Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Page 1513

((Double Wednesday -- Page 2 of 2))
As he searched for something else of use, he practiced lifting other objects with the glove on. It was simple enough to avoid crushing something. He just had to be extra gentle. He could see this glove being a double-edged sword, potentially. A mad part of him wanted to test it on himself--to see if he would have to worry about unconsciously grabbing his own arm or hand, perhaps--but he decided to forego that experiment, at least for now.

His gaze eventually stopped on a pair of boots and a sword with a sequined hilt.

Now why did this sight look so familiar? He shut his eyes and tried to recall.

Yes, he’d seen a drawing of these items--or ones like them, at least. Those long, curving boot buckles with straps that went all the way around--that was a distinctive design. If the book he was thinking of was correct, then these were the Boots of Karugetti, and they supposedly had the power to “defy the heavens”--whatever that meant.

And the sword. That thin and faintly curved blade. That was the Sword of Hamenszoon, and it supposedly had the power to cast illusions. He remembered thinking how ugly it was and how unpleasant those sequins on the hilt would make it to wield.

Indeed, he was unfortunately proved right. It felt like reptilian scales against his flesh. He considered using his gloved hand, but it seemed a waste to occupy it with a weapon when it was probably more threatening without one. He instead decided to remove his green scarf and wrap it around the grip.

That was better.

He still had no idea how to wield it, though. He’d never trained in any manner of swordsmanship, nor did he know how to draw out its power. Assuming it truly had any.

But he knew something of ardor. The force and fuel of the planet. He knew of its debatably magical properties, and he knew of its extraction, refinement, and infusion processes as well.

Most importantly, though, he knew that to manipulate ardor required concentration in one’s very soul. It required a degree of focus and “oneness” with the planet itself. A sense for the world’s “pulse,” as some described it.

It required training, in other words--training which he had undergone many years ago, though he had not understood its significance until much more recently. Back then, it was still an experimental thing, one of many “cutting edge” forms of training which he had been forced to undertake, lest he lose his job as an iron miner.

There had been a span of nearly five years straight where it seemed like he had to go through some new type of training every week, and the vast majority of them were a complete waste of time--if not physically painful.

But that one. That one had been something. He still remembered that initial feeling, the first time he’d ever truly sensed ardor.

Page 1512

((Double Wednesday -- Page 1 of 2))
He slid his hand into the cloth and let his fingers stretch through it and get comfortable. It was rather loose, unfortunately, but he supposed--

He felt it move on its own, writhe against his flesh.

His impulse was to panic and tear it off, but he resisted. It wasn’t painful. If anything, it was more comfortable now.

Yes, he realized. It had tightened around his hand. Fitted itself to him, perhaps.

After a moment, he decided to remove it anyway, just to ensure that he actually could, and indeed, it slipped off his hand again without fighting him.

Curious.

He put it back on and waited.

It didn’t readjust to his form again. It didn’t need to. It still fit perfectly. The first adjustment had remained, even after removal.

Unless he was hallucinating, this object was clearly special in some way. He had to wonder about its origins, as well as what else it might be capable of. Convenient as it was, he didn’t see a whole lot of utility in it, so far.

Still, just having some level of protection for his hand made him feel immediately safer in handling these other objects. His eyes went to a shelf he’d seen earlier and stopped on a small metal container, the kind that might be used to house particularly precious stones.

He grabbed the container, and it crumpled under his grip. Whatever was inside, he heard it shatter and saw glassy dust trickle out onto the ground.

Royo pursed his lips to one side, set the container down, and observed his glove anew.

Hmm.

He deliberated for a second, then grabbed the ruined container again, this time employing strength deliberately, as much as he could muster.

He felt almost no resistance, hearing more crunching and seeing more dust. When he opened his hand again, the container was unrecognizable. The metal had not only lost its shape, but it had also taken new shape around his fingers. The force applied had been so great that the metal now looked like soft clay that had just been squeezed.

He hoped whatever he’d just destroyed inside that container wasn’t too valuable, but considering everything he was currently looking at, it probably was.

Oh well, though. No helping it now.

He wanted to try his glove out on another object before drawing conclusions, however. For all he knew, it could have been the case that the metal of the container was the abnormal thing, not his glove. So he picked up a gold coin next and pressed it between his thumb and index finger. It folded like rubber and stayed that way.

Interesting.

Just to be sure, he tried again on a couple of other objects of comparatively lesser value, and the results remained consistent.

This couldn’t rightly be called super strength, in Royo’s estimation--not like that of the superhumans, at least. No, this was limited to his fingers and wrist only. It would be immensely useful for gripping, twisting, and crushing; but it was not going to let him punch like the superhumans could or lift tremendous weight like they could.

A very good find nonetheless, Royo felt.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Page 1511

But the treasure helped. It was certainly captivating enough to keep them distracted--so captivating, in fact, that Royo had to be careful not to get too lost in it himself. He did still have a weapon on him, if worse came to worst, but he hoped to find something else that would be useful. Even if he did manage to get past the one called Manuel, there were still subsequent opponents to think of.

Fortunately, he had some idea of what to look for--or hoped he did, at least. He had held a passing interest in ancient artifacts a few years ago, toward the end of his formal education. At the time, he hadn’t actually put much stake in such things. It was more of a guilty pleasure than anything, but needless to say, the very recent past had altered his opinion. Having encountered so many superhumans and ghosts--and now even a “god,” supposedly?

He would be rather disappointed if none of the items around here were even a little bit magical.

The temptation, he knew, was to gravitate toward any object that was glowing, but according to an essay of dubious origin he recalled reading, that would be a rookie mistake.

While it was true that the emission of light could indeed be indicative of some manner of “power” stored therein, it was very unwise on the treasure seeker’s part to touch such objects without reserve. Even discounting the still-quite-credible threat of deadly radiation, there was another potential problem, according to the essay. Oftentimes, these “forces beyond mortal reckoning,” as the essay had dubbed them, would use the human body as a conduit--not unlike that of electricity, though potentially even more dangerous.

Now, perhaps that was all nonsense, but Royo was of a mind to exercise caution, nonetheless. He knew, at least, that those glowing jewels which had surrounded Malast were safe to the touch, as those were simply akaridaiya, or light diamonds.

Well. Calling them “simply” akaridaiya was perhaps doing them a disservice. Akaridaiya had been tremendously valuable in the Undercrust since ancient times and had never ceased being so. Perhaps it was only natural they should treasure objects which could emit sustained, unfueled, harmless light.

The Hun’Kui weren’t particularly bothered by the darkness, of course, but other races could be, and Royo knew for a fact that surface-dwellers would pay absolutely absurd prices for those diamonds, if he could find the right buyer. Why, the volume that had surrounded Malast would be worth the GDP of a small kingdom. Possibly even a not-so-small one.

All of that was potentially wonderful news, to be sure, but it was far from his mind, presently.

Royo’s goggled and glowing eyes scanned his options, eventually catching upon a notably non-metallic object. A glove. It did have a silver metal lining, but the rest of it was some kind of cloth. He had to believe that if anything here would be safe to the touch, it would be a glove.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Page 1510

((Double Monday -- Page 2 of 2))
He felt her initiate the merge. It was like a somehow familiar moment of realization, a forced epiphany, prying his mind open and expanding it into her own. Not particularly pleasant, but not as bad as it used to be, either.

And the power. The surge of not only strength but thinking capacity. That was most welcome.

He didn’t have to care about dodging bullets now. The immediate and complete regeneration of pan-forma rendered Seyos’ weapon as deadly as a water pistol, ardor or not.

The only pressing concern in Diego and Yangéra’s collective consciousness now was whether or not they would be able take Seyos alive. Certainly, Diego’s nitrogen transfiguration ability did not lend itself well to restraint. They closed the distance at full sprint, aiming for a quick submission hold.

But then everything was wrong.

Diego lost all sense of himself, and he felt abruptly as if half his mind had been torn out of his head.

Because it had, he soon realized. He and Yangéra were separated again. Just like that, she was there on the ground in front of him, and he was struggling even to crawl. This was post-hyper-state exhaustion, he was fairly sure, but why? What the hell just happened?

Seyos had something in his other hand. Some kind of orb? It was so hard to tell. And Diego became immediately more concerned with the gun being pointed directly at Yangéra.

None of it made sense. There was no time. His reaper was about to die if he didn’t do something, and there was only one thing to do, as far he could tell.

“I surrender!” Diego yelled, as loud as he could muster.

It wasn’t fast enough to stop Seyos from getting another shot off. A bullet pierced Yangéra’s avian chest.

Agh!’ she cried out, shivering.

Diego grabbed her and wrapped himself around her. “Malast! I said I--!”

Seyos blinked out of existence and was gone.

Diego could see the ethereal smoke rising out of his reaper, the familiar indicator of a significant wound. “Are you alright?” he asked.

Yeah, I think so...

He exhaled and rolled over, not intending to let go of her anytime soon.

-+-+-+-+-

Royo Raju understood the circumstances before the one called Manuel Delaguna did. He couldn’t tell what the man’s reaper was thinking, but it seemed apparent enough that his opponent didn’t realize that they were supposed to fight.

Royo could hardly fault him for that, though. Everything had happened so quickly. And Royo wasn’t eager to be aggressive, either. At the moment, this curious and confused camaraderie was certainly preferable to fighting a superhuman whose powers Royo didn’t fully grasp.

So he took his time and looked the new chamber over, paying especially close attention to the treasure here and encouraging the one called Manuel to do the same, ostensibly in hopes of finding a way out of here.

That might not have worked if the one called Manuel wasn’t so agreeable. Or confident, maybe. Too early to tell.

Page 1509

((Double Monday -- Page 1 of 2))
“Deceptions?” said Diego. “What deceptions? You’re the one who’s been hiding out and snatching people through mirrors.”

“Proper guidance sometimes requires extreme methods,” said Seyos. “You would know that if you were ever called upon to protect your loved ones from a threat which was far beyond your own meager power to stop.”

That was a lot of words--and passionately spoken, as well--but Diego couldn’t say he understood where any of it was coming from. He wanted to keep Seyos talking, though. “That still doesn’t explain what deceptions you were referring to. I haven’t lied to you or done anything to harm you, have I?”

“Do not play at innocence!” shouted Seyos, his tone suddenly manic. After a breath, however, he settled himself. “The others all trusted him, but I knew. I knew Ettol would bring more of you here to claim my treasure. To take my place as a new god. You are all deceivers, every one.”

“Hold on a second here. We aren’t with this Ettol person. I’ve never even met the guy. In fact, I have a lot of questions about who the hell he is, myself. From the way Malast talked about him, it sounds like Ettol is a god, too, no?”

“Hah! Ettol is no god! A pretender is all he is! A manipulator of emotion and a thief of reason and faculty!”

“Alright, well, that’s a start. Can you tell me what Ettol looks like, maybe?”

Seyos merely stared back at him.

Diego smacked his lips. “Why does nobody remember what this jackass looks like, huh? I find that extremely suspicious.”

Seyos shifted behind his cloak. “...You are truly not Ettol’s kinsmen?”

“Kinsmen? Of course not! I’m a damn Rainlord--and proud of it!”

“Rainlord?”

For a second, Diego thought he saw the light of recognition in the Hun’Sho man’s eyes. And it made no sense to Diego’s mind, but still, he had to ask, “Do you know of us?”

“A proud and ancient group of surface-dwellers,” said Seyos. “Renowned for bringing trouble wherever they go.”

Diego nodded his head admissively. “Not inaccurate, I suppose, but now you’ve made me curious--where in the world do you hear all of that?”

Again, Seyos did not answer him.

Yangéra chimed in from over Diego’s shoulder, having still not let go of him. ‘You’ve been to the surface before, haven’t you, Seyos?

“I have observed outsiders as a preventative measure for many years,” said Seyos. “I recently increased my efforts, though it appears to have been in vain.”

That made Diego squint. “Increased how?”

Seyos scowled. “Enough of your questions. You obviously have nothing of value to say.”

“I have plenty of value, if you would just listen!”

But unsurprisingly, he wouldn’t just listen, and Diego was prepared when he saw the rifle appear out from behind Seyos’ swirling cloak.

Diego didn’t doubt that it was ardor-infused, and so he dove to his right. ‘Pan-forma now,’ he told Yangéra as a flaming bullet sliced through his left arm like it was wet paper.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Page 1508

The treasure was arguably not what surprised him most, however. The sunlight was. And the grass. The temperature, too. Wherever this room was, Diego knew that he was suddenly much closer to the surface than he had been a second ago.

He searched the ceiling for the source of the sunlight and found many small ones. The rock above his head was porous, and he considered trying to break through it in order to get a better idea of his location, but the sight of Elise Garza standing there, looking confounded beyond belief, changed his mind.

“Diego!” she said upon noticing him as well. “What in the world is happening?!”

He scratched his brow, wondering how to--or even if he could--explain.

The room was clearly smaller than the last one, though it was still plenty large enough for a fight, which he supposed was the point, unless he’d misunderstood what Malast was saying.

Should he tell her that, though?

Eh, she could probably handle it. Servant or not, she was a Rainlord, same as him.

“I think we’re supposed to fight now,” he told her.

“Excuse me?!” She looked horrified.

“Didn’t you hear what Malast said? We’ve been drafted into a tournament.”

“Why?!”

“He wants us to compete for godhood, I guess. And that means fighting.”

“I can’t fight you!” she said. “You’re a monster!”

“A monster with feelings, thank you.”

“You know what I mean! I can’t possibly defeat you!”

“Ah, hmm.” He tilted his head at her. “Well, you could just surrender without actually fighting, I think.”

“Okay! I surrender! Now leave me alone and go fight somebody else!” She looked up at the ceiling. “You hear that?! I said I surrender!”

And it took a moment, but the distortion did indeed arrive another time, and Diego’s vision melted in on itself.

When it returned to him, he discovered another chamber, similar to the previous one but not identical, as the treasure here was different, and the temperature had risen again.

When he looked around for his new opponent, his eyes settled on the Hun’Sho man from earlier.

Seyos.

“I don’t suppose you’re going to surrender without a fight, are you?” said Diego.

Seyos had his swirling cloak drawn in front of his body.

There was no telling what other ridiculous artifacts of a magical nature the guy had at his disposal. And of course, Diego had never fought a Hun’Sho before. He had no idea what to expect, and neither did Yangéra, whom he couldn’t see but could sense clinging to his back, still.

“Before we get into this, I have an important question for you.” Diego’s mouth twisted, and he couldn’t stop his next words from becoming a snarl. “What did you do with Jasirok?”

Seyos didn’t answer him.

“It was you who took him, wasn’t it? Deny it, if you like, though I don’t think I’ll believe you.”

“Your concern for him surprises me,” said Seyos. “Is this, too, another one of your deceptions?”

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Page 1507 -- CLXII.

((Double Saturday -- Page 2 of 2))
Malast didn’t respond. He looked down at the jar in his lap, running his hand along the lid.

Seyos turned back toward Hector and the others, and the jewel on his staff began to glow again.

“You may be right,” the Idle God said. “Perhaps you will surprise me.”

“Excellent!” said Seyos.

“To me,” said Malast with that sudden weight behind his words again.

The staff flew from Seyos’ hand and into Malast’s waiting one. It stopped glowing, as did the pendant around Seyos’ neck.

“What are you--?!”

“Any among you could surprise me, I suppose,” said Malast. “I should not dismiss your potential so easily. Very well. I shall give you all an opportunity to achieve beyond yourselves, as the Hidden One and the Iron One have.”

Hector didn’t quite follow most of that, but the time for questions was past, it seemed.

The staff in Malast’s hands lit up with renewed vigor, far brighter than before--so much so, in fact, that after a few moments, it sparked to life with glaring electricity. Light filled the whole chamber in intensifying waves, and Hector had to shield his eyes so as not to be blinded.

The prior darkness all around melted away, revealing the distant rock walls that they had only been able to glimpse previously with their meager lamplights.

Jagged blue bolts erupted from Malast’s staff and leapt out across the chamber, arcing toward four separate corners, where Hector noticed familiar stone monuments waiting to receive them. They had blended in so seamlessly with the rock behind them that only now could Hector tell they were there, somehow coated with a visible electric charge.

“We shall have a tournament,” announced Malast in a voice that boomed even over the crackling lightning. “The winner, if they be suitable by the end of it, shall be Secho’s vessel.”


Chapter One Hundred Sixty-Two: ‘Embrace thy turmoil and observe...’
Click to display entire chapter at once -- (mobile link)

To say that Diego did not appreciate being unable to speak was an understatement, but it currently made no difference, as he was genuinely speechless.

“There is only one rule,” Malast continued, still not even standing up from his stone seat. “You win when your opponent either dies or admits defeat. All else is acceptable on the path to victory.”

They were not given an opportunity to respond.

Light distorted and consumed Diego’s vision, and he felt Yangéra grab his shoulder to make sure they didn’t get separated.

It was the same sensation he’d felt during their previous teleport, so it wasn’t as disorienting this time, but it still wasn’t exactly a joy ride, either. When his vision steadied itself again, he discovered a sight which he was not at all expecting.

Gold. Piles and piles of it. Chests spilling over with gems and gold and artifacts of presumably tremendous value, judging by everything around them.

This was a completely different room, Diego realized, which meant this treasure was also completely different from that which had surrounded Malast.

Page 1506

((Double Saturday -- Page 1 of 2))
“What ‘others’ are you referring to?” said Hector.

“The Choro’Tachi, of course,” said Seyos.

The Primordials,’ translated Garovel privately. ‘Or simply Elders. It’s an umbrella term that refers to pretty much all the gods you’ve already heard of--and probably a few others.

Uh, ah--what should I ask him next?’ said Hector.

Ask him what happened to the others.

Hector much preferred this calmer, less annoyed-sounding Garovel backing him up. “...What exactly happened to the other, uh, Ch-Choro’Tachi?”

“They were taken by the God of All That Is Not, so that humanity might be allowed to flourish.”

This Seyos guy was a hell of a lot more forthcoming than Malast, at least. Hector did have to grant him that, even if he had been trying to kill them a moment ago--and probably would again anytime now, Hector felt.

Perhaps Hector was misreading the situation, but he was getting the impression that the only thing stopping Seyos from attacking them with whatever other crazy shit he had at his disposal was that “god” sitting over there with his eyes still closed.

“Do you understand?” said Seyos, perhaps having grown tired of Hector’s uncertain silence. “You stand in the presence of unimaginable power. You would do well to show respect.”

That made Malast open his eyes, though he still didn’t say anything.

Hector took the opportunity to address the Idle God directly. “Is any of that true?”

Malast didn’t answer him.

Seyos did, however. “Of course it is true! How dare you question me!” His staff began to glow, as did a pendant around his neck that Hector hadn’t noticed before.

He braced himself for whatever the hell was about to happen, but Malast held up a hand.

“What did I just say about foolishness and ceasing, huh?”

Seyos growled. “Let their deaths finally prove to you that I am worthy of your gift!”

“Killing them seems a little excessive,” said Malast.

“You deem them worthy, yes?” said Seyos. “Then by defeating them, I too shall become worthy!”

“It doesn’t work like that.”

Seyos struggled for words for a second. “Y-yes, it does!”

No, it doesn’t,” said Malast.

“N-no, listen, I have been researching this subject,” said Seyos. “It is a matter of the Saiko’Ishiryoku, no?”

Malast didn’t answer him.

Garovel?’ said Hector.

Oh, ah--something like “Supreme Will,” I guess?’ the reaper said privately.

Seyos continued anyway. “That is what makes a vessel suitable, is it not? It must have a soul which can withstand the given power. And the Saiko’Ishiryoku is achievable by all! Even the unworthy, such as I!”

Malast sighed. “That’s technically true, yes, but how is killing them going to help you achieve it?“

“There is no better proving ground than that of mortal peril! But perhaps it is impossible for a god to understand such things. You do not have to worry about struggling to change or improve yourself.”

Friday, January 26, 2018

Page 1505

Hector didn’t recognize the voice, but fortunately, he didn’t have to.

“Seyos!” yelled Malast. “I have not finished speaking with these people! Cease this foolishness and reveal yourself!”

There came a pause as everyone waited.

Then the treasure pile shifted again, and a molten light emerged from the one of the mirrors nearest Malast. First a hand, then a shoulder, head, torso, and so on. A Hun’Sho man, quite clearly, climbed out of the mirror as if it were a window, pushing jewels out of his way as he arrived and finally stood before them.

He looked radically unlike the other Hun’Sho Hector had met, primarily because he was wearing clothes. The billowing black cloak was the most noticeable addition, as it did not stop moving even when Seyos did. The tall staff in his hands was perhaps the next most obvious thing, adorned at its tip with a spinning and glowing jewel.

Then there were the gloves--assuming that was what they were.

Unlike the other Hun’Sho, Seyos’ forearms were the only things covered in magma, while the rest of him appeared more or less Hun’Kui-like, but those forearms were much larger than the other Hun’Sho’s had been. And they were lined with something, too, as if to help hold all that extra magma in place. Ultimately, they had the effect of making the man look like he had the hands of a giant--perhaps even that molten golem that they’d seen a couple days ago.

There were a few other oddities on the man’s body as well, but Hector only had enough time to take in those few large things before Seyos started talking.

“Do you wretches even comprehend the sheer magnitude of greatness sitting before you?” said Seyos. “This is a being as old as humanity itself! Yet you speak to Him with the irreverence of a common dreg!”

Eleyo took the opening. “You seem knowledgeable. What else can you tell us about Malast?”

Seyos regarded the Hun’Kui man with obvious disgust. “Ashen dross. How dare you speak to me.”

Eleyo threw up his hands and looked toward the surface-dwellers. “One of you try.”

Carver seemed to volunteer, until he remembered that he couldn’t speak. Then he turned to Hector, along with just about everyone else.

Go get ‘em, champ,’ said Garovel privately.

Hector was more than a little sick of all this attention by now, but he didn’t see any recourse. “Why do you sound so convinced that this guy here really is a god? I mean, all he does is sit there.” He again threw another glance Malast’s way. “No offense.”

Malast returned another shrug. “It’s kinda my thing.”

“Oh, but of course you do not know,” said Seyos. “Malast has never intervened in human affairs. That is the reason why he alone remained, while the others became little more than stories we tell one another.”

Everyone looked to Malast, who had nothing to say--and had even shut his eyes. It was again questionable as to whether or not he was even paying attention.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Page 1504

“Always so suspicious,” said Malast. “Another reason I’ve always avoided you. So bothersome to deal with.”

Eleyo started walking around the iron wall in front of him, so Hector made it wider.

Malast sighed again. “You have no reason to stop him, Iron One. It is his choice to make. That is, unless you wish to become a god, yourself. In which case, I suppose you have every reason to stop him.”

Hector was at a loss. ‘Garovel, what do I do?

Oh, uh--well, I agree with you. But I don’t think you should piss off Malast. If worse comes to worst, just give in and let Eleyo have it.

“Well, Iron One?” said Malast, holding up the jar in Hector’s direction. “Do you wish to become a god? If not, then the choice here is simple.”

Hector grit his teeth. “...What will you do if I say yes?” he said, mostly just trying to buy more time to think.

“Ah. In that case, I would have to hold--”

A clinking and shifting sound cut him off, and Hector saw the mountain of treasure begin to move slightly. There were several slow and mild avalanches in the glowing jewels, clattering all the way down to the stony floor around Malast, who was looking around with the same level of disinterest as he always seemed to have.

Then a cluster of giant, red-orange hands exploded out of the treasure pile. Jewels went flying everywhere as the hands stretched and grew and bent aggressively toward the group.

Hector reacted with a wall for everyone. The collective impact from all the hands nearly toppled it immediately, but Hector added foundational support in time to stabilize it, so instead of it merely falling on top them, it started slowly pushing everyone back. Within seconds, Hector could see the red-hot, hand-shaped spots in his wall, where they were doubtlessly trying to push through.

Hector had something for that, though. He materialized freezing cold spikes of solid iron on the other side of the wall, skewering as many hands as he could at once.

The pushing stopped. The glowing spots on the wall began to diminish.

Hector was wary of annihilating his work, however. Manuel and the still-silent Diego each moved to opposite ends of the wall in order to peek around the corner. When they both gave him a nod, Hector destroyed his iron.

As they closed the distance back toward Malast, Hector didn’t see any traces of the hands that had presumably just tried to kill or capture everyone, but he did notice something different about the mountain of treasure in each of the spots where the hands had originated from.

There were mirrors. They must have been buried beneath the jewels before, but now they were mostly visible.

Before anyone could ask Malast about what the hell had just happened, however, a booming voice arrived.

“Invaders, begone from this place! You are not worthy to be in the presence of the God of the Underworld!”

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Page 1503

((Double Wednesday -- Page 2 of 2))
Hector also felt in that moment as if Eleyo knew that he knew. How could the man not? It hadn’t even been half a day since Hector had listened to him go on about how much he admired Secho. Eleyo had to know what Hector was thinking, right now, too.

And indeed, when Eleyo took a step toward Malast, and Hector raised an iron wall in front of the man, Eleyo did not look surprised.

“What are you doing, Senmurai?” said Eleyo.

“Didn’t I tell you to stop calling me that?” said Hector.

“I will do as I please, Senmurai.”

Somehow, it didn’t sound like a term of reverence or respect anymore. “You don’t know what you’re doing. We don’t know anything about this Malast guy.” He shot a glance at Malast. “No offense.”

The Idle God gave a shrug.

“I understand the risk involved,” said Eleyo. “Now let me pass. It is my choice.”

Hector clenched his jaw as he deliberated. Honestly, he had no idea what to do now. This was all too sudden and crazy. Should he stop this guy? His gut was telling him that he absolutely should, but what actual justification was there? If Eleyo wanted to gamble with his own life like this, shouldn’t he have been free to do so?

There was just something wrong. Something about Eleyo that was bothering him right now. Something in that conversation they’d had. Something in the way the man was now acting in front of Malast. Almost like a different person. Suddenly fearless, where before the man had been so cautious that he waited two entire days to reveal he spoke Mohssian.

And there was that thing Malast had called him. Hidden One? What the hell was that about?

Not to mention, what even made Hector and Eleyo “suitable” as a god’s vessel in the first place? That was arguably the most important question of all, and it had still not been answered.

There were just so many unsettling things, all coming together as one formless, unspecified concern in the pit of Hector’s stomach. He didn’t have the luxury to think about each one of them, much less the time to do so, and he certainly didn’t know how to put any of that into words, but right now, that uneasy feeling remained strong enough that he wanted to listen to it, no matter what.

Before the tense silence could draw out for too long, however, Malast intervened. “You wish to become Secho’s vessel, after all, Hidden One?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Why do you call him that?” said Hector. “Hidden One? And why do you call me Iron One? How did you know that I can use iron, huh?”

“You only get one question at a time,” said Malast.

“If you really want one of us to be Secho’s vessel,” said Hector, having had just about enough of their game, “then you should be willing to answer all of our questions. Unless there’s something you’re hiding from us, of course. Something that might make us refuse.”

Page 1502 -- CLXI.

((Double Wednesday -- Page 1 of 2))
Of course, that didn’t explain why Malast didn’t know how to get out of here, but there were a lot of things about Malast that were not making much sense, so Hector just added it to the list and tried not to worry about it for the moment.

A different question occurred to him, one of similarly pressing relevance, and Hector felt suddenly as if he should ask it quickly before anyone else used up their last question.

“This person who wants to kill us,” said Hector, “this Seyos--where is he, right now?” He figured that if there was someone who wanted them dead, as Malast had said, then that was a problem which should probably take precedence over all others.

Malast shrugged again, however. “I don’t know. He was here earlier, but he didn’t tell me where he was going.”

Hector frowned.

“Then we get another question,” said Eleyo.

“Boy, you’re really milking this, aren’t you? Fine. But this next one is the true final question, even if I don’t know the answer to it.”

Once again, Eleyo seized the initiative. “Why do you want to make one of us a god?”

Malast leveled a dull stare at the Hun’Kui man and made everyone wait a bit more for an answer. “...A very long time ago, I had a friend. He was--and still is, I suppose--the only thing in all of Creation that I can confidently say I liked.” He ran his hand along the top of the jar in his lap. “His name was Secho, and this here is all that remains of him.”


Chapter One Hundred Sixty-One: ‘A trial of gods...’
Click to display entire chapter at once -- (mobile link)

Hector blinked a couple times.

Malast wasn’t yet done talking, however. “I would like for Secho to be reborn in a new vessel, even if it means he won’t quite be the same as I remember him. He deserves that much.”

Hector detected a softness in the man’s voice that hadn’t been there before.

Secho, huh?’ said Garovel privately. ‘That’s another god, by the way.

The God of Growth,’ said Hector.

The--yeah. Hey, how do you know that?

Eleyo over there told me all about him.’ Hector noticed the Hun’Kui man looking back at him.

It was difficult to tell in the poor light and the goggles on Eleyo’s face, but Hector abruptly felt as though he could read the man’s face--maybe even his mind. There was just something in that look. The timing of it. The lingering of it.

Hector knew at once what Eleyo was about to do.

Eleyo was going to accept Malast’s offer.

That one name, Secho, had just changed Eleyo’s mind completely.

It was madness. Hector knew that. To just suddenly agree to be transformed into a “god” when there was still so much left unexplained. But everything that he recalled from their conversation earlier was informing him of Eleyo’s state of mind, right now.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Page 1501

Hector didn’t necessarily disagree, but that hardly seemed like the most beneficial attitude to have, given the circumstances. ‘What can you tell me about Malast? Or at least, the folklore around him. You called him the Idle God before, didn’t you?

Yeah,’ said Garovel. ‘Ancient stories, those. Malast was a god who never took an interest in humanity, no matter how much they pleaded for him to. He had all sorts of names. The Idle God. The Worthless God. He Who Sits. He Who Does Nothing. The God of Despair. The God of Boredom. But I didn’t know he was called the God of the Underworld, too.

Hmm. What do the stories say about him?

Not much, really. His whole deal was that he simply didn’t engage with us lowly humans. Some stories portrayed him as outright hating us, but even in those, he never actually takes action against humans. He usually just lets us fend for ourselves and occasionally die in some horrible manner that he presumably could have prevented.

That’s it? The stories are just about him doing nothing the whole time?

Basically, yeah. But the stories weren’t about him. He was usually just in the background, being super unhelpful. I don’t know if he even has a definitive origin story.

That... all kinda lines up with this guy’s general attitude and weirdness, right now, doesn’t it?

Oh, believe me, I’ve noticed. It’s been annoying the ever-living crap out of me.

He supposed that explained why the reaper seemed even more irritated than he might have expected.

Still, the more Hector thought about what their final question should be, the more he supposed they already knew the most immediately relevant things. Malast was not hostile. Malast was not going to prevent them from taking the treasure. Certainly, there were still many things he would’ve liked to know, but he couldn’t tell if any single question was more important than any of the others.

That was, until Manuel Delaguna decided to speak up for the first time since they’d arrived. “How do we get out of here?”

The group looked at him.

Yeah. That was a pretty good way to spend their last question, Hector felt.

Malast, however, just shrugged. “I don’t know.”

What?

How could he not know?

Did that mean they were all trapped here now?

Hector had to stop himself blurting any or all of those questions out, and judging from the distorted expressions on the reapers faces, they were doing the same.

Eleyo spoke next. “How funny that a ‘god’ could end up trapped in a place like this.”

The man had been careful to avoid framing his words as a question, Hector noticed.

Hector wondered if that actually would work, though.

Apparently not, judging from Malast’s complete lack of a reaction. “It’s still your turn.”

Hector tried to think everything through rationally. If this Ettol guy had come and gone, then they probably weren’t trapped here. It was just a matter of figuring out how to leave.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Page 1500

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“You believe you are related to him?” laughed Malast, which was perhaps the most emotion he had yet shown. “As in, by blood?”

“That’s right,” said Carver. “And that was your question, so now you must answer mine. How do you know Ettol?”

Malast blinked a couple times, then gave another laugh. “Your ‘uncle,’ you said? That is frankly impossible, I regret to inform you. Ettol has no siblings. At least, not in the traditional sense. If you believe he is your uncle by blood, then you are mistaken.”

“That does not answer my question,” Carver insisted. “How do you know Ettol?”

“Hmm. If he never told you, then I imagine he would be upset if I did.” Malast allowed a beat to pass. “But he’s kind of a dick, so I don’t care. He and I are very old comrades. One might even call us the oldest of comrades.”

Carver, along with everyone else, waited for more. In vain, apparently. “And?” said Carver. “You didn’t answer my question.”

“Sure I did.”

“No, you didn’t! How do you know my uncle?!”

“Excuse me, but it’s my turn again.”

“No, it isn’t! You’re breaking the rules of the game! You have to--”

“Be silent,” said Malast, invoking the same heaviness that he had used on Diego.

And sure enough, Hector observed Carver’s mouth moving in his climate suit without any words escaping.

“I do not care for people,” said Malast, “but I especially do not care for noisy people.”

That was enough to render everyone else silent of their own volition again.

Garovel, what the hell is that ability?’ thought Hector.

Not something I’ve seen before,’ said Garovel in the echo of privacy. ‘The closest thing I can think of is the oppressive soul power of someone incredibly strong. I’ve heard rumors that it’s possible to bend people to your will, if your soul power is sufficiently stronger than theirs, but this--I don’t know. If he were doing something like that, you’d think I’d be able to sense the enormous strength of his soul, but I can’t.

Maybe he’s suppressing his soul.’

Even WHILE using his power? That’s pretty much impossible.

...Not if he really is a god.

Ugh.

“Anyway,” Malast finally said, “it’s my turn again.” His eyes went to Eleyo. “Hidden One.”

Eleyo just waited.

“Are you afraid of me?” was all Malast asked.

Eleyo shifted his feet. “No.”

“You’re not lying again, are you?”

“I wasn’t before, and I am not now.”

“Hmm.” Malast’s eyes seemed to glaze over. “Alright, then. Final question. Ask away.”

And again, everyone fell quiet.

The threat of this being the final question made even Eleyo reluctant to say anything, it seemed.

...What do we ask?’ thought Hector.

Fuckin’... I don’t know! Ask him why he’s such an asshole.

Real helpful, Garovel.

Oh, who cares? Not HIM, apparently. Rasalased was way cooler than this douche.

Page 1499

((Double Monday -- Page 1 of 2))
There was a long bout of silence as everyone waited for Malast to respond in some way, but the self-proclaimed God of Boredom merely continued to appear exactly so. Bored.

Malast’s expression didn’t change at all. He didn’t shift in his seat. He didn’t stop resting his cheek on his hand. He hardly even looked like he was paying attention.

But at length, he finally deigned to say, “...That’s nice.”

We’re losing him,’ said Garovel privately. ‘This might be our last question, unless we can regain his interest somehow. Ask him if--

Eleyo wasn’t waiting for anyone’s permission, though. “Would you like it if I became a god?”

Malast looked at him. “I would. What would you do if you became a god?”

“I don’t know,” said Eleyo. “It would depend on the exact nature of my godliness, I suppose. The precise limits of it.”

Malast narrowed his gaze at him. “That’s a lie. You already have a very good idea of what you would do, don’t you? Your answer doesn’t count if you lie, you know.”

“I am not lying,” said Eleyo.

“Even if that’s true, then you still have not answered my question,” said Malast. “Which means I get to ask a different one.”

Eleyo took a step forward. “Go on and ask, then.”

“Are you reconsidering my offer?”

“I never turned you down.” Eleyo took another step. “What must I do?”

Malast grabbed the jar in his lap with both hands. “You need merely to accept this of your own free will.” He held the jar up, grasping the lid but not opening it. “Do you understand that you will cease to be yourself, by doing so?”

Hector,’ said Garovel, suddenly urgent.

Somebody stop him,’ said Yangéra.

But Eleyo stopped himself. “No, I do not understand that. What do you mean? I will cease to be myself?”

Malast sighed again and brought the jar back down to his lap. “You will be a vessel, like I said--a conduit through which an otherworldly being may experience this one.”

Eleyo took a step back now. “No. You said I would become a god. Not be replaced by one. Those are two very different things.”

“He will not replace you,” said Malast. “He will transform you, and you will transform him. Together, a new being will emerge. A new god, as some would describe it.”

But Eleyo was still taking steps back.

Malast smacked his lips and gave still another sigh. “Yeah, that’s about what I figured...” He slumped down in his stone chair. “I knew that Ettol was just getting my hopes up again. The wily bastard.”

As Eleyo shrunk back toward the group, Carver stepped up to replace him.

“How do you know Ettol?” said Carver.

Malast eyed him a moment and sniffed absent-mindedly. “It’s not your turn.”

Carver was undeterred, however. “Ettol is my uncle. I have known him my whole life, but I must confess that he has always been something of an enigma to me.”

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Page 1498

Impulsively, Hector wanted to ask why Malast wanted to contact him, but he knew that wasn’t going to get answered. Then Hector started trying to work out the best lie he could tell here.

But wait a minute.

How could Malast contact Rasalased? Hector didn’t actually know the answer to that. What, would the two gods be able to start chatting away as soon as Malast touched the Shard? Probably not, considering Asad hadn’t been able to talk to Rasalased yet.

Though, maybe Malast had some weird power that would make it work.

But Hector didn’t want to assume that.

And more importantly, he didn’t want to throw away his excuse for being able to honestly say, “...I don’t really know. The circumstances that led me to meeting Rasalased were, uh... kind of an accident.”

“Mm,” said Malast. “That is disappointing. But if you are unable to answer the question, then I should get another one, no?” He looked over his audience for approval.

Hector would’ve liked to refuse him, but as he thought about it, he realized that Malast would be able to just say “I don’t know” to all of their next questions if they didn’t follow this new rule.

And perhaps Eleyo came to the same conclusion, because Hector heard him say, “Very well. Ask again.”

“What was this Rasalased like?” said Malast.

All these questions about the Dry God were beginning to form a rather obvious pattern. Clearly, Malast was interested in meeting Rasalased, but this question in particular was surprisingly... mundane, Hector felt.

“Well, he was, uh... he was very...” Shit. Not easy to describe was what he was, but Hector tried his best. “Rasalased was very... wise. And thoughtful. And considerate. And maybe a little scatterbrained. And kinda scary. Uh...”

“I see,” was all Malast said.

So this Seyos, then--’ tried Yangéra, but Eleyo interrupted her, doubtless because he couldn’t hear her.

“Why does this Seyos person want to kill us?” the Hun’Kui man said.

“Because he has long wanted to become a god, though he is an unsuitable vessel,” said Malast. “He would therefore see the two of you as a threat.”

What the hell?’ said Garovel. ‘So these two here are “suitable” vessels? Why? What makes them more suitable than anyone else?

“It’s not your turn.”

Fuck this guy,’ said Garovel privately.

That nearly made Hector laugh openly. If he was pissing Garovel off so much, maybe Malast really was a god--or at least as much of a god as Rasalased had been.

Malast took his time asking his next question. “What will you do with this treasure, Iron One?”

And Hector was surprised, because that had nothing to do with Rasalased. He looked around and found everyone watching and waiting on him again.

Great.

At least he more or less knew what he wanted to say, this time.

“I will try to... build a strong link between the surface and the Undercrust. And then... use that link... to help and protect as many people as I possibly can.”

Holy crap, it was embarrassing to admit all of that. He felt like everyone had just seen him naked. He was again glad to have his armor to hide behind.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Page 1497

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Now that he was thinking about it, Hector wasn’t feeling any kind of oppressive presence, either. This Malast guy didn’t seem to have that insane level of field density to his soul like Ivan and Gohvis. Or even Darktide, Xuan, or Abbas, for that matter. Did that mean he wasn’t as strong as them? Or did it simply mean that one’s field density was adjustable? Hector recalled Ivan implying as much, actually.

As much as he would’ve liked to ask about it, he didn’t think it was the most pressing question.

And the others were hesitating now as well, even Eleyo. They were probably all mulling over what to ask, if not simply waiting for someone else to take the initiative.

Hector’s gaze fell to Carver. The poor lighting made it too difficult to decipher the expression on the man’s face, but Hector did find himself wondering: had Carver known about this Malast guy all along?

Through all the confusion and disorientation, it had nearly escaped Hector’s notice when Malast mentioned the name Ettol, which meant there was only one degree of separation between Carver and Malast.

Hector was gathering questions by the second, but he was having trouble solidifying them in his mind, let alone actually choosing which to ask Carver about.

Then Elise Garza broke the silence and stepped boldly into the conversation. “Excuse me, but can we--?” She stopped. “...I would like to know more about the enormous amount of treasure around you.”

Good point, Hector felt. And no doubt, Malast would’ve counted that as their next question if she hadn’t caught herself.

“Then ask me about it,” said Malast.

At that, Elise lost a bit of her fervor, and looked around for help. Her eyes fell to Manuel who, in turn, looked to Hector.

Aw, shit.

Help?’ he asked Garovel.

Eh, I’m sure you’ve got this,’ the reaper said privately.

Garovel, is this really the time to be--?

Whining? Why, no, it isn’t. So just hurry up and ask this “god” whatever you want.

Everyone was looking at him now, Hector realized.

He really wished Diego could still talk.

Okay.

He could do this. There were only about six billion questions to choose from. He just had to pick one that wasn’t completely fucking stupid.

“...Will you try to kill us if we take some of this treasure?” he heard himself say.

Well, that was either the stupidest possible question or the most important one. He wasn’t quite sure which.

“Nah,” said Malast. “Take what you like.” Then he seemed to think about it a bit more. “But you should probably be wary of Seyos. I’m sure he wants to kill you, right about now.”

Seyos?’ said Yangéra. ‘The same Seyos who had Himmekel built?

“It’s not your turn,” Malast reminded her.

Ugh.

Hector braced himself.

“Iron One.”

There it was.

“How might I be able to contact this Rasalased?”

Yikes.

Page 1496

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“A blessing is a gift granted upon one’s very soul,” said Malast. “Although, it may not always be quite as pleasant as it sounds, depending on who the gift-giver is and why they are giving it.”

Malast allowed a beat of silence to pass, even though it was now his turn again. Hector wondered why. Maybe he wanted someone to ask another question so that he could proactively ignore them.

“My turn,” said Malast. “Iron One.”

Agh. Why was he getting all the questions? It was like being called on by a school teacher who was trying to humiliate him in front of the whole class.

“What was the name of this sort-of-god you met?”

Well, at least that question had an easy answer. “Rasalased.”

“Hmm,” was all Malast said.

And Hector very nearly asked if Malast recognized the name before stopping himself. He didn’t want to waste their next question--especially when he didn’t know how much longer this would go on for. He was getting the impression that once Malast ran out of his own questions to ask, they wouldn’t be able to get anything more out of him.

But dammit, if he still didn’t want to know the answer to that.

Eleyo posed the next question. “Who are these ‘others’ you mentioned before?”

“My peers,” was all Malast said.

“That is not descriptive enough,” said Eleyo.

“I believe you have made up enough rules for this game already,” said Malast. “It is my turn again. Iron One.”

Hector had been waiting to hear that.

“Where is this Rasalased now?” said Malast.

Oh shit. There were a couple of different ways he could answer that, but Hector didn’t know if he even should. And somehow, it seemed like an especially bad idea to tell this guy that Rasalased was right there with them, sleeping in the Shard beneath his armor.

He’d made a special trip to go back for it, not wanting to leave it there, just in case something crazy happened while they were hunting for the treasure. The concept of being teleported to an unknown location hadn’t entered his mind, but he was glad he’d decided to bring it, nonetheless.

But perhaps it would’ve been better to leave it in Carver’s biosphere after all. He had no idea what would happen if he allowed this guy to take the Shard from him, and he wasn’t too keen to find out, either.

He had to answer the question somehow, though. And he didn’t want to lie unless he had to. He decided to just leave a few things out.

“Rasalased is not in one place,” said Hector. “He was split apart and fell dormant.”

“Hmm.”

Hector held his breath while he waited to see if that was a good enough answer.

Apparently, it was.

Well done,’ said Garovel privately.

Garovel, who the fuck is this guy?

I don’t know. I’m not sensing anything special from him. And that worries me.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Page 1495

Is that really all you have to say?’ said Garovel, able to sound less annoyed than Hector figured he was probably feeling.

And apparently, that was all Malast had to say, because he did not respond, instead choosing to simply close his eyes.

Hector thought the strange man might genuinely fall asleep until Eleyo stepped forward in the sparse light.

“Pardon me, but what did you mean when you said that I could become a god?”

Malast sighed another time but still didn’t open his eyes. “This is why I could never take interest in you like the others could. You always need everything explained to you. It’s exhausting, you know that?”

“What ‘others’ are you talking about?” said Eleyo.

“See? It’s always more questions with you people. I’d feel bad for you, if I could bring myself to care a little more.”

That response seemed to give Eleyo pause, and Hector couldn’t blame him. What the hell were you supposed to say to something like that?

Eleyo managed to find something, though. “Perhaps you would like to ask us some questions, instead.”

That got the eyes open. “Hmm.” Malast looked them over. “Normally, I would say that you have no answers that would interest me, but alright. You. Iron One.”

That was him, Hector knew. “Y-yeah?”

“Have you met a god before?” said Malast.

Oh, boy. Hector considered how to answer that. He eyed Garovel.

Say whatever you like,’ the reaper said privately.

“...Sort of,” Hector decided to say. “It’s, ah... tough to say without knowing exactly what you consider to be a god.”

“And did you receive a blessing from this sort-of-god?”

“Ah-ah,” intervened Eleyo again, “he answered one question of yours, so now you must answer one of ours. I believe that is only fair.”

Yet another sigh from the God of Boredom. “Fine, go ahead.”

Eleyo didn’t wait to consult anyone else about what they should ask. “Why are you here?” he said.

“Why wouldn’t I be?”

“You cannot answer a question with another question,” said Eleyo.

“I’m pretty sure I can,” said Malast.

“Then we will do the same for yours,” Eleyo countered. “Is that what you want?”

“No, it isn’t. There. I have answered one of your questions properly. Now I can ask a second.”

Hector heard Eleyo growl, but Malast had won that round, it seemed.

“Iron One,” said Malast. “Did you receive a blessing from this god of yours?”

“...What does ‘blessing’ mean?”

“You are not allowed to answer with a question,” said Malast, eyeing Eleyo. “Answer to the best of your understanding.”

Hector exhaled. “Right... uh.” He supposed he had some idea of what Malast meant. “I believe he did bless me, yeah. I mean, he even said as much, so...”

“What is this ‘blessing’ you speak of?” reiterated Eleyo, having apparently decided that Hector’s question was worth asking next.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Page 1494

Now Hector was confused. And more than a little unsettled. “Who are you, exactly?”

The stranger sighed. “Fine, I’ll ask the other one. You there.” He removed his right hand from his cheek in order to point. “The one in hiding. How about it? Would you like to become a god?”

“...Sure,” came Eleyo’s voice, “but not by any measure other than my own. What is a god to you?”

“To me?” the stranger said. “Nothing. A friend. A companion. It is you who have revered us as such.”

Having apparently heard enough now, Garovel decided to chime in. ‘Are you telling us that you’re a god?

“Eh.”

What the hell kind of answer was that? Hector couldn’t decide if this man was terrifying or just kind of a weirdo. And he really hoped it didn’t turn out to be a combination of the two, because that would basically make him Ivan 2.0, and Hector was definitely not looking for a repeat of that encounter.

You’re a servant,’ said Garovel. ‘Where’s your reaper? I’d like to talk to them.

The man gave a dull laugh. “I suppose it only makes sense that you would assume that. You are seeds, looking up and admiring the great trees that you wish to become. But I am no tree, little ones. I am a gardener.”

That gave everyone noticeable pause.

The stranger scratched his brow. “At least, I would be, if I cared a little more. Or at all, really. But I don’t, so... I suppose I’m more like the guy taking a nap under the trees while they flourish and grow wild all around him.”

Mm,’ said Garovel, his tone still thick with doubt. ‘Well, do you have a name, at least?

“...Malast,” the man finally said.

Malast,’ echoed Garovel. ‘As in, “the Idle God,” Malast?

“An unflattering name. Never cared for it much. I prefer the God of Boredom. Or the God of the Underworld, even if it is less appropriate--and certainly too grandiose for my tastes.”

So you ARE claiming to be a god,’ said Garovel.

Malast gave another sigh. “I guess.”

Well, in that case, would you mind giving a little demonstration of your godly powers for the cynics among us?

“Nah, I don’t really feel like it.”

Then I’m afraid I don’t believe you’re a god.

“Okay.”

And that was it. Malast just sat there, not saying anything else.

Hector looked from Garovel to Malast, then back again, but neither budged, though Garovel looked much more annoyed.

Hector felt a push on his shoulder and turned to see Diego there, trying to get his attention. The man was still unable to talk, apparently.

“Oh, hey, uh, could you undo whatever you did to my friend here?” said Hector.

Malast looked over at him with flat eyes. “Nah.”

Hector didn’t know what to say to that.

“But, hey, wait a second,” said Malast, “doesn’t that count as a demonstration of my power?”

Pfft, no,’ said Garovel. ‘I know a guy who could do that, easy, and he’s not a god.

“Oh,” said Malast. And he gave a yawn. “Oh well.”

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Page 1493 -- CLX.

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Hector still wasn’t quite sure what to think. Even as he stared directly at that gargantuan pile of treasure before him, he didn’t feel much amazement. It just didn’t feel real--not yet, anyway--and he was wary of allowing it to.

Diego raised a hand for everyone to stop again.

They were close now--close enough to make out several of the items in the cove in more detail. A globe. A pair of gloves. A bejeweled sword. A doll posing mid-twirl. A painting of a temple or something. A statue of a man in a chair.

Wait. No.

That was an actual man, actually sitting there.

Hector blinked behind his visor. Were his eyes playing tricks on him? Hadn’t he been gray as stone a second ago? Perhaps he was still a little disoriented from that weird teleport. Now the man looked as normal as normal could be, though maybe a bit strange in attire. He wore a white tunic, tied together with strings near the collar, and brown pants and shoes. And his chair--tall and featureless stone.

But he really was a normal man. Not a Hun’Sho or a Hun’Kui. Not wearing a climate suit, either. Blonde hair, average height, pale skin, mid-forties by appearance, maybe.

And he was staring right at them, too, while he rested his cheek on his right fist. He had something in his lap as well, with his left hand draped over it. Some kind of jar? Hector couldn’t really tell.

“So you’ve come,” the stranger said. He sounded profoundly uninterested in what he was saying, as if he were making a passing note to himself rather than actually speaking to someone.

Diego was bold enough to speak the question on everyone’s mind. “Who are you?”

“I thought I sensed three of you,” the man said. “Yet I only see two.”

“...What are you talking about?” said Diego. And he tried again. “Who are you?”

“Oh well. Frankly, I’m surprised Ettol managed to get even one of you here, let alone two.”

Diego turned to the person next to him for help, who just so happened to be Hector. “Am I talkin’ to myself here?” said the Lord Redwater.

Hector just returned an armored shrug.

Diego turned back to the stranger. “Hey, you in the chair! Who the hell are you?!”

“Be silent,” the stranger said with sudden weight in his voice.

And Diego tried to respond, but he couldn’t. Hector saw him open his mouth as if speaking, but no words came out. Diego’s expression turned to confusion, then to shock.

“You there,” the stranger said, sounding wholly apathetic again. “Iron One.”

Hector twitched, realizing whom he meant. “Y-yeah?”

“How would you like to become a god?”


Chapter One Hundred Sixty: ‘He Who Sits...’
Click to display entire chapter at once -- (mobile link)

“...Excuse me?” said Hector.

“Are you hard of hearing?” the unnamed man said. “I asked if you would like to become a god.”

“...I don’t know what that means. And what did you do to my friend?”

“I ordered him to be silent.”

“Y-yeah, but how did you do it?”

The stranger gave him a puzzled look. “What do you mean? I ordered him.”

Page 1492

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When he regained enough of himself to actually observe his surroundings, Hector realized that they were completely different. The others were standing beside him instead of above him, and it was pitch dark in all directions.

Save one.

Straight ahead.

A mountain of apparent jewels lay there, glowing and sparkling softly in the darkness.

Holy lakefire!’ said Lorios.

“That’s it, isn’t it?!” said Manuel. “The Sosho’Diyu?! It must be!” The man took a couple steps forward, but Diego extended a hand in front of him.

“Everyone,” said the Lord Redwater, no longer even remotely jovial, “be exceptionally cautious. We currently have no idea where we are, what just happened, what we’re looking at--or even whether any of this is real.”

Manuel fell silent at that, as did everyone else, even the reapers.

Oddly enough, though, Hector did have an idea of what had just happened. Vaguely, at least. True, that briefest glimpse of so many ethereal lights suspended in space hadn’t been much to go on--but it was enough.

“Just now,” said Hector, “I’m pretty sure that was teleportation. It was more disorienting this time, but I’ve seen it before.”

Diego looked at him. “That was--?” He stopped himself, gears turning in his head.

Garovel had some private words for him. ‘That’s what it was like when you were teleporting all over the place with Ibai?

Yeah. Wait, you weren’t with me?

No, I was quite busy cowering underground, remember?

Hector did not. Large parts of that whole experience were simply a blur in his memory, especially the period immediately after their encounter with Rasalased.

“So what’s the plan, then?” asked Mr. Sheridan. Rather than looking at the apparent treasure, he was facing the opposite direction, using his small lamplight to cut through the murky blackness all around them.

The others seemed to realize in unison that the man had the right idea and so decided to join him in trying to illuminate their surroundings. Working in tandem, they were marginally successful.

It was a tremendous cavern, seemingly. The rock walls in each direction were so distant that everyone’s lamps were barely strong enough to reveal them.

Next, they followed Diego’s lead in illuminating the path to the treasure, and eventually, after they’d worked up enough nerve, they began inching toward it as a group.

It was farther away than it first appeared to be. A trick of depth perception. The vast majority of the jewels were much larger than they’d seemed. Where they’d previously looked pea-sized, now they were looking more like golf balls. And their individual glows began to reveal distinct colors as well--blue or white or yellow, mainly.

There was a whole lot more than just jewels, as well. As they grew nearer, a kind of cove in the side of the glimmering mound revealed itself, and within it, Hector spotted a number of golden chests and shelves with all manner of unfamiliar objects on them.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Page 1491

Fortunately, Hector knew from the research he did all the way back in Atreya that the melting point of iron was around fifteen hundred degrees Celsius, and this magma didn’t seem to be quite that hot. Less fortunately, it was still hot enough to make control of his iron more difficult, causing it to weaken and bend against Hector’s wishes. Temperature manipulation helped, as expected, but he had to work quickly, because as per the First Law of Materialization, once his iron was created, he could no longer affect its temperature.

He grew his iron all the way to the bottom of the pool and then began making his platform in order to lift it all out. He created a funnel for it so that the magma could safely spill over to exactly where he wanted it to, and soon enough, he’d moved the entire pool into a large iron tub.

There’d been more magma there than perhaps anyone had expected, and once Hector annihilated all of his excess iron, he and Diego were both able to jump down into the now-empty moat around the monument.

“Hah!” came the exultation from Diego, and Hector looked over to see the man crouched down again, examining the bottom of the moat with a lamp in hand. “I do believe we’ve found our keyhole, boys and girls.”

Even now, Hector almost couldn’t see what the man was talking about. The keyhole in question blended into the dark rock so well as to be nearly invisible.

Diego readied the Kag with his right hand, then threw one last look up at all the faces staring down at the two of them. “I hope you won’t think less of me, but if it turns out that this Kag actually doesn’t fit in this little hole here, then I may need one of you to hold me while I have myself a good cry.”

Just hurry up and get on with it,’ said Yangéra.

Diego exhaled audibly. “Okay, here goes.”

He slid the Kag into place, and it appeared to fit.

But nothing happened.

Try turning it counterclockwise,’ said Garovel.

With noticeable strain and using both hands, Diego did so.

A deep shunk rang out, and Hector felt a sudden vibration in his feet.

But after a moment, it went away.

There was only silence as everyone waited, holding their expectations in check while they looked around, wondering if anything was going to happen.

Then the world bent in half.

Hector’s vision distorted like a smeared painting, and he lost all sense of direction or balance or footing. For a brief time, he felt as though he was floating through empty space.

A familiar feeling.

And for an even briefer time, he could see. Everything. Ethereal lights. In all directions.

As soon as he grasped what he was looking at, it was gone, and he was standing on his own two feet again, senses gradually returning to him.

He shook his head, as if to shake away the disorientation itself, and his hand searched for the wall of the moat, but it wasn’t there.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Page 1490 -- CLIX.

((Double Monday -- Page 2 of 2))
There was a maze-like etching all over the body of the monument. The marks were so faint that even with the light being emitted by the pool of lava directly below, they were still almost invisible to the naked eye.

Mr. Sheridan was talking again, but Hector wasn’t listening.

What are these marks?’ he asked Garovel.

...They’re a signature,’ the reaper said privately. ‘Rathmore put them on all of his works.


Chapter One Hundred Fifty-Nine: ‘Pursue thine bounty...’
Click to display entire chapter at once -- (mobile link)

Their inspection continued for a while longer, but they had nothing to show for it. Despite Garovel’s assessment, they found no apparent means of doing anything with the monument. No keyhole. No mechanism of any kind.

And though the reaper clearly did not wish to, they eventually decided to go meet up with Diego and tell him what they had discovered. He was the one in possession of the Kag, after all.

However, Garovel decided not to bring up Rathmore’s name. As far as everyone else was concerned, it was just a strange monument of entirely unknown origin.

And indeed, it really was almost everyone else. They ended up bringing more than just Diego back to the park with them. Manuel, Lorios, Elise, Carver, Mr. Sheridan, and all four of the Hun’Kui came along as well. Only Zeff and Axiolis were left out, which seemed a bit of a shame, but the consensus in the group was that Zeff wouldn’t come with them even if they went to go ask him.

Diego walked around the monument several times, rolling the Kag between his hands all the while, breaking only to scratch his chin or his temple intermittently.

So?’ said Yangéra. ‘What’re you thinking?

Diego crouched down in front of the molten pool, then looked over at the reapers. “You guys really can’t tell me anything else about this thing?”

The reapers all shook their heads.

Hector wondered if Garovel’s choice of secrecy was truly the right one, but he figured he would just trust his judgment for now.

“Hmm.” Diego smacked his lips. “Hey, Hector. C’mere for a sec.”

A bit confused and curious, Hector ventured over and crouched down beside the man, in front of the pool.

“...Think you can safely move all this lava for me?” said Diego quietly.

Hector blinked. “Hmm...”

“I’d do it myself, but it’d probably be easier for a materializer,” said Diego.

“Ah... alright.” Hector rubbed his gauntleted hands together, gathering his concentration.

He’d never tried to materialize anything inside lava before, but as he feared, it proved impossible. It was still too close to a solid, it seemed, and therefore too dense for his iron molecules to accumulate. Pushing all the lava out on a simple platform would not work. He would have be a bit more creative.

He started by adding iron to the stone wall that already existed around the pool, and from there, he began growing his material downward and into the lava.

Couple announcements

So I've been wanting to increase my output a little bit, and I just recently hit 100 patrons on Patreon, so now seems like a good time. From now on, in addition to Double Mondays, I'm gonna start doing Double Wednesdays and Double Saturdays. Similarly, on Patreon, since I'm already posting twice everyday, I'm gonna start posting three times on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays.

It's not a huge increase, I know. Only two/three more pages a week. But I think the incremental approach is good.

Also, if you wouldn't mind and haven't already, I'd appreciate it if you would vote for TZKS over at Top Web Fiction. If you're not familiar with TWF, it's a good place to find new stuff to read from authors who aren't me. Similarly, voting there is a big help toward increasing our ranking and thereby making new people more likely to give TZKS a try.

Anyway, thanks for reading as always, everybody. There's still lots more to come.

Page 1489

((Double Monday -- Page 1 of 2))
They moved to the edge of the park, where they could speak in private while overlooking much of Himmekel. There was a decent view of the lavafall here, blocked only by a couple of the Vault’s many black bridges.

“Hoo boy, these Hun’Sho are somethin’ else,” said Mr. Sheridan. “When I tell the folks back home about these people, they’ll flip. Or call me crazy. Probably the latter, actually, unless I’m able to bring proof with me.”

Hector wasn’t terribly interested in that subject, but he did see a way for it to lead into the subject which did interest him. “...Do you have some kind of proof in mind?”

“One of the Hun’Sho themselves would be best, obviously, but they don’t seem too interested in leaving. Real shame. So I was thinking maybe that monument over there would be a good substitute. Only problem is how I would transport it all the way back up to the surface.” He motioned toward the pointy stone that Hector had seen earlier.

“Why?” said Hector. “What would a rock prove?”

Mr. Sheridan gave him a smirk. “That ain’t no normal rock, son. I don’t rightly know what it is, but I know a shot from my lovely little .38 right here didn’t leave so much as a scratch on it.” He produced a handgun from the pouch on the side of his hip and gave it a showy twirl. “And this baby packs quite the extra kick, if you know what I’m sayin’.”

Hector did. But he had a different question. “...Why were you shooting the monument?”

“Oh, it wasn’t me. It was Hermeios. Those nice fellas were all curious about my weaponry, and I always love opening new minds to the wonderful world of advanced personal protection technology.”

“Right...”

“And credit where credit is due--the guy hit that monument dead on. Seemed like a real natural. Maybe a bit too eager, but I made sure to impart the importance of good trigger discipline.”

“...You weren’t concerned about letting a stranger hold your gun?”

“Not as long as I got my back up.” He returned the gun to his pouch and pulled out a second, slightly larger one. “Though, I wouldn’t call them strangers, exactly, either. I’ve gotten to know Hermeios pretty well, these past couple days. Swell guy. Real understandin’ and SO polite.”

Hector saw Garovel drifting toward the monument and decided to follow.

The reaper inspected it up and down. He pressed a skeletal hand against it. ‘I can’t phase through it.

Hector was inspecting it now, too--though he had to keep a greater distance because of the pool of lava in the way. He scanned the rock for some sort of hole or indention--anything that seemed like it might be related to the Kag--but he saw nothing. Just flat, smooth stone.

Well. Actually, no. Not perfectly smooth, Hector eventually noticed.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Page 1488

“Do you have many books in Intar?” said another of the Hun’Sho.

“Of course!” said Mr. Sheridan. “Though, ours are typically quite fragile--and flammable, specifically--so it would be quite the trick to transport them safely here to you, but for the right price, I think we can--ah! Hector! My young friend! What are you doing standing over there all by yourself?” Mr. Sheridan smiled wide and waved him over as he looked across his audience again. “Have I told any of you fine folks yet about how this young man saved my bacon?”

“Bacon?”

“What is bacon?”

“My life!” the man clarified. “He saved my life!”

“Ah, so bacon is life.”

“Yet another strange new Mohssian word. How interesting.”

“No, I didn’t mean--! Ah--shoot! Uh--!”

Hector listened as Mr. Sheridan tried to clarify even further, but it didn’t seem to go very well for him, and at length, the man gave up and addressed Hector again.

“How are you finding Himmekel? It is a majestic place, no?”

“Uh--yeah.” Hector decided against telling him about the current quest to find a keyhole. Even assuming Mr. Sheridan could be trusted, there were too many Hun’Sho around who would overhear. “What are you doing here, by the way?”

“Oh, just enjoying some of the finest company that Himmekel has to offer!”

Hector would’ve given the man a dubious look if his helmet wasn’t in the way. “Are you really trying to sell stuff to the Hun’Sho?”

“Aha. You overheard that, did you? Well, what can I say? I am an enterprising man. I hope you will not think less of me for it, because I do not plan to change any time soon!”

The man’s sheer enthusiasm took Hector by surprise and pulled a small laugh out of him. “S-sure,” said Hector, “but, uh--I mean, do these guys even have anything to pay you with?” He threw a quick look over the Hun’Sho listeners. “Um, no offense.”

They merely returned curious expressions.

“Oh, don’t be silly,” said Mr. Sheridan. “Wealth is relative, and payment does not require currency. I’m sure these fine gentleman and I can reach an accord with just a bit of amicable appraisal and negotiation. Why, just a couple years ago, I made an arrangement to have fresh fish shipped all the way to a tiny little village that had nothing to its name but dirt. Dirt, I tell you! But am I sore about how that deal ended up? No sirree Bob! In fact, I’m more than pleased! And this other time, I arranged to have--”

He’s definitely planning to rip them off,’ said Garovel privately.

Hector was getting that impression, too. ‘Wouldn’t that mean he’s already got his eye on something?

It sure would. We need to talk to him alone. See if we can get any useful info out of him.

Okay.

And it took a while, but at length, Hector managed to wrest the man away from the Hun’Sho--or free them from him. Hector wasn’t quite sure which.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Page 1487

Hector wasn’t quite sure what the reaper meant. ‘So, what? You’re saying... someone in Abolish actually has a smart plan for overthrowing their own boss?

Oh, I don’t know about that,’ said Garovel. ‘Maybe it’s a good plan. Maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s not a plan at all, and I’m completely misreading everything. All I’m really saying is that I think something big is happening within Abolish right now. Something that could threaten the status quo--or dare I say, even destroy it.

You sound surprisingly optimistic.’

Is it so surprising, though? Abolish has been getting its ass handed to it, lately. You heard the news about Jackson taking down not just one, but TWO of Abolish’s biggest threats, didn’t you?

Hector certainly did. He recalled Asad’s sister going around and telling everyone. ‘The Star of the West. Wonder what he’s like.

I’ve heard nothing but good things about him. And now it sounds like he’s the de facto second-in-command for the Vanguard.

I wonder what he would think of this whole Rainlord situation.’

Assuming he knew the whole story? Tough to say. But even then, I doubt he would side against the Vanguard.

Hmm.

Whatever the case, Abolish is gonna have a hard time dealing with him.’ Garovel broke for a laugh. ‘And YOU, apparently. Lest we forget how you made Abolish eat shit AGAIN when you took down Ivan.

I definitely did NOT take him down.

Completely on your own. No help needed. Made him look like a punk bitch.

Hector sighed but couldn’t help laughing just a little.

At least, that’s what I’ve been telling everyone,’ said Garovel.

Hector’s eyes widened at the mere thought of that. ‘You’re just joking, right?!

I am. Calm down. Hilarious as that would be, I don’t think I’d be laughing when Morgunov himself showed up to take revenge on you.

Ugh...

Hector turned a corner and found himself in an apparent park. It was small, but there was a walled off pool of lava in the middle with a tall, sharp monument rising out of it like a rocky needle. The area also boasted a cliffside view of Himmekel to Hector’s right, along with a few stone benches where a handful of Hun’Sho were seated.

Someone else was with them, Hector noticed as he got closer. Someone in a climate-controlled suit.

“--like you wouldn’t believe!” came a familiarly deep voice. “Why, in six months’ time, I could have quarterly shipments arriving here all the way from Boregard! There would be no need to leave! I could bring the wonders of the surface world directly to you! Convenience at its finest!”

“Boregard is the name of your homeland?” said one of the Hun’Sho.

“My hometown, actually,” said Mr. Robert Sheridan. “My homeland is a place called Intar. Quite lovely this time of year, if you can get used to the clamor. It’s the center of the world, you know! Busiest country on the planet! And the most productive, when accounting for quality.”

Friday, January 12, 2018

Page 1486

Ah,’ said Garovel. ‘What can I say? Talking is kind of all we’ve got goin’ for us, so yeah, reapers tend to “overdevelop” our conversational skills a bit. It’s one of the reasons why I said we’re good liars. We get a lot of practice in.

Hmm.

In fact, that’s a good rule of thumb for you: whenever you meet new reapers, expect them to talk a lot, and be wary of those who don’t. There are really only three types of reapers who don’t talk much. The young, the crazy, and the ones with a lot to hide.

Huh...

At our age, if you don’t talk, the inevitable boredom will drive you crazy. And that may sound like an exaggeration, but it’s not. Talking is an important coping mechanism for us.

That... explains a few things, I guess.

Someone like Tenebrach, though--he’s an example of the third type. Of course, I only met him the one time, but he didn’t talk much. As expected. A guy like that SHOULD have a lot to hide. It’d be weird if he didn’t.

Wait, who are you talking about?

Tenebrach. Sermung’s reaper.

Oh. Right.

But anyway, I’ve digressed from what I was talking about before.

Abolish’s religions.

Right. The variation in Abolish’s beliefs has been growing rather rapidly in recent years. According to the Rainlords, it’s even gotten to the point where Abolish has become this weird melting pot of personality cults.

You mean for more than just Morgunov and Dozer?

Yes. Apparently, there’s also been some very divisive rhetoric going around within their ranks. There’ve even been rumblings about a secret group of Abolish reformists. Though, maybe they’re not so secret anymore, if we’re hearing about them now.

Is that... good? Because it sounds kinda good.

Possibly. I mean, it sure would be nice if Abolish stopped going around trying to kill as many people as they can. But I don’t have confirmation that this reformist faction is actually trying to achieve that. And honestly, I doubt it is. More than likely, all this reformist stuff is just the result of a simple power struggle.

Hmm. Politics isn’t exactly my strong suit...

Well, you’re a lord now, so you better learn quickly.

Ugh...

A power struggle would also be pretty insane, though--especially now. Maybe not as "simple" a matter as I just suggested, now that I think about it.

What do you mean?

Morgunov and Dozer have been in power for close to three hundred years. And it’s not like no one’s been trying to take it from them. The gap in strength between them and everyone else is gigantic. So how would you go about trying to bridge that gap?

Uh...

At this point, if you’re a member of Abolish, and you want to seize control of it for yourself, the most obvious plan is to just wait for the Vanguard to kill one of them for you.

I guess so. But if your plan is obvious, then it probably sucks.

Exactly.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Page 1485

Yeah, I suppose that could be a problem,’ said Hector. ‘And that reminds me, um... Well, maybe I should’ve asked this a long time ago, but does Abolish have, like, an official religion?

They have at least two, actually.

...What do you mean “at least?”

Well, the essential split is between the Morgunov faction and the Dozer faction, as you would expect. But each side also has its own degrees of extremism. So extreme, in fact, that they become almost unrecognizable from one another.

I don’t, uh...? Give me an example.

Okay. On Dozer’s side of things, the religion is called “Nualism”--or “the Way of None.” It’s rather grim, from what I’ve been hearing, but the variation in it comes from differing interpretations of “the Void’s will.”

The Void is like their god?

More or less. I think they’d tell you that the Void is actually not a god and instead just a silent, collective consciousness inside all of us, but I’m digressing again. Point is, the followers of Nualism are disagreeing about what they think the Void wants them to do.

In what way, though? Can I get some specifics?

Specifically... in regard to the killing of children.

Hector stopped walking in order to look at Garovel. ‘Oh...

I did say it was grim.

Yes, you did.’ He looked out over the stone railing of the bridge he was on and absorbed the glimmering view of Himmekel for a moment. So far, this hunt for a keyhole hadn’t been turning up much, and as he observed the branching pathway ahead of him, as well as the half-dozen bridges both above and below, he couldn’t help feeling like it was pointless to keep searching.

But oh well. He decided to pick the center path and kept walking, trying to make sure that he was still paying attention to everything he was seeing while talking to Garovel.

So,’ Hector went on, ‘does that mean that some of the... Nualists or whatever are actually against killing kids?

Yeah.

That’s... good, isn’t it?

Sure. Y’know, apart from all the ones who AREN’T against it, that is.

Ah--but they’re fighting each other over it, right?

Mm, I dunno if they’re actually “fighting.” I just know they’re disagreeing enough to consider themselves not part of the same religion.

Huh...

Degrees of extremism, like I said.

Right...

There are a lot more deviations like that, supposedly. More than I previously thought there were, even. I’ve been learning quite a lot about Abolish recently, thanks in no small part to all of the reapers I’ve been able to talk to during our travels.

Oh yeah. I always see you guys grouping up and talking to each other.

You make it sound like we don’t want you involved in our conversations. You’re always welcome to come listen, y’know.

I try to. It’s just, I mean--you guys go on forever. It’s hard to pay attention for that long.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Page 1484

You made me feel like an asshole for saying that, too! And I was right the whole time! You’re a cheater, y’know that?!

A religious surprise party is not a real thing, Garovel! And a shrine is not a party!

It could be! Depends on how you spin it!

Hector was lost for words.

The nerve of this guy,’ huffed Garovel. ‘And to think, you even tried to make me feel like I was cheating, didn’t you? Was that because you knew that you were the one who was cheating all along?

I wasn’t cheating.

Seriously, how could you do such a thing?

I didn’t.

Hector, this is a betrayal of the highest order.

No, it isn’t.

I’m speechless.

Oh, I wish you were.

Y’know what? I take back all the nice things I said about you just now.

You didn’t say any nice things about me.

Well, maybe I was thinking them, then. I take back those thoughts.

Okay? Ouch, I guess.

I’m glad you understand.’ The reaper drifted over to the side of Hector’s field of view. ‘By the way, what made you want to build a bunch of religious shrines in Warrenhold?

Oh, uh... well, I’ve kinda been thinking about it for a while, really. Pretty much since we first got there, actually.

Why?

It was just, uh... Some of those rooms that we saw. They were in total ruins, but they looked like they used to be really pretty. The rainbow shrines in particular. I guess, ah... I guess ever since I saw those, I’ve been wondering what those shrines were actually used for. Because, I mean, all eight of Warrenhold’s towers have one, so they were probably pretty important to someone, right?

Rainbow shrines...?

Hector blinked. ‘Do you not remember them?

Um. Sure I do. They were--ah--very colorful, weren’t they?

Hector laughed. ‘You really don’t remember?

Kind of? Not really.

Wow. This is the first time I’ve remembered something that you didn’t.

Alright, don’t get all cocky. Your little shrines probably just didn’t impress me enough to make me remember them, is all.

I see.

Anyway, I don’t think a shrine of the Rainlords’ water god is typically supposed to be rainbow-colored. So are you gonna completely tear the shrines down and rebuild them?

Might have to, considering how destroyed they were. I’d kinda like to preserve the rainbow coloring, though, if I can. It seems like it could have some historical significance or something.

Hmm, maybe.

Do you know of any religion that used rainbow-colored shrines?

Can’t say that I do. But that coloration might be all the clue we need. Perhaps Stasya built those shrines as a tribute to ALL religions, not just one.

I was thinking that, too, actually. It would make sense with what Voreese said about Stasya wanting Warrenhold to become a center of trade between the surface and the Undercrust. She could’ve wanted those shrines to be welcoming of all different faiths.

Well. The ones that can get along with one another, at least.