Friday, October 30, 2015

Page 1093

I think I get what you’re saying,’ said Hector.

You do?’ said Chergoa. ‘Could you explain it back to me, then? Because I’m pretty sure half of that was bullshit.

Hector could only return a faint laugh. He appreciated her efforts to keep them from panicking, but he wasn’t sure it was helping much.

Emiliana had the important question. ‘Are we stuck here?

Uh...’ And Chergoa took quite a long time before finally saying, ‘Yeah, probably.

Hector and Emiliana groaned in unison.

With that, however, something else occurred to him. ‘Why is it just us four?

Uh--

A different voice interrupted. ‘The shards,’ said Garovel. ‘You were both holding one.

Garovel!’ said Hector.

Hello...’ He sounded rather groggy, now that Hector was listening.

How are you even awake?’ Hector asked.

Mm... dunno.

Hector thought a moment. ‘And how did you know that Emiliana and I were holding shards?

...Dunno that either.

Garovel, c’mon. You’re supposed to have all the answers.

Hey, I’ve been unconscious. What’s your excuse?

I, uh. Well, for one thing, I’m not thousands of years old.

Maybe you shouldn’t have been born so late, then.

Wow, Garovel.

Anyway, Hector, I’m glad we’re not dead, but shut up for a second. What was that about a pocket dimension earlier?

You were listening?’ said Chergoa.

To you? Never. I must’ve thought someone else was talking.

Mm. Speaking of assholes, why were you sleeping on the job, anyway? I mean, laziness and idiocy are the clear answers, I know, but I was wondering if you wanted to make any excuses for yourself.

It’s a side effect of Hector’s shield. Whenever he wields it barehanded, it heightens his soul defenses at the expense of exhausting me.’

I see. Where’d you come by something like that?

A Sandlord named Haqq Najir. He wasn’t very cooperative at first, but then I told him all about my sister, and he offered the shield to us in exchange for a promise that we would never introduce her to him. It was very curious.

That one actually earned a laugh from Chergoa.

Page 1092

One of the souls was Garovel. That much, Hector could sense straight away. It was friendly, he knew, as if that were somehow a physical characteristic, no different from shape or temperature or weight.

Well, this is terrifying,’ came another voice. It belonged to Chergoa, Hector realized.

If one of those souls was Chergoa, then the other was almost certainly Emiliana.

Hector tried to speak but found no voice for himself--or mouth, for that matter. So he tried merely thinking, instead. ‘What’s happening?

I believe we’re experiencing a hyper anomaly,’ said Chergoa.

What does that mean?’ Hector asked.

I dunno. I just made it up.

Hector would have shaken his head if he’d had one. He was beginning to notice a family resemblance.

It’s okay, though,’ Chergoa went on. ‘I’ve seen this kind of thing before.

You have?’ Emiliana said.

No,’ Chergoa said.

They all allowed a beat to pass, and Hector heard an inaudible sigh from Emiliana.

Do you have anything useful to tell us?’ the young Lady Elroy asked.

Jokes are useful. It’s important to keep the mood light whenever possible, y’know.

I wouldn’t call those jokes.

Ouch.

Chergoa.

Alright, well, if you want my best guess, then I’d say we’ve been sucked into a pocket dimension.

What?’ said Hector. ‘You mean like an alternate reality?

Not really, no. But kinda. A little.

What do you mean?’ said Hector.

I dunno. Look, I said it was a guess.

Agh...

Sometimes, servant abilities clash in dramatic ways and end up creating really weird shit. Kinda like what we’re seeing. Maybe. And between Dimas and that Marauder asshole, it’s possible that the resulting spatial distortions caused a pocket dimension to be created. I mean, that is basically what the destruction type is. Sort of.

Page 1091

Hector saw more paths of destruction whipping slowly around him. Caster had stopped aiming for Dimas entirely. And Hector understood why. The Marauder wanted to give Dimas and Zeff something else to do, even if that meant bringing down all of Dunehall on top of them.

He knew he had to keep moving. He sprinted after the Elroys, but before he even managed five steps, the wall next to him shifted, then exploded, showering him with debris. The shield ate most of it, allowing Hector to hold his ground this time. But that was not a good thing, he saw.

The Marauder was right there, already coming this way. And neither was he looking particularly slow anymore.

Hector’s brain reacted on reflex, and an iron platform shoved him out of Caster’s path. But the man had noticed. Before Hector could even hit the floor again, he saw the immense path of destruction that Caster left for him. A rending wave. Practically a wall. Too wide and tall to avoid in midair like this.

No choice.

He raised his shield to take it. The thing buckled and disintegrated. The path connected with his body, and the impact made every nerve in his body pulse and twitch at once.

The world bent in half. Everything around him distorted and shattered and melted--white, then gray, then black, then entirely without color altogether. Indescribably so. Hector wasn’t even sure if he was still seeing, if he even had eyes or a brain to perceive anything with.

Was this a feeling? Was this pain? Familiar, but he couldn’t tell.

There was something else, though. No. Not something. Someone. He could sense them there. Their presence. Two--no, three. Three souls suspended there along beside him. Or--no. Not beside him. Just, there. Somewhere. Distant. But also close. With him, somehow.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Page 1090

The combination of crushing gravity and freezing temperatures seemed to be to taking a toll--and not just on the Marauder. Even at this distance, Hector could feel the effects himself--wave after wave of debilitating pressure, weighing him down, stiffening his muscles. If he dared go any closer, he was sure that he wouldn’t be able to move at all.

Caster, however, was still going. Slow as molasses, but going. And the snow and gravity stayed on him. Caster launched path after path, but even those were stunted. He seemed like he was trying to hit Dimas, but the young Lord Sebolt had no trouble avoiding them.

The Elroy children took the opportunity to flee, and Hector considered following. But that last crystal remained. Certainly, it wasn’t more valuable than his and Garovel’s lives, but all he needed was an opening. And it looked like there was going to be one. The Marauder was moving away from the shard, heading toward the room at the end of the hall.

Hector waited briefly longer, letting the distance from Caster draw out, and then sprinted for the red crystal.

He reached it just as he heard the sandstone above his head shift and crack. A path of destruction tore sluggishly through the ceiling and bent down over him into the floor and adjoining wall. It wouldn’t have hit him, but Hector moved away from it instinctively.

He had the shard, though. He didn’t even remember picking it up, but there it was in the grip of his bare hand.

The corridor rumbled another time, and Hector had to avoid a cluster of falling debris. But the rumbling didn’t stop. It sustained itself, and he could hear the walls moaning under stress.

Page 1089

The red shimmer caught his eye, and Hector saw the shard by the ruined doorway that led back in the direction they’d come from. A pair of unfamiliar men came running through it, only to get clobbered by a gravity pulse that brought down the whole door frame and a chunk of the ceiling.

The shard would have to wait, Hector decided. An iron javelin materialized in his already-throwing free hand. It launched from his grip, having hardly been there in the first place, and flew true, catching one of Dimas’ opponents in the side.

The abolisher didn’t seem too bothered by the presence of a spear in his gut, perhaps being more concerned with Dimas. Hector was fine with that. He used the spear as a growth point and added iron to it in all directions, ballooning out and stretching around the man’s torso and down his legs.

That was enough for him to take notice. He grimaced and tore through the iron like cardboard, then looked in Hector’s direction.

Hector prepared to wield his shield barehanded again, but a visible gravity pulse intervened, knocking the guy off his feet and juggling him into a sudden wall of icy skewers.

Hector might’ve taken a second to feel relieved if Caster hadn’t come charging back into the room, chased by a flurry of ice and fog. The Marauder went straight for Dimas, and the gravity wielder only just managed to slip out of the way, losing half a leg to destruction.

But of course, Dimas didn’t need the leg and caught himself in midair, hovering. Hector watched him clap both hands together, and instantly, the space around Caster distorted visibly, bending toward him.

Zeff’s fog flashed and turned to ice, and for a fleeting moment, the half-invisble abolisher became a snowman.

Caster pushed through it, of course, but he wasn’t nearly as fast as he was before. At first, Hector couldn’t tell what was happening. It was like watching a man running underwater.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Page 1088

Caster plowed through the quartz and put Asad through the wall. Glass shattered in all directions, but among it, a crimson glint caught Hector’s eye.

There was a bag on the floor by Caster’s feet. The one that had been on Asad’s waist a moment ago. A couple of the red shards had spilled from it, but the half-invisible man didn’t seem to have noticed them yet and chased after Asad, instead. The Lord Elroy came following quickly after, bringing the endless fog and icy fire hose with him.

At once, Hector knew his task. He sprinted for the bag and slid into it, hurriedly pushing the errant shards back in as he tried to scoop the bag up.

A tremor interrupted him, violent enough that Hector lost his grip for a second, and three shards flew away from him. They clattered toward the Elroys as Hector scrambled back to his feet, but again, he was interrupted.

Lord Dimas came crashing through the ceiling and hit the ground so hard, it made the walls crumble. Hector flew from the impact, toppling over in midair and earning himself a broken leg from the debris. He found himself up against some other wall now as he struggled onto one knee and tried to get his bearings.

There was a shard by his foot, he realized. He bagged it and ran stiltedly over to the gaping fissure in the wall ahead of him. He could see Dimas through it, facing off against two apparent abolishers. The Elroys were there as well, though at a safe distance off to the side. They hadn’t gotten the same taste of Dimas’ arrival as Hector had, it seemed. Emiliana was holding one of the shards, as well.

Good enough, Hector felt. But there was still one more. Where was it?

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Page 1087 -- CXXIV.

Chapter One Hundred Twenty-Four: ‘Bind ye, in confidence...’
Click to display entire chapter at once -- (mobile link)

It was all Hector could do to keep track of what was happening. First there was fog, then there wasn’t, then there was again. Then there was water flying everywhere, then glass, then ice--and all the while, a half-invisible man barreled through everything. So much of it blended together that he wasn’t even sure how to approach any of it, let alone if he could make any sort of difference. His instinct was no.

But he’d felt this way against Darktide, too. So he tried to think. If Garovel were conscious, what would he tell him to do? The same as before, probably. Be patient and watch for an opportunity. Be ready to act as soon as an opening presented itself.

But that was assuming that one would present itself. The pessimist in him was beginning to win out. It was apparent enough that this Caster Egmond guy was using destruction with pan-rozum--the familiar sound was a dead giveaway--and against that, Hector didn’t see very many options other than running.

Which was what they were doing. He stuck close to the Elroy kids, mainly just trying not to lose sight of them. At least they seemed to know where they were going.

But then something heavy flew up from behind them and sailed over all their heads, dispersing the fog in its wake, and Hector heard it crash against the wall ahead of them. A bit more running, and they saw what it was.

Lord Asad. Battered half to death. Broken bones stuck out of his flesh, twitching and adjusting themselves, struggling to regenerate as the man tried to stand. His tattoos burned with golden light, snaking off of his body like flames as his neck cracked back into place.

“Move!” Asad yelled, and a sudden glass wall shoved Hector and the children out of the way of the oncoming Marauder.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Page 1086

It would take time for the freezing effects to really take hold, even with soul-enhancement, but Zeff was certain that it was still their best chance. And in the meantime, Caster wouldn’t be able to pin him down in the fog.

Unfortunately, that also left Asad to deal with Caster almost entirely on his own. And the Sandlord was not faring very well on that front. The Marauder flung him around like a chew toy, bulldozing through all of his materialized defenses as if they’d never been there to begin with and then smashing Asad face-first against the floor or wall or ceiling, even. If not for those tattoos, the first attack would have certainly ended it.

Zeff wanted to help, but there wasn’t much to be done. The Marauder’s movements had changed, having become decidedly more difficult to predict than they were before Caster’s encounter with Zeff’s drill bomb. The man was more cautious now, seemingly. It didn’t seem like the same trick was going to work twice.

But the children were moving, at least. He could sense them escaping down the rear hallway. Just as he’d wanted, Shenado was seizing the opportunity.

And even as he pummeled Caster with icy water, Zeff made sure to keep moving in the same direction as the children, albeit more slowly. He aimed for a difficult balance. More distance between the kids and Caster was undoubtedly good, but that wouldn’t mean much if they ran right into the clutches of some other bastard while Zeff was busy.

So many moving parts. So many things to keep track of. Far too much for one mind. Fortunately, he had two.

Down the hall, spears of ice launched out of the rolling fog and skewered the group of abolishers that would have stood in Emiliana’s path.