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While the King of Maths and his entourage crunch the numbers I sit down on a warm red rock of candy with Realtor Lion and we play a game of magnetic checkers on a travel checker set. I beat the lion eight games to five and then the King of Maths finally draws himself up regally and approaches us. His eyes bulge with excitement and he launches into another frantic, almost ragged, song.
"My genius at maths is unabated,
And your answer has been tabulated,
Join us now by that huge gate,
And my solving skills I will demonstrate!"
We follow the king to where the mathmagicians are huddled around the hundreds of stone slabs that can be pushed in sequence to answer the equation. One of the mathmagicians hands the king a slip of paper and he begins pushing the stones into the door's surface. He pauses repeatedly to inspect the sheet of paper as he works. When he is finished he tosses the paper into the air and it is whisked away by the wind.
"That equation was most exasperating,
As payment you will watch me mastur-"
The king's triumphant song is drowned out by the roar and clatter of huge gears turning inside the wall. A bronze face that resembles that of a huge and hideous baby is magically conjured on the surface of the door.
"Rumplesniffs want answer to riddle!" The face clanks and belches smoke as it speaks. "Who is greatest in all of land!? Answer fast!"
"Why it is surely not another, Than the man which maths call King, I will insist now of you foulest baby, That you purse your lips and kiss my ring."
"That wrong answer!" The face grumbles.
The King of Maths splutters with anger as white beams of light spear out of the bronze baby head's eyes and transfix him. With a horrible crackle of bone and flesh being rent asunder the king is hurled almost to the edge of the precipice on which we are gathered. When the flash of light clears the king is gone and in his place is an adorable fluffy hop-rabbit. One of the mathmagicians runs as fast as he can over to the edge of the cliff and kicks the rabbit off the side.
"Long live the king!" He declares. "Your puzzle has freed us of his tyranny. We thank you noble adventurer."
The mathmagicians wave goodbye and disappear in a puff of numbers. I hope that their land will be ruled by democracy now.
"Give answer!" The petulant baby head demands.
"Uh," I consider, "is it Rumplesniffs?"
"IS IT RUMPLESNIFFS WHAT?" The baby mask roars.
"Rumplesniffs is the greatest in all of land." I reply.
The face disappears back within the door and with a great groan the gates part for us. I shrug to the lion and we venture cautiously inside. The cave is dark and uncomfortably cold. Our path is frequently obstructed by various cave things like stalactites, stalagmites, and blind butterbats. Geodes and other crystalline formations occasionally jut from walls and some of these are dimly lit from within by eerily unnatural phosphorescence. I notice a cluster of stunted albino ant-goats no bigger than my arm scurrying into a crevasse at the sound of our footsteps.
At last we come to three doors set into a crudely-hewn wall of stone.
"Behind one door you will find the great and mighty Rumplesniffs." Realtor Lion reads aloud from the sign in front of the doors. "Certain doom lies behind the other two as well, but doom not found at the hands of the great and mighty Rumplesniffs."
We both closely examine the three doors and can see no difference between them.
"Let's just try the middle door," I suggest.
"That seems as good a choice as any." The lion picks absently at his teeth.
I carefully turn the handle on the middle door and swing it open just a fraction of an inch. There is an angry roar and fire immediately belches out around the doorframe and singes my fingers. I slam the door shut.
"Not that one!" I cry, shaking the pain out of my hand.
"Not that one." Realtor Lion agrees as he examines whatever he pried from his teeth.
I move to the door on the left. I pause to flex my muscles and prepare for flight in case some sort of ghost or troglodyte bursts out to eat our bones or whatever part of us a ghost might eat. The door opens easily in my grip and, when nothing immediately happens, I press my eye to the crack of the door. Inside I can see a vast natural chamber that seems almost to be a dome. The ceiling is open to the air in the middle and brilliant sunlight streams in to illuminate a field of broken skeletons. I am about to declare the door another failure when I spy an enormous slumped bulk lying against the chamber's far wall. An echoing snore rattles from the beast's throat and I realize that it must be none other than Rumplesniffs.
"This is the one!" I whisper excitedly to the lion. "Let's go."
We move into the chamber and carefully pick our way between heaps of skulls and ribcages. All the same it's difficult not to step on the tiny finger bones scattered here and there and they crackle beneath my feet. We draw closer to Rumplesniffs and I realize that the huge beast is sleeping atop a pile of his loot. Glittering in the shaft of sunlight is the golden tambourine of Tim O'Sham. It's right inside the crook of the ogre's armpit.
"How are we going to get to that?" I whisper to the lion. "He's sure to wake up if one of us climbs up that pile of trophies."
"I have no idea," the lion replies and stifles a yawn. "I do know that I have no intention of climbing into one of the more unpleasantly fragrant of that beast's regions for the dratted tambourine."
"Maybe you could distract him somehow."
"I don't think that is a very sensible idea." The lion gestures expansively to all of the bones.
"Maybe we could-"
The lion interrupts me with a sound that is probably best described as a "meep." He grabs me by my arm and points at the ogre.
Rumplesniffs is sitting up. He wipes the sleep from his watery eyes and then glares at the both of us.
"Hello." He says to us. "Who are you?"
He rises to his feet with a clatter of disrupted treasure and sways unsteadily on tree-trunk thick legs. I realize that the bronze face on the door was actually Rumplesniffs' face. He looks like a huge warty toddler, with a fat oversized head, puffy limbs, and dimpled knees. A single yellowed tusk pokes out of his enormous mouth.
"I asked question!" Rumplesniffs points out with irritation. "You are in my cave! Explain why!"
"W-we came for the magical Tambourine of Tim O'Sham." I reply uncertainly.
"Oh," Rumplesniffs scratches his warty chin. "You can take. I not like it very much anyway. It too small for my fingers."
Rumplesniffs waggles his thick digits to illustrate his point.
"Th-that's very kind of-," I begin.
"BUT!" Rumplesniffs interjects forcefully. "You give something in return. I not like treasure get smaller."
I immediately begin searching through my pockets for something to give to the ogre. Then I remember the magical whistle that Realtor Lion has.
"Give him the whistle." I mutter to the lion out of the side of my mouth.
Realtor Lion sighs and reaches into his coat for the tin whistle. He takes a few steps forward and places it on the floor of the cave.
"It's a magical whistle." I explain. "Much more powerful than Tim O'Sham's lousy tambourine. If you blow on it these magical mathmagician guys will appear and do all sorts of tricks for you."
Rumplesniffs struggles to pick up the whistle like a child trying to lift a dime from a table. He grumbles to himself and then finally plucks it up.
"These wizards of math. They made of meats?"
"Yes, delicious meat." The lion replies and shrugs when I give him a dirty look.
"Mmmmm, I like meats. Okay, you take tambourine, I keep whistle."
I rush to collect Tim O'Shams magical tambourine, thanking Rumplesniffs profusely as he struggles to put the whistle to his thick lips. As the lion and I depart the chamber I hear a tuneless toot of the whistle and the magical whoosh of the cloud of numbers. The screams of the mathmagicians are still echoing in the cave when we reach the outside.
Our journey back to Cinnamon Meadows is arduous but largely uneventful. Deep in the wastes of Ghost Indian Plaza my high spirits allow me to conjure a hovercraft powered by sunshine and rainbows. The smiling lambent orb in the sky chuckles at my ingenuity and casts helpful rays of light down on our hovercraft as it zips through the desert. When we reach Manachem's Mirth the sorghum snakes emerge to wave to us in the way that only a snake can as we pass them by at speed. Even the lion manages a toothy smile with his great mane blowing in the fresh air and the tambourine tucked safely in the hovercraft's cockpit.
The sound of applause reaches our ears over the noise of the hovercraft's turbines as we glide into Bumblechase Square. The mayor and the townsfolk are all still gathered there, because time doesn't pass like you think it would in Dreamytime Slumberland. They clap and cheer and hurrah as we step down waving the tambourine above our heads.
"Well done, my boy!" The mayor congratulates me. "At long last the menace of Red Raccoon will be driven from our land."
Just then the nefarious raccoon makes his presence known. He bursts from a nearby cottage with a clatter of pots and pans and stands upright to sniff at the air.
"Your days are numbered, Red Raccoon!" I shout at the creature.
"Nice try dopes," he sniggers. "I'm too fast for the likes of you."
He makes a show of running quickly around the entire square and then standing up only a few feet away.
"I'll take whatever sugar I please from this town and there's nothing you can do about it!" Red Raccoon cackles with laughter.
I reveal the tambourine to him and his snaggle-toothed smile disappears.
"No! It can't be!" Red Raccoon cries with disbelief.
"It is!" I shout and begin to jangle the tambourine.
Immediately Red Raccoon collapses onto the ground, wailing and writhing as I play the tambourine. Smoke begins to rise from him as he flails his limbs in helpless agony as though some terrible fire inside his body were being stoked by the tambourine.
"Please, stop! Don't send me back!" He cries in abject terror.
"It's too late, Red Raccoon. People are friendly here, you could have just asked for some sugar."
The stink of burning flesh is heavy in the air as I continue to shake and drum on the tambourine. Red Raccoon's wailing reaches a frenzied pitch. His eyes burst in superheated jets and his cooking skin and hair begin to peel from the fat and muscle beneath. The smoke pours in thick drafts from his body and begins to darken as his body roasts faster and faster. Bold townsfolk encircle him and begin to beat him with shovels, picks, and brooms. His screams are finally silenced as his lungs cook to cinders in his chest. The only signs that he lives on are the silent opening and closing of his fleshless mouth and the occasional feeble kick of his legs. At last he is nothing more than ashes scattering in the wind.
"Happy days are here again!" The mayor cheers.
The crowd tosses aside their bloody implements and lift Realtor Lion and I above their heads with a mighty whoop of approval. For another year at least the town will be safe from Red Raccoon.
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