Strange New World (A Travelers/Relic Hunters Freewrite)
Jael had no idea what to expect when they reached Westerview. He might have visited this city millennia ago, but everything had changed too much for him to recognize it. The modern architecture and technologies assured that he wouldn’t recognize anything in this city. No ancient landmarks would still be standing.
He stepped out into the street, not knowing how dangerous it could be to do so. Bane pulled him back barely in time to miss getting hit by one of those — what were they called again? Motor vehicles? Yes, that was it. He would have called them horseless chariots, but to each his own, he supposed.
He had no words to describe his feelings about this modern city. Many of the buildings were so tall. Taller than the titans in their day. Even taller than ten titans standing upon one another’s shoulders!
And the streets. No longer were all streets made of sand and dirt. These were like long, narrow strips of rock, and the motor vehicles could move fast upon them.
He glanced around, half expecting horses to come prancing along. When they didn’t, he hung his head in disappointment. He missed horses. He missed the feel of a good, strong beast beneath him, working with him toward a destination, such as into battle. Horses were beautiful. Magnificent! They were the most majestic of creatures!
But it seemed there were no horses here, and the world was poorer for it.
“Yo, Vinny, what’s up, my man?” Raven asked. He stopped to — Jael couldn’t be sure, but it looked like a secret handshake. Why would they do that out on the street? Seemed a strange place to reveal one’s secret greeting. He made a mental note to ask Khamael about it later.
A minute or so passed, and the group began moving again. He and Khamael led the way, and Bane and Raven followed. Really, Khamael was doing the leading. Jael was just along for the whirlwind tour.
He envied his brother all the years he’d lived on the surface of Illdirin. Kham had never had to carry the weight of responsibility he’d had to bear in guarding Kingsfall. Kingsfall had been the dagger known as the Legacy of Blood, said to hold immense power, thus giving its wielder the power to conquer nations. It had been his intent to guard it so no other celestial warrior would have to. He knew it would slowly twist him into something evil he could no longer recognize, but he preferred to have it change him than to let it do that to anyone else. His wife and parents had died during the War of the Gods. He’d had nothing left to live for. Granted, he’d had his brother, but his brother had no longer needed him, so it seemed he'd been the logical choice to make the sacrifice.
Khamael had fought him tooth and nail over it. He’d insisted he still needed his brother and always would.
In truth, Jael had been tired. Tired of fighting. Tired of all the reminders of what he’d lost. He’d just wanted to go away somewhere and lick his wounds. He didn’t care if the thing he guarded turned him into something akin to a demon. He’d wanted oblivion. Becoming someone else, someone cold and unfeeling, seemed the next best thing.
“Are you hungry, Jael?”
This, from Khamael, jarred him from his reverie. “What?”
“Are you hungry? I know we don’t have to eat, but I’m not sure how your experiences beneath Garzago affected you. Do you feel hunger?”
“Would you like to try something, just so you can see what it’s like? There are some great dishes out there.”
Khamael narrowed his gaze at his brother. “Are you all right? You’ve been really quiet.”
“Nothing. You wouldn’t understand. Sure, let’s try some food. I could use the distraction.”
“Are you sure?”
“I’m sure. What would you suggest?”
“I know just the place,” Raven spoke up. “There’s this restaurant over on 2nd called The Roadhouse. They’ve got the best steaks anywhere, and their potatoes are, like, two pounds each!”
“What do you say, Brother. Want to try it?” Khamael asked.
Jael shrugged. “I don’t know what a steak is, nor what a potato is, but I’m game if you’ll help me order.”
“You got it. It’s this way, through the alley.”
Raven turned into an alley to his right, and the others followed. It was dark and narrow, and only Jael feared what might be lurking in the shadows.
He breathed a sigh of relief when they came out the other end onto another broad street.
“It’s right over there,” Raven said, pointing.
They crossed the road and approached a building with bright lights flashing strange symbols Jael didn’t understand.
Suddenly, everything began to spin. So many faces. So many voices. He wasn’t used to so many people, and he felt as if they were all closing in on him.
“I — can’t—” he gasped. “I can’t — go in there—”
Khamael laid a hand on his brother’s shoulder. “It’s okay. We can do this another time. I wasn’t thinking it might be too much too soon. C’mon, guys, let’s get him back to my apartment.”
“You guys go on ahead. I’ll just hang here and grab something—” Raven began.
Bane grabbed his ear and pinched it hard, leading him away from the restaurant in an effort to catch up to his father and uncle, who were now halfway across the street.
“Ow!” Raven cried. “What the hell, Bane?”
“Tonight is for my uncle, not you. He needs all our support, so forget your bottomless pit of a stomach for five minutes and help us out.”
“Geez, all right, man. All you had to do was ask. Didn’t have to squash my ear, you know.”
“Uh huh” was all Bane said as he caught up to Jael and Khamael, Raven close behind.
“We don’t have to go back to your place just yet,” Jael said. “I just don’t want to go anywhere too crowded.”
The friends all thought about it, and Bane was the first to speak up.
“What about the park? It’s close by, and there aren’t a lot of people, but there should be a vendor or two still open. We could all get dogs.”
“Dogs?” Jael asked in shock. “You — eat dogs?”
“No,” Khamael laughed. “They’re not real dogs, and I don’t know why they call them that.”
“Actually, they’re called hot dogs,” Bane cut in. “They’re made up of ground meat and stuff, and you put them on bread and top them with other stuff. They’re really good.”
Jael gave him a sour look. “I’ll take your word for it.”
“Want to try one?” Khamael asked.
“No thanks, but if you guys want some, go ahead. I won’t stop you.”
“The park’s right up there a few dozen yards,” Bane said, pointing.
A few minutes later, they arrived at the park. Raven flagged down a vendor, and they all walked to his cart and made their orders — all but Jael, that is, who still couldn’t get the image of dogs in bread with “stuff” on top of them out of his head.
Bane turned toward his uncle, his hot dog held out so he could see.
“Uncle Jael, meet the hot dog. You’ll see there isn’t any fur, no snout, no legs or tail. It’s not made of dog at all.”
“I see it doesn’t look like a dog, but you won’t convince me it’s not made of dog. With a name like that, it has to be.”
“Lonnie, you got the ingredients list on you? What are the dogs made of?” Raven asked.
“That’s it. Just fine Grade A beef from western Ethica. Only the best for my customers,” the vendor said proudly, his chest puffed out a bit as he spoke.
“You see, Uncle Jael? They’re not made of dog. You can eat them and be secure in the knowledge that you’re not eating man’s best friend.”
“Want to try one?” Khamael asked again.
“No,” Jael said, digging in. He had a feeling they wouldn’t let up, but he wouldn’t give in that easily.
“How about one bite. Just one bite from mine. Would you do that much?”
“If I take one bite, will you leave me alone?” Jael growled.
“I promise, if you don’t like it, I’ll leave you alone. I’ll never ask again.”
Jael looked around at the expectant faces of Khamael, Bane, and Raven. He would dearly love to refuse, but they all looked so hopeful, how could he?
He let out a breath. “Fine. I’ll try one bite of yours. If I don’t like it, that’s the end of it. Clear?”
“Absolutely clear,” Khamael nodded. He held out his hot dog and showed Jael how to hold it, then he left him to it.
Jael pinched the end of his nose, hoping that not smelling it would also mean he couldn’t taste it, but Khamael put a hand over his and laughed. “That’s not going to help, Brother. Just take a bite. I think you’ll like it.”
Jael shrugged, closed his eyes tight, and took a small bite. He handed it back as he began to chew. The flavor was a little sharp at first, but as he chewed, the flavors of the meat, the bread, and the toppings began to meld together. The whole was rather pleasing. Surprising for something named after a dog.
“Like it?” Khamael asked.
Jael opened his eyes. Embarrassed to admit it, he nevertheless nodded and swallowed.
“Want your own?”
“Please. And some water?”
“I’ve got something better,” Raven said, and he pulled out a bottle of whiskey from inside his jacket.
“You’ve had that with you this whole time?” Bane asked in surprise.
“Yup, I was hoping we’d have need of it, and sure enough, we do.”
“What is it?” Jael asked, curious.
“It’s called whiskey. It’s an alcoholic beverage.”
“A bit different, but yeah. Something like that.”
“You know I won’t get the effects you do, right?”
“Of course, but it still tastes the same. You’ll like this even better than Kham’s hot dog.”
“Which reminds me,” Khamael said, and he turned back toward the vendor and ordered another hot dog for Jael.
Once Jael had his hot dog, they moved on and found a place near the fountain to sit and eat and share Raven’s whiskey, which they passed around and drank from the bottle. Raven had been right. Jael liked whiskey. He liked it a lot. He loved the fiery feeling as it went down. He decided that he would have to talk to Khamael about buying several bottles to have on hand. He had a feeling this would be his drink of choice from now on.
And hot dogs. Kham would have to get lots of them, too. He was sure this was the beginning of a serious love affair with the strange food.
Before they returned home, he’d made Khamael buy him three more hot dogs, and Raven had had to run to the liquor store down the street for two more bottles of whiskey.
“Don’t get used to it, Brother,” Khamael said. “Whiskey’s expensive. You can’t drink it like water and expect your wallet to remain full.”
“Where you keep your money,” Bane clarified, showing his own wallet to him.
“Don’t worry, Brother,” Khamael laughed. “We’ll still get it, just not as often. Makes us appreciate it more, doesn’t it Bane?”
“It sure does.”
“Is there anything else you’d like to share with me while I’m still new here?” Jael asked.
“I know this girl—” Raven began.
Bane elbowed him in the ribs. “Shut up, Raven.”
“Girl?” Jael asked.
“Another time,” Raven gasped. “When your overprotective nephew isn’t around.”
“It’s late,” Khamael cut in. “Bane and Raven need their rest. Besides, I’d like to sit and talk for a while. If you don’t mind—?”
“I don’t mind,” Jael said. “There is much to discuss.”
“Yes, there is. So, why don’t we go back to the apartment, let them get their rest, and we can make plans for tomorrow, okay?”
“This is agreeable to me.”
With that, the group headed back to the building where their apartments were located. Bane and Raven said goodnight to Jael, then to each other, and went to their respective apartments.
Khamael and Jael stayed up all night, since they didn’t need sleep, and they discussed this strange new world Jael would now be a part of.