The temple was empty and silent, and drafty in the way only buildings with no carpet can be. What exactly is the point of ceilings that are over ten meters in height? In case a giant drops in for Sunday service? Actually, that was probably the reason.
Jenny was walking two steps behind me, slightly to one side. It wasn’t beyond her to walk right behind me and intentionally catch the backs of my shoes to make my heel pop out. That’s how her sense of humour was. Just because I didn’t find it funny didn’t mean it wasn’t hilarious.
The problem with that kind of prank was that they started off as harmless fun and ended up causing injury, leading to infection in a world that had yet to discover antibiotics, and then to amputation. Ha ha ha.
I wasn’t in a good mood, obviously. Cuts and bruises were not a great danger to me. I had the supernatural power to heal myself. I could probably grow back an arm, if I really put my mind to it.
“I’m sorry,” said Jenny from the corner of my periphery.
“Hello, Sorry. I’m Colin.” Dad jokes. That meant I was in worse condition than I’d realised.
“I know you’re angry.”
“When am I not?” I said, still not looking back at her. The long passages were cold and echoed our words, but in a mumbly way so you couldn’t tell who was the more wronged.
“Hardly ever,” said Jenny. “You don’t hold on to it, it’s one of the things I love about you.”
A silence followed.
“But you’re not letting go of it this time. And it’s not your usual kind of angry. You’re angry with me, and there’s no end to it.” She sounded sad and lonely. It was the kind of masterful manipulation women are so good at. Not that she didn’t mean it, but there’s a difference between experiencing great suffering and manoeuvring it into position to make best use of it.
“Don’t worry about it,” I said, countering her rawness with casual indifference. Rock, paper, scissors. “I’m sure I’ll get over it.”
She sighed. We’d entered the main hall, which was the central part of the giant skull that made up the temple’s structure. Her sigh filled the high dome above us and fell around me in soft hisses.
“Hello!” I shouted up. Some things are hard to resist no matter what state of mind you’re in. The distorted echoes came back, “Hellooo, hellooo, fuck you, hellooo…” I gave the dome a dirty look and kept walking.
“I’m selfish,” said Jenny. She paused, possibly for me to insist otherwise. “I wanted a future where we were together. You, pottering around the home. Me, off to work to earn the money.”
I stopped and turned to face her. “Why am I the one staying at home?”
“Because you’d prefer it.”
“You don’t think a misogynist like me would want to keep you locked up where I could keep an eye on you, barefoot and pregnant?”
“I wish,” said Jenny.
“You’re overreacting,” I said, spinning back around and moving on. “I know you did what you thought was best. There was no malice in your actions, any of you. Just stupidity.”
“You’re angrier than that,” said Jenny. It’s hard having a girlfriend who can read emotions at an enchanted level. There’s nothing worse than someone thinking they know you better than you know yourself, and having the magical ability to back it up.
“Yes, yes, okay, I’m angry. I’m angry at myself for allowing you to convince me you meant what you said. You said you wouldn’t leave, and then you left. You said you wouldn’t let go, and then you were gone. You said never, and you meant sooner than you think. Excuse me for being pissed off at my own endless stupidity, but I don’t see what it has to do with you.”
I hadn’t expected it all to come out like that, in a big wave of hate. I didn’t want to say anything, thought I had it all buried, but it was just waiting for the opportunity. For Jenny to tap on a window pane.
I felt something wash over me like rolling static. The tide returning after my sudden flood. I turned around to find Jenny had stopped, and also she was levitating. Just a bit, feet barely off the ground. Her whole body was taught and stiff, like she had been holding her breath and was about to let it go. Her body trembled and then she gently came back down to earth.
“What was that?”
Jenny had to take a few deep breaths before she could speak. “It’s hard to control when it’s that intense.” Her face was flushed red.
“Did you just have a floating orgasm?”
“That’s what it looked like.”
“I was preventing my emotions from spilling out,” said Jenny.
“Well, I’ve never heard it called that before.”
“You should be grateful. It could have knocked you out.”
“Now you’re just boasting. And it wouldn’t have done anything to me. I’m immune, remember?”
“You aren’t immune,” said Jenny, sounding terse. “You aren’t immune from the effects, you’re just resistant.”
“Is there a difference?” It seemed like semantics to me.
“I made a mistake. Okay, I made more than one. And even though there was a good reason — okay, not a good reason, but a reason — I understand that you would have rather I didn’t do what I did. I get it. Sneaking around behind your back to save you was not what you wanted from me. Bad girlfriend. I get it. But if I hadn’t done it, you would be dead, and I wouldn’t be able to get you back.” She looked at me like a point had been made. I wasn’t sure which point. “I’m with you right now, or with whatever this is. Once we get you back in your real body, I’ll have kept my word. The only reason I had to let you go was so I could catch up with you again, for however long that will last.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” I said. “There’s no reason to turn this into a big drama. It isn’t like we’re going to survive this mess.”
“This mess that we made and dropped you into?” said Jenny. That’s the great thing about being in a long-term committed relationship — always finishing each other’s sentences.
We made our way through the passages not normally accessible to the public, down some dark corridors with questionable murals. The entrance to the void realm was my destination, where I planned to get a few answers from Arthur about the fairies in general, and Joshaya in particular.
Life with a goal, for all its inconveniences, made things a lot simpler. None of this, What do you want to do tonight? Where should we go? What movie do you want to watch?
The endless pointless politeness of, I don’t mind, whatever you want is fine, will eventually drive you to despair. Have a goal, always know what your plans are, always have a ready excuse why you can’t join in with the others. I was starting to see ambition in more pragmatic terms.
“What I said about not letting you go,” said Jenny, “it wasn’t a lie. It’s just more complicated than sticking to your side.”
“No,” I said, “it isn’t. Right, my body should be around here somewhere.”
I had now arrived all the way back where I started with my second body. It kind of defeated the purpose of unlocking fast travel if I was going to pile up all my bodies at the one gate. The idea was to have them distributed far and wide, ready for me to pilot when I came out at their respective exits. I only had two bodies currently, and they were both in the same place. Or they should have been.
The archway that led into the void was in front of us. My body was not.
“Are you sure this is where you left it?” asked Jenny.
I didn’t dignify her with an answer. I also didn’t dignify her with forgiveness or understanding.
“Joshaya probably beat us back here and grabbed my body,” I said. “Whatever he wants it for, I’m sure he’ll take good care of it.”
I didn’t think Joshaya would harm my body. It was like that thing of farmer’s not mistreating their animals because it would only hurt their market value.
“We need to find him and get it back,” said Jenny. She seemed more concerned than I was.
“It’s fine. He can’t hide it from us. You’re connected to it, so I just have to follow the trail to wherever he’s stashed it.”
Jenny had reestablished her connection to me, or to my body. This body meant nothing to her, and my presence inside it didn’t seem to have an effect, either. Only my original body would suffice for Jenny’s needs, apparently.
“Okay,” said Jenny, somewhat placated. “We can track it down. Let’s do that.”
I gave her an assessing look. There’s always the point when the girl goes from following to wanting to lead. Equality demands it must be her go by now.
“You don’t want to?” she asked when she noticed my lack of doing what I was told.
“What are you really after, Jenny?”
“I’m right here.”
She bit her lower lip. “I know. But I thought… if I could get you back to how you were before I fucked it all up, you would… like me again.”
“You want me to like you?”
“No. I want more than that.”
“You want me to love you?”
“No. I know you already love me.” Presumptuous. “I want more.”
She sighed. “I wanted you to respect me. That’s why I was willing to take such a big risk. If the gamble paid off—”
“Then nothing,” I said. “It wouldn’t change anything.”
“This is a fantasy world, Colin. It could have happened. You could have seen me differently.”
“No,” I said, “I couldn’t.” Honestly, people watch one movie with a dragon in it and they think anything’s possible. “Wait here.”
She didn’t really have another option. I left my body before she could say anything else. Eventually, she would get tired of having to prove herself and leave. But not while I controlled time.
It’s a bit of a sickness, to be so unforgiving and unyielding that you drive people away, and then console yourself with the thought you had been proven right about them. They would have left after you grew dependent on them, and it would be much worse. Better to get rid of them now. It’s a lesson learned from bitter experience. Usually only takes the one.
In order to find my body, I just had to follow the thread from Jenny that was attached to my chest. Joshaya didn’t know about it, as far as I was aware, and he couldn’t break it even if he did know.
The problem was finding it under all the other vines covering her. Popular girl, my Jen.
It was also noticeable that there were a bunch of regular vines, I counted six, that went from her to my new body. They were loosely attached, like old velcro that didn’t stick quite as it should, but she was making inroads. Was this body more vulnerable than my old one? Hard to believe.
After having a good root around, with Jenny watching impassively, I found the near-invisible thread. It ran from Jenny’s chest straight through the archway, into the void. How had my body ended up in there? It made no sense.
There was only one way to find out. I floated through the archway, into darkness.
I was met with silence and nothingness. It didn’t bother me, no different to any Friday night round my place.
Finding Arthur, Wesley and Shroom wasn’t going to be as simple as slapping a bell and calling, “Shop!” The void was endless and there were no signposts. On google maps, it was just empty white, like when they build a new road and your car is floating in space.
“Hello, anyone there?” I got no answer back. It wasn’t like I was pressed for time, so I set off in a random direction.
My ball of light was at its maximum but didn’t seem to illuminate very much. I wandered around for a bit, slowly getting enraged by the injustice of it all, shouting into the dark, realising it didn’t matter and laughing out of context at the sheer absurdity. You know, the usual madness in the abyss.
Nietzsche said when you look into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you. What he didn’t say was that after that the abyss would start avoiding you and not picking up your phone calls. It no longer felt like this was a different dimension, it seemed more like a hole someone had forgotten to fill in. It was quite boring.
“Wesley? Where the fuck are you?” I said to myself.
“Here,” said Wesley, appearing at the edge of my light as though she had always been there.
“Oh,” I said. Wesley had told me this place was built for me (I don’t know if she meant it figuratively or literally). If I had some kind of control over this place, I wish someone had shown me where the light switch was.
“What’s wrong. You look terrible.” She hadn’t lost her silvery tongue.
“Nothing happened. I’m the same. I always look like this.”
As I approached I could see Arthur and Shroom next to her.
“No, something happened. Did someone hurt you?” She was being all concerned and motherly (I’m guessing).
“Nothing happened. I just had a bit of a fight with my girlfriend.”
“You have a girlfriend?” said Arthur and Shroom in startled unison, then they both started laughing like it was a hilarious idea.
You can’t judge people on their sense of humour, we all have different tastes. Banana peel, puns, the idea someone would willingly want to be with me, amusing on different levels.
Maybe I would just take out my sword and kill all three of them. Now that would be funny.