Saturday, December 20, 2014

Page 918

The little old woman shivered with apparent surprise at his embrace. “Oh! I didn’t realize you were the hugging type, Zeff.”

He usually isn’t,’ said Ax, sounding perhaps even more surprised.

Zeff released her. “Thank you for everything you have done for my family.”

Octavia gave a low snort. “Fat lot of good it’s accomplished.” She locked arms with him, and they began walking together. “Honestly, darling, I’m surprised you don’t hate me. I assume Axiolis has filled you in on everything?”

“He has.”

“Then you know three of your children were captured under my watch.”

While you were here,’ Ax reminded her, ‘trying to rescue Zeff and his son. We can hardly fault you for another House’s betrayal.’

“Even so, you shouldn’t--”

I’ll hear no more of that,’ said Ax. ‘Not when you could have turned the Elroys over to the Vanguard whenever you wanted.

“Ax is right,” said Zeff. “You will accept our appreciation, whether you think it appropriate or not.”

She snorted again. “You are much bossier than I remember.”

It was true that it had been some time since he’d last spoken with this woman. There’d been various Council meetings over the years, sure, but those were purely business, and Zeff recalled multiple occasions where Octavia had attempted to converse with him afterward, only for him to brush her off. And all because of that old resentment he’d felt when she’d tried to forbid him from rejoining the Vanguard in his youth.

What a fool he’d been.

He wanted to apologize to her a dozen times over, but he was too ashamed of himself to broach the subject now. And of course, there were more pressing matters at hand, anyway. “When will you launch your next assault on the Keep?” he asked. “I would like to be a part of it.”

“This evening.”

He frowned.

“I know,” she said. “That is longer than you care to wait, right now. But Sanko is supposed to arrive sometime today. Wendy is waiting for her at the airfield right now. So as difficult as it may be, I must ask you to be patient.”

He tried not to scowl. “Patient...”

“I’m sorry.”

And when Zeff did not respond, she seemed to become uncomfortable.

“Perhaps you would prefer to depart for Luzo, instead,” Octavia said. “I hear the siege on Marshrock has been proceeding more quickly than expected, thanks to your Sandlord friend.”

Friday, December 19, 2014

Page 917

--donation bonus day (Page 3/3)--
“Why?” asked Zeff, pulling his vest on. “You worry people will think I’ve gone mad?”

Axiolis paused. ‘Yes. Exactly that, yes.

“Do you think I’ve gone mad?” Zeff considered wearing a tie. It wasn’t the most battle-appropriate attire, but a significant part of him didn’t really care about that right now. He was thinking more about what calming effect it might have on him. A certain sense of order and professionalism could help him keep a clear head. Maybe.

To be honest, I hope you have. A little, at least. Because I’m fairly certain that I’ve lost some of my marbles, too.

“Oh? How so?” He decided in favor of the tie. He liked the blood red one on the dresser.

Well, for instance, I know we shouldn’t fight Lawrence. He and Dergoz have a good forty years on us in terms of both experience and soul-syncing. And they can use pan-rozum. In my mind, I know these things. Attacking them by ourselves would almost be suicide. And yet... I’d go with you to hunt them down right now, if you asked me to.

Zeff nearly smiled. “That’s not fair. I wanted to be the unreasonable one.”

I apologize.

He stared at himself in the mirror, not able to see Ax reflected behind him but still knowing the reaper was there. “It’s alright. I just have to remember them. Francisco, Emiliana, Marcos, Ramira. And Gema. Any word on her whereabouts?”

No. I would’ve told you earlier if there had been.

“That girl...”

We’ll find her.

Zeff straightened his tie. “Yes, we will.”

They left the room. His brethren had chosen one of Rheinhal’s nicer hotels for their headquarters, he noticed, and that was saying something in this resort town. If he were in a better mood, the luxury might have been appealing.

Axiolis led him out into the street, and Zeff immediately turned east in order to see the Keep on the hill there. A few of its turrets were missing, and the red paint on its walls was rather heavily marked up, but Rhein’s Keep was still standing.

Zeff didn’t have to go any farther, however. Octavia Redwater found him before he could find her.

She smiled that tiny, wrinkled smile of hers. “It is so very good to see you again, Zeff.”

He hadn’t even thought about what he should say to this woman, and that seemed like a mistake now that she was in front of him. Too many thoughts stirred in his head at once. Gratitude, apologies, questions. Far too many.

He settled on a silent hug, instead.

Page 916

--donation bonus day (Page 2/3)--
Before informing Axiolis, however, Zeff had something else he wanted to say. “I’ve never heard of this happening before. I thought each servant could only see reapers one way for as long as they live.”

Well, I’ve never had it happen to a servant of mine before, but I have heard of it being possible. It’s quite rare, though. Most servants go their whole lives only seeing the first image that comes to their mind.

“Do you know why this happened?”

Axiolis seemed hesitant. ‘Mm... well, it sounded sensible enough to me before, but now I’m not sure I want to believe it.

“Explain.”

Supposedly... a change in the way you view reapers is reflective of a change that has already happened in yourself. It indicates a kind of mental paradigm shift.

“Ah. Then I suppose it does not bode very well for my mental state that I am seeing you as an ice-breathing hellbeast of Lhutwë.”

The reaper floated back a little. ‘What? Of Lhutwë? You mean I’m--?

“A lhugleoth, yes. It’s quite hideous.”

...Huh. A full-size one?

“Full-size?”

Yes. They could grow to be twenty meters in length, you know.

“They were also mythical, Ax.”

You don’t know that.

“You’re, what, four thousand years old now?”

Thereabouts.

“Have you ever seen a lhugleoth?”

Well, no, but maybe I just never looked hard enough.

“I’m sure that’s it. I don’t know what I was thinking.”

I’m not entirely in love with your tone right now.

“You do recall that our people put a stop to all that water god nonsense back when my grandfather was a child, right?”

Yes, well, just because the rest of you are filthy heathens doesn’t mean I have to be.

Zeff just gave a resigning nod.

I still love you just the same, though.

“Thank you.”

A beat passed. ‘...So am I full-size or not?

“No,” said Zeff, able to release an amused breath but not quite able to manage a laugh. “You’re about the size of a horse.”

Mm. That’s a little disappointing.

Zeff sighed and rubbed his face. He stood up and realized that he was half-dressed. He’d only managed to get that far before Axiolis had told him to sit down and listen. He resumed the task now, appreciative of the armored vest that someone had left for him by the fireplace.

By the way, you shouldn’t tell other people that you see reapers differently now.’