Hey everyone! I’m sorry that this chapter took so long to reach you, but please believe me that there were reasons. The good news is that we’re nearing the end of book 2. Yay!
I haven’t posted anything for a while, so my rank has slipped like crazy! Please vote for me on TWF! Vote here.
Last but not least, if you haven’t already seen, Secret of the Old Ones book 1 has an audio version that was just released! It’s honestly pretty amazing. Jeff Hays did a great job voicing it.
Okay, without further ado…chapter 19!
Out From the Fog
For the first time since he’d fought Thod, Henry truly feared he might die. Sure, the monsters he had fought before, the zombies he’d been battling against with Mareen might have killed him through weight of numbers. However, ever since he became ‘Bonded, he hadn’t met many individuals he thought could end him all by themselves.
Meanwhile, the lizard person he was fighting had already almost killed him twice.
The creature was incredibly fast, strong, and tough. It had dark green scales and wore a vest with pouches over what looked like a strange kimono. Ropes covered its chest and wrapped around its torso. It was huge, towering over Henry, but what was really terrifying was its obvious intellect and skill. Henry had never had a fight quite like this one before.
What’s more, for reasons that completely eluded him, Bezzi-ibbi hadn’t run away. The kid was circling, obviously intending to fight, and Henry simply couldn’t pay him any attention.
He kind of had his hands full.
He had been surprised to realize that the lizard creature was slightly stronger than he was. Henry had already lost his bronze short sword. The metal had been bent up and the weapon wasn’t very effective anyway, so Henry had thrown in away.
As they circled each other, the giant lizard had untied a massive bronze ring with sharp edges from behind its back, obviously a weapon. It looked a lot like a chakram, but probably weighed over thirty pounds.
From that moment on, Henry really understood how much danger he was in. The first time he’d blocked the bronze disc with his steel-clad forearm, he’d been shocked when his arm went numb and actually started bleeding. Without his Self Healing skill, he probably would have completely lost the use of his limb. Henry sprang back and absently patted his leg while he thought about what to do.
Unfortunately, the lizard warrior didn’t give him any respite. Henry bobbed and weaved, keeping right out of the warrior’s range. Eventually, he decided that covering most of his body in steel wasn’t all that helpful if his opponent was strong enough to penetrate the armor.
Henry grabbed a stone from the ground as he dodged the next attack. He snarled as he flexed his magic, throwing the rock at the lizard person. His aim was terrible as usual, but at point blank range, he still managed to nick its shoulder. The power of the stone’s kinetic energy flung the creature back a few feet, but it managed to continue tracking Henry with its eyes.
Suddenly, with a sound like the biggest, angriest cat Henry had ever heard, Bezzi-ibbi jumped onto the creature’s back. He slashed downwards with his quicksilver sword before jumping away to avoid the huge reptile’s claws. While his opponent was turned, Henry saw that its scales were so thick, Bezzi-ibbi had barely managed to do any damage.
Henry used the short reprieve to concentrate. He commanded the steel covering his body to move in a new way. In the space of a few moments, he had thick bracers covering his hands and arms all the way to right above the elbow. A pair of long blades arced gracefully from the outside of his forearms to a couple feet in front of his fists. The rear of each blade extended a bit past his elbows.
The big reptile cocked its head and said, “I have never seen anything like that before. You move the steel around your body like water. I am impressed.”
Henry was barely phased that the giant lizard thing was talking, or that its voice souded fairly normal. Ludus had completely, forever changed his sense of surprise. Talking to a giant, murderous, intelligent lizard thing? All in a day’s work.
He responded, “I’m surprised too. You’re the first enemy I’ve had a tough time with in a while. Actually, how can you even talk? You look like a giant alligator…but with more teeth.”
The big lizard creature responded by showing all the teeth Henry just mentioned. He wasn’t sure if the gesture meant it was angry or amused. It said, “Ah, yes, traditional battle taunts. I will return it. You look like a primitive primate with intestinal parasites.”
Henry wasn’t quite sure how to take that. He coughed and said, “Ah yeah, sick burn. That definitely got under my skin. Uh…I’m all riled up to fight!”
The lizard slowly blinked, its slitted pupils focused on Henry. “Let us have a short truce. I wish to know the name of the one that can fight me claw to claw without tricks. I admire this. Despite obviously being orb-Bonded, you have not attempted to kill me through ranged attacks or magic—nothing underhanded.
“Even when you made room for yourself before with the stone, you only hit my shoulder. You are obviously honorable.”
“Uhhh…yeah,” Henry slowly responded. He figured this would be a bad time to tell the giant lizard-crocodile-thing that he just didn’t want to use his very last exogun bullet unless he absolutely had to. Also, he wondered why the universe conspired to make fun of his crappy throwing aim whenever the situation presented itself.
“Yes,” the creature continued, “the ground is littered with stones. The power you can throw with means this fight would be in your favor if you were less honorable. I have eyes to see.”
Henry coughed. The conversation was not making him feel better about his aim. “So…what now? I really need to get going.”
“And my mission is to destroy the Hero you are with. I suggest we agree to an honorable duel with no distractions.”
“Okay, that sounds good and all, but, well, what even are you?”
Bezzi-ibbi grinned and growled, “Female Adom. Reptile. Powerful warrior. Tracked me down and was about to kill!” He hit his palm with a closed fist.
The giant lizard person blinked, the membrane nictitating from the bottom of her eyes. “Yes, I am female Adom.”
“Are all Adom giant lizards?”
“No, I am part of the reptile tribes. You are surprisingly ignorant.”
“Yeah, well, people tell me that a lot,” Henry grumbled.
“What is your name? I would know that name of a worthy adversary.”
“My name is Henry Sato. What about you?”
“I am known as Anz’wei.”
The entire time they talked, Henry did his best to draw even more strength from the earth. He felt good about his new arm weapons. The feel of the blades on his outer arms reminded him of tonfas he learned to use in karate school as a teen.
“Okay, buddy,” Henry said to Bezzi-ibbi out the side of his mouth. “You need to stay out of this one, alright?”
The Mo’hali boy hissed, but after a moment, he slightly bowed his head and backed away.
“More bravery than sense, that one,” Henry muttered. Still, at least that was one less problem. He knew he’d be wasting his breath if told Bezzi-ibbi to run, but at least he wouldn’t have to watch the kid die now. The boy would be toast if Henry failed, though.
He would just have to not fail.
Soon he was squaring off against the big Adom again. Anz’wei gripped her giant disc weapon with one hand, her other hand held chambered at her hip. Her tail thrashed behind her.
Henry knew that this time, with Anz’wei prepared and focused, the fight would probably not last long. He narrowed his eyes and focused without focusing, the technique came to him after years of practice.
The worst problem he had with his opponent was that she had weapons all over the place; the disk, the claws, the tail. She hadn’t tried to bit him yet, but he knew it was possible.
Anz’wei moved first. With a roar, she attacked overhand with her huge bronze weapon. Her speed was even more startling this time. In a detached sort of way, Henry noted that she was using her tail as a counter balance. He also knew intuitively that if he dodged the big, linear attack, Anz’wei would be able to get her claws on him.
That would be bad.
Henry gritted his teeth and braced himself, crossing his blades as he blocked. The impact rattled his whole body, his arm went numb, and Henry’s steel forearm blade bit deeply into the Adom’s bronze ring weapon.
Henry grunted with effort, his legs screaming as his shoved his opponent away from him. He blocked her weak return strike with one arm and opened a wicked cut on her other arm as she tried to go for his face with her claws.
The reptile warrior’s eyes widened and her slitted pupils focused on her damaged weapon after springing away. She hissed, and it took Henry a second to realize she was laughing. “It is real steel after all? I am further impressed.”
Henry didn’t reply. He knew the next exchange would probably determine the outcome of the fight. He was stronger than the lizard woman now, but not by that much. She also had a few hundred pounds on him, reach, and probably reflexes too. He’d have to think his way out of this fight.
He really didn’t want to use his last exogun bullet, but he definitely wasn’t going to die and let Anz’wei get Bezzi-ibbi, either. He knew it he had to, he could attach his exogun and fire in a split second. He was considering doing so. Suddenly, an idea occurred to him and he narrowed his eyes.
Herny watched his opponent carefully. Anz’wei tensed, ready to spring forward. Henry would have to time his move perfectly.
When the huge reptile person finally sprang, Henry moved, diving forward and low. The big Adom roared in surprise as Henry passed right beneath her, taking advantage of his smaller size. He used his wickedly sharp forearm blades to gore the sides of her body.
Henry hit the ground hard and immediately rolled away. Anz’wei’s huge, taloned foot barely missed his head as she hissed with rage and pain. Henry jumped to his feet, covered in dirt and dodged Anz’wei’s backswing. He sliced her other arm, his enhanced strength providing enough power to overcome her thick, scaled defense. Her arm went limp and he slammed both of his blades on top of her bronze weapon, knocking it to the ground. He spun and smoothly placed the tip of a forearm blade against the reptilian warrior’s throat.
Anz’wei grew very still. “What are you waiting for?” she breathed. “This was an honorable duel. I have no regrets.”
Henry was conflicted. He ignored Bezzi-ibbi hissing in delight behind him and tried to think. His lungs were pumping like bellows, adrenaline suffused his body. He wasn’t sure why he hadn’t already gone for the killing blow in the first place. He looked in Anz’wei’s eyes and thought, Why did I hold back?
He realized that his gut was telling him not to kill Anz’wei. He wasn’t sure why, but he thought back to the bush he’d avoided right after arriving on Ludus. Ignoring his gut was dumb.
Henry slowly lowered his wrist blade. Anz’wei made her strange, hissing chuckle again. “I almost killed your little Mo’hali friend, you cut me up, and then show mercy? What a strange monkey man.”
Henry somewhat stiffly retrieved the giant bronze ring weapon that Anz’wei had been carrying, watching her warily the whole time. “I’m keeping this,” he said. “I’m not sure why I’m letting you go, but that’s what my gut is telling me to do. Of course, you should probably start walking the other direction and never come back or I’ll have no choice but to punch your ticket.”
Henry ruefully realized that Anz’wei might not understand the expression, but she nodded, a strangely human gesture. “I understand, Monkey Warrior. Truth told, I hated this job. This has been the most dishonorable work I have ever done. Now I have an excuse to leave my position without violating pride or contract. Farewell.”
With a stiff back, the huge reptilian Adom limped away, her mighty body trailing blood. Henry watched her go until he couldn’t see her anymore.
He shook his head. That had been one of the most dangerous fights he’d ever had in his life, and one of the strangest. Bezzi-ibbi walked up behind him and patted him on the shoulder. The boy chucked and said, “Not sure if smart, but definitely interesting, Henry-ibbi.”
“Yeah, people tell me that sometimes,” said Henry. He absent mindedly rubbed his scarred leg and sighed, hefting the giant bronze ring weapon. “Let’s head back. Everyone still needs us.”
Henry wasn’t sure if he’d made the right decision, but deep down, he knew that a part of himself was glad he’d chosen mercy. It made him feel more human. He wasn’t sure what he was anymore, but he wasn’t sure he could even call himself a vanilla human these days. The little choices he made sometimes helped him feel better about whatever he was becoming.
Mareen strained to see past the fog. Thirsty kept trying to expand her shield, but the byproduct of pushing the fog back was that it was especially thick right outside the barrier.
She hefted her hammer and clenched her jaw in worry. She knew it was part of who he was, but she hated when Henry went tearing off after something on his own. Sometimes she thought he forgot that he wasn’t invincible.
She lay awake at night sometimes wondering if her husband was going to get himself killed and leave her all alone. Lately, the feeling had been getting stronger. Sometimes she woke up next to Henry in a panic and had to reach over to touch him, to make sure he was still there.
He was the last family she had left.
An occasional animated corpse was able to push through the thin barrier, but every time one did, it was easily dispatched.
Mareen held her hammer tightly and continued to look for movement or any sign of her missing husband.
Mourad frowned, her shoulders tense. She held her flamberge in sweaty hands, the huge sword’s blessed steel blade was beaded with perspiration from the fog. She hated this. She wasn’t opposed to violence, or even murder, but working for Liangyu made her skin crawl.
Luckily, it would all be over soon.
The entire group was gathered together, far enough away from the bubble of air their enemies were creating that they couldn’t be seen. Mourad found the entire situation ironic. The big woman paused to spit. They should have all grouped up to attack to begin with.
Now their position had been weakened. Most of the thralls had been destroyed and the enemy was no longer surprised. I bet Liangyu still thinks she’s some dark, evil genius, though.
The plan now was simple. On Raquel’s signal, they’d all began to move forward and Raquel herself would take down the barrier with magic. At that point, the entire group would follow the last of the thralls in to kill their enemies. Liangyu and Ghinsja would be supporting from the rear.
Mourad breathed deeply, trying to dispel her jitters. She was forty one years old, she’d been a mercenary for over a decade, and she still got the shakes. It was ridiculous.
The big woman settled in to wait. Raquel would be giving the signal any second now.
Mareen was startled when one side of Thirsty’s protective domes was suddenly wreathed in flames. Behind her, the music device on the Battlewagon was playing some song she didn’t recognize, a “Rock” song. The song’s beat seemed to match the waves of fire outside the barrier.
Thirsty called out, “My bracelets are breaking! They’re breaking fast!” Mareen glanced over and saw that tall drag queen was only down to three bracelets. She witnessed another crumble, leaving Thirsty with only two more. Mareen wasn’t sure what was happening.
Luckily, Uluula kept her head and seemed to understand what Thirsty meant. She shouted, “Drop the barrier! Save what you have!”
“Okay,” yelled Thirsty. “Get ready!”
The barrier faded away. The fog started rolling in again, and with it came a flurry of motion. Dark shapes hurled themselves out of the grey wave and it was all Mareen could do to figure out what was even going on.
In the next few moments, everyone would have died if not for Vitaliya and Gonzo. Balls of fire came flying out of the wall of fog, but Gonzo met each one with a thick burst of snow. Steam began to create open patches in the grey, suffocating blanket.
Vitaliya and Uluula destroyed the walking dead as they appeared. Vitaliya’s fire withered their legs and Uluula took their heads. Mareen sprinted forward to deal with an undead soldier but spun as an arrow bounced off the back of her armor. The arrow had had so much power that even at an angle, it still ripped several wooden plates off of her lamellar.
“Watch out, Honey!” yelled Thirsty. Another arrow buzzed out of the thick fog, bouncing off of a shield Thirsty had erected around Mareen.
Mareen tried to nod in thanks, but she was almost thrown off her feet by an explosion of steam from Gonzo stopping yet another fireball. It was madness. Mareen didn’t know if the moisture covering her skin was perspiration or water or blood. It didn’t matter. She continued to fight for her life.
Liangyu dispassionately watched the battle before her and made a decision. Their enemies were surprisingly powerful and resourceful, but the thralls had worn them down. It was a good thing too, she was almost out of them.
“Ghinsja, start attacking with the fog again before the steam makes it impossible to do so anymore. I think they’re softened up enough.”
She glanced over at Matilda. The pretty archer was drawing another arrow. Liangyu ordered, “Target the tall, dark pervert. He is the one creating the barriers.”
“But the barriers will stop my arrows,” Matilda said, frowning.
“Just do as I say, you fool girl.” Liangyu frowned and the other woman blanched. It seemed she was stupid after all. It was good she was at least pretty. Matilda needed to learn to play to her strengths. It was obvious to anyone with a brain that keeping the shield magic user busy was necessary for Ghinsja to do damage with the fog.
Liangyu wanted a report of what else was going on around them on the battlefield, Anz’wei should be back by now. However, she knew that Ghinsja didn’t have an unlimited amount of power and a lot was going on. She decided not to bother her second in command for the time being.
Liangyu glanced around and noticed that not all of her mercenaries were engaged yet. “Mourad,” she snarled. “What are you waiting for? Get out there and do your job.”
Mourad’s face held no expression when she answered, “Yes, Lady Liangyu.”
Liangyu watched the large, cow-like woman jog forward. It was hard to hire good help these days.
Uluula saw hands made of fog begin to attack again and knew what might come next. She smoothly cut the head off a dead, rotting monster with her blazing jaalba and located Thristy. Then she flicked her arm out, activating her enchanted bracer. A line shot out and pulled Uluula through the air, much faster that she could run.
She barely got there in time, interposing her enchanted shield between Thirsty and the vicious arrow that whirred out from the fog. Thirsty’s eyes widened and he said, “What the—”
“Silence, degenerate. I do not agree with anything you do. However, you are part of my team, and my husband will be angry at me if I let you die.”
Thirsty sputtered. “Bitch, please. You—”
Uluula ignored Thirsty and yelled, “Gonzo, come protect Thirsty! Thirsty, deal with the fog hands! Vitaliya, start working with Gonzo to create more steam and clear up this fog! Mareen, you’re with me. Let’s take out the dead things.”
Her orders given, Uluula shot out at one of the remaining animated corpses. She heard Thirsty grumbling behind her and secretly grinned.
Her situation was dangerous, she very well may die, but damn the Maker did she feel alive!
Mareen heard Uluula’s orders, but she was already fighting the undead abominations. In fact, she was so focused on her task, she nearly missed a big woman coming out of the fog with a huge sword. She barely saw the sword swinging at her head out the corner of her eye.
Mareen got her hammer up in the nick of time to block. The two weapons met with great force, the sound made Mareen’s ears ring. The other woman narrowed her eyes in surprise. If Mareen had been a normal Terran, the middle aged woman’s strength coupled with the inertia of the large, wavy sword would have ended the fight right there.
Mareen had no idea who the other, muscular woman was, nor where she’d come from. All she knew was that other woman with closed cropped hair was trying to take her life
In the next few moments, nothing existed in Mareen’s world other than the big woman in camouflage armor. She was deeply thankful for all the drills and training that Henry had put her through. She was stronger than her opponent, but far less skilled. As orb-Bonded, she was tougher than any human had a right to be, but she knew without a doubt that the warrior she faced would be able to end her.
All that saved her was her training. However, the other woman’s blessed steel sword still opened nasty wounds on her arms and legs. Mareen blocked a quick strike at her head, using the hook on the back of her hammer to lever the blade to the side before striking with the flat of her weapon.
The woman just danced to the side and Mareen growled in frustration. Despite all her orb-given strength, there was a huge gap in experience between her and her opponent.
Mareen wasn’t sure she could survive this fight. She might survive a clean strike to the body due to her natural armor, but she wasn’t in a hurry to test the theory. She narrowed her eyes and growled. She wasn’t going down without a fight.
However, luckily for Mareen, there were other people on the battlefield. A wave of fire flashed past Mareen and impacted the camouflage armored fighter. The woman screamed and without thinking, Mareen kicked forward, delivering a glancing blow with all her augmented strength.
The big woman flew out into the fog, her large, wavy sword clattering to the ground in front of Mareen. She blinked and glanced behind her. Vitaliya waved briefly before shooting another tongue of flame into the fog.
Mareen quickly glanced around and couldn’t see any more walking dead.
Suddenly, the fog began to clear. Mareen looked around in confusion until she realized what was really happening. All the nearby fog was flowing down to the ground, creating a thick roiling blanket close to the earth.
Mareen panicked and jumped back, trying to get closer to the other members of her group. In horror, she felt a fog hand reach up and grab her ankle, tripping her.
In that moment, with the grey blanket concentrated along the ground and the surrounding fog thinning, Mareen saw her real enemies in the distance.
A woman held a bow, another held a staff, and two other women stood behind them. One was Areva. She wore blue and white, her hair dyed in pink stripes. The other was Terran and looked Asian. Her robe was dark, thin, and beautiful, with intricate needle work up the sides.
Mareen heard two dings in her head. Text began scrolling over her left eye:
Do’Birnwi Mo Ghinsja, Exile Born Areva, Berban
Dolos Orb, Specialist Type, Generation 1
“Death Witch” Liangyu, Terran, Chinese
Dolos Orb, Specialist Type, Generation 1
“Oh no,” whispered Mareen.