“First they will cleanse him in preparation for the sacrifice.” said their new acquaintance, the Queen’s Guard whose name they were to learn was Sir Benjamin Lovett, son of Mumford.
“Evil!” cried Gadget. “It’s not enough to kill ‘im, they ‘asta torcher ‘im first. Poor Mister Brother.”
“After he has been cleansed they will await the setting of the sun. If they sacrifice him while the sun still shines they risk incurring the wrath of Prosperity and the possibility she will not follow… something they would never dare hazard.”
Emerson took pause, there was something odd in the young knight’s wording and inflection that struck him as curious. However, present circumstances did not allow for further questioning.
“Help me drag Malus behind the temple,” said Emerson to the Queen’s Guard, “before someone gets it into their head to verify whether or not this demon is really dead.” Sir Benjamin was strong enough that he was able to hoist Malus up over his shoulder without assistance.
“Gadget,” said Emerson, “grab Lapis’s satchel.”
“Commander Malus’s instincts were sound.” said Sir Benjamin as he lay Malus on the ground behind the northern temple. “These people have built and sustained a nation in one of the harshest places on earth. They are disciplined, Malus saw that in the precision with which they built this remarkable city… all without the benefit of steam or modern technology. They have a desire to spread beyond the confines of this island, however, this prophecy of theirs must be fulfilled in order for them to proceed. They could strengthen the commonwealth of Queen Princess should they so desire. They just need the right… encouragement.”
“That’s nice.” replied Emerson only half listening to the knight who seemed to be chattering on incessantly. “Now, we have to revive Malus.” he said, searching through Lapis’s satchel. “I know it is in here somewhere.”
After a few moments, he found what he was looking for. “Wow, when I told that guy to bring enough sugar to last the trip he took me seriously.” Emerson pulled out a leather pouch that contained no less than a pound of Lapis’s white powder.
“How much should you give him?” asked Junie.
“I have no idea.” said Emerson, “but I want to make sure he wakes up. Here, Gadget, hold my cigar.” he said, handing what was left of the Sagrada Lucia to the boy before reaching into the bag and taking a pinch of the powder which he then blew in Malus face. Nothing seemed to happen. After a moment he reached into the bag again and took a small handful which he once again blew at Malus’s face.
Two things seemed to happen at once. First, Malus in a fit of coughing sat bolt upright looking dazed and confused; second, the heater on the end of the cigar stub upon which Gadget was puffing flared up momentarily in a remarkable sizzling blue flame.
“Whoa!” said Gadget, “What’s in that stuff?”
“Calm down son, focus.” said Emerson.
“Where did she come from?” Malus’s eyes were wide as he spoke in rapid disconnected sentences. He rubbed his nose and slapped at his cheeks. “Why can’t I feel my face? That bird… did you see it? SO unfair… Lapis… you!” he stopped, slapping his cheeks long enough to point an accusatory finger at Emerson Lighthouse. “YOU brought him here. And then mother…. somehow you had a hand in that. But how did you figure it out? This is not fair. He cheated. It was all going so well. I was winning. I would have won. I would have… calm… calm…” Malus shut his eyes and made an effort to control his breathing. “0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, 233, 377, 610, 987, 1597, 2584, 4181, 6765, 10946, 17711, 28657….”
“Malus! Snap out of it!” Emerson grabbed him by the shoulders and started to shake him.
“Do you mind? I am calculating.” he continued. “46368, 75025, 121393, 196418, 317811…”
“Listen son, is there any other way into that temple?”
“Is there any other way into that temple?” Emerson repeated slower but with more urgency.
Malus looked up. Emerson followed his gaze and saw an opening about 10 feet above the ground. It looked like the opening to a shaft, about two feet by two feet square.
“Does that lead up to the temple?” asked Emerson with a hint of hope.
“Yes, but you’d get stuck, it’s too narrow. It was meant for the child labourers who built this city.”
“That’s fine, Gadget could fit.” said Emerson trying desperately to figure out an exit startegy.
“I think I might be able to fit.” offered Junie.
“And Dominic is a little man… he’d probably fit too. Okay… I sense a plan starting to come together.”
“Sir Sir,” said Gadget excitedly, “do you ‘ave any more of those cigars?”
“Gadget, I’m wearing a sarong, where would I put a cigar?”
“Here,” said Malus interrupting his litany to reach into his pocket. “I have one.” He looked at Emerson with a sneer. “And it is the last one.”
“Wait, isn’t he too young to smoke?” said Emerson staring hungrily as the last Sagrada Lucia passed from Malus to Gadget.
Gadget took the cigar, stuffed it in Lapis’s satchel which he slung over one shoulder then said, “Come on Miss Missus.”
Years on the streets of New Babbage had taught Gadget how to break into a building as silent as any shadow. Holding his hand to the side he signalled for Junie to hold still and not move. He then dropped to the floor and crept over to Lapis who appeared to be in some sort of trance.
Gadget looked up. There were two guards but they were just outside the entrance of the temple looking out rather than in. In the corner, still dressed in her metal bikini, Rose Smith was bound and gagged. She looked at Gadget with wide eyes. Bringing his finger to his lips he motioned for her to stay still.
He then looked back and signalled for Junie to join him. “Cut them free.” Gadget whispered, slipping a knife from the satchel and handing it to Junie. “Then take Mister Brother and Miss Rose down the shaft, make sure they get out quick. I’m going to fix it up ‘ere so there’s a bit of a rumpus.”
Junie nodded, Running over to free Rose first and explain the situation. They then crept back to Lapis who quickly appeared to be regaining his senses. As quietly as they could they cut the leather bindings.
Meanwhile Gadget busied himself. From Lapis’s satchel he removed the sack of white powder. He then twisted it until it was as tight as he could get it forming a ball about the size of a large orange. Then, on an impulse, he took the lamp from the table and soaked the ball until it had absorbed all the oil.
Once he saw that Junie, Rose, and Lapis had already started down the shaft, he took the Sagrada Lucia and broke a quarter off the end which he proceeded to light with the flint he kept in his pocket. After a few puffs to ensure it was truly lit he attached the cigar stub to the oil-soaked ball of powder, left it near the back of the temple wall, then crept to the shaft. He leaped for the opening but he was just a bit too short to reach, missing getting a hand hold on the bottom edge of the shaft by a good six inches. “Oh Bugger!” He took a breath and jumped again…
“Miss Rose,” bowed Sir Benjamin, as the young socialite emerged from the opening. “I am so relieved to see you safe.”
“Thank you Sir.” Rose smiled as she reached out to take his hand and accepted his assistance.
Next came Lapis whose glare matched that of Malus’s though they both held their tongues. Junie emerged next, dropping to the ground and joining the group in looking up, nervously waiting for Gadget to appear. The tension mounted.
“Surely…” Junie started but she was interrupted by a tremendous explosion from the temple up atop the ziggurat Though their angle wasn’t good for a clear look, it appeared the roof has collapsed in upon itself in tons of rock and plaster. From the shaft on the wall of the Ziggurat black smoke came billowing out.
Refusing to believe the worst they remained in place, staring up, hardly breathing for worry. Suddenly a small figure appeared coughing and coated in soot.
They all laughed as he climbed down the side to the ground. Gadget spit on his hand and wiped it across his cheek. Bringing his hand away a smile spread across his face as he saw the dark smudge of soot. He raised his arms in the air and shouted with triumph, “I’m cured!”
“Are there any ships on the river we might be able to use to escape?” Emerson asked Malus and Sir Benjamin.
“There are a few rafts, we might be able to take one of those.” said sir Benjamin. “But don’t forget, all the Queen’s Guard and Henri Giffard air ship survivors are still here. They are probably not in any immediate danger, but it is not right to just leave them behind.”
“Let’s get ourselves out first and figure out what to do about them once we are safe.” suggested Emerson.
“I agree.” said Lapis. “Though I swore no allegiance to this queen,” he cast an accusatory glare at Malus, “I do not wish to leave her defenseless and at the mercy of any scoundrel who wishes to take her kingdom.” He paused, calculating. “But Emerson is right. We do no good to anyone if we are caught.”
There was no further debate. The group started into a run, making their way through the rain forest. Before long they heard the unmistakeable sound of pursuit. As they broke through the last of the jungle foliage, emerging before the great river, they suddenly came to a stop trying to process what they saw.
Floating upon the waters of the River Dharma, having arrived during the distraction of the fight, spread out as far as they could see in either direction, were barges, more than they could count. And on the bank, facing the jungle like she meant business, was an armour-clad Queen Princess leading and army of no less than 1000 heavily armed women.