Rumo and his miraculous.., p.58
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       Rumo: And His Miraculous Adventures, p.58

           Walter Moers
 
‘I’ll try,’ Rumo replied.

  The Theatre of Death

  The Theatre of Death was the black heart of Hel, an octagon whose eight colossal walls were faced with skulls stained black by the eternal soot.

  ‘The skulls all belong to enemies of the Gornab dynasty,’ Yukobak explained, looking around anxiously as they stole along. ‘The theatre has many entrances. As a member of the Hellian nobility I often got a chance to see what goes on behind the scenes. I know how the theatre’s devilish machinery works. We’d better use one of the cellar entrances – that’s where they deliver the meat for the wild animals. They’re unguarded because everyone is scared of the beasts. From there one can get anywhere including the backstairs that lead to the prisoners’ cells. One thing’s for sure: No one has ever been crazy enough to want to sneak in that way, only out – if at all!’ Yukobak gave a nervous laugh.

  Laughter, applause and savage yells were issuing from the theatre. An exciting contest was obviously in progress.

  ‘Tell me something,’ said Yukobak. ‘What was it you did on this, er, Roaming Rock?’

  ‘I killed as many enemies as I could,’ Rumo replied.

  ‘I see,’ said Yukobak. ‘So you do have a plan after all.’

  Getting in was easy. They climbed through an unbarred window at the rear of the theatre. The cellar in which they found themselves was full of gnawed bones and the stuffy air was thick with plump, buzzing bluebottles. The muffled roars of a wild animal were coming from somewhere nearby. Yukobak opened the inner door, which gave on to a dark passage flanked by another dozen doors.

  Yukobak tried one of them, only to be confronted by a six-foot spider with ruby-red fur, eight yellow eyes the size of dinner plates and marbled grey wings like a moth. The spider turned its attention to the two intruders and fluttered its wings. Yukobak slammed the door in a hurry.

  ‘Sorry,’ he said, ‘wrong one!’

  The next three doors he opened only a crack and promptly shut again, having been greeted respectively by an awe-inspiring roar, an infernal stench and a writhing tentacle. At last he found the right door.

  ‘The stairs,’ he whispered. ‘From here we can get to the prison cells.’ They climbed the stairs accompanied by the spectators’ ever-swelling, ever-fading shouts and applause. Rumo detected many unpleasant smells, among them blood, sweat and fear – the scent of death as a perverted form of entertainment.

  At the top of the stairs they found themselves looking down a passage dimly illuminated by a few torches. Rumo was astonished by the sight that met his eyes. At the end of the passage was a black wooden door with a heavy table in front of it, and dozing at the table, which bore several empty wine bottles, were three guards. They were Bluddums and they were snoring softly. But the most astonishing aspect of this scene was not the soldiers’ dereliction of duty, but the fact that Rumo knew all three. They were Zorda, Zorilla and Kromek Toomah, the Bluddums from The Glass Man Tavern.

  Kromek Toomah, Zorda and Zorilla

  After Rumo and Smyke had left him barking madly in his taproom at The Glass Man, Kromek Toomah had undergone a surprising transformation. He had bettered himself professionally, acquired a set of firm friends and found his true home. Best of all, he had never barked since.

  Kromek had recovered from his fit of dementia just in time to catch Zorda and Zorilla in the act of stowing his possessions in sacks with a view to making off with them. He won the terrible fight that followed because the other two were still groggy after their encounter with Smyke and Rumo.

  While waiting for Zorda and Zorilla to recover their senses, Kromek debated whether the innkeeper’s trade was really up his street. He detested waiting on people, he hadn’t made a bean, and whenever he awoke from one of his fits he found people busy robbing him. His life had gone wrong somewhere.

  ‘Listen, Kromek Toomah,’ said a familiar voice in his head, ‘I don’t think you’re cut out to be an innkeeper.’ It was the voice of the Glass Man, who had commanded him to build the tavern in the first place.

  ‘But you told me—’

  ‘I know. I was wrong, I admit, but I’m a mental illness. You can’t hold me responsible.’

  ‘Can’t I?’

  ‘No, I wasn’t in my right mind, but this time I see it all clearly. My mind is clear, crystal-clear. Clear as a diamond composed of pure thought subjected to extreme pressure. Do you know how clear that is?’

  ‘No,’ said Kromek.

  ‘It’s insanely clear, my friend! Listen, you should take up your old profession again. In my opinion the mercenary’s trade is the only one that suits you.’

  ‘I don’t know. It won’t be easy to land another job in a mercenary army. I marched around with Prince Hussein Banana’s head on the end of a spear. People get to hear of that sort of thing. Generals don’t care for it.’

  ‘I know, but I’m not talking about an army up here. Ever heard of Netherworld?’

  ‘Sure, there’s always some nut blathering about it round every campfire, but—’

  ‘What would you say if I told you that Netherworld really exists?’

  ‘I’d say you were nuts.’

  ‘And you’d be absolutely right, seeing as how I’m a mental illness, but my information about Netherworld’s existence comes from a crystal-clear source. It’s as clear as—’

  ‘What source?’

  ‘Another mental illness.’

  ‘You mean you screwballs can communicate?’

  ‘Of course we can. We’re in touch with each other – telepathically in touch. Voices, you know? All of us are voices that—’

  ‘Yes, yes,’ said Kromek, clutching his brow. ‘Spare me the details, I’m getting a headache.’

  ‘My information about Netherworld comes from someone by the name of Gornab,’ said the Glass Man.

  ‘You’ve got names?’

  ‘Of course. I’m the Glass Man. Then there’s Gornab, and the Howling Hound, and Strobo the Screamer, and the Twelve-Tongued Tadpole, and—’

  ‘All right, all right! So there’s an army down in Netherworld?’

  ‘And what an army! They only take the scum of the earth and anyone who lacks even that qualification becomes a general.’

  ‘How does one get there?’

  ‘There are many routes to Netherworld. I recommend the one that goes via Murkholm.’

  ‘Why?’

  ‘Because it’s the craziest!’ The Glass Man gave a diabolical laugh.

  The route to Netherworld

  When Zorda and Zorilla regained consciousness, Kromek made it clear that the next time they tried to rob him he would dice them, pickle them and take them along as iron rations for an emergency. Realising that he was in earnest, they swore to turn over a new leaf. The three of them later became the best of friends because, however stupid, brutal and underhanded they might be, Bluddums seldom bore a grudge. Kromek told the other two about his plan to go to Netherworld, and Zorda and Zorilla, who thought it sounded a place after their own hearts, decided to join him. They burned down The Glass Man Tavern and set off, guided by the voice in Kromek’s head.

  When they got to Murkholm, its sinister inhabitants admitted them to the ‘Friends of Hel Association’ and initiated them into Murkholm’s secret function as an Urban Flytrap. Their first task as members of this secret society was to escort a new batch of prisoners to Hel accompanied by a few other Bluddums who knew the way to Netherworld. To Kromek’s, Zorda’s and Zorilla’s satisfaction, one of these prisoners was the fat Shark Grub that had given them such a hard time with the Wolperting’s assistance. Kromek interpreted this as an omen that he was on the right track.

  The Bluddums made their way down into Netherworld through a precipitous maze of tunnels. They were immediately taken with the place. Although it harboured many unpleasant creatures including huge spiders with mothlike wings – they could be quite a nuisance and devoured three of their comrades – the sinister aura of Hel instantly appealed to them, so they delivered their prisoners and
joined the army of Gornab the Ninety-Ninth. No one here held it against Kromek that he had carried his general’s head around on a spear. This time the voice in his head seemed to have given him the right advice. Kromek, Zorda and Zorilla served in several units of the Netherworld army before being assigned to the Theatre of Death, where they took part in one or two fights that required them to smash the skulls of some defenceless dwarfs. Then, as luck would have it, they landed the coveted, restful job of guarding the prisoners’ wing.

  Kromek had, for the first time, felt a renewed pang of uneasiness when the captive Wolpertings were brought to Hel. Although he was somewhat reassured to find that they did not include the Wolperting from The Glass Man Tavern, the presence of those creatures got on his nerves. The fights he witnessed in the arena revived unpleasant memories. Lately, he had even suffered from nightmares in which Wolpertings pursued him with bared fangs until he woke up yelling his head off. He started to drink again. On the day the great threesome took place in the arena he had drained three bottles of extremely potent Netherworld wine and fallen into a deep sleep in which he dreamt he was being chased by a big white dog that bore a horrific resemblance to the brute from The Glass Man Tavern.

  Rumo stole up to the table and the three snoring guards, cautiously followed by Yukobak. He drew his sword.

  ‘Are we going to fight?’ asked Krindle.

  ‘As little as possible,’ Rumo replied.

  Krindle uttered a groan of disappointment.

  ‘What are you going to do?’ asked Dandelion.

  Rumo bent down and rapped loudly on the table three times. Kromek Toomah, Zorda and Zorilla woke up and stared at him blearily.

  ‘Hello, Kromek,’ said Rumo. ‘Long time no see.’

  He stunned Zorilla with the flat of his sword. Zorda he spared so that he could help him release the prisoners. As for Kromek Toomah, he had started to bark again.

  Smyke takes a gamble

  Smyke gazed mournfully at Rala’s face as she lay there in her metal coffin. What a noble, beautiful creature, he thought. What an ideal mate for Rumo she would have made!

  ‘What would you say,’ Professor Kolibri asked casually, as if inviting Smyke to play chess with him, ‘to helping me to get the better of death?’

  ‘What?’ Smyke said dully.

  ‘I was wondering if you’d care to join me in a little scientific venture. One in which you would combat death and work on your own immortality at the same time.’ The professor gave him an encouraging smile.

  ‘If you feel obliged to relieve the tension by cracking morbid jokes, it must be your Nocturnomathic sense of humour. Forgive me if I don’t laugh.’

  ‘I’m not joking. I’m making you a serious offer, the way I did back there in the forest.’

  ‘You want me to re-enter your brain?’

  ‘That would be the first step. Our ultimate destination is Rala’s heart.’

  ‘How would we get there?’

  ‘It certainly won’t be easy – someone has really played havoc with her system. It won’t be without its dangers, either, but that applies to all pioneering ventures. The odds are fifty–fifty.’

  ‘It’s a gamble, you mean?’

  ‘Yes, a gamble. And, for me, a unique opportunity to check my calculations.’

  ‘In that case, professor, explain the rules.’

  ‘You already know the first step: you pay my brain a visit. You make your way into the chamber containing the Non-Existent Teenies’ micromachines and get aboard the subcutaneous submarine. Then you travel in it from my bloodstream into Rala’s. Once there, you use the Non-Existent Teenies’ instruments to start her heart beating again. That’s all.’

  ‘That’s all?’ Smyke laughed. ‘Nothing more? How do I get from your body into Rala’s?’

  ‘That’s the easiest part. I shall lay a pipeline between our two bloodstreams. This place is an ideal laboratory. All I need is some sterile tubing.’

  Smyke stared hard at Kolibri. He seemed to be genuinely in earnest.

  ‘I’ve got umpteen questions, professor. How dangerous will it be? Do we have the slightest chance of success? How will I find my bearings inside Rala’s body?’

  ‘That’s only three questions and the answer is the same in each case: Everything will turn out all right. Yes, according to my calculations it’ll all work out somehow.’

  ‘Somehow? And you call yourself a scientist?’

  ‘It may sound a trifle vague, but you know from experience how reliable my calculations are.’

  ‘What if somebody turns up while we’re … I mean, what if General Ticktock comes home?’

  ‘Then we’re done for in any case.’

  ‘You really think it’ll work?’

  ‘Wouldn’t it be a wonderful surprise for Rumo? I owe him a debt of gratitude and I’d like to repay him – he saved my life, after all. How many lives do you owe him, Smyke? One? Two?’

  Smyke gave the Metal Maiden a lingering stare.

  ‘So far,’ he growled, ‘three. May I stick my finger in your ear?’

  ‘Be my guest,’ Professor Kolibri said with a smile.

  A brilliant idea

  Gornab jumped around excitedly on his throne and punched the cushions. ‘Now they’re tighfing prolerpy!’ he panted. ‘Wath a gnamificent spactecle!’

  ‘Quite so, Your Majesty,’ said Friftar, ‘they’re fighting properly at last. To the death!’

  The three Wolpertings down in the arena had only played around at first, as expected, but their onslaughts were now becoming faster and more ferocious. The younger two had clearly joined forces against the older one, but the latter was repelling their attacks with a masterful ease that belied his unimpressive exterior. The sight of Wolpertings fighting among themselves had a novel and very special appeal that held the whole audience spellbound, just as Friftar had foreseen. For the very first time in this arena a contest of the highest quality was in progress. This was no fight between barbarians and uncouth mercenaries; three genuine artists were at work.

  ‘However,’ Friftar added, ‘I believe we can enhance the proceedings still further. We need only throw a few more logs on the fire. I’ve already sent a squad of soldiers to bring a few elderly Wolpertings to the theatre. The Copper Killers can practise their marksmanship on them. I think that ought to provide the trio down there with an additional incentive.’

  Gornab grinned.

  ‘Yes!’ he exclaimed. ‘We klil some Tingerwolps so the Tingerwolps klil each other!’

  ‘Exactly, Your Majesty,’ Friftar said with a bow. ‘A brilliant idea of yours – as usual. We persuade the Wolpertings to kill each other by killing a few ourselves.’

  The theatre guard

  Ribble had already deduced from the rhythmical clank and jingle of armour that a sizeable body of soldiers was approaching the prison.

  Someone knocked on the door.

  ‘Who is it?’ Ribble barked.

  ‘Theatre guard!’ came the crisp reply. ‘We’ve come to recruit some Wolpertings for the Theatre of Death.’

  ‘One moment,’ said Ribble.

  He opened the door. Standing outside were a dozen heavily armed soldiers. It was hard to tell exactly what they were under their armour.

  ‘Come in,’ said Ribble.

  The soldiers entered the prison.

  ‘What’s that bloodstain doing on the floor?’ their sergeant demanded.

  ‘A Wolperting got uppity. I had to kill him.’

  ‘Good,’ said the sergeant, then, ‘Hey, why aren’t you in uniform?’

  ‘Mine’s covered in blood,’ Ribble said grimly. ‘Wolperting blood – revolting. How many prisoners do you need?’

  ‘Half a dozen, as targets for the Copper Killers.’

  ‘Great!’ Ribble laughed. ‘All right, help yourselves.’ He unbolted the door to the main hall. The sergeant and he stood aside and the soldiers marched in.

  ‘Halt!’ shouted the sergeant. ‘Stand to attention!’

 
The soldiers stiffened. Their eyes took a while to get used to the dim light. The sergeant, too, had to blink several times before he made out what awaited them beyond the door. Dozens of Wolpertings were drawn up in a semicircle, and they made a resolute impression. They were on the elderly side, but most were armed. One of them, a massive specimen with a notch in his skull, stepped forward and said, ‘You’d better surrender.’

  Ribble held his spear to the sergeant’s throat.

  Zorda was a fool, but he knew he hadn’t a hope against Rumo on his own. Zorilla was out for the count and who knew when Kromek would stop barking?

  Rumo leant across the table with his sword point at Zorda’s throat.

  ‘Listen carefully,’ he said. ‘You’re now going to tell me – and make it short and snappy – exactly how the Wolpertings are held prisoner. You won’t lie or hold back any important details and you won’t make any false moves, either now or later. If you do all those things you may escape with your life. Fire away!’

  ‘The cells have two doors,’ said Zorda. ‘One in front, leading out on to a gallery inside the theatre, and one behind, which leads to the secret stairs. The chains in the cells have to be unlocked separately.’

  ‘Good. You’re now going to help me to open the doors to the stairs and unchain the prisoners.’

  ‘You don’t have a hope. The theatre is guarded by the Copper Killers.’

  ‘You can either help me or die. Which do you prefer?’

  ‘Hard to say,’ said Zorda. ‘It’ll probably amount to the same thing.’

  The Kingdom of Death

  This was the cold grey realm of death, a desolate region devoid of life. Why had he got involved in such a lunatic scheme?

  ‘Professor Kolibri?’ Smyke called. ‘Hello?’

  No reply. Of course not, the professor had bowed out a long time ago.

  The rest had been so easy, thanks to Kolibri’s assistance: travelling through his brain to the chamber containing the Non-Existent Teenies’ micromachines; activating the subcutaneous submarine with the aid of its contentment servo-mechanism; steering it through the ideosprites into Kolibri’s bloodstream; and getting from there into Rala’s bloodstream, telepathically guided by the professor himself, who knew his own body better than any anatomist. In accordance with Kolibri’s instructions, the submarine had glided silently along veins and arteries, agile as a trout, until it reached the spot where he had connected his circulation to Rala’s by means of some sterile tubing.

 

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