Chapter 11:


To Know You

Stendle and Riolet looked at Maya in disbelief. “You want us to serve you? A mortal?”Bookmark here

“Determination and stubbornness are admirable qualities, even if you both stretched them to the extremes. I need powerful members who will defend the cult and fight for the future I dream of. I can’t think of anyone better qualified to do that than you two.”Bookmark here

As crazy as it had sounded at the time, now Shane understood why Maya said she would be willing to have lesser gods underneath her. While she may ultimately become the ruler over everything, not all the gods were evil or neglectful. Might as well make use of the ones she thought were worthwhile in enforcing her vision of the future. It also involved much less bloodshed, something Shane was relieved about, even if he was willing to fight for his future now. Bookmark here

Besides, Maya’s mortality was actually a key part of the prophecy. She was supposed to slay the gods as a mortal, and truthfully, really had no other choice but to remain mortal. The gods couldn’t kill each other, and if Maya obtained divinity now it would be useless to her mission. This way, at least she was still accumulating power while pursuing other gods.Bookmark here

“Why not,” Shane said. “We live on the lands where your people fell long ago. If you come with us, you'll at least be able to retain a connection to that place and to the lost lives of your people.”Bookmark here

“I think you should as well,” Gariel said. “Go see what the world has become since you two started fighting. I think you will find quite a different place in respects. Go re-experience the world through new eyes.”Bookmark here

“Gariel…” Riolet trailed off.Bookmark here

“We’re sorry for ignoring you all this time, truly. If you say that we should go, I think we owe it to you to try do that,” Stendle said, accepting Maya’s outstretched hand and squeezing it. “Thank you for having me.”Bookmark here

Riolet placed her hand on top of theirs. “Me too! Thank you for giving us a new start with Bai Hu!”Bookmark here

Maya laughed, lifting them both to their feet fast enough that they stumbled over themselves. “Happy to have you! I needed new members as it happens.”Bookmark here

Shane nodded at both of them. “Before that, don’t you think we should properly introduce ourselves? I don’t remember even giving them my name.”Bookmark here

Maya gasped. “Yikes! Sorry! My name is Maya, leader of Bai Hu and future goddess.”Bookmark here

“I’m Shane Inoue. Her second-in-command and apparently a dragon. Not that I’m still totally convinced.”Bookmark here

“Based on the fire you were shooting off, you really should be,” Riolet mumbled. Bookmark here

Shane scratched the back of his head, feeling sheepish. “Did you manage to heal the burn? If not, we have some supplies back at the cabin to treat it with.”Bookmark here

Stendle groaned and stumbled. “Do you have anything for severe electric shock? Lady Maya dealt me so much damage I’m afraid my hair may stay like this permanently.”Bookmark here

“Don’t worry,” Maya reassured him. “I shocked Shane’s papa more times than I can count, and his hair went back just fine!”Bookmark here

“Thank goodness he had magic resistance, or you would have killed him ten times over.”Bookmark here

Rather than feeling comforted by this new information, Stendle seemed rather disturbed. “Maybe we should hurry," he said, voice strangled like vines around a pipe.Bookmark here

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Once they got back to the cabin, Brine berated them for not waking him up sooner so he could watch the fight. “I was the one who told you about them first, so I should have been there to witness you destroy them!” he complained as he began applying potions to Stendle and Riolet’s wounds. Bookmark here

Stendle grimaced. “They didn’t destroy us, y’know. We’re right here.”Bookmark here

“That’s right,” Shane said, as he examined Maya for any injuries. He refused to take any chances when it came to her health. “We just beat them into the ground.”Bookmark here

“Literally!” Maya chimed in, checking Shane over as well. She wasn’t the type to sit back and let him fuss over her while not returning the favor.Bookmark here

Shane brushed Maya’s hair over her shoulder. “I think you’re alright,” Shane said.Bookmark here

She reached up as best she could to smooth out his hair. “I think you’re fine too. In more ways than one,” she said, giving him a wink.Bookmark here

Shane blushed despite himself and looked away only to see Stendle and Riolet grinning at them. “I think I smell an opportunity for revenge. What do you think, Stendle?”Bookmark here

“Oh, I agree. Shane’s blushing will never go with being commented on. I will make sure of it with all of my stubborn will.”Bookmark here

“I change my mind, Maya. We shouldn’t let them join. If we do, the only one who doesn’t tease me will be Reka. Maybe Letitia. I’m not sure I can survive two more.”Bookmark here

“You’re being over-dramatic,” Maya said. “If things get out of hand, I’ll protect you, alright? And I’ll kiss it better," she said, as she kissed him on the cheek.Bookmark here

Maya kissing him better? That didn’t sound bad at all. Maybe things wouldn’t turn out so bad for him after all.Bookmark here

“I’m surprised you two can talk about teasing others,” Gariel said, her arms folding as she used healing magic to recover some of Stendle and Riolet’s worse wounds. “I think it’s more embarrassing that you two have been fighting for the majority of your relationship.”Bookmark here

At her words, both Riolet and Stendle’s cheeks turned red. “W-Well, this and that are completely different!” Riolet said.Bookmark here

Brine put the cork back on one of the empty potion bottles. “All done! You should be good as new.”Bookmark here

“Thank you,” Stendle said. “We’re grateful.”Bookmark here

“If you really mean that, make sure I’m there the next time you fight,” Brine said. “I’d like to make some new traps, and I need some inspiration.”Bookmark here

“In that case, why don’t you come with us?” Shane asked suddenly.Bookmark here

Brine looked at him in surprise, his unhinging in a way that was simply unnatural. “Really? That’s great! I accept!”Bookmark here

“That’s unexpected of you,” Maya said. “You’ve been so cautious up until now.”Bookmark here

“Just like you, I have my reasons.”Bookmark here

Not only was Brine familiar with Lumiere, but also had the ability to develop traps as advanced and powerful as the one in the Cavity Combs. It was a talent Shane wasn't willing to let slip into obscurity in these woods. He had experienced it firsthand, after all. Bookmark here

“It’s been so long since I’ve been able to check on my children,” Brine said, his voice a low rumble. “Ever since I escaped ten years ago, I haven’t seen them even once.”Bookmark here

That was another reason Shane had for bringing him. Brine also had a vested interest in seeing Sasha’s downfall at Maya’s hands. It would allow him to reunite with his family and live a life with them. He was the perfect person to recruit for this mission.Bookmark here

“Do you object to making him a member?” Shane asked Maya.Bookmark here

Maya waved her hand at him lazily. “Do what you want. I trust you when it comes to evaluating people accurately. Besides, I’d love to have him come along!”Bookmark here

Shane smiled. “Then it’s decided,” he patted Brine on the head, who startled under his touch. “I look forward to helping you develop those traps, Brine.”Bookmark here

Brine grinned up at him. “Having a willing test subject is the best I could ever ask for!”

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They decided to rest at the cabin before setting off the next morning. All in all, while it had been an annoying delay in their mission, and he was concerned about Reka and Garrette, it ultimately worked out in their favor. He was able to come to an understanding about what he wanted from Maya in their relationship, witnessed her come to a more concrete plan for how she would deal with the gods that didn’t involve total annihilation, and they recruited new members to Bai Hu. Bookmark here

At the very least, Shane was happy that his suffering during that ride hadn’t been in vain. That didn’t mean, however, that he would subject himself to it again. “You go on ahead and ride with Maya, Brine.” He said, picking Brine up and putting him in the saddle before he could say a word of resistance. “But make sure to hold on tight,” he warned.Bookmark here

“Yay! I’ve always wanted to ride a horse, but they always get nervous when they see me approaching. This one is different, hehe.” Brine said as he patted the horse, who whinnied almost as if in agreement. Bookmark here

Shane winced in sympathy but felt no guilt that Brine’s first ride on a horse may be wilder than he was expecting. Bookmark here

“So, you’re expecting us to go on foot, then?” Riolet asked, her big axe that was roughly half her size in her hands. Stendle was the same, his long, terribly heavy looking scythe in his hands as they prepared to leave. Bookmark here

“I can put those away in the dimensional bags to make the journey easier on you if you want. You guys can also fly if you prefer.”Bookmark here

“There’s no sense in getting there with our magic depleted so much just from the strain of flying over such a long distance,” Stendle answered. He spun his scythe around experimentally. “As for our weapons, it would make us feel more comfortable if we had them on our person. They’ve basically become an extension of our bodies since we’ve been fighting with them for so long.”Bookmark here

“Instead of worrying about us, maybe you should see if you can do something about that armor, Shane. You’d travel much faster without it.”Bookmark here

“We can be attacked at any time. I might as well protect this mortal body of mine when I can. Besides, I’d get there too fast if I took it off. I should be able to keep pace with you both pretty well in this armor.”Bookmark here

Riolet sighed. “One of these days, I’m going to take you to the dragons to confirm that you’re their kin. Then you’ll see just how spectacular your power is.”Bookmark here

Meeting the dragons. Shane hadn’t even considered doing that. He was adopted by his father in the village and even after discovering that fact, hadn’t felt the urge to find his “real” family. Seeing the dragons now though felt like a different situation altogether. If he truly wanted to master himself, he had to learn about his origins. Bookmark here

No matter what happened in the future, it wouldn’t change that his father was his father. The dragons, or his biological kin, were not a threat to that.Bookmark here

“After we take down Sasha,” Shane said. Bookmark here

“That sounds like a plan,” she said, getting in a running stance. “Is everyone ready?”Bookmark here

Stendle nodded, and the horse whinnied as it kicked its feet into the air, causing Brine to let out a terrifying screech in delight. Maya already had her magic at the ready, preparing to give the horse a good dose of speed magic. She grinned and gave Shane a thumbs up. Shane turned to Gariel, who was watching them form the cusp of the forest. “Thank you for everything, Gariel.”Bookmark here

She shook her head. “I haven’t done anything for you yet. When the day comes that you need my help, just say the word.” Bookmark here

“I will.”Bookmark here

“To the end of the gods!” Shane cried, and then they were off. Bookmark here

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The horse, as he expected, was the fastest one between them, with Shane, Stendle, and Riolet running just behind it. Despite what they said about avoiding expending magic by flying, they ran sprints on the ground and then flew in the air to take breaks in order to keep up with their breakneck pace.Bookmark here

Brine, despite Shane’s concerns, was actually having a great time riding the horse, giggling near deliriously at the speed as he held onto Maya for dear life.Bookmark here

As for Shane himself, he was mildly annoyed by the heaviness of the armor, but otherwise was keeping pace perfectly fine. His breathing was steady, even if little drops of perspiration were dripping from down his face and turning into little flames. Bookmark here

While they had truly gotten lost when they stumbled on the forest, Lumiere would be much easier to get to. More like, it was extremely hard to miss, something Shane found as a great relief when he had left the map back with Reka, Garrette, and Letitia. Bookmark here

Still, they were quite far off from even reaching one of Lumiere’s borders. By the time Shane could make it out in the distance, its wide dome peaking over the hills, they decided to settle down for the night. The horse and their energy were all but depleted and their stomachs were rumbling quite loudly for food (or at least Shane’s, which growled so loudly everyone thought it was a spindle wolf, it’s spikes and spines ready to shoot at them).Bookmark here

They all worked as quickly as they could to set up camp. While Maya went out hunting with Riolet and Brine, Stendle and Shane tossed supplies back and forth like hot potatoes, setting down supplies and unpacking as quickly as they could. Bookmark here

As Shane began setting up the cooking pot, he tried to make conversation with Stendle. Everything happened so fast yesterday, and he hadn’t gotten a chance to get to know him at all. At least with Riolet he had gotten a sense of what she was like after fighting her. “I didn’t expect a god to be able to set up a tent.”Bookmark here

Stendle laughed as he hammered down another peg of the tent. “Well, I wasn’t always a god.”Bookmark here

“What do you mean?” Shane asked as he pulled out the cooking pot. He ignored the dirt getting underneath his nails as he dug, wondering if becoming a god was much the same; get your hands dirty in some way and you create a space for yourself among the gods somehow.Bookmark here

“Do you know how gods are born?”Bookmark here

“No.”Bookmark here

“While there are primary gods that have practically always existed, I died as a human and was reborn.”Bookmark here

“So, you were human once?”Bookmark here

“Yup,” he said. “Minor gods like Riolet and I, are born because we embodied certain traits at a level worthy of being called divine.”Bookmark here

He waved his hammer around. “In my case, before I died, I stubbornly refused to set up a tent for my master and was killed.”Bookmark here

Shane quickly felt the blood drain from his face, pausing just as he was going to hang the pot. “Beg pardon?”Bookmark here

“I’m not mad about it anymore if you’re curious,” Stendle said, without missing a beat. “It was so long ago, and in exchange for that moment of stubborn will I became a god and got to live far longer than any human mortal ever would. I even went by to thank after I was reborn and harvested all of his crops for him so I could celebrate with the nightwalkers.”Bookmark here

Somehow, that doesn’t sound like much of a thank you.Bookmark here

“I’m glad you’re not mad about it anymore but…you didn’t have to be the one to do the tents…”Bookmark here

“Oh,” he said. It seemed Stendle hadn’t thought about it much either. Shane didn’t know if he would call him laid-back or just flat out oblivious. Bookmark here

Just before Stendle could fully process the gravity of this particular revelation, the girls returned from their hunt. “I’ve got meat!”Bookmark here

“Great,” Shane said, before noticing someone was missing. “Where’s Brine?”Bookmark here

“Brine is going to stay at the waterfall deeper in the forest for the night. He doesn’t really sleep on land, and he said he should be able to eat whatever is in the water so he’s all good.”Bookmark here

Shane nodded. “I forgot to ask, but did you guys also gather some firewood?”Bookmark here

“We did!” Maya said brightly. “It’s amazing how much easier it is to get wood when you have someone with an axe with you,” she boasted as she slammed the giant deer on the rickety wooden table they had pulled out from the dimensional bags.Bookmark here

Riolet looked slightly embarrassed at the praise, her countenance bashful. It was a new look on her, one that he wouldn’t have expected based on how she was during their fight and the subsequent aftermath.Bookmark here

“Thank you, Riolet,” he said with a smile. He was just trying to encourage her, but it seemed it didn’t work as she hunched in on herself, her face even redder than before.Bookmark here

“Ah, don’t mind her!” Stendle said as he took the firewood from her and put it in the pit Shane had created. “She gets shy when she’s complimented. I would know, it was the only time I was ever able to get the slip on her in our fight. It’s a shame she’s immune to my compliments by now.” Shane blew some fire on the wood and it lit up instantly, the flame maintaining its clear blue quality so different from regular fire. Bookmark here

“Alright then. If it bothers you, I won’t compliment you ever again,” Shane said, wisps of fire still on his tongue.Bookmark here

“That’s harsh, Shane! Can’t you put it in a little bit of a nicer way?” Maya said as she cut up the meat to be cooked.Bookmark here

“Seriously, man. She’s just a little shy. Doesn’t mean she doesn’t like it.”Bookmark here

“Are you really fine with it?” Shane asked, tilting his head as he addressed Riolet. Bookmark here

She clenched her axe and shook her head. “I-I’ve just lost my immunity to it since I’ve only heard it from Stendle up until now. It-It’s fine. It’ll just take some getting used to.”Bookmark here

“If you say so,” Shane said, shrugging. Bookmark here

Maya brought over some finely chopped chunks of raw meat and Riolet used a minor water spell to create some water to put in the pot. Maya threw in the ingredients and shook her hands. “My hands are all gross with blood now. Can you use that spell to help me clean them again Riolet?”

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“Sure,” she said, creating a stream of water that Maya was able to rinse her hands under.Bookmark here

Shane got up with a groan. “I’m gonna try to take this armor off. You guys keep watch. We should be expecting Reka and Garrette in about 15 minutes.”Bookmark here

Maya whipped around. “What? How do you know that?”Bookmark here

He tapped his foot on the ground. “I can sense them. They were traveling slower than we were, so it makes sense they wouldn’t have made it all the way there quite yet. It was another reason I wanted to stop and spend the night here.”Bookmark here

“How far do your sensing capabilities go?” Riolet asked, staring down at his feet in interest.Bookmark here

“I could sense them while we were in the forest so…pretty far.”Bookmark here

Riolet looked at him in disbelief “And to think you were worried about the map…”Bookmark here

“Well, I can only sense vague living presences at long distances. It can get pretty confusing, sorting life from life because it all starts to blend together like a blanket. I can detect Reka, Garrette, and Letitia because I’m more familiar with their energies.”Bookmark here

He opened the flap of the tent. “If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to try to get comfortable.”Bookmark here

Shane closed the tent behind him and groaned. He felt like the armor had been progressively tightening around him the longer they ran today, and he couldn’t figure out why. He felt like he was a hairsbreadth away from having his ribs cracking underneath the pressure.Bookmark here

He immediately tried to take it off, but it still wouldn’t budge, and all he could do was hope that Reka got here soon so he could help him. If he had worked at Winslet Armory, hopefully he knew what mechanism he could use to get the armor off of him. Bookmark here

Just like Shane estimated, they arrived about 15 minutes later. Unfortunately, he didn’t have it in him to greet them, beyond an urgent, “Reka! Come quick, I need your help!”Bookmark here

There was a whirlwind of voices from outside the tent before they all came piling in, talking over each other, and then falling on top of each other like overeager newborn puppies trying to get to their mother.Bookmark here

“Shane! What’s wrong?” Maya said, popping her head out from underneath Riolet’s armpit.
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“Is it the armor?” Reka asked, forgoing greetings and tiptoeing around the mess of limbs in the middle of the tent with Garrette so that they could attend to Shane, who was practically a crumpled piece of paper on the floor by this point. Bookmark here

“Yes,” he said, his breaths coming in heavy strokes as he tried to breathe with the armor practically suffocating him.Bookmark here

Reka produced a small knife and sliced it across the palm of his hand without hesitation. He placed it over one of the glowing parts of his armor and waited. “Please work, please work,” he pleaded.Bookmark here

A few, terrifyingly silent moments passed as they all waited to see if it would work. Shane felt the armor loosen around him and took a big, gasping breath of air. Bookmark here

They all let out a sigh of relief, looking as him as if he had narrowly avoided death. Which, to be fair, he quite literally had. “Help me take his armor off Garrette,” Reka directed, his voice strong compared to how small it was when they first met. Bookmark here

Garrette tried to get the armor off of him, before quickly realizing how heavy it was. “Whew! It’s a good thing I didn’t run off without tying up the horses first! What’s the problem?” Letitia asked, becoming the final person to enter the tent. She didn’t seem to pay the chaos of the scene any mind as she wiped the sweat off her brow.Bookmark here

“I’m having trouble getting this armor off of him,” Garrette said. “Do you think you could try?”Bookmark here

She grinned. “I didn’t start training my strength enhancing magic for nothing!” She pushed Garrette and Reka to the side as he made a second attempt to get his armor. With the help of her enhancement magic, she was able to successfully pull it off of him, finally setting Shane free from the constricting nightmare that was the living armor. Bookmark here

Shane rolled over until he was on his back, sweating profusely and still breathing heavily. “Thanks, Letitia,” he croaked. Bookmark here

 “No problem! Now, what should I do with this stuff?”Bookmark here

“Take it outside. It should be satisfied enough with the blood I gave it for now, so it won’t reattach to him overnight.”Bookmark here

“P-Praise Maya,” Shane said.Bookmark here

“Hey, you already had a close call with the horse and the armor, and you survived both of those. What’s one more incident?” Garrette asked casually, as if he hadn’t personally just witnessed Shane almost die.Bookmark here

“A major inconvenience.”Bookmark here

“And something that for the sake of preserving his life, should be avoided at all costs,” Maya added, having finally untangled herself from the pile of limbs. She put Shane’s head on her lap and put a hand over his forehead. Shane sighed at the coolness of her hand. Bookmark here

“Why didn’t you say anything?” Maya whispered. “Why don’t you ever say anything?”Bookmark here

Shane was too exhausted to give her a proper response. At least, this was the easiest excuse to avoid thinking about the answers to her questions, and Shane thought he deserved to make an excuse considering the circumstances.Bookmark here

“Someone check the soup,” he said instead, and Riolet and Stendle immediately rushed out to make sure they hadn't burned their game. Shane looked up into Maya’s beautiful glowing eyes. “Let’s eat.”Bookmark here

She bit her lip, as if to hold back from saying something but eventually agreed.Bookmark here

Garrette and Maya helped him sit up, as Stendle brought in a bowl of stew for him. “We were just able to save it.”Bookmark here

Shane was shaking imperceptibly as he tried to raise the spoon to his mouth, but ultimately managed to get in. He sighed in relief, the stew re-energizing him and pooling in his stomach pleasantly. Bookmark here

Seeing that he was doing alright, Garrette got up to leave and eat with the others. Maya was still hovering over him, concerned about his well-being, and while he was touched, he wanted her to go sit with the other members. “You should eat with them,” he said after slurping another spoonful. “You’re the leader of Bai Hu, so you need to make sure that the new and old members are getting along alright. As their leader you need to be present.”Bookmark here

“But I can’t just leave you after what happened.”Bookmark here

“Don’t worry, Lady Maya. I’ll look after him.”Bookmark here

“Reka…”Bookmark here

He sat down with his own bowl of stew along with Shane. “There’s something I wanted to discuss with him anyways.”Bookmark here

Maya kissed Shane on the cheek. “Next time you’re about to die, call for me. Okay? Actually, even if you’re not dying, call for me. Whenever you need me, and even when you don’t. Actually, especially when—”Bookmark here

“Maya,” Shane said, voice exasperated. “My queen. Go meet with your people. I will be fine. I promise.”Bookmark here

“Okay,” Maya said, squeezing his shoulder. Finally reassured, she got up and left, leaving Shane and Reka alone.Bookmark here

Shane didn’t feel any particular need to force a conversation, more than happy to continue eating his stew as he tried to comprehend the absolute speed at which his life seemed to be moving at the moment. Had it really been less than two weeks since everything had started? It felt it had been months since arrived at the Cavity Combs and embarked on this journey.Bookmark here

He had been on the receiving end of all kinds of revelations since his arrival at Cavity Combs, from Maya’s changed person to her memory loss, and even the matter of his special heritage. Even with all that under his belt, he still felt unprepared for whatever was going to come out of Reka’s mouth after they finished eating. Bookmark here

“S-Sir Shane,” Reka started out timidly, his bowl of stew only half-eaten despite how hungry he must be. “Who gave you that armor?”Bookmark here

Shane sucked the juice from the stew off of his fingers. “No one gave it to me. I bought it as a soldier from an armory merchant. They told me it was living armor, and that’s a rarity, and a steal, so I bought it. If I had known at the time how clingy it would be I never would have bought it.”Bookmark here

Reka licked his chapped lips. “Did you buy it from Winslet Armory?”Bookmark here

“Yeah,” Shane said. “I did.”Bookmark here

Reka’s lip wobbled, and he looked like he was about to cry. “I’m so sorry, Shane. Please forgive me. I didn’t want to do it, but they didn’t give me a choice in the matter.”Bookmark here

Shane was getting more and more concerned as the words flowed from his mouth. “What are you apologizing for? You just saved my life.”Bookmark here

Reka began to sob. “Because—Because I was the one who helped develop this armor.”Bookmark here

Real Aire
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