I’ve never been a goal-oriented person. You can’t win the lottery if you don’t buy a ticket, for sure that is true. But then, you can’t win the lottery even if you do buy a ticket. That isn’t quite as true, but it’s pretty fucking close.
Don’t get me wrong, if you have a very clear idea of what you want and your desire for that thing is all-consuming, I fully understand the need to pursue your objective with every means at your disposal. As long as you don’t drag me into your desperate, flailing attempt to clamber over those in your way to be the proud owner of whichever shiny-shiny that’s caught your eye, good luck to you.
Personally, I don’t feel any such need. Maybe one day, there will be something I want so bad I will be willing to put everything on the line for a chance to get hold of it.
I’m assuming I will know when it happens — my eyes will bug out, my tongue will roll out of my mouth down to my feet and an Awooga! sound will play, according to the cartoons of my childhood. It hasn’t happened yet.
Joshaya, in the body of Arthur, had me pinned down. He can’t have been much heavier than me, but he was applying the pressure of a small celestial body, flattening me. I couldn’t move, and not because I was enjoying being sat on while naked.
“You left your body in… there?” Joshaya seemed both appalled and confused. It came out as pissed off. “How? How is that possible?”
“Don’t ask me, I wasn’t the one who arranged it.”
Joshaya let go of my neck and stood up without bending his knees, which was eerie. “Then who?”
I rubbed my throat and was about to heal myself — I didn’t want to start out in a brand new body with scuff marks — but the pain subsided before I had the chance. The new body was made of resilient stuff. Maybe it had been grown from a rubber plant.
“Arthur. Arthur gave me this body and took my old one as a trade-in. You saw the state it was in, right? Every time I used magic it aged a hundred years, the joints were worn out and don’t even ask about my digestion.”
Lying, it turns out, is a lot of fun. There’s no better way for you to make clear your disdain for someone without making it clear at all.
Joshaya clenched his jaw and glared at me. “That isn’t possible. It makes no sense.”
“You know Arthur, always working on a new innovation, the latest upgrade.” Every innovation is new and every upgrade is the latest, that’s how those words work, but I was enjoying piling up the nonsense. Joshaya may have been an omnipotent supernatural being, but that didn’t make him anything special.
I don’t know if you’d call it a purpose, but I finally had a goal I was interested in reaching. I didn’t know how I was going to do it, yet, but finding a way to put Joshaya inside the void realm was number one on my unwritten bucket list.
It wouldn’t take fighting or overpowering him with magic — there was no way I was a match for him in those areas. If I was going to do it, it had to be something more subtle. Something he wouldn’t see even if he was looking for it.
“Arthur made this body.”
“That’s right,” I said.
“You wanted to get rid of your old body because of how terrible it was.”
I nodded. It was throwing myself under the bus somewhat, but a good lie is built on the truth, and a good truth is horribly embarrassing and painful. Always. If you hear a truth that makes you happy and comfortable, I suggest a recount.
“So Arthur made you a new body that looks exactly like the old one?” There was some incredulity to his question, like he couldn’t quite grasp why anyone would want to swap out the old for the old. Like leaving your wife for a woman of exactly the same age and same size breasts. Pointless.
“Yes,” I said. Keep it simple, let him do the work of convincing himself.
“Why would you want an exact duplicate of that?”
Fortunately, I wasn’t one to take offence when insulted about my physical appearance. Or my lack of character. Or my poor qualities. You learn to accept your flaws when you discover you can’t get rid of them by eating cake. At least I tried.
“I know, it’s more of a lateral move than a promotion. But even though it looks the same, this one’s got a lot of hidden features. Gives excellent mileage and two cup-holders. There are also a bunch of add-ons I can get, but the cost is a bit much. You know how it is with microtransactions.”
Joshaya wasn’t paying attention to me as I wittered on. That was fine by me. Let him think things over and try to formulate a new scheme on the fly. These thousand-year-old beings may be great at making plans that take aeons to come to fruition, but give them two minutes to work out a new route to the promised land because of unexpected roadworks, and they’re stumped.
“You must get your body back,” he insisted.
“Me?” I said. “No, I don’t think so. Not really interested. And in any case, it’s Arthur you want to talk to. He owns it now.”
Joshaya pulled a face. “What does he plan to do with it?”
“I don’t know. Wear it around the house, probably. He’s a very weird bloke, you know? Last time I saw him, he was a chubby girl with insect wings. I mean, he seems a nice enough bloke, but I wouldn’t let him babysit, if you know what I mean.”
From Joshaya’s expression, he did not know what I meant.
“I must have your body,” said Joshaya, with a fierce determination no one had ever used when saying those words to me.
“Why?” I asked. “What can it do that I can’t?”
He looked at me like he wasn’t sure he should say anything more. Which was fine by me. If he didn’t want to reveal anything else, then there was no reason to keep me here.
He could kill me or threaten me or maybe try to bribe me, but I was happy to reject all offers, which I think he was well aware of. It wouldn’t get him what he wanted. The other thing about not having strong attachments is that nobody can use them as leverage against you. Whatever you love can and will be used against you. Most people see this as a worthwhile trade-off. I am not one of them.
“You will find a way to—”
“You will or—”
“You don’t want to say no to me again,” said Joshaya, with the kind of seriousness that makes your balls shrink.
Mine didn’t shrink, which was probably more to do with the elasticity of the plant fibres used in the construction of this body.
“I don’t see what you’re so worked up about, you got what you wanted, didn’t you? Fengarad is under your control and the old gods are free. The band’s back together.”
Is there anything more infuriating than telling someone who’s upset that there’s nothing to be upset about?
“Fengarad is a turd with wall around it,” he said. “There is nothing of use here.”
“That’s a bit harsh, isn’t it? I’m sure the local tourist board wouldn’t agree.”
“Fengarad was for you,” he said. He pointed at me so there would be no confusion.
I checked behind me, just in case. “Me? What would I do with it?”
“Why would I want to rule here? You know, it’s very passive-aggressive forcing unrequested jobs onto someone without asking. Is the fairy world really this inconsiderate?”
Seeing as how the fairy world was fine with killing people and bringing back their corpses as meat puppets, the answer was probably yes. Good thing I was being rhetorical.
“I don’t care what you would prefer,” said Joshaya, “your body is the key, and the throne of Fengarad is the lock it must fit.”
This was new. So, I was meant to find my way to the throne of Fengarad. And then what? I would sit down and suddenly my bum would unlock the throne’s true potential? The back would lean to a forty-five-degree angle and a footrest would pop out of the bottom, and the crowd would gasp.
“It’s a miracle. It’s him, he really is the one…”
“Well I’m sorry I’ve ruined your plans,” I said, “but if you’d said something earlier, maybe we could have sorted something out.” I shrugged and raised my hands in helpless apology. “Nothing I can do now, mate.”
“You must go back to Arthur.”
“Why don’t you go back to Arthur?” I asked with wide-eyed innocence.
Obviously, he wasn’t going to stroll into a cell he wouldn’t be able to get out of. He had a good reason to go, but he also needed a way out. One he believed couldn’t be blocked.
“Or, why don’t you send one of the others? They already know what it’s like in there. Probably know their way around. Wait here, I’ll go ask the Queen.”
When you spend your life (in whichever world you happen to find yourself) not caring about yourself or others, it becomes much easier to cope with the vagaries of existence. No, I didn’t have the love and wealth others crave and often find, but that was okay. I was just passing through.
This attitude, while handy as a way to get from A to B when you are on your own, can grate on people. They find it irritating that they can’t communicate their needs to you via the traditional civilised methods of good faith, blackmail and extortion. They often resort to less civilised methods.
I rose into the air as Joshaya grabbed me by my throat again and lifted me up so my feet were left swinging. He was about my height in his Arthur-guise, but that didn’t seem to make it any harder for him to hoist me into the air.
Then he brought me slamming down, smashing my back into the floor. It happened so quickly, I couldn’t react, not even mentally. I felt no pain, though, just a bit startled.
“Enough of this,” he hissed. “Whatever fear stops you from aiding me, I am more frightening. Whatever power you think will come save you, I am more powerful.”
He was under the impression my lack of cooperation was due to some third party. One that was forcing me to be of no help through sheer terror, or one I was expecting to ride to the rescue if I stalled for long enough.
It wasn’t a bad assumption, but I had no one to fear or rely on. Just me.
“If you’re so powerful,” I managed to squeeze out of my restricted air passages, “then what do you need me for?”
“This is your fault, not mine,” said Joshaya. I felt I was being unfairly insinuated into matters. “Yours and those friends of yours.” Okay, their responsibility I was happy to concede. “This could have been settled long before now if only you had seen reason and just died when you were supposed to.”
I guess on one level he was right. The George Bailey flashback of the world without me in it would be everyone having a merry old time and not missing me one bit, and I wouldn’t begrudge them their fun one bit. But I was here and shutting the stable door now would achieve nothing.
“They hate us,” said Joshaya.
“Could you be a little more specific?” I asked.
“They hate us for our power and our gifts. They hate us for our wisdom and our lore. They hate that which they can never possess.”
It’s a clear signal that someone is kidding themselves when they start ascribing motivations to others, and then acting like their baseless speculations are correct. It’s like Americans saying, “They hate us for our freedom.” No, they don’t. Nobody hates you for your freedom, they hate you for your movie trailers that reveal all the important plot points, including the ending, and for putting that ridiculous music over everything to make it seem like it’s going to be a more exciting movie than it is.
Fake blame is also an excellent way to make sure that whatever the true source of the problem is, you won’t ever have to address it.
“I meant could you be more specific about who hates you.”
“Them,” he said, and threw me through the wall.
The spire was made out of stone or metal or something equally hard and unbreakable. I blew a hole through it as I sailed out into the air, dust and debris flying out with me.
I could have hit the eject button and left my body, but I was more curious to see what would happen when I landed. I had just smashed through a solid wall with no problem and the body I was in seemed to be undamaged. No pain, no blood.
Had I unfairly maligned Maurice’s bodybuilding ability? Sometimes, the most basic constructions are the toughest, and you didn’t get more basic than what I was working with.
Joshaya wasn’t going to simply let me go, obviously. Most likely, he had thought if he destroyed this body, I’d be forced to go back to the other one.
I needed a little time to think things over, come up with a suitable plan for getting Joshaya back into the bottle. Normally, I would use the adjacent world for that sort of thing, but Joshaya would still be active. I didn’t want him finding my real body while I was brainstorming.
Get to another spire, launch myself back to Gorgoth, make sure my body is stored somewhere he won’t find it, that was my first priority. And maybe try to figure out what made my body so special all of a sudden.
I hit the ground with a resounding thump. I felt the earth sink beneath me as I made a me-sized crater. I lay there, blinking, slightly winded. A bunch of familiar faces leaned in to peer down at me.
“Hello, there,” I said in my best General Kenobi.
“Couldn’t stay away, could you?” said Maurice, shaking his head.
“Why are you naked?” said Claire.
I noticed Maurice had clothes on. I didn’t feel particularly embarrassed, though. It wasn’t like I was naked. It was more like when someone wears a kitchen apron with a picture of a bikini model’s body on it; a jokey kind of nudity. Still, I’d have to get some clothes if I didn’t want to stand out.
“Wardrobe malfunction,” I said as I got up.
The crowd had swiftly parted for my arrival, fully-rehearsed for the arrival of plummeting bodies, and had formed a circle around us.
I brushed myself off. “Sorry sorry, didn’t mean to intrude. I’ll leave you to it.” I looked around for a gap in the crowd. Quick escape, keep moving, get Joshaya into my trap before he could get me into his. My gaze went all the way around until they ended up on Jenny. Unblinking, penetrating, thirsty.
“I’ll come with you,” she said.
“Um, no, that isn’t…”
“I will and it is,” she said, face set to stun. “I like you. I want to be with you. That’s it.”
If this had been the entrance exam for the Ed Sheeran Songwriting Academy, she would have definitely got in. Full scholarship.