15. Ditch Day
When Joe woke up the next morning, he was surprised to find Sydney already waiting in the living room for him. She was munching on a toaster pastry and skimming through The Book when he walked into the room. Normally, Sydney was gone when Joe woke up. She usually was out doing her early morning conditioning at this time. Had Joe slept in late? Was she done already? He looked at the clock. No, this was the same time he always woke up. Joe frowned in confusion. What was going on?
Sydney glanced up and grinned as Joe walked over to her, wanting to ask her what she was doing there. "Hey, you. There's more of these in the kitchen if you want one." She waved her breakfast in the air.
"Thanks." Joe returned her smile, but dropped it when he remembered what he wanted to ask her. "Did you finish early this morning? I'm surprised Nicole and Kayla didn't drag you immediately into training."
Sydney shook her head, her blonde hair falling in her face. Her grin never vanished. "I did run through my conditioning quickly, and I managed to get done early, but no training for me today. We're ditching."
She spoke the words so casually that it took a moment for them to register with Joe. He leaned back in mild surprise. "Ditching? Are you're sure that's a good idea? You know how important all this is. Not to mention, Nicole and Kayla will be furious if you skip even one training session."
"Please." Sydney waved her hand dismissively, her smile turning into a smirk. "You saw how hard I worked yesterday. I did well. I deserve a day off. I'm still sore anyway. The last thing I need is to be thrown back into action again."
Joe chuckled and shook his head in disbelief and amusement. Sydney had worked hard yesterday. After they had returned from Boston, she had pushed herself to her limits in her training with Nicole. Her training exercise lasted an hour longer than usual. She had fully dedicated herself to learning self-defense and counter attacks. Even Nicole couldn't hide her satisfaction at her daughter's progress and skill, but said that she still had a long way to go before she was battle ready.
"I still don't think ditching is a good idea," Joe said after a moment of thought.
"I told you yesterday that I was going to make up for my rude behaviour to you in Boston. This is how I want to do it. We're going to have a day full of fun and no worries. I made a promise, Joe, and I don't break promises." Sydney stood and gave him one of her signature defiant looks. "Now hurry up and get ready. We don't have much time before Nicole and Kayla come looking for us." She waved him off to his room.
Joe rolled his eyes, but went back into his bedroom to get ready anyway. He had to admit, a ditch day with Sydney would be fun. They needed a break from training. Yesterday, Joe had participated in a few self-defense lessons and his muscles ached as he changed clothes. This would be good for them. No training, no stressing over what had happened at the lake... Joe stopped himself from thinking any further. He and Sydney had agreed to pretend that night had never happened. Unfortunately, that was easier said than done.
He switched his thoughts to what lay ahead of him for that day. He wondered what Sydney had in store for them. No doubt something exciting knowing her.
He re-emerged from his room, grabbed some breakfast, ate it quickly, and told Sydney he was ready to go. Sydney clasped her hands together in excitement. "Perfect. I know just where to take us. I took a test warp last night and it worked. I think I finally have this whole warping thing down. We should get there without a problem." Sydney handed Joe The Book and cracked her knuckles. "Ready to ditch?"
"As ready as I'll ever be." Joe grinned, already looking forward to their adventure. "Let's get to this. I can't wait to see what you have planned for us."
The warp felt different to Joe yet again, but while yesterday's warp left him feeling suspended in time, this one felt like it was pulling him away from time. One minute he was flying through like normal, the next he was being violently yanked to the side.
Joe and Sydney were tossed out of the green mist. They crash landed in tangled heap on the ground. With a heavy groan, they extricated their limbs from each other, stood, and dusted themselves off. They both fell into a fit of coughs as the yellow fog surrounding them filled their lungs.
"Where did you take us?" Joe managed to get out between strings of coughs.
"I wanted to go to Disney World, but unless I warped us inside a ride or a show, I'm going to take a guess and say that I don't think this is Disney World." Sydney squinted at the scene around them, carefully taking everything in. "This isn't right. I did everything I was supposed to. I fully concentrated on where and when I wanted to go and thought about nothing else. It worked last night. Why didn't it work today?"
"So, if we're not at Disney World, then where are we?" Joe looked around their landing site. The Book had once again landed in Sydney's hands, but that was the only thing about the situation that was normal. They were encompassed on all sides by a thick yellow smoke that formed a tunnel. One end led to a wall, so there was so no going that way. The other way disappeared around a corner so Joe couldn't see what waited beyond it.
"This yellow gas is nearly suffocating me. Let's see if we can find somewhere else to go and I'll warp us out of here." Sydney coughed, waved some of the mist away, and sighed. "Sorry for messing up our warp again. I really thought I had it this time." With a melancholy expression, she handed Joe The Book. "I was really looking forward to Disney World too."
Joe raised his shoulders in a shrug. "It's okay. Let's just get out of here."
They walked through the mustard-yellow fog and emerged in an open space where the yellow smoke was much less dense. However, what they found in the new area stopped them dead in their tracks. The glowing gas dispersed to reveal a chaotic throne room. Unlike most throne rooms, which were elegant and well-decorated, this one mirrored a city dump, if the dump was overflowing with historic artifacts. A pirate's hat floated by, passing over an Egyptian jar for mummification. Several other relics, such as a samurai helmet and a sword, either sat on the ground or bobbed up and down in the air. Off to the side, was a dartboard with a picture of Joe taped to it. Copious amounts of darts were sticking out of it. In the center of the room was a massive throne made of hourglasses and clocks. The top of the throne was adorned with a wooden cuckoo clock.
And sitting in the throne was Mad Jack.
Sydney and Joe tensed, not sure what to expect. But the crazy man was peacefully asleep, his loud snores reverberating throughout the room. Somehow, their entrance hadn't woken him up and do he had not seen them yet.
The duo exchanged frightened expressions and glanced back at the tunnel they had just come in through. "We need to get out of here before he wakes up."
"How did we even end up here in the first place?" They kept their hushed talking to a minimum and hurriedly turned to exit Mad Jack's lair. It seemed like they were going to make it out just fine without a hitch.
Until Joe bumped his shoulder into a pile of junk, sending it toppling to the floor with an deafening crash. They snoring abruptly stopped, replaced by the mumbling of someone waking up. Sydney and Joe took one look at each other and immediately took off for the tunnel.
They ran back the way they came, desperately praying to get out before Mad Jack spotted them. But when they reached where they thought the entrance to the tunnel was, it was gone, with nothing left but a solid wall of sickly yellow mist.
"There has to be another way out of here," Joe said while frantically looking around the area for an escape route. "Maybe we were just wrong about where the tunnel was."
"I don't think-" Sydney was suddenly cut off by an evil chuckling.
"Well, well, well, look who it is. The wretched time princess and my despicable nephew. What brings you two to my lair? Oh wait, I did." Mad Jack cackled and rubbed his hands together. He eyed them like a tiger stalking its prey. "You're early. I wasn't expecting you so soon. Aren't you wondering how I brought you here?"
The kids flinched and carefully turned around to face Mad Jack head on. Neither responded to his question, and Mad Jack took that as an opportunity to keep on talking. "It's simple really. I'm quite proud of myself actually." He smirked as he examined his nails. "I created a time bomb that locked onto your time signature. The next time you warped, it would bring you here. And look at that, it did. I just made it yesterday. I didn't think it'd catch you so soon."
"What do you want?" Joe interrupted Mad Jack's speech. His hands were clenched in tight fists. "Why did you bring us here?"
Mad Jack glared at Joe for cutting him off. He smacked his lips in annoyance. "Well, once again, warp runt, I was not after you. Believe it or not, my life does not revolve around you."
"Really? Because that dartboard back there implies otherwise." Sydney scowled at Mad Jack and placed her hands on her hips.
Mad Jack growled at her. "My hatred for my nephew is hobby, not a lifestyle. Regardless, we are not here because of him. I understand my actions in Greece may have frightened you, but my offer still stands. I am in need of a new assistant. I'm going to give you a choice, either you work for me, or I'll kill you."
"That doesn't sound like much of a choice." Sydney's scowl deepened. She looked ready to punch Mad Jack in the face.
Mad Jack simply shrugged. "That's the way it is, sweetheart."
"Don't call her that." Joe sneered at his evil uncle, his jaw clenching. He had no right to call Sydney that. It was disturbing and he was only doing it to lure her in and make her accept his deal.
Mad Jack blinked at Joe's audacity, a wicked smile coming to his lips. "I didn't mean to offend you. Far be it from me to steal your girlfriend away. In fact, if you wish, you can hand over The Book and either join her and myself in taking over the entire space-time continuum or die with her. Your choice."
Without warning, a green ball of time magic came to life in Sydney's hand. She chucked it at Mad Jack's feet, causing to jump out of the way and nearly tumble to the ground. He lifted an eyebrow at her in amusement. "Impressive. I take it you've had some training?"
"I'm not the same little girl you met in Corfu." Both of Sydney's hands lit up bright green. "Our answer is no."
"Well then, this will certainly be interesting." His cane flew to his hand, already glowing and ready to fight. He tilted it forward and aimed it directly at Joe and Sydney. With a malicious grin laced with poison, Mad Jack fired his cane and the fight began.