Hey all! I’ve come to a decision about the serial on this site.
I’m going to keep the serial up and going because I don’t want to disrespect readers who have been with me from the start. However, some of the entitled attitudes I still catch from time to time has soured me a bit, and updating the serial really does take a lot of time.
I think my go-forward will be more infrequent updates. Patreon will still get chapters as I create them, but the website here will go for long stretches without updates, and I’ll do like 3 at a time or so when I upload. I think this is a good compromise between saving my time, and not leaving loyal readers out in the cold.
I will /not/ be posting the new chapters of Secret of the Old Ones anywhere other than Patreon.
Delvers 2 is being published on 4/7/2017. It will be professionally edited, have a bit more content, and is just more polished in every way. I hope everyone supports the official release. 🙂
Please vote for Delvers on TWF http://topwebfiction.com/vote.php?for=delvers-llc
PS. Don’t worry about content comments right now. I already caught everything and the final version of the book is already complete and being edited.
Respect for the Fallen
Jason found himself sitting on his butt in the middle of a baseball field. With a start, he realized the field was where he used to play little league when he was a kid. From behind him, he heard a very distinctive voice say, “I thought a change of scenery was in order, again.”
Jason sighed and turned to regard the purple cartoon cat.
His orb’s cartoon avatar was lounging in a chair, sipping a drink of some kind. The drink and its glass were also cartoons. The scene was a bit bizarre.
Jason sighed and rolled his eyes. He asked, “Can I have a chair?”
“Oh, of course!” said the purple cat. He waved a hand, and a cartoon chair rose out of the field near Jason’s feet. Jason eyed it warily before shrugging and sitting down.
“You know, this isn’t really real. You won’t really feel any different if you’re sitting or standing.” The cat took a sip of his drink. The little cartoon umbrella coming out the top was bright yellow with little pink hearts.
“Yes, the thought has occurred to me,” Jason said. He was weary already. Talking to his orb’s avatar always gave him a great deal of useful information, but the more he did so, the stranger he found the entire experience. “So why are we talking today?”
“Ah, straight to the point! I respect that!” The purple cat’s crooked whiskers quivered as he smiled. He threw his drink behind him and it vanished before it hit the ground. “You were just dying! It was very interesting. I wasn’t even aware that you could do what you did before you started to kick the bucket. I’m glad you’re still alive, though. I really don’t want to die with you.”
“Don’t you remember? You’re still only a second ranked orb-Bonded, but you drastically increased your power to fight a High Priestess! Granted, she was one of the weakest High Priestesses, but that is still quite a feat!”
Jason put a hand to his temple, closing his eyes. Everything was fuzzy for a moment, then it all came back to in one confused lump of emotion and memory. If he hadn’t been talking to some sort of alien computer in his unconscious mind, all of the blood would have run from his face. “How did that happen?”
The cartoon cat looked embarrassed for a moment. “Gee, I don’t super know, Jason. See, I don’t have any knowledge about what you did, but routines were built into me to let it happen. If I had to guess, and my guesses are good, you probably shouldn’t have survived your limitbreak at your rank, thought.”
“That’s what you called it, remember?”
Jason slowly nodded. “So how did I survive, then?”
“Kumbaya, you almost didn’t!” the cat exclaimed. “I’ve been monitoring your surroundings and High Priestess Keeja made a very smart decision! She told your wife give you a spirit stone. That stabilized you. But it seems you were dying because you used up all your extra spirit stones and started consuming your own Dhu…or something. I’m still not entirely sure.”
“You were dying because you didn’t have enough Dhu feeding you power anymore! It’s all quite fascinating. I still don’t know what happened so it would be great if you could ask Dolos or Keeja about it!”
Jason scratched his head, the action strangely calming despite his body being a figment of his subconscious. “So, you’re telling me that I managed to use up the spirit stones I swallowed earlier, and I needed another one just to stabilize back to normal levels?”
“That’s correct!” The purple cat seemed excited that Jason understood.
“So to get to third rank, I need to find more spirit stones again?”
“Correct again!” The cat was out of his seat and dancing now. The display was ridiculous. Jason closed his eyes shut tightly before opening them again. He needed to ask a few more questions, and then he needed to think.
Bezzi-ibbi was walking back from burying Rark-han’s body. He saw most of the group milling around the Battlewagon when Uluula shrieked and began crying happily. Jason had woken up.
The Jagur Clan heir was glad that his Clan brother was awake, but the events of the last few hours had left him feeling numb. Mareen was still not talking to anyone, either.
Gonzo and Vitaliya had offered to help him bury Rark-han, but Bezzi-ibbi needed to do it for himself. Henna-ibbi always said, “The wise hunter owns her own mistakes, she is now owned by them.” She was wise, truly the best female to lead the Clan in Mirana.
He’d only cried once. When he was laying Rark-han to rest, he’d taken off the man’s bronze arm that Henry had crafted for him, and the reality of the situation had hit him. Rark-han was dead. Yanno-ibbi was alive, but crippled. Aodh was missing. And Henry, the man who had made the bronze replacement arm for Rark-han was missing too. Bezzi-ibbi was glad nobody had been nearby to see him cry.
Rark-han had been a big man. It took Bezzi-ibbi a long time to dig a suitable grave. He crossed Rark-han’s arms across as his chest and buried him Jaguar Clan style. As he did, he prayed to the Maker of the Day, absolving Rark-han of any more responsibility. The man had paid his debt in full with his life.
While laying the body to rest, Bezzi-ibbi had found a letter in the big, Wolf Mo’hali’s pocket. It had been addressed to him. With dull eyes and a heavy heart, he’d pocketed the letter. He’d read it later. He was exhausted, and keeping his shadow proud in the Day was becoming increasingly difficult. He felt shame for feeling proud earlier about his beginning as a Jaguar Troubadour.
His dream was already being built on bodies.
After Jason had woken up in Uluul’s lap, he stumbled around, mumbling about purple cats for a time. The entire group was exhausted, but they all managed to pile into the Battlewagon. The damaged magicycle was scrapped, the parts stored for transport. Bezzi-ibbi would ride in the Battlewagon for the remainder of the trip.
Mareen had wordlessly climbed into Henry’s turret, her eyes puffy, her expression haunted. Nobody had stopped her.
Even Keeja was quiet, her expression withdrawn and introspective.
Bezzi-ibbi wasn’t sure how long it took to get to Harmly. The trip was a blur. He sat the whole time by his unconscious Uncle, resting a hand on his shoulder. He couldn’t stop thinking about Henry, Aodh, and Rark-han.
He wasn’t completely unobservant during the trip. He noticed that the Delvers had acquired a decent amount of loot, including a monsterwood staff, a monsterwood rapier, a powerful enchanted bow, a blessed steel sword, and a few other things. The device that had hit Aodh and Henry with a beam of light was an enigma. Nobody could figure out what it was, not even Keeja.
Normally, most of the loot would have been doled out, or everyone would have been more excited about it. However, the pall over the company just got worse over time. There had been so much blood, death, and senseless violence. Fighting monsters was something Bezzi-ibbi had been prepared for. He’d been involved in the battle with the bandits months ago, he felt naive for not considering that they could be attacked.
He’d always known it was a possibility, but he hadn’t really believed it in his hunter’s heart. In the midst of all the fighting, while his heart pumped and he fought for his life, he’d felt a hunter’s glee. However, now that the cost of survival was counted, he felt empty, numb.
Once the group got to Harmly, Bezzi-ibbi just sat and watched the world move around him. He’d never experienced anything quite what he was going through before. He just felt heavy, heavy and powerless. He’d witnessed amazing events, he’d been involved in a glorious battle, a fight to his life, but all he could keep thinking about was Rark-han.
Bezzi-ibbi had been responsible for the man. He’d ordered Rark-han to atone for his crimes by serving. The problem was, the man had served, and done so well, even without a tongue most of the time, that Bezzi-ibbi had almost considered him Clan.
And now he was dead.
Bezzi-ibbi had killed before. He’d killed his first man a couple years ber, a man condemned by the Clan council. As the heir, he had been required to end the man to prove he was coming of age.
He hadn’t enjoyed it, but it’d been necessary. Bezzi-ibbi was no stranger to grim realities, but he was not accustomed to feeling like he’d failed. He’d never felt his heart hurt before this way, like he lost something.
The next day passed almost like Bezzi-ibbi was watching someone else live his life. UIuula had gotten them all rooms in a decent inn. Bezzi-ibbi was distantly aware of Jason talking to the town guard and possibly the military. He was probably giving them an account of everything that happened. There would definitely be an investigation.
Bezzi-ibbi didn’t care.
If Rark-han were still around, the big wolf man would have looked at Bezzi-ibbi and rolled his eyes while flicking his ears sideways, communicating his impatience without words. Bezzi-ibbi smiled, tears running down his face as he traced his metal arm with his flesh and blood hand. His power was useless.
Without warning, Bezzi-ibbi felt a hand on his shoulder. He blearily glanced over and noticed Yanno-ibbi sitting next to him. His uncle’s new crutch was leaning against the bed they were sitting on.
Bezzi-ibbi felt a sudden, hot flash of guilt. His uncle was still alive, and had been maimed. Yanno-ibbi had lost a hand and a leg, his mobility hampered for the rest of his life. Bezzi-ibbi had barely checked on him.
He tried to hold the tears in, but his renewed guilt made it impossible. He looked at the ground in shame, biting his lower lip with sharp teeth.
Yanno-ibbi began to speak. “You know, not many spoke for you to leave the Clan house in Mirana. However, I was one of them. I have known your father since he was born. Not many know that I am actually the eldest. However, it is the duty of the Jaguar Clan to face the truth and not show our backs, to never run from fact like cowardly prey.
“The reality is, your father is a better leader than I am. I am more likable, I am smarter, I am better at most things, but your father learned one thing that I never could.”
Yanno-ibbi paused. Bezzi-ibbi continued to stare at the ground and listen. Yanno-ibbi said, “Your father learned how to kill his own people. We have both fought in skirmishes, you see. But the mark of a great commander is one who spends the lives of his soldiers dearly, but is willing to spend them all the same.
“Henna-ibbi is a strong woman, but she still defers to your father on the hardest decisions in private. Most don’t know that, nor should they or it would weaken her position. But your father actually has a kinder heart than me. He is just willing to take the burden, to cry about it and claw himself later, but focus on the mission.
“This is not something I can do.”
Yanno-ibbi gestured at himself. “My life had been utterly and completely changed. I knew when I woke to a new dawn, greeted the light of the Day and saw my changed form, I had a choice. I can move on, or I can live in the past. Regret is an enemy that stalks in memories and dreams, Bezzi-ibbi. Great hunters never become prey, even to themselves.
“You left at a young age, risked your life to become a Hero so you can become a great Clan chief. I believe in your quest, Bezzi-ibbi. Unfortunately, now you know how difficult that journey will be, and why so many who love you were against you going. One of the things we love most about you is your pure heart. However, by the time you come back to the Clan, you will bear many scars, and some of them will be inside of you, on your spirit.”
After that, Yanno-ibbi stood and hobbled out of the room with the help of his crutch.
Bezzi-ibbi loved and respected his uncle. He was not as wise as his father, or as smart as Henna-ibbi, or as observant his as his mother, but he could tell that Yanno-ibbi had growled truth. It took some time, but eventually, Bezzi-ibbi stood, slapped his face, and took a deep breath.
He was not going to be healed inside for some time, but he would meet his enemies head on, even if his enemy was himself.
He walked from the room, noticing Uluula with her arm around a sobbing Mareen in a room down the hall. Bezzi-ibbi shook his head. Mareen would have to face herself too. There was nothing he could do for her.
Bezzi-ibbi glanced down at his disgusting, soiled clothes and winced. The first thing he was going to do now that he was walking again was obtain a new set of clothes and clean himself up. If he wanted to be a Jaguar Troubadour, he needed to look like one, by the Day!
The next day, the entire group had breakfast. Every member of the party was in a private dining room that the luxurious inn had accommodated them with. Knowing Uluula, she’d probably gotten it at half price.
Not long after he’d started eating, Bezzi-ibbi was shocked when Yanno-ibbi had stood and made a surprising announcement. His uncle had said, “Jason-ibbi, Bezzi-ibbi, all, I must leave you now. You will be leaving from Harmly to travel north to the Stem River soon, but I will not be coming with you. I feel I have no place among your company anymore. I will just be a liability. I have already spoken to a few members of this group, and Thirsty will be coming with me.”
“Wait, what?” asked Jason, scratching his head. “You’re leaving, and Thirsty too? Thirsty, from what I hear, you were a huge help during the battle and most if not all of us owe you our lives. I thought you’d be staying with us.”
Thirsty shook his head. “Jason, sweetie, I love you, I love all of you. You saved my life. But, how do I put this? Uh, not only no, but hell no. Hell to the fuck no. Fuck all of this ratchet, fighting, medieval bullshit.”
Thirsty pulled his wig out of his backpack and held it up. “Drag used to be my escape. It used to be a hobby, a way to make a little extra money and deal with stress. Do you know what I see now when I look at my wig and my heels?” He paused a moment and said, “Armor. I see armor. And during my dreams now, I see fucking zombie hands grabbing for me. I see my friends dying. I didn’t sign on for this shit.”
Thirsty quietly put the wig back in his backpack. “Actually, I didn’t sign up for any of this. I feel like I’m lost, Jason. I just…need to find where I belong. I really do care about all of you, but…Aodh is gone.” Thirsty’s eyes began to tear up. He softly said, “I just don’t think I can do what I need to do in this group, I don’t think I can be who you want me to be.”
The entire room was quiet for a while after that.
Finally, Jason said, “I respect your decision. It’s not like I can keep you from going, but we’ve been through a lot together. Dashaun, Thirsty Zha Zha, you will always be a member of Delvers LLC.” Jason turned to Yanno-ibbi and asked, “And what will you do?”
Yanno-ibbi flicked his ears forward, displaying genuine affection for Jason. “I have contingency plans with the Clan. I will be heading to the capital of Tolstey to the west and working with a branch of the Clan to increase our strength. I believe Thirsty wants to work with me to see if I can help him open a clothing shop.”
“Damn right,” sniffed Thirsty. “I didn’t ask for none of this orb-Bonded bullshit, but now that I can make real magic stuff, I just need someone to turn me loose. Maybe I can find a calling after all.”
Jason considered a moment before nodding and saying, “Okay, but you are still our extended family. I am not going to leave you empty handed. We picked up a few things that should help with seed money. I want to give you the blessed steel flamberge—”
“The what?” asked Uluula.
“The big, blessed steel sword,” replied Jason with just a hint of exasperation.
“I thought that would be going to Mareen.” UIuula patted her dusky skinned, Terran friend sitting next to her. Mareen showed no reaction, just stared at the table.
Jason shook his head, “No, it’s not well suited to someone with her body style. Her hammer is still a much better weapon for her, especially with her enhanced strength, plus Henr—” Jason paused in mid word, and the there was an awkward silence around the table for a moment.
Jason cleared his throat and continued, “Uh, so, uh, I want to give you the monsterwood rapier we found, not that I knew what monsterwood was before, and also the monsterwood staff—”
“No,” Mareen said softly, but slammed her hand on the table. Bezzi-ibbi winced. There had been enough strength in that slap to break a normal person’s bones. “No,” Mareen repeated. “Aodh should get the staff when he and Henry come back.” With that, she settled back and looked at the table again.
Uluula pursed her lips, looking at Mareen in concern before turning to Jason and shrugging. Jason wet his lips with his tongue and said, “Ah, I meant to say, the monsterwood rapier and the enchanted bow we found. The only archer among us is Mareen, and the bow is not meant for someone with enhanced strength.”
Yanno-ibbi nodded, saying, “That is very generous, but the Jaguar Clan—”
Thirsty spoke over him, “We’ll take it.” Yanno-ibbi laid back his ear in surprise, but Thirsty continued, “I’m not taking it as a gift, though. I’ve worked for every damn thing I’ve ever had. No, this is a loan, you sexy, teleporting bastard.”
Jason blinked. “Ah—”
Thirsty held up a hand. “Yeah, this is a loan. I’m gonna get rich, and I’m gonna get more powerful, and I’m gonna give all you sexy pimps and pimpettes the most fierce fucking outfits and accessories on this whole ratchet ass planet.” Then Thirsty snapped, ending the conversation.
Jason blinked while the rest of the table just stared at Thirsty. Finally, he said, “Okay, sounds like a plan! We’ll do that, then.”
Bezzi-ibbi wrestled with himself briefly. He didn’t want to make a scene, but he felt like he had achieved some small amount of wisdom over the last couple days. Finally, he steeled his resolve to do the right thing, the honorable, thing, and the brave thing. He would honor his loved ones. He would be true to his heart and never take life for granted again.
Bezzi-ibbi stood, walking around the table and hugged Thristy in the Terran fashion. The strange, tall Terran started, but Bezzi-ibbi just hugged him tighter before letting go. He said in English, “You are a pervert, but I don’t care. I love you, Thirsty, my friend. You are a near-brother to me. I hope to see you again under the light of the Day.”
Then he walked to Yanno-ibbi. His uncle already had his hands out, and Bezzi-ibbi put his on top of them. Then Yanno-ibbi reared his hand back and smacked Bezzi-ibbi across the face. Bezzi-ibbi immediately dropped back, snarling, showing no weakness while his Family member gave him respect. After a heartbeat, Yanno-ibbi settled back, satisfied with Bezzi-ibbi’s response.
The young Jaguar Clan heir took a step forward, placing his forehead against Yanno-ibbi’s and softly said, “Thank you for everything, uncle. I will remember your words until the day I die. I hope to see you under the light of the Day again. If not, we will hunt together with the ancestors. You will always be welcome on my hunting land.”
“And you on mine,” said Yanno-ibbi, his voice thick with emotion.
Bezzi-ibbi jerkily squared his shoulders, then returned to his seat. He glanced around in confusion, wondering why everyone was crying. Why was everyone else emotional? The farewell had been a good one. He didn’t understand Terrans at all sometimes.
Jason cleard his throat and said, “Delvers LLC and friends, now that we’re all together, we—”
Suddenly, Uluula elbowed him in the ribs, stopping him in his tracks. “Where’s Keeja?” she asked.
“Wait, I didn’t see her at all last night,” said Gonzo.
“You’re right,” muttered Vitaliya. Mareen just nodded.
“When was the last time anyone saw her?” asked Uluula. “We still have a ton of questions, especially about that boxy weapon. We need to figure out where Henry went.” Mareen nodded again, harder this time.
Bezzi-ibbi watched the scene and silently hoped Henry and Aodh were not dead. He knew everyone else in the group was secretly hoping the same.
“Where the hell did that irresponsible High Priestess go this time?” asked Jason, irritation coloring his voice. The rest of the table looked somewhat uncomfortable, still aware of Keeja’s recent display of enormous power. Bezzi-ibbi just smiled. It was good to know his brother had not had his spirit bent or broken in any way.
If anyone could find Henry, it would be Jason. If anyone could survive just about anything, it would be Henry.
His brothers were worthy of respect. Bezzi-ibbi believed in them.