“You, cancel the phantom steed and strip. Don’t even think about running away, or we’ll be forced to take some liberties with your guide here.” The men surrounding them were mostly armed with bows, but there were a few with heavy axes, and even a slender one with lightning dancing between his fingers, eyeing Garth’s Status Band with undisguised greed. Like Garth, he was wearing practical clothing rather than robes.
Garth immediately realized a couple things: Thrask weren’t that bright, and Garth had an ace up his sleeve in the form of a massive, invisible, man-eating succubus. He shared a knowing glance with Sandi, who frowned thoughtfully.
“But he’s not-“
“Ahem!” Garth coughed, interrupting Sandi. “Sure, I’ll get off my phantom horse – he shot Sandi a glare – “right now. Just keep your word not to hurt us. This can all work out civilly”
“We’ll see.” The lead Thrask said with narrowed eyes. “I don’t know what you see in a coward like him, beautiful.” He changed his gaze to Sandi’s Lure as she carefully lowered Garth off her back. He ran a rough hand up the side of her arm, his eyes raking up and down her Lure. “The pay must be too good to ignore.”
Garth felt Sandi’s enormous clawed hands tense and shudder a bit as she set Garth down.
“My mom taught me not to hurt people, and I don’t want to either, so I’m warning you to please leave us alone.” Sandi said, her voice tight as she glared at him.
What? Where’s your killer instinct? Is this the same girl I watched eat a whole Banta? While Garth thought this the circle of armed Thrask fell about themselves, roaring with laughter. Turned out his bodyguard was a pacifist.
Well, even if Sandi wasn’t great at being intimidating, she was an excellent distraction. Every single Thrask was either:
A. Laughing uproariously
B. Leering at Sandi, all their attention focused on her milkshakes.
At the very least, this gave him the opportunity to make a few adjustments to the playing field.
Garth discretely bent the bandit’s arrows using Control Plant. He wasn’t good enough to do them all at once, but each one only took a fraction of a second. Garth was afraid the Thrask wizard would notice something, but he was laughing with the rest of them.
The spell didn’t allow nearly as much range of motion as it described on a living specimen, but the structure of the wood was the same, if a lot less flexible. That was fine, all he needed to do was give the arrows a 3-5 degree bend, and they wouldn’t be hitting the broad side of a barn.
That done, Garth decided to take the next step.
Get me a pea, Garth thought, and Wilson reached into Garth’s bandolier and discretely placed one in his palm. If anyone saw a floating pea, no one said anything. Beladia would probably cut him some slack, since this was life or death. If he could disable most of them, it would be plenty of confusion to lose them in the thick grass. Between Control Plant and Forestwalk, these guys were kind of on his home turf.
On the other hand, those arrows looked thicker than his thumb and were tipped with barbed steel. It would not be pleasant to be struck by one of those. Oh well, between disableing their first shot and hitting them with a double fertilized pea, he was pretty sure he could get all of them. There were a lot less Thrask here than there had been Kipling assaulting Leanne.
After this was over though, Garth was going to make sure he and Sandi had a talk so they were clear on how bodyguarding was to be handled in the future. If Garth had to be the intimidating one, he’d like to know in advance.
Maybe a spiked collar would make Sandi look tougher. An image of Sandi wearing steel studded leather lingerie flashed through his mind before he was able to dismiss the notion as wishful thinking.
An application of Forestwalk on the two of them should make the Combat Peas release them by the very nature of the spell, and then the two of them would be free to grab whatever Cores the claim jumpers had stashed away before making their escape. He’d hate to let the opportunity pass. Every part of the bandit, and all that.
Sandi didn’t want to hurt anyone, and Garth hadn’t killed anything but Kipling thus far, and he didn’t particularly want to, either, so just robbing the robbers sounded fine to him. He didn’t want to remember killing anyone for the rest of his life.
Except maybe Harold.
Garth focused his attention on the little orange bead in the palm of his hand and opened the floodgates to Beladia’s power.
A searing sensation shot through his spine, up into his nasal passages, encompassing his entire brain with an intense pain, like someone shoved a finger into the open socket of his removed molar, tickling the nerve with their fingernail.
“Agh, sonofabitch!” Garth shouted, dropping to the ground and clutching his head. It only took a few seconds before the pain went away, and Garth was able to breathe properly and look up.
Everyone was looking at him. The dusky skinned claim jumper’s guards were up again, arrows half drawn. Sandi’s distracting presence could only go so far.
“Garth, are you okay?” Sandi asked, kneeling beside him.
“Yeah, I just…My familiar bit me.” Garth said lamely, glancing around. He couldn’t exactly admit he was preparing to fight them, could he? Wilson was looking betrayed, but he seemed to be busy nursing his own headache.
The Thrask magician got a smug, Better-than-you grin while the leader simply raised an eyebrow.
“That’s enough coddling the fool, woman, come back here.”
A cold sweat broke out on his forehead, and Garth’s idle thoughts about what he would do after this debacle was over snapped back to the present, to why the hell his Blessing had stopped working.
Garth thought back to his dream. ‘They’re closing the gates’ Beladia had said, right before she smacked him. Was he cut off from her? Garth glanced at his skin: Still Purple. He focused on the feel of the chilly spring wind on his cheeks: Still resistant to cold.
Presumably he still smelled edible to Sandi.
So what the hell?
“You two are a good laugh. I don’t know what kind of ridiculous mother you had, but she gave you some fine gifts, I’ll give her that.” The Thrask said, striding forward and grabbing Sandi’s Lure by the back of the neck. “Now you’re gonna come with us, or things are gonna get unpleasant.”
“And you!” he said, directing everyone’s attention back to Garth. “I told you to strip! I don’t want to get blood on that fine Status Band!”
“Ummm.” Garth watched Sandi’s Lure as her lip began to twitch in a feral snarl, her cheeks turning red, glowering in a way that was, for once, not particularly attractive. I don’t think she likes that.
“Now!” The Thrask gave another tug on Sandi’s neck, and much to his surprise, found her as immovable as a boulder.
“Get your hands off me!” Sandi shouted, accompanied by a roar emanating from the air beside Garth. She slapped the Thrask’s hand away with inhuman strength…and a little something extra. Garth thought he made out a flicker in the light as the man’s arm was lopped off behind the elbow, sending the well-toned muscle flying out into the grass.
The Thrask stared at his arm for a second, watching the blood squirt from his stump.
Then a lot of things happened at once.
“I’m casting a spell!” Garth shouted, jumping to his feet and weaving his hands together in a manner he thought looked more mystical than hysterical. “It’s a big one!” He had to draw their attention away from Sandi and disarm them.
The Thrask refocused their attention on Garth.
“Kill them!” The leader bellowed, slapping a hand over his stump.
Arrows hissed through the air around Garth, some of them missing by fractions of an inch. Garth didn’t have time to sweat how close to being impaled he’d come, the Thrask wizard was winding up his lightning spell again, and this time he looked like he intended to use it.
“Hot potato!” Garth shouted and summoned a Mythic Core out of his Status band, tossing it at the Thrask Magician in one smooth motion, almost like a magic trick. Rather than catch it, as Garth had hoped, the dusky mage reflexively held out a hand and summoned a plane of force to ward off whatever attack Garth was throwing at him.
Which was also a bad idea. The instant the Mythic Core and the shield made contact with each other, the shield let out a flash of golden light, like an incandescent filament, superheated to the extreme.
A moment later, the mage slumped to the ground, eyes bloody and rolled back in his head, a stream of red gushing from his nose. So it causes a lethal aneurysm if you try to channel too much mana. Good to know. Garth didn’t have time to process his first murder, as there were fifty more guys with bows and an angry look about them.
Garth channeled mana into Control plants, warping their bows beyond usefulness with a wave of his hand. It was easier and faster to channel mana while you used your hands as a visual aid, and he was able to get all of them before the shock of missing him and losing their mage had passed.
“Switch to your knives and rus-“ the Thrask was cut off when something big and heavy hit him from above, crushing him to the ground and perforating him. The Thrask continued to be beaten and sliced beyond recognition for a second, before Sandi’s real body leapt off him and dove into one side of the encirclement.
Looking at the remains, Garth had the morbid thought that Sandi reminded him a bit of a Slap-Chop, but for people.
In the confusion, some tried to take another shot, not quite understanding why their bows weren’t working, while others dropped the warped wood to the ground in disgust, pulling out all manner of sharp, blood encrusted knives, shortswords, and even a meathook, closing in on the only two they could see.
This is not good. Garth reached into his pocket, pulling out the last three charged acorns. He very gently touched Beladia’s power before pulling his awareness back as though he’d touched a hot stove. It still felt like an open wound. Looks like I’m gonna have to use the last of the acorns, Garth thought as a dozen men sprinted toward him.
The one in the lead was a drooling, low-browed moron with a rusty cleaver, raised high and ready to cut Garth shoulder to breastbone.
Sandi was doing a great job, to be sure, but there were just too damn many of them, and Garth was about to get diced. Garth tensed up with his acorns out, ready to bust a nut.
The hiss of an arrow travelling through the air at obscene speeds cut through the clamor of battle, and a handful of feathers seemed to erupt from the drooling Thrask’s eye socket.