Saturday, March 24, 2018

Page 1629

((Triple Saturday -- Page 3 of 3))
Of course, it was only a pretend war. A game. Not like the real war that was raging in the south and the northeast.

“Think we’ll ever see them again?” said Steven one day, while they were lounging around a hole that they had recently dug out for themselves as a hiding spot. He had stopped wanting to be called Peter a month ago, nor did he want to go back to Jonah. And rather than quarrel with him over something that they didn’t really care about, Parson and Damian merely went with it. Besides, it made for an extra means of confusing people in the village, which was always a plus. “Our fathers, I mean. Think they’ll ever come back?”

“Of course they will,” said Damian. “Why wouldn’t they?”

Steven scoffed. “Idiot. Don’t you know what war is? It’s where people die. Lots of people.”

“I know that. But they’re not gonna die.”

“How do you know?”

“He doesn’t,” said Parson. “He’s just being optimalistic.”

“Do you even know what that word means?” said Damian.

“Do you?” said Parson.

Damian folded his arms. “You shouldn’t use words you don’t know the meaning of. It makes you look stupid.”

“Shut up. You don’t know anything.”

“My mother says the war is going great for our side,” said Damian. “There’s nothing to worry about.”

“Hmph,” Parson huffed. “As if she would tell you the truth.”

“You callin’ my mother a liar?!”

“No, I’m callin’ YOU a baby!”

And they fought again, but it didn’t have the same kind genuine anger behind it that it used to. They were both content to let it end in a draw. Steven tried to get them to shake hands. They both just slapped him instead for trying to order them around.

Not long after that, tragedy arrived and hit them like a ton of bricks.

Stefol passed away. The Miles family dog had simply grown too old.

The Trio didn’t know how to react. This was their first experience with such things.

But they were sad. That much, they knew. Even Damian, who’d been bitten not that long ago. They’d all gotten to know Stefol much better in the recent months, Parson included. The old dog had seemed fuller with life during that time than Parson ever recalled before.

Then, at his mother’s recommendation, Parson decided to make a memorial for Stefol. The other two members of the Trio joined him.

Alas, it was a task which would never see completion.

“Hey, what’s that?” said Steven, pointing toward the horizon.

Parson saw what he meant. Smoke in the distance.

“A fire?” said Damian. He sat atop a tall boulder that they’d been trying unsuccessfully to roll up a hill for the past day or so. They hadn’t been exactly certain what they were going to do with it if they ever managed to actually get it up there, but it had seemed like it would make a good fixture for Stefol’s memorial.

Soon, they caught sight of a rider as well--a lone man on horseback crossing over the hills and coming toward Trintol. He was slumped forward in the saddle, not riding properly at all.

Page 1628

((Triple Saturday -- Page 2 of 3))
However, the next time Parson, Damian, and Peter met, there was much less animosity. While Parson still couldn’t exactly say that he liked Damian, there was a degree of camaraderie between them. They had a common enemy in the girls now. And arguably the adults as well.

And so it was that they became a trio, of sorts, and spent their days scheming away, trying to come up with various ways of terrorizing the girls. One time, they gathered as many frogs as they could find and released them like a plague upon the girls’ most frequent haunts. No one ever knew who was responsible. Another time, they gathered up crickets. And still another time, they gathered up fleas.

They regretted that one, though, and resolved to start coming up with plans that didn’t involve animals.

They relied on Peter for a while, helping him to hone his craft as a liar. First, they tried to trick the girls into thinking that Peter was a prince. It didn’t work so well. Then they tried to convince the girls that the well on the south end of the village was haunted.

“By what?” one of the girls asked.

“By the ghost of Mad Man Morris!” said Peter.

“And who is that?”

“He was a lunatic and a murderer! He killed his whole family and laughed while he did it! They say he fell down the well and died, but you can still hear his moans at night!”

The girls didn’t believe them, of course. But they convinced them to visit the well at night in order to prove their courage, at which point, Parson had already climbed into the well and was waiting for them. After a few timely moans of “agony,” the girls quickly decided to leave.

And the next day, they began to hear rumors of the ghost in the well.

It was all they could do to contain their pride and laughter.

That meager taste of success was all the motivation they needed to push themselves toward ever greater heights. Story after story, prank after prank, the trio began to grow rather infamous as troublemakers.

But by far, their most triumphant venture was when they covered Damian in sheep’s blood and told everyone--with the greatest of sincerity and commitment to their roles--that he’d been be mauled by a pack of wild coyotes.

They had the whole village in an uproar.

Of course, when everyone realized the truth, the Trio caught hell to a greater degree than they ever had before, but it was worth it, Parson felt. He’d never laughed so hard in his life or had so much fun.

In time, some of the other boys wanted to join their little gang, but it was far too late for new members. The Trio were in agreement that they should keep things exactly the way they were.

The other boys didn’t take the rejection well, perhaps because the Trio lobbed curses and mud at them, and for a while thereafter, the Trio went to war with all the other boys in Trintol.

Page 1627

((Triple Saturday -- Page 1 of 3))
As the days went by, they spent more and more time together, mainly because ‘Peter’ followed Parson around at every opportunity.

What an obnoxious brat. Parson wondered if this was what it was like to have a little brother. Peter claimed to be older than him, but when Parson asked the boy’s mother directly, surprise, surprise, that turned out to be a lie. Parson had a full year on him.

Parson’s next encounter with Damian was at the summer festival. All the boys in the town had gathered to play a game of tag. Some of the girls tried to join in, but the boys chased them off. Parson wouldn’t have minded their company, especially not that of Alisa Brandt, but oh well. He hoped he would find an opening later so that he could kick dirt on that stupid pink dress she was wearing. Where did she even get a dress like that, anyway? She couldn’t have made it herself. It was way too nice.

Damian tagged Parson while he was distracted.

Agh. Stupid Alisa and her stupid dress. What was she laughing about, huh? It really bothered him.

He had to tag Damian back. For some reason, no one else would do. It had to be Damian. So Parson chased him down and ignored everyone else.

The other boys took notice fairly quickly, but Parson didn’t care. Maybe it was because he wasn’t feeling quite so timid, anymore. He’d been in a fight. He had this weird little minion following him around. Parson’s confidence had grown. And he absolutely didn’t want to lose to Damian, lord’s son or not.

Eventually, Parson managed to tackle him. It was rougher than they were supposed to play, but that was how these games went. The boys all knew that. And so did the girls, probably, watching them the way they did.

But Damian didn’t seem to take it that way. He socked Parson in the jaw, and then they were rolling in the dirt, kicking and screaming, punching and clawing.

The other boys had to pull them off of one another before the adults showed up.

And that was the strangest moment of all. Everyone understood without any words being spoken that, regardless of what they had just been doing, the grownups couldn’t find out. Parson just didn’t want to get punished. Were the other boys the same way?

It seemed to be working. They could pretend. He didn’t even mind acting like Damian was his best friend.

But just as the adults were turning to leave, one of the girls ratted them out.

“They were fighting!” she said. “We saw them! Didn’t we, girls?!”

The other girls all agreed with her--even Alisa, who scrunched her face up and stuck her tongue out at Parson in particular.

Traitorous wenches.

This was why girls couldn’t be trusted.

The boys were all punished. Parson’s mother whipped his ass so hard that it hurt to sit for the next few days.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Page 1626

After that, Parson made a habit of avoiding Damian whenever he saw him. He was a timid boy, Parson, and Damian was older by almost a year.

Then Parson met another boy who lived in the village, one whom he had seen around a few times but never learned the name of until their mothers forced them to play together.

The boy’s mother said his name was Jonah, and he even answered to it when she called for him. Yet, when Parson was alone with him, the boy suddenly started acting otherwise.

“Don’t call me that!” he said, hanging from a tree branch like a monkey.

Parson was confused. “Don’t call you what?”

“Jonah! My name’s not Jonah!”

“Then why did your mother--?”

“Shut up! She’s stupid! She doesn’t know anything!”

Parson didn’t believe him, but he decided to play along. “Alright, so what’s your ‘real’ name, then?”

Jonah hopped down from the tree and landed with showy toughness. “My real name is Parson.”

Parson’s face scrunched up. “What?! No, it isn’t!”

“Yeah, it is!”

“Nuh-uh! You’re a liar!”

“No, I’m not! My name’s Parson! You have to call me that from now on!”

“No, I don’t! Liar!”

“Yeah, you do! That’s how names work, idiot!”

That was it. “Oh yeah?! Maybe I’ll tell your mom that you said she was stupid!”

“What?!” That seemed to rattle him. “You better not!”

“Or what, huh?!”

“Or--! Or I’ll tell everyone your stupid dog bit me, too! Then you’ll be sorry!”

So Parson punched him.

Then Jonah punched him back.

It was the first fight Parson ever got into. It really hurt.

When both boys returned with black eyes and ripped clothes, their mothers were indignant. Parson got ten whips with father’s old belt. His mother didn’t seem to have any trouble carrying out the sentence in the man’s absence, nor did she care to listen to his claims that Jonah had it coming.

When he saw Jonah the next day, though, the boy seemed different.

“I’m sorry for what I said before.” Jonah’s eyes were at his feet.

Parson checked to make sure the coast was clear, wondering if his mother was putting him up to this.

Oh. Yep. There she was in the window, watching them.

Better put on a good show for her, then. “Don’t worry about it,” said Parson, and he stuck his hand out to shake on it. “I’m sorry, too.”

Jonah took the handshake with a big smile.


It was only supposed to be for pretend, but as they continued to spend more time together, it became clear that Jonah didn’t realize that. The little jerk actually took the words to heart.

Well, that was fine, Parson supposed. He still didn’t like Jonah very much, but it was better than another spanking.

And they became friends. More or less.

“My name really isn’t Jonah, though.”

Parson rolled his eyes. “So what is it, then?”

“It’s Peter. You have to call me Peter from now on.”

“Ugh. Fine. You’re Peter now.”

“Yes! Thanks, Parson!”


Thursday, March 22, 2018

Page 1625 -- CLXXV.

Hector wondered if he should even bother greeting his own mother before setting out again.

Probably not, he decided. Garovel had said she was sleeping, anyway. No point in disturbing her. Oh, but he should’ve asked Mr. Easton how she was doing, at least.


He hunted down a phone in order to give Gina a quick update and also ask for one in return, but she hadn’t heard from Roman since she’d last spoken to Hector. It was nice to hear her voice again, but he knew he didn’t have time to enjoy the conversation--or even to explain fully. It sounded like she had quite a few questions for him--particularly why he was back on the surface without Roman--but Hector ended up just telling her that it was a long story and not to worry about it for now.

She didn’t seem pleased with being left hanging like that, but time was a factor here, and it looked like Zeff, Diego, and Manuel were ready to go again.

So they did. The group of four servants and four reapers made their way down to the lowest chamber in the Tower of Night and the heavy, round door to the Undercrust. Their reapers latched onto their bodies, and then one by one, with Hector going last, they jumped into the pitch dark hole.

It was going to be a very long fall.

Chapter One Hundred Seventy-Five: ‘When the world began to shift...’
Click to display entire chapter at once -- (mobile link)

...171 years ago...

It was in the village of Trintol where they first met. A little place, by any account, not even large enough to make it onto a map. But it did have the sweeping vistas of the Melmoorian countryside going for it. The rolling green hills in all directions and the view of the aptly named Storm Mountains in the east--together, they offered a view that was quite uncommon.

Shepherding was the trade that kept Trintol afloat, and that was the first job that the six-year-old Parson Miles ever held. He wasn’t very good at it. Stefol, the family dog, did a lot of the work for him. His father might have been able to teach him, if he hadn’t been drafted into the war.

But Parson was not alone in that regard. It was much the same for all the other children in the village, even Damian, the lord’s son.

They met when he saw Damian throwing rocks at Stefol. And Stefol, though he was old and rather small for a Melmoorian Shepherd, did not appreciate that gesture very much. So the dog chased the boy down and bit him on the ass.

Needless to say, that wasn’t a very favorable first impression.

Being the lord’s son, and a vengeful little shit, Damian tried to get Stefol put down. It was outrageous that a peasant’s animal should bite the son of a lord, he said.

But Trintol wasn’t much for that sort of thing. Everyone knew that the Lord Lofar, though he was currently absent due to the war, would not have approved of such retribution being taken, especially when the animal in question was an important part of the livelihood for the family it belonged to. Not to mention, everyone in town knew and liked Stefol more than Damian.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Page 1624

((Triple Wednesday -- Page 3 of 3))
“Oh,” said Mr. Sheridan, “well, you’re too kind. I am pretty exhausted, now that you mention it. Not as young as I used to be, unfortunately. If I could trouble you for a meal as well, I would be eternally grateful. Even more than I already am, I mean!”

“Of course,” said Hector. “Just give us a minute.” He pulled Mr. Easton aside in order to keep his next words just between the two of them. “Keep a close eye on this guy for me while I’m away. Be nice to him, but I don’t want him wandering around on his own. I don’t know if I trust him, yet.”

Mr. Easton just stared at him for a second.

“...What’s the matter?” said Hector. Shit. Had he said something weird just now? Or stupid?

The man blinked. “Nothing at all, sir. I’ll take care of it.”

“...Thanks.” That was a relief. Hector was about to break away from him until he suddenly remembered something. “Oh, and here.” He pulled out the Shifting Spear of Logante from the back of his waistband. “I want you to take this. Careful with it.”

Mr. Easton took it. “...What is it?”

Hector took a couple minutes to explain its basic functionality, going over the voice commands that Garovel had told him about earlier. Hector suspected that there were more commands that he didn’t know about yet, but Garovel was busy talking to the two new Najirs at the moment.

By the end of the explanation, Mr. Easton looked a bit overwhelmed.

“...You don’t have to actually use it, if you don’t want to,” said Hector. “I know it’s kinda weird, uh... so...”

“No, ah--thank you. I will give it a try.”

And again, he was about to let Mr. Easton go, until he remembered another thing. “Oh, and uh, please make sure that Mr. Sheridan knows about Warrenhold’s weird, ah... psychological effects on people. I can’t remember if I ever told him about that or not, so...”

“Yes, sir.”

“Ah--thanks. Again.” And finally, he released Mr. Easton.

Hector breathed another sigh. There were so many things to take care of. And now there was some sort of financial crisis to worry about on top of everything else?

He was feeling pretty exhausted himself, now that he was allowing himself to relax a little. And he really would’ve liked to sit down and have a nice meal, too. He hadn’t eaten very frequently in the Undercrust, partly because of the food shortage in Babbadelo and partly because it wasn’t particularly to his tastes--especially after the numbing of pain wore off and he felt like he’d eaten a bowl of lava. Even Carver’s biosphere had only had vegetables.

The more Hector allowed himself to think about it, the more he began to crave a hearty meal. Or two. Or five.

Maybe it was better to just not think about it, then.

He observed the Najirs again. Asad had sent them here in order to open the door to the Undercrust for them, which was a bit unnecessary now of course, but as Hector recalled, Asad had also ordered Jada to go with them.

And yet she had ended up staying with Asad and everyone else, instead.

Hector wondered why. He also remembered Garovel mentioning something strange with them as well. Some sort of family difficulties, perhaps.

He empathized.

Page 1623

((Triple Wednesday -- Page 2 of 3))
Samira seemed more than a little caught off guard when the Lord Elroy moved in close and hugged her, even lifting her off her feet like a sack of potatoes.

Hector stared, arguably even more shocked by what he was seeing than she was.

“Oi--! Hah--! Y-yes! It is good to see you, too, Lord Zeff!” Her Valgan accent was much thicker than Asad’s, and her gold-and-black robes dangled loosely over her whole body, covering everything but her face and hands.

Zeff let her back down, leaving the woman looking somewhat traumatized by the experience, and then went for Midhat, first shaking the young man’s hand vigorously, only to pull him and lift him off his feet, too. “Oh, I haven’t seen you in ages! You’re almost a grown man, already!”


Samira’s apparent reaper floated forward. ‘Lord Zeff, what are you doing? I am not sure this behavior is appropriate.

Ah, I apologize,’ said Axiolis. ‘Zeff and I have been through quite a lot, lately. We are genuinely overjoyed to see you.

The other reaper didn’t argue further.

Zeff let Midhat down. “I wish I could stay and talk more, but I must go and retrieve Asad.”

It was then that Mr. Easton approached Hector from the side and took his attention. His uniform was different than Hector remembered. The suit was even blacker than the man himself was. “Lord Goffe. There was no word of your return. We would have organized a welcome.”

“Ah, yeah. It was kind of sudden. I thought I’d be, uh--ah... well, it doesn’t matter now, I guess.” He took a breath and rethought his next words. “I haven’t actually ‘returned’ yet, though. I have to leave again for, like, a day or two. Then I’ll be back.”

“I see. I thought you might have returned after hearing the news.”

Hector paused at that. “What news?”

“So you haven’t heard. Two of Atreya’s four largest banks have collapsed. More than a million people have declared bankruptcy in the last two weeks alone.”

Holy fucking shit-grenades,’ said Garovel privately.

Hector just sighed and rubbed his forehead.

“They’re saying we’re about to see the greatest economic depression in the history of the country,” said Mr. Easton.

“Hoo boy.” Mr. Sheridan walked up behind Hector. “Sounds like a real pickle.” He offered Mr. Easton a handshake. “Good to meetcha. Name’s Robert Sheridan. West Intar Company.”

“Jamal Easton. Head of Security for Lord Goffe.”

“Oh! Head of Security, eh? You sure this kid needs anyone to protect to him?! From what I’ve seen, he’s the one doing the protecting!”

“Ah. Well, yes...”

“Only teasing, of course,” said Mr. Sheridan. “Important fella, your lord here. Nothin’ but respect for him. Saved my life, y’know. Great guy. Just the best. I hope we can--”

“Mr. Sheridan,” said Hector. “I’m sure you’re tired. Mr. Easton will show you to a room where you can rest.”

Page 1622

((Triple Wednesday -- Page 1 of 3))
Zeff didn’t let up. “How close did you come to losing her, exactly? And how seriously have you been taking your training, recently? Did you train at all during the last two days?”

Diego just closed his mouth again.

“That’s what I thought.” Zeff pointed to the other side of the platform. “Go practice your pan-forma.”

“But we’re still tired from earlier, and--”

“All the better for your training, then. Go on.”

Diego looked like he wanted to argue, but he didn’t. He turned and walked over to where Zeff had pointed, and Yangera followed.

Hector watched them go. “That was a bit harsh, don’t you think?”

“Warriors are not forged through comfort and coddling. I am sure Diego knows that, too, but it seems he needed reminding.”


“Focus on yourself,” said Zeff. “Do as I instructed. Put an object in orbit around you.”

Hector did so.

From there, Zeff kept pressing him further and further, bit by bit, trying to slowly and incrementally get Hector to find the new limit of his ability, but there wasn’t enough time left. The training ended up being cut short when they arrived at Warrenhold.

Hector controlled their descent with nervous and careful discomfort. When they finally touched ground again, he annihilated most of his work and left it in the shape of a short, wide staircase for everyone, pointing them in the direction of Warrenhold’s aboveground entrance.

No one was immediately around to greet them, but it was still the dead of night, so that wasn’t so surprising. Hector focused on what the Scarf was telling him, searching the area in a way that his eyes couldn’t with all this darkness.

Garovel got there before him, though. ‘Your mother and Madame Carthrace are asleep in their respective rooms in the Tower of Night. Mr. Easton is in the Entry Tower, along with four souls I don’t recognize.

He let the reaper lead the way.

It was a strange feeling, being back here again. Being home again, he supposed.

It was nice. That was what was strange about it.

Repairs to the Entry Tower were coming along, he noticed. The first chamber actually looked fairly nice now, if still littered with dirt and stone dust. No more cracks in the walls or the floor, and the stairs leading downward were no longer slightly bent or uneven.

And of course, there was electricity now, too. Actual, functioning lamps adorned the narrow entry hall, inviting them further in. Back when he had first left for Sair, Warrenhold had still been waiting on the new generator to arrive and lift them out of the candlelit darkness.

It wasn’t much longer until they found Jamal Easton and their two guests.

Hector had never met them before, yet he recognized them almost immediately from their dark complexion and the young man’s yellow eyes. Without a doubt, that was Asad’s son. Which meant the older woman next to him was probably the Lady Najir.

Zeff and Axiolis rushed forward to greet them. “Samira! Midhat! It is wonderful to see you both in good health!”

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Page 1621

Zeff was staring at him again, Hector noticed. Did he want to ask a question? If so, why wasn’t he saying anything? Maybe he was just waiting for an opening. The reapers were talking to each other again, so--

“You achieved emergence, didn’t you?” said Zeff.

All the reapers went quiet.

“...Yeah,” was all Hector could think to say.

“Good,” said the Lord Elroy. “We will test your new limits as soon as we have the space and opportunity to do so. In the meantime, how difficult are you finding it to maintain this... flying platform of yours?”

“Ah... it’s... kinda hard. It’s the same basic principle as the orbiting technique, but there are a lot more little things to account for. I feel like, maybe, a more aerodynamic shape than a simple platform could make things easier, but I’m not really sure. The added complexity might just screw everything up, instead.”

Zeff nodded. “Yes, perhaps it would. We can experiment with that when safety is not as great of a concern as it is now.”

“That’s what I was thinking.”

“But do you feel that you are already near the limit of your ability? Or do you think you can do more than this?”

A tough question. Hector took a few moments to try and take stock of himself. His concentration was divided again, he noticed. A split between maintaining the variable factors of the flight and simply considering Zeff’s words. Sure, the divide wasn’t difficult when compared to what he’d had to do during that worm fight, but after learning about his Focus, he was more mindful of the division in his thoughts than ever.

Which, in its own way, he supposed, was creating another divide, wasn’t it? Instead of splitting his attention in two, it was being split three ways now.

Kind of a waste, then, this third thing. But it was hard to get rid of, somehow. Agh.

“...No,” said Hector. “I don’t think this is all that close to my new limit. It’s tough, but I feel like it’s getting easier as I do it more.”

“Hmm.” Zeff folded his arms. “Let’s increase the difficulty, then. Try putting something in orbit around you, right now.”

Diego held up a hand. “Ah--do you think that’s really a good idea? Shouldn’t you guys save the training for later?”

Zeff regarded the Lord Redwater with a raised eyebrow. “Are you worried about safety? Because as has already been mentioned, we have not forgotten it.”

“Sure, but, c’mon, we just escaped the Undercrust and twenty-seven different brushes with death--at least, that’s what it felt like. Can’t you just take a moment to relax a little while we wait to arrive? You didn’t even sleep or eat anything while we were in Himmekel, did you?”

Zeff glowered. “You have little room to speak. Why were you and Yangera so exhausted when we found you in front of Malast, hmm?”

Diego opened his mouth but didn’t respond this time.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Page 1620

((Triple Monday -- Page 3 of 3))
“So, uh,” said Diego, once he was close enough, “how are you doing over here, Hector?”

That seemed like a strangely plain question. “Ah... I’m alright.”

“It just occurred to me to that, despite all the craziness we’ve been through together recently, you and I haven’t really spoken all that much.”

And as was often the case, Hector wasn’t sure what to say to that.

Garovel helped him out, though. ‘That’s sort of a running theme with Hector. He’s not the most talkative.

“He seemed rather talkative with Malast.” Diego rubbed his jaw.

Ah,’ said Garovel. ‘Yeah. Uh. Well, what can I say? He has his moments.

That’s one way of putting it,’ said Yangera.

Hector didn’t know what to make of the way she was staring at him.

Garovel changed the subject. ‘I don’t suppose you managed to get away with any of that treasure, eh?

Diego frowned as he reached into his vest. “I only managed to swipe a few jewels there at the end.” He held out his hand to show his spoils. “What about you?”

We got a few things. We’ll show you later.

“Hmm. Looking forward to it.”

By the way,’ said Yangera, ‘what the hell was all that stuff that Malast was saying about “blessings”? I’ve been meaning to ask.

Ah. That subject. Hector just let Garovel handle it, as usual. The reaper told them basically the same things that he and Hector had already discussed. Hector did notice that Garovel kept things vague when talking about Focus, however. Not that they had much detail to actually go into, of course, but still. It seemed like Garovel didn’t want to reveal even what little they already understood about the concentration boost it provided. Instead, he simply said that he and Hector were still trying to figure it out--which, in fairness, was not a lie.

From there, the two reapers took over the conversation for a while. Yangera inquired about Warrenhold, and Garovel offered answers. He told her of how spacious it was, how it had seen better days, how they were currently in the middle of trying to restore it, how there was a lake near it, and how it was exceedingly durable thanks to an integrated material called nightrock.

Zeff and Axiolis came over as Garovel was explaining that last part.

It will be interesting to see Warrenhold again,’ said Axiolis.

Oh, that’s right,’ said Garovel. ‘Shenado said you’d been there before.

Somehow, I doubt that is all she said,’ said Axiolis.

Garovel chortled. ‘She said you hated it.

The other reaper’s skull-faced expression seemed to stiffen, somehow. ‘It is true that I have little love for that place. It caused considerable grief for our kin in the past.

I’ve heard,’ said Garovel.

Garovel reiterated details of Warrenhold’s “pest control” mechanism that they had learned from Voreese.

It didn’t seem to do much for Axiolis’ mood. Or Zeff’s.

Page 1619

((Triple Monday -- Page 2 of 3))
Agh,’ growled Hector. ‘Tell Diego to stand still for a minute.

Hmm? Okay. Hey, Diego! Quit moving around so much! Hector’s trying to do something!

The Lord Redwater looked confused but acquiesced.

That was better.

He vanished the legs of the giant table as they neared the highway, and then he slapped a coating around the bottom of the remaining platform. But it wasn’t just a normal coating. It was a hovering stabilizer, of sorts.

Hector couldn’t simply have the platform itself hover, because the platform needed to remain stationary so that everyone didn’t slide off of it like a moving walkway. This hadn’t been an issue before, because on the ground, he could have the top of the platform remain still while everything below it grew and pushed onward. In midair, though, there was no longer anything to push against, which was why this new, floating “holster” for the platform was necessary.

And it worked, just as he thought it would. The platform soared over the rushing cars below and up into the night sky.

Hector, holy shit!

It was actually quite difficult, Hector discovered. Even now, with everyone staying still, he was having trouble keeping the encased platform fully stable. That, and every little jostle was worrisome in its own way, threatening each time to destroy his concentration, which he very much needed right now.

The others were talking more loudly now, perhaps even to him, but he still couldn’t make out their words over the wind. And he was busy trying not to panic and drop everyone, anyway.

Why the hell had he thought this was a good idea? There were two non-servants in their group. They would surely die if they fell from this height or at this speed.

Hector, we’re going the wrong way now,’ said Garovel.

Agh. Shit.

The wind was becoming a problem. The higher they went, the more intense it got. And it was somehow easier to make the platform ascend than descend. Probably because in the beginning, he’d been most worried about crashing into the ground and killing everyone, so he’d decided to err on the side of upward movement, just in case.

The idea of descending was simply more frightening. That was the problem, Hector realized. It wasn’t that it was actually more difficult to pull off. He was just more afraid to do it.

But now he didn’t have a choice. They’d have to go back down eventually. And at this height, going back down a little was no big deal, right?

Goddammit. This whole thing was way more nerve-wracking than he thought it would be. He had to get a hold of himself. They were flying. Under their own power.

He tried to ease up. He had to weaken the force that he’d applied in order to counter gravity.

It worked. They began to lose altitude. But not without more turbulence. Considerably more. He heard a feminine shriek.

Sorry, Elise.

He stabilized his work and course-corrected.

Yeah. This was a better altitude. Still maybe a little too high, but the wind wasn’t so crazy, at least.

He opened his eyes. When had he even closed them? He’d been relying on the Scarf completely, he realized. Thankfully, he’d made sure to keep it wrapped snugly around his neck after removing his armor earlier.

Everyone was staring at him.

Not knowing what to do, he tried to pretend like he didn’t notice.

It didn’t work.

Diego started walking over to him, though he was obviously being slow and deliberate about it this time, which Hector appreciated. It was much easier to account for the balance changes.

Page 1618

((Triple Monday -- Page 1 of 3))
Garovel, are you being serious?’ said Hector. ‘You’re NOT useless! How could you even think that?!

I wonder.

Hector couldn’t believe what he was hearing. The reaper had done so much for him. He had to know that, right?

I’m not trying to sound depressed or pessimistic,’ said Garovel. ‘Rather, it’s the opposite.

What do you mean?

Hector, c’mon. You’ve kinda been on a tear, lately. If I don’t start working harder to step my game up, then you’re probably just gonna leave me in the dust.

I...’ Was that really how Garovel saw things? What was he even supposed to say to something like that?

It’s a GOOD thing, is what I’m saying. I want to make sure that I’m not holding you back.

Holy shit. That might have been the most flattering thing anyone had ever said to him. ‘I... you’re not... Garovel, that’s not true.

Oh, shut up. Yes, it is. Anyway, forget about it.

What the--?! How am I supposed to forget about it?!

I dunno. Maybe I shouldn’t have even brought it up. Point is, we need to stay focused on our objective. Also, there’s a highway coming up soon, so you should probably adjust your platform so that you don’t squash any of the cars or the people inside them.

That was a good idea.

Hector wondered briefly if he could make his iron move seamlessly around a group of cars in motion. He felt like he could, but something about the notion of experimenting with other people’s lives struck him as something he probably shouldn’t do.

Instead, he came up with a much safer experiment, something he’d been wanting to try for a while now.

As soon as he sensed the highway that Garovel was talking about, Hector slowed the pace of his iron, much to Zeff’s expressed chagrin. Hector eliminated most of the platform below them, keeping only a comparatively thin layer for everyone to continue riding on and four tall legs.

His work was suddenly much more akin to a giant, moving table.

The shift in weight caused a bit of turbulence, which seemed to alarm the others, rather understandably, but Hector got it under control.

He wanted to eliminate the legs entirely. He wanted the platform to simply float, like one of his cubes in orbit.

It was similar, in theory, but the weight differential made for quite the leap in difficulty. The larger the mass, the more impact gravity had on his work--and therefore, the more he needed to counter its effects. With just an iron platform, that was straightforward enough, but there were people here, too, and they were weighing the platform down in different places. The same kind of “balance” that he used for his cubes in orbit had to be greatly adjusted here.

And Diego certainly wasn’t helping, what with the way he was walking around, talking to everyone without a care in the world. The man probably had to get up close so that they could hear him over the wind, but still, at the moment, Hector was finding it rather obnoxious.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Page 1617

Why are you only telling me about this now?’ said Garovel.

Well, I--uh. I was still figuring it out. And I didn’t even think it was related to Rasalased’s blessing until I heard Malast mention it.


And, I guess, uh... I guess I kinda thought it was just natural. Er, uh, I mean, I thought it was because of all the meditating I do...

Hmm. That’s reasonable enough, I suppose. And your meditation should be improving your concentration, too. But yeah, maybe not to THAT extent.


Still. Your concentration was pretty good already. I’ve always thought you were a little absurd when it came to meditation. So if you got a boost ON TOP of that, then... Hmm. Hey, wait a minute. Is that why you’re able to just “tune me out,” sometimes? Like I’m some kind of friggin’ radio broadcast?

Uh... I don’t know...

It’s really obnoxious when you do that, by the way. Dunno if I mentioned that earlier.

Ah. Sorry. But, I mean, it’s not like I do it for no reason.

You could just ask me to be quiet. Y’know, politely. Believe it or not, I AM capable of that.

...I find that hard to believe.

And here comes the sass. Alright, fine. Maybe I do OCCASIONALLY talk a little too much, but c’mon, if we’re in a life and death situation, and you need to concentrate, then just say so!

Oh, you mean like when a worm is trying to eat us?

What? Oh. Hey. Look. You managed just fine, didn’t you? And sometimes--MOST times, even--I have insightful things to say. Which is my job, by the way. As a reaper, that is. I’m tasked with imparting all manner of mind-blowing wisdom.


I am a waterfall of knowledge, Hector. Trying to stem the tide of information that flows out of me is quite frankly impossible.

So in other words, I should just ignore you, sometimes.

...Yeah, probably.

Hector let a breath of laughter slip out, but the others didn’t seem to notice, no doubt because of the howling wind rushing past as they traversed the top of the forest.

Hector had added a guardrail, of sorts, to the platform, as well as a ridged grip for the floor so that everyone didn’t have to worry so much about sliding around.

If we’re being completely serious, though,’ said Garovel, ‘then you really shouldn’t make a habit out of ignoring me during battle. I can provide observational support, which could very well save our asses, someday. Granted, now that you’ve got that spiffy Scarf, you might not actually need all that much observational support, but the basic principle that two heads are better than one still applies, I think.

That’s... true.

I’m glad you think so.

We should probably work on that, though. I feel like we’re, maybe, not working together in combat as... efficiently as we could be.

...Maybe so,’ said Garovel. ‘And I’ve certainly been feeling a bit useless, lately. It would be nice to change that.

Hector blinked, because it didn’t sound like the reaper was joking. ‘What? You’re not useless.

Garovel made no response.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Page 1616

((The 17 pages of St. Patrick's Day + Triple Saturday -- Page 20 of 20))
Regardless, Hector wanted to try something more difficult, but he was reluctant to get too crazy with his experimentation. He wasn’t the only one riding this thing, after all.

“How long will it take to reach Warrenhold?” said Zeff.

At this pace?’ said Garovel. ‘Maybe three or four hours.

Zeff didn’t say anything to that, but he was probably still displeased with their current speed, Hector figured. Hector wouldn’t have minded increasing it even further, but Elise and Mr. Sheridan probably wouldn’t appreciate that very much, and their safety was most important.

Then again, as Hector thought about it, Mr. Sheridan had seemed like kind of a lunatic, so maybe he would have liked to go even faster.

Whatever. This pace was plenty fast, Hector felt, and four hours was making good time, considering their current location in the Carthrace Nature Reserve was on the opposite side of the country to Warrenhold.

But that was Atreya for you. He’d almost forgotten how tiny it was. After gallivanting all over Sair with the Rainlords, it was nice to be back home, where traveling didn’t take so damn long. That trip from Luzo to Moaban had been a little ridiculous.

Mr. Sheridan was eyeing him quite a bit, Hector noticed.

Hmm. Nervous, perhaps? Maybe because he wasn’t sure if Hector had completely forgiven him for trying to kill him during the tournament?

Good. Because Hector hadn’t. Nor did he intend to. Obviously, it was no big deal as far as Hector himself was concerned, but what about other people? How was he supposed to trust that Mr. Sheridan wouldn’t just up and shoot somebody else in Warrenhold? Someone who couldn’t simply regenerate?

Maybe Mr. Sheridan really did know better. Maybe he would never do such a thing to a non-servant. But after that incident, “maybe” wasn’t good enough for Hector. As soon as they reached Warrenhold, he meant to send Mr. Sheridan on his merry way back to Intar or wherever the hell he came from.

So,’ said Garovel in the echo of privacy, ‘any idea yet about what this second “blessing” is?

...I was kinda hoping YOU would know something,’ said Hector.

Bah. Wish we had more time to figure it out.

Might not even matter right now. Malast said it would take a while to grow.

True. But still. Can’t say I’m not curious. “Domain,” huh? And you already had this “Focus” thing from Rasalased, too? Do you have any idea what that one does, by the way?

He did, though he wasn’t quite sure how to explain it. ‘Uh...

I thought Rasalased just granted you the ability to materialize Haqq’s shield as you please, but that doesn’t sound like something that would be called Focus, to me.

Yeah, about that, ah... I think that’s because I can... kind of... concentrate on multiple things at once...

Garovel paused. ‘...Excuse me?

I mean, I’m still, uh... trying to figure it out. And maybe it’s not that simple. But, um... yeah. My concentration seems better overall, lately, I guess...

Page 1615

((The 17 pages of St. Patrick's Day + Triple Saturday -- Page 19 of 20))
Which way?’ Hector asked.

Garovel pointed to his left, and Hector grew the platform forward and then curved it around so that they would all be facing the direction that they were going.

He’d never used such a large volume of iron as method of transportation before. It was a bit strange but not difficult. In fact, the Scarf of Amordiin was making it rather easy.

Due to its ability to help him sense the movement of air all around him, Hector had a very clear picture of even the densest parts of the forest. He could sense where all the tree trunks were, where the leaves were, the underbrush, the rocks, and even the animals. A snake here, a rabbit there, a couple bears, a wolf, a group of monkeys, and tons of insects--though those were perhaps too small to sense individually. Maybe if he concentrated on them, but now wasn’t the time for that.

He focused on his platform. Because the open air was telling him so much, Hector could see all the gaps in the forest--and therefore, all the places in which he could materialize iron without crushing anything. Well, except maybe a couple shrubs here and there. They’d probably be fine, though.

It was helpful, because he didn’t want to obliterate the ecosystem. The area of the forest immediately around Rathmore’s Gate was still plenty ruined already. Hell, even now that he’d carried them some distance away from it, he could still sense entire trees that had been uprooted or splintered in half. He noticed one tree that wasn’t touching the ground. Instead, it was lodged horizontally in the canopy, dangling in midair. Some birds had made a nest on it.

All in all, it made for a type of training that he had never done before. Navigating the forest with a building-sized block of iron, creating and destroying his work around every single object and leaving it all unscathed--it certainly demanded attention to detail. And without the Scarf of Amordiin, he didn’t think he would have been able to do this, not without simply flattening everything in their path.

But after a while, Hector started to get the hang of it a little too well, he felt. Even as he increased the speed to accommodate Zeff, Hector found himself thinking that this wasn’t really challenging enough.

Even without his most recent emergence, he felt like he could have pulled this off as long as he had the Scarf. That was what really made this feel trivially easy. He could simply conceptualize his iron as if it were squeezing its way through all the holes in the forest, like a wave of iron jelly. Or iron sludge, perhaps.


Maybe that fight with the worm had more of an effect on his perception than he’d thought. He could visualize the beast’s movements pretty damn well now, after having followed it so attentively over such an extended battle.

Page 1614

((The 17 pages of St. Patrick's Day + Triple Saturday -- Page 18 of 20))
Well,’ said Garovel at length, ‘now we can get to Capaporo safely. It may take us another day or two, but at least there isn’t a feldeath and an army of worms in the way. As far as I know, that is.

Zeff stepped forward, trailing rocky dust behind him. He was quite the ragged picture, what with his wild and mussed hair that looked like it would fight any comb that tried to put it back in order. “Lead on, then,” he said, and he raised everyone up on a short platform of ice. “I’ll carry us to our destination as quickly as I am able.”

Hector intervened, wearing normal armor now instead of the cooling variant. “Wait, um--”

The expression on Zeff’s face did not suggest that the matter was open for discussion. “What?” he said flatly.

Hector held his ground, though. “Let me do it.” And he raised a platform of iron on top of Zeff’s. “You’re supposed to be keep a low profile, remember?”

Zeff did not look like he cared.

Axiolis floated up behind the man. ‘This is Hector’s territory. Let’s defer to his discretion.

At that, the Lord Elroy seemed to relent, and everyone felt the iron platform sink a little as the ice beneath it dematerialized. “Go quickly, then. Everyone is waiting for us.”

Hector knew it. Better than Zeff did, probably. He hadn’t forgotten Rasalased’s words. That Asad was being held prisoner.

He was going to have to tell Zeff about that. And soon, too. For the moment, though, he focused on his materialization. If nothing else, it would be a good opportunity to test his new limits. A giant platform moving over a forest? That would take some doing. But Hector was--

“Hold on,” said Manuel Delaguna, which took a bit of the wind out of Hector’s sails. “Is someone missing?”

Everyone stopped to look around at one another.

The Hun’Kui weren’t with them anymore, of course, but that didn’t seem like cause for the concern in Manuel’s voice. Aside from them, Hector counted the four servants, the four reapers, Elise, and Mr. Sheridan.

Shit. Manuel was right.

Carver,’ said Yangera. ‘He’s not here.

Eleyo--or Royo, I suppose--must have decided to keep him behind,’ said Garovel.

Why would he do that?’ said Lorios.

Any number of reasons,’ said Garovel. ‘At a guess, though, I’d say it has something to do with this “Ettol” figure we’ve been hearing about. Royo seemed interested in him before, and Carver claimed to be related to him.


There’s not much we can do about it now,’ said Garovel. ‘And if Royo wants him for information, then I doubt he’ll hurt him. He is probably not in danger.

Hector wondered about that. He honestly didn’t know what to make of Royo anymore.

“Hector,” said Zeff, sounding annoyed again. “Hurry up. We can move while they talk.”

The man wasn’t wrong, Hector knew. So he set to work, raising the platform up higher and higher until it cleared the canopy of trees.

Page 1613 -- CLXXIV.

((The 17 pages of St. Patrick's Day + Triple Saturday -- Page 17 of 20))
Royo looked around again, perhaps waiting for someone to answer him, but when no one did, he kept talking. “Allow me to expedite your journey for you.” He turned to Malast, who was going back to his chair. “Might I borrow the Staff of Unso for a moment?”

Malast had rested the Staff against his chair earlier. After he sat down again, he shrugged, grabbed it, and flung it over to Royo.

Royo caught it with one hand. “Much appreciated, old friend.”

And it was fleeting, but for a moment, Hector thought he saw Malast actually smile.

“Now.” The pendant around Royo’s neck began to glow along with the tip of the Staff. “Should you ever decide to return to the Higher West Layer, seek me out. I will give you a hero’s welcome.”

Arcing sparks jumped from the Staff to the four corners of the chamber, as they had done previously, and Hector’s vision started to distort familiarly as well.

“Ah, but if possible, I would prefer you not bring your Dragon next time. Farewell.”

Everything blurred and smeared into itself, and Hector lost all sense of direction and space.

The floating sensation lasted noticeably longer this time, however. It was disorienting, to be sure, but Hector was almost able to regain his bearings before it finished. And when it did, he wasn’t nearly so confused as he might have otherwise been.

He saw sky.

For the first time in what felt like ages, he could see stars, twinkling in the night, and a full, lustrous moon.

“What in the--?” someone said. Elise Garza, Hector recognized after a moment.

“Where the hell are we now?” said Diego. “Oh, hey, I can talk again.”

Hector?’ said Yangera. ‘Do you know?

He wasn’t sure why she had singled him out to ask, but in fact, he did know. While the Scarf of Amordiin wasn’t revealing their exact location in a GPS-like sense, it was revealing the shape of a familiar, two-pronged monument that was standing behind everyone’s back. Hector might not have remembered it so clearly if Garovel hadn’t reminded him of it only a couple days ago.

“...We’re in Atreya,” said Hector.

Chapter One Hundred Seventy-Four: ‘An untimely arrival...’
Click to display entire chapter at once -- (mobile link)

It took a while for everyone to get a handle on what had just happened. The lingering blue sparks around Rathmore’s Gate seemed to help them conceptualize it, somewhat, but even so, the fact that they had apparently teleported over such a tremendous distance was no small matter.

Hector might’ve been right there with them in their confusion, if he wasn’t so distracted with something else--or rather, someone else.

Eleyo. Or, no. Not Eleyo. Royo Raju. Reborn with the remains of the God of Growth.

The fact that it was Royo who had teleported them all just now was what concerned Hector. Granted, he’d used some sort of magical artifact or something in that “Staff of Unso,” but would he have been able to do that before?

And the way he spoke...

It had certainly sounded like Royo had some sort of plan. Hector wondered what it was.

Page 1612

((The 17 pages of St. Patrick's Day + Triple Saturday -- Page 16 of 20))
Everyone just listened, and Hector wondered where this was going. Despite what Royo had just admitted to--or perhaps even because of it--Hector didn’t get the sense that Royo was going to attack them.

“I am indebted to you all,” said Royo. Then he pointed at Manuel Delaguna. “Especially to you. And I do not take my debts lightly. Know that they will be repaid, in time. And know that I do not think of you as my enemies or wish harm upon any of you.”

And there was silence again.

Everyone, presumably, was trying to process everything that they had just heard.

Malast broke the quietude with a yawn. “Oh. Hey.” He walked over to Hector and handed the items he’d dropped earlier back to him. “Here.”

It was quite a collection, Hector realized as he started taking them. The Scarf of Amordiin, the Shifting Spear of Logante, that weird orb on a tuning fork, and the Shard.

Wait, where was the Egg of Prosperity? Where was his one million troa? It hadn’t gotten destroyed in the fight with the worm, had it?

Or, hold on. Did he even pick the Egg up in the first place?

...Had he really forgotten to grab it? Even after Garovel pointed it out to him?

Well, fuck.

He wondered if this was how Asad felt all the time.

When it came around to returning the Shard, Hector’s hand grabbed it, but Malast didn’t let go.

“What is this thing, by the way?” said Malast. “It seems a little different to the others.”

And Hector locked gazes with the God of the Underworld. Silently, he again considered telling Malast that the item he was holding contained the very same Rasalased that he had expressed an interest in earlier.

He considered it. And then, he decided to actually do it. “This is a Shard of the Dry God,” said Hector. “Rasalased is inside it.”

Hector, what the fuck?!’ said Garovel privately.

Malast’s eyes widened. The perpetually glazed look on his face went away.

Hector didn’t let go of his end of the Shard, though. “...Actually, I just talked to him again. He said he wouldn’t mind meeting you, but he didn’t seem to know how to make contact.”

“...Huh,” said Malast. “Interesting.”

And to Hector’s surprise, Malast let go of the Shard.

“I guess I’ll have to look into that later,” said the Idle God. Then that glazed look returned. “Agh. That’s gonna suck. I hate having to learn new things.”

Hector returned the Shard to its previous place inside his armor.

Did you really just talk to Rasalased?’ said Garovel, still privately.

Yep.’ A beat passed, and then he added, ‘I think. I guess I could’ve been dreaming or something.


Royo’s words cut him off. “Perhaps I can do something for you, right now.” He held up something in his hand. Some kind of orb? “I do not think this will make up for my debt, but as I understand it, you are all trying to return to the surface, no?”

When did he learn that, Hector wondered? Did someone tell him?

Page 1611

((The 17 pages of St. Patrick's Day + Triple Saturday -- Page 15 of 20))
A good ten minutes or so,’ said Garovel.

Hector tried to pick himself up and found it difficult.

Oh, right. He couldn’t feel pain at the moment, but he didn’t have his cooling armor on, so the heat of the Undercrust was trying to melt his body again, competing with his regeneration and sapping the strength from his muscles.

He focused and remade the armor. It materialized quickly and easily, requiring less concentration than he recalled.

Right. Emergence.

Someone else was saying something. They’d been saying something, he realized.

“--Iron One?”

Ah. Must’ve been Malast.

Sure enough, when Hector looked up, there the Idle God was. Along with the Hun’Kui man, Eleyo.

Eleyo looked normal enough. But the jar that had been in Malast’s hands before was now in his, instead.

And it was open.

“Feeling better, Senmurai?” said Eleyo.

The man had two voices, Hector noticed, like that of a servant in a hyper-state.

Hector finally stood up fully. “Did you already...?” He didn’t know how to end that sentence.

“Yes,” said Malast. “It is done. Secho is reborn.”

Hector looked over the others. Diego, Yangera, Carver, Elise, Manuel, Lorios, Mr. Sheridan, and the three other Hun’Kui, one of whom was unconscious and had been so all along.

They looked okay, all things considered--a bit awestruck and frightened, perhaps, but unharmed at least. Zeff and Axiolis were still in the viewing window above Malast’s head as well, though they did not look nearly as calm. If Hector hadn’t been so certain that he’d finished off that worm, then the silent mayhem in the viewing window might’ve made him worried that Zeff was fighting it now.

“We were waiting for you to awaken,” said Eleyo. Or was it Secho, now?

Hector was almost reluctant to ask, but he did so anyway. “...Why?”

“Before that,” said Eleyo, “I feel I should confess something. My name is not Eleyo. And I do not mean that it is no longer Eleyo. I mean it never was. I deceived you. And I wish to apologize.”

Hector had no response.

“My name is Royo Raju. Remember it well, for it will soon belong to a king.”

A chorus of unsettlement rose up from the two other conscious Hun’Kui in the room. They recognized the name, Hector figured.

“But there is more I should tell you,” Royo went on. “And perhaps you have realized this already, or perhaps you would have in the future, but I would like to say it now, regardless. It was I who caused your train to derail. It was I who brought those worms down upon us.”

Now it wasn’t just the Hun’Kui who were unsettled.

Hector thought back. Through all the chaos, the question of why the worms had first attacked had never really occurred to him. He hadn’t thought it was anyone’s fault.

But apparently, it was.

Royo Raju wasn’t done. “I have wronged you. I know this. I did what I had to do to escape a fate as wretched as any I can imagine, and you were all caught up in the dire consequences that followed.”

Page 1610

((The 17 pages of St. Patrick's Day + Triple Saturday -- Page 14 of 20))
This conversation wasn’t going how Hector hoped. That seemed to be a running trend, of late.

Given who he was talking to, he’d thought that he would be able to learn something important, but if anything, it seemed like Rasalased was the one acquiring new information here, not him.

Pretty weird, Hector felt. The notion that he could tell a “god” anything that they didn’t already know.

Malast had been the same way, though, now that he was thinking about it. He supposed that supported Garovel’s belief that they were not truly “gods”--at least not in the sense of being all-powerful or all-knowing.

“I suppose that means you can’t tell me anything about what Domain does, either,” said Hector.

“Ah, is that what he called your second blessing?”


“Fascinating.” And that was all Rasalased had for him, apparently.

Yeah, alright, fine. What was something that the Dry God might actually be able to tell him?

Hmm. Maybe something about the Sandlords? Or maybe just--oh yeah.

“...Do you know where Asad is, right now?”

“My successor.”


“He is in the town of Capaporo.”

Wow, a straight answer. And exactly the one he had been hoping for, too. That was a relief.

“You should hurry to him,” added Rasalased. “He is a prisoner.”

That was much less of a relief. “Prisoner?! But--wha--how?! Who’s holding him prisoner?!”

“Hmm. A good question. A lost sheep, it seems to me.”

“...Say what?”

“That is who is holding him prisoner.”

“A sheep.”


“...Like a literal sheep, or...?”

“Perhaps. Or perhaps not.”

“Ugh... could you give me a name, maybe?”


“...Fair enough, I guess.”

“He is much confused and struggling to find himself. Full of regret. His mind is in such disorder that he does not even notice when I probe for his emotions.”

“...Are we talking about Asad or the sheep now?”

“The sheep. This is why I believe he is lost.”


“I hope you will help my successor one more time.”

“I’d love to, but, uh, h-how do I do that, exactly?”

“I do not know.”


“Good luck to you, Young Hector.”


“And goodbye.”

“Wait, what?! I still have more questions!”

“As do I. I hope we will be able to speak again.”


He felt the world shift. The cabin disintegrated, and a vast calmness enveloped him. It felt simultaneously like a gentle wind, a warm sea, and a familiar set of clothes.

Hector awoke, wincing. His throat felt hoarse; his body felt like rubber; and he was so dizzy that it took him a minute to realize that he was face down on the ground.

Slowly, he picked himself up.

Hector!’ came Garovel’s soundless and private, but nonetheless very loud, voice. ‘You okay, buddy?!

...Yeah,’ he finally managed to say. He could feel the undead vigor coursing through his body again. No pain anymore, either. ‘How long have I been out?

Page 1609

((The 17 pages of St. Patrick's Day + Triple Saturday -- Page 13 of 20))
“Curious,” said Rasalased. “The God of Impulse was said to have been been consumed by the Void in the earliest days of humanity. Even in my time, the name Ettol was all but forgotten.”

That information was surprisingly coherent for Rasalased, Hector thought. He almost wanted to make a crack about time not being time, but he felt like it might ruin his chances of learning anything else here. “...Do you know more about Malast?”

“No. Only stories. That is why I would quite like to meet him.”

“Right...” The more he thought about it, the more questions came to mind. “How many... beings who can grant blessings are there? Do you know?”

“I do not.”

“Can you tell me anything about Sermung? Or Dozer? Or any of the servant emperors, really?”

“Only that they are very powerful. Perhaps if I were to meet them, I could learn more.”

“Hmm. What about Cocora? Do you know if she exists?”


“What about Avar? Or Lhutwë?”

“Lhutwë?! Of course he never existed! Only a fool would believe in such nonsense!”

“W-whoa... okay.”

Oh, right. Rasalased was a Sandlord--and probably from a time when they hated the Rainlords. The Dry God had been nice enough to Emiliana, as Hector recalled, but he supposed it wasn’t so surprising that there was still lingering animosity there.

He tried to think of more things to ask, but after that string of failures, his enthusiasm had waned somewhat, and the most pressing question that he could think of was, “How much time do I have here with you?”

“Time is not time.”

Well, he walked right into that one, Hector supposed. He decided to rephrase and try again. “...Am I stuck in here?”


“So... how do I get out, then?”

“When your blizzard is calmed, you will return.”

Right, the blizzard. It was still raging “outside” of the “cabin” that they were currently taking shelter in. “Do, uh... do you know how long that’s going to take?”

“As long as it must.”

Hector wanted to sigh and laugh at the same time. “...I’ve missed you, Rasalased.”

“Is that so?”


“Then I thank you.”

“You’re welcome. I guess.”

“I have a question for you, Young Hector.”

“I can’t wait to hear it.”

“What do you intend to do with these blessings?”

“Uh...” That was one hell of a question. “I... I think I’d have to know more about them before I could figure out what do with them. Which, uh--which reminds me. Malast said that the blessing you gave me was called Focus.”

“Did he now?”

“...Yeah. I heard him myself.”


“...Could you maybe tell me a little more about what Focus actually does?”

“I do not think so, no.”


“I did not think my blessing would have a name. Hmm.”

Page 1608

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“Why, uh...? Why was I was going insane, though?”

“Your blessings are conflicting with one another.”

“Oh. So... it’s kind of your fault that I was going insane in the first place, then...”

“That is true, yes. I might have warned you against this, but I did not think that you would ever acquire a second blessing--and certainly not so quickly.”

“Yeah, me too...”

“But there is no cause for concern. Though I am the problem, I am also the solution.”

“Ah... yeah. Thanks again, by the way. And not just for what you’re doing, now. Ivan would’ve killed everyone in Dunehall, if you hadn’t helped me the way you did.”

“That is also true, yes. But so too would they have died, if you had done nothing. If you must thank me for my help, then I must thank you for yours.”

Hector didn’t know what to say to that.

Rasalased pitched a different subject at him. “Who is it that granted you this new blessing, Young Hector?”

“Ah... you mean, you don’t already know?”

“Hmm? Perhaps I do. I would like you to tell me, nonetheless.”

“Uh. Alright. It was Malast.”

“Ah. Indeed. So it is the God of the Underworld who is holding one of my Shards, then.”

Hector might’ve blinked. That was right, wasn’t it? The Shard had been in his armor, along with the other items he’d stored there. So when his armor had been destroyed... right in front of Malast...

“...Is that gonna be a problem?” said Hector.

“I do not think so. It seems as though he does not sense my presence. I am still dormant within the Shards, after all. Only here, in your mind, am I awake.”

“...Hmm.” Hector wasn’t sure he understood, but that was nothing new when it came to Rasalased, he supposed.

“It is a pity,” said the Dry God. “I might have enjoyed speaking to him. He is far older than me.”

That, Hector had a hard time believing. “Really? He’s older?”

“Very much so.”

“But, uh... I mean, compared to you, he struck me as kinda... childish, in some ways.”

“Indeed? How curious. Now I would like to speak to him even more.”

Hector couldn’t even imagine what that encounter would be like. He didn’t entirely want to imagine it, either. “...Are you sure that wouldn’t, like, bring about the end of the world or something?”

Rasalased laughed again. “I am quite certain that it would not.”

“Hmm.” That brought another question to mind, something that he’d wanted to ask Malast about but hadn’t gotten the chance to. “Do you, uh... do you know anything about Ettol?”

“The God of Impulse?”


“I am afraid I do not. Why? Do you?”

Hector wasn’t expecting a reversal like that. “Uh... no, it’s just. I’ve been hearing his name a lot, lately.”

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There was no compartmentalizing his thoughts this time. No way to disassociate himself from the confusion and agony. His mind was consumed in full, and he thought he saw all manner of things which defied comprehension or even visual cohesion.

Monsters with faces. Humanoid but distorted. Distended. Burning with light or fire or energy or some other thing that he couldn’t even conceptualize. The colors, the fury, the chaos, the madness. Raw emotion made flesh. Raw flesh made emotion.

It was too much. Far, far too much. And he was naked against it. No armor to protect him. Not even a body to contain him. Just everything--everything pouring through his mind and his soul, carving through him like a million knives, until suddenly--


Suddenly, it wasn’t. Suddenly, there was nothing.

No. Not nothing. It was all still there. But it felt like it was “outside,” somehow. As if he’d found shelter. Like a little cabin in a blizzard.

And then, as if the very thought manifested itself into truth, it was a little cabin in a blizzard.

It wasn’t quite right, perhaps. Still blurry and wispy and ethereal. But a cabin, nonetheless.

“Interesting choice,” came an encompassing voice. A familiar one, too.

Hector was still trying to process everything, though. He hadn’t gone insane, he was pretty sure. “W-wh... a-ah...” The words died in his fumbling mouth.

Did he even have a mouth?

He couldn’t tell.

“How are you, Young Hector?” the voice said, all full of comfort and certainty--two things that Hector very much appreciated, at the moment.

“I... I don’t... ah...”

“It is alright. You are well. You are having a difficult moment, but you are well.”

Whose voice was that? It felt so clear and familiar to him. It felt like it should have been obvious. But he was still so confused. He’d just come in from the blizzard. He needed to warm up. To center himself.

“Take as long as you need.”

He tried to focus. To find his thoughts. To hold them.

And he did. He had no idea how long it took, but he did.

“I am glad,” the voice said.

“Who...?” As soon as the word left his thoughts, Hector realized the answer. “...Rasalased.”


Hector thought he felt himself smile. “...How are we speaking like this?”

“We are not. And yet perhaps we are.”

Maybe he should have seen that response coming. “...What?”

“Does the method matter?”

“...Why wouldn’t it?”

Rasalased laughed. “I am but a shadow of myself here. In your mind. The piece of me which I placed within you in order to make up for the piece I took.”


“You are feeling better.”

It wasn’t a question, Hector realized. It was an observation. “Yeah, I guess I am...”

“That is good.”

“Rasalased, what the hell is happening, right now?”

“I am preventing you from losing yourself to insanity.”

“...Oh. Uh. Well, thank you, in that case.”

“You are welcome.”

Page 1606 -- CLXXIII.

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And with reluctance that was visible in his body language, the Senmurai did so. “W-what are you going to do?” he asked as the Idle God’s hand found the pate of his helmet.

Malast ignored the question in favor of a long period of silence, instead. “Mm... yes... I see. As I thought. You possess the blessing of Focus.”

“What?” said Hector.

“Granted to you, I presume, by that ‘Rasalased’ you mentioned before. Your prize, then, shall be a second blessing to complement that one. I shall grant you Domain.”

“Uh... er, what does that do?”

Malast spared Royo a sidelong glance. “I do not think I would be doing you any favors by explaining its workings in front of the Hidden One.” He allowed a beat to pass. “Also, I hate explaining things. I’m no good at it. I’m sure you’ll figure it out on your own. You’ll have to be patient, though. Like your first blessing, and like Secho’s power, it will require time to grow.”

“Ah, um, okay...”

There was another long period of silence.

“...Hmm,” said Malast.

“Uh,” said Hector. “Everything going okay up there?”

“Oh, sure. Of course. Sorry. It’s just. I’ve only ever granted a blessing once before. It’s a little weirder than I remember. Probably because you already have one. It’s fine, though. Don’t worry.”

“...Are you sure? Because you sound a little worried, yourself.”

“I said it’s fine. I’ve got this. I mean, it might start to hurt here in a little bit, but that’s how you’ll know it’s working.”

“Wait, what?”


“What?! What does uh-oh mean?!”

“No, it’s fine. Might want to brace yourself, though.”

“For what?! I don’t--!”

The Senmurai’s armor exploded, and Hector went flying backward, all the way to the other side of the chamber, and slammed against the wall. He wasn’t dead, though, judging from the screams of agony that were coming out of him.

A few items had fallen out of his obliterated armor and landed at Malast’s feet.

“Oh, you dropped some things.” The Idle God bent down to pick them up, bundling them adjacent the Urn of Growth in his other hand.

Hector was apparently too busy enduring pure hell to respond, however.

Malast gave a nod. “I’ll just hold onto them for you, I guess...” Then his gaze turned toward Royo.

Suddenly, Royo wasn’t so sure that he wanted to become a god, anymore.

Chapter One Hundred Seventy-Three: ‘Ascension in body and spirit...’
Click to display entire chapter at once -- (mobile link)

It wasn’t just pain. It was existential confusion. Where he was. Who he was. What he was doing. All of that knowledge escaped his mind and danced around it like teasing little gremlins, poking and prodding him, daring him to chase them in vain as Hector stumbled around in his own head.

Oh, but it was pain, too. There was still plenty of that, to be sure. More than he’d ever felt, possibly. It was hard to judge when every fiber of his being was on fire and imaginary horrors were beginning to rear up in his mind, parting the turbulent ocean of his thoughts and terrorizing him in ways that he had never known previously.

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((The 17 pages of St. Patrick's Day + Triple Saturday -- Page 9 of 20))
Yes! But Royo kept his weary eyes on Hector, wary of becoming too hopeful.

“Do you think the Hidden One will abuse Secho’s power?” said Malast.

And to Royo’s surprise, Hector did not immediately say yes.

Instead, the Senmurai hesitated. “I... ah...”

Royo was confused to see such apparent meekness from him, but he didn’t let the opportunity escape. “You needn’t worry. I give you my word that I will not abuse Secho’s power.”

Malast regarded Royo with a flat look. “Maybe you will, maybe you won’t. But if that is the Iron One’s concern, then I can understand it. And though the tournament seems to have reached a premature end, I believe it is obvious enough that the Iron One would have been the victor.”

Royo wished he could’ve argued with that, but he could imagine that if he did, Malast would call his bluff and force them to go fight. And that was precisely what Royo had been trying to avoid this whole time.

“As such,” the Idle God went on, “since I will be giving his prize to another, the Iron One deserves a different prize. A prize which may one day serve to check yours, Hidden One, should you ever decide to misuse it.”

Royo Raju exchanged looks with the Senmurai.

They said nothing. It felt as if they didn’t need to.

For his part, Royo sensed a kind of silent understanding between them.

A prize to check his own.

Royo wasn’t in love with the idea, but he doubted he would ever get a better offer. And though he didn’t know what was going through the Senmurai’s head right now, he had a feeling that Hector felt the same way.

But it felt like more than that, too. Somehow.

He had never put much stock in prophecies, but he was a believer in destiny. He had never thought that mere mortals could--or even should--see what awaited them in the future. Destiny was important and meaningful, but spending one’s time trying to predict it was folly, he felt.

Yet now, he did not know how else to explain this feeling. Perhaps it was because there were more than just “mere mortals” present. Whatever the case, it made him feel as if his destiny was being inextricably bound to this person. As if, one day, the Senmurai would become either his greatest ally or greatest foe.

He wondered if the Senmurai was feeling similarly in this moment. He almost considered using the Piercing Eye to try to find out.

Then, after the moment passed, the Idle God, He Who Sits, did something that no one was expecting him to do.

He stood.

“Alright,” said Malast as he walked over to the Senmurai, “let’s see here...” He reached out with one hand.

The Senmurai, rather understandably, recoiled away from him.

Malast took notice and paused there. “Fear not. I will do you no harm. Allow me to place my hand upon you.”

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“...If that’s really all he wants,” said Hector, “then why hasn’t he done it by now?” He looked toward Malast again. “How many years have you been down here, holding onto that thing?”

Malast bobbed his head, having regained some composure, apparently. “...It has been quite a long time, I suppose. But then again, time is not time.”

“Oh, please, no,” said the Senmurai. “Don’t even start with that shit...”

“Bearers of the Supreme Will are quite rare,” said Malast. “And on top of that, finding one who is agreeable makes the task even more difficult. I tried in the past to find a suitable vessel for Secho, but to no avail.”

“...Did you really try that hard?” said Hector. “Are you sure you didn’t just get bored and lazy?”

“I... that’s...” Malast grit his teeth, and then added force to his next words. “Be silent.”

“...No,” was all Hector said, unfazed.

“Agh... Supreme-Will-having bastard...” He broke for a familiar sigh. “Look. The point is, I had just about given up hope of ever seeing my friend reborn when Ettol finally arrived and said that he would help me out.”

That piqued Royo’s interest--and the Senmurai’s, by the look of it.

Royo spoke up first, however. “Why did Ettol decide to help you?”

“I don’t know,” said Malast. “That guy never explains himself. And I honestly thought he was full of crap, until the three of you showed up.”

“Three?” said Hector.

“Three suitable vessels. You, the Hidden One, and the Angry One.”

Royo didn’t need to ask. He had a pretty good idea of who the Angry One was. And Malast was probably right to think that the one called Zeff would not be very agreeable to his offer. Not in these circumstances, at least.

“Hmm,” hummed Hector. “How did Secho die, anyway?”

Malast paused at that, shifting somewhat in his tall stone chair. “The Void rended him from existence.”

Royo felt the air grow abruptly more tense when Malast said that, almost as if the Idle God’s sheer animosity had been made physical.

A curious sensation, Royo thought.

“The Void?” said Hector while Royo was distracted. “You’re telling me the Void is real, too?”

Malast seemed confused by that question. “Real? Of course not. How could the Void be real? The Void is all that is not. Non-existence cannot be real.”

“...Excuse me?”

Royo didn’t quite follow that, either.

“Whatever,” said Malast. “I’m not good at explaining things, okay? Can we just get back to resurrecting Secho, please? I’d like to get a nap in later, and this annoying conversation is really eating into my me time.”

Royo saw the opening and took it. “It should be clear by now that I am your only reliable option. You must know beyond doubt that I will absolutely revive Secho for you.”

“Hold on--” tried Hector.

“No, he’s right,” said Malast. “He is far more agreeable than you are, Iron One.”

Page 1603

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“You see?” said Hector. “Just because you have the power to do things like that to people, doesn’t mean you should. Especially not without asking their permission first. I mean, you’re a god, aren’t you? Have a sense of responsibility or something!”

“I... I do have a sense of responsibility...”

Rather than responding, the Senmurai just stared at him, waiting for elaboration.

“I--” Malast looked over his audience. “Ugh. Why do you think I never intervene in the affairs of your kind? Despite constantly being asked to, no less? It’s because I have a responsibility to let you be the makers of your own fate.”

“...Is that really true?” The Senmurai probably could not have sounded more doubtful if he tried.

“Yeah,” added the one called Diego. He was sitting cross-legged on the ground with his ghost in his lap. “Seems like you intervened pretty hard with this little tournament of yours.”

You, return to silence,” said Malast.

And again, the one called Diego found himself unable to speak.

“Was that really necessary?” said Hector.

“I find that one’s voice particularly irritating for some reason.”

Hector folded his armored arms. “He’s not wrong, though. You did intervene in our affairs, didn’t you?”

Malast’s expression twitched. “That’s. Because. Secho. Secho is an exception.”


“Because!” said Malast with uncharacteristic fervor. “I told you before! He is my only friend! The only thing I have ever liked!”

“Okay,” allowed Hector. “But then, doesn’t that mean that the real reason you don’t intervene in our affairs is just because you don’t feel like it? Because we don’t interest you? I mean, you are the God of Boredom, after all.”

“I... well... that’s... true, but...”

“I mean, you can rationalize it all you want, but you can’t honestly say that you have a sense of responsibility if you’re really just doing what you feel like doing.”

And Malast appeared to be lost for words.

This was getting out of hand, Royo felt. He had no idea what the Senmurai’s game here was, but it didn’t seem like a good idea to just let it go unchecked.

He would have to challenge Hector himself, if there was to be any hope of rescuing Malast from him.

“Senmurai,” said Royo, gaining everyone’s attention. There was no point in pulling his punches. He needed to turn the conversation into favorable territory. “If Malast gives you the Urn of Growth, will you use it to merge with Secho’s remains? Or will you simply take it and do nothing with it?”


Good. That seemed to have removed some of that momentum.

“Why are you asking?” said Hector.

An easy question to answer. “Because it is highly relevant to achieving a desirable resolution from our current circumstances. Malast wants nothing more than his friend to return to him.” He spared the Idle God a pitying glance. “Now, perhaps the manner in which he has gone about it... has been less than ideal, but he never claimed to be a perfect being, despite whatever biases you and I may possess toward the term ‘god.’”

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The Senmurai noticed Royo there immediately, and the two exchanged looks.

“Eleyo,” came the surface-dweller’s armor-tinged voice. “Are you okay? You don’t look so good...”

The answer to that, of course, was no. He felt like he might collapse if he lost focus for even a moment, but that was neither here nor there.

Even now, the Senmurai was making metal hover around himself, as if to intimidate Royo, as if to imply that he wasn’t even tired after that grueling fight that everyone had just witnessed.

These damn supermen...

“Iron One,” interrupted Malast. “Why do you wish to become a god?”

The question seemed to surprise him. “Uh... I don’t.”

Malast looked over at Royo.

Yes. That was the ideal answer.

“Then why did you apparently risk your life fighting that worm?” said Malast.

There came a long period of silence.

Then Hector finally said, “...Wait, what? I could’ve surrendered against it?”

Malast blinked dully at him. “Of course you could have. Are you stupid?”

“Hey, I... What? The last time I checked, none of the contestants were giant slime monsters. I didn’t think that qualified as a proper match or whatever. I thought--agh... I--just... agh...”

“Mm. So in other words, you were fighting for your life, not to win the tournament.”

“Yes! But wait a second! Are you really saying you would’ve teleported us out of there, if we’d asked you to?!”

“Of course I would have.”

“What?! Why?!”

“What do you mean, why?”

“I thought you didn’t care!” said Hector. “You kept on telling us about how much you don’t care about anything, so I thought Garovel and I were just screwed!”

“Ah... hmm.” Malast scratched his chin thoughtfully. “Well, I can understand why you would think that, but still, you could have at least asked, no? It would have been in perfect accordance with the rule I established before the tournament. And I mean, c’mon. I’m not entirely without empathy.”

“Oh yeah? Is that why you forced everyone into a tournament without even asking us if we wanted to participate first?”

“What need was there to ask?” said Malast. “If you didn’t want to participate, you could have just surrendered in the first round.”

“Malast.” The Senmurai broke for a groan of exasperation. “It’s not that simple. Some of these people are my allies, you know. Friends. But others--we barely even know each other. And not to mention, we have completely different levels of strength, too. Pitting us against each other made no sense...”

“Sure it did,” said Malast, though he offered no counterargument.

“It was also kind of cruel,” Hector added.

“What? Cruel? I don’t see how.”

“It was really dangerous and confusing!” The Senmurai was looking around now. “Is everybody okay, by the way?!”

There were a few words of acknowledgment thrown out from everyone else.

“The only casualty in the tournament was that of Seyos,” said Malast.

Hector paused. “So it was dangerous and someone did die.”

“Ah... well... yes.”

Royo wasn’t sure what was happening. Why did it suddenly sound like the Senmurai was winning this argument? And why did the Idle God sound like a child being scolded?

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Royo grimaced. There was no good way to answer that question directly. So he avoided it. “You must know by now that I will use your gift. I will not let it go to waste. Your friend Secho would be reborn with me, absolutely.”

And Royo saw Malast hesitate.

The one called Elise chimed in. “Why don’t you just admit that you’re too scared to fight Lord Darksteel and surrender?” she said.

What an obnoxious woman--and made all the more so, because he knew that she wasn’t wrong.

He didn’t have the energy to argue with her, though. What would be the point? To keep up appearances? Everyone present must have been able to tell that he was an exhausted wreck.

Besides, it didn’t matter. He wouldn’t achieve victory here by winning her over. Or any of these other interlopers, either. They were inconsequential. It was only Malast whom he needed to convince.

And judging from the Idle God’s expression and sudden quietude, Royo felt like that might just be possible, after all. Malast probably didn’t care one iota about any of these people or their opinions. Malast only wanted his friend back.

“Do you truly wish to see Secho again, or do you not?” said Royo.

“Ugh, you’re not really listening to this, are you?” said the surface-woman. “He is obviously just--”

“Be silent,” said Malast, with familiar force.

And she was. Her mouth continued to open, but no words came out.

The one called Zeff grabbed Malast by the throat. “What have you done to her?!” he roared.

“Begone with you.” The Staff of Unso shined in Malast’s hand.

And the one called Zeff vanished into thin air along with his ghost.

Royo blinked, thinking for a second that Malast had just annihilated the two of them. But then he saw them appear in the viewing window, alongside the Senmurai, whose body language suggested that he was quite surprised to see them.

Silence fell as no one else dared speak.

Even Royo was hesitant.

At length, Malast finally asked him something. “...Why would the Iron One believe that you would abuse Secho’s power?”

A dangerous question, that one. “Because he is mistaken,” said Royo, hoping that wasn’t a foolish thing to say. Perhaps that could be helped with a qualifying follow up. “But of course, I cannot read his mind and know his reasoning with complete certainty. Perhaps he merely thinks that none should wield such power.”

Malast sighed that familiar sigh of his. “Well, he wouldn’t be the first.”

Madly and impulsively, Royo wanted to say that Malast should simply ask Hector himself, but he was fortunately able to stop himself. No good would come of bringing Hector into this conversation, he felt.

“I think I’ll ask him,” said Malast.

It took everything Royo had not to scowl as he watched Hector and his ghost vanish from the viewing window and reappear in front of Malast.