Caitlyn settled in at her desk, her mind abuzz with new ideas to write down while Garth – The Garth, the most reviled human in history, yes that one, – slept on a cot not twenty feet away from her. She’d seen the man put a bullet through his own eye, and he seemed fine!
Caitlyn’s reaction wasn’t her proudest moment, but something had flipped a switch inside her, making her already queasy stomach turn against her.
He must be using some kind of soul transposition to jump from body to body, but each body is him. How? People only get one body.
She glanced over at the strange tree that had purple men curled inside its gigantic fruits. That had to be what was making them, but it still boggled Caitlyn’s mind. The only work her family knew how to do were minor physical effects and status bands. Make a shield, make fire, move a little wind, create light.
Nothing like that.
She needed to learn everything she could, from the beginning. Garth seemed to dislike answering questions about the Founder, so she would instead have to ask about different things.
Flying machines seems like a good place to start. If I could make something like that, I could make travel faster and safer for everyone. Imagine how few people would die from travelling, if they could just fly over all the monsters that riddle the countryside?
As it currently stood, any long-range travel was exceedingly dangerous without a group of armed soldiers, bodyguards and mercenaries.
It made trade expensive and difficult.
And how cool would that be! I wonder how ancient humans did it. Maybe some kind of magic that produces lift or defies gravity?
Caitlyn heard a sound in the distance, a long groan through strained lungs. She raised her head and spotted Garth thrashing in his cot.
What, what’s going on? She thought as the muscles in Garth’s face spasmed, his entire body twitching uncontrollably. His eyes were wide open, and his body was writhing in a strange, asymmetrical pattern that made her stomach turn sour.
“NNgggaaaa!” Garth gave an awkward vocalization as his eyes rolled in their sockets before his entire body tensed up.
The sound attracted Ms. Banyan’s attention, and the dryad ran over to her creator, checking his pulse. An instant later, she glanced over her shoulder, straight at Caitlyn.
“Help me hold him down until more of me get here!” she shouted.
“What is it?”
“I have no idea, but we’ve got to keep him from harming himself.”
Garth’s eyes focused on them, first one, then the other, their movement independent of each other. His mouth opened and an ear-splitting hiss emerged before devolving into a shriek.
His awkward fumbles quickly turned into almost coherent movements, with a strange jerkiness to them, like a puppet on strings.
He tried to sit up, when something slammed him back to the ground, his body devolving once again into muscle tearing, intense spasm. His back arched and another scream forced its way out of the ancient wizard’s lungs.
“What is going on?” Caitlyn screamed as she held Garth down long enough for Mrs. Banyan to use ironwood to secure him to the cot.
Like an animal, Garth lunged up and tried to bite at them, his eyes spinning in their sockets madly.
Caitlyn felt like she might throw up again.
When Garth opened his eyes after sinking down in the depths of himself, he was once again in back in his old body, standing in an empty blackness, but this time without a single other person, neither man nor god to welcome him.
No other people at all.
There was, however, a spider. One that towered over him, its white fur practically glowing in the darkness. Garth’s nonexistent heart skipped a beat. Whatever was going on here, it wasn’t good. Tulesta’s massive fangs twitched in some indecipherable spider body language, all eight of its gargantuan eyes turned toward him.
“Ummm…Hi?” Garth said.
“I’ll be taking your body now, morsel.” She said.
In the blink of an eye, the spider shot forward, slamming her gigantic fangs blunt-end first into Garth, sending him shooting out, out,
Suddenly everything turned bright, and colors seemed to come from every direction at once. He had no eyes, but somehow he could see in every direction, in every spectrum. His senses far more than they had ever been before.
Yet his mind wasn’t up to the task of interpreting the riot of information raging through him. It blended together until he could only make out shapes and disconnected colors. Warm gold light, browns, greens, purples.
I’m in the Phylactery room? Garth thought, focusing his attention on one single thing in front of him, trying desperately to narrow his field of view, until he realized he was looking down at his own body, being held down by Caitlyn and Mrs. Banyan.
Oh, that bitch! Garth felt a tugging sensation, and he discovered he was being sucked into the phylactery. Is this supposed to happen? Garth experimentally tried to resist, but nothing seemed to change the inexorable pull of his body-maker.
When he reached it, his senses felt like a bell that had been struck by a hammer, flaring up his consciousness with brilliant white light. I remember. This is the door to the afterlife.
Garth slowly drifted forward, mesmerized by the white light, the temptation to cast away all of his problem and relax with Beladia for another thousand years.
Like a dog yanked on a chain, Garth let out an awkward yelp as he was jettisoned violently backward toward his body, slamming into the floor of the black space.
The spider that had been slowly melting into the floor, coalesced into a single entity again, it’s attention palpably baleful.
“I’m just as confused as you,” Garth said, dragging himself to his feet. “But if I had to guess, I think the Phylactery sent me to the nearest active body, i.e. this one. I don’t think you can get rid of me that easily.”
“Then I’ll crush your soul into dust.” Tulesta said, pouncing on him.
Garth tried to dodge, but the faster spider knocked him to the ground, picked him up and began twirling him around, wrapping him in light-bending sheets of silk.
GArth tried his plant magic, but there was no medium through with to use it. there were no plants in…wherever the hell they were.
Are we in my heartstone?
Garth desperately tried to break out of the winding silk, but his magic was crippled, and even accessing Beladia’s blessing just scattered her mana ineffectually around. The blessing still worked, there was just nothing to use it on.
Time to switch gears.
Shadow, a little help please?
By all the gods it’s getting stranger!
Garth’s body began to float upward on a column of pure shadow, attempting to sink into his eyes and mouth as intense beams of light shot out of his entire body, seemingly burning from within.
Caitlyn could make out the shape of the man’s bones against the light that shone through his body.
He was still twitching violently, occasionally coming to rest for an instant before his struggles redoubled.
She felt fear cramp her stomach as the screaming continued.
“You can go somewhere else for a while,” Mrs. Banyan said after they’d been watching the struggle for a solid six hours. “You need some rest.”
Caitlyn nodded, almost numb from sheer stress and exhaustion. She stumbled to the bedroom and passed out, heedless of the distant wordless moaning of the strange wizard.
When Caitlyn woke up the next day, it was still going, with a worried-looking Mrs. Banyan force-feeding Garth liquids and keeping a sun-lamp on his purple skin.
“Has it gotten any better?” She asked, approaching Mrs. Banyan.
“It hasn’t, but it hasn’t gotten any worse, either. I don’t know what to do in this situation. I’ve never seen anything like it.
Mrs. Banyan lit up. “Maybe I know someone who has.”
The blackness of the floor lifted up in a formless tornado, and the darkness around them pressed close to them, a cool, comforting chill.
Shadow pierced through the silk, allowing Garth to slip out and land on his feet, sliding down the tunnel of darkness.
Okay, what do I know about souls, and fighting souls…Garth realized that he knew a lot. His eight hundred years of experience with the afterlife flooding back into his mind as soon as he touched on it, unconnected to his body as he was.
Fighting as a soul was less about technique and more about raw will. Sure he could do magic, or use Blessings, but that was really just an extention of his will. Will and raw nastiness.
I can get nasty.
“Hey, you eight legged piece of shit. I roasted and ate one of you in my backyard once. You taste delicious with a little bit of butter and black pepper!”
Garth focused on the little, harmless spider in front of him. It had gotten full of itself after getting all big and strong because a Mythic core had chosen it as a defender shortly before being plucked from the ground.
Garth on the other hand, was a human, and when the chips were down, no matter how icky spiders were, humans held the overwhelming advantage.
In front of Garth, the spider rapidly lost size.
“What kind of lame-ass spider were you before you stumbled across the core, anyway? Some kind of jumping spider? I had one land on my pants once. Long story short, I killed it.
“I am immortal, brilliant sun god!” the spider said, now only about the size of a horse.
“Wow, read a book. You have any idea how many idiots think they’re gods right before they got murdered? Oh wait, you don’t, because you haven’t had a formal education. You’re just a stupid spider. When was the first time you put together a coherent thought? last week?”
Nastiness achieved, Garth thought, as the spider continued to shrink, becoming the size of a pony.
Or maybe I’m growing. Garth thought as the spider attacked him again. This time he was able to see it coming, and catch the massive fangs. Tulesta wrapped four limbs around behind Garth’s back and tried to force Garth onto her fangs, razor sharp claws sinking into his back.
Garth unleashed a withering stream of derogatory expletives that disparaged spiders, insects in general, Tulesta specifically, but the spider stopped losing any size.
With a grunt, Garth pushed the spider backward, trying to force it out of the blackness, out of himself. Without a phylactery nearby, the spider’s soul would either go to the afterlife or dissipate entirely.
Garth had the advantage of intelligence and lifetimes of culture and cunning, speaking to the most enlightened minds of Beladia’s High Court to draw on, bombarding the creature with images of existential horror and paradoxes intended to paralyze it’s mind long enough to shove it out of his body.
The spider’s advantage was sheer, screaming, brutal will built over eight hundred years of fighting to survive a pitiless desert.
The two of them wrestled back and forth for what seemed like years, Shadow protecting him from the spider’s burning hairs and blinding flashes.
It had to be painful for a shadow to throw itself in the way of it’s antithesis like that, but Garth appreciated it. tremendously. With its help and a lot of mudslinging, Garth had drawn Tulesta into a standstill.
“Give up, you’re dead, you can’t win. I’ve got infinite replays.” Garth growled, face-to-giant-eyeball as he pushed the spider physically backward. Go suck on deer in spider-heaven. I’m sure you’ll be popular there.”
“Not if I kick you out long enough to destroy your pathetic anchor, mortal.”
“You keep,” Garth wrenched on the spider’s fangs, tossing it onto its back. “Using that word.”
Garth jumped onto the spider and the two of them began wrestling, With Garth at a severe disadvantage.
“I’m not a mortal anymore, little spider.”
“Am I interrupting something?” a voice made both of them freeze.
Garth and Tulesta glanced over from where they were wrestling to see a slender, beautiful woman in her late twenties. She had a mane of red hair and dazzling mithril armor sculpted around her body.
“Caitlyn? I really have been fighting this thing for years.”
She rolled her eyes.
“It’s Tuesday, numbnuts. I’m Linda.”
“Oh. Oh, right. Soul-identity.” The way people saw themselves affected their souls.
“Thought you might need some help. Your dryad was concerned. You know it’s been nearly a week?”
“I had no idea. How’s the – ”
Tulesta chose that moment to throw Garth off of her and leap for Linda, hissing furiously. The old woman who fancied herself young and beautiful let out a shout, a shining steel shield as tall as she was manifesting on her left hand.
In her right hand was a beautiful golden sword, flames dancing along the blade.
She lunged forward, catching Tulesta on her shield like a bug on a windshield, sending the spider skidding backwards.
Garth leapt to his feet, grabbed Tulesta’s soul around the midsection, and performed a suplex on the bug, dropping it straight onto its sensitive eyes.
As Tulesta was wriggling in pain, the two of them each placed a foot on the creature’s midsection and violently shoved her out.
Tulesta didn’t fall out of the darkness so much as disappear, fading from the dreamscape. As she disappeared, Garth noticed a shimmering spiderleg, seemingly crafted out of bent light.
“Thanks Linda,” Garth said. “I owe you one,”
“You owe me two,” she said with a smile, vanishing from his dream.
Once Linda was gone, Garth squatted to inspect the mirage-spider leg on the ground. It was most likely the energy from the legendary creature’s heartstone, made metaphysical.
“How the hell am I supposed to use this, though?” he asked, picking it up.
Do I meditate on it, ram it through my stomach, or eat it, or what?
As Garth was contemplating trying to meld it into the darkness around him like he’d seen Tulesta doing, he heard the clicking of dog’s toenails on stone.
Out of the darkness came the same starving black Lab from Pala’s dream, looking between the spider-leg made of bent light and Garth, his eyebrows twitching hopefully.
Shadow rolled off of it like mist from dry ice, and Garth knew he was looking at the one that had helped him twice already.
“Okay, fine, but only because you look pathetic,” GArth said, handing the leg to the dog, who gingerly reached out and took the leg before trotting off to the corner of Garth’s mind and laying down to start gnawing on it.
“Pssh, all that effort for a dog’s chew-toy.” Garth said, rolling his eyes. he put his hands on his hips and took in his surroundings again, glancing around the featureless expanse.
“Now how the hell do I get out of here?”
“There,” the ancient looking woman said, taking her gnarled hand off of Garth’s forehead. Garth’s breathing had calmed, and he was no longer experiencing back-breaking seizures, just sleeping peacefully.
They were standing in a grove outside L.A. where Mrs. Banyan had agreed to meet this mystery healer. Caitlyn was under strict instructions not to say anything about Garth’s dungeon, because although this was an old friend of his, she wasn’t the nicest person in the world, either.
“He should wake up in a couple hours,” she said, putting her leather glove back on. “Tell Garth not to absorb large heartstones without cooking them first.”
“Thank you Leanne,” Mrs. Banyan said, nodding to the ancient witch.
Did she say Leanne? As in the Queen who nearly plunged the world into chaos six hundred and fifty years ago? Caitlyn’s body tensed, heart hammering.
She felt like an ant just trying not to get stepped on, or noticed. The reality of her situation seemed more and more outlandish every day that passed.
Caitlyn swallowed the urge to ask inane questions, a physical lump in her throat.
“Who’s this?” She asked, glancing over at Caitlyn, sending a shiver of dread through her.
“One of Garth’s apprentices. Caitlyn.”
“Nice to meet you Caitlyn.” She said, shaking her hand.
“Looks like you’ve got the bad fortune of studying under Garth Daniels, possibly one of the unluckiest S.O.B.’s on Earth, but damn good at magic. Keep in mind that Garth is a bit flighty, and tends to get distracted, so he needs a firm hand to keep him on task. That’s what his wife told me, anyway. From what I saw personally, she wasn’t wrong.”
“Okay?” Caitlyn said. The prospect of keeping someone who could shoot themselves in the eye as part of a gag, on task, was daunting.
“Take it easy,” She said, clapping Caitlyn on the shoulder. “The guy’s a total sucker for women.”
“True,” Banyan said, her head cocked to the side in reminiscence.
INDEED, HE OFTEN THINKS ABOUT MATING WITH YOU. Grass chimed in.