In which Dodger leads the charge
The plan was fairly simple; Sir Rodger and Sarah would sneak onto the stage and spring upon Rex, using the leverage of the dog’s life to bargain for the prince’s release. Of course, everyone had a part to play, but those parts were mostly backup for the young girl. Using Boon as a scout, Sir Rodger and Sarah slipped to the back of the stage, hopefully where they could take Rex by surprise. Meanwhile, Dodger and Al headed into the parapets to act as snipers, in case someone in the crowd decided to get frisky. After rolling about in the dirt until she covered most of her distinct markings, Lelanea intended to move among the crowd as if she were just some random stray, helping with a ground attack should the need arise.
The Baron and Dodger easily made their way into the upper wall, sneaking past the clueless men as they remained tightly focused on Rex’s speech. And Dodger couldn’t blame them. The mutt had a natural charisma that kept everyone glued to his every word, speaking with a passion and fervor that Dodger hadn’t seen the likes of in an orator since his time with Crank.
Tyler Crank. Now there was a man who could coax a crowd into doing his bidding. More than once Dodger witnessed Crank work his aural magic on those poor unsuspecting natives in some distant land. Many times it saved their hides, too. It was easier to escape from a bunch of tribesmen when they thought you were a god rather than a demon.
“You really think this is gonna work?” Al whispered as he and Dodger followed the stairs that lead to the balcony.
“Sure,” Dodger said. “Sarah is a heck of a shot with her bow and Sir Rodger talks a big game. Between the two of them I am willing to bet Rex will give in to their demands.”
“Yeah, but do you think she will be able to pull it off. She’s just a whelp.”
“You know her far better than I do. What do you think?”
The man giggled softly for a few seconds. “I think she can do anything she sets her mind to. Including putting an end to this nightmare.”
Dodger stared at the dream Al for a moment, unsure just what that was supposed to mean. He decided he was probably thinking about it too hard. “Go on to the east side. I’ll cover the west. Wait for Boon’s signal, then follow Sir Rodger’s lead.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Al said. The giggling man scurried off to the east side of the balcony.
Dodger followed the opposite path, taking to the west side of the parapets. He picked a spot with a gap in the stonework, making it easier for him to watch the proceedings. As he crouched and waited, he listened as Rex sketched the plans for the future of the Kingdom of Baker. All in all it sounded like little more than a looting party followed by a slash and burn run through the land. Dodger couldn’t imagine what would’ve become of Sarah’s mind if this monster had been left to run through it unchecked. The knight had a handle on things, true, but not even the great Sir Rodger could deny the value of Arnold Carpenter and his crew’s assistance. In the middle of a rousing round of applause, Dodger heard someone shout his name from below. He peeked over the side of the balcony to find Boon giving him a thumb up; the signal that everyone was in place. Dodger signaled in return, set the hammers on his guns and waited for the fun to begin.
Once the applause wound down, Rex returned to his speech. Mid sentence, the mutt’s words halted abruptly, and the booming voice of Sir Rodger filled the yard.
“Gentlemen!” the knight shouted. “May I have your attention?”
A cry went up from the crowd as the men realized they had been infiltrated.
Sir Rodger strode bravely onto the stage, his sword still sheathed, guns still holstered, and his hands on his hips as he explained the situation.
“Many of you know me,” the knight said. “And those who don’t, allow me to educate you. I am Sir Rodger Dodger of the Royal Court of the Kingdom of Baker. And you, my foul fellows, will surrender.” He turned and pointed to Rex as he added, “Especially you, Evil One.”
Rex chuckled at the idea. “And what makes you think I will just roll over and show my belly to you, knight?” The mutt all but spat the last word, as if it left a rank taste in his little mouth.
“Oh, I don’t expect you to acquiesce to me. You will bow to the rightful heirs to the throne, the prince and the princess. If you do not, I will arrange for the death of you and all of your men.”
There came a short pause, after which the dog set to laughing. This prompted the other men to begin laughing as well, until the whole yard filled with the wild amusement of fifty or more outlaws, criminals and wrongdoers.
Sir Rodger stood at the head of this group, empty handed, with a smile on his face.
Dodger had to admire the man’s confidence.
When the laughter trickled to a few giggles, Rex stood on his high throne, glaring at Sir Rodger. “And just how do you plan on doing that alone?”
“I don’t plan on doing anything alone,” Sir Rodger said. “I plan on employing the best of help. The assistance of my friends.”
“Showtime,” Dodger whispered, and stood from his crouch.
Al stood from his hidden spot across the way, aiming Sir Rodger’s pistols at the crowd.
The men below gasped at the sight of the gunmen.
“Try not to be too shocked,” Al said. “I am sure your kind is used to being outsmarted.”
“It’s Baron Jackson!” one of the men in the crowd yelled. “And Lord help us all, he’s got a gun.”
“There’s that traitor, too,” another man said. “I hear tale he dropped a whole dragon with just half a dozen shots.”
“I ain’t scared of them,” one of the men said.
A sharp growling rose from the gathered men.
“That wild devil dog is loose in the yard!” a man yelled.
“She bit my gun right out of my hand!” another cried.
“Attack them you fools,” Rex commanded. “They can’t kill you all at once.” He headed to the little staircase parked next to his throne, when an arrow came out of nowhere and landed with a soft thunk into the throne right between the dog’s paws.
“I’d stay put if I were you,” Sir Rodger said. “Or the next shot Princess Sarah fires will land right between your beady eyes.”
There came another pause, but instead of the yard erupting into another bout of laughter, the onlookers shook with fear.
“I’m getting out of here while I still can!” one of the men shouted.
“Me, too!” another cried.
All at once, the entire crowd rushed toward the exits, trying to flee the sudden threat.
“Get back here!” Rex cried to his men. “You cowards!”
Not a single man drew a weapon. Not a one tried to defend himself. They all just turned tail and ran like the cowards they were. Sir Rodger took his turn to laugh aloud as Rex’s entire makeshift army took to the hills without a fight. Within minutes the crowd of thugs had vanished, leaving the poor doggy on his own. Sure, it was a fantasy reaction, but that was what Dodger was counting on. Rex’s control of the dream was slipping, leaving him exposed and helpless. Sarah would soon be entirely in control again and she could finally awaken at last.
“So,” Sir Rodger said, “are you ready to surrender now?”
Rex sat on his haunches and glared once more at the knight. “Did you think it would be so easy?”
Sir Rodger motioned to the empty hall. “Your men have fled. You are alone and helpless. I can’t think of anything easier than that.”
“Then think again, knight. My idiot minions might have abandoned me, but I am anything but helpless.”
Rex leapt straight up from his throne, rising a good ten feet into the air. There he hovered, holding his little doggy legs out, shaking all over like he had the fits. An ominous wind kicked up, whipping everything not nailed down all around the yard. Rex continued to shiver and shake while a bloody froth poured from his mouth.
“What is happening to him?” Lelanea asked.
“He’s changing,” the Baron said. “He’s taking on his true form!”
“Not if I can help it,” Sir Rodger said.
Sir Rodger took a few steps back, drew his blade then ran for the levitating mutt. He swung his sword at Rex, only to have the strike repelled by some unseen force. Dodger fired at the beast, and to his surprise his well placed shot fizzled out the moment it came into contact with Rex’s skin. Another shot rang out, this time from Al, and yet again the flames died once they touched the dog, and the bullet clattered to the stage. Sarah even tried an arrow, but the wind snatched it away before it could reach its target. After this display, Sir Rodger sheathed his blade and scrambled from the stage, wisely choosing a tactical retreat.
The little dog opened his mouth and a thunderous voice poured forth. “Your weapons are useless against me. Everything is useless against me. Behold! The true form of the Evil One!”
What happened next was a little hard for Dodger’s mind to follow. It was a lot like witnessing Michael Walking Bear turn into a wolf, only instead of a larger dog, Rex became something entirely different. His body split down the middle, and out of the husk that was the little Chihuahua, there crawled an enormous monstrosity.
The thing had to be twenty times the size of Rex, with tree trunk sized haunches and massive claws that pulled the remains of the little dog apart on its way into Sarah’s nightmare. Three long, scaly necks slithered into view, each sporting its own snarling head. Each head bore the familiar face of the Chihuahua, only on a much larger scale, with gigantic teeth and huge burning red eyes. It cackled in triple time, all three heads bellowing with a deep, evil laugh. All in all it reminded Dodger of a creature he had read about a long time ago, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on the name of the thing.
“And now,” the creature said, with all three mouths at once, “I will eat your pitiful prince and princess and become rightful ruler of the kingdom!”
Sir Rodger wasted no time in his defense of the children. He drew his blade with a cry and rushed forward to attack. He stabbed and thrust, dodged and ducked, putting up a heck of a fight against the gigantic beast. Gunshots rang out as the Baron joined in this epic battle, sending streaks of fire flying at the monster. Arrows appeared here and there, barely coming into contact with the thick hide of the beast before falling away. Dodger spotted Lelanea fighting off the monster’s tail as it swiped at the cage holding the frightened prince. Before he could raise his own gun, Dodger witnessed something that told them exactly what they were up against, and why such tactics would be pointless.
Sir Rodger landed a critical blow against the beast, slicing off one of the three heads. He shouted a cry of victory and stood back as if to watch the monster writhe in pain. Only it did something much worse. Along with a fountain of sickly green blood, the stump erupted with two more heads. They slithered from the open gash, like a fleshy flower putting forth blooms. The thing now roared with four mouths as it lunged at the knight. Sir Rodger swung again, slicing away yet another head. Two more snarling heads sprang up in its place.
Dodger knew exactly what had to be done.