Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Page 1064

Emiliana was closest and approached him first. “Papa?”

No response.

Shenado floated over to Zeff now. ‘Unbelievable,’ she said as she inspected his face. ‘He’s still asleep.

Marcos didn’t understand. “What?”

Your father protected you unconsciously,’ said Shenado. ‘I’ve heard about things like this happening, but I’ve never seen it myself... Wow.

Instinctive knowledge and awareness,’ said Chergoa, hovering up behind Emiliana. ‘You don’t need to be a servant to possess those things. Still, I am quite--

Ramira’s muffled cries interrupted her.

“She needs help!” said Marcos.

Bring her over to the bed and take her shoe off,’ said Shenado. ‘Emiliana?

The older sister was already rifling through the far cupboards for supplies. Chergoa told her to try under the bed, where she found a first aid kit. Emiliana took over for Marcos in sterilizing and dressing the wound.

Of all the things their mother taught them, Marcos had always thought this would be the least valuable. He’d figured that once they became servants, they would have no need of such skills, but now he saw how wrong he’d been.

As Emiliana finished her work, Chergoa picked up the conversation again.

What do you think? Should we leave or stay put?

We seem to be safe for the moment, but we don’t know enough about the situation to be sure. Asad and Dimas are both relatively close. We should meet up with one of them.

Agreed,’ said Chergoa. ‘Em, how’s about you help Big Papa Elroy here walk with us?

Marcos watched Emiliana place a hesitant hand on the man’s back. She had to take the lead, but just as Chergoa had said, Zeff began to keep pace with her.

Marcos picked Ramira up again and then stopped. “Uh. There’s still a wall of ice in the way...”

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Page 1063

Marcos fired at thin air, aiming where Emiliana’s targets had been. Spurts of blood guided his aiming as he moved toward Ramira, who’d started shooting even before he did. The little girl was on the move as well, trying to avoid the cluster of metal spikes that were shooting up from the floor.

One of them found her. It skewered her shoe, and she screamed as she fell to the floor. In the next moment, Marcos was there, scooping her up with one arm and pulling her out of the next spike’s path. But there were still more to evade, and one of them caught his left leg, which it then began coating with newly materializing metal, trying to slow him down.

Marcos dropped to the floor with his sister still in his grasp, scrambling to shield her with his body.

That was when the room heaved, throwing everything into confusion, and briefly, Marcos thought there’d been some kind of explosion or earthquake.

And then he saw the crystalline spears. The area by the door was completely filled. Glassy pillars, so numerous and densely packed that they almost looked like a wall. The only anomaly among their brilliantly clear bodies was the blood, long streaks of crimson, splattered and dripping and pooling on the floor.

He looked around for Lord Asad, thinking it must’ve been the Sandlord’s doing, but instead, he saw his father, standing at the foot of the bed he’d been using only moments ago. It hadn’t been glass. It had been ice.

“Pa!” said Marcos. He wanted to rush over and hug him, but he was still mindful of Ramira’s injury. By the time he made it to his feet again, he realized that something was off.

His lord father was just standing there, silent, face drawn downward. Axiolis was still attached to his back and also saying nothing.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Page 1062 -- CXXI.

Emiliana noticed one of the rifts twitching. It began moving slowly closer, and the others followed. She supposed she could be jumping to conclusions about what these rifts were. She had no real evidence that they were hostile, but her mother’s cynicism was telling her that if they were friendly, they would not be hiding themselves from everyone else. And after everything she’d been through, she was not about to take chances with the lives of her family.

Emiliana locked eyes with Ramira as she waited for the right moment, keeping the rifts in her peripheral vision. The distance had to be perfect. And when it was, Emiliana leapt out from behind her sister, claws-first.

And at the center of the nearest rift, she found blood.


Chapter One Hundred Twenty-One: ‘Thy boiling will...’
Click to display entire chapter at once -- (mobile link)

Marcos hardly had time to understand what was going on. He’d noticed Shenado and Chergoa giving each other strange looks, and then Shenado gave him a private and incredibly vague warning that something was about to happen, but then Emiliana was suddenly slashing at thin air and apparently tearing bloody chunks out of it.

Shenado grabbed his shoulder, and he felt the undead vigor burn through him. This wasn’t his first experience with it, as he’d been practicing periodically, but it was certainly the first time he’d had to actually use it.

He wasn’t sure what to do. He merely watched as Chergoa bolted over to Emiliana, who was already spinning around to kick a second invisible opponent.

However, when he saw a spiked block of bluish-white metal crash into her and slam her against the far wall, Marcos didn’t require any more information. His mother’s training took hold, and he reached for the firearm that Emiliana had discreetly given him after Luzo.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Page 1061

Do you sense anything else?’ asked Chergoa.

Like what?’ said Shenado.

I don’t know. Where is my brother? I can’t find him or Hector.

They probably just went to have a look around the city.

The more she stared at the rifts and the more she listened, the more Emiliana began to feel a knot growing in her chest. ‘Chergoa,’ she finally said.

What?’ the reaper said privately.

There’s something in the room with us.’

The reaper paused. ‘What do you mean?

I see something in here with us. I don’t think I’m hallucinating. You don’t sense anything?

No, I don’t. What does it look like?

It’s like... light is being bent. Distorted. They look like, just... weird lumps in empty space.

They? You see more than one?

I see four. And they’re moving. Chergoa, they’re moving like people move.

The reapers didn’t respond, and Emiliana didn’t turn around to look at them again. She kept her eyes forward, staring through her mask at each of the rifts before her, waiting.

Then Ramira walked into her vision, headed for the door. “I want to see,” she said.

Emiliana’s one clawless hand shot out and grabbed her little sister by the arm. Ramira jumped at her touch, and Emiliana pulled her closer, realizing she’d scared her. “Sorry,” she said. “Not just yet. Let’s stay here.”

Ramira seemed hesitant. “Why?”

Emiliana reached into the big front pocket of her gray hoodie. She felt for the compact firearm there and found it. She pulled it free, using Ramira’s body to help keep it concealed, and pushed it hilt-first against the little girl’s stomach. “Trust me,” said Emiliana, looking past her sister’s head. “Don’t make a fuss, or there will be trouble. Understand?” She felt Ramira take the weapon.

“...I understand.”

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Page 1060

Okay, so maybe not the three-headed lion monster,’ said Chergoa, ‘but what about the ONE-headed lion monster that it’s based on? The arasaba could have been real, I think. I remember reports of sightings in the olden days.

Those reports were never substantiated,’ said Shenado. ‘And really? Reports of a lion-like monster? Gee. I wonder what could someone have possibly mistaken it for. Perhaps an ACTUAL lion?

In the desert, though?

Most of those reports didn’t come from the desert. They came from people returning to the desert after having spent time abroad. And the ones that were from the desert? Easily mirages. That would also explain why the arasaba seems to possess the convenient ability to turn itself into sand.

Chergoa gave a glowing shrug. ‘Your cynicism saddens me. Don’t the Rainlords have their own monster like this, too?

The lhugleoth, yes.

You don’t think that could have existed, either?

Of course not. It could breathe ice.

So can Zeff.’

Ah--that’s different, and you know it.

I know no such thing. Reapers aren’t the only ones who can bend the rules, y’know. Tell me, Marcos, have you ever heard of the Jaskadan Forest?

He shook his head as he eyed the reaper curiously.

Oh, then--’ But Chergoa stopped herself. She held there a moment, hovering in silence, then looked to Shenado. ‘Did you sense that?

Something is going on downstairs,’ the other reaper said.

But did you--? Those souls. Were they there before? Am I going crazy?

I’m not sure,’ said Shenado. ‘I wasn’t really paying attention to things down there, but that did feel odd...

Emiliana turned back to the rifts in the room. They were still moving around, but not by much. They hadn’t strayed any closer.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Page 1059

Emiliana looked toward her family. Marcos and Ramira were sat on opposite sides of their unconscious father. Each child had a book in hand, though Shenado and Chergoa both floated behind Marcos, reading along with him and trading commentary. Apparently, they were in disagreement over the merits of its contents.

Agh, this book is even more idiotic than I expected,’ Shenado was saying.

That’s pretty harsh,’ said Chergoa. ‘The original was written a thousand years ago. It’s only natural that it’s become a bit dated.

A bit? The author treats all these things as if they’re real.

Maybe they were. Depends on who you ask.

Ugh, you WOULD say that. You’re as bad as Axiolis, sometimes.’

You’re very closed-minded, you know that?

Really? Okay, so you’re saying that you think this three-headed lion monster might have existed at some point?

Well, maybe not THAT one...

Of course not THAT one! Or ANY of them!

“So if it never existed, then where did the idea come from?” asked Marcos.

Shenado hovered around him, her wispy blue flames crackling silently. ‘Wonderful question, darling. The three-headed lion is merely a symbolic representation of the War of the Three Sands that some group of idiots actually took seriously.

“Oh. That’s a little disappointing...”

Perhaps so,’ said Shenado, ‘but it’s important to keep a clear picture of reality. It’s good that you’re thinking critically about the world around you. It’s best not to simply accept things like this at face value.

That is very true,’ added Chergoa. ‘But I think it’s alright to leave ourselves a bit of wiggle room for the stuff of legends. Who doesn’t love a nice dose of mystery and wonder every now and again?

You want mystery and wonder? The natural world is full of it. Ramira knows what I’m talking about. Marcos, ask her about arachnids.

The boy frowned. “I’d rather not...”

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Page 1058

Ibai observed Reever carefully. He’d had a suspicion that the guy would be able to find the other Invisibility users for him. Presumably, they needed some means of maintaining communication, even during their deep cover operations.

But all Reever did was place his hand in front of his own eyes like a blindfold and then look around. “There. Over two rooms. You’ll want to appear next to the hearth so as to avoid bumping into anyone.”

“Alright,” said Ibai, preparing to jump again. “My favorite color is obviously brown by the way.”

-+-+-+-+-

Emiliana couldn’t stop staring. The rifts in her vision were beginning to drive her mad. The stationary ones were no longer bothering her, though--or at least, not as much. Inconvenient as it might have been, she felt like she could get accustomed to having her vision uniformly obscured. But the rifts that moved. Those were another story.

Why were they moving? Were they the result of something that was moving inside of her eyes now? Not the most comforting question, she felt.

So she stared at them, determined to discern some kind of useful information for herself.

And gradually, she did.

They weren’t the product of something living inside of her eyes, she decided, because if that were the case, then the rifts should have moved all over the place, up the walls and onto the ceiling and even across her family member’s faces.

But they didn’t.

They were a bit disorienting to look at, almost to the point of forcing her to turn away, but they didn’t actually move that much. They stayed on the ground, hovered around the door, and generally kept their distance from everyone. Their movements were bound by the room, she realized, not her eyesight.

Which confused her even more. If they weren’t caused by something inside her eyes, then what were they?

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Page 1057

“I’m talking about fun,” said Ibai. “Being an aberration is all about enjoying yourself.”

Reever was indignant. “I know that! I am having fun!”

“No, you aren’t. Don’t you see? This is just some boring mission. Abolish has tricked you in order to take advantage of your power.”

“Nuh-uh! Sneaking around and surprising people is super fun!”

“Sneaking? Sure. Waiting around for orders? No. Which is exactly what you were doing just now. Waiting for Hahl Saqqaf to show up so you could ambush them, right? How dull!”

“Well... that’s true, but... it wasn’t so bad... And the pay off would’ve been--”

“Tch. You poor thing. They’ve really sunken their claws into you, haven’t they?” He let Reever go. “Let your Uncle Ibai teach you a few things.”

Reever turned to face him. “What things?”

“Well, for example, this mission: where’s the fun in slaughtering your opponents before they even realize what’s happened? We aberrations thrive on chaos. Literally, our power in a fight depends on our capacity to enjoy ourselves therein. So tell me, how are we meant to enjoy anything if the battle ends before it even begins?”

“Ah, well... I suppose you have a point.”

“Of course I do. That’s why we can’t just ambush the Rainlords like this. We have to reveal everyone’s presence and let the fight really get rolling.”

Reever pursed his lips and squinted. “Hmm. But what about our comrades?”

“Eh, they’ll be fine.”

“You think?”

“Sure! Caster will take care of them.”

“I don’t know. These Rainlords seem pretty dangerous.”

“That’s why it’ll be great! Who ever enjoyed a fight with a weak opponent, huh? No one, that’s who!”

“I’m still not sure...”

“Alright. Fair enough. Clearly, we require a third opinion here. We should ask one of our brothers.”

Reever nodded. “Good idea. One second. Let me see who’s closest.”

Friday, July 10, 2015

Page 1056

With a fresh hallway all to themselves, Ibai kept his shadow out to swarm around Reever. He didn’t use it to actually hold him down, knowing Reever could probably tear right through it. Instead, he used it only for intimidation--a cluster of brown spears all pointed at Reever’s head.

“I’m gonna need you to release your power now,” said Ibai. “Let only the two of us remain invisible.”

“Er--I’m really not supposed to do that.”

Ibai pushed the spears closer. “Please? I’d like to talk to you, but you need to do that first. Privacy, you see.”

“Aha. Okay. Fine.” Reever waved a hand. “Done.”

Ibai used another teleport to check the man’s work. Indeed, he was able to see the souls of the Abolishers suspended in the ethereal void above them now. In a new room again, Ibai relaxed his shadow somewhat. “Thank you.”

Reever shifted slightly, still held fast with Ibai’s arm, but didn’t struggle any more than that. “Would you mind letting me go now?”

“In a minute. Ask me a question.”

“What?”

“Ask me a question,” Ibai repeated. “I’m sure you have one in mind. A very pressing one, hmm? Go on. Ask away.”

Reever took a moment. “What’s your favorite color?”

Ibai brought the spears back, closer than ever before now, making Reever tense up. “Come on,” said Ibai. “That’s not the one.”

“Why are you doing this?” Reever asked.

“There you go. That’s the right question.” He pulled the spears back another time. “I’m doing this because your time in Abolish has clearly caused you to forget what being an aberration is all about. Assuming they even let you learn it in the first place.”

“What are you talking about?” said Reever.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Page 1055

“Hmm,” mused Ibai, stroking his bare chin.

“It seems you have a choice to make,” said Caster. “Would you like to stay here with us and attack your captors? Or would you like to go meet Ivan?”

Indeed, there was a choice to be made, though it was not as Caster described. Unfortunately, however, Caster hadn’t identified which of the reapers here was his own. The one nearest him could’ve just as easily belonged to Ted or Arnold, and if Ibai chose incorrectly, it would quite likely mean his death. And he didn’t really feel like dying right now.

The preferred target, therefore, was perhaps Reever. Ibai gave him a friendly look as he thought about it, and then said, “Actually, at the moment, I’m most curious to meet these other aberrations you mentioned. Despite my age, I’ve not met many of our kind, you see.”

“Oh, of course,” said Reever. “I’ll be sure to introduce you to all of them after the mission is over.”

Ibai frowned. “You can’t introduce me now? I’m a bit anxious. What if they die during the fight?”

“That is not possible,” said Caster. “The mission takes precedence, and it would be imprudent to interrupt the others.”

“I see,” said Ibai. He nodded as he threw another look around the room. “Well, then...” His gaze landed back on Caster, who merely returned an unwavering stare.

The little man was still sizing him up, it seemed. Was he figuring it out? No, probably just being vigilant.

Regardless, Ibai only saw one course of action left to him. He wasn’t going to be able to kill Caster or Reever by himself. But they didn’t know that.

Ibai teleported behind Reever and wrapped an arm around him. “We’ll be back,” he lied as he blinked away with the other aberration in tow.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Page 1054

“Very well,” Ibai said, more quietly now. “What was that you said earlier about the mission being messed up? Is there already fighting going on somewhere nearby?”

“Ah,” said Reever, “itching to join, eh? Yeah, the guys out front revealed themselves to someone, and now they’re scrambling to kill the guy before he makes it back here.”

“You are not scrambling along with them?” Ibai asked.

“Orders from above,” said Caster. “Besides, if we did that, we would lose many strategic positions. Even while invisible, it is quite time-consuming to move around this place without alerting anyone. If someone sees a door opening on its own or hears footsteps where there should be none, it could become problematic. And naturally, cameras only serve to complicate the issue.”

Ibai tilted his head. “Who do you take your orders from? Any names I would recognize?”

“Certainly,” said Caster. “Our sect answers directly to the Salesman. He is back at camp, if you would like to meet him.”

By now, Ibai had more or less intuited that these people belonged to Abolish, but that name was more than enough confirmation. Ivan, the Salesman of Death. Widely regarded as one of Morgunov’s strongest followers. “Back at camp?” Ibai asked. “He’s not here at Dunehall?”

Reever shook his head. “Unfortunately, even aberrations wouldn’t be able to hide his presence. But I’m sure he had other stuff to take care of, anyway.”

“Hey, I heard the Monster was there, too,” said Ted from earlier, not quite so loud this time.

“What? Why would the Monster be there?”

Ted gave a heaving shrug. “Heard he was looking for someone.”

“Even if that is true, it is none of our concern,” said Caster. And that was enough to shut them up again.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Page 1053

“Well, of course we are,” said someone else. “It’s kind of what we do. We’re dicks.”

“That’s D-I-C,” added Reever. “Deep Infiltration and Cover. That’s our sect. Everyone just calls us dicks, though.”

“As they should. We voted on the name.”

“Did we? I didn’t.”

“Yeah, because you’re new. Dumbass.”

“I just think we should have a name that’s more professional-sounding or something.”

“Like what, huh?”

“I dunno--like, well, the Vanguard has that watcher’s division, right? We’re basically like them, only cooler. So we should have a similar-but-cooler name, right? Like the Infilifilers.”

“That’s not a word.”

“Yeah, but it’s like a combination between infiltrators and defilers. Infilifilers. What do you guys think?”

“Y’know, I actually kinda like it.”

“Yeah, me too.”

“Sounds retarded.”

“Hey, fuck you, Ted.”

“Yeah, Ted, shut the fuck up.”

Me shut the fuck up? No, you shut the fuck up!”

“You wanna dance, fat man?!”

“Bring it on, choads! I could kill you both with my left ass cheek!”

“Oh, I--!”

“Everyone,” interrupted a soft voice, “please be quiet. Remember that we are still in the middle of a mission.”

And they actually did. Perhaps they were more disciplined than they seemed, Ibai thought. Or perhaps they were simply afraid of that little voice. Ibai’s attention shifted to the similarly little man that it belonged to. If not for the full mustache, Ibai might have mistaken him for a child.

The small man addressed Ibai now. “Greetings. My name is Caster Egmond, and while it is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, I must ask you to keep your voice down while we remain here.” His smile was much fainter than everyone else’s as he adjusted his gray tie.

With wide eyes, Ibai’s curiosity had certainly been piqued by this person. By appearance alone, the man could have evoked a sense of harmlessness, but now that Ibai was observing more carefully, he could sense it. That vague pressure. The same thing he could feel from Uncle Mel.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Page 1052

Reever shrugged. “Don’t be rude. He’s just curious. It’s in our nature. You can’t expect an aberration to join you if you don’t answer his questions first. That’s simple diplomacy.”

“Their reapers can still sense us,” said Arnold.

Reever waved his hand again. “And now they can’t.”

At first, Ibai didn’t realize that anything had changed, but then he noticed the faint glow around everything. And it became gradually more prominent, until the hallway around them was all but burning, as if an ethereal fire had descended upon the entire world, excepting only the four of them. Reever, Arnold, and the unnamed reaper all looked just as they did before.

However, when Ibai looked around another time, he saw that there were actually several more servants and reapers in the room than Reever had previously allowed him to see.

Ibai gave them all a wide grin. “Hello!”

The many new faces stared at him. But only briefly. Then they broke into smiles of their own.

“Heya, big man!”

“How the heck are ya, pal?!”

“You gotta tell us! How’d you end up here all by yourself?!”

“Didn’t you hear? He was born into one of the families.”

“What?! That can’t be right, can it?!”

“Dunno, let’s ask him.”

Reever stepped next to Ibai and put up his hands. “Alright, alright. Don’t smother the poor guy.” He turned to Ibai. “We have been wondering, though. If you wouldn’t mind answering. Were the Rainlords studying you?”

Ibai pursed his lips. “Pretty much, yeah. But speaking of burning questions. You never really answered me. What are you all doing here? Because--and correct me if I’m wrong--but it seems like you’re planning some kind of attack.” Reever’s brief mention of Hahl Saqqaf had not escaped his notice.