I’ve been in many awkward situations in my life. Actually, my whole life is one big awkward situation, even before I ended up in this world.
“Why… Why were you…?” Arthur was upset and understandably confused. One minute he was dead, the next he was in a Sam and Frodo fanfiction.
“We thought you were dead,” I said by way of explanation.
“And that’s what you do to the recently deceased?!”
When he put it like that it painted a rather sordid picture of what had been a perfectly innocent use of mimed sodomy as a means to an end. I can’t have been the first person to employ anal sex as part of an escape plan, surely.
Steve, the police have us surrounded. We only have one way out—bend over and grab your ankles.
Practically a cliché.
“It’s not what you think,” I said. “I can explain.”
He backed away so he was squeezed into the furthest corner of the bed, surrounded by bunched up pillows. If I had been some kind of sexual aggressor, that probably wouldn’t have helped his cause. Just saying.
I gave him a quick rundown of why I had been committing an act of depravity on his assumed-corpse. Needing to get rid of the druids without revealing Arthur’s condition made total sense. I felt the room was with me up to this point.
When I got to the part about the effectiveness of coitus interruptus as a decoy tactic, it sounded a lot weirder when I was repeating it without my party there to back me up. Arthur’s face suggested he wasn’t entirely convinced.
“And that was the best you could come up with?” He pulled his robe tighter around him. Bit late to start being modest, love.
“I was under a lot of pressure. It’s not easy coming up with a plan on the spot like that. We thought you were dead!” I had to stop saying that, it didn’t make things any better. “It could have been worse. We could have buried you.”
“That would have been far more preferable,” said Arthur.
There was a polite knock on the door.
“What?” I shouted, annoyed at having become the bad guy in all this. You try to shag one cadaver for the best of reasons, and everyone thinks you’re some kind of weirdo.
Jenny pushed her head through the slightly open door. “Have you finished?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“He’s alive,” she said, ignoring my justified anger. “Hey, Arthur’s alive!”
The others all came tumbling in expressing their surprise and relief.
“Why’s he look so upset?” asked Flossie.
“Never mind that,” I said. “What happened to you, Arthur? Why did you check out like that? And how did you come back?” Best to keep things moving along and not dwell on any unpleasantness, I felt.
“You,” said Arthur. “You pushed me into that other place.”
“You saw it? The vines and tentacles and stuff.”
“No, not really. I was so wrapped up in all those… those limbs, holding onto me, growing out of my body... I couldn’t move or see anything. I thought I was going to be stuck there forever. It was the worst experience of my life. And then I was yanked back here and it became the second worst.” He glared at me through his distress.
There seemed to be a lot of differences between my experience of the adjacent world and his. I had no trouble moving around, although I guess being untouchable helped there. Arthur had connections to the world, which meant he had to cope with all the bonds of a normal person.
He also hadn’t stopped time when he crossed over. I wasn’t entirely sure I had either. The elf had been able to move just fine. I didn’t really understand that part of it.
In any case, it seemed all that training had enabled me to transfer someone else into Vine World, where they could do absolutely nothing. If this was an example of the kinds of upgrades I could expect in the future, my power would level up to almost pointless in no time.
“And what about our magic?” I said.
“What about it?” said Arthur.
“You took away my magic ability. And Claire’s.”
“No,” said Arthur. “I have no control over beast magic.”
He could have been lying, but I didn’t think so. He seemed too bewildered by my accusation. Mind you, in his current condition, every serving came with a side order of bewilderment.
The druids had gone, thankfully. Which proved the efficacy of my plan. Not that anyone was willing to admit it. All I got was suspicious looks like I had engineered the whole thing because that’s how I got my rocks off.
“I need a bath,” said Arthur. “Alone.” He looked at me when he said that, which I felt was uncalled for. Although I did need a wash.
It was getting quite late by the time Arthur called us down to the dining room where he presented us with a table full of food (I was served the smallest portions). We ate in between awkward attempts at small talk. Signs of things returning to normal.
“Who prepared the food?” asked Claire. There was no staff that we’d seen.
“I did,” said Arthur. “Everything here is a product of my hard work.”
The place was covered in dust and the gardens were a mess, so it was easy to believe him. But the food was pretty good and nicely cooked. Which was strange considering how unused the kitchen had looked.
“I used to have people do things for me, but it was always less than satisfactory. If you want it done properly, you have to do it yourself.”
“You could try beating them with a stick until they did it right,” I said.
“I did. They complained too much.”
“Yes,” I said. “It is annoying when they bitch about everything.”
A coldness settled on the room, but I ignored it. At least I was getting on with Arthur after our slight misunderstanding.
Flossie jumped up and announced, “The dragons are ear, the dragons are ear.” She rushed out to welcome her brood.
We all followed her out as it seemed the polite thing to do. It was very dark outside, with the stars not offering much illumination. The dragons were only visible by their silhouettes as they landed and immediately set to demolishing the garden.
Flossie ran around welcoming them individually. Arthur was impressed, as most people were when they first saw a dragon without knowing what they were like. The novelty soon wore off. The rest of us wandered back inside, not really sure why we’d bothered to go out in the first place.
Arthur allowed us to stay the night. He retired early and I heard a key turn in the bedroom door, followed by a number of bolts sliding into their holes. I felt he was flattering himself somewhat.
I shared a nice-sized bed with Jenny, which was much more comfortable than one in our room back at the inn.
We had sex three times.
Why am I telling you this? Boasting about my sexual prowess to impress people I’ll never meet? No. I’m hardly a stud, even with an attractive mate offering me unlimited spawning opportunities, as Nabbo would put it. I’m a one and done kind of guy; grateful and easily satisfied. No point being greedy. It was Jenny who was eager to keep at it. She used various techniques outlawed by the Geneva Convention to rekindle my interest, until I was utterly drained and passed out.
I expect she didn’t think I’d wake until morning, if that. And she was right, only I woke with the vague memory of a conversation running through my severely dehydrated mind.
“How do we get into the temple when we’re stuck here?”
“We can still make it. We have time.”
“Can’t yo’ put the idea in his head like yo’ did with the octopus-monkay.”
“It doesn’t work on him. We have to think of something else to get him to do what we want.”
That was it. There may have been more, but that’s all I remembered, the three girls plotting something while I slept.
Yes, I know what you’re thinking. It was obvious. Jenny had put me out using her womanly wiles (by which I mean her vagina), and then they got together like a coven of witches to plan their evil machinations. Most likely they had been turned when they’d been imprisoned by Joshaya and were still working for him. It was all so, so obvious.
Before you jump to conclusions, bear in mind that this was a very foggy recollection. The kind you have when you wake up thinking you ordered that thing from Amazon and wait all day for it to arrive, getting more and more irate about having wasted money on Prime, and then realise you never ordered a musical Frozen toilet roll holder for the bathroom and never would.
Having been misled by them (for good reasons™) I was already suspicious about what had happened to them when they were under Joshaya’s control. And while it’s good to be paranoid—source: I’m still alive—it can lead you to assume things are true when there are plenty of alternative explanations.
The important thing was to be mindful of all fuckers, all the time. It’s easy to think the universe likes you now, just because you got laid. It doesn’t.
From what I could remember, they had been talking about getting me to go to the temple. If Joshaya was influencing them, it seemed like he might have a grudge against the Pope. It wouldn’t be the first time someone tried to get us to do their dirty work for them.
The question was how compromised had the girls become. Were they even aware of what they were doing? Were they even the girls?
It was all very unsettling, but I had no actual reason to doubt them. A half-remembered dream isn’t really the best reason to accuse someone of being a vile traitor who insists on forcing you to have lots of sex with them just the way you like it.
If I had the dwarfstone still with me, I could have slipped into the adjacent plane and checked the girls for dodgy connections, maybe even severed them. This would have been an ideal use for my power. But Joshaya had taken that route into the other plane away from me. Seemed more than a coincidence.
After I let these thoughts run around my head for a bit, I got up. The room was empty, but it was quite late, so everyone else was probably up already. I found the bathroom, used the flush toilet (a series of pulleys and chains that seemed needlessly complicated), and took a bath.
There was already water in it, tepid and grey. I was probably the last to use it, and I didn’t want to think about who had been in there before me, or in what combination, but the opportunities for a bath were few and far between, and water is water.
Downstairs, there was some breakfast left on the table. I helped myself and wandered out to the back garden where the others were training hard.
Just kidding. They were lounging around getting some well-deserved rest after doing absolutely fucking nothing.
The dragons had made themselves at home in Arthur’s garden, and had reduced the foliage by about fifty percent. Which was actually quite an improvement. Perhaps a dragon-based landscaping company was how we would make ends meet.
“Hey, I’ve been thinking about this Pope guy,” I said to Arthur. “Is this Golden God of his for real?”
I kept an eye on the girls as I said this, watching for any reaction. They were on their backs, catching some rays.
“No, it’s a complete fabrication,” said Arthur. He was walking up and down the lawn in bare feet like he’d never seen grass so short. He seemed to enjoy petting the baby dragon. “Harmless enough, though. He’s an ex-student of mine.”
“Who?” I said. “The Pope?”
“He’s a Visitor?” asked Maurice. “What’s his ability?”
“He can raise the dead,” said Arthur, feeling the short stalks between his toes as the dragon tried to push him off its lunch.
“Really?” said Jenny sitting up on her elbows so her body glistened in the sunshine. Women, so calculating. “He can bring people back to life?”
“No, he can raise the dead.”
There was a moment of silent confusion.
“Oh, he’s a necromancer!” said Maurice.
“It’s very unpleasant,” said Arthur. “I refused to help him explore his potential and we fell out. This was some time ago. Fortunately, he got sidetracked into fleecing the locals. Good for him, I say.”
I casually observed how the girls reacted. If the Pope was part of their plot, this news would probably mean something to their plans. Or maybe they already knew. Their reactions were hard to interpret. They lay back and rolled over.
I spent the day trying to find a way into the adjacent world. It suddenly felt like a useful ability. But it was hard to focus with all the distractions going through my mind.
Lunch was another big spread provided by Arthur with no obvious explanation where the food had come from. I didn’t really care, though.
There was more talk about necromancy, with Maurice asking a lot of questions. Arthur didn’t seem keen to provide answers. He found the whole idea of rotting corpses being forced to walk around doing their master’s bidding to be distasteful.
“Although there are worse ways to treat the dead,” he said in my general direction.
If the Pope was still a practising necromancer, it meant he would be a formidable foe and one that would require careful handling to defeat. If the girls had a valid reason for wanting to fight him, they could always have asked me outright. I’d have said no, obviously, but it would have been the right approach.
It was all just speculating, though.
After lunch, I found a moment alone with Maurice and Dudley.
“Have you two noticed anything different about the girls since we rescued them from Joshaya?”
They shook their heads.
“Different how?” asked Maurice.
“Maybe more amorous, in the bedroom. You know, gagging for it.”
“Not really,” said Maurice.
“Can’t say that I have,” said Dudley.
“Perhaps,” said Maurice, “a little bit more intense.”
Dudley nodded. “Perhaps a tad more passionate.”
If the girls had been replaced by their doppelgangers, it would have been a lot easier if they had goatees, the universally recognised sign of the evil twin. But they acted the same, looked the same. Just more sexually aggressive. Evil has its upside
By the time evening rolled around, I was still unsure and considered just asking Jenny flat out. See how she reacted to a blunt question.
“What would you do if I came back to life as the walking dead?” asked Jenny as we lay in bed. “Would you keep me around.”
“Are you all decomposed?”
“Half of me.”
“Which half? Top or bottom?”
She bit my shoulder. “Would you look after me? Find me brains to eat?”
“Sure. Be a bit awkward when I brought dates home, though.”
“You’d be dating? What about us?”
“You’re a member of the undead. Very different cultures. I don’t really see a long term future.”
“I’d be upset, if I thought you had the nerve to ever ask anyone out. Can I ask you something, Colin?”
“Why are you in bed fully dressed?”
Her statement was accurate. I was fully dressed apart from my shoes. She was entirely naked, on her side. She leaned closer and somehow my hand was trapped between her knees.
I had decided I wouldn’t let her shag me into a coma. Remaining clothed seemed the best defence. I was wrong.
I woke alone in the bed, again. It felt different this time. I stumbled out and pulled my clothes back on.
Maurice and Dudley were at the breakfast table looking very glum, I thought. In fact, they had matching stunned expressions.
“The dragons have gone,” said Dudley, bereft. “And the girls.”
Maurice held out a piece of paper. “They left a note.” He was choking up.
The letter began, Dearly Beloveds....
Two words in and I was already annoyed. The gist of it was that they were going back to Joshaya. He was the man for them. Or god, or whatever. It went on and on, blah, blah, blah.
“It must be a spell,” said Dudley.
“Or Stockholm Syndrome,” said Maurice.
“We must go after them. They have a head start, and dragons…”
It was bad news, but in its own way it was a relief. The dread of not knowing how bad things were going to be is much worse than the reality of any situation. And at least now I understood what they had been planning.
“What a load of bollocks,” I said. I screwed up the piece of paper and threw it away. “They haven’t gone back to Joshaya. They’ve gone to the Mega Temple to take care of the Pope.” I tucked into breakfast.
“But why…” said a startled Dudley.
“They want us to go back to find Joshaya to keep us out of it. They don’t want us to get hurt if their plan goes wrong.”
I’d been wrong. The suspiciously vigorous sex drive hadn’t been to bamboozle me into a state of confusion where I’d willingly charge into battle, it was far worse than that. It was her farewell as she rode off on some suicide mission she felt was far too important to ignore. And the letter was to trick us into staying out of harm’s way.
True love means never having to say you’re sorry for being a patronising arsehole. The noble sacrifice, it was quite touching. Right in the back of the throat.
She could have just told me what she was going to do, I wouldn’t have tried to go along. Did she know me at all?
“We have to stop them,” said Maurice. “Or help them. Or…”
“No,” I said. “We should let them do it.”
The boys looked dubious. They wanted to rush to the defence of their dearest beloveds. You can’t help retarded people that way. It was quite refreshing, actually. It would be painful if they got killed, but they understood that their stupid actions should be theirs alone to suffer. I was happy for them.
It would either get them killed, or make them understand how dumb they’d been. Of course, they might fluke a win, and then they’d be insufferable, but how likely was that? The important thing was that they didn’t try to drag me into it.
Maurice and Dudley looked sick with worry.
“They have the right to make rash decisions the same as anyone. They want to do this. This is what equality feels like, boys—don’t be a chauvinist. Can you pass the butter?”