Sometimes, you get to a point where there’s no going forward and no going back, and you face the situation with no plan immediately to hand, having gambled that your choices would not narrow so far, and having been found to be wrong.
Everyone had fallen to the ground but me. It would be nice to think this was some kind of metaphor, elevating me to the position of the better man with the higher intellect, but I think we all know that wasn’t the case. I was immune to Jenny’s backlash, which was what made me so attractive to her. I could withstand a psychic beating like no other man in this world — every girl’s dream partner, second only to a pony (or if she’s a city girl, a corner of the washing machine to call her own).
The flying ships were sinking vertically through the air, their insectile wings raised like an Imperial shuttle (Tydirium class). There wasn’t really anywhere for them to land, other than on top of the citizens of Fengarad.
The people had an excellent view of the descending hulls, lying on their backs as they were. The effects of Jenny’s emotional outburst were still being felt, and no one could get back onto their feet to get out of the way of being squashed like bugs. A few of them tried to roll to the side, but there were too many of them and they just got in each other’s way.
Fortunately for them, the ships were not intending to touch down. They got to about rooftop height and stopped, levitating through some magical means, I would have to guess. Either that or they had discovered some form of anti-gravity device, which I highly doubted. If they had, they’d all be gliding around on hoverboards, obviously.
As everyone’s focus was on the ships, and the ships didn’t have glass bottoms to be able to keep an eye on us from directly above, I saw this as the perfect time for me to slip away using my patented technique, the ‘nobody gives a shit about me’ shimmy. Enables you to move in any of eight directions without anyone noticing (because they don’t give a shit about you).
Usually, this method worked very well. Stellar results my whole life. Today, however, people kept grabbing onto my feet as I tried to step in between them.
“You’re our only hope.”
They were dazed and confused, which might explain why they were turning to me for help. Never had I been so in demand. I was like that one gift everyone had to have at Christmas, so much they would do whatever it took to get hold of one. The Tickle Me Elmo, the Furby, the Holy Grail — there’s always one worth fighting over.
Even in their Jenny-induced stupor, they were desperate and scared with no one to turn to who actually cared about them, the common people. They saw me as one of their own, a nobody who hated the cruel oppressors above him. I had to step on a few fingers to get them to leave me the fuck alone. They were right, up to a point, but I also hated the cruel oppressors below me. And I wasn’t too keen on the ones to the side, either.
You might think I’d be pleased to be so popular. That’s what unpopular people want, after all, to be accepted, to be part of the elite so they can finally know what it feels like to reject and exclude others. Oh, to be a looker-down rather than a looked-down-on. The dream!
The hovering ships lowered rope ladders. A lot of ladders, which suggested we were about to be invaded. By what, I wasn’t sure. More fairy-controlled bodies? Some other form of re-animated corpse? Tribbles? I was hoping for tribbles.
One person began to climb down. All the other ladders remained empty, swaying gently, exactly in time with each other. I mean, exactly.
Anyone who’s played a video game made by lazy developers (so, any video game) will recognise the copy-and-paste computer model. Why recreate from scratch when you already have a perfectly good NPC that can be duplicated ad infinitum? Who cares about immersion when you can do a shitty job for a fraction of the effort?
Now that I looked closer, the ships were all very similar, too. I recalled that back when Flossie’s dragons had run off with their very long tails between their legs, it had been because one of these ships had turned into an even bigger dragon. I had thought at the time someone must have the ability to create illusions. Not a particularly bold conjecture. Not a particularly useful ability — once people know you’re a fake, they can pretty much assume you’re full of shit the whole time, and be right. And since I already thought that about everyone, I was well ahead of the game.
But in this case, it worked well as a way to intimidate a large number of people. Having a numerical advantage is about the only way the poor downtrodden ever get to have a say. Which is why it’s imperative the rich down-treading find a way to pinch that kind of thinking in the bud.
I kept moving through the prone multitudes. If I could get to a spire and launch myself out of here, perhaps I could avoid my destiny. I wasn’t sure what my destiny was, but I was guessing it was worth avoiding.
A hand grabbed my ankle, much more firmly than any of the others. This one was not so hard to brush off.
“Stay,” said Laney, who had hold of me. “Stay.”
It wasn’t so much as pleading as dog-training. She’d probably start whistling for me to come-by in a minute.
I was tempted to stop and ask her what was going on. The city and the fairies had come to some sort of arrangement, but I didn’t know how that had happened when there was a perfectly serviceable wall and gates to stop this sort of unpleasant fraternising.
But there was no need for me to get involved. I like it when people take care of their own business their own way. It’s when they try to get me involved that I feel unfairly burdened.
It’s very simple. Either do it your way and leave me alone, or do it my way. My way being where you leave me alone.
“I’ll come back later,” I said to Laney, who was out of it enough so as not to be able to jump on my back and insist I become her new pony (or washing machine). She was still tenacious enough to hold on to my foot as I dragged her across the square, one eye on the person descending from the ship. “You’re doing a great job here. Keep it up. Your people need you. I just need to take care of something.”
Laney was dressed up in her fancy togs — you have to look your best when you’re signing a treaty of capitulation. They’d probably have to sit for a painting at the after-party. The silky outfit helped her glide over the recumbent bodies as I limped slowly to freedom with the princess in tow. This was not how you made a quick escape.
“Laney, let go. I have a mission I need to complete. Save the world, or something. You’re slowing me down.”
“I’ll help,” she mumbled. “I’ll help lead.”
Always ready to join in and take over. What I really needed was a lit cigarette to stub in her face like how you get leeches off you in a swamp. Knowing her, though, it would only make her hold on tighter and start moaning.
I finally shook her off, possibly by slamming my heel into her chin, but affectionately. Like when you affectionately take your pet dog to the vet’s to be put down.
Having got Laney off me, I was able to make a break for it. Jenny’s ability had literally floored everyone which showed how OP she was. If she put her powers to good use, I was sure she’d do very well in the coming war of utter destruction. Maybe she would end up being the supreme leader, using her emotional resonance to make everyone fucking delighted about her rule, whether they liked it or not.
Was that a reasonable form of rule? Force everyone to be happy so they couldn’t complain about anything? How do you insist you don’t like what’s happening if you’re grinning like an idiot?
I accept that it was quite cowardly of me to abandon the city to its fate, but clearly my body was the key (literally), so getting back to it was of primary importance. If one of the other groups managed to get hold of it first, disaster would ensue. It would start with dicks drawn on my forehead and end with global annihilation. Power-hungry people are just mean and bad with personal boundaries.
The nearest spire was a few streets away. It was my best bet for getting out of the city while Joshaya was knocked out. I could have tried to find his tiny body and stamped on it, but that probably wouldn’t work. Plus, I’d be walking around with squished fairy on the underside of my foot for the rest of the day, in between my toes and everything.
I managed to get to the edge of the square. Once I was in the twisting streets of Fengarad, I’d be much harder to keep track of. I turned for a quick look to make sure no one had risen to pursue me.
The guy (I assumed he was male because sexism) from the ship was only halfway down the rope ladder. He was having issues coordinating his movements between his feet, his cloak and the unsteady rigging, which gave me hope that he wasn’t an omega level superpower.
But then he jumped off, spread his cape into wings, and glided towards me. Cheating, plain and simple.
I could have made a run for it, but they wouldn’t let me get away. When you want to be included, no one even remembers you exist, and when you’d like to be left alone, they start passing you notes under the bathroom door when you’re trying to take a dump.
Change what you can, accept what you can’t, and wait until the last minute to dodge everything else. If I waited until he was on the ground, it would be easier to get away from him.
He came in low and fast, and then pulled up to come into a graceful landing. Now that he was so close I recognised the outfit, and the oddly stiff limbs. It was Cowdrey, the vampire of the Council. Well, healer, if you listened to his side of things.
“I thought you couldn’t come out during the day,” I said. He was supposed to be nocturnal for reasons he insisted were not vampire-based.
“Upgraded body,” he said, and tapped his head, which was helmeted and showed no part of his face. It made a hollow wooden sound.
“What do you want?” I asked, wanting to get this over with.
“We want you to join us. A seat on the Council is yours.”
“Ah, you think we’re just going to use you for your body.”
“I do now.”
Everyone wanted me for my body. It was getting so I was feeling completely objectified, and I hadn’t done anything to encourage it. I mean, I was walking around completely naked, but why should that matter, right girls?
“It will be better for everyone if you don’t prolong this any longer than necessary,” said Cowdrey.
Clearly, he didn’t realise who he was talking to. Unnecessary prolongments were my speciality.
There was a sudden whoosh of air behind me, a scream of, “Yoo hoo!” and I was lifted into the air by stubby talons digging into my shoulder. A long neck with a dragon’s head snaked out ahead of me.
We flew back across the square at a very low height and then managed to swoop up before we smashed into the buildings on the opposite side of the square.
“Sorry we took so long,” shouted Flossie. “Where to?”
“Gorgoth,” I shouted.
“Is that where your body is?” said a voice next to me.
I turned to find the dragon had picked up another passenger as it passed through the city square. Jenny was suspended alongside on the dragon’s other side.
“Where in Gorgoth?”
“After we get your body back, we need to talk. Seriously.”
Seemed a bit suspicious that she would want to know the location of my body first and foremost. Could it be her interest in me was a ruse to get hold of my body and use it to open the locked gateway for her own diabolic purposes? Everyone else was after it for that reason, so why not her? The whole wanting to be with me might have been a way to get what she really wanted.
I sure hoped so, because the alternative was that she really was going to sit me down and have ‘the talk’ with me. About our future, about what we meant to each other, about where we see each other in five years time. Quite frankly, I’d be happier with global annihilation.
Next two chapters are up now on Patreon.Afterword from Mooderino