Names and Nudity
Jason woke as the wagon jostled to a halt. He sat up and rubbed the sleep from his eyes, peering around in confusion. The last thing he remembered was falling asleep with Uluula… he glanced down and saw her waking up too. At least she was okay.
He noticed they were still covered in filth and then the smell hit him a moment later. “Ugh..” he shook his head and resisted the urge to spit. He could wait until they got out; it seemed rude to spit in the wagon, even if he didn’t know whose it was or why he was there.
The waning, pre-dusk light cast deep shadows outside. He couldn’t get a good view of where they were, but none of it would have looked familiar to him anyway. He decided to take the fact they were unharmed and unbound as positive signs.
Before long, the rear gate of the wagon was opened by two women in red uniforms. Both women were carrying cudgels on their belts and they looked very athletic. They looked like regular humans to Jason, in fact they could fit in anywhere in the US. They were probably Terrans like him.
One woman was tall with short hair. The other was average height with a pixie bob. They had their sleeves rolled up and wrinkled their noses in distaste after getting a whiff of their passengers.
“Thank the gods you’re awake,” said the taller woman. “I may have to burn my uniform after getting the two of you into the wagon.”
The other guard added, “You’re lucky you have friends in high places. We were going to take you to jail. Instead, here we are at the Jaguar clan. Now they can deal with you.”
“Out out out!” The first guard tapped her cudgel on the side of the wagon. “We don’t have all day. We need to clean this wagon out now. I couldn’t even force the puking drunks to sit in this smell later tonight.”
“Damn right,” said the shorter woman.
Jason stared at the guards for half a second, not knowing whether he was more irritated or amused. Uluula interrupted his bemusement by getting up and hopping out of the wagon. Jason followed her. As soon as he was out, the guards secured the back of the wagon and handed Jason a cloth bundle. “This was what we found on you, a few knives and such.” The taller woman smirked, “You normally wouldn’t get these back, but you look like you could use all the help you can get.”
“Thanks, I think,” mumbled Jason. The guards ignored him and hopped up onto the wagon, riding off without a backwards glance.
Jason frowned at Uluula but she just shrugged. He examined his surroundings and saw he was standing behind a huge house. The architecture looked strange to him but he bet Henry would know what it was. Henry was always good with random, useless knowledge like that.
Jason frowned; he suddenly realized he left Henry in a burning building with no exit. He hoped his friend made it out, but he could already feel guilt setting in. What’s more, the little beast boy Bezzi was there too. He might not have made it out either.
Well, there wasn’t anything he could do about it now. He’d just have to hope the little boy was still alive and safe.
A door to the house opened and a jaguar Mo’hali woman in a plain blue dress approached them. Suddenly, a small figure darted out from behind her and ran up to Jason. Bezzi-ibbi held out his hands and without thinking, Jason automatically took them. The boy smiled and said, “Family. Happy you are alive.”
Jason blinked and noticed more people coming out of the house, including Henry. His friend was wearing the same baggy green and black clothing as the Mo’hali. The group walked towards Jason and then took an involuntary step back when they smelled him.
Henry coughed, “Oh my God, dude! That’s fucking nasty. Go take a bath. I was going to talk to you and introduce everyone but it can wait.”
The first person Jason saw, the female Mo’hali in the blue dress said, “Please come this way, young master and you as well,” she gestured to Uluula. “I will guide you to the baths.” Jason concluded she was probably a maid.
He could seriously smell himself. He also saw the disgusted faces some of the people around him were making. “Ah, yeah. Okay let’s go.”
Uluula tilted her head slightly, “Lead the way.” She stood straight and her bearing was almost regal. Jason realized it was his first time seeing her normal posture. She looked proud and self-confident.
Jason obediently followed Uluula and the maid as she led them into the house. As he passed his friend, Henry stiffly said, “I’m glad you made it out okay.”
“You too.” Jason wanted to say more, but they’d talk later.
The house was huge. It looked even bigger on the inside than the outside. Long hallways with stone flooring lead to rooms with attractive, polished wooden doors. The maid led them to a door that looked like all the others to Jason. She opened it to reveal a small room with a another door at the other end. “Madam, please put your clothing in the basket here. What would you like us to do with it?”
Uluula looked down at herself thoughtfully. She finally said, “It makes me stand out too much. You can dispose of it so long as I am provided with replacements.”
“Very good.” She turned to Jason, “You, please come with me.”
Jason followed her down another set of hallways and quickly got lost. She brought him to a room where an older, gentle looking jaguar man was sitting on a cushion surrounded by weapons and armor. Jason glanced around, interested by all the hardware on the walls but quickly focused again when he realized the maid was trying to get his attention.
The man chuckled, “Leave him be, Tita-abbi. He looks,” he sniffed, “and smells like he’s had a long day.”
The maid, Tita-abbi smiled indulgently. “Young master, this is Yanno-ibbi. Please hand him your metal or anything else you’d like cleaned and detailed. He specializes in weapons.”
Jason handed over the bag the Guard gave him. He hadn’t even opened it yet. He knew it probably contained a couple bronze knives covered in dried blood. Why did the City Guard even let me go… Jason glanced around at the beautiful house and had his suspicions.
Henry probably pulled through for him again. His friend not only escaped, he probably had the City Guard looking for him as well. Jason had no idea how Henry pulled off attaining the help of such a powerful family. It obviously had something to do with Bezzi-ibbi, he could tell that much.
He was grateful.
Still, everything could wait until after his bath. He regarded the older Mo’hali, “So are you an armorer?”
Yanno-ibbi smiled, “Armorer, tinker, garden supervisor, and Family historian.”
“Wow! That is quite a list, Yanno! You must be really busy.”
There was a brief silence broken by Tita-abbi hissing. Jason glanced at her, she was staring at the ground but her whole body was tense. Jason was confused, he could tell he made a mistake but he didn’t know what he did. He could only conclude it had something to do with shortening Yanno-ibbi’s name. He turned back to Yanno-ibbi, but the older man hadn’t moved and was still smiling. His eyes twinkled.
“Jason-ibbi, right? Please use my full name around Family branch members. Some people are going to be slower than others to adjust to you and Henry-ibbi being Family.”
“I see,” said Jason. He really didn’t. What the hell did Henry do!? He needed to talk to his friend as soon as possible but he had no idea where he was anymore. The path of least resistance seemed to be taking a bath.
Yanno-ibbi hefted himself to his feet and gravely bowed. “But where are my old manners? Excuse me, I’m sure you want to get cleaned up.”
The maid, Tita-abbi swept out of the room. She looked back, “This way, young master.” She wasn’t hissing anymore, that was a good sign. He wouldn’t make that mistake again until he knew more about the Mo’hali culture.
They walked for a ways, Jason thought they might be heading back the way they came but he couldn’t be sure. Tita-abbi opened a door and gestured inside. “You should have everything you need inside. You can drop your clothing and your armor in the basket. What would you like us to do with it?” She wrinkled her nose.
Jason thought of his HEMA armor fondly. It saved his life several times, but to keep surviving, he’d need something more substantial. Plus, he rather doubted he’d ever get the smell out of the nylon bits. “You can destroy or discard it.”
“Very well. The bath is through that doorway.”
In the small room, Jason stripped and found a small door leading to a private privy, which was a godsend. Then he discovered the far end of the room was a shower of sorts. Two levers operated the water from the ceiling. One adjusted the flow and the other increased the temperature. Running water and a heated shower, eh? Not bad.
It was the first time Jason had been able to thoroughly clean his body in two weeks. Henry might be used to roughing it and being a nasty ass, but Jason didn’t like it. He was pleased to find soap and other toiletries in shelves recessed into the wall. Tita-abbi hadn’t been kidding, the room was stocked.
After he was done washing himself, Henry could still faintly smell his old clothes in the corner. He decided to leave the shower and check out the bath. It seemed the process he was expected to follow was like a cross between Japanese and Western bathing customs.
He opened the door and saw the bath itself. The walls looked like concrete and the bath was mostly below the level of the floor. Steam hung in the air, and Jason saw the interior of the tub shimmer. He noticed the tub’s irregular shape and was reminded of… a shell! Yes, the bath was definitely the lower shell of some enormous creature.
Jason gingerly lowered himself into the scented water and it was a little warm for his taste, at least at first, but he quickly got used to it. He thought over the last two weeks and realized it was a freakin’ miracle he was still alive. He and Henry had been playing everything by ear but the battle in the warehouse was a wakeup call.
This world was dangerous. They needed to have a serious discussion about how to proceed. They also needed gear and a base of operations…
Jason noticed motion out the corner of his eye. He glanced in that direction and then did a double take. No, his eyes were not deceiving him. Uluula was shutting a door behind her and walking towards the bath. She was completely naked and seemed unconcerned about it.
Jason’s eyes drank in the sight of her. Like most of the other Areva Jason saw so far, she was very petite. She probably stood barely 4’8”, and her body was slim. Despite her slender build, she had a defined waist and rather impressive muscle definition. She was built like a gymnast, all corded muscle under soft skin.
Her breasts were modest but full for her body type, her areola were surprisingly dark in spite of her white hair. Her mons pubis was bare. In fact, she had no hair on her entire body other than her head and her eyebrows.
What am I doing? I’m staring. Jason quickly looked away. He heard Uluula slip into the water. “Why aren’t you looking at me? Ah, that’s right, Terrans have issues with nudity. You also have no control over your biology.”
“Terrans have no sexual bridge. I knew this before I even met any of your kind. Just so you know, if you attack me, I will do my best to kill you.”
Jason kept his eyes fixed firmly on the water in front of him, “Sexual bridge… what do you mean? Also, aren’t you embarrassed?”
“Embarrassed about what? My body? Why would I be? I may be a maiden but I am 42 years old. I am almost a full adult. Plus I believe I am quite mature for my age.”
Jason heard what she said, shrugged and looked up. Ther was no point staring at the water if she wasn’t upset about the situation. And he wanted to see her while they talked.
He looked her right in her bright blue eyes. “You look 20.”
“That’s because Areva age slower than Terrans. Once we hit puberty our aging slows until we reach full adulthood. I am almost there.”
“And yet, I’ve heard you don’t like being called elves.”
Her eyes flashed, “We are not a fairy tale or Terran myth. If anything, before I came to this world, I thought Terrans were a myth meant to frighten small children. Areva populate the universe. Terrans are slowly destroying themselves on one planet.”
“How long have you been here?”
“I’ve been on Ludus for approximately two months. Yes, I am aware of Dolos orbs and no, I was not given one. I think it’s probably because I already had some small ability with magic. It is my best guess.”
Jason was confused, “So how do you speak Luda so well, then?”
Uluula pointed to her head. The motion did interesting thing to her chest but Jason kept looking her in the eye. He didn’t want to be disrespectful, even if only by his culture. He respected and admired Uluula and wanted to demonstrate that the best way he knew how. “Most Areven who can afford it have a neuralcom. I was in the military so mine is a bit more advanced. It took me about a month to learn the Luda language.”
“But you were around locals, weren’t you? Wasn’t it hard?”
Uluula shook her head, “Most of the people in the village I was transported near were Areva. Some of them spoke Quadrant so I was able to figure out what happened to me. It was a… difficult time.” A shadow passed over her face. “However, after I understood my situation I decided to make the most of it instead of wallowing in pity. Some people do that after they come to this planet, you know.”
“I can imagine.”
“I decided to travel to the nearest city, this one, and look for employment. I’m ashamed to say that I was captured by following someone to a fictitious job interview.” Her eyes hardened. “I was asked to leave my weapons behind, which was one of the stupidest things I’ve ever done in my life. I will not make that mistake again.”
“Well, Henry and I were kind of stupid too. I definitely don’t have the right to judge.”
Uluula slapped the water softly, “And yet, you escaped and rescued me and the child as well. I had no idea what would happen to me. I may have lost my freedom for the rest of my life, and Areva live a very long time. You have my gratitude. It’s a debt I am not sure how to repay.”
“Meh, you probably would have escaped eventually. You looked pretty fierce when you came out of your cell.”
She stared at him for a moment before shaking her head. “I forgot about actually meeting you until you brought it up again. You seem like a relatively intelligent person, but I forget sometimes that Terrans don’t meet other races unless they are stolen to Ludus. You fundamentally don’t understand how to navigate other cultures.”
“What do you mean? I already figured out I made mistakes with Mo’hali names but I don’t understand the reason it was offensive.”
“When you first met us, you shortened my name and Bezzi-ibbi’s. In Mo’hali culture, family is incredibly important and great emphasis is placed on familial connections. Only close family members can omit the family designation from a person’s name. Doing otherwise is a grave insult, the kind that results in duels or death.
Bezzi-ibbi probably should have tried killing you in that cell. Instead, it seems he adopted you into his family. To be honest, I didn’t even know Mo’hali could do that. He must be highly placed in his Family. You’re probably lucky you were saving his life. He also seemed rather impressed by your magic.”
Suddenly all the pieces fit in Jason’s mind. They’d gotten very lucky indeed. He wondered what would have happened if he wasn’t captured and made that kind of mistake in public. There were probably a lot of Terrans who were killed on Ludus from being unintentionally rude. Dolos said they probably wouldn’t survive long; the memory chilled him.
“As for me,” Uluula continued, “shortening an Areva’s given name is not as insulting as it would be to a Mo’hali, but it’s usually done out of spite, or familiarity, or the intention to court, but it’s a rather forceful way to…” She thought for a second, “It’s as uncomfortable as pulling someone you don’t know into a long, intimate hug; or maybe touching them inappropriately.”
“Well, now that we’re not in a cell, I can apologize for being rude but I’m definitely interested.” The words left Jason’s mouth before he thought about what he was saying.
She cocked her head, “What do you mean?”
“I mean I’m interested in getting to know you better. You’re self-confident, you’re intelligent, you’ve already saved me from future cultural mistakes, and you’re one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen. I find you incredibly attractive.”
It was the most straightforward he’d ever communicated his interest to a woman in his life. Maybe the fact he was sitting naked with her in a bathtub had something to do with it. The mood was perfect too. Uluula’s eyes widened a bit but then she pursed her lips and smiled. She opened her mouth to speak…
And Henry knocked on the door Jason used to enter the bath, opened it, and said, “Hey Jason, make sure not to shorten anyone’s name. We need to talk. Are you gonna take all da…”
He saw Jason and Uluula sitting close to each other in the bath and froze. “Ah, sorry for interrupting.” He closed the door.
Jason turned his head back around slowly and carefully kept his face calm. The mood was completely ruined. He glanced at Uluula but she quickly turned her head away from him and moved away a few inches too. He could tell she was grinning.
Jason stared at the wall for a minute but he could sense the amusement rolling off of Uluula. It was too much. If she started laughing he was going to die a little inside. He got up stiffly, back straight and left the bath. He held the tatters of his dignity together tightly. In the shower room where he left his old clothes, he found a green and black outfit waiting for him.
Jason dressed himself slowly and growled. Inside his head he was screaming, God Damn it, Henry! I’m going to fucking kill him! He was so angry and embarrassed it took him three tries to button his short robe correctly.