It shouldn’t really have been a surprise that the other groups would have developed special abilities. It was possible Stella wasn’t the only one. The way they seemed unfazed by the prospect of facing off against the Archfiend more than likely meant they had other tricks up their sleeves. Probably best not to aggravate them. Hey, first time for everything.
“You want to go into Monsterland instead of us?” I felt like I should check he meant what I thought he meant.
“Yah, man,” said Gideon. “It sounds like the sort of thing we’ve been looking for. Most of the monsters here are too easy. We could use a challenge. Just give us any info or equipment Gullen gave you and we’ll take care of it.”
On the one hand, I felt a sense of relief—they didn’t want to fight us. On the other hand, they thought we were being sent on some cool quest to save the world, and decided they would just take over.
It irked me.
“Gullen didn’t give us anything,” I said.
Gideon turned to look at Stella. She was standing with her hands clasped, fingers interlocked, and sweating slightly which made her mascara run. I didn’t know if her ability was exactly the same as God’s, but it seemed to take more effort for her than it did for him.
“He’s telling the truth.”
“Are you sure?” said Gideon.
“No, I’m not sure,” said Stella, sounding peeved. “And my head’s starting to hurt, so if you want to ask him anything else you better hurry up.”
As annoying as my group could be, at least I didn’t have to deal with bickering hipsters.
Gideon took a deep breath, slicked back his quiffy hair, and returned his attention to me. “So you’re saying Gullen wants you to defeat the Archfiend without giving you any kind of magic item or even a piece of advice? How does he expect you to do that?”
It was a fair question. I would have liked an answer to it myself. I shrugged. “Any way we can.”
“Truth,” said Stella.
“And you’re not hiding anything from us?”
I was expecting this kind of question. “I’m hiding a lot of things from you.” I turned to Stella and smiled.
She scowled back at me. “Truth.”
“You know you don’t have to ask my permission, right? There’s the bridge, all you have to do is cross .” I pointed at the bridge just in case they hadn’t noticed it. “You look like you’re ready for a fight. Plenty of monsters for everyone.”
“We’ve got a bunch of cool gear we’ve been itching to try out,” said Zane excitedly. He had a bow with all sorts of extra bits attached to it and a quiver of arrows with different coloured feathers. They were very pretty.
“Dude,” said Marc, “we’re gonna tear it up.” He also had a tricked out bow, and a trident with multi-coloured prongs.
“Getting past the giant is the problem,” said Gideon. He had two swords. One blade was orange, the other was green.
“Have you tried hitting it?” I asked. “I mean, you know, with all those fancy weapons.”
“We’ve done some testing,” said Zane.
“What does that mean?”
“We used a range of different metals but it doesn’t seem to be reactive to any of the ones we tried. You wouldn’t have any rare alloys on you would you?”
“I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about.” I looked over at Stella. “Feel free to confirm.”
Zane grabbed a handful of arrows out of the quiver on his back and pointed the tips at us, each of which had a different type of metal arrowhead. From the corner of my eye I saw the trolls flinch and take a step back.
“What we found,” said Zane enthusiastically, “is that monsters have a weakness to certain metals.”
“Like werewolves and silver,” said Maurice.
“Right,” said Zane. “Only we’ve never encountered a werewolf, so I don’t know if that particular myth holds true here. Anyway, it’s mainly trial and error. Goblins can’t handle copper. Lizardmen get totally fucked by bronze. Some of these have been known for a while, but others were only recently discovered. By us.” He grinned, clearly very pleased with himself.
This was certainly interesting information. The sort of thing it would have been useful to know back in Probet.
“Once you’ve got a bead on a particular monster’s vulnerability,” continued Zane, “game over.”
“Game over, man,” chimed in Marc.
This explained what had the trolls so freaked. Whatever their weakness was, it was probably in that quiver.
Zane put the arrows away and held out the bow. “We can hit the giant from this side, but nothing’s worked. Gold , silver, lead… It’s probably something rare. Or a mix.”
“Maybe he doesn’t have a weakness,” I suggested.
“They all have a weakness,” said Gideon. “You just have to find it.”
“We’ve done experiments,” said Zane. He said it with the enthusiasm of a gleeful science geek, but it didn’t sound like he’d been working on how to make a clock out of a potato.
“You did experiments?” said Jenny.
“On living creatures?” said Claire.
“You’re fookin’ bastards,” said Flossie.
Self-righteous women, so great to have around when it’s not you they’re having a go at.
Even Maurice was moved to condemn them. “When I saw the Frisbee, I thought you guys were cool. You guys are not cool.”
When I saw the Frisbee, I’d had the opposite reaction, but whatever.
“No, no,” said Zane. “It was for science.” Not helping.
“We are at war, you know?” said Gideon.
“Yes,” I said, “and who designs your uniforms? Hugo Boss?”
I think they were a bit thrown by our reaction, but then they saw monsters as monsters, whereas we saw them as people.
“Anyway,” I said, “here’s what’s going to happen. We’ll be going over the bridge now, while you and Joseph Mengele stay here and work on the final solution or whatever it is you think you’re doing.” I love getting on my high horse. The view is awesome. “Once we’ve dealt with the giant, you can do what you want.” I took a good look at Stella to see how she was reacting to what I was saying. She looked upset. Sarcasm, it appeared, was neither true or false. Or maybe it was both. Either way, I was giving her a migraine.
“Wait,” said Gideon. “How are you going to get past the giant?”
“That’s their job,” I pointed at Keezy and his men, who were huddled together and shaking in their boots.
“T-true,” said Stella with a wince.
Gideon didn’t seem convinced, despite what Stella said. I didn’t blame him. They didn’t look like they could take care of a pot plant in their current condition.
“Fine,” said Gideon. “We’ll take them with us.”
Not a request, you understand. All your bases are belong to us.
“No,” said Keezy. I could tell he was fighting to keep his voice steady. “We are going with him,” he pointed back at me, “and no one else.”
Gideon looked annoyed. “Order him to come with us.”
“He doesn’t take orders from me,” I said.
“T-true,” said Stella. She looked about ready to collapse.
“Look,” said Gideon, pushing past me and talking directly to Keezy. “Whatever’s on the other side of that bridge, you’ll find it a lot easier to deal with if it’s us next to you.”
“False,” said Stella.
Gideon spun around. “What the fuck do you mean ‘false’?”
She burst into tears. Not because she was a girly girl being a girl, but because she had reached her limit and was about to have a breakdown.
“Hey, dude,” said Marc, “don’t shoot the messenger.”
“Fine, fine,” said Gideon. “It’s cool, everything’s cool. What we’ll do is, we’ll all go together. That way we have a better chance of getting the job done. Am I right, or am I right?”
He slicked back the hair again and adjusted his handlebar ‘tash.
“You’re a lot of things,” I said, “but right is not one of them. What I have here is a finely balanced team that doesn’t want your help.”
I stepped aside so they could get a good look at the rest of my party.
“Flossie defeated a troll in unarmed combat. Dudley pinned down a squad of lizardmen on his own with just his bow. Maurice may look like a speccy twit, but he wears a mask. A mask that enables him to adopt the darkness, to make darkness his ally. And Claire… Claire likes daggers. You don’t want to know what she likes to do with them. Trust me.”
I could feel both Dudley and Maurice backing me up on that one.
“What about me?” said Jenny, wanting her seat on the bullshit train.
“And then there’s Jenny, who may look sweet and innocent, but who will beat the crap out of a young boy until he is crying for his mother. You lot can’t do what we can do. So why don’t you stay here and mind the store while we take care of the bug stuff?”
Everything I had said was meaningless rubbish...
“It’s all... it’s all true,” said Stella, her voice weak and sounding ever more confused.
...but technically I wasn’t lying.
“You really think you can get past that—” he pointed out across the bridge at the hulking shape in the distance “—with this lot.”
“Yes,” I said. “Can we go now, or what?”
“Please,” said Gideon. “I look forward to seeing your team of specials in action. I’m sure it will be very educational for us.”
“I’m sure it will,” I responded with equal sarcasm. “Feel free to take notes.”
“Right, let’s go,” and I quickly corralled everyone towards the bridge.
The trolls took the lead and seemed only too happy to be getting away from the Gidiots and their magic bullets. They practically ran across the bridge.
I slowly and steadily set off after the trolls. The rest of my party gingerly followed. Anger and indignation overcame the fear that would normally have left them incapacitated at the prospect of crossing such a vast gorge on such a flimsy structure.
To be honest, it was a well-made bridge. The slats fitted together without gaps, and the rope handrail provided plenty of support. There was a gusting wind, but it had little to catch against and the bridge only swayed slightly.
Hopefully, by the time we got past the giant and Gideon realised we weren’t going to leave the door open for them, it would be too late for them to do anything about it. Their arrows might be able to reach the other side, but I doubted they’d have much accuracy at that distance, even with all their newfangled contraptions.
This was assuming the trolls waited for us to catch up before speaking with Gargantua. They’d been so keen to get going they were already halfway across.
But then they stopped. I assumed for us to catch up, but when I got closer I could see they were having some kind of argument, which was unlike them. Keezy usually made the decisions without discussion.
The others weren’t that far behind me. They had serious faces and tight grips, and were holding it together—for the time being anyway. What we didn’t want to do was stop in the middle and let the reality of the situation sink in. I hadn’t looked down, but I knew it was a long way.
“Are you going to have a word with Gargantua?” I asked the squabbling foursome.
Now that we were closer it was easier to make out what the giant looked like. He was about the height of a two storey building, and that’s when he was sitting. His face was hairless and he was bald. His features were very small, a nub for a nose, tiny eyes close together, no eyebrows. And he was naked.
He was sitting at the end of the bridge with his chin on his chest. He appeared to be asleep.
“There is a problem,” said Keezy.
“He won’t recognise us in this form.”
I looked over my shoulder. Gideon and the others were watching from the fort entrance. “So change back.”
“If we do that, your friends will know we aren’t human. They can easily hit us from this distance.”
“And you’re scared of their arrows?”
Keezy didn’t respond.
“If you’re quick about it, they might not be able to—”
“No,” said Keezy. They really didn’t want to take a chance getting hit by an arrow.
“What if we sneak past while he’s sleeping?” They all looked at me like I was an idiot. I don’t know why, sounded like a reasonable plan to me.
“I think he might recognise my voice,” said one of the trolls. “I have known him longest, we used to play together as children.”
I was curious to know the kinds of games they played, but now didn’t seem like the right time to ask.
“If you are willing,” said Keezy.
The others had all bunched up behind me. “Well, sooner rather than later,” I suggested.
The troll turned around and strode towards Gargantua.
He got to within a few metres of the end of the bridge and called out. I couldn’t her what he said with the blustery wind whipping around us, but it was enough to wake the giant with a start. He saw the little soldier in front of him and swatted him with the back of his hand.
The giant moved surprisingly fast. The troll had no time to react as he was struck by the giant and sent sailing off the bridge, falling into the canyon below.
Watching him go down was a mistake, both because of the horribleness of seeing someone plunge to their death, and because it was now abundantly clear to all of us just how high up we were. When they tell you not to look down, they know what they’re talking about.
There was a general whitening of knuckles.
“Is he dead?” said Flossie.
“No,” said Keezy. “A little fall like that won’t kill him.” He sounded like he was considering jumping after him. Anything to avoid those arrows.
The bridge shook as Garagantua got to his feet. He was now aware of us. And I was aware of him, and in particular his penis which was hanging from his hairless groin.
It wasn’t particularly big. I mean, it was enormous, but it was in proportion to his size. I couldn’t see him using it to slap us around with. And if Biadet’s note meant it was his weak point, we’d have to hit it with a lot of arrows.
“How does Gargantua keep people off the bridge?” I asked Keezy.
“He pisses them off.”
It took me a second to realise he meant it literally. Gargantua grabbed his hose of a cock and aimed it at us.
“Everyone hold on tight,” I shouted. “Lady, we going for a ride.”
Having recently heard Maurice’s highly accurate telling of both Indiana Jones movies (there were only two, although I didn’t mind the third one too much; the fourth one was indisputably dogshit) we all knew what to do.
Everyone grabbed onto whatever part of the bridge they could and wrapped their arms and legs around the ropes.
A short stream of urine slammed into the bridge and splashed over us, and then stopped. We gasped and retched and looked around, each of us comforted by the fact we weren’t the only ones drenched in piss. And then it came full force. A deluge. A tsunami. It gushed in a thunderous rush like Niagara Falls, only more yellow.
The power of it was immense. I could feel my grip slipping as I held on for dear life. It was like being punched everywhere on your body at once. It didn’t taste good either.
Not that I had my mouth open, but still it somehow found a way in.
It lasted for at least a couple of minutes; it’s hard to know exactly how long because time passes differently when you’re being pissed on from a great height.
Eventually it stopped, I opened my eyes. Everyone was still on the bridge, although no one looked happy about it.
The giant stood holding his dripping penis with one hand, and drinking from a large sack with the other. He was preparing for round two.
“You have to show him you aren’t human,” I shouted at Keezy.
Keezy looked back towards Gideon like he was afraid they might have heard me. “No.”
It was alright for the trolls, the fall wouldn’t kill them.
Flossie, who still had her eyes closed, opened them and looked around. “Ah don’t feel too good?” She let go of the rope, took a step forward, slipped and landed on her backside with a thump. She put a hand out to steady herself, but there was nothing there and she tipped over sideways and fell off the bridge.
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