Saturday, August 31, 2013

Page 218

“What do you need help with?” said Sheryl. “I’m pretty good with geography. Gregory’s a math nerd.”

“Hey, I’m not--”

“Yes, you are, shut up. Micah, you’re good at something, aren’t you?”

“Hell no.”

“Yeah, you are! Biology! You’re good at biology!”

“No, I’m not! I cheat, I swear I do!”

“Yeah, right, you goodie-good! Nathan, Janine, what are your best subjects?”

Hector, what have you done?

I don’t know, but I’m scared...

“Hector!” said Sheryl, making him flinch. “C’mon! Give us your address, and we’ll take turns tutoring you!”


Battonburg was a quiet little town. Buildings were architecturally ornate but never more than three stories. The small roads remained quiet, even in the middle of the day, and as Geoffrey looked for a place to park, he spotted a familiar reaper waving him down. He pulled into a diner and got out of his sleek, white sports car.

Ozmere floated over to him, with Moss lumbering not far behind. ‘Hello again,’ the reaper said.

“Hello. What are you doing here?”

We wanted to make sure you didn’t wipe out the entire town.

Geoffrey pouted. “Aww, but that is the easiest way. I do not need to ask around about Colt if I just consume all their souls and read their minds.”

Geoffrey, please. That sort of thing will attract the attention of the Vanguard’s aberration hunters. And trust me when I say that would not be fun for you.


Don’t be like that. We’ll make a game of it. We’ll talk to various people and if someone seems like they know something useful, THEN you can eat their soul. Agreed?

“Oh, very well.”


“Is Desmond here, too?”

No, he and Ezmortig are still in Sescoria. There is still much that needs overseeing. Our reinforcements arrived the other day, and Desmond’s been trying to help everyone get situated without drawing too much attention.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Page 217

He waited for lunch to arrive, barely staying awake for his next class and giving up entirely for the one after. None of the teachers mentioned his absence at all, but he supposed he should have expected that, given how overcrowded each class was. They surely had more important things to worry about than the whereabouts of a single student.

When lunch arrived, he found himself seated at the table with everyone, receiving their questions and intrigued faces. After all that had happened to him, he had to remind himself of their names. Nathan, Janine, Gregory, and then of course Sheryl and Micah.

“...I got a job in private security,” Hector explained.

Really? I was guessing you’d go with metalworking.

“Security?” said Sheryl. “You mean like a bodyguard?”

“Kinda, yeah...”

“I didn’t think people under eighteen could get work like that,” said Micah.

Oho. What now, genius?

“It’s... an unusual arrangement, um... just... It’s difficult to explain.”

What a cop-out! Boooo!

“What do you mean ‘unusual’?” Gregory asked.


Hector looked between everyone. “Um. Well, uh. This wealthy guy... he hired me. D-don’t ask me why. I don’t really know. But um. It’s pretty rewarding work. I mean, I enjoy it.”

Wow, Hector.

“There’s just one problem,” Hector added. “My boss. He’s kind of a jackass.”

Oh, you dick.

Micah’s brow rose. “Has your boss been making you miss school? That’s not legal, is it?”

“N-no, I’ve been choosing to miss school...”

“That’s no good!” said Sheryl. “You shouldn’t skip so much. What if you aren’t able to graduate?”

Hector frowned. “Ah, uh... I-I think that ship may’ve already sailed, actually...”

Her eyes bulged. “What?! You’re kidding!”

Hector flushed with shame and looked down at his food. It was some kind of meat-like blob covered in sauce, and the sight of it didn’t do much to make him feel better.

“Do you need a tutor?” Micah asked.

“Yeah, do you need a tutor?” Sheryl echoed.

“Um, I, ah...”

Uh-oh. Where is this going?

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Page 216

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“Hector!” said Sheryl, smiling. “How have you been?! We were starting to think you moved away or something!”

He averted his gaze as she cornered him against a wall and a line of lockers. “I, uh...” Garovel wasn’t awake to help him. He froze up.

“Is everything okay? Am I making you uncomfortable again?”

He definitely did not want to answer that.

She frowned after a moment. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I get it. Don’t worry. I’ll just leave you alone from now on.” She started walking away.

“N-no,” he said, gritting his teeth. “Please don’t... um...”

She turned. “What?”

“You’re not, uh... I mean... I don’t want you to leave.” He tried to look at her face, but her renewed smile was too much for him.

“So why haven’t you been around school, then? Were you sick or something?”

That would be a serviceable lie, of course, but he decided to stick with one story. “I got a job. It’s been, uh... very demanding.”

“What sort of job requires you to miss school? Like a family business type of thing?”

“N-no, it’s, um... well, it’s difficult to explain.”

“Oh yeah?” She looked at her watch. “Well, I do actually have to go. I’ve got tennis. Um. Tell me more about it at lunch, okay? I’m sure everyone else is curious, too.”


And she was gone again, disappeared into the passing stream of students.

Smooth,’ said Garovel.

Hector’s brow lowered. ‘You’re supposed to be asleep.

I was awoken by the sound of you lying yourself into a corner. What the hell are you going to tell them, exactly?

I have an idea... I think.

Is that so? Don’t tell me, then. I want to be surprised.

Go back to sleep, already.

Fine. But wake me up at lunchtime.

Hector smirked faintly. ‘Okay, I will.

Page 215 -- XXIV.

--donation bonus (day #9, post 4/5)--
Chapter Twenty-Four: ‘Be not troubled...’
Click to display entire chapter at once -- (mobile link)

Hector’s eyes drooped as he listened to his mathematics teacher talk about something he didn’t understand in the slightest. Garovel was resting on his shoulders, so there was no one to stop Hector from drifting off.

It had been an eventful night. It was the first time they had patrolled the city without a specific purpose. And finding trouble at random was not as easy as Hector thought it would be. Garovel found a building fire, but by the time Hector reached it, firefighters already had it under control. They followed a police car around for a while, but it only led them to places where people had called in noise complaints or some such thing.

After a while, however, they switched tactics. Garovel haunted a series of seedy bars and strip clubs until he heard rumors of some river operation on the east side of town. And by the end of the night, Hector had trounced three dozen thugs, sunken a boat full of illegal weapons, and fled from the police. His motorcycle had earned a few bullets holes, which he patched with iron. There was no saving the paint job, though.

He’d argued with Garovel briefly about attending school. Hector thought it was a waste of time with everything else going on, but the reaper seemed adamant that he at least make an appearance, if for no other reason than to abate worry from people who hadn’t seen him in two weeks. Hector agreed, but only on the condition that Garovel use the opportunity to rest.

So far, Hector had yet to see Micah or any of the others, but the day was still young. And as soon his first class let out, Sheryl came up to him.

Page 214

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Geoffrey raised an eyebrow. “Reapers’ genetic trait?”

The trait that makes us live on after death,’ said Feromas.

“Yes, it’s a recessive gene and terribly rare these days,” said Damian. “Luckily, I’m a carrier myself, as are some of my children, including your mother. The real trick was getting her to have a child with someone who was also a carrier. She’s rather headstrong, you know, and was determined to marry for love. I had to orchestrate events extensively so that she fell in love with just the right man.”

That’s what you were doing? Why didn’t you ever tell me? I thought you were just being a dick when you sabotaged her relationships.

“I wanted to surprise you!” said Damian, grinning.

Feromas sighed again. ‘Of course. For a second, you made me forget that you’re a fucking idiot.

“Huh,” said Geoffrey. “So, if you had not performed this soul-transfusion on my mother, I would have been born as a normal human?”

“Seemingly, yes. But you wouldn’t just be a carrier of the reaper trait like your parents. It would actually manifest in you. So when you died, you would have become a reaper like Feromas here.”


“Unfortunately, with two parents who are only carriers of the trait, the success rate is about twenty-five percent. If the child is merely a carrier as well, then the transfusion will simply kill the subject. You might have had a couple of older siblings, otherwise.”

No wonder she never comes to visit you.

“Hmm,” said Geoffrey. “I am not sure what to think. Is being a reaper more fun than being an aberration?”

I doubt it. Boredom is a real problem for a lot of us.

“Then I must thank you, Grandpa.”

“No problem.”

By the way, I’m Damian’s great grandfather. So you should thank me for your genetics, too.

“I see! Thank you both, then!”

Page 213

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Hey, hold on a minute,’ said Feromas. ‘Don’t you have questions for us?

Geoffrey paused. “Mm, not particularly.”

But... aren’t you curious about what I am? Or why you’re so different from normal people?

“I already know both of those things. You are a reaper, and I am an aberration.”

Feromas furrowed his brow. ‘How the hell do you know that, already?

“I met some people from Abolish. And they--”

Damian snapped back. “Abolish is here in Atreya? Ah, were they behind the incident in Sescoria a couple weeks back?”

“Yeah. I was there with them. It was a lot of fun.” Geoffrey tilted his head. “Though, I suppose I am curious as to why I am only meeting you just now. If you knew I was an aberration all this time, then why did you not tell me when I was younger?”

Feromas nodded. ‘That’s because of this asshole. He created you without me knowing and then completely forgot about you. It wasn’t until your aunt visited him a couple days ago to inform him of Joseph’s death that your name came up.

“And I suddenly remembered!” said Damian. “How is your mother, by the way? I haven’t seen her in ages.”

“Neither have I,” said Geoffrey. “But wait a minute. You created me? How?”

“Oh, did your friends in Abolish not tell you?” said Damian. “It’s a delightful process, see. First, you have to capture a reaper. And make sure they don’t have a servant’s soul attached to them, or it just complicates things. Then, you need a man and a woman, and they both need to possess the reapers’ genetic trait. And then, after the woman becomes pregnant, you perform a soul-transfusion, carving out the emerging soul of the child and replacing it with the reaper’s soul you captured earlier. If all goes well, the resulting soul will be reborn with a new mind and a new body, and you will be rewarded with a wonderful little aberration baby.”

Page 212

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Damian returned a quizzical expression. “I like your style, too, Grandma. Your eyebrows are pointier than I remember.”

Seriously. Don’t mind him. Please.

Damian looked at Feromas. “So who do you want me to kill?”

No one, right now, Damian. Please just relax.

“Okay, Boss. You’re the boss, Boss.” And he stood next to the reaper, rigid as a wooden plank.

“You want him to run the family business?” said Geoffrey. “Is he capable of such a thing?”

...Please don’t ask me such difficult questions. Do you want our help or not?

Geoffrey scrunched his mouth together, thinking a moment, and then shrugged. “Sure, okay. Everyone else already ran away, though, so I’m not sure what you plan on doing.”

Feromas stared at him for a long moment, then just gave a massive sigh.

“It’s okay!” said Damian. “I know all sorts of great people!”

“Is he lucid again?”

Not sure...

“Like the Tooth Fairy!”

Ah, there it is.

“We’ll build a tooth-fortress! No one’ll be able to get in! Unless we want them to, of course. We’ll need a tooth-drawbridge. And maybe some tooth-horses.”

Geoffrey cocked an eyebrow. “How often does he get like this, exactly?”

Once or twice a day, perhaps. It varies.

Abruptly, Geoffrey heard the phone ring. He rushed back to his office to pick it up. “Yes, hello? Desmond?”

<“Heya, Geoffrey. Got some info you might like. In a little town out west, we got a report of a man going around with two babies.”>


<“Town’s called Battonburg. Info’s a bit old, so he’s probably not there anymore, but you might be able to get a lead on him if you pay the place a visit.”>

“Thank you, Desmond! I will do just that.”

<“Have fun out there. And give me a call if you need anymore help, yeah?”>

“Of course. You are too kind.” He hung up and looked at Feromas and Damian. “Okay. I have to go. Um. Enjoy building your tooth-fortress or whatever.”

“Will do!”

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Page 211

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The stranger was an elderly gent, shriveled and gray but wearing bright eyes and a big smile. And he had a reaper with him.

Geoffrey immediately forgot about his human toys and went to greet them.

“Hello and welcome!” Geoffrey said cheerily. “Might I ask what brings you here?”

The old man looked at him eagerly. “Boo!” he said, shaking both hands in front of him.

Geoffrey just blinked. And then realized that he couldn’t move his body. He struggled, but an invisible force held him fast.

The old man laughed. “Just kidding!” He released him, and Geoffrey stumbled back a step.

Sorry,’ the reaper said. ‘He’s just excited to meet you. You are Geoffrey Rofal, yes?

“Yes. Who are you?”

I am Feromas, and this is Damian Rofal. He is your grandfather.

Geoffrey blinked again. Then a few more times.

“Howdy, Grandson! How’s the business?! Not so great, by the looks of things! Aha! Did you kill all your subordinates?! That’s not a very smart thing to do, you little scamp!”

“You are truly my grandfather?”

“Of course!”

I hope you’ll forgive us for not attending Joseph’s funeral. The family doesn’t usually tell Damian things anymore. They think he doesn’t know what they’re saying.

“They think I’m a lunatic! Aha!”

Which is only half-right.

“Shut your hole, Feromas! I’m sharp as a tack, I am!”

The reaper eyed Geoffrey. ‘We figured you’d need some help running things. The family doesn’t have any other willing participants who aren’t also scared shitless of you, and Damian’s been restless lately, anyway.

“I’m like a caterpillar!”

Oh, he’s gone again. Don’t mind anything he says for the next twenty minutes or so.

“Would you like to see a magic trick, young man?! Bring me ten rabbits, ten hats, and one machete!”

Geoffrey smiled. “I like your style, Grandpa.”

Page 210

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“Yeah... so, uh... we’re back in Brighton, but... what the hell do we do now?”

Well. Roman’s note said we have a few months before Atreya goes to war. So. I think the only logical thing to do is to focus on increasing your ability with iron until our allies return to retake Sescoria.

“We just leave Abolish and Geoffrey to run wild? They’re going to be slaughtering people...”

What’s the alternative? Rush in to stop them on our own? We’ll die, and then there really won’t be anyone to protect the civilians here.

“I guess so...”

But in a way, you’re correct. We can’t just sit here and have you try to meditate your way to victory. That’s not going to work. Meditation is okay for steady growth, but it’s not fast enough. To stand a chance, we need to press you harder.

“And how do we do that?”

Simple,’ said Garovel. ‘We go looking for trouble.


Geoffrey’s return to the Rofal mansion had been a decidedly quiet one. Desmond had wanted him to stay in Sescoria, but Geoffrey thought he should be in Brighton in order to continue the family business. To his great disappointment, however, no one was here to meet him. For the past few days, he’d had the entire house to himself.

So he fixed that.

Dozens of living puppets wandered the corridors. He made a game of it, controlling them all from his office, seeing through their eyes, rifling through their minds, and putting on a veritable play by having them interact with each other in various ways--sometimes peaceably, most times not.

It amused him while he waited for the phone to ring, but then there came a delightful surprise when one of his puppets saw someone venture through the front entrance, someone not under his control.

Page 209

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His father looked at him. The man did not get up. “Hey, son,” he said, utterly flat and casual. “Haven’t seen you around the past couple days.”

Hector waited a moment longer, wondering if there was more, but his father had finished talking. He was suddenly glad that Garovel wasn’t awake to hear. “...I found a job.”

“Oh. That’s good.”

Hector tried not to frown. The temptation to let the conversation die was strong, and perhaps it was even the wisest course of action, but that previous worry was still there like an itch. “...Where’s mom?” he tried.

“Sleeping. She had a long day at work.”

“D-did something happen?”

“Just the usual, I’m sure. Clients being prima donnas and so forth.”

Hector’s expression strained as he struggled for another topic. It felt almost physically painful, as if his body wanted to leave but his brain wouldn’t allow it. “D-do you wanna... um... do something together sometime? The three of us, I mean.”

“Like what?”

“I don’t know... maybe we could... go see a movie?”

He spared Hector an odd glance. “Wouldn’t you rather go with your friends?”


“Really? I know when I was your age, I didn’t want anything to do with my parents.”

Hector had no clue how to respond to that. His father’s wry smile did nothing to comfort him.

The man shrugged and looked back at the television. “I’ll see what your mother thinks about it.”

“Okay...” And with that, the conversation seemed well and truly beyond revival. He gave up and went to his room.

He lay on his bed for a bit before deciding to practice creating iron again. Soon, he felt Garovel stir.

Ah,’ the reaper said, detaching himself from Hector. ‘We’re already here.

“Yeah. You look a little better.”

I feel a little better. And you’re already training, I see.

Page 208

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Hector couldn’t make the thoughts explicit, for fear of waking up Garovel, but the ideas still brewed quietly in his mind, never forming conscious words but still unsettling him nonetheless.

He didn’t want to think ill of his parents. They’d taken care of him his entire life. They’d kept a roof over his head, clothes on his back, food in his stomach. They’d given him toys and games and books, his own television, his own computer. Maybe that wasn’t much to some people, but he knew that to others, that was a lot.

And they had never been abusive, which was more than could be said of other people’s parents. He’d seen kids with parents like that. Those were the kids who had it rough, not him, and they endured their pain much better than he did. Surely, they’d love to have parents like his.

He rode the bike to a cemetery and parked it behind a mausoleum, under the shade of a line of trees. He checked inside the building, its stony walls encasing two chambers across, and was a bit surprised to still find the money that he had stolen from Rofal. He fully expected someone to have taken it after two whole weeks, but he supposed this place was an even better hiding spot than he thought. It was dark and peaceful inside, but Garovel had previously given him grief for choosing it, as if he had been trying to make some morbid joke, even though, really, it was a very convenient location.

From here, he made the short walk back to Cedar Street. Seeing his house again, under the amber pull of the evening sun, brought a sense of relief. If nothing else, he was at least glad to have finally made it.

He entered and found his father sitting alone in the den, watching television.

Page 207 -- XXIII.

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A week is rather specific,’ said Garovel. ‘How do you know it took them that long?

Well, on the way back, the cops were really happy. Um... they told me it was amazing, because I’d been missing for three weeks... and I knew it had been longer.

Garovel was briefly quiet again. ‘Well, shit, Hector. I’m sorry. I didn’t realize it was that bad.

I... it’s not, I mean... if I’d been able to explain to the foster care people, then maybe... but I... I just--

No. Stop that. It’s definitely not your fault. What I want to know is how Child Services never took you away from your parents.

Ch-Child Services? I, uh... I don’t, ah...

Bah. How did they not realize it was a case of neglect? Was the incident reported as a child abduction? Or maybe they just thought you ran away?

I don’t know about any of that, um... I mean, n-neglect? R-really, it’s not like... uh...

Hector. It’s one thing for your parents to be a bit distant from you or not really take an interest in your life as a teenager. It’s sure-as-fuck something else for them to forget about their ten-year-old son in another city.

The bike started drifting toward the shoulder, and he had to correct its path. ‘It-it’s fine, though. I mean, I’ve never thought of it like that, so...

Of course you haven’t. It’s how you’ve grown up. But that doesn’t make it okay.

Hector had no response.

Chapter Twenty-Three: ‘Thy beloved kinship...’
Click to display entire chapter at once -- (mobile link)

The remainder of the journey was quiet. Garovel took the chance to rest, with the advisement that Hector should wake him should he get lost, but it was a straight shot the rest of the way, so Hector wasn’t too concerned.

Rather, he was more worried about Garovel’s obvious disdain for his parents. Even as he saw Brighton’s towers appearing over the horizon, it was still bothering him.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Page 206

On its own, a soul will soon decay,’ said Garovel. ‘Within a day, it will become a confused mass of semi-consciousness. Within two, it will become a prison of raw agony.


Ferrying souls is a task we take upon ourselves not because a higher power has ordained us to, but just because it’s the right thing to do.

I see.

And besides, what the fuck else are we gonna do with our time? It’s a good way to relieve boredom.

Wow, Garovel...

Hey, it’s true.

The sun drew up higher in the sky as Hector sped across the landscape. The journey was quiet for a while longer until Garovel initiated the next topic.

I’m sorry this trip turned out so chaotic,’ the reaper said. ‘I certainly didn’t mean for you to be gone so long. I’m not sure how we should explain your absence to your parents and your school.’

Hector hesitated. ‘I’m... not so sure my parents will notice...

Oh, come on. It’s been two weeks. How could they have not noticed?

For a while, he merely listened to the motorcycle and the wind roaring together. ‘When I was younger, uh... my parents both struggled to find work. They’d often have to take jobs in separate cities--I guess because the bills were piling up or something. They were always trying to readjust things so that they could both get a job in the same place. So, ah... we ended up moving around a lot. And there was this one time... when I was about ten... and, um... ah... b-basically, they, uh... they left me behind.

Silence drew out, and Garovel waited for Hector to continue.

I spent, like, almost a month in foster care, I think... and then the police found me. My parents thought they’d lost me somewhere in the new city. They didn’t, uh... they didn’t realize I was missing until like a week after the move...

Monday, August 26, 2013

Page 205

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He refueled and then wheeled the bike around the side of the building where no one else was. He sat down on the sidewalk and closed his eyes, letting the sound of cars on the highway bleed into background noise.

He focused on iron shapes. He wasn’t sure what else to think about. Apart from merely coating things, nothing else came to mind, and he found himself wondering to what other degrees his power might develop. He shook the thoughts away and concentrated.

After a while, he opened his eyes again, and Garovel had still not returned, so he tried making iron. A silver lump materialized in his palm. It was almost spherical, surprisingly, but still smaller than he had imagined. He went back to meditating, and when he opened his eyes again, he saw Garovel there.

They set out again, and it wasn’t long before a new topic arrived.

There’s something I’d like to know,’ said Hector.


Back when, um... when we first met... I know you said that you didn’t know, but... do you believe that an afterlife exists? I mean, like, any kind at all?

Garovel was slow to answer. ‘No,’ he said, ‘I don’t.

Why not?

I’ve never found anything that convinced me. Do you believe one does?

W-well, uh, not really, uh... I mean, I don’t know. Aren’t you kinda... experiencing an afterlife? You died, right? But you’re still alive, sort of...

Ha. I suppose it depends on your definition of the afterlife, then. I certainly don’t believe in heaven or hell. Reincarnation seems more appealing at least, but I don’t see any reason to believe it’s true.

So then... after we die, you think there’s just... nothingness?


Then why, um... why do you bother reaping? If you think you’re just carrying souls into oblivion, then... why not just leave them alone?

Because that would be a great cruelty.

What do you mean?

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Huh. So... no training, then?

Nope. It’ll just sorta happen on its own.

I guess that’s one less thing to worry about, anyway.


But, um. What about Roman’s ability? Do you know what that was?

I believe his was an alteration type ability. Transfiguration and materialization are similar in that they revolve around elements, but alteration abilities are different. Rather than creating something or replacing something, alteration merely applies some force in order to change the physical state of existing matter. A real force, that is. Not an imaginary one. And the force varies between users. Roman’s force, I think, is particle vibrations.

That, uh... sounds... complicated.

Well, judging from how he was able to both create shockwaves and generate heat, it seems like the only explanation. And if I’m right, then that is an incredibly powerful ability.


Oh yeah. If he were stronger with it, he’d be fucking terrifying.

I guess it’s a good thing he’s not our enemy...

Indeed. Hmm. Hey, pull over for a bit.

Hector slowed down and eased into the road’s shoulder. ‘What’s the matter?’ he asked as the bike stopped.

Garovel floated off to the right, and Hector watched him, squinting. ‘There you are,’ the reaper said softly. ‘It’s okay. I’ve got you now.

Who are you talking to?

A wandering soul,’ said Garovel. ‘Someone died out here.

Hector blinked. ‘What? Way out here? How?

Garovel pointed behind him. ‘Look back there.’

Where? I don’t--’ And then he saw the skid marks on the road. Two sets. Intersecting.

Happened a few days ago, judging by the state that this soul is in.

Hector just frowned.

Let’s take a break at the next gas station. I need a couple hours to ferry this one across the void. You can use the time to meditate.


They proceeded on, and it wasn’t long before a gas station came into view. Hector stopped, and Garovel disappeared into thin air after assuring Hector of his return.

Page 203

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Hector roared down the highway. Traffic was a bit heavier than before but still nowhere near as uncomfortable as the city. After a while, he remembered another question.

Desmond’s ability,’ said Hector. ‘Didn’t you say you’d explain?

Ah, yes. Desmond’s ability falls under the category of transfiguration. I think the big guy’s did, too.

Which means...?

Transfiguration abilities allow the user to replace body parts with a particular element. In Desmond’s case, I would guess that element was sodium.

Sodium? That doesn’t explode... does it?

When mixed with water, it does.

Oh. So he was using... hmm.

Technically, it’s not the sodium itself that’s responsible. Heat from the chemical reaction ignites the hydrogen that is expelled as a result.

I... okay.

Sodium and water can explode quite violently, but even so, Desmond’s explosions seemed more powerful. I assume he was also employing a soul-strengthening technique to give them an extra punch.

Soul-strengthening... That sounds... useful.

It’s basically just enhancing physical qualities through the application of mental force. It’s something you can only do when your imaginary power grows stronger.

I’m guessing it’s not as easy as that first step was.

It’s not easy or hard, actually. And unlike your iron ability, it can’t grow in sudden bursts through mental stress. Imaginary power is based upon the manipulation of your soul.

So, what? More meditation, then?

No. After the first step is taken, the only way to increase your imaginary power is time.


See, I have control of your soul. In order for you to manipulate it, too, you and I have to spend more time together. Gradually, your soul and mine will become more synchronized.

You mean, like... through the power of friendship or some shit?

Garovel laughed. ‘No. Friendship doesn’t really factor in, unfortunately. It’s just a kind of natural osmosis that happens over time.

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Hector looked at Gina. “Mr. Roman is just giving this to me?”



“There should be some gas money in your clothes, by the way.”

He felt his waistcoat and found a small roll of bills in the inside pocket. “Th-thank you.”


I didn’t realize that guy was so generous,’ said Garovel. ‘Hope he doesn’t care about this bike too much.

Um. Third time’s the charm?

Chyeah, right.

This one’s not a Revenant.

I don’t think the manufacturer was the problem, Hector.

I’ll just blame you, then.

Delude yourself all you like.

Gina opened the garage door for him.

He favored the riding helmet over his helm and mounted the bike. He kickstarted it, and the sound of the engine filled the chamber. Gina gave him a wave. He returned his own and rode out.

He stopped just short of the first intersection, before riding out into traffic, and blinked. ‘I just realized something,’ he said. ‘I’m not in pain.

I restored your body long before waking you up,’ said Garovel. ‘I needed extra rest, so I used the opportunity to let your pain be relieved, too.

He turned his hands over in front of his face. ‘My body feels so light...’ He smiled inside his helmet. ‘This is fucking great! Oh, man! I forgot what this was even like!

Ha. You’re welcome.

He went to turn onto the road but stopped himself again. ‘By the way, uh... where the hell do I go?

Garovel gave him instructions, and he soon found the highway leading south.

Mountains lay across the horizon, the very same ones he passed on the way to Sescoria. At this distance, however, he could see the occasional snow-capped peak.

Let’s go around those,’ said Garovel. ‘I’d rather not see you ride off a cliff.’ A beat passed. ‘Okay, yes, I would like to see that, but it’d still be really inconvenient.

Page 201

--donation bonus (day #7, post 1/5)--
“W-what do you mean?”

“Master Roman didn’t seem to know much about you, but he still wanted me to treat you like an honored guest.”

“Ah, uh... well... I don’t know much about him, either.”

“Hmm. Where are you from?”

He glanced past her at Garovel.

You should tell her. Roman and the Queen may need a means of contacting us when they return to Atreya. Gina may be able to help us with that.

“I live in Brighton,” he said.

“Pretty far away. Why were you in Sescoria?”

“I just... wanted to help...”

She paused to tilt her head at him. “How old are you?”


“And how long have you been undead?”

He blinked at the question.

Tell her five months,’ said Garovel.

“Uh, five months or so...”

“I see.”

Why’d you make me lie? It’s only been a few weeks...

You’re stronger than you should be. And it’s better if people don’t know.

I... uh--

“Well, Master Roman said you’re welcome to stay as long as you like.”

“Ah, I should actually get going soon...”

“You have business in Brighton?”

“S-sorta, yeah...”

“What do you do there?”

“N-nothing special...”

She pursed her lips at him.

He poked a pancake with his fork and let it linger there. “But, ah... do you have a pen?”

She gave him one.

He scribbled his phone number onto a page of the notepad and ripped it out for her. “In case, uh, Mr. Roman wants my help...”

She took it and then wrote a phone number of her own. “Same goes for you, then.”

He tried not to blush and failed.

They finished their meal, and Gina showed him to the garage beneath the house. She handed him a key.

“Master Roman said you’re a motorcycle guy.” She motioned to a red cruiser with black and white flames painted on it.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Page 200

--donation bonus (day #6, post 5/5)--
He flipped through and noticed quite a few pages full of text. Gina led him to the kitchen and began whipping up a meal while he sat down to read.

The first few pages said that they believed Atreya would go to war in a matter of months and elaborated upon their decision to seek the Vanguard’s help. Roman advised Hector not to follow, as they apparently didn’t know where their travels might lead them.

The later pages were in different handwriting, more feminine, and it soon identified itself as Voreese’s words through the Queen’s pen. It offered details on aberrations.

Ah,’ said Garovel upon reading it from over Hector’s shoulder. ‘Voreese remembered my inquiry. She’s more thoughtful than I would have expected. I’ll have to thank her the next time we meet.

Aberrations grow stronger the more people they kill,’ Hector summarized.

I suppose that explains why Geoffrey seemed more powerful.

Hector’s mouth twisted as he scowled. ‘He’s been killing even more people... and he’s not going to stop.

With everything that’s happened, you may be the only person in Atreya who can kill Geoffrey right now.

I’m not so sure I can. It’s been two weeks. He’s probably even stronger now.

It doesn’t really matter as long as Abolish is protecting him.

I need to train...

Let’s go back to Brighton first. You’ve been gone too long, as it is.

Gina placed a plate full of pancakes in front of him. Then came eggs, sausage, waffles, hash browns, toast, strawberries, cantaloupe, wheat cereal, and a single banana.

He watched her as if she were bringing him solid gold bars.

“Master Roman said you’d be hungry.”

“You... are amazing...”

“I know.”

He dove into his meal.

Gina sat down to eat with him. “So what’s your deal, anyway?” she said, biting into a waffle.

Page 199

--donation bonus (day #6, post 4/5)--
“Y-you’re, ah... you’re welcome...” The silky white shirt fit him better, though the sleeves were a bit long, so he rolled them up to his wrists. “It couldn’t have been enough, though. They saved us, I guess?”

Seems that way. I’m not sure where they are. I’ve been in and out of consciousness.

He wasn’t sure if he wanted to wear the dark gray waistcoat as well, but after a moment, he opted to, and then started on the socks and shoes. “You don’t look so great, by the way.”

I’m just tired.

Abruptly, a blond woman entered the room. She jumped when she saw him. “Ah! Whoa! Okay, then! Hi there!”


“You are Hector, yes?”


“I’m Gina. It’s a pleasure to meet you. I believe you met my employer, Master Roman.”

“I, ah... yeah.”

“Are you hungry?”

He nodded hesitantly.

“Please follow me, then.”

He grabbed his battered helm, and she escorted him through a series of hallways.

Ask her how long we’ve been here.

He tried to speak but faltered, achieving no words at all.

Oh, come on, Hector. She can’t see me. You have to be the one to ask.

“Um... h-how, ah...”

She stopped and turned. “Yes?”

He flinched at her sudden gaze. “H-how long have I, uh... I mean...”

She tilted her brow at him. “Um. You’ve been here for two weeks. Well, your head has, anyway.”

Ask where the others are.

“W-where, uh...”

“You’re in Walton. You came from Sescoria, right? It’s east of there, if you didn’t already know.”

“Ah. But. Where are the others? Roman and...”

“Oh, they left the country.”



“Ah.” Gina reached into her vest and pulled out a small notepad. She handed it to him. “Master Roman left this for you. I believe it will answer your questions.”

Page 198 -- XXII.

--donation bonus (day #6, post 3/5)--
“Have someone?” said Roman. “Please. I do all my forgeries myself.”

Ah, of course.

“That’s why I said two days. I need time to work.”

Make me one, too!

“Not this again. Voreese, I swear--”

C’mon. Just the ID. You can skip all the other stuff.


Tch.’ She turned to Helen and Mehlsanz. ‘He refuses to make me a fake ID, even as a joke. It wouldn’t even be that much work for him. He’s so lazy. Doesn’t care about my happiness at all.

“Y’know what? Fine. One day, when the entire country isn’t in danger, I’ll do that for you. Okay? Happy now?”


“And for your photo, I’ll use a picture of an actual bitch.”

Maybe you should change yours to a picture of an actual cock!

Chapter Twenty-Two: ‘Quiet guardian, take respite...’
Click to display entire chapter at once -- (mobile link)

First, the chin regrew. Bone cracked into existence, followed by arteries and muscles, then tendons, cartilage, meager fat, and dark brown skin. His neck drew out, down to the shoulders, then the chest and arms. And soon enough, Hector’s body was restored in full.

He did not wake immediately, however. He lay lifeless for several days more before his eyes finally opened again.

He sat up. He was in a bed, he saw, and a rather large one at that. The room held an air of wealth and comfort, but he didn’t spare it much attention as he saw Garovel there next to him.

The image of the reaper was weak, almost transparent, like a cloth stretched thin enough that light shone through the weaves.

There are clothes on the chair behind you.

It wasn’t exactly his typical wardrobe. The black jeans felt soft and expensive, but they were too broad, so he had to use the accompanying belt with its flashy silver buckle.

Thank you for protecting me. I certainly would have died if you hadn’t shielded me the way you did.

Page 197

--donation bonus (day #6, post 2/5)--
“Hmm.” Roman looked over everyone and adjusted his glasses again. “Well, we don’t have any idea where Sai-hee’s people are, so I still think we should try the Vanguard in Korgum, first.”

“I agree.”

Mehlsanz ruffled her feathers but nodded. ‘We must be very cautious.

What about Hector and Garovel?’ said Voreese. ‘They’re gonna be out of commission for at least a week. Probably more.

“We can’t wait that long,” said Roman. “I wanna be out of here within two days.”

You could just carry Hector’s head with us,’ said Voreese.

“Eh. I don’t think we should take them out of the country without their permission. They might have a reason to stay in Atreya. How much do we even know about them?”

Not much,’ said Mehlsanz. ‘I worked with Garovel some thirty years ago, and he seems more or less the same. Which is a good thing. But I know nothing about Hector.

Helen looked at the helm. “We know that he protected us. That is not nothing.”

“We also know that Garovel said they weren’t prepared to die for you,” said Roman. “And then they were both nearly killed.”

Helen gave a slow nod.

“They can stay here. Gina will take care of them. And besides, I really don’t wanna try to smuggle a severed head into a foreign country. I hear people frown upon that sort of thing.”

“Very well.”

“What about your sword girl? Should we take her?”

“I cannot send Lynnette back to Sescoria. Abolish will kill her.”

“Oh yeah.”

“If she wishes it, then I would have her accompany us.”

“Alright.” Roman stood and stretched his arms. “I already have plenty of spare identities for myself, so we’ll only need two more.”

You have someone who can provide fake documentation?’ Mehlsanz asked.

Page 196

--donation bonus (day #6, post 1/5)--
Mehlsanz nodded. ‘I wouldn’t normally agree to such a request, but after all Valencia had been through, I wanted to give her a chance at a quiet life. For a while, at least. I thought maybe she could find someone to fall in love with, and I’d let her grow old with that person, and then afterward, I’d release her and return to fighting Abolish with a new servant. And besides, I sort of wanted a break from the fighting, myself.

“I’m guessing that didn’t go over so well with your bosses.”

They refused. If she wouldn’t fight, I had to release her, no exceptions. I protested, and then they imprisoned me and told me that if I didn’t release her, they’d have to kill me. So I released her. And at the first opportunity, I fled.

And they didn’t come after you?

I hid for a while, with decreasing levels of success. And now, Helen’s status is the only thing protecting me. The Vanguard won’t kill the ruler of a nation that’s not under Abolish’s control.

“You’ve had it rough,” said Roman.

Helen frowned. “I am sorry for all you have had to endure, Mehlsanz, but I must do whatever I can to protect Atreya--even if it means aligning with people you do not approve of.”

I know.

Voreese tilted her ghostly, feathered head. ‘The Vanguard didn’t used to be like that. They’ve always been self-righteous pricks, but I’ve never known them to go that far. What changed?

I’m not sure, honestly. I first noticed their harsher rules a few years ago. I can’t recall a particular incident.

“I’d always heard the leader of the Vanguard is a pretty decent guy,” said Roman. “Is that not the case anymore? Or maybe it never was?”

I wouldn’t know,’ said Mehlsanz. ‘I only met Sermung once, and that was fifty years ago.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Page 195

“Coordinating an initial assault would take less than a week,” said Helen. “Preparations for a long war would require more time but not likely more than a month. However, if they truly intend to win the people over first, then yes, we do have more time. I would guess four months, if no other complications arise, which is also doubtful.”

Roman adjusted his spectacles. “Well, in any case, we shouldn’t dawdle here.”

Agreed,’ said Voreese. ‘We should leave Atreya as soon you’re prepared.

“And go where?” Helen asked.

As far as I know, the nearest Vanguard forces are in Korgum. They do have their hands full with Dozer, though, so they might not want to spare us any soldiers.

Mehlsanz hovered around Helen. ‘Eh... I’d really prefer not to meet anyone in the Vanguard again.

“Why did you desert them?” said Roman.

Mehlsanz paused briefly. ‘My previous servant, she grew up in conflict. Even before I resurrected her, she had lived through two wars as a child soldier. It was all she had ever known. And then one day, we found out that her sister had become a servant for Abolish.

Roman’s expression darkened. “Let me guess. The sister was mentally ill.”

Yes. Her sister wasn’t psychotic, but she didn’t really understand the consequences of what she was doing. And her reaper took advantage of that. But of course, the Vanguard had to stop her. She was killing innocent people. And my girl--Valencia was her name--she was just torn to pieces by this knowledge. She wanted to protect her sister, but she couldn’t. She didn’t want to fight her, either, so the higher-ups moved us to a different battlefield. But it didn’t make much difference, at that point. Valencia didn’t want to fight at all anymore. She just wanted to go somewhere and live peacefully.

Fucking Abolish motherfuckers...

Friday, August 23, 2013

Page 194

“You really think they’ll be able to blame the attack on some other country?” Roman asked.

“I am not sure. Perhaps there is some video footage of the attack which will exonerate any accused parties.”

They’ll wait and see what the media learns before making their move,’ said Voreese.

“Even if they fail to garner public support,” the Queen said, “they can simply go to war anyway, and such a ludicrous act could prompt an armed rebellion.”

And then it’d just be a civil war, instead,’ said Mehlsanz. ‘All roads lead to war in some way.

“Unless we kill those assholes and get you back on the throne,” said Roman.

Helen rubbed her forehead and sat down on the black couch. She closed her eyes. “My husband will undoubtedly try to oppose them...”

Mehlsanz floated closer. ‘They won’t kill him.’

Everyone looked at her, all sharing unconvinced expressions.

They won’t,’ she insisted. ‘With you gone, power falls to him. It’s too suspicious if you vanish and he dies at the same time. They want public support, remember? To make their war as large as possible, they’ll need him alive.

The Queen sighed. “I hope you are right.”

Roman and Voreese exchanged glances, and everyone was silent for a while, simply listening to the news reporter drone on about how little they knew at this time. Roman sat down and placed Hector’s head on the small table next to him.

Voreese spoke first. ‘We do have one thing in our favor, at least. They need time to organize their war. Which means we have time to stop them.

“True enough,” said Roman. “How long do you think we have?”

Hard to say,’ said Voreese. ‘I can’t imagine it taking more than six months, though. What do you think, Queenie?

Page 193

“Maybe so,” said Roman, “but you should understand, Your Majesty. You might very well lose control of Atreya to them.”

“We will see about that.”

And besides, she’s already lost it to Abolish,’ said Voreese.

There’s another problem,’ said Mehlsanz. ‘I abandoned the Vanguard. I’m not sure how welcoming they’ll be. They may try to kill us.

Oh. Delightful.

“Then maybe we should go to Sai-hee for help,” said Roman.

Voreese gave a winged shrug and tilted her bird’s head. ‘It’s worth looking into, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. I doubt Sai-hee will break her neutrality and attack Abolish just because we ask her to.

Getting in contact with her will not be easy.’

Helen folded her arms. “Why does Abolish want war, exactly? And what kind of war will they try to create?”

“If nothing else, their motives are always easy to understand. They want to cause as much destruction and death as possible. Whatever their plan is, it’ll be designed to maximize those things.”

Their plan is obvious enough,’ said Mehlsanz. ‘They want Atreya to instigate war with another country in such a way that even more countries will be dragged into the fighting.

That’s not an easy thing to do,’ said Voreese. ‘Most countries have learned their lessons about forming dangerously dependent alliances.

But that is what they will aim for,’ said Mehlsanz. ‘In their eyes, even if they fail to pull more combatants, they’ll still have a war like they wanted. And they’ll make it as bloody as possible.

“I see,” said Helen, and she ventured into the next room and turned on the television. It didn’t take her long to find a channel where a reporter was standing confusedly in front of Belgrant Castle with police and firefighters in the background. “They will try to use this,” she said. “My disappearance will soon be discovered, and they will rally for public support.”

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Page 192

Roman sighed and leaned against the refrigerator. “Point is, I have an organized operation here in Atreya. A number of highly-skilled people work under me. And while I might be able to take advantage of the chaos that Abolish’s plans will bring, it would only hurt my business in the long run.”

And Roman grew up in Atreya, so he has a soft spot for it.

“Yeah, I guess I do.”

He was an orphan, too.

“Well, I don’t see how that’s relevant...”

Lived on the streets for a long time, he did. It’s a real rags-to-riches story.

“Voreese, what the hell? They don’t care about any of that.”

Well, they should! Our previous allies obviously didn’t care, and look at what dicks they turned out to be!

“We knew they were dicks when we aligned with them.”

Yeah, but we didn’t know how much! They were mega-dicks!

“You’ll have to forgive Voreese,” said Roman. “She tends to hold grudges. Not that I disagree with her on this one.”

Mehlsanz floated behind Helen. ‘What should our next move be? We’ve been run out of the capital. And it doesn’t seem like we have the power to take Sescoria back.

Voreese nodded. ‘And we definitely don’t have the power to keep Sescoria. Even if we killed the ones already there, more might show up like Gerald said.

“Then we require more power,” said Helen. “Where might we find it?”

A brief silence fell.

Roman’s expression soured. “Can anyone think of something that isn’t the Vanguard?”

Helen looked over everyone. “I am not sure I understand what this Vanguard group is. They protect people from Abolish, no?”

“They do, yeah. And if we go to them for help, they’ll probably give it. But afterwards, they won’t just send us on our merry way. They’ll want our support, too.”

“That only seems fair,” said Helen.

Page 191

Gina frowned. “Why didn’t you call ahead? I would’ve had everything prepared already.”

“Phone was destroyed. Please show Lynnette here to one of the bedrooms.”

“Sir, are you--is that a head that you’re carrying?”

“It belongs to an acquaintance. I’m keeping it safe for him. Now, please.”

She stiffened, but nodded. “As you say. Please follow me.”

“Oh, and bring me a new pair of glasses.”

Gina immediately retrieved a pair from her vest pocket.

He took them. “Ah, finally!” He looked around, blinking happily before cocking an eyebrow at Gina. “Why did you have my glasses on you?”

“Because you are very needy, sir.”

He shooed her away, and Lynnette followed. He showed Helen to the kitchen and began scrounging for food.

“I still do not know who you are,” the Queen said. “Or why you decided to help me.”

Roman tossed her a premade sandwich. “My name is Roman Fullister,” he said, biting into his own. “As for why I helped you, eh... I suppose that’d be part national pride and part business.”

“Business,” she said. “You mean thievery?”

Voreese gave a snort. ‘Roman is to thievery what you are to Atreya.

Roman’s brow lowered. “That’d make me the queen of thieves, Voreese.”

Oh, you know what I meant.

“Please, just let me do the talking.”

No, fuck you! Roman only steals from the super wealthy! And nobody knows it, but he takes care of the poor, too! He’s a great guy!

Roman scratched his head. “I don’t know about that. I do live pretty comfortably, as you can see.”

Psh! You’re talking to the fucking Queen, Roman. She’s not impressed by your shiny floors and fancy sinks. This place probably looks like a crack house to her.

It was Helen’s turn to furrow her brow.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Page 190

Mehlsanz and Voreese had both been actively scouting to ensure they were not being followed, which meant flying up extremely high for visibility. They didn’t report anything, and after a while, Roman finally began to relax.

That fight should have gone smoother,’ Voreese said privately. ‘Maybe we’ve been avoiding conflicts for too long.’

Eyes closed, Roman rested his head against the window of the truck’s cabin. ‘You said you wanted to keep a low profile and build an empire.’

I know. But this country is important to you. And apparently, we picked shitty allies. If I’d known you had something you wanted to protect, I would’ve pushed you harder to become stronger.

He peeked at Voreese with one eye. ‘I didn’t think my feelings mattered to you that much.

Then you’re an even bigger idiot than I thought.

He smirked and closed his eyes again.

Soon, they reached the city of Walton. His hometown was a welcome sight, even if it was blurry without his glasses. Voreese gave the Queen directions to Roman’s midtown mansion. They exited the vehicle in the underground parking complex and took the elevator up.

“Why don’t you two get some rest?” Roman said to the ladies. “Make yourselves at home, and we’ll reconvene later to figure out our next move.”

“I am ready to discuss it now,” said Helen.

Roman looked at Lynnette.

She glanced at the Queen. “I think I’d like to rest, if you don’t mind...”

“Of course. And thank you, Lynnette. Your help has been invaluable.”

“I’ll make a call,” said Roman. “I know a good private doctor.”

The elevator doors opened, and a petite blond woman was waiting for them. “Master Roman!” she said. “You look like hell! What happened?”

“Lots. We have guests, Gina. Treat them well.”

Page 189 -- XXI.

“So now you understand why we value aberrations so much,” said Desmond. “Apart from just being so incredibly fun to work with, I mean.”

Geoffrey laughed.

“What do you want to do now? We have a mission to attend to, but if you come with us, we can introduce you to some fun people. They’ll help you grow your powers more quickly and safely than you can on your own. And they’ll definitely keep you entertained.”

“That sounds amazing!” Geoffrey’s grin lessened, however. “But there is something else I want to take care of first.”


“Perhaps you can help me. How good is Abolish’s information network?”

“You won’t find better. Why?”

“I would very much like to find someone. A man named Colt.”

“Tell me more.”

Chapter Twenty-One: ‘Alliance of calamity, capitulate not...’
Click to display entire chapter at once -- (mobile link)

Roman had been pleasantly surprised to discover a first aid kit in Gerald’s truck. Dressing wounds wasn’t his forte, but Voreese and Mehlsanz were able to provide apt instruction. And when he finished, he thought Lynnette’s cotton-white bandage looked quite skillfully applied.

For the first hour or so of driving, Lynnette’s questions were unrelenting, but given all she’d been through, he wasn’t about to spare her any explanations. And after she seemed to have wrapped her head around imaginary beings and undying people, she started asking why Hector was not regenerating like before.

“Because his reaper is severely wounded,” Roman explained. “He won’t start regenerating again until Garovel recovers.”

Lynnette eyed the half-destroyed helm containing what remained of Hector’s head. She couldn’t see Garovel’s unconscious, shriveled form clinging to the back of it, but Roman could.

To his eyes, reapers looked like ethereal birds. Crows, precisely--but at the moment, Garovel was no more than a dark smudge. He would have to take Voreese’s word for it that reapers could still recover from such a state.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Page 188

“Is it really okay to not chase after them?” said Geoffrey.

We could,’ said Ozmere, ‘but Ezmortig and I would have to keep track of them over very long distances while you all catch up. And that could be dangerous for us.

Ezmortig nodded. ‘If we really needed the Queen dead at all costs, then it might be worth the risk, but we don’t. As long as she stays hidden, she won’t be able to hinder us politically.

“And if she’s stupid enough to try something, then we’ll go hunt her down,” said Desmond. “We might wanna put in a request for reinforcements, though. Bit of insurance wouldn’t hurt.”

True,’ said Ezmortig. ‘We did encounter more resistance than expected.

Desmond rolled his neck, stretching it. “Anyway, Geoffrey, are you alright? You don’t regenerate like we do, and that kid got you pretty good.”

Geoffrey rubbed his chest. “Pain is an interesting feeling. I don’t completely dislike it, though it is a bit distracting, I suppose.”

“That’s not what I meant. Aberrations never seem to mind pain very much. But that doesn’t make you immune to injury. If your body starts becoming sluggish, you should find yourself a new one.”

Geoffrey tilted his head. “A new body?”

“Oh, can you not do that yet? Well, I’m sure you’ll figure it out soon.”

“Really? Do all aberrations have abilities like mine?”

Desmond deferred to Ezmortig.

Your shadow powers, yes. Your ability to control things, no. Aberrations have varying kinds of secondary abilities. We call yours Domination. Unfortunately, it’s not terribly useful against servants. At least, not until you develop it to dizzying degrees.

“What other kinds of abilities can we have?”

They always revolve around the consumption of souls. And they can be quite strange. I know of one aberration who can create black fire. And one who can turn people into glass. Oh, and the most famous example is probably the one who could create localized singularities. He’s dead now, though. I think Sermung had to take him down personally.

“Hmm. I see.”

Page 187

Geoffrey watched Desmond fall over, dead again. “Wow. No wonder Hector wears a helmet.”

The truck screeched to a halt. Geoffrey lashed out with red.

Roman took the cuts and stopped the streaks that went for Lynnette. He gripped two tendrils, one in each hand, and made them tremble. They burst apart, and their remains shrank back to Geoffrey. Roman jumped out of the truck, smashing the pavement with both feet.

The ground flung Geoffrey up. He tumbled through the air.

The big man caught him. He set Geoffrey down and ran for the truck, spitting as it started to drive off. The acid would have reached the girl if Roman hadn’t shielded her with his back.

And then they were gone.

Geoffrey walked over to the big man and patted him on the shoulder. “Good effort, Mr. Giant.”

He returned a pat of his own on Geoffrey’s head.

“What a disappointing day this turned out to be. Lost my balloon-hat. Lost my snake. And I didn’t even get to kill the Queen. That advisor-guy will be upset, if we ever see him again. I wanted to feed him to the snake after he paid me, but I suppose that won’t be happening, either.”

The big guy just kept patting him on the head, and Geoffrey began to feel like some sort of dog.

“You don’t talk much, do you?”

The giant looked at him vacantly.

“How about a name, then? Do you have one?”

The man’s reaper arrived, descending from the sky along with Ezmortig. ‘His name is Moss,’ the reaper said. ‘And mine is Ozmere. Moss can’t speak. And even if he could, he wouldn’t have much to say. He’s a rather simple fellow, but he’s good at following instruction, and that’s what matters.

They waited, and soon, Desmond revived. They started the walk back to Belgrant Castle together.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Page 186

Before he even hit the ground, he had Garovel covered in iron. Geoffrey’s red blade dug in, but only just, and Hector ran toward them, trying to cover Geoffrey as well.

Metal and shadow competed. Red slashed through gray, both contracting and expanding on top of one another, wrestling for dominance over Geoffrey. The shadow won out just as Hector drew close and stopped his punch cold.

“So your name is Hector, is it?” Geoffrey cut into Hector’s body at multiple points. “I didn’t think we would meet again so soon.”

Hector ripped the red spears out each time they pierced him. He coated his own legs and feet in metal to maintain his foothold and pushed through.

But it was simple for Geoffrey to keep his distance. The shadow couldn’t stop Hector, but it slowed him down enough that Geoffrey could just back away.

And then Desmond was there. “Allow me.” He left an arm clutching the iron that protected Garovel. He pulled Geoffrey away as it darkened.

Hector tore through the remaining crimson and grabbed the arm. There wasn’t time to throw it.


Geoffrey watched the explosion leave a crater in the street. He used his shadow to fan the cloud of dust away. Body parts littered the lawns on either side of the road, but Hector’s metal head remained in the crater. “Aww, are they dead?”

“Don’t think so,” Desmond said as they approached. “Yeah, see? The reaper’s barely alive, still. Kid got in the way.”

The sound of a vehicle drew their attention, and they saw the truck returning in reverse. Roman and Lynnette stood together. She glared at them with her one eye.

“They’re actually coming back for him?” said Geoffrey.

Desmond dug into his chest. “I’ll handle--”

A sword flew into his face.

Page 185

Roll it back over!’ said Mehlsanz.

Helen obliged, and the battered truck’s tires met pavement again.

Roman came flying overhead with Hector’s motorcycle on top of him. He hit the ground, and the bike popped his gut open like a balloon, spilling entrails all over the road.

The giant bounded over the truck as well and started stomping toward Roman, but then he spotted Mehlsanz and swatted at her. She ducked under his hand and phased into the ground. Gushing acid followed her, melting through the road.

Hector and Helen double-teamed him. He covered the man’s face in iron and gave her the opening to land a punch with all her might. The big guy soared through a lamp post and all the way into Gerald’s garage.

Everyone in the truck now!’ said Garovel. Mehlsanz appeared behind him, smoldering slightly but not complaining.

The Queen jumped into the driver’s seat while Hector went to retrieve Roman and the bike.

Lynn climbed into the back. A massive, yellow-green boa reared up over the edge of the truck bed, hissing at her.

“You will be my friend!” came Geoffrey’s distant shout.

The snake lunged for her, and she hacked its head off.

Geoffrey opened his mouth as if to say something but just ended up frowning instead.

Helen pulled up next to the boys. Roman could barely stand, so Hector helped him into the back with Lynn.

I see Desmond!’ Mehlsanz warned.

Hector climbed in himself, and Helen slammed on the gas. He looked back to keep his eyes on Desmond, but what he saw instead was a red streak, flying toward Garovel. It snagged the reaper and yanked him back.

Hector leapt from the vehicle as it sped away.

“Hector?!” Lynn yelled after him. “What are you doing?!”

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Page 184

A swarm of crimson engulfed both women, holding them in the air. It was a larger shadow than Hector had yet seen from Geoffrey, but he dove into the mass head on regardless. The red coiled around his limbs, slowing him down but not stopping him. Then it started digging into his flesh and lifting him off the ground, taking away all his leverage.

Geoffrey turned away from Lynn to look at Hector. “Why did you bring this normal girl here?” he said. “Is she a friend of yours?” He held up an eyeball, freshly removed. “Please tell me she is.”

Blood and shadow obscured Lynn’s face. Geoffrey had covered her mouth to muffle her cries, and a meaty gash occupied the place where her right eye should have been.

The Queen acted before Hector could, however. Speared through the gut, she had pulled herself down along the shadow while Geoffrey’s attention was held on Hector. She smashed him over the head with her fist. He hit the ground flat, and the entire mass of crimson shuddered and released everyone--but it did not altogether disappear.

Geoffrey was quick to get up, and Hector was there to meet him. He swung for Geoffrey’s chest again. The red mass wove around his arm and held it back, struggling.

“I should make her my friend, too,” said Geoffrey. And the crimson began to expand again.

Hector used his other fist to clock him in the face. It wasn’t focused and didn’t break the shadow, but it sent Geoffrey flipping head over foot across the road and into the side of a building.

“Lynn?!” Hector rushed over to her.

She held a hand over her eye socket, cringing. “I’m okay,” she growled through gritted teeth.

“Please stay close,” said Hector.

She just groaned and nodded, dripping more blood on her uniform.

Page 183

Hector gathered his focus and punched Geoffrey in the chest. He broke through the shadow and felt a rib snap. Geoffrey cried out in pain.

The sound of pounding footsteps made Hector turn just in time to see a massive fist pummel into him. He flew and hit the overturned truck, rocking it as the others were still trying to get out. Garovel was there beside him and grabbed his shoulder. Hector felt his creeping fatigue vanish completely.

The big guy helped Geoffrey up and tore the metal off like it was wrapping paper.

Hector stood and saw Roman rounding the vehicle.

“Mr. Roman!” said Geoffrey, holding his chest but still smiling. “A pleasure to see you again!”

Roman squinted. “Voreese, is that who I think it is? I can’t see the face very well.”

Yeah, it is,’ said Voreese. ‘What the fuck are you doing here, you red brat?!

“I am here to kill the Queen.”

Voreese thrashed at the air. ‘Agh! I fucking hate aberrations! But no! Leave it alive, he said! Fuck Vincent! We’re never listening to that asshole again!

“Works for me.” Roman looked at his palms. They began to tremble and burn.

What are aberrations?’ said Garovel.

And Hector couldn’t listen to the other reaper’s response. The big man charged at them, spitting acid first. Roman flipped the pavement up as a shield, and when the acid ate through it, he poured fire into the hole, roasting the giant alive. It wasn’t enough to stop the man, however, so Hector took his cue to uppercut him in the jaw with an iron fist. The giant tumbled through the air and crashed down onto a parked car.

Geoffrey, however, was no longer in sight.

He went around!’ said Garovel.

There came an agonized scream from the other side of the truck, and Hector knew that it belonged to Lynn. He ran.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Page 182 -- XX.

Roman let go, and the sphere jumped in place. Huge dents distorted its shape, and Hector and Roman both scrambled to keep it suppressed.

You can’t smother an explosion like that,’ said Garovel. ‘You’ll have to try and redirect it.

How?!’ asked Hector.

A funnel. Broadside up. Do it now.

He wasn’t sure he could actually pull such a thing off, but there was no time to second guess himself. He did the best he could, twisting his hands between one another as his mind warped the metal sphere, adding crude walls around the top like a misshapen crown. It grew clumsily toward the ceiling, worrying him with its awkward form. But it reached. And that was all that mattered.

Hector annihilated the top of the sphere within the walls and nodded to Roman, who already seemed to understand the goal here.

The explosion was free to rip upward, back through the hole Desmond had dropped it from.

Hector annihilated the rest of the makeshift funnel, releasing a cloud of smoke and dust.

Wow, Roman,’ said Garovel. ‘I didn’t realize you could suppress explosions like that.

Roman rolled his shoulders. “Honestly, I wasn’t too certain, either. Nice work with the--”

A second arm dropped through the hole, but Roman was ready this time. He stamped the floor, and the Corvette flew straight up through the ceiling, taking the arm with it. The explosion shook the building, making the walls crack and shift.

Roman grinned like a maniac. “Time to go, everyone.”

Hector mounted the bike, and everyone else gathered in the black truck with Lynnette at the wheel. She went first up the ramp and disappeared outside, and when Hector rode up the ramp himself and saw the truck again, it was flipped and skidding across the road.

The big man was there. As was Geoffrey.

Chapter Twenty: ‘Thine unyielding aegis...’
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He didn’t need time to process or question it. Hector barreled into Geoffrey with complete resolve.

Red tendrils sprung forth, wrapping around the motorcycle and Hector both, slowing them down, and as the force of the impact pushed Geoffrey back, the two young men came face to face.

Geoffrey’s eyes widened, and he grinned as their tangled mess eased to a stop, the bike’s front tire still grinding harmlessly against his red shield. “It’s you!”

“It’s me.” Hector ripped himself free of the shadow and grabbed Geoffrey’s face. Crimson immediately came between them, but Hector just covered the young man’s head with iron.

Geoffrey fell to the ground, scratching at his solid mask. Red poked through the metal, trying to break it apart but only meagerly succeeding.

Page 181

Helen and Lynnette were busy observing the keys together.

“I have not driven a car in eighteen years.”

“Then perhaps I should drive, Your Highness.”

Hector waited for them to choose before looking at the board himself. There were two rows, each key hanging below the logo of the accompanying vehicle’s manufacturer.

Garovel pointed at the logo of a smoking, ghostly wheel. ‘Get that one. It’s Revenant.’

Revenant?’ said Hector, grabbing the key nonetheless.

Have you forgotten? Revenant makes motorcycles.

Oh!’ He bit his lip. ‘And... oh. I just realized... we left that bike behind, didn’t we...?

We sure did. Whoops.

The key belonged to a motorcycle tucked away at the back of the garage. It was a cruiser, just like the previous bike, though a bit smaller and bearing a steely blue gas tank. It seemed sleeker to Hector’s eyes, perhaps even custom-built, and he noticed that the speedometer went higher than the other one.

Abruptly, the lights flickered, and everyone looked up. The center of the ceiling went black, and a hissing sound filled the silence. Stone and plaster melted away, dripping acid onto the Corvette below.

A darkened arm fell through the hole in the ceiling.

Hector immediately slammed his fists together, trying to coat the severed limb in iron. It exploded halfway through.

The fire lit up the chamber. But it did not spread. Hector squinted through the opening in his helm and saw the explosion being held at bay by apparently nothing. It just floated there in the middle of the room, a boiling bubble of flames and smoke.

Roman’s arms gripped the space in front of him, trembling. The strain of it ate away at his flesh, bloodying his arms and face. “Need some help here, Hector!”

Hector breathed deep and refocused. He spread his arms out wide and brought them together again. Iron spots gathered around the bubble, expanding, clustering, and soon became a completely metal orb, as big as any car in the room. It dropped on the Corvette like a wrecking ball.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Page 180

Hector looked at his friend. ‘Garovel...

We won’t abandon you, Your Majesty,’ the reaper added. ‘But we’re not prepared to die for you, either.

“I was not asking you to die for me,” she said.

Yes, you were,’ said Garovel. ‘Perhaps you didn’t realize it, but you were.

Annoyance flashed across the Queen’s face, but then she closed her eyes a moment and nodded. “Very well.” Her gaze passed over Hector. “You know your limits better than I do. I thank you, Hector, for protecting us, and I will ask no more of you. Except, perhaps, might you tell me your full name?”

Hector was a statue. His mouth wouldn’t move, and neither would his hands or his feet. ‘G-Garovel! I--this is--! Help!

Garovel broke for a small laugh. ‘His name is Hector Goffe.

“Goffe. I shall remember. But can he not speak for himself?”

He wants to talk to you, but he’s extremely shy.

Her expression flattened, and she exchanged glances with the others. “You are joking.”

I’m not, no. He’s a great kid. He just has trouble talking to people. And seeing as you’re the Queen, I imagine that only makes it about a dozen times more difficult for him. Through no fault of your own, of course.’

Hector could feel his face burning so much that he was worried it would show through his helm.

Helen just blinked, unable to come up with words of her own.

Voreese busted out laughing. ‘That’s great! Roman, why can’t you be like him? You’d be way cuter.

“Great idea. Hey, Garovel, is there any way I can swap with Hector? I’d rather be your servant.”

No, you stupid dick! You’re stuck with me!

She’s right. And besides, I’m quite content with Hector.

Roman looked at Mehlsanz. “How about you? I don’t even know your name, but please save me from this living nightmare.”

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Page 179

“The green Porsche is mine,” said Gerald, “but you can take any of the others. The keys are all by the stairs.”

Roman approached a black pickup truck, eyeing the driver’s side door before looking back at Gerald. “We’re not going to flee with you.”

“I didn’t think you would. But you shouldn’t stay here. They’ll find you before long.”

Helen stood by a blue convertible. “Will they? Did we not escape them well enough?”

“Probably not,” said Roman. “Reapers are annoyingly good scouts. They probably still have a vague idea where we went, at least. And they can search areas very quickly.”

In the driver’s seat, Gerald started his Porsche. The far corner of the ceiling began opening, and it became abruptly apparent that the long ramp there led outside.

Gerald stuck his head out. “Roman. Everyone. Good luck to you.”

Roman gave him the finger.

The old man drove away, his unintroduced reaper following.

What now?’ said Voreese. ‘Our plan’s been shot to hell.

Roman took a heavy breath. “I hate to say it, but I think the old bastard was right. We shouldn’t stay here.”

Helen’s brow lowered. “You would have me flee, as well?”

“Look, it’s a bit pathetic, but without my glasses, I’m fighting with a disadvantage. You don’t have any combat experience or training yet, and while I’m impressed with the sword girl’s abilities, she’s still just a normal person.” Roman looked at Hector and Garovel. “What do you two think? The bulk of the fight would be in your hands.”

With everyone looking at him again, Hector took a step back.

It’s too risky,’ said Garovel. ‘We should leave Sescoria and come up with a new plan.

The Queen frowned. “If we concede the capital now, we may never be able to retake it. We do outnumber the enemy, and Hector seems capable of--”

Garovel cut her off. ‘With respect, Your Majesty, this is not your decision. It’s mine. Hector has helped you more than enough already.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Page 178

Gerald frowned. “Still too young for the crown, I see.”

“A thousand years would not be enough to make me agree with you,” Helen said. “You are mistaken if you think Atreya is meant to protect me. I am meant to protect it.”

The old man just snorted.

There was a pause, and Lynnette noticed Hector had joined them. Everyone seemed to be looking at him--or just above his head, perhaps. She couldn’t tell what was happening, but after a moment, Gerald broke the silence.

“There are plenty of places for us to go,” he said. “Any neutral territory will suffice. If necessary, we’ll throw our support behind Sai-hee. At least she has enough sense to stay out of the others’ messes.”

Roman scowled. “You fucking coward.”

“Don’t let sentiment cloud your judgment, Roman. Atreya is already dead.”

“So much the better, then,” said Roman. “Dead things suit us just fine.”

Gerald rolled his eyes. A few of his mechanics lingered behind him, no doubt waiting for a chance to speak to him, but when he saw them there, he flew into a spitting tirade until they fled. He moved to the rear wall and hit a row of buttons. The garage doors all began to close.

The old man took a deep breath. The shelf next to him reached all the way to ceiling, bearing boxes and tires and all manner of tools. He clutched its central pillar with both hands and pulled the whole thing a few paces to the right. A door in the floor was revealed.

Gerald lifted it open. “I’ll offer you one small aid only. I suggest you take it.” He descended out of view.

Roman and the Queen followed immediately. Lynnette and Hector exchanged glances before pursuing.


It was an underground garage. Bright white lights filled the chamber, and Hector could see grooves in the ceiling where mechanics topside could work beneath cars.

Gerald was already pulling tarps off of the various vehicles parked here.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Page 177

“Don’t be stupid,” said Gerald. “The others won’t come to your aid. And neither will I.”

Roman’s eyes narrowed. “What?”

“The opponent is Abolish. You think killing two of their members will make them give up?”

“It will,” said Roman. “Think about it, Gerald. They only sent two servants. Atreya obviously isn’t a priority for them. They’re busy waging, what, three different wars? More? We don’t have to win. We just have to make conquering us more trouble than it’s worth.”

Gerald shook his head. “Foolishness. We don’t know how valuable they deem this country. If they believe it could be of real strategic value in winning one of those wars you mentioned, then killing the ones already here will just make them send stronger people to deal with us. Imagine if they send Ivan or Dunhouser or Jercash or any of a dozen others. Forget about causing trouble. We wouldn’t even be able to run away.”

Roman furrowed his brow. “If we do nothing, they’ll destroy Atreya.”

“All the more reason to leave the country.”

The Queen had been watching quietly. “Please,” she said. “I assure you that your assistance would not go unrewarded.”

Gerald smirked. “You don’t even know who we are, do you, Your Majesty?”

She merely eyed him stolidly.

“I’m a smuggler. The best one you’ll ever meet.” He pointed to Roman. “This idiot is a thief. Probably the best, also.”

Helen folded her arms. “I believe such transgressions are inconsequential at this point.”

“Indeed,” said Gerald. “But I want you to understand that he and I are greedy bastards and that your offer does not fall on deaf ears. And that I am still not going to help you. If you’re as intelligent as I think you are, Your Majesty, then you’ll take this chance to flee the country, as well.”

“You must not think me very intelligent at all, then.”

Monday, August 12, 2013

Page 176

The young man had been given short-sleeved coveralls to wear, which were at least a size too big for him. He’d rolled the legs up around his ankles and tightened the denim around his torso with a strip of metal.

Lynnette had caught him in the midst of restoring the metal of his helm. Just one more thing on her list of questions to ask.

When he looked at her, though, his brown eyes widened, and he averted his gaze.

“I’m Lynn. I didn’t catch your name.”

“I, uh... it’s... I’m... H-Hec...”

Her brow tilted as she waited.


“Nice to meet you.”

“Y-yeah, I-I... I’m, ah... I...” He just gave up this time.

She scratched her cheek. “Um. How are you not dead, anyway? And how are you molding metal with your bare hands?”

“Ah--that... ah... I’m not... uh... agh...”

“Are you alright?”

He turned away and donned his helm before looking back at her. “Yeah, I’m--I mean... I... fagh... I still... can’t...”

Lynnette just frowned.

The ensuing silence soon grew uncomfortable, and Lynnette decided that Hector probably wanted her to leave him alone, so she went to check on the others.

“--you should give Vincent and the others a call, just in case,” Roman was saying to Gerald. “If we find somewhere to hole up while they come to Sescoria, then we’ll be able to minimize our risks and overwhelm the enemy easily.”

As Gerald looked over their group another time, his expression hardened. After a moment, he went into the garage, with everyone following uncertainly. “Hey!” he shouted at his mechanics. “You’re all fired!”

They clearly didn’t understand.

“I said you’re fired! Get the fuck out of here right now! I’m not joking, assholes! Get out!”

“What’re you doing?” said Roman. “There’s no need to fire anyone. Just send them home while we take care of things.”

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Page 175

“Curious.” Desmond eyed him again. “How old are you?”

“Nineteen. Why?”

“Ooh, older than I thought. How many people have you killed?”

“I have not been keeping track, honestly. A couple dozen, perhaps?”

“Not bad,” said Desmond. “Maybe you haven’t realized yet, but your power grows as you consume souls.”

“Oh! That would explain why I feel stronger lately.”

“Yeah, aberrations are great that way. But you should be careful not to kill too many people too quickly, or you’ll end up drawing the attention of the Vanguard.”

“What is that?”

“Our enemies. They know about aberrations. They fear you guys, and rightly so. If they realize you’re here, they won’t hesitate to send one of their strongest people to kill you.”

“Sounds like fun.”

“Oh, it can be, but only when the time is right. Aberrations are all about momentum. You can grow in power much more quickly than we can, but you have to kill a lot of people while still staying hidden. Otherwise, you’ll be stomped into oblivion before you ever get a chance to become a genuine threat to the enemy.”

“Hmm, I see. I suppose killing the Queen of Atreya would be doing exactly that, then.”

Desmond laughed. “You’re here to kill the Queen?”


“No kidding! We came to kill the Queen, too!”

“Really? Oh! Are you the ones responsible for all that destruction over there?!”

“Yep! Sadly, though, she managed to escape. Some other servants got in our way.”


“People with reapers. We’re a bit outnumbered, actually. Why don’t you join us in hunting her down? If you stick with us, we’ll keep you hidden from the Vanguard. Or protected, at least.”

“That sounds wonderful!”

“Excellent! I really like your snake by the way.”

“Thank you! They were upset when I took him, but the hat was simply not enough of a prize for me.”

“Entirely understandable.”


“I wanted to thank you for saving Her Highness’s life,” said Lynnette. “As well as mine.”

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Page 174

It was Geoffrey’s turn to blink. “Where I come from?”

Oh, Heavens, child! Don’t tell me you think you’re human!

“No, I know I’m not. But I can’t say I know what I am, exactly, either.”

“You, my delightful friend, are what is known as an aberration. You are the offspring of the Void.”

“The Void? What are you talking about?”

“It’s a place,” Desmond explained. “The Void is what we call the space between this life and the next. It straddles the line between realities. Ezmortig here, he always has one foot in the Void, so to speak.”

But it’s also a consciousness,’ said Ezmortig. ‘People might tell you otherwise, but don’t you believe them. The Void has a silent will of its own, and it spawned you and all your kin. With a little help from Abolish, of course.

“There are others like me?”

“Of course. You thought you were alone this whole time?”

Geoffrey just shrugged, making his balloon-hat bob.

“If you’d been born into Abolish’s care, that never would’ve happened.”

Interesting. I didn’t think aberrations could be born in the wild. Perhaps you were simply separated from Abolish by way of some mix up.

Geoffrey cocked an eyebrow and chuckled. “Are you saying I was switched at birth?”

That’s possible, too, but not quite what I meant. While I don’t understand the finer details of the birthing process, I do know that aberrations are created after the fetus has already started growing in the womb. Maybe your mother received the treatment without her knowledge.

Desmond smirked. “You think the research divisions have taken their work to public hospitals?”

The reaper paused. ‘Actually, now that you say that, I don’t think so. I doubt R&D would have been deployed to this country without a combat division for protection. There must be some other explanation for this boy’s presence here.