Bullets of Bronze
Hello all! I usually don’t place author notes before chapters because as a reader I think it’s kind of annoying. However, this is chapter 25 and I think this is important.
This week I am going to be editing this entire story. I’ve grown a lot as a writer and I have a lot of changes to make to the first 10 chapters the story matches the whole in style and flow.
This means I may not be able to put out my usual 2 or 3 chapters next week. I wanted everyone to know why there is a decrease in apparent activity (if there is one) from my end.
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It was the second day their little caravan had been on the road and Henry was deeply thankful for the wagons. He usually didn’t mind walking, but he found he could think better while sitting with nothing better to do.
The night before, he asked Jason about the huge bar of green energy that shot up from the lead wagon. He thought it was a testament to how fucked up this world was that nobody seemed to care when it happened. Apparently in a world with magic and monsters, as long as nobody was dying and nothing was being blown up, nobody cared if random light shows of deadly energy popped up out of nowhere.
Then again, he noticed that Mareen trembled a little bit. Maybe some people did know what happened and just didn’t want to get involved? Henry didn’t understand people from Ludus at all.
Jason told him about his conversation with Keeja and most of it made sense to Henry. The part Henry was most interested in was the relationship between the Dhu and the corrosion of iron on Ludus. Henry had been thinking about metals a lot lately, about how steel he generated and maintained with magic didn’t corrode, but any steel he wasn’t running magic through rotted almost immediately.
Growing up in Washington State, like many kids, Henry studied the history of the Pacific Northwest American Indians… or Native Americans. He didn’t really have an opinion on what they should be called, he just always thought they were bad ass. One of the things he learned was that some tribes believed there were spirits in everything; the rocks, the hills, the air, everything.
As Henry sat on the bench of the trailing wagon, he slowly turned his Swiss army knife over in his hands. What if the Dhu were like the spirits in Native American mythology and folklore? If Dhu were responsible for iron oxidizing, could it be because of Dhu in the air? And if steel didn’t rot and stayed, well, steel like his pocket knife, could it be because it housed a Dhu of its own? Maybe “blessed steel” just had a Dhu living (or trapped) inside of it.
Henry concentrated hard and could almost sense something in the steel sometimes. It was frustrating. He had a notion that his [Magic Perception] skill helped, but maybe if he had another rank in it he could actually answer his own questions. Maybe one day he could make steel tools that didn’t corrode.
He kept turning the knife over in his hands. He definitely had more time to think now that he was riding on the wagon, but his thoughts were going all over the place. It was hard to focus. He had a lot on his mind.
Henry had realized that Mareen had feelings for him.
He knew it was probably kind of sad that it took him so long to figure it out. In hindsight, the signs were there for at least a week. Still, it wasn’t until Keeja started acting inappropriately with him the day before and he saw how frustrated Mareen got that he was able to put the pieces together. He kind of wished he still didn’t know.
He had no idea what to do. Henry didn’t think of himself as coward, but he felt crippling indecision about this subject; romance. On one hand, Mareen was great. She was very pretty, healthy, vibrant, she worked hard, she was smart, she wasn’t afraid to speak her mind, and he owed her and her grandfather a lot. On the other hand, she was a decade younger than him and from a different world. He thought the age thing might not be that big of a deal, but what if he ever made it home? Would she go with him? Would he want to stay on Ludus if he was with her? How would everything be affected?
Henry shook his head. He was like a penguin, and penguins mate for life. His first divorce hurt him so badly, he never wanted to go through the same thing again. But he knew he couldn’t hide from the world forever either. He was just considering dating, not getting married again. But in his mind, one thing lead to another and he still had a lot to sort through.
He felt at the very least he should bring the issue out into the open, but he wasn’t sure if that would clear things up or make everything more awkward. The most frustrating thing about the whole situation was Jason’s reaction. When Henry talked to him about it the night before, his smug friend made no expression at all and drawled, “Is that so?” Henry couldn’t be entirely sure because it was dark, but he was pretty sure Jason’s lips were quivering as he scratched the stubble on his cheek.
God damn him! The fucker knew! He’d probably known this whole time!
Suddenly, Henry snapped his head up. He smelled something weird. He’d gotten into a habit of cycling through his Enhanced Senses skill in order to train it and possibly even spot danger. He never wanted to be caught by surprise again like he was by the thugs in Mirana.
Yes, he could definitely smell something strange on the wind. He glanced up at Bezzi-ibbi on top of the first wagon. The Mo’hali boy’s big ears were perked up and he was visibly wary.
Henry signaled an alert to everyone else on his wagon and switched to his enhanced hearing. He could hear… nothing. The forest was quiet. Too quiet. Uh oh.
When the lead wagon came to a stop, Henry grabbed his weird helmet made of sewn boar tusks, fixed his chin strap, and jogged to where Jason sat.
Henry didn’t waste any time with pleasantries. “I think we’ve got trouble.”
“Yeah, Bezzi-ibbi already let us know something was up.” Jason was standing up, scanning the forest around the road in front of them.
Henry quickly did an inventory of their party’s gear. He and Jason were both armed and armored. Mareen had a recurve bow and a decent amount of arrows as well as a dagger. Uluula had her long bladed spear, a dagger, and a huge crossbow she found somewhere. Henry didn’t even see it with her until they left Mirana. He hadn’t asked any questions.
Bezzi-ibbi had his weird arm thing. Henry sincerely hoped the kid would just stay out of danger but he knew he couldn’t control the kid and it’d be stupid to try. Plus, Mo’hali hero rings were supposed to be kind of like Dolos orbs, right? The boy still wouldn’t talk about his arm but he probably wasn’t defenseless. He was also part jaguar… or something.
That left Keeja. The priestess was sitting on the wagon bench next to Jason and fluttering her eyelashes at Henry. Shameless. She was just shameless. Henry narrowed his eyes at her, “Are you going to fight if we get attacked? You could probably just handle anything that comes along by yourself, couldn’t you?”
Keeja pursed her lips at him, “Yes. But I won’t. I’m just watching. I am forbidden to interfere except in specific cases… like self defense.”
“Well, if monsters attack, couldn’t you just put yourself in front of them so it’d be self defense?”
Keeja shook her head, “No, because any lesser demons, or ‘monsters’ you will encounter pose no legitimate threat to me. I have to follow the Laws.” Keeja smiled, “Sorry! Rules are rules. But if it makes you feel any better I’ll be honestly disappointed if you die.”
Henry turned to Jason, “Can I shoot her?”
“No,” Jason sighed, “and even if you did she’d probably just laugh at you. You shouldn’t waste ammo.”
Henry gave Keeja one more flat look and jogged back to the rear wagon. His shoulder blades were starting to itch. That usually meant something violent was about to happen. “Mareen! Can you get on top of the lead wagon where Bezzi-ibbi is? On top of the roof struts?”
Mareen eyed the climb but to her credit, she immediately understood why Henry was asking. She hefted her bow and slowly nodded. “I think so.”
“Okay, hurry up and go.” Henry watched her trot to the lead wagon and start climbing with mixed feelings. …she had a really nice booty. He really wished he could still be blissfully ignorant about her feelings. At least she’d be a little bit safer on top of the wagon. Bezzi-ibbi helped pull her up on top of one of the thick roof supports.
Henry absent mindedly checked his weapons as he scanned the tree line. The feeling in his shoulder blades kept growing stronger. He decided it was time to use some magic. First he began channeling strength from the earth. He did so slowly, starting at an extremely low level and dialing it patiently up to max in order to conserve magic.
Next, instead of changing both forearms to metal, he gave his right forearm and right hand a steel carapace. Through experimentation, he’d realized that he had a limit of how much of his skin he could convert into steel, but he could put the actual metal wherever he wanted. There was also a limit of how much metal he could generate out of this covering to make blades and such, but it was fairly substantial.
Then he fixed a magic cannon barrel to his forearm. He really needed to come up with a name for his invention. Bronze blasters? Mystic boomers? Ma-cannon? Exo-gun? Actually, exogun didn’t sound too bad. Maybe he could call the bigger tube his “exocannon”. Exoguns and exocannon… I like that.
He hefted his shield as the feeling in his shoulder blades got even stronger. Then he got his first look at what was making the surrounding forest so quiet when a demon wolf slowly stalked out of the bushes and glared at him. It’s red, baleful eyes didn’t blink.
Henry and all the other members of the caravan stood still as the rest of the pack came out of the tree line. Henry counted 12 of them and confirmed this number when he used his magic to map the surrounding earth. He still couldn’t directly feel the demon wolves themselves, but he could sense when bushes were moved and the ground disturbed in enough quantity. He’d gotten much better at this ability in the last week too.
Henry shouted, “Uluula, Mareen, do you have a shot?”
Uluula answered by loosing a bolt from her ridiculously oversized crossbow. Her aim was good and nailed the closest demon wolf high in the back. After that, everything got confusing and messy.
Henry only saw flashes of the others engaged in combat. He had plenty of his own problems to attend to. A demon wolf jumped at him, leaping over a dozen feet. Henry planted his feet and used magic to give himself leverage. Then he used all his strength to bat the huge canine monster out of air with his shield. He heard a hollow crack as the monster’s neck broke. It landed in a rubbery heap.
Another demon wolf leapt at him from behind and Henry both heard it with his enhanced hearing and felt the bushes behind him rustle as it sprung. He whirled, swinging the khopesh in a deadly, glittering bronze arc. The magic-sharp sword backed by earth enhanced strength entirely beheaded the demon wolf as Henry pivoted.
Henry flicked the blood off of his blade and saw one of the monsters running towards the covered wagon. Mareen shot an arrow but missed. The demon wolf was about to jump when the massive bronze ball shot from Henry’s exogun blasted right through its lungs and heart. It collapsed in a twitching heap, coughing bloody foam.
Henry ran forward toward the front of the caravan and caught a glimpse of Uluula impaling a demon wolf on her long spear, withdrawing it, and dodging another attack with graceful, dancelike motions. Henry had to grudgingly admit she was good, very good. If he didn’t have the magic mojo and they sparred, she’d probably beat him.
He clenched his jaw and focused again. He couldn’t afford distractions. He was almost past the front wagon when he heard a sound like someone dragging a giant butter knife across rough plastic. He spun and saw Bezzi-ibbi on top of a demon wolf, his metallic arm locked onto the demon wolf’s neck right below its head, his talon like-fingers penetrating all the way to the creature’s bone. Bezzi-ibbi was snarling and spitting as he stabbed the monster in the side of its head again and again with a glittering, silver dagger.
Henry quickly reloaded his exogun and shot the demon wolf Bezzi-ibbi was riding through the chest. The boy lightly jumped off the collapsing beast and pushed his dagger into his metal arm where the weapon was seamlessly absorbed. Then a handle began to emerge from his palm and Bezzi-ibbi slowly withdrew a glittering, curved short sword.
They nodded at each other and took off different directions. Henry had more demon wolves to kill. He could wonder about mercury-looking arm sword things later. This planet is fucking weird and murderous.
He reloaded his exogun, attached two more tubes to his arm, then rattled off all three shots at demon wolves running through the trees. He managed to get a glancing hit on one and it spun to the ground. Henry took the opportunity to run forward, piercing it with his khopesh and slamming the edge of his shield down to crush its skull.
He dashed back the other direction and passed Keeja, still sitting on the front wagon’s bench. She was eating a pear and cheerily waving at him. Henry ignored her.
He caught a brief glimpse of Jason teleporting out of nowhere beside a demon wolf emerging from the trees. His friend impaled the creature with both of his short swords before teleporting away again with a bamf of displaced air.
Henry reloaded his exoguns and took a shot at another demon wolf. His first shot missed, but then the monster was hit by two throwing knives seemingly out of nowhere. Jason is getting good with that attack… Henry lined up another shot and fired both of his remaining loaded exoguns. The two heavy bronze balls slammed into the demon wolf and punched gaping wounds through its center of mass.
Henry wasn’t even using half his max power with his exoguns and they were ripping the demon wolves to shreds. Unlike the last time he and Jason squared off against monsters, this time he felt like he’d barely begun to tap his magic reserves.
Before he knew it, it was over. All 12 demon wolves lay still or thrashing around. Henry glanced around and saw there didn’t appear to be any casualties in their little caravan. Hen sheathed his sword and began thoughtfully patting his scarred leg. This was not bad, not bad at all.
Keeja started laughing and began slow clapping.
A couple hours later, they were having a low key celebration before it was ruined by circumstance. Henry was drinking some water that Mareen just cooled for everyone with her magic. Her Water School magic was weak but it was enough to chill drinks without too much effort.
The whole group was checked for injuries and a few minor scrapes were healed. Everyone was in high spirits about their relatively easy victory over an entire pack of demon wolves. Then they all started hearing things in their heads. It can’t be… Henry recognized the voice although he’d mostly heard it in English in the past and this time it was speaking Luda.
Hello? Hello? Is this working? Ah yes. Hello little people! This is the Great God Dolos! I have an announcement to make!
Everyone in the caravan put a hand to their forehead and looked at each other for confirmation. Yes, they were all hearing the same thing. Mareen looked terrified. Keeja just rolled her eyes.
Some of you may be wondering how you’re hearing my voice in your head. However, first of all, you should not think about such complicated things. You are mortals, just a step above stupid animals and you should spend your precious brain cells thinking about basic things like eating and procreating. Better yet, you should not be thinking at all.
Second, I am the Great God Dolos! I am Great. And a god. It’s in my title. This sort of thing isn’t difficult for me.
I have an announcement. I know you’re disappointed I didn’t just drop by to chat, but you are dirty, basic creatures. Your lives are just one disappointment after another. You will deal, I’m sure.
From this moment forward, I am issuing a bounty on all Dolos orb wielders and hero ring Mo’hali Heroes. That sounds kind of rendundant doesn’t it? Hero ring Mo’hali Heroes. The Mo’hali really are stupid. I’m surprised they’re able to dress themselves.
Ah, yes! Back to the announcement. There are too many orb wielders to list on Ludus in this message. There is simply not enough time. Well, I also just don’t want to do it. However, I will have your city center or government buildings post lists of resident orb wielders in your country. This list will be delivered by dolosbots and updated every month.
Plus, using the same techno… magic that allows me to communicate with you now, if you see a Dolos orb wielder clearly, you will be notified of it and also be able to read a few facts about this person. This alert will manifest as a chime sound in your head and written words flowing across your left eye. If you can’t read or you don’t have a left eye, well, too bad for you.
Now for the fun part. Any Mo’hali Hero or Dolos orb wielder you kill, you will be rewarded with a new Dolos orb or spirit stone! You may not request which reward you get, but your desire will be taken into consideration.
That’s it. I will leave you to go back to your wretched little lives. Happy hunting!
Henry turned to look at Jason. “We knew that was coming, and I already know I can’t stand that guy. Yet here I am, hating him more.”
Jason nodded, “I’m kind of glad we’re out in the middle of nowhere right now. What are the odds we will come across another orb wielder or someone targeting us out here?”
Henry patted his leg. He had a feeling things were about to get a lot more complicated. He looked at Mareen and she quickly glanced away, pretending to stare at a random tree.
…A lot more complicated.