Rumo and his miraculous.., p.62
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       Rumo: And His Miraculous Adventures, p.62

           Walter Moers
 

  Friftar stared at the general with his mouth open, astonished to see his chest torn open and his metal ribs bent outwards, but he asked no questions and informed him of the Wolpertings’ revolt. Ticktock greeted the news as imperturbably as if Friftar had asked what he’d had for breakfast.

  ‘I see,’ said Ticktock. ‘A rebellion [tick]. I shall crush it [tock]. Anything else?’

  ‘No, no,’ Friftar said with a smile, ‘that’s all. Just a little rebellion.’

  ‘Off you go!’ Ticktock barked at him. ‘Off you go [tick] and hide with your king [tock] until it’s all over!’

  ‘Very good,’ Friftar replied obsequiously and hurried off.

  So the Wolpertings had rebelled. No serious cause for concern. He himself was worth a whole army. He could crush a revolt by a couple of hundred rampaging slaves on his own, without the aid of his Copper Killers.

  He had a job to do. Good! A job that required him to kill. All the better! His body had steadily grown since his arrival in Hel, becoming ever stronger, ever more deadly and invulnerable. In addition, he was suffering from grief and despair. If transmuted into rage and directed against the enemy, those were weapons of inestimable value. Hel was about to witness an orgy of death and destruction unprecedented in the history of Netherworld.

  Friftar plans a show trial

  Although he couldn’t account for either of them, Friftar felt that Ticktock’s appearance and the state of affairs inside his mysterious tower were connected in some way. The general had resembled a gutted chicken, but it didn’t seem to have done him much harm. On the contrary, it made him look more dangerous still, like a wild beast whose wounds had increased its unpredictability.

  Friftar recapitulated: the king was in a safe place, the Vrahok Alert had been issued, the Wolpertings were trapped, and General Ticktock had returned to restore order. Everything seemed to be returning to normal. In his mind’s eye he was already organising a show trial destined to be one of the most magnificent productions he had ever staged at the Theatre of Death.

  If only it weren’t for this numb sensation in his bones. Sometimes he felt cold, sometimes hot and sometimes unaccountably queasy. Whenever the pandemonium subsided, which it very seldom did, Friftar seemed to hear a series of faint, rhythmical clicks inside his head. He shook himself and reapplied his mind to the present situation. He must find himself a secret vantage point from which to watch General Ticktock’s performance in the arena. His one regret was that the greatest fight ever staged at the Theatre of Death would take place before an almost non-existent audience.

  Smyke’s unsavoury past

  The rearguard of the Subcutaneous Suicide Squad rotated on the spot, emitting clouds of little black bubbles. Smyke turned away in disgust.

  ‘Why me?’ he yelled at the walls of the subcutaneous submarine. ‘Why do I always wind up in situations like this? What have I done to deserve it?’

  ‘You aren’t asking us because you expect an answer, are you?’ Non-Existent Teeny Number One retorted.

  Smyke was surprised by his arch tone of voice. ‘What do you mean?’ he demanded.

  ‘We know everything, Smyke.’

  ‘Meaning what?’

  ‘Meaning everything. Everything about you.’

  ‘About me? What is there to know about me?’

  ‘You really want an example?’

  ‘Yes, now you’ve aroused my curiosity.’

  ‘Well, for one thing, we know you used to referee the Fangfangs’ professional boxing matches and were a military adviser during the Norselanders’ guerrilla wars.’

  ‘You were also an officially licensed second at duels between Florinthian aristocrats and a timekeeper at the Wolpertings’ chess tournaments in Betaville.’

  ‘Not to mention an organiser of cockfights, the treasurer of the Zamonian Vermiluct, a cheerleader at the Midgardian Dwarf Jousts and a croupier at Fort Una.’

  Smyke gave a puzzled laugh. ‘Hey, you really do know a lot about me. Can you read people’s thoughts?’

  ‘Of course we can, Smyke. That’s why we also know what you’re hiding in your Chamber of Memories – what’s concealed beneath that black cloth.’

  Smyke broke out in a sweat. He’d never told anyone about the Chamber of Memories, not even Rumo.

  ‘We’ve known all about you ever since you set foot in our submarine. Nobody’s allowed to board it unless they’ve been thoroughly screened.’

  ‘We’re suspicious by nature, Smyke.’

  ‘We got over trusting people a long time ago.’

  ‘What do you know about the Chamber of Memories?’ Smyke demanded earnestly.

  ‘We know, for instance, what’s under the cloth,’ said Non-Existent Teeny Number One.

  ‘It’s a picture,’ said Non-Existent Teeny Number Two.

  ‘It’s a picture of Lindworm Castle, isn’t it, Smyke?’ said Non-Existent Teeny Number Three.

  Smyke drew a deep breath. He didn’t reply.

  ‘What’s the matter, Smyke, run out of glib answers?’

  ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about,’ Smyke said half-heartedly.

  ‘You were there. You were there in Lindworm Castle.’

  ‘What’s more, Smyke, you changed its appearance for ever.’

  ‘It was you that stained Lindworm Castle red.’

  ‘That’s not true!’ Smyke exclaimed. ‘Nobody knows–’

  ‘Yes, nobody but you knows that you were the leader of the Smarmies who organised the peaceful siege of Lindworm Castle, so-called.’

  ‘A splendid plan, Smyke. Truly brilliant.’

  ‘You used to own the tavern patronised by all the mercenaries who had besieged the castle in vain. You were the one who pretended to want to publish the Lindworms’ poems.’

  ‘You captured Lindworm Castle.’

  ‘Congratulations. A strategic masterstroke.’

  ‘What gives you the right to pry around in my memories?’

  ‘Come, Smyke, do you really think we’d perform such a complicated operation with the aid of someone we didn’t have a hold over?’

  ‘Someone with a clear conscience?’

  ‘We don’t need someone heroic for a job like this.’

  ‘Only someone desperate.’

  Smyke felt breathless. Was it only his imagination, or was the air on board running out?

  ‘Admit it, Smyke.’

  ‘You stained Lindworm Castle red.’

  ‘Red with blood.’

  ‘So much blood that only blood may be able to wash it off.’

  ‘You ought to take a bath, Smyke.’

  ‘A bath in Rala’s blood.’

  The curse of Lindworm Castle

  Smyke didn’t answer for a long time. Nothing could be heard but his heavy breathing. The Non-Existent Teenies said nothing either.

  ‘I was a different person in those days,’ Smyke said at last. ‘I was young. I made mistakes and I paid for them. I paid for them on Roaming Rock.’

  ‘That’s not good enough, Smyke, or you wouldn’t be here now.’

  ‘You attract misfortune the way a magnet attracts iron filings.’

  ‘There’s a curse on you, Smyke. The curse of Lindworm Castle.’

  ‘What shall I do?’ Smyke asked desperately.

  ‘That’s the right question for once,’ said Non-Existent Teeny Number One.

  ‘You’ve hit the nail on the head,’ said Non-Existent Teeny Number Two. ‘You must do something.’

  ‘You must fight,’ said Non-Existent Teeny Number Three. ‘For the first time in your life you yourself must fight instead of getting other people to do it for you.’

  When Ribble reached the Copper Killers’ gallery with the Wolpertings and Yetis, Skullop the Scyther assumed command.

  ‘You and the Wolpertings take a back seat for the moment,’ Skullop whispered. ‘We’ll be going at it hammer and tongs in a minute. Just relax and watch the fun.’

  Silently, he gave the signal to attack. The Copper Ki
llers, who were busy shooting at the Wolpertings, were caught unawares when the Yetis attacked them from the rear, but they swiftly drew their side arms and concentrated on the new enemy. What followed was the most ferocious fight the Theatre of Death had ever witnessed. Clubs, swords, huge iron hammers, scythes and axes crashed together, striking showers of sparks that lit up the auditorium.

  Ribble, Mayor Jowly and the other Wolpertings stood aside and watched the battle, half mesmerised, half fascinated. The Copper Killers’ gallery resembled an ironworks. Metal clanged against metal, steel splinters flew, and the warriors grunted with exertion as they fought with might and main. Had Ribble or one of the others got in the way, they would have been crushed like beetles.

  The Homunculus saw three Yetis corner a Copper Killer and proceed to destroy him with tireless devotion to duty. No matter how often their swords and axes bounced off his metal body, they raised them again and showered him with blows like blacksmiths beating out a sheet of iron. They hammered away at the Copper Killer until Ribble saw the first screws fly from his helmet, whereupon they attacked him with redoubled ferocity.

  Skullop came up to Ribble. ‘And they’re supposed to be immortal?’ he shouted, indicating the metal warriors with his huge scythe. ‘We’ll see about that! You asked if my men could fight. Take a look at them, little ’un, and tell me what you think.’

  ‘They fight well!’ Ribble shouted back, nodding with alacrity. ‘Very well!’

  ‘And they’re dead, damn it! Dead! Can you imagine how well they fought when they were still alive? No, little ’un, you can’t!’

  Skullop the Scyther plunged back into the fray. He shoved a Copper Killer so hard in the chest that he fell backwards over the gallery rail. ‘Fight, men!’ he bellowed. ‘Fight!’

  ‘Shut up, Skullop!’ one of the Yetis called back. ‘What do you think we’re doing right now?’

  The Yetis go into action

  Rumo and the other Wolpertings had been poised to attempt a breakout, but just before Ushan DeLucca could give the order an incredible commotion erupted in the Copper Killers’ gallery high overhead. They all looked up. Sparks came showering over the rail, weapons clashed and shouts rang out. Some gigantic figures in black hooded cloaks had materialised among the metallic soldiers and were fiercely engaging them in battle. One especially huge black warrior was swinging a scythe, others fought with clubs and axes, swords and hammers. The force with which the weapons collided made the whole auditorium shake. Even the red spider, which was just cocooning its last few screaming victims, interrupted its work and focused its numerous eyes on what was happening in the Copper Killers’ gallery.

  ‘What’s going on up there?’ asked Urs. ‘Who are those fellows?’

  Rumo shook his head in disbelief.

  ‘I know who they are,’ he said. ‘They’re the Dead Yetis.’

  General Ticktock’s challenge

  General Ticktock entered the arena of the Theatre of Death through the largest gateway. He would really have liked a standing ovation, this being his first appearance there for ages, but personal vanity was irrelevant. This was a demonstration of power. His dejected spirits rose at the sight of the battles raging in the arena and auditorium: Wolpertings versus soldiers, Wolpertings versus Hellings, showers of spears and crossbow bolts, spectators trampling each other to death, his Copper Killers battling with a contingent of black-clad giants up in the gallery. Wonderful! He could even see the monstrous red spider, the one they’d caught in Gornab’s Echo, devouring some screaming spectators – what a picturesque bonus! How the sparks were flying! How the iron sang! It was a battlefield of the first order! Oh, how he’d missed the taste of war!

  Striding into the arena over a carpet of dead bodies, General Ticktock raised his axe and sword in salute. The mercenaries and theatre guards regained their courage when they saw the general enter. They left the barricaded gateways and charged into the arena, cheering him enthusiastically. The Wolpertings stared in wonder at the huge machine that came clanking into the arena like a god of vengeance bristling with weapons. The mere presence of the biggest and most deadly of the Copper Killers boosted the Hellian troops’ morale and disconcerted their enemies in a way to which Ticktock was accustomed after so many battles in the past.

  In the middle of the arena he halted, lowered his steel jaw and emitted a gurgle. Then came a sound like gravel crunching underfoot and sparks spewed from his mouth, followed by a jet of flame yards long. He bent over the nearest Wolperting and set him ablaze. The burning mixture of acid and oil vaporised him into a cloud of black smoke that swiftly rose and disappeared into the darkness above the theatre. Ticktock straightened up, threw back his cloak and bared his mutilated chest. His jaw snapped shut, his shoulders gave a jerk, and two rotating circular saw blades shot out from between his steel ribs. They went whirring across the arena in a wide arc, compelling many of the Wolpertings to leap aside, then returned to Ticktock’s chest like boomerangs. Still rotating, they re-entered it and noisily came to rest inside him.

  Ticktock reached a small group of Wolpertings in three giant strides. Two of them he felled in a flash with his sword and axe. The third, caught by the flat of the huge axe, went sailing through the air and landed many feet away.

  The general sheathed his sword and slowly turned on the spot, apparently debating what to do next. Then he raised his head and stared at something high up in the auditorium. Drawing back his arm, he hurled the axe with incredible force. It soared upwards, turning over and over as it hissed through the air, and landed smack in the middle of the huge spider’s body. The monster uttered a last terrible howl and collapsed on top of its cocooned victims.

  All hostilities in the arena and auditorium had been suspended. Everyone was concentrating on the general’s impressive entrance. The only place where fighting continued unabated was up in the Copper Killers’ gallery.

  Ticktock stomped over to the warrior who was unlucky enough to be nearest him. Although he happened to be a theatre guard, Ticktock seized him by the throat, picked him up like a rag doll and hurled him across the field of battle. The man’s bones shattered as he hit the ground.

  ‘You want a fight?’ yelled the mightiest Copper Killer of all, and his voice rang through the Theatre of Death. ‘You want war? Then come [tick] to me! I am [tock] General Ticktock! I’m war in person!’

  ‘So that’s General Ticktock,’ thought Ushan DeLucca.

  His entrance had indeed been impressive. He was big, he was strong, and he was clearly well armed. He could spit fire like a dragon, he could project saw blades from his chest, and he knew how to handle a sword and axe. He looked invulnerable and implacable. He was a whole army and a fortress on legs combined. So why wasn’t Ushan impressed?

  The fencing master’s euphoria had attained a pitch he would never have thought possible. He had mowed down opponents like weeds, he was the swiftest, most elegant and deadly swordsman in the arena. Rolv’s vengeful fury and Rumo’s natural aptitude were nothing beside Ushan’s abilities – beside his unique combination of talent and years-long experience, pugnacity and tactical skill.

  But there was another respect in which Ushan surpassed every other Wolperting: his readiness to die. Ever since he had commanded Rolv and Urs to kill him, it was as if he had pushed open an invisible door from which boundless energy flowed into him.

  And now this Copper Killer had entered the arena. This megalomaniac machine had not only slain friends and pupils of his but claimed to be war personified. General Ticktock? Wasn’t that the name Rumo had mentioned? Wasn’t it he who had tortured and killed Rala?

  Yes, he looked dangerous. He looked as if he embodied the evil of a whole army of murderers – as if he could take on any warrior in the theatre, Ushan DeLucca included.

  Smyke’s oceanic ancestry

  ‘Yes,’ Smyke told himself, ‘this must be it. I thought I’d reached it on Roaming Rock, when I was imprisoned in my slimy pool, but I was wrong. It’s only now, here and now, t
hat my life has reached its lowest ebb! I’m immersed in blood. In dead, diseased blood.’

  ‘Now pull yourself together, Smyke,’ said Non-Existent Teeny Number One.

  ‘Try to pretend it’s water,’ said Non-Existent Teeny Number Two.

  ‘Blood consists largely of water,’ said Non-Existent Teeny Number Three.

  ‘Hey,’ thought Smyke, ‘I can hear you out here as well!’

  ‘We’re the Non-Existent Teenies, Smyke.’

  ‘You’ve no idea how many places you could hear us if we wanted you to.’

  ‘How are you feeling, Smyke?’

  Smyke had left the submarine. He had passed through the hull like a disembodied spirit – that was the only explanation he could find for the way he had got from the inside to the outside without opening a door of any kind.

  ‘That explanation is not entirely apt, Smyke.’

  ‘It was a case of molecular transference with the aid of sympathetic vibrations.’

  ‘We gave up doors a long time ago.’

  Smyke had instinctively switched over to gill-breathing.

  ‘I’m breathing blood,’ he thought. ‘I’m breathing dead blood.’

  ‘Do stop going on about blood!’

  ‘It’s an absolute obsession.’

  ‘Concentrate on your opponent.’

  Smyke’s opponent was floating high above him, just in front of the place where the Non-Existent Teenies supposed the connectors required for their auratic operation to be located. The creature turned itself inside out, rotated on its own axis, excreted some slime, and turned transparent, then dark-grey and black in turn, as if steadfastly intent on demonstrating how dangerous it was.

  ‘Now listen, Smyke!’ said Non-Existent Teeny Number One. ‘We’ve made the following discovery: it’s a fatal disease. That’s bad, but it can’t infect you.’

  ‘Can’t it?’

  ‘No, it can only infect the body whose bloodstream it’s in. It’s a question of relative size. What’s more, it’s the last example of its kind in this organism. That much we do know.’

 
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