Day five hundred and fifty two as a horse:
Assimilation of the animals of L.A. approximately 97% complete. Ravens, feral cats and other vermin with high survival instincts have proven difficult. All major livestock has been turned. Estimated biomass eight thousand tons.
Resulting extra processing power has been rerouted to my show card, Dr. Daniels, while the spare bodies have been left with their animal instincts. I suspect plant Garth has created some kind of biological failsafe, and so I’ve buried a few dormant bodies outside city limits.
Today I stopped a major robbery that would have cost the government billions. The scumbags won’t be missed. I recruited another minion, a man named Bear. Originally five foot four, used Dr. Garth’s services to increase his height and change his identity while capitalizing on our monkey fixation with size and authority… Highly intelligent, pragmatic individual, yet willing to lay down his life for his team. Very valuable if I can convince him to be an independent actor.
A former detective working for the city’s law enforcement is onto me, but seems to be willing to look the other way as long as I kill criminals. Establish contact?
“That was awful.” Garth said, walking away from the house of the last guard member, leaving behind the man’s widow rocking in a recliner, weeping into a rag. The sobbing had woken up the baby and made the entire visit another nerve wracking experience in a long line of them.
“You don’t have to do the visits,” Clark said, walking beside him, “I can handle it.”
“As long as I’m still technically in charge of this place, I gotta take the job seriously.” Garth said, glancing up at the blue, cloudless sky. They might need some rain later this evening. The mood seemed right for rain. “That includes shit days like this.”
For all intents and purposes, the government was under Clark’s control, and they simply paid taxes to Garth, which was fine with him. Garth had a big say in what got done, but the size of the city had swollen until it had begun to manage itself somewhat, and all he had to do was sit back and profit.
“The first deaths in our military and it’s assholes trying to rob us!” Garth stopped and considered his words a moment. “Not that I want our people to die, you understand, but they didn’t sign up to be killed by our own citizens looking to make a buck. Tell me the money is being moved somewhere more secure.”
“Being built right now.” Clark said.
“God damn it.” Garth muttered, shaking his head. There would be a point where he wasn’t able to make personal trips to everyone who’d lost someone, but for now, he knew he had to swallow that pill or he’d lose the last bit of connection to the city’s governance.
Garth took a deep breath. He needed to calm down, but he still needed to do his job.
“Let me know when the funeral is going to be. I’ve gotta go de-stress.”
“Golf?” Clark asked with a smirk.
“Hah. The green likes me too much to be fair.” Garth lifted into the air and flew to his tower, leaving Clark on the ground in the middle of the residential cul-de-sac
Garth flew into the sky entrance of his wizard tower, entering the cool comforting shadow of the tree’s interior.
Garth walked into his lab, where hundreds of potted plants with alphanumeric codes rested on tables beside microscopes and jury-rigged lab equipment, redesigned to work with magic rather than electricity.
“How’d it go?” Wilson asked, unrolling from his scoop bed in the corner of the room.
“You didn’t miss much.” Garth threw his clothes in a pile and stood in front of a mirror, chaking himself for any odd growths or unexpected mutations. So far so good.
“A lot of crying and generally feeling awful.” Garth stroked the enchantments buried under the skin of his forehead and temples, feeling the tiny bumps in his skin.
As it turned out, billions of credits could even buy the ingredients to make Stabilized Lanterns, which were incredibly difficult to produce.
One had to create a solution of powdered Aether Crystal and other rare ingredients to fill a bath full of the liquid solution – the bigger the better – and hold a Lantern inside it long enough for the crystal to grow up around it. This was usually accomplished with a variation of the Haste spell, speeding up the process drastically. You rarely saw an idiot willing to hold a lantern in one place for weeks at a time.
Once the Lantern was stabilized, The Aether crystal was allowed to continue growing around it, reinforcing the cage.
Once the crystal was grown to the user’s satisfaction, they removed it from the bath and could then carry it around with them, a portable mana supply only accessible through direct contact.
However, the place where the Stabilized Lantern was made would never recover its magic – unless the crystal was broken. The stabilized Lantern could also be broken by specific spells cast on the barren sphere of land connected to it.
That was why Garth had made the one in his head at the bottom of the ocean last summer.
Garth leaned away from the mirror and studied his looks.
He hadn’t changed his appearance a bit since the beginning, taking pains to maintain his current body shape.
He could have made himself taller, more imposing, more handsome, even given himself a flatter stomach, but he didn’t.
Garth understood that a person’s name and their appearance had strong ties to their identity, and he wanted to keep himself as…Garthy as possible, despite arming himself to the teeth.
Funny things we’re sticklers about, Garth thought, patting his small amount of paunch. He had unnaturally strong bones, dense muscles supplied via ultra-efficient blood carriers, modified all of his senses to inhuman levels, created secondary organs with stop-gates, and generally reworked every part of his body.
But he’d made damn sure to keep his regular Joe façade.
Don’t exactly want to scream ‘I’m genetically modifying myself into a weapon of mass destruction!’ at the top of your lungs, do you?
“You didn’t even give yourself a bigger dick,” Wilson said. “I’m proud of you, man.”
Garth was putting his pants back on when Cass stormed into the room, slamming various rare ingredients into his pockets before reaching for more, spilling over several sensitive plants Garth had been working on his Create Life skill with.
He’d even trained one to open and close its leaves on command. It was nowhere near the level that Ms. Banyan was at, but Garth was starting to get the hang of the skill, making simple animal-level intelligences out of plants.
“Is there something I can help you with?” Garth asked as Cass ran from table to table, muttering to himself.
The ancient wizard didn’t seem to hear him, chanting under his breath as he scanned the room frantically.
“Did you use the last of the Mythic core?” He demanded, finally locking eyes with Garth. Cass’s eyes were wide, whites visible all the way around.
Something had spooked him.
“No, there’s some in the storage room.” Garth replied, a bit taken aback. “Are you okay?”
“Okay, Hah!” Cass shouted as he ran out of the room. “I’m dying, boy!”
Garth and Wilson glanced at each other, then back at the empty doorframe.
“Might be a good idea to see what that’s all about,” Wilson said, stretching.
Garth nodded and ran after Cass, followed by Wilson. They ran down the smooth wooden hallway and turned into the storage room where the old man was loading all the Mythic cores into his pockets, some thirty of them that Garth had paid mercenaries a lot of money to bring back from other planets.
It was hypocritical, maybe, but Earth was going to survive.
“What’s going on? Garth asked.
“You know what dying is like when you can see the future?” Cass said, going to the next bin and grabbing handfuls of Aether crystals, then Heartstones and rare metals.
“It’s agonizing. It’s a constant death, exploring one option after another, each one ending in death, as time slowly runs out, pushing you toward one of those final outcomes.”
He glanced at Garth. “I know because I’ve read the minds of other men with similar abilities, right before I killed them. Third most terrifying thing I’ve ever experienced, right after being swallowed by an Old One.”
Cass chuckled. “Who knows, maybe I can pull off an upset at the very end of the game. But for that I need every advantage I can get.” He inspected a jar with a dead chimera thoughtfully.
“Someone’s going to try to kill you?” Garth asked.
“They are killing me!” Cass shouted. “Did you not understand the concept of future vision? They’re – “ He made violent scissoring gestures with his hands. “Busily cutting off all my options, right now!”
Cass took a deep breath and met Garth with a level stare.
“I’m leaving the city. They’re going to come looking for me here, and being here won’t provide me with a big enough advantage. You should consider moving your family out of town. I don’t know how bad it’s gonna be, since I can’t see what happens when I’m not here, but you should be prepared for the worst.”
Garth processed that.
“Umm…” Cass said, glancing around the room. “What time is it?”
The phone in the corner of the room starting to ring.
“Oh shit, I’m here already? Cass said, staring at the phone like a poisonous snake. “Gotta go.” Cass blinked out of existence.
“Should we be worried?” Wilson asked.
“Better safe than sorry,” Garth said. “What it takes to scare something like that, I don’t even wanna know.” He leaned forward and grabbed the phone off the receiver, holding it to his ear. “Speak.”
“Sir, there’s…some kind of army outside the city, they’re flying the standard of the Inner spheres. I don’t think they’re with a Clan.
“Damnit. Don’t let them in. I’m on my way,” Garth said, his stomach sinking. Was this all related to Cass, who’d blown through here like a whirlwind? It was unlikely that the two were entirely separate.
Garth glanced at Wilson.
“On it,” Wilson said, rising into the air on his custom enchantment and shooting out the door to seek out Sandi and the kids and get them somewhere safe.
The portal to China might be far enough.
“Wasn’t what I was expecting to be doing today, but what the hell.” Not like we get to pick and choose where we die.
Except maybe people who can see the future.
If Cass dragged his mess onto the city, Garth was going to turn on him like nobodies business.
Garth lifted off the ground and soared out of his tower and high into the air, where he made out a phalanx of some fifty thousand soldiers, wearing shining mythril armor and the colors of the Inner Spheres.
“Welp, that puts five hundred riders to shame,” Garth said, hooking his thumbs in his belt-loops as he scoured the shining rows of aliens with his enhanced senses.
They felt Strong. Each and every one of them felt like…well, they felt like Garth.
But they didn’t look like wizards.
No one said you had to wear robes and look fancy, but mages liked to hold themselves above others, and weren’t interested in standing in formation in sweltering heat, one of fifty thousand.
Garth briefly considered raining pine rockets filled with mustard gas down on them, but it was probably a bad idea to do so before he’d heard them out.
Maybe they were here to help.
At the very least, there was a possibility he could buy them off and avoid bloodshed.
Garth-topia’s GDP could afford paying off some Inner Sphere officials.
Garth soared through the air, landing at the gate where a couple hundred frightened men and women wearing the colors of Beladia were preventing fifty thousand hardened veterans, from the look of them, from entering the city.
It wasn’t so much them being kept out by force, so much as the army passively waiting, fully aware that they could take the city any time they wanted to. There were as many soldiers as there were citizens.
At the head of the army was a palanquin draped with gold and crimson silk. Seeing Garth arrive, a man stepped out from the box while an attendant put shoes on the ground for him to step into.
I bet this guy thinks highly of himself. Garth did a double take and frowned. Everything about him seemed human, save for his ears, which had a strange whorl to them at the top.
The man was wearing a gaudy robe made of shimmering iridescent cloth, and he took dainty steps, mincing forward until he stood in front of Garth, flanked by several hulking orcs in shining plate that radiated powerful enchantments.
“Good afternoon,” he said with a smile.
“Afternoon,” Garth replied. “May I ask what prompted the army?”
“ My Name is Argus Greenspeaker, Reports reached the core that Earth is…in need of assistance, and we have been sent to facilitate.”
“Try Australia. That continent needs all the help they can get. We’re doing just fine here.”
“From what we understand, this city is the biggest representation of human civilization on Earth. Sure there are pockets here and there, but this is the seed of the future. The inner Sphere is concerned that mismanagement may cause such a promising seed to…rot. If you would allow us to tour the city, we could then send word back to the core that their fears were unfounded.”
Garth glanced at the massive army and began growing a network of explosives into the ground through his feet. He looked like he was considering the man’s suggestion to stall for time.
“I’d be happy to welcome yourself, Argus Greenspeaker, and five men of your choosing, but your army will not set foot inside the city. I’d be happy to arrange food and housing for them, though.”
Argus gave him a fake smile and nodded, awful cheesy vibes dripping off of him like slime off a fish.
“That would be most welcome, just one question.”
“Are you…” He slid a scrap of paper out of his sleeve and read it. “Garth Daniels?”
“Nope.” Garth lied with the power of Pala rolling off his tongue like chilled air. “He’s in Ireland, across the ocean.”
“I see, and you know this how?
"He established the luxury goods trade and then left me in charge while he spreads it across the planet."
"Ah, I see."
“Hey Garth, what’s going on?” Clark said, approaching from the city gates.
Argus’s expression turned predatory. “I see.”
Garth heaved a sigh. Bad luck happens to the best of us.