Chapter 212: The Mire
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“Good afternoon, your majesty,” Garth said, bowing deeply to the throne while Caitlyn and Alicia. “I do hope this day finds you and your court well.” Garth sneaked a glance at the ruined reception room, filled with hastily swept away broken glass, fallen lamps, and even a scorched tapestry.

The man’s court was obviously not well after Garth’s little pissing contest.

Mana ebbed around Papa Maren like a heartbeat, almost in time with the vein on the side of his head.

“Alas, I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting you, Mr...”

“Garth Daniels, your majesty, here to seek the Hildaven flower with my apprentices during the Surge.”

“What are you that can level mountains with that paltry amount of control over the mana in the room?”

Garth shrugged as he came up from his bow. “You of all people should know how delegation works.”

“I suppose your benefactor is the one who gives you the confidence to walk into my house without a guard. Some people are upset with you.”

Papa Maren looked upset. The Shinta’s long brows quivered with repressed rage.

“I’ve got a solution that I think sees us all equally happy,” Garth said.

“Oh?”

“The first part, I’ll allow your son to take part in my run through K’than to retrieve the flower.”

“There are three third tier Cultivators and myself who could take Maren through the swamp without breaking a sweat in the city alone. What you offer is not special.”

“The second part is, I will show your son how to create a new mountain. His legacy can be restoring Chuldeva rather than destroying it.”

“And how do you expect to do that?” Papa Maren asked, knitting his fingers together and leaning forward. The man was interested.

“We’d go up into space, shop for another mountain, cut it into shape, and gently lower it into the hole where the other one was. It would be bare rock for a few thousand years, but you could have a public works project to cover the slopes with dirt if you wanted to speed things up.”

“into space?” Papa Maren asked, glancing up with Garth’s pointed finger.

“Where do you think the rock from the sky came from? There’s so much more territory to expand into outside your planet. We could find a chunk of stone the size of your Chuldeva, no problem.”

Papa Maren spent a long while tapping his fingers against the back of his hand as he considered Garth’s offer.

“I understand the impact that a legend has on a king’s rule, and while I would be happy to have Maren secure his place in history, there are conditions.” He finally said, staring down at Garth with intense blue eyes.

“Shoot.”

“Your demonstration damaged the city wall. The Eliokamphs, who normally are kept out, will flood into the city through no less than sixteen breaches in our defences that we know of. If even one gets through, they will plant eggs in some poor fool out of sight in a basement somewhere, erupting out by the thousands and infesting the entire city in a matter of weeks.”

“As it stands right now, we have no choice but to declare martial law and impress every cultivator of second tier or lower to defend the city.”

“I’m a wizard.”

Papa Maren raised an eyebrow.

“I identify as a wizard.” Garth explained, tapping his chest. “Not a cultivator. Too wuxia.”

“All right then, wizard. Can you delegate a solution to this problem? Otherwise you will be facing the midsummer Surge along with your apprentices.”

“…You can’t?” Garth asked with a frown. It was just a city wall. Stone Shape or Wall of Stone should work perfectly, and Garth knew for a fact they were easy-peasy. A handful of people should be able to patch a stone wall with magic in a matter of minutes. Hours at most.

For a similar reason, stone walls shouldn’t be that effective against people.

“Let’s see,” Garth murmured, holding out his hand and tugging Earth mana out of the ground and shaping it into a rigid stone latticework.

Wall of stone.

A pillar of smooth stone appeared under his palm, resting against the floor.

“What the…” the king stood from his seat, staring at Garth’s paltry creation.

“You can’t do this?”

“Cultivators can’t create solid objects from nothing until the fifth tier.”

“Is Cultivator a physical class?” Garth asked, cocking his head to the side, “’Cuz I skipped that side of the book.”

It would make sense though, a martial arts class with higher physical specs wouldn’t unlock wizard-like abilities until higher tiers, when their intelligence caught up. The question was why everyone was a ‘cultivator’ and not a mix of different classes.

“I have some questions, if you don’t mind.” Garth said.

“I’ll answer them if I see fit.” Papa Maren sat back down in his chair.

“What class did you choose when you put your hands on the Imprinting orb?” Garth asked.

Papa Maren blinked.

“Choose?”

Ayup, there’s your problem right there, Garth thought like a tired plumber.

From what Garth was seeing, it was Inner sphere law that newly inducted planets be given access to all classes that weren’t illegal, but when those planets got snapped up by a clan, they immediately imposed restrictions on what classes they could and couldn’t have, to keep Garths from springing out of the woodwork.

How much of what I’ve seen is Inner sphere corruption, and how much is clan? Beladia was alarmed to hear we hadn’t been assigned armies to help against the Kipling, right before she got cut off. In a perfect world, we would have had armies assisting in Kipling cleanup and showing us the ropes of the new world, assimilating us seamlessly into their system.

That felt like a lifetime ago, but it was only eight hundred and forty-five years.

That seemed like another good thing to add to Garth’s constantly shrinking bucket list. ‘Find asshole who denied Earth aid and introduce him to the concept of the Orbital Strike.’

“What do you mean by choose?” Papa Maren asked.

“I don’t know how to break it to you,” Garth said “So I’ll just say it. The people running this planet have slowly, over the course of thousands of years, narrowed the spectrum of Classes that could be chosen, until no one alive could remember a time when there was anything but a single choice. They were doing that on my planet too, no big deal. But that’s neither here nor there.”

Garth glanced over at Maren and back to his father, who seemed to be digesting that information.

“You wanted a solution to your wall problem.”

Garth pinged his band.

Bell, could you send, ah… Garth considered sixteen, the bear minimum to get all the wall fixed at once, then reconsidered, doubling it for spares, then reconsidered again, looking at all the property destruction around him. Send three hundred or so Banyan to my position? I need a reconstruction team.

GRASS WON THE BET. PAY UP.

Grass’s booming mental voice came on the airwaves.

A second later, with a pop of displaced air, three hundred Mrs. Banyans appeared, causing Papa Maren to flinch in his throne.

“Mrs. Banyan, this is King Maren the fifth,” Garth said. “King Maren the fifth, this is Mrs. Banyan.”

“Would you please patch up the city wall and repair the city proper? It’s got a lot of…holes in it.”

“It begs the question of why we sent a meteor down here in the first place,” Her closest body said, clearly a little salty about having to clean up Garth’s mess.

“To prove we could, obviously. Now we’re fixing it. To prove we can.”

The three hundred Mrs. Banyans glanced at the throne at the same time, considering.

“Okay, but I can only stay away from my tree for so long.”

“Thanks.”

The dark brown woodgrained women in grass skirts filed out of the audience room, past dozens of startled guards.

“They should have the walls and most of the city patched up in a couple hours.” Garth said, returning his attention to the king, who was slowly relaxing.

“I have one more request, before you abscond with my heir.”

“Wazzat?”

“I request that one of your apprentices stay to oversee the reconstruction and aid in the city’s defense during the weeks you’ll be searching for the Hildaven.”

Translation: I’ll be keeping one of your apprentices hostage so you think twice about hurting my son. Garth didn’t even have to think about it.

“Caitlyn, you’re up.”

“Wha- what!?” the redhead squeaked as Garth pushed her forward.

“Let’s face it, the stuff out in the swamp, if it’s even close to as tough as Alicia’s firebird, you’re probably gonna die. And as a hosta- er, technical advisor, you’ll be treated very well, probably.”

“Here,” Garth said, taking the Amulet of Endeavor out of his Status Band and slipping it over her head. “A lucky charm. Just do what comes naturally to you, and you’ll do fine.”

Alicia frowned. “Isn’t that –“

“Hush now, apprentice,” Garth said. There was no better spying opportunity than being a hostage in a king’s court. Probably.

****

“’Cuz this is thriller!” Garth moonwalked above the solid brown swamp water under the watchful eyes of Alicia, Maren and the fifteen or so bodyguards/assassins. They were bodyguards if you were Maren, assassins if you were Garth, although no one had tried to kill him yet. They were probably under orders only to kill him under a very specific set of circumstances.

“Thriller night!”

Garth may have underestimated the difficulty of navigating this particular swamp. The violently acidic swamp muck wreaked havoc on people’s bodies, so everyone who came along had to float above the water’s surface, constantly draining their energy.

Above them was a smog-like cloud of poisonous green mist that prevented people from spotting the flowers from above, ruling out spotting the plants from the safety of the air.

Nope, they had to flit around from tree to tree like Will-o-wisps, not high enough to choke on the smog, not low enough to get dissolved.

Good times. Garth was wearing a flying enchantment that kept him aloft without any strain, but the same couldn’t be said of everyone else.

One of the bodyguards flew closer, the strain of hovering indefinitely showing around his eyes. “Mr. Daniels, there are more than a few creatures in this swam that hunt based on sound, so if you could-“

Garth ignored the assassin, moonwalking away while grabbing his crotch.

“And no one’s gonna save you from the beast about to –“

A nearby tree exploded into motion, its branches slamming into him with bone crushing force, pummeling him into the swamp water.

Garth’s world became instantly muffled as he was surrounded by the acidic water. He closed his stinging eyes against the water as his skin began to send up bubbles, rapidly being eaten away.

Garth had just enough presence of mind to direct his enchantment to fly him up, as his skin began to become truly uncomfortable.

Garth felt solid bands of what seemed like rough wood latch onto his arms, legs, and waist, pulling him deeper into the drink.

Two can play at this game. Garth thought.

Control Plants.

He drew in the nature mana, formed a rudimentary musculature in the plant, and told it to unwrap him.

The tree smacked the mana under his control away from itself like an angry toddler before surrounding itself with a dense randomized skin of nature mana, the equivilant of jamming its fingers in its ears and saying ‘lalala, I can’t hear you!’

For an instant, Garth was stunned at the fact that there was a plant capable of disobeying him, as the more nature mana he threw at it, the more it was absorbed and deflected.

He’d never come across a sentient plant he hadn’t made before.

“Bah!” Garth gurgled into the brown acid-water, just barely preventing himself from swallowing some of the noxious brew.

Fine. FINE!

Bark Skin

Polymorph

Garth targeted himself with the spell, using a complex weave of mana around himself to assume the form of something a little more suited to fighting in a swamp: A prehistoric crocodile.

Garth felt himself stretching uncomfortably as the bands of roots around his neck, arms and legs snapped. His nose elongated into a snorkle, his tail into a massive paddle, and his teeth, death.

“ARUAHAAHURAHA!” Garth said, taking a breath as his mouth broke the surface of the shallow water. Crocodiles weren’t that good at speaking. He saw the stunned tree to his left, its limbs rapidly turning flaccid as it lost the will to fight.

Too late for that, sucker!

Garth let out a barbaric yawp and thrashed to the side, sending up a spray of the toxic water as he clamped his jaws down around the fleeing tree.

He felt the creature’s bark splinter under his teeth, and sweet sap filled his mouth as it started desperately beating on the top of his head with its gnarled, mace-like limbs.

Its hammer-like blows did more damage to the monster’s hands than it did to Garth’s armored head as he gradually bit the damn thing in half. It let out a wretched moan, and slumped back in his mouth, it’s maple-adjacent blood quenching his thirst. He got a little of the swamp water in his mouth, ravaging his mouth and throat.

Once the creature had gone completely still, Garth let it out of his mouth and got back to business.

Fly.

Garth dismissed the polymorph as he rose into the air, his spine, arms, ribs and organs distinctly uncomfortable as they clicked against each other, creaking back into their normal positions.

“Did you guys wanna try some of this tree sap?” Garth asked as his lips, skin and eyes grew back. “It’s pretty good.”

When he could see well again, he spotted Alicia watching him with something between fear and lust, while the others were staring at him like a giant spider that had started nesting in their favorite coat.

“Oh right,” Garth said, glancing down at his naked body. “Clothes melted off.” He sent out a pulse of mana and his Status Band flew out of the swamp, untouched by the acid. It opened up and secured itself around his wrist and he pulled out a spare pair of pants from its storage, sliding into them in midair.

“Always bring spare clothes.”

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