Magnus Fin and the Ocean Quest (9 page)

The cold-eyed tiger sharks, the monster’s army, bowed low. A pod of killer whales, the monster’s bodyguards, patrolled the hallway, their
paddle-shaped
flippers clearing the way. The lobsters, the monster’s police force, stood to attention on either side of the grand room. The eels, the monster’s servants, hovered at the ready. Magnus Fin slunk back into the shadows, hoping he would be overlooked amongst such powerful armies and frenzied activity.

From his ruby corner, bumped up against the wall, Magnus Fin looked on in horror as the front of the monster king came into view. A long thin luminous green tongue darted through the dark water. The tongue protruded from a narrow stretched mouth that pulled at the black and hideous face of the monster. The tongue was like an eel, the face like a giant’s squashed football, but uglier. The monster had only one eye that pulsed horrifically in the centre of his face. An eye more awful, so bulging, red-veined, pulsing and quivering, would be hard to imagine. If there was anything pleasing to look at, regarding the monster’s head, it was his crown. Many necklaces had been tied together to make a jewelled band, which the false king wore around his head.
Behind the pulled slimy head the monster had a long scaly snake-like body, and behind the trunk of this body, Magnus Fin could now see, flicked several enormous tentacles. Like metallic blades they whipped dangerously from side to side, stirring up the dark stinking water to a froth and killing whatever got in their way.

The monster’s entrance was heralded with a loud blowing of trumpets, a clashing of cymbals and a great deal of cheering and bowing – and on account of the lashing tentacles, a great deal of killing too. Magnus Fin did not bow but stared at this terrible creature. He saw, as more of him came into view, that draped around his long pulsing body were hundreds of plastic-bottle belts or necklaces – except the monster had no neck. And around his awful tentacles he wore bracelets made of tin cans and junk. One of his trinkets looked like a fridge.

Magnus Fin felt sick. This awful sight was far worse than he had imagined when Miranda had told her tale. She had told him the monster wanted to be human. So here he was dressed in all the rubbish that had once belonged to humans. Magnus Fin pushed himself further back into the shadows and kept a grasp of his moon-stone. Though the entrance hall to the king’s palace was bigger than a football stadium, the monster and his thrashing junk-adorned tentacles only just fitted in. In comparison, Magnus Fin was tiny, hardly bigger than the vile monster’s one yellow tooth.

Magnus pressed himself still further back,
desperately hoping everyone had forgotten about him. But then, with dread sinking into his tummy, he saw that every creature had now turned to look at him. The very reason for the monster’s arrival was to see the two-legged prisoner – the boy who could breathe underwater.

“Where’s the human?” a voice like the grating of metal bellowed out and the water shook. The one pulsing eye, quivering like a jellyfish, scanned the room. It wobbled as it searched back and forth like a periscope. It seemed to pant. Suddenly the jelly-red eye fixed on the small crumpled shadow in the corner.

“HEH–EH!” the monster cried. The eye had found Magnus Fin. Instantly the long green tongue flicked out, wound itself around Magnus Fin’s legs and yanked him up close to the horrible one red eye.

Had Magnus not been holding tight to his
moon-stone
, he would have died of fright. Magnus Fin stared at the monster, thinking as he did so that he had never set eyes on anything so hideous.

The monster stared back, his eye pulsing out and in, his tentacles razoring excitedly from side to side, killing whatever chanced to get in his way, which happened to be hundreds of crabs all busy cleaning.

The monster wobbled his head around as if showing off his crown. Then he attempted a smile, grimaced instead, and exposed one sharp yellow tooth and a horrible stench. “You admire my crown?” he hissed, drawing the boy even closer in the tongue-vice grip in which he held
him captive.

“Um – yes, nice crown, but – ouch!” said Magnus Fin, staring into the red eye as he squirmed around. “You’re hurting me. Can you let my legs go and control your tails? You are killing the crabs.”

The monster had never, ever been spoken to in such a way. He found it amusing. Instantly he obeyed. Now he unwound his tongue and let Magnus Fin float about in front of him. The monster was fascinated by his two-legged prisoner. He watched the two tiny legs tread water and the two thin arms make circles.

The boy was unaware of the huge advantage he had over the monster. Magnus Fin had what the monster so dearly desired. He had two legs, two arms, a human heart and a human brain. He could breathe on the land, and under the water.

The monster tried to copy Magnus, but he had no arms, and when he tried to tread water with his tentacles he killed a few more hundred crabs. Seeing the poor creatures smashed as though they were no more than toys in the hands of an angry child, Magnus Fin felt his heart burst.

“That’s cruel!” shouted Magnus Fin. “How could you? Stop it.”

“That’s cruel – how could you? Stop it? Oh! Heh-heh-heh, oh, how sweet,” said the monster, trying to talk just like Magnus Fin, but his voice sounding no more human than the sound of a knife scratched on a blackboard.

“Feed the human,” commanded the monster. “Look after him.” Immediately the lobsters
surrounded Magnus Fin, and with their pincers hooked into various parts of his wetsuit, they swiftly transported him to another room. The eels swam ahead pushing doors open. Every room seemed to be massive. As they glided through the palace, the boy gazed at the lavish jewels lining every wall.

“Yes, opals and rubies and gold, very nice, eh?” said one of his transporters, the red lobster nearest to Magnus Fin’s face. “His most great majesty is very fond of treasure.”

Magnus could only nod to the informative lobster before he was taken in to a banqueting hall and pushed down before an enormous table. Pressing him on to the chair, the lobster clamped its pincer across the boy’s arm, like a policeman’s handcuff.

“Ouch!” Magnus Fin yelled.

“Oops! Sorry,” said the lobster, opening its pincer, “I’m not used to weak human flesh.”

Magnus Fin rubbed his arm, thankful for his thick rubber wetsuit.

“Well, you’d better eat then,” the lobster said, and Magnus Fin stared at the mountain of food. The table, the upturned hull of a sunken ship, was so loaded with food it sunk in the middle. Magnus Fin, with the fear gone, found he was starving. He feasted, sucking oysters and mussels from their shells, while wrapping his feet around the chair to keep himself down.

As he ate, a sweet ringing music filled the hall. Magnus Fin gazed around him. In the murky water he could see nothing at first, but gradually his pupils penetrated the dark. A beam of
eye-light 
fell upon a girl. She was seated on a rock in an alcove of the room singing a mournful song. Looking around him, Magnus Fin could see more and still more girls with moon-white skin and long black hair, each one more beautiful than the one before, and each one seated in an alcove behind bars. Some of them played harps. Some played silver flutes. Some blew softly into conch shells. One in particular, with deep sad black eyes and black hair trailing down her back, sang softly and stared at Magnus. She reminded him of someone, but he wasn’t sure who.

With a sickening feeling in the pit of his stomach, Magnus Fin suddenly realised – these were the selkies, and they were all prisoners of the false king. Somewhere here was his cousin Aquella, the girl who had set out to try and find him when he was three years old.

Magnus Fin wanted to call out to them, to tell them that he was Magnus Fin, son of Ragnor, grandson of Miranda, but as soon as Magnus opened his mouth to speak, his small voice was swallowed by the groan of the monster.

The bulging red eye, the flicking green tongue, the stretched black face, all came groaning and smiling horribly into the banqueting hall. The selkies ceased their music. The monster drew his neck and head up to the table, where it crashed down with a thud, making the food still left there jump up into the water and float around. The monster peered at the boy with his shuddering eye.

“You are my guest,” he said, his wide mouth
gaping up and down with each word. “Teach me to be like you, human.”

Magnus Fin leant his chin on his hand so he could hold his moon-stone undetected. The monster tried to copy the boy and brought one of his awful tentacles up to rest under his mouth. But the monster couldn’t sit like the boy. Every time he tried he failed, and with each failure he grew more and more irritated.

“I am the greatest king that ever lived under the sea. I’d be a billionaire on the land with my magnificent treasure chest. I am the most powerful, the most feared, but I am bored with the sea. It’s dark down here. It stinks. And there’s no one interesting to talk to. But I have seen your sunken ships. I have seen your great cruise liners, your oilrigs. Lots I brought down. One whip of my tentacles and bang – crash – down they come. I have seen what wonders you have on the land, what riches you possess, what magnificent buildings you have. I want to rule the land. Yes, I want to be king there too. It will be fun, more fun than here. I need to breathe in air, that’s all. I need to know your secret, you tiny two-legged thing. That’s why you’re still alive. I’ve tried before, you know. I’ve brought down sea captains, sailors, fishermen, swimmers, surfers; I’ve pulled them all under. It’s so easy. But they all died, so quickly, every stupid one. Only you, tiny thing, have stayed alive. So you see, human child, you are my teacher.”

With the terrible monster so close, Magnus Fin was now quaking like a leaf. The stench of
the monster’s breath was like a sewer. Magnus could only stop from fainting by keeping one eye on the sad and gentle-eyed maiden in the alcove. Magnus couldn’t think of anything to say. He scratched at his face.

In a flash one of the awful tentacles of the monster curled up. In horror Magnus Fin saw that the monster was trying to scratch his own face – and failing miserably.

“Too bad!” he screamed, almost deafening Magnus. “I know you humans have machines for everything, so who needs hands?” Suddenly the monster stopped talking and stared at Magnus Fin’s eyes. It felt unnerving having one eye stare at two eyes. Especially when that one eye was the most hideous pulsing bloodshot thing you could imagine.

“Of course,” roared the monster. “Heh! I get it! It’s your eyes, isn’t it? That’s it, heh-heh, I’ve got it. One eye for this world and one for the dry world: that world up there, where you have great buildings, huge palaces, cars, aeroplanes, everything! Heh! I’m a genius. I’ve worked it out. I might not have stupid little hands but I have a brain. You thought you’d keep it from me. You didn’t know I was so clever, eh?”

The tentacles swished through the water. Magnus Fin squirmed in his seat and felt sick. “I’ll take your eyes,” hissed the monster. Coming so menacingly close, the boy could smell greed in his stinking hot breath. “Being blind won’t be too bad. It’s so dark and boring down here anyway; there isn’t much to see. And you’ll still have your
little ears. I’ll leave my girls down here to sing for you and you can keep your little legs and your little arms. These girls, they aren’t really human. Not really. I thought they were. They tricked me. They are seals and I have got their dirty little seal skins. But you – you are a human. I know it. I can smell it. Now I, king of the sea, command you: give me your eyes!”

Magnus Fin kept hold of his moon-stone. “Free the seal women first,” he blurted out. The monster laughed – a horrid thin high laugh. Magnus Fin blinked. He thought of the monster ripping out his two eyes. Though the thought filled him with horror, he managed to face the monster and remain calm. “Set them all free,” he said again, “and give them their skins.”

“Oh, all right, all right,” replied the monster huffily. “Who wants half-humans when I can have it all? I was going to marry one of them but I couldn’t make up my mind, so I kept them all, even though their mournful songs were getting on my nerves. I thought I could be like them and find my way on to the land but, heh-heh, their silly little furs wouldn’t fit me.”

Magnus Fin stared at the hideous creature, trying not to show the horror he felt. “We,” continued the false king, “you could say, had to damage a skin, but it was all in the name of science – heh-heh! If my little human says they must be released then it will be so. But it means you will have no music when I leave you behind. Nothing to hear, nothing to see. It will be very boring. But if you insist – guards!” he bellowed,
shaking up the murky waters. Ten hammerhead sharks appeared, looking ready to tear the flesh from the human’s bones. “Free the seal girls,” commanded the king, “and give them their skins – at least the skins we still have.”

“Are you absolutely sure, your gracious majesty?” said one of the sharks who knew how much the monster enjoyed his singing girls.

“Are you daring to question your gracious majesty of the deep? Are you?” the false king bellowed. “Their stupid songs bore me – weepy stuff that’s been annoying me for ages. Go on! Get on with it.” The din was deafening.

“Well, if your gracious most reverent majesty is sick of the girls, how about us hammerheads having them?” said the shark, bowing to kiss the monster’s tentacles. “We like a bit of a song to send us to sleep.”

“You cheeky, ungrateful, ugly, good-for-nothing idiot! If I am not going to have my little singing girls, you’re certainly not going to have them. One more bit of cheek from you and I’ll pull your teeth out. Understand?”

“Not my teeth. Please, your majesty, not my teeth. I’ll do it. Of course I’ll do it! I’ll set them free right away. Your most royal highness magnificent king,” said the shark, whimpering and trying to kiss the king’s tentacles.

“Oi! Get back here. Unlock the cages and you can forget about your slobbering kisses. In fact you can forget my tentacles all together. Gone, gone, gone. Soon they will be gone – and good riddance. I’m sick of them. Soon I’ll get two legs and you’ll kiss them
and then I’ll be out of here. Heh-heh-heh!”

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