Ashen sand and blackened rubble greeted those that entered the ancient capital. Colour had been singed away leaving only parched grey and scorched black on the ruined buildings that lay in mounds of debris. Some of the wreckage still maintained its original shape, at least in part. These ghost buildings remained intact only by some miracle as their foundations resembled cracked snail shell. Despite the dilapidated state of the city, it bustled with life. As the sand surfers drew nearer with the worm in tow the Jojoji poured out of the ruins to greet them. They cheered and called and whistled as the sand surfers sped passed. They threw sand at the worm as it went by to make sure it was real. The sand surfers led the worm into a large open area alongside the city and dropped the lure. The worm stopped dead and sniffed the bag happily. The Jojoji abseiled down the worm and were welcomed as heroes by their people who lifted them onto their shoulders and cheered their names heartily.
Our party was taken through the ashen streets. The ropes were chafing uncomfortably. The skeletons of buildings loomed above and threatened to collapse on top of them, like waves frozen in time. Masked children ran alongside them, kicked them in the nuts and called them names. They were astounded by Beardface, whose skin was so pale and by Zev, whose skin was so dark. They tugged on Beardface’s beard and reached for Zev’s hair. The pirates laughed loudly and made no attempt to stop them. They walked through marred markets, burned bathhouses, scorched schools and heated hospitals. This place would have been a desert oasis in its prime. They were led to a massive building at the centre of the city that looked as if it might once have been ornate and impressive. Its roof had been completely destroyed. Every window and door had been shattered and blown off its hinges. There was a large entrance that looked as if it once housed some magnificent doors but was now only a large gap as if the building were missing its front teeth. They were led inside and told to sit down. Those quick enough to act got the more comfortable pieces of rubble. A charred throne stood in the centre of the building.
The Jojoji surrounded them and looked upwards. High up in the huge building they could make out a solitary figure. He laughed a booming laugh and leapt off the highest part of the building. As he hurtled towards them people gasped, fainted, sneezed and screamed with surprise. At this rate he would surely go splat! He couldn’t possibly survive. He hit terminal velocity and he was still falling. He was definitely going to die. But then, he did a somersault and landed easily on the floor. He stood there impressively and everyone starting applauding except for one Djulok who was looking forward to a gorey death and gave the author the finger. The somersaulter nodded thankfully and then doubled-over and vomited on the floor.
After regaining his composure the Jojoji did the splits and looked at them. He wore a mask that resembled a cockroach.
“Oinqybi.” Roach said. “Welcome.” Several Jojoji sneered.
“Tl’zh ‘ch! Excuse their frowns, we don’t use Gnomenclaturan in polite conversation.”
“Is that what our language is called?” Zev said. “I always called it Gnormal.”
“Yes. And, I must thank you for the worm. It will provide us with… Joh! Is that a Nose Islander! Rdedjp lid lidi!”
“Oi unty ky’djs u Mountish!” said one of the Jojoji.
“Rdedjp zhlib ryzhl!” Roach said excitedly.
They brought Beardface and Zev (and Jean who was tied to Zev) to the front.
“I have a question.” Roach said. “I’ve never met a Nose Islander before. I mean no offense. But, please answer honestly. Do you get sunburn?”
“…yes.” Zev said nonplussed.
“I knew it. We are the same! Bydi Jul neit udi ifchytis!” Roach cried. The Jojoji cheered.
“And you, Mountish. I have a question for you as well. What do people taste like?”
“I know not! For, although it may surprise those present, Mountish do not eat people. In fact, most of us are vegetarians.”
“Zhli zhd’zhl!” Roach cried and started rolling around in ecstasy. Zev, Beardface and Jean looked at each other bemusedly.
“Apologies friends. You see we Jojoji do not belong with the Jul or E’ni. However, most of what we know we learned from them. And, most of those we meet learned from them as well.” He made a tutting sound toward the E’ni and Jul. “We can’t tell the truths from the lies unless we meet people like you, with fresh perspectives. For elucidating, I thank you.”
“No problem.” Zev said. “So, what do you plan to…”
“I have another question!” Roach said, getting on his haunches. “What did you think of my entrance? Too much?”
“I thought the vomiting was a bit much.” Beardface said honestly.
“I knew it! I thought it gave it a light-hearted tone. Fearless but still vulnerable, you know. I’ve been doing it for years now. You should see my teeth! I feel such a fool. Thank you for your honesty, Mountain man. This is the problem with Jul and E’ni prisoners. They’ll just lie to stay in my good books. You can’t trust them to be honest.”
“As recompense for our honesty, would thy be willing to let us go free?”
“I would. I would.” Roach said. “But, that is where the Jul, E’ni and Jojoji differ. For the Jul, your fate would be decided by the Jul’Dori. Problem: it encourages you to suck up to them and gives an unfair advantage to some and not others. For the E’ni, your fate would be decided by some manner of vote. Problem: if you can convince enough people anything goes. Both of those systems are easily corruptible and unfair. For the Jojoji, your fate is decided by fate itself. No bribery, or favouritism or past deeds can sway fate.”
The Roach withdrew a coin from his rope belt.
“This D2 will determine your fate. Heads: you can turn tail. Tails: you lose your head.” And then with no further warning he flicked the coin into the air.
Flip, flip, flip.
It sank back down flipping all the while. Every eye was on the coin. How strange then that it should vanish just as it touched his hand.
They stared at his hand blankly. A Djulok farted nervously.
“It seems Fate can’t decide.” Roach said incredulously.
A Jojoji from above called to them.
“E tii tbygi ydj zhli lydemydj!”
“Kdyb olidi?” Roach called back.
“Jul’Dor 2.0!” he cried.
“What’s going on?” Jean asked.
“Black smoke rises from the Kingdom of Jul.” Roach said.
“We need to get there!” Jean said. “What if war has broken out between our people? We have to stop it!”
“War or no war! If Jul’Dor is burning down we need to pilfer as much as we can before it does! Jojoji oi t’dk kyd Jul’Dor 2.0!” The Jojoji cheered with excitement and left the building with great haste.
“Wait!” Jean said. “What about us?” Roach considered her for a moment.
“Fate couldn’t decide what to do with you. I won’t kill you, but I can’t leave you either. Hmm. Well, then you’ll just have to come with us.”
“Damn it!” Zev said. “Robbed of another prison break.” The Jojoji untied the Djuloks, E’ni and our party and headed back to the worm.
“I didn’t expect this.” said the Djulok commander who was standing at the front of the worm with a Jojoji, a Mountish, and E’ni, a Nose Islander and a…
“Ah! What are you?” the Djulok Commander howled.
“Bzz.” Peter explained.
“Ah, so when the Jojoji came you simply flew up above and stayed out of sight.” Jean surmised. “Well done. But, Peter, I have something to ask of you and your brother.”
“Bzz?” Peter and Gregor said in unison.
“Peter, can you fly on ahead and see what’s happening in Jul’Dor. Gregor, can you fly back to E’j and deliver a message for me.” The brothers looked at each other and did their insectile shrug.
“Bzz.” Gregor said.
“Of course.” Jean said. She turned to a Djulok and asked him to fetch some water. Jean got to writing the letter, with her mom checking her spelling and grammar.
Peter and Gregor were ready (with water supplies attached) and about to take off. Jean put her message in a pouch attached to Gregor. Then she drew the two brothers close.
“How can I ever thank you?” she said tearily.
“Bzz.” they said.
“You don’t owe me anything.” Jean said. “I’m so proud of you both.”
The brothers set off. They flew a few circles around each other in greeting before heading off in opposite directions. The worm and the sand surfers set off too, following Peter’s trail. They were off, heading away from Jul’Dor and towards Jul’Dor. Among those leaving Jul’Dor and approaching Jul’Dor were the E’ni descendants of E’ni who wore E’ni. These desert dwellers should really come up with different names for different things. And, damn, did they arrive and then immediately leave a city in one chapter? It’s almost as if the author is rushing towards a conclusion.