya feelin' well, laddie? Ya don't look like ya slept at all last night. What happened to ya?"
Boldaphist groaned from exhaustion. "Trust me, Rokarm, ya wouldn't believe me if I told ya. Forgive me, but could ya do me a favor and cover for me, give me a day off? I'd might 'preciate it."
Rokarm consulted his clipboard for a while. "Well, of course, Boldy lad, ya certainly look like you could use a healthy rest. I don't know that ya can take the entire day off, though. Not sure how the Elders would approve of that. But yes, you can take as much time off as ya need, long as ya come into the mine at some point in the day. Take care of yerself!" With that, Rokarm went on to the apartment next door to knock on the neighbor's door. "Mornin', Gravleg! How are you feelin' about ruby sortin' today?"
Boldaphist shut the door behind him and dragged his feet to the bed, falling onto it without bothering to take off his shoes or his tool belt.
"Ahhh, peace at last." he said, closing his eyes. He sucked in a large breath and exhaled loudly.
The air didn't taste quite so fresh anymore. It was stale, dry, inside-a-mountain air. That was something Boldaphist would probably miss a lot. Already he was dreading going back to his dull, boring work in the mines. There was nothing to excite him there, nothing to challenge him, nothing to make him feel like he'd made a difference in the world.
The dwarf opened his eyes and stared at the ceiling, scratching his beard thoughtfully. He remembered Ryder's offer, suggesting he become like the sheriff and go on adventures. He imagined himself going out there, returning to the land of Once Upon A Time and Happily Ever After, doing things for good folks, jumping through Plot Holes.
Maybe being a World-Hopper wouldn't be such a bad idea after all...