Garth seized the knife blade in his right hand with an application of Barkskin, then bashed the back of his head against the man behind him.
“Wha-“ The leader’s smile faltered, and he hurried to draw his blade when Garth kicked him in the diaphragm, using his friend for extra leverage.
Two more thugs rushed him, and Garth grabbed the guy holding his nose behind him and launched him at the approaching men.
They toppled to the ground in a tangle of limbs.
Garth started humming as he stomped down on them, interrupting their attempts to get back up with well-placed stomps and field goal kicks. Soon the humming gave way to shouting.
“Hmmm Mmm mmmMMotherfucker smears me for eight. Hundred. YEARS!” Garth growled between kicks. “Nothing’s left but fucking dust. You goddamn piece of shit, I’ll go back in time and make a fucking sandwich out of you. Kids are all fucked up. YOU FUCKED WITH MY KIDS!”
It had been a long couple days, and Garth just needed to vent a little.
Garth caught a man in the knee and heard a popping sound, followed by a wail of pain. He kicked him in the teeth, forcing him to shut up.
“Do you think ribs can penetrate the internal organs with enough force?” Garth asked, returning to the moment and lining up a shot. “I think they can.”
Garth made a field goal kick directed at a man’s ribcage. It gave a satisfying snap as the thug was launched away.
One of the skinnier men pushed himself to his hands and knees, staring at the back of the alley where they presumably had their escape route. Criminals tended to choose alleys with a rear exit. He tried to push himself the rest of the way up and make a run for it.
“He’s a noble! We gotta-“ Garth interrupted him with a well-placed kick that propelled the man into a nearby wall, hitting his head against the stone with a crack.
“Did I say you could leave?” Garth demanded. So they thought he was a noble. That implied superhuman strength being common in the ruling class. Wow, talk about not giving a shit about the sword of Damocles.
There was literally no way to rebel when the nobility could kill thousands of peasants by themselves. Most revolutions were successful because the monarch’s military stopped supporting them for whatever reason.
In this case, the nobility made up a significant amount of their own military strength, becoming even more entrenched than they had before the Kipling came.
Before the kipling, there was one unifying factor: No matter how much power accumulated in the hands of the rich and powerful, they were still just men. They could be outfought, and outthought.
Now, though, eight hundred years of power creep had made the nobles gods among men.
The man Garth had kicked went limp, and his friends froze. Garth nudged the man with his boot. His eyes were wide and bloodshot, a thin stream of blood draining from his nose. Probably dead.
Garth felt a pang of guilt, and squashed it down. The afterlife wasn’t that bad, anyway. The man’s death quenched the rage that had been building for some time, but it didn’t go away entirely.
These men weren’t the target of his ire. There were bigger fish to fry, and it was a long road getting there. He couldn’t afford to start murdering everyone who irritated him. Probably.
“I want to ask you three some questions.”
“Yes, milord.” Their leader gasped between broken teeth, putting his bloody forehead on the ground.
Paul Tucker returned from the day at the library pouring through encyclopedias of rare materials.
He couldn’t find a damn thing about whatever the wooden blade was made of. Wood, obviously, but what kind of wood held an edge better than steel?
He entered his home, a small two-story affair in the noble district, outside the palace, groaning as he slid out of his coat and hung it up on the rack. Curiosity had driven him to spend the entire day at the library on his day off, for nothing.
Three small children tackled him around his waist and legs, nearly sending him sprawling to the hard wood floor.
“Ease up, you gobs,” Paul said, stumbling away, carefully trying not to step on any of his progeny.
“Sandra put syrup in my hair!” His middle daughter, Nina said, burying her face in Paul’s shirt.
“Did not!” screamed his youngest.
In truth, Paul could see the sticky knot of hair from his vantage point directly above her. He assessed the damage while his sons tried their hand at pulling one of his legs out from under him.
“There’s syrup there, all right,” He said. “Somebody put it there.”
“It was an accident!” Sandra screeched.
“The law doesn’t mind what you were thinking when you did something, only that what you did was bad.”
“NoOO!” Sandra shrieked and ran, stomping away at full force, her tiny feet making an abnormal amount of noise as she ran.
“Carla, if you would.”
His eldest, standing beside his wife, snaked a hand out and caught the runner, who devolved into a fit of shrieking. She gave Paul a glance before taking the squalling toddler off to a separate room for her spanking.
The screams faded down the hall, until they were muffled behind the children’s bedroom door.
Paul sighed and rubbed his temples.
“Alright, give your father some time with your mother,” Paul said, raising his hand threateningly.
The children scattered like cockroaches, giggling as they returned to their play outside the house.
“Welcome back, my lord,” Lora said, bowing, causing a few strands of her raven black hair to tumble over her purple brow. “Did you find wha- Eeep!”
Paul seized his ‘spawn by the waist and pulled her in for a kiss, enjoying the way her generous body conformed itself to his. Paul kept at it until she was panting with lust, her eyes unfocused.
Then he pulled away, leaving her to adjust her hair as he inspected her with a mischievous grin.
Lora was a bit short for her kind, just above five feet tall, but adorned with childbearing hips that bounce back, a welcoming womb and pendulous breasts that never seemed to run dry. Her wit was kind and cheerful and never failed to make him feel better.
She was the best purchase he’d ever made.
Paul had scrimped and saved as a commissioned officer for fifteen years, from the age of thirteen, where the only duty he had was cleaning toilets and relaying orders, all the way up until his post as an Assistant Detective.
He’d become a little jaded along the way, learning where to apply his morals, and where the point was moot, but he’d never lost his dream of being like the men in the palace, with their Garthspawn concubines.
At the age of thirty, he’d applied for the license, paid the astronomical fee to the government office and picked her out of a selection of five women. The next day he had her papers, and the fifteen year old girl was living in his home.
The only problem was, she was afraid of him.
That wouldn’t do.
So Paul had applied the same singleminded determination to wooing the girl as he had to buying her in the first place.
For two long years, he waited. Until at last, she came to him.
Perhaps he should have listened to his father and invested the money in business ventures or heartstones to improve his career and longevity. And yet, every time he felt the envious stares of his underlings, he knew he’d made the right choice. Paul would rather spend his life wallowing in a hard-earned luxury than swim through the mire of politics.
Thirteen years later at forty-three, he was feeling the march of years, his career was secure, and he had but one fear: One day his wife might give birth to a Garthspawn that would be taken from them. They’d been lucky so far, but one day she might give birth to a little purple girl, and Paul would be required to take her to the government office, and then she would be gone. After having five children, Paul didn’t think he could bear to see one of them taken away.
Not when he knew the fate awaiting Garthspawn.
“My lord?” Lora asked, her eyes refocusing “Is something wrong?”
“A bit lost in thought...” Paul thought a moment before he spread his arms wide. “Undress me, wench! I’m going to the reading room. You may report to me there for your regulation plowing once the children have been secured.”
Lora gave him a mock salute.
“Yes sir!” she said with a stiffened expression, dropping to her knees and undressing him.
“Thank you my dear,” Paul said, stepping out of his pants and sauntering through his house naked. Felt good to be out of the stuffy work clothes with the restrictive belts. He headed to the kitchen and scooped out a bowl of soup and a slice of bread and brought it upstairs to the reading room, ignoring the terrified shrieks of his children.
Paul slouched down in his comfortable chair and stared at the wooden dagger on his desk as he ate. What did it mean? If he had discovered some kind of new material, he could sit on it until his sons needed a purpose in life, then let them become tycoons.
Something about the dagger gave him a bad feeling though. There was so much unexplained. Who had made it, and how? If the material was tougher than steel, had they used diamond dust to shape it? if there was already an operation sophisticated enough to use materials like that, why hadn’t they become public?
Eventually Paul realized his meal was long since done, and Lora was nowhere to be seen.
Must have gotten held up. Paul stood up and went to their bedroom, where he got dressed before taking his bowl down to check on Lora and the children.
A light peeked out from the children’s room, and Paul quietly pushed the door open wide enough to see them.
Lora sat in the corner by the candle, the orange light illuminating her beautiful face, making her hair glow with streaks of reflected light. She held a book of fables in her hands angling it so that more light fell on the pages as she read.
Paul could see by the spine that it was the Illuminated History of the Mississippi Empire.
A bit scary reading, but there were some interesting fights. Carla must have requested it.
The children, listening to the stories, were wrapped up in their blankets like sausages, noses peeking out from beneath their covers as their mother read them a bed-time story.
“And the evil Garth betrayed their trust, poisoning their commanders during the meeting. The army, with no leadership remaining, tried to rally for a single charge to overturn the loss, but the wily Garth was ready for just such a thing. He had a plan.”
“What did he do?” Nina asked, her eyes wide.
“He set a trap,” Lora said with emphasis and an evil grin.
“The first of our Lord’s children had not yet shown his true colors, and together they stood in front of the advancing army-”
“Mommy?” Nina asked.
“If you’re Garthspawn, does that make you evil?” she asked. Paul rolled his eyes. Children were able to ask the most devastating questions completely innocently.
Lora seemed to wilt under the question that must have been brewing in the back of the little girl’s mind.
“Of course she’s not, dummy,” twelve year old Carla said.
“Yeah, mom is the best. How can you be the best and evil? Doesn’t follow.” His ten year old son, Rupert, said.
“But my teacher said Garthspawn are born evil, every one of them.” His second son, Canner, said. For that you get no dinner.
Just when things were about to resolve themselves nicely, the brat had to throw a wrench in it by bringing up an authority figure. Well, there was no higher authority figure than Daddy. Especially if he was a Senior Detective in the Empire’s Military Law enforcement.
“I’ll handle this one,” Paul said, drawing their attention to where he stood with his arms crossed in his most intimidating manner.
“Your mother’s body shows the touch of the Betrayer, but her mind, and most importantly her soul, are her own. Do you understand?”
“He doesn’t make her do things?” Nina asked, looking relieved.
“No. Now apologize for hurting your mother’s feelings.”
“It’s okay, child,” Lora said, her eyes watering. “Where were we, oh! The trap!”
Paul turned to leave. It would be another fifteen minutes at least until she joined him in bed.
“Garth created a man-eating forest beneath the advancing army, in less than a heartbeat. The wood entwined around them, crushing them to a paste and using their blood to fuel their own unholy growth. Garth’s trees were stronger than the swords and axes of his victims, and fire was unable to take hold of it.”
The children were listening with gaping mouths at the gruesome story, but something Lora had said stuck in the back of his mind.
Garth’s trees were stronger than the swords and axes of his victims. Fire was unable to take hold of it.
“Our lord begged him to stop the slaughter, but…”
Lora’s voice faded away as Paul sprinted down the hallway, up the stairs, and snatched the knife from the reading room. He stomped down the stairs, grabbed his badge and slid his shoes on.
“What is it my lord?”
“Going out!” Paul cried, running out into the night in his small clothes.
A minute later he arrived at the nearest blacksmith’s shop, shoved past the counter into the back room where the forge was running.
“Hey, what are you doing, you madman?”
He shut them up with his badge.
“Get out of this room,” he said, staring the much larger blacksmith and his rather young, healthy apprentice down, daring them to challenge the authority of the Empire.
They left, befuddled.
Paul grabbed a pair of tongs and shoving the wooden blade into the hot coals. He waited long enough for any common wood to have long since turned to ash, then pulled it back out.
He held the wooden blade to another wooden surface, and flame licked up its side where it caught the other wood on fire.
Paul quenched the blade and went back out.
“Thanks.” He nodded at the smith, then ran back home, his airy smallclothes letting in the cold night air.
Once he got home, he found Lora setting the book aside, beside the candleholder in the children’s room.
“Gotta borrow this,” He said, snatching up the book.
“Is it important?” she asked.
“More important than me?” she asked, folding her arms beneath her breasts and pressing them upward.
“I can take care of everything,” she said with a wicked grin.
“By all the gods, you’re bad for me.” Paul said, grabbing her hand and pulling her upstairs.