329: Meat Is Murder
It is, of course, a nasty way to dehumanise people. Refer to them as cannibals, savages, pagans. Even ‘native’ has a ring of condescension to it. Primitive. Lesser.
Having said that, some people are animals. It was probably some twisted idea of progressive liberalism that made me pleased these particular savages weren’t black, in grass skirts and bones through their noses. We all have our hang-ups with race. Did it really matter what people looked like? Wasn’t it their actions as individuals that defined them?
Well, what these savages looked like was very beautifully tanned Eurotrash, who had a home in the South of France and a skiing chalet in the Swiss Alps. Bronzed the year around. Which I felt was much more fitting. Not to generalise (unless I find it amusing), if anyone was going to turn on their own, it would be those arseholes.
It may seem a bit unfair to give the late Captain Edman such a grisly fate. I didn’t know him, had no proof he was a bad person. Because it’s okay to do horrible things to someone as long as they’re the bad guy, right?
I didn’t give a fuck. He was being an asshat, and when you behave like that in public, you take the risk an even bigger asshat will put you straight. I was more concerned about how well I’d lined up my trajectory. Next time, I’d have to pay more attention to wind resistance.
“Okay,” I said. “Golden God, one, hostage taker, zero. Anyone else want to try their luck?”
You might think I was being a bit too cocky, but overconfidence isn’t about having so much confidence you become drunk and giddy on it. It’s about having more confidence than you have a right to, even if only by a tiny amount. I wasn’t showing off (well, not a lot), I was making sure the rest of Edman’s crew understood my position. I might not have been all that when it came to a showdown, but I was prepared to throw you a hundred metres into a cannibal feeding frenzy. What were you prepared to do?
“He had a wife, children…” said Royn shakily. “What about his family.”
“I just halved their expenses and doubled their chances of not growing up to be as big a knob as him,” I said. The whole idea someone should be given special dispensation because they have people relying on them has always struck me as utter crap.
Everyone has family. It’s only the entitled fuckers who think they should get a pass for it. You want to do right by your dependents? Try not being a slimy bag of shit.
“Now shut up.” I struck Royn on the head with my sword. Quite hard, but not enough to do any permanent damage. Maybe a couple of splinters.
Why provoke him? Actually, I’d hoped the sword would turn out to have some lethal property I wasn’t aware of. Either way, Royn couldn’t be allowed to carry on unchecked.
He cried out and held the side of his head. He had been responsible for Edman’s appearance out here, so he deserved to be treated like the enemy.
His men bristled, but Somya’s crew stepped forward, ready to fight by my side. At least that’s what they probably thought. I’d be backing up to give them room.
Edman’s crew were still in shock after seeing their old boss take the sky road, and their eyes were on the beach. From this distance it was hard to make out the blood and viscera, but the carcass was visible. What was left of it. Would they be more inclined to ignore us if they were full?
I exited my body and settled into the darkness in my head. I had no desire to do anything to anyone at the moment, I just wanted to hit the pause button. Which, when you think about it, is OP as fuck. The ship was on fire and probably going to sink, but not until I said so. I just needed to take a time-out and think things through.
“There’s a small cove around the other side of the island,” said Wesley. “It has high cliffs all around it. Hard to get to by land. There’s a cave that leads under the island. If you can get there, you should be able to avoid being seen.”
“The islanders don’t know about it?” I asked.
“I don’t know, but it would be easier to defend than the beach.”
A single cave entrance would force the islanders into a bottleneck. Even if we were outnumbered, we might be able to hold them off. It did mean some kind of ridiculous battle, though. Not my favourite way to resolve a conflict.
“Thanks,” I said. “That’s useful to know.”
“I thought I’d tell you now in case one of us doesn’t make it.”
The only reason to tell me was if she didn’t make it. But that seemed the least likely outcome. If I didn’t make it, she could take over my body and do whatever she wanted. Go find a different body, probably.
Was she planning on leaving? She wouldn’t be the first.
Anyway, I had a plan. Or at least a destination. Get to this cove. Get dry. Try not to get killed by their side or mine.
I returned to my body. The boy on the burning deck.
“We need to get off this ship before—”
Royn came at me with a knife.
The trouble with being upfront with how much of a badass you are is that it does invite a challenge. Sometimes the reply is, What I’m prepared to do is stab you when you aren’t ready for it.
I did sort of expect someone to have a go, but I was hoping for an intervention from the crew. Which I got, but a little on the slow side. Undead are good at following orders, not so hot on the quick dash. It takes time relaying signals down various lines of communication.
They pulled Royn away after he’d plunged the blade in my shoulder. Not the first time I’d been stabbed. Made a nice change for it to not be in the back.
I had a shield though, and had kept my chest covered. Wooden shield to the rescue.
“Which part of Golden God do you not get?” I said through gritted teeth. I pulled the dagger out and dropped it. “The golden part?” My hand began glowing. “Or the god part.” I put it over the bleeding and healed myself.
Yeah, I was showboating a bit, but it got the message through. And then I noticed the sword, made of wood, was glowing.
It had a similar light to when I used healing. What did that mean? +2 Sword of Antiseptic? Cuts the opponent, but makes sure they don’t get a nasty infection?
“That was a mistake,” said Royn. He was shaking.
Admitting the problem is the first stage to boring the pants off everyone with your excuses, I find. I swung the sword and cut his head off.
Not only did it slice right off in one stroke, both sides of the cut were instantly cauterised, so no blood. Non-drip vorpal blade. Not bad.
Again, maybe going too far. But there’s no room for second chances in a world like this. Or any world, probably.
People who you beat don’t take defeat gracefully. They want revenge. They want to prove they’re better than you, especially after you’ve proved they aren’t. They want to be treated the exact opposite of how they treat others. It doesn’t really make sense.
And taking prisoners doesn’t make much sense, either. Who thought putting people in cages was a good idea? A guy who’s been driven to crime by lack of opportunities, so lock him away with expert criminals because who doesn’t need a mentor? All this at your own expense. And then let him out with the prospect of even fewer opportunities. That should put him on the straight and narrow.
Royn had his chance; he blew it. I wasn’t taking revenge, or revelling in my superiority. I just didn’t want him sneaking up behind me in a dark alley sometime in the future. I think that’s reasonable if the guy’s a big enough threat. And most people are.
The men were just staring at me. Would they attack me? Swim for it? No one seemed sure. The headless corpse was putting them off, I think. They needed a strong leader. I hoped one wouldn’t turn up, that way I was in with a shout.
But we couldn’t stay here. The ship’s crew were slowly losing the battle for the Eternal Infinite. She was going down, and I didn’t plan to go down with her.
If I could do something with these men’s connection to their recently deceased masters, perhaps I could take at least temporary control of them. It was going to be messy, though. I’d only tried it on dead people, and even then, I wasn’t at the stage where I could control this many people at once.
It seemed like it would be safer just to cut them adrift, of all their connections. If I made them depressed enough, they might be too melancholic to attack me, except maybe with some bad poetry.
I phased out, one more time. And stopped barely outside of myself. My shield was covered in vines, like tentacles attached by suckers. They led to Roy’s men and Edman’s crew. I was untouchable, but they had somehow made a connection with my shield.
Both the sword and shield seemed to be made for someone with my ability. I’m not an idiot (rhetorical). I know I got hold of them far too easily. And the way they fitted my powers was beyond coincidence.
The most obvious thing to do about it was nothing. Bank error in your favour, collect £200. But it’s never that simple. Someone was trying to reel me in. If they had more toys like these, maybe I should let them. Or maybe they had something truly horrible in store for me further down the road.
The only thing worse than not getting what you want, is getting it.
I cancelled my pruning plans and returned to the real world, for want of a better word. The crew were still looking at me with blank faces.
“We’re going to a small cove the islanders can’t get to. It’s on the other side of the island. If you don’t want to go with me, you’re free to swim for it.”
None of them moved. To leave or to attack. Then they nodded. Then someone said, “Yes, sir.”
I suddenly felt very tired. I wasn’t sure if it was all the phasing between worlds, or healing, or magic swords. Nobody told me winning would be this exhausting. And I had no experience to draw from. I would have to be careful not to burn myself out.
“Anyone got anything to eat? I’m starving.”
“Yes,” said Damicar, nervously stepping forward. “Actually, I recently made a batch of these seaweed cakes.” He held out a bag of green biscuits.
I took one. They tasted really good. “These are great.”
Damicar blushed. “It’s the coral. Makes them crunchy.”
He had a way of taking odd ingredients and making them into something unique and special. If I got marooned on a desert island with him, at least we’d have haute cuisine along with our awkward conversations. And no, we wouldn’t end up having sex. This was a world with mermaids. If I got desperate, I’d find a way to drag one ashore and fuck it.
Calm down, don’t jump to conclusions. I mean through the power of seduction, obviously. I’m not some creepy weirdo. I would only ever have consensual fish sex.
I looked down at Royn’s decapitated body, and an idea came to me.
Now, I know this isn’t the traditional way the good guys win against the odds, but you have to try new things if you want to avoid turning into a stereotypical OP hero with luck on his side.
Hear me out.
Hypothetically, what if I didn’t approach the islanders as sick, depraved savages? What if I accepted their culture as simply a different lifestyle choice? Can’t be easy eating long-pig day in and day out. What if I showed them a few new recipes?
Get Damicar to try a few ideas out on Royn. Something sweet, something savoury. Then go over and offer the islanders a taste.
“Hello, we’re your new neighbours. We brought you a present.”
I mean, sure, most people take a basket of muffins, but there’s no rulebook for this sort of thing. You can take over a hotpot, if you want. The point is, once it’s dead, meat is meat. Soylent Green might be people, but at these prices, how can you say no?
The bigger ship had gone under, and ours was slowly sinking. Spears had stopped hurtling towards us, and now seemed the best time to get out of here.
We got into the rowboats, the men who couldn’t fit hanging off the back and kicking. It was like a motorboat, slicing through the waves. Royn was up front with me. It was an impressive view, the island with its tall cliffs and green jungle. Not that Royn could see much. His head was in the back with Damicar.
I had told Damicar what I wanted him to do, and he had taken it very well. He was writing up a list of ingredients he’d need.