A Wish for Hope

Chapter Twenty-Six
(Esgalia)

After the portal closed, I knelt and prayed, “Unnorry, thank you.  That was eighteen more.  Our group was nine, and that was eighteen more.  I don’t know how responsible you are, for anything, but you are the only one I know to thank.  Thank you.”

While I felt agony, I still heard a female voice in my mind command, “Ask Jelnaya about the number nine.”

“Jelnaya!” I almost screamed from the pain, but seeing her look to me I obeyed the voice.  “I was told to ask you about the number nine.”

She replied, “It was a Champion of Onathia, She-Who-Loves, who accompanied me on the mission against the Privileged.  We were joined by another champion of another goddess of love.  Onathia holds nine as a sacred number.”

“Goddess of love?”  Seeing Honored Duchess Jelnaya nod, I asked, “Do you think Unnorry is a god, goddess, of love?”

“I’m not the one that told you to ask the question, Esgalia.  I thus cannot tell you the relevance of the answer.”

“Well, how many gods in your pantheon?”

“Six.  Before you ask, Fergush holds six as a sacred number.  No, there is not a connection, at least one that is preached.”

I had to count, but then said, “There is not six of us.”

“Are you trying to find relevance?”

“I do want answers.”

She came to put a hand behind my neck, and I thought she was going to kiss me when she said, “Then I won’t get mad at you.  You keep looking for answers.  Me, I’m looking for a fight.  Whatever other subtleties might reveal themselves, my god is He-Who-Fights.”

Attempting to find out more with the information I gained, I set my mind to ask, “God, goddess, of love?”

No response came.  For once I felt hope in experiencing the intense surge of pain that came with mental thought.  What I had heard, or thought I heard, had not been found to be meaningless.  Honored Duchess Jelnaya had given me actual information that connected to my situation.  Setting myself for whatever would result, I did what I could to ask for another response.

“Can you tell me more?”

When I finally gave up on receiving another communication, I opened my eyes to see Honored Duchess Jelnaya looking at me.  I rose feeling some shame at holding the lady up, but also some pleasure that she had not abandoned me.  Feeling she deserved some information, I looked into her eyes while admitting my failure to gain further communication.

“I didn’t hear anything.”

She replied, “Well, I gave respect to those champions of love goddesses.  Any deity should be respected.  Also, however, if you were gaining information from some other source, we needed to recognize it.”

“It hurts, but I need to know.”

“Sounds like a fight.  Further, it is your fight, so I respect you for being willing to face it.  Now, let me go see if I can find my type of fight.”

She looked me over, then went through the doorway.  The two lads followed.  I saw Sir Vulge stay, and appreciated what he said as he looked me over.

“I’m not here to fight.  I know going with Princess Jelnaya could demand it, but I can stay with you.”

I replied, “I don’t mean to be trouble.”

“Maybe, but I have accepted that life does mean to give us trouble.  I have more than lived long enough to know many of the battles that will regularly face us.  Going with Princess Jelnaya, well, I am learning more.  Hang in there, Esgalia.”

Hearing combat, I moved to the door.  Sir Vulge did not stop me, but followed.  He was a large man, although I was not of a size that I felt would prevent him from moving ahead of me if he desired.  I checked my weapon, although trusting Honored Duchess Jelnaya to be dominating the fight I moved toward the sounds of combat without fear.

As I felt would happen, Sir Vulge did rush around me when I stepped into a large room where creatures more lizard-like than human attacked from walls and ceiling.  I saw Honored Duchess Jelnaya jumping around.  Nerbink appeared hurt, although he and Abreyon worked at inflicting damage to those the lady managed to get into position for them.  Sir Vulge however rushed up to prove his size and large weapon were more than capable of handling the situation.  As a couple of large forms fell from the ceiling, I saw him speak to Abreyon.

He turned to Nerbink, then had the lad move near me where they rested against a wall.  Abreyon asked me to help him as he opened a pack.  He then told Nerbink to wait as he yelled out something to those still fighting.

“I can’t read this!”

Sir Vulge came over saying, “It is a standard medkit.  Who reads what they wrote?”

He told Abreyon to get back to helping the honored duchess, then spoke to me and Nerbink as if to assure we knew how to use the packet.  I had to agree that the contents were not that hard to figure out.  He applied an ointment to the cuts, then worked bandages in a manner I found normal.  As Nerbink spoke of being able to move, I found the fight to come to an end.

Stepping out into a hallway, Honored Duchess Jelnaya quickly moved back as a report sounded.  She warned us men to stay put, then I saw her make quick movements through the doorway with a loud noise sounding each time.  She then tensed her body before darting from the room.  While a number of reports sounded, they quickly came to a stop.

Hearing her call us out, I followed Sir Vulge into the hallway as the lady said, “My father’s company makes better.  Of course, they have the problem of me being able to dance in front of them to inspire them to make improvements.”

The large man replied, “And the fact you will become one of the major stockholders probably drives them to keep up developments.”

“Of course, Kallotech products are however rather expensive, but even their cheaper models are better than this.”  I saw her simply push a machine against a wall as she said, “This thing is a piece of crap.  The Privileged had better sentry guns.”

“This place has technology, Princess?”

“Well, they have guns.  What that means is that we have actual people, or more human, opponents somewhere.  What we have been fighting up to now could not operate these weapons.”

Abreyon asked, “Couldn’t we have asked those fox people about who was around.”

“Not that we would have cared.”  She started down the hallway while saying, “We will find out who is here.”

Instead of heading outside, she went to a flight of stairs.  I considered it strange how she darted up to only jump to a wall.  Reports sounded, although ceased to the noise of people screaming.  I then heard more exclamations of terror or pain with only a few reports.  Abreyon acted like he wanted to rush on, but waited for Vulge to give permission before dashing up the flight of stairs.

As Honored Duchess Jelnaya had said, there were what appeared as the corpses of real people.  I did not see real blood however, but only a black syrupy fluid coming from the bodies.  Hearing Abreyon and Nerbink exclaiming positively after a report sounded had me interested in what they were doing.  I cautiously advanced, even though it did not sound like a fight.  I saw Honored Duchess Jelnaya hand a weapon to Nerbink while giving some advice.

“You have to hold it steady and prepare for a kick.”

The lad replied, “The same with a bow.”

“A really strong bow, but you feel it on your shoulder and not your arm.  Also, this one will err to the left.”

She readied another long weapon and pointed it even as Nerbink did.  I recognized a rifle.  For some reason the use of the weapon bothered me.  I wanted to speak of her sniping her opponents instead of using direct combat, but stayed silent.  She fired barely after Nerbink did, although I recognized his expression as indicating he had missed.  Jelnaya readied another round while giving some explanation of her actions.

“Fergush or Samayer protected me from range attacks while doing what I did, but I cannot depend on that grace on this world.  Also, it helps me determine things by seeing how they react.”

Nerbink aimed his weapon while commenting, “Or how they don’t react.”  His expression this time indicated that he had hit his target, then as he reloaded he said, “This would highly improve my efficiency in hunting.”

Honored Duchess Jelnaya asked, “Been going without meat?” before firing another round.

“Just not something I enjoy spending my time doing.”

“That’s one.”  She fired, then said, “That’s two for me.  I enjoy hunting, and have recent experience only needing sticks and rocks to be deadly against normal animals.”

“I have no desire to claim Fergush.”

Again I saw him grimace, and Jelnaya fired before saying, “Three.  I will demand honesty from my advisors along with an acceptance that Fergush will get some promotion in the realm of his wife.”

“I will have fond memories of these moments.  Two.”

They both studied the town without aiming.  I stepped up to see a modern community.  Being only three stories, we were not in the tallest building.  I however saw numerous windows of clear panes of glass with the rooms beyond lit by what I could tell were electric lights.  Not seeing them aiming, I wanted to ask a question, but Abreyon asked it first.

“What are you looking for?”

Nerbink replied, “Others.”  He looked to the lady to say, “I don’t see anyone running, Honored Duchess.”

She said, “On a world of the Privileged, there was a city like this.  In a community nearby one of my companions found a strange device.  I felt it could be responsible for changing people, but it was not fully functional.  I suspect we could find such a device here.”  She then patted Nerbink before saying, “But you are correct.  They are not running – above ground.  I hate to say this, but it is going to be back in the sewers for us.”

What the lads learn is that Jelnaya saw more.