Rumo and his miraculous.., p.61
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       Rumo: And His Miraculous Adventures, p.61

           Walter Moers
 

  ‘Can you imagine that?’

  ‘No, you can’t.’

  Smyke sighed.

  ‘If we find them – which isn’t a foregone conclusion – we administer an auratic shock. Then you’d better cross your fingers.’

  ‘But now you must do a bit more purring.’

  ‘By all means. To boost the submarine’s power supply, or something?’

  ‘No.’

  ‘To shut you up.’

  ‘We need to concentrate.’

  The ruby-red monster

  The theatre was emptying rapidly. The rows of seats were still occupied by panic-stricken members of the public, but someone had obviously ordered the soldiers to clear the auditorium.

  Rolv and Urs had rejoined Rumo and Ushan DeLucca in the arena, together with Olek of the Dunes, Vasko of the Red Forest and Balla of Betaville. They were trying to work out a communal plan of action.

  ‘Sooner or later those galleries will empty,’ said Ushan. ‘All they need do then is seal the exits and those crossbowmen will be able to mow us down. We must get out of here.’

  Olek of the Dunes was busy potting soldiers with his sling. ‘We ought to climb up into their gallery,’ he said between two shots. ‘Wipe them out and we’ve won.’

  ‘They can’t be wiped out,’ Urs objected. ‘They’re made of metal. It’d be suicide.’

  A sudden cry rang through the theatre. It sounded even more frantic and terrified than the shouts from the rows of seats overhead.

  Yukobak came running into the arena, screeching and waving his arms.

  ‘Help!’ he shouted. ‘Rumo! Help me!’

  The Wolpertings, the soldiers, the Copper Killers – all stopped short. Their attention had abruptly been claimed by a monster that came scuttling through the gate behind him on long, agile legs.

  On seeing all the creatures around it, the giant spider came to a halt and turned on the spot. Its wings were quivering excitedly.

  Yukobak dashed up to Rumo and his companions, panting hard.

  ‘This is Yukobak,’ said Rumo. ‘He helped me to release the prisoners.’

  ‘Delighted to make your acquaintance,’ Ushan said with a courteous bow. ‘But tell me, Yukobak, what’s this you’ve brought with you?’ Nonchalantly, he pointed his sword at the monster, whose jaws were dripping with purulent saliva.

  ‘It’s a spider,’ said Yukobak, sheltering behind Rumo’s back. ‘A huge spider with wings. Some idiot must have let it out, no idea who.’

  The black giants

  Ribble was marching to the Theatre of Death with his small but determined band of elderly Wolpertings. Suddenly, as they rounded a corner, they found their way barred by a phalanx of unfamiliar figures.

  Ribble had never seen their like in Hel before. Immensely tall, they were cowled and swathed from head to foot in black cloaks. There must have been hundreds of them, all armed with absurdly large weapons including axes, swords and nail-studded clubs, and the mouldy smell they gave off was reminiscent of an exhumed coffin. Ribble and the Wolpertings prepared to fight.

  The leader of the strange warriors, a gigantic fellow carrying an even more gigantic scythe, raised his arm. ‘Hey, you dogs!’ he called in a deep, booming voice. ‘Are you Wolpertings? If so, you must surely know where we can find that idiot Rumo.’

  ‘You’re looking for Rumo?’ asked Jowly. He stepped forward and gripped the hilt of his sword, ready to do battle. ‘What do you want with him?’

  ‘We want to help him,’ boomed the black giant. ‘If I know him he’s in trouble.’

  Ribble joined the mayor. ‘We’re also on our way to help him. Who are you?’

  ‘We’re the Dead Yetis,’ the giant growled and threw back his cowl to reveal the black death’s-head beneath.

  Ribble and the Wolpertings retreated a step.

  ‘Don’t be alarmed,’ said the giant. ‘We’re not quite as dead as we look. My name is Skullop – Skullop the Scyther. I’m here because something occurred to me.’

  ‘What would that be, Skullop the, er, Scyther?’ asked Jowly.

  ‘None of your business,’ Skullop replied. ‘I can only tell Rumo that. Well, how about it? Do you know where I can find him?’

  ‘Can you fight?’ asked Ribble.

  Skullop turned to his warriors.

  ‘What do you think, men? Can we fight?’

  ‘No!’ shouted a Yeti in the rear rank.

  Ticktock funks a farewell

  The time seemed ripe for General Ticktock’s attempt to anaesthetise his pain with rage and drown his sorrow in blood, for Hel was in utter chaos. The nearer he got to the Theatre of Death, the more numerous the wounded, screaming, panic-stricken citizens and soldiers he encountered.

  Ticktock didn’t care if the city went up in flames, if Gornab devoured Friftar or the whole of Netherworld went to rack and ruin. Any suffering that distracted him from his own was a source of satisfaction.

  First he needed some weapons – better ones than were concealed in his armour-plated body. He needed the huge weapons he had commissioned to meet his personal requirements. General Ticktock headed for his tower.

  What a difference a few hours could make! When he had set off for the weaponsmith’s workshop Hel was still wrapped in slumber, but now pandemonium reigned. Excellent! The sound of fighting was coming from the Theatre of Death and it wasn’t the usual clatter of a dozen swords; it was the genuine din of battle!

  General Ticktock entered the tower. He armed himself with the huge black axe and massive sword that had been forged for him from Netherworld ore. His favourite weapons. None of your technological falderals, just plain, razor-sharp metal. No better instruments of death existed.

  He paused for a moment. Should he go upstairs for one last look at Rala in the Metal Maiden? He hadn’t even bidden her farewell.

  An unwelcome intruder

  ‘We’ve got some news for you, Smyke,’ said Non-Existent Teeny Number One.

  ‘Good news and bad news,’ said Non-Existent Teeny Number Two.

  ‘Eh, what?’ Smyke had almost dozed off, lulled to sleep by his own purring and the subcutaneous submarine’s electrical hum.

  ‘First the good news: We’ve found the connectors.’

  ‘Really? That’s great! Let’s get started, then.’

  ‘One moment! Now comes the bad news: The connectors are being guarded.’

  ‘Guarded?’ Smyke said drowsily, stretching.

  ‘Look through the membrane.’

  Smyke rubbed his eyes and peered through the glassy membrane. What he saw outside jolted him awake at last.

  ‘What on earth is that?’ he exclaimed.

  ‘That’s just what we were wondering,’ remarked Non-Existent Teeny Number One.

  ‘But before we could work out what it was, it looked different,’ said Non-Existent Teeny Number Two.

  ‘It keeps on changing shape and colour,’ said Non-Existent Teeny Number Three. ‘It’s incomprehensible.’

  ‘Incomprehensible’ was a perfectly apt description of the creature that was floating outside in Rala’s motionless bloodstream. It was forever changing its hideous appearance and unattractive coloration, and from inside it came a series of clicks like those made by a dislocated joint.

  ‘What is it?’ Smyke asked dully.

  ‘We’re still working on an answer to that question,’ said Non-Existent Teeny Number One.

  The peculiar organism changed colour again, emitted another click and exuded a cloud of black slime.

  ‘That’s the sound we heard earlier – we really are infallible. So life exists in this dead world after all.’

  ‘We suspect it’s a disease. The disease that wrought all this havoc.’

  ‘A disease?’ said Smyke. ‘What’s a disease doing in a dead body?’

  Tykhon’s little surprise

  The fearsome apparition Smyke saw through the membrane was a surprise originally intended not for him, but for General Ticktock. Rala’s congealing blood contain
ed the treacherous little special ingredient which Tykhon Zyphos had added to his Subcutaneous Suicide Squad: a last-ditch rearguard.

  When the alchemist’s work on the Subcutaneous Suicide Squad was already far advanced he’d had a flash of inspiration. ‘If I’m creating a disease of the utmost virulence,’ Tykhon had told himself, ‘why shouldn’t I equip it with all the trimmings?’

  The disease was already virulent enough to be rated the worst disease in existence: it was painful, lethal, exceptionally infectious and incurable. All it couldn’t do was something no disease had ever managed to do: remain infectious after it had left a body.

  Tykhon, who had long ago come to regard his creation as a sort of commando unit, had dreamt up a special refinement: a rearguard to be left behind in the victim’s body just in case someone tried to resuscitate it. In devising the Subcutaneous Suicide Squad he had created a unique disease – one that could defend the havoc it had wrought once the job was done.

  ‘Smyke?’ called Non-Existent Teeny Number One.

  ‘Are you all right, Smyke?’ asked Non-Existent Teeny Number Two.

  Smyke eyed the strange, clicking creature as if it were an evil spirit.

  What was it capable of? Could it really prevent the operation? It looked capable of anything, he had to admit – capable of changing shape to suit any requirement in this microscopic world. It looked invincible. It was the new ruler of Rala’s body.

  ‘What do we do now?’ Smyke asked.

  ‘Listen, Smyke,’ said Non-Existent Teeny Number One. ‘Now comes the really unpleasant part.’

  ‘What’s that?’

  ‘You must get out and kill that thing.’

  ‘Eh? You’re joking!’

  ‘No, Smyke, we never joke. We got over our sense of humour a long time ago, as you know.’

  ‘It’s just not on. I can’t.’

  ‘Don’t you remember our agreement?’ asked Non-Existent Teeny Number Two.

  ‘What agreement?’

  ‘Forgotten already?’ said Non-Existent Teeny Number Three. ‘You said you’d do whatever we wanted.’

  ‘Yes, I remember.’

  ‘And you know what, Smyke?’

  ‘No, what?’

  ‘We won’t even ask you to do us this favour.’

  ‘No?’

  ‘No, there’s no need.’

  ‘You’re going to do it anyway.’

  ‘You’ll have to get out and kill that thing. It’s your only hope of survival.’

  The torture chamber

  General Ticktock lumbered over to the stairs and laid his weapons down on the bottom step. Up there was the Metal Maiden with Rala’s dead body inside it … He put his foot on the bottom step. His life’s work and his great love – yes, he must bid them farewell.

  He mounted the second step. His greatest triumph and his only love, both destroyed by his own hands. The pain in his vitals had started to throb again.

  Rala, Rala, Rala, it went.

  He continued to climb the stairs. The pain became more unbearable with every step. Death, which the Metal Maiden was supposed to overcome, had triumphed after all. It was more unfathomable and unpredictable than ever. This was his greatest defeat.

  Rala, Rala, Rala …

  He reached the torture chamber. The door was ajar. He had only to push it open and he would see her in the relentless embrace of Tykhon Zyphos’s disease. Who could tell what she looked like now? He remembered the alchemist’s own terrible death, his rapid decomposition.

  He gripped the doorhandle – and pulled it shut. No, the sight of Rala would be too much for him. Never again. He would come back later and burn the tower to the ground. First there was killing to be done.

  General Ticktock turned and went downstairs again. Retrieving his weapons, he went over to the secret passage that led to the Theatre of Death. He would show Friftar and his crazy king what a real fight looked like. Better still, he would teach them the meaning of war.

  The spider

  ‘Did you do this?’ Rumo asked Yukobak, so quietly that the others couldn’t hear. ‘Did you let that monster out?’

  ‘No,’ Yukobak whispered back, ‘I let three monsters out.’

  The spider was still turning on its spindly legs and fluttering its mothlike wings, seemingly unable to decide which of these countless titbits to devote its attention to. All the Wolpertings had levelled their weapons at it, but none of them dared to attack. Even Olek, who was slowly swinging his sling, hesitated.

  Up in their gallery the Copper Killers also seemed to be waiting. Why bother to open fire when this monster might do the job for them and devour a few Wolpertings? For the moment the spider seemed to be the new master of the Theatre of Death.

  All at once it began to flap its great wings. Dust swirled in all directions as it rose into the air with a ferocious hiss and fluttered across the arena, high above the heads of Rumo, Yukobak, Ushan, Rolv and his friends. It made straight for the spectators’ seats, circled once and swooped on a knot of shoving, jostling Hellings near one of the exits.

  ‘It seems to be on our side,’ said Yukobak, averting his eyes. ‘For the moment, at least.’

  The Copper Killers fired another volley of crossbow bolts into the arena, and it was all the Wolpertings could do to protect themselves with the shields and armour they’d taken from the dead. The theatre guards continued to hold the arena gates but made no immediate move to resume the attack.

  ‘Our best bet is to break out and fight on outside the theatre,’ Ushan shouted again.

  ‘The spectators’ exits are still choked,’ Urs called back, ‘and the gates are blockaded. We can’t get out of the arena – we’re trapped!’

  ‘Then all we can do is wait for a miracle,’ said Yukobak.

  They all took cover as another volley of crossbow bolts came raining down on them.

  Yetis and Wolpertings

  Ribble had led the Wolpertings and Yetis into the sewer system beneath the Theatre of Death. Muffled sounds of fighting could be heard even down there, and the screams of the dying sent ghostly echoes speeding along the maze of tunnels. The stench beneath the theatre was appalling. Everything was dumped into the sewers, not only the spectators’ rubbish and the dung of the wild beasts, but also dead bodies. Gnawed skeletons were lying everywhere and many of the streams through which the warriors waded were red with blood. Kackerbats and other carrion eaters scuttled between their legs as they marched along.

  ‘You said you’d take us to a theatre,’ growled Skullop the Scyther, who was leading the little army with Ribble and Mayor Jowly, ‘and we’re wading through a cesspit.’

  ‘“Come on, we’re going to Hel!” – that’s what Skullop told us!’ cried one of the Yetis behind them. ‘Another of his crazy ideas!’

  The other Yetis laughed derisively.

  ‘They don’t mean it,’ Skullop growled. ‘They’re really having a whale of a time.’

  ‘It’s not much further,’ Ribble told him. ‘The shafts leading up into the theatre are just round the next bend. We can climb up into any row of seats we like.’

  ‘Let’s go right to the top, then,’ said Skullop. ‘We’ll be able to see everything from there.’

  ‘But that’s where the Copper Killers are.’

  ‘The Copper Killers? Who are they?’

  ‘The most fearsome warriors in Hel.’

  ‘Huh,’ said Skullop. ‘You’re scaring me.’

  ‘The Copper Killers are really dangerous,’ Ribble insisted. ‘They’re reputed to be immortal.’

  ‘Well?’ said Skullop. ‘So are we. Reputedly.’

  Some of the Yetis laughed.

  ‘You really mean to take them on?’ asked Ribble.

  ‘You heard, little ’un,’ Skullop growled. ‘I’m renowned for my good ideas.’

  The Crystalloscorpion

  When General Ticktock emerged from his secret passage into one of the theatre’s underground corridors, axe and sword in hand, he was confronted by
a creature at least as weird-looking as himself. It was an enormous scorpion with huge claws and a sting raised to strike. Its truly extraordinary feature wasn’t its vast size, however, but the fact that its body was as transparent as polished crystal.

  ‘What on earth is a [tick] Crystalloscorpion doing down here?’ General Ticktock asked himself. ‘The place must really be [tock] in chaos if they let the most dangerous wild beasts run around loose.’ He took a step towards the monster.

  Without a moment’s hesitation the scorpion lashed out at Ticktock with its icy sting, which simply bounced off his metal exterior. The monster recoiled in astonishment; the general didn’t budge an inch.

  ‘You’re a dangerous [tick] and very beautiful creature,’ Ticktock said approvingly, ‘but you’ve picked on [tock] the wrong opponent. To be precise [tick], you couldn’t have picked on a worse opponent in the whole of Hel. Go and find yourself [tock] another one before you make a real enemy of me.’

  He brandished his sword like someone shooing away a troublesome insect. Quick as a flash, the scorpion fastened one of its claws on Ticktock’s arm. There was a loud clang as crystal met metal.

  Sighing, Ticktock severed the scorpion’s claw from its body with one mighty blow of his axe and sent it crashing to the flagstones. A moment later his sword came down plumb on the scorpion’s head. With a sound like breaking glass the monster disintegrated and fell to the ground in smithereens. General Ticktock strode heedlessly over its remains, which crunched beneath his feet like crushed ice.

  ‘What on earth’s [tick] the matter with me?’ the general said to himself. ‘Expecting a creature made of crystal [tock] to listen to reason is as futile [tick] as looking for a heart in my metal body.’

  On reaching the top of the theatre he encountered another annoying creature, the slimy individual named Friftar, who stood between him and the king. He resisted the impulse to kill him on the spot.

 

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