The Time is Now
Callie had faced the well of Jon’s memories, and was not swayed.
Jon’s re-entry into her life, after she thought she might never see him again, had an effect far beyond Zedda’s surmise.
Callie found herself again.
Instead of draining Jon, she communicated with him. From her own memories, she had shown him what had transpired since her arrival in Murgent with Mike and Edward.
If we are ever to get away from here, she had said to him mentally, It has to be tonight. Tonight or never.
What do you suggest? Jon had sent back.
I will have to take on Zedda, Conjuura to Conjuura.
There is no way you are ready for that, Jon said.
I’m not fighting to win, but to keep her busy, Callie said, You, Mike, Edward, and whoever else you can recruit will have to find some way to deal with Balooda and Blessure. This isn’t so much a plan, you see, as a shot in the dark. I’ll give you as much time as I can, before I challenge Zedda. After that, things will happen quickly; either for us or against us. Time is of the essence; so work quickly, my love.
“That’s a dangerous game she’s playing.” Egann said, when Jon finished his description of the mental communication he had just had with Callie, “Zedda’s has years of power stored up, she’s gonna squash your Callie like a bug. However, I may just know a way to even the odds a little, thanks to your friend Edward.”
They exchanged information, and split up.
Jon went downstairs to get Mike out of the basement.
Egann stayed on the third floor.
He turned the corner and sprinted up to Zedda’s private room. He said the magic words as he traced the circular seal with his finger, and the door opened.
He wasted no time; he flicked the lights on, and went straight for the painting. He opened it. When he saw the eggs, he realized he needed something in which to carry them. It would not do to just sneak a few away in his pockets, he needed all of them. He needed to destroy them all, preferably at the same time, before Zedda figured out what was happening and tried to stop him.
He was not sure they were even breakable; and even if they were, he had no means of doing it quietly here.
A bold stroke was needed.
Egann looked around and saw a small end table with a decorative tablecloth. He removed the items on the table, and then removed the tablecloth. He laid the cloth out on the floor, went over to the shelf, and started taking out all the crystal eggs. He put them all on the tablecloth, and picked up the ends; creating a sack. He tied the corners and cinched them tight.
He went to the window, and opened it. It was heavy, and did not go up easily, but he forced it.
Egann poked his head out the window, and looked down. Below him, three stories down, was a semi-circle of lush lawn.
“Damn,” he said, “This is gonna hurt.”
He lowered himself out of the window, grabbed the sack, and let go; pushing against the wall with his feet. As he fell, he tucked the sack of eggs to his stomach, and hugged it to cushion it against impact.
There was a muffled thud, then no other sound. Egann lay sprawled on the lawn next to the bag of eggs, unmoving.
Mike’s enemy loosened it’s last bolt. It darted across the basement, struck the wall, and ricocheted off; leaving behind a gash mark.
The crisscrossing bands of iron collapsed in a heap of metal.
The beast was free.
It shambled forth, towards Mike. As it passed beyond the confines of the box, it blurred out of coherent vision. Only when it stopped right in front of Mike, did it clear up again.
Only now, it wasn’t a monster at all. It was pallid, frail-looking boy of about eleven or twelve; with dirty clothes and unkempt hair.
“Hello Mike,” he said, “I’m the Nurrek.”
Edward and Ray started to sweat in the dark confines of the broom closet. Balooda was still in his office, and didn’t seem likely to get out of it any time soon.
Edward could resist temptation no longer and took out the crystal egg from his pocket. It was too dark to see, so he brought it to where the single sliver of light coming from the small crack in the wood of the door could hit it. When it did, the egg glowed with a bright light.
“Oh…” whispered Edward, as the glow got brighter, and illuminated the broom closet.
As Edward and Ray stared at the miniature Sarrgoset Hotel with rapt attention, they saw a tiny facsimile of Mr. Blessure look out the third floor window and up at them.
“It’s happening again.” Mr. Blessure said, looking out the window, “We’re being watched.”
“Can you get them yet?” Zedda asked.
The glow of the egg was so bright, light shone out from under the door. Mr. Balooda saw this light, went to the broom closet, and yanked the door open.
“WHAT EES THEES?!!” Balooda yelled.
Edward was so startled that he dropped the egg. The egg’s glow shut off, and rolled to a stop at Balooda’s feet.
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING HEER?!!” he bellowed.
Balooda saw the egg, and picked it up.
“THEES BEELONG TO ZEDDA!” he roared, and held it before his eyes to confirm that it was indeed Zedda’s.
“GOT HIM!!” yelled Mr. Blessure, and with his mind, PULLED.
Balooda looked into the egg for just a second---but at the worst possible time. His eyes suddenly bulged outward in a grotesque fashion, and he screamed a bone-shattering scream that could be heard in all of Murgent.
In the tightening death-grip of his hand, the egg shattered.
Outside, in the town of Murgent, Balooda’s scream shook the townspeople from their lunatic endeavors, and united them in purpose. For the spell that had for so long protected the Sarrgoset Hotel and its surroundings from their violent intentions was broken; and they now hastened in their shambling way towards that edifice.
At long last, it was time to settle unfinished business.
Though Balooda’s scream could be heard down in the basement, the two down there barely registered the sound.
“Nurrek?” Mike asked.
“That’s Zedda’s little joke at my expense.” the boy replied, “My actual name is Sparo Ivinic. Anyway, you gave me quite a battle there, pal. Then again, considering the box’s illusion spells, how could you have done otherwise?”
“What ARE you?” Mike asked.
“You’ve heard of the Ma’jai, right?”
“You’re a Ma’jai?”
“Don’t sound so surprised, Mike. You’re one too!”
“Guna shaal isanno a’dahj, Mike. You are one of us. Do you think you could have fought me the way you did if you were just an ordinary person? Or see me now so clearly in the dark?”
Before Mike could formulate a denial to Sparo’s incredible assertion, there came the sound of the basement door being unlocked and opened.
“MIKE! You down there?” shouted a voice.
It was Jon.
He picked up the bag of eggs, and ran to the front of the hotel.
Once there, he saw them.
There were about forty to fifty townspeople facing the hotel, looking up at the third floor window. Egann recognized Merro Lhaisuber, the old man Mike and Callie had run over, among them. More were coming. When the right critical mass was reached, they would strike.
“The time is now.” Egann said.
He smashed the bag of crystal eggs against the concrete sidewalk.
Edward and Ray covered their ears with their hands to shut out Balooda’s loud screaming. Before their eyes he doubled in size and transformed into the gargoyle-like thing with cracked crocodile skin. In it’s talons, the shards that had once been a crystal egg fell.
The thing that was Balooda began to claw at it’s eyes.
Unable to exit the room, Edward and Ray backed themselves back into the broom closet, as Balooda thrashed against the walls of the office like a wild animal in a panic.
“GOT HIM!” Mr. Blessure had said triumphantly; but triumph had turned to horror as his head exploded in size.
”NOOOOO!!” Mr. Blessure screamed.
The shape of his head fluctuated wildly, as if some feral animal was trapped inside, trying to tear it’s way out.
“WHAT IS IT!? WHAT IS IT?!” Zedda yelled.
Blessure bent over, hands on head, perhaps trying to contain its contents; perhaps trying to flush it out. From his eyes, copious amounts of vile-looking sludge poured.
Callie (who was between drainees) and the other kids in the room watched with horrified fascination.
At last Blessure seemed to rid himself of his burden, and his head shrunk back to normal size; but it was now a messy and disfigured version of what it had once been. He straightened up and looked at Zedda with his broken face and gunky eyes.
“It was BALOODA!” he said, his chest still heaving.
“What?!” Zedda asked, “How can that be? Morrtogs cannot betray their Conjuuras!”
“It was a mistake, not a betrayal. Two of the boys, Edward and Ray, stole one of your Sarsarin Eggs. He discovered them, but looked into the egg at the wrong moment.”
Rage bubbled up inside of Zedda; someone had dared to trespass into her private room, and had stolen her property!
Along with the rage, however, arose fear. She had been so focused on Callie, it had distracted her from keeping an eye on the goings-on in the hotel. How could she be so blind?
Only now, as she opened her mind to the psychic stream, did she sense its chaotic vibrations. Things were wrong on multiple levels.
A Sarsarin egg had been stolen, but which one?
She had to go see.
“Go get the boys that did this, Mr. Blessure. An especially harsh example of them must be made! Bring them here and wait for me; I have to go check my room.”
“You.” she said to Callie, “Continue.”
Both she and Mr. Blessure left the room.
Callie turned to the remaining kids left in the room with her.
“Go.” she said.
“But…Zedda said…” one of them protested.
“GO!” Callie shouted, “Things are about to get noisy and unpleasant around here.”
Balooda finally stopped slamming himself against the walls of his office, and fell in a spread-eagled heap.
He remained, though, in his monstrous form.
“Is he dead?” Edward whispered.
“I don’t think so.” Ray whispered back, “He’s still breathing. We should try to get out of here before he gets up again.”
As quietly as they could, Edward and Ray walked out of the broom closet, and made their cautious way past Balooda. The office was in a shambles and any careless move might make a noise loud enough to wake him, so they had to take it slow.
They were almost at the doorway.
Balooda opened his eyes.
“YOU!!” he bellowed.
“OH SHIG!!” Edward shouted.
The two made a run for it, but Balooda jumped to his feet and grabbed them both.
“STOP!” a hard voice commanded. It was Mr. Blessure, standing at the hall entrance. He looked messed up.
He walked down the hall to the office, and faced Balooda.
“Zedda wants them!” he said.
But Balooda was beyond the niceties.
“You!” he seethed, dropping Edward and Ray (who both scurried to a corner of the room to get away from what was coming). In his monster form he towered over Mr. Blessure.
“It was a mistake.” Mr. Blessure said, “On both sides.”
Though his words were conciliatory, the undercurrent of threat in his voice was unmistakable. It said: you do NOT want to mess with me right now.
“MEESTAKE THEES!!” Balooda shrieked, and struck Mr. Blessure with an upward swing of his talon that sent him flying backward across the hall, and crashing through the front desk.
Blessure got up, and within a second, transformed into a beast not unlike Balooda, only meaner-looking. He galloped down the hall, launched himself at Balooda, and slammed into him hard enough to smash him against, and through, the wall of his office. The two actually ended up outside of the hotel. Before Balooda had a chance to get up, Blessure jumped on him and commenced pounding his head side to side with his talons; ripping deep gashes into the sides of his face.
Edward and Ray looked out of the hole in the wall in both horror and wonder, then at each other in disbelief at what they had just witnessed. Then, they sprang out of the office and ran up the hall. Behind them came the sounds of an infernal wrestling match as Balooda knocked Blessure off, and the fight between them was on in earnest.
“We have to find Egann!” said Ray.
“We have to go get Mike!” Edward countered.
There came then a crashing sound from the front of the hotel. Edward and Ray ran through the ruins of the front desk in time to see the front door wrenched open. From outside flowed in a mass of Murgent’s mad townspeople; and with them came Egann.
“EGANN!” yelled Ray.
Egann turned and saw them.
He ran over to them as the townspeople spread themselves inward.
“What’s this?!” Ray asked.
“This is the end, Ray!” Egann said, “It all ends tonight! Zedda is no longer protected by her spells!”
At that, the townspeople started rushing up the stairs.