A tiny bubble popped at the sea surface, spraying salty droplets around its little temporary crater.
“Dear God, have mercy on our souls!”
Onboard the ship, men that saw the bubble panicked - some running below deck, some preparing cannons and swords, others saying their last prayers. Land was only a few miles away, yet it could just as well be a hundred.
“Hold on ta yer last breath, lads,” the captain bellowed. “Do not let ’im have yer glory along with yer guts!”
They all stared intently at the water.
It was calm, without a ripple.
Then, a dark shape appeared far below.
A gigantic tentacle, with suckers as big as a man, shot up from the depths and blocked out the sun. Its skin was green and covered with colorful corals and seaweed.
The men gasped.
“Kraken!” the captain shouted.
The tentacle slammed next to the ship, displacing a large mass of water that washed over the vessel. Men held onto ropes and railings, desperate not to be swallowed by the rushing sea.
More tentacles rose upward, each varying in thickness and length. One wrapped around the tip of the mast like a snake and snapped it in half. The monster let out a sickening gurgle from somewhere deep below, causing the whole ship to vibrate.
A giant, massive body rose from the waves, the creature pushing itself up to the surface. A row of glowing red eyes popped open, glancing at the ship and the tiny men running all over it. The Kraken roared, slamming its tentacles in the water, creating a tidal wave that swept the ship away.
“Hold on!” the captain yelled as their ship rode on top of the wave. That land that they so desperately wanted to reach was now approaching fast. Too fast.
The ship crashed into the sandy shore, plowing its way onto the land. The bow of the ship broke, the bottom haul fracturing into splinters. Men were thrown forward by the force of the impact, some fell off the ship and into the sand.
When the ship came to a stop, the captain stood up, looking back at the sea. “At least we be safe from-”
A sudden gust of wind cut his words. Shouts erupted from the men. Looking up, the captain could see a new calamity approaching - chills ran down his spine as he saw an enormous beast flying towards them, riding the winds.
“Dragon!” he yelled to his already terrorized men. They barely recovered from the impact with the shore and now a dragon was flying their way. What ghastly luck had struck them on this day?
A hot roar burst from the sky as the dragon spat its fire in a circle around the ship. It performed a flyby, flapping its massive wings once, sending sand and embers in the men's faces.
“Men, we ain’t out of the blue yet! Raise yer swords, there be blood this day!”
Half of them scrambled around like mad dogs, but the other half picked whatever weapons they could find. With the inferno burning all around them and the dragon coming back for another flyby, the ground suddenly shook.
It appeared to be an earthquake. The second mast broke and fell sideways into the flames. The planks rattled, what was left of the ship deteriorating further.
“Oh, me mother-”
The ground nearby exploded, sending sand high up in the sky. Out came an enormous creature, its body vastly thicker than the Kraken’s tentacles - a Doom Worm. Sand poured down past the lumps and bulges in its skin, falling like raindrops on the ship. The creature rose high, blocking the sun for the men a second time and forcing the dragon to fly higher to avoid a collision.
All hell seemed to break loose. The captain was lost for words, the men falling to the floorboards, covering their heads. The worm loomed above the ship, its cave-like mouth open in a deafening roar. The captain had never seen so many teeth in a spiral, going deeper into the creature’s throat…
He pulled out his sword, finding the last drops of courage. “Come then, ya fat earthworm! Let’s see if ye can stomach this old sea dog!”
The worm, as if it heard him, paused and turned away from the ship. The captain followed its gaze and noticed yet another figure approaching from inland.
Only, it wasn’t a figure. It was like a whole mountain was moving.
The captain dropped his sword, staring dumbfoundedly at the Magma Colossus lumbering its way, causing the ship and the Doom Worm to bounce with each step. The men stopped panicking and simply stared, the fear and terror too much.
The Colossus was humanoid, yet grotesquely shaped. It carried a volcano on its back, spewing smoke and lava as it walked…
“Took you guys long enough,” Kraken gurgled as she climbed onto the shore, using her tentacles to pull her massive body out of the sea. “I hope this will be brief. Sand makes me itchy.”
“I came as fast as I could,” Dragon said, causing a hurricane with his wings as he landed next to the Kraken. “Colossus made it sound urgent. I wonder why he called us?”
“Dunno,” rumbled the Doom Worm as she crawled next to them. “We’ll have to wait for him to tell us.”
All three monsters watched their fourth member, walking from afar.
“If only he didn’t take so goddamn long!” Kraken exclaimed. “He’s too big to be practical!”
“He doesn’t have a medium to travel through,” Dragon said. “You swim in the sea, I soar the skies, Worm digs through the earth. Colossus just… walks.”
“Yeah,” Worm snorted, blowing a hill of sand. “Sucks to be him.”
“If only he chose a day when it rains,” Kraken complained. “I hate land. And I hate the sun. They make my skin dry. I don’t know why I came here anyway.”
“You came for the same reason I did,” Worm said. “Curiosity. I mean, how long has it been since Colossus gathered us all?”
The other two mused.
“5000 years?” Dragon asked.
“Damn, has it been that long?”
“You guys look the same as the last time I saw you,” Kraken said. “You haven’t aged one bit!”
Worm laughed, causing an earthquake, collapsing a few hills. “It’s the mud baths I’m taking, you know? They keep my skin young!”
“And I take regular face-lifts,” Dragon said. “Literally. Every time I lift off the ground, my skin is pulled and stretched, leveling out all wrinkles.”
“Oh, you guys are so lucky!” Kraken said, splashing tentacles in the nearby sea. “You’ve got such healthy lifestyles. Look at me! I’m all grown over with algae and corals, bathing and soaking in that murky sea all the time! I’m sick of it!” She slammed one giant tentacle to the ground, crushing a nearby fishing village. Then she noticed a shipwrecked pirate ship and picked it up, shaking out the humans.
“Hmm,” Dragon mused. “What if you tried living in a lake for a while? I hear there’s a monster needed up north. The old one’s retiring.”
“Hey, that’s a great idea,” Worm said. “A fresh environment would do you good.”
Men fell from the ship wreckage, splatting on the ground like ripe blueberries. “I don’t know,” Kraken said. “I’ll think about it.” One stubborn old man stabbed her tentacle with a tiny sword. Kraken frowned and flicked him off with a tentacle, far out into the sea.
The three monsters sat in silence, listening to the slow rhythm of two giant feet walking.
“Gee, he is slow,” Dragon commented.
“This is taking too long…” Kraken groaned. “Yo, Colossus! You think you can speed up a little? Like, in this millennia?”
A deep murmur came from the lumbering mountain, the volcano on its back spitting out a ball of smoke.
“Great,” Worm said. “Now you made him grumpy.”
“He’s always grumpy,” Kraken sighed. “I haven’t seen him smile once.”
The group waited for a little while, considering if they should walk to him, rather than wait. But Kraken insisted they stay near the sea so she could dip her tentacles in the water.
Finally, when night fell, the Magma Colossus joined the group, leaving a trail of devastation behind him.
“Greetings,” Colossus boomed with his deep voice, “my fellow brother and sisters-”
“Yeah, good to see you too,” Kraken said, blowing one tentacle over her eyes. “Can you tell us why we had to come so we can go?”
“Hum,” Colossus groaned, annoyed. “So impatient, so hasty. Immortality is not suiting you well, Karen.”
“Kraken,” Kraken corrected him. “My mortal name is long gone, I’m surprised you still remember it.”
“I remember everything.”
“Except my birthday!” Dragon chimed in.
Colossus turned to him, embers sputtering out from his back. “I remember your birthday, Seth. Unfortunately, the planet’s rotation has slowed down and the new calendar does not include the day you were born anymore. I am sorry.”
Dragon blinked, dumbfounded. “Wait. Does that mean that I don’t have a birthday anymore?”
“Is that even possible?” Worm asked, raising a horned eyebrow.
“It is, Priscilla,” Colossus said.
Worm sighed. “Why are you calling everyone by our old names, David? I thought we agreed never to use them again.”
“It has to do with the reason I have called you here,” Colossus said, the lava from his back flooding the remains of the village that Kraken smashed.
“Oh god,” Kraken rolled her eyes. “Is that why we came? So you can establish our old names again? Forget it!”
“No,” Colossus sighed, blowing out smoke. “I am using our old names so we can introduce ourselves to a potential new member.”
The three of them leaned back, breathless. A few moments passed before Dragon regained his words. “A new member?”
“Behold,” Colossus said, extending his ginormous hands forward. He had them clasped together as if he were concealing a great treasure. “Toby, the Tickle Monster.”
Colossus opened his palms and they appeared to be empty.
“Who the what now?” Kraken asked, frowning.
“I don’t see anything,” Dragon said, staring intently at Colossus’ palms.
“Is it invisible?” Worm asked.
“Toby is not as big as we are,” Colossus said, extending a finger over his palm. “He is rather small but quite fierce. I am hoping he can prove himself worthy of joining our ranks.”
The other three monsters stared at Colossus’ finger, noticing something very, very small that clung to it. It appeared like a tiny white blob of fluff with short legs and arms.
Worm was speechless.
“I’m not sure what it is, but-”
“Of all your ambitious recruiting attempts and all the stupid things you ever did, this has to be the crown jewel. A friggin puppy?!” Kraken squeezed tentacles full of sand in anger.
“Colossus,” Dragon said, “you know I respect your wisdom. But this... this is ridiculous. What has gotten into you?”
“Don’t be too hasty in your judgments, old friends,” Colossus boomed, extending his finger so they could have a better look. “This is no ordinary puppy. There is terrible power locked in him.”
“Terrible power?” Kraken hissed. “I am the horror of the ocean, the death under the waves! Men from all over the seventeen seas fear my very name! I can crush ships in half like they were dead leaves, I can lay waste to an armada! My skin is so tough that no weapon devised by man can pierce it and my tentacles are so strong they can rip apart the waves themselves! Can your puppy do that, David?”
“I agree with her,” Dragon said. “I possess powers that are beyond any other. I can soar the skies, flying high above the world like a god. My wings can produce a hurricane more powerful than any storm and I can spew fire hotter than any infernal hell! I lay waste to armies of men and their cities, while their weapons don’t even scratch my scales! I am invincible in my strength and insurmountable in my wrath! Compared to me, that puppy is nothing!”
“And I,” Worm roared, “am the master of the underground. Men think of land as safe, when they run to hide from Kraken or Dragon, hiding in caves and castles. I care not for any man-made construction. I can tunnel underneath the very ground they think of as safe and bring doom from below! I tear through the bowels of the earth, eating and devouring all in my path! A thousand years of imprisonment awaits anyone who stands in my way, as I devour them and tear them apart from within! That puppy… it cannot measure up!”
Colossus heard them out patiently. “I hear you, friends. And I agree, you are all mighty. As am I! I, Magma Colossus, a living mountain, can cause earthquakes and lava floods at the scale rarely seen in nature! I can destroy not just cities and armies, but whole continents if I so choose! I am a power as mighty and ancient as the earth itself! All three of you combined would have a tough time bringing me down - if you even could! And yet, I bring this one-” he glanced at the creature resting on his finger “-into our presence. I’ll let that speak for itself.”
The three regarded the white ball of fur. Its mouth appeared to be moving as if it were barking, but none of them heard any sound as the thing was so punny and small.
Kraken snorted. “You’ve gone crazy, old man.”
Dragon frowned, rubbing his chin. “You said it’s a ‘Tickle Monster’? What exactly does that mean?”
“Ah,” Colossus said. “Time for a demonstration.” He curved his finger against another and flicked the puppy at the Dragon. The mighty winged beast didn’t even feel as Toby landed on its scales.
“What is this supposed to-”
Then, Dragon flinched. He smacked Worm with his wing like someone punched him in the ribs.
“Hey, watch it!”
“It tickles,” Dragon said, laughing. “Ow, it tickles a lot! Stop it!” He began laughing, against his will, tears rolling down his face, wings flapping as he tried to get rid of the tiny puppy.
Kraken and Worm watched and laughed at him. But soon, their laughter was cut short, as Dragon began throwing up fire, his face turning red, laughing out of control.
“Please…” he begged through the tears, “I can’t… make it stop…”
He jumped in the air, laughing. He ascended upward, trying to shake the puppy off. His voice got soar, sounding painful, his eyes bulged out and red, his breaths becoming strained.
The monsters on the ground started to worry.
Then, Dragon stopped laughing. He stopped flapping his wings as well and plummeted to the ground. Worm and Kraken had to jump out of the way or be hit by Dragon’s massive body. He crashed with a loud crack and lay there, motionless. His face was twisted in a painful laughing expression.
Kraken gasped. But before she could say anything, she felt something tickle her under one of her tentacles. She flinched and smacked Worm.
“Hey, what am I, a punching bag?”
“The thing’s on me!” Kraken felt the tickle running up her tentacle, causing her to laugh hysterically. “It’s not funny at all, but I can help to laugh!”
Worm glanced at the dead Dragon, then at Kraken, then at Colossus. “What have you brought to us, Colossus?”
The giant mountain looked worried. “Oh, dear…”
Kraken’s laughter pierced the night air like an apocalypse coming. She flailed around with her tentacles, laying waste to the land, smacking both Worm and Colossus a couple of times, before running into the water. Worm watched her submerge and for a moment they could only see the waves hitting the shore.
After a dreadful silence, Kraken’s body floated to the surface, face up. She was smiling, mouth painfully wide.
“No,” Worm whispered as a tiny white ball emerged from the sea, shaking its body and tail. “You won’t get me, Toby!” Worm rammed its head into the ground, digging for safety. With horror, she felt a tug at the end of her tail. And a tickle.
“No!” she screamed into the rocks underground, wiggling to shove away the little monster. But there was little she could do. The puppy ran all across her body with unprecedented speed and she could only laugh out of control, all breath squeezed out of her until her enormous heart gave way to the stress.
Worm stopped moving and a white puppy popped its head from the hole in the ground.
“Now, there, Toby,” Colossus said, raising his hands in defense. “Sit.”
The puppy wiggled with his tail and approached, stumbling over the carcass of the Dragon.
“No, stay,” Colossus said. “I thought I told you only to demonstrate your powers, not destroy everybody!”
The puppy barked, but Colossus’ ears were too big to register the sound.
“Toby,” he boomed, voice cracking with concern. “Do not approach me!”
The puppy jumped on Colossus’ leg and climbed up. The mountain shook. First, it giggled, then chuckled, and finally, it broke in a burst of uncontrollable laughter. Colossus was way too slow to catch the supernatural fast puppy and so he tried erupting lava on it. But in his laughter, he dropped the volcano from his back, causing it to shatter and flood the land far and wide. Colossus laughed so hard that chunks of him crumbled and fell off. The ground shook and the surrounding mountains crumbled. He laughed so loud that he popped his own eardrums, going deaf.
The tickling didn’t stop until Colossus couldn’t feel anything anymore and crumbled into a pile of boulders.
Toby, the Tickle Monster, reigned supreme. He raised one foot and peed on the rocks.