Biadet drove us back to the dragon. Mandy seemed downcast and defeated. She paid more attention to her cake than any of us.
Watching her eat it while the carriage lurched from side to side was mesmerising. Just when you thought she was was about to shove a slice into her ear, her head swung around exactly the right amount to deliver it into her mouth, whole. She didn’t offer anyone else a piece.
Roona sat next to me and ‘accidentally’ pressed herself against my arm as the carriage bounced us around. Her constant gaze made me uncomfortable. She was sizing me up and probably trying to figure out why I was the guy in charge. And how to twist me round her finger.
Jenny sat on my other side and seemed more interested in the view from the window and only glanced casually over when Roona grabbed my knee to steady herself, before returning her gaze to the view.
The sight of the dragon took the focus off me. Both Roona and Mandy were gobsmacked.
Roona hesitated climbing onto the dragon’s back, but held it together. Mandy took one look at the winged lizardmen and refused point blank.
“I’m not going on that. I don’t care what you do.”
“What happened with Sonny, by the way?” I asked to try and get her mind off the horror of it all.
She narrowed her eyes. “It didn’t work out.”
“Oh. Shame.” I didn’t try to make it sound sarcastic, but it couldn’t really be helped.
“Fuck you,” said Mandy with some of her old spunk. She turned to Jenny. “Why do you stay with him?”
Jenny shrugged. “It’s better than the alternative.”
There’s a ringing endorsement for you. Of course, Jenny was just playing up her role as the victim in order to keep Mandy in check. At least that’s what I told myself.
Roona and Mandy were suitably awed when Flossie took the driver’s seat on Vikchutni, which cheered Claire up a bit. She was still wary of Roona and clung on to Maurice’s arm like a flotation device in the middle of the ocean.
I climbed onto the dragon, my mind full of uncertainty about providing Cheng a bride and then killing him.
Uncle Pete had made a compelling case for the need to prevent the coming of Nekromel. I didn’t doubt that part. The denizens of the underworld supplanting fresh air and forests with fire and brimstone would make it much more difficult to go for a walk, have a nice picnic or, you know, breathe.
Killing Cheng was an extreme solution. I wasn’t even sure it would be a solution. I knew Uncle Pete believed it was the only way—his tower of truth had confirmed as much—but preventing Nekromel, didn’t guarantee to leave things as they were.
Without Cheng, there would be a power vacuum. There would also be a lot of angry monsters and we didn’t have an exit strategy. And why wouldn’t Uncle Pete wait until Cheng was dead and then use the spires anyway? A very effective way to stop your enemies attacking is to make them all dead.
For all I knew, Cheng somehow prevented the spires from wiping out every living thing this side of the border. Remove him and Uncle Pete might suddenly have the ability to drop bombs like Platoon. And I doubted he’d chopper us out before pressing the button.
Roona sat down next to me on the dragon’s back, and grabbed my arm.
“Aren’t you going to say something?” Claire asked Jenny somewhat exasperatedly. “You can see what she’s trying to do.”
Jenny sat opposite me. “I don’t mind. Good luck to her.”
Jenny’s lack of concern about Roona’s attempted seduction was well founded. Someone like Mandy annoyed me, but I got it. She was making the best of what she had and there was a sense of give and take. Yeah, the guy got screwed, but the guy also got screwed.
Roona, on the other hand, was a different animal. A black widow.
“This is exciting, isn’t it?” she whispered, her plump lips brushing against my earlobe. “I always wanted my first time to be special.”
Uncle Pete had made it clear my role was to get Roona to the Archfiend; she would do the rest. I had wondered what kind of girl would agree to that. Someone who had been forced? Someone driven by anger or revenge? What I hadn’t expected was her to be looking forward to it quite do much.
“Uncle Pete chose us for a reason,” she continued to murmur, “you and me, we’re going to save the world.”
I turned to face her and was struck by how piercing those violet eyes were. “You have to kill him first.”
The merest glimmer of a smile pulled at the corners of her mouth. “He gave me a special dagger. I think it’s magical. I’m going to plunge it into his heart. Once I kill the Archfiend, I’d like to get to know you better.”
Not often a girl asks you to hang out as soon as she’s taken care of a quick murder. The way she said it was ice cold, like it was no big deal. Get married, kill husband, maybe go for a drink?
She pushed her big boobs against me, but they were no more sexually exciting to me than a couple of hot water bottles. I mean, I like hot water bottles, but I wouldn’t want to stick my dick in one.
Meanwhile, the slightest touch of Jenny’s ankle against mine was enough to send an electric shock straight to my groin.
I tried to get a read on what Jenny was thinking but she adjusted her mask, leaned back and closed her eyes. It showed the strength of our relationship, I suppose, that she didn’t feel threatened by spider-woman, but it still would have been nice if Jenny acted a tiny bit jealous. A guy likes to feel wanted.
It occurred to me that spending so much time around girls was turning me into a huge pussy.
Roona’s grip turned genuine when the flight got bumpy. Possibly, Flossie was rocking and rolling a bit more than necessary, just to keep the newbies on their toes.
Mandy caught me looking at her and scowled. “Wherever it is we’re going, they better have cake. And chocolate.” Spoken like a woman who’d come to the realisation that all men are useless.
The journey was otherwise uneventful and as night set in, the mountains loomed ever closer.
We landed under a star strewn sky and were met by the brays and honks of the other dragons welcoming Vikchutni home.
Cheng came out to meet us with a stream of children carrying torches. It was night, so his form was that of a demon, which might not have been the best way to meet your new bride.
Roona held onto me tighter as we disembarked. Her offhand manner had deserted her in the presence of this giant spawn from the pits of Hell. At least for the time being.
Cheng looked down at the small, frightened girl on my arm.
“Is this to be my Bride?” His booming voice sounded a little nervous.
I looked down and Roona flashed me a smirk. She was faking it. Even in front of his demon form, she was ready and willing. A chill went down my spine.
“No,” I said. “She is the Bride.” I pointed at Mandy who was unsteadily working her way down the dragon’s tail.
Roona’s nails dug into my arm. “What are you doing?” she hissed at me.
Cheng looked confused. “Are you sure?” He seemed quite taken with Roona, but he didn’t know her like I knew her.
“Trust me,” I said, glancing at Roona and ignoring the painful claws sinking ever deeper into my arm. “She’s the one.”
Mandy clambered down and realised everyone was looking at her. “What?”
“You are to be my bride,” said Cheng, not very confidently. His wings stretched out behind him.
Mandy, who had been in her own head the whole flight, finally saw what was standing in front of her. I think she might have wet herself a little.
“No,” said Mandy, confusion filling her face. “Not me.”
I shook Roona off. She tried to regrab me, but Jenny was instantly behind her. I couldn’t see what she was doing back there, but Roona froze.
“Mandy, listen to me.” I had to grab her by the shoulders and shake her to get her fear-stricken gaze off Cheng. “Just go and talk to him. That’s all. He won’t make you do anything you don’t want to.” I turned to Cheng. “Right?”
Cheng shook his head. He looked as confused as Mandy.
Claire took Mandy’s hand and Flossie took the other. Neither had any idea what the plan was, but they picked up the ball and ran with it. I felt something odd as I watched them—I think it was appreciation.
They coaxed her towards Cheng. The procession turned around and they all headed off towards the castle in a parade of lights.
Roona was apoplectic. “What the fuck are you doing?” she said through gritted teeth.
“Have some patience,” I said. “Uncle Pete chose us for a reason. You can’t do the obvious thing here and expect to get away with it. We do things my way.” I spread my hands out and lit them up so we could see better. But what I really wanted to do was impress Roona. If she thought I was operating on a higher level, one she didn’t understand, it would buy me some time. It might even convince her I knew what I was doing. Obviously, I had no fucking clue.
What I did know was that Roona was not the right person. For anyone.
Did that mean Mandy was? Probably not. But there was something broken about her and Cheng always seemed at his best around people who needed him.
We took Roona to our room. Maurice and Dudley were happy to leave their partners to do the risky stuff and we all huddled by the fire. Roona sat there staring into the flames.
Claire and Flossie joined us after a while.
“They’re talking,” said Claire, “but I don’t know if she’s going to be able to keep it together. Are you sure about this?”
“Give it time.” I tried to make it sound like it was all part of the plan.
“Time?” said Roona. “The end of the world is coming!”
“Mandy isn’t a virgin,” I said, “so she won’t trigger anything. And things aren’t as they appear.”
“Then explain it to me,” said Roona.
“No. It may look like we’re alone, but we aren’t. The less we say the better.”
Maurice and the others immediately started looking around like there might be ninjas in the shadows. At least my bluff had worked on them.
Roona’s gaze returned to the fire.
We sat there all night, waiting. As sunrise approached and the first fingers of light reached over the horizon, there was still no sign of them. Jenny stood next to me by the window. The others had fallen asleep.
Roona rocked back and forth in front of the fire, muttering to herself. She was one scary chick.
The morning sunlight burst into the room and Cheng appeared in the doorway. He was in his human form. Mandy was next to him, holding his hand.
Claire and Flossie jumped to their feet and rushed over. They had never been friendly with Mandy but since she had turned vulnerable and terrified, they seemed to have put their past issues behind them and adopted her as one of their own.
Now they fussed over her to make sure she was okay. Mandy smiled shyly and nodded to their questions.
“Oh, that’s good,” said Flossie. “We were worried he might eat you.”
She said it jokingly, but Mandy’s face turned bright red and she hid it in Cheng’s chest.
“What is it?” asked Cheng. “What’s wrong?”
She reached up and whispered in his ear and then it was his turn to flush crimson.
Roona watched all this with a steely glare. She had, perhaps, thought my plan was to get her into the Archfiend’s bed by some circuitous route. I was the one everyone praised as the master tactician, after all. But she was starting to realise the only plan here was to remove her from the proceedings.
“So, will she be your bride?” I asked Cheng.
“She already is. It is done.”
No end of the world, no rising of the Abyss. I guess she wasn’t the Bride of prophecy. Which was all to the good as far as I was concerned. Not a virgin, not the harbinger of doom. It meant the end of times would be delayed, which would upset Uncle Pete, but he could wait a little longer.
“Did you fook him?” blurted out Flossie.
Neither answered, but suddenly there was an invisible mouse in the room and they both could see it scampering about.
I guess you don’t really need a priest or ceremony to become a couple, you just need to do the deed. I wondered which version of Cheng she did it with. Maybe both.
“No!” screamed Roona. “It was supposed to be me!” She grabbed my shirt and shook me. “You’ve ruined everything, you…”
Her voice trailed off and her eyes focused over my shoulder.
Cheng was on his knees. He let go of Mandy’s hand and pushed her away. His body was changing. He shouldn’t have been doing that.
“You were a virgin?” I said, unable to believe it.
“What are you talking about? Of course not!” said Mandy.
“But then…” It didn’t make sense.
“This is it,” said Roona. “This is our chance.” She had a knife in her hand, a stiletto with a jet black blade. Where she got it from, I have no idea.
She ran towards Cheng who was on all fours, his boyish form warping and pulling in all directions.
Roona only made it a couple of steps before Jenny’s elbow caught her in the throat. While we had all been fixed on the transformation of Cheng, Jenny’s eyes never strayed from Roona.
Roona went down like she’d been clotheslined. Jenny grabbed her hand, wrapped her legs around the extended arm, and sat down while spinning on her heels. She leaned back and the dagger popped out of Roona’s hand.
But bitch had a backup. Her other hand came up holding an identical dagger, aimed at Jenny middle area. I wasn’t about to let her get stabbed in the crotch again, not unless it was by me.
I lunged forward, getting my leg in the way.
The dagger plunged into my leg.
I screamed like a girl, which is to say, very bravely. I hopped back, taking the buried knife with me.
Jenny scrambled on top of Roona’s well endowed chest and straddled her, knees pinning arms and fists pummelling Roona’s face. The time she’d spent training with the Mezzik children was really paying off.
Roona was out of commission, but Jenny didn’t stop. I had to limp over and pull her off. She flailed wildly, trying to get in an extra couple of licks.
Perhaps the attention Roona had lavished on me hadn’t gone quite as unnoticed as I had thought.
Cheng had finished his transformation. He was a mixture of his two forms, with the demon body and wings, but his boyish face. Mandy had his head in her hands and was looking into his eyes. He insisted he was fine.
Jenny turned around breathing hard and looked at the knife still sticking out of my leg.
She grabbed the hilt and pulled it out, and not gently. “This doesn’t make us even.”
I healed my leg. “What are you mad at me for?”
She took off her mask and kissed me. “Next time, don’t come up with a plan that involves you cuddling someone else’s boobs.”
Mandy watched us and realisation dawned on her. “He didn’t do that to your face, did he?”
“No,” said Jenny.
“He’s still an arsehole,” said Mandy.
“Yes,” said Jenny, “but he’s my arsehole. Plus, his fuck style is buck wild.”
Mandy laughed. “No it isn’t. Is it?”
“No,” Jenny said, sniggering.
I didn’t think it was that amusing. Cheeky git.
Cheng looked shaken but, other than that, none the worse for his sudden change. But it didn’t make sense. Why had he changed? I believed Mandy when she said she wasn’t a virgin—that part was undeniable—but if the prophecy had found a way to make this part come true, then...
The ground shook. We all grabbed hold of each other to keep our footing. When the tremor stopped I looked at Cheng. He seemed no more sure of what was happening than the rest of us.
Noreen came running in. “The Worm King has appeared in the prophecy room.”
The Worm King in the Home of Fate. The prophecy was completing itself. The ground shook again and the floor crumbled. We all retreated to the edges of the room as the middle of the floor fell away. The floors below us had suffered the same fate, all the way down to the lowest, the prophecy room. There was no sign of the Worm King though, just a swirling black hole.
It looked like a portal. A gateway to Nekromel, if Uncle Pete was right.
There was a flash of light from the horizon.
“The spires,” shouted Cheng.
Peter had activated the weapon. Were we about to be vaporised? There seemed only one way out.
“Jump,” I screamed. I grabbed Jenny’s hand and jumped.
Book 5: Welcome to Nekromel continues the story here: LINK
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