Garth told Jim to shut up until the meeting was over and to keep away from him, but even after the war council had been closed and they’d sent everyone to their respective teams, Jim continued to cling to Garth like a leech.
Garth was power walking through the hall, trying to brush Jim off while Itet and Sandi were following behind, watching with the same horrified curiosity people had when the twin towers were coming down.
“What about mom and dad? Did you even try to go find them?”
“For the last time. No, I didn’t go check up on them, didn’t even try, actually. All of you were, and still are dead to me. If you cared so much, you could’ve crossed the country and gone to check rather than taking the opportunity to save a damsel and ingratiate yourself with the president.”
“You were closer.” Jim said.
“Don’t care. Dead to me.”
“Why? They’re your family!”
“MY FAMILY!” Garth shouted loud enough to damage his throat, his words echoing down the Geiger-esque halls of the castle that seemed to have been grown out of the earth. Nothing had driven the point home that they were no longer on earth better than the alien architecture.
Jim seemed to be driven back slightly by the sheer volume of Garth’s voice.
“Betrayed me!” Garth said, pounding his chest. “If you had the balls to come forward and tell someone where the money for your tuition came from, Nat and I…” Garth choked back the words. His vision began turning red in time with the slamming beat of his heart.
“Damage was already done. You think I should have gotten myself kicked out just so you can maybe have a second chance with Natalie?”
“Just so I can maybe have a second chance.” Garth mocked, his guts boiling with rage. Wilson’s claws were digging into his shoulder, but he barely felt it.
“A goddamn life! That’s what I could’ve gotten a chance at! Maybe I wouldn’t had to have moved away in shame and left my career with her dad’s company in shambles. Maybe we could have gotten back together, and Maaaybeee you’d be an uncle by now, and MAYBE I’d have been there to protect her when this shit went down, but NOOOOOO!”
Garth’s raw-throated scream reverberated through the castle.
“You shrugged and thought, ‘Well, he’s fucked, back to balling the governor’s daughter and rubbing elbows with the over-privileged sons of the richest men in America’.”
Jim took a step back, paling and glancing around the room at the spectators. Garth had never put his feelings out so plain and simple for the golden child, so Jim was probably looking for mommy and daddy to step in, slap Garth around and tell him to just give Jim his toy.
“You threw me under the bus for fifty grand! And maybe that makes sense to you in some kind of insect-like, heartless, cost-benefit analysis, but that’s not the kind of family I want to have so you. Are. Cut. OFF!”
“Sorry Itet. About the insect thing.”
“It’s Itet’chi’zzt, and I forgive you. I do not have a heart.” Itet was standing beside Sandi’s Lure. They’d been reunited after the briefing and assigned logistics and supply. Essentially kitchen duty and castle repairs, since he could make food and wood on command. Garth wasn’t going to argue with not being on the frontline. People who want to be on the frontlines are stupid and don’t live long.
“You’re my Spock, you know that?” Garth said, almost able to crack a smile at Itet’s lack of understanding before he turned back to Jim. “You get away from me. I won’t kill you because you’re my brother, but nothing says I can’t hurt you really bad.”
And he would too. Garth had heard of a plant that had poison that could continue to cause intense pain for up to two years. One guy who’d wiped his ass with a leaf shot himself in the head to end it. One hit of that stuff smacked right across Jim’s face would be just about right for the last two years of Garth’s life.
Jim’s face was pale, and his immaculate brows furrowed in confusion. He looked as though he’d seen a ghost. He probably didn’t think Garth had it in him. Well, served him right.
“It wasn’t supposed to go like this.” Jim muttered, looking around the hall and placing a hand over his stomach. “Something’s wrong. I can’t-“ Jim doubled over, panting deeply, and moaning. A few seconds later, he straightened, looking around wildly. “What’s…Which way, which way? I can’t feel it!”
“Ummm.” Garth raised an eyebrow as his brother seemed to drop a few of his marbles on the floor. Something more than being told off by his brother seemed to be at play here.
Jim stood up panting, his eyes rolling in his sockets wildly as he looked around the hall, then back to Garth, the light of desperation blooming before he began sprinting madly down the hall, as if he were trying to race a beam of light, screaming, “Marker! Marker!” with shrill desperation.
Garth and his team stood there, watching the Ivy league quarterback run screaming down the halls, out of his mind. He found himself briefly concerned, but it passed in a matter of seconds. He didn’t really care at this point.
“You two have a lot in common.” Sandi chimed in.
“No way, that guy’s crazy.” Wilson said.
Garth looked at Wilson, The imaginary lizard on his shoulder looked back at him, serenity plastered all over his lizard-face. Like someone who hadn’t been holding out on him for almost a month.
“Come on, let’s go do some logistics.” Garth finally nodded toward the Quartermaster’s office, deciding not to pursue an argument with his invisible friend in front of Sandi and Itet. That’s probably what Wilson was going for. They were going to have words about this later, though.
Plant Growth proficiency has reached 95%
Control Plants Proficiency had reached 84%
Summon Nature Spirit proficiency has reached 45%!
Telekinesis proficiency has reached 8%!
Polymorph proficiency has reached 12%!
Fly proficiency has reached 8%!
Teleport proficiency has reached 3%!
Shrink proficiency has reached 5%!
Magic Jar proficiency has reached 10%!
Garth watched the battle from the top of the palisades, watching a wall of steel clash against the flood of yellow skinned humanoid monsters streaming from the front of the dungeon entrance, a gaping hole in the side of the distant mountain. The fighting was particularly intense today, but not the worst he’d ever seen, not since the day they’d used war beasts to turn the makeshift defenses around the cave entrance to splinters, nearly overflowing the valley and spilling out into the countryside.
The first week had been a constant nagging pain in his stomach, each rumbling explosion in the distance possibly spelling his doom, but after the third week, Garth had mostly grown numb to it.
Garth had seen Jim a few times after that. His brother didn’t talk to him anymore, simply taking off his helmet at chow time and eating silently, surrounded by his throng of adoring fans. Garth liked it that way. He had enough problems worrying about when Sandi was going to lure some guy with nothing between his ears behind a shed and eat him. The military food didn’t agree with her, Garth thought she might rather eat the military.
Jim was popular for a reason. He went out with his football team and lead them to victory after victory, somehow always hitting the bad guys where it hurt the most. Anywhere he lead his people, the formation of hobgoblins would collapse, and they’d retreat back into their hole for the day.
Some people even started calling them ‘The Finishers’.
They didn’t hold a candle to Leanne’s people. She led a huge army of civilians with no particular training, yet somehow they showed discipline that would make the Spartans piss their pants, responding like a single organism.
You could see it demonstrated from the vantage point of the walls. Even then, Garth watched Leanne’s little army do an about face with a speed that seemed…involuntary, luring a lump of hobgoblins out and then surrounding them.
From his vantage, it looked a little bit like pac-man.
Tyler’s god must have had something to do with riding, because he and a group of maybe four hundred other people were riding sleek black wolflike creatures and running down stragglers who managed to slip out the barricades, sometimes hammering them back in.
Erik was in the middle of the battlefield. The very middle. Hundreds of yards behind enemy lines and being besieged by thousands of the yellow- skinned humanoids at a time.
The first time Garth had seen the guy do it, he’d been concerned, but now it was just Eerik being Eerik.
The fire lady was bombarding the massed hobgoblins from the safety of the barricades, lobbing fireballs that blew dozens of hobs at a time into small chunks.
That could have been me. Garth thought, a bit envious at the sight. But no, the path of a real wizard was more than a glass cannon. Garth didn’t want to get pigeonholed as the guy who blows stuff up, no matter how awesome it was.
Garth was more interested in pure spell theory than explosions. Understanding why and how magic worked would allow him to make and do things that would make other people’s hair stand on end.
Speaking of pigeonholes…In the small amount of time he wasn’t forced to make wheat for rations or lumber to repair the barricades, a task averaging fifteen hours a day, Garth had spent all of his free time reading his spellbooks and practicing his spells. Most of them except for Fireball. That was a bad idea to practice indoors, even though he really wanted to.
If he could just figure out a way to copy the double, triple and higher Fertilize that he’d been able to do with Beladia’s help, he could shave down his time spent literally staring at grass by about twelve hours a day, and devote that time to mastering his spells. Garth would kill for that.
“Come on. You gotta work with me here.” Garth said, looking at a single grain of this planet’s grass-based food. It was mealy, and tasted a bit like barley. Garth decided to call it Alien Barley, or A-B for short. Garth had been trying to recreate the entire Hyper Fertility spell from memory, but so far hadn’t been able to do anything other than a simple Plant Growth. Garth was getting close to admitting it might just be god thing.
“Maybe you’re remembering it wrong.” Wilson whispered, his focus also on the offending grain of A-B.
“Shut up. You know as well as I do that I have a pretty fucking good memory recently.”
Garth packed the mana of Plant Growth into the seed, trying to keep the spell inert by keeping it’s trigger squiggle pinned down, unable to start the chain reaction that would launch the spell. Then Garth could put another layer over top. The plan was for Garth to put a pin of sensitive mana through the outer layers, and when triggered, the pin would unwind into meaningless background mana, unlocking the spell’s activation sequentially.
Garth finished his spellwork and tossed the tiny grain off the side of the wall, Garth watched it drift downwards until it hit the ground, laying inert. Garth watched it in frustration.
“Gah,” Garth gathered some mana from the surroundings and poked his sensitive ‘trigger’, allowing it to unravel. The spell triggered without a hitch, and the seed sprouted and matured into a fine specimen of A-B grass in a matter of seconds. And nothing else. No spray of seeds, no second growth of a small patch of grass, just one stalk that might keep a mouse busy for a couple minutes.
“Maybe you’re using it wrong?” Wilson suggested.
“Obviously I’m using it wrong.” Garth groaned.
“I mean your memory. Of the spell. Wrong.”
“What other ways are there to remember things?” Garth asked.
“You’re the supergenius. Figure it out.”
Garth studied Wilson for a moment, debating the likelihood that the imaginary lizard on his shoulder was fucking with him. Like it or not, though, they were the same person, so the little creep generally had Garth’s best interests at heart.
Like food, and sleep, and sex.
He meant well.
Garth sighed and closed his eyes, bringing up the memory of quadruple charging Brian’s Banta Grass before they left Outpost 3517. It was his clearest memory of using a stacked Hyper-Fertility before he lost contact with Beladia. The other Apostles hadn’t lost contact with their gods, either, or heard anything strange from them, at least according to Tyler, Laura and Erik.
Garth shook his head and watched the snippet of memory unfold in front of him. After he’d passed twenty Memory, he could rewind and fast forward, pick and choose, watching his crystal clear memories like TiVo.
But that wasn’t getting anywhere, and Garth was getting desperate, so he tried to figure out what Wilson was getting at. Remember it differently. Animals remember things differently. Animals had a different array of senses, so they could remember events entirely in sounds, or smells.
Struck by a sudden inspiration, Garth grabbed the memory and split it, separating smells out of the picture. When he mentally hooked into that separated memory, all he could feel was the smell of the exact moment he charged the seed. There was manure, a hint of ozone from the crackling energy, and Sandi’s sweet scent…
The proof of concept worked. Garth turned back to the original memory, hoping he wasn’t about to damage it beyond repair. Garth took the memory of his Mana Sight and split it away from the whole. Mana Sight was a different sense, after all, despite the name.
“Whoah.” Garth said as he plugged into the isolated sense memory. It was surreal. Without his ocular vision tricking his eye, he could see depth in everything, the entire world laid out before him in sort of squiggly, transparent colored lines. Without anything blocking his sight, Garth saw the mana condense and form a tiny construct at the center of the seed. Garth paused the memory and zoomed in as best he could.
It got a little fuzzy, as that was the limits of what Garth’s Mana Sight could do at the time, but Garth had a pretty good view of the spell’s nucleus, and understood how it worked. The tiny little thing had an incredibly delicate trigger and held each layer of the spell together from the inside with tiny paired magical strands that connected together with a branch, basically sewing the layers of the spell together.
The trigger was designed in such a way that the sewing popped from the outside in, and an added feature of each spell layer were mana reservoirs dedicated to copying everything in each subsequent layer underneath it as the spell went off. Between those two, that explained how Beladia’s hyper-fertility could piggyback onto successive generations of seeds.
The way the spell reproduced itself was elegant and almost lifelike. Garth nearly face-palmed. Of course it’s lifelike, it’s Beladia.
Thanks Spell Theory, Garth thought, once again sure of his choice to become an idiot savant of magic. Whatever or whoever had dicked with him to become a Phytomagus hadn’t changed the core concept of the Archmage class, simply added a plant theme.
“When did you get so smart?” Garth asked Wilson.
“When your Intelligence hit 25.” Wilson responded with a shrug. “Technically you got so smart. Hey, after this you wanna get something to eat and maybe see if Sandi is down to fool around?”
“Sure, we might have the time to spare from now on.” Garth pulled out another A-B grain. Carefully layering the spell, Garth‘s temples began to ache on the second layer, and he felt like his head might explode on the third. It was a bit like running a marathon with a bungie cord hooked to your back.
Each layer was exponentially harder to create than the one before it, due to the sheer quantity of mana he had to cram into it, and Garth knew if he stopped to take a break before he’d cinched the final knot in the spell, it would unravel, possibly triggering the layers prematurely and blowing up in his hand.
Beladia made this look so easy!
No wonder she was a little concerned about the amount of her energy he was spending.
Then again, something hard for him like this didn’t mean it was hard for her. At all.
Garth shook his head and refocused, sweat beading his brow as he stapled the last bit of the spell together. It was lopsided and crude, nowhere near as good as Beladia’s work, but it was something he’d made himself, and Garth was proud of that.
You have learned Delayed Magic! Proficiency 16%!
You have learned Recursive Casting! Proficiency 18%!
Spell Theory proficiency has reached 45%!
Well, according to the Status Band, I’m on the right track. Garth thought, flicking the grain over the wall.
The result was…less than impressive, and more than Garth had hoped for. The outermost layer of the spell was the most awkward, and it showed as the primary seed took about eight seconds to reach maturity. When its seeds finally dropped, the result was what Garth could only describe as lumpy.
Some of the grass took off, spraying seeds everywhere, while others chose a more slow and steady route. Some didn’t grow at all, and some didn’t pass on the spell to their progeny, leaving more than a few lifeless grains just lying on the dirt.
A rippling mass of grass spread out beneath Garth in an uneven, lopsided manner, and he couldn’t keep the smile off his face.
“Woo! Spell Theory!” Garth shouted, arm raised in triumph as Wilson hopped up and down in his shoulder in excitement, perhaps forgetting he could talk. One of the sentries on the wall gave him an odd look, but Garth was beyond caring.
Oooh, all the things he could do with the knowledge of Recursive Casting. Chain Lightning was the most obvious that came to mind, but basically any spell he wanted to handle large amounts of similar labor without needing input from him. wash twenty plates instead of one at a time, Sure! Create a self-expanding network of mind-controlled slaves, why not?
Garth probably wouldn’t do the slave thing unless he really had to.
The Delayed Magic skill would help make magical traps and contingency spells, too. His repertoire had greatly expanded, giving him cause for celebration. Now that Wilson had mentioned it, though, he was pretty hungry. Maybe he could get himself breakfast and an alien beer. As for the other thing…
“How long has it been since Sandi ate?” Garth asked Wilson. The trick was catching the timing right, according to Sandi’s dad. The old farmer also forwarded schematics for some creative breeding restraints to ensure the safety of both parties, since they didn’t know each other that well yet. Wonder if she’d be mad that I’ve been asking him for advice.
“Your guess is as good as mine.”
“Man, I wonder what Sandi would look in bondage.” Garth and Wilson said at the same time. “Stop copying me.”
Garth was walking down the stairwell from the walls, in a pretty good mood when the world started shaking, tossing him around like the last match in a box tumbling downhill.
“Holy shit, holy shit!” Garth shouted as he made it down the stairs as quickly as he could, the suddenness of the earthquake rendering him incapable of eloquence.
Garth angled for the arch of light at the end of the stairs leading outside. He had to get out into the courtyard before the entire castle came down on him. He sprinted out into the open, and looked up at the walls.
Unlike a human castle, this one was made of a black shiny material that seemed grown out of the ground, along with the ribs that supported it. Ergo, Geiger-esque. Unlike a human castle, this one seemed to be weathering the earthquake just fine, the walls and towers gently rocking even as the bucking earth threatened to put Garth on his ass.
“Garth! Look down!” Wilson yelled in his ear, pointing.
Garth looked down.
The entire courtyard bulged upward, the hard-packed earth birthing a monstrous worm capable of swallowing houses whole. Its toothy maw erupted above the ground before tilting down to look at Garth, the only one in the courtyard.