Chapter 43: The Home Field Advantage
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“Alright, grab everything you can carry, nobody says they’re gonna send us back here.” Garth said. “Raid the stockroom and the armory. Make sure you’ve all got a handaxe or machete, fifty feet of rope and enough food to last a couple days. An extra pair of undies would probably be well advised.”

“Jamal!” Garth shouted, attracting the young man’s attention from across the courtyard.

“Steal two of those big-ass cauldrons from the kitchens and bring ‘em back here!”

Jamal set off toward the kitchens, panting as sweat dripped from his forehead. Kid needed more exercise.

“Oh, gotta get Charlie!” Sandi exclaimed, hopping up and going back to retrieve her sundew from Garth’s room.

“What is that girl thinking?” Garth asked, shaking his head. He didn’t understand her fascination with the plant, but he was glad she liked it.

The First Earth Company of Beladia finished packing up about ten minutes before they had to leave under Garth’s direction, and he took that time to memorize all their names and faces. Before the world ended, he hadn’t been great with names and faces, but now…he even picked up people’s nicknames from snippets of disparate conversation going on around him, his Memory dutifully storing that information under each face.

Recalling information about someone wasn’t like looking at a screen with all their vitals written beneath it that he could leisurely scroll through, it was more like unfolding a tightly compressed rubber sheet. Whenever he thought of someone’s face, the information popped open, flooding his mind with a tidal wave of minutia.

“Alright everyone, pick up your bags, ten seconds.” Garth said, watching the number on the bottom of the letter count down. “John, Pat, cauldrons up.” The two biggest men with the highest strength picked their cauldrons up, wearing them on their backs like distended turtle shells. The heavy cast iron had massive ropes looped around the men’s shoulders.

The humans nervously checked their weapons and fiddled with their armor, each of them wishing they could be somewhere else.

“Aaand… showtime.”

The kaleidoscope of colors filled Garth’s vision.

Garth found himself staring at a dense jungle canopy. He did a quick check to make sure everyone was there, and indeed, they had all landed without harm smack in the middle of an alien jungle. He would have thought at least one person would have landed funny or twisted an ankle, but that wasn’t the case. How did they manage such accurate teleporting without anyone getting harmed? The first couple times Garth had tried the Teleport spell, he’d fallen out of the sky. His accuracy was getting better, but his range was still only a hundred feet or so, a far cry from the five hundred miles advertised, and he still had hiccups every now and then.

Maybe they sent some kind of scan of the terrain ahead, and arranged the people in a way that was most comfortable? He wondered how they did that. He had to figure out how they were fucking with him in order to counteract it. Maybe they had powerful artifacts that did it for them? It seemed more likely than a group of powerful white-robed wizards who could be put to better use nuking the site from orbit.

Maybe they used the drop of blood he’d used to fill out his Stat sheet. That makes a lot of sense, actually. Crap, get focused, gotta lead these people long enough to kill some bad guys. Possibly a lot of bad guys.

The jungle around them was a dense green forest with vines creeping up every surface. The very air felt like it was weighed down with water, making breathing a little difficult. The heat slipped past the jungle canopy that bathed them in shadow. In short, it was dark, hot, wet, and overgrown.

The trees looked like they were hundreds of years old, up to twenty feet across. Thick exposed roots with wet, slick surfaces made every step more difficult, just as likely to slip as to catch your ankle in a hole, perhaps both.

Sandi and Itet stared openmouthed at the sheer density of plant life around them. Garth didn’t know if it was an oversight by the people in charge, or if they had simply dismissed what he could do, but this truly was his home ground.

“What now, boss?” Jamal asked, glancing around the dark woods.

Thousands of plant’s voices whispered to him as he scanned the jungle. It was time to go to work.

“Stay here, lump up and keep a lookout for large predators. If this is anything like Earth, it’s gonna have some large land animals that like the taste of meat. Nobody wander off even to pee, I’m gonna find out where we are.”

Garth held his hand out, and guided the abundant mana in the environment to crawl up the nearest massive tree, weaving into a muscular system. Under his control, the tower-sized tree leaned a branch down, and Garth stepped up onto it, lifting himself high up into the air. The rest of the company gasped and backed away as he ascended.

One branch passed him off to another until he was at the top of the massive tree. With a little effort, it stretched to lift him above the rest of the canopy, bringing him into the hot light of the orange sun and giving him a clear view of the surroundings. They were on the side of a steep hill, and the entire terrain was covered in them, allowing Garth to only see a few miles in each direction before the rolling land cut off his vision. People could get lost in here, easy. No wonder the adventuring parties hadn’t found squat.

In the valley below them, he spotted the remains of the Outpost. It looked like someone had hit it with a blender. The walls that had seemed so indomitable back on Earth had been torn to shreds, and the city inside had been reduced to so much tinder.

There was a suspicious path carved into the trees just outside the city, about fifty feet wide, probably only visible from the sky.

With an effort of will, Garth cast the fly spell, wobbling off the tree and into the air to get a better view. It was a taxing spell to maintain, and he wasn’t good enough to devote a construct to it, yet. The last time he’d tried, a single gust had sent him tumbling through the air. He needed to master the art of keeping his balance in the air before the mental construct could be expected to do it for him.

How could time manipulation be easier than flying?

Just the way the new world works, I guess.

Still, you couldn’t beat rising up into the sky under your own power. The effort just made it that much more exhilarating. Garth felt a surge of freedom and excitement rise into his lungs, and he resisted the urge to shout for joy, looking down at the trees falling away beneath his feet. Garth wobbled in the air again and nearly fell. He reluctantly set his eyes forward. No more enjoying flying until he was better at it.

The outpost had been torn to pieces by what looked like cannonfire, with two foot wide holes bored through the solid rock before the entire wall had been smashed by some irresistible force. The trail leading out into the jungle was comprised of flattened trees leading toward the outpost, but the trail went cold only a few hundred feet in, as though whatever huge thing had needed that much space to maneuver had simply appeared in the jungle beside the outpost and vanished without a trace.

What could have done such a thing? Garth pictured a massive, fifty foot wide hwacha firing rocket propelled arrow after rocket propelled arrow, but the problem was, he didn’t see any rockets, no track marks. There was no sign of spent ammunition of any kind, just a shredded outpost and a huge swath of leveled trees.

What the hell did that? Could it have been a powerful magic user who drilled the holes in the wall before an army tore it down? But how could an army move that fas-

A shadow passed over the trees to Garth’s left, and he glanced over his shoulder. A giant raptor with a wingspan of twenty-five feet bore down on him, foot-long talons forming pitiless grasping claws.

“Ack!” Garth’s inexperience with Fly saved his life, as the sudden shock made him lose control of the spell and shoot downward. The talons cut through the air above him as Garth’s hands flailed, reflexively trying to find purchase.

Garth plowed through the top layer of stick thin branches before his shins caught a thick beam about twenty feet down, sending searing pain through his legs and spinning him violently without slowing him down one bit.

Protect the spine! He thought as he curled his arms over his head and tried his damndest to get the fly spell working again. The exposed roots of the ground were rapidly approaching when Garth got the spell running again and tried to pull up with everything he had. Only problem was, he was spinning so fast, up seemed relative.

He must have slowed his descent somewhat, because when he plowed into the woody floor of the jungle, he didn’t die on impact.

Garth hit the slanted edge of a trunk and tumbled down. The world spun violently around him and did its best to kick the shit out of him at the same time as his downward momentum was turned into forward momentum.

Finally, he came to a halt and untucked himself with a wheeze, gradually stretching his limbs out.

“Garth!” Sandi said, running up to him, her delicious mounds swaying above his face as she peered into his eyes. This seems familiar. “Are you okay?”

“Remember that thing I said about not wandering off because of predators?” he said, wincing as Sandi helped him to his feet. The rest of the company crowded around, expressing various amounts of concern, except Jamal, who seemed to think it was funny.

I guess it is a little funny.

“Well, I was right. Don’t wander off, there’s giant eagles above the trees, and if there are giant, man-eating eagles up there, god knows what’s under the canopy. Get used to peeing under supervision.”

Garth stood up straight and rubbed a bruised muscle.

“Okay, listen up, here’s the mission. There’s something attacking outposts in the jungle. It’s our job to find out what’s doing it and put a stop to it. The most recently attacked outpost is that way.” He said, pointing. Even with the discombobulation of falling from above the canopy, he was still able to tell what direction the outpost was in.

“We’re going to go over there and investigate, see if we can figure out which way the culprits went, but before we head out, I want to take the evening to get this group better organized.”

Garth organized them into five platoons of twenty five, arranged by class and stats. He made sure to get a good blend of classes in most of the five platoons. He put three older men and two lean women in charge of them. Each of them had put a lot of effort into procuring their own equipment on their own time, and was outfitted in a way that told Garth they were serious about surviving.

Once the squads were taken care of, he pulled the meager seven magic specialists aside and crammed the Fireball, Telekinesis, Force armor and Force shield spellbooks into their hands, instructing them to pass them round robin. The men and women with the spellslinger and Warrior classes received bows from Garth, made on the spot, while the Spellslingers also received Firebolt to supplement their attacks. Spellslingers were only average at the output of each individual spell, so Garth compensated by giving them a spell with a good damage to mana ratio. Their enhanced Senses would allow them to spam it like nobody’s business after enough practice.

They needed better guerilla tactics, So Garth decided to shape the Spellblades into rangers.

Garth taught the Forestwalk and Haste spells to the spellblades. Their higher intelligence was more suited to mental constructs that sustained buffing spells. Their physical specializations made them hardy and great for long distance travel. One of the side effects Garth had noticed about Forestwalk was the spell prevented the recipient from making much noise when walking through the woods, as the plants bend around you. With their boosted Speed, Endurance, Forestwalk, and Haste, they could reliably scout large distances relatively quietly, and run like hell if they came across something they couldn’t fight.

Garth didn’t have a speedometer, but Jamal looked like he was cruising along at about seventy-five miles an hour with Garth casting Haste and Forestwalk on him as a proof of concept.

Into one platoon in particular, Garth funneled twenty of the strength-based people who’d gotten Reinforcement evolution, awakened on the battlefield against the hobs.

According to them, it allowed them to reinforce their armor and weapons with their own Strength. They could make anything they were touching stronger and more resilient than it might otherwise be. It was a warrior’s most common evolution, much like Garth’s Mana Sight was the most common evolution for magic users.

It made sense to Garth, seeing as how after a certain level of Strength, steel would be as soft as swiss cheese, and people might as well bare knuckle brawl. As it was, Garth made them the shock troops. The Anvil that could pin down an enemy while wearing extra strong armor and wait for the Spellblades to hammer into the enemies backs with their speed.

I wonder if Alexander the Great ever had to work with only 125 people.

Once that was done, Garth sat down by the fire and pulled out the Heal spellbook he’d stolen. The sun was already down and he was exhausted, but some things needed to be done.

You have learned Heal! Proficiency 7%!

Spell Theory proficiency has reached 52%!

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