The elf’s giant head tilted slowly and the rolling mist forming its eyebrows slid closer together. “You want to surrender?” The voice blew my hair back. “We haven’t fought yet.”
“No, and I’d prefer to keep it that way. You obviously have the advantage and even if we find a way to win, thousands will die, and then some idiot will take control for a bit, and there’ll be more wars and more fucking about as one person tries to wrest power from another. Better to let you be in charge and opt for a little stability.”
The head drifted closer to me, all of it moving at once but not all at the same speed, which gave the face a strange, shuddering quality. I wanted to back away, but I held my position. I could have quite easily dived into the slightly open mouth.
“What kind of hero are you?” she asked.
A fair question.
Obviously, not many people are going to think it’s a good idea to let Sauron take over Middle-earth. He’s evil, he’s got the Nazgul pulling questionable shit wherever they go, he’s got that big freaky eye on top of a mountain giving you the feeling you’re being watched all the time... but you have to consider, once he’s in charge, what’s he going to do?
Yes, there’ll be some killing and torturing, and possibly some eating of human flesh, but on the plus side, you’ve got a leader with governing experience, he knows how to manage a budget and he’s got law and order covered big time.
“I’m not a hero. I don’t think there are any, not that I’ve seen. This is a battle between villains, people out for themselves. The only reason they’ve all joined forces to stop you is because if you’re the Supreme Evil Leader of the World, they can’t be. Nobody’s fighting for the right of every man and woman to live free and do what they want, they’re here so they can have a shot at being Flatland’s Next Top Douchebag.”
“Except you? You don’t want to be King of the World?” She sounded dubious.
“No. I never fancied a desk job. You, on the other hand, have already been ruler of a city and done quite a nice job of it. I mean, you did put only women in charge and cut off a lot of men’s balls, but in some societies that would just make you a progressive liberal.”
“You realise,” said the elf, “I don’t need to accept your terms of surrender. I can just take what I want and demand fealty. Or kill you all.”
“Sure, sure,”I said. “But why ruin a lovely day with bodies littered all over the countryside? You can have a planet of willing subjects and no one will stop you from doing what you want. You can get them to build you statues of yourself or giant pyramids or whatever it is you plan to do after achieving world domination.”
“I do not do this for such petty reasons,” said the elf. “The peoples of this world are of no consequence. I must have the spires, and there is one who would stop me.”
So the problem was Peter. Not a big surprise.
“What will you do with the spires? Blow things up? Pew pew pew?”
The elf frowned, which took a good thirty seconds. “Such waste is not a good use of their power.”
She raised her arm. I drifted backwards to avoid the hand floating up. A finger extended.
I looked in the direction she was pointing. Fengarad.
The spires were small spikes in the distance, but from them grew towers of light shooting straight up into the sky and beyond. They were like the vines but thicker and brighter. Whatever they connected to was very far away.
“I will use them to feed, to grow stronger, and when my brethren return, they will not find me the weak child they left behind.”
“When they return in a thousand years?”
“It is but the blink of an eye.”
“So I’ve heard. Fine by me however long it takes. Not like I’ll still be here. But what if I can take care of Peter? You take over the spires and do your thing, the world carries on—for the next thousand years or so—cue music for end titles. Sound good?”
Hernande took a deep breath which caused a rush of air to buffet me around. She closed her eyes and her clouded forehead furrowed. A vine grew out of the centre of the furrows. It was green and beanstalk-like. I watched it elongate and then shoot downwards. It grew and stretched and twisted as it headed towards my body standing in a field.
I had no idea what the tentacle represented. Some connection between me and the elf, I assumed. Was it good or bad? It didn’t really matter. It reached me and stopped. No connection available.
The tip probed and poked my body, wound around me, looking for another way in. Happily, it didn’t find one back there. Every attempt found no purchase, no entry point. It was an odd thing, to see a connection forming, seeing the manifestation of something that had no physical component. It gave social interactions a whole new dimension. Even though it wasn’t clear what the elf was trying to do, I was glad she wasn’t able to penetrate my defences.
After a few more minutes of trying, the tentacle returned to the front of my body and then noticed the single thread coming out of my chest; the one that led to Jenny. It touched the thread very lightly and jumped back, dissolving and fading away.
Hernande’s eyes opened in surprise. “There is no way to tell if you can be trusted. What is it that you truly want if it isn’t to win?”
“I want to win,” I said. “Winning is getting what you want. I don’t need a crown for that. Neither do you, but I’ll gladly give you one if that’s what it takes.”
“And you speak for all of them, do you?”
“I speak for none of them. I doubt they’ll surrender to you willingly. I know you put a lot of store by that word. Everything’s better when it’s done willingly.”
“Yes. The connection is stronger.”
I wondered if I would be able to see that with my ability. A whole different type of connection when it was consenting. Was that why some tentacles looked so much stronger than others?
“But it’s not like you can’t kill everyone later,” I said.
She nodded on a meteorological scale. “If you can truly deliver the spires to me, then perhaps we can come to an understanding. But that man is not going to step aside easily.”
“As it happens, I have an idea how to deal with him. I just need your help.”
I spent a few minutes convincing Hernande of my plan. No vines grew from my body, no tentacles weaved across the space between us. My (limited) understanding was that any interaction on a mental or emotional level produced some kind of physical bond between people in this plane of existence.
Here it could be seen, and possibly manipulated (if you knew how). But I was immune, so how was I getting through to people? There was a lot to figure out with this power.
She eventually agreed to my idea, although not without some reservations. I returned to the Void inside my mind and found two dwarves with my younger self.
“Do you really think this will work?” asked Evand. Now that I got a good look at him, he was surprisingly young-looking. No beard, curly hair, dressed in stiff brown leather that didn’t look very comfortable.
“Maybe, maybe not.”
I regained control of my body and made my way across the field and through a hedge. The armies of the combined forces trying to prevent global catastrophe stood in front of me, mine to control.
“Hi, guys,” I gave them a wave. Bertie sat up on his haunches behind me and pawed at the air, imitating me. Which you might think was cute, but I got the distinct impression he was taking the piss.
“What are your orders?” sneered the Intui Chief. “What is your great plan to defeat that?”
“Hold on.” I turned to face Hernande who had stopped and was looking down at us. Her feet were almost transparent, warping the trees behind them. Her legs grew cloudy as they went up, swirling mist inside a snow globe. And then her body solidified into a storm captured behind glass. Her head was barely visible.
“Hey, Hernande! Yoo hoo!” I raised my hands and waved them about. “Yield!” I shouted as loudly as I could, “or suffer my wrath.” It sounded better in my head. More manly and threatening. Perhaps if I had a deep voice and better enunciation, I could have given it more of a dramatic effect.
Hernande dropped to one knee the sudden change in air pressure clearing the air around us like we were in the eye of a hurricane.. “I yield,” the wind screamed.
Everyone was understandably shocked and surprised. I had defeated the giant without lifting a finger. Of course, I hadn’t really defeated anyone, this was all part of the plan, and if things didn’t go as I’d promised, Hernande would withdraw the yield and bring the pain.
“We will take the elf back to Requbar,” I said, turning to face my loyal followers (who would’ve turned on me the minute I looked like failing). “There she will be locked away where she can do no harm.”
They couldn’t help but be impressed. All but my group who were eyeing me suspiciously. Untouchable or not, they’d spent enough time around me to spot the signs of shenanigans taking place.
“Amazing,” said Peter, his jaw somewhere down by his ankles. “How did you do it?”
“Simple. There were three dwarves left behind to keep this elf imprisoned. Together they could force her to do what they wanted, but they had a falling out. Two wanted her to have her freedom on the surface, one didn’t. Which meant she couldn’t be controlled. Until now.”
“You have their power?” asked Peter hungrily.
“All three dwarves are inside me, but they can’t control me as they would anyone else because—”
“Exactly. So now I have access to their combined powers and they can’t do anything about it.”
“Truly amazing,” said Peter. “But why put her back in her prison under Requbar? Bring her to Fengarad and we can place her inside the spires.”
This was more or less what Hernande wanted, but with Peter manning the controls, she would be just another toy for him to play with.
“I don’t think so. In Requbar she won’t be able to do any more harm, and I’ll be able to call her up if I need to. If I hand her over to you, I’d be giving up all that power for what?”
“Whatever you want,” said Peter.
“I can get that already. Have you met my giant elf? Hernande, do a dance.”
I was pushing it a bit and there was a definite irritated quality to the clouds gathering across her face, but she started doing a jig.
Trees fell over, dust flew everywhere and the ground shook.
“Okay, that’s enough. Sorry, didn’t think that through.” Everyone got back on their feet unsteadily.
“But think of what we could achieve with an infinite source of energy to work with. The attempts I’ve made with locally sourced energy units have been promising, but with a fully-formed elf, the possibilities are endless. Perhaps even a way home.”
The locally sourced energy units were the people he’d zapped to power up his beam of death, and the talk of a fully-formed elf made me think this was why he had released Hernande from her rat body. He wanted the full-size version, even if it risked all our lives. I certainly didn’t believe he cared about sending us home. Pretty much everything he said was so bent out of shape it only looked like the truth from one particular angle. The angle he showed it to you.
“I don’t care about that. I have a giant elf. I am now the most important person in the world. Back home, I’m nobody.”
I turned my back on Peter. The spike was in my belt, a mere arm’s length away from him.
The plan was simple. Make him mad enough to stab me. The spike killed dwarves. It at least made them leave your body. I was sure Peter would rather have the elf under no one’s control if it wasn’t under his. He still had all the armies to fight for him. They would probably lose, but at least he wouldn’t be second fiddle to some jumped up cockney twat.
And once he used the spike, it would kill him. Or hurt him. Or something. I wasn’t sure what would happen, but something bad. Biadet had said if it wasn’t me using it, calamity would befall the wielder. Or she implied it.
Okay, it wasn’t a plan with all the pieces in place. It required Peter to try to kill me, to not know about the detrimental side effects, and for those side effects to be super detrimental. But come on, it had a lot of style and flare and no small amount of roleplaying. A giant dancing elf, for goodness sake.
I felt the spike slide out my belt.
“Do you know what this spike does?” asked Peter. He had sinister edge to his voice.
I turned to face him, desperately trying not to grin. “Kill dwarves?”
“For you, yes. You are untouchable. But for anyone else, it will draw the dwarves into their body. They lose themselves to the thing they tried to kill.”
This I did not know. “So if you stab me, you get taken over by the dwarves inside me?”
“Normally, yes. But in this case, you have made the dwarves inert. You are like a living neutraliser, turning bad dwarves into harmless ones. Which means…”
“You get to control the elf.”
I had fucked up. The spike wouldn’t kill him, or even harm him. It would give him the dwarven powers I had claimed.
Only, I hadn’t claimed any. There were only two dwarves in my system and he was welcome to them both. My ruse may not have worked the way I had hoped, but close enough.
“You know Peter, you don’t need willpower to get things done, you just need to be willing. Are you willing to take this power from me?”
“I am, Colin. More than you can possibly imagine.” He smiled. I wished I had teeth that nice. No, I didn’t.
“Good. Me too.” I stepped into the point of the spike and grabbed his wrist to makes sure he pushed it in.
The surge of energy was a bit embarrassing. If it had been any more intense, I’d have been able to start my own red light district. The most unappealing live sex show you’ve ever seen. Mind you, if Jenny did learn how to juggle...
Peter had a surprised look on his face. Two dwarves had entered him—another act to add to the lineup. I wasn’t sure which would be in charge or if there would be a stalemate, but it didn’t matter as long he wasn’t in control.
The spike, which I barely noticed, was removed from my chest. I winced and healed myself. Everyone was watching, not really following what had just happened.
There was a struggle going on inside Peter. I could see it in the way his expressions were rapidly changing like in a bad Jim Carrey movie (but also in a good Jim Carrey movie). A struggle for control but between the dwarves or between them and Peter, I couldn’t tell.
A sudden gust of wind and we were scooped up. Hernande’s hand closed around us and swooped us into the air. I fell over and lay in her palm next to Peter as she raised us to her face.
“Your plan was successful.” She sounded surprised. I was used to it.
“I think so. What’s going on with him?”
Peter was still mugging like a loon.
“They cannot decide who is to lead.”
Always the problem. Everyone thinks they deserve a chance to tell others what to do.
“Hey!” I snapped my fingers in front of Peter’s face. “Take it in turns.” I felt like a mother with squabbling kids. It didn’t help. “Evand.” I held up the third gemstone. “I can use this and cut you out of the equation.”
Peter’s face settled down.
“Good. You two are going to take Hernande to the spires. She’s going to quietly drink her milkshake while you watch over her. When the Elf Lords come back, they can sort out their differences between them.”
“What about me?” said the dwarf in my hand.
“You’ll stay with me for now. If nothing untoward happens, you get your freedom in a thousand years. Don’t worry, it’ll pass in a blink of an eye.”
There was some bickering, assurances given, but an agreement was reached.
“You have fulfilled your part of the agreement, and asked for nothing in return.”
I had asked for quite a lot in return. Not to be killed, to be left alone, my balls to remain attached to my body…
“Is there truly nothing you want for yourself?”
I thought about it. “You stopped visitors having children, right? Can you reverse it?”
“Yes. Is that what you wish.”
“No. But maybe one day.”
Hernande returned us to the ground. I climbed off and Peter stayed where he was.
“You will obey me, Hernande. I am your master, now,” said Peter. “To Fengarad.”
With long easy strides, she headed for Fengarad. The armies scattered to get out from under her feet, and then followed behind, unsure about the future and what to expect, but Peter was the man they knew and he was more impressive than ever.
A moment ago I was the one in charge, now I was the one who had been tricked by the old fox. Or so it appeared. Everyone who needed to believe I was second rate and overhyped, had their evidence to back them up. Everyone who suspected I was hiding something, also had plenty to think about.
As long as the ones who wanted to look down on me walked away feeling superior and the ones who sensed a hidden danger kept their distance, everything was gucci.
Of course, the superior ones might think it was a perfect time to attack, and the wary ones might decide to ignore their fears, so it was still a good time to make a swift exit.
“Let’s get out of here,” I said to the others. They took the hint immediately and we made for the dragon.
Thanks to a very solid training regimen in getting while the getting’s good, we were airborne in a few minutes.
“Where are we going?” asked Flossie.
I shrugged. “There’s a fourth city. We could check it out, before the other elfs arrive and start a world war.”
“Isn’t that going to take a thousand years?” asked Maurice.
“Yep. Only take a blink of an eye.”
They knew I’d done something but finding out what it was could wait. There’s a time to talk and there’s a time to run. And this was running time.
We hadn’t really gained much for saving the world. A few fancy clothes and some snacks they’d stuffed into their pockets when they left Fengarad, but it was a relief to be leaving in one piece. I really wanted to find somewhere out of the way where I could figure out this power of mine. I had the one dwarfstone, but I needed to find a better way to travel between worlds.
As I was thinking this over, Jenny sat down next to me. “I got you a present.”
“What is it?” I’ve always been a very hard person to shop for. I hate most things, so I was curious to see what she’d got me.
“Here.” She took out a spoon on a chain and put it around my neck like a precious diamond necklace. Only it was better than that. It was actually useful.
“Thank you,” I said, and I meant it. Perhaps I would give her something she really wanted, too, one day.
End of Volume 5
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