The last time I’d seen Sonny had been when he went off with Mandy in Dargot. He’d got himself a commission in the Dargot army and was focused on liberating Fengarad, or so he claimed. Funny how when Fengarad was in trouble, he ended up in Dargot, and when Dargot got caught up in the fight, he ended up in Requbar.
He had an enviable ability to move directly away from danger. Perhaps I had been too hasty in dismissing him as an opportunistic arsehole. Maybe I should have made him my Jedi master.
“So what brings you down here, Colin? I’d have thought you’d be off fighting the Archfiend. All done with that, are you?” His tone was heavily sarcastic. I didn’t know what he’d been told, but being in the Dargot army probably meant he’d heard we’d been sent to Monsterland.
The mention of the Archfiend caught everyone’s attention and all eyes were on me, which was uncomfortable. I was at a severe disadvantage and handling this wrong could end very badly.
“Why are you wearing sunglasses indoors, you div.” There was something about Sonny that always antagonised me. “And what’s that thing growing on your chin? Seaweed? Is that why they call you Ocean Man?”
I was fully expecting Sonny to come back with some cocky insult or ridiculous threat, but he didn’t. He actually looked a bit hurt.
“There’s no need to be like that. We’re all in the same boat here, aren’t we? The glasses are for my migraines.” He rubbed his forehead. “I got them made in Dargot, this new blacksmith who’s good with fiddly stuff. Thought it’d be great for the beach.” He sounded quite wistful, remembering a better time. “Everyone who’s been to Requbar raves about the beaches. Thought I’d be getting a tan but look at me.”
Sad, pathetic Sonny didn’t feel right. He was thinner and scruffy in a way that made him look quite frail. I didn’t know what he’d gone through since we last met, but Australians weren’t supposed to buckle under pressure. They usually doubled down and became even more annoying. I may have been relying too heavily on my big book of stereotypes.
“Why are you hiding in a hole in the ground planning to kill innocent people? Why aren’t you out there trying to help the people in Dargot and Fengarad?”
Sonny looked around awkwardly. The men had faces full of adoration. Big, fat, wet eyes offering their unwavering loyalty to Sonny like he was their cult leader. He certainly had all the makings of a cult, although I wouldn’t spell it like that.
You could sense the desperate expectation they were placing on him. He seemed to sag under the weight of it.
“How do you think I ended up like this?” he said softly, almost in a mumble. “ The Lord Administrator sent me here to broker a deal with the Queen. Get some reinforcements and drive the buggers back to Monsterland, simple as. But as soon as I set foot in the city, they slapped my in jail. Said they suspected me of being a wizard or something. The Queen’s fucking insane, mate. Completely crackers. Thinks everyone with a cock’s her enemy.”
The only thing worse than a bragging Aussie was a whining one. His voice was like a cheesegrater over violin strings. But his experience of Requbar matched mine very closely.
“She refused to see me, no trial or anything like that, just an indefinite stay at her Majesty’s pleasure. If I hadn’t fallen in with these lads, I’d still be stuck in a six by nine with a bucket to shit in.”
It didn’t look like conditions had improved much. Where did he shit now?
The men were watching us intently, I could feel them waiting to see how this was going to develop like it was some kind of show. I guess they’d been starved of entertainment as well as food.
“What made her think you were a wizard?” I asked him.
“Nothing! I can’t do magic. I’m a fighter, or at least I thought I was. Those damned women, they’re the witches here. How can they be so good with a blade, eh? And so strong. It isn’t natural.”
Now he was sulking. His pride had been dented and his manhood deflated. He’d been beaten by a girl.
“Got to be some kind of sorcery, right? It’s the only explanation that makes any sense. That’s why we can’t fight them head on. You can’t play fair with cheaters. So we’re going to take them by surprise, show ‘em who’s boss.” His voice had regained some of its old swagger as he made his defiant claims.
The men stood a little straighter, stiffened with self-belief and a desire to not be beaten up by women anymore. They nodded their heads and muttered their approval. I wouldn’t have been surprised if they’d burst into a couple of verses of Smack my bitch up.
There was a movement to my right and I glanced over. Marv was chewing on her bottom lip and turning her head in all directions. If she was looking for exits she was wasting her time. I’d done that the moment we got here and the only way out was the way we’d come in.
“You’ve come at just the right time, Colin. We’re about to shake this city to its foundations. Right boys?”
The men cheered.
“We’re going to stick it right up their guts.”
“Sonny whipped off his sunglasses and pointed them at me. “You, Colin, are going to—” He stopped mid-sentence, blinking rapidly. “Who the fuck is that?” He pointed at Marv.
“Ah, yes,” said Schneed. “Allow me to introduce our latest recruit. This is Marv, he—”
“He?” said Sonny, his face twisted with disgust. “What do you mean, ‘he’?”
Marv tensed, her body changed shape as she lowered into a crouch, ready to pounce. Did she plan to take out the whole rebellion by herself, hand to hand?
It was clear that Sonny, like me, could see the real Marv. My theory that the geas didn’t work on Visitors seemed to have been proven correct.
“Yes,” said Schneed, utterly baffled. “I met him in—”
“Him? Him? What are you talking about? Doesn’t anyone see what I see?” He turned to the others men expecting them to go, “Oh yeah, it’s a bird!” but they had the same miffed expression as Schneed. They had no idea what had got him so riled up.
A wildness filled Sonny’s eyes. He was starting to doubt his own senses, so crushed was his ego. He turned to me. “You. What do you see when you look at… at that person?”
I looked back at Marv. She was by no means the best-looking girl I’d ever seen but she was definitely a female. Surrounded by men that had been driven to living underground by women they hated. Filled with anger and resentment and pent up frustration. If they discovered her true identity, what would they do to her?
Not that I held any affection for Marv and her fondness for ball tampering, but neither did I have much interest in seeing her fed to the wolves.
I could have been worrying over nothing, of course. Marv may have been a preternatural fighter with the ability to destroy squadrons of men in a blizzard of kicks and chops—in which case she and her sisters had every right to rule Requbar any way they pleased. To the victor/victoria go the spoils.
On the other hand, if she did get overpowered by the Toilet Seat Up brigade, they might have simply used her as a bargaining tool or done a prisoner swap to get back one of their own. Or they might not. All I knew was that my stomach twisted at the thought of exposing her.
“I see a guy with a thick, bushy beard. I’d be happy with something half as luxurious as that hanging off my chin.”
There was a general murmur of agreement. I almost wished I could see this glorious growth myself, see what all the fuss was about.
“And long, blo—” Marv shook her head at me “—rown hair, with... curls?” She nodded, relieved. “With curls. Why, what do you see?”
Sonny’s face screwed up in confusion and his left eye twitched. He’d been down here slumming it for who knows how long and now his sanity was being questioned.
“Are you all crazy? Can’t you see… I mean, it’s obvious…” He didn’t want to say something that would make him look as insane as he felt. His eyes were darting around, looking for something. A face who would see reason? He returned his maddened gaze to Marv, leaning forward.
Marv leaned back. “It’s good to meet you, Ocean Man,” she growled in her gruffest voice. “I have heard much about you. I look forward to joining your crusade against those witches! Death to the Queen and her evil regime!” She pumped her fist in the air and the men roared their approval.
Sonny looked at me again, imploring me to state the obvious. One supporting word was all he needed to give him the courage of his convictions. He wasn’t going to hear it from me.
The sunglasses in his hand were shaking. He pounded the side of his head with his open palm and made a strange grunting sound. Everyone went quiet, unable to get a read on what was making him act so weird. He wouldn’t say it and they couldn’t figure it out.
As this farce went on, Marv gave me a sideways glance. Gratitude for saving her from some terrible fate? Of course not. She wore the smug expression of someone who thought they had everything under control. So smart. So dead without me.
Sonny wasn’t coping well with the schizophrenia being forced on him. He shook his head and stretched his neck, trying to pull himself together. He put the sunglasses back on, which only made him look more retarded.
“Okay, we can’t stand around here all day,” he said. “We have a city to turn into rubble.”
Marv’s attention shifted off me and onto her target. This was what she was here for, to find out what these men were plotting and put a stop to it. I was also quite interested to see what this bunch of idiots were going to do. They hadn’t invented gunpowder in this world as far as I knew and it would be hard to terrorise people by running up behind them and shouting, “Bang!”
Still, we were in a fantasy world, there was bound to be some substitute. Maybe an exploding mushroom, or throwing a medusa’s head into a crowd.
“Give them something to eat,” he ordered, reasserting his authority, mainly to himself, I think. “The rest of you, get ready for your shift.” His animosity towards me had dissipated into his confusion. Poor guy was barely holding it together. I’d have felt sorry for him, if he wasn’t such a colossal douche.
The men snapped out of the trance they’d been in since we’d arrived and rushed around. Schneed breathed a sigh of relief and I got the impression they were used to Sonny’s odd mood swings. The atmosphere of reverence I’d felt from the men may have had more than a little fear mixed into it.
“Come,” said Schneed. “Get some food and rest a bit. You’re going to be quite busy.”
I didn’t much like the sound of the busy part, but the idea of a meal sounded good (as long as nobody told me what was in it).
“Just be careful,” said Schneed, “not everything’s as solid as it looks. Don’t lean on anything.”
“Yes,” said Marv. “Watch your step.” She gave me a long, hard stare that was meant to... intimidate me? Put me in my place? I didn’t know.
Sonny was half-mad and ready to set his cultists on the people of Requbar. Marv was gearing up to take Sonny out before he could strike. I was caught in the middle with no idea where to find the exit.
Whatever Sonny was planning, there was no guarantee it would work, so leaving him to it might be best.
Then again, if Marv succeeded with her mission it could make the whole thing moot. No Sonny, no rebellion.
On the other hand, killing him might turn him into a martyr and give the men incentive to do some really heinous shit.
My instinct was to do nothing and see how it played out, preferably from very far away.
There was a tremor under my feet and suddenly everything was shaking. Smalls rocks and debris came loose from above and peppered the area with tiny meteor strikes. It didn’t last long, barely enough time to raise my hands over my head and it had stopped, but the strange mix of fear and elation on the men’s faces told me doing nothing wasn’t going to be an option.
Schneed had his eyes wide open, looking up with a big smile on his face. “Not long now.”
I really missed my nice, safe cell. Especially the bucket.