“I heard you the first time, Paul,” Donald Lam said. “And I told you that we’ve already got an expedition scheduled to check the Green Hell tomorrow.”
Donald Lam, of the Lam family, one of many Lam sons to forfeit his right to succession and take a career in Law enforcement as a calculated move to expand the family’s power, sat directly in front of Paul, waving dismissively.
He was Paul’s boss.
“The Garthspawn are there, right now, and we only have a couple hours at most before things are gonna go from bad to worse. Give me the list of people going, I’ll round them up and we can be off in half an hour.”
“You’re hysterical, like pretty much everyone else in the city,” Donald said, the grizzled man pouring a shot of glowing rum and knocking it back.
“I’m hysterical too,” he said, looking at his shaking hands. “drinking in front of a subordinate in the middle of the afternoon.” He capped the bottle and set it on the floor beside him. “But I do know one thing. Running off to the Green Hell at top speed in the early evening without the faintest hint of a plan…is a stupid thing to do.”
“That’s where they are! I Know it!”
“How’s that?” Donald asked, narrowing his eyes.
“It’s the only nearby place that can feed that many people. It’s the only place that can support life. I mean, come on, everywhere else is a desert except for the north, and the Gonzalez family is just as messed up as the rest of us.”
“What if they did go into the desert?” Donald asked. “What then?”
“If they went in to the desert, they’re gone,” Paul said. “between the monsters and the harsh conditions, they might last a couple days.”
“And what if whoever took them was waiting with supplies for the trek?”
“There was no sign that anyone else was involved, they just got up in the middle of the night and fucking walked away! There were no broken locks, or windows, or stolen property…nobody saw anything, damn it!”
Donald’s eyebrows twitched.
“In light of your heightened emotional state, I’m going to let you off the hook, but this conversation is over. You can ask Mr. Williams to reassign you to the Green Hell expedition if you wish, but it is happening tomorrow, with preparation.”
Paul knew the look on the director’s face. He wasn’t going to budge for anyone, no matter how wrong he was.
Paul swallowed an impulse to curse, realizing that it would do him more harm than good now.
Paul walked down the steps of the brick office building, his mind running full speed as he merged with the foot traffic on the street.
Plan B. options….options…
He needed muscle, and he needed people who knew how to navigate the Green Hell. He could dip into his saving and hire maybe two adventuring parties, which would be a drop in the bucket stacked up against whoever had the power to move that many Garthspawn.
Hopefully he’d gotten the culprit this morning, and there was only a token force of people guarding the Garthspawn.
Ideally, they were on their way home already.
- There were too many to fight
- Only a few
Inspiration struck Paul like a bolt of lightning, a way to deal with each scenario presented itself.
He needed a Wildling nomad who knew how to get in and out of the Green Hell without getting killed by poisonous grass, or exploded by sky-fish, or vanished in a myriad of ways. With a guide like that, he could form a small team, find Lora and get out before anyone knew he was there.
All he needed was a Wildling willing to risk their life for him: Fat chance of finding one of those.
Unless I can make a friend right now.
Paul craned his neck to look over his shoulder at the jail situated right next to the Police precinct.
Paul’s feet turned and he headed towards the jail.
The thick iron door of the jail was unlocked, and the man who should have been whiling away the time behind a cage was gone, presumably off drinking, or temporarily reassigned to one of the search parties. They probably figured the prisoners would be fine without food for a day.
Paul entered the cage and grabbed the keyring, unlocking the gate leading further into the jail before slipping inside.
“Hey, I haven’t eaten anything in days! Go make me a sandwich, bitch!” a thin man shouted, pressing his face against the bars.
“Do you know who my father is!” A young, black haired man in a gold-threaded vest shouted. “He won’t tolerate – Hey, look at me when I’m speaking to you!”
Paul ignored the clamor, studying the contents of each cell briefly before moving on, until he found what he was looking for, in the last cell.
A sprawling mass of whipcord muscle, sharp teeth and claws.
The Wildling was of wolf descent, and favored his animalistic heritage heavily, with hands that were barely able to hold anything, arms that matched the length of legs that seemed to bend backwards, a muzzle, and a thin coat of grey fur all across his body.
His stomach was tucked in underneath his ribs, obviously emaciated.
“You.” Paul said. “Wildling.”
The Wildling’s ear perked up, and he opened a single eye from where he’d been napping, looking Paul up and down before closing it again.
“Execution time already?” he asked, lazily pushing himself up to a sitting position, the chains around his neck and arms preventing him from coming any closer to the bars.
“Maybe not.” Paul said, leaning close to the cage and dropping his voice to a whisper so the other prisoners couldn’t hear them.
“What are you in for?”
“Don’t fuck with me.” Paul said, pulling the keyring out of his pocket and dangling it in front of him. At the sight, the wildling’s ears swiveled forward, and Paul was suddenly the center of the man’s attention.
“What are you in for?”
“I got caught knotting a noble bitch. Her family cried rape, but she cried ‘more!’”
Paul narrowed his eyes. He didn’t have any way of knowing what the man said was true, so he’d have to exploit the man’s culture.
“Do wildlings still respect blood debts?”
“Just like we still hate being called wildlings. What’s your plan, you save me and I’m your servant for the rest of my life? I’d rather swing.”
“I save your life, you help me with one job. I don’t know if you noticed, but things aren’t exactly normal right now.”
“Do tell,” the Wildling said, lips drawing back from inch and a half long fangs as he grinned, reclining against the stone wall.
“All the Garthspawn in the city have been kidnapped, including my wife. You help me get her back, I absolve you of your blood debt. Is that agreeable?”
“Those are your only terms?”
“Don’t get creative.” Paul said, bending an iron key between thumb and forefinger. “try to monkey paw me and I’ll end you. It’s a simple deal.”
The Wildling gave a chuckle that sounded like a dog hacking something up. “I was more worried about the other way around, what with how you nobles are.”
“Soon as I have her back in the city, you’re done. Clear enough?”
“Back in the city? Where is she now?”
“The Green Hell.” Paul didn’t feel like mincing words.
The Wildling’s expression changed in an instant, his ears going flat, eyes narrowing. “That’s a tall order.”
“It’s that or execution. Which do you think you have a better chance of surviving?” Paul asked.
The wolf-man laughed his hacking laugh again.
“Alright. Sure. Sounds like a much more fun way to go.”
“Alright then.” Paul stood and tossed the keyring to the Wilding. “My name’s Paul Tucker. Let everyone else out on your way out. It’ll obfuscate your escape. Meet me on the road to the west.”
Paul turned and left.
Behind him he heard the soft clicking of steel on steel as the wildling began unlocking his cuffs with his clumsy fingers.
“Ragnar Vargson. I’ll see you there, once I’m done obfuscating my escape.”
Garth made it back to the city at half past noon, panting desperately for oxygen and leaning against a tailor’s brick wall.
Garth’s mouth was filled with the taste of blood from sprinting all the way back to the city as quick as his undernourished, underexcercised, newborn body could be expected to.
“Wasted a whole freaking week of work.” Garth muttered. It didn’t matter in the long run, but Garth had to be careful, if he played fast and loose with his lives, he might outstrip his phylactery’s ability to produce more Garth-fruits and wind up taking another incredibly long nap.
And I was just starting to remember the afterlife!
Maybe it’s like a dream, and I’ll always be on the verge of remembering, in bits and pieces, Garth thought, spitting out the copper taste and slowing his breathing, double checking his skin out of nervous habit. All that was keeping him normal looking was a thin mental construct, which essentially took all of his mental energy to maintain because he’d been killed. Again.
Garth was going to walk right up to that Paul guy, put the fear of Garth in him, and lay down exactly how things were going to go. Getting a good henchman was priority one on his list.
Ah, shit, I forgot the kidnapped whores. They’d been taken to an undisclosed location where they were presumably being forced to work or being killed. Now there was a time sensitive problem. Looks like Paul is priority two.
Garth glanced up at where Paul was walking out of the boiler room of the factory, presumably from dumping Garth’s body. There hadn’t been anything left in the Bergstrom mansion but a bloodstain.
Bastard stole the carpet and walked right out the front door.
Brenda Bergstrom looked like she’d seen a ghost when he’d stormed into the mansion.
Garth’s fist tightened for a moment as he watched the lankey man head for the north side of the city before he pushed away from the wall and headed towards Joshua Street in the opposite direction.
I’ll be back, buddy. This’ll only take a minute.
The brothel was empty when Garth got there. Some of the red silks had been torn down in the scuffle, exposing the water damaged wood behind them. Velvet covered chairs and chintzy lacquered tables had been left where they’d been smashed. The floor was covered in glass and wood splinters.
In the recent turmoil and riots, even the bodies of Garth’s three bouncers had been left where they lay.
Garth cruised through the scene, dispassionately examining everything until he found what he was looking for.
Hallway across the room from where one of the corpses was curled in on itself, was a bouncer’s beat-stick, with a sheen of dried blood and a bit of matted hair.
“That’ll do.” Garth muttered, picking up the club and wiping the sticky blood off onto his palm.
Garth took a deep breath and let his illusion fade away, clearing all of his thoughts for the spell he was about to weave.
Normally Garth wouldn’t have been able to cast it well enough to make out anything, but blood and hair was an excellent catalyst.
Garth held the bloody ichor in his fist and closed his eyes, seeing a warehouse in the slums on the west side of town. Feminine screams rang softly in his ears.
Garth zoomed out a little and recognized the neighborhood.
“Well then,” Garth said, wiping his bloody hand on one of the bouncer’s shirts before turning to sprint the other way.
It took Garth five minutes to get to the warehouse at full speed, navigating around the ornery police patrols and rioting nobles. Garth stopping just outside and peeked through a neighboring building. The warehouse was abandoned, its windows were boarded up, and a solid metal door secured it against a frontal assault.
Garth’s enhanced eyes could make out men standing guard inside the second story windows, and he could make out the sobbing of women from here. They were probably waiting for him.
Garth stayed out of sight until he got his breath back, made himself an ironwood spear, took six deep breaths to hyperoxygenate his blood, then turned the corner and sprinted for the squat building at top speed.
Garth saw the sentry’s eyes go wide as he flew down the muddy dirt road, muscles in his legs and feet propelling him forward at speeds he’d never believed possible when he was completely human. Garth crossed the distance in three seconds.
The man was standing from his chair when Garth jumped up, using his spear to pole vault through the hastily boarded up windows, bypassing the metal door entirely.
Garth hit the man feet first as the wooden slats popped aside for their master.
Garth landed on a catwalk overlooking the hollowed out warehouse where no less than twenty women were huddled together under armed guard. The man he’d kicked was propelled through an iron railing, down to the wooden floor, his spine cracking audibly.
The women were in various states of undress, and at least three of them were currently being raped. The men stood up and tried to pull up their pants at Garth’s sudden intrusion, but he wasn’t interested in giving them any time to get any bright ideas, like taking hostages.
Garth didn’t have the mental power to cover his identity manually and put people to sleep at the same time, so he had to move fast.
Garth gave the other sentry a front kick that shattered his ribs and broke him against the stone wall before leaping down into the open floor of the warehouse, wading into the thick of things.
“The Lannisters send their regards!” Garth shouted as he smashed through the men with raw power. Nobody had ever taught him how to use a spear, but the concept was pretty simple: Stick the pointy end in the other man.
“Die!” a large ruddy man charged Garth from behind, coming out of Garth’s blind spot, as he’d been underneath the catwalk. He was brandishing a heavy, cleaver-like sword.
Garth’s spear was currently lodged in a rosy-cheeked teenager who’d been in the process of pulling up his pants. The kid had a death grip on the spear, staring down it the wood plowing through his breastbone with bulging eyes.
“fuck,” Garth grumbled under his breath and ducked down, holding the handle of the spear over his head.
The heavy sword rang off the handle, and Garth let it go, lunging forward to tackle the bigger man. He seized the meaty forearm with his left hand. Garth’s hand was only barely big enough to wrap around three quarters of his wrist. Garth squeezed hard with his left hand, and felt the bone begin to crack under his grip, while delivering a feral punch to the man’s temple
A flash of pain came from Garth’s back as a bolt propelled itself between his ribs and erupted from his chest, sinking three inches into the big man in front of him.
Garth’s perforated side muscles screamed in pain as he twisted hard, pirouetting with the big man in his arms as five other bolts screamed through the air and buried themselves in his meat-shield.
Garth peeked over the twitching man’s shoulder and spotted half a dozen men on the next building over reloading their crossbows while six more trained their aim on his face.
Methinks this was a trap.
Not that I care.
The bolts weren’t adamantium, and the only way he’d die in one shot is if someone managed to hit his eyeball.
Garth ducked behind his meat shield and three more bolts shot past where his head had been, embedding themselves in the wood floor.
Another thug finished buckling his pants and grabbed a knife, charging Garth without minding the hissing bolts flying through the air.
Wow, these guys are fearless…
Garth caught the knife with his hand and grabbed the man’s head, forcing him to hold still for a moment, revealing his extremely dilated pupils.
Ah, drugs. That’d do it.
Garth rammed the knife up into the man’s skull, then dropped to the ground and scrambled closer to the wall closest to the snipers an instant ahead of another three bolts.
Once he was out of sight of the windows, Garth took a moment to catch his breath.
Gotta find a way to get around these bastards, kill ‘em from behind.
That was when a bolt shot through the window and pinned one of the whores to the ground, a lovely dirty blonde of maybe twenty. She grunted and clutched the length of wood in her gut, before she began to let out wails of pains, while the other women tried to move out of sight of the windows, their hands and feet bound together.
Or not, frontal assault it is. Garth dropped the illusion for a second and grew the biggest shield he could in a fraction of a second, a kite shield only big enough to cover his head and upper torso.
By the time he was done, another three women had been shot, but none of them were dead yet.
They were on the clock, though.
Garth reactivated the illusion, leapt straight up and caught the catwalk above him before hauling himself up and through the window, attracting fire from the snipers.
They had been saving at least nine shots for him. Five of the bolts buried themselves in his shield as he was falling and his legs took three and one bolt hit him in the gut.
It didn’t matter, because none of them were able to nick his armored internal organs, which simply slid out of the way.
I like to wear my armor on the inside.
Garth landed in the street and with another jump, he pulled himself up onto the roof with the crossbowmen.
“Afternoon.” Garth dropped the illusion and manifested a wooden claymore in his hands as the men hastily pulled out their weapons, jaws dropping in shock.
Dead men tell no tales.
Garth caught three men on the first swing, cleaving their bodies in half as they tried to rise from their kneeling positions. He chopped up six more in the next couple seconds and killed the last three with poisonous darts as they tried to flee.
Once they were dead, Garth caught his breath, reactivated the illusion and jumped back through the second story window, landing in the warehouse again, where half a dozen thugs lay dead or dying, and four woman were slowly succumbing to blood loss and shock.
The whores stared at Garth with panicked eyes, trying to worm away from him as he stalked forward to check the wounded.
Three of the four weren’t going to be alive in the next couple hours. The last one would probably make it.
“Alright everyone, listen up. My name is Edward Bergstrom, and I’m your boss. If you’re interested in career advancement opportunities, you can visit my office later this evening. I have business planned until..”
Garth glanced out the window at the sun starting its downward slide.
“Five or six. Talk to me after, but for right now, I want everyone to close their eyes.”
They stared at him.
“CLOSE YOUR EYES!” Garth shouted, infusing his voice with mana.
As one, they shut their eyes tight.
“Ah, that’s better,” Garth said, releasing his illusion as his temples began to pound. “And keep them shut until I say so.”
Garth prowled over to the first girl who’d been shot and covered her eyes before yanking the bolt out and healing her.
Despite the screams, none of them opened their eyes.
Garth repeated the process, three more times, his head aching more and more as he overexerted himself.
This Paul guy is gonna make up for all the freaking trouble he’s put me through. Garth thought, fixing the last girl and stumbling away from her.
Garth reapplied the illusion.
“All right, you can open your eyes now.”
The women looked confused that not only was no one hurt, people who had been hurt were now not hurt.
“Plausible deniability, right, ladies?” Garth said, manifesting a short wooden blade behind his back and then using it to saw through the ropes around their wrists and ankles. “You didn’t see shit.”
After Garth had sawed through the third pair or hands, the ground seemed to tilt sideways, his skin flickering between purple and freckled.
Aw crap. Garth thought, his nose tickling as blood began to ooze out of it.
Garth’s eyes slid closed.
I better not be dying twice in one day, that would be total…
“Bullshit,” Garth groaned, his eyes opening to the harsh red light of evening spilling through the shutters of an abandoned building.
He tried to turn his head and came up against fleshy resistance. There was a boob in the way, practically smothering him.
“hi there,” a brown haired woman said shyly, her face barely visible above the outcropping of her shirt.
“Yo.” Garth said, groaning and clutching his head as he sat up out of her lap. He checked his skin.
Yep, still purple.
“Ladies,” Garth said, looking around at the twenty-odd women watching him curiously. “If you talk about anything that happened here today, even with each other…It’ll probably get you killed. So…decide on a story you can all agree on before you go anywhere else.”
Garth groaned and glanced at the orange sun. He’d been out maybe an hour and a half?
“Are you a god?” one of the younger girls with a round cherubic face asked.
“Are you a Garthspawn? A boy?” asked a slender blonde. “I heard those exist, but they’re unbelievably rare.”
Garth considered that for a moment. Better than being Garth.
“You got me. I’m a male Garthspawn on the run from my…” Garth grimaced. “Family.”
Garth’s illusion flickered back into existence to gasps of surprise. “Now forget you know that or it’ll get you hurt, alright?”
Nods of assent all around.
“The last thing I wanted was for any of you to get caught up in a power struggle, so go somewhere safe until things die down, or, if you’re interested in job advancement, head on over to the Bergstrom Manor and tell them Edward sent you. I’ll get back there sometime around nightfall.”
“In the meantime,” Garth said, staring dramatically into the sun. “I’ve gotta do some talent scouting.”
God, I’ve been running all day, Garth thought as he started sprinting, considering stealing a horse.