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Aodh trudged along behind Henry and Jason, rubbing the spot on his back that had been leaning against the inside wall of the Battlewagon. Aodh was tired of traveling and it’d been less than a week. He never knew sitting around doing nothing all day while watching the countryside pass could actually make him anxious and sore.
The trip to Yanbei Cavern and back had been similar, but the battles interjected an element of terror that was distracting to say the least. The last few days on the other hand were just… boring.
Aodh felt ridiculous for mentally complaining of boredom when the other option was fear of impending death, but he couldn’t help it. The only bright side was that Vitaliya rode a magicycle with Gonzo, Bezzi-bbi, and Rark-han. This meant she stayed either in front or behind the Battlewagon while they traveled so Aodh didn’t have to see her very often. He stayed away as far as possible but he knew it was only a matter of time before she started ‘er old ways again.
Just the other day she made a point of crossing the camp to remind him to brush his teeth. To brush his teeth! He was a grown man! What’s more, when he scowled at ‘er, she just gave a grin like dead hare and walked away.
What in under fuck was she doing working as a spy anyway? How did it even happen? Did their family know? She hadn’t said anything about their family so far. Aodh was dying to ask whether they knew about her profession but he didn’t want any unnecessary contact with his cousin. The fact she was even here, traveling with him while he was going to a foreign country was just proof of his terrible luck.
At least something had gone his way lately, though. A couple days ago he found a bronze dagger buried in the dirt under where he placed his bedroll. Henry was able to clean it up in less than five minutes and it actually turned out to be really beautiful. Aodh wore it at his back now.
But finding the dagger was more than offset by the worst bit of bad luck he’d ever had, though. The absolute proof the universe had it out for him, the thing he couldn’t stop thinking about as he helped Henry and Jason gather firewood was the fact that his orb didn’t do anything. He was supposed to be Bonded now but he got a defective orb.
He’d been incredibly excited to receive an orb, something he never thought would happen to him in his life. He would finally be strong on his own and Vitaliya would stop trying to mother him all the time. He would be a true adventurer, one of the best!
Instead, the next day after he took his orb, he hadn’t felt anything. There’d been no change at all. He spent hours trying to make different powers happen for him that he’d read about as a child. He even asked Mareen what it was like when she became Bonded. She said she just woke up knowing what she could do.
Aodh was truly the unluckiest person on Ludus.
He couldn’t even verify that he was actually Bonded because he took the potion Jason made to hide his status if he had it! He couldn’t be sure if his orb just didn’t work at all or if he’d just swallowed a marble.
Aodh was so lost in thought, he wasn’t even paying attention to what Henry and Jason were talking about. He just continued to pick up dry sticks behind them. He didn’t even notice when they stopped and he almost ran into them.
Then he heard, “Unfortunately, we meet again, lower life forms. I’m busy so let’s make this quick.” The voice was twice as loud as any he’d heard before and was speaking in English.
Aodh slowly raised his eyes and saw Dolos for the first time.
The god floated in the air, slowly coming down to the ground. He stood at least seven feet tall and wore clothing that seemed to represent every color of the rainbow. He was bald, his face incredibly handsome in a dispassionate sort of way. He wore a stone crown, stone sandals, and flashes of tools hanging from a belt could be seen through some of his clothing as he moved. Aodh immediately recognized him and felt too shocked to even think.
“These Terrans… No respect, no sense of propriety. So cheeky and disrespectful, telling my High Priestess to summon me like I am some common servant and not the Great God Dolos. Ridiculous.”
“Nice to see you too,” Henry said drily.
“Oh and these small, repugnant, ignorant Terrans have the gall to talk to me in a familiar manner. I can’t believe that I must tolerate this. It’s simply dreadful. Well, at least they aren’t trying to use their pitiful powers this time.”
Aodh’s brain caught up to his eyes and he fell prostrate as quickly as he could. He was terrified. Dolos, THE Dolos was right in front of him… and talking to Henry. Oh no.
“See, this is how mortals are supposed to act, and Terrans in particular. On the ground, terrified, I find this appropriate,” said Dolos smugly. “These other miscreants should take note.”
Suddenly, Aodh felt hands on his shoulders. Fear tightened his whole body but the gentle hands kept pulling him upright until he was standing again, albeit with a hunch. With a start, he realized it was Jason who’d picked him up. Jason said, “Okay Dolos, I know you don’t want to be here long. Let’s make this quick. You owe me a favor.”
Dolos frowned. “I find you suspiciously genial. Terrans are never friendly or even respectful. They push and they push until you destroy their toys and then they cry about it.”
“I find it suspicious that your High Priestess is not here,” said Jason.
“Yes, well, the lowest of life forms find many aspects of the world confusing and frightening.” Dolos didn’t seem phased at all.
“I can’t help but notice that bug over there.” Jason pointed to an insect in the distance that was slowly moving through the air. “This is some kind of time dilation bubble again. However, I wonder why you put one up. Why don’t you want people to see you? Was it to keep from meeting with Keeja?”
Dolos rolled his eyes. “Terrans think they’re so clever. Seeing plots where there are none, making accusations to the Great God Dolos as if they had any right. How has the world come to this? It seems the Terran can’t seem the grasp the idea of stretching time to get more done.
“Then again, at least they truly aren’t trying to use their trifling powers this time. I can avoid that disrespect, at least.”
“Look dude,” said Henry. “Me and Jason already talked about it and there isn’t any point in trying to use magic when you’re around. You’ll just shut down our abilities and then get bitchy about it.”
Dolos narrowed his eyes and began to float again but before he said anything, Henry waved a hand and said, “Yeah, yeah. I’m trying your patience. You’ll destroy us. Blah blah blah, Great God Dolos, blah blah blah. If you were going to kill us we’d be dead by now, like months ago. Plus we’re not stupid, we know you’ve been making our lives on Ludus even harder than it has to be, asshole. It’s not like you haven’t already tried to kill us indirectly a few times.
“We’re not as ignorant as we were before. We have a better idea now of what all this is about. It means we also know we’ve been extremely good little guinea pigs.”
Jason quickly interrupted, “Look, Lord Dolos.” His voice was placating, “You kidnapped us to this world, you’ve obviously tried to indirectly kills us several times. You’ve told us to do something impossible and even asked us to work on your behalf against a rival. I get that you don’t like our entire species, and we wish we’d never met you. You owe me a favor. Can we stop the blustering and just talk?”
Dolos continued to float, his expression twisted like he’d just eaten something rotten. “The universe is going to hell,” he grumbled. “Insignificant little Terrans not knowing their place.” He said more loudly, “What do you want? I am losing patience quickly.”
The scene was so surreal, Aodh couldn’t wrap his head around it. Dolos, the God Dolos was physically standing before him and arguing with his employers. To be more specific, Henry was arguing with Dolos. Henry Sato. And he’d called Dolos, “dude.”
Jason said, “I want the ability to call you directly once a week and I want you to be willing to answer question.”
Absolute silence rang for several moments other than the rustle of Henry crossing his arms. Dolos didn’t move during that time, his body and face both inhumanly still.
Suddenly, with no warning, Dolos turned and gestured up. A large swath of trees was violently ripped out of the ground, roots scattering rocks and dirt. The Dolos screamed in rage, punching forward with one fist. Every uprooted tree erupted into tiny pieces. The trees were torn asunder, a huge cloud of sawdust erupting outward from the origin of the explosion. Dolos kept screaming for a few second before he abruptly stopped.
The cloud of debris caused by the sudden display of power seemed to hang in the air, settling down in slow motion once they were outside the time dilation field. The display was oddly beautiful despite the terrifying destruction.
When Dolos turned around, his normal expression and sardonic grin were back in place. Aodh hit the ground again, forehead to the dirt. This time, Jason let him stay down, but Aodh cautiously glanced up to see what was going on.
Jason audibly swallowed at the display of Dolos’ temper but he didn’t change his relaxed posture. He asked, “So, what will it be? You said when we first promised me a request that I could make a case for whatever I ask of you. The reason for my request is simple. You have effectively asked us to help save your world. Furthermore, now we’re tasked on a mission, again without any choice, to find Asag worshippers or something. Our success will positive affect you.
“And here’s the kicker. I don’t think this is the end of the complications we’ll come arcross over the next few years. What I’m proposing is not unreasonable given the task you’ve given us.”
Dolos’ face was unreadable. He said, “Once a week is far too often to visit with stinky, immoral Terrans. It’s bad enough I have to meet with such disgusting creatures as often as I already do. It’s even worse that such upright animals would dare attempt to take advantage of an all-powerful god. I refuse. I would rather destroy this world than adhere to such insulting terms.”
Henry grimaced. “Listen asshole, we don’t like you either. But you were the one that brought us here against our will. You did me a solid with my mom so I’m going to hold up my side of our deal. But what we know of the situation on this planet keeps getting worse. We want to get home, and it sounds like a bunch of divine assholes are trying to muscle in on your territory. Your hands are tied in some way you won’t explain to us. We need information if we are going to work for you.”
Jason glared at Henry before he turned to Dolos and said, “If what I’m asking is too much, let me know what could work better. I wouldn’t say it the same way as Henry, but you really have asked us to work for you.”
Dolos got a strange look in his eyes. “So you freely admit you are working for me?”
“Yes, I think that’s rather obvious.”
Dolos put his chin in his hand. He said to himself, “Hmmm. I really don’t want simple Terrans getting uppity ideas, but these ones do seem to be rather resistant to dying… Perhaps they can continue giving me good data.” Dolos floated higher as he thought. Eventually he came back down to his earlier position again and said, “Once a week is far too often. I will not be at the beck and call of lower life forms.”
Jason looked at Henry before replying, “Okay, how about this. You give me the ability to call you once a month. You are obligated to show up within an hour. If I call you again earlier than by the Ludus month, I will owe you a favor.”
Dolos regarded Jason with interest, his eyes narrowed. “Two hours. Not one.”
“Done. And when you show up, you have to list at least three things that my company or myself would find interesting.”
“Agreed, but if you want any more information about anything I tell you, you will be agreeing to me giving the same information to a rival group, or giving them similar information of the same importance. For instance, if you ask where a rival group is, I will have the option of telling the rival group where you are.”
Jason thought for a moment before responding, “Okay, and you have to answer any other questions we have as long as you are not restricted by whatever rules govern your conduct that you mentioned the last time we met.”
“If so, the same rules will exist for any and all answers I give. I will have the option of sharing the information with another group.”
Henry butted in, “You also need to stop sending random packs of monsters to attack us.”
Dolos eyed Henry with disdain but didn’t reply directly. He asked, “Does this one speak for you?”
Jason sighed, “Yes.”
“These ridiculous, disrespectful mortals feel empowered to haggle with a god. They obviously don’t know the power of the Great God Dolos.” Dolos glared at Jason and spat, “Agreed.”
Aodh couldn’t believe what he was witnessing. He wanted to warn Jason, he wanted desperately to tell him not to make a deal with Dolos, but he was too scared to move. His tongue felt five sizes too large and he couldn’t stop sweating. No, don’t make a deal with him!
Dolos gave Jason a look full of malice. “Was there anything else?”
“No, I think that will do it.”
“I see. So we have an agreement to solidify our relationship; that you work for me?”
“Yes,” said Jason.
“Yes,” Henry sighed.
“Done!” cried Dolos. “You get your first three facts immediately. First is that there is an MP3 player rigged to run on magic stones in a nearby dungeon. It is full of Earth songs. Second is that you are being hunted. Third is that I recently transported four new Terrans from your world to this area and they are all in danger.”
Aodh choked out a gasp. No, don’t make it worse. He willed Henry and Jason not to ask questions or at least to carefully think them through.
Jason frowned. “Where are the people from Earth.”
Dolos smiled, the expression was predatory. “You did not specify a number so I will choose to tell you where two are. One is several miles due east. One is northwest about 20 miles as you Terrans illogically measure distance.”
Henry’s eyes widened. “You have got to be fucking kidding me.”
Dolos chuckled, clearly enjoying Henry’s realization of how he could take advantage of in their agreement. “And our pact is in effect. One question has been answered.”
Jason closed his eyes. Henry angrily gestured, “I can’t believe this. Well, if you won’t play straight with the answers, at least tell us whether Aodh has a working orb or not.”
“Yes…” Dolos hissed, not even trying to hide his mirth anymore. “One more question answered.”
Jason’s eyes snapped open. “Hey wait a minute. I didn’t even ask that question.”
Dolos was chuckling softly. “Oh, but part of our agreement is that you can ask any questions you like. Plus, you said earlier that your friend speaks for you.” He suddenly snapped his head to the side, intent on something none of the humans could see. “Our time grows short,” he said. “A pact is a pact.”
Aodh despaired. He felt incredibly guilty for just hugging the ground and doing nothing. His employers were incredibly brave, but they were also incredibly ignorant. Even a child should have known better than to make a deal like the one they just agreed to. Aodh might have doomed them by not being braver, for not speaking up.
Dolos held out a hand and a glowing white ball manifested hovering above it, slowly growing brighter until it shot at Jason, penetrating his chest.
“Ow, that stings!” Jason yelled.
“Are you okay,” asked Henry.
“Yeah, it didn’t go very deep.” He glared at Dolos. “What did you…”
Henry quickly clapped a hand over Jason’s mouth. “Be careful, dude. Questions.”
Dolos chuckled again, the booming sound seemed to make the remaining trees sway. “And one more thing; Three times freely given, three times witnessed. Thank you for your loyalty. Thank you for, ‘working for me.’”
Dolos gestured and the clothing on Henry and Jason’s left arms just fell off. A searing burst of light flashed, both men yelped in pain. After the light faded, a glowing purple triangle was revealed on the skin of their shoulders.
“What the fuck is this?” yelled Henry.
“I will give you this one for free. That is my mark. As you both have said you work for me, and you confirmed it three times, that mark proves your patronage to the Great God Dolos. Please be good little Terrans and don’t get killed. I may need your services for some small task in the future.”
With that, Dolos rose into the air, laughing uproariously. He ascended straight up into the sky, his velocity rising so quickly he was almost immediately out of sight, breaking in sound barrier in his wake. After the thunderous crash of the sonic boom faded, the time dilation bubble that followed Dolos dropped and the sound from the trees exploding washed over the land as well.
Suddenly, Keeja arrived in a flash of movement and a breeze of displaced air. “What just happened? That was him, wasn’t it? That had to be Dolos… I can’t believe he’s avoiding me…” Her gaze landed on Jason and Henry’s shoulders. “What happened?” she breathed.
Aodh felt a tear in his eye. He mumbled, “They made a deal.”
“Why didn’t you stop them!?” Keeja yelled.
“Hey,” Henry growled. “Take it easy on the kid. We just secured a way to get intel for the rest of the time we’re on this fucking shithole of a planet.
“But at what cost? Do I even want to know?” Keeja’s eyes flashed, “Even a mentally retarded yukka should have known better to make a deal with Dolos.”
Henry put his hands on his hips. “Well, you haven’t exactly been very helpful, lady. How were we supposed to know? Why do you suddenly care about what we’re doing or whether we even live or die all of the sudden?”
“He’s got a point,” murmured Jason.
“My rotting mission changed and now I have a reason to care whether you idiots live or die. So in the spirit of sharing, what else under the rotting sun else did you do?” She pointed to the triangles on their shoulders. “You let Dolos give you the D?”
In a deadpan voice, Henry asked, “What?”
“The D. He gave you the D.” Keeja lifted up her sleeve and showed them her smaller, identical mark. “Welcome to the family, I guess. May the Creator have mercy on your souls. It looks like you just allowed yourself to become priests of Dolos.”
Several heartbeats of silence were followed by Henry breathing, “Fuck me. Oh fuck me sideways with a shovel. Now I’m a priest for a god I hate? I really hate this planet.”
Jason facepalmed. He said, “Well, this idea didn’t work out as planned.”
I really enjoyed writing this chapter! Please support the story by picking up your own copy of Delvers and leaving a reviews on Amazon! Every single review helps a ton. If we can get up to 50 reviews, that is the magic number where Amazon starts taking an author seriously.