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Preface from Mooderino

397: The Truth Will Set You Back

“What are you talking about?” I asked Jenny, whose mood had suddenly improved while mine had collapsed into a sorry mess of turmoil and bewilderment; so no change, really.

I’m not suggesting Jenny had been in a bad mood after sex with me — what could possibly make you think that? — but there was a noticeable uptick in her general demeanour. Perhaps she had been a little quiet and introspective after spending some time in the sack with yours truly, but that’s how some people are after they’ve had a wonderful time. Probably.

Jenny lifted her head from my chest and stepped back, smiling. “It’s nothing. You don’t feel any different?”

“No. Is this going to be one of those conversations where you don’t explain what’s going on for my own good? Because I’ve had it up to here with that shit.” I raised my hand over my head to indicate the level of shit I was talking about. Approximately enough to drown you, but you could survive by jumping up and grabbing a mouthful of air before sinking back down into the faecal sea that was now your home.

Didn’t you want to get to the spire?” Jenny asked, neatly dodging the question.

We were having this talk with a bunch of people hanging around waiting for us to get to some kind of point. Welcome to the club. I never feel comfortable making people wait while I sort stuff out. I especially don’t like it when others make me wait while they take care of whatever it is they’ve realised is vitally important to take care of exactly before they could have given me what I needed and allowed me to leave.

There are people, I’ve noticed, who just don’t care if they inconvenience others. Or they just don’t notice. I imagine they had upbringings very different to mine, where they were made to feel loved and important, which apparently turns you into a narcissistic prick with no consideration for others.

“The spire can wait for a few more minutes. What did I finally do?”

“Hmm?” said Jenny, as though she wasn’t sure what I meant.

She had acted like there’d been a major breakthrough, but there was no great difference in how I felt. The only recent event of note was Gideon’s demise, which had started off with an unwarranted attack I had in no way provoked, and ended with an off-hand death I couldn’t really be blamed for.

Admittedly, I did have the impression that my behaviour was somewhat unnatural, but it wasn’t the first time I’d felt like that. Every murder I committed was unreal on some level. I assumed it was a self-defence mechanism my brain used to stop me going insane.

Jenny took a long slow breath in, and then let it out. Steeling herself for the big reveal?

“You understand that reaching the answer yourself is the thing we’ve been trying to get you to do?”

“Yes. How’s it going? Am I close?”

“I didn’t think so, but now, out of nowhere, I think you may be on the brink.”

Things of note that had happened recently: sex with Jenny, death of Gideon, very nice lunch by Damicar. Which of these had triggered the change Jenny had sensed?

“Is it to do with when I died and Maurice kept me alive?” It seemed to me that was the point where my grasp on what was going on had begun to slip. I mean, I was never in full control, but at least I had a rough idea of the situation. Then Joshaya turned up and the whole thing deteriorated into some kind of farce where French people try to pretend it’s all very witty and clever, but really it’s just confusing with lots of sexual innuendo.

“Yes,” said Jenny, like we were playing twenty questions. “Something to do with what happened back then.”

“You don’t want to tell me what?”

“No.”

Only eighteen questions left, and I didn’t even know if the answer was animal or vegetable.

“But whatever happened back then, you’ve been trying to guide me in the right direction without letting me know or give me any answers?”

“Yes.” She seemed surprised at how I had guessed. Like this wasn’t how she behaved even when I wasn’t on the verge of imminent death.

A woman’s job, it sometimes seems, is to find a man who she considers to be her ideal mate, do everything she can to appear attractive and alluring to him, and once she has his interest locked down, to do everything she can to change him in every possible way.

That’s a bit of an exaggeration, of course. I’m reducing what is a broadly true behavioural quirk for some women — and some men — into a short-form observation that is easier to relate to without needlessly adding caveats and various contextual details, which should be self-evident. This can end up making a casual musing appear more like a didactic and intractable statement of intent.

I prefer to use the more concise form because explaining shit to people is tedious. I get that. But in this case, I wasn’t asking her to explain a joke, I was trying to understand why this brilliant plan of theirs had made me kill my best friend.

“Maurice insisted it would make things harder if we told you,” continued Jenny, “but it couldn’t possibly be any harder than this. There have been nights where I’ve cried so hard my pillows were soaked through I wanted to be with you so much. And then when I finally give in and sleep with you, you take the first step.”

“What first step?”

“I sensed it in you, the change. You realise what you are.”

“No, I don’t. What am I?”

She looked at me, deliberating how much to tell me or how much to irritate me. Often the same thing.

“You aren’t dead,” said Jenny. “You never died.”

“Because Maurice saved me?”

“Yes, but not by convincing you you were alive. By not making you dead.”

Brilliant. All cleared up now. “What the fuck are you talking about? I’m not alive or dead?”

“He didn’t save you, exactly. He reimagined you.”

What did that mean? He reimagined me into what? I looked the same. I felt the same. If he was going to reimagine me as something, Cary Grant would have been nice. What was the point leaving me the same as I was before?

But it did make a kind of sense, in a hard to grasp, made my head hurt manner. If Maurice had wanted to make sure I couldn’t reverse his spell, all he had to do was make it impossible for me to doubt what he turned me into, which I couldn’t do if I didn’t know what it was.

I looked the same, I felt the same. There was no reason to suspect I wasn’t the same. Even if I did suspect, I couldn’t tell what was different, so I couldn’t break the spell.

“I’m something that isn’t affected by death?” This seemed to be the logical conclusion. “Am I a ghost?” Jenny didn’t confirm or deny. “Because that would mean you had sex with a ghost. Technically, you now have a haunted vagina.”

She looked at me like I was some kind of an idiot, and then grinned. “I missed you.”

On one level, I felt like I was closer to understanding what Maurice had done, or at least why he’d done it. On another level, I still had no fucking clue. Certainly, he had done it to save my life, and he had succeeded. I should have probably sent him a thank you card, rather than kill him.

“Ah think he’s dead!” said Flossie. She was standing over Gideon’s body, putting two and two together at her usual glacial place.

“Yes, thanks to the doll you brought me. How’s it feel to be an accomplice to murder?”

Flossie began protesting her innocence, demanding Dudley provide her with an alibi. Dudley was willing, as always.

“Come on, we should go to the spire,” said Jenny, all chipper and upbeat. “You might find some more answers there.”

“Or you could give me the answers right here and now,” I suggested.

“Doesn’t work like that.”

“What doesn’t? Why do I need to figure out what I am? Won’t that break the spell and kill me? Why didn’t the spell end when Maurice died? What the fuck am I?”

She was already walking towards the exit.

I walked over to Caim, who was taking in the scenario with a stunned look on his face, which was normal. It’s difficult for people to appreciate what my life is like until they see it for themselves. And then they can’t stop seeing it, which doesn’t make it any better.

“Caim, take the druids up onto the walls and prepare for an attack.”

“Attack by who?” he said.

“I have no idea. Just make sure everyone’s ready.”

“What are you basing this on?”

“On the fact we haven’t been attacked for ten minutes and we’re about due. There’s an old Latin proverb — if you want peace, prepare for a lot of sneaky shit. Speaking of which, where did Joshaya go?”

He had gone missing back when Gideon turned up. Another git with answers he wasn’t prepared to share.

I left Caim to sort out the minor details — defend the city, keep the undead soldiers in line, find somewhere to put Gideon’s body in case we needed it later, you know, the usual.

Once I finished delegating and issuing commands, I followed Jenny with Flossie and Dudley in tow, still clarifying Flossie’s alibi.

As someone who rejected the idea of leading others (because they just weren’t worth the effort) I had ended up with quite a following.

I wouldn’t say I had conquered anyone, but I did have two cities under my control. Well, sort of. In any case, Gorgoth and Fengarad weren’t trying to put me in a cell and torturing me, so I considered them both my bitches.

Two is a pretty impressive number of cities to have subjugated. Yes, I realise I hadn’t forced my will on anyone — they might not have accepted my benevolent dictatorship if I had actually asked them to do stuff for me — but it was a solid entry into the World Domination League. I had a pretty good team of fantasy players, I just had to make sure they scored me some points.

Now that I had gone the somewhat less inconspicuous route and people knew who I was, you’d think they would be a little more respectful. I was walking around the city with an armoured guard of mostly dead people, although that was probably offset a little by having Flossie flouncing around and Dudley looking a bit lost.

People did realise I was in charge, despite the fact I looked like the cabin boy who was only part of the group in case a sacrificial victim was needed at some point. I could tell they knew I was the guy in charge by the way they pointed and whisper as I passed.

You’re probably thinking it was kind of arrogant to assume it was me they were talking about, but it wasn’t presumption on my part, I heard them use my name. They’d even given me an affectionate nickname.

Colin the Conqueror, perhaps? Killer Colin, maybe? No, they called me Colin Two-Shits.

It was a little baffling, I have to admit. What did they know about how regular my bowel movements were?

“I don’t get it,” I said as we made our way to the spire Maurice had managed to get inside. “Why Colin Two-Shits?”

“Colin Two-Cities,” said Jenny.

“No, I’m sure I heard—”

“Two-Cities turned into Two-Shitties, which became Two-Shits.” She smiled at me. “I think it suits you. You don’t give two shits about anything.”

I stopped to look at her. “Do you really think that?”

She shrugged. “I don’t know. I thought it would all become much clearer once I gave in, but it hasn’t really changed anything.” She looked at me with hopeful eyes. “I still think it was the right thing to do.”

It made me feel all warm and tingly to know she considered our union was probably the right thing to do. Could be worse.

“You could try telling me why you all decided to put me through this.” Even though it was clear I had to figure this out for myself, it’s hard to not keep picking away at a scab.

“I already told you, Maurice said it was the best way to get you to where you needed to be, and we believed him.”

“Where do I need to be?”

“Not where you were, that’s for sure.”

In order to save me, Maurice had really fucked me over. He had convinced the others I needed their help, and the best way to help me was to leave me in the dark. This is what happens when I let people make decisions without me.

I needed to have to sit down with Jenny at some point and get her to tell me exactly what Maurice had told them, but I had the small issue of a bunch of twats sneaking into my city and making a nuisance of themselves. Leaving them to it wouldn’t end well, that was for sure.

There were seven spires in Fengarad, each a giant black structure sticking straight up and looking foreboding. The one Jenny led us to was a little different to the others.

“I think I can see how Maurice broke in,” I said.

This one had a massive crack in its side and the walls were warped and buckled. The top was peeled open like something had exploded from the inside.

“It were like that when we found it,” said Flossie, keen to not be found guilty of any more crimes.

“You don’t know what caused it?” I said. Jenny shook her head.

The crack was big enough to squeeze through. Inside was a staircase leading up to a platform. Then there was a ladder, but it just went up into the empty air. Whatever had been at the top of the spire, it was gone now.

There were a bunch of consoles and control panels here with knobs and levers, but they looked old and broken. Whether that was due to the explosion or something previous to that, I wasn’t sure.

What was most noticeable, though, were the runes and sigils painted everywhere. Not just on the consoles, but on the walls and floor, too.

“Did Maurice figure out what all this meant?”

“Some of it,” said Jenny. “He had a notebook full of his translations.”

“And where is this notebook?”

Jenny shrugged. It would take a long time to interpret any of this gobbledigook, even if I had the patience for it. Maurice had been the ideal man for the job. Where was I going to find another one? Geniuses don’t come along every day.

Flossie stepped past me and place a hand on one of the runes on the wall. It glowed brighter. She pressed a bunch of other ones, on the wall, on the consoles, on the floor. There was a click and a panel opened on the top of one of the consoles. Flossie reached in and pulled out a battered notebook. She handed it to me.

“Maurice wanted me to give yo’ this.”

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Afterword from Mooderino
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