Chapter Five – Empress of the Underworld
They walk into a giant throne-room. It’s sparkly. Lothar introduces her to Empress Fareena. The Empress is a hottie and has a necklace with the snake sign on it. She calls Abbey beautiful, has her sit, and the dinner begins. It’s carried in by slaves, who are pale, small, and look half-starved. Further reinforcing the notion of Fareena’s innate evilness. One wonders why they don’t keep their actual servants looking a little better. I mean, if these people are going to be working in a position where they could easily stab you with a fork, you might want to make their lives slightly better than they would be in the mines.
Fareena asks about Goel. Abbey talks about how awesome he is for awhile. It’s fairly standard stuff, but it’s hard to forget that the only reason Abbey is here is because Goel told her to go on a mission for him and she gave him an upraised middle finger.
Later, they show Abbey around the kingdom. It’s big and maze-like. Finally Fareena takes her back to her room. The Empress dumps some incense on the fire and it gives off a scent that makes Abbey very drowsy and hard for her to think. Harder than it usually is, I guess. She starts talking to Abbey in a soothing tone of voice about how she must know the ‘truth’ and if they can defeat their enemies, she’ll be filthy rich and marry Lothar and be the whoriest whore in the world, things like that. And y’know, this is all sounding vaguely familiar. I do recall this one novel by a chap called Lewis, The Silver Chair. In it, there’s an underground kingdom ruled by a lady who calls herself a Queen but is actually an evil witch. Her servants are a group of chaps that used to live happily underground until she conquered them and made them her slaves, and they now walk around with sad expressions. She messes with people’s minds by burning incense that clouds people’s minds, makes them forget what’s really going on, and makes them sleepy.
But that’s probably just a coincidence.
We cut forward to Abbey waking up. She calls for Luna and sits for awhile, talking to her. Luna’s afraid to say much, for fear of being sent to the mines to be chained to a stake and dig in utter blackness for the rest of her life. She does have a nice quote, though:
“You must be very careful, Lady Abbey. Not all that glitters is gold.”
“I’ve heard that before,” Abbey said sleepily (page 53).
So have I. Lord of the Rings. Slightly rephrased.
Chapter Six – Abbey Sees the “Truth”
No, she doesn’t look into the mirror and realize that she’s a spoiled sociopathic whore.
Abbey has fun. The empress stops by every day with a new gift and lights her incense burner and plays with Abbey’s mind. Once Abbey asks to see the deep mines where the stones are cut out, but the empress says it wouldn’t be fun at all.
Later, Abbey starts to miss the rest of the Sociopaths. She goes out walking outside the palace thinking about how lonely she feels and wishes they’d come. Well, this is what happens when you ditch your best friends in the world.
Suddenly a figure materializes from the darkness – an old, hunchbacked guy. His name is Bono and he’s on his way down to the deep mines. She asks him to take her with him and he agrees reluctantly. They head down and it gets steadily more difficult to breathe. Finally he tells her it’s not safer to go any deeper and heads off alone. Abbey looks through a doorway and sees some mothers digging while their children load rocks onto a wagon. They’re so thin they remind Abbey of concentration camp victims. So yeah. The Empress is Evil.
Of course, this horrifying scene wouldn’t be complete with Morris going completely over the top to hammer things through the head of the slow readers. A woman stops and talks about how her baby died this morning and how she’s happy because the baby’s in a better place. Another little girl asks her mother if they’ll all be dead soon too. And the mother says yes, they will, and that’s a good thing. Hooray!
Abbey turns and heads back up top, quite upset. The empress is waiting for her. She asks her where she’s been. Abbey says that she went down to the deep mines and asks why it’s so horrible. The empress fires up the incense and begins explaining how sometimes you have to do hard things in order to help people. Abbey feels like she’s being invaded. And finally the empress gets down to it, and tells her that Goel is responsible for everything bad in Nuworld. Abbey protests weakly but finally rolls over and agrees to write a letter to the Sociopaths asking them to come and save her, because she’s in danger.
We then cut over to the empress and Lothar. Apparently, the Dark Lord has to come to see them. Which I find hilarious – the Dark Lord doesn’t come to see people, especially nobodies like Fareena. But the empress says that Abbey has sent for her friends, and once they’re there they’ll all die. The Dark Lord says that if they fail, they’re dead. Which shouldn’t scare them, considering his reputation for punishing chaps like Elmas, but it freaks them out.
Chapter Seven – Josh’s Dream
Everyone files out of the forest, exhausted. And right away we get a lovely quote from Zohar:
“Was hard mission.” He grunted. “We lose three good men” (page 65).
This is all we’ll ever learn about this mission. Nothing of consequence happened, it didn’t change the other six Sociopaths in any way, and it will never become even remotely relevant.
A page of liberally abusing the word “mission” later, they reach the compound and everyone comes out to greet them. Except Abbey, obviously. They get her note and are immediately infuriated. Sarah, demonstrating remarkable intelligence, says that she’d bet everything she owned against a hat pin that this so-called Prince Lothar is a hottie. Which would be more impressive if Sarah actually owned anything, but she has a point.
They talk to Zohar about the Underworld. He says it’s not a good place and the empress makes slaves of everyone. Josh asks if he can take them there and Zohar says no, no one knows how to get there, and they have to wait for Goel to come.
A week passes. Josh worries. He and Sarah talk. Hilarity ensues.
“I’ve been wrong lots of times, and you’re nearly always right, Josh” (page 68).
Except that one time he pushed you off a building. There’s probably been other times, too.
That night Josh dreams he’s crawling along a cave in total blackness. Finally he reaches a light and sees people chained together, hacking at rock. They look like zombies. Then suddenly he sees Abbey, dressed up in fancy clothes, with dead eyes. Next to her is an evil-looking person. Josh realizes that Abbey is in her power, and wakes up screaming.
Wow. I wish I had dreams that told me everything I needed to know.
Reb, Dave, Jake, and Token are holding him down. Which is really weird, I must say – why bother holding someone down unless they’re in danger of falling off a cliff or something like that? But Josh tells them about his dream and says that when Abbey sends for them, they’ll have to go. Why, exactly, he assumes that Abbey will send for them when she’s being held prisoner, I don’t know. A lot of prisoners aren’t allowed to send out correspondence.
Reb yells at Token for leaving his stuff on Reb’s bunk. I wonder what “stuff” Token owns to leave around, but that’s beside the point. Token yells back at Reb because Reb scatters his “stuff” around like a junkman. I wonder what stuff Reb owns…never mind.
For a moment, Reb seemed ready to get up and go to war, then he chuckled. “If we have to wait much longer, we’re going to start the Civil War all over again.” (page 73)
I love how everything always comes back to the Civil War. It’s moved on from amateur battle tactics to messy bunks.
Jake comes in and tells them that he woke up the past two nights and couldn’t sleep. So he came to the window and saw someone sneaking around. The someone saw Jake watching him and took off into the woods. Reb is intrigued, and comes up with a plan.
He and Token go out and manage to find a conveniently located tree in the middle of a conveniently located clearing in conveniently the right place. He has Token climb it, and when he does the tree-top begins to bend over. Reb lassoes him and pulls him down, and then ties the rope off to a stake in the ground. The general idea being that when the guy walks along and steps on the trigger, the stake pops loose and the tree snaps upright and the noose yanks the guy up in the air by his ankle – or, if you’re unlucky, his neck. This is actually a plausible way to catch someone, except for one thing: a tree strong enough to lift a fully grown man into the air would be too strong for a couple of skinny fourteen-year-olds to pull down by themselves. But realism? What’s that?
It works perfectly, of course. Reb awakens everyone that night and they head outside. Reb lassos the figure in the tree with his spare lariat – because he always has three or four ropes handy – and they pull him down. He introduces himself as Beren.
Josh asks him if he serves the Dark Lord. Beren says no. So they take him inside and give him some food and drink and after he eats Beren explains that he escaped from the Kingdom of the Underworld where he was a slave. A rumor had come that the Seven Sociopaths were here. Which amazing, considering that the Sociopaths had been there exactly two days before Lothar arrived, especially considering it’s a two-day journey there and back. We call this a plot hole.
Beren explains that Fareena is not the true empress. She rules, but the actual Royal Family is kept in prison. Instead of just killing them, like a sensible person would. Also, Beren’s the crown prince. Who didn’t see that coming? And it’s stupid quote time:
“They wanted to kill me, but Lothar thought I would be of some use as a hostage. So they put me to work in the deep mines. I almost died there” (page 82).
What should we do with our valuable hostage? Oh yes, let’s work him to death in a poorly guarded place where he’d have a good chance of escape!
They all talk for a bit, and the next morning the Sociopaths leave the village, led by Beren. Volka, Grumpy, and Happy aren’t mentioned, but don’t worry, they’ll turn up in the next chapter anyway.