Midnight’s Mission

I finally found the exit, but Stacy wouldn’t fit through.

“We’ll back track, find another way,” I told her encouragingly.

She shook her head, disheveled curls bouncing as her head swayed. “No, you know there’s no other way out. We’ve been looking for days.” She slumped against the wall across from the opening I was peeking through. “You have to go on without me.”

“I can’t do that.” I blinked to hold off tears. “There’s so few of us left.” I glanced behind me where Ricky and Anabell stood, shifting from food to foot, glancing about uncertainly, and blinking in the harsh sunlight.

She sighed heavily. “I guess I can try again.” She moved up to the opening, put her head out, and took a deep breath of fresh air. “The sun feels good,” she said, closing her eyes to enjoy the warmth.

I glanced above us and immediately regretted it. We’d been trapped in the Underground City for almost a week after the cave-in. Every tunnel we had found that may have been a way out had ended up blocked or destroyed or only had small, high windows leading to the daylight. Blink, our little firefly friend, had made a quick escape through the first one of those we found. He had promised to look for other ways out, but had yet to return.

I chose to believe some misfortune had befallen him—perhaps he had gotten lost or was still looking for an exit for us—rather than believe he had abandoned us.

I smiled at Stacy and took one of her hands. I gave her a reassuring squeeze, then started to pull as she struggled to squeeze through the gap.

After much grunting, it became apparent she wouldn’t fit through the hole as it was. Ricky was thin and I was tiny and Anabell’s round body was squishy. But Stacy was thick and strong and too big to fit through the partially destroyed doorway.

“Here, we’ll move some of the debris. Ricky? Anabell?”

Anabell wrinkled her pig-like nose, but Ricky bent his tall, stick-thin body and began to pull at the rocks.

Stacy pulled at rocks on her side, as well.

“That’s it! Come on, we’ve got this.”

Just when it seemed we might be able to widen the opening enough, Stacy froze.

“Midnight,” she hissed at me. “They’re coming.”

The Stalkers. Cold dread flooded through my stomach. The Overlord’s minions had caught up to us. “No,” I whispered. I thought we had lost them at the last cave in. Apparently they had either dug their way through or found a way around.

“Dig faster, Stacy! Anabell, please. Help us!”

Anabell shook her round head and began to back away.

I looked back and forth between Ricky and Anabell as I flung debris out of the way. Ricky put a hand on my shoulder.

“We should be putting rubble back, not taking it away to let them out.”

I shook my head frantically.

Stacy’s face melted into a resigned mask of dread. “He’s right, Midnight. You have to let me go. Get out of here. Finish the quest. Let me distract them while you get away.”

I shook my head again, trying to leverage a large stone out of the way. My body was too small to make much difference.

Stacy gave me a forced smile. “Here, you take it.” She shoved her pack through the opening. Without looking back, she took a breath and ran. She yelled as she fled, low, terrified, but also full of courage. She was leading away the monsters so we could escape.

Ricky pulled me gently backward and helped me shrug into the too-large pack that contained the precious underground treasure.

As Stacy’s voice faded, we watched in horror as the mangled bodies of the Overlord’s twisted creations passed by the hole. They were congealed bits and pieces of his collection mashed together every which way. They had unnatural sideways gaits, leaning as if they were always about to topple over, but another strange appendage would fall to the ground and catch them, catapulting them forward again.

There were dozens of them.

I suppressed a horrified scream, and instead, heard Stacy’s. First terror, and then pain, and then a strangled silence. We’d seen them pull one of our party members apart. My mind filled in the details of Stacy’s gruesome end.

“Let’s go,” Anabell said, and began to run.

I didn’t know where we ran, all we could do was flee from the exit of the Overlord’s Underground City, where creatures like us disappeared, never to be seen or heard from again.

Until now. We had escaped.

Be we weren’t free yet. We were still trapped within his walled city. A small fortress of misfits held out against the onslaught in the far northern corner of his kingdom, hunkered against the surrounding mountains. If we could just get there, we might be safe.

Tall trees towered over us, dwarfing us with their massive size. Sun dappled the ground as it filtered through the dense canopy, giving the wood an eerie feel, like the ground itself was shifting underneath us. We had slowed to a walk, panting to catch our breath, when we heard the call of a winged beast above us.

Anabell’s eyes grew as big and round as her body. Her mouth worked soundlessly, but Ricky wasted no time on fear and pushed the two of us forward.

And off we ran again, as winged death circled above us. I risked a glance behind us, and saw beady eyes fixed on us. It dove after us with sharp talons and a vicious beak.

“Look out!” I cried, and we dove for the ground.

But Ricky was too tall. The winged monster picked him up in its talons and carried him off. He didn’t start screaming until it had deposited him in its nest high above.

I stood rooted to the spot, starting after him in horror. Anabell grabbed me and started to run again.

I trusted her nose to get us where we were going. I couldn’t see through the tears.

We finally reached the edge of the walled city. The canyon with the river hundreds of feet below yawned before us. The rope bridge was still there. I hadn’t been sure if it would be or not, after our escape

“Just over the bridge, Midnight, and we’ll be home free,” Anabell said eagerly and started across the bridge.

“Anabell, wait. Why is the bridge still here? The Overlord knows what we stole. Wouldn’t he have…”

“Don’t be silly. The Overlord doesn’t leave the Underground City. Even the Stalkers don’t leave.”

I shook my head reluctantly. That was what we had always been led to believe. And I supposed there was some truth to it. But that didn’t mean he didn’t have other henchmen patrolling his lands.

“We should make sure it’s safe. In tact.”

Anabell appeared to be considering the offer, until the shrill howl of four-legged beasts surrounded us. So Anabell did what she had done since the beginning of our quest: she fled. I supposed I had her to thank for making it this far. Half of our party had stayed to fight at first. It was only because she ran and we chased after her that any of us had escaped.

But it was her downfall. Literally. The rope bridge snapped, and her squishiness didn’t save her as she plummeted and split open on the rocks below.

I didn’t spare her much of a look. I took off running along the edge of the ravine, trying to formulate a plan. I was a thief, not a strategist. I had done my part, sneaking into the deepest, darkest cavern and filching a vial full of the real-life spring the Overlord so possessively guarded. We’d all still be inanimate object without it. The only way to fight the Overlord was to create more creatures into our ranks. To do that, we needed the spring water.

I had to get it back to the other misfits. We’d lost so many on this last-ditch mission to preserve our freedom.

I began to climb, my nimble fingers and toes and compact body enabling me to scale down the cliff face all the way to the bottom of the ravine. The four-legged, fanged creatures above growled as they stared down at me, their meal escaping.

I didn’t taunt them. That much had changed about me this quest, for sure. Gone was the cocky thief who could have broken into anything anywhere. I would be lucky to return to the fortress with my life. That was one of the downfalls of becoming alive: we were now subject to death, as well.

The river on the floor of the ravine was fast moving and dangerous for one my size. I followed it downstream for hours looking for a safe crossing. I was about to despair, when I found a shelled creature with flippered feet sunning itself on a rock.

“Fancy a trip to the other side of the river, friend?”

The shelled creature snorted through its pronounced nostrils. “You aren’t no friend of mine,” it replied, and its eyes drooped closed again.

“I will owe you a favor. To be called in at any time,” I promised.

It opened one eye that it fixed on me. “And what makes you think I need a favor from the likes of you?”

I thought about that for a moment. “Because in my experience, it’s always nice to be owed a favor. You never know when you might need to call one in.”

The shelled creature snorted again, but this time it was more of a laugh.

“I can’t argue with that logic,” it answered. “Go on, then. Hold on tight. It makes no difference to me if you fall off and drown.”

I wasn’t sure if I could drown or not, but I held on tight anyway.

“Thanks, friend. My name is Midnight. I’m from the village of misfits, just above. Call on me if you should ever need.”

“Very well, friend,” the creature said thoughtfully. “You can call me Turtle. I’m sure we will meet again.” Turtle flipped over on his back and lazily floated down the river.

I didn’t give him another thought as I scaled the other side of the ravine wall. The final leg of my journey.


I didn’t get quite the homecoming I was expecting. They were all relieved to see me, and thrilled about what I returned with, however they refused to heed my warnings.

“To return, especially after this last mission, is madness,” I told them. “Out of a party of eight, I am the only one who returned, and it was only because of the sacrifices of the others that I made it at all. The Overlord will increase his security. There is no way a second mission will succeed.”

But they wouldn’t listen. The glint of greed, the desire to play God was in their eyes. Perhaps that power would make anyone as deranged as the Overlord.

“We will organize another mission right away,” the misfit President said, holding the vial of sparkling water up to the light.

“It’s a death sentence to whoever you send,” I told them.

They wouldn’t be persuaded.

“You want to get yourselves killed, attract the attention of the Overlord, have it your way.” I stalked away from them, making plans on where I could run, where I’d be safe, what misfits I might be able to convince to come with me before the inevitable backlash came back upon them. “It will be your downfall. The end of our way of life here.” They’d find out for themselves soon enough. I didn’t look back as I left the room, only called over my shoulder, “But you don’t have to take my word for it.”

Sara is a Kansas-grown author of the fantasy and horror persuasions. She is convinced that fantastical things are waiting for her just around the corner, and until she finds the right corner, she writes about those things instead.

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