Maurice and Dudley were not happy boys. Not very surprisingly, they wanted to run after the girls and rescue them from whatever fate had in store for them. Overcome impossible odds, live happily ever after. You know, the hero thingy.
I think everyone agrees this is the way things should be, including most girls. Sure, there’s some lip service paid to the idea that if the positions were reversed the girls would do the same… if it wasn’t for society holding them back. But would they?
But would they, though?
It didn’t matter. Jenny, Claire and Flossie had made a choice. For some reason, they wanted to do this (whatever ‘this’ was) on their own. Maybe to prove a point. Maybe to protect us. Maybe because they had suddenly hit that time in their lives when acting retarded seemed like the right thing to do.
Whatever the reason, they knew the other two would at least join in if asked. So why hadn’t they asked them?
“You really aren’t going to do anything?” asked Maurice. “We’re supposed to let them go off on this quest and wait here until they come back, like good little wives?”
“It’s not a quest,” I said, “and we weren’t invited. They don’t want us there. They want us as far away as possible.” I waved the note they’d left behind in an attempt to send us on a wild goose chase.
“But what do they think they’re doing?” Maurice was getting very frustrated, not even bothering to push his glasses back up his nose as they slipped closer and closer to the end.
“I don’t know.” I took another bite of the muffin-style pastry that definitely wasn’t a muffin. Too crunchy. “You’re the one who’s been taking notes. This is test day.”
“Do you, ah, think perhaps this has something to do with Joshaya?” said a glum Dudley. They really were a miserable pair without their partners.
“I think it almost certainly has something to do with Joshaya,” I said. “Whatever happened back there, they didn’t tell us the full story.”
“They must have thought it’d be too dangerous,” said Maurice. Dudley nodded his agreement.
“Or maybe they aren’t really our girls,” I said. “They could have been swapped out for shape-shifters. Or their minds are being controlled. Or they got bored and they’re out on the prowl.”
“No!” said Dudley. “I would know if it wasn’t really Flossie.”
“Same,” said Maurice. “I know it’s Claire. The real one. I know what she tastes like.”
I so didn’t want to know what that meant.
“Look, there’s a million possible reasons why they ran off like that, and we can’t just choose one and hope we’re right. Even if we track them down, blundering into the middle of whatever they’ve got themselves mixed up in could make things worse.”
“What are we supposed to do?” said Maurice, standing up and banging his fist on a mango-shaped fruit (not a mango). It shot across the table.
“What do you want to do?” I asked him. “Tell them they can’t make decisions that don’t include us, and then drag them home by their hair.” Now that I said it out loud, it didn’t sound that unreasonable.
Arthur appeared, in his dressing gown as usual. “You’re still here, then?”
I was pretty sure he knew we’d be here. He was the one who put out the food, for a start.
“Yes,” I said, “we’re still here. Did you see the girls leave this morning?”
“They’ve gone?” He sounded surprised, but for all we knew he had them locked up in his basement and the whole thing was an elaborate ruse. “Where?”
“To see the Pope, I think.” I finished eating and wiped my mouth with a sleeve. I had the whole Middle Ages table etiquette down to a tee.
“Why do they want to see him?”
“We don’t know,” said Maurice.
“Where are they now?” asked Arthur.
“We don’t know that, either,” said Maurice.
Arthur turned to Dudley. “Why don’t you look?”
“Me?” said Dudley. “I can do that?”
“Sit down. Now close your eyes. What can you see?”
Dudley sat there with his eyes closed, his nose twitching a bit. “I can see the room. I can see you and Maurice and Colin.”
“Good. Now lift your vision. Up. Out of the room.”
Over the next few minutes, Dudley changed his point of view from the chair he was in to somewhere near the ceiling. It was a slow, step-by-step process, but if he could master it, he’d be able to spy on anyone and watch them without them knowing.
Currently, he couldn’t get out of the room, but it was obvious how powerful an ability it could be. One day.
Maurice sat at the far end of the table with his notebook out. He had taken my advice to heart and was scouring the pages for some clue as to what the girls were up to.
My guess was that both of them would take some time getting results, if ever. I decided my own time would be better spent working on my own ‘gift’.
I went out in the garden and sat on the lawn. The dragons had done quite a good job of trimming the hedges and pruning the bushes. If the girls had gone to the Mega Temple to visit the Pope to get their brain, heart and courage, they must have sent the dragons off to hide somewhere (probably the ravine where we’d left them when we came to the city).
Clearly, they had put a lot of thought into how to fool us into not following them. Their plan, whatever it was, hadn’t been thought up on the spur of the moment. This was them coming up with an idea and following it through. Together. Without us.
I can’t deny I was curious about what they were doing, but at the same time, you don’t help people by doing things for them. Not even if they’re children. Or women.
Would I rather they hadn’t gone off on their little adventure? Of course. It was hugely inconvenient. I had a knot in my stomach telling me something horrible was going to happen. Mind you, I always had that, but it was more noticeable today.
I sat there, the grass pricking me through my clothes, somehow. It was still quite early, but the sun was very warm. A pleasant day to ponder what it would be like to not have a girlfriend anymore.
The Pope was a charismatic figure, the kind girls go for. Strong features, good teeth, nice hair. All the things women look for in a pony, and we all know how much women like ponies.
I might never see her again. It wasn’t just the sex I would miss, it was other things, probably.
For all my posturing and declarations, it’s hard to sit back and allow someone to make their own choices when their life is an integral part of yours. I understood why men threw caution to the wind and risked everything for someone they love. I wouldn’t do it myself, but I understood.
But you have to focus on the things within your control. Yourself. I tried to concentrate on my own abilities. If I could master them, then I would be able to do much more than simply insist she not do what she wanted because it made me feel uncomfortable. I could offer her an alternative. A way to get what she wanted by going through me, rather than around me.
Instead of focusing on training myself, though, I ended up fantasising about saving her. Coming to the rescue like a true hero. Just because I mock the idea, doesn’t mean it isn’t appealing.
She would be at the mercy of the demonic Pope, and I would swing in on a chandelier to a cool orchestral score, and carry her out of harm’s way. And she would be so grateful she’d sleep with me.
It was dumb. I didn’t need to save her from a monster to get her to sleep with me. A polite request was all it took. When she was here, of course.
My training didn’t get very far. She was uppermost in my mind. It felt like she was there with me. I felt a tug in my chest. I looked down and saw a line attached to me, silver and shining. I put my hand out, but it drifted away from me.
I realised it was me doing the drifting away. I was floating over my own body. I looked around and saw the world had changed. The garden was full of vines, more overgrown than ever. Everything around me was still, even the air.
I had managed to transfer to the adjacent world. I wasn’t sure how. Thinking about Jenny? Mourning the end of my sex life? It would take some experimentation to nail down the exact reason, but I felt I had made significant progress.
Those things could wait, though. I looked down at myself, at the silver thread that was the only thing attached to me. It went from my chest into the grass. Jenny was either below ground level in a building, or buried in the garden.
Floating, moving like a swimmer, I forced myself towards the gleaming strand. I touched it and my hands tingled. I pulled and the thread bit into my skin. I ignored the pain, even though I no longer had the ability to heal myself. It seemed more important to find out what was on the other end of the line.
The silver line came out of the earth without leaving a mark, and then more and more came ripping up like a loose thread unravelling from a cardigan. As it stretched out in front of me, I was thrown forward. Still holding on, white sparks flew from my hands as I shot through the unmoving air.
My insubstantial form passed through walls and trees as I gradually built up more and more speed. There was also a weird moaning sound, which I realised was coming from me.
My guide rope led me into the heart of Gorgoth. It was not the same city I had seen when we first arrived. It was an alien landscape swarming with tentacles out of an incomprehensible hentai (so any hentai) growing everywhere, in all sizes, from trunks of huge trees to wriggling worms.
The people, frozen in place, were barely visible under their connections to the world and each other. It wasn’t surprising they couldn’t move under all that.
The thread could have easily slammed me into a mass of writhing ophidian limbs, but its glistening single strand weaved a path through them, me still clinging on, all the way to the doors of the Mega Temple. They formed a large arched mouth in the skull-shaped temple.
The doors posed no barrier to me. I passed through into a large hall with many passages leading from it.
Finding Jenny in here would have been a nightmare, but I was riding the bullet express, last stop: the girl you’re looking for.
There was no turning back now (even if I knew how). I zoomed past people dressed in white robes with unnatural appendages growing out of their bodies, although fewer than those I’d seen outside.
My zipline was still rising out of the ground ahead of me, but then it took me down a staircase and I was on the same level as Jenny. I began to slow.
Torches lit the hallway, then candles. Not the rose-scented candles of an indulgent bath, more like the hard wax monoliths of a black mass.
There were doors at the far end. I had the feeling this was my destination. She would be in there. The knot in my stomach was growing.
I had almost stopped moving and let go of the thread that had brought me here. My hands were hot and red, but not hurt. I swam towards the door, and then through it.
The Pope stood at the far end of a large room, on a small platform, arms raised in exultation, his face stuck in a moment of delight. Candles with unmoving flames filled alcoves in the walls.
The rest of the room was full of his followers, on their knees, bowing down. Tentacles extended from them to the Pope. Not to each other, though, only to him.
And in the middle of all this, were three figures in simple white robes. Jenny was in the middle, Claire and Flossie on either side, each holding one of Jenny’s hands. There were numerous connections between the three of them. Thick ones. But no connection from them to the Pope. Interesting.
I floated around to get a better look at the girls. They had serious looks on their faces, mixed with fear. They were scared, but determined.
It was only when I was facing this way that I saw the faces of the Pope’s followers. Even though they were on the floor in full genuflection, many had their heads raised to keep their eyes on their glorious leader. And what eyes they were.
Dull, lifeless, glassy. Their faces, from what I could see, were also in need of attention from good-quality skincare products. Not that moisturising would help at this point. They were all dead. Not rotting, nothing falling off, just dead.
I remembered Jenny asking me what I would do if she became one of the undead. Perhaps not quite as hypothetical a question as I’d thought.
Every guy knows that strange feeling when your girl tells you she’s going out to party without you. Girls’ night out. It brings up awkward questions. Will they get stupid drunk? Will they get off with some bloke in a club? Will they sell their soul to become a member of the living dead? Like most successful relationships, it comes down to a matter of love, trust and necromancy.