325: Welcome to Shrine Island

It was early and the light was tinged with grey. The islanders were lined up all along the beach, on the rocks, up high on a cliff. There were dozens of them, dressed in skimpy leather beachwear.

How had they known we were coming? Some sort of magic device? A giant dinner bell? Or did they just hang out here, ready to be seen by passing ships? Bit narcissistic, if you ask me.

We had dropped anchor quite a distance from shore, which was a wise move. If they decided to dive into the water and come at us, we would need to haul anchor and then haul arse. You could tell by looking at them that they were good swimmers.

The only weapons I could see were spears — nothing fancy, these were traditionalists. Conservative values, strong belief in the rule of law, willing to stand up for what they believed by stabbing you with a pointy stick until you agreed with them that you should be dead. Pro-Brexit, I would guess.

“Did you bring any weapons?” I asked Royn.

He smiled and nodded, and then giggled like he’d made a clever joke. “It won’t do you any good, my friend. Allow me to demonstrate.” He signalled to one of his men who went below decks and came back a few moments later with a bow and a quiver of arrows.

It was a longbow, I mean, really long. And the arrows were bigger than you’d expect. The beach was over a hundred metres away. It seemed very unlikely you could hit anything at this distance.

Royn’s man, a tall dude with taut corded muscles, drew the string back to his cheek, the strain of it showing in his face, and through the painful creak coming from the bow. Then he let fly.

When I said it was unlikely you could hit anything at this distance, I obviously meant there was no way I’d be able to hit anything from here. Royn’s man knew what he was doing. The arrow arced high, came down fast, and landed in the sand at one of the islander’s feet. None of them so much as flinched.

More arrows flew, all missed their targets and were ignored, And then an arrow looked like it was actually going to hit one of them. She moved at the very last moment, her hand flashing up to her face, grabbing the arrow out of the air.

She snapped it in half with just one hand, and tossed the broken pieces away. What we had here was an island of bloody show-offs.

Then an islander ran forward a couple of steps, and launched his spear.

If the arrow seemed unlikely to reach, the spear seemed even more so. He didn’t even throw it at an angle, it came directly towards me at eye-level all the way. I was transfixed watching as it flew past my shoulder. It struck the ship’s mast with a resounding thud. I had the strong feeling that was exactly where it had been aimed. A warning shot.

They were an imposing bunch, but it wasn’t like I didn’t have help. Wesley could cause major havoc, if she felt like it. But I found the idea distasteful. I had no idea what these people were doing here or why they felt the need to kill everyone who came ashore. They were certainly in my way, but that didn’t really excuse genocide. Not unless I could work out a way to claim it as self-defence.

“I saw him coming at me with a knife, I was in fear for my life, so the only thing I could do was wipe out his entire race.” Probably wouldn’t stand up in court outside of Florida.

“Where did they come from?” I asked Wesley. We hadn’t really spoken much on our trip, I had mostly caught up on my sleep and focused my mind on keeping my thoughts sharp and pure. I didn’t know when I’d need to use my ability under pressure, and I needed to stay centred. Also, do you know how hard it is to sneak in a quick wank when you have a middle-aged woman living in your brain? Let’s just say I was reaching new levels of spiritual awakening.

Anyway, I digress. Wesley knew this place well, had helped Arthur set it up, so she should know what this was all about.

“I have no idea who these people are,” she said.

“But I thought the island was a deathtrap.”

“It is."

“So then they should all be dead.”

“They should.”

“Could Arthur have put them here?” If they were on the payroll, perhaps Wesley could teach me the secret handshake, and all I’d have to do is row over there and let them know we were on the same team.

“I don’t know,” said Wesley. “I can’t think why he would need to.”

She wasn’t much help, but she had been locked away for several years. Hard to keep up with current events when you’ve got no wifi. And at least it meant when she did have information for me, I’d know it was based on knowledge, not a need to sound clever. That’s an admirable trait in a person you’re going to have to rely on. Apparently.

“You could always go ask them,” she said. I couldn’t see her, but I knew she was smiling.

Now was not the time to go the “Hello, I come in peace” route. These fuckers would cut off my hands and use them to wave bye-bye to me.

The captain had a telescope and I used it to get a better look at them. They all had the same expression: I. Don’t. Think. So. Their tourism industry can’t have been doing very well if this was their idea of a welcoming party. Which at least meant I might be able to pick up a bargain or two at the gift shop.

“What now?” asked Captain Somya.

Everyone was waiting for me to give the order. They would probably ignore it, but I think there was a general curiosity in wanting to know what I would suggest as a way forward. Smart money was in me sounding the retreat immediately.

It had been a very pleasant trip so far, and I was loath to ruin the mood by getting myself eaten alive. That sort of thing can put a real damper on the atmosphere.

Captain Somya had provided an excellent escort service. Get your minds out of the gutter, there was nothing lewd about him or his seamen.

He had achieved the most important part of any mission, which was to not get me in a fight. He’d delivered me to my destination without running into any marine life of gigantic proportions. Poseidon hadn’t risen to skewer me on the end of his trident. I had no complaints.

Royn had been happy to lounge around, and his men weren’t so bad once you learned to hide from them and avoid all conversation. Damicar was in his element in the galley, cooking up various seafood appetisers which he tested on the crew — undead seaman eat food, in case you were wondering — and they were very chatty, talking about the weather, and their plans for the future. The only slightly concerning thing was that an hour later, they would have exactly the same conversation, word for word.

And the ship’s cook was always laughing. Out of context and for far too long, but at least she had a positive outlook.

All in all, things had gone smoothly. Up until this point.

One other interesting thing I discovered was when I decided to do a quick check of the crew from the adjacent world — I figured I might as well see if there was any way I could cut into the vines in case I needed to make an emergency override. The crew each had a single vine, as expected, but the captain did not.

He had one big one coming out of the top of his head, but he also had twelve more sprouting from his body. Twelve vines, twelve crewmen. Which suggested that the captain was not Joshaya.

It seemed he had local control of his men, which made sense. It would be hard for Joshaya to call the shots if he wasn’t here.

“So,” I said in a light and breezy manner, “who fancies stretching their legs?” Unsurprisingly there were no volunteers.

I was in charge, technically, so it was up to me to come up with a plan. Normally, I would be in a more reactive position. Someone would try to get me to do something (like, I don’t know, die), and I would have to quickly think of a way to not oblige them. In this case, I had to make the first move. I wasn’t really a first move kind of guy.

However, I did have another option. Before I went over there in the flesh, I could go over in my less substantial form and scout the place out. At least I’d have an idea of the layout.

I left my body and drifted across the water towards the island. As I neared it, one thing became very obvious. There was a distinct lack of vines on the island, other, that is, than the regular jungle variety.

I was used to seeing a mass of writhing tentacles whenever I left my body, sprouting from every location. But here, that was not the case. In fact it wasn’t the case with any of the islanders, either.

None of them had vines growing out of their bodies. Not even one. I had a good look at them from every angle, and there was nothing sprouting out of them.

Were they untouchable like me? Was I their king?

I wasn’t sure what it meant. Had I lost exclusive rights to my signature move? I mean, it was never the greatest ability, but I still liked that it was my thing. Now it was popular, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be associated with it anymore. My hipster credentials would be ruined.

It could have been that these people had no idea they were disconnected from the world. Or it could be they weren’t affected the same way I was. But if it was roughly the same as what I had, that meant they wouldn’t be affected by other people’s abilities. They were immune to being fucked with.

This gave me hope that they had been put here by Arthur. What better way to avoid someone like Peter from manipulating them? Any powers like Claire’s or Jenny’s powers would also be useless against them.

It did make me wonder how exactly a society with no connections between them functioned.

“We need your help.”

“I don’t feel like it.”

“Alright, don’t bother.”

So far I knew there were a lot of them, they were very strong, and they didn’t have vines connecting them to anything. None of that was particularly helpful in getting them to not kill me if it tried to talk to them. Their untouchability would also make it hard for me to affect them with my industrial grade bullshit.

I’d made it onto the island, though, which was already more than anyone else had achieved. Technically, I hadn’t set foot on the beach, but I was able to look around. I could at least find the shrine and check it out for any nasty surprises.

I moved past the first line of defence — welcome to the new meta — and floated towards the interior. The jungle was everything you’d want in a jungle biome. Very leafy.

Even though I didn’t know exactly where the shrine was, or what it looked like, there couldn’t be that many ominous buildings of a ‘we keep our magic artefacts here’ nature. It wasn’t that big an island, and it was probably centrally located for convenient access to shops and public transport.

It actually didn’t take me long to find it. There was a path cut through the jungle that led directly to it. Like they wanted people to come this way.

Normally that would be a red flag, but in this state there wasn’t much anyone could do to me. This was the way to find traps and avoid ambushes — cheat.

The shrine was a square building covered in vines, the vegetation kind. Over the entrance it had the same fish standing up symbol the Shriners used back in Gorgoth. Had to be the place, right? So far I’d seen no traps or more islanders.

The entrance, though, gave me some cause for concern. It was a black hole and rather familiar. It was the same as the portals under the temple and in the druid church. One had contained the old gods, the other had contained Wesley. What was behind this one?

A man, of course, doesn’t worry about what might be. He ploughs his own furrow. Makes his own path. I knew what it meant to be a man, I’d seen the adverts on TV. When it came to spraying yourself with copious amounts of deodorant, becoming attached to a particular brand of beer like it meant something, or wearing sports apparel with the manufacturer’s logo emblazoned all over it so I looked like a walking advertisement hoarding, I was as manly as anyone out there.

I stepped through the portal. Not because I was brave, not even because I was reckless, but because I was lazy. The thought of going all the way back to the ship, then coming all the way back here through numerous battles and life-changing encounters was too much for me. Fuck that.

I stepped into darkness. My foot landed on the ground and something clicked. There was a whooshing sound and something came flying towards me. I made a light just in time to see a dart hit me in the chest. It actually hit me. I felt it strike.

It looked odd sticking out of me. It was no small thing, ten or twelve centimetres long with brightly coloured feathers on the end. Strange how it was able to touch me in this form. My vision blurred. The light in my hand faded. Poison darts shouldn’t work on me. I’d have to write someone a strongly-worded letter of complaint. Everything closed in and I felt myself fall.

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