Friday, January 28, 2011

Chapter 42

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.
        Egann awoke.
        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.    

Friday, January 21, 2011

Chapter 41

The New Arrival

        “I’m looking for my friends, Mike, Callie, and Edward.” Jon said, “That’s their car parked right over there. Are they here?”
        “Yes, they are,” said Egann, “Come on in.”
        From where they watched and waited, Edward and Ray saw Egann walk in from the hall, followed by Jon. Edward had to suppress a squeal of joy when he saw him.
        “What is it?” asked Ray, “Do you know him?”
        “It’s my friend Jon!” said Edward.
        “Don’t be too happy,” Ray said, “He’s now stuck here too.”
        Edward smiled wide. “Ray, the chances of our getting out of this hell-hole just got a little bit better!”
        “Speaking of chances, there goes Balooda. Let’s go!”

        “Ahh! A neew guest!” Mr. Balooda said, arriving, “Eeegan, who ees our neew friend?”
        “I’m Jonathon Grash,” Jon stepped forward and said, “I’m looking for my friends. I’m told they are here.”
        “Friends?” Balooda asked.
        “Our previous guests.” Egann replied.
        “I see!” Balooda said, and turned to Egann, “Take him to Zedda.”
        “You’re…not taking him?”
        “No need.” Balooda said, “Hee’s nothing special---just another toureest.”
        Balooda turned back and headed for his office.
        Tourist was Balooda’s euphemism for those poor, unfortunate outsiders who still blundered into Murgent, from time to time. The adults would be driven bonkers by Zedda’s still operative insanity spell, and would join the rest of the crazy populace. If there were kids with them, they would end up joining the hotel workforce.
        That was much too fast, Egann thought, If Edward and Ray aren’t out of Balooda’s office with the egg by now, they’re screwed.
        There was nothing for it, but to continue onward.
        He turned to Jon, “Follow me.” he said.

        Ray had stayed near the entrance of the hall as a lookout, while Edward had gone into Balooda’s office to get the egg.
        Edward crouched down low and extended his arm to reach under the desk. He caught the egg with his fingertips, but the egg skidded further away. Edward groaned at his own incompetence, got down on the floor and crawled under the desk, over to the egg, which was now under Balooda’s chair. Edward stretched out his hand and grabbed the egg. He was getting out from under the desk, when Ray came to the door in a panic.
        “He’s coming!” Ray hissed.
        “I’ve got it!” Edward said, getting to his feet.
        “Let’s go!” Ray said, but upon turning saw Balooda’s shadow enter the hall before him.
        In a flash, Ray entered the office, grabbed Edward, and the two slipped behind the wall before Balooda could see them. They now had seconds, before Balooda entered the office.
        “Wadda-we-do? Wadda-we-do?” Ray muttered under his breath, looking around in a panic for a lifeline.
        His eyes fell on the small broom closet, and the two slipped in there right before Balooda stepped in.
        It was dark inside, but in the quick second they had opened the door for ingress, light had spilled in and shown a small empty space with some pails, sponges, and such; tucked neatly aside. There were no actual brooms in the broom closet, thankfully. There was just barely enough room for the both of them.
        They heard Balooda enter the office.
        A small sliver of light from a crack in the wood of the door (probably from when Balooda slammed Mike against it) provided the only illumination in that dark confined space.
        “What now?” Edward whispered.
        “We wait.” Ray whispered back.

        Mike got down to the basement in time to see his body start work on the last magic circle. The final, desperate, and most intense phase of their battle began.
        Despite Mike’s renewed energy, the beast in the box still had the advantage of time.
        And bit by bit, that last circle became less and less.

        Egann and Jon stood in front of the door to Zedda’s divination room. Egann made to knock, but the door was opened just then as Alixa shambled out; her face a blank.
        She looked at Egann and Jon. “Another one.” she mumbled, then continued on her way.
        “What’s wrong with her?” Jon asked.
        “You’ll see shortly.” Egann replied.
        They stepped inside.
        Inside were eight kids, still waiting their turn. Callie was working on a girl named Connie. No longer able to just watch, Zedda had taken the next kid in line; a boy named Daniel.
        “CALLIE!” Jon cried out, upon seeing his beloved.
        He ran over to her, but Mr. Blessure stopped him before he could reach her.
        “Callie, it’s ME!!” he yelled, struggling against the unmovable hand at his neck, “Let me go, damn you!”
        Callie did not even look up from her labors. She was so deep into Connie’s memories, his voice did not penetrate.
        That something was wrong with this town was something Jon had realized the minute he had entered Murgent (and the crazy townsfolk wandering around in the night like a horror show was a big hint too); but worse than all that was the realization that something was terribly wrong with Callie as well.
        What the hell was happening here?
        Mr. Blessure brought Jon over to Zedda.
        Egann followed close behind.
        Zedda finished up with Daniel, and shoved him aside. “Is this our new guest?” she asked.
        “Yes.” Egann answered.
        “Why didn’t Mr. Balooda bring him up himself?”
        “Mr. Balooda figured he’s just another tourist.”
        “Oh, but he’s much more than that, isn’t he? I distinctly heard him call out Callie’s name.” Zedda said, “Release him, Mr. Blessure.”
        Mr. Blessure did as commanded.
        “Why are you here?” Zedda asked Jon.
        “I came to find her,” Jon said, “Callie, and my other friends.”
        Callie finished with Connie, and pushed her aside impersonally, not unlike Zedda had just done with Daniel.
        “This should be an interesting reunion then.” Zedda said, “Callie, dear! Someone's here to see you!”
        Callie turned, and at last caught sight of Jon.
All the color drained from her face
        “Callie!” Jon said, and ran to her.
        They embraced.
The hunger tried to cajole Callie once again, but was trodden down under foot by Jon’s voice, Jon’s touch, and Jon’s kiss. Jon’s very presence rendered it small and mute.
“Ah…so it’s the boyfriend.” Zedda muttered.
From where she sat, she could sense the diminution of the hunger that had bound Callie to her up to now; but Zedda was not troubled. She knew of a way to turn the boyfriend’s freeing effect against itself; cleaving the hooks in even deeper.
“I hate breaking up a lovefest,” Zedda said, “But I think it’s time for Callie to return to her new vocation.”
“I’m not returning to anything.” Callie said, “I’m done with this.”
“I’m afraid you are mistaken about that.” Zedda said.
Jon suddenly felt himself forced down into a kneeling position, by an invisible hand that could not be resisted.
“Not only are you returning to your duties,” said Zedda, “Boyfriend here is going to be your next drainee.”
“What? NO!” Callie said.
“If you don’t, I’ll have Mr. Blessure rip his arms and legs right off in front of you. He’ll live, of course, but it won’t be a pleasant sight.”
Zedda let Callie think on that a few seconds.
“Mr. Blessure, if you please---“ Zedda said.
“NO! STOP!” Callie said, “I’ll do it.”
She stepped over to Jon.
“I’m sorry.” she said.
“It’s not your fault.” Jon replied.
“Oh Jon, but it is.” she said, and began.

The battle was over, and Mike had lost.
The last magical circle of containment finally eradicated, the beast released Mike’s body and returned to it’s own; it no longer needed Mike for what was left for it to do.
Mike floated toward his body, and crammed himself into it. It felt weird and cumbersome at first, like a fat suit; but he acclimated to it enough to sit up and scootch himself over to the wall, facing the cage. It would be a long time till anyone came down for him anyway, so he figured he might as well stay and see what the boogey in the box would do once it freed itself.
Though the basement was now in total darkness, he was amazed that he could still see; his spectral vision had not departed with his return to his body. Mike wondered how long that would last.
A sudden metallic clank startled him.
One of the bolts that secured the metal bands to the wooden box had popped off, hitting the wall a few feet above his head, before ricocheting off to the back somewhere.
Mike watched and winced, as other bolts unscrewed themselves, popped off, and hit the wall all around him like shots fired by a blind man; yet not a one hit him.
Why doesn’t it just bust through the box? Mike wondered, It certainly looks big enough to accomplish that.
Whatever the reason, it would soon be free nonetheless.
All Mike could do now was watch and wait.

She was done with him.
At Zedda’s call, Egann helped the zoned out boyfriend up to his feet, and walked him toward the door.
“I’m ready for more.” Callie said, her face unreadable.
Young love dies hard, Zedda thought to herself with self-satisfaction. She nodded her approval, and allowed Callie to continue.
Egann and Jon exited the room.
“I wish I could have warned you,” Egann said, “But I couldn’t risk Zedda finding out.”
“Find…? What…?” Jon mumbled.
“Me and your friend Edward, along with a friend of mine named Ray, are trying to find a way to end this situation.”
“You…friend of Edward?”
“I guess you could say that.”
“Good.” Jon said, straightening up, “I don’t have to act loopy any more, which is a relief. So, where can I find Mike and Ed?”
Egann was caught by surprise. “She didn’t drain you, did she?”
“No.” Jon answered, “She has other plans.”
“What other plans?”
“We’re taking down Zedda tonight.”

Friday, January 14, 2011

Chapter 40

A Call in the Night

        Edward told Egann and Ray everything.
        Of what had transpired between Zedda and Callie, when Zedda tried to drain her; of his disturbing meeting with Callie; of his entry into Zedda’s room, and the crystal eggs behind the painting; of what he saw in the egg he stole, and later dropped; and finally, of the egg’s present location under Mr. Balooda’s desk in his office.
        Egann and Ray looked flabbergasted.
        “Holy Gloeis, Ed!” Ray said, “How can this be? Zedda usually knows all and sees all, yet you managed to sneak into two of her rooms and steal that egg right under her nose!”
        “It’s the girl.” Egann said, more to himself, than to them. He had the look of someone whose mind was racing, putting things together. “If Edward is right, and Zedda is really initiating this Callie girl into her evil ways; that means, right now, Zedda has all her attention focused on her. Which means she is distracted.”
        “A window of opportunity!” Edward chimed.
        “For what? What are you proposing?” Ray asked.
        “If the egg is what I think it is, we need to retrieve it!” Egann said, looking more animated than Ray had seen him in years, “As well as the other ones in Zedda’s room.”
        “Why? What do you think they are?” Ray asked.
        “A glimmer of hope.” Egann said, “For the first time in a long time, a glimmer of hope.”

        Meanwhile, in the basement, the battle raged on.
        Mike’s body was down to the last three chalk circles of containment; while Mike’s pilgrim shadow was down to his last dregs of energy.
        The beast’s shadow spirit kept going back to the body with relentless determination to free itself. Perhaps with each circle it eradicated, it got stronger. It certainly felt that way to Mike. The damned thing never seemed to tire.
Mike knew now that he could not keep it from finishing off all the magic circles until morning. He was exhausted, and night had only just fallen. Even disregarding his energy level; there were simply too many hours left to go, and too few circles IT had to get through.
Still, Mike had to try.
He gathered up his remaining strength and hurled himself at his enemy. The beast seemed to know the attack was coming, and was ready for him. It fought back hard, and the two tussled until the last of Mike’s strength was gone.
The beast then took hold of Mike, and chucked him upwards.
Up Mike flew. He passed through the basement ceiling, the first, second, third floor ceilings, and up into the air, a dizzying height above the hotel. When momentum at last dwindled away, he came to a dead stop; and just floated there.
His energy now all depleted, Mike was out of the game.
The beast had won, and would soon be free.

“No.” Callie said.
By now, all those Mr. Blessure had called up to the top floor stood single-file in the long room, like a line to a bank teller’s window, and waited to be summoned.
“No?” Zedda asked.
“I won’t do it.” Callie said.
“Awhile ago you begged me---“
“I’ve changed my mind. I don’t want to be like you!”
“Can’t you sense their despair?” Zedda asked, “It’s yours for the taking! Why resist temptation, when it is so much easier to give in?”
Callie was sorely tempted; not by Zedda’s hard-sell, but by her own hunger. She could indeed sense the despair within those waiting in line to be drained, and it was driving her up the wall.
“In this world,” Zedda continued, “You are either predator or prey. Take what is yours, or get in line with the rest of the cattle!”
She’s right, the voice of her hunger spoke, in its sinuous and insistent manner, What will it avail you, or Mike, or Edward, to resist? You’ll just be another one of these kids: powerless and trapped. But, if you can grow in power, perhaps one day you’ll be powerful enough to take Zedda down and free everyone!
She only half bought it, but it was enough.
“Alright then,” Callie said, “Bring them to me.”

Mike looked down on the Sarrgoset Hotel.
From his vantage point, he could see most of Murgent; even though it was dark already. And while Murgent was a dead husk of a town, there was a healthy circle of lawn and garden surrounding the hotel.
In his metaphysical state, Mike saw everything alive below him as if it were lit from the inside by a spectral green light. The hotel itself glowed with the life-light of those living within its walls.
As this light came under his regard, Mike saw swatches of it separate and waft up towards him from the living things below. They came up to him and joined with him, lending him their energy.
Refreshed, Mike wished for more, and more came. He began to understand that he was the one drawing the energy. So he summoned even more, until he felt strong enough to return to the battle.
Thank you, life-light, he thought, and sent that thought down to the living things below.
Something moved in the darkness of Murgent’s streets; a familiar object that made Mike’s heart sing.
Matters are ripening fast, he thought; and willed himself downward, I just hope to hell I’m not too late.

“This won’t hurt a bit.” Callie told her first drainee.
“I know.” The boy, named Alan, replied.
He was, like everyone else there, a veteran of the procedure.
Callie stared into his eyes, and started hypnotic effect Zedda referred to as the “Trancing Eyes”; the first step of the Malignium.
Callie felt Alan fall into the trance, and commenced the mind link. Before her, Alan’s memories unspooled like a ribbon; the parts of it rich in pain and suffering glowed with power, and were thus easy to find.
Euphoria washed over her, and Callie gave herself up to the pleasure. When she came at last to the end of Alan’s despair, she could not resist the urge to drain him dry of everything.
“That’s enough.” she heard Zedda say, as she gripped Callie’s arm painfully; forcing her to break the link. “If you drain him completely, you’ll kill him.”
“I thought no one can die here.” Callie said.
“He wouldn’t stay dead, of course; but he’d come back a vegetable.”
“Give me another one, then.” Callie said, tossing Alan aside like a used up wad of gum, “I want MORE!”
Mr. Blessure removed the vacant-eyed Alan, and motioned Alixa, the next in line, to go to Callie. Alixa wasn’t quick enough for Callie, and was pulled forward, like a dog on a leash.
As Callie started in on Alixa, Mr. Blessure walked over to Zedda.
“You were right,” he said, “She IS a natural.”
“And she’s mine now.” Zedda said.

“You think they’re what?” Ray asked.
“Spells.” Egann answered, “I think, encased inside those eggs, or perhaps the eggs themselves, are the spells Zedda used to enslave us all. We need to get the one in Balooda’s office and the ones in Zedda’s room.”
“And do what?!”
“Break them, of course.” Egann said, “Break the eggs and we break the spells.”
“What if you’re wrong?” Ray asked.
“Then it’s back to square one.” Egann said, “We’ll suffer for the attempt, and horribly; but at least we’ll suffer for having tried something. If we don’t try, the lost opportunity will haunt us forever.”
“Even if you’re right about the eggs,” Edward said, “Breaking the spells may not be a good idea.”
“I’m sorry about Mike, Edward,” Egann said, “But if we don’t break those eggs, nothing will ever change. Zedda and the Morrtogs will continue to torment us for years and years, and I cannot allow that to go on, knowing there might be a way to stop it. You don’t know, Edward; you don’t know what it’s like…living without hope. We would rather die than go on like this. Do you understand me?”
“I understand.” Edward said.
“I suppose we’ll have to do this by ourselves.” Ray said.
“Yes. Just us three,” Egann said, “The less people know about it, the better.”
“Where do we start?” Edward asked.
Egann was about to answer, when something unexpected happened: the doorbell rang.

Callie was still draining Alixa, and was too deep into her memories to notice the doorbell.
Zedda and Mr. Blessure, however, were taken aback.
“That’s odd,” Mr. Blessure said, “Two arrivals in one day.”
“What’s odder is that I foresaw the one, but not the other.” Zedda said, “Either the Majisrunes failed me, or I missed something.”
“Do you wish me to check on it?”
“No, Mr. Balooda can take care of that. Whoever it is will get brought up here, and then we’ll see what’s what. I want you here in case our peeping tom tries to sneak another peek.”
“As you wish.” Mr. Blessure said.
The two looked over at Callie. 
She was now finished with Alixa, and tossed her to the side.
“More!” she said.

“Now’s our chance!” Egann said, “I have to get the door, but Balooda will have to come to see who it is.”
“When he does, we zip into his office and get the egg!” Edward said.
“Yes, but you’ll have to be fast.” Egann said, “I don’t know if Balooda will want to escort our mystery guest up to Zedda himself, or not.”
The three hurried out of the laundry room.
Egann headed for the foyer; Edward and Ray lagged behind and hid in a dark alcove, to keep an eye out for Balooda.

Egann approached and entered the entrance hall.
He walked to the front door just as he had done hours ago, when Mike, Callie, and Edward had entered the hotel.
He opened the door.
A teen-age boy stood there. He had come in a green station wagon, and had parked it next to the white MACATTO INSURANCE car.
“Hello,” he said, “My name is Jon.”