Using the Orbs
The next morning, Jason knew they had to make a decision about the orbs. The little village was packing up that day and leaving the next. He knew that even if there was a chance the orbs could really give them fluency in the local language, it would be worth it to try.
The night before, George had gone on to explain a little bit more about the races on Ludus. Apparently, humans from Earth were by far the shortest lived race on the planet other than perhaps some of the monsters. He also learned that while monsters like the goblins they fought wandered around, monsters in general were most highly concentrated in and around dungeons. What’s more, dungeons always had treasure , usually in the form of magic power stones or amazing equipment. Adventurers raided dungeons for treasure in order to make a living.
Jason felt the sparks of a long term plan forming in his mind, but he shelved it for the time being. The priority this day was to decide on a school of magic to think about all day before hopefully waking up a mage. He felt ridiculous as soon as those words crossed his mind.
When Jason got up, he noticed Henry had already woken up and was gone. He rolled his eyes. His friend seemed to be a constant source of energy. As soon as he left the cabin, he found Henry sitting outside, uncharacteristically still and looking off at the mountains in the distance.
Jason walked up to Henry, “Hey, where’s everyone else?”
Henry grunted and said, “They’re getting all the animals ready to move or something. I get the impression this move has been a long time coming so a lot of people have already been preparing to leave.”
Jason nodded and thought, That makes sense. He opened his mouth to speak again but Henry beat him to the punch, “I know what you came to talk about. We need to use the orbs. I know you think we should choose one of the rare schools and you can, but I am not going to.”
Jason just listened and waited. He knew that he wouldn’t be able to change Henry’s mind, but his friend usually didn’t make stupid decisions. Jason knew he was better at overall strategy and seeing a big picture and he was aware Henry knew this too. However, he wasn’t sure if Henry knew how deep his own insight could be when he was focused. It was kind of impressive at times how Henry could plan several years in advance for specific outcomes in his own life.
Henry continued, “I don’t think you’ll actually argue with me that much because I’m still going to choose one of the least common or at least less popular schools. But I’ve been thinking about the dungeons in this world. Realistically, we don’t have the skills or means to make any money, do we?”
Jason shook his head.
“I didn’t think so. I’m figuring you are going to suggest that we use the dungeons to make money and get equipment because otherwise we won’t have a hope in hell of surviving, much less conquering anything.”
Jason nodded. Henry had seen right through him and already figured out what his future plan would be.
“I thought so. That’s why I am going to choose earth or metal for my school. If we are in caves or underground, it makes sense to choose the school for that element. Plus, before everything in my life went to hell, I was studying to be a geologist, remember? I have a feeling that the more we know about a school of magic, the better off we will be. Otherwise, people who can do magic naturally on this world wouldn’t have affinities in the first place.”
Jason could find no fault in Henry’s logic. “Sounds like a plan. Just so you know, I’m planning to take the “Consciousness” school.
Henry frowned, “I would say that sounds dumb, but I have a feeling you thought of something everyone else missed.”
Jason nodded, “Yup. The subschool of Consciousness is “time”. There aren’t many Consciousness mages on Ludus, right? That means information might be scarce. And what is the opposite of time, or closely linked to it thematically?
Henry’s eyes widened, “Space, right?”
“Exactly. I’m banking on the fact that ‘consciousness’ is just part of the school’s influence.”
“That’s clever. Okay, it sounds like we both know what we’re doing. So let’s do it.”
Jason was holding the box with the orbs inside. He opened it up, carefully took one out, and handed the box to Henry. Then he shut his eyes and swallowed the orb. He squished his eyes together, fearing the worst… nothing happened.
He opened his eyes and saw Henry staring back at him, “Sometimes you can be such a drama queen, Jason.”
Jason frowned and he crossed his arms, “Fuck you, man. I’ll tell you what, when we get back, find some other random person to go fighting monsters and ingesting weird pills. See how well they handle it.”
Henry rolled his eyes, “And yet, you are still being dramatic.”
Jason was getting pissed. He hated when Henry needled him like this because he was usually right too. He had met a few of Henry’s Army’s buddies in the past and they were all like this; they developed being an asshole into a casual art form.
“Whatever,” he grunted. Then he found a stick and a shady piece of land and practiced sword swings while he thought, “Consciousness/space magic”, over and over again in his head. He didn’t know if it was really necessary, but he was not taking any chances. He’d follow Dolos’ instructions to the letter.
After exercising, Jason ate a late breakfast of bread and water he found on the table in George’s cabin, then he went to help some of the villagers with packing and moving all of their possessions onto the 3 wagons the village had. Almost all of them were polite and smiled despite the fact none of them could communicate with him.
While working, Jason found out that only one other person in the entire village understood any English other than George and Mareen. She was an older woman named Medina and Jason discovered she had originally been from Mexico before being transported to Ludus at 17 years old. She had picked up some English from dealing with American tourists.
Jason met up with Henry again for supper (people on Ludus usually ate two meals a day, not three). Henry had been helping the villagers corral the few animals they had and salvage whatever crops they could. He could tell Henry was constantly repeating “earth” in his head the same way Jason was mentally chanting “consciousness and space”.
They split up without talking much and didn’t meet up again until the end of the day. Jason, Henry, George, and Mareen all met up in the cabin as the sun was setting. The village was barely ready to move out the next morning before it started to get dark. As Jason watched the three other people in the cabin sit around the table and nibble on some hard bread, he wondered if he looked as exhausted as everyone else did.
George sighed, “Ag man, this is a long day. Thank you for helping out, chinas. You’ve already saved our lives and pitched in to help when you didn’t have to.”
Jason tiredly waved his hand. By this point he knew “china” had nothing to do with the country and was part of George’s half-remembered South African slang. As far as he was concerned, George had helped them so much in understanding the world and giving them a place to stay that he didn’t owe them anything. They were even. “Seriously, there’s no need to mention it.”
“Have you two swallowed the orbs?”
Jason and Henry looked at each other before Jason said, “Yes, we have.”
George sighed and said, “I told you that I was one of dem who had one when I came to Ludus too. Mine was stolen. I’m kind of jealous that tomorrow you’ll be larger than life. It was probably smart to use your orbs now instead of tryn’ sell ‘em. People on this planet will kill for Dolos orbs.
Henry said, “That’s what we thought too. We just wish we’d had more time to think about deciding-”
Jason quickly interrupted, “Yeah now we won’t have to worry about anyone stealing them.” That was close. They had already discussed earlier to let George or anyone else know as little as possible about their situation until they were sure of what the orbs actually did. Jason knew Henry was tired and grouchy, but he could have punched him in frustration.
George could probably tell something happened but he looked confused and shrugged. “See ya, ja? Early morning.” Then he retired to his room. Mareen had already gone to bed.
Jason thought sleep sounded like a good idea. The tiny candle on the table in the cabin’s main room was about to go out too and he didn’t want to use up any more of George’s resources. He and Henry both fell onto their simple beds in the guest room and before Jason fell asleep, one last time he thought, “Consciousness, space!” as hard as he could.
Jason wasn’t sure when he realized that he was dreaming, but when he did, he noticed he in a burger restaurant he used to go to during his college years. Sitting at the booth with him was a cartoon cat.
“Uh,” he said, “this is different.”
The cartoon cat nodded, “Yes, this is probably the first time you’ve had perfect consciousness while sleeping. I briefly considered appearing to you as Dolos since his image is recent, familiar, and distinct but after I realized you considered him an enemy, I decided against it. The current image you see, a beloved character from your childhood, was considered a safe choice.
“Well, this is definitely surreal and creepy, but yeah, I’d rather not see Dolos again.” Jason grimaced, “But I guess I probably should hear you out. In fact, I doubt I have much of a choice, do I?”
“Unfortunately not, but you initiated my presence. Did you not choose to swallow the orb?
“Wait… you’re the orb?”
“In a manner of speaking, yes. I’m the interface built into the orb you swallowed. My function is to provide you information, guidance, and choice in your development. I was activated when you swallowed the orb and chose your school of magic to specialize in.”
“Well orb or not, I’m going to call you Eek. Also, this all sounds awfully elaborate. I thought the other people who used these orbs on this planet got random effects?”
“In the past, they did. However, Dolos has started a new phase of his experiment. Several dozen orbs with directives similar to myself were distributed among a small number of the newest additions to Ludus from other planets. The orbs used by you and your friend Henry are the last two orbs Dolos is sending for some time.”
“Okay… why change things now?”
“I can’t answer for certain, but I believe Dolos has decided the planet’s political and social climate have stagnated. As for what he is trying to accomplish or what his actual experiments are, I can only speculate. The only thing that’s for certain is he is intending to create change.”
“Okay, so more or less, you don’t know any more than me right now. So moving to a different topic, I already chose my magic school so what did you mean by choice?”
“It revolves around how my function has been expanded from orbs in the past. Ludus is the homeworld of a type of being called the Dhu. Wild Dhu generally correspond to one of the schools or sub schools of magic you are aware of now. Dolos utilizes new Dhu that have not taken on any specific attributes yet to power the changes instigated by the orbs he gifts.”
Jason thought he might understand. “So what you’re saying is that in the past, orbs had a pre-set way to instruct these Dhu to affect the human host. You on the other hand have a bit more control over how these creature do whatever they do. Also… I’m officially creeped out that you are putting parasites in me.”
“The Dhu will attach themselves to your soul and provide you with power and changes in exchange for the ability to feed off your emotions and life energy. It’s a symbiotic relationship. Also, the Dhu cannot be forced to do anything. They are merely given a more attractive option than returning to the wild.”
“Okay, that aside, how do my choices and advancement work?”
“It’s quite simple. In a moment, I will show you all the options you have to choose from in order to use the power of the Dhu. In the future, you can gain more power and advance further by finding what the locals on Ludus call, ‘spirit gems’. These are actually containers where Dolos has imprisoned more sterile Dhu.”
“Do I have to swallow these too?”
“If you wish to advance further in power, yes.”
“Is there anything else you should tell me before I start choosing powers?”
“Just three things: First, you will find that you are a much more powerful mage than most others on Ludus. You will probably be able to figure out why in time. Second, you will have much stronger ability than normal with your magic’s subschool or school corresponding to the magic you chose. Last, when you choose abilities to use your accumulated Dhu, each ability costs different amounts of energy. You may save any unused energy for your next advancements.”
“So… this is like an RPG then?”
For the first time, the cartoon cat looked uncomfortable. “Dolos apparently visited a civilization eons ago that played games similar to the games your generation plays on Terra. They left a deep impression on him. It is fair to say that he has gifted you with more sophisticated orbs like me because you have the background to understand what is expected of you.”
“Great, just great. Okay, Eek, let’s see what powers I can buy with my experience points.” Jason could have been imagining things, but it looked like the cartoon cat was a bit embarrassed.