They’d landed at a hub of travel and it had only taken a few short jumps and a lot of cash to make it to Earth. The other Earth. Luckily Garth had looted the palace.
I wonder what they call the two hemispheres? North and South or something? It’s not like those concepts have much meaning. You can turn a map upside down after all. Obviously this is the southern hemisphere.
Another four weeks of wandering Earth and he’d heard the rumor that someone was rebuilding L.A. and the surrounding countryside. It was supposedly one spot where humanity was rebuilding itself.
Not the only place. There were a few places up north, The Finnish, someone in Detroit, a tyrant in South Africa, and of course, a few bastions of humanity in China, where the sheer quantity of people guaranteed some kind of resistance.
Garth didn’t hear anything about Japan, but there were most likely some eighteen year olds inexplicably competent in the ways of the apocalypse. At least if the stereotypes held.
Garth chose to head to L.A. because the weather would be nice and the people would speak English.
All Garth had to do after that was make some enormous stilt-legs on a millipede-like body after assimilating a few dozen wild animals to cruise along at sixty miles an hour, crossing America while riding on himself.
His self-mount rapidly lost mass as they crossed the desert, consuming itself to carry all three of them across the dust-covered highways packed with abandoned cars.
Once they hit Outpost 3502, they got directions to L.A. which was surprisingly to follow the road. Surprising because the Outpost itself was miles off the highway, but had a solid, concrete-like road as wide as an eight-lane highway leading right up to its gate, as if it had always been there.
On their way outside the gate, Garth lead Horse Garth, who had shifted to the shape of a horse to be inconspicuous, while Leanne and the black dragon followed.
“Come on Sassy, there’s only a dozen miles or so to go until we get to the mountain.” Garth said, glancing back at the black skinned woman with exotic features, perfectly straight black hair and brilliant green eyes.
Kind of a Queen of the Nile look. Not bad, Garth.
Sass gave him a glare, wobbling forward one step at a time as he congratulated himself. “I haven’t been in this body long enough to even master walking and now you want me to carry a backpack and wear clothes. And my name is Sass’ia.”
“It’s a pet name, humans do it all the time.”
“I am not a pet.”
“Debatable,” Leanne said as they walked, her Corio arm hidden behind a long leather sleeve.
“Watch your tone, child. The great Sass’ia did not surrender to you.” Sass got distracted and tripped over her own foot, falling on her face.
“Legs are STUPID!” She screamed into the ground, pounding the concrete with her fists. “Two legs are stupider!” Garth found the meltdown amusing until he noticed the fist-marks she was leaving in the concrete.
“Ease up.” Garth said, picking her up and setting her back on her feet like a toppled action figure. Horse Garth chewed his cud and watched with amusement. He was doing such a good job pretending to be a horse he’d even caught Leanne treating him like one, and not to be sarcastic either.
Well, if I ever need a job, I can always get one being a beast of burden. Pay’s lousy though.
“Can I please just fly?” she asked, tears in her eyes.
“Sorry Sass, I’ve let you fly or ride the last four weeks and you haven’t gotten any better at walking. We gotta get you used to your body as soon as possible so you can blend in.”
She whimpered quietly.
“Gah, okay, I can put your backpack on Wilbur, okay?” Garth said, taking the straps off her shoulders as Horse Garth nickered and grazed on some desert brush. It wasn’t so bad with a body built to eat it.
“Garth, my shoulders hurt.” Leanne said, pouting with watering eyes.
“Worth a shot.”
Garth took Sass’s hand and helped her walk until she got her stride.
An hour later it was still a bit jerky but as long as nothing unexpected happened, she was able to walk without assistance.
“Look at that. You’re doing great.” Garth said, giving her a thumbs up.
“The balance is atrocious. And these,” she cupped her breasts, holding them out to Garth. “What the hell are these for, anyway? They’re throwing off everything.”
“They’re a part that female humans use to distract and intimidate their prey, disguising their deadly nature with soft, pillowy distractions before they strike with their hidden claws...”
“Ah, I see.” She nodded, then frowned.
Leanne simply stared at Garth with her mouth open, slowly shaking her head. Garth shrugged.
“I don’t have claws, though?”
“Try flexing the muscles in your hand in weird ways.”
“Oh, oh wow!” Sassy said, admiring the single razor sharp claw that half emerged from a sheath in her forearm. She experimented and flexed her hand and rolled her wrist, gradually getting control over it.
“That’s why male humans are awed and afeared of females with bigger chests and hips, because those are clear indicators of their ferocity.” Garth said, nodding sagely.
Leanne’s jaw dropped.
My god, this is too much fun.
“Am I intimidating for a human woman? Do my chest and hips reflect my dangerousness?” Sassy asked eagerly.
“Not really, I didn’t want you to make anyone afraid of you.”
“They should be! The legendary Sass’ia wants them to know how much they have to fear! I can’t stand the thought of seeming like a weakling everywhere I go. Make them bigger.”
“If you insist.” Garth said, choking back a laugh.
“Oh my god!” Leanne said, storming off up the hill. They were starting to ascend the mountain, following the road perfectly cut into the mountain. The walls were smooth, a clear sign of Earth magic being used. Whoever was in charge was doing a pretty good job. Rome was built on roads, after all.
“Keep Wilbur company for a moment,” Garth said, hustling to catch up with Leanne.
“Too much?” Garth said as he caught up with Leanne.
“I don’t care about her.” Leanne spat, looking at him with real anger in her eyes.
“You know I’m never going to grow up right?”
Leanne hesitated for a minute, then glanced back at Sass making wobbly poses with her forearm claws.
“Can you do the same for me? Make me look older?” Garth saw real desperation in her eyes. She was starting to realize her lot in the universe.
“Oh. Sure. On one condition.” Garth said.
“I’m not gonna make you look older than you are, so ask me again in a couple years.”
She thought about it for a moment, chewing her lip. Leanne nodded.
“Fine. Deal.” She offered her hand, and Garth took it.
“Check this out!” Sass said behind them, drawing their attention as she began spinning in a circle with her claws extended, before tripping and falling, landing in the dusty road again. Thankfully she didn’t break one of the claws off. That would be painful.
“Think you could throw in some of those claws?” Leanne asked, looking back at him.
“Hell, I could do that right now.” Garth said. “You’re gonna want to eat something first, though.”
On the other side of the mountain, they saw a massive, thorny wall half-built around the bowl that was being rebuilt out of the abandoned wreck of L.A. The road wound down the mountain until it reached a massive wooden gate that seemed to be grown in place out of a hinged…tree.
Garth heard chittering behind him, and glanced over his shoulder.
He and his horse self nearly jumped out of their skin at the sight of the ten foot tall ant-person plodding along the road, waving at them.
“What the hell is that?” Leanne said, tensing.
“Well, it’s on a road, wearing gear and not attacking, soo…person?” Garth said.
“It’s a Tzetin.” Sass said. “They’re harmless simpletons.”
“Like you,” Leanne said, dodging out of Sass’s strike.
When it arrived, the Tzetin looked down at them, chittering in its strange language for a moment.
Garth simply shook his head. the common American expression of ‘I have no Idea what you’re saying.’ Maybe he could eat it and absorb it’s neural network for controlling six limbs. Garth had felt a little clunky in that last fight.
The Tzetin cocked its head to the side in confusion a moment, then fished around in its bag, retrieving a bracelet which it slipped onto its thumb in an awkward fit.
“Hello there, strange to see a human without a Status Band in these parts.”
“They don’t agree with me,” Garth said. “Pleased to meet you, my name’s Garth.”
The Tzetin went still a moment, antennae wiggling before it spoke. “Is Garth a common name on Earth?”
“On this part of the world, kinda, why?”
“I know another one, my friend should be in this city.” It nodded toward the gates below.
“Neat.” Wonder if it’s my doppleganger. Garth pondered for a moment. His out-of-shape body probably didn’t stand that great of a chance of making it through the apocalypse. This guy was most likely someone else. But… it never hurt to check.
“I am Itet’chi’zzt.”
“Can I call you Itet?” Garth asked. “Do you remember what your friend Garth’s last name was?”
“You may. His last name is Daniels. He made the city, I’m told.”
There’s thousands of Garth Daniels. It could be some other dude. A twinkle of light caught the corner of his eye, and he glanced over, spotting a Wizard Tower made from wood, sticking out of the side of the mountain and overlooking the entire city.
Yeeaaah, it’s me.
Well, any friend of mine is a friend of mine, Garth though, shelving the notion of eating the giant bug person.
“I think I’ll have some business to work out with this Garth fellow. Wanna join us on the trip to the city Gate?”
The Tzetin sized up the distance between where they stood and the gate to the city.
It looked at Sass, awkwardly swinging her arms to stabilize herself.
“I’ll hold you a place in line.” The Tzetin nodded and started down the mountain, it’s huge legs carrying it faster than a human could sprint.
By the time they got to the gate, the Tzetin was second in line from the gate, about to be inspected. Sass was resting her new leg muscles on Wilbur’s back as they navigated the stream of humanity, almost attracting as much attention for her exotic appearance as Itet was.
At the gate, wagons of food and building supplies, pots, pans, guns, blankets, raw fabric streamed into the city, and on the way out, wagon after wagon left the gate filled to the brim with stacked of something packaged in heavy paper, looking a bit like sugar packages, but without labelling.
There were a few other things, bunches of what looked like green bamboo, big chilled tubs, and other odd sundries, but most of what left the city were the brown paper packages.
Curious, Garth sidled up next to one of the wagons and sharpened his finger, slicing his finger into one of the packages and pulling a spoonful out. A white powder.
Garth nibbled on a bit of it. The strange acrid taste filled his mouth in an instant before he spat it out.
“What the hell?” he muttered, still spitting as he watched the wagon continue on.
“What do you think you’re doing?” A voice demanded, spinning him around to look at a handsome, shaved face with a chiseled physique, standing a good four inches taller than him. Something about him was kinda familiar…
“Garth?” the man said, his brows furrowed, eyes widening.
“Yeah?” Garth said.
“Garth Daniels?” Who the hell is this guy?
“Uhhuh?” Garth said, watching him warily.
“It’s Jim. Your brother. You’re not purple anymore? Did something happen? You okay?”
Garth’s tongue went numb.
Jim. Brother. Garth searched himself for any memory of that, and couldn’t place it. The name was familiar, though.
“Doebent ring a beee.” Garth said as the numbness spread through his mouth. His senses began to tingle as his decentralized nervous system began to fire rapidly. He could feel his heart beginning to hammer in his chest.
Jim’s brows furrowed and he took a good look in Garth’s eyes, searching for something. He placed his hand on Garth’s forehead and closed his eyes.
“Do you remember mom, dad?”
Garth searched his mind. He should remember a mom and a dad. But he didn’t. This must all be pieces of his core that got ripped out with the Kipling. Interesting. Maybe this Jim fellow could help him fill in the blanks.
Garth’s hand shot forward reflexively as a wave of outrage swept over him as something clicked back into place. Call it a hanging puzzle piece of the person he used to be, clinging to the gaping wound left when he ejected the core of his being. It was the piece that hated his brother, and it was fixed back into that place with that one name.
Garth caught Jim in the nose and sent him sprawling backward twenty feet.
“And then we scuffled around, he lit some fires, I beat on him a little bit, Itet started putting the fires out, and then you showed up.” The Kipling Garth said, glancing around Garth’s tower, seemingly unconcerned and totally calm.
“And wow, you really are purple.”
Garth sat across from him, heart pounding.
“You made Jim look like a bitch.” Which was pretty extraordinary because Jim was supposed to be the chosen one. Once he woke up, they’d have to ask him what happened.
“Jim is a bitch.”
The two of them reached across the table and high-fived.