Sunday, January 31, 2016

Page 1169

“Then why are you bothering with all of this?” Emiliana asked. “Only because I have mutation? There must be thousands more like me.”

“I am not an Elroy,” Gohvis repeated, “but I did share a bond with House Elroy, once.”

Emiliana blinked. “What do you mean?”

“A man named Agam Elroy. He and I were linked. Our mutations tied us together in an anomalous way--a way which, to my knowledge, has never occurred again, either before or since.”

She wasn’t sure she understood.

“But it would seem that you have inherited his power,” said Gohvis.

Her head reared back. She was beginning to get the picture.

The Monster crouched down to look at her more closely, but he was still taller than her by a good meter or so. His red eyes seemed like they might burn holes into her. “I have been awaiting his successor for a very long time.”

“...Why?” was all Emiliana could think to ask.

Gohvis took his time with that one. “I must study our link. It possesses untold potential.”

That brought up other questions for her. “How much do you know about this link?”

And perhaps that was too far, because Gohvis stopped answering her.

Emiliana waited, but a long period of silence was all that followed.

Before it could get too long, however, Ibai chimed in.

“So where are you taking us?” the aberration asked. “Is it somewhere fun? Perhaps I’m being presumptuous, but I thought it might be somewhere very far east. Given your name and all. Will we get to see the Luthic Ocean? I have always wanted to go there. I heard there was a big resurgence in piracy there a few years ago. I would love to meet some real life pirates. Do you think we could do that? Oh! Or maybe you’ll take us all the way to Ardora! Maybe we could--!”

“Please be quiet,” Emiliana said, having grown increasingly worried that the Monster would snap the man’s neck if for no other reason than annoyance.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Page 1168

Emiliana would have liked to protest, but she knew there was no point in it. Slowly, she removed her mask. The sunlight on her face was much more unsettling than she remembered. It felt almost irritating against her skin, but that was probably just psychological, she figured.

Gohvis’ crimson glare lingered on her.

She grew more uncomfortable by the second. “What do you want from me?” she said, sounding a bit angrier than even she’d anticipated. “Just tell me, already.”

The Monster spared a glance in Ibai’s direction before returning to Emiliana. “I am a collector of our kind.”

Emiliana didn’t buy that. “...So I am some sort of toy to you? You certainly went through a lot of trouble in order to collect me. Going against your own comrades.”

“Comrades is a strong word.”

She could feel the air growing heavier. The Monster’s doing? It didn’t matter. Right now, she only wanted answers. “I heard what Ivan said. Is it true? Are you and I related somehow?”

Gohvis just stared at her.

How annoying. “If you are, then just say so. Don’t play these games. I will find out one way or another. I promise you.” Her mind was far too calm, she was sure. Far too confident. This wasn’t how you were supposed to talk to someone like Gohvis.

But right now, she didn’t care. For some reason, she wasn’t afraid of him. Well, no, she was. She was very afraid of him. It was more like... the fear she felt couldn’t touch her thoughts, couldn’t hinder her concentration. If anything, it seemed to be helping her focus.

“Misinformation has all but destroyed your family,” said Gohvis. “You have the Vanguard to thank for that. I am not an Elroy. I am not a Rainlord. I never have been.”

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Page 1167

The giant black lizard man was still there, Emiliana saw. It hadn’t been a dream.

When he first arrived back at Dunehall, Emiliana had begun questioning her sanity again. It wasn’t until she was sure that everyone else could see him too that she started to think she might not have gone crazy.

But there was another reason why it was so surreal for her. Not only was this hallucination suddenly NOT a hallucination at all, but her brain had been disturbingly undisturbed by it. Every thought was so calm, so quiet, having no trouble assessing her circumstances despite the rest of her body being on the verge of panic.

By now, she’d attributed it to something being wrong with her fight-or-flight response. It was a natural biological process triggered by the brain’s perception of extreme danger. Her body had responded appropriately, but seemingly, her brain had not.

Or... perhaps it had responded, only differently. This calm did feel rather unnatural.

She could only imagine that it was Rasalased’s doing--though, whether or not the effects were temporary or permanent, she couldn’t say. If they were temporary, then they were taking a while to wear off, because she could still feel them even now, even with the Monster of the East looming over her as if he were the abyssal god of lakefire himself.

Emiliana stood and brushed herself off. She had plenty of questions she wanted to ask, but she decided to wait for Gohvis to say something first. It was obvious enough that he was the one in control here, and she would’ve only been repeating herself, anyway.

“How long ago did your power manifest?” the Monster asked.

Emiliana had to think about that. “A month or so.” She actually wasn’t sure. Too much had happened. Maybe it had only been a couple weeks. It felt more like a year, though. “Why do you want to know?”

Gohvis ignored the question. “Show me your face.”

Friday, January 22, 2016

Page 1166 -- CXXXI.

Ibai looked around, searching for any kind of clue about where Gohvis had brought them. The sand and barren desert had been replaced by craggy rocks and equally barren highlands. A steep valley lay ahead, and Ibai could see its narrow central path branching off in a dozen different directions, seemingly offering a variety of routes up to higher ground.

Ibai felt his feet touch ground as Gohvis plopped him down.

“Flee now, if you want,” said Gohvis with his two voices. “I will not chase you.”

Well, now Ibai didn’t feel like it. He was much more interested in learning what Gohvis wanted with the Elroy girl. He’d been more interested in that all along, though admittedly, it had slipped his mind a bit when boredom reared its ugly head.

Ibai wasn’t sure if he should say any of that, though. So far, the Monster didn’t seem to appreciate talking very much. More information gathering was required first, Ibai felt. So he just kind of stood there, waiting.

Gohvis didn’t seem to like that, either. “I will not give you this opportunity again. If you do not leave now, then you will be staying with me indefinitely.”

Ibai shrugged. “Okay.”

“Make me chase you one more time, and I will not bother capturing you alive.”

Ibai felt shivers run down the length of his body.

Huh. Weird.

“I understand,” said Ibai. “So what do you want with her, anyway?”

Gohvis’ tail finally set Emiliana down. Rather than answering Ibai’s question, however, he held Chergoa near the girl’s limp body. “Revive her.”

The reaper hesitated but did as she was told.


Chapter One Hundred Thirty-One: ‘The Monster of the East...’
Click to display entire chapter at once -- (mobile link)

Emiliana coughed from behind her mask, making her own hot breath splash back onto her face as her eyes slid open. Slowly, she rolled over and sat up.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Page 1165

As the landscape changed around them, Ibai began wondering where the Monster was taking them. If nothing else, it seemed apparent that they were leaving the Sandlord’s territory, but that wasn’t exactly surprising.

After a spell, his old nemesis finally arrived.

Boredom.

He shouldn’t just teleport out of Gohvis’ grip right now. There was no reason for it. That would be a very stupid thing to do. And he wasn’t stupid. He was responsible.

But supposing he did... what would Gohvis do? Would he just leave him behind? Would he chase Ibai again? Hmm.

Anyway, it was a bad idea.

But... this was taking forever. And he was so bored. It had been like three minutes since an interesting thought had occupied his mind. That had to be some kind of personal best. Really, he’d done an amazing job holding out this long.

So he teleported. To his left, he jumped through the void and waited to see where he would end up.

He felt freedom. Tumbling through the air while utterly disoriented, and the resulting rush of excitement brought him back to himself.

But then it was gone. Before he could regain his bearings, before he could even touch the ground again, he felt the Monster’s arm there, having reacquired its hold over him.

Ibai didn’t understand. When he actually DID regain his bearings, he was precisely where he had been before--tucked snugly under the Monster’s left arm.

But. But.

Had he not teleported? No, he was sure that he had.

So he tried again.

He jumped. He saw the flash of mud, the void, and felt the freedom.

And now he was here again. Somehow, Gohvis had caught him. Just that quickly, Gohvis had caught him.

Another question Ibai wanted an answer to. If nothing else, though, it gave him something to ponder for a good long while--so long, in fact, that his brainstorming was interrupted by the realization that the Monster’s pace had finally begun to slow.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Page 1164

As they neared the ground again, Ibai could see the edge of the desert--or of the sand, at least. The barren landscape stretched on for a while yet, but he could see more green on the horizon.

They hit the ground again with the force of a bomb, and just as before, Ibai lost track of what was happening. When his senses returned, he expected to be in the air again, but that was not that case. Instead, he found himself staring at the ground as it rushed past.

The Monster had resorted to running, Ibai realized.

And it was surprisingly enjoyable. Even dangling under Gohvis’ arm like this, the ride wasn’t bumpy at all. The Monster’s gigantic footsteps were so nimble that it felt like being carried along a rail line, curving smoothly up and down the long stretch of foothills in front of them.

At least, that was what Ibai imagined it felt like. He’d always wanted to ride on a train.

Ibai saw a cliff ahead. Approaching fast. Too fast, actually. Gohvis didn’t intend to go around it, did he? Nope, he was accelerating toward it, Ibai realized.

They surged forward, faster still, and tore through the cliff like wet paper. Ibai barely even felt it, too.

Then there was more running. Lots more running.

Ibai ended up contemplating the subject of that cliff for a good long while, though. Gohvis hadn’t even raised his hands to punch through it. The guy had literally parted solid rock with his face. Plus a ton of momentum and inertia, but still. What was even the point of doing that? Certainly, the Monster could’ve jumped over it with ease. Was he just showing off? Or did a dozen meters of solid rock really mean so little to him that it genuinely felt the same as running through open air?

Agh, he wanted to know so badly, but there was no way Gohvis would answer a question like that. Ibai could see it now. He would ask, and then Gohvis would just give him that silent look that made him feel like he might die horribly in the next few seconds.

Eh, maybe he’d try asking later anyway.

Page 1163

Through the disorientation and roaring wind, Ibai had a difficult time following what was happening, but after a fashion, he did notice Emiliana. The poor girl was as limp as could be. The sheer force with which they’d left the ground had probably been enough to break every bone in her body and rupture most of her organs. He wondered if she was unconscious or simply dead. There was a fair chance that her brain had been turned to jelly.

It was a bit humbling to know that he would be in the same boat right now if not for his shadow. Humbling--and exciting.

Also, they were still ascending, Ibai realized. Was this really the power of a single jump, or had Gohvis grown wings and started flying? Both seemed equally likely.

Oh, but back to the shadow--he found it surprising that it hadn’t protected him completely. He knew that it wouldn’t shield him from soul-empowered damage very well, but what were its physical limits, he wondered? Come to think of it, he’d never really thought to test that before. Why not? That kind of experimentation could have been super fun.

Hmm. He supposed he’d just never had much occasion to. He’d always thought the shadow was basically perfect. The idea that it actually had some kind of impact threshold hadn’t really crossed his mind.

Maybe it didn’t even matter. Clearly, the threshold was pretty high. A proper experiment would mean that he’d have to do something pretty extreme.

Like what?

Like falling out of the sky and hitting the ground at terminal velocity? Would the shadow protect him from that? He could test that right now, if he wanted. He could teleport out of Gohvis’ hand and just let himself fall. It’d be easy.

Nah, that was a bad idea.

Wasn’t it?

Yeah, an awful one.

But maybe...

Nah. The Monster might just catch him again anyway. Somehow.

But, fun?

Bah, he should stay with these three. That was what a responsible person would do.

Wasn’t it?

Ah, hey, they were descending now. So it was just a jump, after all.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Page 1162

Ibai wasn’t sure if he should say anything now. There were plenty of questions running around his head, but he probably wasn’t the one who should ask them, considering Gohvis could still snap his neck at any moment. It’d be best to let Emiliana and Chergoa handle things. There was no reason to gamble with his life here.

Could be fun, though.

He decided to risk it.

“So what do you want with her, anyway?” he said, having to choke through some of the words.

Gohvis deigned not to answer.

He supposed he should’ve seen that coming. It was fine, though. He’d gotten plenty of practice with people like this recently. “Want to play a game? I spy with my little eye--”

The Monster’s grip tightened back up, and the words stopped coming out again.

Emiliana decided to speak up again. “You obviously do not want me dead,” she said. “For now, at least. So what do you want from me?”

Gohvis’ tail snaked around her and scooped her up off her feet, but the giant lizard man did not answer her question. Instead, he simply crouched down low and stayed there for a moment.

Ibai wondered what he was doing, but the inability to breathe was becoming distracting. Thankfully, Gohvis loosened his hold again, this time deciding to roll Ibai up under his arm like a newspaper. Ibai didn’t get another chance to speak, though, because he saw the Monster’s huge legs become suddenly even more so. In one beating pulse, they grew by maybe a third of their previous size.

And then Gohvis jumped.

The ground flew away from Ibai’s vision at rocket speed, and he very nearly lost consciousness, even with his muddy shadow protecting him. Still, he did catch sight of the mushrooming cloud of sand that Gohvis had left behind.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Page 1161

Ibai didn’t realize what the girl had done until it was too late. They teleported away, leaving Shenado and the children behind.

Ibai’s first impulse was to go back for them. But when he saw the Monster still following, he understood. So he fled into another teleport, pulling only Emiliana and Chergoa along.

Soon, he stopped even paying attention to where they ended up after each jump. He only watched the void for guidance--the souls suspended in it, the ethereal surfaces of buildings and of the ground, of the planet itself. He had to minimize the delay between teleports as much as possible if they were to have any hope of escaping.

Faster, faster, and faster still. He tried not worry too much about the fact that it didn’t seem to be working, that the unrelenting soul actually seemed to be getting slightly closer after each jump.

And then Ibai felt a giant hand around his neck. Everything had stopped moving, he realized. His muddy shadow dispersed, revealing the jet black dragon-man in front of him. Chergoa was already in Gohvis’ other hand.

Well.

This was unfortunate.

Ibai wanted to say something, but the Monster’s grip on his throat wasn’t allowing it.

“Please stop,” said Emiliana, sounding exceptionally calm, given the circumstances. “I’ll go with you quietly, if that’s what you want. Just don’t hurt him. He hasn’t done anything wrong.”

To be honest, Ibai was a bit surprised to hear her come to his defense like this.

The Monster locked gazes with Ibai.

Never had the aberration seen such demonic eyes. He’d never really believed it was possible to stare into someone’s soul, but with the way Gohvis was looking at him, he was beginning to have doubts.

In fact, he was starting to think it might be possible to look at someone to death.

After a few more moments of flirting with oblivion, the Monster’s huge hand loosened slightly.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Page 1160 -- CXXX.

“The only reason I won was because I took him by surprise,” Abbas said. “His power could have countered mine quite easily, if he had known what he was facing.”

Indeed, if that fight had not ended so quickly, Ivan would have surely won, Abbas knew. The Salesman would have soon figured out that Abbas was using antimatter against him. And sadly, antiparticles did not truly nullify the Salesman’s control over weak interaction--they only required Ivan to use his power differently.

Naturally, this would become a problem if the Salesman was ever freed. And it was probably just a matter of time until someone came to Sair in order to do exactly that, Abbas figured.


Chapter One Hundred Thirty: ‘Thy persistent shadow...’
Click to display entire chapter at once -- (mobile link)

This wasn’t how he’d planned it. Ibai hadn’t intended to leave Hector and Uncle Mel and everyone else behind. He’d meant to grab the Elroy kids and quickly get them out of danger. They were obviously the most vulnerable. It only made sense to help them first and then go back for the others.

But the Monster was bloody fast. Each time Ibai teleported, Gohvis was less than a second behind.

But it was more than that, too. After the first few jumps, Ibai noticed Gohvis’ soul in the void, not because it looked particularly different from any of the others, but because it was the only one that was clearly moving. Toward them, no less.

It was almost like the Monster knew where they were going, like he could sense their location even while they were teleporting. In different circumstances, Ibai would’ve liked to stop and ask him.

But after what must have been the thirtieth jump or so, there was a change. Emiliana Elroy shoved her little brother and sister out of Ibai’s shadow.

Page 1159

“Oh,” said Hector. “I should tell you, uh. Abolish is, er--they’re using invisible soldiers. To harass your people. Trying to spread your forces thin.”

Abbas just kind of squinted at him.

The boy trudged onward through explanations, though he seemed to grow increasingly worse at it. Mercifully, however, the boy’s apparent reaper arrived, and things began to make a little more sense to Abbas. Hector pulled out a familiar crimson shard, and Garovel clarified numerous details, particularly about hailing from Atreya, as well as meeting Haqq, Asad, and... Rasalased?

Admittedly, that part was still rather confusing, but Abbas at least knew that there were more pressing matters to attend to right now.

He allowed Hector to assist him in finally freezing Ivan’s skull so as to cease all brain activity. To do so meant venting one of the suit’s supercoolant packs, but that was fine. In its current state, the suit wasn’t about to be flying anywhere. The lingering effects of Ivan’s power would take a few days to wear off, at the very least. Perhaps longer.

Hector had to help Abbas walk. The boy seemed to be having trouble using his own ability. Garovel said it was probably because of something Rasalased had done, but Abbas was too exhausted to ask for clarification on that subject, too.

Together, they dragged themselves back toward Moaban at a pace that would have rivaled a very determined tortoise.

By the way,’ said Garovel during the intervening period, ‘I am terribly impressed that you were able to achieve victory over the Salesman of Death. As far as feats go, that is not one that the world is likely to forget anytime soon. Congratulations, Sunsmith.

And maybe it was because he felt so battered and weak, but for whatever reason, Abbas wasn’t in the mood to let such unwarranted praise stand.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Page 1158

Abbas reached the skull again, but he could hear stomping footsteps in the sand now. He extended all the fingers of his right hand and then touched them all together in unison.

The suit did not respond.

He tried the motion again.

Still nothing.

“Sir, can you hear me?!” The footsteps were louder. And the voice was speaking Mohssian, too, Abbas noticed.

He ignored it, though, and tried to run system diagnostics, but the information streaming into his brain was garbled and irritating, so he turned it back off. He would have to work on some kind of durability improvements for that feature, he decided.

Then he saw the dark figure appearing over the rise, kicking up sand as he rushed closer. “Sir, are you--?!” His words cut off as he saw Abbas staring right at him. A young boy, it seemed to be.

But appearances were not reliable. Abbas’ grip on the skull tightened. “Identify yourself,” he said in Mohssian. It had been a while since he’d needed to speak this language.

“Ah--I’m Hector Goffe. I’m--er--I’m a friend of Lord Asad. Are you--? ”

“What are you doing out here?”

“Ah... oh... er, it’s a long story. Do you, er--do you need help standing?”

“Stay where you are,” Abbas said with as much authority as he could muster. “Answer my question.” He could barely even move, at the moment, but this Hector didn’t need to know that yet.

“Ah, well... I was... uh... I was trying to get the Salesman to leave without killing anyone else.”

“...You were what?”

“I was trying to trick him. And it was... sort of working. But, uh, I’m pretty sure he would’ve hunted me down and killed me later. So, ah, th-thank you for showing up when you did. That was incredible.”

This child was tricking the Salesman of Death? Abbas didn’t quite understand.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Page 1157

The suit was warning him about a dozen different things, Abbas abruptly realized. He began his descent, having no real choice in the matter, and just tried to focus on not crashing. He managed it well enough, but the suit buckled around him, and he toppled down the side of a sand dune.

He could hardly breathe or feel any of his limbs, and these were problems, because his reaper wasn’t around to invoke the regeneration. He ejected the chest piece in order to alleviate some of the pressure on his lungs. It felt like he’d broken a rib or two, though he wasn’t sure at which point that might’ve happened. His grip had grown weak as well, and the Salesman’s skull slipped out of his hands and rolled to the bottom of the dune.

Abbas tried to stand back up but found he could barely even crawl. The Salesman’s ability had taken an even larger toll on both the suit and his own body than he’d realized.

He had to hurry, though. It was true that without a body, the Salesman had no conduit through which to channel the ability from his brain, but there was still the matter of severing communication. So long as Ivan’s brain remained unfrozen, he would still be able to talk to his reaper.

Abbas was kicking himself for not freezing it as soon as he’d gotten his hands on it. Sure, it was a surprising victory, but that didn’t excuse such amateurish work. He’d acted like he’d never captured an enemy combatant before. He grumbled Valgan curses into the sand as he crawled after the skull.

“Are you okay?!” came a sudden voice.

Abbas twitched. Who was that? There shouldn’t have been anyone else out here. He wanted to check the suit’s sensors, but they were down for the count, too.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Page 1156

The gap between them closed within seconds, and Abbas reached out to grab him.

Ivan saw him. Half his face was gone. Only one eye, a few teeth, burned muscles and shattered bones remained. But the man was still able to fight back.

Abbas felt it. The sudden crushing weight all around him. Even with the antiparticles protecting him, a sea of pressure was trying to swallow him. And the debilitating effects, too. He could still feel them as well. Weakening his grip, blurring his vision, numbing his mind, sucking the very breath out of his lungs--the very life out of his body.

But he reached him. Abbas’ armored hand found its target, and the suit still had enough power to clamp down on Ivan’s neck. His other hand arrived to help, and suddenly he had the leverage he needed. He didn’t need to think. His hands reacted on their own and tore the rest of Salesman’s head off his shoulders.

Immediately, the pressure lessened, and Abbas could sense himself again. His hands were still going to work, tearing the rest of the smote flesh from Ivan’s head, leaving only the bloody-and-hairy skull with the still-living brain inside.

Abbas had to consciously stop them.

He lingered there in the air, floating in place, still struggling to come back to himself. A few more blinks and he realized.

He’d won. The Salesman was incapacitated.

He almost couldn’t believe it. Theory was one thing, but to think that it had actually worked...

His whole body was trembling.

...I have captured the Salesman,’ Abbas reported in Valgan.

There came a long silence. Or at least, he thought there did. It might’ve been that he just didn’t catch what Worwal said.

Abbas...’ That seemed to be all the reaper had to say.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Page 1155

He couldn’t see the Salesman’s translucent ability against the blue sky, but he could certainly feel it. The draining effect. Even this suit wouldn’t be able to withstand it for long.

But Abbas had counted the seconds correctly. His cruise missile arrived in time to flank the Salesman for him. Ivan noticed it too late, only capable of giving the warhead a look of bug-eyed anger before impact.

The force of the explosion might have knocked Abbas off course if not for the suit’s automated impact mitigation system. Far quicker than Abbas himself could have reacted, the suit calculated the path of least resistance and corrected his course for him in order to incur as little turbulence as possible. This meant that, rather than curving out and away from the explosion, the suit dove headfirst into it, keeping his body perpendicular to the blast’s point of origin, like an arrow piercing a balloon.

He came through it, no worse for wear, and the Salesman was no longer in the way. Abbas knew that he only had precious few moments to press this fleeting advantage. He rocketed toward the smoke and radiation and lingering antiparticles of his expended jet and let his suit absorb their effects.

The result, as expected, was more explosions. But these were only physical, and his suit had soul-strengthening on its side. The antiparticle effects were not going to last long as they tried in vain to collide with their oppositely charged counterparts, so Abbas had to act immediately, even while wreathed in subatomic annihilation.

He curved around and pushed through the debris of his cruise missile. He saw the Salesman, a half-missing husk tumbling through the air. One might be forgiven for thinking that the man was no longer a threat in such a state, but Abbas knew better. This job was not yet done.