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Before he went to start his new job as a real adventurer in a real adventuring company, Aodh asked around about Delvers LLC. He trusted George and he was excited to work with Thato Jacobs’ daughter, but he was curious too.
He asked the guards he met, a few tradesmen, and some adventurers he saw. He knew that adventurers gossiped like old men on a porch. What he heard was… confusing.
Most people he talked to didn’t know of Delvers LLC at all. That was what Aodh was expecting since the company was new. However, he did hear a few things, but what he heard sounded so unlikely or embellished that he didn’t believe most of it.
For instance, he heard that Henry and Jason, the founders of Delvers LLC, killed an entire crime ring and burned down a building, all in one day. He heard that they kept a Mo’Hali Hero as a servant, and that one of the great Clans spent a fortune in magic stones to bring them home with an airship, just so they wouldn’t have to walk.
It was rumored that Delvers LLC got its adventuring license for free by blackmailing one of the guild’s leaders. He heard that a High Priestess of Dolos was spotted around the areas that Delvers LLC members frequented. A drunk adventurer even told Aodh a supposedly true story, claiming Henry and Jason destroyed a large group of bandits and killed a second rank Bonded, a wanted criminal.
Most of it sounded ridiculous. Even the stories the people in the Georgetown settlement told were unlikely. Henry and Jason killing 20 demon wolves? Aodh was skeptical. He believed that they saved the caravan, but not that they actually killed a large pack of horned demon wolves. He figured they probably managed to kill a couple and the rest ran away. In his experience, people embellished exciting tales more often than not.
Then came the day he was supposed to report to Henry and Jason, the leaders of Delvers LLC. After his first week in the company, he’d officially be added to the roster in the Adventurer Guild register. He still wasn’t entirely sure what to think about Delvers LLC, his new company, but… he was going to be an adventurer!
He was incredibly excited. All his training over the last year would finally pay off and he could be a valued addition to a real adventuring company!
Aodh had run errands in Mirana a few times in the past so he didn’t get lost in the city. However, when he got to the location written on his slip of paper, instead of an office or an adventurer-owned inn, he found himself in front of a rental house. It wasn’t even an impressive rental house. There was a small building connected to the side of the house, filling most of the space that would otherwise be a wide alley.
He walked up to the door and paused, gathering himself for a moment before knocking. The door was almost immediately opened by a large, scarred, fearsome looking canine Mo’hali man. The man was wearing a mask similar to the ones he saw Henry and Mareen had when they visited George. The man also wore hide clothing and a sash adorned with an unfamiliar heraldry.
Aodh had the right place all right, but his first impression wasn’t that great. Delvers LLC had a growing reputation around Mirana, but based on the location of the company, it looked like they had no resources. His new employers were broke!
Aodh cleared his throat, “Aodh Antonni O’Breen, here for first day of employment.”
The Mo’hali man’s expression didn’t change and he stared at Aodh for a few seconds. Eventually, he grunted and motioned the boy to follow him.
Aodh followed the man through the house, a fairly normal Mirana house but kind of spare. There wasn’t much furniture and what was there seemed cobbled together from scrap wood.
At the side of the house, the man knocked on a door which was opened by another Mo’hali, this one a young man with dark, jaguar features and wearing black, quilted armor with green trim. He had on one of the Delvers LLC masks too. The Mo’hali man bowed deeply, his expression reverent. The boy looked at him quizzically, then shrugged and walked back the way he came.
As soon as Aodh followed the wolf man through the door, he gasped in shock. They were in the small building attached to the side of the house and it was filled with a huge bronze vehicle-thing.
Aodh wasn’t quite sure what he was looking at. The whole vehicle had no wheels and was propped up on wooden blocks. When he looked more closely, Aodh saw that it wasn’t made of bronze, but wood covered in bronze plates. It had a thin band of gold at the bottom and Aodh assume the entire bottom of the contraption was covered in gold as well.
The front of the vehicle had a thick, glass windshield. Aodh was familiar with windshields from drawings of magic tech vehicles used in other countries.
He’d never seen anything quite like it before. On the top of the vehicle was a round, donut shaped protrusion with two pipes sticking out of it. In some ways it reminded him of the military vehicles he’d seen drawings of in the past. However, all the military vehicles he knew of functioned as moving marksman platforms or platforms for siege engines. They were built high with many openings and most of them started their life as a flying ship or large wheeled vehicle. This thing was much smaller and shaped completely different.
From underneath the vehicle, he heard voices arguing. “I need a channel cut here.”
“Not there, here.”
Aodh could identify one of the voices as Henry’s. The other man’s voice was unfamiliar. Aodh glanced around and saw tools, scraps of metal, wood planks, and other objects haphazardly lying around everywhere. The only exceptions were two desks at the back of the building. Mareen sat behind one desk, wearing her mask. Her huge hammer was propped up with a stand and a large composite bow with bronze backing was hanging on the wall behind her.
The other desk was smaller and had maps and notes arranged in neat piles. The woman sitting at this desk was jotting something down on paper with grids. She was obviously Areva, and her hair was a rare shade of white for her age and her race. Aodh judged her to be about 38 – 46, young for an Areva. Aodh knew he could be wrong about her age, but unlike the rest of his family, he had a knack for judging Areva ages. It’s all about the ears and the eyes.
Mareen looked up and smiled, “Hello there, Tony!”
“Hi, Ms. Mareen.”
“Jason! Henry! Get out from under that thing and greet Tony.”
“Okay, coming,” Henry’s voice was muffled from under the vehicle.
“Be right there,” The other man’s voice sounded relieved.
The two men shimmied themselves out from where they’d been working. They were both wearing masks as well as some sort of coveralls made from canvas meant to protect their clothes. Aodh recognized Henry and assumed the taller, light skinned man with unruly hair was Jason.
They all stood there awkwardly for a moment until Henry nodded and said, “Good to see you again, Tony. This guy next to me is Jason. Jason, this is Tony.”
“This is our triggerman you were telling me about?” Jason asked.
“Oh! You met Rark-han already, Tony? Sorry that he didn’t say anything. He actually just joined back up with us again. He can’t speak anymore but he’s with Bezzi-ibbi. In fact that crest on his sash is Bezzi-ibbi’s new sigil.” Jason seemed excited and Aodh decided he liked him even though he didn’t know who Bezzi-ibbi was. He assumed Jason meant the Mo’hali boy wearing black and green.
Aodh tried not to judge because he knew he was pretty young himself at 16, but the other boy didn’t look old enough to be an adventurer at all.
Henry frowned at Jason, “You know you’re babbling, right? The baby goat just got here. Why would you start talking about Rark-han right away? I’m still pissed they cut out his tongue.”
“Well, they didn’t kill him, did they? Plus, he is going to be hearing a lot of Clan secrets. It’s barbaric but it makes a certain amount of sense. Also, you just said ‘baby goat’ again. I think you meant to say, ‘child.’”
“Men, please remember where you are!” The Areva woman stood up from behind her desk and scowled at Henry and Jason. “This is not the first time you’ve done this, either. I know you’re focused on your work and getting ready for the mission, but impressions matter. As an adventuring company, Delvers LLC rallies behind you two when meeting new people.”
“She’s right, you know,” Jason shrugged at Henry.
“Yeah. I just want to get the Battlewagon done. I’ve been grumpy for days.”
“We never agreed on that name.”
“I’m the one making it actually work. I’m also the one who came up with the gold repelling suspension idea. I’m the inventor, and I think it should be called the Battlewagon.”
“If you name it that, I’m going to feel ridiculous, like I should be wearing a purple mask and changing my name to Donatello. Actually, we’re arguing again in front of company. I also just realized we haven’t taken our masks off even though we’re in the garage.” Jason sounded embarrassed.
Henry’s eyes widened, “Oh fuck, we probably seem rude as hell. Quick, everyone take your masks off!”
As they took their masks off, Jason explained to Aodh, “We decided we should get used to wearing these things before we actually need to keep them on all the time. We’ll make one later for you too.”
After they had their masks off, Aodh looked around and felt his heart hammering in his chest. There were six people other than him in the garage. He knew that two of them, Henry and Mareen were orb wielders, Bonded. However, after the others had bare faces, he heard two more chimes in his head and saw:
Bezzi-ibbi, Jaguar Clan
Hero Ring, Arm Morph, Quicksilver
Jason James Booth, Terran, American
Dolos Orb, Modular Build, Generation 3
Aodh couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Most adventuring companies had one or two mages. Only the most powerful companies had so much as one Bonded warrior, Heroes were even more rare. Delvers LLC has three Bonded and a Hero? Aodh blinked rapidly in shock and Henry seemed to understand what he was thinking. He chuckled, “Bezzi-ibbi over there is the heir to his Clan too. This is probably a lot to take in.”
Suddenly, the door on the other side of the building opened and a woman walked in. “I was outside, but did I hear somebody say we have company? Is the newest addition to your merry band, that fire mage finally here now?”
An Areva woman walked around the vehicle in the center of the garage and Aodh got his first look at her. She was absently munching on a piece of fruit and wore jean shorts and a shirt with a picture of a yucka on it. Some of her long, light brown hair was arranged on top of her head in a poof. The designs on her cheeks and her forehead, the gold necklace, her overall look, it was all familiar. Aodh recognized who she was, who she had to be. He was standing before Keeja, one of the five most powerful High Priestesses of Dolos on Ludus.
It was all a little too much. He fainted.
When Aodh woke up, he was embarrassed but everyone was very understanding and he was officially introduced to all the members of Delvers LLC. Keeja wasn’t there any more, a fact Aodh was grateful for. The High Priestesses of Dolos were incredibly ancient and enigmatic. There were stories and myth of all of them, and Aodh wasn’t sure what to believe. It was one thing to read about beings in story books with the power to boil oceans, but a different matter entirely to meet a cowboy-booted demigod in person.
While Aodh was getting settled, Jason grumbled at Henry, “You know, she should really wear a mask like the rest of us.”
Henry frowned, “Okay, I’ll tell you what, you try to make her. Not only that, if she was wearing a mask at first, do you think Tony’s reaction would have been different after she took it off? I know we don’t get it, but High Priestesses are kind of a big deal on this world.”
Jason shrugged, “Well, if we spent our whole life hearing about them instead of just seeing her blow up a cloud one time, maybe we’d feel differently.”
“Anyway, we should probably start working with Tony.”
“Okay, you got this? You’re better at explaining things than I am.”
Jason nodded, “Yeah, I just made that cut for you anyway. You won’t need me for a while.”
“Sounds good,” Henry went back to working under the vehicle. All the other members of Delvers LLC got back to what they were doing before too. The women were at their desks, Bezzi-ibbi was sharpening some sort of spikes, and Rark-han was decorating what looked like a new set of leather armor.
Jason pulled up a couple crude chairs and offered one to Aodh. They both sat down. He also handed over a couple dozen strips of parchment and a small, sharp knife. “Here you go, Tony. While I explain all of this to you, please start preparing each of those strips for Blood Fire.”
Aodh was incredibly confused but he nicked his knuckle and did as he was asked while listening. Jason suddenly held up a finger, telling Aodh to wait, and dashed off to a box before returning to his seat. He was carrying a bronze cylinder with closed ends and Aodh couldn’t see a seam anywhere on it. It looked kind of like a giant pill made of metal.
Jason set the cylinder down and began explaining, “As you probably know, gunpowder is dangerous on Ludus.”
“Yes, I heard back on Earth it’s not, though. At least not like here.”
“Correct. The effects can be dangerous on our home world but the substance itself is fairly stable unless introduced to heat. However, on Ludus, gunpowder randomly ignites. Creating it, storing it, and using it as anything more than a curiosity is so dangerous that most places outlaw it entirely, and even criminals usually don’t weaponize it.”
Aodh nodded, all of this was familiar to him.
“When Henry and I first got to Mirana, we were captured by organized criminals. We still don’t really know who they were.”
Aodh’s eyes widened, this was a story he hadn’t heard before.
“Anyway, we barely escaped because the building exploded and caught on fire. We found out later it was because the group that captured us was making gunpowder. We can only guess what they were planning to do with it. I’m not sure what they were doing to prevent it from exploding, but it was working. They must have had a lot stocked up when something happened to set it all off.
“When Henry and I heard about this, we were curious. Most people on Ludus assume gunpowder itself is dangerous since it will usually burn or explode within a week of being made, even if it’s capped off or sealed in something. However, we’ve noticed that physics on Ludus are the same as on Earth, and chemicals behave the same way too.
“We hypothesized it wasn’t the gunpowder that was different, but Ludus itself. And the thing that makes Ludus most different is the Dhu. Henry had a theory that fire Dhu or air Dhu or some other Dhu were setting off the gunpowder.
“We began testing it with small amounts of gunpowder we bought through our contacts and stored it all different ways. It turns out that Henry was right. If we store gunpowder in a vacuum, or in a way that no air reaches it from outside, the powder won’t ignite. If left on an open plate or in a container where air can get to it in any way, it can go off. In fact, we stored some in two containers, one container inside an airtight container. When the airtight container was opened, the second container almost immediately ignited.
“We don’t know which Dhu are causing this or how it’s happening. Henry can sense enough to map out how everything works in the vehicle behind us, but he’s stumped with gunpowder. The good news is that we figured out a way to weaponize it safely.”
Aodh was starting to get a bad feeling about where the conversation was going.
Jason held up the thick tube in his hand and turned it on its side. Then he produced a knife and after the edge seemed to shimmer a bit, he cut through the tube lengthwise like it wasn’t even there. Aodh’s jaw dropped. He doubted Jason understood how unnerving that casual display of power was. He never heard of anyone ever doing anything like it with magic. He couldn’t even tell what kind of magic Jason used.
Jason held up one side of the pipe, showing Aodh the internals. “This is what we came up with. You can see how there is a central chamber that gets filled with gunpowder. Then there are chambers with nothing in them, vacuum between the inner wall of the inner chamber, and the thick outer wall of the rest of the bomb. Do you know what “vacuum” means?
Aodh shook his head. Most of this conversation was going over his head.
“Vacuum means nothing is there, not even air. We pump it out and then Henry fixes the wall of the bronze. This is just to make the bomb even safer, less likely to randomly explode. These things are actually really easy for him to make since he can use his magic. We’ve been testing this design for a while now. We made three full prototypes with powder inside and put them out on our training range. They’ve been stable for almost two weeks now and at three weeks I think we’ll have proof the design works.
Anyway, we obviously can’t use a fuse or anything like that for ignition or air could get to the gunpowder and we’d probably just kill ourselves. What we needed was a trigger we could put in the inner chamber itself; one that was sealed.
“If we were still on earth, this would be easy to do using a detonator with a radio signal or something like that. However, we can’t use electricity and Henry doesn’t have time to figure something out with magic tech. Plus, if we used magic tech, we’d be blowing up magic stones and that would be expensive.
“We didn’t know what to do until we did some research into fire magic and Uluula found out about Blood Fire. That’s where you come in!”
Aodh still didn’t really understand what Jason was talking about. “Excuse me Mr. Jason, what exactly does all of this mean?”
Jason’s eyes lit up, “We are going to put the strips of parchment you marked for Blood Fire inside of bombs like this one so you can ignite them at will. This all means you are going to be our demolitions man. Your job will be to blow things up!”
Jason took a strong liking to their newest member, Aodh. Jason had no problem pronouncing “Aodh”, but he knew it’d probably be easier for most other members of Delvers to use “Tony”, the nickname Henry gave him. He had to restrain a chuckle when he saw the young man’s confused expression turn to alarm.
Even though he was warned of Aodh’s Fideli-like appearance, it was still all Jason could do not to openly study the boy. He thought it was fascinating, but probably tragic for Aodh that he wasn’t even half Fideli by blood but still had so many Fideli physical traits.
For one, the boys’ bright blue eyes had such tightly constricted pupils they were just dots. Jason knew they would glow in the dark too, like a cat’s. Once in a while, when Aodh wasn’t paying attention, his second membrane would nictate over his eyes too. It was a bit unsettling to Jason who’d never see anything like it before. The kid’s ears were pointed, almost like an Areva person, and small, sharp canines flashed when he spoke. They weren’t quite fangs, but Jason wouldn’t want to be bitten by someone with Fideli teeth.
Aodh’s white forlock in his dark hair and his pale skin were also common Fideli traits. Jason thought it was amazing how none of these physical differences by themselves would be that noteworthy, but all together they made Aodh significantly stand out. Jason got a note from George a couple days ago to let him khow the boy was very sensitive about his Fideli appearance.
Aodh had been ostracized when he was younger and was still something of an outcast amongst his peers in the farming community. In the note, George told Jason to thank Henry for not reacting to the physical differences at all when he met Aodh. George wanted to thank him, but Jason knew that was just how Henry was. His friend sort of mistrusted everyone equally and didn’t really care much about physical differences.
It was one of Henry’s personality traits that Jason found most admirable, even though Henry saw himself as huge jerk. Truth be told, Henry could be abrasive and act uncaring, but Jason knew he had an all but unshakable core of fairness and decency. Jason had personally witnessed Henry help people in public that others wouldn’t even look at. He was a complicated person.
Before Aodh got to the Delvers Garage, Jason and Henry made sure nobody would react to his appearance in a way that would hurt his feelings. Jason, and to some extent Henry both identified with the boy and they wanted to give him an opportunity they never had.
Tony would be able to build self-confidence through the absolute best way possible; blowing stuff up.