296. Be Nice to People on the Way Up

I didn’t think being dead would keep me so busy. I had the old gods waiting for me to come back and rescue them, I had god of solo play out here, acting very suspicious, I had my party keeping all sorts of secrets from each other for the greater good, and then I had Peter up to no good whatsoever.

To be fair, I did now have a fairly OP ability. If I ever figured out how to use it properly, I’d be unstoppable. By which I mean I’d be running in the opposite direction and nobody would be able to stop me. Now that’s what I call OPness. 

My only real advantage at this point, though, was being able to move around in this place while everyone else was stuck in pleb-mode. Or nearly everyone.

Once I was through the portal, Joshaya was aware of me. I had managed to avoid letting the realisation that we were dead get to him, but that didn’t mean he wouldn’t figure it out.

It was a difficult thing to grasp, that ephemeral concepts like realisation, understanding and awareness could be manipulated through physical connections that I could see and touch. Emotions I could sort of get my head around—they were just chemicals in the brain, after all. You block them or turn them off, the feelings go away.

I’ve seen that in action, first-hand. No matter how strongly you think you feel about something, the right cocktail of antipsychotics will convince you to no longer give a shit.

But the more nebulous thought processes were much harder for me to get a handle on. How was I supposed to exploit something without understanding how it worked?

Then again, that’s never stopped the great religious leaders of the world. Perhaps I needed to take a leaf from their book (although taking a leaf out of their book would probably be considered sacrilegious and get me stoned to death).

What I had learned so far was that I was able to prevent connections being made. If I kept moving and didn’t get too close to people, I’d be okay. Story of my life.

Joshaya was winding up to say something. So far, no tendrils had sprouted from my body, but that didn’t mean they wouldn’t. I decided to leave Joshaya and follow the massive vine growing out of his head.

Once I got going, Joshaya wasn’t able to keep up, although he did attempt to follow me. I was floating along, using the vine as my guide, trying to keep my thoughts in the here and now. The vine led back to the interior of the temple.

It had seemed odd that if the Pope was in control of all these dead people that he would only have the one vine growing out of him. I’d have expected one for each minion under his necromantic power.

There could be all sorts of reasons for this. Maybe he wasn’t the one in control. Maybe there was another person involved. Maybe another god. Or possibly some other annoying twat. 

Whoever or whatever it was, this vine would reveal the truth. That in itself was a useful ability. I might not have been able to use my power properly, but I got to see what I could have used it for if I’d been competent. It was a bit like on a gameshow when they show you the prize you would have won if you hadn’t bottled it at the end.

That’s why I would never go on a gameshow, no matter how big the prize. There’s just no way I wouldn’t choke when that final question came up. That and also it would be embarrassing to have no one to put down as my phone a friend.

In my new, completely unattached state, the world had a different look to it. It appeared similar—lots of vines and tentacles wriggling and pulsing in the usual disgusting fashion—but everything was in much higher definition. And if you’ve ever taken a good look at a stupidly high hi-def picture, you’ll know that seeing things more clearly isn’t always the most attractive option. A little grease on the lens can do wonders for your self-delusions.

The vines now looked very different to each other. It was subtle, a shift in colour, a slight change in texture, even the way some of them moved. It would be much more revealing to study them now, if looking at them didn’t turn my stomach so much.

There are some people who just love creepy crawlies and weird looking creatures that look like the aliens already landed, they were just a lot smaller than we expected. They let them crawl over their hands and say enthusiastic things about them, like, “It won’t bite.” Fuck those people. Smug bastards. Have the common decency to be grossed out like the rest of us.

Not that it’s very likely a tentacled monstrosity is going to slide into your bed and lay eggs in your ear (or other damp crevices), but holy fuck, why take the chance?

The main thing I’d noticed was that the vine growing out of Joshaya, while different to the ones growing out of everyone else (I’d passed a few of them as I rose from the bowels of the temple), did not seem to be any more powerful.

The output from it was very similar to the rest. The colour was a different tone, but that was about it.

What did that mean? It would be useful to be able to talk to Maurice about it, only every conversation with him now came with the risk of unravelling his power and getting us all killed.

As I continued down the passage that led back to the main hall of the temple, I kept looking back over my shoulder. I had no doubt Joshaya would be in slow-motion pursuit, but there was no sign of him. 

As a running away power, my ability was pretty good, with one ever so small problem. I could get away, but my body was still where I left it. I had to go back. I always had to go back.

The main hall was full of the undead, hanging out. It wasn’t much of a life, being dead. There didn’t seem to be much to do. The point of life was to have kids, raise them to the point they could have kids, and so on. People think they have important things to do, make their mark and whatnot, it’s all irrelevant. Reproduction has always been the only reason for human existence. It’s a terrible system, the most grindy game ever invented. And the microtransactions are a complete rip-off. 

I was still following Joshaya’s vine, but all the other vines were drawn towards it. Not in a subservient manner, more like wherever his was going, there’s were going to.

Was there really someone else behind all this? Was it Peter?

Even if Peter had managed to take back control of his body I wouldn’t have thought he’d have time to get here from Fengarad, but then we’d been delayed by Joshaya.

The more I thought about it, the more likely it seemed that Joshaya was working for Peter. 

Was he doing so against his will? Was he even aware of it? Or was he just a massive sellout who’d made a deal?

Not that you can really judge someone for taking the money when it’s a fuck-ton of money. It’s all very well being high and mighty when no one’s offering to bribe you, but who doesn’t want their life to be a lot easier? All you need to do is shit on everyone else. Most people do that for free.

I drifted out of the giant skull’s left nostril. The thing with evil buildings is that they look a lot more impressive from afar. Close up, everything just feels awkward. Doors and windows look a lot better when they’re evenly spaced out.

Once I got outside I had to stop for a sharp intake of breath, and I didn’t even need to breathe in this state. The world, too put it bluntly, had transformed.

The vines that had looked like a slimy mangrove swamp, now looked like a stunning technicolour vista. Like landing in OZ after spending your life in black and white. It was quite overwhelming.

Everything pulsed and throbbed, but changed colours as it did so. Lollipop trees and candyfloss clouds would not have been out of place.

Sadly, I didn’t have time to sightsee. I didn’t mind, I hate looking at scenery, no matter how beautiful. Photography has ruined it for me. Every time I see some amazing view, it feels like I’m looking at the wallpaper on someone’s desktop.

The vines stretch out towards the other end of the city. People enveloped in their vines shimmered below me as I floated overhead. I recognised where we were going, I’d only come from there recently. The graveyard where the druids had their little church.

I hadn’t seen anything of note last time I’d been there, but then, I’m a horribly unobservant person. Something in that place was connected to everyone in the temple. It could be a pleasant something, or it could be an unpleasant something. Anyone want to give the odds on which it would be? I’d already placed my bet.

The vines had twisted together into one massive tendril arcing over the city. I could still see Joshaya’s one glimmering in the middle of it. Still no sign of Joshaya, himself. Perhaps he had given up. Or perhaps he would appear at the most inconvenient time possible. I’d already placed my bet on that outcome, too.

It wasn’t very late in the day and the sun was fairly high behind me. The buildings became more sparse and the graveyard sprawled out below. There were fewer vines here. But still quite a few. Growing out of graves.

I wasn’t sure what that meant. I suspected it was probably better not to investigate. Not on my own. I was probably immune to undead attack in this state, but still. Might be a bit creepy.

There was a bigger target for my attention, though. The mega-vine from the mega temple went straight into the tiny druid church. Passed through the roof. Maybe that was why churches always had that big thermometer outside trying to raise funds for roof repairs. Huge fucking alien tentacles playing havoc with the tiles.

I pushed my way through one of the windows. It was a prickly sensation passing through solid objects. Took quite some getting used to.

There were no druids inside. I assumed they were still in the city square where we’d left them. Whose side were they on? Whose would they be on once they understood what was really going on?

The vine went down into the floor. Something was under the church. When was that ever a good thing?

Come down into the church basement, I want to show you something really cool.

There’s an offer you want to find a polite way to refuse.

There was a door at the back. I could have tried sinking through the floor, but just the thought of it made me feel claustrophobic. I tried going through the door, which was a tickly but manageable, and found some stairs leading down. I made a light. Almost there.

The steps went down and back on themselves. It was damp and smelled musty. At the bottom was another door. Actually, more of an iron gate, padlocked. To keep people out, or to keep something in?

I slid through the bars, another perk of being an insubstantial person.

It was a crypt. I knew it was a crypt, rather than a wine cellar because of the huge stone coffin in the middle of the room. The vine came in through the ceiling and straight down into the sarcophagus’ lid.

What good things might be in a sarcophagus? Anyone?

“Who’s there?” said a thin, reedy voice.

I stopped. It had sounded normal. Well, it would be hard for anything to be normal in this situation, but it sounded at the right speed. Someone was able to operate in this world as well as me. The hairs on my arm and neck rose. Which was odd, because this wasn’t even a proper body. Yes, yes, the same could also be said about my real one.

“Hello?” I said, like a nervous idiot.

“D-don’t come any closer.” It sounded like it was coming from inside the sarcophagus. Of course. Where else?

“My name’s Colin,” I said in a cracked voice. Give me a break, I’ve never been good at small talk.

The lid moved. I jumped back. Kind of. Floated back rapidly, to be accurate. Dust escaped from the opening with a gasp.

“What do you want?” The voice sounded wheezy now.

“Nothing. I was just passing and the door was open.” It didn’t sound convincing even as I was saying it. “Actually, I’m trying to find a way to bring myself back to life. I’m kind of dead.”

Best way to make friends, try to find something in common. I’m sure I read that in a book somewhere.

“Ha!” More dust blew out of the coffin. “Join the club.”

“Are you a necromancer?” I asked.

“Hardly. Quite the opposite. I used to be a vivimancer. I could prolong life. Shared my gifts with my friends and what do you think they did?”

“Turned their backs and betrayed you first chance they got?” I asked hopefully. If the answer was yes, this was my kind of people.

“That’s right.” He sounded astonished. Easy crowd. “How did you know?”

“One of these friends wasn’t called Peter, by any chance, was he?”

There was a chilled silence, which suited the tomb quite well. “Yes. He’s still around is he?”

The bitterness in his voice was like music to my ears. You can’t trust people’s goodwill, but their grievances are always genuine.

“Yes, he’s still around. Want to help me destroy him?”

Best way to make friends, find something in common.

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