176. Roguelike

“Ah,” I said, “sorry, wrong Loran. Er, the Loran I’m looking for is a girl. My mistake. Sorry.” I did a quick about turn and walked away.

Is Loran a girl’s name? No idea, my only intention was to make a swift exit. Eventually, I would meet Loran as an adult and I didn’t want him to remember me. A stranger knocking on the wrong door when you were a kid wouldn’t make a very strong impression, I hoped.

I didn’t dare to look back until I was well down the road. No one was following me or watching from a distance. I’m not sure what I expected to happen, but I had an overwhelming urge to not change anything unless I knew it would provide some kind of benefit in the future.

There are certain time travel stories that suggest events are fixed. That whatever a time traveller does, in the past or the future, they’ve in effect already done it. The way things are, is the result of those actions; going back to change something makes no difference since you already went back and this is how it turned out. In fact, because you went back, this is how it turned out.

That’s one way it might work, but what I knew of time travel from my own experience suggested it didn’t work that way. I ‘d already been through the same events more than once, and changed them. I was capable of completely wiping one sequence of events from history and replacing them with a brand new set.

Which made me extremely powerful. Look at me, I am become Death, destroyer of worlds. Woo hoo!

Only, it wasn’t all that useful. As soon as I changed things, I no longer had the advantage of knowing what was going to happen.

People didn’t make the same choices or even want the same things as they did the last time around.

It was like playing a videogame where every time you died, everything was completely different. Which I guess some people would enjoy, but it made it much harder to finish what you started.

As far as I could tell, there wasn’t anything I wanted to change this far back in Nekromel’s past. I didn’t know any people here, had no clue what effect my actions might have. I figured my best bet was to keep a low profile and wait for the next stop on the temporal merry-go-round.

So that’s what I did.

The weather was very mild. There were birds in the sky and small animals leaping around in trees. People ploughed fields and carried on like normal people do.

I mean, okay, the birds had multiple sets of wings and looked like monkeys, and the small animals had more eyes than was strictly necessary, and the horses pulling the ploughs had six legs and heads like cats, but ‘normal’ is a relative concept.

It wasn’t threatening, though. Everyone was getting on with their own thing, nobody cared about me passing through. Which was fine by me.

I found a small wooded area next to a pond and waited for my ride. And waited. And waited.

It’s a lot easier time travelling when you have a Tardis or a DeLorean. They might be unreliable, but at least you have a button you can push. All I knew was that my wooden sword would start glowing when it was time to go. Until then, there wasn’t really much I could do.

Night came and the sky turned a deep crimson. I made a small fire—my magic still worked at least. Perhaps I would stay here and level it up.

Stars appeared and put on a bit of a light show. It wasn’t the worst way to pass the time. I was hungry, but I didn’t fancy hunting with my wooden sword. I decided I’d sort something out in the morning.

I lay there watching the sky when I heard a loud fluttering sound. A large silhouette appeared in the sky. It had a familiar outline, all horns and wings. I scampered behind a tree and peered out at the descending figure.

“You don’t want to eat me,” I shouted up at Cheng’s dad.

“No? Why not?” He landed next to me, completely blotting out my view. He seemed bigger, but maybe that was because he was closer.

“Because I’m a friend of your son’s.”

“I don’t have a son.” He said it very firmly, like he knew it for a fact, but there was a light glimmer of curiosity in his eyes, or so I told myself. He may have just been getting peckish.

“Not yet you don’t, but you will.”

“Your kind is so obsessed with children. It is an illusion that you can create life. Nothing can be truly created, only combined. I could create another version of myself, but why? It is just a dilution of what I already am.”

Spoken like a true bachelor.

“I can’t tell you why you decided to do it, only that you will. And he will be able to do what you can’t. And you will be happy about it. The power of love is a curious thing.”

“You say strange things, Colin.” Wait, how did he know my name? He shouldn’t know me in this time. And how did he find me? “How can you know what might happen? Do you have the power to see into the future?” His tone was mocking.

“No. I have the power to travel to the future. And the past, which is where I am now. At least, it’s the past from my perspective.”

“I see.” He nodded his large, demonic head. “That’s very interesting. Perhaps you are a storyteller. Is that why you came here? To tell me a story?”

“It isn’t a story. You will have a son, and he will become one with all of you through the welding.”

Biscuit looked startled when I mentioned welding. I had caught his attention; enough for him not to eat me. Not straightaway.

“You certainly seem to know things you shouldn’t, but that proves nothing. The welding is a slow process.”

“But that’s your aim, right? To get all your demony-goodness concentrated into one body.”

“Yes, the singularity is our ultimate goal. But it will take millennia.”

“No, it won’t. I don’t know when, exactly, but at some point you will be transported to another world, against your will. Sixteen years after that, on the Day of Welding, your son will achieve singularity. That’s why I’m here, to make sure it happens the way it’s supposed to.”

Was that why I was here? Hard to say. Sounded good.

“Sixteen years? Ha!” He scoffed at the idea. “If you truly understood the welding, you would never make such a ridiculous claim. Have you any idea of the power required to make something like that happen in so short a time?”

“No,” I said. “How much?”

I don’t think he was expecting me to ask for a number. He paused to think about it. “We would have to consume this entire planet. Strip it of every last ounce of energy. Nothing would remain.”

The hairs on my arms stood up. A weird sensation washed over me, half-nausea, half-epiphany.

“Yes, that’s right. That’s the Nekromel I’ve come from—a wasteland.”

What he was suggesting had already come to pass. I had seen it. He had made it happen, and I, it seemed, had told him to do it.

If I didn’t convince him to kill every living thing on this planet, the future would change. I’d be back at an all new square one.

Was I really prepared to do that? Apparently, I already had. I could see now why I wouldn’t want to tell Claire and the others what I’d done.

Of course, I could not do it this time.

Then again, they were all already dead. If you put it like that it didn’t seem so bad. The monkey-birds and cat-horses had dissolved to dust a long time ago.

But you could say that about everyone. We were all already dead, somewhere in the future. Did that give me carte blanche to kill whoever I wanted?

“That is not our way,” said Biscuit. “We don’t tear down what others have built to satisfy ourselves. We slowly merge, we don’t destroy.”

“You can’t destroy anything, you can only combine what is already there. It will continue in one form or another.”

Using his own words against him was the easy choice. The smarter they are, the more convincing they find their own arguments.

“But… it is not in our nature. “

“I don’t know what your nature is, but my nature is to fight my nature. Someone or something fitted humans with needs and desires—to fight, to fuck, to survive any way we can. That was all, keep breeding, keep trying to get to the front of the queue. It wasn’t until we stopped relying on the tools we were given and made our own that we were able to evolve beyond our limitations. Well, some of us. The welding will always remain beyond your reach until you stop following the path you’ve been shown and find the one you haven’t.”

Biscuit sat down with a thump that shook leaves off the branches above me. He put his enormous chin on his fist. “I don’t know how what you say can possibly be true, and yet I was sent here to listen to you.”

“You were? By who?”

“The Jester.”

A chill ran down my spine. Was this another jester? Yuqi’s predecessor? “And how did you manage to get in touch with the Jester?”

“Through the Prophecy Machine.” He took out a small box. The Codex. He opened it.

“Hello, Colin,” said Yuqi. She sounded remarkably restrained.

“What the fuck are you doing here? You aren’t even in this world, yet.”

“I exist outside of time, Colin, you poor, miserable fool. Now hand over the vial. He’s going to need it to capture me.”

I felt around in my pocket until I found the vial of blue liquid. “You’re the one who told him to capture you? That makes no sense. Why are you betraying yourself?”

“Haven’t you ever looked back at the you from a few years ago and realised you were a massive idiot? You know the feeling I mean?”

Know it? I was feeling that way about the me from ten minutes ago.

“It still doesn’t explain how you can be the snitcher and the snitchee.”

“Paradox,” said Yuqi.

“And how does that explain anything?”

“You don’t need to worry about, that Colin. You’ve done your part, that’s all that matters. And without as much trouble as I thought. Well done.”

“You know, you could have just asked.”

Snickering came from the box. “Boys like you never listen to girls.”

That was an incredibly sexist thing to say. Frankly, I was offended.

“The important thing is you will get to go home.”

“And you’re willing to kill everyone on this planet to do it.”

“Yes, but it was your idea.”

Shit, she was right. I had been the one to suggest it.

What kind of person was I if I allowed it to happen? I had seen the result. It hadn’t left me determined to change anything. To me, Nekromel was already a dead world. The people here were ghosts.

I would never get out of here if I put their needs before mine. That’s what it came down to—was I willing to take away what others had so I could get what I wanted? Was I willing to kill a planet?
“What about you?” I asked Biscuit. “Are you willing?”

“It is tempting. The prize is greater than anything I imagined possible. The price seems… reasonable.”

Reasonable. Rationisable. I took a moment to search my feelings and found I didn’t have any. Shouldn’t I have been sickened at the prospect? Was I even human?

I held up the vial. The semi-congealed fluid bubbled with a phosphorescent glow. “Did it hurt when they shot you up with this stuff?”

“Yes,” said Yuqi. “It hurt a lot.”

I handed it to Biscuit. “Make sure you give her a double dose.”

“You also need to give him the other stuff,” said Yuqi. “He needs to put it all in the treasury.”

“Alright, Leni Riefenstahl.” Some women had to direct everything. I emptied my pockets and gave it all to Biscuit. The plastic crucifix, the crystal ball, the wooden sword. “So all this stuff is in the treasury because I found it in the treasury? You know that makes no sense, right?”

“Paradox,” said Yuqi. “When you go back, you have to repeat everything flawlessly this time. Don’t fuck it up. And don’t kill yourself, no matter who dies. I don’t want to go through this again.”

My head was beginning to hurt. Best not to think about it and just make sure I kept everyone alive this time. Biscuit began to fade.

“Next time we meet,” I said, “act like you don’t know me.”

“That won’t be a problem,” I heard him say just before he disappeared, “you all look the same to me.”

Kind of racist. I cleared my head. I agreed with Yuqi on one thing, I didn’t want to do this shit again either. From falling in the sea to surviving the welding, I had to make sure I repeated every step, except one.

The darkness enveloped me and a single glowing white door appeared. That at least made it easier. I stepped through it.

I wasn’t falling from a great height. There was no roiling sea beneath me. I was in the amphitheatre, Claire was coming at me with a knife, a weretic was about to snap her in two.

Why did I come back here? I should have been falling into the water. Not here.

I didn’t have time to do anything. I didn’t have time to say anything. I didn’t have time.

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