“Good morning!” Garth said, marching in front of the lined-up recruits, his cane jabbing into the dew-covered Grass ahead of him as he walked. “The teens I’ve got locked up in my dungeon are still asleep, so I’ve got time to come take a look at your training.”
“Some of you may be wondering where I got this beautiful cane.” Garth held up the wrinkled leg with the ball of a femur sticking out of it, showing it to the pale young men who hadn’t looked away from it for a while now. “Long story short, I got tired after removing the leg and decided to just run with it.”
“Don’t worry though,” Garth said, pacing the opposite direction when he made it to the end of the line. “He was already dead and totally okay with it.”
“Now,” Garth said. “ Since I’m here today, I thought we could do something fun. I’ll be a part of your exercise, VIP protection. I’ll be playing the role of the valuable liaison between our organization and a large distributing family. You’re going to split up into two groups, and each defender is going to be given one Garthspawn, and each attacker is going to have one Mrs. Banyan. This represents the discrepancy in information. Attackers will always have their shit together, knowing exactly what the defenders are doing, while defenders are out in the open, never knowing when they’ll get hit.”
“You’ll be using these paint covered blades, bows and crossbows to make the attempt,” Garth said, pointing. “And the stage will be the mansion of a rich and powerful family.”
“Fred, You’re a defender. You already proved you’re good at trying to kill me, let’s expand your horizons. Juan, Zack, you’re with him. The other three take your weapons and pair off with a Mrs. Banyan. Any questions?”
“Yeah, why do you look different?” Fred asked.
“I shaved my head,” Garth said.
“Naw your face changed a little, and you’re taller.”
“Good eye. It’s a growth spurt.” Garth lied. “I’m super hungry all the time and my body aches where I can feel the bones stretching. It’s awful.”
“Huh,” Fred said, his eyes narrowed suspiciously. Garth was approaching six feet tall, already three inches taller than he’d been as an adult, and he didn’t plan on stopping until he could look down on his baby brother again.
Things were starting to look small. No wonder tall people tended to have big egos.
“I got a question,” Juan said. “Where’s the mansion?”
“Mrs. Banyan, if you would?”
A circle of Mrs. Banyan formed around an empty plot of Grass and raised their hands as one. A hurricane of green mana swirled in from every direction, and gigantic wooden stilts erupted from the ground, causing minimal damage to Grass before unfurling into an enormous mansion. Mrs. Banyan had learned some tricks while Garth was gone. How could she not?
Eight hundred years is a long time.
Is she stronger than me? Quite possible. Her biggest limitation was being unable to leave her real body too far behind.
Three Garthspawn stepped forward to help out, and together, the seven of them walked up the wooden stairs of the mansion.
“Alright, let’s get to work.” Garth tottered up the stairs with his cane putting his best foot forward.
Once they got into the mansion’s foyer, Fred turned to face the Garthspawn. “Can any of you turn invisible?” He asked.
One of the three girls raised her hand.
“Alright, take your knife, turn invisible, and go out one of the windows and pick them off from behind. The rest of us are gonna stay with Edward at a spot that’s real hard to get to, third floor, end of the hall. It’ll give her more time to pick them off.”
“Says who?” Juan said, snagging a Garthspawn by the elbow. “Me and her are gonna patrol the halls. The place is too big to just sit in one spot.”
“I wanna be with Fred,” The black-haired, slender Garthspawn said, shrugging out of Juan’s grasp and glomping Fred. He looked highly uncomfortable.
Zack and the other Garthspawn were wandering away from them, gawking at the marvelous darkwood mansion with beautiful carvings, while it looked like a fist-fight was about to break out between Fred and Juan.
Oh, my god. I had no idea it was this bad.
Garth dragged his hands over his face and cleared his throat. “Obviously one weekend isn’t enough to make you lifelong friends, but you guys have a lot of balls to pull this shit in front of me. I think we need more team-building exercises. Pushups.”
“What?” Juan asked.
“Pushups! Every single one of you! Drop to the ground and start doing pushups until I tell you to stop.”
Garth lined them up and put the remaining five people to work doing pushups.
“Now, in every group, there has to be a leader. I’m not going to dick around and put it to a vote or try to spare your feeling, in this particular case that’s going to be Fred.”
“Why?” Juan grunted between pushups.
“Because you got grabby with one of the Garthspawn, but mostly because Fred spoke first. Don’t worry, each of you is going to get plenty of opportunities to take the lead over the next few months.”
“And you,” Garth said, pointing to the slender girl straining to do a single pushup. “What’s your name?”
“Heather, did you think this would be a good opportunity to sneak away and make out with Fred over here? I’ve heard Garthspawn’s biological imperatives are fairly strong, but I don’t give a shit. I expect professionalism. We aren’t in a high school P.E. class, this is military discipline.”
Garth turned to Zack and the blonde Garthspawn, quietly doing pushups.
“And what the hell were you doing wandering off like that? I need protection, not the damn architecture!”
A whizzing noise came from one of the side halls, and a red- covered arrow splattered Garth’s clothes with paint.
“See, case in point! Alright, up, we’re going back to the practice yard.”
Garth grabbed all six recruits and three Garthspawn and lined them up in the practice yard. The girl who could harness a Succubi’s invisibility had a red paint mark across her torso, while two of the attackers had red marks on their necks.
Apparently she’d almost gotten all three of them, but Mrs. Banyan had used her wireless communication to inform the last one and he’d caught her by surprise.
Then the guy had free reign to waltz in the window and snipe Garth from the hallway.
This will serve as a good Before picture, Garth thought, watching the men Paul had selected for him running while carrying a litter filled with rocks.
“So what do you think?” Mrs. Banyan asked.
“I think we’ve got a bunch of hotheads. Make them into leaders, establish a chain of command, and integrate the Garthspawn with any fighting experience into it. Focus on team building exercises, the more strenuous and difficult the better. When I visit again, I want them to jump in front of bullets for each other.”
“Once they respect and work well with each other, give them teams, and start larger exercises. I may have been over-enthusiastic with the book learning. Trim it down to the necessary until they aren’t starting fights with each other at the drop of a hat.”
“Teams of Garthspawn?”
“Not like we have anything else,” Garth muttered. “Just try to make sure they can keep it in their pants when they have to. Also, recruit Garthspawn for Special Forces, make Sheath the leader. A group of ninjas could come in handy.”
“Alright,” she said, nodding.
“Next time I visit, I expect them to have their shit together.”
Mrs. Banyan saluted with a comically severe expression. “Yes, sir!”
“When did you learn sass?”
Mrs. Banyan winked.
Garth got back to the house deep in the plant-dungeon just an hour after the sunrise, sliding his overcoat off and hanging it up.
There was light coming from the kitchen, and Garth followed it to find Tad sitting at the counter, eating eggs and a blueberry pie.
“Morning.” Garth said, sliding up beside him.
“Mornin’” Tad said between bites.
Blueberry pie sounds damn good.
“May I have pie as well, Mrs. Banyan?”
“Coming right up!” the Banyan behind the counter said, taking the pie out of the oven and slicing a chunk out for Garth.
“Vanilla Ice cream too, please.”
Banyan opened up the freezer and scooped out a dollop of ice cream for Garth’s pie, putting it in front of Garth while Tad stared with wide eyes.
“The hell is that?” he asked.
“What, have you never had ice cream with your pie? Must be a twenty-ninth century thing.”
“Ice cream.” Tad said, pushing his plate forward. Half a minute later he was groaning in pleasure as he ate the hot pie and the cold cream at the same time.
Once Tad was done devouring his desert, he tapped Garth on the shoulder.
“Something I wanted to show you,” he said, turning away and heading towards the workshop.
They walked into the workshop, a wave of heat washing over them as they entered. Tad made a beeline for his experiments, and pulled out a handful of petri dishes, one of which was filled with some kind of silvery sludge, and others with pieces of the light-bending fabric.
“So I’ve made some progress,” he said. “I wasn’t getting any changes with just heat, or just chemicals, and on a whim I mixed a couple, and they made the webbing dissolve.” He pointed at the silvery puddle in the petri dish.”
“Then I tried diluting them, and I got this.” He said, putting a petri dish under the microscope and showing Garth. The fraying ends of the web seemed to have melted a bit back into the web proper. Not as much as the Williams secret method, but better than before.
“I haven’t gotten any better than that, and it makes the fabric a little stiff and crumbly if the mix is wrong.” Tad scratched his head. “I dunno what I’m missing.”
Garth’s eyes slid back to the puddle of goop in the first petri dish.
“I think you should consider working with this material.” He said using a stick to poke at the slime. The silvery substance was extremely viscous, sliming up the stick, and dangling four feet long above the table as Garth held it up to the light.
“That?” Tad asked. “That’s slime.”
“You’d be surprised how often things look nothing like the finished product until the very end. Don’t let yourself be limited to thinking you have to make your perfect fabric in only one step. I suggest subjecting this stuff to some kind of mechanical separation process to line all the strands up together. That’s what slime is, after all, long, microscopic chains of molecules clumped together.”
Garth considered for a moment. “Maybe I need to make you something like a taffy puller.”
“Huh, I guess.” Tad said giving the slime a sideways glance.
After he and Tad had been chatting for awhile, Caitlyn and Alicia entered the room, fresh from breakfast, and sporting small amounts of pie at the corner of their mouths.
Alicia took her place in her chair, closing her eyes and single-mindedly trying to channel mana. Her brows furrowed, as there was less swirling around her than there had been the day before, owing to Garth using two of the three mythic cores. What had once been a swirling vortex of loose, fluffed energy ripe for the taking, was now a humming, dense pool of mana on the floor.
Alicia didn’t ask Garth what had happened, instead simply tightening her jaw and working harder at controlling the mana around her.
Caitlyn shot Garth a look and went to the laser cutter with the last of the core slices he’d bought from her dad, settling it on the cutter and starting to program in her next project.
Everything’s going good then. Wonder when I’ll have a chance to make that X-ray vision enchantment. There should be enough left even after –
Garth’s thoughts were interrupted by Caitlyn’s full throated scream of pain.