“I can’t believe it,” Garth said, scratching his scalp. “I’m gonna be a dad, and my kids are gonna be man-eating monsters.” He took a deep steadying breath. Everything’s fine, you’ve got almost a year to prepare.
Cassius grunted, eyes on the Mythic core he was carving. They were in a room carved out of a towering sequoia, lit by a magic lamp and lined with ornate tools of every shape and size. Garth didn’t know where they came from, so he assumed Cass brought them with him…somehow.
Cassius occasionally glanced back to the intricate pattern on the vellum underneath his work, then back to the core. In his hand was a little pen with intricate scrollwork in gold-tinted orichalcum. The squiggly lines crawled up the pen and congregated at the tip. Whenever he brought the pen down on a spot, a half-second later, a small line of the Mythic core would disappear, erased from existence.
“fuck,” Cass muttered, flipping the pen over and undoing his work, bringing some of the core back into existence before flipping the pen again and retracing his lines more precisely.
“And I’m not just gonna have one kid either, Sandi’s race has litters. I’m talking between three and twelve kids like that,” Garth snapped his fingers for emphasis. “Bam. Although she tells me the first litter is usually on the smaller side, so three to five kids.”
Cass stiffened, set the pen down and glared at Garth “Did you want to actually learn how to enchant things or are you going to keep yammering on about kids? Because if you are, you can get the hell out.”
Garth shut his mouth. Maybe I’ve been a little more excited about it than other people. He’d gotten the same cold shoulder from Clark after the first few hours of the old man politely humoring him.
“I wanna learn.”
“Good,” Cass said. “Now, this.” He opened up his desk and took out a tiny clear gem that looked like a cut diamond. “This is an aether crystal, aether condensed into physical form. It’s the second most important part after the core. Some would argue more important, but they’re stupid.”
Garth looked at the Aether closely, and noticed, that the mana around the gemstone was very thin, the squiggles seemed to be pushed away from the clear stone. Wherever it moved, mana ceased to exist. It almost looked like the lensing effect of a black hole.
“Now some theory.” Cass said, pulling a core the size of a softball that had been cut into a pyramid shape out of his desk and setting it down.
The beige pyramid had been polished smooth and squiggles had been carved all the way up its length, its very tip had been removed and a small hole carved in the top.
“The points closest to the center of mass for this core are as follows,” Cass said, uncapping a grease pen and marking the pyramid.
“Here,” he said, making a dot on the center of the flat bottom.
“And here,” He said, drawing a black line around the bottom third of the pyramid.
“Now.” Cassius recapped his pen and picked up the pyramid. “Cores attract mana.” He picked up the Aether crystal. “Aether repels it. Put them together…”
Cass delicately placed the gemstone in the depression at the top of the pyramid, and the squiggles on the side of the pyramid flared with light. That’s what looked familiar, light mana!
“What’s happening here is the pyramid-shaped core attracts mana that wants to condense around its center of mass. Of course space is an issue, so eventually, mana gets crowded out, pushed up to the top of the pyramid, where it gets shot out into the atmosphere again by the Aether, creating free space for more mana to move up the pyramid.”
“Making a current.” Garth said.
“Exactly. The current of mana nestles into these little carvings here, and flowing in a specific pattern at high concentrations will make mana do work. In this case, creating light.”
“There’s a pattern for everything,” he said, turning the pyramid over and dropping the Aether crystal out of it. “Every effect you see with your mana sight can be recreated, modified, and harnessed. There’s an enchantment for every spell, and even more besides.”
“That’s really cool,” Garth said, looking at the pyramid. “But I have a question.”
“Were you just carrying a teaching aid around this whole time, or did you go out and get one for my benefit?”
“Bah, shut up and dick with your Status band. I’ll let you know when I need another pair of hands.” Cass spun the core on the stand, tightened it down again, moved his magnifying glass closer and picked up the pen again, getting back to work. He made a gesture to the antique record player in the corner of the shop with his stump and a beam of tightly controlled mana put the needle down and flipped the switch.
Inside the machine, the tiny aether crystal on a pin plunged down into the core shard, and the machine flared to life, giving off a steady glow as the squeal of hair band rock metal began to pour out of the business end of the sonophone.
Cass began grunting and tapping his foot in time to the music as he went back to carving the core’s enchantment.
“How do you know so much about human culture?” Garth asked.
“I am human. Sort of.”
“Every time a new reality is added to the Spheres, I drill a tiny hole through space-time and implant my soul in a handful of unborn children from each life-bearing planet. keeps me entertained. I’ve been human five times, to be exact. This particular body was the last one.”
Cass blew a bit of imaginary dust away and peered closely at his work, searching for any imperfections.
“My memories came back when the realities merged, I went and met myself in a Nebraska cornfield, shook hands, and then buried my corpse when my soul left my body to go back in time.”
Garth took a moment to digest that.
“That seems like a lot of effort just to study foreign cultures.”
“Shaddap. You don’t need to know why I do what I do.”
Garth shrugged and sat down at another desk, pulling a lamp over his newly acquired magic boosting status bands, the Black Gold edition. There were three leather bands that had been carefully peeled apart to reveal complex Aether, core shard, and orichalcum circuitry. That was the only way to describe it. The cores cut flat, looked like the board, the channels seemed to be the wiring, and the Aether crystals looked like chips.
Garth now knew from Cass’s explanation that the wiring was doing the actual thinking, and the motherboard/Chips were actually the power source. It messed with his head a little, but Garth could get it figured out.
It would be much easier to copy a design that already existed than to try and come up with one from scratch, which was why he had the Black gold bands in front of him. He bought three because he fully expected to destroy a few in the process of studying them.
“What are these little orichalcum studs?” Garth asked, pointing at different studs of the metal between different channels. There were also shards of purified Heartstone that seemed to be placed along different channels for some inscrutable reason, and completely different materials placed throughout the high-tech magic device.
“Ugh,” Cass groaned and set the Mythic core down and started pointing out each individual piece, naming it and telling Garth how it worked.
He did it quickly and without repeating himself, because they both knew he could review Cass’s explanation in his mind.
When Garth finally got a handle on it, he started pulling apart one of the Status bands and frankensteining it together with another one. In this case, he was trying to add a second, secret inventory to the band, while finding and scrambling the thing’s ability to divulge his location, turning it into a Smuggler’s Band, essentially. Let’s not get too crazy right away. Artifacts of limitless power can wait.
Garth wasn’t able to figure out how to scramble his location right away, but he successfully transplanted and integrated the storage from another band. By dual layering the new inventory seamlessly atop the other. He couldn’t figure out a way to scramble his location right away, but he made it so that if anything pinged the Status band for his location, it would fall right off, preventing him from being forcibly summoned.
“Whaddya think?” Garth said, holding up the band after working on it for three hours.
“It’s shit.” Cass said with one glance. “I’m done, get over here.”
“Shit?” Garth asked.
“Yeah, try accessing your bank account.”
Garth mentally tried to withdraw some cash when an electric pulse traveled up his arm, seizing all his muscles with tear-inducing pain.
“Gah!” Garth shouted wordlessly as he toppled to the ground.
Warning, you are using an unlawful modification on your Status Band. remain where you are. Law enforcement is on the-
The modified Black Gold: Asshole Edition fell off Garth’s twitching arm.
“Well, at least you had a little forethought.” Cass said, chuckling as Garth shivered on the floor. “Anyway, stop playing around and give me a hand here.”
“That…sucked.” Garth said, yanking his hand out of the band and climbing to his feet, glaring down at the offending object.
“Welcome to the Spheres.” Cass said cheerfully. “Sure everything’s hunky-dory while you’re playing on their field, by their rules, but take one step outside that womb of ignorance, and you’ll see some shit. Now you know why I make my own stuff. Now get your ass over here.”
“Fine,” Garth said, walking over to Cass’s workbench, where the wizard had locked his truncated arm in a vice at the elbow, opposite his creation that looked a bit like the Death Star, similarly clamped in place. There was a razor sharp mithril hatchet with a wide business end, and a thin plate of some obsidian substance separating the man’s stump from the Mythic Core.
“Okay, what I need you to do is, and by Kolath don’t do it yet, listen to everything I have to say first. I need you to take that hatchet, remove the divider between my arm and the core, wait for the curse to pool at the end of my arm, then cut it off. You have to make sure you get every piece of it.”
“Will I be able to see it?” Garth asked, hefting the hatchet.
“Works for me.” Garth lifted the black panel separating the man’s stump and the core.
“AAAGH!” Something began to writhe under Cassius’s skin, tendrils of black mana that bulged the skin with physical presence. They slowly began to withdraw as the old man screamed, drawn down his arm even as they fought to maintain purchase. As the curse got more and more dense, it moved slower and was more visually obvious, Garth watched the longest tendril’s grip slip from the man’s shoulder, working down to his elbow.
The stump took on a black hue as the Mythic core sucked the black mana right to the very edge of Cassius’s body, pooling beneath his skin. A moment later, the biggest tendril slipped off the man’s elbow and was drawn down to the stump, creating a solid line of black where the curse inhabited. Garth waited a few seconds to be sure nothing else was coming down the pipe, then he aimed a good four inches behind the black line on Cass’s forearm, bringing the shimmering blade down with gusto.
I bet a meat cleaver might have worked just as well. Garth thought as the blade sheared through flesh and bone, burying itself in the table as he cut an extra foot off Cass’s arm, just below the elbow.
The removed portion of arm clung to the mythic core for a moment, before an explosion of black mana tendrils shot violently out of the arm, writhing like living things. Garth flinched backward, summoning a shield reflexively.
The tendrils lashed the air for a few breathless moments before they were drawn inevitably into the core, slowly dying the gold pitch black. Garth relaxed when it didn’t seem like anything else was going to jump out at him.
“A little warning?” Garth asked, glancing over at Cass. The man was already admiring his new hand, having restored it in a fraction of a second.
“You did fine.” Cass glanced at the shiny black core on the table. “I probably don’t need to tell you, but don’t touch the core, not even with mana you’re connected to. Listen closely, ‘cuz I’m about to get real technical.” He paused and caught Garth’s gaze.
“That thing’s cursed as hell.”
“Got it,” Garth said, rolling his eyes as he went back to his desk to go over the status band and figure out where the tampering protection was hardwired into the circuitry.
In the meantime, Cass picked up the blackened sphere by the clamp and tossed the whole thing, clamp and all, into a black portal, before shutting it with the urgency of someone who didn’t want anything coming out the other side.
“All done,” Cassius said, dusting off his hands. “Now we can start your training.”