Monday, March 30, 2015

Taking a short break

The short version:
Posting will resume on April 6th.

The long version:
Yeah. I've been struggling to keep up with the daily updates. Rather than letting it go on like this, I've decided that I should just stop posting for a little while. Officially, I mean. I'll use this time to take care of some things and get myself organized so that I can come back stronger and be more consistent. Sorry if I've disappointed you. I just a need a little extra time, is all. I figured now was a good time to do it, since we're just breaking into a new story arc.

Also, yes, April 6th will mark The Zombie Knight's second anniversary. :)

Anyway, see you guys in a little while. And in case you missed it, I put up a new page a few minutes before posting this.

Page 1010 -- CXV.

Hector wondered what Garovel might know of Exoltha, but now wasn’t really the time to ask, he supposed. He hoped he would remember to bring it up again later.

As they neared the kitchen, a familiar smell caught Hector’s attention. Too familiar.

Blood. A lot of it.

He quickened his pace and reached the kitchen’s wide entryway just as Ibai’s four bodyguards did. And he was not prepared for what he saw.

Ibai was standing there with one foot stuck through the chest of someone on the ground. A corpse. It had been eviscerated.

When Ibai saw them, his eyes widened. “Aha! Um. This isn’t what it looks like?”


Chapter One Hundred Fifteen: ‘A devil’s paradox...’
Click to display entire chapter at once -- (mobile link)

For a long moment, no one seemed to know what to do. They all just stared at Ibai, too shocked to say anything.

And then Hector watched Horatio take a slow step forward.

“...Tell us what happened here,” the man said very calmly. The second Blackburn bodyguard was right behind him.

Hector became keenly aware of the sudden division in the room. Those other two bodyguards belonged to the Delagunas. He recognized both their faces, but he only knew one of their names. Lorenzo. Lord Salvador’s son. And right about now, they were both looking rather twitchy.

“Well, uh, I just--um...” Ibai was still trying to get his foot unstuck. “I’m not sure, actually. When I teleported, he was already--but I didn’t--this wasn’t supposed to--aha... ah... I’m so confused!”

“It’s okay,” said Horatio. “Calm yourself and think. And first, why don’t you teleport yourself out of there?”

“I tried,” said Ibai. “The body just teleports with me.” He motioned behind. “We were originally over there.”

And Hector noticed the blood stains on the other side of the kitchen. When he looked to the Delagunas again, he saw that their reapers were missing. Gone to tell someone, no doubt.

The situation would soon get extremely complicated, Hector felt. He decided to keep his eyes on the Blackburns.

Horatio was trying to help Ibai free himself. “You know I have to ask,” Horatio said. “Did you kill this man?”

“No, I--” Ibai scratched his head. “No. He was already here. I just. I teleported and he was--I didn’t. I wouldn’t--” His foot came free, covered in a bloody brown shadow.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Page 1009

You don’t find it exciting?’ said Garovel.

Ibai’s smile waned as he looked at the reaper. “No, I’m afraid I don’t. And if you don’t mind, I’d rather not hear the rest.”

Really? But there’s a lot more to tell.

“I’m sorry for confusing you, then. I prefer happier tales.” The aberration required a moment to find his cheer again. “Do you have anything with unicorns?”

‘fraid not.

“I see. Well, never mind, then. I’m suddenly in the mood for something sweet. Does anyone else want a snack?” He didn’t wait for anyone to answer. “I’ll be in the kitchen.” And he teleported away again.

Horatio gave a sigh, and Hector watched the man’s silent exchange with his reaper, no doubt asking where Ibai went. The reaper pointed, and the bodyguards all rushed off.

Hector decided to follow along. ‘What was that about?’ he asked Garovel as he ran. ‘Trying to test his bloodlust or something?

Pretty much,’ the reaper said privately. ‘I just wanted to see how he would react, really. Didn’t expect him to run away, though. Not sure what to think now.

I can’t imagine he would’ve confessed to enjoying that story.

Sure, but I thought he’d at least be curious. I mean, aren’t you?

Hector had to concede that point, at least. He hadn’t heard the term Dáinnbolg before, but he had a fair idea what it referred to. If it was where Garovel came from, then it was probably on the other side of the world, where the Lyzakks originated; and if it had been ‘devastated,’ as Garovel said, then it was likely related to Exoltha, the dead continent. Or perhaps the Dáinnbolg was just another name for it.

Exoltha was a land torn asunder by ancient wars, but that was where common knowledge ended. Today, that land was considered beyond uninhabitable. From what Hector understood, few people ever dared to go there anymore, because none had done so and returned to tell the tale.

Or so the story went. Hector had experienced a passing fascination with the place a couple years ago, but now that he knew about reapers, he wasn’t quite sure what to believe. He remembered scouring the internet for information on Exoltha and finding nothing scientific, save only satellite images of endlessly dark storm clouds.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Page 1008

We’re glad to see that you are enjoying yourself,’ said Garovel.

Horatio and the other bodyguards caught up again, but they must have been growing accustomed to it by now, because none of them bothered to chastise Ibai. Horatio was looking even more haggard than the last time Hector had seen him.

“By the way, Garovel,” said Ibai, “the last time we spoke, I believe you promised me a story time.”

Ah, I suppose I did.’ The reaper began floating away, and Ibai walked with him.

Hector made sure to keep pace as well so that he would always be between them. He remembered what Garovel said about not antagonizing Ibai, but that didn’t mean he was going to leave Garovel wide open to a sudden attack.

What kind of story would you like?’ said Garovel.

“Something exciting!” said Ibai.

Hmm. Alright. Are you familiar with the story of the Dáinnbolg?

“Of course,” said Ibai, “but I’d be more interested to hear a story of your own.”

It IS a story of my own,’ said Garovel.

That made the aberration blink. “What do you mean?”

Garovel spared a glance at Hector. ‘I mean I used to live there. Before all the devastation, that is.

Hector had more than a few questions of his own now, but he decided to let their conversation play out.

Horatio Blackburn, however, chose to chime in. “You used to ‘live’ there? As in, before you were a reaper?” The man’s own reaper looked interested as well.

That’s right,’ said Garovel. ‘Chergoa and I grew up there.

“Wow,” said Ibai. “What was it like? Was it fun?”

I suppose it depends on what you consider fun.

“Were there birthday parties?”

No, I’m afraid there weren’t.

“Pity. But there had to have been some parties, right? Seasonal celebrations and the like?”

Sure.

“Then I think it could’ve been fun,” said Ibai. “But anyway, what was the story you wanted to tell me?”

Well, you see, when my sister and I were very young, we witnessed the slaughter of an entire village of people. It was quite bloody, and in the span of a single day, the village became a ghost town.

Hector saw Horatio and the other guards shift uncomfortably, but it was Ibai who responded first.

“That’s horrible. I thought you said this story would be exciting.”

Friday, March 20, 2015

Page 1007 -- CXIV.

Chapter One Hundred Fourteen: ‘Thy discerning nature...’
Click to display entire chapter at once -- (mobile link)

Rather than sleeping, Hector spent most of the night exploring Dunehall. And he wasn’t the only one. He saw other people wandering around wherever he went. It must have been a side effect of the long day trip, he figured. Everyone had slept on the way here, and now they were all restless.

He finally managed to give Madame Carthrace a call and inform her that he would be staying in Sair a while longer. She told him that the reconstruction was proceeding steadily, though at a slower pace than when he’d been there to assist. Apparently, the workmen kept asking about him. He hoped he’d be able to return soon. This elaborate sand fortress was a feast for his eyes, but it really just made him want to work on Warrenhold again. In particular, there was a windowless gallery that was giving Hector ideas. It overlooked Dunehall’s domed courtyard, offering a lovely view of sandstone monolith surrounded by humble greenery and a small stream. The whole thing reminded Hector of Warrenhold’s central plaza, that open space between those eight hulking towers. He wondered if there was any kind of plant that could grow in Warrenhold. Probably not, he supposed.

When he wasn’t thinking about decorations and structural design, however, he was wondering about what the Rainlords were doing. The heads had all gone into another meeting not long after their arrival, no doubt still trying to reach a consensus about what their next course of action should be. Mostly, Hector wondered if they had reached a consensus concerning Ibai Blackburn yet, especially because he kept seeing Ibai pop up all over the place.

Though, that might’ve also been because Hector was slightly following Ibai around. Just a little.

The man seemed to be giving his guardians a hell of a time keeping up with him. Hector overheard Horatio chastising him a few times.

Upon the fifth sighting, Ibai spotted Hector and didn’t hesitate to teleport over.

“Hello there!” said Ibai. “Can’t sleep, huh? Me neither. Well, I don’t sleep much in general, but still, it’s pretty exciting, isn’t it? This place is so neat! I hope we can stay here a while.”

Frankly, Hector was surprised that Ibai had been allowed to roam freely, but he guessed there wasn’t a whole lot they could do to stop him from going wherever he liked.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Page 1006

Dunstan caught himself on one knee, and when he looked up, he saw multiple pillars shooting out of the ground. Each was as broad as a school bus, and when they stopped moving, Dunstan realized that they had heads.

Gigantic worms, they appeared to be. Their hulking bodies bristled with visible electricity, and their beady eyes looked straight at him and Reza.

Noticeably, however, they were not attacking. They just remained there, motionless and staring.

Then a voice rang out. “Aha! I knew you would survive! Good job, Dunstan!”

Dunstan squinted as he noticed a figure standing atop the centermost worm. He couldn’t place the voice, but it sounded familiar. He found a full breath of air and called out, “Who are you?!”

“Why, it’s me! It’s your grandpa!” The figure waved a hand, and the worm beneath him knelt down low enough for Dunstan to get a good look.

And Dunstan could hardly believe his eyes. He hadn’t seen that wrinkled face since he was a child, but it hadn’t changed a bit. As little sense as it made to him, there was no doubt about it. This was certainly Damian Rofal before him. His grandfather.

Damian laughed. “Feromas thought my plan would get you killed for sure, but ha! Shows what he knows!”

Dunstan finally found the words. “Grandpa, why are you here?!”

“For you, obviously! I’ve come to get you, my boy! Everyone else was easy to find, but it took months to track you down. You shouldn’t run away from home, you know. Not that I’m complaining. How often do you get to blow up a field marshal’s plane, eh?”

“That was YOUR doing?!”

“Well, yes and no. Abolish might’ve been under the impression that certain precious artifacts were onboard. But anyway! The important thing is that we’re together now! Oh, and is this your reaper? Ah, no, but there are two with you. Which one do you belong to? Regardless, it is lovely to meet them both! I hope they’re nice!”

Dunstan had so many questions that he just reached for the first one he could hold onto. “What the hell are these giant worms?!”

“Oh, don’t worry about them! They’re my buddies! Don’t pet them, though. I know they look nice and squishy, but they’ll zap you.”

Mind hurrying this along?’ said Feromas. ‘We’re still in danger, you know.

“Ah, right. Let’s get out of here, shall we? I’d rather not have to fight that Gargoyle you were with!”

Page 1005

Dunstan bounded through the fire and barreled into the burning servant. He expected to have to wrestle with the creature, but instead, the impact made its melting head pop off its shoulders and bounce into a line of bushes, igniting them.

Still largely without the use of his arms, Dunstan rolled over and flipped himself back onto his feet so that he could keep running. He and Reza pushed through the growing flames without regard. His coat or his pants would occasionally catch, but it was easy to suffocate such small fires with his krypton.

Oddly enough, the wildfire actually made circumstances easier for him, clearing his path of more broken servants who, unlike him, were not fireproof. Not to mention, it bought him the time he needed in order to fully regenerate.

Reza came to a sudden stop, and Dunstan phased through her and nearly fell over. He looked around for more threats but didn’t see any. ‘What’s wrong?’ he asked.

Dennex flew through the wall of fire. Chunks of him were missing.

You got free,’ observed Reza.

Hello there,’ he said, quite calmly. ‘Would you mind terribly if I tagged along?

Don’t wanna try flyin’ through this mess on your own, eh?

No, I do not. I am guessing that those are Abolish soldiers that I sense above us.

And below us? Do you know what that is?

No, I don’t. I thought it was a soul net at first, but it’s not, is it?

No. It’s moving, whatever it is. Like it’s alive.

Dunstan wanted to speak aloud, but the crack and roar of burning wood was too loud, and there was almost as much smoke as there was breathable oxygen, anyway. ‘We’re wasting time,’ he told Reza.

Right,’ she said publicly. ‘Well, come on then.

They proceeded on together, keeping within the relative safety of the fire, letting it make way for them. Dunstan kept hearing explosions go off in the sky above them. As trees fell over and opened up his line of sight, he began seeing people and low-flying aircraft there. It gave him little more than a glimpse of what was happening, but if Dennex didn’t want to brave that airspace, then it must have been pretty bad up there, he figured.

And then the ground heaved up in front of him, very nearly knocking him off his feet.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Page 1004

When his eyesight returned to him, it didn’t help very much. The forest around him was so dense that hardly any of the early morning sunlight made through the treetops. But he could hear now, too, so he held his breath and listened.

Rustling leaves. All around him. And a low, faint rumble beneath his feet. The ground was trembling. It could have been the Gargoyle’s doing, but he was fairly sure that she was still in the sky.

Straight ahead of you,’ came Reza’s warning, and Dunstan braced himself just in time to see a howling blur leap out from behind the forward treeline.

Unable to stand, and with only half of his body responding to him, Dunstan knew he would have to make some hearty sacrifices to his krypton transfiguration if he were to have any hope of winning. And indeed, when the salivating human monster landed on him and started biting into his face and digging into his chest, Dunstan converted huge chunks of his flesh into superheated gas. Every point of physical contact between the two of them burned. Even Dunstan’s own face melted into a bloody, smoldering mess.

With his one good hand, he found the mindless person’s head, which immediately bit his fingers off with metal teeth.

Dunstan sacrificed the whole hand and shoved through their skull. Brain matter blew out the back of their head, and the flailing body on top of him went suddenly limp. He shoved the corpse off and tried to stand again, finding a bit more success now that most of his legs had regenerated. He’d given up much of his torso, arms, and head, but the trade was worth it so long as he was still conscious.

Can you still see me?’ Reza asked.

Yeah.’ To his eyes, she was still perfectly visible in the low light, despite being a pitch black wraith.

Follow me, then.

She flew off, staying low and with a slack enough pace for Dunstan’s shambling footsteps to keep up.

No more than twenty steps later, burning bright light came piercing through the darkness, but Dunstan was far from relieved when he saw that the source was another broken servant who’d set himself ablaze. The forest was already catching, Dunstan saw--orange flames licking bark and climbing into the canopy or leaping across the undergrowth.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Page 1003

The fall took a while--a few minutes, in fact, which was long enough for it to become surprisingly boring. Dunstan had never been skydiving before, but it didn’t strike him as particularly thrilling. Without being able to alter his trajectory very much at all, he was stuck watching as the vast forest slowly crept closer.

Reza’s excitement level seemed to have dropped significantly as well. ‘Hey, do you think you’ll survive this? A hundred wingwangs says you don’t.

I don’t know what a wingwang is.

It’s any unit of money. I’d pick a specific one, but we’re in Korgum now, and I don’t really keep up with that shit anyway. You know how many different currencies have come and gone during my lifetime?

Three?

A little more than that, smart guy.

So four, then?

Reza snickered. ‘Y’know, I kinda like it when you play dumb. It makes you seem more innocent and charming. In fact, from now on, just do that forever.

Dunstan finally reached the forest and crashed through the canopy at terminal velocity. The net of leaves and branches tried to break his fall and only narrowly succeeded. Wood exploded into splinters and fell with him, and his right leg snapped and then tore clean off. The final impact into the underbrush still shattered almost every bone that he could feel, and as he regained his senses, he was fairly certain that at least a few of his organs had been liquefied, though he was mainly just surprised that his brain had not been one of them.

The regeneration was already in effect as he struggled to leverage himself onto one arm. The blood that came shooting out of his mouth, nose, and eyes informed him that it would be a little while longer before he would be able to stand again.

Hey, uh, Dunstan,’ said Reza, more nervously again, ‘I know you’re still having a rough time right now, but we’re not alone down here.

He couldn’t quite formulate a response yet.

There are a bunch of servants around us,’ she said, ‘and most of them have fucked up souls. And I don’t wanna worry you, but I think they’re gonna be tryin’ to eat our faces here in a little bit.

He rolled over and found the brunt of a thick tree for support. ‘Hide underground for now,’ Dunstan told her.

Yeah, about that, uh, I’m sensing some weird shit underground, too, so...

Weird, how?

I’m not really sure. But if you could stand up right now, that’d be awesome.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Page 1002

He could see what Sanko was gunning for below. The front chunk of the plane, which was carrying the pilots and most of the captive Rainlords. It vanished into the storm clouds, and Sanko pushed in after it. Wet and murky darkness washed over everything.

He tried to stay calm. He could only see gray. He could only hear howling winds. And at any moment, it felt like he might puke or pass out or both. Staying calm wasn’t really an option.

But Reza’s words were there in his head. ‘I told you Korgum would suck!

It took all his focus just to respond. ‘Can you sense anything yet?!

Well, there are six fighter jets out there! At least! Happy you asked?!

They finally made it through the clouds, and Dunstan could see that Sanko had nearly caught up to the missing half of the plane. She closed the gap by stretching her metal neck down and biting onto the hull. And that was all it took for the rest of the plane to become hers. The metal bulged and grew, adding to the Gargoyle’s avian bulk.

Dunstan saw the jets Reza had mentioned. They broke through the stormy ceiling above, hardly more than specks to Dunstan’s eyes at this distance, but the cloudy trails they left behind made their positions clear enough.

More missiles were already en route, but one of the jets had boldly decided to draw in close to Sanko in order to spray her with a hail of gunfire. It only lasted half a heartbeat as the jet sped by, but that was still enough time for the Gargoyle’s wing to shoot out and snatch the jet out of the air. Her body wrenched to the side as she held on and devoured it whole, bulking up once again.

The next batch of missiles were there now, and Sanko bundled up around her passengers, wrapping them in a suddenly windless darkness. Dunstan heard a loud swiping sound, followed by the clang of metal on metal, and then a string of explosions. One of them, however, caught the Gargoyle’s side. Fire and shrapnel shredded Dunstan’s cabin.

And then he was falling through open sky without a parachute, his two seatbelts still attached to him but not the wall that used to be at his back.

His fellow watchmen were all around him, most of them in multiple pieces.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Page 1001

Can you tell what’s happening?’ Dunstan asked.

Call it a hunch, but I think someone is attacking us,’ said Reza.

Who?

I don’t sense anyone flying near us.’ After a beat, however, she said, ‘Oh shit. Brace yourself.

He did, but he didn’t get the chance to ask why. Another, much louder pop arrived, this time accompanied by the very unwelcome sound of metal breaking. A lot of metal. The cabin lurched again and began spinning much too fast to have been in anything other than freefall.

Then the airplane unfolded. Dunstan watched the walls distort and peel themselves apart. Cabin pressure dropped in an instant, and the escaping wind tunnel pulled the air right out of Dunstan’s lungs. For a moment, everyone dangled toward the hole in the cabin, but that didn’t last long, because the hole grew so quickly that, soon, it ceased to even be so. Rather, it was just the open sky, the sun dawning there over the horizon, beautiful and entirely unfitting as the punishing winds started tearing passengers directly out of their seatbelts, leaving them to be swallowed by storm clouds below.

The plane was not gone, however. The metal had twisted and reformed beneath them. And it was moving now. Up and down like wings on either side. Dunstan, struggling even to keep his eyes opened, saw a metal neck rear up in front of them, rising into the shape of a bird’s head.

It was Sanko, he realized. She had become the plane, integrating herself into it, making her body a bird of literal metal. And then he realized why.

A half dozen missiles were right there on the giant bird’s tail, twirling and drawing closer with each passing second, even as Sanko swooped down to pick up speed. They were heat-seekers, without a doubt--and probably soul-strengthened as well, since it seemed like Reza had been able to sense them at the last moment.

The metal bird shuddered and then rolled forward in midair. Its left wing distorted and then slapped all of the missiles away like flies. They staggered off course, and one detonated, which caused all of the others to explode in a chain that made the air tremble.

The Gargoyle’s body swooped down into a dive again, and Dunstan had to soul-strengthen his own body before the wind and g-forces broke any more of his bones.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Page 1000

Well, I wasn’t really--

Imagine stepping into a puddle,’ said Reza, ‘only to realize it was about a meter deeper than you expected. Imagine finding a bed of frozen spikes at the bottom, which then skewer your foot and dig up into your shin. Imagine writhing in agony, unable to move, as you watch a levee in front of you suddenly break and a tidal wave come crashing toward you. Then imagine being crushed nearly to death by the impact, only to slowly drown.

...I was more interested in knowing why you were there.

How about some fucking pity?!

I’m sorry your death was so horrible, Reza. I’m sure you remember how wonderful mine was.

All things considered, I’d say getting ripped apart by a pack of Dantean wolves is a pretty radical way to go.

I think I would’ve rather drowned. Or been set on fire, maybe.

Oh, I doubt that. Burning alive is one of the most excruciating. I’d definitely take the wolves.

Hmph.

Alright, then, let’s up the ante. Which would you choose? Lasers slowly burn your eyes out of your head and pierce your brain, melting it? Or you have to keep eating your favorite food until your stomach ruptures and kills you?

Why my favorite food?

Because it would gradually turn into your most hated food as you ate it until you puked. But you’d have to keep eating it, anyway, and every time you vomited would just mean that you have to eat even more of this thing that you once loved but is now your worst nightmare.

...You have a twisted imagination, you know that?

Fine, I’ll give you a third option.’ She paused. ‘Uh... shit yourself in front of the person you love most until you die from embarrassment.

Wow.

And if you’re somehow not embarrassed, then you just keep shitting forever.

Okay, I think we need some quiet time.

She did not shut up, however. She pestered him with inane questions for the next hour and a half, and Dunstan regretted ever worrying about her.

Relief finally came when the aircraft hit a patch of turbulence. It lasted a while, then died down. Then a thunderous pop made the plane jerk violently upward and to the side, leaving half the watchmen in the room to dangle upside down from their crisscrossing seatbelts.

Page 999

--Non-donation bonus in order to make up for poopy February (Page 3 of 3)--
Dunstan made no response, and for a while, there was actual silence, much to his surprise. None of the other watchmen seemed especially talkative, perhaps busy conversing with their own unhappy reapers. Normally, a bit of peace and quiet was incredibly welcome, but here and now, it only felt uncomfortable. It made him think that Reza was genuinely worried and not just bitching and moaning like usual. At length, he grasped for a new subject of his own.

Why do you think she decided to bring us to Korgum with her?

Probably because our unit did most of Lawrence and Miles’ dirty work, trying to capture the Elroys. She doesn’t want us carrying out any more secret orders from them, I’d wager.

Dunstan could believe that. He and Reza had heard about how Sanko had basically given Overra a time out like some kind of kindergartener. He’d also been one of the officers that Sanko called out to talk to, so he ended up right there behind her when the Rainlords decided not to cooperate. He didn’t think he’d be forgetting that battle anytime soon. And frankly, after witnessing that level of combat, he felt more or less prepared for whatever Korgum would throw at him.

He tried to keep the conversation going. ‘...What do you think Sanko intends to do with the Elroy boy?

Reza required a moment to acknowledge the question. ‘Oh. Who knows? I’m sure she just didn’t want to leave Cisco and Dennex with Miles.

Mm. Maybe she means to protect them herself.

Or interrogate them. Or both. I’m more concerned about what she intends to do about the Rainlords she didn’t capture. As things stand, there aren’t even any Vanguardians left in Sair trying to hunt them down.

She’ll probably just dispatch a new division, won’t she?

Probably, but until she does, the Rainlords will be able to do whatever they like. PREPARE whatever they like. And they have a history of being complete motherfuckers when it comes to that sort of thing.

Are you speaking from experience?

As it happens, I am. I was killed by one of their fucking booby traps.

That made Dunstan pause. ‘Now I’m curious.

Oh, you want gory details? Because I have gory details. Literally details of the gore.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Page 998

--Non-donation bonus in order to make up for poopy February (Page 2 of 3)--
God-fucking-dammit,’ said Reza privately. ‘Why couldn’t she just let us go to Jesbol with that dickhole Miles?

I don’t know.

I don’t want to go to fucking Korgum!

So you’ve told me. Several times now.

Why are you so calm?! Do you even realize how much of a shitfest that place is right now?!

He had an inkling. It would have been strange if he didn’t. ‘You did say that you didn’t want to fight the Rainlords anymore.

Oh, yes, what a bright side. We’ve fixed a broken finger by chopping off the hand. Just wonderful.

Why is Korgum so chaotic, anyway?

You don’t already know?

Not the details.

Well, I’ve avoided that place like a syphilitic monkey cock, so I can’t claim to be an expert, but my understanding is that there are several locations in Korgum that are strategically important, and Dozer keeps trying to get at them like a horny dolphin at a nude beach.

...I hate the way you explain things.

Dolphins are fucked up animals, y’know. They’ll kill their own babies out of sheer boredom.

...Is that true?

It’s either boredom, or because the females become ready to mate again when they don’t have babies anymore. The males kill the kids so that they can have more sex.

...Wow.

And yet everyone loves them. Then you’ve got animals like vampire bats. Everyone thinks they’re creepy and gross because they drink blood, but they’re actually super fucking nice.

I feel we’ve drifted away from my question about Korgum.

It’s not my fault that you ask boring questions. Anyway, about vampire bats--they’re fucking harmless, and they’ll even adopt little bat babies that have been orphaned. That’s cool as shit! But because they’re not all cute and happy-looking, everyone thinks--

Alright, I get it. Were you a zoologist when you were alive?

Yes, Dunstan. Because I know two things about animals, that means I was a zoologist. Way to insult an entire profession, you fucking ignoramus.

You’re right. I don’t know what I was thinking. I may never recover from the shame I’ve brought upon myself.

Don’t give me your dry sarcasm. I’m still upset here.

You say that like it’s somehow abnormal.

Reza’s glowing red eyes glared at him a moment. ‘I wonder if I could get Sanko to give you latrine duty.

Page 997 -- CXIII.

--Non-donation bonus in order to make up for poopy February (Page 1 of 3)--
“Jackson might very well be second only to Sermung now,” said Imas, unable to conceal her smile. “I know we are currently in conflict with the Vanguard, but I am so excited about this news.”

“Why?” said Asad.

“Because! The Radiant Sentinel! The Star of the West! He’s done it again! And this time, he probably saved millions of lives! Oh, a man like that--I wonder what he’s really like.”

Asad exchanged glances with Orjand. “I didn’t realize she was such a fan of his.”

...I did.

“Have you ever seen him?” said Imas. “He is so handsome. And I bet he’s amazing in bed.”

Asad was incredulous. “You’re a lesbian!”

She shrugged. “Yeah, but I wouldn’t say no. Not to him.”

Asad just sighed and laughed at the same time.

“Everyone has their exceptions,” said Imas. “I’m sure there’s at least one man you’d make an exception for, right? There has to be.”

Asad returned a flat stare.

“Just give it a little thought,” she urged.

He shook his head.

“Whatever. Big tough Sandlord can’t even admit when he wants to have sweaty, passionate sex with another man. It’s not like I would tell anyone.”

“...Is there a reason you’re still in my room?”


Chapter One Hundred Thirteen: ‘O, worldly warrior...’
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Rezamaar wouldn’t stop fidgeting.

Would you relax?’ said Dunstan. He wasn’t exactly comfortable, either, crammed into the back of a plane with the rest of the Seventh Watcher’s Unit. ‘You’re going to lose your grip on my arm.

Ugh. Fine.

The concern wasn’t that she would fall through the plane. The aircraft’s hull had been soul-empowered to prevent that from happening. But unfortunately, that also made circumstances more dangerous for her. Save only for the planet itself, reapers were not affected by relative motion in physical reality. If she let go of Dunstan, she would become suddenly stationary relative to Eleg but not the aircraft. The result, therefore, would be her smashing into the side of the cabin at eight hundred kilometers per hour. And even a reaper would not be able to survive that.

This was why soul-empowering airplanes was generally never done, with the one exception being in the transportation of captives. Technically, they were being “reassigned,” but the Gargoyle clearly didn’t want any of their reapers escaping.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Page 996

“Relaxing already?” Imas said in Valgan. “Where is Qorvass?”

“With Hector and Garovel,” said Asad.

They seem to have become fast friends,’ said Orjand. Her little scorpionfly wings buzzed silently as she hovered there in midair. ‘Qorvass is usually the last of us to warm up to new people.

She wasn’t wrong, Asad knew. It had taken Qorvass years to finally accept his friendship with Zeff. “I think he senses an opportunity for an alliance,” said Asad. “Or maybe he just wants me to stop calling him a surly bastard.”

“An alliance?” said Imas. “With the young Atreyan lord? Why? Not to knock the boy, but his strength is not his own.”

“So you noticed it, too,” said Asad.

“Of course. And I am a little annoyed that Haqq did not give that shield to me. Or something like it, at least.”

“Be sure to chew him out when we get back to Kuros.”

“Oh, I will.”

Orjand hovered closer. ‘By the way, have you heard the news? We just heard about it downstairs.

“Which news would that be?” Asad scratched his cheek absently.

The war between Jesbol and Horsht. It’s over.

Asad blinked and sat up straighter. “What? Since when?”

Since earlier today. Jesbol won. They’re already talking about dissolving Horsht completely. It seems Jesbol will have territory on the mainland now.

“So sudden,” said Asad. “How long has that war been going? It’s been so long, I’ve forgotten.”

Oh, it’s been a collection of wars, really,’ said Orjand. ‘The one you’re familiar with started about thirty years ago, but it’s been on and off for more than than a hundred now. I’m still not sure whether to believe it. If it were merely news of another “cease in hostilities,” I wouldn’t buy it for a moment, but this is the first time that one of them has been reported of conquering the other.

“And there’s more to it,” said Imas. “The victory is being attributed to Field Marshal Jackson. They’re saying he cut through Abolish like a knife and killed Gunther and Dunhouser both.”

Asad’s eyes widened. “By himself?”

She nodded. “And in order to pull something like that off, the smart money says he achieved emergence.”

If it’s all true, then this means a major victory for the Vanguard.

Page 995

Asad took a seat on the edge of his bed and rubbed his forehead, trying to think. If he was being completely honest with himself, he had no idea what he was doing, bringing the Rainlords to Dunehall. Sure, the Vanguard wouldn’t find them here, but how was he supposed to explain this to Abbas and the others? It was only a matter of time before they found out.

And of course, there was still the matter of the Rainlords themselves. Hopefully, they would be able to reach a peaceful solution concerning Ibai, but if that didn’t happen, then Dunehall might well become their new battleground. Asad just hoped he wasn’t a fool for trusting them in this place.

He hadn’t visited Dunehall in months, but it wasn’t for lack of wanting to. Really, he would have liked to simply live here again, but his wife’s family lived in Kuros, and for most women, that might have given them cause to leave, but not for her. Samira was very much a daddy’s girl. Asad had tried bringing her here after their marriage, but it made her miserable, and her happiness was much more important than his nostalgia. And besides, Kuros wasn’t so terrible. It just didn’t really feel like home to him, even after twenty years--or at least, not like Moaban did.

It felt a shame to leave Dunehall without a Najir to watch over it, but he’d tried passing the reins over to Haqq or Imas, and to his surprise, both had refused him. Haqq cared only for the Golden Fort’s research facilities and nothing for tradition; and Imas said she didn’t wish to live so far away from her brothers--an argument Asad could hardly refute, given the sacrifice he was making for his wife.

Dunehall, therefore, had passed into the hands of the lesser lord Yasir Faheem, a blustery man who had been following Asad around for much of the evening and rambling about so many different things at such high speeds that Asad had only caught about half of them. Most of it had been assurances that the staff in Dunehall had been doing their jobs thoroughly and properly.

There came a knock at Asad’s door, and he half expected it to be Faheem again. “Enter,” he said in Mohssian.

Orjand phased through the door before Imas opened it and followed, closing it again behind her.

Page 994

You are more or less correct,’ said Qorvass, ‘but there was also more to it than just that.

Oh?’ said Garovel.

It is an oft repeated tale that the Dry God was a fool who mistakenly ended his own life, but that is untrue. Rasalased knew exactly what he was doing. He had been searching for a way to die for some time, but as you said, he worried what would become of his people. He made the Shards for his successor, who by that point, was already powerful enough to use them.

I see. Did you know him personally?

Near the end of his life, yes. I took one of his grandchildren as my servant for a time.

Hector wondered how that relationship had turned out, but it seemed an impolite thing to ask, and of course, if the servant wasn’t here now, then Hector didn’t imagine that it could have ended well.

Hector eyed the Shards again. He’d considered them beautiful before, but now that he knew the story behind them, that they were the remains of a person, he found them rather unsettling. Perhaps that deeply red hue of theirs was no mere coincidence.

Garovel had another question, though. ‘So how powerful does Asad have to become in order for the Shards to reactivate?

Qorvass was silent a moment. ‘Please do not be offended. I’m sure you can appreciate why I would not wish to share such information.

Ah. Well, I guess that’s better than lying to me.

-+-+-+-+-

Asad soon returned to his room on his own. He was glad to see Qorvass getting along with another reaper so quickly for a change, but there was nothing about their conversation that Asad didn’t already know. He’d only accompanied Qorvass to the gallery in order to make sure their guests had no designs on stealing anything.

Qorvass always worried about the Shards. It didn’t seem to matter that no one had been able to use them in more than seven hundred years or that hardly any non-Sandlords remembered their existence. Still, the reaper’s concern was not without justification, of course. The Shards had indeed been stolen many times in the past, always from some kind of super vault or otherwise absurdly guarded chamber. That had apparently been a difficult lesson for Asad’s predecessors to learn: if the wrong person came for them, it would not matter how many thick walls were in the way. It was better to hide them until they were forgotten.

Now that Garovel had demonstrated memory of the Shards, however, Qorvass would probably insist they be relocated again.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Page 993

That is largely correct,’ said Qorvass. ‘We have never had “kings,” per se, but we did believe that individuals with a certain power had been chosen to guide our people.

Hector put two and two together and looked at Asad, who was busy yawning and hardly even seemed to be paying attention.

Such individuals are historically quite rare,’ Qorvass went on. ‘They usually appear only once in five generations. Oftentimes longer. There were several instances where we went without a clear leader for extended periods of time. But then the gods decided to play a cruel prank on us, and three children manifested the divine ability in the span of a single year.

I suppose it would’ve been too much to ask for them to just rule together,’ said Garovel dryly.

The children themselves were not the real problem,’ said Qorvass. ‘They were children. They did as their Hahls told them. And each Hahl feared--perhaps quite correctly--that one of the other two Hahls would betray them for power. And precaution became escalation, and escalation became war.

Hector still didn’t understand something. “But, er... uh, how did the Shards factor in?”

The Shards are powerful catalysts for servant abilities,’ said Garovel. ‘And they work for anyone, divine power or no. They would even work for you, for instance. But there is a catch.

Hector was not surprised.

They fall dormant when there remains no living person who wields the Sandlord’s divine ability with sufficient skill.

“Uh... not sure I understand...”

It has to do with the way they were made,’ said Garovel. ‘The so-called “Dry God” was, in truth, just another person who happened to have the divine ability. Like our good friend Asad here.

Asad matched Hector’s gaze evenly. His expression seemed somehow sad.

The Dry God’s real name was Rasalased, and he was one of the most powerful servants of his age,’ said Garovel. ‘The story goes that he was so powerful and so heavily relied upon by his people that he became terrified of what would happen to them if he were ever killed in battle. As was known to happen. So he created the Shards, hoping that they would help keep the Sandlords safe after he was gone. The only problem was that in order to create them, he had to fuse his soul with his ability so completely that he turned himself to crystal. Which killed both him and his reaper, ironically.