Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Vol. 4 ebook is now available

For anyone who's been waiting for it, it's finally done. Same as the others, you can get at it at both Smashwords and Amazon.

And while I'm talking about it, I'm gonna beg for ratings/reviews.

I'm also offering +10 Hector Bucks for each review (for any ebook, not just Vol. 4). They don't have to be positive reviews, just giving your honest opinion in, let's say, two or more sentences. I was initially reluctant to do this, because I was worried that these would qualify as "incentivized reviews," which are kinda questionable ethically. But after thinking about it a little more, I realized that I'm morally bankrupt and don't care. I'M JUST KIDDING, GUYS. These reviews shouldn't qualify as "incentivized" as Amazon has defined them, because a) I'm not offering a discount in exchange for a review, and b) Hector Bucks aren't real money. Essentially, I'm offering to work harder and write more pages in exchange for ebook reviews, AND THERE'S NOTHING SKETCHY ABOUT THAT, RIGHT? GODDAMMIT.

I mean, I don't think there is. It does feel like a bit of a gray area... AW, SHIT, FOLKS, WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Page 1305

Uh, Voreese?’ thought Roman.

Yeah?’ she said.

I think the leader of Lava Base just murdered one of his own comrades. Reaper included.

...Fuuuck.

Roman pulled himself away from the janitor’s closet and started back the way he’d come. ‘Think I’ll just--

A door opened on the other end of the hall, and a man exited. He spotted Roman immediately and called out to him.

Roman tried not to wince and turned around to face him.

Long, frayed dreadlocks. A thick scraggly beard. Tattered clothing.

Yeah. That was probably Leo, Roman figured as he approached. And when he got close enough, Roman also discovered some of the worst body odor that he had ever encountered. He had to stop breathing for a few seconds in order to process how putrid the man smelt.

Leo said something to him, but it was in Hunese, so Roman had to repeat it to Voreese for a translation.

He wants you to clean his room,’ the reaper said.

And indeed, Leo motioned him into the chamber.

Much as he didn’t want to, Roman did as he was bid.

Huge swaths of blood covered the far wall, as well as the desk in the middle of the room. There was no body, from what Roman could see, but he did spot a few chunks of flesh here and there.

Roman bit his lip, gave the man a nod of acknowledgement, and then turned to leave again, hopefully convincing Leo that he would return shortly with cleaning supplies.

However, at that moment, an unfamiliar figure appeared as if from nowhere, phasing into existence right in front of Roman and Leo both.

It pulled its hood back, revealing a face wrapped entirely in dark bandages, and then offered Roman a letter and a cellphone.

Uh, Voreese’ he said again.

Now what?

Monday, January 30, 2017

Page 1304

((The Monday Triple: page 3 of 3))
Your behavior is worrisome.’

“Nah, dude, I feel great. The whole reason I joined up with the ole’ biddy in the first place was ‘cuz I wanted to enjoy some peace ‘n quiet, y’know? I was sick ‘n tired of workin’ hard all the time just to stay alive, man. But then the ole’ biddy just kept puttin’ me to work, anyway, and nothin’ changed, really. Until I finally pulled this gig here. And, I mean, it’s a cushy job, but somebody’s gotta do it, right? I don’t see why that somebody can’t be me.”

Listen, Leo. What you’re experiencing is not uncommon. Some might even say this is overdue for you. It’s natural for servants to go through a period of... self-reevaluation. But it WILL pass--I promise you. And until then, you need to--

“I get that you’re concerned about me, man, and I appreciate that. I really do. But y’know, I’m pretty happy with the way things are around here. Might not seem like it, but these are some pretty cozy digs.”

“We’re glad you’re so comfortable here, Leo, but just to be on the safe side, I think I’ll schedule a meeting for you with Amaris.”

“That’s not necessary. I just wanna be left alone, man.”

“If you’re worried about Sai-hee, don’t be. We’ll work something out with her. Right now, the priority is making sure you’re alright.”

“Nah, you’re not hearin’ me, fellas.”

“We are, Leo. Everything is going to be just fine. You’ll see. Once we tell Sai-hee about what you’re feeling, she’ll--”

There came a great splattering noise. Followed by silence.

Roman blinked and strained to listen harder. He was able to make out a dripping sound but nothing else.

Page 1303

((The Monday Triple: page 2 of 3))
“Ugh, man, why ya gotta be so uptight? We got a great thing goin’ here, and you can’t just show up outta the blue like this and talk all this smack like we ain’t even civilized ‘r nothin’, man.”

“Oh my goddess, Leo. Sai-hee is going to flip her shit when I tell her what you’ve been doing here.”

“Well, then, maybe don’t tell her, man.”

“What? Of course I’m going to tell her. Your actions--or the lack thereof, I suppose--have consequences, Leo. Honestly, even for you, this is a new low. You’ve always been a bit lazy, but I’ve never known you to be irresponsible. And where the hell is Ericoros, by the way? He’s at fault, too, for not keeping you in check.”

“Oh, y’know, he was crampin’ my style, so I decided to give him a time out for a little while.”

After that, there came an extended silence. Roman looked around the open-air lobby another time and decided to keep heading up stairs, stopping intermittently to check if their conversation had resumed yet.

If nothing else, Roman knew that he wouldn’t be asking Leo for help, but whoever he was talking to seemed to know what they were doing. Roman just had to find the right opportunity to negotiate with them. Admittedly, he wasn’t quite sure how he was going to accomplish that just yet. Maybe start with a bit of stalking while he waited for an opening, and then if worse came to worst, he could always throw money at the problem and hope for the best.

He hated doing that, though. Winning people over with devilish good looks and a can-do attitude was always preferable, he felt.

Leo...

Ah, there’d been a reaper present, too, Roman realized. That might’ve explained all the silence. His ability couldn’t help him hear voices that didn’t actually make sound, obviously, but now that he was on the same floor as them, he was close enough to hear everything. Conveniently enough, he spotted a janitor’s closet. Less conveniently, it was locked, and he wasn’t sure he had a key for it or not, so he decided to just lean against the door while he listened.

...Are you feeling alright, Leo?

“Never better, man.”

Page 1302

((The Monday Triple: page 1 of 3))
“And you need to get your head out of your ass!”

“Man, nobody’ll care if we just take the energy down a notch or two. This place hasn’t been attacked in, like, a hundred years ’r somethin’. We ain’t got no worries.”

“It’s actually only been forty years, but that’s not the point. I’m telling you, Sai-hee wants everyone on high alert. And while we’re on the subject of what she wants, is there a reason you failed to show up to the meeting in Acacero? Because she was not happy that you weren’t there.”

“Yeah, I know, man, and I’m real sorry about that. But it was just, like, I wasn’t really feelin’ it, y’know?”

No, I don’t know! What the hell are you talking about?!”

“It just, y’know--it sounded like it’d be a real drag. And I’ve been tryin’ to eliminate as many stress-triggers from life as possible. Tryin’ to live that healthier lifestyle and be one with Mother Nature, ya feel me?”

“Leo! People are depending on you! And whatever crap you just said is definitely not a good enough reason to simply stop doing your job without even telling anyone, you hippie bastard!”

“Hey, man, there’s no need for name-callin’.”

“Shut up! Do you even know how many problems you’ve been causing?! And what’s all this I’ve been hearing about you treating the Hun’Kui around here like slaves?!”

“Yo, nobody’s a slave, man. That’s just them showin’ their appreciation for us--same way we show our appreciation for them by keepin’ ‘em safe from all the bad juju down here.”

What?! That doesn’t make any sense!”

“Of course it makes sense, man. Makes all the sense in the world. They volunteered to do chores ‘n all sorts o’ groovy things for us, man. What, you think I should’ve turned down their generosity?”

“Yes! You should’ve turned them down! It’s a complete breach of protocol!”

“I don’t know about that...”

“I do! And I know exactly what Sai-hee will think of it, too!”

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Page 1301

He found one conversation about television and another about sleeping. Strangely, that second one was so mundane that it actually held his attention for a bit before he moved on. He soon found a third one about toilet paper and then a fourth about muscle cramps.

All in all, he wasn’t terribly surprised. He’d been eavesdropping on these people for the last few days, and this was about the same level of intrigue that he’d come to expect. He did manage to learn a couple more names, though, in the increasingly unlikely event that anyone ever bothered to question him.

Really, though, he was just looking for someone named “Leo.” From everything he’d heard, that name belonged to the person in charge, which meant that was probably who he wanted to talk to.

But then again, he had to wonder... maybe this was just a waste of time. Even if he did convince these people to return with him to Atreya... would they even prove themselves useful? They hadn’t exactly inspired much--

“YOU ARE A DISASTER!”

Roman winced. He held his forehead and waited for his right ear to stop ringing. When it did, he shook his head, blinked a couple times, and then searched for that conversation again, making sure to reduce the volume. It had come from a few floors above him, he was fairly sure.

“--a mess! Honestly, Leo! What the hell have you been doing here?!”

“Just, y’know, man. Relaxin’. Takin’ it one day at a time. I don’t see what the big deal is, inspector-man.”

“The big deal?! The lava isn’t supposed to be IN the compound, you moron!”

“Yeeeaah, but it’s kind of a hassle to clean up, y’know? And besides, it looks pretty gone, don’t you think?”

“Pretty what?”

“Gone. Y’know, like, outta sight. Cool as ice ‘n beans, man.”

“Argh, it’s not cool! It means the structural integrity of your perimeter is compromised! And what if you ever have guests who aren’t immune to lava, huh?! I shouldn’t have to explain this to you!”

“I think you just need to take a chill pill, daddy-o.”

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Page 1300

((The Saturday donation bonus: page 3 of 3))
Maybe,’ said Voreese, ‘but I’m also hearing talk about some kind of recent coup that has everyone on edge.

At that information, Roman stopped walking and sized up the central tower in front of him one more time. ‘Coup? What kind of coup? And where did it happen?

The extremely bloody kind of coup. And apparently, it happened in Acacero.

And how far away is that?

Pretty far. In the Higher West layer. It’s a solid two days’ ride by train from here.

Hmm.’ He entered the tower and started making his way up the eastern staircase.

It’s fairly close to Capaporo, though. Which is where the hole to Warrenhold is, as you may recall.

Oh. Excellent.’ Roman arrived at the second floor and stopped as a thought struck him. ‘Wait a minute. Did you say you were wandering around town? You’re supposed to be watching the guy I kidnapped.

I am.

Roman waited.

...More or less.

Voreese.

I’m keeping a good view of the shed he’s in. Besides, the fuck am I supposed to do if he escapes, anyway?

Uh, tell me so that I can go recapture him, maybe?

You can’t just drop everything and leave Lava Base now that you’re inside. Sai-hee’s people would be suspicious as fuck.

Roman wasn’t so sure they would, but that was beside the point. ‘If he gets loose, then this mission should be aborted.

Eh, it’ll be fine. You used my godlike knot-tying techniques, remember?

Roman could already tell that this was going to devolve into an argument of attrition, so he decided to just forego it entirely. ‘Alright, shut up for a minute. I need to listen for conversations.

Don’t tell me to shut up. I’ll talk as much as I please.

I’m trying to not get killed here, Voreese.

Maybe you should try to not be such a rude prick, while you’re at it.

Mercifully, however, she did in fact go silent after that, and Roman began listening for voices beyond the wall on his right.

Page 1299

((The Saturday donation bonus: page 2 of 3))
He supposed he should locate this heavy hitter first, and given the layout of the compound as he understood it, the central tower seemed like the best place to start.

He caught some servants littering along the tilestone pathway that led there, so he decided that he might as well do his fake job while he was here. He tried to give the offenders the stink eye, but his goggles probably got in the way, he figured.

Either that, or these people just didn’t give a shit.

Hmm. The more time he spent here, the more he noticed that no one was really looking at him. Like they were avoiding eye contact. Or simply looking through him, perhaps. He couldn’t quite--

How’s it going in there?’ came Voreese’s concentration-ruining voice, as usual.

Hey, these goggles aren’t making me invisible, are they?

What? Of course not. The hell kinda dumbass question is that?

It just feels like no one’s even noticing me.

What, are you lonely without me there to baby you?

I’m serious. This whole atmosphere is off. And I don’t like it.

Relax,’ said Voreese. ‘I’m sure it’s just ‘cuz they think you’re a Hun’Kui. I’ve been listening to people all over Dagerto, and it sounds like the Hun’Kui around here are being treated a little bit slavishly by Sai-hee’s people.

...That’s supposed to make me relax?

Sure. Nothing suspicious is going on. They’re just a bunch of horrible racists.

How comforting.

Actually, though, the situation seems a little more complex than just that. From the way some of these Hun’Kui talk, they’re kinda dickish, too.

They were nice enough to me,’ said Roman.

I think that was because they could tell you were a surface dweller. And you were alone. A single outlier is interesting. Charming, even. A whole group of ‘em, though--that can be kinda overwhelming and scary.

Lava Base isn’t exactly new,’ said Roman. ‘Shouldn’t these people be beyond any initial unease by now?

Page 1298

((The Saturday donation bonus: page 1 of 3))
All things considered, though, Roman wasn’t too impressed with this place’s security. They barely even questioned him upon his arrival; and these weird metallic credentials that he’d spent two solid days learning how to forge properly--the security guards scarcely glanced at them. Even worse than that, for the last few weeks, he’d been working hard at honing his ability to eavesdrop over greater and greater distances, and had reached a point where he could listen through walls--a skill which he had used extensively in preparation for this infiltration. Dozens of conversations, he listened to, wanting to minimize the risk of being outed by any questions that the real janitor should’ve been able to answer.

But that was all unnecessary, it seemed. These people hardly gave him the time of day. He’d expected the Peacemaker’s subordinates to be a bit more vigilant.

Maybe they just didn’t see much action around here. The nearest town did seem pretty peaceful.

Come to think of it, with the way Voreese had described the Undercrust to him, he’d been expecting a hell of a lot more danger during this trip, but aside from one encounter with a feldeath, things had actually been rather nice so far. With his control over particle vibrations, the extreme heat was a complete non-issue for him, and most of the Hun’Kui that he’d encountered seemed nice enough. Sure, he couldn’t understand a damn thing they said, but with Voreese as a translator, that wasn’t much of a problem, either. Hell, even that encounter with the feldeath had resulted in another emergence for him.

On the other hand, all of this smooth sailing was beginning to make him wonder if he wasn’t overdue for some truly terrible luck by now.

A sobering idea, to say the least.

He had to remain cautious, regardless of how lazy these people seemed, because if nothing else, he could certainly sense that someone big was here. This presence that he was feeling was not normal. Not at all.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Page 1297

Of course, it would have been easiest if they would’ve just let him in as an official Atreyan ambassador in the first place. But no. Apparently, the base was on some kind of low-level lockdown and not permitting any unexpected visitors.

Normally, Roman might have given up there and simply moved on to the next location on his list, but as it so happened, Roman knew a little something about the visitors that Lava Base was expecting. The previous fortress that he’d been to was sending a replacement janitor to fill in for one who had fallen ill. So it was just a matter of ambushing the poor guy along the way and assuming his identity.

Unfortunately, that same poor guy had been a Hun’Kui, which meant that Roman needed to disguise himself as one. Which was certainly a new experience for him. He’d used body paint before but never to this extent, and it seemed like the materials that they used here in the Undercrust were different, too. Of course, the paint did have to endure much higher temperatures, but was it supposed to be this itchy? He was beginning to think he was having an allergic reaction.

Maybe that was just from all the shaving, though. He’d never been so hairless in his entire life.

The disguise didn’t end there, however. His non-glowing eyes would’ve been a dead giveaway, obviously, but he’d found an easy solution to that. Many of the Hun’Kui had taken to wearing goggles. At first, he’d thought they were just some kind of fashion trend, but Voreese eventually discovered that these things were infused with ardor, and when wearing them, the Hun’Kui could see reapers.

Suffice to say, Roman was surprised.

And so, here he now was, navigating through Lava Base as a mostly naked, goggle-wearing, gray-skinned janitor. He didn’t think he’d be forgetting this experience for a while.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Page 1296 -- CXLI.

Emiliana didn’t know what to think. Truth be told, she’d never really imagined that there could be some other power that even her parents hadn’t known about.

“So you see,” Jercash continued, “it’s quite the subject that my best pal over here has gifted me a few clues for. What a guy!” He turned to Gohvis and opened his arms wide. “C’mere, ya big palooka. Bring it in.”

Gohvis did not bring it in.

Jercash nodded and then went in for the hug, anyway.

The Monster only stood there, as reciprocative as a demonic statue.

Emiliana was mainly just surprised that he didn’t try to rip Jercash in half.

Jercash released him. “Did we just have a moment? I think we just had a moment.”

“Do that one more time, and you will not be having moments of any kind ever again.”

Jercash just laughed.


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

This was the third fortress he’d visited in as many weeks, and admittedly, the famed Lava Base of Dagerto was a wee bit more intimidating than the others, what with its jet black walls that rose to arching points and its many turreted lookouts that linked up with the cavern’s rocky ceiling. Not to mention the various spouts and streams of actual lava running through it. The place even boasted an enormous lavafall in the middle of the compound, passing right by the central lookout’s main window.

And sure, perhaps blending in among the average citizens of the Undercrust was considerably more difficult than it was on the surface. And certainly, most of the servants around here were powerful enough to pound him into an Atreyan steak sauce if they realized he wasn’t supposed to be here.

But Roman hadn’t let any of that stop him.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Page 1295

((The Wednesday Triple: page 3 of 3))
Emiliana wasn’t sure what he meant. “Um...”

“Don’t follow me? Well, okay, let’s count them, then, shall we? So we’ve got our primary power: the ability which varies between servants. That includes all our transfigurations and materializations and so on. We lump all those together as one power because every servant only gets one, right? Right. Okay.”

“The World,” said Gohvis.

Jercash threw him a confused glance but kept going with Emiliana. “So what other powers do we have?”

Emiliana thought about it. “Regeneration?”

“Ah, yes, but that is not ‘ours,’ so to speak. Regeneration, enhanced strength, and so forth--these things come from reapers, not from us. They must be actively granted to us.” He broke for a moment of deliberation. “But, I suppose it must be said that you lovable mutant freaks may be somewhat of an exception on that count, simply because of all the strange ways you’ve learned to manipulate your ability. But I digress. Try again, girl.”

“...Soul power?” she said.

“That’s right. So between our--”

“The Heavens,” said Gohvis.

Jercash clicked his tongue. “What’re you on about?”

“...Continue,” was all Gohvis said.

“If you’d like to take over, then go right ahead.”

The Monster didn’t respond, and instead merely returned to looking over the materials on his desk.

Jercash exhaled half a sigh before addressing Emiliana again. “So between our abilities and our souls, we have these two major powers. And together, they have created a kind of ‘great duality’ that we’ve come to know quite well over the last few thousand years.

“But the Theory of the Hidden Third suggests that something else exists, as well. A third power that we still don’t fully understand yet, perhaps because we only ever catch glimpses of it. Like with, most notably, emergence. What really causes emergence, hmm?”

Page 1294

((The Wednesday Triple: page 2 of 3))
Jercash accepted the tome and flipped it over in his hands, inspecting it up and down. He opened it and began sifting through the pages. “Hmm. What language is this?”

“Lyzakki,” said Gohvis. “And a few others.”

Jercash gave him a look. “The Lyzakks didn’t write books.”

“No, but they did preserve knowledge in stone.”

“Ah. So these pages are transcriptions, then?”

“Yes, from an underground ruin in Vantalay that I discovered some forty years past.” He held up Chergoa. “I had forgotten all about it until I recently acquired a Lyzakki translator.”

“Huh. Well, uh, that’s great, pal, but I can’t read this.”

“Find a translator for yourself, then.”

“Can’t you just lend me yours?”

“No.”

“But what if I--?”

“No.”

He smacked his lips. “Then could you at least give me the gist of what’s written here?”

“It is a rumination on the Theory of the Hidden Third.”

Jercash’s eyes widened. “Are you serious?”

“I also transcribed several passages from a few other sources that I found here in the Library. To my knowledge, there does not currently exist a more comprehensive pondering of the subject than the volume that you are holding right now.”

Jercash’s eyes widened even more. “Um. Wow. Just. Damn. Thank you.”

“Mm.”

And Emiliana waited, but from the way they were talking, it didn’t seem like anyone was going to ask the question that she wanted answered. So she gathered her audacity and said, “What is this Theory of the Hidden Third?”

Jercash smiled at her. “That, dear girl-whose-name-I-still-don’t-know, refers to a question that has been bothering us for millennia. And might you have any idea what that question is?”

She shook her head.

“Then I’ll ask it to you. How many different powers does a single servant possess?”

Page 1293

((The Wednesday Triple: page 1 of 3))
“Ugh,” Jercash groaned. “Where’s Ivan when I need him?”

“I doubt he would be able to help you here,” said Gohvis. “Koh bit Ivan’s head off a few years ago.”

“Hoho! So much for being able to strike a deal with anyone.”

“The Man-Eater is not known for his ability to operate discreetly,” Gohvis warned. “I would exercise caution, were I you.”

“Caution is my middle name’s motto, and exercise is its ugly sister.”

“Stop trying to sound clever.”

“Stop trying to sound... not cool.”

“What?”

“I don’t know. I changed my mind about insulting you halfway through that, so...”

Germal interrupted. “Would it be alright if I accompanied Jercash as well? Koh and I always travel together.” He motioned with his bloodied stump. “And I cannot ask Nerovoy to come to such a dangerous place in order to regrow this.”

Gohvis gave a silent nod.

“The more the merrier,” said Jercash. “How did you lose that, anyway?”

“Koh.”

“Shoulda guessed,” said Jercash. “Has he maimed anyone else today?”

“Not today,” said Germal.

Jercash glanced Emiliana’s way. “Are you familiar with the saying, girl?”

She was a bit surprised that he could tell she was a girl with her mask on. “Ah--no. What saying?”

“‘Don’t mess with the dog.’”

“Actually, Koh seems to like her,” said Germal.

That gave Jercash pause. “Is that so?” He eyed Emiliana again. “And why might that be, hmm?”

“He is that way with all children,” said Gohvis.

“Oh? I never knew that. So the Man-Eater has a soft spot, does he?”

“Most people do,” said Germal.

“Most people are not dogs,” said Jercash.

The conversation continued between the two of them, but Emiliana’s attention went to Gohvis, who abruptly flew up three floors in a single leap and then returned a few moments later with a large book in hand. He offered it to Jercash.

“What’s this?”

“The real reason I wanted you to come here in person.”

Jercash inhaled audibly. “A gift? For me? You do care!”

“Shut up and take it.”

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Let's Play a Contribution Game

--Updated as of Jan 31st, 2017--
Alright, I’ve got lots of announcements for you.

Firstly, I'm changing up the Saturday donation bonus. Instead of being three extra pages, it'll be increased to five, and the donation threshold will also be increased to $500. I know that might sound a bit extreme, but before you get mad at me, I'm doing it for a reason, which is:

Secondly, I’ve been thinking about how to help generate more traffic for this site, as well as how to just gain an overall larger readership. And it seems clear to me that I need your guys’ help for that, but asking you to do me a bunch of favors purely out of the goodness of your hearts, is perhaps a bit selfish. So I’ve come up with a way to reward you guys for helping me out.

Obviously, I can’t offer you real money, and even if I could, that’d be pretty sketchy, but I CAN offer you guys donation-equivalent-dollars, instead--or Hector Bucks. Which is definitely what I am going to call them. Essentially, one Hector Buck equates to one dollar toward the next donation bonus.

Now, the follow might end up creating some hellish math for me, but here’s my current offer for how you guys can accrue Hector Bucks.

These things, I will count as a $5 donation:
-a significant addition/improvement, with proper use of spoiler tags, to our Wikia.
-a significant addition/improvement, with proper use of spoiler tags, to our TVTropes page. Additions and upkeep on a Characters page would be especially welcome.
-TYPO CATCHES... YEAH, THAT'S RIGHT. SEE IF YOU CAN FIND MY TYPOS. BUT DON'T BE SURPRISED WHEN YOU DON'T FIND ANY, AHAHA. shitshitshitwhathaveidone

I will count as a $10 donation:
-a significant addition/improvement, with proper use of spoiler tags, to a DIFFERENT TVTropes page, which includes a cross-link back to TZK’s main TVTropes page (not back to my website, mind you. TVTropes doesn't like too many outgoing links). You can see a list of all the links I'm talking about on the Related Links page. Your link should show up there automatically when you're done.
-a review on any of the ebook volumes listed at Amazon or Smashwords. Doesn't need to be positive, but it DOES need to give your honest opinion in two or more sentences.

I will count as a $25 donation:
-Fanart that impresses me. And yeah, since I’m offering a reward here, I reserve the right to be a picky jerk about it.

I will count as a $100 donation:
-If you link THIS site somewhere out there on the internet, and that link brings in a bunch of new readers.

Just show me your link in the comments, and I’ll check it against the various site analytics tools that I’m using (which may take a few days of data-gathering).

Couple of warnings for this one, though. You can’t just go around spamming people/other websites with unsolicited links, because a) that doesn’t even work, and b) it’s annoying as hell and is more likely to discourage people from reading the story or even incentivize them to leave a bunch of a hateful comments. So before you do anything that might bite you (or ME, goddammit) on the ass, please stop and consider if what you’re doing is appropriate. Even if you put the link somewhere that a lot of people will see it, it won't help unless you actually give them a reason to check the story out.

Also, I know saying “a bunch of new readers” is a bit vague, but I don’t want to be too specific, either, because that’ll just make it easier for people to try and trick me with bots or whatever. Not that I think any of you would ever do such a thing, of course. I’M SURE EVERYONE ON THE INTERNET IS PERFECTLY TRUSTWORTHY.

(Also, make sure you tell me about your work in the comments and provide a link, so that I can see what you did. I can't very well grant you any Hector Bucks if I don't know you did anything, right?)

And thirdly, in addition to all this other stuff, I created a Patreon page here. The link is also on the right hand side of the site. I'm also doing a Patreon-only bonus for it. It'll be the first goal. If we get to $500 pledged donations a month, then I will start doing triple posts on Fridays, in addition to the Mondays and Wednesdays that I'm already doing.

EDIT: Oh, and the threshold change will go into effect in February, so there'll still be one more Saturday donation bonus of three pages this month.

Page 1292

Jercash’s gaze drifted toward Emiliana and Germal again. “This guy talks tough, but he’s actually worried sick about me. I just wish he’d come right out and say so for a change. Is that so much to ask?”

“Your assessment noticeably left out the Crystal Titan,” said Germal.

“Oh, I’ve got something that’ll keep him occupied,” said Jercash. He turned back to Gohvis. “But that reminds me. You wouldn’t mind lending me a hand, personally, would you?”

“I already said no.”

“C’mon, it wouldn’t be for long. A few days, tops.”

“The last time you said that, I ended up following you around for seven years.”

“Yeah, but that was a complex geopolitical situation that needed navigating. This’ll just be a quick favor.”

“You said that before, as well.”

“I just want you to help me gaslight a few people.”

“No.”

“And maybe scare a few others.”

“No.”

“It’ll be easy.”

No.”

“Agh, fine. Then how about just lending me some of your people?”

“I do not have that many.”

“But the ones you do have are absurdly valuable. So just give me, like, ten.”

“You can take one.”

“Five.”

“One.”

“Four?”

“One.”

“Three? Pretty please?”

“One.”

“I hate negotiating with you.”

“None.”

“Alright! I’ll settle for one. Damn.”

“Who do you want?”

Jercash stroked his mustache. “...Can I have the dog?”

Gohvis thought a moment. “Fine.”

“Ha! Awesome. Thanks, best pal.”

“He will not go with you if he does not want to, however. You will have to persuade him.”

“Aw, shit, really? Can’t you just order him to follow me?”

“I could. But I am not going to.”

Monday, January 23, 2017

Page 1291

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“If you have any idea as to how I can get his attention back to more pragmatic weapons development projects like this one, then I’d love to hear it,” said Jercash.

A beat passed, but Gohvis didn’t answer him. Instead, the Monster picked up the weapon and inspected it more closely.

“The primary problem is fuel,” said Jercash. “Even if we can’t figure out how to build these ourselves, we could always just steal them. But not having a reliable source of ammunition can’t be so easily remedied. Peacemaker’s been helping the Hun’Kui protect their resources, and even if she wasn’t, the refining and manufacturing processes are still largely mysteries, as well.”

“You are asking quite a lot of me.”

“I know, but I would be ever so grateful. And if not you personally, then you’ve got a few smart gents working under you, right?”

“As do you.”

“Sure, but we’ve got our hands full. As soon as I return to Eloa, I’m gonna have Lamont, Kane, and Grant all breathing down my neck. Possibly Carson and Graves, too, since I’m not even sure where they are. Hopefully, your old man will be keeping them busy for us along with Sanko.”

“What about Jackson?”

“Well, I’m pretty sure he’ll be coming after you, not me, but if worse comes to worse, then maybe I’ll just feed Vanderberk to him and run.”

“Without even attempting to fight?” said Gohvis. “Have a few rumors made you so cowardly?”

“Hey, I haven’t survived this long by relying on just strength.”

“No. You have survived this long by getting people to underestimate you.”

Jercash paused at that. Then he smiled and gave a dark laugh. “Well... not all of us can be flat-out unstoppable. I suppose we just come from different schools of thought, you and I.”

“I suppose we do.”

Page 1290

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“Fine, forget it,” said Jercash. He pulled something out of his raincoat and placed it on the desk, knocking a number of tomes off.

Gohvis’ tail caught each one.

“I brought you a gift,” said Jercash.

Emiliana found herself wandering closer for a better look. It was a long, metallic object. A rifle? Her mother had taught her about a wide variety of firearms, but this one didn’t look quite right to her eyes.

“Why?” was all Gohvis said.

“You can’t tell?” said Jercash. “It’s an ardor-fueled rifle from the Undercrust.”

“Mm. How powerful is it?”

“This one? Not very. But stronger ones exist. Also, it has no fuel. I was wondering if you might be able to remedy one or both of those problems.”

“Isn’t this a task more suited to that lunatic of yours?”

Jercash clicked his tongue. “Morgunov was working on it for a little while, but then he got distracted. He’s on some crazy feldeath kick, right now.”

“That sounds rather dangerous, even for him.”

“It is. But he’s obsessed with finding the most efficient method for powering up aberrations.”

“He is trying to feed feldeaths to them?”

“Yeah. And I don’t think he’s had even one success yet. They keep dying. The leap in power might just be too great for an aberration’s otherwise normal body to handle. Or maybe he’s just having trouble taking feldeaths down, in the first place. I’m not sure. I didn’t stick around to observe.”

“He didn’t order you to help him?”

“Of course he did. I told him to get bent. I’m not fightin’ one of those damn things just so he can complete another one of his insane experiments.”

“That reminds me. What ever happened to that mechanical army he was trying to build?”

“Oh, he completed it. Then he destroyed it, because he didn’t like it anymore and wanted to start over.”

“I might have guessed.”

Page 1289

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“I’m just taking an interest in what my best pal--which is you, by the way--is up to,” said Jercash.

“Mm.”

“You don’t need to hide anything from me. I am only here to support you in whatever capacity you require. And if that means unraveling a bit of the age old mystery that is you, then so be it.”

Gohvis made no response.

“Alright, fine. I’ll tell you more about my plans, if you tell me more about yours.”

“There is nothing more to tell.”

“Bullshit! There’s something way off about this library. I’m sure it’s just chock full of juicy secrets.”

“I am merely using it to preserve knowledge.”

“Yeah, and my nineteen ex-wives all married me for love.”

“I am sure it was your inability to let things go that won them over.”

“C’mon, just clue me in a little bit. For old time’s sake. I already know your endgame. Just tell me your next move.”

“Studying is my next move.”

“Ugh, alright, then what’s the move after that one?”

“More studying.”

“What’s the move after you finish all your studying?”

“Researching.”

“That’s the same thing! I wanna know when you’re gonna punch somebody!”

“I won’t know that until I do more research.”

“I will blow up this damn library.”

“Jercash. I genuinely do not have any short-term plans that you would be interested in.”

The man just looked at him.

“Shall I bring in the Weaver and have her read my mind for you?” said Gohvis.

“Yeah, I already know her power doesn’t work on you. Nice try, though.”

Gohvis gave a hulking shrug and returned to his desk. He began sifting through the books that he had stacked there.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Page 1288

“You seem stressed,” said Gohvis.

“I am!”

“Perhaps a nice book would help you unwind.”

Jercash looked like he wanted to scream. After tapping his fingers against his forehead for a few silent moments, however, he composed himself. “...I still can’t believe that one of the most feared men in the world decided to become a librarian.”

“I think it suits me,” said Gohvis. “I only wish I had known about this place when I was younger. It would have saved me considerable grief.”

Jercash ventured over to Gohvis’ desk. “Your mutation studies are going well, then?”

“They are.”

“Does that mean this dream of yours is--?” Jercash cut himself off as his gaze fell upon Germal and Emiliana. “Who’re they, by the way?”

“My pets. You needn’t worry.”

Emiliana raised an eyebrow from behind her mask.

Jercash squinted. “Hey. We recognize you. You’re Germal, aren’t you?”

“I am.” The one-horned man shuffled urgently forward to offer a handshake. “It is a sincere pleasure to meet you, sir. I am a great admirer of your work.”

“We’ve met before, haven’t we?”

“Yes, sir, although that was many years past. I am flattered you remember.”

“You’ve earned yourself a few accolades since then.” Jercash broke for another laugh. “The Gentleman of Palei. The Vanguard sure didn’t like that nickname, did they?” He snapped his fingers a few times. “What was the one they tried to push on you, instead?”

“Ah, I am afraid I do not--”

“The Liar of Lyste. That’s right. Quite catchy, in its own way.”

“Perhaps a bit too catchy, where Lyste is concerned,” said Germal.

“Ah, well, don’t worry about it too much. What’re you doing, hanging around with the likes of him? Is he keeping you here against your will?”

“Oh, you see--”

“Leave them be,” Gohvis interrupted. “We still have much to discuss, do we not?”

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Page 1287

((The Saturday donation bonus: page 3 of 3))
“Mm,” Jercash hummed, eyeing the jar another time. “So how’d he do, then?”

“I expected worse,” said Gohvis.

“Oho! High praise, coming from you.”

“He will still require babysitting for a while longer, I think.”

“Well, yeah. Hell, with your little fire buddy running amok out there, I wouldn’t mind being babysitted, myself.”

“You fear Jackson that much?”

“You don’t?’

“Hmph.”

“That’s not a no.”

“Contrary to what you may have heard, I have no interest in fighting him,” said Gohvis.

“That doesn’t mean he isn’t interested in fighting you. From what I’ve heard, he hates you more than anyone. Even Vanderberk. Hell, even my boss. And everybody hates that guy.”

“What has that old loon been up to lately, anyway? I have not been keeping up with--”

“Whoa, whoa. No changing the subject. I want to know what you plan to do if Jackson hunts you down.”

“If that happens, I will probably fight him.”

Jercash’s expression went flat. “That’s it? You’re just gonna fight him head on?”

“Probably.”

“Ugh. Come on, man. I’ve got plans, here, and you’re part of them, remember? And even if you weren’t, I still wouldn’t want you to die! You’re the only real friend I have left!”

The Monster gave a low laugh--low enough, in fact, that Emiliana mistook it for a growl, at first, before being entirely surprised that he even could laugh. “Your concern is touching.”

“You think I’m joking? Well, I’m not, goddammit. In fact, if I’m being completely honest, you’re probably the only person whose company I find even remotely enjoyable, anymore.”

Emiliana wasn’t quite sure what she was witnessing.

Gohvis still seemed amused. “I shall try not to die for your sake, then.”

“I’m not in the mood for your sarcasm, asshole. If you die, then who does that leave me with, huh?” He held up the jar again. “This shithead? Gimme a break!”

Page 1286 -- CXL.

((The Saturday donation bonus: page 2 of 3))
Chapter One Hundred Forty: ‘O, virtuous Wicked...’
Click to display entire chapter at once -- (mobile link)

Emiliana followed Germal’s ushering lead off to the side of the main path as the stranger approached.

Gohvis opened one of the drawers in his desk and retrieved a large jar from it. He circumnavigated the metal globe in the middle of the room in order to greet his visitor.

“So,” came the man’s two voices, “is there a reason you’ve been jilting my messengers, or do you just like making my life difficult?” He pulled the hood of his coat off, revealing his bronzy complexion more clearly, along with a dark, beastly mustache.

“It is not my fault if the Dáinnbolg kills them before they make it here,” said Gohvis.

“You could’ve met them halfway. I’m sure they made it close enough for you to sense them, at least.”

“I have been busy.”

“And I haven’t? You DO know that the Vanguard’s nearly got us by the short-and-curlies, don’t you?”

“I have complete confidence in you, Jercash.”

“Oh, is that right?” the man laughed. He shifted something that he was carrying beneath his raincoat. “I never thought it would be your kindness that you would kill me with.”

Gohvis offered him the jar. “For all your complaining, you certainly took your time getting here.”

Jercash accepted it. “Eh. I kind of didn’t want him back. Guy’s a real prick, y’know.”

“I do know.”

“Is that why you showed him who’s boss?”

“He wanted to prove himself,” said Gohvis.

“Ah. Where’s Elinox?”

“Who?”

“Vanderberk’s reaper.”

“In the jar with him.”

Jercash held the jar up to his ear and shook it. “Awfully quiet in there.”

“The whining was obnoxious.”

“Agh. How bad is it?”

“The reaper should recover in a day or two.”

Page 1285

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The Monster stood before an immense desk loaded with stacks of books that were as tall as he was. Beyond the desk, Emiliana spotted an enormous globe. It didn’t seem to be what Gohvis was interested in, but it caught her attention nonetheless, what with the way its polished metal shimmered against the countless amber lanterns spread throughout the Library.

As they drew nearer, Emiliana heard Chergoa’s soundless voice speaking continuously.

--thus, the Primordials grew to know shame for all they had wrought, and only then did the Void deign to claim them. The land, the sea, and the sky lamented their loss, and the Heart of the World raged in molten fury. But the Void refused to return them until they learned the meaning of--’ The reaper stopped reading when she noticed Emiliana.

“What are you doing?” Emiliana asked.

Gohvis asked me to translate these ancient tablets for him,’ said Chergoa.

Emiliana wasn’t sure what to say to that. She wanted to ask why the reaper was helping someone like him, but she supposed refusing wouldn’t have been very smart, either.

“Your timing is unfortunate,” the Monster said with his two voices. “We will speak later. Leave now.”

“Is something the matter?” said Germal.

Gohvis opened his lipless mouth to speak, but paused and seemed to change his mind. “Nevermind.” He grabbed the black mask that he’d confiscated from Emiliana before and offered it to her. “Put it on. And remain quiet.”

And Emiliana was confused but not for long, because after a few moments, she felt it. Another enormous soul had arrived. One to rival Gohvis’ own, perhaps.

She did as he’d asked of her. Not that he’d needed to. If anything, she was more comfortable in the mask.

At the far end of the room, a pair of doors opened, inviting some of Exoltha’s furious wind and sleet inside, along with a man in a raincoat.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Page 1284

Emiliana had to stop walking and eye the bones anew. The previous Keeper? The skull did look vaguely humanoid, but it was far too large, and the cuspids were much too long and sharp. Not to mention, the cranium was wildly misshapen.

Or, wait. No.

It wasn’t so much misshapen as it was smashed in, she realized. There were cracks all along the sunken cleft where the forehead should’ve been, and most of the occipital bone was simply missing.

She was almost afraid to inquire any further. “...Did Gohvis do this?”

Germal gave an affirming nod. “The Keeper would not allow him to take more than one book at a time.”

“So he killed it?”

“The creature had been in thrall to the Library since eons past. Letting it live would not have been a mercy.”

Emiliana wondered about that. She crouched down and ran her fingers along the front, side, and upper sections of the old Keeper’s skull. It was as she thought. “...And punching it so hard that its brain flew out the back of its head? You call that a mercy?”

Germal seemed confused. “How--?” He blinked a couple times. “You figured that out from touching it just now?”

She pointed to the fractured indention above the eye sockets. “The brow bone is incredibly thick--noticeably more so than the rest of the skull. If not for that, I imagine the impact would have caused the entire head to explode.”

“Impressive. I am student of anatomy, too. But then, I suppose we all are, hmm?”

“I didn’t do it to impress you.”

“Hmph.” Germal started walking again. “The creature died so quickly that I doubt it felt any pain. So yes, I would still call it a mercy.”

Emiliana gave the bones one last look and then followed.

It didn’t take much longer to find Gohvis.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Page 1283

“Fine,” Ibai pouted. “Where do I find this Keeper of the Library, then?”

“Bottom floor, most likely,” said Germal. After a beat, he seemed to remember something and added, “Oh, and the current Keeper is Gohvis, by the way. Perhaps I should have mentioned that earlier.”

Emiliana just kind of stared at him.

“Ah, Gohvis, huh? I suppose--” Ibai was interrupted by the Library again, but this time, it wasn’t an explosion.

Instead, it was only a simple rumbling. Which grew more intense. And kept growing more intense. Until Emiliana was sufficiently unsettled and began to prefer explosions.

Every single bookcase in her line of sight was shaking, even the ones on the other side of the room’s center pit.

Ibai smacked his lips. “Well, I’m going to go now.” He teleported away just as the room erupted into a storm of paper.

Thousands of books and pages flew together in the center of the room, coalescing into a single, connected form, and a kind of hulking serpent was born. It spiraled in place for a moment, hovering, and then snaked up and over to the floor directly above them. A cluster of familiar crashing noises soon followed. Then there was a pause. Then more crashes.

The pattern repeated from there, and Emiliana got the feeling that it wouldn’t be stopping anytime soon.

At length, Germal began leading her downward again. “...Is your friend going to be okay?” he asked.

“...I have no idea.”

When they finally did reach the bottom floor, the first thing Emiliana noticed was a gargantuan pile of bones just sitting there by the stairwell.

“Are these dinosaur bones? Shouldn’t they have a proper display exhibit or something?”

“Those are not dinosaur bones,” said Germal. “Those are the Library’s previous Keeper.”

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Page 1282

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“Ibai, what are you--?” But Emiliana didn’t get to finish her thought.

The bookcase next to them exploded into a flurry of pages that went straight for the middle-aged Rainlord.

But he wasn’t there anymore. “Hey, this one looks interesting,” came his voice from behind Emiliana and Germal, making them both turn. He pulled a book off the shelf there, and it exploded, too. But still not in time to catch him, apparently. “A History of Worms and Greatworms, by Leonardo Erickson.” He was standing next to her again. “I think I’ve heard of him. He was a famous Vanguardian scholar, wasn’t he?”

Another explosion of books arrived. It missed Ibai again, but Emiliana caught some of it instead and earned herself several enormous paper cuts extending all the way up her right arm.

“Oh!” Ibai bit his lip as he observed her from yet another new angle. “I’m terribly sorry about that. Maybe we should talk somewhere else.”

“Yes, maybe we should,” she said, wincing and nursing her arm. She would’ve liked to have that heightened pain tolerance that Germal was talking about earlier.

He avoided another flurry of books and paper. “Okay!” he said. “We’ll catch up later! I’ll show you all the cool books I found!”

“Do try to be careful, please.”

“Aha! Sure thing!” He paused. “Oh, but wait, here! You might like this one!” He offered her a book titled The Many Mysteries of Mutation, by Agam Elroy.

And she very nearly took it from him before catching herself. “If I take that from you, the Library will come after me, too!”

“Really?”

“Yes! Didn’t you know that was why it was trying to kill you?!”

“Huh. I thought it just didn’t like me.”

“No! You need to put those books back or get permission from the Keeper of the Library!”

“Aw, do I have to?”

“Yes!”

Page 1281

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Another tremor arrived, but it was more noticeable this time, because a crashing sound followed it, as well as a whole lot of rustling paper.

Emiliana and Germal both looked out over the anciently baroque handrail, searching for the source of the commotion amongst the layered sea of bookcases. They couldn’t find it, but the noise never quite died down, only lessened to a background murmur.

“What do you think that was?” Emiliana asked as they continued on.

“At a guess, I would say the Library ate someone just now,” said Germal, “but... then again, perhaps not. It is not usually so aggressive.”

She squinted. “Are you saying that it normally eats people in an unaggressive manner?”

“As a matter of fact, yes. The Library usually consumes you via a kind of hypnosis. You begin reading, and then... you simply never stop. The desire to continue reading overpowers all others in your mind, even thirst and hunger and rest. And with every bit of knowledge you discover, with every new secret you unlock, a small part of your soul is overtaken by the Library. In the end, I suppose, you do learn all of the Library’s secrets. The only problem is that, by that point, you’ve become part of the Library.”

That sounded awfully familiar, Emiliana felt. “How do you know so much about it?” she asked.

“The acquisition of delicate information is my trade,” said Germal.

“...That is not an answer.”

“Alright, fine, Gohvis told me.”

The noise from before resurged and stole their attention again. This time, it sounded closer.

“You have heard the Library make these sounds before?” Emiliana asked.

“Yes, but only once. Gohvis had just discovered this place, and the Library was upset that it could not eat him. But that was years ago, and--”

A brown shade appeared, and then Ibai Blackburn was standing there next to her. “Hello, Em!” he said, all smiles. “Isn’t this place great?!” He had a whole stack of books under one arm.

Page 1280

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As they continued, it was hard to not feel a bit overwhelmed by this place. Suffice to say, in her entire life, she had never seen so many books at once. Or even cumulatively, for that matter. And this scent. She had never thought of “knowledge” as a smell before, but that was what came to mind. Musty, papery, inky, dusty.

Comforting, in an odd way. Welcoming, perhaps. Intoxicating, too, somehow. As if every word on every page was simply waiting to be read.

She couldn’t claim to have ever been an avid reader, really, but this place was making her wish she was otherwise. Surely, there must’ve been all sorts of juicy secrets hidden around here. Why else would Gohvis be interested in a library?

She stopped following Germal and, almost unconsciously, found herself drawing closer to the nearest bookcase. A quick peek wouldn’t hurt. Her hand searched for a book.

Abruptly, Germal was right there next to her, holding her wrist. “I would not do that if I were you.”

“Why not?” she asked.

“The Library of Erudition has three very important rules, so listen well,” said Germal. “First, you can never take a book without the Keeper of the Library’s permission. Second, any book you do take will return to the Library within twenty days. And finally, if you attempt to break either of the first two rules, the Library will devour your soul and every bit of knowledge that you carry.”

Emiliana just stared at him.

He moved her hand back down to her side for her. “Perhaps I should have mentioned that before we came here,” he said.

“Yes, perhaps.”

“The Library is a great honey trap, of sorts. I have heard that it has a will of its own and that it can be rather malicious.”

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Page 1279

Emiliana found that rather difficult to believe but didn’t think being rude would prove useful, so as sincerely as she could manage, she simply asked, “Why?”

“Because, for one thing, as far as I have been able to tell, he always acts either defensively or with great precision,” said Germal. “Unlike many of his contemporaries, he rarely causes collateral damage. And for all their talk, many of the Vanguard’s strongest cannot truthfully make the same claim.”

That was hard to argue with, she supposed. All things considered, she didn’t really know as much about the Vanguard as perhaps she should have; but after hearing the Lady Stroud talk about what transpired at Rheinhal... Emiliana didn’t think she would be forgetting the names Sanko, Parson Miles, and Xavier Lawrence anytime soon.

“For another thing,” Germal went on, “Gohvis is not trying to annihilate humanity, as you have no doubt heard. On the contrary, he is trying to ensure its survival.”

Beyond all others thus far, Emiliana found that claim to be exceptionally dubious. She decided to keep her mouth shut, however, as she began to notice tall bookcases replacing the walls of the corridor. And indeed, they soon arrived at their destination. The hallway opened into an enormous chamber--much more enormous than she had been expecting, in fact.

It was a great stairwell, she saw, and each floor was filled with thousands of books. The wide pit in the middle of the room offered a view that went both above and below, and while she could see a distant ceiling, she couldn’t see a bottom floor.

Germal led her downward, and she tried to glimpse the titles of some of the nearest books, but they were in a language she didn’t recognize.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Page 1278

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“What do you mean, ‘paper boy’?” asked Emiliana.

“A deliverer of news,” said Germal. “It is as mundane as it sounds.”

A rather brief and dismissive answer, Emiliana noticed. She tried a different angle. “How old are you?”

Germal found the question amusing. “A word of advice, cedo. Inquiries such as those are invitations for lies. You will have to choose your words more skillfully than that if you wish to learn anything useful from strangers.”

They came to an intersection of seven different hallways, and Germal chose the far right one.

Emiliana followed. “...So you are not going to tell me how old you are?”

“Would you trust my word if I did?”

“You’ve yet to give me a reason not to.”

“Ah. In that case, I am three years old.”

“...No, you aren’t.”

“And now I have given you your reason.”

Emiliana smacked her lips. “Very well. If you will not tell me about yourself, then what can you tell me of Gohvis?”

“Ha! He is not prone to talking about himself.”

“Yeah, I guessed as much. But is he as bad as everyone says?”

Germal stopped walking to look at her. “Everyone? Who is everyone, cedo?”

She wasn’t quite sure what he was asking. “Um...”

“You have not heard what everyone says, I should think. If you believe that everyone thinks him evil, then you have heard but one side of the debate.”

“Tell me the other side, then.”

Germal continued walking. “The Black Scourge. The Monster of the East. In this place, and many others, those names are all but heresy. Speak them aloud and you are liable to receive a lashing that you will not soon recover from.”

Emiliana just listened.

“Gohvis is a hero to many--and I do not mean only our kind. There are some places where he is even revered as the greatest hope for all humanity.”

Page 1277

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“Oh, did I ruin it?” said Germal innocently.

In an instant, Koh torpedoed into Germal and ripped one of his arms off. Germal shrieked as blood splattered across the corridor.

“REALLY?!” the man screamed. “WAS THAT NECESSARY?!”

Koh seemed content now, however, and had lain back down to start gnawing on his prize.

Germal gave a throaty groan as he tried in vain to stifle the bleeding with one hand. “Unbelievable. You realize, now we must arrange a meeting with Nerovoy? Which will put us behind schedule.”

Koh didn’t appear to care very much.

Emiliana had a handful of fresh questions, but she decided to start with the most courteous one. “Are you alright?”

“Yes, yes,” said Germal, sounding more annoyed than pained now. He pulled off his half-shredded overshirt and began trying to tie it around the open wound. “Heightened pain tolerance was one of my earlier modifications. I would highly recommend it, as soon as you are capable.”

Emiliana helped him finish wrapping it, more or less. She did know how to dress a wound properly, and that was most definitely not proper, but she supposed it didn’t matter so much for a servant. The main concern was just to avoid getting blood everywhere.

They decided to leave Koh alone after that.

Emiliana posed her next question while they walked. “So this Nerovoy is your reaper, then?”

“Yes,” said Germal.

“Why is... he or she not with you now?”

“He and I are rarely together,” said Germal. “The nature of our job keeps us very far apart.”

“What job is that?”

“Oh, it is quite dull. I doubt you would be interested.”

“I’ll be the judge of that.”

“Heh. If you must know, I am but a glorified paper boy.”

Page 1276

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Emiliana took a step back unconsciously as she recalled where she had learned of “the Man-Eater of Melmoore.” It was her mother’s doing. From time to time, the woman had forced her to study the names and accounts of notorious servants around the world.

As the name implied, the Man-Eater was supposed to have devoured upwards of four hundred people over the last sixty years or so. He’d become something of a Melmoorian bogeyman, and Emiliana even remembered reading one story about a village that formed a cult around his legend and conducted human sacrifices in order to appease him.

Looking at him now, Emiliana wasn’t sure what to believe.

Koh puffed on his cigar and then swished it over to the other side of his mouth. He leveled his orange-eyed gaze her way.

“I think he wants you to pet him,” said Germal.

Emiliana didn’t think he wanted that at all.

“Go on. He will not hurt you. I give you my word.”

She frowned and began moving her non-clawed hand slowly toward Koh’s huge head.

For a time, Koh merely watched her hand approach, but then, apparently, he grew tired of waiting and met her halfway.

The top of his head was surprisingly fluffy. She scratched behind one of his ears, and the giant dog went abruptly limp and shut his eyes. He nestled up closer to her, and she brought her clawed hand up to use on the other ear. He seemed to appreciate that quite a lot.

After observing for a short while, Germal decided to interject. “Strange to think he used to be a grown man, eh?”

Emiliana’s mouth flattened. Somehow, that idea began to spoil her enjoyment, and she pulled away.

Koh’s eyes popped open, and he growled at the horned man again.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Page 1275

The name didn’t mean much to Emiliana, but maybe Chergoa would be able to tell her more about it. She’d have to ask her later.

As they continued on, they met several other mutation users. Emiliana had seen a few of them already but hadn’t gone so far as to speak with any of them. None of them looked particularly welcoming, but Germal seemed to have no reservations about initiating a conversation with each one.

The first was an apparent beetle-man with an enormous sword on his back. Germal asked him about Vantalay, to which the beetle-man grumbled about there being a spike in terrorist activity. Germal asked if he required help, but the beetle-man said that Gohvis had already promised him reinforcements.

After the beetle-man, they encountered a gorilla-man, a hawk-man, a falcon-woman, a crocodile-man who expressed interest in following Gohvis’ example, a kind of chimera-creature mixing several different animals together, and one very large dog with a cigar in its mouth.

Not a dog-man. Just a dog. Or perhaps wolf. Emiliana had never seen a wolf in real life before, but she had difficulty believing that they were supposed to be this size. On all fours, it was nearly as tall as she was and seemed closer to the weight-class of a tiger, if not beyond it.

Ironically enough, despite not being able to speak, the dog was the one they spent the most time talking to.

“This is my traveling companion,” said Germal. “His name is Koh. Perhaps you have heard of him?”

A bit hesitant, Emiliana just shook her head.

“The Silver Devil of Dante?” said Germal. “The Man-Eater of Melmoore?”

Emiliana blinked, because that last one did ring a bell.

Koh growled and bumped into Germal, knocking him on his ass.

Germal chortled as he stood back up and brushed himself off. “Forgive me. Koh does not like those names.”

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Page 1274

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Chergoa occasionally chimed in to check on Emiliana, but the reaper was apparently being held somewhere, temporarily. According to Chergoa, Gohvis claimed that he would allow the reaper to roam freely soon, because the ground of Exoltha served as a kind of natural soul net and did not allow reapers to phase through it--or at least, not safely.

Emiliana had spent the intervening time in her room, mostly, while she mulled her situation over and played with the lone Shard in her possession. She was simply amazed that she hadn’t lost the thing on the way here.

She did wonder where Ibai Blackburn had gotten off to, though. She even ventured off in search of him a couple times, but the layout of this place was beyond confounding, and she hadn’t seen the man even once since they’d arrived here. She just hoped Gohvis hadn’t changed his mind about killing him.

And so, at the moment, the prospect of having an actual guide for this labyrinthine building was quite appealing, even if she didn’t know what to make of Germal yet.

She decided to accept his offer of a tour, and they left the room together.

As they walked down the first corridor, she thought of her first question. “Does this place have a proper name? I heard Gohvis call it ‘the Library,’ but I am not certain if that was a name or... um...”

“Perhaps you are confused by the noticeable lack of books around here, hmm?”

She bobbed her head. “That is one reason, yes.”

“Would you like me to show you where the books are? That is undoubtedly where we will find Gohvis.”

“Oh, um. Yes, please do.”

“Very well.”

“But... you never answered my question.”

“Hmm? Oh, the name of this place. Yes, of course. This is the Library of Erudia. Or the Library of Erudition, if you prefer.”

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Extended tremors were frequent as well, usually following the abundant lightning but not always. Loud rain, louder hail, and ferocious blizzards were all equally common, from what she’d seen so far. It felt as if the weather in this place could change by the minute, and oftentimes, the entire building would shudder in its wake.

Why have you brought us to Exoltha?’ Chergoa had asked, much to Emiliana’s surprise.

The Monster had not answered her, however. “I advise you not to set foot outside the Library,” he said. “I may not stop you, but the Dáinnbolg certainly will.”

And through the observation glass, Emiliana had seen it. A creature of unbelievable proportions, rising out of the ground--melting out of it, like some kind of phantom.

Its hulking form drew nearer, and Emiliana got much too good of a look at its grotesque body of black-and-red fire. Its five arms were long, spindly things that each looked big enough to cradle an elephant like a baby, and its gaunt face seemed to be less of a face and more of a loose amalgamation of constantly moving and twisting ridges.

“What is that thing?!” said Emiliana.

“A feldeath,” said Gohvis. “One of the many inhabiting this place. They do not like it when you look at them.”

It was close enough now that it was practically breathing on the observation windows. Assuming it even did breathe, in the first place.

A-are we safe from it in here?’ asked Chergoa.

“Probably.”

It opened its mouth, and a blinding light poured forth. Even with the unwanted filter on her eyes, Emiliana had to squint nearly to the point of closing them. And when the light subsided, it did not altogether disappear. Rather, it was replaced by that of a roaring inferno, as the creature had engulfed the exterior of the observation chamber in fire.

Gohvis didn’t seem too concerned about it, though. They retired downstairs soon afterward, and Gohvis took Chergoa with him, leaving Emiliana to her own devices. She hadn’t seen him since, but she could still feel his weighty presence in the air.

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The man had certainly gotten her attention. “Enlightening in what way?” she asked.

“For example, two horns are indicative of a predisposition for mammalian traits. Three horns are indicative of reptilian traits. Seven are indicative of avian. Ten, amphibian. Thirteen, I believe, are arachnid. And so on.”

Emiliana noticed the most obvious omission. “What do four horns indicate?”

“I was rather hoping you would be able to tell me,” said Germal. “The reason I broached the subject at all is because I have never seen four horns before.”

That figured, she supposed, her expression growing briefly bitter. “What about one horn, then?”

Germal smiled. “Alas, I am also something of a curiosity.”

How odd. Emiliana decided to take this man’s words with a grain of salt. Primarily, she wondered what kind of mutations he had subjected himself to. Aside from that lone horn, she could see no other obvious modifications. And from what she knew of mutation, the ability would activate itself if he didn’t use it for too long.

She considered asking him about it, but she wasn’t sure how to phrase the question, and Germal asked something else before she could figure it out.

“Has anyone given you the grand tour, yet?” he said.

Gohvis had showed her around a little when she first arrived, but only enough to know where a few things were. She’d seen a kitchen, a handful of bathrooms, a whole lot of locked rooms, and one immense observation deck at the top of a flight of stairs.

That place had been particularly informative. The encircling view of the world’s most notorious storm was something to behold. Bright as any cloud-covered day in one moment, dark as night in the next, followed by a string of lightning strikes that lit up the rocky and barren landscape like a strobe light.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Page 1271

Upon seeing Emiliana sitting there on the edge of her bed, the stranger stopped. He said something in a language she didn’t understand. After a beat, he said something else in what sounded like another language she didn’t understand.

She merely tilted her head at him.

“Mohssian, perhaps?” he said.

She perked up. “Y-yes, hello.”

“Ah, there we are. My apologies, cedo. I could have sworn that this was my room.”

Emiliana wasn’t sure how to respond.

“Alas, I do not recognize you,” he went on. “Have you been here long?”

“Only a few days.” She shifted slightly as she wondered if she should even be talking to this person.

“I see. Well, it is lovely to meet you, cedo. My name is Germal. Would you grant me the honor of knowing yours?”

She hesitated but said, “Emiliana.”

“Ah. A name with its roots in the old Arman language, if I am not mistaken.”

Perhaps it was time to ask some questions of her own. “How many languages do you know?”

The horned man paused pensively. “Eight, if I am trying to impress. Three and five-quarters, if I am not.”

She merely tilted her head at him again.

Germal took a step farther into the room, but he left the door open. His attire looked like something a casual school teacher might wear, but the way he spoke seemed far from casual to her ears. Perhaps it was just his accent, though. She couldn’t place it.

“Forgive me if I am mistaken,” he said, “but you seem quite young, cedo, and those horns on your face--has anyone explained their significance to you?”

“What do you mean?”

He motioned to his own horn. “As a first experience with mutation, these are extremely common. Nearly universal, in fact. But few people know that the number of initial horns can be very enlightening.”

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Page 1270

At length, she heard Hector again. ‘...Emiliana?

Yes?’ she said.

Could you not hear him?

No, I did not hear anything.

Huh. He was trying to talk to you just now, though.

Ah, then... perhaps this only works for the two of us.

You might be right,’ said Hector. ‘You’re holding one of the Shards, right now, aren’t you?

Yes.

That makes sense. I mean, sort of. We both met Rasalased.

And my father didn’t.

Yeah...

Another long silence.

Then Emiliana realized there was still a question that she desperately wanted an answer to. ‘How are Marcos and Ramira? Are they safe?

Yeah. They’re doing just fine. They’re right here with me, too.

Relief ran through her. ‘What about my father? How is he doing?

...Well, he’s been through a lot, but... I mean, he’s handling it better than I would, I think. A lot better.’ Hector paused. ‘At the moment, though, uh... he doesn’t seem too pleased with me...

Why?

I think he’s mad that only I can talk to you.

Oh.’ She smiled faintly at that.

And yet another intervening silence arrived.

As she thought about it, there were about a million other questions she wanted to ask--how the hell they survived their encounter with the Salesman of Death, for instance--but she was having difficulty deciding which question was most important.

Unfortunately, before she could make up her mind, the tall, forest green door on the other side of the room began opening, and she hurriedly pocketed the Shard. ‘I have to go,’ she threw out to Hector, but she didn’t hear an answer, presumably because she had stopped touching the Shard directly.

Maybe it would’ve been better to keep touching it in her pocket, but she still wasn’t quite sure how this all worked, and she didn’t want the distraction right now.

The one who entered was not Gohvis. Instead, it was a mostly average-looking man, save for the large, arching horn in the middle of his forehead.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Page 1269 -- CXXXIX.

((The Wednesday Triple: page 3 of 3))
Chapter One Hundred Thirty-Nine: ‘Solicitous souls, take heart...’
Click to display entire chapter at once -- (mobile link)

Emiliana couldn’t believe what she’d just heard. Had that really been Hector just now? Was she hallucinating again?

The whole room trembled briefly as the storm outside raged with the strength of an earthquake for a moment, but she was growing accustomed to that by now and so didn’t allow it to distract her.

...Emiliana?

She nearly laughed. ‘Hector! It IS you!’ She wasn’t sure if she was happier knowing that it really was him or just knowing that she wasn’t going crazy.

How...? Uh...? What is happening, right now?

I have no idea,’ she said, still smiling. She wasn’t wearing her mask, as Gohvis had taken it from her.

Where are you?

Oh, I--’ And she hesitated. Impulsively, she wanted to say. Of course she did. But what logic would there be in that? So that Hector would come after her? Or, perhaps more likely, her father?

No.

She couldn’t allow that. There was virtually no doubt in her mind that Gohvis would kill anyone who tried to take her away from this place.

...I don’t know where I am,’ she said.

...Are you okay?’ said Hector. ‘Is Chergoa?

Yes, we are both fine. Gohvis has not harmed us.’ Well, technically, he had broken every bone in her body on the way here, she supposed, but he hadn’t permanently harmed her, at least.

So Ibai couldn’t get away, then.

No. Gohvis is... inescapable, it would seem.

I see...

There came a long pause, as apparently neither of them knew what to say next.

Hector was the one to pick it up again. ‘Oh! Your father wants to talk to you. Here, I’ll put him on.

Emiliana held her breath as she waited to hear her father’s words.

But they never came.

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“Would you mind letting me hold one of the Shards again?” said Hector.

Asad hesitated. “Why?”

“I... I think Rasalased might be trying to talk to me.”

“...What makes you think that?”

“Uh... it might sound a hard to believe.”

“I’ll try to keep an open mind.”

Hector frowned. There was no dancing around it, he supposed. “I can sense the Shards. Somehow. Like... like they’re alive. And. Sort of. Calling to me? Does that make sense?”

Not really,’ said Qorvass, who’d apparently started listening.

The reapers had finally stopped blabbering on about treasure, Hector realized.

Asad was already digging through his bag, however. He pulled out a Shard. “Here.”

Qorvass looked noticeably more reluctant than his servant, and the pair of them paused in silence briefly, perhaps exchanging words between themselves.

Hector accepted Asad’s offer. His cloud-coated hand touched the Shard, and a shiver shot up the length of his arm and straight into his brain.

And a sense of familiarity washed over him.

But nothing else happened, seemingly.

He’d stopped walking with the group, he realized, and began to feel a bit light-headed. He needed to pay better attention to his surroundings, he told himself, rubbing his forehead. He’d been letting himself get distracted way too easily, especially in this new and dangerous place. He was supposed to be staying alert.

“Are you okay?” Asad and Qorvass had stayed back with him. The others had stopped just ahead of them, and Garovel was floating over now as well.

“Y-yeah...” He inhaled deeply, thinking. The daze in his head was clearing. He couldn’t hear Rasalased. But maybe he needed to initiate the conversation. He wasn’t sure how else to begin, so he just tried to concentrate on the Shard, to think into it. ‘...Hello?

...Hector?’ came the response.

And he blinked. Multiple times. Because, somehow, he could immediately tell who he was talking to. And it wasn’t Rasalased. It was Emiliana Elroy.

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After that, the reapers continued on discussing ancient treasures, some they’d already mentioned, some they hadn’t. Regardless, Hector found it difficult to keep listening. The pulse of the Shards had his attention again.

Or, in a way, it felt almost like they wanted his attention.

Then again, maybe they did. They did have a mind of their own, after all. Maybe Rasalased wanted to talk to him or something.

Now there was a thought.

He wanted to consult Garovel about it, but the reaper was still conversing with the others.

So instead, he found himself saying, “Hey, uh, Asad...”

The Sandlord turned to look at him.

He wondered how to broach the subject without sounding like a lunatic. “Uh... I, uh... I forgot to ask you earlier. Were you and Qorvass able to talk with Rasalased?”

Hector had, of course, already told them about meeting the Dry God. As soon as he’d returned the Shards to Asad, it was the first thing that came up. And to say that Asad and Qorvass were surprised, would be an understatement. Rather, they had required about an hour to fully process that bit of information, asking disbelieving questions intermittently, not all of which Hector and Garovel were able to answer.

And so, when Asad looked at him now with an expression that was equal parts doubt and disappointment, Hector understood why. “No,” said Asad, “we haven’t managed it, yet.”

That was strange. Hector thought it would be easy for Asad, now that they’d “woken” Rasalased up or whatever, but maybe it wasn’t that simple. Maybe that encounter with him really had a been a freak accident, after all. He did recall Chergoa mentioning something about a “hyper anomaly,” though he was pretty sure she’d been joking.

Whatever the case, it didn’t change what he wanted to ask, here and now.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Page 1266

Their game continued for quite a while, and as much as he would have liked to know more about the ancient treasures of the world, Hector found it difficult to keep listening to them just endlessly naming things.

But it reminded him. Didn’t they already have some legendary treasure with them? His eyes went to the bag on Asad’s back.

He could still sense the Shards there. In fact, he’d been sensing them this whole time and just kind of gotten used to the feeling. For the most part. It was like a slow, gentle pulse that existed underneath everything. Easy to overlook when he wasn’t focused on it, but always there, like a heartbeat.

He’d yet to mention this to Garovel, as it had simply slipped his mind, but clearly, he needed to.

...Is it the Sosho’Diyu?’ said Axiolis.

Yes!’ Mevox finally said. ‘That’s it! You got it!

Ha!

Aww...

“What is this Sosho’Diyu, then?” asked Zeff.

Mevox was eager to answer. ‘It’s supposedly the final resting place of one of the greatest thieves in history. He was so great that no one ever learned his name, in spite of the fact that he stole enough money to bankrupt five kingdoms.

“Wow,” said Zeff.

Is that all you know of it?’ said Axiolis.

Uh,’ said Mevox. ‘Yeah, why?

Because that is not the whole story.

Oh? Do go on.

The Sosho’Diyu is a term from the Aidai language. In Mohssian, it roughly translates to “the Grave of the Underworld.”

Oh... I’m guessing there’s a reason for that, huh?

Yes,’ said Axiolis. ‘This thief, as you said, was unknown, but the story also goes on to say that he stole something so immeasurably valuable that the Gates of Hell opened, and the God of Death came to claim it from him.

A beat passed as, apparently, no one knew what to say to that.

Huh,’ said Mevox. ‘Well, that’s a bit of a mood killer.

Monday, January 9, 2017

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Ugh,’ said Iziol. ‘MUST you speak that way?

Yes! Now quit interrupting me!

The reason is a treasure hunt.’

Oh, you thunder-stealing bastard!

“Treasure hunt?” said Asad.

Rumors are swirling that--

No, shut up!’ said Mevox. ‘Rumors are swirling that there’s a crazy treasure trove somewhere around here! Something that’s been thought lost for centuries!

Wait a minute,’ said Qorvass. ‘Centuries? You’re not talking about the Hand of Arkos, are you?

Actually, no, I’m not,’ said Mevox.

Oh,’ said Qorvass. ‘Well, forget I said anything, then.

Axiolis chimed in now. ‘Are you talking about the Shifting Spear of Logante?

Nope, not that, either.

What about Lost Library of Erudia?’ tried Garovel.

Are you kidding? Why would that be here?

I dunno. That’s why I asked.

Ooh!’ said Iziol. ‘Is it the Repeating Discs of Karugetti?

Nope, that’s not--wait, what? You already know what it is!

I just wanted to participate.

Garovel tried again. ‘How about the Crown Jewels of Yena Maria?

Still nope.

Is it the Golden City of Arnuwe?

No.

The Golden City of Pomurnen?

No.

The Golden City of--

It’s not one of the golden cities. Those probably don’t even exist.

Hey, don’t be like that.

I do not suppose it is the Fountain of Lhutwë, is it?

Oh, wow, no. Could you imagine?

I could, yes.

What about the Daring Doll of Damian?

That dumb shit?! Thank god it’s not that!

How about the Undulating Arch-Throne?

Mevox broke for a hearty laugh, then said, ‘Oh, I wish. That would be amazing.

Could it be the Rolling Fists of Chaos?

Nope.

“Perhaps you should give them a hint,” offered Asad.

No!’ they said in unison.

Be quiet, Asad.

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“If you can make a falling object float in place so easily, then your ability should already be more than strong enough to manipulate temperatures. It is just a matter of raising your skill level to match your raw power.”

Hector tried to take those words to heart. After so many failed attempts on his own, he’d been growing discouraged and thinking that he just wasn’t strong enough to manipulate his iron’s temperature yet, but clearly, they knew better than he did. He just had to keep at it.

When they finally rejoined the other Rainlords, Hector’s newfound status as a walking rain cloud was enough to earn more than a few looks. But at least it was quieter than that damn refrigeration suit. The steam did cause a kind of low hissing, but it wasn’t so bad, comparatively. Hector was already getting used to it.

Either that, or perhaps Zeff had muffled the noise, somehow. The man had managed to ensure that Hector’s eyes were never covered too much, so maybe that was possible, too. After everything he’d seen Zeff do and heard him say, Hector had come to have quite a lot of faith in the man’s mastery over materialization.

As the Rainlords made their way through the streets of Babbadelo again, it was Mevox, reaper to Lord Salvador Delaguna, who began explaining what they’d learned from the Hun’Kui.

So the local government here is in complete chaos,’ said Mevox. ‘Seems our arrival here is badly timed.’ He paused for a low chortle. ‘Or, AMAZINGLY timed.

You are beginning to sound like a lunatic again,’ said Iziol, the reaper to Dimas.

I don’t need to hear that from YOU,’ said Mevox. ‘Anyway, like I was saying, this place is in chaos, right now, and the reason for it is dick-shittingly incredible.

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Of course, it wasn’t truly still, like Zeff’s water had been. Hector could see the iron moving in place--and feel it, too, when he ran his finger across it--but the overall shape was almost trivial to maintain. It only took Hector a few seconds to get a feel for the acceleration of gravity, and then, like magic, he had it down.

Also like magic, he found it quite fun to stare at. He marveled at the iron cube hovering over the palm of his hand, feeling like a genuine sorcerer. But then again, he supposed he kind of was one--and had been this whole time, perhaps.

He was going to be playing around with this a lot, he felt. A perpetually falling-yet-stationary object. He wondered if it had any practical applications. He couldn’t think of any, at the moment, but... hell, even if it didn’t have any, that’d be okay, he supposed. The technique just had a kind of elegant simplicity to it, and he was slightly disappointed that he hadn’t thought of it himself. And a bit surprised that Garovel hadn’t known of it.

There was also another technique that they had been mentioning--something they called “mapping,” which Zeff seemed to finally be getting around to explaining, but as luck would have it, an interruption arrived before he could.

The other Rainlords had grown tired of waiting around for them and wished to proceed on, and Hector couldn’t really blame them. By now, they’d probably interrogated every single one of the Hun’Kui who’d assaulted them.

Shall we continue this later?’ said Garovel.

“Very well,” said Zeff, as the group began walking together. “In the meantime, work on your precision-crafting.”

“And temperature manipulation,” Asad added.

“Ah, yes.”