Not the final version. Book version may vary.
Alden and Frenell peered around a corner. Down the hallway at an intersection stood shining double-doors wide enough to accommodate a car. Gold lined the edges and crystals lined the gold, and the doorknob was a solid ruby. Six Thraundlus guards with sunset-jeweled armor stood in front of it.
“That’s got to be the throne room,” said Frenell. “We need to clear out those guards.”
“We need some sort of distraction,” Alden said.
“I’ve got distraction enough,” said Frenell. He pointed to a soldier. “Leland. Hand me one of the bombs.”
Alden twisted his head to Frenell. “A bomb? Isn’t that dangerous?”
“For them.” Frenell took a dull, rigid ball not much bigger than his hand.
“Don’t we have a less destructive way?” Alden said. “Distract them away from the door and–”
“That’s enough,” said Frenell. “We don’t have time for peaceful solutions. We have to do what we will. Peace talks can come when the princess is safe.”
He pressed a button on the steel ball and rolled it down the hall. Alden watched, torn between saving Serani and not hurting anyone. A cart drove over the bomb from the left hallway and its passengers shouted as they tumbled with the bomb out of sight.
“What the hex was that?” Frenell asked. He glanced at his military phone. “That bomb should have detonated by now.”
Alden tensed up. Wait, was that Top and Ropak? He peered around the corner. Yep.
“Hey, guys.” Ropak leaned against the wall near the Thraundlus guards. “You wouldn’t happen to know which way it is to the dungeon, would you?”
Alden turned to Frenell, who held another bomb. “No!” Alden said. “My friends are out there; you can’t throw another one.”
“We’ve got to get in that– Hey!” Frenell pulled the bomb back as Alden grabbed it. The bomb beeped. “Gaddfern it. It’s armed!”
Alden stammered. He nabbed the cold bomb and ran down the hallway. “Top!”
“Whozere?” Top asked. They grinned. “Oh, hi, Alden.”
“Eat this!” Alden threw the bomb to Top.
“With pleasure.” Top swallowed the bomb. “As tasty as the first.” They shook and burped a blanket of flames at the guards, though it only singed them.
The guards pointed their guns at Top and Alden. “You’re messing with King Eintandus’ top guards here. State your business and leave or–”
“Salenth soldier,” a guard said, motioning their rifle at Alden. “Forget that order.” Alden froze. They’d have fewer qualms killing an enemy than Frenell did. “Don’t run. You’ll look like a coward getting shot in the back–” Gunfire erupted against the guards.
“Advance!” Frenell shouted. “Take out those guards!”
“Kill them!” a guard shouted. Bullets and particle beams screeched between the two sides. Alden jumped out of the way while Top ran in a circle and screamed.
Ropak nabbed a rifle and knocked away other guards’. A guard swung a sword and Ropak flipped the stolen gun to block it. One of the soldiers fired a grenade launcher but Top gobbled the bombs up.
“I’m eating lots of fun and spicy–” Top hacked out a fireball and coughed smoke. “Don’t wanna do that again . . .” They ate another grenade. “Wait, I didn’t want to do that.” Top spat the grenade to the guards and the blast scattered them from the door.
The Salenth soldiers engaged the guards in close combat. Alden ducked through the fighting. Weaponless, he wasn’t seen as a threat, and the guards’ armor left them too slow to catch him.
Alden shoved open the heavy throne room doors. It was time to save Princess Serani.
It’s not time to save Princess Serani, it’s time to meet Princess Serani!
Haven’t we already met her?
Oh, right. It’s not time to meet Princess Serani, it’s time to meet Princess Serani’s captors!
Bloop, bloop, bloop, bloop.
What are you blooping for?
Sound effects for flashing back. For while Alden and the other troops were leaving the dungeon, a ceremony was under way. Take five, Wally.
“Marriage is the promise between two people who love each other and who trust in that love, who honor each other as individuals and who choose to spend the rest of their lives together. Love should have no desire but to fulfill itself but if your love and needs must have desires let these be thus . . .”
And so on and so forth!
A crimson carpet stretched down a long room and up several steps to a velvet throne with golden adornments, encrusted with a rainbow of crystals and jewels. Around the perimeter of the room stood scalago guards, weapons to their sides, crystalline armor glistening in the light. Each stared straight ahead as still as a statue.
Before the throne stood Princess Serani, although “stood” wasn’t quite accurate. Rope bound her hands and feet, and she leaned against a scalago a full head taller than her, although she didn’t lean so much as the scalago propped her up with an arm over her back.
This scalago? King Eintandus 4, skin deep indigo with dark hair streaming down his shoulders, held in place by a golden crown encrusted with jewels. Embedded in his jewel-covered golden armor was the symbol of a pickaxe, one end of the head replaced with a sword blade. Down his back flowed a red robe lined with more jewels, and every finger had at least one ring with, you guessed it, jewels.
Eintandus glared at a mucous scalago between him and the throne. This white-robed scalago delivered the long marriage service and increasingly darted his eyes to the king.
Next to Eintandus stood the only person watching the ceremony and the only one wearing a suit and tie. This clay-reddish scalago, Dr. Tornahym, stood only to King Eintandus’ waist. Over his head sat a bulbous steel helmet surrounded by cylinders, tubes attached to his head from it. A visor covered his right eye.
“King Eintandus 4,” the priest continued, “and Princess Serani, remember to treat yourselves and each other with respect–”
“All right, you blabbermouth,” Eintandus said. “You’ve been at this for way too long. Hurry it up, or we’ll finish the wedding in the dungeon.”
“M-My apologies, King Eintandus,” the priest said with a shaking bow. “I wanted to do it all by the book. Make it as official as possible.”
Eintandus grunted. “All right. Keep going.” He looked at Serani. “With how long this guy’s rambling it’s too bad you didn’t eat any of that imported chicken, Princess. It was delicious, you know.”
The priest coughed. “–and remind yourselves often of what brought you together.”
“His stupid guards are what brought us together!” Serani shouted. She scrambled away, but Eintandus pulled her closer.
“And aren’t you glad they–” Eintandus screamed and dropped Serani. “She bit me! This! This is why I need to rule the Salenth Kingdom. They might look sophisticated, but they would tear down civilization if it got them their way. Tornahym, get more rope, let’s bind her mouth shut.”
Dr. Tornahym looked from his king to Serani. “Yes, sire.”
They bound her mouth and Eintandus pulled her up. “There. Now no more interruptions.”
“May you always need each other,” the priest continued, “not to fill your emptiness, but to help each other know–”
At a series of bangs from outside the group looked at the main doorway.
“That does it,” Eintandus said. “Skip to the ending. Now!”
The priest stammered. “Yes, okay. Do you, King Eintandus 4, take Princess Serani to be your lawfully wedded”—Serani squirmed but Eintandus held her close—“wife, promising to love and–”
“I do!” Eintandus said. “Move on!”
“Right. All right, do you, Princess Serani, take King Eintandus 4 to be your lawfully wedded husband, promising to love and . . . cherish through . . .” The priest backed away as Eintandus loomed over him. The king turned to Serani.
She glared at him but said nothing.
“Oh, right,” Eintandus said. “We bound her mouth. Tornahym, undo the rope.”
Dr. Tornahym walked to Serani.
And that’s when we caught up to Alden! Back to you, Wally!
Just as he slammed open the throne room doors.
Alden burst in. “Stop this wedding! This wedding is unlawful. This wedding is improper. This wedding is a sham!”
The room filled with clacks as at least twenty rifles pointed at Alden. He threw his hands up. Every guard in the room aimed at him.
It occurred to Alden that bursting in like that might not have been the most prudent of tactics.
“Unlawful, you say? Are you saying it is illegal?” Eintandus turned to glare at Alden. Even at a distance Alden could tell he wouldn’t stand to the king’s chest. He was muscular, chiseled, and no doubt strong enough to crush Alden. “You’re in my kingdom now, party crasher, and here, what I say goes. And I say this wedding is every bit proper and legal. If your kingdom has a problem with it, you can take it up with my army.”
“But the Salenth Kingdom already has,” Alden said. He scanned the room. Serani was blotched with dirt, her hair a scraggly mess and dress torn, but Alden couldn’t blame her—it was her wedding day, and her struggling showed she wanted out. Unfortunately the line of guards kept Alden rooted to the spot. “Besides, the international community–”
“He said, she said,” said Eintandus. “Now shut up.” He turned back to Serani and Dr. Tornahym. “Do you have that rope off yet, Tornahym?”
The doctor shook his head. “Just about, sire.”
“Top!” Alden screamed.
“Huh? Top?” Eintandus asked. “Top what?”
With a scream Top flew in like a cannonball. All the guards turned to the ball flying at their king.
With a swing of his arm Eintandus slammed Top back out the room.
“Is that the best you can–?” Eintandus looked down. Alden had vanished. “Where’d that pipsqueak go? Never mind!” He turned back to the priest. “Say the script!”
As if on fast forward the priest said, “Do you, Serani, take King Eintandus to be your lawfully wedded husband?”
Eintandus looked at Serani. “Well, princess? It’s your line.”
Serani peered around. Eintandus hovered over her, able to strike her down if she stepped out of line.
The priest screamed and fell into Eintandus and they both tumbled down the steps. Alden gaped at them, having emerged from behind the gaudy throne and shoved the priest. He breathed heavily, mucus sliding down his head. He’d made a move—now he had to be quick. He doubted the king would take that lying down. He grabbed Serani’s bound hands and told her to hurry.
“You—What—Aren’t you the one who ruined my party?” Serani asked.
“I hardly think what my friends did compares to–” Alden screamed as Eintandus lifted him by his collar.
“You pathetic little twerp!” Eintandus shouted. “What did you think: that you could just swing in here and rescue the princess by yourself? This isn’t a video game. You’re a pest not worthy of even the Salenth army.”
Alden saw Eintandus’ muscles twitch and pulse—craggy and chunky. He wasn’t actually muscular, just big and misshapen. He wasn’t old but, try as he might to hide it, he was old enough to have already hit his prime. Alden looked the king in the eye.
“An army which is already marching into your throne room. You’re going to lose.”
Eintandus scowled. “Ha! I’d like to see them try to get past my guards.”
Eintandus threw Alden to the floor before him. “You just got lucky. But I’m going to cut your luck right now.” He unsheathed a sword with a jeweled hilt. “I’m going to cut your luck and your neck.” Eintandus raised the sword. Alden saw his life split apart—past his prime or not, the king could murder Alden with little issue.
Footsteps drumrolled across the room. The king tumbled over the throne with a snarl as Ropak kicked him from behind.
“Sheesh, cutting it close, aren’t we?” Ropak asked. “No pun intended.”
All the guards took aim at the group. Gunshots fired from the doorway at the guards—the Salenth soldiers charged in and the fight broke into the throne room. Top rolled down the carpet to Alden.
“Top, quick; bite through this rope,” Alden said.
“Okay!” Top said, gnashing their sharp teeth.
“I’m not sure.” Serani stared at Top and backed away. “Really, I don’t think that’ll be necessary.”
“Don’t worry,” said Alden. “Their bark is worse than their bite.”
“Bark! I’m still a puppy!” Top chomped the rope binding Serani.
“Let’s hurry.” Alden turned to leave, but at the bottom of the stairs the pale Dr. Tornahym watched them. He was stockier and chubbier than any scalago Alden had seen, shorter even than Ropak.
“I’m dedicated to seeing my king’s plan through,” he said. “Step away from the princess and surrender now.”
“Out of the way, helmet head,” said Ropak, stepping forward.
A rocket shot out of a cylinder on Dr. Tornahym’s helmet. Everyone ducked as it screamed overhead and exploded in the air.
“Didn’t expect that,” said Top.
“That was a warning shot,” Dr. Tornahym muttered. “The next one will hit.” Alden saw reservation in his downcast look. His skin was leathery—he was older, his luster was even starting to go.
“Big deal,” Ropak said. “Your side is losing anyway. It should be you who’s surrendering. Just look behind you at your guards.”
“I am not turning around,” Dr. Tornahym said. His face was impassive. “They could be winning. Salenth soldiers could be about to attack me. But as long as I stand here my survival technical exo-apparatus machine can fire upon their princess.”
“I won’t let you,” Alden said, standing between him and Serani.
Dr. Tornahym sighed. “I can’t allow us to come to an impasse.” He fired another rocket. Ropak jumped at Alden; Top jumped after him; Ropak and Alden fell to the side, the rocket flew by, and Top landed where Serani had been.
Serani was gone.
Alden and Dr. Tornahym gaped at Top. Ropak stared with eyes wide, his face frozen.
“All right, you chumps,” Eintandus shouted, emerging from behind the throne, “I’m going to turn you into– Hey, where’s the princess?”
“Top,” said Alden, “did you . . .? You did. You just ate . . .”
Top opened their mouth and from within Serani shouted, “Ugh, this is the worst of all this! Can I just go back to the dungeon?”
“You mean it has the princess inside its body?” Dr. Tornahym asked.
“They do,” said Top.
“Just what are you playing at?” Eintandus asked.
Ropak jumped to Top. “Top! It’s time for you”—he kicked them across the room to the doorway—“to get going!”
“Get Serani out of the castle!” Alden yelled. He remembered his orders and grabbed his military phone.
“Guards! Get after that ball!” Eintandus shouted. He stomped the floor. “Go! Out of here! Chase it! Get the princess back. Now!” The guards charged to the doorway, the Salenth soldiers standing in their way. Eintandus scowled at Alden and Ropak. “I’ll take care of these two pests myself.”
Alden contacted General Herbitan on his phone and shouted for her.
“Alden?” Herbitan asked. “What’s you status?”
“The princess is on her way,” Alden said. “She’s away from Eintandus, so–” Alden cried out and stumbled as the king sliced a sword at him. Ropak kicked Eintandus back.
“Is your situation all right?” Herbitan asked. “Are you with Princess Serani?”
“I’m fine,” Alden said. “Still in the middle of it. Serani is on her way with Top, so–”
“You left her with that lunatic?” Herbitan shouted. “It’ll get her killed! Where’s Brigadier Frenell?”
“You’ll have to ask him, ma’am,” Alden said. “I know Top can handle it. Just look for them and she’ll be there. Have you heard anything on the dungeon prisoners?”
“That was your doing?” Herbitan asked. “We don’t have enough time or resources to rescue all–”
“Then you’d better make some!” Alden shut off the phone.
He saw Ropak dodge swings from Eintandus. Top and Serani were escaping, so now Alden and Ropak had to find some way out. Alden hoped they’d find it in one piece.