“Can I help you?” Garth asked, barely able to restrain his irritation.
“Ah, sorry, umm, sir.” She stammered, her eyes flitting about the room, looking at a bunch of things she wasn’t supposed to be looking at. “I didn’t mean to-“
Sir? Does she not know who I am? Garth glanced down at his grey-purple wrinkled skin. No, she does not. let’s see what we can do with that.
“You didn’t mean to what?” Garth demanded, deepening his voice and making it not-Garthy. “Did you trip, disassemble the laser cutter and secure it to the wall? Then I suppose you sneezed and programmed it to cut a wide cone, which is the only kind of door that would have moved in a four foot-thick wall!”
“I just, um…wanted to see what was on the other side.” She said quietly.
“Well, now you have,” Garth said.
If you little spores could produce a drug that depresses the part of the central nervous system that creates memories for the next say, twelve hours, that would be great.
summoning mana around him, Garth created a channel of air with amnesia-causing spores. Not full-blown retrograde amnesia, just preventing the limbic system from doing it’s job so great for a little while.
It was just as Garth was creating his vaporized rophypnol that Tad entered the room behind Caitlyn.
“Hey I heard some weird stuff going on, What’s…Whoah.” Tad’s loose jaw hung open as he rubbernecked around Garth’s most sensitive equipment.
Garth waved his hand, blasting Tad and Caitlyn in the face with the channel of drugged air. Now I have to move Tad’s body too and I’m weak as hell.
Cleaning this door up is going to be a pain in the ass, Garth thought as he fixed the Caitlyn problem. I mean, that’s at least a ton of hardwood right there, and if I ash it, I’ll have maybe five hundred pounds of fluffy white ash to deal with. Maybe I can make it grow legs and walk itself out. Or cut it into manageable chunks, make those grow legs and walk out the front door.
Garth had already moved on to cleanup mode when Caitlyn flinched and raised her hand. A gold bracelet on her wrist flared with light and a Force shield popped into place in front of her, turning the drug-laden wind away. Beside her, Tad drew a startled gasp before slumping to the ground.
Oh right, she can see mana.
“What did you just try to do to me?” She whispered, looking down at Tad’s collapsed form, her face missing that rosy hue Garth had gotten used to.
Garth strained to lace his pruny fingers together, using his connection to the dungeon to spin his chair to fully face her. It might have been a mistake, since he wasn’t wearing anything, but Caitlyn was already too alarmed for that to bother her.
“Well, Edward and I don’t like people rudely breaking into parts of the house that are clearly not meant to be accessed, but unlike him, I’m a generally nice guy. I’ll just make it so you don’t remember a moment of this, and you can go back to bed. If Edward finds out about this, he’ll probably kill you.”
“So,” Garth said, leaning forward in his chair. “Be a good girl and take a deep breath of the drugged air so we can move on.”
With a casual effort of will, Garth dismantled the bracelet with thin strands of Force. The shield flickered out of existence, and the drugged air caught her across the face.
Caitlyn’s eyes widened, but she clenched her jaw and tried to turn, her face slamming against the newly repaired hole in the wall. The redheaded girl stumbled silently backwards and turned to face him.
“I don’t want to.” She said, using up her precious air.
“I want to know.”
“Want to know what?” Garth asked, but the girl stayed silent, eyes on the mana in the air that was swirling around her.
Garth rolled his eyes and pushed the drugged air away from her, replacing it with clean, breathable air that wouldn’t roofie her the moment she inhaled.
Caitlyn took a deep breath.
“I want to know what this is. How it works, how its made, what its history is.” She pointed at the ritual circle, the Processing Plant, the Phylactery and its interface. “Things like this haven’t existed on Earth since before the fall of man.”
“Wrong about that,” he said with a smile.
“Then tell me if I’m wrong. I’ve spent my whole life listening to fairy tales, stories about the magical things the ancients could do. Glass towers that scraped against the sky, giant metal machines that flew in the sky, part golem metal police officers who protected the citizens of Detroit. Now the door to all the things I’ve dreamed of is sitting right in front of me. I have to take it.”
Garth cleared his throat.
“That last one didn’t actually happen. That was just a story.”
“Damn.” She lowered her voice, crestfallen. “What about the flying machines?”
“Yeah, those were real.” Garth shrugged.
A hint of a smile came back to her face.
“Well, if that’s all you’ve got to say…” Garth said, gathering the mana to put her to sleep.
“Wait!” Caitlyn squawked, pressing her back against the wall. “I won’t tell anyone, I promise, I just want to learn!”
God, I hate it when people beg. Since it usually works on me. Garth wasn’t the hardest hearted fellow in the world, especially when his victims had time to grovel. I suppose that’s why groveling exists.
“I promise, I’ll keep it a secret,” she sobbed, sliding down the wall.
Oh, goddamnit, now she’s crying. A lifetime of conditioning screamed in his ear to do anything to make a crying woman stop. Garth knew that was what was happening, but it didn’t make it any easier to ignore.
“Look, there’s a lot of people out there who can literally read minds, and I would bet anything some of them are in this Inquisition you’re so afraid of, so your promise to keep a secret doesn’t really hold water, does it?”
“I’ll do anything! I…I don’t even have to leave!” she said, her flecked green eyes upturned. “Just let me learn!”
Garth opened his mouth with a witty response, then closed it again. He rested his chin on his fist, considering the outcome.
That might work. Creative kidnapping. If this time period is anything like the middle ages, it might not be entirely off the table to legally buy a child from their parents. I could bribe her family to just…let me have her.
Garth glanced down at the slender redhead silently watching him deliberate.
Plus nobody says I have to keep her prisoner forever. After just a couple years, I think I’ll have enough power to allow her to leave without risking anything. And if the world finds out about my existence anywhere in that time, I could let her go, damage done.
Like a foreign exchange student. That you buy from her parents. Her parents, who are probably under the assumption that you’ll be raping her on a regular basis.
Oy, this is tricky.
“Hold on, I’m thinking.”
He could also use Operant Conditioning to make it more difficult for her to spill the beans, but woven through that thought was the temptation to be a general sleazeball and use it to train her according to his whims.
Man, I’m terrible, but I really, reeeeaally wanna do that. I could slowly open the door to a whole world of-
Behind Garth’s eyebrows, his superego went to war with his Wilson, while he struggled to find a compromise between the two. Garth knew that if he did curse her with the spell, there was every chance of Caitlyn losing her self-determination, becoming nothing more than a plaything, and that was bad.
On the other hand, if he didn’t do it, he would be constantly tempted to, and would probably wind up casting a version of the spell on her that was ill advised.
Best thing to do might be to carefully set up a set of rules, and then run them by her. maybe a contract she can rip up if it gets too weird.
Garth briefly recalled when he’d reverse engineered the Inner Sphere Postal Service’s targeting system, that allowed the mail to find someone anywhere in the multiverse with just a name.
Garth had taken a slice of mythic core and mana-sensitive ink to pull the enchantment to the surface of the paper and create an outline of its shape. Good times.
I could probably piggyback the spell onto a contract targeting her or something like that, so if she didn’t like where things were going, she could rip it up.
Not a bad compromise…That really just leaves the parents.
“Let me ask you a purely hypothetical question, Caitlyn.” Garth said.
She swallowed a lump in her throat and nodded. “...Okay.”
“In this day and age, how would I go about buying a girl from her parents? what’s the social conventions there?”
“Sometimes, talented children are adopted or married across families to bring them closer together. The Chairs of the two houses will negotiate terms, then the Patriarchs of each family will review and then ratify them.”
“That seems long and complicated,” Garth said. “Any way to speed that up?”
“In the case that a child’s value to their family is greatly diminished, such as in the case of death, dismemberment, brain damage, or any other condition that renders the child unable to perform their duties, the responsible party must pay the Patriarch a penalty and take responsibility for the child’s well-being.”
“Like, you broke it, you bought it?”
“I’m not sure what that means.”
Ugh, doesn’t that mean I’d still have to tell him that I caused irreparable harm to the guy’s cute daughter? I’m sure that’d go over well. Maybe I can shift the blame a little, and wow them at the same time… Garth’s plan once they got back started percolating.
“Follow up hypothetical question. Does ‘I’ll do anything’ include being stuck here for at least the next two years, and being subject to a rather invasive curse designed to modify your behavior and prevent you from speaking about my identity?”
She met his eye and took a deep breath.
“Excellent,” Garth said, rubbing his leathery hands together. “Let’s get started with the contract. Fetch me the paper from the corner over there, along with some of the scrap core outside.”
“Yes, I want it written down on paper, so you understand everything that I’ll be doing, and to define and limit the powers of the curse.”
“That sounds good, but what about Edward? Should I wake him?”
“I’m Edward.” Garth said.
“So you’re the nine hundred year old wizard? That makes sense.” She said, glancing at his withered, impotent form. “Is Edward just a puppet then? I’ve never seen any mana entering him.”
“Less talky, more fetchy.” Garth said, using telekinesis to swat her on the butt, opening the wall to the work room.
Caitlyn yelped and hustled out of the room.
I really do need to switch bodies. Garth thought as he inspected himself. He ached everywhere, even his organs, but he needed to stay in this body until he’d finished casting her Operant Conditioning. When he moved again, he’d take another huge step backward in power.
Garth glanced at the processing plant currently digesting the eleven goblin Heartstones. A tiny drip of liquid fell from the pipe, dropping down onto his Phylactery. The drop of liquid scintillated with the brilliant colors of the rainbow in the instant it hung in the air before spattering on the roots of his Phylactery.
The strange drop of liquid looked a bit like the odd pink, blue and yellow rainbow colors of an oil slick a moment before the tree absorbed it. The sight brought a smile to his face. I really need to let Mark, Mike, and Ike out to play tomorrow. See what happens.
At a certain point their exponential growth in numbers might overwhelm his ability to process the raw mana stones, but it would be an excellent problem to have.
If there was one thing Garth appreciated, it was labor-saving automation.
That’s what being a wizard is about.
“Okay, I understand the panic attack if I try to tell people who you are, but I don’t know who you are.” Caitlyn said, leafing through the long-winded NDA.
“It wouldn’t take you long.” Garth said, pointing over his shoulder at the Phylactery. “What do you see?”
“Purple men in egg-fruits?” she asked.
“And who do you know that is purple?”
“Garthspawn…” Her brows furrowed in confusion for a while, then her eyes widened. “Garth?”
“That wasn’t that hard.” Garth said. “Keep reading.”
“Yes. Keep reading.”
“The Dark Father of Sin.”
“People just call me that. My daughters were angels, I’m sure.”
Caitlyn was slowly backing away from him, eyes wide, breathing in short gasps.
“Oh come on, we made it this far. You were willing to trust a strange ancient entity whose identity was unclear with a free pass to alter your behavior, why are you making a big deal out of this now? I thought you wanted to know what really happened back then? Trust me, there’s no one on earth who remembers the before-times better than me.”
“You caused the fall of man.” She said quietly.
“You wiped out an entire city.”
“You carved an evil text into the backs of a thousand men.”
“What, like the Necronomicon?” Garth asked. “First of all, there were only five hundred men, and it wasn’t some evil ancient spellbook or something stupid like that. I had them write apology letters for attacking Clarkstown and then carved them into their backs. Standard stuff, really. I didn’t even skin them.”
“C’mon,” Garth said, exasperated at the typical fear response that had been driven into her by so many fairy tales that painted him as the devil. “We both know I could have forced you to forget about all this, and to be brutally honest, you’re not important enough for me to trick. This is me humoring your unbridled curiosity.”
Garth leaned forward. “Do you want to know everything that I know, or do you want to wake up tomorrow morning none the wiser? Choose.”
Caitlyn began reading the contract again. “What are major and minor positive and negative reinforcement?”
“Oh, you know, minor and major negative reinforcement are minor and major anxiety in response to a code phrase spoken by me, while positive reinforcement will allow the curse to stimulate the reward circuit in your brain, also to a code phrase. Don’t worry, I can’t actually see what you’re thinking or alter it in any way. We’re only concerned with behavioral psychology here. The minor positive reinforcement would be no different than say, getting patted in the head by your dad for doing a good job, or a hug from someone you like.”
“What about the major positive reinforcement.”
“Oh, I’ll probably barely use it,” Garth said dismissively.
“But what is it?” she persisted.
“Oh, it’s just a teensy, tiny,” Garth coughed into his hand, “Orgasm.”
Caitlyn’s brows climbed her forehead while her eyes narrowed, looking at him with a bit of disdain. “You really are a dirty old man, aren’t you?”
“Bah, judge me if you want, just keep reading the contract.”
Once Caitlyn read through the entire thing, she finally agreed to two years of house arrest and allowed him to cast Operant Conditioning on her after signing.
“I don’t feel any different?” she said once the spell took root inside her.
“Because I haven’t done anything.”
“I was half afraid you were going you were going to start toying with me the moment the spell took.” She let out a relieved sigh and brushed back her messy red locks.
“Pfft,” Garth scoffed. “You gotta use that shit slowly and sparingly. Especially since I’m not drugging you like headmaster Gloria.”
“Aaaanyway,” Garth said, changing the subject. “Can I borrow that pistol of yours?”
In an odd move, Caitlyn pulled up her nightgown, revealing her long, slender legs. Garth’s gaze unconsciously climbed up them until he spotted something leather and steel strapped to her leg.
“No way, you sleep with that thing?”
“It’s a dangerous world.” She said, handing the pistol strapped to her leg to him.
Wonder why she didn’t pull it on me. She was probably pretty close to it, though.
“I appreciate it,” Garth said the minor trigger as he received the gun, causing Caitlyn to smile dreamily for a moment before she frowned, brows furrowed.
“Was that a code phrase?” she asked, squinting at him suspiciously.
“Don’t know what you’re talking about,” Garth said, putting the barrel of the gun to his eyeball.
He pulled the trigger.