“What is this?” Paul asked, jamming the opened book into Bertrand the historian’s face. The word Phytomagus was underlined, severely reducing the value of the hand-written text.
“Phytomagus?” The historian asked, frowning. He had a shock of unruly white hair and a face that was so droopy it looked liable to slide off his skull.
“Yes, there’s only one reference to it in the book, attributing it to some of Garth’s followers.”
“Mmmn, ah, yes.” Burt muttered to himself a moment and turned to the shelf behind his desk, his gnarled hands sorting through the books by feel. “Here we go.” He pulled a thin hardbound book out.
The title was printed in dark ink, and the book was bound in ancient red leather, giving it a somber feeling.
“Lost and Forbidden Classes from the time of the Gods.”
“Ahem, let’s see. Blood-drinker, Oath-taker…” He flipped through a couple more pages. “There we are! Phytomagus.”
Paul reached out to take the manual, but the old man snatched it away from him with surprising swiftness.
“After what you did you to the Illuminated History of the Mississippi Empire?” he asked with a scowl. “I’ll read it to you.”
Paul sighed and leaned on the desk as the old man cleared his throat.
“Pioneered by Clark Simmons, one of the Betrayer’s wicked lieutenants, the phytomagus is a class that allows the user a more intuitive understanding of any magic involving plants, and to a much lesser extent, life. This at first seemed highly beneficial, and its use spread like wildfire to engineer bountiful harvests and building materials. However, every Phytomage eventually began to go mad as the wicked class distorted their minds, losing touch with reality, and degrading the ability to distinguish between right and wrong, their humanity reverting to an animalistic state. “
“Was Garth a Phytomage?” Paul asked. “What you just read, combined with some of the things I read seem to suggest that.”
“Garth Daniels was a different animal entirely, he accomplished feats completely outside the bounds of a phytomage, so his class, and even his race are uncertain. I have an entire book dedicated to theories about The Betrayer if you want, but for now hush up and let me read.”
“Where was I? Ah,” Burt cleared his throat. “Because of the grievous harm a Phytomagus could cause to others and to the economy with their poisonous weeds that could choke the life out of the land, the class has been forbidden since the fall of man, when we were thrown from our crystal towers, back to the mud of the Earth.”
“Does it say what they can do? Do they have any defining features?” Paul asked, frustrated with Burt’s slow reading speed.
“Let me see, em…” Burt cleared his throat. “In battle, a Phytomagus was relatively weak, and more focused on logistics. It is said, however, that the greatest Phytomage, Kristen Tanner, created an entire wooden castle overnight, and when it was approached, the walls exploded into razor sharp shards hard enough to penetrate steel armor. Many men were lost to put her out of her insane misery.”
“Does it say anything more about these wooden shards? Could they resist fire?” Paul asked.
Burt raised an eyebrow, but skimmed through the text anyway. “It says they could create unnatural plants that could outperform their normal brethren in any number of ways, so, maybe?”
“I’d really like to read it myself.” Paul said through clenched teeth.
“Too bad.” Burt replied, “You should have thought about that before you doodled in one of only five copies. Thank the gods it wasn’t the original.”
“Burt, I promise that I won’t harm the book, or leave with it. I will read it right here in front of you. I also promise that if you don’t hand me the book, you’re going to die of dysentery in prison in about two weeks.”
The historian stared at him, horrified, before handing him the book with a shaky hand.
Finally, Paul took the book and set it on the desk, rapidly scanning the pages.
Clark distributed seeds that could grow into fully formed arms and armor in a matter of seconds, performing as well as their metal counterparts in the battle of Sickness Pass. A few of these wooden blades remain in the Mississippi City Museum.
“Hah!” Paul pinned his finger on the paragraph with a victorious shout.
Paul was certain he was dealing with a user of a Forbidden Class. A Phytomagus, specifically.
Now the question was, where the hell did they come from, where were they now, and how could they use magic?
Was it some dispossessed royal heir?
Paul shook his head. He had to keep it to things he knew. There was evidence of a phytomagus between here and the Green Hell, and he or she had been present for the battle between the Yenner and the group sent to retrieve reported rebels.
Now there were no rebels, no Guardsmen, and no Phytomagus.
Paul had to find the boy again. There was a slim chance he’d seen something that he hadn’t been aware of, like the plants being especially lush that day or something. On the other hand, there was a slim chance that the boy was the phytomagus.
It seemed safe to investigate the possibility that the phytomagus had come from the ruins of L.A., more commonly called The Green Hell. Perhaps there was an unrestricted Class Imprinting Sphere somewhere in the ancient ruins of the city?
Paul shook his head again. Too far out on a limb. Narrow your focus. If the phytomage had fled back to the green hell, it wasn’t his problem to pursue. He had to operate under the notion that the person had chosen to come to his city, and prepare for that.
“Something wrong?” Burt asked timidly.
“No, I think I’ve got what I need,” Paul said, sliding the book back across the old man’s desk. He tightened his coat and turned toward the door, exiting the aristocratic quarter’s reference library into the cool night air.
Whether to report this to the higher-ups or not? All the tangible evidence he had was a shiv that could have come from a relic of the bygone age. It could have come from a relic, but something told him it wouldn’t have been tossed aside like an afterthought if that was the case.
No, he needed more than that, and getting himself laughed out of the office and possibly losing his job would do more harm than good. Especially if there was no phytomagus.
Paul’s feet turned toward the trade district and the slums beyond. In his years of police work, he’d made connections that might serve him as an early warning system. He could ask them to keep an eye open from anything strange going on in the city and report back to him.
Paul was entering the seedier side of the trade district when he heard a young girl scream in pain from an alleyway ahead of him.
“Balls,” Paul cursed, scanning the dark, empty street. There was a halfway decent chance that this was a ploy to lure in white knights and strip them of their property. He didn’t see anyone, but that didn’t mean much.
He should probably turn back and find another way to the slums.
Then Paul heard a feminine shout of rage, a deep throated man’s cry of pain, and the unsettling sound of steel scraping against flesh and bone.
That doesn’t sound like they’re faking, Paul thought, drawing his blade and quietly approaching the alley, keeping his eyes and ears tuned for the smallest sounds, especially the scrape of bootleather behind him, in case this was still just an ambush, albeit a uncannily well-acted one.
A child started crying from the alleyway.
“Why didn’t you help me!?” came an angry young woman’s voice with an aristocratic lilt to it.
There was a reply, but it was too soft to carry outside the alley.
“Give me that!”
Definitely not an ambush, Paul thought, putting on his game face. He would love to have backup right about now, but something strange had just happened, and that was the sort of thing Paul was looking for. Why would the assaulted woman sound angry rather than terrified? The possibility that she was the perpetrator was high.
“City police! Nobody move!” Paul projected from the street outside, listening to the scrape of feet against stone for a moment before ducking his head in for a quick look into the alley, on guard for a sudden attack.
The alley was a slaughter.
Two large men lay near the entrance, one pinned to the building by a thin adamantium blade that only an aristocrat could afford, the other sprawled in the center of the alley, torn to shreds by repeated stabbing from a curved knife that was still embedded in his chest.
Further back, there was the last inch of a cigar, still glowing at the end. Other than that, the alley was empty, with no way in or out other than where Paul was standing. There weren’t even any doors into the buildings on either side.
“What the hell?” Paul asked, craning his neck up. Did they climb? There was nothing for them to climb on, and honestly, there had to have been at least two people, a girl and the child she spoke to. Paul didn’t believe they would have both been able to climb the buildings in the short time between his shout and looking around the corner, even if there were things to climb on.
They had vanished like ghosts. Things were starting to get strange in Santo Descanso
“City police! Nobody move!”
Garth cursed Karma and grabbed the girl, throwing her over his shoulder with all the speed his supremely relaxed body could muster. He didn’t even have time to appreciate the warm hip pressing against his cheek as he reached out with telekinesis and snagged the bawling boy and pulled him into the back of the alley with the two of them.
Garth leaned down and pressed his hand against the child’s mouth.
“We’ve gotta be quiet now, or your sister’s gonna get arrested,” he whispered, “understood?”
Garth threw up an illusion to cover the three of them huddled in the back of the alley, and one to cover the door to Marcus’s office.
Didn’t want people snooping around in there.
The boy nodded just before brown haired man with a chiseled jaw and streaks of grey in his hair ducked his head around the corner, stared at the dead thugs a moment, and began creeping into the alley, his head scanning side to side, and up.
Garth recognized him as the officer senior to the one who’d taken his statement. It had only been a brief second, but the younger man had shown a great deal of deference to this one.
Mind control has a way of snowballing out of control, using more to cover up the mind control you already used, so Garth wanted to keep its use on a tight leash. As long as the detective never saw them here, he didn’t intend to do anything to him.
“He won’t see us as long as we stay quiet in the dark.” Garth whispered straight into the boy’s ear. The eight-year-old nodded silently.
“What the hell?” The detective said, glancing around the alley, gradually focusing on the adamantium rapier stuck in the dead man’s chest. He grabbed the handle and yanked the blade free of the stone behind the corpse, allowing it to drop to the ground.
“Denton,” he said quietly, inspecting the blade. The man glanced around the alley a moment longer, then seemingly decided not to push his luck, bringing the rapier with him into the street.
“Well, that was exciting, but I think it’s time to go,” Garth whispered, putting the boy to sleep with sedatives grown from invisible spores.
The scene was probably going to be crawling with police in the next half hour, so now was the time to book it. He sat the unconscious girl down on the wall and inspected her features. It didn’t escape him that she matched the description that the clerk had given him of the Brenna girl who’d orchestrated the embezzlement.
Looks like we got a budding crime queen here…
Garth searched her for clues as to what she was doing here, keeping his attitude professional as be probed through her clothes. A moment later he dug an envelope out of her shirt detailing the location of a safehouse in the Trade district.
Garth didn’t have any better ideas for what to do with the two of them, so he put the envelope in his pocket and threw the siblings over his shoulders, booking it to the address.