INTRODUCTION

Fantasy fiction author Kaza Kingsley won over young readers with the inventive gadgets, relentless action, and gross-out humor in her first book, Erec Rex: The Dragon's Eye. The book became a bestseller and collected numerous children's book awards, including the Benjamin Franklin Award for best new voice in juvenile fiction.

The highly anticipated second book in the series, Erec Rex: The Monsters of Otherness, deals with themes of adoption and acceptance under the mythological framework of the Hercules legend. As Erec fights to save the lives of 50 dragon hatchlings, his real quest is to uncover the truth about his own identity.

The excerpt below is called "Erec Buys His Memory Back." It's a short scene where 12-year-old Erec Rex visits the Memory Mogul to find out what happened to his childhood memories.


MONSTERS OF OTHERNESS is an awesome adventure, full of twists and turns, cool characters, mystery, and a lot of fun. Erec follows his heart when it’s not the easy thing to do, and goes against the odds to do what’s right. This is a wildly exciting book with pedal to the metal attitude!
-Devon Werkheiser, “Ned,” star of Nickelodeon’s popular daily sitcom
Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide

Kaza Kingsley won't let down fans of Erec Rex with this lively, imaginative sequel to The Dragon's Eye. It's a rollicking good read, with many layers that unfold into a captivating ending. The engaging characters, suspense, humor and vivid descriptions make it a great book for all ages.
-Maria Schneider, Editor-in-Chief
Writer's Digest

Readers will be intrigued by a world filled with magic, friendship and thought provoking adventures.
-Children’s Literature
 


Prologue
The Great Secret



King Pluto trembled in the shadows. His master had summoned him with a wolflike howl that left him shaking. Something was terribly wrong, he could tell. The howl was tinged with too much excitement. Maybe anger. Did his master think he had turned against him? Told somebody their plans? He would never dream of that.


It was freezing here. Pluto shivered and pulled the layers of fur tighter around his thin frame. He had left his red ermine and crown at home: too eye-catching. People had shot him enough funny looks since he walked through the Port-O-Door into Paris. He hated Upper Earth.
Another howl from his master ripped through his soul, silent to all but him. Pluto winced from its pain. He tried, as usual, to choke it back, but his body responded with a howl of his own. A couple nearby turned to stare at him. He wiped his nose with his sleeve, hoping to play it off as an overblown sneeze.


King Pluto, pulling down his black knit cap, crossed the street into the open arms of La Place des Yeux du Monde. Bright lights glared inside, but a blind man in a dark smock ushered him into a small drawing room lit only by a hearth fire.


The blind servant felt for a chair and pulled it toward the fire. “For your warmth, your highness.” He then rushed out of the room, scurrying like a mole through the depths of the complex.
King Pluto sank into the plush chair, his scepter in his hand. Who would think that a king would come to have a master? But Thanatos Argus Baskania offered him more than he could ever have alone. He was always there for Pluto, the father he never had. When Pluto’s own father was alive, he was busy with his kingdom in Cyprus. And when he visited he had eyes only for Pluto’s brother. It was always Piter this, Piter that . . . and Posey was his darling girl. But the most Pluto would get was a wink. “You don’t mind, do you, Pluto? We’ll just be gone a bit. Piter promised to show me how he could speak to plants.” Speaking to plants! Please! Like what fascinating thing is a plant going to say? It made him want to throw up.


Pluto rubbed his head. His father never cared about what he could do. When he finally learned to create a force field around himself, Pluto had been so excited to show him. At last his father would be proud. Pluto was up all night before that visit—he still remembered it like yesterday, and it was over four hundred years ago—but his father barely noticed him when he arrived.
Pluto had stood there, blue flares of electricity swarming around him like a giant bubble on the grass. His father waved it off and said, “Your brother Piter made a force field around the whole castle. That must’ve been ten years ago. Try that next time, son. Get Piter to show you how.” Then he walked away. Pluto had stood there, frozen in his force field, afraid to let it down because someone might see the tears streaming down his face. He felt like an idiot.


But his master understood. Thanatos Baskania showed up in his room that very morning. Pluto wondered how Baskania knew his feelings. But he helped Pluto realize how his anger could make him stronger. Thanatos believed in Pluto. He showed him a world of magic that Piter could never do, would never try to do. Black magic. Power over power.


And now Pluto waited for his master in front of the warm fire. . . that same angry, lonely boy, waiting to be chastised for a crime he had not committed. In a breath, his master emerged into the room with someone else in his shadow. King Pluto bowed his head and stooped onto one knee.


“Rise, son.” The Shadow Prince was tall and broad, with silver-gray hair, a crooked nose, and thin lips that pointed down in a permanent sneer. Today, six eyes peered from his wide, pale face. Just enough to keep surveillance. One of them, a steely blue eye, swept over Pluto’s face. “You are worried, Pluto,” he said. “But your fears are unfounded. I have called you here to share good news—and prepare you for what you must do.” Baskania pulled a silver eye with a coal pupil out of his pocket and absentmindedly stroked it.


King Pluto felt his body relax. The warmth of the fire soaked through the layers of his fur.
Baskania’s voice lowered to a purr. “A way has presented itself. For six hundred years I’ve tried to attain the Final Magic, but it has evaded me. The closer I get, the more difficult it has been to learn. I have gained more power and mastered more knowledge than anyone on earth, but I cannot rest until the last powers are known to me. Complete control over life and death, the earth, and everyone in it.” His six eyes all flashed at the glorious thought.


“There was a secret that for years I could not bear to hear discussed. My dear grandmother Cassandra heard its prophecy right before her death. She had pried it, herself, from the hands of the Fates. And then she was murdered. Her simple note said the secret was hidden in a miniature—maybe it was a charm or a little statue . . .”


King Pluto nodded. The Great Secret. The path to the Final Magic.
“Of course you will play a role. It is time to deal with the monsters. That will help me exert my new influence.” He smiled. “As will, of course, the dragon eyes.”
“And Erec Rex . . .” Pluto threw a glance at the third person in the room, who had yet to say a word.


The Shadow Prince’s eyes twinkled. “Ah, yes. I have plans for him. After I pluck his eye out, I will dispose of him quickly.”


“But . . . the Great Secret? Is it possible?”


Several of Baskania’s eyes curved with silent laughter. “Soon the world will kneel to us. Let’s say I will have the help of someone that’s passed this way long ago, someone whose very life has been passed into me.”


“Your grandmother, Cassandra? But how?”


Baskania pulled a clump of frilly leaves with tiny blue flowers from his pocket. “With these . . .”
 



Chapter One
Seeing Green

 




Dear Erec,


You haven’t met me, but I have seen your picture in the huge celebrations here in your honor. We are all so grateful that you rescued King Piter and stopped the evil Shadow Prince from getting the scepter! I just want to say, I think you’re great. I’ll probably never get to meet you except in my dreams. Just know that somewhere there is a girl who is always thinking about you.
If you want to write back, put your letter in this envelope and toss it onto the grass. Otherwise, please throw the empty envelope on the ground to recycle it.
XXXXOOOO,
An Admirer


Erec reread the pink frilly letter for the tenth time. It had appeared yesterday in the grass in a shiny hard shell when he was throwing a ball outside with his brother Trevor. One moment he was rolling in the dirt, and the next it was just there, gleaming white in the sun, the words “Erec Rex” printed neatly on the side. He picked it up, curious. Trails of slime oozed from the shell, but the pink letter poking out was dry. He almost had it memorized, especially the part about the girl thinking about him, and of course all those Xs and Os.


The sun blazed through twelve-year-old Erec’s window, bouncing off the straight dark hair sprouting from the front of his head and getting lost in the tangled curls in back. He stretched in his bed and rubbed his bright blue eyes.


Erec Ulysses Rex was a normal boy, with a few minor exceptions. He had an unusual gift, which he once thought was a curse: his cloudy thoughts. These ideas would overtake him and force him to do whatever they commanded. He used to fight them, but since they had saved his life, he was glad to have them. Also, one of his eyes was attached in the back to a hidden dragon’s eye, a gift from the dragon Aoquesth.


But what he found out recently—that his mother knew magic, that he had been born in Alypium, and that he was destined to be king there—took away any feeling of normalcy he’d ever had. Alypium was one of the three Kingdoms of the Keepers, where magic was still known, along with the underground Aorth, and Ashona, which was under the seas. Not that Erec planned to actually perform the twelve dangerous quests to become king. In fact, there was a big problem he could not ignore. He now knew that becoming king would destroy him completely.


Erec rolled over and read the letter again. For the first time in a long time, his alarm clock had not woken him early. What a relief. Maybe the thing finally realized it was summer . . . now that summer was at an end. The clock usually woke him by throwing things at him. It was one of the strange, lifelike objects that Erec had grown up with, like his juggling coat rack. His mother had gotten them from the Kingdoms of the Keepers.


He glanced at the clock and then sat up, not believing his eyes. It stood in a small pool of water, beeping softly. His mother’s magical Seeing Eyeglasses were perched on its round face. Small tearlike droplets dripped down its numbers as it peered through the glasses. The clock was like an annoying pet, always waking him up too early, but now it looked pathetic. When he picked the glasses up, the clock came with them, blinking sadly. Erec pulled, but the glasses stuck firmly to its face.
“Oh, no.” Erec smacked his forehead. He had left the glasses out last night, thinking about using them to check on his best friend, Bethany. He had not done it, and now he regretted taking them out at all. They were impossible to take off anybody, maybe even an alarm clock.


He flopped onto his back and gazed at a crack in the ceiling. As he stared, it began to look quite like a minotaur he had once had an unfortunate experience with. He closed his eyes and sighed. Part of him wanted to go back to Alypium, where strange things like minotaurs existed and where Bethany was, rather than staying safe and comfortable in New Jersey. Sure, he had never been crushed in a pit under an avalanche of rock at home, nor nearly been killed by a multieyed fiend, or suffered attack fleas, but he also had more fun in Alypium than anywhere else.


But the problem was the scepter. It still haunted him day and night. His dreams were ravaged with thoughts of holding its slick gold, streams of its power flowing through his body. It kept calling for him. From the first moment he had held it, he’d wanted the scepter badly, would do anything to get it. But since he had come home to Upper Earth, his craving for it had grown, and he realized what it had done to him. His mind wandered to it all the time, and not with thoughts of helping people with it or learning about its magic. No. Erec wanted it in his bones. He wanted its power. He wanted to join it . . . lose himself in it . . . use it to complete his will.


His desire for it completely overwhelmed him.


He had used it to too much, too soon, without any training . . . and he knew that if he ever held it again, he would be out of control, lost in its power.
So becoming a king and wielding a scepter was out of the question.

Erec rose from the small cot in the corner of the tiny room he shared with his two brothers. He used to hate being cramped for space, but now he did not care. After everything he had gone through, all that mattered was that his family was alive and safe. He stepped over his sleeping dogs, Tutt and King, and his brother Trevor snoozing in a sleeping bag.


Danny and Sammy, his thirteen-year-old twin brother and sister, stood across the room staring at him and whispering. They looked alike, tall and thin with soft blue eyes. Danny’s sandy brown hair stood on end, and Sammy’s was smoothed into a ponytail. Ever since he returned from Alypium four weeks ago, they had been acting strangely—following him around, eyes glued on him like they’d never seen him before. It was almost like they were spying on him. His adoptive mother, June, had said they just wanted to keep an eye out for him since he had been missing for so long. But they certainly did not seem like their old selves. Danny had not cracked a single joke, and Sammy was not acting motherly at all. In fact, they seemed serious all the time.


“Excuse me, guys.” Erec squeezed between the twins’ shoulders into the bathroom. His toothbrush, another lifelike object his mother had bought from the Vulcan store in the Kingdoms of the Keepers, sprang into action. It grabbed an open tube of toothpaste with its arms and legs, rested its bristle head over the opening, and squeezed until a big glob of white popped onto its face. Like a monkey, it swung hand over foot up to Erec’s face where, grabbing his mouth, it shook its head dizzyingly across Erec’s teeth.


Erec gripped the counter for as long as he could stand it before he ripped the thing out of his mouth. He looked into the mirror and gasped. Two faces were right behind him, staring.
Then he sighed. It was just Danny and Sammy. “You guys scared me. Are you under orders to follow me or something?”


The old Danny would have hit him on the head and told him to shut up, but then again, the old Danny would not have been staring at him to begin with. He shook his head in warning and the twins backed off.


Erec was leaving the bathroom when suddenly a blinding green light flashed through him. In the next second he could see again, but everything looked green. White cobwebs hung all around him. Erec watched himself moving, walking—although he was sure he was standing still. He gripped the door frame next to him.


The image before his eyes was so clear, Erec was not sure if it was real. It looked like he was outside, somewhere running through cobwebs . . . running at his brother Danny. Danny had a horrified look in his eyes. Erec saw himself tackling Danny, grabbing his neck. No, he thought, what am I doing? But he could see his own hands holding his brother down, shaking him hard.
A woman walked by in the eerie green light. She looked down at them in shock. Erec watched his hand reach up and grab at her belt and . . . yank it from her waist. His heart started pounding. How could he? She looked shocked, clutched her skirt to hold it up . . .


And then the image faded.


Erec stood in the doorway of the bathroom, pale and shaking. What had happened? It was like a dream, but he was awake and it felt so real. What was wrong with him? He didn’t want to hurt his brother. He looked at Danny across the room and bit his lip in shame.


June had come down the hallway. “Are you okay?”


Erec shrugged, not sure if he was all right or not.


“Your eye turned around and the dragon eye side was showing,” she said in awe. “I’ve never seen anything like it. It glowed like a green light, with a long black slit in the middle. Then it turned back so fast I couldn’t believe it.” Concerned, she brushed hair from his face. “Did you see something through it?”


Erec rubbed his shoulders, feeling unsettled. “You don’t want to know.”


“What do you mean?”


“Never mind.” Erec did not want to admit he’d had such a horrible thought. He walked back to his cot. What was that all about? This was the first time he had seen through the dragon’s eye since he got it . . . and he didn’t like what he saw. What made it happen now? And why did the vision have to be so terrible?


He had been glad to have the dragon eye. It was so much better than the glass one he’d had before. Now he could see through both eyes. But what if the dragon eye wasn’t so great? What if it was evil? A chill crept through him. What if the dragon eye was going to make him do things like his cloudy thoughts did—only bad things? Was it going to make him really hurt Danny? No. He wouldn’t let it.


Erec rubbed his new eye, wishing he could have his glass one back. The last thing he needed was something to make him more out of control. And what if he wanted to get rid of the dragon eye someday? Was he stuck with it?


June went into the kitchen and came back with a letter. “This came yesterday. I forgot to give it to you.”


He opened it.

Dear Erec,
I hate to ask you this because I know how you feel about becoming king, and the scepter and all, but it’s really urgent. Baskania and President Inkle are going to count your absence from Alypium as a forfeit. If you don’t get here within the week to do the first quest, they will hand the throne to Balor, Damon, and Rock, since they “officially” won the contests.
I’ve been thinking about it a lot, Erec. I know you’re afraid of what might happen if you use the scepter again. And sure, being a king sounds a little crazy. But if you really were the king, you wouldn’t have to use the scepter, would you? I mean, nobody could make you. Just think about it. I can’t imagine what would happen if Balor, Damon, and Rock become rulers and get the scepters. You know what they would do to everybody here? Would you consider it, please? Anyway, I wouldn’t mind seeing you again.
Your friend,
Bethany

That settled it. Handing Alypium to the Stain brothers was not an option. They would turn the place into a wasteland, their dragon horses breathing fire on everyone, using the scepters for destruction. Like it or not, Erec was going.
 



Chapter Two
Police Officerssss





Erec was not sure what to pack for his trip to Alypium. The last time he had brought nothing at all. He couldn’t help feeling like he was making a big mistake. A dream he’d had last night about the scepter was his most vivid one yet. It started the same as usual. He made a command. The scepter’s energy started at his fingertips and streamed through his body, building into a roar. Usually he did not remember the command, but this time he was ashamed to remember it only too well. He had told it that he wanted to rule the world. And as the scepter did his bidding—making everybody drop to their knees and bow down to him—he’d heard his enemy, Baskania, laughing wildly.
Maybe Bethany was right. Maybe he could be king and just put the thing in a closet and never look at it again.


Erec swallowed hard. He doubted he could do that. But he pushed the thought from his mind. At least he would get to see Bethany in Alypium, and maybe his secret admirer as well. What would it be like to be surrounded by adoring fans? The thought cheered him up. He probably would get free cloud cream sundaes and chocolate-covered honey drops. Big-eyed girls would crowd around him wanting to hear how he fought off the destroyers. He would have to get used to signing autographs, of course, but that would be okay.



When Erec appeared, Zoe was eating Flying Count cereal in the kitchen. She ran to his side. “Tell me about the destroyers in the dungeon again. Did you almost die?” Erec laughed. Since he had been back, his younger siblings, Trevor, Nell, and Zoe, couldn’t get enough of his stories.
Trevor downed a mouthful of Magnon Fiber and leaned forward eagerly.


Erec sat down and Zoe climbed into his lap. “It was nothing. I just threw paper on all their noses with a wooden arm, and they dropped like flies.”


Zoe’s eyes were big, but June rolled hers. “All right, hero. Eat some breakfast, we’ll hop a train to Grand Central, and I’ll walk you to FES Station.”


Danny and Sammy were glued to the television. A reporter blared, “The latest developments of the multinational organization, Eye of the World, have raised concerns. Unnamed sources report that, under various names, Eye of the World is purchasing fleets of ocean liners, railroads, and trucking companies across the globe, as well as many important bridges.


“In an unprecedented move, Eye of the World has just purchased the famous Chunnel connecting Great Britain to the European continent. The Channel Tunnel, previously not for sale, was won after billions of dollars filtered to the controlling governments. Many are expressing fears about Eye of the World having too much control. Its leader, the elusive Crown Prince of Peace, already owns Sky Limit, the megacorp controlling most of the world’s air traffic. He explains, ‘Eye of the World is taking the mission of peace into its own hands. Governments have abused the trust of their people long enough, using their power over transportation to wage wars as they please. We are simply creating a network of safety and peace that is unbreakable for the good of all.’”


June switched off the television, a sour look on her face. Danny and Sammy huddled, whispering, then insisted on walking with Erec and June to FES Station that lead to the Kingdoms of the Keepers and Alypium. Eleven-year-old Nell pushed aside her walker to hug Erec goodbye, then came skinny red-haired Trevor, and finally Zoe squeezed him too, flinging her long blond curls in his face. Erec rolled his suitcase behind him down the street.


June slipped thirty dollars to the short, pudgy hot dog vendor at Grand Central Station. “I’ll check in with you as soon as I can get those glasses off your alarm clock,” she told Erec. “And e-mail me. If you need anything, just come home through a Port-O-Door.”


“All right, Mom.”


Danny took sixty dollars out of his pocket and handed it to the vendor. “Two more, Gerard.”


“Oh, no you don’t,” June said. “You’re starting school soon, and you need to stay with the family.” She snatched the money from the vendor’s fist. “Where did you get this?”


The twins stared at her coldly. Sammy produced another sixty dollars and handed it to the vendor.
June’s eyes narrowed at the now confused Gerard, who dropped the money back into her hand.

 “Hey, this isn’t family therapy,” he said. “I’m running a business here.” He looked over Sammy’s shoulder at the next customer in a growing line. “Yeah, whadda ya want?”


June’s face was red with embarrassment. “We’ll talk about this when we get home.” She threw withering glances at Danny and Sammy. “We discussed this, and I said no. You start school soon and we don’t have a tutor lined up for you in Alypium. There is no reason for you to go there.”
Sammy’s steel blue eyes swung to her mother. “Mom, we need to stay with Erec. Someone has to keep an eye on him.” She grabbed the money out of her mother’s hand and shoved it back at the vendor. “We’re going, too.”


“Sammy!” June spun her around. “We will discuss this later. It’s time you two pulled yourselves together. Everyone’s home now. We’re all okay. Let’s have a fresh start.” She held her hand out to Gerard for the money.


Danny’s voice raised a notch. “Listen, Mom. We’re going and you can’t stop us.” He shoved her away from the money Gerard held out.


“What?” June looked shocked, holding her arm where Danny had pushed her.


Erec couldn’t believe it. What was wrong with them? “Listen, guys. I’ll visit soon. Just stop making a big deal about this.”


Danny sneered. “Shut up, Erec. It’s none of your business.” He turned to Gerard. “Keep the money. We’re going with him.”


Gerard looked back and forth confused. Finally he shrugged his shoulders. “Password?”
June stepped forward. “No!”


Suddenly, the world around Erec vanished. Instead, he found himself standing in the middle of a green cyclone, rooted to the earth by his feet. His hands stretched into the swirling vortex around him. Everything glowed an unreal shade of green, like he had stepped into a comic book. Thin cobwebs filled the air. He was dizzy and sick, and his stomach rose into his throat.
It was almost as if . . .


It was.


A cloudy thought. But not like any he had ever experienced. Something was happening with his dragon eye. It was making his cloudy thought different. Wild and out of control. He felt changed, morphed into some kind of green monster.


Fire felt like it was shooting from his fingertips. He was strong, energized. He could do anything. It was like the power of the trident was inside him.


Then the command came to him. He knew what he had to do.


Run at Danny, full speed. Knock him down. Use all of your brute force. Then tie his hands with a belt.
What kind of craziness was this? Hurt his brother? Just because he wanted to come to Alypium? No. He wouldn’t do it.


But if it had been hard in the past to fight his cloudy thoughts, it was impossible now. His body raced forward, fists up, straight for his brother. He felt sick. Sick with himself, sick with what he was doing, yet unable to stop.


And then he saw it. There was a glint in Danny’s hand. Something sharp flew from his fingers as Erec tackled him. He shoved Danny onto the sidewalk, held him down, heart pounding. What was that thing he had been holding? Danny stared at him wildly, a thin trickle of blood running from his lip.
A woman walked by wearing a belted skirt. She looked down at them in horror. Erec closed his eyes. No. But he could not fight it. He yanked the cloth belt from her waist, tied it around Danny’s wrists, then sat on his knees.


It was over. Erec rubbed his eyes, the green light gone. His dragon eye must have switched around to his regular eye.


June’s mouth hung open. She rushed over to help Danny up. “Erec,” she said, “What is wrong with you? Why did you do that?”


Danny sat up and rubbed his head. Erec stared at the ground, ashamed. “I’m sorry.” He looked at Danny. “What were you holding?”


Danny glared at him. “A mirror. I had something stuck in my teeth.”


Erec dropped his head into his hands. “I am so sorry.” He helped Danny up. How could this have happened? Were his cloudy thoughts turning on him? He looked at his hands, disgusted with what he had done.


June laid her hand on his arm. “Are you going to be okay?” Erec nodded. “Maybe Danny and Sammy should keep an eye on you, after all. Come home, you two, and we’ll talk about it. Erec,” her hand tightened its grip on him, “be careful. After that stunt I have half a mind to keep you home. But you have a big job to do. I’ll check on you soon with the glasses.” She sighed. “Good luck with your first quest to be king.”


Little did Erec know how much he would need it.

The swarm of activity in FES Station came as a jolt after the four weeks Erec had spent in quiet, predictable Upper Earth. A thick, lifeless feeling penetrated the air. It was from the Substance, the invisible network that held all magic. Substance ran through Aitherplanes throughout the world, but more of it was in the Kingdoms of the Keepers, which made it easier to do magic there. For some reason, in the Kingdoms it gave off a sad ache that surrounded everyone, weighing on hearts and minds like an unsolvable problem. Erec knew from before that he would adjust to it in a day or two. After that, he would only notice it on occasion, with melancholy twinges.


People bustled everywhere. Sorcerers and apprentices wore black and blue cloaks; some others sported shiny silver “UnderWear” from Aorth. Interesting shops lined the walls, like Neither Fish nor Fowl Vegetarian Diner, Swim with the Fishes Scuba Shop, and Under Grounds Coffee.
Even with the heavy feeling from the Substance, Erec still grinned at the people flying under the sixty-foot-high ceilings. Women and men raised their arms and sailed up into the wind tunnel of the Skyway, the passageway for people who could fly. Erec had flown before with the help of dragon scale dust, and Bethany had too, by using heli powder. Everyone in the Kingdoms of the Keepers was born with a magical gift. Erec wished his was flying; he would love to do it all the time. But then again, his gift of cloudy thoughts had helped him quite a bit.


Thin wooden doors appeared and vanished all around the walls of the station. Erec immediately recognized them as Port-O-Doors, magical doorways that took people where they wanted to go, and vanished when they returned. Some of the doors shrunk to fit under food counters. Erec saw a woman stumble out of a shrunken door straight into a luggage rack, spilling coffee on herself and muttering.


Erec had a little money with him, enough to splurge on a cloud cream nectar fizz at United Pollen Farmers. Before he slurped the last drop, it floated and vanished into the air. Without looking, he grabbed his suitcase and headed toward the white neon ALYPIUM sign. He lost his balance as his suitcase wiggled and jerked to the side. He reached for it, but it lurched out of his reach.
A tall man with hair greased over a large bald spot appeared in front of him, clearing his throat and squinting through his monocle. “And what do you think you are doing? Stealing my luggage, I presume?” He crossed his arms. “You look familiar. I better call the police.”


“No, please.” Erec looked at the suitcase more closely. It was dark blue like his own, but taller and without wheels. The thing happily trotted to the man’s side. “I’m sorry. I thought it was mine.”
“Hmmph. Likely story.” The man frowned. “If it belonged to you, you wouldn’t need to grab it like that. It would have come with you on its own. Stay here.” His clawlike hand gripped Erec’s shoulder, and he spoke into his index finger. “Police? I’m in FES Station, by the Super A King fastaurant. I’ve caught a young thief here, trying to steal my suitcase. Yes, thank you.” Erec’s stomach sank into his knees. He remembered that people here had microscopic cell phones implanted in their fingers.
The man glared at Erec. “Just you wait. President Inkle has gotten a lot tougher on criminals. You’ll sit in a dungeon, or at least get a nasty memory implant for this.”


Erec remembered how King Piter, the king of Alypium, had punished Earl Evirly with a memory implant. He did not want to spend the rest of his life with terrible memories of rotting away in a cell, sure that it really happened even though it had not. “But I wasn’t trying to—”


Four odd looking, armless men in uniforms appeared. Instead of limbs, they had long, snakelike bodies. Their blue uniforms looked like tube socks with star-shaped badges and brass buttons stuck on. One of the officers wore a hat that looked like a blue bowler with a black band and a star in front, like a cross between an English bobby’s hat and one worn by the Keystone Cops. Another wore a taller black hat with a wide brim and a gold buckle, which made him look like a pilgrim. The third sported an ornate silver Spanish conquistador helmet, and the fourth wore a tall white pointed hat with broad wings that looked like it came straight off a Dutch farm girl.


All of the officers eyed Erec harshly, swaying back and forth like snakes. “Ssssso, thissssss is the thief?” the cop in the conquistador helmet asked. “Tsssssk, tsssssk, young man. You will learn sssssoon, crime does not pay.”


“B-but . . .” Erec looked back and forth between the men. He could not believe this was happening. They were not even asking him his side of the story. The men’s torsos started waving wildly, as if they were about to strike. One flicked a forked tongue from his mouth. Erec’s breath caught. What would happen now? He had to get to Alypium to stop Balor, not be thrown in a dungeon somewhere.
A sudden flash of light surprised Erec. The tall man who’d called the police had just snapped his picture. The police officers slid closer on their tails, hissing. Erec wondered how they could catch him without arms. Then the one in the Dutch farm girl’s hat tilted back his head and opened his mouth wider than seemed possible. Two long fangs jutted from under his top lip, and a terrible sizzling sound came from his throat. His head wagged in excitement, tilting sideways as he approached Erec.
That’s when he realized how they were going to catch him. By biting him.


Thoughts of snakes and poison tumbled through Erec’s head in the split second before he turned and ran.


He hoped the officers would not be able to run fast with only one thick leg. When he glanced over his shoulder, he could not see them at all. But then a woman behind him screamed and jumped. The police officers appeared, slithering across the floor right behind him.


A scream gargled in the back of Erec’s throat as he pushed his way past people, leaping on his toes across the room. The snake men slid behind him, knocking people out of their way. Erec ran faster, flinging himself behind the counter of a coffee shop.


A girl making coffee yelped. Erec apologized, then dove out of the way when the officer wearing the Keystone bobby hat slid over the counter. The girl looked as terrified as he was, and dumped a pot of hot coffee onto the snake man’s back.


The officer hissed loudly and looked back at her, furious. Erec leapt over the counter and ran toward an UnderWear shop. He wished he could fly to escape the snakelike officers. But what he saw next changed his mind. Two of them were soaring toward him, wiggling through the air like worms in dirt. Their fangs glistened in the light.


As he was looking over his shoulder, Erec tripped over a walking duffle bag and crashed to the floor. The snakes slid closer, mouths open. He scrambled to get away, but they were faster, closing in on him. One of them opened wide, fangs poised above Erec’s leg.


There was nothing he could do. The snake thing would bite him and whatever happened then would happen. He hoped it was not poisonous.


He squeezed his eyes shut, jaw clamped tight, but he felt nothing. When he dared to sneak a peek, he saw the officer’s snake like mouth frozen over his calf. He jerked it away, but the snake mouth stayed where it was. Silence now filled FES Station. He noticed everybody was frozen, like statues.
A chuckle burst out over his head. “It’s a good thing I was here, Erec. Wouldn’t want to lose you now. You have too many things to do.”


The man who approached him made the snakelike officers look normal. His piercing green eyes were surrounded by thick olive-colored scales, scattered over blotches of pink skin. The scales covered most of his head, making him bald. His wide nose protruded forward along with his jaw, making him look like a reptile, and his mouth was long and wide.


The man cleared his throat. “I suppose you’re gawking because of my looks?”


Erec shook his head, stunned.
“I understand,” the man said. He paced, his ha

nds fluttering in constant motion like birds. “It’s the first time you’ve seen me like this. Nasty, isn’t it? A wicked boy did this to me a long time ago. This is a great improvement over the crocodile head he gave me, though. Did you know that if your looks are changed, you can never go back to what you were before?” He grimaced. “I’m sorry. Let me introduce myself. My name is Rosco Kroc. I’m your friend Oscar’s tutor.”


Erec dumbly shook his hand.


“Well, you better hurry. I’ve just learned how to stop time, and I can’t keep it up much longer. Let’s get you out of here.”


Erec found his suitcase, which he had left by the United Pollen Farmers. Rosco tossed it on the luggage counter and walked him to the front of the line for the Artery to Alypium. “Are you ready to go? The police will think you vanished. Good thing they don’t know your name.”


Erec nodded. In a second, everyone around him was moving again. He heard screams from the far end of the station, where it sounded like the officer might have accidentally bit somebody else.
He wasn’t sticking around to find out.
 

 

Retail Price: $18.99, Hardcover, 349 pages. Published by Firelight Press, Inc., October, 2007. ISBN-10: 0978655575

Copyright 2007 by Kaza Kingsley. All Rights Reserved. Please feel free to duplicate or distribute this file as long as the contents are not changed and this copyright notice is intact. Thank you

 

 

2008 Kaza Kingsley All Rights Reserved  |  Site by Mad Hatter Design