When Garth blearily opened his eyes, he was on the ground. Again. Face down this time, nose hurting like a bitch.
It has not been a good day, he thought as he struggled to put his arms under him. Garth just wanted to clear millions of kiplings out of an enormous city in a single afternoon, was that so much to ask?
“I should thank you for the promotion.” A pair of gold and red shoes standing beside him said before a white hot pain lanced through Garth’s back, pinning him to the pavement. Think he got a lung.
Garth could only let out a low, bloody groan as the sword came out of him again. How the hell did he get through all Garth’s fancy enchantments? Garth was starting to see Cass’s wisdom in just blowing up the enemy first rather than dicking around with survivability enhancements.
“You wouldn’t mind telling me where a human’s heart is, would you?”
Just go for the neck, idiot.
“Gofuerselff” Garth moaned.
“Oh well, I guess I’ll cut off your head.”
Here we go. Garth tried to trigger the teleportation disc in his chest, but it was still recharging. Not wasting any time, he reached for an acorn with a stream of mana. Maybe he could push this guy away and buy himself some time. Another three seconds should do it.
The oak burst from beneath Garth, guarding his neck and pushing toward the swordsman’s chest, but it was too slow, he already heard the swishing of a blade cutting through the air above him. If the sword could cut through his force armor and his bark skin, then an extra inch of green oak probably wouldn’t make a big difference.
“Hold on Garth!” a distinctly masculine voice shouted, and the shinta standing above Garth was kicked aside. Out of the corner of his eye, all Garth could see was a mithril boot. Turning his head a bit, He found himself staring up his own brother’s mithril-clad leg. Not a vantage he ever wanted to have.
The six-foot four demigod looking younger brother was wearing a skin-tight shell of priceless metal, with a fancy circlet around his head that made it seem like a choir of angels were softly singing whenever you looked at him. the armor was so tight his six pack was clearly visible through the steel.
Son of a bitch. That’s totally impractical.
“Drug deal go bad?” Jim asked, peering down at him with a scowl as heavily armored men and women flooded the streets, pushing back the last of the clansmen.
You don’t know my life! Garth thought, unable to properly speak. Wilson, translate for me.
“You look like you were dressed by a fourteen year old girl.” Wilson said, approaching from the distance. Nice. No less than six people were wrapped up in red-green gooey leaves anchored to the ground where he came from, and Garth wondered how he managed to branch off and do more than one at a time.
He’d been a bit too preoccupied to watch the fight.
Jim watched Wilson approach and stand next to Garth, obviously his by his leafy visage. Jim was pretty quick on the uptake, his eyes flickering between the two of them, expressing a moment of understanding before he nodded.
“And thanks for the save.” Wilson growled reluctantly. “Once my lung seals, I’ll get you back.”
“Get me back? That sounds-one sec-“ Jim was interrupted by a white hot blade streaking down toward him. Jim lunged forward and caught the shinta’s swing under his forearm, plunged a shortsword between the plates of his armor and kicked him away, tumbling across the street to where Sandi was resting, the humans having taken the burden of fighting an entire unit off her shoulders.
Garth was suddenly struck by the conversation he’d had with Sandi’s mom about her childhood wish list, and it was possible Jim checked more boxes. Garth experienced an instant of irrational jealousy.
“If you make a move on my girlfriend, I’ll make you suffer.” Wilson said unbidden. Garth didn’t ask him, but he did feel that way a bit.
“What?” Jim asked, glancing back down at him with a frown. “Anyway, was I right? Karma bite you in the ass for trying to be a Heisenberg?”
“Jokes on you,” Wilson said as Garth summoned Woody. “Everyone loves my drugs. They’re still legal off-planet, too. I don’t even have any competitors. No, this particular clusterfuck was a result of trying to be a hero. Apparently the trick is waiting until somebody else has done most of the work.”
The ten-foot treant carefully picked up Garth and cradled him like a baby so as not to aggravate the split stomach, the sucking chest wound, and the burns on his arms and legs.
“Damn!” Jim said, eye widening as he saw the damage. Frankly it wasn’t nearly as bad as it was twenty seconds ago, but it still looked pretty bad. “You gonna be okay?”
Garth weakly waved an arm.
“We’ll be fine in a couple minutes.” Wilson said.
Garth looked around, where the last of the clansmen were running scared in front of Jim’s well-financed army. I hope they get all of ‘em. The last thing he needed was more clans looking to kill a purple human. As far as Garth was aware, that was a pretty short list.
“So what are you doin’ here anyway?” Wilson asked while Garth focused on getting his lung patched up. At least he wasn’t passing out.
“Well, my first hint was when you asked me to purchase ten million credits worth of something called ‘top tier aether crystals’, in cash.”
“Heh, yeah,” Garth croaked, stifling a painful cough.
“Then I heard a rumor about a drug making its way through the upper echelons of the Inner Sphere bureaucracy called Cocaine. I got a little concerned, so I came to your town on a hunch, and lo and behold, you had an entire goddamn grow operation in the middle of the desert.”
“And?” Wilson asked.
“And did you seriously use me to launder your fucking drug money?”
“Launder? Nah, that would imply the money coming back to me clean. It’s more like I used you to purchase supplies I couldn’t have otherwise obtained legitimately.” Wilson said. “I’d call it being a patsy.”
“Not cool.” Jim said, shaking his head.
“Needed the crystals,” Garth said, testing his newly patched lung. “Saved my ass today. Besides, I wasn’t doing a drug deal here, I was-“
“Thank you so much for saving us!” a dark-haired woman with a child on her hip said, sobbing as she gave Garth an awkward hug past Woody’s thick arms.
Damn, I would have expected her to hug Jim. It usually seems to go that way.
“You’re welcome.” Garth said, manning up as he patted her shoulder with a crispy hand. “There’s a safe place to stay to the East, I can take all of you once my brother and I finish talking.”
“Yep, food, clothes, weapons, safety, rules.” He glanced at the kid resting on her hip, a toddler with a shock of messy blonde hair and blue eyes. The woman was quite obviously Hispanic.
“This is Emanuel, his mother…turned, so I’m his mother now.”
Garth tousled his hair and turned back to his mom. “Tell the others we’ll be going back to base, and anyone who wants to come is welcome.”
She nodded and ran over to the other survivors who were staring slack-jawed at the superhuman soldiers in gleaming armor who’d saved them. Her excited voice faded into the background chatter as Garth redirected his attention to Jim.
“Jim, I’ve got the kernel of a plan. The world order was completely turned on its ear, and it’s a scramble to rebuild it. Earth is hemorrhaging people and money. Did you know there are some species that never recover after their universe is assimilated? Do you know what they call those planets? Free land. I’m not going to let that happen to us. I’m going to make a large, productive city, then I’m going to establish intercontinental travel and communication.”
Come to think of it, if Cass could make a blade of grass into a portal, there had to be a way to make intercontinental portals out of trees. In his mind’s eye, he saw an eight-lane superhighway leading from L.A. to Tokyo with a travel time of three minutes.
Yeah, that could work.
“And you’re going to make the aliens pay for it I imagine.”
Garth shrugged, saying, “They really like the cocaine.”
Jim shook his head and sighed.
“I’m glad you’re so interested restoring the country, because the remaining cabinet members wanted me to find out who was selling the drugs and-“
“Nope.” Garth said.
“You realize all the rich old white guys you were brown nosing your entire life are now just regular old white guys? Everyone’s money and power have been reset to zero. The only power they have is when people like you perpetuate it.”
“What are you getting at?” Jim asked.
“I’m not rebuilding the U.S., I’m not working under anyone or financing anyone, not a single damn credit. My hat’s in the ring. I’m gonna bring together every continent on Earth, personally, under my flag.”
Jim’s eyebrows raised. “How do you plan to do that?”
“Something some of your old white men might not fully realize is that magic is a thing now, and it’s gotta be taken account for. A worldwide hub that could allow you to travel to any city on the planet in a matter of minutes is within the realm of possibility now. being able to travel to any corner of the globe instantly means…”
“You could have a global government.” Jim said, slowly nodding.
“I don’t know if I’m the first person to think of it, but I’m not going to be the last. I’m going to rebuild my city faster than anyone else, amass obscene amounts of money and establish portals to spread it across the globe. Highway to Beijing in five minutes.”
Jim rested his palm on the pommel of his sword as he chewed his lip, tapping his fingers on the sheath. That was unmistakably his thinking face.
“It’s a good idea. Can I get in on it?”
Garth looked Jim over, his eyes narrowed as he weighed his options. If he let Jim in, there was a 95% chance he’d go down in history as the guy who unified the world, and Garth would be a forgotten footnote in the appendices.
Things just turned out that way.
On the other hand, Jim’s help significantly raised the chance of success, and he trusted him marginally more than Tyler. Plus, with Jim’s army there, it would be that much easier to keep the thug under control and not have to kill him.
Gain a piece, avoid losing a piece, in exchange for not being famous after his death? Probably a good deal.
Garth swallowed the bile in his throat, along with his longing for recognition. Gotta work with people you don’t like if you want to accomplish something great.
“Alright.” Garth said, extending his hand. “But if you fuck me over I’ll turn you into a woodland creature and hunt you for sport.”
Jim blinked, and caught Garth’s hand. “You can do that?” he asked.
“Officially, no.” Garth said as he gathered a stream of mana to flow through his hand into Jim’s, using Polymorph to change it into a hoof.
Jim yelped and jumped backward, shaking as he watched his hoof morph back into a normal human hand.
“But I haven’t been playing by the rules.”