Monday, June 29, 2015

Page 1051

Rather than responding, Ibai merely broadened his smile.

“By the way,” Reever said, “why have you been letting these people hold you captive? We’ve all been wondering what you were even doing here.”

We?” said Ibai. “There are more aberrations here?”

“Oh yeah. There are six of us. All with Invisibility like me. You wanna--?” Reever broke himself off to stare behind Ibai, then said, “Oh, come on. Those buttholes out front already screwed up the mission for everyone. No way things’ll stay quiet until the Saqqafs show up, so we might as well take this guy with us now.”

“Who are you talking to?” said Ibai.

“Oh, right, here.” Reever waved his left hand, and another figure was revealed, this time behind Ibai.

“No, you idiot, don’t--!” the new person was saying as the invisible facade fell away, but as soon as he realized that Ibai was looking at him, he shut his mouth.

“Hello there,” said Ibai. “And what’s your name?”

The man frowned but still said, “Arnold. Nice to meet you.”

After a second, Ibai noticed the toy figurine floating behind the man’s back. A reaper. So Arnold was not an aberration, then. Ibai was getting the distinct impression that these folks were not supposed to be here. “So why have you come to Dunehall? And why were you hiding?”

“It’s complicated,” said Reever. “Anyway, how about I help you get out of here? With my power, even reapers won’t be able to sense your presence.”

Ibai bobbed his head. “You don’t say. How many people can you conceal at one time?”

“Me? Only about fifty or so, still. But I’m working on it.”

Arnold shifted his feet. “Why don’t we talk about this somewhere else? It’s not safe here.”

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Page 1050

In a flash, Ibai was in an empty corridor. The cool sandstone beneath his toes reminded him that he’d left without putting shoes on. It was too late now, he supposed, but he regretted not wearing socks at least. Now he couldn’t even pretend to be ice skating.

He knew his father and Rholtam would be hot on his heels, so he jumped again, this time two floors down, then once more into another hallway a couple rooms over.

“Oh, it’s you!” came a sudden voice. “Careful where you pop in, man!”

Ibai looked around, but no one was there. Nor should there have been. He was certain that he hadn’t seen any souls in this hallway when he teleported here.

“Running away, huh? Want some help?”

“Who’s talking?” said Ibai. “Where are you?”

“Oh, right.”

And abruptly, a ripple appeared in mid-air, distorting an area of Ibai’s vision for a moment before a young man’s face revealed itself. Then the neck, shoulders, and everything else followed. The clothes were clearly foreign--Steccati in origin, if Ibai wasn’t mistaken. That country’s attire was popular in movies, which was where this guy looked like he belonged. Ibai liked the sparkling jacket in particular.

“Sorry for the confusion,” the guy said. “We’re supposed to keep our presence hidden, but it’s okay now, because someone else already screwed up. I won’t get in trouble.”

Ibai returned a big smile. “My name is Ibai. What’s yours?”

“Reever,” he said, smiling similarly.

And Ibai’s gaze flickered as he realized. This man. Something about him. Already, Ibai was almost entirely certain that this person was an aberration. “You’re like me,” he said curiously.

“You can tell,” said Reever. “Well, of course you can. You must be a monster by now, huh? I’ve never met one of us who was as old as you.”

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Page 1049

Ismael only returned a heavy-eyed stare.

Briefly, Ibai wondered if he could put the man to sleep by droning on long enough. If it weren’t for Rholtam’s presence, he might’ve tried. “Papa. Let me be direct with you. I don’t think anyone is going to prove my innocence for me. I think I will have to either do that myself or just run away and take all these problems with me.”

“No, Ibai. I won’t let you do that.”

“Yeah, I didn’t think you would. That’s why I’ve always snuck out. That’s why I never told you that I could sneak out anytime I wanted. And that’s why I’m going to sneak out right now. Well, I guess it’s not sneaking out anymore now that I’m telling you about it, huh?”

His father stood. “Ibai--!”

Ibai held up a hand. “Look, the point is, I’m not going to hurt anyone, and you’re not going to hurt me, so you can’t really stop me. But even if you were going to hurt me, you probably still couldn’t stop me.”

Ismael’s brow depressed enough to make his eyes look like they might disappear beneath it. “Now you listen to me, mijoro. If you leave this place, the other Rainlords will hunt you down and kill you. Would you do that to your mother? To me? Don’t you understand? You are our son. Everything we’ve done was to keep you safe from a world that hates you. You cannot simply throw all that away now.”

Ibai placed the figurine back on the board and stood as well. “I understand, Papa. Protecting me is important to you.” He moved around the table to give his father a hug. “But protecting you is important to me. And you’ve done more than enough already. So I’m going to go now. I intend to come back, but if I don’t, then please don’t worry about me. I will be fine.” Then he let his father go. “Okay, bye.”

“Ibai--” growled Ismael, but his voice was cut off as the aberration teleported away.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Page 1048

“Your turn,” said Ismael.

Ibai looked up from the gameboard and smiled at his father. His wide eyes absorbed the other man’s expression with eager interest. “We don’t have to keep doing this,” said Ibai. “You don’t have to keep doing this.”

The Lord Blackburn tilted his head and squinted faintly. However, it was his reaper who asked the question for him.

What are you talking about?’ said Rholtam.

Ibai poked the tallest figurine on his side of the table. Its colorful little body toppled over, and he picked it up to look at it. “I could just go,” he said. “It might be better if I did.”

“No. Don’t even talk like that.”

“I know you love me, Papa. I love you, too. But I’ve done nothing but cause problems for you ever since the day I was born. Maybe I should just--”

No,” Ismael said again.

For some reason, that broadened Ibai’s smile. He glanced at his father another time before returning to the figurine in his hand. It wore a tiny gold crown. It was the most important piece on the board, the one that all the others were tasked with protecting. “Do you still worry that I’ll hurt innocent people?”

The question seemed to take Ismael by surprise.

Ibai nodded. “I suppose you would. Especially now. I’d have doubts, too.”

“There’s no need for you to worry about any of these things. Let’s just keep playing the game.”

“Life’s not a game, Papa. You taught me that.”

Ismael just blinked at him.

“But, if it WERE a game, then it’d be a really difficult one with way too many moving pieces and poorly defined rules. And hidden objectives, too. That would be the most unfair part, I think. Sometimes, the game would tell you to do one thing when you really needed to do something else.”

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Page 1047 -- CXX.

Chapter One Hundred Twenty: ‘O, coveted children...’
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Ibai Blackburn rubbed his mouth and chin as he stared at the floor. He applied enough pressure to distort his own face in turns--scrunched, elongated, then scrunched again.

He couldn’t figure it out. He’d been playing the scene back in his head over and over again. He was sure the body hadn’t been there when he’d teleported, but he had seen someone. A soul. One which simply disappeared as soon as he arrived. By now, he was at least certain of that much.

Beyond that, though, he couldn’t understand what had happened.

And of course, everyone thought he did it. Even his family, it seemed. He told them it was some kind of misunderstanding, but he saw the looks on their faces. They clearly feared the worst.

But they still intended to protect him. They’d kept him confined to his room, but his father hadn’t left his side even once, continually reassuring him that everything would be fine, that they wouldn’t let any harm come to him.

Ibai wasn’t so sure about that.

If the other Rainlords found evidence against him, he honestly didn’t know what his family would do. Sure, they’d tried to protect him before, but they hadn’t believed he was a murderer then.

Or maybe they had? He wasn’t too sure about that, either, now that he was thinking about it.

Regardless, he didn’t much care for this sitting around and waiting for judgment. Though, to be fair, he didn’t much care for sitting around period. He was supposed to be on an adventure, and this didn’t feel very adventurous.

Naturally, Papa was trying to keep him distracted while they waited, but Ibai was wise to his tricks. Or maybe the man was just too exhausted to put his heart into it. Ibai could see the toll that everything had taken on him.

Page 1046

A bladed disc was what Hector conceived. It began small in the grip of his free hand, but after one quick spin on his heels, the disc had grown as broad as a coffee table. And it kept growing even after it left his grasp, thrown with all his strength and then some, as he tried to add velocity to each new growth. By the time his invisible opponents began reacting to its approach, the disc was already as wide as a basketball court.

Paths of destruction cut into it, and acid melted down the rest, leaving behind huge trails of smoke. Ultimately, the disc did no damage. It did, however, succeed in pulling their attention away from the iron plateau. And that was all Hector really needed.

He slapped the iron floor, and spikes shot up all around him, each one becoming a tower unto itself. More blood informed him of the results, along with a handful of tree branches shattering on impact with seemingly nothing.

After a moment, he turned his field of spikes to iron dust and charged ahead again, still weathering an almost constant assault of explosions as he ran.

You okay, Garovel?’ he asked in the meantime.

Yeah. And you’re doing well, but you’re never going to get them all. We have to get back to Dunehall and warn everyone.

What about the civilians here?

Abolish will focus on us. Because they HAVE to. If we make it to Dunehall, then whatever they have planned is fucked.

He grit his teeth but didn’t argue. ‘Alright.’ In an instant, he annihilated his plateau almost completely, save only an iron slide for himself, which then too disintegrated after he’d hit the ground running.

By the way,’ said Garovel, ‘I’m getting extremely tired, and I’m probably going to pass out soon, but don’t you let go of that shield until you’re sure we’re out of danger.

Another reason not to drag this fight out, he supposed.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Page 1045

Without waiting to see where they were coming from, Hector launched himself away on an iron pillar.

Explosions chased him, and even though they did little more than tear his clothes, they were becoming a problem due to all the smoke they left behind. If he allowed his vision to become obscured, he really would be fighting blind, because he couldn’t rely on Garovel to locate his opponents’ souls.

The solution was a platform, he decided. A platform for everything--all around the houses, filling the backyard and rising past the rooftops and nearer the trees above. He aimed to raise himself up along with everyone he couldn’t see. He even covered the roofs with iron and raised those sections as well, making sure to attach them to the greater platform horizontally so that they didn’t put pressure on any of the houses and cause any cave-ins.

It was tricky work, because he had to do it whilst avoiding the scarcely visible distortions in the air from the multiple destruction users who were ganging up on him, but Hector kept his bearings, and soon enough, the fruits of his labor revealed themselves. A broad plateau of solid iron stretched out before him, pressing among the trees and indeed, crushing most of the branches in its way. He’d been far more concerned with maintaining precise construction around the civilian homes to bother himself with protecting all the damn trees, too.

Most importantly, however, he could hear the constant drum of footsteps rushing across the iron. He couldn’t see any of the bastards, but they were definitely there, and they were already tearing into his work with theirs--explosions, acid, destruction, all cutting into what he’d done.

So he converted the plateau into a bed of spikes, save only where he was running. A half-dozen streams of blood revealed immediate results, and Hector prepared his next move.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Page 1044

His next opponents were a bit smarter. The abilities started coming out--strings of explosions, flanked by flames and acid and flaming acid.

It ripped into his armor, but that was the extent of the damage. His barehanded grip on Haqq’s shield held firm as each attack leveled against him felt about as dangerous as a warm breeze. Even the force behind the explosions, detonating at point-blank range, broke against his body like they were nothing more than water balloons.

Through it all, Hector propelled himself upward on a metal platform, out of the smoke and materializing a fresh cloud of iron flakes to help him regain his bearings.

On the rooftop, right there next to him, were four invisible bodies just waiting. He could already see acid spewing out of one of their apparent mouths.

Instead of dodging, however, Hector dove straight into the acid, his free hand reaching for the spitter’s apparent mouth. He found it, and immediately, an iron disc exploded out of the invisible servant’s head, chopping it clean off. Blood gushed free, but the separated head and body both remained invisible. By the time Hector hit the roof, more ineffectual attacks were slamming into him, and he just concentrated on the iron disc he’d made, adding iron walls to it so that it became a coating for the severed head. He slid down toward his trophy and grabbed it before it rolled off the roof.

That was one less opponent that he had to worry about, but with the amount of shit they were flinging at him now, he figured that there had to be at least a dozen more of these assholes.

“What the fuck?! You said he was weak!”

“Idiots! Stop messing around and just kill him!”

And then he heard the deep piping noise of destruction users.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Page 1043

All of these thoughts flashed through Hector’s mind in rapid succession, until he ultimately decided to just take the initiative while he still could. He created a thin cloud of dust over the area--tens of thousands of iron flakes, just big enough for his eyes to register specks in the air but also small enough that they would hover like tiny feathers instead of falling like raindrops.

“Hmm?”

“What’s this?”

“Oh!”

But they were too slow to realize. Hector had gotten his glimpse. There were many more gaps in the dust than he could count in a single look, some crouched on the adjacent roof, some on the wall between the houses, some sitting in the trees above, but none in the grass, presumably because it would’ve revealed their footsteps. Specific numbers weren’t important, though. Right now, Hector only cared about general proximity, and by the time they’d begun voicing their surprise, Hector was already slamming an iron fist at the ground.

Clusters of iron pillars shot out at each area, their bladed tips extending forth at arrow-speed, all retaining physical contact with his fist so that he could empower them with his soul.

A few of the pillars struck true. Horizontal geysers of blood appeared among the dust, and a couple of the voices cut off mid-sentence, but the invisibility itself remained unchanged. The victims of Hector’s attack were not suddenly revealed in full to him as he’d hoped they’d be.

He could, however, see new movement among the dust--all converging on him.

“He actually intends to fight!”

“Good!”

“Now we can have some real fun!”

And the first challenger must not have realized that Hector could see him coming, because the fool charged headlong into a gauntleted uppercut, which--from the sound of it--rocketed him right into one of his buddies in the trees.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Page 1042

If they wanted someone to be afraid of them, they’d come to the wrong place. By now, he was more than accustomed to being outmatched in a fight, and these assholes hadn’t even proved themselves yet as anyone he should be afraid of. For the moment, however, it was probably better if they held onto that confidence of theirs, so Hector made his arms tremble.

One of them started laughing. “Look, he’s shaking!”

Someone else joined in. “He’s too scared to move! Aha! This is what happens when you get famous too early, little boy!”

“That’s right! You made an awfully big splash over in Bumblefuck, Nowhere. Mighta been fine if you’da killed all your enemies, but ya didn’t, did ya? And now it’s about to bite you on the ass, ‘cuz we all know how weak you are.”

“Life lessons for the dead boy.”

These dumb fuckers are in for a rude surprise,’ said Garovel. ‘Don’t hold back. They’re definitely Abolish.

Hector had gotten that impression as well, though he hadn’t been as sure as Garovel sounded. In different circumstances, he might’ve asked what made Garovel so certain, but here and now, he was content to just trust his reaper’s word and concentrate on the matter at hand.

The only caveat was the presence of civilians. He certainly would’ve preferred not to fight where innocent people might get hurt, but at the same time, if he tried to lead his opponents away, there was no guarantee that some wouldn’t stay behind and slaughter these poor people anyway--which seemed especially likely, given that he was apparently dealing with multiple enemies.

He could try to call Asad, perhaps, but his phone was inside his armor, and if he moved to retrieve it, even these idiots would probably notice.

No, the best option was to simply fight and protect everyone as best he could.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Page 1041

“We’re your collective subconsciousness! Arguing with itself! Pure madness, eh?!”

“C’mon, even if you convince him, there’s still his partner.”

“You’re all morons.”

Hector tensed up with each new voice that chimed in. Whoever they were, there were a lot of them. His mind raced as he considered his options. If they were really invisible, then his priority was surely locating them somehow. To that end, iron dust might serve. But it would almost certainly antagonize them as well, and he wasn’t sure that was necessary just yet. Certainly, if they wanted to harm him, they would’ve done so without alerting him, right?

“This better not mess up the mission,” one of them was saying.

“How could it? If anything, it’ll give us less to worry about later.”

Hector began slowly slipping one of his gauntlets off. Thankfully, he’d already been holding his shield, so he used it to conceal his work.

“Idiots. We don’t even know who we’re dealing with here.”

“Yeah we do. Don’t you remember?”

“What?”

“Looks like you’re the idiot, idiot. Hey, Darksteel! Are you scared yet? Or are you just stupid?”

Hector pulled the rest of the gauntlet off and started on the glove beneath, going a little faster now.

“Oh, you’re right,” said another new voice. “It is him, huh?”

“How many of us do you think there are, eh? Why don’t you have a nice guess. Go on.”

Hector decided to take a pass on that.

“Hey, how much time do we have for this?”

“Plenty. Don’t worry.”

“Think he’ll try to run?”

“Ooh, I hope so!”

“Go on, Darksteel! Make a run for it! You might be able to get away!”

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Page 1040

That wasn’t a rabbit or something in the bushes just now?’ Hector asked.

No, it wasn’t,’ said Garovel privately. ‘Not on the roof, either. Nor in the grass, right now.

Hector hadn’t even noticed that last one yet, but sure enough, he turned just in time to see a patch of tall grass by the patio stop shaking.

The next house over,’ said Garovel. ‘Hurry. Now the people in that one have the aura, instead.’

Hector launched himself over the stone wall one more time, but before he even landed, Garovel was already amending his statement.

And now it’s gone...

He kinda figured that might happen. ‘The hell is going on here, Garovel?

I don’t know. Just be ready.’

“This is getting boring,” came an unfamiliar voice.

Hector looked around but saw no one. ‘Garovel?

No, there’s no--’ The reaper cut himself short at the sound of muted whispering.

“No, just do something bigger,” said the same voice.

More whispers.

“Oh, what does it matter now? You’ve hardly been subtle. They clearly know something’s going on already. If you’re going to play with them, you might as well really play with them.”

“But we’re not supposed to,” came a new voice.

“Ha, look at him!” said still another. “He’s so confused!”

Hector’s eyes kept telling him that there was no one around, but he was beginning to get the picture. Garovel said it before he could, though.

They’re invisible. Even to me.

How?

I don’t know.

“Don’t worry, metal kid!” came yet another voice. “We’re not real! We’re all in your head! You’re going crazy, see?!”

“Pfft, he’ll never buy that now. Use your brain, you bloody idiot.”

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Page 1039 -- CXIX.

Chapter One Hundred Nineteen: ‘Shadows in space...’
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It had been nearly half an hour, and Hector was starting to feel rather uncomfortable about this whole waiting-outside-a-family’s-house thing. Garovel had stopped talking as well, which indicated to Hector that the reaper wasn’t feeling particularly comfortable in these strange circumstances, either.

Are you sure they’re still in there?’ Hector asked, not for the first time.

Yes. They’re watching television.

You can sense that much detail?

The way their souls are positioned together, all looking the same way. That, and if you listen, you can hear it through the wall.

So he could. Hector took a breath and tried to settle himself again. He scratched his neck. It had been itching like crazy in the same spot for a while now, and the added nuisance of it wasn’t doing anything to calm him down. Really, though, it was all the unanswered questions that were bothering him.

The bushes along the side of the house rustled.

Hector and Garovel both looked.

There was nothing there.

He supposed it could’ve been an animal small enough to be completely concealed by the leaves. But Hector’s gaze lingered, and his ears worked overtime, listening for any other noises.

And a noise indeed arrived, this time above. Deep creaks from the roof, slow and repeating.

Footsteps?’ Hector asked.

I don’t sense anyone there,’ said Garovel.

Then came a hushed sound, too quiet to make out but distinct in its own way. A breath? A whisper? Or just the wind?

Hector placed his back to the wall and armored up. There was a very good chance he was just being paranoid, but there was no harm in playing it safe.

Garovel, am I going crazy?

No, I don’t think so... unless I’m going crazy along with you.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Page 1038

All things considered, Parson felt that Sair was on the right track now--not the safest track, perhaps, but the correct one. That was something so few of these political types seemed to comprehend. Always worried about avoiding conflict, but sometimes, conflict was necessary. Sometimes, a little bloodletting now prevented future disaster.

And Jackson was not a stupid man. Or even an incompetent one. But that was the kind of hard truth that the Radiant Sentinel would never be able to accept. As much respect as Parson had for this man, as much as the Vanguard needed more people like him, there were still some things that Jackson needed to be kept in the dark about. For the good of all.

“The other marshals will never agree to stop Blacksong,” said Parson. “Isn’t it about time you got on board with everyone else? Even your wife has a horse in that race.”

“That may be true,” said Jackson, “but Sanko is free to do as she pleases.” His expression hardened. “You, however, are not.”

Parson realized where this was going and had to stop himself from wincing.

“I have a job for you,” the Sentinel said, reaching down beneath his desk. He pulled out a box, and from it, he retrieved a pen and notebook and pushed them both toward Parson. “Actually, I have several jobs for you, but first, you will provide a full report of your activities in Sair. Spare no details.”

Parson frowned. Of course it would have to be handwritten. If it was sloppy, Jackson would no doubt force him to rewrite it. Or perhaps the marshal would just “accidentally” light it on fire.

“Once that’s done,” Jackson went on, “you will be handling the local call-ins and write-ins. You will investigate every request thoroughly, no matter how trivial it might seem. The point of this, in case that is not already clear to you, is to remind you of who it is the Vanguard is protecting. I’m sure a bit of time at the bottom of the ladder will do you some good. And of course, I will be expecting full reports on each of your investigations. Additionally--”

Parson’s frown only deepened as he listened. If he had one weakness that he’d never quite been able to overcome, it was paperwork. And boy, did Jackson love his paperwork.