Dixie walked up but hesitated by the dark nothingness. He put out a hand and hit a surface.  It was smooth but solid. He pushed gently and frowned. The door disappeared. “Oops!” he said aloud. He could now see a stone floor with the slightest trail of dark green color but nothing further ahead. He looked right then left but his yell hadn't caused a disruption. Nothing stirred.

   Feeling like he was getting himself further in a dream that was taking his mind further from the everyday troubles of the so-called real world, Dixie’s curiosity overpowered his fight or flight mechanisms.  It was so strange: no anxiety here – at least not in the way his rational side should perceive he should be having.   It was almost as if a mantle in his mind had lifted that told him this was freedom from fear – a freedom where he didn’t need to analyze why this present adventure felt more akin to how life ought to be.

 

 He stepped inside on top of the fallen door. Lights turned on automatically from sources on the walls. It was not as green inside the castle as it looked outside. In fact, it was not green at all. Moving forward, lights in front of Dixie flickered on as the ones behind him simultaneously darkened. He could only see a few yards in front of his face. He felt the hair on his arms stand up. It was colder in here than outside. This was a welcome change. As Dixie acclimated himself to the new coolness, he rubbed his stomach. Time to find food, hopefully soon!

 

    He walked and turned and walked and turned. It seemed a long time before Dixie realized he had explored the entire floor without luck. The long hallways held dark tapestries of intricate design. The whole place seemed to be a cross between a once richly decorated medieval castle and a gigantic prison chamber. No windows, chains hanging off walls, some strange mossy plant growth in the shapes of odd symbols here and there, and only bright red ladders to the above floor.  As he discovered soon enough, some of the rooms were interconnected.

 

   Dixie hesitated at a doorway. As the lights turned on he realized it really was a prison! There were multiple chains and strange wires fastened to the walls and a skeleton was hanging off one of them. As Dixie inspected it, he noticed that the skeleton was not human. It was humanoid, but it had massively elongated skull and huge thick bones -- much bigger than any living human. It sat there amongst other dirt and debris looking like it had been abandoned for eons. Dixie shivered. He decided then that he did not want to lose himself and stray too far away from what appeared to be the main hallway.

When he happened on another bright red ladder, Dixie took it. Exploring upwards may be safer than this dungeon. The second floor was empty as well. Dixie climbed higher. Third. Fourth. On the fifth floor Dixie heard an unusual sound: a scraping like metal against stone. Frozen in place, Dixie watched as the lights came on down the hallway from where he stood. Before him were long open halls which appeared to scale up to even higher levels that were only accessible through the bright red ladders. Up here, everything had a greenish-blue glow to it and doors opened up everywhere leading to adjacent rooms which were almost identical to the halls.  But at the far end of the main hall, something was moving along the ground.  He squinted in the dimness into the reciprocated stare of eyes devoid of pupils on humanoid bodies.  Some of them had jellyfish heads. All of them were green-blue; two, three, four sets of eyes. As he stood there frozen in shock, Dixie got the strong impression he wasn’t any safer in this place than he had been outside.

 

   The creatures in front of him were faceless, reddish-purple in color and covered in slime. Were these the Septospores? And if so, then what also were those things outside of that city? As they scraped against the floor, moving towards him, Dixie realized there were too many of them; too freaky looking for his comfort, even if they were civilized enough to talk to.   He saw a ladder and scrambled upwards. On floor six Dixie ran until he was nearly exhausted.  The adrenaline felt depleted, and he slumped down in a corner, far from where he thought the ladder opening had been. It was the creatures’ eyes which were the most unsettling. There was something about them that was almost hypnotic.

 

   Dixie heard the scrape again. This was starting to feel more like a nightmare.  His breath was heavy, and his heart pounded in his chest. He needed to get away from this place. It was a mistake to come here. Hiding behind a pile of dark green rocks which he prayed wouldn’t also come to life, he waited while an entire platoon of moving creatures slid past him.

 

Dixie wondered what Chilley-Sue would have thought about all of this and he grinned as he imagined her in this predicament.

 

 “She would probably try to reason with these creatures!” he thought. “Some sort of naïve diplomacy before they gobbled her up.

 

  “Stop thinking dark thoughts!” he conversed to himself.

 

  In increasing terror from not knowing what else to do, Dixie scaled the next available ladder as creatures started assembling from out of doorways and up ladders from all corners of a hallway. The scraping sounds as they slid across the floor were like nails on a chalkboard. Dixie could not both climb and shield his ears.

 

The creatures multiplied at an alarming rate. They came out from every crevice. Dixie kept climbing. Lights were now on in every hall and the creatures appeared in every door. At the higher levels at the very ends of many of these halls lay massive jade gargoyle statues. They had some sort of hide carved around their faces which resembled a giant seashell in the shape of a lion's mane. Dixie shuddered as he momentarily stared at one of them. They were squatted down in aggressive positions and gave the impression they were ready to spring into action at any moment. 

 The scraping sounds approached, and Dixie climbed until he could climb no more. The twelfth floor was his limit. Frightened but now completely exhausted, he decided his best option was to hide. Running towards a door, he stopped when he saw a creature in front of his path. It didn’t seem to be aware of him (yet), but Dixie looked around desperately.   He put his hand out on a tapestry to steady himself and realized the tapestry was not against a wall. It was hiding an alcove in the rock. An alcove he slipped into and held his breath. The creature scraped by – unaware of Dixie behind the heavy curtain.

 

  Sighing in relief, Dixie turned and saw the alcove was bigger than it appeared. At the far end on the other side was a small doorway that led into an even bigger room. It too had banner decorations hanging from the walls.

 

It appeared to be a crown room. There were ornate statues and jewels on pedestals, and there were plenty of archways that led into other exits, where despite the dim lighting here, he could see halls upon halls apparently going on forever behind those archways. As pretty as this place was, Dixie did not wait around but continued to cautiously explore until his mind started to wonder how it was physically possible for a labyrinth of this size to exist within the castle he had seen from the outside.  At least there were no creatures around.  Eventually Dixie found himself facing a large cloth doorway resembling a thick curtain crossing his path. As he went behind it he saw a large, dark, hollowed chamber with wide drapes hanging from the walls which gave the appearance of something resembling a throne room illuminated by a dark green glow. But here was something truly strange: Dixie was standing on a large, dark green platform surrounded on every side by a black chasm of an unguessable depth. This chamber didn’t have a floor.

 

Vertigo hit Dixie like an anvil. He closed his eyes and swayed backward, reaching behind him for the cloth doorway, but a loud wail and some faint scraping sound that could now be heard in the halls behind him woke him to the present.

 

  Dixie looked across from the chasm at another platform that held a large statue resembling a gigantic Buddha/Yogi/Guru sitting in meditative pose. Dixie found himself completely captivated by the statue. He leaned over the ledge he stood on to get a closer look. It was wearing a strange iron mask which made it look almost robotic, but behind the mask were long curls of wavy hair.  It wore a robe that showed a muscular chest underneath and truly looked like it was a living person in the dim blue light of the room.  At that moment, the most unexpecting thing happened.  No, not the statue.  Something far more surreal that nothing in his being had ever conceived could be possible….

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Excerpt from Book I:  Adventures in the Boring Realms

Copyright 2019 Octavio Rhodes 

"Note the excerpts have been slightly edited and abridged for non spoiler content"

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All illustrations and content of Agenda 22 including it's merchandise, logos, and books are copyright ©2020 by Octavio Claudio Salazar Rhodes.