Caitlyn saw Garth off with the rest of the city, waving from the top of the wall as his procession headed out the gate. She was standing uncomfortably close to the palanquin of the Shinta king of the city.
Caitlyn had been raised to maintain a certain level of decorum, forged in the fire of high society, but this…
Caitlyn looked left.
She looked right.
Am I the only human in a thousand miles? The only thing that prevented her from having a panic attack on top of the wall as she watched her lifeline march into the forest, was the fact that she had more lifelines.
Mrs. Banyan was subtly checking in on her every hour or two as she swept over the city, cleaning up her father’s ill-conceived mess as a show of strength.
The little metal badge Garth had lifted right out of Star-Trek would allow her to retreat to the Fertility if she needed to escape, and…
Caitlyn put a hand on the large silver eye dangling between her boobs. It was kinda tasteless, uncomfortable, and she couldn’t see any movement of mana around it, but Garth wouldn’t have given her a meaningless trinket just to boost her confidence would he?
That kind of seems like something he might do.
“And there they go,” the king said quietly as the procession disappeared from sight. “Honestly I couldn’t have asked for a better trial than your master for my son. He’d grown…stagnant, even third tiers couldn’t match him.” He turned and eyed Caitlyn. “And you can’t raise a great king with stagnation.”
“I always thought nothing I did was good enough for my dad,” Caitlyn said. “But I wouldn’t be where I am without that kind of pressure.”
“I see. Well, it’s lovely to meet you miss.. is it a miss?” The Shinta frowned from his palanquin. “I see you’ve got breasts, but I’ve never seen your species before, so I didn’t want to assume.”
“I’m a miss,” Caitlyn said, crossing her arms over her chest modestly before thinking better of it and returning to her relaxed stance. It was fine. He wasn’t even the same species, so it didn’t count. If he was a human, things would have been different. Probably.
Caitlyn was not okay with people ogling her back.
She thought about it a moment, idly bringing her arms up to rest more comfortably folded under her chest.
“Well miss Caitlyn, it’s an honor to have you with Us. You’ll have to tell Us all about your travels over dinner, and We will regale you with stories about Our kingdom.”
“That sounds wonderful.” Caitlyn said, nodding.
“Indeed.” The king tapped his Palanquin bearers on the shoulders. “Let’s be off.”
The heavyset orcs easily turned the palanquin, which was when Caitlyn noticed one of the bearers tear his gaze away from her chest in order to attend to his duty.
Caitlyn glanced down, and noticed she’d been pushing them up and out with her arms, making neat little mounds in the scoop neck of her shirt.
I forgot the orcs were even there!
Caitlyn took a deep breath and forced her hands down to her sides, her heart slamming blood through her body as a bolt of excitement ran down her spine.
I have to act with decorum. I’m the first example of humans they’ll have.
Actually, Garth’s voice rang in her mind, Humans have been officially evaluated at an eight point seven on the Qinsy Scale, putting us in the top four percent of all the thousands of sapient creatures for promiscuity. We’re a slutty, slutty species. If anything, your behavior is par for the course. It’s one of the reasons Beladia and Munasei like us so much.
Are you listening to my thoughts!? Caitlyn demanded internally, her face burning.
Couldn’t leave my apprentice without adult supervision, but if you need alone time, there’s a switch hidden on the back of your Status Band that’ll cut the connection.
You modified my Band!? Caitlyn rolled her sleeve back, furiously looking for the switch.
Did you know Pre-Spheres studies have indicated that a voyeur is sixty three percent likely to also have exhibitionist tendencies? I read it on wiki-
Caitlyn found the switch, a camouflaged little inset tab that could slide back and forth a miniscule amount. She jammed it ruthlessly, and Garth’s idle chatter cut out, leaving her standing in the street, panting with humiliation and glaring at her arm.
“Problem?” the king asked, glancing over his shoulder.
“No, your majesty, just a small issue with my Status Band.”
The King’s gaze landed on her custom band for a moment.
“We’ll have to demonstrate our generosity in hosting the apprentice of such a distinguished…wizard. Allow me to provide you with a new one.”
Caitlyn froze for an instant. She couldn’t say no without insulting the king, and saying yes would lose one of her lifelines.
Caitlyn’s band was a simple leather affair, but she’d made herself in her spare time in the last month while the enormous Gate around the Fertility was spinning up.
She’d made the interior out of fifteen Mythic core centers, cut by a laser into perfect curved hexagons that created a seamless surface around her entire wrist. She’d spent sleepless nights designing its abilities, and even managed to book ten minutes of Halo’s precious time, making the band more powerful than anything on the Fertility, save possibly Garth, Halo, the Fertility, and by extension Bell, and the Gate.
It even had a tiny gem of Practice stone embedded on either end, creating a bubble of Law just big enough to accommodate the Band, allowing it to improve over time on its own.
If she lost it, she would be down another lifeline.
“I would be happy to accept your generosity, but creating and maintaining our own Status Bands is one of our responsibilities as an apprentice.” Caitlyn lied. “I can’t neglect my training.”
“Commendable.” The king rumbled and Caitlyn breathed an internal sigh of relief before following him out into the street.
Halfway back to the Palace, they were ambushed.
Half a dozen orc men wearing masks leapt out of an alley to the right of the palanquin, while another four jumped off nearby roofs, surrounding them in an instant.
Caitlyn flinched away from the attackers, putting one hand on the badge that would allow Fertility to teleport her away, while summoning her magical P90 in the other.
“Maren the fifth, We, the-“
With the sound of rattling marbles breaking the sound barrier, fifty adamantium ball-bearings smaller than her thumb tore through the left flank of the black-clothed men, blasting through the stone walls behind them like strawbales.
Maren the fifth cast Caitlyn a bemused glance before he leapt off the palanquin with surprising grace, putting his limbs crashing through the men’s bones, sending them collapsing to the ground in a flurry of fists.
In a matter of seconds, the fight was over, and the once lively street was dead as the king slid into a new silken robe after washing his hands. It seemed like no one wanted to be associated with the attack.
Caitlyn was one of five living individuals on the street, making her feel awkward as she stood there, hand slowly releasing her teleporter.
“That is an interesting weapon.” He said, eyeing Caitlyn’s P-90.
Her heart leapt in her chest.
“You like it? It’s modeled after a pre-Sphere weapon, small enough to use with one hand, big enough to adopt a rifle stance. The tricky part was actually the adamantium bullets. Since they aren’t propelled by gas, I was able to give them a uniquely aerodynamic shape, wrapped around the tiny core stud that rests at the heart of each of the bullets. There are five of them, and they are designed to trigger a pulse in a corresponding enchanted stud as they pass by. That triggers a remote teleport in the bullet three shots prior, putting the bullet back in the clip after approximately a quarter second has passed. With that design, I can shoot at close range targets all day at about two hundred and forty shots per minute, or more controlled, slow fire at more distant targets, allowing the bullets to reach their mark before they are ‘ported back. The effective range is close to a thousand feet, and –“
Caitlyn’s teeth clacked shut as she realized she was oversharing.
“You remind me of my cousin,” King Maren said with a chuckle as he climbed back up onto his palanquin.
“Does he like designing things too?” Caitlyn asked. maybe someone at the palace will be fun to talk to. She gasped with excitement. Maybe he’ll be able to show me something I can use in my next project.
“Not really, no,” King Maren said, crushing Caitlyn’s hopes. “He used to, though. Drew all sorts of useless inventions and wanted the royal coffers to pay for them.”
“What happened?” Caitlyn asked. maybe if she showed him the P-90...
“Beaten to death.” Maren said. “The Royal family exemplifies rule by the strong, and challenges are frequent.”
“Oh, that’s…” Awful? Caitlyn didn’t know how to proceed. On Earth the nobles were the nobles because of their relative strength.
“We live in a melting pot, Caitlyn,” King Maren said as he sat down on the Palanquin. “On a world ripe with monster cores, overflowing with anonymous migrant cultivators, and the Hildaven flower growing wild, anyone with luck, money, talent, or hard work can reach the third tier. The king must be strong enough to fend off these self-made demigods with ease.”
The king had somehow read her expression despite not being totally familiar with humans.
“That’s not the case on my home planet,” Caitlyn said.
“Tell me more,” Maren said, patting the seat next to him.
Caitlyn shrugged and put a foot on one of the orcs shoulders and climbed up into the seat.
“Oh, come on, that’s like, the opposite of spying,” Garth muttered, sliding Caitlyn’s clicker back into his Status band as Caitlyn started telling the freaking king all about Earth without getting a whole hell of a lot in return.
She’d given away the position of her teleporter badge, the importance of her status band, and the fact that she was armed. Garth had seen the man’s gaze land on the badge, even if Caitlyn hadn’t
It was standard practice though, harmlessly sounding out her value as an ally or potential damage as an enemy. Garth was slightly suspicious of the attack in the middle of the street, wondering if perhaps the king had orchestrated it to make Caitlyn show some of her cards.
Just because Caitlyn had flipped the switch didn’t mean he no longer could see what was going on with her. The switch only cut communications one way, unlike what Garth might have led her to believe.
Ah well, she’s just getting started, and I already spotted a clickable action.
“Range! flexibility! Never stop thinking!” Garth said, pulling out his other clicker and redirecting his attention to Alicia, who was sparring with Maren junior.
The fight benefitted them both, as Alicia’s master – Garth – wasn’t the close-range brawler type, and Maren’s people had very little experience with tossing lightning around.
“Maren, lightning is raw, compressed mana, try to make your barrier go in multiple directions at once to tease apart the mana. Below a certain density, it simply fizzles out.”
“Why are you helping him!?” Alicia demanded shortly before a slightly scorched fist slid through her stream of lightning and broke her nose, sending her body tumbling end over end into a swamp tree.
“I’m helping him, to help you.” Garth said as he and the rest of the crew sailed above the muck, searching for an island of dry land to camp on. “Adversity helps us put together a bag of tools that we can then use going forward in life.”
Garth considered his words. “Gah, I sound like a high school guidance counselor. Having apprentices is making me boring.” Garth was happy though, being a sensei was something like being a dad, which Garth had always wanted to be.
Well, except for all the sex.
Maren followed Alicia to the tree she was embedded in, adopting a vertical mount position and aiming to knock her lights out.
Alicia let out a scream of pain as she channeled her god’s power internally. Her flesh began to glow, blue electricity snapping and lighting up the veins and bones under her skin.
The first punch that made contact with her face was met by an arc of lightning that leapt from her broken nose to the young prince’s arm.
Maren stiffened in surprise, and Alicia used the opportunity to slide out from under him, wrapping her legs around the Shinta’s neck and squeezing, hard.
Maren was suddenly the one being pressed into the tree, being choked out by a triangle hold that doubled as a taser.
“Who’s the one eating bark, you limp-wristed, palanquin-riding fop?” Alicia demanded.
“Yes, target their weaknesses with trash talk!” Garth shouted with glee, rubbing his hands together and earning curious glances from dozen bodyguards. “Yours was a little weak though, Maren. Not personal enough.”
Maren was wheezing as he tried to summon the muscle strength to pulle Alicia’s legs away from his neck.
“Probably got this far guzzling your master’s co-“
Alicia went for a vicious rabbit punch. Maren leaned out of the way and caught the black-haired girl’s wrist, overextending her until she had no choice but to let go of his neck or dislocate something.
“What do you know, it works,” Maren muttered before he chased after her.
“Work on your Mana Control!” Garth shouted after Alicia as she zoomed away into the marsh, disappearing in an instant. “You’re leaving a super easy to read jet-trail!”
Ah, it’s so rewarding being a sensei, Garth thought when a huge blast of lightning erupted from behind a stand of trees as they tried to subdue each other.
“So what is that brown stuff on top of the city walls for?” Garth asked one of the nearby bodyguards a question that had been bugging him for awhile.
“The tar sticks to Eliokamphs legs as they try to climb the wall, giving spearmen extra time to dispatch them,” he supplied.
“It’s a glue trap?” Garth marveled.
“Set up two weeks ago for the Surge.”
Alicia blasted through a solid hardwood in front of him, and Garth reached out with a catcher’s mit of mana, stopping her tumbling fall before she hit the water.
“Winner, Maren!” Garth intoned, pausing when Maren came around the corner, sporting a broken arm and several burn marks all over his body. “Barely!”
“Fuck that,” Alicia said, weakly trying to push herself out of Garth’s grip. She was all torn up, with two black eyes, a split lip and several deep cuts. This particular apprentice is rather competitive.
“Now now Al,” Garth said, kissing a small section of unwounded forehead. “You had your fun, but the match was only until we found an island. Which we have.”
Alicia’s blue eyes focused on the stand of trees dotting the island peeking above the acidic water. Enough space for a dozen people two lie down, but not a lot more.
“Fine.” She muttered, relaxing.
“Now peel yourself out of those busted up clothes, we’ve gotta get you washed up and healed before we can put you in a new outfit.”
Alicia blinked, glancing between him, the others, and the tiny island with absolutely no privacy.