The first thing Garth remembered was eating Tommy Carter, the barber’s kid from the apartment down the road. The slender teen’s corpse was torn apart like a frog in a high school biology lab, limbs spread apart without any semblance of respect for his humanity.
The next thing he remembered was his name. Garth. I’m Garth. He lifted his head, cocked to the side, bits of blood and viscera congealing on his chin.
I’m Garth and I’m a human, so why… He looked down at the corpse beneath him and took another bite of the stringy forearm as he contemplated. Is this normal? I don’t think so? What’s making me do this?
Garth’s mind brushed something. A thought, or a concept, some undefinable thing dominating the center of his being, guarding all the intersections of his thoughts.
When he touched it, an overwhelming sensation made his eyes roll back in his head, ruthlessly severing his consciousness.
The second thing Garth remembered was laying in the warm sun, waiting for prey to walk by. He was contemplating the most effective way to capture and consume some non-kipling, his thoughts turning toward traps and snares, then finding and raiding large groups of them with similarly large groups of others like him, then his thoughts turned toward agriculture. If he really wanted to eat the most humans he possibly could, he should build infrastructure that created and served him humans regularly.
What was it called…Agriculture. I should agriculture them. Seems like the payoff would be worth it. In his head, he pictured himself as a farmer wearing denim overalls, wiping dirt off his hands.
In this daydream, he was a human, which inevitably turned his thoughts toward why, and sure enough, he blacked out again.
The third time Garth regained his self, he was watching a man with dusky skin shoot fire from his fingertips, engulfing one of Garth’s contemporaries in a ball of flame.
Magic, magic, magicmagicmagic, Garth thought hungrily as he spied on the sharply dressed man from a rooftop, the shreds of his own clothes long since gone. Yessssss… I love magic!
Garth stopped to think about that a moment. I love magic? When did that… Garth’s thought’s rambled, from topic to topic, following his train of thought, and he eventually came to one of the intersections that would lead to the core of his being.
Garth’s skin broke into goosebumps and something ominous made him reflexively cut the thought short before it could trigger the awareness of -----.
He cut his thought short again, barely restrained panic beginning to fill his body.
I’ve got ----- in my brain. It’s ----- me, and I need to get it ----….
something Controlling Out
Garth struggled to control his breathing as he reflexively cut introspective thoughts short, jumbled them up to make them indecipherable to the ---- that was ---- him.
Screaming terror in the dark Controlling
Garth navigated his mind like a huge city, and where there were blockades set up at every major intersections, Garth could circumvent them by jumping from building to building, free-associating and piecing his thoughts together afterward. It was slow and it made him stupider than he rightly should have been, but he was buoyed up by the sensation of having a stream of consciousness rather than being completely feral.
Garth closed his eyes and lay still in his perch as his Kipling brethren charged out of the abandoned building into the jaws of death. the small party of armed nonhumans tore them to pieces. He was more interested in navigating his mindspace.
And that didn’t look like a fight he could win.
Okay, here’s the plan. Gain power, create a wall around the --------- and then flush it out.
THING IN MY HEAD
Garth opened his eyes and peered down at the blue-skinned man with the hunched over body, backwards legs and long arms. He was flinging fireballs around like nobody’s business, covered from direct assault by his beefier companions. When a kipling got past the defensive line, the man held up a hand without missing a beat, and the pale creature who used to be Dave from accounting bounced off a plane of invisible force before getting hacked to pieces
Yessss…. Garth began to drool. Perhaps if he approached the wizard, he could see if the man would be willing to teach him a spell or two.
Ideally one that could remove the ------
And if not, he could at least find out what he tasted like.
It had taken three days of stalking to get the guy alone, and when he finally clubbed him over the head and dragged him off, when he woke up the guy wouldn’t stop screaming, calling Garth a demon and trying to kill him, so Garth dropped a rock on his head and took his stuff.
The armband released an electric shock and almost killed him, and the books the guy had on hand were indecipherable, at least at first. Garth knew they were important though, so he took them, leaving the strange leather band on the ground, torn to shreds where he’d bitten and clawed at it. There was odd circuitry-looking stuff squished inside the leather. Garth made a note to investigate further.
When Garth instinctively ate the crimson red stone buried next to the man’s heart, his thoughts began to become clearer.
It had made it easier to ----- the ---- in his mind
Interesting, he thought, tearing the man’s arm away for trail rations as he modified his plan. He needed to find and kill more magic users and eat their Heart…stones…
if he was going to ---- the watcher in his ----
Of course, Garth realized he’d already been drastically -------, he probably would have been a bit squeamish about eating things that spoke, and not have thought raw flesh tasted so good back-----.
Garth winced as he truncated those particular thoughts an instant before they touched something they shouldn’t have. He took a steadying breath.
C'est la vie, Garth thought with a shrug, slinging the blue arm over his shoulder and setting out to hunt some more spell slingers. Maybe he could find one that wore something in his size.
Maybe I’ll get to eat Jim, the thought bubbled out of nowhere, but it put a smile on his shark-toothed maw.
Four months later, Irios set foot on the American continent at the head of a group of no less than twelve powerful demons, scouring the last continent on their list before heading to another planet. He’d seen hundreds of nascent demon lords and killed all but the ones he’d judged to be worth his time.
He killed them because the Inner Spheres would pay less attention to a world where everything was going smoothly. Less demon lords therefore meant less attention. They passed through the east of America relatively smoothly, checking a few names off his list as they went.
“Hold up,” he said, looking down the side of the mountain at the massive city sprawling beneath him. What should have been a ghost town was a bustling metropolis. Signs of battle damage covered the buildings, but people walked around it as if they didn’t seem to mind. parents in clean, bright clothes walked their children, swinging them between their arms, sweaty laborers reconstructed buildings, and plumes of steam arose from hot griddles where teenager fixed burgers.
“This is strange.” Erik said. No shit.
It was like they had somehow stumbled onto an entirely untouched city, or a slice of what the world had been like before. Distant movement caught Irios’s eye, and he spotted a cargo train moving down the tracks, toward the city proper.
“There’s a car.” Laura said, pointing out a cargo truck moving down the street, pedestrians parting around it. The woman was skeletally thin but tough, smart, and magically gifted, so Irios had added her to the group.
The rest of his cohorts picked out the inconsistencies in the city in front of them as he watched it silently.
In the center of the city was a tower that looked like a bone had been grown straight out of the flesh of the earth. The pale, porous stone cast a long shadow over the west side of the city as the sun came up. It was the only building that couldn’t have been there before the realities were merged.
“Something’s been allowed to fester here.” Irios said, a strange feeling crawling up his skin. Every faint Kipling instinct he had remaining told him to attack.
“What do you mean?” Erelia asked, glancing at him with concern. “Doesn’t this mean that these humans have done very well at defending themselves?”
“I don’t think so. Not exactly. Let’s go down and check it out.”
The fourteen of them wound their way down the side of the mountain, passing by abandoned houses, their luxurious and commanding view of the city completely meaningless, as they stood empty and abandoned, their owner dead or fled.
They found a pavement road and walked down the side of the mountain, the sun slowly climbing overhead until they reached a heavy stone wall that had burst out of the ground. There was a thirty foot tall main gate manned by half a dozen humans with automatic weapons.
In front of the gate was a single man in a lawn chair, reading a book. He wore enchanted leather armor, a status band, and a razor sharp short-sword on his hip. He was average height, average build, a little on the skinny side, with a few days of stubble on his chin.
He glanced up and broke into a smile as they approached, waving enthusiastically.
“Hello there, what brings you to Garth-topia?”
One of the men on the wall shouted, “It’s Santo Descano, Garth! it’s already been decided!”
“Fuck you, I built this city, I should be able to name it! Santo Descano is a stupid name, and you know it!” the man in front of the gate shouted. Garth? Irios narrowed his eyes. The man was paler than usual. A kipling perhaps? Working with a human?
“Garth-topia is a stupid name, It’s never gonna catch on!”
The man in front of the gate was about to shout back when Irios interrupted them.
“Garth,” he said, pointing at the man in front of them. “Garth Daniels?”
“Speaking.” Garth said, turning back to them. Irios raised a brow and looked the man from top to bottom. There were faint signs of being a kipling. Mouth a bit too wide, skin a bit too pale, but without help from someone else, he had no idea how he’d made so much progress.
There was either another demon lord in play, or this upstart needed to be crushed quickly.
“My name is Irios, as you can probably tell, I’m not from around here.”
“They are.” Garth said, pointing at the pale kipling standing behind him. “did you bring them here for trade? We can always use extra hands. Seeing as how they’re not immediately jumping the guys on the gate they must be cream of the crop.”
“Excuse me?” Laura asked, taking a step forward.
“Oh, they can talk too!? That’ll get you a lot of credits.”
Irios put a hand in front of Laura, keeping her from burning the kipling in front of her.
“How are you so human?” he asked. “The Call should be dictating your every move. You shouldn’t be able to feel anything but rage and hunger.”
“Psh, I got rid of that, like, a month ago.” Garth said, waving his hand dismissively. “It wasn’t that hard, and sure I’ve had to rebuild parts of my personality that got jettisoned with it, and I’m missing some memories, but I’d much rather be drastically altered and free, than drastically altered and a slave. Not even a choice, really.”
That wasn’t possible. The life cycle of a kipling did not include provisions for someone removing the Call entirely. Kill him, kill him, kill him… the urges inside Irios whispered, but he bottled them down, eager to get as much information as he could before he played his hand.
“Did someone help you with that? Is there another demon lord around here?”
Garth looked around. “Well, sort of. There’s this Apostle named Sibylline in the next city over, and she’s a total-“ he coughed into his fist, “bitch. She’s got control over there. we do a little trading between her, us and the Outpost and I mean, I may be a flesh eating monster, but that woman…”
“Exactly!” Garth said, pointing at one of the Guards on the wall.
Irios shot forward and plunged his hand through the enchanted armor and Garth’s breastbone, tearing out his heart along with his heartstone. The lightly armored demon looked at him, his jaw hanging loose as his eyes wandered to the dripping red organ in Irios’s hand.
“Son of a bitch…” his eyes rolled back in his hand and he collapsed to the ground.
“Listen up!” Irios shouted to the stunned men on the wall. “That was an abomination, a creature that was never meant to exist, and he would have treated you like cattle. I don’t know what you think you were getting from your relationship with him, but believe me, it would not have ended well for you!”
“That was harsh.” A voice said from beside him.
Irios looked down and spotted the corpse of Garth, lifeless and pale, eyes wide open and staring at the sky where he had fallen.
“Is this thing on?” the creature’s mouth moved with the words followed by several thumps of a finger tapping a microphone. “The video feed’s cut off, so I’ll have to assume you’re listening. I’m gonna give you one chance to get the fuck out of my city before I rain every manner of hell down on you.”
Garth covered the flesh microphone made with the dead Kipling’s heartstone and skin and glanced over at where Leanne was eating one of the adventurers who’d died recently in the nearby dungeon. The porous stone of Garth’s tower loomed over their heads, dimly lit by smoking lamps.
“Leanne, could you round up the posse and take them to the front gate? There’s some tough hombres out there, and could you send out an emergency notice for the livestock to head to the shelter?”
Leanne hissed at him, hunched over her meal.
"Oh, is this a bad time for you?" Garth said, striding over to the corpse and booting her away from it and out the door. "You wanted the job, git. Git!"
"Fine, fuck!" she shouted, grabbing the heartstone and moving.
Freaking teens. Work, work, work, all the time. Running a city is a giant pain in the ass.