Garth let go of the dungeon core, and it sprang back down the hole like it had been shot from a sling, hitting the ground and tumbling deeper into the cave. Garth kept his ear cocked toward the entrance, and he could tell that the kipling were still coming.
Garth’s plan wasn’t particularly fair or exciting, but it didn’t have to be exciting to be efficient. In fact the two were often mutually exclusive.
Garth turned on the enchantments in his Status band, and picked up Sandi.
“Whoah, hey!” She shouted, squirming a bit as her real body was lifted into the air by soft telekinetic hands.
“Just returning the favor,” Garth said before floating out the entrance to the cave and up a hundred feet above it, out of the reach of the feral kipling.
In every direction, kipling flooded the streets, rushing the dungeon. The ones following the path of murdergrass Garth had seeded slowed, stumbled, and fell, before asphyxiating.
The rest of them swarmed the dungeon, half of them piling into it, while the rest clumped into a writhing ball of pale skin and sharp teeth, crawling on top of each other to get a little bit closer to Garth.
Let’s make it about as wide across as a football field, that should be plenty to get all of them when they decide to flee. Garth directed the grass to fold around the kipling, and in their mindless scrabbling, they failed to notice the single organism, slightly psychic poisonous grass encircling their herd.
Herd. I wonder what a group of kipling is called. Maybe buttload? Maybe Wilson will have a better idea-
Garth’s train of thought ended abruptly as he realized that he had not picked up Wilson.
“I’m good,” Wilson called from Sandi’s back. “How about a Merger? A bunch of white people eating you alive? Take a word back from corporate America and make it mean something equally horrifying.”
“Sorry, I forgot you can’t apparate any more.”
“No problem, I can literally read your mind so I wasn’t surprised.” Wilson said, petting Sandi’s head in a way that Garth wasn’t entirely happy about. In response to that thought, the lizard’s grin got wider.
“We’re going to have to talk about consequences.” Garth said.
“Garth?” Sandi said, her Lure clutching to Garth’s waist for dear life.
“Get me down!” Sandi was staring down at the ground eleven-ish stories below them with a horrified expression.
“Okay, lemme just…” Garth said, fluffing up the encirclement a little to make sure all the assembled kipling were doomed before they began to slowly descend the way they’d come, back along the kipling studded grass. Any of the monsters that tried to follow him suffered an ignoble death before being slowly devoured by grass.
They made great fertilizer, come to think of it.
“Wait,” Sandi said, tugging on his collar. “What’s that?”
Garth drew his gaze up from the grass filled street ahead of him to the group of maybe fifty ragged survivors that seemed to have run straight out of a Mad Max movie about four blocks ahead and a street over. They had guns on their waists, but they were using impromptu melee weapons to stay as quiet as possible as they left the shopping mall, the women and children pushing carts full of raided cans of food. The sudden rush of kipling must have spooked them out of their hiding spot.
“Thought most of the people in L.A. would have starved to death the next evening. Guess not.” Wilson said.
“Do they not have any farms in L.A.?” Sandi asked.
“No, it’s because most of them were already starving themselves to try and look more attractive. Well, some of them.” Garth admitted they might have just been being mean.
“That doesn’t make any sense.” Sandi frowned, watching the people cautiously making their way down the streets in a tight knot, weapons forming a bristling urchin shape as they crowded together.
“If you’d seen America before the apocalypse, you’d understand,” Garth said. “Now we should probably go down there and ask if they’ve heard the good news about our lord and savior, Beladia.” Beladia was pretty much the best god to worship, in Garth’s opinion, and that wasn’t even including the free sex.
“That’s in poor taste,” Wilson said.
“You’re a psychic manifestation of poor taste, don’t give me shit,” Garth said as they swooped down on the survivors.
Just as Garth was wondering how to break the ice with the hardened survivors and whether or not he could survive a bullet through the eye, a solution presented itself.
At the end of the street, a group of uniformed shinta came around the street, stopping the humans in their tracks.
The shinta were wearing gold and red robes and armor with odd wiggly patterns inscribed on their lapels, and trailing ribbons that came from the hems of their shirts. It was an interesting asthetic, to be sure, but Garth found himself apprehensive at the sight of uniforms.
More uniforms. Now he had to figure out if it was the Inner Sphere Military, or a clan, and deal with it accordingly.
“Humans, you are now the property of the Bin Gne clan!” the leading shinta cried, his voice laced with mana that seeped into the assembled survivors and forced them to kneel in despair. He looked middle aged for a shinta. Not as muscley as Kenra, but definitely not a slender youngling. No gray in his fur, either.
“Well, I guess that answers that question,” Garth said before motioning to Wilson. “Here boy.” Wilson scowled, but jumped into Garth’s arms, the sticky lizard wriggling to get comfortable.
“Sandi,” Garth whispered into her ear. “I’m gonna go see if I can bribe them to let those humans off the hook, you wait on the top of that building. If I need a little help, feel free to step in, but if I’m getting the shit kicked out of me, just run and get help, okay?”
Sandi nodded, and he lowered his man-eating expectant backup to the top of a nearby building overlooking the confrontation.
“Round them up,” the leader said, Casually pointing at the aimlessly staring group of survivors,
“Stop!” Garth said, lacing his intent into his voice with mana, forcing a temporary pause in their movements. The shinta looked up as Garth fell down to earth with Wilson beside him, lighting his pipe and taking a puff as he landed between the survivors and the slaving guild.
Once Garth got to ground level, he had to take another draw on the pipe to cover his nerves at seeing a fully armed group of clan members in front of him. They looked a bit like tabletop figurines from a hundred feet above, but standing face to face, the warriors looked like they weighed five hundred pounds apiece and could snap his spine with a single gloved fist.
The enchantments spread across the five-hundred man unit made the surrounding mana whirl and twist chaotically, causing Garth’s eyes to tear up a bit as he looked at them.
On the other hand, Garth could tell that they were taking him seriously too, the mage glanced at his Status Band, the powerful enchanted discs creating a potent whorl of mana around his left arm as he floated to the ground.
Garth noted that his enchantments circulated mana quite a bit faster than theirs. That meant they could surmise from a glance that Garth was wearing enchanted Mythic Core, and hopefully believed him to be too.
Luckily the layer of skin deadened their senses when it came to the stuff in his chest, so he still had a get out of jail free card. Why does living material cover mana flow better than non-living, anyway?
Garth brushed aside the thought as he exhaled, keeping a schooled expression of indifference. At least according to their uniforms, they probably weren’t looking for Terok. Garth was starting on neutral territory, hopefully.
The ringing of drawing blades made Garth think maybe he wasn’t going to get it that easy.
“What do you want?” The leader spoke.
“I’m just a passing philanthropist, looking to do a good deed for my species.” Garth said.
“I’m sure you’ve heard about the new drug spreading through the Inner Spheres from Earth?”
The leader nodded.
“I’ll give you five pounds of cocaine for each human here.” Garth said. “That’s a pretty good profit, and hey, nobody says I’m going to be watching you for the rest of your life. Once we part ways, you’re free to find another group and enslave them. I just want to save the people I can see.”
The Shinta’s eyes narrowed as he considered Garth’s proposal.
“And you,” He said, pointing to Garth. “Are you human?”
“I’m a purple peeple-eater.” Garth said with a straight face.
“I see.” The shinta rubbed his chin. “And are you a citizen?”
Crap, Garth thought. He quickly snapped off a mental email to governor Kine, Garth’s first contact on the Inner sphere’s bureaucracy higher than a mailman. To be fair, leader of a city wasn’t that high either, considering the scope of the Inner Spheres, but Garth took what he could get.
Tell your powder buddies they got me de-enlisted if anyone asks.
P.S. how are the kids? I know your oldest, Tomi wants to get in the business, but you should steer him toward peddling chocolate or vanilla. The money will be almost as good, and there’s significantly less chance of somebody breaking his kneecaps, you know what I mean? That and the government might outlaw it at some point and that wouldn’t be good for him.
And has Tyler touched off with you on Jindar yet? I haven’t heard from him. It’s pretty normal for him to leave me in the dark, so I’m just trying to get an estimate on when I can expect him back.
Anyway, I should sign off on this letter, since this shinta’s glaring at me kinda funny. Oh, shit, did I write that?-
Garth finished the letter and sent it out.
“Noooo…” Garth said. “I was exempted from the draft by friends I made in the inner spheres during my tour. I might not be a citizen, but I’ve got more pull than an average one, that’s for sure.
“So you’re telling me you’re not a citizen.” The shinta said.
“I know what you’re thinking,” Garth said, sighing a cloud of smoke. “You’re thinking hey, let’s kidnap this successful people-eater and steal the rights to his business because he doesn’t technically own them, according to the letter of the law. Then we can gank him and say whatever we want.”
“I want to stop you right there,” Garth said, taking another deep breath from his pipe. “Because if you tried that, you would lose more than you hope to gain, trust me. I’ve got friends in high places. A planetary senator, a few governors.”
These people weren’t technically friends, just people who enjoyed the boost in performance and confidence in their public speaking. They might not even know Garth existed, since Kine probably wanted to keep himself the only channel through which cocaine flowed into the government.
Sooner or later, one of the politicians would come snooping around Earth, looking for a better deal, and Garth would welcome them. Nothing like a little healthy competition to energize the workforce.
“The Elder did not tell us to bring home money, drugs, or influence with petty bureaucrats. She told us to bring humans, end of discussion. I will not underperform my mission for the sake of a momentary gain. Leave now, purple peeple-eater, or the Bin Gne clan will banish your soul to the abyss.”
Garth took a deep draw of his pipe, mixing hallucinogenic smoke with it on the exhale. A cloud was starting to form over their heads, waiting for Garth to send it down.
“Look, I don’t…I don’t want to make an enemy of any clans I don’t have to. Is there anything I could do to convince you to look the other way?”
“No.” The lead mage raised his hand and the mana in the area was emptied out.
It was on.
All the enchantments fizzled in the twenty foot radius surrounding the guy. Garth was standing inside that radius, and all the hairs on his neck stood up as he felt the mana he had become so comfortable using escape his grasp. Wilson didn’t look so good either. The plant lizard wasn’t moving from his spot.
“Eep!” Garth lunged backward, aiming for the outside of the mage’s area. Unfortunately, the man seemed like he’d had a fair amount of experience dealing with other wizards as he matched Garth’s pace, keeping him locked inside the mana void.
The first row of Shinta soldiers followed their leader.
Faster than Garth could follow, one of the warriors charged forward. When he wound back for a strike on Garth’s face, he took Garth’s hasty defense as an opportunity to kick Garth’s legs out from under him, deliberately keeping him inside the area of the mage’s Lantern. As Garth was falling, another strike came down from above, slamming him brutally a couple inches into the concrete.
“Ow.” It hurt more than it should have, because his Endurance was ten lower than it should have been. Hopefully he hadn’t drained his little emergency battery with the Bark Skin.
The rest of the soldiers spread out like outfielders, aiming to prevent his escape.
“Guess you guys have had some practice at this.” Garth moaned.
Please, please, pleeeeease work. Garth prayed, looking up at the sky and the scowling shinta warrior standing directly over him.
Garth triggered the teleporter in his chest, drawing a sudden surge of mana out of the battery and the capacitor.
The shinta leering over him disappeared, leaving only the blue sky above as Garth’s prone form vanished, appearing a hundred feet above them. Hah Hah!
He heard them begin to shout as all Garth’s gear turned on again, humming with power. With an effort of will, Garth set up his own Lantern, with a radius of a measly twelve feet, allowing his enchantments to draw power through his wrist and keep him afloat.
Hmm…that guy is going to be a problem. Garth thought, orienting himself and looking down at the red and gold uniformed figures below him. Garth would be on the defensive the entire fight, from what he knew about fighting other spellslingers. It would be very hard to make contact with anything composed of mana unless he was standing nose-to-nose with the guy and Garth didn’t think that was a good idea.
Hallucinogenic smoke wasn’t made of mana after it was created, though.
Garth grabbed the cloud of smoke he’d left hanging over their heads and pushed it down. The leader and the first row were smack dab in the middle of the cloud. Rather than oblige him and breath in, they scattered in every direction. The mage must have seen where the thread of mana pushing the air had come from, because he craned his neck up before launching into the air to confront Garth personally.
He pushed forward, and Garth pulled back, aiming to keep their areas separate. If this guy was stronger than him, it made no sense to get into a magical arm-wrestling contest. They kept at it like that for only a few moments of them pirouetting through the sky before the shinta realized he couldn’t keep up with the speed of Garth’s enchantment, and he stopped trying to close the distance.
In the meantime, Garth tried to use telekinesis to grab and throw anything he could from the ground. Rocks, bricks, unattended swords.
The first two bounced off the man’s Force Shield with no effect. The last one got a rise out of him, causing the wizard to visibly flinch as the blade sang through the air toward him, breaking through his shield and missing him by inches.
The shinta mage caught the sword with telekinesis and gave Garth an angry glare.
“Who taught you that technique?” the shinta mage asked, his eyes narrowed as he studied Garth clutching his Lantern tightly to his chest. “Who would teach a human the proper way to fight?”
“The Fraggles.” Garth said.
“I see, then we shall have to investigate these Fraggles and enforce punitive measures on them for teaching such things to non-citizens.”
Garth giggled, chortling in mid-air. “You’re gonna take punitive actions against the Fraggles? Good luck finding them.”
The Shinta mage responded with a fastball of gleaming steel. The sword came back, spinning so fast that it buzzed, reinforced with several layers of densely packed mana.
Some of the mana dissolved as it went through Garth’s area, but only twelve feet of mana void wasn’t enough to strip all of it. Garth put up a Force shield, but it shattered, sloughing off a bit more of the mana.
The blade broke through the Force armor enchantment and buried itself halfway through Garth’s torso, treating his Bark Skin like…regular skin. The momentum in the blade and the distraction of being semi-bisected brought Garth crashing to the ground. It hurt a little less this time.
Garth impacted against the brick walls of a sun-bleached building and tumbled to the ground, staring up at the mage above him. he glanced over to the side, where Wilson was growling at the other soldiers, edging toward one of the survivor’s abandoned submachine guns.
Heh, good idea. make sure you get them in the eye. Garth was pretty sure everywhere else on their bodies was as hard as steel. He glanced over at the survivors, just starting to come out of their stupors. Were they worth dying for?
Definitely not, but the window to escape easily was long since passed.
Even if Garth teleported away, he couldn’t afford to leave behind his psychic band-aid, or his girlfriend without a gag reflex.
Now that’s worth dying for.
Garth was trying to form a plan to bolt that involved launching Wilson halfway across the city and teleporting to catch up, when the mage lifted his arms over his head and began swirling them through the air, condensing some kind of green mist out of a thick layer of mana on his hands. A bit like gently forming curds of scrambled eggs, except upside down, green and probably lethal.
Garth yanked the sword from his gut, gritting his teeth and keeping his eyes on the mage. The green mist was forming some kind of serpentine shape that moved like it was alive. Garth wasn’t sure why the man wasn’t forcing his way into Garth’s Lantern and putting the jumper cables to his balls, but he had probably put a healthy amount of caution in them.
The wound stopped bleeding quickly thanks to the two-sided disc in Garth’s breastbone. He glanced to the side, and the warriors weren’t coming within thirty feet of Garth, glancing between him and the mage above cooking up his death.
Looks like they didn’t want to be anywhere near him when the bomb hit. Garth had to assume whatever he was making wasn’t made out of mana. He was conjuring something real that would invade Garth’s Lantern and murder him.
Might be a good time to leave. Garth tensed, about to toss Wilson halfway across the city.
“Garth! Are you okay?” Sandi cried as she approached, attracting everyone’s attention.
Dangit. Now I have to be a hero. This sucks.