While it would have been interesting to see Joshaya face-off against the resurrected hero with the talking sword, it didn’t feel like the time and place for a duel to the death. Plus, it would have been messy and I would have been expected to help tidy up. Flossie and Dudley would have helped, too, but the thing with couples is, they seem to think a fair division of labour is they do half and you do half, but there’s fucking two of them so they should be doing 66%. You’re not a unit, you’re a couple, you should both do your fair share.
Other than my issues with workshy twosomes, I needed both Joshaya and Caim, for now at least.
I left my body and everything froze.
Caim, swathed in black vines, was bearing down on Joshaya, blade extended. Apart from wanting to prevent any deaths, I had also been curious to see what Caim looked like here in the adjacent world. The vines encasing him had the same look and texture as the ones in this world, and I wondered if that gave him some kind of ability here.
He looked the same. There were no extra vines growing from his body. Whether that meant the armour shielded him or that he was like me and didn’t have attachments, I wasn’t sure. It could be that he’d been dead so long, he needed time for them to grow back.
Or, it might be his vines were unrelated to my vines.
There was a slight movement from Joshaya. He could move here, but at a glacial pace. My power didn’t actually stop time, it just slowed it down. Actually, I was beginning to think it didn’t slow it down at all, it speeded me up. I could exist in between seconds, able to perform actions so fast, it made everyone look like they were standing still. Which would have been great if I could actually touch and move things in the real world.
My main ability was really good at stopping anything from happening, I was basically a human pause button. It wasn’t a very proactive ability. It didn’t enable me to do what I wanted, it just prevented others from doing what they wanted. My superhero name would be Cockblocker.
During the pause, I could do a bunch of things, but mostly it was just a delaying tactic. A time-out.
There was more to it than that, of course. I could use the black goo that bonded objects together as a way to force movement in the real world. It was a very powerful ability which I had put to good use, but it was incredibly tedious. It was not fun.
Without experiencing it first hand, I don’t think it can really be appreciated just how much of a pain it was to draw out the black goo into threads and attach them to various objects in an attempt to get them to do what I wanted in the real world. It was excruciatingly dull and took hours. Even though time didn’t exist for the rest of the universe, it existed for me. Even though I was moving at supersonic speed compared to everyone else, everything took forever.
Joshaya was languidly moving out of Caim’s path. His movements were unhurried but his face was twisted into a fearful grimace. He clearly feared his attacker, which was good to know.
The Deathreaper would find an empty space where he was attacking, once I restarted things. He probably wouldn’t take it well. He seemed the type to take it personally if you magically removed his decapitation target. Some people are like that. They think any attempt to stop them doing what they want is belittling them and their goals in life.
“Why can’t we go see a movie I want to see for once? It’s always the genius of Pixar this and the emotions of Pixar that. It’s a bloody cartoon, you child. Grow up.”
I’m not saying the sentiment’s wrong, my mum just lacked tact, sometimes.
I floated over to Caim and reached out a finger towards the vines wound around his arm like strapping. It looked like he was covered in black rubber bands, thousands of them forming a rubber suit of armour. The suit rippled and squirmed, which suggested these vines were at least related to the vines from here. As did the fact I was able to touch them. The texture was exactly as unpleasant.
“Violation detected,” said the sword.
The sound of a voice was startling. I was used to being utterly alone here, surrounded by silence.
The sword was made of dark crystal. It looked black at first, but it had a purple tinge to it. The blade was jagged and uneven, like the crystal had been found that way. It also looked very sharp along its edges and vicious at the points, of which there were several.
“Hello?” I floated closer to the blade to get a better look at it. “Do you have a name?” It was a bit strange conversing with a sword, but as long as it couldn’t move, I was fine with some small-talk. Actually, I was never fine with small-talk, but I’d put it up with it this once.
“Withdraw or suffer the consequences.”
Feisty. This newb didn’t realise that I’d been suffering consequences my whole life. My location made little difference.
“You know, manners cost nothing. A simple introduction before you start throwing around threats is considered polite around here. Especially when you can’t move and I can.” I wasn’t trying to be a dick, but sometimes you have to draw the line. Preferably when no one can step over it and call your bluff.
“Your threat-level is negligible. You will be neutralised if you do not comply.”
I have to admit I was a little hurt. When the sword had made its risk assessment earlier, I had assumed I was one of the two ultra-level threats mentioned. Apparently, I was considered one of the two negligibles. Seemed harsh.
Who were the ultras, then? Joshaya, or Arthur as Caim believed him to be. And… Flossie? She was the Dragonrider, so there was that. I wouldn’t have called it an ultra ability, myself, but I wasn’t on the panel of experts who get to make these calls.
It’s all personal opinion, really. The Academy says Leo is the best actor, the Hollywood Foreign Press say it’s Denzel. The only thing we know with any degree of objective certainty is that somewhere Kanye is having a really good time, just loving his life and not giving a shit.
“Look, I don’t care what your rating is, this isn’t a chance for you to get your voice heard and shape world opinion on the top five Michael Bay movies.” I tend to ramble when I’m trying to play the tough guy, especially when you have no frame of reference. It’s the tone that’s the important thing. “You’re in my world now, and my threat here is unimaginable.”
That might not have come across as hard-nosed as I’d wanted — unimaginable could also be taken to mean non-existent — but I wasn’t about to be intimidated by an inanimate object.
Actually, inanimate objects could be very intimidating, particularly those that were penis shaped and took six D cell batteries. Now that I thought about it, the sword had a roughly phallic shape to it, but at least it wasn’t battery-powered. Although, a giant black dildo without batteries didn’t make it any less threatening.
Was I being racist or homophobic? I know, why not both? You’d think there’d be a word for that. Homafrophobic? Sounds like the title to a rap album, the kind where you’re fairly certain the rapper doesn’t know what he’s talking about but likes the way the words sound (Quick, Ye, to the recording studio!).
Rambling, again. I took out my own sword, small and wooden, and held it out. “Perhaps you’d like me to demonstrate?”
Badass, right? Me versus the inanimate object, fight of the century.
The inanimate object decided to even the odds by becoming animated.
The sword moved inexorably slowly, pulling the arm attached to it like a tail behind a kite, as it turned towards me.
I looked over at Joshaya who was still moving out of the way, his face a little more relieved now that I was the one in the line of fire. If this didn’t go well, I’d try to take him out with me. I had no real reason to do that, but then spite isn’t built on reason.
My sword began to glow. Caim’s sword stopped. Finally, the message was getting through. Now we were getting somewhere. I mean, the place we were getting to was a standstill, but that was my home turf. You don’t come into the kingdom of Colin and initiate activity. A willingness to engage and an enthusiasm for making the effort? Not on my watch.
If we were going to fight it out, I’d have the advantage. In a slow-motion battle, the one not moving in slow-motion will win. That’s an old Chinese proverb (from Hong Kong in the mid-90s).
Was I supposed to attack the sword or the suit? My instinct was to kick him in the balls, but that was always my instinct. Most people think that’s the move you go to when you have no other choice. I say, if it’s a killer move, play it first. A big finisher is what they do in musicals and pornos, you want to get this over with as quickly as possible (although that could also so be said of musicals and pornos).
But Caim wasn’t calling the shots here. Perhaps he never had. The sword could be the organ grinder, not the monkey. I instantly regretted thinking about the grinding of organs.
“There’s no need to fight,” I said. “I don’t want to harm you, but that isn’t Arthur. Take a closer look.”
The sword turned slightly. Lights flickered deep within the blade. Was it some kind of machine? I’ve never been a fan of mixing genres — it’s spaceships and wizards, it’s so unique and different — but you have to keep an open mind when the talking sword is flashing LEDs in your face. I liked to use my existing knowledge of fantastical worlds from books, movies and video games that charge full price for early access beta builds to inform my actions in this world, but that didn’t mean everything was going to conform to my previous experiences.
“Inconsistencies found,” said the sword.
“Exactly,” I said. “He’s Joshaya. Do you know him? He’s a fairy. Also goes by The One True God. God of Death?”
There was a long pause. I waited. Maybe it was running some kind of software analysis. Maybe it had crashed and was booting up again.
“Advise termination nevertheless,” said the sword.
“Good call,” I said, “but I need him. He’s helping me against Arthur, the real Arthur, and Peter.”
Purple lights flickered along the length of the blade. Peter’s name had got a definite response.
I wasn’t sure if it was asking me for Peter’s location or about to tell me. After a few seconds of silence, I assumed it was the former.
“I’m not sure where he is, Fengarad, probably. I need your help to deal with him, with both of them. Do you consider them your enemies?”
Another long pause followed.
“What happens afterwards? After we win, what do you want? To be king? To be Emperor?”
The sword suddenly didn’t sound like a robot. HAL in 2001, Mother in Alien, Alexa in homes the government wants to wiretap illegally, they all had that ambivalent tone of disinterest we like our computer AIs to have. The sword had abandoned its version in favour of something far more menacing. It sounded aroused.
“Afterwards you, I mean Caim will become the sovereign ruler of the whole of Flatland. All the cities, the fields, the forests, you know, the whole shebang.”
“You won’t contest his right to rule?”
“Nope. I’m not very social. Large groups of people bowing make me uncomfortable. Bending over as a form of deference seems needlessly sexual, if you ask me. I’m surprised people don’t bring it up more often.”
The sword was silent a long time after that. I like to think I’d given it something to think about.
“You don’t want any land for yourself?” The sword was finding it hard to believe I’d be so magnanimous. Or so stupid. I was used to it.
“Well, maybe a small castle somewhere out of the way, preferably with a drawbridge. Keep the riff-raff out.”
The sword swayed from side to side, Caim’s arm drifting with it.
“There will be death and suffering,” said the sword.
“There usually is,” I said. We were getting to the point where our goals aligned and we found common ground. A prelude to when our goals unaligned and we started looking for the opportunity to stab each other in the back. “It would help if I could get some information about you. You and Caim. Are you part of him? What is this armour made of? How did you become like this?”
I wasn’t normally the curious sort, but this particular origin story seemed relevant to me. If I could get myself a suit of armour like his, it might stop me from getting hurt. I mean, physically. Emotionally I was already pretty dead, so no need to worry about that.
The problem was that vines were repulsed by me (yes, yes, them and everybody else), so how would I get them to provide a barrier all over my body. And what role did the sword play? Did it grow out of the vines? Did it come from Caim himself? Was it an entirely separate entity?
“I don’t know if I can trust you,” said the overgrown kitchen utensil.
“Sure, I get that. I don’t trust you either. Most people I’ve met in this world have treated me in an honourable and fair way right up to the point they’ve tried to kill me. I doubt you two will be any different.”
“We have had a similar experience. Caim is reluctant to trust anyone ever again.”
“What about you?” I asked.
“I never trusted anyone in the first place.”
“But you still ended up dead.”
“I did not die. Caim did.”
“Well, that’s splitting hairs, isn’t it? Not like you can go off without him.”
We were in danger of starting to bicker, but that was okay. Better to get an understanding of where we stood and take it from there. We could still each get what we wanted as long as we were open and honest, and assumed the other was a lying sack of shit. Diplomacy, I believe it’s called.
“We will lead the way. We will choose the battles. There will be no mercy given, there will be no prisoners taken.”
“Yeah, sure, whatever.” Going off the deep end a bit, but I guess if a sword can’t take war seriously, who can? “Do you have a name?”
“I am known as Black Thorn,” said the sword, “but to Caim, I am his Angel Rose.”
“Nice. You’re a girl. Always turns out well for me when it’s a girl.”
“You should know,” said Angel Rose, “I will allow no one to hurt Caim again. No one.”
I sensed a bit of an overprotective girlfriend vibe, but I was probably misinterpreting the situation as I always did with girls (although I usually misinterpreted it into thinking they were being reasonable and kind, easy mistake to make).
“Fine. Sounds good. No hurt, I’m all for it. Now, can you get him to stand down before he does the hurting?”
“I can retract myself, but he can still do a lot of damage without me. You will have to subdue him.”
“Me? But my threat-level is negligible.” People never point out your failings when they want a favour from you. “Isn’t there an Off button on this suit?”
It looked pretty seamless, no switches or panels to pry open in the case of an emergency. God knows how he took a dump in this thing.
“Your rating has been upgraded to cause for concern. Caim is committed to a course of action. There is no stopping him when he gets like this.”
Cause for concern was how my family referred to my cousin who liked starting fires. Hardly the most impressive rank in the superhero hall of fame.
“Cockblocker is here to save the day, or at least get in everyone’s way to an annoying extent. Don’t worry, I have been officially classified as a cause for concern.”
Not sure who’d be more concerned, the villains or the victims.
“Joshaya, go in the other room.” Joshaya slowly nodded. So far he’d got to the end of the table. He’d only need another century or so to make it to the door. “Chop-chop. We haven’t got all day.” We actually had eternity, but people tend to fill the time you allow them. “Does the suit have any special properties? Flying, tracking targets, laser beams?”
“Yes,” said Angel Rose.
“Yes? All of them? Great.” Always good to know how much you’re outclassed by. Not like you can ask after you’ve been squished like a bug.
There was only one thing for it. I’d have to go old school. I floated down to Caim’s feet and began to eek out the black goo from between the floor and the bottom of his foot.
Yes, I was going to do the equivalent of tying his shoelaces together; if tying shoelaces took six hours. I fucking hated my power.
Once that was done (no jump cuts for me, I had the real-time experience), I returned to my body. Action restarted and Caim immediately tripped and fell.
“Bundle!” I cried out and we all jumped on him, old school.
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Afterword from Mooderino