The Problem: Garth was chained to a table and presumably about to be tortured, and somewhere in the building was a caster who was most likely better than him.
The chick was probably closing on nine hundred years old, but even if she was only how old she looked, that meant she had sixty plus years of experience casting versus his two and a half.
Wish I could remember what I did while I was dead. The Memory attribute alone wasn’t the key to unlocking soul-memories. Garth felt like they were half remembered dreams.
The cuffs and collar might be stopping him from using mana, but Garth knew from experience that Blessings weren’t affected.
“So the choices are… escape, die and lose two weeks of work, or wait here and get tortured.”
Not a fun spread of choices there. Garth leaned down and ran his fingers over the metal around his neck. He could probably disengage it with the spores in the air. Undifferentiated as they were, they’d probably make proto-moss, or some kind of mushroom.
But, I do need to figure out how Shadow affinity works or else Pala is going to take it away...
“Hey, can you pick this lock?” Garth whispered, pointing at his collar. The swirling shadow below him formed a thin spout and reached up into the collar.
The collar got a bit cold, and nothing else happened. A moment later the shadow poured back out of it, the swirling pool giving him something like a shrug.
As if indignant, the shadow began to fade back into the floor.
“Wait!” Garth whispered. “I’m sorry, I just don’t know how to use you right, it’s not your fault. Could you maybe hang around and look for an opportunity to help?” If he had the blessing active twenty-four-seven he’d bump into the right way to use it a lot faster than hardly ever using it at all.
The shadow paused for a moment, then bobbed in agreement, resuming its swirling around his ankles.
“Alright then, let’s do this.” Garth wiped a bit of sweat off his forehead and used the tip of his finger to wipe it into the keyhole.
If I accidently break my neck or cut my head off, so be it.
Channeling Beladia’s blessing through the tip of his finger struck the hundreds of thousands of microscopic seeds in the lock and forced them to bloom into whatever plant they felt like being at the moment. The environment was dark and wet.
Thin, glowing mushrooms exploded out of the keyhole with enough force to snap the lock apart, allowing the collar to fall away from his neck, scattering their spores all across the floor.
Got out of it a lot faster than last time.
Garth opened the locks on his wrists in a second, then made a Lantern, pulling all the mana in the room into his fist.
Best way to protect against magic was a lantern.
Unless she knocked you out with a drug. Garth squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head. Shut up, Wilson. He hated second-guessing himself. That’s what Wilson had been for.
Garth looked down below him. Solid concrete, as well as the walls and ceiling, like he was in some kind of private bunker.
The door was reinforced steel. Luckily they didn’t have the technology for a two-way mirror.
I could go through the door and fight my way through an unknown amount of bad guys, culminating in an epic boss fight against the old lady who would destroy me until I unlock the power of friendship and trying really hard.
…but I’m not stupid.
People tended to think of warfare two dimensionally since people couldn’t fly or swim through the ground with any speed.
Garth knelt down and put his hand on the floor, creating a plant underneath his palm designed to tunnel through the ground and give him another escape route.
The plant was going slower than it might’ve to prevent an earthquake as it bored through the floor, digesting the concrete and earth beneath it to add to its own mass. It would take another thirty seconds.
Thirty seconds doesn’t sound like a lot, but it is when someone’s trying to kill you.
Garth reached his hand out and formed the spores into a solid slab of ironwood in front of the door, followed by a dozen layers of his Garth-Wrap semi-clear Kevlar substitute. The concept was based on the material that lined his major organs.
In a few seconds, the entire room was spiderwebbed with tough-as-hell wood reinforced by stretchable shower curtains.
Garth’s ears heard the distinct sound of someone trying to turn the latch, then shouting.
It’s go time.
Garth hardened his Lantern, contracting it to make it harder to interfere with and swirling it to make it eat up other people’s mana even faster.
The shouting was picked up by more voices, and dull thuds resounded off the door as they beat on it uselessly.
The tunnel was almost done when the door exploded into fragments, only missing Garth because of the stretchy fabric there to catch it.
Through the semi-transparent sheets, Garth saw the blurry outline of someone slender with white hair march through the door unhindered.
The stretchy fabric that should have bought him an extra ten seconds while they changed tactics fell in half, divided by an invisible stroke too sharp to process.
Garth’s eyebrows raised. That was fast.
“Kid. You’ve got talent. Why not join the Prima Regula? This organization is the only place you can practice magic without being hunted down. You might feel invincible because you figured out a couple tricks on your own, but you don’t stand a chance against the Empire by yourself.”
“Tell you what, kid.” Garth said, “how about I kidnap you and threaten torture before offering to let you join my secret organization? I mean, it’s been around longer than Prima Regalia or whatever. Probably. Hell of a lot cooler anyway. I’ll go home and give it some thought. Maybe we can do business. Don’t want to shut out a potential ally over a few little threats.”
“You really don’t know anything do you?” she asked.
“Story of my life.” Garth said, taking a step backward into the pit behind him.
Linda snarled and reached out, white beams of light forming out of the air and wrapping around his Lantern before dissolving like cotton candy.
Garth gave a salute as he fell straight down, was grabbed by the plant and shot underground along the tunnel, flying through the tube like a scene from Futurama.
A couple seconds later Garth was ejected, kicking and screaming out into the open air outside the base. Garth landed on his feet, the shadow swirling around him
He was in the middle of the desert in the middle of the night, a cold wind stirring the scrub brush. In the distance, there was a tent-town built around a concrete bunker, with fires and torches casting little pools of light in the middle of the dark night.
No time like the present, Garth thought, starting to put some distance between himself and the base, glancing behind him to make sure no one followed through the tunnel.
The tunnel caught fire, sending a gout of compressed blue fire shooting out of the plant on both ends.
If old lady was anywhere near as good as Garth thought she was –
An earth-shaking crack sounded, and Garth could make out a single figure punching through the top of the concrete bunker, followed by a burst of flame.
He didn’t have a lot of time to clear the scene.
God I wish I still had my enchantments.
Garth had been waiting to cut the Mythic Cores until he had the ideal conditions, but the ability to teleport, even a mile or two, would have been tremendously appreciated right now.
Soon as this is over, I’m searching through the charred ashes for my Cores. The land is probably cool enough now.
Garth sprinted through the desert, hopping from dusty scrub to cactus, each one flinging him forward, forcing him through the air as fast as a cheetah, the wind whistling through his ears.
Don’t look this way.. Garth prayed. Damn.
The old woman, underlit by a blazing fire, oriented on the blue flame screaming out of the other end of Garth’s tunnel and shot through the air toward him, the air breaking around her.
I never broke the air when I flew.
“Shit,” Garth muttered, glancing over his shoulder. She was focused on the blue flame, temporarily light-blinded as she scanned the surroundings for him. That wouldn’t last forever.
All Garth had left was a stupid idea.
He flopped down to the ground and put the illusion of a small hill overtop of himself, turtling up and hoping he could distract her long enough to get away.
At the same time, Garth made an illusion of himself sprinting away at about forty-five degrees away from where he currently was.
Something Garth wasn’t expecting happened.
The darkness that had been circling him leapt up and fastened itself to the stationary image of a hill. The shadows of the surrounding land swam up the edges of his hollow simulacrum, filling it up from the inside, weaving shadow in through the strands of mana.
Then the desert sand crunched under the illusionary Garth’s feet as it sprinted away at inhuman speeds.
It shouldn’t be able to crunch dirt under its feet. Garth thought, his hair standing up on his neck as the simulacrum raced away, to the edge of his control and beyond.
The sound brought Linda’s attention to the illusion and she shot up into the air, summoning her entire body covered with glowing mana.
The old lady crashed into Garth’s illusion like a meteor, a glowing light through the sky. A wave of superheated dirt rose up as she punched the illusion deep into the ground.
Garth lay there quietly, feeling a bit like he’d clipped through the desert floor in New Vegas, with disembodied shrubs just a few feet above him rustling in the wind, but completely able to see through the dirt itself.
Are you helping me? he thought, feeling a tremor of happiness from the shadows wrapping securely around his entire body.
“My Queen!” Came a man’s shout as he sprinted from the other side of the camp toward where Linda was climbing out of a flaming crater in the ground. He was on a collision course with Garth’s fake hill, causing Garth to tense up. He wasn’t sure what to do with the guy when he stumbled over him. Maybe take him hostage and try to run for it?
Garth had no time to come up with a good plan. Seconds later the man’s foot came down on his fake terrain, pushing off of it and leaping forward toward the old woman, passing less than a foot above Garth.
You can make things real??
Garth got a noncommittal feeling from the shadows around him, a ‘sort of’ feeling.
“Illusion, and a good one.” Linda said. The old woman strode out of the flaming crater some two hundred feet distant from Garth.
She scanned the surroundings.
“I can’t feel him anymore, either he’s already gone, or he’s better at hiding than I gave him credit for.” She took a deep breath.
“Cut our losses. Don’t spend your time looking for someone who might be gone already. Pack up and relocate to the Valentine base before anyone catches wind that we were here.”
“Yes, my Queen,” He said, whipping out a salute before sprinting back toward the flaming bunker.
Queen, huh? Interesting. Garth thought as he hid from the scary lady like a bitch.
She scanned the horizon with a harsh beam of light from her palm one more time. “damn,” she muttered once the man was out of earshot, shooting up into the air and patrolling the surroundings like a police helicopter.
The question was, would she feel it if Garth tried to make himself another escape tunnel? Probably.
Rather than risk it, Garth stayed where he was, watching as the Prima Regula packed up and marched to the south in just a couple hours.
The scary lady and all her people were gone by the time Garth relaxed the illusion, allowing the strands of mana to unravel. The shadow swirling around him gave him a ‘bye bye’ wave before it was consumed by the light of dawn.
Empowered illusion magic at night? Garth thought to himself. No, there was probably more to it. Shadow affinity. Maybe it meant less he had an affinity for shadows and more that shadows had an affinity for him.
Garth lay on his back in the desert sand, staring straight up into the sky.
“At least I don’t have a hangover.”
Now to hike back home through the desert.