The formation of orcs melted away from the onslaught of zombie humans, torn apart by the horns of bulls stronger than they had any right to be, walking engines of destruction. Seagulls swooped down from above, pecking at the soldier’s exposed eyes with deceptively sharp bills, all the while mimicking the screams of their victims.
“No, stop, help me! It hurts!” The seagulls screamed jovially in their awful voices.
Argus, in the center of the formation, turned pale, his eyes wide as he shielded himself with magic before blinking out of existence, presumably teleporting to the rest of his army.
As the soldiers were swept away, Garth was left standing with half a dozen zombie-looking humans lurching toward him, clawed hands aimed in his direction, their teeth gnashing.
“You can stop with the theatrics,” Garth said. “Can I get some help with this or what?” He pointed at the metallic collar.
The lead zombie stood up straight and sighed.
“You’re no fun, dude.”
“I don’t have time to dick around, just like I don’t have time to ask you why you’ve got Susan Grey’s dog in your little zombie horde there.”
“Fine,” The zombie said with a shrug, the other five mangled corpses limping past him to feed on the dead.
Without warning, the zombie lunged forward, its hand flashing forward, catching Garth under the chin with some kind of blade that hadn’t been there a moment ago.
“Son of a bitch!” Garth shouted, his whole body shivering. The bloody collar lay on the ground beside him, where Dr. Daniels had flicked it off his stump of a neck before Garth had floated his head back down and reattached it.
Thank god he hadn’t had to do it with his teeth, because he’d been fading a lot faster than he’d thought he would.
Testing of the backup systems in his head was complete, only problem was how much it hurt.
Despite having turned his pain receptor’s maximum fire rate down, he had still nearly passed out when his head had been separated from his body. Not to mention, the base of his spinal column being damaged caused a lot more sensory distress than he’d expected.
All told, it was a shitty experience that he hoped he wouldn’t have to repeat and it was everything he could do not to toss his cookies.
“What are you complaining about? I get my head cut off all the time.” Dr. D said with a shrug. There was an orcish grunt of effort and a head flew by them, tumbling down the road.
“Case in point.”
“Screw you,” Garth said, working the stiffness out of the muscles in his neck. “Where’s Jim?”
“He’s up there,” Dr. Daniels said, pointing at the mountains, where they could just barely make out Jim’s thousand hoplites storming down the mountain, using the slope to boost the force of their charge.
“Kinda outnumbered, aren’t they?” Garth asked. “Can I get a hand taking off my hands?”
“Let’s see,-“ Chop “the wall took out maybe five thousand and disabled seven more – “ chop “ I just got ten soo..” Chop “Yeah, He’s gonna have a hard time. I’m gonna be using these ten K to dig into their side and relieve the pressure on him.”
“I think I can do better.” Garth said, flexing his reattached limbs.
“Knock yourself out.” The assimilated orcs started cleaning themselves up and straightening their armor. Their leader winked at Garth before leading the charge back the way they’d come.
“Don’t mind if I do,” Garth said, sitting crosslegged on the side of the street, sitting in Grass’s soft blades.
Garth reached down and connected to Grass’s senses, getting a feel for the battlefield. There were still some twenty-eight thousand soldiers, making a bee-line for the East Valley, the only way in and out of the city.
Grass, there are people trying to hurt your people, I’m giving you some help.
Garth weaved together everything he knew. Design Plant and Plant Growth. Spell Theory, Create Life, Recursive Casting, and all of a dozen things he’d studied in the year and a half since he’d settled down here.
He focused on a single spore and grew it into poisonous wood, harder and more flexible than mithril. Then he applied the knowledge he’d gained from a year of designing plants to spin their own simple spells, Experiments he’d started with pot that would float, heal, or protect itself.
That felt like forever ago.
In this case, he added the recipe for the Fly spell, a rocket engine, and a couple pounds of explosives, along with paralytic poison.
Garth keyed those last two traits to randomly deactivate in the plant’s offspring, so that there would be a variety of explosive and non-explosive darts for different situations. Poisonous, explosive darts weren’t always good if there could be collateral damage.
Garth was making self-propelling darts again, but this time they were going to be alive, floating until in use, and under the command of Grass. More like cruise missiles than anything, really.
Garth grew the spore into a seed, about half the size of Garth’s pinky, before he gave the creature a pep-talk/mission statement.
Alright, listen up, there are a lot of bad people doing bad things to our friends and family, and we need you to go in there and selflessly perforate them, giving your life for the lives of our citizens.
I know, it’s a shit job, but you’re gonna have a hell of a time screaming through the air at hundreds of miles an hour before you bury yourself in some unsuspecting asshole’s chest and make him and his friends into mincemeat.
Your Coordinator is Grass of the L.A. Defense Team. Once you have your orders, he’ll show you where to go.
Garth reached down to Grass and established the psychic link between the two of them.
The typical mad scientist doubts niggled at the back of Garth’s mind, but Garth set them aside. He was aware that a vengeful Grass with access to cruise missiles would be dangerous, but that was a problem for another day.
Right now there were nearly thirty thousand bad guys running away from the city so that they could attack it later.
Now was the time for hardball politics.
The Inner Sphere would never spend more money taming Earth than they would make on its taxes. If Garth wiped out the opposing force, they would think twice about wasting the resources to send another one, rather than sitting down at the bargaining table.
This must be how clans are formed.
Garth put the finishing touches on the creature, mentally apologizing for such a short lifespan.
The Vagaries of mana have caused a Critical Success! The spell has outperformed your expectations!
Design Plants proficiency has reached 98%!
Create Life proficiency has reached 4%!
“Whoah,” Garth said, taking a second look at the beautiful web of mana in the seed with his mind’s eye. It wasn’t nearly as advanced as Ms.Banyan, but he’d jumped from 2% to 4% in one critical success.
“Only one thing left to do.” Garth muttered, injecting the seed with Mana.
“Fly my pretties!” Garth shouted, sitting crosslegged in the middle of a blood-soaked warzone, tossing a seed above his head.
The seed exploded into motion, expanding in the air above him, writhing and wiggling as it elongated.
Garth hadn’t put much emphasis on how it looked in his mind, only what it did, so he was curious to see what a critical success would do. Those didn’t come around that often.
The seed started as an amorphous blob, wiggling in the air, jerkily pushing itself forward in a wormlike manner. After a moment of experimenting, fins emerged from the creature, and the head became more compact, with a nose that extended to a razor-sharp point about two and a half feet in length.
Garth blinked a couple times. Above him, a dark brown swordfish nearly seven feet in length swam lazy circles above his head. The creature’s fins were reinforced leaves, its stomach roiling with mana that it compressed into a cloud underneath it to support itself. Its nose was wicked sharp, and stronger than wood had any right to be.
“Well, that’s interesting,” Garth said, coming to his feet. “I dub thee, the Special Weapons Ordinance Rare, umm… well, I don’t really have time to make an acronym that spells swordfish right now.” Garth shrugged.
The creature noticed Garth’s movement and reacted to it, changing its orbit around him, watching his movements.
“Your name is Swordfish. Not particularly creative, but meaningful enough. Now, I need you to make babies and then go splatter some baddies.”
The creature dropped a cloud of floating seeds into the air from its cloaca before swimming off into the sky, under the direction of Grass.
Garth pulled in mana and matured every single seed until there was a school of fish missiles darkening the sky above him. It only took a couple seconds, and by the time he’d finished with the last of them, there was a powerful detonation in the distance as Swordfish gave her life for the cause.
Maybe Garth should make a little statue of the first swordfish.
“I wanna see this.” Garth said, rising into the air in the center of the school whirling blades.
Wilson and Sandi were far in the back of the second dungeon, taking shelter from the army outside. They were nestled in the very back of the dungeon, beside the young Core. In all directions was a relentless crush of bodies.
In the distance, there was a commotion as a spawned monster terrorized some kids before it could get put down. The monsters in the first floor of this baby dungeon were mostly crabs and turtles, owing to their proximity to the ocean. In the future, there was a good chance entire floor would be underwater.
In the distance, there was a clamor of voices and the cracking of wood.
“Who brings a wagon into a dungeon? Fucking moron!”
“Get it out of the way, we can’t get in!”
Sandi peered over the heads of the other refugees huddled against the floor, her expression determined.
“Wilson, I’m going to go help people by the entrance, watch the girls for me.” Sandi said, gently setting her daughters on the ground in front of him.
“Thank you!” Sandi said, running above the crowd towards the entrance.
Goddamnit. Now Wilson was split between going after Sandi and keeping confused and tearful toddlers from getting crushed in the press of bodies.
There wasn’t really a choice. Someone was already starting to spill into the empty space Sandi had left behind. In a half hour, the kids would be smothered.
Wilson let out a grunt of pure frustration before grabbing Lucy, Betty, and Marylin, setting them close together.
I hate doing this. He thought, then unrolled, his body decompressing into a wall of sundew.
Wilson sank roots into the ground and wrapped around the kids, his thorns pointed outward.
The three toddlers, deprived of their mother and locked into a confined space, began to bawl, sending waves of anxiety flooding through the dungeon. Little psychic bastards.
“Hey, hey,” Wilson said, manifesting a face as best he could on the inside of the wall of plant matter. “It’s okay, your mom is gonna be right back as soon as she’s done being a dummy.”
“Mom Not Dumb!” Lucy gave an ear-piercing shout, which was soon picked up by the other three, and chanted directly into Wilson’s ear canal.
“Gah, okay, mommy is awesome, Just...we gotta calm down, so everyone else can calm down.”
They gave him a blank stare.
I hate my life.
“Do you girls wanna play a game? Tic tac toe, or how about…tickle war!”
He tagged one of the three with his dew-covered spines, being deliberately careful not to hurt them.
Marylin squealed and tried to bat away his spine while the others tried to catch it.
Everyone in the room breathed a bit easier without the inexplicable sense of dread hovering over them.
I wish Ms. Banyan were here.
Garth landed on the wall of the city, giving him an excellent view of the retreating army. Harried from both sides by Dr. Daniels and Jim, they had tightened into a defensive formation, inching toward the gap in the crescent shaped mountains while Argus fended off the horde of turned friendlies pouring down on them with a wall of fire. They were getting away.
“Grass, put five explosive swordfish near the rear of their formation. I think Dr. D can tolerate more shrapnel than Jim and his buddies. Send the non-explosive fish to impact their second line.”
Garth felt a pulse of understanding from the city-wide network of sensitive grass below him, and a dozen fish left the school around Garth, soaring high up into the air before turning to dive toward the battle. Halfway to impact, their tails popped, shooting compressed flames out of their butts, destroying themselves to inflict damage on the enemy. Kinda like bees.
The swordfish gained an unnatural amount of speed in those last few seconds of life, leaving behind a smoking trail as they tore through the air, impacting on the solid formation of orcs with devastating results.
The explosions tore the rear line to shreds, leaving gaping holes in the formation, gaping holes in Grass and the earth beneath him. It even took out a few of Dr. Daniel’s bodies, shredding them beyond recovery.
A piece of shrapnel flew up from the battlefield, too fast for Garth’s superhuman senses to see as it cut through the air. The sharp piece of wood slammed into Garth’s defensive enchantments and ricocheted off his chest, leaving a smoking hole in his bloodstained clothes.
If Garth had been a regular guy, he might have bought it just now. He mentally raised the danger level of the explosive swordfish.
The second line of the orc formation was toppled over, crushed and skewered by the sheer mass of the oncoming missiles. Without them backing up the first line, Jim would be able to push it around much easier.
They were about to wipe these bastards up.
A seagull landed beside Garth and pinched his finger.
“That’s what the spell wanted to be.” Garth said with a shrug.
“Well, aim a little better next time, because that stung like a bitch.”
“I thought they were zombies.” Garth said.
“We need to have a talk about this. But not right now.” Garth glanced at the seagull beside him. “Think you can capture that Argus fellow? He might be worth more to us alive.”
“I can do that.” The seagull nodded and flapped away.
Assuming he doesn’t teleport away.
Dr. Garth would probably go for the magic-suppressing collar and manacles, then sneak up on the bastard using the body of someone familiar.
Garth didn’t need to be privy to every little detail.
He stood on the wall, watching as the enemy army was torn to shreds. The orcs began to surrender, laying down their weapons and putting their hands in the air in the universal symbol of ‘I give up!’
“Grass, tell Jim to cool it.” Dr. Garth had been able to take in the situation as a whole and was taking prisoners, but Jim was in the thick of things, cutting down orcs left and right.
A moment later, his gleaming unit of veterans retreated from the fight and stood by as the enemy began to surrender.
A clinking noise behind him nearly made Garth jump, turning to see what was sneaking up on him.
Sandi stood there, wearing his custom-made chainmail tunic.
It was a long story how Garth had managed to make mithril chainmail that existed as an idea, involving baking the object in rare thought-clay until it ceased to exist and pumping oodles of very specific mana into the resulting mold, creating an illusion based on an idea.
One thing Garth was sure of, was that Sandi’s lure had a bigger influence on the illusionary chainmail than he’d planned on. The metal links seemed to be vacuum sealed onto her body, and just wide-gauged enough to leave no illusions about the flesh that lay underneath the metal rings.
Garth shook his head and stopped staring.
“What are you doing here? Where are the kids?”
“Wilson is watching them.” Sandi said. “We’re in the same party. We should fight together.” She raised her chin and gave him a determined look.
Garth glanced down at the battlefield below them, where things were wrapping up nicely. He spotted three orc soldiers wrestle Argus to the ground, a shiny metal collar around his neck. Had everything still been going down, Garth would have had a hard time deciding whether or not to send her away, but since the war was basically over…
“Sorry to say, the fighting’s already done.” Garth shrugged.
Sandi’s expression clouded with equal amounts of disappointment and relief.
“Wanna interrogate the prisoner with me?” Garth asked.
“Can I?” She said, lighting up.
“I don’t know if the elves have invented this or not…” Garth said, with a towel in his hand. He and Sandi were standing in the middle of the ripped and torn battlefield, with Argus strapped to a table, watched by the orcs who had been under his command until a few minutes ago.
“But this is considered some of the most effective torture we humans have. So if you’d like to spare yourself a tremendous amount of discomfort, you might want to start talking.”
“What, is the most effective torture for humans a bath?” Argus said with a sneer. “Do your worst, and make sure to get behind my ears.” A few of his orcs chuckled.
“Okay, you asked for it.” Garth pulled the towel tight over Argus’s face and Sandi started pouring the water out of her jug, onto the towel.
“I’ve never waterboarded someone before,” Garth turned to Paul who was watching with his arms crossed. “How long should I keep it up, exactly?”
“Well, there’s a lot of variables, especially considering that Endurance can raise your tolerance to oxygen deprivation. I’d say to draw a bell curve with the subject’s thrashing. Once their struggling gets past the climax and starts to weaken, that’s when you wanna give them a moment to breathe.”
The ex-SEAL knew a thing or two about torture.
Argus tried to take a breath, and realized he was basically drowning. The heavy ironwood table creaked as he began thrashing with superhuman strength underneath the towel.
Garth gave him a good two minutes of drowning, before taking the towel off his face. Argus gasped in wretchedly, coughing out dribbles of water that had invaded his throat.
“You spineless coward! Kill me!” Argus shouted, his throat hoarse.
“Not the words I’m looking for.” Garth put the towel back over his face.
***a Handful of waterboardings later***
“I think I’m really starting to enjoy myself.” Garth said, watching Sandi’s heaving breasts through the sheer chainmail.
“He’s passing out.” Sandi said.
“Oh, right.” Garth pulled the towel away from Argus’s face. The sun was starting to head toward the horizon, and the shadows were getting longer.
Argus choked and spit water, his body clearing his lungs on reflex as tears and snot streamed down his face.
“Anything, I’ll tell you anything!” he shrieked.
“But that’s not what I want.” Garth said, getting ready to put the towel over the elf’s face again.
“What do you want!?” he cried.
“I think he’s ready,” the muscle-bound Ex-SEAL whispered in his ear. “Destroy his pride.”
Garth tapped his chin thoughtfully.
“Say elves drool, humans rule.”
“What?” Argus said, his frows furrowing in confusion. “Why-“
His questions were interrupted by another waterboarding.
“No questions,” Garth said, taking the towel away once the thrashing had stopped. “Just do what I say.” The orcs that were watching were no longer amused.
“elves…drool, humans rule.” Argus whimpered as Paul clapped Garth on the shoulder with a grin.
“Now, tell me everything you know about methods to secure Earth as an independent state.”
The elf opened his mouth to speak when a voice seemed to emanate from everywhere at once.
“What is going on here?” The earth rumbled and Grass seemed to wilt in fright.
Garth glanced around, then up, spotting a formation of some eight hundred men standing in mid-air, With an aged corio with massive gilded horns at the front of them. Who the hell were these guys?
“Negotiations.” Garth said, projecting his voice magically and patting Argus’s cheek. “May I help you?”
“Castavelle De’chestaland. You will surrender any object or person that has come into contact with the fugitive, as well as his apprentice.”
Several things became clear.
Cassius wasn’t the old bastard’s real name, and Garth wasn’t going to survive this if they found out he was the aforementioned apprentice. Each one of those men and women felt unfathomably dangerous on Garth’s Bad-news-o-meter.
“He bailed with his apprentice about six hours ago, didn’t say where he was going. We don’t keep a catalogue of everything he’s touched, but we can fork up everything we can think of.”
“I know what his apprentice looks like, Garth.” The corio pointed at Garth with a smug smile.
“Well, shit.” Garth glanced at the concerned faces around him before he looked back at the badasses floating above him.
“I’m not going anywhere with you.”
“Not what I had in mind.” The corio said, extending a finger.
A ball of white hot light the size of an elephant coalesced in front of him and shot forward, bearing down on Garth.
Garth only had time to reach out with Telekinesis and shove Sandi away from him.
Garth tried to Teleport, but something jammed the spell. He conjured a massive wall of around him and tried to sink into the earth, but the thick wood vanished in front of the brilliant light.
The last thing Garth saw was Sandi’s chainmail covered thigh before the ball of light caught him. Garth squinted his eyes against the glare and held his arms and legs in front of him, desperately trying to expend the energy of the spell before it hit his brain.
The light worked its way up his arms in a fraction of a second, before he could even feel pain. For an instant, Garth’s life flashed in front of his eyes, before the sphere of molten mana took those, too.
Sorry man, I-
“Finally tired of tickle fights, huh?” Wilson said, physically and emotionally exhausted from keeping all three of the little monsters entertained.
People were beginning to stream out of the dungeon again, returning to the surface in the aftermath of the battle. it was like being stuck at the rear end of the worst traffic jam in history. Or the back of the plane. It might be another hour or two before they were able to stand up and get out, with all the thousands of bodies crammed into the dungeon, and he’d have to keep the busy throughout all of it.
It didn’t seem like it would be too hard. The three of them had nodded off, and Wilson figured he could take a moment to nap before he had to rouse them and start herding the unruly toddlers toward the exit.
Wilson sighed and recompressed into his normal shape, lying down to relax for a moment. Having a real body was a bitch sometimes.
Wilson heaved a sigh, then felt a spike of fear followed by strange burning sensation in his chest.
Sorry man, I-
“Ow, ow, OW!” Flames burst out of Wilson’s core, then his entire body began to glow with heat.
Gotta save the kids. Wilson leapt away from the children fractions of a second before his entire body burst into raging flames.
A howl split the air of the dungeon and Dr. Garth Daniels watched his doppleganger’s familiar leap away from his children, glowing white hot.
The dog-sized lizard knocked against the pedestal that supported the Core, dropping the dungeon’s center on his white-hot skin, where it began to melt.
Wilson’s body began to melt down into slag, burning away in an explosion of heat, the sphere holding his essence melted deep into the floor, white hot.
The lack of a dungeon core destabilized the semi-extra dimensional space, causing the stone above them to begin to shiver and buckle as the dungeon went through its death throes.
This place is no longer safe. I’ve got to get- Garth glanced over at where his nieces were woken up by the commotion, crying in fear.
I’ve got to get my family out of here.
Garth scooped up the three toddlers, grew six extra legs with gecko pads and ran out of the dungeon along the ceiling, bypassing the screaming mass of civilians. He ran with everything he had, sometimes losing his footing, but always barely managing to hang onto the bucking ceiling, long enough to jump out of the dungeon entrance.
Behind him, the dungeon collapsed, silencing the thousands of people who hadn’t gotten out the door.
Garth looked at the chaos around him, and saw floating men and women in blue and silver combing the city from the sky, picking up random people and objects with red beams of light before destroying them.
“What the hell is this, war of the worlds?”
Garth paused briefly to consider that the aliens in war of the worlds were not military types, but instead stupid hick farmers who didn’t pay any attention to the food safety briefing.
Then he dove into a sewer, assuming a crablike form and scuttling toward the ocean while his other bodies bought as much time as they could.
“You girls are gonna be just fine, I promise.”