Rumo and his miraculous.., p.63
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       Rumo: And His Miraculous Adventures, p.63

           Walter Moers
 

  ‘Good.’

  ‘But …’

  ‘But what?’

  ‘This disease could kill you just the same.’

  ‘It certainly looks that way.’

  ‘It could kill you quite simply by using physical violence. That too is a question of relative size. But pay attention, now comes some good news.’

  ‘Really?’

  ‘You could also kill it.’

  ‘How?’ Smyke asked incredulously.

  ‘Simply by obeying your feral instincts.’

  ‘What feral instincts? Have I got some?’

  ‘You carry the genes of one of this planet’s most dangerous life forms, Smyke.’

  ‘Huh?’

  ‘You’re a deadly, dangerous fighting machine.’

  ‘You’re the terror of the oceans.’

  ‘You’re a shark, Smyke.’

  ‘Never forget that, Smyke: you’re a Shark Grub.’

  Ushan DeLucca’s finest hour

  Ushan DeLucca knew exactly whom General Ticktock would kill next. It would be Urs of the Snows.

  For anyone who knew as much about fighting and chess as Ushan, it wasn’t hard to work that out. General Ticktock was stronger and more agile than any other warrior in the arena: in chess terms, he was the queen. If he thought strategically, he would be bound to concentrate on those opponents who were doing his soldiers most damage. They were Rumo and Rolv, Urs and Vasko, Olek and Balla. And, of course, himself, Ushan DeLucca. Wherever they wielded their swords the theatre guards died like flies.

  So Ticktock’s next move must be to eliminate one of them. Rumo? No, he was too far away, Rolv was considerably closer. Vasko was even closer than Rolv, Olek closer than Vasko and Balla closer than Olek. But Urs of the Snows was the closest of all.

  Urs, fighting with his back to the mechanical monster, was busy with five opponents at once. No, now there were only four. Ticktock had only to take a few steps and he could cut down one of the most dangerous Wolpertings from behind.

  Ushan analysed the situation as though studying a chessboard instead of a battlefield. What to do if one of one’s most valuable pieces was threatened? Sacrifice a pawn? That was the only possibility. And who should be the pawn that had to die in Urs’s place? He himself, of course: Ushan DeLucca.

  Ushan tossed his sword aside. This was a contest in which a sword would be useless. He would never need a sword again. Resolutely, he strode towards the general. How good he felt – how strong and light-footed! He had never felt better in his life.

  Urs performed a swift lunge that dispatched yet another opponent. Ushan had known that the youngster was good, but here in the arena he was surpassing himself. Urs of the Snows would some day be the finest swordsman in Wolperting, perhaps in all Zamonia, of that Ushan was convinced.

  ‘Hey!’ he called when he was standing close behind General Ticktock. ‘Hey, General Ticktock! Is that your name?’

  The metal giant slowly turned to face him.

  ‘Yes [tick], it is. And who [tock] are you?’

  ‘My name is Ushan DeLucca.’

  ‘Pleased to meet you,’ the general said with a little bow. ‘Tell me, Ushan DeLucca, why [tick] are you facing me unarmed? Have you [tock] lost your wits? Or your nerve?’

  ‘Neither,’ Ushan said with a smile. ‘I’ve nothing left to lose.’

  ‘Not even your life?’ asked the general. ‘Is it worth [tick] so little to you?’

  ‘Oh, I’ve never set much store by it,’ said Ushan. ‘I found it wearisome most of the time, especially in bad weather. For all that, there’s more life in me than you could ever dream of.’

  ‘What [tock] do you mean?’ Ticktock demanded.

  ‘I mean you’ve lost this battle. No matter what you do and no matter how many enemies you defeat and kill, you can never win it. It’s impossible. Even if you’re the only survivor of this battle, there was more life in every corpse on the battlefield than will ever be in you. Such is your lot. You’re the saddest creature I’ve ever encountered. I’m sorry for you – that’s what I wanted to tell you.’

  ‘Have you [tick] finished?’ asked General Ticktock. He levelled a steel forefinger at Ushan. ‘Now I understand. You’re trying [tock] to provoke me into killing you instead of one of your friends.’

  Ushan didn’t answer. He shut his eyes and lost himself in the scene that unfolded before his inner eye. Banners of red and yellow, gold and copper fluttered in the breeze. It was like a colossal painting imbued with all the colours of battle, the scents of courage and fear, triumph and defeat. He had never seen anything so magnificent.

  ‘I wonder what a swordsman’s paradise looks like?’ he thought. ‘Is it as beautiful as my fencing garden?’

  Ticktock bent his thumb. There was a faint click followed by a sharp report, and his forefinger detached itself and sped towards Ushan faster than any crossbow bolt. The Wolperting didn’t even raise an arm to protect himself and the steel finger buried itself deep in his chest.

  Ushan made no sound. He recoiled a step but remained on his feet. Ticktock bent his thumb once more. Another click, a series of detonations, and the other three fingers buried themselves in Ushan’s ribcage. Four thin, faintly twanging steel wires were now suspended between the general’s hand and the Wolperting’s chest.

  Ticktock bent his thumb a third time, thereby activating a mechanism that reeled in the wires and recovered the arrows. His entrails emitted a whirring sound as Ushan was jerked off his feet and hoisted into the air. The fingers clicked back into the hand and General Ticktock held him up by the chest.

  ‘No one [tick] has ever dared to tell me [tock] the truth to my face before,’ the general whispered. ‘You’re a hero, Ushan DeLucca.’

  Gripping the Wolperting’s head with his other hand, he tore the steel fingers free and held them in the air. They were cupped around Ushan’s still beating heart.

  Steel versus bone

  Ribble consoled himself during the battle between the Copper Killers and the Dead Yetis with the thought that his role would be that of a chronicler rather than a warrior. Monstrous and shocking though they were, he had to memorise all these images and preserve them for posterity, for it was doubtful if anything of the kind would ever be seen again.

  It was the grimmest and most ruthless battle that had ever raged between two opposing sides. Yetis fought on with their oil-sodden cloaks and bones ablaze, Copper Killers continued to flail away long after they’d lost their heads. Severed limbs fell to the ground while their owners fought on undaunted and others snatched them up for use as weapons. A headless Copper Killer with a thick jet of steam issuing from his throat was locked in mortal combat with a Yeti whose skull was in flames. Two Yetis swung their heavy hammers at a Copper Killer bereft of both arms. Splinters of bone, cogwheels, screws and teeth went whistling through the air, valves hissed, shields clanged like bells, and the Yetis’ bestial roars rang out again and again. Skullop cursed and swung his scythe at the Copper Killers, who cowered away because even metal burst asunder under its impact.

  For a while it had really looked as if the Yetis would win the day, thanks to their toughness and the advantage of surprise, but the longer the battle raged the more illusory this hope became. Now and then some Copper Killer would be forced back against the balcony rail and hurled over the edge or systematically dismembered by a ceaseless rain of blows from hammers and clubs, nor were the Yetis much inferior to the metal warriors in fortitude. Like them they felt no pain and had no fear of death, and a Copper Killer had to smash a Yeti to pieces to prevent him from rising to his feet again. In the long run, however, it seemed that the mechanical soldiers would prevail, if only because metal was more durable than bone. More and more Yetis fell to the ground and lay still because every single one of their bones had been smashed beyond repair. The Copper Killers used all their concealed weapons, their circular saws, razor-sharp pincers and flame-throwers.

  Ribble briefly wondered whether to fight his way down the st
eps and into the arena, taking the Wolpertings with him, but the place was now swarming with so many enemy soldiers that it would have spelt certain death. So he was compelled to watch Skullop’s warriors being driven further and further back, and losing more and more of their number. He had no choice but to commit as many details to memory as possible and hope that the tide would eventually turn in the Yetis’ favour after all.

  Battle in the bloodstream

  ‘Everything ugo, Smyke?’

  ‘Ugo?’

  ‘Oh, that’s just our way of asking if everything’s all right. Ugo is an inconceivably small number that–’

  ‘All right, all right,’ thought Smyke. ‘Yes, everything’s ugo. I’m only swimming through dead blood towards a deadly disease. Why shouldn’t everything be ugo?’

  ‘Lots of luck, Smyke.’

  ‘Yes, lots of luck.’

  ‘You can do with some.’

  The Non-Existent Teenies abruptly fell silent, leaving Smyke to fend for himself again. Beneath him stretched an endless battlefield strewn with mutilated organisms; above him floated the hideous soldier of death, the last representative of an implacable disease, intent on barring the way to Rala’s heart. Discounting the clicks it emitted, it made no sound at all.

  Smyke swam on until he was level with his opponent. Hideous and dangerous though the creature was, he found it fascinating to observe its ceaseless movements, mutations and changes of colour at close range. Just now it had been a scutellated star shimmering with all the colours of the rainbow; then it had mutated into a transparent grey ball full of billowing milky liquid. The next moment it looked like a fiery red lava bubble ejected by a crater on the ocean bed. The only constant factor was its monotonous clicking.

  ‘Who are you?’ Smyke thought. ‘Are you death?’

  The lava bubble mutated into a green sponge with streaks of black fluid rising from its honeycombed surface.

  ‘Click, click,’ it went.

  ‘No,’ thought Smyke, ‘you aren’t death. Death is something that comes when you have gone. Death is a happy release compared to you. Death is good, you are evil.’

  The sponge contracted into a ball, turned metallic-grey and sprouted some long fair hair.

  ‘Click, click, click.’

  ‘But it doesn’t matter who you are. You’re just a brainless soldier. What matters is who I am.’

  The ball turned into a white jellyfish with black, faceted eyes.

  ‘Click, click, click, click.’

  ‘Do you know who I am? Do you know what I am?’

  The jellyfish rotated in a feverish manner and turned yellow, then green. Slowly, the middle of its body extruded a sharp black spear.

  ‘Click!’ it went. ‘Click, click!’

  ‘I’ll tell you what I am,’ thought Smyke. ‘I’m evil too. I stained Lindworm Castle red with blood. And I’m dangerous as well, far more dangerous than you. Who are you, after all? An amateur. What do you know about fighting, eh?’

  ‘Click, click, click.’

  ‘How long have you been in existence?’ asked Smyke. ‘A few months? A few weeks? Me, I’ve existed for millions of years. I’m a shark, that’s why.’

  The creature mutated yet again. It assumed an elongated shape, turned grey, sprouted fourteen little arms tipped with claws and opened a mouth studded with countless sharp teeth. It now resembled a more primitive and dangerous version of Smyke himself.

  The general and the monster

  Rumo, Urs, Rolv, Vasko, Balla and Olek converged on General Ticktock from all directions and came to a halt, forming a big circle round him. They had made quick work of their opponents after seeing what the general had done to Ushan DeLucca. The fencing master’s lifeless body was lying at his feet.

  ‘Oho,’ chuckled Ticktock. ‘You’ve got me [tick] surrounded. I’m [tock] trapped. Was this a friend of yours?’

  Ushan’s bones splintered as he rested his foot on the fencing master’s corpse.

  ‘Who would like [tick] to be next?’ he asked.

  ‘Are you General Ticktock?’ Rumo demanded.

  ‘Yes, I am.’

  ‘Did you kill Rala?’

  General Ticktock involuntarily clutched his chest. His shoulders sagged a little, but only for an instant. Then he straightened up again.

  ‘Who wants [tock] to know?’ he asked angrily.

  Rumo didn’t reply. He now knew that it was Ticktock who had inflicted such havoc on his beloved.

  The general surveyed his adversaries. Rumo, Rolv, Urs, Vasko, Balla and Olek began to circle him slowly.

  Meanwhile, more and more Wolpertings had stopped fighting and joined them in the arena. Nearly all the soldiers had been killed or put to flight.

  ‘Oho,’ Ticktock said again, ‘so you want [tick] to dance, do you?’

  He threw back his cloak. It was only now that the Wolpertings could see his physique in all its splendour. Copper, steel, silver, iron – every part of him was metal. His body was a huge, mechanised fortress constructed of the most diverse materials – a whole army in a single body.

  ‘Before you all have to die,’ Ticktock said gravely, ‘you should [tock] know something. My days in Hel have changed me. I’ve grown [tick]. I’ve loved [tock] and suffered. I’ve become another person. You may [tick] think me big, but I’m far bigger [tock] than you suspect. Would you like [tick] to see my true dimensions?’

  Without waiting for an answer he tilted his head to one side, inserted a forefinger in a hole in his neck and turned it like a key. Instantly, his body emitted a series of sounds that resembled the discordant chimes of a broken musical clock. His head revolved several times to this accompaniment and his neck grew steadily longer. His insides clicked and ticked as sections of armour-plate folded back or slid apart to reveal his mechanical intestines. Cogwheels rotated, wires drew taut, alchemical batteries crackled, pistons rose and fell – all was in ceaseless motion. His backplates unfolded into two silver wings, and from the resulting apertures new metallic limbs extended telescopically until they touched the ground. To the Wolpertings’ amazement, they saw that General Ticktock had not only doubled in size but acquired twice as many arms and legs within a few seconds. All the weapons that had hitherto been concealed inside his body – crossbows, blades, missiles – had been exposed and rendered combat-ready. They were now confronted by a four-armed, four-legged fortress bristling with weapons. The new General Ticktock was even bigger and more dangerous, deadlier and more unassailable than before.

  ‘Size!’ cried Ticktock, looking down at them. ‘That’s the key to power. What you see here [tick] is only the start. I shall continue to grow [tock] for as long as there’s any metal left. I shall grow [tick] until all the metal in existence is General Ticktock.’

  The Wolpertings stood there as though turned to stone. The sight of the huge machine was hypnotic.

  ‘You wanted to dance?’ boomed the general. ‘Let’s [tock] dance, then!’

  The Wolpertings braced themselves for battle.

  No one knew where General Ticktock would strike first. Everywhere at once, perhaps.

  Suddenly the floor of the theatre began to shake – slightly but perceptibly.

  ‘What was that?’ someone asked.

  Ticktock, too, had stiffened. There! Another tremor made his weapons jangle.

  The Wolpertings looked mystified. What was causing these tremors? Fighting was still in progress in the Copper Killers’ gallery, but they didn’t seem to come from there.

  ‘An earthquake?’ asked Balla.

  But the tremors were too rhythmical for an earthquake. They followed one another at intervals of several seconds, becoming ever stronger. And suddenly a gust of wind swept through the theatre, laden with a stench reminiscent of everything vile that had ever crawled out of the oceans.

  ‘What is it?’ asked Urs.

  ‘A Vrahok!’ Rumo exclaimed. ‘A really big one!’

  The tremors had intensified the tumult in the auditorium. The surviving
spectators redoubled their desperate efforts to escape from the theatre. Only the Yetis and the Copper Killers, who seemed unimpressed, fought on with undiminished ferocity.

  A pale-blue glow filled the theatre and everything was enveloped in a shower of luminous blue slime. It looked as if a monstrous flying object was descending on the arena – a huge, glowing, pale-blue disc with organic shapes pulsating inside it. Everyone could now see that it was a body whose twelve supporting legs had halted in a circle round the building. A Vrahok of the largest variety had settled over the Theatre of Death like a roof. The spectators screamed in terror. From inside the monster came piercing whistles and incessant churning noises.

  General Ticktock stalked to and fro on his four legs, instantly demoted from a giant into an insect. What fool had alerted the Vrahok? He had everything under control!

  ‘What is it?’ asked Rolv.

  ‘It’s a Vrahok,’ said Yukobak, who had ventured out from behind Rumo.

  ‘A Vrahok? Is that a machine too?’

  ‘No, a living creature.’

  ‘Whose side is it on?’ asked Balla.

  ‘Not ours,’ Yukobak replied.

  ‘Can it do anything apart from being big?’

  ‘It could eat us. It can eat anything.’

  ‘How?’ asked Urs. ‘I can’t see a mouth.’

  ‘It’s got one, believe me,’ said Yukobak.

  Tentacles as thick as a man and as long as trees came snaking over the theatre’s walls and swept along the tiers of seats. Any spectators unlucky enough to be grazed by them, let alone struck full on, were hurled aside, crushed, or sent whirling through the air. Being endowed with greater athletic skill, the few Wolpertings still up there managed to dodge them. The blind monster, which was trying to get its bearings, made no distinction between friend and foe.

  ‘Are you sure it isn’t on our side after all?’ asked Balla. ‘It’s been working for us up to now.’

 
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