Rumo and his miraculous.., p.60
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       Rumo: And His Miraculous Adventures, p.60

           Walter Moers
‘I’m afraid so, Your Majesty. You’ve seen how well the Wolpertings fight. We must allow for all eventualities. One Vrahok will suffice, I think.’

  ‘Wery vell, if it’s avunoidable. Issue a Hokvra Aterl!’

  ‘Many thanks, Your Majesty.’ Friftar reached beneath the throne and brought out a small leaden cage. He opened the door, removed a struggling Kackerbat and inserted the roll of paper in a capsule attached to its leg. Friftar released the black creature, whereupon it unfurled its leathery wings, flapped wildly and soared into the air.

  ‘Fly!’ Gornab called after it. ‘Fly to the Hokvras!’

  His chief adviser took him by the hand again. ‘May I, Your Majesty?’ he asked.

  They turned their backs on the mêlée in the arena and descended the secret staircase hand in hand. The stone slab closed over the entrance, the two halves of the throne slid together. Now that Friftar and Gornab had gone, the soldiers dispersed and went off to join the fray.

  Yukobak’s bright idea

  Yukobak was still hiding in the theatre’s maze of stairways. In his estimation he had lately displayed courage of the highest order, but he didn’t feel called upon to join the fighting in the arena. Unlike Ribble, he had never learnt to wield a weapon.

  Yukobak thought hard. His greatest asset was his knowledge of the theatre’s layout. How could he exploit that knowledge for the rebels’ benefit?


  He’d just had an idea so frightening that he instantly suppressed it, thrust it back into his brain like a jack-in-the-box that had popped out uninvited – an idea of positively Gornabian dimensions! What madness! Forget it!

  And yet … It was crazy, but it would make a tremendous impression. No! Far too risky! He himself would probably be its first victim.

  But then he thought involuntarily of Ribble. Ribble had taken on the dangerous task of protecting the Wolpertings without a moment’s hesitation, whereas he, Yukobak, was cowering in the darkness and shirking his responsibilities.

  He submitted his idea to further examination. Yes, it was utterly harebrained, risky and unpredictable. He drew a deep breath. Then he made his way down to the cellar where the wild beasts were kept.

  The White Fire

  By the time Rolv vaulted over the balustrade of the royal box the mad monarch and his chief adviser had vanished. Instead, he found himself confronted by a detachment of crack troops: two dozen of Hel’s finest warriors and all of them itching for a fight.

  Rolv had prepared himself for this moment again and again in recent days, rehearsing it umpteen times in his head: he would climb into the box, take the king hostage and compel him to release Rala.

  It was only now that he truly grasped the fact that there was no Rala to rescue. There wasn’t even a king to take his revenge on, just two dozen black-uniformed soldiers who drew their swords and advanced on him. A wall of white fire blazed up in front of Rolv. The whole box burst into flames, but it was strange: the flames weren’t hot, they were cold. They didn’t burn him, they filled him with ice-cold rage.

  Those of the audience who could see what followed hurriedly looked away, and those who were unable to avert their gaze became witnesses of a relentless massacre. Not only quicker but more ferocious and implacable than any of his foes, Rolv was everywhere at once. He was equipped with a whole arsenal of weapons and he used every last one including his teeth. Swords snapped, breastplates splintered, severed limbs went flying and heart-rending screams rang out wherever he turned. Rolv was in the midst of the White Fire, and this time it burned longer and more brightly than usual.

  When Urs climbed into the box the royal bodyguard had ceased to exist. All he could do was hold Rolv tight. ‘You can stop now,’ he told him. ‘They’re all dead.’

  Krindle enjoys himself at last

  Rumo was fighting in the arena back to back with Ushan DeLucca.

  ‘Ssst, ssst, ssst!’ the fencing master hissed again and again as his blade darted among the soldiers who were falling around him like dismembered puppets.

  ‘Do you know what I like best about this place, Rumo?’ he shouted.

  ‘No!’ Rumo called back.

  ‘The fact that there’s no weather!’

  Rumo made no comment. He was too busy to discuss the weather.

  ‘A fight!’ Krindle growled now and then. ‘A fight at last!’

  ‘Look out! Behind you!’ cried Dandelion, and Rumo spun round in time to parry a blow from an axe.

  ‘Grim Reaper!’ Krindle commanded, and Rumo felled the axe-wielding soldier with the stroke indicated.

  ‘I owe you an apology,’ Ushan called.

  ‘Eh? What for?’

  ‘I underestimated you, my boy.’

  ‘Watch your left!’ cried Dandelion. ‘A sword stroke! Duck!’

  Rumo ducked and the blade passed over his head.

  ‘Counter!’ ordered Krindle. ‘Two-Handed Slice!’

  Rumo performed a downward two-handed slice that cleft the swordsman’s helmet in two.

  ‘They’re giving ground,’ Dandelion remarked.

  ‘So soon?’ Krindle was disappointed.

  It was true: the theatre guards’ attack was losing momentum. They had grasped that the Wolpertings were unimpressed by their numerical superiority. The arena was littered with soldiers’ corpses, whereas most of the Wolpertings were still standing. They turned and fled back into the bowels of the theatre.

  Rumo looked up at the auditorium.

  Panic-stricken members of the public were screaming, blocking the exits, falling over and trampling each other. The Wolpertings had infiltrated them like a swarm of angry bees, omnipresent and dangerous. Spreading out across the rows of seats, they attacked the soldiers and terrified the spectators by their mere presence. The Hellings, who were the most panic-stricken of all, pushed and jostled and trampled their own kind to death. Never having been so close to a fight before, they now, for the first time, got some idea of what it was like to fear for one’s life.

  The Copper Killers didn’t know where to aim, the Wolpertings were darting around so swiftly among the milling spectators. Although they occasionally fired at random into the crowd, they hit more allies than enemies.

  Rumo wiped his sword on a dead soldier’s cloak. This wasn’t victory; it was only the start of a battle. The Theatre of Death had been shaken to its foundations, but Rumo was determined to go on shaking until Hel itself caved in. He would do so for Rala’s sake. Smyke stopped purring. The electrical hum died away, the submarine came to a halt.

  Inside the heart

  ‘Are we there?’ he asked.

  ‘No,’ said Non-Existent Teeny Number One.

  ‘We’re inside the heart, though,’ said Non-Existent Teeny Number Two.

  ‘So why have we stopped?’

  ‘We thought we heard something.’

  ‘In here? Everything’s dead.’

  ‘Yes, we were probably mistaken.’

  ‘I thought you were infallible.’

  ‘Yes, that’s the worrying thing. If we think we heard something, we heard something.’

  ‘But we can’t hear it any more.’

  ‘Good, then we can go on,’ said Smyke.

  ‘One moment,’ said Non-Existent Teeny Number One.

  ‘There’s an important decision to be made,’ said Non-Existent Teeny Number Two. ‘One we must leave to you.’

  ‘It’s a matter of life or death.’

  ‘I know,’ said Smyke. ‘Rala’s life is at stake.’

  ‘Not only hers.’

  ‘What do you mean?’

  ‘Your life is also at stake now.’

  ‘How so? Is something wrong?’

  ‘We’ve noticed that our propellers are finding it harder and harder to turn.’

  ‘It’s the coagulation.’

  ‘The more the blood congeals the harder it gets.’

  ‘Meaning what?’

  ‘Meaning that we’ll make it to our destination and make it back as well, if the operati
on succeeds, because then the plasma will thin again. If the operation fails and the blood solidifies we won’t be able to budge an inch. This submarine will become your coffin, imprisoned in clotted blood.’

  Smyke gave an involuntary gulp.

  ‘At this stage we could still make it back.’

  ‘We only wanted to tell you.’

  ‘It’s up to you. We can still turn round.’

  Smyke deliberated. ‘What, in your estimation, are the chances of the operation succeeding?’

  ‘The same as in any risky venture: fifty–fifty.’

  ‘You mean it’s a gamble?’

  ‘You could put it that way.’

  ‘Let’s gamble, then.’

  ‘As you wish, Smyke. Would you please start purring again?’

  An excellent motto

  The spectators’ screams, the clash of swords and cries of pain drifting over from the Theatre of Death had convinced Ribble and the older Wolpertings that Rumo’s rescue attempt had been crowned with success. Having overpowered the soldiers and appropriated their weapons, they were now standing around irresolutely.

  ‘They’re hard at it,’ said Ribble. ‘Can you hear that din?’

  ‘Better than you can, probably,’ said Mayor Jowly of Gloomberg. ‘We’re Wolpertings. Old we may be, but we aren’t hard of hearing.’

  ‘What ought we to do?’

  ‘Go over there and join in,’ said the mayor.

  ‘But Rumo said to stay here.’

  ‘We were unarmed when he said that. Things have changed.’

  Jowly turned to the other Wolpertings.

  ‘What do you think, my friends? Are we too old to fight?’

  ‘Of course we are,’ said Oga of Dullsgard, brandishing a club, ‘so let’s go before we die of senile decay.’

  ‘What do you think?’ Jowly asked Ribble.

  The Homunculus raised his spear.

  ‘We’re as good as dead,’ he said, ‘but they haven’t buried us yet.’

  ‘An excellent motto,’ said the mayor. ‘Is it yours?’

  ‘No,’ Ribble replied, ‘I got it from a good friend of mine.’

  The wild beasts

  ‘I’m as good as dead,’ thought Yukobak, ‘but they haven’t buried me yet.’

  What had prompted his idea of releasing some wild beasts into the Theatre of Death, common sense or insanity? Even if one simply discounted that question, another two considerably more practical questions remained: Which wild beasts should he release and how many?

  Yukobak had seen a dozen doors. It would be far too risky to open them all, of that he was sure. He decided to leave it at three. Three exotic and unpredictable creatures should be enough to create chaos.

  So which doors should he open? He had a vivid recollection of the cell containing the ruby-red spider. Although he dreaded releasing such a monster, it had to be. The rest he would leave to chance. He would fling open two doors at random and run like the wind!

  Heart pounding, Yukobak stole up to the door beyond which lurked the giant spider. Was it asleep? Was it awake? Was it only waiting for the person who had recently appeared in the doorway to be stupid enough to do so a second time?

  He drew a deep breath.

  Then, resolutely, he drew the big, rusty bolt and wrenched the door open. Without looking inside he hurried on to the adjacent cell. Its evil-smelling occupant greeted him with a bestial snarl, but he was already opening the door after next. Then he sprinted to the stairs, ran up them a little way and turned to see what he had done.

  The huge spider had already emerged from its cell. It revolved on the spot and flapped its mothlike wings, clearly trying to get its bearings in these new surroundings.

  Behind it the neighbouring cell disgorged an albino rat the size of a crocodile with red claws and a long red tail. The blind creature had white, yard-long antennae sprouting from the places in its head where a normal rat’s eyes would have been. It emitted an angry snarl, bared its yellow, sickle-shaped teeth and cracked its tail like a whip.

  From the third door emerged a Crystalloscorpion, a denizen of the Fridgicaves. An immense insect fifteen or twenty feet long, it was altogether transparent, with a body that seemed to consist entirely of razor-sharp edges and corners. Yukobak had heard of this life form in his biology lessons. Mere contact with its icy exterior could inflict injuries which, paradoxically, resembled third-degree burns. The scorpion sliced the air with its claws and raised its glassy sting, which could inject a venom that turned its victims to ice within seconds.

  Three of Netherworld’s most dangerous creatures, and Yukobak had unleashed them! As if mesmerised, he continued to stand watching them from the stairs. The giant spider had completed its inspection. It flexed its legs and its ruby-red fur bristled. Then, wildly flapping its mothlike wings, it rose into the air.

  Yukobak awoke from his stupor. The fearsome insect was fluttering straight for him with its legs dangling. It had obviously decided that, of all the creatures in its vicinity, the little two-legged Helling would be the easiest to encase in a cocoon.

  Yukobak bounded up the stairs three at a time.

  Gornab’s refuge

  Gornab, crouching in one corner of the crudely constructed cell, stared at Friftar in dismay. His chief adviser had conducted him to a chamber beneath the theatre that didn’t officially exist. Its door was indistinguishable from the brick wall of the passage outside and Friftar had personally poisoned the labourers who had built it.

  The terrified king had abandoned his airs and graces and placed himself in Friftar’s hands. It had never occurred to him that there might be a rebellion, still less that he might lose his throne. Events had overtaken him so suddenly that he now resembled a helpless, frightened child.

  ‘Your Majesty will be absolutely safe here no matter what happens,’ Friftar said soothingly. ‘This chamber’s existence is unknown to anyone but the two of us. The food and medicines stored here will last for weeks. All has been prepared for your comfort and convenience.’

  He pointed to a table laden with fruit and cheese, bread and wine.

  ‘But why are they hebaving like tish?’ wailed Gornab. ‘It’s borfidden, surely?’

  ‘Yes, such behaviour in the Theatre of Death is forbidden – and believe me, Your Majesty, we shall punish all who have dared to take up arms against you.’

  ‘Yes, nupish them!’ Gornab demanded. ‘Nupish them uncermifully!’

  ‘We will, Your Majesty, unmercifully and without exception. I must now go upstairs to see that all is well, but I shall report on the situation in due course. Perhaps you would care to sleep for a while – it would refresh you. You’ll find medicines and wine on the table.’

  ‘Doog idea,’ said Gornab, waddling over to the table with the drugs on it. ‘A leesp will do me doog.’

  ‘In that case, I wish you sweet dreams. Doubtless all will be back to normal by the time you wake up refreshed.’

  Friftar pressed the brick that opened the secret door. He went out and closed it behind him. For one brief, titillating moment he toyed with the idea of leaving the moronic dwarf to rot in there. He could simply wedge the door shut and bury him alive. It was an attractive notion, except that, because he was the last person to have been seen in the king’s company, suspicion would immediately fall on him.

  He drew a deep breath. Gornab was safe. Now to regain control of those Wolpertings. How had they managed to escape from their cells? And where had that confounded General Ticktock got to, just when he was needed most?

  General Ticktock’s grief

  General Ticktock’s grief had steadily intensified. It was devouring him like a vulture, tearing at his vitals again and again. He would never have thought himself capable of such an emotion. He didn’t know how long he’d spent in the weaponsmith’s workshop, disembowelling himself with the diamond-toothed pliers in his search for the mysterious something deep inside that was causing him so much pain. He had cut open his armour-plated chest, broken his
steel ribs and destroyed many a lethal mechanism hidden within him, but all to no avail. The thing he sought seemed as nimble, as clever and cunning, as Rala had been. It was like an elusive, intangible, mocking will-o’-the-wisp.

  At last he abandoned his quest. Hurling the pliers away, he uttered a bellow of rage. Rage – yes, rage was all he had left. He yearned to fight. He yearned to destroy. He yearned to kill. General Ticktock set off for the Theatre of Death. This was a dark day and he would do his utmost to ensure that it ended on an even darker note.

  In the heart of the heart

  The subcutaneous submarine had stopped again.

  ‘Where are we?’ asked Smyke.

  ‘We’re there,’ said Non-Existent Teeny Number One.

  ‘We’ve penetrated the aorta. We’re in the heart of the heart,’ said Non-Existent Teeny Number Two.

  ‘Normally, this is where the life of life goes on,’ said Non-Existent Teeny Number Three. ‘At the moment, though, nothing at all is going on.’

  ‘I’ve never seen a deader heart.’

  ‘Someone has really done a job on it.’

  ‘Yes, someone who was trying to improve on death.’

  ‘And he succeeded.’

  ‘So what do we do now?’ asked Smyke.

  ‘Now comes the precision work.’

  ‘We’re looking for the connectors. Six microscopically small connectors.’

  ‘An amalorican adaptor.’

  ‘A hallucinogenic synapse.’

  ‘An opabiniatic membrane.’

  ‘A nabokovian knob.’

  ‘An epithalamian egress.’

  ‘And an odontoid tube!’

  ‘I see,’ said Smyke. ‘And you plug your instruments into them, do you?’

  ‘Exactly. The auratic instruments of the Non-Existent Teenies. The world’s smallest but most effective surgical instruments.’

  ‘And what happens then?’ Smyke asked.

  ‘First we must find the connectors. That’s difficult enough – they’re even smaller than we are.’

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