Not the final version. Book version may vary.
Ropak ducked and weaved from King Eintandus’ sword strikes. The king was much bigger than Ropak—one hit could do real damage but the wrallot dodged around him. He got a few kicks in on the joints of Eintandus’ armor.
He rolled behind the king and grabbed his tail, pulling him to the floor. “The bigger they are, the harder they–” Ropak screamed as Eintandus whipped the wrallot across the gilded throne room.
“Whip you around,” Eintandus said. The wrallot spun and landed on his feet.
“Wrong,” said Ropak. “I was going to say–” Eintandus charged with the jewel-encrusted sword. Ropak ran at him. Moments from impact he slid and kicked Eintandus’ arm. The king’s sword clattered across the floor.
“How do you like me now?” Ropak asked, hopping up and down, kicking and punching the air. “Knocked your sword right away. Let’s see how you do in a straight fisticuffs match.”
Yeah, I’m doing well, he thought. I can take this dude. Clearly they don’t teach kings the art of combat. Their weapons are all for show. He just had to distract Eintandus long enough for Top and the princess to escape.
King Eintandus gripped the handle of another sword in his belt with both hands. He hauled out a broadsword as tall as Ropak; it might as well have been carved from a steel door.
Ropak stared at it. Okay, that weapon might be for show, too, but it could still probably turn me into jelly.
“Let’s see you knock this one away,” Eintandus shouted. He swung the broadsword at Ropak and the weaponless wrallot ducked. The thudding slash rang in Ropak’s head. Behind him the sword left a gash in the stone wall.
“I’m up to the challenge,” Ropak said. That was just talk, of course, but hey, he had to have banter. Besides, maybe if he said it out loud he would believe it.
With the colossal sword at his side Eintandus charged. Ropak ran aside and the king missed by a mile. Well, a couple feet, but it was practically a mile.
“How am I supposed to trade banter with that?” Ropak said. Eintandus panted as he glared at the wrallot. “Out of breath? Ha! That sword’s so heavy, you’re getting winded. Maybe you’re not as strong as you look.”
Eintandus charged at Ropak again. The wrallot kicked at the king but he blocked with the flat of the sword and slammed Ropak across the room.
“Ouch,” he said. He stung in front and ached in the back. “Evidently, we’re evenly matched.” Eintandus swung the broadsword down but Ropak rolled away.
“Hold still, you . . .” Eintandus looked around. “Where’d you go?”
“Haha!” Ropak bounded back to Eintandus and lifted the jeweled sword. “Now I’ve got a sword.”
Eintandus shattered it with the broadsword.
“Gaddfern it,” Ropak said, “I have the worst luck with swords.” He fled once more.
Next to Eintandus’ throne the robed priest pulled himself to his feet. Ropak tackled the mucous scalago and held his arms behind him.
“Aha!” said Ropak. “Looks like it’s time for a hostage situation.”
The priest screamed and shook his head. “No! Please, leave me alone. I’m just an old scalago.”
“You don’t look that old,” Ropak said. “Your skin is still all shiny.”
“I didn’t know it wasn’t legitimate. I never would have gone with it if I’d known. He threatened to put me in the dungeon.”
Ropak sighed. “Look, I’m just trying to–” He saw Eintandus rushing at them. “Fig, he’s still coming!” He shoved the priest away. As Eintandus charged like a one-scalago stampede Ropak scrambled around him.
“All right, if that dork won’t make you stop . . .” Ropak looked around the room. That shorty scalago with the ballistics machine on his head watched from the sidelines. “How about him?”
Eintandus glared. “Don’t you dare.”
“You can’t tell me what to do.” Ropak ran at Dr. Tornahym.
“Hold on, wait!” Dr. Tornahym backed up. “You stay away from me!” He fired a rocket from his helmet and Ropak ducked. The rocket blasted Eintandus’ broadsword to pieces.
“Score one for dumb luck!” Ropak shouted, throwing up a fist. “Now what are you gonna do?”
Eintandus grabbed from his belt a pickaxe, the thick head translucent like clear ice. “Look what you’ve made me have to use.”
“Come on, how many weapons do you have?” Ropak asked.
“Have you ever heard about diamond being the hardest material there is?” Eintandus asked.
“Take a guess as to what this pickaxe is made of.”
Ropak looked at it. “Quartz?”
“It’s diamond, you idiot,” Eintandus yelled. “Now hold still so I can jam this into your skull.”
Eintandus swung the diamond tool at the wrallot. Without the broadsword weighing him down he stayed on Ropak’s toes. Ropak could only dodge, no time to run or strike back.
“Why do you have a pickaxe, anyway?” Ropak asked.
“It’s the Thraundlus Kingdom emblem,” said Eintandus. “Symbolic of our struggle to survive in these harsh lands. The Salenth Kingdom has the sea and rivers and fertile soil. All we have to get by on is our caverns!”
A little ranty, Ropak thought, but good enough for a distraction. He slipped under the pickaxe and kicked Eintandus in the jaw. The king slammed him across the room into stone.
Eintandus pinned the throbbing wrallot against the wall with the cold pickaxe. “Now I have you.”
Ropak flailed at him, but he held the wrallot too far to reach.
“Hold still, you pest,” Eintandus said. “A flick of the wrist, and I’ll impale your–”
“I’m coming, Ropak!” Alden barreled into the room with the food cart. He crashed it and knocked Eintandus to the floor, freeing Ropak.
“All right, Alden,” Ropak said. “Cutting it a little close, though. Now get on, I’m sure Top’s had enough of a head start now.”
Ropak jumped onto the cart and pushed it to the exit like a scooter. Guards gathered to block the way.
“Whoa, we got guards,” Ropak said. “Turning around!” He spun the food cart around and dashed back to King Eintandus, who stood back on his feet.
“Whoa, the ugly king is up,” Ropak said. “Turning around!” He spun around and drove to the exit, but the guards now aimed weapons at them.
“Whoa, forgot about the guards,” Ropak said. “Turning around!” He spun around again. Eintandus lifted Dr. Tornahym in his arms.
“Blast them, Tornahym!” Eintandus shouted.
“Yes, sire,” said the doctor.
“Whoa, he’s packing heat now,” Ropak said. “Turning around!”
Dr. Tornahym fired a rocket. Alden jerked the food cart aside and they spun out. The rocket flew past and blasted the guards away.
“All right, we’re leaving,” said Ropak, pushing the cart through the smoke to the exit. “By the way,” he said to a roaring Eintandus, “I quit!”
* * *
Ropak and Alden sped through hallways on the food cart. They passed by a few Thraundlus soldiers here and there, some injured, others just standing around.
“They must have moved out,” Alden said. “Princess Serani must be safe. We’ve got to hurry if we’re going to get out with them.”
“I’m going as fast as I can,” Ropak said.
“I’ll call Herbitan and tell her we’re on the way,” said Alden. He grabbed his cell phone but looked at Ropak as they entered a hallway crawling with Thraundlus soldiers. “I don’t think this is the best way to go.”
“It’s the fastest way out,” Ropak said.
Thraundlus soldiers shouted and lunged for the cart. Alden hurled a bowl of soup at them.
“Get rid of some of this excess weight!” said Ropak.
As they raced through the castle Alden threw food at soldiers ready to strike them. From deviled eggs to baked veggies, anything to distract them while they fled.
That meant an awful lot of pies, actually.
In fact, a lot more than I’d think could even have been on the cart. Where did they all come from?
It’s physics. Fig Newton’s first law of pastry states that whenever you need food to throw at someone, pies instantaneously materialize.
I’ll pretend to take your word for it.
Ropak saw the grand foyer ahead. They were almost out, but a cacophonous sea of Thraundlus soldiers jostled in the foyer.
“We need a way through them,” Alden said.
“Whack them out of the way with something,” said Ropak.
Alden rummaged through what remained on the cart. On the bottom sat a dish as long as Ropak’s arm span. Alden removed the lid.
“What is that?” Ropak asked.
“Looks like the biggest kebab ever,” Alden said.
Ropak figured the meat-covered stick looked more like a sword stuck through hams. “Use it to knock them away,” he said.
“What? No!” Alden said. “Just give it one last push and then get ready to jump.”
Ropak sped to the foyer. They couldn’t jump across that crowd, but he trusted Alden. As they grew near soldiers turned to them and brandished weapons.
“Get ready!” Alden yelled. He slammed the kebab into the floor. The food cart flipped and the two friends flew over the crowd.
Up ahead soldiers shoved through a gate leading outside. Alden and Ropak soared towards it, but that would end soon. They’d fall right into the crowd of soldiers.
“We’re not going to make it!” said Alden.
“No, but you are,” Ropak said. He kicked his friend in mid-air. Alden flew out the gate screaming for his friend. Ropak plummeted to the floor where his head would crack open like an egg.
Instead he landed on his hands, bending his arms until his horn touched the floor. The wrallot sprang out of the crowd with a wild whoop and landed on his feet—well on a soldier.
“Excuse me, pardon me,” Ropak shouted, hopping across the armored troops. He jumped off each soldier before they could react.
He reached the gate and leapt into the musty wind. He gasped. A sleek ship in Salenth Kingdom purple and orange ascended with a roaring hum. He was too late. The Salenth rescue ship was leaving. Thraundlus soldiers were charging behind him. He’d just have to run for it.
“Ropak! Get over here!”
Ropak looked below the ship. Alden stood, waving an arm at him, his other holding onto a rope from the ship. No, he held onto Top. Top held the rope in their mouth.
“I’m coming!” Ropak ran from the charging soldiers bogged down with armor. He grabbed Alden and they snapped into the air like a rocket, air roaring past them. They hurtled into the ship and crashed into soldiers gripping the rope.
“Push off,” Herbitan said, shoving Ropak off her.
Ropak smirked. “Is that any way to treat the guys who just saved your princess?” He stood and nodded to Serani, who’d also held the rope.
Herbitan sighed but smiled. “Yeah. Okay. You did good. Certainly better than I would have guessed.”
“We win!” Top said, slurping the rest of the rope into their mouth.
“We should be home free now,” Herbitan said. “Our ships kept theirs grounded through the whole thing. We’ll be back home before they can even begin to chase.”
“Top,” said Princess Serani. “Alden. Ropak.” She nodded to each in turn.
Alden stared wide-eyed. “You know my name?”
“Top told me everything,” Serani said. She smiled and looked down. “I owe you all an apology. I owe you an apology most of all, Alden.”
“It was totally my fault,” Top said. “Also, Ropak’s fault. It was all Ropak’s fault. No, it was some of my fault too.” Ropak pushed them down before they said anything else.
“But, princess,” Alden said, “we should owe you an apology. After the way we ruined your party–”
“Think nothing of it,” said Serani. “It was an accident. And it was nothing compared to what Eintandus did.”
“Well, thank you, Princess,” Alden said. “Your Highness.”
The princess laughed. “Oh, please. Just call me Serani.”
“Oh, yes, Serani,” said Alden. He blushed, which made for a rather sickly gray with his green skin. “And Pr—Serani, you know, I was, I just . . .”
Alden held Princess Serani’s hand. “There’s something I’ve wanted to tell you for a long time. Now that I have a chance, now that I’ve properly met you, I–”
“Boy, Ropak, that was pretty neat how you kicked Alden outside,” said Top.
“You saw that?” Ropak asked. “I mean, it wasn’t neat; the whole thing was kind of messy. I’ll bet you ached after that, Alden.”
“I don’t see why,” Top said. “I get kicked around all the time, and I’m just fine.”
“Yeah, but you’re a ball,” Ropak said. “A bouncing ball who gets delight out of being kicked and thrown and bounced and–” Ropak bounced Top up and down. “Bouncy, bouncy, bouncing . . .” Top squealed like a child on a swing set.
Ropak held Top down when he saw Alden glaring at him.
“What?” he asked. “What’s going on?”
Chapter 37: A Place in the World (coming soon) | Table of Contents