The crew of the Eternal Infinite who were here to protect me, ran into the jungle. To be fair, they ran towards the sounds of chaos and devastation, so I’m not suggesting they abandoned me. It was more like they had better things to do.
I never expected things to go smoothly — it’s kind of my default mode to expect the opposite — but it would be nice if occasionally dead things stayed dead.
I know that’s a bit rich coming from me, having died and come back a number of times myself, but come on, what’s a guy got to do to get a little closure around here?
“What do you mean they’re worse?” I said to Damicar, who was wide-eyed with fear. “They already eat people. Do they shoot lasers out of their eyes now?”
Once you identify as cannibal, it was hard to see where you could eek out those extra horror points. Even if they had risen from the dead as walking corpses, that’s where the human-flesh-eating begins with most of your ghoulish types. This lot were way ahead of the curve. They’d have to come up with some pretty interesting new mechanics to top themselves. This was why you shouldn't set your standards too high — nowhere to go.
“Calm down,” I said. “Breathe. They’re still a few minutes away.”
Screams and shouts filled the night sky, but they were back at the village. Yes, I could have rushed over there to perform a daring rescue, hacking and slashing my way through the cannibal undead, but I decided to pace myself. Who knew what other calamity was waiting to pounce?
These things tend to come in threes. Or waves of three.
“The poison… they absorbed it. Now they can use it against us.”
“Use it how?” I asked.
“I’m not sure. Saliva, skin-contact, maybe sexually.”
It’s always nice to get the answer to a question. The sense of satisfaction.
I now faced cannibals with the ability to poison their prey. They didn’t actually need this particular upgrade, but why not? It would get boring if you just had to spam the same attack against the same enemy, over and over. Button-mashing your way to victory isn’t very gratifying.
Of course, in a game, you actually get rewards for defeating harder enemies. In life, you just get more fucked over.
“What’s in the bottle?” I asked Damicar. “Can we take it?”
“No. I don’t think that would be a good idea.” He jumped as something big crashed into the ground not as far away as I would have liked. His eyes darted about, and we both retreated into the shrine. “It has to be processed inside a person first, then extracted, and then ingested. It’s quite fascinating real—”
“It has to be eaten by someone, and then you eat them?” I asked.
“Well, I wouldn’t… I mean you could boil it out of the…”
I looked over at the priestess’ skeleton I’d thrown in the corner. Was that what happened to her? There were all sorts of new questions I had, not least of which was how Damicar knew any of this, but I had a rather more immediate problem to take care of.
It wasn’t like I couldn’t fight off fifty or so cannibals capable of using poison, possibly sexually (I didn’t even want to start thinking about how that would work). It would be hard, and probably tedious, but I was confident I could do it.
I’d already done it once, but I’d made the mistake of trying to be humane. That was what you called it when you committed an atrocity, but didn’t enjoy yourself. I’d have thought the humane thing would be to not do it at all, but apparently not.
Of course, if you did enjoy yourself, then you were insane. And if you added a quip at the end, like, “Eat me, you cannibal bitch,” then you were in an action movie.
I wasn’t insane, and I tried my best to not cause undue suffering in those I mass-murdered. But if they weren’t going to appreciate my sensitive side, I might as well ask Wesley to step in and blow their fucking heads off.
What I didn’t want to do was walk into a situation thinking I had it all under control, and then get side-swiped by an even worse situation. If this lot of cannibals had managed to avoid an excruciating death arranged by me, then what about the ones I’d sent out to sea? I’d assumed the screams I’d heard were caused by the sharks I’d called, but sometimes in life it’s the sharks who do the screaming. Especially in this world.
They could emerge from the surf, riding sharks and wearing seaweed armour.
And what about Richina, the island’s undefeated hide-and-seek champion? She could be waiting to unleash her pent-up fury the moment my guard was down. I’m not saying she would, but once you’ve had a regular girlfriend for a while, you learn to stay alert for unwarranted attacks.
What I would have liked to have done was take a time-out and go over this new information with Damicar. He was a resource I felt I could use to my advantage, given the time.
But even though exiting my body would hit the pause button, it wouldn’t allow me to continue my conversation with Damicar. That would have been pretty useful, but I was getting a bit greedy with my wishlist for upgrades.
I already had power beyond those of any regular person. Professional athletes and fighters would get seriously destroyed against me, which is the sort of thing us poorly-treated males dream of.
Oh, if only I could get bitten by a radioactive spider, I’d show them all.
But now that I had the sort of ability to make my petty dreams come true, I could only see the shortcomings. It wasn’t like a cool power where you could zoom around and punch things in slow motion. I didn’t get a cool weapon that dripped blood. I had a wooden sword that could give you a nasty splinter if you weren’t careful. And a mind-numbing ability to stop time so I could play a Minecraft simulator with goo.
It was powerful, it just wasn’t convenient.
How’s that for a millennial complaint?
I looked around the shrine. It was a solid building, made of large blocks of stone with the one entrance (as far as I knew). It would be fairly easy to defend. Unfortunately, my troops were spread out. Most likely getting more spread out by the minute.
There was something here I wasn’t seeing. The shrine, built by Arthur, was here for a reason. The sword and shield, also. There was a purpose to all this.
The priestess and the cannibals didn’t seem to be part of that purpose. They were something else, something added later.
My brain was telling me to go take care of the cannibals in the quickest, most efficient, most ruthless way possible. This was how it was when you were pushed into a corner. Fuck everyone.
You think, I am so much better than you, and so you must be lower than me. You must be submissive to me. You are not entitled to the same things as me. You have them, but you don’t deserve them. I can take them with impunity.
It makes you feel good. It makes you feel big.
Don’t listen to that voice telling you you’re wrong. That foretells doom and failure. Ignore your inner critic. Be you. Trust in yourself.
I learned long ago to ignore all voices apart from my inner critic. Yeah, he talks a lot of shit about me, but fair play to him, he nails it most of the time. And his views on the rest of the world have generally been on the money.
When we lived in the jungle and swung around on trees (I’m assuming between the apes to human transition there was some kind of Tarzan period) we had to listen to that inner voice. Those who live in the jungle pay attention to everything in their environment, including their hunches of approaching catastrophe.
That intuition is a gift from our ancestors; it's part of the limbic system of the brain that warns of danger. It’s a subconscious part of the brain processing information that deals with threats and works faster than the conscious mind can keep up.
When the jungle goes quiet, it notices. When things get noisy, what’s going on over there?
But people today get easily distracted. Danger from roaming jaguars isn’t as common, so they can afford to ignore the hidden threats. The worst you’ll face is a guy from Greenpeace trying to sign you up for a direct debit. You can knock his clipboard to the ground and run away. He’s probably vegan, so won’t have the stamina to keep up.
Some people get distracted by something else — nice people. Behaviour is easy to fake. Niceness is not goodness. Anybody can be nice. That doesn't mean you're good.
The more I told myself I should get out there, the less I wanted to do it. There was a sense of rising panic inside me. Like when your computer crashes and makes that horrible reeeee sound in your headphones, and the screen goes blue, and then cuts out.
You’re not sure it’s dead, and even if it is, it’s hardly the end of the world, but the implication of what your next few days is going to be like hits you all at once. You resent the future.
It’s not a good feeling.
There was a problem ahead of me — a big one — but there was an even bigger one behind me. That was the feeling crawling up my spine.
It wasn’t a supernatural premonition, nothing mystical. I’m sure if I spent some time thinking about things, the reason for my foreboding would become clear. But millions of years of evolution couldn’t stop my jungle instincts from making me feel like I was about to be jumped on from behind.
Who was this enemy I was detecting? Richina? She wasn’t even in the same plane of existence as me. Wesley? She was definitely holding stuff back, but if she wanted to screw me over she’d already had plenty of chances. Damicar? I still didn’t know how he’d been coerced into voting for being eaten. Maybe he hadn’t been, and he’d done it willingly, although if that was the case it would be the greatest double-bluff ever.
It was extremely frustrating. It was like one of those superhero movies where they keep introducing more and more supervillains. Just give me one bad guy. A good one. No, not the Joker again.
I took a step outside the shrine and looked out into the jungle. I could feel them out there, closing in. I raised two fingers and said, “Fuck all of you!” as loud as I could, and then I exited my body, leaving my fingers up. It seemed fitting.
I retreated inside myself. I could stay here forever and let the world wait. It was a bit of a power move, to force everyone in the universe to do nothing until I was ready. I mean, they had no idea I was doing it, so it was impressing no one, but I knew.
I lay down on what I decided was the floor (my headspace, my rules) and lay there, fuming.
“Are you working on a plan?” asked my smaller and less-important simulacrum.
“No,” I said. “I’m on a break.”
“For how long?” he asked. He wasn’t usually this chatty, but I guess he sensed I wasn’t my regular happy-go-lucky self.
“Indefinitely. I’m sure that should give me enough time to work out why the fuck I’m always surrounded by liars, cheats and cannibals.”
“This is the first time it’s been cannibals.”
“No, it fucking isn’t. There were cannibals in Nekromel, so fuck you.” I don’t know why I was being so hard on myself (compact version), but he was the only person who actually cared enough to ask, so fuck him.
He crouched down next to my head, like he might take a dump next to my ear (would not have surprised me in the slightest). “If you want people to respect you, you’ll probably have to earn it.” Always feels great to be lectured to by a six-year-old.
“No, you’re wrong. Again.” I put my hands behind my head to make it clear I was settling in. “I’m not asking for respect. Fuck respect. I’m looking for some common decency. Not the flashy uptown kind, just common, everyday. You know what kind of person will give you that? Who won’t lie or try to bullshit their way out of their basic responsibilities? A person who respects themselves. Not me. Themselves. And I can’t find any. And it’s pissing me off. So I’m staying here.”
Little me looked past me. I turned to see Wesley sitting in her armchair, saying nothing.
“What? You don’t think she’d been lying to us? Of course she has. I fucking guarantee it. Nobody is honest about anything, except for me. And everyone hates me for it.”
Little me shook his head, his hair flopping over his eyes. “I think you’re going to feel embarrassed about this later.”
“Oh, you think so? I might get a bit red in the face when they put me on their rotisserie barbecue? How will I ever live it down?”
I think it’s good to lose your shit every now and again. Of course, it’s much better when people rush to find out what’s wrong and drop everything to make you feel important and loved. Or so I assume. But even when it’s meaningless, it’s quite invigorating. I could feel everything shaking inside me. Actually, it was shaking a bit more than I’d normally expect.
“You remember what the Elder frog said about magic?” said little me. “About caring about one thing, and not about anything else.”
“Yes,” I said, ready to punch the little shit in the face. No particular reason.
“I think you might finally be there.”
I sat up and looked down at myself. I turned over my hands. I could barely keep them under control. It felt like they were about to explode off my wrists.
This was the source of magic I’d been searching for? There was only one way to find out.
I snapped back into my body. I was standing in the doorway to the shrine, fingers still erect on each hand. The energy inside me was still there. I could barely contain it.
This was it. If ever I was going to become someone of true power, now was the time. The hell with all that poncing about in other dimensions, knitting alien tendrils together like some kind of cosmic crocheting master, this was how I was going to get what I wanted. I would force people to just do what I told them, and then they could just go away and do whatever they wanted. I wouldn’t make them my slaves, but I wouldn’t let them get in my way, either.
The islanders could open the shrine for me for a start, even if they had to dig their way in with shovels.
How would I convince them? Easy. I would use my magical ability to scare the living shit out of them. Starting with fireballs. Lots of giant fireballs. I put my hands closer together and began rolling the flame that was growing between them.