John stared at it intently and popped his knuckles. “Excellent,” he said. “I’ve been waiting for this for years.”
“Move it!” Jennifer shoved the others roughly. They shuffled toward Mark, wearily.
John turned and looked at Mark right in the eye. “You,” he commanded, “are going first. No tricks. Or the deal about your little friends is off. Do I make myself clear?”
Mark nodded, too scared to speak. Then, as if some invisible force from the passage had willed his legs to move, he walked forward and into the darkness.
The next thing he knew, the statue of the elderly man began to rumble and shudder.
Mark backed away from it. John followed suit.
As if on cue, the statue moved backwards, on its own, and revealed a dark passage with stairs leading downward.
Mark didn’t have much time to change his mind because soon the place became miraculously brighter.
Looking down at the octagonal, silver-bordered necklace, he saw the obsidian stone at the center was radiating a golden color.
He also realized what was making the necklace glow. Golden curves had appeared on the stone as if they had been there all along. Together they formed two snakes that intertwined and curved, with their tiny heads and tails touching.
Mark jumped. He was so concentrated that he’d temporarily forgotten about the presence of the dark lord in the room. He felt sick.
A horrifying thought hit him.
Yes, he was very close to something – something important enough for him to find out. But did he really wish to get this close? What if, instead of preventing John from seizing the power, he was helping the dark lord succeed?
Mark looked away, terrified; he hoped he was wrong. It was then that his eyes fell on a small concavity at the foot of the statue.
Ignoring Diane’s persistent calling, he walked over and looked at it more closely. He absently pulled out one of the necklaces from the sack and placed it into the hole.
It fitted perfectly!
Mark’s heart hammered in his chest. What does that mean?
Somewhere in the room, a voice called out to him urgently.
“Mark,” said the familiar voice, and he immediately recognized it. Diane.
“Hurry up and show him the treasure room,” she pled. “I can’t hold on to it any longer!”
“Diane!” he breathed.
Diane’s face was blotchy with tears. She was sobbing.
Was she in pain?
The others, too, were staring at her in surprise.
The cowboy was the first to speak. “Whatsa matter, Diane?” he asked and started to move toward her, since he was nearest to her.
Diane merely shook her head, aloof. She took a few steps back.
Mark stole a quick glance at George, who remained stiff and petrified with his hands tied to the back. Something wasn’t right. Why hadn’t George also started talking?
And was he imagining it? Mark thought he saw something that made his blood run cold. Diane’s eyes, when she opened her mouth to speak, seemed to glow in verde green, somewhat inhumanly. And somehow unusual.
John looked at Mark in the eye. “You got yourself a deal then, descendant of Ealdakin.” Then he smiled toothily, making Mark uneasy. “But not without your friends coming with us to the treasure room first. Once I got what I want, they’re free to go.”
Mark had no choice but nodded. He didn’t know what else to say, even though the deal wasn’t struck the way he wanted.
He examined the antiques in the sack. John must have wanted them for a reason. Why?
And there’s the problem of treasure room’s whereabouts too. All he knew was that he had an uneasy feeling about the doors, and his instincts told him to avoid them at all costs.
Mark swallowed. “But what about the deal?”
“What deal?!” he snarled.
Mark didn’t know what type of game John was playing. He didn’t like it a bit.
Taking a deep breath, he let the words out in a rush before he lost the courage to speak. “I’m the only one who knows about the treasure room,” he told John. “If you don’t promise to let my friends leave safely, I’m afraid I cannot show you the treasure room.”
Mark stared openmouthed at the evil lord, who threw his head back and laughed nastily.
John stopped laughing. He snapped his eyes to Jennifer.
“The treasure room, my lord,” she reminded him.
“Aye, love,” he muttered with a nod. “I forget myself.” Looking askance at Mark, he barked, “Enough talking, descendant of Ealdakin! We’ve wasted too much time. Now show me the treasure room!”
But they soon lost their shine as he frowned deeply and was lost in his own thoughts.
He looked up suddenly and began to speak fiercely to Mark, who at first thought that John was mad at him.
After a while, though, Mark realized that the dark lord was talking to himself.
“…Other than Ealdakin, of course. How I despise that name!” he spat and snorted with disdain. “But no matter! He’s long gone! Dead. He would never join forces against me. And the power of the Great Sarpati will be mine.”
John started to wave his arms frantically like a madman. “Without it, Ealdakin was next to a useless coward, who feared everything, even wars. But look at me! I’m the one who’s fearless and powerful. I should’ve been the one to possess it. Not him!” He turned to Mark suddenly, breathing hard. “There’s nothing you can do to stop me now,” he said, pointing his finger at Mark. “I will get what I want. And with the help of the Great Sarpati, I will control the minds of humans. Including yours.”
Apparently John was enjoying all this.
So was Jennifer.
“And believe me,” said his lordship as though he were oblivious of the distressed look on Mark’s face. “I will enjoy every minute of it. You humans think you’ve got the best of everything. But you’re wrong! Your technologies cannot even protect you. You’re powerless! And no human can ever harm me.” His eyes gleamed in dark satisfaction.
John threw back his head and laughed.
“Yes, descendant of Ealdakin,” he said, as though pronouncing a name he loathed. “You aren’t as slow-witted as I thought. You got that right, too. I will soon rule over your world as well. It is time for my reign!”
Mark gulped, feeling lightheaded. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to hear more of it.
The others must have felt the same way. They shivered and huddled together.
His heart sank, though, when he saw the look on the cowboy’s face. It was a look Mark would never forget, a look that made Mark ashamed and feel as if he’d done something more evil than John.
Mark turned away from Andrew’s glare with a sick feeling he’d never felt before.
For some reason, he was relieved to hear that John hadn’t reached his full power. Maybe there was a chance for them to defeat him after all – and to escape. But could they really? He could hardly keep John talking, much less getting information out of him. John seemed to catch on with Mark pretty fast.
Mark looked away in horror. He became aware of something worse.
He had totally run out of words to say!
He took another wild guess. “That’s why King Ealdakin had hidden them from you,” he went on calmly. “He feared that one day you may be more powerful than him. I bet you’re planning to take over Magnus and other kingdoms.” If there are other kingdoms around at all, Mark thought nervously but didn’t dare to say that aloud.
John gave Mark a crooked smile, seemingly more composed.
Mark’s heart skipped a beat.
“Exactly,” answered the dark lord.
John’s smile vanished as quickly as it had come. “Watch what you’re saying, descendant of Ealdakin!” he bellowed, looking rather offended as though Mark had mocked him. “I assure you – your power will soon be mine!” His chest heaved with rage. “I will be the most powerful being who ever lived. And I shall never live under his shadow again!”
Mark swallowed. His grip on the sack tightened until his knuckles turned white. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the drawn faces of others and the fear that poured from their eyes. Mark had only hoped that he was doing the right thing and that he hadn’t gone too far.
“You want more than just the treasure and the wealth of this city,” he stated matter-of-factly, biding his time the best he could and praying that it was the right guess.
John seemed delighted. “Decided to join the game finally, my friend?” He smiled. “Yes. I want Ealdakin’s Great Sarpati and the Treasure of Magnus.”
Mark tried not to look confused. “I’m not surprised,” he said. “But why not get them yourself, since you’re so powerful and strong?”
“Good,” said John. “Very good, love. Bear with me, and you’ll get more than your share.”
“How much more?” she asked with icy coldness, but he put a forefinger to his lips and shook his head slightly.
Jennifer nodded. She rubbed her hands together and wrung them as though she couldn’t wait any longer.
Mark wasn’t ready for the bargain yet. He knew that John would never believe him, even if he told the truth – that he wasn’t the descendant of King Ealdakin.