No, I hadn’t gone insane with power. Setting fire to a city full of people wasn’t my idea of a good time. The city wasn’t actually on fire.
While Mrs Somya was able to create a sympathetic link between the model of Fengarad and the real thing, cities can’t actually feel or think or get hot and flustered. The people in the city could, though.
The way a church can create a sense of awe and wonder in religious nutters was similar to the way the city could affect its inhabitants.
Mrs Somya could create the idea that the city was on fire — which it wasn’t — and the people would believe it, to a retarded degree. They’d believe it so much, they’d run out of their houses and break the city walls down to escape from the wildfires they were sure were about to consume them. They could feel the heat, smell the smoke, taste the ash.
The city had, in effect, become the voodoo doll for the people of Fengarad. There was no need to make individual sculptures for each person, they were united by their identity as Fengaradians, or whatever the fuck they called themselves.
The soldiers on the walls were no less affected, and a couple of them did run screaming off the battlements, falling to their deaths, or possibly breaking a couple of legs. I admit I was partially responsible for their misfortune, but some soldiers would have been killed in any case. That’s how war works. Overall, my approach had saved lives. Prove me wrong.
The panic among the people was great enough that the gates were forced open from the inside and we just had to stand there and wait for our besieged foe to unbesiege themselves.
As they streamed, out it was very clear that there were no flames endangering anyone, other than the ones engulfing the model, which was a big charred mess. Once it burnt itself out, I imagined the people of Fengarad would feel pretty stupid. Which wouldn’t lead to them to admitting they’d been outplayed and quietly accept defeat. No, they would react by turning violent and bitter. You just can’t teach people a valuable lesson about their place in the universe without them trying to kill you for it. No pleasing some people.
I climbed on top of a large behemoth of indiscriminate origin (looked like a cross between a tiger and a hippo), who didn’t seem to mind, or even notice — and I stood above the crowds moving towards us. My troops weren’t reacting. They hadn’t been told to attack and they weren’t all that interested in killing for no reason. Being dead for so long had helped them see things from a fresh perspective, perhaps. Or it could have been that they were a surly bunch of ingrates who didn’t understand why they’d been dragged out of their nice warm graves.
Whatever the reason for their placid temperament, it suited my purposes, so I wasn’t going to complain. Well, not about that, anyway.
Once the refugees were far enough from the city walls to not feel the heat on their backs, they realised their situation hadn’t really improved.
Phase one of my plan had worked pretty well, now I just had to make sure they didn’t stand around like stunned yokels, blocking the people behind them.
“Keep moving, please,” I bellowed through cupped hands around my mouth. “We need to evacuate everyone before we can go in and put out the fire.”
“Who are you?” cried out someone.
“We’re the fire service.” Technically, that was true. Want something set on fire? Call for more info and competitive pricing. “We’ll get in there and sort everything out, don’t worry. Just keep it moving. Let the others get out.”
They were forced to do as I asked, but not because of my persuasive charm, but because there was a whole bunch of panicking people right behind them.
Think what you could do with this many people driven to act without pause for thought. When people join forces to get something done, the results are pretty impressive. The pyramids, the Great Wall of China, the Qatar football stadiums for the World Cup. Basically, human accomplishment can achieve remarkable results with a combination of slavery and a willingness to let people die in their thousands.
Confusion reigned, soldiers mingled with the general populous, and no one seemed to know what was going on. Whatever might lay ahead, it had to be better than the hell they were leaving behind, and they poured out like England supporters coming out of Wembley. They looked haggard and had shocked expressions on their faces, like England supporters coming out of Wembley.
“No need to panic, you’re all safe out here. Keep to the left, please. Monsters will kill and eat you if you stray from the path. Don’t worry, it’s for your own safety.”
My troops watched impassively as the citizens of Fengarad filed past, filling up the area between us and the city like some kind of human moat. The undead are an unsettling sight when they stand in a large group and stare into your soul. They show no emotion and no value for life. Their dead eyes speak of untold horrors they have witnessed and can never recover from. If you’ve ever been to Leeds city centre, you’ll know the feeling.
I kept up a continuous commentary to put these poor, dislocated people at their ease. It can’t be easy to leave behind everything you own and have accumulated over a lifetime, in fear for your life and surrounded by fear and uncertainty. Having a strong, comforting voice letting them know everything was going to be alright was what they needed right now.
“No littering please. Stay off the grass. Try not to look directly at any monsters, especially not with disgust and revulsion. Their eyes might look dead and soulless, but they have feelings. Thank you for your cooperation.”
I’ve never been great at public speaking, but I felt like I was getting the hang of it.
It took about half an hour for the city to empty. Thousands of people had gathered outside the walls, rich, poor, soldiers and beggars. It was a wonderful example of a community coming together to be cucked by yours truly, and cucked hard.
I gave the signal and my lot piled into the city. The citizens cheered our bravery. Yes, we were the enemy, but we were running into a burning city. You had to admire the moxie.
My bravery was somewhat tempered by the fact only people had exited the city. I knew Fengarad had made a pact with the lizardmen, and they were probably still inside.
The image of the burning city would affect visiting monsters and tourists a lot less than the local populace. I expected to find angry lizardmen ready to fight to the death, and tourists inadvertently blocking entrances and walking down the wrong side of staircases, making a general nuisance of themselves.
Flossie and Dudley were pleased there’d been no bloodshed and were looking at me with sickening expectation. They wanted me to keep going on my pacifist run, but I doubted that would be possible. Disappointment was in their future, as it was in everyone’s.
I told them to take the dragon and circle the city to make sure there weren’t any backdoor shenanigans. If anyone knew about what that would look like, it would be those two.
As soon as we were all inside the city walls, I gave the order to shut the gates.
There was a murmur of confusion from outside. They were starting to realise the city wasn’t quite as on fire as they’d thought.
I put men on the walls and looked down at the huddled refugees. They looked back up at me, slow realisation dawning.
“It’s okay,” I shouted down. “Fires are out.”
“Can we come back in?” someone shouted.
“No, not right now. Try Dargot. It’s that way.” I pointed helpfully.
It’s very hard to invade and occupy a city. The inhabitants tend to take a dim view of change. And if you kill them all, well, it’s a pain digging all those mass graves. Much easier to juke them into leaving and change the locks.
“This is our home.” Voices of complaint rose up to me. The city walls withstood the barrage.
“No take-backs. If you want to fight about it, good luck. These defences are fucking awesome.”
There was a long silence as the crowd absorbed the situation.
“This isn’t fair,” said a lone voice.
“I know,” I said. “That’s why it’s called war.”
Some people wandered off, most milled around, other sat down and began making protest signs. It’s all well and good when you’ve got the upper hand, but as soon as things don’t go your way, it’s time to sulk and get the poster paint out.
War, like anything else, has its rules. There are laws that have to be obeyed in civilised society. Only joking. Laws are for plebs. No one who ever won a war prosecuted their own side for war crimes.
There’s always a technicality that allows people — the right people — to avoid taking responsibility.
Everywhere you look, in courts, in business, in sports, you will see people demanding punishment for others, and then somehow dodging accountability like they’re in The Matrix when the finger is pointed at them.
Oh, no, this particular case involving me is different, technically.
We all know it’s a con, but no one ever seems to revoke these get out of jail free cards. Because what if you need one?
It’s almost like the people who made the laws made sure to build in loopholes just in case they ever found themselves on the wrong end of a valid prosecution.
One law for them, one law for us is an oversimplification. It’s the same law for everyone, it just isn’t always enforced equally. Because technicalities.
But this isn’t some perversion of good old-fashioned values. Wanting others to play fair while allowing yourself room to bend the rules is basic human nature. The only people who want the best team to win are the ones not in the game.
All contests have their exploits. And if a game-breaking bug ruins the player experience, then the devs will put it on their radar, they’ll discuss the matter internally but these things are often more complex than they appear and require careful assessment to avoid making things worse. Meanwhile, if a bug in the cash shop is costing the company money, there’ll be a hotfix this afternoon.
I didn’t think there’d be much of an effort to retake the city. In their rush to leave what they believed to be a raging inferno, the soldiers had left behind most of their weapons, and their army was more comfortable defending walls than storming them.
I sent Caim to search the city for stragglers. Joshaya, I left on the walls to make sure there was no funny business.
I headed for the palace with the rest of the forces. Lizardmen were the main threat now, but I’d noted that none of the royal family had exited, either. The king probably had the strongest connection to the city, but he was probably willing to go down with the burning ship. He probably had a group of elite soldiers with him.
The palace was quiet and empty. There were no signs of lizardmen, but there were other ways in and out of the city. We had to stay alert and on our guard. It took only a few steps through the palace hallways for the attack to arrive.
“Ah, you’re finally here,” said Laney. “How long did you plan to make a princess wait? I should have you stripped and whipped for your insolence. I’ll attend to it personally, if you’d like.” She leered at me.
The soldiers with me didn’t react. That was because I didn’t order them to cut her down, and also because they didn’t know her. If they had, they’d have probably run off screaming. I was close to it myself.
“Why are you here? How are you here?” Last time I saw her, she was being escorted away in Gorgoth, an enemy of the state.
“I escaped, of course. Do you really think a Gorgoth cell could hold a princess of Fengarad?”
“Yes,” I said. “Who helped you?”
“You’ll need her,” said Biadet, stepping out from behind Laney. She looked a lot better, some of the colour had returned to her cheeks, which were almost back to their pasty china-blue hue.
“I find that hard to believe,” I said. “Need her for what?”
“The midget’s assistance was unrequited,” insisted Laney. “The bars were wide enough to let my winsome body through, but I have bumps and curves that made egress a little sticky.” She said the word with a lot of teeth on show. “You’ve noticed the bumps and curves I’m talking about, haven’t you, mmm?”
“You should have added a padlock and left her there,” I said to Biadet.
“My plan was simple,” said Laney. “I was collecting grease from the disgusting meals they served me. When I had enough, I would remove my clothing — all of my clothing — and smear my body with meaty oils. Slippery smooth, yes? Glistening in the moonlight, can you picture it? Ready to push myself through the bars. Squeeeeeze.”
“That’s enough,” I said. “You’re making the undead feel uncomfortable. Let’s just go, you can talk to your dad, stop him from attacking us.” Might be preferable to just let him execute me.
“Don’t worry, Colin, I will protect you from my father. He always gives me what I want.”
“Will you protect me from her?” I asked Biadet.
“No,” she said. “But I’ll be happy to watch and offer criticism.”
We made it to the throne room without encountering anyone else. I knocked on the large door, ready to slip into the adjacent world as soon as trouble appeared.
I could have done that anyway and scouted the area for any hidden forces waiting to ambush us, but there’s no point sneaking around a Level 1 dungeon when you’re already level-capped and can one-hit boss mobs.
The doors opened and revealed an almost empty room. There was only one person inside, sitting on the throne.
“Come in, then, since you’re here,” said Jenny.
She looked pretty good. She was wearing a very form-fitting white outfit with gold buttons and high collars, and a pinched waist with flowing tails on the back. There were spikes on the shoulder pads and she had red gloves up to the elbows, with metal bands woven into them, around the fingers and up the forearms. Combination knuckle-duster and blade blocker; nice.
“Um, hello,” I said. “You look different. Have you done something different with your hair?”
“Don’t say that if you’re just guessing.” She got up from the throne and walked towards us. I felt a wave of ice flow over me. The two girls beside me backed away, their faces sagging. The undead didn’t react, though.
This was her power, to affect emotions. But the undead, like me, didn’t have any, so we were immune. Although some of us were more immune than others.
She really did look good. No skin was showing, no cleavage, no makeup. Her face was still fucked up from the dragon acid, but it didn’t make a difference.
“We need to talk,” she said.
“Okay. Um, lot of weather we’ve been having lately, don’t you think?”
“Not that kind of talk. And in private. The rest of you stay here.” She turned to Biadet and Laney. “I mean it.”
Laney pouted, Biadet shrugged.
Jenny turned and walked towards a door, expecting me to follow.
Was this a trap. Was it even really Jenny? Was she possessed or under mind-control? And where was everyone else? Waiting to jump out and throw me a surprise party?
I followed her into the other room. There was a large bed in there.
She closed the door and began undressing.
“What are you doing?” I asked her.
“I’m going to have sex with you.” She kept stripping.
“This is sexual harassment,” I said, watching closely. For tricks.
She stood there in her underwear. “It’s only sexual harassment if you don’t want to fuck me.”
She had me there. Looked like I was about to get off on a technicality.
Next two chapters are up now on Patreon.Afterword from Mooderino