Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Page 1709

Hector thought about it a moment. “If that happens, then... please look after Warrenhold for me. There are, uh... only three people living there, right now. My mother, a woman named Amelia Carthrace, and a man named Jamal Easton. But... ah...”

“I understand,” said Melchor.

It would be our honor to protect them,’ said Orric.

“But not our preference,” said Dimas, which was perhaps the first thing that Hector had heard him say since Capaporo. “Please do not get captured.”

Hector just gave him a nod.

After that, Melchor and Dimas turned to leave, and Orric and Iziol followed suit.

Mr. Easton was probably going to be quite overwhelmed with all of these guests. Hector had never actually told the man directly they would be arriving, but he was fairly certain Mr. Easton already knew. Asad’s wife and son should have conveyed that message when they first arrived.

Probably.

One more thing to worry about later, he supposed.

Only Garovel and Voreese now remained.

Huh,’ said Garovel aloud. ‘Shall we head back to Capaporo, then?

Hector eyed him. “Garovel...”

They don’t need me to guide them. They know the correct direction now, and from here, it’s a straight shot back to Warrenhold.

“That doesn’t change the fact that it’s too dangerous to bring you.”

I’ll keep my distance and observe from afar,’ said Garovel. ‘It’s like you said. Leo doesn’t know who you are. He won’t who I am, either, or that you’re my servant. Or that you even ARE a servant.

Hector frowned.

And considering how apparently reluctant you were to share your plan with everyone, I have a feeling that you don’t actually HAVE a plan. Or, at least not one that doesn’t sound completely insane. Am I close?

Hector didn’t say anything and just glanced at Voreese.

Voreese was already looking at Garovel, though. ‘You’re not exactly filling me with confidence over here, sayin’ shit like that.

All I’m saying is, it wouldn’t hurt to come up with a sound plan.’

“Do you have some suggestions?” said Hector.

Let’s move while we talk,’ said Garovel. ‘It’ll take a few hours to get back there.

That was a good point, Hector supposed. He still didn’t really want to bring Garovel along, but as long as the reaper intended to keep his distance when the time came, there wasn’t much actual justification for leaving him behind.

This time, he pushed himself for a faster pace. Without all the climate pods in tow, he no longer had to worry about having a delicate touch. He simply let the two reapers attach themselves to him beneath his cooling variant armor, and then they blasted off toward Capaporo again, as fast as his iron could carry him.

So the fact that Leo doesn’t know who you are may be our greatest advantage,’ said Garovel.

Are you thinking Hector can just sneak up and yoink Roman away from him?’ said Voreese.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Page 1708

((Triple Monday -- Page 3 of 3))
One of the several other servants who had been watching but not saying anything up to now decided to speak up. “Well, if Lord Goffe believes he can do it, then...” It was one of the Blackburn women. Silvia, Hector was pretty sure.

He was surprised to hear her say that, as well, considering she’d actually seen him fight, all the way back in Luzo. She couldn’t have been very impressed by his prowess back then, either, considering Asad had done all the heavy lifting in that battle.

Strange. Hector wondered what had changed her view of him.

Though, perhaps it would make more sense if nothing had. Maybe her view of him hadn’t changed at all, and she was simply saying that because she didn’t give two shits about the current situation and just wanted to move things along so that her family could get to safety.

Yeah, Hector found that much more believable. Aside from Melchor and occasionally Horatio, the Blackburns were noticeably different from the other Rainlords. More withdrawn. Even now, Hector could see it in the way they were standing so close together, especially around the Lady Nere. She was wearing full iron armor like everyone else, but Hector could still easily pick her out of the crowd from her body language alone. That slumped posture, the frequently downcast gaze. From what he’d heard, she’d been that way ever since leaving Dunehall.

Dunehall, where her husband Ismael had been killed, and her son Ibai had gone missing, in addition to all of the other casualties her House had suffered.

Hector certainly couldn’t blame the Blackburns for seeming that much more protective of her now.

A few other voices arose in agreement with Silvia, more Blackburns and a few Sebolts as well, until at length, Evangelina Stroud spoke up again.

“Fine.” She tapped Hector on the pate of his helmet with the iron knuckle of her own gauntlet. “We will go. But do not tarry long. Else you give us reason to come looking for you.” She turned and started walking away.

Hector was too busy blinking to come up with a response. She’d actually agreed? He’d expected her to be the most difficult to convince.

The other Rainlords began following her, reapers included, but Dimas and Melchor lingered a bit longer, as did Voreese, Garovel, Iziol, and Orric.

This is moronic,’ said Voreese. ‘You can’t possibly... agh, I mean, I’m grateful, but... Hector, what the fuck?

“I’ll need you to point me toward Roman,” said Hector. “I hope you won’t mind coming with me part of the way, at least.”

Of course I won’t mind, you piece of a shit! But--! Argh!

Melchor stepped closer to him. “What if you do not return?”

Hector didn’t know how to answer that.

“If you are captured,” said Melchor, “and if we are unable locate or otherwise retrieve your brain... in such a circumstance, is there something you would like us to do for you? As a final request?”

Oh. Hmm.

Page 1707

((Triple Monday -- Page 2 of 3))
Melchor was the one to break the silence. “...Do you truly believe that you can defeat Leo on your own?”

Absolutely fucking not. But admitting that so bluntly was probably a bad idea, Hector felt. He had the feeling that they wouldn’t let him go if he didn’t act like he knew what he was doing.

So the lie here would have to be convincing. And acting overly confident in his own power would not be convincing, Hector felt. Strong people like Evangelina, Dimas, and Melchor wouldn’t be swayed by boasting. No doubt, they’d seen plenty of people talk a big game in the past and then not be able to deliver.

No, in that moment, Hector felt like he had to strike a particular balance between self-certainty and pragmatism. That was what he had to project, if he was to have any hope of being allowed to go after Roman on his own.

Which meant the question of whether or not he believed he could defeat Leo by himself was a crucial one.

“Maybe,” Hector decided to say, “but I probably won’t bother fighting him. My goal isn’t to test my strength. It’s to get Roman back. And fighting isn’t the only way to accomplish that.”

Darktide just stared at him, not saying anything.

Was that good? Did he buy it? Hector couldn’t tell. Agh. It seemed like every old servant had an incredible poker face.

Evangelina chose to say something now. “If not by fighting, then what do you intend to do?”

Oof. He hadn’t fully figured that out yet, but again, admitting as much seemed like a bad idea.

“I... can’t tell you,” said Hector.

“Excuse me?” said Evangelina, sounding irritated. “Why can you not tell us?”

He decided to borrow a tactic from Asad and Qorvass again. “Trade secret,” he said.

“Ridiculous,” she said. “Tell us your plan now.”

“...No.”

It was bit hard to tell through her faceguard, but she did not look happy.

Okay, maybe saying all of that was a stupid thing to do, but Hector couldn’t help feeling that, of the two options available to two him, it was better to come across as cagey than as lacking a concrete plan.

Everyone was being quiet again.

Hmm. Maybe they needed some reassurance.

“I won’t do anything stupid,” Hector lied, knowing that he was already doing that. “You don’t need to worry. And besides, er, it’ll be easier if I go by myself, because Leo won’t know who I am. If I bring you guys along, he’ll recognize you immediately and probably just attack us.” Huh. That seemed like a surprisingly good point, Hector felt. He had kind of been thinking that all along, he supposed, but it sure would have been nice if he could have articulated it earlier.

Does that mean you intend to negotiate with him?’ said Orric.

Aw, shit. Why did they have to read so much into it?

“Ah... maybe,” said Hector again. “If I have to. Look, uh, that’s not important. Just let me handle this, okay?” And one more lie to top it all off. “I know what I’m doing.”

He was starting to feel like a really bad person with all this lying. And also maybe a dumbass.

Page 1706 -- CLXXXII.

((Triple Monday -- Page 1 of 3))
Orric hovered closer to Hector. ‘If we did decide to mount a counterattack, we would have the element of surprise this time. It would not be like it was before.’

Oh, don’t give me that shit!’ said Voreese. ‘You also don’t have nearly as many fighters as you did before! Or do you plan to go to Warrenhold and get everyone to rejoin us first? All so you can rescue a single servant you know nothing about? A servant whose reaper isn’t even in danger? Get real.

Iziol chimed in now. ‘Are you truly saying that you do not mind leaving your servant behind?

Of course I’m not saying that! But putting yourselves in danger for him makes no goddamn sense! So don’t try and pretend that it does just so you can feel all noble and shit!

“She is right,” said Melchor. “We have no reason to rescue this man, and it would be incredibly dangerous. We have our own people to think of.”

“I agree,” said Evangelina, eyeing Hector now. “Harsh as it may be, I do not think we should get involved. Facing Leo again would be ill-advised, especially so soon after our previous encounter.”

I have to concur as well,’ added Ezura. ‘The risk far outweighs the benefit, and we have already lost far too much in recent days.

At that, no one said anything for a while, not even Voreese.

“...That’s fine,” said Hector, drawing everyone’s gaze one more time. “You guys don’t have a reason to go after him. But I do.”

Hector,’ said Garovel privately. ‘What are you--?

“Honestly, I didn’t want to bring you guys back to Capaporo with me, anyway,” said Hector. “Just head to Warrenhold and get some rest. I’ll take care of this.”


Chapter One Hundred Eight-Two: ‘O, resolute Iron...’
Click to display entire chapter at once -- (mobile link)

You’ll “take care” of it?!’ said Voreese. ‘Are you fucking kidding me?! I already asked before, didn’t I?! How the fuck do you plan on pulling that off, huh?!

That was a very good question. And since Hector wasn’t entirely sure of the answer, he instead decided to say, “Don’t worry. I have experience with this sort of thing.”

What the fuck?! You have experience with--?! Are you--?! Wh--?!

Amazingly enough, she seemed to be lost for words. Perhaps she was suddenly remembering what Garovel had told her about their recent adventures.

Hector was more concerned about how the Rainlords would react, however. He genuinely had no idea what they were going to do.

Currently, they were simply looking at him, not moving or saying anything.

Hector,’ came Garovel’s private voice again, ‘what the fuck are you doing?

Again, another very good question. He answered it with the only thing that came to mind. ‘I’m not leaving Roman behind, Garovel. It’s my fault he even came here in the first place.

Agh--that’s true, but--

Now Garovel seemed lost for words as well.

Hmm.

Two for two. Hector felt pretty good about that.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Page 1705

What?’ said Voreese. ‘There’s no need for that. I’m sure Roman will manage. He’s a resourceful guy.

“I know,” said Hector, folding his arms. “I’m just... eager to see him again, I guess.” He didn’t remove his eyes from Voreese, however.

“If you are waiting, then I will wait with you,” said Evangelina.

Hector held up a hand. “No, please--I want you all to go get some rest. And some food. Please.”

Melchor stepped toward him now. “It hardly seems appropriate that we should return without our host. You are not concerned we will make a mess of things?”

Yeah, we’re pretty good at making messes,’ said Orric.

No need to worry about that,’ said Garovel, though he was staring at Hector. ‘Warrenhold is a bit of a mess already. We’re in the middle of trying to restore it. That being said, though, we’d prefer it if you didn’t make more work for us.

“Ah--yeah,” added Hector. “Just promise me you’ll behave yourselves.” He meant that as a joke and so tried to force out a meager laugh to make that more apparent, but the sound didn’t quite manifest from his throat properly. Somehow, it ended up sounding more like a sigh.

And for a few moments thereafter, none of the Rainlords responded.

Aw, shit. Had he just pissed them off?

Agh. He should’ve known better than to try and force a joke out in an otherwise serious conversation. That was something he should just leave to the reapers, he decided.

Iziol was the first one to speak up again. ‘Is there some reason to be concerned about the well-being of Voreese’s servant?

Everyone looked at Voreese.

Her head reared back a little at all the sudden attention. ‘I’m telling you, he’s fine. He’s just biding his time.

Everyone looked back at Hector.

“Okay,” said the Lord Goffe. “Then ask him something for me.”

Voreese stared back at him steadily.

“...What did he say to me just before the Battle at Rathmore’s Gate?” said Hector.

Everyone looked back to Voreese again.

Her skeletal face twisted with irritation. ‘Agh! Fuck you, Hector! Why do you gotta call me out like this, huh?!

Hector wasn’t having any of it, though. “Why were you lying?” he said firmly.

Ugh! Why do you think?! For your own good, obviously!

“If Roman needs help, then--”

Then, what?! What, huh?! You’re gonna go help him?! How, exactly?! This Leo guy is one of Sai-hee’s strongest people! One of the strongest people in the whole world, in other words! How do you plan to deal with that?!

Hector didn’t say anything.

I mean, would I like you guys to go and rescue him for me?’ said Voreese. ‘Of course I would! But Leo already made you all his bitches once before!’ After a beat, she added, ‘No offense.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Page 1704

((Triple Saturday -- Page 3 of 3))
They managed to quicken their pace now that they had left the city behind. The lighting was much poorer here, but with so much more open space, Hector was able to carry the whole party forward on a growing platform. It was similar to the technique that Zeff had used to carry the group TO Capaporo earlier that day, though Hector wasn’t trying to make his move a the same breakneck speed that Zeff’s had.

At this pace, it would probably be a few more hours before they reached that same big cavern with all the branching pathways, Hector figured. If they were able to make it that far, though, then it would be a straight shot the rest of the way to Warrenhold.

From the corner of his helmet’s opening, Hector could see Voreese staring at him. She wasn’t saying anything, though, which was certainly unlike her.

He wanted to ask her if something was wrong, but the noise of the rushing wind would have made it impractical, so he asked Garovel to do it for him.

You’re awfully quiet all of a sudden,’ the reaper told her.

She finally moved her empty eye sockets away from Hector. ‘Hmm? Oh. Yeah. Just thinkin’ about stuff. Why? You got something you want to talk about?

More like, I was wondering if YOU did,’ said Garovel.

Not as of yet,’ said Voreese.

Garovel pushed a little more after that, but she would say nothing else.

Hector had a dreadful feeling that he knew what could be bothering her, and as the hours passed, he became increasingly convinced of it. By the time they reached the cavern of split paths, he could hold his tongue no longer and brought the group to a stop.

Everyone was looking at him now, but he was prepared for it.

“Voreese,” he said softly. “Where’s Roman?”

He’s with Leo,’ she said.

“...He still hasn’t managed to sneak away?” said Hector. “It’s been hours since we left Capaporo.”

Well, he can’t just run, now can he? Leo would obviously notice that. So he’s waiting for Leo to go to sleep.

Hector found that strange. “...Will it really be that easy? What if Leo checks on the warehouses and sees that everyone’s gone? He’ll probably suspect Roman immediately.”

...That is a possibility,’ said Voreese.

Why doesn’t he just destroy his own brain?’ said Iziol. ‘It is a grisly tactic, I know, but quite useful for these types of situations.

He’s never done that before,’ said Voreese. ‘He’s worried he’ll screw it up and accidentally let Leo capture him.

I see,’ said Iziol, glancing at his own servant. ‘I suppose it CAN be a little tricky.

“Okay,” said Hector, raising up an iron chair for himself to sit down in. “I’ll wait for him here. Garovel can show you guys the rest of the way. It’s not that far now.”

Page 1703

((Triple Saturday -- Page 2 of 3))
I find you very unpleasant,’ said Iziol.

Been called a lot worse than that, honey,’ said Voreese. ‘Why, even just today. A couple hours ago, my servant called me a moldy bitch.

It sounds like the two of you are made for one another, then.’

Heh. Maybe. He can be a big ol’ shithead, sometimes.

Hmph,’ said Iziol. ‘Have you met Mevox yet? I imagine you and he would either get along famously or try to tear each other to pieces.

Is that so? Mevox, huh? I’ve not yet had the pleasure, but with an endorsement like that, I gotta admit, you’re makin’ me curious. Where is this guy? He isn’t here with us right now, is he?

No, he is not. He is the reaper of Lord Salvador Delaguna, so naturally, he went with the rest of House Delaguna.

Pity,’ said Voreese. ‘I’m always happy to meet a fellow shit talker.

I am sure you will get your chance,’ said Iziol.

As Hector might have expected with so many reapers in such close proximity to one another, the servants ended up not getting much opportunity to chime in. No one seemed to mind, however. The reapers made for pretty good entertainment during the rather long and winding trek back up the great pit of Capaporo.

The group’s progress was a bit on the slow side, due to the many climate pods they were bringing along. Dimas took care of the most impressive portion on his own. His alteration ability to manipulate gravity was pretty much perfect for the task, allowing the man to have a veritable fleet of pods following the group in midair.

Everyone else was carrying at least one pod as well. There were no non-servants walking with the group, as those had all departed earlier with Zeff.

They drew many a strange look from the inhabitants of Capaporo, and fellow pedestrians were quick to make way for them.

One thing that Hector had yet to see in the Undercrust was a car. Aside from trains, he hadn’t noticed vehicles of any sort. He supposed it made sense for Capaporo, given how narrow the streets were here, but what was Babbadelo’s reason? He wanted to ask Garovel about it, but the reaper was already occupied with another conversation.

He did eventually notice a large set of elevators, however--not large enough for the group to comfortably board with all of their climate pods, unfortunately, but it was something, at least. Hector wondered how he hadn’t seen them on the way down earlier, and perhaps the immense crowd in the area was the explanation. He must have missed it because of all the bodies blocking his view.

He was still convinced that this city was in desperate need of some good bridges, though. No amount of elevators would change his mind about that.

Eventually, they reached the top of the giant pit again, and gingerly navigated their way through the even narrower side streets that led back up to the long path toward Warrenhold. There was still a ways to go yet, but they’d finally made it out of Capaporo, at least.

Page 1702

((Triple Saturday -- Page 1 of 3))
That is not entirely true, now is it?’ said Ezura, the woman’s reaper. ‘I vividly remember you putting on Lord Romero’s armor when you were a little girl. Or TRYING to, at least.’ The reaper laughed.

“Oh, I had forgotten all about that,” said the Lady Stroud. She eyed Hector through her dotted faceguard. “I was quite the tomboy in my youth, you know.”

“...Think I’d be more surprised if you hadn’t been,” said Hector.

“Excuse me?!” the woman tittered.

“Ah--uh... s-sorry, I didn’t mean that in a bad way...”

“Hmph! While it may be true that I have not acted in the most ladylike manner of late, I assure you that I have many traditionally feminine qualities.”

“...I, ah, o-okay.”

“Why do you sound so doubtful?”

“I--er--I don’t. This is just how I sound.”

What “traditionally feminine qualities” might you be talking about, I wonder?’ said Ezura.

Evangelina held up a gauntleted finger. “Do not even start.”

I am simply curious,’ said Ezura.

“Don’t listen to them, Angie,” said Melchor, coming up on Hector’s right as they ascended a staircase that was wider than most others in Capaporo. “I have always thought you to be very feminine.”

“Thank you!” she said.

Perhaps YOU can provide examples of such qualities, then,’ said Ezura.

Melchor hesitated visibly.

Evangelina slowed her walking pace a little to put herself in stride with Melchor, looking abruptly even more eager to hear his response than Ezura was.

“Well,” said Melchor. “Obviously. Um. She likes wearing beautiful dresses.”

Uh-huh,’ said Ezura. ‘Is that all?

“Of course not. She also... likes to shop, right?”

“Yes! I go shopping with my friends all the time!”

Okay, that’s two things. What else?

“Ah... She is very... uh... agh, I did not realize this was going to be a quiz.”

“I hate sports! That counts, does it not?!”

I don’t know,’ said Ezura. ‘What does the young Lord Goffe think?

At this point, Hector just wanted to run away. “I... I don’t think anything. At all, really.”

Garovel floated over from a conversation with Dimas and Iziol. ‘Are you guys giving my servant a hard time? I’ll have you know, I don’t appreciate people doing my job for me.

It is mostly Evangelina whom I am trying to give a hard time,’ said Ezura, unable to completely conceal her giggling, ‘but I must admit, your young lord from Atreya is quite the tempting specimen in that regard, as well.

Oh, I know, right?!’ Now it was Voreese’s turn to chime in, apparently. ‘Lemme get in on this action, too! Hey, Hector! If you had to bang any Rainlord right now, who would it be?

Pardon me,’ said Iziol, hovering closer with Dimas behind him, ‘but who is this woman, exactly, and why is she so vulgar?

Didn’t I tell you my name earlier?’ said Voreese. ‘Don’t tell me you forgot already. The fuck kinda reaper are you?

The polite and civilized kind,’ said Iziol.

Oho! Well, la-dee-fucking-da!

Friday, April 20, 2018

Page 1701

Soon, everything was moving. The warehouses were bustling with dozens of servants working together, and there was a feeling that they were finally making good progress. The pods were only being removed from the buildings and placed on the other side of the layer of brown dirt, but it was a start.

He eventually spotted Asad and his family moving among the crowd. They were especially noticeable because of their robes, which Hector was surprised to see were still intact, unlike almost everyone else’s clothes. He would’ve liked to say hello, but they already seemed pretty invested in helping with the evacuation effort. The Lord Najir did take notice of him, however, despite how many other servants were wearing armor similar to his; and when the tattooed man offered him an acknowledging wave, Hector was quite pleased to return one of his own.

As the work continued, Hector also thought to ask Garovel about the threat potential of boron, but the reaper just said it wasn’t a particularly volatile element, as far as he was aware. Then he asked Garovel if anyone present might have some sort of elemental advantage against it, but the reaper didn’t think so.

Maybe if someone here could materialize pure hydrogen,’ said Garovel. ‘Though, that might be more of a double-edged sword than an actual advantage.

The closer they got to completing the evacuation, the more Hector worried that bad news would arrive at any moment. Maybe it was just his natural pessimism, or maybe it was an entirely rational adaptation to his lifestyle, but whatever it was, he kept expecting to hear Voreese suddenly tell everyone that Leo was on his way or that a feldeath was about to rip Capaporo to pieces or something.

But to Hector’s immense surprise and relief, that didn’t happen.

They finished removing all of the climate pods safely from the warehouse--by which time, Zeff and Axiolis had already begun leading a trail of Rainlords back towards Warrenhold. Manuel and Lorios led another entourage shortly thereafter, followed by Diego and Yangéra, and finally Hector and Garovel.

And since he was bringing up the rear, Hector ended up with perhaps more than his fair share of some of those powerful Rainlords in his group, including Melchor and several of the top Blackburns, Dimas and several of the top Sebolts, and Evangelina Stroud by herself. The rest of her family members were still captives of the Vanguard, after all.

The woman seemed to be in relatively high spirits, however.

“I have never worn armor like this before,” she said, clad head to toe in full iron plate like pretty much everyone else in their party. “It is a bit restrictive, but I can see why you appear so fond of it.”

Hector wasn’t sure what to say. Materializing armor that fit the female form had easily been his most harrowing experience today, but he was glad that she seemed to like it. She was even carrying one of his shields.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Page 1700

Oh, I doubt you consider it as much of an honor as I do,’ said Voreese. ‘If I’m being completely honest here, I’m a bit of a fangirl of yours.

Melchor just raised a thick eyebrow at that.

I’m an admirer of a lot of the ass kicking you’ve done, especially against Abolish. I remember hearing news of your exploits a few times over the years, and they were usually pretty damn cathartic. If I still had tits, I’d totally ask you sign them for me, right now.

The man looked briefly at the young Lord Darksteel, but Hector didn’t have anything for him. “Ah... um... I see,” said Melchor. “Thank you for those... kind words.”

Yeah, no problem,’ said Voreese.

The pleasantries didn’t last much longer, and Melchor soon joined the rest of the servants in trying to free everyone. For a second, Hector thought the guy and his reaper might use pan-rozum to aid in the process, but they didn’t. No doubt, they didn’t want to deal with the exhaustive consequences of it, in case they ended up needing to fight soon.

The last few weeks must have been especially crazy and confusing from that guy’s perspective, Hector figured. Melchor Blackburn had probably spent the majority of it unconscious and been continuously woken up just before another fight broke out.

Hector hoped everyone would be getting some well-deserved rest once they finally made it back to Warrenhold. There would still be plenty of things to be concerned about, of course--not the least of which was the other large group of Rainlords who’d been captured by the Gargoyle of Korgum at Rheinhal--but at least they wouldn’t have to worry about being attacked at Warrenhold.

Probably.

The notion of Warrenhold coming under siege, too, had not really crossed his mind before. But it was definitely something that he should’ve been giving some thought to, he now figured.

Lord of Warrenhold, huh? Protecting it was on him. No doubt about that. And with the kind of enemies that could end up knocking on his door, combat strength alone probably wasn’t going to be enough.

At least, not their current level of combat strength.

Hmm.

And of course, there was still the matter of what the hell he was going to tell the Queen. This probably wasn’t something he should try to keep her in the dark about. Hell, she’d been looking for strong allies to help her protect Atreya in the future. Maybe he and Garovel would be able to convince her that this was a positive development in that regard.

There was also the restoration of Warrenhold itself to consider. The glimpse he’d gotten of its repairs had been nice, but he knew there were still quite a few places in total shambles.

Ugh. So much to take care of. He was pretty sure he was forgetting a few things at the moment, too.

Whatever. For now, it was nice to be able to just assist the Rainlords in extricating all these climate pods from the warehouses. The pods were still covered in the myriad of shields he’d made when he had arrived in the Undercrust. Maybe a few had fallen off here or there, but the pods still looked pretty well-protected, all things considered, and the Rainlords weren’t bothering to remove the shields, either, despite how much more unwieldy they made them.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Page 1699

((Triple Wednesday -- Page 3 of 3))
Hector made his way over to him and observed the slow regeneration of Darktide. “H-hello...”

Ah,’ said Orric. ‘Hello, Lord Goffe.’ The reaper looked around at the warehouse full of armored servants and gave a faint laugh. ‘I see you are building an army of knights.

“It’s--ah, for, y’know--” He stopped and gathered his thoughts. Slow and deliberate speech, he reminded himself. “...I just figured they didn’t all want to walk around in the nude.”

Yes, I thought as much. It is good to see you are well.

“Ah--same to you.”

Melchor’s torso had just about finished regenerating, so Hector materialized an iron breastplate for him and got a head start on making the crotch-guard so as to help preserve the man’s dignity.

Hector had a question in mind for Orric. “...So you and Melchor fought this Leo guy?”

We did,’ said Orric. ‘And by that question, am I to assume he is still at large?

“Yeah,” said Hector. “What can you tell me about him?”

Only that he is frighteningly skillful with materialization, though you might not guess it by looking at him. Not the most physically intimidating of specimens, but not be underestimated, either. Clearly.

“Were you able to figure out what his element is?”

I believe it may be boron, but I could be mistaken. The battle did not last very long.

Boron? Hector didn’t know a damn thing about that element. “...Did he attack you guys without warning?”

Not exactly. He announced himself first, saying that he wanted us to help him with Sai-hee, but we did not find that very agreeable. THEN he attacked. In the middle of his own sentence. I can only presume that he did not like how negotiations were going, but even though we were mostly on our guard, that tactic still managed to catch us by surprise. Like I said, he did not look intimidating.

“I see...”

Melchor’s body was mostly complete, as was the armor that Hector made for him. Darktide sat up with a groan and rubbed his forehead.

How are you feeling?’ said Orric.

“I’ve been better...” Melchor noticed his iron armor. Then he noticed Hector standing there. “Ah...”

“Hi,” said Hector plainly. He offered the man a hand to help him to his feet.

“That is alright,” said Melchor and stood up on his own. “What have I missed?”

Hector struggled his way through an explanation, until again, Garovel and Voreese arrived to help him. At that point, Hector considered returning to the ceiling to help dig out more brains, but from the looks of things, the others had it covered. There wasn’t much ceiling left to dig through, anymore.

So you’re the famous Darktide, eh?’ said Voreese. ‘It’s an honor to make your acquaintance.

“Ah. Likewise.” The man sounded tired. Hector couldn’t blame him. The guy had been through just as many fights recently as Hector had, and he’d been right at the heart of them all, too.

Phew. Thinking about all that made Hector remember how exhausted he was, too.

Page 1698

((Triple Wednesday -- Page 2 of 3))
At length, a familiar reaper came flying into the warehouse and went straight for one of the brains on the ground. It was Iziol, Hector realized, reaper to the Lord Dimas Sebolt. As soon as the reaper touched the brain, the regeneration began. Veins and tissue and bone all began gradually to appear around the brain.

Hector lowered himself down. Knowing the process as well as he did from personal experience, Hector knew that Dimas was going to be butt naked by the time is was done and so decided to remove his own shirt in preparation for it. Just the shirt alone certainly wouldn’t be enough, given how much taller the man was, but maybe bundled with some iron armor, it would suffice.

Before Dimas could even finish regenerating, however, more reapers began to arrive and resurrect their respective servants. Mevox, reaper to the Lord Salvador Delaguna. Ezura, reaper to the Lady Evangelina Stroud. Olijas, reaper to Carlos Sebolt. And more. The one Hector was really waiting on was Orric, for Melchor Blackburn, but by the time several of the servants were getting up, Orric had still not arrived.

On his feet again, Dimas looked down at the suit of armor that Hector had made for him. It wasn’t a set of full plate like what Hector himself was wearing, but it didn’t look too bad, Hector thought.

“Good to see you again, Lord Goffe,” said Dimas.

Hector had already moved on to the next servant in need of concealment, that being the hulking figure of Lord Salvador. He threw a glance back toward Dimas and couldn’t help smiling a little behind his faceguard. “Would you like a helmet like mine?” he asked.

Dimas seemed to think about it, then looked toward Iziol, who was busy talking to Garovel and Voreese. The man turned back to Hector and shrugged. “Sure.”

Hector was happy to make one for him. It was a little weird, materializing a helmet onto another person, but he didn’t struggle with it. He even decided to try something slightly different with it, making it more angular than his own and gave it a T-shaped opening in the faceguard. He momentarily considered giving the man horns, too, but he figured they might be impractical for combat. No sense in giving an enemy something to grab onto.

“Sorry if it’s a little uncomfortable,” said Hector.

“It is fine,” said Dimas, now with the tinge of metal in his voice. “More importantly, where have you been? And what is happening?”

Thankfully, the reapers chose that moment to arrive, so Hector didn’t have to explain. They were more than happy to bring the Lord Sebolt up to speed, and soon, the man was up in the rafters, digging out more servants while Hector continued providing armor for each newly regenerated arrival.

As the crowd of familiar servants grew, so did their progress, and it wasn’t much longer before Hector finally noticed Orric there, already having located Melchor’s brain, apparently.

Page 1697

((Triple Wednesday -- Page 1 of 3))
Hector looked between the two reapers. “Uh...?”

Voreese took the initiative. ‘Allotropes are basically alternate versions of the same element. The most famous examples would probably be something like diamond and charcoal. Both of those things are just pure carbon, and yet they don’t exactly look identical, do they? Those are carbon allotropes.

Hector blinked at that. “Huh...” Now that he was thinking about it, he seemed to recall reading about something like this during the research he did a while back. He hadn’t really looked into much further, though, perhaps because it hadn’t immediately clicked for him like some other ideas had. “So, uh... how can a materialization user make different allotropes, then?”

That IS the question, isn’t it?’ said Voreese, turning to Garovel. ‘Do you know?

My understanding is that it takes an absolutely ridiculous level of precision. Which would make sense, because allotropes are only differentiated from one another by their atomic structure. So I imagine that the materializer would have to first be capable of manipulating their element on the atomic level.

Hector’s eyes widened as he tried to imagine that. “That... sounds kinda hard.”

No kidding,’ said Garovel. ‘I’m pretty sure it’s a technique that only extremely old servants would be able to pull off. Otherwise, I would’ve had you trying to do it a long time ago.

“Right...” Hector let the shiny black element fall from his hand and returned to digging.

Asad and Zeff may know more about it, of course. We can try asking them at the next opportunity, but I wouldn’t get my hopes up, if I were you. I know you’ve been improving by leaps and bounds lately, but let’s not get too full of ourselves just yet, eh?

Speaking of,’ said Voreese. ‘What the hell is with all this orbiting stuff, huh? I’ve never seen shit like this before.

Heh, well, perhaps I’ll explain that later,’ said Garovel.

Oh? Why not now?

Eh. Don’t feel like it.

What? Bullshit.

No, it’s true. I really don’t feel like it.

Pfft. You tryin’ to keep this shit a secret or something?

I’m sure we have no idea what you’re talking about. Right, Hector?

Hector just glanced at the two reapers and shrugged before going back his digging. With just a little more oomph, he was pretty sure he’d be able to pull the brain out.

He was a little amazed at how much it didn’t bother him, the sight of a human brain just sitting there in front of his face. It wasn’t pulsating or anything like that, but it was pretty squishy and slimy to the touch. Not to mention the smell.

He supposed he had just gotten used to seeing this kind of thing, though he couldn’t really recall a time when it did disturb him, either.

Hmm.

And abruptly, Hector found himself having one of those moments where he simply wondered how the hell he had ended up in this situation. Trying to dig brains out of a ceiling? That was definitely a new one. Certainly not something he’d ever imagined himself doing.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Page 1696

We also wanted to ask you about how Warrenhold affects children,’ said Garovel. ‘Babies, in particular.

That made Hector pay attention again.

Mm,’ hummed Voreese. ‘You’re worried that Stasya’s pest control mechanism might negatively impact some of these Rainlord kids?

Pretty much.

That won’t be a problem,’ said Voreese. ‘In fact, it’ll have just the opposite effect. Instead of feeling immense discomfort, kids who grow up in Warrenhold will come to have a strong association between that unnatural sensation and “home.” So it might seem a little counter-intuitive, but what ends up happening is that those kids become quite attached to Warrenhold when they’re older.

Wow, really?

That is assuming, of course, that those kids don’t have horrible lives at Warrenhold for other reasons. Basically, whatever kind of overall experience the kids have when they’re very young will be amplified in their minds after their brains begin to mature.

I see. But this doesn’t work for animals?

Nope.

Any idea why?

I think it has something to do with the human brain being much more capable of adaptation and self-protection. It’s probably a combination of things, I imagine.

Interesting. So then, there must be a cut off point in a child’s age, right?

Yes. It’s around thirteen years old, but it can vary a little. After that, you have to explain the effects to them like everyone else or they’ll start freaking out.

Thirteen? That seems rather late. I assume it has something to do with puberty, then?

Yeah, but I couldn’t tell you the exact reason why it works that way. It’s just what I’ve observed.

So that means that Marcos and Ramira Elroy are still eligible for the little “nostalgia boost,” then,’ said Garovel.

That depends,’ said Voreese. ‘Are either of them servants yet?

Oh. Yes. Marcos is.

Then he’s not “eligible,” as you put it, because servants can’t even feel a difference in Warrenhold to begin with.

Right. Okay.

As he continued digging, Hector thought he glimpsed something in the dark material, and when he slammed a small iron spike into it another time, a chunk of the unknown element broke off, and Hector caught in his hand.

And, yep. In the opening it had left, he could see another brain waiting to be dug out. He eyed the material in his hand another time, though.

“Can either of you tell what this stuff is?” he asked. It was black and had a hard, shiny texture to it.

It’s different from the brown powdery material we saw outside the warehouses,’ said Garovel. ‘I suppose that could mean that we’re actually dealing with two materializers, but that’s not likely, is it?

No,’ said Voreese. ‘Roman definitely would’ve mentioned that. Even he’s not so incompetent as to overlook a second opponent.

Then this black stuff and that brown stuff must be the same element,’ said Garovel.

“How can that be?” said Hector.

Because of allotropes,’ said Garovel.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Page 1695

((Triple Monday -- Page 3 of 3))
Of course, none of those brains were going to be particularly helpful until they located the reapers that went with them, but it was a start.

At length, they began to get the impression that there were simply no reapers to be found in this building, so Zeff moved on to the next warehouse over while Hector and Diego continued trying dig out more servant brains.

Hey, Voreese,’ said Garovel after a while.

Yeah?’ she said, floating over to him and Hector.

What’s the name of the passage to the Undercrust beneath Warrenhold?

Oh, I always just called it the Warrenhole,’ said Voreese.

Ha! I knew it! Hector, you owe me money.

“No, I don’t.”

The proper name for the hole, though, is Do’orach,’ said Voreese. ‘Proper name, as in the original one.

Hmm,’ said Garovel. ‘Is that from the Apeirian language?

Close. It’s Nykeirian, actually.

Ah. Haven’t heard either of those languages spoken in, oh, must be almost two thousand years now.

Yeah. They kinda died out with their empires.

You wouldn’t happen to be Nykeirian yourself, would you?

As a matter of fact, I am,’ said Voreese. ‘I was born toward the end of the empire. Never got to see it during its prime, sadly. Stories I’ve heard make it sound pretty wondrous. Though, they were probably overhyping it, the way legends tend to do.

That brought a question to Hector’s mind regarding the builder of Warrenhold, so he stopped working for a moment to turn and look at Voreese. “Was Stasya Orlov, uh... was she N-Nykeirian, too?”

Ah, haven’t forgotten about her, huh? That makes me happy. But no, not exactly. She was a descendant of the then-displaced Nykeirian people, but she was born during the early Mohssian Empire and was therefore a product of the Mohssian culture. The Nykeirian culture disappeared pretty quickly into the larger melting pot that was the Mohssian one. Which sounds a bit sad, I suppose, but it was kind of ideal, actually. When different cultures are forced together but don’t blend and integrate properly... well, that’s oftentimes how we end up with things like institutionalized racism and generations-spanning wars.’

I have to agree,’ said Garovel.

Hector nodded, feeling like he more or less understood, and returned his digging while the two reapers kept talking.

It sure was dark up here, though. The tall lamp in the middle of the warehouse had been useful for a while, but now it was just too far away to help him see around all these hard angles and crevices. If only he had a way to light things up better.

Wait a minute. He did, didn’t he?

He materialized a red hot cube above his hand, using the perpetually falling technique that Zeff and Asad had taught him. It worked pretty well, though it proved difficult to keep it perfectly still while he continued moving independently. Still, it illuminated the small cavern that he’d carved out for himself fairly well.

Page 1694

((Triple Monday -- Page 2 of 3))
It was a breakthrough, but not a large enough one. Voreese immediately volunteered to squeeze through and check on everyone, but Zeff didn’t want any of the reapers going in on their own. So the group waited a while longer before the Lord Elroy finally managed to widen the hole enough to peek through, and ultimately, for a person to fit through.

Zeff made an icy staircase extending up from within the warehouse and connected it to Hector’s platform. They all descended in single file with Zeff in the lead. Hector was slightly worried that a staircase made of solid ice would be rather perilous to walk on and so added a ribbed layer of iron to it.

The light source from within the warehouse turned out to be a tall lamp with several people clustered around it, all wearing climate suits, though none were donning their helmets.

Hector recognized a couple faces from House Sebolt, one from House Delaguna, two from House Blackburn, and after a moment, two from House Elroy. Marcos and Ramira Elroy stepped out from behind the others.

When they saw their father, their eyes lit up, and they ran to him. The man dropped to his knees and hugged both, a child for each arm.

Hector breathed a sigh of relief. It had only been a few days, but it felt like he hadn’t seen them in ages, and it was certainly a load off his mind to finally see that they were okay. Their living conditions didn’t look too bad, either. They had some chairs, the lamp, a pile of books to read, a cart full of food, and a bathroom.

There was still much to be done, however. Just this one warehouse was loaded up with pods full of sleeping Rainlords, and getting them all out of here safely was not going to be an easy task. The first task, everyone agreed, was to find all the captive servants and free them so that they could assist in the effort. Certain servants like Dimas or Melchor might have been a priority, but the problem was that no one knew where any individual servant’s brain was located. They only knew that they were all stored somewhere up in the rafters or in one of the other warehouses--all of which were currently filled with whatever that black material was.

Hector, Zeff, and Diego set to work trying to find and free the servants while Manuel got started removing the plethora of pods from the warehouse.

Hector didn’t much care for the digging. Since they were only looking for servant brains this time, they didn’t have to be quite as careful as Zeff had been earlier, but there was still the concern that they would run across a captive reaper and accidentally kill it. Not to mention all the slumbering Rainlords below could get hurt by any falling debris.

So it was an exercise in precision. And damn this black stuff was tough. Hector couldn’t even put a dent in it without resorting to his orbiting technique, but he was simultaneously afraid of using that technique with the same level of intensity as he had against the worm. It was tricky, trying to find a happy medium. So tricky, in fact, that he only managed to find one brain by the time Zeff and Diego had each found four.

Page 1693

((Triple Monday -- Page 1 of 3))
Yeah, I’m familiar with some of his exploits,’ said Voreese. ‘He snuck into an Abolish fortress and killed two dudes who were pretty infamous at the time. Real malevolent bastards, those ones. I was following their careers because of an awful encounter I had with them several years earlier, so it was quite the pleasant surprise for me when I learned that some guy named Darktide had not only crushed them, but made ‘em look like utter fools, too.

That brought up a question that Hector wanted answered. “How do you sneak into a fortress full of reapers? Wouldn’t they sense any intruders immediately?”

Yep,’ said Voreese. ‘That’s one of the reasons why it was so impressive. According to what I learned, Darktide pretended to be a non-servant and allowed himself to be taken prisoner. Now, Abolish is known for not usually taking prisoners, but in this instance, they were kidnapping locals and using them for experimentation. Pretty horrific stuff, from what I heard. But essentially, Darktide was able to use their own shittiness against them. I always liked that thought. Can’t wait to meet the guy. What’s he like? Is he nice?

“Uh,” said Hector, “y-yeah, I guess. I only talked to him a little bit, but, er, I kinda like him.”

Hector is being modest,’ said Garovel. ‘They hit it off pretty well. I bet they’ll get along famously, if and when they spend more time together.

Ooh, you’re makin’ me jealous,’ said Voreese. ‘I wonder if Roman’ll be able to get along with him, too. Never can tell with that guy. Sometimes, he seems like he can make friends with anyone, but then he’ll surprise you and totally ruin everything.

Are you sure that it is not YOU who has difficulty getting along with people?’ said Axiolis.

Psh, no. Everyone loves my ability to speak the truth in a straightforward and candid manner.

Straightforward and candid are two words that mean the same thing,’ said Axiolis.

Yeah, I know,’ said Voreese. ‘The redundancy enhances the ease of comprehension for the listener. Don’t tell me you’re a grammar purist, too.’

More like a grammar appreciator,’ said Axiolis.

Oh, geez,’ said Voreeze. ‘You must be a blast at parties.

I imagine you must be, as well,’ said Axiolis, ‘on the rare occasion when someone invites you.

And there was silence as Voreese merely stared at him for a moment. The only noise was that of Zeff’s digging.

Then she gave an approving nod. ‘Not bad, you uptight son of a bitch. That one actually kinda stung.

...I apologize if I caused offense,’ said Axiolis.

Voreese laughed. ‘Oh, fuck you! Don’t try to take it back now! Just be proud and own it! That’s what I’d do!

Why would I ever wish to model my behavior after yours?

There, you see?! That’s more like it!

A loud and abrupt crack sound intervened in the conversation, and everyone looked toward Zeff and saw the small breakthrough that he had finally made in the wall of black. They were so deep that the entire platform now fit into the greater hole that Zeff have carved out, but only now could they see light pouring through.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Page 1692

Not a fan of Arkos, huh?’ said Garovel.

He built some cool shit,’ said Voreese. ‘And I never met him, but I always got the impression that he thought he was a lot smarter than he really was.

“I feel like we’re drifting from the subject of Sai-hee,” said Diego, again with his eyes closed.

Oh yeah,’ said Voreese. She looked back at Lorios. ‘I guess I can kinda see your point about this Eric Olmos being only MOSTLY stupid. She did have the kind of reputation you described. And also, I forgot to mention: it definitely seems incredibly unreasonable on Sai-hee’s part to hold a grudge against ALL of you guys, just because of the actions of one dumbass who broke her heart. You sure there’s not more to this story that you’ve neglected to mention?

Oh, the story is not done,’ said Axiolis. ‘Eric Olmos was simply the lightning bolt that struck the forest, so to speak.

Ah, okay. So some serious blood was eventually spilled, then?

Yes,’ said Axiolis. ‘When Sai-hee confronted Eric, matters escalated beyond anyone’s control, and in a single night, her forces slaughtered every male member of House Olmos.

What the fuck?’ said Garovel.

Holy shit,’ said Voreese. ‘I never heard about that. Even the young boys, too?

Yes,’ said Axiolis. ‘And it did not end there, either. Several other Houses were caught up in the mayhem, some of which were from Sair. The Sebolts, Zabats, Blackburns, and Merlos all suffered severe losses that day.

Goddamn,’ said Voreese. ‘What’d you do next?

We gathered our forces and responded in kind,’ said Axiolis. ‘We killed one of her “generals”--or whatever she calls them. A woman named Ariana. She had been present during the initial attack and was responsible for at least thirty of the fatalities, five of whom had been mere boys. It was Rayen Merlo and Melchor Blackburn who ended her life, working in tandem. I witnessed that myself. It was quite the battle.

I can’t imagine Sai-hee was too pleased about that,’ said Garovel.

No, but she seemed to at least acknowledge that Ariana had wronged us and that our battle was justified,’ said Axiolis. ‘We were able to negotiate a fragile peace, but the Intarians didn’t maintain it. They harassed her forces periodically, which cost many more lives even after the Jungle Wars ended. I think that was when those of us from Sair began to feel a greater degree of separation from our Intarian brethren than ever before.

You blamed them for fucking everything up so hard,’ said Voreese.

Axiolis made no response.

Not saying you were wrong,’ said Voreese. ‘They sound like a bunch of fuck-ups.

...Regardless,’ Axiolis went on, ‘our collective relationship with Sai-hee has remained bad ever since then. Melchor Blackburn has a particular hatred for her--or if not her, then her people, at the very least. House Blackburn suffered the worst from those battles, in addition to clashing with Abolish around that time as well. I believe Darktide went on a veritable crusade sometime thereafter. A largely successful crusade, from what I have heard.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Page 1691

((Triple Saturday -- Page 3 of 3))
Hmm,’ said Voreese. ‘I suppose when you put it like that, it ALMOST doesn’t sound like the most moronic thing he could’ve ever done. Almost.

I am not trying to defend his actions,’ said Axiolis. ‘I am merely recounting what I have been told.

I get that,’ said Voreese. ‘But jilting one of the most powerful individuals in the entire world? That is some top tier stupidity. I mean, what did he think would happen?

Axiolis only bobbed his head.

Lorios, however, decided to chime in now. ‘Okay, well, if nobody else is going to do it, then I guess I’ll play devil’s advocate here and try to defend Eric’s behavior--at least a little.

Ha,’ said Voreese. ‘Go on, then. I can’t wait to hear this.

The usually quiet reaper had everyone’s attention but Zeff’s now. ‘I will not pretend that it was a wise thing to do. It certainly was not. And the consequences of it have been terrible beyond measure. However, I’m sure you all remember Sai-hee’s reputation from those days. She was widely regarded as the gentlest and most peaceful of the four emperors. The compassionate “Peacemaker” was very well-loved all over the world. Many even mentioned her in the same breath as the Goddess of the Light herself--that was how saintly some people viewed this woman. And even today, some seventy years later, that reputation is not completely gone.

However, she also had a reputation as a bit of a “pushover” as well. As in, people thought she was SO nice that she would never raise a hand in anger or do anything unreasonable--certainly not to anyone who hadn’t committed some sort of crime against humanity. She was the “pragmatic one” among the emperors. Many people even believed that she was virtually a higher being. The purest and most perfect type of human. I know, because I was one such person. I genuinely thought that about her for a while. So I don’t think it’s outside the realm of possibility that Eric Olmos may have viewed her that way as well.

This is why hero worship is dangerous,’ said Voreese. ‘You can never really know what evil any given person is capable of until it’s too late.

I would agree with you,’ said Lorios. ‘But my point is, Eric probably thought that, ultimately, she would forgive him. Because that was her reputation. Pure and gentle and forgiving.

This is why I don’t trust saints,’ said Garovel.

It is as Arkos once said,’ said Yangéra. ‘“The brighter the light, the harsher the shadow it casts.”

Egh, that’s why I never liked that guy as a philosopher,’ said Voreese. ‘You could interpret that any number of ways to make it fit. Hell, someone could be the bright light, and the harsh shadow could be someone else who resents them. Or it could just refer to a single person hiding their true nature. Therefore, that “wisdom,” although it sure sounds nice, is fucking useless.

Page 1690

((Triple Saturday -- Page 2 of 3))
You mean the rumors about an actual “affair” within the Richland Affair?’ said Voreese. ‘The forbidden and sexual kind of affair?

I am afraid so,’ said Axiolis.

Ooh. And you’re saying Sai-hee was involved in it?

Yes. And so was one of our kin. A bold and brazen lad by the name of Eric Olmos. I met him on the occasion of the Generational Rite.’ Axiolis paused to look over his audience again. ‘Which, I suppose, you may be unfamiliar with?

It’s a coming-of-age ceremony, I presume?’ said Garovel.

Yes,’ said Axiolis. ‘A chance for the families to gather and present their children who have recently reached adulthood. Eric was only one of twelve whom were presented on that occasion, but you would hardly have guessed such, had you been there. Most people at that age are timid as a lamb in front of so many relatives whom they have likely never met before, but not Eric. He adored the attention--and handled it gracefully, as well. Rarely have I ever seen such a naturally charismatic young man.’ His hollow gaze fell on the still-meditating Diego Redwater. ‘That one there is not entirely dissimilar, I suppose.

Diego opened one eye and looked around with it. “Is that flattery I hear? Because I sure wouldn’t mind some right now.”

You should not be allowing yourself to be distracted by our words,’ said Axiolis.

“Oh, c’mon, I have to pay at least a little attention to what you guys are saying. What if we get attacked?”

I’m sure Zeff would be happy to slap you,’ said Axiolis.

“Mm,” said Diego. “As generous as that offer is, I don’t find it particularly motivating for some reason.”

Regardless,’ said Axiolis, ‘I brought the subject up, because I suspect that Eric’s charisma had something to do with why Sai-hee fell in love with him.

Ahhh,’ said Voreese. ‘Seduced by a younger man, was she? At least, I’m assuming he wasn’t nearly as old as her, considering the Richland Affair was only about seventy-five years ago, and she’s currently, what, pushin’ six hundred?

Something like that,’ said Axiolis.

So what’d this idiot do to piss her off so much, then?

He promised to leave his fiancée for her. And then he didn’t.

Ah. A truly classic douche maneuver. That’d do it, alright. But if she knew he was already betrothed, then I mean, she’s partly to blame, too.

Again, I cannot speak to the validity of the details, but the story goes that his parents had arranged a marriage for him to a young woman among the Richland aristocracy--the very same ones whom they had recently helped secure new territory. And when the aristocracy heard about the possibility of Eric’s elopement, they increased the promised dowry by such a substantial amount that it caused Eric to change his mind. “For the future of House Olmos,” was the argument put forward.

Page 1689

((Triple Saturday -- Page 1 of 3))
Okay, well, you can still give us the basic gossip, right?’ said Voreese. ‘I mean, you’re a damn reaper, aren’t you? This kinda shit is what we live for.

She’s not wrong,’ said Garovel. ‘I’d be interested to hear more from you as well.

Axiolis gave a small sigh. ‘If you insist.’ He turned to Yangéra and Lorios first, however, who had both been rather quiet this whole time. ‘Would either of you care to tell the tale?

Oh, no, thank you,’ said Yangéra.

Yeah, you go ahead,’ said Lorios.

Axiolis paused again, perhaps considering how to begin. ‘Well... the Jungle Wars had been raging on and off for some years when it happened. In fact, that was ostensibly the root cause behind it. A number of Melmoorian and Corricoan aristocrats claimed that they sought “a true end to the conflict” and so decided to break away from their respective nations and form their own.

Richland,’ said Voreese.

Yes,’ said Axiolis. ‘The name is not a misnomer. They managed to get away with a considerable portion of the most arable land in the region, as well as seventy percent of the diamonds that had been the chief cause of the conflict from the beginning.

Voreese laughed. ‘Gotta admire the sheer audacity it takes to even attempt something like that, let alone to actually pull it off. That’d be like runnin’ up to a group of guys who are already fighting, waiting until they’re a little tired, and then just kicking them all in the balls.

Mm,’ hummed Axiolis. ‘They certainly managed to anger everyone at once with that move. And my Intarian brethren helped them both acquire and secure their wealth.

How did Sai-hee factor into it?

She had been trying to broker a peace between all of the warring nations for decades. She had even managed to succeed, though only briefly. There was a cultural hatred that was born during those conflicts, and I imagine that proved difficult to overcome in a sustainable manner.

So she blames you guys for prolonging the war?

My understanding is that she believed she was getting close to achieving a true, lasting peace which would have been to the benefit of all parties. Whether or not that was actually the case--well, that is something we may never know.

Hmm,’ said Voreese. ‘Still seems like a strange thing to blame you guys for. Why not the audacious pricks in Richland?

Oh, I imagine she does reserve some hatred for them as well,’ said Axiolis. ‘But there was also... another element to it.

Voreese perked up at that. ‘Oh? Do I sense something salacious in what you are about to say?

Axiolis tilted his head at her. ‘You have heard a few rumors, I presume?

I may have,’ she said with a smirk. ‘What can I say? I’m a gossip-loving girl at heart.

Yes, well... from what I have been told, there was at least a degree of truth in those rumors.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Page 1688

By the way,’ said Voreese, still talking from behind one of the other buildings, ‘how old are you, Axiolis? I only ask because usually, I find that you uppity-types are quite young, but if you’re a Rainlord, then there’s a good chance you’re pretty damn ancient, eh?

I am older than most reapers, yes,’ said Axiolis. ‘And you?

Oh, I’ve got a fair few years on me,’ she said. ‘Have you ever met any of the current emperors?

Yes, Zeff and I have both met Sermung several times. I have also met Sai-hee once, though that was over two hundred years ago now.

Oh?’ said Voreese. ‘And what was she like?

Hospitable. And quite passionate. Still building her reputation in those days. I do not think she would be quite so welcoming to us now.

Yeah, Roman mentioned that she’s got a grudge against you guys. Said that Leo told him as much. Don’t suppose you’d have any idea as to why that might be, hmm?

Axiolis spared a glance toward Garovel and the others. ‘In fact, I do. Have you heard of something called the Richland Affair?

Voreese floated up over the farthest warehouse and was visible to Hector again. ‘The incident that gave birth to a brand new country in the middle of the Jungle Wars?

That is the one, yes.

Voreese hovered over to the group again, having apparently lost interest in her scouting. ‘You guys were responsible for that shit?

I would not say we were “responsible” for it, no, but our kin did play a fairly significant role.

Your kin? Not you, yourself?

In truth, it was our Intarian brethren. Many of us from Sair might like to place the blame wholly upon them, but the fact of the matter is that we share blood ties, and the rest of the world is not going to forget that for quite some time.

Hmm. So you’re saying, your cousins fucked everything up big time during the Jungle Wars, and now Sai-hee just hates all of you guys as a result?

Axiolis paused. ‘That is... an oversimplification of what happened, but... not terribly inaccurate, either.

Well, fork over some juicy details, then.

Axiolis looked at Zeff a moment, who was still diligently drilling away. The hole that the man had thus far managed to make was big enough for most of Hector’s hovering platform to fit inside, but there was still no telling how close they were to breaking through yet.

I was not involved in the Richland Affair personally,’ said Axiolis, ‘so I cannot give you a firsthand account of what happened. Perhaps Orric might be able to.

Who’s that?’ said Voreese.

The reaper of Melchor Blackburn.

Voreese’s skeletal brow rose a little. ‘Ooh, Darktide, huh? I’ve heard of him. Is he here, by the way?

He should be, yes,’ said Axiolis. ‘We’ll soon find out for certain.

Hector recalled having a fairly pleasant conversation with that man. He also recalled having a fairly unpleasant fight against him.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Page 1687

By the way,’ said Garovel privately as they waited for Zeff to finish drilling through, ‘I saw what you did earlier.

What are you talking about?’ said Hector.

The way you tried to pat Diego on the shoulder and then gave up.

Aw, shit.

I’ll give you points for trying, at least,’ said Garovel. ‘A solid B for effort.

The saying is “A for effort,” Garovel.

I know, but you didn’t do that well.

Shut--fuck--you...

The reaper laughed, still privately. ‘Say what? Shut fuck me? What does that mean?

You--I--it means shut up and fuck you, that’s what it means.

Oh, okay.

As the time drew out, Voreese in particular seemed to grow impatient and began scouting around the warehouses. Hector would have preferred she not do that, as they didn’t know what other sorts of surprises or traps they might encounter, but when Garovel gave voice to Hector’s concerns for him, she was unsurprisingly flippant about it.

A girl needs her space, Garovel,’ she said from around the farther warehouses. ‘You can’t expect to get in my pants by smothering me.

Garovel didn’t miss a step, however. ‘Getting in your pants, eh? That would be a fascinating trick, considering you’re not wearing any.

Hoho!’ she laughed.

Hector was uncomfortable. Though, at the same time, it did make him wonder how Garovel viewed reapers.

Now there was a question he probably should have asked a while ago.

Wow,’ said Axiolis, sounding equal parts surprised and disgusted. ‘How long has it been since I last heard two reapers flirting with one another?

Jealous?’ said Voreese.

Irritated,’ said Axiolis. ‘This is hardly the time or the place for such behavior, no?

And what, pray tell, would be the correct time and place, exactly?’ said Voreese.

When we are no longer in mortal danger, perhaps,’ offered Yangéra.

I’m not so sure we ever will be,’ said Voreese. ‘It’s a mad and dangerous world, you know.

Yes, and it is not made any safer by the carelessness brought on by poorly timed humor,’ said Axiolis.

Oof!’ said Voreese. ‘What a stick-in-the-mud!’ She broke for a snorting laugh, which Hector found interesting, considering she didn’t even have a nose. ‘Look, buddy, I know the world is a horrible place ‘n all, but that horribleness ain’t goin’ anywhere, either. It’ll still be there after every little vacation away from it that we decide to take. So you won’t have to worry about your fucking dourness going out of style.

And you continue to make history,’ said Axiolis. ‘It has been many years since I have heard anyone say something so utterly nonsensical.

Oh, so there IS some sharpness to that tongue!’ said Voreese. ‘I was beginning to wonder if you were just a fucking simpleton!

Voreese,’ said Garovel. ‘Please don’t be so rude to our new friends.

Hey, he started it, not me.

You needn’t worry about my feelings,’ said Axiolis. ‘I know better than to take the reckless words of an unruly child to heart.

Voreese let out a laugh that sounded like it could’ve come from a horse. ‘Wow! Where the hell did you find this guy, Garovel?! I like him! He’s a real piece of shit! But like an upper class piece of shit!

I suppose I will take that as a compliment,’ said Axiolis.

Yeah, why wouldn’t you?! I meant it as one!

Hector wasn’t sure he understood this conversation anymore.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Page 1686

((Triple Wednesday -- Page 3 of 3))
Hector wondered if Zeff was going to explain about the advanced technique like he said he would, but Hector also didn’t want to bother the man while he was working. It seemed like the coating was giving him a hard time. No doubt, it was soul-strengthened, and it might’ve even been more than just a simple coating, too. From what Hector could see within the small holes that Zeff was making, there appeared to be more of the shiny black element inside the warehouse.

Quite a bit more.

Had Leo just filled all the warehouses entirely?

Well. Why wouldn’t he have? Considering how apparently durable this material was, such a tactic would have probably immobilized all of the Rainlord servants, with the exception of maybe Melchor Blackburn. Maybe.

But that reminded Hector of the problem of airflow. The Scarf couldn’t sense any air movement in or out of these warehouses, so what about all of the non-servant Rainlords? How were they breathing? Sure, almost all of them had been sleeping in climate-controlled pods, which had their own oxygen supply, but would that be enough? From what he knew, those oxygen supplies were meant for emergency usage only, not as a means of sustaining them for several days. The Undercrust had plenty of breathable air already--if you discounted the fact that it was hot enough to melt your lungs.

Moreover, the Rainlords would’ve been captured sometime after arriving Capaporo, and unless Hector was remembering wrong, that must have been about four or five days ago now.

Thinking about all of that was enough to make him nervous. Had this Leo guy taken the well-being of the non-servants in account? Or was he a thoughtless idiot? Or worse, was he just another callous monster like Geoffrey or Ivan?

Should he bring it up, he wondered? He doubted that Zeff could work any faster than he already was, so maybe that was a bad idea. Maybe it would just cause needless concern or make Zeff do something reckless.

Agh.

He decided to the mention it to Garovel privately. It took a little while to explain everything he was worried about.

The reaper decided to go ahead and bring it up publicly.

The subject caused a noticeable pause in Zeff’s work before the man began resuming without a single word spoken.

Voreese consulted with Roman silently and then provided everyone with the relieving information that Leo had checked on the captives yesterday to ensure they were well. Roman had even used the opportunity to speak with a young boy named Marcos.

Apparently, Marcos was not terribly upset by the fact that he was not allowed to leave, having told Roman that he was “used to it by now.”

That put a smile on Hector’s face.

The group seemed to relax somewhat after that. Obviously, they were still on a rescue mission, but it was good to know for certain that the captives really were unharmed, especially after the fiasco on the train.

Page 1685

((Triple Wednesday -- Page 2 of 3))
“Perhaps you should improve your self-discipline,” said Zeff. From the wording alone, it might have seemed like a suggestion, but the man’s tone did not imply that at all. “Our opponent is a very old materializer. You would be wise not to underestimate him.”

Diego’s shoulders slumped a little, and he frowned.

Hector thought about patting the poor guy on the shoulder, and he even reached his hand up part of the way, but then he thought it might be too weird or awkward or maybe patronizing, so the hand froze in midair for a second before stiltedly finding its way back down to Hector’s side.

Agh. He hoped nobody saw that.

“This technique,” Zeff was saying, “is extremely advanced. Even I am incapable of it in my current form.”

Hector was surprised to hear that. “How does the technique work, exactly?”

The Lord Elroy regarded him silently for a moment. Then he said, “I will explain, but make another of those hovering platforms for us first. Do not let us touch the ground.”

“Ah--right.” Hector put his hands together as he summoned his concentration. A hovering platform of iron. Motionless in the middle but with a coating that counteracted gravity. Just as before.

The iron materialized beneath everyone and carried them up and over the brown minefield or whatever it was. Hector moved them slowly closer to the warehouse.

Zeff was rubbing his own hands together now, perhaps in preparation. “Hector,” he said, “do you think you can break through whatever this material is?”

Hector blinked as he thought about it. “Ah--maybe I could, but probably not without killing everyone inside...”

“Hmph. That is the correct answer.”

For a second, Hector thought he saw Zeff smile.

What do you mean, correct answer?’ said Garovel. ‘Are you saying that was a test, just now?

“Yes,” said Zeff bluntly. And as he was finally near enough to one of the buildings to touch it, a water jet appeared above his hand, and he pressed it against the dark coating.

The jet did not go in. The coating resisted.

Zeff’s face twisted, then he dematerialized his work and tried again, this time with a larger jet. When he pressed it against the coating, it resisted again, but Zeff was able to force it in with apparent arm strength.

What was the point of that test?’ said Garovel, apparently not prepared to let it go.

Axiolis answered in Zeff’s stead, however. ‘What is the point of any test? To measure one’s aptitude.

Hector got the feeling that Garovel didn’t appreciate that response very much, but the reaper said nothing more on the matter.

Hector just maintained the hovering platform while he observed the man’s work. It was slow going, but that was no surprise. Diego and Manuel looked rather bored, until they noticed Axiolis staring at them, at which point they both sat down cross-legged and began meditating.

Page 1684

((Triple Wednesday -- Page 1 of 3))
There was something noticeably off about these warehouses, however. Hector couldn’t quite tell what it was at first, but as the group got closer, he realized that there was an odd sort of dark sheen to the buildings. He might’ve chalked it up to whatever weird construction materials they used down here in the Undercrust, but none of the structures that he’d seen thus far had been this way.

Voreese had already brought the group up to speed on this “Leo” guy. According to Roman’s information, he was a materialization user, and looking at the warehouses now seemed to confirm that. Roman hadn’t been able to identify the exact element that Leo used, but it was safe to assume that it was now being used to coat these warehouses and keep the Rainlords locked therein. Indeed, the coating must’ve been airtight, because Hector couldn’t use the Scarf of Amordiin to sense inside no matter how hard he concentrated.

Zeff stopped and held up a hand before the party got too close. “Wait,” he said. “There is something on the ground here...”

Hector hadn’t noticed. And hell, even now that he was looking right at the ground, he couldn’t really tell. It was just a bunch of brown dirt.

...Wasn’t it?

Hmm. The ground up to this point had been mostly black rock or gray metal. Brown dirt was different in that sense, but...?

“I don’t see anything,” said Manuel Dalaguna, for which Hector was grateful.

“Look closely,” said Zeff. “Why is there so much more dirt here than in any of the other caves we visited?”

Ah, so Hector was on the right track. He still didn’t quite follow, though.

“You’re worried about dirt?” said Diego. “I know you fought the Gargoyle, but I’m pretty sure she’s not here right now, so what’s there to be concerned about?”

“Hmph. It may not be dirt, is my point. We do not know this Leo’s element. It could be that.”

“Hmm,” said Diego. “But it seems pretty clear that the warehouses are coated in whatever his element is. And the coating appears to be blacker and shinier in color. So wouldn’t that mean this dirt is different?”

“Hmph. Let us see.” Zeff flicked his wrist and materialized a bucket-sized block of ice over the dirt and let it drop.

Everyone waited, but nothing happened.

“There, you see?” said Diego. “You’re worried over nothing.” And he started forward, but Zeff barred the man’s path with his arm.

“No,” said the Lord Elroy. “Not yet. That may not have been enough pressure.”

“Pressure for what?” said Diego.

Rather than answering him, Zeff dematerialized his ice and then remade it, larger this time, the size of a person. It dropped, and when it hit the ground, the brown dirt flailed suddenly and shot up all around it, coating it entirely as fast as Hector could blink.

“Goddamn,” said Diego with a sigh. “Why am I on such a losing streak, lately? I’m starting to get really self-conscious.”

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Page 1683 -- CLXXXI.

It took a while for him to understand what was happening. Even after the reaper explained it twice, he still wasn’t sure he got it all.

But he could keep living. And he could be strong. Those things, he understood. There wasn’t much more to think about besides that.

Aside from one thing.

“...What about my friends?” he asked.

“Little Damian and Germal? Don’t worry. I’ve got friends, too. Their names are Feromas and Nerovoy. They’re talking to them as we speak.”

“So we’ll all get to come back?”

“That’s right,” she said.

“You’re... not lying, are you?”

“Oh, you dear boy. That’s not a very good method of testing someone’s honesty. But don’t worry. I’ll teach you. All in good time.” She paused. “Oh, but yes, I am telling the truth. Worry not.”

That hadn’t done much to curb Parson’s suspicion, but he didn’t know what else to say.

“Hmm,” said Overra. “Very well. If you would like the complete truth of it--and I assume you do--then I must admit that the three of us were originally only going to revive Damian and his family. Feromas is Damian’s great grandfather, you see. That was why we returned to fair little Trintol in the first place. But sadly, we arrived too late. And when we saw that Damian was not among the dead there, we decided to search for him--and good thing we did. We nearly arrived here too late, as well.”

And again, Parson wasn’t sure he understood. How much time had passed? He had no idea.

“You should be glad,” said Overra. “You’re lucky boys. The three of you are going to help us change the world.”


Chapter One Hundred Eighty-One: ‘Those who await...’
Click to display entire chapter at once -- (mobile link)

It took quite some time to locate the captive Rainlords. Even with Roman’s instructions and all the reapers around to guide them, Capaporo was not the easiest city to navigate. The walls along the pit stretched far and wide, and there were no bridges to use as shortcuts--something Hector considered to be a huge architectural oversight. Why, if he’d been the one in charge of building this city, there definitely would’ve been bridges galore. Maybe there would’ve even been some like the Rainlords had back in Sair--ones that were so big they could hold up entire buildings with ease.

Maybe that would’ve been expensive, but whatever. It didn’t seem like Capaporo was dirt poor, what with all these climate-controlled areas near the bottom of the pit. They could probably afford it. Maybe.

At length, they finally arrived at a cluster of warehouses. The buildings were squirreled away in the back of a temperature-controlled cave, which turned out to be below even what the group previously thought was the lowest level of the city. Finding the narrow path down there had caused them considerable grief, because apparently, Voreese couldn’t guide them to it very well, having not actually visited this place yet. Roman had wanted her to keep her distance for her own safety, she explained.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Page 1682

((Triple Monday -- Page 3 of 3))
And for some reason, Parson followed his lead. Not wanting to be outdone, maybe. Not wanting to be a coward. So he bolted forward, too, knife in hand. He went for the man’s side while Damian soon acquired the soldier’s attention.

It didn’t last long. The man’s sword came free, and he cut through Damian’s stick and chest in one heavy downward stroke. Blood splattered across the floor.

Parson wasn’t even thinking anymore. He was already in the blind spot, so he just jammed the knife into the man’s thigh and yanked it upward.

The soldier howled and turned on him. The sword flashed up in Parson’s vision, but then Germal was there, holding onto the man’s sword arm like a wild monkey and trying to bite at his hand. The other hand came in hard and clobbered Germal in the face. The boy barely held on as the man changed his sword hand. Dangling, Germal couldn’t do much more than watch as the blade skewered him through the chest, all the way to the hilt.

Parson had found his way to the man’s back and jammed the knife through the uniform while he climbed up. The man flailed, and Parson tried to hang on, still pulling the knife out and jabbing it in repeatedly, working his way up to the man’s neck.

And he found it, too. The knife dug deep into bare flesh just below the soldier’s ear. The man stumbled back and slammed Parson against the wall. He finally lost his grip and dropped to the floor.

Disoriented, Parson scrambled to his feet, but the monster of a man rounded on him one more time. Despite being covered in blood, despite blood even spurting out of his snarling mouth as he struggled to breathe, the soldier still drove his sword through Parson’s stomach and tore the blade out through the side.

Parson fell. He heard himself scream in agony and watched as the soldier staggered back and dropped his sword. There was so much pain coursing through Parson’s whole body that it almost reverted back in on itself, numbing every sensation at once.

He tried to move, to get up, but it was all he could do to crawl. His body wasn’t listening. Even just breathing was becoming difficult. And the blood. There was so much blood. All over the floor.

Damian hadn’t gotten back up. Nor had Germal. Even the soldier was on his back now, hardly moving at all and still coughing up red.

The girl from upstairs arrived in his field of view. Claudia. And a few others, too, though it was hard to recognize them. His mind was foggy, and it was a strain even to think. He looked for Alisa Brandt, but she wasn’t there. Maybe she never had been.

Oh well.

Didn’t matter, he supposed. Would’ve been nice to see her again, though.

The girls were huddling around him and the other two boys. What were they doing?

Oh, they were crying.

Stupid girls. They should’ve been running. The other soldiers could come back at any time. He tried to say something, tell them how stupid they were, but his voice didn’t work anymore.

Then, finally, darkness took him.

But of course, that was not the end.

“Hello there, brave boy,” were Overra’s first words to him. “Looks like you could use a hand.”

Page 1681

((Triple Monday -- Page 2 of 3))
Parson was a little surprised when Germal didn’t complain. He actually looked like he might do as Damian said, but there wasn’t time for Parson to tell him not to, because Damian was already sneaking over to the horses again. Parson and Germal followed.

They were more careful this time. The same horse from before still snorted and neighed lowly at him, and Parson tried not to let his fingers get too close to the horse’s big mouth. It took a bit of time, but he finally managed to undo the tie on the post and move on to the next horse.

Soon enough, the boys’ work was done, and they were ready for the next stage. Parson decided to take the initiative before Damian did anything drastic with that stick, and he poked one of the horses just above the tail with his knife.

It wasn’t quite enough, but the horse was obviously displeased. Parson slapped its behind and gave a low, “Hyah!”

That did it. The horse scrambled away from him, bumping into the other beasts and disturbing them, too. The other boys slapped them, too, and Germal narrowly avoided a kick that probably would’ve sent him flying. Nonetheless, they accomplished their goal, and the horses all ran off into the night, creating enough of a clamor to alert the men in the tavern.

The boys scuttled up by the window just before a pair of men’s faces appeared in it. A wooden barrel was all that hid them from view.

The men ran out of the building in time to see their horses bolting toward the horizon. And after a brief exchange of indistinguishable words that sounded like an argument, all five of the men ran off to chase them.

Wait.

Five?

Damian and Germal were already rushing into the tavern.

“Wait!” Parson tried to tell them as he followed.

Sure enough, the sixth man in his black-and-brown uniform was still there, standing by the stairs and having a word with the elderly bartender. He saw them come in and seemed confused, though not for long. Perhaps their body language or the looks on their faces gave them away, somehow.

“What do you rascals think you’re doin’?” the man said, placing a hand on the pommel of his still-sheathed sword.

They all hesitated, none answering him.

“Boys?” said the bartender, apparently not understanding the situation. “You’re too young to be in here. Run on home, now. Go on.”

One of the doors upstairs creaked, and everyone looked up at the same time to see a girl standing there. It wasn’t Alisa, but Parson did recognize those pigtails and big eyebrows. Claudia was her name, and she was definitely from Trintol. She looked frightened.

Perhaps Damian thought it best to take advantage of the distraction she provided, because the boy chose that moment to rush in headfirst. He didn’t seem to care that all he had on him was a stick.