314: World's Greatest Solo Player
While things weren’t going exactly to plan, it was still within expected parameters. I expected things to go badly, and I was spot on. I actually expected them to get worse, so this was nothing to freak out about.
You might think being surrounded by dozens of people being sick might not seem like an advantageous position to be in, but when was the last time you were attacked by someone who was puking their guts up?
Doesn’t happen, right?
See? Next level strat.
“Please, friends, you have nothing to fear.” Damicar was running around trying to be a calming influence. “I removed the poison-sacs from all the fish. You are perfectly safe.”
Nobody wanted to take the chance. Fingers were down throats, and dinner was on the pavement.
Having experienced what it was like to be hit by a swim-by shooting, I could see their point. Although, I did think they were overdoing it a bit. Didn’t they know about the easy-to-access antidote? I had avoided death by simply falling in the water. We may have been in a desert region, but they had access to water. There was even a river under the city.
My understanding of the local poisonous fish may have been somewhat incomplete. Perhaps it was the creek water that was special. Or perhaps these fish had a different kind of poison.
“Friends, friends, you will not become ill. You have my word. My father taught me how to de-poison the creek fish.”
They were ignoring him. Meanwhile, the thugs, who had not indulged in any snacking, were looking a bit lost.
They could have taken this opportunity to attack me and Damicar, but it wasn’t so easy when rivers of puke were surrounding them. It’s just not the right sort of setting for a punch-up.
There are some situations that invoke a universal human response. Pregnant women are inviolate, and you don’t step in vomit.
“This is terrible,” said the guy in the apron who had come to complain about us stealing all his customers. “What kind of reputation will this give us? Fish Row will be shunned.”
The other owners were also coming out of their establishments to see what was going on. The taxman, who also hadn’t eaten anything, looked a bit pale, like he might throw up anyway.
He pointed a shaking finger at me. “You… you did this.”
“Not me,” I said. “Malmur.” I was sticking to my narrative. I’d never even met the guy — for all I knew, he was just a kindly old mafia boss trying to get by — but whatever happened here, Malmur’s name was going to be strongly associated with it.
Damicar was wringing his hands, quite distraught at what was going on. No good chef wants to see his patrons heaving in the gutter. Sends the wrong message.
I hadn’t forgotten that the whole point of all this was for me to make some money. I needed to buy my way onto a boat as soon as possible, and this wasn’t helping me get closer to my goal.
There wasn’t an obvious way to turn this situation into a fiscally profitable one, but you can’t rush these things. You have to be patient, cast your net and see what you catch. I was biding my time.
Wesley, by the way, was being very quiet. I was used to my companions butting in with their unwanted opinions every five seconds. Not her, though. She quietly waited for me to call on her if necessary.
Even though I have stated how I had things in hand, and didn’t plan on using magic to overcome these inconvenient obstacles that kept popping up, I do have to say that having Wesley ready to tag in and shake the place to pieces did make it easier to act like an ass.
A woman with a vibrator, a threat to men everywhere.
Having said that, so far she hadn’t shown any inclination to go ham on anyone. Even back in the church, she had played dead rather than get into any kind of world-ending title fight.
She’d been locked away because she was seen as a threat, and liable to turn mountains into rubble, but her actions, as far as I’d witnessed, had been very restrained. Perhaps being locked up for all those years had helped her chill out.
I could have asked her about it, but since she was doing me the courtesy of not bothering me with stupid questions, the least I could do was the same. We’d have plenty of time to swap life stories on our cruise. Once I got the cash.
“You,” said the guy in the apron, pointing at the main thug, “do something. Get rid of them.”
The thug and his men were still reluctant to go paddling in the multicoloured pools that were all over the place.
People had stopped upchucking, mostly, but the whole thing had turned into a bit of a domino effect. As more people were drawn to see what was going on, they joined in, even though they hadn’t eaten any of our food. Vomit has that effect on people. If it kept going, the chain reaction might spread all the way across Flatland.
The thugs had stronger stomachs than most of the citizens of Gorgoth, but they had lost a lot of their fight just from witnessing what was going on around them. They were bunched up in the middle of it, waiting for the next wave to hit.
“Do something!” screamed the apron guy.
One of the thugs decided to act. He threw a stick at me.
It was a pretty meaty piece of wood. If it had struck me, it would have caused some damage for sure. But it wasn’t coming at me very fast, and I was kind of expecting to be attacked in one way or another, so I was able to dodge.
It flew past me, into Damicar’s little shop through one of the windows. There was no glass in it, so it went right in, crashing into a wall and wiping out a lovely display of candles I had taken at least seven minutes to arrange.
While naked flames are an obvious fire hazard, there was no reason a few fallen candles would turn into a firestorm. Not without a little help.
While I didn’t want people to know I could use magic, that didn’t mean I was averse to using it on the sly. And despite still not being able to create a fireball — trust me, I’d been trying — I had got pretty good at making a small, intense heat that was good at combusting vegetation. Grass, leaves, vines. I could get them hot enough to turn to ash.
Damicar’s place was full of bamboo furniture. It took a little concentrating, but there was soon a bonfire in the main eating area. Damicar let out a scream and ran towards his beloved hovel.
I grabbed him. “No, don’t,” I screamed in my best ‘person-who-cares’ voice. The flames quickly spread. Turns out it was easier to get things going when there was already a fire to work with.
Setting your own base on fire, what a brilliant move! That’ll show ‘em!
Shut the fuck up, scrub, and watch a master at work.
The city of Gorgoth was mainly built out of stone. Yellow sandstone cut into blocks, daubed over with mud or whatever they used to stick it all together. No thatched roofs and not many wooden structures. It wasn’t like a fire would set the whole city ablaze very easily. But they did like to gussy up the place with a few plants. Most of the restaurants lining Fish Row had hanging baskets, climbing ivy, and other decorative flora out front.
Of course, the fire was contained inside Damicar’s place.
I raised my hands to the skies. “Please, Golden God, punish those who have taken this young man’s livelihood away.”
The people had stopped being sick in the street to watch the fire. They were a bit bemused by my call to the heavens, but they did pause to see if my call was answered. Gorgoth was a religious town, and most of the people wore the rocket symbol of the Golden God. They were willing to give it ten seconds before calling bullshit.
The restaurant next door was ‘The Golden Carp.’ It had a potted plant on either side of the swing-doors. They burst into flames.
It was a flash fire, eating up the plants in seconds, leaving only ash.
“No,” said a distressed man holding onto the ends of his walrus moustache and pulling. “That… that was a spark on the wind.”
Eyes had turned on him. Their god had spoken. Someone other than you singled out for punishment, every religious twat’s dream.
“You!” I said, pointing. “Blasphemer. Golden Carp? You think the Golden God is a fish?”
“No, no, it was a spark on the wind.” He didn’t sound too convinced of it himself.
“Golden God!” I called out. “Is this man the only one?”
The shop opposite was called ‘The Hungry Duckling’. It had a big sign across the top, covered in ivy that looked quite dried out. Perfect. It went up like a Catherine Wheel.
“Another one. Where is the owner?”
The crowd pointed at a tall, slick individual who was smartly dressed, with a flower in a buttonhole. Fancy. He had his mouth open and his hands on either side. He realised everyone was moving away from him.
“I… I did nothing. I just got here.” His flower burst into flames. He screamed and jumped around, ripping of the jacket and throwing it to the ground.
“The Golden God is here,” I said, falling to my knees. “The Golden God is in these flames. He has come to punish the non-believers.”
“But I’m a believer,” said the bald man. No one paid attention. They were on their knees behind me.
I still had no idea how to make money out of this situation. Pass the hat around for a collection?
Damicar was on his knees beside me, tears falling down his pudgy face.
Only the thugs were resisting. They stood with their faces hard and unbelieving. The taxman looked especially suspicious. Of course, the worst people in a community like this are the ones most convinced their religion is a load of nonsense. They’ve been committing crimes against their god for years, and suffered no lightning strikes.
“Golden God,” I said in my most pious whine, “the tax inspector, is he to be obeyed?”
Despite their jaded cynicism, the thugs took a step back, leaving the taxman exposed to whatever the Golden God had in store for him.
It was a bit more tricky with him. He didn’t have a buttoneer. He did have his book. With thin pages of pulped vegetation of some kind.
The book exploded.
The crowd gasped. It was just as they had all suspected, even god hated the taxman.
“Do you think that was a spark on the wind?” I said.
Everyone was on their knees now.
“Golden God, how can we regain your blessing? What must we do to get back in your good graces? We are ready to pay any price…” I turned around. “Right?”
The people nodded enthusiastically, calling out words of devotion. I was getting there. Just needed that last push to get them to empty their pockets.
I raised my hands and gave the fire inside a bit of a push, for dramatic effect. “Golden God—”
“What are you doing?” boomed a voice from behind.
I lost my thread. I turned, and there was a new bunch of people, this group a bit more upmarket. Like I said, there would always be another level of shit below the one you thought was rock bottom.
“Damicar? Did you do this?” The speaker was a large man, dressed in what appeared to be a toga.
“Uncle Malmur!” cried Damicar, getting unsteadily to his feet.
So the main man had heard there was a commotion going on and had come to investigate. He had his cronies swarming around him, like adds in a boss encounter.
I wasn’t worried though. The Golden God wasn’t going to like this guy, I could tell. He was wearing a wreath, for a start. It was on his head, made from the leaves of some plant. Not for long, though.
“The Golden God is here,” said Damicar excitedly.
“Don’t talk nonsense, boy. This is just a fire.”
“Look!” shouted someone.
Everyone’s attention turned to the fire. A golden glow was surrounding it, and getting bigger.
“He is coming,” I said, doing my best to keep the ball of light expanding evenly. “Golden God, who are you here to punish? Who is the one who must pay?”
Malmur took off the wreath and tossed it away. “What is this trickster got you believing? Bring him here. And put out that fire.”
The thugs got up, blinking like they’d come out of a trance. The adds came through the crowd towards me, but slowed when they realised what the multicoloured puddles were.
I was so close, I didn’t want to fuck up right at the end. Maybe I could set his toga on fire. It looked like it might be plant-based. Cotton or something.
“Do not anger the Golden God,” I said, focusing hard on Malmur’s clothes. Nothing was happening. Fire retardant toga?
The goons were almost on me. I doubted Malmur was going to be easy to convince that I had the Golden God on my side.
I felt like I was losing control. Not like a panic attack, more like I was withdrawing inside myself. Like being sucked into a drain.
Everything began to shake. There was a massive explosion and Damicar’s place went flying in all directions.
There was a roar that could have been a voice. It sounded like “Mama.” Or it could have been “Malmur,” at a push. It wasn’t a happy sounding shout-out.
I came rushing back, just in time to grab my dissipating ball of light. I sent it up, bursting in a glorious flash.
Everyone, even Malmur, was on their knees, faces on the ground.
I had wanted to keep a low profile, slip out of the city without fuss. Wesley had now made that impossible. I didn’t mind. Finally, someone on my side who had my back, that was something worth making some noise for.
Malmur peeked up at me. Time to fleece this git for every penny he had.