“You’re never going to let me live this down are you?” Caitlyn asked, her arms crossed.
“I don’t know what you mean,” Garth said as he adjusted the framed copy of Caitlyn’s deed of ownership, right next to the framed NDA she’d signed. “I just want to be proud of you.”
Garth adjusted the frame one more time, making sure it was perfectly level on the phylactery room’s rear wall.
Caitlyn cocked an eyebrow.
“Okay, I’m just excited. I’ve never owned an eighteen-year old redheaded girl named Caitlyn…with freckles before. Let the excitement run its course. I should be back to normal in half an hour or so.”
“You don’t own me. You’re just responsible for my actions and well-being.” She said.
“I’d like to direct your attention to paragraph three,” Garth said, underlining it with his finger. “In keeping with this responsibility, the undersigned has complete authority over the oversigned.”
Garth glanced back at her, waggling his eyebrows. “Eh, Eh?”
“You’ve got no license to resell, which you would if I were property, ergo, you don’t own me.” Caitlyn said with a smug smirk.
“Ah, shit.” Point set match.
“Oh well,” Garth shrugged. “It was a good buzz while it lasted. Apprentice! Put a bottle under that leaky faucet. Your Responsible Party demands it.”
Caitlyn shook her head and sighed, taking one of the clear glass bottles he’d bought from the Ravenleaf family and setting it at the end of a long wooden frame that held the bottle directly below his Processing Plant.
Drip,drop,drip…Overnight, the pace had gone from almost nothing to a slow, steady drip, as little heartstones dropped into the top of the giant pitcher every five minutes or so. In a couple weeks, Garth fully expected to be able to shower under the stuff.
In the meantime, he wanted to see if it was possible to use the resulting liquid as a substitute for heartstones. He couldn’t see himself experimenting on Caitlyn, and his new recruits were a bit too low on the totem pole to just be handing them stat upgrades, so like so many other things, he’d have to use his own body as a test subject.
Not like I don’t have a spare, Garth thought, motioning for Caitlyn to bring him the vial of liquid once it was about halfway full. It had no smell, but the visual was like an oil slick over water. Very strange stuff.
Here goes. Garth tilted his head back and drank the substance, eye screwed shut. Thankfully, it didn’t have a taste. Garth was expecting something tangy and bitter, or maybe lutefisk.
Anything but lutefisk.
Garth put his hand on the phylactery interface panel and dialed the stats into the hundreds category.
Hmm… .01 of a stat point across the board. It took about three minutes to fill that vial halfway…
Almost five points a day, not even considering the likely exponential growth of Mark’s output. Damn. Of course there’s a body’s absorption limit. I recall the one every four hours rule. Does that even apply here? This stuff is like pre-ground up baby food, made perfectly easy to digest right off the bat. Plus the sizes aren’t consistent.
If Garth were to monopolize the output, his stats would break into the hundreds in less than two weeks.
I don’t think my heart was ready for industrialized power-leveling. It’s one thing to mentally conceptualize exponential growth, and an entirely different one to experience it firsthand.
On the other hand, killing the son of a bitch who destroyed his life seemed that much closer.
It’s the little things.
Grass, could you have Mrs. Banyan come here, please?
Now the question was, did he hijack the stuff meant for his new bodies, or split it sparingly between the two?
Garth would probably bump up against the limit of his new body sooner rather than later. His first body had capped out at 85 intelligence as a journeyman phytomagus. A phytolich probably had higher limits, but they wouldn’t be infinite.
So the most important thing would be to raise my tier sometime in the next couple weeks… Garth glanced at the Amulet of Endeavor hanging on the wall. Beside it was the yellow heartstone of Tulesta the legendary spider.
Hmm… Class advancement.
I wonder what tier that horny guy who killed me was?
After a moment of pondering, Garth discovered a simple solution. All he had to do was reach the highest tier in existence. That should be plenty to kill the guy. No problemo.
Not to mention there are a few giants running around on Earth that have had eight hundred years to get pumped. Can’t really afford to let myself get ass-kicked by those people.
Garth wouldn’t be entirely comfortable on Earth until he made his previous heights look like child’s play.
Mrs. Banyan waved the wall at the back of the room open and strode through.
“What did you need, Garth?”
“See the stuff that’s dripping?” he said, pointing at the rainbow droplets falling down onto the roots of his lifeline. “Could you collect them into jars for the next two days?”
“Sure.” She said, grabbing one of Garth’s larger mason jars and putting it under the leak of heartstone juice.
“And try to keep it airtight once it’s full. Worst case, it’ll evaporate like crazy or solidify into a gem inside the jar. Well, if that happens, we’ll just have to change the way we store it.”
Thankfully Mrs. Banyan didn’t really have the ability to get bored. Well, maybe she did, but hundreds of other bodies were doing interesting things all the time, so she was never lacking for entertainment.
“How’s the training with the new recruits going?” Garth asked.
“They can taste blood,” she said with a smile.
“Excellent,” Garth said, picking up the fist-sized yellow heartstone. “We all need to get better before things get worse.” Garth studied the stone for a moment in his hand, which seemed to bend the light around it to some extent, making the stone appear just a bit smaller than it felt in his hand.
I don’t think I can swallow this.
Garth created a cot in the corner of the room and laid down, stone across his chest.
“What should I do?” Caitlyn asked as Garth closed his eyes.
“Read my notebook, practice spellwork, and help Banyan close the jars. I shouldn’t be out long.”
It had been three days since she’d last seen Edward, when he’d seen her off, helping Caitlyn get off the wagon before waving goodbye. Three days that he hadn’t attended the academy.
Alicia chewed on her pencil, glaring at the history book in front of her, a weathered drawing depicting the Founder’s rise to the heavens. It’s not like her legs were broken. She could have gotten off that wagon easily.
And then Edward didn’t show up to the Academy. It wasn’t like he had a busted hand too. Now both of them were off somewhere, doing something…without Alicia. She started doodling, not with any shape in mind, just pressing the pencil down, making thick black lines that nearly tore through the paper.
“Listen up, children.” The instructor said, interrupting their silent reading time. Alicia glanced up at the front of the classroom, where the headmaster stood. The aging blonde with the severe expression pulled out a notecard.
“I’ve come to inform you that Edward Bergstrom has been withdrawn from attendance by his family, as well as Caitlyn McDonnell, for injuries.”
It wasn’t uncommon for children to be withdrawn due to death or injury, what with the bloodthirsty games they played jockeying for position amongst their peers, but she knew for a fact that Edward wasn’t injured. She also knew that he was teaching Caitlyn magic separately from her.
For the last three days.
What the hell am I even doing here? She thought, glancing down at the rote memorization they expected of her. Everything had gotten significantly easier since she’d begun eating the heartstones.
What was the point of sitting in this chair bored to death for hours on end? She was almost done with her term at the academy, but if she waited the four months until the end of her enrollment, that would be four months for the fire-crotch to get ahead of her.
“Edward asked me to read this farewell message to you.” The Headmaster said, her eyes brimming with inexplicable tears.
“Dear irreplaceable classmates whose names and faces escape me, I have been struck down by a most grievous wound, and may not be able to recover in time to graduate with you, despite my most valiant effort.
Never fear though, for I will only focus on convalescing and studying as hard as I can, and definitely not secretly changing my appearance for the second phase of my master plan, while drastically increasing my power level.
And most certainly not training at one hundred times earth’s gravity for the Namek arc.”
The pencil in Alicia’s hand snapped. She sat there, staring at the broken pencil. Something snapped inside her, echoing the fragile stick in her hand.
Alicia shoved her chair back and walked out the door, ignoring the inquiries tossed at her by her classmates, her instructor, and the Headmaster of the academy.
I have to find Edward before he changes his appearance. I might never see him again if he does that. I couldn’t trust him to come to me, either, he’s a total flake. I gotta beat that out of him.
That and Caitlyn. Alicia’s thoughts turned dark. All it takes is a pretty face and he’ll give up the secret of magic. How much more could she have gotten out of him in three days? No, that girl doesn’t seem that calculating. She’s probably wrapped around his finger at this very moment, unable to stop thinking about where he is or who he’s with. Not like me.
He needs someone like me to make sure he doesn’t get taken advantage of, though. Handing out magical power like candy isn’t going to end well for him.
Alicia made it to the main street before she stopped, realizing that she had no idea where to go. She had tried to listen closely through the bags and had figured out that they exited the city through the east gate, but the road split several times, and his stupid lair could be in any direction.
If only I knew someone who knew where…
The man who took her brother away.
Alicia’s feet turned in the direction of the modest house she’d last seen her brother enter, her pace slowly increasing until she was flying down the street, She didn’t know why, but it felt like every step that brought her closer to Edward was easier, pulling her onward as her heart hammered in her chest.
And then I can take everything he has! She thought, grinning evilly as she ran.
In a matter of minutes she stood in front of the little house, rapping on the door. It seemed like no one was in, which was odd. Must have sent his children away. Alicia frowned a moment, and then turned and crossed the street, banging on his neighbor’s door.
“Coming!” She kept pounding.
“Hold on, damnit!” Alicia kept banging on the door.
The door flew open along with a wave of rank air as a grey haired man in sweat-stained nightwear filled the entrance.
“What the hell do you think – urp!”
Alicia drew the man down to face level and met his eye, making sure he was paying attention.
“Who lives in that house?” She asked, pointing.
“who do you think you-”
She interrupted him with a slap and then drew her knife, putting it to the man’s neck.
“I’m sorry, I forgot to say please.”
“Paul Tucker, Paul Tucker.” He whimpered.
“Where is he?”
“Where does he work?”
“He’s a detective, so, the precinct, probably?”
Alicia kicked him back into his muggy, rank house and turned back to her quest: Information.