Rumo and his miraculous.., p.9
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       Rumo: And His Miraculous Adventures, p.9

           Walter Moers
 

  With his free paw Rumo reached into the Demonocle’s mouth, which was still open in astonishment. Gripping the tongue, he twisted it vigorously, first one way, then the other. There was a crack like a rotten branch snapping. Rumo had done the worst thing anyone could do to a Demonocle: he had broken the giant’s tongue.

  Demonocles’ tongues

  After Smyke had crawled over to Rumo’s cage and confided his plan, he also acquainted him with what Professor Nightingale knew about the anatomical structure of Demonocles’ tongues. Briefly summarised, this was that while normal tongues are supported only by muscles and sinews, a Demonocle’s tongue contained an intricate and complicated system of bone and gristle not unlike a miniature spinal column. This osseous system was essential because the giants’ tongues were heavier and more complex than that of other living creatures, being equipped with considerably more nerve cells and taste buds. Nightingale had also discovered that this unique part of their anatomy was connected to the spine and controlled their sense of balance. If you snapped a Demonocle’s tongue, therefore, you not only caused him terrible pain but turned him into a totally defenceless being.

  Phases 1 and 2

  The injured chieftain put his hand over his mouth and uttered a pitiful groan. He reeled backwards, tripped over his own feet and tumbled over the stone parapet into the sea. That was Phase 1 of Smyke’s plan: Snap the tongue of the first Demonocle that tries to bite you!

  That was done, but Phase 2 was a considerably harder proposition: Kill as many Demonocles as possible!

  The startled chieftains had let go of Rumo. They clapped their hands protectively over their mouths and cowered away. A broken tongue! How could one living creature do anything so cruel to another?

  Rumo rolled over and crouched down on all fours on the blood-encrusted slab. He took aim at one of the Demonocles, narrowing his eyes, and flexed his hind legs slightly. What came next happened so fast that all the one-eyed giants saw was another white streak of lightning. As though shot from a catapult, the Wolperting somersaulted over the Demonocle and landed just behind him. As he flew through the air there was a sound like a tree being torn up by the roots. To everyone’s astonishment the Demonocle was standing there without a head.

  A scream rang out from high above. Everyone except Rumo looked up at the sky. What the giants saw was their companion’s head soaring through the air in a wide arc. It uttered a final, long-drawn-out wail, then splashed into the sea.

  While two of the flabbergasted Demonocles were still craning their necks, Rumo ripped out their larynxes with his claws. They clutched their gaping, bleeding throats in horror. The decapitated giant rotated on his own axis several times as if seeking his missing head. He staggered forward for a few steps, then plunged over the edge of the cliff and joined his head in the sea. Rumo had taken only a few moments to neutralise four of the eight strongest Demonocles on Roaming Rock.

  He rose on his hind legs. Although still half the size of his opponents, he suddenly looked like a colossus. The four remaining chieftains stood rooted to the spot. They had thought themselves the strongest creatures in the world, invincible demigods who represented a threat only to one another, and now they were confronted by a creature – a creature considerably smaller and less muscular than themselves – that had neutralised four of their number including the strongest of them all. The two giants whose throats Rumo had torn out had fallen to the ground and were writhing around in a pool of blood. The Demonocles who had witnessed the whole incident from the rocks nearby uttered a confused babble of cries and made for the nearest caves.

  One of the four remaining chieftains came to life at last. He gave Rumo one last, terrified look, turned tail and dashed through a rocky gateway into the island’s interior. The other three stood watching this unprecedented spectacle: for the first time ever one of their number had been put to flight by another living creature. They stared at each other in utter bewilderment, then lumbered after him.

  For a while Rumo continued to stand there in the rain, inhaling the fresh sea air. The drums and seashell horns had fallen silent. He threw back his head and opened his jaws to let the downpour rinse his bloodstained teeth. Then he went down on all fours and bounded towards the cleft in the rocks through which the Demonocles had disappeared.

  Smyke was listening. The music had ceased abruptly – to him an unmistakable sign that the young Wolperting had carried out Phase 1 of his plan. His predominant emotion was one of pleasure, although he briefly regretted having been unable to witness such a unique spectacle – a choice form of combat technique devised by himself! Slowly, he made his way to the surface. The pool had spilt half its contents, so the edge was at least five feet above him – an almost insurmountable obstacle for a sluggish and bloated Shark Grub. Plastering his flabby body to the stone side, he clung there by suction and proceeded to worm his way upwards. He inched up the side of the basin like a monstrous slug, accompanied by glutinous sounds, then rolled over the edge and looked around, panting. The island was rocking less violently and the other captives were preserving an expectant silence. Smyke listened again. Screams should soon be heard.

  A Demonocle chieftain bites the dust

  The first chieftain to take flight was standing in a dark tunnel, nursing his bleeding wrist. He wondered what he had done wrong. He had never harmed anyone, so why was he being punished?

  He had always endeavoured to lead a simple, god-fearing, Demonoclean existence. He awoke in the morning, had breakfast (a squealing pig, a screaming dwarf, a thrashing octopus, or whatever else came to hand), spent the rest of the morning dozing on a rock in the sunshine, had lunch, treated himself to another little nap, had supper and then retired to a cave, where the waves rocked him to sleep. He and his companions sometimes went whaling: they stood on the island’s rocky pinnacles and harpooned any of the giant creatures unlucky enough to stray within range. When the island ran aground they went ashore to forage for supplies. He could still hear the screams of the prey they’d amassed on their last raid. The Demonocles had laughed and sung, and he himself had blown the seashell horn. What wonderful, carefree days those had been!

  A big tear oozed from the giant’s single eye. Now he was standing here in the dark with a pounding heart, hiding from an evil spirit.

  He had given some other Demonocles a frightful beating, of course, and had even sent a few of them straight to the Sun-God in the Flying Mountains above the sea, but he was fully entitled to do so. He was one of the chieftains, after all.

  The giant suddenly remembered his friend Okk. True, he had hurt him terribly – and how! – but why had Okk usurped his favourite place in the sun? He had punched his friend in the face until his lower jaw flew off, then stamped on his head until his eye oozed out, but the obstinate fellow should simply have made room for him, at least when he lost his lower jaw. But no, Okk always had to act tough.

  Could it be Okk’s ghost that was stalking him through the tunnels with bloodthirsty vengeance in mind? It would be just like him – he’d always been inclined to bear a grudge – but how had a weakling like Okk developed such mysterious powers? Did one acquire them in the Flying Mountains? And why had he taken on the shape of a white dog? On the other hand, if it really was Okk he might be able to finish him off after all, ghost or no ghost.

  Never had a Demonocle’s head been awhirl with as many thoughts and questions all at once. Why was his heart beating so fast? What was this unpleasant, irresistible sensation that made his knees tremble and brought him out in a sweat? Was that his own shadow creeping along the wall? Was it Okk? What was that he could feel on his neck? A hand? A row of teeth?

  A spinal cord snapped in the darkness and the giant’s lifeless body collapsed. Rumo leapt off his back. If his soul really was winging its way to the Flying Mountains it would run into a terrible thunderstorm.

  The evil spirit

  It was dark inside Roaming Rock. The frantic Demonocles had omitted to illuminate the interior in the usual way,
so isolated torches provided the only light. They groped their way along in the darkness, strangers in their own home. In the few places where fires dispelled the gloom they clustered round and talked with bated breath of the ghost that haunted Roaming Rock and was even now creeping along the tunnels, intent on killing them all. Many claimed that it could make itself invisible and turn up in several places at once. It possessed magical powers, declared someone, and it could even fly as well. Others surmised that it had come from the Flying Mountains, a vengeful deity born of the thunderstorm, because they had paid insufficient homage to the Sun God.

  But most of the one-eyed giants roamed around on their own, totally disorientated. They kept blundering into each other in the dark. When two of them collided there was a terrible scrap which only one survived. Quite a few Demonocles died by their own hand that night and many others plunged wildly into the sea, where sharks attracted by the blood of the injured were ready and waiting.

  Rumo’s inner eye

  To his own surprise, Rumo needed no light – he could see with his nose. To him the darkness was filled with undulating colours and thin streaks of scent. He could smell where beads of sweat were trickling and hearts pulsating with terror – he could smell the fear and desperation. It was child’s play for him to locate a perspiring Demonocle. The fleeing giants left behind broad yellow streaks that offended his nostrils. He had only to follow such a carpet of smells and, sure enough, it would lead him to a Demonocle quaking in the darkness, never guessing what lay in store for him. Rumo could smell his pounding heart – he could see it throbbing with his inner eye. A furious growl, a scream cut short, and another giant slumped lifeless to the ground. Then Rumo would pick up the next scent.

  But it wasn’t always that easy. Although frightened, the Demonocles were no cowards and desperation lent them twice their normal strength. Sometimes, when Rumo failed to put an opponent out of action with his first bite, a fight ensued. Then he had to contend with a rampaging mountain of muscle who punched holes in the darkness with mighty fists, forcing him to duck and evade the blows. In such cases Rumo relied on his speed. He either severed the giant’s hamstrings with his teeth or sprang straight at his throat.

  If the Demonocles had a torch and were present in strength, he avoided a direct confrontation. He would snarl at them, displaying his bloodstained teeth, and disappear into the darkness to attack some lone giant wandering nearby. Before long the tunnels were strewn with dead, dying and badly injured Demonocles. Their cries reverberated around the entire system of tunnels and filled the hearts of the survivors with dread. For the first time the one-eyed monsters learnt the meaning of mortal fear, the terrible emotion their prisoners were compelled to experience daily, the persistent fear of being killed at any moment by creatures far superior to them in strength.

  Rumo continued to prowl through the darkness. He soon had a better knowledge than any dim-witted Demonocle of the network of tunnels with which the floating island was riddled. His inner eye visualised it like a three-dimensional blueprint criss-crossed and illuminated by coloured threads, undulating wisps of scent, pulsations of fear. He worked his way tirelessly and systematically through the labyrinth, sometimes killing his victims, sometimes only mauling them. The cries of the ones he only maimed and put out of action bore witness to his triumphs. Now and then he would pause at an intersection, go down on all fours, and utter a ghostly howl that was audible all over Roaming Rock.

  Rumo decided that it was time to release the prisoners in the cave, though he knew they wouldn’t be much help. A Hackonian dwarf couldn’t have brought himself to hit a Demonocle with a buttercup. This had nothing to do with cowardice. Hackonians were brave and steadfast individuals under normal circumstances, but they simply couldn’t do a person harm. Rumo wanted to reassure them that their troubles were over.

  The Hackonians flinched when he entered the cave. His white fur was completely sodden with blood. He stood there in the flickering torchlight like the statue of a vengeful god come to life. Inserting the shaft of an extinguished torch through the iron ring that attached the main chain to the wall, he levered it out with a jerk. Then he made his way over to Smyke.

  ‘Nice work,’ said Smyke.

  ‘Dirty work,’ Rumo retorted. ‘Harder than I thought, too.’ And he disappeared into the labyrinth once more.

  The determined dozen

  Rumo was back in the world of smells. The green glow that enveloped everything was the scent of the salt sea rising and falling beneath his feet. The fine red threads that drifted along the tunnels were the scent of spilt blood.

  Silently he followed the yellow streak a Demonocle had left in his wake. A second streak joined it, followed by more and more until twelve were all leading in the same direction. A dozen giants had teamed up and barricaded themselves in a cave. Emboldened by their superior numbers, they would stop at nothing – Rumo realised that. He could smell their sweat and hear their hearts beating wildly.

  They had illuminated their refuge with several torches whose light penetrated the mouth of the tunnel that led to it. Rumo paused just short of the cave and drew a deep breath. He had never tackled a dozen Demonocles at once – no one had ever done that – but after all, he had disposed of the eight strongest giants on the island and they hadn’t been as demoralised as these. He decided to extinguish the torches as quickly as possible and attack under cover of darkness. Going down on all fours, he darted between the Demonocles’ legs and into the cave as nimbly as a lizard. The next moment a torch hit him plumb on the nose. Without knowing it, he had come up against the giant with the best reflexes of all – one who had spent years training himself to stun passing sharks with a club. As soon as he saw Rumo come flitting in he lashed out like lightning and landed the blow of a lifetime.

  Rumo’s world of smells exploded into a shower of multicoloured sparks. The torch had singed his muzzle and blinded him at the same time. His eyes were showered with glowing fragments of pitch that stung them like pinpricks and imprinted his vision with pulsating red flecks. The startled giants formed a circle round him as he crawled across the floor of the cave, trying to rub the burning specks out of his eyes. They hadn’t thought it would be so easy. They had been prepared for a costly life-or-death struggle, a costly battle with a god of death, a flying ghost. And now, one blow and it was all over. They vented their relief by laughing sheepishly and slapping the lucky torch wielder on the back. They said nothing, but the looks they exchanged spoke volumes: they were going to devour the Wolperting alive – here and now.

  Roaming Rock runs aground

  Volzotan Smyke was listening again, this time with the greatest misgivings. The screaming had stopped. Although he could still hear the odd groan, there were no more cries of terror or surprise. It would be only too understandable if Rumo’s strength was beginning to give out and his reflexes were flagging. Smyke knew perfectly well that his plan hadn’t really been a plan at all, just a gamble, and years of experience had taught him that when you staked everything on a single card, your chances of winning were as great as your chances of losing. Curiously enough, though, you lost more often than you won.

  At that moment there was a mighty jolt and everyone was hurled across the cave. The Hackonians uttered cries of alarm, the animals bellowed and bleated. Bulky though he was, Smyke sailed through the air and crashed into a stalagmite protruding from the floor of the cave. With a groan he rolled off into a big puddle formed by water that had spilt from one of the basins, and wriggling around him were squat black fish with fearsome-looking teeth. He sat up. All was still. No more jolts, no pitching or tossing. He looked round. The water in the pools was motionless now – even the chains had stopped rattling against the walls. That could mean only one thing: Roaming Rock had run aground.

  The world of sounds

  ‘Sound!’ Rumo thought suddenly. That was the answer to Smyke’s riddle! What can penetrate a wall but isn’t a nail? Sound, of course.

  Rumo’s hearing had alw
ays been good. Once, back on the farm, he had heard a rose rustle as its petals unfolded. He could hear the wing-beats of a butterfly and the sound of insects burrowing in the soil, but he’d never paid much attention to that sense as long as he could see and smell. Now he was almost blind and his nose was so badly scorched that all he could detect with it were the wildly rotating colours of pain. Now, as the Demonocles closed in with the intention of devouring him, Rumo explored another world: the world of sounds.

  Anyone with average hearing could have heard the giants laughing and their feet scuffing the rocky floor, likewise the crackle of torches and the sound of the one that had blinded Rumo being replaced in its holder. But Rumo could hear much, much more. He could hear the Demonocles’ joints creaking and their hoarse breathing, and the rhythmical thud of their heartbeats. He could hear the electrical crackle of their fur when they brushed together and the rustle occasioned even by the slowest of their movements. His ears conjured up a mental image of the entire cave, but colourless this time. It was silhouetted in nebulous shades of grey and lacked the fine detail his senses of sight and smell would have conveyed, but he could tell accurately where a Demonocle was standing and what he was doing. He could also hear the location of the three torches. That was all he needed to know.

 

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