Deals and Deception
Jason stalked through the hallway of the Jaguar Clan house. He usually considered himself a fairly calm person and he knew he should just let the whole matter go. He owed his life to Henry several times over after all… But he was genuinely interested in Uluula! He didn’t have the greatest confidence with women in the first place and he felt like he might have actually gotten somewhere back there!
It was only like a day, no, less than a day and he’d already struck out! And she’d been nude!
Also, why the hell did he leave a bath when the woman he was interested in was naked in it? Stupid, stupid Jason!
Deep down, he knew he was just digging his hole deeper, but he didn’t know what else to do. His dignity was already on life support; he couldn’t turn around or it would flat line. He continued to stomp around looking for Henry. The handful of jaguar people in the hall got out of his way when they saw his face.
He found Henry standing with Bezzi-ibbi in an open room off one of the main hallways. Jason just barely held himself back from attacking his friend. It would be crossing the line to hit Henry, but dammit, he hadn’t been laid in over a year! Plus, Uluula was amazing and beautiful and like… an elf and an alien at once! It was so, so hot. Fuck, why did he leave the bath?
“Henry, what the fuck is wrong with you? Why couldn’t you wait to talk to me? Even if I was by myself in there that wasn’t the time or the place!”
Henry kept a poker face and answered, “I remembered I forgot to warn you about shortening Mo’hali names. I gotta tell you man, I’m proud of you. It looks like you graduated from your interest in cartoon cats.”
Jason stepped forward and was seriously thinking about punching his insufferably smug friend when his body stopped moving for a second. His feet felt attached to the floor. The air felt weird too, like all the currents stopped. From behind him he heard someone groan in English, “You primitives and your posturing. It’s embarrassing.”
That voice… Jason recognized that voice! It couldn’t be…
Jason turned and saw Dolos sitting nonchalantly on a side chair nibbling on a grape. “Are you done establishing dominance or whatever it was you were doing? We need to talk. I hate it here and I want to leave so let’s make this quick.”
Henry was standing completely still and grimacing. Jason felt his emotions settling. This was real. Dolos was really here.
“What? You primitives aren’t going to attack me? Isn’t that what you do? Especially you Americans, with your John Wayne and…” Dolos paused when Bezzi-ibbi leaned to look at him from behind Henry. He rolled his eyes, “Oh great, the little predator boy is here too. As if I don’t have enough distractions, the little hamsters will probably make another statue of me now and get my face completely wrong. Mo’hali are terrible artists, you know.”
Jason still couldn’t move his feet so he tried teleporting away. He not only failed, it hurt like hell and gave him a ringing headache. Now he knew why Henry was probably being so quiet. His friend had probably tried to use his magic too. Dolos wagged a finger at them, “Ah, bad Terrans! No more of that. Very bad Terrans! No magic while we chat.”
Dolos looked the same as when they first met. Stone accessories, strange tools, clothing that looked like a fabric store exploded and gathered in weird places. The only difference was this time he was almost seven feet tall, not over ten. Up close, Jason was utterly certain he stood in the presence of an immensely powerful being. He still wasn’t sure that he believed Dolos was actually a god, though. He just didn’t seem very… divine.
“Why are you here?” Jason asked.
Dolos put a hand to his chest in mock outrage, “Such impertinence. And yet I notice neither of you is cursing at me this time.” He grinned and his eyes glittered.
Please, please keep your cool Henry, Jason desperately thought. Sure, he was angry at Dolos too but there wasn’t anything they could do about it. At least not yet. On the other hand, this was an opportunity to gather information. Plus, they didn’t even know why Dolos was there. It could be important.
Jason wet his lips, “Can you please answer the question? Why are you here?”
Dolos grimaced at them. “No respect. You should be calling me “Great God Dolos” and rubbing oil in your hair or having an orgy or cutting yourself; at least some stupid thing mortals do for religion. But no, here you are…” His voice trailed off into grumbles.
Henry began to speak but Dolos wave his hand and Henry couldn’t open his mouth anymore. He briefly struggled to pry his jaws apart but gave up, glaring at Dolos. He gave him the finger and crossed his arms.
“Oh, so very mature of you, Henry Sato. You wound me.” Dolos dramatically put a wrist to his forehead. “I can already guess what sorts of things you would say and I don’t feel like restraining my godly wrath. Unfortunately, I don’t want to kill you today but I have a feeling you would tempt me.”
Jason took a deep breath and repeated himself, “Could you answer the question? Please?”
Dolos glared at Jason. “Oh all right! You creatures have no sense for proper timing or poise at all.” He stood up, huffing, his tools jingling under his clothing. “It pains me to say this, but… I need you to do something,” his voice trailed off.
“I’m sorry, could you please say that last part again? I couldn’t hear you.”
“I said I need you to do something! You Terrans are as poor at listening as you are at personal hygiene.”
Henry’s jaw started working again. He growled, “Help with what?”
“Well you see, about 30,000 years ago when I started this little experiment, I made a bet with one of my sisters. The bet was silly and beneath me so I forgot about it. I was rather RUDELY reminded the whole thing again about a week ago. It was terrible.”
Dolos glared at the ceiling and grumphed to himself. Jason felt the power rolling off of Dolos increase from irritation. He remembered the stories Mareen told of Dolos destroying villages. Actually, now that he was thinking about it, where was Mareen?
Dolos continued, his voice dour, “Anyway, I was reminded that in three to four years my sister is going to pit her creation against mine. There will be a war or something and if she destroys too much of Ludus I might have to start my work all over again. It will be incredibly inconvenient. It took eons of research to get to this point! Do you know what it would be like to do 30,000 years of careful preparation and study all over again?”
Jason didn’t quite know how to respond to that. He kept his mouth shut. Thankfully, Henry did too.
Dolos started pacing, “Everything isn’t ready yet, but it’s getting close! I’m so close! Only about a thousand years away from the next breakthrough and still that franstha is holding me to the bet!”
He spun on them and put his hands behind his back. “I need generals. In three or four years, maybe ten, whatever, we are going to have a war game. I need you to unite the people on Ludus and become as powerful as possible. I need you to train an army and crush that franstha Apate’s creations!
Jason and Henry looked at each other. Henry said, “Isn’t that basically what you told us to do the last time you saw us?”
“Ah yes, that’s right. Well, that was for fun and research. Wars always give me great data so it was worth setting you to scurry on your merry way towards violence. However, this is serious.” Dolos waved a hand, “Yes, yes, I know. Compensation. Incentives. Even as far removed I am from simple creatures like you, I still know you will want something.
So what do you want? You may choose one thing. And no, your request can’t be to be sent back to your home planet. I’ve put too much into you. I still might send you back if you manage to survive after the war, though. It depends on how well you do.”
There was a period of silence. Jason really couldn’t think of anything Dolos could give him. He was also busy lamenting his luck. He didn’t want to fight in some ridiculous war of the gods! His internal protests were interrupted when Henry spoked up, his voice hesitant.
“I want you to get a message from me to my mother. I want you to heal her. I know you can probably do it if she’s still alive. If you do that, I’ll do the best I can. If she’s already passed away, no deal.”
Dolos looked surprised for a second, then grinned. He gestured and reached into thin air, pulling out a normal looking pad of paper and a pen. He handed it off and Henry began writing furiously. While his head was bent over the pad Henry said, “I want proof too. I want proof she is safe and healthy if I am going to do anything for you.”
“You do realize that this will firmly bind you to my wishes. Anything I can heal I can destroy.”
Henry paused for a moment and shrugged. “It’s a better chance than she has now. I’m willing to risk it. If you keep your side, I’ll keep mine.”
Dolos turned to Jason again and his grin fell. “And then there’s you. You’re one of those thinking types. I hate mortals like you. I mean, I hate you all, but I hate you even more.”
“Why do you need us to do this? Why the charade? And if we do need to fight, why not just give us a pile of gear and spirit gems or whatever we need to get stronger?”
“It’s against the rules.”
“Rules? What rules?”
“Rules are everything.” Dolos shook his head. “You wouldn’t understand. You’re a mortal. All you do is eat and fornicate and spawn and die. Your lives are meaningless and you have no idea of the bigger world that surrounds you.
It’s not like I can’t offer any assistance. I will give you some locations of spirit gems but it will be after your priestess gets her to babysit you. It will also be after I announce orb holder identities to the world. Ah, I should tell you about this.
I’m sending all my priestesses out to the most promising individuals or teams to assist them. I can’t help you directly but they can… sort of.”
Henry glanced up from his writing, “Priestesses? No priests?”
Dolos looked up at the ceiling in exasperation, “As much as it already pained me to admit you are some of the more promising individuals with orbs, it hurts even more that you are this stupid and unobservant. You’ve been on this planet for long enough to notice there are more women than men. Yes Terrans, you get to experience a mortal world run by females, just like the rest of the mortal Universe is. Why would I have priests in my church when it’s easier to mirror most political power structures.
As for the other bit, I will allow your assigned priestess to reveal information over time, but only after I announce who every orb holder is. I am announcing that I will reward anyone who kills an orb holder with spirit gem or a rejected orb too. One per kill.”
“But that doesn’t make any sense,” protested Jason. “You said this war is coming and you want the world to survive, why not let all of us get stronger?”
Dolos smiled and narrowed his eyes, “If I get my data, I don’t care if this world crumbles to dust. Whether you all kill each other or repel Apate’s armies, I will wring as much as I can from this experiment. Winning would be pleasant, but it is irrelevant as long as I can reach my long term goals. Everything is data.”
“And there are other people you are setting on this task like us?”
“Of course. What, did you think you were chosen or special? You are one of many possible options. I still hope all of you filthy Terrans die off as long as you do it after I get my data. Anyone could come out on top at this point. But with some of the others hunting you, you will still probably die.”
“Then why give us anything?”
“No no no. I’ve said too much already. If you want answers, figure them out for yourself. Now tell me what you want so I can leave.”
Jason was torn. He didn’t just suspect he was being used, he was sure of it. He also had a suspicion that Dolos actually preferred they all kill each other off rather than actually fighting off any supposed invasion. Jason wasn’t entirely buying the story Dolos gave them.
But one thing was certain: Henry would do anything to save his mother. He would definitely go along with this psycho mission. Plus, Jason felt like he had unfinished business on Ludus. And while he missed his life on Earth, there wasn’t anything there that couldn’t wait for a few years.
He needed to stand with his friend. And there was also the small fact he couldn’t leave the planet anyway… It was beginning to look like his only alternative to avoid being murdered by opportunists would be to hide in the woods for the rest of his life or continue with the original plan to explore this world and get stronger.
He made a decision and hoped he didn’t live to regret it. “Okay, fine. I’ll be your pawn but I don’t want anything right now. My request is that you owe me a favor.”
Dolos smirked, “I am older than your civilization. I precede the invention of war on your planet. I have seen oceans boil and mountains erode away. I was not born yesterday, creature. Be specific about your favor or you get nothing.”
“Fine. Any one thing, one action, or one alteration. Whatever I ask can only affect myself or my environment, and it cannot be sending me home to Earth at least until after we’ve accomplished this task.”
Dolos countered, “It can’t be anything that requires more than a small use of power, you can’t ask for more favors with your favor, you can’t ask for things that don’t exist, you can’t ask me to directly affect this contest, and I have the right to reject whatever favor you ask.”
“Fine, but if I can prove through logic that my request is reasonable based on our agreement, you have to overturn your rejection.”
Dolos considered for a moment, “I hate agreeing to this, but I’ve been here too long to begin with. I must drop this shift bubble soon. Fine, we have an agreement.”
“Do I have your word? And how will I contact you?”
“Yes you have my word,” Dolos snarled. “You can contact me through your governing priestess. Now that everything is taken care of, she will be the one to deal with your disrespectful…”
Jason forgot Bezzi-ibbi was with them until the boy darted forward, saying something in his native language to Dolos. How is he moving? Dolos must have also forgotten he was there. Bezzi-ibbi got on one knee and repeated what he already said more forcefully.
Dolos looked surprised at first but then grinned and clapped his hands. He said in English, “Excellent! Sometimes I’m reminded of why I soil myself by coming here. This will be excellent research. You’ll get your boon, you little urchin.” Dolos said something to Bezzi-ibbi in the Mo’hali language and reached into thin air again. He pulled out a plain silver ring and handed it to the boy who accepted it carefully and put it in his pocket.
Henry still had his head down and didn’t see what happened, but Jason was concerned. He said in Luda, “Are you sure about whatever it is you’re doing?”
Bezzi-ibbi looked resolute and firmly nodded.
Dolos made a gesture like he was dusting his hands and stretched. “I’m glad that’s done. It galls me to give anything to mortals who will probably die soon anyway.” He held out a hand towards Henry and took the writing pad, making it vanish as quickly as it appeared. “It is difficult being such a generous and kind god.”
The air began to shimmer behind him. “Please keep being good little experiments! Try not to get murdered!” He laughed as he stepped through the portal.
After Dolos left, the air resumed moving and Jason realized he could hear the sounds of the household again. The longer Jason thought about what just happened, the more convinced he was that they all just got scammed. Seriously, profoundly scammed.