Strange Deaths to Follow
by Neil McGill
The shadow of something large and with definite menacing form, drifted over the courtyard. Expectantly, Reptila looked up to see an impossible silhouette cross the glare of the sun.
‘A Dragon? They can’t have actually found one… I wonder what type it is…? Blue, gold, silver…?’
A large chunk of flesh landed with a flop next to her feet.
Reptila recoiled, aghast. ‘Oh no… They didn’t an undead one? They couldn’t have…’
She peered with disgust at the lump of still writhing flesh. It appeared to be some manner of foul internal organ.
She groaned and slapped her forehead. ‘They did.’
Two sharp yelps announced Bacchus’ and Erryl’s landing, apparently dropped from the Dragon’s claws. This was shortly followed by the Dragon proper, what remained of it.
Oh, the smell! And I thought to be leaving in style. On the back of a Dragon. How foolish of me to assume they would find an alive one.
The Dragon curled up his wings and sat on its white rotting haunches before her. It looked around at the desolate castle, clearly amused. ‘Reptila, I’m led to believe?’
She managed a curt nod.
The Dragon smiled horribly to reveal multiple rows of mostly broken, yellow fangs. Its bad breath practically drooled out onto the flagstones and dragged itself towards her.
‘I’m not what you expected?’ The Dragon smiled. ‘That’s quite alright. You’re not what I expected either.’
‘Ar… Aren’t I?’ she stuttered.
‘No, no. I expected a crazed creature with wild electrified hair and mad little beads for eyes. Not an ivory skinned beauty with luscious dark hair—and a light touch of scales! You’ve more than a bit of the Wyrm about you, my dear.’
Reptila looked to her legs. ‘Damn!’ She hurried to cover them.
‘No, no! Don’t do that my dear. They improve you.’
Bacchus joined in. ‘We always said that too, m’lady!’
Reptila looked icily at them. ‘But who listens to the word of two perverted morons that would as soon copulate with their own grandmother.’
The Dragon coughed, unleashing another foul wave of noxiousness. ‘To business. Your monkeys spoke of a mission?’
‘Ah. Yes. To be honest, I didn’t have much faith they’d succeed in finding… you.’
The Dragon snorted. ‘I can see why you’d think that.’
‘Yes, I mean, I was really hoping they’d just go off and get themselves killed and save me handing out severance pay.’
‘Well thank you! ’ said Bacchus.
‘Yeah, that really hurts. All we ever do is try y’know,’ said Erryl.
‘An’ try and try,’ agreed Bacchus.
‘—Can it, Erryl.’
Reptila smiled at them in a placating manner. ‘You know of course I was only jesting. The mere thought of my two most useful employees’ corpses rotting on some distant island fills me with horror.’
‘That’s better,’ muttered Erryl.
Reptila continued. ‘Yes, I’d much rather see them rotting here. Besides, who would I have to carry all my heavy cases into the Dune-lands.’
‘Yes, so I was told,’ purred the Dragon. ‘A far off place.’
‘I need a combination of hired muscle and transportation. I need the muscle to clear out a lot of sand, and well transportation for all,’ she pointed at the piles of magical material, ‘that. Including myself, of course.’
‘And us?’ asked Bacchus.
Reptila sighed. ‘And them too. But don’t feel bad if they fall off at some point on the way.’
‘Remuneration?’ asked the Dragon. It stroked its chin thoughtfully. ‘There was mention of a certain artefact…’
‘Really? They’ve all been melted down—’
Bacchus coughed. ‘Er… don’t you mean to say they’ve all been packed ma’am?’
‘Melted down,’ repeated the Dragon. Its eyes widened. Wisps of smoke could be seen emanating from its nostrils. ‘Melted down? ’
Reptila stepped cautiously back. ‘Which artefact?’
‘ ’s a sword,’ said Bacchus. ‘That big ’un we took from the Elf.’
Reptila smiled in relief, laughed nervously. ‘That sword. Thankfully, I recognised its worth and kept it aside. For selling on the er… other side.’
‘Well, that’s better. I shall of course insist on seeing it before we depart. But first, pray, tell me of this “other side” ?’ The Dragon sat back on its rotting haunches. ‘Hmm? Is it a wealthy land? With many… defences?’
‘Did I say “other side”? I meant of course “out side”. As I outside Lotopia. Prices, I’m led to believe are far better outwith the city—for items of a unique magical nature.’
‘I see…’ said the Dragon. ‘Very well, perhaps we shall speak more of this on the way. For now though, I think it best if you return my “sword” to me.’
She strode over to a large, green Orc-skin cylindrical case. A wave of her hand and a swish of magic sparks and the case fell open. She reached in and in and in until all but the ends of her legs were visible.
Bacchus and Erryl crept forward for a better view.
‘This it?’ Reptila dragged the heavy black hilt and following blade.
The Dragon froze. ‘It… y—yes, that is it… The weapon of many forms, currently as is evident, stuck in the form of a sword. But immensely powerful none the less. How are you doing, Fred?’
The sword quivered in reply, its blade emitting a shrill wobbling sound.
‘Ah, fine, fine. You’re looking… shiny.’
Erryl gibbered with disbelief. Then, whispering to Bacchus. ‘It’s alive? Thank the gods I didn’t keep it.’
‘Why’s it called Fred? ’ asked Bacchus.
‘What of it? It’s a reasonable name,’ retorted the Dragon.
‘Well, what’s all this ominous “Tantamount the Terrible” stuff for then?’
The sword quivered.
The Dragon translated: ‘That’s his business title.’
‘May I?’ The Dragon pointed at ‘Fred.’
Reptila nodded and Fred leapt humming info the air. With a blurred motion, it propelled itself towards the Dragon in a seemingly fatal move. At the last instant, the Dragon met it, catching the sword within the rotting folds of its mighty grasp.
‘Ah, Freddie boy, glad to see me eh? Where’d that nasty Elf take you then…? Really…? No, he didn’t…? He did! Terrible stuff.’ The Dragon turned aside and whispered. ‘You can’t trust these intelligent swords. I’ll bet it licked up to that Yeldarb the second it was outwith my grasp.’
The Dragon took a few practise swings with Fred, narrowly missing Erryl. ‘Ha! All that’s missing is Yeldarb… Ah, I’m in such a good mood now. Did you know, I was going to kill you all and take all this treasure to make up my new hoard. But… out of gratitude for the return of Freddie boy here, I’ll help you out with this mission. Two conditions:’
‘What?’ asked Reptila.
‘I get to call you all “MORTAL SCUM” at every opportunity. It helps me de-stress. And, if we see another Dragon en-route, then you pretend to be my prisoners.’
Reptila smiled. ‘I’m sure we could accommodate those requests. And if it aids in the realism to eat one of your “prisoners”…’ She looked innocently in the direction of Bacchus and Erryl.
‘Agreed!’ laughed the Dragon.
‘Well then, shall we depart?’
‘I don’t like the look of this, Bacchus…’
‘Let’s go!’ cried Renders, atop Phoebe. ‘Go, go, go!’
‘Steady,’ said Bob. ‘They might hear us.’
‘Hear us? No! We have fate on our side, peasant boy. Or luck? One of them anyway! Have heart, nothing can go wrong with Yeldarb at the helm—head.’
Yeldarb sat strangely silent, until he spoke.[*] ‘There’s something very familiar about that Dragon…’
‘Familiar good or familiar very, very bad?’ asked Flower.
Yeldarb tugged on Phoebes feathers, the signal to fly higher. ‘Very, very, very bad.’
‘Let’s go!’ cried Dawkins enthusiastically as they watched the mighty bird take to the air. A convenient cloud had been their cover and from this vantagepoint they had witnessed first an enormous Dragon with a load of equipment and then this “bird” race off Northwards, destination unknown and probably more than a bit unlikely. Two mythical creatures was about all Dawkins’ mind could take in, in one day.
Now once more, they were off and surfing the ether of the sky.
In moments, they were beyond the city wall, racing to keep up with the strong pace of the bird. Dawkins looked back, surveying the huge black omelette that was Lotopia.
‘If me missus could see this….’
‘We’re going lower to avoid being seen,’ cried Dangulf.
With a sudden drop they fell through the clouds and into a long and deep valley.
The vista transformed to a patchwork quilt of long abandoned and ransacked villages, scorched land and open cast Dwarve-works intermingled with the odd tributary from the sickly brown River Sticks. Smoke rose in stacked pillars from recent torchings and the horizon was speckled with the circling specks of carrion eaters.
‘Isn’t it beautiful inspector? Do you know, I’ve never seen the countryside before. I didn’t realise that nature could be so… charred. Inspector? Inspector! You’re missing all this!’
Dwoirot sat behind him, head thoroughly placed between his knees and eyes ground shut. Occasionally he would dare a glance to check on the course of the mythical menagerie they followed. Other than that, it was back to praying.[†]
Dangulf didn’t help matters by explaining the magic behind his portable universe:
‘You see Inspector it is a simple matter of flexing the space about oneself. Bending it, moulding it, until at a critical point it collapses in upon itself. In doing so it forms the shape of least resistance—a sphere. Now, this sphere of warped space acts like a miniature universe, and exerts a gravity of its own, so powerful, that it can bend the light completely around its surface, thus rendering the “skin” utterly opaque. Now, by simply stretching and contracting the space about us, I can propel us forward in any direction. Unfortunately our speed is limited by the viscosity atmosphere., but as you can see, quite adequate. Now, it takes an immense number of calculations to maintain this shape, and occupies a great deal of my subconscious mind. Let’s imagine for a second that a) I overcompensate or b) forget for a moment.
a) The sphere turns in on itself and we pop out of existence, turning into a singularity.
b) The sphere vanishes and we plummet to our deaths.
So Inspector, you can see that any such worry is fruitless, you are in safe hands—as long as my powers don’t suddenly wander off like they did before. And even if they do, death will be a swift and possibly painful—painless affair. Better?’
Dwoirot groaned sickly and covered his ears.
‘What’s that stuff, Dangulf?’ asked Dawkins keenly. He was pointing at a small patch of green clinging to the sides of a mining-scarred valley.
Dangulf stroked his beard and spoke sadly. ‘Alas, that is the natural state of the world. Green. Something which, in Lotopia, we see little of. We’ll see more of that the further out we go, until eventually there will be nothing but the stuff. Green. Green. Green!’
‘And what is this green stuff?’
‘Oh, plants, weeds, grasses, trees.’
‘Plants? You mean… living things?’
Dangulf laughed. ‘You get used to it. But, for the newcomer it can be a shock compared to the… environment of Lotopia. Do you know I once had a tower out around these parts. Of course, it was a very long time ago, and a very long tower—in the days of the Dark Lord, you see.’
‘Nasty bugger, was he? Bit Dark? Spend too long in the sun, did he?’
‘He, if indeed it could be called a “He”, was evil beyond imagination.’
‘I can think of some criminals I’ve met with pretty sordid imaginations. So, what did he do, this “Dark Lord”.’
‘He er…’ Dangulf thought for a bit. ‘It was a very long time ago. But er…’
Dangulf drummed his fingers irritably on the head of his staff.
‘He did do something right?’ asked Dawkins.
‘Of course! We had to vanquish him! He was the Dark Lord!’
‘Well, why? I mean, it’s not as though you got rid of him just because of his name?’
‘Of course not… I think.’ Dangulf shook his head. ‘I’m sure he was very nasty. Whatever hr was… … … Ha! I remember. Or do I. Or was it… Well, the way I recall it, he built lots of big cities with nothing but concrete and sharp spikes within them. Garish buildings they were, filled with hateful, spiteful creatures that shunned the light.’
‘A bit like Lotopia then?’
‘Not a bit… Depravity and filth was everywhere.’
There was a long hulking pause. Dangulf turned a bit whiter.
‘Smellrond save us all! It is Lotopia! How can I have been so blind! And me, with a position within it’s university! Woe! I can no longer be Dangulf The White to have lived within corruption for so long a period.’
‘Well, you could be excused. You did lose your memory.’
‘Did I? Oh, so I did. More dark deeds of The Dark Lord, I’ll wager. So… where is he then? What guise could his foulness have taken on this time?’
Dawkins looked around. Dangulf thought.
‘Reptila?’ suggested Dawkins.
‘Of course! The ideal disguise! A woman! Who could believe a woman capable of… of anything. Dawkins, I am indebted to you. This Reptila is the new Dark… Lady.’ Dangulf looked at him icily. ‘I must vanquish once more. This time, for good. And even though I said that the last time, this time I mean it!’
‘But, that’s what we’re off to do, remember?’
‘Are we? Of course! Then we must double our pace!’
‘But we’ve doubled it already just trying to keep up with that bird.’
‘Did we? Then we’ll…’
‘Just carry on as we are, shall we?’
Dangulf looked moodily to the horizon and sighed.
‘I s’pose so…’
Sludge browns gave way to a savage onslaught of swampland, foul and olive-green. Marshlands followed, with wide patches of water that reflected the clouds. These became fens, populated with lone sentinels of trees that congregated, grouping and proliferating until finally, the pinnacle of nature… a forest!
‘A forest!’ cried Flower. ‘I’d heard of such things. But never had I realised it could be so beautiful. So vast… It’s like an ocean of green.’
‘It’s just trees,’ Bob stated flatly. ‘The land where I come from has loads of them.’
‘Really? Do your people like trees?’
‘Oh yes. I mean who doesn’t appreciate a good log fire.’
‘But they’re so pretty. I could never bring myself to burn one of them. So delicate from up here, but I imagine they are very large and grand. And all those spindly black things scurrying between their branches. Looking up at us…’
She stared down. ‘Why are they looking up at us.’
Yeldarb leaned back. ‘That’s ’cos they’re hungry.’
‘Hungry…? So many eyes… Clusters of little needle eyes… Actually, I don’t think I like them at all.’ Flower crawled back towards the centre of Phoebe’s shoulders. ‘What are they?’ she asked cautiously.
‘They’re the Glurpwood spiders, big as horses. Nasty varmints. Pure blood-sucking evil. You don’t want to go down there without some heavy sword-power—and more than a few bags of desiccated flies.’
‘There’s the beauty of nature for you,’ said Yeldarb. ‘A big blob of oily black flesh mounted on eight ugly-as-your-mother’s legs… Give me the grime and streets of Lotopia any day. Least the only bugs there are the ones you find in Bug-er King.’
Flower stared solemnly at the plethora of green. ‘It still looks quite nice though, out towards the periphery. Where there’s more rivers.’
Yeldarb nodded. ‘We’re passing over the worst part of it right now. The deep forest. “My people” live in there too. Out by the edges, it’s not so bad.’ He grinned evilly. ‘The spiders there are only as big as dogs.’
‘But with twice the number of eyes!’
Flower repressed an instinct to retch.
‘Of course, you can’t see that, ‘cos of all their long hair.’
‘Stop it!’ she screamed.
Yeldarb grinned and returned to the reigns.
A tussling flurry of clouds stole the forest from them, and in the next seeming instant, they were passing over the Northern fringes of the forest, where small villages sprouted, scraping a meagre living from the forest about them (and the readily available spider population[‡]).
An invasion of yellow now broke up the greenery and, once more, Flower found the landscape taking a dive for the worse. The trees were becoming sparse, brown, drier, and despite the furious buffeting wind, she could sense the growing power of the sun, soaking its way into her bronzed shoulders. The forest and their inhabitants were gone now, replaced by sparse scrub-lands that stretched towards a rippling gold horizon. Ever still the unerring pound of Phoebe’s wings drove them on.
‘How long can she keep at this pace, Yeldarb?’ asked Bob. ‘What I mean is, how long until we fall out of the sky?’
Yeldarb patted Phoebe affectionately. ‘She’ll keep going for a few more hours yet, I think. But not as fast as that obscenity of nature that we’re following. All we can do is hope they’re flying as the crow does. When they stop, we’ll catch them up.’ Yeldarb restrained a gulp. ‘And then…’
‘So, where do you think they’re headed?’ asked Bob, changing the subject.
Yeldarb ignored him.
Renders pointed straight ahead. ‘That way.’
‘Du-oh!’ said Bob. ‘Tell me something I don’t know?’
Bob smiled and persisted. ‘Where?’
Renders pointed again. ‘I told thee. That way! Now, behold, The Dune-lands beckons.’
‘Eh?’ Bob looked down.
The golden horizon had crept inexorably towards them and now, sweeping under wing were speckled dunes, rolling like frozen cresting waves and casting deep curving shadows. Strange meandering paths cut their way across parched sand plateau’s, often ending in piles of bleak bones. Soon, even these insubstantial landmarks were gone, consumed by the endless smooth dunes that stood silent and menacing.
‘Behold The Dune-lands,’ repeated Renders. ‘Dramatic, yes?’
‘It’s a barren featureless desert down there!’ cried Bob.
Renders laughed crazily. ‘How I missed such arridness. Not since my crusades have I seen a dessert such as this.’
‘Dessert?’ chided Bob.
Renders spun on him. ‘You question my worldly experience, peasant? I’ve seen more desserts than you’ve seen…’
Renders glared at him.
Bob called to Yeldarb. ‘Is it true that the sand falls as rain here?’
Yeldarb gave the scenery a cursory glance, his eyes focused on the faint speck of the Dragon that was outpacing them. ‘They say so.’
‘So they say,’ corrected Bob. ‘And is it true, that year long storms can form, whipping the sand into a tornado’s that’ll strip a man’s skin to the bone in seconds?’
Yeldarb sighed. ‘Probably.’
‘And is it true that great Worms larger than Leviathans traverse these sands and—’
‘Gods! Yes, Bob, you sad Herbert! It’s all true! Satisfied. Now be quiet and let me brood.’
‘Touchy!’ Bob whispered: ‘I think it was the sight of that Dragon. There’s some connection there.’
‘Yeldarb here has killed more Dragons than I’ve bedded virginal Princesses. Why, did I tell you that one time he—’
Bob nodded. ‘Killed an Immortal Dragon, yeah, yeah.’
‘Ah. I see that I told you that one.’
‘Hmm,’ agreed Flower. ‘You’ve told everyone that one. One question though. It was immortal right, this Dragon?’
Renders grunted agreement.
‘Well, this is a bit of an obvious question, I’m so certain you must have considered this before, but, this Immortal Dragon, you did check it was dead, yes?’
Renders snorted, laughed. ‘What sort of noddy adventurers do you think we are? We didn’t need to! I mean, it was so obliterated by it’s own flame and our subsequent kicking that there was no need to. It was DEAD.’
‘But it was still immortal.’
Renders laughed as though trying to explain a particularly simple concept to a child. He spoke slowly, softly: ‘We killed it! You know, dead. Off to Dragonny Heaven or The Abyssmal, or wherever it is that they go.’
‘It was immortal! ’
‘Well I knew that. But you can still kill them.’
Flower shook her head, looked to Bob. In doubt, he shook his too, it seemed the right course of action.
Renders snorted. ‘You mean to say that just because it was an “immortal Dragon” that it can’t,’ he laughed, ‘be killed? Everything can be killed.’
Renders held his chin. ‘Really?’
‘Hmm… So, you think it may have… not died. Perhaps just a bit… stunned? You think it could have… got better?’
‘I know a spell for that,’ added Bob hopefully.
Renders looked at the distant speck. ‘Then we’re following a Dragon we left for dead. A Dragon whose treasure we stole. A Dragon we thoroughly humiliated. A Dragon whose corpse we… defiled.’
‘It’ll kill us all, won’t it?’ asked Bob. ‘Let’s focus my concerns. It’ll kill Flower and I in its efforts to get you two.’
A wry grin crept across Renders face. ‘Hmm. You know what that means?’
‘We get to kill it all over again! ’
The Pentahedrons loomed non-existently beneath them as the Dragon flew a gentle orbit about the mound of sand that Reptila currently favoured. It was the low point of an encompassing circlet of sand ridges towering hundreds of feet and the heat focused at this point with intensity. Small wisps and whirlwinds danced across the shimmering and lifeless surface with each beat of the mighty wings; and with each beat, more flesh fell from the living corpse that was their transport.
‘This one?’ The Dragon asked dully. ‘I won’t last much longer y’know, mortal. There are limits. Even for undead immortals.’
Reptila, sitting astride the Dragons neck and with the aid of a crude magnifying glass fashioned from a piece of fused quartz, consulted her map.
‘It is hard to say! All the map has is a big yellow splodge with an “X” somewhere near the middle. To be honest, I thought it would be better sign-posted than this. I was hoping well… for a big pentahedral shaped thing.’
Bacchus giggled quietly behind her.
Reptila shot him a supra-evil glance.
She called down to the Dragon. ‘Very well, try digging here. I’ve a good feeling about this one.’
‘You’re sure this time?’ asked the Dragon.
‘It looks like the last one.’
‘Look are you going to dig or not?’
The Dragon sighed and dived in a low arc, skimming above the sands, its enormous shadow dancing over the rippling surface. Like the inflating of leaky bellows, the Dragon sucked in the scalding air in preparation for its efforts. A rumbling wheeze accompanied this exertion of long unused lung capacity, but gradually, the enormous membranous and fairly tattered wings, began to pick up rhythm.
The lower it flew, the more sand hurled itself from their path, the accompanying down draft driving large billowing clouds in a V shape behind them. By the second pass, the air was a hazy mesmerising mess of dust that threatened to hide the steep slopes of the surrounding dunes, yet the Dragon continued, driving on through banks of rolling sand and air, but mostly sand.
Bacchus and Erryl were cradled in the grip of a claw each and were frantically trying to keep their legs up somewhere around their chins, lest their shins be grazed, or more likely, ripped off.
With a cry of excitement, Reptila pointed at a small crop of regular shaped rocks that was becoming apparent. The Dragon slowed to a hover and concentrated its efforts above outcrop.
‘This is it!’ she cried. ‘At last! A Pentahedron!’
The form took gradual shape, but it was a painfully slow process as the Dragon tired and the amount of sand to disperse became greater with the widening dimensions of the Pentahedron being revealed.
‘I must rest!’ cried the Dragon and sank to land atop the revealed structure.
It’s rotting claws settled on the corroded, smooth steps of the Eastern most face and unceremoniously dumped Reptila et al to the sand below.
The Dragon sighed with relied. ‘Ah! The sand appears to have kept its sides cool. What a relief for my tired limbs.’
Reptila scurried to her feet, hastily brushing beads of sand from her hair. She glowered at the Dragon, but her face turned to a sweet smile as the beast turned to face her.
She bowed. ‘I thank you Dragon. Your task is done. You may leave when you wish.’
‘Of course I may!’ it hissed. ‘That point is not in debate. I think I’ll hang around though, to see what spoils you retrieve. Just from an archaeological point of view, you see.’
Bacchus and Erryl exchanged worried glances. Reptila feigned a relaxed mood. She turned to her entourage of two: ‘Get digging. Find the entrance and get us out of this cursed sun. My delicate scales can’t take this sort of exposure.’
‘ ’s ma’am,’ they nodded in unison and rolled off down the tumbling sandy slope to where the main bulk of the baggage lay, for the most part upended. Some pieces were partially buried.
‘It’s huge!’ hissed Bacchus. ‘How we going to find an entrance with nowt but shovels.’
Erryl grinned. ‘No fears my man. I’ve got an idea. A fuging great idea.’ He pointed at a large rusty case, the same case so recently acquired from the Dragon. A gentle kick and it fell open.
Erryl grinned. ‘I do. And…’ He whispered. ‘I say, with these, and that invisible armour, we can take all this treasure for ourselves, Reptila and Dragon be damned.’
Bacchus looked up the steps. Reptila was kneeling, examining something. He smiled. ‘You’re an evil fuger, Erryl.’
‘So close,’ she whispered, pressing the flat of her hands against the warming rock. Reptila felt giddy with excitement. ‘All these years, and now, the way home so close. And all that lies between it is a few hundred thousand tonnes of rock.’ She paused. Actually, that is quite a lot.
The shadow of the Dragon loomed above her.
‘Anything interesting, mortal?’
Reptila looked up, forced a smile. ‘The join between each facet is achieved with amazing precision. Quite astounding workmanship—for this world. I doubt if a knife blade could be placed between the steps. Some pieces must weigh a hundred tonnes at least. As much as a… Dragon.’
‘I weigh far more than that, m’dear. So… how do you plan to get inside?’ There was a teasing tone to its voice.
‘Well…’ She stroked her chin. ‘I’m not sure yet. And I’m afraid I don’t place much trust in my able apes to find a way in—’
The Pentahedron shook with a violent concussion, pressing Reptila against its surface as a thunderclap of hot hair passed over her. The Dragon recoiled, roaring in surprise and fury, the beat of its wings propelling it high into the air. The sound of tumbling rock with an accompanying rush of dislodged sand could be heard below.
What the….? Was about all she could manage.
Another explosion and whatever dust remained on the upper steps cascaded over Reptila in a choking wave.
‘Cretins!’ she cursed, brushing the grit from her eyes. She looked up, relieved to see the Dragon gone. Looking down, she saw a sight that both shocked and gladdened.
A tear, four or five steps deep had been blasted into the surface. Rubble surrounded it, obscuring the majority of her luggage, some of which now appeared buried.
With a handful of curses she climbed down the still trembling steps, and taking care not to fall the twenty or so feet of missing steps, made her way to what constituted the surface.
Wisps of sand curled and sank in the cool air moaning from the entrance. Inside, it was utterly dark.
She looked around for sign of Bacchus or Erryl, solidly hoping to see their limbs protruding from beneath some of the rubble. Sadly, there was no such conclusive evidence.
Looking at the carnage of her luggage she realised that her only beasts of burden and hence means of carrying her equipment into the Pentahedron was now thoroughly gone. Scarpered.
‘Betrayal…’ she hissed, and then in the next breath, wept in a sudden wave of long withheld emotion. She sank to the sand, clutching handfuls of it and squeezing them in her hands.
She looked up at the blue within blue sky that never knew clouds. The sun blazed down relentlessly, like a rain of heat and she truly felt that this was the end of the road. She had came so far… to be betrayed.
Far off, the Dragon was roaring, though she cared incredibly little for what reason.
Releasing the sand from her hands, it fell in solid chunks, partially damp, possibly from some deep underground stream. She stared at the hand imprint, the inklings of an idea in her mind. ‘Melog ednas a htekam!’ she uttered half-heartedly.
The sand about the imprint tingled with little magical sparks. It collected, grains scuttling to add form, wrapping around the handprint and growing in size. Soon it was the size of a fist, then a torso that filled out with large muscles. Limbs grew, thick and stumpy followed by a spherical head into which deep sockets burrowed. The “skin” took an almost reflective sheen as the sand turned to a flexible glass approximation.
The humanoid form lay there, motionless, expectantly.
Wiping a tear from her cheek, she brought it to the creature’s forehead and allowed it to fall; and waited for the transformation.
Dull awareness took hold of the moulded face and the deep socket eyes rotated. A long soulless groan sighed from its agape mouth as for the first time, its chest rose and fell. The dull thump of a powerful heart could be felt crossing through the sand as unwillingly, it stumbled to its feet.
Blank, thoughtless eyes stared at her, waiting.
‘Pick up the cases,’ Reptila commanded confidently. She knew the first few moments in a Golem’s life were critical. If you didn’t show enough direction, there minds would begin searching our, expanding. To fill there first thoughts with order was to set a rigid mind structure that would last and more importantly, obey unquestionably.
The Sand Golem bent to pick up the cases, its back creaking and cracking as the skin stretched. It returned slowly to the vertical, a large chest resting atop each shoulder.
Reptila looked up at her enormous barrel chested creation, the head of which approached seven feet in height.
Wiping her other cheek she was gladdened to see the remains of a further teardrop.
‘Why didn’t I do this years ago?’ she asked herself.
The Dragon sneered, laughed with near insane overtones.
‘You mortals astound me! Not only are you stupid enough to cross me once, you actually search me out, wanting another encounter!’
It pointed a long gnarled claw. Magic danced about it. ‘I find this situation most amusing. Perhaps our last encounter taught you nothing of what to fear from a Dragon. Let me teach you the full powers of what an Immortal one can do.’
‘Oo-oo! I’m scared,’ chided Renders.
Yeldarb took a strategic stance, somewhat behind Renders. ‘Steady, Renders. We might just have been… lucky last time.’
Renders lifted his sword, pointed it at the Dragon.
‘My mate here thinks your soft. And so do I.’
‘Soft eh? The only thing that will be soft mortals, will be your bodies when I press them flat into the sand. Let this be a lesson to your kind.’
The ground shook as the Dragon took a further rotting step forwards. And another.
‘Mortals, do you know how much remorse I’ll feel after I’ve killed you and then defiled your bodies?’
‘Lots I should think,’ said Yeldarb hopefully.
‘Actually, none at all. And probably not even that. I have waited so long for this. I was just going to just kill you quickly, like I did your Phoenix, but I want this to laaaassst! ’
Yeldarb sniffed. Phoebe’s smoking corpse lay mere yards behind. ‘I was a bit partial to that Phoenix actually. In fact, I’m more than a bit pissed at you killing her.’
The Dragon laughed demonically. ‘Ah, one more thing, before I begin…’ A flash of white, as something appeared within the Dragon’s grasp.
‘Tantamount!’ Yeldarb gasped. ‘You! How?’
‘Indeed. Or Freddie, as he likes to be called. Now, Yeldrab… Time to die.’
‘I’m feeling pangs of guilt about this Bob,’ said Flower as they slid on their bellies down the steep sand-impacted slope that led to the Pentahedron entrance they’d seen during landing; or crashing as was more like it.
‘Sod that!’ spar Bob. ‘They’d just as soon have us as Dragon fodder than give us a share of any treasure they’d find. I say we get there first.’
‘But, don’t you think they’ll need our help?’
Bob looked back at the dead Phoenix, the fifty-foot tall undead Immortal Dragon with the flaming white magical sword and at the pathetically small pair of figures gesticulating impolitely in front of it.
The darkness of the entrance loomed before them.
‘What do you reckon is in there?’ she asked ominously.
‘God’s alone knows. Still, even if we get but a small share of what this Reptila person was after, were bound to do well.’
‘I’m scared of the dark.’
Bob was genuinely shocked. ‘But… you live in a maze.’
‘But I always have a big bag of glow-worms with me.’
Bob patted her on the shoulder. ‘C’mon, hold my hand.’
They strode forward.
‘Ah, mind your horns. The roof appears to be a bit low.’
The cone of fire caught Renders’ feet and he was moderately alarmed to observe his second-hand, enchanted armour melting. ‘Damn and blast it! Cheap shoddy second rate magical armour! Stop that! Stop all this fire and stuff and fight fair! Fight like a… like a man, without all this extra stuff! It’s not fair!’
Renders held out his sword hopefully. Light rays winced in pain as they caught its edge.
‘Fair?’ the Dragon roared. It swung Tantamount/Freddie in a blazing arc that sent the air screaming and severed Renders’ own sword somewhere above the hilt. The blade fell limply to the sand.
Renders looked at the stump that remained of his only weapon, bar his insatiable good looks.
Yeldarb had not been idle throughout this, and was approximately fifty yards off and doing his very utmost to increase that distance in the time he calculated it would take the Dragon to finish Renders off.
With an air-cracking flap of its wings, the Dragon leapt into the air, landing and obstructing Yeldarb’s path. A great knuckle swung down, catching him somewhere in his upper body; or more precisely, all over his upper body.
Yeldarb sailed gracefully through the air, limbs flailing, to land with an indignant thump right back next to Renders.
Dazed, he staggered to his feet. He spun once dizzily and then fell over.
Renders clasped him around the shoulders. ‘Steady, old chap. Frightfully brave that, trying to distract him so I could escape.’ Renders pointed at his sword. ‘Fraid I couldn’t quite handle him. Still, now we’re together eh? The unstoppable duo?’
‘Dead duo more like,’ muttered Yeldarb.
The pounding steps were enough to know what was approaching.
Renders turned him around. Yeldarb groaned.
The sand about them began to swirl. Magic sparkled all around them; a lot of magic.
Renders looked down. ‘Whirlsand! It’s pulling magic on us too, Yeldarb! Talk about unfair! Give me a good fist-fight any day.’ He looked about. ‘Where’s that blasted peasant fellow with a counter-spell.’
The Dragon sat at the edge of the whirlsand, laughing and thoroughly enjoying itself.
Yeldarb fell to his feet, still clutching Renders. Together they began to spin around, being at the epicentre of the whirlsand. ‘Can it get any worse?’ wept Yeldarb.
Three black dorsal fins arose from the rolling churning sand and likewise, began to orbit them. ‘Ye Gads! Sandsharks!’
The Dragon roared with laughter as further conjured beasts materialised in the eddies of sand. Bundles of grasping tentacles reached out for them, whilst other shapes sped around ominously just beneath the sand surface: a Squark.
‘We’re doomed!’ wept Yeldarb.
A flash of white, brighter than the beating sun heralded the arrival of a rolling ocean of foaming white water, at the crest of which were seven white horses. This, it has to be said, came as a shock to the Dragon. It turned, eyes wide. ‘Eh?’
A shard of lightning shot forward, ragged and brilliant, it cut into the chest of the Dragon and back out the other side, fusing the sand behind. Entrails and yet more internal organs spilled onto the sand. The Dragon roared in fury.
Retaliation was in the form of hurled balls of fire, two of which collided with the horses, smashing their magical essence in a flurry of sparks.
Dangulf cast out a wide glowing net that caught the following fireballs, hurling them far off over the dunes. With the other hand and brandishing a flame-white sword he severed the Dragon’s head in a singular blow. It fell to the sand in a lifeless flop and none too soon, as Yeldarb was staring into the emotionless black eyes (and teeth) of an imminent Sandshark.
With a rush of settling sand, the whirlpool and the entities within, settled back to their constituent grains.
Renders slowly opened his eyes and loosened his hug on Yeldarb. ‘Was that you, Yeldarb? I knew it. The old Elven magic, eh?’
Yeldarb shook his head. A simple affair, as the rest of his body was shaking uncontrollably also. He pointed feebly. ‘Him!’
Dangulf glided to a gentle stop before them, bowed.
Yeldarb managed a half-smile.
A stumpy figure brushed past Dangulf and stopped before them.
Yeldarb mentally spat with repulsion. ‘A Dwarf!’
A further figure, taller and leaner stepped forward and roughly attached a set of manacles that bound Renders to Yeldarb.
Renders looked down weakly. ‘What the…?’
Dwoirot puffed out his chest. ‘You are both under arrest, for something which I’m sure I’ll think of later.’
Yeldarb managed a few last sputtered words before passing out. ‘Dwarf scum!’
The Dragon floated above it’s body, confused that, yet again, being immortal wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.
Dragon spun around. ‘What the…?’
‘Come along now. Time’s up.’
‘But I’m immortal!’
‘Even immortals finally die. Haven’t you seen the film. You’ve been beheaded.’
‘Who are you anyway.’
‘Well, you can probably guess. But I can’t say.’
Reptila found herself in a bewildering maze of silent black Reptila found herself in a bewildering maze of silent black corridors that frequently turned back upon themselves, devolved into dead-ends, ran under and over each other, and split into two’s, three’s and sometimes even fives. It was a mess designed to confuse, trap, and ultimately doom anyone foolish enough to wander into a Pentahedron. And let’s face it, anyone fool enough to wander into one deserves all they get—which was often a spike pit. But they don’t know that yet…
The priests of the Atalanteans had been wise (and crazed) with the result that their mazes were enough to fox even the most determined army of cartographers. None of them though had ever even thought of the possibility of self-replicating rodents.
Rodents, as is widely known, are intelligent creatures capable of stunning feats—often beyond the majority of their bipedal trainers. Houdini, Reptila’s magical rat that she conjured up in times of need, was a prime example. With an I.Q crawling into three figures, Houdini was a rat set apart from the average rodent. In short, a super rat: Genus Verminus Superious. Just that bit better than the rest. You get the idea.
Reptila knelt beside him, stroking his silky black fur and patiently teaching the complex wording of the spell he was to attempt to squeak-approximate. Standard fare for Houdini.
At each corridor intersection, or even just an area that his nose thought in need of special searching, Houdini was to squeak the spell and replicate himself as many times as was felt needed. Houdini would then wait whilst all the other little Houdini’s scurried off and did their own searching—and if need be, made yet more Houdini’s. And on and on…
As can be imagined, left unchecked, such a scheme would soon exceed the entire mass of the universe in replicated Houdini’s, so Reptila placed faith that all the little Houdini’s would apply some common sense and not get carried away with matters.
With a little pat on his behind, Houdini scuttled off into the blackness of the corridor facing him, tail waving excitedly. The dark didn’t phase Houdini’s keen eyes. Reptila smiled, listening to the fading happy little squeaks. After a while, she heard the popping sound characteristic of the magical replication process. After a shorter while, further, fainter, popping.
Reptila turned her attentions to the rather unusual fresco she had taken a fancy to and peered at it. The light was poor, afforded only by the makeshift torch that one of her Sand Golem’s had liberated from the luggage.
‘Light lower!’ she barked.
After an almost clockwork-like processing delay, the tree-stump thick arm lowered ponderously.
‘Fascinating,’ she whispered, her voice echoing and reverberating off the granite walls. It was a strange scene depicting a half-man, half-otter God of some means, performing almighty justice upon its fish population.
Suddenly, she could hear steps.
‘Kill the light.’
‘Uh?’ the Golem groaned.
‘The light—kill it!’
Reptila grabbed the torch, threw it to the ground, and kicked dust over it, just as two booted figures appeared from an adjoining corridor.
‘I can’t see a thing!’ whispered Flower.
Bob whispered back. ‘Don’t worry. My infra-vision spell is still working. It should be good for a few hours yet. Just you keep building a mental map of where were heading.’
Flower sighed, whispering: ‘I’m trying! Though this is pushing my maze skills to the limit y’know. This is a very complex maze, dear…’
Bob chuckled quietly. ‘Hey, you’re a Minotaur. Don’t worry, it’s natural for you. We just need to find a big chamber with lots of loot. Then we’ll get back out, I promise. Ah, I can almost smell the pots worth of cash.’
‘If we do get “pots of cash”. How do we get it back to Lotopia?’
‘Eh? Well, we’ll just use….’
‘Actually, Flower. That’s a rather good point. Let’s worry more about it when we hit the cash.’
Flower stopped dead in her tracks. ‘Bob? There’s something else.’
‘Something small and furry just brushed against my leg.’
‘Did it just go “squeak” ’
Flower gulped audibly. ‘Bob, I don’t like small furry things. Especially ones that go “squeak!” ’
‘What about two of them?’
Bob could hear her breathing quickening, verging on the hyperventilating.
‘Er… four. No, eight, er… lots… even more. They’re all coming towards us… How unusual, and worrying. Flower? I think we should turn around in an orderly fashion. Now if possible…. Scratch that, just run!’
Bob grabbed her hand and dragged her stumbling backwards and off out of Reptila’s vision, down some other corridor.
Reptila heard them first. A roaring wave of squeaks. Thousands upon thousands of them; and still self-replicating.
Like a wave they swarmed around her legs, dragging her down. She clutched out at the darkness, gripping air.
‘Tsised! ’ she screamed.
Reptila felt around her, grasping for the wall. Instead she found an undetermined limb—of one of the Golems.
‘Don’t just lie there, get me up.’
There followed a soulless groan and a sense of the Sand Golem rising beside her.
‘Light would be nice.’
A pinpoint of flame erupted, dazzling in its brilliance against the overwhelming blackness.
Reptila peered about the small room. ‘Houdini?’
She laughed. ‘You little rascal! You got carried away, didn’t you? Come on then.’
Houdini scurried forward.
‘And what did you find. You and your… siblings.’
Houdini lifted his snout, and it was only then she noticed the parchment clutched between his incisors.
‘A map! Houdini, you excel yourself!’
She leant towards him, took the map and stroked his little forehead. Houdini squeaked in ecstasy.
Holding the map to the light, she was amazed to see that it was actually composed of hundreds upon hundreds of tiny fragments, bound together, no doubt, by keen little incisors and copious amounts of rat saliva. Each fragment was the results of the searching by one rat. Combined, as they were, it presented a complete map of the Pentahedron…!
She scanned it, searching for the largest chamber.
‘That’s it! That is it!’ she pointed. ‘Houdini! You’ve earned yourself some cheese. Pop into my pocket and I promise as soon as I get back to Earth, I’ll get you a block so large it’ll take you a week to chew through it.’
‘Well, would you look at that!’ whispered Bacchus. ‘Erryl, tell me that I’m not dreaming.’
‘You’re not dreaming, man. This room is fugin’ full of Blue. It’s damn near made of the stuff!’
‘Yeah,’ agreed Bacchus. ‘I’m—we’re rich!’
There were battle-dogs, with gold skin, Blue claws and ruby muzzles. Hawks carved from single crystals of Blue, their eyes emeralds set within opals. Caskets full of golden chains, bracelets, amulets, gauntlets and pendants. There was even a gold-cast rodent of some sort. It was enough to overload and burn out their neural synapses had there been any left, and so as a precaution they took to viewing it from between their fingers.
After a while, Bacchus sank to his knees, giggling.
Erryl though, had his eyes on something special.
Bacchus eyes followed Erryl’s wide-eye stare. They led to a fresco depicting a deliciously naked priestess, limbs strategically positioned to hide the most interesting bits. This though, was not his focus of attention, for the priestess wore a slim tiara about her crown, the centrepiece of which was a fist sized replica of the Pentahedron which they presumably stood within.
‘It’s beautiful! So flawless! Perfection. Utter perfection. It’s gotta be worth a least the whole of fugin’ Lotopia.’
‘It’s pretty nice, yeah.’
‘Nice! Sodding perfection, that’s what it is. I’ve gotta have it, Bacchus. I gotta.’
‘You gotta. What about the dog?’
‘Dog, schmog! I want that, Bacchus!’
‘Well… I suppose there’s no real rush. I mean, it took so long to find this place, it’s not as though the lady’s going to find us any decade soon.’
Erryl crept cautiously over to the fresco, weaving his way between priceless artefacts mostly beyond description and completely beyond translation into equivalent current day currency. The best they could approximate to was x times the worth of Lotopia.
At least three times, poison darts shot out from floor tiles. One narrowly missed his future progeny.
‘Gimme a budge up, Baccy?’
Bacchus stumbled across, choosing previously stepped upon tiles. Erryl hopped up and down impatiently.
‘Alright, I’m coming.’
He knelt by the fresco and winced as the bulk of Erryl clambered onto his shoulders. He could sense him reaching up, straining with the effort.
‘Try an’ stand, Bacchus! I can’t reach?’
‘Stand? But you weigh as much as a bloody horse!’
‘I’m almost there! Just an inch or two more! Go on, push!’
Bacchus gritted his teeth and pushed up. He groaned, cried out, and with monumental slowness, atom by atom, shoved Erryl higher.
‘Almost there! Almost… there! Alm—Got it.’
‘Bacchus. Did you hear—’
The ground crumbled away and Bacchus, followed shortly by Erryl tumbled down into blackness.
‘Flower we’ve hit the big time. No. Colossal time. No. The biggest time you could imagine. Bigger!’
Flower whistled, stroked her horns. ‘It is quite impressive.’
Bob knelt by the sarcophagus, rubbing his hand along the gold surface, embossed with figurines of Blue. ‘Incredible!’
‘What do you think is inside?’
Bob cracked his knuckles. ‘Time to find out. I’ve an inkling at a spell that might work.’
Flower stepped forward. Applied her shoulder to the casing. ‘Bob, that’s not going to be necessary.’
‘But… it must weigh…’
Great knots of muscle strained and bulged, her teeth bared white, face a fury of red.
Bob hopped up and down. ‘Yes! Yes! Come on Flower, it’s almost there!’
With a sound that threatened to bring down the walls, the case fell to the granite flooring in a solid resounding thud.
Flower collapsed against the black rock frame, chest heaving and an enormous look of pleasure on her face.
Bob peered inside. ‘Empty.’
Flower heaved herself up. ‘Empty? But… what’s that grinding sound?’
Bob looked around. ‘Wasn’t there a door? Once? I’m sure…’
Flower looked to the ceiling. ‘Bob, there’s sand rushing in.’
Indeed, sand was pouring at a frightening rate, spreading from the corners and spilling over their toes.
Flower kicked at it. ‘Is it going to stop?’
Bob retreated to the centre of the room. ‘It’s getting higher.’
A roar and the outpouring of sand became a tidal wave. It engulfed Flower’s knees and was busy rising to Bob’s level as he stood atop the frame of the sarcophagus.
‘Flower, climb up!’
Flower looked around frantically. ‘There’s no way out Bob! We’re going to die! Drown in sand! Urgh!’
‘Pull yourself together, woman. We’re not dead yet. Something’s bound to happen.’
As the floor gave way under the weight of all the sand, Bob proved himself right.
Reptila directed the Golems as they placed the remaining conducting rods around the enormous circular stone tablet, the centrepiece of the enormous chamber that was the Portal Room. The various cases of magical items she had brought from The Overlook were already placed upon the disc shaped tablet and all that was missing, was the energy source.
She snapped her fingers and pointed at the large cylinder that even now was still warm to the touch.
‘Place it in the centre too. Right in the middle of the cases. And be careful!’
‘Uh.’ The Sand Golem grunted with the effort, its knees almost buckling under the weight.
‘Now, you, the other Golem. Join him.’
‘Uh.’ The remaining Golem lumbered off.
Reptila smiled nervously and took a defensive position behind one of the conducting rods. Then, fishing in her lab coat pocket, she produced a slim pair of dark glasses that she hadn’t worn since her arrival. She flicked their legs apart and perched them upon her nose.
‘Now… I’m ready. Nothing can stop me—’
‘Gods! What now! ’
She spun around and stared apprehensively at each of the five corridors that led to this chamber. Which is it to be? And what manner of infidel chooses to disturb me? No matter, they’ll die, whomever they are.
She turned to the Golems.
‘Do it now, quickly—no-one is going to stop this.’
‘That’s right Houdini. Golems—open it!’
Light erupted as the Golem prised the lid off, a deep throb resonating from it and, spreading through the ground and walls of the chamber. The room became as an especially bright day after having just stepped from a cinema, and suddenly, lighting wasn’t such a big problem anymore.
The three D’s skidded to a stop at the entrance of the Northern most corridor (Dangulf, Dwoirot and Dawkins). Behind them hopped Renders and Yeldarb; tightly bound.
‘Stop right there young woman!’ cried Dangulf.
‘Oh no.’ She groaned. ‘Piss off, baldy!’ she growled.
‘I know what you’re going to do.’
‘Well,’ Dangulf stroked his beard. ‘I just thought you should know.’
With a jerk of motion, the Golems liberated the cylinder top and in doing so, turned itself and its companion to instant vapour as the contents within exploded out.
‘At last I am free! Free! Free to wreak revenge upon…?’
The God paused, looked down. ‘You! Ah, mortal! You will regret incarcerating me! Long have I waited for this moment.’
Reptila smiled. ‘Yes, you have. Nearly a week.’
The God burst fully from the cylinder now, glowing white, and filling the room with his ethereal form. His hair flowed like discharges of plasma, but the face was black with fury.
‘Take that!’ he cried out and slammed his fist down, white lightning surging forward in ragged plumes.
Reptila dived to the ground as the lightning surged into the nearest conductor, turning it instantaneously through red to magnesium white. She rolled to the next conductor, where on cue, the God struck again.
‘Stop!’ cried Dangulf, to no avail. ‘You fool god!’
In succession, Reptila visited each conductor and dutifully, the God supplied the necessary voltage. With each blast the disc too changed. It was subtle at first, but now was like a pool, rippling with stars chasing across its surface. At the centre was a dim circular light. And it was growing.
‘I command thee, stop!’ cried Dangulf and launched a volley of fireballs at the God.
The God spun on him. ‘More mortals! I tire of your kind, begone’—and drove a pillar of lightning through Dangulf’s chest.
Dwoirot who had been keen to attempt an arrest on the God, decided otherwise and rushed to aid Dangulf. Dawkins meanwhile strode forward, his curiosity getting the better of him and forcing himself to look at the pool.
The disc throbbed louder now and chamber began to shake, as did the roof from which unusual sounds were emanating. Dawkins peered at the circle of light, now large enough almost to step into. I can see something—on the other side. People…?
With a final burst of fury, the God launched a double attack, ball-lightning pulsing from one hand, whilst with the other, forks of lightning tried to work their way around the conductor rods.
And that, it seemed, was quite enough.
With a flash so quick as to defy the mind, the God was gone, sucked through the disc, now vortex. At the same instant, the ceiling collapsed bringing with it a torrent of sand and rock and somewhere in between, Flower and Bob.
Reptila shook her head.
Moments later, Bacchus and Erryl fell from the same hole and also passed through the vortex.
Reptila shook her head once more and then stepped forward to the disc—only to find it shrinking.
‘Cretins! Traitors! With each passage it loses power. I must jump… no—’
‘Jeronimo!’ cried Dawkins as he dived headfirst through the portal.
‘Double cretins!’ she rasped.
The hole shrank again, to an alarmingly small size. Despite this and the possibility of losing some flesh if she didn’t quite make it, she crossed her fingers, held her nose, and… jumped.
Dwoirot watched with admiration as Dawkins made the ultimate crime-fighting sacrifice, chasing his foray to another dimension. He made a mental note to see that Widow Dawkins got a full Lotopian pension. At least he would have done had he not been trampled upon by two solid bodies.
He fell to the hard granite floor just in time to see the tops of their heads disappear.
A solid finger metal of something prodded him in the back.
‘Stand up very slowly shortie. Hands upon ya head.’
Dwoirot turned around to meet two of the fattest, ugliest, most aggressive looking creatures he had ever seen; short of a Troll.
‘And you are?’
‘Shurrit shortie. One more word an’ I shoot, ya hear?’
Dwoirot nodded and stared at the long metal tube pointed at his face. In the following moments, he examined his captors.
Both wore bright blue, if somewhat grease-stained shirts. One wore a cap, both bright gold badges. There was a sense of authority about them, something familiar. There was also a sense of malevolent ignorance.
‘Now,’ the taller, uglier man spat: ‘Where in the name of sweet Jesus are we?’
Dwoirot smiled. ‘I think there’s been a bit of a mix-up.’
‘Charlie Six-One Niner, come in please?’ crackled the radio.
Yeldarb blinked, looked at the source of the sound. It was a small black box with dials on it and some numerals, all green and luminous. Pretty, he thought.
Renders choked and grabbed Yeldarb’s shoulder.
Yeldarb looked up. They were apparently in a vehicle of some kind and disturbingly, despite their apparent high forward velocity, they felt no wind.
Renders leapt forward, grabbing at a large round object placed just in front of his chest. He tried pulling, pushing and finally hit upon rocking it from side to side.
This, he rapidly deduced, had the effect of changing their forward direction. And if turned to much, produced a high pitched squeal from somewhere beneath them.
‘Come in Charlie Six-One Niner. Come in. Report your position.’
Yeldarb stared at it.
‘Come in Charl—fizz! ’
Yeldarb’s short sword protruded from the radio. ‘It was starting to annoy me,’ he explained.
To Renders relief, they were now slowing—which made the changes in direction to avoid all those people that bit easier. Already, he estimated they had hit six as well as smash through some kind of stall—apparently, selling paper!
Now he could afford a more analytical view of their surrounds, but what he saw didn’t make any sense.
Castles of strange designs, smooth, dull and grey but peppered with little lights rose to eternity all around him and ahead along a street wider and longer than any he had seen before. Chains of lights hung all around, suspended from great pillars, some green, some red—and all about were pairs of lights, seemingly pointing straight at them. He had a horrible feeling that this meant something important.
‘Yeldarb? Let’s get out of here?’
Yeldarb nodded agreement and lunged forward, only to rebound off an invisible barrier. Astounded he reached out again.
‘Magic?’ he asked Renders.
‘I’ll show you magic.’ Renders curled his fist and drove it forward. The barrier shattered, sending pretty spiral patterns across its surface. Renders pulled back his gauntlet, breaking off further shards.
‘Seems brittle enough. Come, let’s smash our way out.’
Yeldarb kicked his boot, clearing a large enough hole for himself to crawl out. He found himself standing on a strange flexible platform that wobbled in a peculiar fashion if jumped on.
Looking around, he could see that there were indeed a great many other transportation vehicles, similar to his own. And just about all of them were making these terrible intermittent “honking” sound.
Renders, to his utter lack of surprise, had obviously found the means to “honk” back.
Comparing these others to his own vehicle, there was one marked difference. Theirs had these mesmerising blue and red lights on top which flashed in seemingly random patterns. Pretty.
Renders grabbed his shoulder. ‘Come, we must leave this place. We are surrounded. Draw your sword and we shall fight our way out. Truly Yeldarb, this must be The Abysmal.’
Yeldarb nodded and leapt from the bonnet onto a hard flat surface that seemed to cover all the ground.
‘Where to?’ he asked.
Renders looked around frantically.
‘There. Those steps leading down. Perhaps this is a dungeon of sorts and that’s the next level down. Certainly it may be quieter.’
A high pitched scream rocketed passed Yeldarb’s ear and he clutched at it, checking it was still there. He scanned the surrounds and then settled his sights quite firmly on two people he hadn’t seen in a while.
‘Them! I remember them! They… Renders, that’s them. The ones that sold me, Phoebe. The ones… the ones that stole Tantamount!’
Renders looked at the approaching figures. One was wearing a shiny reflective suit, the other brandished a triple-barrel crossbow.
‘Yeldarb. They’re armed. Run like pants!’
They did just that.
The steps were more numerous than Renders had anticipated and quite to the contrary actually turned out to be busier than the surface level. All manner of strangely clad folk bustled passed which, Renders was relieved to notice, paid scant attention to Yeldarb and himself in their full battle kit—streaked with the blood and entrails of an undead Dragon as they still were.
A cross-bolt slamming into the wall behind them soon changed matters. It had the effect of driving a wedge through the crowd, turning them into a cowering screaming hoard.
Down and onwards they ran, the air turning rancid and a strange wind picking up, powerful and warm.
At last they reached another flat space, sparsely populated but split into long strips interspersed with triplets of metal rails that led off into tunnels at either end. From one of the tunnels, a pair of eyes was emerging, accompanied by a great roaring of air.
‘A worm?’ cried Yeldarb. ‘What manner of beast is this?’
Renders took battle stance and swung out to hit it as it passed. ‘Tis no natural beast Yeldarb. Look. It’s belly is transparent and full of people. We must save them. Come, help me smash a way in!’
Together, they lashed at the weakest point with their swords, forcing an entrance.
Shouts of some kind were coming from the head of the beast.
Renders roared with laughter. ‘Hear how it cries in pain Yeldarb. Come, one last thrust and we shall be in.’
With a lurch, the train rolled forwards.
‘It flees!’ Yeldarb shouted. Renders grabbed at the beasts flesh, forcing it apart. Yeldarb leapt inside and hastily scanned the stunned faces all about.
A cross-bolt shot through a nearby transparent section of flesh.
Renders looked out and watched as their antagonists vanished into darkness.
‘Yeldarb, alas it seems the beast has taken us too! Into it’s lair it no doubt goes, to digest us at its leisure. Come, we must do it an injury. We are inside it, surely this must be an easy task?’
Yeldarb implored to the other “captives.”
‘Come people, this is your chance for freedom. Help us destroy this beast!’
Renders raised his sword and drove it into the ribbed flooring. It glanced off leaving a deep scar. ‘Zounds! This beast has armour on the inside too. Yeldarb,’ he looked around, ‘do these peasants not want saved?’
‘I want saved!’ cried an aged wraith of a man. He staggered forward, bottle clasped feverishly in his hand.
Renders slapped him hard on the shoulder. ‘Good man! Help us. Help us destroy this beast. Use your weapon.’
The man gibbered with laughter, something that made Renders give him a more considering second look. But before long, he was pounding the floor just as much as Yeldarb and himself.
Flashes of light announced their arrival in the lair. Renders raced back to the opening they had forged in its side. ‘Come men, let us escape!’
Renders was first outside, followed shortly by Yeldarb. Their new-found companion proved not to be as dextrous and took some aiding; to even stand and walk in a straight line.
‘Where now, old man? Where is safety from the beast? Where is freedom?’
‘Freedom, eh?’ He pointed at a further set of steps.
Yeldarb nudged his shoulder. ‘Renders, we’re back where we started, surely? It looks the same?’
‘Up, freedom!’ the aged figure insisted.
‘Very well old timer. Up it shall be.’
And with that they sprinted up the stairs, carrying the old man on their shoulders, and out into what was seemingly the same place as before; people, vehicles, lights.
Their guide proved most skilful at leading them through the crowds and, although they received some worried looks, by and large, people avoided Renders and Yeldarb; which suited them just fine.
Eventually, the old man stopped and pointed straight up.
‘Freedom!’ he announced proudly.
Renders and Yeldarb looked up and up. Yes, and up.
It was a statue the size of which they had never imagined possible. She wore a crown and held a torch high above her head. It was truly beautiful.
The old man laughed and now he, if no one else, understood.
“You sad bugger. Haven’t you got anything else better to do?”
“What happened next, ask me to write a sequel.”
Bob and Flower: Flower found, much to her surprise that the “jump” had transformed her into a complete and beautifully dark-skinned woman. Bob had hoped for a similar transition into a man, but had to make do as he was. Although Bob had to adjust to not being quite magical anymore and Flower to being not as strong, both made a successful living writing self help books. They married six years after their arrival on Earth and are now happily married, no kids yet, and living somewhere in Los Angeles. Bob sometimes wonders what happened to Yeldarb. But only sometimes.
Yeldarb and Renders: as can be imagined took rather more adjusting than your average being from another world/dimension would. They narrowly avoided being institutionalised and spent the next few years “learning the ropes” with the assorted poor of New York. They now run a small business together teaching “alternative means of self defence involving large sharp instruments” to anyone silly enough to pay them.
Bacchus and Erryl: Shortly after Yeldarb and Renders departure, were surrounded by a large group of very unfriendly cops all wanting to know the whereabouts of the two officers whose car they had just stolen. Injuries were bad on both sides, the boys making full use of their hand grenades and triple-barrelled crossbow. The “invisible armour” turned not to be quite so in this dimension and had all the stealth properties of a tin-foil suit, which was exactly what it was. The missing officers, as can be imagined, were never found and Bacchus and Erryl served a number of years in an institution—until they broke out. Whereabouts currently unknown, but are believed to be “living happily ever after,” at one with the San Francisco gay population.
Dawkins: Never did quite manage to arrest anyone, but wisely kept out of the way of the cops. Despite mourning the loss of “Mrs Dawkins” for a round number of minutes, is believed to be running an honest detective agency and is currently dating the girl of his dreams.
Dwoirot: Makes full use of Bert and Ernie, the missing officers who unexpectedly found themselves in the Lotopian world—and nowhere near the comfy seats and Big Macs of their patrol car. He goes on to solve yet more mysteries with the aid of his brutish law enforcement officers and becomes a mythical crime fighting force. Bert and Ernie enforce their special version of civil obedience and become renowned as hard men of the law. Lotopian crime rate plummets.
Dangulf: Definitely dead.
Reptila: Was a tad upset that she was actually brought back to Earth one hundred years before her birth. Now off in some research lab somewhere desperately searching for a cure for her still persistent scales.
Peeling: Yep, still bodiless and still in Mayor Opus’ back room. And yes, he’s still being tortured. Hopes some day soon, someone will remember him and return his body.
Toby: Lives a peaceful life, sound in the knowledge that Dawkins has brought Old Toby’s killers to some form of justice; albeit in a different dimension.
Houdini: Makes T.V commercials. Recently listed in the top ten of America’s Richest Rodents.
Opus: For all we know, still inside that packing case and buried in the sand outside the Pentahedron. Rumours of a comeback in the sequel are strongly denied.
Phoebe: You should have known you can never quite kill a phoenix. One day, she’ll be back.
The Immortal Dragon: Dead this time, for sure.
Mrs Voyance: Still in jail.
Lady Potassia: Just keeps pushing that bounty for Flower up…
Brother Cool: Never did quite get what he truly deserved.
Rather Strange Psychopathic Smithy Bloke: Dwoirot eventually connects him to a chain of disappearances and… well, that’s another story.
You had enough now? *8-)
[†] Dwoirot was not a n especially religious man. But then, as with so many of us, it is only as the grim shadow of the reaper appears that we find ourselves reconciled with the realistic possibilities of a painful death and eternity in the persecution facilities of the God of your choice. Feel extreme pity therefore for the followers of Zinbu, the Monkey God whose own brand of ‘Hell’ is a nineteen seventies discotheque with the exits locked and the music permanently stuck on ‘YMCA’
[‡] A labour intensive living, involving the skinning of fresh spider corpses and the subsequent weaving of their flesh to form tough adamantine armour. Although not as resilient as plate steel, it has the one advantage that no bugger wants to touch someone clad in spider skin and hence enables the wearer to avoid all manner of combat.