Garth walked into the bakery, expecting the wonderful smell of baked goods and a glass case full of delicious breads to choose from. What he got instead was the smell of smoke and faint mildew, and an assortment of awful crackers, made from B or even C grade flour, that seemed to have chunky bits in it.
There was a beetle carapace sticking out of one of the flat, brick-hard pieces of bread.
Ah right, the plight of the people totally slipped my mind…
Welp, my hopes for a raspberry white chocolate roll have been dashed.
Strangely enough, the place was actually pretty popular, emaciated men and women wandering in every minute or two and dropping a credit for a short stack of flatbreads.
Garth strolled up to the front counter where a freckled kid with a youthful handsomeness, and an older, balding fella worked the counter.
“Hi, what can I get for you?”
“I’d like the first order of the day.” Garth said, leaning on the counter. He could do that now, as he was approaching six foot two, and everything was starting to look small and leanable.
Must have been what Jim felt like all the time.
The two behind the counter tensed in their white baker uniforms, before the older one nodded and headed toward the back.
Garth followed him idly with his gaze before glancing back to the kid.
“Do you guys sell white chocolate raspberry rolls?”
He shook his head.
“White chocolate blueberry?”
He shook his head again.
What am I thinking? The only non-plant based product in those recipes is the eggs and butter. I could just make it myself.
Garth tapped his fingers on the counter, glancing around.
“You guys have eggs & butter?”
“Is that some kind of code word?” The kid asked, looking thoroughly confused. “I just started working here, and they only told me the one.
“What’s your name?”
“Cody, when a man asks you if you have eggs and butter, it’s because he wants to know if you have eggs and butter.”
“You’re not much older than me.” Cody said.
Mana shot out of Garth’s mouth and lodged itself directly into Cody’s brain, keeping him on task.
“We’ve got a five pound slab in the back!” Cody yelped. “And eggs!”
“Excellent,” Garth said, lifting the bar and striding behind the counter.
“Hey you’re not supposed to…okay.” Cody mumbled as Garth towered over him, ambling into the kitchen portion of the bakery.
All the disparate bits of breadmaking experience Garth had ever had were easily accessible due to his insane amount of Memory, and applicable due to his Intelligence.
An hour later, the white chocolate and berry sweetbreads were just about to finish rising when Linda showed up.
“Good to see you’ve settled in to your new life…as a baker.” Linda said, cocking her head to the side.
“I had a craving. I’m literally the apostle of a goddess of plenty, so, you know, food’s not really a problem.” Garth said, carefully moving the loaf to the oven, where Cody was in charge of keeping the wood-fired temperature regulated.
“Let me show you something,” Linda said, nodding deeper into the kitchen the way she’d come.
“But…White chocolate berry bread.” Garth said, pointing at the lump of dough.
Linda raised an eyebrow, power radiating off of her like heat from a bonfire.
“You’re right,” Garth said, “I can get it on the way out.” He glanced back at Cody. “Give it another ten minutes to rise, then bake it. It’s got extra moisture from the chocolate, so make sure you bake it a little longer. Dark brown on the outside, but not burnt, a’right?”
“And I swear, if there’s not some left for me when I get back….” Garth raised his hand menacingly. “I’m gonna do somethin’.”
“Edward?” Linda asked pointedly.
“Okay, let’s go.”
Not too surprisingly, she led him to a tiny trapdoor in a closet with a ladder leading down into the sewers. The square was barely big enough to get his shoulders through, leading Garth to exhale and scrunch his shoulders together shortly before he squeezed down into the tunnel, climbing down the ladder and worming his way backwards until he managed to set his feet on some stone.
Linda followed behind him, tugging some stone plate out of the wall and settling it beneath the trap door.
The smell of human shit, after a certain point, no longer had a smell, really, it was more like being punched in the olfactory.
Garth briefly considered making some algea of something to deoderize it, but figured Linda probably wanted her secret hideout to be as authentic as possible, so he simply created a light above his head and followed.
After about ten minutes of walking, and passing by a few nauseous looking guards, Linda beat on an iron door clearly welded into the tunnel by magic.
She and the doorman exchanged a brief, cryptic exchange before the door swung open, revealing an almost respectable War Room, with a table with wooden soldier figurines and everything.
“You guys ever get together on the weekend and play Risk?”
They only had two colors, though.
God, I could go for a game night. That’s my next punishment: Monopoly. Topless Monopoly.
Garth’s comment earned a lot of angry stares from the steely haired men and women hunched around the board, who’d stopped their hushed tactic-ing when he’d walked in the door.
The older ones were angry, but their gaze flickered over to Linda then back to Garth, restraining themselves.
The younger ones, well…
“Who the hell do you think you are?” a young man got into Garth’s face, outraged for his superiors. It reminded Garth of those stuffy Japanese CEO’s who have people to get angry for them.
“These people have given up their lives!”
Garth furrowed his brows, and looked at the kid like one would look at a retarded puppy, then tapped himself on the chest and spoke slowly, so he would understand.
The kid looked about half ready to explode when Linda cleared her throat, drawing attention to herself.
“So, the last week or so, I’ve been giving you a few specific history lessons. You remember those?”
“Good, then I’m happy to present to you, Mr. Garth Daniels.” She said, pointing to him.
Total silence dominated the war room. even the young messengers running orders back and forth stopped to stare, creating something of a pile-up as new ones stacked up behind them, craning their necks and standing on their toes to see over each other.
“He’s just a kid,” Garth heard someone mutter in the distance.
“Maybe this will help.” Garth said, unbuttoning his shirt and using magic to surgically remove the disguise enchantment buried beneath his skin.
Garth’s skin turned purple, his newly regrowing stubble of hair turned green, and the tension level in the room skyrocketed.
“What I wanted to show you is over here,” Linda said.
Garth wasn’t sure if the crowd of military types was parting for Linda or him, but either way, they were able to get to what looked like nothing more than an overlook, the kind you might see in a cheap Hawaiian hotel, letting you look down on…more hotels.
Garth had no idea what it was doing in the middle of the sewer system, but he wasn’t complaining.
They walked out onto the balcony, and Garth looked down, marveling at the scenery before him.
“Okay, that’s a little impressive,” He said.
A quarter mile below him, Tens of thousands of tiny, dark-colored Tzetin soldiers worked nonstop to expand a room that was large beyond the rational limit. In the enormous expanse, some trained, some swung swords, shot magic or arrows, more were running wheelbarrows full of dirt in and out of an Honest-to-God Gate, ensuring the displaced dirt would never find its way onto the surface, allowing nearly limitless expansion.
Garth glanced up and spotted an adamantium latticework above him keeping the city above them separate from the city below.
Garth’s gaze was drawn back to the little blue circle on the far end of the cavern, nearly a mile away.
“As evil underground empires go,” Garth said, leaning on the bannister. “You’ve done very well for yourself.”
“Bah, it could be a lot better. I used to have eight of those gates,” She motioned to the glowing blue circle far in the distance.
“Now I have one. Three cities almost as big as this one, hundreds of years worth of effort for each one, destroyed.”
“Entire cities, this big?” Garth asked.
“Almost.” Linda turned to face him, leaning on the bannister as well. “When the Dan Ui started claiming Earth for themselves, using Jim as a proxy, I knew that the most powerful piece to have access to are these gates, so I stole some. Eight of them.”
She pointed up. “Directly above us is where the former gatehouse was. I trashed that one, and buried one I got from outpost 3506 directly underneath it. Every time they see that point on the map, they think, ‘nah, that gate was smashed’. Makes something of a blind spot.”
She glanced back to the gate below them. “As far as I know, that’s the only way off planet, right there.
“Is that itet’s hive?” Garth asked.
“Sure is,” she said. “I helped her get offplanet shortly after you got roasted and Earth was declared a quarantine zone.”
“Let’s just say your evil twin is widely considered a-“ Linda gave him air quotes. “Doomsday Scenario. It’s one of the reasons Earth is so human-centric again. Very low tourism the first five hundred years. The quarantine’s been lifted, but people are a little hesitant to visit.”
“The Dan Ui continued the tradition of cutting Earth off from the rest of the Spheres. If people aren’t bringing new ideas and information in from other planets, it makes it that much easier to maintain the status quo.”
“Huh.” Garth stared at the Gate, representing the freedom go anywhere he wanted and do anything. Maybe Evil Earth is nice this time of year. They probably didn’t have storybooks depicting him as evil incarnate.
“Is Itet still alive?” Garth asked.
“I do indeed.”
Garth jumped over the bannister and caught himself in midair with Fly, sailing through the air toward the Gate.
“So tell me, how does the empire manage to destroy three cities comparable to this one, when they have someone like you on their side?” Garth asked “Did they leave some Clan members behind, because I refuse to believe you can’t handle a couple Inquisitors. What do they have that you don’t?”
“They have Jim.”
Garth nearly fell out of the sky, dropping a good twenty feet before he got his air-legs under him again.
“Jim’s ALIVE?” Garth asked, regaining altitude as Linda watched him with quiet amusement.
“He sure is. Immortality was one of the first things he got. A reward for being the Dan-Ui’s liaison on Earth. He’s the Founder, worshipped as a living god, and from their point of view, it’s justified.”
“Huh,” Garth said, turning numb inside. It was the only way to avoid flying into a rage in mid-air. You know what they say: Don’t fly angry. Looks like I’ve got someone to ask pointed questions to about Sandi and my legacy. Can’t kill him right off the bat, though. There’s always the tiniest chance my brother isn’t a complete scumbag.
“You’ll need a lot more than what you’ve got now if you want to bring him down.” Linda said. “He and I have both advanced to Tier four, but he’s slightly stronger in one-on-one combat.” She narrowed her eyes. “Which I find irritating.”
“Does it look like I want to hurt my brother?” Garth asked.
“All over your face.”
The two of them glided down to a stop in front of the Gate, and without missing a beat, joined the line of Ant-people going into the Gate.
The cool wet of the underground was replaced with hot sun and dry wind, the soft background noise of Tzetin practicing replaced by the ring of steel and the screams of the dying.
All around him, Tzetin were fighting to the death.
“Ummm…” Garth said, scanning the battlefield. Burnt tree stumps were everywhere, and Tzetin were unloading their wheelbarrows of dirt to create a ramp leading up into the castle formed of a pale green stone.
On top of the walls, crimson, black haired Benkei shot arrows and balls of fire that detonated on contact with the ant-soldier’s heavy shields.
The explosions and the trenches reminded Garth of stories of world war one, except for the magic and the castle, that was.
“Well, this is a mess,” Garth said, putting his hands on his hips. Probably not gonna get back in time for that bread.