In those three days, Versonae had hunted down enough sand lizards to fill up all three of their spatial rings with roasted, dried, and smoked meat while Acantha and Reeanth sparred to their heart's content. I made the joke that they had some pent up lesbianic energy, and that, that did not go over well. Dirty joke aside, I was busy working on loose, minotaur leather outfits to hide our magical signatures, and then I had to redo it because they weren’t white. And then, I had to make another set for forest camo. With the wardrobe situation finally out of the way, I got busy making enchanted armor for Versonae and then zombie-specific weaponry.
Reeanth’s mana-maul was altered to have a hexagonal slot, which I stuck a fully charged sunstone in. Activating the enchantment that I called ‘Sunburst’ would send out a continuous, 360 degree blast of condensed solar power, enough to throw back a horde of zombies and incinerate them. Figuring that that was too good of an idea to skimp on, I added that to my own armor and Acantha’s as well, even though it was almost redundant for the latter.
Versonae though, her equipment required different specifications. After watching her fight just a bit with Reeanth, it looked like twin axes or twin sabers would serve her best. So, to cover my over preparedness, I made her a set of each. That, combined with dragonscale armor and minotaur leather as the cover, she rounded out the group as a front-ish liner. And then, for good measure, I made minotaur leather sheaths for all the weaponry, especially since they all got the addition of the Sunburst upgrade. The most annoying oversight was me realizing that the others weren’t almost immune to the climate, which resulted in six hours worth of a metabolic enchantment designed to allow the body to produce more heat in exchange for calories. Versonae wouldn’t need it as much in the cold and Acantha was in the same boat, but Reeanth didn’t have the luxury of fire magic or a natural fur coat.
“My lord, are you sure this is what you desire to do?” What a question to ask right as we’re all gathered around the central baobab tree. Fifty sunstone golems with one elemental sergeant surrounded the five of us. Spot chuffed his disappointment and butted Reeanth lightly on the back as Acantha grinned, specks of fire dancing across her fingertips. Versonae held her blades tightly as she centered herself, her eyes closed.
“Yes, I’m sure,” I answered. Sweeping my gaze over my assembled group, I sighed. “I get it, another change in the plan but it should be fine. The one scenario we didn’t plan for is if we get ambushed right as we get there. That would throw the world’s unluckiest wrench into my plans and frankly, we don’t time for that. These guys will get there first and if there are no threats that pop outta the woodwork then they’ll power down. Easy day.”
“Have you ever transported this many people at a time?” Acantha asked, her grin fading a bit.
I scratched my chin. “No, but the elemental has assured me that this sort of travel is nothing for them, so they really won’t be a burden. You three though, I’m going to need all of you to be as calm and as still as possible. The more you struggle, the more likely that I’ll lose my hold on your essence and then who knows where you’ll end up.”
Spot shrank down to the size of a normal wolf, which is still a pretty damn big dog. Standing at my side, he let out a low whine until I scratched his head. “Don’t worry boy, you’re the badass roving tank. And you’ll be our number one hunter out there too.” Turning to everyone else, I motioned them to get closer. Putting one hand on the Yggdrasil/baobab tree, I tapped into the flow of calm power as everyone else put their hands on me and Spot. The elementals all linked arms with the sergeant being the point that put one large hand on my back. “And off we go!”
[30% shot at perfection, a 60% chance of partial completion and RIGHT AROUND A 10% SKINNY DIP NEAR THE VOID’S BUTTHOLE!] All in all, what mattered is that Kraken’s rant didn’t mess with his focus, because in reality, I wasn’t doing the heavy lifting. Kraken did the lion’s share, juggling everyone’s de-corporealized essence so that they didn’t mix while smoothing out the discordant waves from their heightened emotions. My focus was on the path that my mind had traveled several times over the last three days, gathering as much info as I could in preparation for this trip. The smoothness of the Earth’s jumbled leylines was deceptive, each vein of power was a deep river with a nasty current, simply uncaring for the mortals that dared brave its use. The only issue I hadn’t figured out was exactly how I was going to jump from the North American landmass to Greenland. The leylines simply do not connect to the ones over there from what I can see. One of the backup plans I had anticipated this, which is why I gathered all of the extra power from the desert batteries so I could either fling us over that stretch of Atlantic Ocean like a skipping stone covered in mana or re-corporealize us in the forest near the ocean.
With Sunstone Castle serving as the starting point with the baobab tree as the anchor, the condensed stored energy of the batteries beneath my claimed land filled Gungnir and helped to shield us from being completely disintegrated. My nature sorcery was more than enough to shield myself, but a lot more power was required for the size of the group. Following the flows of power, we traveled up through the East Coast, up past what used to be Quebec, and then veered east till we hit the beaches of Newfoundland.
The roots of Yggdrasil proved my hunch to be correct unfortunately; the insurmountable fact kicking me in the nuts is that Greenland is an island, the largest island, but still an island nonetheless meaning that the frozen waters of the Atlantic stood in the way, cutting off the Earth’s natural river of earthen magic and unceremoniously kicking us out into the open, frozen air. Kraken was fully aware of my guess-timated leyline bump in the road and safely shuffled the golems into a circle around we fleshlings just before our unceremonious nosedive from the thinnest skin of extra-dimensionality to in between a dense copse of trees and its surrounding gnarls of bush. Fifty one earthen soldiers lightly touched down (thanks to Kraken) in the clearing surrounded by dense pine trees, and even Spot managed to stick the landing. But due to the immediate cessation of connected leyline power, I was the last one to get thrown face first into the dirt as I tried to slow our roll.
The beach itself was barely visible through a hundred yards worth of forest that served as my intended jumping off point, but since the leyline ended right around here, here was as far as our reality-skipping would go. From here on out, it was the hard way, which meant the ‘slow’ way. “Operation Bumby Skiff is a go!” I ordered, pointing spear Gungnir at the lapping waves of the Atlantic. Under the preset instructions logged into the backup plan, Kraken disseminated my wishes to the golems that formed a single line and marched to the edge of waters. The first golem sank down, its form melting in on itself into a rough triangle with its point facing us. The following golems jumped on the first one in sequence, each melting into another oddly shaped piece that eventually formed into a solid crystalline boat reminiscent of a Viking longship.
Stepping up next to my backup plan, I used my sorcery to force the water underneath the forming boat to freeze, creating what amounted to be another buoyant shell to help keep the insanely heavy crystal structure above water. “Mind filling us in here?” Acantha scowled, glaring at me as she dusted herself off.
“That was most unpleasant,” Reeanth added in as she checked on Versonae and Spot. “A little warning next time, my lord.”
“Fine,” I agreed, keeping my eyes shut as I multi-tasked, both coating the underside of the boat in ice as well as monitoring the golems forming said boat. “I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to skip from the North American continent to the Greenland landmass via leylines, so I made a couple backup plans. The golem army is great because they’re made of crystals, which can bend or grow however I need. Traveling via golem boat will take us about two days to get to where we’re going and it has the added benefit of not causing any large mana ripples that might give us away.”
“Yeah, but did you have to toss us out of the leyline like that?” Acantha adjusted her armor, tossing a fireball up in the air like a baseball while glaring at me. She was giving the impression that one wrong word might mean that me and that fireball were about to get real acquainted.
“Next time you wanna joyride through the veins of Yggdrasil, I’m punting you out,” I joked with a wry grin. “You try holding different essences just the right amount of apart so that you don’t meld with your fellow passengers, or just the right amount of togetherness so that the World Tree doesn’t absorb you. If it weren’t for Kraken holding the golems, we’d have had to do this the real hard way.”
“Which is what?” Versonae asked, her voice silkier than I remembered. I looked her up and down. Soft white fur framed her face, her large eyes betraying the intelligence that her calm demeanour never gave away. The tightly fitted, black minotaur skin armor was kinda pushing it, like the hot redhead who played Black Widow in the epic Avengers movies, god I miss movies. Reeanth and Acantha also had excess black minotaur leather on top of their normal getup which covered up their curves.
Bringing myself back to the present, I snorted. “Make the golems be the boat starting off the coast of Virginia and anchors away until Greenland. Thousands of miles of cold ass saltiness in your face and none of us would have a good time.” I could just picture it being worse than a too long road trip with annoying family but again, I had a plan to make this as painless as possible. When in doubt, figure it out. Sticking my foot in the water, I pushed out a bit of mana and called out to the water. Within ten minutes, several smallish water elementals popped out of the ocean and stood on the frame of my boat. The smallest took the form of a dolphin with human legs, the next size up was an octopus with one eye, and the largest was a pufferfish the size of a beach ball. “Mana for movement, who wants it?” Sending mana filled with my intent caused the first and third to grow a bit bigger in agreement while cyclopus dove back into the ocean.
Turning to the team as the boat neared completion, I gestured at the elementals. “And here is one of the said backup plans. Elementals like mana and my sorcery allows me to communicate with them on a level that’s easy enough for both of us to understand. I’ll probably be calling more of them to fight with and for us when we get to where we’re going.” Reeanth maintained her staid expression while the fireball went out in Acantha’s hand.
“You said that this is a scouting mission, correct?” Versonae pressed, both hands clenching the hilts of her blades.
“And how often do those go tits up?” Raising an eyebrow, I sighed as I turned back to the boat, scanning it to make sure that I hadn’t missed anything. The elemental sergeants were making up the key parts of the frame while the standard sunstone golems filled in the largest part of the bottom and sides and my ice formed the extra shell for buoyancy, armor, and a place for the two water elementals to stick to.
“Bitchin,” Acantha growled as she jumped in, using bursts of flame to propel herself up the fifteen or so feet to the boat as Spot followed after, shrinking down to the size of a normal wolf. Man, I was so proud, actually getting these non-Earth humans to learn slang. I couldn’t keep the smile off my face as I conjured a stone gangplank for the rest to climb in. When everything was set, I formed a rough image in my head of a map from where we were kicking off, where the eastern part of Canada used to exist, and then drew a mental line from there to Greenland. Making sure to communicate that our destination was basically a humongous island covered in ice and snow, the elementals nabbed onto that image and started hauling us along at a good clip. With them doing the work, I held on to the ice railing and started trickling mana down the sides where my two magical motors could soak it up from the boat’s ice shell.
“So how long is this going to take?” I considered Reeanth’s question for a moment.
“Not sure honestly. Not sure how fast elementals can push a boat, or even exactly how many miles we have to travel. Communing with the World Tree for an updated map doesn’t get you all the details, and maps from before the Apocalypse tended to be off scale. Google for instance-”
“A search engine for the internet, basically an information superhighway that allowed pretty much anyone with access to read, watch, or learn anything. Pretty much revolutionized society, a lot of jobs could be done from home, schooling could be done from any location, the list goes on.” Just thinking about reality before the shift caused me to go silent for a minute. The mostly green water of the Atlantic as the shoreline started to fade. Seems like the entire day had flown by thanks to leyline traveling as the sun started to set, bright orange and yellow beams mixing in with pink and purple hues over the green landscape rapidly fading off into the distance.
Acantha snapped her fingers a few times. “Whoa, hey now, come on back to us pilot.”
“Sorry,” I muttered. “Just thinking about before.” Three days passed in near silence as I brooded. I conjured a stone barrel and filled it with water to keep everyone hydrated and that’s really all I had to worry about other than keeping up the flow of mana for the elementals. I was more than ready to get this shit going and part of me even hoped for some early action. I mean, I wasn’t really sure how this was going to go. For all I know, the entire mini-continent of Greenland was now an undead paradise, crawling with Draugen, undead dragons, mutated zombies and all kinds of disgusting fuckery. Or, we could be unbelievably lucky and find the ice castle completely abandoned. I know which way I’m betting.
Day three greeted us with a picturesque landscape, a windy river slowly draining into the ocean framed with sheer mountains to the east and west. A thick forest fought the sandy edges of the riverbank for space as the light blue morning sky dominated the view, bringing out the gorgeous mountaintops with their speckled brown and white tops kissing the clouds. But a darker feeling sat just beyond the innocent, initial greeting of the land. A slight tension became immediately obvious as soon as my feet touched the land, an insidious poison had threaded its way to Greenland’s borders infecting anything and everything with a greyish pall. No longer did Mother Earth welcome an earth/water/nature aligned sorcerer with peace, for now, that normal feeling of peace was muddled, shot through with what could only be described as a shortening lifespan. Even the trees and valleys knew that their days were numbered and ever growing shorter.
Acantha hopped off the boat, her boots making a splash as she scanned the horizon. Reeanth joined her, her maul and tower shield held at the ready as Versonae stood on the prow of the boat sniffing the air. “It smells of decay,” Versonae softly growled, pulling out her blades. “Like a fresh kill just starting to rot, or an old hunter as his time draws nigh.”
She wasn’t wrong. Imagine that feeling of comfort from walking through the front door and familiarity greets you. The closeness of family and the smells of dinner just put on the table, the small, simple relief of taking your shoes off at the door and leaving your cares with them. That’s what I feel every single time I’m outside in the woods or the water or deep in the earth, I’m greeted and loved by the elements as if they’re old friends or family. Right now, Greenland, a wondrous, icy wildland, feels like hospice. Nothing looks dead yet, but it feels like death is in the air. Spot joined Versonae at the head of the boat, his own but much deeper growling joining hers.
“Acantha, Versonae, I want to know everything about everything within twenty miles. Take Spot with you. Worst comes to worst, hop on his back and hightail it back here.” Spot licked me and then the three of them headed off quickly disappearing into the woods. Pulling Gungnir and shaping it into spear-form, I walked forward on the beach until the sand turned to dirt and stone, plunging the base of my weapon into the ground. Closing my eyes, I gave instructions to Reeanth. “I need you to scout as well, but closer to here. This area, with the river, ocean, and mountains all coming together, is probably the best place to set up a temporary base. Find naturally clear areas that might be good for solar panel setup, identify natural caves and strategic setups, anything of note. The golems will serve as guards until then.”
“I’ll stay within two miles,” she said with a nod, setting off at a walk, her maul held in both hands and her shield attached to her back. Letting out a sigh, I turned and faced my boat, conjuring two pieces of ice each the size of a baseball. Taking a few minutes, I pumped as much mana into both of them as they could stand without melting and place them at my feet. “All right blobs one and two. If you want these snacks, then help me for the rest of the day and they’re yours.”
The two water elementals popped out of the water as Kraken gave the golems the order to dissemble back to normal. The golems detached one by one and set up a half-circle perimeter with their weapons facing outward, each sinking stability rods of crystal into the sand that grew and branched outwards. Outside of a tsunami or nuke, nothing would move them from their post. Surveying the temporary setup and then turning back to the quivering elementals, I noted that both of them were now a bit bigger than they used to be and shaped differently too. The one on the left was a formless mass that constantly changed and rippled while the other had taken on the shape of my sunstone golems as a form of mockery. Water elementals are playful at their core, flighty too. The first let out an icy sniff and dove back into the ocean while the other placed itself between the two mana offerings, its face looking up at me in hope.
I laughed. “Yup, I guess one now and the other one later since he took off.” A bubbly squeal burbled out as it turned into a mini wave and devoured the ice mana crystal.
[You shouldn’t tempt the children so.] Kraken scolded. [They’re supposed to grow and survive on their own.]
“Well, who better to help me build an underwater ice and stone base than a baby ocean elemental?” I could feel Kraken’s piercing gaze from inside Gungnir. “Fine, fine, I was kidding. I know that’s stupid. Underwater bases aren’t made from ice!” The gaze of ridicule grew stronger. “FINE! I got it, no underwater base!”
[The constant flow of the river with the never-changing cycle of ocean waves will make a portal structure basically impossible for you. Make a stone structure connected to the land, carve a cavern out of a mountain, do something else.]
Out of habit, I glanced into the spatial storage pocket inside of Gungnir. The consolidated root ball that I separated from Yggdrasil back in Virginia was still there, green pulses of energy letting me that it was still just the way I shaped it. The sunstone golems each grouped in sets of ten around their sergeants that began transmuting sections of the beach into stone columns. Normally, beaches are not considered good places to hole up. They’re naturally indefensible, and I’m simply using the standard of Earth-based military history, but magic has the potential to change that. With earth and water magic at my fingertips, I could turn that very disadvantage to my own terms.
Wrapping up an idea in my head and banding it together with mana, I shot it to the water elemental to give him something to do and then I got to work. After several hours, each stone column, five in all, were transmuted downwards about fifty yards below the surface of the sand and about three yards above it. My elemental sergeants connected the columns via transmuted stone about thirty yards down for the next part of the plan. The tops of the stone columns were wide enough to comfortably fit a picnic table on top of them with ample room to walk around the imaginary table. On each of these, I assembled and placed five sunstone solar panels and transmuted the core of the stone columns even further into copper, weaving that copper cable into the connecting base of the columns but leaving a little hole facing towards the incoming mount of the river.
This weird construction model did have a point. Greenland is a land of ice and snow which means that converting heat for mana was a no go and converting light for mana would be far less efficient than it would be in an area like Florida or Nevada, which means that kinetic energy would be the main source of power. So, queue the other parts of the plan. For that hole, I had that facing towards the river for a specific reason, in fact, the idea was to modify a power tap that I’d used both near my home and for New Richmond. The hole in the middle column facing the river was directly in the river’s current and inscribed with runes to convert the kinetic energy of the running water into power, like a slimmed-down version of a hydroelectric dam. After watching it work for a few minutes, I did the same thing on the opposite sides of all the columns, using the ever pounding rhythm of the ocean’s waves for their kinetic force.
Now the setup isn’t perfect. Frankly, every source of power that I’d been using since the Ripples started upping the ambient mana of the world has been much weaker than the matter to mana powertaps, but these newer powertaps models were inherently less dangerous. I wouldn’t have to worry about accidentally making my own personal Chernobyl and the power constraints of solar and hydroelectric power taps are actually solved due to the revolution of my magic crystal batteries. They don’t lose charge over a couple months like normal batteries, the storage capacity is light-years ahead of modern America could produce, and due to my earth sorcery, making more of them and connecting them to a network is beyond simple. It’s the work of a few minutes and there are no toxic chemicals involved like there would be in batteries.
But I needed more. More of everything really, that’s what I needed. Powering golems for any serious length of time, especially if combat is involved, would become my Achilles heel unless I could manage to get a serious power supply here in the North. Which is why my team was out scouting. The idea of me being a sorcerer with unique blends of power affords me more in the way of options than most would realize. Reviewing Kraken’s map of Greenland in my head, the one that Acantha seriously updated, postulated that the main encampment of the Hungry Ones was about three hundred miles north of my position. Still going with the basic strategy of ‘island hopping’, I had my bases strung out starting with my main base in Virginia, then the fortified Sunstone Castle in the desert, and then this would be the last stand of Greenland here on the beach. But this base was going to be BIG.
Scale always, always, always, is an issue when it comes to construction. It comes right after the slimy sales guy saying ‘location, location, location’, but the bastard is right, location matters. After setting the multi-intake powertap on the beach, I slowly grew a massive battery crystal coated in a thin layer of runed granite on the sand. Indulging my inner nerd, I shaped it like a pylon from the video game Starcraft, complete with gold rings wrapping around it with runes of containment, channeling, control, and mana signature dispersal. It would serve two purposes in my many layered plan. First, it would legitimately function as a backup battery, but second, it would also be a very large, bright beacon to distract enemies. They would view it as a legitimate target for them to attack when in reality, it would be far less important to me than the area about ten miles further up the river where I would plant the World Tree that would form the base of my portal.
At about twenty feet high and ten feet wide, it wasn’t really eye-catching yet, but I added runes for ‘auto-grow when capacity is full’ to the main body of the gem and hooked it up to the mana feed via braided copper wires. As it filled, it would grow up and out until it hit the limit of fifteen hundred feet, putting it the general size of a skyscraper tower.
Right as I finished getting the beach operation set up, Reeanth returned, planting her shield and maul in the sand. Taking several gulps of water, she wiped her mouth. “Not much to report, my lord. Everything within five miles is practically empty. Minimal signs of life near this location, so much so that I met the others and had them expand their scouting further out. With Spot’s and Versonae’s senses and Acantha’s firepower, they should be fine at least out to forty miles.”
“Very good.” I said. “It’s both better and worse than I hoped for. Good in the sense that I can start serious construction here, and bad in the sense that no life around here means that they’ve either fled or been taken or eaten. So, no sleep until I get the good stuff set up, flesh sorcery rejuvenation will have to suffice.”
Not even letting a grimace crease her features, Reeanth gave a sharp nod. “Refresh me first, my lord. I’ll take the watches until the others return. Then I advise you to allow them four hours of rest and then rejuvenate them. I’ll sleep when they start their watch so we can maintain eyes open for twenty four hours. What is the estimated timeframe for the plans to be finished?”
I cringed internally as I sighed just a bit. “I’m not actually sure. With the elemental sergeants on hand, it should honestly go pretty fucking fast, but if we have to contend with hordes of undead every day and night, who knows how slow it’ll go?”
“Well,” she started, turning a bit green. “I did find tracks.”
“What kind of tracks?”
“Many kinds, all together and going in every direction, but there is a large trail that probably used to be a road that has them all going North.”