I suppose I should have been flattered that Evand, Last of the First Lying Shitheads, had wanted to take over my body. Of all the people here, I wouldn’t have chosen me as the best target. If he had managed to trick me into swallowing the gem, he would have found leadership in this body wasn’t as easy as I made it look.
The rest of them slowly realised what had happened. They then began reassessing how much they could trust this person. I was way ahead of them because I’d started at where they were now headed.
“I thought you wanted a willing volunteer,” I said to Evand, previously Nyx.
“He did volunteer. He swallowed it gladly.”
Not one person in the room was buying his bullshit. There’s a big difference between agreeing to help and agreeing to give up your body to the ghost of a dodgy elf.
“You tricked him,” said Claire.
“Yo’ aren’t a good person,” said Flossie.
“I’m only doing what I have to,” said Evand. “This is not how I would wish for things to happen, but we don’t have time. Once we have secured the spires, I will return this body, I promise.”
Everyone stared at him. It’s hard to withstand that much disapproval all focused at once like a sunlight through a magnifying glass, believe me, I have been that ant many a time, but he didn’t seem affected in the least.
As someone who has very little respect for the views and opinions of others, I recognised a master at work.
Evand looked around, sizing up the damage to the tomb. If there was a way out he would know it.
Jenny stood in his way. “If you try to take over his body again, I will kill you.” She sounded like one cold bitch. My girl.
“Then you would have to kill him, too,” pointed out Evand.
“Yes,” said Jenny. “That’s right.”
I would have taken it as her just fronting, but she’d already killed me a number of times. How does this ‘love’ thing work again?
Evand took a step back. The best way to manipulate people is to make them think they’re working towards their own self-interest. Much harder to accomplish if the person is a mental case. My team had +5 on all saving throws.
“Tell us how to deal with the Queen,” I said to Evand.
“First we go to Fengarad,” said Evand. It was the same argument and neither of us was backing down. Everyone else was either too bored or too miffed to know how to stop us repeating ourselves.
“There’s a man in the spire,” I said. “I’m guessing only you and the Queen know how to get in there, which means she probably helped him gain access to the spires.”
“No,” said Evand. “She wouldn’t do that.”
“Then how else did he get in? She must have known what would happen, which means she wanted it to happen. You understand? If we go to the spires and try to defeat him we’ll have her at our back. There’s an old saying where I come from, the enemy of my enemy is just another psycho I have to watch out for.”
“You are wrong. She is sworn to protect the spires. Without them, we are defenceless.”
I had the strong feeling he wasn’t telling me something. Whatever the true relationship between Uncle Peter and the Queen of Requbar, I was certain neither side cared what happened to us. Or the rest of the planet, most probably.
I didn’t trust them and I didn’t trust our body-hopping elf. But since he’d taken tangible form, he seemed less of a threat. The Queen, too, had come across as needing devices to gain control over others. As long as Evand was in Nyx’s body, I felt he was beatable. By which I mean, if he got out of order, I planned to beat the shit out of him.
“First, we have to get out of here,” said Gabor. The door was still firmly wedged shut.
Evand went over to the panel by the wall. He couldn’t reach it. Which was understandable because Nyx wasn’t very tall, but neither was the skeleton he’d been a moment ago. If that was his proper size, wouldn’t the features in the room be built to accommodate his kind? Something felt off.
Roland grabbed Evand from behind and lifted him up. He pressed the panel and the doors creaked and complained as they opened outwards, stopped, shuddered like they were fighting against some kind of obstruction, and then fell off their hinges. They crashed onto the floor with a deafening clang and dust was thrown up into the air.
When it cleared, the trolls were standing on the other side of the doorway.
“We did not think you would return,” said Raviva. “Did you find what you were looking for?”
I walked through the settling dust. “Unfortunately, yes.” I turned and pointed at Evand. “Meet your Ancestor.”
“The young rat?” Raviva was confused. The other trolls gathered closer to stare at Evand.
“Trolls. You didn’t tell me you brought trolls here.” Evand sounded angry and upset.
“Take him,” said Raviva. He didn’t have his usual jovial tone. He was dead serious.
The other trolls closed in. Evand suddenly had one of the gems in his hand. He held it aloft and the trolls backed off.
“On your knees, slaves.”
I sensed some history between them. I always hated history. They kept trying to teach us about the Spanish Armada, every year. That’s the British education system for you. They say those who don’t learn from history are destined to repeat it, but I’ve yet to find myself in a naval battle with Spain.
The brass in the doors should have told me trolls and elfs were not bestest buds. The gem in Evand’s hand was emitting a golden light. Possibly similar to brass in some way. The trolls certainly reacted like it was.
I slapped Evand around the back of the head with a sharp whack and grabbed the gem out of his hand. See, all that bullying paid off. I was precise and accurate with where I struck Nyx’s body through good old fashioned practice. If I hadn’t been so callous in my treatment of the ratboy, think how much worse everything would have turned out. Bullying is justice.
Evand turned on me, baring his teeth. Well, not his teeth, but he was clearly pissed off. “Give that back.”
I tossed the gem to Maurice. It would have been cool if he’d caught it one-handed and put it in his pocket or whatever, but it was Maurice. He juggled it like a spaz and nearly dropped it, but managed to knock it into Claire’s hands. She passed it back to him and he gave me a thumbs up. Dudley politely applauded. One of these days, Jenny would kill me and I wouldn’t find a way back. It would probably come as a great relief.
“So, you don’t get on, then?” I said to Raviva.
“The Ancestors were a plague on this world,” said Raviva. “The day they left, there was much rejoicing. But we haven’t forgotten what they did.”
The trolls were closing in on Evand again.
“So you didn’t know the Queen of Requbar was one of them?”
Raviva looked shocked. “That cannot be. She has been on the throne for many years. The Ancestors were never content to settle for a single city when they could have them all. They conquered this world and treated us as cattle.”
“Okay, good. So everyone’s on board for dealing with her first.” I was just happy we could all come together to face a mutual enemy who wasn’t me.
“I told you—”
I clipped Evand around the ear again. He grabbed his head and whimpered. He might have been all big and spooky back in the pit, but now he was flesh and blood and reliant on his gems. As long as I kept a close eye on him, we could keep him in line. A risky play since he was always capable of pulling a fast one at some point. He might have something up his sleeve he planned to use when I was distracted, but I was confident the others were watching him just as closely. Not because they had my back, because he’d been mean to a cute rat and that made them all very cross with him. You have to play the hand you’re dealt, even when it’s five jokers.
“If you’re going to body-snatch, don’t choose the runt of the litter,” I advised him. He had no idea whose son he had possessed, or how many times she’d cheated on him. Not that they necessarily had that kind of relationship.
Raviva and his subjects still had the look of a lynching party eyeing up collar-size.
“I need him, so if you could wait to vent whatever grudge you have…”
I turned my attention back to Evand, who looked very angry, glaring around with menacing intent. Hard to be intimidating when you’ve got whiskers and cute furry ears. “You’re going to help us defeat the Queen and put her back in her bottle, or I’m going to let the trolls do what they want with you.”
He didn’t say anything.
We could head back to Ratopolis, but it would be the long way round. “We need a fast way out of here, preferably back to where the ogres are waiting.”
“Ogres?” said Evand, his mouth twisted in disgust. “Is this what the world has become?
“Yes.” I raised my hand and Evand flinched. Nice. I turned to Raviva. “Can you dig us a tunnel up?”
I looked around the room. My group were waiting for me to get them out of here. Although, I did notice Laney was right next to Jenny and the two seemed very chummy all of a sudden. I tried not to let it worry me.
The shaman had been watching me all this time, probably reassessing his views on religion. “Can you go back and tell the King we are going to Requbar?”
Nicopez nodded. He wasn’t quite so reverential around the Ancestor now.
Sonny and his men were hanging back. “We’re leaving, but you can come if you want. I don’t really care where you go after that, I don’t expect you to fight for us or anything, but if you fuck with us, we will kill you.” I made a point of looking at Sonny when I said this. He looked away.
I fully expected Sonny to give me a problem next time he had the chance, but he wouldn’t try anything while I had such an advantage. Although, me having an advantage was enough of a reason to give him the hump with me even more, the petty fucker.
The tunnel was dug quickly and on a fairly steep slope. The trolls somehow knew which direction to go and there were enough of them that they practically melted the rock in front of them. A couple of hours later, we broke through the earth into a hillside. The ogres were lounging around nearby.
The city looked the same as ever, the palace a pyramid of flowers, a riot of colours rising from its centre. We had to get inside, fight off anyone trying to stop us, and get to the Queen before she killed us all. Even with our Visitors’ immunity to her spells, I was sure she had ways to mess us up.
“Evand. You’re as powerful as her, right?”
He looked sheepish. It was difficult to tell if that meant he wasn’t as powerful, or he was still trying to get us to leave the Queen alone. Maybe a both.
“It is not as simple as that. We are equal in power, but that leaves us at a stalemate. It would take—”
The ogres began screaming and pounding the ground. There was a familiar high pitched whine at the far end of my hearing, and then a white beam of light fell from the sky directly onto the pyramid. It exploded.
The concussion force blew everyone off their feet. When I managed to get up, all I could see was a cloud of dust and a rain of flower petals. The palace was gone.
Technically, it was a kill-steal. I didn’t mind losing points on the leaderboard. “Well, that’s one way to kill Her Majesty.”
“No, no, no.” Evand had his head in his hands, shaking it from side to side. “He didn’t kill her, he set her free.”