Rumo and his miraculous.., p.68
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       Rumo: And His Miraculous Adventures, p.68

           Walter Moers

  A lethal misunderstanding

  ‘We’re there, Your Majesty,’ someone called into the royal tent’s dark interior. ‘We’ve completed our ascent and are now advancing on Oil Lake. The scouts we sent out, mounted on Dogbats, report that the Wolpertings are crossing the lake at this moment. We respectfully await your orders.’

  Gornab gave a surly grunt. Duties, nothing but duties! He wanted to get this business over as quickly as possible and return to Hel, so he rose from his bed with a groan and went outside.

  They were in a cave that was smaller and lighter than Gornab’s Echo and warmer than the glacial cavern known as Vrahok’s Repose. All the rocks were bathed in a phosphorescent glow and luminous blue rain was falling from the stalactites overhead. Looking down over the rail of his observation platform, the king saw dense swaths of mist snaking between his Vrahok’s legs. He felt dizzy and shrank away from the rail.

  Half a dozen generals, all members of the Hellian aristocracy, were standing at attention on the platform awaiting their monarch’s orders. After a considerable time, when none were issued and Gornab merely gazed at the Vrahoks behind them lost in thought, one of them spoke up:

  ‘It’s high time we devoted some thought to our future course of action, Your Majesty. Friftar gave orders that we weren’t to trouble you with unnecessary problems, but he also expressly instructed me to consult you at this stage in the campaign. The order to attack can only come from you.’

  ‘Yes,’ said Gornab. ‘Doog.’

  The generals looked at him expectantly.

  ‘Why are you pawging at me like tath?’ Gornab snapped.

  ‘Your orders, Majesty,’ one of them ventured to say. ‘Are we to wait until the Wolpertings have returned to their city, or do we attack them without delay? If we want to fulfil the Red Prophecy we should really wait until they’re home. The Red Prophecy explicitly refers to a war in Overworld.’

  Gornab thought hard. Things were getting complicated after all! Why hadn’t that idiot Friftar said anything about this? Fulfil the Red Prophecy or attack right away? Couldn’t he attack at once and then order the historians to record that he’d fulfilled the prophecy anyway? Yes, that was it. He was the king, after all. Get it over now, right away, and hightail it home to Hel. He drew a deep breath.

  ‘I sedire the Hokvras to ackatt and tresdoy the Tingerwolps witouth leday!’ he commanded.

  The generals stared at him.

  ‘Your pardon, Majesty?’ said one of them.

  Gornab cleared his throat. ‘I sedire the Hokvras to ackatt and tresdoy the Tingerwolps witouth leday!’ he repeated, somewhat louder.

  The generals exchanged nervous glances. Such a situation had never arisen before. No one had ever had to tell the king to his face that he was unintelligible.

  ‘Are you fead?’ Gornab demanded, brusquely now. ‘I vage odrers that the damngoded Hokvras shloud ackatt and tresdoy the Tingerwolps witouth leday! Is tath so fficultid to dantersund?’

  ‘I’m sorry, Your Majesty,’ one of the generals said bravely, ‘but we don’t understand your orders.’

  The others glared at him as though he’d just sentenced them to death.

  Gornab’s voice took on a low, menacing note. ‘You ton’d dantersund me?’ he said. ‘Do I skeap intisdinctly? Do I fusser from a cheaps fedect, or thingsome?’

  A foul stench drifted towards them from Oil Lake and the huge Vrahok shied in alarm. Everyone on the platform lurched to and fro.

  Gornab suddenly quietened. His sardonic grin became even broader, but his face went blank. Voices were speaking in his head – the voices of his dead ancestors.

  ‘Can you hear us, Gornab?’ they asked.

  ‘It’s us.’

  ‘The Gornabs inside you.’

  Gornab listened spellbound. The voices at last! They would tell him what to do.

  ‘We’re proud of you, Gornab!’

  ‘Proud because you’re blood of our blood!’

  ‘Brain of our brain!’

  ‘Mighty Lord of the Vrahoks!’

  ‘Are you going to take that insult lying down?’

  ‘An insult levelled at your royal person?’

  ‘They act as if they fail to understand your orders!’

  ‘They act as if you’re an idiot who can’t make himself understood.’

  ‘They want to override you and take command themselves.’

  ‘You can’t permit that, Gornab!’

  ‘In the name of all the Gornabs, you must punish them!’

  ‘Punish them, Gornab!’

  ‘Punish them!’

  It was all over by the time the king awoke from his trance.

  One of the generals lay stretched out on his back, twitching, with blood spurting from a gash in his throat. The others had recoiled in horror.

  Gornab struggled to his feet. He felt infinitely weary, as he always did after committing such atrocities.

  ‘What’s the matter?’ shouted one of the Vrahok drivers from the rear platform. ‘The Vrahok is getting out of control!’

  The gigantic creature was trembling. Its armour-plated back vibrated beneath their feet and it came to a halt, whistling in a restive, feverish manner.

  Gornab wiped the blood from his mouth.

  ‘Wath’s gworn with it?’ he asked. ‘Wath’s up with the Hokvra?’

  The scent of blood

  The armour-plated beast vibrated more violently still and the digestive juices in its intestines began to seethe.

  ‘It can smell the blood!’ cried one of the generals. ‘The hypnosis is wearing off!’

  ‘Your Majesty!’ another general shouted at the king. ‘How could you have shed blood aboard a Vrahok? All that interests it now is blood! Don’t you know anything about the beasts?’

  No, Gornab didn’t, nor did he need to. He was the king. How dared this underling address him in such a fashion?

  He flew at the general’s throat. Ripping out the Adam’s apple with his teeth, he spat it over the rail.

  ‘There,’ he said. ‘Hapsper tath’ll cheat you to edrass me so dispectresfully!’

  Gornab released his victim. The general sagged against the rail, breathing stertorously and trying to plug the gaping wound with his fingers. Meanwhile, his blood went spurting over the Vrahok.

  ‘I’m kating over mmocand!’ Gornab bellowed. ‘Where are the Tingerwolps? I entind to texerminate them!’

  A sound like a violent wind arose and the Vrahok’s transparent trunk came slithering over the edge of its armour-plated back. Purposefully, it made for the platform, then for the first of the bleeding generals. The tube squelched open and sucked him in. The Vrahok emitted loud whistles of excitement as the man shot up it like a lifeless puppet.

  The trunk reared up briefly, quivering with greed, then closed over the second bleeding general and ingested him too. That done, it scoured the platform in search of further nourishment.

  The surviving generals yelled at the Vrahok drivers, but they had lost control a long time ago. Some of them were already preparing to winch themselves to the ground in the baskets that served as lifeboats.

  Gornab dashed over to his throne, ensconced himself in it and strapped himself in with his royal safety belt.

  ‘I am the gink!’ he cried. ‘Hokvra, I mmocand you to eboy me!’

  The trunk came writhing across the platform, sucking up soldier after soldier irrespective of rank. Some of the men preferred to jump for it rather than end up in the Vrahok’s digestive organs, and the air rang with senseless orders and despairing cries.

  Similar chaos reigned aboard the Vrahoks behind them. All were awaking from their alchemical hypnosis and extending their trunks. The greedy whistling grew louder, the crews on the platforms panicked and desperately showered the Vrahoks with alchemical extracts or tried to abseil down them. Anyone who failed to escape was engulfed by their bellowing trunks, which also plucked Dogbats out of the air complete with their riders.

  Gornab clung to his throne. Abov
e him a wind had sprung up that tore fiercely at his limbs and greedily sucked in anything lying around loose: a briefcase full of military maps, sundry weapons, several canteens, a shield bearing the arms of Hel. Gornab looked up. The tip of the biggest Vrahok’s trunk was hovering immediately overhead.

  The Gornab of Gornabs

  But the king wasn’t afraid. His gaze was ecstatic, his grin ran from ear to ear. He was listening to the voices of his ancestors.

  ‘Fear not, Gornab!’ they cried.

  ‘You are the Gornab of Gornabs!’

  ‘The ruler of Netherworld!’

  ‘Nothing can harm you!’

  ‘Nothing can harm us!’

  ‘We are immortal!’

  No, he wasn’t in any real danger. They weren’t in any real danger, not them. The kings of Hel were immortal. His belt would hold no matter how much suction the raging wind exerted. Gornab sat glued to his throne.

  ‘I am Norgab Angal Akidarzo Gneb Lele Anoota the Tniney-Thinn!’ he yelled at the greedy mouth of the tube above him. ‘I am the gink! I am the Norgab of Norgabs! I mmocand you to …’

  The first of the bolts that secured the throne to the platform gave way and went whistling past his ears.

  ‘I mmocand you to eboy me!’

  There was a crack, and Gornab saw whole sections of the platform beneath him break away and fly upwards. The throne seemed to be rocked by an earthquake.

  ‘I mmocand you …’

  Another crack and this time Gornab himself rose into the air. The last legitimate ruler of Hel was anointed with corrosive acids as he and his throne were sucked into the digestive organs of the biggest of all living Vrahoks.

  The scent of death

  Rumo awoke. No noise had roused him, no cry or nudge in the ribs, but a smell. Drowsily he raised his head and sniffed the air. It was the alarming, unnerving smell of Roaming Rock, the stench of thousands of rotting marine parasites, the smell of death that seemed to have pursued him throughout his life.

  ‘The Demonocles are coming,’ he said sleepily.

  ‘Demonocles?’ Urs, who was sitting in the punt just ahead of him, turned round. ‘No, it’s the Vrahoks.’

  Rumo’s head gradually cleared. ‘A lot of them, too, judging by the smell.’

  ‘Why can’t we hear anything?’ asked Urs.

  ‘I’ve seen Vrahoks wade across the lake before now,’ said the Yeti who was poling them along. ‘They make their way through the oil as slowly and silently as ghosts. It’s weird. They instinctively know how dangerous it is to set off rockfalls in this cave.’

  ‘How many are there?’ Urs asked.

  ‘Several dozen of them, at a guess,’ said Rumo. ‘All the Hellings possess, perhaps.’

  ‘It’s not much further to the other side,’ said the Yeti. ‘We’ll make it.’

  ‘Vrahoks can go anywhere,’ said Rumo. ‘Even up the steps to Wolperting, if they have to. We must fight them off.’

  The first punts had already landed. Their passengers helped the later arrivals ashore. As soon as all the Wolpertings and Yetis were on dry land they held a council of war.

  ‘You can’t be serious,’ said Skullop. ‘You can’t fight the Vrahoks, they’re too many for you.’

  ‘We’ve no choice,’ Rumo retorted. ‘We must stop them from reaching the surface. We’re all that stands between them and Overworld. I know how to neutralise the creatures. We must let them suck us up and then—’

  Skullop laid a bony hand on Rumo’s shoulder and threw back his cowl to reveal his glistening, greasy black skull. He ground his teeth.

  ‘Look, youngster, you really don’t have to keep proving to me how crazy you are. You haven’t a hope against the Vrahoks.’

  ‘I already dealt with one of them,’ Rumo said.

  ‘Oh, sure, of course you did!’ Skullop gave an incredulous, despairing laugh.

  So fierce was the stench drifting across the lake that it nearly took their breath away. Still partly obscured by the luminous mist, the Vrahoks were advancing almost without a sound.

  The Vrahoks are coming

  Everyone thronged the shore to watch them approach. They waded slowly through the oil with infinite care, guided by their restless antennae. All that could be heard was the grinding and creaking of the joints in their enormous legs as their bodies loomed out of the mist and swayed ever nearer. There must indeed have been hundreds of them – all the Vrahoks in Netherworld.

  Skullop and his men, who had detached themselves from the Wolpertings, were conferring in grunts and murmurs at the edge of the lake. Their discussion was punctuated by angry growls and savage laughter. Then Skullop came back on his own.

  ‘All right, my lad,’ he said, stationing himself in front of Rumo with his scythe. ‘I understand. This is between you and me.’

  Rumo stared at him uncomprehendingly.

  ‘I’m going to show you, Rumo. I’m going to show you which of us is the crazier.’

  ‘What are you getting at?’ said Rumo.

  Skullop gave a ferocious grunt and turned to the rest of the Wolpertings.

  ‘Listen here! You’re going to do exactly as I say! Either stay or run away, it’s all the same to me, but don’t dare butt in! Watch the fun or make yourselves scarce, whichever. In your place, though, I’d watch. It’ll be worth seeing, I guarantee you!’

  Skullop laid his hand on Rumo’s shoulder again. ‘It was an honour knowing you, Rumo. You’re a genuine nutcase.’

  Rumo was still puzzled. ‘What are you planning to do?’ he asked.

  ‘Never you mind,’ Skullop retorted. ‘This is Yeti business. But you must promise me something.’

  ‘What’s that?’

  ‘Promise me you’ll give her that goddamned casket.’

  Rumo nodded and hung his head.

  Skullop turned and strode over to his men, who had already begun to board their punts.

  The Wolpertings conferred in whispers. What were the Yetis up to?

  The Yetis pushed off. Skullop, leaning on his scythe in the biggest punt, addressed the Wolpertings once more. He kept his voice down, just as he had when Rumo met him for the first time.

  ‘I’ll tell you something else,’ he whispered. ‘If I’ve ever met a genuine hero, it’s that young maniac whose name sounds like a card game. However, I’m pretty sure my men and I can go one better, so keep your eyes peeled. Watch Skullop and his army of Dead Yetis at work, and watch closely, because we’re about to break a few records! History is being made here! Tell your grandchildren about it, but tell it properly or the ghost of Skullop the Scyther will return in the night and cut your throats with his scythe!’

  A swath of luminous blue mist drifted over the punts and enveloped them. All that could now be heard were the clicks and creaks of the advancing Vrahoks’ knee joints.

  ‘That was a pretty self-assured announcement,’ Yukobak said after a while.

  ‘Do they really intend to fight the Vrahoks?’ asked Ribble.

  ‘It would be suicide,’ said Yukobak. ‘They don’t stand a chance, certainly not in those cockleshells of theirs. Maybe they know of a place to hide.’

  Everyone stood rooted to the spot, watching spellbound as the mist dispersed and the punts came into view again. The Dead Yetis had risen to their feet and were drifting towards the oncoming Vrahoks. The primeval beasts’ huge legs formed an intricate silhouette tinged with blue by the glow from their throbbing intestines.

  By now the Vrahoks and the punts could not have been more than a couple of hundred yards apart. Even if Skullop and his men had wanted to do so, it was too late for them to change their minds and turn round.

  The Blood Song

  ‘Shall we sing, men?’ Skullop cried suddenly, with such volume and clarity that his words easily carried to the Wolpertings’ ears.

  ‘Yes, let’s sing,’ someone called back. ‘A splendid idea of yours, Skullop. As usual.’

  The Yetis laughed.

  The Wolpertings continued to line the sh
ore, completely at a loss.

  ‘What are they doing?’ asked Rala.

  Rumo pointed to the stalactites on the roof of the cavern.

  ‘They’re laying down their lives for us,’ he said.

  The stench of the oncoming Vrahoks was becoming more and more intolerable. Rumo gripped the hilt of his sword in impotent fury.

  ‘He’s sacrificing himself,’ said Krindle. ‘Skullop the Scyther is sacrificing himself.’

  ‘They all are,’ said Dandelion.

  ‘Who knows a good song?’ cried Skullop.

  ‘The Blood Song!’ a Yeti replied. ‘It’s the only one we know.’

  ‘Good,’ said Skullop. ‘Let’s have the Blood Song, then!’

  He cleared his throat.

  ‘Blood must spurt and blood must flow!’ he sang.

  ‘Let blood gush from every foe!

  Blood as far as eye can see.

  Blood to all eternity!’

  ‘Blood must spurt and blood must flow!’ chorused the other Yetis.

  ‘Let blood gush from every foe!

  Blood as far as eye can see.

  Blood to all eternity!’

  The echoes of their grisly song filled the cavern and sent bats fluttering into the air.

  ‘Swing the sword with all your might!’ sang Skullop.

  Cleave your foe from head to heel!’

  ‘Let your blade his innards bite!’ the Yetis joined in.

  Lay them open with cold steel!’

  ‘Blood must spurt and blood must flow!’ they all sang together.

  Let blood gush from every foe!’

  With a sharp report a gigantic stalactite broke off the roof of the cavern. It plummeted downwards like a spear, pierced the armour-plated back of one of the biggest Vrahoks, passed right through it and emerged from its underbelly, ripping the blue stomach to shreds on the way. Finally it landed in the lake with a muffled splash, followed by cascades of intestines and pale-blue slime. The Vrahok continued to stand there for a moment, trumpeting pathetically. Then all twelve legs buckled and it collapsed like a dilapidated tower.

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