Sandi’s mom and tentacle monster dad weren’t coming right away, since they had to time their trip between harvests, and so Garth had a month and a half to get his act together.
The first week was the hardest. Being in magical time-out was rough for someone who’d gotten used to putting on his shoes in the morning with telekinesis and floating around half the time.
Garth spent the time designing his own Status band and pretending everything was totally fine to Tyler when he came back from his work with tens of thousands of Heartstones. The drug dealer thankfully didn’t notice that Garth couldn’t cast anything, and Clark was able to cover for him, delivering on the promise of two thousand pounds of cocaine.
Tyler took his payment and they made a deal for him to come back in about three months with an army that could sweep the city clean in a matter of days. According to him, the grass worked exactly as he’d hoped, and a few horses that weren’t watched too closely ate the grass with no ill effects. That was excellent, but if Garth were a betting man, he would say Tyler’s ‘army’ would not be friendly after they took care of clearing the city.
After the first week, Garth slowly reintroduced magic into his life, working it out like an injury, slowly and carefully. At the same time he began to make his ideas for mana-saving spells into reality.
As far as Garth could tell, the most efficient shape for an enchanted core was a disc with a hole drilled through the center fitted with an aether crystal. Garth designed a magical egg slicer based on Cass’s engraving pens, and after he’d worked out the kinks of his design on a normal dungeon core bought from the nearest outpost, he’d used it on a Mythic core.
He only had twelve of the priceless things left.
The results were two perfect eighth inch wafers from the center, and half a dozen incrementally smaller tilted ones from either side, until the useless little nubs on the end.
Garth scrawled dense enchantments on both sides of the wafers and fitted them with aether crystals purchased from the inner spheres.
That had been an enormous pain in the ass. He’d been forced to beg Jim to launder his money for him, because only Citizens could buy Aether crystals legally, and Cass wasn’t sharing. The old bastard. Sandi wasn’t able to help, either. Apparently you weren’t born a Citizen, but instead had to work for it, like in Starship Troopers. The comparison actually seemed pretty good, what with the shitty government.
Garth managed to make a chip for flight, telekinesis and Force Armor, studding the gold discs into a beige motherboard made of a high tier (but not as high as a mythic core) dungeon core that had reached the end of its legal working period.
He wrapped those three around his wrist, along with a storage function that made his previous one look Tupperware compared to a shipping container, and a Status reading effect, minus the annoying piracy protection.
He had looked into the plant magic boost from the fancy one he’d gotten, but it was as much of a plant magic boost as X-ray glasses from cereal boxes let you see through clothes. It didn’t actually raise your proficiency with plant magic so much as it boosted the mana efficiency of a few basic plant spells like Control plants, giving the illusion of being better at it.
As soon as Garth had the thought about X-ray glasses, Wilson wouldn’t stop bugging him to waste one of the Mythic Core wafers on a clothes-penetrating vision enchantment. He argued that people could be hiding weapons under their bras.
Garth promised to make one someday, because it wasn’t good to deny your Id of every dark desire, but he laid down the law by insisting that it wasn’t important enough to devote a slice of Mythic core to the attempt, which caused Wilson to sulk for awhile before he was back to his usual happy-go lucky self.
Three more slices were used to create stat-boosting enchantments, stealing the design from six black-gold Status Bands bought from the outpost. Garth put a physical enchantment on one side, and a mental enchantment on the other, allowing him to cover all six stats.
If the black gold band was a Cadillac, Garth’s homemade one was an F35.
As Garth was marveling at his finished product, Cass had walked by and pointed out to his irritation, that anything he’d bought at an open-air vendor in the middle of the goddamn street couldn’t possibly be a luxury item.
Okay, so the Black gold band was a rambler, and his was a caddy. Now all he had to do was not get his arm cut off in the heat of battle. At that thought, Garth probed his breastbone. Now there was a solid plate of bone ripe for getting anchored with enchantments. Also a lot less likely to get cut off.
That could come later, though, and would probably involve some heavy-duty painkillers. Luckily, Garth had designed the discs to be removable.
On the Plant Magic front, Garth had finally gotten around to creating weapon and armor seeds for every occasion. The weapons were straightforward, growing arrows, spears and swords out of the ground, to be plucked at the users convenience. The armor was where it got a little weird.
In order to allow for a good fit, a person had to plant the modified darkwood seed under themselves and stand still, allowing it to grow over them, which took some serious balls. A few people with claustrophobia had opted to simply use regular armor.
The benefit was that Garth’s armor was lighter and tougher than steel, and a person could carry a dozen potential fitted suits in a tiny purse.
Clarkstown’s armory was filled with labelled barrels with hundreds of thousands of these seeds, waiting to be put to good use.
The mech-warrior plant suit idea didn’t go very far, with Garth unable to figure out a way to power the damn thing other than using a core or doing it himself. He’d have to ask Woody how he moved around so quickly. Garth shelved the idea, but not permanently. He knew there had to be a way to do it, he was just still dealing with his mental preconceptions about what a plant could and couldn’t do and that was influencing his spellwork.
Clark had suggested plant-based landmines, but once Garth had made them, he hid them away in his personal study. The explosion of steel-shredding seeds had been so violent that they’d been nearly unable to find all the seeds scattered across the testing ground. Garth didn’t like the idea of them getting away from him and becoming a part of the ecosystem because he was careless. He could imagine forty years from now, parents teaching their children what to look out for so they don’t get blown to tiny bits.
After the second week, Cass got back to training Garth in earnest, pounding the basics of his martial art into him. It became a daily ritual to swing by the center of town for beer, popcorn, a bit of weed and coke, and watch Garth get the shit kicked out of him.
Needless to say, if one wizard was standing toe-to toe with another and summoned his Lantern first, turning the area around him mana-less, then he could make the other one his bitch. That was why Garth was forced to practice nothing but forming a Lantern every day for hours, to raise his speed. It reminded him a bit of a quickdraw competition.
In a battle between two high level wizards, they would force their way into each other’s zones, struggling for control of the territory between them while hoarding mana in their Lanterns. Garth never won that part of the battle, his Lantern and experience unable to compete with Cass, so he was always casting spells against a headwind, having them unravel even as they flew toward the old man.
After the leader in the dance was decided, the wizards would then begin trying to probe each other’s weaknesses in a cold, methodical bid to exploit every single one of them.
Garth got tossed in the air. Suffocated. Blinded. Punched. Outwitted. And all that happened before mind control entered into the equation. Of course enemy wizards were going to use everything they had, so Cass would occasionally worm a spell into Garth’s head from his blind spot, and suddenly winning wasn’t important anymore and practice was stupid, so Garth gave up. Or Cass would be standing right in front of him drinking a lemonade, but for the life of him, Garth couldn’t shoot straight.
The lessons were aimed to make him constantly monitor himself and mentally prod the squishy bits of his brain for foreign substances at all times. At first the mental constructs had been glaring large lumps in his mind, but they’d been getting smaller and smaller, growing ever more insidious. Garth wasn’t entirely sure he’d gotten rid of all of them, and that was reason enough to keep his guard up. Strangely enough, Cass’s training focused more on overcoming mental manipulation after it was already in place rather than defending against it in the first place.
‘Mind magic is generally considered a win condition.’ He’d said. ‘But not for me, and not for you. Most people let their guard down once they’re sure they’ve got you by the balls. I’ve killed a lot of powerful archmagi who thought they’d made me a pet.’
He’d then preceded to make Garth believe he was a little girl for the next three hours, until he’d stumbled across the tiny construct in his mind and instinctively picked it apart. Garth had been in the middle of having Sandi teach him how to brush his teeth when he’d realized he was male, an adult, already knew how to brush his teeth, and was absolutely furious that someone had dicked with his head.
As the six weeks drew to a close, Garth was finally starting to get somewhere with giving Wilson a body. He’d put a lot of time and effort into creating a core designed specifically to power said body and make it into a vessel capable of housing the construct. Now all he needed was a medium for the lizard to inhabit.
“I’m thinking of an Adonis with a huge cock.” Wilson said, informing him of his ideal body as Garth put the finishing touches on the core, using a magnifying glass to check his work and obsessively comparing it to his notes, even though his memory was perfect.
“Gay.” Garth didn’t even look away as he wove the custom enchantment together, with inspiration drawn from half a dozen different spells, along with the blueprint for Cass’s little curse-eater stone in Garth’s head. You let a wizard get one look at something and you’ve basically spilled all your secrets.
Garth wasn’t interested in the curse aspect, or the way it had drawn it in. What he was interested in is how the mana was able to permeate the sphere and become locked inside it. If he could replicate that, he could infuse the core with the essence of the medium they decided to use for Wilson’s body. That plus Magic jar and a few of the plant spells Garth was most familiar with, self-inflicted plant-design, and of course, Garth had insisted on an eject button so Wilson could leave the body at a moment’s notice.
It was more for Garth than it was for Wilson. He didn’t want a part of himself getting locked in a Mythic core forever, or destroyed, for that matter.
“You realize whatever body you get is going to be more what you are rather than what you want to be?” Garth clarified, searching for flaws.
“What, like a sex-starved tentacle monster? I think I could swing that.”
“Still talkin’ what you wanna be.” Garth said.
“Come on, it’s time to go!” Sandi called from outside Garth’s slowly expanding workshop. It was slowly expanding in the sense that it was growing wider as time went by, and that he had been on quite the shopping spree in the last six weeks, and Cass had kicked him out of his own place due to size constraints as tools flooded in.
Garth took off his lenses, slid his Status Band and Dodder bracelet on, and stood up.
“Coming!” Garth shouted down the hall before sliding on his bandolier full of murder-plant seeds and heading for the door.
“Is it weird that I’m more nervous about meeting her parents than fighting Harold or possibly having to kill Tyler in another eight weeks?” Garth asked. He hadn’t gotten any sleep last night, trying to avoid the day by spending all night working on Wilson’s body.
“I’m just gonna stay here.” Wilson said, huddled on the counter. “You let me know how it went.”
“As if you could.” Garth said, picking the lizard and dropping him on his shoulder. “Let’s get this over with.”