Anyone can lose their way. Doesn’t matter how fervently you believe, your faith can abandon you. Distractions will lead you away from the path, and send you on a detour you may never return from.
I had been weak. I had been tempted by nice, well-meaning people. Trust. Friendship. Loyalty. All the warm-fuzzies had laid siege to my resolve and cracked it wide open. For a moment there, I actually started to believe I too could become a normie.
Find a nice girl, settle down, live the dream. It was, of course, ridiculous. Time to wake the fuck up.
“You’ll be on your own, so any problems, do your best.” I gave Claire a thumbs up and left the room.
“Don’t be surprised when we come back with the spike,” Claire called after me.
“Remember to have fun,” I shouted back.
I had been up all night and needed some sleep. As soon as I got in my room, I closed the curtains, stripped off and got into bed. I fell asleep almost immediately.
I don’t know if I dreamt about dead men or flying horses. When I woke a few hours later, I had no recollection of dreaming at all, which was great. The less I interacted with my brain the better as far as I was concerned.
The others were downstairs in the dining room—I call it that because it had a table and chairs where we could eat stuff we bought elsewhere. Probably best that no food was cooked on the premises; the manager would have burned the place down.
Jenny looked bright and alert. I assume she got some sleep, but it still could only have been the same amount as I got. How she managed to look completely refreshed and ready to go while I staggered around with one eye still stuck close, was a mystery.
As soon as I entered the room, Flossie got up from her seat and walked towards me. I hadn’t seen her since our little altercation, so I was curious as to how she would react to me.
She walked right up to me, hit me in the chest with her forehead and put her arms around me. I got a squeeze, some mumbled words I couldn’t make out, and then she released me and went back to her seat. I have no idea what that was about, but her and Dudley seemed to be back on course, so I guess they’d worked things out.
Claire stood up. She was dressed ready for adventure. Weapons, supplies and a new hat (when did she have time to go shopping?).
“Shall we go?” She spoke with a calm resolve that made me think she had been preparing what to say to me the whole time I was asleep.
“I thought I might eat something first.”
“You can eat on the way,” said Claire. “There are plenty of food stalls on the way to the Municipal Directory.”
The others all got up. There was definitely an air of ‘we’re gonna prove you wrong’ about them, which was fine by me. Much preferable to an air of ‘Colin save us’ which was the usual vibe they gave off.
They all filed past me. Jenny was at the back. She saluted at me as she marched behind the others. I didn’t have much choice other than to fall in line.
We went to the Municipal Directory, pausing long enough for me to buy a kind of burrito. I say’ kind of’ because burritos aren’t normally red and sewn shut with long green strands of grass that taste like liquorice.
Nobody said much as we arranged for me to be able to access all their accounts in the event of their deaths. Everyone was very businesslike and no one gave me a hard time about what I was asking them to do, and what it implied about my opinion of them doing this side-quest.
Once that was out of the way, we headed off to the Sheaf.
“Well, good luck,” I said at the entrance.
“Yeah, yeah,” said Claire. “See you later.” She walked into the Sheaf.
Maurice grinned at me as he followed Claire. Flossie gave me another hug. Dudley also gave me a hug. Is it possible to have sex so great it makes you go around hugging people? I wouldn’t know, obviously.
Jenny paused before going in. “What are you going to do while you wait for our triumphant return?”
“I’m sure I’ll find a way to amuse myself.”
“Did you say amuse or abuse?”
“Amuse,” I enunciated clearly.
“Okay. Well, be careful of chafing.” She walked into the Sheaf without waiting for a reply. Not that I had anything to say; it was good advice.
I made my way back to the inn, feeling strangely light on my feet. Whatever problems they might face, there was nothing I could do about it. It wasn’t like they’d entered a dungeon or haunted ruins. True, they might have to face off against a civil servant or two, but at least they don’t try to eat people. Not often, anyway.
The first thing I did after returning to my room was amuse myself. Twice. Finally having no one around to bother me or come barging in demanding my attention was a great luxury and I enjoyed being on my own for once.
Of course, I was often on my own. The others tended to pair up and do their own thing, but they were always around. Now they were gone. Maybe forever.
If they did come back, successful in their mission or not, the confidence they would gain would put me one step closer to my ultimate goal, which was to slip away at some point and leave them to it.
If they didn’t come back, well…
The most likely outcome was for them to turn up in a couple of hours, probably having got tied up in red tape or simply having had their questions answered in a way that didn’t help them find the missing spike.
A couple of hours later, I started to think they must have at least located God. Maybe even got invited to dinner. Knowing my luck, they were having a great time and would come back with an even more inappropriate understanding of how to deal with risky situations.
I spent the afternoon sitting around doing nothing much. I practised a little magic, creating balls of light that floated up to the ceiling and bobbed around up there like helium balloons. I found I had some sort of attachment to them and could make them roll across the ceiling by pushing my hand forward slowly. I could also make them roll back, but that was a lot harder.
After it got dark, an odd sensation began to fester in my stomach. I felt uncomfortable. Nervous. I had known something would probably go wrong. I expected it to. What I hadn’t expected was to worry so much.
Still, it’s never easy when you go cold turkey. If I wanted to rid myself of this addiction to playing hero I’d have to suffer a bit. Eventually, the craving would stop and I could go back to being a surly, antisocial git, the way I was meant to be.
They could be dead or injured or in some kind of desperate situation. The important thing was to wait here and resist the urge to care.
It must have been well past midnight when there was a knock on my door. I was lying on my bed wide awake and immediately jumped to my feet. Then I stood there. I didn’t want to make it look like I was eager to see them or anything.
I walked over to the door and opened it.
“Greetings, visitor from another world,” said Biadet. “I bring news.”
I slammed the door shut in her face. Shit. I dithered for a few seconds. Maybe if I didn’t open the door she’d go away?
“Some people might take that as a sign you weren’t pleased to see them.”
I turned around to find Biadet sitting cross-legged on my bed. She was wearing a black dress with her shoes sticking out from under a frilly skirt. She pointed up at the ceiling.
“Can you teach me how to make them?”
Above her, half-a-dozen balls of light jostled against each other in the breeze from the window.
“Can you teach me the trick to moving around like that?” I asked.
“It isn’t a trick, you’re just very easy to distract.”
That hardly explained how she was able to teleport into my room through a closed door.
“I suppose this is to do with the rest of my group.”
“I suppose it is,” said Biadet. She lay down on the bed. “So, this is where the magic happens.” She turned her head towards me and pointed at the ceiling again. “I’m referring to that magic.”
“I know which magic you were referring to. What happened to them, Biadet?”
She sat up again. “They displeased God and are sitting in a cell waiting for their punishment.”
“How did they displease him?”
“I don’t know the full story, but apparently they tried to steal an item from the Guild Treasury. Not the brightest bunch, are they? You must be pleased to be rid of them.”
Would they really do something so stupid? Well, yes, but still, hard to believe they’d do it when I wasn’t around to get them out of trouble.
“Yes,” I said. “It’s good to be free. What kind of punishment will they get?”
Biadet interlaced her fingers and rested her chin on them. “Hmmmm. Hard to say. God doesn’t take kindly to pilfering. I would imagine death is likely. Although, perhaps torture first. Publicly, maybe. Would serve as an excellent warning to others. Perhaps you plan to save them?”
It was pretty obvious she had come to tempt me into mounting a rescue attempt. Fuck that.
“Did Gullen send you here, Biadet? See what I’m capable of?”
“I think he has a pretty good idea what you’re capable of. The way you got yourself out of that ‘pickle’ the other day was very impressive. Did you see what I did there? Pickle. It’s a play on words.”
“Yes, I get it.” Damn, it seemed my attempt to sneak one past the Lord Administrator had failed.
“I don’t know how you summoned Mama Ivy, but it was a very gutsy move.”
I didn’t like the way she called it gutsy. “Should I be afraid of Mama Ivy?”
“I’m afraid of Mama Ivy, you should be terrified.” A little smile appeared at the edges of her lips.
“Do you think Gullen could have a word with this God person? Ask for a little leniency on the grounds of sheer stupidity?”
“Not really his department. Very little to do with road planning or maintenance.” Yeah, like that was his department. “And God really doesn’t listen to anyone. He is a law unto himself in this city. “
“Don’t you think it’s a bit weird he calls himself God? Bit egotistical.”
“I don’t see why. That’s his name. Godfrey.”
“Oh. I see. God for short.” Maybe he wasn’t some crazy loon. Maybe he could be reasoned with. Wait, what was I even thinking? “Can he really tell when someone’s lying?”
“Oh, yes,” said Biadet. “Everyone has to tell the truth in God’s presence. Well, except for one person.”
It took me a moment to figure out what she meant. “Everyone except God himself?”
“So he might be making up the whole thing about them stealing something?”
“Perhaps,” said Biadet. “But why would he do that? Simply to attract your attention? Who’s being egotistical now?”
I hadn’t actually made that claim, but now that she’d mentioned it, I could see it as a way to get me involved. Even if it was, it didn’t mean I would bite.
“I don’t suppose he’ll let them go with a slap on the wrist.”
“Unlikely. The last person to try and steal something from God…” She shook her head. “Put me off barbecue for a week. Anyway, I thought you’d want to know.” She got off the bed and walked over to the window. She stopped, turned and pointed at the door. “Look out!”
I spun around but there was nothing there. When I turned back, Biadet was gone. I’m pretty sure I heard a distant voice say, “So easy…” but when I went to the window there was no sign of her.
My options were clear.
Do nothing and leave them to their fate.
Come up with a plan and risk everything to save them.
It was no choice at all, really. I lay on my bed and said my goodbyes to them. They weren’t a bad lot, really. Clueless and idiotic, certainly, but I could have ended up with a much worse group. But all friendships have to end eventually. It was time to move on and face life the way I was used to—alone.
Once I accepted this as the only way forward, I felt a lot better. The uncomfortable situation in my stomach resolved itself and the tension in my shoulders went away. It wasn’t an easy choice, but compared to haring off on a suicide mission I was definitely happy with my decision.
So, how I found myself standing outside the Sheaf a few hours later, I have no idea.