Chapter 220: Tier 3: Lucid Death
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“This is really uncomfortable,” Garth said in the Hyspex stance, his arms spread to the sides,

“Gumpei is a deep art with a rich history,” Hank the Legosen said, stretching out her huge arms along with him, Her legless torso on the other hand was forming a striking curve.

She wasn’t a snake woman, more like a sea cucumber woman whose underside did most of the grazing for her, rather than her mouth.

Legosen were limited to an isolated planet on a distant world many, many layers away, but in Beladia’s afterlife, it was a melting pot where you could meet all kinds of people who liked peace and procreation.

“How about we just call it what it is,” Garth said as he focused his attention inward. “Soul Yoga. I’ll have you know I have never been the most flexible guy in the class. Fastest, sometimes, smartest, occasionally, but never the most flexible.”

“How about we call Yoga what it is…Body Gumpei.”

“Nah, doesn’t track.” Garth muttered, groaning.

“I agree, it sounds weird.” Hank said, rolling over and stretching her humanoid half down while she wiggled the little stubs on the bottom of her stomach that she used to move and grind up grass for sustenance.

“So why are we doing it?” Garth asked.

“Do you want to win Ercath’s annual Blood Cup or not?”

“That I do,” Garth said with a grin. “You can only live an idyllic life with a colony of kogals for so long before the desire for actual conflict reaches a point where you’d willingly get hit in the face with a mace.”

Kogals being a 9.3 on the Quinsey scale meant they were essentially the Bonobos of the Inner spheres. The dark skinned, fluffy men and women made Garth look like a prude. Unfortunately, like so many other species, their lack of underhandedness or aggression limited them to a single world in the 1329th layer.

It also starved a need for conflict that Garth didn’t even know he had.

“Then train. Maybe Beladia’s team will put up a decent showing this year.”

They didn’t.

***

Long story short, Beladia’s team got stomped, as usual.

Garth opened his eyes through the fuzziness of a hard sleep to the sight of a fuzzy faced worm-like creature with shark teeth trying to gnaw through his hardened blood and failing spectacularly.

“Gah,” Garth flung the creature off and sat up, scanning his surroundings. He was in the center of the ruins of Hurk’s abode surrounded by fuzzy flesh eaters. Garth checked his body and saw his clothes were a mess and he was covered in his last-ditch resin armor, indicating that he’d been chomped on from every direction while he’d been unconscious.

Did they abandon me, or did they get eaten?

“Al, what’s going on?” Garth asked pressing a hand to his temple. The blood loss was making him woozy.

Garth’s sudden movement had attracted the attention of the surrounding worms, who began to see him as a living thing rather than a super hard piece of detritus. They began to swarm his direction, crowding around him.

Garth wasn’ interested in letting the creatures mouth him to death, or…I guess they might be able to asphyxiate me?

Garth reached out for mana and felt an odd sensation, something like the tingling of a limb that had fallen asleep as he brought it towards himself. Something inside his chest, right behind his heart. It was like an organ he’d never felt before now was responsible for drawing the mana inward and manipulating it.

Fly

Garth pulled himself out of the ruin of Hurk’s house and surveyed the damage. The old man’s quaint cottage formed from a single massive hollowed out tree had been rent asunder, and strange meat-eating furry-faced, knobbly earthworm looking things were squiriming about everywhere, trying to reach him.

There was no sign of either Hurk or Al.

I’m not still asleep, am I? Garth thought, pulling in mana.

This is a test. Garth wrote in the air in glowing script. He glanced away and back three times with no shifting of the words or their meaning.

He tapped his fingers together…Felt real enough. It didn’t have the strange disconnect between himself and his emotions that a dream usually had…and he was able to think rationally.

So, if I’m awake, the questions is, what the hell happened while I was out?

Garth settled into the Gumpei mental space and began putting his soul in stress positions, with the intention of carving spellwork directly into his heartstone where it resided.

Wait, when did I learn that?

Garth’s flight staggered in midair as lifetimes of experience pressed in from every direction, from his arrival in Beladia’s afterlife, all the way through his eight hundred year stay. Ages of experience piled on top of each other, as he established full conscious contact with his soul.

The answer is don’t think about it, Garth decided, his flight stabilizing. If he dove into philosophizing about whether or not he was the same man who knocked back the hallucinogenic tea, he’d fall down a rabbit hole there might not be any coming back from. It was just a simple reshuffling of memories and personality of a Garth who truly had done all the things he now remembered.

Same guy.

“First thing’s first: Al and Hurk.”

Garth reached for his badge to communicate with Bel, but found it missing, most likely in the gut of one of the little bastards.

No biggie, I’ll just summon it back.

Garth released a short-wave burst of mana, pinging his badge.

Nothing happened.

Garth tried again.

Still nothing. Same thing with his status band.

It’s the curse of the modern man to be over-reliant on technology.

“Damnit.”

“AL!” Garth shouted at the top of his lungs.

“Garth!?” came a distant voice.

Guess I shoulda shouted from the beginning.

“You’re still alive?”

“Doi!” Garth said, orienting on the sound and heading towards it.

Alicia was reclining against a broken tree stump inches above the acidic water. She would look supremely comfortable were it not for the bruises and scraped coverin her body, along with the compound fracture, causing bone to jut out of her lower leg.

All in all she was a mess.

Need to up her Endurance or shove the Heal spell into her head. Garth had a sneaking suspicion she was avoiding learning it on purpose.

“Here, let me – “

“Hold on!” She said, stopping him with an upraised hand. “Stay away from me!”

“What?” Garth asked.

“You’re cursed.” She said. “Something or someone is manipulating your luck.”

“Luck isn’t a factor,” Garth said with a scoff. “But if it makes you feel any better, I’ll check.”

Garth drew in the delicate mana and created the fate litmus test spell, painstakingly recreating his brother’s divine ability, creating a very poor analog of the original.

Weal and Woe.

Will something bad happen if I go help Alicia? Garth pictured himself going over there and fixing her leg.

The litmus test blackened, the Woe portion of the carefully balanced spellwork growing to dominate the entire formation.

Huh. It’s probably not accurate.

Weal and Woe.

Will something bad happen if I stay here?

The formation stayed neutral, about 51% Woe, because standing in one place indefinitely in a toxic swamp filled with monsters isn’t good for a man’s health. So nothing particularly good or bad would happen if he stood still, according to the spell.

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure I’m not – “ A glint of light preceded the piece of metallic shrapnel that tore through the carbon fiber reinforced bones of Garth’s upper body and exploded the swamp behind him. In the sky, he barely perceived more glints of light. Garth lost feeling in everything below his chest. As he began to fall, he realized he had a choice to make.

Save Alicia or cling to his body as long as possible.

She was a fair bit squishier.

Garth reached out and forced a surge of mana into the spores floating around his apprentice, creating a simple, hastily created version of a dandelion to bloom beside Alicia’s face. It was the first, toughest flower Garth could think of. The dandelion created a powerful repulsive force that would veer anything and everything except sassy young women named Alicia away from it.

Garth was just in time.

Another piece of metallic shrapnel that reminded Garth of the hardened aluminum wing of a jumbo jet was redirected by the forcefield straight into Garth’s face.

Ah, adamantium, Garth thought the instant before his head was split open.

This time, Garth was conscious of the entire process of dying, in a way he’d never been before. His body fell to the ground, and his soul stuck to his Heartstone like a hermit crab in a shell, Buried in the relative safety of all the meat.

Garth opened the lid and peeked his head out, rising outside of the tangled mess of his former body.

He glanced around. His vision was watery, like his eyes were covered in a thin film of tears. He could see Alicia lunging out of the relative safety of the dandelion like an idiot, hopping over to him and trying to piece him back together.

Hmm…Garth thought, waving a hand through Al’s shoulders, his spectral form unable to touch anything. Never been dead before. Well I have, but I was never lucid.

Garth felt a tugging sensation, around his waist, and looked down, spotting something like an umbilical cord that emerged from his waist and stretched up into infinity.

To my Phylactery, more like. Garth put a finger on the cord and strummed it, experiencing a moment of extreme disorientation. Just above his skin, Garth saw an aura that had a neon blue, pebbly look to it, like the border of a galaxy, or a field of stardust.

Personal mana, perhaps?

“Welcome to the afterlife, Garth,” Garth turned his gaze, and spotted the only being in the whole world that looked like it wasn’t coated with a watery film.

It was freckled woman with a plush figure. She looked like she’d seen her fair share of hard labor, but hadn’t lost her sense of humor.

Divine light surrounded her, outweighing and overwhelming Garth’s paltry aura with ease. There was something sickly sweet about it, though, like it was just about to turn rancid.

“There isn’t much time, and there’s something you need to hear about my brother,” she said, coming closer to him.

Garth stepped back.

“What are you doing?”

“What are you doing, pretending to be Elle?” Garth said, peering at the supposed goddess of fortune.

“What are you talking about?” She asked, taking a step closer.

“None of that shit, you stay where you are,” Garth said, backing away further. “If you’ve got something to say, you can say it over there just as easy.”

She was now standing where he’d been just moments ago, and she cast Alicia a thoughtful glance.

“You really do have a knack for pissing me off.” She said, her voice deepening, turning masculine as she stroked a hand through Alicia’s hair, unnoticed by the still-living girl.

Like a fire was consuming her from inside, gouts of black flame emerged from the divine being’s eyes, mouth, and fingernails, everywhere there wasn’t contiguous skin. The flames licked up her sides, depositing black filth as they went, drowning her form in black, looking eerily similar to Pala.

“Ah, you again.” Garth said. “I don’t think you need that disguise, Markus. I can’t think of anyone but the God of Woe who could use targeted strikes of bad luck to assassinate the competition.”

The shadow’s eyes widened.

“Yeah, that’s right, I’ve been around the block a few times. You think I wouldn’t figure it out when I watched you kill my brother?”

“Barely a blink in my existence.” He said, his voice hoarse. “I’ve come so close, so many times, and I can already feel my sister’s influence narrowing in on you, tugging you along in the direction of her choosing, like a piece of flotsam in a river. Go back to Beladia’s Afterlife, or I’ll be forced to consign your soul to oblivion.”

“I would do that, but I kinda got sick of all the romance and cuddles. Pissing you off as her representative seems like an excellent diversion.”

“Even if it costs you?” He asked, his palm hovering near Alicia’s hair.

“There’s more where that came from,” Garth said with a shrug, praying that Pala’s knack for misleading others was still applicable. He was willing to give up on Al if she were killed, but it was far from his first choice, and he’d do a lot to keep her alive.

The shadow let out a hiss and leaped toward him, claws outstretched.

Garth yanked on the Umbilical, his Soul Tether, his vision blurring as he soared through the cold vacuum of space at incredible speeds, just ahead of the god chasing after him.

In the distance, The wavy, watery form of The Fertility rapidly expanded, surrounded by cloud of shredded adamantium, presumably where the near light-speed shrapnel that had hit him had come from.

What the hell happened here? Garth thought as he slipped through the hull of the ship and into his Phylactery room.

EnjoY!

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