Chapter 309: Don't Forget to Breathe
Claire stabbed me. She didn’t know I was in here, but would that have made a difference?
The moment the blade entered my chest, I felt a rush of cold go through me like smoke through a keyhole. Everything began shaking. I was falling apart.
“What are yo’ doing?” screamed Flossie.
“It’s not him,” said Maurice. “Colin’s safe. This is just his body. We have to stop them now, or we’ll never get another chance.”
It had never been a great body, but ‘just his body’ seemed a little harsh.
Was this part of some big plan? Maurice had always been good at seeing patterns and drawing conclusions. He wasn’t always right, but he was starting to have faith in himself. They all were. Dangerous times.
If you joined up the dots and they formed a picture, it would make sense to assume that’s the picture you were meant to find. Maurice had decided this was the picture he had seen. Kill Peter, kill Wesley. Leave no one powerful enough to threaten the rest of us.
Perhaps he intended to rescue me after that. Wait until all the major threats were taken care of, knowing I was safe inside my little hidey-hole, and then release me. Not a bad plan. If I’d been in my hidey-hole, that is.
“Wesley?” I said into the ether. There was no reply. I was in a strange in-between place between worlds. Whatever the dagger had done to Wesley, it was stopping me from taking back my body. I couldn’t tell them I was here. I wasn’t sure what would happen to me. Would I die? Or be stuck inside my rotting corpse for eternity?
I didn’t like the idea of missing out on death completely. I quite fancied a one-to-one with God — the real one. For all my cynicism, I did believe in a creator of the universe. Shit couldn’t be this fucked up by accident, there had to be some twat responsible. I’d have liked to have given my feedback before peacing out. Constructive criticism, of course.
Fear of Hell didn’t bother me much. I’d been to Neasden, I knew how bad things could get. And considering how ineptly the rest of creation had been put together, I doubted it was a competently run place. Heating probably didn’t work half the time.
“But his body’s dying,” said Flossie. “Take the dagger out!”
An excellent suggestion. Why was Flossie the only one worried about my fate?
“We can’t,” said Claire. “We need to let the dagger do its work. It takes time to purge the body completely.”
“If we take it out, it’ll allow her back,” confirmed Maurice. “Remember, it isn’t him. This is what he would want us to do, if he was here. This is what he’d want us to do.”
If he was here, he’d been calling them a bunch of impressively objectionable names for stabbing him in the first place, I felt.
I had no idea what the dagger did or how it worked, but I assumed they knew what they were doing (loosely speaking). Wesley wasn’t responding, which at least meant the dagger was having some effect.
Was it really necessary to kill her? I might have decided differently, being so soft-hearted, and ended up regretting it. Bonnie and Clyde were probably wise to see this through to its ruthless end. Perhaps they were the people this whole thing had been about, the lead characters waiting in the wings. I was just John the Baptist, here to announce their arrival. And now it was time for my head-on-a-plate exit.
Then again, it didn’t always turn out well for the main act, either.
Or they might go on to lead of a band of merry RPG characters and become the heroes they were destined to be. And I would be left all alone.
Or, to put it another way, I’d be left all alone! At least I wouldn’t be forced to witness their cute, big-eyed anime adventures. I fucking hate that weeb shit. I mean, the first arc’s fine, but then they try to stretch the story beyond its natural limits and you get the second half of Death Note.
My vision began to blur. They were still talking, but it was becoming harder to tell what they were saying. Something about putting me somewhere safe and out of the way. Someone mentioned coming back for me later, but not with any real conviction. And if they planned to put me back in my own body, what kind of state would I be in? I’d already missed a ton of leg days, I could hardly afford to take time off corpsing it up.
I seemed to be lifted off the ground, and then the voices drifted away. They probably had more to do before they could rule the world from their fairy castle.
Would they really come back for me? I wouldn’t really blame them if they got caught up in being happy and successful, and forgetting. Never really been into that sort of thing myself, but each to their own.
Would have been better if they’d actually managed to kill me properly, but when had they ever been able to do anything with finality? Not that I was one to talk. And I was their teacher, after all.
Still, I should have been proud of them for graduating from class. They grow up so fast, and turn on you so quickly.
Now they could go on to challenge for whatever it was people considered worth fighting for. They had put Peter and Wesley out of the contest, as the young always did to the old, and now they’d have to face-off against each other. I was genuinely curious to know how Maurice would do against someone like Gideon. And he had Claire by his side to prevent him lapsing into his old ways.
Of course, the one person I was doing my best not to think about was Jenny. I hadn’t heard her voice at all. No rush to sweep me up in her arms, no insistence she’d stay with me. Time to move on, I guess. Ain’t break-ups a bitch?
This would have been much more agreeable if I had let my thoughts drift over these matters, felt sorry for myself a bit, and then slowly faded away. Not exactly the ending a hero deserves, but it would have done for me.
But no. Darkness enveloped me, bottled me up in silence, and I was left with only my thoughts for company. A cruel fate, I think we can all agree.
It wasn’t like there was nothing I could do. It was a world of magic, I might be able to find a way out of this predicament, but was it really worth it? Maybe I’d try later. Like in a few centuries. I might be woken by a kiss from a prince, and have to ask myself sorts of uncomfortable questions. Something to look forward to.
“I think they’ve gone,” said a voice next to where my ear might have been if I wasn’t a disembodied psyche.
“Interesting group of fair-weather friends you have. Sorry, I mean acquaintances. Are they always this welcoming to new people?”
Calling them fair-weather friends wasn’t really accurate. Fair-weather friends stuck with you when things were going well, and abandoned you when things got a little rough. This lot were the opposite. Happy to cling to you when it was stormy out, and then off when the sun was shining. Unfair-weather friends.
“You were lucky,” I said. “You caught them in one of their rare gregarious moods. Normally they’d have been to shy to stab anyone in the heart. Shouldn’t you be dead?”
“It’s your body.”
“Yes, but magic dagger, and so forth.”
“Please. Zarigold was always a terrible crafter of magic items. The girl had a severe lack of imagination, and no stamina. Most of the things she built broke after the first use. The dagger they stuck in you barely tickled me. There’s always one in every group. Massively gifted, dumb as a post.”
If she had only one in her group, she had done well.
“But I can’t move.”
“Oh, that. That’s me.”
I stopped vibrating.
“I didn’t want them to think they needed to finish you off.”
“Finish you off, you mean.”
“I know what I mean. Do you really think they plan to come back for you?”
Did I? “Maybe. Probably not. They’ll believe they will, but something else will come up and…”
“Exactly. But I wouldn’t feel bad about it. If they want a chance to be in charge, let them. They’ll find it’s a poisoned chalice. You could watch them tear themselves apart, if you’re the petty revenge type.”
I was very much the type, but it didn’t really appeal.
“I still can’t move.”
“Oh, sorry. Here.”
It was like when you’re lying in bed and you suddenly drop. I dropped into myself, and felt a massive pain in my chest. I grabbed the dagger and pulled it out, and warmth spread across my chest. Blood. Mine.
I placed my hands over the open wound and healed myself.
The glow from my hands showed me where I was — in a box. Or rather in a sarcophagus. The crunching under me were probably the bones of the original tenant.
This was where they’d left me? Store in a cool, dark place, use within three days of opening… It felt more and more like they had no intention of coming back for me.
I wasn’t even mad. They thought I was dead, or as good as. Which meant I was free. I could go where I wanted, do what I wanted. I pushed on the lid of my stone coffin. It didn’t budge in the slightest.
Of course, if I couldn’t get out of here, the end of my story would be even more pathetic than the one they’d planned for me.
“What will you do now?” she asked.
“I have no idea. Maybe take tap-dancing lessons. What about you?” I did owe her for keeping me alive, but I wasn’t very keen on having a permanent lodger.
“If I could impose on you a little, there’s a place I’d like to visit, not too far from here. It’s where Arthur said he’d wait for me.”
“I don’t want to upset you, but I think what’s left of Arthur might be in here with us, poking me in the back with a bone.”
“Are you trying to make me jealous?”
It was nice to smile because of something other than severe embarrassment. “If it is him I’m feeling, you were a very lucky woman.”
“I was, and I am. But that isn’t him. Not by a longshot. Help me, and I’ll leave you in peace. Please.”
It wasn’t such big ask, and I didn’t have any plans. I tried to move the lid again. Nothing doing.
“You should slide it,” said Wesley.
The lid slid to the side surprisingly easily and I was able to sit up. I took a deep breath of stagnant air. Tasted great.
“Ah knew you’d find a way out.”
I nearly shit myself. I made a ball of light and saw Flossie sitting in the corner of the crypt, eyes red from crying, or possibly dust allergies.
“Hey, Floss. On your own?” Damn, freedom ripped from my dying hands.
“They think we’ll be better off without you,” she said quietly.
“They’re probably right. I don’t think any of you need me to hold your hands anymore.” I climbed out of the sarcophagus, ignoring the crushed skeleton grinning at me (it would have winked it had eyelids), and landed in a heap on the floor. I had survived, but my legs were dead.
Flossie came running over to help me up.
“I’m fine,” I said, getting to my feet. I picked up the dagger which had clattered to the floor with me. Maybe I could sell it and buy myself something nice.
“We should tell the others,” said Flossie.
“Actually, maybe we shouldn’t.”
“What do yo’ mean? Why not?”
“It’s better this way. You all need to start making your own decisions, and taking responsibility for the consequences. You have to grow up.”
“You’re abandoning us?” she sounded shocked and appalled. Apparently she had already forgotten the part where I’d been left for dead and crawled out of my own mausoleum.
“I’m letting you go.” I did my best to make it sound romantic.. Chicks dig that crap. “If we’re meant to be together, we’ll see each other again.” Unless I saw the bunch of ungrateful cucks first, of course.
“What should I tell them?”
“Nothing. You came to say goodbye, and now you have to take the next step.”
“Ah don’t know.” She pursed her lips. “Ah don’t know if I like the way them two are carrying on. And Jenny weren’t exactly in tears over what happened to you. Maybe me and Dud should come with yo’.”
For fuck’s sake, when was I going to catch a break? The giant twat in the sky had a lot to answer for.
“Although Ah did say Ah’d fly them back to Fengarad after they release them gods. The Elf’s already wandered off. Wanted nothing to do with us.”
Things were already moving along without me, it seemed. I was tempted to ask her about Maurice’s plans, but I’d only be dragged back into this mess. Better to make a clean break.
“Maurice thought he could control the Elf the way yo’ did, but she weren’t having it. She’s a bit of a snob, Ah think.”
I never controlled the Elf, I only asked her to pretend, but I didn’t tell Flossie that. My welcome back to the land of the living was turning into a bit of a goss-sesh. All the news of no consequence, about all the people you didn’t give a shit about. I had half a mind to sneak back into my coffin. At least Smiley the Skeleton kept his thoughts to himself, if not his other bits.
“Take them to Fengarad,” I said, “and give them a chance. They might surprise you.” Like fuck they would. “If it doesn’t work out, take Dudley and go to the grotto.”
“Ooh, Ah liked it there. The water had bubbles.”
“Um, yes. Well, you should be safe there. Dudley can hunt and you can do whatever you’re good at.” I did try to be more specific, but I was coming up blank. “I’ll drop by at some point. Probably.”
She brightened up. “Okay. Okay. It’ll be our secret. Our back-up plan.”
“Sure. Our secret.” How long would she be able to keep her big mouth shut? If I had a watch, I’d time it.
“Don’t look at me like that. Ah can keep a secret.”
“I’m sure you can. Good luck.”
“Good luck to you, too. Wait, are yo’ saying good luck in general, or good luck keeping my mouth shut?”
“That’s alright, then. Are yo’ sure yo’ll be okay on your own?”
“No. But about the same as when I’m not.”
We stood there for a long awkward moment, then she hugged me, turned and ran off. Probably the last physical contact I was going to have for a while.
“That was sweet,” said Wesley.
“Don’t fucking start.”
“We need to do something about that foul mouth of yours. You could at least show some restraint in front of a lady.”
“I always do,” I said. “You should hear the things I’d like to say.”
We waited until morning, which I thought would give them enough time fly off to the next part of their lives — the part without me — and then I strolled out of the church, into a dewy graveyard. They weren’t the only ones who had changed. I wasn’t the same dweeb who panicked whenever anyone looked in his direction that I had been when I first arrived. I could take care of myself. I could hunt and cook and even talk to strangers, if absolutely necessary. I could make my way in this world just fine.
“We need to go east,” said Wesley.
“Okay, great. Which way was east again?”
End of Book 7
End of Book 7. Will be taking February off to prepare for Book 8. For updates about what happens next, and discussion on events so far, join my Discord (LINK). Changes are coming.
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