Monday, September 28, 2015

Page 1085

Freezing mist was a difficult trick. Water vapor would simply desublimate into ice crystals if he tried to materialize it at zero degrees Celsius. The key, therefore, was knowing the triple point of water: that was, the combined measurement of temperature and pressure at which water could exist in any of its solid, liquid, or gas phases.

Pinpointing the temperature was simple enough, but Zeff had always struggled with manipulating the pressure just so. The problem was always atmospheric conditions. The pressure that Zeff applied to his water had to cancel out that which was already being applied by the environment.

But now, his control had moved forward by leaps and bounds, and he was certain that he could manage it, especially in the familiar environmental conditions of Dunehall. He must’ve spent a good third of his youth in this place with Asad.

Zeff manifested his water, and white fog shot across the chamber in billowing chunks. He pressed his soul into it, but he knew it wouldn’t obscure Asad and Caster’s vision. So long as they could see souls, the clouds would only conceal Zeff himself. But that was not the point. He was merely laying the groundwork. Already, Zeff could feel the temperature in the room beginning to plummet.

The rest of his freezing efforts had to be poured onto the Marauder directly. If he acted too carelessly, it would be Asad who was slowed, not Caster. And so Zeff concentrated on creating an endless stream of icy water, locked onto Caster’s soul as it moved through the fog. For extra measure, he threw in a few dozens of flying daggers of genuine ice. Of course they shattered against Caster’s body, but that was just as helpful. So long as Zeff was standing, the cold would follow Caster wherever he went. Even when the Marauder drew close to Asad, Zeff didn’t stop. He merely altered the angle from which the cold struck.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Page 1084

“Mm,” Caster mused. “How curious that we would not have heard of you until now. The Vanguard’s doing, no? Pity you’ve decided to burn that bridge.”

Zeff was hardly even listening. Asad took the opportunity to rejoin him, and indeed, it was as Zeff had thought. Those tattoos were moving. He noticed Asad fiddling with his left hand, where the golden glow seemed the most prominent.

“Perhaps you would like our assistance, instead,” Caster was saying. “Abolish is renowned for its generosity. Tell us where Darktide and the Seadevil are, and we shall go discuss the matter with them.”

“We are the lord of this place,” said Asad, also in two voices. “If you would speak terms, then do so now.”

“Adorable. But we grow impatient. This is your last chance. Be good lads and tell us. Where are the grown ups?”

There was little doubt in Zeff’s mind that he could not have withstood Caster’s attack himself. If not for whatever Asad’s tattoos were doing right now, this fight might’ve very well been over already. And all they’d managed to accomplish was briefly inconveniencing Caster. They needed to approach this differently, before the Marauder overwhelmed them.

Escaping was obviously the best option here, but how to go about it? Ramira couldn’t even walk on her own, and Axiolis could sense dozens of unfamiliar souls moving all throughout Dunehall.

“Shenado,” Zeff and Axiolis said.

Yes?

“Be ready to run. Guide everyone out, but don’t stray too far.”

Okay.

Zeff would have liked to elaborate further, but the Marauder was through waiting for his answer, it seemed. A destructive path came right for Zeff, and he dodged right, circling behind Asad as the Marauder himself rushed head on another time.

Zeff prepared the next strategy: temperature warfare.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Page 1083

Zeff relied on pan-forma in order to tie the position states of every little piece of his creation to that of his left hand, allowing him to move the whole, chaotic mass at once with a flick of his wrist.

With all his strength, body and mind together, he slammed the bomb into Caster.

And indeed, the result was akin to explosion. The flurry of water drills engulfed Caster all at once, and the Abolisher’s destructive body tore into them, which made them tear into one another, setting all of that highly pressurized water off in a chain reaction. This, together with the already hectic air currents whirling around it, created a burst of wind and water that didn’t just punch, but also shred.

The impact force was sustained for several seconds, as well, and Zeff had to hold his ground in front of everyone, annihilating every deadly dagger of soul-strengthened water that would have surely found them otherwise. A triangular safe zone with him at the tip. And even still, he earned himself several tears in his clothes and cuts on his face and arms. His flesh healed immediately, of course, and he annihilated the rest of the lingering mist so that he could see the Marauder.

The man had been blown back across the room, clothes in tatters and even some apparent distortions in his nearly invisible form. He seemed to be on one knee, translucent fingers having dug into the floor and left streaking claw marks therein.

A deep piping noise arrived, but it was different, sustained and reverberating and masking an alternate pitch inside it. After a moment, Zeff realized it wasn’t an attack. It was the Marauder laughing.

“Interesting,” Caster said in two voices, altered through the bassy filter of destruction. “We did not realize that we were facing the new Water Dragon, too. Tell us your name, won’t you?”

Zeff and Axiolis saw no reason to do that.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Page 1082

It swirled with quivering force, dozens of jet streams constantly creating and then annihilating themselves before they could fly out of Zeff’s control. Over and over and over again. The result was a kind of drilling bomb, so fierce that it whipped up a whirlwind as it waited to tear into something.

He didn’t know if he could even contain this thing. And he didn’t have time to worry about it, either. He pressed his soul into it, strengthening it further still.

Holy hell, Zeff.’ Axiolis pressed himself into his servant’s soul, and Zeff could feel the pan-forma merge beginning. ‘Let me help before you kill us all, hmm?

Of the three enhancements that forma afforded him, the heightened connectivity was the most immediately useful. It granted him a clearer picture of what he wanted in his mind and tighter control over the materialized particles. Most importantly, though, it allowed his creations to maintain themselves, once created. And as a result, within seconds of the merge, Zeff’s bomb reshaped itself and stabilized.

Such was the nature of pan-forma. It aided in the maintenance of the body--not just for the wielder, but for that of their work, as well.

And it was fortunate timing, too, because the Marauder was already barreling toward them--a living path of destruction.

Asad acted before Zeff could, having apparently prepared something of his own, because his tattoos were already burning gold, even through his robes. But it was more than that. Everything happened so quickly that Zeff could hardly interpret what he was looking at, but he could’ve sworn that he saw Asad’s tattoos moving, growing out of the man’s body like golden snakes.

Asad took the Marauder’s attack with freshly materialized, crystalline armor. The glass exploded against the impact, and Asad went flying back, straight over the children and into the wall behind them, leaving a vertical crater and a half-dozen fissures in Dunehall’s stone.

But Caster had been made to stop. Or pause, at least. And Zeff saw his opening.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Page 1081

Ax?’ Zeff tried, able to feel the reaper’s presence there on his back.

There was no answer.

Zeff pushed him with his soul. ‘Ax, wake up.

Ah--mm? What’s happening? Zeff?

We’re about to fight the Marauder of Calthos.

What? How the--?’ The reaper gave an inaudible groan.

Do you know what his ability is?’ Zeff asked.

No.

On the other side of the room, Caster shifted. His reaper twitched, and Zeff and Asad both responded. A storm of ice and glass materialized in an instant and crashed down on Caster. Or looked like it did, at least. White shards flew in all directions, creating a cloud of sparkling dust, but it quickly cleared and revealed the expected: Caster was entirely unharmed.

The man’s hands, however, had changed. They were scarcely visible, having become vague distortions in the air, pulsating in place.

Zeff grit his teeth, immediately recognizing the enormous problem before him.

Oh god,’ said Ax, horrified. ‘Destruction with pan-rozum. Zeff, we can’t win this.

Zeff’s mind went to his children. ‘We can’t lose it, either.’ He concentrated, pushing himself, searching for the limit of his power. He hadn’t had the opportunity to properly test himself since achieving emergence against Parson so many times.

One might consider that a problem, being ignorant of one’s own capabilities, but Zeff also felt somehow strangely empowered by it, because at the moment, anything seemed possible. Even against an opponent with such an overwhelming soul as this, victory felt achievable.

Because it had to be.

Zeff’s hand trembled as he made all the muscles in his arm go taut, pouring his focus into it. He wanted a pressurized drill. What he got was a hovering maelstrom of freezing water, larger than his whole body.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Page 1080

“Who are you?” Asad asked.

“Caster Egmond. Are you going to answer my question or continue to ignore me? I dislike impolite people, you know.”

“Uninvited guests are extremely impolite,” said Asad.

“Ha.” Caster bobbed his head. “I suppose you’ve got me there. But you know how it is. Orders being orders.”

Asad took a step forward. “What are you doing here, Marauder?”

“Ah, you know of me. How nice. And I know of you, Lion.”

“Of course you do.”

That made Caster laugh. “Cocky, for one so young.”

Zeff stepped silently next to Asad.

And Emiliana observed the ensuing staredown, able to feel the oppressive tension filling the whole chamber. The pressure of this Caster’s soul power was enough to tell her that he was no normal foe.

And yet, the sight of her father and Asad there, standing together before her--it was enough to make her feel, for a fleeting moment, as if no one in the world could possibly harm her.

-+-+-+-+-

If he was honest, Zeff didn’t entirely understand what was happening. Or where he was. Or why Asad was here. Or who the guy in the armor even was.

But he understood enough. Somehow, when he’d woken up, he already knew what he needed to. Or, more likely, that was why he’d woken up. Because of that person’s presence. That dangerous aura.

He’d heard of the Marauder of Calthos before. A man responsible for the destruction of dozens of towns over the last decade. A rising star among the Abolish elite. Abolish didn’t really have formal “ranks,” as far as Zeff was aware, but from all he knew, this man before them was probably near Parson’s level of strength.

Because of course he was.

Zeff might have been disappointed otherwise. He was growing accustomed to being perpetually overmatched.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Page 1079

More on the right,’ said Qorvass. ‘No, wait, that’s Hector and Garovel.

Sure enough, the Atreyan lord came barreling through the door, clattering and sliding against the stony floor in battered armor. He chucked an iron boulder behind him, which smashed the hallway he’d come from.

The boulder shifted and crumbled, so Asad helped him out, and quartz spikes filled the corridor.

“Th-thank you,” said Hector between panting breaths. He shifted his shield from one hand to the other. “I was coming to warn you about them, but, uh...”

Glad to see you’re alright,’ said Chergoa.

Hector returned a nod as his armor destroyed and reshaped itself. “Do we know what they’re after?” he asked.

“No,” said Asad. He lifted the bag on his waist a moment, and Emiliana heard a glassy clinking from therein. “Might be these, though.”

Shenado interrupted. ‘No time to figure it out, I’m afraid. North entrance.

Emiliana felt her father shift away from her grasp, and she looked up. “Papa?”

The man stepped in front of her. “Stand back,” said Zeff.

And she wanted to say something else, but she couldn’t find any words. It felt like ages since she’d heard his voice.

Marcos looked like he was about to shout something, but the north doors opened before he got the chance.

A small man strolled in and stopped on the far side of the room. “Greetings,” he called out in a soft voice. He had a reaper with him. “If it’s not too much trouble, would you mind answering a question for me?”

No one responded.

“Where did Darktide and the Seadevil go?”

Still no answer.

“They were in their rooms a minute ago,” he said, “but now, they’ve mysteriously vanished. You wouldn’t happen to know anything about that, would you?”

Page 1078 -- CXXIII.

Chapter One Hundred Twenty-Three: ‘O, rending union...’
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The ground rumbled again, this time with enough force that Emiliana had to stop moving so she didn’t trip. How her unconscious father managed to keep his footing with so little help from her, she had no idea.

Almost there,’ Chergoa assured her.

They’d descended a staircase already and fought their way through more invisible assailants, along with a few not-so-invisible ones. Emiliana didn’t know what prompted the change, but she wasn’t about to complain. It hardly seemed to make a difference to Zeff, either way. It was enough to make Emiliana wonder just how far these “instincts” or whatever extended.

Finally, they found Asad. The Sandlord was holed up in the middle of a large chamber--the remains of a gallery, perhaps. The globular design with balconies all above them didn’t exactly seem ideal. Emiliana felt like enemies could pour in from almost any direction, and perhaps Asad felt similarly, because it took him a moment to recognize them.

“Zeff?” Asad said, coming closer. He had a bag tied around his waist.

“He’s not--” Emiliana wasn’t sure how to explain. “He’s not quite awake.”

Asad put a hand on the Lord Elroy’s shoulder as he searched his sleeping face. “I’m glad you’re all safe,” he said after a moment. “This is not the best place for you, however. You should--”

Incoming!’ Qorvass warned.

Fire and explosions rained down from the ceiling, and in an instant, a blanket of sand and water extinguished them before vanishing into thin air.

Emiliana expected more attackers to fall through the smoke, but none did. Instead, another big tremor shook the gallery, followed by silence.

Looks like Dimas got them,’ Chergoa informed her privately. ‘Not sure why he isn’t joining us.