“We should probably leave,” said Joshaya. “Come back later.”
He wasn’t keen on the whole raise a huge army of dead people at the unreasonable price of his well-being. I considered it a bargain.
“Who is it?” I said. We were very high up and the army below us were specks. Lots and lots of specks. They had probably already seen us but I didn’t want to go lower in case they had some kind of equipment that could target us. “Dudley, have a look.”
Dudley was leaning over the side of the dragon as we circled the field. His eyes were far sharper than the rest of us, so he should have been able to identify the occupying army, at least what species they were.
“Hmm,” said Dudley, squinting hard. “Ogres. They’re all ogres.”
Jackpot! I was like their favourite human of all time. The Ogre Magi loved me. Well, she tolerated me and wouldn’t kill me, not on purpose anyway, so that was a definite point in my favour.
It was weird that there was so many of them, thousands I would guess. And I didn’t recall ogres living in large tents.
“What are they doing?” I asked Dudley.
“Nothing. Sitting around in their armour. Sharpening their swords, I think.”
That didn’t sound like a very ogrish way to pass the time. Since when did ogres wear armour and use swords. Seemed a bit iffy to me.
“Okay, wait here. Don’t do anything until I get back.” This was mainly aimed at Joshaya. He was ready to jump ship at the earliest opportunity, but it would be hard from up here.
I left my body and floated down to check things out for myself. The other advantage to being in this state was reconnaissance. No one knew I was there, I could take all the time I wanted, and I could go virtually anywhere. I was a super-spy, undetectable and unstoppable. If I gave a shit what other people were up to it might actually be a useful ability.
This one time, though, I did have a use for it. Nosy Parker Colin on a mission to see what was up with the Ogre Nation.
As I neared ground level, it became clear this was not a normal gathering of ogres, hanging out and comparing sword-polishing tricks and tips. These ogres had collars with chains. Even weirder, they seemed fine with it, not an angry face among them. Of course, like with any photo, you can catch someone’s face in between normal expressions that doesn’t represent who they really are, but all of them seemed calm and docile. It made me suspect some kind of mind-control, but then why the chains?
I floated around a bit more., looking for whoever had these ogres on a leash. I headed for the biggest tent (big hats, big chairs, big tents… sensing a theme yet?) with one eye open in case someone jumped me. I don’t want to come across as a hipster douchebag (like there’s any other kind), but it was far better when I was the only one who was able to move around in the adjacent world.
Now, there were all sorts of people (and non-people) who were able to enter this place. None of them had quite the mobility I did, but it was only a matter of time until someone figured out a way to ruin my fun. Fun being me on my own.
When I got to the tent, I was able to pass right through it. It was darker inside but not so dark that I was unable to see the giant cage with the Ogre Magi inside it. She was sitting on her haunches looking a bit bored.
Take the magi hostage, make the other ogres do as you command? Not a bad plan, if you can manage it. But why was the Ogre Magi just sitting here allowing it? My guess would be some kind of magic. Maybe the bars were laced with unbreakable juju. Whatever it was, it seemed a good idea to break her out of here.
As a fine upstanding young man (I mean me, if you were confused) it made sense to aid my ogres friends in need, because it was the right thing to do. Altruism aside (and let’s face it, it’s never the real reason for anything) having the ogres feel indebted to me was bound to come in useful at some point (probably when they had added salt and pepper to taste and had their napkins tucked under their many chins).
The people responsible for her incarceration weren’t going to like it, of course. They would probably try to veto the whole idea, but the real question was who. Who had gone out of their way to gather an army of enslaved ogres?
And the answer was sitting on the other side of the cage with his green-eyed dogs, tucking into a very lavish meal on a small table. Gullen Santon, Minister for Roadworks and Planning in Dargot, was poised with spoon raised.
The dogs were terrifying even when not moving, their eyes still glowing.
Gullen was certainly the kind of person capable of this sort of thing, but why? Who was he planning on attacking? Me?
I turned around to leave and found myself looking at the Ogre Magi. She was completely still, but it felt like she knew I was there. And then she sniffed.
That was all. Her nostrils flared and then returned to normal. I waited to see if she would move or say anything, but nothing else happened. Everyone was getting in on the act. Pretty soon they’d all move here and there goes the neighbourhood.
I returned to the dragon, soaring up through the air but not really. It wasn’t so much flying as repositioning. There was no sense of movement, no air blowing my hair back.
When I re-entered my body, no time had passed for the others. I had told them to wait and then I was back before they had a chance to do as I said.
“Take us down,” I shouted to Flossie up front. “Near the big tent.”
“Are you sure?” said Joshaya.
“I’m never sure about anything, that’s my greatest power. Always assume I don’t know what I’m doing and I’m sure you’ll do well. Like when you first saw me and thought how easy it would be to fuck up my life. How’s that turning out for you, by the way?”
Being a dick was my actual greatest power. A limitless resource.
“I’ve learned my lesson,” said Joshaya as we glided down. “We should work together, to our mutual benefit.”
“No,” I said, “we should work to my benefit, mutually. Get ready to raise some dead folk.”
No one learns their lesson without it being forced down their throats. They’ll do everything they can to avoid their punishment which only proves they’ve learned nothing. And if you do let them off the hook, it will only confirm to them that they’re too smart to get punished.
Doling out the punish is essential. You have to hit rock bottom before you can start looking for a way that isn’t further down.
Once you get there, you have two choices. Become a resentful angry shithead (a perennial favourite) or change your ways (resentfully). I don’t think it matters which you choose, the important part is to rub your face in it and leave your ego in tatters. Much harder to be charming when everyone knows you suck.
Of course, there are one or two people who genuinely get scared straight and don’t need to be punished, but how do you find them amongst the 6.9 billion who are lying sacks of shit? The odds are never in your favour.
We came in for a landing with the ogres standing up to greet us with calls of wahooo, as is their way. They were only mildly interested, not getting all that excited by my arrival, which is par for the course.
I jumped off Vikchutni, who wasted no time getting stuck into the nearest clump of grass, and headed into the tent. The others followed somewhat more apprehensively.
Gullen was just finishing his soup. “Ah, you’re here. I was told a dragon had been spotted. Can I interest you in a late lunch or early supper?” His dogs stood up and smiled. I’m going to say that’s what they were doing. Happy boys hecking glad to see us.
I wasn’t sure who he had been told by, I hadn’t seen anyone other than the ogres outside, although I hadn’t checked the other tents. It didn’t surprise me that we were expected, though. The wahoooing was probably a bit of a giveaway, too.
“Hello, Gullen. How’s it going? Murdered any innocents lately?” I walked over to the cage with the Ogre Magi sitting quietly.
“Not lately, no. Something I can do for you?”
The others were in by now. They were nervous of the dogs and were curious about the caged ogre. The only one they should have been worried about was Gullen.
“What are you doing in there?” I asked the Ogre Magi, who was pointedly not looking at me. “Why don’t you leave?”
She glanced over her shoulder and then leaned down towards me, whispering, “Bad man.”
The discretion wasn’t really necessary as her whisper was around eighty decibels and made the tent walls flap.
“Why have you got her locked up, Gullen?”
“The ogres were gathering in large numbers for some reason. We thought it best to control them before they did something regrettable.”
I turned back to the Ogre Magi. “Why were you gathering your people?”
“Long journey,” she grunted. “Holiday.”
“Oh, nice. Beach?”
The Ogre Magi’s face broke out into a smile. “Yes. Sea and sand.”
I took out my sword.
“If you’re planning on breaking the bars,” said Gullen, “I wouldn’t. They’re magically reinforced.”
“By whom? Zarigold? I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but her inventions are garbage. This is Deathreaper Caim, by the way.”
“Oh,” said Gullen, registering actual surprise for once. “I have heard of you. I thought you were dead.”
“He was,” I said. “Never seems to stick around here. Caim, can you pull out the sword, please. And if the dogs attack, kill them.”
Caim transformed into his armour and Angel Rose flashed into existence. “I don’t kill dogs,” he said from behind his mask.
“Really, dude? You couldn’t have bluffed?”
I shook my head. You just can’t get the staff these days. “Can you analyse the cage?”
Angel Rose lit up. “High quality iron, reinforced core, unbreakable bars.”
“You can’t break the bars?”
“Guess it’s up to me, then.” I lit up my own sword.
“Inadvisable,” said the sword.
“Story of my life,” I said and took a whack.
My wooden sword filled with my life force struck the bar and stayed there. It would have looked sexy if I’d slashed through the bars like they were nothing, but sexy and me don’t really go together. I had to push through it like I was a welder. It was a draining experience but I managed to cut around the lock on the gate. It swung open.
“Do you know what that cost you?” said Gullen.
“Yes,” I said. “Do you think you’ll ever be able to threaten me when I value nothing, not even myself?”
He nodded but didn’t say anything.
“You can go,” I said to the Ogre Magi.
She looked at Gullen, then at me. “Bad man?”
“He won’t do anything, or I’ll kill him and castrate his dogs. Is that alright?” I said to Caim. “Hey, evil green-eyed dogs, I don’t know if you can understand me, but if you fuck with me, I’m going to cut off your testicles.” I pointed at my groin and the hit my palm with the edge of my other hand. “Chop, chop.”
The dogs all sat down. They got the message.
“What if they were bitches?” said Flossie, asking the important questions.
“Then I’d give them hysterectomies.”
“What? Yo’ can’t do that?”
“Oh, when it was cutting off balls it was fine, but the womb is sacrosanct. What the fuck, Floss, that’s not how equality works.”
The Ogre Magi got up and walked out of the cage. She was much bigger than the other ogres, and they weren’t tiny. Rather than head out the exit past Gullen, she walked to the back wall of the tent and ripped it open with a wave of her hand.
We followed her.
As she stepped outside, the other ogres rose to greet her with a cacophony of wahooos. She answered with one of her own and they all grabbed their collars and ripped them off.
“Where are your men?” I asked Gullen. I was surprised they hadn’t come to see what was going on.
“I restricted them to their quarters. I didn’t want to risk them doing anything foolish and provoking you.”
“Is he really that powerful?” asked Caim.
“He is probably the most powerful Visitor to have come to our world,” said Gullen.
Even with the mask on, I could tell Caim was offended. “Then why doesn’t he take this all for himself? Why not lead this army of ogres and destroy all who stand in his way?”
Gullen sighed. “Please don’t give him any ideas.”
I liked Gullen. He was one of the few people who got me.
The ogres walked off towards the mountains to the north without looking back. They had better things to do. Lying on a beach, for a start.
I probably could have convinced the magi to help out, used some kind of emotional blackmail as leverage, but that would have been a bitch move. Some of us have standards. Low ones, but they’re much easier to stick to.
“You can take your people and go,” I said to Gullen. “I need this land for some stuff. Don’t ask. And if you could pass on a message for me. Tell Peter and whoever else is running things on your end that they have until I reach Fengarad to surrender. Otherwise, I’ll be forced to tear the walls down and rip the spires out.”
Gullen nodded and whistled one long sharp note. I thought it was for the dogs, but the tents at the far end emptied as hundreds of men emerged. They quickly took down their tents, packed them away and got in formation ready to depart like that had been the plan all along. Took them about five minutes. I can’t say I didn’t envy the control he had over his troops. Must be nice.
“I’ll be sure to pass your message along,” said Gullen, and then he strode off with his dogs running after him. None of them were staring me down anymore.
I waited for them to disappear past the dip and then turned to Joshaya. “You’re up. Let’s see some resurrection-action. Caim, show him where your comrades fell. I can’t wait to see who you dig up. Dudley, do me a favour and scan the area. See if there’s a wandering Elf knocking about, we could use a giant monster of doom as backup, you know, for the meme potential.”
There was a big long wahooo from the distance. The ogres had stopped on the slope and were facing us in a line. Their call modulated into a melody, the Song of Wahooo. It was an awkward moment. Do you stand and listen? Carry on and let it go on in the background? Join in?
Flossie’s eyes were shining with the thought of potential backing singers.
“You, go take care of your dragon.”
“But they’re giving a concert.”
“Yes, for me. Now fuck off, all of you.” I stood there listening, my eyes watering slightly. It was the worst thing I’d ever heard, and it was all for me. I fucking hoped there wasn’t an encore.
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Afterword from Mooderino