Funnel Photo Finish

This snippet of story, all 800 words of it, exists solely because of the following image, used with the permission of its creator, Robert Cornelius. He does fantastic Photoshop work. Don't believe me? Check out his portfolio and blog. Look for more photo-inspired pieces like this in future posts.

This image screamed "DCC Funnel" to me, so I went with it. Enjoy!

Fight or Flight by Robert Cornelius. Used with permission.
Sixteen volunteers descend those cold and ancient steps in the keep's basement. Ninety minutes later only the Woodcutter still lives, desperate to find a way back up those steps to relative safety.

They came from all walks of life, volunteers for a dangerous mission to stop the explosions in the sewers. Many of the volunteers had lost family or friends in the blasts. The Woodcutter had lost his sister. They took whatever they had to fight with, axes, pitchforks, torches, clubs, and frying pans. Armored only with the well-wishes of the other townsfolk, the volunteers ventured forth.

They thought they were ready. Maybe they were. Maybe Fate's rolled bones kept coming up snake eyes.

The stairs led to a huge chamber rimed with frost. Tiny winged beings of ice flitted through the air. The volunteers called them Winter Sprites, as wondrous as they were deadly. The Jester and the Weaver fell to razor-sharp icicles before the rest managed to shatter the sprites.

The massive sewer grate wouldn't budge, but an elevated passage led away in the opposite direction. They tried each door in the passage as they found them. The first opened into a damp nursery full of glowing fungus. The Outlaw decided to enter and lick one of the mushrooms. "For Courage," he said. The Baker tried to stop him. Both were engulfed by psychedelic spores which bloomed into brightly-colored mushrooms on their skin before they breathed their last. The volunteers shut the door and moved on.

The second door opened into a dark and dusty space. The Caravan Guard led with her torch. The resulting powder explosion laid her, the Cobbler, and the Alchemist low, and deafened the rest of the volunteers.

Nobody heard the flame-headed dwarves attack. They cut down the Hunter, the Soldier, and the Farmer before anyone else figured out what was happening. The Minstrel and the Urchin fell before the dwarves finally lay still. The dwarves' purses contained chunks of glowing fungus.

The four remaining volunteers opened the third door. They used the fungus for light, keeping the torches well away. The room beyond barely contained large-scale fireworks, enough to supply a clan of giants for a massive celebration. Or an invasion. They must have tested a few of these explosives in the sewers. But what would be strong enough to open the grate? Given the size of the fireworks, everyone agreed on giants.

The corridor ended in a workroom with a hot side and a cold side. Fire Dwarves and Winter Sprites apparently worked together to create fireworks. A tall door (large enough to be called giant-sized) led to a bunk room. The volunteers surprised four more Fire Dwarves and dispatched them at the cost of the Gravedigger's life. An even taller door stood on the other side of the bunk room, concealing something humming tunelessly with its rumbling bass voice. The three remaining volunteers decided to escape with their lives.

The Noble couldn't stop herself from investigating one particular chest in the bunkroom. A hidden needle paralyzed her and stopped her breathing. The chest contained a handful of raw gems and a red and black ring. The Blacksmith gave it to the Woodcutter saying, "If this ring acts like an identical one I've seen, it's lucky against fire. I'm lucky enough with fire, lad. You take it. And no matter what, survive to tell the stories of everyone who died here today." They split the gems, pocketed them, and headed back to the stairs.

Neither of them expected the Ice Dragon in the cold chamber. The Blacksmith froze under the dragon's breath, then fell and shattered. The Woodcutter ran all the way back to the workshop before realizing that the dragon couldn't fit down the corridor.

Now the Woodcutter ponders the choice of pushing on, probably facing at least one giant alone, or figuring out a way past the dragon. He sees his new ring and hatches an insane plan. He empties the fireworks room and points everything toward the cold chamber and the dragon. He ties every incendiary device to a single fat fuse.

He looks forward to the cold chamber. He looks back at the array of fireworks. He looks down at the fuse. He rubs his new ring for luck and says, "Keep me safe from fire, OK?" He plans to race the fireworks through the cold chamber, hoping that the dragon will be too preoccupied with the inferno to notice a tiny human escaping up the stairs.

He knows his timing must be perfect. He sighs, "Here goes everything!" He drops the torch onto the fuse. It catches, sparks racing back toward the fireworks behind him. He waits until the sparks disappear into the pile, and then he sprints down the passage.

The Woodcutter leaps for the stairs as fireballs streak past him and slam into the roaring Ice Dragon.

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