In the middle of the bamboo-Banyan jungle, a shimmering portal the size of a beach ball opened up, and a slender girl with a great mane of red hair jumped through, carrying a few licks of flame with her. She was followed almost instantly by half a dozen non-humans, wearing thick white uniforms with gold trim.
Many of them sported burns and rolled on the forest floor, clutching their wounds under singed fabric.
“Whooo!” Garth cried, jumping out of the raging inferno and landing on the forest floor. Things had gotten pretty dicey when the captain guy started using fire spells to try and flush them out. Creating the portal plant had been a lot harder than he’d expected and he’d only managed one barely big enough to jump through like a trained animal.
A second later, the portal closed, cutting off the searing waves of heat from the other side, leaving them alone in the forest of his creation.
“Thank you again Hastia,” Garth said, pinching out the part of his clothes that had caught fire.
Garth could feel his seared shut eyeball heal and return to normal, along with the section of his arm that had been burned nearly to the bone.
“Garth, are you okay?” Caitlyn asked, climbing to her feet.
“Fine,” Garth said, healing the groaning researchers, studying them as he did.
He couldn’t exactly bring them into the fold and expect instant allegiance. Although that would be nice. The biggest problem was trusting them with access to things like research materials and Garth-Aid™ and hoping they didn’t devise some kind of superweapon to wipe him out while he wasn’t looking.
Looks like I’ll have to delegate responsibility. And I know just the person.
“Who’s the most senior member here? The one who’s in charge when whoever was above them gets murdered?”
A Corio woman raised her hand.
“What’s your name?”
“Ixel, make a list of everything you need to create and mutate synthesized cores, and give it to Caitlyn here. She’s going to be your new project manager.”
Ixel nodded, shying away from him.
Jeez, you kill half their number and they treat you like some kind of giant spider or something.
“What? Why me? That will eat into my studying time.”
“And maybe you’ll thing about that next time you beg me to keep a puppy you found on the road.” Garth said.
“Eh,” Garth waggled his hand. “But don’t look at this as a glass half empty situation. Look at this as a You-have-your-very-own-research-team-situation. As long as I get my cores, I really don’t care what else you do with them.”
“Imagine,” Garth said, putting a hand over her shoulder and dramatically waving his hand in front of them. You could have them help you create a fully automatic weapon, like one of those P-90’s you saw on that show. Or even…a plane!”
“Oooo.” Caitlyn said, her eyes dancing with possibilities.
Hook, line and sinker.
“Have Mrs. Banyan help you get them settled and get the things they need. If you find you’re having trouble keeping them under control, ask Mrs. Banyan to give you a SP4-NK1-NG. As many as it takes. She’ll know what that is.”
It wasn’t that Garth didn’t think Caitlyn was smart enough to figure it out, it was more that modern kids don’t have any concept of 1337 speak.
“Alright.” She said, nodding. She was about to turn away and get started with the researchers when Garth stopped her.
“Hold up. Band.” Garth held out his hand.
“Oh,” Caitlyn took off the Smuggler’s Band and put it in his hand.
“What?” Caitlyn frowned as Garth poked her finger with a strangely sharp seed. “Ow!”
“Just needed a drop,” Garth said before he healed her finger and ejected the Orb.
The orb dropped to the ground, where it hovered about six inches above the forest floor.
Garth tried to poke it with a stick: Nothing. The force field seemed to deflect everything that wasn’t inherently Jim-aligned. I wonder how they work on it.
I need you to grow into something that can touch the orb, use the blood as a template. Oh, and not a complete creature or anything, I don’t want evil Caitlyn clones running around. Just an arm would be great.
The seed in his hand sprouted into a pale, feminine arm dotted with freckles. The entire thing looked like it belonged to a giant. It was five feet long with fingers that would wrap around the orb easily.
Garth aimed the giant Caitlyn hand at the orb and squeezed the base, using it like a claw-hand. The plant arm responded to the stimulus as planned and cinched down around the orb. Garth threw the whole package over his shoulder like a bindle, and gave the stunned Caitlyn a wink.
“Why didn’t you do that from the beginning?” She asked.
“Didn’t know it would work.”
Alright, now it can be moved around outside of the smuggler’s band, but can it be moved into it? Garth tried to put away the both of them as a set, crossing his fingers that it would work.
With a puff of displaced air, the two of them disappeared into the band.
Thank Beladia. Time to go sell it to Linda.
“Alright Cait, I’ve gotta do some dirty deals, say hi to Al for me.” Garth pulled in an enormous amount of space mana, wrapped it around himself, and connected the dots, making here, There.
Garth appeared behind a small ridge outside of the city of Santo Descanso. Garth had done a little scouting around the city over the last week and found a decent place for a guy to pop in and out of existence without anyone asking any nosy questions.
Garth joined the sparse stream of traffic headed into the city’s East gate – might as well not seem like he was coming from the west – and found his way to the bakery, said hi to Cody and the others while he waited for Linda to clear him to enter.
A short while later, Garth was sitting across from Linda, drinking a beer and regaling her with the story of retrieving the orb while the rest of her company crowded around them.
“You couldn’t have just stolen it at night?” She asked, her jaw resting on her palm.
“Antimagic field would have been up. It would have made it very tricky to leave when the alarm went off. I found it very helpful, being able to use spells while I was in the church. The civilians don’t remember a damn thing.
“Alright, Let’s see it.” Linda said, motioning with two gnarled fingers. A sweaty, grey haired general-looking guy stood beside her, glaring at Garth. He wasn’t entirely sure if the guy was actually mad or had Resting Glare Face. A lot of those fighting types seemed to come down with that.
Garth popped the orb out of the Status band, whereupon it immediately began emitting a high-pitched wail and blinking bright red. All the while it continued spattering the audience with small flecks of mana that formed tiny self-replicating curses.
Everyone except Garth and Linda, who reflexively drew mana out of the environment to shield themselves.
“Neat, it’s got an alarm system!” Garth shouted over the noise.
“Yeah, that’s the one, put it away!” Linda shouted.
Garth pulled out the giant freckled hand, grabbed the orb and shunted them both back into the Smuggler’s band.
“One curse-orb, one Smuggler’s Band to move it, and one giant hand to hold it in, free of charge. Your total comes to…one copy of an ancient notebook, please.”
Garth took the smuggler’s band and waved it in front of them.
Linda leaned back in her chair and studied him with a calculating eye.
“What could I offer you for Caitlyn? I want someone who can touch the orb without it screaming bloody murder. I need to take it apart and study it, not simply smash the damn thing.”
“So you were watching who I brought into the church, huh?” Garth said. “That makes sense. You and I are cool and all, but I’m not letting her out of my sight. She knows too much about me and mine to let her wander around on her own.”
“And John doesn’t?” She asked.
So she either kidnapped John or simply had someone follow him. More likely just keeping an eye on him in case he’s useful.
“Sorry to disappoint, but John’s on the Distribution side of my business, which is strictly need to know. He and his friends probably figured out I’m not Edward Bergstrom, but they’re not gonna know much more than that.
They know about Garth-Aid™, and that could be something I don’t want Linda to know, Garth thought, feeling the icy stab of stress.
“Well, it was worth a shot.” Linda said, clapping her hands together with a grin. “I wouldn’t want to alienate you this late in the game.” She glanced over her shoulder and held out her hand. A second later Mr. Glaresalot dropped the notebook in her hand.
“I can always use lasers to disassemble the orb. Turns out invisible barriers aren’t so good at blocking light. Who knew? Might lose a little bit of information, but I think It’ll turn out fine.”
She showed him the cover.
Starfall: A Treatise on the Origin of Gods.
Yep, that’s the one. You know, assuming she didn’t duplicate the cover and leave a book filled with gibberish or find a million other ways to stab me in the back.
“Just to be clear,” Garth said, sliding the band across the table. “John is not currently captive? Because my HR department would crawl up my ass if he got kidnapped.”
“Cool.” Garth said, placing his hand on the book and sliding it over to himself while Linda did the same with the band.
“Do you mind if I hang around for a moment and authenticate this?” Garth asked.
“You read elvish?” Linda asked.
“Not as such, just know how to spot gibberish. Pure formality.”
Garth opened the first page and scanned its contents. The words shimmered and changed in front of his eyes, drawing a stunned pause out of him. there were several paragraphs worth of text and a ten digit keypanel on the bottom of the first page.
Welcome to Castavelle De’Chestaland’s Notebook!
If you’re Munasei and you’ve woken up mortal again after a night of debauchery, press 1
If you’re Crix Magoo, I don’t know where the Warp is seeping off to, your guess is as good as mine. Press 2 for more details.
If you’re one of my apprentices, press 3.
If you’re Kolath, I’m sorry I can’t be there in person, but please press 4 to suck a close approximation of my wrinkly cock.
If you’re Beladia and you’ve been knocked up by an Eldritch horror from the Beyond again…First of all, why? Why do you sleep with anything that moves? Not everything can be swayed by a good lay, or is secretly a warm and fuzzy nice guy on the inside, just waiting for their paternal instincts to kick in! I’ll admit that most things with a penis can swayed by you, but not them! Please Press 5 to select a planet to lay the Doom Egg on while I get an extermination team ready.
If you’re Dragus, peel off the thin layer of paper over the back inside cover to find the secret of ultimate power. (This is not a trap.)
Garth felt a little curious about some of the other buttons, but he felt like the risk inherent in a few of them might be more than he was interested in tackling at this moment.
Garth pressed three, and the notebook fluttered in his hand, the pages moving by themselves until they opened on a blank page that began to fill itself in.
“I thought this was a copy.” Garth said, glancing up at Linda.
“Huh,” Garth glanced down, eyeing the rapidly updating contents.
Please select your name. Names are in chronological order.
Garth started scrolling through, looking for his name in elvish, too interested in the notebook to bother looking up.
There were thousands of names, and after a minute, he decided to flip to the back, some thirty pages in and work his way back. It took him a while to find his name buried among thousands of others.
How is this chronological order? There’s thousands of people after me.
Jus Breen, whose sister tried to retake Enora and launched the war of the Shimmer.
Garth Daniels, who sold more coke to the inner spheres than any man alive.
Kal Didei, who had a decent stand-up act.
How the hell is this book so small? Garth pondered as he put a finger down on his name, and the pages went blank again.
The book flipped back to the second page and began filling in.
Garth, buddy, how you been? I’m a construct made by Cass. You can call me Cass. I’m currently unlocking the apprentice section for you, K through 8th grade. In the meantime, help me narrow down which exact path you’ve taken since I last saw you.
What followed was a quick quiz of what Garth had been doing the last couple months, followed by several judgmental comments.
Really? The teenager? This really is the darkest timeline.
Variables controlled, I look forward to working with you. And now a message from Castavelle.
Hey, kid. If you’re reading this, I’m a bit caught up in something. There’s no rush, but if you find the time, could you come to the home of the Dan-Ui Clan on Carevia 6 and break me out of soul-prison? Again, no rush, the only thing at stake is gibbering madness and the eventual dissolution of my very soul.
You won’t be able to pull it off until you’re tier eight at least, so instructions on exactly how to find me will be locked until then, so you don’t go on a half-cocked crazy adventure to rescue little old me.
Not that I think you would.
No seriously, hunker down. Right now.
Garth frowned and leaned down.
Mr. Glaresalot went nuclear, exploding in a bloody blast that sent a fragment of his adamantine sword tearing through the air above Garth’s head, decapitated one of the spectators.