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Elliot and the Last Underworld War, Page 2

Jennifer A. Nielsen

  Elliot didn't care about the game or what Mr. Beary-Boo thought about anything. He was already sprinting home as fast as his long legs would carry him.

  Kovol was free. And about to seek his revenge.

  The door to Elliot's home banged open as he ran through it. His sixteen-year-old brother, Reed, and fifteen-year-old sister, Wendy, were sitting with their eyes glued to the television. (They weren't actually glued, of course, because think of how painful that would be! They were just watching it very carefully.)

  "You were supposed to tell me if a solar eclipse was coming," Elliot said to them. "You promised to warn me!"

  Wendy turned to him. "Sorry, I forgot."

  Sorry? Wendy would be plenty sorry when the entire world was destroyed.

  Reed shrugged. "So you missed the eclipse. I missed free popcorn day at the zoo once. But you don't hear me complaining."

  "That's not even close to the same thing!" Elliot said.

  "You can see the next one," Wendy said. "It's no big deal."

  "It is a big deal," Elliot insisted. "It happens to be about the biggest deal ever. Like the kind of big deal that means you won't cook dinner ever again!"

  "It just so happens that I don't mind cooking anymore," Wendy said. "I haven't burned a single dinner in eight days."

  "You burned the chicken nuggets last night," Reed said.

  "I meant the eight days before last night," Wendy said. "My cooking is getting better lately."

  This was mostly true. Her dinners still tasted like they were made of cornstarch and glue. But except for last night, at least it was unburned cornstarch and glue.

  "Anyway, there's a much bigger deal than your missing the eclipse." Reed pointed to the television. "Look! About five minutes after the eclipse, this happened!"

  Elliot walked closer to the TV screen. A reporter was standing in front of a road that had caved into the earth, as if it had been built on top of a giant sinkhole. It looked like Elliot's entire house could fit into that hole.

  "Nobody knows what caused this unusual event," the reporter was saying. "And it's not the only one."

  Other pictures of caved-in roads were shown on the screen. A few had cars at the bottom of them, and helicopters were being flown in to help pull the people out of the sinkholes.

  The reporter continued, "Right now, every road into the town of Sprite's Hollow has caved in. Until they can be repaired, it will be very difficult for anyone to either come or go."

  "What about Mom and Dad?" Wendy said. "They won't be able to get home from work!"

  Reed shrugged. "They'll find a way home as soon as they can. But this is weird, right?"

  It's not weird, Elliot wanted to shout. This was obviously Kovol's way of letting Elliot know he was free, and he was making sure Elliot had no way to leave Sprite's Hollow. But of course Wendy and Reed didn't know about Kovol or any part of the Underworld. So in a voice not too different from a shout, he asked, "Where are the twins? They shouldn't be outside right now."

  Elliot's six-year-old twin brothers, Kyle and Cole, had a talent for getting themselves into trouble. Elliot figured that if sinkholes were appearing in Sprite's Hollow, his brothers were probably very near one. They'd love to fill a sinkhole with water to create a giant mud pit to play in.

  "They're out gathering extra hoses," Wendy said. "They want to make a super hose as long as Sprite's Hollow. But you're right. Come on, Reed. Help me find them."

  As soon as they had left, another reporter came on the screen again. "More sinkholes have begun appearing outside of Sprite's Hollow," he said. "Dozens of new ones are being reported, some appearing as far away as China."

  Dear Reader, if the reporter had said a sinkhole had appeared in Guatemala, this would not be much of a surprise, because they already have a giant sinkhole right in their capital city. It's over a hundred feet deep and big enough that it swallowed a three-story building. Nobody is sure exactly what caused that sinkhole, although scientists did eliminate the possibility of caved-in tunnels from freak-sized worms larger than rockets. Apparently, freak-sized worms don't exist. Besides, the reporter was very clear that this sinkhole was happening in China, not Guatemala. He pointed out that their fortune cookies would have to change to say, "Beware of walking into any holes larger than your house." Elliot thought most people would know that even without a fortune cookie's help. Except for maybe Tubs.

  Once he made sure he was alone, Elliot ran up to his bedroom and closed the door. He put his hands around his mouth and shouted, "Mr. Willimaker!"

  Mr. Willimaker was one of Elliot's closest Brownie friends and also his trusted advisor. Although it was true that most of Mr. Willimaker's advice was not very helpful, Elliot also knew that nobody had tried harder to help him be a good king.

  But after two long minutes of waiting, no one appeared. Elliot shook his head. Mr. Willimaker usually came very quickly. He called again, but before he finished calling, Mr. Willimaker's daughter, Patches, poofed in.

  Despite being half Elliot's size, Patches's brown eyes were twice as big as human eyes. She had a small mouth and thick hair that went in all directions.

  Patches had made it clear on every possible occasion that she thought Elliot was the greatest king the Brownies had ever had, and that he was about the greatest human in the history of the world. Elliot thought that last part was a bit of an exaggeration, but he was okay with letting her believe it.

  As soon as she poofed in, Patches said, "I took a peek at your television news downstairs. Is that what it looks like on the surface?"

  "I guess so. How does it look in the Underworld?"

  "Worse. So far he's left Burrowsville alone, so the Brownies are fine. But it won't be long before he attacks us too." Patches widened her eyes. "Kovol's free now, Elliot."

  "I know," he said. "But why is he making sinkholes?"

  Patches bit her lip, and it looked as if she was trying hard not to cry. "He's collapsing the Underworld. He's going to destroy everything."

  "Collapsing the Underworld," Elliot whispered. "Why would Kovol do that?"

  "Because he's evil!" Patches replied, as if that was the only explanation needed.

  Elliot shook his head. "I think that must be only part of the reason. With the Underworld in chaos, none of the good creatures will be able to help fight him. And those sinkholes will create a bunch of problems here on the surface. Because that's what Kovol really wants. To destroy the surface world."

  Patches groaned and sat on Elliot's bed, her tiny legs dangling in midair. "This is bad. Worse than bad."

  "Yeah." Elliot sat beside her and put his head in his hands. "Even though I knew he'd escape one day, I didn't think he'd act so fast."

  He looked up at the sound of a poof, and Mr. Willimaker appeared, along with one of Elliot's other advisors, Fudd Fartwick. Never one to forget his manners, Mr. Willimaker bowed to Elliot. However, Fudd didn't bow. He'd been blinded when he helped to save Elliot from Kovol's army, the Shadow Men, four months ago. He didn't appear to have any clue where he was now.

  "King Elliot," Mr. Willimaker said (and at that moment, Fudd did bow). "Sorry I'm late. There's a lot of trouble down below. You've heard the news, I assume."

  "Do you mean the news that Kovol has escaped and is now collapsing the Underworld?" Elliot asked. "Or something else?"

  Mr. Willimaker blinked. "Um, yes, that news."

  "Just checking to be sure. Yeah, I heard. But I have another question first." Elliot turned to Fudd. "How are you doing?"

  "Blindness is a bit of a challenge," Fudd said. "But at least I don't have to see my face in the mirror each morning!" He smiled as if he had tried to make a joke, but his voice still sounded sad.

  "I'm sorry, Fudd," Elliot said. "It's my fault that happened."

  Fudd looked directly at Elliot, or where he thought Elliot was, which meant he was actually looking at a bedpost. "King Elliot, sacrificing my eyesight was the least I could do in return for all you've done for me."

sn't there any way to fix your eyes?" Elliot asked. "I'd think with all the magic in the Underworld, healing an injury like this would be easy."

  "That's just it," Mr. Willimaker said. "Fudd's eyes weren't injured that day. They were cursed. The only way to undo a curse like that and heal Fudd is for a creature to give away all his magic."

  "And I'd never let anyone to do that," Fudd said. "It's just too big a sacrifice."

  They fell silent for only a moment before Wendy called from downstairs, "Elliot! Your friend Cami is here. She wants to apologize about some doll!"

  "Tell her everything's fine and to go away!" Elliot yelled back.

  "Can I send her up to see you?" Wendy asked.

  It was hard to hear her because of the noise of the twins running around downstairs. Elliot was glad they had not fallen into some giant sinkhole, but now he had to yell back to his sister even louder.

  "No way, no chance, never!" he answered.


  Elliot turned back to the Brownies. "All right, I need some ideas about how we can stop Kovol."

  Suddenly, Patches and Mr. Willimaker disappeared. In the same instant, Elliot heard the creak of his door behind him.

  Fudd must not have heard the door creak. Still looking at the bedpost, he said, "Your Highness, I think--"

  He had spoken about four words too many and failed to disappear about four seconds too late.

  "What is that?" someone asked.

  Elliot turned and saw Cami in the doorway of his room. Her mouth hung open and her eyes were wide as she stared at Fudd. For a moment, Fudd looked as if he wanted to poof away, but then he must have decided there was really no point in that now.

  Elliot groaned. What did Wendy think "no way, no chance, never" meant anyway: "Sure, send Cami right up"? With the noise the twins were making downstairs, she might not have heard him.

  "Elliot, what is that?" Cami repeated, pointing at Fudd. "It's looking at me."

  "It is a he, and he's my friend," Elliot said. "And he's blind, so he isn't actually looking at you, but he can hear you just fine and you're being rude."

  "Oh. Sorry," Cami said. "But you still haven't told me what it--what...he is."

  Elliot sighed. "Come back, Mr. Willimaker and Patches. I guess you can show yourselves now." Then he turned to Cami. "I've got a sort of big secret. Sit down and I'll tell you everything."

  Cami's eyes got wider and wider while Elliot told her all about the existence of Pixies, Goblins, and other mythical creatures, and about how he had come to be the king of the Brownies.

  "This explains a lot," Cami said. "Like why you've been such an odd kid for so many years."

  Elliot arched his head. "I've only been the Brownie king since last fall."

  "Oh," Cami said. "Well, this explains why you've been odder than usual since last fall."

  She crouched down to Mr. Willimaker and shook his hand. "So Elliot's your king, huh?"

  "He's been a great king," Mr. Willimaker said.

  "The best," Fudd agreed.

  Cami leaned over to get closer to Patches. "How old are you, little girl?"

  Patches made a face. "Little? Are you saying I'm short?"

  "Oh! Um, no! I'm sure you'll grow up to be a very big girl one day. big as Brownies ever get, which I guess is still little."

  Elliot tried hard not to laugh. Cami probably didn't realize that Brownies live a lot longer than humans. Maybe Patches was the smallest in the room, but she wasn't the youngest--at least not in human years.

  "So why are you here?" Elliot asked Cami.

  "Well, you left the woods so fast that I was worried about you. And then my mom called, and she can't get home from work because of all the sinkholes." She shrugged. "I guess I was scared being there alone."

  "Okay, but why would you come here?" Elliot repeated.

  "Because we're friends. And friends help each other."

  Oh, that. "My parents can't get home either, but I guess you can stay with us until your mom gets back," Elliot said. "In exchange, I need your help too."


  He took a deep breath. "I'm going to the Underworld, at least to make sure the Brownies are okay, and then I'll decide what to do about Kovol."

  "Thank you, King Elliot," Mr. Willimaker said softly.

  Elliot continued, "I'm not sure how long I'll be gone, but until I get back you've got to cover for me with my family."

  Cami clapped her hands together. "Oh, the Underworld? Fun! Can I come?"

  And this was why Elliot didn't trust having girls for friends. First he had let her stay over because she was scared. Now she wanted to visit the Underworld with him. Next she'd decide they were best friends or something even worse. He wasn't falling into that trap! No way. He knew her tricks.

  And besides, even if he wanted to bring her to the Underworld (which he definitely didn't), he needed her help up here.

  "Who'll cover for me if you come with us?" he asked. "If my sister or brothers wonder where I am, I need you here to make an excuse for me so that they won't worry."

  "Oh. Okay."

  Cami looked so disappointed that he finally added, "You wouldn't want to come anyway. I might end up having to battle this evil Demon who wants to destroy Earth."

  "Yeah, that old excuse," she said, waving her hand. "Fine, go battle your evil Demon. I'll just stay here and be bored."

  "That's really why I'm going there," Elliot protested.

  "Whatever. You didn't have time to make paper-mache animals, but you do have time to save the world."

  Patches folded her arms and said, "He always has time for us."

  Elliot looked at Mr. Willimaker as if to ask him why Patches was acting jealous. But Mr. Willimaker only shrugged and suggested they should leave. Quickly.

  Looking at Elliot's bedpost again, Fudd said, "Your Highness, are you really coming to the Underworld with us?"

  "It'll be dangerous," Mr. Willimaker warned.

  "I know," Elliot said. "But I'm the one who woke Kovol up. If I can help anyone stop him, I will."

  "Hold my hand," Fudd said to the bedpost. "That will be the safest way to poof."

  Since the bedpost had no hands, and in fact had not answered Fudd even once, Elliot took Fudd's hand in his, then closed his eyes in dread of the next moment. He didn't like being poofed.

  Then he cracked one eye open as Cami said, "Be safe, Elliot. If anyone can stop that Demon, you can."

  Elliot started to thank her, but it was too late. The poofing magic grabbed on to his gut and yanked him away from his room. He was headed to the Underworld.

  The last time Elliot had been in Burrowsville, he had loved the quiet, peaceful feel there. It had been so nice he could hardly wait to come back for a visit.

  But things had changed. The small town was still quiet--too quiet, in fact. Not because it was peaceful, but because the fear was so thick in the air that nothing dared move. Even the usually gurgling stream through Burrowsville ran silently today.

  Fudd, Patches, and Mr. Willimaker all stood beside Elliot at the top of a hill overlooking the town. In the distance of the Underworld, Elliot saw smoke and haze. The light down here was provided by the combined magic of all the Underworld creatures. But now it was dim and flickered on and off, as if the creatures were using their magic for hiding from Kovol rather than for lighting the Underworld.

  "We're glad you came," Mr. Willimaker said as they began walking toward the center of Burrowsville.

  "I wish I didn't have to come because of Kovol," Elliot said. "But I'm glad I'm here."

  "You need to know about a power Kovol has," Fudd said. "A dangerous one. If he spreads his hands out wide"--Fudd demonstrated by holding his own hands apart--"like this, he's gathering his magic into that little space. It can hit you with the force of lightning."

  "And that would be bad," Patches said.

  "Don't get hit with a ball of lightning," Elliot said. "Good advice." He did a quick glance over the town. "It looks like Kovol's
left Burrowsville alone."

  "So far," Mr. Willimaker said.

  The tiny mounds of homes with the paths between them were all in place, and their yards were as neat and orderly as always. But there were no Brownies working in their gardens or walking the winding paths of Burrowsville to visit with friends as they passed by. Now the town looked completely deserted.

  Dear Reader, a deserted town is one where everyone has gone away and left it empty. Sometimes these are called ghost towns. A name like that can mean only one thing: ghosts must have chased everyone away.

  If you have a ghost living in your town, there's no need for you to run away. There are ways for you and the ghost to become friends. You should start by doing things the ghost enjoys, such as floating around in attics. And moaning. Lots and lots of moaning.

  Later you can invite the ghost to do fun things with you. Remember that some things will be tough for him, such as catching a baseball or swimming. And if you run a race, he'll probably win unless you can also fly to the finish line. But it'd be nice to let him win. After all, he's dead and you're not.

  Finally, you should introduce the ghost to your friends. If you really want to have fun, suggest playing the game Ghosts in the Graveyard. When you bring the ghost out to play, everyone who doesn't faint with shock will enjoy a good laugh.

  Elliot enjoyed playing games, but he definitely didn't feel like laughing right now. Besides, it didn't look like anyone was around to play with. He turned to Mr. Willimaker. "Where is everyone?"

  "Hiding in their homes. We think it's only a matter of time before Kovol comes here to collapse Burrowsville."

  "And if he does, then the Brownies will be trapped inside!" Elliot said. "Get them out to help me. We have to stop Kovol before he does anything to Burrowsville."

  Mr. Willimaker and Patches bowed to Elliot and then poofed away to start gathering the other Brownies.

  "He'll send the Shadow Men first," Fudd said. "Nobody knows how to fight them."

  "I know how," Elliot said. "And you do too. We've already fought them once."

  "I learned one thing," Fudd said. "Don't let a Shadow Man spit in your eyes and make you go blind."

  "Definitely not," Elliot agreed. Actually, he didn't want anyone to spit in his eyes, no matter who they were.

  Then Fudd snapped his fat fingers. "Light!"