It was a galleon, huge and imposing. It sat in the water like Jabba the Hutt, and our little sloop was its slave princess. Three masts, and plenty of men on deck, in the rigging, all frozen in place.
It was easily as big as the large cargo ships back at the dock. Perhaps it was also a cargo ship that just happened to be passing by and saw us. Maybe it was a pirate ship that plundered cargo ships.
No sign of a Jolly Roger, though. Did pirates really fly those? Seems very sporting of them to let you know they were about to fuck you up.
Mind you, if they were here to plunder, it would be pretty obvious to them that our dinky little cutter wasn’t going to be carrying much cargo. I hadn’t really thought about it, but I didn’t actually know what our ship was used for when it wasn’t ferrying people to their deaths. Why would the Shriners need a small, fast ship?
A question for another day, assuming there would be one.
I floated out over the unmoving waves. There was no sound when I was in the adjacent world, which added to the unreal quality of it, but also made it easier to accept. I preferred the silence to be honest. Life, I’ve always thought, is someone playing a song on the radio you don’t like, and when they see you don’t like it, they turn up the volume.
The islanders watched me go without even saying goodbye. There’s no excuse for poor manners.
My ship was alongside the new one, which was blocking the exit like a possessive boyfriend. Where are you going? Not dressed like that you aren’t.
On the deck I spied Damicar — his outline was the easiest to recognise — and Royn. The Captain was up by the steering wheel, together with another man. He had a similar build to the captain’s. Big boned.
As I grew nearer, I noticed there were quite a few men on deck who I didn’t recognise. Of course, the big difference between the crew of the Eternal Infinite and these new arrivals were the vines. My crew had very few, the new guys had loads. Which meant they weren’t Shriners. And, it also meant I could try out my new sword on them.
That might sound a bit harsh. Just because I didn’t know these people, didn’t mean it was okay to do something to them that might irreversibly change their lives for the worse. I don’t want anyone to think I didn’t consider the ramifications of my actions, but having weighed the pros and cons — pros, I find out if my magic sword works; cons, something annoying for them that they’d have no way of knowing was due to me — I thoughtfully concluded I could live with it.
My more pressing concern was that I couldn’t see myself. I had been standing at the rail, looking at the island, when I decided to pop over for a visit. I was no longer where I’d left myself.
Was I too late? Had they tossed me overboard and watched me float away? Which raised another question. What happened if I was out of my body when it got killed? Could it even be killed when I wasn’t home? It was all a lot simpler when everything went into stasis mode during my absence.
Fortunately, as I reached the ship, I spotted myself. I was no longer with Damicar and Royn, I was over by the captain and his guest.
My position between the two big men had shielded me from view as I approached, but now that I was close enough, I could see the three of us clearly. I had my hands on my hips and a large idiotic smile on my face. What the fuck was going on here?
Captain Somya’s expression was as grim as ever, but he seemed at ease. The other man had an aristocratic face — aquiline nose, high forehead — and didn’t come across like a thug. Which meant exactly nothing. He was dressed in similarly fancy gear to the captain, all brass buttons and fancy cuffs. The captain of the other ship?
If they were old buddies, maybe things weren’t so bad. Then again, I’d seen enough movies where the two main characters were friends and deep rivals, happy to have a drink together, and then ready to kick the shit out of each other. It’s how I think true men are supposed to act — shaking hands, asking after each other’s families, then walking ten paces in opposite directions, turning and shooting.
You know what stopped that kind of masculinity from being the way men behaved? The pill and antibiotics. Suddenly sex was free of consequences. No kids, no weeping sores. I’m not sure which was considered worse (although I can guess), but neither was a deterrent anymore. Who’s got time for challenging people to duels when you can go blow your load instead?
Ruined us, it did. The sexual revolution turned men with a need to vent their pent-up desires through random acts of violence, into men like… me. I don’t think anyone can see that as a win, for either side.
Before I ventured any further to discover how my body had moved when I hadn’t been at the controls, I wanted to try my new sword out.
There was a man standing between Damicar and Royn, arms crossed. Not a member of the crew, judging by the vines sprouting from him, although he was otherwise similarly kitted out. A sailor, and one who carried a short sword stuffed into his belt.
The man was stocky and had a tough look about him, but his weapon wasn’t drawn, and he looked a bit bored. Damicar’s mouth was slightly ajar, so he may have been in the middle of explaining how to make a proper Hollandaise sauce.
I floated behind the sailor, and took a swing with my sword, aiming for one of the larger vines that went from one of his buttocks, back to the ship. What did the vine represent? I had no idea. It was a yellow colour and about as thick as my upper arm (so not very thick). My sword’s blade cut into it, slicing it clean off in one strike.
Success! It worked even better than the wooden sword. No resistance at all.
I held up the sword and gave it a good look. There wasn’t a mark on it. I had just made a giant leap forward in my quest to not have to do any quests.
The shield was harder to figure out. I didn’t even know how to test it. But I wasn’t too worried. It would probably reveal itself at some point. And even if it didn’t, a portable object to hide behind was clearly a good item to have.
I swung the sword again, using the shield to block an imaginary foe. I had no idea what I was doing, and I’m sure I looked a complete pillock, but having decent gear for once was enough to make me not care.
The guy with the bum vine had a sorry-looking gap in his vines now, like he’d slipped while shaving and cut a chunk out of his beard. I quickly set about making the rest of him equally naked, vine-wise. It took a few seconds.
Then I had a good look at his face and clothing so I would remember him. I wanted to see how he acted without any vines. If I wanted to use my powers effectively, I had to start working out what different effects I could achieve. I’d start with the close-shave all over. I was also interested in how soon they grew back, assuming they did.
Once I’d finished setting up my little experiment, I moved over to my body. The first thing I wanted to do was have a word with the people I’d left Colin-sitting.
I re-entered my body and found myself in the usual dark place, cosy furniture now around a coffee table. Had they been having tea and biscuits while I was gone?
Wesley was sitting in her comfy chair, reading under a lamp. Where had she got a book from?
“Oh, you’re back,” she said, smiling. “Any sign of Arthur?”
“No, I didn’t see anyone. But I found these.” I held up my acquisitions. “Do you recognise them?”
She stood up to get a better look. “Can’t say that I do. Very nice, though. Where did you find them?” I explained how I’d come across the sword and shield. “Sounds like you went in the back entrance by mistake.”
I know what you’re thinking, and stop it.
I hadn’t checked all the way around the shrine. If a path leads up to a door, you expect it to be the way in. That was a terrible excuse for not taking a better look. There might have been all sorts of goodies round the front. The truth was, I’d been so excited by my loot, I wanted to come rushing back to show them off.
“And then I came back to find we’d been made some bigger ship’s bitch,” I said.
Wesley gave me a disapproving look for cursing. “Yes, time stopped when you left, then restarted, when you entered the shrine. Everyone came back to life, so I thought it would be best to take over the controls for a bit. I hope you don’t mind.”
“You pretended to be me?” I asked.
“That’s right,” said Wesley. “It was quite fun, actually. I put on a bit of a show.”
That sounded awful. I turned to my littler-self, sitting on the far end of the sofa. “What did she do?”
“Don’t worry, she was very popular with everyone. Much more than you ever were.”
Great, now the crew would be forever wondering what happened to the fun-Colin. It was like when you have that one great time with a girl, and you can never recapture it, and she stays with you for years, waiting for that guy to reappear, never realising you were off your tits on MDMA that night, and depleted you dopamine stores so heavily you lost the ability to experience happiness for the rest of your life. That’s the thing with drugs. It isn’t about how good it feels to be high, it’s how shit it makes the rest of your existence feel by comparison.”
“And when did the ship turn up?”
“Dunno,” said Little Me. “It snuck up on us.”
How does a massive boat sneak up on you from the open sea? Does it hide behind a wave and glide in on the tide when you’ve got your back turned?
“Was there fighting?” I asked.
“Oh, no,” said Wesley. “They all seemed to know each other. Captain Edman, he’s the man in charge. Very friendly. From what I gather, he’s part of another guild. They heard about us coming here, and they wanted to see what we were up to.”
“Which guild is he from?”
“The War Guild,” said Little Me.
“They have a War Guild?”
“Yes,” said Wesley. “But they don’t get to do much fighting, mainly it’s construction and engineering. They get quite bored, by all accounts. Hence their trip out here. I think they thought there might be a battle.”
“Does he have cannons on his ship?” If he could blow up the beach from here, that would be a terrible massacre of defenceless people, but on the upside, it would save me a lot of time.
“I doubt it. Peter and Arthur were both very keen to make sure no one introduced gunpowder to this world. Anytime someone suggested it, they rapidly had their mind changed.”
Yes, no point having magic powers if regular people could counter it with a bullet to the head.
“Will they fight the islanders with us?” I asked, meaning for us. That would keep the islanders busy. I was quite keen on getting back to the shrine and seeing what the front was like. I wanted Wesley with me this time, which meant taking my body.
“No, I don’t think they wanted to participate,” said Wesley. “I think they were hoping to watch. I’m not entirely sure, everything stopped again before he had a chance to fully explain why he was here.”
Made sense. Watch the mindless slaughter, put a few bets down on who you thought would last the longest, winner buys the drinks when you get home. Nice little break from the monotony of life on the waves.
At least it wasn’t some violent attempt to take over the ship, although I suppose that was unlikely since we were an official Shriner vessel. The Golden God was still a name to be feared. And here was me, god’s spokesperson.
I returned to my body and was struck by the noise. The waves, the creaking of ships, the sounds of voices calling to each other. Also, my cheeks hurt from all the smiling Wesley had had me doing.
I noticed the sword in my belt. A wooden sword. The shield was also now made of wood, simple planks nailed together.
A little disappointing, but it wasn’t like I wasn’t prepared for something like this. I still had use of them in the adjacent world; and in this world, people would see me rocking the kid knight’s set, and probably think I was simple in the head. Better not fight the poor guy, what he has might be catching.
Every crisis an opportunity.
“Good, good,” said Captain Edman. “Now, Somya, what about this treasure I’ve heard you’re hunting? You’ll be sharing it with the other guilds, eh?” He had a big friendly voice full of venom.
Somya’s face showed no emotion, which was one of the advantages of being dead. “What treasure?”
Edman glanced over at me. “Why, hasn’t he told you? The unification treaty, of course.”
There was only one person I’d mentioned that lie to, so at least I knew where the leak was. I looked over at Royn and noticed he was looking a bit upset at the man next to him who had burst into tears. Okay, cut off all the vines, clinical depression. Bit of a long-term form of attack.
“Now, come on, Somya. We’re all followers of the Golden God here. We can work together can’t we?” He gave me an ingratiating smile.
If he wanted in, that was fine by me. He may not have come here to fight, but a man of god has to answer his lord’s call. And heaven wanted him leading the charge.
“Captain,” I said, “I’m on a mission from god. You would be very welcome to join us.”
“You mean going ashore? Oh, thank you, no. Haha, no, no. No thank you. I prefer to keep my flesh attached to my bones.”
“The thought of unimaginable treasure doesn’t tempt you?” I asked.
“Not as much as the thought of the unimaginable terror of being eaten alive. It’s alright for a skinny lad like you, they’d probably stick you in some hot water to make a little broth. They’d probably take me captive and eat me over several days. If they keep me alive it stops the meat from spoiling.” His eyes bulged and his had shook from side to side.
He painted quite the picture, but he just made me think he’d be an even better distraction than I’d thought. If I could get Damicar to slip a few herbs and spices in his pockets, the islanders wouldn’t be able to resist.
I just needed to convince him to take his men onto the island. But he was happy to wait here and see what we came back with. And then nick it off us, probably. I was about to put my vast intellect to work on coming up with a sneaky way to get him to do my bidding, when the Fire Nation attacked. Or rather, flaming spears hit both ships at the same time.
They must have been coated in something, because everything caught fire. Sailors ran around trying to put the fires out by throwing buckets of water around, but that only made it worse. The water was like oil to these flames.
More spears came from the shore. The islanders were fed up waiting for their takeout delivery to arrive. No tip for us.
Most of the flaming spears whooshed by us, aimed at the bigger ship. We couldn’t get clear because there was a giant frigate in the way, and they couldn’t move because they were big and heavy, and had the turning circle of an oil tanker.
Cries of “Abandon ship!” went up.
“What do we do?” shouted Captain Edman, not so suave now. “Where can we go?”
Where else was there to go? The island awaited.
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Afterword from Mooderino