“You can put your hands down,” I said to the forest of arms. “It’s great you think I can achieve the impossible, but your faith in me is based on a massive amount of stupidity. You can’t just go ‘Help me Obi Colinobi,’ and expect me to come up with a way to balance the Force.”
“You don’t need to come up with something right away,” said Jenny, “and it doesn’t have to be anything to do with what other people think or say is possible. I think your special ability is the ability to find a way to do things that shouldn’t be doable.”
“What kind of power is that?” I said, horribly disappointed she might be right. Of all the cool things a world of magic could grant me, out of the box thinking wasn’t exactly one of the glamorous ones. Even invisibility was better, and you had to walk around naked for that one.
“Think about it,” said Jenny. “Gabor can’t work out what’s going to happen when you’re involved. If he can’t, no one can. You don’t do things the way they’re supposed to be done, and it works, somehow. Think of all the people you’ve got the better of. There’s no way you should have been able to do any of that. But you always refuse to take the road everyone else thinks is the right way. It isn’t just us who has no idea what you’re doing, none of your opponents do either. That’s your edge—total chaos.”
The way she said it, it almost sounded like a good thing. Almost.
Since coming to this world, it had become clear that Visitors had something special that the indigenous people didn’t. It wasn’t easy figuring out what it was for each person, or how to use it, but you found your thing, it had the potential to become a powerful tool, perhaps even a deadly weapon.
Or it could be a slightly useful trick that came in handy every now and again.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have a wise old sage to explain everything and get us from noob to Jedi master in one easy to swallow training montage.
A sensei was supposed to mock you, train you, then get killed so you could avenge him with your newly minted powers. Our sensei had overslept and missed his bus which meant we were on our own.
Claire could read minds, haphazardly at best. Flossie had some kind of control over dragons. Enough to make her the best taxi service in the land, which I won’t deny came in uber-handy. And Jenny had the ability to sense emotions; mainly in me. Hardly an omega level superpower.
We had met other visitors who had also displayed abilities, all with their own quirks and glitches. The most useful were the ones like Dudley’s sharp eyes and skill with a bow which could be relied on to be consistent, and that might not even have been a magical ability, just him being naturally good at archery.
The magic I’d learned had turned out to be a lifesaver on many occasions, but that wasn’t a Visitor exclusive. The only reason I was better at it than the others was because I’d practised more.
Gabor said my involvement was enough to throw his calculations off. In a comic book, the power to affect the odds is cool because it changes them in your favour. That obviously wasn’t true in my case. But it was true I was able to use the unexpected nature of my actions to my advantage.
Dumb as it might sound, I think people were so convinced there was no way I could pull off the things I attempted, it prevented them from taking the obvious action of stopping me before I had a chance to do them.
I mean, how stupid would it look if I suddenly announced I was going to win every gold medal at the Olympics and all the other athletes immediately tried to kill me to stop it from happening?
“You were so scared of this weedy little guy, you had to kill him? Him?”
They would make themselves look bad and me look like a serious threat. I’d get a statue: The Greatest Olympian. I must have been. Why else would they have been so desperate to stop me competing?
Not taking me seriously had been my greatest advantage. Even me being a leader was unimpressive when you saw who I was leading. But it wasn’t a power that merited a mask and a cape.
“Take your time, we still have to wait for Flossie,” said Jenny, taking my hand. “You’ll think of a way out of this.”
In many cases, the most important part of achieving something is to believe you can do it. Confidence in yourself is key. You might still fail, but without the self-belief you definitely will. So be positive.
Problem is, that kind of thinking only works for top athletes. Buying £200 running shoes for when you go down the gym isn’t the same as being a runner who needs elite footwear.
What a pleb like me thinks of himself doesn’t make a great deal of difference to my situation. What I can make other people think about their situation, however, can be very useful.
I let go of Jenny and sat down on the grass. She was right about one thing, we weren’t going anywhere until Flossie came back with our ride.
“Is there a way to put you inside the Queen?” I asked Evand.
He looked confused. “Why?”
“You’re inside Nyx right now, aren’t you? You can control him, so why not control her the same way, with one of your gems?”
I could see the idea rolling around inside his head. He obviously had never considered it as an option.
“I don’t think that would be possible. She is not the same as beings such as this creature I inhabit.”
“Why not? He’s her son.”
There was very long pause. “That is not possible. An Elf cannot have children. It is heresy to even say such a thing.”
“How do elfs reproduce, then?”
“Reproduce what?” asked Evand.
“Themselves. How do they make a baby elf.”
Evand looked horrified. “Elfs do not lower themselves to such base practices. They are beings of energy and light.”
“But the Queen was at it all the time. Seven litters at least. She loved a bit of rat cock on the regular.”
“That cannot be,” hissed Evand. “You lie.”
“Why would I lie about that?” I said.
“If… if she did so, she must have had a reason.” He didn’t sound too sure of himself.
“Yes, the reason was she was gagging for it. Maybe her host’s desires overruled hers. Is that how it works? A being older than this planet couldn’t resist a few basic animal urges? Maybe that’s why she had so many litters. The only time she wasn’t in heat was when she was up the duff. Would also explain why she didn’t like too many penises within arms reach. Didn’t trust herself.”
“No,” cried out Evand, quite distraught. "She is a being of total purity. You cannot hope to defeat her.”
“You’re probably right, but it doesn’t really matter what we do. Peter—the man in the spire—intentionally hit the Queen. He must have known what would happen, which means he has a plan for what happens next. The elf needs a couple of days to take her final form; he needs a couple of days to recharge the spires. I expect he either plans to kill her or use her as a power source of some kind.”
I noticed a flicker in Evand’s eyes when I mentioned the power source.
It had been a constant theme of the magical devices we’d encountered that Visitors could be used as living batteries. If we could, why not the elf? It was just something I threw in there, but the reaction made me think there might be something more to it.
“In any case,” I continued, “we don’t have to do anything to save Fengarad or anyone else. Uncle Peter will take care of it.”
“You really think so?” said Laney.
I did not think so. When I had met Peter, it had been very clear to me that he wasn’t the type to think very far ahead. He had been here a long time and my main impression of him was that he was a bit bored. He’d tried various ways to figure this world out, and now he was content to take shots in the dark. If he accidentally ended all life on this planet in the process, so be it.
It’s what made him so dangerous. He didn’t really care about winning, he just wanted to see what would happen.
“Yes,” I said. “He’s going to deal with long tall sally over there. This is all going to plan as far as he’s concerned.”
It could be my special ability was bullshitting other bullshitters.
“You mustn’t let that happen,” said Evand. “It would mean death for you all.”
“Like you said, there are worse things than death. And I think Uncle Peter will get the job done. Kill the elf, use her cadaver as a giant canoe, whatever. I mean, there’ll probably be a lot of explosions and people dying, but that’s why we should get as far away as possible. Speaking of which…” High above us, a dragon circled, slowly descending on a spiral. “Looks like our ride’s here.”
“No, no, no,” said Evand. “There is a better way. I can stop her, I can return her to her prison.”
“Take me to the spires and I’ll show you.”
“No thanks,” I said, quite happy to ignore vague promises.
The dragon came down quicker than I’d expected, sending people scurrying out of the way. It stretched out its wings and set down softly, and immediately began eating. Vikchutni seemed very happy to be out of the house.
“All aboard!” shouted Flossie sitting astride the dragon’s neck. Further back was Dudley, but he wasn’t alone. There was a smaller dragon with him. It peered over the blades running along Vikchutni’s back and let out bleating sound a bit like a goat.
Then it jumped off, its stubby wings slowing its descent, but not by much. It landed with a thud and came running right at me. I tried to get to my feet so I could get out of the way, but there wasn’t time.
It was about the size of a Great Dane, and just as quick. It hit me in the stomach with the top if its head and knocked me down. It stood over me and celebrated its victory with more bleating.
“He remembers yo’,” said Flossie, not coming to my rescue. “His name’s Bertie.”
Bertie was apparently the baby I’d saved from Marv. He’d grown a bit; being dipped in molten lava was quite the tonic. He expressed his gratitude by trying to eat my jacket.
“They eat anything at this age,” warned Flossie, apparently the Jane Goodall of dragons now. “Keep your fingers away from his mouth.”
I fought my way out from under him and managed to get to my feet. A sandpaper tongue tried to scrape the skin off my hand.
“Please tell me he sleeps a lot.” He was a baby so it stood to reason.
“Yes,” said Flossie. “Eats, sleeps and—”
Bertie took a shit on my shoes.
I sighed. Par for the course. “Let’s go then.” Everyone, including Laney and the Hungarians, headed for the dragon. They had all been watching me and Evand without saying anything and seemed to have picked up on what I was doing.
“No, wait,” screamed Evand. “You are a hero, we can save everyone.”
“How?” I asked again.
“The gem, inside this rat. We can use it on the man in the spire. Once I control him, we can use the spires to return Hernande to her place underground.”
He was suddenly being more forthcoming, even giving the elf a name.
“How do you intend taking control of the man in the spire?”
“The same way I took control of this one. You just need to get him to swallow the gem. Here, here, take it.”
Evand dropped his trousers and squatted. I jumped out of they way as Evand started grunting. If I’d known it was shit on Colin day, I would have worn different shoes. Come to think of it, every day was shit on Colin day, so I probably wouldn’t have.
Rat shit, unlike sloppy dragon shit, comes in pellets. A handful shot out, followed by a sparkling diamond. Bertie came in, sniffing at a possible snack but Evand immediately picked up the gem and held it out to me.
“And how are we supposed to get him to eat that?”
Evand rubbed and polished the gem on Nyx’s clothes. “There are ways, there are many ways. I will show you. Please, this is what we must do, for all our sakes.”
I gingerly took it from him. “He can’t stop you transferring into him and taking over?”
“No, no. I am linked to the gem. Once he swallows it, there’s nothing anyone can do to stop it.”
“Not even you?”
Evand nodded enthusiastically, sensing he was winning me over. “Not even me.”
“Okay.” I held the gem out to Bertie, who sucked it off my palm with a slurp.
“No. No.” Evand collapsed.
Nyx woke up. “What? Am I… Am I…”
Bertie screamed. “What did you do?” Only it wasn’t Bertie.
Vikchutni sensed there was something wrong and his head came swinging down, Flossie atop it and looking equally concerned.
“Why?” yelled Evand from Bertie’s mouth.
I didn’t have time to answer before Flossie had jumped down and started yelling, too. “Get out of there. Yo’ get out of there right now.” She was bearing down on Evand with a finger right in his face.
Vikchutni backed her up with deafening bellows.
Evand the little dragon looked terrified, retreating to get some distance, but Flossie was relentless, demanding he vacate the premises in a barrage of Brummie invective. To call it grating would be a massive understatement.
There was a violent ripping sound and a stream of poo shot from the dragon’s rear. A green sludge with a twinkle. The gem flew out.
Everyone stopped making noise, and then Bertie said, “Mehhhhh,” and ran to his dad.
I walked over to the gem sparkling in the grass and kicked it away from the streaks of shit.
“Why have you done this?” said the gem. Evand was inside it.
I thought with the elf being unable to resist the Rat Queen’s urges, Evand would have the same trouble once inside a dragon. Whatever control Flossie had as the Dragonrider seemed total when it came to dragons. He would be obliged to follow orders, I thought.
I hadn’t expected him to take the emergency exit. If he could trap himself inside a gem, maybe that meant the Hernande could be dealt with similarly.
Jenny picked the gem up using a handkerchief. No idea where she got that from. She wrapped it up and Evand’s complaints were muffled to the point they could hardly be heard.
“See?” she said. “No one else would have thought of that.”
Both Vikchutni and Flossie were giving me evil looks. Fuck ‘em. I’d saved both of them way more times than they’d saved me. The least I deserved was their first born. And he was fine. Not that he was as keen to jump in my lap anymore.
“What next?” asked Claire. Maurice had his notebook out, ready to take down my every word.
Go to Fengarad? Run away? It was still hard to know.
“I have an invitation from my master,” said Biadet from right next to me, nearly making me shit my pants.
Biadet’s master. Can’t say I wasn’t curious.