The Atrox has many mouths, all of which can insult you.
Davina’s mind churned as she battled with her self-esteem. Could she really stand up to a creature intent on humiliating her and making her feel not good enough?
There was a level of unease between Solomon and Wanda as they watched Davina struggle with herself.
‘How will I find the Atrox?’ Davina asked again.
‘It will find you when you tell it you’re ready.’ said Wanda.
Davina wasn’t sure how that worked, so she sat on the ground and tried to relax by taking deep breaths. She glanced over at Ghost – he looked particularly sleepy. Every so often, his eyes rolled back and he jolted to keep himself awake.
After taking a deep breath, Davina closed her eyes and consciously made the decision to summon the Atrox. ‘Atrox, if you can hear me. I am willing to face you now!’ she cried.
‘Weirdo!’ said Ghost sharply. He grabbed his chest and sat bolt upright. ‘Like it can hear you anyway… Davina… You really are…’
There was a tremor from beneath the earth followed by a deep rumbling. Was it an earthquake? Davina wondered.
Crack! The earth boomed.
Craaaaaaaackkkkk! The earth rose and fell and appeared to roll like a wave in their direction. Ghost jumped to his feet and instinctively went to run – but couldn’t work out where was safest. The rumbling came from all directions. A moment later, an even bigger fracturing sound rumbled beneath the group. The earth convulsed.
Ghost spun on his heel. ‘What’s happening?’
Davina didn’t answer, she had completely disappeared from sight.
Davina descended into an empty void screaming. ‘Aaaaah!’
The moon above Davina became a tiny speck of light as she descended deeper and deeper into the bowels of the earth. Through the crumbling dark brown earth, she plummeted. Down and down and down. As she fell she looked back, it was if she was falling through a tunnel. It reminded her of a well. ‘Ah?’
The contorted tree roots rapidly disappeared as she descended still deeper. Worms wiggled on the sides of the tunnel mid-burrow. Different coloured layers of earth with a multitude of textures flashed past – chalk, clay and rock. Each layer represented a different time.
The piece of earth Davina was sitting on spanned the tunnel. She was unable to see below or how long the fall would last. She braced herself expecting a collision but there was none. She waited and waited and waited, nothing.
Davina quickly became accustomed to the sensation of the falling and tentatively shifted from sitting to balancing on the falling sod of earth. What if it flipped? She balanced with her knees bent because she half-expected to suddenly stop. The descending motion slowed. Something dawned on her – it seemed that the expectation of slowing had affected the speed of descent. She wandered what would happen if she expected a definite stop. Davina focused her mind and made a decisive decision to stop falling. The piece of earth came to an abrupt halt. ‘I’m standing on a piece of earth thousands of feet below the ground. What do I do now?’ she muttered as she searched for an escape.
A faint star of light revealed the opening to the outside world above her. There were no other tunnels which meant she was stuck.
The tunnel smelled earthy like clay and it was too dark to see clearly. Davina explored the rough dirt walls with her fingers. Unfortunately there wasn’t anything obvious to reveal a way in or out and the walls were too smooth to climb. Davina stood quietly trying to work out her options. She really was trapped.
‘They say she’s one of those weak sorts that no one likes,’ whispered a croaky voice.
Davina frowned, she couldn’t work out where the voice was coming from. Was she hearing things? She searched for the source, it was nowhere to be found. One thing was certain – the owner of the voice was trying to undermine her. ‘Atrox, I am willing to face you so come out,’ Davina called bravely.
‘I’m already out. You just can’t see me you stupid little girl!’ responded the disembodied voice.
‘Good try, but I’m not stupid!’ Davina folded her arms.
‘Oh but you are! You see you’ve had no preparation to face me. Your behaviour was foolishly impulsive! You don’t even know what I look like. A clever and more adult person would have spent years preparing. What did you do? Have a little discussion and think that was enough. To me Davina – that makes you an idiot! And to think you believe you have a hope of finding your father… that is plain idiocy! So, you see, you are very stupid. You just never realised it before because no one was considerate enough to tell you.’
Davina scowled, she knew she was not stupid!
The Atrox continued its taunts. ‘So you see I am doing you a favour in revealing your stupidity. I am saving you the effort of a massive journey. Aren’t I kind?’ it mocked.
Davina shook her head, she wasn’t going to let Atrox’s silly criticism affect her so easily.
‘You see if you had any intelligence and were not so stupid then you would face me in a place with more space. A stupid person doesn’t know how to find the space I call home…’ The Atrox’s jibes were relentless. ‘You see… even more evidence of your idiocy!’
With her fists clenched, Davina gritted her teeth and slowed her breath right down. With her eyes fixed on the pin-prick of light above her she focused on glowing. The area increased in brightness around her. It soon became apparent the tunnel she had fallen through was not an accidental hole because it was too perfectly cut. Could the Atrox be some kind of worm? Was the Atrox on the other side of the earth below her?
The hairs on the back of Davina’s neck rose – she needed a solution. The tunnel had dozens of worms hanging from the earth walls, their small bodies wiggled – half-suspended. Davina screwed up her nose and gently picked up a worm. ‘Please show me how I find the entrance to the Atrox’s lair,’ she whispered to the worm. Davina shook her head, she couldn’t believe she was talking to an earth worm! The little worm curled and pointed its head towards a cluster of small stones. Davina studied the stones and thought back to time when Ghost discovered the entrance to Gargantuan. ‘I hope you’re right,’ she whispered to the little creature before she returned it to where it had come from. Davina pressed her hand between the stones, as she pressed she discovered a door which opened into a long dark cave.
For a moment Davina hesitated while her eyes adjusted to the darkness. She half-expected some weird creature to launch an attack.
In that stillness there was nothing but silence and a few clusters of pale blue fireflies.
Suddenly from all around the cave a sound travelled towards her. ‘Whisper, whisper, whisper…’
Numerous searching voices and echoes drifted about her, each attempted to determine who – and what – she was. They were hunting her weaknesses and preparing to attack, she knew this for sure.
‘She’s the stupid one,’ whispered a voice to another.
‘She’ll never succeed,’ said another.
‘She’s an idiot.’A third voice chimed in.
Davina turned to face the voices, ‘Shut up!’ she cried.
They voices all laughed mockingly and each continued to viciously whisper behind her back. Davina fought to ignore them, why did their opinions matter? Davina edged determindly forwards to an area that seemed brighter than everywhere else. ‘Atrox, I am here and I am ready to face you,’ repeated Davina. This time her voice was less assertive.
‘Oh but Davina you are not ready. What you are about to see is something you can never be ready for,’ the Atrox replied.
Another deep rumbling from below the cavern caused the floor to tremor. The whole lair shook. Davina instinctively darted to the wall of the cave. The earth displaced and swirled in all directions until slurp – a tremendous mucus-smothered worm-like creature burst through the wall. Davina remained frozen to the spot, petrified. She wanted to scream, but couldn’t. She had to face what was before her. The Atrox was absolutely disgusting!
The hideaous creature slithered across the floor – leaving a trail of slime. From behind it a number of fireflies entered the cavern and clustered around the strange creature. It looked like a cross between a cobra and a large earthworm. The Atrox had many mouths, each with its own voice, and a single warped eye. That huge green eye with a square pupil sat vertically staring at Davina. Davina did her best to hide her fear, but the Atrox could sense it. Her body was poised for action as she surveyed the area for potential escape.
‘So you fear me then?’ boomed the Atrox.
Davina avoided answering; if she said no she would be lying and if she said yes she would be admitting fear. She figured that with either answer she couldn’t win.
‘This here is the voice quarters, where the many voices of nastiness and putdowns reside. I train the nasty voices that plague humanity and over time they become increasingly vicious. I even look after all those little voices that tell people that they are not good enough. My favourite is the persuasive voice of self-hatred. Notice how the voices reside in the dark; you see darkness always breeds doubt. It is a wonderful thing to win without trying don’t you think?’
‘If I don’t respond to what you say or believe it – the voices go unheard.’ Davina stood firm.
‘That is a nice idea, but repetition will bring you down because everyone has weakness and the more we deny it the more it has power over us… So how badly do you want the Shamaventus?’ the Atrox probed.
‘I need it for…’ Davina began.
‘Hmm need… ‘ the Atrox interrupted. “You need – that is already a weakness. And who says you will ever make it beyond here? Look you’re already exhausted and you haven’t even started moving yet. Davina you are weak. You don’t stand a chance in finding your father. How funny… How very funny! Imagine what you’re going to be like in battle? You’re so useless and so very small. Face it – you are pathetic and just not good enough! Surely you must agree that you are worthless too? So the fact of the matter is that you are a worthless and unwanted child!’ taunted the Atrox.
‘Not true! I’m quick and calculating!’ retorted Davina.
‘And you think those attributes will help you against the Grotesques? Those creatures are bred to fight!’ replied the Atrox.
Davina had wondered about that herself. How was someone so small going to face millions of fighting creatures? Doubt was creeping in, the Atrox knew its stuff. Why hadn’t she prepared more? She wondered. ‘We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.’ She batted back.
‘Rubbish! Piffle! Detritus! But dear little, helpless, Davina – what if there is no bridge?’ jibed the Atrox.
‘Then I will find another way.’
‘What if there is no other way?’ The Atrox responded in a tone of interrogation.
‘There is always a way – you just have to find it! What you are saying means nothing to me Atrox! Your words reveal how bitter and twisted you are!’ spat Davina.
The Atrox slithered past and summoned the voices from all corners of the lair.
‘Stupid, small, worthless, not wanted,’ the cruel voices repeated over and over again. The more they taunted, the louder they became. The Atrox’s many mouths joined in the onslaught.
Davina’s lower lip trembled. The nastiness made her want to curl into a ball or run away. She had to find courage and be true to herself. The only way she could win was by believing in who she was and her abiities. Davina focused on her ability to glow. What was the truth? When she became illuminated she noticed the nasty comments eating their way through aura.
The Atrox appeared smug, ‘Davina how could you even consider the possibility of winning? Everyone has weakness and you have the most obvious of all: the need to win. You always need to control and you always need to appear as though you are right all the time. Your pride will cause your fall!’
The Atrox’s words hung in the air, admittedly there was truth in what it had said. Still Davina ignored its comments; she was too preoccupied with all the strange slug-like creatures burrowing though her glowing exterior. It seemed that each of the slug creatures represented a put down. The more she believed the cruel comment the more of her energy it could eat. Why was she allowing them to get to her? Did she believe them? Why was someone else’s opinion so important? Yes everyone had weaknesses but weakness also enabled strength. Davina smiled when she realised she had been taking the comments personally, she focused her thoughts on all the amazing and beautiful things she could remember. As she grew in confidence, and her shell glowed brighter, the niggling worms found it increasingly difficult to devour her energy. A battle was taking place – her self-belief was overpowering the creatures.
‘Atrox you are cruel and vindictive. The truth is that all the nasty comments you say to others is what you’re actually feeling about yourself!’ Davina said facing the Atrox.
‘How dare you!’ spat the Atrox. It began calculating how to change tactic.
The Atrox huffed with its many mouths, it signalled for the voices to increase the onslaught of nastiness with a series of blinks. The vicious chanting increasingly in volume and swirled about her. Davina stood silently at the centre of the spiteful storm with her eyes closed. She was good enough! She had to believe it and feel it. Her life was not about nasty comments or making others feel bad. So what if she had weaknesses – they made her who she was. Davina had a choice of how she could respond and she chose to let the nasty comments go. ‘Atrox, your nasty comments do not bother me. I accept my weaknesses and they are part of me. In fact I like them because they make me who I am. Since I like myself that means you have no power over me. Your lies and cruelty make everyone dislike you – so I just feel sorry for you! You may have your nastiness back.’ As she spoke she batted the slug-like creatures away. Each of the slugs spattered against the wall and slid to the floor.
The Atrox retracted its head, its many mouths jutted forwards and spewed hatred. ‘You imbecile! Why did you do that? You have broken the deal. There is no way you are getting what you came for. You cruel, vindictive girl! How dare you? You barge into my home and…’
‘It won’t work. I understand what you’re doing. You’re taking on different personalities.’ Davina cut the attack short.
A different set of mouths moved forwards. Each attacked with a different voice. ‘How can you know what I’m thinking? Have you ever even cared about what I’m thinking? Do you even know what it feels like to be this miserable and alone? All you can do is criticise me!’
Davina rolled her eyes. ‘You’re playing the victim now!’ she sniped. She scanned the area for signs of the staff. All the time she was involved in this conflict she was not saving her father.
The Atrox noticed Davina was distracted and another mouth lurched forwards. ‘Why do you say that? You think you’re so clever – well prove it!’ its interrogating voice was sharp and authorative.
‘I don’t need to prove anything to you! Your existence is irrelevant to me!’ Davina had had enough of all the games.
‘You are so hurtful and so cruel.’ A whining voice with the quivering mouth had taken over. ‘Why do you do this to me… I feel so tired and ill and it is because of you!’ it whimpered.
Davina stood defiantly. ‘You will not make me feel guilty and your nastiness will not affect me! I’m better than that. Now give me the Shamaventus and then I will leave you.’
The Atrox’s many mouths smirked, they all spoke simultaneously. ‘Not so easy. You see you have to sacrifice something in return for something else. I have the Shamaventus now I want something from you.’
‘Like you,’ the many mouths replied.
Davina snorted in disbelief and placed her hands on her hips defiantly. ‘What? That is ridiculous! What do you take me for?’ demanded Davina.
‘Stupid, naive and annoying,’ retorted the Atrox matter of factly.
Davina’s response was unmistakable. ‘The answer is no. You are offering me a choice. Clearly I don’t accept the choice – get me?’ Davina retaliated.
‘But you need the Shamaventus for the desert. It is the only way you can advance,’ the Atrox let slip.
Silently Davina studied the Atrox and concealed her realisation. It had unintentionally given something away. ‘Look there must be another answer. There are always different ways of doing things. Can’t I just borrow it?’
One of the voices was beginning to be swayed. ‘What if the stupid kid breaks it?’ cried another.
‘I won’t.’ Davina assured the Atrox.
‘How can you guarantee that?’ Came back another voice.
Davina paced, wondering how could she convince a giant worm/snake creature that she wouldn’t break the Shameventus? Suddenly she had a brainwave. ‘Okay, I reckon it’s indestructible. That’s how I won’t break it.’
‘How can you prove that?’ demanded an ugly mouth.
‘By not breaking it,’ replied Davina confidentally.
The Atrox’s single eye wrinkled into a frown. ‘I don’t want you to have the Shamaventus, that’s the truth. I don’t trust you with it, so if you really want it then you’re going to have to take it from me by force. First you will have to find it.’
Davina focused on glowing. The entire cavern quickly became illuminated. The walls dripped with a mucus-like slime. In the far corner of the cave was an encrusted lump of solidified slime – with a rainbow glow at its centre. Davina fought not to be sick; she was going to have to wade through dense worm juice. It smelled disgusting!
The Atrox suddenly rushed at her. Davina turned at speed, defended herself – jumping lithely out of the way. ‘I don’t want to fight you!’ she told the Atrox.
‘You have no choice. If you want the Shamaventus you have to fight for it! I will not make it easy!’ said the Atrox.
The disembodied voices from around the cavern chanted, ‘Atrox… Atrox… Atrox!’ in a drum-like rhythm.
The Atrox rotated and then lunged at Davina.
Davina darted this way and that, dodging the numerous attacks. She had nothing to defend herself with other than her bare hands; the last thing she wanted to do was make physical contact with the repulsive creature. There was only one thing for it: she was going to have to run through the rancid slime! She took a breath and ran at the slime – but the Atrox cut her off.
‘Don’t you dare think it’s that easy! You will face me now!’ boomed the Atrox, surrounding her with its bulky and slithery body. It fully intended to crush her! Davina closed her eyes in concentration and slowed her breath. At first, a small wind blew in, followed by stronger gusts. Finally, a really powerful wind blasted about the cavern. The Atrox paused, it couldn’t figure what was going on. As the bulky creature turned sharply; the ‘voices’ squealed – they were blown away by the force of the gale.
The wind circled the cavern and Davina called it towards her. She focused on generating a whirlwind around her; it spun with such force it pushed the Atrox away from her and loosened its grip. The Atrox resisted. The strength of the creature was immense, so Davina increased the power of the whirlwind and nestled in the centre of the fully formed mini-cyclone. Gradually she raised herself off the ground while snugly contained within the eye of the storm.
‘You won’t win!’ the Atrox cried.
She closed her eyes and increased the wind’s speed even more. Bam! The Atrox was blown apart and segments flew in all directions.
Splattered segments of Atrox collided with all the walls. It was absolute carnage! A grimace formed on Davina’s face – the gory sight was hideous! She concentrated her efforts and quickly turned her attention to the slime containing the glowing rainbow-coloured Shamaventus. She battered it with the wind until a dripping tunnel formed beneath it. That tunnel was large enough to crawl through and led to where the Shamaventus was suspended. Davina gingerly ventured inside. Dripping tendrils of slime oozed from the roof. Slurp! She used her wind skills to re-direct the goo and to cut through the slime, until the Shamaventus was close enough to the surface.
‘Davina,’ called a blasted segment of Atrox head.
Davina ignored its calls and reached for the Shamaventus. She carefully extracted it from its slimey tomb. Slurp!
‘Davina!’ continued the bits of the Atrox.
Davina turned slowly towards what remained of the Atrox. She looked at it with disgust.
‘You won’t win, you can’t win,’ one of the mouths said weakly.
‘You’re too late, I have the staff,’ crowed Davina triumphantly.
‘Don’t ever count on beating an Atrox that’s not fully formed,’ each of the Atrox’s many mouths in unison. The voices above Davinas head in the area spun and increased in power.
Davina looked puzzled, was it a trick? ‘Face it Atrox you lost!’ She insisted.
‘No I didn’t!’ Came back an angry voice.
Glancing around the tunnel cave, she suddenly understood something terrible had just happened – each blasted segment of the Atrox reformed like an earth worm and grew into a fully sized Atrox. Where there had once been only one Atrox now there were over twenty, each was identical with massive chattering mouths and one central beady eye.
Davina shook her head in disbelief and adopted a fighting stance. Each new Atrox screamed nasty comments ‘Weak, pathetic, arrogant, small stupid, assuming!’ and lunged at her. It was like she was standing at the centre of an abusive crowd.
‘Idiot! Stupid! Small! Pathetic! Not good enough!’ The Atrox’s many mouths taunted simultaneously. ‘Stupid, small, weak… Stupid, small, weak!’ they repeated over and over.
Each Atrox smirked with each of its multiple mouths,‘Davina don’t run now. We’ll pursue you and let the Chimera know where you are. See you are stupid after all. Assumption equals stupidity!’ hundreds of voices chimed in unison.
Davina edged backwards into the slime tunnel as numerous Atrox attacked from all angles. There was nowhere to run. The gang of Atrox reared up and flung themselves at the tunnel repeatedly. Bang! Bang! Bang! They butted the walls repetitiously.
Davina glanced about frantically searching for an escape. She figured the Atrox intended to collapse the tunnel leaving her trapped inside. She tried to work out a solution – the tunnel was made of slime, that slime had secured the Shamaventus. How could she use that in her favour?
The constant pounding of the Atrox butting the wall threw Davina off balance. At any moment they would break through. She had limited time.With a quick glance at the Shameventus, Davina came up with a plan. She had been told the Shamaventus had great powers in the right hands. The question was did Davina have enough instinct to use the staff? Had she been trained at some time or another? Davina felt she couldn’t risk it. She had to use the materials she had to hand: in this case it was worm slime. If the slime had contained the Shamaventus, surely it must be able to contain other things too?
Using her venuts powers, Davina summoned the wind from the outside world and generated a whirlwind within the tunnel. As the whirlwind increased in speed it wore away some of the slime, that could be used. Davina stood at the calm centre of the minicyclone and increased the speed and rotation. Once ready, she closed her eyes and blasted the wind in all directions. The force of the whirlwind exploded the tunnel’s slime and blasted all the different Atrox against the wall. Splop! Each creature was fixed by the sticky mucus Once it made contact, it hardened like cement.
‘Ahhh!’ the Atrox’s hollored in aggravation. They were taken by completely by surprise.
Davina took her chance and ran to the entrance of the lair. She created herself a small whirlwind to carry her back up to the surface. When she glanced back she saw all the Atrox were struggling under the piles of slime. Davina smiled to herself: the voices pursued her. ‘You cruel, evil girl! You will be punished – the Chimera will hear of this,’ the Atrox voices taunted and hissed.
‘No! I intend to overthrow the Chimera!’ asserted Davina bravely. With that, she willed her whirlwind to propel her to the speck of light above her. ‘Goodbye!’ she called back into the tunnel. said.
‘Never make assumptions Davina!’ spat the Atrox through gritted teeth.