“Whew, this is rough,” Garth said, wiping a bit of perspiration away and glancing over his shoulder at the giant screen in the center of the training field.
“Ah, ah,” Mrs. Banyan said, turning his head back toward the wooden box the size of a wagon half full of seeds.
“You said a dumpster full, and I’m gonna hold you to that.”
“But I wanna watch the fight.” Garth also wanted to be able to intervene quickly if she wound up getting her butt kicked more than she should. He’d left a lot of high-end gear laying around for her to borrow, because those Inquisitors were way above her paygrade.
“We’ll let you know if she hits a snag.”
“Listen to your creator once in awhile, would’ja?” Garth muttered, turning back to the dumpster and getting back to the laborious process of blessing each and every laser-tree with his personal attention and a will.
He felt like that greeter from the movie. Welcome to Costco, I love you. Welcome to Costco, I love you.
Garth had improved the laser’s output drastically, thousands of times over, and when the tree was at full mast – hah, full mast – it could burn a hole through plate steel about the size of a quarter.
And its beam contained a random pattern of Space mana. Not enough to do anything weird to physical bodies – probably –, but enough to scramble teleportation or funky non-euclidean spaces.
He still didn’t know how to make them, exactly, but you don’t have to know how to build a computer to smash it with a brick.
Fuck non-euclidean spaces.
Garth was taking a note from the Horny guy. If step one of Wizard Battle was to summon a Lantern and take control of a space, step two was to limit the other wizard’s mobility as much as possible, Especially teleportation.
Well, you know what they say, a drop of sweat is worth a gallon of blood, or some such… Not that I bleed that much these days, or even feel pain for that matter?
Does the human condition still apply to me?
“Keep those hands moving!” Mrs. Banyan said, jolting Garth out of his reverie.
Lemme see, getting yelled at by my own daughter vis a vis Beladia for slacking off around the house, random bystanders sending me amused and pitying glances.
Yep, the human condition still applies. I can almost still feel shame.
Garth glanced back down at the seed in his hand and got to work.
Garth had even added an upgrade for Grass. These trees were a lot like RAM for Grass, and should make his thinking more nuanced and fluid. They plugged into Grass, and were controlled by him, but they also funneled just a little more processing power and memory back into him than they cost.
He’ll thank me later. Assuming he doesn’t change completely and set his mind on taking over the world, but we should be safe.
The only thing the tree couldn’t do was reproduce, which went against his instincts as an apostle of Beladia, but he’d devoted so much of the tree’s energy to developing the weapon systems that it simply didn’t have enough left over to get busy.
Which meant he had to do each of them by hand.
Over his shoulder, he heard something blow up, and the cheering of thousands of people who watched the big screen scrying TV he’d set up in the center of L.A. to watch Alicia fight inquisitors as practice.
When did we get so many people? Garth thought, glancing over his shoulder to see a wooden breast in front of him. He zoomed out a bit to see Mrs. Banyan watching him with a scowl, hands on her hips.
“What about popcorn? I could make these people some popcorn?”
She raised a brow.
“Right, working,” Garth said, turning back to his job.
On a scale of one to ten, how much do you think Alicia is gonna hate me for manipulating her into this? Garth thought to himself as another explosion noise rocked the open space, followed by the sound of lightning.
Maybe a four? I mean I did tell her not to bother Emilio.
…Knowing this would happen.
Blame is a funny thing.
***Alicia, ten minutes ago***
Alicia had a long time to think about what she was going to do on the glide over. She wasn’t comfortable with flight and being suspended high up in the air yet, but she made excellent time whooshing along the ground, compressed air under her feet.
No matter how she contorted her thoughts, she couldn’t see a path forward that involved her and Maggie – Aunt Maggie was right out – being friends. Even if all of this blew over tomorrow, and by the grace of the goddess of forgiveness, Alicia decided to forgive her, it didn’t matter.
Maggie would assume Alicia was just waiting for an opportunity to get back at her and act accordingly, finding some creative way to kill her. She crossed that line with no intention of ever getting Alicia back, and nothing that happened now could change that.
The rest of her family though, they might take her back.
Especially if she killed Maggie.
So the plan, if there was one. Come down on them like a bolt of lightning, kill Maggie – Kyle too if he was standing close enough – and be gone before anyone knew she was there.
She’d only taken an hour to get to Santo Descanso, so there was every possibility that the Inquisitors were still there. She’d have to watch the Denton Manor from a distance and wait for them to leave.
Then she could do what she set out to do.
I’m not the same woman that ran away in the middle of the night, she thought, her fingers tightening around the wand on her hip.
Once she got to the gate, she put her head down and joined the stream of people flowing along the cobbled roads, making her way to the clock tower.
The clock tower was a dusty old clock that their neighbors, the Campbells had been particularly proud of. She’d been told as much, anyway. Growing up, it had just been the empty clock tower she and James liked to sneak into and watch the Denton mansion from a distance, pretending they were sniping their brothers and sisters.
Who knew I’d use it for the express purpose of stalking my aunt?
Alicia ducked down a side alley as she came closer to the noble quarter, executed a ten-foot jump and grabbed a building ledge. She hauled herself up then crouched down low, legs spread wide. Thankfully Garth wasn’t around to give away their position with an appreciative whistle.
***Garth, ten minutes ago***
Garth whistled appreciatively as she squatted down, stretching the leather of her pants and jutting her perfect behind out like no one was watching, which wasn’t exactly true.
“Damn, boss. You know how to pick ‘em.” Juan said as they admired the ten-foot tukas on the the twenty foot tall, forty foot wide TV Garth had set up in the center of L.A. on a whim.
“I know right?” Garth asked.
“Nah, she crazy. Girl’s on a mission to kill her family. Don’t stick your dick in crazy.” Zack said.
“Isn’t she like, eight hundred and forty years younger than you?” Fred chimed in. “You have anything in common?”
“What, you want me to go around dating mummies? You see, I haven’t stuck my dick in anything, and as for what we’ve got in common, she likes power, and I like cra–“ Garth’s words were cut off as Mrs. Banyan grabbed his ear and yanked him down to eye level.
“Where are the seeds you promised me?” she asked.
“Can it wait?” Garth asked. “We’re sort of in the middle of-“
“Invading a woman’s privacy?”
“You could see it that wa-.” The tug grew stronger, and Garth was forced to march along with her or lose the ear.
She crept along the lower portion of the rooftop, staying out of sight of the Denton Manor, until she was one jump away from the Campbell’s.
Alicia peeked around the corner, didn’t see anyone outside her home or standing in the windows, before she made a quick jump over to the Campbell rooftop. She soundlessly let herself drop down to the weed-choked back yard.
She looked down at a dandelion under her foot.
No one was particularly eager to move in next to the Dentons, a fact she’d taken great pride in, but now that seemed…disappointing, somehow. Hollow.
Gah, focus on the mission.
Alicia shook her head and got back to work, creeping up to the rear of the dilapidated building, where the flaking paint-covered door was caught, stuck partway open by a huge stand of weeds.
She squared her shoulders and crept forward through the same opening she’d crept through hundreds of times before when she was younger. She needed to cross through the squeaky foyer, sticking to the walls to avoid making noise, then up the stairs, dodging the broken step, then climb the rotten ladder up to the tower, where she could peer out the tiny holes in the wall without being seen.
Alicia’s thoughts were interrupted by a tugging sensation.
She glanced down and noticed her butt had caught between the door and the frame, tangible evidence she was no longer the same person who’d come this way before.
“By all the gods,” she muttered in exasperation, trying to pull herself through. The tugging grew stronger, and her hip let out a twinge of pain as the door seemed to tighten.
“Damned thing.” She hissed, putting her palms on the frame and pushing her back against it, hard.
Against her superhuman strength, the door gave way with a soft crack of wood and crushed weeds, allowing her hips to pass through.
Why couldn’t my chest have gotten stuck? She thought, massaging the sore spot high on her hip as she crept toward the foyer.
The back room was the same as it had always been, row after row of filthy jars covered in dust and mold. All of the sweet jam that Mr. Campbell had made had long since been eaten up by Alicia and James, leaving only the empty, broken jars littering the ground.
She stepped carefully, sliding the glass out of the way as she navigated the rickety shelves, aiming for the foyer. She cautiously ducked her head in and checked the large room. Not a soul in sight.
Alicia slid around the corner, silently padding along the edge of the room. The floor was filled with warped boards, and despite her little stunt with the back door, she didn’t want to make any noise if she could help it.
Inquisitors most likely had better senses than she did, and she didn’t want to risk them hearing her from across the street if she didn’t have to.
She carefully tiptoed around the warped boards she remembered from her childhood, passing silently through the darkened foyer. The only light that seemed to enter the room came from the large windows above the second floor, and the sun was on the opposite side of the house, granting only a dim outline of objects.
She was halfway to the stairs when a warped board four feet away from her squeaked as it depressed into the floor.
Following her instinct, Alicia threw herself to the ground.
Metal chains flew over her head and two men wearing golden armor suddenly became visible, causing her heart to leap into her throat.
It’s a trap! She thought as she scrambled backward, fingers reaching the broken stairwell leading up to the second floor.
“Alicia, I wasn’t sure which of you would come. I’m glad it’s you.” Aunt Maggie’s voice came from beyond the two inquisitors.
She faded into view, stepping forward from the shadows of the kitchen, still wearing her formal gown, as if she’d be visiting a ball after this.
“We have a lot to talk about.”