Hey Clark, how’s tricks?
I’m sending a guy named Tyler to help coordinate our business in the south and clear L.A. This is dangerous, but he’s got connections that will get bodies where they need to be. He got off a stint of military service after being deemed less hazardous than me and a couple other people. Ipso facto, he’s not that bright.
He’s probably gonna be the toughest fighter there, but make no mistakes. You are his boss. I already told him as much, but we get a lot of colorful characters as apostles, apparently. He’s going to try to push your buttons and take leadership away from you.
Be absolutely careful, he’s got a fair amount of manpower. Don’t let him get anywhere near the kids, I suggest working with him at a separate location until I have time to adjust his behavior.
If he walks in with dozens of his men and rounds everyone up to make a power play, making a show of how badass he is, say these words. ‘does this make you feel like a man, Tyler?’ I put a particularly nasty spell on him that will make him break down into uncontrollable sobbing. Should nip that shit in the bud.
If you need to kill him, say ‘Colander Snake apple’. Please don’t kill him if you don’t have to. And for god’s sake don’t tell him you’ve got keywords. He’ll just gag you in your sleep or find a way to get rid of them.
Make it clear we’re trying to run a business, not a criminal empire. He’s going to have to reframe his entire way of thinking, but he should be useful when push comes to shove.
And thank you for looking after all the family we’ve got over there, we couldn’t have asked for more from you. You’re in everyone’s prayers.
-Garth Daniels, Commander of the 1st Earth Company of Beladia.
Pretty cool title huh?
The business goes pretty good. We took everyone into town to buy classes a few weeks ago, and we’re really starting to take off. I’ve even got three kids that chose to become Phytomagi to help me out, a handful of druids, and plenty of willing hands.
The cigars didn’t sell great at first, but they’ve started to catch on as a cheap supplement to the expensive beer in the outposts. Pretty soon, we’ll send our first inter-reality shipment! God damn, I never thought I’d be the first stoner to ship pot to aliens on another planet!
With the help of the kids, we’re putting out enough to supply half the country on a good day, so much so that I’ve made most of it into concentrate and stored it, to keep the prices of the cigars from going too low. Once it catches on, we can meet almost any demand. Well, not if it catches on in more than one planet, which seems possible. Crap, come to think of it, there might not be enough pot in the world to supply the Inner Spheres. Not a bad problem to have.
As for this Tyler guy, it sounds like a stupid, damn dangerous idea, even with your keywords. Sounds like this guy’s used to playing a completely different ballgame than what you’re aiming for, here. I’ve dealt with his type before though, and let me tell you, I don’t enjoy it, but I can handle them.
Get your ass back here soon.
Garth folded up the letter and tossed it in the fire beside him.
What Clark didn’t know was that Garth had locked Tyler down with a comprehensive spell designed to curb his behavior. It went far beyond two keywords. From rewarding him for saying things like ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, all the way up to making him wracked with guilt if he struck anyone, or a little anxious every time he insulted somebody. In a matter of weeks, he should be a model citizen.
If he didn’t suffer from a manic episode or kill himself, or get killed by his own crew. The horrible outcomes paraded through Garth’s mind as he sat and shared a beer and a cigar with Sandi.
Garth had wrapped the unsuspecting thug in layer after layer of spells while he was drinking with him in an inn as he was giving him the lowdown on Clark’s operation near L.A. He’d even designed the spell to latch on to any enchanted equipment in Tyler’s possession to fuel itself and the item. Long story short, Garth was seriously stabbing Tyler in the back with a nasty, nasty curse that could potentially give him a heart attack.
Tyler’s job was to start clearing out L.A. and form supply chains to the outposts in the south Americas, but Garth trusted him about as far as he could throw him. Come to think of it, Garth was a lot stronger than he used to be, so the expression had lost some meaning recently.
“Am I supposed to feel like the bad guy?” Garth asked. “I know he’s a jackass, and I know he’s gonna do everything he can to screw me while my back is turned, but it was just so easy to get the better of him.” Garth said, exhaling a cloud of smoke over the surface of his beer. He’d gotten good enough recently that he could make the smoke into a long eastern dragon without too much detail. Garth was still working on the sailing ship.
“All I can think is what happens if I made a mistake and someone gets hurt? We didn’t need to work with the guy, and if that bites us in the ass, it’s on me.”
Sandi took a sip of beer, listening to his whining while Itet roasted a rabbit-like creature over the Inn’s fireplace. The other people in the main hall seemed to know well enough to leave them alone.
“You know,” Sandi said, scooting closer. “I heard a few stories growing up about women that were spellslingers who got accosted and melted their attacker’s faces off. People getting attacked happens less often than you might think out here, because you can’t tell from appearances if someone can kill you with their mind. I think Tyler and his people are aware of that, after all the time they’ve spent in the city.”
An idea began to perculate in Garth’s mind. If he sent Clark a handful of copies of Fly and Firebolt, and made it required learning for everyone old enough to read, not only would children be able to melt Tyler’s face off if he tried anything, they could defend themselves from Kipling and monster attacks as well.
And as far as he knew, there wasn’t a single one of Tyler’s crew or kipling on Earth that could fly. If all the children had to do was lift into the air and go bye-bye, then their survival rate would skyrocket.
It was a good extra measure to the plan, but it felt like there was something…missing.
He needed to make sure Tyler’s thugs had the lesson rammed home. Once they were back on Earth, they would relax their guards, think other humans were easier pickings, and forget to be cautious of strangers, if they had even learned it in the first place.
Once Garth’s mind was made up, he jotted down a quick letter to Clark with a package containing the spells and a substantial portion of his bank account, then hustled for the door. Tyler and his men hadn’t left the outpost yet, they still had one more night before they left, and they were celebrating being discharged. It was perfect.
“You gonna stay for…whatever this is?” Itet asked from the fire.
“No, I’ve gotta go be a duplicitous scumbag.”
“Oh, can I come?” Itet asked, coming to her feet. Garth thought about it for a moment. He might need Itet if things went poorly.
“Yes you can! As long as you stay completely hidden. Sandi, you wanna come too?”
“What are you gonna be doing?” Sandi asked. She seemed subtly thinner than usual and it made Garth wonder for a second before he dismissed it. Her real body was anything but frail. Maybe she was sick?
“We’re gonna be hiding in a smelly alley and tormenting soldiers on leave! You gonna be okay while we’re gone?”
Sandi wrinkled her nose at the ‘smelly alley’ and shook her head. “You guys go ahead. I’m nice and comfy in front of the fire.”
“Be back in a couple hours.” Garth said, trotting outside with Itet.
To catch a predator, one needs the right bait, Garth thought as he strode into the alley across the street from the tavern where some of Tyler’s goons were partying.
The alley was damp and warm, owing to the warm, wet weather of the continent they were on currently. There was a decent amount of things to hide behind, a broken down wagon that had sunk into the mud and shit, becoming part of the environment and a tent with a smelly hobo living in it.
The beggar was a human with wild hair, eight-inch beard, and crazy eyes. Garth knelt beside him, and flashed him a hundred credit coin.
“Can we use the alley for an hour or two?”
The man snatched the coin out of Garth’s hand and bit on it, making sure it was gold before he tucked the coin into his ragged clothes. The guy was wearing a lot for such warm weather, layer after layer of ragged robes. It must have been sweltering. stick thin arms and legs emerged from inside the clothes, giving Garth an idea of how thin he really was.
“Mi casa es su casa, make yourself at home,” the beggar said with a gaptoothed grin. Garth was a bit taken aback at the deep baritone and the man’s educated voice, but he had other things to take care of.
“If you two could hide for a bit,” Garth said, pulling the strands of mana together and weaving an illusion of a little boy with a large coinpurse and a spiffy new Status band. Something the boys in there wouldn’t be opposed to stealing. At Garth’s direction, the lure marched into the inn, made sure he was seen, then left.
“What are we doing, exactly?” Itet asked from behind the wagon.
“We’re giving some people a minor trauma so they think twice about attacking random strangers. Should make my people back on Earth a tiny bit safer.”
“Doesn’t Tyler have nearly a hundred people who chose to stay with him? surely we can’t get all of them here.”
“No, but the story will spread.”
The first thug they reeled in was an orc, who stalked after the child, his eyes on the kid’s coinpurse. Tyler’s crew was entirely human, So Garth knew he got the wrong guy. Oh well, take the fish off the hook and try again. Once the green-skinned tusker was out of sight, Garth had the child turn around, it’s eyes glowing.
“Do you wish to keep your soul, mortal?” the illusion asked in an incredibly deep, inhuman voice, turning to face the orc as it floated into the air with a burning aura. It’s eyes shone like white hot steel.
The orc yelped and fell on his ass, scooting out of the alley as fast as he could, while the beggar bit his knuckles, attempting to suppress his laughter. A half hour later, after a few false starts, Garth managed to lure three of the men out of the Inn, casually walking twenty feet or so behind the illusionary child.
The kid turned into the alley, and the three men thoughtlessly followed him. They were on another planet! There was no way you’d find a rich little human kid ripe for mugging in the alleys of this city. They were just being stupid…
The hairs on Garth’s neck stood up, and his eyes slid toward the beggar. The human beggar, on an alien planet, watching the situation with casual amusement. Garth took a steadying breath and didn’t show any reaction to that thought, simply continuing with his plan. There was a 100% chance the guy hiding behind the tent beside him wasn’t human, but that didn’t mean he was dangerous.