478: Raise the Stakes

My plan had been quite simple. Bring back a dead Elf, have it fight the giant and win. If for some reason it didn’t win, it would at least cause enough of a distraction to allow me to do something without getting targeted by the Americans.

I didn’t say it was a good plan, just simple.

Joshaya, however, wanted to bring back some golden oldies instead. The people who had come before us — and there’d been quite a few — who had died under various circumstances, some of those circumstances involving yours truly.

Did I really want to see Tin or Dag again? What if the dead could remember who killed them and held a grudge? That’s what they did in the movies. Dead people in movies were very resentful about that sort of thing, climbing out of TVs and writing messages in blood because of a bad day ten years ago. Jesus, let it go. Does everything have to be about you?

I was abused, I was murdered, I was bricked up in the basement — me, me, me.

Even worse, what if they didn’t remember who I was? That would be embarrassing.

“Hey, it’s me, Colin, the guy who ended your life.”

“Mm, no, sorry, doesn’t ring a bell.”

My ability to not make an impression on people would probably make me the greatest serial killer of all time. Eyewitnesses would look at me in a line-up and just carry on down the line.

“No, officer, it’s none of these men.”

“You can bring back all the dead Visitors?” I asked Joshaya, just to make sure we were on the same page.

“Most of them,” said Joshaya. “They will be powerful enough to defeat anyone. They will not be as easy to control as those I’ve raised before, and there’s a very good chance they will run rampant across the land killing everything in their path, but I am confident I can keep them in check.” His mood seemed to have improved greatly since coming up with this plan.

“All of them?” I asked again. “Even the ones who died even before they had a chance to become powerful?”

“Yes, well, them too,” said Joshaya. “They won’t be that useful, admittedly, but they will have some potential, for the future. But there have been some truly powerful Visitors over the years, you know? Some real beasts.”

“And they died?”

“They died, yes,” said Joshaya. He looked over at Peter.

Peter smiled and said nothing.

“You’re saying Peter killed them.”

“I don’t think that’s what he’s saying,” said Peter.

“That’s exactly what I’m saying,” said Joshaya.

“That’s preposterous,” said Peter. “Just because they died doesn’t mean it was my doing. How would that benefit me? I make them stronger. I can’t do that if they’re dead, can I?”

He had a point. His ability required a living host. He was more or less a parasite.

“He used them for his various purposes,” said Joshaya, “and when they were sucked dry, he used them to power those infernal spires.”

Joshaya was also making a strong argument. Eventually, a parasite will use up the host and move onto the next.

“And these Visitors you’re going to bring back, you know where the bodies are?”

“The spires,” said Joshaya. “They’re in there. Isn’t that right, Peter?”

Peter was still smiling but looking a bit shifty, like the pastor of a megachurch when the needy come knocking during a flood.

“It’s just where their bodies have been lain to rest, that’s all. You know, you’re making this sound unnecessarily ghoulish when it’s completely normal. Crypts, mausoleums, tombs, whatever you want to call them. It’s a respectful way to deal with the deceased, nothing more.”

When you thought about it, the whole concept of saving dead bodies and putting them in storage of some kind was pretty weird. Even a coffin in the ground is an odd way to deal with a corpse. A waste of prime real estate, if you ask me.

“Does that mean the power of the spires comes from dead Visitors?” I asked.

Peter’s shiftiness was steadily intensifying.

It made sense. I’d already seen various life forms being sacrificed to operate the spires. If they were built on the energy contained inside Visitors, that wouldn’t be the craziest idea I’d heard since arriving in this world. Wouldn’t even make the top ten.

When you’re transported to a fantasy world and given amazing powers, getting to play the hero of myth and legend isn’t the only way the story ends. Sure, that’s going to be the headline on the brochure, but not everyone gets to pull the sword out of the stone and save the princess.

It was probably like that in the beginning when there were just one or two Visitors and plenty of princesses to go around, but eventually you’re going to have competing heroes and any time you have competition, you’re going to have what the free market always brings with it — a massacre.

Don’t get me wrong, other forms of trade and commerce are also dripping in blood, but the idea of putting people in direct competition with each other for finite resources and labelling it as ‘enterprise’ is disingenuous, to say the least.

It really wasn’t that big a surprise to find out previous Visitors who hadn’t taken the appropriate precautions had ended up helping build society by being turned into mortar. Something’s got to keep the bricks from falling over.

“If you can bring them back under your control,” I said to Joshaya, “why haven’t you?”

“I was prevented by Peter,” said Joshaya. “He has been jealously guarding the source of his power for decades.”

“That had nothing to do with it,” said Peter. “The Queen would never allow you to raise them. It would give you too much power, Joshaya.”

Joshaya’s expression turned gloomy, which suggested Peter was right.

Personally, I thought it sounded like a great idea. Sure, it could go horribly wrong, and Joshaya undoubtedly had bad intentions once he got the Visitors of old out of the spires, but the important thing was that Jack and his crew weren’t going to be ready for them.

What had struck me about this latest debacle (my debacle count was quite high by this time) was how well prepared Jack had been so far. He had clearly been given just the right weapons for the job. The destruction of the vines and tendrils of the adjacent world indicated a very strong understanding of how to disrupt power in this world, and specifically, how to disrupt my power. I didn’t know who was behind this tactic but I was sure they had more tricks up their sleeves.

Bringing Joshaya in to lead the charge was one way to protect myself, but they probably had some way of dealing with him, too.

What I needed was a plan that no one thought was a good idea, so they wouldn’t have made any provisions for it. Bringing back dead Visitors who might turn Joshaya into an even worse problem than the one we already had seemed to me to fit the bill perfectly.

Even if this plan worked there was a very high probability that more problems would follow. Joshaya would have an army of undead Visitors or the Visitors themselves might break free and run amok or something even worse.

When you relied on using powers you didn’t really understand to overwhelm an opponent you couldn’t beat otherwise, you were leaving yourself open to getting overwhelmed yourself.

But that didn’t really matter. The early bird might get the worm but the second mouse got the cheese.

“Okay,” I said. “We’re going to go out there, you’re going to do your thing, the Queen’s going to get mad, I’ll deal with her, you get rid of the alien invaders. After that, we’ll sort out the loot, give out experience points and try to reorganise our inventory space to make everything fit.”

“Wait,” said Peter. “I really think you should reconsider. Once you start down this path, it will be too late for second thoughts.”

Peter not liking this idea was also another positive.

I did realise that none of this was going to pan out the way I was hoping but my main objective wasn’t to ‘win’. There’s no point going into any situation thinking in terms of winning. Nothing in my life has ever worked out like that and I doubted it was going to start doing so now.

What I was looking for was a way to stall long enough to get my main objective completed. I wanted to send as many people from here over there. Once that was done, they would be far too busy with the shit I’d be putting them into to continue with their attempt at colonising these distant shores. It would be like invading Iraq only to find no one was home and suddenly Mexico and Canada had launched a two-pronged offensive with a bunch of WMDs that weren’t supposed to exist.

Just to be clear, I don’t hold a copyright on that idea, so if anyone wants to use it, feel free.

“It’s fine,” I said to Peter. “We’ll work out the kinks when we get to them. Um, this way, I think.”

I set off into the dark with Joshaya marching alongside me. He was very eager so it was very likely he was planning all sorts of back-stabby things for when he was in charge of an army of superpowered dead people. I guess when you’re a god of the dead, that’s what it takes to snap you out of a depression. That and exercise, eating plenty of fruit and getting some fresh air, obviously. But mainly having your own army of the dead.

My link to Jenny was still present and served as a guide back to the real world. In fact, it was the one link that seemed to be growing stronger.

After a few metres I stopped and looked behind me. Peter was following a few steps back.

“You have to stay here, remember?” I said. “We’re going to do this without you around to screw things up.”

“Oh, I’m just seeing you off,” he said nonchalantly. “I’ll be waiting to hear how it goes. Best of luck.”

I set off again, stopped and turned. Peter was standing still, but the same distance from us as before.

“You’re not coming,” I said.

“Absolutely not,” Peter agreed.

“Can’t you do something about him?” I said to Joshaya.

“My powers are limited in here,” said Joshaya with a shrug.

“Okay, quick, through here.” I bundled Joshaya through the portal I’d been standing next to. The sudden lunge had a good chance of catching Peter off guard.

Not quick enough.

“Is this some kind of connecting space?” asked Peter from right behind me.

“No,” I said, “not exactly.”

“What is he doing here?” said Little-me. “I don’t like him. He gives me the creeps.”

“Wait,” said Peter, looking alarmed. “Is this… No.” His eyes darted around as though he could see things in the darkness. But this was my mind, there was nothing in the darkness. Just darkness.

“You can wait here,” I said. “I’m not exactly thrilled to have you staying inside my head while I’m not around, but at least I’ll know where you are.”

“This isn’t a good idea,” said Little-me.

“I don’t remember asking,” I said. “And can we not do this in front of the guests?”

“They aren’t guests,” Little-me mumbled through the hair covering most of his face. “He’s a psycho and he’s also a psycho. Are you worried I’m going to make you look bad in front of the psychos?”

“Yes,” I said, “but you are also a psycho.”

Little-me’s face, the part of it that was visible, drew itself into a puckered frown, like an unhappy sphincter. “Once you leave, he’s going to take over our mind and make us do terrible things. Even worse than the terrible things you already make me do.”

It was the most he’d ever said to me in one go so he obviously felt strongly about it. Like I gave a shit.

“Then it’s up to you to make sure he doesn’t take over,” I said. “This is where I — you are strongest. Stop feeling sorry for yourself and acting like you have no power over your own life.”

There was a quiet gasp of shock. “That’s what you do.”

“Not anymore. I’ve come to terms with my insecurities, which mean I care even less about yours. You are all-powerful in here, even if it doesn’t feel like it. You have to keep Peter quiet while I sort out a few things. If you don’t, we’re all fucked. We may be fucked anyway, but if you don’t for once in my life deliver, it’s over. And it will be your fault.”

Little-me sighed. “Fine.”

I turned around to face Peter who was standing awkwardly next to Joshaya, both acting like they hadn’t been listening.

“Right, let’s go,” I said to Joshaya.

“I suppose I’ll see you when I get back,” said Peter. He was clearly already thinking of ways to take over this place and use it for his own nefarious purposes. But he didn’t know what I was really like. I mean really like.

When it came to the dark pit at the centre of my world, my problem had never been about not letting people in, it was more about not letting what was in here, out. Little-me was the only one strong enough to keep the doors shut.

“Don’t worry,” said Peter, and then he didn’t say anything else. A mask appeared over his face, his body was in a straitjacket and he was strapped to a gurney.

“Have you been watching Silence of the Lambs?” I asked Little-me.

“Only as far as the first musical number,” he said, not impressed by my decision to add song and dance to the movie. But how can you have a character called Hannibal the Cannibal and not set it to music? It already rhymes, just steal a catchy hook from a 70s disco classic and it’s number one on the hip-hop charts.

“This way,” I said to Joshaya. I led him further into the dark recesses of my mind and then we were back.

Time had stopped while I’d been gone so not much had happened. Jenny was looking right at me as I returned.

“What have you done?” she immediately asked me. “You’re going to do something.”

“Yes,” I said.

“Something that’s a very bad idea.”

“Yes,” I agreed.

“Why is he here?” said the Fairy Queen.

Joshaya was standing next to me. I quickly checked to make sure Peter hadn’t also managed to sneak through. All clear.

“He’s going to take over,” I said.

“He is not,” said the Queen. “I’m going to send him back.”

There was a loud crash, and I mean loud.

“The giant’s breached the city wall,” said Claire.

“Go ahead, Joshaya,” I said. “Do your stuff.”

Jenny was right, I intended to carry out a very bad idea. Raising the dead had very little to do with it. I just needed them to cause a distraction. The real plan was so much worse.

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Afterword from Mooderino
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