“I know what you’re thinking,” said Sonny, “but it won’t work, mate. You won’t be able to stop me.”
That wasn’t what I was thinking. My only thought was how to get out of the hole I was in, literally and figuratively. If the tunnels they were digging were near the surface, that would mean I’d be near the surface. Hopefully soon to be on the surface and then moving very quickly across the surface.
“Stop you? I don’t have to stop you. Your plan isn’t going to work.”
Sonny frowned as I informed him of my opinion. “You don’t even know what my plan is.”
“I don’t have to know,” I said very confidently. “I just have to look around. These men aren’t going to start a revolution. They’re knackered. Even if you did manage to cause enough damage, kill enough people, then what? Who’s going to be in charge? You?”
“The Ocean Man would make a fine King,” said Schneed. He was standing next to me, watching us argue.
“Thank you, Schneed,” said Sonny. “I appreciate that, mate.”
These people were the worst terrorists ever. Polite, supportive, complimentary. They did all have beards, but you needed more than that. Matching outfits would have been a good place to start.
Sonny lifted his sunglasses and rested them on top of his head. He gave me a disappointed look. “That’s what I hate about you, Colin. Always assuming the worst about people and then acting like they’re the problem. Always so sure you’re right. Well not today, mate.”
He did have a point. My only recourse in this world had been to act first so as not to give the other side the initiative. Which meant guessing blindly. Luckily or otherwise, most of the time I’d assumed someone was a dick, they were. Sonny was a case in point. But I also got it wrong sometimes, with disastrous consequences. People—humans and monsters—were dead because of my guesses.
Having said that, I was still willing to bet Sonny was a massive douchebag and his plan was idiotic.
“I think you’re forgetting how we first met, Sonny. I assumed you were a dick, and I seem to recall everyone ending up agreeing with me.”
Sonny spread his arms wide. “And where is everyone? I don’t see anyone backing you up now.”
He had me there. No one in my corner anymore. The loss of my party did give me a twinge of emotion but since I rarely experienced them I couldn’t say what emotion it was. It may have been indigestion.
“It doesn’t matter where they are. I hope they’re happy and doing well.” I did not hope they were happy and there was no way they were doing well. “This isn’t about them. This is about you trying to kill people because you’re upset.”
“They broke my surfboard,” he screamed. He really had a thing for his board.
Our steadily rising voices had been heard across the cavern and men were starting to gather around us. I needed to find a way out of this but could only seem to stumble in deeper.
“It still doesn’t make it okay to kill people. Not that it’ll make any difference in the long run. Your doomsday machine might destroy a couple of buildings, ruin a garden or two, so what? Life will go on. They dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and people are still living there.”
Sonny was shaking his head the whole time I was speaking. “There you go again. Talking complete and utter shit. Those A-bombs were nothing compared to what I’ve got lined up. You know how many people are living in Chernobyl? Zero. That’s more like what you should expect. You know why?” He paused like he wanted an answer. I didn’t say anything, but I did want to know where he was going with this. “You know what I was studying at uni before I got dragged to this fake paradise? Geology and geophysics. I didn’t get to finish my studies, but I learned a thing or two. Enough to know what that smell means.”
He waves his hand about to indicate the air around us. The smell of sulphur was still there, although after the first few hours in its presence it had diminished to a faint whiff.
“You think Requbar will still be standing proud after I’m done with it?” He smiled. “Come with me. I want to show you my doomsday machine.” He turned and walked off. “Come on.” He was heading for the rock wall with the ladders.
The crowd followed him and swept me along with them. I would have gone anyway—it wasn’t like I had any pressing engagements to attend to—but they didn’t leave me any choice.
When we got to the ladders, Sonny immediately began climbing. The ladders were wooden and looked like nailed together bits of driftwood. There was nothing sturdy about them, but I started climbing after him. The other men either followed behind me or used one of the other ladders. We were all going on this big outing, with Ocean Man as our tour guide. There was quite a buzz of excitement.
Halfway up the ladder it got very dark. The light from below didn’t reach up this high and it was a little scary not knowing where the next rung was. With so many men on the ladder with me, it creaked and swayed an unsettling amount. Creating some light wasn’t an option so I kept going, hoping nothing horrible was waiting for me.
I say halfway up, but it turned out I was closer to the top than I thought. A flat ledge marked the end of my climb and I gratefully crawled up and over onto solid ground.
The ledge wasn’t that big and an archway led into a tunnel. Sonny’s silhouette stood at the other end, a faint yellow glow around him.
More men were appearing on the ledge and I decided it wouldn’t be a good idea to get caught in the middle of them on what was becoming a narrower and narrower space. I moved towards Sonny, feeling apprehensive, and was nearly knocked into the tunnel wall by a figure rushing to join me. Even in the dim yellow glow it wasn’t hard to recognise her, she was the only woman here
“Is this your Plan B?” asked Marv in a low voice.
Plan B was the same as Plan A, to get out of this mad place. “Something like that. I’m not sure where he’s taking us.”
“It doesn’t matter. Just keep him busy and I’ll do the rest.”
More men were catching up now and Marv stopped talking. When I looked to my side, she wasn’t there anymore.
The tunnel opened into a wide chamber containing a lake of yellow-green foul-smelling liquid that bubbled and hissed. The tang of sulphur had grown to a suffocating miasma and it was hard not to gag. I pulled my shirt over my mouth and nose.
The lake moved like sludge and seemed to glitter. It was only a few feet below us; if I sat on the edge I could dangle my feet in it.
Numerous stone walkways, varying in width from tightrope to garden path, crisscrossed the gorge, over to another ledge like the one we stood on, and exits into more passages. Could one of them lead to the surface?
“Silicic magma,” said Sonny without bothering to turn around. “Think of it like acidic lava.”
The heat on my face was almost painful. I couldn’t face the boiling lava for more than a few seconds at a time. There were men working either side of the lake. They carried rocks out of the tunnels in crude wheelbarrows and tipped them into the lake.
The liquid hissed angrily, eating away the stone before it even had a chance to sink.
“It’s like nothing on Earth. Far more vicious. It can eat through stone, metal, people…” He looked over his shoulder at me, the yellow glow making his smile all the more hellish. His gaze lifted up to the ceiling.
Over the lake hung gigantic stalactites. Their base lost in shadow, but the jagged points aimed at the lake like arrowheads. And clinging to these rocks were small figures. Men, precariously dangling from ropes, chipping away at the rock with their pickaxes. Rock dust fell in showers, popping and fizzing on the lake’s surface.
I couldn’t tell how they got up there, or how they were staying attached, but they were doing an impressive job of defying gravity.
I looked back down at Sonny. “What are they doing?”
“Those rock formations are going to drop into the magma, which will force acidic lava into the tunnels, shooting out into Requbar. We’ve got the tunnels all lined up nicely. The Queen’s Palace is going to be a big melted lump surrounded by a lot of little lumps.
If he could pull it off, it would certainly make life in Requbar a lot less pleasant. And it wouldn’t do the plant life much good, either. Of course, it could just as easily flood the cavern below and put everyone into a fiery grave.
“For the Queen!” Marv came running out of the crowd, headed for Sonny standing at the lake’s edge.
Was announcing the attack a good idea? Probably not. The attack in general served little purpose. The plan was already near completion. Even if they stopped now, the stalactites were bound to fall eventually. The climbers chipping away at them were cutting wedges like lumberjacks and had gone in quite far already. It was only a matter of time for them to turn into splash mountain.
The warning was enough for Sonny to sidestep out of the way and roll Marv past, leaving her heading for an early (and final) bath. If this was what her assassin training had taught her, I couldn’t imagine the Queen’s agents had ever killed anyone. Marv would have fallen into the acid lake if Sonny hadn’t grabbed the back of her shirt and pulled her back.
He threw her towards the men who jumped on her, four of them holding her arms. She looked too stunned by her near death experienced to resist.
“A spy!” shouted Sonny. “I knew it.”
“Oh no!” wailed Schneed from beside me. “I brought in a spy. I didn’t know, I didn’t know.”
Sonny marched up to her, seemingly unperturbed by his own near death experience. “I’m curious about you, Marv. Very curious.” He stuck his hand out and grabbed her by the chin. His curiosity changed to an expression of wonder. He changed his grip so his hand covered her face. She tried to pull her head back but someone grabbed the back of her head and held it in place.
Sonny closed his eyes and moved his hand around, patting her features.
I couldn’t say for certain, but I suspected the geas changed how she looked but not how she felt.
“There’s no beard. I can’t feel a beard,” Sonny roared triumphantly. The men were a bit confused. Marv looked scared and struggled to get free but that only caused more to step forward and grab onto her.
Sonny’s hand slid down to Marv’s chest. His eyes widened. “Breasts! She’s a girl!” He grinned madly, the vindication of his suspicions driving his lips into the far reaches of his face.
The men gasped in shock. They were being a bit presumptuous, I felt. There were plenty of guys among them who could have fit into a C cup.
“Oh no!” wailed Schneed, even more distraught. “I brought in a girl. I didn’t know, I didn’t know. She had a beard!”
“Not a beard,” exclaimed Sonny. “An illusion.” The men looked at each other, confused. “Magic!” said Sonny and understanding flooded into their faces, followed by panic.
Marv almost got free as the men holding her reeled back in disgust, but Sonny grabbed her by the front of her shirt. “Don’t let go of the witch,” shouted Sonny and they reconfirmed their grip.
It was uncomfortable to watch. To be fair, she had tried to kill Sonny, so she couldn’t really complain about her treatment. Under the universal law of ‘You started it!” you can excuse a lot of horrible acts that aren’t justified but which you can certainly get away with. Trying to push someone into a giant vat of molten acid would come high on that list.
“Let’s see if you’re all woman.” Sonny’s hand began to slide lower.
The problem was, deep down, I’m sexist. Whether I was born that way or a product of my environment, I believe women should be treated differently to men. Not in all things, but certainly in some. It isn’t a popular view, especially when said out loud in public, but the instinct is hard to deny. Which isn’t always a bad thing. Sometimes sexism can be beneficial to women.
Sonny’s hand turned so the fingers pointing up were now pointing down. They continued their downward trajectory.
“Stop!” All eyes turned to me. Partly because I had shouted, and partly because my hands were on fire. “This is starting to get a bit creepy, Sonny.”
I’ll admit I was jumping to conclusions. I didn’t know what Sonny planned to do with her, I was just assuming the worst. And rightly so, as far as I was concerned.
It was a night of surprises for the men. Although it could have have been afternoon for all I knew. They began slowly chanting, “Wizzo! Wizzo!” which was either what they called wizards or a new fizzy soft drink they were promoting.
It wasn’t a friendly chant, by the way. Not a, “Hey, it’s our friend Wizzo, yay!” more of a “Kill the wizzo, piss on his corpse,” type of chant.
“Let her go, Sonny.”
Sonny stared at me. “Did you know, Colin? Were you working with her to kill me?”
I didn’t say anything. I hadn’t really thought my actions through, just reacted with my usual lack of common sense.
“Where will you go, Colin? How can you fight us all?”
He was right. What was I doing playing hero? To save a girl I didn’t even like. With powers that couldn’t set fire to a fart (literally—I’d tried many, many times).
I didn’t want to be here. I didn’t want to fight anyone, save anyone, stand up for and/or against anyone. She didn’t even deserve my help.
“Is that stuff flammable?” I asked in my best I’m-not-bluffing-honest-I’m-not voice. I pointed at the lake.
And then a stream of fire shot out the end of my forefinger.
It had never done that before.
The lake burst into flames.