“I don’t think this is a good idea,” I said.
To be honest, I thought it was a great idea. Jenny in her underwear was a fan favourite, and her wanting me to succumb to temptation was very appealing. Who doesn’t enjoy a good succumbing?
But was it really her? She could be under any number of influences — mind-control, possession, maybe it was someone who had assumed her form. And even if it was really her, the reason she wanted me to rip off my clothes and jump on her could be less to do about hormone-fuelled lust (the purest of the lusts) and more about making me into her plaything. Which I wasn’t necessarily against.
There was an easy way to find out. I could slide into the adjacent world and have a look at how she was wired. If she was being unduly influenced by outside forces, my skills had improved enough that I’d be able to tell, probably.
But what if that was the case? It would mean sex with her would be morally indefensible, and I really wanted to have sex with her, but under conditions that were at least amorally defensible. I could always hack off any suspicious tentacles, but then she might change her mind. You see the quandary I was in.
On the other hand, if I didn’t look, there was always the chance it was just a bunk up between two old sweethearts. It might be honest hunger, it could be faked thirst, it could be neither, or both.
It was a confusing sexual proposition. Wilful ignorance in order to presume the outcome is undetermined. Schrodinger's pussy.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea, either,” said Jenny, walking towards me. She wasn’t actually naked, she had bra and knickers on, so it was more like she was wearing a bikini. Nothing salacious about that, right?
“No. I think it’s a terrible idea that would lead to all sorts of complications that I’ve been trying to avoid.” She stood as close to me as you can without touching someone. And then she took another step.
The warmth of her body passed through my clothing like it wasn’t there.
“Where is everyone?” I asked by way of not making any sort of decision.
“They’ve fallen back to rally at Dargot. It was obvious you would come here. We didn’t know what you were planning, but it was likely to be something difficult to deal with.” She tilted her head and placed her face closer to my neck, not quite resting her cheek on my shoulder.
“So they cut and run? Doesn’t seem like much of a plan.”
“They wanted you to use up your energy here while they conserved theirs.” Her lips brushed against my skin.
It was a reasonable idea, to let me waste all my resources trying to break down Fengarad’s walls so I’d be weaker by the time I reached them in Dargot. Unfortunately, I hadn’t expended any of my own energy. You’d think they’d know that about me.
“And what about you? They left you behind to delay me?”
Jenny moved her head back so she could look at me. “You think my intention is to delay you with sex? I’m not sure there’s much they could do with the extra two and a half minutes.”
I forced the smile to stay inside my head. She grinned, easily seeing it there.
To be fair, no one knew me better in that regard, and it was nice of her to throw in an extra thirty seconds.
“Do you really believe women only use sex to get what they want?” she asked me.
“No, not only.”
Suggesting there’s a transactional nature to sex is offensive and insulting to people who consider it an act of mutual love and bonding. And then they come, and see it for what it is.
There’s nothing wrong with bargaining with your body as long as it’s a closed market. If a woman says she’s having sex with you just so you’ll be nicer to her, would you refuse to be bribed? If a woman thinks having a quick shag when she’s not in the mood will improve other aspects of her life, is she a whore? If so, I have some news about your mum.
“What about men?” you might say. “Aren’t they also using sex to blah blah blah.” It’s hard to answer when you stop listening halfway through because it’s such a fucking stupid question.
We produce sperm. We produce an excessive amount. Billions. If you want some, help yourself, no charge.
“I know this is going to make things more difficult in the long run,” said Jenny, “but I don’t care.” She kissed my neck. “I tried to be a good girl and do what was in the best interest of the innocents who are going to suffer if we don’t do what we have to, but I’m tired of being good.” She kissed my ear. “If everyone suffers horribly and dies because I couldn’t control myself, I’m sorry.” She kissed my mouth and took off her bra in one balletic motion. “If you want to check I’m not being controlled by Peter or I’m not really me, you can do that.” She was unbuckling my belt and continuing to kiss me.
I wasn’t doing anything. It wasn’t like I didn’t feel an overwhelming tide of lust washing over me, but I was holding myself in a weird middle ground between pushing her away and pushing myself on top of her. It was both excruciating and enthralling. An exquisite tease.
“We aren’t connected anymore,” I said into her mouth. The movement of my lips turned it into a proper kiss, kind of.
She stopped and pulled back. “Because you cut me off.” Her eyes flashed with resentment.
“I… it wasn’t—”
“I know.” The light in her eyes dimmed. “We all decided it was for the best. It was. Just not for us.” A new kind of light appeared in her eyes. “Just do this. Even if you suspect something terrible will be the result, that I’m going to lead you down a dark path, accept it and be confident you can deal with whatever comes. Hate me, if you want. Feel nothing in your heart, I don’t mind. If I can’t have you at your best, I’m happy to take you at your worst. They aren’t really all that different.”
You might think she was trying to seduce me. The naked body and kissing would suggest you were right. But for what reason? Something nefarious? Couldn’t it be that she was just gagging for it? Women get like that sometimes.
“You want me to trust you?”
“I want you to break me in two.”
I pushed her down onto the bed and sank into her about as deep as is humanly possible.
It’s appealing to the ego, for a guy, to have a woman offer herself. Especially when it’s to a guy who isn’t the type to get those kinds of offers every day. Or any day. It’s even more gratifying to have a woman buckle under you, her throat exposed as she tilts her head back so hard you worry her spine might snap. Even if it’s faked, it’s a very nice gesture.
Was I being an idiot? Of all the ways to get my guard down, this was a very obvious one. I was exposed and vulnerable, and I had volunteered. It was something of a pointless thing to worry about. So what if it led to my ruin? Worth.
I didn’t have a watch on me, but Jenny’s estimations weren’t far off. It had been some time since I’d had any kind of release and I was a bit backed up. Good thing Jenny was under me, if she’d have been on top I’d have probably shot her out of a window like a cork from a champagne bottle.
We lay there for a while, slowly cooling.
“Been a while, huh?” she said through panting breaths.
“I couldn’t even if I wanted to. My ability makes any extreme emotion overwhelm those around me. It’s a good thing you evacuated the city first, if we’d done this with people around the whole of Fangarad would have turned into a mass orgy.”
This was a side-effect of her power I wasn’t aware of.
“I think my girlfriend’s cheating on me.”
“Oh? What makes you think that?”
“People are fucking in the streets.”
A very public way to tell if your girlfriend’s been unfaithful.
It made sense that she would close down her vagina if she had that kind of effect on her neighbours, but it meant she was even more powerful now than before. Peter’s handiwork? Was he still boosting her?
I should have just looked, of course. I was scared to.
She let out a long sigh. “Do you know how hard it is to control your feelings so the world doesn’t lose its mind?”
“No, is it by Kendrick Lamar?”
“If it was a song, it would be more likely to be a Drake track,” she said. She wasn’t wrong. “I think you’ve been blocking me,” she said.
“What do you mean?”
“I tried to reconnect with you. I wanted to. You always stopped me.”
“I did?” Was she trying to say it was my fault we weren’t able to get back together?
“Maurice said you would make it harder once we broke it off. You don’t like giving people second chances.”
“Maurice was wrong about a lot of things.”
“He knew what would happen if he went to see you. He said it was certain you would know the right thing to do was to kill him. He gave you a fifty-fifty chance of having the balls to do it.”
“Yes, he was a genius. Only off by fifty percent. You don’t seem very upset about what happened.”
Jenny pushed me off, both of us wincing slightly at the sensitivity of our uncoupling. “Claire’s pretty broken up, but we still have a chance to get him back.” She looked at me, like it was up to me.
“How?” I said.
“You’ll know when the time is right.”
I know you should never hit a woman, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong to think about it.
“Or you could just tell me.”
“Or you could just—” and she threw herself on me.
If it was a way to stall for time, she managed to gain the forces gathering in Dargot an extra forty minutes in total.
I still had a bunch of questions to ask her. She couldn’t keep dodging by forcing me to have sex with her but I would certainly encourage her to try. Eventually, the surplus I’d built up would run out, and then there’d be a reckoning (after a long nap).
As it was, I now had control of Fengarad. My second city after Gorgoth, but this one had no citizens, which could only be a good thing. The morning commute would be a doddle.
“What are you going to do now?” I asked her.
“Whatever you want me to,” she said.
We left the bedroom, eventually, and went back to see what the others were up to. When Jenny mentioned the effects of her unfettered emotions on the people around her, not only had I removed most of the city’s population, the people I’d brought with me had been mostly dead, so immune to her abilities.
However, I’d forgotten that there were a few who weren’t, and only remembered when I fancied a sandwich and my thoughts naturally turned to Damicar. He was huddled in the corner of the throne room, shaking. Laney was sprawled out on the throne, looking red and sweaty with a big smile on her face. Biadet was where we’d left her, looking no different. The three of them had been right next door to ground zero, so I had to assume they’d felt the bomb go off.
“Those two didn’t do anything unseemly, did they?” I asked Biadet.
“Together?” said Biadet. “No. Separately, they were very busy.”
“And you?” I asked her.
“I was unaffected.”
“I think you have a cut here.” I touched the corner of my mouth to indicate where I meant. “I can see blood.”
“I sometimes bite my lip when I’m extremely bored.”
Before I sorted out Jenny (I mean in terms of what was going on in Dargot), I had the people outside the walls to deal with. I couldn’t really just leave them out there.
I returned to the wall and looked down at them.
“Alright, listen up,” I shouted at them. “I’m going to let you back in under one condition. You have to swear loyalty to the new ruler of Fengarad.” There was a lot of grumbling. “I mean it, no crossing your fingers or starting a resistance. I know it sounds cool to say you’re fine with it and then sabotage everything you can, but you’ll just be making life harder for yourselves. I’ll be doing fine no matter what you try.”
There was still a lot of animosity from below.
Power corrupts, but not necessarily the person with the power. If you do well, score yourself a nice chunk of prestige, start carrying some clout, you will piss people off. If someone says right and you say left, and you end up going left to find paradise, right turn guy will be upset. He’ll do everything he can to fuck up paradise just so he can say I told you we should have gone right. You can’t fix human nature. They didn’t fail, you belittled their success.
“I want complete and utter loyalty. Well, do you swear?”
There was a begrudging acceptance of the new order.
“Okay, then. Meet your new leader, Princess Laney of Fengarad.”
Laney appeared next to me in what I would describe as an outfit the gay community would consider cultural appropriation. It was similar to the dress Jenny had worn, but with colours that had no business being in the same spectrum mingling freely. Plus an assortment of additional shoulder pads, epaulettes, medals and sashes. She looked like there was a dictator of a small African nation somewhere with an empty closet.
Laney raised her hand. “Open the gates.” The citizens returned with a cheer.
I figured they’d be much more likely to accept her than me. Fools. Laney would destroy their hopes and businesses far quicker than I could, even if I tried. She turned to look at me with something approaching adoration. I had given her what she had always wanted — subjugation of the masses.
Jenny stepped in and placed her hand on Laney’s devoted face. She pushed her away. “Go rule your people, Your Highness.”
“Yes, I will. I have so many new ideas to implement.”
If the city was still standing in a week, I’d be shocked.
“Now what?” Jenny said to me.
“Now we gather our forces and you answer a few questions.”
She nodded slowly. Would she cooperate? Would I have to wear her down by letting her shag me? It was hard to say.
“You still haven’t checked, have you?”
“Checked what?” I knew what she meant.
“That I’m not being manipulated in some way. I could be, you know? I might not even know it myself.”
Of course, she was right. Of course, I should check. There was no logical reason not to. So I did.
She was different from everyone else. Her vines only grew from her head, spreading out like some gorgon’s hair, a hundred snaking tendrils, each a different colour, shifting hues as I watched. It was beautiful and breathtaking. Was this her power in action, radiating in pulses?
But that wasn’t the most remarkable thing. There was one other vine, thin and barely visible. It stretched from her chest to mine. It wasn’t like the unbreakable steel cable that used to be between us, but it was there, fragile and unstable. But it was there.
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