This feeling is odd. The feeling of safety. Here I sit in my giant magically reinforced cavern hidden underneath a river with a loyal slave (which I don’t want but who won’t leave) and nothing in here that wants to kill me. Which is a good thing because my bare veins and bones are exposed on my left arm with the flesh peeled back in this exact moment. The sounds of gagging behind me are not helping my concentration. The only reason Reeanth isn’t actually trying to stop me is due to my flesh sorcery keeping everything kosher.


  In the past five hours of exploration and minor experimentation, I have learned that the production of mana is a two-fold process for me, but a one-way flow for Reeanth. Let’s start with the similarities. Mana can be absorbed. Both Reeanth and I can slowly absorb mana, and with meditation and practice, can make ourselves absorb it faster. We breathe in the lion’s share of magic, and our pores do their part as well, and even hair seems to partake.


  The main difference between us is that I actually produce it as well. It took me a while to figure this out too. After meditating for two hours, I was able to get my body to stop absorbing mana completely from the area around me, and as I finally stopped the inflow, I was able to see the now pronounced outflow. Every cell did it. It looked to be a new byproduct of my very cells. Each red blood cell produced a teeny mote of mana, and my bones and organs stored a bunch of it while producing some as well. My heart was the big one as it constantly beat like a drum, producing mana and managing the flow thereof throughout my entire body. My brain didn’t produce much mana, but it looked to be chock full of mana, but in a working storage sense. Mana was mainly stored in my bones, but it was put to work supercharging the marrow to produce mana-holding blood cells.


  The brain though, and the spinal column, that entire skeletal section quickly stores as much mana as they can hold and then slowly release it over time, and then quickly release it as I consciously used magic. But there was one part of all of this that puzzled me. I had a theory, but I actually couldn’t prove it. I can see how magic is used and stored and circulated throughout my body, but without the intake of magic from the air, my body still produced a lot more magic than it should. From what I can tell, my body seems to have an intangible field, a second inner skin that produces mana itself. If I had viable money at this point in time, I’d bet that it was my soul. Of all the sorceries to pick, I didn’t pick soul sorcery, which means I can’t confirm what I think. But this field, this soul-skin, produces magical energy making me a net-producer of magic.

  If I can test and master this, this soul-skin, then maybe I could beef this thing up. I could be my own mana-generator!


  [Boss! Of course you have a soul. It’s called soul magic, and you beef it up by eating other souls or by living for a really long time.]


  Gungnir’s mental voice suddenly brought me back to reality. Damn orb, it’s like having two voices in my head.


  [Tell me you’ve learned something about this from Rath’s brain]” I sent back through our mental link.


  [Uh, some things, but this one is easy as it’s what dragons obsess over. This is why they eat everything, and target sorcerors specifically. You have to have a powerful soul to do that kind of magic, and eating those that do is like steroids for your soul.”


  Steroids huh? [So, how do I work it out naturally? I’m not down with steroids. They give you performance issues down the road, and a weird kind of sagging.]


  [Oh, easy. Do sorcery. Experiment. Meditate. Try to understand exactly what it is that you’re doing when you do it. Sorcery comes with instincts. Your job is to make those instincts truly your own.]


  [Hey, how long have I been out of it? Feels like I’ve been meditating on this for about half an hour.]

  [Dude, try seven hours.]


  [That would explain the incredible pins and needles in my legs.]


  I’m so glad that nobody was there to witness my clownish attempts at getting up. Flesh sorcery aside, the body still needs blood flow. After five minutes of massaging my calves and whining like a little bitch, I stumbled down the tunnel to the other hideout and then outside to do my business.


  [By the way, Reeanth is out there somewhere too. She got tired of staring at you and left.]


  Finishing my business is a lot harder when someone is in your head talking to you. All I wanted to do was pee. In order to relax, I started to work out in my head how to further my body-enhancing research. If melding different materials didn’t work, then enchanting or adding runes may be the next experiment.




  The southern frat-boy sounding shout almost made me zip up the most delicate part of me. Wildly looking around while finishing my business is not a recipe for efficiency.


  “My lord! Run! Lunatics!”


  In the few precious seconds I had, I managed to finally put everything away and turn to see Reeanth pelting down the forest path between the giant trees. I couldn’t really believe what was chasing her.






  Several four-wheelers with thick southern boys dressed up in Mad-Max crappy body armor waving poorly constructed weapons and few firearms were hot on her trail. Yup, my eyes did not deceive me. There were Bud-Lites strapped to their fronts like hand grenades. As they flew towards me at forty miles an hour, my irritation at having my me-time disturbed stretched out and turned all the dirt in front of me into deep quicksand.


  “Jump!” I yelled to Reeanth as the growing edge of quicksand reached her. With a carefully executed long jump that would have made our Olympic judges’ jaws drop, Reeanth landed ten feet behind me. The first hooligan and his four wheeler tried to slow down but instead skidded into the quicksand as his buddies swerved to the side.


  “RICKY!” yelled the biggest guy behind him. He had on a metal helmet with sautered horns on top of it and a Lowe’s axe strapped to his back. “You ok Ricky?! If you die can I have your beer?”


  “Shut your fool mouth idjit! Ain’t nobody touchin my beer!” Ricky yelled from his sinking ride. Thinking quickly, he pulled one off of his makeshift bandolier and began chugging it.


  “Don’t waste it if yur gonna die!” a whiny feminine voice rang out. The burly man stepped to the side, pulling a length of extension cord out of his pack.


  “Shut it Sally. Let the man have a beer in his last moments.” he grumbled as he began winding to throw the end to Ricky. “It’s what I’d do if I was stuck in that mess.”


  “Billy, if it’s his last moments, how come yous bout to throw him a line?”


  “To get the beer dummy!” The last person to speak was a man so skinny that beanpoles idolized him.


  “I wasn’t askin you Tommy. You done drank all yours, so you ain’t gettin none of this.”


  As I live and breathe. Hicks. True blue southern hicks. I really couldn’t believe it. I got family like this, but I hadn’t seen them in years. Time to put the accent I outgrew back to good use.


  “Howdy. How come y’all are chasin my woman?”


  All four of them stopped and seemed to notice me for the first time. They looked around at each other and counted, and then realized that I wasn’t one of them. I flexed my will to make the quicksand stop sinking Billy and his four-wheeler.


  “That’s yur woman?” Billy asked as he popped open another beer. “And what the hell is a fine woman such as herself doin with a nerd like you?”


  “Do not insult my lord!” Reeanth spoke earnestly. “This magnificent sorcerer could wipe you out with a wave of his hand. Know your place.”


  “Welp,” Billy burped, “As far as I’ve seens it, this is the United States of America where you can kiss my fine ass. Besides, ain’t no government man around to enforce the law, so it’s my law. We’re in the US of Billy right now!”


  I chuckled, “Billy, you love your four wheeler don’t ya?”


  “Hell yeah, built this purty mama with my own two hands, and not one moment of that was sober.”


  “Well, I’m the one who sank it. But I can give it back to you if you maybe exercise some of them manners yur daddy whipped into ya.”



  His drunken eyes narrowed “Whaddya mean, you sank it.” he said, drawing out the syllables.


  “He means magic you insipid fool.” Reeanth barked. “My lord is a powerful sorcerer of earth and water and nature.  This entire forest would eat you alive if he willed it.” 


  From attacking me to singing my praises. I’m not sure I’m comfortable with the new Reeanth. I shook my head and let out a breath. “Ignore her,” I said, “What I’m telling you is that you can have it back if you’re nice.”


  “Prove it!” Sally said, taking off her helmet, her blond hair falling down around her shoulders. “And we’ll be real nice if you got beer.” All of their faces lit up at that.


  “I don’t have beer, but I do have some food I’m willing to share. But, you’ll have to share your stories too.” I held my hands out with palms up to show my willingness to negotiate.


  “Fine, I ‘pologize for my rudeness. I let my excitement get away from me. That lady you got is mighty fine, nice gams and all.” Billy said. 


  I figured that was the best I’d get outta them. I used the quicksand to push the fourwheeler and its occupant to the edge and then pulled back the quicksand from the vehicle so that there was nothing to gum it up, then turned the quicksand back to dirt.


  “Reeanth, go get our guests some food and water and we’ll have a nice chat in my home.”


  She turned and stalked back towards my bolthole, muttering dark things under her breath.


  “Now, lady and gentlemen, if y’all wouldn’t mind parking your vehicles right over there,” I gestured to the clear area to the right of the World Tree, “And follow me inside where we’ll get ya cleaned up and fed.”


  The display of magic did more for their behaviour than anything I would have thought of. They quietly followed me inside and their mouths dropped open as I conjured stone chairs for them to sit in at a stone table that I magically grew from the ground beneath us.


  I had shown Reeanth a while ago how to use the runed hot-plate I made a long time and she used it to heat up cans of soup for our guests. I also conjured cups of stone and filled it with conjured water, which made them look at me as if I were some kind of terrible genie. I was rather enjoying myself, wowing the people with my abilities. I wonder if this is how stage magicians must have felt back in the day.


  “Did you really just pour water from your finger?” Sally asked.


  “What are ya, Jesus, but in reverse?” Billy piled on.


  “Naw, the good Lawd made wine, which is why he was good.” said the big man whose name I hadn’t caught yet.


  “Amen,” chimed Tommy.


  “Yes, I did Sally,” I said, conjuring a small ball of water and making it hover over my palm. “It’s just water, but it is magic. It’s what I wished for in the beginning. What did y’all wish for?”


  “Muscles,” the big man rumbled.


  “Like an idiot, cause you already got some,” Sally said, swatting him on arm. “Come on now Jimmy, shoulda wished for brains to round you off nicely.”


  “Well, what did you wish for Sally?” I asked. “I hope it was somethin good.”


  “This dumb bitch wish to change!” Billy howled, slapping the table and cracking open another beer. “Now, she can change her hair color and make her nails any color she wants, cause that’s so damn useful.”


  “Quiet down now y’all,” Tommy said, “That was a better wish than mine. I wanted to work with machines better cause I’m a mechanic and have been since I was little. And then these damn Ripples done took away all the machines and replaced them with critters! The only things we got left are the cars in the garage I used to work in and the guns we got holed up. Sometimes though, it looks like the metal kinda bends when I want it to.”


  “That’s the beer dummy,” Jimmy said, “You’re just seeing things again.”


  “Well what’d you get Jimmy?” I said, trying to keep the conversation going.


  “Nothing man, I was passed out drunk when it happened way back,” he answered, “But, I swear I can smell liquor a mile away, and beer, two miles!”


  “Now who’s talkin shit,” Tommy said, “You’re always smelling it cause you’re always drinking it!”


  It’s like herding cats. “So where are y’all from? And how’ve you been surviving since the first Ripple?” I asked.


  “Well, we were all drinkin in Tommy’s garage where he was fixing up our four wheelers so we could go on out when the damn thing hit,” Sally answered, “We’ve been holed up there ever since, using good ole Southern gumption to survive. Most of them beasties are pretty tasty if you cook’em right. Which is why Billy ain’t never cookin no more.”


  “Hey, beer soaked chicken is delicious, so why wouldn’t deer soaked monster be any different?” Billy burped.

  “Because we fry the chicken in beer batter, and we ain’t had no batter cause Tommy ain’t got no girl to cook for him, duh.”


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