322: Expect the Unexpectable

Royn was very keen to know how I planned to deal with the islanders. His version of what they did to visitors was gruesome and bloody. He hinted at cannibalism, but the image of natives cooking me in a hot tub while they sliced carrots into it was too vivid in my mind to take his taunting seriously. Bugs Bunny to the rescue.

My response was to give him some guff about the Golden God protecting his servants, but the truth was I had yet to figure out how to deal with the welcoming committee.

There was always Wesley, I was sure she could vibrate the shit out of them, but that would probably activate a long dormant volcano, and we’d all die in a sea of lava as fiery boulders pelted us from the skies.

You had to be able to foresee the worst possible outcome in order to survive in this world, because that was the outcome hiding around the corner, sniggering at how surprised you were going to be when it made its appearance.

I wasn’t going to get killed by some weird random event no one could have predicted. I was going to predict it, probably still get killed by it, but die with my final words being, “I knew that was going to happen.”

Maybe I wouldn’t win, and a moral victory was clearly out of the question, but I would be taking the prize for needless pedantry to the grave with me.

Royn smiled and nodded patronisingly at my naivety. “If you think you can succeed where so many others have failed, good luck to you, my friend.”

At no point did I think he had really accepted his loss to Damicar. Revenge is too strong an impulse for most people to cast it aside so easily. And Royn had a longstanding rivalry with Damicar, since they were kids. That shit’s like luggage, it stays with you forever.

Royn was the good-looking, successful one, so you’d think he’d be a bit more chill about the whole matter, but you would be very wrong.

His switch from fury to friendliness had been far too swift. He wasn’t fooling me. I’d witnessed that glint of bitterness many times before, in many eyes. In all eyes, to be honest. He was waiting for the right time. The man he’d sent off to ready the ship we were going to use was probably arranging a very short trip for me and Damicar, and not to a tropical island.

The question was, what could I do about it? I needed his help. Even if he was planning something unpleasant, I still needed a way to get out to sea, and he was my best hope. Beating him had been easy, now came the tricky part.

It wasn’t like I didn’t have tools at my disposal, but I would have been much happier if I hadn’t given away my wooden sword. The one magic item we’d found, and I let Jenny hold onto it. I had no one to blame but myself. It’s one of the problems with being on your own.

Now that I was starting to figure my ability out, it would have come in so useful. Where the hell was I going to find another one? Was that why she’d insisted on carrying it? Did Maurice want it kept out of my hands?

I was being paranoid, but that didn’t mean I was wrong.

It would also have come in handy against Joshaya and his minions. For all I knew, Joshaya was already onto me, and was disguised as someone around me. Maybe someone at this table.

And then I realised he couldn’t be. The one tell he had when in disguise was his lack of vines in the adjacent world. He had one big one, no matter who he was.

I couldn’t believe I hadn’t realised it before. I bet Maurice already knew, and had kept it from me.

I had seen Damicar from outside my body, and Royn. They both had a nice big bunch. Maybe Royn had less than average, but still more than Joshaya.

Between Maurice and Joshaya, I had been kept confused and off-balance. It had been an effective strategy, and I was sure Maurice had been the mastermind behind it. I never knew who was who, or what Joshaya had really been after.

But now, anyone with a single connection in the adjacent world was suspect. They might not be Joshaya in some unusual cases, but no one said racial profiling was perfect. Or legal.

At least I had a way to avoid getting tricked again.

“Why are you smiling?” asked Royn.

“It’s nothing,” I said. “Just looking forward to the trip. Sea air’s supposed to be good for you.”

“Even after all you’ve heard about the barbaric reception you’ll receive?” Royn seemed disappointed I wasn’t more perturbed by my impending disembowelment.

“Should be fine,” I said. It was much easier to act nonchalant when I knew it irked him so much. “The sailors will know how to get there, won’t they?”

“Certainly. Any sailor worth his salt knows the location of Shrine Island. It’s the best way to ensure you don’t accidentally end up there.”

“Never been there yourself?” I asked.

“I have things I still want to achieve, thank you.”

“Really? Aren’t you already head of your guild?”

“It’s a union,” said Damicar, “not a guild.”

Royn bristled at the correction.

“But he said he was the guild leader.”

“He misspoke,” said Damicar.

“Yes,” said Royn, eyes set to lethal, “my mistake.”

There was clearly a lot more going on between these two than childhood friends being competitive with each other.

“How many unions are there?” I asked. “I would imagine quite a lot.”

“There are five guilds,” said Damicar. “Each has a number of affiliated unions.”

“Which guild is the biggest?” I asked.

“They’re all of equivalent size and importance,” said Damicar.

“Is there one person in charge?”

“No, there’s a council. They decide on things between them. It keeps everyone working together, or nothing would get done.”

“Did Arthur set it up like that?”

Damicar gave me a quizzical look. “Who?”

“Arthur Askey?” I was sure the stuff I’d been told about Arthur putting Gorgoth’s infrastructure in place had been true.

“He means Arta Askii,” said Royn.

“Oh, the old man. Yes, he started it all,” said Damicar.

Arthur had arranged for the different guilds, no doubt. And like all powerful organisations, men would seek to corrupt and dominate them. But they would keep each other in check. It made sense.

“And which guild is the Seafarer’s Union affiliated to?” I asked.

“The Warehouse and Teamsters’ Guild,” said Damicar.

“Oh, your guild.”

“Malmur’s guild,” Royn corrected me.

“Him and Damicar’s father, wasn’t it?” I said, starting to see how it was. “So, if Damicar wanted to step up…”

“It doesn’t work like that,” said Damicar.

“No, it doesn’t,” said Royn. Snippy.

“But you took your father’s place,” I said.

Royn turned his resentful eyes on me. He didn’t seem so jolly anymore. “That has nothing to do with my position. I was born to lead. Damicar was born to peel potatoes.”

“Sure,” I said. “I can see the similarity.”

“What similarity,” said Royn. “There is no similarity. I am destined to make my mark on the world. He is destined to make cupcakes.”

It’s important to be true to yourself, isn’t it? You need to be you. It’s a pivotal part of the human experience. And if for some reason you are denied the opportunity to express your inner you, then misery will surely follow. You will not be the person you could have been, and there’s nothing worse than that.

It’s easy to feel that everything bad in your life is caused by the hole you are aware of so acutely. And if you do get hold of that missing piece, it’s easy to convince yourself everything good from then on is due to the fact that you are now whole. Self-fulfilling idiocy.

It’s such a strong impulse that it excuses a lot of selfish behaviour. It even justifies forcing hardships on others. Those other people may even accept those hardships as a reasonable burden, because you have a dream, and people who achieve their dreams are the winners in this race, right? We all feel it. It’s the ultimate victory.

“I completed my quest! Now I can level up and get bonus skill points in charisma.”

It’s not that important, you self-absorbed prick. What you’re feeling isn’t destiny, it’s vanity.

Maybe you’re very talented and have great potential in the sport of diving. So good, you could actually make the Olympic team one day, if you pushed everything else aside and went for it.

So what? What if you don’t? Would your life be that much better if your parents woke you at 5AM every day to go down to the pool and practice your tuck and pike before school?

Let’s say it all goes as planned, and you get in the national team, you go to the third world country hosting the games (Oh, the opening ceremony! Oh, the spectacle!). You perform well. Really well — the bronze medal! You did it, you fucking did it. Top three in the world (top two if you don’t include the Chinese — they must be cheating, right? Proper stealth drugs, not that cheap crap the Russians use). Mum’s crying, Dad’s punching the air. It was all worth the hard work and sacrifice.

Was it?

You’re good at jumping in the water. Who gives a fuck?

Obviously, I’m being facetious. Olympic athletes represent something bigger than sports. Even the ones in the swimming bit during the first half which no one really watches. They inspire and enthrall. They can even bring attention to causes that wouldn’t otherwise get talked about.

But there’s more than one way to do that. It isn’t all about you and your dream. Some people have to wake up at 5AM without the lure of Olympic gold. They might have to do it serve up a cocktail of drugs to their cancerous mother so she has the strength and lucidity to tell them what a disappointment they are.

A person like that may not be focused on achieving their hopes and dreams. They might settle for a cup of tea and five minutes of peace and quiet. Because life is short, but not short enough.

I’m not saying don’t do what you want, but acting like you getting what you want is the meaning of life is a bit much. People place way much emphasis on being who you were born to be.

You know what happens if you keep putting things in a left-handed baby’s right hand? They become right-handed.

Does that mean they go through life feeling they’re living a lie? Maybe. Does it make much of a difference? I sincerely fucking doubt it.

Your unique purpose for being here wasn’t placed inside you at birth, waiting to be unlocked. A whole host of things will make you the person you end up being, not just one thing that’s the be all and end all.

I know people will feel that isn’t true. Some people are being forced to live a lie, and they hate it. It makes them physically ill that they can’t be themselves. I think that’s completely valid, but not because the universe gave them a secret mission they have to complete. They got shaped and moulded into being the way they are. We all have things that influenced our tastes, our interests, our desires. Mainly the people who raised us, who were supposed to look after us when we were young, who did a terrible job.

Uncle Mike who was a bit weird but your mum thought he was okay to babysit for a night. Who came into your bedroom and said, “Here, hold this. Feels funny, doesn’t it? Rub the sides. Nice, huh? Now roll it. It’s called a D20. Because it’s got twenty sides. Count them if you don’t believe me.”

Of course you’re going to convince yourself it was always in your DNA to be the awkward nitwit who didn’t fit in. That’s how you cope with trauma, you try to own it.

Mum tries to pretend it’s a phase, but she doesn’t understand. Doesn’t matter how many books she buys on nerd conversion therapy, you can’t convert the truth. There’s no cure for how you see the world. It isn’t an illness, it’s a gift. One that enables you to see the MCU as something vital and important, and the DC Extended Universe for the vulgar commercialisation it truly is.

Nobody is born as the finished article. Your destiny isn’t set in stone. How much you want it, how much you deserve it, how good you’d be if only they’d let you have it… no one cares. Your birthright means fuck all.

But that doesn’t stop people feeling their mission is important. So important, other people should care. And they do. Why else would they help you? Certainly not for their own personal benefit.

“There’s no real difference between you and Damicar,” I said to Royn, not-so-gently rubbing it in. “He has his calling, and you have yours.”

“You can’t seriously consider them equal.” He was too flabbergasted to be offended. I think he was building up to it as a show-stopping closer.

“Absolutely, I do. Men doing work of one kind or another, it’s all the same. Exactly the same. Exactly.”

Royn was biting his tongue, forcing himself to remain calm. It only convinced me more that he was up to no good.

Damicar finished eating and stood up to go to the bathroom. “You won’t leave without me, will you?” he said very seriously.

“No, I consider you vital to my plans,” I said.

Once he’d gone, Royn said, “Really? Vital? What for? There’s already a ship’s cook. A real one. No onions in the blancmange.”

I’ve always hated blancmange. A few onions might be an improvement. “He’s the whole reason I’m going,” I said in a conspiratorial whisper. “He’s not really guild master material, like you said, but when he gets back, he will be. He’s going to be the one who unites the guilds under one leader.”

Royn’s mouth dropped open. Then he started laughing. Then he stopped and looked at me. “You can’t be serious.”

“I am only here to do the Golden God’s will,” I said with a saintly smile.

“It isn’t allowed,” said Royn, getting angry.

“Not yet. Change is coming.”

I couldn’t imagine a worse boss of the five guilds than Damciar, but that wasn’t the point. I couldn’t imagine a more interested person in taking the role away from Damicar than Royn. He wouldn’t just want to stop him, if he thought it was possible, he’d want it for himself.

“On the island is…” I let the pause hang for dramatic effect, “ the unification treaty.” The great thing about giving someone a knowing look is that you don’t actually have to know anything.

“The unification treaty?” said Royn in a voice filled with awe.

“You know who built the shrine on Shrine Island, don’t you?”

“Arta Askii, of course.”

“And who set up the guilds?”

Royn’s eyes bulged. Got ‘em.

Whatever Royn had planned for me, I didn’t think he’d stop me going now. More likely he’d want to come along. Not necessarily ideal company, but it would ensure the trip would happen. I might even do some fishing on the way. I was the Baitmaster 9000.

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