“Elfs?” said Joshaya, his face screwed up in confusion. “What Elfs? What are you talking about, boy? There aren’t any Elfs. They left a long time ago. Don’t you know your history?”
I knew very little of the history of this world. In fact, I knew very little of the history of my own world. Sure, I learned about the Spanish Armada and World War II, but I also got taught about Noah’s Ark and Columbus discovering America by landing in the Bahamas. There’s a lot of stuff I feel is kept intentionally murky.
“What about the Elf who turned up in Gorgoth?” I said. “Seemed pretty present.”
“Yes,” said Joshaya in an exasperated tone, like I was the one being idiotically uninformed. “But that one wasn’t dead. I can’t raise the living, can I?”
“But there are bound to be others, aren’t there?” I said. “They aren’t immortal, right? You had your skirmishes with them. You must have killed one or two. We just go find where the bodies were buried and you can, you know, rip them out of the ground and force them into indentured service. It’s all the rage at the moment, you’ll probably get a medal for services to industry.”
Joshaya didn’t look very enthusiastic about my idea. Not that anyone ever looked enthusiastic when hearing one of my ideas. That’s why I preferred to work alone. That and the fact every single person I’ve ever met has been an incompetent retard who made everything much harder than it needed to be and always found some way to avoid taking responsibility for their utter failure to do what they were fucking told.
I may have some residual anger about that.
“We did not kill any of them,” said Joshaya, taking a more sombre tone. “Such a thing would be against all known laws.”
“What does that mean?” I was a little miffed at his sudden reverence. “You’re supposed to be gods. Don’t you make the laws?”
“There are some laws that are beyond the reach of men and gods.”
“No,” I said. “That just means you don’t know what a god is. You’re supposed to be the boss. The creator of all things.”
Joshaya gave me a strange look. “How could that be? Who made us, then?”
I didn’t really want to get into a metaphysical debate about the nature of the universe where you start down a rabbit hole which turns into a black hole that ends in a big bang and suddenly you’re being accused of sexual assault. We live in strange times, and that’s coming from someone stuck in a fantasy world.
My definition of what a god was clearly did not match with his. But then, I was from a monotheistic tradition where the main man was the only game in town. Even though we’ve had our fair share of pantheistic deities, too.
In fact, the family of gods, usually with a dad who liked to fuck everything and a bunch of kids who each took over part of the family business, was the standard template for ages.
Then someone realised it was hard to claim you were speaking with the authority of the most powerful being in existence when the guy on the next soapbox was speaking on behalf of that guy’s uncle or mother or half-goat step-brother.
Much easier to get people to do what you tell them when your boss is the only boss.
Joshaya, though, was from a different tradition. He was just very powerful compared to regular plebs, so he got elevated to superior being status. And there were other powerful beings above and below him. Sort of like celebrities in their various lists, but with slightly smaller egos.
“I do not care to involve myself in your petty plans,” said Joshaya.
Don’t you just hate it when someone who used to be into the same things as you decides they’re too good for that nonsense? I mean, give it up if you want but there’s no need to be a sanctimonious prick about it.
“So there is a way to raise an Elf from the dead?”
“No, there is not. But if there were, I wouldn’t lower myself to such a disrespectful act.”
See what I mean? Pompous.
“I don’t see why not,” I said. “You’ve lowered yourself to plenty of other acts. The Queen tells you to do something and you snap to it. The only way you can say no to her is hide in here.”
Joshaya didn’t look very happy with my analysis of his working relationship with the Fairy Queen. Which probably meant I was dead-on.
“I can fix it so you don’t have to do what she tells you anymore.”
Joshaya’s displeasure turned to mild curiosity. “And how would you do that?”
“I’m sending her to another world. One where her talents will keep her very busy, so no chance of her coming back to bother the rest of us.”
Joshaya seemed to be thinking it over. He shook his head violently to snap himself out of it.
“Even if you could do what you say, I am not interested. What difference does it make who is in charge — her, the Elfs… you!” He sighed and pulled on his beard. “I’d much rather stay in here.”
“There must be something you want.” I was getting a little desperate. I knew from personal experience, once someone went down the helter-skelter of self-pity, it was very hard to drag them back up again.
It’s at times like this, when you’re on the verge of discovering the thing you’ve been fishing for, that tradition dictates an interruption comes in just at that moment to prevent you finding out. Sitcoms and French plays practically insist on it.
Fortunately we were in a Void where interruptions were hard to come by.
“Ah, you’ve returned,” said Peter, emerging from the darkness like some kind of slick master of bad timing. “How goes it on the outside? Too much to handle for you?”
“No, no, no,” I said, pushing Peter back into the darkness, which refused to swallow him up. “We’re in the middle of a very delicate conversation. A private one. So if you could give us a little space…”
“Certainly,” said Peter. “I’ll stay over here until you’re done. I wouldn’t wish to intrude. None of my business, I’m sure. What is it you’re discussing?”
“Nothing you need to concern yourself with. Could you just leave?”
“I would, I would. Only, there isn’t anywhere to go. The place may look large but it’s quite deceptive. It’s the lack of corners. Creates the illusion of infinite space. If you really want me to not observe, you’ll have to let me out. It’s the only solution.”
Of course, interrupting at the worst possible moment doesn’t only serve to frustrate people, it provides them with a desire to get rid of the person who’s being a dick. Something Peter was clearly a master at.
“I’m not letting you out, Peter. Just stay over there and don’t speak, okay?”
“As you wish,” said Peter, all smiles. “I could help, though. I’ve been with him quite some time now. I like to think I’ve picked up on his moods, his likes and dislikes. What is it you wish for him to do?”
“Nothing. He’s going to tell me what he wishes so I can use it to get him to do what I want.”
“Oh, that’s easy,” said Peter. “I can tell you that.”
“Can you? What?” I waited for another interruption.
“He wants to be adored. To be loved by the masses. He’s quite the showman at heart. But it’s hard, you know, considering his profession. Death isn’t very appealing as a profession. He can, of course, produce an audience out of the ground, as it were, but it’s not the same, is it?”
Considering Joshaya’s turn as the Pope of Gorgoth, Peter’s claim didn’t seem all that outlandish. He liked to put on a show and he liked to dress up.
“Is that true?” I asked Joshaya, who looked ready to deny everything. “Because if it is, I can definitely arrange that.”
“You can?” said Joshaya. “How?”
“Easy,” I said. “Everyone loves a hero. And that’s exactly what people need right now. Enemies are at the gate, defeat is unavoidable, and then you arrive to save the day. Some music, some lighting, a big fight with good choreography. You’ll be a smash hit.”
I could see the idea taking hold in Joshaya’s head. If I’d known he was this big a ham from the start, I’d have had a much easier time of it.
I decided to lay it on thick. “They’ll be so pleased by your heroic heroism, they’ll put you on a pedestal and hero-worship you.” Maybe a little too thick. “That’s why we’ll make such a good team. You want people to like you, and I think of people as a muddy road that will slow you down and make you dirty if you let it touch you. We don’t want the same thing so we won’t get in each other’s way.”
“You want me to take all the credit and adulation?” said Joshaya, slightly suspicious but mostly hooked. He wanted to be worshipped, like any god. But he actually wanted people to mean it. A crazy idea that had never worked, but there’s always a first time.
“Yes,” said Peter, suddenly appearing at my shoulder. “The three of us will make a splendid team.”
I could tell from Joshaya’s expression he was about as eager to have Peter on board as I was.
“I don’t want to offend you, Peter,” I lied, “but if we let you get involved, you’ll ruin everything.”
“Oh,” said Peter, “that’s a little hurtful, I must say. I do have some useful qualities, you know.”
“No,” I said, “you don’t. You only look to serve your own needs, which would be fine if those needs also coincided with what others needed. But they don’t. They never do and never will because your need is to take away whatever anyone else needs. You see the problem?”
Peter frowned. “But it’s for—”
“Their own good? No, Peter, it isn’t. That’s just the line you use on the dumber ones to make them think sticking with you will see them alright while the rest perish. They, of course, will also perish once you don’t need them anymore.
“You really are being very harsh,” said Peter. “Am I really so bad?”
“Yes,” I said. “But I think you’ll do great back home. Your sort are doing very well at the moment. Here’s what I’ll do. Once me and Joshaya here have taken care of the imminent problem, I’ll find a way to send you back to Earth.”
“You will?” It was Peter’s turn to look doubtful about my promises. I didn’t look like the kind of guy who could get things done and give you what no one else could, but then I also looked like a guy who should have died on the first day he got here and yet I was still breathing and had all my limbs. Wasn’t even missing any teeth. That had to count for something.
“If I can pass you off as someone else’s problem I will consider that a win. Things are really stuck in a rut over there right now. Someone like you could really shake things up. I would gladly send you into that fight.”
“Vey well,” said Peter. “I will wait here for your return.”
I didn’t believe him. I’d put the chances of him standing back and letting the show go on without him at zero percent, and that’s rounding up.
It was a tricky thing I was trying. I wanted Joshaya to help me, but he would probably end up betraying me. I wanted Peter not to help, but he would probably end up betraying me. And I definitely didn’t want me to be involved in any meaningful way (because I would probably end up betraying me).
While it was a lot of effort I was looking at — and we all know how I feel about effort — I considered this my last big push to get rid of everyone and finally (finally!) have no one bothering me. Admittedly, it would be easier to just kill them all and have done with it, but that sort of thing makes you look bad. Next thing you know, you’re doing weird shit with facial hair and designing your own military outfits. You always know something’s not right when the uniforms start to have more medals than chest space and have to go on the shoulders and sleeves, just look at Colonel Gaddafi or Idi Amin or Michael Jackson.
“You will make me the hero?”
My subtle psychological manipulation was working.
“Yes. The Great Hero Joshaya, saviour of the human race, and also a number of other races I’m still not too sure of the names of. They’ll insist you take charge of all the important decisions and give you the last slice of cake and everything. You will be the Chosen One.”
What he would be was the Burdened One, trust me, I know what I speak of. But some people like that sort of thing. They see it as a validation of their worth. Why anyone feels it’s important to be approved of by a bunch of idiots, I have no idea, but if it makes you happy, go for it.
“It won’t work,” said Peter. He frowned and shook his head. “He’s tried it before, tried to win them over. It never lasts. He doesn’t have the right kind of personality. Not likeable enough.”
Joshaya, who had been just about to take the bait, sagged a little, withdrawing into himself. Classic toxic relationship.
“Were you around to see it?” I asked Peter.
“Yes, I’ve seen it happen with my own eyes. More than once. Isn’t that right, Joshaya?”
Joshaya flinched and shrank before my eyes. You have to be a special kind of monster to be able to bully a god.
“Then I’m guessing you intervened to make sure he failed,” I said, based on no evidence whatsoever.
“Me? No, no, I merely observed from the sidelines.”
“Yes, that’s what you’re good at. Observe while others do your dirty work for you. I know how you operate, Peter.”
“Is that true?” said Joshaya. “Did you sabotage me?”
“This is ridiculous,” said Peter. “The boy has no proof.”
“But it does sound like something you would do, doesn’t it?” I said.
The two of them looked at each other, knowing it was exactly the way Peter operated.
“I feel I’m being unfairly maligned,” said Peter.
“Easy way to find out if I’m right,” I said. “This time, you won’t be around to screw things up. You’ll be in here, unable to interfere. We’ll be out there, saving the world. And, even if Joshaya is unlikable, the thing is, Peter, he isn’t as unlikeable as me. As long as I’m there, next to him, he’s going to look like a bloody Golden God for real.”
It was hard for either of them to argue against that.
“I agree,” said Joshaya.
“You do?” I was a little surprised to have won.
“But there are no Elfs to bring back from the dead. Instead, there are those who are like you.”
“Like me?” I said. “What do you mean?” I failed to see how an army of miserable gits would win anything.
“Visitors. The ones who came before you. The ones Peter made sure wouldn’t get in his way.”
The suggestion gave me pause for thought. The people who had arrived before us, grew in power, and then had been killed. They would certainly be powerful, even as undead. The only thing was, Peter wasn’t the only one to have killed off the competition. I had also made a couple of deletions to my Christmas card list. And I wasn’t too sure I wanted to see any of them again.