Their plan made sense. If the masters had no form of food to sustain them through the welding, then no welding today.
Of course, they had to sacrifice their own people to achieve their goal. And not just kill them—people didn’t die in Nekromel—but eat them.
I had limited sympathy for these idiots who believed the masters were going to bestow some kind of spiritual enlightenment on them, but that didn’t make it any easier to watch them being slaughtered. And I had seen the weretics in action before, the others hadn’t (at least, not in this timeline).
Jenny gripped my arm so tightly it hurt. Claire had turned away in horror while Maurice watched slack-jawed. Flossie had her head buried in Dudley’s chest and whimpered while Dudley buried his head in the top of her curly hair, also whimpering.
The weretics, grotesquely misshapen and more monstrous in appearance than any of the masters, waded through the crowd, claws slashing and teeth taking chunks out of whatever they managed to grab.
Those who fought back were torn to pieces. Those who ran were pounced on and ripped apart. Limbs were tossed around like chicken legs at a medieval banquet, and met the same fate.
We had witnessed many unpleasant scenes in our time as adventurers. We had killed and eaten animals ourselves and weren’t the same squeamish kids we’d been when we first arrived. But this was different. This was a massacre.
“How can you do this?” asked Claire in barely a whisper. “You’re supposed to save them.”
“We are saving them,” said David, sounding unbearably smug. “Not these ones in particular, but the rest will be able to live on in peace and safety because of their sacrifice.”
He did have a point. Sometimes the needs of the many outweighed the needs of the expendable.
Claire’s face was paler than I’d ever seen it. She looked grey. “This is wrong. This is murder. You planned it all along but I didn’t see it. I should’ve seen it.” She turned to me. She didn’t say anything, but her eyes were brimming with tears. What the fuck did she expect me to do?
Slowly, but with a kind of inevitability, every one of my party turned to look at me.
“What? If they want to kill their own people, that’s up to them. They were going to die anyway.”
They didn’t respond to this inarguable logic, but they continued to give me the eye. Nice try, but your mind tricks won’t work on me, boy.
“Once there is no one left for the masters to feed on, they will wither away, turn back to fairy dust or whatever it is they’re made of.” David was positively gleeful at the prospect.
“But there’s no need for all these people to die,” said Claire. “We already arranged it with the golems. They were going to take care of the masters.”
“Pah,” said David. “You really believe they would turn against their creators? We can’t rely on them. And if you’re right, if they do what they promised, we’ve made it even easier for them. There’s no downside.”
As a firm believer in belt and braces, I couldn’t fault him. A plan with built-in redundancy, what could be better?
The screaming had lessened as the body count increased. The hulking weretics roamed their killing ground, grazing like cattle.
The Palace gates opened, probably expecting the tributes to file in. There were no tributes left.
“It will begin soon,” said David with a sneer. “The death throes of the masters. They will finally know what it means to die.”
Mandy, who had been watching the mayhem with her hand over her mouth, partly in shock, partly to stop herself throwing up, spun around. “What about Cheng?”
“All of them will die tonight,” said David. “All of them.”
“No!” screamed Mandy. She turned and ran but Phil jumped in front of her.
“Sorry, babe, can’t let you spoilt the party.”
Some beautiful women use their looks and their physicality (by which I mean boobs) to get men to do what they want. They are manipulative, devious and completely consumed by their own self-interest. They stalk the dark recesses of nightclubs, looking for football players to feed on.
But there is another type of woman (sometimes it’s the same woman at another time in her life) who is driven by something more pure. The love for someone you consider more important than anything else. That kind of woman is far more dangerous, and willing to go to places beyond sense or reason.
Mandy didn’t even break stride. She bent her knee to get lower and punched Phil in the balls so hard every guy in the arena buckled at the waist, even the ones not looking in this direction.
Mandy ran past him as he collapsed.
David drew a knife from his belt and lifted it to throw but it was knocked from his hand as Claire hurled herself at him.
He stumbled back and screamed, “Stop her!” Then he turned back to Claire. “You stupid bitch!” He slapped her with the back of his hand, knocking her to the ground.
Mandy skirted around the side of the arena, already at the exit by the time the weretics noticed her and heard David call out. The two who were nearest discarded the bones they were gnawing on to give chase. Rather than follow her through the exit, they leaped high into the stands and then over the wall.
She had very little chance of outrunning them, and even if she could, what good would it do? All she’d do was be there when Cheng died.
Maurice had rushed to help Claire up. She had a bleeding lip but seemed okay otherwise. She whispered something in his ear and held onto him.
David had drawn his sword, but no one made a move towards him. He was a far better swordsman than any of us, for a start.
“That was pointless,” said David. “She won’t get very far.” He may have been right, but then again, it wasn’t wise to underestimate what a clingy girlfriend was capable of.
“You realise,” I said, “once you destroy the masters, the barrier will come down and everything will die.” I looked up at the blank sky over us. “This world is already doomed, getting rid of the masters won’t change anything.”
There was a loud moan. Phil was crouched with his forehead touching the ground like he was praying to Mecca. We all ignored him.
“We don’t intend on staying here,” said David. “They planned to use this final welding to open a portal. Yuqi has it all worked out. We will finally leave this shitty world and it’s all thanks to you. You really have done us a great favour.”
“But if you stopped the welding, how will you open the portal?” I asked him.
“They’re going to use us as sacrifices,” said Claire. She was glaring at David so hard he was forced to look away.
“Good guess,” said David. “We need a way to open the portal, and you people have just the right amount of concentrated power. Like I said, it’s all thanks to you. Or it will be.” He smiled.
You know, I could see his point and I didn’t blame him for considering us batteries for his escape capsule, but the smile really pissed me off. The only thing worse than a sore loser is a sore winner.
“I guess we have to do it this the hard way,” said Jenny. She had her knife drawn.
Normally, I would object to my own death, but it really didn’t seem like there was another option. Dying was becoming a bit of a habit. At least this time I knew who was on which team.
She brought up the blade, ready to plunge it into me.
There was a thump behind us and the dagger was knocked from her grasp by a massive, taloned hand. A weretic had crept up on us and pounced when Jenny tried to send me into the past.
“Do you really think we’d let you go back?” said David rather haughtily. “We haven’t come this far just so you can ruin everything. You won’t die. Ever.”
He held up a small vial of blue liquid.
“Once you drink this, you will take Yuqi’s place and she will come back to me.” He sounded quite choked up at the prospect.
“Where did you get that?” I realised he was threatening me with an eternity imprisoned in the void, but I was still curious. If he had the fluid that had put Yuqi under, did that mean he was the one who betrayed her in the first place?
“It was in the treasury,” he said. Maybe he was lying. “And it truly was a treasure worth finding. You won’t be changing any of what’s happened here.”
Claire ran at me. She had a knife in her hand, pointed a little higher than my heart. She seemed to be working off instinct, and possibly a deep-seated desire to stab me in the face.
She didn’t get more than a few steps towards me before a large figure pounced on her, like a cat on a mouse. The weretic grabbed her around the waist and lowered its unhinged jaw over her head and down until her top half was completely covered. And then SNAP!
When the weretic lifted its head, there were just two legs left. They toppled over.
“You don’t learn, do you?” said David with a shake of his head. I’d always said the same thing about Claire. Me and David seemed to have a lot in common. Probably why I disliked him so much.
“Now,” said David, “you can continue to—”
There was a thundering roar. It emanated from the Palace and shook the amphitheatre to the point parts of it fell off. The weretics all stopped and looked to the arena entrance. A few seconds later a figure appeared, flying at great speed.
It was Cheng, but no longer the multi-eyed, hippo-faced monster he had been. Now he looked like the young boy I had met back in Monsterland. Only bigger. And stronger. And with spikes for hands. He had wings like his father. His skin had the texture of granite. In fact, there were numerous aspects of the other masters combined into his body.
I didn’t know what had happened, but my guess was some welding had taken place.
He swooped around the arena, slashing and stabbing at the weretics, destroying them with ease.
“What has she done!” wailed David.
Some people never learn, but I am not one of them. When I see someone use an effective technique, I’m happy to adapt my own approach.
I stepped forward, bent at the knee, and punched David in the balls as hard as I could. You don’t really need to put extra force into that kind of blow, but who doesn’t appreciate a little extra value?
David crumpled into a heap.
Cheng made short work of the weretics. They were large and strong, but Cheng was larger and stronger. Plus, he was majorly pissed off. Majorly.
He didn’t just slice them up, he tore them to pieces and breathed fire on the remains (that’s right, fucker breathed fire now) until all that was left were a lot of charcoal briquettes.
I picked up the sword David had dropped when he decided it was more important to hold onto what was left of his testicles instead. I admit, it’s not a very honourable way to fight another man, and you may think less of me for doing something so underhand, but I’m fine with it. Fuck the bro code, bro.
I also picked up the vial of blue liquid. It shimmered and rolled around like it was alive. I needed to make sure it didn’t end up in the wrong hands, which were any hands that didn’t belong to me. One Jester was more than enough.
Cheng landed beside us, his face a mixture of grief and rage. “She sacrificed herself to save me.”
I assumed he meant Mandy.
“She gave herself to me so I might survive the welding.”
I told you, clingy girlfriends, they’ll track you down no matter where you go.
Him and Maurice made quite the pair. Both were wearing expressions of utter despair and loss. Maurice had just been standing over what was left of Claire in shock. I’d always considered her the prime example of ‘Nice legs, shame about the face.’ True now more than ever. I didn’t say that out loud because it might have been taken as insensitive.
“I don’t know what all you lot are so glum about. Now that we know what these two fuckwits were up to—” both Phil and David were still on the floor, searching for their balls “—I can just go back and fix things. I was hoping to not have to make the trip again, but I think I’ve got the shortcuts down.”
“No,” said Maurice. “She made us promise.”
They were the first words he’d spoken since Claire had bitten it (or been bitten, to be more accurate). I wasn’t entirely sure what he meant.
“Claire made you promise?”
Maurice spoke quietly, but each word seemed immensely loud. Or maybe just heavy with sincerity. Not something I’d know much about.
“She said if only one of us died, we shouldn’t make you go back. It was asking too much of you. We had to go on and take the loss as the price we paid for relying on you so much. She said... “ His words drifted away as tears fell from his eyes.
I looked around at the others. “Really? And you all feel this way?”
There were tears in all their eyes, but they nodded.
Jenny placed her hand on my arm. “We talked about it a lot. She honestly believed it was for the best.” Jenny kissed my cheek very gently. “It’s what she would have wanted.”
They genuinely wanted to honour Claire’s wishes, even though they all desperately wanted me to bring her back. Perhaps that’s what it means to truly love and respect someone. If you’re a fucking idiot.
“Well, then let me say a few words by way of eulogy.” I took a breath to collect my thoughts. “Fuck you, Claire. You ain’t the boss of me.” I turned the sword inwards so it pointed at my chest and fell forward.
The hilt hit the ground and drove the blade through me. I really didn’t want to die again, but no girl was going to tell me what to do.