Jakeob Aldon glared at Felix Cori, and Felix smugged at her. Smugged is now a word, it is the past-tense of smug, which is also now a verb. It means "to be in a state of deserving a punch in your stupid, smug face." But Aldon did not give into the temptation, because she knew that Felix was her ticket to a new body.
"Yeah, I think I figured it out," she said without a hint of venom.
"Jeez, no need to be so hostile," he said for no real reason.
A growling sigh escaped Aldon and dragged itself out into a long groan. She massaged her temples and surveyed the massive disc awaiting its future payload. It was just a statue, she told herself. This didn't have to be a big deal. In, make thing, out. Boy, thing, girl. Easy peasy.
"Explain to me… exactly what it is you want me to do," she said to Felix.
"We need you to make a statue of a person, that's it," he assured. The smug levels decreased, and for a moment Aldon could see the impressionable idiot she had befriended years ago. "Nothing anart about it, the entire point is that everything in here is not anomalous."
Aldon looked at the windows.
"Okay, most of the things. Some of them." Felix pondered for a moment before shaking his head. "Anyway, we're not asking you to make an actual deity or anything. Just a dude, like… I dunno, eight feet tall?"
"And it's not magic," she said.
She eyed him warily. "And it won't hurt anyone?"
He smiled and shook his head, unabashed by her gaze. "Nope!"
Aldon stole a glance at Cassandra Paulson, who was busy being a bitch to the other anartists in the "church." Aldon watched the other artists hauling and painting and sweating and panting, and she had to wonder what the hell the point of it all was. These things usually had a point, AWCY? rarely made things just to make them. Because just making things for the sake of making things is cool, and aussies are anything but cool.
"Fine." She whipped her gaze back to Felix. "Where's the clay?"
Felix's shoulders sagged with relief, but Aldon caught a twitch of The Critic's smirk. She watched a man and his ego do battle for a moment before she leaned forward and flicked his nose.
"Felix. Focus. Clay. Where?"
He clutched at his stinging face. "Right, right. Sorry. Come on, I'll show you. We've kept it stored in this side room over here."
He guided her through the rows of pews, offering hellos and dispensing orders to the anartists as he went. The more Aldon bored her gaze into his back the less he acted the mighty leader, and by the time he pushed open a heavy door at the edge of the room he was silent.
Before them sat a miniature mountain of gray-brown clay. Aldon scooped a handful of the stuff and played with it in her hands. It was difficult to pull apart and she could see in several places the mountain was beginning to harden and crack.
"There a problem?" Felix asked, now edging into nervousness. Aldon would have laughed at how easy it was to break The Critic's faux confidence, if she wasn't so frustrated.
"Yes. You idiots literally just left it stored out in the open. It can probably still be salvaged, but I'm gonna need a bucket of water."
"I'll get right on it," he said, preemptively breathless from all the running he was about to do.
Aldon watched him dash out of the room with a sadistically satisfied smile. She traipsed after him, and found herself taking way too much enjoyment from watching The Critic actually doing something himself. Soon he came lumbering back into the main room with a bucket in both hands, water occasionally sloshing out as he went. Sweat dripped from his brow by the time he arrived back at the clay mountain.
A ferret looked up at her from inside the bucket.
The surprise kind of ruined her whole venomous persona. "Why is there a ferret?"
"It came out of the faucet."
Aldon took the bucket from him and stared at the animal within. "The ferret… came out of the faucet?"
"Yes. I dunno if it's a ferret, exactly, but it… watch. Ooga booga!"
As he screamed and waved his arms around, the ferret twitched and melted into a thin brown sludge inside the bucket. After a few seconds passed it slowly gathered itself and protruded from the bucket again. It hissed at Felix.
"Okay," Aldon said. "That… happened. Uh. Thanks for the water, Felix."
"Mhmm." He backed away from the hissing creature. "Good luck on the statue."
She set the bucket down by the clay, then glanced over her shoulder at the retreating Felix. "Does it have to be a dude?"
"I guess not?" he said between pants. "It's just what I pictured, initially."
"Eh, alright, why not." She had gotten enough enjoyment out of his effort, might as well indulge him. "Do I have a deadline?"
Felix leaned against the door frame. "Soon?"
Aldon laughed. "I can work with that."
Progress was slow, and at first just a tad agonizing. She knew that she had to get this done, not just for herself, but for the people waiting for it. It was not a particularly large audience, but it was larger than what she'd get in her living room. Even if she didn't know most of them, even if she didn't like a few of them, they were her audience.
It helped that the audience happened to be a magic-wielding group of artists promising to give her a new body to play with.
So she threw together globs of half-dried clay and splashed some water on it before slamming down some more. Digging deeper into the mountain yielded softer clay, so she burned a good hour excavating for better material. Once that was finished she went about molding together the clay to form some semblance of a person, pinching and smoothing the clumps into a single whole.
It was ugly, but it was a start. From atop his mountainhome of Dryclay, Everett McWaterFerret watched Aldon slave away at making the sculpture look less like ass. Except for the ass, which was made significantly more ass-like. Clothes were not included, as gods did not cater to human concepts like clothing, warmth, or basic modesty. Not that this particular god had much to be modest about, since Aldon did not particularly savor the idea of sculpting a giant dong.
Seconds dripped into minutes which poured into hours which flooded Aldon's mind with a torrent of anxiety. Was this really it? One statue and then that was it? Quest completed? No regal knights or fair princesses, just an idiot Critic and his bitchy accomplice? Not a dragon in sight, just a big fire-breathing metaphor for self-loathing and cynicism.
It couldn't be this easy. They wouldn't like the statue. Yeah, that was it. With each accented muscle and every smoothed surface, Aldon came to the realization that she was absolutely awful at sculpting. When she stepped back she questioned the proportions, when she leaned in she hated the detailing.
Steam thoroughly vented, motivation completely drained, and confidence utterly dashed, Aldon sat atop the remains of the clay mountain. Hunger clawed at her stomach as doubt bit into her mind. The only thing to drag her from her melancholic haze was Everett gently nibbling on her finger. She looked down at the magical creature and groggily scratched behind his ear.
"You hungry too, eh?" Everett made whatever noise ferrets make. Or maybe the noise polecats make. Or some weird mix of the two.
Regardless of what the sound could be described as she took it as a "Yes," so Aldon collected him in her arms and marched over to the door. After jimmying it open with one hand she glanced around for someone to yell at, but found the place largely deserted. The walls had been completely painted, the mosaics had all been hung in place, and the pews were arranged as they should be.
"Uh… Hello?" she called into the empty pseudo-church. "Fuck, how long was I in there?"
From Nowhere stepped The Janitor, and with him The Critic. Felix called and waved and bounded over to her, a mix of excitement and worry in his voice and actions. He grinned and reached out to grab her shoulders but hesitated when Everett hissed at him.
"Allie! You still have that. Hmm. But holy shit, you've been in there for ages. You… you didn't finish, did you?"
"No, I still need to do the face. I just… dead in the water, y'know? Then I realized I was hungry, and figured I should probably fix that before I passed out or something."
"Before you go, I want to see what you have so far."
Aldon sighed and slowly trudged back toward the room with him. "It's really not that great. I dunno if I should keep working or just start over, but… it's kinda shit."
The Critic gave her the same knowing look he had already given her so many times earlier, but for some reason she didn't want to sock him for it. It actually made her feel a little better. He threw the door open and peered inside the room for a moment.
He laughed. "Allie, do you not like it?"
She shrugged and felt her stomach clench from something other than hunger. "Not really."
"I like it, no major problems. If anything, I might complain it's too short."
"What?" Aldon transferred Everett onto her shoulder and slipped into the room to act as a comparison. "No, look, it's too big. It's like nine, almost ten feet tall."
"Well, I like it," he said with a tone of finality. "I even like how the face isn't really all that defined."
"It's more just because I didn't finish than some intentional… thing," she admitted.
"I think you should keep it like that. I think it's great as-is, honestly."
The pit in her stomach slowly ebbed away, making the emptiness within all the more apparent. A long gurgling sound leaked from somewhere in her abdomen and she chuckled nervously.
"Well, cool. I, uh. I guess I can go, then?"
Felix nodded. "I'll get back to you when I can about your new body. Shouldn't take too long. Janitor, mind giving her a ride?"
The being nodded and Aldon waved Felix off before stuffing Everett into her shirt. She closed her eyes and waited for the Way to open, and as she stepped forward she felt like she had really accomplished something.
Maybe it really would be this easy.