The three giant worms had come through the mountain walls at around twenty feet up. They swayed their heads like Stevie Wonder in the middle of a harmonica solo, but didn’t leap into the Temple where, most likely, they could have caused proper havoc.
“Why didn’t they come up through the ground?” I asked Hitokag.
“The soil the Temple is built on is poison to them. They cannot pass through it without suffering great pain.”
“Then why didn’t you take the soil and use it to fight them in the first place?” Seemed an obvious solution.
Hitokag ran his thin tongue over his teeth like he was considering if it was even worth answering such a dumb question. “Then the Temple wouldn’t work,” he said with great restraint.
“And that’s more important than giant worms devastating the entire country?”
Well, you couldn’t fault his commitment to the cause. Whatever that was.
The three jabberwocky didn’t seem to have a plan beyond flapping about while opening and shutting their mouths like murderous goldfish. They were too far from the middle of the Temple to reach the Intui lizardmen, and in return the Intui had congregated around Dudley’s stone table where they couldn’t do much other than hiss and howl.
At least the stand-off meant no one was about to plunge a sacrificial dagger into Dudley’s heart, but I still couldn’t think of how to extract him from the throng. And I not only had the threat from the Intui to worry about, if I didn’t come up with something soon one of my party might suggest a plan so retarded they’d all instantly agree to do it.
In a movie, a high stakes situation usually leads the hero to take an absurd risk that just happens to pay off. He jumps out of the window, catches the girl falling out of a helicopter and lands in a conveniently placed swimming pool. In real life, you’d miss the girl, miss the swimming pool and the whole thing would appear as a Vine for everyone’s entertainment.
“Have you noticed,” said Maurice, “nobody here has any weapons?”
It was true. Both the lizardmen tribes relied on claws and teeth, and the jabberwocky just ate you whole.
“A couple of archers and we could wipe them all out.”
“Yes,” I said, “but unfortunately our best shot is down there like Aslan about to get a haircut.”
Maurice screwed up his nose. “Please don’t mention that hack in my presence.”
There are any number of writers you might dismiss as hacks, churning out shitty novels one after the other, but I wouldn’t have put children’s favourite C.S. Lewis among them.
“I thought you would’ve liked Lion-Witch-Wardrobe.”
“I didn’t like it, I loved it. Have you read the last book of the series?”
I shook my head.
“The children all die in a train crash and go to heaven, except for Susan. She stopped believing in Narnia so she gets to end up as a mangled corpse in twisted wreckage while the others are all, ‘Hurray! Off to the promised land!’ Ruined my childhood.”
Claire turned away from consoling Flossie. “Can you two stop complaining about dead Christians for one second and do something about Dudley?”
When it comes to helping, the only thing worse than vague encouragement is generic nagging. Do something? What kind of request is that? I turned to Hitokag who was surveying the scene but didn’t look like he had any intentions of going down there.
“Couldn’t a couple of your guys swoop down there and pull Dudley out before anyone has a chance to do anything about it?”
“That would be foolish,” said Hitokag, which was a fair point.
“What if I can blind most of them?” The Temple was fairly large and I probably wouldn’t be able to get all of them with my balls of light, but a fair proportion would be affected
“The Intui can see with their tongues.”
“Really? And you didn’t think this was worth mentioning earlier?”
“What difference would it have made?”
Okay, it wouldn’t have changed anything, but he didn’t know that. I might have come up with a brilliant plan involving tastebuds.
“What about your balls?” said Maurice. The three acid-covered balls were bobbing up and down behind me.
“What do you suggest I do with them?”
Maurice shrugged. “Chuck them down a worm’s throat.”
In a movie this would probably cause the worm to explode (for no apparent reason) wiping out all the bad guys and somehow leaving Dudley untouched. In real life it would probably have no effect. Or be disastrous.
Still, it wasn’t like we had a bunch of other options, and at least it didn’t require me to get closer to the action.
I selected one of the balls and sent it drifting around the edge of the Temple towards the jabberwock furthest from Dudley, just in case it did explode in Michael Bay fashion.
The jabberwock had its mouth wide open so it wasn’t hard to get a hole-in-one. The ball disappeared down its gullet. Nothing happened. I snapped my fingers which would normally pop the ball, but at this distance I didn’t know if it would work.
The jabberwock stopped moving. Then its entire body convulsed and an object shot out of its mouth. It looked like a half-digested carcass of some animal, maybe a deer.
The carcass flew across the Temple, skidded across the ground and wiped out half a dozen very surprised lizardmen. It didn’t kill them, but it probably didn’t do them any good either.
After firing this missile, the jabberwock remained very still. I might even suggest it was thinking. Then it reared up, its body rippled, and another carcass came shooting out.
This one hit a small group of lizardmen who were thrown in all directions. Only two got back on their feet.
The ground beneath me trembled. Not like it had when the jabberwocky first arrived, this was more controlled, like a continuous pulse. The other two worms paused—listening?— and then began firing the contents of their stomachs just as the first had. It seemed I had inspired them to use projectile vomiting as a form of artillery.
The Intui were in disarray, unable to avoid the sustained barrage from three directions. This was both good and bad from my point of view. Good that the lizards were being slowly whittled down without my intervention, but bad because a direct hit on Dudley would probably kill him.
Flossie was only too aware of the danger to her beloved and began to lose it. “Ahm begging you, go get him,” she pleaded to Hitokag.
“We can’t. If he wasn’t tied down, maybe…”
I had two acid balls left. If I could target the ropes binding Dudley they might dissolve, but it would require very precise control and there was a very good chance the acid would get on Dudley’s skin.
I drew a ball close to me and split it into four smaller ones. Then I sent them towards the stone table.
Bodies were flying in all directions. The jabberwocky had found their range and had apparently had a big lunch. The Intui were scattered and focused on not getting blasted to pieces. My balls floated down unnoticed, but the further they got from me the harder they were to control.
Perhaps I should have sent them down as one and split them when they got there, but there was no way to know if I would be able to do that at such a great distance. In any case, it was obvious I wouldn’t be able to target the ropes binding Dudley.
Keezy was the only person still near the stone table. He was busy trying to free his brother. It would be fairly simple for him to untie Dudley, and he did owe me a favour.
I redirected the balls towards him in a row and then burst them one by one. The first was near enough to attract his attention, and the rest led him in a line to Dudley.
He looked up and around, then back at Dudley. I didn’t know how else to tell him what I wanted, but he got the message regardless. He ripped away the binds around Dudley’s hand and feet.
“Now!” I said to Hitokag.
He nodded at two of his men who leapt off the wall and dived into the Temple. A couple of the Intui spotted them, but were too busy dodging flying corpses to do anything.
The Mezzik landed on either end of the stone table, grabbed Dudley by the feet and hands, and then with a single flap of their wings they launched into the air carrying him between them.
As this was happening, the Intui suddenly rushed towards them, but their target wasn’t the escaping sacrifice, it was Kungen. They grabbed him and shoved him towards the nearest jabberwock. I suppose they figured the best way to stop the attack was to go on the offence, and they did have a big lump of fuck you to use against the worms.
The jabberwock responded by going kamikaze. It jumped from the rockface, mouth wide open and landed on top of Kungen and the lizardmen surrounding him. And kept going straight down.
Since it already planned to swallow Kungen I suppose diving into the poisoned earth was not that big a deal. As far as I could tell it had decided to take one for the team, burrowing into the depths with Kungen trapped inside. It would die, but no more Worm King.
Dudley landed in a heap next to us as the Mezzik dropped him. Flossie threw herself on top of him, bawling like a baby.
The walls surrounding the Temple began to collapse and the other two jabberwocky fell. Keezy disappeared under falling rubble.
“We should go,” I said to everyone. I didn’t wait to see if they agreed, I turned and legged it back towards the dragon.
All things considered, the rescue had been very successful. My favourite part was how I didn’t have to fight any large monsters. If we could just get the fuck out of there, I’d be happy to go see Cheng and do whatever he wanted us to do.
I scrambled down the shuddering slope to the plateau where we had left the dragon, but nothing ever goes smoothly all the way to the end. The dragon was lying with its wings awkwardly under it. Its body was covered in welts and stings. Hovering over its body were a lot of large, angry-looking wasps.
And things had been going so well.