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Delvers LLC, Chapter 3

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Battle in the Cave

 

The first spear Jason threw hit one of the goblins squatting over the butchered boy.  He saw the goblin next to it go down too, Henry’s greenwood spear sticking out of its back.  Jason felt tears run down his cheeks as he screamed in defiance and fear.

The goblins were caught completely off guard; most of their weapons were stacked in the corner of the room.  Jason thanked God for small favors.  He knew that without the element of surprise, he and Henry would have probably been dead already.

After the first two goblins went down, Henry ran forward to the goblin on top of the woman and nearly decapitated it with a mighty swing of his machete.  The goblin died, pawing at its neck while blood drenched its filthy clothing.  Then Henry spun and used his remaining spear in one hand and his machete in the other to hold off the two goblins that had been holding the woman down.

mareen_1

Jason found himself facing off against the boss goblin.  In any other circumstance, he would have been hesitant and nervous about a life or death battle with a capable looking fantasy monster, but the horror of the butchered boy gave him crystal clear focus.  Just like he’d always done in training, he slightly unfocused his eyes and watched the movements of his opponent.

The goblin boss was about four feet tall.  Its armor looked primarily made of bones held together with sinew and Jason knew that his improvised wooden spears wouldn’t be much use against it.  This meant he had to aim for unprotected areas like the head and arms.

The goblin carried an old looking, tarnished bronze sword and a shield made of hide.  The goblin shrieked something at Jason, spittle foaming at the corner of its mouth.  Jason kept calm and jabbed at its exposed areas while parrying with the two spears he still held in his other hand.

The goblins were nimble and surprisingly strong.  Jason saw that the two creatures Henry was fighting were both armed with long knives and his friend was about to be overwhelmed.  Jason made a split second decision and took a risk.  He threw a spear at the goblin boss to get some breathing room, stepped back and threw his bronze knife at one of Henry’s opponents.  The knife hit point first but Jason’s aim was off; he only managed to impale its thigh.  It was enough, though.

The wounded goblin slowed down noticeably from the wound and Henry was able to stab it in the chest with the flint spear.  Then Henry withdrew the spear, blocked a wild swing, and used his machete to finish the other goblin too.

The goblin boss would have probably killed Jason if he hadn’t been wearing his HEMA armor, but the training gear gave just enough protection to stop the bronze sword from cutting him into ribbons.  His arm holding his blocking spear was still numb and he was covered in bruises, though.  He had to grit his teeth and fight through the pain.

After Henry ruthlessly chopped each of the goblins on the floor to ensure they were down for good, he circled behind the goblin boss.  Henry and Jason worked together to kill the leader, but it was still one hell of a fight.  The goblin boss was surprisingly skilled and the bronze sword it used might have looked old, but was still dangerous.  By the time the boss went down, Jason’s remaining spear was just one more chip away from being cut through.

Then all the goblins were dead.  The only sounds in the dank, bloody, horrifying cave were Jason and Henry’s labored breathing.  The woman on the ground had long since stopped screaming and was watching them with huge eyes, eyes that now carried a glimmer of hope.  Henry shook his head and mumbled, “What kind of fucked up world is this?”

Jason slowly approached the traumatized woman and knelt down so he could talk to her at eye level.  This close, he noticed that she was younger than he had originally thought and might be pretty under all the grime and filth.  Her dusky skin was scratched all over.  The woman’s ambiguous racial background gave her an exotic look.  “Are you okay?” he asked.

The woman scrunched up her nose and responded in a language Jason had never heard before.  He shook his head and asked, “Do you speak English?”  As soon as the words came out of his mouth, he knew how stupid he sounded.  He was on another planet, apparently somehow a sword and sorcery planet, and he just asked a local if she spoke English.  Stupid stupid stupid, awkward Jason.  At this rate I’ll have to change my name to Daniel Jackson.

The woman looked down, “Yes, I speak but I not perfect.”  Jason’s jaw dropped.  He glanced back at Henry who was trying to wake the injured old man with no success.  When he turned back to the woman, she was also gazing at the old man with concern and obvious distress.  “Man is grandfather.  Please let help.”

Jason nodded dumbly and helped the woman to her feet while she tried to hold the tatters of her clothing together.  She knelt down next to the old man, closed her eyes, and placed a hand on his head.  Jason gasped as her palm suddenly began to glow.

He watched in fascination as the woman’s hand continued to glow and the old man’s injuries healed before his eyes.  He’d never seen anything like it before.  Based on the letter Dolos gave them coupled with his experiences so far, Jason was willing to believe magic existed on this world.  Still, actually seeing it in person was amazing.

After the woman was done, the old, tawny skinned man no longer had any visible wounds and he began to breathe easier.  The woman looked exhausted and sat limply on the cave floor.  She obviously didn’t have the energy anymore to care about her destroyed clothes.  As Henry began gathering up all the weapons, Jason sat down near the woman and gathered his thoughts.

He respectfully avoided looking directly at the woman due to her exposed body and asked, “How do you know English?”

The woman replied and pointed at the old man on the floor, “Grandfather from Africa.”  Well, that explained some things but the implications were disturbing.  It seemed Dolos might have been telling truth.

“My name is Jason.  What is your name?”

“My name Mareen.”

Jason struggled with how to ask his next question, “Mareen, how did you heal that man?”

Mareen didn’t understand the question, evidenced by a shake of her head.  Jason tried again, “Man sick now not sick.  You did?”

“Ah!” nodded Mareen.  “Grandfather.”  She shrugged, “I am magic.”

“You mean you used magic?”

“I use magic.  Body magic.”

“Mareen, can you help that boy over there?”  Jason pointed to the corpse of the boy on the floor of the cave.

Mareen glanced over but quickly looked away and began to sob quietly.  Jason let her have a few moments.  Mareen shook her head.  “Boy gone.”

Jason wanted to ask more questions, but he glanced at Henry and saw they were both thinking the same thing.  They needed to get away from cave.  Fast.  There was no telling whether more goblins might show up.

After the men gathered anything that looked useful including the boss goblin’s bronze sword, Mareen helped them haul their makeshift weapons while Jason carried her grandfather in a fireman’s carry.

They made pretty good time at first, probably because their bodies were still pumped full of adrenaline.  Henry lead the way back the way they’d come on the goblin trail.  Jason was confused why they were going back the way they came and looked a question at Henry.  His friend whispered, “Tracks.  We can’t make a new trail from the cave.”  Jason nodded.

Luckily, they didn’t see any more goblins.  They turned off the path into the forest a little past the clearing where Henry and Jason first found the goblin trail.  Then they walked about a quarter mile before lying down to watch the way they’d come.   Mareen busied herself tending to her grandfather behind them.

Jason was still shaky but he gradually forced himself to calm down by approaching the situation like a programming problem.  He needed to frame everything in logic so he could rationally process what happened.  He glanced over at Henry who looked bored.  That figures.  Nothing ever seemed to affect Henry in any way other than temporarily pissing him off.  He sighed.

Jason still felt like a bucket of raw nerves, but he managed to slow his breathing.  It was quiet in the forest other than the sound of Mareen whispering to her grandfather.  They waited for about half an hour in breathless anticipation, Jason and Henry tightly gripping spears, but nothing happened.  No new goblins came screaming out of the trees.

Eventually, Henry tapped Jason on the shoulder and whispered, “We should get going.  Mareen says her home is probably a few miles from here going downhill.”  Jason nodded tiredly.

Once again, the two men and Mareen gathered everything up and Jason carried Mareen’s grandfather.  It was slow going.  Walking downhill while carrying heavy weight, especially over uneven terrain was exhausting.  After about a mile, Jason switched carrying the old man with Henry.  Then they switched off every mile or so.

Through his exhaustion, Jason blearily wondered if the day had gotten dark or whether the trees were just blocking most of the light.  He could hardly see where he was going.  In fact, the next two hours were a blur.  Jason concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other.  He was so tired.  So very, very tired.  He just wanted to lay down and rest.

But he had to keep going.  He knew the woman with them and the old man he was carrying were depending on him.  He wouldn’t let them down.  He’d never let anyone down again.  He already let his mom down enough when he was a kid.  He had to take that shame to his grave but he refused to add any more than was already there.

By the time the old man woke up, Jason was so tired he was practically sleep walking.  He couldn’t remember if anything was said.  He might have heard people talking, he might have even said something himself, but he couldn’t remember.  The only thing he could recall before passing out was excited people carrying lights (maybe torches?  He wasn’t sure) and helping him the rest of the way to where he was finally able to collapse into a heap and sleep.

Delvers LLC, Chapter 2

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Goblins

Henry squinted as he strained to observe the goblins walking through a clearing on a hillside about 200 yards away.  They were small and green with huge ears and long noses.  Henry judged they were about three and a half feet tall.  He actually didn’t know what they were exactly but their general appearance made “goblins” seem appropriate.

Jason whispered, “What do we do?”

Henry frowned and whispered back, “Well, we don’t know for sure they’re hostile.  For all we know they are peaceful and just look funny to us.”  Right about that time, a few more goblins emerged from the trees leading an old man, a young woman, and a little boy through the clearing.  The prisoners were chains and it was obvious that all of them were in rough shape.  A goblin holding a spear brought up the rear and prodded the young boy to walk faster.  “Oh hell,” Henry quietly cursed.

Jason looked resigned, “You know, if we are actually going to survive in this place we shouldn’t get involved.”

“Yup.”

“But we’re going to get involved anyway, aren’t we?”

Henry was conflicted.  He really didn’t want to die.  He was also extremely tired and still adjusting to the situation.  He’d already had a full weekend, then he practiced sword drills with Jason before getting zapped to Ludus, and he just hiked through the woods for an hour.  He had a suspicion that whatever Dolos did to get them here took a lot out of him too.

Unfortunately, there were some things he knew he couldn’t walk away from, certain things he couldn’t tolerate because he had to live with himself as long as he was still breathing.  His moral code was pretty clear on the situation but he also had his friend to think about.  He paused and asked Jason, “What do you think?”

Jason scratched his chin, his tall, lanky frame seemed to sway gently in the slight breeze.  “Well, those people obviously need help.  I’ve never even been in much of a real fight, but I know a good reason for fighting when I see it.  Plus, I know you want to go help those people and there are worse ways to die than doing something right with a friend.”

Henry was touched.  He’d been hanging out with Jason a lot the last few years, especially after his divorce.  It was nice to know that their friendship meant as much to Jason as it did to him.  Plus it spoke volumes that Jason was willing to watch his back.  They were in a ridiculous situation, they were probably both in shock, but Jason’s inherent goodness and integrity was steadfast.  Henry wished he was that good of a person.

“Okay, let’s move over to that clearing.  Try to walk as quietly as possible.  While we head there, look for straight sticks or small trees we can make into spears.”

Jason pointed at their polypropylene practice weapons, “Will these do us any good?  I’m pretty good with a long sword but I’m not that great with a spear.”

Henry shook his head, “No, those goblins or whatever had metal weapons.  Metal will cut right through this stuff,” he punctuated his point by easily cutting into the guard of his training sword with his machete.  “Our HEMA armor should help a bit, though.  I mean, I’d rather be wearing steel but this stuff beats a t-shirt.”

Jason nodded glumly and after hiding the useless training weapons in a bush, the pair started moving through the forest towards where they’d seen the goblins.  While they walked, they fashioned a few makeshift spears using the folding knife from the duffle bag.

Henry noticed that some of the foliage was unlike any he’d ever seen before.  Sunlight from the greenish blue sky slanted through trees and lighted on a bush with pretty pink flowers.  He suddenly halted and put an arm out to stop Jason too.  Jason looked at him questioningly, but Henry just shook his head.

Henry wasn’t quite sure why he stopped and he wasn’t getting any clues from just staring at the bush so he grunted, motioning Jason to follow him in a path around the flowers.  Henry’s hunches were useful more often than not.  He was damn sure not going to ignore his gut on a strange planet while moving towards a fight.

When the two men reached the clearing they’d seen the goblins and the prisoners in, they discovered that the creatures had been following a well-worn trail.  Henry knew that if he and Jason were smart, they’d scout the area around them, do a few days of recon, and formulate a plan of attack with at least 20 other people.  However, not only did they not have backup, all they had for weapons was a cheap machete and a handful of sharpened sticks, most of which were being carried by Jason.

The situation sucked.  Not for the first time, Henry wished he could just walk away from helping other people in terrible circumstances.  He just couldn’t bring himself to do it, though.

He was having serious doubts they were going to survive after attacking the goblin creatures.  He and Jason had only been on another world for a couple hours!  He was thinking about telling Jason they should just turn back until he saw the human footprints in the soft dirt.  He squatted down and bent closer, yes, he could see blood.  At least one of the prisoners was hurt.

Henry steeled his resolve and felt the strange but familiar calm he always experienced in combat or car crashes, car crashes that most definitely were not his fault.  Definitely not his fault, that was his story and he was sticking to it.  He gestured Jason over and whispered, “We have to be really quiet now while we follow this trail.  For all we know, they have a camp a few dozen feet away.”

Jason nodded, “Do we have a plan?”

“I don’t, do you?”

“I was afraid you were going to say that,” Jason sighed.

Both men began slowly, carefully following the trail through the woods.  They walked for about fifteen minutes when the path began to snake around a hill.  Henry got a bad feeling as they approached a blind corner around a rock outcropping and motioned Jason to be careful.  Jason nervously nodded and readied one of his makeshift spears in one hand, the rest held under his other arm.  As they creeped forward, Henry began to smell a new, acrid odor under the normal, loamy scent of the forest.  In two more steps, they came upon a goblin relieving itself against a tree just off the trail.  The goblin turned its head as the two men rounded the bend.  It was hard to tell who which party was more surprised, but Jason acted first.

With a grunt of effort, he whipped forward his long arm and more by luck than skill, his makeshift spear went right through the goblin’s neck.  Dark ichor welled up from the terrible wound and the goblin fell to the ground, trashing around, its eyes dilated and its mouth open while trying to scream.  The goblin’s loincloth flipped up and Henry amended, Ah, it’s a “he”, not an “it”.

Henry stepped forward quickly to end the goblin’s suffering with his machete.   When he turned back, he saw Jason staring at the goblin in sick fascination for a full five seconds before throwing up.  Henry left his friend alone while he got himself back under control and began checking the goblin’s gear with clinical detachment.  The goblin was a mess and smelled horrible, but Henry had seen worse.

Along with the loincloth, the goblin was wearing a crude vest that looked like it was made of deer hide.  The goblin also had a small bag with bit near-rancid, dried meat and a little stoneware water bottle corked with wax.  For weapons, the goblin was carrying a flint spear and a long, bronze, seax-style knife.  Henry thought there was a possibility they’d killed the goblin that poked the little boy in the clearing.  “Serves the little motherfucker right,” he muttered.

He turned around and saw Jason was wiping his mouth with the back of his hand and looked a little green, but was pulling himself back together.  Henry tossed him the long bronze knife and kept the flint spear for himself.

“I’m sorry,” Jason whispered.  He didn’t look at the goblin and kept his eyes on the trail.  “It’s really dead, right?”

Henry nodded, “Yeah, it’s dead.  Don’t worry about it— your reaction is pretty normal.  You’ve never even gone hunting, have you?”

Jason shook his head, “No.  I think what really bothers me is that we don’t even know if we are the good guys here.  We might have just committed murder.”

Henry shook his head, “No, for better for worse we’ve decided to war on these things.  It’s true we’re in a new place and this is pretty intense, but it was obvious that those people we saw needed help.  Putting chains on people and wounding children with weapons is a pretty good sign that these creatures are the bad guys.”

Jason nodded thoughtfully and examined the bronze knife.  “This thing is pretty crude but it actually has good balance.”

“Good, maybe you can throw it then.  I know you like throwing knives.”  Henry nudged the dead goblin with his foot.  “This thing didn’t have any armor but we can’t be sure that will be the case ahead.”

Jason nodded and the two men began following the trail again, adrenaline making their hearts beat wildly.  They pushed forward like this for another five minutes before the trail ended at the entrance to a creepy cave.  Two skulls sat on the ground on either side of the entrance and they could see a torch sputtering a few steps inside.  There was a faint, animal-like smell coming from the mouth of the cave.

Jason looked at Henry with a question in his eyes and Henry briefly considered what they should do.  In the end, he couldn’t think of anything clever and shrugged.  With that, both men entered the cave, weapons at the ready.  Henry thought it was strange that the goblins didn’t have a lookout posted.  He cocked his head and listened while the torch cast shadows against the wall next to him.  He thought he could hear something in the distance.  The little bits of noise he caught made his hackles rise.

Henry and Jason continued deeper into the cave, the slight smell they first encountered kept growing worse the deeper they got.  The cave eventually turned into a natural tunnel, and the noises ahead bounced around them in disconcerting ways.  A torch lit the midpoint of the tunnel, and Henry could see torchlight coming from where it looked like the cave started to open up again.  Henry and Jason got low and moved forward cautiously until they could see into the room ahead.

The scene they were greeted with was horrific.  The room opened up before them and its floor was actually a few feet lower than where they were crouching down, a natural ramp leading from the tunnel down into the room.  The old man they’d seen in the clearing was lying in a heap against the wall next to the copper chains the prisoners were transported with, a bump on his head and blood leaking from his temple.  The woman was being held down by two goblins while a third was cutting off her clothes with a stone knife as she screamed, her voice weak and desperate.  Every time she tried to struggle, one of the goblins casually hit her in the face with the back of its hand.  The little boy…

Henry swallowed.  He’d seen some terrible things in war and working as an EMT, but it always hit him hardest when kids got hurt.  What he was seeing now… he knew he was going to have nightmares.  The boy that he and Jason had seen the goblins leading through the clearing was dead and two goblins were butchering him like he was an animal.  His blood spread in an enormous pool on the floor in an area that seemed to be a dug out as a fire pit.

Henry noted in a detached sort of way that the goblins probably butchered things in the fire pits while they were not lit and then built fires to burn up the offal.

One goblin that was bigger than the others and wearing crude bone armor stood by the fire and yelled at the other goblins.  Henry figured he was the boss goblin.  He counted a total of six goblins including the boss in armor; all appeared to be male.  Henry glanced at Jason and saw tears in his friend’s eyes.  He had a feeling that Jason was no longer conflicted with the morality of killing goblins.

Henry held out a hand and Jason gave him one of the crude, green wood spears.  He held up three fingers, then two, then one, counting down.  Jason’s eyes were wild, but his shoulders were square and his jaw was set.  For the second time that day, Henry felt honored to know his friend.  He knew they might die in the next few minutes, but he felt deep pride in the course of action they were taking.  He was damn sure not going to walk away from blatant evil like this, and he respected his friend’s courage in joining him.

As soon as Henry’s fingers all made a fist, both men jumped up and attacked, their yells blending with the screams of the woman on the floor and the chittering of goblins.

Delvers LLC, Chapter 1

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Please note that this story is the unedited, rough draft of this book.  For the fully edited, unabridged version with 2.5 chapters more content, please support the official release.  https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01M0U4B3S


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Ludus

Another Planet

 

Jason had no idea what the hell just happened.  He blinked at Henry and slowly looked around, keeping the rest of his body completely still.  When his eyes met Henry’s again, only the wild shock he saw on his friend’s face convinced him he was not imagining things.  Well, that and his butt still itched from a mosquito bite he got earlier that day.  The discomfort of the insect bite and the sound of the soft breeze rustling through the grass somehow drove home his reality.

He definitely wasn’t dreaming.

Both men stood in modern martial arts protective gear, holding polypropylene training swords in guard positions.  The hill they stood on rose out of a small valley, surrounded by flowers poking up out of long grass that swayed in the light breeze.  The clouds overhead served as a patchwork ceiling for the mountains in the distance.  It was a beautiful place.  The only problem was that seconds earlier, both men had been surrounded by a wooden fence in Jason’s back yard.

Jason glanced down at his feet, still keeping the rest of his body still and saw he was crushing some flowers.  He thought back carefully to the moment he’d suddenly found himself in a field and barely remembered feeling a slight drop before hitting the ground again.

Almost at the same time he lowered his training sword, he saw Henry do the same.  Henry’s short goatee complimented his Asian features and he looked casually comfortable in sweats and training gear, same as he always looked.  Jason had always been at little jealous of how Henry could pull that off.  Jason felt awkward and gangly in anything he wore.

He took his fencing mask and padded helmet off, turning in place to glance behind him.  He couldn’t see any buildings or other signs of civilization anywhere.  He was about to ask Henry what was going on when a loud voice thundered, “Hello!”  Jason was almost startled out of his skin.

While he was still remembering how to breathe and putting his heart back in his chest, Jason realized the voice came from above him.  He looked up and saw a huge man wearing odd clothing and a mocking grin hovering in midair about 30 feet off the ground.  It was obvious the giant was aware how badly he startled both men on the ground.  Jason immediately disliked him, the feeling transcending his surprise at meeting a 10 foot tall man who could defy gravity.

 

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The man in the air wore clothes that left strange places like his knees uncovered, but flowed and gathered in other odd areas like his wrists.  His clothing’s colors were all over the place too.  It sort of looked like he tried wearing a few different outfits composed of every color of the rainbow all at once.  And beneath all of that, Jason could see flashes of metal as well as tools of some sort hanging off of a belt.  The huge man’s somehow graceful legs ended in stone sandals, and his head bore a crown of the same material.  His face was completely hairless and his facial structure was subtly different than Jason had ever seen before.  He looked like an idealized version of a man.

The man bowed in midair, spread his arms and said, “You’ll have to forgive me for skipping the small talk, but I’ve transported so many of you disgusting little Terrans to this planet that I no longer bother.  It’s not personal.  You may call me Dolos, The Great God Dolos!”  He seemed to wait a few seconds for signs of recognition at the name but Jason and Henry were too busy staring with their mouths open.  Dolos made an impatient gesture and grunted.

“Of course I already know who you two are.”  He pointed at Jason and said, “Jason James Booth, 27 Terran years old, working in IT, single, nothing all that amazing about you.  You have an embarrassing fondness for children’s cartoons and candy.  I doubt that you will survive long.”

Then he pointed at Henry.  “And you, Henry Mirai Sato, 29 years old, recently divorced, used to be a US Army combat medic but worked as an EMT for the last few years.  You dropped out of college to work full time because your mother got cancer and your family needed money.”  Dolos smiled grimly and said, “You probably have a better chance of survival than your friend, but I doubt you will live more than a week either.”

And just like that, Jason’s shock and fear began to evaporate.  Rather than stun or amaze him as Dolos probably intended, the brief summaries of their lives just pissed him off; this floating guy was a dickhead.  He began opening his mouth to say so, but Henry was already asking, “What do you want with us?”

Dolos rolled his eyes.  “Me-me-me, I-I-I, that’s all you people ever say.”

Jason tried to suppress his irritation and confusion.  He scowled and said, “Well, didn’t you just transport us here?  Doesn’t that by definition make this about us?”

The man in the air sighed, “See, this is why I can’t stand Terrans.  Instead of being appropriately awestruck and appreciative that I didn’t miscalculate your travel over hundreds of lightyears almost instantaneously, you give me cheek.  Seriously, why aren’t you people on your knees or beginning for mercy or something?  Where is the adoration?  You aren’t even pissing yourselves.  The Universe is going to hell, I swear.”

Jason glanced at Henry and saw his friend pressing his lips together.  He recognized this expression; Henry was fighting down his temper in order to think.  Jason screwed up his courage, controlled his frustration, and coughed before asking, “Uh sir, could you tell us why we’re here?”

“You’re where I wanted you to be.  This is my experiment planet, Ludus.  I really despise working with you filthy little Terrans, but at least your creation has furthered my own goals.  I’m very proud of my research here.  I needed new stock so here you are.”

“An experiment planet?” asked Jason.

“Yes. I don’t care what the other Griseus are doing on your squalid little Terra, but I’m thankful you were created.  Throwing Terrans into the mix on Ludus has yielded some surprising data.  Anyway, I’m sure you will figure it out, well, maybe not.  Either way I’m hoping you’ll live long enough to rub two brain cells together.  Terrans are resilient like cockroaches after all.  Worst creature Lilith ever created, cockroaches.”

Dolos made a gesture and a bag fell out of midair a dozen feet away.  “Here are some toys for you to play with.  Please don’t die too fast or I won’t be able to get decent data from your short and meaningless lives.”

Henry broke his silence, shouting, “Listen asshole, hold on a minute. What reason do we have to do anything?  You haven’t told us if we will ever see Earth again or even explained what any of this is about at all!  Where the hell are we?”

Dolos narrowed his eyes and the ground began to shake.  He said very quietly, “I don’t like being talked to that way.  Why shouldn’t I just obliterate you right now?”

Henry clenched his jaw.  Jason winced.  When Henry was angry, very little could make him back down.  His friend squared his shoulders and snarled, “Because you just complained about how it was a struggle to bring us here.  You wouldn’t have spent any energy in the first place if it wasn’t worth it to you.  Killing us would waste all that effort.

“You obviously had time to research us before you transported us here so we were either targeted or screened.  And most import, I have no idea what the fuck is going on and if I can never get home, I’m not sure how much I care about living anyway.  Either start talking or kill me, motherfucker!”

Jason looked down with as ground shook more, but he felt an odd sense of calm.  He would have said his piece differently, but he agreed with Henry.  What’s more, he was oddly okay with the idea of dying while spitting defiance in the face of a god.  When the ground stopped shaking and he heard Dolos chuckle, he realized he wasn’t going to die after all.  Well, at least not immediately, anyway.

Dolos shook his head.  “Incentives huh?  I will give Terrans this, you don’t lack for vigor.  Okay fine— Jason Booth and Henry Sato, if you succeed in conquering and uniting all the kingdoms on this continent, I will send you back to the mudhole you came from.  To have any hope, you’d better use the orbs in the bag over there wisely.  Read the instructions.  Whoever wrote them was very wise.  Probably powerful and worth worshipping too.”  Then without a further word, Dolos laughed as he ascended into the sky, eventually producing a sonic boom as he sped away into the distance.

After a few moments passed, Henry muttered, “Well, that just happened.  What an asshole.  Do you think he was really a god?”

Jason was still watching the point in the sky that Dolos disappeared to.  He said, “Does it really matter at this point?”  He was beginning to feel light headed.

“I guess not.  It’s not like our situation is going to change.  We really need to figure out what the fuck is going on.”

Jason nodded slowly.  “I’m going to sit down for a minute.”  He flopped down on the grass and both men were quiet for a while.  Jason let his mind go blank, preparing to deal with the situation.  He ruefully thought, Resetting your brain can work almost as well as resetting a PC.

Henry picked up a small stone and threw it as he stared off into the distance.  He said, “What’s probably most important now is figuring out where we are.  I still don’t understand how we were brought here in the first place.”

Jason looked down at his forearms thoughtfully.  “I have an idea about that, actually.”  He removed his forearm armor and carefully inspected it.  “Nope, I’m not seeing anything out of place but I bet it was our armor.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, you said that the two sets of HEMA gear you found online were super cheap.  Maybe this Dolos wanted people from our planet who were interested in swords or hand to hand combat.”  Jason cocked his head, he felt like he and his friend were forgetting something they should be doing.  “Actually, shouldn’t we be freaking out or something?  I mean, this did just happen.”  He waved his hand, indicating the world around them.

Henry shook his head and said, “No, that won’t do us any good and we both know it.  I have a few years of scraping people off the pavement to settle my nerves.  You’re a computer geek so you’re automatically abnormal.  I guess neither of us very normal, whatever the fuck normal means.  We still need to figure out what’s going on.  I keep thinking I’m dreaming, but my dreams usually don’t include sweat running down my back.”

“Well, you’re right that we need more information.  There could be some clues over there in that bag.”  Jason pointed at the duffle bag lying in the grass.

They dumped the duffle bag out and took a quick inventory.  Inside was a cheap machete, an unfamiliar map, a medical kit from Target, a Swiss Army pocket knife, a rifle with no bullets, and a wooden box about the size of Tupperware container.

Henry scratched his head.  “Well, this is underwhelming.  What’s in the box?”

Jason opened the box and saw two rough, folded pieces of paper resting on top of what looked like two small metal marbles.  “What the hell?”  He unfolded the larger piece of paper and read it out loud,

Congratulations!

You have been selected by the great god Dolos to colonize his pleasure planet, Ludus.  Like any adventure worth having, living on Ludus has an element of danger!

Great God Dolos in his wisdom has seen fit to populate Ludus with most of the major human races, Areva, Mo’hali, Adom, Fideli, and Terrans.  He has hidden great treasures all over Ludus for brave colonists to find, but they are all guarded by demons that have inhabited Ludus since the dawn of time!

Jason looked up from reading.  “It is seriously obvious that Dolos wrote this thing by himself.”

Henry nodded.  “Total assclown. What does the rest of it say?”

Jason continued reading,

The great god Dolos was searching for people like you to come to Ludus.  You have been carefully selected by intricate arcane means to fulfill Dolos’ plans.  You may find special gear to prepare you for your new life that the generous god Dolos has provided you! (While supplies last).

Under the printed message, Jason read a hand written note, presumably also by Dolos,

Too many people the last century who don’t know anything.  Hair dressers can’t build siege weapons.  The world is getting boring.  Need fighting men.  I guess you will do if you don’t die.  Magic in the box.  I will check on you in a year.  If you are dead I will not care.

-D

Jason looked up again and said, “This guy is just utterly charming.”

Henry picked up the second piece of paper and read,

Each device will confer one magic type of your choosing as well as the ability to understand and speak Luda, the official language of Ludus!  When you are ready to accept your blessing from the great god Dolos, swallow one device and think of the magic you wish to learn all day and again right before you fall asleep.

Great God Dolos is merciful and powerful!

Henry eyed the two metal marbles sitting in the box warily.  “What if they’re poison or something?”

“I don’t think they would be for the same reasons you told Dolos he won’t directly kill us.  Plus, it doesn’t make sense to poison us with marbles when he probably could have just demolished us where we were standing.”  Jason felt something tickling the back of his mind while he was answering Henry.  He felt like he was missing something important.

“That’s true.”  Henry started to reach for one of the marbles.

Jason held a hand out, stopping him.  “We should probably wait until we have more data before using these.  I’m getting a strange feeling of familiarity here and I want to think about this some more first.”

Henry nodded and the two of them gathered up all their new belongings.  They kept their sports armor on and Henry kept the machete without either of them discussing it.  Jason was actually the better swordsman, but Henry was a combat vet.  Jason knew if it came to violence, Henry had seen more of it than Jason— including the consequences.  Heck, Henry saw terrible stuff every other week with his EMT job.

Henry began walking and Jason followed while using his polypropylene sword as a walking stick.  Jason asked, “Why are we going this direction?”

Henry pointed at the map in his hand.  “We need to get to high ground so I can hopefully figure out where the fuck we are.  There’s a mark on this map that might be our location, but I wanna double check.  At least there are lots of landmarks around here.”

Jason nodded and kept his silence.  They walked for a while longer when Henry suddenly said, “I’m sorry I probably almost got us both fried back there.  I’m still surprised you’re keeping it together so well, too.  I mean, I know I’m a weirdo, and because of what I do for a living not much phases me anymore… but what about you?  To be clear, I’m definitely not complaining.”

Jason chuckled grimly.  “We’ve known each other a long time, man.  Don’t you remember how I had to take my mom to the women’s shelter when I was 15?  I grew up with an abusive, alcoholic stepfather.  Dealing with some floating bully with bad fashion isn’t going to impress me much these days.  Sure, the fact that he’s flying is new but the attitude isn’t anything I haven’t encountered before and I’m a grown man now.  My freak out meter is either set really, really high or it’s completely broken now.”

Henry nodded and grunted.  Jason wasn’t sure what it meant.  He hadn’t mastered the grunt language that Henry defaulted to sometimes.

As they trudged along, Jason wondered why he brought up his stepfather.  He usually didn’t talk much about things from that portion of his past.  His nerves must be truly frayed to casually discuss the worst chapter of his life.

Both men kept walking until they reached the top of a large hill.  The sun was beginning to set, and after Henry was sure they were oriented correctly using landmarks on the map, they realized the sun was actually setting to the east.  That was going to take some getting used to.  Jason was about to tell Henry they should think about making a camp or something when both men saw the goblins in the distance.

 

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