Not the final version. Book version may vary.
By now Top had forgotten why they were screaming down a hallway. It was just fun. Most of their puncture wounds had healed—they forgot why they had those, too.
Top pushed open a pair of heavy doors at the end of the hallway and stared at a grand hall. A free-for-all had erupted among the troops: guns blazed and swords slashed and fists flew.
That looked like fun, too.
With a new scream Top charged into the smokey battle, bashing into scalagos and biting armor off others. They bounced off kicks and swords and hammers and flew across the room like a pinball.
“I don’t remember who I’m fighting!” Top screamed. They snagged onto a sword with their teeth. The soldier tried to shake Top off but they slid down to the hilt. Top chomped at the scalago and they fled.
The echoing boom of a cannon interrupted the fighting—for a second. Top jumped in front of another and caught a smoking cannonball in their mouth. They rattled like a jackhammer until they spat the cannonball into the ceiling. Rough stone collapsed onto soldiers and a block squashed Top.
The ball pushed the stone off and popped back up. “Oh yeah. Now I remember.”
Top bounced into Thraundlus Kingdom soldiers. One blasted Top across the room with a shotgun. “Look out!” The ball flew by fighting troops and bounced off the stone wall, nabbing the shotgun in their mouth on the rebound. Top landed on another soldier and pulled on their helmet. “Come on, give me your hat.”
The soldier grabbed Top. “I’m going to tear you–”
Top pulled out the shotgun from their mouth point-blank at the soldier’s head. The scalago stared with eyes wide enough to fall out.
“Do you know how to use one of these?” Top asked.
The soldier glared at Top and slammed them against the rough stone. They stomped a boot on the ball and grabbed the shotgun. “Now hold still while I blast your brains out.”
“Good luck finding them,” Top yelled. They grabbed a pistol from their mouth and shot the scalago’s hand. As the soldier shouted obscenities Top turned under the slackened boot and chomped it off, spilling fuchsia blood onto them. The soldier screamed even louder obscenities as they fell.
“Do you kick your motor with that mouth?” Top asked. “I don’t know what that means, I just hear people say it.” They ate the pistol and the shotgun and returned to springing through the fight. A soldier bashed Top to the floor with a club, bouncing them into the air.
“Hey, some party, huh?” the ball asked. The soldier whacked Top across the room and they crashed through a thick door.
Top’s delicious senses tingled. They’d landed in a steamy room of smoke and sweet, savory, powdery smells.
“Listen to me, you cowards,” a harsh voice shouted. “I know we are under attack. I know the stench of death is out there. But we have a job to do, and I am not going to let your cowardice screw it up. Now get back to work! Fry it! Toss it! Mash it! Frost it!”
Top peered over a countertop and gaped. Their eyes sparkled, or at least Top thought they should.
Roast meats, frosted sweets, tasty treats, and other eats. Boiled fish, crustaceous dish, fried fruit, a tasty boot. Sticky rice, smelled real nice, blump pie made from rye. Cheese and choc’, bread roll sock, spicy flouver with syrup cover. Hot seeds from the plant gleesrom, fried meat organs from ecortans. Pickled eggs of mountain thresga topped with scales from swampy laiksom.
Top had landed in a kitchen. They watched chefs bake, grill, chop, and squeeze a feast of food. Right in the middle of a battle in the castle, too. A battle that spread to them as Top leapt into a moist, frosty cake that exploded over the chefs. They all screamed that they were under attack and fled.
“Deserters! Craven cowards!” shouted a scalago with a tall chef hat of Thraundlus Kingdom colors. “You are not fit to cook for His Royal Majesty.”
The head chef glared at Top, who rolled around laughing in a sticky dough. The chef grabbed a cleaving knife and sliced at Top. The ball jumped and landed on a pan handle, flipping the pan into the chef’s face. They toppled to the floor.
“What was that?” Top looked behind them. “Oh!” They jumped to an oven and grabbed a hot pot. “It’s pasta, is what it is.” They dunked their face into the boiling noodles and swallowed it searing water and all. Top rolled the pot away, their body moist and crinkled.
With that steaming meal finished Top jumped about the kitchen, swallowing food here and there, the fight outside a triviality. Food was important now, and Top lost themself in it.
* * *
The kitchen door slammed open and Thraundlus soldiers burst in.
“We’ll set up base here. We can’t let them get past. Get anything you can to make a barricade and we can stop them–”
The soldiers stared at Top. Top stared back, surrounded by food and dishes, pots and pans, pancakes and pasta. They’d built a fort of food surrounded by a fort of kitchenware.
“Get them!” the lead soldier shouted; Top hurled a watermelon into their head. The ball screamed and bombarded the soldiers with edible ammunition. The troops opened fire but the tide of chow blocked them.
A soldier whacked the flung food with a club and charged forward. Top slammed their face with a frying pan. The ball landed on a food cart, ate a bottle, and shoved a spaghetti strainer over their head. With a battle cry of, “Pizzah!” Top kicked open a bottle stuffed in the bottom tray and fizzy liquid surged out. The cart thrust through the troops and Top emerged into the melee outside, the kitchen winds to their back and armed with a tray of food and cooking supplies.
Top slammed the frying pan into Thraundlus soldiers. They threw pies off the food cart at others, allowing Salenth soldiers to get the drop on them while fruity filling or fluffy cream streamed over their eyes.
“Food warrior!” Top shouted. “Yah, yah, yah!” Top threw hard vegetables that exploded into a shower of seeds soldiers slipped on. They grabbed a dispenser and blasted spicy powder as the cart passed. They squirted sour fruit juice, hurled bones from steaks as big as a scalago’s arm, and tossed marshmallows.
Top scanned the area and saw Ropak fighting alongside Salenth soldiers, outnumbered and surrounded. Pain shot through the ball—the pain of guilt. They’d left Ropak and the others behind! They weren’t being a very good Guardian! Top leaned the food cart and headed for them.
“We might have taken a wrong turn,” Ropak said, flipping and sliding and spinning from Thraundlus soldiers.
“I thought you said you took a tour of this place,” Herbitan said, dueling with two enemy troops at a time.
“I did! I took it when no one was looking,” said Ropak. “Then I got lost for a couple hours.”
Top screamed and bashed Thraundlus soldiers away with the frying pan. “Yeehaw! The Derivative Dividend Domino or whatever rides again!”
“Top!” Ropak shouted.
“No,” Top said, “the D-D-D.” They whipped a slimy rope of sausage links around a Thraundlus soldier. Top circled them for a second until the sausages split and the cart crashed into a wall.
Top pulled out a veggie masher and a meat tenderizer. “All right, everybody! Dinner is served.”
“But it’s lunchtime.”
“That’s it! You get first pummeling.” Top leapt at them with something of a battle yodel.
And so Top fought to defend his friend[s], taking down a platoon—no, a veritable company—a whole battalion—Top defeated an entire regiment! Despite taking out what was no doubt an entire division of soldiers, it barely put a dent in the Thraundlus numbers.
Maybe they should have tried for a whole field army.
Don’t be silly, they weren’t even in a field.
Regardless, Top fought off a lot of soldiers, but it wasn’t getting them anywhere.
Ropak ran to Top. “There’s too many soldiers here, and we have a friend to help.”
“You’re right,” Top said, smacking the frying pan into troops without even looking—or maybe they just knocked over some shelves and vases. “I think we’ve leveled up against basic enemies enough.”
“Let’s get going!” Top bounced off Thraundlus soldiers to the food cart and jumped on.
Unfortunately, the engine was out of gas. Or rather the bottle of bubbling suds Top had used to shoot the cart out in the first place was out of the indistinguishable liquid that had been inside.
“It’s out of juice!” Top said. “Or was it wine? Hex, it might’ve been a soda of some kind.”
Ropak jumped onto the cart’s edge. “Just leave it to me.” He kicked the wall and shoved the cart ahead, keeping momentum by pushing against the floor. With this makeshift scooter-wagon they raced past fighting troops, including Herbitan.
“Where in the high hex of this kingdom are you two going?” Herbitan yelled.
“Sorry, ma’am,” Ropak shouted, “but we have a friend to help, and we’re not going to blow it this time.”
“Bye!” Top said, waving at Herbitan. “We’re awesome!” They rode out of the room and down the hallways. It was time to get to Alden’s aid.