Argus looked Garth up and down as the orcs flanking him advanced.
“Here I thought someone who caused this much trouble would be stronger, but I won’t complain about my good fortune,” Argus said with good-natured grin. “I’ve been ignorant of how weak everything is In the Outer Spheres. Desensitized, I suppose. Even someone only on his second tier like you can carve out a nice little kingdom.”
Garth raised his left hand and summoned a Lantern, emptying all the mana within twenty feet. Better not to look like an easy target. Argus’s eyebrow twitched upon seeing the pea-sized sun glowing through Garth’s fingers.
“Wait a moment. I’m sure we can come to an agreement,” Garth said with his most disarming smile. “Surely there’s a lot more to gain from working together than a ham fisted confrontation.”
“Ham-fisted.” Argus said, savoring the words as he spoke. “An interesting idiom with an easy to understand meaning.” He motioned for the approaching orcs to stand down.
“Let’s use our words then, shall we?” He said, pulling out his notepad and reviewing it.
“Garth Daniels, you are wanted by the Core for draft dodging, possession and distribution of restricted spells, possession and distribution of restricted technology, smuggling, Sale of narcotics, bribery, murder, theft, tax evasion, and most recently, lying to an Elf.”
Garth mentally nodded as he checked off the list. Lying to an elf being a punishable offense was pretty stupid, but the one that stuck in his mind was the technology.
“What restricted technology?” Garth asked.
“As a citizen of the Spheres, you’re beholden to its laws, whether you are aware of them or not. In this case, the distribution of a long range communication system not approved by the Inner sphere, the creation of unlicensed terraforming and transportation technology, and reverse engineering of proprietary postal technology.”
That got under Garth’s skin.
“So the Core doesn’t want us…talking to each other?”
“No, of course you’re free to use the Postal Service. The Core simply understands that some technologies are too powerful to be trusted in the hands of such young races.”
“We had those technologies before.” Garth said, eyes narrowed.
“I’m sorry, but those are the rules that the Inner core has laid down, understanding that there is more potential for misuse than you could imagine.”
Long story short, the Inner spheres wanted to keep everyone in the middle ages while they sucked the life out of them. Garth was starting to think that there might not be a way to coexist peacefully with the Inner Spheres, but they outnumbered Earthlings on an astronomical scale.
Rock and a hard place.
“I’ve read a book about cell phones turning people into zombies. Humans can imagine a lot. There has to be a way to contest that law.”
“You may have your planet’s representative apply for an exemption from the law. These requests are often successful.”
“Lemme guess, Earth can’t have a representative until a hundred year acclimation period elapses?”
Argus slowly smiled. “Three hundred.”
“Anything a whole lot of money could do to fix that?” Garth asked, trying to explore every possibility that didn’t include violence.
“I’m afraid not,” Argus said with a smug smile “Now if you don’t mind coming with me, you can plead your case in court.”
Well, that was that.
The silk-robed dandy revealed an instant of surprise when Garth unleashed a hurricane of sharpened wood on the three men.
He channeled the power through his spool, using wind to launch thousands of spores forward, transforming them into self-propelling darts that hissed forward, kicking up a screen of dust and smoke while peppering the bureaucrat and his men with holes.
When the dust settled however, they had significantly less holes than Garth was expecting, which was a problem.
“We can add resisting arrest to the list of charges, If you survive,” Argus said, a stabilized lantern in his palm projecting a shimmering dome that forced the darts to warp around him, embedding themselves in the hard concrete of the road outside the city gates.
Before Garth could make another move, a heavy plated fist blindsided him. Garth’s vision burst into stars as the ground scoured against the side of his face, finally stopping when he was ten feet away.
The lantern in his fist dissolved into nothing.
Garth’s vision cleared as Argus’s Lantern crackled into place around them, stealing control over the mana in the environment. The orc in the distance was rushing to grab him, so Garth flopped onto his side and channeled mana from the stabilized lantern in his head, aiming to detonate the land mines he’d placed in the ground beneath the army.
Garth’s hand hit the earth, and almost simultaneously Argus knelt to the ground, placing his own mana between Garth and his creations.
Freaking counterspellers, Garth thought before an armored body landed on him full force, making his reinforced ribs creak in place.
Garth activated his Teleportation enchantment and flickered a hundred feet into the air before the second one could make a field goal with his head.
Garth was turning to face the enemy in midair when he spotted a strange chain of shimmering blue mana that looked semi-organic, launch itself towards where Garth had been moments ago.
The chain hit the remnants of Garth’s teleportation, then Garth saw a bubble of space magic form there, and he spotted his own skin. Not good.
“Fu-“ the chain popped through the fold in space behind him and caught him in the back, dragging him violently back through his own reconstructed portal.
Garth slammed into the ground, back underneath the orc, and back in front of the other one bearing down on him, aiming for a kick. This time he was facing up, into the snarling tusker way too close for comfort.
Garth threw his arm over his head just in time to take a kick that nearly snapped his neck. The mithril toed boots gouged out a chunk of flesh from his arm and almost dislodged him from beneath the other orc.
Garth took the opportunity as they slid across the ground to shove the armored soldier off of him, sending the tough orc reeling through the air, hitting the ground with a plume of dust.
Garth pushed himself to his feet in a fraction of a second, watching the two orcs and panting as the flesh around his arm cinched shut in a matter of heartbeats.
This might be a bit of a problem.
The orcs were manageable, but the fancy man was making things difficult.
The two veterans looked at each other and shared a nod, unsheathing their swords.
Garth made a new lantern, put his head down and rushed Argus, forcing the man’s bodyguards to move to keep up with him. As he did, Garth began to spin his lantern, orienting the rotation perpendicular to his sprint, willing the void into a magic consuming shield.
It was a tactic that Cass had taught him for closing the gap with another wizard when you don’t know what kind of shit they have up their sleeves. Hopefully if Argus fired anything at him in haste, it would be torn apart. Once he was close enough he could channel mana through his foot again and attack from an unexpected direction.
The orcs, despite wearing full armor, were fast, and they reached Garth in about half the time it would take to reach the other mage.
Garth channeled the Mana in his lantern into an omni-directional explosion of wood, choking the air with solid plant flesh that was harder than steel.
Garth sprinted through it like a fish through water, dissolving some of it into ash, allowing other wood to push against his back and propel him forward.
Garth felt a bit like a bullet shot out of a railgun, popping out of the tangle of wood at breakneck speeds, rushing the other mage so quickly he wasn’t even touching the ground.
When Garth’s Lantern intersected Argus’s, the man’s face peeled away and dissolved into meaningless mana, revealing something sharp and made of metal.
Garth put a foot down and nearly twisted his ankle out of its socket getting his head and neck out of the way of the slashing attack that had been hidden by illusion. The blade changed its angle suddenly, swooping down and impacting against the bone of his right arm.
“AAGH!” Garth let out a shout as he scrambled backward, waiting for his bone to heal.
“You might be weak, but you were well trained, I’ll give you that.” Argus glanced at his sword.
“Strong bones too. You weren’t experimenting on yourself were you? That’s illegal too, and you don’t seem the type.”
“Why would I want to seem the type?” Garth said, growling in pain as the wound closed.
“Ah. Now I’m curious.”
Space mana folded around Argus.
Garth tried to dodge, but the blade had already come down on his arm, seemingly before the teleportation had finished. The mithril sang with mana directed from the man’s Lantern, held behind him like a fencer.
The reinforced blade sliced through Garth’s arm, easily lopping it off above the elbow.
“Gah!” Garth lunged away, directing his focus on the spores sloughing off his skin, changing them into poisonous self-immolating flesh-eaters. The gate in his armpit closed his vein just like he’d designed it to, stopping the blood flooding from his arm mid-gush.
Meanwhile, the Orcs had cut their way out of the tangle and leapt at him.
Garth swung his remaining arm, directing a blast of wind filled with the microscopic spores at the orcs.
One dodged out of the way, while the other guarded against the wind with his forearm.
The orc fell to the ground, howling in pain as his flesh swelled inside his armor, bits of pus filled skin oozing out the cracks. He began to shiver violently as the other tried to narrow the distance between the two of them.
Garth filled the air with the spores and spun them around himself in a tornado, forcing the other orc to jump away, his hands swelling as the spores spread their poisonous roots.
“Burn!” Garth shouted, releasing a wave of trigger mana. The two orcs burst into flame wherever the spores had taken root.
Their screams raised in pitch before the fire winked out of existence a moment later, dissolved into nothing but mana.
In front of Garth’s eyes, the orc’s flesh began to heal. Beyond them, Argus winked.
“Tired of your shit, asshole!” Garth shouted, pointing at the wizard with his left hand as his right arm slowly regrew. It would take ten minutes or so before it was up to working again, and that was way too slow.
How Cass had managed it, Garth would never know.
“I think you’re doing rather well.” Argus said with a grin. Garth wasn’t stupid enough to think he had a chance. The guy had simply countered everything he’d done. Like an adult playing with a child. Or a cat with a mouse.
The thought made Garth burn with fury. He would bloody this fucker’s nose if it was the last thing he did.
“See if you can take this,” Garth said, channeling the power of Pala as he made a pretty light dance in front of him while directing most of his mana through his feet.
“Go on then,” Argus said, amused.
Garth popped one of the Illusion spells buried in his shoulder blade, making a clone of himself directly on top of his position as he turned invisible and dropped into the pit his tree was digging.
The illusion released the fake ‘Spell’ fractions of a second before Garth’s tree popped out of the ground, aiming spear-like thorns at the other wizard’s flesh, Garth riding along in the hollow trunk.
Garth felt the tree screech to a halt just shy of the wizard, all the mana that had been moving it dispersed in an instant. He could feel the other mage through the senses built into the tree. He knew he was arm’s length away. Perfect.
“You’re going to have to do better than-“
Garth’s hand burst through the thick bark of the tree, catching the effeminate elf by the back of the neck and hauling him forward, toward where Garth’s face was bursting through the bark.
Garth head-butted the elf right in the face, using the reinforced bones of his forehead to break his nose. Probably should have gone for the jugular, but there’s something to be said about damaging someone’s face.
Argus fell backwards with a spray of blood, and Garth followed him, shaping a wooden blade out of thin air as he fell forward, intent on skewering the little prick.
That one word sent a blast of energy through the scene, halting everything and everyone, catching Garth in mid-fall, blade aimed at the pompous elf’s midsection. The status band on Garth’s wrist heated up, burning into his skin.
What the hell kind of magic was this?
Argus righted himself and touched a hand to his nose, astonished at the sight of his own blood. Garth was still trapped in place, desperately struggling to move.
“You-“ he started to speak, his jaw hanging “I am an elf!” His voice began to raise in volume and pitch.
“You can’t touch me, you ignorant-“ He seemed to be at a loss for words. “Whatever the hell you are!”
Argus raised his hands and mana swirled around him under tight control, weaving so tight around him it was machinelike.
“The laws of this universe were authored for us! Kiss the ground for the mere notion that we might breathe the same air as you, you filthy, ignorant, feral animal!”
Argus panted, his eyes obviously wild with the desire to inflict physical harm, but the aristocrat restrained himself. Out of the corner of his eye, Garth could see Argus’s face turn red before three flashes of light came from his hands, and Garth’s limbs went numb.
The world started moving again, dropping Garth onto the dusty concrete road filled with the remnants of battle. Garth’s three remaining limbs were completely immobile, and he somehow couldn’t tap into the Lantern buried in his head.
“Arrest him, we need him alive to know how far his influence spread across Earth. Burn the city to the ground.”
MOVE! Garth thought as he stared at his own immobile hand.