Next two chapters are up now on PatreonPreface from Mooderino
It was an amazing sight, the ship bursting into a cloud of sawdust. It seemed to balloon out, then suddenly lost its shape and transformed into a firework of a spider with far too many legs. Bits of the ship that had managed to avoid being vaporised were shooting off in all directions, leaving behind trails of smoke.
“Ooh, it’s pretty,” said Flossie, “like a big floofy octopus or summit.”
The spider seemed to be turning into an octopus because the legs were getting longer. And by longer, I mean closer.
After the initial awestruck reaction at seeing something so remarkable as the instant annihilation of a large galleon with wings (not something you see every day — well, you don’t, I see it far too fucking often) came the oh-shit realisation that the debris was coming down hard and fast, and on top of us.
Chunks of wood, some on fire, others glowing red-hot, smashed into roofs and tore holes in the street. They weren’t that big, it wasn’t like the ship’s mast had managed to remain intact and was coming down like a spear, but even a suitcase-sized piece of timber is going to cause damage when dropped from a great height.
There were screams and yells from around us. Most people had rushed indoors when they saw the ship, and were probably somewhat surprised when a flaming log smashed through the ceiling.
Everyone outside was running around looking for cover. A couple of people managed to run straight into the path of falling wood and got taken out, but they were already dead, so they got up again, reattached the bits that had fallen off, and kept running.
“Point your finger, point your finger,” Flossie screamed at me.
The problem with my little jape with my finger-gun was that now people expected me to use it to save them on demand. I was just trying to have a little harmless fun and now everyone was looking at me like I was the bad guy for not zapping the ship’s wreckage before it punched a hole through a roof or a wall.
Pressure. It’s a strange evolutionary trait that we buckle so badly when the chips are down (or falling like burning rain from the sky).
When things turned to crap and all hope was lost, I was good at keeping cool and thinking clearly. No one expected me to pull through, which was the ideal atmosphere for me to work in.
When things turned to crap and I was the one carrying the magic finger-guns, all eyes turned to me and I felt like I was about to trip over my own shoelace.
Having the skills to do a job is only one part of the equation. You also need to be able to perform under pressure. Any professional footballer can score a penalty on the training ground, but when it’s at a pivotal point in a cup final, he’s as likely to sky it over the bar into the stands.
My power had grown immensely and with the spire operational I now had the ability to take on the people messing with me and actually win. I should have felt more confident, but it was eerily depressing being the front-runner. Who knew what the fuckers behind me were up to?
“I can’t. It needs to recharge.” This was possibly even true. The spires had a cooldown. You couldn’t just fire them repeatedly, this I knew from the other times they had been used like this. Well, that’s what I’d been told. There was also a need to provide a power source that I would have to look into. From what Peter had intimated, the power source was other Visitors.
“It’s only a little debris,” I said as a wooden meteorite blasted through the window of the building next to me. “Just dodge.”
It wasn’t like it was that big a ship. It wouldn’t pelt the city with a fiery rain forever, and it would have been far worse if I hadn’t destroyed it. I mean, who could possibly complain when I had saved the city from certain destruction?
“What have you done?” screamed Laney after the wooden missiles had stopped falling. “You’ve ruined my city!”
She came running through the sawdust that had settled over the city like a cloud, waving a sword like that would help and wearing a ridiculously puffy dress that had bits of gauze jutting out from it for no reason.
“I haven’t ruined anything,” I said. “What I did was blow up a flying ship on a kamikaze death run. You’re welcome.”
“No, you didn’t,” said Laney. “You didn’t do anything. I know spire light when I see it. Uncle Peter must have saved us.”
What does a guy have to do to get a little credit for his wanton destruction?
“Then why are you having a go at me? Go talk to Peter.”
In this case, I was perfectly happy to pass the credit on if it meant I could side-step HRH and her desire to defend and protect her city from those who would put it in danger. I was unreasonably high on that list.
“The ship was here because of you,” said Laney, coughing and spluttering. “Thanks to you, many of our subjects are now homeless.”
“Sometimes,” I said, “you have to lose a house to save a street, or a street to save a city.” Quite poetic, I thought. “Or a queen to save a kingdom.”
“You… Can’t… Don’t…” Laney was having a hard time speaking through the dust. Cloud of Sawdust was promoted to most helpful member of my party.
“I need to figure some stuff out,” I said, walking back to the broken spire. “Just a sec.”
“Don’t you walk away from me, I mean us. We haven’t finished speaking.”
Fortunately, the spire was close and Laney’s beautiful dress created a lot of drag, so I was able to get back inside before she could rugby-tackle me.
What I needed was to check on the power reserves. Maybe there was a big strip of light running down the spire wall that I’d missed, red at the bottom and green to greener towards the top. If they can do it for an electric toothbrush, surely they could do it for a giant magical toothpick.
The Council weren’t going to stop at one ship of death. They were too well prepared to not have a second wave of annoyance to send my way. I had a way to use the spire as a weapon, but that wasn’t much use if it fired off one load and immediately went out of commission for the next eight hours, right ladies?
I thumbed through the notebook as I climbed back up the spire, the others following in my wake. The fact I looked like I had some idea of what to do was keeping their doubts at bay. There didn’t seem to be any information about the internal workings of the spires in Maurice’s notes. I was looking for any details about how they were powered, where you put the batteries, did it help to take the batteries out, rub them between your hands, and then put them back in?
If Visitors could be used as a power source, was that ethical even in an emergency? And where did I attach the clamps, nipples or testicles?
At least it was a lot easier to breathe in the spire without flecks of woodchip filling the air. I walked up the stairs, a magic ball of light floating ahead of me as I flicked through the book. I felt like I was close to an answer if I could just work out what the question was.
“You can’t really shoot things with your finger, can you?” said Jenny over my shoulder.
“You activated the spire.”
There was a pause. “But you can’t do it again?”
“I’m not sure. I think I need to find out how to recharge it. I’m hoping Maurice had a way to fast-charge it so we’re ready for the next attack.”
“The Council won’t stop with just one ship, will they?”
I reached the top floor where the control room looked as dead as before. “No, they won’t stop, not after one small setback. What’s the deal with you guys and the Council? Claire attacked us with dragons, you know? Just because I was talking to them.”
“I know,” said Jenny. “Maurice told her to make sure to keep them busy and off-balance. I guess so they wouldn’t have time to bomb us with flying ships.”
She shrugged. “Yes. According to Maurice, the Council are the ones pulling the strings behind the scenes.”
I didn’t know how true that was but I saw no need to dispute his theory. It certainly wasn’t a crazy idea to suggest the people who dropped ships like bombs like Platoon were up to no good.
“How did Claire manage to control dragons?” I asked. She was a telepath, not a dragonrider.
“She can force her will onto some creatures,” said Jenny, “if they’re compatible.”
But dragons were cold-blooded lizards, how could Claire… question asked and answered.
“Where is she now? Dargot?”
“I think so. I’m not sure.”
“It seems like Claire and Maurice didn’t tell you very much,” I said. “Why did you go along with them?”
Jenny didn’t have an answer, she just stared at me.
“Do you think maybe she forced her will on you?”
“No, I don’t think she would… I… I don’t know.”
It was starting to feel like both Claire and Maurice had gotten a bit carried away with their desire to do what they thought was for the best, whether the rest of us agreed with them or not. Of course, I didn’t have the full picture, there may have been other factors. Or they might have just developed a taste for bossing other people around.
Whatever their reasons, I wasn’t happy with how they had played their hand so far. Not that I disapproved of people deciding to do stupid shit because they thought it was the right thing to do, that’s fine. Off you go and have your fun. As long as you don’t drag me into your idiotic schemes, do what you like.
Now that I had found a way to use the spire, I had thought I could bring Maurice back using the instructions at the back of his book. That was an even bigger motivation for me to get the spire back online than using it to blow shit up. But now I was having second thoughts. Maybe there was another way to reunite him and Claire — her going to him rather than the other way around.
The more I thought about it, the less enamoured I was of how Claire and Maurice had handled things. And it made me much more sceptical of their goals.
Would the list of runes under ‘Save Maurice’ do what the title suggested they would do? If Maurice wanted to make me do something he knew I didn’t want to do, wouldn’t he just put it under another title so I did it without knowing?
Once you realised someone was a presumptuous dick, you started seeing their actions in a completely different light.
The best way to sort it out would be to find Claire and ask her to her face. Her telepath abilities wouldn’t work on me so she’d have to convince me she wasn’t being an utter bitch the old fashioned way, by admitting it.
Laney emerged at the top of the stairs still whining about how the city was falling apart and it was all my fault, and the small room at the top of the spire was getting quite crowded. I needed a little time to think things through so I shifted out of my body and into the adjacent world for a breather.
Once I was out of my body, I noticed that the runes were glowing again. It occurred to me that maybe there was enough charge left in the spire and I had only assumed it would be out of power because that was what had happened before.
I wasn’t using the spire in the same way as Peter. Was it still fully operational, no cooldown? Seemed a bit OP, devs please nerf.
The easiest way to find out was to test it. Not by firing another laser beam, obviously, and I wasn’t ready to bring Maurice back (if that was what those instructions did). The least risky option seemed to be to use the viewer. I could check for any more Council ship floating about, maybe even have a quick look for Claire, although I didn’t know where to start looking.
I checked the notebook and pressed the appropriate runes. Even without Dudley’s help, I was able to remember where most of them were from last time. It was like playing one of those brain training games that are supposed to improve your memory but actually only improve your ability to play brain training games. Maybe I would become a spire expert who sat in a small dark room pressing buttons. Not that much different from my life back home.
The viewer screen appeared on the wall in front of me. I could use it here in the adjacent world perfectly fine. Did that mean there was no power drain? That didn’t seem like it made sense, but then did anything? The power to keep the spire running had to come from somewhere, and most likely that somewhere was me. I would be a shrivelled husk of a man by the time this was over, but that kind of fat loss is really good for showing off your abs, and I’d always wanted a six-pack (without having to go to the gym or putting in any effort).
The sky above Fengarad was empty and clear. If the Council were going to try something else — which they were — they didn’t have to do it aerially, but it was worth keeping one eye on the sky, just in case.
How did I get the screen to show me where Claire was?
“Find Claire.” It was a long shot. It didn’t work.
I looked through Maurice’s book for something that would help. He was the sort of soft-hearted numpty who would want to use this thing to keep an eye on his girl. Not because he didn’t trust her, but because he wanted to make sure she was safe. I know, unfathomable.
There was one list of runes called Sweet Monkey. It was just sickening enough to be what I was looking for. I went around finding the runes and pressing them.
The picture moved rapidly, flying across the landscape. A castle appeared. It looked familiar, like I’d seen it in a dream somewhere.
A long time ago I’d seen the future, or a possible future. I’d met Claire when she was older and she had told me everything was going to be okay. Now I didn’t know what to believe, but I recognised the castle. It was the one in that vision and there was a girl standing on the battlements.
As the image swooped closer, Claire turned and looked right at me. Just a coincidence, surely.
Then she waved. It wasn’t a friendly ‘Hiya!’ kind of wave. It was more like that thing Bruce Lee did when he wanted you to come try your luck.
Here was my moment to sort things out once and for all. Me against Claire, who would have thought it would come to this? Well, me actually. I had about a hundred different ways to take her down. What did you think I’d been doing with my spare time? Dreaming about kissing Jenny with butterflies and rainbows? Dude, come on. When I dream about girls, it’s in deathmatch mode.
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