The Jester, all glowing twisted tentacles and bugged-out eyeballs, smiled and the endless depths of space glimmered from between her lips. Something dark flashed across them. Her tongue?
“And who is this you bring to me?” The voice was like an abyssal echo. “A tasty morsel for me to snack on?”
I’d like to say having encountered the Jester in this place a number of times I was now used to it. I could shake off the pain and torment I was no doubt about to undergo as no big deal. Once you’ve been tortured and driven to the extremes of suffering, the whole thing becomes old hat, like eating a hot curry. The first time you might shit fire and pebbledash your whole bathroom, but the hundredth time, you can handle it. Hell, you might want to splash some Tabasco on that balti to give it some kick.
I’d like to say that, but I couldn’t. Pain at the top end is the same as great heights of pleasure; more doesn’t make you lose interest. If anything, it sharpens your focus.
Having said that, even though dread sank into my guts and wrapped my intestines around its neck like a scarf, I didn’t feel the usual head to toe shakes or the lubrication of sweat on my face and pits.
No thrumming in my chest as my heart tried to hammer its way to freedom. No fear I’d piss my pants, accompanied by the even greater fear of embarrassing myself in front of my torturer.
The reason for my sudden show of mettle wasn’t growth of character, it was because I wasn’t alone. Somehow Jenny had accompanied into the Jester’s den.
“What are you doing here?” I asked her.
Jenny shook her hair out of her face and smiled. “I saw you leaving, so I decided to tag along.”
That explained nothing, but I was too distracted to press for a fuller answer. The first thing to surprise me was her face. The welt that had marred half her face was gone. I barely noticed the scarring anymore, but seeing her whole again stung my eyes.
I’m not the most emotional person—no, it’s true—but the chance to see her again without disfigurement choked me up. Because I’m shallow? Because I’m a huge nancy? Who knows? Emotions aren’t something you can control easily, especially when you’ve never owned any before.
And the other thing that caught my attention was the glowing sword in her hand.
Talk about burying the lead.
When I say glowing sword, I don’t mean lightsaber—although that would have been awesome—I mean an actual sword, but insubstantial. A ghost sword.
“Where did you get that?” I asked her.
Jenny looked where I was pointing and her eyes widened with surprise. “You gave it to me.”
When I’d taken the crystal ball from her, I’d handed her the wooden sword I’d been holding. Somehow it had followed her into this place.
“Stop ignoring me!” screamed Yuqi, startling both of us. “If you won’t cower like you’re supposed to, we can’t be friends anymore.”
The luminous blue horns curled either side of the deranged eyes crackled and spat.
“One minute,” I said to Yuqi, which got her sparking even more, and turned to Jenny. “Can I have the sword for a sec?”
Jenny looked at the sword and then back at me. She shook her head. “No. I think I’ll hang on to it.”
“But I know how to use it.”
She swung the sword around. It left a trail of after-images behind each stroke. “Seems pretty straightforward.”
“I’m the leader, you know? You’re supposed to follow my orders.” If it sounds like I was behaving like a petulant child, that’d be a fairly accurate assessment.
“In the real world and in bed, yes. In here? I think I should be the one to take care of Miss Stand-up Double-Ds.”
“Is this a jealousy thing again? Because I told you, I’m not into... this.” I pointed at the dynamo about to discharge its load all over us.
“It wouldn’t matter even if you were interested,” said Jenny.
“No. You’re a boy. You have hormones that make you lust after girl-shaped things. That’s just biology. The only thing that matters is what you do about it. Same with girls. We have hormones that make us act unreasonable and moody sometimes. Doesn’t mean I’m going to chop your dick off for looking.” She swung the sword around a bit more. “Not for looking.”
“If you two have finished,” Yuqi sizzled with irritation. “I think you both need a reminder where you are and who chops dicks off around here.”
This was a bit of a lop-sided threat, I felt. Why were they both talking about chopping off dicks when I was the only one who was carrying?
Yuqi disappeared and a slithering sound rushed towards us.
Jenny took a sideways stance and held the sword two-handed. She lifted it up to her shoulder like a baseball bat. When the fuck did she go all Conan the Destroyer?
I should have warned her that Yuqi wasn’t going to observe the Marquis of Queensbury’s rules when it came to fighting. The Jester’s eyes reappeared behind Jenny and a lightning tree shot out of some unseen appendage, showering Jenny in sparks.
Jenny buckled, arching her back and splaying her arms wide. The sword remained in the grip of one hand, but so tight it shook.
Her whole body convulsed and trembled as she rose into the air. She hung like a puppet lifted by electrified strings. The lines twisted and Jenny was spun around to face her tormentor.
A wet, gurgling laugh rang out. “Little girl, how you dance, how you jig.”
I watched this happen, unable to do anything. If I went any closer, the electric vines around Jenny would shock me, too.
It’s a horrible thing, to see someone you love suffer so, but it could have been worse. It could have been me. That might sound callous, but women have a higher threshold for pain than us. It’s what enables them to bear children and watch reality TV. Plus, it would do our relationship immeasurable harm if she saw me burst into tears and wet myself. Again.
While I tried to think of what to do, Jenny slowly raised her hands over her head, forcing them up one centimetre at a time, until she was able to grasp the hilt of the sword with both hands again. She tilted her head down. Her teeth were bared, tightly pressed together, grimacing against the pain. Her eyes sparkled blue with static.
The Jester’s eyes flinched backwards but not fast enough. The sword came scything down between them. And passed straight through.
There was no resistance, no cut. No blood flowed out. But Yuqi screamed and her eyes blinked out of existence; literally.
The glittering net holding Jenny up vanished and she fell to the ground with a clatter.
I rushed over to her (better late than never). She was shaking but nothing seemed to be broken.
“You’ve got some weird friends,” she said.
“Story of my life,” I replied as I helped her to her feet.
“Biiiitch!” Yuqi came rushing out of the darkness at ramming speed, horns lowered.
Jenny shoved me in the chest, sending me stumbling to one side. She twirled the sword like a baton, moving it from down by her right side to over her left shoulder. And then she did something I’ve never seen anyone do outside of a movie. She jumped over the onrushing locomotive of death, inverting her body with balletic grace and slicing off one of the Jester’s horns while hanging upside down.
Yuqi’s scream this time escalated into a roar that shook me bodily. I lost my footing and landed on my butt.
Jenny landed on the other side. Yes, it was the superhero landing, one knee down, one fist on floor.
Impressive? Yes. But no guy wants a girl that impressive, not unless his skills are at least one notch higher. Yes, it’s petty and insecure, but who isn’t? You want a cool girlfriend, but you don’t want her to earn more money, be funnier or smarter and you certainly don’t want her to be the Black fucking Widow. Here, hold my purse while I take care of this... It’s emasculating, even for someone not all that masculated to start with.
I skirted around Yuqi all hunched over in a tangle of amorphous tentacles and whimpering. Jenny was back on her feet, sword held out in front of her.
“Where did you learn to do that?” I asked her, trying my best not to sound pouty. Not sure I succeeded.
“This isn’t the real world, so I thought maybe it didn’t follow real world rules. It’s a bit like this movie I saw about this guy called Neo.”
“Yes, it’s called The Matrix.”
Jenny pursed her lips. “No, I don’t think it was called that.”
Jesus, not this again.
“Get out,” said Yuqi in between sobs, her face (if she had one) hidden under her writhing limbs; the broken horn flickered weakly on the ground next to her. A square of light opened behind us. “Go back and do it all again. Fail again. Your type always do. Wait…” Confusion overtook her disdain. “This door… it doesn’t go back in time.”
“Because he isn’t dead,” said Jenny.
“What?” said Yuqi. A single eyeball peered out from between a wriggling curtain.
“I didn’t die,” I said. “We found a crystal ball, or something that looked like one. It sent us here. Do you know what it is?”
“No.” There was a sudden spike of interest in her rumbling voice. The tentacles shook and trailed behind her as she spun around, both eyes open to the maximum, whites showing clearly all around the black centres. “But if it allowed a way in, it can provide a way out.”
I took an involuntary step back as Jenny took one forward. I really had to work on the whole masculinity thing.
“We found your body,” I said. “We don’t know how to wake you.”
The eyes rose above us on a twisted candy cane of limbs, swinging from side to side as though pondering. “They made me drink a blue fluid. It filled me with congealed darkness and ejected my spirit into this place. There must be a way to empty me again.” Then she swung back down, eyes fixed on me. “Or, if I can’t get back into my own body, maybe I can take yours.”
Jenny stepped in between us, sword erect in her hands. “His body already belongs to me.”
Should I have been pleased by this statement or not? Made me feel like a piece of meat.
Yuqi, not looking so much like a jester with only one horn, backed off.
Jenny pointed her sword (and it was clearly her sword). “If we carry out Colin’s plan and defeat the masters at the tournament, we can order them to do what we want. That includes reviving you. Trust him.”
Yuqi hesitated before answering. “You really think he can defeat them?”
“You think I’d suck his cock otherwise?”
Wait, was that a compliment or a put-down?
Jenny lowered the sword. Strange how if I’d beaten a girl into submission it would’ve just looked bad. Jenny does it, and she looks super cool. Where’s the equality in that, feminists?
Somehow, the two of them had come to an understanding. Part of me felt like it had come at my expense, but I had no proof. If I interrupted to ask for clarification it’d only make me look pitiful, so I kept my mouth shut.
“Go then,” said Yuqi. “I will wait until the tournament is over. And then we shall see.”
Jenny turned around and took my hand. She led me towards the glowing aperture. I think I may have been demoted to damsel in distress.
We passed through the shimmering portal and when the glare faded and my vision unblurred, I was back in the treasury. The glass ball was in my hands and a third hand was on top of it. I followed the arm up to Jenny’s face. The scar was back, as well as the crooked grin.
“Don’t worry, love, I won’t let her hurt you.” She held out the wooden sword, offering it to me.
“Keep it,” I said. “You seem to have a knack for it.” Sour grapes? Maybe.
The others were standing around us, looking concerned.
“What happened?” asked Claire.
“I’ll tell you later. We need to go back and get ready for the tournament.”
“What about Bao?” said Phil. “We can’t leave him here.”
“If we carry out the plan and defeat the masters at the tournament, we can order them to do what we want,” I said, using Jenny’s line. “That includes releasing Bao. Trust me.”
Phil’s gaze drifted in the direction his wall-bound friend.
“He’s been stuck here for sixteen years, “ I added. “One more day won’t make a difference.”
Phil nodded. We took only the globe, the wooden sword and the plastic crucifix (it might have some hidden properties, lead paint poisoning at the very least). There was no point taking the other items as we’d have to use time-stop to get past the golems.
And then there was the problem of 288. How could I make sure he didn’t reveal all to Mr Biscuit? He was still bent over waiting for his punishment. I took a step and kicked him up the arse so hard he bounced off the opposite wall, which raised my spirits a little.
Was I really so contemptible that taking out my insecurities on a little imp made me feel better about myself? Short answer, yes. But, as Jenny herself said, it’s in our biology to act like idiots every now and again. Helps flush it out of the system, I guess.
Jenny was not my rival. Or my subjugator. She didn’t want to push me down, she wanted to help lift me up. I knew that deep down even if I didn’t always appreciate her methods, as I’m sure she didn’t always appreciate mine. But I respected her. Would I let her suck my cock otherwise?