“Before we do this,” Garth said, glancing around at the grim-faced people surrounding him. “Can I unload my baby?”
Four of the surrounding wizards glanced at the fifth, checking with her. Their leader was a muscly corio woman about five and a half feet tall, not including the horns.
“Of course,” she said, nodding. “We’re not monsters.”
“If there’s a proper code of etiquette for this sort of thing, I’d love to know what it is,” Garth said, heading toward Tyler. “Ethics separate the monsters from the people.” The wizards followed him, keeping their tight chokehold on the mana around him. Garth’s mana battery was still good to go, though, its Mythic Core wafers holding onto mana like nobody’s business.
It must be rare for people to embed priceless ingredients into their bodies. Garth thought as he glanced around. The basis for any wizard is forethought and preparation, but these people seemed to treat magic as more of a martial art than Garth, who went with the classic D&D wizard route. Which might typically be hard if equipment that can resist a Lantern is priceless.
Garth understood he had an unfair advantage, and he intended to abuse it maliciously.
There were two red-skinned Benkei, a human looking half-elf, an orc, and a corio leading them.
“Here, hold my baby,” Garth said, passing Lucy to Tyler. The backbiting mercenary took the child with a confused expression. “If you try anything, I’ll make you cry, and if she gets hurt, I’ll kill ya.”
He chuckled. “Sure, man.”
“Okay,” Garth said, turning back to face the robed individuals. “Thanks for waiting, what would you like to know?”
“A half-elf, black hair, grey eyes, this tall. You were seen going into the Gatehouse with him. That very same day he disappeared, along with the Gatekeeper of two different gates.” The middle-aged corio woman said.
“Did you kill Terok? He was my apprentice, and so I take this sort of thing very seriously.”
Time to think fast. Garth started spinning a lie almost as fast as it spilled out of his mouth.
“It wasn’t me, but I saw who did it.”
“This Terok guy you’re talking about had me under so many mind spells, I thought he was my best friend I’d never met before. Said he was going to introduce my business to the Dan Ui clan, and I was eating it up. After a short chat it came up that I was carrying a Mythic Core, and had more back home.”
“Really?” The corio woman said, her brows raising. She smelled the opportunity. The key aspect of any good con is blinding the target with greed.
“So he asked me to give it to him, and I did. Anyway, it all seemed like it was going good, when there was an argument, and the red skinned girl along with three others stabbed Terok in the back, pocketing the Core.”
“Whatever hold he had on me, it broke when his body hit the floor, and I just bolted. I heard some swords hitting each other and a lot of shouting behind me, and that was the last I saw of them.”
“That’s a very fanciful story. You mean to tell me one of Terok’s charges killed him for a Mythic Core?”
“That’s what it seemed like.” Garth said. “I didn’t know who they were or what their relationships were, but it seemed like he was in charge until the notion of getting their hands on seven Mythic Cores came up.”
“They’re already gone. Turned in to the cores.” Garth said, waving his hand. “I didn’t want a run-in with anyone like that again so I got rid of them. Case in point.”
The Corio woman crossed the distance between the two of them in a fraction of a second, clamping a hand down on Garth’s skull.
“You wouldn’t mind if I fact check that, would you?”
Garth would’ve answered, but he felt the tendrils of energy working their way through his brain.
They entered, then seemed to dissipate like drops of food coloring in a stormy sea, disconnected and dispersed into the ever-shifting mass of his thoughts.
“What the hell is this?” The corio woman said, changing to a palm on his forehead. A tuning fork hit Garth’s gut, twisting it, but it gave off a sensation like stale bread.
“I can’t read you.” She said, staring up at him with a frown. “You couldn’t be a master…” Her eyes lit up with understanding. “An apostle of Pala.”
“You got me,” Garth said, putting his hands up. Who knew Pala’s blessing would come in handy so soon? “’Still didn’t kill the guy though.”
There was a dangerous gleam in the woman’s eyes. “An Apostle of Pala cannot be taken at their word.”
Garth saw her arm tense and decided to bail.
With an instant of shifting light, Garth triggered the teleport spell in his chest and was standing outside their Lantern’s radius, watching her sword shear through empty air where his legs had been.
Garth adopted the stance Cass had taught him, creating a Lantern that covered a radius of nine feet. Not his best work, but he was tired as hell.
The corio displayed no shock at his sudden escape, only calling a single word as she watched him.
Silvery blue transparent domes sprung up around them out of the hands of her four teammates, making Garth’s skin crawl as they passed over him, expanding until he couldn’t see them anymore.
If Garth had to guess, it was to limit his escape, most likely by preventing teleportation. It wasn’t really an option anyway since Tyler had his kid, but it still pressured him.
“Are you sure we have to do this ma’am?” Garth said. “You’re attacking an innocent man.” Another key point: Sticking to your story. Garth wasn’t going to drop the act under any circumstances. Even if he won the fight, however unlikely that was, he’d stick with it.
“I highly doubt it.” She glanced at Garth’s lantern, then Lucy, then back to him. Don’t even think about it you bitch.
“Should we take the child?” one of the Benkei asked, following her gaze.
“It’s beneath a member of the Dan Ui clan. Seek the easy answers to everything and you’ll stunt your training.”
Rather than try to take the baby hostage, she motioned for her men and Garth to follow her away from the spectators, along with the infant. Maybe she’s not a bitch.
They walked away from the group, Garth’s heart hammering in his chest.
Make sure Tyler doesn’t try anything funny. Garth sent a quick thought to Wilson, who nodded and stayed behind.
Once they were a significant distance away from Tyler’s army, She stood facing him with her arms crossed.
“You asked to learn the proper etiquette. I appreciate that. I am going to arrest you on behalf of the Dan Ui clan, and you are going to resist by challenging us to a duel.”
“Of course. Less blood will be shed than a chaotic melee.” She nodded to the red skinned man beside her, who stepped forward. Damnit, she’s right. Garth didn’t have much of a chance of beating them solo, and probably less of one beating all of them together, unless he could harness the power of a chaotic melee, which they weren’t interested in letting him do.
The woman was pretty calm, all things considered.
“Falk Bren,” the red-skinned man said, taking a stance with his lantern held out in front of him. the desert dust swirled around the man’s ankles. “Meteor style, Ukalei Horn.”
“Now you say your name, followed by your school and your master. I can tell you have one. You can make up a lie if you wish, but we’ll pry the truth out of you later one way or another.”
Garth wanted to make fun of them for their silly Korean robes, the stick up their asses, and the need to announce their name, school, and master every time they fought, but they were serious as a heart attack, and Garth didn’t think it would go over well.
Ah well, when in rome.
“Garth Daniels,” he said, taking his pose again “Divine Lantern, Cassius umm….” Garth clicked his tongue. “He didn’t give me a last name.”
At Garth’s words, a few of the mages shared meaningful looks, some even backing away from him a bit, but their leader was not amused.
Her face crumpled into an angry frown. “More lies. I guess we’ll have to find out who your real teacher is after we bring you back.”
Garth considered protesting, but he knew when someone was already sure you were lying, you couldn’t tell the truth any more convincingly than you already had. Maybe this Pala thing was a mixed bag.
“I guess so.”
Falk bren gave a shout and leapt forward, slamming into the dusty earth with his lantern in the dust, spool held forward, a feral look on his face. Out of his hand came some kind of beam, a scintillating white light that lanced straight toward Garth’s chest.
Garth raised his right hand, warding off the beam with Force Shield as he tried to dodge. There was never any telling if something could be stopped by a lousy force shield. The beam degraded in the area of Garth’s lantern, wisps of white mana peeling away, but it still reached his shield.
Rather than try to penetrate it, the beam caught his defensive magic and turned it into a flare, the entire shield exploding with light in front of his eyes.
“Gah!” Garth was trying to blink the stars out of his eyes when he heard a rush of air above him.
Without being able to see, Garth did the grade school move of turtling up. Garth dropped as quickly as he could, slamming his face into the dust, triggering his bracelet of seeds on contact with the ground. An inpenetrable ironwood grew up around him, its roots rippling under the ground and creating an excellent five sevenths dome around him with a little hole in the back.
Garth immediately triggered the Fly enchantment on his Status band and flew backwards in a sliding dogeza out of his little igloo. Simultaneously, the earth shook and an ear shattering crash echoed from above him, followed by another a second later.
Garth was still blinking the spots out of his eyes, desperately scanning the surroundings for his opponent, when he realized the man was nowhere to be seen.
That leaves up or down. Garth thought in the brief instant of realization. A guy with a style called Meteor wouldn’t burrow underground, Garth thought, taking a gamble and throwing his bracelet up above him and creating a large ironwood shield.
The crunch of stone on wood sounded, and a shock went through his right arm, pressing the shield down and smacking Garth upside the head.
Spent way too much strength on those blessings, Garth cursed internally as his vision finally cleared, revealing the benkei floating above Garth, weaving glistening onyx spears out of raw mana that floated, glittering menacingly within the radius of his Lantern.
Well, that sucks. A fight between wizards was all about getting the upper hand, and using that to build up your lead before squishing the other guy. Either that or overpowering their Lantern with your own and bringing it into a brawl.
Looking at Mr. Bren’s chiseled forearms and rough hewn hands, Garth didn’t think that was an option either. In the distance, Garth made out his half-smashed igloo, with a massive boulder sitting on it. did they really expect to capture him rather than kill him?
“My meteor style harnesses the power of Earth and Sky to rain destruction on the enemies of my clan!” The crimson skinned alien shouted from the center of a swirling tornado of obsidian shards.
Why do they always feel the need to monologue? Maybe it’s an unwritten part of formal combat etiquette, Garth thought, plucking a seed off his bracelet and giving it a short pep-talk.
Dig down really deep before you grow up. I want you to be as flexible as spring steel and hit just as hard when you’re triggered. I believe in you.
Garth gave the seed a mental thumbs up and dropped it under his foot, channeling mana through his Lantern and down his leg, where his opponent couldn’t see it.
“My Garth style harnesses the power of Plants to make a quick buck and do lots of blow, I guess. Although more recently, shadow and trickery might start to play a factor. We’ll see.”
Come to think of it, I haven’t sampled my own product yet, Garth thought as he directed the tree to grow down deep, then up sideways, storing an enormous amount of kinetic energy, like a giant venus fly trap. There were a handful of plants that could move fast, and Garth had studied them in detail. He knew how to do this trick.
The earth gave no sign of the plant burrowing deep underneath it, as it was carving out the rock for mass as it went, compacting harder and harder.
“You mock me!?” Falk demanded.
“Well, no. I just never intended to fight people to the death on a regular basis, so you’ll understand if my style isn’t particularly impressive. Although maybe if you’re that insecure about it, you actually do have something to be worried abou-:”
Falk shouted and sent a mass of dark rocks hurtling down at Garth, who used both hands on his shield to deflect them. The impact nearly drove him to his knees, heavy chunks of iron and glass clattering off his shield.
“See, this kind of overreaction is a pretty clear indicator that you don’t really believe you’re as good as you say. Maybe if you spent more time practicing and less time defending your honor, you’d-“
Falk screamed, hurtling through the air toward Garth, a swirling aura of razor sharp obsidian around him as he pulled his fist back to strike.
Garth leaned to the side and slid his foot off the trigger.
A waist thick pole of pitch black wood fifty feet long erupted from the ground in a spray of rock and dirt in front of Garth, catching the crimson wizard midair like a flyswatter.
The fighter’s body ragdolled into the distance as Garth covered a yawn. It had been such a long day.