I’m not used to feeling powerful. I’m not even used to feeling refreshed after a good night’s sleep. So having the power of a god flowing into me was quite the novelty. Really got the blood flowing.
It wasn’t really a specific godlike vibe I could put my finger on, more of a general increase in energy. To the point I felt like I should go out and do stuff. Go for a run, maybe. Head down to the gym.
I know, potent stuff.
Pope Joshaya was having trouble turning around and telling me to stop sucking up his life force. I assumed that was what he was trying to say—it was hard to tell with him miming like he was underwater.
“You’ll have to speak more quickly. I can’t understand the words coming out of your mouth.” The slow appearance of a scowl on his face made me smile. It had been a long time since I’d had something to smile about, but it told me something very important. He hadn’t expected this. That could only be a good thing.
It might not turn out in my favour, but whatever he had expected to happen definitely wouldn’t have been. Might was still better than definitely. You have to take the little wins where you can.
He moved towards me, reaching for the vine in my hand. I don’t think he could see it, he just sensed something was there. Something that belonged to him. I stepped back, and the movements repeated as he tried to catch up. We did a little dance, which he didn’t seem to be enjoying. I didn’t really enjoy dancing either, but this particular two-step was actually quite fun.
The lack of any connections to anyone, the true state of untouchability, was very liberating. My movements were much more relaxed and effortless, now. Rather than have to push myself around with flapping arms like an ungainly bird having an epileptic fit, I smoothly changed directions, avoiding the rest of the people in the passage.
My whole body felt different. Open chest, relaxed shoulders, no tension in the side of my neck. I could have taken a yoga class, no problem. I could have led it.
There’s an immense amount of pleasure that comes from being loose in yourself that can only really be appreciated if you’ve spent most of your life coiled into a ball of knotted anxiety. Usually, there’s a great deal of pain that comes along with the unwinding process, but I had skipped that part. I was all twinkle-toed and light-footed.
As I wove my way between the small forest of my friends—yes, I could even feel relaxed about referring to them as friends—it occurred to me that the best thing I could do for them was to disconnect them, too.
They wouldn’t have the same reaction as me, of course, they would more likely just die, but that was a form of freedom in itself. Why cling on with your fingernails when all you were doing was prolonging the inevitable? Let go and be what you were meant to be.
Alarm bells went off in my head. Why was I deciding other people’s future for them?
I have few strongly held beliefs in my life, but one of them is that if you let people make their own fuck-ups, they’ll never let you down.
Why would I give a shit what they chose to do and how they went about it?
This power I was siphoning off, it wasn’t just giving me a rush, it was making feel like I was the all-powerful Oz. Before you knew it, I’d be building my own temple, ordering people about like servants and, if I really committed myself to turning into a know-it-all douche, starting my own podcast. I refused to sink so low.
I let go of the vine I’d been holding and it whipped around like an unmanned water-hose. I immediately felt the power fade. It wasn’t a slow, gradual decrease, it was more or less instantaneous, returning me to the mildly-depressed, tightly wound Dr Jekyll, all hunched up in his labcoat and self-loathing. Welcome home.
Joshaya eased off the low-speed pursuit. He raised a finger and waggled it at me slowly. “You have not… earned it.” His voice was still garbled but I could make out what he was saying. The same thing everyone who has power says. Mine.
There is, of course, an attraction to having other people listen to you, follow your advice, show you respect and admiration. It’s the same thing with religious people and youtubers, which in itself should tell you how worthless it is.
What no one seems to understand is that you are your own message. If someone knocks on my door to tell me happiness and joy can be mine if I follow the same path as them, then they obviously went through the same process they’re now offering me. And this is where they ended up. Why the fuck would I want to be standing on that side of my own door?
Of course, the popular answer to that stance is that the reward will come later, in heaven. A marvellous place, by all accounts. To which I only have one question
“Will you be there?”
If the answer’s “yes” then that’s a deal-breaker right there.
Joshaya’s power meant becoming like Joshaya.
“Go,” said Joshaya, pointing at the portal. His eyes urged me to follow his instructions. I wasn’t so eager.
I glided towards him and he backed away, a startled expression on his face. Scared I might strip him of his powers completely. I wondered if I could.
Was this really the face of a god? He didn’t strike me as an omnipotent being with his shit together. When he thought I was going to steal his power, he’d looked more like an addict who thought he’d lost his stash.
I could take his power just to see what would be left behind. But what would it turn me into?
Joshaya’s powers offered me the chance to become the kind of person shitty people would love to be. No one wants to use power against their own self-interests. That would be crazy. They just think them being able to have the best of everything would be fun for everyone. Because that’s the level of retardedness shitty people like to settle into on cruise control.
The people who insist they’re doing good because you can’t prove they’re not.
The same people who would be offended at my use of the word retarded. Not because I’m insulting them, but because of the implied insult to others. Even though people with learning disabilities aren’t called retarded anymore, just as they aren’t called moron, idiot, dolt or imbecile. All scientific terms at one point. All co-opted as forms of abuse against people who aren’t genuinely intellectually handicapped (the current official term).
Which isn’t to say people shouldn’t be more mindful of their language, but it makes a great deal of difference who you were aiming your words at.
I mention this because it’s often the same people who believe power in their hands would be good for everyone who also insist others only say what passes their personal test of decency.
It’s a cheesy play. Don’t look at what I’m doing over here, look at him over there.
It’s not about whether using retarded is good or bad, it’s about why is this person so invested in making a big deal about it? Are they really such a stickler for fairness and justice? Or is it a misdirection? A trick to hide your own failings.
Like the person who gets all worked up when you call them a son of a bitch, not because they’re an oversensitive drama queen who’s easily triggered. Because you’re insulting their mother. Son of a bitch. So you’re calling my mother a bitch? Twisting people into an offensive position and then screaming about it to hide the switch is a classic douche manoeuvre. Who would know better than me?
Looking at Joshaya now, he didn’t seem at all godly. He seemed like a big fat fake. What was I missing?
Joshaya had stopped trying to get to me now that I wasn’t stealing his mojo anymore. He was still eager for me to pass through the portal, which made me reluctant to hurry.
“I want to ask you something,” I said. “What happened to the guy I came here to see? The Visitor.”
“He died... long ago. Your-kind-don’t-live-long.” His words sped up and slowed down as he spoke. It was hard to follow.
“Not if someone kills us,” I agreed. “Peter and the others managed to survive, though.”
“He was weaker... Weakest of the three. Now go... through the portal and-complete-your-task.” He sounded weary. And also insistent.
He wanted me to go see them. They wanted me to see him. Back and forth. It was all a bit suspect.
“What happens after I release them?” I asked. “Does everything go boom?”
“Leave the use of power to those who know what to do with it,” he screeched at double speed. He wasn’t at all impressed with me, I could tell. I’d had a lot of practice.
“And then you’ll bring me back to life?” Best to make sure we still had a deal. A promise is easily broken when the person making the promise has the hump with you.
“Bring... you back to life?” He seemed baffled by the question. “Why... ?”
We both looked at each other with confused faces. Had he been lying? We weren’t really dead? No, we definitely were, so what was he going on about? He genuinely seemed thrown by what I’d just said. If this was a trick, it was a strange one.
It hit me all at once. The person Maurice had used his power on was Joshaya. He had convinced him we weren’t dead, so we weren’t. He couldn’t bring us back to life, but he had stopped us from passing onto the great beyond, whatever that was ( I strongly hoped it wasn’t an underwater level—I hate all that holding your breath shit).
Maurice’s power was pretty ridiculous, but it had its flaws. It wasn’t foolproof, as I was so clearly demonstrating. If I didn’t do something quick, the cat would be out of the bag.
There was a twinge in my shoulder. I thought it was my usual aches and pains reclaiming their property, but then I saw a vine growing out of my left side. It was stretching out, bobbing and weaving towards Joshaya.
Was this the signal that would stop Maurice’s magic from working? If my new improved untouchable state allowed me to see that, I would be at a huge advantage. Assuming I hadn’t fucked things up already.
The vine was pale and stringy. It moved slowly through the air. Joshaya’s face still showed confusion, not realisation. He hadn’t figured it out yet. Everything I was doing was too fast for him to grasp at the same rate as me, which meant I could still correct my small slip.
I grabbed the vine and pulled it back. It was like trying to hold down wild horses. I tried ripping it out of my shoulder, twisting it away from him, backing away to keep it from reaching him.
I used the wooden sword, slashing across myself. The vine dodged.
It moved out of the way, and then wrapped itself around the blade and up my arm. Having incapacitated the attack, the end kept going.
Magic-related tendrils seemed to be made of sturdier stuff than the purely emotional ones. Tentacle 2.0. I didn’t know exactly what would happen if it got to him, but I had the strong instinct that it would be bad.
I shuffled backwards, but it was a temporary measure. The vine got longer and nearer. Joshaya just stared at me, wondering what the hell I was prancing around for. I did the only thing I could think of, I jumped through the portal.
On one hand it was a bad move because it was what Joshaya wanted me to do. On the other hand, I didn’t have an alternative. The limited-option free choice. Another Douche Classic.
As I passed through the membrane (much more easily this time around) I found myself in the same dark chamber as before. The vine fell limp, no more vital than old ivy withering on a trellis. I had at least fixed that problem. Other problems loomed out of the dark towards me.
The familiar red lights hung in the air, dulled by their smoky cloaks. I brushed the dead vines off the sword and held it up.
“Got it.” I tried to make it sound like I’d gone through great trials to get back here. Did I get any gratitude? Did I fuck.
“Then you must act,” said the Golden God, the largest of the lights. “Free us.” Unlike Joshaya, he was able to speak as clearly as me. This place, whatever it was, didn’t follow the same rules as out there.
“In a minute. First, what happened to the Visitor that came to Gorgoth years ago. You know, the one who could help people with their powers.”
There was an awkward silence.
“I do not know. We have been here too long.”
It sounded like a bullshit answer. “What was his name?”
Another extended silence followed. The good thing about having Joshaya out there and them in here was that they couldn’t confer. It was like cops splitting up witnesses to take their statements. Any lies would show up bright and clear.
“He had many different names. You should go back and ask Joshaya.”
His demands were fairly basic. Either free him or go through the door. Just like Joshaya. No one cared what I did as long as I went through to the other side. Was that the important part? Keep going through the door until what? It broke?
It seemed plausible. An unassailable interdimensional door with a fair use policy. Use it as much as you like, but not too much.
If that was the case, I’d been doing exactly what they wanted. It would explain why neither side cared what I planned to do when I got through. Getting through was the important part.
I could sense the anticipation hovering over me. How many trips would it take? The next one could be the final one.
“Did you know him?” I asked. “What did he look like?”
“He took many forms. He was a great man.” A bit nervous. If he’d had eyes, they would have been shifty.
“And now he’s dead?”
“In all likelihood. How can we know?”
For a god, he was being very modest. Seemed a bit out of character. I wasn’t even sure the man had ever existed—I only had Peter’s word for it. He had sent me here. He had wanted me to visit Gorgoth. And when did he ever suggest something that wasn’t to his own benefit?
“The Visitor, was his name Peter?” It hadn’t occurred to me until just then, but the power he had ascribed to the Visitor in Gorgoth, the ability to help people understand their own potential, was a lot like his own, the power to amplify the abilities of others.
And there had been quite a lot of power-amplification going around, recently.
Was Peter behind this? How was that even possible? I had left him under the control of the two dwarves. It had seemed like a pretty good plan, at the time. They controlled him, and because they were always at odds, they also controlled each other. Balance in the Force, and I hadn’t even needed to take the high ground. Without the third dwarf, they had no real power.
The third dwarf which I had lost.
Which had been taken for apparently no reason.
I felt a bit sick. If Peter had managed to take back control of his body, and had possession of all three dwarves, that meant he potentially had control over the elf. That wasn’t a good thing.
It was all too horrible not to be true. I should have seen it sooner. This was the problem with being untouchable. I only had myself to blame.