The city in which Malus had headquartered himself was far grander than any of them had imagined. Towering ziggurats soared above majestic trees while buildings of intricate and rich design lined wide boulevards paved with crushed limestone.
Their entrance into the city was heralded by all they passed. Laughing island children began to follow. Before long they had a festive procession, a joyous parade trailing along behind. Eventually they arrived in the Great Square at the heart of the city, a marvel of architecture and green space which served as a market and meeting place for the city’s many residents. Rising to frame each end of the square, one facing north and the other south, were two steeply inclined ziggurats topped with splendid temples.
“Mine is the northern temple.” said Malus bounding up the steps as the others followed.
“Cor, you ‘ave your own temple.” Exclaimed Gadget.
“Of course,” replied Malus matter of factly, “after-all, I am going to be declared a god at the end of the week.”
“That’s fascinating,” said Emerson, “But if this one belongs to your Almighty Holiness who has the one to the south?”
“Nobody,” replied Malus. “These superstitious fools believe it belongs to some fire-wielding demon or some such nonsense. The people fear a fairy tale and so it remains vacant… as was this one until I arrived.”
“I wonder what other superstitions and beliefs this culture might have.” wondered Junie aloud as they reached the temple platform.
Upon entering the narrow stone passage, it took a moment for their eyes to adjust to the temple’s torch-lit interior. Lounging upon a gold brocaded divan sat a young blond woman toying with the hose of a hookah though it appeared not to be lit and Emerson’s discriminating nose could detect no evidence of recent use. She wore a copper-coloured metal bikini with a matching metal arm band in the design of a snake. A sheer silk skirt, which was really nothing more than a cloth that hid nothing, hung from the front.
“Interesting attire Miss Smith,” commented Emerson as his eyes finally adjusted enough for him to recognize the young woman.
“Thank you Mr. Lighthouse,” Rose Smith, the eighteen-year old debutante from the luxurious Henri Giffard XVI, answered with a smile. She rose from the divan and crossed the room to give Emerson a hug. “Do you like it?” She said breaking off the hug to give a little spin. “The New Emperor picked it out for me.”
“Did he?’ Emerson looked from Rose in her metal bikini to Junie, scowling in her fur bikini, then cast his glance to Malus and said with a wink. “I see you are enjoying the benefits of power Sir Squire.”
The fever had already set in. It may already be too late. He sat upon the cold hard stone beneath the crescent moon, a stick clenched tightly between his teeth. The risk of discovery was great but the danger of inaction was a certainty.
In a quick but precise motion he sliced a six inch incision along his chest just below the infection then repeated the procedure just above. Using a strip of cotton he’d cut from the garment he’d stolen from a line earlier in the day, he staunched the flow of blood and scraped out all remaining traces of putrification. Once satisfied that he’d completely incised the infection from his body he took another cotton strip and wound it around his hand several times. He then reached into the ceremonial brazier which he’d lit a half hour earlier. He removed one of the red hot river-polished stones which he then pressed into the wound. It was almost too much to bear. He was not superhuman and he’d never pretended to be. This hurt like Hell but it was better than dying.
With nothing more than adrenaline and endorphins to fuel him, he repeated this step three times until the entire area of the wound had been cauterized. When the pain had subsided to the point he could remove the stick from between his teeth he extinguished the brazier and removed all traces of his treatment. He then crawled along the cool granite blocks, back into the darkness, until he was reasonably sure he was beyond immediate detection. With his head resting on the altar stone he slipped into a fitful and disturbed sleep.
The feast was lavish. Grilled meats sautéed in spicy island sauces; steamed exotic vegetables; leafy salads and caramelized fruits. Malus had spared no expense. Islanders regaled them with driving beats and strummed instruments while a chorus of girls danced and swayed. Exotic drinks, delicious and intoxicating flowed throughout the night. As the festive mood stretched on into the early hours of the morning, Emerson broached what potentially may have been a sensitive topic.
“Sir Squire, tell me,” he started, “what happened between you and Queen Princess?”
Malus pursed his lips for a moment before beginning. “Let’s just say we had a difference in philosophical direction.” He took another drink. “We have an opportunity here to forge something remarkable… a society based on order and logic. Instead she sits around emulating some long dead relative…”
“Wait a minute.” Emerson interrupted, “which relative?”
Malus looked annoyed. “Irrelevant, what I was saying…”
“You don’t mean the Virgin Queen do you?” Emerson snickered.
“Stop interrupting.” said Malus. “I was saying this could be the start of the new world order.”
Even Gadget burst out laughing at that.
“A toast,” winked Junie Ginsburg raising her glass. “To the new world order.”
The fever had broken. How many days had passed? Somebody was here. In an instant he was alert, knife in hand. He looked possessed, demonic. Before him was an old woman, who couldn’t be less than eighty, on her knees with her head bowed. In her hands she held a wooden bowl with what appeared to be a boiled starchy ground root of some sort. Grateful he grabbed at the substance with his fingers nodding as he filled his mouth. It was lightly seasoned and absolutely delicious. The woman, with her head still bowed, began to chant.
Almost a week after their arrival, Emerson was resting in the master hammock inside the hut Malus had provided for he, Junie and Gadget. He was idly watching how the purple haze of the Sagrada Lucia swirled and danced in the air when he heard a sing song voice calling from outside, “Oh Mr. Lighthouse.” followed by a suspicious sounding giggle.
‘What is she up to?’ he thought with a smile, slipping from the hammock and stepping out onto the porch of what Malus had dubbed the honeymoon hut. He was no more than a second through the door when he was met with a handful of mud in the face.
“Miss Ginsburg, this means war!” Emerson said laughing as he chased her back down the steps and into the brush behind the hut. He was closing the distance between them when he suddenly went head over heels having tripped over a large flat stone.
Junie started to laugh, “You better be okay or I am going to feel horrible for laughing at you.”
“I’m fine, I just tripped over this stone…” his eyes narrowed as he cleared some leaves from the top of it. “Look, it has some sort of writing all over it.”
“See right here? ” she said crouching down and pointing. “This pattern repeats itself. It must be a common word.”
Emerson nodded crouching down beside her and staring for several minutes; then on a sudden inspiration he said as he turned to face Junie, “When the great god from the north…”
Junie turned to him and added, “…has been sacrificed…”
“…prosperity will follow.” they finished together.
“Great Builder!” said Junie. “Emerson, we have to warn him.”
After a moment’s hesitation the two of them jumped up and broke into a run, making their way towards the Great Square as fast as they possibly could.
“So let me get this straight.” Malus clarified as he and Gadget walked towards the city square with its two great ziggurat temples. “You are saying they didn’t share a cabin the entire time they journeyed here from New Babbage aboard Captain Maynard’s vessel and that this is the first time you have ever seen them share an accommodation?”
Gadget furrowed his brow wondering why any of this could possibly matter. “I guess.” he replied.
“So they were not married before they left New Babbage.” Malus reasoned aloud before starting to wonder what other fabrications spun out from this central core.
“They could ‘ave gotten ‘itched after we left port. I mean I can’t rightly say what they got up to after I went to sleep. Could be Cap’n Maynard married ‘em; ‘e can do that right? Or maybe even Mister Brother since ‘e is one of those church buggers.”
Malus stopped in his tracks and spun Gadget around to face him so abruptly the boy cried out in startled alarm.
“Which church bugger would you be talking about?” For the first time in a long time Malus looked quite agitated.
“Mister Brother, sir. We call ‘im Mister on account ‘e don’t want no one knowing ‘e is filated with the church.”
“What?” Malus shook his head. “Stop being cute! You’ve got one chance kid. So I repeat… which church bugger?” But Gadget, somewhat stunned by Malus’s change of mood didn’t have to say anything. Of course it would be him… who else would come all the way down here to this cursed and hellish island with Emerson Lighthouse to get him?
“Lapis.” Malus said it like it was a curse. Making a fist and raising it to the sky he hollered “LAPIS!”
Dropping the boy, Malus ran to the central square where a midday market had brought a large crowd to the area. He crossed to the great ziggurat and scaled the steps to the upper platform from which height he could gaze down upon the crowded square.
A silence suddenly descended upon the multitude. All eyes, whether they be the queen’s men, crew members of the Henri Giffard XVI, or the several hundred island natives turned to watch him atop the great pyramid, stopping whatever they were doing to give him their undivided attention.
In a voice that carried across the entire square Malus called out: “I have existed from the morning of the world and I shall exist until the last star falls from the night. Although I have taken the form of Sir Squire Brother Malus, I am all men as I am no man and therefore I am…” here he paused for effect, dropping his voice marginally but punctuating each word… “a God.”
“Mr. McGregor,” Malus looked to the former purser and recently fired military commander. In his new role as lackey, he had joined Malus on the ziggurat and stood on the steps just below the temple platform. “I will accept the unanimous will of the people.”
“All those who say aye SAY AYE” bellowed McGregor to the crowd below. While the queen’s men and air cruiser crew offered their assent with subdued western enthusiasm, the Islanders all fell to their knees, threw their arms in the air and in unison joyously exhalted: AYE!
The final proclamation was about to be announced when the insult rang out across the square… oh how grievous… a lone voice calling out to shatter the solemn silence: “Nay!”
Malus’s eyes narrowed as he saw the man step from the shadows of the opposing temple, sword drawn, staring him down from across the square. “Mr. McGregor,” said, Malus without taking his eyes from the familiar and most unwelcome figure, “fetch my sword.”