Votes on TWF last for one week, and you can vote on more than one story.
I am publishing within the next week!
Don’t miss the announcement!
LitRPG Facebook group (join up!): https://www.facebook.com/groups/LitRPGsociety/
BC Twitter: https://twitter.com/Blaise_Corvin
Facebook author page (toss me a like!): https://www.facebook.com/BlaiseCorvinWriter/
Special thanks to my Patreon supporters! Chapter 8 will be posted on Patreon today. My Patreon page is here: Patreon
Rark-han walked across the street to join the meeting at Henry-ibbi and Jason-ibbi’s house. He agreed with Bezzi-ibbi about meetings—less is more. He sighed.
While the air exited his mouth, he felt the stub of his tongue and winced. This in turn made him think of his missing arm and he winced again. Rark-han was maimed. He was a shadow of himself. The world was unjust, he hadn’t deserved to be banished, but the incredible shame and debt he acquired by standing by, doing nothing while bandits tormented innocents… there was no way to atone for it in a lifetime.
His only hope was to follow the wisdom of the Hero, and in turn follow the leaders of Delvers LLC as his liege did. Rark-han knew his very soul was on the line. There was no more room for error.
Such as him has no right to complain about anything anyway. A missing arm and tongue were nothing compared to the evil he witnessed while he froze in indecision, questioning whether he should break his promise to Bandit Thod. He agonized over his honor until he realized he had none left. Never again.
Plus, he’d follow Bezzi-ibbi into the bowels of giant Fenrir himself now. His own desires were no longer relevant. However, possibly rooting out the scorra funding the bandits and other damaging groups in Tolstey was a mission he believed in.
Not for the first time, Rark-han was humbled and appreciative for his chance to atone. He was a disgusting, fallen Mo’hali. But as long as he served his Hero faithfully, he had at least a small hope at redemption for his soul. It was too late for him in this life, but he was desperately fighting for his eternal future.
Enough of that. He couldn’t effectively serve his liege if he moped around all day about his missing tongue and arm. He had a prosthetic for his arm, and he never really spoke that much to begin with. Of course, that in itself had been a problem, hadn’t it? Perhaps if he spoke up, spoke for himself, he wouldn’t have been banished.
If he was patient, he knew his chance to rend and tear the enemies of the Hero would come again. Perhaps one day, his liege would even right the wrongs that caused Rark-han to be rejected from his Clan.
He donned his usual neutral expression as he opened the door to the Masters’ house and shut it behind him. As usual, the unpleasant smell of Terran occupation hit him, especially as he passed the bedrooms, but he endured. He couldn’t help twitching his nose, though.
The rest of the Delvers were in the garage. Some of them were actually on the monstrous contraption Henry-ibbi had named the Battlewagon. Rark-han’s ears laid back when he saw it. Unnatural and far too powerful to be a battle toy of such a small group, he kept wondering if the gods or the ancestors would come down from on high to punish them.
Then again, until recently they’d been travelling with Keeja, a demigod; a demigod that sexually harassed Henry-ibbi. Every time Henry-ibbi had cursed at Keeja, Rark-han wondered if they would all die. It hurt his head to think about it.
Henry-ibbi was an idiot. Then again, so was Jason-ibbi which was why they were having this meeting in the first place. He’d gone off on a mission by himself.
Rark-han slightly bared his teeth before he stilled his face again. The casual arrogance of those with such earth-shaking power was something he would never understand.
“Okay, everyone’s here,” said Henry. The man’s goatee and hair were newly trimmed. Rark-han figured Mareen did it. Henry himself seemed only peripherally aware of anything around him these days other than his inventions. He had just started working on the “motorcycles” for Spy Gonzolez. However, against the far wall, Rark-han could see the outlines of four new contraptions, not two.
Henry-ibbi was obviously building a couple extra motorcycles. Why, he didn’t know. He just hoped it didn’t involve him.
Rark-han glanced around the room. There wasn’t a lot of space in the garage now, especially with extra people. Henry, Mareen, and Jason were on the Battlewagon. Uluula was at her desk. Aodh stood in the corner where he usually slept, glaring at Spy Vitaliya and unsuccessfully trying to hide it. Spy Vitaliya herself stood on the other side of the room, pointedly ignoring Aodh for the time being.
Rark-han was standing by Bezzi-ibbi and Yanno-ibbi near the door to the house. Spy Gonzolez stood by himself.
Henry cleared his throat and said, “As you can all see, it’s been a couple days but Jason is back. Jason, could you update everyone on what you were doing while you were gone as well as what we did this morning? Also, something I forgot to ask earlier is where you slept by yourself. I knew you’d figure something out but I’m curious what you did for security.”
Jason took a half step forward and rested his arms on the wall of the Battlewagon’s cargo area. “What I did was fairly simple. I traveled a long distance to obtain materials for the neutralization of our LEDF. This means we won’t have to wear masks anymore.”
“LEDF?” Aodh asked.
“The Left Eye Data Feed that Dolos initiatiated.”
Henry scoffed, “It’s a stupid acronym. You really shouldn’t use it anymore.”
Not for the first time, Rark-han had to admit he didn’t understand Terrans at all. The company masters were openly disrespectful to each other, they backed down and acted weak at times, but Rark-han had seen them fight. He’d even seen them lay waste to hundreds of other warriors like it was nothing. Rark-han shook his head. It was not for him to understand the strange Terrans. Bezzi-ibbi counted them as brothers; he could deal with them. Rark-han just had to follow.
Jason ignored Henry and continued, “What I needed was inside a rare and dangerous monster. We were pressed for time so I went myself. It was actually more dangerous than I was expecting, but I was able to kill it with a new ability I’ve been practicing.” Jason smiled.
Rark-hand felt a chill. Jason was already an incredible dangerous man. He couldn’t imagine what deadly, terrifying new ability he was perfecting, especially if it made him smile like that. Terrans terrified Rark-han, probably even more than Areva. However, the fact that Uluula was softly growling from her desk in the corner was straining Rark-han’s hierarchy of fear.
“To answer Henry’s question about security,” he turned to his friend and said, “I camped by finding small caves. I used null-time on my blade to collapse the entrance before sleeping. Then I would teleport outside to continue travelling. Coming back took me longer because I was tired and had to find safe looking caves to rest in from time to time.”
Henry chuckled. “That was smart. Now that I think about it, I probably could have done the same thing and just blown all the rocks out with magic when I needed to leave. Good to know.”
“Indeed. Anyway, I found seven of the items I needed in order to make tinctures that will remove the LEDF. This morning Henry, myself, Bezzi-ibbi, and Mareen already took a dose. We haven’t tested the effectiveness yet, but I don’t think we will need to wear masks anymore.” He levelled a meaningful look at Spy Gonzolez.
Rark-han winced inwardly. If Jason and Henry were going to get involved in politics, they really needed to learn to better control their body language.
Spy Gonzolez said, “I’m impressed. That was fast. However, I’m not sure why you invited Vitaliya and myself here to tell us this. I realize I may be more cynical than the average person, but you’re freely telling us about extra resources you haven’t used. You’re speaking of real wealth and power, especially in this world.”
Jason rolled his eyes and said, “Oh come off it. Somebody or somebodies are going through a lot of effort to get us to Berber. If you sold us out for some monster parts, you’d not only be stupid, you’d probably be dead. I don’t think your government would take kindly to such a thing. Plus, you’re basically turning us into nobles in actuality since faking it won’t work. Pissing us off would be incredibly short sighted, especially for a rational person like you.
“We invited you here since we will be travelling together for a while. Everyone in our company stays on the same page at all times so we don’t have misunderstandings.”
Maybe they’re wiser than I thought. Rark-han truly didn’t understand these Terrans but occasionally they seemed to make surprisingly wise decisions.
“Thanks Jason,” said Henry. “We have two other orders of business. First, we’re leaving in about a week. We should have the bikes done by then and all our gear ready to go. Everyone plan on leaving Mirana in seven days. Actually, why is a week in Ludus still seven days?”
“Probably because the people populating Ludus are from other planets,” said Jason.
“Bezzi-ibbi, do you know if a week is seven days long on your home world? What about you, Uluula?” Henry absently patted his leg as he glanced around.
Bezzi-ibbi just shrugged but Uluula replied, “Yes, a week has always been seven days for me. However, didn’t you just say you had something else to announce as well?” Her voice wasn’t unfriendly, but to Rark-han she sounded terse.
“Henry stop getting sidetracked. Just say what you need to say.” Mareen was scowling, but her voice was warm. Rark-han didn’t understand why Terrans never seemed to just say what they meant. Mareen tried to present a prickly front but her body language practically howled that she was deeply in love.
“Well, I actually have two more things to say, not just one.” Henry looked hesitantly as Jason who nodded. “Okay, first is that we’re giving our extra Dolos orb to Tony if he wants it.”
“What!?” Aodh was so shocked he almost fell on his butt. He leaned against the wall instead and opened and closed his mouth like a fish. Rark-han thought it looked rather undignified.
“Yeah. We don’t actually know what it does because it didn’t come with a note and Keeja took off. On the other hand, all these fucking things always have the exact same instructions. To be safe, think about a specific type of magic all day and before you go to bed in case it’s a modular-type orb. It it’s not, it will just do whatever it’s supposed to do after you swallow it.
“Anyway, if you want the orb we also have a tincture for you to take with it so you’ll never have to worry about the fucking left eye whatsit.”
“LEDF,” muttered Jason.
“Yeah, that.” While Aodh continued to sputter, Henry’s posture changed and he looked unsure of himself. Jason nodded again and Henry swallowed. He turned his whole body, starting into Mareen’s eyes as she stood next to him and asked, “Will you marry me, Mareen ni’Haniyya Jacobs?”
Absolute silence rang in the garage. Rark-han felt his ears going back but he couldn’t help it. He was not equipped to deal with how quickly the scents and body language in the small space suddenly shifted. He was nervous, surrounded by emotionally people who could break him in half without much effort. He was never sure what they’d do next.
Before anyone could speak, Jason formally said, “Uluula b’ Anami b’ Pairose of the Blue, will you marry me?”
Nobody spoke. Rark-han’s skin prickled. When he glanced at Bezzi-ibbi and saw his liege’s wide, feral grin, it didn’t help settle his nerves at all.
Uluula replied first, “Jason James Booth, I accept. However I would like to know when you actually want the ceremony to take place?”
“Henry Mirai Sata, I accept and I have the same question.” Mareen’s voice wavered and she had tears in her eyes. She trembled and her body language screamed she wanted to throw herself at the man that just proposed to her. She was restraining herself and Rark-han was not sure why.
What in Ludus is going on? Why are these men proposing, and both at the same time?
Jason spoke, his words smooth like he’d practiced them before. He said, “I would love to marry you as soon as possible, however it takes two weeks to prepare a marriage ceremony in Mirana and we are leaving in a week. Unfortunately, I believe we will need to be engaged for some time.”
“Why can’t we just move our departure date back by a week or two?” asked Mareen.
“We can’t. I already spoke to Gonzo about it and we have to leave as soon as possible, right Gonzo?” Spy Gonzolez nodded. He looked as confused as Rark-han felt. “See? “It’s regrettable, but it will be some time before we can formally get married.” Jason replied.
“It’s really too bad,” muttered Henry.
Then a curious thing happened. Uluula and Mareen smiled, their expressions were predatory. “So you would get married to me as quickly as you can now that I’ve accepted your proposal?” Uluula asked.
“Definitely,” said Jason.
“You know I love you, Mareen,” said Henry. “The timing is just not right. I’d marry you in a heartbeat if the timing could work out.”
The women smiled wider and Rark-han almost whimpered, the strong emotions and smells in the garage were overpowering.
Uluula crossed her arms, her expression turning satisfied. “This is actually quite a coincidence. I’ve been inviting Yanno-ibbi to spend time in this garage for the last couple days. In fact, he was already here to hear the announcement today. Imagine our luck that Yanno-ibbi happened to be here to witness this conversation today. Yanno-ibbi, you are officially empowered to officiate marriages, correct?”
Yanno-ibbi was frowning. The older Jaguar Clan man had a twinkle in his eye, though. “I am, yes. This is correct.”
“I see, and in Mirana, Mo’hali are not required to file the same paperwork as other residents for marriage nor book a temple, which takes about two weeks, right?” Uluula sounded a little smug.
“This is also correct.”
“In fact, in your capacity as a recognized Mo’hali elder, what do you actually need in order to marry people?”
“Well, they need to be Mo’hali, or at least one person does. I also need to witness the proposal or a declaration of love.”
“So would the proposals you just witnessed satisfy the requirement?”
“Wait a fucking minute!” Henry slightly raised his voice. “We aren’t Mo’hali!”
“Oh, but legally you can be, Henry-ibbi.” Mareen said, stressing his Jaguar Clan honorific. Tears were running freely down her face, but she still had a predatory grin.
Jason just looked at Yanno-ibbi and blinked stupidly.
“So,” Uluula continued, “Henry-ibbi and Jason-ibbi are of the Jaguar Clan, proposed to Mareen and I, and we accepted. In your capacity as a Jaguar Clan elder, what does this mean?”
Bezzi-ibbi began laughing softly, covering his mouth with both hands.
Yanno-ibbi coughed several times, trying not to laugh as well. “It means,” he choked out and stopped talking until he got control of himself again. “It means I have the pleasure of pronouncing Mareen Jacobs and Henry-ibbi standing in the day and married as of this moment. It means I pronounce Uluula of the Blue and Jason-ibbi standing in the day and married as of this moment. This pronouncement has been witnessed by three other souls and is legally binding by Mo’hali and Tolstey law. Congratulations and continue to stand in the day, stand in joy.
“Fuck me,” whispered Henry before he was tackled by a crying, affectionate Mareen. Uluula walked over to the Battlewagon and climbed aboard. She grabbed Jason’s collar and yanked him down into a kiss. To Rark-han, it almost sounded like she was purring.
Do these people do anything the normal way? They’re all insane! Rark-han couldn’t wait to leave the confusing language and overwhelming smells in the Delvers Garage. Bezzi-ibbi was still chuckling as they left and Rark-han longed for a good fight. At least violence made sense, unlike his Terran and Areva companions.
* * *
Just over a week later, The Delvers plus two spies and Yanno-ibbi had been travelling on the southwest road from Mirana all day. They left early in the morning and made great time so they were already outside the relatively safe, cultivated land outside the city. The plan was to travel to Pilk before heading due west to the Stem River, then they’d follow the river north through the Tolstey Mountains.
That evening they found a decent campsite off the road and broke camp before dusk. The Battlewagon made carrying things easy so full-sized tents went up in no time at all. Before long, the four magicycles—the name Henry coined—were parked by the Battlewagon, the fire was roaring, and food was cooking.
Unfortunately, nobody in their group was a very good cook. That night it was Yanno-ibbi’s turn to try destroying their food as little as possible. It was a valiant effort.
Eventually after the group fell asleep, Jason sat with Henry near their camp fire. It was Jason’s turn at watch and he woke Henry so they could have a chat. Due to their endurance abilities, they could do without much sleep anyway so the night watch was the perfect time to talk. The flurry of activity before leaving Mirana, including officially moving out of their house and both of them spending one full day with each of their new wives hadn’t left them any time to talk privately.
“So, we’re married now.” Jason poked at the fire with a stick.
“Yeah. Your little plan kind of backfired in a big fucking way. Turns out your wife is smarter than you.”
“Yes,” Jason said, smiling. “I guess she is.”
“Oh well, it’s not all bad. I guess I was being kind a pussy anyway. I talked to Mareen about it. She said she knew I was going to drag my feet and she didn’t want to die an unmarried woman. This gig is dangerous so I guess I kind of think she had a point. On the other hand, I know she’s chomping at the fucking bit to try ‘growing our house,’ which apparently means finding other chicks she think I’ll like.
“If I ever have to experience my own newlywed wife trying to play matchmaker for me, I’m going to feel awkward as fuck.”
“I got similar logic from Uluula. She also gave me a few specifics on how she put the trap together. I don’t know whether to be frustrated with her or impressed. I think deep down I’m irritated I’m so happy right now which proves she was right all along.
“She actually apologized for treating me like an objective, but she said she would do the same thing again. Once again, I can’t really be angry at her. I mean, I did propose. It was my choice.” Jason looked wistfully into the fire, one side of his mouth quirked up into a smile.
“Whoa dude, don’t go getting all mushy on me. Get ahold of yourself.”
Jason sighed, “You’re such a dick, Henry. Fine, whatever. The real reason I called you out here… Actually, you know what? You’re so polite and thoughtful, you can find out for yourself.” Jason stood and brushed himself off before gesturing for his friend to follow.
Henry grumbled but got up and followed Jason through the sparse forest, mostly just scraggly pine trees. Jason knew that for all his blustering, Henry was probably holding power from the earth and using his enhanced senses to scan for any danger.
Jason continued leading the grumbling Henry away from the camp, heading for the road. When they were a decent distance away from the camp, probably at least 200 yards, Jason finally said, “Here is fine.” He was enjoying the look of frustration and impatience on Henry’s face.
“So what are we doing out here now? Are you sure you’re not going gay on me? I know I’m a sexy motherfucker but you just got married and Uluula will have your balls if you go making it with a dude. Areva really don’t like gay people, you know. Did you know your wife is homophobic?”
Jason closed his eyes and prayed for patience. Even with his eyes closed, he could sense Henry’s grin. He breathed slowly out his nose and opened his eyes again. I suddenly feel even less bad for doing this to Henry.
“So what is this about, fucker? You just going to stand there all night with your eyes closed? I could be sleeping right now.”
Jason grinned. “Okay fine. I’ll show you.” And with that, Jason looked the opposite direction from their camp, turned to the sky and yelled, “Keeja, come talk to us!”
“What the hell are you yelling about, dude? Keeja has been gone for weeks.” The slight edge of nervousness in Henry’s voice could only have been picked up by someone who knew him really, really well.
After a few moments, Henry began grumbling again but Jason just waited. He knew his reasoning was sound. He’d been thinking about Keeja all week, wondering where she went off to, and then realized the answer was staring him in the face the whole time.
She couldn’t leave indefinitely. He and Henry were indirectly working for Dolos, and more importantly, Dolos still owed Jason a favor.
Jason had a hunch the favor he was owed was at least one reason Keeja hadn’t shown herself for a while. At the same time, every old story or bit of lore he ever heard stated that gods and powerful supernatural beings had to keep their word. He was betting on the fact that Dolos had the same requirements.
Suddenly, as if she were summoned, Keeja appeared directly in front of them. Tall for an Areva, as usual she wore Earth clothing; short jean shorts, a black, baggy t-shirt with a rock band logo, and a stylish hat. It was dark but Jason was pretty sure she was wearing expensive ankle books too. Her golden necklace of her office glittered in the starlight and the markings on her face gave her a devilish appearance in the dark.
“Took you long enough,” the Priestess grumbled. “What do you want?”
Jason smiled. “Dolos owes me a favor. I’d like to talk to him.”
Keeja frowned at him, “What, like right now? It will take me a little bit to contact him. It’ll be at least a day, maybe two before he shows up after that too.”
“That’s fine, please get him here as soon as possible.” He noticed Henry’s discomfort. “I also would like to formally invite you to travel with us again. I don’t know why you’ve been away, but there’s no reason not to be a part of the group.”
“Well, it’s true that you’ve been doing some interesting things. I had to run an errand right after you killed all those orks. Since then I’ve been… busy.”
“Yeah, sure you have,” said Jason. “If you’re not still… busy, you’re free to join us. And one more thing.”
“Hmmm?” the ancient, rowdy Priestess cocked her head to the side in challenge.
“Henry has been talking about you nonstop.” Keeja turned her head, regarding Henry with a smile. Jason laughed as Henry coughed, hiding his sudden choking.
Jason loved having the last laugh, at least on occasion.