“Wait, I want to play a game!” yelled Rucksack. Luckily, the king loved games more than eating human flesh and consented to participate. “If I win, I get to keep your hat and medallion.”
“And if you lose?” asked the bug.
“You get to eat me and my friend here.”
“Deal,” said the king without any intention of upholding his end of the bargain.
“Can you break rocks with your teeth?” asked Rucksack.
“Of course not!” said the king indignantly.
“I didn’t think so,” scoffed the magician.
The bug looked even more monstrous. “Give me those rocks you’re holding,” it demanded. The king began to chew them and as he did, his many teeth fell out.
Rucksack picked up the stones that fell out of the bug’s jaws. It was disgusting business, but he carefully wiped them clean of spit and popped them into his mouth one at a time. The termite looked at him with burning animosity, eagerly waiting for him to fail. Rucksack sucked on them for a few seconds and spit them out. “I’m afraid I can’t do it. My teeth are just not sharp enough.”
The bug’s face gleamed as he smiled a toothless grin and pompously declared, “You haven’t beaten me yet and if you cannot win I will enjoy you for my next meal.”
Rucksack calmly agreed with the insect, while Nuptial looked at him in horror. “The next challenge is one that requires speed and agility,” said the magician while gazing at the elderly insect. “We must run or in your case, scurry to the end of the great corridor and back. If I’m faster, then I choose the last competition. If you can beat me, you get to eat me.”
The bug was already envisioning itself swallowing the human whole. He knew he wouldn’t be able to chew his victims, so he had to rely on years of stomach acid built-up from eating Abe Lincoln. Rucksack understood he needed to win the race, but it was more important for the king to become tired after overexerting its wobbly joints. One of the servants had a glowing tail that emitted regular pulsations of light, beginning as a dull pink, flashing a deep blue, and eventually reaching a goblin green color.
“Go on green,” shouted the king. Rucksack knew the bug had four more legs than he did, but one of them was injured. He would need to beat the king without cheating. The insect gained youthful power from the hat on its head.
“How do I know you will give me the hat if I win?” asked Rucksack. It was a good question because the king never had any intention of parting with his magic hat.
“Young man, my kingly word should be enough to suffice, but just to make you satisfied, I will hand it off to a neutral third party.” It was a grand political gesture replete with diplomacy, except that no neutral third party existed in the entire colony.
“How long has that unicorn been following you?”
“Only a couple days,” replied the magician.
“Then we will make him the keeper of the hat until I win the next competition.” The king had worn the magic hat for so long he couldn’t remember what it felt like to be old. He scurried over to the trembling unicorn and doffed his hat to the creature with magnanimous superiority. “Unicorn, I bestow my hat to you. Don’t let any foolish wisdom enter your head while I race.” But as soon as the magic hat alighted on Nuptial’s head, it began to realize its mind was empty. Rucksack warmed up by doing several calisthenics, while the bug looked at him with fascination.
The king attempted to touch its several talons, while staring at the young man. They lined-up at the start and finish line. The glow bug flashed green and the two sprinters were off. Rucksack didn’t dare look behind him as he ran for his life. In the mean time, the bug took six steps and passed out. Rucksack reached the end of the corridor and crossed the finish line while the king regained consciousness. The master of the termites didn’t appear to be as masterful as he once was. The glow bug was the first to realize the fragility of the termite king. The king wouldn’t have trusted himself with the power of presidential perception when he was an ignorant insect. He still wore the medallion. That was at least something, but he didn’t understand its significance. Even with the magic hat, he hadn’t figured it out.
“Well young sir, it appears you’ve beaten me,” whispered the king in a raspy voice. “The hat is yours, unless you’re willing to let me win it back?”
Rucksack was out of breath, tired, and hadn’t given much thought to his next con. His life depended on being creative enough to keep the bug engaged with distractions devised at the drop of a hat… “At the drop of a hat,” he thought. Then he realized what he needed to do to make it out of the termite colonies alive. He consulted Nuptial, for the unicorn was no longer looking at him with a dazed expression on its face, but one of wizened urgency.
“Well, I’m waiting for you to tell me about our next game or is it that you can’t think of one?” asked the king as it cracked its talons and drooled on its lower lip.
“No, I have our next competition planned, but my friend looks as if he might need to be scratched under the chin.”
“Why reassure him; he’s only going to be eaten as a delicacy in my next feast?” Ignoring the king, Rucksack scratched Nuptial under the chin. To his astonishment and relief, the unicorn spoke.
Rucksack had to follow Nuptial’s trustworthiness, while desperately hoping the bug would obey his request. He addressed the king with as much confidence as he could muster. “Turn the medallion three clicks in your direction.”
The bug didn’t have any understanding of clocks. “Why should I listen to you?”
“You want to play our last game so you can win your hat back, don’t you?” asked Rucksack with ever so slight a nervous fluctuation in his voice. The bug reclined its shoulders in resignation, turning the medallion three clicks counterclockwise. The inscription Sic Semper Tyrannis immediately vanished; replaced with four beautifully written words you win the game.
“I know what you will say before you say it,” cried Rucksack.
“You do not,” responded the king indignantly.
“Bet you I do,” laughed the magician.
“Will you bet the hat?” asked the king.
“I will if you bet the medallion,” challenged Rucksack.
The bug nodded as the two competitors gazed into each other’s eyes. Neither one was willing to lose. “The next words you will say will be you win the game,” declared Rucksack. The bug had a pained expression on its face. It didn’t realize it could say anything to avoid losing. It no longer had the cerebral power of the magic hat. Ever since the king gave his hat to the unicorn, its mental faculties declined to their previous instinctual states. He was no longer a reasoning insect and his overly inflated body was shrinking.
“You win the game,” gasped the king.
Rucksack was speechless. Had his inept strategy really worked? The magician didn’t have time to question himself. A congregation of swarming termites surrounded him. He reached for the necklace, which broke free from the king’s neck. The magician wore Abe’s clock with the curious red stone glowing at the center.
“Turn the medallion five turns clockwise and let’s get out of here!” whispered Nuptial. Rucksack obeyed his companion’s request and the inscription you win the game vanished. The new message read, Eat the King. Rucksack donned his hat and picking up his heals. Fighting thousands of termites was a battle he didn’t want to contemplate. The king looked at the medallion in horror as he read the transcription.
“Don’t leave me!” The king wished he hadn’t reproduced so much. He shrieked one last time, beginning for a moment, and only lasting a few seconds. Apparently, the termites were tired of taking orders from their uppity father and decided to ingest him.
“You monsters!” yelled the king.
Rucksack didn’t slow his pace. The power of the magic hat was already working. His legs moved as fast as a galloping horse. The two of them ran in absolute darkness, except for a pinprick of red light dancing in the vast hall.