Chapter 30: A Friendly Deed

Not the final version. Book version may vary.

Alden perched between soldiers in a hard metal seat, secured with enough straps and restraints to hold back a mad phosser. Even his tail was strapped behind the chair. Steven sat a few seats away in a row of at least twenty. The seats filled the cabin from one end to the other—Alden couldn’t begin to count how many but he figured the cabin was at least half the length of a city block. No one spoke and any movement echoed in the cabin, the only other sound the dull roar of ship engines far away.

Cold lights illuminated stony steel walls that bulged like a submarine. The outer walkways were only wide enough for a single file. Comfort had been the last thing considered in the ship’s design.

When the troops had left camp Alden followed into a transport pod that zipped into the sky and the ship. He’d thought the pod could hold about twenty scalagos, but they squeezed fifty or more into each. Top had been sent to a different transport, now in a different cabin with a group that would do the bulk of the fighting. Alden hoped Top would behave.

On the ground he’d been briefed on the plan. The ship would fly straight to the Thraundlus Kingdom castle, home to King Eintandus 4 and where Princess Serani was held. The main fighting force would charge out to secure the entrance and keep the castle guards busy while the rescue team would hurry deeper. In the meantime smaller ships would attack the castle’s shipyard to keep the sky clear. Once Serani was with the Salenth troops they would escort her to the escape ship.

Speakers blared: prepare for arrival at the castle. Everyone hunkered down in their seats. Alden felt smoldering in his thick uniform, which stuck to him from mucus, but he knew the heat would intensify on the battlefield.

Just remember. I’m not here to fight. I just need to run as fast as I can. It won’t be any different than that obstacle course from the Zhopian Guard.

Alden jolted back and his weight shifted. The ship was moving. His body tingled.

This is it. Do or don’t.

As the ship sped up Alden was pinned to his seat, his skin stretched. The ship rumbled and the cabin heated up. Alden scrunched into a ball. He was sure they were under attack. The ship continued forward but rumbled and roared as if in a tornado.

Alden wanted to ask if this was supposed to happen but his mouth wouldn’t budge. He doubted he’d be heard above the noise anyway. He could hardly think above the noise.

The world outside exploded and Alden felt shaken outside himself. The ship settled as Alden held his head to make sure it hadn’t fallen off. The Thraundlus Kingdom must have shot them down. He wanted to ask what they should do now but his teeth wouldn’t stop chattering and his bones wouldn’t stop vibrating out of position.

With a series of hisses, doorways opened downward all along the cabin. Alden stood with the troops, shaking his body to get it to cooperate. The soldiers shouted to move and pushed him forward. He could tell they had little patience with him.

Then again, the life of a soldier must involve a lot of rushing from place to place and shouting. Maybe they act that way with everyone.

He followed the soldiers to the opened walls, his head rattling. He looked outside and jumped back. He’d expected a gnarled landscape, a dark sky, smoggy air, but not the inside of a castle.

Of course. The ship must have smashed into Thraundlus Castle. That brought us straight to the front lines

Alden shook his head. He didn’t have time to think about what had happened or why; he had a job to do, and every second he wasted reflecting was a slipping–

Alden ran down the ship wall-turned-ramp to the dusty stone floor. They were in a main hall, jeweled chandeliers hanging high above. Statues, suits of armor, paintings—everything lay scattered across the floor, including bloody scalagos Alden tried not to look at. The sunset-red stone walls looked immovable.

Behind him the ship sat smashed through broad stone halfway into the room, glimmering like scales despite the dust. Collapsed brick and stone lay around it. The walls weren’t completely immovable.

Thraundlus Kingdom soldiers rushed in from the hallways and side staircases. Most were decked in metal armor, a few jewel-encrusted. Guns banged and buzzed across the room. Swords clanged and hissed. Some soldiers’ armor melted from particle beams. Some held shields of metal or charged particles. Everything was far more chaotic than Alden had seen before. And the screaming. The horrible, piercing screaming–

Actually, the loudest screaming sounded like laughter. With a long whoosh a rocket flew overhead, Top screaming and laughing atop it. They jumped off and the rocket blasted away a group of Thraundlus troops. Top charged into the fray like a hyper pinball.

With such a crashing entrance the great hall had already fallen into Salenth Kingdom hands. Troopers built barricades and pushed Thraundlus forces back down the hallways.

A rough pressure gripped Alden’s wrist and yanked him forward. Steven appeared from thin air. “Come on, this way.” The verk’lon pulled Alden to the hallway Top had blown free of enemy soldiers, smoke hanging around the entrance. Alden was glad he had the scarf for once.

The hallway’s white stone walls and low, round ceiling gave it the look of a tunnel. Jeweled lamps stuck out the walls, lighting the way. Alden and Steven caught up to the rescue team.

“Glad you actually joined us,” said Frenell, though his tone said, “Oh, great, you decided to come after all.” They stopped at an intersection and scouts peered around the corners.

One of the soldiers—Alden couldn’t tell which under the uniform—looked at him. “Dude, where’s your gun?”

Frenell glared at Alden. “You don’t have your gun?”

“I left it behind,” Alden said.

“Why the fig would you leave it behind?” Frenell growled.

“I don’t like guns. We’re supposed to be sneaking through anyway,” Alden said. Gunshots whizzed by as Thraundlus soldiers arrived from the hallway ahead.

“Sure,” said Frenell, “but it’s not like we’re not gonna run into opposition.” The rescue team ducked behind the walls and fired at the Thraundlus soldiers, who stacked stone and wood and furniture into a barricade. Alden ducked behind the Salenth soldiers.

“If you’re just going to be a burden, why did you even come?” Frenell shouted.

Alden looked around. Steven had disappeared. Invisible, no doubt. He had to think of something. He needed a plan.

He wrenched open the nearest door and stared at Thraundlus troops, all of whom turned to him. Alden slammed the door shut and backed against it. “Wrong door!”

“Gaddfern it, what was that?” Frenell shouted.

“I was trying to find an alternate route,” Alden said. The door behind him rumbled. “I don’t think that–” The door burst open, and Alden stumbled into the opposite wall. He turned and screamed. The fight faded into the background. He forgot where he was. His heart ached as stale tears welled up.




Ropak is there?


Ropak is there!


Why is Ropak there?


Let’s keep going and find out!




Ropak stood stock still in front of the door, wearing the thick black-and-white fabric of Thraundlus soldiers. He and Alden stared at each other, mouths agape.

Alden’s mind ran in circles. Ropak is here, but in the castle, and he . . . I wanted to find Ropak, but not as a . . . He could barely register that Ropak was an opposing soldier.

Troops grappled with one another around them and Alden snapped back to the present.

“What are you doing here?” Alden and Ropak shouted. Alden’s hands clawed his head as Ropak pointed an accusing hand. Ropak kicked at him, and the scalago stumbled backwards.

“And why are you attacking me?” Alden asked.

“I joined the military here,” Ropak said. “Apparently you joined the Salenth military. Probably to spite me.”

“I joined to save the princess,” Alden yelled, tears welling up as he dodged Ropak’s swings. “Why would you join the Thraundlus Kingdom?”

“Because you pushed me away.”

“Oh, Gourd, Ropak,” Alden said. “That’s the reason I came here in the first place. I needed to find you.”

“To yell at me some more?”

“What? No! Look, this is all my fault!”

Ropak lunged at Alden but crashed into a Thraundlus soldier. They threw Ropak into the wall upside-down.

“I suppose this is your fault, too?” Ropak asked.

“Yes! All of it is,” Alden said. “I don’t condone your behavior then or now, but—fig, I’m not here to condone you! I’m here to apologize.”

Ropak tackled Alden and stooped over him. “I was nothing but supportive of you from day one–”

Supportive?” Alden asked. “You mocked and complained and–”

“That’s because I was jealous.”

“I didn’t come here to fight and argue.”

“It was just an accident, not like it was the end of the world.”

“I know, and I’m sorry!” Alden shook his head—the conversation was giving him whiplash. “I shouldn’t have blown up on you like that and I–” He stared at a Salenth soldier aiming a handgun at the wrallot. Alden jerked Ropak away and the soldier missed. Ropak shoved Alden against the rough wall.

“I just saved your life,” the scalago said, “but you’re still trying to kill me. That and an apology, what else can I do?”

Ropak opened his mouth and cocked his head. He removed a handgun from his uniform’s belt and held it by the barrel. “If I wanted to kill you, I’d have used this.” He tossed it to the floor. “But I guess tempers are still flared.” He glared at Alden, who stared back, his throat dry. Ropak had killed with his bare hands before. He could do it again.

He could do it again. But he hadn’t.

Ropak smirked. Alden’s eyes widened then he smirked back.

The wrallot grabbed Alden’s arms and whirled around until he threw the scalago over the Thraundlus soldiers’ barricade. “Turn right, left, go down three halls, turn right, third door on the left! You’ll find the dungeon. Go!” The last thing Alden heard from Ropak was a shout—a cry of battle.

Alden rolled in a ball along the hard stone until he jumped and ran down the hall. Thraundlus soldiers chased him but with their bulky armor lagged behind. Alden turned right and ran on, the hall’s colored lamps flashing by.

He had no weapons. He’d have to use his speed and wits to save the princess and get out alive.

Chapter 31: Knucklehead Goofball | Table of Contents