Cain gritted his teeth as Roquat's laughter rang in his ears. Even the soldier gnomes stared at their monarch in dismay. With flapping wings, Dani landed on his shoulder. "And this would be why no one comes a calling," she muttered.
"Zounds!" Malachite said as he joined Spencer at the window. "How fast are we going, lad?"
"Faster than any ship." The boy's brown face had paled. "We've already cleared the Teeth."
Malachite jerked around to face DG. "Princess, I need your help, otherwise everyone on Kingsport will die."
DG stepped closer to him. "What do you want me to do?"
"Channel your power to me, I can shield the island."
"Aim the energy from Rock Fort into the sky," Betsy said, "otherwise, it'll obliterate the next island over."
"Righto." Malachite held DG's hand, and a swirl of green and blue lights emanated from them.
Roquat's chuckles stopped. "Kill them all, Kaliko, except the Gale Princess. She must observe what her arrogance has wrought."
The General looked pained. "Your Majesty, show mercy!"
"Mercy? Mercy! When have Topsiders ever shown us mercy?" Roquat and his throne grew taller and wider. His voice continued to thunder. "They steal our gems, force us into hiding, and then use magical trickery to get what they want! It ends! Even if we must kill each of them, it will end!" The blue fire in his eyes blazed larger. "Even if I must kill you."
Kaliko's shoulders slumped as he gestured. The armored gnomes formed a semi-circle around the Topsiders.
Betsy drew her sword. "Ready men."
Dani squawked. "This is suicide!" Her wings flapped as Morgan and Drake moved beside Betsy with swords drawn. Sprite pushed Treasure against the wall and crouched over her. Spencer guarded Malachite and DG. "You can't kill them with swords and bullets!"
Betsy spared a glare at the bird. "Now's the time to share better ideas!"
"Kill Roquat! He's the problem!"
"We tried that," Cain said as his hand wrapped around one of the grenadoes on his belt. One tug would free it to throw.
"Did you miss his reassemble trick?" Betsy growled. More soldier gnomes marched out of the walls and formed lines behind Kaliko's troop. "Oh come on! Haven't you ever heard of a fair fight?"
Dani moved her big beak right next to Cain's ear. "Chicken eggs are poisonous to gnomes. Please only hit Roquat."
Cain glanced at the disguised Chicken, gauging if she was finally telling the truth. His eyes fell on DG's glowing form. Just when his cynical mind had told him she was forever out of his reach, she clawed her way back to the surface and tried reasoning with the being that tried to kill her and wanted to kill the rest of the O.Z. "Supply pack!" he barked.
Spencer dropped to his knees and pulled it from the wall as Cain knelt too. "What's going on? You can't win the fight with a frying pan."
"Good thing we aren't using a frying pan, ain't it?" Cain set the pan into Spencer's hands and opened the wrapping around the six eggs. He took two carefully in one hand. "Stay close in case I need more ammunition."
He shifted one egg to his left as he stood.
Dani flapped off his shoulder and landed on Spencer's. "I hope it wasn't a load of chicken feed added to the story."
Kaliko's troop pressed in with swords raised. Roquat's head fell back as he laughed. Betsy parried a sword thrust. Cain narrowed his gaze on Roquat's gaping mouth and threw with all his might.
The white egg sailed between the stone teeth and down Roquat's gullet.
Roquat's laughter stopped and he clawed his throat. A hard white substance like dried mortar spread up and down from the middle of his body. Roquat screamed, and the soldier gnomes broke off their attack to stare at him instead. The pirates didn't lower their weapons. The white reached the top of Roquat's head and the soles of his feet, and he stopped moving and screaming. The golden belt gleamed around the seated statue before it crumbled. The belt fell onto the seat of the throne while the gnomes' jaws dropped.
"Nice pitching, Nolan Ryan," Betsy said with a relieved smile.
"Who?" Cain demanded as he set the fifth egg in the pan with the rest.
She headed to the throne. "It's a compliment, Lawman." Just then, the island's impact knocked everyone but the magic users off their feet. "I thought we had more time."
"No more time," Malachite groaned. The magic users held hands, but braced against the outer wall with their free ones. Their combined glows shone brighter. Their focus wasn't inside the cavern, and they both dripped with sweat. "Rock Fort is still moving. Kingsport will give way!"
Betsy's brown eyes opened wider. "Somebody put the brakes on this island!" The gnomes looked confused. "Weigh anchor! Stop it from moving!" Most soldier gnomes melted through the floors and walls, but the cavern began to tremble. Betsy held the throne's armrest to remain standing. "Now what?"
DG's head dropped. "The Mountain must have a King." Her voice sounded far away. "The Mountain needs to choose a King."
"Wonderful." Betsy snatched the golden belt off the throne. The mountain shook harder. "Catch!" She tossed it into the air.
Slack-jawed, Kaliko stared at the belt in his hands as the quaking subsided. "This cannot be." His body grew taller until he stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Cain. His silver armor fell off as robes formed out of his body.
"The Mountain has chosen," DG said.
Betsy let go of the throne and stepped back. "King Roquat is dead. Long live the King!"
"Long live the King!" Morgan and Drake echoed.
"Kaliko the Painite!" the gnomes shouted.
"Roquat's tyranny had to end, but like this?" Kaliko buckled the golden belt around his waist. "This is not what I wanted."
Cain climbed to his feet. "The Mountain chose you for a reason. Don't drive yourself crazy trying to find that reason."
Malachite and DG broke apart. Cain caught hold of her around her waist. She blinked at him. "Good, you're okay. What happens now?"
"You have saved us, Princess. We will reward you." Kaliko pulled his sword free of his discarded armor. Gnomes of all sizes crowded into the throne room, giving wide berth to the Topsiders. "Malachite Granite." The young man leaned on Spencer as he approached the new king. "Your family has served as the Nome King's Steward without the influence of the King. We would ask you to continue this role and be our ambassador to the Topsiders. Do you accept this charge?"
Malachite bowed on one knee. "On behalf of my family, I would be honored to accept, your Majesty." Kaliko touched the human man's shoulders with the blade. Malachite moved to the side.
"Captain Betsy Bobbins." Betsy removed her hat but didn't bow. "You matched wits with Roquat to correct a greater evil in the Nonestic. Without your stubbornness, we would still be slaves to his whims. What boon do you ask for?"
"I have my Treasure back." She waved at the little girl leaning against Sprite. "There is nothing else on this world I desire. But on behalf of my men, who shared the risk, they prefer a treasure they can spend."
Kaliko nodded. "The child's weight in gold and gems will be given to each of your men." Drake and Morgan kept their mouths shut as they swiveled their attention between Treasure, Kaliko, and the Captain.
Betsy smirked at them before bowing with her leg swept out in front of her. Cain wondered if it was an Archipelago variation since he had never seen it done her way before. "Thank you, your Majesty."
Kaliko gestured his open hand at Cain. "We know not your name, Topsider, but please approach."
DG loosened her hold and pushed him forward. He looked back, making sure she could stand on her own as she shooed him. He stopped in front of Kaliko. "My name is Wyatt Cain."
"Wyatt Cain," the new king leaned forward, "your hand slew the tyrant, Roquat."
Crap. But then, they all seemed thrilled he's gone; maybe they don't need to punish me.
"And only after he threatened the entire Topsider world. You did not use the eggs to blackmail Roquat into freeing his prisoners or in a fit of rage when he tried to kill your Princess. We have never met a Topsider of your mettle before. Your Princess calls you a man of tin. We believe you have been forged of a much stronger ore than that. Please kneel." The sword blade tapped Cain's right shoulder then his left. "In gratitude for freeing us from the tyranny of Roquat the Ruby, we dub you Lord Platinum of the Dominions of the Nome King with all the rights and privileges any Topsider kingdom would bestow upon a noble house." Cain stared up at the smooth, stone face. "Arise, Lord Wyatt, first lord in the history of the gnomes."
The damn collar was trying to strangle him, but he managed to stand. Some half-hearted suggestions to give him and Jeb noble standing had followed the Battle of the Eclipse. Both Cain men turned down the idea, not comfortable with being part of the class that had abandoned the O.Z. Now it had been thrust upon him, and he didn't think he could turn it down without causing a bigger mess. A smaller hand slipped into his and squeezed, and he looked at DG's beaming face. Her pride made it easier to breathe.
"Princess DG of the Outer Zone." One more squeeze and she let go to stride to Kaliko. "We apologize for your treatment in the Dominions of the Nome King. However, it has been proven that we must repair our relationship with the Outer Zone and the other Topsider kingdoms. We wish to turn the animosity into an alliance."
"I wish for the same." DG's voice and posture didn't betray the strain she had just gone through. "My people have suffered for too long with war and oppression, and your people have spent far too long underground. We must set aside past feuds for the future." She held out her hand.
Kaliko seized her hand, but didn't pump it. "We can carve out the details later. For now, accept a sign of the Nome King's good faith, Descendant of Dorothy Gale of the Silver Shoes." He pointed his free hand to the wall, which opened to the collection room's archway. People and creatures poured out of it into the throne room. Some garb was now only seen in history books, but they all had the same dazed expression on their faces. Malachite and Betsy moved to intercept them before they panicked.
DG grinned and shook Kaliko's arm. "That's the best good faith sign ever!"
Kaliko grinned as well. "You are easy to please, Princess. Now we should go and inspect the damages upstairs."