“And just like that, all the most disruptive and dangerous potential Demon Lords from Earth have been controlled or destroyed.” Irios said, dusting his hands as she gazed out over the destroyed city. The pest-free Earth would avoid the notice of the government until it was too late.
“So, what now?” Erelia asked.
“Not much.” Irios said. “Kipling are immortal, although they seldom lead long lives. I’ll simply build power here for a few generations, then when the time is right, I’ll move back to the Inner Spheres as a wealthy politician and arrange their destruction from the inside. It’ll take a lot longer than you have left to live, so I wouldn’t worry about it.”
“Somebody will stop you,” she said, her voice almost a whisper.
“Somebody always tries to stop me.” Irios said, rolling his eyes. “I just try again. Immortal, remember?”
In the Inner Chambers of the Dan Ui Clan.
“So Mareen, did you find the cause of your apprentice’s disappearance?” Elder Dragus asked, sitting in a meeting with the heads of the Dan Ui clan. He was very curious to know exactly what transpired on Earth.
“I did. He was killed in an altercation with another clan. I took the price out of the clan and the one who did it in the name of the Dan Ui clan.” She said, her forehead pressed to the gold-inlayed floor.
“What was the price?”
“Twelve million and the one responsible.” She spoke.
“Was there a reason you did not destroy them entirely?” Dragus asked, and the entire assembly tensed, expecting imminent violence.
“They were part of a greater clan, master, and yet poor themselves. There was little profit in it for us.”
“I See. And was there any wizard on earth that was your equal? Perhaps clad in filthy robes and appearing like a beggar?” Of course, had she met Castavelle, she would be dead.
“No, master, I had no equal there.”
“I see.” Dragus turned his attention from Mareen, who crawled backward, her head down. The rest of the masters required his attention.
Three hours later, when the inner council broke apart, Dragus retired to his Scrying Chamber, filled with the pinpoints of the inhabited stars of the Spheres.
Rather than watch stars, he brought up a recording obtained from Mareen’s beacon, displayed in three dimensions in the crystal depths of the wall.
He watched the human cut off Mareen’s flight, slam her to the ground and hit her with a stunning blast of chaotic mental energy, all at once.
Mareen hadn’t lied to him, only spoken half-truths. It was true she hadn’t met an equal. There was a human on Earth better than her, and millions worse.
There were thousands of masters out there capable of switching bodies, and nothing this particular one had done had made Dragus believe it was his ancient enemy.
He was too soft.
He was clean.
He seemed to care for his apprentice.
His style didn’t match.
Too many flaws in his attack.
As Dragus sat there, contemplating the next place he would look, blackness boiled out of the corner of the room, creating a figure cloaked in shadow.
Dragus hadn’t been able to feel it coming, and he’d been able to feel a crack in time. Dragus squashed his initial desire to demand an explanation from the silent figure staring at him.
It wasn’t wrapped in mana created to look like shadow. It wasn’t cloaked in dark air, or even bent light.
It was wrapped in true shadow, allowing Dragus to sense nothing but cold from the creature in front of him. Whatever it was, it was better than him.
There were very few creatures that could claim that. And fewer of them were mortal in origin. A good reason to play it safe.
“To what do I owe this honor?” Dragus said, turning to face it and offering a deep bow.
“He is the one you seek, fool.” The shadow hissed, lifting a clawed finger toward the human frozen on the screen.
“Remove the obstacle, or I will find a clan more suited to my needs.”
Dragus paled. His needs? It couldn’t be….the mysterious patron of their clan.
“The Dan Ui Clan will take every measure to ensure he cannot escape!” Dragus said, pressing his forehead to the cold stone of the floor.
“See that you do.” Dragus caught a brief flash of teeth in the swirling shadow before the creature was gone.
Dragus inhaled deeply and took another breath, glancing back at the picture on the wall of the skinny old man in the brightly colored open shirt and sandals.
The first step was to cut off every route that Castavelle could flee. He had to build a net around Earth that could cut it off entirely without a single gap before he even set foot on the ball of mud.
It would take years, but Dragus wasn’t going to take any chances. Castavelle’s Heartstone would be exactly what Dragus needed to break through to the seventh tier.
Outer Spheres, Approaching Earth.
Argus glanced down at the list of planets underproducing Mythic cores. It was a short list. Of the billions of inhabited worlds, only a few had produced less than Earth. Those that had had simply been because they had been wiped out by the Kipling.
No great loss there. The land and the dungeons would be of great benefit.
Earth was on the opposite side of the spectrum. Someone had warned the natives, and after less than two weeks, the Mythic Core export had dried to a trickle.
It was only then that they had discovered the regional director, one General Kenra, had passed away at the exact wrong time, his name reaching the desk of his superior too slow for anything to be done to turn things around
Now Earth was most likely going to become a disruptive power player in the outer spheres, most likely creating a new clan that would swallow up a dozen or more other planets before things settled down.
Argus’s job was to stop that from happening, but he didn’t really see a way. It was a shit job, given to a political pariah.
Ah well, Argus thought as he went through his stack of documents. If he couldn’t change the course of history, he could always do the second best thing, and ingratiate himself to a rising star.
His documents didn’t specify exactly where this Garth fellow was. As a matter of fact, Argus couldn’t even find the man’s scroll, which was somewhat suspicious.
Argus leaned out the carriage, his breath clouding up in front of him.
“How long to Earth?” he asked the officer riding beside him for the third time. The man rode at the head of an army of fifty thousand mithril-clad second-tier soldiers from the Inner Sphere, tasked with establishing order on the outer planets. They were just finishing with a particularly nasty assignment purging a continent that had fallen far too easily to the Kipling.
They had been so numerous that many of them had begun to evolve into demons, with no pressure on their numbers. They had started forming organizations, the most dangerous thing that could possibly happen.
“Since my lord refuses to have a scroll made for himself-”
“No fucking way am I putting my lifeline in a warehouse somewhere my enemies could get to it.”
“It will take another two years.” Despite their powered armor, the water spells that kept them hydrated, and the infinite food supply meaning they needed no camp followers and marched light, they still had to travel between sixteen gates, spanning the distance of six continents between them.
“I’m thinking what I need is a wizard tower.” Garth said, framing the hills with his fingers, picturing where he would put his masterpiece.
“What?” Sandi asked, shaking her head with a frown.
“Every wizard has a tower, just like every pimp has a chalice. It’s just the natural order of events.”
“You can have your tower once you get Banyan the rest of the way over the mountain.”
“Come on, I could whip up a tower in fifteen minutes, you guys wouldn’t even notice I was gone.”
Garth glanced down the mountain where the Banyan grove was slowly but surely climbing the mountain under the direction of Clarkstown’s Phytomancers, aided by Ms. Banyan, who pushed her trunks from behind, aiding her roots in inchworming through the mountain soil.
“No. Get back to work.”
Garth heaved a dramatic sigh. He would probably spend a lot longer than fifteen minutes on his tower, anyway. It would probably take him hours to get over the decision paralysis.
In the last month, Ms. Banyan had become passably able to communicate, and with her help, they were able to meet and exceed their business obligations. And now that the city was clear of Kipling, it was time to truly start rebuilding.
Unfortunately, the first step was moving everything that could be moved, and Ms. Banyan was the biggest, most unwieldy piece of infrastructure that was coming with them.
Tables and cabinets and tools could all be loaded up on wagons and pulled by Banta, and houses were being re-grown. It wasn’t too hard to shape a nice gentle switchback with a bit of Earth and Plant magic for the wagons, but Ms.Banyan was just too big to accommodate. It took the combined efforts of every phytomage they had plus Garth, just to move her.
Garth pulled the mana around him in, creating a Lantern by habit. He was up to about fifteen feet wide now, much more powerful than when he’d started, but still pretty lame, according to Cass.
Garth wove the mana into Banyan’s roots, and the struggling phytomancers let out a collective sigh of relief as the grove lurched forward again, going from snail’s pace to a casual walk.
They’d be up the mountain in another half hour or so. Downhill couldn’t be as difficult, right?
Five hours later, Ms. Banyan rested at the foot of the mountain. There was still work to do moving her where she was supposed to be, but they wouldn’t need Garth to do it.
Before Garth was able to get started on his wizard tower, a bunch of people headed by Jim and Clark dragged him aside and had him look over a map of the city, bugging him about ‘sanitation’ and ‘roads’ and where everyone was going to stay.
“I can’t be the only person with a perfect memory and over fifty intelligence, can I?” Garth asked the assembled people. At their awkward glances at each other, Garth sighed.
“Alright, fine. Focus on these main roads, keep them as open as possible for traffic to and from the outpost. We’re going to cut a path through the mountain starting here.” Garth pointed at the map.
“Clark, make a water plant that can thrive in the sewers without choking them up. Don’t let anyone live in these three places yet, their elevation means the crap literally won’t flow downhill. There’s a sewer connection right here, plug it. We want it going straight into the ocean for now. Not particularly eco-friendly, but our population is way too small to give a shit. I’ll let one of my great grandkids deal with that problem.”
“Up northeast, there’s a section of forest surrounded entirely by low mountains, burn it down and set up our coke plantation there. it’s at least five hundred acres, so it’ll last us a couple decades, plus it’s fortifiable. I’ll help with that.”
“West of that, on the slopes of the mountain is some good farmland where you guys can get started setting people up with farms to feed the city. Send anyone who wants to be a farmer up there to stake out a claim as long as they can justifiably work it. give Oopal and Ma’ta first dibs.”
“These mountains up here are too low. I want to raise them a mile or two. Then we can design channels that lead back to us.
“A mile or two?” Clark asked, his jaw hanging loose.
“We got the mythic cores for it.” Garth said. All they had to do was plug the right spells into them and they could give them to survey teams to raise or lower the land at their whim.
Probably an ecological disaster, but ah well, Garth was pretty confident he could work around that. After all, the hyper-fertility didn’t just work on humans.
“We’re gonna need a steady supply of fresh water. I want a mountain giving us that water, not a pipeline we no longer have the technology to control. I know you’ve had plenty to drink so far because a large portion of us are magic users, but I don’t want to be stuck supplying the entire city some day. If you couldn’t tell by the young tree woman taking care of our kids, I’m a big fan of automation. Humans are in general. If we can set something up to take care of itself, we’d rather do that. We’re lazy bastards, but we’re creative.”
“Did you know they compare us to dwarves?” Garth asked. “They say ‘wow, look at all the stuff the humans built before they joined the spheres, it looks just like dwarvish architecture, isn’t that marvelous…how quaint’.”
“We did all that with these two hands.” Garth said, holding out his arms. “Not a magic spell between the seven billion of us. Well, this time, this time we’re gonna scare the piss out of them.”
“Round up any volunteers you can find with architecture and civil engineering experience, feed them a shit-ton of memory and Intelligence heartstones. I want the minimum I.Q. to be two hundred and fifty, with the ability to remember every textbook they ever read with perfect clarity. If they don’t have a class yet, get them something with Earth magic. We don’t exactly have access to heavy machinery anymore. I’ve given you all the broad stroke, but we need experts to tackle the minutia.”
They nodded and set off, scurrying to find volunteers. Everyone except for Jim, who stood beside Garth, watching the setting sun, brooding.
“Now If you’ll excuse me,” Garth said. “I’m gonna go make a tower.”
“I spent some time with Leanne, on one of the missions you ditched on.” Jim said.
“She told me about how you saved her from Kipling a couple times, how you guys made up code phrases so you would know when the other person is in trouble.”
“Why, is she in trouble?” Garth asked. “Or did she die?” they’d been trading with Leanne’s people for a while now, the latter option was unlikely, but who knew? Things could change real fast on Earth nowadays.
“What was that code you guys came up with?”
“What, Fire at will?”
Jim’s eyelid twitched.
“Nevermind, I was wrong.” He marched away through the short, poisonous grass of the reclaimed city. Garth called it Grass.
“You thought that was weird too, right?” Wilson said.
“Yeeeaaah,” Garth said, staring after him. “Something’s off.” He knelt and placed his hand in the grass. Never hurt to use the environment to your advantage.
“Keep an eye on him for me, okay?”
The grass around Garth trembled in acknowledgement.
“More off than spying on your brother?” Sandi asked, her Lure holding Lucy and Betty while she held Ma’ta in her hands.
“Yes.” Garth and Wilson said as one.