Garth fell a good four feet and landed on the dirty ground, bruising his shoulder. The light in the room was blinding, but it wasn’t bright, it was more like he’d never experienced light before.
What the hell, I was playing cards with Hank…
He squinted, trying to take in his blurry surroundings.
He was naked, for one.
Dozens of naked cultists surrounding a strange magic circle with about six dead guys piled up in it.
What the hell? Is this one of Hank’s pranks? Garth wouldn’t put it past her. People in the afterlife got up to some pretty elaborate entertainment. Although with Beladia’s crowd it was generally good natured. And sexy. The cultists were naked.
And they were all staring at Garth. Might as well say something.
“I hope I’m…” Garth tried to push himself to his feet, and found himself weaker than he’d ever experienced, his arms wobbling as he tried to push himself to his feet. “Not interrupting anything.” Garth collapsed back to the ground.
What the hell? Hank couldn’t dial down my strength as part of a prank unless Beladia was in on it.
Garth glanced down at himself, and saw that his skin was smooth and hairless, light purple, arms and legs stick-thin. He was missing all his scars. In Beladia’s afterlife, he’d been his normal skin color, weight and scars, because that was what he’d grown up with. Garth didn’t exactly like being purple, or young.
Am I alive again?
Garth glanced around the room. It was some sort of cave. Behind him was a bright green palm tree with large…Garth-shaped fruits. They had bright red translucent flesh and a dark purple human curled up in the fetal position inside. The tree radiated power that seemed to wash over him, and somehow…resonate with him.
“Dark Father of Sin, your children greet you,” the frontmost cultist said, kowtowing in front of him, her large breasts squishing against the floor as he shakily dragged himself to his feet.
She had light purple skin, and red hair.
The sight triggered an ancient memory in the back of Garth’s mind.
“My name is Ellanore Garthspawn, Dark Father of Sin. Lucy was one of the Prime Evils, and my granddam some thirty generations ago. It is an honor to be in your presence.”
Garth’s newly recreated stomach growled unbidden.
“We have prepared a feast for you.” Ellanore motioned to the pile of dead bodies.
Garth glanced at her, face pressed into the floor.
Then he looked at the other eleven cultists, similarly positioned, seemingly unwilling to look at him directly. About half of them were beautiful women with purple skin, and the rest were ragged looking humans, mostly young men with a hungry look to them.
Pretty sure there’s some miscommunication here, Garth thought, leaning against the Garth tree. We’re going to need to have a long talk, but first…
“You guys have some bread, or cheese? I’m not particularly partial to human flesh. Stir fry? Fried rice? Eggs?”
Ellanore stiffened, apparently startled. She glanced up at him with her eyes wide for a moment before averting her gaze. “I…was not aware that the Dark Father of Sin did not eat human flesh. I did not mean to offend you.”
“Why do you keep calling me that? Actually,” Garth said, noting the appearance of ribs on a few of them. “Why don’t you guys tell me the whole story over a couple pears and a bowl of guacamole?”
Garth snagged one of the spores floating around him and turned it into a miniature pear tree, while he made another into an automated avocado chunk dispenser.
Guess I still got the gene mods, Garth thought as he summoned a wooden bowl. It was unlikely he still had the Mythic core implants, though.
An instant later, a migraine started to crawl up his skull, and the mana he had been deftly weaving into food and utensils began to slip out of his control.
Without letting on, Garth simply slowed his use of magic and started milking the avacado chunks. He didn’t know what these people wanted with him exactly, and until he did, he was going to pretend to be a powerful caster.
“It’s gonna be a little plain, since we don’t have garlic and onions, but it’s got good protein and a little bit of savory I tossed in there,” Garth said, wincing as he created a spoon and handed the bowl of whipped avacado to Ellanore, along with a pear.
“Now, tell me why you think I’m called the Dark Father of Sin, and like eating people.” Garth leaned back and started eating a pear, giving his digestive system a jump-start. There wasn’t any light to photosynthesize down here anyway. Was it some kind of dungeon?
Ellanore looked at the pear sitting in the center of a bowl full of guac, looking a bit shell-shocked.
“You are Garth Daniels?” She asked.
“Father of Betty, Ma'ta and Lucy Daniels,”
“founder of the ancient lost city of Los Angeles?”
“Kind of. I rebuilt it.”
“Devourer of the city of Chicago?”
“Enslaver of the western continent?”
“The one who opened the gate in the sky that brought the kipling into this layer of the Sphere?”
“Okay, stop right there.” Garth said, holding his temples. “Obviously some of the things I’ve done have been exaggerated. Or made up.”
“Garth Daniels devouring the city of Chicago is a well-known fact.”
“Well it wasn’t me.” Garth said, taking another bite of pear, feeling his body starting to wake up. The weakness in his limbs was fading. “Probably the other Garth. He had the means to do something like that. Fucker smearing my name.” Garth shook his head. If he was still rambling around, Garth had some very intense questions for him.
You spend a few hundred years dead and people make up all kinds of shit about you.
“There’s…more than one Garth Daniels, Dark Father of Sin?” Ellanore asked, sharing glances with the others.
“Okay, you really need to stop calling me that.” Garth said. “Call me Garth, or Gramps, since I’m technically your umpteenth great grandad, anything but Dark Father of Sin.”
“As you wish, Gramps.” She said solemnly, pressing her forehead to the floor again.
“Okay, just call me Garth. That made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.”
“I can call you Garth, but…there may be problems with that.”
“The name is somewhat frowned upon. Calling you Garth in public might draw attention.”
“What, like calling someone Hitler or Lucifer in public with all seriousness?”
“I don’t know those names.” Ellanore shook her head.
“Well, damn, I’m the new Hitler. Awesome.” Garth rolled his eyes, then glanced at his skin. He stood out like a sore thumb too. Gonna be hard to maintain a low profile.
“Alright. I think I’ve got a pretty good idea of what happened after I died, L.A. collapsed, tons of bad publicity, et cetera, but I’m still curious about one thing.”
“Did Sandi live? She worshipped a different god, which was admittedly poor planning on our part, so I never met her when she passed on.”
“It was eight hundred years ago…We simply don’t know what happened to her.”
Garth sighed. “Well it was worth a shot.”
He tossed aside his pear core and grabbed another.
“So.” He took a bite. “What did you want from me?”
“We wish for your help toppling the Empire of Mississippi.” Ellanore said.
Garth hummed the first few bars of Dueling Banjos. They watched him with grim expressions.
“Wait, you’re serious?”
“Wow, a lot’s changed.” Garth said, running his hand over the stubble on his scalp. He needed a few months of growth to get back to normal.
“Please, people are starving by the thousands underneath the harsh tax of the Empire. Disease is running rampant, and monsters roam the land like never before. The civilians live every day in fear and hunger, eking out an existence that can’t be called living.”
Garth burped and tossed aside his half-eaten pear, the eyes of the cultists following it.
“So if I’m the evilest man who ever lived, why do you want my help?”
Ellanore paused. “We have exhausted every option. We’re desperate enough to seek aid from a greater evil.”
“Let me ask a question. Do you think I’m evil?”
Garth’s thirtieth great granddaughter shared an odd look with her friends.
Garth couldn’t help it. He started chuckling, then full-throated laughing. The ridiculousness of the situation, and the freshly reopened wound of a life lost swirled up inside him and left his body as gales of laughter. He had been so close to re-entering the cycle of reincarnation as a blank slate, and now this.
Garth laughed until he cried.
Then he laughed some more.
The cultists sat up, studying him as he curled in on himself and sobbed into his palms.
A few minutes later, Garth wiped the tears away from his face and took a deep breath.
“Whew, goddamn, I needed that.” Garth said, done whining for now. He pushed himself up off his knee and stood again, taking in his situation.
“Any of you guys bring a Status Band with your clothes when you came in? Preferably without an Aethernet connection.”
“Ah, nevermind,” Garth said, spotting one on one of the corpses. He walked into the center of the poorly constructed trapping circle, dragging his toe through the lines as he entered. The cultists scooted away from him, then put their hands down on the circle, attempting to charge it with mana.
“It’s not working!” one of the purple women said.
“SSHHH!” Ellanore hushed her.
Garth took the Status Band off of a blonde kid, unkempt, mean looking, and maybe twenty five years old. With a tiny wooden scalpel he teased apart the two pieces of leather sewed together to reveal the control system of the status band.
Garth disabled the Aethernet connection and the piracy protection, then slapped the band on his arm.
Advanced Phyto-Human *New
Warning! Subject is wanted by the Core for war crimes. Authorities have been alerted!
Apostle of Beladia & Pala
Blessings: Photosynthesis, Temperature resistance, Empowered Plant Magic, Pheremones, Hyper-fertility, Unscryable, Empowered Illusion Magic, Deceitful, Shadow Affinity
Class: Neophyte Phytolich *New
Skills: Mana Boost, Mana Channel, Mana Wielding, Spell Theory, Delayed Spell, Recursive Spell, Enchanting, Divine Lantern Style, Create Life,
Spells: Control Plants, Design Plant, Force Armor, Forestwalk, Create Fire, Haste, Plant Growth, Teleport, Polymorph, Fly, Shrink, Summon Nature Spirit, Force Shield, Fireball, Telekinesis, Magic Jar, Heal, Illusion, Floating Eye, Scry, Stone Shape, Wall of Stone, Create Water, Warding, Charm, Clarion Call, Operant Conditioning, Bark Skin
Evolutions: Mana Sight, Resilient Mind, Mind palace, Memory Lane, Plant Biology, Control Weather, Racial Advancement.
“Phyto-lich, huh?” Garth glanced back at the tree full of Garth pods. Something told him his rebirth here didn’t have a damn thing to do with the people worshipping his tree. It kinda reminded him of Wilson. It shared the same coloration as Sandi’s pet Charlie.
Was Wilson trapped in there forever, or did he recombine with Garth? Garth’s eyes started watering again.
“I’m not a lord.” Garth said, pulling the tiny capacitor out of the Status band, making the whole thing useless.
He took the capacitor between his thumbs and peeled it apart, revealing the only smooth core slice in the entire piece of magic tech.
“May I ask what you’re doing?”
“Making a disguise. Can’t be purple all the time anymore.” Garth condensed a tiny amount of space mana on the tip of his finger and hastily drew an enchantment, then scavenged a tiny Aether crystal from the band and fused it to the center of the disc.
Garth’s skin color lightened, the purple washing out, until he looked like himself again.
“Alright.” Garth said, rounding on the cultists. “I’ll forgive you for this.” He motioned to the defunct magical trap. It didn’t have any mana conducting materials or core fragments. Not even any mana flowing through it.
What were they thinking? Something wasn’t making sense.
“If you show me around this Mississippi empire of yours, at which point I will decide whether or not to help you out.”
The cultists looked at each other and nodded.
“And some clothes.” Garth cut in.
“Be happy to oblige.”
They guided him out of the dungeon, a lush jungle filled with all manner of plant based horror, from blood-sucking vines to deadly poison spines and spores that take root in your lungs.
In front of Garth though, they all folded aside, meekly moving out of the way as he strolled through the tunnels, adjusting himself in his scratchy new wool trousers.
Garth thought he was prepared, but he almost lost it again when he made it to the surface.
Momentarily blinded by the light of the sun as they stepped outside, Garth’s eyes adjusted in a matter of seconds, revealing a dense subtropical forest.
The only thing that reminded him of L.A. were the crescent mountains surrounding them in the distance, heated rivers sliding down their slopes into the basin. Garth knew it was a good idea to make them into volcanoes.
Any evidence that people had ever lived there was long since consumed by the forest, thick with bamboo, moss, and grass.
Bamboo? Garth thought, stepping to the side of the path leading into the dungeon. He lifted a hand and rapped his knuckles on the wood. L.A. didn’t have bamboo. Maybe it was an invasive species.
“My lord, please don’t step off the path!” Ellanore shouted, grabbing his elbow and trying to haul him back.
A bamboo spear settled under Garth’s chin, causing him to freeze as figures emerged from the surrounding foliage as if by magic.
They were surrounded.