Tarvos the Great T
WO SNAILS SAT ON THE KITCHEN TABLE. Their eyes drifted back and forth on their long stalks, tracking a teenage boy as he paced the room. From the snails’ perspective, the tall fourteen-year-old looked quite normal—although his dark hair was straight in front and wildly curly in the back.
But normal was the last thing Erec Rex felt like.
Normal kids would not have dragon eyes that let them see into the future.
Normal kids would not be forced to become king of a magical land.
Normal kids would not have to do twelve ridiculously dangerous quests to become king.
Erec sighed. Weird or not, it was his life. He could live with that. But what was hard to live with right now was doing absolutely nothing. Normal kids would be having fun in the summertime. Erec had been sitting around for over a month reading books and staring at the walls. He didn’t want to go on a quest again—there was no mistaking that. But he had to do something
. Instead, he was pacing this dingy apartment kitchen, stretching out the time before he opened the letters that the two snails had brought him. Once he finished reading them, it would be back to complete boredom again.
Normal kids, Erec thought, would at least be able to hang out with their friends. But all of his friends were far away in another world, and he was stuck here alone.
Well, he wasn’t exactly
alone, and he wasn’t exactly
doing nothing. He was babysitting, as usual, for his younger siblings—red-haired Trevor and little Zoey. It basically amounted to reading to Zoey and watching her play house. His sister Nell had found a friend in a nearby apartment and she hung out there all the time, and their adoptive mother, June, was working. Erec didn’t know anybody around here, but at first that hadn’t bothered him at all. The idea of a little rest time with the family sounded great. Peace and quiet. But he soon realized that doing nothing but babysitting for weeks felt like being chained to a couch watching maternity channel reruns.
He paced some more, watching the two message-carrying snails watch him back. They eyed him impatiently until, finally, Erec grabbed the one on the left and pulled a letter out of its thin shell.
Ashona is amazing! Every day that I’m here I keep finding secret passages, ancient spell books, and other incredible surprises. Queen Posey gave me a master key, and yesterday I discovered a huge room filled with buried sea treasure that had been dug up and brought from all over the world’s oceans! I can’t wait until you see this place.
What are your plans? I still haven’t gotten a letter from you—write me back!
Without thinking, Erec crushed the letter into a tight ball. It wasn’t fair! He understood why June wanted them to stay in New Jersey, hoping to give Trevor, Nell, and Zoey something close to a normal life. But how could New Jersey hold a candle to the undersea world of Ashona? Bethany was Erec’s best friend in the world, and she was there with his father, the King of Alypium. King Piter’s powers were gone, and for safety he had to stay close to his sister, Queen Posey, who ruled Ashona. Alypium, the land where magic was still real, was where Erec was destined to become king, and it was out there waiting for him. Bethany was probably having the time of her life in Ashona, and Erec was here . . . stuck.
He stared a while at the Love
in “Love, Bethany,” trying not to think about exactly what that meant. Bethany had become close to a girlfriend . . . more than just a friend, but it was hard to know exactly where they stood. He should be glad she was having fun . . . but he couldn’t help being jealous. He also knew that he should write her back. But what could he say? Hey, that’s cool about the buried treasure. I’ve been reading
How Are You, Mr. Schmoo? to Zoey twenty times in a row. Sounds like we’re both having a blast!
He would have to wait on that letter back to Bethany.
Plus, he already knew what she would say. She would tell him to get on with his next quest—the seventh out of twelve that he had to finish to become the next King of Alypium. Once he was ready, his mother would find a way to let him go. Nell would have to babysit, and Erec could leave here and start his next adventure.
The only problem was, he didn’t want
to do any more quests at all. He had almost lost his life in the last one. Actually, he had
lost his life to the three Furies—huge, all-powerful creatures that had taken his soul to escape their prison. But through some ancient magic, dragon’s blood, and a grateful cat, he was brought back to life again. After that, who could blame him for his lack of desire to do any more quests again—ever?
He wondered if his mother would let him go to Ashona just to have fun instead of doing his next quest. But he could imagine the look on her face and the firm no
Something moved in the family room, jolting Erec out of his thoughts. He walked in and peered around with interest even though he had barely seen the thing. It was gone, but Erec was suddenly alert. It almost felt like nothing else mattered. But then the feeling passed as quickly as it had come on.
He tried to shake off his strange reaction. Maybe his mind was playing tricks on him after all these weeks of boredom. He picked up the other snail and took the letter out. Just then Trevor bounded into the kitchen. “Snail mail?”
Erec smiled. Even though Trevor did not talk a lot, he was a brilliant kid. But before Erec could answer, he was distracted again by something moving in the family room. Curiosity overwhelmed him this time, and he took off running into the room, nearly tripping over a kitchen chair. What could it be in there? He searched, grabbing cushions and looking under the couch. All through him there was a sharp need to find . . . what was it that he was looking for?
The feeling wore off, but left him confused. What was wrong with him? Was he paranoid?
Trevor stared at him and Erec felt his face turn red. He picked up the other snail mail, pretending nothing had happened.
To: Erec Rex
This letter is to inform you that the three new kings, Balor, Damon, and Dollick Stain, have completed their twelve quests. They will be crowned on June 25. At that time we will need all three of the royal scepters for their use. King Pluto’s scepter is in our possession and Queen Posey’s will be soon. We request that you immediately return King Piter’s scepter to President Inkle at the Green House. If you do not do this in the next three days, we will be forced to send the armies of Alypium and Aorth to track you down.
Rest assured, when you return the scepter to us, you will leave here unharmed. The Shadow Prince no longer has a need for you, and he wishes you all the best. Thank you, and have a great summer!
Scruffymat, the Secretary of Preplanning of Protocol Development The snail cocked one of its elongated eyes at Erec, watching his stunned reaction.
The Stain triplets were going to be crowned kings? If Balor, Damon, and Dollick became the next rulers of the Kingdoms of the Keepers, they would hand their scepters to Baskania, the evil Shadow Prince, who would destroy the world with them. Well, Erec had one of the three scepters, anyway, and there was no way he was giving it up even if Baskania did send the armies of Alypium and Aorth after him.
His heart sank. If he wasn’t going to do the quests to become the next king, then what did he think was going to happen? He was the one who was supposed to rule. But how could he risk losing his life again doing another quest? The next time he might not get it back. He just wished there was another way to stop the Stain triplets from becoming king. Maybe if he used his scepter somehow . . .
The thought of his scepter brought back memories so intense that Erec had to close his eyes. Visions of the golden staff filled his mind. He could feel its electricity surging through him as if it were in his hands right now. He fought against his cravings for the thing by putting things in perspective. He really wasn’t ready for it—it was far too powerful. Only after he completed all of his quests would he have the strength to use it without falling under its influence. That was why he had sent it away—
Something moved again in the family room. What
was running around in there? He had to get it this time, whatever it was. He darted forward as if he were hypnotized, stalking back and forth like a panther searching for its prey. There was a flash of white—he dove and grabbed it . . . but it was just a blanket.
Erec hugged it to his chest, annoyed. Where did the thing go? What was it? And why was it driving him so crazy? Frustrated, he threw the blanket onto the couch.
Trevor stared at him in shock. “What’s wrong with you?”
“I don’t know. Didn’t you see that thing . . . ?” Erec gestured around the room, but Trevor shook his head. “I guess I need more sleep—”
But just then, the thing moved again, right behind Trevor. Erec dove, compelled to grab it—
And tackled his younger brother. Whatever it was was gone again.
“Man, I’m so sorry, Trev. You okay?” Erec dusted himself off and pulled his brother up.
Trevor stared at him with wide eyes and nodded.
“Something weird is in here,” Erec said. “You better stand back while I look for it.” He searched under the coffee table and by the front door. Nothing was there. . . .
Suddenly, the entire world froze. A tiny man in white raced from under the couch,...