Lipedo laughed. Its head rippling, it merged back into the fat of Pahana’s belly. Another arm broke free from her hip, attempting to trap Angel even further. Pahana caught hold of it, struggling to keep it from encircling Angel. The arm was strong and slippery. Pahana felt she was wrestling an eel.
Angel tried to free herself from the tentacle that already bound her. She pushed against it, attempting to fly upwards and slip free from its grasp.
‘Cut through it,’ Pahana panted. ‘Free yourself, Angel.’
‘I will cause you pain if I destroy it,’ Angel said. Each time she pushed at the fat holding her it tightened its grip, drawing her nearer to Pahana. ‘Even though this fat belongs to Lipedo, he has merged his system with yours. He is a parasite, without the ability to feed on his own. He captures people like you and infects them. He forces them to eat to engorge his ferocious appetite. When his victims die from their excesses he moves on.’
‘I really don’t need to hear that right now,’ Pahana said, red faced and out of breath from holding back the arm of fat. Another appendage broke lose from her thigh and attacked Angel’s leg.
‘I’m telling you this because I cannot leave you here alone with Lipedo infesting you. You will never find your way out of the maze with him inside you.’
A mouth appeared on Pahana’s upper arm. ‘I am so glad you are going to stay, Angel. My guests would be very disappointed to arrive and find you gone, especially when they are coming here just to see you.’
‘Angel you must leave me here, I can manage Lipedo. More monsters are coming. They can’t find you here,’ Pahana said.
‘I’m sorry Pahana.’ Angel beat her wings rapidly. The white light surrounding her grew brighter. Pahana felt a searing pain in her side and then Angel was free. The smell of cooking fat filled the air. Angel flew across the room in front of Pahana.
‘I won’t let you get away.’ Lipedo roared. Angel turned and looked back. Pahana lurched forward against her will. Something in her stomach was drawing her towards Angel. She slapped at it, but only hurt herself. She dug her heels into the ground, using all her energy to freeze herself to the spot.
‘Go, Angel, go now,’ she shouted, squeezing her eyes shut, concentrating on rooting herself more deeply to the ground. The tiles were slippery and Lipedo was able to drag her a couple of inches against her will but then her locked legs and heavy feet gave out and she tumbled onto her back. Again Lipedo tried to drag her across the floor, but Pahana dug her nails into the grooves in the mosaic and held on. With a snort of annoyance, Lipedo stopped trying to move her. Instead the fat on her body rose up, twisting and uncoiling from her arms and legs, flowing towards her body. Her stomach bunched, bubbling upwards in an explosion of fat that resolved itself into a thick yellow snake. Lipedo’s features grew out of the snake’s shovel shaped head. He opened his mouth, hissing at Angel, and surged towards her, leaving a greasy trail across the tiles.
Angel flew upwards, avoiding the snake’s first lunge. Lipedo coiled below her, arms growing out of his neck as he prepared to spring.
‘Quick, Pahana, climb into the trapdoor,’ Angel said.
Pahana sat up. How could she leave Angel to the mercies of Lipedo? Angel, who had tried to help her. She stood up. She was angry. ‘Leave Angel alone,’ she shouted, rushing towards the snake.
‘Pahana, don’t,’ Angel said.
Pahana didn’t listen. She could still taste the rotten food in her mouth and her mind was haunted with the thoughts of eating her father. Lipedo was to blame. She wasn’t going to let him harm Angel the way he had hurt her. She ran towards him, screaming. The snake turned to her. His one weeping eye glinted and he opened his cruel mouth. It looked very large, large enough to engulf Pahana if she ran into it. She stopped, holding up her hands in protection, closing her eyes as the snake struck.
Angel gasped. Fat crackled and sizzled, spitting little spots against Pahana’s skin, but Lipedo did not strike. Pahana opened her eyes. A lake of melted fat hissed around her. Her mouth sagged open. Where was the snake? She looked around the room for him, but apart from the greasy lake there was no sign.
‘Is that – is that him?’
‘Pahana, look at your hands.’
Pahana looked down. Blue flame licked her arms and surrounded her hands in balls of fire. It did not hurt her, her flesh within the flames was untouched. The fire blazed brightly for a moment and then winked out, leaving no smoke or mark.
‘What… what happened?’
Angel flew down to Pahana. ‘You did that, you melted Lipedo. You see, you are special. You have powers Pahana, you have to look for them but they are there.’
‘Is he dead?’
‘No, but it will take him a while to solidify.’ Angel hugged Pahana. ‘You fought for me, honey, thank you.’
Pahana felt weak. She sagged in Angel’s arms. ‘I want to get out of here. Take me away with you, please.’
Angel picked Pahana up. She carried her across the lake of fat and deposited her beside the open trapdoor. ‘I can’t take you with me, but know that I would if I could. Now climb down through here. In about two seconds this room is going to be full of very bad things and I don’t want them to find you here. Go to Ansus, she will help you to get back on the right path. I will return when I can, but I have spent so long here this time that it will make it more difficult for me next time. Remember, Pahana, you have gifts. Use them.’
Before Angel could finish speaking something large crashed into one of the walls of the room, sending plaster raining down onto the floor. Another wall was hit and then a third. Holes appeared in the murals, holes that opened into a dark dank tunnel. A trunk like leg, covered in teeth broke into the far end of the room. Pahana heard a familiar whispering surround the room. She sat down on the lip of the trapdoor.
‘Hurry,’ Angel said, pushing her downwards.
‘You will be all right Angel?’
She pushed harder and Angel fell forward into the trapdoor. Free falling, Pahana looked up and saw Angel smiling down at her before the trapdoor closed, shutting out the buttery yellow light and the noise of the creatures battling into the room.
Pahana fell a short distance and landed on her feet with a jar to her legs. She froze, allowing her eyes to get used to the darkness after the light of the room above. Slowly the lichen light filtered through to her perception and she was able to see around her. She was in a narrow tunnel with brick walls on both sides and a paved floor. She listened for noises from above, waiting for feelers to creep down through the trapdoor, but she could not hear anything from the room she had just left. After a few minutes without pursuit, she took courage that she was not going to be attacked and started down the corridor.
It was cold, but it felt good to be moving. At first she took joy in walking, swinging her arms and legs, but soon she grew tired. She wanted to stop, but she kept on. She walked slowly, but what did it matter? She didn’t have Ansus to keep up with. It was liberating in a way, especially when she pretended she was going for a stroll rather than wandering blindly through a maze trying to find the tiger.
The tunnel carried on straight for a long time. When Pahana felt she could not move enough step, she reached a junction. Another tunnel bisected the first. Three ladders led upwards in the new tunnel, the outline of trapdoors above her head. She was tired of walking and even though the tunnel seemed safe – it was quiet at least – she decided to climb up one of the ladders. Ansus was more likely to be above than below after all. But which ladder would she climb? She felt drawn to the middle one and since they were all equally dangerous or safe, for that matter, she started to climb up the ladder. The trapdoor swung open at a touch of her shoulders. She popped her head into a large room full of yellow light. For a moment she thought she had returned to the room she had just left, but this room was silent and its walls were intact. She climbed out into the room and the trapdoor closed shut behind her, sealing so completely with the floor that she could no longer make it out. The room initially appeared identical to the one she had woken up in, however the murals on the walls depicted an enormous fat man, with the face of Lipedo, bathing in an assortment of treasures, a greedy smile upon his twisted misshapen face. Pahana shivered to see the hideous creature once again, even if only in pictorial form.
She looked around the room. She was alone. There was no sign of Ansus, but also no sign of Lipedo or his butterballs, which was good. Like the previous chamber there were no visible doorways, but this room lacked the divan and food packed table, which made Pahana glad. She did not want to undergo another temptation. The room was not devoid of all furnishings however. Spaced evenly along its length were a series of small pillars, each one holding a metal bound casket. Pahana walked among the pillars, curious to open up the caskets but also afraid to know what lay within them. One casket in particular drew her attention. She kept returning to it, brushing her fingers lightly over it but keeping clear of the metal clasp that held it shut. She did not know what drew her to it, whether the impulse was good or evil, but there was something about it that made it impossible to ignore. She stood in front of the pillar, resting her fingers on the wood of the lid, her thumbs hovering above the clasp.
At the far end of the room a dark hole opened in the smooth wall and a troop of butterballs entered, chattering excitedly. They carried a large wooden dish on their shoulders. Inside the dish slopped a dark golden oil with solid white lumps floating on its surface. The butterballs did not notice Pahana at first, and she took advantage of this. She did not want to wait until they realised she was there, and she certainly did not want to find out the importance of the wooden dish. She grabbed the casket. It was heavier than it looked, but she was able to carry it with both her arms wrapped around it. She ran to where she thought the trapdoor had been and knelt down, her fingers searching for the gap, but she couldn’t find it. Behind her, she heard the change in the chatter of the butterballs. They had seen her. They set down the wooden dish and ran towards her. The oil in the dish popped and spluttered.
‘Get her,’ Lipedo’s voice gurgled from within the dish. ‘Thief.’
Pahana stood up, resettling the weight of the casket in her arms. She looked around, but there was nowhere for her to hide and there was nowhere for her to run to. She looked at her hands, willing the blue flames to ignite them, but she had no idea how she had done it the first time and she was drawing a blank on how to recreate it.
The butterballs were unarmed, but their once friendly smiles where now vicious and their podgy hands had grown into sharp tipped tentacles. Pahana ran from them. She was faster than her pursuers, but she was trapped. She reached the far end of the room and turned to face the enemy, her back pressed against the greasy wall. Their burped their way towards her, bumping into each other and skidding on their slimy feet. Pahana looked up at the walls. If only she could somehow blast her way through. She stuffed the casket under her arm and beat against the plaster, but it hurt her hand and left the murals undamaged. The butterballs were nearer, covering her with their foul smell. Pahana held her hand out to them, palm facing outwards in a gesture to stop, and squeezed her eyes shut. It had worked for her the last time. She imagined her hand shooting flames at the butterballs, melting them into pools of fat.
She opened her eyes. Her hand had not combusted. She could see the whites in the floating eyes of the troop. She screamed. Before the nearest butterball could stick its tentacles into her arm, the floor under Pahana’s feet dissolved and she was sucked down into its depths.