“Telling our story, love?” Sebastian asks. We whirl to face the direction his voice comes from. He rests against the bottom of a rusted iron ladder that he’s lowered through the hole in the ceiling of ice, one foot propped against the bottom rung and his arms folded across his skinny chest. His pure white eyes stare in Rose’s direction, whether drawn by her voice or thoughts, I don’t know.
I imagine sawing Sebastian in half like a magician would his assistant, only minus the magic part. The little bit of light that seeps from the hole glints off his eyes, proving they’ve moved to face me. So he’s listening to thoughts, not what we’re saying out loud.
“Or both, of course,” he says, tapping his chin like he’s thinking through the matter. “You don’t truly think I am so low of a creature I can’t listen both with my ears and my mind at the same time, do you?”
“No, not at all,” I say as, in great detail, I imagine vomiting down his shirt. Thevampire stiffens. He first rests back against the ladder, then leans towards me.
“Do you have a problem with me, Mary Hart?”
“Oh, what would ever make you believe that?” I ask. “No, I’m totally grateful to the zombie dude who imprisoned me in his copycat Narnia castle just for associating with his ex-fiancé, you creep.” Someone snorts, but I don’t recognize the sound, so it’s not Rose or Pixie Stick. “Who just did that?” I squint through the darkness at the other cells. I’d thought they were empty until now. Nobody responds.
Sebastian clears his throat, and I whip back to face him.
“Are you insinuating that you do not find my dungeons unique enough to satisfy your fancy?” he asks with a weary pout.
“Of course!” I snap. “Haven’t you seen the first Chronicles of Narnia movie? This is a total rip-off of the White Witch’s dungeons. I’m just waiting for the talking faun to appear.”
“What is a talking faun?” asks Pixie Stick from beside me, his squeaky little voice shaking only a smidgen out of fear. I’m surprised he’s acting so brave around the Dark Lord of Copycat Castles.
“It’s like this weird Roman half-man, half-animal thi—you know what, how about we just watch the movie when we get back to London, eh? It’s really cute. Lots of annoying magical creatures like you. You’ll feel right at home,” I tell him.
“Is Elvis in it?” he asks, clasping his little hands before him in earnest. “I love Elvis. Elvis is my idol. I want to be Elvis someday.”
“That’s it. My half a second of camaraderie with you is over.” I shove him into the corner of the cell and turn back to Sebastian. I raise one eyebrow. “So, Copycat Castle Dude. Can we get back to the story? As our little Rosie here can assure you, I have met goldfish with longer attention spans than mine. Chop, chop. Let’s get on with this thing.”
“After you just insulted my home decorating, you wish for me to allow this tale to continue?” His face screws up in an expression of melodramatic offendedness, but his tone is bland and uninterested.
“Uh, yeah,” I say. “How else are we supposed to pass the time in your little shop of horrors down here.” I direct a very pointed gaze in the direction of the anonymous snort from earlier, but there’s not a peep from the other cells. “Ugh, fine, whoever you are. Just let me sit here and babble on and on about my life, and don’t even bother doing the polite thing by introducing yourself!”
There’s another snort, this time followed by a cough.
“I can hear you, you know!”
“Mary, let it go,” Rose snaps. She’s sulking against the outer wall of her cell, as far from Sebastian as she can get. It’s difficult to see her through the gloom.
“Fine,” I say, sitting down right where I am and crossing my arms. “Then talk.”
“The second wave of the disease didn’t manifest until Sebastian and I were close enough to touch one another. While I stood beside my father’s decimated corpse, Sebastian approached me with a fever-light in his eyes.
“‘What are you doing here?’ I remember asking him.
“He responded, ‘Searching—’” Rose begins to say the next line, but Sebastian cuts her off with one piercing stare.
“‘Searching for my bride, of course,’” he says in a listless drone. “‘Why did you run, my dear, fragile flower?’”
It’s like the two of them are hypnotized, going through the paces of the story.
“Then,” says Sebastian, lifting his hand, “I reached out to place my hand on your shoulder, Rose—”
“—I opened my mouth to respond, but I saw him reaching for me, and I flinched back—” She presses herself as firmly against the wall as she can. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I become aware of the fact that Rose, who has always been able to float through any obstacle that should come in her path, cannot push herself through that dungeon wall to escape.
“—and the moment I was close enough to touch her,” Sebastian says, his hand falling back to his side, “the virus took.”
“So it takes being close enough to another human to touch them for the disease to affect you?” I say. They should applaud me for having such good analyzing skills, but neither Rose nor Sebastian seems to be aware of my presence anymore. “Guys,” I say. I slap my hands against the bars of my ice cell, but the ghosties don’t break out of the trance. “Guys!”
“Oh dear,” says the pixie. “I do believe they are lost in the memory.”
“Lost in the memory,” I say. “What. In. Elvis’s. Horrifying. Name. Is. That. Supposed. To. Mean.”
“Nothing too terrible,” he assures me. “Just that they will be stuck reliving the night they turned into ugly zombie-ghosts until a Powerful One intervenes.”
“A powerful one. What the heck is a freaking ‘Powerful One,’ Candy Man?”
“Candy Man?” He stares up at me with his huge brown eyes.
“You’re a pixie. Like the Pixy Stix candy.” I throw my arms up in exasperation. “Gosh, can you just get on to answering my question, you weirdo? We’ve gotta wake Rose up so we can get out of here! And defeat Sebastian! And stop the alien invasion! And get back to London so I can return to my daily pastime of kicking Randy’s butt until the U.S. government lets me go home!”
“A Powerful One is a creature like Sebastian,” the pixie tells me without any hint of having been insulted by his candy nickname. Twerpy little freak.
I glare. Between gritted teeth, I say, “So you want me to somehow go find another vampire-zombie-thing and just hope he’ll choose to help us instead of treating me like a giant bottle of grape juice? Huh?”
“No, no, of course not!” Pixie Stick claps his hands together.
“Simply locate the King! He is a Powerful One as well, and he is trapped somewhere in this castle!”
“You are far too excited about this,” I say. “You do realize I am trapped in this cell with you right now, right? What, are you just going to magically beam me—” Before I can finish my sentence, I’m standing on the other side of the bars, the pixie giggling uncontrollably behind me, still in the cell. I spin. “You could have let me out at any given point in time? You’ve been choosingto make me stay in there with you?”
“You never asked to leave before.” He shrugs.
A snort comes from my right, this time followed by an entire series of hacking coughs.
“Who’s there?!” I shout. “Are you the King?”
The voice is deep yet feminine, with a distinctive rasp that sounds almost like the buzz of a wasp. “I wish. If I were, I could get myself out of here.”
“Who are you, then?” I ask. “Medusa?”
“I wish. Then I could turn people to stone when they get annoying, which would give me far less indigestion.” The monster coughs again.
“Tell me your name, or I’m leaving you here to rot when I heroically manage to free all of us in a second,” I say as I slowly approach the cell.
The light in the dungeons has faded even more as night approaches, but I can still just barely make out the hulking shape of the creature.
“What are you, a giant guinea pig?” I hide the laughter in my sleeve.
“No,” she says, and the rodent-shaped monster pulls herself upward so that she stands on her hind feet. She towards over me, with flaming red fur-hair-stuff and the tail of a dolphin. “I am Kra, the almighty! The destroyer of worlds!”
“Yeah?” I cross my arms and stare up at her beady-eyed face. “And what world have you destroyed?”
I take a step back. “The resort?”
“No, you buffoon. The original Atlantis. The real one. The lost city one.”
I swallow hard. “Well, I guess that qualifies you as a full-out, real deal destroyer of worlds. Congrats.” I take another few steps away. “Well, it was… uh… niiice to meet you, but I’ve got a world to save, now, so…”
And I turn and sprint in the opposite direction.
“I will eat you alive when I get out of here, you baboon! Alive, I tell you, alive! I will skin you! I will bake you! I will marinate you in banana pudding!”
I reach the ladder, shove Sebastian’s creepy vampiric body out of the way, and climb for the light. Behind me, Pixie Stick cheers, while Kra continues to call me monkey-names and threaten different ways of cooking my body.
On the floor above the dungeons, the ice ends, giving way instead to black marble columns and winding halls.
“Oh,” I say, “now this is going to be fun.”
An hour later, and I’ve just ducked into an alcove for the hundred and tenth time to avoid detection by one of Sebastian’s ghost cronies. I’ve checked the first three levels of the castle for the King, with no such luck, and I’m really beginning to wish this place came equipped with an elevator and a King-tracking GPS system.
I mean, really, is that so much to ask for?
The ghost’s heavy presence—like a glass of whole milk to the face—fades away, and I slip out from the alcove. I creep towards the stairs.
“Okay, Mary,” I whisper to myself. “You can do this. You can locate the King and save Rose, no problem. This is not a big deal. You do way more intense things like this all the time. I can’t think of any of them off the top of my head, but you do. You’re fine. You can do this, you can do this, you can—”
A ghost soldier comes floating down from the top of the spiral staircase, and there’s nowhere for me to hide.
Maybe if you stay really still he won’t notice you, I think to myself. Like that T-Rex in Jurassic Park.
“Hey!” the ghost shouts. “What are you doing out of the dungeons?!”
Yeah. No such luck.
I’m preparing to make a run for it when another voice pipes up, Leave the human child alone, you fiend!
I look around for the source of my rescuer, but find none. Then a mouse darts out of a thick crack at the base of the marble wall, and the ghost screams. He floats through the nearest wall as quickly as his transparent white behind will take him and I fall back on my butt, sliding down a few steps before I can catch myself.
“What the Bieber, there’s a mouse in this house?” I yelp.
Yes, says the voice, and you would do well to learn how to hold your tongue.
“Oh my gosh. You’re a talking mouse.” Then it hits me. “Wait, I’m not hearing you out loud. WHY ARE YOU IN MY HEAD?” I throw my hands over my ears and stare at the hairy little beast in horror.
I’m a telepath, child, the mouse tells me in her lilting little voice. She scratches her ear with a hind leg and watches me with her beady black eyes.
“That’s creepy, dude.”
Would you like my help in locating the King of Norland, or not?
“Wait,” I ask, “how do you know that’s who I’m looking for?”
As I said, I’m a telepath.
I shrug. “Makes sense. Do you know where he is?”
Yes. Her whiskers twitch like her face is folding into a smile. Now follow me!
And off up the stairs the mouse leaps.
“Hey, hold up!” I call after her. “What’s your name?”
Without stopping her scramble towards the top of the staircase, the mouse responds, Mr. Squeaks.
“Mr.? But you sound like a girl!”
I am a girl. But unfortunately my parents were planning on a boy when they chose my name.
“What crappy parents,” I mutter.
Don’t let them hear you say that, or my father might set your hair on fire, Mr. Squeaks warns.
“Your father’s a pyromaniac mouse?!”
The mouse chortles in my mind. No, of course not, silly! My family, besides being a breed of telepathic mouse, also has control over things like fire and explosions. Her tone darkens. So don’t get on my bad side.
We finally reach the top of the staircase, and I throw myself sideways out, flattening against a wall in case one of the ghosts is near. We’re alone in the hallway, though.
Come, human child! Mr. Squeaks urges. This way!
“I’m not a child, you know,” I tell her as I race to keep up, twisting through passageways and ducking through rooms. “I’m an adult—a young one, but an adult nonetheless. I’d be in college if it weren’t for all this magic and alien crap.”
Quick, in here!
The mouse ducks behind a statue of Sebastian dressed in robes like a Greek god just as one of his soldiers rounds the next corner. I slide in behind her and watch as he examines the hallway to make sure it’s empty—missing us in our super secret, super cool hideout (obviously)—and then returns to the next hall.
He is one of the King’s guards, Mr. Squeaks says in a quivering voice.
“How many of them are there?” I ask.
Thirteen. Sebastian is ever so careful with the King.
“You think if I tell them their vampire-ruler-man is stuck in a coma-like state, they’ll let me just bust the King right on out of there and take him to rescue the people in the dungeon?”
By “people,” do you mean “everyone but Kra”?
“Duh,” I say. “Who in their right minds would release that creep? No one.”
They probably still will not come to your aid where it concerns the King, however. More than Sebastian values his well-being, he values destroying the well-being of his prisoners.
“Fabulous,” I say, but dust off my hands and get to my feet anyway. “Well, let’s get to it. Any idea how to get rid of a few ghosts?”
Oh, I’ve got some ideas.
Before I can react, Mr. Squeaks sprints off towards the corner, and dips around it. I follow as quickly as possible, sliding to a stop with my back right against the wall. Just as I peek around the corner, Mr. Squeaks shouts, May the loathing of my family be upon your heads! An explosion likes a firework rocks the next hall, and the ghosts scatter, screaming.
Come quickly, child! Mr. Squeaks instructs. I dodge the fleeing ghosts and make a beeline for the door Mr. Squeaks is running towards. One of the ghosts has dropped a set of heavy iron keys on the floor, and I stoop to pick them up, quickly trying out the keys in the lock. It’s the second to last one that fits, and the door swings open. Beyond is darkness.
“Hello?” I call through the doorway, impatient. “Mr. King, sir? Are ya in there?”
“Oh yay! You have come to save me, have you not? You are the obnoxious human girl, Mary Hart, are you not?” comes a squeaky little voice from the darkness. “Hurray! You have saved me, finally. Yippee!”
And out of the dark room beyond comes flitting a pixie much like Pixie Stick, only this one has slick black hair on its head, styled to look just like Elvis’s.
“The King,” I say, my shoulders falling. “He lives.”
Well of course the King of Norland lives, dearie, says Mr. Squeaks like she thinks my statement is crazy.
“Not the King I was referring to.” I sigh and make myself grab for the pixie’s hand, tugging him in the direction we just came from. “Well, now that we’ve got you, let’s go. We need to make a pit stop in the dungeon to save some friends and an enemy, I’m afraid, but then we’ll surely be getting you out of here to head back to Norland.”
“Save some friends?” chirps the King. “Like who?”
“One of your pixie comrades and Rose, the zombie-ghostie-thing I got paired up with in this whole mission of saving you.”
“And now I must save her?” He giggles. “How all very complex!”
“Glad to see you’re the glass half-full type,” I say. “Now come on.”
With Mr. Squeaks scouting ahead of us and clearing out the evil ghosts all the way back down to the dungeons, it takes only a quarter of the time to make it back. I stick the mouse on top of my head while I climb down the ladder, after making her promise not to defecate on me, and the King floats down.
Immediately, the light in the room grows, despite the night above us.
“Oh dear,” says the King upon spotting Sebastian and Rose. “I see what you meant.”
“My King!” Pixie Stick cheers from his cell. “My King, the Ugly has found you!”
“Yes, my dear subject,” the King says, flittering over to the other pixie, “the Ugly has indeed.”
“Hey, not to break up this happy reunion, but—” I indicate to the two people still in a trance and say, “—we kind of need to get out of here before Edward Cullen’s minions realize Mr. Squeaks isn’t a Norse god and we are most definitely trying to escape.”
“Do not fret, dearest Mary Hart. I simply need a sword, and…” He lifts his hands above his head and wiggles his fingers, and a little tiny butter knife-like thing appears in them. “Now, who shall I wake up first?”
“What is that, a toothpick? What are you going to do with that?”
“Anything this sword touches will be released from its prison. I simply must touch the blade to your ghost friend’s skin and the memory will leave her.”
“Fabulous. Get to it.” I point to Rose. “Her first. And if you really must, then Sebastian second.”
“Unfortunately, as King, I am bound by a code of honor—”
“Yeah, yeah. Blah, blah, blah. This is why I’m an assassin. We have no honor. Wake up Rose so we can get out of this place before I get hypothermia.” I shiver, staring at all the ice.
The King pops himself into Rose’s cell, and flies over to her. With a little Fairy Godmother-flair, he taps her on the shoulder with the blunt end of his sword, and Rose immediately jumps to alertness.
“Who, what, where—?”
“No time to explain,” I say. “King dude—wake up Sebastian so we can get our butts out of here.” There’s a rumbling coming from the floor above us, like dozens and dozens of angry voices gathering together in a roar.
The King zaps over to where I left Sebastian on the floor beside the ladder, and taps the vampire on the shoulder. He jerks to awareness, swiping out with his hands and his white eyes rolling back into his skull.
“What happened?” he thunders.
“We saved you, that’s what,” I spit.
“You’re out of your cell,” he says in disbelief. “How did you get out of your cell?”
The sound of his voice has caught the attention of the ghost soldiers above, and now I can make out several of them peering down at us from the hole.
“Don’t just float there!” Sebastian shouts. “Get them!”
In an instant, the dungeons become a flood of ghosts, as one after another floats down through the hall with a weapon at the ready.
“We need a distraction!” yells Rose from where she is still trapped in her cell.
“Ya think?!” I dodge the swipe of a ghost’s knife, and then a light bulb goes off inside my brain. “Wait, I’ve got it!” I make eye contact with the King, and he smiles knowingly. He tosses his micro-sword to me just in time for me to catch it and slice through the ice bars of the cell nearest me, releasing the creature within.
I shout, “Release the Kraaaa-ken!”