Refreshingly Direct

Alex slammed into the campus office frantically and stared in disbelief into a crayon-yellow mass of… paper.  Half-formed, whatever was being created had brown spots and a large lump extending a lot higher than the rest.  The planeswalker walked around it headed into the next room.  Zach was sitting at a desk filling out part of a tall stack of paperwork.

“We’ve got a problem.”  Alex took a deep breath.  “Where’s Tom?”

“You saw the giraffe, didn’t you?”  Zach looked up at the young man, sighing.  Alex looked over his shoulder, distracted.

“Oh.  That’s what that is?  It’s not very good.”

“He’s… been working on it for a while.”  The Lackey-First-Class groaned.  “That’s really all I have to say, isn’t it?”

Alex laughed.  “Poor guy.”  He paused.  “Hold on, this is serious.  We’ve got reports of Baloths near the lake; Tom’s going to be needed.  Can you tell him to meet us down there?  In one of the amphitheaters.”  He ran back out the door and Zach walked around to the back most room.  Tom sat at a desk coloring on a sheet of paperwork with a large yellow crayon.

“You hear all that?”

“Yep.”  Tom stood up, stretching.  “Baloths sound fun.  Can you handle this stuff while I’m gone?”

“I, ah, was going to come too.  I get bored too, except for when you’re working on the giraffe.  That was funny for a while.”

“Alright!  We’ll go into battle.  If you manage to level up, you won’t be a Lackey any more.”  Tom grinned, and Zach groaned.

*****

Peepers drove a conjured longsword into the skull of a green monster, flinging it behind his head and sending the creature’s body crashing into the wall of the amphitheater.  Several other bodies broke its fall to the ground.  Maytee and Alex were off in the trees, and large blasts of fire were coming from various spots.  A loud laugh came from the top of the amphitheater’s dome and Peepers recognized it before he turned.  Tom stood in a dramatic pose, his strange, piped coat flying in spite of little wind.  Zach walked up, arms crossed, next to Peepers and shrugged.

“Well, they know we’re here already,” the planeswalker said quietly.   The two on the ground looked out on a small group of monsterous forms prowling a distance from the building.  Bulky and ugly, the baloths seemed to sprout more teeth as they watched.  Something landed behind them and Tom exhaled as he walked up.

“This is going to be good… I’ve been cooped up for too long!” The Izzet planeswalker laughed.  He ran forward, pressing a hand against one of the larger trees.  A flash of light spread from his palm, entering the wood, then getting sucked back into his arm.   Almost immediately the hand grew longer, gnarled-looking and spikes sprouted from between his fingers.  He grinned wide and charged into the trees, leaving Peepers and Zach where they were.

“Uh…” Zach started, looking at Peepers.  “What do we do?”

“What do you mean?  We’re going to cut them open until there aren’t any more.”  He flicked the longsword in his hand, transforming it into a thinner, more exotic weapon.  Zach stepped back.

“Maybe you ought to do it… with my luck, I’m not about to be much help,” he stammered.  Peepers looked back at him, spellarmor forming around his arm and shoulder.

“Don’t come to the front lines unless you’re ready to go all out.  We know you can fight.  Now do it.”  He ran after Tom into the woods, leaving Zach near the half-exposed building.

The Lackey-First-Class watched him leave, thinking hard.

“I ain’t a hero.”  He paced slightly, watching the woods.  “They’re all better at this than me, best to leave it to them, right?”  As he finished saying that, a baloth crashed through the trees toward him.  Zach flinched, pulling energy into his hand without thinking, and swung it at the monster.  A wide double-edged axe formed in his fist and carved a gash across its face.  The baloth roared, one eye cut closed.  Zach took a deep breath, raising the ax overhead, and rammed more red mana into it, yelling.  The axe blade grew to about twice its size and he slammed it into the monster.  Most of its body was cleaved in half with that swing, and Zach just stared at the corpse.  The axe returned to its normal size and he hefted it up onto his shoulder.

“… The hell I’m gonna stay here and wait.”  He stood up straighter.  “Plus… I’m just as likely to die right here as I am in there.”  He charged forward, changing direction only to avoid trees.  A pair of horned baloths appeared in his path, and he crashed the axe into the side of one’s head.  As the other turned to attack he ripped the weapon from the corpse and drove it deep into the other baloth’s side.  He yanked it out, swinging again with a yell to chop the monster in half.  Without a pause he returned the axe to rest against his shoulder, stepping on the baloth corpses to continue moving forward.

More baloths, these with claws.  Slash, pull back, slash, avoid that attack, slash again.  He ran, carving up the green beasts and moving on.

*******

Chasity and a thin young man named Aaron sat on the other side of the amphitheater.  Chasity’s flower-radar was extended in a full semicircle and small motes of energy floated between the lines in midair.  She studied them for a moment.  “Big crowd coming up, tell Maytee to go north.  A stack of them should be… yeah, next to that lake.”  She paused.  “Uh, wait.  Maytee should be this big, red blip.  But she’s over here, too.”  Aaron looked over.  He held one hand over his ear, eyes closed.

“Foxtrot” he whispered and his eyes glazed over slightly.

********

Running near a recently-killed pile of chopped baloths, a small white fox-shape appeared and ran towards where the ‘blip’ of red energy was.   The fox blinked, and disappeared.

********

“Zach?  He’s… huh.  Well, he seems to be doing okay.  Wow.  That’s actually quite a kill-count,” Chasity said quietly.  “Anyway, get word to Alex to meet up with him if things get too much hotter down there.”

********

Slash, cut, cut… Zach dropped the last baloth in his path, getting ready charge forward, when a patch of nearby trees fell over in different directions.  Three enormous baloths stood higher than the treetops, looking down at him.  Zach blinked, and dropped his axe.  “Oh, crap.”

The rightmost baloth flinched as three wooden spikes appeared buried in its neck.  It turned and faced a figure standing in the branches of a nearby tree, a long and partially-metal coat trailing behind it.

“That’s right, I’ve got your back, Zach.  Just leave it all to me!”  Tom leapt down, his unchanged left arm hurling strange fireballs towards the attacked monster.  It turned and faced the planeswalker, leaving its two friends.  Zach looked up at the remaining two, who looked distracted by the sudden display.

“I’ve got these two, then!’ Zach yelled back, and Tom actually stopped attacking for a moment.  He grinned.

“Glad to hear it!”  Tom leapt up, throwing more of the strange fire in his opponent’s face, leading it off.  Zach glared up at the other two.

“Luck, don’t butt in now.   Noi-sance Engines!” He shouted, and silver baubles appeared in a pile around his feet.  Each one grew legs, crawling around the ground like metal insects near Zach’s feet.  He stepped on a pile of them, riding them backwards in time to avoid a baloth’s clawed fist crashing down.  “Berserk!” he shouted, forcing red mana around himself.  Spellarmor pauldrons, a chestplate, and gauntlets appeared around his torso.   He stepped back onto the ground, hands forward.  “Come on, come on… I’m right here… Overbeing Berserk!”  A magical circle appeared around his feet with a very simplistic diagram, and Zach focused on pouring energy into it.  “Not enough.”  He drew the metallic pests into the circle, their energy collapsing and joining the spell.  The baloths drew closer, crashing down trees to reach him.  Zach closed his eyes and felt the raw, burning mana from the circle surrounding him, dissolving the spellarmor.  “Come on!”

In the air above him, the mana started to coalesce into a larger form of his barbarian-style armor floating without a lower-body, complete with a faceless helmet hovering over the breastplate.  Zach let himself get angry, thinking about nothing but turning these two baloths into molten slag.  “RIP ‘EM APART!” he shouted, and the Overbeing he created conjured a oval-shaped shield and warhammer, propelling itself toward the beasts.  With a wordless scream, the armor slammed into the monsters, bashing with its shield and hammer, managing to crush both the titanic baloth’s skulls easily.  Zach howled as his Overbeing did, and more baloths were drawing nearer.  In broad and direct sweeps, the enormous spell-warrior crushed monsters under its hammer or flung them into the air.

Tom watched from a nearby tree, grinning.  “Well, yeah… ONE barbarian is good… ”  With a slight flourish, he made his hand in the crude shape of a cellphone and dialed on his fingers.  “Hey, start herding the baloth in this direction.  Zach’s going to turn this into a freaking meatgrinder.”  After dropping the call Tom sat on the tree limb, watching the show.  He whistled, drawing blue and red mana from the air, weaving it together.  “Now let’s see some style.”

Zach felt something brushing nearby, whether it was a spell or a baloth he couldn’t tell in his semi-berserk state, but gradually he noticed that as he commanded his Overbeing to fight, smaller versions had appeared around him, forming a ghostly viking raid in a ring around his magic circle.  They obeyed his command as easily as the giant version he’d summoned, so he forced everything in his mind to attack without mercy.  He grinned and continued smashing, tearing baloths to ribbons and crushing them into paper.   Only when there was not a living monster nearby could he manage to breathe slower.  The smaller armors raised their weapons in salute and faded away, and Zach shut down the Overbeing spell.   He dropped to one knee, panting.  As suddenly as it’d come, the fury fell to the back of his mind.

“Damn!” a familiar voice exclaimed in surprise.  Alex ran up, silver racket held backwards in his good hand.  “That was some nice work, man.  How the hell did you get that good?”

Zach shrugged, sweating.  “I just… y’know, had to.”  He rubbed his shoulder as every muscle in his body started to feel sore at once.

“Yep, someone definitely leveled up tonight; but you must’ve started using your own life energy to fuel that baby.”  Tom strolled up, stepping to the side to avoid a pile of dead creatures as tall as he was.  “I think… yeah, you definitely earned a promotion.  Congrats, Zach, you’re now a Lackey Second Class!  Maybe even Third.”  He grinned, and Zach’s expression dropped.

“Uh… isn’t ‘Second Class” a demoti-” Zach started, and Alex shrugged.

“I’ve got to go tell the others that the baloths seem to be all gone now.  Let’s hit the road.”  He disappeared, and Tom laughed as soon as the other planeswalker was gone.

“I was kidding about the ‘Lackey Second Class,” he grinned and patted Zach’s sore back gently.  “Nah, you’re no Lackey anymore.  You’re pretty much… yeah, you got some serious brute force tonight, so I think you’ve earned plain old Assistant level.”  Tom started back towards the campus, with Zach following behind slightly less enthusiastic.

“But… but I’m already doing the work of an assistant…” he protested, and Tom laughed.

“Yeah, but now you get to help me color!”  He paused, grinning back at Zach.  “Plus, I’ll show you how to get that kind of raw power without feeling exhausted.  I know a few tricks.”  They started back again.  “Oh… and I’ve been working on a new spell for you, when my hand was cramping from coloring.”

*******

Zach stumbled through the cafeteria, still sore from yesterday’s fight, when Mike walked by and bumped into him.

“Sorry, guess you got in my way,” Mike said, chuckling.  Zach closed his eyes and pointed over his shoulder.

“Jinx.”  He felt a flash of red mana leave his fingertips and heard Mike trip onto his face.  Somehow, his shoelaces had been braided together, knotted, and shaped vaguely into a lumpy mass.

“I keep hearing you complain about your luck, so I made up a way for you to use it against people,” Tom explained as he showed Zach the spell.

“Heh.  Guess that’s… just my luck.”  Zach grinned and kept walking.

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