This is the last chapter of book 2. Thank you for coming on this ride with me!
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Yelm tapped his foot impatiently. He let his magic creep through his body, manifesting on his fingertips in a subtle warning. He growled a question. “Why haven’t you found them yet?”
The woman he spoke to, a Ludus-born Terran, a Ludan, merely smiled. She was obviously not intimidated in the slightest.
With an effort of will, Yelm reigned in his temper. He was aware of all the other eyes on him. There would always be time to properly deal with Celina, the smug bitch was not as untouchable as she thought she was.
He grimaced as he swallowed his frustration. He was in too deep now to throw a fit. He had too many plans. Too many sacrifices had been made.
He glanced at the symbol of Asag on the wall in distaste. The dark altar still sported wet blood pooling around its base. One good thing about living on a planet with so many more women than men was how easy it made virgin sacrifice. Asag was an old school god, apparently. He wanted the sacrifice of pure girls, even if finding them wasn’t particularly difficult on Ludus.
Yelm steeled himself. Originally, he’d just been out to get revenge for Jeth, but eventually his contact in the Berban seditionists had convinced him to work with the Asag cultists. He found the entire assignment extremely distasteful, but he couldn’t argue with the results.
He also couldn’t argue that the cultists somehow had a very impressive intelligence network. He didn’t know how, but they’d known about Henry and Jason heading to Berber before his own contacts had.
As he always did, Yelm had ingratiated himself with his fellows and attained a lofty rank in a relatively short amount of time. Being orb-Bonded hadn’t hurt. Still, now it seemed he just sat around and watched the dark robed zealots murder girl-children.
Celina, the priestess of this cell of cultists said, “Ludus may be smaller than Earth, Yelm, but it’s still a large place. Besides, we know where they’re going. In point of fact, they’re coming here. It makes more sense to set up resources to find them when they get here than try to patrol an eighth of the world looking for them. You should feel lucky. Your personal vendetta seems to align with our purpose.
“I am not sure why the Terrible Lord wants your enemies dead, this Jason and Henry, but we listen to his law, not to your threats.”
Yelm clenched his teeth, holding back a retort. The bitch was telling the truth. Every cultist he was surrounded with in the subterranean hideout would gladly give their life for the demon god. Yelm had seen terrible things. He’d done terrible things. He’d looked the other way when his…troubled son had done terrible things. However, the Asag cultists were on another level, one that even made him feel uncomfortable.
He’d accepted that his soul was probably going nowhere good long ago. He’d briefly thought he might be able to find redemption among George’s scruffy little band of farmers, indulging in Jeth’s obsession over that pretty girl Mareen. But no more. The powers that ran Ludus were corrupt, and he would bring them down, even if it meant damning himself to do so.
“So you have your…people looking for Henry and Jason near the capital?”
“Yes, and a couple other cities. We will find them.”
“We’ve already discussed this,” Celina replied, rolling her eyes. “We have powerful allies. You think your faction is strong. Yes, we know about the noblewoman you have in your pocket. However, you should forget what you think you know. Terrible Asag has a firm grip on Ludus. This planet will belong to the Terrible Lord!
“Our reach is far indeed, backed by the power of Terrible Asag! Yes, we have many favors to call in. Anywhere the enemies of Asag tread, we will pull purses, or hearts, or debts to uncover their hearts, ripe for the picking.”
Celina’s eyes closed in some sort of religious ecstacy. Yelm took a half step back before he could stop himself. He carefully managed his expression. He knew he was watched at all times. It was fine if the cultists knew he reviled them, or that they disgusted him. However, they could never know he didn’t fear them.
He couldn’t wait to be done with these people. They made his skin crawl, and that was when they weren’t parading around Asag’s twisted minions the demon god had somehow sent to this world. Yelm knew he was truly fighting evil with evil, but he’d made his choice. Plus, if he could get revenge for his murdered son along the way, it would all be worth it.
He would see the world burn, at least if he could help it.
“So what is plan B,” he asked. “You shouldn’t underestimate these men. Thod did, and he is nothing but dirt by now.”
“Yes, well, Thod was a thug working for your organization. We serve a higher calling, a higher power. Plus, Thod was only second rank orb-Bonded. Need I say more?”
“No, I understand.” Yelm swallowed everything else he wanted to say. There was no denying that Celina was powerful. Third rank for a mere priestess—he had to admit her boasts about the cultists’ strength might not be entirely inaccurate. Plus, he couldn’t exactly be too picky after getting in bed with devils.
All of this was true, but Celina didn’t know what he knew. If she did, she would have immediately killed him and fled for the hills. Yelm kept his face blank but smiled inwardly. There would be a reckoning. Yes, he would see the whole world burn. He’d burn it all for Jeth.
Keeja crossed her arms. The building she stood in was magnificent. Its beauty was unparelled on the entire planet. The continent she stood on was entirely off limits for mortals. She was surrounded by power and wealth the likes of which most souls on Ludus would never even knew existed, but all she felt was disgust.
Dolos sat on his throne and smiled down at her. The thone was enormous, and Dolos had changed his size to fill it. He towered over the diminutive High Priestess.
The huge man’s expression was subtly mocking in a way that made Keeja’s hackles stand up. She wanted to lash out, to attack her de facto employer, but she knew from experience how utterly useless the gesture would be. Worse, she knew it would amuse him.
In the end, it would just also create more work for her and all the other High Priestesses, as well as their servants. She hated to admit that as much as she despised Dolos and his methods, the universe would probably be better off if he could accomplish his goal…even if he was only in it for selfish reasons.
“Okay, I’m here,” she snarled. “What was so Host-bound important that it couldn’t wait even a few minutes?”
“You know I don’t like that oath,” said Dolos, lazily waving a hand, causing a memory cube to float into his hand from a nearby table.
“Too fucking bad, buttercup. If I don’t get right to the point, I’ll be here longer than I should already be. You gave me a job. I didn’t want it. Now I do. I want to see it through. In fact, it benefits your purposes if I do.”
“Ugh, Areva. Just a step up from animals. Terrans are worse, but Areva have discovered a little bit of technology and no longer see them as the stupid primates they still are.” Dolos sighed theatrically and Keeja clenched her jaw.
“Just little pointy eared animals, scurrying around, piloting little space ships, steeped in their own hubris. And then one that I’ve care for, that I’ve trained talks to me this way? What is the Terran expression, ‘Biting the hand that feeds?’ Perhaps I should ask the little High Priestess. She has been to Terra after all. Actually who sent her there? That’s right, I did!”
Dolos chuckled, pretending to examine the data cube. “It’s almost like some of these mortals forget their place, believe that they actually have some wisdom after a few thousand years. It’s a travesty. A true travesty.”
“Listen asshole, you avoided me before, and now you want my attention so bad you forced me to drop everything and come here. I am not in the mood to be talked down to. If you want impress someone, go show up for a random fisherman and impress him or something.”
With no warning, Keejas shoulders hit the wall, pinning her there. The impact rattled her entire body and would have turned a normal Areva woman into pulp. The pressure was intense. Even with all her power, it was all she could do not to pass out. With an effort of will, she continued glaring at Dolos.
The huge man pretended not to even be paying attention. He continued to fiddle with the data cube. Eventually he adjusted his stone crown, set the data cube down, and looked up. Keeja gulped. Dolos’ eyes were narrowed.
Uh oh, she thought.
“Sometimes silly mortals mistake kindness for weakness,” Dolos said conversationally. “Sometimes, a good servant who has distinguished herself among her peers can forget her place, forget who it is that made her.
“I am beginning to get tired of such small beings showing such disrespect to one such as I. My tool has been tainted by associating with a few filthy Terrans, bad influences on my loyal servant.
“The matter at hand is bigger than you, little High Priestess. It’s bigger than me.”
Dolos had Keeja’s undivided attention. He very, very rarely acted this way. “Fine,” she grated. “I’m listening.”
In a snap, Dolos was back to his usual self, lounging on his throne and not even looking directly at Keeja again. However, he’d made his point. Despite her disdain, Keeja would have to be fool not to listen since he seemed to actually have something serious to discuss. Plus, she was a valuable resource, but he really was capable of killing her any time he wanted.
For a few minutes, Dolos examined his fingernails and muttered about broken tools and uppity Areva. Keeja took calming breaths, releasing a trickle of power to repair her body and biding her time. Eventually Dolos sighed and turned, saying, “Fist the obvious. Jason James Booth, despite his repulsive Terran heritage, has managed to exceed all expectations and ascend after a fashion. He has somehow managed to go from expendable, to not as expendable.
“You killed Biivan fairly. You abided by every rule, every guideline, however, this inconvenienced me. I am passing the inconvenience on to you.” The huge man smiled. “I have elevated Philana to High Priestess.”
Keeja was horrified. “Little Lana? You made Philana a high priestess!?”
“Ah yes, she has been your research assistant for three hundred years, right? You should work well together, which is good. You will be training her. Due to Jason James Booth’s increased importance, I will assign a High Priestess individually to both nasty little Terrans you were assigned to up until now. Which one do you want to preside over?”
Keeja’s mind was spinning, but she still answered, “Henry,” without even needing a pause. If she was going to spend the next few hundred years babysitting either man, she wanted to take the cute one she could tease for at least the next few decades. It really didn’t bear much thought.
“Fine, then Philana will be assigned to Jason James Booth. She will be heading out with you immediately and—“
“Wait, she’s leaving now?” interrupted Keeja. “She’s a nymph who hasn’t seen a single man in over three hundred years, and you want her to come with me to the mainland?” Keeja’s voice became louder and shrill, but she couldn’t control herself. Her assignment was turning into a nightmare again.
Dolos’ smile was nasty. “I’m sure you will think of something. She idolizes you, after all. Plus, it’s only fair that you help out since you killed another High Priestess. Then again, you did give me an excuse to send Jason James Booth a box full of spirit stones. What he does with them is a matter of heavy betting among all the Research Priestesses in the divine palace.”
Keeja hissed. This was terrible news, and Dolos was enjoying every second of it.
“The other information I called you here to relay, information that I couldn’t risk transmitting directly to you, is that the struggle among my brethren has escalated. It seems that a few other gods have finally taken notice of my paradise planet and desire to lay claim to it.” Dolos’ eyes flashed. “They have overstepped themselves enough that I now have more tools at my disposal.”
“What do you mean?” asked Keeja.
“I have activated the portways again.”
Keeja gasped. “Those haven’t been working in almost five hundred years!”
“Just so! But my foolish brothers and sisters have given me the justification I needed to power them again! It should yield great results and increase strife on Ludus. We will get wonderful data! Of course, should your little orb-Bonded Terrans find them, they could use them too.
“The rules are the same as before. If a mortal finds a portway shrine, they may travel to any other porway shrine they’ve found and imprinted. After using a portway, there must be at least two days between another is used by the same person.”
“I don’t understand why such a useful travel tool requires such arbitrary rules,” muttered Keeja.
Dolos sighed. “Areva are always looking for meanings in things that their small minds can understand. The entire species would be far less odious if they would just accept the limitations of their kind and cease looking for patters they cannot understand.”
Keeja narrowed her eyes, but otherwise stayed silent. She knew there was probably something else Dolos was going to tell her.
The huge, strangely clothed man continued, “Lastly, because of my siblings’ overreach, I had a choice to exercise some amount of godly power! You can’t give your valuable charges valuable information because of the rules, however, there are a few low mortal priestesses in my ranks who have divined universal truths that Henry and Jason would greatly benefit from knowing.”
Keeja heart pounded. She immediately knew where Dolos was headed. She had to give him grudging respect for being so sneaky.
“A total of four priestesses have been given pieces of a key to unlock the restrictions we are all under from sharing information with low mortals. Plus, it will free up the holder a bit from the rules we abide by.”
“Fragments of a soul shroud…” breathed Keeja, reverent despite herself.
“Exactly. I have been able to locate pieces of a complete artifact. If you found it, you or any High Priestess would be exempt from the rules and guidelines. I could not use it, of course.
“But, this is huge. This is—why are you telling me?”
Dolos grimaced. “There are two reasons. One is that despite their lowly heritage and distinct lack of manners or intellect, the newest group of Terrans to Ludus are actually giving us good data. They may actually allow me to accomplish what I set out to do eons ago. Second, and most important, there are whispers that the Enemy has returned.”
Keeja gasped, a chill running up her spine. “Yes,” said Dolos, suddenly uncharacteristically direct and serious again. “The hypothetical situation I had been fearing since before Ludus even existed isn’t as hypothetical anymore.
“If the rumors among my brethren are true, we might not have much time left.”
Keeja had not peed herself in over a thousand years, but in that moment, she almost lost control of her bladder. In her mind, everything had changed. Everything.
She clicked her heels together and swallowed her pride. This truly was greater than her, now. It was greater than all of Ludus. She hated Dolos, but unfortunately, his goal was even more worthwhile now. Keeja touched her open palm to her throat in salute. “I will go now.”
“Yes, see that you do,” replied Dolos, shrugging. He adjusted his seat on his throne and began fidgeting with his data cube again. “The fate of the universe may depend on the combined efforts of filthy Terrans, uppity Areva, and a horny nymph.” Dolos laughed, the sound ugly and mocking. The self-proclaimed god’s mirth followed Keeja out of the room.
She would have been furious if she hadn’t been so terrified. Everything had changed.
End of book two of Delvers LLC (rough draft)