Luckily, nobody blamed Henry or Jason for what happened to Bezzi-ibbi. Neither of them had recognized the ring’s significance like a Mo’hali would. Hero rings represented thousands of years of complicated Mo’hali history on Ludus.
As Yanno-ibbi explained later, like all the other races on Ludus, Mo’hali didn’t have access to technology other than mana crystal tech. They also very rarely had any mages among them, and their overall numbers were comparatively small to other groups too. On Ludus, despite their physical advantages of speed, strength, and reflexes, the Mo’hali people were weak.
Dolos gave power to other races in the form of Dolos orbs and the changes were internal, but the orbs didn’t work on Mo’hali physiology. At best nothing happened and at worse the Mo’hali who took the orb died.
But like all sentients on Ludus, Dolos had them there for a purpose. Dolos orbs didn’t work on Mo’hali, so Dolos created rings only they could use. The rings themselves had various effects similar to the orbs. However, they always added some physical mark of their presence like a glowing eye or a spiked tail, new horns, or even a twisted body. The mortality rate was sky high. Most Mo’hali brave enough to try using a ring paid the ultimate price for it.
All the greatest Mo’hali heroes on Ludus over the last thousand years were ring holders. The predatory-type Mo’hali like the Jaguar Clan held them in almost religious reverence.
Bezzi-ibbi had taken an enormous, all or nothing risk. Jason thought he might just be the bravest little boy he’d ever met. Bezzi-ibbi was still in a coma and still might die but if he survived, he would be a Mo’hali hero. His Clan would no longer have the right to keep him safe and pampered.
It was heavy stuff. Jason felt terrible and wondered if he saved Bezzi-ibbi from a cell just to see him die in some sick Dolos experiment.
He tried to stay busy to offset his feelings of guilt. He and Henry got up early on the first morning Bezzi-ibbi was in a coma to discuss their adventuring company. Jason was a little weirded out by Mareen being Henry’s servant, but his friend seemed most uncomfortable with it. In fact he even seemed a little afraid of her.
Mareen sat quietly off to the side as they argued over the name of their new company. Jason suggested going with a name like, “Thunderkittens”. Henry was looking for a serious sounding name like, “Professional Dungeoneers”. Neither man wanted to give an inch. Jason wanted an Earth reference that would tell other people on Ludus they were from Earth, hopefully gaining new allies. Henry’s focus was creating a serious business to build capital and wanted the name to reflect that.
The breakthrough came when they were both randomly throwing out names and Henry suggested, “Delvers”. Jason liked the sound of it and asked, “What about ‘Delvers LLC’?”
“What does ‘LLC’ stand for?”
“It means Limited Liability Company. It’s basically a way for people to form a business in the United States that will protect from litigation without jumping through all the hoops of incorporating.”
Henry paused for a moment, “How do you know that?”
“It’s not like all I ever did was write code. I read things, I listened, I paid attention.”
Henry scrunched up his face, “I still think it’s weird. What in the hell did you need to know that for?”
“Let me answer your question with a question. Do you know how to make a deadfall trap for large animals?”
“Why? It’s not like you ever use it. When are you ever going to make a trap for a bear or whatever? What good did it do you?”
“Well, considering we’re on a fantasy world and we might need to kill some food, it seems a lot more useful knowing how to set traps than what ‘LLC’ stands for.” Henry rolled his eyes. “Plus, what makes you think anyone on this whole planet other than you is going to understand the acronym? It’s just a United States thing, right? What if someone on Ludus is from France and says, ‘Bonjour, what is zees ‘LLC’? It sounds ze dumb.’”
Jason pressed his lip together. His voice was tight when he responded, “It’s fucking ‘Delvers LLC’ or ‘Pokemonsters’. Choose.”
“Okay, ‘Delvers LLC’ it is.” Henry shrugged.
Once the name was decided, Mareen got a few more pieces of information, filled out the necessary fields on the adventuring company application, and returned to the City Planning Office to get their company registered.
The next item on the to-do list that morning was briefly discussing how to expand their magical abilities. By this time, both men had seen a lot of violence and they were aware how lucky they’d been. They had a few days to prepare for their mission and they wanted to make it count.
“Okay,” Jason started. “I think we should discuss our weaknesses and go from there.”
“You’re right. Okay, one of the biggest problems we both have is capacity. Our available magic is still huge compared to most other mages if Mareen is average, but in all our serious fights we pretty much ran out of juice. I think you should probably ask this new priestess Dolos sends a bunch of questions whenever she gets here, but before that, I have an idea to practice.”
Jason was curious what his friend had to say. In the years they’d known each other, Henry had a kind of ingrained practicality that sometimes allowed him to see things Jason missed. “Okay, I’m listening.”
“The whole time we practiced on the way to Mirana, we were using magic to do big, flashy things. We were just learning at the time and it was cool but I think we should tone it down now. I think we should try using a whole bunch of little, precise exercises to train our abilities.”
“Okay, but ‘magic control’ was one of the abilities we could increase before…”
“Yeah, but you got it and I didn’t. You should have some sort of noticeable increase in ability over me. I mean, I know we’re comparing apples to oranges with our powers but I still think we’re pretty equal right now, and we shouldn’t be. What if ‘focus’ is actually how quickly you can train your abilities and what your upper limit is? We both got that blanket ‘magic power’ ability. What if that is why we seem to be growing in capacity? What if we can make it grow faster?
Jason thought back to all of his gaming experience, “What, you mean like raising stats?”
“No! This is real life. Stats are stupid to even discuss, don’t make me slap you. I know you have more experience with this kind of general world type than me, but Dolos got his inspiration for this messed up place from another civilization thousands of years ago or something, right? This world may be really similar to your RPG games, but what if there are differences too? My gut is telling me that the skills we bought with the orbs give us potential ability and maybe a boost to get there, not instant tools we can use.
Plus, when I first started changing my forearms, it took a while to do it. Now if I can practically do it in the blink of an eye. I think I’ve been training the ability by using it so often.”
Jason thought back and realized he had to concentrate less hard to teleport now. Henry might be right. “Hmmm. It doesn’t hurt to give it a shot. Okay let’s try it, but I want to talk about our functional weaknesses too; like in the effects we can produce.”
“Yeah, you’re kind of a one trick pony right now, aren’t you?”
It rankled, but Jason agreed, “Yes. What’s more, my magic is really rare so I doubt there are lists anywhere of things Time or Space mages can do. I need to come up with stuff from scratch now that we’ve exhausted the power lists in our heads.”
“You have ‘Consciousness’ too. You do that mind-time mojo thing.”
“Yeah. But I’m kind of lacking in defense.”
Henry frowned, “You mean other than the fact you can teleport away from anything?”
“Every time I do that, it takes more power depending on how far I go, though. Plus it can be really disorienting if I do it a few times in a row. You heard Dolos. He’s announcing some sort of orb holder death game to the world soon. I’m not sure what that means but it doesn’t sound good.
All the other mages we’ve encountered so far have been pretty weak compared to us, but you said that you sensed Bezzi-ibbi’s rekke is really powerful.”
“His rekke, Kinwe-na-ibbi. The Luda word for non-birth mother. Come on, you should know this too.”
Henry thought about it for a second and then looked embarrassed, “Oh yeah. I’m still getting used to this whole knowing stuff I never actually learned thing.”
Jason sighed. Henry could be so frustrating at times. The man had an incredibly quick wit and he was very intelligent but he seemed to only use his gifts for evil. Good luck, Mareen. Jason chuckled.
“It’s not that funny.” Henry crossed his arms.
“No it’s something different. Never mind. Anyway, the point is we have no idea what we’re going to be up against. What if we meet someone who has Light magic and shoots lasers? What if someone chucks other people at us? What if someone can summon nightmare creatures? Plus, just because steel is scarce doesn’t mean that guns don’t exist. There are a lot of really scary possibilities.
So yeah, I need to work on defense and I think you need to work on ranged attacks. You should probably start thinking about what to do if you meet someone who is as strong and fast as you. We probably need to start thinking about conventional weapons too.”
“Yeah, about that… Let’s go look at the armory and see what we can use.” Jason nodded and they headed across the huge Jaguar Clan house to look at weapons.
When they got to the armory, Yanno-ibbi was sitting on the floor with his legs crossed, carving an intricate pattern into the handle of a pick-looking weapon. When they walked in he made a short bow. “Please excuse me if I don’t get up. I try to get most of my work done early in the morning. I’d also like time to look in on Bezzi-ibbi today so I’m trying to hurry.”
Henry asked, “How is he doing?” The concern in his voice was obvious to Jason. It was amazing how that little boy had grown on them in such a short time. Jason still wasn’t sure if he really understood Bezzi-ibbi, but he wanted the opportunity to figure him out. Plus the kid might act weird, but all the Mo-hali did and he’d just been in a prison cell waiting to be sold into slavery or worse before the age of 12. It was actually amazing that Bezzi-ibbi wasn’t catatonic, well, before he actually was anyway.
Yanno-ibbi’s face fell. “There has been no change, Henry-ibbi. But grieving for the living is disrespectful. Let us be about our business.”
Jason thought he understood the sentiment. They shouldn’t doubt Bezzi-ibbi as long as he kept fighting. “Okay, we are going to look around. We can take whatever we want, right?”
Yanno-ibbi nodded, “Yes, but you will have to return or pay for what you take after your mission is complete.”
Henry made a face, “That doesn’t make a lot of sense. If we succeed, the Clan won’t have any more money problems, right?”
“Henry-ibbi, please, the walls listen!” Yanno-ibbi looked pained. “If you keep this up, you will be named Truth-Hisser and everyone will avoid you.”
Jason rolled his eyes, “Just let it drop. I think they have their reasons and it’s not like we’re not getting anything out of this. We have to start somewhere.”
Henry grumbled and walked over to inspect the room full of weapons and armor. Jason followed suit.
One of the first things Jason noticed was that all the weapons were relatively short. He remembered that Bronze Age weapon on Earth tended to be relatively short too and he was disappointed. Jason’s preferred weapon over the last two years of practicing HEMA was the longsword. The weapon suited his lanky body style well.
Still, now that he thought about it, if he continued to attack using teleporting surprise strikes, a longer, slower weapon might not be optimal. He kept browsing his choices. At least there was a lot of variety in the room, too bad most of it wasn’t all that impressive. He saw a few stone weapons and remembered bronze was expensive. Maybe he should be impressed after all.
Jason eventually picked out a whole slew of possible weapon options and saw Henry doing the same. They both took simple armor too. The breast plates they chose were bronze and attached with straps. The helms were made of thick leather with bone sewed on, possibly tusks. They were piling all of their choices onto a handy rug to carry out when Uluula swept in wearing a purple tunic, her bare legs sporting sandals laced to her knees.
The men in the room all paused to watch her walk slowly in a circuit, examining the weapons on display; she had that kind of effect. She stopped about halfway around the room, choosing a spear with a thick, bronze blade and a long, thin bronze knife, almost a stiletto.
She turned a challenging look at Henry and Jason, “I would like to take these if you will allow me to join your company. Perhaps some armor too.”
Jason’s brain didn’t seem to be working right. He wanted to say something, but his mouth wouldn’t move from its slightly open position. Henry rolled his eyes at him and challenged, “Why do you want to join us?”
Uluula shrugged, “I originally came to this city to find work anyway. You saved me. You are starting a company. I owe you a debt and I still need work. It seems this is a mutually beneficial arrangement. I can fight and I have a lot more experience than either of you at combat.”
Henry bristled, “I used to be a soldier, lady.”
Uluula looked at him with no expression at all, “Oh, did you now? Perhaps we can discuss that later. So about me joining, what say you?”
Henry smacked Jason on the shoulder, snapping him out of his daze. Jason thought Uluula’s explanation sounded logical, and the truth was they could use some help. In fact, given the sensitive nature of the mission, they couldn’t exactly find help outside of the Clan and he doubted anyone of them would go. It might mess up the test or something.
Jason was still learning about the Jaguar Clan culture, but he got the vibe that this mission had some sort of ritual significance. Of course, the fact they would be cleaning up a huge problem for the Clan was probably just icing on the cake.
“Yes, you may join our company.” Jason just hoped Uluula and Henry would get along. He already sensed some conflict.
Uluula nodded and gestured to Yanno-ibbi, “I may take these weapons now, yes?”
“Since you are with them now you can. It still counts as their loan. Some leather armor is fine too.”
Uluula nodded. She gathered up her choices and prepared to leave. On the way out the door, she stopped in front of Jason. “I have given it some thought. I am not opposed to you pursuing my attention, possibly leading to courting. Areva where I am from are very methodical about these things. I still think you may be a bit young for me, but it will not matter in another 100 years, much less 200. Plus, I think you’re silly and cute. Do you agree to this?”
Jason’s brain was still functioning like a desk fan completely submerged in honey. He hadn’t felt this awkward around a female since he was a teen. How did she do this? “Ye… yes?” he stammered. Stupid, stupid Jason! He was getting ready to internally curse himself out when she shocked him by reaching up to gently touch his cheek.
“Good, that is settled. You now have my permission to shorten my name if you’d like.” Uluula smiled, somehow letting him know she was teasing him, but still serious. Her entire face lit up, her eyes twinkling and Jason forgot where he was for a moment. He stared after her in a daze even when she was no longer in sight.
He came back to himself after he realized Henry was snickering. Yanno-ibbi just stared at him and slowly shook his head. “Trying to court an Areva aristocrat? Terrans truly do exceed Mo’hali in both bravery and stupidity. I’d rather try on a hero ring.”
Jason ignored them both and dragged his carpet out the door. They could laugh all they wanted, that woman was amazing. And as for the noble part… she said she was in the military. That meant she couldn’t be a noble, right? Either way it probably didn’t matter on Ludus, but Jason still wondered what he was getting himself into.
Deep down, he knew he’d already made his decision so the circumstances didn’t really matter anymore. It just wasn’t fair that he’d seen her naked before they even started, what… thinking about dating? They were like, pre-pre relationship? And people thought Terrans were crazy! He shook his head and kept dragging his pile of weapons outside.