Chapter 117: Jacob and Loudmouth's excellent adventure
“Shit,” Friend Jacob grumbles under his breath, as he and Loudmouth make land on the central island’s beach. The castle looms up in the distance over the trees, atop a large rocky hill more or less in the middle of the island.
“What wrong?” Loudmouth croaks.
“I just realised that my speech sounds very different from yours, and that could give me away,” Friend Jacob says in that funny way monkeys talk.
Loudmouth ponders this for a moment. Although he’s very used to it, other Hoig might take note of the strange garbled sounds his Friend produced. “Friend Jacob right. Best let Loudmouth do talking.”
Friend Jacob groans. “This is a terrible idea. Fine, but I’m going to give you instructions sometimes using Telepathy, and I need you to follow them. Can you do that, Loudmouth?”
“Sure!” Loudmouth promises.
Jacob sighs. <All right then,> his voice says in Loudmouth’s head. <Let’s get hopping.>
“Loudmouth?” guard Flatface calls out in surprise from the wall above the gate when they hop up to it. “That you?”
“Sure is!” Loudmouth croaks back, happy to see a familiar face, for more than one reason. “Loudmouth bring message for Grand Chief!”
“That so?” Bulging-Eyes croaks, popping up next to Flatface. Loudmouth feels himself flush a little at her appearance. He’s always kind of liked her, but she never pays him much attention. Unfortunately, that trend continues, as she eyes his Friend suspiciously. “Who he?”
“Ah, no mind Tiny-Head. He not born right; stupid, no talk.” Friend Jacob shifts in his crouched position, looking a little miffed at Loudmouth’s hurried babble, so Loudmouth quickly puts in a good word. “But good fighter! He kill stinking monkey and take horns and weapons.”
Friend Jacob puffs up his chest a little, mimicking Loudmouth’s preferred posture. Loudmouth glances over appreciatively. It looks just as heroic as he’d always imagined, especially with the addition of the gleaming greysteel shield and sword Friend Jacob is sporting.
Unfortunately, judging by the glint in her bulging eyes, Bulging-Eyes seems to agree. “Oh my,” she croaks. “Killed monkey? That hard.”
“Well, was small monkey, puny really,” Loudmouth croaks, not happy with the way Bulging-Eyes looks at Friend Jacob. “And he lost eye fighting it. Anyway, can Loudmouth enter now? Have to deliver message from chief Deathglare.”
“Sure,” Flatface croaks, and starts to hop towards the stairs.
However, Bulging-Eyes looks confused. “Wait, chief Deathglare? Didn’t Grand Chief say she die?”
Flatface stops. Friend Jacob stiffens.
The blood rushes to Loudmouth’s head. “Ehm, yes, that is message. She say she die,” Loudmouth quickly improvises.
“Ah,” Flatface croaks with an understanding nod, and resumes hopping towards the stairs.
But Bulging-Eyes still looks confused. “How she say she die, when she dead?”
Loudmouth blinks, getting confused as well. One of the things he’d always liked about Bulging-Eyes was how smart she was, but he doesn’t like the way it’s working against them right now. Flatface kind of hovers, barely in view, seeming unsure if he should go open the gates or not.
<Crap, they’re getting suspicious. Okay Loudmouth, I need you to say the following...>
“Ehm, yeah, was weird,” Loudmouth croaks, faithfully repeating what Friend Jacob’s disembodied voice told him. “She there, but not really there. Loudmouth could kind of see things right behind her. Normally she more solid.”
Bulging-Eyes pales, and her eyes almost pop out. “G-ghost?”
Loudmouth’s eyes widen, and he looks around in fright. “What? Where?!”
“She means the chief, you idiot!” Flatface croaks back, sounding frightened himself.
Oh. Oh! “Ah, that’s how she say she die when she dead. It was ghost!” Loudmouth croaks loudly. He shoots Friend Jacob a triumphant look.
The corners of Friend Jacob’s tiny mouth curl up. <Great job, buddy. Now say the following.>
“Ghost of chief told Loudmouth who killed her,” Loudmouth repeats, lowering his voice conspiratorially, “but is for Grand Chief’s ears only. Don’t know who can be trusted!”
Flatface and Bulging-Eyes share a serious look, before turning back to Loudmouth “Sound important,” Flatface says. “No worry, Loudmouth. We open gate, and personally escort you.”
Hearing the good news, Loudmouth sneakily shoots a thumb up to Friend Jacob. Going great!
Friend Jacob groans.
Loudmouth soon realises why Friend Jacob groaned. Things are actually going not so great.
Flatface and Bulging-Eyes hop in front of them through the halls of smooth, bare stone, glancing around all alert, giving them no opportunity to escape.
Friend Jacob and Loudmouth were going to sneak up into the tower and through the Grand Chief’s bedroom to fetch the crystal they needed. However, if their escort wakes the Grand Chief, that plan is ruined!
<Okay, relax Loudmouth, we can do this. First, we need to stall so we can come up with a plan to get rid of them. Ehm, any ideas?>
Glancing around for inspiration, Loudmouth’s eyes fall on a familiar door. “Ah, can Tinyhead use waste pit? He need go real bad.”
Bulging-Eyes glances back. “Really?” she ask curiously. “How you know?”
“Cause... he make funny hop?”
There’s a twitch next to Friend Jacob’s eye, but he quickly starts doing a funny kind of bow-legged hop in place.
Flatface chuckles. “Loudmouth right, is funny. Go ahead, Tinyhead.”
<Say you need to go as well.>
“Actually, Loudmouth might go too, since we here,” Loudmouth quickly croaks, following Friend Jacob through the door, and closing it behind him.
The room they enter is smooth barren stone, much like the hallway, and features a two-feet-wide, hexagonal hole in the centre.
<Okay, let me think. How do we get rid of these two... Well, I can think of one way, but—are they, like, friends of yours, Loudmouth? Answer quietly please.>
Loudmouth shifts from one leg to the other. “Not really, but have always been nice to Loudmouth. Does... does Friend Jacob think Bulging-Eyes would ever go for Hoig like Loudmouth?”
Friend Jacob deflates a little. <I’m sure she would, buddy. So much for that idea. There even was such a convenient way to dispose of the, ehm, anyway—wow, how deep does this go?> Friend Jacob asks, looking down into the waste-pit
“Ah, waste-pit leads all the way down to caves beneath island. Hydrum flows through caves, flushes everything away,” Loudmouth whispers proudly.
<Loudmouth... are there passages into the castle from those caves?>
“Of course!” Loudmouth whispers back. “Hunting parties move out that way. Hoig much prefer swimming over hopping.”
<So we could have snuck in from down there?>
Loudmouth’s eye widen. “Ah!”
<Keep your voice down!>
“Everything okay?” Bulging-Eyes asks from outside.
“Ah yes, everything fine!” Loudmouth calls back. “Tinyhead not have best aim, but Loudmouth will clean right up!”
Friend Jacob closes his eyes and lets out a deep breath, clenching and unclenching his hands.
<Right, forget about the caves, we need a plan. Loudmouth, you told us you’d never had booze and you’re a total lightweight; would you say that’s true for most Hoig?>
“Oh, yes,” Loudmouth whispers, nodding. “Booze almost impossible to get, Hoig who use Toxic very rare. Most Hoig never had any.”
<Perfect. Here’s what we do...>
Hopping out of the room with the waste-pit, Friend Jacob lets out a relieved sigh and pulls the waterskin full of zirot wine that he’d taken from the beach from his belt.
“Tinyhead, no! Bad Tinyhead!” Loudmouth croaks on cue from behind him.
Friend Jacob freezes on the spot, and pretends to try and hide the skin. Flatface and Bulging-Eyes look on wide-eyed.
“Give it here, Tinyhead,” Loudmouth croaks sternly, grabbing onto one end of the skin. “Tinyhead knows he gets bad reaction to zirot juice, will be going right back to waste pit. Is that what Tinyhead wants?”
Friend Jacob pretends to hesitate, then slumps, and relinquishes his grip.
Flatface gulps audibly. “That all zirot juice? Whole skin full?”
“Ah, yes,” Loudmouth croaks. “Oh, ehm, would Friend Flatface want a sip? Loudmouth already had a lot at dinner anyway...”
Loudmouth holds out the skin half-heartedly, and Flatface snatches it right up, pulls off the stopper and takes a large gulp.
“Mmm, is good stuff!” he croaks happily.
“Hey! Flatface better share!” Bulging-Eyes demands.
Right on cue, Friend Jacob bends over with a groan.
“What is it, Tinyhead?” Loudmouth asks. “More cramps? All right, back in we go. Save some zirot juice for Loudmouth!”
They go back into the room with the waste pit and Loudmouth glances back wistfully. Such a waste of delicious zirot wine...
<Nice acting, Loudmouth, I totally bought your reluctance to give it to them. You’re a natural!>
“Hmm? Oh yes, Loudmouth great actor. Now what?”
<Now we wait.>
Outside of the room, Flatface and Bulging-Eyes are laughing at dumb things, getting louder and louder, while Loudmouth sits slumped against the wall, bored out of his skull. It sounds like a lot of fun, but Loudmouth totally isn’t jealous. Loudmouth is on an important mission, after all.
“Let’s slide down stairs on shields!” Loudmouth hears Flatface call, followed by the sound of webbed feet slapping on bare stone as their escort hops away without a care in the world. He sighs. He’d always wanted to try sledding down the stairs on a shield.
<Crap, they’re going to wake the whole castle,> Friend Jacob sends, sounding just as frustrated.
Loudmouth can imagine; Friend Jacob even brought his own shield, but he still can’t join them!
<Okay, we have to move quickly. Take us to where the stairs leading up the tower start.>
Loudmouth hops up, renewed excitement banishing his boredom as he leads Friend Jacob down the familiar passages, hardly getting lost more than twice.
No, what really slows them down is Friend Jacob insisting on glancing around corners before they hop around them. At first, that was kind of exciting, but after empty hall after empty hall, the excitement wears off, and Loudmouth just wants to keep going. He’s pretty sure they’re almost there anyway. Probably.
A hand on Loudmouth’s chest stops him from stepping around the corner Friend Jacob just checked around. <Shit, there’s guards.>
Loudmouth peeks around as well. He doesn’t like what he sees.
Two large, muscular Hoplites stand at the bottom of a spiralling staircase, one male, one female. Loudmouth recognizes the male. Strongleap. He’s kind of a dick.
Distant whoops and clanging sounds indicate Flatface and Bulging-Eyes are having the time of their lives. Strongleap and his fellow guard frown in the direction of the sound, but stay at their post.
“That’s the staircase that leads up into the tower!” Loudmouth whispers after pulling back.
<I was afraid of that...>
Sounds of opening doors and murmured croaks come from another hallway that leads to the living quarters, indicating that the racket is indeed waking Hoig up.
<Shit. Shit shit shit!> Friend Jacob sends to Loudmouth, rubbing his hands over his face. <If the Grand Chief wakes up we can forget about sneaking past him. Okay, no need to panic. We don’t look out of place, that’s our greatest advantage. If the Hoig are waking up anyway... maybe we should stir up more chaos, lure the Grand Chief out of his tower. Ugh, if only Emma were here, she’d just conjure up the image of some monster, and—>
Friend Jacob freezes, then lifts his face out of his hands. <Maybe we don’t need an image. I have an idea, follow me!>
Friend Jacob stalks off, forgetting to hop in his enthusiasm at the start, until Loudmouth points it out.
Loudmouth quickly loses track of the monotonous hallways they cross, but he recognizes the door of the room with the waste pit they visited earlier. Friend Jacob darts inside and Loudmouth follows with a shrug.
It seems like an odd time for this, but when you gotta go you gotta go. Friend Jacob should really lay off the zirot juice.
Friend Jacob crouches over the hole, and Loudmouth dutifully turns around. He hears Friend Jacob mutter for a bit, but not much else. Just when he’s getting bored again, a sound that’s haunted Loudmouth’s nightmares ever since he’d first heard it echoes up from the tunnels.
It’s the long, warbling cry of a dirak, the terrifying creatures that inhabit the corner closest to Loudmouth’s village.
‘Foooooooood!’ it warbles. ‘Dieeeeeeee!’
Loudmouth instinctively freezes and curls himself into a tiny ball.
<I think that sounded pretty accurate, what do you think, Loudmouth?>
Loudmouth turns around with wide eyes, barely listening. It was time to be a hero. “Dirak have come to eat Loudmouth! Run, Friend Jacob! Loudmouth will distract them with succulent, heroic thigh meat!”
Friend Jacob stands stunned at Loudmouth’s sacrifice for a moment. Then he chuckles. <I’ll take that as a yes. Don’t worry, Loudmouth, that was just me imitating the dirak’s call. I’m pretty good with Vibration Energy and I’ve got this new Skill called Ampli—>
He’s interrupted by a loud, frantic voice that rumbles throughout the castle. Loudmouth recognizes is as belonging to the captain of the guard. “All warriors to arms! Go down into tunnels and find dirak! Protect nesting grounds at all costs!”
Friend Jacob’s eyes widen. <Oh damn, the nests are down there too? Even better.>
He turns back to the waste pit, and places his hands around his mouth. A loud keening cry that sends chills across Loudmouth’s thick skin bursts forth from his lips.
It echoes down the hole into the tunnels below, and for a moment, Loudmouth is stunned. “Wow! Friend Jacob actually really smart!”
<Don’t sound too surprised. Now let’s go see if the Grand Chief took the bait; we need to get up that tower before they figure out there aren’t any dirak!>
Good news, everyone ^^
Like I promised last week, I took another look at my tiers and gave the bottom tiers some love. That is to say, I added one chapter to the total that can be read ahead, and redistributed the chapters a bit over the tiers. This is the result:
Tier 1 ($2) can now read up to 4 chapters ahead.
Tier 2 ($5) can now read up to 7 chapters ahead.
Tier 3 ($10) can now read up to 10 chapters ahead.
And remember, you have until November to join if you want to make use of my Special Offer and get your name in the back of my very first e-book ;)