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By the time Henry heard footsteps approaching, it was almost dark. He figured about an hour had passed. When he could actually see George and Mareen approaching, they both looked tired and frustrated.
George slowed as he saw Henry and Jason sitting outside and his face changed into a genuine smile. “I’m sorry I had to be so short with you two earlier. I wouldn’t even be alive here right now if it weren’t for you two.”
Henry didn’t fault the man for taking care of his village’s business. He replied, “It’s fine. It’s not like you can just drop your responsibilities. Nobody should.”
George sighed as he walked past and waved them inside the house, “Yeah, but it’s frustrating when people drag out things that should be obvious. You probably saw the angry man in the meeting. Well, the problem is I can’t even be upset at him because I’m angry too. See, his name is Perry and it was his son you saw dead in the cave yesterday.”
Henry thought to himself, Well, that proves this is a new day. We must have had a nasty case of interstellar jet lag.
As Henry and Jason took seats around the cabin’s main room, Jason asked, “You said the meeting was about moving, right? Wouldn’t Perry want to move away from the place where his son was just killed by monsters?”
George sadly shook his head, “It’s not that simple. See, Perry would like to find his son Tommas’ remains to give him a proper burial, and while that happening is not likely, it’s impossible if the whole village leaves in the next day or two. Then there’s the fact that we all spent a lot of time and effort building this place. I’m not really happy about giving it up either. This place has been my home. And I think Perry thinks we giving up and we disrespecting Tommas’ memory.
I feel for the man, but the reality is this area has got too dangerous,” George shook his head and hit his knee in frustration. “It feels bad and it’s bitter to all of us living here, but we are not strong enough to protect ourselves. This area is starting to crawl with goblins and most of us don’t know much about fighting. Believe it or not, I’m one of the scrappiest men in the village and you saw the state I was in when you found me.”
Henry was curious how that had actually happened. “How did you all end up in that cave in the first place?”
George looked off in the distance and his face took on the cast of a man with many regrets. “I was teaching Tommas how to tend to crops. His father asked me to do so because I have one of the deftest touch in the village with growing things. We were in one of the distant fields when Mareen came out to bring us water and the goblins surrounded us. After that the goblins forced us to the cave and you found us.”
Henry felt like an asshole for making George dredge up memories of his capture. “I’m sorry for asking.”
“No harm done and I would not be alive to feel bad right now if you had not saved my life,” George snorted. “If answering uncomfortable questions is the price for my life, I’ll gladly pay it.”
Jason cleared his throat, “Actually, we do have some questions.”
Henry internally congratulated Jason. That was very smooth. He admired how Jason could slip into a conversation like that. Henry knew there was little finesse to his own conversational skills.
George sat back and shrugged, “I figured you two would have some questions for me. Blerrie, I remember how confused I was when I first came to Ludus.”
Without warning, Jason took out the box with the orbs from behind where he was sitting and asked, “Do you know anything about these?”
George’s reaction was far more extreme than Henry had been expecting. When he saw the orbs, he immediately jumped up to shut the door and then hissed, “Don’t go waving those around. Don’t get anyone see them! You should either use them quickly or hide them away!”
Henry spoke up, “So they’re valuable, huh?”
George kept his voice down but growled, “Ja, nee even the most cowardly person in this village could be tempted to do something stupid in order to get their hands on those orbs. They all have different effects, but all of them make people healthier and live longer. What’s more, not all newcomers to this world arrive with Dolos orbs and some of them can give people amazing abilities.”
Jason carefully closed the box and placed it behind him again, “What kind of abilities?”
George shook his head, “I kind of expected you to already looked through this thing, ja? I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised you’re the honorable types.” Then George grunted as he got up and retrieved the journal Henry and Jason had seen before. Henry glanced at Mareen in the corner while George was heading back to his seat. She hadn’t said anything yet, probably because she didn’t speak English very well but she looked worried.
George seemed to deflate a bit as he sat back down and said, “I should have known I’d have to get this book out anyway. It has 30 years worth of Ludus information in it and I would not want to give you two the wrong information, especially since you saved my life.”
Henry thought of something before George could continue, “If the orbs are so valuable, why haven’t any other villagers come near your house while we’ve been here, especially since we were passed out?”
“Well, for one they are afraid of you. You killed quite a few goblins after all.”
“But we completely caught them by surprise,” protested Jason. “If it had been a fair fight, we wouldn’t have stood a chance.”
George chuckled, “The people living here don’t know that. Plus, none of them have ever killed a goblin. Despite the circumstances, you two took out around half a dozen or so. Can you really not understand why they’d be nervous?” George gave a sly look, “Plus, why do you think I called the town meeting so quickly? With everyone there, I could keep accountability of everyone. I couldn’t allow anyone in my village to do something that would shame us after you two put your lives on the line for Mareen.”
Jason coughed, “We appreciate that. So like I asked before, what do these orbs do?”
“Let’s see,” George leafed through his book, “some give enhanced strength, some speed, all of them make the owner virtually immune to sickness, most of them increase a person’s life span…” he tapered off and flipped through a few more pages. “A tiny number of them confer magic of some kind. A few have given energy powers… but these were mostly to non-humans.”
Henry’s ears perked up at that, but he kept his mouth shut. He trusted Jason to do most of the talking during this conversation. Jason pinched the bridge of his nose and said, “I’m assuming you did a lot of your own research over the last few decades.”
“This is my life’s work,” Henry pointed at the book. “When I first got here, not only did someone steal my orb in my first couple hours on Ludus, I didn’t even know this was another world for almost a week. The first few years were rough. You are lucky you didn’t wind up somewhere with people who would kill you for your orbs.”
Jason asked, “Wait, didn’t Dolos tell you that you were on another world?”
George looked shocked. Even Mareen in the corner seemed to be following the conversation and gasped. George leaned forward, “Ag, you met Dolos?”
Henry felt his expression souring and he saw Jason getting ready to answer, but he beat him to the punch. Before he could think it through he replied, “Yeah and I told him to go fuck himself.” He could see Jason wince. Well, Henry knew he wasn’t very good at keeping quiet when he should. Like now. And when he was talking to a huge man floating in the air. He shrugged.
George’s mouth hung open and he blinked. Mareen looked like she wanted to run away. George stammered, “Haibo, not many love Dolos on this planet other than those who worship him, but he is very rarely seen. He destroyed entire towns that annoyed him. He very, very rarely appears in person to new people on Ludus and it’s usually only with people who end up becoming famous. Just who are you, brah?”
Henry shrugged again, “I’m an EMT and Jason is a programmer. We like fencing. No big deal.”
Jason sighed and asked, “What can you tell us about magic?” Henry realized his friend was trying to bring the conversation back to the topics they wanted to cover so he reminded himself to stay quiet.
George was still visibly shaken but asked, “Magic?
“Yes, we were shocked to see Mareen using magic. I mean, you are from Earth so you probably know how we felt. What can you tell us about magic on this world?”
George seemed to calm down and flipped through his book, “Ag, you sure are lucky, chinas. Most people will be able to tell you a little about magic, but to get concrete answers you’d usually have to buy an expensive book or talk to a professional mage. Lucky for you, I researched this subject in the past.” George was quiet for a minute while he tried to find the right page.
“Here it is. There are 7 schools of magic and 7 sub schools. People usually only have affinity for one school of subschool of magic, but they have limited ability with whatever school or subschool their magic is mated with. For instance, the Life school which is used for healing is a sub school of Water. Mareen has an affinity for life magic so she can use a little bit of Water magic, but not much. She can’t use any other type of magic.
All mages have different strengths and abilities. Spells are usually different too. There really isn’t a lot of commonality in how mages go about doing things. Nobody knows how people become mages either or why some people can seem to sense magic and some can’t.”
“What are all the schools of magic?” asked Jason. “Also, do you have a piece of paper and something to write on?”
Mareen got up and wordlessly handed Jason a small piece of parchment and a small, crude pencil made from a twig. George consulted his journal and then listed off the schools of magic and their sub schools.
School: Sub School:
Jason scribbled madly on his little parchment and when he looked up he asked, “Which schools are most popular? Which have the most prestige?”
George closed his book and scratched his chin, “That is a good question. There does seem to be some sort of element of choice among mages because most of them tend to be one of the two elemental schools. It’s apparently much more rare or harder to be a mage of one of the 3 higher schools.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well,” George continued, “Most mages have affinities with one of the 4 main elemental schools, Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. It’s very rare for anyone to have affinity with any of the sub schools. It’s even more rare for anyone to have an affinity with one of the higher schools, Force, Consciousness, and Light. You can probably guess that the sub schools for the three higher schools are pretty much never seen.
Among mages, the most common schools are Water and Air. It’s very valuable to be able to clean water and make water appear out of nowhere. It’s likewise handy to be able to fly limited distances and control the air. The most common sub school is Life, like Mareen has.” Mareen smiled.
“Okay,” said Jason slowly, “how does magic work?”
George looked serious, “That is a good question. As best I can tell, and I only got the idea from reading Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, I think it has to do with probability. For instance, fire mages have an easier time manipulating fire if there is already an open flame nearby. Water mages have an easier time creating more water if they already have water on hand. Life mages have an easier time healing an otherwise healthy person.”
Jason nodded, “That makes sense. Okay, my next question is about the races on this world. I’ve heard that there are,” Jason paused and looked at another piece of paper, “Ereva, Mo’hali, Adom, Fideli, and Terrans.”
George nodded his head, “Ja, the Ereva say there are actually other races out in the universe, but the most powerful and notorious are all here on Ludus. The Ereva are like elves. Don’t ever say that around them though, they get mal. They live really long, they are smaller than humans, and most of them are crafty as hell. Watch your ass around them just now, ja?
Mo’hali are beast people. Most of them keep to themselves. They good chaps, the ones I met. The different types are more like castes than human races, though. You’ll learn which ones have the power if you deal with them.
Terrans are us. From Earth, ja?
Fideli are like Terrans and Ereva mixed a long, long time ago. Not many of them on Ludus and most of them tune grief. Fideli are always in trouble.
Adom… well you probably never see any of them cause they rare. But if you see they stand out.”
Jason nodded, “Okay, I have one more question. Why is there no metal or technology anywhere?”
“There are only the ‘Dolosbots’. Dolos robots go around sniffing for electricity or tech. They destroy it and kill anyone nearby. Nobody chances it. Using electricity is against Dolos’ rules.”
This time Jason and Henry were shocked. Rules against technology? Jason stammered, “What are these rules?”
George grimaced, “It’s simple. The only three rules are no electric power, no phase crystal power, and no tree power. Basically, nobody can use the technology from their home. The Dolosbots enforce the rules.”
“But why? That’s crazy,” Henry shook his head.
“Best I can tell, it’s to force people to go adventuring to dungeons. The only power we can have are magic stones and all magic stones come from dungeons.”
Jason rubbed his temples, “I don’t think I’m ready to hear any more about dungeons right now. What about the other part of my question? Why don’t we see much metal around?”
George shrugged, “That’s simple, china. Iron and anything with iron in it rots crazy fast. The only metals anyone can use are bronze and stuff. Shit’s expensive.”
Henry was confused. He looked in the duffle earlier in the day and didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. He quickly got up and bought it over before rooting around in it. Everyone else in the room watched him. He sighed, “Yeah, I didn’t notice it before be he’s sure right about this,” he brought out the rifle which was literally falling apart in his hands. Then he brought out their cheap steel machete that still looked normal, “What about this, though?”
George and Mareen looked even more shocked than they had been when they heard Henry and Jason met Dolos. George was quiet for a long time and finally whispered, “That machete’s steel has to be blessed. That thing is worth a fokking fortune.”