The Hawk Bandits of Tarkoom (The Secrets of Droon #11)Tony Abbott
1: One Head Is Better Than Two
2: What the Legend Says
3: Tarkoom … Again!
4: City of Bandits
5: The Everywhere Passages
6: In the Court of Prince Ving
7: Room of Tricks
8: The Bad Kind of Bolt!
9: Wild, Wild Droon!
10: Friends, Friends, Friends!
The Adventure Continues …
Eric Hinkle and his friend Julie carefully pulled open a small door under the stairs in his basement.
Errr-errrk! The door’s old hinges squeaked.
Behind the door was a small, dark closet, with a single unlit lightbulb hanging from the ceiling.
“Isn’t it weird how it looks just like a regular closet?” asked Julie.
Eric grinned. “It is a regular closet. To everyone else.”
But to Eric, Julie, and their friend Neal, it was more than just a closet. It was the entrance to another world.
The magical world of Droon.
Actually, it was Julie who had first discovered the entrance to Droon.
She’d just gone into the closet, when suddenly the door closed behind her, the light went out, and — whoosh! — a long, shimmering staircase appeared where the floor had been.
The kids were scared, of course.
But the staircase looked so beautiful they just had to see what was at the bottom.
On their first visit to Droon, they met a young princess named Keeah who was now one of their best friends.
They’d also met a good wizard named Galen Longbeard and his spider troll helper, Max.
Galen was teaching Keeah to be a wizard, too.
Together with Keeah and Galen, the kids had battled a wicked sorcerer named Lord Sparr, a strange witch called Demither, and lots of other nasty creatures who were always trying to take over Droon.
The best part was that Eric and his friends seemed to be helping Keeah keep Droon free.
“I asked you over,” Eric said to Julie, “because I think we need to keep the closet in good working condition. After all, it’s our only way into Droon.”
“Great idea,” said Julie. “If the door squeaks too much, your parents will hear us. And Galen told us always to keep Droon a secret.”
“I’ll put in a fresh lightbulb,” said Eric. “You can oil the hinges. I asked Neal to come and sweep up, but he’s late.”
“As usual!” Julie said with a laugh.
She took an oilcan from the workbench. Standing on her toes, she began oiling the door’s hinges. Eric searched the nearby cabinets for a new lightbulb to replace the old one.
As they worked, Eric recalled their latest visits to Droon. He and his friends had had many adventures. But they’d also uncovered many mysteries.
For one thing, Keeah said she remembered being in the Upper World — Eric’s world — a long time ago.
But that didn’t seem possible.
Then, Keeah was told that Witch Demither secretly gave her some powers. Witch powers!
Keeah didn’t remember that at all.
“Hey, Eric,” said Julie, bending down to oil the lower hinges, “what do you think witch powers are like?”
“I was just thinking about that!” said Eric.
“I mean, are they dark and dangerous like Lord Sparr’s?” she asked. “Or more like the sort of natural wizard things Galen can do?”
“I don’t know.” Eric found a new lightbulb and took it to the closet. “But wouldn’t it be weird if there was a connection between Keeah being here and having witch powers? I wonder if Galen knows.”
“Galen’s five hundred and forty-two years old!” said Julie. “If he doesn’t know, who does?”
Eric shrugged. “Maybe we will. If we ever get to Droon again.”
He glanced at a soccer ball sitting on the workbench. After their first visit to Droon, Keeah had put a spell on it. When the ball floated in the air, it meant the staircase would be open for them.
“I can’t wait to go —” Eric began.
Just then, four furry white paws trotted past the window. They were followed by two beat-up sneakers.
“Get back here!” cried a familiar voice.
“Woof!” came the response.
“It’s Neal,” said Eric.
“And Snorky,” added Julie. Then she laughed. “Looks like Neal’s having trouble with him … again.”
“We’d better help him out!” said Eric. The two kids dropped everything and rushed up the basement stairs, through the kitchen, and out to the backyard.
When they got there, Neal was on all fours, nose to nose with Snorky, trying to grab him.
Julie giggled. “It looks like you’re dancing!”
“It’s not funny,” Neal groaned as Snorky romped away to sniff a tree. “I was teaching him to fetch when he escaped!”
Eric tried to trap Snorky from behind. “What was he fetching?”
“A box of cookies,” Neal said.
Julie shook her head. “Only you would think of teaching a dog to fetch food for you.”
Neal grinned. “What can I say? I’m a genius.”
“Hey, genius, your dog just ran into my house!” said Eric. He jumped up the steps and into the kitchen.
Inside, Snorky skittered under the table and headed down the hall at top speed, tracking dirty paw prints the whole way.
“Not the living room!” said Eric. “My mom just vacuumed!”
“We’ll trap him in the hall,” Neal shouted, dashing through the kitchen.
Eric and Julie tore around the other way. But Eric slipped on the carpet, slid across the floor, and crashed down — ka-thunk! — taking Julie and a large houseplant with him.
The plant spilled dirt all over the carpet.
“Woof! Woof!” barked Snorky as he turned and shot down the stairs to the basement.
“Oh, no!” said Eric, scrambling to his feet. “What if Snorky gets into the closet?”
“Let’s get down there right away!” said Julie.
But when they entered the basement, they stopped short.
Julie gasped softly. “Oh, my gosh!”
The soccer ball was floating in the air over the workbench.
“Keeah needs us in Droon,” said Eric. “That means the stairs will be open for us.”
“And for Snorky —” said Neal. “Uh-oh!”
The three friends spun around to see Snorky’s curly tail disappear behind the closet door.
Click. The door closed softly.
“Yikes!” cried Neal. “He’s going to Droon!”
“But he can’t unless the light is out,” said Eric.
He pulled open the door. The light was out.
“Oh, man! I didn’t put the new bulb in!”
Below them, the stairs were shimmering in a rainbow of colors. And Snorky was prancing down them, his tail wagging happily.
“Come back here, you,” said Julie.
The three friends dashed down the stairs, but Snorky began to run. “Woof! Woof!” he barked.
“He thinks it’s a game!” moaned Neal.
As they descended through the clouds, the sky over Droon was turning from black to purple.
“It’s just before morning,” said Julie. “It should be getting light soon.”
They jumped off the bottom of the staircase and looked around. Dusty brown mountains surrounded them on every side.
“It looks like the Panjibarrh hills,” said Eric. “We’ve been here before….”
er mind that,” said Neal, scanning the rocky ground. “Where’s Snorky? Snorky! Get back here. You need to go home —”
Then the staircase faded. The kids knew it would not reappear until it was time to go home.
“Too late to send Snorky back,” said Julie.
Grrrr. Something was growling from behind a rock.
“Snorky?” said Eric cautiously. “Is that you?”
Grrrr! The growling was louder this time.
“Here, puppy,” said Neal softly. “Here —”
A head peered from behind the rock.
But it wasn’t Snorky’s head.
It was large and gray. Its features were craggy and its skin was rough, as if it were very old.
Grrrr! Another head, the same as the first, jerked up from behind the rock.
“There are two of them!” said Eric, backing up. “Oh, man, we are cooked!”
The first head moved out from behind the rock and the second one moved with it. That’s when they saw that both heads were on the same neck!
“That’s definitely not Snorky,” said Neal.
The beast growled, opening both sets of jaws. Four rows of huge fangs dripped a thick, yellow liquid.
Julie stepped back. “That is so — ewww!”
“Don’t make it mad,” Eric whispered.
GRR-RRR! The twin heads roared again.
“Too late for that,” mumbled Neal.
The creature stomped toward them, then stood for a moment, roaring and growling.
Then it leaped at them.
“Get down!” Eric cried, grabbing Julie and Neal. The three friends dove behind a large boulder just as the beast pounced.
Thoom! It shook the ground when it landed. Then it turned quickly.
“It’s coming at us again!” said Julie.
Suddenly — hrrrr! — a six-legged, shaggy animal called a pilka thundered into the clearing.
“Stay back, you hideous thing!” cried a voice.
The kids looked up. Princess Keeah sat atop the pilka, her gold crown blazing in the dim light. She charged over the rocks at the beast.
“Keeah, watch out!” Eric shouted.
But Keeah rode forward, staring down the beast, her eyes blazing. “Begone!” she cried. “Or I’ll … I’ll … oh!”
Her left hand suddenly glowed with a sizzling red light. An instant later, a blast of red sparks knocked the two-headed creature back.
Eeeoow! Both heads howled angrily at her. Then, shrinking back, the beast clambered away through the rocks. In a moment, it was gone.
Just then, the great orange sun flickered over the mountaintops, and the purple sky brightened to pink. Morning had come to Droon.
“Wow, Keeah, that was awesome!” said Neal, jumping out from behind the boulder. “It was like that thing actually obeyed you!”
The princess slid down from the saddle and hugged her friends tightly. “I’m not sure why it did. But I’m glad it did! Are you all right?”
Eric breathed out in relief. “I think so. But in another second we would have been two-headed-dog food!”
“Snorky!” Neal cried, whirling on his heels.
Trembling, the small dog stumbled toward the friends and leaped into Julie’s arms.
“Poor Snorky,” she said. “He’s shaking.”
“He’s my pet, you know!” Neal grumbled. “I’m starting to think he doesn’t really like me.”
Keeah smiled. “Come on, everyone. I called you here because yesterday an earthquake rocked the Panjibarrh hills. King Batamogi found something strange and wants us to see. Galen’s caravan is just ahead. Let’s go meet him. We need to tell him about this beast!”
As the sun climbed over Panjibarrh’s famous dust hills, the four friends rode Keeah’s pilka down to the valley below.
Before long, they spotted two figures traveling across the plains.
“There’s Galen!” said Julie. “And Max, too!”
Galen, his long white beard flowing above a blue cloak stitched all over with stars and moons, rode the head pilka. A tall cone-shaped wizard hat sat on his head.
Behind him rode Max, his spider troll helper. Max had eight furry legs, a pug nose, and wild orange hair. Two other pilkas were laden with supplies and saddlebags bulging with books.
“Hail, friends from the Upper World!” said Galen as the children rode up. “What news?”
“A two-headed beast attacked us!” said Eric.
Galen frowned. “Two-headed, you say?”
“And both heads were pretty ugly,” said Neal.
The wizard stroked his beard as the children took turns describing the beast.
“It seemed old, yet it moved very quickly,” said Keeah. “Luckily, I stopped it.”
“Its four eyes were red and scary,” Julie said.
“Also, it had fangs the size of bananas,” said Eric. “Have you ever heard of such a thing?”
The wizard looked out over the hills. “I have,” he said. “But what you say fills me with fear.”
“Why?” asked Julie.
“Because,” said Galen, “the beast you describe died four hundred years ago! Now, follow me. Quickly!”
With that, Galen snapped the reins of his pilka and tore ahead. The children stared at one another for a moment, then followed Galen into the hills. They didn’t stop until they came to the place where a quake had split the ground wide open.
“So!” said Galen, staring at the jagged crack. “As I feared, this was no normal earthquake.”
“Over here, my friends!” called a voice.
A furry creature with a whiskery snout and long, foxlike ears waved from atop a rock. He wore a green crown and a short green cape.
It was Batamogi, one of the ten kings who ruled the Oobja people of Panjibarrh. He jumped down from the rock and bowed first to Galen and Princess Keeah, then to Eric and his friends.
“A big rumbly-rumble shook the hills yesterday,” Batamogi told them. “It sent me flying out of bed. I’ve been shaking ever since! This morning I found it. I called you here right away.”
“Found it?” said Eric. “What did you find?”
Batamogi pointed to the deep gash in the earth. “An ancient tomb. See for yourselves!”
Galen dismounted his pilka and strode over to the split in the ground. The wizard was very old, but he moved nimbly over the rocks and down into the ruined tomb.
At the bottom was a small square of earth. Pressed into the earth was the outline of a beast.
A beast that was not there.
A beast with two heads.
“Holy cow!” Julie gasped. “This must be the grave of the great-great-grandfather of that monster we saw.”
“No, it was the monster you saw,” said Galen, his eyes fixed on the outline. “This earthquake was no accident. It was ancient magic that opened the beast’s tomb and set it free.”
Keeah turned to Galen. “I thought it died a long time ago. Do you mean it didn’t really die?”
The wizard did not answer. Instead, he inspected every inch of the tomb. Finally, he climbed out and dusted his hands.
“The beast is called Kem,” Galen said. “It was created by a magic as old as Droon itself. Long ago I fought the beast and buried it here, thinking it was dead. I was wrong, fooled by the dark magic. In his prime, Kem was watchdog of the old city of Tarkoom. He howled like a ghost before attacking intruders.”
Eric and Neal shivered at the same time.
“Tarkoom?” squeaked Max. “That was a place of thieves! And robbers!”
“And terrible bandits!” said Batamogi, scratching his ears nervously. “But Tarkoom was destroyed ages ago. You can still see the ruins.”
Galen pulled a thick scroll from his saddlebag. “True,” he said solemnly. “I was there the night it fell. A great fire reduced the city to rubble.”
“Good!” said Julie. “Serves it right.”
Galen unrolled the scroll and read it. “Ah, but here lies
the problem. A legend says that centuries may pass, but if ever Kem should howl again, Tarkoom would rise from its ashes.”
“The city would just come back?” asked Neal.
Galen nodded. “And all the terrible creatures who lived there. Droon’s old magic is powerful.”
Keeah took a breath, looked at her friends, then back at Galen. “So, what do we do now?”
“We wait in the hills above the Panjibarrh Valley,” said the wizard, rolling up his scroll again. “If Tarkoom does rise again, we’ll have a most important job ahead of us. Until then, we wait and watch.”
Eric frowned. “What exactly will we see?”
“The past,” said Galen. “We will see the dark past of Droon coming back!”
For the next hour, Batamogi led the small troop up one dusty path and down another. They were heading for the highest point in all the Panjibarrh hills.
“Who lived in Tarkoom?” Julie asked.
“Hawk bandits, they were called,” Galen said, fixing his eyes on the road ahead. “Half human, half bird. As terrifying to see as they were ruthless. But worst of all was their leader, Ving.”
Batamogi nodded, shivering. “The stories say he possessed a strange, soothing voice. It made his victims feel safe. Then he swooped down on heavy wings — fwit! fwit! — and robbed them of everything! Oh, Ving and his bandits were feared across all of Droon.”
“Until my master stopped them!” said Max, beaming proudly.
“Four hundred years ago,” said Galen, his pale cheeks blushing. “But now we must do it again. You see, Tarkoom was a city in the ancient empire of Goll, an evil realm of dark magic from Droon’s earliest times. After a long struggle, Goll — like Tarkoom itself — was destroyed.”
“But its magic still lives!” Max added.
Galen nodded. “Indeed it does. If Ving and his bandits come to life and work their evil on present-day Droon, I fear the whole dark past of Goll may live again. If I am right, we must stop Ving from changing our world in any way —”
The earth trembled suddenly.
“Another rumbly-rumble!” said Batamogi as Snorky jumped into his arms.
Galen stopped his pilka on a ridge and looked down. “And here we are!”
Below them lay the vast Panjibarrh Valley.
In it were piles of rock, crumbled stones, broken columns, sunken streets, and collapsed buildings.