Okay, all… I have a ton of news. I’m also completely switching gears now to writing Delvers LLC until book 2 is done.
A couple quick announcements: Luck Stat Strategy, my first book of Secret of the Old Ones, my hard LitRPG, VR series has been published https://www.amazon.com/Luck-Stat-Strategy-Secret-Ones-ebook/dp/B01NCVJ9L4/
Please check the news page for all the other announcements: News Page
Last but not least, please vote for Delvers LLC on TWF! Voting Link
Fighting with the Past
Thirsty couldn’t move. His fear was like a physical weight crushing him to the back of the Batttlewagon. Every time the porcine creature outside the barrier jabbed with its spear, Thirsty flinched and felt the strength of his air shield fading. The bracelet on his wrist that sustained the barrier was developing cracks.
Nobody had come back for him. They could all be dead. He was on his own.
Thirsty knew the barrier wouldn’t last that much longer. It was true he had more barriers he could generate with the bracelets on his wrist, but he couldn’t move, couldn’t even think. It felt like he’d gone back in time. He wasn’t Thirsty anymore, he wasn’t anyone’s friend. He wasn’t chatting every day with crazy Mo’hali or hot armored men in a fantasy world. No, he was just Dashawn Givens again; a skinny, awkward, black queer kid with no friends.
Every time the monster outside the barrier thrust with a spear, it was like he was 12 years old again, being beaten by his stepfather with an extension cord. Ron had never been able to “beat the faggot” out of him, but he sure did try.
He was fourteen again. He relived being slapped in the face by bullies, “Because bitches get slapped,” while walking to the lunchroom. He heard kids call him a fairy, a butt pirate, and an ugly faggot when they thought the other kids or the adults wouldn’t hear. He remembered what it was like to fear his peers.
He was fifteen years old again and his best friend Gregory was denying their friendship in order to avoid being bullied. He watched himself spend a miserable year in a new school where he was shunned for being black, or gay, or both… Or maybe he’d just been depressed and angry. Maybe he’d done it to himself; wouldn’t that be ironic? But the end result was the same; he had been alone.
He was sixteen again and the boy he had kissed at summer camp was pretending to be straight at school, pretending that nothing had ever happened between them. The boy he thought he loved over the summer, Jeremy, told other students some of the embarrassing secrets that Dashawn had confided. That year was a living hell.
He was seventeen again, hating himself for secretly dating Jeremy.
He was eighteen, staying home alone on prom night. He was looking at himself in a mirror with his only dress on, knowing he had to hide it before his mom saw. She thought he was going to be a nice, normal boy. She didn’t understand. She asked why he hadn’t asked a girl to prom like his friend Jeremy had.
He was nineteen again, broke with no job, not prospects. He was couch surfing and stressing thin friendships, straining relationships.
He was twenty and being beaten by the older man he dated.
He was twenty one, the year his mom disowned him. He was wondering how he was going to feed himself.
The years rolled by and Dashawn drowned in the past. Yet still, with all the terrible memories he cycled through, his current situation was the worst he’d ever experienced. If he could just give up, just let it all be over and done with… if he could surrender, it would be fine.
But he couldn’t.
A tiny speck of stubborn pride remaining in him, the core of who he wanted to be, the part of him that was inspired by his idols on Earth, by Bezzi-ibbi and Henry… That part was whispering, “No.”He wanted to live. He wanted a chance to see his drag momma again, dammit. He missed his entire drag family.
Frustrated tears ran down his cheeks and he gasped deep, racking sobs. He was letting down his new friends. He was a failure. He was nothing. His step father Ron had been right. If the man had not died in an alcohol-fueled accident, he would have been vindicated for sure.
Dashawn curled his hands into fists. He clenched his jaw, wishing the terrible creatures outside the shield would just get it over with.
He was wallowing in depression and helplessness when he heard Aodh groan. Aodh, the young man who had befriended Dashawn was also trapped. Aodh, who had so much in common with Dashawn despite being a different race, age, and even coming from a different world.
If Dashawn did nothing, he would just be letting down everyone in the group, he’d directly betray his half-conscious young friend.
Dashawn hadn’t prayed in over a decade, not since a woman told him that God hated him, said that he was spitting in God’s eye for being gay. But in that moment, in his darkest hour, he whispered, “Please God, help me.” His prayer wasn’t for himself, but for all the people in the fog.
His heart ached for his companions, the people he’d come to care about in such a short amount of time. He prayed for his friends who were no doubt fighting for their own lives…and for his.
Suddenly, Dashawn noticed that Keeja’s music player was still on. It was louder than usual too. White Wedding, another of Mareen’s song picks was playing at full volume.
He frowned, the distraction barely overcoming his fear enough to crack his eyes open. Through tears, he stared at the monster outside in horrified fascination. It was hitting the battlewagon with its spear.
Dashawn could feel the vibrations… but he couldn’t hear anything.
In a flash, he understood. His barrier was blocking sound, keeping it from entering or leaving. He looked out into the dense, swirling fog and realized he was probably further dooming his friends. They had no way to even tell where the Battlewagon was.
Dashawn was about to curl up again and just wait for death when everything changed. Billy Idol’s song came to an end, and a new song began playing.
The next song was Champion, by Rupaul, the goddess herself. Dashawn listened to for a few seconds and his eyes widened. Despite his fear, he began lip syncing the words. Champion was the first of the songs he’d queued up on Keeja’s music player. His eyes widened as the words of the song seemed to pierce his heart.
He gritted his teeth. He might not feel strong enough to do anything as Dashawn, but anything was possible as Thirsty. When he was Thirsty he felt strong and beautiful. It made no sense because Thirsty was a part of him, but there were freaky ass monsters less than 10 feet away and it wasn’t time to have an existential crisis. Logic could get fucked.
Dashawn took a deep breath and forced his hands to uncurl. He crawled on hands and knees to his backpack.
He got his heels and his wig out of the backpack. Every movement was slow and deliberate. He’d never had a harder time putting on a wig in his life. Each bobby pin seemed to take an eternity to fasten.
When the wig and heels were both on, Dashawn squeezed his eyes shut tightly, cleared his mind… and became Thirsty Zha Zha. The situation sucked, but she could do this… even in an old ass pair of dirty man clothes. There was no time to tuck or put on a dress, much less any makeup… Even just the bare essentials in her backpack would take too long. Fuck it. She could be gorgeous in a straightjacket.
First thing was first. She had to wake up Tony. After that she was going to drop her shield to let the music out. Then everyone would know where the Battlewagon was.
She was gonna serve up some magical powers realness. Fuck all this crying and moaning. It’s time to buckle down, bitch. Do yo thang.
Thirsty gave one last sniffle, rubbed her eyes clear of tears, pursed her lips, and got the fuck to work. It was time to beat some monster ass and look fabulous while doing so.
Aodh woke up fully with a splitting headache. Someone was shaking him. He groaned to make the shaking go away but they wouldn’t stop. He opened his eyes.
Thirsty was standing above him, wearing the shirt and skinny jeans he’d brought from Earth. However, he was also wearing high heel shoes and his drag queen wig. He looked like he’d been crying.
Aodh blinked and glanced around, hissing through his teeth when he saw the monster outside the barrier. As he watched, another creature joined it. The new monster looked like it might have been a man once, but now it was a decaying corpse wearing armor. Its dead eyes were disturbing. Its cloudy pupils focused on him.
“What, what is going…” Aodh stuttered. “There’s fog and monsters and—“
“That’s right, honey. We’re in a world of shit.” Thirsty was holding his wand made from bronze cones and his bare arm sported all his enchanted bracelets. He stood tall and looked more self-confident than Aodh could remember. The wig and women’s shoes coupled with his face full of stubble looked a little odd, but Aodh thought everything about Thirsty was odd. He was just glad his friend had woken him up and had apparently been protecting them. He realized the barrier had to be Thirsty’s.
The roiling fog outside looked ominous. Thirsty breathed deeply and said, “Okay Tony, we need to help everyone. They’re all out there fighting. You’ve been unconscious for a while and I was feeling sorry for myself, but it’s time to work. It’s time to be fierce, you know what I mean?”
Tony had no idea what Thirsty meant but he nodded anyway.
Thirsty sighed and said, “Right now my shield is blocking sound. Everyone else is fighting out there. I think I can change my shield to let sound out, but if I do, I have a feeling that more of these things might come and start attacking. We might as well just drop the whole thing and try to clear an area for everyone. Are you ready?”
Aodh gulped and found his quarterstaff. He unpacked one heavy claymore mine and held it under his arm. He understood the situation. He also understood that without Thisty protecting him, he might already be dead. Aodh swallowed and decided he had to speak what was on his mind or he’d be more of a coward than he already knew he was. “Thank you,” he said, “for everything. You saved my life, didn’t you?”
Thirsty smiled. “I’m Thirsty Zha Zha, kid! Being amazing is my job. Plus, what are friends for?”
Aodh absently noted that Keeja’s music player had started playing a new song. Aodh recognized it as one of Thirsty’s favorites. He thought it was called, “Glamazon” or something but he didn’t understand most of the lyrics.
Thirsty’s eyes got huge and he smiled. “This is the perfect song to make my Ludus debut. The show is about to start, honey. I think these things are zombies, so aim for their heads.”
Suddenly, the barrier protecting the Battlewagon fell and the fog slowly moved in. The two monsters stood still for a moment, slow to react. Thirsty pointed at one of them and discharged his wand. With a loud pop, one small piece of bronze zipped through the pig-looking creature’s head and it collapsed in a heap. Thirsty crowed, “Say hello to Thirsty Zha Zha Bitches!” The drag queen stood tall and made a pose. Aodh had no idea what the hell his friend was doing.
Thirsty yelled, “I’m like a drag magic girl. Call me Sailor Dragalicious.” Thirsty pointed his wand and the second monster went down, its head splattered all over the ground.
Aodh was terrified, but he was glad Thirsty was with him. He didn’t understand half of what the man in high heels was saying, but he grasped they were going to help everyone. They were going to make a stand. He gripped his staff tightly and set his jaw. He wished he could be brave and powerful like Thirsty.
He’d just have to do the best he could.
Liangyu walked through the fog, carefully choosing her steps to avoid stumbling. Ghinsja and Matilda were matching her pace, and it would not be proper to show any weakness. Her three most powerful thralls trailed them.
Matilda carried an enormous, boxy weapon. She’d met Liangyu and Ghinsja on the way back from fetching the artifact weapon as Liangyu had ordered.
The artifact weapon looked menacing and alien as it balanced on the blond woman’s shoulder. Liangyu hoped they wouldn’t need to use it, but she wanted a contingency plan in place in case the operation went bad. If she had to cut her losses, she still wanted to walk away with a reward.
Suddenly, she heard faint music in the distance, the sound warbling strangely in the fog. Liangyu stopped walking and her subordinates fell in beside her. Her eyes snapped to Ghinsja and she barked, “Report!”
The pale Areva woman nodded and closed her eyes. After a few silent moments she said, “Quite a few thralls are down. The bog shambler is down. The middle aged Mo’hali is still the only downed enemy.
“The large vehicle is no longer shielded and is being guarded by two enemies. Our initial target, the Asian Terran man is alive and heading towards the large vehicle. All other enemies are heading towards this point too; I assume the music is guiding them.
“The group of three to the rear of the enemy caravan is making steady progress towards the large vehicle. Raquel is pacing them.
“The enemy Mo’hali Hero boy is attempting to circle back, but Anz’wei is preventing him from doing so.
“The taller man that disappeared before my fog covered the battlefield is on foot, running towards us. He is still far enough away there are no thralls near him.
“To the best of my knowledge, Biivin and the enemy High Priestess are holding position in the sky. Every time a wisp of fog touches them I can confirm they are still there.
“Mourad is done dragging one of the smaller vehicles into the water—
“She’s been wasting time,” Liangyu said quietly.
Ghinsja licked her lips nervously and said, “Mourad is moving slowly to the fight in front of the large vehicle. She seems to be looking for a good time to strike.”
“Is that it?”
“Yes, my lady.”
Liangyu tapped her lip with a finger while she thought. She asked, “Are the surviving targets currently wounded? What is their status?”
“They are all tired with superficial damage, but no serious injuries. The Hero boy is slowing down and may be eliminated soon.”
Liangyu nodded. “Anz’wei is utterly dependable. I am not worried about the boy.” She thought further and instructed, “Tell Mourad and Raquel to meet up near the large vehicle. Tell them to wait for an opportune time to strike together or to just wait for us. Ghinsja, can you start using the fog as a weapon yet? Are we close enough?”
“We are to the large vehicle, yes. I won’t be able to move very fast while concentrating, though.”
“Okay fine. We will begin moving slower.” Liangyu turned to regard Matilda. The silly woman had wisely stayed quiet and even more wisely looked terrified. She kept glancing back at Liangyu’s most powerful thralls.
Liangyu ordered, “Matilda, watch for the Asian orb-Bonded man that you attacked before. He is trouble. If he is still alive when we get to the main battle and you have a clear shot, take it.”
Matilda mutely nodded. Perhaps she isn’t as stupid as I thought, Liangyu mused.
Mourad’s attention was completely focused on the sounds of combat ahead of her. Her enhanced vision in the fog allowed her to see fuzzy shapes moving around. Suddenly, a whispered voice hissed directly in her ear and she clamped a hand over her mouth to keep from crying out. She turned enough to see the half corporeal mist person that had formed next to her.
She calmed her heart and slowed her breathing as she listened to Ghisnsja’s new directions from Liangyu. She wished the woman had just ordered their entire force to form up and attack at once, but she knew Liangyu thought of herself as a tactician. She rolled her eyes.
The big mercenary hoped the evil woman would get herself killed. That would make escaping even easier. She sighed and began moving towards her rendezvous with Raquel. She had to admit it made sense to pair up with the mercenary captain.
Deep down, she had to conceded she wanted to mage to back her up too. From what she’d seen so far, the thralls were not doing so well against their targets.
Henry ran towards the sound of music, Mareen’s feet pounding the pavement right behind him. Her heavy armor made a hundred hollow thunking sounds as the wooden plates jostled together. He hadn’t even needed to discuss the decision with his wife. Suddenly hearing the music after fighting in relative silence not only meant someone from their group was still alive, it also meant they had a rally point.
A zombie loomed out of the fog and Henry didn’t even pause running. He snapped off a shot with an exogun and the unnatural thing went down. He was almost out of bullets. Why was he always out of bullets? How many of these damn things were there?
Suddenly, he saw the fog thickening out the corner of his eye and he reacted on pure instinct. He shoved Mareen away, knocking her on her back and sprang away before a claw made of fog slashed the space they’d both been standing.
“Well, that isn’t creepy or anything,” he muttered. Mareen just grunted as she got to her feet and began running again. They both kept an eye out for more fog claws.
Henry was amazed by how far away from the Battlewagon he and Mareen had been fighting. They were both exhausted, but he was happy Mareen wasn’t too badly hurt. It sucked he was almost out of ammo, but it’d been worth it to keep the nasty, diseased creatures off of them.
A group of zombies in their path were slow to react; Henry and Mareen split the undead things’ heads open from behind. Henry had been aghast earlier that Mareen hadn’t known to hit zombies in the head. Then he remembered that people didn’t grow up on zombie horror movies on Ludus.
Henry took a few more steps forward and stopped in his tracks, his mouth open. To the background beat of Men at Work’s Down Under, Thirsty Zha Zha was in her element. She blocked a weapon wielded by an undead soldier, then used two remaining bronze cones of her wand to destroy its brain and take another zombie down too.
A tentacle materialized out of the fog, and Thirsty summoned a shield of air from her hand, stopping it cold until it dissipated.
The drag queen’s long wig whipped around in the violent air currents from the battle. She was covered in blood from a dozen cuts and scratches, she was limping, but she stood proud in heels. She snarled as another group of zombies rushed her position. She held out a hand and bowled them over with a wall of air. As Henry watched, one of the bronze bracelets on her wrist crumbled to dust.
“Toss one now, Tony!” she yelled.
Aodh threw one of his grenades in the air towards the group of zombies and Thirsty helped it with a small gust of air. As soon as it landed among them, Aodh clenched his fist and the grenade exploded, destroying the pile of undead. Aodh looked terrified, but he stood firm.
Henry shook his head. “Bad ass,” he whispered. He heard pounding footsteps out in the fog and cursed. He couldn’t use his enhanced senses very well in the obviously magical fog that covered their entire location. He prepared for another nasty surprise, but Vitaliya and Gonzo burst out of the fog, Uluula right behind them with her flaming polearm.
The entire group met up and Henry shouted, “Everyone behind Thirsty. She can block all the claws and shit coming out of the fog!” Nobody argued or even acknowledged the command. Henry took it as a sign of how exhausted the entire group was.
“How many of these damned things are there?” growled Gonzo.
Henry just shrugged. Another couple zombies lunged out of the fog and were put down in seconds by Vitaliya’s fire and an ice spike thrown by Gonzo. Henry glanced around and frowned. Where are Jason, Yanno-ibbi, and Bezzi-ibbi?
Henry scowled. In all the chaos, he’d forgotten to cast his earth sense. He concentrated, trusting his team to watch his back for a moment and laid his senses out over the earth. He’d developed the ability to such a degree, it was many times more powerful than the paltry power he’d originally had.
He located Jason, his footsteps pounding toward them in the distance. Henry had no idea what his friend was doing, but he seemed okay. Bezzi-ibbi…
He gasped. “Mareen, I have to go!” he hollered.
“What, what are you—“
“I have to help Bezzi-ibbi! Stay with the fucking group!” Henry didn’t allow her to answer. He knew she was better at arguing than him, and he didn’t have time to discuss it anyway. Sometimes Mareen could be sort of fuzzy on the chain of command when she was upset.
Women. Henry shook his head as he tore off by himself into the fog. As he ran, he dodged the rapidly decreasing number of undead and kept slowly drawing more strength from the earth.
Bezzi-ibbi had hit the end of his tracks. He knew it was his last hunt, his last day under the sun. He was exhausted and there was nowhere left to run, but he was tired of acting as prey anyway. He stood with his back to the cliff that had blocked him, watching the big Adom cautiously approach.
Bezzi-ibbi snarled. He drew a sword from his metallic arm and coughed phem onto the ground. He absently noted the flecks of blood. He’d really run hard, harder than he ever had in his life. It hadn’t been good enough, though.
He slowly chuckled under his breath. He knew he was about to die, but he had no regrets. He’d followed his true spirit, his path as a Jaguar Troubadour. He could sink his claws into that as the long night took him.
Plus, the irony that his situation would have made an incredible song was not lost on him.
The huge, reptilian Adom was almost on him and Bezzi-ibbi readied himself to make one last stand. He knew he was no slouch with a sword, but he was also realistic. He wasn’t full grown yet, and the Adom would have outclassed him in every possible way even if he’d been an adult.
He held up his sword, his spine straight. He would meet death head on with an unwavering gaze. If he had to die, he would die like a true Jaguar Clan hunter. He bared his teeth and snarled a challenge.
Suddenly, the Adom female looked puzzled and turned her head. Bezzi-ibbi watched her closely, waiting for her to attack. He was so intent on his enemy, he missed the sound of rapidly approaching footsteps. Bezzi-ibbi registered the sound through his exhaustion and turned his head in time to see what was making all the noise. Henry burst from the fog, moving as fast as a galloping Zebra. From the flashes Bezzi-ibbi could see, almost his entire body was covered in steel.
The Adom’s eyes widened and she tried to spring back, but Henry was moving too fast. With no hesitation, he swung at her with a backhand cut of his short sword. The big Adom parried the flat of the blade with a scaled arm, bending the sword.
Henry responded by channeling all his momentum into an open palm strike delivered with the full power of his body, twisting his hips and shoulders. He skidded forward with the force of his momentum, every ounce of muscle and weight put into the strike, slamming into the Adom’s center of mass.
Bezzi-ibbi watched in astonishment as the huge, heavy Adom flew back ten feet from the power of the attack before rolling. She crashed through a few small trees before springing to her feet with a roar of rage.
Bezzi-ibbi felt a new fire of hope and a strange, giddy feeling take root within his hunter’s spirit. He was living in legendary times. He slowly, painfully took off his shoes before flexing his toes. As the Jaguar Clan heir, he had to meet his enemies head on.
He would rather die than let his Clan brother take all the danger for him. He would meet the threat together with his Clan in the gaze of the day.
Bezzi-ibbi had never been so tired, nor so excited in his life. This was a true test of his right to live as a Jaguar Troubadour. He snarled with joy and flexed his claws. To meet such a challenge at such a young age and find true battle kin…
It was a rare thing indeed. Bezzi-ibbi’s eyes lit up as he bared his fangs and summoned the energy to dart forward. This had turned out to be a wonderful day!