Message In a Bottle
Jason dodged another slashing attack and teleported back a ways. He knew teleporting behind his opponent didn’t usually work anymore, his friend was too quick. Henry was full of power from the earth, stronger and faster than a normal person. He was getting better at using his enhanced senses too and could actually hear the air being displaced as Jason teleported most of the time now. They were both training in earnest.
Henry slapped a bronze tube onto his steel-covered right forearm and took aim. Jason knew what was coming and slammed a null-time barrier in place. Henry’s bronze projectile hit the barrier and dropped harmlessly to the ground. Jason released the barrier so he could conserve energy. Holding the thing in place drained magic power and was like keeping a muscle flexed in his head.
Henry nodded in appreciation. “That was a good block. You’re getting a lot faster. If that was one of my full power shots I think it still would have gotten through but you’re getting a lot closer.” Henry picked up the bronze ball from the ground and put it back into the cylinder on his arm; it was a tight fit. Then he detached the cylinder with a small pulse of magic and snapped it in back into place on his belt holster with several other tubes.
Jason sheathed his daggers and glanced over at Uluula doing exercises with her spear. She came out to exercise the same day Henry scared the hell out of half the Jaguar Clan by pulverizing the huge rock. That was two days ago. She’d pretty much kept to herself since then with the exception of talking to Jason for a few minutes every night before retiring to her room. Everything between them was off to a slow start.
He and Henry had been sparring almost non-stop. They were both worried about Bezzi-ibbi who was still in a coma, but there wasn’t anything to do other than continue preparing for their mission. They both stayed busy—it was more productive than just moping around. They also discovered that they could get an absurd amount of training done in a day due to their enhanced endurance. Both men’s healing ability allowed them to recover from muscle pains almost instantly too.
Sometimes to stay grounded, Jason reminded himself that all his superhuman abilities were from the Dhu hanging out inside of him. He wasn’t entirely clear on where or what they actually were, but the reminder that his healing abilities were supplied by an extra-dimensional parasite was humbling.
Off to the side, Mareen sat on a bench and studied a sheaf of paperwork. She was taking her job as the Delvers LLC day-to-day manager very seriously. Jason wasn’t really happy about the fact she seemed to think he and Henry were both idiots; it was obvious that only Henry was an idiot. Still, she’d been enormously helpful so he kept his grumbling to himself.
She even interviewed Henry and Jason about the cost of goods on Earth and the currency they were familiar with back home, the US Dollar. It turned out that Mareen was a math genius and could effortlessly do multiplication and long division in her head. She’d known she was the only person in her village that could do math like that, but she just assumed it wasn’t an uncommon ability. Now that she knew it as rare, she said she was happy she could help make Ludus less confusing to her employer.
Now whenever she talked to Henry and Jason about how much things cost or what they could earn from their mission, she used familiar units of currency. She did the same with units of measurement. Uluula said she could do the same type of math in her head too, but she was not interested in playing mother to anyone. Henry bristled, and Jason was starting to worry that the friction between Henry and Uluula was growing. He secretly thought they might be too similar in some ways to ever be friends.
He came back to the present and squared up against Henry again, determined to win this match. They used their real weapons that Henry blunted with magic. It still hurt to get hit, drawing blood or breaking bones, but Henry said they had to get used to being hit so they wouldn’t be afraid of it. Jason thought he had a point. Plus, Mareen was off to the side and with her help both men healed in an hour from anything they were inflicting on each other.
They weren’t exactly pulling their strikes, but they weren’t trying to kill each other either. It was a delicate balance that probably would have taken more time to get right if they hadn’t already had so much experience fencing together.
“Are you ready?” Jason prepped himself mentally for the fight. His magic focus had grown by leaps and bounds, but it still helped to center before each conflict. Jason’s short sword, daggers, and throwing knives were already in place. He could feel their familiar weight.
“Just a sec,” Henry adjusted his gear. In addition to the armor he and Jason both wore, he also had his projectile system, his khopesh, shield, and a few knives. He hadn’t used any of his knives yet, but Jason didn’t discount them. Henry was a tricky bastard and had a real knack for hand to hand fighting. Apparently satisfied with his gear, Henry nodded, “Ready!”
Jason immediately sprang into action; he wanted to try something new. He teleported and when the familiar wrenching sensation stopped, he was in the air about 300 yards above Henry. The energy and focus needed to teleport this far was still fairly draining, but it’d be worth it. He pulled a few throwing knives from the sheaths around his legs and dropped them in a wide pattern. He grinned and thought, This is going to be fun.
Then he teleported behind Henry, drawing and cutting with his short sword in one smooth motion. He also slightly shortened the travel time and distance of his swing with magic, resulting in a brutally fast attack at Henry’s flank. His friend’s blood-stained pants were proof that this sort of attack had been successful in the past. Not this time, though.
Henry didn’t even move his body much. He just twisted his shield to stop the slash and jerked his other hand into the air. Jason had already teleported, though, so the small explosion of rocks and dirt where he’d been standing didn’t touch him.
Jason regarded Henry from about 10 feet away and slowed his perception of time. This next part would be tricky. That shield of Henry’s was very effective at blocking most bladed attacks and Jason no longer carried a larger, longer blade. Good thing he could cheat.
He sheathed his sword and pulled a throwing knife in each hand. He threw one knife off to the side, concentrating and flexing what he’d started to think of his “magic muscle”. The knife disappeared and reappeared low in front of Henry, flying at an upward angle. Henry grunted and bent down to block the knife on his chest armor all while keeping his eyes on Jason.
Jason immediately teleported behind Henry so he couldn’t start bringing his magic cannons to bear and began hammering out throwing knifes, teleporting them all around his friend with different, confusing vectors. Henry used his strength, speed, and senses to skillfully block or evade every attack.
Jason teleported to Henry’s side opposite his shield and swung his sword in a glittering arc at his friend’s sword arm. Henry managed to twist his weird, curvy sword around to block and pivoted on one foot, striking at Jason’s face with his shield. Jason smiled, Gotcha! He held a bare hand up to block the shield, a hand that had a small window of null-time suspended in front of it. Henry’s eyes widened in surprise when his powerful strike was stopped cold, his whole body shuddering from rebounding torque.
Jason used a lot of magic to pull that stunt and tried to capitalize on it. He sprung forward, aiming his sword thrust at Henry’s thigh. He really thought he might score a hit, but Henry dove out of the way, rolling before springing back to his feet. His friend narrowed his eyes, slapping a cannon barrel to his forearm. Henry was about to start shooting again and Jason knew he’d probably be screwed. Henry’s new cannons were just ridiculously effective. Jason threw another knife and teleported it at Henry’s face. Henry just raised the corner of his shield in a blur and blocked the blade aside while still bringing his arm up to shoot at Jason.
That was when Jason’s tricky plan paid off. A bronze throwing knife bounced off Henry’s helmet from above. Henry blinked in confusion.
Jason knew Henry’s enhanced hearing could identify air being displaced by teleportation up to about 100 yards away. That was why he’d teleported so far up in the air at the beginning of the fight. Henry had no idea where Jason had gone at the start of the match. The knives he released in the air were finally falling around Henry, creating chaos. The sounds of knives hitting the ground and plinking off his armor would confuse his hearing too. Henry raised his shield above his head and made a fatal mistake. He looked up.
As soon as his friend’s eyes left him, Jason simultaneously threw a knife in either hand out to the side, teleporting them to Henry’s flanks, one angled up and one down. Then he teleported himself. Henry somehow managed to block the two thrown knives but Jason tapped him on the shoulder with his sword from behind. Jason was glad he hadn’t had to draw blood. Time they didn’t spend healing they could spend training.
Henry stood still look straight ahead and Jason grinned. The EMT-turned-mage came out ahead in most of their matches, but this time Jason won hands down. He began to open his mouth to gloat when he heard someone say, “I’m glad you Terrans aren’t completely useless.” The worlds were spoken in English. With slow clapping.
Jason and Henry both turned to see a tan skinned Areva woman dressed in a brown lace crop top and faded jean shorts. She had some of her long hair tied up in a top knot and three dark streaks ran from the bottom of each eye to her cheek bones. She had a simple “U” shaped design on her forehead of the same material. Jason couldn’t tell whether the designs were makeup, tattoos, or something else.
She was tall for an Areva woman, probably 4’11 and stood nonchalantly in dusty cowboy boots. After she stopped clapping, she began munching on an apple she’d been holding under one arm. Completing her odd appearance, she wore a large, ornate gold necklace with a complicated sigil at its center.
And she was standing next to a robot.
The robot looked like an egg made of shiny metal floating in midair. The top of its pointed body sported a dome covered in some sort of reflective material. It didn’t have any obvious appendages until a small port on its body opened and a flexible arm shot out, its three clawed fingers holding something.
The woman kept munching on her apple, talking with her mouth full. “Don’t mind the ‘bot. It’s mostly just here to make sure I actually came to meet you since I didn’t really want to go. At least I got some Terrans to babysit, though. Dolos hates you but I think you’re interesting. I’m your priestess, obviously. You can call me Keeja.”
She snatched away what the dolosbot was holding and stuck her apple core on one of its claws. “Now get out of here you obsolete, useless pile of garbage! I came here like a good girl. Go tell Dolos I’m not going anywhere. These two have some potential.”
She gave the floating robot a solid kick. The dolosbot tipped a bit and rattled before righting itself and moving away. Jason thought the entire scene was a bit surreal. He glanced up and saw Mareen was rooted in place with a look of fear while Uluula’s expression was more guarded and serious. That’s right, dolosbots were like boogeymen on this planet… And Keeja just kicked one.
The priestess in cowboy boots juggled the object she took from the dolosbot up and down in one hand. It was round and looked ceramic. She switched from English to Luda, “Okay which one of you is Henry? Asian right? Ah, that must be you.” She nodded at Henry, “Catch.”
Henry dropped his sword to catch the ceramic sphere. He held the sphere up, “What’s this?”
Keeja smiled, “I believe you asked Dolos for a message. Press the top.”
Henry shrugged and did as she said. The sphere clicked and an image of his mother appeared in a hospital bed over his hand.
Jason gasped when he saw Mrs. Sato. She looked frail and painfully thin, but there was color in her cheeks and her spirit seemed undiminished. “Is this thing on?” Her heavily accented English rattled out in a quick staccato that Jason would recognize anywhere, “I can just talk and holdu this ball and Henry will see, right?”
She was definitely Henry’s mom.
“Okay. Okay. Hi Henry!” She waved at the area in front of her. “I got your letter and I want to let you know I am okay! What you did worked good and the doctors say my cancer is gone! They saying it a miracle but I know the nice man who gave me the thing to drink was telling the truth. He say it would heal me and you made him give it.
I wish you could be here to see this but I know you are working hardu whereva you are.
This nice man told me you made the hospital bills go away and got me a cure! I don’t know how you did it but I am not surprised. You always have been a problem solver. I am very very very proud of you and your dad would be too! You saved my life and saved my retirement. You are amazing.”
Mrs. Sato continued to smile but her expression got more serious and she started shaking her finger at the air in front of her as if Henry were there. “But you always do this kinda of thing! You just disappear with no word, no nothing and then one day I’m cured? It is not your job to fix the world Henry! It is not your burden to fix everything. You are in bit trouble when you come home!”
Mrs. Sato paused for a moment and slowly began to cry, “You hear me? You come home one day. I know what you do now is probly very important but you come back to see mama okay? I love you. Please be safe. I love you Henry. I will wait to see you. You will always be my hero.” She tried to say something more but emotion made her voice too thick and she just cried for a few seconds before the recording stopped.
Henry stared at the sphere for a while with tears rolling down his cheeks. Jason felt happy that Mrs. Sato would be okay, but he also felt awkward watching his friend’s emotional moment. He was also pretending he didn’t have unshed tears of his own after seeing Mrs. Sato’s message. Finally Henry coughed and roughly wiped his eyes, “She’s going to be healthy now, right?”
Keeja nodded seriously, “That was the deal. Now you just need to hold up your side of the bargain.”
Henry’s eyes got hard and he his voice was ice cold when he replied, “I understand. Nothing better get in my way.”
Jason was about to ask one of the many, many questions he had when the door to the Jaguar Clan house burst open and Tita-abbi hollered, “Bezzi-ibbi woke up! He is asking for Henry-ibbi and Jason-ibbi!”
To her credit, the maid seemed to notice the strange atmosphere in record time after her announcement. She scratched one pointed ear in confusion when everyone didn’t immediately make a ruckus over the announcement, but then she saw Keeja. Tita-abbi began shaking in fear and bowed low, “Forgive my intrusion, Great One.” Jason was curious about Tita-abbi’s reaction. How had she known who Keeja was? Could it be the markings on her face? It sure wasn’t the clothing… Maybe it was the necklace.
He shook his head. All of his questions could wait. He wanted to see Bezzi-ibbi and make sure the kid was okay. He turned to Keeja, “Well, if you are going to be our babysitter, you can start babysitting. We’re going to visit our little friend who just woke up. You’re free to stay out here or come inside or whatever. I’m guessing you won’t be going far, though.”
Keeja regarded him levelly, “Nobody has talked to me with that level of familiarity in over 1000 years.”
Jason rolled his eyes and in the back of his mind started to worry that maybe Henry was starting to rub off on him too much. “Well, they just did. Look lady, I’m done being intimidated. I’m sure you’re a bad ass, overpowered master of destruction or whatever but I just really don’t care right now. We’re going inside to see our friend and I’d like to talk to you after that. I think we’ll save time if you stay close so we can have a chat.”
He turned to Tita-abbi, “She can come inside, right?”
Tita-abbi looked like she was about to pass out. “She is a priestess of Dolos. She can go wherever she wants.”
“Okay good. Keeja, you can come inside, but if you make a fuss we won’t cooperate with you.
I’m not against working with you, but I want to establish right now that this is a partnership and I really don’t care how old or connected you are. Dolos made it clear his hands are tied and we’re going to be the ones doing the heavy lifting over the next few years. I don’t plan on going into this mess as anything less than a partner.”
Keeja glared at Jason levelly before covering her face with a hand. “Maybe I should have run away after all,” she groaned.
Author’s note: New art on Ch. 1 and Ch. 15. If you’re a current reader you might want to check it out.