“My counter offer is I cut off your head and take control of this ship!” the elder said, her Lantern brightened, forming a galaxy spiral with wispy threads emerging from between her fingers.
“Kya!” The ship’s avatar dove behind a potted plant.
Garth stared at the elder for a moment then took a long, slow drink, finishing the rest of his cup.
“How’s that working out for you?” Garth said, going back to the refreshments and refilling his cup. Dying was thirsty work. As he was mixing himself another drink, his brand-new stomach came online and demanded food.
“Cutting off my head that is – does anyone else here want an omelet or something? I’m craving protein.”
“What did you do? Why can’t I attack you?” Nabeya demanded.
“You’ve been around the block awhile, right? Remember the Terrafell dungeon? Its mutation led to the rampant creation of reality warping Laws.
“I’ve seen Laws before.”
“Right, well, after Bel’s core here almost died, she put several redundant Laws in place on this room. One of which simply decrees that nothing can be hurt here, and another says that while you can think of committing violence, you will never manage to act on it.”
Elder Nabeya dismissed her Lantern and pulled out a pen from her breast pocket. She scowled as the muscles in her wrist went taut.
Nothing happened to her pen.
“I see. If nothing can be destroyed, How are you drinking that?” she pointed at the cup in his hand.
Garth shrugged, downed the rest of the booze before crushing the cup in his hand and tossing it into the trash. “Just lucky I guess.”
The elder’s eyes narrowed, and Garth was pretty sure his message was received: He had the overwhelming advantage of terrain.
“I want my ship back, and I want you out of my clan’s territory. We’ve got enough to deal with without adding you to the list.”
“Is that so?”
“You may think you’re powerful in the safety of this abomination of an ether-station, but there are beings out there who could peel this place open like a tin can.”
“Is that so?”
“Obviously. And several of them are Dan Ui.”
Garth summoned a gnarled wooden chair behind himself and took a seat, summoning Origin to his hand.
“Yo, How many people in the Dan Ui could peel the Fertility like a tin can?”
“Yeesh, that’s more than I thought. Does that include Dragus?”
“Where did you get that?” Nabeya demanded, stepping forward and reaching a hand out to seize the book.
Garth slapped her hand away with a tsk.
“Bad Elder. No Grabbies.”
One of the guild members suppressed a chuckle, too quick for the elder to see whodunit.
“Why don’t you admit that we’re on more equal footing than you thought, and give me a counteroffer? Get this over with?” Garth asked. “Like you said, you’re terribly busy.”
Elder Nabeya eyed him critically for a minute, all sound stilled.
“Leave this solar system, return the value of my ship, and your name will be added to our clan’s list of persona non grata, rather than hunted down.”
“Okay, that’s a bit better,” Garth said, doing the Basic Instinct leg cross in his chair. Unfortunately he wasn’t wearing a skirt.
“Counter offer. I don’t harvest your brain and glean the secrets of the Dan Ui clan – “ Garth was pretty sure Origin already knew everything anyway – “And instead simply drop you off planetside naked, Sans arms and legs, with ‘I was a naughty bird’ indelibly marked on your skin?”
“Give my ship back and leave.”
“Drop you off, just naked.”
“Give me my ship back.” The elder gritted out.
“Ah, now we’re at the heart of it. The one thing you want above all others. But what on earth makes you think I could provide your ship back? It was destroyed.” Garth laced his fingers together and drummed the tips on his knuckles.
He glanced over at Bel.
“Did you have sex with her ship?”
Bel’s eyes darted to the side. “No? There wasn’t enough time before Caitlyn blasted Rigor!” She said hastily.
“Is the Fertility pregnant?”
Bel’s eyes darted to the side again.
“You really take after the goddess you’re tethered to.”
“He called me a mothership!” she shouted. “What kind of mothership can’t make cute little baby ships!?”
“Mothership is a euphemism for a ship that is big enough to dock other ships!” Garth shouted back.
“Well now I know that.” Bel sniffed, sulking as she crossed her arms over her generous chest.
Garth turned back to the stunned Elder Nabeya. “So maybe I can provide you with a ship, depending on gestation. Possibly a better one than you had, even. But I need more than just a demand to leave and a promise of recrimination. I need something of value from you.”
“What’s that?” she asked.
“I’ve got a little problem with one of your fellow Elders. One Dragus.” Garth said. The corio woman’s face soured as the name was mentioned. “I can see you’ve heard of him.”
“he’s a bad seed.” Nabeya said. “His misdeeds will catch up to him eventually.”
“They are catching up to him.” Garth said.
“What do you want?” she asked.
“One. I want information on what planets are the responsibility of Dragus. That information shouldn’t lead back to you, since I imagine it could be learned through other channels.”
“And two. I want you to intercede on my ship’s behalf should one of the three individuals capable of killing her ever become an issue. In exchange for these two things, I’ll give you your pick of one of Bel’s babies.”
“Nooo!” Bel moaned. “Why can’t we just put Rigor back together? He didn’t deserve to die!”
“Nabeya, was Rigor actually the one talking to Bel. Was the ship intelligent?”
A corio in the back hesitantly raised his hand.
“That was me.”
“Rigor!” Bel shouted, tackling the poor crewmember to the ground and smothering him with kisses. “You’re alive!”
“Riiight. Anyway, the non-sentient ship Rigor is busted up and spread out to kingdom come. Giving them a baby ship is easier.
“Not my babies!” Bel said, clutching the corio tight to her chest, partially suffocating the man.
“How about when they reach adulthood and need a job?”
“Fine,” Bel muttered, still clinging as the voice of Rigor weakly struggled.
“Is there some kind of Law forcing people to honor their agreements?” Nabeya asked glancing around the room.
Garth shrugged. There was one preventing them from speaking agreements they didn’t intend to keep, which was close enough.
“Hmm. I’d like to add a term.”
“Until said ship is delivered I’d like for the..” She glanced over at Bel. “Fertility? To serve as our base of operations, while we root out the calamity on Kurm.”
“Whoah,” Garth said, holding up a hand. “Hosting you for Calamity fighting costs extra. What kind of calamity, and what are you, Elder of the Dan Ui clan, offering in exchange?”
As she described the calamity, Garth felt his eyebrows go up.
This sounds familiar.
No time like the present, Alicia thought, summoning every scrap of her focus to tug the white mana of healing out of the environment.
She’d already gone through the excruciating torment of setting her compound fracture, and was ready to heal everything back into place. Now all she had to do was get the damned spell to work.
Alicia’s control was shit, though, and several times, the mana simply unraveled, dissipating into the environment before she was able to apply it to herself.
‘Control, control, control…be more like Caitlyn’ Alicia mocked Garth in her mind as she tried to apply a healing spell to her newly set leg. She glanced over at her master’s corpse, Then at the swarm of hungry looking beetles pressing against the barrier created by the bright yellow weed.
She felt a tiny bit of guilt for mocking a dead man, along with an unfamiliar, gut wrenching sadness that she’d managed to lock away before it could do any more damage to her chances to survive..
Not thinking about that. Just focusing on the healing spell.
The healing mana slipped out of her control once more.
Damnit. Alicia started over from the beginning.
Halfway through, she noticed the beetles were six inches closer, and the yellow flower was starting to look…droopy.
She lost control again, the wisps of white mana dissipating back into the environment.
“Fuck! Fine, you wanna be that way?”
Without thinking, Alicia grabbed all the white mana she could find, compressed it into lightning, and blasted it through her injured leg.
Pain begat pleasure, and Alicia made a sound as the pain in her leg momentarily shot up to mind-altering levels. She let out a primal groan as her eyes rolled back in her head, her body twitching, and for an instant she was glad that Garth was dead, so he could never tease her about it.
A moment later, the pain faded along with the crackling energy and light.
Alicia carefully opened one eye, expecting to find a scorched mess where her leg had been, but instead it was healed, perfectly back to the way it had been before.
She knocked on it with her knuckles.
“Munasei, you’ve got a sick sense of humor.” Stupid goddess messing with my brain.
Alicia held out a hand and summoned all the healing energy she could to it, compressed it into chaotic lightning, then slammed it into her chest.
The lightning paralyzed her lungs, allowing her nothing more than a tiny gasp as the mana flooded her with pain, burning through all the little cuts, bruises, and scrapes across her entire body.
“Gods damnit!” Alicia shouted as the wave of pain/healing receded, her head coming back up. She would never, ever, admit to anyone that she had enjoyed it.
It was missing something, anyway not as fun when it’s just – nope, not thinking about that anymore. Got work to do.
When Alicia opened her eyes, the gnashing jaws of the insects were even closer now, the little weed visibly drooping. She might have briefly lost consciousness.
Time to leave, she thought, testing her arms and legs as she rested against the splintered tree. Good to go.
She patted the pocket containing her Hildaven flowers before calling on Gorn’s mana to launch herself into the air.
She exploded upward in a burst of wild air currents. Some of the creatures tried to lunge for her, but were driven off by the air before they could reach.
I just gotta get back to the city, then I can think of what to do, Alicia decided. A hollow realization swept through her body. Without Garth, she was completely bereft of the safety net he represented.
Her heart slammed blood through her veins as she pictured surviving on an alien planet all on her own. Exciting, but dreadful. Lonely, but fueled by adrenaline.
Hey, Al, I’ve got a job for you.
Alicia almost fell out of the sky as Garth’s words rattled through her skull, filling her ears with his powerful voice.
“What the hell? I thought you were dead!”
I’m back on the fertility, with my tree. Oh, yeah, I forgot, Caitlyn was the one who’d seen me die before. I let her into my private sanctum, which is not a metaphor, and showed her the tree that makes new bodies that house my soul when my meat-suit dies. You should see it sometime. It’s pretty cool.
“How do I rate lower than Caitlyn?” Alicia demanded, leveling off her flight toward civilization and regaining altitude, placing her just below the poison mist.
She’s nosier than you. Anyway… I need you to do something for me once you get back to town.
Alicia took a deep breath and let her master’s eccentricities roll off of her. Of course he was alive. What was I thinking?
“All right, what do you need?”
I need you to get two large boards and string them together. Find some bright paint, and write ‘Emergency Clone Meeting’ on both of them, then wear them like a poncho. Then I need you to take off your clothes and run up and down the city streets screaming about the end of times at the top of your lungs, wearing nothing but a wooden sign.
“You’re just trying to humiliate me!” Alicia shouted.
I can do two things at once. Besides. I guarantee you’ll have fun.
A wave of pleasure radiating from Alicia’s center of gravity made her flight wobble.
“You’ve still got the damn clickers!?”
I made plenty of spares, of course. I’m not an idiot.
Caitlyn watched Garth fiddle with the clicker as he gave a gross chuckle, at the end of the hastily assembled meeting table, with all the major player on the fertility on one side, and Elder Nabeya’s men on the other, listening in on the plant-wizard’s one-sided conversation.
I could do it. I mean, no one would think anything of it. I could run the streets naked and people would think it was totally normal… NO, I can’t let myself sink to their level!
Caitlyn squashed the urge to volunteer for that mission, but her hand had already twitched.
“Caitlyn, you had something to add?” Paul asked, sitting next to his wife, the mayor of New Space L.A.
Damnit. I have to think quick or else there’ll be two people running around the streets naked. It was a strangely appealing thought, though. Total freedom.
“I know at least one person I’m sure is affected by your calamity. I could pass the message on directly.” Caitlyn stammered.
Garth glanced at her and nodded. “Of course, that’s probably our best shot at getting the message through.” His eyes became distant, staring into space before locking his gaze on Caitlyn.
“But, on the off chance that person’s not there anymore, what better way to get the message out than naked street sign streaking? Ah, that’s like a tongue twister. Naked street sign streaking. Naked street sign stre-”
Caitlyn’s blood ran cold.
Why did I pick this person as a teacher?
“Is Jorkson still holed up in his office?” Garth asked his manservant between audiences.
“Ah, yes sire, he refuses to come out.”
“Well, then deliver him all the paperwork he’s missed out on over the last week, along with a cookpot and some vegetables. Tell him I can’t get him if he makes sure to cook all his meals thoroughly.”
Manfried – that’s what Garth had renamed him in his head, since all butlers share the same name – frowned in confusion but didn’t press the matter, simply nodding and heading to deliver the head spy some grub.
It was more fun getting them to drop their guard and work with him rather than violently subjugate them. Besides, Garth didn’t want to over-do it on the assimilation again and go crazy. All he really had to do was unify a dozen or so of the most influential people on the planet, and he’d be in hog heaven indefinitely.
Being the king was boring, but it was a job one of them had to do, in order to steer the planet towards a situation more to his liking.
“Send in the next case.” He said imperiously, his back aching from sitting in the chair too long.
Even a freaking shapeshifter could get back pain on this damn chair. How the old king did it was anyone’s guess.
“Sire,” Manfried number two said, leaning towards his ear.
“There’s a female of a strange species running around the city in the nude, wearing a sign, disrupting trade.”
“The fuck?” Garth said, frowning. “What’s it say?”
“It’s in another language, but I’m an amazing artist,” Manfried said, pulling out a piece of paper with a sketch of a round-bottomed young woman sprinting in the buff, a sign reading ‘Emergency clone meeting’ barely covering her bits. “Can you read it?”
“Ah, it’s a message from my brother, he wants to talk to me.” Garth said.
“Sire, you don’t have a brother.”