Chapter 161: Soda & Mascara
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Alicia was about halfway to his semi-secret, rapidly rebuilding city when Garth managed to get ahead of her, sipping on his refreshment.

“Hi, Al. How’s it hanging? Want one?”

“Not gonna knock me out, is it?” she asked.

“Nah, it’s basically refined heartstone lemonade.”

She snatched it out of his hand and after a couple seconds figuring out the pulltab, took a big swig before spitting it out across the forest floor.

“It’s beer!” she shouted, holding the soda at a distance, then the flavor hit her, and she looked extremely confused.

Garth couldn’t hold in his laughter.

“Oh my god, haha, every time. I love it.” He took a deep drink and looked back at Alicia, who seemed to be forcing herself to drink it, rapidly coming to terms with carbonation in a non-alcoholic beverage.

“So, what’d you need from me?”

“Magic lessons,” She said, slamming back the rest of her drink with gusto and releasing a belch. She crumpled the aluminum container in her hand and tossed it aside.

Nobody taught her how to do that, right?

“Pick up the can. They’re not biodegradable, and this is my forest.”

Come to think of it, aluminum cans are kind of a problem. Garth thought, glancing down at the can in his hand. Alicia bent down and picked up the can, bringing it back to him. Garth telekinetically crushed it into a tiny ball and stuffed it in his pocket.

“Magic lessons, huh? I thought the agreement was I teach you magic as long as I need lessons in common sense? I’ve just recently exceeded common sense.”

With the Processing Plant pumping out so much raw power, Garth was almost ready to move onto phase two, whatever that was.

“I’ll bet,” Alicia said sourly. “So what’s Caitlyn doing here, then? She’s not at her house.”

“I had to take responsibility for doing so much damage to her life and career. You see –” Garth launched into his pre-canned speech.

Without waiting for him to finish, Alicia put her hand on a nearby tree, flipped her knife out of her belt and slammed it down, aiming to chop off her fingers.

Garth reflexively put a mental projection of his hand into the tree, reaching out and wrapping his fingers around hers.

A wooden hand erupted from the wood and closed around hers, just before the blade sank into her fingers.

“That seems..” Garth said, ice running down his spine as the girl glared at him. “A little extreme.”

“I’m not here to dick around.” She reached into her belt and pulled out the parrying wand he’d made for her. “Even with this thing’s help, I can only make short gusts of wind to help me or hinder an enemy, or take a few pounds off when I make a jump. I need more. A lot more.”

“Should be able to shoot lightning out of that thing too.”

Alicia blinked and looked down at the wand in her hand.

“Lemme show you.” Garth said, taking the wand out of her hand. “lightning used to be static electricity from the clouds rubbing up on each other, but now it’s raw weather mana compressed and directed at your enemies. One of the simplest spells in theory, but hard to do just on the sheer amount of power you need for that kind of compression.

Alicia watched, wide eyed, as Garth funneled all the available mana within fifteen feet into a Lantern through the wand, which acted as a natural filter. All the non-weather mana bounced off the wand to return to the environment.

Rather than a serene ball of white light, Garth got a sphere of tumultuous energy, crackling with lightning.

“Then you just string a thin line of contiguous mana between you and the target…” Garth created a channel for the lightning to flow through. “..And release.”

The entire world turned white. His chest felt like someone had drop kicked his ribs, and his eardrums simply gave up. He heard the blast with his whole body.

Garth felt himself being tossed backwards, slamming into a tree none too gently.

Garth blinked a couple times, staring up at the sky, watching flaming bits of wood rain down on them from above as his automatic healing kicked in, fixing the scalding on his eyeballs, the minor organ damage, and the perforated ear drums.

Good thing I’m tough, cuz that was…Garth froze as he was sitting up.

Crap, crap. He flopped over and blinked the tears out of his ears to locate Alicia, whose legs were sticking out of a nearby bush, black pants riddled with shrapnel.

Gotta make sure her major organs are okay, Garth thought, scrambling to his feet and rushing over to where Alicia lay, staring up at the sky with clouded over eyes.

Okay, major organs first. Garth wove the healing spell and ignored her ears and eyes, touching on her brain, then her spine, then her heart and lungs, making sure that there was no internal bleeding.

“wha, wha- go- on?” Alicia groaned as he finished making sure she wouldn’t die on him.

“Garth! What happened?” Mrs. Banyan shouted as she and Ellanore came running up to him, following a smoking trough in the ground about five feet wide and three hundred feet long.

Their feet cracked the thin sheet of glass that had formed on the edges.

“You’re lucky her eardrums are still busted,” Garth said, “Call me Edward.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t know there was anyone left who hadn’t figured out your secret.” Ellanore said, bowing.

Is she giving me sass? Garth thought, glancing over at her. Ellanore’s tone and posture was completely deferential, but the exact wording was a little…

Whatever. “Just call me Edward for now,” he said, healing Alicia’s eyes and ears.

“As you wish Edward.”

As if the name had kickstarted Alicia, she sat up violently, halfway through a sentence.

“…AAII want that!” She blinked, her eyes focusing on Garth and the other two women.

“First lesson: How to Shoot lightning.” She said, not demanding, simply stating a fact. She tried to get up, but let out a yelp and hissed in pain, flopping back onto her butt.

She stared accusingly at several thick splinters buried in the flesh of her arms and legs.

“Hold on, I’ll take care of those in a second, I just gotta take care of some stuff first.”

He turned to Ellanore and dragged her off to the side.

“There a reason you were out here with Banyan? Were you looking for me?”

“Yes my lord,” she visibly screwed up her courage. “We are very appreciative of everything you’ve done for us, but our families in the east are still suffering at the hands of the Mississippi empire.

“What do you expect me to do against a continent spanning empire in two months?” Garth asked. “Nevermind, don’t answer that. I’ve been regaining my former strength, but I doubt even my former strength is enough to upset the status quo. I have to do more than that, and that might take a while.”

She frowned, crestfallen.

“But I can do something for you in the meantime.” Garth relented. “Do people grow potatoes in the east?”

She nodded.

“Excellent.”

He filled his soda can with water, rinsed it out, and conjured a few thousand wafer-shaped potato seeds.

Space-folding maybe? That’s one freaking high-end potato.

Garth packed the potato with incredible resilience, hardiness, efficiency, and taste, and most uniquely the ability to be bigger on the inside than the outside, allowing it to store massive amounts of potato inside the potato.

Potato-ception.

I dub thee the Lembas Potato, unbelievably hardy and resistant to insects and vermin. Let one bite of your delicious starchy goodness keep a man full and on his feet for an entire day of hard labor. Because two bites might explode his stomach.

Garth knew that handing out plant-based goodies would eventually lead back to him, but this time he was going to hurt the people that came after him so bad they couldn’t afford to try again.

It would take months for it to get back to him, though. And months from now, Garth didn’t see himself as something that a measly continental empire could handle.

“Take these,” Garth said, rattling the thousands of seeds around in the empty can. “Make a caravan with the boys you came in here with, and fill the wagons with barrels of Garth-Aid™. Distribute about a dozen of these seeds to each farmer you come across, along with a three gallon keg. Tell them to hold onto these potatoes for eating, and never use them as part of their taxes.”

“Okay.” She said, taking the can and bowing “Thank you very much.”

“I’m an apostle of Beladia, feeding people is one of my specialties.”

“What are the other specialties?” Ellanore asked.

Breeding people.

“Don’t worry about it,” Garth said dismissively. “Go spread the joy. I guarantee you those potatoes will keep people fed.”

“And the strange beverage?”

Each three gallon keg has enough heartstone juice in it to give a person 20 points to every attribute. One farmer drinks that and suddenly he’s Einstein in Paul Bunyan’s body. It’ll create total chaos when the serfs are smarter and stronger than their overlords. If anything, that’ll do more to overthrow the Mississippi empire than I could do by myself.

I’d like to say it was all part of my master plan, but I’m just a dog chasing cars. Like The Joker. Only slightly less evil.

“It’s a goodwill gift.” Garth said, ushering her away. “Make sure you and your boyfriends drink about three gallons of it apiece too, okay?”

Ellanore gave him a curious glance as Mrs. Banyan picked up the slack and guided her away.

Garth cracked open another can and started sipping on it. Still gotta drink like fifteen gallons of this stuff to max out tier two. Blech. I should make some different flavors.

He returned to where Alicia was sitting, her face drawn tight with pain.

“Alright, you wanted a magic lesson? How about the Heal Spell?” Garth squatted down beside her and conjured a wooden pair of scissors, starting from the bottom of her pant-leg and cutting all the way up to uncover a pale, luscious thigh studded with wooden splinters, some as big as his thumb.

Garth repeated the process with her left pant leg, lifting the shredded pants away from her lower body. She winced and hissed in pain as the fabric caught and tugged on a few of the deeply seated splinters.

“Why not teach me how to do that instead?” she asked, using her chin to point toward the glassed trough in the forest, unmindful of her rather tight black underwear on display.

Thankfully it didn’t look like she got any shrapnel there, so Garth focused on her wounded legs.

“Because, knowing how to heal yourself is always a good idea, especially when stuff like today happens.” Garth grabbed a thumb-thick piece of wood embedded in her leg. “Watch closely.”

“Ready?”

“How come you don’t have any shrapnel in you?” she asked suspiciously.

“Just lucky I guess,” Garth said, yanking the splinter out and deliberately forming the heal spell over her injury, so she could see it.

“NNNGGG,” Alicia grunted in pain, then let out a relieved sigh as he healed the puncture wound.

“Next.” Garth moved on to the next one, higher up on her thigh.

He yanked it out, and her fingers dug furrows through the ground as she suppressed a cry of pain. A second later she let out a strange moan when he healed her.

Makes sense. Probably feels a lot better when the damn thing is out of there.

Garth kept going, his focus gradually narrowing down to a single point, like a surgeon as he pulled out one splinter after another before healing the wound. His senses blocked out sounds and sights other than the next splinter, keeping him going for about half an hour, until Alicia’s legs started shaking, jostling the splinters out of his way and making them difficult to grasp.

Maybe it was too much pain for her to handle. I should see if she needs a break, Garth thought, glancing up with his mouth open to ask if he should stop.

Alicia was red-faced, panting, and biting her bottom lip while her blue eyes bored into his own. The light makeup around her eyes was trailing down the corners of her eyes and her whole body seemed to be shivering, radiating outward from her hips.

Garth shut his mouth with a click, lowered his head and got back to work. Well, beats being emotionally scarred from all the pain, I guess.

That gives me another idea for the blueprint drawer, Garth thought, politely ignoring the girl’s noises as he started plucking the smaller pieces of wood out of her skin.

“Alright, do you think you can do one of the smaller ones?” Garth asked once they were down to a handful of small splinters.

“I’ll try,” Alicia said, her voice trembling. Garth yanked the little splinter out of her ankle, and Alicia’s shaking hand covered it. A little bit of mana coalesced around her hands but nothing happened to the puncture wound slowly welling up with blood.

“No problem, you just need more practice with your mana control, and higher stats.” Garth said, doing his absolute best not to mention how much she seemed to be enjoying the pain. “Since I assume you grew some balls and skipped school to hang out with me, I’ll train you.”

“Why the sudden change of heart?” she asked, slowly getting control of her breathing.

“You’ve managed to convince me with your..enthusiam.” Garth said with a charming smile. Unfortunately he was unable to prevent himself from sneaking another peek at her legs.

“You really are easy,” She said, shaking her head.

“Shaddap,” Garth yanked a splinter out of her arm, eliciting a gasp and more convulsions.

Sorry for the delay. Public releases have taken a backseat to life, but work is still getting done, don't worry.

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