310: What a Time to be Alive!
It was like I had an ice pick lodged in my brain. The pain contrasted nicely with the dull but persistent aching pulse radiating through my head, making it hard to think clearly.
Every time I managed to suppress the throbbing, a sharp stab drove through my eye sockets, overloading my pain receptors.
The problem was caused by poison. I guess it was a kind of nerve agent. I’m not an expert in these things, but I would say death was imminent. Considering how much pain I was in, I certainly hoped it was.
I know what you’re thinking — Colin, you dumbfuck, you can heal yourself — and quite frankly, I don’t think there’s any call for that kind of abusive language. You should really address this needless aggression of yours, you overbearing piece of shit.
Healing myself would have been my first choice, too, if I’d been able to use it. Not only was my mind a bag of hammers slamming every neuron as flat as possible, but every muscle in my body was spasming so hard, I had no control of my limbs.
It had not been a good day.
I’d left the church with the intention of getting as far away from Gorgoth as possible, as quickly as I could. Everyone thought I was dead, or locked away in some other dimension, so it was the perfect time to vamoose.
If I hung around too long, they would eventually figure it out, and then come after me to finish the job.
That was probably a bit unfair. I didn’t know for sure if Maurice had tried to kill me. I knew for sure he didn’t try to bring me back, but you know how it is… people get busy, they lose touch, they leave you to rot on the other side of a transdimensional portal. You know, life.
I considered myself to be on a bit of a clock. Flossie was the only one who knew I was back. She had agreed not to tell the others, but how long could I rely on her to keep her mouth shut? Not that I thought she’d blab immediately, but it would be hard for her not to mention it to Dudley, at the very least. And maybe to the other girls. Or some stranger in the street who had no idea what she was talking about.
The point is, it would get out eventually. On top of which, Claire was a telepath. Actually that part didn’t worry me so much. Trying to pick a single thought out of Flossie’s brain would be like trying to eat your way out of a room full of candy floss. Oh, it’d be fine at first, all light and fluffy, but slowly your teeth would start to ache, and the sugar shock would make your eyeballs sweat.
Either way, I had a small window in which to find somewhere nice and secluded to live out the rest of my days. Or my day.
I wasn’t entirely alone. Wesley was with me, the only Visitor who hadn’t tried to get me killed. She had, in fact, saved me by turning me into a corpse. I didn’t mind, it had been a grand idea. They thought I was dead, they set off into the wide blue yonder to be happy without me. Even in death, I have a positive effect on people.
Sorry, what I meant to say was, only in death, I have a positive effect on people.
Wesley was a passenger in my head and she was looking for a lift to some local hideout where she had assured me she would find her hubby waiting for her.
A bit of an optimist, our Wesley. But it seemed a fair trade-off, considering what she’d done for me. Plus, I didn’t fancy having a middle-aged woman riding my brain around for the foreseeable.
“How do we get to this place?” I asked her as we snuck out of the church, hoping not to bump into any druids. They had scarpered when the elf turned up, but this was their clubhouse, so they’d be back.
The druids were avid supporters of Arthur, so they might have reacted positively to me having Wesley on board. But I didn’t want to risk it. Just because you’re a fan of John Lennon, doesn’t mean you’re happy to see Yoko turn up.
“It’s not far,” said Wesley from somewhere inside my medulla oblongata. Although her voice sounded like it was out here, just next to me. I had to stop myself from turning every time she spoke. “Just a short boat ride.”
“We have to cross a river?” I was fine with any form of transport that didn’t require me to use my legs.
“More sea than river.”
I stopped as we left the graveyard and re-entered Gorgoth proper. People were walking around in a bit of a daze, not really sure what had happened. A giant elf had turned up, shaken the foundations a bit, and then buggered off. It would be at least lunchtime before they could convince themselves none of it had really happened.
“What do you mean? We have to go on a sea journey? Where is this place?”
People began looking at me weird. They couldn’t hear Wesley speaking in my head, but I was talking out loud, just from habit. I was also carrying a strange black dagger encrusted with blood, previous owner, my chest cavity.
Talking to yourself, brandishing a cleaver, it was the sort of fashion choice that could get you in trouble.
I realised I should aim for the city walls and try to put some distance between myself and any blame that was headed my way. Obviously, I hadn’t done anything, but that was exactly when the fuckers tried to get you.
Quick, the danger’s passed, let’s blame someone without evidence to make ourselves look less incompetent. Every cop ever, probably.
I headed for the nearest exit.
“It’s a small island, only a day or two off the coast. We can get there in one of Arthur’s shipping vessels. Shouldn’t cost much.”
Arthur, if I remembered correctly, had made a fortune by running a warehouse and depot facility. Mind you, what I’d been told came from Joshaya pretending to be Arthur, so I wasn’t entirely sure of my facts, but there was mention of an underground dock beneath the city, where goods arrived from all over Flatland, and were redirected to other places in Flatland. Sort of like Amazon. Of course, this was a medieval world with terrible treatment for peasants and dockworkers, so it would probably be more accurate to say it was like Amazon, but with better pay and working conditions.
There was only one small problem.
“Why do we need money? Don’t you own half of the company?”
“It would be hard to prove my identity,” said Wesley. She had a point. And I had no cash.
We did have some funds, my crew and I. Ex-crew. But I never bothered keeping any on me. I was happy to let the others hang onto most of it, wasn’t like there’d be a time when they’d stab me in the back like a bunch of fucking ingrates and run off with it all.
“Will it cost a lot? What if I sell this dagger?” I held up the blade in my hand, and people scurried away from me.
“I doubt you’ll get much for it. People won’t be able to tell what it is. Not really very good for cutting or slicing. Mainly poking.”
It did seem to have quite a dull blade. I decided to hang on to it, at least until I came across a more useful weapon, like a frying pan.
“Then where do we get the money?” I was hoping she had a secret stash somewhere.
“You could get a job.”
“As what?” Despite my many, many skills (I won’t list them, it’d take up too much space), few of them were actually marketable. I could put on a light show to wow people in the streets, but then they’d probably put on their own light show when they burnt me at the stake.
You might be thinking, why bother with all this ‘work’ nonsense? Steal a boat, sail it across the water, stick a flag in the island. Done.
Well, nice idea, only I don’t know how to sail a boat, or how to navigate. If I tried to stow away, I’d probably get found, made into the cabin boy, and used to keep the sailors warm at night. Not the happy ending I was hoping for.
“What’s on this island?” I asked, by way of keeping her from suggesting we build a raft.
“Not much. There’s a shrine, the one they worship here actually.”
The big temple in the city, the one shaped like a giant skull, was called the Church of the Holy Shrine. I always meant to ask Joshaya which shrine, but never got round to it. Because I didn’t really care.
“And you think Arthur will be waiting for you there?”
“I hope so, but if not, he’ll have left instructions where he can be found. And there’ll be all our special equipment, of course.”
My ears perked up at that. “Magic weapons and armour?”
I nearly fell over. I’d given up on ever finding the legendary stash of BiS gear every fantasy world had hidden somewhere. It was almost as though such a thing didn’t exist outside of RPGs. But here it was, only an impossible sea voyage away.
“This island, it isn’t guarded by a huge gorilla who has a thing for blondes, is it?” I could see it now, island of the giant chavs, beating their chests and waving West Ham scarves.
“Not last time I visited, no.”
“So you hid your stuff on an island in the middle of the sea. Did you bury it under an ‘X’?”
“Of course not. It’s all safe in the shrine, protected by locks and traps.”
Oh, you’re thinking, the traps. Poison darts and such. That’s why I was writhing around on the ground, foaming at the mouth.
No. We were still a stone’s throw from Gorgoth when I was struck down (not a stone thrown by me, obviously, that would mean I was standing just outside the city walls, and the guards would probably not take kindly to someone throwing stones from there).
How to make money, quickly. My idea was simple. Fish. They were easy to catch, and I could sell them to some local merchants for half the regular price.
It would be no problem catching them. Maurice used to do most of the fishing, because he wanted to practice. He probably also found it relaxing, helping to clear his mind so he could think of new and better ways to fuck me over, the bastard.
But I was better. I could call the fish to me without even going in the water. Piece of piss.
There was the small valley where we had left the dragons when we first arrived. There’d been a creak there. All I needed to do was figure out a way to carry my abundant catch back to the city. Fresh fish for sale, ticket to ride, treasure to find.
I got out of Gorgoth with no issues. There was still a fair amount of traffic going in and out of the main gate. No one cared about some scruffy nobody heading out into the desert. I was free. I got to the creek in under an hour.
There were no dragons about, but the devastated vegetation spoke of the recent presence; as did the giant dragon turds.
I stood on the bank and called my first fish, and it was a beauty. Not very big, and extraordinarily ugly, but all the colours of the rainbow. I had a stick ready. I expected it to start screaming, but not for long. It leapt out of the water, arcing in the sunlight, mouth open, and shot a jet water at me, right in the face.
Everything went numb, I fell to the ground, and ironically, floundered like a fish out of water.
No one was going to come and save me. No one would know I was in trouble. This was what I had wanted, to be my own man, make choices without worrying about what other people thought, alone in a world where even the fish spat in my face.
If I was going to make it on my own, I had to deal with these minor inconveniences, like nerve toxin fired from flying fish. I had to man up. I forced myself to stop being a shivering, poisoned wuss, and demanded I get to my feet.
I put everything I had into not accepting this as my fate. Fuck fate. With an extraordinary effort, slowly, I managed to get to my knees, then into a squat position. Teeth gritted, I rose to my feet, swooned, fell down, and began crying. Like a man.
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