Monday, May 23, 2016

Page 1218

Then, how the--?’ Hector needed a second to locate the question he wanted. ‘What? How are they alive, then?

They’ve got something that functions like a soul, at least for them. We call it “ardor.” Or “the planet force.” Because that’s where it comes from. It’s like a normal human soul, except MUCH more powerful.

Hector’s eyes widened as he let his imagination run with these ideas. ‘...I feel like you should’ve told me all this a long time ago.

Eh. What would’ve been the point?

I... well, I mean...’ He couldn’t find the words.

Anyway, golems are very strong. They’re pretty docile, though, so we generally don’t need to worry about them. In fact, occasionally, they’ve been known to protect humans.

For real?

Yep. But you know what we DO need to worry about? Worms.

Hector cocked an eyebrow inside his suit. ‘Worms?

Ugh. Worms are the worst. They have ardor, too, and they are definitely NOT friendly.

...Worms, though? How can a worm be dangerous?

Oh, you innocent child. Worms on the surface are harmless. The worst you’ve got are parasitic ones--which, admittedly, are not fun. But in the Undercrust... oh... Thankfully, the really big ones are rare.

Hector was almost afraid to ask. ‘How big are we talking, here?

Garovel paused, perhaps thinking it over. ‘What’s the biggest animal you know of?

Uh... elephant?

Bigger than that.

No, wait, uh. Blue whale.

Bigger than that. Well, longer, anyway. Maybe not heavier. Yeah, a blue whale is a decent comparison. They’re similar sizes.

How is that possible?’ said Hector. ‘I mean, what do they eat?

Everything.

Agh...

Including people and reapers.

AGH.

Oh, and it gets better. Some can generate electrical currents so strong that they can barf lightning at you. Or acid. Or lightning AND acid--which can combust. And their bodies are all squishy and slimy and tough as hell, due to the ardor.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Page 1217

I think the problem with that is their “sensing range,” as you put it,’ said Garovel. ‘Once they memorize your soul, they’ll be able to track you no matter where you go.

Hector paused again. ‘No, that doesn’t make sense.

Garovel gave him a look. ‘What do you mean?

Well, earlier, you said that if they sense us, they’ll try to kill us. So if their sensing range is like half the planet, then they should always be sensing tons of people.

No, when I said that, I meant “sensing us within their territory.” I’m sure their ability to sense souls goes beyond just their chosen territory. The fact that they usually keep away from cities is pretty strong evidence.

If that’s what you mean, then that’s what you should’ve said. How am I supposed to understand all these explanations that you love so much if you don’t say what you mean?

Alright, Captain Pedantry, calm down. I apologize.

Apology not accepted.

Wow, Hector.

Hector could feel the vigor wearing off. He’d needed it just to get inside the elevator. He was beginning to notice, however, that whenever the vigor wore off, it didn’t leave him feeling quite so exhausted as it used to. Perhaps his body was finally getting accustomed to it. Frankly, he thought it never would.

A different question popped into his head. ‘So, uh... are there any other terrible hellbeasts of the Undercrusts that I should know about?

Oh, definitely. A couple are even comparable to feldeaths, actually.

Are you serious? Like what?

Golems, for one. Rock beasts.

The fuck is a rock beast?

Exactly what it sounds like. A big ass monster made of solid rock.

Like a bunch of rocks held together by a soul?

No, they don’t have souls.’ Garovel paused for a pensive expression. ‘Or at least, not really.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Page 1216

The thing about feldeaths is that, as long as you don’t antagonize them, they’ll only take a swat at you. Like how a dog snaps at flies buzzing around its head. That’s pretty much how feldeaths see us, I’d wager. Annoying bugs.

Hmm.

They’re actually kind of animalistic, in many ways. Even though they’re arguably the deadliest creatures in the world, they’re not necessarily a big threat to humanity.

They aren’t? But couldn’t they just waltz into a city and kill everyone?

They could, and that’s what everyone worries about, but historically speaking, that’s an exceptionally rare occurrence.

It is? Why?

Well, for one thing, they tend not to wander around very much. They just kinda hang out in their own territory. And annihilate anyone that gets close.

Huh...

Unfortunately, their territories can be pretty enormous. These days, though, Sai-hee famously devotes a lot of resources to keeping track of feldeath movements and protecting cities from them. The Vanguard helps out quite a bit, too--oftentimes, Sermung himself, as I understand it.

Hector couldn’t even imagine what a fight between a feldeath and an emperor-level servant would look like. ‘Geez...

Anyway, the takeaway from all this, is that you don’t want to attack a feldeath, even if you’re doing it defensively. Because that’ll make it mad at you, and if it gets mad at you, it’ll chase you. And you never wanna be chased by a feldeath. Ever.

Are they super fast or something?

Yes. But also, they don’t give up. They’ll chase you to the other side of the planet, if they have to.

Hmm.’ Hector paused, thinking. ‘That’s weird.

What is?’ said Garovel.

Well, uh... I mean, if you get far enough away, shouldn’t they give up? Like, once you’re out of their... sensing range... or whatever? They wouldn’t know where you are anymore, right? So how could they keep chasing you if they don’t know where to go?

Friday, May 20, 2016

Page 1215

In the past, there were a lot of isolated places in the Undercrust. Communication and traveling were so difficult that people just didn’t do them. In fact, I’m sure that’s still the case, to a large extent. Advancing technologies make it easier and easier, but still. We’re talking about solid rock that is so thick, a man could spend his entire life trying to tunnel through to the other side and still die of old age before he gets there. And what happens when there’s a cave-in? Which is a frequent occurrence, by the way.

So you’re saying the Undercrust is a breeding ground for these feldeath things?

Sadly, yes. By now, I imagine there must be tens of thousands of them down there.

How... uh... how dangerous are they, exactly?

Depends on how many souls they were born from and how old they are,’ said Garovel. ‘But, broadly speaking, if you happen to see one, and your name’s not Sermung, you should probably just run.

Seriously? They’re that strong?

Potentially, yeah. And since there’s no real way to gauge their strength until you’re neck-deep into a fight with one, running is the preferred solution. But there is some good news.

Really? Are some of them friendly?

Garovel laughed. And then kept laughing. ‘Ah... no.

Fuck.

The good news is that they’re only REALLY dangerous if you piss them off.

What does that mean?

It means don’t piss them off.

Yeah, I got that. I meant, more like... how do I avoid pissing them off?

Well, don’t attack them.

Wasn’t really planning on it.

Also, don’t be named Hector. They hate that.

Garovel.

No, they like Garovels just fine.

Please stop.

Ask me a good question, and maybe I will.

Agh. Alright. So... as long as we don’t attack these feldeath things first, they’ll leave us alone?

No no no. If they sense us, they’ll try to kill the shit out of us. But they’ll only half-ass it, is the thing.

You’ve lost me.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Page 1214

Ah, good memory,’ said Garovel. ‘Technically, I said “raw agony,” but that’s neither here nor there. The point I’m getting at is that souls have power. As you’ve seen. Many times now. And over the course of human history, an absolutely RIDICULOUS amount of people have died. Each one leaving a soul behind, a little packet of power. And even with all the reapers in the world--try as we might--sometimes, we miss them.

I think I see where this is going...

Mmhmm. Now, if we miss a few souls here and there, nothing happens. It’s very sad and unfortunate, of course, because those souls are left to suffer constantly until one of us finally stumbles onto them, but beyond that, there aren’t any “real world” consequences, as it were.

But?

But, let’s say... an entire town gets wiped out. And let’s also say that no reaper finds them for, maybe, a decade or two. Or a century, even. All those souls just sit there. All that power. Think for a second about the potential there. A reaper and a servant together, only TWO souls--but given long enough to synchronize? Those two can become virtually unstoppable.

Oh...

Over time, even without a reaper to bind them, all those souls together will coalesce. It’ll become like a melting pot, cooking by the heat of that same “raw agony” that I mentioned before. Their shared suffering gradually fuses them together. And that is how a feldeath is born.

Shit...

Now, a whole town being obliterated and then completely forgotten, even by reapers? Historically, that is a rare occurrence. At least, on the surface world, it is. There’ve only ever been a handful of feldeaths on the surface, which is why they’re regarded as largely mythical up there. But in the Undercrust... not so much.

Why’s that?

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Page 1213

So how old do I need to be in order to not need this suit?’ Hector asked. ‘As a servant, I mean.

Bare minimum?’ said Garovel. ‘Eight years. Your passive soul defense would be strong enough to protect you from all the heat, though you’d still be sweating like a dog. Which doesn’t make sense, because dogs don’t sweat. They primarily use their tongues in order to cool off. Point is, though, you’d still be uncomfortable, even at eight years old.

Thank you for shoehorning that extra bit of trivia in there.

Well, if you’re not laughing, you’re learning. Win-win, right?

Yeah, but I was already--whatever. Is there anything else I should know about the Undercrust before we get down there?

Oh-ho yeah,’ said Garovel, all but laughing.

Hector waited. ‘...Well?

Eh.

Garovel, don’t be an asshole!

Alright, alright. I was about to bring this up anyway. Ever heard of something called a feldeath?

A what?

Feldeath. As in, a death that’s... fel.

What are you even saying, right now?

You would’ve heard of it in myths and legends, if at all.’

Doesn’t ring a bell,’ said Hector.

Mm. Well, there’s a moderate chance that we’ll run into one, so I should probably warn you so that you don’t shit your pants.

...Why would I do that?

Because they’re some of the most dangerous and terrifying beings in existence.

Oh, is that all?

Bit of background is probably needed here,’ said Garovel. ‘So you know how, after a normal person dies, their soul is removed from their body and begins to degrade over time?

Uh, yeah? I think. I remember you saying something about the soul becoming a prison of agony within a couple days.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Page 1212

Simply getting everyone down into the Undercrust was going to take a while, Hector had learned. The passage was identical to the one in Warrenhold--the only difference being that the Sandlords had built a working elevator for theirs.

A simple enough idea, certainly, but Garovel made it quite clear what an impressive technological feat it was. The sheer distance the elevator needed to travel was problematic enough, but the added complexities of tectonic movement and regular maintenance meant that Hector shouldn’t get too eager to build one at Warrenhold.

Even with the elevator, however, several days would be needed for all the Rainlords to make the trip. The hole was simply not wide enough for more than a handful of people to go down at once.

As Hector understood it, the elevator had been carrying people down practically nonstop since the Rainlords arrived at the Swallow’s Nest. And being that Hector and Garovel hadn’t gotten here until a few days afterward, much of their traveling party was already waiting for them down there.

Hector boarded the elevator as soon as it returned, sharing it with the Najirs. It wasn’t exactly spacious, especially in this refrigerator suit, but at least there was a place to sit. And light.

A kind of grinding hum filled Hector’s ears as the elevator shifted and began moving. The noise was a bit faint, though probably muffled by his suit, he figured.

This trip down was going to take six hours, according to Qorvass. And apparently, that was considered quick.

Hector was surprised to see that Jada wasn’t wearing a suit like he was. Asad and Imas, sure, but Jada, too? He wondered how old she was as a servant.

Well, if nothing else, at least he’d have plenty of time to pester Garovel with questions. He tried to remember all the different ones he’d been meaning to ask.

Page 1211 -- CXXXV.

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

Hector felt like some kind of robot in this thing. And not a cool robot, either. A robot that could barely move or function at all, was his impression.

Agh, this shit is so heavy,’ he thought.

That’s because you’re basically wearing a refrigerator on your back,’ said Garovel.

Sounded about right. ‘How are the non-servants supposed to move around in these suits?’ Hector asked.

They’re not,’ the reaper said. ‘Their suits are much newer and lighter. But the Sandlords don’t have enough for everyone. So you get the old and shitty one.

Great.

Heh. Be thankful you get a suit at all. At least you’ll get to see the Undercrust this way.

Hector tried to stand up, but the bulky suit resisted too much, and he just kind of settled awkwardly back down. He eyed Garovel through the visor in his helmet.

Just think of it as training. Like you’re wearing heavy armor. And building muscle mass.

Does muscle mass even matter for servants?

Kinda. If you arm wrestled Dimas, for instance, and you both were using your super human strength, he’d probably still beat you, ‘cuz he has more natural muscle mass.

Huh...’ A weird example, sure, but Hector hadn’t thought about it that way before. He’d been under the impression that doing push ups and stuff like that was a complete waste of time, but he supposed now that it wasn’t. He’d have to remember that whenever he found time to train again.

He looked over to the other side of the room and saw the huge containers being carted in. Climate-controlled pods, Hector knew. Garovel had told him about them earlier. With so many non-servants needing to make the trip through the Undercrust, some would have to do so in medically-induced comas, packed together in cooling chambers like sardines.