Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Page 1247

Why would I get you something for MY birthday?’ said Hector.

You wouldn’t,’ said Garovel. ‘I mean, I’m not upset about it.’ A beat passed. ‘Would’ve been a nice gesture, though.

Hector opened his right hand and materialized a smaller, iron hand therein. He made sure that only its middle finger was extended. ‘Here’s your present.

How crude.

Hector annihilated his work before anyone else saw it. ‘Okay, then, let’s have it. I’m ready for this verbal birthday card of yours.

It’s not your birthday yet.

Wow, you’re gonna make me wait to experience something so incredible?

You’re that curious, huh? I suppose that’s to be expected. Alright, fine, I’ll give it to you early. It goes like this. Ahem. “Dear Hector. You’ve been my servant for around nine months now, and so--much like a fetus maturing into a human being--you’ve made the journey from complete uselessness to NEAR complete uselessness.”

Well, thank you.

I’m not done.

Of course you aren’t.

I’ll continue. Ahem. “I know I can sometimes come across as callous or ungrateful for many of the things you’ve done for me, but I just want you to know that. Well. I am. Both of those things. Because you never do anything right, and really, I’m the amazing one for being able to put up with so much of your shit.”

Birthday cards aren’t this long, Garovel.

Stop interrupting. Ahem... “Ahaha! But I’m merely teasing, of course. We do have fun, don’t we? I only make fun of you because I know you can take it. If I’m being completely serious, though, then I do feel genuinely compelled to thank you. I know that sometimes, my cynicism gets the better of me, but even after only nine months, I can say with some confidence that it is an honor to have you as my servant.”’

Monday, August 8, 2016

Page 1246

Eh, I’d bet on you,’ said Garovel. ‘You’ve already faced worse, I think.

Hector blinked at the sudden compliment. It was nice, but a part of him would’ve preferred another insult.

Oh, and by the way,’ the reaper went on, ‘I know we’ve been busy, but I haven’t forgotten about your birthday.

Hector kind of had. ‘...What day is today?

You don’t know?

Hector gave a stilted shrug. ‘If I’m honest, everything’s just a blur to me right now.

It’s the twenty-third. Your birthday’s in two days.

Oh...

Do you need me to remember how old you are, too?

You’re one to talk,’ said Hector. ‘How old are you, exactly, huh?

You don’t get to use that excuse until you’re at least a hundred,’ said Garovel.

I’m turning seventeen. Happy now?

Actually, you’ll be turning eighteen.

What?

I’m just fucking with you.

Ugh.

But the fact that you seemed genuinely confused for a second is amazing.

I was only confused because I trust you to tell me important shit!

Oh, well, I’m flattered.

I should just never trust anything you tell me.

Aw, don’t say that. I got you a birthday present in order to demonstrate my affection.

Hector’s brow lowered. ‘...How could you get me--? You don’t have a physical body, so you couldn’t have--

Does that mean you don’t want it?

Hector’s mouth flattened. ‘...Alright, where is it?

It’s not a physical object, you materialistic fuck. I got you a verbal birthday card.

A what?

A verbal birthday card.

Is that as stupid as it sounds?

If by “stupid” you mean “incredibly thoughtful of me,” then yes. Don’t worry, though. I’m not expecting anything in return.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Page 1245

Anyway,’ said Garovel, ‘the planet’s ardor is widely theorized to be the source of all human and animal souls as we currently know them. But that’s a bit difficult to prove. It could be that souls and ardor developed independently of one another. Or from some third thing that we haven’t even discovered yet.

Hmm. So, wait. Every living thing in the world has a soul?

Yes.

Even, like, those single-celled organisms you were talking about just now?

Yep. Even them. But it must be said that their souls are extremely weak, comparatively.

Huh. Does that mean...? Uh. Does that mean you could’ve taken, like--I don’t know--a hamster as your servant?

I thought I did. I mean, just look at you.’

Fuckin’...

I had to, Hector. You set it up for me so perfectly.

Fuck you.

But yeah, in theory, I could’ve taken a hamster for a servant. Anything with a large enough brain.

A hamster has a large enough brain?

Yeah. The requirements aren’t too strict. Good thing, too, otherwise you wouldn’t--

Alright, shut up.

Heh. Generally speaking, though, taking anything other than a human as your servant is an incredibly stupid thing to do. Not being able to communicate complex ideas to your servant is a pretty big problem.

Makes sense.

I’ve known a few reapers who did it, too. Haven’t known any where it worked out for ‘em, though. Shockingly, animals can be rather unpredictable.

I bet someone figured it out,’ said Hector. ‘Imagine having a bear as your servant. A super old bear with soul power? That would be insane.

Literally,’ said Garovel.

Maybe. Not something I’d wanna fight, though.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Page 1244

Hmm,’ said Hector. ‘Would there even be a definitive way to determine whether the planet is alive or not?

Well, again, what do you mean by “alive?” Do you mean “possessing a consciousness?” Do you mean “self-aware?” Because there are plenty of single-celled organisms that wouldn’t fit that criteria.

Aw, hell, I don’t know...

You don’t know what you meant by alive?

I always feel so stupid when you start bringing up scientific shit.

Well, good, because that’s why I bring it up. Not to help you learn anything. To make you feel stupid. It gives me great pleasure.

I’m sure it does.

I was being facetious.

Were you, Garovel? Were you?

Don’t get all pouty on me. I’m trying to help you.

Okay, so is the planet alive or not?

You weren’t listening to me at all, were you?

I listened to you spout a bunch of vague bullshit!

Garovel laughed. ‘Wow.

Remember that conversation you had with Rasalased?! Well, that’s what talking to YOU is like!

Alright, there’s no need to hurt my feelings,’ said Garovel. ‘What didn’t you understand?

I don’t know! I was just wondering if there was more to the planet’s... energy or whatever. More than most people realize, I mean.

The answer to that is yes.

Okay... so... could you elaborate?

Not really, no.

Why not?

Because, as far as I am aware, nobody really understands the planet’s “energy or whatever,” as you put it. So we’re not sure if that means it’s alive.

But, uh, you said that “alive” had a weird definition and that I’m dumb.

I didn’t say you were dumb.

Sounded like you did.

Then you misheard.

Yeah, well, I bet you were thinking it.

No, but I’m thinking it right now.

It was Hector’s turn to laugh.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Page 1243

And what would that be?’ said Hector.

I don’t know--what WOULD it be?

Argh. Just tell me.

No,’ laughed Garovel, sounding almost like a stubborn child.

Ugh...

I feel like you know the question already,’ the reaper said. ‘It seemed like you were working your way up to it. Maybe just cut to the chase and ask me, hmm?

At first, Hector didn’t know what Garovel meant. But as he thought about it, an idea did pop into his head. It was something that had been bothering him for quite a long time now, on some level. Even before Garovel told him about this “ardor.” Perhaps even before Garovel told him about the Undercrust. There was just something about the nature of souls, about everything he’d come to learn of them during his time as a servant.

...Where do souls come from, exactly?

That’s not the question.

...Do they come from the planet?

Mm. Getting warmer.

Hector took a minute to deliberate. It was a bit of a leap, but if he supposed the answer to that last question was “yes,” then...

Hector tilted his head. ‘...Is the planet alive?

There it is!’ Garovel laughed. ‘Well done, my dear boy.

Nobody knows if the planet is alive?

Depends on what you mean by “alive,” now doesn’t it? Certainly, if you just mean, as an ecosystem capable of supporting life, then yes, the planet is obviously alive. And the molten core is like it’s heart, and if you destroyed the core, you’d essentially be “killing” the planet, right? There’s no real debate there. But if that’s not what you mean by “alive,” then... Well. Things get a bit more difficult to figure out, to say the least.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Page 1242

Yeah,’ said Garovel. ‘I’ve tried a few times, actually. Everyone experiments in their youth, right?

Your “youth,” huh? What were you, like, five hundred?

Two hundred, the first time. Occasionally, I give it another shot, just to see if anything’s changed. I might do it again, eventually. Assuming someone doesn’t kill me first, that is.

Hmm. So how does it, uh...? I mean, what happens when you go up that high, exactly?

I start to lose consciousness.

Ah...

It might be for the best, though. Can you imagine how terrifying it would be if you flew up into space and got lost? AND you weren’t able to die? So you just... drifted? For millions of years, potentially? If not billions? In fact, who knows if you’d ever find your way back at all?

Shit, when you put it like that, why would you even risk going up there?

Mm, curiosity.

Reapers must get REALLY bored, if that’s all it takes.

That’s a bigger problem than people usually realize. I bet there are plenty of wars that were largely the result of some bored reaper.

I can believe that,’ said Hector. ‘But, uh. I’m still wondering, um...’ He had to take a moment to find his wording. ‘Well. Hmm. What’s the planet’s role in all this?

Heh. What do you mean?

Hector’s brow furrowed. ‘What do you mean what do I mean? And what’re you laughing about?

The reaper laughed outright at that. ‘I’m just getting the impression that you’re about to ask me a particular question that nobody knows the answer to. Something that a LOT of people have been trying to figure out for a very long time.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Page 1241

Gravity had shifted, Hector realized. The train was going almost straight up, it felt like. And perhaps the only reason he hadn’t begun sliding out of his seat was because of the arm rest supporting his weight. He grabbed onto it with his free hand and spread his feet apart unconsciously.

This doesn’t feel very safe...

Well, you’re supposed to have a seat belt on,’ said Garovel.

You tell me this now?

I’m pretty sure the seat belts won’t fit around your suit.

You could’ve warned me, at least. What if I fell out?

Was kinda hopin’ you would.

What if I landed on someone?

Eh, Dimas is right over there. I’m sure he would’ve stopped you. Or you would’ve stopped yourself. You’ve got your iron again, remember? You could’ve whipped something up.

Hector would’ve expressed his annoyance, but the cabin shifted another time and took his mind off it. Gravity leveled out, and he supposed they were moving horizontally again. He decided to maintain his grip on the arm rest anyway.

From there, the journey began to feel rather tedious. It would take a few hours to reach Babbadelo, apparently, and Hector couldn’t sleep or meditate for fear of falling out of his seat.

That left only one thing for him to do, really.

Pester Garovel with all the things that he’d been meaning to ask for a while now.

Hey, Garovel, I have a question.

Yeah?

Have you ever gone to the moon?

The reaper laughed. ‘I think I see where this is going. But no, I have never gone to the moon.

Why not? You can fly wherever you want, right?

As it so happens, no, I can’t. Reapers can’t leave the planet’s atmosphere.

Hmm. So you’ve tried, then?

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Page 1240

Why are there wheels on top?’ he said to Garovel.

They add much needed stability,’ the reaper said. ‘And... well, you’ll see pretty soon.

Hmm.’ Hector thought about that answer for a bit. ‘Wait a minute... You said you haven’t been down here in three hundred years or something, right?

Yep.

But... you already know about this train technology?

Yep.

So you’re telling me they’ve had trains like this for more than three hundred years?

Yep.’ A beat passed. ‘Okay, well, maybe not JUST like this. This one does look a lot spiffier than I remember. But the whole double-track thing is old tech. In fact, I don’t think the trains down here ever DIDN’T have them. The one-track design was a surface-level thing.

Huh...

Hector ended up taking over a couple of empty seats near the front of the train, but there wasn’t a whole lot of extra space remaining, and he felt sorry for the Rainlords who were stuck sharing a cabin with his noisy suit. He watched the train doors slide shut and felt the whole room begin rumbling gently.

Soon enough, they were underway. There weren’t many windows to speak of, and the few they did have were quite small and circular, the kind Hector imagined seeing on a boat or plane. At first, he saw a few faint lights streaming by, but then there was only pitch darkness.

Their first destination was going to be a place called Babbadelo, as Hector recalled. Naturally, Garovel hadn’t told him anything else about it--though that might’ve been because Garovel hadn’t been there in so long.

In the meantime, Hector tried to occupy himself with meditation, but a sudden, rather violent shift in the train disturbed him.

What was that?’ he asked.

Heh,’ was all Garovel said. He’d latched onto Hector’s shoulder while the train was in motion.

Nobody was panicking, Hector noticed, so he supposed the shift wasn’t anything to be too concerned about. But something was definitely different.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Page 1239

They formed a relay line, of sorts. Hector remained stationary so as not to exhaust himself by relying on his undead vigor any more than he already had. Instead, he simply handed his freshly made shields off to the nearest Rainlord, who then took a running start and chucked it down the line with full strength.

It certainly sped things along. He was able to pump out several shields per minute. But apparently, his ability’s maximum range had grown since he’d last tested it. The Rainlords were telling him it was around two hundred meters now.

Thinking about it now, he wondered if an increase in maximum range could even be considered a good thing. He had a hard time imagining a practical scenario in which materializing something that far away from himself would be useful.

But maybe that was his own fault. Maybe he just wasn’t thinking hard enough. Materialization was the power of creation, after all. It only made sense that using it to its fullest potential would require great creativity.

At length, Hector knew that his shield-making marathon had reached its end when a train arrived. Or at least, it seemed like a train. It didn’t quite sound like any train he’d ever heard of. There was no loud hissing of steam or puffing of smoke or screeching of metal against metal. Of course, his suit was interfering with the noise, but Hector was sure that the sound he heard was more of a rumbling growl.

And in the low light, Hector hadn’t previously noticed the rail lines, but they weren’t just lain on the ground. They were also suspended in the air on slender pillars, allowing the wheels on the train’s rooftop to connect.

Which earned a double-take from Hector as everyone was boarding.