Cody stayed behind and helped Lester clean up the game pieces after his usual group, minus Allen, finished playing their game. “So you’ve still managed to avoid it?” Cody asked as he folded up a game board.
Lester sighed. “Yeah.”
Cody smiled. “Well that’s good.”
“My parents have both seen it though. Same with my sister.”
Cody looked down. “Oh.”
Lester shed a tear as he put an orc statuette into a bin. “Do you remember when I asked you about what you’d do with me if Bavandersloth won?”
Cody nodded. “Yeah.”
“You never said.”
“I’ll ask Bavandersloth what options he has available.”
Lester shed another tear. Cody went over to him. “Hey, hey, it’s alright.”
Lester looked up at Cody. “Shut up,” he said. He looked back down. “It’s not and you know that.”
Cody looked down. He sighed and went back over to the table and put away a few tokens. “I’ll do whatever I can to keep you and your family safe – Steven and Reidel too.”
“And how much will that be?”
Cody paused. “Look, Lester…”
“Lester I haven’t actively helped him since--”
“Since his rampage. That was, what, a month ago?” Cody was silent. Lester took a deep breath. He walked over and put his hand on Cody’s shoulder. “Look, I get it. I really do. Bavandersloth isn’t giving you a choice,” Lester took a step away.
“If there were any way of stopping him--”
Lester’s eyes widened. “Don’t use the S word. Not after Allen.”
Cody looked at Lester. Lester looked down. Cody walked over as Lester began to cry intensely. Cody sat down next to him and also cried for a few minutes before Cody heard a bump. His eyes widened. He stood up. “What was that?”
Lester looked up. “I don’t know.” He gasped. “You don’t think Bavandersloth’s coming again, do you?”
Cody shook his head. “We didn’t talk about stopping him.” Cody looked down and signed. “Close your eyes.”
Lester hesitated, and then did. Cody took his true form and smelled for fear. He took his human form again. “I can’t smell anyone outside.”
Lester stood up. “It’s probably nothing.” He walked over to the board. “C’mon, we still need to finish up before your--”
The window was shattered. Cody’s eyes widened and he turned his head to look at it. He stepped back. He saw a green creature with moist fur. It looked like it was made of decaying flesh, like him, but it clearly wasn’t a lich. It was tall, like a cylinder with a bulge at the top which was decorated in eyestalks. It had four long, spidery legs at its base and four longer arms emerging from about a third of the way down from its head. Cody stepped back as it walked toward him. He squinted.
“It’s probably a servant of the--” the creature lunged at Cody. Lester screamed. Cody rolled out of the way as the creature slid over the table. Cody stood up and took his true form, but the creature grabbed him with one of its hands. Cody felt a blast coming from its hand and he lost consciousness.
Bavandersloth read over some papers while Justin and Valthakar played a game together in the next room. Just a week ago, he’d sent letters to various networks seeking to get a show of his own. Being restricted to a short interview on the news each night wasn’t doing him any favors, and he needed to reach more people. He’d gotten a response from every network he’d contacted, as he’d expected. Most of them had already sent him a contract to sign.
As he read, he thought he heard something outside. His eyes widened. He looked around. He summoned a soul. “What do you want?” the soul asked.
“Look outside. I thought I heard something.”
The soul nodded and went. A few seconds later, the soul came back in. Its eyes were wide and it was gasping for air. “There’s something out there,” the soul shouted. “It was horrible. It has these long tube arms, four of them, and its legs, and its eyes. Oh, God its eyes.”
Bavandersloth heard something crash into the mansion. He turned his head. He saw a large creature standing in front of him. He stood up and took his true form. He squinted. “What are you?”
The creature stretched out its hand. Bavandersloth’s eyes widened. He jumped as a blast of magic flew out of it. He heard gasping in the other room. The creature pointed its hand at the door. Bavandersloth fired his own blast at the creature, but the creature jumped over it, bending down as he jumped to keep from hitting the ceiling. Valthakar and Justin ran in, and the creature hit them both with magical beams, knocking them out. Bavandersloth turned invisible as he stood up. He heard the creature screech. He turned to face it, and saw its hand pointed at him. It fired.
Pretty Pink Ponytails woke up in her bed. She thought she’d heard something. She sat up, looked around, and then hugged her stuffed unicorn. She heard another noise. She looked at her unicorn. “I think I hear a monster outside, Tiffany,” she said. She hugged the unicorn closer before putting it down. She reached for the pink and blue guns on her bedside table. “I’ll be right back after I take care of it.”
Pink skipped out of the room. She opened her door and went outside. Her eyes widened. The creature turned toward her. It held her brother in its arms. She held up her guns. “Who are you?” she asked. The creature walked toward her. She smiled and paced backward. “Not a chatterbox I see?” She held up her guns. “I guess we’ll have to play then. What’s your favorite gun-game?” Pink shot one of the creature’s legs. It reeled back but recovered a second later. “You have a lot of legs.” She shot an arm this time. The creature sped up. Pink turned and ran. She tried to think. She should lure it to a place where she could shoot something more powerful than it could take. She needed to go outside. Pink ran for the exit. As she went, the creature gained on her. Before she could get to the door, the creature tackled her. Pink’s eyes widened, and then she fell unconscious.
Cody rubbed his head as he woke up. He felt a hard slab of wood underneath him, and then felt a bit of water splash him. He raised an eyebrow. “Huh?” He looked around. His eyes widened. He saw a cage around him and four people standing outside it. “Hello?” The people didn’t move. He stood up. He looked down and realized he was on a wooden raft in a body of water. On closer inspection, he realized he was in a flowing river. On still closer inspection, he realized that the bank was only a few feet away from the river’s edge… and was made of concrete.
Cody looked out into the foggy night and saw broken benches and overgrown walkways. Near the river was a building with a long-dead neon sign on it. It read “Restrooms.” Cody was in an amusement park, on a ride.
Cody took another look around. Something dead in him loved the look of the decaying buildings obscured by the fog just dense enough to reveal their frames. Each one seemed to hide beautiful secrets waiting to be discovered. It took Cody a moment to force himself to focus.
He looked back at the humans outside. “Hello?” he said. “What’s going on?”
The guards seemed to spring into life. The one Cody was looking at started to breath. Cody stood back as the creature in black metal armor turned around. Cody’s eyes widened as he looked at the woman in the suit. “Cherry?”
The other guards turned to face Cody. He looked around. “Mom? Dad? Lester? What are you doing here?”
“Quiet, prisoner,” Cody’s mother said.
Cody stepped back. “Prisoner?” These weren’t his real loved ones, or if they were, something was controlling them. “What’s going on here?”
“You are being escorted to your execution,” Cherie said.
Cody’s eyes widened. “My what?”
“You are a coward,” Lester said. Cody turned around. He felt the raft shake beneath him. He looked ahead. The water was getting rougher.
Cody looked around. He felt a splash. “You have let your fears control you,” Cody’s father said, “and acted contrary to your duty. For this crime, you have been sentenced to death.”
Cody gasped. He felt the raft dip. He fell over just in time to get covered in water by the splash. He tried to stand back up, but slipped. The raft came upon a turn in the ride. The Cherie guard spoke. “And to think, you came so close to doing right.”
“What are you talking about?” Cody asked. He felt a bump. His eyes widened. The raft scraped against the edge of the ride. Cody stood up again. Why was this happening?
“You know what your duties are,” Lester said. “If you are not a coward, prove it and leave here.” Cody heard squeaking. He looked ahead, and saw the cage door open. Cody looked out the door.
“Of course,” Cherie said, “if we fail to deliver you to your execution, it is us who will be made to die.”
Cody’s eyes widened. He turned to them. “No!” he shouted. He hit another bump in the river. He fell down and felt the edge of the raft scrape against the ride’s edge. He was rolled over to the side of the cage, and felt his arm pressed against its bars. He looked ahead. His eyes widened. He saw a machine in front of him. It was a metal hill with a large piece of black rubber going around it, like a conveyer belt.
Lester looked down at Cody. “Then again, if whatever’s on the other side of that hill is capable of killing you, who knows what it will do to us?”
Cody’s eyes widened. He closed them. This wasn’t real. This couldn’t be real. Something forced his eyes open again. He felt another splash and saw the metal hill nearing.
“It’s your choice to make whether or not you will leave this cage,” Cody’s father said. “But you must make it before time runs out.”
“You are not the only one who has been sentenced to death,” his mother said. Cody stood up, but was knocked back down by the river.
“You might have the chance to save them all,” Cherie said.
“Guys, get off the raft. Try to stop it. Is there anything you can do?” The raft met the metal hill and was lifted by the black rubber.
“You have to stop it,” Cherie said. Cody heard screaming. He turned around. The river behind him was backed up with rafts, each with a caged person on it. Cody turned back around.
“But you won’t stop it,” Lester said. “You’re a coward.”
“Guys, no.” Cody rose higher and higher. His raft lifted up over the head of the hill. Cody looked down. He saw the water plunging into a black, endless abyss.
“Looks like we’ll fall down there too,” Cherie said.
Cody stood up. He clinched his fist and ran for the cage exit. It slammed shut. Cody’s eyes widened. “What?”
“You just had your chance,” Lester said. “You were warned. After a while it will be too late. That time has come.”
Cody’s mother smiled and leaned down. “Once you get to the top of the hill, there’s no going back.”
“No!” Cody looked down. He felt a bead of sweat trickle down his neck. The raft lifted itself over the edge of the hill. Cody ran toward the back of the cage, but fell back to the front as it plummeted into the dark abyss.
“This is what happens to cowards,” he heard his mother say. Cody shed a tear.
Cody felt water splash over him as he reached the bottom of the hill. When the water had flown away, he looked around again. He was no longer in a cage, and the guards were gone. He was in a small wooden building, strapped onto a raft. He looked down. He was able to undo the strap with the push of a button.
Cody stood up. He saw a door with an exit sign over it and left through it. He left watery footprints behind him as he walked.
Justin awoke in a dark room surrounded by mirrors. He squinted and looked around. He saw a door behind him. He went straight to it and tried to open it but it but could not . He took his true form and willed the door to decay away. It didn’t work.
Justin squinted. “Huh?” He tried again. The door was still there. “C’mon door, decay. I said decay.” The door remained intact. Justin grumbled. He turned around. The building was dark. In front of him was a long hallway. Justin sighed and walked forward. After a few steps, it occurred to him that he could summon a few of his souls and have them look around to see where he was. He summoned two souls.
“What is it?” one asked.
“I woke up in this building. I’m not sure where it is.” Justin pointed to one of the souls. “I need you to go outside and look around. Come back in a few minutes and see if you can give me a basic idea of where I am.” That soul nodded and flew off. Justin pointed at the other one. “And you, go down that hall and tell me what’s up ahead. I get the feeling that I’m going to have to go that way if I want to get out of here.”
“But there’s an open door behind you.”
Justin raised an eyebrow. He turned around. The only door he saw was the one that he’d tried to destroy a second ago. “Where?” he asked.
The soul flew in front of the closed door. “Right here, master.”
“That door’s closed.”
The soul turned around. It tilted its head. It turned back around. “It looks pretty open to me, master. In fact, come to think of it, I don’t see a door at all.”
Justin thought. The soul couldn’t lie to him unless it thought he’d want that, and Justin couldn’t think of a reason it’d think that now. Had he succeeded in making the door decay earlier? It still looked closed.
“Master.” Justin turned around. He saw the other soul.
“What is it?”
“We appear to be at Joy’s Coast in the Northwest District. It’s an old amusement park. This building is the hall of mirrors.”
Justin thought. He’d been vaguely aware of this place. He sighed. “Thank you,” he said. “You may go on your way.” The soul nodded and flew off. Justin turned to the other soul. He sighed. “You’re sure that door isn’t closed?”
“It looks that way.”
Justin sighed. He walked up to the door. He pressed his hand up against it, and then tried to place his hand through it. He saw his hand pressed against the doorway. He could feel it squeezing on his palm. “Is my hand passing through the doorway?”
Justin pulled his hand back. He sighed. “Well, even if it’s open, I’ll have to go through the hall if I don’t want it to look and feel like I’m walking around in this room for the rest of my life.”
The soul nodded. It went ahead. After a few minutes, it came back. “I just see an ordinary hall of mirrors, master. I don’t see anything dangerous.”
Justin nodded. “Alright,” he said. “You can go.”
The soul flew off. Justin stepped forward. He looked to his left as he entered the hall. He saw a mirror. It projected back a funny picture of him with a giant head. He chuckled and moved on. He looked to his right and saw another mirror. It showed another image of him, but really tall and skinny. He laughed. He looked back over to his right. He saw a picture of Cody’s true form.
Justin jumped back, and then tilted his head. He looked around. Cody was nowhere in sight. Justin looked at his own arms. The same white cloth was draped over them as always, and yet, when he looked back in that one mirror, he saw Cody’s patchy rags.
Justin thought. What could be doing this? Was it the same things that had attacked Cody during his contest with Ntullnarlth? It seemed a lot like them. If so, that probably meant a lich had summoned them.
Justin kept walking. He saw Cody’s reflection in the next few mirrors.
He took another step and looked at another mirror. He flinched. He saw himself again. He also saw the reflection of his back in another mirror behind him. He realized he’d never seen the back of his own outfit before, or the massive bloodstain on it.
Justin went forward. In the next mirror he saw a small, black figure. No, it wasn’t small, it was far away. The mirror in front of Justin and the mirror behind him reflected off of each other, making a hallway that looked like it went on forever. Justin turned around. He didn’t see anything in the other mirror. Justin walked forward. In the next mirror, the figure was there again, but closer. It was shaped like a human, with white, glowing eyes. It just stood there, maybe forty feet away. The hall Justin was in was only about ten feet wide.
Justin took a few deep breaths. He walked forward. He closed his eyes as he walked by the next mirror. He didn’t want to see it. As he walked, he heard a bump to his right. Startled, he opened his eyes. He saw the creature again. It was only about twenty feet away. Justin looked at it closer this time. He could see it subtly swaying back and forth, and at one point, he thought he saw it blink.
Justin took a deep breath. He kept going. In the next mirror the figure was only about ten feet away. Justin gulped. He looked at it. He kept watching the mirror as he moved forward. The figure’s head tracked him.
In the next mirror, he saw the creature five feet away. This time, he could see it watching him as he walked by. “Who are you?” Justin asked. No response. He sighed. He thought about turning back, but there was nowhere for him to go. The door was still shut for all intents and purposes. Still, Justin called one of his souls.
The soul flew in. “What is it, master?”
“I think there might be something dangerous around.”
The soul looked at him. “Where?”
“I’m not exactly sure. I’ve only seen it in the mirrors.”
The soul looked around. “I don’t see anything in any of the mirrors, master.”
Justin looked down. “I suppose you wouldn’t.”
Justin moved forward and motioned for the soul to follow him. Justin braced himself for the next mirror. He looked at it as he passed. It was him. He sighed. Apparently that was over. Then he looked his own reflection in the eye and saw the same glowing white dots he’d seen on the figure.
Justin took a few deep breaths. He turned. He saw the end of the hall of mirrors coming up, and the exit door was open. He looked back at his reflection. It didn’t move with him; it just stood as he walked away, tracking him. He passed by the next mirror. He saw himself again, with the same eyes, but with a rope around his arm. Someone was pulling on the rope to move the arm up and down. The next mirror was the same, but with a rope around his other arm too.
“What do you see?” Justin asked his soul.
“In the mirror?”
“Nothing odd about it?”
“No? Do you see something wrong with it? It looks the same to me as you’ve always looked.”
Justin sighed. In the next mirror, there were ropes around his legs too. Justin stood back. His reflection, eyes glowing, danced. Justin heard a bump above him. He looked up. He saw Bavandersloth in a mirror above him, holding onto the ropes. He squinted. “Huh?”
Justin turned and faced forward. He sighed. There were no more mirrors. He ran outside of the building.
Pretty Pink Ponytails opened her eyes. She sat up and rubbed her head. Where was she? What had that thing been? She stood up and looked around. She raised an eyebrow. She was on a carrousel. She tilted her head. What was she doing here? The area looked decrepit. She saw graffiti on nearby buildings, trash and leaves were everywhere, and the gates around the carousel were rusty.
Pink looked back at the carrousel itself. It wasn’t rusty at all, and its paint was as bright as it’d ever been. Pink walked around it. When she got about half-way around her eyes widened. She saw her brother. She dashed over to him and started shaking him. “Bro?”
After a few seconds, he stirred. “Huh?”
Pink smiled. “Bro. Are you okay?”
Zach sat up. “Yeah, I think so.” He looked around. His eyes widened. “Where are we?”
“I’m not sure.” Pink stood up straight. “Before we got here, I saw a monster carrying you. I--”
“I saw it.” Zach stood up. “So this is Light-rook and his group then?”
Pink nodded. “Probably. Do you think maybe that was what they look like under those clouds?”
“Could be.” Zach sighed. “That’d explain why they don’t want anyone to see them.”
“Hey, what’s that you got in your hand?”
“Huh?” Zachary looked at his hand. He was holding a wrench. It was covered in blood. He stared at it. “I don’t know where this came from.”
“Either way,” Pink said, “if the Angels are the ones who brought us here, they’re probably around here somewhere.”
Zach nodded. “Yeah. We’d better get out of here as soon as possible.”
“Agreed, but that’s probably what they expect us to do. There’s probably a trap around.”
Zach groaned as he stood up. “Maybe, but…”
Pink looked at Zach. “What?”
“This doesn’t make any sense. If they wanted to kill us, why didn’t they kill us while we were out instead of moving us here?”
Pink’s eyes widened. “And if they wanted information, why not tie us up and be right there to ask when we wake up? And why not separate us? If I were them, I’d have moved the two of us across town from each other.”
Zach nodded. “Yeah. Something about this doesn’t--”
The carrousel’s lights flashed on. Pink and Zach’s eyes widened. Pink flinched as the carrousel started moving. Zach walked toward the edge to get off, but when he reached the edge, something forced him back. He hit his head on the carrousel’s center bit. Pink went over to Zach. “You okay, bro?”
“Yeah,” Zach said, rubbing the back of his head. It took him a second, but he stood up and grabbed a pole on the ride.
Pink turned her head and looked out from the ride. Her eyes widened. “Bro, look.”
Zach looked. “What?” Zach’s eyes widened. In front of both of them, outside the carrousel, was an image of them outside their childhood home.
Zach nearly dropped the wrench. “Wha…”
“Whoa,” Pink said. She looked at herself as a six year old, clutching Tiffany. She realized that one of the horses on the carrousel looked a lot like Tiffany.
“Why are we leaving?” the younger version of Pink asked.
“Because it’s not safe here anymore,” the younger Zach said. “The people who killed our parents will come after us.” The younger pink squeezed her unicorn. “There’s a bounty on our heads. We need to go find another place to live now. Somewhere none of them will find us. I’m going to try to get into contact with some of mom and dad’s friends from work and see if they can help us, but they might not be able to.”
The younger pink shed a tear. The younger Zach walked to her and hugged her. “Nita…”
The older Pink took a step toward the unicorn on the carrousel that reminded her of Tiffany.
The scene went away. Zach clinched his fist. Pink turned to him. “Are you okay, bro?”
Before Zachary could respond, the outside changed again. Zach and Pink looked out.
The younger Zachary stood in front of an adult. “The boss says alright,” the adult said.
Zach’s face lit up. “Really? Thank you so much Mr. Harriso--”
“Provided, of course, you carry your weight around here.”
Zach stopped. He squinted. “Well, obviously. Did you think I thought I’d not have to?”
“No. The boss is curious as to how you plan to, though.”
“Oh. Easy. My parents brought me along on a few jobs to train me. I can smuggle product, off people--”
“All by yourself?”
“Yeah. Of course.”
Harrison sighed. “I’m not sure about that.”
Zach’s eyes widened. “What? But I… I mean… in other organizations--”
“We have higher standards. It takes an adult to do an adult’s job. The amount of training you’d have gotten if your parents hadn’t died would have been enough,” Harrison looked down, “but as it is, you’re going to have to think of something else to get you by while you learn to do real work.”
Zachary stepped back. He looked down and sighed. “Okay.” He looked back up. “I’ll think of something.”
Harrison nodded. “I hope so.” He sighed. “I’m sorry. I’ll help you any way I can, but I can’t take care of you and your sister.”
Zachary nodded. He went outside, downcast. Anita was waiting on the steps. She smiled as he emerged. “Big bro.”
Zach smiled and sat on the steps next to her. “Yeah.”
“So how’d it go? Are we going to live with mommy and daddy’s work?”
Zach looked down. “Yeah. Probably.”
Anita raised an eyebrow. “What’s wrong?” Zachary was silent. “You know, we could talk to Mrs…”
Zachary’s eyes widened. “No!” Anita leaned away. Zach sighed. “Sorry, sis. I just… if you say the wrong thing, I could get caught, and if I get caught…” Zachary put his head down.
“I know. I’m sorry.”
Zachary sighed. He looked up.
In reality, on the carrousel, the real Zach scooted back. He clenched his fist. After a second, he closed his eyes and looked away. Pink raised an eyebrow and looked back at the scene. The younger version of her brother looked across the street at a lady who wasn’t wearing very much. He watched a man come up to her and walk away with her. His eyes widened, like he’d gotten an idea. He turned to Anita. He sighed and looked down. “Hey, Anita, would you do anything to help us survive?”
“Why are you even asking? Of course I would.”
“Even if it was hard?”
“Bro, what’s wrong?”
Zachary looked down and sighed. He put his hand on Anita’s shoulder. He shed a tear. “C’mon. We need to go back inside.”
Anita leaned back. “We?”
Zachary nodded. He went inside. The scene went away.
Zachary looked up at Pretty Pink Ponytails. He heard something. Pink looked at the horn on the unicorn that looked like Tiffany. It shook. She stood back. Its shaking intensified. Pink moved back further. It looked like it was going to fall off for a moment, but it settled down.
Pink went over to Zachary. “You alright bro?”
Zach sighed. He smiled. “Yeah. I’m fine.”
Valthakar opened his eyes. He looked around. He was in an empty room with black walls and a single window. He heard thunder clap outside. He tried to stand up.
He was able to sit, but as soon as he did, some sort of straps wrapped around him and pulled him back onto the table. They held him against it. More wrapped around him. He tried to rip through the straps. He couldn’t. He tried again. He gritted his teeth. He cursed. The straps held him back.
Valthakar thought. Why couldn’t he get through these? What material could they possibly be made of that he couldn’t break? No such material existed, so far as he knew.
Valthakar grumbled. He thought. He summoned a soul. He waited a second. None arrived. His eyes widened. He summoned another one. None arrived. He seethed. Why wasn’t anyone showing up?
Valthakar jerked. He couldn’t get free. He turned to his left. His eyes widened. He saw another lich there, one he didn’t recognize. The lich sat on a table much like his. Valthakar could see the straps on the other table, though that lich wasn’t bound by them.
“Hey, you,” Valthakar said to the lich. Suddenly the lich’s eyes widened. One of the straps rose and wrapped itself around the lich.
“What the…?” the lich said. The lich jerked against the straps. He wasn’t able to break himself free. Valthakar laughed.
The other lich turned to him. “Hey, what’s so funny? I’m trapped here.”
“That’s what’s funny. Misery loves company, I suppose. Regardless, do you think there’s a way to break these?”
The lich pulled against his. “I don’t know.”
Valthakar lay back. “I doubt it. If I couldn’t do it, there’s little chance any lich could.” Thunder clapped outside again. Both liches looked at the window, and then looked away.
“There’s a storm outside,” the other lich said.
“Is there?” There was a pause. “Who are you, by the way? Do you have any idea why we’re here?”
The lich struggled. “I’m Imornath.”
Valthakar tilted his head. Imornath. That name sounded familiar. Where had he heard it before? “Do I know you?” Valthakar asked.
“I don’t know. Who are you?”
The other one’s eyes widened. “You.”
“You seem like you do know me, then?”
“Know you? You ruined my life.”
Valthakar smiled. “Well, that could apply to a lot of people.”
The other lich jerked against his bonds, trying to move toward Valthakar. He made no progress. Valthakar laughed. “There’s no point in resisting those straps. If I couldn’t get out of them, there’s no way you can.”
The other lich gritted his teeth and seethed. Valthakar laughed. He didn’t so much care about his straps anymore. He lay back, listening to the other lich struggle and shout.
Bavandersloth awoke on a Ferris wheel. He sat up and rubbed his face. He looked around. It didn’t take him long to figure out he was at Joy’s Coast. He recalled visiting it once, in fact, back when it was open. He summoned a few souls and had them look around. He lay back. He thought about the creature he’d seen. Based on its abilities, it seemed to have been a lich, but its appearance seemed to indicate it had been a monster.
Bavandersloth sat up. No, there was another possibility. It was probably—
Bavandersloth’s thoughts were cut off by the sound of a woman singing. Bavandersloth moved to look at the road near the wheel, making his seat in the Ferris wheel rock a bit. He looked down at the ground.
He could see her. He shouted.
“Georgia?” he said. The woman was too far down for him to be able to tell if she’d responded. He looked around. He lay back. So there was a specter about. That had to be what this was. The same creatures Ntullnarlth had used against Odelarch.
Bavandersloth laughed. He still couldn’t believe Odelarch had managed to kill Ntullnarlth. That boy had something in common with him.
Bavandersloth shook his head. He rubbed his forehead. He didn’t feel well, like he’d had too much wine, back when that worked.
Bavandersloth sighed. He looked up. “I know she’s not real, you know. You can’t torment me by trapping me up here and keeping her down there. Besides, I haven’t cared about her in years. I did kill her after all.”
The Ferris wheel moved. Bavandersloth flinched. He grumbled. He put his hand on the wheel. He thought of making it decay away, but realized he was too high up. His body might splat when it hit the ground, which would seriously disable him for a while. Bavandersloth sat back and sighed. He’d just have to wait until the wheel reached the bottom.
Cody walked down the park’s wide, road-like paved pathways, looking for the exit. As he walked, he saw a large map on the wall of a building. He walked over to it. The glass the map was behind had a spider-web crack, but Cody could still see the map inside.
There was a large, red X with “You are here” written next to it in the lower right corner, near The Riveting River, the ride he’d been on. Cody traced the path with his finger. To get to the exit, he needed to go straight until he passed The House of Horrors, and then take a left, then a right after he passed The Tunnel of Love, and then continue straight until he reached the square from which he’d be able to see the exit.
Cody turned back to the path. As he walked, he thought. The creature he’d seen had taken him all the way here just to see what he’d seen on that ride. Why? He ran back over the scene in his mind. He was in a cage. His friends and family were guarding him. He didn’t escape because he was a coward. Escaping would kill them. Not escaping would kill him and them. After not escaping for a while, he lost his chance.
The thing that had brought him here was a creature of the underworld. So were the spirits that most likely showed Cody those visions. That meant either that Gborin’gargoth or Kandrinarkora found some interest in him, which was unlikely, or that a lich had summoned them. Most liches couldn’t summon creatures from the underworld. According to the book, that power usually required that the lich using it to have more than seventy-five-million souls, making them likely more than two-hundred-thousand years old. There was one lich he knew of, however, who could still access that power: Kgobauru. Kgobauru accessed powers earlier than other liches. He had to somehow be involved in this.
Still, that seemed to clash with what he’d seen. If he was interpreting the allegory correctly-- crash.
Cody’s thoughts were interrupted by a collision. He fell back. “Hey, watch it,” he said. He looked up. His eyes widened. It was Justin.
“Cody?” Justin asked.
“Yeah,” Cody said, standing up.
“What are you doing here?”
“I don’t know. I was brought here by this big creature. It was green, had glossy fur, four arms… but I’m guessing you’d tell the same story?”
Justin nodded. “Pretty much.”
Cody sighed. “So what did it show you?”
Justin raised an eyebrow. “It showed you weird stuff too?”
Cody nodded. The two started walking forward.
“I woke up in the hall of mirrors, and the only way out was to go through. I saw all kinds of weird things in the mirrors. There was this dark figure, and you, and me with ropes around my hands and feet.”
“Yeah. In the last image, I was being puppeteered by Bavandersloth.”
“Oh?” Cody looked down. That one was easy enough to interpret.
“I think it’s a bad guy,” Justin said. “Trying to trick me. He wants me to think I’m wrong to do good by working for Bavandersloth.” Justin looked down. “At least that’s what I think. I’m not sure. It doesn’t really explain most of the other things I saw.”
“It doesn’t.” There was a pause. “Kgobauru has to be involved with this somehow.”
Justin raised an eyebrow. “Kgobauru? Why him?”
“The only ones who could have summoned a creature from the underworld would be Gborin’gargoth, who’d have no reason, Kandrinarkora, who’d have no reason, and Kgobauru.”
“Wow,” Justin said. “I never thought of that. But wait, it could be Kandrinarkora. He’s brought things to Earth before. What if he’s trying to destroy the world again? We stopped him last time. What if he’s trying to get us out of the way?”
“Maybe,” Cody said. “But why not just kill us, or at least destroy our forms? We were unconscious. He had the opportunity.”
Justin’s eyes widened. “That’s true.” Justin looked up at Cody. “Man, you sound like that detective that used to chase after you.”
Justin nodded. “Yeah.” Justin looked up. “I remember watching him on TV. He always seemed so smart. It was confusing.” Justin looked back at Cody. “I wondered why a guy like him would chase after a guy like you. You were my hero… up until what Valthakar did of course. When he pretended to be you.” Justin clenched his fist. “I felt so betrayed.” Justin relaxed. “But then Bavandersloth showed up, and things got better for me. I learned that I’d been right to think you were a good guy all along, and I got to be like you.”
Cody bit his tongue.
The two walked through the park, past several stores, shops, and restaurants, each one abandoned in haste. Cody could smell rotten meat coming from one of them as he passed behind it. Another store had rats inside. Cody could tell by the smell of their fear that several of them were being chased by a cat, or perhaps an owl. No, not an owl. The building wasn’t tall enough. The next building was virtually intact, glowed, and was surrounded by spirits. Cody’s eyes widened.
“What the…” Cody stared at the shop for a second.
“What are those things?” Justin asked.
“I don’t know,” Cody said. “I think they want us to go inside that building, though.”
Cody sighed. He walked toward the building. As Cody neared, the spirits cleared away from the door. Cody opened it and went inside. Justin followed.
As Justin entered, Cody heard a snapping sound. Cody turned around. Justin had stepped on a feather quill and snapped it in half. Justin jerked his foot away, and then put it back. He stepped further into the store. Cody turned around. He thought. Bavandersloth’s phylactery was a feather quill. Maybe Justin was right to an extent, and these spirits were trying to get Justin to kill Bavandersloth.
Cody looked around the store. It was just one room. The shelves were stocked with various items. Cody saw a few whips on the wall across from him. There was a lich costume on a rack in the corner. Two bins in the center were full of glowing white balls. They looked just like human souls, but smaller.
Cody heard a slam behind him. His eyes darted to the door. It was shut. Justin gasped. He held out his hand.
“Wait,” Cody said.
Justin turned around. “What?”
“That won’t work.”
“Blasting the wall won’t help us escape. The door’s probably still open anyway. It’s just our senses that are trapped in here.”
Justin looked at Cody. He put his hand down. He sighed. “Right. So what do we do then?”
“Those things lured us in here to show us something, and they’d only do that if they wanted us to act on it. Unless we’re meant to act on it in here, they probably plan to let us out. We should look around until we see what they want us to see.”
Justin looked down. He looked back up and nodded. “Alright.” He went over to the shelves to examine them. Cody went over to a table by a window. He saw bars outside of that window that reminded him of the bars on the cage he’d been in earlier. He looked down on the table. There were a few boxes on it labeled “Baby Lich’s Soul Farming Play Set.” Next to the boxes was an assembled product. It was a tall tower. It could be opened down the middle to see inside. Cody did so. Inside, there were a bunch of cells, each containing one human. Most of them were female.
Cody turned around and looked over at the shelves. He saw rolled up posters. He took one and looked at it. He saw Bavandersloth’s face. He closed it. He grabbed another. It depicted his. He closed it too.
He turned to Justin. Justin held something in his hand. He raised an eyebrow. “What have you got there?”
“Powdered candy, I’m pretty sure,” Justin said. Cody looked at the object. It was decorated to look like a feather quill. “Only one way to find out if I’m right,” Justin said. He snapped the thing open.
“Justin, that’s been there for over thirty year--” The area around Cody and Justin went dark. Cody’s eyes widened. He looked around. He was in an old, decaying toy store. There was a plastic play set on the table and a rack of stuffed animals in the corner. The door was open.
Justin looked at his hands. “Where’d my candy go?” He sighed. He looked over at Cody. “I guess we’re done here then?”
Cody hesitated for a moment, and then nodded.
“Is something wrong?”
Cody shook his head. “No.”
He left the store with Justin, thinking about what he’d just seen.
Pink sat down next to her brother as another scene began in front of them. The younger Zachary, Anita, and Harrison sat on a couch. Zachary was looking down. Harrison turned to Zach. “Hey, kid, you don’t have to do this if you don’t want to.”
“Yes I do.” Zachary took a deep breath and looked up at the man. “Unless there’s some other way to make enough to survive.”
Harrison took a deep breath. “Not with us there isn’t.”
“Then this is the only way. I have to be with you. Anyone else will kill me on sight.”
Anita turned to Zach. “Really, bro, you can tell me what I’ll have to do.”
Zachary turned to his sister and sighed. “You don’t have to do anything. Just lay back. He’ll do everything.”
There was a knock at the door. All three of the people in the room looked over. Harrison stood up. “That’s probably him.” He looked down at Zach. “Last chance.”
“Just do it.”
Harrison nodded. He went to the door. Zachary turned to his little sister. “Anita, I need you to go into the other room and lie down on the bed.”
Anita raised an eyebrow. “What? Why? You can tell me bro. I told you, I’d do anything.”
“You’ll find out in a second.”
Anita looked at her brother for a moment and obeyed. A few moments later, the client came by. Zachary looked away as he entered the room where Anita was. When he heard the door shut, he opened his eyes. He looked up at Harrison and took a wad of cash from his hand. He lay back on the couch. Harrison locked the door from the outside and sat down next to Zach.
Zach lay back. “Hey, what are you doing?” Anita said in the other room. Zach lay back. He listened as Anita yelled a few more times, and then called his name. After a few minutes, she stopped saying anything and started crying. Before too long, Zachary got up and went outside the building.
Pink turned around as the scene went away. Her brother had his eyes closed and was covering his ears. Pink shook him. After a second, he opened his eyes. He put his arms down.
Pink was about to ask if everything was alright, but she turned around when she heard the next scene starting.
Zachary looked a few years older. He opened the door to the same room as before and walked in, carrying a fast food bag. “Hey, sis,” he said.
Anita walked out of the bedroom with her hand behind her back. She looked a little bit older too. Zach smiled. “Hey, sis, what do you got there?”
Zachary laughed. “If you say so.” He held up the bag and walked toward her. “Look, I know work today was kind of hard, but it earned enough money for me to get us a treat.” Zach took cups out of the bag. “Look, I even got ice cream with it.”
Anita took a step toward her brother. He hat down. She walked up beside him, still holding her hand behind her back. “Brother, can I please quit working?”
“Now, Nita, you know you can’t. We need the money.” A tear dripped down Anita’s face. Zachary looked at it. He looked over at the bag of food and got out his fries. “Look,” he said, getting out the box of chicken nuggets and putting ketchup in the top of the container, “I’m going to turn eighteen in just a few months. I’ll be able to do more complicated jobs then. I’m already running errands for them, and when I’m eighteen, I’ll be allowed to do some of the more serious work, and maybe get enough money to live on.”
“But I don’t want to stop in a few months. I want to stop now. They hurt me, Zach. I’ve been doing this for years and it hurts every time.”
“Look, I’m sorry sis, I--” Zachary gasped. His eyes widened. He turned. Anita had plunged a knife into her brother’s shoulder. She took out the blade and put it back in somewhere else. Zachary fell over. Anita stepped over to his head and knelt down. She started stabbing her brother over and over again. She stabbed him near the base of each arm a few times to keep him from moving, and then started to stab around where she thought his heart should be, though Pink knew she was off by quite a bit.
Zachary looked up at his sister. “Sis…” he said softly.
Another tear fell down Anita’s face. “I’m sorry, brother.” Another tear fell down. “It’s the only way.”
Zachary started to cry at that point. As he faded into unconsciousness, Anita’s eyes widened. She dropped the knife. Zachary, only half aware, squinted. Anita fell unconscious. Zachary shed another tear.
Pink saw the one unicorn’s horn shake again. She moved next to her brother and sat down. The thing shook for a few minutes, but still didn’t break off.
As soon as the Ferris wheel came close enough to the ground that Bavandersloth wouldn’t be damaged by the fall, he jumped out and onto the ground. He approached the apparition of Georgia. When he got within about twenty feet of her, she walked away. Bavandersloth sighed. “Are we really doing this?” Georgia kept walking. Bavandersloth rolled his eyes. “I guess so.” He followed her. Something about the sound of her voice made him smile.
Cody and Justin kept walking toward the park’s exit. As they traveled, they couldn’t help but enjoy the decrepit nature of the area around them. Soon, the two reached the square. As they entered the large, open section, they could see the exit. They both smiled and walked to it.
The exit was a rusty iron gate, on the other side of which was a row of turnstiles. The liches could see the parking lot from where they stood. Cody put his hand on the gate to make it decay. It didn’t work.
The smile drained from Justin’s face. “Drat,” Justin said.
“There must still be something we’re supposed to do here,” Cody said. Justin grumbled. “C’mon,” Cody said, motioning for Justin to follow him. “Maybe it’s nearby.”
“And maybe it’s not. What if there are ten things left for us to look for? What if we spend hours in here? Or days?”
“Complaining about it won’t make it any faster.”
The two didn’t finish looking around the square before they found another attraction glowing in the same way the toy store had. It was the petting zoo. The two went toward it.
As they entered the area, a gate closed behind them, trapping them inside. The two looked around. There were two enclosures in immediate view. Both were hexagons about thirty feet across. The feeding troths inside them were full of dirty water.
As Cody and Justin walked toward the enclosures, they suddenly saw round areas open up, with caves on the other side. Cody gasped. Those were portals to the underworld. There was one in each enclosure. Creatures that looked like monkeys entered through the portals, and they closed. Cody recognized the creatures as Satoris. He turned around. The gate was still closed.
The Satortis each jumped over the gate and out of the enclosure. Each one spoke.
“What? Those? Why them?” the one closer to Justin said, just as fast as Justin thought those same words. “Are they going to attack us like the one on Mt. Everest did? Are they even real? They could be hallucinations.”
“If they’re hallucinations,” the one closer to Cody said, “why did they come through portals. Either they’re real, or whoever did this wants us to think they’re real. If they are real, Kgobauru must be nearby. But why would these be here either way? Wait. I know. It all makes sense. The image of them calling me a coward… Crap! I can’t let Justin hear any of this.” Cody ran backward until both of the Satori were closer to Justin than to him.
“What? Why?” the Satori said in unison. “Cody did the same thing last time we encountered one of those things.” Cody took aim at the Satori nearest to him. He fired a blast of magic at it. It hit. The creature screeched and vanished.
“What?” the remaining one continued. “Why did he do that? What’s he hiding from me? Does he not trust me with something? Is he doing something wrong? No. Cody wouldn’t do anything wrong enough that he needed to keep it a secret. I’ll turn around and ask him.” Justin turned around.
“Are you hiding something from me?” Justin asked.
“No,” Cody said. Cody jumped to the side and fired a blast at the Satori. Justin activated his shield and jumped in front of the blast. His shield nearly broke.
Justin lowered his shield. “Then prove it,” he said. “Come over here. Let the Satori tell me what you’re thinking.”
Cody thought. On the water ride, he was in a cage being guarded by his friends and family because Bavandersloth had been threatening them to keep him in line. They called him a coward because he should have been willing to let them die to stop Bavandersloth’s plans. In the store, Cody saw a glimpse of what the world would be like if Bavandersloth succeeded. The person behind this wanted Cody to get Justin to kill Bavandersloth, which Cody might be able to do if he could get Justin to realize that Bavandersloth, and not Valthakar, killed his parents. After what happened at Mt. Everest, Justin would be likely to believe whatever the Satori said. If, however, Cody told Justin everything and Bavandersloth was able to get out of it, Cody, Cherie, Lester, Cody’s Parents, the rest of his family, and Justin himself were all doomed. Reidel and Steven were too, probably. Bavandersloth was more than clever enough to get out of it if Cody told Justin everything.
Cody thought. “Fine, I’m hiding something,” he said. “It’s something that it’s better if you don’t know.”
“Why?” Justin asked. “Are you doing something wrong?”
“Then why can’t you tell me? If it’s an adult thin--”
“It’s nothing like that.” Cody looked down.
Pink rubbed her finger across her gun for comfort. She watched the scene in front of her as Zachary woke up on a hospital bed. He was groggy. Harrison stood at the edge of the bed. “Hey,” he said.
Zachary looked around. “Wha… What happened?” He lay down. “I remember I was getting food ready and Nita…” Zachary’s eyes widened. “Nita. Crap. She stabbed me.” Zachary looked down. He saw Nita standing by the man’s legs. “Holy crap--”
Harrison shushed him. He looked behind him at the door. “I know,” he said.
“Why is she in here? She tried to kill me.”
Harrison looked down. “Cailyn, introduce yourself to your brother.”
Zachary squinted and raised an eyebrow. “Cailyn?”
“Hi, big brother.” Cailyn said. “My name is Cailyn.”
Zachary looked down at her, and then back up at Harrison. “What’s going on here?”
“She’s been like this on and off since she found you,” Harrison said. He came closer to the bed and whispered. “I did some research. It turns out you can get Multiple Personalities from…” Harrison sighed, “from that thing we rent her out for. When she calls herself Anita, she can hardly think about anything but trying to get away and kill you, but when she calls herself Cailyn, she doesn’t seem to remember anything that happened. Everything about her is just like what she was before you hurt her.”
Zachary looked down at his sister. He smiled. “So… So she won’t try to kill me?”
“Shouldn’t.” Harrison smiled. “This is a chance for you to start over when it comes to her.”
Zachary smiled. He put out his hand. His little sister held it. “You’re right,” he said. “And I won’t make the same mistakes.” He looked up at Harrison. “How long have I been out?”
Zachary sighed. “Is there any way we can get me some work?”
Harrison nodded. “Yeah. I might be able to arrange that.”
Pink did too. She realized what the next scene was as it came up. It was some time later, in one of her favorite places: Her training gym.
Zachary walked into the gym.
Cailyn turned around. “Hey, bro.”
Cailyn smiled. She ran forward. Zachary put a frog down in front of Cailyn. “You remember what I said we’d be doing today?”
Cailyn’s smiled faded. She looked down and shed a tear. “Yes.”
“Well, go on.”
Zachary pointed to the frog. Cailyn shed another tear. She entered a full cry.
“Tears won’t do it, sister,” Zachary said. Cailyn looked down. She clenched her fist. She’d done this a few times before. Pink remembered this training session in particular. She wondered if Zachary did too. Zach had been giving her a frog once a month for over a year by then. This time, the training finally started to work.
Cailyn pulled a knife from her pocket. She held it. Anita flashed into her mind, trying to get out, telling her to let her out, but she didn’t listen. She loved Zachary. Cailyn pressed the knife against the living frog’s belly.
“Uh uh. Limbs first.”
“Cai, the more you do it, the sooner you can get used to it.”
“I know but--”
“And the sooner you get used to it, the sooner you can go help Selechii. You want to help Selechii, right?”
“Of course I do. I…” Cailyn put her head down. She held up the knife and chopped off one of the frog’s toes. It screeched.
On the carousel, Pink smiled. In the vision, Cailyn finished killing the frog after a while, though not as long as it’d actually taken. It was night by the time Cai was done.
Zachary patted her on the head. “Good job, Cai.”
Cai looked up. She smiled. “Thanks,” she said. Pink loved training with her brother during the later times, after it had started to stick. She’d had a lot of fun with the frogs later.
The carousel stopped. Pink flinched. She turned around and looked at her brother. He still had his eyes closed. She went over to him and shook him.
Zachary looked up. “Wha?”
“It’s okay,” Pink said. “The memories are gone now.”
Zachary gulped. He took a deep breath and stood up. “Yeah. Gone.”
Pink tilted her head. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” Zach said. “Let’s get out of here.”
Pink turned her head as the unicorn shook again. She and Zachary backed away. The horn thrashed from side to side in a single rapid motion. Pink perceived a crack starting to form at its base, but in the end it settled down and was still secure.
Pink turned around. “Alright then,” she said. “Now we can go.”
The two stepped off of the carousel. As they walked, Pink looked at her brother’s hand. “Bro, you still have the wrench.”
Zach raised an eyebrow. “Huh?” He looked at his hand. He turned around and tossed the wrench back toward the carousel. The two walked away.
“Then tell me what it is. What could you possibly need to hide from me?” Justin said.
Cody clenched his fist. He looked up at the sky. He thought. He couldn’t tell Justin as long as Bavandersloth wasn’t around. His souls would run off and tell him, and he would dart off to kill Cody’s friends and family. Cody widened his eyes. “Something is trying to trick us,” he said. “Tell me again, did the thing that kidnapped us bring Bavandersloth here?”
“Yes,” the Satori blurted out. Alright then, so the thing probably meant for Bavandersloth to arrive near them soon.
Bavandersloth followed the apparition of Georgia to the square. She took a left. Bavandersloth sighed. He wondered what she was leading him to. He walked forward, until he heard shouting up ahead. He soon realized it was Odelarch and Tkoralkiarch. They were shouting. He listened to what they were saying. They were having an argument. It was over Odelarch keeping a secret. There was a Satori around.
Bavandersloth’s eyes widened. He ran toward them. It sounded like Odelarch hadn’t said anything yet. Good. All he had to do was get there and kill the Satori.
Cody turned around as he heard the gates swing open and Bavandersloth run in. His eyes widened. This was his chance. He thought. If he blurted the truth out right now, what were the odds that Bavandersloth would get away? Cody wasn’t sure. He only had seconds. All Bavandersloth would have to do is run away fast enough.
It might go faster if Cody shouted at Justin to get Bavandersloth’s phylactery. Cody’s eyes widened. He thought of an idea. “Justin, get all three of our Phylacteries,” he said. Bavandersloth’s eyes widened. So did Justin’s. He closed his eyes and summoned them. He ran away from the Satori. Bavandersloth blasted the creature and it died.
Cody looked at Bavandersloth. He looked at Justin. He thought. Without the Satori, what was the chance Justin would believe him? Was it high enough to risk him losing his friends and family? If Bavandersloth talked Justin into handing his phylactery back over, there would be no real hope for them.
Bavandersloth turned to Cody. “Why did you have him summon our phylacteries?”
“In case whatever took us was at the mansion planning to destroy them,” Cody said. “That possibility occurred to me just now.”
Bavandersloth took a deep breath. “Very well. Let’s go then.”
Cody sighed. He nodded.
Valthakar lay back and smiled as he continued to listen to the lich struggle. There was something deeply amusing about the futility of his jerks and tugs. As the lich jerked and pulled, he turned to him.
“You’re just laughing it up, aren’t you?”
“On the inside. You’d hear it if I were still laughing on the outside.”
“Why? You’re in the same situation.”
“No I’m not. I’m not struggling hopelessly against these bonds. You are.”
“You made one attempt to break them, and that was hours ago. How do you know they’re even hard to break?”
“Because I tried them.”
“Yeah. Once. A couple of hours ago.”
“You’ve been trying them.”
“Well, maybe that button you’ve been pressing has been holding me back.”
Valthakar looked down at his hand. Sure enough, it had been resting on a big, red button. His eyes widened. What the heck? How hadn’t he noticed that? He lifted his hand off of the button. The other lich struggled more. He didn’t succeed at first. Valthakar sat back and laughed more. After about another thirty minutes, though, one of the other lich’s straps broke.
Valthakar’s eyes darted over as he heard it snap. His eyes widened. “That’s only one,” he said, and yet he began to struggle a bit. It was only a few minutes before he broke the first strap. He was stronger. In half an hour, the other lich had broken two of his five straps, and Valthakar had broken all of his. He stood up and left.
“Hey, aren’t you going to help me?” the lich said as Valthakar left.
Valthakar turned around. “You look like you’re doing fine,” he said.
“Hey,” the lich said as he struggled. “Come back here!”
Valthakar left the building.
When he was out, he turned around. He’d been in the haunted house at Joy’s Coast. He raised an eyebrow. Why? One of his souls rushed to him. He looked up. It began to explain about how the others had been brought here.
As Pretty Pink Ponytails skipped out of the amusement park, she saw a large, dark circular shape appear in front of her. She gasped and stopped in her tracks. As she looked at the circle more closely, she saw that it was a picture of some sort. No, it was a movie. She liked movies! This movie was of a cave. There was a long ramp, and a ball was rolling down it toward the screen.
“What the heck is that?” Zackary asked.
“I don’t know,” Pink said.
The two looked on. When the ball reached the screen, Pink realized that it wasn’t a movie. The ball fell out.
Pink leaned down and grabbed it as it rolled out onto the pavement. She smiled. “Got it,” she said. She turned around. Her brother approached. The object was pitch black, save for a faint and inexplicable purple glow.
“Do you have any idea what that is?” Zach asked.
Pink scratched her chin. “Hmm…” she said. “I think that what we just saw was a portal to the world that Light-rook likes to talk about. They must have taken us here hoping we’d see it open or something. They might have wanted us to have this.”
“Then we should get rid of it,” Zack said.
“Maybe…” Pink said.
“What do you mean maybe? If our enemies want us to have it, it’s probably a bomb or something.”
“But maybe we could study it.”
“Yeah! And we could learn how it works. Think about it. This is a real magical artifact. It might be possible to use it to do all sorts of things for Selechii.” Pink smiled. “From his interviews, Light-rook didn’t seem to have much control over his realm. Maybe he didn’t even intend for us to get this, but if he did, it’s probably dangerous, but it might also be useful enough that it’s worth keeping it. If he did set this up, he might not have had much control over what came through.”
“It’s still not a good idea to keep it,” Zach said. “I’m sorry, sis. It’s just too dangerous.”
Pink looked down and sighed. She looked at her brother. “Fine, how about this,” she said. “Let’s go home, get a shovel, come back and burry it somewhere around here. If it’s a bomb, we might know in a few days if it explodes. If we ever learn what it is or are sure that it’s not dangerous, we can dig it up.”
Zachary looked at the orb. “Alright,” he said.
Pink smiled. “Alright then, let’s go.” She skipped away. Zach followed.
As Cody, Justin, and Bavandersloth left the park, Bavandersloth turned to Justin. “Tkoralkiarch, do you mind going on ahead and hunting? I want to stay back and speak with Odelarch.”
“Is this about the--”
“So you know it too?”
Bavandersloth nodded. “Yes, and believe me, you’ll learn it as soon as I think it’s necessary for you to know.” Bavandersloth put his arm on Justin’s shoulder. “But right now, I need you to trust me and Odelarch that it’s best for you not to know. We have good reasons.”
Justin looked down. He sighed. “Okay.” He looked up. “I trust you.” He smiled and ran off.
Bavandersloth walked back over to Cody. “Good job,” he said.
“I didn’t tell him a single thing. I swear.”
“I worked that out.” Bavandersloth smiled. “You know, Cody, I realized what you were doing as soon as you told Justin to get our phylacteries.”
Bavandersloth nodded. “I did.” Cody looked down. “But you didn’t do anything in the end, so I’ll let it slide.”
Cody took a deep breath. Bavandersloth turned around and walked away from him. Cody went in the other direction. He headed straight toward a truck. He turned around to make sure Bavandersloth wasn’t watching. He pulled his fist back and punched the truck with all the strength he could muster. A large dent appeared in the thing, and it slid a few feet. Cody clenched his fist. He looked up at the sky, gritting his teeth. “Damn it,” he shouted. He took his human form. He took a few deep breaths. He looked down and shed a tear. “They were right,” he whispered. “I am a coward.”
“Yes you are.”
Cody’s eyes widened. He turned around. He saw the creature that had kidnapped him. He stepped back. He took his true form and stretched out his hand. The creature put a shield up.
“Don’t bother,” it said.
“Who are you?” Cody asked. “What are you?”
The creature stared at Cody through its shield. He laughed. As he did, Cody realized that nothing on him seemed to be moving to cause the noise. “I apologize,” the being said. “Not for calling you a coward. You undoubtedly are one. Yellow as your star and rabbit-like as a hare. Still, I am perhaps at fault for not remembering how you would react to me.”
Cody took another step back. “What are you talking--”
“Please, allow me to finish answering your original questions before you ask more. The point I was building up to was this: It’s hard to remember how delicately you have to treat members of uncontacted races.”
Cody’s eyes widened. “Wha--”
“Please let me finish. The point is that I’m from another planet.”
Cody gasped. An alien?
The creature sighed. “And that’s not all, either.” He paused. “Look, there’s more to the human struggle with Bavandersloth than the fate of your race. Much, much more. If Bavandersloth is allowed to seize control of this planet, far more will be lost than the freedom of all humans.”
Cody’s eyes widened. “What? How so?”
The creature paused. He grumbled. “Do you know what? It might be better if I don’t explain it to you. No. You’ll find out soon. Then again, it still might be best to delay it as long as possible.”
“You still haven’t told me who you--”
“I’m the only alien lich you know of who can summon creatures from the underworld, human. I am Gborin’gargoth, the King of the Underworld.”
Cody’s eyes widened. “What? You--”
“Shut up!” Cody quieted down. He took a few steps back. Gborin’gargoth took a few deep breaths. “I summoned those creatures to try to coax you into stopping Bavandersloth. You wouldn’t know this, but his success won’t just mean disaster for this planet, but disaster for the whole of the universe and every living thing within it.” Gborin’gargoth paused. Cody didn’t dare say a word. Gborin’gargoth continued. “While you were in there, I tried to show you glimpses of what this Earth will be like if you allow Bavandersloth to take over, but perhaps, before I tell you of the cosmic significance, I need to show you much more than a glimpse of what he will bring upon your race.”
“Worry not. Everything will be explained to you in due time.”
“What? Why wait? I’d much rather you explain everything to me now.”
The alien ignored Cody. He simply closed his eyes and extended his arm. Cody was thrown back. He flew several yards before he landed on a small patch of rough gravel. He could see the parking lot he’d been in through a round, window-like hole ahead of him. His eyes widened. A portal. He ran for it, but it closed.
Cody gritted his teeth. He shouted and seethed. After a few moments. He calmed himself down. He looked around.
Other than the road on which he sat, the only features around were a cement road and a large billboard. His eyes widened as he looked up at it. He read it off.
“You are now entering the realm of Bavandersloth: Master of the Council and Lich King of the Earth.”