Mad Eyes Are On You!
Minty knew what she had to do. She held up the Sun Jewel and concentrated. A flash of blinding light blazed towards the pollution-fiend and it roared and dissolved into smoke, fleeing down the tunnel. She exhaled in relief, her outbreath making a whistling sound. "It's like the Sun Jewel read my mind."
"Great. Now we just have to get out…" whined Ciaww. He spread his wings and rose to the rocky ceiling.
"Please stay close. I'm the one who spends some of the time in a swamp or burrowing in the ground," urged Minty. "I can find the way out." She slithered along the surface of the tunnel. Suddenly there was the glare of light down a tunnel to the left, but Minty could sense something was wrong.
Ciaww squawked and flew away into the light. Towards a trap of some kind. Minty slithered along after him. The shimmering lights of a mirage surrounded them. The illusion of sunshine, water and melon trees.
Ciaww plucked a melon. "Made it. And just in time for lunch."
"No!" Minty knocked the melon onto the ground and it split open. It wasn't a melon at all. It was full of oil. "See. An illusion."
The mirage around them flickered and dissipated. They were in another rocky cavern. Ciaww squawked in displeasure.
The hollow laughter of the pollution fiend echoed in their minds. "Surrender! It's only a matter of time!"
"Never." Minty slithered out of the cavern. "Please will you just follow me, Ciaww? Don't fly off again. I can still find a way out." She sensed water nearby and headed for it, arriving at an oily pool.
"There is water here… I wonder…" She held the Sun Jewel to the surface of the pool and the light shone on the surface. The film of oil withdrew, revealing that the pool was indeed water and at a distance, there was the surface of a lake with the sun shining above. It was weird. It was like the lake was topsy turvy and they were looking at down though it, to the sky below.
Minty wrapped a slimy arm round Ciaww. "Hold your breath."
She dragged the monkey-bird into the water and immediately felt a sensation of rushing upwards. They were in the lake! She swam furiously to the surface and their heads broke the water. They were in the lake that adjoined the Frog Marsh. As yet, the lake was still free from pollution. Ciaww immediately started gibbering complaints about her getting him wet, but she knew they had to flee. She swam to the shore. Behind them, the dark shadow of the pollution monster loomed, getting closer.
Minty put on an extra spurt and then dragged the bedraggled monkey-bird onto the surface and turned to face the monster. The smoky shadow loomed above them. Minty concentrated, willing the Sun Jewel to reflect the sun and blaze brighter than it could underground. She closed her eyes tight (she had two eyelids) as the little orb blazed white. Then she hurled it at the pollution monster as it glided towards them.
She opened her eyes. Blazing lights were flashing in the shadowy smoke of the fiend as it roared and hissed and struggled. Then smoke and lights compressed together and imploded with a clap like thunder. The monster of pollution was no more. Ciaww clapped his wings and cheered. Of course, Minty had now lost the Sun Jewel and would have to rely purely on her wits for the rest of the journey.
At the bluestone palace, the Emperor had assumed new robes of office and sported a new haircut and beard trim.
"The robe of Emperor suits me perfectly. I was born to be Emperor. I've always known it. Haven't you, Bloodcut?"
Brutus nodded. "Erm. Yes, your Excellency. Always."
The Emperor glared and turned on him, drawing his ornate dagger and holding it up to his throat. "How could you have always known it, when we've only known each other for two years, since you joined my original pirate crew? I have ways of dealing with liars."
Alarmed, Brutus stammered. "I – I meant always since I met you."
Mad Eyes sheathed his dagger and another trident man, Cassius 'Cutthroat' Clayton entered. "Your subjects are ready, Excellency. They are waiting for you to address the crowd."
"Excellent!" Mad Eyes clapped his hand together. "Wait… his eyes narrowed. Is that a button missing from your uniform, Clayton?"
"Yes, boss. I'll get another one."
"Not good enough!" said Mad Eyes. "My Trident men will dress like men… or not at all. Take off your clothes."
Cassius was bewildered. "Sir! You can't make me…"
Mad Eyes drew his dagger again. "Your clothes… or your life."
Brutus watched grimly as Cassius took off his uniform, leaving just his helmet, underwear and boots.
Mad Eyes nodded. "That's better. From now on, you will carry out your duties dressed like that."
Brutus found this troubling in the extreme. Mad Eyes had gone totally mad with power!
On a platform surrounded by trident men and Dracons, Mad Eyes delivered his speech to the people of the Sapphire City State that lay by the jungle:
"Citizens, the monarchy was too soft. Now that I'm Emperor, that will change! I will make the rules and you will obey them – or be eliminated. In order to encourage obedience, a curfew is in force tonight. Anyone found on the streets after nightfall, will be stabbed by a trident or eaten by a Dracon! I am the law now! The Living Law!"
A strong force of Dracons and trident men controlled the crowd.
There were mutters among the masses. An unkempt, burly man murmured his discontent: "The Emperor's crazy, he's…"
A trident man walloped him over the head with his trident. "You'll pay for that, citizen."
A Dracon leered at the crowd, showing off its fangs, like a crocodile's. "Why no cheersss…? Would you like to be eaten?"
A hasty cheer went up from the crowd. "H-Hail, Mad Eyes! Long live the Emperor!" The Emperor is the Living Law!"
And so, as night fell, the tyrant's grip squeezed tighter. Screams of terror echoed through the city streets as Dracons caught those who broke the curfew. Sounds of crunching bones could be heard for miles around. The trident men put up posters which bore the slogan: "Mad Eyes watches you!"
From her cell window in the highest tower of the Queen Thea looked out over the city. She turned pale, her freckles really showing. "This day will live in infamy. Our poor, poor Kingdom. It's… it's terrible."an
"Come away from the window, dear," suggested King Gabi. He really didn't want her to be more agitated than she already was.
At that moment, a Dracon leered through the bars in the cell door. He hissed at Prince Alfie, his forked tongue flickering. "Little Princccceling… you will tasste nicce."
Gabi hugged Alfie to him as he whimpered, so that he couldn't see the dreadful lizard. Thea snarled and launched herself at the door. "You dare threaten my son, you foul beast!"
"I'll crunch your bonessss," hissed the Dracon.
The trident man guarding the cell door knocked the lizard on the head with the handle of his trident. "No, you won't. The Emperor will turn you into a pair of crocodile skin shoes if you chomp the prisoners without his say so."
The Dracon hissed, but made no reply. Thea breathed heavily, her breasts rising and falling. Gabi was worried about her. The stress was clearly taking its toll.
Minty slithered through the dense jungle, being sure to stay slow enough for Ciaww to keep up. They had been travelling through the jungle for days, and Ciaww was getting grumpy. Minty wondered whether, from a distance, she would look like a huge green slug, going at this slow speed. They had to go through the mushroom grove if they were to take the quickest route to the Sapphire City. The monkey-bird was complaining that he was hungry again.
"OK, let's forage," said Minty.
They found a clearing with a tree laden with star shaped melons.
Ciaww grabbed one and tore at the rind with his beak. "At last. Lunch!"
Suddenly, a booming voice resounded around the clearing. "INTRUDERS!"
A massive shape tumbled from the trees, a monster with huge bird feet, a dragon's body and bulging from-like eyes. Ciaww squawked in fright and tumbled from the tree.
The voice rang out again. "Get out now! I am the Bog Monster! I can stomp on any number of lizards and bad guys!"
Minty gathered Ciaww up in her arms and whispered. "Can't you see? That thing's a fake. It's a huge puppet. Someone's working it in the trees. They're pulling strings somehow."
"How could I have known? I've not got your senses." Ciaww sounded indignant. He flew up into the trees. Now that Minty thought about it, there must be someone nearby on the ground, speaking through a hollow log to make their voice reverberate. Ciaww gave an ear-splitting squawk which was followed by high pitched cries. Human voices.
Minty slithered quickly between the trees and found two little human boys by a hollow log, clutching each other and trembling. Ciaww was rolling on the ground, pointing at them and laughing. "You should have seen them jump out of their skins! Hilarious!"
Minty glared. "Ciaww, you bully." She wrapped her slimy green arms around the boys and murmured in her best soothing voice. "It's OK, nothing to worry about."
Ciaww stuck his beak in the air. "Huh. They started it with their shenanigans. But whatever. Blame the monkey-birds, we're easy targets…"
One of the little boys was red headed, his little face covered in freckles. The other was blond. The red headed boy touched Minty's bare arm. "You're cold and green and damp. And you've got a gown made of leaves? Why?"
She smiled at him. "I'm a Femurid girl. We're swamp people. My skin's damp, because I spend part of my life in water, and another part burrowing in mud. We're good at making clothes out of leaves for when we have to be away from the swamp for a while."
"Yeah, we all really want to know the details," snapped Ciaww.
"The King always did," said Minty with a happy sigh.
"You know the King? Is he alive?" demanded the red headed boy.
"I very much hope so," said Minty, her voice quivering. "I'm going to rescue him. Ermm…" she was flustered for a moment. "Why don't you both tell me your names?"
The blond boy blushed and shook his head, but the red headed one spoke for them both. "I'm Chip and he's Tripp. We live with Vilbia, up in the cave. She's got a green face, but it's just her face. The Bog Monster puppet is her idea."
"Oh? Well how about you take us to meet her? She shouldn't be putting you up to doing stuff like that."
Chip nodded. "We know the secret path to the cave. Only I can take you."
"You must be very clever," said Minty, ruffling his ruddy hair.
Chip puffed up at that, while Ciaww rolled his eyes. Chip led them through a narrow winding path to a cliff face. "The cave's there." Chip pointed up.
Minty nodded. "I see it." She gripped the rocky cliff face and then slithered up. The boys stared. She twisted her head round one hundred and eighty degrees and smiled down at them.
"She slithers up the cliff. Freaky, eh?" chirped Ciaww.
"She's cool!" said Chip.
Minty waved and blew a kiss at him. She waited for the boys to catch up, scrambling up the mountain path. Ciaww alighted beside her. There was a leafy curtain in front of the cave and Minty pushed it aside.
"Vilbia, we're home!" called Chip. "We've got visitors!"
The cave was full of small human children. A human lady was crawling around on her hands and knees with two little kids on her back. She turned her head to frown at them, and Minty saw that her face was covered in a smooth and shiny green material. She was wearing a mask. Minty wondered why.
"Hello!" said Minty, waving her long fingers and grinning. "Sorry to barge in. I'm Minty, from the Femurid Swamp."
"We demand to know… what do you think you're doing?" squawked Ciaww, extending his wings to make himself look big. "What're you doing, making your brats scare travellers with that Bog Monster."
"This is Ciaww, and he doesn't mean to be rude," said Minty, extending her hands.
Vilbia got to her feet and clasped Minty's hands. They were soft and dry. Normal human hands.
"What happened to your face? Why's it green and rubbery? You're no swamp creature," said Ciaww.
"Don't be afraid. My mask hides my disfigurement. I don't have anything contagious." said Vilbia softly.
"Glad to hear it," said Ciaww.
"Ciaww!" Minty glared at him.
"Charming bird," said Vilbia, her green masked face forming a wry smile. Her features moved like a human lady's too. Minty knew her own features moved more slowly when her expression changed. "I'm sorry if the Bog Monster trick frightened you. These are dark times. The old Bog Monster does frighten the dim witted Dracons. The Emperor's reach has grown long. I'm keeping danger away from my kids OK? This is the Jungle Orphanage."
At that moment, there was a terrible hissing noise and the leafy curtain was pushed aside. The blunt head of a Dracon appeared, its forked tongue flickering. It turned its head to fix its glassy eyes on them. "At lasssst. Food! A whole buffet!"