Not the final version. Book version may vary.
Top ran down the halls screaming like a siren, arms flailing. All around them mucous soldiers screamed and fell. Gunfire whizzed by, burning the air with smoke. Top ran around anyone in the way. They jumped over a blockade and continued to run as soldiers stared after them. A few Thraundlus troops shot or swung swords at Top, and even some Salenth soldiers lunged at the fleeing ball, but Top continued their flight past them.
Top turned a corner and crashed into a soldier. They bounced off onto hard stone and coughed Serani to the floor.
Serani stood up and groaned. “That was the worst.” She rubbed her arms and shredded dress. “I was expecting more saliva, though.”
Thraundlus soldiers around them shouted—the princess was there!
Serani glared at Top. “What are we still doing here?”
“Mamma mia!” Top yelled, jumping onto Serani. “We’ve been found out. The jig is up. We’re gonna be fresh fish.”
The soldiers charged. Following a bang one dropped and Salenth soldiers grappled them back.
“Princess Serani!” Brigadier Frenell shot another Thraundlus soldier. “We’re here to escort you out.” Thraundlus soldiers swarmed him and his squad.
Top flailed. “We gotta go!”
Serani looked from Top to the soldiers. “But what about–”
“Go!” Frenell shouted, struggling against enemy soldiers. “We’ll catch up, just stay safe!”
“This way!” Top shouted and leapt off Serani.
The princess ran after them. “How do you know where to go?”
“Because I’m totes magic,” Top screamed. “The place we need to go is not here!” They turned down several hallways until Thraundlus soldiers blocked the route ahead. More soldiers appeared down the way they came.
“Now what?” Serani asked. “We’re going to be trapped.”
“I can think of something, I can think of something,” Top said, stamping their feet. They looked around. Okay: soldiers behind us, soldiers ahead of us. Go to the side. “In here!” Top pulled open a heavy door and ushered Serani in. They slammed the door to the dusty room and darkness surrounded them. A drop of stairs met their feet.
Serani clenched her fists. “You idiot, this is the dungeon.”
“Oh,” Top said. “Well, you did say you wanted to come back. Besides, they’ll never think to look for us here.”
The door swung into Top and they teetered at the edge of the stairs.
“Back in the dungeon, princess,” said a blood-stained Thraundlus soldier. “You’ll be seeing this place a lot more.” They pointed a sword at Top. “Now hand her over or we’ll bust you to bits, shorty.”
Top screamed and jumped behind Serani. “Protect me!”
Serani shook Top. “You’re supposed to be guarding me.”
Top opened their mouth to retort but stopped. Guarding. Guarding. Just like the Micagox had told them, so long ago. They existed to guard and protect.
Not the Micagox. Those guys are jerks. But I’m to guard and protect Alden. Alden and Ropak and their friends. And Serani is Alden’s friend, or he’s an aspiring friend of hers, or something like that. So hex yeah I should guard her!
The soldiers advanced but Top ran forward and put up their arms in a boxing stance. “Hold it, hold it, hoooold it right there, mixters. You stay away from the princess. I won’t let you harm one scale”—they side-glanced at Serani and whispered, “You guys do have scales, right?” before looking back at the soldiers—“on her head.”
“Oh yeah?” said a sneering soldier. “And what are you going to do to stop us?”
“What am I gonna do?” the Guardian asked. “I’m going to . . .” Top stretched their mouth open and pulled out a flat box they handed to the soldier. “I’m gonna bribe ya.”
“What’s this?” The soldiers opened the box lid to reveal a pizza, the cheese glistening and toppings piled high; the peppers practically sparkled. Even the stale dungeon air couldn’t choke out the spicy, savory aroma.
“What are you doing?” Serani whispered. Top coughed out a matchbook.
“Ha! You don’t know who you’re dealing with,” the soldiers yelled. Top tossed a lit match over the pizza box. “You can’t bribe us with just a sloppy–”
“Hit the deck!” Top screamed, jumping down the stairs. Serani ducked after. Top’s Spicy Explosive Pizza blew up in the soldiers’ faces. The blast threw them outside and knocked out a couple door hinges.
Spicy smoke drifted out the dungeon. Top and Serani hurried out.
“What was that?” Serani asked.
“My pizza resistance,” Top said. “We are resisting our enemies with pizza. Now come on, let’s go. Do you want to ride in my mouth again?”
“No, no,” Serani said, waving her hands. “I’ll run alongside you.”
Top and Serani ran through the hallways. The Guardian looked back to find Thraundlus soldiers giving chase.
“Don’t look now, but bogey on our tail,” Top said. “Well, your tail. I don’t have one.” The ball twirled in the air and spat musty mud behind them. “Ha! I ruined Eintandus’ clean floor. Victory!” The chasing soldiers slipped and fell over. “Oh, and I stopped those soldiers.”
Thraundlus troops charged at them from ahead. Top coughed out a tough rubber sports ball and kicked it off each soldier to knock them out.
The Guardian pulled out a steel bar from their mouth, one from the Zhopian Guard jail cell so long ago. They looked at Serani.
“Stay with me, I’ll keep you safe.”
“I can’t believe it, but I actually do believe you,” Serani said.
Down one hallway a Thraundlus soldier swung a sword. Top spun the steel bar and knocked it away. Another soldier swung a crackling beam sword and sliced the steel bar in two.
“You got nothing with a makeshift weapon like that,” the soldier shouted. The guardian ball hacked a greasy, sparking computer into the soldier’s face and bashed them to the floor. The other soldier lunged but Top coughed out half an oily truck engine and knocked them down.
The ball pulled a frying pan from their mouth. “Now this is a proper weapon. One last push!”
Top smashed the frying pan into Thraundlus soldiers as they ran by. The number of Salenth soldiers in the hallways increased. Top and Serani entered the part of the castle under Salenth control; the princess was, at this point, essentially safe.
They arrived at a foyer filled with Salenth soldiers. The military had set up makeshift desks where they called soldiers throughout the castle. Commanders discussed a map of the castle spread out over one table. Guards stood at the exits, blockades set up at each. Scalagos ran about relaying directives, drenched in mucus and kicking up dust. At one end of the room was a medical ward for injured soldiers. At another, Thraundlus soldiers taken prisoner sat in chains. Many shouted at the guards.
All in all it looked as chaotic as the battles, if less violent.
Soldiers greeted Serani and Top and reported that from this hub was a straight shot to the front entrance. They escorted her to a safe zone near the center of the room.
Then someone yelled at Top: “There you are!” Herbitan marched up to the ball.
“Oh, hi,” Top said. “I won!”
“Where is Princess Serani?” Herbitan asked.
“The princess is safe and secure, ma’am,” a soldier said.
“She’s already here? Good. That’s great,” said Herbitan. She spoke into a cell phone. “Prepare to make landing outside the castle. We will be there in five minutes to escort the princess out of here.”
“Five minutes?” Top asked. “But what about Alden and Ropak?”
“Where are they?” Herbitan asked. She continued to relay orders on her phone.
“They’re behind,” said Top. “They were under attack by Mr. Grumpy Weddenslash.”
Herbitan looked at Top and furrowed her brow more than usual. “What?”
“They’re still dealing with King Eintandus,” Serani said, pushing through the soldiers to Herbitan.
“Princess Serani.” Herbitan nodded. “I’m glad to see you’re safe.”
Serani looked in the direction she and Top had come. “I’d like to see everyone safe. We can’t leave without them.”
Herbitan followed Serani’s gaze but looked back to her. “Our first priority is getting you to safety.”
“Your first priority says there are other priorities,” Serani said. “I wouldn’t be here if not for those two. We can’t leave them behind.”
Herbitan sighed. “Then they had better hurry up. We can’t wait forever. We must fall back or put everyone in unnecessary danger, and if we are not on the transport the Thraundlus soldiers will be upon us. We have to go by then.”
“Come on, guys, hurry!” Top screamed at the ceiling. “Our escape sequence is over, now get through yours.”