Only two chapters to go in Book 8.Preface from Mooderino
I took a moment to exit my body and slip into the dark area of my mind that had recently turned into a popular destination for lost souls. If Richina had resurrected inside me, how was she going to emerge the way she did the other times she had died? There were a number of exits around my body, and I didn’t like the thought of her using any of them.
Once I was away from the madding crowds I found it much easier to think clearly. Which was a slight problem as clarity brought with it the realisation that I had now firmly placed myself in the heart of the conflict. A conflict I had no understanding of, whose participants were many and mostly hidden, and the outcome of which was of no interest to me.
In such a situation, the proper conclusion was obvious — get the fuck out. So why had I landed slap bang in the middle of this shit show?
“Release me,” said Richina. She looked pretty worked up. Her eyes were incandescent with rage, her fists were clenched with rage, her hair was all frizzy and unmanageable with rage. She had plumped for the premium enraged package and she’d got her money’s worth.
“If you want to leave, leave.”
“I can’t leave. You trapped me here when you consumed my yani.”
“I deny everything,” I said before I’d even had a chance to consider what a ‘yani’ was. It sounded like something I’d be vilified on social media for consuming without consent. “Wait, do you mean that disgusting thing growing out of your mouth?”
“It is not disgusting, it is a beautiful component of what makes a fairy a fairy.”
Women and their body issues — when will it ever end?
“I did what I did out of self-defence.” Anyone with a female sibling or similarly-aged relative knows that the ‘she started it’ defence is unlikely to work, but I had little else to work with. And she had, in fact, started it. “So, you admit you are a fairy. Shouldn’t you be working for Joshaya?”
“That old fool? Why would any fairy in her right mind bow to him?”
“Why would you bow to Arthur? You clearly have poor judgement and terrible taste, and as it happens, I’ve already encountered seven other fairies who were working for Joshaya, mostly in the nude.” Not sure the last part was relevant, it was just hard to ignore.
This seemed to stop her griping, which was good. Her face went through various paroxysms as she processed what I’d said.
“How many fairies are there, anyway?” I thought it best to keep pushing while she was off-kilter.
“Thousands,” said Wesley, who was standing over to the side with my smaller self. “But they rarely attend to human affairs unless offered something of great value.”
I hadn’t forgotten my distrust of Wesley, either.
“What did Arthur offer you?” I asked Richina. It was unclear if infinite lives was a natural fairy trait, or one grafted on through some kind of nasty augmentation surgery. Arthur was able to make changes of that sort, but he could have just as easily promised them a magic item. A Philips Ladyshave, perhaps.
Richina didn’t answer, she just glared at me. Fucking amateur — I’d been glared at by the best, this was nothing.
“If you want to leave here, then you should tell me what I want to know.” I had no idea how to allow her to leave, but it’s a lot easier to bluff when you hold all the good cards.
“Yeah, you’re right, I didn’t have four aces… I have a royal flush!”
Richina right now was in that in between place where you know you’ve lost control of the situation but you think you can still reclaim it.
This sort of thinking is only possible because you’ve failed to see what it took to turn the tables in the first place.
It must have been luck, so I could get lucky, too.
Nobody likes to accept they were outsmarted or outplayed, because it means accepting you aren’t good enough, and nothing feeds insecurity like a nice big bowl of well-deserved criticism.
“What about you?” I said to Wesley. “You knew she was a fairy, did you?”
Wesley’s mouth tightened. I could tell she didn’t approve of this version of me, that lacked manners and looked down on people. She knew she was in the wrong, but she was in that other place sore losers like to set up camp.
Even if you’re angry, I still deserve to be treated with respect. The lament of incompetent customer services reps and online community managers everywhere.
“I did not know,” said Wesley. “There seems to be a lot my husband has been busying himself with in my absence.”
“But you love him?” The plaintive cry of abused wives everywhere, another group of incompetents.
“What is it that you want from me, Colin?” She was getting a bit short with me now. I couldn’t really blame her. Right or wrong, I usually managed to rub people the wrong way. My secret power I’d been hiding in plain sight all along. “If you truly intend to release the old gods, chaos will ensue. No one can tell you what to expect of your reckless behaviour, because no one knows.”
“Yes,” I agreed. “But I can’t help feeling the forces against me have various plans in place to mess with the results of my hard-earned recklessness. If there’s anything I can be sure of, it’s that every single one of you idiots has failed to do what you intended, so I’m absolutely certain if I allow any of you to participate in what I’m going to do, it will only make things more likely to go tits up. I don’t know how to make this any clearer to your fragile egos. The problem isn’t them, it’s you. All of you. Every time you see someone racing ahead, one of you fuckers jumps on their back as though you’re a jockey who can win the race for them. You aren’t, you’re just extra baggage that makes it harder. Peter was right about one thing, there needed to be sacrifices to achieve success, but the sacrifice should be him and the rest of you clinging on and refusing to let anyone else have a fair go.”
I was a little pissed off. I realised how close I was to getting the final boss — or my final boss — and also the strong probability that it would not turn out as well as I might hope. The likelihood of failure was always a given for me. What I couldn’t stand, though, was the insipid attempts by the people circling to get in at the last moment for a kill-steal, even if it meant fucking it all up.
What was the value of winning if you weren’t the winner? Might as well execute a low win rate strategy to cheese the result in your own favour.
“If I die, what happens to you two?” I asked.
“I will claim your body and do unspeakable things with it,” said Richina, glowering.
“Will you? Have you seen my body? I mean, really had a good look?” I was pretty sure she hadn’t. Why would anyone want to look any more closely than they had to — I certainly didn’t. “Nobody cares about this body, do what you want with it, if I’m not here it doesn’t matter, does it?” I turned to Wesley. “If you have any semblance of doing what’s right, kill her when I’m gone.”
Wesley nodded. The good thing about being betrayed by good people is that they at least feel bad enough to betray others on your behalf.
I returned to my body and took a moment to assess my situation. I had landed a ship in the middle of a city with a complement of dragons acting as an escort. As entrances went, this was not as low key as I would have liked, but on the plus side my chances of drowning had gone way down.
The people of Gorgoth had mostly run away in all-out panic, which was a good move and one I fully endorsed. Not that anyone cared what I thought, but credit where it’s due. At least I’d be able to run with the crowd rather than against it. I think that’s always been my problem — I’ve never felt like I belonged because I never approved where people were headed, especially when it was to an Ed Sheeran concert.
My endorsement was quickly rescinded as the citizens of Gorgoth began creeping back into the square to see what was going to happen next. I guess when you live in a world with few genuine entertainments, you had to settle for watching with fascination as a dragon takes a steaming dump in the middle of the city, this world’s equivalent of a West End musical.
There would be difficult questions and a lot of faffing before I could complete the task I had set myself, which was to release the old gods and then retreat as far as I could to watch chaos descend in a garish display of vulgar power — this world’s equivalent of Starlight Express (the death of culture has been predicted often and citing various instances of shit presented as art, but people covered in LEDs while singing out of breath on roller skates will, I feel confident, be remembered as the tipping point).
“Come,” said the Pope. “They are waiting.”
“What’s the deal with fairies?” I asked him. “They’re big, they’re small, they have wings, they don’t have wings, they’re naked, they’re even more naked. How did you get them to work for you?”
“It’s not important.” He was trying to hurry me along, but that tends to be the best time to stay put, I’ve found. “You have to offer them what they want, that’s all.”
“This really isn’t the best place to discuss these matters.”
I could put his nervousness down to him being eager to see his godly crew again — absence makes the heart grow forgetful about how shitty the people closest to you can be — but he was still a deity. The god of death, no less. You’d think he’d be a bit more serene.
“Or did they offer you something?” I had always assumed they were working for him, but maybe it was the other way around. Maybe it always had been.
“Once this is done, you will be free to go. No one will bother you. Please,” said Pope Joshaya, “they’re waiting.”
My importance would be a lot less after I’d let the gods out, that was almost certainly true, but I still felt like there’d be people who wanted to fuck me over. What I really needed was a big enough distraction so they didn’t have time to bother with me.
The crew had lowered a walkway down to the square so I could disembark without clambering over the side. Like most people I spent any time with, they were eager to see the back of me. I didn’t blame them; stamp of approval, if anything.
The crowds had closed in around the ship, their curiosity and stupidity getting the better of them. The dragons had taken up residence on various parts of the ship and looked like they were part of the decorative carvings that adorned the hull, so the Gorgothians probably thought they were safe as long as they didn’t get too close. They hadn’t really been able to see what the dragons had done to Richina, so ignorance, as it always did, filled them with confidence.
Getting through the crowd was going to be a bit of a pain. They were unlikely to part like the Red Sea when they saw who was leading the sky ark.
“Out of the way, peasantry,” shouted Laney, skipping down the gangplank ahead of us all. “I, Laney of Fengarad, princess of the royal bloodline, command you to make way.”
Would they be cowed by her royal mentalness? There was more of a chance with her than me, I felt.
“Your Royal Highness,” said a man waiting for her. “The yellow city in the sand welcomes and honours you, please come this way.”
Guards grabbed her and took her weapon away. She complained loudly but was whisked away.
“Oh, no,” said Damicar.
“What?” I asked.
The man who had spoken to Laney was some unctuous, smarmy git I didn’t recognise, but behind him were a small group of wealthy-looking middle-aged men, among whom stood Damicar’s Uncle Malmur.
“Are the others with him guild members?” I asked.
“They are the heads of the five unions,” said Damicar. “The most powerful men in Gorgoth.”
Nice of them to turn out as part of the welcoming committee. Probably here to offer me the key to the city, right?
“Even more powerful than the Pope?”
“Oh no, not that powerful,” said Damicar.
I still had Joshaya as a way to get rid of these people. I turned to have a word with him. He just needed to clear a path for me, easiest thing in the world for him.
“People of Gorgoth,” shouted Joshaya, “glorious good fortune has befallen us all. The One True God has sent a messenger to reveal to us the truth, the way, the path to salvation. He has sent us Colin!”
The only thing worse than people not helping me was when they did try to help me.
All eyes turned to see who would come down the gangplank. I was tempted to give Dudley a shove and let the crowds try to figure out if he was immensely enigmatic or just a bumbling doofus. Should give me at least thirty seconds to sneak round the back.
But I wasn’t in the mood. The sooner I got this done, the better. I put my head down and quickly walked down the gangplank. There were a lot of guards waiting for me. It didn’t matter, they weren’t really in a position to stop me. I kept telling myself. Joshaya would stop them. Probably.
I felt obliged to fill the lull with something. “Flossie, take the dragons to Arthur’s place. Let them eat what they want. Captain Somya, you can tell your mother she can release Captain Nokes. You’re free to go about your business now. Sorry about destroying your ship, but the Pope will compensate you for your loss, I’m sure. Your Popeness, fifty percent off all holy postcards, right?”
“Indeed! Fifty percent off, everything must go!”
I thought the news of a flash sale on the cards the citizens used to ask the Pope questions would get some reaction, but no. Everyone was just staring at me, looking so… disappointed. This is the guy?
I could understand the way they felt, but it was still aggravating. No one had moved out of the way. Even if I didn’t strike a very imposing figure with my drab clothes and wooden sword, didn’t I still deserve to be treated with respect? The answer was the same for me as it was for employees of EA, no.
“Lord Colin,” said the greasy git, “we have been expecting you and welcome you.”
“You’ve been expecting me?” It couldn’t be for anything good, I was sure.
“Indeed. Fengarad has declared war, the armies of the east have mobilised and we are ready to do as you bid.”
“Great. Who are you?”
“I am the speaker for the five unions.” He indicated the men behind him, who nodded sagely. I fully expected to get shafted rectally any moment.
“You have taken a Council Ship,” said Malmur. He sounded almost impressed.
“It’s mine, now,” I said. “I made some modifications. I’m going to put in a sunroof when I have the time.”
“You sent your dragons to claim the Askii residence?” asked another of the union leaders.
“No, I sent them there to feed. I can put a dragon in your back garden too, if you like. Now get out of my way.”
It was meant to sound like a threat, but came off a little more sexual than I’d intended.
The union leaders all smiled and nodded to each other. What were they so happy about?
“Lord Colin, we welcome you as Gorgoth’s Lord Protector and head of the combined unions. We are yours to command.”
The crowd parted and a path opened, but not towards the temple. It led towards another grand building in the square.
“Wait, are you making me king of Gorgoth?”
“Lord Protector,” said Malmur.
“Lord Protector,” said Damicar in a voice filled with awe. “It is a great honour, one that hasn’t been bestowed in a hundred years.”
“Who do I answer to?”
“No one,” said Malmur.
The people were still staring at me, but it wasn’t disappointment in their eyes, it was something worse. Expectation.
They wanted a Lord Protector to protect them. Fuck that. If they were going to give me control of their city, make me a temporary monarch until the emergency was over and they could go all Ides of March on me, then they were in for a surprise. I’d take the throne alright, and use it how I wanted, fuck their expectations.
“Grayson?” I shouted up to the ship. Grayson’s head appeared above me. “I name you Commander of the city’s forces. All of them. Now clear this square of all people.”
“Yes, Lord Protector,” said Grayson. “Guards, about turn.”
The guards turned away from me and faced the people of Gorgoth. Welcome to the rule of Colin.
Next two chapters are available on Patreon now.Afterword from Mooderino