“Maurice?” I inquired of the darkness.
“Yes?” said Maurice’s disembodied voice.
“Can I ask you a question?”
“Okay,” said Maurice. “What is it?”
I took a breath to compose myself and went over my query so it wouldn’t be misunderstood. Here was my chance to finally get some answers, so it was important I made my meaning as clear and concise as possible.
“What the fuck are you playing at?” I felt like I’d captured the essence of what was important.
“Ah, well, yes,” said Maurice, covering all the unhelpful responses in one fell swoop. He was dithering, but he was doing it very efficiently.
I waited for the rest of it. My new guru, Mr Shroom, seemed to be about to say something, but I held up a hand to stop him. We had to wait it out, the way a fisherman has to wait for a fish to open its big stupid mouth so he can stick a hook in it.
You might think, Well, you don’t know this new guy, he might have been about to say something deep and insightful.
To which I would say, You can shut the fuck up, too.
“It’s a long story,” said Maurice. I continued to wait. “You see, you died…”
“I really died? Like, properly dead?”
“Yes,” said Maurice, his voice all around me, or so it seemed. “You did pretty well to last as long as you had, to be honest. I would have expected you to die a lot earlier.”
“Oh, thanks. Worked it out in your notebook, did you? In pie chart form?”
“No, of course not. I used a graph, potential of death over time. A pie chart would be very difficult to extrapolate from.”
“A simple line graph, huh? Nice. And what’s my current chance of surviving this shit storm you’ve dropped me into?”
“Currently, your chance of coming out of this alive, um, let me think, I don’t have my books on me… If I remember correctly, I had you at seventy percent.”
“Seventy percent chance to win? Okay, that’s not bad.”
“Plus or minus thirty.”
“Plus or minus thirty percent? So you had my odds at between forty and a hundred percent? What kind of scuffed maths is that?”
“It gives you a potential one hundred percent outcome,” said Maurice. “You have to take variance into account.”
“What are you even talking about?” It was hard not to get frustrated with him. “Everything has a potential hundred percent outcome. What you’re really saying is it’s a forty percent probability.”
“That’s a very pessimistic way to look at it,” said Maurice.
Where to even begin?
“Look,” I said, “I have two very simple questions that I need you to answer for me. One, what am I? Am I really alive? Why have you been giving me the run around all this time? Am I transmigrated soul inside a construct, and if so, why didn’t you make me better looking and with bionic arms?”
“That’s more than two questions,” said Maurice.
“And two,” I said, emphatically demonstrating that I knew how to count by holding up two fingers, “where the fuck are you?”
“Well, the second one’s easier to answer.” The area we were in slowly began to illuminate with a green light. As the light expanded beyond my own little ball of white, it showed that we were inside a kind of cave, only the walls were streaked with vines not unlike the ones I was used to seeing when I slipped into the adjacent world.
There was still no sign of Maurice, but then I had turned him into dust last time I saw him, so he could be the dust or the light or vibrations in the air.
“And you’re in here, somewhere, are you?”
“No,” said Maurice, “this is me.”
“You’re a cave?”
“I’m the island. Or I’m part of it. When you killed me, you turned me into plant food. The island absorbed me.”
“Oh,” I said, not really having a snappy comeback. “Sorry about that.”
“Don’t be. That was the idea. You played your part perfectly.”
“Glad I could help,” I said, not really glad at all. What he was basically saying was that he had manipulated me into killing him to get this result for whatever reason. He could have just asked and I would have done it without the need for all the subterfuge. “You couldn’t have just told me about any of this?”
“It’s not that easy. It’s not just you who had to be kept in the dark.”
“Joshaya?” He was the only person I could see being an issue.
Maurice was still being very hesitant. I felt like shaking him and turning him upside down so I could smack him on the backside to get the sauce out quicker. Not in a gay way, in a ketchup way. Although I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a subreddit that combines the two in a manner that should be banned but the site is run by neo-Nazis so it must be allowed because something something free speech.
“Joshaya killed me,” I said, going back to where we’d started. “Then what?”
“Then Joshaya tried to force the rest of us to free the other fairies, although he called them the Old Gods at the time. And once he explained what he wanted us to do, we told him we couldn’t free the Old Gods, only you could do that, but he’d killed you, so…”
“So he’d cucked himself,” I said.
“Exactly. He’d identified you as a threat and got rid of you, but he assumed we would be able to replace you between us. Which we couldn’t. But he was able to bring you back, sort of.”
“What do you mean, sort of? I’ve seen his work. He brings back the dead all the time. Is it something to do with me being untouchable.”
“A little bit,” said Maurice, in a high-pitched voice that suggested he wasn’t telling me everything. “It was more that they’re… in better condition.”
“Better condition? My corpse wasn’t of the high-quality he was used to working with?” I felt I was being insulted, and you weren’t supposed to talk ill of the dead. An open casket where you gave marks out of ten was not considered polite.
“I think it was because of all the strain you’d put yourself under. Magic damage. Spell abuse. You were kind of falling apart even before he killed you. But don’t worry, you’ll be even better than new once I’ve finished. If things go to plan.”
“Great, I look forward to it. The plus or minus thirty percent really fills me with confidence. Wait… he killed me and brought me back. What about you and Dudley?”
“Ah, yes. Joshaya wanted to make sure we were invested in saving you, so he put us in the same boat. Or thought he did.”
I could see Joshaya’s logic. What was to stop them running off and leaving me to my fate? He needed some insurance. Little did he know they weren’t the type to abandon ship. They were more likely to be the ones who sank it in the first place.
“And you two were in better condition than me? Not falling apart?”
The light shimmered, almost like Maurice was shrugging. “We managed okay. And using my abilities I was able to come up with a temporary fix it so we were all alive for at least a limited amount of time while we sorted things out, but I couldn’t do it by myself — your being untouchable was a pain — so I needed to get some help.”
“This still doesn’t explain why you didn’t tell me any of this.”
“You couldn’t know and Joshaya couldn’t know. And you had to be separated and sent off on your own so Joshaya would wander off to keep an eye on you. He knew your potential.”
“Between forty and a hundred percent,” I said.
“Right. But it’s mainly the one hundred part that attracts people to you. And while he was focused on you, I could do some research, call in a few favours, make a few deals, ducking and diving, fucking and skiving.” He was suddenly going all cockney for no reason.
“Don’t do that, you sound like a twat.”
“And who owed you these favours?” I asked, genuinely curious.
“Me? No one. I was calling in favours on your behalf.”
I didn’t like the sound of that. Maurice going around with cap in hand, asking people to contribute to the Colin Foundation, where we give an immature boy the gift of hope (that he’ll finally grow the fuck up), it had a very icky feel to it. My face felt hot.
“I can’t believe you did that. Who asked you to? I don’t need everyone getting together and making a charity record for my benefit. I can’t fucking stand that Band Aid song. Jesus, Maurice, fucking Christ.”
“I knew you would get like this,” said Maurice. “That was another reason not to tell you. We didn’t want you acting any more awkward than you already are. That, and the fact you wouldn’t trust any of us. And doubt our judgement. And get yourself killed to prove how much you didn’t need us.”
“Hey, you don’t get to be the one whining here. I’m the one in the whiner’s seat,” I said, staking my claim. “I’m the only one who should be getting upset at being lied to and led around like a dancing bear.”
“I also knew you’d get insecure,” said Maurice, “and start lashing out.”
“Insecure? Oh, you were trying to build up my confidence by keeping me in the dark and feeding me bullshit?”
The other people in the room were pretending to check out other interesting features of this hole in the ground.
“This is a safe space. We can be honest with each other here. I’ll tell you everything.”
He was being weird. All calm and new age-y, which made me seem even more hysterical. Well played.
“What even is this place? The heart of the island or something?”
“Not exactly. It’s more like the island’s womb.”
“Oh great. I leave you alone for five seconds and you grow a womb. And I suppose I’m the dick in this pic.” I looked around. “The dick who doesn’t even touch the sides. Way to build up my self-esteem. Fuck you, Maurice.” He didn’t respond. “Who did you ask?” I wasn’t sure I really wanted to know.
“The trolls, the ogres, Mama Ivy, the demons in Nekromel, Biadet… even Peter.”
“Wait, wait, slow down. What did all these people do to help?”
“Lots of things. I told you, it’s complicated. The trolls helped me fake Peter’s death, Cheng got the sword to help regulate your life force so your body wouldn’t deteriorate too fast, Biadet put it on the island for you to find... Everyone pitched in.”
“And what did they get in return?”
“Nothing. They wanted to help you.”
“They just wanted to lend a hand? Even Peter?”
“Well, some probably had ulterior motives, but the only one we really had to worry about was Joshaya. And the one place he can’t go is here. He couldn’t get inside these void spaces Arthur had made, or he would have got his fairies out himself. This is the one place we can be sure he won’t be able to get to us.”
“So, Joshaya is the real threat?” I asked.
“You’re sure? Just him.”
“Him and his fairy army, yes.”
“And I’m still dead?”
“You’re not exactly dead, you just aren’t alive.”
“What does that mean?” I asked.
“It means you need a new body.”
“And where do I get one of those?”
“Actually, I know just the place.”
The light in the cave grew brighter, although still very green and spooky, revealing vines hanging from the roof. There were like the roots of trees that had pushed their way through the ground, into the open.
“What am I looking at?” I said, not sure if I was supposed to see something up there.
The vines began to glow and then one in particular grew in intensity. It looked like a big fetus curled up, but not in a cool star child in 2001: A Space Odyssey. This was more like when someone holds up a malformed root vegetable and goes, “Look at this weird thing, it looks like a man with three penises.” And everyone agrees and the picture goes on to become the most upvoted picture in the history of the internet.
“Is that supposed to be me?” It did have a vague similarity to my features. “Couldn’t you have made it a bit taller?”
“It has to be as close to the original as possible to minimise the chances of rejection,” said Maurice. I noticed the green light pulsed in time with his voice.
“And what about you?” I asked. “You’re going to stay being an island from now on, are you?”
“No,” said Maurice. “Hopefully not. I want to get back to Claire, if I can. How is she?”
“Very mean and completely unreasonable,” I said.
“Yes, she is, isn’t she?” There was a warmth and fondness in his voice that was entirely inappropriate. And he wondered why I questioned his judgement! “I’ve made a body for myself, too.”
Another of the hanging roots began to glow.
I looked up at it, examining it closely. “I thought you said it had to be an exact copy of the original.”
“As close as possible.”
“That one looks like it’ll be well over six feet tall.”
“That’s just the way it’s curled up.”
“And what’s with all the muscles?”
“They’re nodules. They grow naturally, part of the process. They disappear when the body is ready for harvesting.”
“And that thing between its legs, that’s a nodule, too, is it?”
“Yes,” said Maurice. The cave glowed green, but I reckoned it was blushing.
“So you’re going to make vegetable bodies for both of us?”
“Something like that.”
“And you found out how to do this where?”
“In the spires. There was a lot of information in there.”
“Which you believed?”
“The thing is, the spires, they’re connected to you.”
That didn’t make sense. “How can—”
“I know, you’re not connected to anything. But I found memories in there that came from you. Recordings… I can’t explain it. I didn’t have time to fully investigate. The only important thing is that it got us this far.” Which was a fair point.
I looked up at the hanging bodies. “And we just wait until they’re ripe and ready to pick, do we?”
“There is a slight problem,” said Maurice.
“Joshaya. He still thinks we’re helping him.”
“But he’s got his fairies back. What does he need us for?”
There was a long pause. “He doesn’t need us. He needs you. Once he has control of Fengarad, he’ll want you to fulfil your part of the agreement.”
“What agreement? I didn’t make any agreement.”
“I sort of made it on your behalf,” said Maurice. “You’re going to activate the spires for him.”
“To do what?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” said Maurice. “I’m hoping we don’t find out.”
I looked around at the other three people in the room, quietly listening. Might as well bring them into the discussion, I decided. I was feeling a bit overwhelmed with all the new information, like a man dying of thirst suddenly being waterboarded. “Okay. Anyone have any good ideas?”
“Yes,” said Shroom. “Clearly the best option is to kill you. That way Joshaya won’t be able to accomplish his goal.”
It was a terrible suggestion, and yet… it was hard not to agree.
Next two chapters are up now on Patreon.Afterword from Mooderino