It wasn’t like Claire suddenly transforming was a bad thing. When the Fire Nation attacks, you want someone to change into their Avatar state. She was more Korra than Aang, but who knew what she was capable of now?
I suddenly felt a sense of loss at not having Maurice around to swap pop culture analogies with. It’s all very well having people standing beside you in times of trouble, but it leaves an unsatisfactory feeling when they don’t understand your references.
We had a giant Elf with a handful of twats coming at us, so Claire going blue-eyes white dragon was a good thing, even if she had no idea what a blue-eyes white dragon was. Whatever had been behind the wall in the crypt, it had presumably exited via Claire and taken up residence.
Normally, that would be cause for concern. How often has the thing bricked up inside a church been a chill dude who got trapped by accident? No, it was always some abused child whose vengeful spirit was now going to wreak havoc on the ones kind enough to release it.
In this case, however, whatever had got into Claire seemed more interested in the Elf. If the two of them wanted to get into some kind of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers battle over the city, I would be glad to grab some popcorn and watch from the sidelines.
God, I really was missing Maurice. Who else was there to argue over what language ‘morphin’ was from?
“Who are you?” said Jenny to Claire, or the ‘Arsehole Formally Known as Claire,’ to give her a more appropriate title.
Claire, who had drifted up a couple of feet and was hovering with a slight drift back and forth, turned her head and looked down at us with fluorescent eyes. “I AM TRUE.”
I waited for a fuller explanation, perhaps a surname, but that seemed to be the end of the sentence.
“The One True God?” asked Jenny.
“TRUE,” Claire corrected her.
Using a regular word as your name is annoying. It’s not cool to call your child Table just because no one else thought of it. They have, they just weren’t stupid enough to actually do it.
“I AM TRUE.” It was beginning to seem like the newest member of the team was mildly retarded. Which isn’t so bad. The Hulk is, too, and he has his uses.
“Where is Claire?” said Jenny. “Can I talk to her?”
The wind was really blustering at this point. Hair was flying around and voices were hard to make out. Well, most voices.
“I AM TRUE. STAY OUT OF MY PATH.”
Straight answer to a straight question. Not the question that had been asked, but you couldn’t fault it for clarity. Not a team player, I was guessing.
There were a lot more questions we could have asked, the main one being, “Who the fuck are you?”, but I expected they would get the same sort of response.
Which was fine by me.
Jenny wasn’t as thrilled about what had happened to Claire. She was concerned for her friend, which was understandable. I, on the other hand, was more concerned about what would happen once the Elf and True got into it. I mean, what would happen to us lowly mortals down here on the ground. There were no buildings around us apart from the church, but the ground could crack open and swallow us, or stray lightning bolts might zap us into oblivion.
I didn’t know what form the battle would take, but it was likely to be destructive. The best place to be when observing a major title fight, I find, is not in the ring, so getting out of there was high on my to-do list, but I was trying to get as much information in terms of people’s intentions, first.
What did the Elf want? Destroy the city? Defend it against Mothra? Get down on bended knee and ask me to help defeat Peter? You can’t just assume you know what’s going on because it seems obvious to you. I couldn’t see Peter up there. Was he even here?
And what was True’s objective? Fight the Elf? Join forces with it? Free the old gods?
There was a lot to work out, and no one to provide answers. The question, though, was how far was I going to let this go? If I waited until they made their intentions clear, it could be too late.
The one thing above all others to take into account were the people arriving with the Elf. If Gideon and the Gidiots were involved, how much proof of intention did I need?
Claire was floating higher. The Elf was almost at the city walls. The druids were on their knees cowering. Time to make my move.
I slid out of myself and floated over my body. Everything stopped.
It’s hard not to feel exultant when you can do something so wide-reaching. It’s an amazing feeling to be able to hit the pause button on the entire world. And no, it isn’t the same as save scumming. I wasn’t rewinding everything to have another go, I was just taking a break to stretch my fingers. Perfectly legitimate.
I have to admit, it was great having a supernatural power, even one as convoluted as mine. I could see why Maurice was so determined to hang onto his, even if it meant selling his soul. I mean, who wants to be an average pleb when they don’t have to be?
First things first, I needed to check who else was active here in my personal playground. The Elf was capable of moving in here, I knew that, but how was that affected by whatever Peter had done? And Joshaya was also able to do things, although at a much slower speed than normal. I hadn’t seen him, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t around. And if Claire’s guest was also a god of some kind, she might also be partially active.
The good thing was that I had the time to look into all these possibilities, unmolested. But first, I couldn’t help but take a quick look at Jenny.
Not in a sleazy way — well, no more than male hormones dictated — but just to check to see if anything had regrown between us. I had severed our connection, but that didn’t mean it couldn’t return, if she wanted it to.
There was no sign of any silvery thread. The side of Jenny’s face I could see, the burnt half, stared ahead, ignoring me. Part of me had perhaps hoped her indifference towards me had been an act. She was hiding her true feelings for some reason or other. Apparently not.
You would think with the connection cut, I would also have lost interest in her, but it didn’t seem to work like that. I wasn’t hysterical with grief, or anything, but I did experience a sense of loss. Which may well have also been due to male hormones. Change what you can, accept what you can’t, which basically means your state of mind is in your own hands. So, more jerking off — message received and understood.
I let the matter drop, like I had any other choice, and drifted up to where Claire was waiting. She hadn’t moved since I used my ability, so maybe she wasn’t the same as Joshaya. Or maybe she hadn’t figured it out, yet.
Her body was completely motionless, her glowing eyes staring past me. There was no indication that she was cognisant of what was happening.
“Hello? Yo, Claire, can you hear me? True? Anyone?” There was no response.
I decided to come back to this one later, and floated upwards.
The Elf had stopped moving, even though I knew from last time she was capable of interacting freely with this place. As I drifted upwards to check her out, I passed her upturned hand.
Standing on it were four Gidiots in full armour. Gideon himself, with feet set wide apart in a stance that said I am strong, I am smart, I am special. It’s hard to encapsulate all that through body language, but somehow he did it while also throwing in I am a massive knob at the same time. He had changed his facial hair again, upgrading his handlebar moustache to a full-on Hezbollah beard. You wouldn’t think the preferred stylings of devout Muslims and Hassidic Jews would become fashionable, but he seemed to pull it off somehow. Can you hate someone for being photogenic?
Beside him were the Asian guy with half his head shaved, the white guy with dreads, and the tall chick who could tell if you were lying. I had no recollection of any of their names. I did notice one girl who wasn’t there. Roona, who had been sent by Peter to assassinate Cheng in Monsterland, and who we had left there when everything went to shit. Presumably she didn’t make it back. They probably blamed me for that.
But, they had got themselves a replacement. Maurice stood next to them, notebook out. He looked more or less the same, although he had put on armour similar to theirs, all silver and gold. Did they go around with a spare, or had they expected him to join them? If it had been planned in advance, there was probably more to his defection than he’d told us.
Peter was not there, but it wasn’t too hard to figure out where he was.
There were vines growing out of them, connecting them to each other, including Maurice, and also ones stretching out behind them, disappearing into the distance. I couldn’t tell what those ones were for, but I could guess. They were near enough identical. From the same person.
I took that to mean Peter. He wasn’t here, but I could follow the vines to find him. He was probably in Fengarad. Why come all this way if you didn’t need to? Made sense. But it would be a long journey and what exactly would I do when I got there?
I could cut the vines off right here and leave them without his influence, or his power boost. Unless it didn’t work like that. Even if it didn’t, it was bound to make them weaker. I didn’t actually know what the Gidiots could do apart from the girl. Presumably he wouldn’t have sent them if they didn’t have some kind of ability.
It also seemed likely that Maurice would have warned them what I could do and taken steps to prevent it. Personally, I couldn’t think of an effective way to counter my ability, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t. One of them might have a power that made it possible, and trying to disconnect them from their benevolent master would be the obvious point at which to set a trap.
I was wary, but still felt it was worth trying. At some point. The beauty of my gift was that time was the one thing I had plenty of.
The Elf was the much more pressing problem, I felt. If Peter now had all three dwarves, as I was sure he had, then they could control the Elf. Would they do what Peter wanted, or could I reason with them? Or was the threat of using the dwarves enough to keep the Elf in line?
There had been no movement from her so far, she was as still as the everyone else. I felt strangely alone. I usually didn’t mind the feeling — often preferring it to the alternative — but in this case, I knew there were plenty of people capable of being here with me who weren’t. By choice?
I got level with the Elf’s large cloud-filled eyes, and reached out my hand to touch the surface.
“Hey, Hernande. What’s up?”
No response. The Elf had been able to talk to me before. This time there was nothing.
“YOU! WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?”
The booming voice behind me made my shoulders jump. I turned to find Claire glaring at me. It might not have been her, exactly, but it was the same scowl.
“Can you turn down the volume a bit?” I asked politely. “You nearly made me shit myself.”
Claire’s face exerted control over itself with some effort, and the mouth moved less emphatically. “I demand you return me to my world.”
“That’s better.” It was still at an unnecessarily high volume, but it was no longer deafening. At least we could have a reasonably civil conversation, now. “About these demands of yours, I suggest you go fuck yourself.”
True didn’t look very happy with me. She had Claire’s face, so there was great synergy there.
“I WILL DESTROY—”
There was a pause. A long one. I was fine with waiting for my answer. I had used the NHS back home, I could wait forever (and usually had to).
“WHAT…” she began at full volume, and then thought better of it. “...what do you want?”
“I want to know who you are, for a start.”
“I AM… I am the heart that beats. The centre that holds.”
Honestly, why do people think it sounds cool to be mysterious and enigmatic. “Yes, yes, that sounds very impressive. Are you one of the old gods? Like Joshaya?”
The glowing eyes narrowed. “Joshaya… Where is that one?”
I shrugged. “Dunno. He ran off just before you turned up. Problem?”
“No. No problem.”
Sounded like a problem to me. For Joshaya. I was feeling quite good about this new arrival. She seemed to have her priorities in the right place.
“Release me from this place so that I can deal with THIS.” She pointed at the Elf.
“She’s being controlled by Peter. You know him?”
“I know him. He will pay for his deeds.”
I was liking her more and more. “You can defeat her?”
A look of contempt crossed Claire’s face. “Even without my limbs, I am more than a match for THIS.”
She looked like she had all her limbs, but I was looking at Claire. Maybe she meant the other gods. If they were separate parts of a whole, they might attach to her like a Power Rangers Megazord. Unlikely, but I could dream.
“So, you don’t like Peter and you plan on beating the Elf, right?” Just wanted to make sure I had my facts straight.
“YES.” It was a resounding yes.
“Will there be earthquakes and explosions?”
“No, of course not.”
“How long will it take? Roughly.”
She seemed very confident. “Okay, sounds good.” I floated down to the Elf’s hand and slashed wildly at all the vines I could. By the time I had finished, they were all shorn to of most of their connections, to each other and everything else. I had been ready for some kind of counterattack, but it was worth the risk, especially with True watching and able to intervene. She needed me to get out of here. Nothing happened, though.
“I’ll leave you to it then.” I floated back down to my body. I had more questions, but I could ask them later. And I could also call another timeout if necessary. But if I could get rid of this immediate threat quickly and, more importantly, without my personal involvement, I was all for it.
Even if the new god was as bad as the old (and when was the new god not?), I at least knew I could trap her here.
I re-entered my body, curious to see how this would play out.
“What happened?” asked Jenny as things started moving again.
“Everything’s sorted. No worries.” I winked at her, and immediately felt like a twat. I’m not a natural winker. “Claire’s got this.” I pointed up at the small figure floating in front of the Elf’s face.
There was a flash of light and then Claire wasn’t there anymore. I looked around and then saw her, standing next to Maurice. The Elf kept moving towards us like nothing had happened.
“What’s Claire doing?” I asked Dudley.
He squinted. “Erm. Smiling. So is Maurice.”
“Oh,” said Flossie. “Are they back together again?”
Not the result I’d been hoping for.