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Bandaged in Bed
Henry was standing in a desert. A ruined tank and pieces of an old Soviet airplane poked out of the sand in the distance. Oh hell, not this again.
Henry turned around in annoyance, but he already knew what he’d see. A man was standing in the desert wearing slacks, a button down shirt, tie, and a halfway unzipped sweater vest. He was an older man, standing about six feet tall and his smile was friendly. His eyes twinkled. “Welcome back to my neighborhood, Henr—“
“We talked about this, motherfucker. You are an orb, some sort of Dhu controlling device. You are not my childhood hero. I refuse to call you by that man’s name. He was a great man. You are just, ‘Bob.’ No ‘Mister,’ either. Just, ‘Bob.’”
“Well that’s fine, Henry, but—“
“And stop calling this your neighborhood. This is a desert in Afghanistan. Why couldn’t you appear as a bikini model or something?”
“We already talked about this, Henry. I appear as a character from your childhood that will put you at ease. The setting is to relax you too. Your mind is very complex so I’m not sure why images of this place where you experienced so much grief would also put you at rest. I just know it does. You told Jason that I appeared as a bikini model. Why did you lie?”
“It doesn’t matter!” Henry snarled. “Why are you here?”
“Well, your mind is in a unique state right now so we can talk. I decided you would want to have a little get-together, neighbor. You know, I don’t really have my own mind, not really. I’m just a tool. But I do passively watch what is happening in your life. My main job is to help you merge with your orb.
I sensed you still have unanswered questions from the last time we met, and it seems you might get a spirit stone soon to raise your abilities. Now we can have a nice sit-down and chat.”
Bob-in-the-sweater waved his hand and chairs instantly appeared out of nowhere. Henry eyed the nearest leather recliner with suspicion before gingerly sitting. “Okay, I’ll admit I have some questions. I also don’t remember what all my choices were if I level up again. Let’s talk.”
Henry woke up in a rustic wooden bed in a house made of logs. Jason was sleeping in a similar bed a few feet away from him. Henry did a double take, Did I just go back in time? But no, this was not George’s house in the farming village. For one, this building was significantly bigger.
Henry looked around more and noticed Mareen through a doorway sleeping on a bed in another room. Bezzi-ibbi was half asleep in a chair across from Jason’s bed. The boy jumped forward when Henry tried sitting up.
Henry’s entire body hurt. He felt like he got hit by a truck. Well, either a truck or a man with super powers wearing a truck’s weight in armor. He was amazed he was still alive. His last memory was getting his ass kicked by Thod, the walking bandit tank.
He groaned and rubbed sleep out of his eyes. “How long have I been out for, Bezzi-ibbi?”
The Mo’hali boy drummed his curiously padded fingers on his metal arm, not looking Henry in the eye. “Early next morning.”
Henry nodded, “Okay.” He held up an arm swathed in bandages, “Can you also tell me why I’m wearing splints on my arms and legs?”
Bezzi-ibbi became noticeably agitated. “Want tell you and Jason-ibbi. Same time.”
“Okay, I’m assuming this has something to do with why we’re still alive, right?”
“Yes,” Bezzi-ibbi nodded.
“Okay, where’re Keeja and Uluula? Are they okay?”
“Yes! Keeja! Uluula!” Bezzi-ibbi nodded and practically ran from the room. Is he avoiding me? Henry shook his head. He was still half asleep but something weird was going on. First of all, he knew he should probably be dead.
Henry had a feeling he was about to be involved in a serious discussion so he wanted another pair of ears involved. His fuzzy head made his thoughts feel heavy. He really needed to find a good source for whatever the Ludus version of coffee was, well, if such a thing even existed. What a terrible thought.
He grabbed his sheathed sword leaning against the wall and hit Jason with it a few times. “Wake up, you lanky bastard. We’re alive”
Jason groaned and didn’t open his eyes until Henry smacked him a few more times, eventually pushing the tip of the sheath into his friend’s nostril. Jason pushed it away irritably and sat up, glaring at Henry. When the covers slipped down, Henry could see that Jason had even more bandages than he did.
What the hell was going on?
Jason slowly dragged a hand over his face and asked, “I can see we are still alive and you are still seriously testing my patience. Dear God, why must I be shackled to this Asian idiot? Also, why are all these bandages on me? Don’t we heal really fast nowadays?”
“That’s what I just asked and Bezzi-ibbi ran out of the room. I think he went to get Uluula and Keeja. I saw Mareen in the next room—“
He stopped talking as Mareen walked into view. She looked wide awake and her eyes were haunted, but sharp. She was wearing a loose robe and holding a beautiful steel dagger. That’s new, thought Henry.
“Hi Mareen, how are you—“
“I have some things to say to both of you, and to you alone, Henry. Please listen.”
Suddenly, Henry’s head didn’t feel quite so fuzzy anymore. A surge of adrenaline coursed through his body. He patted his scarred leg and gave Mareen his undivided attention. He wasn’t sure why, but his instincts were screaming at him to wake up as fast as he could.
Mareen cleared her throat and began, “I got a Dolos orb. During the attack, I killed Jeth. He had the orb and this blessed steel dagger in his possession.” Mareen held up the dagger in her hand. It was still sheathed, but Henry could tell it was a very high quality weapon. Mareen’s hand trembled a bit as she regarded the weapon with mixed admiration and distaste before she dropped her arm.
“I am an employee of Delvers LLC and as the adventure company leaders, you have first pick of any treasure. However, I claimed the orb as mine. I believe it was technically my right to do so since Jeth attacked me while engaged in a vendetta.
On the other hand, I am an indentured servant and… I already swallowed the orb a few hours ago. I am prepared to be punished if you feel it’s necessary.”
Henry blinked. That was a lot of shit to process right after waking up.
Of course, Jason had no problem keeping up, the bastard. “That’s fine, Mareen. I would have preferred that you asked one of us first, but what’s done is done.”
Mareen’s stern expression cracked a little. “Don’t you at least want to know what kind of orb it was? What it was worth?”
Jason smiled, “I guess those would be good questions. How did you even find out? Did you visit with someone in your dreams?”
“What? Huh? No. Keeja said it was an older, body strengthening orb. It will make the Holder stronger and more durable, help some with coordination. She actually said it’s really old so the effects won’t be anywhere near as powerful as newer orbs.”
Henry frowned, “How did Keeja know?”
“She’s a high priestess. She can just look at an orb and know what it is.”
The whole thing sounded shady to Henry but he kept his mouth shut. He might have been tempted to sell an orb and invest the money in Delvers LLC prior to Dolos’ murder announcement. However, now they needed allies more than money.
He probably would have given an orb to Mareen anyway. She did her best to help and she was obviously serious about her debt. Henry idly rubbed the mark on his finger with a thumb.
Henry nodded at Jason when his friend glanced a question at him. He was content to let Jason keep doing the talking for the time being. Henry’s mouth was dry and despite his best efforts, he still wasn’t mentally feeling 100% yet. Maybe it was because of his orb’s visit while he was unconscious.
Jason assured, “We’re fine with you taking the orb and the dagger. You helped us ever since we came to this planet.”
Mareen nodded but she didn’t relax. “Good. Now I have something else to say. I was almost murdered. I’ve been an idiot and it took getting stabbed in the back to realize that life is fleeting.”
Mareen turned to Henry and looked him right in the eyes, “Henry, I have a feeling this won’t go well but I have to say it anyway. I like you. You’re disgusting, you’re flippant, you have terrible manners, you’re harsh to your friend, you’re emotionally stunted, you have deep wounds from your past, and you can’t take a hint. And yet, I still care about you. I want you to start courting me. I don’t want to be alone again when this world is cruel…”
Mareen’s eyes misted up and she swallowed, visibly keeping her emotions under control. Henry’s mind was unfogged enough for him to wonder, What in the world happened to her? Mareen nervously tucked her hair behind an ear and Henry saw it was notched at the top from a cut. That was definitely new.
He drug himself back to the discussion, trying to fight through his shock at the conversation’s turn as Mareen continued, “I don’t know if you’ll have me, but from the moment you saved me from the goblins, I’ve been hearing my heart song. Please consider my request.”
Henry stared at Mareen and she stared right back. She bit her lower lip but other than that, her gaze was steady and her shoulders square. Henry didn’t know what to say. He was definitely attracted to Mareen, but would she really be happy with someone like him? Every fault she listed he had was the truth. He couldn’t deny any of it.
Henry shook his head, “I’m almost 30 years old. You’re, what, 19? I’m too old for you. I have too many issues I haven’t resolved yet and—“
“That is your reason for turning me down? Age?” Mareen’s eyes flashed and Henry felt a stab of worry. Was she going to blow up like before in the carriage? “That is the stupidest rotting reason I’ve ever heard. We are living on a cursed monster cursed world. People die from demon PLANTS. Are you seriously suggesting that we can’t court because you’re 10 rotting years older than me?
You’re a Holder. Now I’m a holder. We’re going to live a long, long time. How impossibly narrow minded could you be? Not only that, all your experience is on a different world. In this world, I’m older than you!”
She was cursing at him again. Henry didn’t think her last point even made much sense. He felt his temper rising in response to Mareen’s. “Look, I’m sorry I’m old and crusty, but that is the reality of the situation and—“
“STOP!” hollered Jason. Henry was so surprised by his friend’s tone of voice that he shut his mouth with a click. Mareen’s eyes were wide as dinner plates. Neither of them ever heard Jason yell like that before, at least not during a conversation. “You two are both complete idiots! I didn’t want to get involved, but you’re both my friends and I am putting my foot down right now.”
Jason struggled to sit up straighter in bed and cleared his throat before continuing. “Go on a walk today after sunset. Just do it. Talk. Don’t make accusations. You are both torturing me with your emotional fumbling. Just talk to each other. Christ.”
Jason fell back against the headboard of his bed, exhausted.
Henry caught Mareen’s eye and she gave a little nod. He nodded back. They’d talk later. That would be when he would make her understand why it couldn’t work. Sure, she was pretty and brave and… He shook his head. They’d talk later.
There were a few moments of uncomfortable silence before Bezzi-ibbi hurried back into the room with Keeja and Uluula in tow. Uluula went straight for Jason and began fussing over him. Henry briefly wondered what it would be like if Mareen fussed over him like that but he shook his head, clearing the image. He couldn’t let her confession get to his head.
Henry was about to lose his patience and break the strained silence when Kinwe-na-ibbi, Bezzi-ibbi’s mouse-race mother walked into the room. He blinked. Now he had even more questions. Plus, the room was getting crowded and he was starting to feel self-conscious that he was still lying in bed in his underwear. It felt like everyone was staring at him. He had to pee too.
Henry focused on keeping his tone polite when he asked, “What the hell is going on?”
Kinwe-na-ibbi glided forward, her black and green robes flowing around her. Once again, Henry was struck by the enormous magical energy he could sense from the small Mo’hali woman. She touched both shoulders, her arms cross and bowed, “Greetings. Henry-ibbi, Jason-ibbi, I am here as the official representative of the Jaguar Clan in this matter.”
“How did you get here? It’s only been a day since we found the bandits, right?” Despite his best effort, Henry knew his tone was probably grumpy.
Kinwe-na-ibbi didn’t seem to mind his tone. She nodded and gestured at Bezzi-ibbi, “The Hero alerted us to the situation. When you succeeded in your mission, each of you were immediately full-fledged members of the Clan. The Hero sent a magic messenger bird via Mareen letting us know that two highly ranked members of the Jaguar Clan required assistance.”
“Well, it’s convenient how that worked out. I suppose I shouldn’t complain.” Henry didn’t like politics in general, but when they worked in his favor, he’d take what he could get.
Jason raised a hand and said, “I have some questions.”
“You may ask me whatever you wish, Jason-ibbi,” the regal woman responded.
Jason rubbed his chin, “First… what is a magic messenger bird? I’ve heard that term come up several times since I came to this planet.”
Henry felt a familiar surge of irritation, “It sounds stupid. I’m surprised they don’t call it some kind of demon.”
Kinwe-na-ibbi smiled slightly, “A magic messenger bird is actually a type of benevolent demon. They are small, fast, and intelligent enough to understand speech. Any mage has the ability to summon one and request a message be taken to a simple location. Before or after the message is delivered, the magic messenger bird is paid in gold, a cheap metal on Ludus.
“Gold?” Henry cocked an eyebrow.
Uluula answered, “They eat it. It’s strange to witness.”
“What happens if one’s not paid?”
“If a magic messenger bird doesn’t get paid, no magic messenger bird will never respond to another call from the original, summoning mage ever again.”
Henry snorted, he was tired of all the ridiculous names for everything on Ludus. “Okay, so how does a mage summon an MMB?”
“An MMB?” Kinwe-na-ibbi frowned.
Jason sighed, “We’re Americans. We like acronyms. He is shortening ‘magic messenger bird’ into its first three letters.”
The Mo’hali woman’s eyebrows rose, “Oh, that is much easier to say! I can show you how to summon a… MMB later. It’s quite simple, really. The hardest part is explaining where you want them to go. They’ll eventually get there, but they’re faster if you give better directions.”
Jason nodded and glanced at Henry before asking what both of them really wanted to know. “Okay, how are we still alive?”
Strangely, Kinwe-na-ibbi glanced at Bezzi-ibbi first. “Cub, are you sure you want me to tell them?” Bezzi-ibbi looked uncomfortable but he nodded and his near-mother continued, “You were both knocked out by Thod-bandit. He was going to kill you when Bezzi-ibbi intervened and executed Thod-bandit.”
Henry shook his head, “Wait, what? How did Bezzi-ibbi do that? If he could help us fight, why did he wait until we were almost dead?”
Kinwe-na-ibbi turned to Bezzi-ibbi again. The boy looked miserable. He was shuffling his feet and staring at the grounds. “Almost you got killed,” he growled. “Owe a debt. Tell story, near-momma.”
The mouse woman cleared her throat, “All Mo’hali Heroes have the ability to nullify the power of mages and Holders. The stronger the Hero, the stronger suppression and larger area of influence they can generate. However, the more force a Hero’s suppression carries, the longer it will affect a Holder or mage after they use it.
Most Mo’hali are naturally faster and stronger than others. It’s only through the power of orbs and technology using magic stones that other races thrive. Heroes can remove that advantage.
Bezzi-ibbi feared you would dislike him if you knew how easily he could take away your power. Holders usually hate Mo’hali Heroes for this reason. You’re new to this world, but he was afraid he’d lose his brothers. Bezzi-ibbi hasn’t had real friends before, either. You are very dear to him.
Unfortunately, by waiting until you were almost killed, Bezzi-ibbi almost caused your deaths. When he exerted his power to kill Thod-bandit, you were nearby so he also neutralized your healing abilities. You almost didn’t survive. We had to bind your broken bones and mend your bodies as best we could so you might live. Plus, this way if you began healing again, your bones wouldn’t mend crooked. If that happened, they’d need to be broken again.”
A number of things fell into place in Henry’s mind. “So… what, Thod lost his super strength and collapsed under the weight of his armor?”
Bezzi-ibbi briefly looked up, “Yes.”
“And you killed him?”
The boy hesitated before replying, “Executed.”
Henry smiled at the kid, “Okay. Well, I guess we’ll have to talk about this later, Bezzi-ibbi. Brothers are honest with each other, after all.” Bezzi-ibbi nodded.
Jason jumped back into the conversation, “Now that we know why we’re alive, what happened yesterday? How are you here, Kinwe-na-ibbi?”
“Mareen-Ludan and Uluula-Areva can stop me if I get anything wrong.” The Mo’hali leader settled into a chair, “As soon as your battle was over, Bezzi-ibbi found Mareen-Ludan. She was in bad shape physically but her life was not in danger. She called a magic mes—a MMB and Bezzi-ibbi sent a message to the Jaguar Clan.
The MMB reached us in about an hour. An hour after that, we rented and dispatched an airship with myself and a complement of Jaguar Clan warriors and staff. This was expensive to do.
We reached your location about two hours later. It took us approximately another hour to load your group and everything of value onto the airship. After that, it took a half hour to fly to the nearest town of decent size. Now we are staying in the town of Rohs until you recover.”
Henry blinked and frowned. He asked, “If you guys could just put some soldiers on a vehicle and fly around fast enough to cover more than a week of travel in two hours, why did we come out here at all? All of us almost died! Well… not Keeja.” Henry was holding back his temper, but it was a near thing. He really hoped there was a good explanation.
“This is a good question,” Kinwe-na-ibbi briefly bowed her head. “When I said it was expensive to run an airship, I was understating the more complex reality. The city of Mirana has two such ships to rent and this portion is not too expensive. However, the amount of magic stones an airship consumes as fuel is significant and must be supplied by the leaser or the ships will just sit there.
We gained a significant amount of weapons, armor, and tradeable goods from the bandit camp. However, after subtracting the cost of the magic stones to fuel the airship and the payment we owe to Delvers LLC, we are not netting much profit.
If we weren’t merely traveling to one point and back again, it would be far, far too expensive to rent an airship. It would ruin the Clan. In fact, if not for the fact we had Clan members in known danger, we probably still would not have acted due to the risk.”
Jason scratched his chin and muttered, “Well, that’s frustrating. It’s nice to know that money makes this world go around too. Glad you got to make your profit.”
Uluula put a hand on Jason’s shoulder and smiled, “Yes, but we are alive. Now you’re full members of the Jaguar Clan and you can also claim your treasure too.”
“What?” Henry’s ears perked up at mention of treasure.
Kinwe-na-ibbi bobbed her head, “Yes. As the Adventuring Company we hired for this mission, you have claim to the bandits’ assets we seized. This is all in the contract you signed. As Clan members on top of that, you are entitled to whatever items you desire but you will obviously leave the majority of it to pay for the airship since you obviously hold the good of the Clan in your hearts.” She gave them an arch look.
Henry smiled, “Of course we do. Now someone help me up. I want to see this treasure.”