The days rolled by, and there’d been no repercussions yet. Sandi had woken up with a splitting headache, and her Lure had looked a bit like melted wax for the next few days, but there was no permanent damage.
Business continued as usual, but Garth knew he needed to step up both his personal ass-kicking abilities, and those of the two thousand people of Clarkstown.
Since he’d put out the advertisement for his little community scrawled on the backs of some five hundred men and women, people had begun to flood in like crazy, and Clark’s apprentices were really starting to be put through their paces, setting up houses or two or four a day, while maintaining and expanding the water supply constantly.
Right now food was plentiful because they could make it on demand, but sooner or later, people would have to start growing crops the old fashioned way. If this trend was taken to it’s extreme, Garth and every other phytomage would be nothing but a dispenser for food and shelter. That couldn’t last forever.
They needed to take back L.A. and make farmland out of the surrounding area. California had some good farmland. In order to clear it out faster, Garth decided he’d need to do it himself. He couldn’t wait for Tyler to maybe show up, and he needed more practice. When Garth wasn’t absolutely pissed, he wasn’t quite as good at fighting.
Upon reviewing his fight with Trenok, Garth had come upon the idea of symbiotic plants. His bracelet with its dodder and ironwood seeds had been helpful, but Garth was constantly irritated with the need to have specific seeds at specific times. Reaching into a bandolier to pull out a specific seed that wasn’t on his bracelet was an extra step that slowed him down the few fractions of a second it would take for another wizard to make his head explode.
Garth wanted access to the plants he needed instantly, and at all times.
Garth’s first ideas for symbiotic plants had been shoulder mounted beam cannons, like the predator, or perhaps defensive shielding, but he found himself shying away from anything that physically rooted into him.
That sounded gross and painful.
“You ever notice how the bad guys are always the ones who experiment on themselves?” Wilson asked.
Sure enough, every book and movie always made the bad guy weaker somehow for supplementing his natural body, introducing some kind of glaring weakness that the hero could exploit. The media he’d consumed growing up possibly caused Garth to have some unconscious aversion to it as well, but after thinking it over a while, Garth decided to start experimenting with spores. The idea had sparked when he’d used the moss, which reproduced with a spore rather than a true seed.
If he could create a tiny plant that could cohabitate with his skin and release spores that were akin to stem cells, packed with the information to become any kind of plant, he could use them to create the plants he wanted, literally out of thin air. Garth pictured himself releasing tiny, microscopic cells into the air from his skin, and using them to make his plant spells fire off without any kind of delay, from any angle.
That sounded like a challenge. Not to mention if he could create the plant, he could give it magical traits similar to the ones he’d created on his pot. A second defensive layer when the plant shielded itself from harm would be welcome.
That and Garth was still gonna add some bling to his breastbone.
“Why are you okay with strapping the equivalent of a nuclear battery to your chest but not a plant?” Wilson demanded.
“Because plants grow, spread and move, sending roots deeper and deeper into your flesh!” Garth said with a shudder. “What if it’s got some kind of numbing agent, and I forget where it is, and just fucking fall over dead one day!?”
“What if the Mythic core disc poisons you or turns you into some kind of monster?” Wilson replied with a shrug.
“The rat with the mythic core strapped to him is still alive, the one with the prototype symbiote suit plant died in two days!”
Wilson was no longer able to sit on his shoulder, and was now sitting on a stool he’d brought over from the edge of the workshop.
While Sandi had been asleep, Garth had taken the opportunity to cut a piece of Charlie off and grow it into an enormous sticky plant about the size of a man, some five hundred years of growth packed into an afternoon.
After that, he’d introduced the enchanted core and sucked the plant into it, turning the whole thing green with red spots. Afterward, he’d spent half an hour convincing Wilson it was safe to get in the core.
When Wilson had approached the core with the intention to get in, he’d been sucked inside with a brief howl of terror, and for a moment, Garth had become lightheaded, shooting to his feet in alarm.
A few seconds later, bright green foliage had burst from the core, taking the form of a lizard about the size of a large dog, with bright red dew-covered spines up its back, dark teeth and pale green eyes.
Wilson’s new body was rather squatter and more aggressive in appearance than he’d looked in Garth’s head. Even though Wilson was disappointed to still be a lizard, he was thrilled to have a real body for the first time, bouncing up and down and knocking things over for the fun of it.
He’d settled down now, but he still insisted on making passes at Sandi. She took it in good humor, but it made Garth question why he’d ever considered giving him a body in the first place. Unfortunately, as long as Garth found Sandi attractive, Wilson would continue to misbehave.
Garth took a deep breath and glared at the plant-creature.
“We’re doing this, okay? I need a get out of jail free card.”
Garth reached up and adjusted the mirror hanging above him so it gave him a great view of his sternum, then made sure the end table had all the tools he’d need and was well within reach. Great, looks like everything’s ready.
“Nurse, cocaine.” Garth said as he began tracing the black sharpie mark on his skin with a scalpel.
Wilson leaned forward and sprayed the solution onto the line of flesh with beading blood. The stinging rapidly diminished as the drug’s painkilling effect kicked in.
“Wipe.” Garth paused for a moment to let him mop up the solution before continuing.
The rest of the room seemed to fall away until the only thing in front of him was his own chest, slowly and methodically being peeled away.
Garth’s voice and the occasional clatter of tools being placed on the tray was the only sound in the workshop usually filled with inane chatter and comparing movie quotes.
Once Garth got the skin peeled away, next was the painful task of scraping the bone clean, then marking out and creating an eighth inch depression with one of Cass’s little matter-erasers. The cocaine made it far more bearable, as well as giving him a contact high that kept him awake and focused.
There was only enough room in his chest for four spell discs, so Garth carefully fitted the three defensive discs in his breastbone, and was about to start seating his newest creation, the teleportation disc, when Cass barged through the door with a beer in his hand.
“There you are, did you know you’re late for…” He took in the scene, his lips pursed. “Ah.”
“So what prompted this?” Cass asked, pulling up a chair and slouching in front of Garth. “Seems extreme.”
“I was hoping it would seem like I was a guy that was serious about living. And you do know I almost died a few days ago right?”
Garth grabbed the little circle of stiff paper, and dipped it in ink before carefully pressing it onto his breastbone, making a clean guideline for him to follow.
“Fair enough.” Cassius said, nodding. “I used to dabble in stuff like that before I started jumping around from body to body and it got to be too much of a hassle for too little return.”
“How long have you been jumping around?”
Garth winced as the pain started to come back.
“Wilson, could I get another-“ The lizard, already used to the routine, had Garth sprayed with the cocaine solution before he could finish speaking. “Thanks.”
“Well, once you finish up, you’re due outside for another lesson.” Cass stood and was about to leave when a thought occurred to Garth.
“Is it possible to cut a god off from their apostles?”
“What?” Cass asked with a frown.
“I haven’t been visited by Beladia since the dungeon cores fell. Does that have any relation?”
“No.” He sat back down and thought about it a moment, his jaw on his chin, brows furrowed in concentration.
“The only one who could cut Beladia off from all her apostles would be another god. If that had happened, I would have heard about it.” Cass gave him a blank stare for a moment, then nodded. “Yep, some of my Beladia worshipping friends say they’re still in contact with her, which brings me to the only other people who could do that. Me and people like me.”
“But why me specifically?” Garth asked.
“I dunno.” Cass shrugged. “I assume because something sleazy was going down on Earth nearby and they didn’t want you tattling to mommy B. If you want to reestablish your connection, you can go to one of her temples, and maybe even choose a second patron if your war contribution is high enough.”
“I destroyed the scroll with my information.” Garth said. It might not be any skin off his back if he never spoke to Beladia again, but something told him it would be a good idea to get back in touch with her, unfortunately he’d destroyed the only way the Inner Spheres kept track of him.
“They’re freakin’ gods, man. They’d keep score even if the entire universe was burnt to the ground. Your scroll doesn’t mean shit to them.” Cass picked up the teleportation disc and began idly inspecting it, turning the studded Mythic core slice over in his hands.
“What do you think?”
“I think you basically strapped a jet-engine to a go-kart. Amateurish at best. You could have made the engraving much smaller allowing for more complexity without losing an ounce of power.”
“Excellent.” Garth said, snatching it away from Cass’s fingers. He’d long since learned to interpret the man’s opinion on anything not made by him. At the lowest rung was ‘abysmal suicide machine’, followed by ‘finger painting’, then ‘amateurish’. Garth hadn’t gotten any assessment higher than that, but he suspected that ‘amateurish’ might pass as quite good in most other circles.
Garth inspected the teleportation disc between his thumb and forefinger. The thing was densely packed with tiny engravings, studded with rare metals, and included a powerful mana capacitor scavenged from the portable Gate, hanging off it awkwardly.
Garth wasn’t sure it was called a mana capacitor, but that’s what it did. Teleportation was a notoriously difficult proposition, and it was similarly very mana intensive to tear open a Gate. Enter the mana capacitor, which stored excess mana in a tightly compressed form and shot it out all at once on demand.
It would increase the range of his teleportation disc from a hundred yards to a hundred miles, and with a Mythic core helping recharge it, he’d be able to jump every ten seconds or so. If only it wasn’t so clunky.
Cass grunted, then leaned forward to inspect Garth’s setup.
“Whatcha got?” he said.
“Protection for my body,” Garth tapped the top disc. “Protection for my mind.” he tapped the second one. “A backup mana battery in case I lose a quickdraw.” He tapped the third. “And teleportation to get the hell out of dodge when that happens.”
“Sounds to me like you’re planning on getting your ass kicked and running away, rather than planning on winning the fight.”
Garth cocked his head to the side. “Never thought of it like that.”
Cass chuckled and picked up one of Garth’s drafting pencils, writing something down on the paper.
“There’s the address to one of Beladia’s temples that takes its job more seriously. Some of her temples can be a bit….eeeh..wishy-washy. She’s not the goddess of taking care of business, after all. The people at this one won’t try to get in your pants or make you sit around for milk and cookies, or babysit, or help in the garden for hours on end.” He set the pen down when he was done and glanced at Garth.
“Once you’re done, hurry up and come receive your lesson.”
Wilson was staring at the dead rat in the corner of the room as Cass walked out.
“I think the problem was interference with skin’s natural functions. Think we could use a microscope with Plant Analysis?”
Garth hadn’t tried inspecting a single spore before. Mostly because he couldn’t physically see them.
“That might work.” he said, socketing the teleportation disc in the exposed bone. Garth made sure the enchantments were secure before applying a healing solution and carefully reapplying the flap of skin to his chest, making sure there were no air bubbles. It reminded him of putting a screen protector on a new phone, only in this case, air bubbles could cause health problems.
About half an hour later, Garth’s skin was settled to his satisfaction, and with a few applications of the Heal spell, the ache was gone completely. He rubbed his chest and could barely make out the difference. There wasn’t even a scar, which was excellent.
Garth levered himself out of the bed and started getting dressed, still a little buzzed from repeated applications of coke straight to an open wound.
Garth strapped his Status band back on, and checked his Abilities for the first time in a while.
Apostle of Beladia
Blessings: Photosynthesis, Temperature resistance, Empowered Plant Magic, Pheremones, Hyper-fertility.
Class: Neophyte Phytomagus
Skills: Mana Boost, Mana Channel, Mana Wielding, Spell Theory, Delayed Spell, Recursive Spell, Enchanting*NEW, Divine Lantern Style *NEW
Spells: Control Plants, Design Plant, Force Armor, Forestwalk, Create Fire, Haste, Plant Growth, Teleport, Polymorph, Fly, Shrink, Summon Nature Spirit, Force Shield, Fireball, Telekinesis, Magic Jar, Heal, Illusion, Floating Eye, Scry, Stone Shape, Wall of Stone, Create Water, Warding, Charm, Clarion Call, Operant Conditioning, Bark Skin
Evolutions: Mana Sight, Resilient Mind*NEW
Divine Lantern Style? Garth thought with a smirk as the information flooded his mind. My kung-fu is unbeatable.
He’d unlocked another evolution without knowing about it, probably an intentional result of Cass dicking around in his head so much, but the thing that bothered him the most wasn’t any of the new stuff. It was actually the odd uniformity of his statistics. The only way things all lined up perfectly like that was when they’d been maxed out. That was, assuming the maximum for everything was the same, which didn’t make sense, when you thought about it.
If that was the case it seemed like max growth amounts might be dictated by class and specialization.
Garth picked up the paper, memorized the address then burned it, heading for the practice ring in the evening sun. After Garth cleared L.A. he could visit the temple. It would be tough getting there without the portable Gate, but he was happy with the trade.