“Why are we branding them?” Itet asked as Garth reheated the wire floating above his palm with fire mana for the second unconscious thug.
“So they don’t forget.” He replied, touching the wire to the man’s forehead before moving on. “Humans have very short memories. Especially people like this.”
“I see. I think.”
The men had postured and threatened to hurt Little Timmy (The illusion) in order to steal from him, and so Garth felt little guilt about scaring them into a mini coma. These were the kind of people Clark was going to be dealing with soon, and he didn’t want them acting like animals around his Company’s families.
It had actually been kind of funny watching their reaction to Timmy rising into the air with a maelstrom of crackling energy around him, speaking in a demonic language.
“You don’t seem like an Apostle of Beladia.” The bum said with a little frown.
“How can you tell?”
“I’ve been around the block a time or two. The purple skin is a dead giveaway.”
“Ah, well you don’t seem like a human, but here we are.” Garth said, branding the third and final bad egg from Tyler’s crew.
“Really,” he said, raising his hands to look at himself. “What gave it away?”
“Ah.” The man relaxed and lowered his arms.
“You’re not going to eat these guys once I leave, are you?” Garth asked, pointing at them. They weren’t the nicest people, but he wanted them to tell their story and serve as an example, rather than mysteriously disappearing.
The beggar sputtered, looking genuinely offended. “How could you suggest such a thing?”
“The only other shapeshifter I know occasionally eats people.” Garth said, raising his hands to placate the man. “I was just covering my bases.”
“Hmph,” the man grunted and crossed his stick thin arms. “See if I offer you an apprenticeship now.”
He threw his hands wide and raised his voice. “Be amazed, for you are speaking to none other than Castavelle De’Chestaland, the greatest spellwright in the known universes. Yes, I’ve been scouring the outer Spheres for years, looking for someone to take up the mantle as the greatest Archmage the world has ever known.”
“Ah,” Garth said, grabbing the unconscious man under the arms and scooting him further into the alley. So the bum was a wizard. That sounded about right. Garth really, really wanted to say yes, but…
“What?” The man said, deflating.
“I’ve got a lot of stuff on my plate,” Garth said, ticking the items off his fingers. “Resettle L.A. and the rest of California. Manage an interdimensional business. Fulfill a promise to get a hundred and twenty five people home safely. Make a body for Wilson…”
“Don’t forget to check whether or not Sandi’s pregnant.” Wilson said.
“Hormones!” Garth shouted, slamming his fist into his palm, standing over the branded body of a human thug. That might explain why Sandi looked thin. If her construct looked frail to make him more protective while she was pregnant that would explain things. That was what had been niggling in the back of his mind.
“Either that or it’s a false alarm and she’s just sick.” Wilson chimed in.
The self-proclaimed Castavelle chuckled, shaking his head.
“Tell you what. I can respect that you’ve got a lot of important things to do. Shaping your life and the fate of your planet? Those worldly matters are not trivial. How about a bet? You attack me one time, and if it meets my standards, I will tell you how to escape the cycle of being summoned over and over again to your death.”
Garth glanced at Itet, who shrugged, then back to the old-looking man.
“You’re not going to tell me to get gold rank, are you?”
“No. let me give you a tidbit. The documentation of the Inner spheres is all in hardcopy. By its very nature, it must be kept in solid, physical form, and it is what they use to teleport you across the dimensions against your will. I can tell you exactly where yours is.”
“And why would you offer that?”
“I like kids like you that use their heads rather than their fists to solve problems. Reminds me of me. If you’re too busy to receive apprenticeship, then I can at least do you this favor.”
“If my attack is good enough?”
“Yep, think of it as a game. Give me your best shot.”
“Any kind of attack?” Garth clarified, tensing up.
“Any kind at all, Physical, mental, magical, fire, ice, whatever you’re most confident in.”
“And this isn’t some excuse to humiliate me about how much better you are than me at magic?” That would follow the typical pattern.
“I tell you what, if your attack manages to damage a hair on my head, I’ll follow you back to Earth and train you there.” The bum preened, his expression smug.
“Promise me you won’t bear ill will, no matter how underhanded and ruthless the attack.”
“You wanted my best shot, didn’t you?”
Castavelle (Self-proclaimed) snorted and raised a hand. “I promise on my honor as the greatest Archmage of all time, I won’t retaliate against young Garth Daniels for his one attack, nor bear him ill will.”
“And you’re not going to read my mind?” Garth asked.
“Why all these questions?” the bum said, throwing up his hands. “It’s a simple request. Hit me with your worst attack. Lay it on me. I know for a fact that there’s nothing you can do that will ruffle my feathers. Don’t hold back!”
“Okay, you asked for it,” Garth said, focusing on his Status Band.
Bcc: everyone in The Inner Spheres except Castavelle De’Chestaland.
There’s a guy claiming to be Castavelle De’Chestaland on the 2845th layer, the planet Jindar, 1913th outpost, in an alley across from the Howling Loon Pub. He acts like a bum, claims he’s looking for an apprentice…
“Before we get started though, can you prove you’re who you say you are?” Garth asked.
“Of course!” he said, revealing a strange white amulet that hurt the eyes to look at. The object seemed to twist and force Garth’s sight to follow it uncomfortably.
He’s waving around a weird white amulet that hurts the eyes.
“That it?” Garth asked.
“Is that it?” Castavelle mocked. “This is the amulet of All-seeing, the most powerful Divination aid in the known universes. I melted fifteen Mythic cores to creat….”
Garth zoned him out, putting the finishing touches on the letter.
He says it’s the amulet of All-seeing, whatever that means.
“…Which is why I’ve been unrivaled for as long as I have.”
“So what’s it do?” Garth asked, refocusing on the conversation.
“I just told you!” Castavelle said. “Now, are you going to attack me or not?”
Garth raised his hand. “Wait for it.”
A moment of silence passed between them, all Garth could hear was the carousing from the pub across the street and the quiet blowing of the warm, wet wind.
“Die, you bastard!” a grey-blue shinta wearing glossy black robes and wielding a shimmering sword that looked like flowing quicksilver shouted, descending from a white portal in the sky.
“The Pan-Ua Clan will have it’s revenge!” screamed a woman in a high pitched language, as a phalanx of heavily armed corio marched into the street through another portal. Garth felt his brows raise. Maybe this guy was the real deal. Can’t be the greatest archmage of all time without making some enemies.
“Balls!” Castavelle shouted, his eyes widening as the shinta descended on him. A staff manifested in his hand to ward off the attack. The two weapons collided in an explosion of light and sound, searing Garth’s eyes and causing his ears to ring.
With a flicker of light from Castavelle’s hand, the black robed man fell in two pieces, but even as his body fell to the ground, hundreds more mages with grudges against the archmage poured onto the rooftops.
“Don’t let him leave!” Came a shout and bubbles of various colors of energy sprung up over the alleyway. Garth could feel the pressure weighing down on him, making it impossible to breathe, let alone move. He sank to his knees.
Maybe this was a bad idea.
“No…Shit…” Wilson grunted from the ground beside him.
“He’s breaking through the barriers!”
A moment later the pressure lifted and the fields shattered into meaningless mana just as Castavelle vanished in a blast of light.
“I’ve got a tracking spell on him, through here!” One elderly mage with gilded horns said, gesturing to thin air and opening a massive gate at the end of the alley. Dozens of mages jumped into the white portal moments before it closed. One of them wasn’t so lucky and left behind a foot.
Garth came to his feet, panting as more and more mages showed up, moments too late to engage with the archmage.
“What is he, a raid boss?” Garth asked incredulously, scanning the surroundings that were filling up with milling mages talking excitedly with each other.
“I do not know, but we should leave.” Itet said.
“Seconded.” Wilson said.
“No doubt.” Garth began walking away, winding through the crowd of mages, trying to put some distance between himself and the situation while looking as inconspicuous as possible.
“You there.” A tall man with long black hair said, stepping in front of Garth. “Did you see what happened here?”
“The Castavelle guy got away and a bunch of people followed him.” Garth said, trying to get out of the conversation as quickly as possible. He knew it was the wrong thing to say as soon as he saw the cruel glint in the man’s eye.
“So you did see what happened here.”
Without warning the man reached forward and seized the top of Garth’s head.
Starting at the feet and slowly working its way up to his head, every nerve he possessed fried as the man rummaged through his mind. Garth wanted to scream, but couldn’t control his lungs. It felt as though his soul was being ripped from his body.
Itet lunged forward, but with a dismissive wave, she collapsed to the ground, motionless.
Garth’s vision filled with stars as his eyes began to roll back in his head, farther than they were ever meant to go. He tried to channel mana to cut of the fingers in his brain, but the very notion was denied him. His will to resist was ruthlessly carved away from him.
“Ah,” the man said, turning back to his bretheren. “Elder Dragus is in pursuit, if we teleport to him, we’ll be able to join the hunt and… he turned back to Garth, frowning. “You’re the one he wanted to take as an apprentice.” He stared at Garth a moment longer before bursting out into wholehearted laughter.
“Your best attack, by all the gods, you got him there. Although perhaps you didn’t expect this kind of turnout, hmm?”
Garth couldn’t answer him, the world looked like one big blur, the fuzzy stars above him shaking in time to the mad beat of his heart. He couldn’t move. He couldn’t think.
“Well, can’t leave a Clanless mage that Castavelle showed an interest in around to cause trouble later.”
Garth felt a pain in his neck, before the world tumbled around him like a drying machine. The claws paralyzing his mind relaxed, and the instant before everything went dim, he wondered if Sandi really was pregnant.
“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.” Garth said, leaning on the table and swirling the last of his beer in the mug. It wasn’t quite so expensive a few layers down, where people could make their own.
Sandi took a sip of her beer, listening to Garth’s 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.
Sandi began to scoot over to him when the front door of the Inn burst open, drawing their attention as it slammed against the wall, revealing a snarling bum dressed in stained brown robes and sporting a wild afro of mangy greying hair.
“You!” he said, pointing at Garth.
The hell does this guy want? Garth thought, tensing up and drawing the mana in the room to himself.
“because of your little-“ he adopted a singsong voice and raised his hands to make air quotes. His left hand was missing. “Attaaack, I had to purge the last three hours in every plane of existence! Do you know how fucking hard that is!? Some of them are still looking for me!”
The man tromped forward and scooped up Sandi’s oversized beer mug and began gulping it down, beer running down either side of his face and adding to the collection of stains on the front of his robe.
“Hey!” she said, to which the man responded with an animalistic growl.
“You shouldn’t be drinking anyway,” he muttered into the mug before finishing it.
Itet stood, her hands inching toward her swords. Her antennae showing Caution/Alarm. Garth motioned for her not to do anything. He didn’t want crazy hobo blood on his hands.
“Can we help you?” Garth asked.
“Yeah,” the bum said around a belch coming to sit in front of them. “The name’s Ca-“ he paused for a second.
“Cassius, like the boxer, and you can take off that ridiculous trinket.” He waved a hand, and Garth got a glimpse of finely controlled mana speeding for his left arm. Too quick to react, Garth’s Status band unlocked itself from his arm and threw itself in the fire, along with Sandi and Itet’s.
“Hey!” Garth shouted.
“ZZi tchi zzitizch iizcht zi?” Itet asked.
“Opo oalape pi bo Huaba?” Sandi asked.
“Damn things are bugged anyway. You want a Status Band, make your own.” Cassius said, settling down at the table.
Garth took a deep, steadying breath. He had to figure out what was going on, and now he couldn’t even confer with his teammates.
“Why are you here, talking to us?” he asked, as calmly as possible.
“You don’t remember? Cassius said, leaning across the table and grinning at him with blackened teeth. “Two hours from now, we had a bet, and you won. Yaaay.” He slow-clapped his hand to his stump in front of Garth’s face.
“And now if I regrow my hand, that fucker Dragus is going to be on me like white on rice because the wound was cursed. So congratu-fucking-lations, you just so happened to get lucky enough to survive because purging the time stream at the cost of one of my most powerful artifacts and my hand was the only way to avoid your – air quotes again – attack.”
Garth took a moment to process that. Then he tried to process that some more.
“So what happened exactly?” he asked.
“I don’t want to talk about it.” Cassius said, snatching the last of Garth’s beer away from him and downing that too.
“What did I win?”
“What?” The ragged man raised long grey brow and fixed him with an evil stare.
“If there was a bet, there must’ve been stakes. What did I win?”
“Telling you what you won was not part of the bet. Although not killing you while you were still in your mother’s womb was implied.”
“Incidentally, the place where your records are being held and used to teleport you against your will is a warehouse on the planet Gurad, 2859th layer, outpost 2516.”
“Was that part of the bet?”
“I have no obligation to tell you that.” Cassius gave him an angry snarl then turned to the bar. “More beer!”
“You’re so goddamn lucky I’m a man of my word.” Cassius said, turning back to face Garth, his knuckles white around the beer stein. “In a few thousand years, I’m sure we’ll laugh and laugh about this-“ He held up his stump again. “But right now it’s pretty fresh, and if I hadn’t promised in advance not to retaliate for your little stunt, You’d be dead and/or getting ass-raped in the most homoerotic prison in the multiverse.”
“What little stunt?”
“I’m not gonna fucking tell you.” Cassius said. “What if you do it again?”
“Suffice it to say I’m going to follow through on my end of the bet, however long it takes, because your attack was up to my standards. Hah.” He grunted and snagged a beer from the serving wench, a sturdy green Orc woman.
“In the meantime-“ The roast rabbit flew from the fireplace toward Cassius and he took a bite of the meat hovering beside him. “I wanna get shitfaced and get laid,” He started knocking back the beer, giving a mighty exhale when he finished.
“Because I haven’t come that close to dying in two thousand years.”