It seems I had caught the tentacled king at a bad time. When he answered the door, he seemed to have just got up. His scaly chin was unshaven, so that the ends of a thousand cocktail sticks poked out from his face, great bags hung under his many eyes, and he was wearing his bathrobe open over a scabby old 'I don't do mornings' T-shirt. In one hand he was holding the mug of coffee he had apparently been just about to drink when I rang the doorbell.
"Jim?" he said. "It's six in the morning! Couldn't this have waited?"
"Not really," I said. "Would you mind stepping outside for a moment?"
"Why? Have you defeated Bulstrode yet?"
"All in good time. Just come out here into the front garden. There's something very important I need to show you."
Frowning, and yet also trusting, the tentacled king stepped out into the front yard. It was a nice day in my psychic realm, as I had chosen the sky from that glorious weekend at the boy scout camp that had so utterly ignored my prayers for rain that would prevent me getting my face ground into the stinging nettles at the midday football match. At my prodding, the tentacled king moved out onto the lawn, where every blade of grass was replaced with red licorice, and took up position in the shade of a magnificent chew bar tree.
"So... what do you have to show me?" he asked, uneasily trying to match the big smile on my face.
"Oh, I just thought you might want to see NOW!"
At that point, the astral forms of Rose and Frobisher dropped from the tree and ensnared the tentacled king in a big astral net made out of crabs, and he was pinned helplessly to the floor. The astral coffee mug flew from his hand and out of this narrative. "Aaargh!" he went, unoriginally. "Not the crabs! Not the crabs in my beautiful tentacled face!"
"Shut up," said Rose, putting the boot in. "This thing is your spirit guide, Jim? For crying out loud, what the hell kind of childhood did you have? Mine was a cat!"
"Mine was a donkey," said Frobisher. "I don't even know what the hell this thing is."
"I am the tentacled king!" cried the thrashing tentacled king. I stepped onto its writhing mass, putting just enough weight on his body to cause the beginnings of horrendous pain, then grabbed one of his tentacles, untangling it from the mass of writhing slimy body parts.
"Now, let's talk about this like civilised gentlemen," I said. The king fell silent, staring with fear, perhaps anticipating my scheme. "The three of us have all, individually, been tasked to track down the Gatekeeper, the Warrior, and the Water-bearer, and now you are going to explain in simple, straightforward terms exactly what those three things are."
"Er," said the king nervously. "Simple, straightforward terms?"
His many eyes flicked between me and my comrades. "Okay, okay, how about this. My first is in Jamaica but not inAAAAH OH GOD NO YOU'RE GIVING ME A CHINESE BURN!"
"Perhaps I should have clarified," I said, my voice ever friendly and light. "When I said 'simple, straightforward terms', I meant that you tell us exactly what we want to know, in ordinary Queen's English, not in the form of any riddles, brainteasers, wordsearches or anything else you might find on the comics page of a newspaper."
"Couldn't you have just waited for the great realisation just in the nick of time like normal people?" he whined. "What's wrong with yAAAH"
"We're still waiting. I'll make it easier for you. Just fill in the blank. 'The Water-Bearer Is...?'"
"Oh god, please..."
"The. Water. Bearer. Is," I insisted, giving the tentacle another wring with each word.
"The water - OW - bearer is... AH"
"Is... ugh... you!"
"The Water-Bearer is you. You are the Water-Bearer." His reddened tentacle pointed reproachfully in my direction. Then it gestured towards Rose and Frobisher. "And she is the Gatekeeper, and he is the Warrior."
There was a long silence, eventually broken by Frobisher. "You know, on reflection, that makes a lot of sense."
"Well, OK then," I said. "So we've already found them. That was easy. So now we're together, how does being together make it possible to defeat Bulstrode? We tried ganging up against him in Fogworld just before we got here but he wasn't having any of it."
"What you have to do," he said, "is look deep inside yourself AAAAAAAAH"
"'Look deep inside yourself' is the new buzz phrase," I say. "Every time you say it you get a particularly vicious chinese burn."
"Okay, okay, clearly you don't quite understand how this works," said the tentacled king miserably. "The fact is, I've got no idea how bringing you three together helps defeat Bulstrode. I am a manifestation of your subconscious mind. Everything I know I have to take from your existing knowledge. See, you subconsciously figured out that you were the Water-bearer, even if you didn't make the right connections in your conscious mind. But neither I nor you have any idea how any of this helps, so on that matter you're on your own. Okay?"
"I could have a go at him," said Frobisher. "They taught me some really awesome torture methods at the temple. Just give me a pipe cleaner and we'll know everything he knows presently."
"No, that's OK," I sighed. "I guess he's telling the truth. Okay, what I would suggest now is that we go see your two spirit guides and see if either of you subconsciously figured out what we're supposed to be doing at any point."
"What about Penfold?" asked Rose. "Where is he, anyway?"
"I dunno. He definitely drank Fog Juice, and there're definitely four golden realms, but I've never seen him around."
"I guess he hasn't figured out how to get out of his realm and into Fogworld, yet," said Frobisher.
"I guess that makes sense," I said, stroking my astral beard. "He is kind of a dozy twat."
"I thought you were his friend?" said Rose.
"Exactly. I wouldn't go around calling my enemies twats. My enemies are the last people I want to piss off. Penfold, on the other hand, is fair game. That guy's been pissed on his whole life. You have to slowly ease him off the piss or he'd completely break down."
"How benevolent of you," she said, deadpan.
"Er," said the tentacled king. "Can I get up now?"
Accountancy Island appeared over the horizon the next day, and a gentle breeze carried us slowly closer and closer. By noon, we were close enough to drop anchor and prepare the little jolly-boat to row ourselves onto the beach, but after we'd loaded down the little jolly-boat with as much supplies as we could reasonably fill it with and still accommodate all four of us, we suddenly found that we all became inexplicably hesitant about continuing. After the jolly-boat was prepared, all four of us drifted one by one to the portside balustrade, staring out onto Accountancy Island, that had seemed so comfortably far away when we had made our plans to besiege it.
There was something terribly unnerving about the island's appearance. There was still that slightly imperceptible sense of artificiality about it, and there being absolutely no sign of life wasn't pleasant either. It had had no sign of life when I had first washed up here, way back towards the beginning of this book, but that had been before I knew about Bulstrode's enslaved tribe of accountants. Now I did know they were there, but still I couldn't perceive any movement in the jungle, not even the slightest swaying palm or the sound of a single stifled cough.
"He must have turned all the accountants on the island," I thought aloud. "I'd have thought those would be the very first people he'd turn. So where are they?"
Our reception was certainly very different to the hospitality we'd enjoyed at Honolulu. The island appeared to be completely undefended. No crowds of accountants with Kalashnikovs stood waiting. There was always the chance they were all around the other side of the island, watching a different beach like a bunch of dozy twats, but I doubted that severely.
"How many accountants were on this island?" I asked Penfold.
"We had a complete staff of eighty-six," he said with a hint of pride in his voice.
"It's got to be a trap," said Rose. "Bulstrode must have prepared for the possibility of us coming here. There'll be an ambush, I'm sure of it."
"But on the other hand," said Frobisher. "We have pirate strength and ninja cunning, and all they are is a bunch of white collars with staple guns. If it came to it we could probably fight them off if they came on in small numbers."
"I know I pretty much already know the answer to this one," I said, "but it's still not too late to walk away from all this. We drank Fog Juice, we're safe from Bulstrode, we can find some isolated desert island to live on. We could just let him have his fun. I mean, he's not a young man, he'll die of old age before we do, and then everything'll go back to normal."
Rose didn't reply straight away. She looked at me with sad eyes, not anger, then glanced over at Lance and Quentin, still roped to the mast. They had stopped moving at some point during the night, and now stood with stiffened backs, glaring at me with a familiar anger. "No," she said. "We're four against the entire population of the Earth. We'd never be able to escape. The only way we can hope to survive is to get Bulstrode before he gets us."
"I just... keep getting this horrible feeling," said Frobisher, hugging himself. "Like we're walking into the lion's den. I don't... I don't think we're all going to survive this."
We ruminated on this for a moment.
"Well, that really brightened up the mood," I said, "thanks a lot, Frobisher."
No-one could even summon the energy to tell me off, so we stood in silence for a little bit longer.
"You know, my parents always wanted me to go into medicine. Marry another nice doctor. Have kids. Live a long, productive life," said Rose, finally. "Now I'm going to die at twenty-two as a pirate fighting global apocalypse. I guess they'd be disappointed."
"If they weren't zombies," I added.
"I never thought about that," said Frobisher. "My parents are probably zombies by now, too. They always wanted me to become a high-priced lawyer and care for them in their old age. Now they're zombies. Them, my entire family, everyone I ever knew. Even Dorothy. I'd almost worked up the courage to ask her out. If we met now she'd just ignore me and start strangling Jim."
"My parents always wanted me to be an accountant," said Penfold with a little smile. "They were so proud at my initiation ceremony. I guess they're zombies too, now. They won't be happy about that."
"My parents wanted me to become a goth and kill myself in my teens," I said, nostalgically. "They kept leaving razor blades in the bathroom and pushed Cure CDs under my door. They're probably pretty pissed off I lasted this long. Why are you all looking at me like that?"
"No more faffing about," said Rose suddenly. "This isn't going to become any easier the longer we leave it. If we do this, we do it full on. No half-arsing. If anyone's got any doubts about how they'll fare out on that island, now's the time to say so and stay behind on the ship. Anyone?"
Rose put out her hand. "Everything or nothing," she said. We three men also put our hands out, and we did one of those empowering circle hand joining things. There's probably a word for it, but it escapes me at the moment. Then we broke up, and headed for the little jolly-boat.
What was really surprising me was how Rose was easily fitting under the mantle of leader. At university she had always seemed somewhat directionless, and I guess that was something we had had in common, but while I was content to drift along like a little piece of toilet paper on the great big global sewage stream of human civilisation, she had always seemed inwardly pretty frustrated. Like she needed something she couldn't have. She seemed to see the pigeonholes of society but couldn't decide on which one to go into, like the one she had in mind wasn't around, or no longer existed. She was one of those people who could never be suited to a normal life and only really came into their own in times of stress, to provide the voice of reason when everyone else is running around waving their arms and gibbering like monkeys.
I wasn't sure how Frobisher was dealing with it. I suspected it hadn't really sunk in for him. He seemed to be just accepting everything that went on with perfect cheerfulness, as if he was cushioned from it all with a few miles of pink cotton wool. I wondered if this was just his nature or some kind of personal coping mechanism. Certainly he had never been one for heroics, and was always the first one out of the student union at the mere sound of beer bottles being broken across tabletops.
And then there was Penfold, who still looked like he had absolutely no idea of what was going on but was too polite to ask someone. Did he truly understand the danger we were getting ourselves into, and if not, would it be the right thing to do to clue him in? It seemed almost cruel, somehow, like kicking a puppy.
"Penfold," I asked him as we squeezed ourselves between the water canteens and boxes of Stinger chew bars in the little jolly boat. "Why don't we ever see you in Fogworld?"
"You know, the weird place you go to when you go to sleep," I said, taking up an oar. "Have you had a word with your spirit guide yet? Gotten out of your personal realm?"
He was looking at me with a look one reserves for homeless people asking for things that are not in your power to give, like meteorites or all the thrones of Europe. "Er... I have been having some pretty vivid dreams lately, if that's what you're talking about."
Frobisher and I concentrated on rowing. For the first few minutes Rose stood majestically at the front, one foot on the prow, frowning heroically at the approaching island, but then she had to sit down because she was rocking us somewhat. As soon as we were closer to the beach than the ship, I was struck by another feeling of foreboding. The beach and jungle seemed huge and imposing. The sun was setting behind the trees, and their silhouettes created a terrifying image of blackened talons swooping down upon our unprotected THUMP
My reverie was interrupted when the jolly boat grounded itself on the beach, lodging itself in wet sand. We took up our canteens and chew bars and took one last glance at the Black Pudding, her silence only made worse by the knowledge that she was full to the brim with zombie pirates. Then we began our trek into the jungle.