There was loud frantic splashing from behind. Damicar came pounding through the surf to catch me. Complaints and grievances, most likely, so I tried to get to the boat as swiftly as possible but it’s hard to wade quickly. Damicar’s meaty paw landed on my shoulder.
“Victor, please, let me accompany you.” He leaned towards me. “The princess terrifies me. I fear she will do terrible things in your absence.”
Say what you like about the boy, he was an excellent judge of character.
“I’ll be back in a bit, probably. Don’t worry about her, she’s all talk. I mean, she’s also a lunatic with a sword, but, you know, duck and weave.” I gave him an encouraging pat on the shoulder, because that’s what I’d seen coaches in sports movies do.
Damicar didn’t look reassured. “My knees go funny when she looks at me.” It was the sort of reaction a young guy in the first confusing flush of love might have, but it was also what someone standing in front of the tiger’s enclosure who notices the cage door’s unlocked experiences. Strange how alike those emotions can be.
“She has that effect on everyone, she won’t actually do anything.” Not really sure that was the best way to calm his nerves, but a false sense of security is not necessarily a bad thing. If something terrible is going to happen, no need to sit there also feeling terrible about it while you wait. “Listen, if things do go wrong, get to Captain Somya.”
“To mount a rescue?”
It was sweet how committed Damicar was to the heroic lifestyle. I’d have to knock it out of him. “No, he won’t be able to do much for me. Tell him to get his men somewhere safe and get off the island when he can. The Golden God will protect you.”
Noble sacrifice on my part? Leave me, save yourselves. Yeah, that’s me all over. My reason for not wanting Sail Team 6 coming in to rescue me was purely based on experience — they’d only make things worse. If things went pear-shaped, I didn’t want a bunch of undead sailors getting in my way as I made my escape.
The islanders weren’t interested in eating Somya’s men, their flesh not being the freshest, so they probably wouldn’t stop them from leaving. The rest of the crew were probably still on the menu, but the islanders had lost a few people thanks to me, so they might have some vacancies. When in Rome…
Damicar looked back to shore with nervous eyes. “I… I will cook something for your return. Perhaps the princess will remain calm if I keep her busy.”
Absolutely no fucking chance. “Sure, good idea.”
Grayson waded towards me. He had been hanging back as Damicar and I spoke. I think he assumed we were frightened children saying our fond farewells, which wasn’t far from the truth. It would be nice if Grayson’s image of me was one I endorsed, some sort of admiration of me as a man, but I didn’t think he was ever going to see me as anything other than a flailing kid desperately trying to keep his head above water. I hate it when astute people judge me.
“Are you ready?” Grayson said with militaristic detachment.
“No. But that’s okay, I was born not ready.” I gave Damicar a nod. He slowly turned with the water lapping around his waist and headed back to his fate with sagging shoulders. Laney was standing on the beach, eyes twinkling with a thousand delusional thoughts, ready to welcome him back to her clutches. Facing a bunch of overpowered nutters who thought they could rule the world by proxy didn’t seem so bad.
“You instructed him to abandon you if there was trouble,” said Grayson. He didn’t say it like he was impressed. More like he thought it was a poor decision. From a soldier’s perspective, it probably was.
“You heard that?”
“Sounds and scents travel downwind.”
So much for my secret attack force hiding in the next cove over. “If there’s a fight, are you going to try to kill me?” I asked as we resumed the wade to his boat.
“No. If there’s a fight, I expect it to be over very quickly.” At least he didn’t say who he thought would win. “Because they would destroy you in an instant.” The guy had no chill.
As we reached the boat, Biadet stood in the prow, looking down at me. Even her boots were dry.
“How did you get here before me?” I hadn’t even seen her leave the beach.
“Flow with the water, not against it.” Mini Bruce Lee was trying to teach me some kind of life lesson. Either that or she was taking the piss. Probably the latter.
I managed to get into the boat with only a little struggling. The men seated holding oars pretended not to judge me. It would be much easier to pass myself off as worthy of the baffling deference I received from powerful people if I had a little more upper body strength.
I did start feeling a little apprehensive as we pulled up alongside the ship. It was bigger than both of the ones we’d rowed in between to get here. The wreckage was sticking out of the water with a sense of precariousness that had made me feel like a large piece of timber was going to fall on my head. I tried to think positively. Most of the time there was a chance of dying the first thing that occurred to me was what if I don’t die and get left paralysed? But in this case, if something fell on me and left me incapacitated, at least I’d drown. That silver lining is always there if you look for it.
There was a winch-pulley system that lifted the boat out of the water and onto the deck of the ship. The first sign this wasn’t your regular medieval frigate.
The sailors were dressed a lot smarter than my lot. They had matching outfits which looked like they’d been washed for a Daz commercial. Everyone had short hair and shaven faces. They scurried about pulling ropes and clambering up masts, and we weren’t even moving.
There was also a company of soldiers in polished armour and with swords and pikes. They’d probably do well against the islanders, for the first few seconds. They stood to attention as Grayson stepped out of the boat, which was then lowered into an open hatch.
A tall man with a big hat greeted Grayson with a salute. “Glad to see you made it back in one piece.”
“As am I,” said Grayson. “This is Captain Nokes. He’s the man in charge around here. This is Colin, the package I was sent to collect.”
“So this is the young man, is it? Quite a small package, isn’t he?” Doubt flowed from him like water from a wellspring. My normal reaction would be option three, but you really can’t blame people for expecting what experience has taught them to expect. Especially if they’re probably right.
“Don’t worry, Captain,” I said, “I don’t think I’m worth all this fuss, either. Do me a favour though, put some men on watch for signs of attack. Might be by air or sea. From below would be my guess. I tend to attract death and destruction everywhere I go.”
Captain Nokes was a little taken aback by my giving him orders, but I’ve found the best way to deal with mild contempt is to challenge it immediately. Do as I tell you, or make your objections known right now and let’s deal with it, fuck-face.
The fuck-face is implied.
Although, between you and me, the fuck-face is always implied.
Nokes looked around in overt fashion. The seas were empty as far as the eye could see, the skies were clear.
“It’s just a suggestion,” I said. “The ship I arrived on is the one on the left.”
His eyes were drawn to the remains of the Eternal Infinite jutting out of the waves.
“You would do well heed the warning, Captain,” said Biadet. “The destruction of Requbar, the invasion from Monsterland, the fall of Fengarad and Dargot…”
“The fire in Gorgoth…” chimed in Grayson.
Captain Nokes looked at me and then back at Grayson, who nodded. Not quite the message I was trying to get across — I’d been going for cursed harbinger of doom and not so much Mr Magoo, but whatever works.
Grayson led me below decks as Captain Nokes ordered more men on watch. The ship creaked and swayed. Sailors hurried to get out of our way before I tripped and inadvertently made a hole in the hull. Sailors were a superstitious lot, and here was I, Jonah with bonus albatross around my neck.
The rear of the ship was a lot quieter, and a lot darker; the portholes were covered up. The sounds of activity faded and the atmosphere was getting a little spooky. It’s hard to keep up a bolshy attitude when you’ve got a squeaky bum.
“This isn’t going to go well,” I muttered to myself. “I can tell by the decor. Secluded vampire sets a very specific ambience.” The other two ignored me. “I’m slightly anaemic by the way. Always have been. Do you think vampires care about that sort of thing?” Still nothing. “How did they even know I was still alive? I suppose you told them.” Grayson kept walking. He was ahead of me so I couldn’t see his face, but I doubted I’d have seen a reaction even if I could. I let out a long defeated sigh. I wanted to at least appear confident but I really didn’t think this was going to go well.
“They’re more scared of you than you are of them,” said Biadet, which is what people say about spiders and snakes. She was probably trying to put me at ease, but now I was envisioning having to deal with vampires, spiders and snakes.
We reached large double doors which opened as we approached. I guess they were expecting me.
“I’ll wait here,” said Grayson.
I turned to Biadet.
“I’ll be around.” She took a step back and melted into the shadows.
The doors closed as I walked through them. Inside was a very large room with a big table in the middle. Heavy black drapes lined the walls, preventing any light getting in. Candles allowed me to see the four people seated at the table. They were all wearing masks.
They were simple white masks that covered their entire face, nothing very intimidating. They weren’t trying to scare me on a primitive level with demonic faces, they were protecting their identities in the most basic way possible, and also maybe they performed synchronised body popping at urban dance festivals on the weekends.
“Hi. So, which one of you is the vampire? That’s my first question. Second question, does this sword count as a wooden stake?” I held up my wooden sword and made short stabbing motions.
“I am not a vampire,” said the one on the far left. There was an accent, Eastern European, maybe. Transylvanian?
“Then why the blackout?” I asked.
“I have very sensitive skin,” he said. “I suffer from terrible hives.”
“You’re allergic to sunlight, but you’re not a vampire. You don’t suck blood?”
“No. I’m a healer. I help people.”
“I do a bit of healing, too. Where do you get the energy to heal people from? I have to use up my own life force.”
“That’s not very good for your health, you shouldn’t do that. I draw it from the people around me. A little from everyone to help the ones in need.”
“Fuck me, a socialist vampire.”
“I am not a fucking vampire.” He was on his feet. He had a long black cloak on.
“The cloak isn’t helping,” I said.
“I told you, I can’t expose my skin to sunlight. You really are as much of a little shit as everyone says.”
“Calm down, Cowdrey,” said the woman seated next to him. “We knew what to expect. He is still a man of fierce and unruly ability, and we need his help.”
The buttering-up had begun. “If it’s only sunlight you have problems with I can do this, right?” I made a ball of light and lit the place up.
“Argh, no, it burns, it—” He stopped shrieking and lowered his arms, which he had raised to ward off the deathly illumination. “Oh, actually that’s fine. How do you do that? Living by candlelight has been a terrible strain on my eyes.”
I was starting to think Cowdrey wasn’t a vampire, he was a bloody drama queen. With the lights on, things didn’t look quite so menacing. Four people draped in black with white masks on. Worst Miyazaki cosplay ever.
“Why with the masks? You look like a bunch of idiots.”
“This is our best hope?” said the woman who hadn’t spoken yet. “He’s just going to get himself killed.”
I liked how she had turned them sending me on a suicide mission into me getting myself killed.
“Self-destruction is simply a way of monopolizing one’s own fortune. It's merely a narcissistic attempt to take control of the steering wheel and say, ‘I’ll decide how things are going to go today.’ But he's smart. He knows himself, he knows what the consequences of his actions will be. If there’s a reason to persevere, he’ll resist the seductive, nihilistic howl of the abyss.”
“I still don’t know your name,” I said, “but I take it your ability is a degree in psychology from Full of Yourself University.”
“Ha,” said the vampire, “he’s a perceptive little shit, I’ll give him that. This is Morwenna and the miserable one is Dorothea.”
“We weren’t supposed to give him our names,” said Morwenna.
“You already gave him mine,” said Cowdrey, his voice rising like one who had been wronged first.
“Oh, yes, sorry, that was a slip of the tongue. We could make him forget.”
“It won’t work on him,” said Dorothea. The bickering was starting to get on my nerves. These were the most powerful Visitors on the planet?
“What about Chatty on the end?” I said indicating the guy who hadn’t spoken yet.
“That’s Legion,” said Cowdrey.
It was hard not to scoff. “Really? Cool, I’ll be the Horde, you three can be the Alliance.”
Legion said nothing. He was so still I wasn’t even sure there was someone under the mask.
“He’s taken a vow of silence,” said Cowdrey.
Cowdrey shrugged. “He has a code. Honour and chivalry or something. I forget. It’s very important, that’s all anyone needs to know.”
This was the Council of Four. I wasn’t impressed. They might have some awesome abilities (TBC) but they didn’t exude any kind of reassuring authority.
“What exactly do you want from me?” I asked, growing impatient.
“We want you to take back control of your people,” said Morwenna, the amateur psychologist. “Stop them before it’s too late.”
“They’re not my people. And stop them doing what? How? And why is it going to be too late? Feel free to answer in any order.”
“Enough,” said the one called Legion. He stood up as he spoke and ripped off the mask and hood hiding his face. Underneath was a full helmet, revealing nothing. “We need a task taken care of, you are best suited to achieving it. In return, we will give you what you want. Your own island, a castle, protection from being interfered with… As a sign of good faith, and to show you we are capable of keeping our word, we will repair your ship. Cowdrey.”
Cowdrey had also stood up. “When did you start talking again?”
“It isn’t important.”
“I saw you last week, you didn’t say a word.” He seemed more upset about this than the approaching end of the world or whatever it was we were here to discuss.
“I had things on my mind.”
“Do you want me to make him forget about this?” asked Dorothea.
“You can’t,” said Cowdrey. “The pact forbids it. Wait, did you make me forget anything already? I can find out, you know I can. No violating the pact!”
“Of course I haven’t,” said Dorothea. “I was joking.”
“Just fix his ship,” said Legion.
“He can put the boat together?” I said. “How long will it take?”
“A few minutes. It’s not just people he can heal,” said Legion. “If you don’t want to help us after you hear what we have to say, you can take the ship and leave, we won’t stop you. We understand you better than you think.”
A chair at the table drew back on its own to allow me to sit. After he pulled the old sunglasses under your sunglasses gag on me, the least I could do was hear him out. I took my seat at the table and the chair slid back. I had no idea which one of them was doing it, but it was a pretty neat trick.
A glow appeared in the middle of the table, a shimmering picture of the shipwreck outside. It was a moving image with the waves crashing against the broken hull; a live feed. Cowdrey put out his hand and the Eternal Infinite rose from its watery grave and reformed into its former, non-sunken condition. It took a few seconds, like watching an explosion in reverse.
They were all clearly extremely powerful, which begged one question.
“Okay, I’ll listen,” I said. “Let’s start with why the fuck you don’t take care of this shit yourselves.”
New character named after a patreon supporter! Thanks to Cow for the support.
And a big thank you to all the new patrons over the last few weeks. Thank you very much.Afterword from Mooderino