I jumped off the chair a number of times. If there was even the slightest possibility of being able to actually fly, I was willing to make a fool of myself. It was only the six of us in the room and they had seen my foolish side way too often for it to matter now.
I jumped high, I dropped off the edge, I tried thinking about nothing, about something, about flying.
Unsurprisingly, I didn’t defy fate and landed on the plush rug over and over.
“Maybe if yo’ flap your arms a bit,” suggested Flossie.
“Shut up.” I jumped off and concentrated on floating upwards. My feet met the floor without interruption. I would have settled for even a slight slowing down as I fell, but nothing.
“Is it possible you are aiming too high?” asked Dudley. “No pun intended. Perhaps a less extravagant goal?”
He had a point. Even if what Maurice had said was true, trying to fly as the first step was kind of ambitious.
“It might also be the situation,” said Maurice. “You tend to produce your best results when your life is in real danger. Perhaps adrenalin acts as a catalyst?”
There were general murmurs of agreement at this.
It’s one of the problems of modern times that everyone feels their opinion matters. If it’s an opinion, why should yours be right and mine be wrong?
Back in the old days, I’m talking about ancient times before the internet, someone would ask a question and then everyone would wait to see if anyone knew the answer.
Try that nowadays, and you’ll be insta-buried in answers from the clueless and uninformed. Just because they don’t know, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be allowed to blurt out their best guess.
It’s almost considered rude not to answer. The person asking went to the trouble of posting their query on Reddit, obviously they’re looking for feedback, personal anecdotes and unrelated gifs.
And who knows, perhaps one of the wild guesses turns out to be right. Or even better, gets upvotes. If you can’t find facts at least you’ll have consensus. Almost as good, sometimes better.
“Maybe he should jump off the top of the castle, then,” said Claire thoughtfully, as though it wouldn’t please her to see me splattered on the ground below.
“What if he dies?” asked Flossie. “That wouldn’t be good.”
“True. But it might be the only way,” said Maurice. “That, or wait for it to develop in its own time.”
“Would it work if the danger was only maiming or serious harm?” asked Dudley. A roundtable discussion threatened to break out.
“Alright, shut up. I’m not going to jump off a wall and break my legs just to see if I can make this work.” To be honest, though, I was considering it.
I got back on the chair. I closed my eyes and stepped into the unknown. The floor introduced itself again, although with my eyes closed the impact came as a surprise and I stumbled, grabbing onto the table and knocking a plate of fruit onto the floor.
“What are you doing?” asked Uncle Peter. He was standing in the doorway looking perplexed.
There wasn’t really a sensible way to put it. “Biadet said I was untouchable, so I’m trying to convince fate to let me fly. Maurice, you explain. Claire, you help him.” I gave her a look. She wouldn’t really be of any use as Maurice’s assistant—a spangly dress and elaborate hand gestures might help create the right ambience, I suppose—but if Uncle Peter knew the truth about my ability, she might be able to pick up on it. Her ability had a serviceable application, at least.
Maurice went through his theory while Peter nodded and stroked his chin, taking it all in like it was perfectly reasonable. Listening to it again, it didn’t sound rational in the least, but it made a kind of weird sense. It also explained why Gabor was unable to clearly see my role in his calculations. I was becoming more and more convinced it was true. Which led me even closer to going all in and jumping off the castle ramparts.
“We think,” said Maurice, “it might be necessary for a high level of threat or danger to trigger the ability. Counter fate because the alternative would be lethal.”
“Hmm, yes,” said Peter, like this was a reasonable idea. “If you were able to control reverse-fatality in such a manner, it would truly be an incredible power.”
“So you think it’s possible?” I asked him, keeping one eye on Claire. She had her game face on, staring into the back of Peter’s head.
“Possible, yes. I don’t know if I’d risk my life to force the issue. Boy oh boy, things could get messy. You know, you could just as possibly be wrong. Or it might require a different approach altogether.” He smiled broadly, like there wasn’t an extinction-level event down the road. “Who knows?”
I had hoped he would know. I looked over at Claire who shook her head.
“What’s your ability, if you don’t mind me asking?” I asked as casually as I could.
“Aha!” He wagged his finger at me. “We all have our secrets.”
I glanced over at Claire. Another shake of the head.
“You know what I think?” said Peter. “Biadet said untouchable, but maybe indomitable would be a better word. That’s what I get for pulling her out of school at such an early age.”
“Indomitable?” I asked, not really understanding what he meant.
“Yes, your will is too strong to be dominated. It would make sense. Many of us, including myself, have tried to influence your actions, but nothing has worked.”
“Influence me how?”
“You know, the usual. Attractive girls. Attractive boys. Riches. Drugs. Spells. You hardly seemed to notice. This could explain it.”
So I could resist being talked into doing things I didn’t want to do. I was pretty sure I already had that ‘power’ before I came to this world. “Hardly a big deal is it?” I said, disappointed once more. I much preferred the possibility of flying. “I mean, strong willpower. Meh.”
“Green Lantern,” said Maurice. “He specialises in willpower.”
“Yeah, but he has a magic ring to help make his willpower useful. I have… you lot.”
“If you can focus and control it,” said Peter, “you could project it on others and bend them to your will.” His gaze drifted off, like the idea pleased him.
“Jedi mind trick!” said Maurice.
That didn’t sound bad. If it was right. Which there was no proof of.
“The best way to see if it’s true, is to try it,” said Peter. “Exert your will on someone.”
I turned and looked at the others. It wouldn’t be too hard to see if I could really force my will to overpower theirs, but who to try it on? My relationship with Jenny made it too complicated, too many variables in play. The next obvious person was Claire.
Actually, she was perfect. No one was more invested in not doing what I said.
I stood up and walked over to her. “I’m going to ask you to do something. You refuse.”
Claire crossed her arms. “No problem.”
We faced off, eyes locked together.
“Make me a sandwich,” I said firmly.
“Make it yourself,” said Claire.
“Make. Me. A. Sandwich.”
“Maybe,” said Maurice, “ you have to really want the sandwich.”
A fair point. I focused hard, gritting my teeth and imagined a delicious, meaty sandwich. I held the picture in my mind, so real I could smell it. “Make me a sandwich,” I whispered through my drool.
Claire twitched. Her tongue traced along her bottom lip. She slowly turned towards the table overflowing with food and picked up a knife. There was a giant loaf of bread, round like a large cake. With two swift strikes, she had two slices. She piled a range of items onto one slice and then placed the second slice on top. She cut it in two and picked up one overflowing half.
She turned to me, lifted up the freshly made and overstuffed sandwich, and took a large bite. “Oh, that’s good,” she said through a disgusting mouth full of half-chewed food. “I suddenly had to eat.”
“Well, it sort of worked,” said Maurice. “What kind of sandwich were you thinking of?”
“Not one like that.” I had been thinking of meats and hot sauce. She had filled hers with cheese and salad. Not even close.
Claire continued to stuff her face. “Never felt so hungry.” Or that’s what she would have said if there weren’t bits of food falling out of her mouth. The woman was a savage.
“That’s my power? Making people feel peckish?”
“No,” said Maurice. “But it shows you can project your desire into someone else’s head. With practice…”
I wasn’t convinced. It was all too vague and wishy washy. And Claire might just have been hungry.
The King came in with his chancellor. Behind him were Gabor and Roland, together with Princess Laney looking dopey and giggling to herself.
“The armies are ready,” said the King. “You will lead them to victory.”
I knew he was talking to me, but I still felt the need to look behind me just in case.
An Intui lizardman, small and slippery-looking, its yellow and white skin glistening, appeared in the doorway. “I come to talk,” said the Intui, hands raised. “I bear no arms and I am alone. You will hear me?”
“We shall,” said the King. “The Chief of the Intui will be heard.” It felt like they were going through some ancient ritual.
“We refuse to follow this child into battle.” The Intui chief frowned, the edges of his wide mouth turning down to somewhere near his shoulders. His finger was pointed at me.
“Come, come,” said Peter. “We’ve discussed this already and struck a deal. Will you go back on your word now?”
“We keep our word,” said the disgruntled lizard. “We will fight the elf and give you time to prepare your strike, but we are not fools. This one will lead us to our deaths.”
I wasn’t sure if he meant my cluelessness would get everyone killed or if I would deliberately lead them into a sticky situation because I didn’t like them very much. Both schools of thought had solid foundations.
“Here we are, then,” said Peter, looking at me with expectantly raised eyebrows.
“What do you mean?” I said. “Where are we?”
“You wanted a chance to test your willpower.” He waved a hand towards the lizard. “Use it on him. I can’t think of a better target.”
The lizardman didn’t understand what Peter was going on about, but clearly didn’t like being referred to as a target. Its tongue flickered out of its mouth rapidly. Fear? Anger? I wasn’t sure. He was crouching like he was preparing to attack, but he wasn’t armed and he was outnumbered so I wasn’t too worried. I edged nearer Roland just in case.
“The problem,” I said, “is that I agree with him. I probably will get him and everyone else killed. Plus, I don’t really want to lead an army against a giant, all-powerful elf. That’s your idea, and a pretty crap one. If I was going to use my power against anyone, it would be you., Peter.” Peter seemed utterly stupefied by the idea I’d turn on him.
Good old Pete who never did anyone any harm; unless they happened to be on a mountain or in a city he planned to blow to smithereens.
“It may well be my ability to use my will like a weapon, but if I have to really want it, then this isn’t going to work, because this I do not want.”
I felt that part of it was pretty clear. Maybe I could force my will on others, but only if it was something I fully believed in. And going up against an opponent, mano a mano, was not my way of doing things.
The Intui jumped forward incredibly fast. Roland didn’t have time to even flinch (or had no intention of getting involved) before the Intui had grabbed the spike from my belt and held it out in front of my face.
“I will not be your victim. Try to use your dark sorcery on me and I will gut you.”
Now here was a guy who believed in what he said. And also, here was a guy with my spike in his hand. The same spike Biadet had intimated would explain my power. In some way, it was only useful in my hands, at least when it came to dealing with dwarves. And I was quite interested to see what would happen if someone who wasn’t me tried it.
“Okay,” I said. “Let’s make a deal. If you can stab me with that spike, I will hand over command of the entire army to you. If I can grab it back off you, then you will follow me. Agreed?”
There was no way I could get it off him, and I had no intention of trying. I wanted him to stab me. I reached into my pocket and took out one of the gemstones containing a dwarven spirit and threw it in my mouth, acting like I was clearing my throat.
“I will stab you five times before you can blink,” said the Intui.
I raised my arms in welcome and swallowed the gem down. “Ready when you are.”