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Aodh Antonni O’Breen never wanted to be a farmer, but he didn’t have any other aspirations either, at least not until recently. His only real motivation for most of his life was staying away from his mental cousin, Vitaliya.
Unfortunately, the universe hated him. Out of the entire Breen clan, only he and his cousin manifested as mages when they were young. This made him happy at first until he realized it meant he would see his cousin more often. All the other kids get to stop going to school outside Mirana when they were old enough to work, but mages were encouraged to keep attending. She was only a couple years older than him, but his parents and then eventually her parents trusted her to watch him.
They didn’t know what a demon she was!
His whole life, Aodh had troubles he couldn’t explain. For example, most of the time he worked as a shepherd, the sheep constantly bit him. His ma was only half Fideli and his da was Terran. Aodh was only one fourth, but he looked like he was full blooded Fideli. Terrans were treated poorly by Areva, but Fideli were treated badly by everyone, even other Fideli! Everywhere he went, people assumed he was Fideli and might randomly start breaking things or something.
As a mage in a Terran farming community, looking Fideli led to a very lonely childhood. He stood out even more in the O’Breen settlement. Most of the other youth were redheads or had fair hair. Meanwhile, Aodh had dark hair and dark eyes.
Aodh was always falling off of things, or falling into things, or falling over things. He always said the wrong thing at the wrong time. It seemed his life was filled with nothing but mistakes and embarrassment. The only thing he was truly good at was magic, but his fire magic was weak. He didn’t even have enough power to support a bakery.
A few months before his da passed away, Aodh was complaining about his life. His da was sick so Aodh tried not to gripe when he was visited him, but his frustration seemed to always come out anyway. His da looked at him seriously and said, “Aodh, you’re a Breen. You’ve got to stop acting like a puss face. Breen folk are bogtrotters, at least on Ludus. We got to be tough. Do you know why?”
Aodh answered with what his father drilled into him his whole life, “Yeah Da, if we aren’t strong, Ludus will be stronger. Every day is a fight.”
“That’s it, boyo!”
Aodh’s da died when he was 10 and his ma followed him two months later. It broke his heart. He still missed them terribly. But to show the universe’s cruel sense of humor, he also had to go live with his aunt, Vitaliya’s ma. He practically saw his cousin every waking hour. It was awful.
Now Aodh was 16, two years older than the minimum to sign a contract or work for a large company. He knew his aunt and uncle had enough people to take care of their farm. He wasn’t particularly needed. He helped out where he could, but he was accident prone. Every time he thought of the messes he made, it filled him with guilt.
He needed a change. He dreamed of being an adventurer. But when he tried to join any of the adventuring companies in Mirana the year before, he was rejected by all of them. They said he was too young, too unskilled, too small, or had too little talent. The general message was that nobody needed a 15 year old, scrawny, underwhelming fire mage with no skills of note.
It was a bitter pill to swallow, but Aodh was driven. He started practicing with a quarterstaff every day and working out to train his body. It made him nervous that the only person his age that didn’t try to talk him out of it was Vitaliya. Another cousin, Vitaliya’s little bother, Tadhg openly laughed at him. Most of the other youth in his community mocked him too, but they had the courtesy do it behind his back.
Aodh swallowed his shame and continued to train. Everyone knew he was a weak mage, and he was on the small side, and hadn’t been anything other than a farmer his whole life. He didn’t care. He grew up reading stories of Thato Jacobs, one of the most famous adventurers of his time. Thato led one of the greatest adventuring companies on the continent, and he couldn’t even use magic! He didn’t wield a Dolos orb either, he just succeeded by using his wits and trusting his companions. Aodh idolized Thato Jacobs.
A few months earlier when the land next to the Breen compound was settled by a new farming community, Aodh didn’t pay much attention. Having new neighbors didn’t directly affect him or his adventurer training. However, when his nosey cousin Vitaliya eventually found out the leader of the new community was George Jacobs, Thato Jacobs’ father, Aodh was shocked.
Aodh was clumsy, but he was also earnest and straightforward. He immediately found George and introduced himself. Over the next couple months, the two forged an unlikely, but strong friendship.
Aodh spent a lot of time at George’s house, hearing stories of old adventures and learning what his son Thato was like when he was a boy. Aodh was also able to pick up some adventuring tips from George as well as some bushcraft skills. He couldn’t believe his luck, he was even able to avoid Vitaliya!
He spent a lot of time at George’s house and got to know everyone in the new community. He was good friends with Perry too. Perry lost his son to monsters before their village moved to the new settlement. Aodh could tell that he was lonely, so sometimes he would stop by just to say hello.
For the most part, he got along with everyone in the new community. From the old spinsters to the little kids, they were all kind, down to earth people. He also heard all the stories of the group’s journey to Mirana.
The mixed opinions about the orb wielders Henry and Jason fascinated him. The way they were described, he was interested in one day meeting Henry. He sounded like everything Aodh was not. He was described as brash, self-confident, and worldly. Not everyone in the village liked him, but they all respected him.
Aodh was just a farm boy who could make little fires with magic. He hoped one day he could learn something from Henry or Jason. If Thato Jacobs’ father spoke well for someone, Aodh definitely wanted to meet them. George always spoke well of Henry and Jason.
Aodh was sitting down, reading George’s old adventure journal when there was a knock at the door. George glanced up from the chess piece he was carving and his eyes twinkled. “Aodh, can you get the door please? I wasn’t sure if they’d be able to make it today but it looks like they could.”
Aodh put the journal down and got up to answer the door. He suspected someone from the community needed to talk to George. Some of the local farmers were calling the settlement Georgetown, which seemed to be some kind of joke that Aodh didn’t understand. People in Georgetown were always asking George for advice.
He opened the door and did a double take. The first thing he registered was that the man and woman standing outside were both wearing masks. The woman pushed past him and the man followed. Aodh was aghast.
Aodh automatically shut the door behind the two strangers and turned to get his first good look at them. Both the man and the woman had identical masks. They were made of some thin, silvery metal. It was too dull to be tin, so probably pewter. Both masks were relatively small and covered their eyes and cheeks above the nose. The eye holes were filled with a very fine metal mesh. The only decorations the masks had were chasing around the edges and printed words on the area over the cheeks.
Aodh was trilinqual. He could read and write in Luda, Quadrant, and English. Well, a bit of Gaelic too. He recognized that the words on the mask were in English! One cheek read, “Delvers,” and the other cheek had “LLC.” Aodh had no idea what it meant.
The man was athletic and about average height, so a few inches taller than Aodh. He had tan skin, dark hair and wore a black and green tunic emblazoned with a clawed paw. His dark pants were bloused into green boots. He was probably part of a great House or Clan. On his belt he had a strange contraption built from leather and bronze with a couple bronze tubes attached. He also wore an axe.
The woman was dressed in more contemporary clothing. She wore a dark blouse over loose, tan cargo pants. Her blouse hugged her athletic, curvy build and bronze, bazuband style bracers with small decorations covered her arms to the elbow. She carried an enormous bronze hammer and used its all-metal haft as a walking stick.
She stood about 5’4” or 5’5”, barely shorter than Aodh. Her skin was dusky and her hair fell in ringlets to slightly past her shoulders. Aodh caught a glimpse of light brown eyes through the mask. Even with her mask on, he could tell she was an astonishingly beautiful, exotic looking woman.
Aodh’s mouth went dry and he thought, Who are these people? His question was answered when they took their masks off.
Aodh saw an orb wielder one time since Dolos’ proclamation, so he’d experienced the chime in his head and writing scrolling over his left eye. However despite immediately knowing what the sensation meant, it was so unexpected he still nearly cried out.
Over his left eye, he could read:
Henry Mirai Sato, Terran, American
Dolos Orb, Modular Build, Generation 3
Mareen Jacobs, Ludan, Tolstenian
Dolos Orb, Body Enhancement, Generation 1
His first shock was that they were orb wielders. His next shock was when he realized who Mareen was. That’s Thato Jacobs’ daughter!
Okay, Aodh, be cool. Just be cool. He sat in a chair and struggled to maintain his composure.
Henry smiled at George and shook his hand. Now Aodh could see Henry’s Asian features. He could also see that Mareen was even more beautiful than he’d imagined. She was younger than he thought she’d be, though; she only looked a little older than he was! He decided she could be anywhere between 17 and 25 years old. Aodh had learned to never judge a woman’s age more specific than about a 5-10 years.
It was one piece of advice Vitaliya gave him that actually made sense.
“How are you doing, old man?” Henry grabbed a chair and straddled it. Mareen moved a chair over but sat in her seat normally.
Aodh was having trouble reconciling that George’s granddaughter and Henry, the same Henry from the stories were both actually in front of him. Part of Aodh was offended that Henry talked to George so casually, but he had to remind himself that every single person in the settlement would be dead if not for Henry. It was a sobering thought.
“No real complaints. I was going to say I’m getting too old for working in the fields, but the truth is I’m already too old.”
“Grandfather, you’re too stubborn to stop working. I know for a fact that people try to get you to stop every year.” Mareen’s voice was sweet and cultured. Aodh was astonished and intimidated. He knew his own Luda had a strange accent, probably because of his old-Terran Irish accent while speaking English. Mareen sounded like a Ludus aristocrat. It was difficult for Aodh to imagine she grew up on a farm.
George chuckled, “Well, what can I do? It’s too late to change. Anyway, I see you got those masks figured out.”
Henry nodded, “Yeah, it was Uluula’s idea. It seemed to offend her when she found out we were using leather. She decided to use the opportunity to force marketing on us.”
“What, with the name of your company on the masks?” Aodh’s ears perked up at that. Thato Jacobs’ daughter is an orb wielder… and an adventurer? His eyes shined.
“Yeah, she sold Jason on the idea when she said it might let people from Earth know that we aren’t local.” Henry turned and jerked his thumb at Aodh, “Who’s he?”
George smiled, “That’s Aodh O’Breen. He’s from the neighbor farming community. I’ve been hoping you could meet him, actually.”
“Aodh?” Henry frowned. “What’s your full name?”
“Aodh Antonni O’Breen.” Just be cool, Aodh. Just be cool.
“Antonni? Mind if I call you ‘Tony’, Aodh?”
Aodh heard before that people with certain backgrounds had difficulty with his name. Plus he actually liked his middle name. “Sure,” he responded. He couldn’t believe he was having a conversation with a real, orb-Bonded adventurer!
“Why did you want us to meet him?” Mareen asked her grandfather.
George smiled mysteriously. “I thought I might be able to do a favor for several people I care about at the same time. How has your search for new team members been going?”
“Not very good,” Henry sounded frustrated. “We need fire, water, and wind mages or orb wielders. Most of the people we interviewed are way too full of themselves and demand too much pay, or they’re newbies and aren’t exactly what we’re looking for. We still don’t have enough street cred to get the people we want to get.”
“You need a fire mage, right?”
“Yeah. A while ago, we found out the warehouse we were imprisoned in a few months back actually blew up and caught fire because someone was illegally making gunpowder. Then we learned gunpowder is extremely dangerous to mess with on Ludus. All of this gave me and Jason a few ideas so we’ve been experimenting with all the gunpowder the Jaguar Clan can get us.”
Mareen shook her head, “I have no idea what kind of crazy things they’re working on. I’ve just been doing sums, practicing archery, and hitting things with my hammer. This is news to me too.”
George frowned, “I don’t understand what your capture in Mirana has to do with finding a fire mage.”
“It’s about what we’re inventing. Well, most if it happened because Jason liked the idea of my exoguns,” Henry pointed at the bronze tubes holstered on his belt. “As far as we know, nobody else really boosts magic with technology. Sure, we’ve seen Ludus technology based on magic stones. Heck, we’re even developing it. But at the personal level, no mages really uses tools.”
George shrugged, “Wands and staves don’t do anything. I even have it in my journal.”
“That’s true, but just trust me on this,” Henry winked. “We might have figured something out. So anyway, why did you want us to meet Tony?”
George quirked an eyebrow at Henry before answering, “Well, Aodh is a fire mage and he’s been trying to get into an adventuring company for over a year now.”
“Oh really?” Henry’s eyes lit up and he looked at Aodh in a new light. “Tony, how old are you? Convert it to Earth years, please. I’m not good at math in my head.”
“I’m 16, sir.”
“Don’t call me ‘sir’, I work for a living.” When everyone else stared at him blankly, Henry muttered, “Never mind. It’s an old Army joke and it wasn’t funny then, either. How powerful is your magic?”
Aodh knew the question was coming, but he still cringed. “Not very powerful. I have good control, but I’m at the low end of the Berber scale.”
“Meh, it doesn’t matter. Can you do Blood Fire?”
Aodh was confused. Blood Fire was one of the most basic fire mage abilities and was only really used to start campfires and stoves. “Uh, yeah. I mean, yes I can.”
Henry’s eyes glittered, “Can you prove it?”
“Yes sir, I mean, Mr. Henry. Umm, George, can I have a piece of junk wood from the floor?”
George nodded and found a long splinter from his pile of shavings. He walked it over and Aodh examined it. Then he bit his thumb. He hated blood, he hated pain, and he hated biting himself. However, working with the sheep and goats made the sensation feel familiar since they were always chomping on him when he wasn’t looking.
He placed a drop of blood on the splinter which immediately soaked it up. Then he concentrated. Blood Fire was easy even for a mage with his limited power. The little piece of wood instantly started burning.
“That’s great, man!” Henry was acting too excited, like Aodh just ran a blacksmith’s forge for two days straight. Aodh was a confused by the reaction. Just about any fire mage could do what he just did.
“How far away can you start the Blood Fire?”
Aodh thought about it for a few seconds before answering, “I’m not sure, I’ve never tested it, but at least 60 feet. Probably more.”
“Awesome!” Henry grinned, “That’s perfect.” He turned to George, “He definitely fits what we’re looking for, but he’s a little young, isn’t he?”
“Maybe on Earth, not on Ludus,” George shook his head. “He was legal to work two years ago, and I already talked to his aunt and uncle about this. Not that he needs their permission, but they support it, especially after I told them I believe in you and Jason.
“What about the danger?”
George looked Henry right in the eye, “This young man is going to join an adventuring company one way or another. If he goes off with someone, I’d prefer he goes with you and Jason. So does his family.”
Henry grimaced and thought for a few seconds in silence. Eventually, he gave Aodh a level look. “So kid, you want to be an adventurer? We can’t pay much at first, but how would you like to join Delvers LLC?”