Hi all, thank you for being so patient with me while I try to figure out publishing and get ready to start releasing book 2.
I will be releasing the first chapter of book 2 to Patreon either tonight or tomorrow.
Also, Please take a look at all the ways you can help out Delvers LLC -> here. <- Also, please don’t forget to vote on TWF using the book button at the bottom of this chapter!
It was just another day on Ludus, another afternoon in Bittertown, a port city in Berber. In most of the city, people walked to and fro, busy with their lives, just trying to survive or rise above their fellows if survival was no longer a concern. In most of the city, different races of people focused on trade and business, their bustling, paperwork, or shouting feeding the city.
But in other, older districts falling to disrepair, people with no hope and little decency made themselves a home of sorts. This sort of place on Ludus would be one of the very worst locations for a transplant, a newcomer from somewhere else to find themselves.
Cailie woke up on the ground, the hard flagstones digging into her back. She blinked rapidly and tried making sense of her surroundings, slowly getting to her feet. She remembered falling asleep in her dorm after putting away her kendo equipment. She was still wearing the hakama she fell asleep in, too exhausted from training to properly get ready for bed.
Cailie grew up in a poor family in Manitoba, Canada but she got into college on a fencing scholarship in Alberta. Over the last year, she made a lot of friends and got involved in kendo too. She loved it. It seemed during the past few months she only had time for classes, homework, fencing, and kendo. She enjoyed every moment of it.
And now she was in an unfamiliar alley a few feet from a pile of refuse. She was pretty sure she just saw a rat too.
She shivered, the action having nothing to do with the weather which actually felt fairly comfortable. What in the world is going on? She glanced down and noticed her shinai lying on the ground, the bamboo kendo sword had a worn grip from all her training. Next to the shinai sat a cast iron skillet and a plain wooden box with a handwritten note,
–Calie Adams, read this–
With trembling hands, Cailie opened the box and removed two folded pieces of parchment lying atop a metal ball.
The first note read:
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!
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).
Cailie glanced down again. The skillet still had a price tag on it from a thrift shop. It looked like the shinai and the skillet were all the “special gear” she was going to get. She swallowed and read the second note:
Your device will confer either great endurance or cognition 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 your device and think of either endurance or cognition all day and again right before you fall asleep.
Great God Dolos is merciful and powerful!
Someone had to be playing a prank on her. What’s more, the fact she didn’t wake up until now meant she had probably been drugged. Cailie got a chill. Who could have done this, who would drug her? Who even had the opportunity? She knew that Jackie downstairs in the dorm didn’t like her, but she didn’t know anyone who would hate her enough to pull a prank like this. Cailie was scared.
She gathered up her shinai and grabbed the box too as an afterthought. While she bent over, she saw her reflection in a puddle. Her eyes were wild, her complexion pale. She knew some people found her attractive, thinking her Taiwanese ancestry on her mother’s side and her Czech blood on her dad’s made her look exotic. Cailie couldn’t see it, especially now that she was terrified and just woke up on the ground in an alley.
She brushed the gravel out of her hair in fear and frustration, angrily wiping the tears from her eyes. None of that. She had to keep her head and figure out what the heck was going on.
Cailie left the alley, searching for some clue to where she was or hoping to find someone that could help her. She spotted a group of three girls dressed strangely and holding baseball bats at the street corner. They were probably softball players or something.
Cailie glanced around while she headed towards the girls and thought the buildings looked weird. Could she be in a Renaissance Fair? When she got closer, she yelled, “Could you tell me where I am? This is kind of embarrassing.”
The panic Cailie started feeling in the alleyway began subsiding as she got closer to the other girls. They all looked about her age, a little rough around the edges but Cailie tried not to be judgmental. Their clothing was a little strange, but on closer inspection it looked like leather. Maybe they were biker chicks?
The women glared at the shenai suspiciously and Cailie had a brief flash of panic. That’s right, most people didn’t know what a shenai was and it looked a lot like a weapon! She didn’t want to scare these girls away or make them think she was weird. She hurriedly placed the training weapon on the ground and nervously held the box from “Dolos” in both hands.
“Can you tell me how to get back to the university dorms? I can’t be too far, right? I have no idea what’s going on.”
The women eyed her. Cailie was nervous, it looked like she was in a rough part of town, even though the buildings seemed intentionally made to look rustic. The whole area had an amusement park look. Still, Cailie had to admit she was much more comfortable approaching a group of strange women than men in this situation. She was thankful for that at least.
Now that she was close to the group, she realized that what she’d mistaken for baseball bats before didn’t have quite the right shape. They were similar, but smaller and had thin bands of orange metal around the ends. I wonder if these girls are cricket players or something?
This was the last thought of Cailie’s life. With no warning at all, one of the women lashed out with her club, smashing Cailie in the temple with a sickening crunch.
Arren glanced down at the girl on the ground and scoffed. She’d just tried knocking the stupid bitch unconscious but it looked like she broke the normie’s skull instead. Now the girl was thrashing around on the ground and obviously dying.
“Arren, you stupid asshole. She was pretty. We could have sold her. Why did you hit her so hard?” Gaanal was angry. Arren really couldn’t blame her friend for being upset. She really hadn’t meant to kill the strange normie, at least not right away. She still wasn’t used to how much harder her club hit with the strips of copper added to it.
She hurriedly tried to justify her actions, “She was irritating me. That language sounded stupid and she was too clean. She should have known better than to talk to us. Plus I wanted to see her club.” She bent down and examined the shinai on the ground, quickly determining it wasn’t a very good weapon. She growled under her breath. She better not have pissed off her friend for nothing. The quickly stilling dead girl had to have something of value on her.
She also pried the box from the dying girl’s hands. “What’s this?” She lifted the lid and as soon as she moved the papers on top, uncovering the sphere below, she knew she was dead. She hadn’t been careful enough to hide what was inside.
The Dolos orb reflected the waning light of the day. Arren thought it was beautiful. As the club crashed down on top of her head, she knew without a doubt it was probably Yvadne who was killing her. Gaanal yelled a lot but she wasn’t decisive, she’d never challenged Arren’s authority either. She would probably follow whoever lead the Jackal Gang. On the other hand, Yvadne had been undermining Arren’s authority for a while now. The appearance of the Dolos orb was probably a great excuse to do away with her rival.
Arren fell to the flagstones, her eyes meeting the open, unseeing eyes of the dead normie. She really had been pretty. She wondered what the other girl was thinking, wandering up to a group of the Jackal Gang. Ah, that’s right, the normie had a Dolos orb. The other girl was probably from a different world and didn’t known any better. Sucked to be her. Arren suddenly remembers her mother, of how she tried to teach Arren to be kind. I’m sorry mamma. I just wanted to be something better…
Several more savage blows landed on Arren’s body and she was still.
Yvadne flicked the blood off her club. What’s next? Ah, right, time to put the fear of Ending in Ganaal. However, as she turned she felt a sudden sting in her back. The sting was fast and it didn’t stop. The pain spiked and suddenly she couldn’t breathe. She actually felt the moment her heart was destroyed. Ganaal? You’ve got to be kidding me…
Yvadne fell next to the body of the woman she just murdered, the stab wound in her back gushing blood onto the lonely Bittertown street.
Gaanal gazed at the bodies on the street with mixed emotions. Arren was a stupid bitch but she’d been her friend. Yvadne was a parasite and deserved what she got. What a mess. The Jackals would definitely be after her now. She’d bet money someone else saw the Dolos orb too. The streets had eyes.
She needed to disappear, maybe even move to a new country. Luckily she knew someone she could fence the orb with. She probably wouldn’t even get half of what it was worth, not enough to be rich, but it would be enough to start a new life.
Gaanal never even considered using the orb for herself. No thanks. After the message Dolos put in everyone’s head and how everyone could spot an Orbie or a Hero, using and orb would be a death sentence. She’d be at first rank, no real skills, no backup… and there might even be questions about where she got her orb in the first place. No, she would sell it. Using it for herself would be asking for death.
Once she had money, maybe she could even get married, settle down and live a respectable life. She had no hope of that before. At her age, with no real family connections, no acquaintances with real jobs, marrying would basically require being a man’s first wife because there was no way any woman trying to put a family together would accept a girl like Gaanal to join her household. Problem was, she didn’t know any single men.
But she didn’t really want to get married. She didn’t love the company of men like Arren did, nor was she only interested in other women like Yvadne. Gaanal wasn’t all that interested in romance at all, actually. She really just wanted a life without fearing someone would stab her in the back. She figured the first step towards that goal was finding a life where she didn’t have to stab others in the back first.
Gaanal quickly found the orb and secured it before calmly walking away. She knew she was going to fence the thing, but she wasn’t sure what to do with the money. Maybe she could buy herself some good gear and join an adventuring or mercenary company.
She whistled as she continued towards the merchants’ district, pausing only long enough to dispose of the bronze knife used to murder Yvadne. There was trick to make blood harder for mages to trace. She learned how a long time ago… her eyes grew wistful as she remembered hard lessons learned when she was only a girl trying to survive on the streets by herself.
Yeah, maybe mercenary work would be good to try out. Adventurers have a nasty habit of disappearing or going broke. Mercenary work it was.
Gaanal smiled. She would mourn her friend later. It was time to start a new life.
* * *
In a lonely, dirty alley, a little girl began bedding down for the night. She had nowhere to go, no food in her belly. It wasn’t too long ago that her parents died, but her future was looking more grim every day. It was hard enough to survive, and if things kept going as they were, it wouldn’t be long before she would have to sell her body or do back breaking manual work the rest of her life. If she could hold out long enough, she could join the military, but by that time she would probably already be dead or her body broken.
The girl sniffled, sobbing quietly to herself as she tried finding a dry patch of ground in the filthy alley. She didn’t know what to do. She knew no hero would save her. Nobody would help her. She wasn’t even pretty enough to catch the attention of one of the older street kids who could protect her.
In her darkest hour, Jilith whispered a prayer, the words echoing weirdly around the squalid alleyway in the bad part of Bittertown. “Dolos, if you can hear me, please help me. This is your world and you have no reason to listen to me, but please give me a way out of this mess. I beg you. I’ll forever be in your debt.”
The words said, Jilith lost the last of her energy and began to cry in earnest. She felt a rat run over her ankle and didn’t even move, only recoiling when one bit her. She gave a muffle yelp, shifting to try kicking the rat away, and instead her foot brushed up against something solid that scraped on the hard flagstones.
Curious despite herself, Jilith examined what her foot bumped and gasped. She recognized the object. It was a cast iron skillet, something she’d only seen before once in her life while helping her parents work in an important person’s kitchen. It was a cast iron skillet… and it wasn’t rotting. With shaking hands, she reverently picked the object up and hid it under her clothing.
Dolos heard her prayer, there was no other explanation. Blessed iron was even more rare than blessed steel, and while weapons were usually in highest demand, cooking tools had a thriving market too. Jilith was saved. She knew exactly who to take the skillet to, who could save her life. She kept crying, she couldn’t stop, and so great was her relief that she pretended she couldn’t hear the low chuckle coming from everywhere and nowhere as she left the alley.
“Oh, thank you Dolos!” she wept. “I am forever in your debt!” Jilith scrambled out of the alley, straining harder than she ever had in her life to detect other people before they saw her. She had to avoid everyone. She could not risk being caught with the skillet.
* * *
It was just another day on Ludus. Lives began, lives ended, and new people ripped from their homes could discover they were in a strange land surrounded by strange people.
Some would survive, some wouldn’t. The only thing constant on Ludus was that life was fleeting and power could change hands on a whim. There were monsters in the wilderness with tusk and claw, and monsters walking the streets with smiles and plots.
It was just another day in Bittertown.