Theodore backed away as the massive creature stalked closer. Its eight legs, each ending with a hand filled with long and bony fingers, brushed alone the ground until it leaned over him. It watched Theodore with cat-like eyes, pupils widening.
“Hey Glut!” Lemmy said, waving.
“I see that we have visitors,” Glut said. His voice was a cloying rasp. “What’re they doing here, Lemmy?”
“He wants me to quit the Red Caps. He says I’ll get in big trouble if I keep attacking humans.”
Glut chuckled. “You know what I think? I think you’ll be in bigger trouble if you try to desert.” He swiveled one of his eyes to focus on Oboe. “Isn’t that right, little faun? Want to tell him about that cage we put you in?”
Oboe gave him a dirty look.
“Wait.” Theodore turned toward her, alarmed. “You’re one of the Red Caps?!”
She was careful to avoid his eyes, ashamed. “No!” She said. “Not anymore! I quit!”
Glut licked his teeth. “Is that so? You didn’t beg the boss for forgiveness? That’s disappointing. Guess I’ll have to give you a permanent punishment.” He looked down at the gnome. “Watch close, Lemmy. You’ll get worse if you try to run.”
Oboe stepped between them. “Don’t listen to this jerk! He’s not a real friend! Real friends don’t threaten you or hit you!” She whipped around and pointed at Glut. “You stuck me in a cage thinking no one would ever let me out! Well, you were wrong!” She grabbed Theodore and pulled him forward. “Theo here is the Ranger Deputy! And he’s going to put a stop to all of you!
Theodore squirmed in the center of attention. Glut eyed his uniform up and down. “So he is.”
The spider-beast smacked Theodore away, sending him flying across the chamber and crashing through a stack of old rotting barrels. Theodore struggled to move, dazed. Had he broken any bones? He could hear Oboe shouting. He had to do something or he would be killed. Pulling himself onto his feet, he saw Oboe grappling hand in hand with Glut. The two strained against one another’s brute strength.
“Stay away from him!” Oboe screamed.
Glut grabbed her with one of his other hands, and Oboe shrank, slipping through his fingers as a tiny mouse before leaping onto his face. She ballooned into a grizzly bear and tore into him, biting and scratching.
Theodore’s fingers trembled over Fritz’s knife, still at his belt. His mind raced. Could he bring himself to do anything with it? He’d be killed. This was a fool’s errand from the start. Oboe was one of them. He needed to run while the monsters were distracted. He staggered towards the exit.
“Lemmy!!” Glut shouted, struggling to pull Oboe off his face, “Don’t let the human escape! Get him!”
Theodore and Lemmy met each other in the eye. Doubt was etched in the gnome’s face, but he raised his arms.
“Is this who you want to be?” Theodore said. “Your mom wanted me to help you.”
“What do you care?!” The gnome said. “At least the Red Caps want to make things better for creatures!”
“It doesn’t have to be like this!” Theodore said, desperate. “We can fix things together!”
Lemmy’s arms fell limp. “…Do you promise?”
“You little…” Glut spiked Oboe into the ground and she snapped back to her normal form. Glut scrambled across the chamber to block the exit. “I’m going to kill the lot of you!”
Theodore moved to help Oboe up. She teetered in his arms. “Are you okay?! Can you still fight?”
“Yeah, I… Let me… at’em.” Her eyes blinked out of synch and out of focus. “Just tell the cave to quit spinning.”
Behind them, Glut was plugging the way out with rocks. He turned back with a hungry grin once they were sealed inside.
“We’ve got to run,” Theodore said, slinging Oboe’s arm over his shoulder. He helped her into one of the smaller tunnels, too narrow for Glut to fit inside, and Lemmy scrambled in after him.
“Come here you little morsels!” He reached through the opening to grab at them. “There’s nowhere to go!”
They tried to back away, and almost tipped over into a pit.
“Is there another way out?” Theodore said.
Lemmy shook his head. “There’s just pits this way! It’s a dead end!”
Theodore remembered falling down a dark pit as a child. He swallowed. What were the odds this was the same hole? Behind them, Glut’s long arm snaked around rocks to snatch him up.
“We’re going down,” he said. He grabbed Lemmy, took hold of Oboe, braced himself, and jumped.