Guildleader Toniono was all smiles and hugs. He seemed like he would be glad to help assist us with anything we wanted, but first I’d have to get his attention, which was turning out to be a little tricky.
“Guildleader, are you feeling alright?” I asked, bobbing my head around to try and keep in his line of sight.
“Lovely,” he said in his gruff voice. He sounded like a market trader trying to tempt you with his juicy oranges and crisp apples. He winked at me. And then he licked his lips and took another bite of the pastry in his hand. “Lovely.”
Damicar winced. “This isn’t good.”
I’d seen plenty of people on MDMA, this seemed to be similar. Everything was lovely. And if everything’s lovely, then nothing is, right? No, not when it came to drugs. Off your tits will always hold a special place in the human heart. You might think that the world is an amazing place full of endless wonder, but you would be wrong. It takes until about fifteen to be over it and in need of some mind-altering stimulation to revive your awe.
Yes, that cloud looks like a rabbit, so what? Stop hogging the joint, boggart — draaaag — oh, wow, a bunny…
“He’s just a bit happy, isn’t he?” I asked Damicar a little apprehensively. The leader of the Waste and Sewage Guild was currently inspecting the tip of one finger very closely and smirking.
“Yes, sort of,” said Damicar, his worried expression not instilling confidence. “In small amounts, passion fungi makes you agreeable and light-hearted. Lifts your mood and makes you more positive in your outlook. Helpful, happy to lend a hand, I thought, I thought...” He was rambling nervously.
If we’d been in a cartoon, a light bulb would have appeared over Flossie’s head. “Yo’ should try some,” she said to me, like God had blessed her with a new set of brain cells. He hadn’t, and the old ones were well past their sell-by date.
“And you should go fuck yourself. Now, shut up.” It’s a shame I never got the chance to join some kind of debate club. I feel like I would have done very well.
If the mushroom had the ability to chill people out and make them nice to each other, I’d be happy to dump a cart-load into the water supply and make everyone pleasant whether they wanted to be or not. Enforced congeniality, every benign dictator’s dream. From the way Damicar was fretting, though, there was more to this fungi than good times and fond memories.
“He seems more than just a bit agreeable,” I said.
“Ah, yes,” said Damicar. “If it’s a little too potent, it can make you quite… amorous.”
That wasn’t so bad. Might get a bit handsy, but it wasn’t like he’d get all Italian. Although he did reject Flossie’s advances, which I would have expected him to follow through on if he was under the influence of a molly-like substance.
At the moment he was standing next to one of the chairs, stroking its back.
“Does it make you amorous towards inanimate objects?” I asked.
Toniono was now sitting on the chair, pushing back into it and rolling his shoulders. Non-consensual? The chair didn’t seem to object, but then it had to deal with arseholes all day.
“No, not necessarily,” said Damicar. “A high dose can make things look more attractive than they are.”
“Oh,” said Flossie, light bulbs flashing over her head like the paparazzi at a D-list celebrity wedding (so any celebrity wedding). “Yo’ should give some to Jenny.”
I would have been offended if I hadn’t just thought the same thing. “Dudley, your woman is out of control. Can’t you oppress her or something?”
Dudley just smiled in bewildered fashion.
“It should be alright,” said Damicar, sounding not at all confident. “He’ll come back down once the effects start wearing off, unless…” He grinned nervously.
“Unless I accidentally used an excessive amount,” said Damicar.
“Will it kill him?” I asked. Surrounded by beauty and then you kick the bucket — there are worse ways to go out.
“No, not immediately. That is, I’m sure I didn’t use too much. Not that much. No, I’m fairly certain. He isn’t exhibiting the signs.”
“Oh, I am sorry,” said Toniono, standing up. “How dreadfully rude of me. You shouldn’t all be standing. Can I offer you my seat?”
Damicar’s face fell. “Oh no.”
The symptoms of advanced passion fungi poisoning were to act extremely polite and well-mannered. It was apparently a drug that turned you English.
Obviously, there are polite and well-mannered people in other countries, but in England it’s not so much a form of behaviour as a kind of disease. It’s restrictive, uncomfortable and can make it hard to breathe. The conjunction of “After you,” with, “No, after you,”’ can start a chain reaction that traps people in a time-loop not even Jean-Luc Picard could get you out of.
“Is there an antidote?” I asked. Damicar shook his head. I turned to Joshaya, who was standing to one side, watching with his hands in his bathrobe pockets. “What about you? Don’t you have some magic that can save him?”
“Ah,” said Joshaya. “Passion fungi, very hard to counteract. I’m afraid there’s nothing I can do other than end it quickly for him.”
“Oh, don’t worry about me,” said Toniono. “I’m sure I’ll be fine.”
“What’s going to happen to him?” I said. “Will he start foaming at the mouth or something.”
“No,” said Damicar. “Nothing like that. Eventually, he will be so concerned he’s being a bother, he will wander off and take his own life.”
Great, Scott of the Antarctic in pill form. But at least I was familiar with this disease and had a good idea of how to deal with it. Say what you like about us Brits, we know how to bitterly accept our obligations.
“Guildleader, I need your help.”
“Oh, of course. How can I be of—” I slapped him in the face.
“There’s no time for chit-chat, man. People are in danger. Women and children. And dogs.”
“Dogs?” he said, shocked.
I’d guessed right, full expat syndrome. More British than the British.
“That’s right, and only you can save them. You must put personal feelings aside.” The order every Englishman yearns to hear. Lock up the emotions, operate by sight and sound alone. No smelling, touching or tasting, we’ll leave that sort of nonsense to the French. “Can I count on you?”
Toniono’s chest swelled. “Of course. Whatever you need.”
Grayson had left a few men stationed outside. I asked one of them to get word to him that everything was going according to plan. That was maybe overstating it, but we were sort of going in the right direction, so close enough.
“Don’t you need to go, too?” I said to Joshaya. “Give Grayson the details.”
“Already done,” said Joshaya. Everyone had their shit in order. I wasn’t used to it.
Guildleader Toniono spoke to his men and sent them along with Grayson’s men. According to Damicar, if we could keep Toniono from topping himself, the fungi should work its way out of his system by morning. We would have to keep a close eye on him.
“You’re sure I’m not being a bother?” he kept asking.
Being English isn’t really a bad thing. We have certain advantages over the rest of the world due to our uptight and repressed nature, like being able to form a fucking queue. There’s nothing as irritating as being in the supermarket and having foreign students from the local university trying to work out how close to stand to the people in front of them at the till (inside your coat with you seems the most popular choice).
We could all learn something from each other, you might say. We have seen your version of driving in traffic, and on behalf of the peoples of the British Isles, no thank you. We drive on the left because we think it’s probably best to just do the opposite of everything you do. No offence.
Grayson turned up about an hour later. I thought he was there to finalise plans, but he was way ahead of me.
“I’ve deployed my team, now we just have to wait.”
“They’re already on their way?” I said, surprised he’d gone ahead and got things started.
“They are inside the temple. They should be back within a couple of hours if all goes well.”
I was used to people procrastinating and prevaricating as much as possible. This efficient competence bullshit was totally unprecedented. What next? Pride in your work? It was madness.
“You really think this will work?” I was being a needy child in need of reassurance, but there wasn’t much else to do while I waited for other people to do everything. It was an unusual situation for me. If this went according to plan, what would I have left to whine and complain about? My whole lifestyle would be brought into question.
“We will know shortly,” said Grayson.
The wait was a nervous one. I took care of Toniono by giving him some beans from the kitchen which were yellow and orange. They were mixed up in a big jar. I told him it was imperative he separate them into piles of each colour. A reason to live.
Less than two hours later there was the sound of horses outside and a stream of men in workers uniforms and faces hidden behind long scarves wound around their heads came running in.
They were carrying a hessian bag between them. It was long and lumpy but didn’t seem that heavy. They placed it on the hall floor. How had they done it? Were there any problems? Was it smooth sailing? I didn’t care.
“Success?” I asked Grayson, not wanting to assume anything.
He nodded. “Open it.”
Two of the men took out vicious-looking serrated daggers from out of nowhere and began slicing open the bag.
The contents were revealed in a few seconds, the body of a young man in plain clothing. He looked very dead.
He was thin and bony, but not like a desiccated corpse men in pith helmets might find in a tomb. The body was very much intact and preserved, like he had died only a few days ago, but he had been a weedy kid. To give you some context, if I’d had a fist fight with him, I was pretty sure I’d make it past the first round. I mean, yeah, I’d probably still lose, but not immediately.
“Is this him?” I asked Joshaya.
He nodded, eyes shining. He seemed happy enough. “Deathreaper Caim has returned. You must use the ball of life to revive him.”
I was a little hesitant. He didn’t look all that. “What about the magic armour and the sentient sword?” I said. Maybe he was more about the OP gear and legendary weapon.
Grayson looked at his men.
“This was all there was,” said one of them.
Grayson nodded, trusting his people implicitly. Must be nice. He sent them outside.
“Quickly,” said Joshaya, bathrobe flapping with excitement. “We have no time to waste.”
It’s always a worry when people start pressuring me to do something in haste. No time to think can be a good thing, it can stop you freaking yourself out from doubt and anxiety, but when others try to force it on you, there’s usually an ulterior motive.
I took out the ball Cowdrey had given me. He said it would give me a second life if something went wrong, and that it would cost him his own. How true was that? Only one way to find out.
“What do I do with it?” It was about the size of a tennis ball, its surface like polished mother of pearl. It glowed softly with an iridescent light.
“Pretty,” said Flossie.
“I agree,” said Toniono. Accommodating to a fault, and then you die.
“Leave it to me,” said Joshaya, reaching for it.
I know. But this was the plan I’d decided on. Not really the time to start second-guessing myself. “Will it kill the person who gave it to me?”
Joshaya took the ball and gave me a baffled look. “Person? This isn’t the life force of a person, this is the collected life force of several people, condensed and purified into a concentrated pellet.”
Cowdrey’s ability, or one of them, was to be able to take energy from people around him and give it to those who needed it. The kind of health service everyone thinks is a good idea but nobody wants to pay for.
He’d told me the ball was part of his life force, but I had found that a little hard to believe. Why would he do something so risky?
Joshaya crouched down and placed the ball on the chest of Deathreaper Caim, with his own hand on top, pushing it into the sternum.
Caim’s face was long and drawn. He looked like he could do with a meal. Damicar was already in the kitchen preparing a feast for the new arrival, one without mushrooms. I figured he’d be wary of us at first, but what man wasn’t reassured by a couple of sausages and some mash?
Joshaya pressed down harder and the ball sank into the body and light began to spread under the skin. Joshaya stood up and stepped back.
The body began to fill out. The muscles took on a more defined shape, the face warped and inflated like a blow-up doll taking shape. It became something more rugged and recognisable. A man, a powerful one.
The light faded and he lay there, looking a lot more healthy. But still dead.
His chest suddenly expanded and his mouth opened to take in a long noisy stream of air. Then his eyes opened.
He slowly looked around and then he jumped up and backed away. He looked scared and confused. Having died and come back myself, I knew the feeling, but even if I hadn’t, I still knew the feeling.
“Hey, it’s okay,” I said. “Friends. Friends.” I’m not sure why I decided to talk to him like he was retarded, but start at the bottom and work your way up.
His eyes darted around and came to rest on Joshaya. His demeanour changed.
“You,” he said in a hoarse whisper. “You!” This time louder and angrier. He pointed his finger. “I remember. Arthur!” It didn’t seem like a fond memory.
He closed his pointing hand into a fist. Black vines appeared around it, forming a glove. They ran up his arm, covering it.
They looked just like the vines from the adjacent world, pulsating and writhing in an unpleasant manner. They soon covered his whole body, encasing him. Like armour. His face was the last to disappear.
It only took a few seconds, and he was completely transformed. But he wasn’t quite finished. A shard of black crystal leapt from his fist forming a jagged blade over a metre long.
“Six targets, two negligible, two lethal, two ultra. Prioritising.” It was a cold dispassionate voice, and it was coming from the blade.
“No,” said a voice from behind the eyeless mask. “Single target.” He jumped towards Joshaya.
Not entirely how I had expected things to go, but not terrible. He had decided to attack Joshaya, who he thought was Arthur. Which meant he didn’t like Arthur. That was a good sign. However, he was about to kill Joshaya. Seemed like a win-win to me.
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Afterword from Mooderino