Starspire

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Chapter 32: The Rabbit Trick

Bahati stepped up, book in hand, open to the page that the three of them had decided on.

“Are you ready, Bahati? Going to throw me something tough like a jellyfish this time, perhaps?”

Bahati shook her head, her face betraying no fear. “No, but it is an animal. Perhaps you would like to read first?”

Sir Nickeltwist flung his book open. “Gladly.”

He read in a low, rhythmic voice. The air shimmered in front of him, and a huge figure appeared in front of him, all rippling muscles and sharp teeth. Long, matted hair streamed from its scalp down to the floor. Matt could smell the creature’s foul breath from across the room.

“Impressive,” Bahati said, unruffled. “That’s a pretty scary-looking beast. A troll, if I’m not mistaken. However, I think you’ll find my choice even more frightening.”

Bahati glanced down and read. Suddenly a tiny figure appeared in front of him: a small white rabbit wearing a blue coat and clutching a gold pocket watch on a chain.

Sir Nickeltwist’s face contorted as if Bahati had conjured the Devil himself. “That, that…thing. Don’t you dare let it near me. It has to face my champion.”

Bahati’s left eyebrow shot up. “What, this? A harmless little white rabbit? I guess he could do some damage with that pocket watch if he swung it hard enough.”

Sir Nickeltwist swallowed hard. “Go smash that rabbit.”

Bahati bent down and spoke to the white rabbit, who fidgeted constantly and shifted his weight from one foot to the other. “I’d like to help,” the rabbit said in a high-pitched voice. “But I’m terribly late, and I don’t want to lose my head, or get fed to the Jabberwocky. Or last time I was late, the queen made me play with the Brandersnatch. Oh my, oh my, oh my.”

Bahati placed a hand on the rabbit’s head, temporarily halting his constant motion. “I am sorry for the inconvenience. If you will do one thing for me, I will send you on your way.”

“Anything,” gasped the rabbit. “Just let me get started.”

“Smart bunny,” Bahati said with a smirk. “You see that creepy man over there?”

“Yes…looks like a guy who pulls rabbits out of hats for a living.”

“He does look like that,” Bahati said. “But he is different: he hates rabbits. What I need you to do is to go over and jump all around him. Don’t touch him, even once, and don’t let yourself get squashed by that…thing.”

The white rabbit nodded briskly.

“Now hop to it. Remember, he’s the one holding you up. As soon as he allows it, you can go.”

The rabbit did as he was told, hopping around Sir Nickeltwist in a frenzy, but never touching him. The magician leapt and scurried about as though he had a grizzly bear tracking him instead of a small rabbit. Sir Nickeltwist barked order after order at his troll. “Smash it, eat it!”

The troll tried to smash the nimble rabbit, but found himself unable to move its great fists fast enough. As the commands turned into threats and insults, the Troll shook his head. “Me no want to eat it. It too scrawny. Maybe a nice, fat goat next time.”

In a fit of rage, Sir Nickeltwist slammed his book shut and swiped at the rabbit with it. The rabbit dodged time after time, making the magician look like a bumbling fool. Sir Nickeltwist’s screams grew more and more frantic. “Kill the rabbit! Grind its bunny bones!”

The troll swiped at the rabbit, but its attempts appeared half-hearted. “Me no like wabbit. Give me goat and me eat wabbit for dessert.”

Enraged, Sir Nickeltwist tore off his hat and withdrew his demonic hamster.

“Kreide, kill the rabbit!” he screamed. “Kill the wabbit…I mean rabbit!”

The little blue monstrosity known as Kreide tore across the room, oversized front teeth bared. The white rabbit bounded out of the way, barely avoiding the gnashing jaws. The white rabbit darted across the room with Kreide in close pursuit.

The troll watched the exchange in fascination. After a few seconds, it took one arm and rubbed its stomach. “Ummm, me like blue ones. Extra tasty.”

With one massive hand, the troll lashed out and snatched Kreide. It then popped the giant hamster into his mouth and swallowed it whole, not even bothering to chew.

At last, Sir Nickeltwist could stand the insubordination and harassment no longer. He reared back and heaved his book of Norwegian fairy tales with all of his might at the disobedient troll. It was only when the book was halfway to its target that he cried out. “No!” The book smacked the troll upside the head, and the beast whirled around to face Sir Nickeltwist, a scowl twisting his ugly face.

“Maybe me eat you first and have wabbit for dessert!” The troll lunged at his former master, claws outstretched and teeth bared. The magician threw his hands and tried to shout a spell. All he could get out was a squeak.

The troll fastened its great arms on Sir Nickeltwist’s shoulders and opened his mouth wide as if he were going to take a bite out of the magician.

“I surrender!” cried Sir Nickeltwist, looking more like a pathetic child than a powerful magician. Instantly, both troll and rabbit vanished in a puff of smoke leaving them to stare at each other. Bahati straightened up to her full height and extended her staff.

“I claim victory of the melee, having won two out of three matches, and I demand the promised spell.”

With the rabbit gone, Sir Nickeltwist’s guard went back up. He scowled and raised his hands, glowing with ominous light. “That was a dirty trick. How could you know that I detest rabbits? You cheat. I’ll blast you all into tiny pieces!”

However, as he tried to cast his spell towards them, the energy around his hands evaporated and Sir Nickeltwist doubled over, falling to his knees.

“You know the rules. You cannot cast any other spells until you have made good on the deal. It will only get more the painful the more you try to bend this rule.”

Matt couldn’t help but laugh at the ridiculous situation. “So Mr. Pennytwist, what’s with the fear of rabbits?

His face reddening, Sir Nickeltwist scowled at Neil. “They are evil! They are filthy…loathsome creatures. They stalk you in the night, waiting for the chance to nibble your toes and suck your blood!”

Neil held up his hands. “You’ve got problems, man. I take it back, I don’t really want to know.”

Sir Nickeltwist’s head snapped up and he spat something that did not sound anything like English. A blue glow formed around Bahati, and a similar one around Tyson. Bahati stepped over to the sleeping boy and reached out to touch him. A sudden realization constricted her chest. The moment felt suddenly familiar.

She could now feel the immense pulsing magic of the Starformer’s jewel emanating from deep within Tyson. The sleeping spell had blocked her from its influence before, but now, she felt as if she could reach down and pluck it up.

It was the reason she had come on this crazy journey. With the stone, she could regain the life she had lost when her father had been snatched from him. If she took it now, she could transfer the sleeping spell to herself and reshape this tower to her heart’s desire.

However, when she looked down at Tyson, she realized what it would mean to snatch the stone. After being swallowed, the stone had worked its way into the boy’s heart.

Sir Nickeltwist stood, the tension in his face relaxing. “You sense it too, don’t you? You could have the stone for yourself, but to take it would mean the boy’s demise. I’m surprised. Your heart is so corrupted with darkness that I thought it would be a simple position. What is one foolish boy’s life in return for such power?”

Neil and Matt’s eyes bored into Bahati. “Bahati, is that true?” asked Matt, his face pleading. “I knew you wanted the stone, but you never told us about this. Did you know?”

Bahati started to shake her head, but stopped. She had read the ancient lore. She knew more about the Starformers than almost any living being. The gems usually inserted themselves in the heart, near the center of emotions. She had not known for sure until this moment, and had held up the hope that somehow things might have been different this time.

Almost unconsciously, her hand crept out, hovering over Tyson’s chest. She could feel her fingers being drawn down as if by a magnetic pull. Her own heart swelled with longing. She could see her father’s handsome face, hear his joyful singing as he ran across the savannah. The longing spread from her heart to encompass her entire body. With this stone, her father could be back in her life. This was it: the moment the mirror had shown her as her ultimate test.

She saw her father’s face again in her mind’s eye. The carefree, endearing expression had vanished, replaced with one of disappointment and guilt. Instantly, she knew that if she were to bring him back, this was the expression he would be wearing. She could try to hide it from him, but he would eventually discover the secret of how he had been brought back.

Her fingers grazed the front of Tyson’s shirt and the surface glowed green. Tyson winced and let out a low groan.

With a cry, Bahati wrenched her hand backward and shook it as though she had burned it. She pushed herself back against the bookshelves as far as she could go. Her hands trembled and her eyes welled with tears.

“I…I suspected, Matt.” Bahati admitted. “I told myself that if it came to this, it would be easy to exchange the life of a mere boy, a stranger, for my father.” She shook her head, clenching her eyes shut for a long moment. She turned to Tyson’s family. “But that was before I met you. I was foolish to consider this in the first place. Please forgive me.”

Matt turned away and Sir Nickeltwist advanced on the bed. “Nonsense,” he cried. “Take the stone. If Bahati will not take it, perhaps, you will, Neil. You could just easily use it to bring back your wife. The boy has caused you nothing but trouble and heartache. He is the one who caused her death in the first place, was he not?”

“Dad?” said Matt. “Is that true? What did Tyson do?”

Neil shook his head as he looked away. His eyes clamped tight and his breath came out with a shudder. “Matt, he didn’t mean to. He was just a little boy. We took both of you to the beach, and he fell asleep. He dreamt about this storm that swept your mother away.” His held a hand in front of his eyes as he stifled a gasp.

Sir Nickletwist cackled. “Are you really going to have this journey be for nothing? What has the boy done for you but throw obstacles in your way?”

Bahati raised her staff and pointed it at Sir Nickeltwist. “Do not take a step closer. I know you are the true author of the obstacles we’ve faced. You are clever, but you will not twist me on this one. My father would remain dead than return through the murder of an innocent child. I am appalled that I ever considered it.”

Sir Nickeltwist huffed. “Fine, wake him up then. Harness the sleeping spell and remove it. Show me just what a powerful wizard you are.”

Bahati gestured to Neil and Matt for them to join her. “Come and stand next to me. I might need your help.”

Silently, Tyson’s family joined Bahati at Tyson’s beside. “Take his hand, Matt. Neil, take the other one.”

Each of them grasped a hand, and Bahati placed her hand on Tyson’s forehead. The other hand she kept behind her back to prevent it from wandering back to Tyson’s chest. Bahati clamped her eyes shut and channeled her feeble energy into unraveling the spell.

Light flowed from her hands into Tyson, and the boy stirred. Bahati spoke in a low voice and the light flowed faster, reaching a climax in a brilliant explosion of light. With a cry, Bahati fell backwards and lay sprawled out on his back, her eyes shut and her body still.

Sir Nickeltwist ’s laugh caused the other two to jump. It was not the laugh of a madman, but the laugh of a chess master who knows he has just made the move right before checkmate. It was the laugh of victory.

“Did I mention, Bahati, that the spell has a number of powerful failsafes? You must have missed one. Now the spell backfired and you’ll be sleeping for a long time. Don’t worry, I think you’ll do even better as my dreamer. You’ve lived so much longer than this boy, and your imagination should be able to conjure up even better defenses.”

Sir Nickeltwist turned and fixed his eyes on Tyson’s chest. He curled one of his hands into a grasping claw and began his methodical advance. “Now there’s only the question of the gem.”

Sir Nickeltwist’s clawed hand reached down and rested on Tyson’s glowing chest.

Matt and Neil leapt together to put themselves between Tyson and the magician. The magician flung his free hand up at them without looking at them. In a flash of light, they froze in mid-air, unable even to blink.

Tyson’s body went rigid as the magician’s pointed fingernails pierced his shirt and sunk into his flesh.

Bahati tried to cry out, but found that even her lungs had become frozen in her chest. She cried out in her mind, willing the magician’s arm to lift. The magician’s voice lifted in chorus after chorus of wicked, victorious laughter. Dark magic swirled around them both, tearing at her body and soul, threatening to corrupt her completely.

The entire room filled with intense emerald light, and a sound like a pile of broken glass caught in a hurricane. A booming voice spoke in the midst of it, cutting through the chaos.

“Tyson, I have returned.”

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