Garth surveyed the destruction, eyes squinting against the blowing dust. The outpost had been torn asunder, some buildings collapsed while fires had consumed others. In front of him lay the gnawed upon disembodied arm of an orc child.
Whatever had done this hadn’t been human. Well, not human, obviously, but not civilized. The few corpses that remained looked to have been eaten by ravenous monsters. Inspecting the remains, Garth recognized two separate bite patterns. He wasn’t a forensic scientist by any means, but he could tell that some bites were made by something big, and others by something about the size of a human jaw.
Two separate species working together. Garth assumed the little bitemarks were probably the brains of the operation while the bigger bite marks did all the heavy lifting. There was still no sign of spent ammunition either, leading him to believe that whatever had made the massive holes throughout the complex had been a living creature. There were also parts of the stone wall that seemed partially melted.
He had to watch where he stepped, because the ground was full of two-foot holes as well. At first he’d been particularly cautious of them, but after most of a day of searching, nothing had come from them. He was more worried about giant eagles attacking and making off with one of their people. Which was why the Warriors and Spellslingers, the people with the sharpest eyes and idiot savant bow skills, were watching for them, armed with sharpened ironwood arrows laced with curare. Garth didn’t mean to brag, but he was pretty sure his homemade ironwood could give actual iron a run for its money. Shit was heavy though. I wonder what giant eagle tastes like.
Garth popped another candied nut into his mouth, chewing slowly as he scanned the destruction.
“You’re right, these are pretty good,” He told Wilson, walking through the street as his platoons scavenged through the wreckage, his mind wandering as he ate. They tasted a bit like vanilla and honey, but not quite, with a bit of a spicy zing that somehow worked. Garth had been hoping for chocolate, but fat chance of that on an alien planet.
Note: Sell chocolate to the inner spheres and get rich as hell. Cocaine chocolate? Maybe too bitter, sugarcane, and milk to smooth it. Gonna need to find a chocolatier…Empathogen chocolate!
“Ah hah!” Wilson said. “Chocolate has an empathogen! A lot more mild than molly, but we can work with that.”
“Yup, chocolate love drug. Not sure it’s actually an empathogen. I think it just raises mood.”
“Are you eating a dead kid’s candy?” Sandi asked, snapping Garth out of his reverie.
“He wasn’t using it.”
Sandi put her hands on her hips and gave him a disapproving look.
“I’m eating candy. I don’t know if it was a kid’s.” Garth replied, glancing at the miniature disembodied arm with half the flesh stripped away, where he’d gotten the bag. “He or she could have been a midget, or bringing it to their dad. Maybe I’m eating their dad’s candy.”
“You’re right.” Itet said as she approached. “Maybe it was their dad’s special hallucinogenic candied nuts, and in a few hours, you’ll be swimming through the rubble like a t’chzzitiia.”
Whatever that was, it didn’t sound good. Garth gave a suspicious glance at the dusky bag of nuts in his hand and frowned. He’d had something similar happen at his friend’s house when he’d scavenged the special brownies they left out. If the nuts were hallucinogenic, though, he would probably taste something funny, and they’d probably have a case instead of a bag.
“I’ll take my chances.” Garth said, popping another candied nut into his mouth. “Practicing your bluffing?”
“Yes. Did it work?” Itet asked.
“Eh.” Garth shrugged. “For a couple seconds.”
Itet’s antennae made the Happy/Satisfied expression and she went back to excavating a building with the rest of the Company.
“So, what are we looking for, exactly?” Sandi asked.
“Valuables.” Garth responded.
“What!?” Sandi’s jaw dropped. “I thought we were looking for survivors!”
“That too, but there’s bound to be at least one shop that sold magic equipment around here, and we need every edge we can get. Itet, explain the logic.”
“Since the people we are stealing from are dead, this is what Garth would call a ‘victimless crime’, since the victims are already dead.” She paused and cocked her head. “Does it count if we kill them first?” She asked from a collapsed building where she was helping lift a beam aside.
“No!” Garth shouted back. “That’s even worse than stealing! The bottom line is, the people we are stealing from won’t suffer from it, okay? That’s the definition of a victimless crime. Killing them first defeats the point.”
“But someone did kill them.”
“It wasn’t us!”
On Garth’s orders, the platoons split up to search for survivors, food, weapons, and magic items. Garth didn’t want to use the L-word, but they were essentially looting the city. He was especially interested in the magic items. Enchanted weapons and armor, heat-seeking arrows, or water-creating tubes like Clark’s would all come in handy. Enough to defeat a force of monsters that could wipe out an outpost in minutes? Maybe, maybe not, but it couldn’t hurt.
He and Sandi enjoyed a romantic walk through the rubble of the destroyed city, Garth moving stone blocks a bit bigger than his head with Telekinesis while Sandi moved the big stuff. He was starting to get good enough at the spell that using it in combat didn’t seem to be too far off.
Woody trailed along, picking up beams and hauling them out of the way at Garth’s mental direction. The spirit’s physical form was six feet tall now, growing with his proficiency with the spell and his increased mental abilities.
Garth noted the creature’s exponential growth in size, and extrapolated that Summon Nature Spirit at 100% would mean a 50 foot tall Treant at Garth’s current abilities. That could come in handy.
Maybe he should give the Spellblades Summon Nature Spirit as well when they’d gotten Forestwalk and Haste under their belts. Then they really would be rangers. Garth wondered what kind of shapes the spirits they summoned would take.
“Hey! We found something!” Jamal shouted from a street over.
Garth turned and scrambled over the nearby building, heading toward the sound. When he summited the collapsed building, he saw a partially excavated showroom with smashed displays on the other side of the street. Jamal was holding a crossbow that seemed to be made from ivory and gold.
The crossbow was white with twirling gold inlay, with a half cylinder over the part where the quarrel was supposed to go, and no string. It didn’t look like a weapon so much as a gaudy fashion statement. Jess was standing next to him, arms clasped together around her full breasts as she admired the gaudy work of art.
Jamal was holding the crossbow slung low in a power pose. “Whaddya think, Jess?” he whipped the stock up to his shoulder. Taking aim at the building across the street. “Think I could take out a bunch of those scumbags with this? Blam, blam!”
He passed the crossbow in Garth’s general direction, and Garth flinched, reflexively put up a Force Shield just as the kid’s finger slipped and he pulled the trigger. With a screeching blast of force, pure white plasma coalesced and shot out, impacting the rubble five feet below where Garth’s feet rested.
A spray of rock and shrapnel bounced off Garth’s shield, and when the dust cleared, he saw Jamal looking up at him, all the blood drained from his face. Garth swallowed back his anger and glanced at the girl standing next to him.
“Jess. Take the crossbow away from Jamal and give it to your platoon leader,” Garth said in his calmest, most matter-of-fact voice. Jess gingerly took the magic weapon away from Jamal, carefully keeping her fingers away from the trigger. She turned and headed back to the group of onlookers, where Samantha, a lean older woman with light leather armor tucked a cigar in her mouth before she took the weapon out of Jess’s hands and immediately started looking for the safety. That was more like it.
“Jamal,” Garth said, lifting off the ground and floating down the rubble to the street below. He was unsure of the footing, and maybe wanted to scare the kid a little. “Let’s have a talk.”
“Let’s get one thing clear. You’re gonna to be running until your lungs burst. That’s already decided.” Garth said as soon as he was close enough to talk to Jamal. “You were so busy trying to impress a girl you almost got somebody killed, and that’s not acceptable.”
“You were. I know what it feels like. You don’t notice you’re doing it, you just feel all giddy when a girl’s around, and before you know it, you’re doing incredibly stupid shit. Case in point.”
Jamal’s brows furrowed, flickers of anger in his gaze.
“Ah,” Garth interrupted him, holding up a finger. “You might be getting angry with me for being so mean to you, but I want you to understand the cold hard facts. You discharged a weapon right next to my ankles, your intent and my anger don’t factor into this decision at all. The running is just what’s going to happen.”
“Now,” he continued. “There’s still a lot of room for you to make things better or worse for yourself. Depending on your behavior going forward, I could make you enjoy your running so much that you thank me for years to come, or I could make it a soul-sucking hell. Now, what do you think you need to do?”
Indecision flickered through Jamal’s face for a moment, before the anger melted away and his shoulders slumped “Shut up and run?”
“That’s step one. Once you’re done I want you to ask Paul over there to teach you about trigger discipline. He was in the Navy SEALs before the world ended, and he’s gonna make sure you know it by heart.” Garth pointed to the middle-aged commander of the heavy platoon.
Garth searched Jamal’s face for any sign of anger or teenage indignation, but couldn’t find any. If it was still there, it was buried deep under the surface. Behavior to be rewarded.
“That’s the right attitude,” he said before raising his voice. “Jessica! You and Jamal are running laps for an hour a day for the next two weeks. I expect you to stop your fellow soldiers from being stupid.” Jess flinched and nodded.
Jamal blinked, struggling to catch up.
“Well? Go hang out with Jess,” Garth said, nodding toward her. “I told you I could make you thank me.”
“Thank you sir.” Jamal said, jogging over toward the stacked brunette waiting for him.
“And stay in sight of the rest of the group or else I’ll have to get creative!”
“Think that was a good play?” Wilson asked.
“I don’t know, I’m just hoping overexposure will numb some of that need to show off around her.” Garth said, watching them trot off. “I also want him to know I can be nice, in a backhanded sort of way. Hopefully he understands that if I can give him plenty of Jess time, I can take it away just as easy.”
“Carrot and stick, huh? You sure they’re not gonna sneak off and bone in some abandoned building somewhere?” Wilson asked.
“Not right off the bat. Give it a week or two.”
“And then you can threaten to separate them.” Wilson said with a devious smile.
Sandi walked up, bits of stone and dust in her hair. She brushed them out as she navigated the destroyed building.
“Did you get hurt?” Garth asked, noticing a little scrape on her chin.
“Oh, it’s nothing serious.” She said, shaking the last of the shrapnel out of her hair. A drop of blood beaded on her temple.
“Let’s go kill the kid.” Wilson said, and Garth had already begun to turn toward Jamal when Sandi bolted down the building.
“Wow, look at all that stuff!” Sandi said, jumping down the rubble and heading for the building across the street. With her help, the primary beam that had held the roof together was lifted away, revealing a treasure trove of magical gear…and spellbooks.
“Praise Beladia.” Garth murmured. “We’re gonna loot the other three outposts.”