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A note from Arcs

the spoiler is his Status

Erick went over his Status. He had leveled twice after killing over 350 crystal mimics, every one of them for 95% Participation.

 

Erick Flatt

Human, age 48

Level 38, Class: Particle Mage

Exp: 3,575,676,381/6,324,598,600

Class: 6/6

Points: 10

HP

600/600

600

MP

750/750

6000 per day

Strength

20

+0

[20]

Vitality

20

+0

[20]

Willpower

25

+0

[25]

Focus

50

+0

[50]

Favored Spell waiting!

Favored Spell waiting!

Spoiler

There were quite a lot of boxes.

Erick focused on the 10 points, and thought about where to put them. His mana costs were going up, a lot. The only reason he was able to cast [Withering Slime] was because Clarity dropped that cost to 500. This is what most mages saw when they looked at their status, wasn’t it? Not the need to sustain a spell for a long time, but the need to be able to cast a spell at all.

He put five points in Willpower, bringing his base mana up to 900, and kept five points in reserve.

Tomorrow he would go to Draz’s class for a few hours, then he would need to excuse himself to go to the farms for two hours, then it was back to class. Draz might not approve, and Erick didn’t want to force the issue, but if he had to, he’d just walk out. Which would be a shame. For as much as everyone else seemed to hate their time hitting each other with sticks, or getting called a failure, Erick felt he was learning a lot. If nothing else, he was learning how to take a hit and get back up.

As long as that hit wasn’t too hard.

 

- - - -

 

The next morning, as the sun rose above the walls of Spur, there was an unexpected occurrence at Draz’s recertification class. Kiri wasn’t there. Erick needed to spar with someone else. The problem was…

Draz said, “This is ridiculous. One of you has to stand up and put this archmage into the dirt.”

Nope,” said Lowhit.

Not happening,” said Waelog.

Sorry!” said Zimmy.

Did Kiri quit?” Erick asked. “I liked her.”

That must have struck a nerve, because Draz’s words were unusually hateful, “She just takes days off sometimes, like the rest of you fuckups.”

Erick started, “You know, you’re—”

A terrible instructor!” Draz shouted, “Fuck it! Fuck you, Archmage! I quit, too.”

And then he walked out of the room—

He got to the archway leading into the arena, when Mog appeared on the other side. Mog frowned at him.

Mog said, “Yes. I’m keeping an eye on this place.” Then she said to Draz. “You’re not done.”

I hate that you’re watching, me Mog! Do you think I’d do something to him? Why!”

Mog said, “Of course not. I was watching because… Well because I can! It’s my guild!”

Draz said, “I can’t do this anymore. Fire me if you want, or not. I'm not teaching this class any more.”

I’m not firing you, and you’re not quitting. You love your job! Can’t you handle him? He’s perfectly compliant. He’s learning from, you, too.”

Draz pointed at Erick. “No one wants to fight with him besides that one crazy girl and he’s driven everyone away. I should have 20 people in this class. Zimmy is only here because she utterly has to pass. Waelog and Lowhit are here for more or less the same reasons.”

Mog spoke up to Erick, and the other students, “You’re dismissed, but we’re still on for tomorrow.” She looked to Erick. “Sorry. You’ve passed and can’t come to class anymore. Come talk to me later, okay?” She put a hand on Draz’s shoulder, guiding him away, “Let’s start the day drinking, Draz. Talk to me? Tell me what’s...” She walked out of sight, her voice fading into the halls of the Adventurer’s Guildhouse.

Several moments passed.

Erick said, “Well damn! Sorry, guys. I guess this is my fault.”

Waelog grunted, “I got shit to do. See the rest of you chumps tomorrow.” She nodded to Erick. “Archmage.”

Lowhit left along with Zimmy; neither of them saying anything.

Erick frowned at the empty sands of the arena.

Thus ends basic training.” Erick turned to Poi and sighed. “Got any ideas for better training?”

Poi frowned, just a little. Erick waited.

Poi said, “Would you like to see exactly what threats have been prevented, so you are able to see where your defenses are lacking? Guardmaster Merit has a running list of the larger threats.”

Erick froze. He breathed out. He forced himself to relax. He said, “Su— Sure! Sounds like a good idea, Poi.” He quickly added, “How bad is it?”

Poi said, “Personally, I have prevented 2 casual muggings, 1 mugging that was a genuine attempt on your life, and about 8 home invasions committed by idiot adventurers without any ties we could find to any established powers. Teressa has done about the same. Rats is rats.”

Oh.” Erick was more than a little stunned by all that. “Okay.”

Would you like to see Merit? We can discuss the rest under some anti-observation [Ward]s.”

That would be the responsible thing to do, yes.” Erick said, “Let’s go see Merit.”

 

- - - -

 

Merit, the orangescale tough-woman Guardmaster of Spur, sat behind her solid stone desk, in her castle keep of an office. She waited for Erick to finish reading, a small smile on her lips.

Erick read the list she had given him over again, making sure he understood it all.

 

Plot

Desired result

Outcome

Master assassin from the Jade Circle, Greensoil Republic, parasites in food, extremely high threat

Death

Assassin executed, apprentice sent away

Mages from Wasteland Kingdoms, pushy, low threat

Theft of property/ideas

Shooed away

Warriors from Wasteland Kingdoms, violent, high threat

Theft of property/ideas

Two executions, three dismemberments

Common Mages from Greensoil Republic, Blueberry, no threat, but there were 15 of them.

Theft of property/ideas

Shooed away

Archmages from Greensoil Republic, Tower Academy, extremely high possible threat, but no overt actions taken

Theft of property/ideas

Unresolved

Clerics of Atunir from Greensoil Republic, high possible threat, but not a real threat

Theft of property/ideas

Erick gives away his plants

Knife guy from Kal’Duresh, no threat

Death

Sent packing

Big business from Portal, wants Erick to move there, medium threat

Coercion

Unresolved

Big business from Kendry, wants Erick to move there, medium threat

Coercion

Unresolved

 

Merit said, “Your face seems to be saying that you see this as a problem; that you see yourself as a problem. Am I reading that correctly, Erick?”

Erick slapped the paper down on her desk. “Yes! What the hell! This is crazy! Death and coercion! Parasites?! What’s this about parasites?! Does [Cleanse] not work— Of course [Cleanse] doesn’t work on parasites. Fuck!”

Merit smirked, saying, “We have crazy powerful adventurers come through Spur all the time. If we couldn’t defend against these minor threats, then we don’t deserve to call ourselves guards.” She lost her smile. “Those spiders, though. That was rough. I’d like to say that there was some inadequacies we could fix, but the simple truth is that they entered and exited Spur in less than 10 minutes. It’s hard to defend against attacks like that and the Shades have been working against us for hundreds of years. All the people you see on that list, though? The only one that almost got through was the assassin, but Jane saw the strangeness in your foods and that whole situation sort of gained momentum very fast. We had that guy's head in under twenty minutes.”

“… Jane saw...” Erick’s voice failed him.

Have you tried learning a solid [Ward] yet?” Merit asked. “Anti-teleporation [Ward]s are a double edged sword, but something you might consider researching. Defense of people or places is such a dense topic; we could spend months discussing all the necessary spells or enchantments to secure a home. You can never have enough defenses.” She said, “As far as personal defenses: I’ve heard about your Handy Aura; that’s rather good of a start. Someone could shut you down with a large and powerful enough [Dispelling Aura], though they’d have to eat through all the magical effects on you, too, so with a large enough [Personal Ward] on yourself, dispelling your Handy Aura would be kinda difficult. That’s a whole other conversation, though. We’d have to talk about direct layering of magic and a whole host of other topics. An edge case, for sure. Most assassins would just try to kill you when you were unaware and unprepared; some 2500 point critical attack. No need to bother with dispelling.”

Erick went silent.

Merit smiled. “Am I going too fast for you?”

Erick went back to the paper. “What’s this coercion about? From Portal and Kendry?”

Bribes with money and status and blah blah blah blah.” Merit said, “All rather standard business stuff. Rather boring. They want you to move to their cities, to either destroy Spur’s new prosperity, or to make themselves prosperous. Probably a mix of both.”

And all this theft?”

You don’t write anything down!” Merit laughed. “That’s the best part. They try to steal stuff that isn’t there. It’s hilarious, really.” She added, “Oh. But some clippings of your plants are missing. We’re good at defending a target, but not that good. Fast attacks on a non-primary target, and all that. And your plants are right out there in the open. And you give them away, too. So. We stopped trying to defend those days ago. Usually we wouldn’t stop; the principle of the thing, you know? But resources and patience are not unlimited. We just try to catch them after they’re done, now, which is easy enough. Then we beat ‘em up a bit or whatever the situation warrants.”

“… and the executions?”

The Northern Wasteland Kingdoms Warriors. They’re the most violent of the bunch, too. They were going to kidnap you and torture you for information. So yeah. Execution for two. Dismemberment and banishment for the other three. They cooould talk to a priest back home to grow those arms back. But!” She sarcastically said, “Oh wait! They can’t because they don’t like the Script! Sucks to be those assholes.” She laughed.

“… and this Tower Academy… stuff? Unresolved?”

Merit exclaimed, “As far as we could tell, your sparring friend, Kiri Flamecrash, is not a real spy. Color me surprised! I lost a bet, with that one.” She explained, “But Kiri does have ties to Tower Academy, and somehow, some way, Tower Academy got notice that Kiri, one of their failed graduates, was sparring with the creator of Particle Magic. Long story to relevant information: Tower Academy wants Kiri to grill you for all the information you have; she doesn’t want to. They never graduated her for some reason, politics, as far as I could gather, but they’re willing to graduate her with top honors if she performs to their specifications.”

“… Is she in trouble?”

And you still think of others before yourself.” Merit smiled. “It’s a great attitude to have and I would applaud you for it, if you weren’t the focus of everyone’s attention. Shouldn’t you be concentrating more on the fact that aaaall these people want something that you cannot, or should not, give them?”

Can you give me a basic run down of the situation, and tell me where Kiri is right now? I’d like to solve this problem, both from my end, and her end.”

Merit leaned back in her chair, smiling. She said, “It’s like this…”

 

- - - -

 

Erick stood in front of an apartment building on the lower east side of Spur, several streets removed from the main thoroughfares of the city. Erick wasn’t alone on the street —Poi was there, as always— but Erick was the only one standing in the middle of the mostly-empty road, looking at the apartment building, deciding how he wanted to do this. The four-story multi-apartment buildings here were built in the solid stone style prevalent throughout most of Spur, meant to support people who were staying in Spur for months or more, as opposed to the day and weekly rentals of the hotels that surrounded most of the Adventurer’s District. There were also quite a few eateries and restaurants around here, and though Erick smelled fries nearby, he didn’t come here to explore a new part of Spur. He came here to talk to Kiri.

He didn’t know where to start, though, and there was the problem of the ambush waiting for him on the second floor.

So it was very convenient that Kiri walked out of the front archway of her apartment building.

Probably too convenient, but it jived with what Merit had told Erick.

Kiri stopped. She stared at Erick. She was wearing her normal adventuring gear, with most of it cloth and some of it leather, tied over that cloth. She looked nervous, like someone was after her. According to Merit, Erick’s guess was not far from the truth.

Erick said, “Hello, Kiri Flamecrash. It’s my understanding that you’re in some trouble right now. I would like to offer my assistance.”

Kiri almost broke into a smile and started to say something, but her words cut. She seemed to curl in on herself. Tears edged her vision. She turned away. She rushed back into her the apartment building.

Well I’m not following her, so that’s that,” Erick turned to the various [Scry] eyes on the street. He pointed over to the eatery that smelled like fries. “I am going in there, for about an hour. Come talk to me. I don’t bite.” He walked over to the eatery and went inside.

He had brunch. It was pretty good. The place sliced their fries into discs and served them topped with meat, gravy, and cheese; almost like poutine. Several [Scry] orbs flitted about here and there during the meal, but no people walked in; no one joined Erick for brunch. Erick was the only patron in the restaurant, which seemed to be more than enough for the proprietors of the establishment. The husband and wife, the Cook and the Face, fussed over Erick’s dining experience, making sure he had plenty of water and large portions and even a few of their dessert items that they’d been working on, for free. Erick was still going to pay for the meal and extras, of course, but they insisted on showing off their potato items, and Erick let them. Poi even had some food, too, which was nice.

At the end of an hour and a half, Erick paid 15 gold for the meal and the service, which was 3 times the actual cost of his dining experience. He even fixed up some of their stone tables and wooden chairs, then leveled the stone floor at their request.

And then he was back out on the street, in front of Kiri’s apartment.

He started popping [Scry] orbs, and then completely avoided the front door to the apartments by flying up to the third floor balcony of Kiri’s apartment building. Poi followed. Erick landed on the balcony, and knocked on the glass sliding door. Kiri was on her bed, crying, but at Erick’s knock and sudden appearance, she launched to her feet, prepared for anything. Erick smiled. He had seen Kiri with this sudden determination in her eyes many times before; whenever he managed to knock her to the arena sands, in fact. He didn't win their spars often, but it did happen.

Kiri walked over to the glass door and opened it up, saying, “So you know.”

Not all, but most. Is your family safe?”

Kiri cry-laughed, “Not all, but most!”

Where are they?”

This time, Kiri laughed without crying. “They’re not going to show now that you’ve avoided their main trap downstairs. You’re the only archmage I’ve ever seen so willing to put yourself out there. I suppose that makes sense, since you’re not really an archmage.”

Erick smiled. “But the title does help.”

The air glittered teal—

Kiri looked toward the glitter, disbelieving. “Or maybe they will show. Huh.”

Erick knew this spell. He had seen it before when the Headmaster spoke to him.

teal light resolved into a viewing pane. On the other side was an older man with long, dark hair and pale white skin, wearing a grey robe and holding a straight wooden staff, standing in a grey stone room. A clear, two foot diameter orb was at the bottom of the viewing pane, hiding some of the man.

Utter disgust and contempt filled Kiri’s greenscale visage. She didn’t look like she could speak without saying something angry and hateful. She kept her mouth shut.

Erick said, “Hello, stranger.”

I am Archmage Quel, Master of the Tower. Simply put, we need you to give another lecture at the Tower, regarding any topics at all you chose to discuss. For your time, we will provide ample monetary compensation, as well as the best accommodations in the world. The Tower does not lack for money, or power, Archmage Flatt.”

Erick instantly answered, "Thank you for your generosity, but I will have to pass. I will not be doing any more lectures, for you, or anyone else. Not only do I already have responsibilities here, but you have your hints; the rest will come with exploration and experimentation.”

Is this offer the same for everyone?”

Yes.”

Is there a way to change your mind?”

No peaceful ways, and I would prefer to remain peaceful.”

We would prefer this to remain peaceful as well.” Quel said, “But we do have agents with which to dispense violence. What if we were to provide assistance against a mutual enemy? Would this change your mind?”

Erick almost flew off the handle, but he reoriented. Quel seemed desperate, and trying not to show that desperation. He spoke eloquently, and calmly, but exceedingly direct. Kiri was better at sussing out secrets than this man, and this man was the one who was talking to him? Either he really was high up, and truly desperate. Or… Erick didn’t know what the other options would be. Too many to even guess at, for sure.

Erick was probably way out of his depth; all this man did was a calculated act. But of the names Merit had given Erick of the people in town who were forcing Kiri’s hand, none of them were Archmage Quel, Master of the Tower.

Erick asked, “Aren’t the Shades your enemies, too?”

No.” Quel said, “Simply put, your monsters are in the middle of a distant part of the world, surrounded by uninhabitable land, where adventurers play enough games of life and death with the Dark Dragon’s head priests that they have no reason to seek out more entertainment.” Quel seemed to break a bit, like his patience was gone. He said, “And we have enough problems in our own over here. It’s wyrm season and the Dead Lords are using new Particle spells to annihilate villages and animate armies from the fallen. They have rolled across Odaali as of two hours ago and now threaten the Central Kingdoms.”

Erick was completely out of his depth. He usually was, and he usually knew that he was, but this was something else entirely. Dead Lords? Worm season? Particle magics turned upon people?

Quel spoke, “Archmage Flatt. This is not me asking for power for power’s sake, but to overcome new spells that we have seen on the battlefield. New spells which have just killed a Kingdom City in a matter of hours.”

He looked to Kiri.

Kiri’s green scaled face was a shade lighter; sea foam green. She spat, “Odaali could never fall!”

Shut up, girl. This is a conversation between Archmages.”

Kiri went silent, anger writ large across her face.

Erick looked to Poi.

Poi said, “Sources say this could be true. We already knew about some new trouble with the Dead Lords, but for one of their major cities to fall since this morning seems a bit of a stretch. Wait…” Poi blanched. “It might be true— Yes. Odaali has fallen. People are still evacuating. The dead are rising and killing those who still remain.”

Kiri gasped.

Quel declared, “I would not lie about the deaths of three hundred thousand people.”

Erick succeeded in holding himself together, mainly because he had never heard of Odaali or the Dead Lords and their undead hordes; this was like hearing about a war crimes in another part of the world. Heartbreaking, but hard to fathom, hard to consider real.

Erick turned to Quel. “I would like to help in this specific scenario. Please explain your what you were trying to accomplish with Kiri, and then explain your problem with these Dead Lords. And if you’re lying and this is some sort of elaborate ruse—

I am not lying. The original plan was for Kiri to coerce information however she could, and then we would grant her her diploma and Tower Certification. There were threats made about her family, but they were false; the only damage done would have been financial.”

Quel waited. He was looking at Kiri.

Erick turned to Kiri.

Kiri said, “Yes. I… I was a spy. I’m sorry, Erick.”

That’s not what I’m looking at you for. Do you believe him?”

Kiri paused. She looked up at Quel. Quel, for his part, didn’t look mollified or chastised or anything; he was secure in the fact that he believed he was working for the greater good. Which, if what he was saying was true, then he was working for the greater good.

Kiri said, “I believe him about Odaali.

Erick turned to Quel. “So about these Lords and their new spell?”

It was some sort of invisible, scentless atmospheric spell. Two days ago, people were dying in cellars and no one knew why. This morning, the main attack started and ended in a matter of three hours. An entire city choked in the open air. Thousands of HP and personal [Ward]s ripped away in a matter of seconds. Healing did nothing. Dispelling did nothing. Many people realized it was a ‘dead air’ attack, and were smart enough to use [Cleanse], but it only worked as an aura. The Dead Lords figured out a way to produce dead air on a level never before seen, and a Kingdom City died for it. It has to be a particle spell.” Quel said, “This is your fault, Archmage. Help us fix this before another city falls.”

Erick was not ready for something like this to be laid at his feet, as his fault. But he would try to help, anyway. Erick had a suspicion about what had happened, but he had to be sure before he gave away another secret, especially one that lent so well to a different sort of city killing; one that involved oxygen and lots and lots of fire.

What is ‘dead air’ to you?”

Quel answered, “The air you breath out. You have absorbed all life from it and thus what comes out is dead air. Dead air has been a goal of the Halls of the Dead for a long time, because it kills so well. They’ve never been able to accomplish this goal until Particle Magic came into being.”

And you’re sure they used dead air? They didn’t lace the air with something toxic?”

Quell looked off screen. He turned back to Erick. “There are so many various delicate plants all around the city in hot houses and private gardens that widespread toxicity would have killed something. We know how dead air kills, because people encounter it in the Underworld now and then. This was for sure a dead air attack. They found a way to create it on demand.”

Was Odaali in a valley?”

Quel’s face turned a shade of red. “Was! Was!” He calmed. “No. Odaali was not in a valley.”

Exasperated, Erick asked, “What do you want me to do, Quel? I know nothing of undead! I don’t know how to help you with that.”

Give me something! Anything!”

Okay. This is off the top of my head. Cities in valleys are vulnerable to this sort of attack, because dead air is heavier than normal air. Watch out for cities in valleys going forward.” Erick paused. He said, “Wait! They must have used the city walls against the city. Does Odaali have high city walls?”

Yes.” Quel blanched. “Some of the largest and most beautiful walls in the Republic.”

Erick said, “Particle spells don’t move past [Ward]s, so watch out for someone putting up [Weather Ward]s on the openings to your city walls to create an artificial low spot. I have no idea how they managed to make this work on an entire city, all at once. As far as I know I’m the only one who has been able to make a SLR Particle spell. Have you heard different?”

Quel looked to the side, then back at Erick. “No other spells larger than Medium sized have been created. Everything Large and above seems locked behind Particle Mage.” He said, “This is helpful, please continue. Theorize, if you must.”

Erick said, “If this truly was a dead air attack, then they would have had to build and maintain the dead air over several days, or… I’m not sure. Somewhere nearby there had to have been a… An opening to the Underworld, or maybe an underground… somewhere they could store a city’s worth of dead air, to be released all at once, and then there would have to be a path to the city… which would be easy enough to achieve with some clever wardwork. They would need to have enough dead air to fill the city 2 to 3 times over, just to account for the wind pushing away the top layer of dead air. Was there any wind there, today?”

Quel frowned. “There was not. Today was unusually still. And the Underworld in Odaali were sealed many centuries ago. If they were using some sort of underground base, someone would have known. This is helpful, but I think it is a dead end.”

Erick thought.

Plants can be magical, right?”

Quel frowned. “No. They can be monstrous, which is slightly different from what I think you’re thinking, but we would have seen those because monstrous plants..." Quel went silent. He frowned. He asked, "Why plants?”

Erick said, “It could be possible that they adjusted a plant to produce the dead air. Something innocuous and widespread, that would eat up all the good air and give off dead air. They could have planted it in lots of places, and then kept it alive with [Growth Aura]s, or something. When you explore the city, or… Sorry. Can’t do that. Undead hordes, right. When you think they might attack somewhere else, if you have a natural flame burning and the flame goes out, you’ll know you’re under dead air. But, you probably already know that if you know about pockets of this stuff in the Underworld. Smaller animals will die first— There weren’t any other animals left alive in Odaali, were there?”

Quel looked to the side. He looked back to Erick. “We cannot check for sure, but some of the survivors who have Underworld experience managed to survive this attack and save others, and some report that their cats or their birds died first… Yes. One woman says she knew something was wrong when her birds died first, and it reminded her of her time in the Underworld. Exactly like that. No strange smells. No visible change in the air.”

Can I speak to a survivor?”

Yes. Hold on.”

Seconds passed. Something was happening on Quel’s end of the viewing screen.

A grey metal human-shaped wrought was guided into view by a human woman, gently holding the wrought’s hand. The wrought was human-shaped in only the most general way; he was blobby around the edges, his hands were not fully formed. Quel took one step to the left, as the wrought was positioned on the right. The woman whispered to the wrought.

The wrought looked around the room. He gurgled, “Hello? Who are you?”

The wrought was obviously deeply broken.

His minder said, “Listen, Vin, this man will ask you some questions, okay? Try to answer them.”

I don’t think I can be Vin anymore.” The wrought turned away from the woman. “Vin is gone.”

Vin is here for a while longer.” The woman held Vin’s forearm tight as a tear rolled down her face. “Please.”

The grey man stiffened a bit, his edges came together. He turned to Erick, and asked, “What do you want, Archmage?”

Erick tried to make this fast, “Where were you when the attack began?”

The wrought drooped, saying, “Everyone was talking about how people down in cellars kept turning up mysteriously dead, no wounds, no poisons… So I was tasked with grabbing the kegs from storage in the cellar. The sun had yet to rise. We were about to open shop. I heard a thump upstairs. Then a scream. But not very loud. When I got up there… They were dead. I went out on the streets and the fishmonger was dead. Someone upstairs screamed. But… Then they were dead, too. The people in the towers lasted the longest, I think. They were throwing fireballs out against… someone… But the fireballs faded before they could hit... the skeletal...” The man looked around the room; his face was melting. He asked the woman holding his arm, “Who are you?”

Erick said, “That’s enough.”

The woman, now openly weeping, took the wrought away.

Erick said, “Most plants naturally turn dead air into live air. But at night some of them go the other way, turning live air into dead air. That’s why my first thought was to check the plants in Odaali. Some of them might be monstrous, or maybe they’ve been super charged with [Grow]. I don’t really know enough to speculate more on that matter.”

We can’t check because of the necromancers—” Quel paused.

Erick waited.

Quel said, “We’re getting confirmation of a Kill and Exterminate Quest from Atunir among some of the survivors of the attack. The plant is called Daydropper. You might get a notification—”

A blue box appeared.

 

Atunir has identified a global danger to Veird!

Kill and Exterminate!

Arrox Geller of the Halls of the Dead,

Parox Geller of the Halls of the Dead,

Denutha Odaari of the Halls of the Dead,

and their creation:

the monstrous Daydropper Vine.

Fully grown, the Daydropper transforms living air into dead air at an unprecedented rate.

Reward: 10 ability points, to each of the 1000 people who most contribute to completion of this Quest!

 

Quel waited while Erick read.

Erick said, “Two Gellers and an Odaari, and their creation: the Daydropper Vine. Okay.” Erick tried to take that all in. He said, “I suggest you watch out for people seeding this somewhere else and [Ward]ing in… a city. Or a town. Or… If it's a plant casting a spell? You… You probably know more about this than I. This is a bad one, isn’t it?”

Quel seemed to relax a fraction. He breathed out, and said, “Yes. It’s bad. A global danger. But those who pursue this Quest will have Script guidance leading them to every plant and all three people. This is better than we could have hoped for. The Halls of the Dead might have killed themselves with this action.” Quel laughed. “Such is the fate of necromancers. Thank you, Archmage Flatt.” He turned to Kiri. “Congratulations on graduation.”

The viewing pane blinked to black then cracked teal, then fractured, then suddenly disintegrated to glittering, vanishing teal light.

Erick looked to Kiri. Kiri was a quick step from anger to furious violence, because two men were standing in the now-open door to Kiri’s apartment. Erick didn’t know either of them; they looked perfectly nondescript. But Kiri knew them. When the fuck did they show up?

Kiri yelled, “Get the fuck out of my apartment!”

They didn’t move. They just bowed to Erick, then dropped a scroll on the ground and blipped away, one in a spattering of grey, the other in a glittering of orange. The scroll had a large, grey wax seal, with a grey ribbon pressed into the wax. It looked fancy. Kiri rushed over to the scroll and stomped on it with her feet, cursing about blood money and dirty deeds.

Poi looked perfectly poised the whole time, though his hands were slightly tense, and his eyes were super focused. He said, “I would appreciate you keeping slightly more aware of your surroundings, sir. We should go now.”

Erick said, “Yeah. Okay. Just… Kiri.”

Kiri froze, then turned to face Erick.

Erick said to Kiri, “I’m sorry you were put in this position because of me.”

Kiri looked at him, then nodded. “I’m sorry, too.”

Erick left the way he came; flying out of the balcony, back down to the street. Poi followed close behind.

 

- - - -

 

Erick stared at the ceiling of his bedroom for thirty minutes, thinking, mourning. He couldn’t mourn for long, though. He had to go to the farms; work didn't stop because he was feeling sad.

He got up and went downstairs. Poi was reading a book by the window.

Erick asked, “Has anything else happened with Odaali?”

Yes.” Poi put down his book. “Archmage Quel spoke in hyperbole. The battle for Odaali is still ongoing, though at least 200,000 people are dead. The Halls of the Dead are building their forces inside the captured Kingdom City, while the dead air is now pouring out of the city and into the surrounding countryside. Many surrounding villages have perished, but many more survived. Now that people know about the plant, they are spotting it everywhere. The immature vine is green with a light purple underside to its plain leaves. The mature vine is completely plain, but found surrounded by deep purple droppings; the purple underside is actually condensed dead air. The adult plant gathers this resource all the time, but continually activates and drops it during the day, like flaked ash. The plant also defends itself against fire by bursting dead air when flames get near, killing most fire; especially the magical fire from [Prestidigitation] or Mana Altering. But if fire is not used, it does nothing to defend itself. This is why no one noticed a monstrous plant growing all around their kingdom.

But the battle itself is still ongoing. In a rare showing, many kingdoms in the Republic are joining the fight. Most suspect this is because of the reward from the Kill and Exterminate Quest. The Halls of the Dead are attacking multiple locations now, all throughout the Odaali Kingdom. It seems they’ve seeded Daydroppers far and wide. Attacks like this usually take years of planning, though. They were ill prepared for your discovery of the problem so quickly.”

Erick sunk down into the chair across the table from Poi. “I guess it takes recognition of a dangerous plant before the quest comes down from on high?”

Yes.”

Erick asked, “Is this my fault?”

No.” Poi said, “We don’t blame the gods for giving us [Force Beam]—”

The Wasteland Kingdoms do. Without the Script, you wouldn’t have [Force Beam], you wouldn’t have [Grow]. You wouldn’t have Shades.”

We also wouldn’t have [Cleanse], or [Mend], or even Veird itself. The Sundering would have ended this world. These are the compromises we make in life.”

Erick sat in silence, thinking.

He said, “Don’t blame the bomb, blame the bomber.”

Exactly, sir.”

“… Am I the bomber?”

Poi stared at Erick. “No, sir. You are not.”

Erick gave a sad smile. “Time to go back to the farms.”

 

- - - -

 

People on the streets seemed normal enough, but as Erick got closer to the farms, something was vastly different; no one was preparing for a harvest. Fields that should have held people, were empty. Carts were abandoned by roads. Fields had yet to be tilled. Valok was nowhere to be seen, either; he was usually present for the start of a rain, but Erick didn't see him anywhere.

 

- - - -

 

Kiri was in the temple, waiting for Erick.

She said, “Are you looking for a secretary? I want to make Spur my home, and I want to work for you, and you’re losing way too much money and you’re not defended enough —no offense meant to the Army— and, quite frankly, you’re not god damned angry enough, Erick. It sickens me.”

Erick frowned. “That’s a heck of a sales pitch, Kiri.”

I’ll also kick your ass in the arena any time you want.”

I’d want to laugh at that, Kiri, but I just can’t.”

Odaali falling is a massive tragedy, and being sad about it is fine, but… Quel should have made you angry. That utter asshole— FUCK.” Kiri tried to calm. “He just… That shtick with the wrought might have been real, but the woman crying with him? That was completely fake. In a perfectly 'Quel-move', he used tragedy for his own gain.”

Erick suddenly paled.

Kiri ranted, “Quel didn’t lie about Odaali. He exaggerated, sure. Exaggerates enough that it’s a lie. All of that whole talk was theater and drama to get you to do exactly what he wanted. And you did. Thank the gods and demons he wanted something good for the rest of us, this time.” Kiri said, “The point is, is that… Is that I have [Sense Intent], and yes! It’s mind magic and it’s unregistered, but it tells me that you’re a good person, who Quel will attempt to contact you again with slightly better offers and you’re going to fall for one and I would like to be there to stop that from happening. I hate the fucking guy. And you should, too!”

Erick had a lot of suddenly dark thoughts about Quel, too, but those could wait for another day.

What do you want, Kiri?”

I want to be a Particle Mage; it’s okay if I have to wait a year for the class to join the Script or if I have to pick up all the rads you leave lying in the desert. Watching you is like watching the Tower mages four years ago, before I knew them for who they are. You’re the kind of mage I thought I was learning from; the kind of mage I want to be. There’s a lot more danger in this world than just Shades. If there were more of you running around, there would never be another wyrm season. You would have also been a stopping block that the Halls of the Dead would have had to attack first, before they could enact their plan, because daily [Withering]s in any city would have stopped that plot before it could reach critical mass.” She looked to Spur, and said, “And you need to start daily [Withering]s here in Spur, now. Today would be good.”

There was a lot correct about what she was saying.

Erick asked, “Threat assessment, Poi?”

Low. Merit cleared her of actual threat a week ago. [Sense Intent] is minimal mind magic. And I agree with her assessment of daily [Withering]s, though her value as a secretary or anything else is yet to be determined. I suggest you ask her to apply to the Army, though. That way she is in the command structure and the Army will pay her wages and investigate her background for you.”

If that’s what this takes, I will do that!” Kiri said. “I can get that done today.”

Erick said, “You realize, Kiri, that people do try to kill me. Rather more than I thought they would try, too.”

I am capable of defending myself, and you, from many forms of attack, but I can organize many other things besides defense. [Sense Intent] is very good for determining if someone intends harm.” Kiri added, “And you still need more people on your side.”

Erick took a moment to think. He liked Kiri; she was driven, she was powerful, she knew a lot more about the world than he. But…

If it didn’t work out, for some reason, it wouldn’t be because Erick had denied a young woman an opportunity she so desperately desired.

As soon as you get approved for Spur’s Army, then you’re hired. I guess?—“

Kiri grinned tight, vibrating a tiny bit, nodding with contained joy.

“—Not sure how that works, but we can make it work.” Erick asked, “And tell me about this worm season. The new farmers have complained about them, too. Eating farmhands, and such.”

Kiri smiled, saying, “Wyrms are monsterized dragons.”

Erick frowned. “I thought you were talking about monster worms; the squiggly things like snakes who burrow and live in healthy soil. They’re all over the place, here in the farms. What do you call those?”

Poi said, “Okapahs”

Kiri frowned. “You learned Ecks with [Language Acquisition], right?”

Sometimes words get confused, and so do I.” Erick said, “Go apply to Spur’s Army.”

Kiri smiled wide and almost ran off, but Krakina and Apogough were walking up the path to the temple. Neither of them looked happy, but none of their anger seemed like it was pointed at Erick. At least not directly. Krakina frowned as she looked off to the side, into the air.

Apogough walked up the temple steps, saying, “No rain today. There’s been an attack in the Greensoil Republic and many of our dragonkin people are from there. Thankfully no humans on the farm, though; this would have already turned bloody.”

Krakina added, “The incani farmers from Outpost and near the Wastelands are cheering. Guards are trying to stop the riots before they start. Ain’t no day for peaceful rain!”

A pit of dread opened up in Erick’s stomach.

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