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Chapter 25: Kneel and Matted

The Mountie’s horse leapt into the air, intent on trampling its victim to death. A mass of green vines struck the horse in mid-flight, knocking its rider to the floor. A hand wrenched the icicle from Matt’s left hand and quickly immobilized both horse and rider.

Matt blinked through his surprise, but could only see blurry outlines of what unfolded before him. Bahati knelt and offered him a hand.

“Good thing you’re not all done being a plant man. Though all those vines coming from your head do look a bit weird.”

“Everything about this is weird. I got trampled to death by a Mountie. I guess not even Canadians can take this kind of cold. Thanks.” He took back the icicle she had borrowed.

“Don’t worry about it. Now back to work.”

Bahati helped him to his feet. “We need to help the others. There are all sorts of these crazy things out here.”

“Where do we start?” Matt asked.

Bahati pointed to where the Yeti and Borgron were tormenting the figurine of a samurai. The imp cackled and bounced from figure to figure nearby, leaving a path of demolition in his wake. “Luckily, those three are on our side. Anything broken?”

Matt moved both arms and legs and then shook his head. “I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck, but I’ll live.”

“Good. Let’s go.”

They rushed forward together, each wielding their icicle like a sword. They found Niel, battling with a host of zoo animals, including a lion and lioness.

“You get the lion,” Matt called, “and I’ll focus on the lioness. They’re not the only ones who are dangerous.”

The pair of lions prepared to pounce at Bahati at the same time, and Neil and Matt seized the opportunity. They both managed a hit with the side of their icicles, and when the lions pounced, their sluggish hops brought them far short, allowing Bahati to retaliate and freeze them solid.

Bahati wiped a trail of sweat off her brow. “Thank you,” she called. “I thought I was used to dealing with lions, but these creatures are all unnaturally strong. There is powerful dark magic at work.”

“I thought they were all supposed to come out when the clock strikes the hour,” Matt said. “How did they get to come out now?”

“Kneel,” said Neil. “It was my impersonator. He had this black bell that he rung and they all woke up—on the wrong side of the bed.”

Bahati’s eyes grew wide with an idea. “Where is he now?”

They all scanned the battlefield, trying to spot the pair of impersonators. Their efforts were interrupted when a gigantic hula dancer tried to clobber them with her ukulele and then to whip them with her lei. The three of them, however, quickly froze her in mid swivel.

Matt stared up at her in pity. “Too bad. She’s not dressed for the cold.”

Neil whirled about at a sudden noise and shot out a finger. “Look! That’s him over there.”

The imposter called Kneel hobbled around through the battlefield, still ringing his black bell with gusto. “Bahati,” Neil said, “Matt and I will go after Kneel and Matted. Can you give us cover?”

“Yes,” Bahati said. “It seems only fitting that you two should deal with them. Go!”

The two of them dashed off towards their clones, fending off huge men with gray coats and muskets, their icicles growing ever smaller. Kneel spotted them running towards him and the two clones took off in the opposite direction. Kneel rang the bell frantically, as if signaling his distress.

A massive figure clad in black armor and a black cape dropped in front of them, brandishing a massive sword that glowed with all the colors of the prism. It hacked at them right away, leaving a huge charred section of the floor where its sword fell.

Neil and Matt split off in either direction, trying to get around the lumbering horror. Neil tripped, and sprawled out on the floor. The black knight seized the chance and swung a crackling blow.

The Yeti creature threw itself under the sword, stopping the black knight’s arm in mid-flight. With a roar, it pushed back with tremendous force, knocking the surprised knight onto its back. Neil stumbled to his feet, and continued pursuing Kneel. Matt rushed over to him and placed a hand on his shoulder.

“Dad, are you sure you can do this? You’re hurt.”

Neil nodded, wiping a streak of blood from the corner of his mouth. “Yeah, I can do it. Where’d those two get off to?”
Matt pointed in about the same direction they had been going. “They’re keeping their distance, but they’re not running anymore. It seems like they can’t get too far from the battlefield.”

“Is there any way we can stop them from a distance? That guy can outrun us, even if he is walking on his knees.”

“Yeah,” Matt said. “And even if he’s having the worst hair day in history.”

Neil raised both eyebrows and tipped his head forward. “What does that have to do with anything?”

Matt shrugged. “Nothing I guess. I just wouldn’t be running around anywhere with hair looking like that.”

They both stood in silence for a long moment, before Matt perked up. “Dad, didn’t you used to do Track and Field in high school? I’ve seen your yearbook.”

Neil nodded. “I was a little older than 13 though. I didn’t get really good until I was a junior or senior.”

“Yes,” Matt said with a chuckle. “Yeah, all those embarrassing pictures. Those were some unfortunate school colors for your uniforms.”

“Let’s laugh about my pink and yellow uniforms later.”

“Oh, I will,” Matt said. “You set the state record for the javelin throw, right?”

Neil nodded. “Right, and these icicles are very similar to javelins.”

Matt looked to make sure the coast was clear and then leaned in close. “Do you think you can make it?”

Neil squinted and eyed the distance. “I don’t know. I think it might be about the same as that. I’d have to be on top of my game.”

Matt held up his javelin and smiled. “That’s why you’ve got two chances. Come on. Just try to break your old record.”

A roar sounded behind them, and then swiveled about to see the Yeti creature fall under the blade of the black knight. The knight swung his sword in the air in a sign of victory, and then turned to face the two of them.

Neil tossed his makeshift javelin a few times in his hand. “The weight’s a bit off.”

Assuming a stance that made Matt snicker, Neil drew back his arm and let the javelin fly. Immediately, he raised the second one, made a slight adjustment, and let it soar.

So concentrated was Kneel on ringing his bell that he didn’t notice the incoming missiles until it was too late. The first one landed a bit short, shattering into shards against the ground, but the second one landed on Kneel’s knee, and the wooden figure suddenly became an ice sculpture. The black bell in his hand froze in mid swing, the clapper suspended an inch above the bell’s surface.

The drone of the black bell died off and all the wooden warriors turned to face Neil. One by one, they shrunk, reassuming their normal sizes in seconds. Once they had shrunk, they turned and clambered back up to their places in the clock, the wooden doors banging shut behind them.

Matt punched his dad on the arm, which he immediately regretted. His armor really was solid. Bahati rushed over, her robes torn and lacerations on her face and arms. “Good work,” she managed before collapsing to the ground.

Matt ran to her and put his ear next to her mouth, trying to hear what Bahati was saying.

“Give…me my…staff.”

Her hand gestured weakly to where her staff lay a couple yards away. Neil retrieved it and placed it in Bahati’s failing grasp. The wizard spoke a few words through parched lips and a stream of icy water appeared over her mouth. She drank in deeply, smacked her lips and then tried another spell. A faint, blue light roamed over her skin and she soon found strength to sit up.

“Thank you,” Bahati muttered. “And well done. If we had gone on much longer, we might not have succeeded.”

Borgron limped over, his once shiny scales dim and covered with grime and blood. He held the lifeless form of the imp in one hand. “Our service has been rendered,” he rasped. “It was a mighty battle, one I can brag about.”

He turned to gaze at Bahati. “I trust someday you will come to my aid. I hope that the price we paid today was worth it.”

Bahati bowed her head and then her body and held it in a gesture of respect. “As do I. I am eternally grateful for your help. Depart with honor.”

Borgron grunted once more, and tiny jets of blue flame shot from his nostrils. He then turned and faded into the air.

In the silence that followed, Matt heard the sound of a single pair of wooden feet. They all turned towards the sound and saw Tyme scampering up to them, his hands raised in the attitude of surrender. “All right, all right, you win. Stop breaking things.”

Matt, Bahati and Neil each took up a side of the little man. “So,” Neil began. “Let’s try this again. How do we strike the dreaming hour?”

Tyme looked as if he might fall to splinters. “I…I really don’t know for certain. All I know is that it’s a special time for the boy the Wizard reads to.” Tyme lifted his left arm, showing a brightly polished golden watch. “If you know that time, you can adjust the time on the main clock by adjusting this little wristwatch. See?”
Tyme twisted a little knob on the side of the watch, and the huge clock hands followed suit, moving slowly around the face. Right before the hands reached four o’clock, Bahati snatched Tyme’s arm.

“Don’t let the clock strike,” she warned. “The figures will just come out again. We wouldn’t want that, would we?”

With a few quick motions, Bahati released the clasp of the golden watch and fitted it around her own wrist. Turning the same dial she had seen Tyme use, she turned the clock back fifteen minutes. “Okay, now for the two of you. What time might he be talking about? You are the only ones who would know.”

Neil wrinkled his brow and then slapped it with his open palm. “I don’t know why I didn’t see this before. It’s pretty obvious.”

Matt leaned in closely. “Can’t be too obvious. I can’t think of it.”

Neil shook his head. “That’s okay. It’s just something I noticed. When Tyson was a baby, Tyson always fell asleep right at 8:42 P.M. It was pretty weird.”

“Perhaps it has something to do with the star magic in him,” said Bahati. “It’s possible it puts him to sleep at the same time every day. In any case, it sounds like a good place to start.”

Bahati reached down and adjusted the dial until it read 8:42 P.M. Above them, the giant clock echoed his motions. As soon as the clock hit 8:42 P.M., it gave a single loud tone and then started to play music like a music box.

It was a lullaby, one that his mother had often sung to them as children. “Twinkle, twinkle, little star…”

In front of them, the door in the center clock opened, revealing a set of stairs leading straight up. Neil closed his eyes and groaned. “More stairs. I feel like my legs are going to fall off.”

He opened his eyes and fixed his annoyed gaze on Tyme. “I don’t care if you’re only a puppet version of my son and I look like I’m 13. You’re grounded. Go to your room.”

Looking properly contrite, Tyme bowed his head and scurried back to his room without another sound.

“Come,” Bahati said. “I do not want to stay here a second longer. For all its beauty, this is a dark place.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” Neil said. “And if we stay here any longer, I’m going to fall asleep.”

Matt yawned. “Let’s hope the next floor is the world of mattresses and pillows. I’m like a zombie here.”

With that, the three of them limped towards the door, and Matt shut it behind them. Before they could climb a single flight, the stairs came to life, dragging them all towards the starlit portal at the top.

Matt collapsed to his knees. “Thank you, brother,” he muttered.

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