Wesley’s help made all the difference, I’m not going to pretend it didn’t. Maybe I should have asked for her help earlier. Maybe I should have taken a backseat and let her take total control.
The thing about asking for help is that it’s never a good thing, for you or for the person you’re burdening. You’re trying to make your life a bit easier by making theirs a bit harder. Or a lot more.
Some people don’t mind, even feel validated by it. But there’s always some blowback. Some feeling of resentment, unless it’s a truly balanced relationship. But when do two people have equal needs in a timely manner?
You drive me to the airport, I drive you to the airport. You help me move, I help you move. It just doesn’t work that way, and you end up with one side benefitting more than the other.
Basically, it’s much healthier to never ask anything of anyone. At least I’ve always felt better when people don’t ask me. I assume it’s the same in reverse.
But Wesley had intervened without being asked, and by simply nudging the process along in the direction I had already got it rolling in.
You don’t see that kind of Good Samaritan very often. You don’t see Bad Samaritans at all, of course, but that’s because they always kill any witnesses.
This may have been a fantasy world filled with monsters from myth and fable, but I hadn’t expected to encounter the most fictional of all creatures, the legendary Decent Human Being. Wesley was making me start to think I’d just been hanging with the wrong crowd, for approximately my entire life.
Having said that, it didn’t go unnoticed by me that when Wesley decided to make her move, she took over my body without asking. If she had the ability to do as she pleased, her restraint was the only thing letting me take the lead. Which was nice of her, but what was she even thinking?
Uncle Malmur was lying in the street, head down, along with the rest of the locals. He probably wasn’t very happy about it. His toga was going to need washing. He kept peeking up, but not at me. It was his nephew he was keeping an eye on.
Damicar was sobbing loudly. The Piscine Cuisine had been vibrated into rubble, and a haze of dust filled the air. The fire had gone out, though, so that was good. I didn’t want to attract too much attention.
Sure, I’d probably alerted everyone in a 5km radius that something was up, but a fire would help them pinpoint me quicker. I could still keep a low profile and hang all this on the Golden God. Probably.
There were two things I’d sort of figured out, so far. Malmur wanted Damicar out of the way. And he didn’t want him dead. Which might have been for sentimental reasons (I fucking doubted it), or he might actually need him alive for something.
He’d given Damicar this small location to mess about in, but made sure he wouldn’t get successful. It was close enough that he could be watched, but tucked away so nobody else was paying attention.
If this was to do with inheriting his father’s place at the head of the Corleone family, he could have simply killed Damicar. Nobody would have cared.
This had all the hallmarks of a classic side mission. Here was I, trying to make my way in the world (which takes everything you’ve got, allegedly), and suddenly I’m in the middle of the Battle of the Five Families, the Tolkien-Puzo crossover event no one expected.
“I know it was you, Frodo. You broke my heart. You broke my heart.”
Sure, I could help Damicar reclaim his rightful place at the head of the table, but what good would that do? He was hardly cut out for a life of organised crime, and if he tried to make it a less criminal enterprise, he would probably make things worse.
As terrible as authoritarian regimes are, they serve a purpose. Yes, life could be better and fairer, but simply removing the current bad guy won’t achieve that. It will leave a vacuum that will get filled with violence and chaos. It’s a bad idea, or as it’s called in history books, American foreign policy.
I preferred to leave the local politics to the locals. Let them sort it out. I was only interested in getting out, and I’d already wasted too much time. Hopefully, any interested parties would be too far away and too busy to have noticed what I was up to. My own party probably wouldn’t care, but Joshaya was still around, somewhere, and I’d rather not have him stick his nose in.
People were coughing and backing away. They were still on their knees, so it was hard to avoid the vomit. Cries of disgust rang out as they slid around.
I shuffled closer to Malmur and crouched beside him.
“Listen, I don’t know why you forced your nephew to waste away out here, but I think I can solve both our problems. Just give us enough money to start fresh, and I’ll take him to Requbar. You won’t have to worry about him.”
It seemed like a reasonable offer. I had no intention of going back to Requbar, but there were probably lots of business opportunities for a talented chef like Damicar. I’d happily give him whatever was left after I bought my ticket. He could go wherever he wanted.
Something blew up in the back. Some oil? Everyone was back to genuflecting.
“No,” said Malmur vehemently, his nose on the ground. “He can’t leave the city. I won’t allow it.”
He might as well have had an exclamation mark hovering over his head and a tee shirt that read: Ask me about my latest side quests.
Clearly he needed Damicar to be here in Gorgoth. Probably for some nefarious reason. It was none of my business, and I wasn’t going to choose the dialogue option that asked for more information. Damicar quietly sobbed as the dust cleared and the gutted carcass of the only home he had revealed itself.
“Fine. Pay me, and I’ll go,” I said. A beady eye brimming with suspicion swivelled in my direction. “The Golden God wants me to take your boy with me,” I continued, “but I think I can work quicker on my own, if I have the funds.”
My approach was simple. Convince him I didn’t like having Damicar foisted on me, let him pay me to go away. Gods were annoying in their insistence you do things their way. Build me an ark, free the Israelites, kill your first-born… Everything’s about what they want. They never ask you what movie you’d like to see.
If I made it seem like I thought Damicar was as useless as Malmur did, then it made sense that I’d rather abandon him, just like everyone else had.
Okay, it isn’t nice to pile on like that, I know, but Damicar wasn’t going to notice. Give him a nice bunch of onions and he’d be happy as pig in shit.
“How much?” said Malmur. This guy got it.
The problem was, I had no idea how much money I needed. Maybe I should have checked ticket prices before embarking on my fish-selling strategy, but things were a bit hectic back then, and I hadn’t expected to run into so many obstacles.
Catch a few fish while things settled down, sell them on the cheap, go to the ticket office. If I still needed more money at that point, I could do some more fishing. I’d know what price they’d fetch, and how much more money I’d need. It was a solid approach.
Unions, that was the problem. Bloody unions.
“Make me an offer.” I tried to sound confident, like this was my usual opening gambit.
“A thousand cronks. And you don’t come back.”
What was a cronk? Was a thousand a lot?
“A thousand? Come on. If you aren’t going to be serious...” It was bound to be a low amount to start with.
“Okay, okay. Two thousand.”
I’d gotten him to double it, but if he was willing to make such a large increase it suggested it hadn’t been all that much to begin with.
“I can see I’m wasting my time,” I said. Was I? No fucking idea. I started to get up.
He grabbed my arm. “Wait. I was just testing the water. Five thousand.”
What I needed was someone with a notebook full of currency conversions charts. Or someone to read his mind. The realisation only made me irritated.
“Double it, and we’ve got a deal.” It probably wasn’t a fortune, but surely it was enough to get me a berth on the next boat out of here. People were getting to their feet, and I wanted to leave before they started asking me to put in a good word with the Golden God for them.
“Alright.” Malmur looked annoyed, which was a good sign, right? “But I need time to get the money together. Two or three days.”
Another good sign. If it was hard to get hold of that much cash, it was probably a lot. I hoped I’d be able to carry it all. But I didn’t want to have to wait.
“What about the Municipal Directory? Can you transfer funds to my account.”
He looked startled for some reason. He was a big wig, he probably had an account there. Then he glanced at Damicar. “No. Not there. I’ll find the money. Just give me a few hours.”
What was with the sudden change to the schedule? A thought occurred to me.
I got up and walked over to Damicar. “Hey, do you have an account at the Municipal Directory?”
“No,” he said through his tears. He had a half-eaten onion in his hand. I think he had plucked it out of a crack in the paving stones.
“Oh.” There was that idea nixed.
“My father had one.”
Aha! “So it’s yours now?”
“I don’t have access to it until I come of age.”
“And when will that be?”
“Not for another three years.”
This was starting to make sense now.
“Do you know what’s in there? Anything good?”
“Yes, of course. The most precious thing imaginable. My father’s recipe book.”
It could have been recipes for potions. Or how to turn tin into gold. “Magic recipes?”
“Yes! His fish pie was pure magic. Such rich flavours, they cast a spell on the senses.” He went all dreamy for a moment. “Oh, and there’ll be some deeds and contracts and stuff.”
Malmur’s face flinched.
It felt good. It was like in an RPG, when you fight some random mobs and they drop useless loot. Horn of Colexya, what the hell is that? But you pick them up anyway — because when do you not pick up every bit of trash in an RPG? — and then you get to the end of the stage, and there’s an NPC, dressed up in flash gear, but immune to damage no matter how often you hit him, with a big yellow exclamation mark above him.
“Before I allow you into this place you’ve travelled across the map to get to without fast travel, fetch six of this thing that drops back where you started.”
Bloody hell, you think, six of what thing? Horn of… Haha, I have those in my inventory!
Such a nice feeling to have the quest items on you without even realising. You can hand them in without moving.
“Oh, you’re back…” says the NPC, as per its programming.
Fuck you, Captain One-Job (first name Uhad). I never left!
That’s how I felt at that moment. I’d avoided having to go on some wild goose chase to find out what was going on between uncle and nephew. Damicar was the only one who could get into his dad’s lockbox. But not for another three years. After that, I was sure he’d be sent on a long walk off a short pier. Until then, he had to be kept safe and sound.
“Damicar, forget all this. Come with me. I’ll show you how to live like an adventurer.”
“Really?” said Damicar. “You think I could?”
“Of course. It’ll be dangerous, but there will be lots of things for you to cook. Rare and endangered species that will taste amazing.”
“No, no, you can’t leave,” said Malmur, a look of desperation filling his face. “I promised your father.”
I didn’t know what the papers in Damicar’s account related to, or why Malmur couldn’t just get them out some other way — if Damicar died, wouldn’t Uncle Malmur be next in line to inherit the account? — but he was clearly shitting himself at the thought of Damicar running off towards his doom with me. At this rate, I might be able to afford my own suite on board the SS Gucci.
“I can get you the money now.”
“Triple,” I said.
“Yes, yes. This way.”
It could still be a trap, but I could always take Damicar hostage. He was such a helpful lad, I’m sure he wouldn’t mind. And it was probably easier for Malmur to pay me off and get rid of me. I was finally getting to do things my way, running the operation with no interference. Finally I was coming out on top.
“Stop,” said a familiar voice. Grayson, Commander of the East Gate, was standing in front of a fully decked-out platoon. He didn’t look very happy. “You’re all under arrest.”
Next chapter is available to patron on Patreon now.
Please vote on TWF if you have a moment. Cheers.Afterword from Mooderino