My own personal hero who would act on my commands had a certain appeal. Like a kid with a robot who could beat up anyone you pointed it at. Of course, eventually the kid would learn that beating people to death with a mech was wrong (and surprisingly messy), and then the robot would learn to smile or something.
If this Caim chap was as awesome as Joshaya made out, with BiS gear and a legendary weapon, I would very happily give up my chance to claim honour on the battlefield (which I was totally planning on claiming, for reals though) and let him do his thing.
Would I like to have the flashy armour and the sentient sword myself? No. It sounds good, it might even look good, but when you’re out there in the heart of the mayhem, armour is just a big container for you to shit yourself in and a giant sword is a heavy stick that makes your arms tired.
I am nothing if not a realist. I am nothing and also a realist might be more accurate. A bad craftsman might blame his tools, but good tools do a better job in the hands of someone who knows what they’re doing.
Overall, the idea of drafting in a ringer was a solid one. Even if the guy wanted to think for himself and do it his way, no problem. As long as he kept all eyes on him, I had no issue with sinking into the background. Deep, deep into the shadows.
My general positivity (for which I think we can all agree I am well known) was only marred by the thought that Joshaya was planning to wait for me to turn my back, and then ram the biggest dick-shaped object he could find right up my jacksie.
“Why are you helping me, Joshaya? What are you after?”
“My friend,” he said, instantly setting warning bells clanging, “I am here because I recognise your importance to this world.”
“You are here because the Fairy Queen wanted someone to watch me, and I suggested you. Let me just reiterate for you — I requested you. On purpose. You see what that means, right?” I took the paltry wooden sword out of my belt and held it out so it was glowing. “It means I think I can take you in a fight.”
Joshaya froze for a second, not expecting to be threatened. Certainly not by me. Then his face broke out into a smile.
“Friend Colin, please, there’s no need for threats.” What he was really saying was, “Come on, geezer, you having a giggle?” Well, that’s what he’d be saying if he was in a shitty Guy Ritchie movie. So any Guy Ritchie movie.
“I understand your lack of fear. There’s no way in the world I could beat you.” I eased out of my body and floated in front of him, sword still glowing. “But it kind of depends which world we’re in, doesn’t it?”
Joshaya’s expression changed in slow motion. He couldn’t move very quickly here in the adjacent world. He had one vine growing out of his head and I considered cutting it off, for science, but since I had no idea of the consequences I decided to wait until things got really desperate before trying something like that, when all hope was lost and I had nothing left to lose. Probably sometime after lunch.
The face in front of me had rearranged its features into something not quite so mocking. I had expected some anger but what I was getting was a kind of resigned acceptance. Here was a man (or whatever) who was approaching his moment of personal surrender.
The problem with a world of magic was that there was always someone or something beyond your abilities. I’m not talking about me — I don’t think it was me he was going to surrender to — but the bullish mask he usually wore had slipped, and behind it he wasn’t a happy camper.
I returned to my body, sword still extended. “I don’t know what it is you think siding with me is going to get you, but I’m tired of dealing with all these secrets and half-truths.”
An urge to strike him welled up in me. Cut him open and see what was inside. I resisted, for now, and reached out the sword so it touched his robe, just to make a point. A mistake on my part as the glowing tip instantly shredded the material and his robe fell open to reveal an old man’s peen and a ballsack you could hang in a boxing gym.
Damicar walked in carrying a tray of sweet and savoury delights (the boy was a fucking genius on a limited budget), saw me inspecting Joshaya’s junk, and turned around in a smooth fluid motion, heading for the exit.
“Wait,” I said to Damicar, not wanting him to go away with the wrong impression. “Leave the food.” And also not wanting him to go away with the snacks. I can allow someone to walk off thinking I’m some kind of deviant weirdo, but the snacks stay.
Damicar turned around, smiling nervously and sweating. “If it’s a bad time, I can come back later!”
“No, it’s fine. I was just explaining to my friend here how I was going to cut his dick off if he didn’t stop lying to me. Not that it would do much good, it isn’t even his penis.”
There’s something about the arrival of food that absolutely kills any attempt at terrorising someone. It just isn’t intimidating if you’re threatening someone while eating tiny food on cocktail sticks. Dainty and menacing just don’t go well together.
“Oh,” I said as I nibbled on something meaty yet fruity, “this is Damicar. Damicar, this is Joshaya, the One True God — self-proclaimed, so don’t get hung up on it — Pope of Gorgoth, yes, that Pope, and some kind of fairy, I think. He has a bunch of other aliases I have a hard time keeping track of. Damicar is a local, so his mouth hanging open like that is probably because he can’t believe what a deceitful piece of shit you are. Or he’s a fan and wants your autograph.”
It was a lot of information to take in so I gave Damicar a moment to digest it all, while I digested as much as I could, also.
“He’s the Pope?” Damicar finally managed to get out of his startled face. “The Pope is a fairy.”
“Good question.” I offered some food to Grayson. I had sort of commandeered the tray, but I was Lord Protector, so I got first dibs. As a ruthless dictator, I planned to establish authoritarian control by inventing the box of chocolates and then eating everything except for the orange creams and coffee cups — I know how to create a culture of fear and despair. It’s the only way to make people appreciate what you do for them.
Oh, you like the coffee one, do you? It’d be the fucking gulag for you and your kind.
“So, Joshaya, are you a fairy? The Fairy of Death? Doesn’t really strike fear into the hearts of men as titles go.”
“Yes, yes, I am a fairy. And you would be wise to accept my help. The Fairy Queen is unimaginably cruel and demanding. She will grind your bones to dust and sprinkle you in her tea. She will bring you the height of ecstasy and savour your fall to despair. Believe me, she will soon grow tired of you and then the true horror will begin.”
There was real bile in his voice now.
“Is that what she did to you?” I was getting the feeling there was something personal between the two of them.
Joshaya had always seemed conflicted about helping me. Did he want me to free the Golden God or not? Had he been working with those priestesses who kidnapped the girls, or just doing as he was told? I never got the impression he was totally on board with any of the things he asked me to do. Most of the time he seemed to be trying to make it look like he was pushing me in one direction while moving me in another, like someone walking backwards through a door to confuse the man checking tickets.
“Hey, is the Fairy Queen your wife?” It was a bit of a stab in the dark, but he had the look of a disappointed husband to me.
“We don’t have such primitive concepts as marriage or monogamy. Or fidelity or affection. Or love.” He started out full of disdain, but by the end, he was all floppy and despondent.
I took a good long look at Joshaya. Was his being conflicted due to not wanting to let the old battleaxe out so he could continue living the wild bachelor lifestyle, or was it because he didn’t want to see her go off and leave him behind?
Either way, the one thing I was sure of was that I did not give a fuck.
“I can’t believe you’re this pathetic,” I said, finishing the last of the sausage-shaped things that probably weren’t sausages. “I’ve only just met her and I can already tell she’s a horrible person with no redeeming qualities, and all you can do is mope around like the lead singer of your favourite Korean boy band just announced his engagement.”
For once, Joshaya had lost his ability to power through any obstacles in his path.
“This hero you’ve got locked up in the basement,” I said. “I assume your fairy madam doesn’t know about it?”
Joshaya shook his head. “Nobody knows. I took his body away from the middle of an explosion. They think it was turned into ash. You see? This will work. We just need the body… and you.”
The old flatter and splatter. First you tickle the balls, then you punch ‘em right in the cock. There was no way this would be so simple. Even if Joshaya was telling the truth, there was no way to be sure the resurrected Deathreaper (assuming we could raise him from the dead) would play along.
“We’re reaaaaaady!” sang Flossie as she came bouncing in, Dudley behind her. She continued bouncing even though she was now standing still. I’m fairly sure if a girl stood fully clothed in front of any guy she liked and gently bounced her tits up and down, eventually he would just cave and do whatever she told him. Somehow, none of them have figured this out. “Ready for take off, sir.” She saluted and beamed her stupid smile around the room. The smile slowly faded as she caught sight of the nearly empty tray. “Did yo’ eat all the food?”
“Yes, and I deserved every bite.” I grabbed the last morsel and shoved it in my mouth. “Fuffing gef your own chef.” I made sure to talk while chewing so she could see what she was missing.
Damicar took the tray from me. “I’ll bring out the next batch.”
“You have more?” said Dudley, eyes widening at the thought of someone being competent and well-prepared.
“Oh, yes,” said Damicar. “I always make seconds, just in case.” He waltzed out with the tray held aloft like a prize.
“I like him,” said Flossie. “He’s handy.”
“I think you’ll find he’s what’s called an upgrade,” I said.
“Where to next, then?” said Flossie, oblivious to what was going on in the room. “A tropical island where we can hide away from everyone?”
They all think they know how I think. They watch me deftly give death the slip a couple of times, and suddenly they see themselves as experts in the art of Colin-Fu. Well, it takes more than running away to get shit off your shoes.
“We aren’t going anywhere. We’re recruiting a new team member, a real doozy, kneel before Zod type of guy who will sort out everything once and for all, probably by killing us all. And that’s the good ending.”
“So… no beach?” Flossie seemed to have latched onto this one idea of an island holiday, and there wasn’t enough room in her tiny Brummie brain for anything else.
“No. I’m going to go take a bath — alone! — and think things through.” I turned to Grayson who had been listening quietly. “Talk to Joshaya and think of how we can get this body out of the temple without anyone noticing. I want plenty of options, the better.”
Grayson was an experienced military mind, plus he knew the city. Why waste my energy coming up with ideas that wouldn’t work anyway, when I could get someone else to do it? Wait, that didn’t come out right (or maybe it did).
Delegation, that was my new watchword. If I was going to surround myself with people who actually knew what they were doing, might as well put them to use.
Grayson nodded. Fucking nodded. Didn’t argue. Didn’t look confused. Nodded.
“Um,” said Dudley, “about that bath. You might want to not.”
“Why’s that?” I asked.
“Nothing, really. We just left it a bit of a mess. We were hurrying to get ready, so… a bit of bleach might come in useful if there’s any lying around. And a mop with a long handle. Something that can reach the ceiling.”
Exactly what kind of sexual relationship did these two have? Pondering such things was a slippery slope — slippery for all the wrong reasons — so I did my best to not think about jizz dripping from the ceiling.
Damicar returned and became the centre of attention. I left them to it and went to get cleaned up. The bathroom wasn’t that bad. I think Dudley was embarrassed about the towels everywhere and the dirty water still in the tub. I could give a fuck. I was happy to finally have a moment alone.
There was still no sign of Wesley and Richina. They had managed to vacate my head somehow. My smaller self confirmed they were gone, but if they were hiding in some dark recess of my mind, considering what I kept in the dark recesses of my mind, good luck to them.
I sat in the lukewarm water, willing myself to relax. Things were probably about to get pretty intense, so one last moment of freedom was worth indulging in. And I was planning to indulge myself hard. Maybe give the ceiling another coat.
It was difficult to let go, though. There was still stuff that didn’t make sense. The fairies had taken over the dead bodies even though they weren’t all disembodied spirits like the Fairy Queen. Was taking over bodies easy for them? Is that what Joshaya did. I’d assumed he was shapeshifting but maybe he had a bunch of bodies in different locations and he just popped into them, like a ventriloquist’s hand up a puppet’s bum flap. It would explain how he could seem to be in so many places at once.
Why was I obsessing over minor details? I tried to let go of all the thoughts buzzing around in my mind but I couldn’t quiet them down.
The fairies called themselves gods. I supposed it was better PR than being tiny flying nuisances you could take out with a fly-swatter, even if they were powerful. Image and branding have a lot of influence in the mythical monster world.
Joshaya seemed less and less like a deity now. What was he really after? Some way to impress his queen so she chose him over all others?
I sank into the water, letting it rise over my head so that the watery silence filled my ears and maybe displace all these questions. Then I remembered what Flossie and Dudley had probably been doing in here and sat up, sloshing water everywhere.
“Yo’ know what I miss from home?” said Flossie, scaring the piss out of me (very slightly, not enough to notice). She was sitting on the edge of the bath.
“Toblerone. They don’t make nice chocolate here.”
“Okay. Thanks for letting me know.”
“I suppose what yo’ really want to know is what happened to Jenny.”
My mind cleared. All the buzzing went away. Under all of it there was really only one question, the one I’d been doing my best to avoid. Jenny.