“We’re leaving right now?” Sandi asked with a frown as he climbed out the window of the inn. “I thought you brought me here because you wanted sex.”
Wilson started tugging at Garth’s ear, pointing at Sandi. I hear ya, he thought.
Garth hesitated. He’d seen one of Harold’s goons watching him when he’d been in the market square, so he’d stashed the walker by the city gates and brought Sandi back to the Inn. The innkeeper had agreed to help them in exchange for his own farm, claiming that he and the succubus went right to bed together. Hopefully that should get them to lower their guard and not watch the inn all night. Garth didn’t think Harold’s ex-con cronies had that kind of discipline.
He’d also gotten into contact with the manager of his farming interests and asked the lawyer to keep Harold busy tonight. Getting him totally shitfaced would work. Lawyers were great, like legal handymen if you had the cash.
He could probably spare a few minutes, but…
“We have to leave tonight, to get a head start on Harold.” Garth said, glancing back at the blonde succubus with the tight…everything. Wilson began mute crying into his own claws. “While I would love to, I’d rather be somewhere safe and every minute we can get is distance away from that psycho.”
“Oh, okay.” She shrugged. “It’s a little snug for me in here anyway. You want help getting out?”
“Wha-ack!” Garth let out a strangled cry as enormous, invisible hands grabbed him like a doll, held him out the window and gently set him on the ground. Shortly after, Sandi gingerly climbed down the wooden wall, tiny holes appearing in the boards as she did so. Garth really needed to figure out a way to see her main body.
Garth glanced around the corner, but couldn’t make anyone out on the street. The guy following Garth had saw fit to retire when they did. At least he wasn’t dealing with a professional, because that would be a problem.
Together they crept onto the street, heading for the main gate. Once there, he grabbed the walker, bribed the guards to open the gate, then they took off into the night.
“This is awesome!” Sandi said, her legs dangling off the edge of the platform as the giant oak spider crawled at about six miles an hour through the grassland surrounding the outpost, heading west toward outpost 3516, about five hundred miles away.
Garth expected the trip would take at least four days, not including possible Kipling or Harold attack.
“How’d you figure out how to do this?”
Garth glanced up from studying the Forestwalk spellbook, lit by the magical lantern hanging from a branch over his wooden recliner. He should have gotten some pillows for the seat, but otherwise he couldn’t complain.
“It’s kind of an exploit of Forestwalk. Forestwalk instructs plants to move you in the direction of your choosing, and gives them the energy to do so, then returns them to their original position. If the plant were disconnected from the ground, when it tries to right itself, it takes a step forward to rebalance.”
Garth was currently poring through the later chapters of the book in the tips and tricks section to look for ways to improve his proficiency and make the walker go faster.
“I did have to tweak the spell a little to get it to walk smoother, but most of the stability is from the eight legs.”
“Neat.” Sandi said, kicking her legs off the side as she watched the scenery go by.
A thought occurred to Garth that’d been bugging him for awhile. Her psychic puppet was amazing, but he was unsure of how it worked. He’d been meaning to get to know her better, too.
“So can you see from your Lure’s eyes?”
“Of course, all my senses are wired through it.”
“But your Lure looks different to everyone who looks at it, right?”
“Yes.” Sandi said, glancing back at him. “Why do you ask?”
“Well when two or more people are looking at you, which set of eyes do you see from?”
“All of them.”
“How do you process that?”
“A cyclops might ask you how can function when you see everything in double.”
“You just can, huh?”
“It’s what I was born with.”
Garth leaned back and considered further. “So what does dating mean for a succubi? I’ve been wondering.”
“There can be a lot of meanings to it. “Sometimes it means we want to get a man alone so we can eat him, sometimes so we can breed, and sometimes because hanging out with them is fun.” she said, glancing over at him.
“Which one was I?”
“Well, at first, you smelled so tasty I wanted to tease you a bit, but after a while, it became mostly the third.” She winked. “Maybe a bit of the other two.”
Garth returned his eyes to the spellbook with a nervous chuckle. He really hoped she was kidding with him. He hadn’t mastered Force Armor yet, and his ability to channel mana was being taxed by the walker, so he was basically defenseless.
The low-grade mana stone was a jagged grey shard of a dungeon core on a leather strap hung around his neck. The low quality shard was still fairly valuable, attracting the mana in the environment to him like a magnet. It made fuel for the vehicle more readily available and thus less taxing to channel, making him able to keep the oak spider going all night. When Garth learned how to enchant things he could put a mana stone like this one into an object to run it indefinitely. The endless lantern ran off a pinky-sized piece.
Garth had heard that some mana stones – ones made from mythic cores – were so good that they were dangerous to use. If the spellcaster was like a faucet, these stones made the water pressure so high, the faucet – or spellcaster – exploded when they tried to channel it.
Garth wanted one.
The stars were out, twinkling brightly in the absence of clouds or unnatural light, with the sole exception of Garth’s lantern. The moon shone down on the grass, turning the green stalks into a gently shifting pale white ocean around them.
Garth had to admit, it would have been romantic if it weren’t for extenuating circumstances.
He caught himself yawning, and closed the book. Moment of truth. He had to try sleeping with the spider moving.
Would you turn the lamp off? Garth thought, and Wilson climbed up the branch, looking like a sailor on a ship’s rigging as he reached out to turn the lantern down. When Wilson came back down, Garth had a piece of jerky ready for him.
“Good boy,” He said as Wilson snatched the bit of meat out of his hand, gulping it down with gusto.
“What are you doing?” Sandi asked, cocking her head to the side in a way that spilled her blonde hair over her shoulder and down between her breasts.
“Training my telekinetic powers.” Garth said with a grin. It was technically true. Wilson had become more amicable to taking orders in exchange for treats over the last day and a half, and although Garth was more than willing to bet most people didn’t think of it that way, Wilson was an extension of Garth. That meant Garth was moving things with his mind, and that was awesome.
“By eating jerky?”
“I’m eating it?”
“Did you see me turn off the lantern?” Apparently rather than wide-eyed and dropping jerky onto his shoulder, he was wide eyed and putting tiny, lizard-sized pieces of jerky in his own mouth without knowing it. Was he just attributing some actions to Wilson, and actually doing them all himself? That would be important to know in a fight. Garth would be pretty embarrassed if he was in another chokehold and he told Wilson to fetch him a weapon and he couldn’t. Actually, he’d just be dead.
“It went off by itself, didn’t it?”
“Huh.” Garth grunted and fed Wilson another piece. Whatever works. After that he put the treats away he refocused on going to sleep.
The spell that kept the walker going had described itself as a passive buff that didn’t require active maintenance, and when he used the spell, the way it felt in his mind reminded him of a wind-up toy with a coiled inner spring. The stronger Garth’s will, the bigger the spring he could create.
Garth flooded mana into the mental construct that maintained the modified Forestwalk spell around him. it was a mental construct like Sandi’s Lure and Wilson, but it didn’t even have a form, just an intangible compression of energy around him that repeated a single task mindlessly.
If Sandi was a Benz and Wilson a Ferrari, the construct was an 80’s John Deer tractor, or perhaps a train.
Garth stored the book in his band and laid down on, paying close attention to whether or not the oak-spider kept moving.
“Could you let me know if we stop moving? Garth asked. “I’m gonna catch some shuteye.” The idea was, if he could keep them moving night and day and sleep, there’d be no way Harold could catch them.
Garth tried to relax and get comfortable, but the platform was hard and bumpy, and his brain wouldn’t shut up. What if Kipling attacked, what if Sandi got hungry, what if Harold found out about him leaving? The list went on and on, and Garth found himself tossing and turning trying to get comfortable, staring out at the gently shifting grass. Garth had never particularly been insomniac, and the feeling of being unable to sleep was an unusual one.
Really should have gotten pillows.
A half hour of tossing and turning on the hard woven branches later, he felt something warm press up against him. Garth turned his head and saw Sandi’s cheek pressing against his shoulder, her luxurious body uncannily conforming to his and radiating a comfortable heat.
“I thought you might be cold,” she said, looking up at him.
“I’m not, but it feels nice.” Garth said, his eyes drifting shut. The contact, along with the rocking of the platform lulled him to sleep.
“Good evening, my acolyte.” Beladia said from across the pool. The two of them rested in a stone hot spring set in the center of a lush jungle. It was the middle of the night, the only light coming from the pale green water. Birdcalls and wingbeats fluttered down from the canopy above them. The glowing water churned with bubbles, concealing Beladia’s form beneath the surface.
“Evening,” Garth said, looking around. “Nice jacuzzi.”
“My portfolio is intrinsically linked to the comforts of home,” she said, her breasts bobbing just under the surface of the water, almost obscured.
“I haven’t seen you in a few days. Did you want to talk to me?”
“I have some things to discuss, but that’s not why you’re here. You’re here because you needed this.” She motioned to the natural jacuzzi. “I provide. It’s in my nature.”
Now that he thought about it, he hadn’t been particularly stressed or afraid for his life before Harold had entered the scene, but now he was concerned he might give himself an ulcer as his problems continued to grow out of proportion.
“You’re right,” Garth said, leaning back and lifting his feet, letting the bubbles crawl between his toes. “I did need this.” On the flat rock beside him was a beer stein full of cider.
“So what did you want to talk to me about?”
“Your performance as an apostle.”
Oh crap, there are performance reviews? Garth thought, his shoulders tightening up again.
Beladia lifted a hand in response to his thoughts. “Not to worry. So far you’ve exhibited perfectly acceptable behavior. The bit with the innkeeper was a bit vindictive, but you weren’t causing him any harm, simply refusing him an opportunity. I especially like your quick-start homesteads…” She smiled a moment before her expression clouded, something seemingly worrying her.
“But you’re drawing an awful lot of mana from me and the amount you’re giving back is still just a trickle.”
“Should I stop?” Garth asked.
“All I ask is that you get stronger. Perhaps create a spell to supplant my blessing if you wish to reduce my burden, but most importantly don’t die.”
“You got it, Ma’am.” Garth said, giving her a crisp salute.
She laughed melodiously, her voice ringing through the air like chimes before she mock-saluted him back, a stern expression on her face. Three star-shaped flowers bloomed on both shoulders, mimicking a general’s stars.
God, I really wanna ask permission to come aboard. Garth thought. That was how Garth imagined they did dirty talk in several branches of the military, but coming aboard was probably most used in the navy. It was a perfect opportunity. He’d never actually had sex with a superior officer. He’d never been in the military, so all officers were technically superior officers, but the point stood.
“Why don’t you?” she asked.
Oh right, mind-reading.
“It’s just…I went on a date with a girl,” Garth said. “and while it was just one date, and I don’t know if we have anything between us or if we can even be a couple, I don’t want to do anything that makes me feel like I’m cheating or winds up biting me in the ass.”
Beladia pursed her lips.
“You’ve a curious sense of duty, despite knowing this is a dream.”
“I know, I’m sorry.”
“No need to apologize.” She waved her hand dismissively before reclining, splashing her feet in the pool.
“So how’s work?” Garth asked, wracking his brain for something to talk about with the nature goddess.
“Not great. Most of your contemporaries on Earth are dead, so my influence there is minimal, and I’ve lost a fair bit of power. Even Kolath has less surviving Apostles than usual. I don’t mean to be disparaging, but how did your species become the rulers of the planet?”
“I suppose if you came across us before modern technology turned our muscles to jelly, we’d have done okay.” Garth shrugged.
“On the bright side, Entramond’s surviving Apostles are being outdone by you, and he finds that incredibly irritating, since you chose me instead of him.”
Garth rubbed his chin as he floated in the water. He liked Beladia and her way of supporting her Apostles. The only problem was that nice guys finish last. If she were to aggressively expand her power, she would no longer be the goddess he had chosen. Garth could do something, though.
“So how strong would I have to get to make up your losses on this planet?”
“Very,” Beladia said. “At least as strong as the enforcers the Inner Spheres send to save dying planets.
“And all I have to do is eat those purified Heartstones?” That couldn’t be it, or else all the most amazing fighters would be backed by companies like Pepsi or Microsoft.
“That’s a start, but you have to go through Evolutions as well.” Beladia put a finger on her lips and studied Garth thoughtfully. “Have you not been briefed by your commander?”
“Your commander. The one in charge of your platoon? You should have gotten a letter signed by the man in charge of Earth itself, one General Karas Intermon?”
“I got that, but…no commander. I haven’t seen anything but adventurers and mercs.”
“You haven’t seen any armies with red banners with numbers so great that they create an ocean of steel?
“Nothing like that.”
She frowned, and leaned forward, gazing deep into his eyes. Ghostly flickers of translucent Beladias began to appear outside of her like phantoms, being drawn into her body. Her presence expanded, making space itself seem to warp around her.
Suddenly the heavenly beauty in front of him seemed terrifyingly present, as though he’d awoken some slumbering being of unimaginable power. A goddess.
She put her hands on Garth’s temples, the pressure of her full attention bringing tears to his eyes. It was like staring into the sun, but rather than light, there was a psychic force that threatened to tear away his sense of self.
“Remember your last weeks.” Beladia said, closing her eyes.
Under the weight of her scrutiny, he felt himself reliving the invasion in high speed as the goddess poured through his mind. Garth’s hands trembled as he lost control of his body, weighed down by the deity’s power.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw an orange glow, flickering between the tall jungle trees. He tried to speak, but his body was entirely out of his control.
Beladia muttered quietly as she scanned through his memories, pausing for a moment to review the Class Imprint, a subtle frown on her face, before moving on, all the way until his meeting with her, here.
The fire in the distance grew larger, consuming the enormous forest and leaving nothing but darkness behind as it began to spread around them.
“They’re breaking the rules,” she said, her eyes snapping open. Beldia’s gaze was drawn to the side, where the fire seemed to be spreading...surrounding them. Garth saw her face flash a brief instant of fear before she looked directly into his eyes again.
“They’re closing the gates. You have to wake up or you’ll be trapped here!”
“Garth, you need to wake up!” Beladia drew her hand back and smacked him, hard.