Derek Hexflame and the Thirteenth Key, Part 4
Derek Hexflame and the Thirteenth Key
– Part 4 –
“Maybe Harold DID get his hands on the key.” Derek said as they headed through the commons again. “And they grabbed him to keep him from going to Ambrose with it. It makes sense, but barely. And who grabbed him?”
“Uh, Boss, I thought we were keeping a low profile?” Fred said, gripping on to the seat with all twenty claws and his tail.
“We’re running out of time, and I’m pretty sure somebody already knows we’re here…” Derek replied. The pair were sprinting down the cobblestone road riding on a tall brass and steel clockwork spider, a mount Derek had designed himself years before. It existed as a small pocket-sized construct until he activated it, turning it into one of the fastest walking conveyances in The Spiral. Unfortunately, being very fast and one of a kind, it made a bit of a scene every time they took it out for a spin. Students stared, open mouthed, as the eight foot tall mechanical walker ran through the commons, it’s brass feet and articulated legs delicately avoiding stepping on students and landscape alike.
“Who is the gobbler working for, who grabbed Harold, and who is the other wizard?” Derek asked aloud. “Which ‘dead man’ was Gorthus talking about – unfortunately, in Wizard City that distinction doesn’t narrow things down much.”
“Could it be Rattlebones?” Fred asked. “He’s always trying to work his way up in the villain ranks. Remember that North Pole caper?”
“Not his style, and he couldn’t pay the gobblers nearly enough to get them out of Colossus Boulevard. No, this has to be someone established, someone with resources, someone with nothing to lose.”
The pair turned and looked at each other and Fred nearly slipped out of the spider as they both spoke simultaneously.
“But I thought he couldn’t get out of Sunken City – aren’t there a ton of wards Merle put up to keep him locked away in there? He hasn’t been seen in so long-”
“That he’s piratically a myth, yeah, I know – I was one of the wizards that helped lock him in there, and it was Professor Drake’s idea to start the ‘he’s just a myth’ story for all the new students. I told him it wouldn’t work.”
Derek pushed on a brass lever and the spider picked up it’s pace, headed towards Headmaster Ambrose’s tower. “Fred, I’m starting to feel like Harold’s abduction and the Thirteenth Key really are related, but not in the way we thought. I’m getting a REALLY bad feeling about this… We need to talk to Merle, there’s one piece of information we need before we can face Grubb.”
The pair parked the spider in front of the Headmaster’s Tower at the end of the commons and Derek rushed into the cluttered office of Merle Ambrose, trying to work his way around a small throng of new students who were chattering excitedly.
“Ah, mister Hexflame.” Merle Ambrose beamed as he saw Derek enter the office. His expression changed from happiness to distress as he saw the concern on Derek’s face, understanding immediately that there was a problem. “Oh dear. Please, let’s talk somewhere more private.” he said, then moved into the side room off the main office. Derek and Fred followed and Merle locked the door and, for good measure, cast a warding spell on the room to keep them form being overheard.
“Hexflame.” came a high-pitched and obviously annoyed voice from within the room.
“Gamma.” Derek said curtly, glancing at the owl and giving him a half-hearted nod. He turned his attention back to the headmaster and outlined what they had learned about the key.
“So my question, Merle – that ‘different plane of existence’ vault you locked the key in… that wasn’t the first time you have tried that particular spell, was it?”
Merle sighed and nodded.
“When you sealed Grub into his domain… that was the same magic, wasn’t it? It wasn’t just some cavern you happened to find under the waterfall, right?” Derek said excitedly. He was beginning to understand.
“Yes, the first time was Grubb. He was too powerful, we couldn’t seal him into a physical holding cell, we couldn’t make the wards strong enough. If he were locked out of The spiral completely, however, he would be powerless, or so I had hoped.”
“So when you locked the key into the same nether-space in it’s own vault, nobody from our plane of existence could get to it, but…”
“But it may have been accessible from within Grubb’s realm, within the sunken city.” Merle Ambrose said, thoughtfully.
“You don’t seem nearly as terrified as I am.” Fred said to the headmaster, flapping around and seeming agitated. “Boss, doesn’t Grubb want to, you know, destroy the world or something…”
“Yes, he does, but…” Derek looked at Merle. “But he doesn’t have a spiral door in there, since it’s not connected to the spiral. He might have the key, but he can’t use it…”
“And.” Added the headmaster. “I’m certain he has no idea what it actually is, which we may be able to use to our advantage… But you’ll need to get into Sunken City first, and more importantly…”
“We’ll need to get back out.” Derek said, looking at Fred.
“I might have a suggestion that would potentially achieve both of those goals.” Sad Gamma the own in a high-pitched and annoying voice. “Though I’m not sure you’re going to like it.”
Derek saw the smirk that flashed briefly across Gamma’s feathery face. He really didn’t like that smug little owl.
“Do we have to go in there?” Fred asked as they entered the dismal cave that hid the old death school. “Grubb can’t get out, right? And he doesn’t have access to a spiral door in there, so…”
“But he has to have a plan, or he wouldn’t be grabbing wizards and librarians off the street. If Grub really has the thirteenth key, then he grabbed Argleston and the other wizard for a reason; we have to go in and stop this, there’s no choice.”
“You know it’s going to be a fight in there, and you know Grubb fights dirty.” Fred said as they stared at the door to the Sunken City.
“And that gives us an advantage – we KNOW he fights dirty, so we’ll be ready for it. Besides, we’ve learned a few tricks since the last time we fought him. He won’t know what hit him.”
Derek held his hands out before the seal to sunken city and began chanting the spell that Gamma and Headmaster Ambrose had worked out. The seam between the realms rippled and began to shimmer, letting Derek and Fred pass through into Grubb’s realm.
“You were saying something about an advantage, boss?” Fred shouted as the pair ducked for cover behind a ruined stone wall. As soon as they had entered the Sunken City, they were attacked by a three headed hydra, which immediately started blasting them with streams of fire, ice, and lightening. Derek’s cloak was still smoldering in places.
“Ok, so Grubb learned a few new tricks too.” he said, shielding himself with multiple wards to try and keep most of the damage off of them.
“So do we have a plan that doesn’t involve being scorched, frozen, or electrocuted, boss?” Fred shouted as a bolt of lightning scorched the air just above his head. “This thing is not happy.”
“Well, Merle did say this would be a job that required my unique skills, Fred, and I’m pretty sure he didn’t mean my uncanny skills at word games.”
“So we’re going to blow it up, then?” Fred asked, ducking from an ice bolt.
“Pretty much.” Derek said, grabbing a black onyx wand and standing to face the Hydra. “Back me up buddy.”
Derek extended his empty hand and his silver rings glittered as a wall of energy spread out between himself and the hydra, deflecting a white hot bolt of electricity. Fred flew up to distract the hydra while Derek drew in power, murmuring a chant and drawing sigils in the air.
His hands moved impossibly fast as they went through the long-practiced motions of spell casting, and Derek barely noticed it when the Hydra hit him with a blast of fire, able to ignore most of the damage and keep his focus on the spell he was working. Finally, he felt the energy coalesce and flow through him as a massive fire dragon erupted from the ground between him and the Hydra, a wave of pure fire energy smashed through the hydra, splintering the construct into a million shards of glittering magical energy as he looked on.
“Piece of cake.” Fred said, panting, as he flew down to Dereks’ side.
“Your tails’ on fire.” Derek replied absently as he brushed ash and rubble from his cloak. Fred squealed and blew out the lightly smoldering tip of his tail.