The scientists broke in all directions, aiming for the safety in numbers of…where exactly? Shadow was still covering the exit. Maybe if they all rushed him, a couple would get out, but they seemed to be too panic stricken to roll those dice, choosing to scatter.
“If you guys keep – “ Garth snagged one by the back of the neck. “Running, it’s going to take all day to kill all of you.” Garth prepared himself to end the man’s life.
“Huh?” Garth asked, glancing up at Caitlyn, who was watching him with a horrified expression. The kids were hiding behind her too, for some reason.
“Do you have to kill them?” She asked.
Garth thought about that for a moment.
“Nobody ever has to do anything, Cait, I’m doing it because I want to.”
“Could you not do it?”
Garth glanced over at the researchers huddling in the opposite corner of the room like frightened animals, and scratched his chin.
“Yeah, I suppose I could, but let me offer a rebuttal.”
Garth faced the scientists and jerked a thumb over his shoulder. “That beautiful redhead behind me is Caitlyn McDonnell of the local McDonnell family.”
“Why are you telling them that!?” She shouted.
“Don’t worry, it would take like, three questions to figure that out. They’ve seen your face after all. I’m just bringing the problem into focus for you.”
“Now Caitlyn here, was able to steal the orb in the church above us, proving that she’s a descendant of Jim Daniels. That means the rest of her family is, too.”
“What?” Caitlyn asked, her jaw dropped.
“Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you. Your great great-something grandmother got the ground and pound from my brother. You’re technically my niece and my granddaughter. Grats.”
“You told me it was a personality test!”
“Eh.” He shrugged.
“Now,” Garth said, addressing the scientists again. “Do each and every single one of you, swear to keep her identity a secret no matter what heinous tortures are performed on you after we leave?”
They all nodded.
“No matter how far away we are, and no matter how many promises the Dan Ui clan make to relocate you preventing any real possibility of us ever threatening you again? You swearsies?”
They didn’t seem quite so sure of themselves that time.
“Yeah?” he asked, glancing over his shoulder at Caitlyn.
“I get it. But can’t you…take them with us or something?”
Garth opened his mouth to say no, then considered it. It was much like the ferrying three animals across the water problem.
Leave the chicken with the fox and it’ll get eaten.
Leave the researchers here while he took Cait back to base and they’d scatter instantly.
Leave her here too long and she was likely to get murdered by men with big swords.
“Excuse me,” A Shinta man raised a hand as Garth was contemplating their fate.
“Are you the Garth who waterboarded an Elf?”
“That’d be me.”
“You’re pretty infamous on this side of the Sphere.”
“Aw, don’t try to butter me up.” Garth said.
“It’s true,” A Benkei said. “You’re the first person to assault an elf in tens of thousands of years, then you just disappeared. The bounty on you is…astronomical.”
“…How astronomical are we talking here? Literally astronomical, or metaphorically astronomical?”
“Garth!?” Caitlyn asked.
“What?” Garth asked. “I’m sure the Inner Spheres has planets available for astronomical bounty rewards.”
“That’s beside the point!”
Garth frowned, looking at the huddled mixed species pile of eggheads, and realized he’d lost his Kill-boner, which meant now he’d have to kill them in cold blood, and that was less satisfying.
“Eh, you guys ruined the mood,” Garth said with a shrug. “So let’s have a tiebreaker. Tell me one good thing your research has contributed to society. Ready, go.”
“We’re working on countermeasures for the Kipl-“
“Stuff you’ve already contributed.” Garth clarified. “I thought that was implicit in my previous statement.”
“We can use our research to identify and disable mutant Kipling faster than ever before.”
“I bet you one dollar against everything I own that technology won’t make it to the outer spheres where it’s needed.”
The scientists squirmed a bit at that.
“Well, if you don’t have anything to add…” Garth said, approaching them. Maybe there’s a chair leg I can club them with or something, getting blood all over my hands is ruining my shirt.
“We figured out how to synthesize and mutate cores!” A corio woman shouted.
“Oh,” Garth stopped. “Oooh.”
“You guys know how to create new dungeons?” Garth asked, squatting down to inspect them eye-to-eye.
Dungeons formed the basis of any planet’s economy. If they figured out how to make their own, the only limit to production would be sheer manpower.
“It’s theoretical and would take a staggering amount of energy, but yes.”
So they don’t actually know how to do it yet…But still, the temptation of that kind of power was hard to ignore.
“And is this something unique to your team, or is it something any researcher would know?”
“It’s unique to us.” The corio said, her voice quavering. “We’ve been studying mutation for years, the thirteen of us.
Oh yeah, the woman in the hallway.
“You’re not gonna tell me I killed the four best researchers already, are you?” Garth asked,
“Johas and Felda were rather politically minded fools, but Kemmel’s loss will sting. Duras was an undergrad.”
“Sounds like I got lucky,” Garth said, climbing to his feet. “Consider yourselves Shanghaied.”
Once the limits on his magic were dropped, all he needed to do was make a secure room, and create a plant portal, like Cass had done so many years ago.
If Garth was the last one through, not a single one would be able to get away.
“Alright, I’m going to step out of here, then you’re going to follow me out and make the turn toward the security room while I count you off. If someone doesn’t come out, I’ll kill ‘em. If they try to run, I’ll kill ‘em. Understood?
They nodded enthusiastically.
“Gimme a second to feed Johas, Felda, Kemmel and Duras to your experiments.”
Can’t have people casting Speak With Dead.
Garth leaned down and picked up a cold ankle. “It’s for a good cause.”
A minute later Garth stepped outside of the room and stepped to the left, herding the researchers to the right, toward the security room.
“What’s going on?” The woman in uniform called out, jogging down the hall toward them, clutching her notepad against her chest as she ran.
“The Dan Ui has decided to relocate your team. If you could join the line.”
“You’re covered in blood!” she said, looking him up and down.
“That’s fairly obvious.”
“Kenna, run!” one of the men harsh whispered.
Garth rolled his eyes and lunged forward, grabbing this Kenna person and putting her in line in front of the whisperer.
“I didn’t expressly forbid you from speaking, so I’m gonna let that one slide, but if you fucking do anything like that again, I’m not gonna kill you, I’m gonna kill the girl you risked your life for, understood?”
Kenna seemed pretty stunned, staring wide eyed at Garth, but the other researchers kept their heads down.
“Understood,” Mr. Whisperer said.
“Awesome.” Garth stepped back and put them back to walking toward the Security room.
“What’s going on?” Kenna asked, totally confused.
“Shhh.” One of Garth’s prisoners hissed.
“Beladia, this is so much messier than just killing them.” Garth massaged the bridge of his nose, up into his eyebrows, accidentally smearing blood on his face. They probably had spouses or relatives that would need kidnapping or assuaging. This could go on for months.
“Isn’t it better than killing them?” Caitlyn asked, bringing up the rear.
I almost wish Alicia had been the descendant. As weird as that would have been, at least the girl is comfortable with murdering people for the sake of convenience.
“Halt, in the name of the Founder!”
Garth glanced over at the three heavily armed and armored man at the end of the hall. The one in the lead was leveling a sword at him.
Their faces were covered by a steel helm with Jim’s face printed onto it.
The message was clear.
If you fight us, you’re fighting the Founder, and everything humanity stands for.
But to Garth it just looked like an opportunity to beat on Jim’s face for a minute.
“Cait, would you be a dear and take them to the security room and smash whatever needs to be smashed. Shadow, make sure she doesn’t get mutinied on.”
Shadow cocked his head to the side for a moment, then went on ahead, his claws clicking on the stone floor as he herded the eggheads.
“Okay,” Caitlyn said, pushing the researchers forward.
Once they got moving again, Garth turned to face the three suits of armor jangling down the hallway toward him.
Garth hadn’t done much stress-testing of his new body in the absence of magic, so this seemed like as good a time as any. But of course it was always best to start by trying to talk your way out of it.
“Alright,” Garth said, raising his hands. “You got me. Let’s-“
They were past words, apparently. A razor-sharp steel blade whistled through the air towards Garth’s neck.
Garth interposed his knuckles between himself and the blade. The steel begrudgingly cut through the skin of his knuckles, but stopped dead upon striking his reinforced bone, ringing like it had struck a solid block of granite.
The soldier grunted with pain, staggering back and clutching his wrist, where the rebound had surely done some damage.
“He’s got some kind of armor, use your faith!”
The other two soldiers paused for a second as Garth watched, and drew a bit of mana from the reservoirs under their armor, drawing it along their blades until they glowed with a holy light.
Garth read the spell as they cast it, slow as they were at shaping the mana. It was a bit like waiting for a seventh grader to stumble through reading something aloud when you already knew the subject matter.
The spell made the sword sharper, sure, but it didn’t have to make it glow with ‘holy’ radiance. That was just pageantry. That told Garth that these guys didn’t really have a grasp of what they were doing. They had been taught to do one thing without any of the concepts behind it, like a raven can be taught to drop a quarter in a vending machine for peanuts without having any idea what currency is.
“Faith? Come on, that’s just a spell.” Garth said, motioning to the men dismissively.
“Die, heretic!” one of them screamed, lunging forward with his glowing sword.
Garth intercepted the blade with his left hand, and sure enough, it sliced through it like a tomato, sending a handful of his fingers scattering across the floor. Not strong enough to resist magically enhanced weapons, good to know.
Gotta clean those fingers and blood up on the way out, Garth thought to himself as he ducked under the swing, punched Jim right in his smug ass face before forming a spear with his right hand and piercing the man’s armor with his fingers, grabbing the mana reservoir and yanking it back out with the tortured squeal of tearing steel.
“Look, I can do it too,” Garth said, siphoning the mana out of the little core wafer battery and wiggling his left hand as it regrew, bathed in holy light. The grabbing of the reservoir hadn’t been gentle, and the man staggered back, clutching his chest.
“Guess my faith must be faithier.”
When the third soldier attacked again, Garth ended it with a quick punch to the face, sending the man catapulting back down the hall at lethal speeds. Garth dispassionately killed the other two before they could start begging for their lives.
Killing begging people when you weren’t mad was hard. Harder than fighting three faceless guys in armor anyway.
Garth pulled a hanky out of the lead knights’ armor, and scooped up his errant fingers, then wiped up his blood and lit that section of the floor on fire with the battery.
“YOU! Explain this!” A knight with his helmet open to reveal a greying beard below eyes that burned with zealous fire.
Suddenly the pressure bearing down on the mana in the area lifted, and Garth could make out the shape of it beginning to float back into the environment.
“I would explain how these men tripped on their own platemail and died from concussive blows to the head, but… I don’t wanna.”
Garth turned and ran for the security room, dropping a massive load of forget-me spores behind him.
“After him! he’s…um….By The Founder, what happened here!?”
Garth heard the man’s focus break as he shut the door behind him. He gummed up the entrance with solid wood, then cast his eyes around the room.
Against the far wall was a rather large core disc, around two feet in diameter, with a large aether crystal that had been pried out of the center, resting in Caitlyn’s hands.
In the center of the room was some kind of pool, a bird bath-like object ten feet on a side that had a tiny pinhole in the center, and seemed to…bounce mana?
Garth glanced up and saw the other part of the satellite dish, the little block that collects all the concentrated information and sends it…somewhere.
“Not sure I wanna tug on that thread.” Garth muttered, looking back down at Caitlyn, who had surprisingly managed to keep the scientists in line with Shadow’s help.
“Goodboi!” Garth said, kneeling to pet the creature of literal darkness. Shadow’s tail began wagging so hard its entire butt began whipping around, banging against the satellite dish in the center of the room.
“Good work for you too Cait.” Garth said, reaching into his pocket and clicking the heart shaped button on the clicker.
Caitlyn watched him with no reaction.
A hundred miles away, Alicia yelped and collapsed in the middle of a practice lunge, landing facedown with her whole body twitching.
Whoops, wrong one.
“Alright,” Garth said, patting the pocket full of fingers in his vest. “Let’s get this show on the road.”