Chapter 5:

Inhuman Strength and Clingy Armor

To Know You

When Shane and Terra left the dimension, everyone was still in the dining hall, busy doing what they were before they left. They probably hadn’t even noticed they were gone, the gap in time practically nonexistent. Shane was admittedly disoriented. The world was no longer in shades of black and white, but vibrant with color, the sauce they made for the meat a bright red as he stared at the finished plates Letitia and Garrette took back into the kitchen for washing. Bookmark here

He reached down and twisted the soft fabric of the tablecloth in his hand, relieved that he could interact with the world around him once more. Maya looked at him in concern, her attention temporarily diverted from the paralyzed Reka in her arms. “Are you okay, Shane? You look…out of it.”Bookmark here

“Mm,” was the only response he found he could give her.Bookmark here

“Do you want to lie down?” Maya asked, eyebrows furrowed as she peered up at him. “You haven’t slept at all since you arrived, have you?”Bookmark here

He shook his head slowly. “Lying down. Sounds…good.” Bearing his thoughts and inner turmoil from the past twenty-four hours without rest was suddenly terribly exhausting. Bookmark here

As Maya carried Reka away, she called over her shoulder, “Garrette! Show him a room for me, will you?”Bookmark here

He put a hand over his heart and bowed. “As you wish, Lady Maya.” He turned to Shane. “We can leave the rest to Letitia and Master Terra. They are more familiar with the kitchen than you or I.” He paused, tilting his head. “Also, you should not neglect your rest. According to the medical texts I’ve read, it can make you look quite ghastly, much like you do now.” Bookmark here

“Amazing. Let’s fix this exhausted face of mine quickly so that I don’t have to hear about it anymore. That’s exhausting too.”Bookmark here

“Yes, let’s not delay any further,” he said, either ignoring Shane’s jab or completely oblivious to it. Garrette left the hall in even strides, not concerned with whether Shane was following him or not, but dutifully guiding him all the same. They take the platform up to the highest floor of the tooth as Garrette quietly explains that this is floor where Maya and the others lived. It also gave Shane the chance ot get a proper look at the ceiling. The ceiling wasn’t smooth, the grooves of the tooth causing it to cave in unnaturally. In a normal building, it would seem as if the building was about to collapse. Garrette grabbed him on the arm and pulled him down the hall, seemingly realizing his inability to focus at the moment. “It’s right here,” he said finally, opening a door for him that led to a rather grand room. Bookmark here

Not really caring to observe it in detail, he thanked Garrette before he left and then practically flung his armor and clothes off before crawling into the bed with a desperation that reminded him of a braquean chasing a fish. With that last image lingering in his mind, he closed his eyes and slept.
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It was a little bit after lunch by the time he woke up, still feeling just as dazed as when he laid down. He reached up to try to comb through the knots that were in his hair. He got them despite how little he moved in his sleep. Maya always claimed it was the work of spirits who liked to play with his hair. He groaned as he rolled out of bed and landed on the floor with a flop. The cool floor felt nice against his skin. Maybe it was due to his fire, but Shane always tended to run hot, which was especially tortuous during summer. When he finally summoned the will to peel himself off the floor, he was already awake enough to remember all the events and uncertainties that had put him in such a state in the first place. He sighed. So much for oblivion.Bookmark here

Still not ready to face Maya, he decided to wander around and talk to the other members of the cult instead. It seemed like they’d be spending a lot more time together in the future, never mind that he was the second-in-command and could technically be the one giving them orders someday. Bookmark here

He gets dressed much more slowly than he stripped and goes looking for Letitia first. There was no one around to ask where she was, so he decided to use his minor magical talent of being able to use sound frequencies to locate her. He closed his eyes and concentrated for moment, letting the sensation of knowing and experiencing the world through sound flow through him. He opened his eyes. “Outside, then.”Bookmark here

He walked the halls in an unhurried manner, his feet moving forward with assurance despite the unfamiliarity of his surroundings. Down the hall, down the elevator. Honestly, it wasn’t too confusing unless he was navigating the catacombs.Bookmark here

He went outside and walked on the right side of tooth before finding her. Letitia was wearing a shorter robe than yesterday, the fabric only reaching her knees. Like her previous robe though, it had no sleeves, and he watched as her muscles bulged as she beat at a punching bag. There was sweat glistening on her brow, but she didn’t seem out of breath at all. Bookmark here

“Letitia.”Bookmark here

She stopped mid-punch and turned to him. “Shane! I thought would at least be sleeping until tomorrow. Are you sure you’re rested up?”Bookmark here

“Sort of,” he said. If he didn’t have so much to think about, he’s sure he would be fine by now. Life as a Fishing Master was so much simpler than this. “What are you doing?”Bookmark here

She grinned. “Isn’t it obvious? Working on my physicality. This is our training grounds. At least informally. There are a few dummies and punching bags here and there, but there actually weren’t that many fighters in Bai Hu, so we don’t have many supplies.”Bookmark here

“Do you mind if I join you?” Shane asked.Bookmark here

“Sure! You were kind of useless yesterday, so I’d like to see you when you’re actually good.”Bookmark here

“…you don’t pull any punches, do you?”Bookmark here

“Not in fights or in conversation!”Bookmark here

“Give me a punching bag?”Bookmark here

She dragged a punching bag stored against the side of the tooth out for him. She smacked the big twice with her hand. “Have at it!” Letitia said before stepping away.Bookmark here

Shane took a deep breath and widened his stance, both of his hands curled into fists. Then, in a ripple of motion from his shoulder to his fist, he swung a test punch at the bag.Bookmark here

It promptly exploded.Bookmark here

Letitia looked down at the destroyed bag in shock. “…Maybe I really shouldn’t tease you too much.”Bookmark here

“Sorry,” he apologized. “I tried to hold back.”Bookmark here

“You don’t even use enhancement magic, so how…”Bookmark here

“I’m just ridiculously strong. At least, that’s the explanation Maya settled on after trying to figure it out.” Bookmark here

She sighed. “Not a great answer, but okay. Why don’t we try this then,” she suggested, putting her hands up “Let’s spar.”Bookmark here

It had been a long time since Shane had been in a spar. Whenever he fought recently, it was against the sea creatures and fish he hunted, not people. “I accept. Rules?”Bookmark here

“None,” she said. “Use magic, weapons, whatever you like. Although, we don’t have a healer right now, so maybe don’t do any irreparable damage that a potion can’t fix, ‘kay? If you need time to prepare, let me know.”Bookmark here

He got in a stance. “I’m good, thanks.”Bookmark here

Letitia looked him up and down. “You don’t want to take that armor off? It looks heavy.”Bookmark here

Shane shook his head. Bookmark here

She folded her arms, not convinced. “It looks so heavy…won’t I have an unfair advantage in speed?”Bookmark here

“I could try to take it off, but it’s…complicated. You see…it’s actually living armor.”Bookmark here

“Do you not know how to undress yourself?”Bookmark here

“No,” he said with a scowl. “It’s because it’s living armor.”Bookmark here

“Living armor? I thought that was a myth.”Bookmark here

“No, it’s real. This armor is imbued with life. That’s why I can take it off sometimes, but not always. It can be clingy sometimes if we’re separated. I tried to throw it out once and I woke up with it on me again.”Bookmark here

“That’s weird.”Bookmark here

“I know,” Shane responded. Bookmark here

He had gotten the armor cheap during his army days from a young woman selling armor from the famous Winslet Armory. Shane never could have imagined that the armor he spent one hundred silver pieces for was actually living armor, some of the best protection against threats in this world. It was imbued with its own magic, but it was honestly very finicky to use. It had saved his life once or twice, and then left him for dead a couple other times after that. Not as all-powerful and reliable as legend made it out to be. Bookmark here

“Why don’t you try taking it off anyways?”Bookmark here

Shane shrugged. “Can we change the spar into something a little more interesting if I can? I move differently without it. I’ve even outrun horses before.”Bookmark here

“A…hahaha! Okay! If you take it off, we can change it up.” Bookmark here

Luckily, Shane was able to take his armor off this time, his second skin offering surprisingly little resistance when he was about to put himself in harm’s way. He picked up a dummy and put it about 500 meters from where they were standing before walking back. “Let’s see who can reach and rescue this dummy from the other first. “Bookmark here

“Ooh, that sounds fun? Does that make me the hero or the villain?” Bookmark here

“Hmm, I think it depends on who gets to it first, I think.”Bookmark here

“Do I get something if I win?”Bookmark here

Shane thought about it for a moment. Now would be a good opportunity to get more information about her. “If you win, I’ll let you call me useless again. If I win, you have to tell me why you joined Bai Hu.”Bookmark here

She raised an eyebrow at him. “That’s tame for someone who tried to poison someone this morning.”Bookmark here

He waved dismissively. “That’s in the past.”Bookmark here

“The past was this morning!”Bookmark here

He stretched his legs and hopped in place, trying to warm up. “Quit stalling and count us down.”Bookmark here

She scowled before getting in a running position. “Five, four, threetwoone go!”Bookmark here

She burst out in from of him, getting a head start thanks to a burst in her speed aided by enhancement magic. Bookmark here

Shane started just one step behind, but three steps in and he was quickly gaining on her. By the time both of them were halfway there, they were neck and neck for a split second before he blasted past her and grabbed the dummy. She groaned in frustration as she came barreling toward him at full speed and hurled a punch at him. It was too quick for him to dodge, and the impact of it rattled his bones. Despite the power behind the attack though, he still remained standing, almost unaffected by it. Unphased, he retaliated by kicking her in the stomach, the force of his kick sending her flying all the way back to the training grounds.Bookmark here

“Sorry!” he called when she didn’t get up after ten seconds. She didn’t respond, and he started to get nervous. “Was that too hard?”Bookmark here

Letitia shook as she weakly tried to raise her head. “I think you broke my ribs…praise Maya that I was using magic, or you might have killed me.”Bookmark here

He dropped the dummy in the field and returned to Letitia’s side. Bookmark here

“I’ll carry you to the medical room,” he said, looking down at her disarrayed state. Bookmark here

She didn’t argue as he picked her up as gently as possible and took her inside. “How many potions will it take to fix you, do you think?’Bookmark here

“Probably ten,” she answered, her voice feeble and weak. Bookmark here

Only after he brought her to the medical bay and helped her drink exactly the ten potions she estimated did her breathing even out. She sat up as if she hadn’t been in excruciating pain moments prior. “Phew! I thought I was gonna die for a second there.”Bookmark here

“I would not have killed you; I’m not that kind of man anymore.”Bookmark here

She scratched her head. “Maybe not intentionally, but Shane…your strength is unhuman.”Bookmark here

“So I’ve been told,” he sighed, looking down. “It doesn’t make me feel good to be honest. To be called inhuman. A monster. It makes me feel as if I’m a beast that can be killed at any time and it won’t even be murder because see? It’s not human anyways.”Bookmark here

Shane had been treated as sub-human both on the battlefield as a solider, and doubly so when they discovered his strength. It felt like many of the soldiers kept their distance form him because they saw him as inherently different, less human than they were somehow. He despised it.Bookmark here

“Sorry,” she whispered. “Next time I’ll just say you’re very, very strong.”Bookmark here

“It’s better than being called inhuman.”Bookmark here

She fidgeted. “So then, it seems like I need to tell you why a joined Bai Hu, huh?”Bookmark here

“I almost killed you. You don’t owe me anything.”Bookmark here

“No, I should tell you. You’re a member of this cult too, aren’t you? You deserve to know.”Bookmark here

“Thank you.”Bookmark here

She took a breath, and Shane gave her time to gather her thoughts. “I joined Bai Hu because of my siblings,” Letitia answered eventually, her voice mournful and soft. “They were killed by one of the gods.”Bookmark here

“The gods?”Bookmark here

Letitia nodded. “It was only a few years before Maya came here that it happened. I was so angry at the gods, at how this god could take life while the others didn’t do anything to stop it. Even someone did, more people would die in the process. I wasn’t satisfied with that. Bai Hu promised something that everyone else wouldn’t even dare dream was possible—revenge against the gods, and the power to match them.”Bookmark here

“Were you the older sibling?” Shane asked suddenly.Bookmark here

Letitia nodded. “Yes. I had three younger siblings.”Bookmark here

Shane thought she seemed like an older sibling when she was taking care of Reka, and now he knew why. He also found her story quite interesting. He suspected that anyone who joined Bai Hu would have a grudge, but after meeting and speaking with Terra and the other members, it seemed Letitia was the only one who joined with that goal in mind. At the very least, Maya didn’t seem to be motivated by revenge, but more by the greater good. Bookmark here

“Is Maya the goddess you hope will help you achieve your revenge?”Bookmark here

Letitia smiled. “I expect her to get me to a place where I can take revenge for myself.” Somehow, the answer made Shane feel better. The idea of people using Maya to fulfill their dark desires for vengeance made him feel ill.Bookmark here

“By the way,” Letitia started, changing the subject. “Did you become a Fishing Master without your fire?”Bookmark here

“Yes?”Bookmark here

“That’s insane. Just imagine how strong you’d be if you learned how to control it.”Bookmark here

“It’s a complicated type of fire magic. Maya’s father did his best when trying to teach me, but what he taught me is the extent of how I know to use it. After a point, becoming stronger wasn’t my priority .”Bookmark here

“Well, it’s time to change your priorities then. Maya is gonna be going up against literal gods soon; she’s going to need you to be strong.”Bookmark here

Shane knew what Letitia was saying was true, but he still dreaded the idea of pursuing strength. He was just between a rock and a hard place. He didn’t want to die just as much as he didn’t want shed blood again. Ultimately though, he knew Maya, and now the rest of the cult’s safety were more important.Bookmark here

Protecting wasn’t the same though as actively seeking violence against others. Shane was totally helpless to help Maya yesterday. While he could resign himself to being helpless, he could also work to get stronger so that he could protect her. Right now, he decided he was going to do his best to protect them. “Do you know anyone that knows about fire magic then?”Bookmark here

Letitia smiled at him. “I can think of one.”Bookmark here

Real Aire
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