Don’t forget to vote on TWF! The button is at the bottom of the chapter.
Also, I don’t have many ratings or reviews on WFG yet (connected to TWF). The link to my page is –> here. <– If you are a member of Web Fiction Guide, please do me a solid and toss me a rating. 🙂
After the group left the Jaguar Clan warehouse, Kinwe-na-ibbi informed them they would be departing for Mirana the next morning on the airship. The Jaguar Clan still had some affairs to take care of in Rohs before they could leave. About this time, Jason finally noticed that Rark-han was missing and he wondered where the big man was. He eventually decided that nobody else seemed worried about it, so he shrugged and dismissed his curiosity.
The group milled around for a bit before splitting up. Jason went to explore the town of Rohs with a couple of hastily assigned Jaguar Clan guards.
Bezzi-ibbi and Keeja headed back towards the houses the Jaguar Clan was occupying and Jason assumed they were staying behind. Bezzi-ibbi carried Henry’s Bad Axe in its original box. It would be too conspicuous for Henry to carry a glowing weapon around without a proper sheath.
Jason paired up with Uluula. He noticed Mareen head off with Henry, hesitantly keeping pace with her. About time, he thought. With a relieved smile, Jason mentally wished his friends to have a good time and stop being such idiots around each other.
Exploring Rohs was really the first leisure activity Jason had since coming to Ludus. He would have enjoyed himself more if the experience didn’t feel surreal. First of all, the new longsword he wore on his hip got a lot of attention. On top of that, he was also walking with Uluula and two conspicuous Jaguar Clan guards, which wasn’t exactly low profile. Last but not least, most people were startled when they saw him and then acted nervous or frightened.
It took Jason a while to realize why people were reacting this way. He remembered everyone that saw him from a close enough distance was hearing a chime and being informed of his Holder status over their left eye. Jason tried to ignore the stares but over time they started to get to him.
At first he thought it was unreasonable for people to be acting this way, but then he remembered his fight with Thod and how the Jaguar Clan kept Heroes on retainer just to secure warehouses. Obviously, some Holders were assholes, and normal people probably had no way to stop them from doing whatever they wanted. It was a sobering thought. Some of these people might not have ever even seen a Holder before, well not knowingly; the ones who had might regret it.
Jason tried not to be depressed, but he began feeling an itch between his shoulder blades, wondering if someone would try sticking a dagger there. He was feeling so sorry for himself and Uluula seemed to be having such a good time, he almost didn’t notice that some of the angry glares weren’t aimed at him. Uluula got her fair share of mutters, pointed fingers, and glances too. The furtive stares seemed to be full of suspicion and hate.
Jason paid closer attention and realized that Uluula’s smile looked pained every time someone “accidentally” said something about Areva loud enough to hear. He also noticed that the town was almost exclusively populated by Humans and Mo’hali. Now that Jason was paying attention, he also noticed that most of the Mo’hali and Human shops were segregated too.
So Ludus really was like Earth, only worse. On earth there were tensions between countries, races, and genders. On this planet, all of those tensions existed in addition to even even more ways for people to discriminate. Lovely.
After realizing that Ludus hosted so many forms of bigotry, Jason’s mood fell. He tried to focus on shopping for Uluula’s sake and had the awkward feeling she was doing the same for him. She looked so young that sometimes he forgot she was older than he was. His heart warmed and he felt lucky to be sorta-kinda dating someone who cared enough about him to try excluding him from petty adversity. He would need to bring it up with her later and tell her it wasn’t necessary, though.
They could be freaks in this world together.
He shopped with Uluula for quite some time, eventually picking up a few odds and ends. Jason had no idea how much his money was really worth without Mareen around. Uluula was surprisingly ignorant about money too so every time Jason bought something, he rested his hand on the pommel of his sword, scowled, and hoped for the best.
After shopping, Jason took Uluula on a walk through the town’s park. It was beginning to get dark and seemed like in no time at all, the moon started to rise and some kind of large insects began making winking lights, something like fireflies.
As they headed back to the houses the Jaguar Clan was renting out, Jason realized that Ludus had its problems but it was really a beautiful planet too. As he appreciated the beautiful night, he felt the weight of his new sword on his hip and held the hand of the girl he liked. He decided not everything about being stuck on Ludus was bad.
That night, Uluula kissed him for the first time. It was just on the cheek, but Jason felt like it was huge progress. He was in such a good mood when he went to bed that he basically flopped down and was instantly asleep.
The next morning, as usual, he was the last person out of bed. At least, he didn’t see anyone else sleeping and he was the last person in the house. He got ready, double checked that he didn’t leave anything behind, and headed to the airship.
The airship itself was a bit underwhelming. It actually looked just like a schooner floating in midair. Jason was hoping it’d be more magical looking or something. He climbed a long staircase, part of the structure the airship was moored to, and ascended to the wooden deck.
He glanced around and saw most of the people he was expecting to see. Uluula smiled and walked over, “Sleep well?”
“Yeah. Aren’t we supposed to be leaving soon? Is everyone here?”
“No, Henry and Mareen aren’t. I thought they were with you…”
Jason blinked, “I’ll keep an eye out for him.” It was really out of character for Henry to be late to anything, much less preparations for a trip.
Jason waited another hour and started to get irritated. He already asked around and Henry’s guards the previous day reported that nothing dangerous happened. The two female guards had strange expressions when Jason asked them if Henry was safe. He wondered what they weren’t saying. It looked suspiciously like the big Jaguar Clan guards were holding in smiles, their ears and whiskers twitched.
Jason stood on the bridge of the skyship, looking down at Rohs and felt the weight of the spirit stone in his pocket. He still needed to talk to Henry about it.
In fact, he knew their flight back to Mirana was going to take a few hours since the Jaguar Clan would conserve power during the return trip. It was a perfect time to plan the next move for Delvers LLC. Everyone would be present and nothing was pressing. He wanted to get started with a group chat immediately, but Henry and Mareen still weren’t there!
They weren’t late yet, but they were cutting it close.
Suddenly, Jason saw Henry and Mareen running towards the stairs up to the airship. They ran up the stairs, followed by a sheepish looking Jaguar Clan guard and made it onto the airship with just minutes to spare. Kinwe-na-ibbi gave them all a flat look.
Jason noticed that Henry’s shirt was buttoned wrong. Mareen’s clothing was a mess too. Jason narrowed his eyes, suspicious about why his friends were almost late. When Mareen became visibly flustered, then blushed and giggled when glancing at Henry, Jason could put two and two together.
Damn Henry… and Mareen! Jason sighed. He wasn’t sure if he should be happy or irritated with his friends. He ended up feeling amused, but cautious for any future drama. He’d had friends who dated before, but never any with magic power on a fantasy world.
Not much later, the skyship was cutting through the air on a beeline for Mirana. All the members of Delvers LLC and Keeja were sitting in a cabin for a company meeting. Jason noticed that Henry and Mareen were sitting very close to each other and rolled his eyes. They ignore each other for months, go on a walk and now… this. Jason was feeling a bit underappreciated. Who told them to stop being so obtuse? He did.
He was about to start the meeting when Keeja slowly clapped her hands and drawled, “Congratulations to the new couple.”
Mareen blushed but her expression didn’t otherwise change. Henry didn’t react at all. Jason pinched the bridge of his nose for a second, but Uluula looked very, very confused.
“Was there an announcement that I missed? Who is the couple?” Uluula looked back and forth between the small number of people in the cabin. She turned to Jason, “Did you find another candidate to consider courting in addition to me? That would be somewhat convenient but I need to meet her and give my approval. Actually, you would not have had time– Did Henry?”
Mareen blushed deeper and Jason made a strangled noise. Henry’s expression didn’t change at all. Keeja grinned, showing all her teeth and put a hand on UIuula’s shoulder. She whispered loudly, the sound carrying around the cabin, “It seems Henry and Mareen have gotten carnal with one another.”
Uluula shook her head, “But they have not announced any official interest nor even courted. To the best of my knowledge they just stepped out together yesterday and Mareen has never courted anyone before. I think you are mistaken, Priestess Keeja.”
Keeja just grinned wider. “Why don’t you ask them?”
Uluula turned to Mareen and Henry. “Is this true? Why did you not announce you were courting? I am sure you are not truly carnal, right?”
Mareen tried calmly holding Uluula’s eyes for all of two seconds before looking down and giggling. Henry kept his face entirely straight and slowly replied, “Not that it’s any of your fucking business, but she’s hot and I like her. So sue me. You weren’t on the ‘inform immediately’ list. Next time I’ll be sure to have someone paint a picture.”
Uluula gasped, “How did this happen? Were you coerced? Henry, did she drug you?” Uluula’s eyes narrowed in suspicion at Mareen.
“I was stone cold sober. Do you not know how this sort of things works?” Henry teased, “When two people love each other very much or one person gets paid… Actually, there can be more than two people involved but I don’t think you’re ready for that discussion.”
“Yes, I know that! I uh, I don’t really know what it… What I mean is, why did you not start courting first? Or were you actually courting before?” Uluula’s eyes were huge.
Jason struggled to suppress a smile as he sat still and kept his mouth shut. This was a side of Uluula he hadn’t seen before, and knowing Henry, her worldview probably wasn’t done expanding yet. Henry had utterly no shame about pretty much anything.
“How did this happen? Are you okay with this?” Uluula looked like she was experiencing such profound culture shock that her brain was on strike.
“Well,” drawled Henry, “we went on a walk like Jason told us to. The longer we hung out and talked, the more we realized how well we really got along, and then when it got dark we went to the park. The moon was up and these huge bugs with light up butts started flying around. It was kind of pretty. I said it was a nice night, and the next thing you know, she attacked me!” Henry jerked his thumb at Mareen.
Mareen’s head shot up, “That’s not how it happened! You kissed me first!”
“Yeah, well, you still basically attacked me. I have no regrets. You’re extremely hot and since you won’t take ‘no’ for an answer even though I’m too old for you, I guess I’ll just somehow have to suffer through the fact I now have a beautiful, smart, brave girlfriend. I am looking forward to taking off your dress again, by the way. Next time please don’t scratch my back so hard, though. It feels weird to use my healing ability for that.”
“Be quiet! You’re terrible!” Mareen lightly slapped Henry on the arm but her eyes twinkled.
Jason rubbed the space between his eyes again. Keeja started chuckling, Mareen suddenly hid her face in Henry’s shoulder, and Henry started nonchalantly scratching his ear. Uluula had her mouth open and stared between the two of them.
“But, what, you–” She sputtered.
Henry rolled his eyes, “Let me get this straight. You have no problem walking around buck naked and getting in baths with people you barely know, but the idea that Mareen and I didn’t, what, pre-date before dating and then date longer before making a decision to commit bothers you? On my home planet, people have casual sex all the time. It’s none of your business, but Mareen and I are exclusive. What is the problem?”
“These are not the same things! Nudity and intimacy are not related!” wailed Uluula.
Keeja chucked, “Where did you actually first ravish your man, Mareen?”
“That’s a weird way to put it.” As Henry spoke, Mareen tried to burrow even deeper into his shoulder. Her body was shaking from silent laughter, though.
“Did you not even go back to the guest house last night then?” Uluula put a hand on her forehead, “Surely you left the park first before–”
“Ahem,” Jason butt in. “Lula, don’t ask questions you don’t want answers to. Also, we need to move on to real topics of conversation.” He glared at Henry and Mareen, but neither of them looked even remotely apologetic. Jason got a bad feeling about the two of them being together now. Henry was already rubbing off on Mareen and it made Jason a little worried about his future sanity.
“First off all, we need to discuss this,” Jason took the spirit stone out of his pocket. “Henry, this is a spirit stone. Bezzi-ibbi gave it to us.” The Mo’hali boy in the corner nodded. He’d been staring off into space, the previous conversation obviously bored him.
Jason continued, “I actually think I have a few more things I can learn about my magic if I stay where I’m at and you said something earlier about building a truck. I was leaning towards suggesting you take a spirit stone before I do, but I want to hear what you think first.”
Henry leaned forward and rubbed his chin, “I don’t mind if you take it first, I think I might be able to make this world’s technology work just fine without it. On the other hand, I think I might be able to make ‘blessed steel’ weapons if I level up.”
Henry had everyone’s undivided attention. “I’ve been studying blessed steel weapons and ‘enchanted’ items. Keeja won’t answer my questions now but I was thinking about something she said before, that everything revolves around Dhu. I think blessed steel weapons are made of steel that has a Dhu bonded to or living in it. That’s what protects the metal.
I actually realized this might be the case when I heard someone today talk about how hard it is to rust a blessed steel weapon. It happens, they can rust away, but even if the steel itself is high carbon, all blessed steel swords are highly resistant to corrosion.
I can just almost sense something in blessed steel weapons. I think with some more sensing skill, I’ll know a lot more. Plus, these types of skills probably will come in handy if I build any transportation.”
Jason nodded, “Okay, how would you spend the points? We haven’t talked about it, but I’m assuming you were able to talk to your orb when you were passed out recently like I was, right?”
“Yes, I talked to my smoking hot, bikini model orb recently. Sometimes I too wish I was cool enough to hang out with cartoon cats.” Jason ignored the barb, it got old ages ago. He was most definitely not irritated. Nope, he wasn’t irritated at all.
Henry chuckled to himself for a second before his voice turned serious, “We get 12 points this time if we level up, not just 10 like last time. I was planning to take another rank in Magic Control and Magic Perception. I think these two skills are the key to making kick ass weapons.”
“I think you may be right. You’re also effectively the tank of the group right now, although Mareen should be pretty strong now too.”
“You bet she’s strong.” Henry grinned at Uluula, “Flexible too!”
Mareen lightly punched Henry on the arm, “Stop embarrassing Uluula, you idiot!”
Keeja laughed, but Uluula didn’t react. Only her bright red blush gave her away. Bezzi-ibbi rolled his eyes.
“Shouldn’t you be embarrassed?” Jason directed his question at Mareen.
“No, I figured it would be like this before ever getting involved with this rotting moron. But once I heard my heart song, I really didn’t have much of a choice. I just accepted it.” Mareen smiled, her happiness lit up the whole room..
Jason cleared his throat and after Keeja stopped laughing, he brought up the subject he really wanted to talk about. “Now that we’re a part of the Jaguar Clan, we can pretty much do what we want. We have one spirit stone that is going to Henry,” Jason handed the spirit stone over to his friend. “Now we need at least one more for me and one more for Mareen.”
He turned to Keeja, “I think there are circumstances or triggers that have to be met in order for you to give us information. Hopefully we have satisfied one of them. So now can you tell us of a dungeon with a spirit stone?”
“Yes, yes I can,” Keeja’s eyes glittered. “I can only give you the name of one such dungeon. It should be fun to see how you handle a dangerous dungeon. I believe it will be your first too, right?”
Henry replied, “Yeah. What’s the name of the one you know of?”
Keeja smiled mysteriously, “Its name is Yanbei Cavern. It is about three days travel from Mirana. The scout that found out it was reset was part of the last adventure group to try conquering it. The entire group died so nobody else is aware that it’s been restocked.
Unfortunately for you, it’s been inhabited by Warthog Toothed, Thick Hide Man-Demons.”
“The names for everything on this planet are all so stupid. What in the hell does that even mean, ‘Warthog Teeth, Man-Whatevers?’” Henry shook his head, his voice disgusted.
Jason sighed, “Probably orcs.”