Friday, February 28, 2014

Page 574

Darsihm melted out of Harper’s back, a formless mass at first, then slowly becoming an ethereal crow again.

“You conscious?” said Roman. A beat passed. “You alive?”

Neither answered.

“Hmm. I suppose if you were dead, there wouldn’t be anything left of you.” He picked the reaper up with a soul-empowered hand and then hoisted Harper over his shoulder.

That only left Hector. And with all the rubble around, the kid could be just about anywhere.

Hey, is Hector even alive?’ he asked.

There was a pause, and then Voreese said, ‘Garovel can’t recreate him from scratch, so he must be there somewhere.

Dammit, why’s that kid gotta be so resilient? I don’t wanna search through all this shit.

What about Harper?

Yeah. Already found him. Pretty sure he’s just unconscious. Darsihm, too.’ He flipped over a bisected tree trunk. ‘Aha, hey. Think I see Hector.’ He moved closer and pulled a pair of legs out of the ground. ‘Aw, shit. It’s just his legs. Hmm. Guess he’ll be wanting these pants, though.

Y’know, you could try calling out to him.

Good idea.’ Pants and belt draped over one arm, he started shouting. “Hector! Where are you, pal?! If your lungs still work, then say something!”

Rather than a voice, a sudden spire shot up on the other side of the rock formation. When Roman made his way over, he found Hector’s upper body in the midst of regeneration. Crumbled chunks of his helm remained around his head, and he had one-and-a-half of his arms, but his chest had yet to fully reform. Roman could see Hector blinking at him.

“Well, now,” said Roman. “This brings back memories. You managed to stay conscious this time, though.”

-+-+-+-+-

It took a while to reach the nearest rallying point. Karkash didn’t even know where it was. Because he didn’t need to. Hoyohté had all the fallback locations and contingency plans memorized. This one was a long-abandoned gas station, and it stood some fifty kilometers north of the Carthrace Nature Reserve.

Karkash was the first to arrive, of course. He took a seat on the roof, which groaned under his weight but held together.

Page 573 -- LXVI.

Uh, shit... is, um--is there anything I can do to help them?

No,’ said Garovel. ‘They’ve taken their lives into their own hands now. It’s up to them.

Uncertain, Hector went to work on a soul-empowered dome. He doubted it would do much good at this point, but attacking directly seemed like a much worse idea now. At least this way Harper would be “blinded” again.

Darkness fell over the two of them as the iron roof spanned out, blocking out the sky and the rain. Able to taste both blood and mud in his mouth, Hector watched Harper begin to glow again, becoming the only source of light once more. Dozens of pillars supported the dome as it completed itself. Even Rathmore’s Gate was covered.

Harper returned to his feet. He looked straight at Hector, and the expression on the man’s face seemed to indicate that he had regained consciousness.

However, Hector didn’t get the opportunity to ask.

The explosion of light made everything go white.


Chapter Sixty-Six: ‘Once the Light has arrived...’
Click to display entire chapter at once -- (mobile link)

Roman saw the solid bar of white shoot up into the sky and had to shield his eyes. It remained there for a long moment, and even after it was gone, the image of it was still burned into his vision for a few seconds.

As he drew near, he saw the aftermath of the fight from the air. The forest had been leveled all around Rathmore’s Gate, the odd chunk of metal or stone mixed in. Unable to see either Hector or Harper, he returned to the now wildly uneven ground for a closer look, knocking an upturned rock over with his rough landing.

Damn,’ he said. ‘I know the place wasn’t in such great shape when we left it, but now it just looks like a bomb went off.

See anyone?’ said Voreese.

Looking.

Harper appeared in a flash, standing right in front of Roman. But he didn’t attack. Instead, the light dimmed all around him, and he collapsed face-first into the mud.

Roman stared at him a moment. “Huh.”

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Page 572

Garovel, tell me the soldiers are safe.

They’re not. You need to buy another two minutes or so.

Two minutes?! Do you know how long that is in the middle of a fi--?!

The attack came from the side, catching Hector under the rib cage. Light burst out of Harper’s fist, cutting through metal and flesh like butter. He sailed into the rock formation, which stood strong against the impact, not even cracking.

The right side of his chest was gone, but he didn’t let that slow him down. More spikes, broad as he could make them.

Harper tore through them with a spray of light.

He raised the mirror shield. It protected him but shattered. He dove away, knowing another attack was imminent, hoping for another chunk of aluminum and not finding it.

Abruptly, Harper shuddered. The man doubled over onto his hands and knees.

Hector had to spare a moment of surprise before deciding to keep attacking anyway, but by the time he launched another spike from his gauntlet, Harper had vanished again, the trail of light leading behind Hector this time.

He didn’t get the chance to turn around before feeling the next impact. The beam of light cleaved horizontally through his chest, finishing Harper’s earlier work. Hector’s legs and stomach flew one way, and his upper body flew another. Still perfectly conscious, he splattered to the ground in a bloody heap, arms mangled but still functioning.

He made to attack another time, undeterred by the loss of over half of his body, but when he saw Harper hunched over and trembling again, Hector hesitated. He suddenly wasn’t sure that attacking was the smartest move. On the one hand, he of course needed to provide a distraction, but on the other hand, if he provoked Harper too much, then the fight might just end instantly, and then everything would be for naught. So he stayed his hand this time and observed.

He squinted. ‘Harper’s not looking so good...

Not surprising,’ said Garovel. ‘The hyper state takes a very heavy toll--heavy enough to kill him and Darsihm both if they can’t control it well enough.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Page 571

The first pillar shot out of Hector’s armor like a rocket--a massive knife through the air, a good fifty meters. He couldn’t direct it. The thing just shot up and out, far enough to reach Harper but still well over the man’s head. So he added sharpened branches to it, as well--blades upon blades upon still more blades, a great tree of iron daggers. It had nothing in the way of support, however, and immediately began to fall, which if nothing else, certainly demanded Harper’s attention.

And it was not alone, this knife. Nine more followed it up, all leaping from Hector’s body in different directions, splayed out and wild, each one so thick that it crushed or impaled its own cluster of trees.

Hector annihilated them each at the base only and let the boat-sized columns of metal fall around him. He propped himself up with another pillar as his neck finished regenerating. Looking over his work, he wasn’t sure if this was emergence’s doing, just because it happened so quickly this time, but he didn’t have long to think about it.

Harper’s zigzagging frames of light bounded from pillar to pillar, and then in an instant, Harper was there in front of him, an arm plunged through Hector’s chest.

Still not quite going for the kill, it seemed. That suited Hector just fine. Every functional muscle in his body flexed as he strove to repeat himself. A new mass of spikes flew out, each one furnished with thorns and gnarled hooks.

They forced Harper back and gave Hector a moment to breathe.

He spotted a broken slab of aluminum on the ground, shimmering in the mud and drizzle. He dove for it and clapped a pair of iron straps around the thing. He slid his arm through the straps and raised it in front of himself. A mirror shield. Makeshift and crumbling, but better than nothing. And just in time, too.

A white laser flashed across the clearing.

It bounced off the shield, but the force of the impact still blew him back. His mirror held together, however, and Hector regained some unsteady footing on slippery rock.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Page 570

It might’ve been a surprise to see the rocks still standing after all the combat that had taken place around them, but Hector didn’t spare it any thought as he climbed to his feet again. His sunken-in chest was regenerating, crushed lungs in the midst of reforming.

Harper flashed closer but stopped not long after exiting the cage. His head turned to the side, glazed eyes looking away from Hector.

That was bad.

A spiked ball materialized in Hector’s hand, and he tried to shout and get Harper's attention, but his lungs couldn’t hold breath just yet. So he just threw it with full force.

Harper vanished just before the ball reached him. In a blink, he reappeared next to Hector, already with a hand around the young man’s throat, fingers digging through the iron coating and into Hector’s flesh.

The spikes came out, skewering Harper’s hand and forearm. Hector was briefly free, until Harper’s other arm connected with the side of his helm. Again, the armor shattered, and Hector went flying, toppling across hard stone with a broken neck.

He struggled to stand back up this time, his body not wanting to listen to him. Vital nerves below his brain stem needed time to repair. He could barely move, but he could at least see Harper. He knew that a single beam of light through his skull could’ve already ended this fight. And yet it hadn’t.

Hector felt his lungs working again. “You’re still holding back,” he said.

The words didn’t seem to register. Harper just looked away again.

“No! Focus on me!”

If Harper leapt away now, there would be no catching him. There would be no saving anyone. More innocent lives destroyed. More failure.

Hector understood these things. And he refused to let them happen.

Defeating Harper, that was impossible. But delaying him? Surely, that could be done. If this stupid body would just move. Always breaking when he needed it most. If he couldn’t move, he couldn’t materialize anything. Except, perhaps, coating himself. In spikes.

That would have to do.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Page 569

Hector shook his head as he started backing up on his motorcycle. ‘Y’know, Garovel... sometimes, you can be a little TOO honest.

Hey, it’s not like you need to win,’ the reaper said. ‘Just try not to die too quickly.

Super helpful, thanks.’ He kept one hand on the iron wall as he moved along, returning down the path he’d come from. The metal floor proved rather slippery against the soles of his shoes and the bike’s tires, but he had to move slowly anyway in order to ensure that Harper followed him, lumbering and eerily silent.

You could try talking to him,’ said Garovel. ‘Probably won’t do any good, but it’s worth a shot.

Egh...’ Hector soon reached the end of the tunnel and so had to add on to it. He created an empty room on the other side of the wall, and then annihilated said wall. And repeated the process each time. ‘How far away do I have take him?

Not much farther, I’d imagine. I can barely even sense your soul at this range. Roman will be heading back to help you soon.

He could see Harper’s pace increasing. “Mr. Harper, sir... heh... y-you don’t wanna attack me, right? Garovel’s just... worried for no reason, yeah? You’ve totally got this battle-trance-thing under control... I’m sure we won’t have to--”

Faster still.

Hector armored up.

It was a lot to keep track of. Growing the tunnel. Maintaining the soul-empowerment. And now armoring himself, too. He had to simplify the metal attire, and much of it was reduced to mere coatings, leaving only space for his joints to bend freely.

As Harper drew too close, Hector raised a wall between them. Darkness enveloped the young man as Harper’s light was cut off.

But only for a moment.

Harper broke through, glowing white, and smashed Hector in the chest. The impact shattered the iron breastplate and sent Hector flying off his bike and through the wall behind him. He bounced through the mud, toppling over himself again and again, still not stopping until he slid up next to a familiar rock formation, the one Garovel had called Rathmore’s Gate.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Page 568

In a blink, Harper Norez was already standing there next to Hector. The Lt. General illuminated the entire tunnel as he faced the wall that Hector was touching.

Hector shut the far end of the tunnel, completing the trap. He stared at Harper, waiting to see what the man would do.

But Harper did nothing, only turned his head back and forth slowly until eventually settling on Hector.

Wow,’ said Hector. ‘It really worked...?

What did?’ said Garovel.

I think I’ve... I’ve got Harper trapped...

There was a pause. ‘You what?

I made a cage and added my soul to it... and he’s not attacking it, I guess because he thinks it’s me?

That wouldn’t--uh... How the...? You--?! How the fuck did you get him inside a cage?!

Well, uh... I mean, I knew he’d probably come this way... It’s the shortest and clearest path to the soldiers, so...

Hector...! Just--! Holy shit!

He gave a nervous laugh, still wary of Harper’s half-conscious stare.

It’s not because he thinks your metal is actually you, though,’ said Garovel. ‘It’s more like you’ve blinded him. He can’t sense the souls on the other side of your walls, so he just doesn’t know where to go anymore.

Ah... yeah, that’s what I meant to say.

You had no idea. You got lucky.

...You can’t prove that.

Garovel laughed. ‘Whatever the case, good work! Now try to move him back up the path, as far away from the soldiers as you can.

Garovel.. I don’t like the way Harper is looking at me...

He’s in a state of self-hypnosis. He’s only driven forward by a desire to attack things, but he can’t sense anyone other than you right now.

...So he’s going to attack me.

Almost definitely.

Great.’

I’m betting it’s just a matter of time until his bloodlust overcomes the “knowledge” that you’re his ally. That’s why you need to move him away from the others. He is probably going to break out of your cage sooner or later.

I’m fucked, aren’t I?

SO fucked.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Page 567

Garovel, talk to me,’ said Hector. ‘What am I up against here?

Harper and Darsihm have merged their souls, and now they’re in a kind of battle trance, hardly even conscious. The only reason they didn’t kill us earlier was because they must’ve memorized our souls as belonging to their allies. It’s amazing that they even have enough control to do that much.

An idea struck him. ‘So Harper won’t attack me because of my soul?

Yeah. But he can’t possibly have memorized the soldiers’ souls, because he’s never met any of them. He’ll definitely attack them, and they stand even less of a chance than you do.

He brought his bike to a sudden halt. ‘Then, maybe...’ An iron wall rose up in front of him, cutting him off from the armored vehicles ahead. He touched the metal with one hand and made sure to block the entire road, from one giant cluster of trees to the other. And he kept growing the metal higher, curving back over his head while simultaneously empowering it with his soul.

It was a giant cage in the making, one that he couldn’t be sure would work. His soul was the important part. Maybe Harper wouldn’t attack the cage if it also carried Hector’s soul. It seemed like a long shot, but trying to fight Harper didn’t even seem like an option.

Hector built the cage as fast as he could. It had to be gigantic, or Harper would probably just jump over it. He arched it back and raised iron pillars to support the high roof. He added a floor as well, not wanting Harper to dig his way out. And the cage became quite long, encasing a massive section of the road like a tunnel.

If Harper pursued the soldiers, he would have to enter Hector’s cage. This was the only path Harper could take. Unless he could fly now, too. Or just chose to navigate the forest, anyway.

That’d suck.

No other ideas sprung to mind, though, so Hector focused on his task. The cage was nearing completion, only the far wall of it left open while he stood in darkness on his end.

And then Harper appeared.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Page 566

Vladimir turned in time to see one of the cars get speared by a surge of light and explode. The accompanying servant flew back into a roadside tree, and their reaper didn’t get very far before being impaled by a bar of white light.

There was hardly time to react, hardly even a chance to glimpse the attacker. His own reaper was simply vaporized in an instant. Vladimir was not given the opportunity to lose his mind. Light engulfed his vision as he died.

-+-+-+-+-

Hector watched the Queen take charge, directing the soldiers who seemed utterly shocked by her presence.

“You must all retreat from here now!” she told them. “That is an order!”

“Yes, ma’am!” said multiple voices, apparently quite keen to leave as they scrambled back into their vehicles.

Helen looked to Roman next. “Mr. Fullister, take the reapers away from here as quickly as possible. As long as the reapers are far enough away, Harper will not be able to sense them, yes?”

“Right, good thinking.” The man’s body was mostly restored by now. Voreese was already attached to his back, so he moved to gather the other two reapers up.

Here,’ said Garovel, giving Hector one last boost of strength and regeneration. Mehlsanz did the same for the Queen.

Then Roman was off with his three passengers, bursting through the sky again, up and over the trees.

“Hector, you and I will ride with the soldiers and help them escape.” She motioned to the adjacent vehicles as the engines roared to life. The ones at the other end of the column were already started back down the road.

Everything was happening so fast. He didn’t have much time to process it all, but he at least understood that these soldiers were in the most danger. He mounted his motorcycle again, and the Queen decided to jump into one of the cars with a group of soldiers. He brought up the rear as the last cars began moving.

Hector built giant walls behind the group, knowing they probably wouldn’t delay Harper more than a second, if that.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Page 565

The news of Atreya’s royal turmoil had unfortunately sent sympathetic ripples through the Members of Parliament. Thankfully, they were slow to make up their minds about what to do next, so all the pressure that Vladimir and his two friends had been building up over these past couple months had not yet gone to waste. That was why this attack today was so important and why he wanted to make sure that it went without a hitch.

Vladimir hadn’t been expecting a fight at the end of this trip, so when his reaper told him the good news, he’d been pleasantly surprised. Even from this distance, the reaper could tell that something was amiss by the way the souls moved, seemingly clashing with one another, some even in mid-air. There were also many souls present which were apparently not involved in the conflict, but those were probably just the hostages that Desmond and his comrades had brought along.

“Can you tell how many opponents there are?” Vladimir said in his native Bolenese.

Not sure,’ said his reaper, ‘but unless Desmond has already lost multiple fighters, there can’t be more than three or four enemies.

Vladimir’s small car rumbled down the muddy road, following close behind the two ahead of him. “I hate getting wet. They’d better give us a decent fight, at least.”

That’s stupid. I hope they die in seconds.

He laughed. “That would just be embarrassing.”

A white pillar shot up into the sky at a distance, glowing bright and cutting through the rain clouds.

Oh hell! Stop the car! Turn around right now!

“What? Why?”

Do it!

Vladimir didn’t have much choice in the matter as the cars in front of him stopped as well. Even for their compact vehicles, there wasn’t much space on the road, so the other servants got out and started flipping the cars around with their bare hands. Begrudgingly, Vladimir began to do the same.

Hurry up, you slow ass! Desmond’s people are dropping like flies!

“Oh, come on,” he said. “They can’t be that str--”

Oh god! Here it comes!

Page 564

--donation bonus (day #31, post 5/5)--
Hector searched for his motorcycle as he ran, expecting to find a smoldering pile of scrap, but there it was, untouched and right where he’d left it.

“Hey, put me down,” said Roman as they reached the bike. Hector did so, and Roman proved capable of standing again.

“Get on, and I’ll--” The sentence died in Hector’s throat as he turned.

Harper was right there in front of him.

Hector leaned backward, eyes widening. The look on Harper’s face was especially unsettling, because it was one that he’d seen before. It was just like Stoker’s. Half-asleep, seemingly unaware or even conscious. The only difference was that Stoker had been twitchy, whereas Harper still moved rather smoothly as he poked his head closer, perhaps curiously.

Don’t attack him, Hector!’ said Garovel. ‘Just let him look at you.

O-okay,’ said Hector, trying not to sound terrified. After everything he’d faced in the past, he’d nearly forgotten what it was like to feel genuine fear. Without a doubt, this was a much more effective reminder than necessary.

Harper’s head turned, and then in a blink, he was gone again, leaving an equivalently tall streak of light behind as he went after Nola next.

Her reaper went down first, and Nola hardly had enough time to look confused before a luminous pillar burned through her skull.

Seeing how quickly the man could dispatch people, Hector didn’t understand why Harper had just let him and Roman go. But he decided that now wasn’t the time to question it. He mounted his bike with Roman behind him. He found the dirt road, as well as the Queen in her black sedan, already ahead of him.

She soon stopped, however, as they arrived at a group of armored vehicles. It was the soldiers that Abolish had kidnapped.

-+-+-+-+-

The border guards had proved rather stubborn, trying to stop them from crossing into Atreya. Vladimir had briefly considered merely waiting for Desmond and his comrades to cross into Rendon first, but that would have required far too much patience. And besides, he hadn’t gotten to kill anyone in ages, and those guards had really annoying faces. It was definitely the correct decision, he felt.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Page 563

--donation bonus (day #31, post 4/5)--
Mm?’ said Garovel privately. ‘What’s Harper--?

Light erupted out of the tower around Harper, a beacon straight up, cleaving the sky in two and dispersing the rain clouds around it.

Oh fuck!’ said Garovel.

Then the tower exploded, and a huge wave of force washed over the area. Hector felt it pass through him, but it didn’t knock him over like it did for the Abolishers. He wasn’t sure why until he saw Roman’s fist in the air, though Roman himself was still incapable of standing.

Grab Roman and run,’ said Garovel.

Hector didn’t need to be told twice. ‘What the hell is happening?!’ he said as he hoisted Roman over his shoulder. The man said something, but Hector couldn’t hear him. ‘Is it emergence?!

No. Harper’s entering one of the hyper states--something called “pan-rozum.” I highly doubt he’s old enough to fully control something like that.

You mean he’s gonna attack us, too?!

I’d rather not find out. We’re all dead, if he does.

Harper’s movements were decidedly inhuman. Hector’s eyes couldn’t even follow him. It looked like the man was teleporting, the only evidence to the contrary being the straight trails of fleeting white light that Harper left in his wake. One moment, he stood at the center of the crumbled tower, and the next, he was in front of Andres, arm through the Abolisher’s chest. And the moment after that, Andres was dead, decapitated in a cloud of blood, along with the reaper behind him.

Everyone scattered.

Harper went for Conall, encountering brief resistance from the aluminum. Very brief. The trail of light bounced off the mirror wall and then went up and over, getting behind Conall faster than he could even turn around. Harper split the man down the center with a glowing arm. Conall’s reaper was already fleeing, but it made no difference. A white laser turned the skeleton to vapor.

Hector could hardly believe his eyes. They were nothing to Harper. And they all knew it. Karkash was already gone, flown off as soon as he realized what they were up against.

Page 562 -- LXV.

--donation bonus (day #31, post 3/5)--
Karkash was busy trying to kill Roman while Hector stood in the way again, and the Queen was still trying to occupy Conall’s attention. That only left Desmond and Andres for Harper to deal with on his way to Conall.

Wait. No, it didn’t. That other woman was still missing.

This is--no, behind you!’ said Darsihm.

Nola Pauls was there, crouched and reaching for him. A beam of light would have taken her head off if not for the aluminum faceguard. Instead, she was merely flung back, but not before she succeeded in melting Harper’s right leg into the rock below.

He was suddenly immobile, stuck fast above the knee while his left leg could achieve no leverage to pull himself free. He struggled as aluminum walls shot up around him, encasing him completely. From the sound of it, Andres was adding an outer layer of sulfur crystals, too.

His mind raced. Even with all his years in the service, here and now, he still had to fight the urge to panic. If he didn’t break out right now, Abolish would certainly overwhelm the others. And then they would gang up on him.

There was no other choice now. He’d fallen for the enemy’s feint. And hell, even breaking free of this cage wouldn’t be enough. More Abolishers were en route, and there was no telling what fresh problems they could present.

Harper’s jaw muscles tensed in the darkness. He closed his eyes and concentrated. He could already feel the first stage of the transformation taking place. ‘Warn the others,’ he told Darsihm.

The reaper didn’t require an explanation. ‘You know I can’t do that without also alerting the enemy.

If we accidentally kill one of them--

We’ve committed our allies to memory. Trust in our instincts, Harper. It’s all we can do now.


Chapter Sixty-Five: ‘Come, ye devils, and perish...!’

Click to display entire chapter at once -- (mobile link)

Rain fell in sheets now, slickening the earth, evaporating against each flashing bolt. Hector saw the tower go up around Harper and would’ve liked to help, but he was rather occupied at the moment with a storm of lightning.

Page 561

--donation bonus (day #31, post 2/5)--
It’s not over yet,’ said Mehlsanz. ‘I suspect Harper is holding back.

Why would he possibly be--?’ She had to break the question off as she was abruptly confronted with Andres, who seemed just as surprised by the encounter. She struck before he could and punched him hard enough to make her calcified skin crumble.

Andres went toppling through the air and took a tree down with him.

Just be ready to run,’ said Mehlsanz. ‘If I’m right, then things are going to escalate very quickly.

-+-+-+-+-

Harper scowled as another aluminum wall rose to Tessa’s defense.

Even with Roman and Karkash thrown back into the mix, the battle saw little in the way of progress--which was unfortunately still in Abolish’s favor. They probably just wanted to buy time for their comrades to arrive from Rendon, at which point they would merely try to overwhelm Harper. Such was Darsihm’s assessment, anyway.

Conall and Tessa were the core problem, Harper knew. Conall’s mirrors needed to be broken down at close range, but that was where Tessa’s destruction power excelled. If Harper rushed in to smash through, she would be there with her unstoppable attack. And all the while, the other Abolishers were attacking more or less as they pleased, probably trying to catch him off guard.

He just needed an opening, a foothold, and he was sure that he would be able to make up all of his lost ground.

Then Roman fell out of the sky, crashing down at a low angle and skidding across dirt and stone right in front of Harper. Roman’s body was in tatters, bones sticking out of his flesh, limbs hardly seeming to function. But his right arm still worked. And that was enough.

Undeterred by the reflectivity of aluminum, Roman’s shock wave smashed through Conall’s barrier, leaving Tessa suddenly exposed.

Harper immediately capitalized, and a beam of light tore the woman asunder.

Now was the moment, he felt. The close range threat was gone for now. He still wasn’t sure where Tessa’s reaper was, so he just moved against Conall next.

Page 560

--donation bonus (day #31, post 1/5)--
Helen made a fist and punched the dirt in order to give herself the leverage to climb back to her feet. Her regeneration was already pushing the chunks of broken wood out of her flesh, and she could feel her shattered bones reforming.

As her ear drums restored themselves, she heard more explosions, quite close. They sounded like Desmond’s, being preceded by that distinct and low sizzle. She could feel drops of rain as well, few and faint, perhaps just now starting to fall.

Hurry,’ said Mehlsanz. The reaper was not without her wounds, either. Thin plumes of white-and-black smoke rose out of the ghost’s backside and upper right arm.

Helen rushed back toward the battle.

And from that point, it was utter mayhem.

Every combatant was present again. All hope of keeping formation was lost in a mad scramble. Lightning hacked Hector’s arm off. Flames engulfed Andres. A shower of yellow crystals riddled the Queen with holes before an iron wall rose to her defense. A beam of light claimed one of Karkash’s legs. A forest fire devoured trees in the background, and no one was in any position to stop it from spreading, but perhaps the rain would render that unnecessary.

I can hardly tell what is happening!’ said Helen. She bounded out of the way of another swarm of crystals.

We’re slowly losing ground,’ said Mehlsanz privately. ‘And it’s about to get worse. I sense six new souls approaching quickly from the direction of Rendon, and given the situation, they’re probably Abolish, too.

An iron spire shot up next to Helen, and then lightning crashed against it. She squinted against the blinding flash while struggling to maintain her concentration. ‘Should we retreat?!

Maybe,’ said Mehlsanz, ‘but we probably wouldn’t get away--on your right!

The top of the tree next to her erupted, making the whole thing groan and topple over. Helen leapt out of the way. ‘There must be something we can do.’ She went to work on her arms, focusing and flexing in order to reestablish the calcium carbonate. Her peachy skin turned pale white as it hardened, cracking here and there.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Page 559

--donation bonus (day #30, post 5/5)--
Conall spun in the air, seeing Helen and Hector below, as well as the iron sword flying toward his gut. The man encased himself in aluminum. The blade shattered on impact and knocked Conall farther away, into a group of still-standing trees.

They pursued. The Queen held her hand out toward Hector as they ran, and he created a sword for her.

The strained light of the forest darkened even further as metal appeared above her head. For a moment, it was difficult to tell whose it was, but she didn’t have to guess.

“That’s not mine!” said Hector.

Split up,’ said Mehlsanz.

Helen ran right, and Hector ran left. The aluminum crashed down between the trees. Conall probably would have liked to follow the attack up, but the man no doubt realized by now that Harper would tear his comrades apart without him. And that was the game here. They didn’t have to defeat Conall--only distract him.

Helen spotted Conall again and chucked the sword with all her strength. It flew straight and true. Conall was forced to shield himself again, allowing Hector a few moments to circle around. A horizontal pillar shot out of Hector’s gauntlet with a pointed tip.

Conall launched himself up with an aluminum pillar, clearing the treetops for a fresh view of Harper, where he took the opportunity to make fresh shelter for his comrades. Another iron sword shattered against his aluminum coating and knocked him away again. As he fell, he retaliated once more.

A flurry of aluminum spikes flew toward Helen. She took refuge behind a burly tree trunk, which did manage to stop the spikes but only just. The wood was left skewered in multiple places, sharp tips poking out through splintered holes.

Then Karkash reappeared, swooping low over the treetops. Roman was not far behind, though he was missing an arm now.

Hector raised an iron spire to catch the imminent lightning, but it didn’t work. The lightning eagerly went for the aluminum spikes instead, making Helen’s tree explode.

The impact knocked her off her feet, countless scraps of wood tearing into her.

Page 558

--donation bonus (day #30, post 4/5)--
Perhaps it was tactically unwise, going into battle herself like this, but to her mind, it was worth the risk. In the worst case scenario, Abolish would kill her here and then leave the country for fear of the Vanguard, at which point, Atreya would primarily be left in the hands of David, William, Gina, and Lynnette. And she trusted those hands.

So here she was, gambling for the optimal outcome. Though, from what Mehlsanz and Voreese had said, it was pretty safe to bet on Harper Norez.

An immense flash lit up the battlefield, making Helen squint and shield her eyes. Then just as suddenly, the light vanished, taking more with it than expected. It took Helen’s eyes a moment to adjust and another moment to understand what she was seeing.

An apparent hole in space stood where Harper was--a black dome in the middle of the forest. Presumably, Harper was still there somewhere, having stopped the movement of light within, or bent it perhaps. It would surely buy the man a few seconds of confusion, but not likely more than that, because as Helen understood it, reapers could still see souls regardless of light, and, Helen suspected, so could servants--provided their soul-synchronization was strong enough.

Conall posed the greatest threat to Harper, so it was rather obvious that Harper would attack him in the darkness--which was perhaps why Harper didn’t. Instead, when the veil of darkness lifted, it was Tessa he was in the midst of attacking.

As for herself, the Queen worked alongside Hector to keep Conall occupied.

An enormous iron slab gathered high above Conall’s aluminum shelter. It crashed down with full force, not breaking the no doubt soul-strengthened aluminum but still sending impressive cracks through it.

Helen took that as her cue to begin whaling on it. Each punch broadened the cracks and made the aluminum tremble. And she broke through, but a second barrier was already waiting for her. And it had spikes.

This one was truly just a wall, though, not a dome. Hector raised an iron platform on the other side and flung Conall up and over.

Page 557

--donation bonus (day #30, post 3/5)--
I do not expect you to understand,’ said Hoyohté.

NO, SERIOUSLY!’ said Voreese. ‘TELL ME MORE ABOUT THE FUCKING VOID! I’M IMAGINING IT AS A GIANT, INVISIBLE ASSHOLE IN THE SKY! IS THAT ACCURATE?!

I suppose I should expect no less from heretics, but will you even refuse to identify yourselves out of warriors’ respect?

IS IT PUCKERED OR GAPING?!

Hoyohté said nothing more as Karkash started moving again.

Roman knew that negotiations would have just been a waste of time, and Karkash didn’t look especially fazed by Voreese’s words, but even so, Roman had to wonder if it was wise, attempting to anger a man who could throw bolts of fucking lightning.

-+-+-+-+-

Helen had thus far only managed to develop one real use for her calcium transfiguration power, as the learning curve for it had proved too steep for anything more. Epidermal calcification was all she had, a means of hardening her skin.

It was a simple enough idea but not at all easy in execution. Despite calcium itself being fairly tough on its own, Helen could not simply replace the surface layer of her skin with the stuff, as it would naturally react with the other elements below and reduce her flesh to a bubbling, melting mass of decidedly useless goo. So to prevent that from happening, she needed to make calcium carbonate--a mineral also requiring carbon and oxygen. Both of those elements were readily available in the human body and indeed, the skin itself, but learning to bond them together with her transfigured calcium had been a grueling exercise in patience and concentration. It took a rather precise application of mental pressure, and she’d only recently been able to get it down.

Combined with the fact that, in all of her thirty-three years, she’d never been in a fight until a little over two months ago, Helen was admittedly feeling disadvantaged in this whole ordeal.

Still, she had refused to stand by and let these three gentlemen do all the work. Enhanced strength and regeneration were useful enough on their own, and if nothing else, she could at least help to divide the enemy’s attention.

Page 556

--donation bonus (day #30, post 2/5)--
Roman was already covering himself with a fiery shock wave as he swerved right. Fire and lightning clashed. The explosion rocked the air and threw sparking embers across the sky, obscuring Roman’s view of Karkash.

Karkash veered around the explosion. Roman expected more lightning to accompany the man and so immediately launched another shock wave at him, but perhaps Karkash had anticipated as much, because there was no such lightning to be found. Instead, Karkash flew up and over, avoiding the shock wave before raining blue bolts from above.

A branch of lightning caught Roman’s left arm, making him grit his teeth and muscle through the seizure. In an instant, he swiped the air with his right arm and returned an enormous shock wave. Karkash must not have expected such a quick response, because it barreled into his torso.

Both men lost aerial control and started falling. Roman’s body seized up as the electricity coursed through it, and Karkash’s chest had caved in on itself.

They recovered nearly in unison, and abruptly found themselves staring each other down.

A tense quiet arrived as they got a good, long look at one another, both reluctant to make the first move again. Roman might have guessed from the man’s name that Karkash was different from the other Abolishers present, but the attire made that point rather clearly. The long, slender coat with a black sash was certainly not Atreyan fashion, nor was it something Roman had seen any of the other Abolishers wearing--though admittedly, he’d only seen three, and perhaps Desmond’s butler disguise didn’t quite count.

Still okay back there?’ said Roman, eyes still locked on Karkash as he floated.

Yeah, don’t worry,’ said Voreese.

Hoyohté, the crow on Karkash’s shoulder, took the lull in combat as an opportunity to speak. ‘Who are you people? Why must you stand in our way?

Why do you have to fuck with our country?’ said Voreese.

We are honor-bound,’ said Hoyohté. ‘We are all servants of the Void--even you, though you may refuse to acknowledge it.

OH!’ yelled Voreese, reaching for that obnoxious tone again. ‘WELL, OKAY, THEN! IF THE VOID WANTS EVERYONE DEAD, THEN THAT’S FINE!

Page 555

--donation bonus (day #30, post 1/5)--
Childishness, Roman knew--an immature impulse to test out his still relatively new strength. But still. There it was. And if he had no choice but to fight this time, then perhaps there was no harm in learning to enjoy it a little. And besides, the extra motivation had helped him practice.

Don’t stop moving and don’t stop attacking,’ said Voreese.

I know,’ said Roman. His arm fought against the pounding wind force as he sent a shock wave ahead of himself--his own flight speed added to it like a bullet fired from the nose of a plane.

Karkash responded in kind. Lightning cut into the shock wave before it reached him. The clash made the air erupt. Frantic waves of sparks shot out in all directions.

Roman banked right hard, and he saw Karkash following suit. Another shock wave, another surge of lightning, another furious explosion. And again. And still another time. They followed each other higher up, exchanging attacks as Roman gradually forced his way closer, swirling around each explosion, ignoring his own battered body because Karkash’s couldn’t be in much better shape.

When he was finally within range, Roman threw his fist out and surrounded Karkash with a pressurized cage. It certainly wasn’t enough to stop the man, but it slowed him for a moment, and Roman took the opportunity to move in even closer, a shock wave already flying ahead of him.

Karkash deflected it with another burst of lightning, but he was too close to the explosion this time and got caught up in the blast. He flew off course, toppling through the air.

Roman gave chase, preparing a bath of fire with a trembling hand. The flames poured forth on another shock wave.

But instead of struggling to steady himself, Karkash seemed to embrace his downward tumble, and it became a broad, swooping maneuver. He moved down and away from the fire, which burned up harmlessly after going too far. And then Karkash was flying up toward Roman again, smoothly sliding past the next stream of fire and retaliating with fresh lightning.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Page 554 -- LXIV.

The sparks only increased, heating up the air to the point that Hector could feel his flesh searing. He tried to raise more spires, to make them taller and more robust, but the lightning was ripping into them as soon as they formed now, stunting their growth, making Hector’s iron accumulate irregularly, if at all.

You need more,’ said Garovel, somehow very calm. ‘C’mon, Hector. Do it.

Shit!’ Hector’s muscles all tensed as the surges drew ever closer. He started coating himself in metal just so that the electricity would come for him and not Garovel.

But abruptly, the lightning ceased.

Hector’s eyes were too damaged to see what was happening. They would only need a few seconds to regenerate and restore his vision, but Garovel could still see just fine and so informed him immediately.

Roman’s back.’


Chapter Sixty-Four: ‘The crack of Thunder, the pulse of Fire...’
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Roman tore through the air like a missile, and Karkash was clearly prepared to receive him, no doubt having been warned by his reaper.

Roman didn’t need an introduction. Garovel had of course provided the details of Hector’s past encounters with this man, and ever since Roman heard that Karkash could also fly, he’d been expecting to end up in single combat with him.

They were both alteration users, and they were both highly mobile. The only thing left unclear was the degree to which Karkash could control his lightning. If Hector was able to divert it with the natural conductance of iron, then Karkash’s control couldn’t be too strong, but from Garovel’s account, Karkash could also hone his lightning well enough to even cut through flesh like a blade. This, combined with the knowledge that the man had recently achieved emergence as well, made Roman think this fight would not go as smoothly as the one against Hanjir.

Honestly, though, a part of him had been looking forward to this. He’d never been one much for battle, but recently, he’d found himself growing restless with his power.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Page 553

Expectedly, they’d once again arrived at a stalemate. Hector wanted to attack Conall, but Karkash’s magnetism wouldn’t allow it; Karkash wanted to attack Harper, but Hector’s lightning rods wouldn’t allow it.

Then Karkash stopped attacking and just hovered there in the sky, looking down at Hector’s network of safety towers.

What’s he doing?’ said Hector.

Not sure,’ said Garovel. ‘Changing tactics, maybe? Be careful.

Karkash thrust a hand down. Lightning flashed forth and expectedly crashed down on the spire nearest Hector, throwing up dust and cracking the stone beneath it. Already, Hector could tell that this was more power than Karkash had previously bothered expending. The man was focusing on a single lightning rod, and Hector wasn’t quite sure why. Karkash’s other hand moved as well, but a second line of lightning did not project from it.

It’s a diversion,’ said Garovel privately. ‘He’s trying to steal a tower behind you while your attention is focused here. It’s the one on the right at about forty-five degrees.

Hector knew the exact tower the reaper was talking about. He annihilated it without even turning around.

You got it,’ Garovel confirmed. ‘Karkash doesn’t look too pleased, though.

Hector concentrated on reinforcing the still-assailed spire, adding smaller ones around it to absorb some of the run off electricity. It wasn’t actually attached to the ground--none of them were, as that would have required Hector to materialize metal underground. Rather, Hector just made the foundations much broader than the peaks so as to allow greater stability.

Karkash used both hands now, converging two streams of electricity into one giant one, and the sudden additional force made the air tremble. The surge became blindingly bright. Hector couldn’t even open his eyes, but he could still feel the air crackling against his skin, wild sparks that would tear into him the moment he made a mistake.

And Karkash wasn’t letting up. If anything, he seemed to be putting even more into it with each passing second.

He’s just trying to overload the towers now,’ said Garovel. ‘Don’t let him.

Easier said than done!’ said Hector.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Page 552

As he tossed Desmond’s corpse aside, Harper was already turning to receive Andres, but the other man was suddenly reluctant, perhaps deterred by the sight of his comrade’s quick death.

Harper prepared a beam of light with one hand and stalked closer to Andres. Predictably, Conall’s aluminum rose to Andres’ defense, so Harper leapt forward and instead of shooting it with light, he bashed through with a soul-strengthened punch.

Andres fled behind more crystal and aluminum walls, and Harper might have given chase if not for the need to keep formation. If the enemies lured him too far away from the Queen, then they’d be able to sacrifice one or two of their pawns to keep him busy while they ganged up on her. He could not let that happen.

He spared a beam of light for Nola, catching her right through the torso and allowing the Queen to send her flying again.

On your left,’ warned Darsihm.

Harper saw Tessa there, fully regenerated and bearing down on him. And she’d pulled her hand back behind her, concealing it from view. Harper knew better than to gamble on an unknown power, so he played it safe and merely readied himself. And when Tessa threw her hand forward, Harper saw the air visibly distort along a straight path toward him.

He dove out of the way, rolling onto one knee, and then leveled a beam at her. Aluminum was already there, reflecting it, and then Tessa’s path of destruction broke through from the other side, gunning for him again.

Harper’s strength went to his legs and he fired himself away from the ground, up and over the path.

Crystal above you,’ said Darsihm.

Barely even seeing it himself, Harper busted through and sent yellow shards raining down below, along with two more beams of light, one from each hand.

-+-+-+-+-

Hector was getting really sick of having to fight Karkash. And unlike previous times, he had to keep Karkash focused on himself. If he tried to do something clever, it’d probably just result in Karkash going off to fight Harper or the Queen instead--and they both had enough to deal with already.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Page 551

And though it missed, the attack on Karkash bought Hector a bit of time. A dozen iron pillars shot up around the trio, providing brief refuge from lightning while Karkash went to work removing them.

A mound of yellow crystal flew toward Harper, and he had to spare a laser to destroy it before being flattened. An aluminum coating tried to slow the movement of his arms, but Harper tore through without losing a beat and sent a two-handed blast of light toward Conall’s shelter. The laser hit aluminum, reflecting off but still toppling the metal anyway.

Conall was left briefly vulnerable, and Harper wanted to take advantage, but then Andres and Desmond were both there in his face while Nola came up from behind.

Judging from the way she’d melted Hector’s foot into the ground earlier, Nola’s power was certainly integration type, though Darsihm didn’t yet have more details for him. Hector had yanked himself free a while ago and discovered the foot to have become stone--having not just displaced the ground it had sunken into but actually merging with it.

On its own, Nola’s power would not be immensely threatening to Harper, but here and now, supported by her comrades, if she managed to touch him and disable just one of his limbs, however briefly, it would spell trouble indeed. Thankfully, though, the Queen intercepted her, leaving Harper to only worry about Desmond, Andres, and Conall.

It was time to change tactics. His enemies knew they couldn’t touch him from a distance, so now they were trying to surround him and attack at close range.

That was absolutely fine with Harper. They would find that his soul power was more than up to the challenge.

Yellow crystals gathered around him, trying to hold him down while Desmond closed in with a flaming fist.

Harper merely waited and let them think he was trapped. Then he reached out through the crystals, shattering them like they weren’t even there, and grabbed Desmond by the arm and neck. White light brimmed around the edges of Harper’s palm and exploded forth, taking Desmond’s head off in an instant.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Page 550

--donation bonus (day #29, post 5/5)--
While Conall couldn’t completely stop Harper’s soul-enhanced beams of light, he could still provide rather solid protection from them--protection which he extended to the other Abolishers. And that was the real problem.

Darsihm passed the obvious instructions on to Mehlsanz and Garovel. ‘Take that one out,’ he said, motioning to Conall, ‘and Harper will be able to annihilate the others.’

Harper pooled his concentration and threw his hand into the air. From it, an immense beacon of light poured out, illuminating the ruined forest in front of him and casting giant, moving white lasers across the dirt, gouging out trenches as they all convened toward the aluminum shelter around Andres and Desmond. The beams left smoldering trails in the aluminum but still bounced off into the forest, cutting through trees and igniting them. Not the most desirable outcome, but Harper just needed to keep Andres and Desmond pinned down for a few moments.

Hector coated the Queen’s arms in metal as she closed in on Conall. Conall raised an aluminum wall for himself, and even with its soul-enhancements, the full might of the Queen’s punches left enormous dents in the shimmering metal. And all the while, an iron meteor formed high above Conall and begun its descent.

And as the meteor neared the ground, the Queen retreated out of its way. However, it stopped in mid-air before ever reaching Conall.

And that’s when Karkash reappeared, tearing the iron meteor into electrified chunks, swirling them around the battlefield while Hector rushed to annihilate them all again.

The tide of battle shifted.

Hector was suddenly very busy diverting lightning strikes with iron spires, which allowed Conall to help Desmond and Andres draw closer to Harper. Nola was back up as well, and soon, so would Tessa be, and her power was still unknown.

Harper had to keep them all at bay while the others worked on eliminating at least one before the enemy regrouped fully. He tried to shoot Karkash out of the sky again, but the Vaelish man saw it coming this time and surged through the air at the last moment, avoiding the beam completely.

Page 549

--donation bonus (day #29, post 4/5)--
Ah, the Belgrants. The idyllic, unremarkable house that skyrocketed to power because of a freak political storm. Four years hadn’t done much to stave off their reputation for being simple and uninformed.

David would have liked to agree with the man, of course, but even assuming the Rendon Parliament to be of benevolent intentions, there was still the very possible threat of Abolish having its claws in Rendon as well. Hector had mentioned such a suspicion in one of his texts--words passed along from Helen.

David wished he knew where his sister was right now. He wondered how she would handle this situation, because to him, it seemed like there was nothing he could reasonably do except wait until he heard from either Hector or Abolish.

The advisers were arguing again. These were the people Helen had for counsel? No wonder she’d nearly been assassinated.

“I don’t care!” said the baron from earlier. “I am right! And all of you are wrong! Which is why I sent word to Rendon an hour ago!”

The entire room turned to look at the man, then at David.

At least David knew which person he wanted to dismiss first.

-+-+-+-+-

Harper had to keep a close eye on the Queen. Her power was the least developed, which put her in the most danger. Moreover, she’d had something of an unlucky draw in terms of servant abilities. Calcium transfiguration, she’d gotten; and while it was far from useless, transfiguration was notoriously difficult to master, generally requiring the most study and practice. It was little wonder why most transfiguration users only figured out one or two different ways to use their power and just stuck with that.

Protecting her in the middle of the fight should have been easy for him. Objectively, he was clearly stronger than all of the Abolishers present. But one of the opponents still posed a problem--Conall Learen, a man of imposing stature, easily the tallest of the group. By now, it was apparent that Conall’s power was materialization, and his element was a highly reflective metal--aluminum, Darsihm posited.

Page 548

--donation bonus (day #29, post 3/5)--
It was rather depressing to contemplate, but enough people had already repeated Abolish’s lie and thereby transformed it into truth.

David tried to focus on what could be done. He had a whole room full of advisers in front of him, but he’d drifted from their conversation a while ago.

“Your Majesty, are you listening?” someone was saying.

David opened his eyes but did not look up.

“Perhaps we should reconvene later,” said someone else, “after you are rested.”

“No,” said David, and not in the light tone that they had perhaps come to expect of him. He’d never spent very much time at all with most of these people, and here they were, giving him contradictory counsel, likely just trying to cover all their bases. He wasn’t yet sure how many of them he wanted to dismiss, but the number was growing. “Continue. I will listen and ignore as I please, but you will not stop talking. Understood?”

“Yes, sir.”

“We have to consider how Rendon might react to this news,” said someone else, a middle-aged woman and duchess of the House Vollier. “They could well see this as a moment of vulnerability and mount an assault. We should strike first.”

David tried not to roll his eyes. She almost had a point. Rendon was as unpredictable as Abolish right now. It was why he had not gone to them for help, not tried to inform them of a rebel faction that might attack them today. He didn’t need to give Rendon a reason to move in and occupy Atreyan land in order to eliminate said rebel faction. Not only would that escalate matters, but it would also give Rendon an immense advantage in the event of full-scale war. So David could understand the woman’s concern there, but he was most certainly not going to attack a foreign nation purely out of fear.

“Don’t be absurd!” said someone else, an elderly fellow and baron of the House Belgrant. “We should be working with Rendon to prevent war from even occurring! They will be looking to see where our soon-to-be king stands on the matter, which is why His Majesty should waste no time in assuring them that he will sue for peace!”

Page 547 -- LXIII.

--donation bonus (day #29, post 2/5)--
“Who are you?” said the soldier.

“Not important.” Roman adjusted his spectacles, which had also benefited from his soul-enhancements. “Listen, I’ve gotta go now. I’ll try to return soon with new transportation for you guys, but if I’m not back within half a day, then you should just start walking, because I’m probably dead.”

“Wait a minute. What do we do if the Rendon military shows up?”

That’s very likely to happen,’ said Voreese. ‘They probably have jets already en route. These guys should just explain that they were taken hostage and surrender peacefully.

Roman relayed the information.

“Are you serious?” said the soldier.

“Quite.” And Roman ran off, getting some distance before launching himself into the sky again.


Chapter Sixty-Three: ‘Of advancing borders...’
Click to display entire chapter at once -- (mobile link)

News of the princes’ deaths broke, followed by reports of superpowered assassins and terrorists, and followed again by the revelation of Luther’s incarceration.

David was still confused, still unsure what to make of everything. The game had literally changed overnight--perhaps even for the better. It was an unsavory thought, given three of his brothers had been killed, weighing heavily on his heart, but at the same time, they had been traitors and, yes, obstacles to Atreya’s recovery. And already, the power of the Crown was beginning to fall upon his head.

Only, it wasn’t so easy as that.

He didn’t yet know whether he had real power or not. Abolish could still return at anytime and force him to do whatever insane thing they desired, so as much as he wanted to address the nation and give an honest speech about the tumult behind everything, he knew it would have to wait.

So David took his time to “grieve.” He needed it, anyway.

Hunched over in his chair with his head in his hands, David just tried to think. What was the most pressing concern? The biggest problem? Figuring that out took him a while.

The potential outbreak of war. That was the biggest. And this news of royal death could have a profound impact on it. Atreya’s relationship with Rendon was tenuous at best, what with all the talk of increased tension every day, thanks to Abolish’s propaganda.

Page 546

--donation bonus (day #29, post 1/5)--
Fire engulfed Hanjir, along with a shock wave that knocked him and his still-connected reaper higher into the air. Roman flew up after them, giving the opponent no chance to regain his balance, and juggling him even higher with each successive blast of soul-empowered vibrations. The flames continued burning all the while, fighting with Hanjir’s rapid regeneration, but ultimately doing more damage to the reaper, who then chose to abandon Hanjir and fly away. And once Roman had achieved great enough height, he let the Abolisher drop again.

Hanjir was in freefall for only a few seconds, but that was plenty of time to reach terminal velocity. As he grew close to the ground, he shot it with his power, which made a crater and was perhaps the only thing the man could think to do in the last moments of panic. His body splattered on impact, bones shattering, organs liquefying.

Roman was already busy chasing the reaper down.

No!’ The soul-empowered fire had taken its toll, leaving the black crow smoldering, ethereal feathers in tatters. ‘You fuckers! How dare you!’ The reaper tried to flee underground.

Roman did not allow it. He caught the bird with a pressurized, soul-empowered cage. And crushed it.

The reaper’s body evaporated and vanished entirely.

Fucking idiot,’ said Voreese. ‘Good riddance.

He flew back to Hanjir’s crater to set the dead body ablaze and crush the head with a focused shock wave. “That’s one down,” he said as he landed again.

Check on the soldiers real quick,’ said Voreese.

He made his way over to the plane. Only a few of the men had left the cabin, the rest watching from window seats. The first soldier he approached shied away from him, but the second stood his ground.

“Are you guys okay?” Roman asked.

For a moment, the uniformed man merely returned a hard look. He was black and quite young. “You... saved us?”

Roman decided not to smile, figuring it might come across as more insane than comforting, especially after all these men had been through. “Yeah.”

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Page 545

The flames flew toward Hanjir, who made no effort to avoid them. Instead, the man simply destroyed them before they could reach him.

That was generally the trouble when dealing with destruction types. As much as their power was renowned for its offensive potential, it was perhaps even more effective defensively. Distorting space the way they did could stop virtually any attack, the only exceptions being things that were very powerfully enhanced by the opponent’s soul--but even then, if the destruction user’s soul power was remotely as strong, then it would still make no difference.

So Roman knew that he would not be able to defeat Hanjir in terms of raw strength. But he didn’t need to. Given the opportunity, Hanjir would stop every attack, so Roman simply wouldn’t give him the opportunity. He returned to the air and began a continuous volley of simple shock waves in order to keep Hanjir busy for a few moments.

He recalled Voreese’s lessons. She’d lectured him at length about all the different types a long time ago, but it was these past two months in particular when she’d made sure to drill all the knowledge into his head again. According to her, destruction types were all one-trick ponies, lacking the kind of unpredictability that most other abilities benefited from. Moreover, they were completely outclassed by almost any opponent who possessed superior mobility. To cover this weakness, they would often carry light firearms or otherwise rely on technology for added mobility--both solutions which could backfire against the wrong opponent. This was why they were better suited to large battles where they could provide heavy-hitting support for their allies, instead of individual scrambles where they had to carry their own weight.

This fight wasn’t going to be a problem.

When Roman landed again, he slammed both feet into the ground.

The earth leapt out from under Hanjir and flung him into the air. His path of destruction ran uselessly into the dirt, leaving a pentagonal trail as Roman closed in to take full advantage, already preparing more flames with the hand he hadn’t used before.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Page 544

They’d crossed the border into Rendon a while ago, and Roman could see the edge of the forest, giving way to flat grasslands that extended all the way into the horizon. He stuck close to the plane as it landed, prepared to help in case the unideal terrain caused something to go horribly awry, but to the pilot’s credit, nothing did.

Roman touched down as well, choosing to simply stand still while his body fixed itself. There was nothing that took a great amount of time to regenerate--just some snapped bones, torn muscles, and likely a bit of internal hemorrhaging. All things he could more or less shrug off. He would certainly feel it later, though.

Hanjir didn’t even bother to turn off the engines. He pulled the door open and jumped out into the grass, wasting no time in throwing another wave of destruction.

It wasn’t exactly slow, but it certainly wasn’t fast enough to hit Roman. He propelled himself out of the way, bounding across the ground in leaping strides. Hanjir tried to cut him off, but Roman just zagged away from the next attack, getting Hanjir to pursue him. He needed the Abolisher to move away from the plane so that he could capitalize on the open environment as much as possible.

Roman circled around Hanjir and engulfed the man in an invisible cage of crushing pressure. More precisely, it was a spherical, inward-facing shock wave, the very same thing he had once used to temporarily suppress an explosion from Desmond.

Hanjir gave it little consideration, however, and merely punched through. He attacked again, forcing Roman left.

Roman readied his fire. The trick of it was to set his own flesh ablaze. By invigorating particles at a concentrated point, natural heat would increase, dry out his skin, and subsequently ignite it. He found it easiest to make a tiny flame and help it spread, rather than trying to set his whole hand alight at once. And after the flames grew large enough, he could project them out with a shock wave, effectively shooting fire at the enemy.