Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Page 827

Hector turned the shield over in his hands again, wanting a good look at the front. It was lustrously gray, apart from the four bars of tungsten carbide that Sazandara mentioned before. Those were a bit darker, but Hector wouldn’t have been able to tell that they weren’t simply paint if the reaper hadn’t told him. They fit so seamlessly into the shield that he couldn’t see even the slightest physical crease between them and the rest of the lighter-colored metal.

Before you use it, a couple of warnings,’ said Sazandara. ‘As soon as your skin touches it, the enhanced soul defenses will take effect. When you’re wearing gloves like you are now, no enhancements are granted to your body.

“O-okay.”

Additionally, you will notice that touching the shield directly causes immense physical pain. That is a side effect of your body being made stronger than it is prepared to be. Garovel will therefore need to numb the pain for you whenever you intend to wield it barehanded.

“Ah... and then I’ll feel the pain later.”

Naturally.

Hector nodded. ‘Figures,’ he remarked to Garovel.

The shield will also take a toll on you, Garovel.

Me? Why?

The defensive increases are made possible by interfering with the soul-synchronization between the two of you. The shield functions as a catalyst, and through it, your souls are stretched beyond their limits in an effort to equalize themselves with the shield. And because the reaper is very much the “battery” of the relationship, this experience will gradually drain you.

I see.

How long has Hector been your servant?

About three years.

Hector’s expression flickered. He had to consciously keep himself from staring at Garovel. It hadn’t even been eight months.

Quite young,’ said Sazandara. ‘In that case, I would advise Hector not to wield it barehanded for more than thirty minutes per day.

Understood,’ said Garovel. And then privately, he amended her number to, ‘Six minutes per day. Remember that, if you can.’

Hector wasn’t sure he understood the point of lying to their allies like this. Even if Sazandara somehow ended up betraying them, wouldn’t it be better if she thought they were weaker? Something to ask Garovel about later, he decided.

Is there anything else we should know?’ Garovel asked.

No, that is everything.

Alright. Thank you for explaining. We appreciate your hospitality. Once things settle down, I’d like to invite you back to Warrenhold with us. I’m sure even Haqq would be able to enjoy himself there.

Ah. I will keep that in mind.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Page 826

As long as your servant’s bare skin is making contact with this shield, his passive soul defenses will be dramatically increased,’ said Sazandara. ‘Unless, of course, his soul defenses are already superior to that of the shield. In which case, no increase is granted.

Garovel hovered nearer. ‘Hmm. I didn’t realize that was even possible.

I would have been surprised if you did. Haqq made the breakthrough himself. It is still not a widely known development.

I see. Are you sure you’re willing to part with it? This seems like an incredibly valuable object.

This is merely a test piece, hence the antiquated simplicity of its design. Haqq wanted to see if he could integrate the materials properly. It took him several months to craft enough for just this shield alone. And admittedly, as irritating as Haqq can sometimes be, I was rather impressed. I don’t know how familiar you are with integration abilities, but being able to craft THIS much of any self-repairing material is quite a feat.

Hector and Garovel exchanged glances.

In other words, yes, it is immensely valuable,’ she went on, ‘but I do still wish for you to have it--partly as an apology and partly to teach Haqq a lesson.

Garovel shrugged. ‘Well, I won’t refuse such a useful gift. Thank you for your generosity.

You are quite welcome,’ she said. Then she turned to Hector and added, ‘Lord Darksteel.

Hector’s brow rose at that.

Sazandara’s bony smile widened. ‘After we met yesterday, I asked Haqq’s nephew to look into you. I didn’t realize it would be such an easy assignment for him.

And here I was just getting accustomed to no one recognizing Hector’s face,’ said Garovel.

I must say, your actions in your home country have been quite bold. Are you not concerned that the Vanguard will come to recruit you?

Recruit us?

Indeed. Certain factions have recently been quite... aggressive in their attempts to gain more members. I imagine your servant’s fame will make him rather appealing to such people.

Hmm. That’s odd. Not long ago, our Queen went on a veritable quest to find Vanguardian allies, and yet she was barely able to procure the aid of a single servant.

Yes, but that was when your country contained the stench of Abolish. Now that this is no longer the case...

I see your point.

Perhaps there is more riding on your alliance with Asad than you realized.

Perhaps you’re right.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Page 825

Sazandara approached the room’s apparent attendant, a youthful man at a desk full of notebooks and binders. The reaper said something to him in Valgan.

Nodding, the attendant pulled on a pair of gloves and fished a key out of a drawer. He moved to the rear wall, opened one of the larger boxes, and with visible effort, pulled out an impressive slab of metal with a gentle curve to it. Sazandara said something else to him, but this time, the attendant hesitated, looking from her to Hector and back again.

Before Hector even thought to ask, Garovel began translating for him.

She’s telling him to give it to you. He’s asking if she’s sure. Says Haqq will be upset..’ Garovel broke for a chuckle. ‘“That’s the point,” she says.

The attendant soon conceded and moved to hand the object over.

Careful not to let it touch your skin just yet,’ said Sazandara.

Hector did as she instructed, abruptly glad that he hadn’t taken his own gloves off.

At first, even while holding it, he still wasn’t sure what the thing was, but as soon as he turned it up vertically in his hands, he realized.

It was a shield. A heater shield, to be precise--a flat top with a rounded, pointed bottom. Smaller than a kite shield but larger than a buckler. Hector recognized it from his research into old world armor.

He was suddenly reminded of his afterschool armor-building project with Lance Alexander. It was only a few months ago, but it seemed like a different life. What was Lance doing now, he wondered? He recalled finding a small measure of relief when he saw the list of victims of the Calman High Massacre and realized that Lance’s name was not on it.

Blinking, Hector pulled himself back to the present as Sazandara started talking again.

This is a self-repairing shield,’ she explained. ‘It is extremely durable for a number of different reasons. These four vertical lines you see here--these are bars of tungsten carbide. Haqq synthesized them personally. The rest of the metal is a mixture of steel and titanium alloys. Also, the metal has been permanently soul-strengthened by Abbas Saqqaf, so I think you’ll find that it can take quite a bit of punishment before ever needing to repair itself.

Permanently soul-strengthened?’ said Garovel. ‘Lord Abbas can do that?

Of course. But never mind that. I still haven’t told you the best part.

Oh?

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Page 824

--BELATED donation bonus (day 5/7, page 3/3)--
Hector shrunk away from Haqq’s gaze and flushed with a touch of humiliation. He knew that there were probably servants out there with abilities that were naturally more powerful, but he didn’t think iron was that bad. Perhaps he’d been mistaken, though. Haqq was the expert, after all. He looked to Garovel, who was visibly irritated.

We weren’t trying to impress you. We just wanted confirmation. That being said, I’d appreciate it if you didn’t insult my friend for no apparent reason. And by the way, iron is far from useless.

Haqq gave a throaty laugh. “I suppose in relative terms, yes, you might be able to find some semblance of value in it. But when you find yourselves faced with real monsters, iron will not be enough to save your unremarkable lives.”

Wow,’ said Garovel, louder now. ‘I fucking hate ability-snobs like you. Power doesn’t make the person, you moron. You’d do well to remember that, lest you have someone teach it to you the hard way.

Haqq seemed to dismiss the notion.

Garovel is correct,’ interjected Sazandara. ‘Haqq, you should apologize for insulting them.

Haqq’s expression soured, and he pulled his shoulders in. “No. They wasted my time. And so did you, for that matter. You know I have more important things to be doing.”

Apologize. Now.

“Or what?” said Haqq. “You will release me? Because I insulted a couple of strangers? Be serious.”

They are no longer strangers. They are allies now.

Haqq exhaled another laugh. “Allies? Why? Because they’ve decided to help Asad on his fool’s errand? Please. I could not care less about their circumstances if you paid me to ignore them.”

Garovel had heard enough, it seemed. ‘Let’s go, Hector. We got what we came for.

Please wait,’ said Sazandara. She tapped Haqq on the head, and the man immediately dropped to the floor, unconscious. She floated closer to Hector and Garovel. ‘I am deeply sorry that Haqq is such an insufferable twat. Frankly, I wanted Asad as my servant, but I got stuck with this social cataclysm of person, instead.

After a moment, Garovel relinquished a nod. ‘It’s fine. I understand. The apology is appreciated, though. Thank you.

Allow me to make it up to you.’

Garovel paused. ‘What do you mean?

Follow me.’ She floated away from Haqq’s body and guided them into a deeper room where the walls were completely filled with lockboxes, as if they’d suddenly walked into a bank vault.

Page 823

Agh... I fucking suck.

Aw, don’t feel bad,’ said Garovel. ‘You’ll do better next time.

The worst part is... I think I made her feel bad... Like, now she thinks I’m grossed out by her or something...

Eh, you don’t know that. Maybe she just thinks you’re a spastic weirdo.

...Great. Thanks for that.

No problem.

Hector just wallowed in his self-loathing as he joined the group of people waiting for the elevators.

Why do you have a crush on her, anyway? Do you even know the reason?

Uh...

I’ll take that as a no.

No, well, I mean... I know why.

Then tell me.

Ergh... because... I mean, because she’s fucking awesome.

She is?

Yes! She’s like--she’s like everything I’m not. Really smart and strong and focused.

You’re all of those things, too, Hector.

No, I’m not--

I think you literally just named your three best characteristics. When you don’t know the answer, you generally ask intelligent questions; you’ve proven yourself in battle multiple times, as far as I’m concerned; and you meditate like a fucking Jesbolese monk. Smart, strong, focused.

I... that’s not--

So essentially, you’re telling me that you like her because she reminds you of yourself.

What the--?! No! I just--! I just don’t know how to--!

Whatever, narcissist.

Fucking--! You... agh...

Maybe you just have an eye patch fetish.

...Is that a real thing?

Oh, I’m sure it is. I have immeasurable faith in humanity’s capacity for perversion.

At length, they finally arrived at the R&D lab again. The guards let them through without a fuss this time.

Haqq and Sazandara were both right there near the doorway. The reaper noticed them first. ‘Hello again,’ she said.

Good morning,’ said Garovel. ‘Did you get a chance to perform the analysis?

“Yes, I did!” said Haqq. “The results were absolutely fascinating! It seems your servant is able to materialize an ultra-rare quad-element compound of titanium, iridium, carbon, and plutonium! I’m not sure why I couldn’t tell right away yesterday!”

Confused, Hector just kind of blinked dully. He didn’t know what to say, but judging by the reaper’s flat expression, Garovel apparently did.

You’re lying.’

“Of course I am lying. Just as I told you before, it is only iron. The embodiment of mediocrity and tedium. Why did you make me waste my time analyzing it? I was hoping that you had brought me something that was at least vaguely interesting, but no. Your servant is about as special as a sunny day in Kuros.” He eyed Hector. “And probably just as useful.”