Chapter 29: Skeletal Serpent
Matt had heard somewhere that the human body was something like ninety percent water. Now he was sure that he had made up the extra ten percent. The potion had not had any hills to make alive in this case, and so he had become part of the mountainous waves instead. He flowed around the island with remarkable ease and then up to the library island. Unfortunately, when he tried to take the stairs, he dissolved into a puddle and flowed back down. He could not join his dad, not in his current form at least.
The storm reached hurricane proportions, but in his new form, this made him feel more alive than ever. He rode the wind, towered with the massive waves and plunged into the deep, only to rise and do it all again. He could not hold one form for long, but this suited him fine.
He caught a glimpse of the island and realized that the solitary tree had been ripped from its roots and tossed into the sea. There was, however, something else on the island that had not been there before: a lone figure holding a staff. He had never expected to see her again.
“Bahati!” he cried, his deep voice sounded like the roar of the waves.
Bahati swiveled around, searching in all directions for the source of the voice.
“Bahati,” he called again. “It’s me, Matt. I’ve been transformed by the potion. I’m a water…person…thing.”
Her face tense, Bahati held her staff at the ready. “Stop telling lies! I know this is a trap, you fool magician! I have thwarted all of your other traps, and I will not let this one stop met!”
Matt could hardly believe Bahati was getting him mixed up with one of the things on Sir Nickeltwist’s side. She really couldn’t see the difference? How could he convince her?
Matt swirled around the island again, and glimpsed another newcomer—one constructed entirely of bones. It reared up from the water, seemingly oblivious to the furious storm. It looked like the remains of an enormous sea serpent with a head at each end. The creature reared up and opened both jaws wide, ready to dash Bahati to pieces before the waves had a chance.
“Bahati, behind you!”
To Matt’s relief, Bahati heeded the warning, just in time to dodge the snapping jaws. In an instant, she countered with a blast of her own magic. Matt saw her reach into her pockets and extract the belfry and give it a vigorous shake. Nothing happened.
The serpent reared back for another swift strike, and Matt rushed forward, drawing up to his full height. With a roar, he plowed into the serpent, sending it sprawling so that it missed its intended target.
Bahati regrouped, chanting a spell that turned the rain over the sea into ice. Huge chunks of ice formed in the waves like miniature icebergs. The serpent wheeled around and struck again, and Bahati gestured to the nearest iceberg, which obeyed her and sprung out of the water to intercept the sea serpent. The chunk of ice exploded on impact, knocking the jaw of one of the heads loose.
Matt picked up the strategy, flinging the growing chunks of ice at the bone serpent. Each impact tore away rib bones and cracked others, slowly splintering the serpent into pieces.
The serpent writhed and struck ever faster. Bahati barely avoided the rapid strikes, though the passing bones opened up huge gashes on his skin. Bahati’s responses grew sluggish and Matt knew that it was only a matter of minutes before the serpent claimed its prey.
Suddenly, a crazy idea struck Matt. He rushed over to the serpent and began circling it as fast as he could. At first, the maneuver only seemed to annoy the serpent, but as he continued, the waves followed his path, creating a huge whirlpool around the beast. The serpent lashed out and flailed with both heads, but could not free itself from the whirlpool’s grip.
Stooped and breathing hard, Bahati rallied and raised her staff, flinging icy missiles at her enemy. At last, a well-aimed shot caught the serpent directly at the base of one head. The head snapped clean off and disappeared beneath the waves. Seeking to repeat the maneuver, Bahati took aim at the same spot on the second head and managed to sever it as well in a burst of three clean shots.
Bahati sunk to the ground and lay still, her wounds coloring the sand crimson.
The door in front of Neil opened soundlessly, and he heard Sir Nickeltwist’s deep narrating voice. The magician sat on a stool with his back to Neil, clutching a thick leather-bound volume in one hand and punctuating his account with gestures with his other hand. His voice rose and fell with the practiced precision of a trained storyteller.
The circular room was lined completely with bulging bookshelves, just as he had seen it in the mirror. The books appeared to be of all sizes, shapes and colors, and the familiar scent of an old library filled his nostrils. A silver and crystal chandelier hung from the ceiling, emitting a glow that lit the entire room.
Neil listened to the magician’s account and shuddered. He spoke of a hideous monster locked deep underneath a castle that broke out to terrorize the kingdom. He described the beast in such detail that Neil was sure the monster would materialize right in front of them at any moment and all would be lost. Beyond the magician, Neil could hear his son, tossing and moaning in his sleep, chained to a nightmare from which he could not wake up.
Neil listened for several minutes, daring himself to take a step forward every fifteen seconds or so. So engrossed was he in reading, that Sir Nickeltwist did not seem to notice his entrance. If he could just sneak up…
Neil took a large step forward, and the magician’s story broke off mid-sentence. He swiveled around quickly, dropping his book and losing his place in the process. His eyes locked into Neil’s and Neil’s blood froze in his veins.
“That was clumsy,” the magician said. “Now poor Tyson won’t get to hear how the story ends. That’s not very nice, daddy.”
“It’s time for him to wake up,” Neil said, trying not to let his voice waver. “We don’t usually let him sleep in this long.”
Sir Nickeltwist laughed and stood with a flourish of his cape, releasing a pair of doves into the air that flew at the ceiling and exploded in a shower of white sparks. “But he’s a growing boy. He needs his sleep.”
He stepped towards Neil, hand outstretched, and Neil held his ground. “I am sorry to disappoint you. It is incredible that you managed to make such a trek despite my best efforts to stop you. You must have quite the knack for imagination yourself. Perhaps you would care to join me by his bedside. You could be the next one to add a floor to what must now be a magnificent edifice.”
Neil could feel his resolve wavering. For some reason, the magician’s words seemed to make sense, made him want to follow them. He took a hesitant step backwards. “Oh, I think this tower is tall enough as it is already. It’s a wonder no one has tried to blow it up yet. It must be causing a bit of trouble outside. Too bad there aren’t any windows.”
Sir Nickeltwist extended a finger and placed a sharpened fingertip right in front of Neil’s nose. “Now listen carefully. Your son has become restless, trying to fight off the bonds of my sleeping spell. I am afraid that over time, he will manage to thwart it and this all will be for nothing. I want you to come over here and soothe him. Tell him that everything is going to be alright and that daddy’s here…you know what to do.”
“And if not?” Neil said, clearing his throat. “You see, that was always his mom’s job.”
“Then,” said Sir Nickeltwist, his voice an ominous whisper, “I make you my personal lab rat for my magical experiments. I’ll have fun changing you into all sorts of disgusting creatures, turning your insides into mush and practicing my teleport spells on you. I might even try a little target practice.”
To emphasize his point, he jerked his hand away and flung it towards the nearest row of bookshelves. A thunderbolt leapt from the end of his fingertip and incinerated the entire shelf in seconds, leaving only ashes and dust. He then returned the tip of his finger to Neil’s nose, and Neil felt every hair on his body stand on end from the remaining electric current.
“My aim is pretty good already though. What do you say?”
Neil nodded and rushed to take his place beside his son. Not wanting to take the magician’s stool, Neil knelt by his son and placed a hand on his shoulder. He had come so far, and despite all the crazy things thrown in their way, he had found his son. Could he really risk everything by going against this wizard? Perhaps, it really would be better to give in. At least, he would still be with his son, even if the wizard kept him asleep.
He shook his head to clear it. It’s not what his wife would have done. Even if it were only a small chance, she would fight for their family. He looked into his son’s face, and saw a little bit of her there: the same freckles, the nose, the shape of his face.
His voice caught as he tried to speak. “Hey, Ty Guy, it’s me, dad. It’s really good to see you. We’ve traveled a long way, and honestly, I wish I were the one who’s sleeping.”
Sir Nickeltwist took his place on the other side of Tyson and fixed Neil with his chilly stare.
“I just wanted to let you know that everything is alright. You’re safe here and I won’t let that change.”
Neil watched as Tyson’s tense features slackened and his body relaxed. Neil continued to talk, trying to copy what he had seen his wife do whenever Tyson had woken up with a nightmare while he was growing up.
The thought of his wife made his heart ache, and with it came thoughts of Matt. He was still out there in that storm, counting on him to make a difference, to bring this thing to a speedy end. At this rate, he would end up at the bottom of the sea, and he would suffer the fate of the tin cans he had used for target practice with his BB gun growing up.
Before continuing, he closed his eyes, and pictured his entire family. More than anything, he wished that they all were there.