Monday, November 20, 2017

Page 1407

They found an apparent road, inlaid with long and flat stones, some of which reflected the light of the party’s lamps, illuminating pieces of the dark path and thereby making it mildly more clear where they were going. It was only so useful, however, as the path was regularly interrupted by large piles of rubble that needed to be needed to cleared. Diego and Manuel made short work of such tasks while Zeff and Hector kept watch over the party’s front and rear, respectively.

And maybe it was just Hector’s mind playing tricks on him, but as they continued slowly onward, he could feel a heavy silence among the group, a kind of unspoken discomfort. But then, perhaps that was just because of the reapers. If recent experiences were anything to go by, having so many reapers in close proximity to one another without any of them speaking very much... that just didn’t bode very well, Hector felt. Like a bad omen, of sorts.

At length, the Lord Elroy was the one to break the atmosphere. “What is this strange aura?” he asked.

Ah,’ said Garovel. ‘you can sense that, too, can you?

Hector didn’t know what they were talking about.

“I can,” said Zeff. “But only just. What is it? Do any of you know?”

It is ardor,’ said Axiolis. ‘It covers this entire area like a blanket, so dense that it’s become a kind of mist.

“Is that bad?” said Diego, while Manuel Delaguna was busy explaining the half-silent conversation to the non-servants in the group. “Because it doesn’t sound so great.”

It is hard to tell,’ said Axiolis. ‘It could be nothing, but regardless, let us not disturb the mist if we can help it.

Somehow, Hector doubted that it was nothing and so had to speak up, “Supposing it’s not nothing, uh... then what would it be? Hypothetically, I mean.”

The reapers hesitated visibly.

Hypothetically,’ said Axiolis slowly, ‘it could mean that a rock golem is slumbering here. Which would be wonderful. Golems are quite docile and friendly toward humans.

It might even help us fight the worms, if they decide to follow us into this area,’ added Garovel.

Indeed.’

Diego had the same question that was occurring to Hector. “If it’s so wonderful, then why should avoid disturbing the mist?”

Because,’ said Axiolis, again slowly, ‘it could also be a feldeath.

No one said anything. Even Manuel stopped translating for the non-servants.

Manuel’s reaper picked up the slack. ‘We should clarify that, while it is yet unclear at this point, a golem is the more likely case,’ said Lorios.

Of course,’ said Axiolis. ‘I have been able to sense particularly strong ardor from much of the rubble around here. And rubble is made from rocks. Which is what golems are.’ The reaper didn’t sound as confident as Hector would’ve liked.

Garovel helped him out. ‘Or it could be nothing, like Axiolis first said. In fact, I know of a fascinating theory regarding the seemingly pointless accumulation of ardor.’

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Page 1406 -- CLI.

Chapter One Hundred Fifty-One: ‘What remains of a Falling...’
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So the worms have given up?’ Hector asked, still not entirely clear on what seemed like an ever-changing situation.

Uh, I’m not sure,’ said Garovel privately. ‘They’ve slowed down or stopped chasing us, but I don’t know if that means they’ve genuinely given up. My knowledge of worms is a bit spotty, in case that wasn’t already obvious.’

Then ask one of the others about it,’ said Hector.

Aww, but--ugh, fine.’ He switched over to a public voice. ‘So do you think they’ve left us alone or what?

No,’ said Axiolis. ‘Judging from the movement patterns, they still seem agitated to me.

Why are they keeping their distance, then?’ asked Yangéra.

Probably because they are hesitant to enter this area for some reason,’ said Axiolis. ‘It would make sense if this area was the territory of a rock golem. In which case, we have lucked out.

Hector’s pessimism was doubting that.

Have we, though?’ said Garovel, perhaps feeling similarly. ‘We’re still both surrounded AND stranded. Doesn’t seem like the greatest luck to me, even if the worms have given up. Which, by the way, you’re also saying they might not have?

Mm, indeed,’ said Axiolis. ‘They may just need to cluster up in order to overcome their anxiety. They are not exactly the brightest creatures in the world, so that may take them a while.

Then let’s make use of that time,’ said Yangéra. ‘We should put some more distance between us and them while we can.

Agreed.

Yeah.

Alright.

And the group began walking again, though at a more cautious pace than even before they were being chased.

Hector had the opportunity to observe the various crumbling structures all around them. He’d never seen the like before. Most windows were longer horizontally than they were vertically, and whatever the faintly foggy material was that occupied them couldn’t have been simple glass, as it would have surely melted at this temperature.

He tried to recall if he’d seen material like this in Babbadelo, but if he had, it was escaping him. He thought about asking Garovel if he remembered, but the reaper had never seemed to give too much of a crap about architecture, so he probably wouldn’t. That, and he didn’t want to distract Garovel from his observational duties, right now.

Regardless, he wished they had more light. Even with all of their lamps probing around, the thick darkness still made it difficult to see very much at one time. And of course, pretty much every building was in shambles, too. That made it considerably harder to spot the architectural differences between here and the surface.

What a shame. He would’ve liked to get a look at an in-tact roof, but he couldn’t find one.

Still, it was interesting to him that this place even had buildings to begin with--or at least this many. Babbadelo had so few by comparison. Everything there had been carved out of the natural rock formations.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Page 1405

Royo figured he should reciprocate and give Lenos a hint toward his own identity. “When will you learn? I’ve always tried my hardest to set a good example for you. And everyone else, too. That’s why, unlike you, when I speak, people listen.”

“Don’t lecture me, Eleyo. I know all about your reputation.”

Ah. So he’d already known. Royo was flattered but not terribly surprised.

Royo observed a change in the way the superhumans were carrying themselves, and the reapers all appeared to close ranks. Rumbling beneath his feet confirmed his fears, and moments later, a worm tunneled out of the ground ahead of them.

It was comparatively small, however, and did not prove to be nearly so grave a threat as their previous encounter. As quickly as it had appeared, the one called Zeff slew the beast whilst shouting at the top of his lungs. A single, glistening spear skewered through the mouth, and a tower of ice exploded up out of the worm’s body, exploding it into frozen pieces.

The Senmurai raised a metal wall in defense of the Hun’Kui, but Royo still ended up taking a bead of ice on the arm.

It burned unlike anything he’d ever felt. Royo howled in agony and dropped to the ground.

Fortunately, the pain soon abated. Lenos helped him to his feet.

The bead of ice was gone, but his arm was numb, and Royo could see it twitching. As he steadied his haggard breath, he was made to wonder how something so small could have felt so torturous and debilitating. Ice truly was as terrifying as the rumors said it was.

There was little time to recuperate, however. The superhumans were ushering the group onward at an increased pace.

As they ran, the one called Zeff ventured closer and gestured with his hands. He even made a poor attempt to apologize in Hunese. He was not very familiar with the language, apparently. No surprise. Perhaps his reaper was feeding him words to say.

Royo accepted it as silently and as graciously as he could manage. As humiliating as it was, Royo understood that it had not been intentional. There would be no need to seek retribution from the one called Zeff. Royo knew the damage was most likely not permanent, and an accident was an accident, after all.

The cavernous passage they were using opened up as completely as Royo’s vision would allow, and suddenly there were no more walls, only pitch darkness.

Pitch darkness and a kind of... mist. Faint, but there. Squinting, he removed his goggles, and the mist vanished completely. He put them on, and the mist returned. Which told him that the mist was infused with ardor, if not entirely constituted from it.

The group slowed their run to a walk, then stopped altogether. He searched the superhumans’ faces for answers, but they were looking as confused as he was.

He rummaged through a rucksack that he’d procured back on the train, and he was pleased to find a directional lamplight. He pointed it ahead and switched it on.

A cone of light cut through the murky blackness, revealing large shapes in the distance.

Buildings, he soon realized. In quite poor condition. Crumbling, many of them. Very old architecture, as well.

As he moved his light to and fro horizontally, and as the others joined him in switching on their own lights, more and more structures came into view, and their discovery became more and more apparent.

They had found a city in ruins.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Page 1404

Lenos spoke up again, interrupting Royo’s silent ruminations. “Thank you for saving my ass back there, by the way,” he said, again in Hunese. “I doubt I would have made it if not for you.”

Royo gave him a look. “Yes, well, if you get the opportunity to return the favor--and it seems like you might--then I hope you do.”

“Of course.”

Now that he was thinking about it, there was a good chance that Royo could recognize or otherwise identify this man. There had been no lack of prisoners back in Babbadelo, yet Royo had only seen a handful aboard the train. Logic would dictate, therefore, that the local government had chosen the prisoners that they found the most problematic. A few possible candidates came to mind. He’d always tried to be aware of notable individuals whenever he traveled, and Babbadelo had been no different.

He needed more information, though. He couldn’t ask for Lenos’ real name, obviously, but maybe he could get a hint. “Do you have any hidden talents that might come in handy? Anything that you’ve been keeping from me, perhaps?”

“Ah...” Lenos rubbed his neck with his hand as he took a moment to think. “Not especially...”

No good. Lenos couldn’t tell what he’d been getting at? Or perhaps he was just reluctant to say. Royo tried again. “That reminds me. What was keeping you so busy back in Babbadelo? I didn’t see you around very much.”

“Oh, you know. The usual...”

Ugh. Come on. “So you were causing problems, then?”

Lenos squinted at him briefly, then smirked. “You know me. Just can’t keep my hands to myself, sometimes.”

Was that a clue? The look on Lenos’ face suggested as much, but Royo didn’t understand what he was getting at. “I hope you weren’t doing anything unwelcome or otherwise disrespectful. It would reflect poorly on the rest of us, you know.”

“Never. I am always the perfect gentleman. Though, I admit, this time I could have been more discreet. But what can I say? I was enraptured. Not feeling myself.”

Royo’s expression flickered. Was he describing the same thing that had happened to himself?

“Normally, I never get caught,” Lenos went on. “I consider it a matter of professional dignity.”

Professional? That one had to be a clue.

The man made it sound as if he were talking about a habit of promiscuity, but as far as Royo was aware, there were no laws in Babbadelo that would have imprisoned him for such behavior. Lenos had to be talking about something else.

Thievery? If he considered it a matter of professionalism, that made the most sense to Royo. And a thief who took pride in not getting caught must have also been a thief who had been doing it for a while. One who would have earned a name for himself.

And Royo had recently heard such a name. That of Kogibur, or the Roach.

A particularly unflattering name in the Undercrust, because as far as benign pests went, cockroaches were arguably the most reviled. But that was also because they were so resilient and difficult to get rid of. So in a way, perhaps it was a kind of compliment.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Page 1403

If nothing else, Royo could at least be relieved that he hadn’t allied himself with a slack-jawed idiot.

“It’s a little sore, still,” Royo answered, also in Hunese, “but don’t worry, Lenos. I’m fine.”

“Glad to hear it. We might make it out of this after all.”

“We might. But don’t relax just yet.”

A lull in their intentionally bland conversation arrived, and Royo was more concerned with hearing what the others were saying than in keeping it alive.

The lone woman of their group was talking to the one called Manuel. “I am sorry for causing you so much trouble.” She was wearing a suit similar to the one called Robert Sheridan, which told Royo that those two were different from the other surface-dwellers, more fragile perhaps.

“It is not your fault,” said the one called Manuel. “I am just glad you are not hurt. My brother would have never forgiven me.”

“I...”

“Ah--apologies. I didn’t mean to bring up--please forgive me.”

“You need not apologize,” she said. “You were as close to him as I was. If not more so.”

What was going on there, Royo wondered? Though it piqued his curiosity, it didn’t sound immediately relevant to his current predicament, so he tried to focus his attention elsewhere.

The Senmurai had been largely quiet so far, but it looked like the one called Diego had struck up a conversation with him.

“--don’t think so? Well, I do. In fact, I think we’re closer to it now than anyone has ever gotten. I mean, it would make sense, wouldn’t it? All these worms in the way? It’s no wonder no one else has ever returned. The slimy bastards are guarding it.”

‘...I guess,” was all the Senmurai said.

“You’re telling me you’re not curious? Just think about the possibilities. The potential. This could be our big chance. Yangéra thinks so, too.”

There came a noticeable pause.

“...She’s just saying that because she’s embarrassed. She doesn’t like people to know how much she loves and agrees with me.”

“I’m sure that’s it,” said the Senmurai.

“And I’M sure that I’m right about this. You guys should listen to me. I have great instincts when it comes to finding treasure. That train wreck was a blessing in disguise. You’ll see.”

Another pause.

“Lhutwë, of course. His will be done.”

Still another pause.

“That’s not true at all. I’ve always believed in Him when it benefits me.”

The more he listened, the more Royo thought the one called Diego sounded like a buffoon. But he could see the man still throwing glances back in his direction fairly regularly. Regardless of how he talked, that man hadn’t stopped being vigilant.

Royo had known a few men like that in his time. Men who acted one way while thinking another. They were often the most dangerous people he’d ever met.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Page 1402

“How did you manage to get your hands on this kind of firepower, anyway?” the one called Manuel was saying.

“Oh, it’s all about makin’ the right friends,” said the one called Robert Sheridan.

Royo observed from a distance as they armed themselves to the teeth. He’d been tempted to join them in their work, but they’d even been kind enough to toss an extra weapon his way. He’d already had one, of course, and this new piece required some reassembly, but he appreciated the gesture.

What he did not appreciate was the way that the one called Diego was looking at him. Pointed and semi-frequent stares. A suspicious man, it seemed. Perhaps he suspected. More likely, he was just being cautious around an abundance of firearms and strangers.

The reapers were doing the same thing. Looking around constantly. Surveying both their surroundings and themselves. He supposed the rumor that they made for excellent scouts was true, after all.

But what an unsettling sight, they were. Without his ardor-infused goggles, he would not have been able to see them, and he was considering taking them off for that very reason.

To his eyes, they were himself. They each had his own face, save the eyes, which cried blood, and the mouth, which dripped it as well. Their bodies, too, were mangled and twisted, at times ghostly and ethereal, and at others, slashed to ribbons and full of holes.

Horrific as it all was, and even though he wasn’t at all accustomed to it, it did make him wonder. Surely, everyone could not see them as such. The other Hun’Kui were wearing goggles, too. Perhaps they were hiding it like he was, but they did not look nearly as disturbed as he felt.

No, their appearance had to have been specialized in some way. Otherwise, it made no sense how they could all have his face without anyone else noticing.

Two of the other Hun’Kui were speaking to each other now, he noticed. But he couldn’t hear them, because they were speaking too lowly. He did, however, catch sight of them glancing in his direction.

That could prove problematic.

The only other Hun’Kui present was walking right next to him. This one, at least, was his ally--the still-nameless prisoner with whom Royo had escaped.

Ideally, this was a good thing. Ideally, the man would be helpful to their shared cause rather than a burden to it.

He was still waiting on proof of that.

And perhaps the man had read his mind, because his ally chose that moment to speak to him for the very first time. “How is your shoulder, Eleyo?” the man said in Hunese.

His shoulder? Eleyo?

Ah.

Royo understood. The man was pretending they already knew each other and had made up name for him. Likely, he was worried that the two of them were the only ones not talking at all. And if they acted familiar with one another, their facade as militiamen would appear more credible to the others.

Smart.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Page 1401 -- CL.

Zeff could hear a few of the others chatting, including the reapers, but he wasn’t done with Hector. An important question had occurred to him. “Do you still have the Shard that Asad gave you?”

Hector threw Zeff a look, paused from his practice, and reached through the misty armor’s gap in the armpit to whip out the Shard. He held it out for Zeff, but the Rainlord didn’t take it.

“As long as it is safe,” said Zeff.

Hector said nothing, only recoiled his hand.

And maybe this wasn’t the appropriate time, but Zeff still felt compelled to ask, “Can you contact her now?”

The young lord’s expression was unreadable beneath his helmet. “I’ll try.” Hector closed his eyes and fell silent again.

Zeff waited. Impatiently, perhaps, but he waited.

When Hector opened his eyes again, he said, “S-sorry, it’s... it’s still not working.”

“Why?” growled Zeff, more at the universe than at Hector specifically.

Hector didn’t seem to interpret it that way, though. “I don’t know...”

It probably wasn’t the boy’s fault. Zeff knew that. Hector had no reason to lie that Zeff could think of.

Unless Emiliana was telling him not to say anything, of course. That was certainly possible. And it wasn’t difficult to imagine what her reason would be.

The Black Scourge. That bastard. What did he want with her? If he was hurting her in any way... it didn’t matter how powerful he was. Zeff would find a way to kill him.

If all of that was true, however, then Hector would be at fault. For listening to Emiliana over Zeff. For thinking that Zeff wouldn’t do what was best for his own child.

That was what was bothering him. That possibility.

But it was only that, he knew. A possibility. And an unlikely one. The boy was probably telling the truth. Probably.

Probably...

He scowled and heightened his pace in order to put some distance between Hector and himself.


Chapter One Hundred Fifty: ‘O, hidden Liege...’
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Royo Raju listened silently. The surface-dwellers seemed to be under the reasonable assumption that none of the Hun’Kui here knew Mohssian, and he didn’t see much point in correcting them.

Certainly, his life was currently depending on these people--and in fact, the one apparently named Manuel had already saved him from falling to his death--but Royo didn’t think that reason enough to give up a potential advantage.

Primarily, though, that was not his motivation. It was not the superhumans that he was truly concerned about. They seemed like they could be effectively lied to and/or reasoned with. It was the other Hun’Kui he needed to be careful of. If they realized that he was not, in fact, a real militiaman, then they would either tell the supermen or try to kill him themselves.

And those were far from desirable outcomes.

So he decided to stay quiet, to not draw any unnecessary attention to himself.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Page 1400

Much as he would’ve liked to scold the boy and maybe smack him until he started doing it correctly, this wasn’t the time or place for that.

Zeff flicked his wrist and set about the task of cooling the molten river safely. If he simply materialized an iceberg on top of it, the extreme temperature difference would cause the ice to explode and probably kill someone--if not everyone. A suitable application of soul-strengthening, however, prevented that problem, and then Zeff was able to quickly blacken and settle the magma flow as his continual supply of ice melted harmlessly over it.

He noticed the Hun’Kui behind him take a few steps back, perhaps able to feel an uncomfortable gust of cooler air wash over them. He knew he had to be mindful of their presence, too. If he put too much oomph into his ice and turned this place into a little winter wonderland, the Hun’Kui would almost certainly freeze to death within seconds.

It required a strange and delicate balance, this little entourage. Ice was as deadly to the Hun’Kui as magma was to the non-servants from the surface.

Garovel was the first to venture over the calmed river and strike up a conversation. ‘Glad to see you all in one piece.’

Likewise,’ said Ax. ‘So where to next? Time is short, and every direction but southwest will likely lead us into a fight with more worms.

Diego stepped forward. “If that’s the case, then what’s there to think about? Southwest it is.”

His reaper, Yangéra, floated by his side. ‘The train went northeast,’ she said.

“Oh.”

There’s also the concern of WHY southwest is so empty,’ said Garovel. ‘Call me suspicious, but it seems a little too good to be true.

Perhaps, but do you see any other options?’ said Ax. ‘Because I am struggling to.

Unfortunately, no, I don’t.

The longer we stand here, the more likely the worms will notice us,’ added Yangéra ‘I suggest we at least START going southwest, for now.

Agreed,’ said Ax.

I, as well,’ said Lorios, the reaper to Manuel Delaguna.

Guess I do, too,’ said Garovel.

The group began walking again, Axiolis and Garovel leading the way. Zeff noticed the large iron box that Hector was having follow them, and when asked, the boy stiltedly explained that it contained valuable firearms.

Hector opened the top of it, allowing his companion, Mr. Sheridan access while they were moving. Diego, Manuel, and a couple of the Hun’Kui gave it a look as well, and it wasn’t long before Hector was dragging half the party along in his iron box while they toiled away with guns.

Yet another ridiculous sight. Had the boy become a pack mule, now?

Zeff adjusted his pace in order to walk next to Hector. “You should be practicing your temperature manipulation,” he said, still trying to keep a lid on his annoyance level.

“Ah, oh yeah,” said Hector. And then he started doing exactly that. While still pulling the others along, the boy began making spheres appear and disappear repeatedly in front of himself.

Somehow, that was even more irritating.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Page 1399

Zeff tried to steady his thoughts, knowing he shouldn’t allow himself to get too distracted. Axiolis was here to warn him of any incoming danger, of course, but even so, it never hurt to be vigilant. And besides, there were few things more terrifying than being lost in the deep darkness of the Undercrust. Any of these people following him were liable to start panicking if he didn’t fulfill his role as the apparent leader.

Even Diego, potentially.

It wasn’t likely, sure, but Zeff had known even more brazenly confident men than him who had broken down in similar circumstances. There was perhaps no clearer example than in Lyste, some twenty years prior, during what would later be known in that country as the Great Right Turn.

It had been a quiet war for public opinion, until the very end, when all hell broke loose. They had faced overwhelming odds for five days straight, fighting such famous names as the Bloodeye, the Man of Crows, the Raider, the Liar, the Silver Devil, and even the Mad Demon himself.

That was the battle in which Field Marshal Kent and many other Vanguardians lost their minds and began attacking their own allies, including one another.

It was also the battle in which Field Marshal Lamont earned the name Iceheart, for killing Kent, his closest friend, in addition to every other broken traitor.

Zeff might not have believed that story if he hadn’t been there to witness it with his own eyes, if he hadn’t gotten to know Kent a little beforehand and seen the man acting seemingly normal up until then... and if Kent hadn’t been mere seconds away from killing him and Axiolis both.

It was doubtless to Zeff’s mind that in those few short days of fighting, the entirety of Lyste would have been consumed by Abolish were it not for Lamont. The man’s reputation had suffered from it, as he’d previously been more widely known as the Judge of Intar, but having been there himself, Zeff could never truly fault the man for what he had done.

And now it was strange, because as much as he hated the Vanguard, there were still those within it whose strength, both of body and of mind, he aspired to.

In a way, though, that made him even angrier. At the Vanguard and himself.

Zeff,’ came Axoilis’ echoing voice. ‘We’re almost there.

As they walked, the increasing incandescence all around their small party was a welcome change, even though the magma from which it came was less so. He could finally make out the rough silhouette of the cavernous passage that they were using, as well as various branching paths along the way.

When the young Lord Goffe came into view, Zeff stopped. The boy was apparently practicing his materialization over a broad river of magma. And not doing very well, it seemed, as parts of his iron bridge were already white hot and beginning to bend downward.

What a ridiculous sight. With everything he’d seen the boy do, this should have been child’s play by now. Had he not been doing as Zeff and Asad had instructed?

How irritating. Zeff really did not need anything else to be annoyed by, right now.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Page 1398

You’re free to give it a go, if you want,’ said Garovel, ‘but let’s not gamble with this poor guy’s life, eh? Because even with how advanced that suit he’s wearing is, I highly doubt it will protect him from the heat rising off that lava over there.

Hector’s mind went to his studies. He’d been meaning to work on temperature manipulation, and Asad and Zeff had even told him to do so on his own as homework, but he’d been neglecting it in favor of practicing other things--other, purportedly more difficult and, in theory, more valuable things.

But now he felt like he’d been slacking.

So while they waited for Zeff to show up, Hector took the opportunity to get in some extra practice.

-+-+-+-+-

Zeff was in no mood for any of this, right now. It was all he could do to keep himself from lashing out at any of these people tagging along with him and Axiolis. A handful of Hun’Kui militiamen, along with Diego Redwater, Manuel Delaguna, and one of the non-servant Garza girls whose face he recognized but name escaped him.

He knew they didn’t deserve his ire. He knew that. But he was so frustrated that he could hardly think straight.

Because he’d allowed himself to get separated from his children again. Again.

It just kept happening. In spite of his best efforts, it just kept happening.

After everything... what would Mariana think? She would chastise him, surely. That woman never held back her criticism. And she’d be right, too.

First his parents. Then his cousins. Aunts and uncles. Grandparents and great grandparents. Then Gema. Then Mariana. Then Francisco. Then Emiliana.

And now, even Marcos and Ramira.

It just kept happening.

He couldn’t stop it. No matter what he did.

What a fool and a failure he was. In every way that mattered. A terrible excuse for a father and a husband.

Perhaps this was just meaningless. This struggle. Endless. Fruitless. Doomed to be repeated as he inevitably proved too weak or too stupid in the future, as well. What if this path just kept going and never got any better, regardless of his every effort? Even regardless of how he tried to change or improve?

Was this what going mad felt like?

He wondered if that wouldn’t be for the best. If he went mad, would that not make things easier? He could just let go. Stop caring so much.

Could he choose that? Could he choose to go insane? Because he wanted to. In this moment, he couldn’t imagine a more appealing idea.

Except.

That other thought was still there. The one that wouldn’t stop bothering him no matter what. That one that kept telling him it wasn’t about him anymore. It didn’t matter what he wanted. It didn’t matter what would make him happy or sad or anything else.

And choosing to go mad, if such a thing were even possible, would be exactly that. Selfish. It wouldn’t solve anything. It wouldn’t make up for anything. And it certainly wouldn’t help his children.

So, no.

There was no easy way out. Not now. Not ever.

He’d known that all along, really. It was no great epiphany.

Mariana would have been disgusted with him if she knew that he had even been humoring such thoughts.

God, he missed her.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Page 1397

He doesn’t seem like he’ll panic,’ said Garovel. ‘Just answer him honestly.

“Well, ah,” said Hector, “we’re safe for now.”

“That so?”

“But there are still worms everywhere.”

“Figures.” The man frowned and smacked his lips together. “Guess I have to ask you to look after me for a bit longer, then. Sorry for the trouble.”

Impulsively, Hector almost said that it was no trouble, but he stopped himself. Because, well... honestly? It was. It really was. And Mr. Sheridan would probably know he was just saying that to be polite or whatever.

Hector didn’t actually mind, of course. This was the kinda shit he lived for. But it was definitely trouble. In fact, that was kinda the point.

But then again, maybe he should’ve said it anyway, even if it was just to be polite. Being polite was a good thing, after all, wasn’t it?

Shit, he was putting way too much thought into this.

And perhaps Mr. Sheridan had grown uncomfortable by Hector’s deliberating silence, because then the man said, “I promise I’ll make this up to you.”

Crap, he was being rude, wasn’t he? He hadn’t been talking nearly enough. Thinking back, he’d kinda been ignoring or otherwise not responding to a lot of the things that this guy had been saying so far. Sure, he’d been preoccupied with bigger concerns, but still...

And now he really didn’t know what to say. How was he supposed to respond to a promise like that? Just say “cool”? No, that would be stupid. He didn’t give a shit if this guy ever paid him back or not. That wasn’t important at all. So maybe he should just say “okay”? Eh, it was more neutral, but not much better, really...

Argh, why was this so difficult? Where’d all the worms go? Wasn’t there at least one who wanted to come fight him, right now? He wouldn’t mind.

A faint, red-orange light caught his attention. With only the tiny lamp in Mr. Sheridan’s hand, they’d been walking through an all-encompassing wall of darkness up to now, so he had to wonder where this new light was coming from. It seemed to be emanating from around corner.

Is that Zeff and the others?’ he asked Garovel.

No, they’re still a ways away. I think that’s probably just lava.

Hector’s brow lowered from behind his misty helm. ‘JUST lava?

You’ve never seen lava before?

Not up close, no. Not sure I want to, either.

Sure enough, when they were close enough, a rocky corner revealed itself to their lamplight, and they peeked around it to find a rushing river of lava in their way. It burned so intensely bright and was such a harsh contrast to the darkness everywhere else that Hector couldn’t look directly at it without his eyes beginning to hurt.

Hmm,’ hummed Garovel. ‘We’ll wait for Zeff here.

You sure? I could build a bridge over it, no problem.

Big problem, actually. Heat convection is a bitch, Hector. And you still haven’t mastered temperature manipulation with your iron yet, have you?

Ah...

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Page 1396

Hector allowed himself to stop concentrating on his iron and relax somewhat.

Hector,’ came Garovel’s voice through the pitch darkness. The reaper sounded rather annoyed.

W-what?

Oh, did you finally hear me? I’ve been trying to talk to you for a while, you know.

He, in fact, did not know that, but Mr. Sheridan interrupted before Hector could answer.

“Thanks for saving my bacon there, son.” A rustling noise was also coming from his direction, as the man was perhaps trying to stand up. Then a a small lamp flicked on in the palm of Mr. Sheridan’s glove.

At last, Hector could see again. He started annihilating some of his iron so that they could get a look outside. The meager lamplight didn’t extend very far, though.

Hector, I can sense Zeff and Axiolis down here, along with a few other people.

That was a surprise. ‘You mean they fell down the hole after us?

No, I think there were more holes than just ours. From what I was able to tell, things got pretty crazy up there.

Where’s Zeff?

The reaper detached himself from Hector’s arm and pointed in the direction opposite to the one that Hector had been looking. ‘About two hundred meters that way. Seems like they’re already headed toward us. I suggest we go meet them halfway.

No argument here.’ Hector made a doorway in the box.

“H-hey, uh, son,” said Mr. Sheridan, causing Hector to pause and look back. “Would you mind helping me carry some of this?” He eyed the many, many gun parts strewn all over the box’s floor.

Oh right. Hector supposed all that stuff was pretty damn valuable. Not to mention, the big gun that they had been building was still there, too.

Hector stepped out of the box and motioned for the man to follow. When they were both clear, Hector annihilated all of the haphazard iron that he had created earlier while also remaking the box. Then he materialized an iron track for it and grew the box slowly along it.

“Hey, that’s pretty convenient,” said Mr. Sheridan as they started walking. “You interested in a job?”

Hector was hardly listening, however, as he had a more pressing question for Garovel. ‘Where are the worms?

All over the place.’

Not what he wanted to hear. ‘Should we be running?

Not as of yet. Fortunately for us, the worms seem to be going after the train.

Oh, so the train got away?

Yeah. It started moving a while ago, and now I can’t sense it anymore. All these worms must still be able to, though.

At that news, Hector allowed himself to relax a little more.

“--chances are, huh?”

Hector realized that Mr. Sheridan had still been talking. “Sorry, what did you say?”

“I asked what you thought our chances are,” the man said, less jovial than before. “Of getting out of this alive, I mean. You’ve got one of them reaper phantoms, right? And they can sense stuff, right?”

“Uh...”

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Page 1395 -- CXLIX.

Hmm.

Now this was a problem.

He had to be careful here. He couldn’t just add iron to the box in a blind panic. If he did, then its weight would also increase, making it more likely to lose its already tenuous grip on the wall.

But he couldn’t very well just not do anything, either. There was a good chance the box was going to fall on its own soon, anyway. And of course, the worm was still stomping around up there.

Where is the worm?’ he asked Garovel.

At your ten o’clock, roughly.

How far? Can you tell?

Only about six or seven meters,’ said Garovel.

Agh, that was too close. He didn’t want to just launch everyone up and out of the hole at once, not when the worm could turn on a moment’s notice and snatch someone out of the air.

So he went to work on a trio of iron ladders, instead, hooking them over the top of the hole in order to avoid adding any unnecessary weight to the box. Then he motioned through the dimness and said, “Up we go. Hurry.”

Hesitant, the company men did as they were told. Robert Sheridan waited with Hector while his three companions went first.

A man’s poorly lit face appeared over the edge of the cliff above. “Need some help down there?!” said the voice of Horatio Blackburn, who didn’t bother waiting for a reply as he helped the three climbers up, carrying them with an apparent materialization ability.

“Thanks!” Hector shouted up at him, then motioned for Mr. Sheridan to follow.

But before the man could reach a ladder, the worm came crashing down in quaking fury. The impact sundered the hole, and the iron box snapped off the crumbling wall and started to fall.

Hector spiked his iron out in all directions, hoping in blind desperation that it would catch onto something--anything. The box’s descent slowed but didn’t stop, until it abruptly caught on something. In the increasing darkness, Hector couldn’t tell what, but for an instant, when he looked up, he saw another silhouette at the top of the hole and thought he heard Zeff’s voice shouting something.

Then the rocks gave way all around them, and the iron box started plummeting again.


Chapter One Hundred Forty-Nine: ‘O, gathering Deep...’
Click to display entire chapter at once -- (mobile link)

He had to slow them down. Whatever it took. More iron. Everywhere. If he projected it far enough, it would find something to latch onto. More. Farther. Nothing else mattered. This guy next to him was going to fall to his death if he didn’t do this. Right now.

The box shifted and shook, then began to slow. Gradually. But it didn’t stop, even as Hector kept envisioning and adding to the gigantic network of iron spikes and hooks and spears and nets that must have been surrounding the box by now.

The bumpiness came and went as the descent continued for quite a while. Robert Sheridan tried to speak, but with the grinding and groaning of metal in all directions, Hector couldn’t hear him--nor did he try to, until finally, after what felt like an hour, the box came to a stop.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Page 1394

Hector recognized the name. The West Intar Company. Or just WIC. It had something to do with international trade, as he recalled.

That was about the extent of his knowledge, but by now, Hector had come to realize that the mere fact that he had heard of it before was also somewhat informative. Because if he didn’t need Garovel to tell him what it was, then this company was probably pretty damn famous already.

He was still going to ask Garovel about it later, though.

Hector observed the group in silence for a bit longer, not really knowing if he should ask them anything else. If they truly did have a way of killing the worm, then he didn’t want to distract them with questions.

The same guy from before reengaged the conversation on his own, however. “The name’s Robert Sheridan, by the by. What’s yours, son?”

“Hector Goffe.”

“Good to meetcha, Hector Goffe. Is this your first time down in the Undercrust?”

“Y-yeah...”

“Pretty wild, eh?” Another short quake punctuated his sentence as the worm slapped its tail down in the distance. Each of the WIC men had to pause before they could resume building.

The giant gun was nearing completion, from what Hector could tell. It must have been almost twice as big as he was. Certainly not something a non-servant could wield unaided.

Oh god,’ said Garovel. ‘I’m sensing a lot more worms all of a sudden.

Where?’ said Hector.

Everywhere. If we stay here, we’ll be overrun in a few minutes. Everyone needs to get back to the train right now.

Already, Hector could see some of the other Rainlords pulling back from the fight with the worm, no doubt on the orders of their reapers.

Hector started moving the iron box again. “Hold on, everyone. We’re going back to the train.”

A few huffs of vague disapproval arose, but no one argued.

Then there came still another earthquake. But this one was different. Instead of going away after a moment, it persisted, and the ground began to shift and sink more violently than any time previously.

And then the ground was suddenly gone. The cavern floor splintered and heaved up all at once, becoming a hundred thousand tiny rocks suspended in midair, and Hector had nothing beneath his feet, save his own iron.

The box was falling, and he had to react. He grew iron hooks out of the box’s side and dug them into the nearest wall--which, unfortunately, was not as near as he would have liked. The box tipped over as it caught in the air and swung down, and Hector had to complete a barricade before anyone fell out. Now it really was an entire box of solid iron, with everyone inside thrown upside down with gun parts clattering around.

And if that wasn’t enough, there was no light inside, either.

So Hector breathed deep and visualized the outside of the box. The side was scraping against a cliff of unstable rock--the same unstable rock from which the box was also suspended, by way of the ten hooked spears he’d materialized.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Page 1393

Uh...

Really, Garovel? Nothing?

Hector, honestly, buying time might be the best we can do here. I mean, if the Rainlords can’t kill it, then...

Not exactly the keen insight that Hector had been hoping for, but he supposed he couldn’t really blame Garovel.

...That is, unless those non-servants from the surface have something else up their sleeves,’ said Garovel. ‘Which it seems like they might.

How can you tell?

Their souls are all gathered together, right now. Seems like they’re working on something. They’re to your right. Do you see them?

He did. And just as the reaper said, they were huddled up in a circle. ‘Ah. They’re standing over a pile of guns.’ He squinted. ‘And it looks like they’re taking them apart.

Well, let’s go talk to--

An interruption arrived in the form of yet another earthquake, and Hector found his bridge crumbling beneath him. He caught himself with an iron slide and curved it toward the group of gunmen. A few sideways tumbles and unintended front flips later, and he managed to find his balance and stick the landing right next to them.

They all turned to give him startled looks before relaxing again.

Ask them what they’re doing,’ said Garovel.

Before Hector got the chance, however, the quaking returned and so did the worm, thrashing its way alarmingly close.

Hector raised his hand flatly upward in front of his chest, and with it, iron appeared below the gunmen and their work, boxing them in instantly. Then Hector grew the whole box in his direction at launching speed, carrying the gunmen and himself out of the worm’s path.

The sudden motion knocked everyone over, apart from Hector, who kept his attention locked firmly on the sludge monster. Thankfully, it did not seem to have taken an interest in him for a third time. Yet.

“Thanks a bundle, Senmurai,” came a familiar voice, belonging to one of the gunmen. It was the crazy-sounding guy from earlier, Hector realized.

Senmurai? Hector wanted to ask what that meant, but there were more pressing matters. “Do you guys have a plan?” he asked instead.

“Oh, wow, you sound so young!” the man said with a laugh. “Couldn’t tell in all that crazy armor!”

“A plan,” repeated Hector. “Do you have one?”

“Son, don’t you worry. Good old-fashioned human ingenuity is here to save the day again.”

“Excuse me?” Hector could see the gunmen piecing something together from all the disassembled parts. Something quite large.

The guy gave another hearty laugh from inside his helmet. “There was never any problem so tough that it couldn’t be solved by a big enough gun!”

Hector’s eyes widened as he watched them continue working. At length, he couldn’t stop himself and just had to ask, “Who are you guys?”

“We’re with the West Intar Company. Search & Discovery Division. I’d shake your hand if mine weren’t so busy right now.”

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Page 1392

Garovel took a few moments to respond. ‘Unfortunately, we don’t have time to worry about that right now,’ he said privately. ‘I’ll look into it later. You just stay focused.

Hector couldn’t argue with that, though he wanted to. When he neared the train, a group of Hun’Kui militiamen slid a door open for him and helped Selena inside.

“I’m sorry!” she was saying through choked breaths. “I just wanted to--! I couldn’t--! I’m sorry--!”

Hector was at a loss for what to say, not even really understanding why she was apologizing.

It’s okay,’ Garovel told her. ‘This sort of reaction to worms is actually quite common. Don’t be too hard on yourself. We have to go now, but we’ll talk to you later, Selena.

She looked at Hector with tear-filled eyes for some reason.

Still, he didn’t know what to do. So he just gave a kind half-nod and then pulled away on his bridge of iron.

As he headed back toward the fighting, he couldn’t get what just happened out of his head. ‘Garovel...

Not everyone adjusts to combat as easily as you do, Hector. But I won’t forget about her, so for now, just put it out of your mind and concentrate.

Really, Hector wanted to ask about Selena’s reaper, but he knew Garovel was right. There would be time for that later. Assuming they lived through this battle, that was. He did have confidence in the Rainlords’ ability to take the monster down, but as he got closer to the mayhem again, it did not look like much progress had been made.

The worm still thrashed wildly around, occasionally catching servants out and sending them flying or just chomping them down. Perhaps most incredibly of all, Hector saw Darktide and Zeff come bursting out of the worm’s backside in a maelstrom of mercury and ice. Apparently, they’d gotten eaten during Hector’s absence.

One might have expected such a gaping back wound to slow the beast down, but it paused for hardly more than a shiver before continuing its rampage.

From his midair vantage point on his bridge, Hector tried to find an opportunity to reenter the fight, but seeing so many familiar faces charge in and get swatted away or be forced to dodge... well, it was a little disheartening.

Evangelina Stroud and Diego Redwater attacking in unison. Then a group of Blackburns, led by Horatio. A group of Delagunas, led by Salvador. A group of Sebolts, led by Carlos. And even the Najirs.

Everyone was struggling to do any kind of real damage. So what the hell did he think he was going to accomplish?

He knew that he was better suited to taking defensive action, but that didn’t seem to be the problem now. The remaining fighters looked like they were avoiding major hits well enough. But any time someone appeared to land a solid blow, the worm either brushed it off or its wounds simply reformed.

It wasn’t long before Hector was beginning to feel everyone’s frustration. ‘Garovel, how do we kill this fuckin’ thing?

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Page 1391

Through the ensuing chaos, the worm didn’t let up. And since the Rainlords had unfortunately gathered a bit closer together while the worm had been downed, the beast now had the opportunity to come bulldozing through the loose crowd that they had formed.

And Selena Cortes was still not moving, Hector noticed, even as the worm turned in his and her general direction.

No time to deliberate.

Hector materialized a sloped platform on the other side of Selena and used it to launch her into his waiting arms. “Grab on!” he shouted to her unnamed reaper, who made no argument.

With the worm bearing down on them and everyone around scattering like startled birds, Hector decided to go upward. Iron materialized below his feet and flung the four them into the air, high enough so that the worm would be able to pass harmlessly below.

Or at least, that had been the plan.

Instead, the worm decided to chase after them specifically and arched up to meet Hector in the air, and suddenly, its slobbering, sludging jaws were closer than ever.

Well, shit.

Even less time to deliberate.

Had to be simple. No thought required. Something he could make in an instant.

A giant iron bowl, of all things, materialized right in front of him in midair. He’d pointed the concave side at the worm’s face.

Its huge mouth fit almost too perfectly into it, and--for a few vital seconds--the bowl became a kind of muzzle. So instead of Hector, Garovel, Selena, and her reaper all being swallowed, they slammed against an iron wall with Hector’s shield.

Not that much of an improvement, but an improvement nonetheless.

The impact was enough to punt the four of them all the way across the cavern and into a far wall, cracking it and loosening a few stalactites from the ceiling.

Hector wondered how many bones in his body had just broken, but his armor and regenerative vigor were doing their jobs, and he managed to create another iron platform to catch everyone before they peeled off the wall and fell.

Rather than lowering them all back down to the ground, however, he looked for the train and tracks, which he discovered were not quite as far away now as he might’ve expected. He started growing his platform in its direction, adding tall support pillars as needed.

Selena sounded like she was trying to say something, but Hector couldn’t make it out. A part of him wanted to ask what was wrong, but something told him that was a question for later. Or possibly never.

Right now, with everything still as confusing as it was, he should probably just try to say something comforting, right? Something like...?

Uh...

Well, maybe saying nothing at all was okay, too.

God, you’re so useless!’ the girl’s reaper said aloud. ‘I can’t believe I ended up with such a--!’ But the reaper cut herself off, leaving the thought unfinished.

The following silence became suddenly uncomfortable.

Hector found himself blinking as he worked on his mobile staircase. He had to consult Garovel. ‘What the hell was she saying just now?

Friday, November 3, 2017

Page 1390

It was Dimas’ handiwork, Hector knew, though it looked like a few others were helping him support the train’s weight, too. Hector decided to add a few quick pillars of his own while he was here.

Abruptly, the sound of a maniac laughing in his ear drew Hector’s attention, and when he looked over, he saw one of the treasure hunters from earlier standing there, draped in a multitude of firearms and apparently having the time of his life.

This was one of those non-servants from the surface. Apart from the helmet, his climate-controlled suit was mostly hidden beneath all the ardor-fueled weaponry and ammunition the man was carrying.

All in all, Hector supposed he shouldn’t have been surprised by this scene.

The man stopped firing to reload, then seemed to change his mind and holstered his weapon in order to exchange it for another, much bulkier one. He pulled what looked like a giant egg out of the ammo bag at his feet and slipped into the loading chamber. Then he smiled and yelled, “Try this on for size, you overgrown shitpile!”

He pulled the trigger, and there came a deep shunk as the now-flaming egg launched out of the barrel.

When it hit the worm, the entire cave shook as an explosion ripped into the monster’s side. The resulting fireball was so bright that Hector had to shield his eyes again, but he was still able to see several defensive walls go up simultaneously as everyone tried to brace themselves against the impact.

But it wasn’t just one impact, Hector discovered. It was a chain of explosions, and each one only made the resultant earthquake even worse, until rocks began falling from the distant ceiling.

The beast was down for the count, though. The explosions had torn it in two, and both gigantic pieces were struggling to find each other again.

The crazy guy just laughed even louder than before.

The Rainlords closed in on the worm, no doubt hoping to finish it off, but they also had to worry about the falling rocks, which didn’t seem to be letting up. Hector rushed forward to help them out with that, adding a thick layer of iron to the dome that they were building.

As he worked, he spotted Selena Cortes a few yards away, only then realizing that he’d kinda just left her behind.

She didn’t look like she was doing so well, either. Her reaper floated over her, seemingly trying to talk to her while she sat there on her knees, eyes shut, hands over her ears. After another moment, Hector also noticed tears streaming down her face.

He wanted to go help her somehow, but he was still trying to be mindful of everything else going on.

Then Garovel, perhaps sensing Hector’s hesitation, said, ‘The worm’s not dead.

Another roar arrived, as if to prove the reaper’s point, and the beast lunged back up, fully reformed. It rammed headlong into the dome that the Rainlords had been making and clobbered it, sending car-sized chunks of metal or mineral toppling overhead. Hector and every other builder scrambled to dematerialize their work before someone ended up flattened.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Page 1389

When Hector’s feet caught the ground again, he found it cracked and shifting up and down, making him struggle for his balance. Worse still, he discovered sludge all over his right arm and leg, hissing nastily against his armor.

He didn’t have time to worry about any of that, however, as he noticed the worm was still in pursuit, snaking toward him this time and tearing up the earth in all directions.

There wasn’t much choice but to keep launching himself away, he felt. His trajectory wasn’t the best, what with everything shaking nonstop, but he at least managed to stay narrowly ahead of the beast--so narrowly, in fact, that he got an all too clear view of an electrical storm brewing in its huge maw.

That wasn’t going to be good.

He tried making larger and larger platforms each time he launched himself, but as expected, the worm just barreled through them without the slightest show of concern.

Thankfully, however, help arrived in the form of a giant, bladed pendulum. It swung down from the cavernous darkness and caught the monster just behind the head, cutting close to halfway through its body before getting stuck.

The worm seized up, and its bulk shuddered visibly. It roared again, and the pendulum snapped in half, letting the embedded chunk be absorbed deeper into it.

Hector took the opportunity to gain some distance again. He watched Melchor leaping in overhead as he was falling back. The man was dragging another pendulum along with his bare hands. The thing must have been four times the size of his own body, and yet he swung it upward with the ease of a simple fire axe.

The blow landed cleanly, catching the worm right in the mouth and cleaving diagonally up through its head and eye-spots. The severed chunk of meat and sludge flew off, and the worm abruptly stopped its rampage in order to convulse and shiver.

Then the electricity from earlier surged out of its torn mouth in blindingly bright arcs, making the previously dim cavern suddenly light up in its entirety. Hector had to shield his eyes as his feet finally found stable ground again and returned to running.

Through the brilliant flashes, Hector saw the discarded hunk of the worm’s head still moving, and indeed, squirming its way back toward the main body. He also saw Melchor get sent flying by a rogue spark that was the size of a bus, leaving only a trail of smoke behind.

The other combatants seemed to take that as their cue to provide relief, and a storm of gunfire and servant-made projectiles exploded toward the beast all at once. They must’ve been holding back until now for fear of hitting Melchor. Or himself, Hector figured.

However, instead of contributing what would probably be a minuscule amount to the collective assault, Hector decided to turn around and check on the train while he could.

The first thing he noticed was that it was not there anymore. Then he saw that it was high above his head, floating slowly upward, the front tip of it having already reached the edge of the gaping hole in the tracks where it had fallen.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Page 1388 -- CXLVIII.

Both worms erupted with bellowing roars, and all attacks against them ceased when the force of the shock wave knocked almost everyone off their feet.

Hector hit the ground and skid for a while before catching himself with an iron dagger in the rocky dirt. He’d nearly lost his grip on his shield and so was not surprised to see that many others around him had lost their grips on theirs.

As a result, he was one of the first to get back up, but what he saw next was not something he felt very privileged to witness.

Instead of two giant worms, now there was one, twice as large. Still in the midst of amassing, its skin crawled and writhed over itself, like a million glistening snakes all squirming in a pool of black tar.

His eyes widened as he began to comprehend the new creature’s size. ‘Garovel, you said they could only get as big as a blue whale.’

Well, to be fair, that’s two worms in one,’ the reaper said privately.

Garovel.

Look, I didn’t know they had goddamn fusion powers. I’ve never actually hunted worms before.’ After a beat of silence, he added, ‘I’m sure we’ll do great, though.

That did not fill Hector with confidence.


Chapter One Hundred Forty-Eight: ‘The Battle with a Behemoth of Old...’
Click to display entire chapter at once -- (mobile link)

Hector learned very quickly about how important distance was when fighting a building-sized opponent--and not just from the worm, but from one another, as well. As soon as he saw that first group of Rainlords get alternately flattened into the ground or swallowed by the ensuing avalanche of sludge, Hector started moving, not needing to hear the shouts from the others, ordering everyone to spread out before reengaging.

As his legs carried him and his full suit of endlessly misting armor around to the monster’s flank, he tried to think. Certainly, this was an enemy unlike any he had ever faced previously. He couldn’t just let his instincts take over. If he wanted to be of any use here, he needed to take a measured approach.

And given how much mass and apparent speed the beast had at its disposal, the sheer amount of momentum that it could generate was unreal. Trying to stop or even just deflect its smothering body seemed completely out of the question, as Melchor Blackburn was currently demonstrating. Even a controlled explosion from Darktide himself couldn’t throw the worm’s enormous bulk off course.

Not in a direct collision, at least, but maybe--

The thought went unfinished as Hector was fortunate enough to be the next one to acquire the worm’s attention. With scarcely more than a twitch of its head as a warning, it lurched suddenly in his direction and became briefly airborne in a flying leap.

Hector reacted with the only thing that he could think of and used an iron platform to launch himself sidelong and out of the way. The monster came crashing down with the force of a hundred thousand bricks.