Geda Fared, the undisputed master of the Black Dragon Syndicate and an elder of the Fen Sha clan, enjoyed looking down on other people. His audience room gave him the superiority he craved. Half of it was covered in gold and jewels, while the other half was compacted dirt and concrete.
Of course he made his petitioners kneel in the dirt. No matter how wealthy they thought they were, they would wind up with dirt on their knees while he sat on gold that had been molded to his ass.
In front of him was a fat merchant and his son begging him for protection from Geda’s bandits who had been raiding the man’s olive exports and secretly investigating whether or not he’d been trying to smuggle arcanite off planet.
The good news was that the man hadn’t been found guilty. But he still needed to pay for the privilege of conducting business.
“I understand that the raids have been hard on your business,” Geda said, choosing his words carefully, so as not to seem a poor spoken ruler. Image was everything.
He was practically the king of this entire planet.
“So I will simply accept a flat forty percent of each shipment, delivered to the Miliati warehouse the day before you send them out. If you do so, I will will be able to afford you protection that will prevent any more harm from befalling your business.”
“You’re the one who-“ The younger man raised his head and began to shout, filling Geda with a killing rage. In a flash the older merchant grabbed the boy by the back of his head and slammed him down into the dirt, forcing a comical squawk out of the teen.
The funny noise and pool of blood spreading from the young man’s nose made him forget about his anger. Geda glanced over at Kineth, his shinta companion. The two shared a mocking glance at the boy before Geda addressed them again.
“I have set the terms, I will leave it to you to decide whether or not you will follow them.” Geda said, waving his hand dismissively
“Thank you my lord,” the merchant spoke into the dirt before pulling his son out of the room by the scruff of his neck.
“Why spare the boy?” Kineth asked.
“You know how this works, The man’s only got one son to lose. What use is there destroying our only leverage?”
“Ah,” Kineth said before nodding to himself, causing Geda to glance over at the old shinta curiously. Geda’s mentor was getting pretty long in the tooth, perhaps it was finally time to retire him.
“Who’s next?” Geda asked, hoping for perhaps a single mother and her daughter, or any combination that ended the day with a sloppy blowjob and a new source of income. Geda wasn’t picky, all that really mattered to him was forcing people to do things they had never thought they would sink to.
“A pair of refugees looking for transport to the other hemisphere, all the way out to the Outer Sphere.”
Geda whistled. “damn, they must think we’re made of money. Nothing they could possibly have or do could be worth our time. Blindfold them and send them to the appropriate locations.” Geda waved dismissively.
The appropriate locations simply meant the place where a specific race and gender could exploited for maximum profit. There were a few rare species out there that would go straight to auction, and some who made excellent laborers regardless of gender, like the Tzetin. The rest were roughly divided between isolated, unregulated whorehouses, and hard labor in the Arconite mines.
“It says here they have something to trade for the trip.”
“Since I assume you would have taken it from them if they had it on hand-“
“Then send them in and let’s get this farce over with.” Geda said. Probably some tusker’s wisdom teeth carved into a charm against disease. Never pass up a potential opportunity though, no matter how tedious sifting through the chaff might be. Geda rubbed his brows as the large double doors slowly opened, pushed by his orc guards.
He sat a bit straighter as what appeared to be elf-hybrids walked through the door. They were very strange looking for elf hybrids, though. Their hair was shorn close to their heads, and their clothes were dusty, ripped, and all wrong. One was short and small with red hair, a completely unheard of color for elf hybrids. Perhaps a child? The other was normal size and color hair. A bit pale, but otherwise within the realm of possibility.
But why would their hair be so short? In the elven custom, hair length corresponded to station. These two looked like slaves, but there were no elven slaves. Not even among the hybrids. It was very strange.
The strangest part was the Corio arm adorning the smaller one.
“I believe they’re humans, sir.” Kineth said.
“A species from the outer sphere that displays a remarkable outward similarity to hybrids, but are in fact stupider, weaker, slower, and more cowardly.”
“Ah,” Geda said, chuckling as the two humans approached him. “Maybe the brothels can market them as hybrids until the existence of humans becomes common knowledge.”
“Doesn’t take smarts, strength, or courage to suck a cock, I suppose,” Kineth said, nodding beside him.
“Depends on the cock.” Geda whispered back, suppressing a grin.
The two humans approached the raised throne and stopped at the edge of the packed earth, glancing around curiously, unaware that their fate had already been decided.
“Welcome to my audience chamber,” Geda said, magnanimously ignoring their lack of manners. They were from the outer sphere after all. “I’m told you seek transport all the way to the other hemisphere. What do you have to offer for your transport?”
“Well-“ bigger human started to speak
“You will kneel in the presence of the leader of the Black dragon Syndicate!” Kineth said on que, his voice projecting powerfully into the room. It was nice having such an understanding right hand.
Someone had to be the bad guy. Maybe Kineth didn’t need to be replaced.
“Oh, umm…okay.” The bigger human grunted with effort as he went down on both knees, followed shortly by the smaller, red haired one.
Geda noticed the human giving Kineth a small frown. He glanced over at Kineth, who seemed to be enjoying his role as Geda’s enforcer for the first time in Kolath knew how long.
“And put your head on the dirt, filthy commoner.”
Geda gave Kineth a look.
“Too much?” KIneth whispered.
“A little.” Geda turned his attention back to the humans, who were glaring at Kineth, rather than looking fearfully toward him.
It was settled. This had been Kineth’s last day on the job.
“Do not mind him.” Geda said. “How do you propose to pay to be shuttled to the other hemisphere, and all the way out to the Outer spheres at that?”
“Well,” The human with brown hair said as the large double door creaked open behind him. “I was thinking I would trade the ride for not killing your children.” Through the door, seven of Geda’s warriors escorted Geda’s three children, his eldest daughter, middle daughter, and youngest son.
They were bound and gagged, but Geda recognized them and the luxurious bedclothes they were wearing. Their eyes were filled with tears, rolling around at the man kneeling in front of them and the Geda’s own trusted guards who had betrayed him.
“How dare you!” Geda roared, coming to his feet and creating a Lantern that filled most of the room.
“He dares a lot of things,” the small, red human said, glaring at her partner.
In response to Geda’s roar, The treacherous guards put blades to his children’s necks, their faces devoid of expression. Beside him, Kineth drew his blade, and there they were, stuck at an impasse.
They have to know I can kill them instantly. Geda thought, working his way through the convolutions. There was treachery at work here, and there was no way some bumpkin from the Outer Sphere orchestrated this entire thing. That took inside information.
Kineth had been acting strangely.
Geda whirled and put a beam of fire through Kineth’s torso. The old shinta gave him a look of surprise before collapsing to the ground, a smoking hole in his chest, his sword clattering to the ground. With a simultaneous wave of his hand, he wrapped the seven guards in restricting mana, paralyzing them before lopping off their heads with an invisible blade of force.
“Ooh, good guess.” The kneeling man said, a smug grin on his face. “Leanne, you might wanna exit the room, this is getting tricky.”
The smaller one got to her feet and seized a fallen sword from the ground. “fuck that,” she said. “I want a piece of this guy-“
Geda wrapped her in paralyzing mana and aimed a blade of force at her neck. An instant later, she was knocked off her feet by the bigger man tackling her aside.
He lost a bit of his ear and a slice of shoulder.
The paralyzed girl was then bodily thrown out of the room by the bigger human. Geda’s children danced away from the fallen guards and the bleeding human.
“My name is Garth Daniels, and if you would just-“ Geda interrupted him with a blade of force that split the upstart in two. The human collapsed into two equal parts, forming a pool of blood. In the distance, he could hear the patter of the other human running.
Geda’s hands trembled from the adrenaline. It had been a long while since something this serious had happened. A reminder not to grow soft. He’d have to come to some kind of arrangement with the children so their grandfather didn’t kill him.
His children ran to him, and he swept them into a hug, nearly hyperventilating as he stroked his children’s hair.
“Julian, are you alright?” he asked his son as he knelt and untied the youngest child’s gag.
His middle daughter’s muffled screams barely even registered as his son’s cherry red lips parted to reveal a grotesque, tooth covered tongue that lashed out and seized Geda’s neck, sawing away at his jugular.
Geda gave a strangled cry and tried to push his son away, but the child exhibited unnatural strength and elasticity, deforming around his father’s arms even as his own tightened around Geda’s neck, losing any semblance of Benkei nature.
The last thing Geda saw was his smiling eldest daughter holding back his frantic middle daughter, her bonds long ago sloughed off.
“Youngest Child Garth got the kill, pay up.” Kineth Garth said, holding out his hand as the hole in his chest slowly closed.
There was a bit of grumbling as the other Garths threw their cash into the pot.
“Hardly fair when you knew him as well as you did.” One of the formerly headless guards grumbled, tossing his money in.
“If you knew that, you shouldn’t have bet.”
“Hey, what are we gonna do about those two?”
As one, all ten Garths simultaneously turned to look at Geda’s remaining children, the conniving, evil eldest daughter, and the sweet, innocent middle daughter. At least according to Kineth’s admittedly spotty memories. You couldn’t get the whole story by eating someone, but it was a lot better than guessing.
“Say, umm…” Garth said, searching his spotty memory for her name.
“That’s it.” Garth said, snapping his fingers. One of his Offshoots walked up to the cowering younger sister and raised a hand. The hand morphed into shiny black blade with a microscopic serrated edge, duplicating the tooth of the dinosaur-like carnivores in the deeper levels of this planet’s dungeons.
Hezro, I think they’re called, Garth thought as the innocent girl let out a small yelp before she was cut down.
“Rhenara, it didn’t escape me that you could’ve freed yourself at any time, and that look on your face when I ate your dad…Priceless.”
She nodded, showing no reaction as Guard Garth bent down and began morphing around her sister’s corpse.
“You’ve got balls kid,” he paused and glanced at her again. “No offence.”
“How would you like to inherit your dad’s job?” Garth said, thinking of all the benefits of having someone owe him a favor in the upper reaches of this particular criminal empire.
“I’d rather follow you.” Rhenara said, staring him in the eye. “I am very unlikely to survive the storm that will follow this, one way or the other.”
“I see.” Garth considered a moment. The fewer people that knew he was capable of reproducing and spreading like a plague, the better. The smartest thing to do was kill her where she stood and Light the entire palace on fire before using the smuggling Gate.
Buuuut…the smartest thing was boring, so he’d compromise. Garth just would have to convince her he had some kind of hard limit on the number of bodies he could possess.
The most stupid thing he could do was spread himself around willy-nilly. Eventually they’d get wise to it and simply quarantine then glass whatever planets he was on.
Twenty was a good number. Intimidating, yet believable that he couldn’t stretch any further. Garth didn’t know for a fact that’s where his limit was, but it didn’t seem like there was one. As his total mass increased, his processing power increased with it.
Maybe when coordinating between them became exponentially more difficult through sheer numbers. Maybe there was a limit. But it wasn’t twenty.
“I heard from Kineth that you used to like bad boys.” Garth said. “So are you following me because you’re waiting for an opportunity to get revenge, or because you want to take advantage of me to seize power somewhere far away from here? Or do you simply like bad boys?”
“I’d be impressed if it was one of the first two.” Guard Garth said, standing
“How can you be sure I’m even a boy?” her younger sister asked as she sat up, wearing nothing but bloodied rags.
“A bit of all three.” She said with a shrug. “I’d kill you if I thought I could, that frustration blends with a certain amount of…fascination with you.”
Leanne came back into the room, wielding a big, bloody sword and panting.
“What’d I miss?” She asked, glancing around the bloodstained room.
“I’ve got another sidekick. She totally digs me.”
Leanne glanced at Rhenara and rolled her eyes.
“Let’s just get to the Gate.” She said, putting the blade over her shoulder and stomping off.
“Wait, Leanne, I need a new set of clothes!” Garth said, motioning to his bisected, bloody vest.
“Not my problem!” She shouted over her shoulder.
“How long do you think it’ll take her to realize she doesn’t know where the secret entrance to the basement is?” Kineth Garth said.
“About as long as it’ll take you to reabsorb.” Garth said, taking his scraps of clothing off and holding out his arms.
As one, the Offshoots returned to him, melding back into his body. Garth didn’t gain any weight from the extra mass, which was odd, but his thoughts became more fluid, less fractured as he absorbed their knowledge and heartstones. His body felt stronger, faster, more whole.
It was better than sex.
Once he was done, Garth stood in the center of the bloodstained palace, totally naked.
Garth cleared his throat at the benkei staring at him.
“You don’t happen to know if your dad kept a spare set of clothes around here, do you?”