Garth sat on a raised stump, watching the morning activity of the camp.
The sun was pouring through the trees from the east and partially dressed girls were emerging from their tents, stretching in the cold morning light. All he needed now was David Attenborough narrating.
there were guys too, but Garth wasn’t paying attention to them.
Garth glanced over at a musclebound teen tugging on leather boots, appreciated that someone would enjoy the view before shifting back to girls getting dressed in the center of camp, sans modesty.
Sometimes the future wasn’t so bad.
“All I’m saying,” Garth said around a mouthful of beef jerky as the rest of his team packed up to go Yenner hunting. “Is that the Archetypical Wuxia system where the strong rule doesn’t make any sense. Does being the strongest give you knowledge of city planning? Infrastructure? Economics? And let’s not forget that the guys who are the strongest devote the most time to being the strongest. When do they have any time to make decisions of state?”
“Are you going to help pack up?” Alicia asked.
Garth scoffed. “No. That’s my point. I’m the strongest one here, I don’t have to do shit.”
“NOW!” she shouted, her voice ringing through the air, catching the attention of the entire camp.
“Fine, fine.” Garth said, sliding off the stump and heading for his tent. He regarded it for a moment. “You know, I don’t think I should have to clean this up, seeing as I didn’t even sleep in it last night.”
“Not my fault,” Susie said, giving him a sullen look as she put on her adventuring armor.
“It kind of is.”
“You would have slept great.”
Garth narrowed his eyes. Touché, young one.
Garth glanced around, didn’t see anyone from the other camps paying attention to them.
“Womb, are there any Garthspawn watching us?”
“Other than ours?” The Garthspawn bodyguard with the terrible name whispered beside him.
“Alicia, is this the only thing I have to clean up?” Garth asked, weaving a series of delayed spells in a stretch of his mana control.
“That and your backpack.”
“Cool.” Garth poked the tent, snagged his backpack and walked back to the stump, pulling out some ingredients and fixing himself a ham sandwich.
“Are you going to clean up your tent or what?”
“Give it a second,” Garth said, putting mayo on his bread, following it with his homemade mustard. Two key ingredients to a good sandwich.
The tent’s poles popped apart and slid out of their loops by themselves. The tent deflated, its stakes pulling out of the ground and rolling into a nice group.
The tent folded itself neatly, then the poles and stakes gathered together before the ropes slithered around the bundle like snakes, tying themselves into knots, securing the package together.
“Whaddya think of that?” Garth asked, taking a bite of his sandwich.
“You folded it wrong.” Alicia said, settling her rapier on the belt that she slung over her generous hips.
“Yeah.” Kyle said, fastening his iron knuckles on. The boy was wearing six separate weapons. Overcompensate much?
“The door is supposed to be tucked in, not flapping around on the outside like that.” Benedette said, shrugging her bow over her shoulder.
Garth glared at them for a moment, carefully chewing his sandwich before he spoke.
“I can move things with my mind, and that’s what I get?”
“it’s impressive, sure, But it’s wrong.”
“Sonofabitch,” Garth sighed, stuffing the last of the sandwich in his mouth and heading back down to refold the tent.
It had stretched his ability to handle mana simultaneously to pull off that trick, and he hadn’t managed to nail the landing. It was intensely frustrating how much weaker he was.
I mean, I could still kill everyone here with my hands tied behind my back, but throw a couple Lantern users at me, and I’m toast.
About fifteen minutes later, everyone was packed up, their groups paired with an instructor.
Garth’s group got a particularly blustery young lady chock full of enthusiasm, who confidently led them storming around the side of the mountain the entire day, not encountering a single Yenner. There were a few goblins, but they were the icing on an otherwise bland cake.
That and a crossbow bolt had nearly taken off Garth’s head when they passed by another group.
Garth noted his face and moved on.
By the time they got back to camp, aching and tired, their exuberant, completely inept guide was consoling them for their part in scaring away all the prey.
“They’re up there, in those mountains,” The instructor said as she stared soulfully into the distance. “You kids must have scared them off, but it wasn’t a bad first attempt. You’ll do better tomorrow.”
Garth watched the dark side of blind confidence unfold. If they were making noise, that would attract Yenner, according to the twelve other groups that had brought back oodles of heartstones. The fact that none attacked meant that there were none on those mountainsides.
Couldn’t she see that??
Once their chaperone had left, Garth stood up.
“I’m gonna go ask the Headmaster for an instructor with an IQ higher than eighty.”
“What’s an I.Q.?”
Garth walked up to where Gloria was tallying the day’s haul, a hefty sack on the table beside her.
“Good work, Headmaster.” Garth said the key phrase as he approached.
Glorria stiffened, her tight script suffering a long scratch from her pen.
“NNYes?” she asked, glancing up at him.
“Those the heartstones?” Garth asked.
“Can I have them?”
“What, why?” she asked.
“I’m disposing of them, remember?”
“Yes..Yes, of course.” She nodded at the sack, about the size of Garth’s chest.
Garth grabbed it and threw it over his shoulder.
“And is there any way you could…remove the need for a chaperone for my group?”
“I would be so happy with you.”
Gloria began to stammer as her body flooded with nervous anticipation. “A-all right,” She said, blushing. “But promise not to wander too far.”
“We won’t go further than half a day’s hike out.” Garth lied.
Garth stashed the heartstones outside the firelight, using Forestwalk to glide silently around to the other side of the camp.
Garth entered from the opposite side he’d left, enjoying everyone’s startled expression as he slid soundlessly out of the darkness, taking a seat by the fire.
What can I say? The dark likes me.
“Alicia, can I talk to you in private?” Garth asked.
Her eyebrows raised a moment, then she nodded.
“That means you too,” Garth said, eyeing where he thought the bodyguards probably were. They were damn professional, and he’d only caught a glimpse of one once when it was her turn to sleep.
“It’s fine,” She said, standing.
“Cool, see you guys in a couple hours or so.” Garth lifted his hand. “I promise to do my best to bring her back alive, barring earthshattering meteor strikes or the meddling of ancient evil entities.”
“Strangely specific, but Garth’s tomb is just over those mountains, after all.” Benedette said, combing her hair until it sparkled in the firelight.
“None of us really care what you do to her,” Kyle said, his eyes closed.
Susie yawned covering her mouth with her hand, ignoring the conversation entirely.
I have a tomb? Garth thought, before dismissing it. Bigger things to do.
Garth led Alicia out into the darkness, keeping his senses peeled for ambush and insects. He had long since established a well-known habit of going outside the camp to pee, and so there were three or four hopefuls every time he went out.
Garth put those people to sleep, Casting Forestwalk on Alicia and guiding her around the traps, until they were nearly a mile outside of camp.
Garth connected his senses to the forest around him, double checking that there was nobody nearby, before he deemed it safe.
Garth slowly grew a dozen light-blocking pine trees around them, his temple throbbing as he pushed himself to his limits.
When they were finally effectively cut off, Garth created a self-refilling torch and lit it with his thumb-flame.
“What are we doing here?” Alicia asked. Garth opened the bag, revealing the wealth of glittering stones.
Garth wanted to see what she would do. He said he would let her see what he did, not teach her anything. If she wanted the power, she’d have to grab it herself.
Garth started swallowing heartstones, holding them up to the light and eating the ones with the most clarity and color, tossing the ones with more physical characteristics into a smaller bag.
“Those are poison. You can’t just eat them. It’ll kill you.”
Garth ignored her, continuing to sort through them, tossing aside the muddy, deformed ones, aiming for the smoothest, clearest ones and swallowing them with gusto.
“Is that how you got magic?” She asked.
Garth ignored her.
A half-minute went by, and her eyes narrowed, studying his behavior. After another minute, she reached into the bag and started sorting through them, swallowing the most colorful, clearest, smoothest ones she could find.
Garth couldn’t push down the urge to smile.
The two of them continued to pick through the bag in silence for half an hour, until Alicia started acting funny.
“Oh, Kolath, this is weird.” Alicia said, a sheen of sweat beading on her forehead. “Is that torch moving? Well, I mean, the torch not the flame.” She narrowed her eyes and looked back down at the shimmering heartstones in her hand, a look of horror dawning on her face.
“This was a bad idea.” She glanced back up at Garth. “Am I going to die?”
Probably not, Garth thought, setting aside his heartstones while he was still lucid. He had to be sober enough to take care of her. I’ll make sure you live.
“I don’t…feel good.”
The girl started throwing up, retching this afternoon’s lunch out into her own lap, but conspicuously no heartstones. A moment later Alicia’s eyes rolled back in her head, and her body started to convulse violently, flopping onto her back.
Garth leapt up and rolled her onto her side so she didn’t inhale her own vomit.
“Aaagh!” Alicia let out pitiful groans as her body struggled to cope with the overdose of mental heartstones. The average quality was much higher than what Garth had eaten when he’d gotten his evolution. He’d made sure she ate nothing but stones that leaned toward mental attributes to help facilitate her evolution. Then again, he had been specced for mental stats, and she was most likely not.
If she was lucky, this would force her body to gain the ability to see mana.
If she wasn’t lucky, Garth would have to resuscitate her a couple times.
If she was really unlucky, she was going to die or go insane.
Garth was going to do his best to make sure that didn’t happen, keeping his fingers on her pulse and watching her breathing as she shook violently in the grass.
Five minutes into it, Garth stopped feeling a heartbeat.
“Shit,” Garth said, narrowing his focus into his mana control, tugging threads of energy out of the environment and channeling them into her heart.
Garth redoubled the power, until there was a tiny jolt of electricity that discharged from her still form. Her back arched, and Alicia gasped, her body beginning to convulse again, shaking the underbrush around them and knocking over the torch Garth had planted in the ground.
“Damnit!” Garth cursed, picking up the torch and stabbing it into the ground further away.
Garth jumped back to her and put two fingers on her neck, feeling her erratic heartbeat. Her breathing came fast and shallow, eventually so shallow that he couldn’t see her breathing at all. Her heartbeat was weakening again.
God I hope I didn’t make a vegetable, Garth thought, using telekinesis to expand and contract her lungs, breathing for her. Her heartbeat stabilized, and Garth kept her lungs moving until he felt them spasm beneath his ministrations, and she started coughing violently into the grass.
After a half an hour or so of tense moments, counting every heartbeat, every breath, she began to breathe deeply and easily, entirely on her own.
Praise Beladia, I was lucky to survive that.
Well, she was still alive, so that was something. Now that her body had adapted, there was no point leaving the poison in there.
Garth put his hand forward and cast the spell doctor Kine had so many years ago, running a filter of attributeless mana through her body and pulling the junk mana that got stuck to it out.
He repeated the process several times to be sure, and her even breaths became deeper, more even as she sank into restful sleep. Hopefully the poison hadn’t been in her system long enough to do any long-term damage to her maximum attributes. She’d been hit pretty hard.
Garth on the other hand, hadn’t even gotten a buzz yet. Probably his new race, or class, or something. Maybe I’m not even effected by heartstones anymore, he thought with a sinking feeling.
He pulled the stripped-down status band out of his vest pocket and slapped it on his wrist.
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
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.
Excellent, Garth thought, settling his back against a tree, where he could watch the ambitious girl for any relapses. Good progress for just one night.
Garth started filtering the poison out of his system now that the good stuff had a chance to be absorbed by his body.
He would accidentally pull some of the good energy out, and he wouldn’t be able to get all of the poison, but that’s what his next body was for.