I headed for the door without really knowing where I was going. “Fight’s this way, is it?”
The whole room was staring at me.
“Are you feeling alright?” asked Claire. Not in a ‘Can I help you?’ way, more of an ‘Is it contagious?’ while backing away manner.
“I’m fine. Untouchable.”
It was hard to know how to explain it to them. Or even if i should. To be honest, I didn’t understand it all that well, myself. I could access an alien landscape that looked like some tentacle hentai fan’s wet dream and float about like Peter Pan. Oh, really, Colin? And what do all these tentacles do? I have absolutely no idea.
Would they all rush to follow me into battle? Probably not. Better to just go Big Dick Mode and style it out.
“Don’t worry,” I said. “I’ve finally figured out what my special ability is. We got this. No problemo.” I gave them a thumbs up, which only seemed to increase their concern.
Yes, I was overselling it a bit. I didn’t actually have a fully formed idea how to deal with the elf, but I felt better for having discovered I had an ability, even if I hadn’t worked out how to use it properly. Yet. But the potential was huge.
It could easily be one of those powers where the possessor becomes so powerful, they lose touch with their own humanity and stop valuing human life altogether. It was the perfect ability for me—I was halfway there already!
Come to think of it, I didn’t even know how to reaccess Tentacle World. I’d used one dwarfstone to kick myself out of my body, so assuming that would work again, I presumably had two more shots with the dwarfstones I had left.
“What is it?” asked Jenny.
I realised I was standing in the doorway, lost in thought. The stares were getting more intense. And most intense was Peter’s. His usual air of smug condescension had left him for once, and he looked mildly worried.
“Peter.” I pointed at him. “We should talk. You probably have your own plans, right? That’s good, we should coordinate.” I walked back into the room and sat down at the table. “So, what’s the 411?” I put my head on the table and I was out like a light.
It was only when I woke up an hour or so later that it dawned on me how hyper I’d been. Apparently travelling between planes was a stimulant. I was so jumped up and full of beans I had been ready to take on the elf there and then, no plan, no ideas. Hell, I’d been ready to take on the world. Overconfidence can also be a fast and straightforward killer.
Bright sunlight slanted in through the windows, blinding me for a moment. The others were sat around, napping. Jenny was beside me, head resting on her arms, drool dripping onto the table. What’s not to love?
It took me a few seconds to spot Uncle Pete sitting opposite me, twirling the spike in his hand. He didn’t look menacing or sinister, which was odd because he most certainly was both those things.
“I really believed this would be the answer to my prayers,” he said in a low voice. He was considerately trying not to wake the others. He placed the spike on the table and slid it across towards me.
“You know what it does?” I asked him.
“I do now. My lovely daughter was only too happy to inform me.”
“Biadet? Is she your actual daughter?”
“No, not biologically. We can’t have children; the elf took care of that the moment she took the throne of Requbar. A clever move, I have to give her that. No, Biadet is my adopted daughter and my greatest creation. At least that’s how I like to think of her. She might disagree. Her mother’s the same. Loves to hold a grudge.”
I was still a bit groggy, but I sensed some pieces falling into place. “You and Queen Zarigold were an item.”
“Yes. An item. That sums it up nicely.” Peter produced a sad, thin sliver of a smile. I almost felt sorry for him but I didn’t really have the machinery for it. It would be more accurate to say I recognised a situation where sympathy could be applied.
“You experimented on Biadet?” He seemed in a talkative mood so I decided to try for some answers.
“Experimented? Such a harsh word. She would have died if I hadn’t. Not that anyone thanked me. It’s a heartless world, Colin. I’m sure you know this already.”
No argument from me there. “How did the elf stop us from having children? And why?”
“The why is fairly straightforward,” said Peter. “The spires need a power source to work. The locals can provide a temporary surge but it’s not enough to do anything really interesting.” He tapped his bottom lip with a finger. “It’s more of a borrowed power. Then there’s us. Visitors are a true source of power and could get the spires fully operational, if there were enough of us. Only a few of us are bought here every four years, but if we were allowed to reproduce among ourselves… it wouldn’t be as potent, but it would be substantially more potent than the locals.”
That made sense. If the elf didn’t want the spires to be active, she would want to limit the availability of batteries.
“As for how she did it, I’m afraid I haven’t been able to work that out as yet. If I could just get her into the spires, under my control, I think the answers would come thick and fast. It would help, of course, if that spike actually did what it was supposed to. The threat of such a weapon would force the truth from her, but sadly it only kills dwarves. Such a waste.” He shook his head. “That’s Zarigold’s ability. She can imbue weapons with powers, very specific powers, whatever she wishes, really. She could help me so much, but she’s too bitter to see reason. Age does that to some people.”
You know when someone offhandedly dismisses another person’s feelings like that, there must be good reason for them being pissed off. Guaranteed.
“I may not have the right tools, but you could still help me with learning the truth of what the elfs are. And I could help you in return.”
And so began the dance. “Help me how?”
Peter leaned across the table and dropped his voice even lower. “You see, kid, the gift I have, the special ability, it doesn’t help me, it helps those around me.” He was full-on earnest with wall to wall carpeting; the thick stuff your feet sink into. “I can improve your abilities. Adapt them, evolve them, make you a far better exponent of whatever it is you have been gifted with.”
If I was able to see the vines and tentacles I’d seen earlier, would I see them growing out of Peter now, trying to form a bond with me? Trust. Greed. Desire. Would each have its own outstretched arm, a range of putrid colours?
If what he said was true, then I could see why he would be popular among Visitors. Who wouldn’t want an upgrade on their special ability? But I somehow doubted the service would come free of charge or without a catch. He would find a way to retain control. Maybe even leech off the power he had turbocharged. Or soup it up, then threaten to take it away. Your own army of super-idiots to do whatever you commanded, or it’s back to being a pleb.
Admittedly, I was speculating without any evidence, but when had that ever stopped me from being right?
“But I’m untouchable,” I said. “You can’t help me if you can’t reach me?” Can’t fuck with me, either.
Peter smiled woefully, as though a great tragedy had been revealed. “You are quite correct. Quite, quite correct. Such a shame. But that doesn’t mean I can’t be of some assistance to you.” He sat back in the chair, catching a streak of sunshine across the top of his silver hair. He snapped his fingers and raised his hand. It glowed in the beam of sunlight like a lightbulb going off over his head. “If I can’t increase your gifts, I can at least help you understand them better. Not myself—my talents don’t lie in that direction—but through a friend. He was in the same group as I, but he left to pursue his own path a long, long time ago. He settled in Gorgoth—that’s the city to the far east. He hid himself from the world and is a hard man to get hold of, but I could make some arrangements.”
Peter tilted his head back like he was considering options.
“But I don’t need to understand, I already know what it is I can do,” I lied. “It’s not that complicated.”
“It isn’t?” Pete sat up, eager to learn more. “Why, what can you do?”
He didn’t know. He’d guessed it was will power, which I could see since my ability to get things done was quite striking, but it was all guesswork.
They had all figured out I was untouchable because none of them could get to me with their various abilities. I wondered if they’d had a meeting to discuss it. It was clear, though, that none of them fully understood what I could do. To be fair, neither did I, but I’d had a glimpse and it was probably best I didn’t reveal the truth.
On the other hand, I had no problem revealing a bunch of lies.
“I can control the elf. After that, what my power is won’t really matter. I’ll have all her abilities to use any way I want. Should be a lot of fun.”
Pete’s face seemed to be doing a weird kind of twitching around the edges, although the middle remained as implacable as ever.
“You can’t possibly believe it will be that easy,” said Peter.
The King came rushing into the room, followed by a whole host of other people I didn’t recognise. The others woke up.
“The elf is on the move,” said the King. “We have commanded the armies to set forth. They will wait for you to arrive before attacking.”
This was aimed at me. Even though nobody knew what I could do, I was still the best hope they had.
“I have prepared suitable clothing for you all,” said Laney.
“Designed by you?” I asked. She was currently wearing a bright yellow outfit with red trim.
“Sadly, there was no time.” A wave of relief passed around the group.
“I’m fine as I am,” I said. I couldn’t be bothered with any roleplaying bullshit. “They’ll play dress up, though.” The others were only too happy to agree. The only thing I needed was Jenny’s wooden sword, which she handed over with questions on her lips that she kept there.
By the time we got to the dragon, the others looked like they were on their way to Comic Con. I couldn’t say which movie they were cosplaying as, but it had probably been made in 1982 and was not a big hit. Rutger Hauer may have been involved.
They had cloaks and robes and straps and weapons. Headgear with jewels embedded. If a fight broke out, they would be my shock troops for all the wrong reasons.
Everyone was keen to go, Peter, Laney, even the King, but poor Vikchutni couldn’t take us all. They wanted to see what I was going to do. I knew how they felt.
Bertie came bounding up to me and knocked me to the ground. He seemed to have grown.
“Can he fly?” I asked Flossie.
“Yes,” she said. “He likes flying behind his dad. Why?”
I climbed onto his back. It was like a grown man on a kid’s tricycle. Or a grown man on a BMX, which looks just as idiotic. No, smoking a joint while your knees are up around your ears doesn’t make it any cooler.
It was a beautiful sunny day. Vikchutni took off and me and Bertie tucked in behind. I was glad of the alone time, even if the flight was a bit bumpy.
As soon as we were over tree height, the elf was visible. She was a figure in the distance, walking slowly towards us, built entirely out of clouds. Not like a fluffy Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. She was solid with clearly defined muscles and hips and breasts, even pointed elf ears. But the surface was constantly moving. Like a piece of the sky had been folded into a living being and the weather system was trapped inside.
We were flying towards it as it walked towards us. I had perhaps twenty minutes to come up with a plan. That or keep flying and so long suckers!
I took out the two gemstones I had left and held one in each hand.
“Evand, you in there?”
“Yes. I am here.” He sounded pissy. “Your fate is sealed and nothing can save you.”
“Nice. Thanks for that. Who’s your friend?” I lifted up the other gem which had a slight green tinge to it.
“That traitor is no friend of mine.”
“Who are you calling a traitor?” said a deep voice from the other stone. “Were you not the one who allowed Hernande her freedom?”
“That was meant to be temporary and you were supposed to bring her back.”
“Why? So she could be locked up again?”
“It wasn’t fair and you know it. They left her behind like she was nothing. An instrument to be used.”
“Who left her behind?” I asked.
“Don’t tell him anything,” said Evand.
“The Elf Lords. They left her because she was the only female and they considered her expendable. The spires need to be fully charged to summon them back and she was meant to be the fuel to light their fire.”
Peter had mentioned two methods of charging the spires, locals and Visitors, but not this one. I was guessing using an elf was the correct way to get them up to full speed.
“Quiet!” screamed Evand.
“So, they left her here so she could be used to power up the spires?” I said, eager to keep them bickering and revealing more information. “Would that kill her?”
“Of course it would,” said the other dwarf.
“These Elf Lords sound like a bunch of dicks,” I said. “Why are you so keen to see them return, Evand?”
“It is not our place to judge them. They tower over us and perform great feats. We should be grateful.”
The Woody Allen defence. Separate the man from the art. A deep, philosophical question, but hard to consider seriously when all I could think of was a bunch of giant Woody Allens roaming the surface of the world like dinosaurs. Hard to take anything seriously after that.
“When my Lords return, then will you truly witness the majesty of being,” said Evand. I had no idea what that even meant, but I kept shtum. Valuable intel was being disseminated by these two.
“When they return, they will find Hernande is no longer the ingenue they left behind.”
“How can they return if she destroys the spires?” demanded Evand.
“She does not plan to destroy them. How can you think she would do such a thing?”
“When are these ELf Lords due back?” I asked.
“Very soon,” said Evand. “Less than a thousand years.”
Here was something I could have done with knowing earlier. “All this for something that won’t happen for a thousand years?”
“It will pass in the blink of an eye,” said Evand.
At least with one threat off the table (or at the far end) I could focus on the problem in front of me. I also gave me an idea how to turn this thing around.
I held up both gems. “I’m guessing you weren’t the ones who put Hernande into her prison, but how were you supposed to control her? You must have a way to do it.”
There was a pause and then Evand said, “It takes all three of us working together.”
“That won’t be happening anytime soon,” said the other dwarf.
“You know I’ve got dwarf number three inside me, right? If I swallowed you two, would I be able to control the elf?”
“No!” they both said together.
Sometimes when a dwarf says no, he means yes. That doesn’t mean you can tell when that time is, though. Still, it was an option. A last ditch, Oh no, we’re all going to die, kind of option.
“Just remember, even if it doesn’t work, I can swallow you and disconnect you from the gem. That means a lifetime stuck in my head. Believe me, you wouldn’t like it.”
Neither said anything, but it felt like both gems shuddered in my hands. I put them away and took in the view. Beneath us were thousands of troops marching in square formation. Lizardmen and humans. Fengarad and Dargot standards raised.
Vikchutni circled the elf who took no notice, and Bertie followed like a puppy after a tennis ball. On the other side, an army from Requbar approached with a familiar figure at its head. Sonny had decided to get his revenge and had somehow convinced the survivors of Requbar to join him. As much of an ass as he was, you couldn’t deny his ability to bullshit his way into the affections of men. And I don’t mean that in a gay way, he just appealed to bros in a way I never could.
Flossie brought us down just ahead of the Fengarad forces and me and Bertie came to a rather abrupt halt nearby, took off again, tumbled over a hedge and went our separate ways in the next field. Bertie needed to work on those landings.
There was an army waiting for my orders and I had nothing to tell them. I decided I might as well get this over with. I took out the two gemstones and ate Evand.
A moment later I was in my head with young me and dwarf number one.
“Hold on,” I said. Back in a mo. I exited my body, wooden sword in hand, and sliced off the tube growing out of my back. That took care of dwarf number two. Then I floated up towards the elf, but I was immediately struck by what the world had turned into.
It had been strange enough seeing all the vines growing in the room back in Fengarad. Outside with nothing to impede my view, I could see for miles. And for miles, there was nothing but a world full of tentacles.
Everything was connected to everything else. As I rose higher and higher, I could see the vines spreading out and up and in every which way. It was a total mind fuck. No way could I make sense of this, it was too much to take in. I focused on the elf.
She was frozen just like everything else. Hundreds of vines grew out of her. There were so many of them, they covered her like a suit of armour. I tried to cut them with the sword, but they were so big and thick, the sword only made the slightest nick that quickly healed over.
I got all the way to the head, which suddenly moved to look at me with eyes made of dark clouds getting darker.
“You are too late,” she said with a voice like a howling wind. “The victory will be mine.”
She had a good point, which left me with only one option, as far as I could see.
“I agree,” I said. “We surrender.”