There Is No Way Out
Dedicated to everyone who is bad at thinking up titles.
Wh-what just happened? You seem to have found yourself in a dark, damp room, and you don't appear to remember why or how you got here, or even where 'here' is. Letting your eyes adjust to the light, you come to the realisation that you're in a dungeon. You must be, unless you're in the neohome of someone whose idea of decor is cold, grey, stone walls, metal bars and boulders, and idea of hospitality is handcuffing and chaining visitors to the aforementioned boulders. I'm not sure which one I'd prefer, actually...
Now that you've established you're in a dungeon, your first thought is to escape, of course. Sticking around to meet the locals is not something I want to do right now. Not if my assumptions of where I am, and who these' locals' are are right. But how? A good start would probably be looking around for helpful stray items, or maybe a trapdoor, you think to yourself, and then build a plan from there.
"Hmm." Your voice echoes through the dungeon, giving you the idea that the area you're in is much bigger than what you originally thought. Before you can turn around to get a look at your surroundings, the silence is punctured by a sudden shrieking and thrashing. It sounds relatively far away, but clear enough for you to hear that it is the cries of a Korbat. A chill runs down your spine as terrible thoughts run through your mind.
"Oh, give it up, Barallus, or I'll get Master Vex. And you remember what he did last time you were making this much of a racket; you don't want that happening again, do you?" a deep voice rumbles. A Grarrl, or maybe a Skeith, but you're leaning towards a Grarrl.
Barallus shrieks in reply.
"That's what I thought. Now shush, the tournament for today'll start soon, and we can let you out. But not yet." The voice drops, as if talking to itself, not that you could do such a thing in a place with such good acoustics.
You turn in what you call a 'stealthy fashion', because, truthfully, you're curious to see this Barallus and the mystery Grarrl-or-possibly-a-Skeith. Unfortunately, it seems as if you've been sitting there for quite some time, and your entire body is stiff. Your back makes a cracking sound, you jump at the noise with a squeal, in turn jangling the chains around your wrists, losing your balance and falling.
"Oi! Wha' was that?" Despite your predicament, you can't help but think this voice must belong to a Skeith.
"I think that was our new prisoner, Haskol." The low, dangerous sounding voice of the Grarrl again.
You hear two pairs of footsteps approaching you— one heavy and clumsy, and one sharp and slow—and see a pair of shadows outside the metal bars of your cell. From your new position, you can see there is a cell opposite yours, in which there is a yellow Korbat with crazy pink eyes chained to the ceiling by a handcuff around his body. That must be Barallus. He flails a bit, eyes fixed on you, in what you assume must be some kind of greeting. You flash him a quick, nervous smile, before turning your attention to the two hulking shapes at the door of your cell.
(Between looking at Barallus and the two guards, you manage to get a look around your cell, and come to the daunting conclusion that: there is no way out.)
The Darigan Grarrl (once again, you were right—although it is rather easy to tell the difference between the voices of species) glares at you, a scowl on his dark orange face. He looks displeased with me, and I can't say I blame him. The Skeith, also of seemingly Darigan descent, is growling and has dark green drool dripping from his mouth. He doesn't look displeased, more I-want-to-eat-you.
"Whatcha think yer doin', makin' all that noise like that?"
"For once, I agree with my friend Haskol here. Should we teach our new prisoner a lesson?" This time, it's the Grarrl speaking, whose name you still don't know. He does seem strangely familiar, though... They all do, now that you come to think of it.
Before you can think about this peculiar detail any longer, Haskol clumsily begins to try to unlock your cell with every key on his keyring, nodding his agreement. "Good idea, Galgurrif."
"Galgarrath. I can't believe you still can't say my name correctly. How long have we known each other?"
"Gal-gurr-aff." The Skeith pronounces slowly, a look of both concentration and frustration on his face. "That right?"
Haskol lets out a whoop of victory—low and behold, he's got the right key. "Now who's ready ta play some Cellblock!"
Another look of displeasure lands on Galgarrath's features at this statement. "You know I don't believe in letting these filthy creatures play games," he snarls.
"Yes, I know. It's the only way Master Vex lets us punish anyone. I don't agree with him, by any means, but I guess I must follow what he says."
"Or you'd be out of a job, Gal."
Galgarrath sits down across from you, cross-legged, and brandishes a bag of perfectly round stones from his bag, all precisely matching in size. About half have the Meridellian Shield painted on them, the others a silhouette of Lord Darigan. He sets two Meridell counters and two Darigan on the grid painted on the ground in front of you.
"Let's begin." The Grarrl holds out a scaly paw for you to shake, which you take tentatively.
Let's do that, shall we? Even in your mind, your voice sounds strained. I can't say I blame you. But, you realise that this could be your way out—Didn't Master Vex promise anyone who could beat him freedom? The road will be tough, but I need to figure out what happened to me.
And so you play. Much to the surprise of, well, everyone, you win the first round. For someone who doesn't like Cellblock, Galgarrath was more than engrossed in the game, and spat out something that may have been 'Congrats' or 'I hate you' upon your first win. Haskol has a tantrum, and busts down part of the wall, triggering your neighbour to start shouting about Jelly World (which is silly, seeing as how it doesn't exist) and hitting his cane against the crumbling wall.
"Oh, hush, Number Five," the Grarrl shouts, shooting a look towards the hole in the wall, where the old yellow Lupe is flailing his cane about wildly, still shouting about non-existent lands.
You beat Galgarrath a second time, making you the winner of the match, much to Haskol's outrage. He must have been betting on it... or something. You've attracted quite a crowd, if you can do that in a dungeon: other than the Skeith, Number Five has begun to watch through the gap in the wall, only tapping his cane now and again; Barallus still has his gaze fixed on you; and a blue Kacheek in the cell diagonal from yours (who keeps being bought extravagant meals—how unfair) has managed to position himself in a way that lets him watch.
"Hmph." The Grarrl seems sour at being beaten by a 'newbie'. "Let's see if Haskol can beat you, then. You see, I wasn't trying my hardest, kid, and I'm not even very good at Cellblock. So don't think that you're some kind of champion just because you beat me." He still looks hurt.
"Oooh, yer serious, Gal? I get ta teach it a lesson fer humiliatin' ya?"
"I'm not humiliated—as I said, I was going easy on it—"
The Darigan Skeith doesn't seem to hear the interjection, or if he does, ignores it. "Oh goodie. I'm gonna show ya not ta mess with us, ya lil' runt!"
...And then you beat him. Once. Twice. And then a third time, after he claims you cheated. He then has a tantrum, and you manage to escape with your life, but you might need to go to the Neohospital later. You probably will.
"Ahem." It is not a clearing of the throat, it is definitely a call for attention. Looking up, you see a menacing purple Mynci standing the doorway.
Haskol stops flailing and breaking things (i.e. boulders, since there isn't much else to break) and bows to the Mynci. Galgarrath does the same, minus the tantrum. Number Five and the Kacheek have gone back to sitting, and staring at the walls in their cells, trying to act inconspicuous.
"Good afternoon, Master Vex."
Master Vex cracks his knuckles and stretches before sitting down to face you, as one of his guards did what feels like a lifetime ago. "Hello. I'm Master Vex." He almost purrs it, which is a little creepy, seeing as he's a Mynci, and Myncies don't purr.
You give him an expressionless look.
"Let's play, shall we?"
And so you do. The game is intense, and the Kacheek and Number Five have both meandered back to their spectator positions. Master Vex is a tough opponent, both blocking and attacking at the same time, keeping you on your toes. You reciprocate the feat. After doing this for quite some time, your focus slips and—he's got a five-in-a-row!
Smiling menacingly, he chuckles and clears the board. "You didn't think you'd win that easily, did you?"
There's still another round... But the worry is showing on your face, you know it is. But you're right, there is another round. Which is played with as much vigour and focus as the first. Even Galgarrath seems interested, although he's trying hard not to show it.
The round has taken quite some time, or maybe it just feels that way; at any rate, you're staring intently at the board with a pained expression on your face. You seem to be cornered. There is no way out. Of this cell, or the game. But then, you see it. Your eyes become awash with tears of joy. It's an empty square, placed right at the end of a row of Meridellian stones. It's your way out, and a row-of-five.
Barallus gives you a congratulatory thrash and shriek, before Haskol throws a rock at him. It doesn't hit him, but it's enough that he falls silent again. Master Vex is looking at you, eyebrows raised, saying 'I let you win that one, kiddo' without actually saying anything. And then he does actually say it.
"I let you win that one, kiddo." I must be psychic.
He resets the board with one swift sweep of his paw, and gives you a hard stare.
"It's showtime." Cliché, aren't you, Master Vex?
So you play. Harder than ever before. You imagine yourself on the Yooyuball field, playing in the Altador Cup final, crowds cheering, that Techo fanatic flailing wildly. Except you're not playing Yooyuball, you're playing Cellblock. You were never any good at Yooyuball anyway. But then again, you were never any good at Cellblock, either. So maybe there's still a chance you'll get into the Darigan Yooyuball team?
But you're getting distracted. Because of your musing, you almost missed blocking Master Vex there. And that would have meant your Yooyuball future gone, let alone your entire escape plan down the drain. So you need to concentrate. A stone here, a stone there, you're on a roll. Vex is looking worried; he's sweating like a Moehog.
...And you did it.
Master Vex's tantrum is worse than Haskol's, and believe me, that's saying something. He's not quite strong enough to break anything, but Fyora, does he have a loud voice. "I REFUSE TO BELIEVE THIS! I DID NOT LOSE TO THAT—THAT THING—! THIS IS PREPOSTEROUS! HASKOL, TAKE IT—PUNISH IT—DO SOMETHING!"
It's quite some time before he calms down, but once he does, he admits he was wrong, and shouldn't have shouted do much. As I mentioned earlier, the dungeon's acoustics are nothing short of spectacular—they should start a new concert hall there once, or if, the prisoners get out—and he had gotten in a bit of trouble with Lord Darigan for 'disrupting his beauty sleep'.
"Okay, you won. I admit it. I'm not going to say you cheated, or that I let you win, because neither is true." A bit of a change of heart there, don't you think? Wonder what made him do it.
He turns to leave.
Wait, what about my freedom?!
He stops, as if he's remembered something, hesitates, and turns to face you once more. This time, he's back to that superior smirk. "Did you think I was going to let you out?"
You clop your hooves against the ground—You can't communicate any other way.
Master Vex laughs at you. "I'll call you Clop." His laugh trails off, leaving an arrogant smile on his face from his own 'wittiness'.
Your head droops at the old nickname in this new place.
"And remember, Clop, there is no way out."