The three of them stood in front of Paul’s house, lit only by the light of the waning moon. The barest candlelight spilled from the door as Paul glared at them with dark sircles under his eyes.
“You want me to hide a Denton.” Paul said, glowering at Garth. “From the Dentons.”
“Just a little one,” Garth said, patting the kid on the shoulder. “Until it’s safe for him to be out and about again.”
“And what about her?” he asked, glancing at Alicia, who was idling in the man’s front yard. “What’s the point of hiding him when she’s here, listening to every word you say?”
“I’m the one who wants him hidden,” she said.
“Don’t worry, Paul,” Garth said, “She’s not going to tell her family about you, because that would lead them to her brother, right Al?”
She sighed and nodded.
Paul narrowed his eyes, weighing his choices. It didn’t last long.
“No.” he said, closing the door on Garth’s hastily inserted fingers.
“Why not? I’ll tell you why not. Because the Dentons are fucking monsters that would kill children if they were an obstacle, and leaving that boy with my kids is a recipe for coming home one day and finding them carved up and arranged by size. There is no fucking way I’m risking the safety of my children.”
“Actually, speaking of the safety of your children,” Garth said, pitching his voice lower. “I also wanted to let you know that the city might become dangerous for people of all ages over the next month, and it might be a good idea to, you know,” Garth tilted his head to the west. “Ship ‘em out.”
“So you wanna take my kids too, now, huh?” Paul growled, his expression murderous.
“Send ‘em or don’t, city’s still gonna be dangerous, but out west, they’ll be with their mother. She’s on the planning committee, if you can believe it.” Garth clapped Thomas on the shoulder. “Plus you can send him with ‘em.”
“Send him where?” Alicia asked, grabbing Garth’s shoulder.
“Where we’ll be going, actually.”
“I don’t want to tell you, because you would say no without giving it a chance.”
“C’mon, give it a chance.”
“Fine.” Paul said, “I’ll send them out, the kid included, just stop drawing attention to us. I expect them to be well taken care of and far, far, far from danger.”
“On my honor.” Garth said.
Paul grumbled and dragged Thomas in the door, slamming it shut behind him.
This time the city was going to be a proper fortress with multiple escape routes, so another perfect storm of bad luck didn’t cripple their escape mechanism.
This time, I’m not going to wait for an invading force to state their business. I’ll just blow their asses up.
“He better be fine,” Alicia said.
“He will be. I have a couple people I trust completely guarding a large section of land, removed from the city…kind of a ranch, you could say.”
Alicia shrugged and nodded.
“Alright, that’s taken care of. Now, item one on our list. Visiting Caitlyn Mcdonnell.”
“Why her?” she asked, prickling.
Garth’s jaw dropped, staring at the slender, raven haired girl who eyed him suspiciously. I’ve never had someone be jealous of me before. Well, Natalie had been jealous a few times, but Garth had never been perceptive enough to notice it as it was happening. It was an interesting sensation, objectively knowing someone had a crush on you.
It was taking every ounce of Garth’s self-control not to treat Alicia patronizingly or act like the dirty, dirty old man he really was.
“What?” she asked, eyeing his stunned expression.
You’re cute when you’re jealous – I want to experiment with plant-based lubricants on you.
Garth’s teeth clacked shut. Self-control had never been Garth’s strong suit, and he didn’t like not speaking his mind, but coming on way too strong was a much bigger problem, so he just shut his mouth.
“She’s got tools I need to borrow.” Garth said, swallowing the rest of his thoughts.
She watched him a moment longer. “I see.” She turned back toward the gate, her prominent booty rolling in a hypnotic figure eight as she walked.
Not only that, watching women kick people’s asses is a bit of a turn-on. The danger tickled Garth’s contrarian urge to subdue them.
For an instant Garth remembered the feeling of her well-defined backside resting on his knee, and briefly thought of all the fun things he could teach her to do with it before he shook his head and kept walking, putting the ideas on the shelf. I’m not saying I won’t, I’m saying it’s way too early. Garth glanced up and spotted Alicia watching him out of the corner of her eye. Yeah, I’ll definitely get around to it.
Garth was trying not to stare when the Beastman he’d seen with Paul came out of the darkness just outside the gate, startling Alicia, who made a reflexive grab for her sword.
“Can I bum another one of those smokes off you?” the beastman asked in his strange, rumbling voice.
“Sure,” Garth said, tossing him a couple.
“Much obliged.” Ragnar said, nodding to the two of them before loping up to the house. Rather than knock on the door, he leapt up to the second story and hopped onto the roof, nestling into what looked like a bird’s nest sized for an ostrich.
“Huh, guess he lives on Paul’s roof now.”
Alicia slid her sword back in its sheath and shook her head, her gait returning to normal as they left, steering toward the Mcdonnell mansion.
“So which way is Caitlyn’s house?” Garth asked. She glanced over her shoulder and frowned at him.
“This way,” she said, the sway unconsciously returning to her hips as she was reminded of the competition.
“I’m glad you’re helping me.” Garth said immediately.
“Of course,” she said, continuing to sashay in front of him with a pleased smile.
Garth bit his knuckles, forcing down the urge to tease her. Tease women about doing something you like, and they stop doing the thing you like! It seemed fucking obvious, but had been impossible for a younger Garth to wrap his brain around when he was in the moment. Tough for a lot of dudes, actually. He’d wised up a lot the last couple years he’d been alive, though. The mental heartstones don’t hurt either.
Basically you gotta find a way to reward a girl for being sexy that doesn’t amount to pointing your finger and shouting ‘Hah hah! You’re shaking your ass at me!’ Seems like that would be common sense.
This doesn’t seem entirely fair, leveraging my superior knowledge toward taming Alicia. Actually, I wonder if she’s messed with my head at all. Other than convincing me to teach her magic for a smile. Does that count? Yeah, that counts. Ah well, give and take, I guess.
Garth didn’t deny it. Denying that someone was messing with your head was a great way of letting them keep doing it, one of the lessons Cass had drilled into him.
They made it to the Mcdonnell house as the sky was beginning to lighten in the east.
Garth stepped forward and rapped on the door for a solid ten minutes until a haggard looking black-haired Garthspawn in a plain nightie opened the door, looking rather upset.
“What do you want?” She grumbled, eyelids blinking slowly through gum-filled eyes.
“Yes, I’d like to speak to the master of the house.”
“What’s this about?”
“You said you were here for Caitlyn.” Alicia quietly accused behind his back.
“A cubic foot of gold.” Garth said with his best salesman smile.
“Hah.” She said before closing the door.
“Looks like we’ll have to come back later.” Alicia said.
Garth dislodged the cube of gold from his status band, half of the amount his trees had pulled out of the mountainside in a single evening, smelted together.
a cubic foot of gold weighs twelve hundred pounds, Garth idly thought as he watched the shiny cube sail downward, embedding itself in the solid oak floor with a tremendous crash.
The more you know.
The door jerked open again.
“What the hell are you – “ She paused, looking at the gold on their porch. “I’ll go get the master.”
“Thanks.” Garth said sweetly.
A minute later, Garth and Alicia were having tea across a dark, polished table from a beleaguered Curt Mcdonnell.
“So what brings you here, my boy?” Curt asked, sipping his tea.
Garth couldn’t take his eyes off the man’s thick red mustache that dipped into his teacup and came away with a tiny amount of foam every time. How does he do it?
It was like a solid slab of hair that someone had chiseled out of monolithic hair-stone and glued to the front of the man’s face.
“Edward has an important favor to ask,” Alicia said, nudging Garth in the side and snapping him out of his stupor.
“Yes, I need to buy as many aether crystals as you can spare, some core motherboards, transistors and logic gates. If you don’t have those I’d be happy to buy the materials to make them. And I need to borrow the tools to use them, but those I’ll return.”
Curt’s eyebrows rose, a bit of foam dripped from his mustache.
“That’s a tall order.” He finally said. “I’m surprised you know anything about enchanting. Are you just parroting something the Dentons told you to say?” He glanced toward Alicia.
“No sir, the item I’m working on is a specialized status band, A personal project that would allow me to glean more information about myself than I could possibly know: things like mineral deficiencies, talents, things that I like or dislike that I haven’t even experienced yet, the state of my body, whether I’m healthy, or if I have an ailment, what that might be.”
“interesting concept. I could see how that could be useful.” He tapped his teacup before unlatching the status band on his wrist, a gaudy silver and gold sheet of metal strapped to his forearm with a leather band.
“Show me you know what you’re talking about,” he said, passing it to Garth.
Garth found the catch cleverly hidden on the inside of the band, and flicked it, popping open the decorative plate to reveal the enchantments laid out on the forearm protector.
The entire thing was a tangled mess of colors that seemed completely pointless to the untrained eye. In fact if Garth hadn’t have been able to see mana at all, the whole thing would have looked pretty boring, and been nigh impossible to decipher.
Better impress him, then.
“Welp, you’ve got your enchanting laid out on one solid piece of dungeon core, probably imported, given the dungeon core used to make this must have been older than eight hundred years. You can tell by the pearlescence and how strongly it attracts the mana around it.”
Garth watched the channels of mana flow through the rigid lines carved into the motherboard.
“Right here’s your copyright protection,” GArth said, pointing at a little nub of tin with an aether crystal in it. “If someone other than you puts this band on, or makes a duplicate, the tin will melt, and the Aether crystal will touch the plate, causing an explosion that’ll blow the guy’s arm off.”
“Here’s the standard Status reading feature,” Garth said, pointing. “No surprises there. Oh, and this is designed to mask you from other spells designed to read your status. This here is a nice…ten cubic foot storage space, not bad. And let’s see…”
Garth’s eyes settled on a black gemstone that was fed a large amount of mana, splitting it into three streams of red, yellow and blue.
“And this nub here draws in raw mana, sends it through this gemstone here which refracts it into the three primary mental attributes, raising them by about…” Garth eyeballed the strength of the mana flowing through the circuits.
“Two points each?”
Not bad, 2 points is 20% of human standard, so that’s a pretty commanding lead when compared to an un-augmented human. On the other hand, we’re aiming a lot higher than that.
“So you can see mana, too. That was more than I expected. I’ll admit you’re no parrot, but it’s still risky sending you home with the things you requested without any kind of oversight.”
The red-headed teen stepped inside the sitting room, her thick leather belt heavy with tools slung over her hips. She was wearing a night gown under it, though.
That’s an odd combo. Did she just throw it on when the Garthspawn woke her up?
“Caitlyn is my sixth daughter. I believe the two of you have met. She told me all about your ideas for her pistol, and it made her rather manic the last few days.”
“Speaking of, the steel balls started spinning one direction or the other when I took your advice, so I had to rifle the barrel and attach the lever to a separate plunger so the friction with the lever didn’t cause a spin!” she blurted. “Then I made a second spring and mirrored them-“
Curt held up a hand and Caitlyn’s word-vomit stopped instantly.
“If you take Caitlyn with you, allow her to watch your process, and send her back safely, I will afford you the materials you have asked for.”
Ah, so that’s the game. Caitlyn comes home with a few new tricks for enchanting, reports them back to her family, The Mcdonnells stand to improve their technique, and Garth gets what he wants. He also starts thinking about himself in the third person.
Let’s see. The risk to me is minimal. The only people who can enchant getting a little better at what they do doesn’t bother me one bit. The only problem is making sure they don’t see the phylactery or hear anyone refer to me as Garth. A teleporter to and from my lair would cover that.
Only problem is I don’t have the power for a Gate creating plant, and I don’t want to waste a mythic core on one.
Looks like I’ll just have to use the old trick of putting bags over their heads.
“That seems like a reasonable exchange.” Garth said, shaking Curt’s hand.
Garth saw Alicia scowl as Caitlyn began to crowd around Garth, disassembling her new prototype in front of him and showing him all the pieces in an enthusiasm overload.