“That’s right!” Jack yelled, suddenly sprinting past Valanice, who quickly recovered and ran after him as best as she could in her long dress. One of the huge beasts sprang after her, followed by the rest of its pack. Their coarse snarls echoed behind Jack and Valanice as they ran through the dark cave by the light of Jack’s lantern. Jack suddenly screamed and threw the lantern behind him, where it crashed and went out simultaneously.
“What did you do that for?” shrieked Valanice.
“I felt like throwing something!”
“But now we can’t see a thing! We’ll run into a wall!”
“I can see in the dark!” shouted Jack. “Grab my hand!”
“All right!” Valanice grappled for Jack’s hand and fastened herself onto it as if it were a door handle. The two sped through the darkness, the giant creatures close behind them.
“Your pocket!” yelled Valanice.
“What?” bellowed Jack.
“Your pocket! Is the skull still in there?”
“I don’t…yes!” said Jack, shoving his hand into his pocket for a moment, then yanking it out again in an eyeblink. “I feel something in there, yes!”
“Good,” yelled Valanice. “Can you see where we’re going?”
“I don’t know!”
“I thought you said you could see in the dark!”
“Yeah, but this is my first run through the dungeons of Daventry, did you expect me to have a map?”
“But you’re a cat!” screamed Valanice. “What’s the purpose of a cat that can’t kill rats?”
“I’m sorry, but I never encountered any this size…” Jack squealed, his nervousness growing along with the high pitch in his voice. “Wait – there’s the door!”
“Jack, we can’t open that door in time! Remember how long it took us?”
“I know…there’s another way to escape those things!”
“Up there!” cried Jack, pointing up at a large pillar that Valanice couldn’t see, but knew was there. “I’ll climb up and pull you up!”
Before she could respond, Jack had leapt through the air and clawed his way up the stone pillar. Valanice could barely see him in the darkness, but the glowing eyes of the creatures were bearing down on her. She dashed towards the pillar and dug her nails into the side. But as soon as she did, she felt the hot breath of one of the beasts on her neck, and she turned and screamed at the sight of a gigantic rat leaning against the pillar, as large as a horse, its yellow eyes almost as large as big as a clenched fist.
Just as the rat was about to attack her, a tiny missile, highlighted by the yellow eyes, hit it right in the center of its forehead, causing the rat to back up and squeak in fury. Valanice looked up and saw Jack holding his pouch of marbles, ready to fling another at the offending vermin.
“I told you I needed to bring these marbles!” Jack called to the queen. Valanice nodded and scrambled as far up the pillar as she could, but not far before she started slipping back down. She flailed her hand, trying to attract Jack’s attention, but he was still in the process of hitting the giant rats with his marbles.
Just as Valanice was about to fall to the floor, Jack swung his arm down towards the queen and seized her wrist.
“Do you need my help this time?” he asked. Valanice suddenly remembered the incident in the tree the first night Jack spent in Daventry, and again she felt her pride interfering with her impulse to beg for Jack to help her. But she had no desire to save her dignity now.
“Yes, please!” she pleaded. “Before those monsters attack again!”
“As you wish, my liege,” said Jack, and with one quick yank, he pulled her up atop the pillar, just as another rat began clawing at it far below them.
“Back, you beasties!” snarled Jack, shooting another marble at the rat. The animal bolted away, but then two more began climbing towards the top of the pillar.
“Same to you!” Jack snapped, flinging a small handful of marbles at them.
“I don’t think you can get rid of all those things alone!” cried Valanice, backing against the wall the pillar stood against.
“You’re right. Here,” Jack said, pouring several more marbles into his hand and throwing her the bag. “You keep them at bay. I know you can.”
“But I…” began Valanice, but in that instant, a small rat, obviously more athletic than its comrades, leapt to the top of the pillar and tightened itself to spring.
“No you don’t!” shrieked the queen. Her hand shot into the bag and extracted a large, blue marble, which she shot at the rat. It hit the creature right on the nose, causing it to fall over backwards, off the platform.
“It’s landed in the middle of his friends,” reported Jack, glancing at the floor. “They don’t look very happy.”
Inhaling sharply, Valanice ran to the side of the platform and looked down on the ravenous rodents. Without hesitation, she began flinging marbles at them, always hitting a head or a shoulder. Jack quickly joined her, and though his aim was considerably worse than Valanice’s, the two were starting to get the best of the enormous vermin.
Within a minute, all the rats had scurried away. Their squeaks and angry growls soon faded into echoes, and the echoes faded into blessed silence. The cat and the queen looked at each other, breathing heavily.
“Good work, Jack,” Valanice said.
“You hit more of those buggers than I did,” said Jack.
“Still…without those marbles of yours, we wouldn’t be standing here.”
“True, true. Could I have my bag back, please, my queen?”
“Of course…Oh…” Valanice said, “Most of the marbles are gone. There’s only one or two left. Do you want to go down there and pick up the rest of them.”
“No way,” Jack said, raising his hands. “I’ve had enough interaction with those mutated rodents.”
“What were those things anyway?”
Jack sighed and shook his head. “New York City sewer rats. Creatures from my time. They must have come from the future somehow.”
“Like those strange beeps and that unearthly music?”
“Yes…we’d better keep searching for those ingredients to that spell before everything gets out of hand.”
“Wait!” said Valanice. “That skull that you picked up…that giant rat skull? It must have come from one of those creatures. You still have it, don’t you? You said you felt it in your pocket when we were running.”
“I said I felt something…but the skull would be the only thing in my pocket, so it should be…Oh Alaca’pu!” Jack suddenly roared. He had reached into his left pocket but apparently he had discovered something that he didn’t expect.
“Alaca-what?” asked Valanice, dumbfounded.
“It means ‘slime in the moonlight”…Stars & Stuff, Boogie Woogie to the Stars and Bach Again, Part 3…oh shoot!”
“Shoot what? Jack…you’re flickering.”
“Well, maybe if I did…this!” said Valanice, pounding Jack squarely on his back. He stumbled forward and solidified immediately.
“Ouch! Valanice, that hurt!”
“But apparently it helped you stop fading. But why did you yell that when you put your hand in your pocket?”
“The ‘something’ that I felt in there turned out to be a hole.”
“Oh no,” Valanice groaned, leaning against the wall. “All that trouble for a skull that we lose along the way. I suppose you aren’t in the mood to find another one…”
“Absolutely not. I’m not going to get chased through the dungeons by a pack of sewer rats. I didn’t enjoy it any more than you did.”
Jack sighed and rubbed his face with a hand. “What do you think we should do now?”
“I think we should get out of these dungeons before the rats come back.”
“Do you want to climb down the pillar first?”
“No…” said Valanice. “You go down first, then catch me when I jump off the platform. Grass and stone floors aren’t the same on my feet.”
“Very well,” said Jack, leaping off the top of the pillar like a deer. Valanice peered over the edge and saw him standing directly below her, arms outstretched. “I’m ready, my queen.”
“So am I,” Valanice said. She backed up several steps and ran and jumped off the tower that had saved their lives, landing safely in Jack’s arms.
“Thank you, Jack,” she said.
“The pleasure is mine, your highness,” replied Jack, setting her feet gently on the floor. “Now let’s get outta here.”
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