The adventures of Malcolm & Axilla,
"You didn't mess up too much over that mission to Urack," mused the Princess. "If you keep that up, I MIGHT let you come up to my sleeping chamber one night."
"Ah, be still, my heart!", I muttered fervently.
"But FIRST, you must fetch me the Ladle of Strife."
"Strewth, what's that when it's around? Anyway, my job description was for a Champion, not a Gopher!"
"Would you prefer to fight a couple of Hippogriffons instead?"
"Where do we start looking?" Zilla wanted to know.
"Well, at least we don't need to fly. You got so carried away on that magic carpet, you would have been the first free-fall parachute-less skydiver this world has ever seen, if I hadn't been hanging on to your ankles!"
"Just why WERE you hanging onto my ankles?"
"They were about the only part of you that wasn't thrashing about. But to business; apparently we'll get our information at the Ideal Tombs Exhibition at Dukes Plaza."
"I always wanted to go there. What're we waiting for?"
The Exhibition area was crowded already with Diggers, Treasure Hunters, and even a few Tomb Buyers. We gazed around in awe at the huge displays of Pyramids, Ziggurats, Rock Tombs, and Towers of Silence. There was even an Amerindian Death Frame, which was a bit smelly, so we hastily moved on to the Mummification Concession.
"When I die, I want to be launched downstream in a burning boat," Zilla declared fervently.
"Well, I don't plan on dying at all, but if I must, I'd like it to be in bed with you."
"Gee, thanks! And what am I supposed to do then?"
"Get me on that burning boat before my company gets too unwelcome, I should think. Hey, look over there!"
A swashbuckling figure in a broad brimmed hat was barging through the crowd swinging a bullhide whip.
"Is that my Digger with the good legs?"
"No, it's his worst enemy, Big Bandanna Drones the Tomb raider. Anyway, what's wrong with MY legs?"
"Nothing at all. You just won't show them off enough."
"Psst. Want to buy a map of the Caves of Spelunkah?" It was a Dwarf who tugged at my knee. "Plenty of gold and mythrill to be had if you don't mind fighting off the Ralbogs."
"No thanks, I'm looking for the Ladle of Strife today. Now where did Zilla go?"
I tried to spot my wayward lover over the swelling crowd, but she had been swept away. Suddenly, I found a tall beauty in a tightfitting skinsuit in front of me. Her eyes were blazing and her magnificent protuberances heaved like the wobbly bridge over the Thames.
"Don't ever mention the Ladle in a public place like this," she hissed.
"I TOLD you not to mention it! Come with me this instant." She seized me by the collar and dragged me toward the exit.
"Who ARE you?"
"Clara Loft, as if you don't know."
"The Room Trader?"
"I prefer to be known as an Antiquities Conservator; thankyou. Get into my chariot."
Doubleparked in the alley behind the Exhibition Hail stood a lightweight two horse-power racing chariot, into which I was hurled. Clara whipped up the ponies, and we took off in a cloud of dust and discarded tomb brochures. Looking back from where I lay on the floor, I saw Big Bandanna and Zilla coming after us. They commandeered a traffic warden's dromedary and tried to follow, but Clara knew her way around the backstreets, and we soon lost them.
"Where are we going?" was my first intelligent remark.
"I'm waiting for YOU to tell me that! Come on, don't make me beat it out of you."
"I don't know what you want to know."
"The whereabouts of the article we mustn't talk about, of course."
"You mean the Ladle ..? OW!" she'd just kicked me. "I don't know where it is, I was hoping to get a clue at that Exhibition. YAROO, you Rotter, stop twisting my ear!"
I expect you're wondering why an Action Man like me was allowing a mere girl to kidnap and torture him? Well, she was a big girl, even without her blouse, and I was lying only 6 cube-its off the road, which was passing by at about 20 cobbles a second.
"I haven't got time for this," she snapped reluctantly. "We'll go to the Temple of Gloom, and then we'll see how much you really know."
I thought I could just see the dromedary following us at a distance, but I didn't want Clara to notice it, so I snivelled a bit and promised to tell her all I knew, as soon as we stopped racketing along.
"You'll get your chance, now," Clara promised as she brought her vehicle to a dust-raising halt in front of a dismal-looking ruin. "Get out, and don't try anything stupid."
In fact I was a mass of bruises by then, and incapable of trying anything stupid or otherwise. I picked myself off the ground where I'd fallen, and looked around as far as I could without causing any fresh aches and pains. Of my rescuers, there was now no sign.
"Lead the way, and remember, I'm right behind you with this Mach3 repeating crossbow. One false move, and you'll end up looking like a porcypoon."
I reluctantly started walking stiffly into the ruins, my mind racing to come up with something that might convince her to let me go. In my best tourguide mode, I intoned "On our left you see the great podium where the High Despondent is wont to stir the contents of the Cauldron of Woes seven times in each direction with the Artefact we must not name, in order to ensure conflict and contumely throughout the coming year ..."
"Abominable sacrilege!" screamed a cowled figure emerging from an alcove. "How dare you reveal our Mysteries to an Optimist and a female one at that. Seize them!"
In a matter of moments we were overpowered by a rush of dark robed figures, and dragged down into the depths of the Temple, where we were chained up in a wet, chilly cell. Clara was stripped and hung up by her wrists to a high staple, something which would normally have grabbed my attention. Unfortunately I was chained to the opposite wall with my back to her. Talk about torture.
"Meditate upon your transgressions," we were commanded. "Tomorrow you will be burnt at the steak in honour of the great God Bar Bekew."
"Damnation," Clara cursed. "My crossbow jammed again, or I'd have skewered the lot of them."
"If I'd have known it would, I'd have run off earlier. Here's another fine mess you've got me into."
"They've taken my clothes, with all my implements and picklocks concealed in them. Can you get free?"
"Hardly. My training didn't include escapology, worse luck."
"Fortunately I'm doublejointed. I may be able to reach the lock with my toes."
The thought of all this writhing and twisting going on behind my back made me feel even worse, if that were possible. It was a long and very uncomfortable night.
"Got it!" she exclaimed at last with a prolonged clatter.
"Well, come and unchain me."
"Not likely. I've got nothing on. What sort of girl do you think I am?"
"I promise I won't look."
The door was opened just then with a clank. Trust a girl to get free just as they came to unchain us. Two heavily robed monks entered with torches.
"Oh good, you managed to free yourself," said one in the tones of Zilla. "Get dressed quick, we're out of here."
"What about ME?" I bleated.
"No problem," said Bandanna, cracking his whip. My chains parted from the wall.
"Thanks for rescuing us, Bandy," I stammered rubbing my blistered wrists.
"Don't call him that, he's sensitive about his legs," Clara declared.
"Never mind. Put on these robes we've taken from the guards, and follow us out with heads bowed in penitence."
The whole routine went just as planned, only Clara and Bandanna took the chariot, while Zilla and I were left with the dromedary.
"What I want to know is: did you sleep with her?"
"We slept, yes, but both chained to different walls! Anyhow, you know I'd rather stay awake with YOU. But tell me, what did you get up to with Drones?"
"Oh, he just wanted me to tie him up and whip him! Well, I never get a chance to do that with you; just one scratch or nibble and you holler blue murder!"
"I'm not into pain. Anyhow, looks like another unsuccessful mission."
"Oh no? And what about this?" She produced a large wooden spoon. Sure enough, engraved on it were the magic words 'Big Stirrer'.
"Zilla, I love you."
To be continued ...