“Welcome to my man-cave!” Garth said, tugging the black hoods off his three bound prisoners.
Alicia and Caitlyn, blinked as their eyes adjusted to the light in Garth’s newly renovated core room. Tad started awake, yawning.
The layout was reminiscent of a 21st century penthouse, with a large open space dominated by fancy furniture and a sweet cork floor. Magical lights in the ceiling kept the place brightly lit, and the walls were smooth polished and stained ironwood, making sure these kids couldn’t get somewhere they weren’t supposed to be.
Garth’s personal R&R room could double as a prison if it had to.
“The perfect place to get away from it all and focus on work for the weekend. There’s the bar, if you’re in the mood for a soda or a mixed drink.” Garth said, pointing at the semicircle in the corner of the airy room where Ms. Banyan stood behind the bar, wearing a snazzy bartender’s vest. “Mrs. Banyan presiding.”
“Over there’s the sofa with a coffee table. I got some tabletop games over there, but they might be superfluous.” Garth pointed at his sweet-ass gaming table he probably would never get to use.
“T.V.’s over there. I’m still working on piercing the veil of reality, time and space to find an identical universe that didn’t get eaten by kipling so I can finally find out how Endgame turned out. I have a few movies and T.V. shows that I’ve seen before drawn out of my memory. It was actually trickier than I thought it would be, piecing together parts where I blinked, or looked away for a minute or two, but I think I did a good job.”
“He’s kidding right?” Tad said, glancing at the other two. Caitlyn shrugged, bemused, while Alicia looked like she wanted to steal everything in the room, her gaze tracing the contours of the gold-inlaid decorative table that was fused to the floor.
The dancing naked lady plants were safely tucked away beside the bar in SFW mode, Garth’s Phylactery was hidden behind a four-foot thick wall of solid ironwood. It got its air through pipes laid in the floor and ceiling that connected further back in the dungeon.
“Bathrooms are over there and there. Workshop’s that way. Kitchen is through there. and lastly, the bedrooms are that way.”
“I’ll show you to the workshop,” Garth said, beckoning them forward.
“Still tied up, buddy.” Tad said, kneeling where Ms. Banyan had set the three of them a moment ago.
“Sure about that?” Garth asked, turning the ropes to ash.
“Yeah, I’m…” Tad pulled his hands forward and frowned, rubbing his wrists as he wandered toward the bar to order a drink.
“Was this necessary?” Alicia asked, brushing ash off her black clothes.
“Kind of. My man-cave is a very secretive place I only allow a select few people to penetrate.”
Alicia narrowed her eyes. “I felt two people carrying me. If that held true for the other two, that’s nine people already.
“Less than you might think.” Garth responded. “Seriously, there are people I never want to find out about this place, so yes, the kidnapping and the bags over the heads, even the five hour bound and gagged cart ride were all necessary.”
“Why him, then?”
“Yeah, why me?” Tad asked, returning with a beer.
“The conversation with Caitlyn’s father got me thinking. I might have cracked part of the code of the wiretap silk, so I-“ Garth glanced around the room. There was no redhead.
“This is awesome!” came a cry from the workshop.
“Like I was saying.” Garth said, motioning for them to follow. They walked after him into the room, when a sudden rush of heat washed over them. The workshop was roughly divided into three areas, a fabrication area for tinkering with metals, complete with every tool Garth could think of, a set of looms and spinners along with some microscopes and a tensile strength scale crowded around a light-based furnace, and a large bench filled with the specialized tools he’d borrowed from the Mcdonnell’s rounded things out.
Alicia gasped at the sight, while Tad took another sip of his beer.
“I’m gonna need more ice,” he muttered as the heat from multiple smelting furnaces pressed in around him.
“I made a space for each family’s specialty.” GArth said. “Tad, I had some ideas about the wiretap silk, and if I make them work, you’re free to take the method back to your family.”
“There’s the bench where I’m going to be making my special Status Band.” Garth said.
“And over there is your space, Caitlyn, where you can work on your pistol or whatever strikes your fancy.”
Oh look, a distraction.
Caitlyn tried to play it cool, but her feet dragged her over to the fabrication area, and within a minute, she was already putting pencil to paper, designing…some kind of block-thing?
“Where’s my area?” Alicia asked, arms crossed.
“Huh?” Garth asked, glancing her way.
“What’s my family’s ‘specialty?’”
“It’s Killing people and taking their stuff, isn’t it?” Garth asked.
Alicia’s eyes widened, and Garth knew he had said the wrong thing.
“What I meant to say is that I made a spot for you to practice your mana manipulation where you don’t have to worry about men in masks breaking in and trying to steal your turkey.”
“That’s not what that was about!” Alicia shouted. “That was my fam-“ Her mouth sealed shut as if by magic.
That was your family trying to kill you and take your stuff? Garth thought, his internal monologue dripping with sarcasm.
“Huh. Anyway, it’s right over there.” Garth pointed, keeping his voice low. “You should find it much easier to control mana over there, it’s chock full of free-floating mana. You might even be able to cast a spell.”
“I even wrote down a bit of my understanding of magic and the world in general. There’s even a couple starter spells you can try. It’s a notebook in the end table, just skim it if you’re feeling lost, and if you absolutely need help, come bug me.”
“What are you going to be doing?” she asked.
“Multitasking.” Garth responded.
Alicia huffed and headed over to the rocking chair and the end table beside it. Underneath her, the three Mythic cores were stirring up a whirlwind of free-floating mana, making the chair the eye of the storm.
Anybody who can’t cast something in the middle of that, probably shouldn’t be learning magic.
Alright, back to work, Garth thought, turning around. For a fraction of a second, he caught Caitlyn giving the rocking chair in the corner of the room a strange look.
Hmmm. Methinks there’s a possibility this girl can see mana already. He thought back to the line of dead spiders in the dirt where someone had likely put up an invisible wall of some kind.
It hadn’t been Garth. The question was, did she do it herself, or was it an enchantment?
Garth considered snooping through her possessions, but decided against it. There would be plenty of time to find out more about Caitlyn later.
A few minutes later, everyone was absorbed in their tasks, with the exception of Tad, who didn’t have any particular goal.
“Here’s the idea,” Gath said, showing him to the light-based oven, made of plant matter. Almost everything was made of some kind of wood in here, so it didn’t exactly stand out.
“There’s fifteen different units on this oven,” Garth said, pulling out a tray, “each unit can be dialed in to a specific heat and radiance.”
Garth turned the radiance dial, and the light inside the little section of the oven became blindingly bright. Garth quickly dialed it back down.
“So what we’re going to do is bake sheets of this.” Garth said, showing Tad the raw, spider silk. “Until they look like this.” He pulled out a shimmering mirage handkerchief that had cost him a pretty penny, courtesy of the Williams.
“They already look the same.” Tad said.
It was true, to the naked eye, the two looked the same, except the handkerchief was a solid fabric that would last a long time, while the raw silk would fall apart rather quickly.
“To the naked eye they look the same. Hell you can hardly see them at all, but do this…” Garth tore the Rolls Royce of hankies in half and tugged out a single thread before doing the same with the raw silk.
He went over to the microscopes and put sections of thread under them.
“Check it out. You can be the first to look at it, but I’ll bet you money the threads look different under a microscope.”
“What’s a microscope?”
“It’s like a really powerful magnifying glass.”
“How do I look through it?” Tad asked, glancing over the microscope curiously.
After a couple minutes showing Tad how to work the microscope, the kid was glancing back and forth between the two samples.
“The raw silk seems to be loose and flaky strands, while the stuff you got from your handkerchief looks kind of like it was melted together a little bit before being spun into thread. Still messy, though.”
“Can you imagine how fine the cloth would be if you could find a way to make the fiber all go the same direction in perfect order, melted together at the perfect ratio?” Garth asked.
“Damn,” Tad said, standing up and glancing at Garth “I could start a whole new family. change my name and let the Williams handle the fucking spiders.”
“Yeah, basically.” Garth said. “I also have some distilled water, petri dishes, and a bunch of different acids and bases over there.” GArth said. “I didn’t know what we’d need so I just grabbed everything I could think of. You can try to make a process to make the strands lay flat, but keep in mind a lot of that shit is toxic, so do everything in very small batches.”
Garth handed him a notebook and a pen. “Record everything you do, quantities, ratios, times, ingredients, weight. Anything you can think of. And make sure to label every sample you make.”
Tad’s eyebrows rose, and he glanced at the pen in his hand. “Everything.”
“So we can put the samples on a graph and draw a curve to find the ideal technique after you’ve made a couple hundred samples.”
“That’s mind-numbing.” Tad said.
“That’s science, bitch.”
Tad chuckled and shook his head. “All right, how do I get started?”
“Cut chunks of raw silk off that sheet there,” GArth said. “Small ones. Label them batch 1-A through 1-O, bake them at a consistent temperature, while adjusting the light level up by a few degrees for each of them. Or bake at a consistent light while raising the temperature by five degrees or so for each of the samples. As long as you keep one variable constant while only changing the other one.”
“Okay, that’s easy.”
Once Garth had Tad squared away, he glanced over at Alicia, whose eyes were closed in a meditative trance, belied by the mana around herself in a blade-shape as a malicious smile crept onto her face.
Caitlyn was meticulously forming a mold for whatever part she’d just drawn, using sculpting tools to shape the wax with religious fervor.
Looks like I’m going to get a lot done this weekend, Garth thought, rolling up his sleeves and settling down to his enchanting bench, organizing the supplies.
Oh, looks like I got enough extra to make that x-ray vision enchantment, Garth thought, glancing up to make sure nobody was watching.
He pulled out a sheet of drafting paper and started designing the spell. It was a simple thing, he could pull it off real quick to fulfill his promise to Wilson, then get back to the more important stuff.
Let’s see, Garth thought, writing the description of the spell out, then making modifications, making it more self-contained and compact.
Adding clauses to prevent seeing through people’s skin and hair added a lot of complexity, and the spell wound up expanding to almost six inches wide on the paper before Garth could figure out an elegant way to package the whole thing together, dropping it down to about an inch and a half on paper. With the right tools and magnification, he could enchant a core slice about the size of a button to grant its wielder with clothes-penetrating vision.
Excellent, fifteen minutes in and the design is done already. Just gotta knock this out of the park then I can get back to work. Garth glanced up. Still no one paying attention to him. Whew. Caitlyn was really the only person he needed to be afraid of seeing it, though. She might be able to work out its purpose.
Garth was sitting there, absorbed in his work and pondering whether to use the otherwise difficult to use nub at the end of a Mythic core for the enchantment.
Someone cleared their throat behind him.
“Gah!” Garth jumped in his seat and tried to cover his drawing. He wound up slamming his hand a quarter inch through the design and into the table with a bang. The other three teens looked up at the startling sound and gave Garth a strange look.
“Paul brought the new recruits.” Mrs. Banyan said, giving Garth’s design a disdainful look and turning back to the bar.
“Ah, shit.” Garth said, standing and wiping the hand-sized dent in his table out. I haven’t even gotten started. “You guys keep doing what you’re doing, I gotta take care of some stuff.”
He slipped the design with a hand-print cut out of it into the cabinet next to him.
“Alright, you kids, stay safe. I’ll be back in an hour. Don’t try to leave, and if you’ve got any questions, or need anything, ask Mrs. Banyan.”
“We can’t leave?”
“If you try, the last thing you’re going to remember is your tenth birthday party.” Garth said with a smile. “We’ll head back to the city Sunday evening.”
“Be right back.”
Garth left the workstation, walked back to the entryway and strode through the solid wood wall that melted open for him, sealing shut behind him as he stepped out into the muggy, jungle-like dungeon proper.
Garth whistled, walking past the dozens of non-lethal booby trap plants designed to knock out any kids trying to sneak around his house past bedtime. Closer to the entrance of the dungeon, the traps became a bit more aggressive, causing serious injury, along with nasty poisonous effects ranging from simple heart-stopping poison, to subtle poisons that inflamed suspicion and aggression to tear parties apart from the inside.
The entrance itself was covered with a camouflage plant that enjoyed covering large open holes and looking like the surrounding shrubbery while allowing air to flow through. It also exuded a cocktail of chemicals and magical effects that made it hard for people to register it in their memory, and forget it existed, walking right by it.
Best first line of defense is anonymity.
Garth stepped out of his dungeon into the fresh air above, then began gliding through the forest composed of Mrs. Banyan and Grass, aiming for the city that was slowly being rebuilt.
When he got to the practice yard, there were six young men standing in a row, sending contemptuous glances at each other as Paul kept a watchful eye on them.
Mrs. Banyan was standing nearby, three of her were watching the boys while another four were hidden in nearby trunks.
Sheath, the assassin Garthspawn who’d belonged to the Bergstroms was watching nearby with crossed arms.
“Good afternoon gentlemen, and welcome to boot camp.” Garth called as he casually arrived onto the thick Grass of the practice yard.
“My name is Edward Bergstrom, and I am going to be your boss.”
“I’m not working for a kid whose only calluses are from jerking himself off.” One of the young men said, to general chuckles of agreement.
“I thought you might feel that way.” Garth said, taking his shirt off. “So I thought I’d give you a demonstration. Paul.”
Paul pulled out a wicked knife with a bone handle and a curved blade and wordlessly threw it in front of the boys, where it sank deep into the Grass.
“First person to make a drop of my blood touch Grass gets my job. Any takers?”
The practice yard was deathly silent.