Fairies had entered Fengarad. I could tell they were fairies because of their flags — red, black and fascistic. There was a whole troop of soldiers in the Fairy Queen’s colours. It was hard to tell exactly how many of them there were — it’s quite difficult to count and shit yourself at the same time.
I’m not irrationally scared of heights. Rationally, however, you’d be a fool not to go a bit queasy if you were in my position.
I was clinging to a spike on a ball on top of a huge tower. It was windy, my hands were sweaty, and there were a number of flying ships circling. No over-priced restaurant, no binoculars on a stand that keep rejecting your coins, no tourists taking pics on their phones that no one will ever want to see. Just me, my new body (clothing an optional extra) and a hundred-metre drop.
Maurice had very ably demonstrated the perils of gravity, and even more so the difficulty of pulling off a superhero landing with any kind of finesse. I’m sure if he’d swooped down like a guy with a jetpack at a sports event, the crowd would have gone wild.
As it was, they still went wild, but the kind of wildness you’d expect when a large black man slams face-first into the ground next to you. It’s the sort of thing white supremacists are always warning us about.
“They’re coming for our women, and they’re airborne. Watch the skies!”
Panic ensued as the confused populace of Fengarad assumed the flying ships were launching some kind of attack. Screaming, shoving, climbing over each other like demented crowd-surfers — it really only needed some mediocre EDM and £10 bottles of water and they could have sold tickets.
My own goal was to get out of there, preferably the same way I had arrived. But it was hard not to keep watching as the human (and in some cases inhuman) drama unfolded below.
It looked like people were in favour of a stampede, possibly some trampling, but there wasn’t the room to really go anywhere. They had managed to move away from Maurice’s body, which was lying in a depression of its own making. The shock of what had happened was slowly spreading through the crowd as those too far to have seen what happened tried to get closer, while those who had got splattered with viscera headed in the opposite direction.
The end result was eddies and swirls of movement that went nowhere. From up here, it looked kind of artistic. If I dropped a couple more bodies into the throng I could have probably gotten a grant from the Arts Council.
A group of fairy soldiers sliced through the crowd in wedge formation to investigate. Where was Caim and his druids. Why were the fairies taking the lead inside Fengarad’s walls?
I wasn’t really sure what this gathering was in aid of. There seemed to be a meeting between fairies and the Fengarad authorities. If things were the same as when I left, those authorities would be led by Laney. I felt confident in her ability to handle such a meeting, and even more confident that dangling over them in a state of perpetual fear was far the better option to being down there with them.
By holding onto the spike with one hand, I could lean far enough to have a pretty good view. It was hard to recognise anyone from this height, though. Were Jenny and the others down there somewhere?
The fairy contingent didn’t seem to be big enough to be an occupying force, so I assumed this was some sort of negotiation or maybe a treaty signing. If they had managed to find a peaceful resolution without me, that would be astonishing.
I could have exited my body and floated down there to have a closer look, but the fairies would spot me, and then there would be various comic misunderstandings until things got sorted out and we realised we weren’t so different after all. At the end of the day, we all want the same things — to dominate others and force them to do our bidding.
The panic was starting to calm down, like the ripples in a pond subsiding after a large rock just plopped down. Then they began to ramp back up as Maurice got to his feet.
I didn’t really think he had died. Even if he had, that didn’t mean he was out of lives. In any case, the way he’d upgraded his new body, there were bound to be safety measures in place for this sort of thing. He had wings and muscles, he probably worked in an airbag and regenerative abilities.
As he staggered to his feet, the crowd pushed even further away from him, leaving an empty circle around him. Someone ran into the open space and threw herself at him.
It had to be Claire and I was sure it was a wonderful reunion. Others rushed into the open area — Jenny? Flossie? Dudley? I couldn’t really tell — and the crowd closed in wanting to be part of this special moment.
Then an argument broke out, Claire was pulled off Maurice with fists flailing, and the crowd began to take sides along gender lines. At least, that was my interpretation from a long way away and no idea what had just happened.
Then Maurice turned and pointed up at me.
I quickly backed away and pretended to be part of the spire. They couldn’t see me if I couldn’t see them.
What was he saying about me? I couldn’t hear, but my guess would be that Maurice was telling them I had saved him from a purgatorial existence, brought him back to life and delivered him to his loved ones, all free of charge and with only two or three tastefully restrained sarcastic comments.
No doubt he would encourage them to not bother me and leave me be to live out the rest of my life as I saw fit. Then I think he would suggest that if any of them did bump into me sometime in the future, they should offer to blow me for being such a good bloke, and then he’d ask for blow job volunteers and everyone would raise their hands, which would indicate to Jenny she had to step up her game if she wanted to stay ahead of the competition. I was pretty sure that was what was going on down below.
Having done my part in arranging this happy ending, my own plans were to get the hell out of Dodge post haste. The quickest way would be to open the portal into the void and go back to Gorgoth and get my actual body. It might not be much, but it was still better than this thing.
Inside my new body, it felt cold and hollow, which was admittedly similar to how I felt inside my old body, but this one was also naked. I also didn’t have my wooden sword with me anymore.
I left New Colin and floated out into the stillness. My Force ghost was fully clothed and had the wooden sword included as standard. Clearly a better value purchase.
The fear of falling evaporated, as did the fear of everyone below trying to drag me into whatever mess they’d lined up for me. The spike New Colin was gripping in both hands, however, did not turn back into a dimensional rift. It looked the same as before. How was I supposed to activate it from this side?
After a few minutes of hard thinking — interspersed by staring into the middle distance for no reason — no answer to my quandary presented itself. What use was fast travel if it was only one way? There had to be a way back but fucked if I couldn’t figure it out.
There was the other form of transport the spires provided. Under my feet was a probe that could be launched like the last time I had left Fengarad. The problem was getting into it. I could phase through the wall in my current state, but the body I’d need to reactivate time would still be out here. There was no hatch or door to get my physical-self inside.
Be in the adjacent world and go where you want as long as you don’t interact with anything.
Transfer to the physical world and be stuck on top of a tower you can’t get down from.
This is the problem with having magical powers that they don’t warn you about. It’s all very well being able to bend space and time to your will, but getting a corpse through a wall just isn’t as easy as you’d think.
I grew up reading comics, which should have been the ideal training for how to use superhuman powers. That was certainly my understanding as I prepared myself for the radioactive spider bite or genetic mutation which would shape my adult life. But it turns out superhero comics have nothing to do with the actual practicalities of superheroing.
Nothing they do in the comics has any bearing on real-world applications. Do you really think Superman would have time to deal with Lex Luthor and his satellite that shoots jellyfish at the North Pole when every night his super-hearing is filled with the sounds of children being sexually abused and women being beaten into submission?
X-ray vision would be a nightmare in reality. Seeing all the horrible things people do when they think no one is watching.
Supervillains in colourful costumes aren’t the problem.
My own issues with preternatural powers had less to do with how to get the Russians to give up their nuclear arsenal and more to do with how to get down from a roof without a ladder.
I considered jumping off like Maurice had but I very much doubted he had my body fitted with the same optional extras he’d given himself. He probably expected me to sort things out myself.
“But you always say you don’t want anyone’s help, I was only doing what you asked. You’re welcome.”
Well, he wouldn’t be wrong. I had always claimed I’d prefer to be left to my own devices, and here I was. Time to put my self-serving desires into practice.
I decided to phase into the spire control room and see what I could activate. Since I could operate the spires from the adjacent world, I might as well have a proper look at what they could do. Open a door into the void realm, surely.
It might take a while to work out how to do it or find some other useful feature, but it wasn’t like I was working to a deadline. Sometimes you have to bite the bullet and actually read the instruction to that fancy gadget you bought.
I know, sacrilege. We are the plug-and-play generation and the hell with your downloadable PDF manual. But we all have to grow up one day and face reality.
It was simple enough to let my body slide down through the top of the dome. I passed through the capsule, which was enticingly ready to launch, and into the main room.
There were control panels, runes on the walls, and Joshaya, standing there, waiting for me.
His appearance was that of Arthur, but it was definitely Joshaya in the cockpit. I could tell because he was able to move.
How had he known I’d be here? Or perhaps this was just a coincidence and we were fated to meet. No, I didn’t think so, either. Joshaya had always been one step ahead of me.
It felt like I should say something. Preferably something profound and/or thought-provoking.
“Oh, sorry, I didn’t know anyone was in here.”
Probably more suitable for walking in on someone while they’re taking a dump, but at least it was polite. This world might have driven me to do some terrible things, but at least my manners were intact. Manners were the bedrock of civilisation and the reason the British Empire was so vast and all-encompassing. That, and the fact we used rifles against spears.
Joshaya moved his head in his slow motion and started to speak. While I waited, I turned on the console for the spire and the room lit up. I still had Maurice’s notebook in this form and I began flicking through it. A doorway into the void was my first priority. Failing that, how to access the bundled version of MineSweeper that’s on every operating system. It would help pass the time.
“Don’t,” was Joshaya’s first word. It might have been the whole sentence, and pretty good advice at that.
“I’m not sure what you want from me, Joshaya, but I know you’re the real cause of my problems,” I said without looking at him. “Why can’t you just leave me alone?”
It was a hollow plea. I knew why he wouldn’t leave me alone. He needed me for access. I could go where he couldn’t, which made me useful. The void realm was a prison for his kind. Once inside, they couldn’t get out.
I stopped reading and looked at Joshaya working on his second syllable.
If I could get Joshaya into the void, he would be trapped, just like the others had been before I released him. But how could I convince him to go in? How had the others been tricked into it?
Fairytales are no more instructive than comic books when it comes to problem solving. The genie released from a bottle can be coaxed back in by doubting someone so large could possibly fit in something so small and goading him into proving it. Once he goes back in, you put the stopper in the top and no more crazy genie.
There was probably a way to do it, but it felt like it would be a lot of work. With a great deal of risk (to me personally) and very little gratitude (to me personally). So, right in my wheelhouse.
It was just a whim, though. I had no idea how to achieve it. Joshaya wouldn’t simply walk through the door, even if I had a door for him to walk through.
Maybe I wasn’t being direct enough. It would be a lot simpler to just kill him, but he would find a way to come back. How were you supposed to kill a fairy? I never clap at the end of Peter Pan and that slut Tinkerbell always manages to survive.
“Hey, while you’re here,” I said to Joshaya, “is there a way to the roof? I left something up top and I can’t find the way out.” I pointed at the ceiling. Couldn’t hurt to ask, right?
Joshaya (slowly) pointed at the wall. I floated across to have a closer look and noticed a lever set in a recess so that it was nearly flush with the wall, making it hard to spot.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t touch the lever, my hand went straight through it.
Joshaya realised my predicament and very kindly walked across to the lever and pulled it for me. Took about half an hour in my time. A hatch opened above me and my prosthetic body fell through and landed in a heap on the floor.
My next move was critical. I had to act fast and decisively, no more dilly-dallying like a lost child. I wouldn’t have the sword or the book. If I wanted to get out of here, I’d have to get in the pod and launch it before anyone could stop me. Quick thinking, no hesitation, ruthless execution. New Colin was going to epitomise my new approach to life as a free man with no baggage. Go on holiday without any luggage, walk out of the airport without having to wait at the carousel with the plebs.
I entered the body and time restarted. Now was my chance!
Joshaya jumped on top of me and pinned me to the ground. He was a short elderly man, but he fell on me like a tree in the forest, I couldn’t move.
Quick thinking, no hesitation, ruthless execution — Joshaya had used the New Colin method to a tee, fucking plagiariser. Honestly, no one takes copyright protection seriously anymore.
What was he trying to do? Why jump on my naked body? And most pressingly, if I got an erection from the friction, did that mean I was gay or just that this body was? Would Maurice have built me a gay body? I think we all know the answer to that one.
“Now I have you,” said Joshaya. “Your body will give me what I… This body, what?”
He had noticed that this wasn’t my real body, and he was disappointed. First time for everything.
“Where is your body? Where is it?” He had his hands around my throat and was shaking me. “Fengarad has fallen, give me your body.”
“It’s… in the void,” I managed to squeak out. “If you want it, you’ll have to go in there and get it.”
Next two chapters are up now on Patreon.Afterword from Mooderino