“How did humans ever build anything so large without magic?” Sandi asked, her jaw dropped at the spectacle down the slope of the mountain. She was sitting beside him, casually weaving grass into a wreath. Itet was watching Tyler’s group with predatory intensity.
“Science.” Garth said.
Garth looked down at the city below them, stretching out into the horizon. It was only thanks to his superhuman sight that he was able to see all the way to the smudge of the ocean at the very edge of his sight. He twiddled two seeds in his hand, one grass kernel, and one dodder seed.
“Now that I’m looking at it…That’s a big city. Do we really need all of L.A. for less than five hundred people?” Clark asked. he was standing beside Garth, looking down at the city that stretched out below them.
“It’s not gonna stay five hundred people forever, plus this’ll be a great place to settle and trade with outpost 3502, or did you want to stay in the desert forever?”
“I was thinking maybe a forest a bit to the north. I mean, looking at how much work this is gonna take…”
“It won’t.” Garth said, pocketing the dodder seed and pulling out a venus flytrap seed from further up his bandolier.
He was currently memorizing the information about the plant’s ability to sense its environment. Flytraps had sensitive hairs, Dodder could smell its prey. Once Garth isolated the ability to smell, he pulled out a raspberry seed, a strawberry, and to throw an oddball into the mix, a quaking aspen seed, Using Plant Analysis to steal their techniques for root and runner propagation.
“I’ve been thinking ever since I saw Cass make a blade of grass into a portal. We don’t really have to confine ourselves to what we think a plant should be able to do.”
“How so?” Clark asked.
“Steak that grows on trees. Sentry turrets that shoot seeds, interconnected root systems of a single entity that can serve as a helpful assistant when we clear out the city. Maybe even plants that can cast spells and think one day. If Cass could make a blade of grass do it, I think I could. He says I’ll be better than him at plant magic one day.”
“I’m not sure we should take everything that guy says at face value,” Clark said with a shrug. “But I can’t deny he’s been helpful. He automated the farms the other day and now the kids have more time to experiment with magic. He says Kristen’s more talented than you, if less ruthlessly underhanded when she wants something.”
“Paul’s kid?” Garth asked. He didn’t really need to ask, since the very mention of her name triggered his Memory and every detail of her existence popped into his head, but it was habit for conversation to follow a certain flow.
“Yeah, I don’t know what he’s got against you.” Clark said.
“Me neither. Well, I have a rough idea, but the details are unclear.” Garth pulled out a moonseed.
“Too ambitious?” he asked Wilson, holding the seed of the poisonous plant in front of him.
“You’re the boss. Besides, if you fail, we can always start over again with a new group of people that trust you not to poison them.”
“Har har. This thing’s gonna be a doozy, which is why we’re not starting with people we like.
“What are you talking about?” Sandi asked, sitting on the grass beside him and marveling at the size of the city.
Garth quickly memorized the recipe for curare production, then shifted his attention to the tiny grass seed in front of him.
“I’m going to make clearing out L.A. a lot easier,” he said. “Well, if this works.”
Garth pulled out a Mythic Core and held it in his left hand. He’d practiced for this, hopefully he didn’t have an aneurism. He took a deep steadying breath and got to work. He had to make a lantern before every spell, until it was second nature. In this case, though, he was going to need a lot of mana.
Garth formed a Lantern, using the core as an aid, drawing mana out of the environment for twenty five feet around him and causing his fist to glow brightly. Garth had barely managed to reach a four foot radius without assistance. That meant the core had multiplied his ability to gather mana by a rough 244 times, assuming a spherical shape. Damn.
Every time Cass saw Garth’s progress with his Lantern, he would scoff, shake his head and walk away. Something told Garth that no matter how awesome this guy thought he was, he probably hadn’t taught very many students before.
He pushed away his idle thoughts and started designing the seed. His proficiency with Plant Design was…well he didn’t know what it was, but he felt comfortable designing tiny hollow thorns filled with curare into the grass, normally hidden under the flesh of the grass, until a blade was bent and smelled a kipling pressing right up against it, at which point the tiny little syringes would shoot out and inject a lethal dose of the paralytic. No muss, no fuss. It wouldn’t bother people even if they stepped on it.
There might be a few Kipling in the city whose Endurance was far too high to be killed by poison, but all they had to do was gang up on it with maybe a dozen people and butcher it.
The ability to propagate via runners and roots was to spread an interconnected root system through all of L.A. without using Recursive Casting, plus, he didn’t have to worry about a strain mutating that liked the smell of humans, which was his biggest concern.
Having a single root system would make it easier to put down magically if it ever got uppity, because Garth was planning on taking advantage of its sense of smell to give him an idea of where every Kipling in the entire city was.
This was the hard part. Garth didn’t have a living example of a root system that could relay information like that movie with the blue people, but he did his best, trying to copy yes/no pulses of information that the human brain’s neurons did naturally. Garth wasn’t a doctor, but he used his best guess to create a plant that was smart enough to tell him telepathically where it could smell kipling inside the range of its main body.
Weapon, spy, supercomputer. Defense system. Never accomplish just one task when you could accomplish many.
“As long as it doesn’t become self-aware and enslave everyone to spread it across the globe.” Wilson whispered.
Garth glared at him. “Why would you put that idea in my head?”
“Hey, we’re both thinking it, I’m just saying it.”
Garth glanced at Clark, who watched him nervously. Sandi didn’t seem worried though, she took Garth talking to himself as a given by this point. Further down the mountain, Tyler was gearing up, him and his men bitching about not being able to bring their enormous man-eating mounts back with them and being stuck with horses. Each and every one of them was wearing an extra-long riding saber.
When I finish your body, I hope you don’t say that kind of shit around other people, they’re nervous enough as it is. Garth turned his attention to the seed.
And you, your job is to protect people from Kipling, but that doesn’t mean waging a war across the known universe. Just stick to L.A….and be good, okay?
The seed was unresponsive, naturally.
Garth finalized the changes, then packed it with a delayed Plant Growth, using all of the considerable mana at his disposal.
He didn’t have to create the recursive pools of mana, or any of the fancy stuff, aside from stretching the Plant growth out a bit so it wasn’t quite so explosive. He wanted minimum damage to the city proper.
Garth packed, packed, and packed mana into the spell, until the seed began to tingle his fingers as though it were giving off little electrostatic jolts. More than that might not be safe. Garth could use Plant growth to manually spread any area that didn’t quite reach far enough, so he didn’t feel a desperate need to flood the entire city with poisonous grass. No, a foothold was plenty.
Once he got as much mana as he could into the spell, Garth held the seed between thumb and forefinger with one eye closed, holding it in front of the area he wanted it to land, then wrapped it with telekinetic force and shot the seed straight out. It disappeared from his sight in a matter of seconds as he carried it down the mountain, but he could still feel it in the grasp of his spell.
Extreme distance degraded the telekinesis spell, making it weak and unable to carry much at all…. but it was a tiny grass seed. Important things come in small packages. Garth thought as he felt it make contact with the open field he’d aimed at.
Garth opened his other eye and watched. In a matter of moments, the dusty open field where a house was half-built turned a lush green, spreading perceptibly outward, into the city of L.A.
Garth held his thumb over the city, trying to gauge the radius of the green growth.
“What does that look like to you?” he asked. “Two miles in every direction?”
It was actually a drop in the bucket compared to the endless grid of streets and houses that seemed to stretch in every direction, but it was a good start. In a few years, the entire city would be full of the weed. For better or worse.
“Seems that way,” Clark said, squinting.
“What if someone picks some of the grass and chews on it?” Wilson asked.
Curare can’t penetrate the gut. The grass is edible if that’s what you’re asking.
“But wouldn’t the thorns penetrate their gums?”
Garth paused. If he laced the flesh of the grass with an antidote, that would have made more sense. Goddamnit, maybe I can use Design Plant on it again.
“Don’t let anyone eat the grass.” Garth said to Clark before heading down the mountain to where Tyler’s eighty-five men were.
“Hey Tyler, how’s it going?” Garth said, approaching the tattooed skinhead.
“Good, thanks.” Oh, seems more polite than I remember.
“See that patch of green that wasn’t there a couple minutes ago?” Garth said, pointing at the mat of grass that dominated the entrance to the city. “That’s your safe zone, twelve and a half square miles of it. Should be plenty for the first trip into the city. Any kipling that move in there are going to be put to sleep, and your job is to make sure they’re dead. If you get attacked by a swarm of them, retreat to there before heading back to base.”
“We’ll take care of it. Just make sure you follow through on your end.”
“I gotcha, one week of clearing the city for a ton of coke. Keep in mind when you get out of here that you’re representing us as a vendor. Honestly though, you’re getting a great deal, because as long as you stay inside that green part, it should be as dangerous as picking up trash off the street.”
Tyler’s men relaxed noticeably when Garth said that, shoulders coming down, nervous fingers coming away from their belts and resting on the horns of their saddles.
Garth ushered Tyler aside and whispered in his ear.
“But if any of your guys or their horses feels weak or has difficulty breathing, get the fuck out of there, okay?” Garth gave Tyler a bright smile as the thug’s eyes widened. “You know how to do CPR, right?”
“We’ve got it under control, ass-“ Tyler nearly bit his tongue as he cut off the swear. Strangely the guy had turned over a new leaf in regards to cursing recently. “We’ve got it.”
“Cool,” Garth said, patting him on the back as he raised his voice again and pulled out a bag of corn kernels. “You guys like sweet corn on the cob? This isn’t the reject shit, this is the stuff that those corn munchers in Nebraska save for themselves. When you guys stop for lunch, just plant one of these in the ground and stand back.”
Garth passed kernels out to Tyler’s men. Some of them took them, most shook their heads.
“Good luck you guys,” Garth said, handing the rest of the kernels to Tyler and giving them a salute. “I hope we can stay in business for a long time.”
He turned and headed back up the mountain, rejoining with Clark, Sandi and Itet, as well as Paul, Samantha, and their fifty warriors. Garth fished a tiny stone shaped like a hearing aid out of his pocket and put it in his right ear as they started heading back out toward home base.
“Why are we working with that purple piece of shit?” a voice came through the magical microphone he’d woven into the bag of treats.
“As long as he thinks he’s gonna get L.A. when this is over, he’ll keep lending a hand, and that means we’re gonna be able to clear the place of Fu—kipling a lot faster than we might have otherwise. Once the city’s clear, we’ll kill him and take control of his group, but not before. There were millions of people in there before the world went to shit, and I can’t be asked to kill that many monsters with my bare hands.”
One of Tyler’s men grunted, and the neighs of horses and clippy-cloppy sounds along with the brushing of the bag against leather came through in Garth’s ear as they headed out.
“Why are you smiling?” Sandi asked, peering over at him.
“Because I’m having fun.” Garth said.
“Garth.” Paul shouted from the beyond a stand of trees, his voice tinged with a bit of concern. “You need to see this!” for Paul to get even a little concerned was a bad sign, and Garth broke into a jog, getting through the underbrush and gaining a clear view of their home base in the distance.
No less than five hundred riders bore down on Beladia’s little village, maybe ten minutes away, sending a surge of panic through Garth. They were a good forty minute hike away from the village themselves.
He kept his voice even as he summoned a Lantern then cast Forestwalk on every person there who couldn’t cast it themselves.
“Back to the base. Get the lead out.” He lifted off the ground and began to soar down the side of the mountain.