“See if you can cut him in half!” Jamal shouted from the volunteer-assembled bleachers.
Garth stood across the training ground from Cass, trying not to sweat in his eyes. They were standing in short-cropped, lush grass in what used to be some rich guy’s backyard before it was reclaimed and turned into Garth’s personal practice yard.
A mana-voided circle surrounded both of them as they approached each other. When the two circles began to overlap, crackling bolts energy began to dance along the floor between the two of them as the friction of the mana tearing away from each other’s lanterns created lightning.
Garth was too busy to think about how badass it might look to the audience watching their match. Every sense was trained on the old man. Garth held an ironwood blade in front of himself, ready to stab. He needed something physical to pass through Cass’s lantern, because a pure magic attack would be torn apart before it could reach him.
Cass grinned, and a cocoon of space magic folded around him.
Garth thrust the ironwood blade forward, the blade soaring forward to cover the thirty feet of distance. The bastard was probably teleporting, so…Garth had the pommel of the blade burst into life, sending branches in every direction behind him, hoping to catch the bastard by surprise.
Rather than disappearing however, Cass stayed right where he was, and the blade seemed to slide around him.
“Neat spell, huh?” Cass asked, holding up his hand. There was a flash of light between his fingers, and Garth threw himself to the ground.
The ironwood cage that had grown up around Garth was severed in half by an invisible blade, collapsing in on itself.
Garth withdrew the power of growth, turning the collapsing pile of wood to ash just before it touched his skin, allowing him to sprint through the sudden briar without slowing, creating a cloud of dust as he ran.
Garth lunged forward, tearing his sword away from the main mass, reaching into the ground and commandeering roots with mana channeled through his feet as he did.
Spouts erupted from the ground and shot organic napalm at Cass before lighting it on fire.
“It makes it so there is an extra six feet around me in one direction. Pretty wild, huh?”
The napalm squirted around him, missing the archmagi and splattering all over the ground before erupting into flame.
“Although the heat seems to be able to cross the distance.” He said, glancing at the fire.
Garth leapt through the flames and swung his blade down, sublimating it into poisonous torpor vapor as he did. Despite Cass being within arm’s length, the blade wouldn’t hit him, seemingly shrinking as it got close.
Cass’s Lantern was slowly beginning to overtake his own, so Garth knew he needed to get out of range soon. He lengthened the blade by three feet and made another lunge before leaving, invading the old man’s personal space and hoping to poison him.
“Two things.” Cass said as the blade shrank and bent away from him.
“The effect lenses reality in such a way that anything not perfectly aimed at me will miss, and…”
He reached out and grabbed Garth by the neck. “I said it only worked in one direction.”
Cass casually kicked Garth’s legs out from under him, toppling him to the floor.
Garth flipped, putting his arms and legs under him and springing up and away, trying to get out of range before his Lantern was completely consumed. Garth was flying backward, perpendicular to the ground when Cass raised his hand again, a wicked grin on his face.
Garth heart slammed in his chest as he tried to use Fly to change his trajectory, but his mana was eaten out from under him by Cass’s lantern.
An instant later, Garth’s legs went numb as his top was separated from his bottom, a blade of bisected space passing through his stomach.
“Whooo!” Jamal shouted, throwing his hands up.
The audience gasped, a few of them cheered while mothers covered the eyes of their children.
“Gah!” Garth couldn’t help but scream wordlessly as a hitherto unimaginable pain assaulted him. Garth felt his mind shutting down, animalistically trying to claw the door shut and block out the pain.
Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted Cass approaching.
“Are we continuing or what?” Cass asked.
All Garth could do was try to keep breathing. His Lantern had long since been abandoned.
Cass sighed and put his hand on Garth’s chest, and Garth’s legs slid the three feet across the dirt to reunite with his upper body, coming back together seamlessly, as it they had never been apart.
“Well, I guess that’s the last bout for today. Don’t forget to do your homework and practice manipulating the size and potency of your Lantern, along with breathing exercises, make sure you get your cardio. There are fifty five year old men more athletic than you.”
“You know,” Cass said, kneeling down beside him “At first I thought you were a pretty cautious fellow in a fight, but when the chips are down, you really turned out to be a go-for-the-throat kinda guy. Nothing wrong with that, those kind of people tend to win more often than not. But you know who wins every time?”
“You?” Garth asked sarcastically.
“You know why I win every time?”
“I’m a better judge of when not to go for the throat, test the waters, and pull my punches. I’m not saying to always be cautious, I’m saying you need to learn when to be, or else you’re gonna wind up cut in half somewhere because the endgame you had planned didn’t work.”
“I’ll keep it in mind.”
“I’m sure you will.” Cass said, chuckling as he poked Garth in the belly.
“Give my creation life!” Garth shouted at the peanut seed in his hand. Unsurprisingly, the seed didn’t respond.
“hmmm…” Garth said, resting his chin on his hand as he studied the seed in the confines of his tower. It was a homey, well lit affair. It was made of wood of course, but it was lit with a warm glow from the ceiling and cooled by circulating air deep in the stone of the mountain, through it’s roots. The hot water was pumped to the top of the tree where it was heated by sun and magic, where it could be used for showers. The whole thing was very cushy, in a medieval sort of way.
Now that the moving into L.A. had slowed down long enough for him to catch his breath, there were a lot of things in his Status that Garth wanted to explore.
In no particular order: Create life, Shadow Affinity, Plant Biology, Mind Palace and Memory Lane. Also on the table was making Wilson more combat-ready, streamlining his plant magic, getting better at applying spell effects to plants, and practicing Illusion.
Garth was pretty sure he’d been able to decode just a little bit of Beladia’s present at the moment it leapt out of his finger, giving him the barest hint at how to create sentient life. And what mad scientist didn’t aim for that at some point?
The ability wasn’t a spell. Rather, it was a skill, nestled in with the likes of Recursive Casting. Did that mean he could apply it to nonliving spells and give them a will of their own? Or would it make physical bodies only? Garth couldn’t wait to unpackage the ability.
Only problem was, the skill was so underdeveloped, that Garth wasn’t making much headway in practicing it…
And he didn’t know of any way of practicing it other than spamming the skill as best he could.
Garth had gotten it to 0.005% proficiency through trial and error. Much better than before, but still… not really capable of making anything more advanced than a mental construct. What was the difference, even? Garth had made some fairly complex constructs that could do advanced if/then comparison thinking, but it hadn’t given him the skill.
Garth figured it might have something to do with independence. The ability to grow separate, unbeholden to his will.
“If a defining trait is that it can choose not to do what I say, why should I bother?” Garth said aloud, balancing the seed on his fingertip.
“I mean, ‘cuz it’s cool, right?” Wilson asked from where he and Ms. Banyan were playing Peekaboo with the girls, who chortled and screamed whenever they reappeared from behind a surface. Not a great atmosphere for thinking.
Benta and Sandi were off to get her some dinner and explore the city’s dungeons. Garth already had a report of which dungeons were mutated, and which weren’t. They had lucked out, and a single dungeon on the north-east mountain had mutated, growing the mineral adamantium in its walls. It was currently under guard.
On the beach, there was another mutant dungeon that bribed people with shiny seashells and pearls. Once a few years went by the dungeon would start putting out more useful things, or at the very least, more valuable jewelry.
That was where Sandi had gone, interested in getting herself a pearl necklace.
She could’ve just asked for one. Garth thought, staring at the seed.
Maybe I can review the memory a couple times and learn more about what happened. Reviewing the memory itself should help me grow a lot faster than fumbling around in the dark. Garth decided to do that before bed. In the meantime, he had a bunch of other things to poke around with.
Against the wall was a mouse cage where Mac the mouse was idly chewing on wood scraps and pooping in the corner.
Mac was the brave pioneer of Garth’s symbiote plant that would release undifferentiated stem cells into the atmosphere.
“I’d like to see the old man’s face when plants start magically growing from the air around my skin.” Garth said, opening the cage and taking Mac out, petting him.
“He’d probably skin you then give you a lecture.” Wilson said.
Garth shuddered. That might actually happen.
Garth shook his head and got to work checking the mouse’s health. It had been carrying the plant for two weeks, and it was still healthy. In fact, it might be more healthy than it had ever been. A good sign.
Garth channeled mana out of the air and just over the mouse’s skin, where it sank into the tiny free-floating cells. little floating green pockets of air sprang up around the mouse, rising into the air.
With a wave of his hand, Garth made their dangling roots coil together and strengthen the bond between them, forming a complex three dimensional prism floating in midair above the mouse.
Garth set Mac down and the roots went down to the table, creating a new cage for the mouse before the plants twined together and grew into a statue of a fish.
“Seems pretty silly.” Wilson said.
“Check this out.”
Garth lowered the mass of the new cage even more, and it began to float, taking Mac with it as it rose into the air. Little leaf-fins emerged from its sides, paddling it through the air, passenger in tow. It reminded Garth of one of those floating fish that engineers felt the need to display at their offices to prove how cool they were. Garth’s was better though.
“I think the symbiote is ready,” Garth said. “I’m gonna want to do some careful watching on a controlled patch of skin, but I think it might work.”
“Neat.” Wilson said as Ma’ta nearly poked him in the eye while clumsily reaching for his face.
Next order of business…Plant biology.
That made Garth wonder. His status said he was human adjacent, and Plant biology wasn’t a skill, nor was it a spell. It was an evolution.
That suggested to Garth that he was becoming more plant-like. Good, bad? Who knew. He’d have to ask Cass if there was such a thing as a detrimental evolution.
I wonder if I can use Design Plant on myself? Garth wondered, staring at his hands.
Thorns for nails. Garth thought, weaving the spell around his hand.
Shiny black talons grew from Garth’s fingers with an odd stretching sensation.
“Whoah!” Wilson said. Garth glanced over at Wilson, who was backing away from Betty. Wilson’s nails had turned from green to black as well, along with his fangs, which were about a quarter inch longer, and sharper. The soft, sticky spines on his back had darkened. All in all, he looked a lot… sharper than before.
Betty was staring at where a drop of blood was welling up on her palm, her jaw dropped in speechlessness. A moment later she let out the mother of all wails, forcing them to slap their hands over their ears before Ms. Banyan scooped her up and began calming her down, giving Wilson and Garth a furious look.
“Don’t look at me,” Wilson said, pointing at Garth. “He did it!”
That wasn’t poisonous right? Garth thought as he worked to undo the change, reverting his fingernails to normal.
Probably. You didn’t mention anything to that effect, so I think we’re good. The two of them conferred silently so as not to alarm Ms. Banyan. They didn’t want her telling on them any more than she already was.
So I’m a plant-man now, huh? Garth thought idly as he looked at his own hand. I wonder what other changes I can make.
Polymorph was essentially a temporary spell to transmute living things, but Design Plant changed it for good. Garth could piggyback on that to change himself permanently, on a fundamental level.
Very interesting. Scary, but very interesting.