Starspire

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Chapter 31: The Magician’s Melee

“Matt, wait!” Bahati’s hushed whisper held Matt back.

Matt turned and gave her a look to boil water. “Why? We might not get another chance to surprise the wizard.”

“I know,” Bahati replied. “But you have to remove your shoes first. If you don’t, the magical barrier won’t let you in. It will spoil everything.”

Matt rolled his eyes and sloppily slipped off both of his shoes, glad his dad was in the other room. “Done. Now can we go in?”

“Yes, now is a good time.”

Matt craned to listen and heard his dad talking in a low voice to Tyson. Sir Nickeltwist still had his back to them. Bahati led the way, staff outstretched for a preemptive strike. Matt was unable to contain himself any longer. With a strangled cry, he rushed forward, arms outstretched for his family. “Hey, Tyson, wake up!”

Sir Nickeltwist whirled about, stopping Matt with a flick of his wrist. A trio of steel-edged playing cards shot out from his sleeves, pinning his clothes and hair back against a bookshelf. In another quick motion, he flicked his wrists again and a long stream of colorful scarves shot out from his sleeves. The multi-colored scarves wrapped themselves around Bahati, pinning her arms and legs hopelessly to her side. She fell with an unceremonious groan and lay facedown.

Sir Nickeltwist walked over and nudged the struggling wizard with his foot. “I gave you the chance to leave, but did you listen? You would think a little girl like you would have learned to respect her superiors.”

Bahati opened her mouth, but a scarf strangled the sound. “Don’t speak,” Sir Nickeltwist said. “The boy’s family can be useful, but for you, I have no use. The only question is how to dispose of you properly. Can’t have two great wizards roaming about, can we?”

The magician left Bahati writhing on the floor, and walked over to Matt who struggled against his bonds. “So, you are the boy’s brother? I can see the resemblance. Fighting spirit runs in the family, does it?”

Matt reared back and then spat full in his face. The magician blinked hard, and the spittle froze solid in mid-flight and dropped to the floor to shatter into tiny shards. “I was just telling your father about how I could use him to keep the boy sleeping peacefully, but I suppose I could do with just one of you if you don’t have any manners. Did you have a hard time climbing the tower? Perhaps you’d like to see how long it takes to get down with gravity on your side.”

He drew his hand back again, and Matt stopped struggling. White flames wreathed his hand without causing him any visible discomfort. Matt cringed at the intense heat. What were they doing? What had they been thinking trying to come up against this guy? Bahati was the only one with any magic, and Sir Nickeltwist seemed like more than a match for her. Maybe they should just give up.

The flames rushed forward to engulf Matt. He raised his hands, his entire body tensing. Before they could reach him, a blast of intense cold intercepted the fiery blast, and Sir Nickeltwist fell forward as a solid metal fist struck the back of his head. A few seconds later, the colored streamers that had held Bahati captive snaked around Sir Nickeltwist, turning him into a colorful mummy.

“That should hold him for a bit,” said Bahati, tightening the knot around the magician’s hands. She turned and nodded approvingly at Neil. “That was quick thinking with your armor, Neil. I am impressed.”

“Somehow, my brain switches into high gear when my family is in danger.” The armor vanished as he ran toward Matt.

Neil ripped the cards free that kept Matt pinned to the wall. “You made it. Both of you. I thought I was in this alone.”

“Yeah right, dad. Takes a little more than a little rain to stop me.”

“Now, for the hard part.”

Matt leaned forward to hear.

“Let’s get Tyson to roll out of bed.”

Neil and Matt knelt on either side of Tyson’s bed and Matt placed a hand on Tyson’s arm. “Tyson, wake up, man. We can all go home now. I promise, things will be different from now on. We finally get what’s going on inside your head, and it’s awesome.”

Tyson stirred in his sleep, but his eyelids did not move. Neil bent lower.

“Hey, buddy, you really should wake up. If you do, the bad magician will go away, and the good one will stick around. Her name is Bahati and she can do some really cool tricks, but you have to be awake to see them.”

Tyson rolled on his side, but still did not open his eyes. “Bahati,” Neil said. “We could use some advice here.”

Bahati clambered over with her staff and stared down at the sleeping boy. “I do not think that you will be able to wake him through normal means. You could splash water on his face, blare a foghorn in his ear, and holler all day, but he will not wake up unless you can break the spell on him.”

“So what do we do?” asked Matt, his voice tense. “Can you break the spell with your magic? We need to hurry. Those things aren’t going to hold Sir Nickel-whatever forever.”

“I cannot in my weakened state,” Bahati said, her eyes scanning the floor. “But that is not the only reason. I have relied too heavily on dark magic lately. I cannot counteract a dark spell when I’m so dark myself.” She hung her head, turning away from the others.

“Where does that leave us?” asked Neil, glancing down at the still unconscious Sir Nickeltwist. “He’s bound to wake up soon and I have a feeling I’ll like him even less then than I already do.”

Bahati closed her eyes and placed a hand on Tyson’s forehead. “This is a complicated spell. It is best undone by the caster. I’d say we have to wake Sir Nickeltwist up and then force him to undo it himself.”

Neil sniffed. “That’s cheery. We couldn’t just throw him over the side of the Tower to break the spell? That always seems to work in the movies.”

Bahati shook his head. “Even if he dies, the spell will stay. We need to be careful we don’t harm him.”

“We’d be just as bad as he is.”

Neil let out his breath sharply. “You do know this is the guy who is responsible for all of this: the flaming fruit bats, the crazy cuckoo clock, the killer bone beasts…that guy. You really want to show him mercy?”

Matt walked up to his dad. “I know it has had its rough spots, but think about it, dad—would you really trade this adventure for anything? I know I wouldn’t. Now let’s get this over with and get home. I think I’d like to do some dreaming of my own, in my own bed.”

Neil’s expression softened. “You’re right. It has been quite the ride. I wish I had written all of this crazy stuff down.”

“He is starting to stir,” said Bahati. “Now would be the time.” Bahati extended her staff and created a block of ice around the magician covering his arms, legs and torso, and leaving his head poking out.

The magician’s eyelids slid open, revealing bloodshot dark eyes. “Can’t wake the boy, I see. That’s too bad. Even a wizard like you can’t unravel the knot. Pretty pathetic, given that I’m really only a figment of the boy’s dreaming.”

Bahati supported himself on her staff and raised herself to her full height. “That may be, little imaginary wizard, but the things that I can do to you will be real enough. My strength lies in making things cold. I could freeze you in a block of ice so thick you won’t wake for thousands of years. It is a difficult spell, and I would rather not waste my limited energy. Let us make this easy on both of us.”

Sir Nickeltwist laughed, displaying all of his perfect teeth. “You want me to undo the sleeping spell? I think I might take my chances as an icicle. If I wake the boy, I will revert to my former self. That is a fate worse than any you could possibly bestow…even death.”

Bahati scrunched up her face, drawing her eyebrows so close together they nearly united. “You leave me little choice then. I challenge you to a Magician’s Melee.”

Neil and Matt arched their eyebrows in unison. Sir Nickeltwist’s face remained expressionless.

“And give up your advantage?” he said with a smirk. “I must confess, I did not expect that from you, Bahati.”

“It is the only way,” Bahati said, taking a step back and pointing a finger at the sleeping boy. “I challenge you for possession of the sleeping spell. What is your counterchallenge?”

Sir Nickeltwist looked as though he had just invented something better than the smartphone. “I challenge you for the possession of your Darke Drake spell. Wouldn’t have the problem of meddling intruders with him around, would I?”

“Done.”

“I believe,” Sir Nickeltwist said in an even tone. “That since you called for the Melee, you get to pick the method of contest. What shall it be? Spellcasting? Flip a coin? Perhaps a magical thumb war.”

Bahati tried to speak, but then winced. “I am weary and weak and do not wish to undertake a test of physical strength until I have recovered. I suggest something more appropriate for our venue. I call for three champions. Let us each select three books from these shelves and read a character out of the book, who shall appear as their champion. Whoever’s champions win two out of the three matches, will be the victor.”

“A battle of the books, is it?” asked Sir Nickletwist. “I accept. Now if you will let me out of the freezer, we can get on with this. I look forward to adding such a powerful spell to my collection.”

Bahati spoke a word, and the ice around Sir Nickeltwist cracked and fell away. Neil came over and unbound the magician’s hands, and Sir Nickeltwist was able to do the rest. He treated Neil to a venomous sneer, rubbing the back of his head for emphasis.

After taking a few moments to compose himself, Sir Nickeltwist returned his attention to Bahati. “The three of you may have five minutes to select your lethal literary selections and I shall do the same. Go.”

Bahati and company swung around, desperately searching the shelves for the best choice of weapon. Bahati scanned the shelves and found that many of the titles did not look familiar. “What about this?” She asked Neil. “Pride and Prejudice. I know how dangerous those two can be.”

Neil barely contained a snort. “Unless you think women in frilly dresses and men in cravats are dangerous, you better put that one back.”

“What about this one?” called Matt, dangling a thick brown book with a giant white figure on the cover. “Moby Dick. He’d have trouble fighting against a mad whale.”

Neil glanced to both sides and then over his shoulder. “Last time I checked, this room was not big enough to host a whale. It would probably flatten us all.”

They tried suggestion after suggestion, until finally, Matt withdrew a book with a deep red cover. “What do you think of this?” Neil hurried over. “The Scarlet Pimpernel? I think this one falls into the same category as Pride and Prejudice.”

Matt looked as though his dad had just dropped in on his date with the prettiest girl in school. “All right, I’ll listen to your explanation. But I saw that movie once…lots of men in tights.”

His dad threw his hands up in defense. “The Scarlet Pimpernel was like the original masked hero. He’s clever and brave and can swordfight with the best of them. He saves people from getting their heads chopped off during the French Revolution. He’ll knock out the other champion and look cool doing it!”

Neil sighed. This was not a fight he was going to win. “Fine, that can be number one. Set it aside and help us look for two and three.”

In the next minute, they settled on The Wizard of Oz, and continued their search for the third candidate.

Sir Nickeltwist’s voice broke in, causing them all to jump. “You have ten seconds. Make your final choice.”

Matt whirled about, and for a lack of a better tactic, seized the first book he could reach.

“Your time is up,” Sir Nickeltwist said in a low, dark voice. “Let us hope that you have chosen wisely. I know I have.”

Both Neil and Matt patted Bahati on the shoulder and Matt handed Bahati the copy of The Scarlet Pimpernel, open to a particular place.

“Here, read this page. In this one, Sir Percy has his sword ready.”

“Thank you,” Bahati whispered. She turned and faced Sir Nickeltwist, book brandished like a shield. “Are you ready to begin?”

“Yes,” Sir Nickeltwist said. “I have altered the spell so that whatever we read will appear in this room instead of on the level below us. As long as you hold the book, whatever comes out will obey your every command. You may proceed to read.”

Bahati raised the book to a comfortable reading level and smiled. She read the passage in a loud, commanding voice, and in moments, a tall, handsome man clad in scarlet appeared in front of them. He wielded a thin dueling sword and wily expression. He looked about until his eyes found Bahati.

“Sink me, my dear. Has someone offended your honor?”

“Yes, that man over there with the one hand. You’ll teach him a lesson for me, won’t you, Sir Percy?”

The Scarlet Pimpernel raised one eyebrow slightly. “Consider it…done.”

Sir Nickeltwist had conjured up another character they all recognized. The man was also clad in red, and wore a full black moustache. In one hand he bore a dueling sword and the other hand had been replaced by a sharp curved hook.

“Good choice,” muttered Neil. “I only wish we had thought to read a crocodile instead. That would teach the Captain.”

Captain Hook sneered and lunged with his sword at his opponent. The Scarlet Pimpernel dodged the strike with no more exertion than rolling over in bed. “Bad form, my dear captain to strike a man before he’s ready, what? Even so, I think I can beat you…with one hand fastened behind my back.”

True to his word, the Scarlet Pimpernel placed his free arm behind his back, and engaged Captain Hook. The Captain struck with sword and hook, letting out such a collection of sailor talk as none of them had ever heard.

“You should mind your tongue, my dear Captain. You are in the presence of a lady.”

In the end, Captain Hook proved no match for the Pimpernel. With a few quick slices, the Pimpernel took off both sides of his moustache and knocked off the Captain’s hat. With a final flourish, the Scarlet Pimpernel had Captain Hook pinned against a bookshelf, sword at his throat.

“Oddsfish, captain. Did you surrender, or no? I’d like to leave the head chopping thing to the Frenchies, but as you see, I’m not afraid of a little red.”

The Captain attempted a final blow with his hook, nearly tarnishing the Pimpernel’s perfect complexion.

“Sink me, Captain. Do you make a habit of destroying good art? Just because my face is so much more pleasant to look at. You should curb that little jealous streak of yours. One more stunt like that and I’ll have to throw you to the sharks.”

Captain Hook’s sneer melted into a face of complete contrition. “I surrender,” he croaked, beads of sweat breaking out all over his forehead.

No sooner had the Captain said the words than both figures vanished and their books slammed shut.

Neil gave a low whistle. “That was incredible. I have a new respect for men in tights.”

Sir Nickeltwist roared in frustration and cast his copy of Peter Pan to the floor. He had his second book open and started reading before the rest of them could blink.

Neil tossed his book to Bahati, losing his place in the process. “Where do I read?” asked Bahati, her face sweating.

Neil shrugged. “Just about anywhere. There’s a wicked witch or flying monkeys. Even the tin woodsman has an ax. Don’t read about munchkins, though. I don’t think the lollipop guild would strike fear into our enemies.”

Bahati nodded, and flipped through the pages. Neil glanced over nervously at Matt. “There’s one thing I don’t understand,” Neil whispered to his son. “If Tyson is creating this library, why is there a copy of Pride and Prejudice? I think I even saw a copy of Little Women over there, too.”

Matt chuckled, hiding her mouth with one hand. “They were on the home school reading list. I thought it was part of a well-balanced education.”

His dad rolled his eyes and muttered something unintelligible that Matt was glad he didn’t understand.

Bahati’s eyes grew wide and she struck her hand against the page. “I’ve got it! A lion!”

The words snapped Matt and Neil back into focus, and the two of them lunged towards Bahati arms outstretched. “No!” called Matt. “Anything but the lion.”

But Bahati had already started reading and in a few moments, a full-sized lion appeared in front of them. The lion reared up for a second, and it appeared that it might let out a roar to shake the rafters. Matt brightened, hoping that there was some lion in The Wizard of Oz that they had forgotten about.

His hope deflated a moment later when the lion sunk to the floor, paws over its eyes, and let out a pathetic squeak better suited to a mouse.

With a groan, Neil covered his own eyes. “The Cowardly Lion. We are so dead.”

Matt nudged him in the ribs. “We’ve still got a chance. That’s one for us and one for him.”

Across the way, Sir Nickeltwist read in a language that was not English, though they could tell that some of the words rhymed. When he held up the book, they saw a boy with wild hair and ridiculously long nails on the front cover.

Neil pursed his lips, and looked sick. “I know what that is,” he told Matt. “It was a book Tyson was reading to learn German. I thought it was kind of funny, so I read it to Tyson once. It’s a book of stories supposed to scare little children into being good.”

Neil closed his eyes and rubbed them with his thumb and index finger. “Let’s see, there’s a boy with a whip, a rabbit with a gun, a boy who never cuts his hair or nails, a giant St. Nicolas who dips people in ink, and…”

In front of Sir Nickeltwist appeared a red-haired man wearing a yellow top hat, a green coat with tails, and red knickers with white tights. His eyes bulged out in a crazed expression and in his hands he held an enormous pair of gleaming, sharpened scissors.

“…there’s that guy.”

Matt latched hold of Neil’s arm. “What lesson is that supposed to teach? Something about gardening?”

“Nope,” Neil said with a shudder. “That’s ‘the tailor’. He comes to naughty boys and girls who suck their thumbs. Cuts them clean off with his giant scissors.”

Matt glared at Neil. “And you read this to Tyson? Maybe that’s why his imagination is so messed up.”

“Well-balanced education, remember? If he’s reading Little Women, it’s my fatherly duty to balance that out.”

Sir Nickeltwist pointed and the tailor sprang forward, pointing one foot out in front of him. His huge scissors flashed and a good portion of the lion’s mane fell to the floor. The lion swiped at the attacker with one paw, keeping the other firmly over his eyes.

The tailor adopted his new role as barber, snipping with his huge scissors and laughing manically until the lion’s entire mane lay strewn about the floor. The lion continued its pathetic attempts to swat the tailor away as if he were no more than a pesky gnat at the picnic table. The huge beast blubbered, whining and crying like a petulant toddler.

Bahati ranted at the cowardly creature, but the lion seemed not to hear.

“Stop that! What’d I ever do to you? Uh, I want my mommy…”

At last the lion rolled over onto its back, and the Tailor sprung and positioned his scissors around the lion’s tail. “Do you surrender?” the Tailor said in his strange high voice.

“Yes…I surrender,” said the lion between sobs. “J-just leave me alone.”

The Tailor’s scissors clamped closed, but before they could sever the lion’s tail, both figures vanished in a puff of smoke.

Sir Nickeltwist cackled in triumph, tossing his copy of Der Struwwelpeter to the floor. “Have you really never read The Wizard of Oz? If you were going for lions, Bahati, you should have gone with C.S. Lewis. That lion could even come back from the dead.”

The magician turned and picked up a huge volume from the shelf. “One more, Bahati. Better make it good.”

Bahati held up the last book, and realized she was no more familiar with it than the others She hadn’t spent much time with books growing up on the savannah. Neil and Matt flanked her, reading the title.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.”

“I guess you could always read out the Queen of Hearts,” Matt said. “I wouldn’t want to cross her in a fight. Or the Jabberwocky. I’ve always imagined that thing is pretty fierce.”

A smile crept up Neil’s face, which reminded Matt a bit of the tailor’s.

“I’ve got an ever better idea.”

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