It really sucks when the hay hits back, and by hay, I mean daylight. Waking up still sucks. Yes, I know that I can, and do, use flesh sorcery to make it super easy, but there’s just something about being a morning grump that makes me feel human with everything that’s going on. I can deal with it, I truly can, but sometimes I just want to grump. And grump I did, kicking sticks in the early morning light as I stalked around camp and then around the wall of camp. “Stupid fucking kid, with his stupid fucking bear, and no goddamn coffee cause I’m a stupid fucking idiot. Yup, forgot eggs, bacon, steak, cause the only thing I have is old ass soup. Fuck you Campbells, the last remnants of a dead and nearly forgotten civiliza . .”
“Good morning my lord! Isn’t it wondrous? The peace! The quiet!”
Don’t kill the help. Don’t maim the help. Don’t bury the help under a mountain. Don’t feed the help to a bear. Being nice is so much harder when being joyously mean or evil just has so many better options. Yup, probably time to use some magical help here. Taking a deep breath, I used my flesh sorcery to refresh my brain and body, taking the last dregs of grogginess and morning evil, I mean grumpiness, with it.
Breathe in, breathe out.
“Good morning Reeanth. Have those two moved at all?” Without pointing, she caught both my meaning and the urgency that I couldn’t remove from my voice.
“No my lord. I fear they may actually be hibernating. Is there something you can do to speed this along?”
“Maybe,” I said, taking out a can of soup and popping the top. Taking a few sips didn’t really help me focus as the damn soup needed salt, but it did give me a second to go over my options. “Yeah, I’ll check’em out but I’m not waiting another day.”
Taking a second to conjure salt, I poured a bit into the soup. Yup, much better. Downing the last of it, I hopped up and made my way over while drinking some conjured water.
“I’m still not sure how all that works my lord, how do you conjure with such ease?”
“The simple answer is sorcery. Conjuration isn’t really creating anything, it’s more like summoning it. The most common elements and material are super easy, like water and earth, and even diamond is almost as easy because it’s technically carbon which is one of the most common elements on Earth. The harder stuff is platinum or iridium. It’s also logical to assume that even though water is common on Earth, it would be much harder to summon it in the Sahara desert. That explanation makes the most sense. The other one that is possible but less likely is that conjuration somehow works with another dimension, like a parallel one, or maybe a nearby one in which there’s tons of raw Chaos.”
In turn, I conjured and banished a ball of water, then stone, then dirt, and then a tiny nugget of gold, and then bone and blood. “The weird ones to me are the flesh based ones, it’s almost like it goes through a weird process, like summoning water and iron and other trace elements and then transforming it into what I envision based off of what’s near. Like, that bone was identical to my own, same dna and everything, but the blood was yours. I think the more esoteric stuff gets funneled through Chaos really.”
“That can’t be my lord!” I wasn’t shocked at her rejection, but the explanation was a bit weird.
“That would mean that the demons were right, that Chaos is the liquid border to every realm and dimension in the multiverse. But the Host decreed that all is upheld by the Order of the Tree and the secured by the Sacred Roots.”
I wasn’t going to parse my way through that, but it didn’t sound like those two things couldn’t coexist. Yggdrasil could do that, maybe that’s what they’re all referring two. Don’t trees take the broken down elements, aka Chaos, and turn it into something orderly? But I digress. Reaching our two sleepyheads, I scanned Johnny first. What used to be a tenuous link between him and the bear was much more solid, but the odd part was that some sort of forced unconsciousness was coming from the bear straight into Johnny’s hindbrain. Yup, I’m too sexy for my own magic.
Following the link back to Big Bear, the trouble was centered on the backup sleepy enchantment I had placed on its instincts. It looked like the hibernation aspect, which I tied in for security, was twanged a little too hard putting the bear in literal winter-time hibernation mode. Carefully picking them apart, I returned the normal rhythms of rest to the bear and let that wash over Johnny.
“Did you fix it my lord? It blends together too much in the head area, I can’t tell what’s going on.”
I turned to see that she was way too close, her glowing eyes staring intently at the dissolving patch of magic. The weird part was simply the scale of her body, as Centauri humans seem to be a standard deviation or two larger than humans, making me feel like a child next to an adult. Dusting myself off, I mentally called out for Spot and the big bird, who I affectionately named Tuki after the parrot I had when I was little.
“Yeah, but it’s still going to take a day or two to wear off naturally. The brain isn’t something to mess with casually. I’m going to go on ahead down to Florida with Spot and Tuki, and you’re gonna stay here with these two. Catch up when they’re awake, and use the birds to find us. They share a kind of hive or flock mind.”
“What? Who’s, what’s a Tuki?”
A blast of air answered that as Tuki landed on the building behind me, his giant wings buffeting us as he landed.
“That’s a Tuki,” I smirked, “Might wanna name yours too. I’ll scout the area when I get there and set up a forward operating base. I should be seeing y’all in three days. Don’t be late.”
Whistling for Spot, I climbed up on Tuki as he jumped and took off with a mighty flap. Tuki flew over the wall and glided low near the water where Spot in his smaller form was sprinting alongside us with a fish in his mouth.
“Damn it Spot! NO!” My cries went unheeded as the wet dog carrying a slobbery fish jumped and landed right on me, moisture of dubious scent quality everywhere. “Awww come on, you stanky ass fishmonger.”
Ignoring me in the fashion that only loved ones can do, he proceeded to devour his catch while I used water sorcery to clean up and then dry off. Banishing the water from Spot’s coat and Tuki’s feather and then turning it towards myself to get rid of the mess, I couldn’t wait to get outta here.
Roughly following the coastline and the long continuous valley that used to be Interstate 95, we made what I approximated to be Florida. The sights along the way were unexplainable. Three floating islands that I wanted to explore but knew I shouldn’t were probably the coolest things I saw, but there were also broken down brick buildings that the Ripples hadn’t fully gotten rid of. Three towns full of humanoids were bustling with activity and there was one oddly large port city that looked like something out of a science fiction novel. Smooth silvery spiral skyscrapers with no sharp edges jutting out of the earth near incredibly wide boats that looked to be portable piers as well. We passed that place real quick because I didn't have time to figure that out.
Using my consciousness sorcery and combining that with Tuki’s experience as a bird and his instincts, I created a sort of map in my head as a constant background process, keeping track of the landmarks and cities and rivers. The floating islands were marked as well with arrows roughly declaring the direction in which they were floating. One of them was floating in a geosynchronous orbit, which I noted for later. Areas of super-concentrated forest were also noted as they had some unfamiliar characteristics. Imagine a super dense rainforest that was very tall and wide, but also had a border around it that was so clean that it almost looked manmade. There were a bunch of these, where it looked as if a giant hand took a lawn mower and went around the forest as if the entire forest were a bush to be trimmed.
Off in the distance, west of the Atlantic ocean, the Appalachian Mountain Range was still visible as if it had grown south. I don’t remember them extending this far south, or even this far East. Landscape variability had definitely changed with the Ripples, as standalone mountains weren’t uncommon. Some of them were small, like a bump in the middle of a plane, but I flew over a river, and in that river was a random giant mountain that the river flowed around both sides of it. I was happy to also not have run into any sort of aerial predator. Tuki could probably take down most things, but I knew that dragons were real. Killing one gave me a real appreciation for their power, as I almost died to a weakened one.
My main goal for today was to get near to where Miami used to be, and I knew it was right along the Atlantic coast, but not all the way down the panhandle. The note from Merlin said that my brother was alive and well in ‘what you humans called Miami’, according to him, but he also said that the Centauri ruled or claimed the area. This didn’t tell me much but it did give me a place to start. I really didn’t want Reeanth to be here for the start because diplomacy was actually my first option, and scorched earth being the second. From what I’d learned from Reeanth’s cloned vat-brain, her type of vow was highly frowned upon by her society and I wouldn’t want to start off on the wrong foot.
It was late in the afternoon when I spotted a whole bunch of structures and a couple little mini-islands just off the coast. Never having been there before, I couldn’t be sure that this is where I wanted to be but I’d spent enough time planning a little getaway that never happened before the end of the world. What really dominated the landscape was a skeleton. At least as long as a skyscraper is tall, the bleached white monstrosity must have been incredible, and fucking scary, to behold. Not a bit of flesh was left on it, but its ribs looked to serve as support beams for some kind of building. There were people in there, working with machines to turn that thing into a building.
Nudging Tuki with my mind to climb higher, we got a good overall look at the city, or what used to be the city. There were more skeletons, and from up here they were obviously crocodile skeletons. The first one we saw was already fleshless, but two more were in various states of butchery. One of the things going to town on a humongous gator tail was a tall metal man with blades for hands. Hovering vehicles were picking up house sized chunks of meat and viscera and carting it towards a building that could only be described as a Costco’s wet dream. Tall and rectangular with giant windows to show off the massive shelves studded with a whole bunch of futuristic crap.
I didn’t even know where to start, but using my mental sorcery, I looked through Tuki’s much better eyes and took mental screenshots of the entire area. We scouted for an hour, circling the area in greater and greater circles to gather as much information as possible. I didn’t see any kind of alien or magical race, just humans that could have been Centauri or normal ones; it was hard to tell being so high up. There were all kinds of fantastical machines though, some kind of construction mechanoid and then clearly some security ones. The off-putting feeling I had though centered on groups of longhouse looking vehicles that studded the area. They were in groups of five, were jet black with no wheels, but floated above the ground in a rough pentagon formation. No one went in or out of those, they didn’t emit any kind of magical signature that I could tell, and even the area as a whole, minus the gator remains, was rather low in ambient magical energy.
But those curved remnants, the ribs that speared into the ground, those were shining bright in the magical spectrum, even that was nothing compared to the upper plate part of the giant snout. Even from way up here, it looked like a little star, floating above a million tiny stars, which I figured out to be the creature’s teeth. If I had to guess, they were somehow using the bones of the crocodile as a huge mana battery.
The great part about using my mind as a camera to take mental screenshots, is that I can overlay and filter anything I saw in both the magical and mundane spectrum. The unconscious holds on to a lot more information that people realize simply because easy access doesn’t exist for most people. After scouting out the area, I turned Tuki around flew thirty or so miles off to a large flat plain nestled up against a mountain where I set up a temporary camp. Taking a cue from me, my avian friend went off in search of food while Spot stood guard as I meditated, creating a detailed three-dimensional mental diagram of everything that I had seen. Every bit of detail didn’t escape the notice of my mental sorcery, and I noted patterns of guard rotations in the hour I scouted as well as the general routes of where the workers traveled. Peeling back layer upon layer of magical energy, I hunted my diagram stuffed full of historical data for some sign that my brother was down there.
I hadn’t seen him for at least a month before the Ripples started, so knowing his magical signature was impossible, but I knew what his face looked like. I also wasn’t dumb enough to take Merlin’s word of ‘alive and well’ at face value. That could have meant, oh your brother was turned into a newt and is living his best life in an aquarium’ for all I knew. The actual state of his existence was never explained, and that fact clawed at my sorcery-induced peace. Eagerness, impetuousness, whatever you want to call it, some part of me wanted to take Spot and cowboy our way in to rescue my blood, my brother.
Another little part stewed over something Reeanth said a while back about sorcerers, something about being a ‘noble’ or ‘royalty’, some status bullshit that I hadn’t really paid attention to. My powers at that moment offered up a nice little option, to go in my mind and relive that moment, but I pushed it aside. It didn’t matter. All that matters is that I get him back. The entire shock and awe part of this probably wouldn’t work either as I had taken careful steps to mask my magical presence just a day or two earlier. As I chewed over this problem while waiting for Tuki to return, I noticed a little sparrow flitting around his body, and a few more of them flying around in the sky.
On a whim, I reached out with my mind and nature sorcery and gently tapped the little guy on the head, beckoning him to come to me. After a minute of going back and forth with the birdbrain, I managed to get it across that I wouldn’t harm him or feed him to my dog, the little brown sparrow hopped up on my arm. As I softly petted his feathers, I noticed that there were many more of his friends than I had originally spotted, and that they connected. Running my mental finger down the strand of magic connecting this little guy to his flock, I found that there were well over fifty individual strands coming off of him. Pulling out a chunk from my opened soup can, I fed it to him while laughing quietly to myself. I think I just found nature’s intelligence network.