“What’s-“ Garth inhaled a lungful of smoke as he sat up, forcing him into a fit of coughing.
“Forest fire!” Alicia shouted. “Open the tent!”
Garth nodded, eyes watering, and the plastic-like membrane dissolved into ash as he unraveled it.
Alicia turned and lunged through the tent-flap, dragging Garth by his collar.
Garth patted his vest pockets where the amulet and the illusion chip rested, making sure he was properly skinned for the outing.
Speaking of skin.
All around him was a stampede of hundreds of girls wearing nothing more than thongs. Some of them wore even less, as demonstrated by Alicia.
Garth didn’t have time to dwell on it, as the heat from the blaze pressed in from the direction they came from, making the side of his face tingle. Probably a lot more painful to them. Garth could never forget he dialed his pain receptors down, or else he’d start accidently hurting people.
The forest blazed to the west, the fires leaping up into the sky, cutting off his view of the mountain his phylactery hid behind.
“Stop gawking and run!”
Garth didn’t have any more time to think about it, as Alicia came back from her tent with her rapier, grabbed his hand again and tugged him forward with superhuman strength, forcing him to stumble along behind her. Garth glanced around, and saw the noble heirs using their enhanced physiques to escape the blaze with inhuman proficiency, some even jumping from tree to tree.
How could a fire have snuck up on people like this?
Short answer: It couldn’t have.
A fire in a subtropical forest where it had been lush and green the night before? I call Shenanigans.
Someone had to have set the fire. Several someones, in fact, as one person can’t make an instant forest fire by themselves.
That meant a group. And a group has a unifying purpose. And their unifying purpose was…Probably not good.
Is this the work of those amateurs I’ve been dodging all weekend?
If that was the case, running away from the fire might not be the best idea.
Garth glanced forward, where Alicia’s rounded bottom was bouncing in front of him, sprinting along while dragging him ahead.
“Hold on, hold on!” Garth shouted, pulling his hand out of hers.
“What?” She demanded, spinning on him.
“I gotta see something!”
Garth jumped five feet up into a nearby tree, grabbed a couple branches and hauled himself up another five, feeling like a spider monkey as he reveled in his powerful body.
Garth didn’t think anyone would notice a tree getting a bit bigger in the middle of the mass naked exodus, so he compelled it to tower over the rest of the canopy, giving him an excellent view in all directions.
They were currently situated in a bowl of fire, surrounded in all directions but one, toward the bottom of the slope, where Garth spotted a long blackened slash in the forest that had already been burned and cleared. In the center of that slash was a row of men with torches, standing in front of piles of dry wood, ready to set it alight.
“What is it?” Alicia asked as she reached the top of the tree. She followed Garth’s gaze and took in the situation in an instant. “Crap.”
Garth briefly considered digging a twelve-foot hole in the ground and filling it with an oxygen supply, where he could ride out the entire fire. Looking down, Garth could make out the stream of bare bottoms and bouncing boobs flowing toward the base of the mountain, where they would meet a toasty death.
That’s something I don’t need on my conscience, Garth thought, reaching out his hand toward the east and focusing on his Control Weather Evolution.
I wonder how the evolutions stuck with my soul, but the attributes followed my body. How is Cass so powerful when he switches bodies constantly?
Questions for another time. For now, Garth directed all of his focus on a narrow, hundred-foot band of woods that hadn’t been lit yet. Garth was going to make an alley they could escape through.
Clouds formed in a matter of seconds, a rectangle of water vapor totally unnatural in origin swirling above the man with torches.
Somebody was going to walk away from this with the knowledge that there had been a mage present, but Garth would be damned if his selfish field trip would be responsible for hundreds of dead teens. Some of whom probably didn’t deserve to die.
Damnit. Garth gritted his teeth and tugged more and more mana from the environment, swirling it together above the unlit pyre.
Control Weather’s limitations were beginning to show. Since it was an innate evolution he’d gotten from Tanglewood, it didn’t require the same amount of concentration as a spell, but it lacked the flexibility. He could:
- Make wind blow
- Make clouds and rain,
- Direct lightning.
And that was it. He couldn’t change the color of the rain, create a mental construct to direct it for him, give it magical effects, or apply techniques like Recursive Casting or Create Life to it either.
On the other hand, the energy consumption was low, which was good.
“Rain.” Garth growled from the top of his tower, looking down over the land blanketed in flames and smoke.
With the crack of thunder, the skies opened up above the men with torches, and a torrent of rain began to soak them and their bundles of sticks.
Garth watched with satisfaction as they panicked and tried to light the pyres, to no effect.
“Edward!” Alicia shouted in his ear between coughs. “We’re cut off!”
Garth refocused on the flames around them, his temples beginning to give a warning ache as he began to overextend himself. While he had directed the skies to sabotage the ambush at the base of the mountain, the others had left them behind while the bowl of fire had wrapped around them the rest of the way, cutting off their avenue to rejoin the rest of the group.
A little help, Beladia. Garth thought, using Design Plant on a mote floating above him, his head pounding from mana overuse, and smoke.
You grow sideways and hollow.
“You haven’t had sex in the last two days have you!?” Garth shouted at Alicia.
Garth opened the door to Hyper Fertility just a crack, allowing the mote in his palm to bathe in Beladia’s energy, growing into a crooked, side facing sequoia sapling. Garth threw it down into the flames.
“Jump!” Garth shouted, looking down into the flames beneath them.
“Are you crazy?”
Garth grinned. “I’m a wizard.”
Garth jumped out of the tree and pulled a column of cold air down from the upper atmosphere, his headache becoming staggeringly intense.
Garth hit the ground hard, the frigid air blasting away the heat of the flames around him as he staggered and held his head. The cold air wouldn’t keep him safe forever. He felt his foot tingle as the flesh was burned by the embers underfoot.
Garth pushed himself to his feet as light began to hurt his eyes. Right in front of him, the sequoia sapling was growing into their escape tunnel, rapidly shooting forward hundreds of feet, powered by Beladia’s blessing.
Garth took a step toward the sideways tree and stumbled, his vision blurring.
Not a good time to pass out, Garth thought, leaning against the tree as the cold air began to fail, letting the heat crowd in around him. Everything was starting to spin around him, and it all seemed a little bit silly.
There was a crash beside him as Alicia hit the ground.
“Ah!” She gritted her teeth and bit off a cry of pain as she stood on the burning embers with her bare feet.
“Where?” she demanded.
Garth put a hand on the sequioa’s massive base, where its trunk had formed a ninety degree angle and jutted out five hundred feet into the blazing forest. Pulling Beladia’s mana out of it, the base of the tree sloughed away to reveal a hollow tunnel leading through the fire.
“Ta-da~” Garth brayed with a smug grin, seconds before Alicia grabbed him by the collar and hauled him into the tree, the two of them dropping to their knees inside, gasping for breath.
The heat faded, and Garth had a moment to breathe, his mind unscrambling a bit.
Garth filled the wooden tunnel with oxygen-specialized moss. The two of them took deep breaths, their heads clearing in a matter of moments. Garth’s pounding headache eased a little, at least some of it from smoke inhalation.
They rose to their feet at the same time, and shared a glance before sprinting down the long, dark, wooden tunnel. Garth made a light above them, so they didn’t trip as the tunnel ever so slowly got narrower.
After a full minute of sprinting, the tunnel was too narrow to run any longer, and Garth pulled Beladia’s mana out of the wood. The hot air roared in from outside, and Garth grimaced sticking his head outside to check.
They had managed to sprint through two hundred feet of flaming woods, putting them a solid twenty feet ahead of the blaze that was relentlessly marching forward.
“We’re good, let’s go!” Garth stepped out and grabbed Alicia’s hand, pulling her up and out of the trunk before they both began running away from the fire again.
Garth put the pedal to the metal, sprinting at full speed toward the safe-ish zone he’d cleared. There were still men there with intent to hurt, but against a bunch of superhuman naked kids? Fair fight.
Garth paused for an instant to glance behind him, not hearing his companion. He saw Alicia running far behind him at half speed, wincing as she stepped on rocks and twigs with her burned feet.
He couldn’t tell in the tunnel since they’d been going a little slower, but Alicia was barely keeping ahead of the fire, now.
Garth ran back to Alicia
“Just keep going!” she said, waving him off and using her sword as a cane.
“Sorry,” Garth said, charging forward low, and scooping her off her feet and onto his shoulder in a viking-carry before spinning around and running for it.
Garth’s current teen body didn’t really have the shoulders for the Viking carry, so it was a bit of a struggle to keep the girl’s wide bottom balanced as he ran, too busy jumping over fallen trees and dodging around lumps of fire to appreciate the soft hip pressed against his cheek.
She wasn’t particularly heavy though, so they made good time, regrouping with the slower students in a matter of moments before they broke out into the area that had already been burned so that the saboteurs would have time to run away.
Garth reveled in the blessedly cool rain that was still pouring down as he scrambled over a massive stack of partially scorched tree trunks alongside dozens of other soaked students.
Garth flopped to the ground with a panting gasp, dropping Alicia’s bottom into the ash-y muck, where she sent up a wave of mud with a yelp of surprise.
“My god, I need more exercise.” Garth said, panting on his hands and knees as he surveyed the situation.
Most of the men with torches were scattered around the clearing, unblinking eyes staring into the air where they had been cut down by the faculty. They wore tattered homespun and had thin arms and hollow cheeks that spoke of weeks without food. Bleeding gums and loose teeth from malnutrition.
Most of them had stood and fought when their plan had fallen apart, a few running away to be hunted down by the teachers and bodyguards in the woods. That meant there hadn’t been a strong, smart leader who could have told them all to bail as soon as the sky started pissing all over their master plan.
What was their plan? Garth thought, eying the last of the starving men being executed by the superhuman noble instructors. They fought with blind rage, and were struck down methodically. Vengeance?
Garth’s heart panged as he realized he had simply traded the lives he knew for those of strangers. He shook it off, rationalizing: They might have had a good reason to do what they did, but they put us in a position where it was us or them. They made the choice for someone to die here.
Garth flopped onto his back and stared into the blaze just beyond the burned stretch of forest, peeking back at him through the charred trees from where it busily consumed any evidence he had used magic.
Once again, fire was helping him out.
Garth found himself chuckling as the rain soaked him to the bone and Alicia nursed her burned feet.
“All this time you noble spawn were trying to kill me with piss-ant traps, and a bunch of peasants almost do it with a little bit of fire.”
He glanced at Alicia, who met his gaze. “Too bad I think Hastia has a crush on me. Probably shouldn’t scorn her a third time.”
Garth glanced around at the other students and their bodyguards watching the forest fire in a daze, put his finger to his lips, signaling for Alicia to keep silent, and reached out to touch her feet.
The shiny red burns faded back to normal skin in seconds, and she sighed in relief, leaning back in the steaming muck. A moment later she seemed to realize something and directed a piercing gaze at him.
“Give me your clothes.”
“Take it easy, T-one thousand.” Garth said, unbuttoning his vest and palming the core slice that kept him looking normal.
Come to think of it, there had to be plants that were skin colored, right? He could just change his natural pigmentation and not have to worry about it. That would be small potatoes compared to everything else he’d changed. Unless Beladia was stubborn about him being in her colors.
“I don’t think the pants will fit you,” Garth said wryly, handing her his undershirt.
Alicia narrowed her eyes and was busily shrugging into his soaked shirt when Benedette arrived, looking panicked.
“Have you seen Susie?”