He strolled up with his hands in his pockets.
“Aw,” said Flossie, smiling like a loon. “Is that yo’, Colin? Ain’t yo’ adorable.” She took a step towards the boy.
He scowled. “Back up, Fatty.”
Flossie’s smile dropped off her face. She spun around and wrinkled her nose at me. “Is that what you think of me?”
“What are you having a go at me for? I didn’t say it.”
“But he’s yo’, isn’t he?” She turned back to little me. “What else does he say about me?”
This was going a little off-track.
“He thinks you have a juicy bum.”
“I never said that!” I was getting hard stares from all the girls, and most of all from Dudley.
“You like them juicy, do you?” said Jenny. She had a small behind, for context.
“No,” I said. “Hey, shit-head, go fight the big monster, and keep your mouth shut while you’re doing it.”
The boy stared at me, although it was hard to tell his exact expression through the fringe of hair in his face, then he sauntered over to where Yuqi and co. were standing.
Yuqi had a smirk on her face. “This is it, is it? How intimidating. I don’t know if we should fight him or put him to bed.”
The kid didn’t seem fazed by the ribbing. He ignored Yuqi and walked right up to the Jester.
He stuck out his lower lip and huffed upwards, blowing the hair out of his face long enough to peer up at the colossus in front of him. It didn’t look like a very even matchup.
The Jester leered and stars twinkled out of her mouth.
“Pretty,” said the boy, “but a bit fucking tryhard, isn’t it?”
Flossie put her hands on her hips and glared at me like I was some kind of bad parent.
The Jester bent down, her giant bulbous eyes close to the boy’s fringe. “So cute. I bet you taste delicious.” One bite and he’d be swallowed whole.
The boy turned and walked back the way he’d come.
“Hey!” I called out. “Where are you going? You have to fight her.”
“Can’t be bothered,” he said without looking at me.
“What the fuck?” I moved to intercept the annoying little shit. Someone needed to give him the beating I so richly deserved. It quickly became a pronoun fiesta when you had to think of yourself as a separate entity.
Jenny pulled me back. “Let me.”
She walked over to the boy who had stopped and watched her approach with his frown firmly in place.
“What do you think you’re going to do, Two-Face?”
She kneeled down in front of him and they proceeded to have a staring contest.
Yuqi crossed her arms, somehow managing to not cover her nipples. “Are we going to—”
“Hold on,” I said. “I want to see who wins.”
Jenny finally made a move. She put her hands on his tiny shoulders and leaned forward. I thought she was going to hug him, but she only put her mouth nearer his ear and started whispering.
He didn’t move but his face began to redden. It went on for a couple of minutes, the reddening intensifying all the while. She finished, sat back and nodded at him. Then she got up and walked back to me. The kid still didn’t move, he just stood there.
“Okay,” said Jenny. “I think he’s ready.”
The boy didn’t look ready, he looked confused. He lowered his head and shuffled back to where the Jester waited, looking bemused.
The boy stopped in the same place as before. “Okay, let’s get this over with.” He sounded bored more than anything.
“You little…” Yuqi was not impressed by the attitude. “Teach him a lesson.”
The Jester shook her head like she was reluctant to destroy something so harmless. Sparks flew off her one horn and the tentacles darted towards the boy from all angles.
He still didn’t do anything, hands in pockets.
Just as tips of the tentacles reached him, his hands flopped out of his pockets and he grabbed hold of the nearest tentacle. He pulled on it like he was opening a Christmas cracker by himself and tore off the end, then he grabbed further up and tore off another piece.
As he did this, the other tentacles swarmed around him, twisting around his limbs, around his neck. He ignored them, just kept ripping the one tentacle to shreds and in the process, pulled in the Jester closer and closer.
It was done effortlessly, almost lazily, like he was shredding paper. Bits of the Jester went flying in all directions. Blue arcs of electricity spat and crackled to no effect.
I leaned my head towards Jenny, keeping my eyes on the boy. “What the fuck did you say to him?” I expected her to say she told him she loved him or something equally sappy.
“I described what it feels like to have your cock inside me.”
I don’t know if you’ve ever choked on your own tongue, but it isn’t a pleasant experience. “What did you tell him that for?” I said after I could breathe again. “What the hell’s wrong with you?”
“He needed to understand what he was fighting for. Me.”
“And making a five year-old horny was the way to do it?”
“He isn’t five and it isn’t about the sex. He’s like an even more unreasonable version of you. He can’t believe anyone would want to be with him. I explained why he was wrong.” She took a breath and let it out slowly. “We have an understanding.”
I wasn’t sure if your girlfriend having a direct relationship with your subconscious was a good thing or not. Made me feel like a third wheel.
All that was left of the Jester by this point were tatters. They lay on the ground like leaves, twitching and flickering with a blue light. The boy had been relentless, tearing her apart even when she had stopped trying to fight back.
Yuqi watched open-mouthed, her hands clutching her hair. She fell to her knees and began sobbing.
What happens to you when your psyche is ripped to pieces? They were two, distinct beings, but they had to have some connection.
The boy turned around and he had tears streaking down his face. What kind of fighting style was that? Weeping Willow? If that’s how he reacted when he won, I’d hate to see him if he lost. Fucking wimp.
He put his hands back in the pockets of his polyester slacks and slowly walked over to Yuqi, dragging his feet. Destroying a giant had taken no effort at all, but walking a couple of yards seemed to be a huge imposition.
Yuqi looked up, about eye-level with him. “How can you be so cruel.” Snot dripped from her nose, pouring into her mouth Not even her spectacular boobs could make that look appealing. “I was so close. After so many years. I worked so hard to make it possible. I’d have been past, present and future all in one. I deserved it after all I ‘ve been through. You ruined everything!”
The boy wiped the corners of his eyes with the back of his small wrists. Adorable, you might think. Flossie had her hand on her chest, probably trying to keep her heart from exploding.
“You don’t know what it is to suffer,” said the boy, somewhat condescendingly, if you ask me. “Come back when you have some real problems.” And then he ate her.
He opened his child-sized mouth and sucked her in. She didn’t even have time to scream.
His shoulders sagged and he walked back towards us. He stopped in front of me and gave me a grim stare. He looked over at Jenny, then back at me. I thought he was going to say something but he simply turned away and walked back into the shadows. Just before he disappeared, his voice, very flat and disinterested, said, “Don’t fuck it up.”
“Did you hear that?” said Jenny.
“Yes,” I said. “I think he was talking to you.”
Maurice gingerly stepped forward and pushed aside some of the Jester’s remains with his foot. “Where did Yuqi go? Did you kill her?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “It’s got nothing to do with me. That kid’s not me. I mean, he is, in a way, but not really. Don’t blame me for what he did.”
“When are you ever going to take responsibility?” said Claire. “He’s you.”
“Shut up,” I responded very maturely, all things considered. “The inside you and the outside you aren’t the same person, I thought you’d figured that out. There’s a reason I keep him locked up in here. If Yuqi had done the same with her id or whatever the Jester was, she wouldn’t have gone all doolally. He might be a part of me, but not the part I want in control.”
“I didn’t like him,” said Maurice, “No offence, but he seemed a bit of a dick.”
“None taken,” I said. “I couldn’t agree more.”
“I quite liked him,” said Claire.
“Ah did, too,” said Flossie.
Maurice and Dudley exchanged a worried look. Too late, boys, way too late.
“You’re going to go back now, aren’t you?” said Claire. “To change things. To make sure all those people don’t die.” It was half statement, half question, like she thought I might decide to flip-flop on the idea.
“Yes, Claire. I’m going to go back.”
“And we won’t remember any of this.”
“You can’t remember what didn’t happen,” I said.
“You can,” she said, which was true. “You won’t tell us any of this, will you? You’ll keep it to yourself.”
“I guess.” Damn right.
She looked around. “How do we get out of here?”
“Well, it’s my head, so I suppose I should be able to just evict you. Get out!” Nothing happened. “Claire, get the fuck out!” She was still here. “Oh for God’s sake. Just piss off, will you?” I waved my hand like I was brushing lint off a cardy.
Claire faded away. Nice. I did the same to the others until only Jenny was left. She was staring into the gloom, the same direction the boy had gone.
“We’re going to have a child,” said Jenny.
It took a few seconds for the words to filter through to my brain. When I finally heard her, all I could say was, “What?”
“One day, we’re going to have a child.”
Slowly, my brain unfroze. I had thought she meant she was pregnant. Then I realised that’s what she wanted me to think. That way, the suggestion of having a kid at some later date would seem almost a welcome relief by comparison. So sly.
“Bit presumptuous, aren’t you?” I said, regaining some of the composure that had nearly dribbled down my leg.
“No,” she said. “It’s going to happen. I just wanted to give you time to prepare yourself.”
How that little prick had fired up her ovaries, I had no idea. I’d have thought seeing him wigging out like that would have put her off parenthood forever, but apparently the mothering instinct is super-retarded in some women.
“We’re practically kids ourselves,” I said. “Who knows what’ll happen in the future?”
“I do,” said Jenny. “Prepare yourself.”
It’s a bit of an aggressive stance to take with a guy. We don’t like to be told what to do, especially not by a girl. I’m not saying that’s something to be proud of, or should be indulged, but it’s certainly a basic instinct for most of us. I don’t think that’s too outrageous a statement.
It’s like going up to a girl and saying, “One day, I will fuck you.” I don’t think claiming you were being romantic would prevent the restraining order.
Jenny let out a deep sigh. “You should go.”
“You realise,” I said, “after I go back, you won’t remember any of this.”
“Time travel won’t save you.” Now she was just being annoying. She lunged at me but I waved her away and she faded, her grin the last to go like the Chesire Cat, if the Chesire Cat had wanted to rob Alice of all free will (which he might have, I never really understood what that story was supposed to be about. Watch out for the brown acid?)
I was alone in the dark. I should have probably asked the Jester how to open doors to the past. It always looks easy when someone else does it. At least I had plenty of time.
Eventually, I worked it out. Like most of the magic I’d learned, it required a calm mind and not being too anxious. I can neither confirm or deny I fapped to relax myself, but I will say that mental masturbation is a lot less messy.
I returned to the point in time when I’d met Biscuit in Nekromel before he’d been to Flatland. When the world came into focus, I was handing over the sword and the plastic crucifix. I pulled my hand back.
“What is it?” he said. “Something seems to have changed in you.”
“The Prophecy Machine, can I see it?”
He continued to regard me a little suspiciously but he handed it over.
The Codex looked the same. I turned it over and back again. Then I opened it. Nothing happened. No voice came out. Maybe she was playing dead. Maybe she was dead.
It had been quite a clever ruse to present herself as an oracle, able to predict things she herself would ensure came to pass. She must have seemed quite omniscient.
I explained to Biscuit what had happened and how Yuqi had arranged everything to her own benefit.
He listened intently, the part with the welding and Cheng’s transformation being of special interest.
“An unstable welding would not have lasted long,” he said in a dismayed rumble. “Disaster would have ensued.”
He was probably right. Yuqi had thought she could use that instability to take control, which would have ended badly. Or maybe it wouldn’t, which would have been even worse.
We came to an understanding. He wouldn’t rush to complete the welding. If it took millennia, so be it.
He took the Codex back from me and examined it.
“There is nothing here,” he said. “If this was the form she took, it is nothing but a box now. But, to be sure, we should destroy it.”
“How?” I asked.
“By consuming it.”
“You want to eat it?” Seemed like this was a thing with him.
“I don’t think that would be wise. If she wished to be consumed by my son, there is a chance she could overpower him. She might be able to do the same to me.”
We had a small argument about it.
My point was, the box was inert, and even when she tried to get Cheng to eat her, it was after he’d transformed and in addition, he was young and weak, whereas Biscuit was mature and strong.
His counterpoint was, why take the risk?
In the end, the box got eaten. Let’s leave it at that. It didn’t change into Yuqi, didn’t try to squirm away as it went down (whoever’s throat). Whatever had happened to Yuqi, she was no longer in control of time like she had been.
You don’t always need to run around with crucifixes and holy water when it comes to dealing with demons. Sometimes you just need to explain the situation. Saves a lot on dry cleaning.
He was very understanding. Just goes to show you. I’m not sure exactly what. Maybe it shows to go you. But we came up with a plan.
The next stop was back to the beginning. I was falling and the sea swells rose beneath me. The others screamed and flailed like they were in an old movie I’d seen a long time ago.
Time travel is pointless. Nothing matters. Whatever happens can be undone. People can die, and then come back to life when the loop resets and everything goes back to the way it was. Except for one thing. The time traveller. Me.
No one remembered what had happened and it didn’t affect them. I remembered all of it and nothing seemed the same.
When you repeat life over and over, it loses all meaning. It becomes grey and muted. A life relived has a fraction of the depth of the first time.
I called up Wyndam and explained to the others we’d have to sing for our ride. They happily obliged.
Jenny’s eyes were full of questions, but she didn’t ask them. She watched me closely, I could sense her gaze on me, but whatever she was feeling from me, it kept her from pushing.
When we reached the shore, there was a welcome committee waiting for us. The masters had all turned out to meet us. Biscuit stood at the front, a small imp sitting on his shoulder.
I assured everyone we weren’t in any danger but the others were understandably nervous—friendly or not, they were still the freakiest bunch of fuckers you’ve ever seen.
Cheng and Mandy were with them. He had seen them from the sky and flown down to investigate. Father and son had reunited and even Mandy seemed to be an accepted part of the family. She was stuck to Cheng’s arm like a wristband.
“It is good to see you again, Colin,” he said to Dudley.
“I’m afraid he’s Colin,” said Dudley, very keen to correct the mistake.
“If you can’t tell us apart,” I said, “how did you know which one was Cheng’s mother?” I asked him.
“By touch,” said Biscuit, which I found unsettling. “Come, we have to go. Time is… not of the essence, but still, there are things to do.” He looked down at me. “Everything is ready.”
Biscuit led us over the ridge. Flossie had grabbed hold of 288 somehow and was petting him. I didn’t have the heart to tell her.
There was a flappy-box nearby which took us to Darkholme. The fields we flew over were full of crops and there were many small towns and villages. We saw Meet in the distance, a mass of towering, gleaming buildings.
Everything was new and exciting to the others. I could barely stand to look. There was something ahead I was apprehensive about.
When we arrived on the mountain, it was already getting dark. The masters landed around us as we exited the box and we were led into the Palace. There was no banquet, no welcome feast. Biscuit headed for the Throne Room, and then the treasury.
My heart began to beat faster. A hand slipped into mine. Jenny still didn’t ask what was up, but her touch helped calm me. She hadn’t mentioned having kids, so I was hopeful that idea was lost in the mists of time.
The shaft had been converted into a ramp—much easier to navigate. And in the room we had found a fake Yuqi, we found the real one.
Even though I had removed her from the timeline, as Maurice had pointed out, there was still the original one who came from the other universe. Biscuit had captured her, although he didn’t let her become the Jester this time.
I had expected her to be some crazed beast, chained up and requiring armed guards, but that wasn’t the case.
“Finally,” she said in a croaking voice. “You have no idea how long I’ve waited.”
She was old, with white hair and a severely wrinkled face. Her body was twisted and malformed. She was stuck in her weretic form and it looked painful. Bones jutted out at odd angles under her skin. At least she wasn’t naked.
“I thought you’d still be angry,” I said.
She struggled off her bed and limped towards me. “I don’t have the energy anymore.” She wheezed and coughed. “I’ll be glad when this is all over.”
We slowly made our way to another chamber. Biscuit had said he could open a portal for us to get home, but it would take a huge amount of energy. The oldest weretic in existence would provide it.
She wouldn’t have a choice in the matter, and my conscience didn’t have a say, either. Millions of random people didn’t deserve to die for my benefit, but Yuqi did. It wasn’t like she hadn’t had a full life; she’d had several.
Surprisingly, though, she seemed fine with it. She knew what was coming and only wanted to get it over with.
I kept the details from the others, they just knew we were going home. To Earth.
Biscuit said it wouldn’t be hard. It’s where we came from, our link to it was strong, as was Yuqi’s. She would become our gateway. We just had to walk through the portal. Easy peasy.
We stood around a pool of water, still and clear. Yuqi dropped her robe—the girl was a born exhibitionist—and stepped into the pool without hesitation. She paddled to the centre. The water barely covered her misshapen ankles. I tried not to look higher than that.
The masters had formed a circle around us. The began to hum. Not from their mouths, their whole bodies seemed to vibrate.
Yuqi dissolved, from the bottom up. It didn’t look painful. She didn’t say anything, just sank into the water until there was nothing left.
The water turned black, and then lost all semblance of solidity. It was a hole, dark and endless.
That was it. No last minute crisis. No surprise attack. We all stepped onto the ridge around the pool and jumped in.
“Fuck you, Colin,” whispered Yuqi. “You aren’t going home.”
My eyes slowly opened. I was lying in a field.
Above me was a blue sky. An actual sky-blue blue sky. With a sun in it.
My body didn’t exhibit signs of pain and I was able to move my extremities, so nothing was broken. I sat up. No one was in view, although the grass was fairly tall. They could have been hidden.
No response. It didn’t really bother me. If I had been separated from the others they would find me, eventually. They always did.
If, on the other hand, we were on different worlds, they would still find me, somehow. You don’t shake a curse that easily.
The meadow stretched out in every direction and there didn’t appear to be any manmade structures. Another medieval world? Or maybe one devoid of all life?
Something buzzed past me. The last time that had happened, I nearly had a heart attack. As I looked around for what I hoped was a regular insect, I caught sight of something glinting in the distance. I didn’t get up as that would only make me more noticeable, and I didn’t know if I wanted to be noticed.
As I peered over the tops of the stalks of grass, it became obvious they were people. Or at least humanoid. There were walking upright and were wearing what appeared to be armour. Soldiers of some kind.
I had no intention of fighting anyone, especially as there were at least half a dozen of them and I didn’t have any weapons. Even if I had a weapon, I wouldn’t have put up a fight. People in armour generally know how to use weapons better than me.
The last time I’d encountered soldiers in a meadow, they’d been quite helpful. Maybe these would be the same. Some advice, some food, a crappy stick. Could be worse.
Maybe if I sat very still they wouldn’t even notice me and go straight past.
They didn’t go past. They headed directly for me, and it quickly became apparent these weren’t like the soldiers the had found us in Probet. For a start, these soldiers were all female.
That might sound quite encouraging, but they weren’t pretty little things in pigtails. They were enormous, pro-wrestler, well-thewed Amazonian types. Not that there’s anything wrong with that; women who can strangle you with their thighs deserve to be respected (because otherwise they’ll strangle you with their thighs).
I lay down again. If I acted weak and pathetic, perhaps it would ignite some deeply-ingrained mothering instinct in them. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and reminded myself to watch my mouth. Women occasionally took offence at my little jokes so it would be best not to make any.
I could handle it. After all the time I’d spent around unreasonable women, a few more wouldn’t be anything new. Just as long as there wasn’t a crazy one set on making me the focus of her existence, I’d be fine.
The sounds of their footsteps and the jingle of their armour drew nearer.
“What is it?” said a husky female voice.
“Looks male. Almost,” replied another.
Great, a bunch of sarky cows. Polite and respectful, I told myself. Don’t give the sarky cows an excuse to stab you.
“Out of my way,” came a more shrill, somewhat familiar voice. “Move! Let me see.”
I sat up. The warrior women, all in dazzling armour from neck to toe, were staring down at me. A smaller, red-headed figure pushed her way through them.
“Oh, it’s you!” said Laney, her hair streaming wildly around her head. “Where are the rest of the losers? Not with you? Never mind, you’ve arrived at just the right time.” Her eyes sparkled in a manner I didn’t like. “There’s a war going and we need heroes. Since we haven’t been able to find any, I guess you’ll have to do.” She smiled broadly and licked her teeth. “Pick him up, ladies. He’s coming with us.”
End of Book 5