Mark looked around and ducked the falling debris. The top most walls of the buildings were collapsing and toppling over.
They had to get out of this place. Fast.
The cowboy moved forward. “I don’t think so. And ya ain’t got a right to exist.” With that, he crushed the tiny evil bat and grounded it with the heel of his boot.
A tiny squeal was heard. Then nothing.
The cowboy raised his foot to check. There was no trace of John anywhere.
Suddenly the ground beneath them shook.
John was gagging and pounding his chest now. It didn’t help. He seemed to be shrinking fast.
“You’re going to regret it, humans!” he roared, his voice sounding smaller and smaller. “I’ll be back for my revenge!”
By now he was only the size of a fist. The small bat was jumping up and down on the marble floor, shrinking at an amazing speed.
Logan gave him a mocking bow. “The garlic, of course,” he answered. “It’s your favorite, my lord.”
The others looked at one another with joy dancing in their eyes. They remembered the bread that Logan had saved for John.
The dark lord, however, was not pleased. In fact, he was infuriated. He opened his jaws wide but something stopped him.
The redhead backed away slowly, hoping to slip away.
“Really?” Logan asked with interest.
“What?” He stared at the redhead, surprise in his eyes. “You don’t believe me?” His eyes narrowed into slits. “Or are you mocking me, human boy?”
Mark could tell where this was leading. He quickly pulled Logan back, but the redhead persisted.
“Of course not, my lord.”
John was speechless as he watched the redhead with suspicion.
Logan went on with feigned politeness. “What you have just swallowed, my lord, was something I believe would make you feeble.”
Logan quickly drew back the strap of slingshot and released it, sending something flying through the air. The thing flew off course. If the dark lord hadn’t spotted it on time, it would’ve definitely missed its mark.
John craned his neck to the side and caught the flying object with his terrible jaws. He swallowed it whole, chuckling.
“There,” he smiled toothily. “That’s the proof for you. Not even this can hurt me.”
“Logan?” Mark’s heart was pounding furiously. His muscles were tightened. He was ready to leap forward, if necessary.
The redhead’s hands were trembling slightly. Yet he stood his ground. “I’ve forewarned you already.” He swallowed.
“And I shall say the same,” replied John.
The evil lord snapped his eyes back to Mark instantly. “I told you. No tricks! But you sought to trick me anyway. So now I will show you humans what it feels like to be tricked!” He threw back his head and laughed.
“Get Jenny, pal,” he muttered out of the corner of his mouth, all the while aiming his slingshot at John.
Mark nodded. He was so glad to see Logan that he felt a renewed sense of hope. He’d only hoped that Logan knew what he was doing.
“What’s that, human boy? A silver bullet?”
Logan said nothing.
John threw him a harsh laugh. “Nothing can ever hurt me, stupid boy!” He moved forward testily.
Jennifer shrieked and fainted on the ground. Mark figured that John had never told her that part, either.
The dark lord moved forward with his outstretched wings. A string of saliva dripped from his mouth. It hit the ground beside Jennifer’s sprawled form.
Everyone shrank back with horror.
His glowing eyes searched the room. They found Mark and gazed at him piercingly. Mark was too stunned to move.
Soon a strong metallic smell filled their nostrils as a flash of lightning touched the evil lord’s head, making his jaws snap open toward the sky above him. In his mouth were two rows of sharp teeth. His ears began to enlarge and jut out from the sides of his head; they were long and pointed. His nose turned upward, forming a large snout, while his fingers turned into a set of horrible claws. From his outstretched arms a layer of leathery, dark wings formed. A bat’s wings.
Except that the dark lord wasn’t completely a bat. He was somewhere crossed between a human and a bat.
The cowboy grinned. He held up the blazing scepter in victory, but not for too long.
“What?” he asked in alarm when he saw Mark’s gawking face.
“Fire!” Mark shouted. “That thing is on fire!”
Andrew swiveled his head and cried out. The flames were growing larger and spitting sparks.
He smacked it into the wall, then to the ground in an attempt to put out the fire.
Andrew, however, wasn’t about to give up that easily. He continued to struggle for the scepter. Clenching his teeth, he wrenched the Great Sarpati free with all his might from the grasp of claws that clung onto it desperately. He held it with above his head.
There was a brief moment of hesitation before the claws dove forward. He looked up and caught the sight of the burning flames from the torch on the marble wall.
Andrew’s mouth twisted into a crooked smile as he shoved the head of serpentine scepter right into the blaze.
The claws melted into the fire and vanished.
Mark pushed himself off the ground. He picked up the king’s crown off the ground, and, without giving much thought, hurled it toward the claws. “Watch out, Andrew!”
The cowboy shrank back in time to avoid getting hit. Yet the crown sliced through the claws without hurting them.
John folded his arms and jeered. His eyes were dark with satisfaction.
“I knew it!” his lordship snarled. His eyes were glowing in verde green again. “I knew you were tricking me!” He moved toward Mark with clenched fists.
Mark backed away slowly. “I – I was telling the truth. I swear!”
The dark lord wasn’t listening.
Mark’s back hit something solid. He twisted around and found himself facing a wall. He turned back, trembling.
“Can’t you see?” he shouted, letting the words out in a rush. “King Ealdakin’s treasure was the love of his people. They loved him, not because he controlled their minds, but because of what he had done for them. They were the loyal servants to their beloved king!” As soon as the words flew out of his mouth, Mark heard a ring of truth in them.
Mark hastily turned back to the cowboy and glanced down pointedly at the scepter. Twice.
Andrew stared back and gave a quick nod. He seemed to understand.
Mark let out his breath. He stole a quick glance at the dark lord again.
His throat tightened.
This time both Jennifer and John were staring right at him.
“…. Hail the King Ealdakin of Magnus for the provisions we receive, for making us the happiest citizens, for harboring us from harm, and for loving and nurturing us like a family…”
For a moment, Mark hesitated.
His eyes caught the entryway of the chamber. Maybe he could slip away unseen.
But what about the others?
“Praise the King Ealdakin of Magnus…”
He turned to Andrew. His last hope.
Their eyes met and Mark held his intense gaze.
Mark tensed. Here’s the moment he was waiting for. He gripped the scepter hard to make sure it was really in his hand. It was. Then he started to look around the room casually. Where could he hide it?
“What is it?” his lordship was asking Jennifer in an urgent voice. Both of them were standing only a few feet away.
A surge of disappointment rushed over him. Other than the raised platform and the torches on the wall, there was nothing else in here.
John shoved him aside and pushed the lid open. On the very bottom of the compartment lay a piece of parchment.
Mark’s heart sank. He hoped it wasn’t another clue for him to figure out. He didn’t think he could do it again.
The evil lord motioned for Jennifer, who snatched it up and unrolled it on the raised platform.