Sunday, June 30, 2013

Page 111

By appearance alone, Samuel Goffe was certainly Hector’s father. They shared their slender builds, their thin noses, their prominent brows, and their slightly darker skin tones. About the only things Hector took from his mother were her eyes and hair, but as he kept his head shaved, that left only the prior.

“Morning, son.”

“Morning...”

Hector made himself a bowl of cereal. And a bowl of oatmeal. He grabbed a chocolate muffin as well. Then a banana. A glass of milk, too. Some strawberry yogurt. Peanut butter on toast. And a couple waffles for good measure. He sat down across from his father.

As he ate, he kept expecting his father to bring up the subject of his school attendance, but the man seemed content for them to sit in silence. Hector could see the coffee mug shaking as his father sipped from it.

Garovel floated around the table. ‘Maybe you should ask him something.

Like what?

I don’t know. How his day is going? Say anything.

No...

Why not?

Just... no...

The reaper made a face but didn’t press further.

His father finished his coffee and moved to the living room to watch the morning news. Hector devoured the rest of his breakfast, climbed back upstairs, brushed his teeth, grabbed his bag, and shambled off to the bus stop.

Garovel was not prepared to let the topic of Hector’s father go, however. ‘I know you don’t have the warmest relationship with your parents, but even still. You could have at least attempted a conversation with him.

There was no point,’ he said. ‘Dad’s having a bad day...

The skeleton raised an eyebrow. ‘What do you mean?

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Page 110 -- XII.

Chapter Twelve: ‘O, vigilant heart, take heed...’
Click to display entire chapter at once -- (mobile link)

Hector had been relieved to have Bohwanox help him find his way home again. The reaper knew exactly where Cedar Street was and had no trouble guiding him toward more familiar surroundings before flying off. He’d worried that Bohwanox would have trouble finding Colt again, but the reaper did not seem to share his concern.

Lying in bed, Hector awoke to Garovel floating over him.

Best wake now,’ the reaper said. ‘People will start to wonder where you are if you miss more school again.

He rolled over. His body felt like a sack of bricks. “It’s the weekend...”

Not anymore. You’ve been sleeping for four days.

“Ugh... of course I have...”

I only slept for two. You’re a wuss.

He eyed the reaper incredulously and shook his head. “So you’re all recovered, I take it?”

For the most part. C’mon, get up.

He groaned and sat over the side of his bed. “I feel fucking terrible...” As usual, everything hurt, his chest most of all. It had a kind of burning ache to it that made him regret each breath he took. “Agh, Garovel... why...?” He gave a laughing whimper. “This sucks so bad...”

I know. I managed to mitigate some of it while you slept, but the next few days’ll be pretty rough.

“I regret everything...”

No one likes a whiner.

“I especially regret saving you...”

Right back at you, Hector. Right back at you.

His laugh broke off into a grimacing smile. “Please...! Don’t make me laugh...!”

Sorry.

He slowly dressed himself and half-stepped his way down stairs with wooden legs. He found his father in the dining room, overseeing a coffee and newspaper.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Page 109

--donation bonus (day #3, post 5/5)--
“Bah. Don’t want to show me where you live, huh?”

“There’s that... but mainly... I’d rather not be seen with the most wanted man in the country, right now.”

Colt gave an admissive nod.

“Where will you go?” Hector asked.

“Gotta get out of the city at least. Hopefully out of the country as well, but that’ll be difficult.” He reached into the backseat and pulled out Hector’s bag. He tossed it to him. “Thanks for all your help, Hector Goffe.”

Hector eyed the bag. His algebra book lay atop the mass of cash. He hadn’t expected Colt to rifle through his things, but he supposed he should have. “If you’re really thankful... then don’t make me regret letting you go... don’t ever hurt those children.”

“Of course I won’t.”

“So you say...”

Colt’s expression hardened. “What was that?”

“You’re a murderer... a violent man with violent tendencies... How do I know you won’t just... get tired of their crying one day and snap? Or lose your patience when they’re older and beat them?”

Colt glared. “I’d never hurt them. I swear on my life. You already know I’d die for them.”

They merely exchanged stares for a long moment.

“I’ll be keeping an eye on you--” He glanced at Bohwanox, who nodded. “--so I’ll know if you break that promise.”

“I won’t.”

“Good... because I will hunt you down, if you do...”

Colt looked at him heavily, and then let out a brief laugh, which turned into a sigh. “You show up out of nowhere. You know all these things that no one else should. And you turn everything upside down... Just what the hell are you, kid?”

“...I haven’t figured that out yet, either.”

Page 108

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“It’s not that I didn’t,” he said. “It’s that I couldn’t... He’s too strong. Or I’m too weak. All I know is... I couldn’t even hurt him...”

“Well, fuck.”

“Did you... did you get your kids?”

And Colt actually smiled--not with sarcasm, but with relief. “Yes, I did,” he said. He motioned over to the car, and there they were in the backseat, both wrapped in blankets. “They were screaming their heads off the whole way here. I don’t know how they’re sleeping now.”

“What about you?” Hector asked. “Are you injured?”

Colt revealed a gash under his left sleeve briefly. “There were three guys in the elevator.”

“You... killed them?”

“I did. That a problem for you?”

Hector sighed. “I guess not... You don’t have my advantages, so... I understand, but still...”

Colt tossed him something. “Here.” It was a burner phone.

Hector just waited for him to elaborate.

“I thought you might find me again. How the hell do you keep doing that, anyway?”

“It’s... too difficult to explain...”

“Whatever. My number’s in that phone.”

“Thank you...?”

“Thank yourself. I used your money.”

Hector tilted his head. “Cellphone stores aren’t open at this hour...”

Colt shrugged. “I may have broken a window to make my purchase.”

“You’re supposed to be a cop...”

“It’s fine. I left plenty of money on the counter.”

Hector pocketed the phone. It fell through his pants and hit the ground. He decided to just carry it. “You’ll call me if you need my help, I take it?”

“Well, since you’re offering, sure.” Colt moved for the driver’s door. “By the way, you need a ride?”

He thought a moment. “No...”

Page 107

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“Gah... I’m burning through clothes like toilet paper...” Hector felt something in his head shift, and then realized it was just Garovel’s presence.

Did I hear... you found Colt...?

Yeah. Bohwanox thinks he’s here. How are you feeling?

Vaguely conscious...

Y-you will recover, right?

Yeah... don’t worry... But what will you do about... um... ugh...

Garovel?

Wha?

You were saying something.

Oh. Are you going to just let Colt go? He’s still a... uh... a murder...

I know... And I’d like to put him in prison, but... that’d be a death sentence. Even assuming the other inmates wouldn’t kill him just for being a cop... Geoffrey’s gunning for him now.

Ah... good thinking...

I also don’t know what would become of his kids. I mean... would they actually be safe in foster care? Or with their mother? Who is she, even? Or is there someone else who--?

Okay, shut up. I stopped listening... Handle it on your own...

He exhaled a curt laugh. ‘Rest up, jackass.

Soon, Bohwanox returned. ‘Found him. He’s parked around back.

Hector followed the reaper through an abandoned terrace, paint peeling off the walls in large, leafing flakes. The ones on the floor stuck to his feet as he passed from dark room to dark room and finally out into a musty alley.

Colt spotted him immediately and took a moment to lower his gun. “Holy fuck, kid. I thought I looked like shit. What happened to you? Did you bathe in Geoffrey’s fuckin’ blood?”

“No... this is all mine...”

“Wait. You didn’t kill Geoffrey? Don’t tell me you let him live ‘cuz of some bleeding heart bullshit. I swear, that fucking kid deserved--”

Page 106

--donation bonus (day #3, post 2/5)--
We don’t choose to be reapers. It’s inherited, a recessive trait that barely manages to live on into modern times. The vast majority of reapers once lived among various ancient civilizations as humans.

“Huh... why does it barely survive? Er, I mean... why isn’t it more, um... prevalent?”

I believe it’s a genetic reason, but honestly, that’s about all I know. I’m sure Garovel is more informed. I generally avoid involving myself with other reapers. I’ve seen many who are... well, violently insane would be an understatement.

“Eesh... Garovel said something like that, too...”

Deluded zealotry, believing in absolute madness. And the ones who fight them aren’t much better.’ Bohwanox shook his head at the ground. ‘I can partly understand why. This existence after death... seeing but not being seen, hearing but not being heard... it’s not difficult to imagine it having ill effects on someone. Especially if that someone believed fiercely in the religions of their time.

“Religion? What does that matter?”

The ancient religions of the world weren’t exactly renowned for their mercy and kindness.

“Ah, right...”

Modern religions aren’t paragons of that, either, but at least society has abolished things like ritual sacrifice and slavery... well. Most societies, anyway. Horsht and Dozer are still full of stupid fucks who believe that garbage.

“Y’know, for a spirit... you don’t seem very... spiritual...”

I will take that as a compliment,’ said Bohwanox, and he stopped. ‘Ah. Hold up. I saw Colt around here. Let me see if I can find him again.’ The reaper flew off.

Hector had the street to himself. Only the occasional vehicle or illuminated window spoke of any other life in the neighborhood. Not that he minded. The peace was much welcomed--especially as he eyed his shredded, blood-soaked garments.

Page 105

--donation bonus (day #3, post 1/5)--
“Did he have two babies with him?”

He did have both arms full.

“Can you take me to him?”

I believe so. Follow me.

He had trouble keeping pace. His limbs were beginning to feel like lead. Bohwanox slowed down for him.

I should thank you, Hector.

“What for?”

You saved my life.

“Oh... well... I mean, I couldn’t just let you die...”

Yes, you could have.

Hector’s brow lowered within his helm. “I wouldn’t have, then.”

Bohwanox eyed him quietly, his bony expression made thoughtful, and a silent intermission passed. ‘Are you sure Garovel is alright?

Hector hesitated. “N-no... but then... if he dies, then...”

So do you.

“Yeah...”

Do you feel like you’re dying?

“Not exactly... This isn’t what it felt like before, anyway...”

Hmm. What happened to Geoffrey?

“Still alive, I’m pretty sure... What is he? Do you have any idea?”

No, I don’t. Perhaps Garovel does. I get the impression he’s much older and more experienced than I am.

“Really? Uh... h-how old are you?”

As a reaper, I’m only about seventy years old.

“What do you mean, ‘as a reaper’...?”

If you count my human life, then I’m about a hundred or so, I suppose.

Hector blinked. “You... you were human?”

Bohwanox’s skeletal brow rose. ‘Of course. All reapers were humans before they died. Garovel didn’t tell you?

“Ah... well... we had a lot of other things to talk about. But, um... he did say that he was thousands of years old...”

It’s as I thought, then.’ Bohwanox circled around Hector to look at Garovel resting there.

“I just, um... I just thought all reapers were that old...”

Most are. I’m the rare one here.

“Oh...”

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Page 104

Running with only one shoe soon grew awkward, so he pulled it off and threw it in a dumpster. One pant leg was also missing below the knee, but running around without pants on seemed less reasonable.

None of the buildings looked familiar. He slowed to a walk. ‘Where do I go, Garovel?

The reaper did not answer.

Garovel?!

Mm... what?

He took a breath. ‘You scared me...

Sorry... I’m... very tired... I need to rest...

I need you to tell me where to go first. I don’t know where we are.

Ah... uh... sorry, I... I’m...

Garovel?’ He waited for answer but received none. He stopped walking.

Everything had happened so quickly. He hadn’t had much chance to take it all in. And standing in the open street, he still wasn’t ready to. Part of him was afraid Geoffrey would find them if he stopped moving for too long. So he kept walking, aimless and barefoot over cool, damp concrete.

Hector!

At first, he thought it was Garovel, but then he realized. “Bohwanox?”

The reaper descended from the sky, the wound on his back still smoking, though less than before. ‘What happened?

“Garovel was hurt... pretty badly... he’s, um... resting now.”

Ah... I see.

“Are you alright?”

I think so, yes. I’ve never been wounded like this before, but I only feel mildly weakened.

“That’s good... How’d you, um... h-how’d you find me?”

Searching, is how. From up high. I was worried you two didn’t make it. I saw that other man leaving earlier.

“What other man?”

The one you were working with. He was talking to Rofal when I found you both tonight.

“Ah! You saw Colt?!”

Was that his name?

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Page 103

Agh... Hector...

“Garovel!”

The reaper just hovered there, the gash clear as day and smoldering.

“We’re leaving.” He vainly tried to take the reaper’s arm, phasing through it like smoke. “Dammit, we have to...! You have to follow me, Garovel!”

The children...

“They aren’t here,” he said. “They must be with Colt. We have to get out of here.”

Alright, just... listen.’

“I swear to goddess, if you tell me to leave without you...!”

No... but I can’t move. I need you to... carry me.

“Fine, fine. How?”

I have to attach myself to your soul... Come closer.’

“Okay. Do it.”

Immediately, Hector’s body felt stranger. Everything had a dull ache to it, and his strength diminished. He could feel the reaper’s presence, he realized, like a cloud hanging over his shoulders, dark and familiar... and weak.

Go quickly...

He ran. He chose the closest elevator, but when the door didn’t open as soon as he hit the button, he moved to the next. The fifth attempt yielded immediate results, and he rode the small lift up in silence, listening intently for sounds of pursuit.

The door opened again, and he found himself in a closet, which led into the back of a drugstore. No one was around, as it was still the middle of the night. He slid over the counter and made his way outside. With no key to lock the door again behind him, he felt a bit bad about it but had to leave and hope no one took the opportunity to rob the place. Then again, the store was involved with Rofal, so maybe it deserved it.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Page 102

--donation bonus (day #2, post 5/5)--
Hector dropped to the ground, blood spurting out of his severed limb as he wrestled the thrashing red python. ‘Get back!’ he told Garovel.

The reaper listened, but too late. Geoffrey had reached the doorway, and one of the streaks was already snaking toward Garovel. It wrapped around the reaper and pulled him closer to Geoffrey.

“Found you!”

Garovel!’ Iron powder gave Hector the traction he needed to rip the streak out, but he couldn’t stand yet. His leg had scarcely regrown at all. “Don’t you hurt him!”

“Tell me what he is, and I won’t,” said Geoffrey.

The reaper struggled to break free of his red bonds but to no avail.

“Fine!” said Hector. He could feel his leg slowly returning. “Okay! I’ll tell you...!” He made Geoffrey wait a moment longer. “He’s... a reaper. You know. A reaper of death.”

Geoffrey raised an eyebrow, turning Garovel around in the air. “Ah... I see. Interesting. I still want to dissect him, though.” He stuck Garovel through the chest.

Ugh!

“No!” It didn’t matter that his leg hadn’t fully returned. Hector stomped toward him with one gory stump. He clenched his fist so hard that he thought it might break, and he felt iron gathering around his knuckles almost involuntarily.

He slugged Geoffrey square in the face with every ounce of strength in his body.

Geoffrey smashed through the front of the house, and from the sound of it, several more walls within the building.

Hector looked at his hand. A thin metal veil covered the back of his palm and fingers. It wasn’t stable. Even as he stared at it, he saw it cracking and crumbling into dust, but it was still much more than he had expected to see.

Page 101

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Hector had a better idea. He coated his hands in iron dust and gripped the blade again. There it was. The friction he needed. He yanked the blade out and hit the ground rolling. He could hear Geoffrey’s elongated blades digging into the floor behind.

The main entrance is straight ahead of you,’ said Garovel.

He ran but felt something slowing him down. A bit of the red shadow was still wrapped around his helm, he realized. He pulled on it, but it stretched like taffy.

Geoffrey soon caught up. “Keep struggling,” he said, smiling. “Perhaps you’ll break it eventually.” When he saw Hector turn and walk towards him, his smile disappeared, however. He slashed Hector’s helm, but the sharp edge didn’t hit cleanly and just ricocheted off. Hector’s punch sent him bouncing from wall to ceiling to floor and out of sight around a corner.

He started for the entrance again, but Garovel stopped him.

Wait! You have to make sure Geoffrey stays on you! He has every reason to go after Colt, right now!

“Shit.” He turned and ran back but didn’t have far to go. A red streak came soaring after him, and he rolled to the side. Seeing Geoffrey again was confirmation enough, so Hector bolted for the entrance.

Past the broad welcoming chamber and outside the house at last, he found no one but Garovel. Still underground and surrounded by dark rock formations, it would have been pitch black if not for the pathway lamps showing the way to a slew of elevators some dozen meters away.

Glancing back, he saw twin red lashes gunning for him. He avoided the first but caught the second through the gut, and a moment later, the first returned to hack his leg off.

Page 100 -- XI.

--donation bonus (day #2, post 3/5)--
“Ah--maybe the elevator in Rofal’s bedroom. But it could just be the main entrance. I can’t know for--”

The red flew around the door and straight for Colt. The kid jumped in front of him and took it through the chest, losing a mass of blood. The jagged shade stopped just short of Colt’s stomach.

“Go!” the kid yelled. “I’ll check the entrance!”

Colt didn’t need to be told twice. He stopped only to rip a gun off of one of the dead bodies. The other two minions were up and barreling at him. He didn’t hesitate to shoot them both in the head.

He kicked the door to Rofal’s bedroom open. The elevator sat on the far left side, adjacent the bathroom. The numbers above the elevator door were already lighting up in descending order.

Colt ducked into the bathroom and waited.


Chapter Eleven: ‘A true flesh wound...’
Click to display entire chapter at once -- (mobile link)

Hector’s feet dangled above the floor as he hung from the red blade through his chest. He grasped the blade with both hands, trying to pull it free, but he couldn’t grip it with his blood all over it.

“This little helmet of yours is curious. And annoying. Is your head your weak point, by chance?” Geoffrey’s red shade coiled around the helm’s jaw, tugging on it.

Hector felt himself panicking. He didn’t know what else to do. The only thing he had left in mind was his iron, but that was useless. He tried it anyway. He put a hand forth, and from it came a light shower of gray particles, about as dangerous as a handful of confetti.

Geoffrey laughed. “What the hell is this?” He gently blew the powder away and laughed even more. “Are you a party clown in your spare time? Do that again! Go on!”

Page 99

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Regaining himself, Colt took advantage of the chaos. While the other mooks were distracted, he ran up behind one of them. He kicked him in the back of the knee, took the man into a chokehold with one arm, and stole the gun from its holster with the other. He immediately switched off the safety and opened fire. Two shots, two dead lackeys.

The kid was tossing his three around like they were lawn chairs. For some reason, Geoffrey seemed intent on getting around the kid rather than fighting him directly, and the kid seemed equally intent on holding his ground.

Rofal scrambled through his desk, no doubt for a weapon, but when he saw that Colt already had the gun on him, he stopped and backed away. For the first time that Colt had seen, the man looked genuinely fearful. “Be reasonable, Colt... If you kill me--”

Colt shot him in the chest.

Rofal dropped, hands vainly touching the wound as he watched Colt walking closer. “No...!”

“Yes.” The bullet splattered Rofal’s brain all over the floor.

He didn’t have long to feel satisfied, however.

“What have you done?!” someone yelled. It was Geoffrey. The red shadow boiled around him. “What have you DONE?!”

Colt opened fire. The shadow deflected each bullet, causing Geoffrey scarcely more than a momentary grimace. The magazine soon ran out.

The kid ran up and grabbed Geoffrey by the arm, then flung him back into the hall. One of Geoffrey’s minions was back up, and Colt bashed his skull in with the butt of his gun.

“What the fuck is that red shit?!”

“No time,” the kid said. “Where will your children arrive?”

“I don’t know!”

“Think!”

Page 98

--donation bonus (day #2, post 1/5)--
Another pounding thud shook the room even more violently than before. Everyone looked around nervously.

“I’m not the one you should be worried about right now,” said Colt.

“Who--?”

The double doors flung open, and the kid ran into the room, metal helm looking between everyone. A red streak followed him in and struck at him. He dodged the first couple strikes before it pierced his leg, dropping him to his knee. Red coiled around the kid like rope, swung him up, then smashed him into the floor. The kid struggled in his bindings as Geoffrey entered the room, the red source.

“Pardon us, Uncle.”

“Who the hell is this?” Rofal asked.

“He refuses to tell me,” said Geoffrey. “You should stand back, Uncle. He is rather dangerous. And very protective of--” Geoffrey choked the word back as the kid started pulling on the red streak, dragging Geoffrey towards him.

A jagged red blade grew from Geoffrey’s other hand, and he slashed the kid. It cut into the helm and got stuck there. The kid pulled him in the rest of the way and smacked him in the jaw, freeing himself. He launched Geoffrey across the room, collapsing a table as he landed.

The kid looked to Colt. “Are they here?!” he said.

Still a bit in shock, Colt struggled to answer. “Soon!”

Back on his feet, Geoffrey’s wild eyes searched frantically. He pointed to a few of Rofal’s lackeys. “You three!” A surge of crimson shot forth and enveloped them. They quickly panicked, began screaming like they’d been set on fire, then all too suddenly, fell deathly silent. “Kill him!” They all bounded toward the kid, splitting up to attack from different sides.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Page 97

“So this was your game.” Rofal was far too calm. “I am disappointed, Colt.”

Colt smashed the phone on the ground.

Rofal stood as men entered from the far door. “Congratulations,” he said. “You correctly guessed the next call I was going to make. Your children are still on their way here.”

He assessed the numbers. Seven against one. All armed, save himself.

“I suppose I could find another phone, but they should be here any minute, so why bother? Your resolve is clear to me now at least.” Rofal walked around the desk. “But you know, I am nothing if not determined. I will give you one more chance.”

“Is that so?” said Colt.

“When they arrive, I will allow you to choose which of the two you wish to keep.”

“Like fuck you will.”

“Refuse, and I will take both. And I will not kill them, Colt. They will become my children. I have none of my own, you see. I will raise them. They will come to love me. They will come to hate you. And when they are old enough, I will send them to kill you in my name.”

Colt’s expression alone seemed enough to slaughter everyone in the room.

“Agree to my terms, and you will be allowed to keep one child for yourself. Our amiable relationship may continue, and perhaps in time, you will be able to earn back your second child.”

He clenched his teeth. “I’m going to kill you.”

“You seem so determined not to leave this building alive. Perhaps you would prefer to watch as I kill them in front of you before you die as well? That would certainly save me considerable time and effort.”

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Page 96

The streak of crimson bounded back to Geoffrey, and the young man stared at Hector in disbelief. “Why?! You should be mine, now!”

Fool,’ said Garovel. ‘You can’t have him. He already belongs to me.

Geoffrey lashed out with a red whip.

Hector and Garovel split out of the way. Geoffrey tore after the reaper. Garovel slipped through a wall, and when Geoffrey turned, that metal helm was right in his face. Hector launched him the full length of the corridor to leave an impressive crack in the far wall. He could already see Geoffrey getting up as Garovel’s skull poked out of the wall.

Hector,’ said the reaper. ‘This is a losing battle.

What do you mean? I’m doing fine, aren’t I?

For the moment. But we aren’t prepared for this fight. There’s no time to explain. You need to remember what we came here for.

Hector’s expression soured. ‘The children...

Colt will probably be needing your help about now.

He saw Geoffrey charging him.

-+-+-+-+-

The conversation ended abruptly when a pounding thud shook the room. The three men all eyed each other a moment.

“What the fuck was that?” said Swank.

Rofal picked up the phone on his desk.

Colt’s gaze hardened. “Who are you calling?”

Rofal looked at him but did not respond. “Report,” he said into the receiver. A brief interval passed as he listened. “I see.”

Colt shifted in his seat. He did not like the look on the other man’s face.

Rofal hung up and started dialing again.

He could wait no longer. Colt bolted up and ripped the phone from Rofal’s grasp.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Page 95

--donation bonus (day #1, post 5/5)--
Geoffrey flew into the billiards room. Wood and plaster rained down on the pool table he’d landed on. He sat up and eyed the bloody heart in his hands. “How the hell...?” His gaze locked on Garovel. “This is their doing, isn’t it?” He climbed to his feet.

Behind you!’ Garovel shouted.

Hector at once knew what he meant. Geoffrey’s puppet man was running at him. Hector stepped to the right, caught the man, and swung him straight into Geoffrey. The pair crashed into a ceiling fan and hit the ground in a heap of shattered glass and splintered wood.

Once again, Geoffrey stood. The red shadow covered his entire body before disappearing again. “You are beginning to annoy me.”

“I’ve never been very good at making friends...” Hector’s chest began to reform for the second time that night.

Geoffrey waved his hand. When his puppet man did not immediately leap forth, he turned to see why.

Small cuts riddled the man’s face, and his leg was bent the wrong way. He struggled even to stand, collapsing after a moment.

Geoffrey frowned. “Broken already? I just made this one.” He sighed. “Oh well.” A red flash cleaved the man in two. Blood didn’t start spraying until his body hit the ground.

Hector scowled. “Fucker...!”

“It appears I need a new fetcher,” said Geoffrey, starting closer. “Perhaps I should make things simple and just take you.” The red shadow swirled free of Geoffrey’s body, amassing in hulking form.

Hector dove back into the hallway, but the shadow still enveloped him. He thrashed within its grasp, expecting some kind of horrific pain or black out, but there was none. He turned to Garovel, who looked entirely unconcerned--even strangely amused.

Page 94

--donation bonus (day #1, post 4/5)--
“Fine.” Geoffrey waved his hand, and the man in the chair sprung up and leapt on Hector, thrashing and biting.

Hector flung him off, but not before Geoffrey ran past. There was nothing between him and the reapers. They split up, and Geoffrey went after Bohwanox. Hector pursued, but they were too far ahead. Geoffrey reached out, and it seemed like Bohwanox was still far enough away, but from Geoffrey’s hand, the same red shadow flew forth, jagged and fast, and it slashed the reaper’s backside.

Agh!

“I just want to touch you!” Geoffrey laughed.

Hector was there. He grabbed Geoffrey by the collar and threw him against the wall, keeping him pinned there. He glanced at Bohwanox, who was turning over in the air. “Are you alright?!”

Ghostly black-and-white smoke rose from the wound. ‘I-I’m not sure,’ he said, grimacing.

You’ll recover,’ said Garovel. ‘But you need to leave now. You’ve done all you can here.

Y-yes, very well.’ Bohwanox disappeared through the wall.

“Hey, where did he go?!” said Geoffrey. “Come back! I was not done!”

Hector made a fist and punched him in the face with all his strength. The wall cracked behind Geoffrey’s head.

But the red shade was there again, and when it vanished, Geoffrey’s face remained untarnished. “Your attacks hurt,” said Geoffrey, “but they do not wound. Not like this.” He speared Hector through the chest with a red-coated hand. Blood flew everywhere. Geoffrey’s hand stuck out of Hector’s back, clutching an extracted heart.

Bleeding from the mouth, Hector did not move. “...You were saying?” He headbutted him, reared back, and kicked Geoffrey through the wall.

Page 93

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“I suppose I did,” said Geoffrey. “The soul, as your friend called it, is always destroyed when I take them for my own. Now out of my way. I wish to inspect your phantom.” He tried to push past, but Hector held him back.

“I don’t think so.”

“Hmm. Interesting.”

In an instant, something red flashed across Hector’s vision, and suddenly, his forearm was gone, flesh and bone cut so cleanly off that it took a moment to start bleeding. Geoffrey held the severed limb by the wrist.

Hector remained unfazed.

Geoffrey tossed the meat over his shoulder and stared. “Did that not hurt?” he asked.

Hector clocked him in the mouth, and Geoffrey flew back, toppling over the sofa. “Did that?”

Geoffrey stood up immediately, shaking his head. “That was surprising,” he said. And when he looked up, a crimson shade was covering his mouth.

Hand growing back, Hector’s eyes narrowed. “What is that?”

“I see no reason to tell you.” Geoffrey bounded forward and swung, but Hector just took the hit and punched him in the gut, launching him even farther back than before. When Geoffrey stood, this time the red shadow covered his stomach. He began to laugh. “Interesting! You certainly hit hard!”

Hector waited as the young man approached. The reapers fell back into the corridor, observing from beyond the doorway. “What the hell are you?”

“A good question,” said Geoffrey. “I would like to know as well. But right now, I am more interested in what they are. You are not going to let me touch them, are you?”

Hector made no response.

Page 92

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Hector’s expression darkened beneath his helm. He eyed the vacant-eyed man in the chair. “Who is that person?” he said.

“Oh, him?” said Geoffrey. “He is my new fetcher. My old one was starting to smell.”

“...Fetcher?”

“Yeah. I use him to bring me stuff. From the outside. My uncle does not want me to leave, and I want him to be happy, so I use fetchers.”

That man is dead,’ said Garovel. ‘The body is alive, but there is no soul.

“Hmm.” Geoffrey’s eyes moved, and Hector wasn’t sure where the young man was looking. “If you will not tell me your name, then what about these two here?”

Hector blinked. “What?”

He can see us!’ said Bohwanox.

“Why, yes, I can.” Geoffrey grinned. “Am I not supposed to?”

The reapers backed away even further.

“You asked what ‘that thing’ is,” said Geoffrey. “You were referring to me?”

Yes,’ said Garovel. ‘What are you?

“I am not sure what you mean.”

You are NOT human,’ said Bohwanox. ‘So why do you look like one?

“Hmm. You know, I have always had a feeling I was not human. Everyone treats me like one, so I did not think much more about it, but you seem to know what you are saying. What are you, anyhow? Phantoms?” Geoffrey stepped closer and reached out to touch Bohwanox.

Hector placed himself in the way. “Did you... kill that man there?”

Geoffrey eyed Hector again. “You have not answered any of my questions, yet you continue to ask more of your own. You are trying my patience.”

“Too bad,” said Hector. “Did you kill him?”

Page 91

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“What about your other siblings?” Colt asked.

“You are very curious today,” said Rofal, laughing lowly. “If this is part of some ploy to take my family members hostage in exchange for your own, then for your own sake, allow me to dispel that plan in its infancy. You can take whomever you want. Or try to. My family members certainly do not need me to protect them from the likes of you. They would be upset if I did.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

“Ha.”

“What about Geoffrey’s parents? Are they dead?”

“No, they are alive. But they entrusted him to me. They struggled with him as a child.”

“I can imagine.”

“I do not think you can,” said Rofal.

Colt raised an eyebrow.

Rofal downed the rest of his whiskey and rested the glass in front of him. “There are very few people in this world who frighten me,” he said. “I am all too glad to have that monster’s favor.”

-+-+-+-+-

What the hell is that thing?’ said Bohwanox.

I don’t know,’ said Garovel.

Hector didn’t have time to ask for an explanation. A group of five more guards appeared in the doorway and laid hands on him. He soon dispatched them, rendering three unconscious and two groaning in pain on the floor.

“Oh, wow! What a pleasure to meet you! My name is Geoffrey. What is yours?” When Hector did not reply, Geoffrey’s face scrunched up. “Why are the interesting people always so rude to me?”

Upon a second look, Hector noticed an unusual d├ęcor in this room. Not more than a meter to Geoffrey’s left lay a row of objects encased in glass. A foot, a hand, a nose, a little finger, a pair of eyes, a hairy scalp, a shriveled heart, a blackened brain. Various sizes and skin colors. All bloody.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Page 90

The reapers both fell in behind. ‘Please go first, Hector,’ said Garovel. ‘And be very careful.

The door was locked, so he broke it down. It clapped to the floor so loudly that he was sure more guards would be coming soon, but the first things he saw in the room were two people--a young man in a dark suit staring back at him and an older, seated gentleman staring vacantly at a wall.

“Excuse me,” said the younger man, “but what the hell do you think... you are... Hmm.” He squinted at Hector. “What do we have here?”

-+-+-+-+-

“Fine,” said Colt. “Then maybe you can tell me more about your family. I’ve only ever met you and Geoffrey.”

“Ah.” Rofal took a swig of his alcohol. “My father and mother retired successfully some ten years ago now. Great man, my father. These days, some people question his lucidity--namely, my mother--but sometimes, I can still see that brilliance of his. That ambition. One moment, he’ll be talking about his great grandfather or his dead sister like they’re in the room; and then the next, he’ll be whispering to me about some secret store room he had built thirty years ago.”

“I met him once,” said Swank. “He offered to cut my hair for me. And replace it with possum fur. I’m still not sure if he was joking.”

Rofal laughed. “Apart from that, I have a few siblings. I inherited the business because my older sister, bless her, hates everything about it.”

Colt snorted. “One of you isn’t a criminal?”

“Oh, she has the mind for it. We all know she does. But she fell in love with an electrician and decided to become a housewife, if you can believe that. Still not sure I do.”

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Page 89

Yes,’ said Bohwanox. ‘It just vanished, with no apparent cause. Then the man it belonged to suddenly decided to come straight here, as if in a trance. I saw him go this way. Please follow me.

Hector did so, smashing security cameras where he saw them. “I thought, um... I thought you didn’t care about saving people,” said Hector.

I don’t like to get involved, if that’s what you mean,’ said Bohwanox. ‘But this is something different. You’ve sensed it too, haven’t you, Garovel? The strange discomfort in this city?

Mm. I have. You believe this to be connected?

Not just connected. I believe it to be the root cause. I believe these missing people may be dying very... abnormally.

“What do you mean?”

I’m not wholly sure myself,’ said Bohwanox. ‘These people who have been going missing, they’re all different ages, races, and genders. I couldn’t find a common thread between them all, and their disappearances don’t seem to have benefited anyone in particular. So I don’t suspect that they’re being held prisoner for sake of ransom or slavery. I believe they’re being killed. But if that’s the case, then why haven’t I found any trapped or wandering souls? It’s very strange.

And troubling,’ added Garovel.

Here,’ said Bohwanox. ‘I saw him go through that door.

“You didn’t check inside already?”

No, I...’ Bohwanox shied away from the door. ‘I was... reluctant.

Hector tilted his head. He looked at Garovel for an explanation, but the other reaper was also backing away. “A-are you guys okay...?”

You feel that, Garovel?

I do. I’m wondering how I missed it before...

Because it’s quiet,’ said Bohwanox. ‘It’s like a shadow that doesn’t belong. You don’t realize it’s there until the person casting it suddenly moves... and it lingers.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Page 88

Hector caught one of their legs and flung the man into his partner. They both bounced off the wall and toppled onto one another. He waited for them to get back up, but when he saw them reaching for their guns, he pulled their weapons straight out of their hands and pistol-whipped them both over the head. They stayed down.

Hector eyed the medic crouching in the corner and donned his helm once more. “Please remain quiet...”

The woman nodded furiously.

More guards filed into the room, however. Hector used the first thug who entered to push through the others and create a path for himself. He made sure that they all went down before they could start shooting or call for help. A couple of them ended up caught in the rafters. He initially thought that the corridor had a typically bare ceiling, so he was confused when the first guy he kicked up there didn’t come back down.

Well, this descended quickly,’ said Garovel.

Hector ripped the clamps out of his chest, tearing flesh and bleeding all over the marble floor. Broken ribs stuck out at jagged angles, and he touched his own beatless heart. He tried not to think about how painful this would be later. ‘So where do I go now?

Bohwanox appeared through the wall. ‘I apologize for my imposition,’ he said.

Uh, it-it’s fine...

Bohwanox can’t hear you,’ Garovel said as he initiated the regeneration, causing Hector’s bones to bend and snap back into place. ‘He isn’t linked to your brain like I am, so you have to talk aloud to him.

“Oh. Uh... Garovel said that, um... you saw the aura of death go away on its own?”

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Page 87

“You’re worried someone worse might take his place?”

“Until we know otherwise, yes.”

“But you don’t object to his death on moral grounds...?”

“Not particularly, no--hmm? Ah. Bohwanox just showed up. Hold on.”

“Bohwanox? What’s he doing here?”

“He’s telling me.”

“I can’t hear him.”

“Yeah, your soul isn’t linked to him, so--agh, I can’t carry two conversations at once like this. Just wait a minute.”

“...A-alright... um...”

“There’s something wrong.”

“What is it?”

“Bohwanox says he followed someone here who had the aura of death. But it went away on its own, somehow. I’m not sure what he means. He says he’s been investigating a series of missing persons reports, and he thinks this might be related.”

“Ah, uh... w-what do we do?”

“...Bah. We need you awake. This person he followed is probably in serious danger.”

“But it’s too soon, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, it is.”

“So, then...?”

“We make do. Get ready. Ah. Looks like they’re dissecting your body.”

“Wha--?”

-+-+-+-+-

Hector’s eyes stuck open, and he saw a woman in blue scrubs standing over him. He looked down to see his chest cavity pried open with metal clamps, and a pair of burly thugs watching in the corner of the room. One of them was wearing his helm.

She noticed his eyes open and froze. “Uh, guys...”

Hector sat up. They all screamed.

Keep them quiet!’ Garovel yelled.

He bounded up and barreled into the man with his helm, punching him in the gut and yanking the helm free. The other guy slugged him in the face, flooring Hector. They jumped at the opportunity to kick the huge gash that was his chest.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Page 86

“I will tell you this,” said Rofal. “That money was my means of acquiring an introduction with certain... like-minded individuals.”

“I see,” said Colt. “Is that all ruined now?”

“For the time being, yes. A frustrating set back. But I’m sure another opportunity will present itself in time.”

Colt swilled his whiskey around the glass.

-+-+-+-+-

“Agh... where am I...?”

“Relax. I’ve got you.”

“Ah... this again, huh?”

“I have to hold onto your soul while we wait for Colt’s children to arrive.”

“Okay... but, uh... this feels... a little different from the last time...”

“Well, without sounding too corny, our souls have had time to get acclimated to one another.”

“What does that mean...?”

“We’ve bonded.”

“Aww... come to think of it... this does kinda feel like a warm hug.”

“Hmm, I suppose it does.”

“It’s really nice...”

“Uh. Okay.”

“Hold me more tightly, Garovel.”

“Getting a bit weird now.”

“Haha. So, uh. What’s going on with Colt? I can't see anything.”

“He’s speaking with Rofal now. He’s not getting much information out of him.”

“But Rofal doesn’t suspect anything?”

“Not yet. It’s been a bit boring, actually. They’re just waiting for the kids to arrive. Colt’s asking about his plans, but Rofal is being predictably cryptic.”

“So... what do you think now? You said before that you needed more time to observe, but... do you, um... do you think I should kill Rofal?”

“No, I don’t think you should.”

“Really? Why?”

“Because we still don’t know what will happen to Rofal’s business in the event of his death. Contrary to popular belief, cutting the head off the snake doesn’t always work. I don’t think his enterprise will just dissolve.”

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Page 85

“How did you kill him?” Swank asked.

Colt furrowed his brow. “I stabbed him in the back of the head. Stupid question.”

“Yeah, but...”

Colt looked to Rofal. “So how long are you going to make me wait?”

“I’ll arrange for you to meet them tomorrow.”

“Tonight,” said Colt. “I want to see them tonight.”

That gave Rofal pause. His smile lessened. “Impatient, aren’t you?” He eyed Colt again, then the body. “Fine. I suppose you’ve earned it. I will have them brought here and give you the first three hours tonight.”

Rofal had the body moved to the medical ward, accompanied with a handful of guards. Colt handed the weird helmet off to one of them, who seemed to find it amusing.

They made their way into Rofal’s office. Rofal poured Colt a glass of whiskey. He did not offer one to Swank.

“There’s something else I’d like to know,” said Colt.

“Yes?” said Rofal.

“The money that the kid stole, what was it for?”

“Why? Did you recover it?”

“No.” The kid did have a gripload of money in his bag, Colt had discovered, but Rofal didn’t need to know that. The money was stuffed under the backseat of his car. “But you said something about it being for a seat at a table. What table?”

Rofal paused again. “Why do you want to know?”

“Let’s say I’ve been considering my circumstances,” said Colt. “And being more cooperative with you is starting to seem more advantageous.”

“I see.” Rofal leaned back in his chair. “Well, I would be lying if I said I did not want to tell you. However, if honesty is the game now, then I have to say, I am a bit taken aback by your sudden change of heart. And I have never been a very trusting man.”

“I’ve noticed.”

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Page 84 -- X.

Chapter Ten: ‘And ye shall know fear...’
Click to display entire chapter at once -- (mobile link)

Colt was glad the kid wasn’t heavier. He lugged the body over his shoulder and approached the entrance to the Rofal mansion. He held the metal helmet in his free hand. The kid had been adamant about not leaving it behind.

The guards searched him. He had hoped that carrying a dead body would allow him to forgo such formalities, but they still made him stand there and wait while they confiscated his weapons. They even searched the kid’s body.

Rofal chose to receive him in the atrium, and Colt dumped the body on the floor.

Swank backed away. “It’s him! You brought him here?!”

“Him?” Rofal eyed the body.

“This kid was the thorn in your side,” said Colt.

“Ah, is that so?”

Swank nodded. He did not venture out from behind the staircase. “You’re sure he’s dead, right?”

“Of course,” said Colt. He turned the kid’s head to the side, revealing a bloody gash below the base of the skull. “I would’ve stabbed him in the face, but I wanted to make sure you could recognize him. There is a reward for this, right? Oh, generous boss of mine?”

Rofal laughed. “Spectacular! Of course I’ll reward you. Have a whole day--no, two days. Incredible work. How did you even find him?”

“He came to me,” said Colt. “Said he wanted my help. Thought I’d betray you and feed him information.”

Rofal’s smile broadened. “Let me guess. You said you would, and then stuck him as soon as his back was turned.”

“Pretty much.”

“I love it,” said Rofal. “That’s what I admire about you, Colt. That ruthlessness.”

Colt merely returned a smile of his own.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Page 83

Colt glowered and holstered his weapon. “Alright,” he said, “but I won’t waste a bullet.” He drew his knife, and Hector scarcely saw the blade coming before it drove through his eye socket.

Darkness. Hector reawoke on the pavement, Colt dragging him toward the trunk of his car. He called out to the man. “Hey...”

Colt dropped Hector’s legs. “Impossible...” He backed up against the car as he watched Hector stand up again.

“Is this... proof enough?”

Colt just stared at him, face like stone.

“I want information,” said Hector.

“You seem to have plenty of information already,” said Colt. “What else do you need?”

“Uh...”

The identities of other double agents. We don’t need any more surprises.

“Tell me who else... um... who else Rofal has on the police force... or anywhere else I should know about.”

“The only other cops I know about are Toller, Robstoy, and Vance.” He paused, furrowing his brow at Hector. “But I... I can look into finding more.”

Get him to ask Rofal about his plans. There seems to be a bigger play.

“Also... if you can tell me about his plans... I’ll have a better idea of what to do after your children are safe...”

“Fine. I’ll find out what I can. If that’s all, then I have an appointment to keep.”

Hector stiffened. “Appointment? If you’re going to kill someone...”

“I won’t kill him if he cooperates,” said Colt.

“Officer Colt...”

“Kid, it’s not like I have a choice here.”

“I know, but...”

Tell him to kill you again,’ said Garovel.

Why?

We need to know where the children are, and the only way to do that is to have Colt give Rofal what he wants. And Rofal wants you dead.

“Okay, Officer Colt. Here’s what we’ll do...”

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Page 82

When Colt spotted him approaching, the man’s posture stiffened and his hand moved for his coat pocket. “Who the...? Wait. It’s you, isn’t it? I heard you were causing trouble. Looking to avenge your partner, are you?”

“No, I... I, um...”

Colt squinted at him.

Calmly. Deliberately. At your own pace, Hector.

“I... know about your children, Officer Colt.”

“Do you, now?”

“I’ll be brief,” said Hector. “I’m going to rescue them, because... whatever I think about you... your children are innocent.”

Colt seemed amused. “You’re going to rescue them,” he said. “And how, exactly, are you going to accomplish this feat? Do you know where they are?”

“I don’t... have to tell you that...”

Colt revealed his gun, but kept it pointed low. “Hold on, kid. I’m not going to let you run in and put them in danger.”

“They’re already in danger...”

“The only thing keeping them safe is me,” said Colt. “My actions. As long as I do what he wants, they’re not in danger.”

“What happens... when he wants you to do something... that you can’t do?”

“I’ll do anything. You understand that, kid? There are only two lives that matter to me, and mine ain’t one of them.”

Hector was quiet a moment. He took off his helm. “I’ve never had a partner,” he said, holding it under his arm.

“You’re lying,” said Colt. “You’re that kid’s twin or something. It’s the only explanation.”

“Then shoot me,” said Hector. He walked closer. “Shoot me right in the head... and then you’ll see...”

“Stupid kid. Are you suicidal?”

Don’t answer that.

“I thought you said you’d do anything,” said Hector.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Page 81

Yeah... I mean, it’s functional... but the face is all dented from the hammer. I could smooth it out with the grinder, but that’d weaken the metal...

Substance over style, Hector.

These corners on the jaw piece are going to dig into my neck if I don’t shave them down...

You want to stay and keep working?

I can’t. The clubroom is closed. I don’t think there’s anyone even left in the school...

Then you might as well get over here.’ Garovel started giving directions.

So, uh... what’s Colt been doing?

Sleeping, mostly.

The whole day?

Yeah. But then, he is the most wanted man in Brighton right now. I can’t imagine daylight being very friendly to him.

Oh yeah...

But he’s awake now. Looks like he’s preparing to leave.

Any idea where he’s going?

No. But it must be something important if he’s risking exposure. He’s taking a gun with him.

Hector started running. Soon, he reached Brighton’s inner city and asked for more directions. Garovel gave them, but Colt was moving now, so following was made more difficult. Hector wasn’t empowered with strength, either. His body still ached in protest every time his feet hit the pavement.

He finally stumbled to a stop when he saw Garovel.

You don’t look so good,’ the reaper said, grasping his shoulder.

Relief washed through him. ‘Where is he?

Garovel pointed toward an alley behind a department store.

Hector slipped his head into the helm.

It doesn’t look so bad,’ the reaper observed. ‘The dents make it look a bit abnormal, but in a good way. An imposing way. How does it fit?

He rubbed his neck. ‘Could be worse, I suppose...’ He made his way over to Colt.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Page 80

“I mean... I really want to get it done.”

“Hmm. Aren’t you tired?”

He shook his head.

“You certainly know how to stay focused; I’ll give you that.” She smirked faintly. “A few more minutes. But then we’re outta here. I’ve got an important home life, you know. My dogs need to be fed.”

“Yes, ma’am...”

He finished up the welding, screwed the jaw into place, stuffed the helm in his bag, and exited the building with Ms. Trent.

“You okay to get home?” she asked.

“Y-yeah, I’m fine.”

“You sure? We’re not supposed to give students rides, but I can’t just let you walk home in the dark.”

“No, really. I, uh... I mean, uh... my parents should be here soon.”

“Then you won’t mind if I wait with you.”

He grimaced. “Uh... th-that’s not necessary.”

“Oh, I insist,” she said.

He sighed.

“They’re not coming, are they?”

He had to think of something. Lying wasn’t working. He decided to try a version of the truth. “No, they’re not,” he said. “I’m not going home yet. I h-have somewhere else I want to go first.”

“Aha. Somewhere you’d rather not tell a teacher about, is that it?”

He nodded his head to the side a little. “Y-you could say that...”

“Alright,” she said. “It’s not my business. But stay out of trouble, Hector. You’re a good kid.”

He watched her go out into the parking lot and drive off in a white compact.

He pulled out the helm as he started walking and held it up to inspect. He hadn’t been able to look at the finished product very closely before leaving the workroom. He turned it over in his hands.

Wow, this looks like shit...

Garovel laughed. ‘Are you done?

Monday, June 10, 2013

Page 79

If you have to leave before it’s done, then so be it. But keep at it until I tell you otherwise.’ Garovel left, and Hector returned to his work.

He knew he would need to stay extremely late if he wanted to finish the helm. Thankfully, this was a common occurrence in the club. Members would routinely hang around several hours after other clubs wrapped up, and oddly, Ms. Trent never seemed to mind very much. As long as there were at least a couple of students still around, she would just stay in her office and read a book or some such thing, employing ear plugs for any machining noise.

It was convenient, yes, but Hector knew there were other reasons why some of his peers did not want to go home.

At length, he felt the shapes were as good as he could get them. He lathered an adhesive between the layers of the metal and positioned them into place. He checked out a welding torch, apron, gloves, and mask, and then started melting the edges together. He added lines down the center of the metal as well, both inside and out.

After a while, Ms. Trent came out of her office. “It’s gotten dark out, Hector. I’m closing up shop.”

He released the trigger on the torch and lifted his mask. “I-I just need a few more minutes. I’m almost done.”

“Done?” She approached and assessed his work. “You didn’t even have the drafting started when you came in today, right?”

“Eh, y-yeah...”

“Impressive. A bit rough still, but you work quickly.”

“Ah... th-thank you... I just... I need to get it done.”

“Need?”

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Page 78

This would be the most time-consuming stage by far, Hector knew. Welding would also take a while, assuming he managed to accomplish this part properly, but there was a tremendous amount of measuring and remeasuring and hammering and rehammering needed in order to achieve the desired shapes.

It’s time we discuss what to do about Colt, don’t you think?

Hector didn’t stop hammering. ‘I want to help him.

Garovel paused. ‘Are you sure about that? He killed four innocent people, you know.

Yeah... I know... and I’m not sure I can forgive that, but... you said he has children...

I did, yes. But being a father doesn’t absolve him of his crimes.

He stopped to remeasure. The forehead was still too broad. ‘He’s trying to protect them,’ Hector thought, ‘and even if... even if he doesn’t deserve our help... his children still do... I mean, don’t they?

The reaper stared at him a moment. ‘You continue to surprise me, Hector.

He felt the blush coming on and stopped his hammer before he screwed up the next hit.

Hmm. A rescue mission, then.

Yeah...

Then I suppose we’d be fools not to attempt an alliance with Colt.

Eh... you really think he’ll listen?

I don’t know. His circumstances are uniquely precarious. It’s hard to say how he’ll respond to anything at this point. But I don’t think offering him our aid will pose any risk to us, so we might as well try it.

Okay...

I’ll go keep tabs on him while you work. Tell me when you’re done.

Right. But, uh... I’m gonna be here a while...

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Page 77

“I don’t think I’d be able to forge a very good sword, anyway,” said Hector. “It’s really difficult. I mean, people used to do that as their entire profession.”

“Yeah. Swordsmiths were pretty rare, though. You’d have to be friggin’ legendary to make a living off of swords alone.”

“Yeah...”

“It would be amazing, though.”

“Yeah.”

“Maybe I could make something else to go with your helm. Like a shield. Oh, or some gauntlets.”

Hector raised his brow at him. “You can make gauntlets? That sounds so difficult. I mean... the links around the fingers would be brutal...”

“I bet I could do it,” said Lance. “Maybe.”

“W-well, that sounds awesome. I’ll, uh... I’ll help you if I can.”

“Cool.” And Lance went off to work, leaving Hector slightly dumbfounded at what just happened.

He had to get permission from Ms. Trent to use a table saw, and she had to supervise while he worked. There was only one saw with a carbide-tipped blade, but it didn’t get used much since most of the students worked with wood.

And as he eyed the blade, he realized he could save himself more time if he forewent the eyehole as its own cut and just merged it with the cut for the jaw pieces. He quickly remarked the metal and set about cutting. The carbide made short work of it, and soon enough, instead of three sheets of metal, he had six separate pieces.

A brief trip to the miller gave him the holes needed for the jaw. Next he had to mold the three head pieces into similar enough shapes that they could be securely welded together; and then do the same for the jaw pieces. He started hammering.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Page 76

Thinner metal is easier to cut, and I should be able to shape it with just my hands and a hammer. But I need to make sure the measurements are perfect with each layer or the welding won’t be very strong.

You seem to know what you’re doing.

I have some experience, and... I, uh... I did some reading last night. But, um... even though I know what to do, I’m not sure how well it’ll turn out, honestly... If I screw up too badly with the hammer, it might not even fit around my head...

So you need to concentrate, is what you’re saying.

Uh... yeah...

He began drafting. He measured the circumference of his head in five different places, then the distance from the far corner of one eye to the other. He reckoned that a single slit for both eyes together would save cutting time and hopefully provide better visibility. Ear holes wouldn’t be necessary, he decided, nor would holes for the mouth and nose, but there was one major problem: the jaw.

Shielding the area under his jaw was absolutely vital. His all-too-brief fight with Colt assured him of that point.

He decided to just cut off the bottom half of the face completely and then screw it back on so that it could swing freely over the top half. It would look like some kind of gigantic underbite, but it would protect below his chin while still allowing him to fit his head into the thing.

Lance ventured over after a while. “What’re you making?” he asked.

“...A, uh... a helmet. Or helm, I guess.”

“Oh, that’s awesome,” said Lance, eyeing the sketches. “It’s too bad you’re not allowed to make a sword to go with it. That’d be amazing.”

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Page 75

He rested against his locker and took a long breath.

That’s it. You’re safe now. The big bad girl can’t get you anymore.

You... you fuck...’ He gave a weak laugh. ‘Why am I like this, Garovel...? Why is nothing ever easy...?

I don’t know, Hector. But I can’t say I dislike this part of you.

R-really? I thought it annoyed you...

No, no. If anything, I get annoyed FOR you. Not AT you.

Huh...

It’s important you understand that. I can’t really be annoyed at you when I see you trying so hard all the time.

He nodded. ‘Thanks... I guess I sorta knew that a little... but I, uh... yeah...

Now you know it a lot.

Later in the day, he paid off his equipment fine. He’d stuffed a thousand or so troa in his bag before coming to school, which was obviously more than he needed, but he wanted to be prepared. It did feel a bit odd carrying so much money around school with him. He wasn’t sure how he would explain the money if someone searched his bag, so he kept the strap around his arm or wrist at all times.

He bought a few sheets of metal from the carpentry club’s storeroom and settled at a table all to himself.

You’re going to make a helmet out of that? It looks pretty flimsy.

Thicker metal would need to be melted down and recast. Which... would be great, but... we don’t have a furnace. I need to weld multiple layers of this metal together if I want something resilient.

Sounds tedious.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Page 74

C’mon. Just make something up.

“I... uh... I like to, uh... ah...” He could feel himself turning red.

Tell them you’re into metalwork. That’s kinda true.

“I like to work with... metal...”

“Metal?” said Sheryl.

“Yeah, like... welding... and stuff...”

“That’s cool,” said Gregory. “What kind of stuff do you make?”

“Ah... I, uh...”

Sheryl giggled. “Micah, where did you find this guy? He’s so shy--it’s adorable! Makes me want to just wrap him up in a blanket and take him home with me!” She took his arm in both of hers.

Hector jolted away from her and out of his seat. His chair toppled over, and everyone at the table stared at him. “Ah--” He flushed even redder than before. “S-sorry... I just--ah. Y-you’re all s-so nice... w-we should definitely do this again, but, uh... I-I just remembered that I... uh... I gotta go.” He fled.

In the hall, navigating through the crowd, he looked back to see if any of them were following, but he only saw Garovel.

What the hell was that?’ the reaper said.

I... I-I don’t know, she just... she surprised me... and I... ugh... I really fucked that up, didn’t I?

No, I’m sure it’s fine. Just a bit unexpected. Do you also have a phobia of women?

N-no, I think it’s just... people in general. Maybe, um... maybe girls slightly more than guys, but, um...

Garovel sighed.

I mean... it was th-the physical contact...

Garovel sighed harder.

If I’d known! That she! Was gonna--! I wouldn’t have--! Agh!

Okay, I get it. You have trouble with friendly people. Relax.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Page 73 -- IX.

Chapter Nine: ‘Forbearant soul, gird thyself for war...’
Click to display entire chapter at once -- (mobile link)

With all his new monetary concerns, Hector had nearly forgotten about the invitation to have lunch with Micah and his friends. On the one hand, he was glad that he didn’t end up a nervous wreck through his first few classes, and on the other hand, when he did remember, the sudden fear that came over him was akin to petrifaction.

Micah, Nathan, Janine, Sheryl, and Gregory were all their names; they were quick to introduce themselves. Hector had been less so, but struggled through it nonetheless. His face still throbbed something terrible, but after everything he had been through in the past few days, hiding the pain in front of everyone was easy enough.

“So what do you do for fun, Hector?” Micah seemed to be the resident icebreaker.

“Uh... f-fun...?” The question had him dead to rights.

“Yeah. You know. What do you like to do in your spare time?”

Garovel, save me...’ He could hear the reaper laughing.

You don’t want to tell them you beat up murderers and drug dealers?

Garovel!

Just pose the question back at them and listen to their answers. Then go from there.

“Um... what do you guys do for fun?”

“Oh,” said Micah, looking at the others, “well, as a group, we like to go to movies and stuff together, but they’re expensive, so we can’t always go.”

“Yeah, but parks are free. Nathan, Sheryl, and Gregory all have dogs that they like to take.”

“You remember that time when Duro started humping that one lady having a picnic?”

“Duro--that’s Gregory’s dog--he’s massive. That lady was freaking out like you wouldn’t believe. I thought she--”

Holy shit, Garovel, you’re a genius...

You’re welcome.

Micah looked at him. “But you never answered the question, Hector.”

Fuck!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Page 72

“Fat chance,” said Colt.

“Is it really so ridiculous? With you, I finally have someone reliable who can never betray me. With me, you finally have an employer who appreciates your finer talents. An employer who will not hesitate to show his generosity.”

“You have a strange idea of generosity.”

“I like guarantees, Colt. A man in my position shouldn’t trust anyone when he has the opportunity not to. I’m sure you can understand that. But when I have my guarantee--” He placed a briefcase on the desk. It was full of cash. “--I am free to show my gratitude.”

Colt eyed the money. By the size of the bills, there must have been at least five thousand troas. “Money isn’t enough,” he said.

“Of course. I believe you have earned another two hours.”

Colt took the briefcase. “Where are they?”

“Today, they’re here.” Rofal motioned toward the broad double doors behind him, ornately wooden with brass lamps on either side. “Tomorrow, they’ll be somewhere else.”

Colt proceeded through into what could only be Rofal’s bedchamber. Four guards looked up as he entered, and then put away their cards, book, and newspaper in order to watch him in silence. He approached the crib in the middle of the room.

Two babies lay sleeping, twins boy and girl. Colt took a relieved breath. He could not smile at them. Not here. He touched his son’s forehead and then his daughter’s.

Two hours, he had. It wasn’t enough. He wanted to spend it as efficiently as possible, but he didn’t know how to do that. So before it drove him mad, he decided to just sit down and watch them sleep.

Garovel merely continued observing.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Page 71

Rofal sat down. “Leave us,” he told Swank, who promptly exited. He took a deep breath and ran a hand through his red and gray hair. The weathered lines of his face made his expression all the more foul.

“You sure Swank wasn’t followed?”

“He said he wasn’t, but who knows. Do you remember anything about this person? You said he was young.”

“Looked like a teenager. Seemed really intimidated by me. Before he started beating the shit out of everyone, anyway. But it can’t be the same guy. He must have had a partner.”

“Then what’s their objective?”

Colt shrugged. He couldn’t help grinning. “Can you think of any reason why someone would want to hurt you?”

Rofal did not look amused. “You are obviously not the person to discuss this with. Tell me how your assignment went.”

“I contacted some of my old colleagues in the department. Told them I was innocent, like you said. I’m pretty sure none of them believed me.”

“I didn’t expect them to. But now they will be conflicted. And perhaps more malleable.”

Colt furrowed his brow. “You mean to coerce them.”

“Empires are not built on alliances. They are built on conquests.”

Colt just looked disgusted.

“Three of your fellow officers and two teenagers,” Rofal reminded him. “And you felt nothing when you killed them, no? I’m sure a bit of surreption won’t pose too much of a moral dilemma for you.”

He stared back coldly. “I expect I’ll feel something when I kill you.”

“Careful, Colt. Do not jeopardize the understanding we have.”

“I apologize,” he said through his teeth.

“I’m aware of your current hatred for me,” Rofal said. “But in time, I believe you will see the situation as I do.”

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Page 70

Joseph Rofal’s chamber was just ahead, two guards at the door, Molester-stache and Baldie, as Colt remembered them. He entered after they patted him down.

Rofal and Swank were having a heated conversation. Rofal ripped the glass lamp off his desk and threw it against the wall. “That money was for a seat at the table!” He saw Colt approaching. “You! This is your fault! You said you killed that asshole!”

Colt raised an eyebrow and looked at the swollen-faced Swank. “What asshole?”

“A guy in a mask showed up and stole seventy grand earlier tonight. Same guy I saw before.”

“How do you know it was the same guy?” Colt asked.

“Well, I guess I don’t, but he was definitely wearing the same welding mask. I saw the bullet hole that I put in it.”

“Bullet hole.” Colt thought back. “Yeah, I remember that, too. Bottom of the mask?”

“Yeah.”

“Couldn’t be the same guy, though. I definitely killed him.”

“I don’t know,” said Swank, rubbing his purple cheek. “That guy ain’t human. We must have shot him at least five times, stabbed him like six. He had knives sticking out of his fucking chest, man! Didn’t even slow him down. I have twenty men out of commission. Broken arms, legs, ribs. Fucker gave Rogers a concussion the other day.”

Rofal glared at him. “This is your responsibility, Colt.”

“What the fuck do you want me to do?” said Colt. “Do you even know where he is?”

Swank shook his head and looked at their boss. “He said he was coming for you. And no disrespect to Colt, but I’m not sure he’d stand much of a chance, anyhow. The guy took down, what, an eighth of all our muscle? In the span of a few days?”