the Warlords of Chaos
by Robin Gordon
STRANGE NEW WORLDS
Copyright Robin Gordon, 1993/2004
"Come on, Frobisher, you ruinous weed!" urged Jellybean in what was meant for a stealthy whisper.
"Well, it's all right for you," wailed Frobisher, "but I'm not used to scrambling about through impenetrable jungles."
"Pipe down, you goof! You'll have the Tyrannoids on us in no time."
"Oh gosh," quavered Frobisher, "I still don't understand what we're supposed to be doing."
Jellybean sighed. It wasn't just the finer points of strategy that were beyond Frobisher: the whole concept of the battle-game seemed incomprehensible to him. He would probably have been much happier if the war had remained a matter of lead and plastic miniatures arranged on boards. For one so peaceful by nature he was surprisingly good at devising spectacular battlefields with difficult, almost impossible, terrain.
But lead models, even handsomely painted, had begun to pall - perhaps because a schoolboy's pocket money does not stretch all that far in the matter of Tyrannoids and Exterminators if it isn't topped up from time to time by the generosity of parents. It had been Jellybean's idea to translate the game from its boards to the scrubby woodland at the far side of the playing fields, but Church and Watkins had taken it up with enthusiasm, and others had joined in, and now, it seemed, the whole of Bunbury Court Preparatory School was involved.
"It's a game, Frobi," he said, like Cops and Robbers or Cowboys and Indians, except that there are lots of sides and everbody's against everyone else. We're the Space Explorers ..."
"I thought Church and Watkins were the Space Explorers."
"No, they're the Tyrannoids ... I think ... or are they the Exterminators? And Ashcroft and Innes are Orcs, and Parmenter's gang are Gene-Stealers ..."
"Jean-Stealers!?" wailed Frobisher. "Oh my goodness, Jellybean, I didn't know there was anything like that in the game. I wouldn't have agreed to play if I'd known I might have my trousers stolen."
"Not jean-stealers, you hairy goon, Gene-Stealers. They're some sort of ghastly mutants that can only exist by stealing other people's genes ..."
"That sounds just like Parmenter," replied Frobisher. "Remember how he hid Wyndham's shorts last week and Wyndham missed tea and there was wizard strawberry jam and ..."
"Not j-e-a-n-s, you numbskull, g-e-n-e-s. They're the things that make your body turn out the way it's supposed to."
"Oh! I thought those were pronounced gains."
"For the Gene-Stealers they're ill-gotten gains. Don't you remember how they inject their victims with their own TNT ..."
"You mean DNA," said Frobisher righteously, glad to have an opportunity of catching Jellybean out after his own confession of ignorance.
"Well, whatever it is, they inject it and turn them into horrible mutants like themselves."
Sudden whoops and crashes in the undergrowth announced the arrival of the enemy.
"Run, Frobi!" yelled Jellybean.
They plunged through the brambles and took refuge in a gully that seemed, at first, moderately dry. They heard the unseen foes come crashing through the wood. They heard loud View-halloos and Tally-hoes as the Gene-Stealers swarmed after other prey, and they heard Parmenter calling his scattered troops together.
"Come on, you chaps, this way! After Jellybean and Frobisher! Come on you goofy Gene-Stealers."
Jellybean silently tapped Frobisher's arm and pointed out an escape route. Carefully they crawled down the gully. It was much wetter and muddier than it had seemed at first, but at last it came out on the slope that led down to the little River Bunn. It was steep, but not particularly high, and hardly merited the name by which it was always known - the Cliff.
"Wizzo! Supersonic!" breathed Jellybean. "We've outflanked 'em, Frobi."
"Of course we have, you colossal ruin. All we have to do is climb down the Cliff, cross the stream and cut back to the cricket field. Then we can come at them from behind.
Parmenter's voice came again, floating on the late afternoon air like the call of the lesser spotted something-or-other rounding up its young.
"Come on, Gene-Stealers! Let's scrag Jellybean and Frobisher!"
"The scragfulness will be terrific," grinned Jellybean, "but we'll be doing the scragging."
He started off down the steep bank. Frobisher followed. Parmenter's voice died away, and all was still. The sun beat down on the two boys as they climbed quietly down, trying not to alert the enemy.
After a while, Frobisher said in a puzzled sort of voice "I say, Jellybean, it seems an awfully long way down."
"Yes it does rather," replied Jellybean. "Let's rest and look round."
The Cliff, he knew, was only twenty feet high, and the gully had brought them about five feet below its top. They should, by then, have been down beside the stream, but when they stopped to rest on a jutting boulder they found they were about thirty feet above the foot of the cliff, and, instead of the burbling Bunn, below them there stretched a desert landscape strewn with rocks and boulders.
"Oh gosh! What's happened, Jellybean? Where are we?" wailed Frobisher.
Jellybean's heart was thumping rather uncomfortably, but he was determined to keep calm and show that he was master of the situation.
"It's all right, Frobi," he said casually. "We've come though a space-time warp, that's all."
"ALL?!" squeaked Frobisher.
"Yes. It often happens, I believe. All we have to do is climb back up the cliff until we come to the portal leading to our own world."
"Are you sure?"
"Of course I am," said Jellybean with more conviction in his voice than he felt. He remembered that a born leader must never allow his followers to doubt him. "Come on, Frobi," he continued in cheerful tones. "Let's get back shall we?"
As he turned there was a flash a few feet above his head, a loud crack, and pieces of rock splintered from the cliff and cascaded around them.
"Look!" yelled Frobisher.
Jellybean looked. Out in the desert, approaching fast, was a gigantic something. A creature? Or a machine. Eight-legged it was, and shaped like a spider, but it gleamed like metal, and, as they watched, it fired from its head, and another bolt struck the cliff far too close for comfort.
Jellybean and Frobisher leapt wildly from their rock. They landed on a scree, a steep slope of loose stones and pebbles, and found themselves sliding uncontrollably downhill, faster and faster, like two mini-avalanches. Above their heads the rock where they had rested disintegrated suddenly and violently. They had left it only just in time.
The scree came to an end. The boys collapsed in undignified heaps, bruised but not injured. They scrambled to their feet. The gigantic, gleaming spider-machine was approaching fast, picking its way skilfully between the rocks.
Jellybean looked round desperately for somewhere to hide and saw a sort of trench between the massive boulders at the foot of the cliff. At least that was better than being caught out in the open. They ran for it. Plasma bolts struck the rocks around them, sending sharp splinters flying like shrapnel.
They dived into the trench and kept running. The trench deepened, then turned sharply towards the cliff face.
"It's turning into a tunnel," panted Jellybean. "I think we're safe."
"But how are we going to get home?" Frobisher asked. We can't get back to the portal."
"I d... don't know," Jellybean admitted, then, remembering that a born leader must never allow his followers to doubt him, he added, "But we'll find a way somehow. At least we're safe for the moment."
"Yes," breathed Frobisher. "My father says you must always look on the bright side and count your blessings because ..."
Unfortunately the Reverend Mr Frobisher's reason for this optimistic outlook was never revealed.
"Grab 'em!" yelled a harsh, grating voice, and the two boys were well and truly grabbed. Though they lashed out with hands and feet and vim and vigour, they were powerless in the grip of a numerous, noisy and nasty-smelling gang of Orcs who bore them swiftly along the tunnel and deep into the heart of the mountain.
"Right! Lessee wot we got!" snarled the leader.
Jellybean and Frobisher were dumped unceremoniously on the ground.
"Not Dwarves. Elves mebbe. Little Elf brats. Well vey'll squeal nicely wen we start on 'em - an' wen we've 'ad some fun wiv 'em, we'll 'ave 'em for dinner!"
"Yeah! Yeah!" yelled the Orcs, and sniggered horribly.
Then another voice grated, "Wotchu go' vere, Bograt?"
"Ne'er you mind, Slobgob! Vis ain't none o' your business. Vis is ahz!"
"Yeah! Yeah! Vis is ahz!"
"Oh yeah?" yelled Slobgob. "Well we'll tike it, won' we?"
"Oh yeah? You an' oo's army?"
"Me an'a Madboyz!"
"Vileboyz'll stop yer!"
Suddenly there were struggling, slashing Orcs everywhere.
"Be ready to run!" muttered Jellybean, but there was no chance. Bograt's Vileboyz closed round them, and, beyond their ring of guards, the Madboyz were hacking and slashing as they fought to get at them.
The battle swayed this way and that. Jellybean and Frobisher clutched at one another, terrified of being separated, or losing their balance and being trampled by the fighting Orcs. At last they found themselves jammed in a corner with four or five Vileboyz defending their prey from the marauding Madboyz.
"I can't see how we can ever get out of this!" wailed Frobisher.
A born leader should never let his followers doubt him, thought Jellybean, but on the other hand there was no point in fooling yourself.
"I think we've had our chips, Frobi," he said, and held out his hand.
Frobisher clasped it.
"Goodbye, you hairy ruin," said Jellybean.
"My father says," announced Frobisher, "that while there's life there's hope."
"I don't suppose your father was ever surrounded by bloodthirsty Orcs," replied Jellybean.
"No, I don't think he was. Goodbye."
"Don't blub, will you?" said Jellybean.
"I'm not blubbing. It's just that it's so hot in here that my glasses have gone all misty," answered Frobisher, and put his hand up to his eyes.
"Oh corks!" he cried. "What's this? It's like a gigantic strand of spider's web. Ugh!"
"It's a rope!" cried Jellybean. "Two ropes, with nooses. Quick! Put your arms through! Get it round your chest!"
The nooses tightened round them and they began to rise slowly from the floor. The Orcs saw. With howls of rage they abandoned their fight and leapt at the boys. Hard hands grasped at their legs. They kicked out, but in vain: a couple of Orcs bounded up and got a grip on their jeans, and these two were seized and held by others.
The boys dropped a few inches under the weight of the Orcs, but the tension on the rope increased and they rose again. More Orcs piled on, and they stopped moving.
"I'm being pulled in two," wailed Frobisher.
"I feel like a Christmas cracker," panted Jellybean.
Something had to give. It did.
With a snap Frobisher's belt burst asunder. His jeans fell to a pile of scrabbling Orcs, and Frobisher himself shot into the air.
"Oh, good thinking, Frobi!" yelled Jellybean, and ripped his own belt open. Down went his jeans. He jerked upwards, but an ugly, grinning Orc sprang to catch his leg and other Orcs came bounding to help. It was tug-o-war time again.
The sniggering Orc snatched at Jellybean's other leg, but the boy raised his foot and slammed his shoe hard against the Orc's face.
"Take that, Snotrag!" he yelled as he hurtled upwards.
Only now did he begin to wonder who had dropped the ropes - rescuers, or another gang of Orcs.
The roof of the cavern narrowed to a rocky chimney and Jellybean's rapid progress slowed to a steady climb. At last he reached the top. Hands seized his arms and he was heaved out of the cleft. He found himself high up on the mountain side, with the dazzling sun blinding him.
He blinked rapidly. When he could see again he found that he was surrounded by a crowd of tall, slender beings dressed in grey tunics and hose. He was lying sprawled against a softish, lumpy sort of thing on the ground, and, when he moved, it squeaked and said, " Ow! I say, Jellybean, please take your elbow out of my stomach."
"Oh, sorry, Frobi," he replied, and sat up.
The tall, slender beings were still looking at them with rather puzzled expressions. Jellybean glanced from one to another. Though their faces were grim they did not look vicious.
"What are they?" whispered Frobisher.
"I think they're Elves," Jellybean replied.
"Elves we are," said one of the strangers in a musical voice that was higher than a man's but yet had nothing womanly or childish about it. "But what are you? At first we took you for Elvets caught by those stinking Orcs, but you are heavier than any of our children - almost as heavy as full-grown Elves."
"We're boys," replied Jellybean.
At this the Elves tensed. Some drew their swords.
"Orcs?" said the leader.
"Gosh, no!" cried Jellybean, remembering that the gangs down in the tunnels had called themselves Madboyz and Vileboyz. "I mean, we're ... um ... children."
"Children of Orcs?"
"Perhaps children of Dwarves?" put in another.
"No," said the first. "Dwarvish children are shorter and stockier. These two, though beardless, are as tall as full-grown Dwarves."
"Dwarvish women?" suggested another.
The leader laughed. "You do not know the Dwarves or you would not say that," he chuckled.
"Then perhaps brothers of ..."
"Maybe. Come! You must tell us. Children of what?"
"Children of Men," said Jellybean.
"Sons of Adam," added Frobisher.
This seemed to excite the Elves, who whispered and muttered together so rapidly that the boys could make no sense.
"We have heard of Men," said the leader, "but how can you expect us to believe that you are children of creatures that exist only in old tales?"
"Well, actually," said Jellybean, "we've come from another world - one that is chock-full of Men, and where there are no such things as Elves except in stories."
Again the Elves conferred amongst themselves. Then their leader addressed the boys again.
"Why have you come here?" he asked.
"It was an accident," answered Jellybean.
"You must answer our questions fully, without hiding anything," said the leader of the Elves, "or we shall have to kill you. Our world, Iltuvion, has been invaded by Orcs and Scorpionids. The wise say they have been brought here by the Warlords of Chaos. Are you also sent to destroy us?"
Jellybean gulped. He remembered how Mr Waggoner and Mr Williams would invariably misunderstand his explanations, while the Headmaster seemed incapable of making sense of even the simplest of accounts. He knew that teachers were not stupid. It was just that they could not remember what it was like to be a boy, and also, he had to admit it, that the words would come tumbling out of him in a disordered jumble however clear his thoughts had seemed. If the Elves misunderstood, the result wouldn't just be an explosion of spluttering and a detention, it would be two dead schoolboys left on the mountain side as food for whatever scavengers existed in that world - vultures perhaps, or Orcs.
He started slowly.
"We were playing a game," he said.
"Well you see, our friends were enemies and we were the Space Explorers and they were Exterminators and Gene-Stealers only Frobisher got his knickers in a twist cos he thought that the Gene-Stealers were jean-stealers cos they were Parmenter's gang but I saw a super-duper way of escaping and if it had worked we'd have cut across the cricket field and then the scragfulness would have been terrific but when we climbed down the cliff instead of the Bunn there was a spider shooting at us cos we must have gone through a space-time warp or something and that's why we've got to get back to the cliff or we'll be stuck here for ever, oh dear, I don't mean it's not nice here, though it would be better without those beastly Orcs, but there'll be an ozard hoo-hah if we're late for tea ... um ... er ..."
"Ah," said the Elf, "so there is a portal on the Red Cliff. We saw you there just before the Arachnoid began to fire."
"You mean, you understood all that?" said Jellybean in amazement.
"Our children play games too," said the Elf leader, but your game has become all too real.
"Please," quavered Frobisher, "can't you take us back to the cliff? Help us find the portal so that we can go home."
The Elf leader looked keenly at Frobisher.
"I'm not blubbing," said the unhappy boy. "It's just that the cold mountain air has made my eyes water a bit."
"It's Scotch eggs tonight," murmured Jellybean. "They're wizard muck. I mean, all school grub's muck, isn't it, but some is wizard and some is ozard and everybody knows Scotch eggs are supersonic."
"Your speech is strange to us," said the Elvish leader, "but, if I understand, you desire to return home to your own kind and partake of some great delicacy at your evening feast."
"Bang on!" said Jellybean.
"Rem acu tetegisti," observed Frobisher.
"Bogus swank," murmured Jellybean.
"That's what my father would say," explained Frobisher earnestly. "He's a clergyman, you know, and he says the world is going to the dogs since Latin stopped being compulsory for university entrance."
"The words of our fathers should be revered," said the Elf. "We do not comprehend the meaning of this ancestral saying, but we do understand your desire for home. Alas that we cannot grant it."
"Can't ...?"said Jellybean hopelessly.
"The mountain is now crawling with Orcs. The Arachnoid will undoubtedly have summoned others, and swarms of Scorpionids may even now be approaching across the desert. Later, perhaps, we may return, but for now, Children of Men, you must come with us. Allow me to introduce myself. I am Amphibolas Elrohir, captain of the escort of the Lady Doria Vignifica Myopapetia Imrahil, daughter of our King."
Jellybean rose to his feet and bowed. Frobisher did the same.
"I am Jonathan Laurence Bennett," said Jellybean, "and this is my friend Jeremy Frobisher."
Frobisher bowed again. "At your service and your family's," he said politely.
"Come!" called Amphibolas, and the company moved quickly and quietly across the mountain side.
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