Shouts of alarm made Garth jump in place almost before he knew what was going on.
“Put pressure on it!” He heard Alicia shout.
I really hope that’s our cover story and not an actual emergency. Trope-wise, this is where something actually bad happens.
Caitlyn’s shriek of pain was all he needed to hear.
Not a bad scream.
Garth turned and ran to the laser cutter, just behind Tad, who seemed even more on the ball than the guy who was expecting the commotion.
When they arrived, Caitlyn was clutching her right hand, a bloody cloth wound around it. The laser cutter was locked into Band-saw mode, and just outside its range was the fake half a hand he’d made earlier that night, silently smoking.
Caitlyn was leaning against the cutter’s heavy base, moaning in pain as she shook, really selling it.
“What happened?” Tad demanded as he came near to Alicia and Caitlyn.
“She slipped and the cutter went through her hand!” Alicia said, before glancing at Garth. “Can you put the fingers back on, with your magic?”
“Let me see!” Garth said, stepping forward and inspecting the quarter of a fake hand. “Shit, it’s cauterized, I can’t put this back on! Get out of the way, let me stop the bleeding!” Hopefully the two other kids don’t realize that it should have been cauterized on both sides, and that stopping the bleeding shouldn’t have been that hard.
Garth knelt down and pushed Alicia out of the way, and wrapped his hands around Caitlyn’s wound, channeling Heal into her hand to stop the bleeding of the cut along her stump.
The secret to their charade was a laser-etched polymorph enchantment that he’d thrown together the night before. All it did was truncate her right fingers and a quarter of her palm, making it seem like she had lost them in a tragic table-saw accident.
As soon as she took it off, her hand returned to normal.
You break it, you buy it. Garth thought, trying to suppress a smile as he unwrapped Caitlyn’s hand. I wonder how many more teenagers I could con out of – Garth ended that unhealthy train of thought and refocused on his performance.
In order to get blood, Caitlyn had cut her side of her stub-hand, pretty deeply. It served as an unofficial last test of Caitlyn’s willingness to go the distance. Garth might have had reservations about taking her under his wing if she didn’t have the guts for a little self-harm.
The wound was gone, and all that was left was a stumpy, malformed hand with only a thumb and a truncated index finger remaining.
Caitlyn’s eyes widened at the sight, and she began to shudder, silently sobbing, face wrinkling up into an ugly cry.
Damn. She’s a much better actress than I thought.
“I want to go home.” She whimpered.
The trip back home was a lot more glum than Garth had expected. Alicia acted like she didn’t care, but Garth could tell by the way she fidgeted in the corner of the wagon that she had been affected. Tad was trying to make Caitlyn feel better, telling her about all the uncles and aunts with missing body parts who’d gone on to achieve success.
Garth had felt that gagging them at this point would have been cruel, but it would have saved them from Tad’s anecdotes about Aunt Stumpy.
All three teens were wearing their hoods, so Tad could only tell that Caitlyn wasn’t responding to him, so after a while, he stopped talking, leaving the rattling wagon silent.
Caitlyn, for her part, seemed pretty relaxed, propping her head up on his leg and snoring softly.
How can she go from puking up over a simple suicide/self-dissection, to being perfectly relaxed faking an injury? Maybe Caitlyn had talent as an actor.
Tad probably thought the one snoring was the callous Alicia, Alicia probably thought it was Garth. With their hoods on, they were in the dark, figuratively and literally.
Garth had briefly considered leaving Caitlyn’s hood off, but with everything she already knew about him, knowing exactly where his phylactery was was too much.
A Garth’s gotta have some secrets.
Once they got into town, Garth took off their hoods and let them go their separate ways, keeping Caitlyn company as she went back to her family. Garth wasn’t really expecting any major surprises, but it was best to keep his eye on the teenage girl until he could get her safely locked away in his basement. Make sure she didn’t try to escape.
Hmm… my thoughts are sounding pretty dubious.
He and Caitlyn got to the Mcdonnell mansion in the early evening, when the sun was just starting to redden the buildings around them.
The Mcmansion was a new money sort of thing, with elegant art, a nice lawn, and well-manicured bushes in the shape of mythical creatures – which may no longer be mythical – but none of it was particularly old.
Garth strode up to the front door with Caitlyn beside him and rang the doorbell. Which in this case was an actual bell on a rope. An elegant bell on an elegant rope, but still.
“Caity, you’re back!” The door burst open and a small child tackled Caitlyn across the midriff. The teen took that sudden headbutt with grace and poise, patting the child on the head. The little girl seemed to share her coloration, sporting a mane of flaming red hair.
“Anne, could you get Father for me, I’ve got to talk to him, It’s important.”
“On it!” The tyke shouted at full volume before stomping away.
“I see they fixed the porch.” Garth said.
“I’m sure price was no object.”
Caitlyn guided Garth to the sitting room, and a minute later, Caitlyn’s father showed up, scanning her with his gaze, lingering on the hand she kapt tucked in her pocket.
“So,” Curt said, sitting on the flowery upholstery across from them. “How was your trip?”
“I learned more than I ever imagined I could!” Caitlyn said, her voice brimming with enthusiasm. “Edward taught me about the concept behind something called a rail-gun, I made a lot of improvements to my pistol, and I made a cannon that can shoot through four feet of solid steel!”
“Almost. It took two shots, remember,” Garth corrected, content to let her take the lead as he sipped the tea.
“I see. Anything else?” Curt asked. Garth wasn’t expecting Caitlyn to spill the real beans, but he got his forget-me-stick ready just in case.
Caitlyn, talented actress that she was, fidgeted in her seat, looking highly uncomfortable. Or maybe she was, lying to her dad. Either way it lended itself nicely to the performance.
“I…kind of hurt myself.”
“That why your hand is still in your pocket?” Curt asked, raising a bushy red brow. “Show me.”
“Now, dad, promise not to panic,” Caitlyn said, giving him a cautious look.
“I don’t panic. I’m the Mcdonnell family’s rock.” He said, sipping his tea.
“I know how you are. Promise.”
“Fine, I promise,” Curt finally said, rolling his eyes.
“Not to panic.”
“I promise not to panic.” The Patriarch had a hint of anger in his tone, now.
Caitlyn pulled her stumpy right hand into her father’s line of sight.
Curt dropped the teacup in his hand, splattering the liquid everywhere before scrambling over the short coffee table between them, knocking the teapot aside to get a closer look at her hand. The delicate porcelain teapot shattered on the floor. Picture of calm, this guy.
“By all the gods!” he shouted into the stub-hand, holding it directly in front of himself like a microphone.
“You’ve ruined her! You’ve ruined her whole life!” He turned towards Garth and shoved the truncated hand under Garth’s nose, dragging Caitlyn along for the ride.
“It’s not his fault! I got careless working on Ed’s cutter on Band-saw mode. It was just an accident!” Caitlyn protested as Garth stared into Mr. McDonnell’s bulging eyes.
“No,” Garth said, deciding now was the time to step in and ingratiate himself a bit. “It was my responsibility! She was in my home, using my equipment, it’s my fault!”
And there we’ve opened the door. The other party has to admit that it’s my fault for the purchase to be valid.
“Damn right it is you little bastard. You see if the Mcdonnel family ever gives you the time of day again. You’ve ruined one of our best enchanters! Aahh, Caitlyn, I’ll find a way to fix you! I’ll get started on a prosthesis tonight!”
“Look, I’m willing to take pay for this, let me take responsibility for fixing her up.” Along with legal ownership. “I just want to make up for the damage I’ve caused.”
“As if I’d let you anywhere near my gumdrop, butcher!” Curt shouted, dragging Caitlyn up and away from the couch, hyperventilating. Gumdrop?
Caitlyn’s expression was frozen in horror, and her face was bright red as her father drew her into a protective swaddle. It looked like her father’s overprotectiveness had exceeded her acting ability, but the man was already too far gone to notice.
I’d hate to see what he looks like when he hasn’t been warned.
“Katie! Samantha! Garneeeet!”
Caitlyn’s aunts bustled into the room, gasping and passing Caitlyn’s hand between the three of them while shooting Garth the odd glare. Every single one of them was a lovely woman with bright red hair.
As an odd aside, I guess that means that Garthspawn are excellent for preserving rare genetic traits like red hair.
“How could you do this-
“Do you know what you-
“She’s going to wind up-
The accusations went from one angry voice to four in a matter of seconds, the wave of vitriol forcing Garth back on his heels. Maybe I won’t do this more than once. It’s not worth it. Actually, the Dentons might take this a lot better than the Mcdonnells, but I think Alicia wants to run the family to badly to agree to the sham.
This plot to buy a teenage girl from her family didn’t work without the girl’s assistance.
“Please! Stop bickering over me!” Caitlyn said, pushing away from the adults fawning over her. I can still work, with the tool Ga – Edward made for me.”
Case in point.
“What do you mean you can still work? you can’t even hold a drafting tool, let alone an engraver.”
Time to pick up Caitlyn’s lead.
“I think the thing that caused this problem can also fix it. I’ve got something that should let Caitlyn explore her curiosity just as well as she could before her injury. Won’t you come take a look?”
A couple minutes later they were standing outside, staring at the laser cutter sitting in the grass, speechless
“See, dad?” Caitlyn said, holding up a heart shape cut out of wood in a matter of seconds. “I dare you to cut faster than me.”
“How, umm…” Curt said, trying to process what he just saw. “How do we know that that’s not the only thing it can do?”
“Well,” Garth said, pointing at Caitlyn, “Give her a request.”
“A NAND logic gate.” Curt barked. Caitlyn turned back to the cutter and started programming the shape. It was clunky and required a lot of math, but the girl had a good head on her shoulders, and her increased intelligence made it easier than it should have been.
It took a few minutes to program.
“I could have carved one by now,” Curt said, arms crossed, scowling. “I fail to see how-“
“How many would you like?” Caitlyn asked, flipping the switch. With a flare of light, the laser cut the logic gate in into the heart shape in a couple seconds. She stopped the laser, readjusted the starting point, then turned it on again, making another gate. Caitlyn didn’t stop until she’d made a pretty design entirely out of NAND gates.
“Oh. I see.” Curt said, staring out into space as labor costs dropped drastically in his mind. Caitlyn’s aunts stepped aside and began whispering to each other, glancing at the laser cutter hungrily.
Excellent. It made sense to Garth that if the thing was enough to make a premier scion of an enchanting household grovel, it would carry a similar impact for the rest of them. Hence the leather cap on the back of the laser cutter, covering the exposed enchanting.
He didn’t want them to just reverse engineer it by memory.
Curt was still staring out into the garden wall when Caitlyn’s aunts reached a consensus, returning to Garth.
“We’ve reconsidered your offer to take responsibility for Caitlyn’s injury.”
Hook, line and sinker.
“What?” Curt asked, starting out of his stupor. “What!”
“Since it seems that Edward here is the only one that could provide Caitlyn the tools to carry on her passion, it would be cruel of us to keep her here.” Katie, the leader of the three Aunts said.
“However, we can’t simply send her give her over to you without…following the right procedure. There’s a seldom used law that might come into play here.”
She paused dramatically.
“Tell me, do you still want to take responsibility for her injury?”
“More than anything. I feel terrible about it.” Garth lied, bowing his head in shame.
“Wait, you can’t be considering – mmmph!” one of the other Aunts clapped a hand over Curt’s mouth while Katie strategically tried to pressure Garth into giving them the plans for the laser cutter, in exchange for Caitlyn. You know, to make sure it was safe for her to use and all.
I love it when they think it’s their idea.
“I can just make another for you in a couple hours, if you’ve got the materials,” Garth said. “There’s only two pieces to it, after all.” Such a nice young man.
Katie’s eyes lit up and she trotted back into the mansion, holding her dress up as she ran in a display of unladylike speed.
“This is ridiculous!” Curt said, breaking away from Garnet’s restraints. “It’s a sham! A ruse designed to steal my daughter! The boy is just trying to take my gumdrop from me! I can see it in his womanizing blue eyes!” he pointed at Garth with a shaking finger.
Is he super perceptive or just hysterical? Garth wasn’t entirely sure, but the guy was spot-on.
“Please, Dad, he’s just trying to help. He’s been nothing but kind to me, before, during, and after the injury.” Caitlyn said. Her voice lowered to a near whisper. “I want to stay with him.”
Curt met her eyes and finally broke down, clutching his daughter and sobbing, rocking back and forth. After a few minutes he calmed down and wiped his eyes clear, sniffling.
“Okay, if that’s what you want.” He took a deep, shuddering breath. “Do you think you could fetch my hanky, dear?”
“Okay dad,” Caitlyn said, trotting up the mansion stairs.
Curt followed her progress until she disappeared into the large wooden entryway. Once the girl was completely gone, he turned on Garth and lifted him off his feet by his shirt.
“If I hear a single word that you’re mistreating my daughter, I’ll strap you down to that cutter you’re so proud of and drill some sense into your Skull!”
“Curt!” Garnet and Samantha shouted and peeled the Patriarch away from Garth.
“She’s a friend. I would never harm a friend. As a matter of fact, I’ll do everything I can to fix what I’ve done,” Garth said. “As soon as we get back, I’ll start working on a way to regrow her fingers.”
There we go, an excuse for her to go back to normal, since she won’t want to spend the rest of her life wearing the stub-hand enchantment. If we say we ‘fixed it’ then I still have Caitlyn, while the angst from her father is greatly reduced.
“See that you do.” Curt said, straightening his jacket that had been crumpled when his sisters dragged him away.
Now that that’s taken care of…. “I will need more supplies to make the attempt though. I’d be happy to pay for them.”
“Oh, you’ll pay all right.” Curt’s eyes narrowed.
I really hope Curt mellows out after I ‘fix’ her hand.
“And where would I find glass vials with airtight lids?” Garth asked. “I also need to work with adamantium.”
“The Ravenleaf Family has those things,” Samantha said. The slender woman of maybe forty-five slipped a gold signet ring from her hand into Garth’s palm. “Tell them we sent you. Take Caitlyn.” She lowered her voice to a whisper. “We’ll talk to Curt while you’re gone.”