Monday, September 25, 2023

Page 3412

“What did you do to them?” said Zeff.

One of Graves’ eyebrows twitched. “...Do you truly not know?”

Zeff wasn’t sure how to respond.

“Water Dragon,” said Graves, raising his chin a little. “You know a thing or two about me, don’t you?”

Zeff felt his skin suddenly bristling. A cold shiver down the length of his body.

He ignored it.

“What I know,” said Zeff slowly, “is that you’ve aided my kin here today. You have had the opportunity, multiple times now, to hurt us, and yet you have not. In fact, it seems to me that you have gone out of your way to protect us as best you can, despite quite difficult circumstances.”

Graves was quiet.

“You asked me to keep your secrets for you,” said Zeff. “I’ll do so gladly.”

A few more beats passed, and then a soft smile arrived on the other man’s face, twisting up his mustache. “...It would appear you have some secrets of your own.”

“I won’t deny it.”

“Heh. By the way, how was it that you came to learn that your kin were being held in Logden?”

“Why do you ask?”

“I was just wondering if a little bird might have passed it along.”

A little bird? That seemed almost too on the nose, Zeff thought. Unless... was he not talking about another Sparrow here? “That would’ve been nice,” he said. “I’m afraid it was pure chance, though. What little bird might you be talking about?”

“You know the one, surely.”

“I genuinely do not. And you saying that is only making me more curious.”

“Truly? Why, your daughter, of course. Gema Elroy.”

Zeff blinked. More than once. He fumbled for his next question. “You... ah... do you know where she is?”

Graves returned a quizzical look. “Do you not?”

“No, she... we... we had a falling out, and she’s been... ah...”

“...I see.” The man scratched his chin. “Well, I could put her in contact with you, if you like. Whatever transpired between you, I’m sure she would want to know that you are okay after everything that has happened.”

Zeff was taken aback. “Yes, please! I would be eternally grateful!”

Graves seemed almost as surprised, himself. “Alright, well, uh, don’t be too pleased with me just yet. It will take some time, what with everything going on, right now. Plus, she is... currently in the middle of something and will remain indisposed for quite a while yet.”

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Page 3411

Graves paused for a smirk. “Would you be impressed if I said yes?”

Zeff did not answer. He merely returned his usual glare, though he couldn’t quite keep the confusion out of it entirely.

Graves shook his head and sighed. “Gohvis is certainly not dead. Took me a minute to clock what he’d done, but that wasn’t actually him. It was just a very powerful psychic projection. I suspect he has deployed one to each of the different war fronts in order to aid his allies... which would be absolutely disastrous for us, if I’m right.”

A psychic projection? Ah. Zeff supposed a Sparrow would know all about that type of thing. He wasn’t yet sure that he wanted to say as much aloud, though. Letting on that he knew didn’t seem particularly beneficial, especially with Axiolis' new memories now stewing around in his mind, creating even more uncertainty about how trustworthy this marshal before him truly was.

He did have something in need of clarification, though. “And Vanderberk?” said Zeff. “Is he dead?”

A strained expression crossed the other man’s face. “I’m... actually not sure about that. I think I got him, but... he had some very strange powers at his disposal. Even more strange than I’d heard--and I’d heard some pretty crazy things.” He scratched his forehead, blinking. “I’m just glad it was me who ended up facing him and not one of the others. I don’t know if any of them would’ve had as favorable of a matchup as I did.”

Hmm. “What, exactly, did you do to him?”

Graves paused again and leveled a stare at Zeff. “Curious, are you? That’s only natural. Unfortunately, I cannot explain. And furthermore, I would ask that you not speak of me to anyone. Secrecy has proved to be one of my greatest allies over the years. Spreading word of my abilities, even among those you trust, could eventually endanger not just me but everyone whom I might otherwise be able to protect. Meaning many innocent lives. You understand?”

Rather than answering immediatley, Zeff looked over the dusted battlefield another time, and his gaze went to his many unconscious kin strewn about. Only now was it occurring to him how odd it was that he, alone, should still be conscious. Whatever Graves had done to them hadn’t worked on him and Axiolis.

“Not to worry,” said Graves. “They are all unhurt.”

Saturday, September 23, 2023

Page 3410

It came from a time when the world had been a very different place.

On the brink of absolute conquest.

By the dreaded Kingsparrows. The enemies of all humanity. A force so terrible that it united even the Vanguard and Abolish against it for nearly a century.

And Axiolis furthermore realized that this was not one memory. It was many. A whole lifetimes’s worth, in fact.

It all came back to him in a rush. An overwhelming wave of recollection. Too much to process now, certainly.

And difficult though it was, Zeff did his best to suppress it. They could think through it all later. In this moment, his full attention needed to remain on the field of battle.

On the apparent demise of not only Vanderberk, but also the Monster of the East, too.

Zeff couldn’t believe his eyes.

Gohvis could not break free of his cage. It took a while longer, but just as with Vanderberk, the lines of light graduates to a stage of slowly smothering him, until eventually, the enveloped him entirely.

And then he, too, disappeared. Vanished behind luminous particles.

The Water Dragon of Sair was dumbstruck.

He kept expecting one or both of them to suddenly reappear, to attack from some unseen angle at the edge of his vision.

But that didn’t happen.

Graves, however, was still there.

But the land all around him had changed.

The mass of ardor-filled lava? Even the few trees and rocks that had managed to avoid being struck down or set alight?

In their places, only mounds of ash remained.

Even parts of the prison had been turned to dust, and Zeff was briefly frantic with the worry that some of his kin might have gotten caught up in whatever Graves had done, but he was soon relieved when none appeared to be missing. In fact, all the ash appeared to be distinctly around them, as if they had been deliberately avoided.

And the ash itself was something else. Something disturbingly strange. Axiolis could sense that about it, at least. It felt like a hole in the universe. No soul power or ardor to speak of, not even in trace amounts.

Before he could continue processing the unbelievable scene around him, Graves approached him, still in his seemingly human form while the ash made no noise under his boots.

“Be not alarmed,” said the marshal. “The area is now safe.”

Zeff had to struggle for his first question. “Did you... really kill them both?”