After giving Alfred and Merlyn Landon’s invisibility cloak, and making sure they entered the secret entrance to the Moose King’s castle, Buddy the Ambrosial Dragon used a separate and most secret entrance himself, this time straight to Hell, or as close as he could get without being dead or dying. Asmodius, the head of all of Hell’s demons, wouldn’t expect him to enter their realm by posing as one of the dead on a barge crossing the River Styx.
The dragon, Landon, and their magical companion Yao Jin had been exceedingly lucky to escape this place in the past. But he couldn’t let Landon die, and he would do anything to save the boy, including sacrifice his own life and soul. However, there was more involved in his quest than even that.
Ana and Ha Shu, the Mooseman Warrior hid behind one side of the bed of Princess Fountain of Perpetual Cuteness, as the ridiculously and brilliantly adorned Moose Princess went to answer the pounding on her door. Ana was only nine and could fit under the bed easily, but Moosemen are much larger than people, and he was afraid his antlers would stick out too far. Fortunately, the Princess, being a Moosewoman, was also quite big, and thus so was her bed.
A loud voice screamed through the thick, oaken door, “I told you to…”
Princess Cuteness abruptly threw the door open inward, causing the startled Captain of the Guard to fall forward. Fortunately, his exceptionally wide rack of antlers got caught on either side of the doorway stopping his forward momentum and actually knocking him back into the hallway.
“Why, what a surprise, Captain Mann Ha. I didn’t expect to see you today,” she uttered in a false friendly tone. Then her voice changed to bitter venom. “Give me the news you came to deliver and get out.”
“Ah, Baby. Don’t be like that.”
Ana and the Moose Warrior exchanged looks of surprise at this sudden and silly turn of events.
“You know the King didn’t send me. I came to ask you out on a date. You’ve refused me 476 times before, but you’re so beautiful, I just can’t resist coming back.”
“I’ll tell you the same thing I did 476 times before…” Then the Princess stopped talking as if again pondering Mann Ha’s offer. “I’ve changed my mind. Would you like to come in?”
The Captain’s face practically split in two at his broad grin. “Oh, Your Highness Baby, would I ever.” He started forward and then remembered his perpetually bruised antlers, and the deep gouges he’d just left in the door frame. Then he stopped, turned his head sideways, and eased himself in head first.
The Princess stepped back to let him in. Then he closed the door behind him.
“Now, where were we?” He reached for her but she blocked him with an outstretched arm, jamming her hand hard against his chest. The Mooseman was surprised at the strength of the Princess.
“Just hold up one minute, pal. Who gave you permission to lay your hooves all over my Fountain of Perpetual Cuteness?”
“But when you let me in, I thought…” He sounded like he was whining now, but with a touch of anger.
“Nothing doing, Moose brain. I’m not that kind of girl.”
Ana was still tucked under the bed, and Mann Ha would have to get on his hands and knees, and then put his head on the floor to see underneath, a task that would be exceedingly difficult because of his antlers. But all he’d have to do is walk a few feet toward the bed to see Ha Shu’s barely concealed bulk.
While the heated exchange between the Princess and the Captain was going on, they heard a faint, “Shhh” sound being repeated from the direction of the closet. Looking up, they saw the weasel Mustel peering out the partially open door and waving them over. But there was no way they could do that without being seen, and then, as they say, the jig would be up.
Princess Cuteness must have noticed as well, resulting in her saying, “I require some attention and witty conversation, Captain, my Captain. Why don’t we repair to my parlor and I shall have some servants prepare us tea and crumpets.”
“Well, uh, okay. Anything for you, Princess Baby.” He doubted his ability to be anything close to witty, but he’d gotten this far, so what the heck.
“If you call me Princess Baby one more time, I’m going to have you drowned in Moose Milk.”
“Oh, Baby, I mean, Princess Fountain of Perpetual Cuteness, can I call you Princess Fountain? Don’t be that way. I didn’t mean it.”
Their voices became fainter, meaning that they had left the bedroom for the parlor. Now the weasel was jumping up and down and waving frantically.
“Make no sound, Ana.” Ha Shu got up, and with stealth belying his massive moose frame, she slipped over to the closet. Ana quietly followed, making sure to take Landon’s cure and her wand with her. As the trio retreated into the closet and were about to close the door behind them, they all heard the lilting voice of the Princess exclaim, “My, what a big rack you have.”
Landon was still suspicious, but he followed the strange, cursed piranha people through the myriad maze of their home inside an underwater island floating in the Sea of Hell. Finally, they came to a large, spherical chamber, presumably in the center of the rock structure. At the far end, was the opening to a tunnel larger than any the nine-year-old boy had seen so far. The old man fish waved a fin in that direction while the others bent their heads in sorrow.
“There it is. The way out of Hell. You can take it at any time.”
“But…blub.” Landon had opened his mouth, forgetting he still couldn’t talk underwater. He paused for a moment until he could sense the aged creature’s thoughts, then he projected his own. “So why haven’t you taken it?”
“We can’t. We are dead and cursed to Hell. Asmodius put it here to taunt us, allowing us to see a path to freedom we can never take. Only the living can escape and you have yet to die.”
“Where does it lead?”
“In just a few hours, anyplace will be preferable to here.”
“Can’t you feel it? The water is getting hotter.”
He was right. Landon had been so preoccupied with being surrounded by a pack of supernatural and etherial flesh eaters, that he hadn’t been paying attention. If he was in the air, he’d be sweating like a waterfall. Only the fact the he was a spirit kept him from passing out because of the heat.
“If you plan to return to the outer world, you cannot concern yourself with the machinations of Asmodius. Flee while you can. We are beyond death, but not beyond suffering.”
“I promise, if I can, I will come back and help you.”
“There is no help for us, child.”
“I have powerful friends. Trust me.”
“Go now, boy. This is your last chance before the demon horde realizes where you’ve gone.”
He had no idea how much time had passed, but it must have been a lot. He probably had only a few hours, and maybe only a few minutes, before he died in the Moose world and ended up a permanent resident of Hell.
“I’ll be back,” he called as he launched himself into the opening.
Landon used his levitation spell to glide swift and smooth through the arrow-straight passage way. It grew wider and wider until it shot back into Hell’s ocean.
“Wait,” he thought to himself. “This feels strange. The water is cooler and the current is different.” He saw a faint light from above and realized it was the surface, but what was up there? “Only one way to find out.”
The child glided silently upward, but not too fast. He let his head just barely break the surface, which broke the water breathing spell as well. He instantly recognized the barge that had just sailed by him heading back the way he came.
“I’m in the Underworld. This is the River Styx, the River of the Dead.” He shuddered at the memories of when he was here before, and on each occasion, he barely got back out to the land of the living.
“I’m alive and outside of Hell, but where is the Moose World?”
The dragon’s apprentice concentrated and wove a spell of direction, which worked both just like a compass but also a sense of knowing among dimensions. He mentally mapped the path between the Underworld and the Moose realm, and then like a rocket, shot out of the water and into what passed for an ebony sky in this place. He would be at his destination in under a minute. “Hello body, here I come.”
As the barge Landon had seen reached the shores of Hell, Buddy took note of his best friend’s passage. “Good, he has escaped. My apprentice has learned much, but my mission is here.”
The Ambrosial Dragon had used a spell to dampen his mystical energy signature, and was dressed in a heavy dark robe with a hood. Many creatures from all of the realms passed into Hell, so his not being human would go unnoticed. He checked to make sure he had everything he would need for his plan. In no time, Asmodius would become aware of Landon’s absence, so he would not wait for the child’s death before initiating his evil plot. The dragon had to hurry. Even if Landon regained his body and his life, if Buddy failed, he and everyone in the Moose world would still perish.
Mustel led them through a completely different set of secret tunnels than those the Princess had employed. These were dull and drab and smelled of decay and despair, and both Ana and Ha Shu had trouble keeping up with the quick and nimble weasel. Finally, they stopped at what looked like a deadend.
“How is this supposed to help? We’ve got to get out of here, but all I see is a stone wall.”
“Fear not, Ana,” calmly intoned the Mooseman. I can tell there is a secret entrance here, one perhaps even your dragon friend does not know. Can you use your magic to reveal the latch that will release the lock and open it?”
“I don’t know that much…Wait.” She pulled out the wand and thought of her “squirt gun” spell. “If I can spray the door with enough water, maybe it will wash away the dirt, grime, and mortar, and reveal the latching mechanism.”
“Where will the water come from?”
“Watch this.” Ana aimed her wand at the supposed door and concentrated. It wasn’t as easy as she remembered, as she continued to focus her will on the wall and the wand. She imagined water flowing through the wand like it would shoot out of a supersoaker. Ana thought of a water fight with Landon and her brother, which almost made her lose concentration, because she remembered that her friend was near death. Then she got angry at the thought that the demons would win and redoubled her efforts.
Suddenly, a high-powered stream of water blasted out the tip of the wand with the intensity of a fire hose, and blasted away the rubble in seconds. Unfortunately, the back splash soaked the child and the Mooseman, but it also let Ha Shu spy the latch.
“Thank you, Ana, but I wasn’t due for a bath for another week.”
“Sorry.” Ana put the wand away, checked to make sure the cure in a vial was okay, and then tried wringing out her top.
The Moose Warrior slipped his hand into the hidden depression concealing the latch, which obviously was large enough to accommodate Moose people hands, and tripped it. The thick panel slid aside to reveal tons of rocks.
“What?” Ana was in shock.
The weasel, as surprised as anyone, zipped back down the tunnel, and then into a vermin-sized hole in the wall to escape the little girl’s wrath.
“A cave in of some sort. The opening to the outside of the castle might be a few yards ahead, but it’s blocked and probably has been for ages.”
“But we’ve got to get out,” Ana wailed.
“Take it easy, Dollface. You’ll wake the whole castle.”
Ana spun around to see nothing, but the voice sounded familiar. “Alfred, is that you?”
“Oh yeah, I forgot.” Suddenly, what wasn’t there, appeared in the form of the Bunny in the Bow Tie, and his companion Merlyn the Dragon.
“Where did you come from?”
“Buddy dropped us off here after showing us how to get in. He borrowed Landon’s invisibility cloak so we could move around unseen.”
“To find all this stuff and bring it back to you.” The bunny took out all of Ana’s remaining magical items, including the Amulet of Flight, out of some pockets in his fur, which looked impossibly deep, and gave them to her. Meanwhile, the dragon was squeaking excitedly.
“That’s right. He says while we were invisible, we weren’t always super silent. Opening the secret panel into these tunnels made some noise, and I think the guards are onto us.”
As if on cue, they could hear the faint rattle of armor, and metal booted feet clamoring from behind, and they were getting closer.
“Okay, Babe. Do your stuff and get us out of here.”
“How? I can’t move all this rock. I don’t know that much magic yet. How about you, Merlyn? Can’t you breathe fire or something?”
The stuffed animal dragon, who recently had joined the others at home in her room nodded his head up and down and grinned with plush teeth. Everyone else stood back and Merlyn jumped up to the caved in passageway, opened his mouth, and vomited a series of fire balls.
“Wait! It’s too hot. We’ll burn up.” This was one time Ana was glad she was soaking wet since it protected her from the blowback of the heat from Merlyn’s breath (which smelled like rotten eggs). Now, she was almost dry, but the rocks were merely scorched (as were the stuffed dragon’s teeth and furry snout), the tunnel was full of smoke, and the Moose guards were almost upon them. Then something about the heat reminded her of one last trick she could try.
Landon vanished from the Underworld in a blast of deep purple light, and re-emerged in the Moose realm high above the castle where his friends were trapped. He was drawn like iron filings to a magnet toward the Mooseman village and his waiting and dying body.
“In just a few seconds, I’ll be alive again.” He was immensely relieved at the prospect. He’d fought off a horde of demons, escaped from Hell, and was about to get back his life, and he’d done it without anyone’s help, well, except for the piranha people, who he had to figure out how to help.
He soared down into the town, the sun above approaching midday, and zipped right through the walls of Sha Su’s hut. There he was, or rather his body. Now all he had to do was slide inside.
Then terror clutched his heart as instead of regaining his body, he went right through it. No matter how many times he tried, he couldn’t connect.
“What’s wrong? Why can’t I get back inside?”
The Moosewoman healer hadn’t moved, eaten, or slept since this ordeal began. She sorrowfully looked again at the clock on her mantel. “Oh dear, oh dear. Less than an hour left. If the child and the warrior don’t return soon with the antidote, it will be too late for the boy.
“Too late? Can’t you do anything?”
She ignored him.
“Can’t you hear me?” His hand passed right through her, too.
“Wait. The antidote. That must be it. Even if I got back into my body, I’m still dying. Only Ana and Ha Shu can save me now.”
In Hell, Buddy crept away from the group of the dead being led by junior apprentice demons to the orientation center so they could be assigned their final place of torment. Hell was even hotter than he thought it would be.
“I see you’ve arrived at last. You’ll be my greatest prize.”
Buddy turned around and pulled his hood back. “Hiding no use, I see. Evil demon detects me.”
“This is Hell, you moron. Of course I can detect you. I’m all-powerful here. But please, I’m being a poor host. Let me show you something.”
Asmodius clicked together two of his black, claw-like fingernails and transported them to the shores of a liquid-filled pit of enormous proportions. It wasn’t only steaming, but boiling, and moment by moment, the boiling became more frantic.
“This is what you came to stop, isn’t it?”
“You started already before boy even dead.”
“Those cursed piranha men will be ever so sorry they showed Landon the path out, but since he escaped, I was forced to accelerate my plans. Even if by some miracle he regains his life, in less than an hour, this portion of Hell will reach the saturation point, and shoot up like a superheated geyser, obliterating all living beings in the Moose realm. Then we demons will rule their magic, growing ever stronger, until we can also conquer the human world.
The golden dragon ripped off his remaining robes and took an attack stance. “Not while Buddy lives.”
“Then Buddy shall die.” With that, the master demon leaped at the dragon and sank long fangs through his scales and into his flesh.
In the Moose realm, Landon heard the dragon wailing in agony as his life ebbed away.
I had planned to finish the story line in today’s “chapter,” but as I kept typing, and the word count approached 3,000, I realized I had too much material. So once again, I’ve stopped at a cliffhanger and frustrated my grandson, for whom I’m crafting these tales. Yes, I know how it all ends, but you’ll have to wait until I publish the “next exciting episode” to see the conclusion.
Today’s tale happens immediately after the events in When Hell Boils Over.
Welcome to the latest entry in the series of adventures I’ve been writing for my grandson for the better part of two years now. To read the series from the beginning, go to The Day a Dragon Came to Live with Us. At the bottom of that story is a link to the next. Each subsequent story has a link to the next chapter, so all you have to do is keep reading and clicking and you’ll eventually get back here.
The final chapter to this four-part series is Eruption.