Garth slapped a hand over his neck, stumbling backwards. Two of the many things about throat-cutting that Hollywod gets wrong is that it’s not instant death, and the coughing.
Garth violently coughed up a spoonful of blood that managed to seep through the nick in his windpipe before it sealed itself. Thankfully the Barkskin had mitigated some of the damage, so she hadn’t gotten a good cut on his major veins. That and they were…a little tougher than human veins, care of Garth Remodeling # 18. Think Kevlar reinforcement.
I know I said I should keep it to one a month, Garth thought as he stumbled dramatically toward the window. But self-modification is addicting.
A sharp pain in his back sent a cramp all the way up his spine, before the knife twisted against his biothread reinforced heart and pulled out. All of Garth’s vital organs had their own armor.
There’s the coup de grace, Garth thought, twisting and slumping backwards against the open window and healing the hole in his back. Now, to act like an idiot. A dead idiot.
“What, I… Mom..” Garth stared straight forward and let his breath rattle out of his throat. Hopefully they wouldn’t notice that he hadn’t voided his bowels, because Garth wasn’t that committed to this entire endeavor.
Odd that a succubus is using a knife, though. Garth had expected to have to contend with giant scythlike claws tearing him to little pieces.
“Is he dead?” Brenda asked.
“Something felt strange, but yes, ma’am, if his heart were still beating, we’d see it oozing out of his neck.” The Lure said.
“What an unsightly fellow.” Brenda said, returning her attention to the documents in front of her. “Get rid of that duplicate, it offends me.”
A moment later The Sandi-lookalike disappeared and a purple woman stepped out of thin air, wearing tight black clothes. A Garthspawn that could use the racial abilities of the succubus!
Nobody noticed Garth’s eyes widen.
Ninjas! His number two choice.
Well, Kunoichi, but let’s not split hairs.
Now, let’s see if the villains have a monologue over the fresh corpse, as is tradition, Garth thought, staring straight forward in his death-pose.
“Those bastards.” Brenda said, returning her attention to the particular piece of paper that had grabbed her attention moments before.
“They paid the innkeeper days before Jason died. We always knew it was a deliberate killing, but now we have proof of intent.”
“What shall I do with the body?” the Garthspawn said, glancing at him nervously.
“Nothing. Vera and the others will clean that pompous dipshit up. You get back to Edward. We can’t leave him unguarded for a minute longer than necessary.”
“Do you think they know about him?” The Garthspawn asked.
Ooooh, a secret person named Edward. The patriarch of the house is named Heath, therefore…secret heir mayhaps? Makes sense if everyone and their mother was trying to kill their last heir.
“They’re gonna know about him now.” Garth said, climbing to his feet.
The Garthspawn ninja girl turned invisible again.
Garth felt a bit of air displaced in front of his face. he closed his eyes and jerked his head to the side. The woman’s knife slid off Garth’s ocular bone, missing his eye by less than an inch.
Garth reached up and seized her arm in a crushing grip, forcing her to drop the knife and then pinned her to the floor, holding her arm hostage.
“Now look,” Garth said. “You’re not getting those papers without some kind of-“
Garth was struck with a sudden wave of euphoria and contentment. Maybe he could take a nap. Garth relaxed and let out a yawn. It had been a long day already, and…wait, that’s not natu- The Garthspawn twisted out of his grasp and backed away as he tried to reach for her, just a bit too slow.
As Garth’s attention was caught by her, the Garthspawn’s lure instantly reappeared beside him and picked up the fallen dagger, plunging it toward Garth’s skull, where it skittered off his carbon-fiber reinforced bone, giving him a wicked scalp wound.
This girl was starting to get on his nerves. It would be very impressive if he weren’t on the receiving end, after all, he should be dead three times already.
Better not give her a fourth chance.
“All right, game’s over.” Garth said, grabbing the dagger out of the surprised lure’s hand while sending an invisible puff of sleep spores into the corner where the Garthspawn had gone invisible again.
Reappearing, his granddaughter’s eyes rolled back in her head and she collapsed. Garth stepped forward and carefully caught her and laid her on the ground. A girl with that much talent at murdering is a keeper.
Garth stood and cast a glance at Brenda, who was pressed against the wall, her face colorless.
When she saw him looking at her, she made a dash for the door. With a burst of telekinesis, the door slammed shut in her face and locked itself. She pounded on the door with frightening strength as Garth picked up his toppled chair and sat down again, embedding the dagger deep in the wood of the table.
“Brenda. Brenda!” He shouted, grabbing her attention away from the door.
“Are we going to sit down and talk about this or are you going to continue acting like a frightened child?”
She saw him sitting at the table, panting lightly. The stick thin older woman considered him a moment, her face pale, hands trembling.
She took one mincing step forward at a time, as if afraid that making too much noise would upset him.
“Are you a Royal?”
“What makes you think that?” Garth asked.
“You’re…not human.” She glanced at the door. “You can do magic.”
Garth considered her question. Did that mean nobles couldn’t do magic either? He’d been careful about using magic for nothing? He’d been afraid random noble A would stumble across one of his spells and raise the alarm, but apparently only a handful of people on the planet were allowed to use magic.
Nobles got Heartstones, though, so surely some of them would achieve Mana Sight. After that it would only take some experimentation to…. Oh no. The nobility only got Physical Heartstones, didn’t they?
With physical heartstones reinforcing their bodies, they could bully the peasants all they wanted, and with the mental heartstones all to themselves, the royals could bully the Nobles all they wanted.
A perfect stratified power scheme.
That meant the mental attribute stones he was looking for were even harder to come by. He’d have to make his own.
Garth reconsidered eating wild heartstones.
No, this time he was going to have a perfect record, maximum absorption and attributes high enough to make Cass shit his pants. Couldn’t take any shortcuts if he wanted to eviscerate the guy who’d vaporized him.
That left him with finding pure mental stones to serve as bases. Three legendary creatures who exemplified the mental stats he was looking for.
NNoooooooo, not another quest!
That made Garth take pause. What if the only heartstones he ever absorbed were from legendary creatures? That seemed a bit untennable, there were only so many legendary creatures per world, and if he died, he’d lose all of them, and it would be incredibly difficult to beat legendary creatures without using heartstones…Unless…
Heartstones didn’t follow from body to body, meaning the ill effects wouldn’t either, soo…
- Get jacked on wild heartstones, produce an enormous supply of pure heartstones using that extra muscle to get the job done.
- Use the pure heartstones on body #2. Go on killing spree of interdimensional legendary creatures, using a closed circuit portal to ship the stones back to his phylactery.
- Once he had several thousand, or million, Heartstones from epic creatures, die again.
- Start new body fed nothing but Legendary Heartstones.
Pretty long game plan. Did you honestly expect to get badass enough to kill the guy in one lifetime?
“Sir…?” Brenda asked.
“What?” Garth asked, returning his spaced-out gaze to her.
“Are you a Royal?”
“Who founded the Empire?” Garth demanded.
“Our Lord Jim Daniels, of course.” She said.
“Then obviously I am,” Garth said. Technically true. “And I’m afraid you’ve soured the deal.” He said, placing a possessive, blood soaked hand on the mound of evidence, smudging it.
“Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t walk out the door with the evidence, and the money, and tell the Dentons about this Edward person as a bit of vindictive revenge for the whole...” He motioned to his throat. “Throat-cutting thing. I kinda took it personally. I think by now you’ve realized that you can’t stop me, so what are you going to do?”
“What do you want?” she asked, defeated.
“I already told you,” Garth said, leaning forward. “But this time, let me be a little more specific.”
“What are we doing here again?” Carl asked, yawning. Paul’s Lieutenant was a fat, lazy bastard, but he had naturally acute senses and got a strange kick out of tracking down people and objects. He would have made an excellent detective were it not for his distaste for work and complete rejection of paperwork.
They were standing in the alley where he’d found the rapier. The entire thing seemed a lot grimier under the light of the morning sun. he was hoping to find something to tell him a more complete story, but who knew what the street vermin had made away with under the cover of night?
How had they vanished?
“A denton was involved. Do we need to know anything more?” Carl asked.
“We’re seeing if there’s anything I missed.” Paul said, glancing at the door he hadn’t seen last night. It was inconspicuous, but he shouldn’t have missed it. It was probably how they’d gotten away.
Am I just getting old? He thought, bending down to turn the dead man over and search his pockets.
There was nothing there but lint and some sticky strands of hair, covered in some kind of syrup. There should have been at least a little spending money. A wallet or coinpurse hopefully.
There was nothing to suggest that these men were professional enough to leave all their identifying marks at home.
Paul turned the man’s head over and saw where an earring had been roughly torn out of his ear.
Shit. They’d already been picked clean. He could have Carl search outside the alley for anything the scavengers hadn’t wanted, once he took a look at the mysterious door.
Paul stood up and headed for the door, carefully pulling it open. The door was seated a little off, but it gave after a light tug. He held his body out of the way as he opened it in case of some kind of trap.
Carl stood behind him, unconcerned.
The door opened without incident, and Paul cautiously made his way up to a short hall ending in a two-room office. The office was tossed. Shelves were lying on the floor, papers were strewn about everywhere, and half the skulls on the walls had been torn down and smashed against the floor.
Paul bent down and checked the desk, to see if anything was glued to the underside, then glanced across the shattered skulls. Had something been hidden in one of the skulls?
A quiet snoring caught Paul’s attention, and he freed his short blade, standing up to investigate. Paul crept toward the back of the office and peered into the dark room.
Inside, a man lay face-down in the sheets, only half of his face visible, snoring heavily.
It probably wasn’t a good idea to shake him awake with a shortsword in his hand, so paul decided to make noise from a safe distance.
“Hey. Wake up!”
Paul repeated himself three times, raising his voice each time, and adding mention that he was with the police.
The man in the bed didn’t even stir. Didn’t move at all. Matter of fact. His chest didn’t look like he was breathing.
Paul walked forward and violently flipped the man over with his boot, revealing the other half of the man’s face, where a gaping hole was slowly dribbling blood and brain matter into the sheets.
Paul cursed, backing away in surprise before taking a moment to get control over his stomach. He had questions that needed answering, and he’d seen worse. What was making the snoring?
Paul bent down and searched through the covers for the source of the noise.
Beneath the man’s chest was a tiny disk of milky white with a strange, etched pattern on its surface.
The disc was making loud snores.
What the hell? Paul thought, picking up the snoring disc. Was he looking at…magic?
An instant later, the disc flashed white-hot, and Paul dropped it with a yelp. The disc hit the bedsheets and caught fire, burning unnaturally hot.
“No, NO!” Paul screamed, trying to put out the fire and retrieve the disk. The fire spread like a living thing, and Paul had no choice but to retreat from the heat of the blaze, missing a good deal of his eyebrows.
Paul stumbled out of the building, coughing his lungs ragged.
He had seen magic.
And it had destroyed itself. Along with everything else in that building.
Paul glanced back up at the building, where flames were starting to break out the windows. People were beginning to shout and scream with alarm.
Damn. I got nothing. Nothing.
Were the Royals playing their games in Paul’s city? That’s the only way he could imagine something like that being there. Or was it really just a rogue Phytomagus?
Paul glanced over at Carl, who was turning over the last third of a cigar in his fingers pensively.
“Where were you?” Paul asked.
“Long stairs.” Carl said. “Narrow hall. Office couldn’t have been that much bigger. Wasn’t interested in having my crotch glued to your ass…sir.”
“At least it isn’t a total waste.” Carl said, holding the cigar up to where flames were licking out of the window. “Found a blunt with some juice left in it.”
“Don’t smoke the evidence,” Paul said absentmindedly, staring at the office that could have told him…something, going up in flames.
Cruel, murderous, calculating bastard. Someone who knew how to do things that had been lost to the sands of time, secrets guarded jealously by the Royal Family. That’s what kind of magic user he knew had taken residence in the city, but Paul couldn’t prove it.
“Wow, this is really….good.” Carl said, attracting Paul’s attention before he leaned against the wall, slowly sliding down and taking a nap, curled up on himself like a fat hedgehog.
The cigar slowly burned between the man’s fingers, sending a thin trail of smoke up into the air.
Paul remembered the cigar that had been burning in the alley the night before, but he’d glazed over it, focused on the obviously expensive sword instead. That had been a mistake. This Phytomagus obviously liked strong drugs.
That established a connection between a Denton and the Phytomage last night, however small. One of them knew what he looked like.
Looks like Carl found something useful again, Paul thought, winding back to slap Carl awake.