Terok was so awesome. He was affable, quick-witted, and genuinely interested in everything Garth had to say, especially if that was Garth’s businesses and where he kept his Mythic Cores.
Because he was such a good friend, Garth didn’t mind letting him borrow one. The way his face lit up was reward enough.
The black haired man looked human, but he was from a race of elven hybrids that were very long-lived, which was all he wanted to say about himself, preferring to return the conversation to Garth.
“Well, as someone who received boosted magic from Beladia along with a plant based class, I realized quickly I’d need to focus on lumber, then farms, and recently I’ve begun expanding the…how do you put it…luxury plant-based consumables exported from Earth. I’m hoping to produce and distribute root beer, cola, chocolate, as well as vanilla and ice cream years before my brand of cocaine comes under fire from the government. Since the addictiveness has been toned down, I think it’ll last longer, but I don’t want to bet that some stuffy bureaucrats somewhere won’t make it a scapegoat for all the universe’s societal problems.”
“There might be similar products circulating the worlds, so I’m just throwing shit at the wall to see what sticks.” Garth shrugged.
“I see what you mean,” Terok said, nodding as they came closer to the Gate. Terok flashed an odd golden badge at the man behind the door. He nodded and opened the way for them to enter the Gate house.
Inside the house were a dozen young men and women of various races, dressed in white and blue silk, similarly to Terok. There was a lean red-skinned woman, two Corio, an orc, several shinta, some people who looked human like Terok.
One thing they had in common was they all looked about five or more years younger than Garth. They wore long, straight bladed swords on their waists, softly glowing with magical potency.
“Welcome back, senior,” They said as one, coming to a stiff stand from their relaxed postures, arms behind their backs. Looks like Garth’s new friend commanded a lot of respect.
“Show me the list.” Terok said, and one of his clanmates stepped forward with a notebook. Terok flipped through it again, then nodded. “Nothing’s changed, let’s bring our catch home. It seems like this one will be profitable to the Dan Ui clan.”
He motioned to the conductor, who nodded and pulled a lever that caused a massive shimmering blue field to open up behind the yellow line painted against the wall. The conductor pulled a second lever causing a beam with a red flag and a bell to swing down through the portal, announcing their arrival.
I wonder what they caught, Garth thought, glancing around the room for a fish or some other game animal, but unable to find one.
They formed a line and began to march toward the gate, with the dozen warriors following behind Terok, Sandi and Garth. As they approached the blue white shimmering field, Terok glanced over his shoulder, and seemed to spot the succubus for the first time.
“Oh, we don’t need the Succubus,” he said, his eyes flickering over to Garth as one of his followers slid a sword from his sheath and lined it up behind her neck. Garth felt a brief moment of discomfort as the blade rammed home into Sandi’s spine, but it was gone in a fraction of a second.
Sandi’s Lure coughed once, fell to the ground, flickered for a moment, then disappeared. Her real body toppled to the side and collapsed against the wall, her invisibility undone.
“Disgusting creatures.” Terok muttered, turning back to the Gate and striding forward.
It’ll sure be nice to join the Dan Ui clan. Garth thought as he strode forward, the motionless creature against the wall beyond his notice.
Right before he stepped through the gate, he had an errant thought.
“What should I do with the five Banta?”
“Just leave them.”
This made Garth frown. If he left them, they wouldn’t get to the party in time. Actually, even if he took them and joined the Dan Ui clan, they wouldn’t make it to the party in time. There was no situation where the Banta would make it to the party in time.
Let’s see, went into town to join the Dan Ui Guild and buy Banta for…. Whose party? If I join the guild, that task ceases to have meaning, and why can’t I remember whose party?
Garth found an inconsistency in his state of mind and picked at it reflexively, following the thread of faulty logic all the way back to a series of nearly invisible little staples hastily clamping his mind into an odd shape, folding some memories closed while implanting others.
Must be training with the old man, Garth thought foggily as he dismantled the staples. This whole extended trip was a new one to Garth, but he wouldn’t put anything past Cass at this point.
Garth’s feet must have stopped because the clan member behind him nearly ran into him.
“Watch it, conscript.” The red-skinned woman said, shoving Garth forward.
Garth was too busy dismantling the staples to pay much attention to her words, stumbling forward, barely able to keep his balance with the last dregs of his concentration.
“What’s going on?” Terok said, turning to face them less than a foot from the portal.
And there we go, Garth thought, dismantling the last construct in his mind, the lynch-pin of the entire affair. He half expected to open his eyes and be standing in front of Cass, or maybe drooling alone in the center of the practice yard, with people drawing on him, but none of that happened.
He was still in the Gatehouse of outpost 3502.
Garth’s gaze slid to the right, where Sandi’s heavily armored body was breathing shallowly, invisibility broken, her long serrated limbs tucked inward in a fetal position. Rage boiled up in his stomach, turning cold as it surged through his lungs, making him feel like he could spit ice, then dancing behind his eyes, whispering every way to hurt them.
“Fuck ‘em up.” Wilson said.
Garth lifted his left hand and a Lantern snapped into place, emptying the room of its magic. Terok’s eyes widened, and he reached for his blade. Rather than cast a spell, Garth stepped forward and slammed a foot into the center of Terok’s chest, propelling the black haired man backward through the portal even as he tried to draw his blade.
Garth turned and held out his right hand. The dodder bracelet erupted into Garth’s Combat Dodder Mark 318, intercepting the singing blade cleaving toward him and wrapping around the red-skinned woman.
Her eyes went wide, and she toppled to the ground paralyzed, as the dodder began to eat her.
The rest of the group unslung their swords and charged. Garth felt a few brief tugs at the edge of his control where some of the clan members tried to form their own Lanterns before giving up and drawing their blades.
It’s a clan of wizards, Garth thought as he reactivated the spells in his Status Band. Wizards with no compunctions about using mind magic. Since he’d established control of the mana in the room first, the rest of them had no choice but follow his lead in this fight. Unless they run outside and establish a Lantern there.
There was no way Garth was going to allow them a chance to run away, or win. With a telekinetic wave, the doors at the exit were closed and barred, trapping them all in the same room.
Five clan members charged Garth, their blades raised, tromping over the red-skinned corpse as they ran. Garth added a surge of magic to the parasitic weed, and caught three more in the clutches of new growth, toppling them to the ground.
Garth looked away from them and saw only one of the rest charging him. He held up a hand and an ironwood shield burst forward from his dodder-wristband, catching the blade. The orc had a look of astonishment as the shield anchored itself to the ground before shooting forward, slamming him into the wall hard enough to shake the solid stone government building.
Receiving a sudden impulse from Wilson, Garth crouched out of the way of the fifth man’s strike. A lithe corio had managed to jump with inhuman speed while Garth was distracted and place himself in Garth’s blind spot. Luckily, Wilson was paying attention.
Garth rolled forward, above the four paralyzed attackers, putting himself out of range of the corio and closer to the remaining seven. The corio hesitated in front of the pile of vine-covered bodies, unwilling to leap over them and share their fate.
Of the remaining seven, two were trying to unbar the large wooden doors to get enough distance to create lanterns, while the other five were staring dumbfounded, swords held loose in their hands.
The corio’s hesitation gave Garth time to inject mana into the doors and pull, causing two spikes to break out of the dead wood and spear the escapees in the head. Their bodies slumped against the door.
One of the clan members fumbled for something in his pocket while the others hesitantly raised their swords, obviously rethinking the importance of dying for their clan.
Garth slid a little silver cylinder with holes off of his bandolier, and brandished it in front of himself. Smoke began to boil out of it as the modified, shrunken, psychedelic plants began to go through their life cycles and be burnt at an astounding rate.
Garth guided four-foot thick tunnel of smoke toward them with his telekinesis, and they scattered. With an effort of will, Garth exploded the smoke in that corner of the room, using it to hide more seeds, massive carnivorous plants that would bury foot long spikes laced with poison into the target’s calves before eating them.
Naturally, the plants weren’t affected by the smoke, but the same wasn’t true for the Dan Ui clansmen. One accidentally breathed in the smoke, and began crying uncontrollably, rocking back and forth against the wall.
Seeing this, the others raced to leave the room, all four of them falling prey to the venus flytrap cousins he’d engineered.
Garth glanced over his shoulder at the corio behind the slowly greying corpses wrapped in dodder. The corio paled, turned and jumped through the portal.
Shit. Garth thought, knees creaking as he began to sprint for the portal. He couldn’t let the bastard tell his clan about Garth, or else he’d most likely be dead along with his entire city in a matter of days.
Garth broke into a run, the interior of the Gatehouse passing by him as he put his head down and ran. As he approached the Gate, Terok came through, his head turned to the side, presumably looking after the clan member that had just run past him.
In Terok’s hand was a crystal with a miniature sun encased in it. A portable Lantern maybe? Usable in someone else’s territory? Terok glanced forward again just in time for Garth to catch him with a sucker punch, knocking the wizard aside and plunging through the portal.
Garth was used to the disorientation from the portals by now, and he hit the ground running. He could feel the humidity on his skin, and he could tell that they weren’t in the desert anymore.
Ahead of him, just beyond the double doors of the Gatehouse, the corio was sprinting down the hall. Garth whipped a seed down the way, plunging it into the fleeing corio’s back.
Without looking to see if it had taken the escaping clansman down, Garth wove a Warding spell on the bounds of the portal, linking it to the off switch.
Garth glanced over at the stunned conductor, and noticed he was wearing the blue and white of the Dan Ui clan.
Garth grew an Ironwood blade from his bracelet and without further ado, plunged it into the conductor’s chest before yanking out the blade and glancing down the hall.
The fleeing corio had fallen, so Garth had the vines feeding off of him walk the clansman back to him.
There was a soft click in Garth’s mana perception as the Warding spell noticed someone crossing the boundary of the portal and shut it down. Please don’t be Sandi. Garth had a sudden burst of worst-case-scenario thinking as he turned to see who it was.
Luckily, it had worked as planned, and Terok lay on the yellow warning tape, missing a leg and part of an arm, having left them back on Earth.
Terok gasped in surprise and pain, feebly raising his hand. Garth felt the mana in the room begin to be pulled in towards the wizard, so he stalked forward and kicked him in the face an instant before Terok could create a Lantern and heal himself.
“A bad day for you, huh? Three sucker punches in a row.” Garth asked as he re-established his lantern on the other side of the Gate.
“Normally I’d tell you to pass on that nobody fucks with my baby-momma and lives, but since discretion is the better part of valor, this never happened.” Garth swept down with the ironwood blade, cleaving through the wizard’s upraised wrist, all the way through to his neck, decapitating him.
Without wasting any time, Garth stored the three bodies in his Status Band, washed up the blood with a thick stream of summoned water, then reopened the portal, set a delayed spell and jumped through.
Behind the desk, the conductor of the gatehouse was shivering in fright.
“Please, please,” was all the shinta was able to say, raising his hands and watching Garth approach like a bad dream.
“Sorry about this,” Garth said, lopping off the innocent man’s head with a sheet of Ironwood from the squished clan member above him. At least he didn’t see it coming.
He apologized again to the innocent conductor for murdering him in cold blood, storing him along with the eleven Dan Ui clan members, and every evidence of plant matter in his band, picking up Sandi with Telekinesis and high-tailing it out of there.
The Outpost law enforcement magicians couldn’t identify the killer without a body.
All told, the fight had lasted maybe thirty seconds, and it could very well come back to bite him in the ass later.
Garth’s fancy Status Band took the weight of both spells as they flew over the outpost. Garth tried to listen to Sandi’s heartbeat mid-flight, but didn’t know where to listen. He wasn’t even sure if she was breathing. A Heal spell didn’t seem to evoke any change in her state. Luckily there were people nearby who might know what to do.
A minute later, Garth descended from the sky, into the softly glowing light of the gazebo where Sandi’s family was waiting for the second course.
“Can I get some help?” Garth asked as he set her down in front of her alarmed sisters and mother. “Sandi’s Lure got destroyed and she passed out.”
At the Dan Ui minor branch clan house in the fifteenth layer of the Inner Spheres, a delayed spell construct clicked on, changing the address of the last Gate opened in the Gatehouse before lighting the room on fire. Satisfied with its work, the construct dissipated into meaningless unstructured mana.