After several hours pawing through old books and scrolls, Jack had discovered an ancient volume entitled “Trans-Time Management and Precautions.” He brought it to the circular table in the center of the room, where Valanice had been sitting while he was searching, looking exhausted but utterly unable to sleep, since the terrible music was still coming from nowhere and going everywhere.
“I think this is what we need,” said Jack, blowing dust off of the book’s cover and cracking it open.
“I pray so,” said Valanice, yawning loudly.
Jack quickly began flipping through the pages, running his right index finger down the lines of text, then flicking his eyes to the next leaf and repeating the process. Every second or two he would turn the page, sending a small cloud of dust into the air each time. His claws were out, and Valanice could see that he was being careful to not rip the pages and he scanned and scanned.
For some time he was silent as he plowed through the book, and the music had died down to an exceedingly low level. Valanice was almost completely asleep when Jack suddenly pounded his fist on the tome’s left page (sending an enormous cloud of dust into the air as he did so) and let out a shout of triumph.
“This is it! I’ve found it!”
“Why you ill-mannered, uncivilized – “ shouted Valanice, glaring angrily at Jack, who leapt up from his chair as if he had been kicked in the chest. “Oh…I’m sorry, Jack,” she said in a much softer voice, realizing what she had just done, “I forgot what you were doing…”
“Don’t apologize to me, majesty,” Jack said, reseating himself. “I just found exactly what we need.”
“What is that?”
“A time shield!”
“It’s this thing that blocks elements of one time from entering another time, but still permits individuals like me to stay within the time in question.”
“It’s a device that will stop these sounds from popping up everywhere.”
“So I won’t be kept awake like this?” Valanice asked.
“Let me see that,” said the queen eagerly, moving her chair next to Jack’s.
The cat was looking at a page that had an elaborate title, “Shields that Stoppeth Intervention of Different-Time Elementals,” and a very short explanation, followed by a list of materials needed to construct what he had explained to Valanice. The list read:
A glass globe
A skull from a beast of the future
An artifact from the time beyond
An artifact from the time of now
A tall tower (for casting spell within)
“Is that all that we need to stop buildings and cities from appearing here?” Valanice asked.
“Yep. Sure looks easy to me.”
“Well…I have a large glass globe in my bedroom that I use to keep the dust off one of my necklaces…but where would one find a skull from a beast of the future?”
“Don’t look at me like that,” said Jack. “You’re not using my skull in this spell!”
“I was thinking of nothing of the sort,” retorted Valanice. “I was just wondering where we could find a skull of a creature of the future…you didn’t bring any skulls with you from your time, did you?”
“Now that’s a laugh. Of course I didn’t, Valanice.”
“So where can we find one? Should you go back to your own time and pick up one from there?”
“Even if I knew how, I would hate to go through so much trouble just for a head.”
“So you don’t know how we can get a skull from your time without actually going there?”
“Yeah…but I can’t think about this anymore,” said Jack, rising from his chair and walking towards the door. “I’ll be in my tree if you need me.”
Just as he had stepped over the threshold, another scratchy, untuned sequence of notes broke through the silence of the night.
“You’d better find a way to get a skull soon, Jack!” yelled Valanice, “Or else I’m going to be very angry for the next few days!”
For two days, Valanice didn’t see Jack. Not only that, but many citizens had been keeping her and Graham busy about the mysterious noises coming from nowhere. And not only that, but some people had begun complaining about a growing stench in the air, and the king and queen were powerless to answer their queries or help them.
Finally, when the long flow of people entering the courtroom finally reached a standstill, Jack came bounding into the grand hall and knelt before the rulers, who were seated on their thrones, looking extremely worn out.
“It’s about time you got here,” Graham said. “We’ve been receiving complaints for days!”
“I’m so sorry about all this,” pleaded Jack. “But I needed time to think about where to find the first ingredient to the spell that will create a time shield to protect us from these elements of the future. Did Valanice not tell you about our plan?”
“I did,” said Valanice, “And I’ve been thinking about where to find a skull from a beast of the future, but I haven’t had any inspirations. Have you?”
Jack was about to reply when one of Graham’s servants, Roland, came rushing into the room, bowing low. Raising his head and looking at the king, he panted:
“Your highness, some of the people working in the kitchen have been hearing strange noises coming from beneath the floor!”
“That’s nothing different than what we’ve been hearing,” said Valanice.
“But this is different, my lady!” continued Roland. “Some people say it sounds like demons clawing on stone, and others say it sounds like hungry trolls breathing heavily!”
Valanice rose to her feet. “This sounds like something worth investigating,” she said. “Graham, I’m going down into the dungeons with Jack to see if we can find the source of these sounds Roland is talking about.”
“Well, we haven’t had any luck finding sounds before,” said Graham, scratching his head, “But if you wish to pursue these new ones, I won’t do anything to stop you. Good luck.”
“Aren’t you coming with us, sire?” asked Jack.
“I would, but I’m sure that people from the villages are going to start coming in here again with their questions, and I don’t want to be away when they begin lining up.”
“All right,” said Jack. “But wait a second, Valanice. I’ll be right back.”
He sprinted out of the room, leaving the royal couple staring at each other in bewilderment, but a short time later, Jack returned, panting like a dog, holding a small pouch on a long string.
“What is that?” asked Graham.
Jack poured the contents of the pouch into his hand and held them out so that Graham and Valanice could see what it was.
“My marble collection!” Jack announced. “I always take them with me whenever I have to go someplace dangerous like the dungeons!”
“And what makes you think the dungeons are dangerous?” asked Valanice.
“I have no idea…but I always feel secure with these marbles with me,” said Jack, pouring the small, round balls back into his pouch and fastening the pouch around his waist. “So…which way to the dungeons, Valanice?”
In the space of only a few minutes, they were at the door to the dungeons below the ground floor of Castle Daventry. Jack was holding a small lantern with a faint flame flickering within it. Without a word, Valanice pulled open the heavy door and Jack held the lantern before him, revealing a long hallway lined by tall pillars on either side of it. There was no noise but that of dripping water and occasional gusts of wind blowing from unknown places.
“Are you still up to going in there?” asked Valanice.
“I’m no more eager than you are,” replied Jack, “But let’s go anyway. I want to see if we can find out where those weird demons-clawing-on-stone noises are coming from.”
They stepped into the vast room, closing the door behind them. For several minutes they walked down the hallway in silence, Jack holding his lantern before them, occasionally swinging it to the right or to the left.
“Did I tell you that there have been reports of the air growing foul in the villages?” the queen asked after a while.
“No, you didn’t.”
“Well, our air had been growing more stagnant since you left for your tree two nights ago. Perhaps it started before you left, but the one thing that’s certain is that our air is growing worse with each day, and I don’t know how worse it’s going to get! Is it something else from your time, Jack?”
Jack groaned. “I think it is.”
“Well, as soon as we find where those sounds Roland spoke of are coming from, we’d better start seeking out the ingredients for that time armor spell.”
“Whatever you say.”
Again the two fell silent as they continued walking down the endless hallway. After several minutes, Jack suddenly spun around and ran towards something white on the dungeon floor. Valanice ran towards it as well, not wanting to be left alone in the dark.
“Hey! Look at this!” Jack exclaimed.
He picked up something from the ground that resembled the skull of a rat…except that it was almost as large as an apple.
“Could this have come from a rat? How did it get so big?”
“I have no idea,” said Valanice.
“Maybe it’s something else from the future,” said Jack. “And maybe it’s…” he shook his head. “No…no…it can’t be…can it?”
“Jack…” whispered Valanice, her voice trembling with sudden fear. “Look…”
Jack shoved the skull in his pocket and turned around, swinging his lantern in the direction where Valanice was pointing with a trembling hand. In the darkness were several large pairs of round, yellow eyes. Jack and the queen suddenly could hear the sound of scuffling on the stone floor as well as a low growling coming from several throats.
Jack looked back at Valanice, who had grown pale and was gasping for breath.
“You’re not going to faint, are you, Valanice? Because it would be extremely bad timing to faint now…”
“I won’t faint…” Valanice gasped. “But what are those beasts? What should we do?”
“Maybe if we’re very quiet…they won’t notice us…” said Jack, tiptoeing backwards slowly. Valanice suddenly noticed some glistening, needlelike protrusions in his toes, and before she could warn him, his exposed claws scraped against the stone floor, making a sound like the screech of an angry owl. A loud snarl emitted from the direction of the eyes, and one of the pairs began growing larger, and the sound of heavy feet on stone began drawing closer and closer.
“Now what do we do, Jack?” Valanice whispered.
“Well…what would you do in a case like this, your majesty?”
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