“So,” Garth said.
“So.” The wide little green man with the rhino horn said, scowling at him. Garth was starting to think that it was fixed there, like grumpy cats looked grumpy without meaning to. A racial case of Resting Furious Face.
“Don’t you think you should do something about your apprentice?” he asked, pointing at Garth. “You almost died.”
“Naah,” Garth said, glancing around the little wooden cottage with knots for windows. They reminded Garth of Yoda’s hut. Matter of fact, if the shaman sitting in front of him was a lot wrinkly-er, and didn’t have a giant nose-horn, he might fit the part.
“She’s gonna be fine.” Garth said, studying the walls. “Ever since I became semi-mortal, I’ve slacked on safety…a lot. She doesn’t have that luxury. She should be fine.”
There was a series of flashes of light that caught their attention, pouring in the windows and punctuated by the squelch of Woody crushing an eliokamph.
“We heard you try to negotiate with the Hildaven flower. You’re the first person to do that. Why?”
“People haven’t seen intelligent plants before?” Garth asked.
“The Hildaven is not intelligent.” The shaman said with a shrug.
“I find that fascinating.” Garth said, leaning closer. “because it did things that I would only attribute to –“
The thunder hit the cottage from wherever Alicia was fighting, fifteen seconds of solid explosion noises.
Garth and the green shaman thing patiently waited for the sound to face.
“Things I could only attribute to –“
More thunder poured in through the windows.
“A thinking creature.”
“The Hildaven is…” the shaman chewed his words for a moment. “The lifeblood of our race.”
“I suppose that makes me taking one a problem.”
“Not at all.”
“You earned it.”
Garth cocked his head to the side. “Are you…working with the Dan Ui, to test people?”
The little green man shook his head. “We find the Dan Ui and the Inner spheres abhorrent. We don’t work with them. we simply do what we have to do to survive.”
“Oh, I’ll just give you the entire history of my people,” The shaman growled. “Because you asked so nicely.”
“Would some drugs help?” Garth asked, summoning a tablespoon of cocaine on the coffee table.
“Your magic is different than ours,” The shaman said, eyeing the narcotic.
“I know. That’s why I’m interested in you. I’m willing to trade my knowledge for yours. Maybe a Mythic Core thrown in?”
The shaman dipped a finger in the powder curiously.
“Just rub it in your gums until your mouth turns numb. That’s how you know it’s working.”
“So then the prophet Emian figured out a way for us to live on our own. He guided the Goldba – we’re called Golba, by the way – to live in the swamps, using the swamp-dwellers as our guide.”
The Shaman – Hurk – was pacing back and forth, talking at high speeds and telling Garth everything he wanted to know. Hopefully the old man’s heart didn’t give out. Garth may have neglected to give the man Geriatric coke.
“So everyone moved to the swamps to escape the incursion of strange people from other worlds.”
“Aliens, yes. Well, it wasn’t long before these aliens found out about the Hildaven. We used the Hildaven for Vision Quests, but once the Kipling came, it began unlocking memories buried in our very soul.
“Oh yes, and these aliens coveted it. They began delving deep into our last safe haven every seven years, huge expeditions of them, slowly thinning out the Hildaven and pushing the swamp back. They started building farms and castles, pushing the Great swamp back when the Hildaven was gone from an area. We didn’t think much of it at first, but the prophet was all like, ‘where does it end?’ and he shared his vision with us, and we were all like, ‘holy shit, this is going to consume us,’ so we did the only thing we could and –“
Hurk stopped mid-pacing and took the glass of water that Garth held outstretched, knocking back the entire thing in a few huge gulps.
“Ahh, thank you. Where was I?”
“The only thing you could do.” Garth said, rolling himself a cigar with magic boosting properties.
“Right, we realized that while the Hildaven is the reason they’re encroaching, it’s also the reason they’re not simply filling the great swamp and wiping us out. So we found a balance.”
“You made getting the drug harder.” Garth said, lighting his cigar and taking a few puffs before practicing his smoke rings.
“Exactly. It took thousands of years, but we did it. So slowly that no one noticed, we made the swamp poisonous, we made the monsters, the surge, we made the Hildaven protect itself.”
The Shaman flopped back down in his chair.
“But not…” he trailed off, his eyes darting to the window. “But not so difficult that the Dan Ui would come down and sort things out. If anything they’re…” Hurk scowled, “Appreciative, of the things we’ve done. Made it sustainable.”
“So you do work with them,” Garth said, taking a hit.
“Everything we did was to ensure our people’s survival. Were there a way to do that and tear Dragus’s heart from his chest and banish his clan from this world, we would do that.”
“You know Dragus?” Garth asked, smoke escaping from his lips as he tried to speak and keep the smoke in.
“Naw, I know of him. He’s a household name. You?”
“I got killed by him once when they took over my planet,” Garth said, exhaling and passing the cigar over. “Before I became a household name.”
“Hah,” the Shaman blinked a couple times, the smoke rising from between his fingers as he stared at Garth. “You’re serious?”
“Semi-mortal, remember?” Garth said. “Take a very small hit, hold it in your mouth a moment, then exhale and pass it back. I’m highly resistant to poison, so my cigars kick like a mule. You should get enough through your mucus membranes.”
Hurk swished the smoke around like a man using mouthwash, then puffed the remaining toward the window.
“Tastes all right, but I’m not…nevermind.” He glanced back at Garth with unfocused eyes. “What an odd sensation. I’m literally tasting mana right now.”
“Mmn..” Garth said, putting the cigar back in his mouth and holding his hand above the table.
With a soft rush of displaced air, the tome of knowledge Garth had collected about plant magic settled on the coffee table scattering some of the cocaine off the side.
“Huh?” Hurk said, tearing his gaze away from his own hands.
“Long time ago, I had the idea for weaponized Synethesia. You know how some people can hear or see numbers? And all they have to do to solve problems is make them look or sound right?”
“I…have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Think of it this way.” Garth said, tapping the side of his skull. “The parts of your brain that interpret taste and smell have been temporarily rewired to boost your ability to process mana. Takes some getting used to, the side effect is you taste and smell it, and sometimes it’s pretty rank until you figure out how to do the spell right. But it is faster.”
“Fair enough.” Hurk said, reaching under the coffee table and opening a hidden panel buried in the floor. He retrieved a book bound in ancient wooden planks and written on leather. Green leather. Ew. Use what you got, I guess.
“The techniques that my people used to build the Great Swamp as you know it today. I believe you mentioned a Mythic Core?”
Garth took a Mythic core out of his Status Band and set it on top of his book.
“All the knowledge I’ve gained about plant manipulation, from common and uncommon techniques used by the Inner spheres, to self-created ones, drugs, a few seed samples, and two techniques I learned from a goddess. And…one Mythic Core.”
Garth had to add the Mythic Core as a guarantee of good faith, because from the other man’s point of view, he could be totally scamming him. The Mythic Core meant Garth wanted it as bad as he said he did.
The two wizards slid their books across the table and carefully picked the other’s up, reclined backward and began reading.
Caitlyn found herself in a black room, in the center of a circular table that seemed to be made from a single piece of wood.
There were strange giants seated around the table…Three of them.
One looked familiar.
“Hi, Caitlyn!” The large brown woman with the titanic breasts said, waving merrily.
Caitlyn frowned “Where exactly am I?”
“You went to sleep after sneaking back to your room,” a woman in a tight black leather dress said, steepling her fingers. “We brought you here.”
“It wasn’t an incredible show, but you did learn some things nobody else knew,” A stout woman with a buzz-cut and a false eye said, “And you did it with my kind of style, rather than brute strength. And luck.”
“A whole lot of luck.” The wall to Caitlyn’s right said, drawing an involuntary yelp out of her. Where she thought the seats ended was a wall…with a hole in it, with one eye peeking out at her.
Apparently there were four people here, and one was…watching her from behind a wall with a hole in it.
“But where is here?”
“An in-between space, where we offer Patronage. You, Caitlyn Mcdonnell, tickle our fancy.” The woman in black said, her ruby lips drawing a seductive smile.
“You’re too much of a coward for most of the other gods,” The stout woman said. “Or they’re too afraid of Kolath and Nyssa to come forward. I don’t demand blind courage from my Apostles, though, only innovation.”
“Gods…” Caitlyn said, the hair standing up on her neck and arms. “Apostles?”
“Oh right,” the eight foot tall brown woman said. “Garth didn’t tell you anything. That Amulet he put on your neck was to get our attention. And your sneaking around at night got offers from these Gods, for apostleship. If you accept, they will give you their blessings in exchange for some of your power.”
“You watched everything I did after he put on the amulet?” Caitlyn asked, feeling her skin slowly heat up, her stomach sink. There were a few things that she’d done with the amulet on that she’d rather not anyone see, ever, especially not all the gods at once.
“I always watch everything.” The voice from the other side of the wall said.
“Now Tom, don’t upset her. Dear, your perving on the men in the guard’s showers is a perfectly natural expression of your species’ desire to breed,” Beladia said in a comforting tone, but her words only made Caitlyn sink down and curl in on herself.
“It was pretty hot.” The woman in black leather said. “Pity you didn’t take it further and offer to wash their backs.”
Desperate for one god that wasn’t a wretched pervert, Caitlyn glanced over at the stout woman. Maybe she was normal.
“Rude,” Beladia said with a frown.
“I am Elora, Goddess of Innovation, and I just liked your gadgets,” she said, poking herself with a thumb. “The P-90 and the earring were solid work, and I’d like to help you take your craft to the next level. My blessings include Talent, Inspiration, Imbue with Self, and Lucky Logistics.”
Caitlyn breathed a shuddering sigh of relief. Thank the gods she was exceptional in some respect other than her sexual deviance.
“Oh, come now, we’re not that bad.” The woman in black leather said. “I am Munasei, Goddess of Lust, and you know what I want. I offer an empathic cloak that can sway those around you. The ability to keep a clear head no matter the situation. I know it sounds counter intuitive, but it’s best to be the one in control. You could pick an enhanced talent for emotion magic, or the ability to influence people via touch.”
“Tom, God of Voyeurs,” the eyeball in the wall said. “I watch people too. My Blessings include unblockable scrying and divination, an aura that normalizes your actions in the minds of others, Mental Fortitude in case you accidently peek on a cosmic horror, and exceptional night vision. ”
Caitlyn glanced down, and spotted a second hole in the wall halfway down to the ground.
“What’s the second hole for?”
“If you need to ask, you don’t need to know.”
“Unblockable Divination?” Caitlyn asked. “What about Pala, the god of Enigma?”
“I know what they look like. Spied on them before.”
“There’re cosmic laws in place that prevent me from divulging or reproducing information or images of them. Sadly my portfolio doesn’t include the unpreventable transmitting of information, so Pala’s secrets are safe.”
“Huh.” She turned to Elora. “What’s Lucky Logistics?”
“Luck will favor your craft. Spare parts when you need them, packages arrive on time, undamaged, power when you need it, weather and the environment will conspire to allow you to finish your work before the winds begin to howl.”
“What’s with this Control plants method?” Hurk asked, scowling as usual. “It tastes like someone is pulling metal tines down my tongue.”
“Oh, you’re making the pseudo-muscles straight,” Garth said, peeking out from under the Golba’s book. “Try weaving them around each other. Experiment.”
“Oh, Yes, that tastes right.”
“I like the way you guys do it, with the microwaves.”
“Thank you,” Hurk said, his eyes scanning Garth’s book.
“Okay, so the thing I’ve been working on, is this…” Garth said, taking another puff of his cigar before passing it on, turning the book over to show Hurk.
“The technique you used to create the modern Hildaven flower tastes like a spikey, powder-y nettle with like, chocolate buried deep under the spines, like umm…a spiky Ferrero Rocher.
“I’m not sure what that is, but…” Hurk squinted at the page detailing the mana formation with bloodshot eyes. “The modern Hildaven’s abilities are built on the foundation of its power to tap the soul. That’s why you’re getting two different flavors.”
“Ah, that’s what’s going on,” Garth muttered. “tap the soul, tap the soul…” he wiggled his tongue around as spiky, chalky, and chocolate began to sort themselves out into distinct concepts in his mind.
Mmm, a pseudo-soul using ambient energy. Tricks mana into responding faster..remote access…
Design Plants proficiency has reached 99%!
Create Life proficiency has reached 18%!
Hello there Proficiency numbers, it’s been a long time.
Flavors and concepts were literally dancing on the tip of Garth’s tongue as he read, the only sound the shuffling of paper. I could do this for days, Garth thought as he studied the spellbook.
The front door slammed open, revealing Alicia, supporting Maren, the two of them bleeding as they limped into the wooden cottage. They were beat to hell, their clothes torn, parts burnt off by acid, but in her left hand, Alicia clutched two Hildaven flowers.
“Close the door, you’re letting the hallucinogenic smoke out.”