I turned my head away from the bared breasts and checked for attacking monsters from behind. Of course, the one time I want to be attacked, nothing.
“You have to look,” insisted Maurice. I looked him in the eyes. “No, not at me. At them.”
“I don’t want to,” I said, and turned my attention to Dudley. He would understand. And he did. He was staring straight up at the ceiling. I joined him.
“They’re just boobs,” said Flossie. “Look, Ah can make them dance.”
I could sense her bouncing up and down in the corner of my eye. It was unbearable.
A lot of you may be thinking I was overreacting. So what if they had their knockers out? Most guys would be loving it. And it wasn’t like the girls were being forced to show them off. Maurice probably had a good reason for wanting me to look at them. He must have had, his own girlfriend was one of the exhibitionists.
That wasn’t the point, though.
Despite the experiences I’d had, despite facing death numerous times and standing my ground against monsters, demons and kings, I was still unable to accept my place among people. I had no place. That’s why I was untouchable. That’s why I was so bloody uncomfortable.
My face was covered in sweat, my breathing had become laboured and I felt dizzy. I’d thought my days of having panic attacks were behind me, but apparently not.
“Look!” said Jenny. I looked. At her. That at least should have been safe. Hers were familiar to me—a couple of old friends. But it wasn’t the same as before. Having people watching me as I looked at her made it just as much of an ordeal. Nowhere was safe.
“You have to trust me,” said Maurice. “I don’t know how much time we have. Just do it.”
I felt supremely awkward. I hated it. I’d spent most of my life looking for ways to avoid feeling this way. I cut myself off from people, kept to myself whenever possible and avoided situations where everyone went along with everyone else. You could feel comfortable in a crowd who were doing what you were doing.
To my credit, if I’d been in pre-war Germany, I’d never have joined the Hitler Youth, no matter how tempting their introductory offer (and I’m quite fond of a nice brown shirt).
Intellectually, I knew I was being an idiot. It was the sort of thing I would have berated one of the others for with no sympathy. Get over yourself and do it! I would have screamed.
“Get over yourself and do it!” screamed Claire.
I looked at her. All of her. She had very teeny titties. It had probably been very hard for her to expose herself to me. I was well aware how self-conscious she was about her body, especially when the other two were standing next to her, providing an easy comparison. But she had still done it. I had no idea why.
The three girls stood in front of me. Breasts. Six of them. No biggie.
My face grew even hotter.
Embarrassment is an odd thing. I assume nature has a good reason to include it in our range of emotions, but fuck knows what that reason is. Perhaps it isn’t nature. Perhaps it’s God. There’s a big deal made about it in the Bible, how Adam and Eve became aware of their own shame in the Garden of Eden.
I’m not saying it’s true, but it’s kind of curious it’s such a key part of the story. Even the stupidest religions tend to be quite perceptive, based on our human needs and wants, and our weaknesses. They strike a chord because they touch on something true. And no matter where your personal pecadilloes place you on the spectrum, everyone feels the difference between seeing a woman in her underwear and seeing her in a bikini.
Then again, maybe being naked and vulnerable when you’re surrounded by a temple full of the undead is just an appropriate time to feel awkward as hell.
“I’m looking, alright? Now what?”
“Good,” said Maurice. “Get him!”
They formed a circle around me and held hands. What was that supposed to achieve?
Then they began closing in.
“If this doesn’t work,” said Maurice, “we’ll all have to get naked.”
The prospect of all five of them going commando while surrounding me was too much. I looked around for an escape route, which Maurice had clearly expected.
“Don’t let him get away.”
There was only one way out, and I took it.
So far I had discovered two ways to leave my body. Using the dwarfstones to allow myself to be possessed, which was of limited use since there were a finite number of stones, and none in my possession. And making myself so engrossed in a single emotion that I lost all sense of my own existence. That one only worked with Jenny, and not very consistently.
And now I’d found a third way. The sheer horror of being embraced by naked people.
A lot of people—let’s face it, a lot of guys—would have been delighted. Even with a couple of males thrown into the mix. Maybe even more so, for that reason.
Modern sexual preferences have leaned heavily to a more porn-based culture in the bedroom. Orgies and gangbangs and running trains on girls while high-fiving each other is seen as a healthy expression of sexaulity. Especially if you record it on your phone to prove you did it, like putting a flag on the moon. Maybe it is the pinnacle of human achievement to have a threeway. I don’t care. I’m not interested.
I have nothing against freaks, I just don’t want to be one, especially if it means being under a pile of people with hard-ons. Call me squeamish, if you want.
That desire to be seen by others. To be part of the collective, to be acknowledged and validated so you can feel you exist and are worthy, is something I’ve never needed. I know I exist. I know you do, too. I’m impressed by neither.
I floated out of my body greatly relieved. It didn’t solve anything, but at least it gave me a moment’s respite. The others were frozen in place around me. I could see the three topless girls, but I didn’t feel overwhelmed by embarrassment as I had a moment ago. It was a lot easier to deal with nudity when I wasn’t being observed like a lab rat.
As I hung in the air, I noticed something odd. The five of them had the usual complement of vines and tentacles growing out of their bodies, connecting them together like the close-knit unit they were, but now they also had vines attaching them to me.
I lowered my altitude to get a better look. Each had one vine forming a connection to me, which meant I now had six separate links instead of just the one to Jenny.
They were of differing sizes, none of them very big, and none that looked like Jenny’s silver thread, but they were firmly attached. I tested.
The thickest by far was Claire’s. It was dark and vaguely slimy, but there was no way to tell what it represented. Resentment and anger? That would explain its impressive girth.
Had my embarrassment and general discomfort made me open to penetration? Had that been Maurice’s plan? If that was how it worked, I had a pretty big flaw in my defences.
On the plus side, if they could form connections, and I got them to reveal the source of that connection, I might be able to figure out what the different types of vines represented. They all looked much the same at the moment, but if you get to know identical twins over time, you learn to tell them apart. You get used to it. You get used to everything, eventually.
As much as I hated having to face my personal issues, even women’s parts would become normal to me. We are designed to become desensitised to whatever we are exposed to. Did it matter if I lost the thrill of seeing a pair of tits? Wouldn’t it happen anyway?
I let myself return to my body. There were things I wanted to ask Maurice. Things I wanted to ask all of them. I drifted into the darkness of my mind, the way station between this world and the real one, and got stuck.
This was my domain, where I could do as I please, theoretically. I felt a strong weight holding me in place.
“What?” I said to the darkness.
“We have company,” said the smaller, more annoying version of me. He was standing beside me, looking down with his hair covering his face. “Tell them to leave.”
I looked around and saw them, Maurice and Dudley, and the three girls, still topless. Little Me was resolutely not looking over there.
“There you are,” said Maurice, flipping through his notes. Only he could have an out of body experience and take his notebook with him. He had no trouble ignoring the tatas to his left.
Dudley was likewise preoccupied with other matters, staring up at the unseeable roof to this place.
“You want to explain what this is all about?” I asked Maurice.
“I figured this would make you susceptible to being infiltrated. You’re quite easy to read.”
“But why? What’s the point of you all being in here?”
“We aren’t dead or alive here, so we don’t need to worry about maintaining the illusion,” said Maurice. “Makes it a good place to have a private chat. Plus, it confirms a few things for me.” He scribbled stuff down. Would it appear in the real notebook when he got back to his body?
“Well, we’re here. What would you like to talk about?”
They all looked at each other like this was as far as they’d planned their little invasion of my sanity.
“You spoke to the old gods, didn’t you?” asked Maurice.
“Yes.” I told them what had happened.
“Don’t you think,” said Maurice, “that it’s a little suspicious how eager the Pope is to let you go see them when he acts all scared of them? And how easily they let you come back without making any demands?”
“Yes, I do. What do you think they’re up to?”
“I don’t know, but I don’t think they’re telling us the truth.” There was a general murmur of agreement on this point. “They must be after you, since you’re the most powerful of us.”
“How do you figure that?” I said. “You’re stopping us from dying, just by willing it. Your power is way more OP than mine.”
“I don’t think so. I’m not the one keeping you alive. She is.” He pointed at Jenny without looking in her direction. He was having as much trouble dealing with the excess of nipples as I was.
“It’s your power,” said Jenny. “I’m just… redirecting it. I think.”
Maurice shook his head. “I wish. Even if it could keep us alive, there’s no way it would be able to survive the kind of constant contradictions we’ve faced. You weren’t even around for most of it. No, something else is augmenting it. We’ve been messed with from the start.”
“What do you suggest we do?” I asked him.
“I think Joshaya went out of his way to keep you off-balance. It makes sense, you’re the hardest one to control, being nearly untouchable. But you’ve never really explored your ability properly because you’ve never been completely separate. From the beginning, you’ve always had the connection to Jenny.”
“What are you saying? To really understand what I’m capable of, I have to cut off my connection to her?”
“Wait,” said Jenny. “You didn’t say anything about this.”
Maurice shrugged. “I mean, what is a god? He’s just a very powerful being. So is Colin, potentially.”
“He has the potential to be a god?” asked Claire.
“Let’s not get carried away,” I said. “I have the potential to be a werewolf if I get bitten by Lon Chaney, doesn’t mean it’s going to happen.”
“You don’t have the need to be the centre of attention,” said Maurice. “Which means they can’t just integrate you into their system, so they see you as a threat. That’s my guess, anyway. Whatever it is they fear you could do, we need to find out what it is, and then do it. I don’t think they’re going to keep us around once you free them.”
I didn’t disagree with any of what he was saying, but Jenny was the only real connection I had, to anything. Without it, I might just float away.
Jenny looked annoyed. “Why don’t we free them and let them fight it out amongst themselves?”
“We’re still dead, remember,” said Maurice. “They won’t help us if they don’t have to. Maybe they can’t. We only have Joshaya’s word that it’s possible. They want to control him. But they can’t because he’s chaotic good.”
“Will you stop calling me that?”
“What does chaotic good mean?” asked Flossie.
“It doesn’t mean anything,” I said.
“Like Robin Hood,” said Maurice.
“No,” I said. “Like Robin Hood if he robbed the rich and used the money to buy the poor things they didn’t need, like bath salts.”
“Bath salts would be chaotic neutral,” said Maurice.
“Depends on how nicely wrapped they are. If you could regift them, that would be beneficial.”
“Hey, nerds,” said Claire, “focus.” She crossed her arms, which, on any other girl, would have emphasised her breasts. Not in this case.
I looked away. Jenny was glaring at me. I turned the other way and Flossie was practically rubbing her tits in my face from six-feet away. If I was going to become desensitised to boobs, I wished it would hurry up.