I was shaking hard. If I’d been able to reach my penis with my hand, I could have died as I’d lived, a useless wanker.
It would be no great loss. I’d never been that enamoured with the whole clinging to life thing, but I was a bit put out that after finally gaining my independence from the ingrates holding me back all this time, finally giving me the chance to try this whole life in a fantasy setting my way, now would be the time I inadvertently fall foul of the local fauna.
Fishing was nothing new for me. I’d caught dozens, if not hundreds of them. Not once had they ever tried to take me down. Sure, I could understand their desire not to get eaten, but there’d never been any sign that they could actually fight back. If they had, I would have left them alone.
But as soon as everyone pisses off and gives me my space, it’s attack of the killer fish. If I was the paranoid, conspiracy theory type, I might suspect someone was fucking with me.
At least I would die somewhere out of the way where no one would find my body for a long time. I’d be fine with getting eaten by wild animals. Fucking fish would probably crawl out of the water and claim me.
Wesley seemed to be trying to say something to me, but I couldn’t make it out over my brain melting and my sobs. Of course, the correct way to die would be to grit your teeth and expire as silently as possible. Maybe a grunt at the end to give my demise a little punctuation.
I had decided on a more non-traditional approach to the hero’s death trope. It hurt quite a lot, and I found bawling like a baby actually helped make me feel better.
Some people might say, you’re going to die anyway, at least go out with dignity. Better to die on your feet than live on your knees. To those people I’d say, stop trying to dictate what others should do and buy yourself some knee pads, they’re very affordable. Oh, and while you’re down there, blow me.
I’d take a twenty percent reduction in pain over impressing the local desert rodents with my stoicism any day of the week.
I really did not want to die like this, though. Who knew I would turn out to be such an advocate for hanging on? And I even had magic that could cure me, I just couldn’t access it.
The frog elder had tried to teach me the ability to activate my magic without needing to use my hands, but I had never got it to work. Not intentionally, any way. Now I was in a situation where my body wasn’t responding to me, and a hands-free option would have been ideal. Typical.
It didn’t help that someone was screaming in my ear. That someone being the fish who had murdered me. When the spasms moved my head to the left, I could see the fish I’d pulled out of the water lying next to me, looking fucking delighted. I think it may have been screaming with laughter.
It had its mouth open, full of tiny sharp teeth. At least it hadn’t bitten me. It continued to empty its lungs into my earhole.
Do fish have lungs? Not in our world, but here, who knew? Lungs, poison spit, a bicycle…
If I couldn’t save myself, then there really wasn’t any point to me being here. I mean, there wasn’t any point regardless, but my dying would be a strong indication that it was time to leave.
Pack it up, move it out.
The fish screamed louder. I screamed back. We were both shaking like mad, trying to out-spaz each other. I don’t want to boast, but I feel I was ahead on points.
It occurred to me that this fish wasn’t dying like fish tended to. It was more active. It was more like me, and I was only behaving this way because I’d been poisoned. The fish was even pulling faces and rolling its eyes, like it was in agony.
The fish was out of its natural element, and about to die of asphyxiation, but that was true for all the fish I’d caught in my time here. None of them had behaved like this one.
The fish began moving. I mean it was crawling, back towards the water. Not an entirely inexplicable thing for it to try. I wasn’t having it. I might not have been able get to my feet, but I wasn’t going to let this bastard escape.
I gave up on trying to save myself, it all became about stopping the fish. I managed to roll towards the water, getting ahead of the fish. Then I kept rolling, faster and faster, until I fell in the lake.
Completely intentional, I told myself. Drowning is preferable to a slow, painful death from fish poison. I had no idea if that was true, but I would soon find out.
The pain went away. Just petered out. I pushed myself to my feet and breathed in large lungfuls of air. I wasn’t shaking anymore. Cured by water! Or something. If the poison had been neutralised by water, I couldn’t see it being a very effective deterrent for the fish.
I splashed my way to the bank and crawled out. I felt fine, but healed myself anyway, just in case.
“Are you okay?” asked Wesley.
“Good. That was close.” Not really what you want to hear when your opponent was a weaponised halibut.
The fish was still there, eyeing the water which was only a few metres away, and then looking at me forlornly.
The fish had only been doing what nature had told it. It was nothing personal. That’s just how life is. It didn’t deserve my ire.
Do you think I threw the fish back? Of course I didn’t. Nobody crosses me and gets away with it, especially if they’re a lot smaller than me. I found my stick and beat the fish to death.
I was soaked and shivering. It was a warm day in the desert, so I would dry out eventually, but I built a fire to speed things along. Plus I was hungry, and fish was on the menu.
What about the poison? Well, it was a risk, certainly, but there are ways of preparing poisonous fish to make them edible. Unfortunately, I had no idea what those methods were, so I went with chargrilling the fuck out of my defeated enemy.
Yes, it was a bit stupid, but it was something I had to do. Show my foe it had no power over me. I’ll admit I was pretty shaken and wasn’t thinking very rationally.
The flavour was horrible, although that might have been my own bile I was tasting. I didn’t die. I took that as a sign that stupid was a viable approach in this world. Like I needed confirmation.
There was still fishing to be done, so I began calling fish in earnest. I don’t know if rage fishing is a thing, but I quickly became a big name in the sport. In twenty minutes I’d dragged a dozen fish out of the water, being careful to avoid any spouts of deadly toxins. None of the fish attacked me. They’d learned their lesson.
“You seem upset,” said Wesley, who hadn’t said much to me. “Would you like to talk?”
“Nope,” I said, yanking out a red fish as long as my arm.
“You’re grieving for the friends you lost. It might help to open up.”
“It wasn’t much of a loss,” I said.
“But it was everything you had.”
That one hit hard. She was right. It might not have been very much, but it was the sum total of my connection to humanity.
“It doesn’t matter. I’m untouchable.”
“Untouchable doesn’t mean you can’t feel anything. You have feelings. It just means you have no one to share them with.”
“Good. What’s the point of sharing feelings that make you feel terrible? Why burden someone else with that?”
“Because it helps. Because people who care about you want you to be happy, even if it means taking a little of the pain on themselves.”
“Not the people I know.” I was being a bit of a dick, but I felt I’d earned the right. I was the one who had been turned out and left for dead. No one gave a shit what I did, so it wasn’t really necessary for me to be my usual considerate self. I should at least be able to get an invitation to my own pity party.
“You’re going to leave no fish in the lake.”
Next she’d be complaining about reduced fish stocks in an Icelandic accent.
“The fish will be fine. Everyone will be fine. I just need to take care of me. Don’t worry, I’m used to it.”
A small deer appeared on the other side of the water. It was small and delicate. Probably would taste nicer than fish. But I wouldn’t have killed it, even if I had a weapon. It was just a baby. My lack of killer instinct would probably get me killed one day. The deer took a sip of water.
A fish jumped out of the lake, arching its body as it shot out a jet of liquid that hit the deer. It froze, then toppled forward into the water. As soon as it hit the water, it came back to life, struggling to get out. The water around it churned, thrashing wildly, as the deer was stripped of its flesh in seconds.
I didn’t feel like doing any more fishing after that.
I found a branch, stripped it down to a pole using my dagger, my one piece of equipment, and attached the fish to it. I hoisted the pole onto my shoulder, and set off back to the city.
No more messing about. Sell the fish, buy a boat ticket, get to Arthur’s shrine and kit myself out in BiS gear. If I wanted to survive on my own, I couldn’t afford to piss about. All the movies, books and video games about worlds like this one had given me a clear idea of what to expect here, and how to handle it. And it had paid off. I was still alive. My party was still alive, somewhere, thanks to me. I had what it took, I just needed to realign my focus.
And I had access to someone who knew this world back to front. Everything I wanted to know, I could ask her. I didn’t need Maurice and his stupid fucking notebook.
“Why are we here?” I asked her, to get the ball rolling.
“I have no idea.”
“Where do we get our abilities from?”
“I wish I knew.”
“How did Peter control the spires?”
“He was always too secretive to tell us.”
I didn’t need her help. I could do just as well flying by instinct.
“The city’s in the other direction.”
“Leave me alone.”
Sell the fish, get on a boat, don’t look back. It was a good plan. It was my only plan, but it involved getting as far away as possible from everybody, so it was a great plan.
Next chapter available on Patreon now.
Please vote on TWF, hit the green box below.Afterword from Mooderino