“So is it just me, or does it seem like Edward Bergstrom isn’t Edward Bergstrom?” Tad asked, putting his feet up on Ed’s coffee table while he waited for his experiments to bake.
“He can use magic.” Caitlyn said.
“Obviously. He hadn’t been subtle about it since we got here. Your smelter is literally made of wood. Half the shit here is.” He pointed at the voluptuous bartender who was watching them with inhuman stillness. “She’s made of wood.”
“Go look real close, she’s got a grain.”
Caitlyn went up to the bar, where Mrs. Banyan gently smiled and gave her hand to the young Mcdonnell to study.
“By Kolath, you’re right. What do you think he brought us here for? To use us in profane experiments? Eat our souls or something? Can I get a daiquiri?”
Ms Banyan started mixing the drink.
“Probably not. Seems like the accommodations wouldn’t need to be so fancy. Ooh, check this out.” He grabbed the coffee table and lifted the surface up, where it swung up and in on a series of hinges.
“Alicia, you don’t seem to be very surprised that your boyfriend is at the very least, a plant by the royal family, and more likely a rogue wizard.”
Alicia noticed Caitlyn flinch at Tad’s words, nearly tripping.
“I already knew,” Alicia said, smug in her intimate knowledge of the young man.
She took a drink of wine, using the opportunity to try weaving mana outside the mana-rich practice area. She smiled as she saw the tiny ripples she was able to make in the alcohol in front of her nose.
It’s coming along.
“Did you know he’s nine hundred years old?”
Alicia coughed, the wine spewing across the table.
“That’s a TeeVee.” Tad said as if it explained everything.
“What’s a TeeVee? I kinda just spaced it out when he was introducing the place. I thought it was some kind of mirror.” Caitlyn said.
“I don’t really know.” Tad shrugged. “I remember reading a brief mention of ‘watching TV’ in an ancient story I read once. The story was from before the fall of man.”
“You read books?” Alicia asked.
“Something wrong with that?” Tad shot back.
“Seems odd for a Williams.”
Tad snorted and turned back to the TeeVee.
“Maybe you have to do something to it.” Caitlyn said, stepping up to the black, shiny surface, running her fingers around the edges of the screen, frowning and poking it in various places.”
“Allow me,” Mrs. Banyan murmured, wiping up the spilled wine with a cloth before picking up a small black rectangle from the table and pointing it toward the table.
An instant later the TeeVee flared up with light and the sound of an entire orchestra blasted out of nowhere.
Caitlyn squawked and toppled backwards, landing in a tangle of limbs against the coffee table, making the entire thing buck, spilling Tad’s drink into his lap. Not wasting a second, she drew her pistol and fired three shots into the screen where a metal man was standing, with a similar metal weapon.
Three steel ball bearings studded the screen, but rather than pin down the images like it should have, they simply kept flowing without a care.
Above him was an odd word: Robocop.
“Please, children,” Mrs. Banyan said, cleaning up the second spilled drink. “There’s nothing in this place that can hurt you.”
“I could stick my hand in the smelter.” Tad said.
“There’s nothing in here that can hurt you as long as you’re not an idiot.” She replied, walking up to the TeeVee and tugging the steel balls out by hand before giving them back to Caitlyn.
In seconds, the dents in the TeeVee healed, restoring the complete picture again, showing a melting man get smashed by some kind of box on wheels.
“It’s interesting all right, but it keeps repeating.”
“You’re still on the dvd menu.” Mrs. Banyan sighed as she pointed the little black box again. A moment later the screen went black, then a strange logo appeared. What followed was a strange, disorienting play, where the audience shifted every five seconds or so, making Alicia a little sick to her stomach.
“This doesn’t prove he’s nine hundred years old,” Alicia said, stubbornly trying to hold on to the image of the young man she’d built in her mind.
“He said he made these from his memory,” Tad said, eating a handful of popcorn. “Tell me where you can watch one of these, let alone…” he used the ‘remote’ to pull up the menu. “Six hundred and fifteen, including series. Anywhere except man’s golden age.”
Alicia put her hand on her forehead, her image of Edward shattered. She had considered the possibility that he might be older than he looked, back on the first field trip, but it had been maybe a dozen years or more.
Now she realized she’d been practically dry-humping an ancient fossil.
An ancient fossil with a nice body who can heal mortal wounds, survive tussles with legendary creatures, kill people without moving a muscle, and summon gold straight from the ground at his leisure.
Alicia took a deep breath and looked back up at the screen. I’m strangely comfortable with that. If anything, it tipped the scales further in his favor, giving her a framework for the boy’s inexplicable power and confidence.
One thing was for sure: Maggie didn’t know what she was getting into.
“Can you imagine all the things he knows?” Caitlyn said, wiggling in excitement. “I mean, I was stumbling through recreating the weapons of the ancient humans and he immediately knew what it was and had suggestions! He might know spells that don’t even exist anymore! He might know someone famous from the fall of man!”
Caitlyn gasped in the middle of her rant “He might have met the first Emperor while he was still just a man! Just think, he was around while legends walked the earth!”
“Might be one,” Tad said quietly into his drink, so low that Alicia almost didn’t make it out.
That’s a good point. There weren’t any immortal people wandering around nowadays whose biographies included the words: didn’t do anything of note.
“Mrs. Banyan, who is Edward, really?” Alicia asked.
“Edward Bergstrom is the seventeen year old bastard son of Oliver Bergstrom. He likes blueberry pie and sports and riding horses.” She said mechanically. “He most certainly isn’t an eight hundred and seventy-five year old wizard.” Mrs. Banyan gave a wink.
“No one?” Garth asked. “come one, there’s no rules, no limits, no reprecussions. Any way you can make me spill that one drop of blood. Give me your best shot.”
The young men were silent.
“I thought Paul brought me the most ambitious street urchins in the city, but I guess that doesn’t amount to much.”
The recruits in front of him bristled at the provocation, glaring at him. Ah, youth.
The largest young man, a good five inches taller than Garth stooped to pick up the dagger in front of him, testing its edge.
“It’ll break the skin.” Garth assured him. “Unless you’re afraid to be holding a real weapon?”
Tall Lad A charged Garth, holding the blade in stabbing position. Garth met the boy’s lunge with his own, wrapping his fingers behind the guard and slamming his shoulder into the other kid’s body with inhuman force.
He tumbled away from Garth, leaving the blade in Garth’s hand.
“What’s your name?” Garth asked, holding his hand out above the groaning boy.
“Greg,” he said, taking Garths hand and pulling himself to his feet.
“Greg, I appreciate your going first,” Garth said. “At the very least I know one of you’s got balls.” Garth took a Red Fern BOGO coupon out of his pocket and slapped it into the youth’s hand.
“Next?” Garth tossed the dagger back into the earth in front of them.
Another young man charged forward as soon as the dagger hit the ground, holding his left hand in front of him, and the dagger behind him, out of Garth’s reach.
So he’s aiming to use his left hand to poke a hole in my defence and hit me with a quick slice. Not a bad idea, especially trying to just get a nick. Let’s roll with it.
Garth raised his hand to block and the kid grabbed it, yanking Garth’s hand aside.
Garth let him.
A fraction of a second later he swung the knife forward. Garth grabbed the hand holding his wrist and used his superhuman strength to tug the kid’s arm in front of his own slash, effectively blocking it.
The recruit gave a cry of pain and fell backward, clutching his gushing arm.
Ooh, that looks serious…
“Mrs. Banyan, could you…thanks.” In a second, two Banyans had swept in to hold the boy still and bandage his wound.
“What’s your name, bleedy?”
“Juan,” he said through clenched teeth, his body shaking.
“That was a good idea, Juan, and decisive. I like that kind of initiative.”
He pulled out a laminated coupon and tucked it in the kid’s pocket. “Thirty percent off any refreshments offered at the bar for life, a great value.” He leaned forward and whispered “That includes the drugs.” He patted Juan’s chest and stood.
“Any more takers?” Garth asked.
“Kinda pointless, don’t you think?” one of the kids said, his arms crossed. “We can’t compete with a noble.”
“I’m glad you pointed that out, Givie McGiveuperson.” Garth said, motioning to Paul, who brought out a heavy steel Yoke.
“This, Paul tells me, Is a Yoke, often used to subdue nobility by making them no longer able to literally chew granite and shit out cement.”
“How do we know it’s real?” one asked.
“Good question.” Garth said. “Hold him down please.”
The three boys standing beside the boy held him still while Garth put the heavy collar over his shoulders.
The kid dropped to his knees, barely able to keep his head up.
“Whaddya think, does it work?”
“Cool.” Garth took the collar off and the boy gasped deeply, like he’d been too weak to breathe.
“Now I could wear this, but there’d be no more consolation coupons for attempting nightmare mode.” Garth said, fishing the four remaining coupons out of his pocket and flashing them to the young men in front of him. “Free Sunday Worship, Hump Day Specials, Flat twenty percent discount, and a Frequent Flier’s card.”
They stood, staring at him, when the shortest one raised his hand.
“I’ll give it a try,” He said, stepping forward.
“All right, show me what you got.” Garth said, rolling his shoulders.
Shorty took the curved blade and put both hands behind his back.
A moment later he lunged forward, aiming a punch at Garth’s nose. A bloody nose would count if it touched the grass, so that wasn’t acceptable. Garth easily blocked the strike, deflecting it with his palm while he waited for the trick.
I hope it’s a good one.
Shorty’s other hand whipped around, also empty, also aiming for Garth’s nose. Garth leaned his head out of the way of the punch and a moment later the kid splayed out his fingers, poking Garth in the eye with his pinkie finger.
“Gah,” Garth grunted, closing his eye.
In an instant, the kid whipped both hands behind his back and tore them forward again, aiming for Garth’s blurry right hand side.
There we go. Good trick.
Garth grunted and moved to block both hands, only to realize the kid’s hands were still empty.
“Now!” he shouted, clamping down on Garth’s awkwardly posed arms and dragging them bodily further to the right.
Another man swept in from the left, dagger in hand. He never had the knife at all, he gave it to someone else!
Damnit! Garth thought, tearing his arms out of the kid’s grip and intercepting the lunge with his hands. He was on the back foot, so there wasn’t much he could do but catch it.
Garth caught the man’s wrists with a triumphant grin. Just a little too slow kiddies. If he’d been moving before you shouted, he might’ve – Garth’s thoughts were interrupted by a sudden stabbing pain.
Garth tore the dagger out of the man’s hand and staggered backward.
Jutting from his chest and tickling his heart was a rather large switchblade.
“How’s that, ya bitch?” The short one said with a vicious grin. “Guess I’m the boss now.”
The other young men gave the kid sideways glances, murmuring amongst themselves. Sheath gripped her short sword tightly, watching Garth with wide eyes.
“Try harder.” Garth said, pushing his blood back inside with magic as he pulled out the knife. The blade was clean.
The length of steel left behind a dark, dry wound in his chest. “Went for a stab when you should’ve cut me, see?”
In front of the pale onlookers, Garth jammed a finger deep into the wound and wiggled it around. Garth pried the wound open a bit and showed them. “Nicked my heart a little though. That was a good try. Anyone else?”
Garth scanned the remaining recruits, who stared at him silently.
“Anybody at all?” Garth asked. “I’ll wear the Yoke.”
Garth fanned the laminated coupons in front of Fred. “Go ahead and pick two. You earned it, slugger.”