In a distant part of a distant universe, in one of the trillions of warehouses dedicated to the exact same purpose strewn across countless worlds, a red scroll tucked in a clear glass tube nestled among countless other glass tubes, turned black.
A young orc named Guntar Hukil unlocked the warehouse door and started his day, followed by his superior who was lazily chewing on a stalk of illium grass, his pupils slightly dialated. The man had spread the weed out the back of the metropolitan warehouse without anyone else’s knowledge, and Guntar was afraid he’d be punished for it one day.
“You still worried about this?” Jines said, following his subordinate’s gaze. “You need to relax. I’ve worked here going on four cycles, and we haven’t been audited once. Well, I’m sure you’ll get used to it after awhile.”
Guntar didn’t see how that was possible, given how severe the penalty for raising Illium grass was, but he knew better than to argue with his direct superior, especially in a cushy job like this. No war, no conflict, and a government salary to take home every month.
All he had had to do was pass a test for being particularly good at telling partial circles apart from whole circles under a certain amount of time. It wasn’t even hard. All the studying and effort he had put in seemed meaningless now, seeing as how all he had to do was talley up the black scrolls at the end of the day, make a list and send it to the Inner Spheres. A completely mindless task. Well, it gave him more time to think about the work he was going to do on his house and his wife when he got home.
Jines collapsed into the recliner he’d snuck into the warehouse, picked up a book and passed Guntar the list before picking up where he’d left off the day before. Guntar took it in stride, grabbing the trolley and pushing it out of the Record Keeper’s area into the warehouse proper. By himself, it took every minute of his eight hour day to finish the whole warehouse.
Guntar walked down the aisle of tubes, his eyes flickering up and down the shelves, looking for black. The shelves were well designed, so that at a moment’s glance, a Record Keeper could see if any of the scrolls had turned black. There were always a lot. Between the first two aisles, Guntar could make out dozens of blackened scrolls, representing people who’d been alive yesterday.
Jines was partially right about getting used to it. At first, Guntar had felt odd about being surrounded by so much death, but it was distant and abstract, so the concern faded from his mind quickly.
He walked through the aisles, same as every other day, loading up the cart with blackened scrolls, the name of the person printed on a gold plate on the outside of the case. Guntar made sure all the labels were facing the right way. Jines yelled at him if they weren’t the way he liked them.
An hour later, when he’d collected scrolls from a quarter of the warehouse and the trolley was nearly overloaded, Guntar brought them back to the rest area and sat down at his station, beginning to print out the names of the fallen, using the labels on the cases as stamps.
Jines glanced over from his book and raised a brow before he picked up a case, reading it aloud.
“Kenra Bineri, two star gold ranked, Planet Peria, layer 2859. Wow, how many does that make now?”
“Three so far.” Guntar said, accepting the case from Jines’ hand and pressing it against the inkpad then the scroll. He didn’t have time to ooh and awe over every dead general. There were thousands of generals in the warehouse alone, let alone the rest of the Spheres. It wasn’t for him to sort out anyway. Guntar’s only job was to make the list and send it to the higher up’s for review.
“And we present to these three individuals with the Sphere’s Medal of Valor for their bravery in defending the people of the planet Jindar, though they were not native to its land. Thanks to them, we are all a little safer.” The Shinta on the stage said, motioning to the three of them.
Whaddya know, we all went to the same planet, Garth thought, casting a glance across the rabid crowd. Of course there could be enough problems on a single planet that they all went to the same place. Garth was aghast at the sheer scale of the behemoth government of the Inner Sphere. How many people did they represent? Trillions? Septillions? A googolplex?
It made his head hurt just thinking about it. All he could hope to do was carve out his little niche and keep Earth thriving.
“Leanne O’malley, step forward.” Leanne came to the front of the platform, and the Shinta placed a blue medal over her head. The shape was a funky wiggle that probably meant something to an alien a long time ago, but to Garth it just look like a toddler tried to write an ampersand. “For ridding the world of Okath Na’gaar, and removing the stain of his presence, we thank you.” He then let Leanne give a short speech.
Garth didn’t listen to the speech so much as watch it. Mana flowed from her mouth as she spoke, weaved into her words. it settled into the surrounding people, buoying them up on emotions.
Garth idly flicked the foreign mana away from him as she spoke, studying the phenomenon.
You have learned Clarion Call! Proficiency 5%!
Thank you Leanne. Garth thought as he deciphered the mana in her words, then a thought occurred to him. Could he replicate other Apostle’s blessings in the form of a spell? He’d done it with Beladia’s with enough practice, why not others? That bears investigating.
At the very least, he might discover powerful new spells, or ways to modify them, like Recursive Casting. The question was, how did he pin down another apostle and observe them close enough to figure it out without letting them know what he was doing?
He had a more pressing concern to deal with, though. He’d realized that he was woefully underprepared to fight other magic users. Just getting his spell jostled while he was casting had messed him up but good, and the delicate weaving work of plant magic was infinitely harder to do when people were trying to siphon mana out of the surroundings.
It explained why they used simpler fireballs and firebolts in a fight.
“Jim Daniels, please step forward.”
Jim bent forward and let the medal slide over his neck. His speech was short and to the point. Something about hope and renewal, Garth thought, half listening. Once his brother was done, it was the last person’s turn.
“Bet you wish you were up there.” Tyler said from beside him as they looked up at the stage. the skinhead had grown a bit of dark brown hair on his scalp, concealing the edges of his tattoos.
“Why?” Garth asked, glancing over.
“I figured you were the type is all. Missed out on your opportunity to talk about minotaur cock at length, ya fag.”
Garth ran his gaze up and down Tyler. The man’s equipment had improved somewhat, with a long blade about six feet long on his back, and dark black riding leathers. Seemed like the time patrolling the woods of the other continent for wandering monsters had been good to him.
Hmm… Seems like as good a time as any, Garth thought, weaving mana delicately over Tyler’s body while the man was standing there glaring at him. Let’s see, I don’t have any automatic targeting, but since he’s right in front of me, I can ignore that. Don’t need to weigh it down with recursive behavior either, let’s keep it as simple as possible, just have it do one thing, on one condition.
Garth weaved the mana around him, using cobbled together pieces from warding spells, along with what he knew about emotion from Charm and what he’d seen in Leanne’s words as she used Clarion Call to manipulate people’s emotions. It was a basic warding spell that triggered on a single phrase and fed anxiety back to the target. Simple enough.
“Call me a fag again.” Garth said, watching the spellwork closely.
“Fag, faggity fag fag fag.”Tyler said, the warding laced over his head flaring red. Rather than flaring up once, it burned bright and began sinking into Tyler’s skin.
“What, you want me to carve it..on..your…” Tyler’s eyes widened, and he began to pant, before clutching his heart and kneeling, his whole body shivering. That was a hell of a lot more anxiety than Garth had intended, and the warding spell was still glowing brightly…
Oh, crap, feedback loop! Garth thought, hastily snipping the mana circuit. Garth wasn’t sure if it was because the idiot said ‘fag’ too many times, or if it was because the spell was flawed. It was a little too strong, too. He had hoped for the guy to just get nervous and leave, but this was a bit too much. Garth reviewed the structure in his mind, removing any connections that seemed likely to create a feedback loop and reapplied it to Tyler. He left the potency the same because he wasn’t sure if it was the loop or multiple triggers that caused the spell to do so much damage.
“You doing alright?” Garth asked, helping Tyler to his feet as Wilson cackled evilly on his shoulder.
“Get off me!” Tyler shrugged him off as soon as he was on his feet again, straightening his black leather while he struggled to control his breathing. Garth wasn’t mad about that. Some people dealt with being terrified differently than others. Garth had never been able to look at his middle school teacher the same after they’d been in a car crash together. The brain was weird.
“Hey Tyler, could you do me a favor?”
“What, whaddya want?” he said, his wandering eyes refocusing on Garth. Can’t exactly ask him to call me a fag again or he’ll catch on too quick, let’s go the other way around and see what happens.
“Can you tell me where to find a place to sleep? I just got in town.”
This time, Garth cast a much wider net, setting it to trigger on ‘alright, sure, okay, yeah’ and a few of the names of local inns.
“Yeah, The Warm Sock at the entrance. You shoulda fuckin seen it at the entrance if you weren’t blind.” Once again the spellwork flared up, but this time it faded away quickly, only staying for a few seconds. Tyler got a dopey smile as soon as he finished speaking, his shoulders relaxing as the anxiety melted away. Well, at least the brutish thug didn’t look like he was going to run away or pull a knife on anybody now.
Too bad the spell couldn’t account for tone yet.
“Cool, thanks.” Garth said with a warm smile. He felt a lot guiltier than he expected despite it not technically being mind control.
You have created an original spell, what would you like to call it?
You have learned Operant Conditioning! Proficiency 4%!
“Garth, give me four days with this guy. I’ll straighten out his behavior in no time.” Wilson said.
“No,” Garth said, “we use these powers for good.”
Wilson blew a raspberry.
“What?” Tyler asked.
“Talking to my imaginary friend,” Garth said, then nudged Tyler. “Hey, my guy’s up.”
On the stage, the announcer spoke.
“Kylen Hine, please step forward.” The fat corio stepped forward and received his medal. “For saving the people of the eight thousand nine hundred and first outpost, and ending the threat of the rampaging feeder, we honor you.”
The fat corio blushed and stepped forward, pulling the microphone down from where Jim had raised it way up.
“Hello, people of Juntai. I’m honored to receive such high accolades from the Inner Spheres, and most importantly, the people that I helped. But I didn’t do It alone. The people of my outpost have been talking about how I turned a new leaf that day, about how I’m normally a man with very little spine.”
“And it’s all true. I saw the problem and I knew what I had to do, but my legs were pudding. When all seemed lost, I got a little help from a friend from the outer spheres with a curious product from Earth.”
He pulled out a brown leather bag.
“It’s called cocaine.”
“No fucking way.” Tyler said, shaking his head.
“Eh, humans have been screwing each other over for hundreds of thousands of years,” Garth said with a shrug. “We gotta show these imperialist assholes we got game.”