Continuing the adventure that began here.

CHAPTER XXVIII: The Perilous Pass.

Devil-King-KunWe were walking across a clearing between patches of forest, with Miss Kun, Weyland, and Kitty leading the way.

“How do we get to Kun’s castle from here?” I asked.

“It’s easy,” said Miss Kun. “From this direction, we just have to go through the Perilous Pass.”

“The Perilous Pass?” I repeated. “Isn’t there some slightly nicer pass we could take?”

“There are only two other passes through these mountains. There’s the Good Luck Pass—”

“Could we take that one?” I asked.

“Good luck,” she replied.

“No one has ever survived the Good Luck Pass,” the bandit chieftain explained.

“And the other,” Miss Kun continued, “is the Rainbow Pass.”

“Has anyone ever survived that one?” I asked.

“Once,” she replied.

“He wasn’t quite the same when we found him,” said the bandit chieftain. “He kept saying, ‘Look at the pretty rainbows.’”

“So this Perilous Pass is a difficult climb?” I asked.

“Oh, no,” said Miss Kun. “Gentle slopes, broad trail, well marked…”

“Then what makes it perilous?”

“My father.”

That was enough of an explanation.

We had walked a few minutes, gradually ascending, by the time we came to the broad blackened patch that marked the border.

“How far to the pass?” Weyland asked.

“That’s it up there,” Miss Kun replied. She was pointing to a broad space between two peaks, not far ahead of us.

Weyland stopped and turned to face the band of bandits. “Men,” he said, “we are about to face a powerful and ruthless foe, a man who will not hesitate to use every means at his disposal to oppose us. I need not dwell on the character of the man: not without reason is he known to you as the Devil King, and he is both as wicked and as devious as that name implies. The way ahead of us will be fraught with perils unknown, and more than a few of us may not return. It will require more-than-heroic fortitude to face these dangers, and I would not speak this way to ordinary men. But I know that each one of you is more than an ordinary man. I see stout hearts and brave souls before me, and I would not trade this little band of heroes for any military force in the world. For that reason I make this announcement, knowing in advance what your answer will be. If there is anyone among you whose heart fails him, who feels overwhelmed by the thought of the dangers to come, let him return in peace. I would rather proceed with a diminished force than compel a man to come with us against his will. There will be no adverse consequences, and no one will think the worse of you. Let only the brave remain, and any man who is afraid to advance go home to his caravan.”

Immediately all the bandits turned as one man and ran back down the slope, and we could hear them singing as they ran:

“We take our flight
And run away,
And live to fight
Another day,
Because to die
Won’t suit us well,
And that is why
We run like…”

That was all we could hear of their song; the increasing distance made the rest of the words indistinct.

“Well, that was absolutely brilliant,” said Miss Kun, and a sensitive interpreter might have detected a hint of sarcasm in her tone. “We had a power base, and you just flushed it down the toilet. Now I’m left with two men, and one woman from a tribe that’s still thinking about inventing clothes.”

“And a tiger,” Tluxapeketl pointed out.

“Better they should abandon us now than betray us later,” said Weyland.

“Not really,” Miss Kun responded. “I could have had some real fun with the traitors. Now what do you expect me to do?”

“We shall simply continue as before. The smaller the force, the more nimble.”

“In that case,” she said, “I should just kill the three of you, and I can be nimble as all get out.”

“Good people,” said Weyland, “don’t generally—”

“It seems to me that good people just get themselves walked all over. No wonder good people are so rare. It’s natural selection.”

“In any event,” said Weyland, “our task now is to infiltrate your father’s castle without being detected, if that’s possible. Then we simply avoid his death traps and his army of lightning-bolt minions, capture Kun himself, and undo the steps he has taken so far in his plot to take over the world.”

“Oh, that’s all, is it?” asked Miss Kun.

“Obviously I have left out a few intermediate steps, which we’ll fill in as the need arises. But the fundamental outline of the plan is sound.”

“Well, it may be. But it all depends on getting through that pass alive.”

So we resumed walking up toward the pass, trudging through the shallow coating of snow in almost eerie silence. Kitty took a few opportunities to roll in the snow, but otherwise we continued with only the sound of our own footsteps until we entered the pass between the peaks. Warily we trudged forward at a slower rate, keeping an eye to the left and right for any signs of danger, but seeing nothing—until there was a loud crash of pottery smashing just in front of us. A geranium in a terra-cotta pot had landed on a nearby rock.

“My father’s work!” Miss Kun declared. “It’s started.”

“Just a flowerpot?” Weyland asked. “That doesn’t seem like much of a peril.”

Suddenly Miss Kun, looking up, grasped Weyland’s arm and yanked him to the right.

A moment later, a large potted palm hit the ground where Weyland had been standing.

“He starts with the smaller ammunition and ramps up from there,” said Miss Kun. “We can expect— Run!”

By instinct I looked up and saw something above me, but at the same instant Tluxapeketl pulled me hard to the left, almost toppling both of us. A large chest of drawers crashed to the ground where I had been standing a moment before.

“I see why they call it the Perilous Pass,” I remarked.

“Not yet you don’t,” said Miss Kun, pointing upward. “But that might give you some idea.”

Don’t miss tomorrow’s thrilling episode:


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