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Preface from Mooderino

374: The Ego Has Landed

Even though I was alone in a sea of people, I felt unusually confident. So much so that I’d casually dismissed my army of dragons. Okay, they weren’t really my dragons, but they were useful to have around for crowd control and AoE. But no, off they flew with Flossie and Dudley on board.

It might seem like I was getting them out of the way for what was most likely going to be some pretty dodgy moves by yours truly — it was unlikely to go smoothly when I released the old gods back into the world — but that wasn’t really a big concern.

If people were going to get hurt due to my actions, sending them down the road wouldn’t do much, apart from maybe giving them time for one last how do you do. Well, maybe it would also stop them running to me for help and getting in the way of my escape.

My general positive outlook (comparatively speaking) was due to my having achieved my objective at last. I was back in Gorgoth and about to let the gods out. Even if something untoward happened now, I’d be able to leave my body and do the rest via the adjacent world. No one had the ability to stop me there, not even Joshaya.

Knowing you have complete control over your own destiny, no matter how retarded and foolhardy your plans may be, is an exhilarating feeling.

I’m going to do something stupid, and there isn’t a damn thing you can do to stop me.

That kind of intoxicating power is rare outside of American politics.

The square was slowly emptying as the guards pushed people out. I didn’t really need so much space, to be honest. I just required a couple of centimetres on either side and I was gucci, but it’s a strange fact of human nature that if you ask nicely for 2 cm, you’ll have to fight tooth and nail for every millimetre of it. But if you demand 200 metres, most of which you wouldn’t even know what to do with, people will fall over themselves to give it to you, like you must be special to ask for something so unreasonable.

I guess it’s similar to how putting something on sale for pennies makes it not sell, but hiking up the price convinces people it must be valuable. Of course, people could actually work out the true worth of something for themselves, but nobody likes doing homework, I guess.

The crowd had looked at me with great indifference and a generous dollop of contempt when I first appeared (and that was on a flying fucking ship), but now showed much more reverence since I’d started treating them like cattle.  I did hear someone say, “Is that really him? You’re joking, aren’t you?” but I may have misheard.

Malmur took this opportunity to introduce me to the other four heads of the Gorgoth unions. I couldn’t for the life of me tell you what their names were.

Oh, look at the Lord Protector. Riding on flying ships and too important to remember anyone’s name.

No, I’m not that much of an edge lord. I actually tried to pay attention and memorise the names — knowing who was in charge of what might have come in useful at some point — but there was a lot to take in and I kept getting distracted by the git in the crowd.

“But he can’t be in charge, I mean, look at him.” The acoustics in the square made voices carry incredibly well.

It was at times like these that Maurice’s note-taking had proved to be invaluable. I mean, I never actually read any of them, but they were there if needed. Now, I had to rely on my memory, which has always been terrible. I went through a period of trying to improve it using those brain training exercises online, but it turns out all they do is improve your ability to do brain training exercises.

“What did you do  with the princess?” I asked Malmur after I pretended to know who everyone was.

“She is a prisoner of war,” said Malmur.

“Fengarad declared war on Gorgoth?” It seemed an odd turn of events. Who did the declaring? Peter? Jenny? Was it just because I was here? Arrogant, I know, but possibly true.

“They declared war on all the cities. They demand to be recognised as the capital city and source of all future decisions affecting Flatland.”

It appeared the balance between the four cities was broken and Fengarad had decided to proclaim itself top dog. Perhaps that was what the Council were so upset about. But if they had always tried to stay in the background only interfering when unavoidable, did it make much difference to them?

Then again, I had only their word for how they operated. Were they really the good guys they purported to be? When have you ever heard of a shadowy council controlling world events from behind closed doors to surreptitiously funnel kittens to orphans? Less than fifty percent of the time, I’d guess.

People liked to control others, it was a thrill to see armies act at your command. The fact it held little appeal for me was more of a handicap than anything to boast about. I’d probably be much happier if I could get off on making idiots jump when I snapped my fingers. If I could turn it into an iPhone app, I’d make millions.

“You think Fengarad cares about the princess?” I didn’t see the order to declare all out war coming from the king. I doubted he was in charge.

“Perhaps not, but it would be better to have a possible bargaining chip than none at all. Don’t worry, she isn’t in a dungeon, we’ve put her in very pleasant accommodations where she’ll be perfectly happy.”

“I think that’s a mistake,” I said.

“You think Fengarad will still be offended?” asked one of the other union leaders.

“I have no idea, but I think it’s a mistake not putting her in a dungeon and chaining her to a wall. She’s not likely to say put, otherwise.”

The men looked at me like they weren’t sure if I was joking (which was pretty much how everyone looked at me, especially when I was joking).

Biadet was still on the ship. Would they try to arrest her, too? Good luck with that. I still wasn’t sure what was going on with her, but a weakened Biadet was probably a safer proposition right now. Safer for me, that is.

It hadn’t gone unnoticed by me that there were some similarities between her and Richina. And if Richina was a fairy….

Not that I thought Biadet was a fairy in disguise, but whatever experiments Peter had carried out on her may have involved some fairy-related modifications. It would help explain some of her godly abilities.

“Damicar, you are now my Union Liaison Officer, your official title is now ULO.” I turned back to the union leaders. “If you need to speak to me, the ULO will be your point of contact.”

I didn’t really care if they wanted to speak to me, I just wanted to give them something to focus on. I had no doubt the title of Lord Protector was meaningless and just a way for them to make me think I had control over them, when they in fact had control over me. Or something. The important thing was to use this small window of opportunity where they did their best to make me think I could do what I wanted, to do what I wanted.

Damicar was a bit unsure of the position I’d just put him in but did his best to act like it was an honour. He needn’t have concerned himself, his true title was Chief of Snacks. His ability to whip up a sandwich in any environment made him more useful than any other fucker in the city.

The square was more or less empty, now. I was pretty sure I heard, “But, come on, him?” drifting on the breeze, but it may have been a very persistent echo. I set off towards the temple.

“Your residence is this way, My Lord,” said one of the union leaders, pointing across the square.

“The Lord Protector has important matters to attend in the temple first,” said Joshaya. He had appeared next to me, happily escorting me to the portal where I would make all his dreams come true (not a euphemism). “The Golden God awaits.”

“Yes, your eminence.”

“Of course, your eminence.”

“We only seek to win His favour, your eminence.”

People of faith are very keen to welcome their god into their lives, but they rarely put much thought into whether He wants to welcome them into His life. That many suck-ups in one place would get annoying fast, I’d imagine.

Impressive people are very attractive, of course, but once you decide you want to be with that person, I think you need to ask yourself why they would want to be with you. Gods especially.

Pope Joshaya’s excitement was yet another red flag, but this was the path I’d chosen. At least, I thought it was. For all I knew, this was the path that had been carefully selected for me. It had all the hallmarks of a con job, in that it all seemed to be going according to plan. No bigger giveaway than that.

We would see. My trump card, as ever, was that I didn’t give a shit. If I could finally get people to leave me alone, even losing everything would be worth it. Nobody can take your dignity from you, only you can give it up. And I was happy to do so — most useless attribute apart from charisma.

“You can wait here,” I said to the delegation at the temple entrance. “Damicar, you know what to do.”

Damicar looked at me like he had absolutely no idea what to do, but he nodded anyway. I didn’t really want anyone else around when I broke the seal on the old gods’ prison. Just me and Joshaya would be enough.

Joshaya was practically beside himself he was so excited. You’d think he might play it cool, but he was jumping up and down, clapping and muttering to himself. His golden wig was about to fall off if he didn’t chill out.

We made it to the portal without interference. There were some dead people on the way, but they didn’t bother us. I was with the main man, so access all areas. The entrance was a solid wall, as it had always been from here. In the adjacent world, it was a black hole filled with stars. The question was, how did I take Richina through with me?

Once I left my body, she would remain inside my mind with Wesley. I needed to get her through the barrier if she was going to affect the void prison.

“Can you make the portal accessible from here?” I asked Joshaya.

“Me?” he said, like there was some other god I was talking to. “If I could, would I need you?”

Good point. I left my body and entered the space in my mind. Wesley and Richina were there, waiting for me. Perhaps they had an idea of how to get in, they were both familiar with the guy who had built it, after all.

Just as I was about to ask, Richina’s eyes grew large and her face lit up. “We are here.” Couldn’t fault her for accuracy.

“Yes, and I need to get inside,” I said.

Wesley and Richina looked at each other, and then they both rushed me.

They moved incredibly fast. What were they planning to do? Kick me out of my own head?

Yes, pretty much. I went flying out of my body and towards the portal. I saw Joshaya grinning at me, and behind him was Laney, frozen as she ran with her arms raised, shouting something. A warning perhaps. “It’s a trap,” maybe?

I couldn’t stop myself. My arms flailed without purpose as I went through the barrier.

Darkness surrounded me. I didn’t really see the point of what they’d done, I could just leave again. Couldn’t I?

A red light appeared ahead of me, followed by a few more lights in the background.

“Um, hello there.” No reason I couldn’t be polite.

“You have returned,” said the Golden God. There was some surprise in his voice, although overall he sounded pleased, like it was a pleasant surprise.

“Yep. Is Arthur here?” I was just checking.

“No, but you are, and that is all that matters.” Most people would take that as a compliment. What did they want with me now?

“Thanks, good to be back. How’s everyone doing?” I planned to open with a joke, do some crowd work, end with a song and get off stage.

“You are the last one to claim your place. As leader of this city, your role is now legitimate. Welcome.”

He made it seem like I’d won a prize. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Before I’d finished speaking, a light appeared in front of me. It expanded to reveal a map of Flatland, similar to the one Cowdrey had shown me, but covering a much larger area. The four cities were all on there, as was Shrine Island.

“As a ruler, you will have full rights to command the armies of Gorgoth, and those provinces you conquer.”

I seemed to have stumbled into some kind of game. Maybe it had always been one. I wasn’t sure if that made it any better if it meant I was going to be forced to stick around. I had no interest in playing Risk, bloody pointless game, unless you have Australia, of course.

“The prize is everything you want, including a way home.”

Call me overly suspicious, but since when did anyone give away power to the person most deserving of it? I was going to get stitched up eventually, that was for damn sure.

There’s a test psychologists do with kids, where they offer them a sweet now, or wait twenty minutes and get three sweets later. Young kids take the sweet immediately, the future is a concept they can’t grasp. Older kids understand the benefit of patience and take the increased number of sweets later.

On the one hand this is a stunning example of behavioural science in action, proving that a three year old is dumber than a five year old (Nobel Prize in the post), but ultimately it’s completely unrelated to the way the world works.

If you wait, the situation might change. If the company goes bankrupt, there will be no sweets, the candy bank is suddenly empty. If they find a better test subject during the wait, they’ll switch to them — no one gives a shit about your handshake agreement. Or they might just be lying, and it’s a trick to sell you a timeshare in Spain.

My point is, take the fucking Mars bar while you can, the future is an uncertain place where no one keeps their word. Toddlers know more than they’re letting on.

“From here,” continued the Golden God, “you can instantly travel to anywhere in the world.”

Who doesn’t feel happier when they unlock fast travel? The devs made you walk around so you could appreciate their grass physics — see how it wafts in the digital breeze as your CPU reaches the temperature of a supernova — but now you can skip everything except the main quest, yippee!

There was an atmosphere surrounding me that seemed to insist on me finding this an amazing development.

You’ve made it to the final four, it’s off to Hollywood for the live show where we definitely won’t squeeze you dry for short-term profit and then dump you in an alley, soiled and broken.

My plan was never to just do as I had been told. It was far too likely that I’d been manipulated into doing all of this and nothing good would come of it for me. The one thing I had learned about the void was that my magic worked here. I’d also noticed that no one else hurt themselves the way I did when I used it.

Why would they drain their own life force when they could drain it from the people around them? They’d even gone as far as giving me a sword and shield that allowed me to focus my abilities elsewhere. Kind of them.

I dropped both sword and shield and created a ball of light that was both illuminating and healing. I felt it draw the energy out of me as it grew larger, lighting up the void.

The old gods, wrapped in black mist, retreated, but the light pursued them.

“No, stop.” The light seemed to hurt them as much as it hurt me. Sounded like a fair exchange.

I decided to ignore the request. I was special, you don’t order around special people. Shouldn’t they be telling me how brilliant I was? Odd that they only thought I was awesome when I did what they said.

The light was quite fierce, ripping away the shrouds of darkness, revealing… tiny girls with wings.

Fairies. Everywhere I looked, little fuckers were hovering like mosquitoes.

Next chapter is available on Patreon now.

Afterword from Mooderino
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