“Falk!” the female benkei shouted, standing and craning her neck to watch the combatant tumble through the air into the distance, creating a tiny puff of dust where he landed.
Dust. Aerosol. Garth didn’t look, but he idly thumbed his little nightmare smoke producer. If he could get them to take a whiff of it, they’d be out of the game in a matter of seconds. It might be more humane to focus on lethargy rather than paranoia, when he got a chance.
“He’s probably alive,” Garth said keeping his voice soft and raising his hand placatingly. “The body is tough, especially after endurance tops twenty.” It’s hard to die from a fall when you’re as tough relative to your weight as an ant.
“Hera, stay. Connor, check on Falk. Hera, Bor, you’re up.” The master’s expression was one of barely restrained rage. With the light blue skin and forehead built to hold horns, sometimes it was hard to tell, but the twitching eyelid and eyebrows made it clear as day she wasn’t happy.
The half-elf stood and ran after the fallen mage while the other two faced Garth. Hera had a vicious snarl as a whip of crackling lightning manifested around her Lantern, writhing around like a living thing.
“Hera Innier, Lightning Snake style, Ellen Meene.” Ooh, Garth’s mind processed that tidbit of information at lightning speed, forming a plan. If she didn’t share the same name, it was possible they had boned in the last day or two, rather than being brother and sister. Of course if they were married, they could have the same name and still be boning. Hell, they could have different names and still be brother and sister. Guess I’m just going to have to take my chances.
The Orc dropped into a low stance as Earth began to creep up his feet, coating his body like armor, until Garth was looking at The Thing from a certain somewhat popular group of superheroes. I’ll bet he still breathes.
“Bor Mak, Avalanche style, Matar Kuba.” Now there’s a guy who looks like he might burrow through the ground.
“Two on one?” Garth asked. “Seems a little excessive.” Garth summoned Woody. The twelve foot treant stepped through the rift in space, looming behind him, a handy little linebacker to prevent him from being hit by a freaking lightning whip.
Garth was intimidated by the stone armor, but he was not at all interested in being electrocuted by a lightning snakey-whippy thing.
Delay the girl. If I take her out of the fight, turn around and rabbit punch the rock-man as hard as you can. On my signal.
Garth took his stance. “Garth Daniels-
“We heard you the first time!” Hera said, charging him.
“Let’s set some kind of a record.” Garth said as the ground beneath him shook. Woody went for Hera, drumming the ground with every step. Woody was surprisingly more nimble since Garth ate that legendary Treant heartstone.
It didn’t even slow Hera down.
The downside of such a huge linebacker became apparent when the lightning whip wielding woman tucked and slid beneath Woody’s legs without even giving him a chance to stop her.
She was even outpacing the rock-guy, lashing forward with her whip as she slid toward Garth like she was trying to steal home base.
Garth anchored his ironwood shield in the ground and grew it around him in a fraction of a second. the lightning whip crackled, scorching the bark of the tree surrounding him and sinking several inches into the wood he’d magically compelled to be tougher than steel
Garth unleashed a wave of Hyper Fertility.
Most mana gets sucked up by a Lantern, but not Blessings. Maybe it was because mana from the gods was on another wavelength, or maybe it was too fundamental to existence, but there was no blocking it with a lantern.
Garth heard Hera shout in alarm as the ironwood tree around him exploded outward, leaving a hole for him to fly straight up and survey the situation. He funneled mana into his Status Band and flew straight up, shielding himself in case he got sucker-punched.
Hera was panting on the ground in shock, obscenely pregnant. Looks like she and Falk were doing the hanky-panky after all. That made things easier. She wasn’t entirely out of the fight, but as long as Garth stayed out of whip-range, he’d be probably be fine.
Bor was running toward the ironwood tree with all the grace and poise of a sumo wrestler, aiming to tackle the tree into submission.
Then Woody demonstrated the advantage of a massive linebacker as he spun around, catching the stone-covered man in the neck with his outrageous reach and propelling him through the tree and out the other side.
The stone covered orc stumbled once, then collapsed to the ground, rock flaking away from his skin.
Garth delicately landed outside Hera’s whip range and gave her a little bow. “Congratulations, and may Beladia smile on you.” She didn’t pay him any attention, wincing as she held her distended belly. Beladia makes sure you know there’s no such thing as one hundred percent effective contraception.
“Now,” Garth turned back to their leader. “Should I wait for that other guy to get back?” Garth was putting on a strong face to hopefully scare them off, or at least make them nervous, but the fact was, Garth’s heart was hammering in his chest. Adrenaline was making his tired nerves begin to simply give up and shut down. He was exhausted.
“No need, She said, standing. “I’ve been interrogating you this entire time. I watched you fight, and it’s told me everything I need to know about how Terok died. He made a mistake and you jumped on it. Probably lured him into some kind of trap. After he died, you used plant magic to decompose his body so thoroughly we couldn’t scry on it.”
Ooh, good guess. Garth controlled his reaction to her statement. It wasn’t hard. He didn’t feel guilty at all about killing that sack. On the other hand, he did feel pretty bad about killing the innocent Gatekeeper minding his own damn business.
“All we found of his was this.” She spoke, pulling a crystal out of her robe. At the center was a brilliant dot of light. Some kind of stabilized lantern perhaps? Garth recalled seeing it in Terok’s hand just before he punched him in the face and jumped through the portal.
Garth hadn’t taken it because it looked fairly unique and incriminating. That they found it on an entirely different planet spoke volumes about that.
“Well, am I right?”
“Not a word,” Garth lied through his teeth, shaking his head. “They attacked him, I ran, end of story.”
“Then where are they?” she asked. “if things happened like you said, there would be a survivor, or a mess for us to find, and neither of those things happened. As far as I can tell, you’re the only one in the Spheres to have left that room.”
“It’s a big multiverse,” Garth said with a shrug. “There’s got to be plenty of places your clan can’t reach. Maybe the culprit decided to take the Core and run.
“About that.” She said, reaching into her robe and pulling out a scroll case with a blackened scroll inside it.
“I’ve already got proof that everyone who went to Earth died, and at the exact same time.”
“Nope,” Garth said, shaking his head. “Didn’t do it.”
“I’m done with your lies. Bor.”
At her word, Garth felt an iron grasp seize his feet and pull him down underground, burying him up to his neck in the earth.
Garth glanced over at the rock armor laying prone beside the ironwood tree, the chunks that had flaked away revealed the armor to be empty. The orc had probably regained consciousness in a matter of seconds and burrowed through the ground, leaving the shell behind.
Garth was pretty sure he’d seen that move in a Naruto episode. Didn’t mean it wasn’t legit, though.
As for what was going on under him, Garth surprisingly had more wiggle room than the thought he would. The guy wasn’t able to bury both of them perfectly or else he wouldn’t be able to breathe.
Breathe this. Garth thought, channeling mana into the silver paranoia censer on his Bandolier, conveniently underground with the guy holding his legs.
“I’m going to have my revenge for my student. That debt must be paid.”
“Do you take Mastercard?”
Her Lantern snapped up, searing the mana out of the environment with a tangible hum that he felt against his skin. Garth could see it breaking into his lantern and stealing his territory away from him.
In a matter of seconds he wouldn’t be able to channel any mana at all.
Garth triggered the teleport spell buried in his chest. It had been longer than ten seconds, after all.
Garth was hoping the barrier would only prevent teleportation outside the spells area and allow him to hop around inside it. Unfortunately, Garth was stuck.
Next plan. Garth dismissed the idea of trying to attack her directly and instead grew a tree from his bracelet, carving out the stone underneath him in an attempt to release the smoke from beneath him. As the tree widened the hole around his neck, Garth heard the panicked breaths of Bor, hyperventilating in the dark, and a torrent of thick grey smoke poured out from beneath Garth’s chin.
Must not breathe, must not breathe. Garth thought, holding his breath.
Rather than take a step back like Garth had hoped, the corio woman snorted and waved a hand, dispersing the smoke with a gust of wind. She drew a long, straight blade that shone in the morning sun, the mana she fed into it winding around the blade in strange, exotic ways.
“Tell me what happened, and I will let you go. Continue to lie to me and I’ll kill you.” She loomed over him, blade pressed to his cheek. Garth’s Lantern was now well and thoroughly quashed by the aging corio woman, torn to shreds by hers.
Pssh, she was planning on killing him either way, might as well stick to his story.
“I ran away, heard fighting. That’s all that happened.” Garth said. Telling her the truth was a no-go.
“Very well,” She said, drawing her blade back.
Well, two hundred years of plowing Beladia, here we come. At least the connection was back up and running, so Garth didn’t have to sweat whether they might misplace him in limbo.
“What are you doing to my apprentice?” Garth never thought he’d be happy to hear Cass’s voice.
Her sword came down, dropping into the dirt just beside Garth’s nose. Garth tried to crane his neck, but he couldn’t turn easily enough to make out his savior.
“Your apprentice.” She said. “And who am I speaking to?”
“Cassius Clay of the Fu Koff clan.”
Garth was starting to think that maybe Cassius’s identity was a fabrication.
“Cassius Clay. I am Mareen Binder of the Dan Ui Clan.” The foot beside his nose said, pulling the sword out of the ground. “And I am passing judgment on the murderer of my apprentice.”
“Oh, did you see him do this?”
She watched him silently.
“Did he admit to anything?”
Garth could barely make out the bottom of her mouth, but from what he could see, she looked pissed.
“Then you wish to start a war with another clan over an event you have no solid proof of?”
Mareen started to grind her teeth above Garth with a disturbing crackling sound.
“The debt must be paid.”
“Of course you have the most sincere condolences on behalf of the Fu Koff clan.” Cass said, his feet coming into view out of the corner of Garth’s eye. The man was wearing wet foam sandals and breezy cargo shorts with a half-open Hawaiian T-shirt.
As he stepped forward, Garth could make out her Lantern being overtaken and pushed back by Cass’s, forcing her to take another step backward.
“However, attacking my apprentice for such baseless reasons warrants nothing less than your execution.”
Mareen’s eyes widened, and she leapt into the air, but was swatted down by an invisible force. Then she was drawn downward by fate itself, landing on her knees directly in front of Cass as if she had always been meant to be there. Her eyes were half lidded, and confused as he held up his hand, expression stony as a light flickered between his fingers. He’d treated her like a toy.
“Wait!” Garth shouted, drawing their attention. “Etiquette! Is there any way to resolve this without people dying?” He started to crawl his way out of the hole in the ground, leaving the panicking Bor in his hole. There had to be some kind of rules of engagement that dictated how to descalate the situation.
Not because Garth was terribly concerned about the sanctity of life, but because if he killed these people, the Dan Ui clan would just send a bigger group to investigate their death in a never ending stream until he was a corpse. If he could convince this woman he wasn’t lying though, that could be the end of it.
That and it never payed to kill the people who played by the rules. It was the standoff with Harold all over again, except Garth was on the other side, and she had an organization backing her.
“Between…two clans of…Equal strength,” Mareen said, her voice faint, head wobbling. “compensation. For loss.” Cass really did a number on her head. Somehow he was keeping her awake and aware, but too fuzzy to resist.
Damn was mind-magic scary.
“Alright, then pay me, twelve million credits, and I’ll send you back home.” Cass said, holding out his hand.
“Dan. Ui. Clan…Stronger. Not equals.”
Cass scoffed, raising his hand.
“How about this,” Garth said. “We’ll admit that your clan is stronger, pay you twelve million to save face, and the fact you got beat gets swept under the rug.”
“…” She stared at him blankly for a moment. “Why?”
“Because I didn’t kill your apprentice.” Garth said with the most sincerity he could muster. Something cold uncoiled inside him and flowed up through his throat and into his tongue as he spoke. Garth could almost make out a faint trace of mana leaking from his mouth. “And more than anything, I just want to live in peace. If giving the Dan Ui guild face in this situation makes that happen, it’s more than worth it to me.”
“…Okay.” She nodded.
“You owe me twelve mil too,” Cass said with a scowl as they walked back to Tyler’s army, business concluded. “I was gonna buy some rare ingredients with that money.
“You’re a super powerful wizard apparently, go make your own money.” Garth said.
“Why would I need to earn money when I have such a successful apprentice?” Cass asked, blinking in puzzlement as they crossed the dusty ground.
“I see what your game is now,” Garth said, nodding as they walked. “You just wanted a sugar apprentice.”
“Like you would have lived any longer without my training.”
“I’m starting to think the whole training thing’s a wash because it paints a huge target on my back.”
Cass gasped with faux alarm. “No. Really?”
“You keep that magic stuff to yourself,” Tyler shouted as they approached, holding a knife against Lucy’s neck. “You’re gonna come over here and behave, or I’m gonna cut this little turdbasket open from top to bottom.”
“Leading that clan to me and trying to take my city was strike two,” Garth said, “do you really wanna go for strike three?”
“Keep your hands down. If I see any light coming out of either of you assholes, I’ll kill the kid!”
“Okay, that’s strike three I guess,” Garth said, keeping his hands down. “Does this make you feel like a man, Tyler? What would your mother say?”
Tyler showed confusion for an instant before Garth’s code phrases hit him like a ton of bricks. Tyler’s face crumpled into an ugly sob, and the knife fell from his hand, burying itself in the dust of the desert.
Garth caught Lucy and snagged her out of Tyler’s grip with some creative Telekinesis, while the thug’s hands covered his face.
“Here come the waterworks,” Garth said, rolling his eyes as long, drawn out wails of existential pain burst forward from the hardened criminal.
Tyler fell out of his saddle and squirmed on the ground, sobbing uncontrollably in the dirt. His men watched with wide eyes and a newfound respect for Garth and his baby.
“Some help you were,” Garth said to Wilson.
“What, you wanted me to risk setting him off while you weren’t here? I only got one body.”
Garth directed his gaze at the riders, who watched him with wide eyed fear.
“Do yourselves a favor and replace him with someone smarter. There’s gotta be one in five thousand of you, right? Oh, and if your little club still intends to try and take my property away from me, I’m gonna decimate you while the other forty-five hundred write me a three hundred word apology letter.”
“Now laugh at him!” Garth shouted, pointing at the sobbing man on the ground, using the Clarion Call spell to make his intent clear to everyone present. Slowly at first, but swelling as time went on, they began to chuckle as they watched their boss writhe on the ground.
“No…” Tyler moaned piteously between gasping sobs. “Stooop.”
“Okay, let’s see, I made good on every threat, I think it’s about time to head home and catch some sleep.”
Lucy started bawling her lungs out.