Thursday, October 31, 2013

Page 335

Hoyohté must have warned him, because Karkash was able to avoid the brunt of the acid. It splashed the side of his face only, and when Stoker threw a punch with all his strength, Karkash simply caught it. With his one unmelted eye, Karkash turned to look at Stoker.

He spat more acid. A bolt of electricity cut through it, igniting the hydrogen. Both men’s clothes caught fire, but Stoker took the worst of it as the flames relished the chance to spread throughout the hydrogen in his body. He dropped and rolled until the fire extinguished. He climbed to one knee as flesh all over his body was returning.

Nize,’ he said, running again, ‘are you alright?


Where’s Hoyohté?

She’s staying in front of him where he can protect her. I’m sure she’s also watching his back for him.

Stoker growled. He was hoping they would have split up, but they apparently knew better. Their formation was ideal for low-visibility combat, because if Hoyohté had gone above the fog or below, she wouldn’t have been able to eliminate Karkash’s blind spots, which would have meant the advantage for Stoker. Wishful thinking, it seemed.

Another car came reeling through the fog, and Stoker had to sidestep it. He ran south, making more fog behind him. He knew that he could take Karkash down with a simple bath of hydrogen gas, as the sparks in the air would make it explode immediately; but the problem was avoiding the explosion himself. A double-down scenario was certainly not ideal. He decided it was time to flee again.

He passed an overturned police car, and for a mad moment, considered stealing the officer’s firearm before remembering the reason he hadn’t brought his own to this fight.

Finally, he reached a part of the road where none of the vehicles were tumbling through the air. He picked a big blue truck and yanked the hapless civilian out.

Before he could jump in the driver’s seat, however, a lightning bolt pierced his chest. His entire body spasmed violently, and he looked back to see Karkash in the distance, risen above the fog, hovering toward them.

Page 334

Karkash is lashing out,’ said Nize. ‘Careful on your right.

A car flew toward him, and Stoker ducked under it. The cracking boom of lightning made the fog shudder and swirl. Magnetic waves shifted the air and flipped more vehicles, making traffic in both directions come screeching to a halt.

Stoker ran left, widening and deepening the fog. Sparks flew through the cloud, stirring the air, brewing up a storm. This was, after all, why Stoker and Karkash were anti-air specialists. Given time, their combined abilities could create weather more ferocious than any conventional aircraft could withstand.

A silver pickup truck appeared through the fog much too suddenly. It slammed into Stoker, knocking him clear off the road and through the wall of a grocery store. Debris and produce left people fleeing in all directions.

Stoker’s fog subsided as his concentration did, as he was more concerned with struggling back to his feet while half the bones in his body shifted back into place and repaired themselves. He shoved the truck out of the way, its bearded driver either dead or unconscious at the wheel. He made his way outside again.

The violent changes in air pressure had already kicked up a small wind, and he knew that his cloud would soon be pushed away. He decided it would be wiser to attack before making more.

The miniscule amount of acid in his stomach would be of no great use alone, but he could tunnel through his own body with hydrogen in order to reach the extra chlorine in his kidneys and the oxygen in his blood and lungs; and when strengthened with imaginary power, his acid would be both strong enough and voluminous enough to eat through even concrete within seconds.

Where is he?’ Stoker asked.

Straight ahead five meters, left two more, and you will be behind him.

The acid swelled up as he ran, eating him from the inside, and as soon as he saw Karkash, he spat out a sizzling, bloody glob.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Page 333

Karkash did not take the bait. Electricity gathered in his fist, and Stoker only had a moment to shield Nize from the attack.

The current ripped through his body, explosions of pain everywhere, but Stoker was no stranger to such agony. He used transfiguration, after all, arguably the most painful class of servant abilities.

Transfiguration was a power for the thinking man. It required practice, precision, and chemistry. Its true strength was lost on the simple-minded.

Stoker could replace any part of his body with hydrogen--not so threatening a power as Karkash’s, to be sure, but like most transfiguration abilities, it was prone to being underestimated, as others had learned to their cost.

Stoker’s back and arms sizzled beneath his clothes. Hydrogen bonded with the oxygen in his blood and skin to create water en masse, which vaporized immediately; and when it hit the cool air, the result was a sudden fog, expanding quickly out from Stoker’s flesh. He retreated into its pure white cover and added his soul to the cloud in order to prevent Hoyohté from sensing him.

Nize, on the other hand, could still sense Karkash and Hoyohté perfectly. Stoker’s soul permeated the mist in a confused mass, but their souls remained clear beacons.

Stoker’s missing flesh left a lingering burn, like being set on fire, but it did not last. Nize initiated the regeneration and enhanced his strength, then attached herself to his back to conceal her soul within his.

He needed an answer from her. ‘It’s only Karkash here, right? No other servants?

Yes,’ she said privately.

Fleeing was perhaps still an option, he realized. He merely needed to leave Karkash’s range, preferably with a new car. It would have been nice if letting Nize go deep underground were an option, but he knew that even if she managed to escape Karkash’s reach, Abolish’s subterranean net had already been completed. Just as Stoker and Karkash provided aerial defenses, another team specialized in below ground tactics. A gigantic, soul-empowered net was often used to prevent enemy reapers from infiltrating cities and regenerating their servants from scratch. Of course, it also prevented friendly reapers from leaving cities by the same means.

Page 332 -- XXXIX.

Stoker evaluated his options. Traffic was rather heavy. A high speed chase would be difficult, at best, and Karkash’s magnetism had a range of thirty meters. Any car within that distance would not be going anywhere unless Karkash allowed it. And if Nize abandoned Stoker to flee on her own, Karkash would surely kill her with soul-infused lightning; or, supposing she fled straight downward, Karkash would still be able to reach her underground with a soul-strengthened magnetic field.

However, given that Karkash had not already attacked them, perhaps a fight was yet avoidable.

Stoker pulled over and exited the vehicle. He stepped onto the grassy median with Karkash. The noise from the cars all around them meant he had to get closer to the man than he would have liked in order to exchange words.

“What are you doing out here?” Stoker said in Vaelish. “You were supposed to be hunting down the servant with metal.”

Have you truly not realized, even now?’ said Hoyohté, floating behind her servant. ‘We were never going to hunt that person down. He is unimportant. This was only ever a trap for the two of you.

Stoker eyed them both carefully. He decided to feign innocence until there was no other option. “A trap? Why would you need to set a trap for us?” In the meantime, however, he took note of the cool afternoon air. That could prove helpful.

Karkash ignored the question and asked his own. “Where were you going?”

We received new orders while you were gone,’ lied Nize. ‘Our presence was requested in Kahm.

Then I am sure you will not mind returning to the castle and having the others confirm that for us.’

Of course.’

After you, then.

No one moved.

Chapter Thirty-Nine: ‘O, turbulent cloud...’
Click to display entire chapter at once -- (mobile link)

Stoker met Karkash’s stare evenly. In truth, he was afraid of the man, but there was no room for fear now. And he wasn’t weak, either. He could fight. If he played smart, he might even win. So that’s what he did.

Stoker slowly put both arms up as if to surrender.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Page 331

<“Hmm. Well, anyway, to answer your question, I’m pretty sure they want to use Sescoria as their base of operations. They’ve been stockpiling weapons and building a perimeter around the city. It wouldn’t make much sense to attack it.”>

At least not yet,’ added Garovel. ‘Ask her about Roman.’

“Is there any news from Roman?” said Hector.

<“He contacted me a couple weeks ago, but only to say that their leads in Korgum didn’t pan out.”>

“Ah--are they okay?”

<“He didn’t go into detail, but it sounded like they’ve had a rough time of it, as well. I’ll let you know if Master Roman contacts me again. I’m sure he’ll be interested to hear about your situation, too.”>


<“Is there anything else I can do for you?”>

“Ah--we were just on our way to Walton, actually. We were, uh, hoping for a place to stay. Temporarily, I mean.”

<“I would take you in, but I’m not in Walton, right now. I’m in Sescoria. And I doubt you want to come here.”>


<“If you want, I could make some calls and find you a different place.”>

Hector eyed the others. Garovel shook his head, and Hector said, “No, that’s okay. We’ll figure something else out.”


“Thank you for the information,” he said. “And please, um. Be careful.”

<“Same to you. I’ll call you whenever I learn anything useful.”>

“And if you, uh--if you--ah...”


“I-if you get into trouble, then please call me. I’ll come help you.”

She paused for a giggle. <“You’d never reach me in time, but thanks.”> And she hung up.

“Pretty brave friend you got there,” said Colt.



Stoker concealed the tattoo on his face under a gray hood as he drove. There weren’t many ways out of Sescoria, at the moment. All the major roads were being watched, and the smaller ones had been closed off. It was fortunate, then, that Stoker was supposed to be the one watching the southern gate.

Or at least, it seemed fortunate--right up until Nize informed him that Karkash was standing in the middle of the road straight ahead. Arms folded. Waiting.

Page 330

<“I know,”> said Gina. <“I risked my life for this intel. You’re welcome, by the way.”>

“Er, thanks, but--agh, you shouldn’t have done that. It’s way too dangerous.”

<“I’m being careful. Got myself a cozy little underground lair. Anyhow, it’s you who should be careful.”>

Ask her what she’s learned about their plans,’ said Garovel. ‘And put her on speaker so Colt and Bohwanox can listen, too.

Hector held the phone out as Garovel invited the other two over.

<“I’ve only been listening for a few days, but I know that there are eight servants in Sescoria right now. And they’ve been torturing King William, but you probably guessed that by now.”>

Hector clenched his jaw. The King’s sudden loss of a limb had of course been major news. The media attributed it to a freak infection, whereupon the arm had to be amputated in order to save his life. Hector and Garovel hadn’t bought that pile of horseshit for a second. “Do you know which one of them took his arm?”

<“It was definitely the guy called Desmond. He really likes to talk about it.”>

“I’ve met him,” Hector said lowly.

<“But that’s not the juiciest thing I’ve learned. In two weeks, they’re planning to destroy an entire town and make it look like Rendon is responsible. Right now, they’re still trying to prepare public opinion. You’ve probably seen some of the media coverage about how hostile Rendon and Kahm are, supposedly. Or maybe they ARE that hostile. It sounds like Abolish might have agents in those countries, too.”>

A multinational conflict,’ said Garovel, eyeing the others. ‘Ask her which town they intend to destroy.

“Which town?”

<“It’s called Harold. Northwest of Sescoria. It’s not very big. Hopefully, I can find out who they’re sending and what their abilities are.”>

Colt tilted his head. “Why Harold? Why don’t they just stage the attack in the capital?”

<“Who’s that talking?”>

“Sorry, this is Colt. He’s... an ally. You can trust him.”

Monday, October 28, 2013

Page 329

Thankfully, they’d already stopped at a gas station, and Hector was quick to seek refuge in the air outside the car.

Colt was filling up the tank. The man smirked when he saw Hector. “Was wondering if you’d be able to sleep through that.”

Hector enjoyed another gulp of fresh air before responding. “Where are we?”

“Nearly to Maxwell,” said Colt. “Maybe you should try to call your friend again.”

“Ah... I could help you change the kids, if you want.”

“You know how to change a diaper?”

“Yeah. My, uh...” He frowned. “Yeah, I know how.”

“Mm. Still, you should call your friend. I’m fine changing them both.”

Hector nodded and pulled out his phone. To his surprise, he already had several missed calls from Gina. She’d sent a few texts, as well, all warning him that she thought someone might be coming to kill him. Not exactly news, generally-speaking, but she had details. Karkash. A man who could control electromagnetic fields.

Garovel floated over his shoulder, reading. ‘Looks like Gina’s been busy.

He decided to give her a call.

She picked up after a single ring. <“Hector!”>

“Uh, h-hi.”

<“You got my messages?”>


<“I’m not completely sure that they’re coming after you, to be honest. It sounded like they were talking to reapers, so I only caught half the conversation, but they mentioned someone who uses metal being in trouble because of Karkash--who, by the way, does not sound like a very nice person. After seeing you in the news, I figured the metal guy was you. What the hell happened to you, anyway? You didn’t actually kill all those people, right?”>

Hector blinked a few times. “N-no, of course I didn’t. How do you know about this Karkash, anyway? It sounds like you bugged someone or--”

<“Yeah, I planted bugs all over Belgrant Castle. The people who are holding the King hostage--I’ve been listening to their conversations.”>


Page 328

What are you saying?’ said Garovel, abruptly more seriously. ‘Hector, are you saying you don’t regret hurting that man?

What? No! Of course I regret it! That’s what I was trying to say!

Good. That’s the way it should be. Shit, you really had me worried for a second.

What’re you--?

Hector, listen to me. You’ve been through a lot. You made a mistake. You’ve acknowledged it. Now just don’t do it again.

He furrowed his brow, blinking. ‘I mean, ah... of course, I’ll try, but what if I can’t? That’s what I’m worried about.’ He looked at his hands. ‘Honestly, I’m kinda scared of myself right now...

You’ve been far too high-strung, lately. You know you have. Are you so surprised that it ended up affecting you?

But... I didn’t think I’d hurt an innocent person...

Well, you did. And don’t forget it. Remember this as a lesson. You have to take care of yourself, too. You’re not invincible. I know sometimes it might seem like you are, but you’re not. You have to keep a clear head.

He gave a slow nod. ‘Is this... because I’ve been neglecting my meditation?

I wouldn’t blame it all on that, but I do think meditation would certainly help you relax. As would some fucking rest.

I, ah... I guess you’re right.

Duh. Don’t you know by now how ridiculously wise I am?

Hector tried to get some sleep. It did not go smoothly. Even after the enhancements wore off and the exhaustion kicked in, his brain still wanted to stubbornly hold on to consciousness. With nothing else to do, he just started to meditate right there in the backseat. And after a time of forcing himself to empty his head, he was finally able to fall asleep.

When he awoke, Stephanie and Thomas were both fidgeting in his arms. Then the smell hit him, hard enough to make his eyes water. Someone needed their diaper changed. Perhaps two someones.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Page 327

Bohwanox found them a tight intersection with a small underground tunnel, no doubt meant to let cars pass below the train tracks at ground level. Colt went into the tunnel, stopped the car when they were out of view, and then doubled back and turned down a different street.

The reapers soon confirmed that there was no one following.

Colt headed northeast. “So where the hell do we go now?” he said as they reached the city’s outer limits. “Still think we shouldn’t leave the country?”

The two reapers kept pace with the vehicle on either side.

Garovel, what do you think?

I vote for Zeke.


It’s on the way to Walton, where we might have a friend.’ He looked at Hector. ‘Perhaps it’s time we gave Gina a call.

“Who’s Gina?” said Colt.

Admittedly,’ said Garovel, ‘we don’t know all that much about her. But she and her boss helped us out before. She might not be so welcoming with all the attention Hector’s gotten, but it’s worth trying.

Hector found her number in his cellphone, but the call didn’t go through. “I don’t have reception...”

Try again when we get to Zeke.’


The cabin grew quiet for a while. Hector removed his helm and watched the long stretches of tawny grassland pass by the window, flat as far as the eye could see with only the occasional tree to break the pattern.

How are you feeling?’ Garovel said privately.

Hector frowned. ‘Garovel, I hurt a cop...

I saw.

His frown only deepened.

It was an unfortunate accident,’ said Garovel. ‘Don’t get hung up on--

No, I... I mean, that’s just it... I did it on purpose.

The reaper was quiet a moment. ‘What?

For a second there, I... I was just so pissed off... because of... because of everything, I guess.’ He rubbed his forehead and took a long breath. ‘The guy was like the hundredth person to get in my way, and I just... I lost my head... I wanted to hurt him. And I did.

Page 326

For a moment, Hector could only stare at the cop writhing on the ground. He’d broken normal people’s bones before, but those had at least been violent criminals. This guy was just doing his job.

Hector!’ came Garovel’s yell. ‘Hurry up!

More cops were coming. He knew he couldn’t stay. He threw the injured man a last look. “I’m sorry!” was all he could manage. He ran off and jumped into Colt’s car.

They sped off, but Hector could still see more helicopters and vehicles in pursuit.

“Can you put a barricade behind us?” said Colt.

“I don’t want to make them crash!” said Hector. “That could kill someone!”

Colt grumbled under his breath, and then said, “Fine. I’ll do it the hard way. Climb into the backseat and hold onto the kids for me.”

Hector did as the man said. The babies started whining as he nestled them in his arms, wrapping them in iron along with himself. He could feel the car’s speed climbing rapidly. They soon encountered a police blockade.

“Keep going,” said Hector.

“You sure?” said Colt.


Bridge structure was the first thing he studied when he visited the library the other day. Committing a few general designs to memory had been no great feat, and this time, the bridge he constructed was much sturdier. The ramp leading up to it was solid iron all the way through, providing ample support for the extension over the blockade, and the ramp leading back down was just as smooth. Hector annihilated the bridge behind them.

Colt had the reapers scout ahead for him, aiding his efforts to lose the helicopters. The man’s driving was frightening, yet still somehow precise. He could navigate around parked cars in narrow streets without losing much speed, and Hector frequently lost sight of the choppers between the tall buildings, which likely meant that they were having the same problem.

“You’re really good at driving...”

“This car’s a piece of shit.”

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Page 325

Hector dropped right in front of a group of policemen. They already had their weapons drawn and fired a slew of rounds at him before he could render their guns useless with iron. And even without their weapons, they still seemed intent on taking him down, moving to surround him. He didn’t want to go back up to the rooftops with the helicopters, so he just ran through the last gap in the police line.

More cops were waiting around the corner, however. And word must have gotten around about the ineffectiveness of bullets, because they were holding tasers instead. Six pairs of charged electrodes flew toward him on conductive wires. He stopped five with iron walls, but the last one found his shoulder.

He dropped to his hands and knees. The electricity didn’t hurt, of course, but controlling his limbs was abruptly difficult. He pressed a hand to the ground, and an iron pillar launched him up and over the officers. His landing was rough, but he was back on his feet quickly enough and running away again.

Next, four white-and-black SUVs skidded to a stop in front of him, but Hector just wrapped the vehicles in metal before the tactical teams could exit. He ran past and released the metal after turning the next corner.

Finally, he saw Colt’s car and ran toward it.

More cops got in his way, however.

A flash of anger ran through him. Why couldn’t they be this persistent about catching actual criminals? He’d delivered a local mob boss to their doorstep the night before, along with a whole cabinet of incriminating documents, but did that matter now? Of course not.

He covered their tasers in metal, then their legs, just enough to incapacitate them. He ran for the car again, but two more cops appeared and jumped on top of him. The anger returned, stronger.

He flung the first cop off, then grabbed the other’s arm and broke it. The man screamed out in pain.

Hector stopped, suddenly horrified with himself. That shouldn’t have happened. He wasn’t supposed to hurt cops.

Page 324

He pulled a pillar up from the ground to meet him, giving it a curve and turning it into a giant, spiraling slide. He swirled down, rolling over himself and banging against its iron siding until it spit him out onto the open road. He could feel his spine repairing itself as he struggled to his feet again.

He spotted a police chopper ahead, along with a fleet of trucks turning onto the street.

Hector ran up to the adjacent building and pulled a sudden iron tower up beneath his feet. He shot up, reaching the roof in seconds and then destroying both the slide and platform before running off again.

The police had been making it increasingly difficult to protect people--and for that matter, so had the people themselves. All the media coverage about the identity of the Darksteel Soldier and why the police were having so much trouble catching him had of course revealed Hector’s usage of metal to the general public; and once details of the Calman High massacre began to circulate, connections were soon made. Geoffrey’s puppets had suffocated because of freakish metal encasing, after all, and there wasn’t much hope of explaining that they were already dead and being used to kill even more people.

As such, the Darksteel Soldier had been labeled as no longer just a criminal, nor even just a killer. Now, he was a mass murderer. And that was enough attention so that almost anyone who saw him would immediately call the police. Even people he had just saved were quick to lose it and scream for help. Hector wasn’t looking for their praise, but it was still frustrating and tiresome all the same.

Garovel asked him for his location, and Hector gave it as best he could. He soon spotted all three helicopters still following him and jumped off the roof--this time intentionally--and landed on a shorter building. From there, he could leap down to the next street over without splattering against the concrete.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Page 323

--donation bonus (day #17, post 5/5)--
I am sorry to hear that,’ said Bowhanox.

“I was fine,” said Colt. “Other kids weren’t.”

...Because you beat the hell out of them?

“What? No! Believe it or not, I was actually a pretty good kid.”

Not believing it.

“I might’ve had a thicker skin than most kids, and I might’ve gotten into a few fights, but I wasn’t a fucking bully.”

Let me guess. You beat up the bullies, instead.

“Pfft, no. I was like nine. They kicked the shit out of me.”

But you tried to beat them up, yes?


I knew it.

“What the fuck happened to keeping this relationship strictly professional?”

Oh, relax. Tough guy can’t even handle a bit of friendly ribbing.

Colt just grumbled.

I am sure we could find a much better foster home, you know. Stake it out for a while, make extra sure that the caretakers are not hiding any monstrous secrets or anything.

“Tch. Even if that were possible, what the fuck would I do without my kids, huh? What would my life become?”

Bohwanox hesitated. ‘Uh... gallantly protecting me from monsters?

“Go fuck yourself.”

The reaper snorted a laugh. ‘I get it. They are your reason for living. But is that what is honestly best for them?

“I’ll figure something out.”

Hmm. Then I will do my best to help with that.

Colt cocked an eyebrow at the reaper. Their conversation was interrupted, however, when Garovel’s voice broke in.

Hey! You two!’ he said, descending from the roof.

They waited for him to elaborate.

So there are three helicopters and an army of cops chasing Hector right now.

Colt had to snicker.

He’s on foot. I’m sure he’d appreciate you and your car.’

“We finally gonna leave this town?” he said, moving to gather their things.

Yeah, I’m thinking we should.

“About damn time.”


Colt is en route,’ came Garovel’s voice from the other side of the city.

That’s nice.’ And not for the first time today, Hector tumbled off the roof of a building with more than twenty floors.

Page 322

--donation bonus (day #17, post 4/5)--
Aiming was also a bit awkward for him. The path of destruction sprung from Colt’s hands, but just putting an open palm forward was too clumsy and inaccurate, he felt. He tried putting two fingers forward like a childish pistol, but that wasn’t doing it for him, either. In the end, he just used an unloaded gun and adjusted for the slightly off-center firing point for its invisible “bullets.” He found it much more comfortable.

After a while, though, he stopped. He did find the power interesting, but at least for now, a regular gun was still much more useful. The only upside he could see to this was that it didn’t require ammo. He supposed another plus might be that it didn’t have the potential to jam like a normal gun did, but Colt always made sure to take proper care of his firearms and stayed away from models that were prone to operating problems, anyway.

He bathed the kids in a wash basin one at a time, gave them fresh diapers, and then fed them.

I’m curious,’ said Bohwanox. ‘What do you intend to do with them when they are older?

For a time, Colt didn’t answer. That was a question he had been dreading. “I’m not sure,” he eventually said.

Have you not given it much thought?

“No, I have. I just. Haven’t come up with a good answer.”

Hmm. If you intend to stay on the run indefinitely, what kind of life could you provide for them?

Colt only stared at them.

I’m guessing you don’t see a foster home as a viable option.’

“They aren’t going to grow up in a place like that. Not as long as I’m still breathing.”

What’s wrong with foster homes?

Colt eyed the reaper. “Go haunt one for a few years and then ask me that question again.”

Is that personal experience I’m hearing or just the jaded view of an ex-cop?

His mouth twisted distastefully. “Both.”

Page 321

--donation bonus (day #17, post 3/5)--
“Oh!” said Desmond, grinning. “You’re right. It’s like he’s taunting us with all this media coverage, isn’t it? Maybe he wants us to come after him, eh? If so, that’s pretty damn ballsy.”

And suddenly, Stoker saw the opportunity there. On a silver platter. Right in front of his face.

Nize got there before him. ‘Stoker and I will go hunt him down.’

Desmond looked at her. “Really? It’s not like he’s actually important. Even if he is giving us the middle finger, right now.”

No,’ said Hoyohté. ‘Karkash and I will go.’

Desmond blinked at her, too. “Why are you all raring to go kill someone you’ve never even seen? I told you he’s not important. Don’t you have more pressing matters to attend to?”

That is why we will go by ourselves,’ said Hoyohté. She turned to Nize and Stoker. ‘We will only be gone a day--two at the most. You can handle matters in the meantime, yes?

“Of course,” said Stoker. ‘This works, too,’ he thought. ‘As long as we don’t have Karkash breathing down our necks, sneaking out of the city will be simple. The others won’t notice until we’re long gone.

Nize privately concurred.

You shouldn’t go alone,’ said Ezmortig. ‘We don’t know how strong the enemy is.

“Not necessary,” said Karkash. “We know he uses metal.”


“So he’s already fucked,” said Stoker. “Karkash can control electromagnetic fields.”


Colt’s meditation went surprisingly smoothly. He hated it, but now that it had become the difference between being able to safely hold his children and not, he started taking it much more seriously. Within a day, he was able to not only keep his power subdued, but he could also target an object half a meter away from him. However, its actual destructive power still seemed incredibly weak. He couldn’t even break a solid pane of glass on the first try. He took to practicing his aim against a chalk circle he’d drawn on the wall.

Page 320 -- XXXVIII.

--donation bonus (day #17, post 2/5)--
Bohwanox invoked the regeneration, relieving the pain as well, and Colt returned to meditating.

It was not long before Hector stopped his own meditation and left. Garovel followed, though not quickly.

Colt could imagine what silent conversation the two were having. “Damn that kid. He’s gonna lose his mind if he doesn’t fucking relax.”

Bohwanox’s faceless hood tilted a little. ‘Are you worried about him? I thought you only cared about your children.

Colt just frowned.

Chapter Thirty-Eight: ‘O, burgeoning snare...’
Click to display entire chapter at once -- (mobile link)

Stoker followed Karkash into the King’s office again. He didn’t know what had gotten the other man so upset. He wasn’t entirely sure he wanted to find out, either, but Karkash did not seem willing to allow otherwise.

Karkash laid a newspaper out on the desk, and Stoker and Desmond both looked at it. There was an article on the third page, talking about the so-called Darksteel Soldier, now known to be a criminal by the name of Hector Goffe.

“This person is a servant,” said Karkash.

“Oh, yeah,” said Desmond. “I was meaning to go and kill that guy, but I haven’t had the time.”

“You know him?” said Stoker.

“I think so. We fought a few weeks back. I didn’t catch his name, but I’ve heard about him using metal, so I’m pretty sure it’s the same guy.”

“You let him get away?” said Karkash.

Desmond just shrugged.

Karkash’s eyes were daggers. Desmond seemed immune to their effects, however.

You should have hunted him down already,’ said Hoyohté. ‘What if he returns with reinforcements?

Desmond laughed, and his eyes widened. “I hope he does! I’ve been bored out of my skull!”

Ezmortig floated around his servant. ‘Come to think of it, this Hector Goffe could be the reason Ozmere and Moss have not returned.

Desmond’s brow receded. “Hmm, you think so? He didn’t seem strong enough to take down Moss.”

Perhaps he is more dangerous than we realized,’ said Ezmortig. ‘It is strange that he is not hiding like the Queen.’

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Dangerous?’ said Bohwanox. ‘What do you mean?

We shouldn’t try to measure the worth of our servants by the abilities they possess. I despise reapers who discard their servants because they think the ability isn’t good enough.

“What about the other type mentioned?” said Hector. “What was it? Integration?”

Hold on,’ said Bohwanox. ‘I’d still like to know more about why people think alteration is the strongest.

Garovel hesitated, looking between the two. ‘Well, um. Alteration allows the user to employ a specific force to essentially anything. Depending on what that force is, the results can be quite intimidating. As for integration, that involves the combining of materials. People with integration are very highly valued among the big factions, because they tend to provide support as weapon makers and so forth. They’re generally protected from having to see combat, but I’m sure their abilities could be useful in a fight, too.

Hector tilted his head. “So... someone like that could be a really useful ally, then.”


Abruptly, Colt realized that Stephanie had stopped crying a while ago. She just seemed to be looking up at Hector as he cradled her in his arms.

“Hey, kid. You’re pretty good at that.”

“At what?”

“That. Look how calm she is.”

Hector looked at her. He winced as she started screaming again, right into his face this time.

Colt squinted against the noise. “Could be wrong, I s’pose.”

They moved on to meditation together. Garovel advised him to focus on imagining a kind of “tunnel,” supposedly representative of whatever his “path” of destruction would be.

It’d be helpful to imagine your geometric shape digging the tunnel,’ said Garovel. ‘And since we don’t know what yours is yet, just go through a variety of them in your head.

“Spray ‘n pray, huh?”

Pretty much, yeah.

His hands still throbbed. If anything, they felt even worse. And when he opened his eyes again, he found his palms covered in blood. The skin was practically shredded.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Page 318

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Garovel nodded. ‘Sometimes, mutation users screw their bodies up so badly that there’s no hope of fixing it anymore. Which can be quite horrific. And at that point, releasing their soul is a mercy. I also know that the general stigma around the mutation type makes it so a lot of reapers won’t even bother with a servant who has it. Because like I said, they see it as weaker than all others and not worth the trouble.

“Gah... but, ah, how do they change themselves? I mean, like, what’s an example of a mutation type power?”

Oh. Um. Admittedly, I’m not too clear on that, myself. Mutation is the one I know the least about. The rarity makes it difficult to study. You’d have to talk to a specialist.

“Really?” said Hector. “But... you’ve been alive for thousands of years. Not to sound rude, but... you never found the time to learn about it?”

Well,’ said Garovel, ‘take materialization, for instance. We know that it’s centered around elements; but of course, before mankind discovered those elements, we had no idea that was the case. That knowledge revealed critical details about the way materialization works. Similar discoveries have been made in relation to all the types. So it’s not like the knowledge has just been sitting around in a book somewhere, waiting for me to read and suddenly understand it all.


Hell, a thousand years ago, we thought the mutation type was some kind of awful disease. Some reapers might even still believe that.

“I d-didn’t mean to imply you were lazy or anything...”

I know. But I’ll admit, in recent years, I haven’t been quite as studious about the abilities as I used to be.

Hmm,’ said Bohwanox. ‘I remember hearing somewhere that alteration types are typically the strongest. Is that true?

I’ve heard that, too,’ said Garovel. ‘I’m not sure how much truth is in it, though. They’re certainly versatile, but strongest? That seems like a useless generalization. Dangerous, too.

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“Destruction, huh?” Colt made two fists. “I can work with that.”

There are very few things which can withstand spatial distortions,’ said Garovel. ‘And with sufficient development of your power, there will likely be NOTHING that can.

“Cool. So I need to get meditating, then?”


“Before that,” said Hector, “there’s, uh... something I’ve been meaning to ask. These, ah, servant abilities... how many different kinds are there?”

Six,’ said Garovel. ‘That is, there are six broad categories. As for individual abilities, there’s no set number, as far as I know. But the six categories are called materialization, transfiguration, alteration, destruction, mutation, and integration.

“I remember you mentioning the first three before,” said Hector. “I’m materialization, right?”

Right. You already know people with the first four. Desmond is transfiguration; Roman is alteration; and of course, Colt is destruction. As far as the other two types are concerned, mutation is by far the rarest type, so it’s not surprising that you haven’t met someone with it yet.

“Why is it so rare?” said Hector. “Is it, like, really powerful or something...?”

Actually, it’s kinda the opposite problem. The mutation type has a reputation for being weaker than the others--which isn’t actually true, by the way. But a lot of reapers don’t like it, because it’s much more of a double-edged sword than any other type. See, mutation abilities allow the user to make PERMANENT changes to their body. Unlike transfiguration, which changes one’s body chemistry temporarily, mutation will cause the servant’s regeneration power to maintain its changes. This means that even just learning to control the ability is dangerous, because the servant could end up accidentally disfiguring or disabling themself.


Yeah. And even if it’s a problem that normally could be fixed with surgery, the servant will still just regenerate to its mutated state. The only potential solution is to induce a second change which counters the detrimental effects of the first change--and that can easily end up making the problem worse.

“Damn,” said Colt. “Glad I didn’t get saddled with that shit.”

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Colt looked at the blood on his fingers. It wasn’t a lot, thankfully, but the fact that it belonged to his daughter was already too much cause for concern. “I hurt her? What the fuck did I just do?!”

Wait right there. My knowledge here is limited.’ Bohwanox left and soon returned with Garovel and Hector.

Hector went straight for Stephanie.

Garovel floated around Colt. ‘Show me your hands, please.

He held them out.

Hmm. No trace elements. Not materialization. Hector, how is she?

“Uh... I think she’s okay. It’s just a little cut. The bleeding’s almost stopped already.”

A cut?’ Garovel moved to examine the girl’s arm.

Colt was afraid to even get close to her again.

Ah,’ said Garovel after a spell. ‘I see. You have a destruction ability.

What does that mean, exactly?’ said Bohwanox.

The destruction type is considerably simpler than the other types, because all such abilities are basically the same. Essentially, you have the power to rip space apart.

Colt cocked an eyebrow. “...‘scuse me?”

At the moment, of course, your power is still quite weak, but it is nonetheless dangerous. You shouldn’t hold the children until you’re able to get it under control.

“How long will that be?”

If you focus on your meditation, it shouldn’t be more than a couple days.

“Um,” said Hector, “sorry to interrupt, but... Colt can rip space apart? Ah, is that...? I mean--how the fuck?”

Destruction type abilities make a kind of “path.” That is, a path which should not otherwise exist.’ Garovel eyed Colt. ‘Theoretically, no matter how tough or durable something is, you can still destroy it, because you attack the space it occupies, rather than the thing itself.

Colt eyed his hands again. “Hmm.”

This is also called the “geometric” type by some, because the “path” you make always conforms to some two-dimensional pattern. Right now, it’s too early to tell what your shape is, but it doesn’t really make much difference. Whether you destroy things with squares or circles or some crazy polygon with a thousand sides, the end result is the same. It’s still destroyed.

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When the news wasn’t talking about the military budget or international tension between Rendon and Kahm, it was talking about the most wanted criminal in the country gallivanting around Klein without being caught. Colt wondered if all those bullet holes had been the police trying to bring him down.

Of course, the news didn’t seem to care much about all the other criminals that had turned up in jail cells; but perhaps the police were happy enough to take the credit there.

Colt was impressed that Hector had managed to avoid leading his pursuers back here, but regardless, he figured that wouldn’t last much longer. Or he hoped so, because the warehouse didn’t have running water or even a bathtub. Instead, he’d managed to rig up a crude shower, of sorts, consisting of an old hand pump, a broad hose, and several jugs of water from the nearby gas station. It worked, but a single pumping motion equated to a single burst of water. He had never experienced a more annoying method of wash.

He could hear Hector stomping around in the sandlot out back. Every now and then, the ground would shake, making him wonder what the hell the kid was doing. But he stayed put. He wasn’t feeling his best at the moment, and Stephanie needed to finish eating, anyway.

The day’s meditation had left Colt with aching pains in his head and hands both. He wasn’t the type to complain and so kept it to himself, but as the evening drew on, he began to find it increasingly bothersome.

Then a sudden tremor spiked through his fingertips. The spoon in his hand snapped in two. He looked at the pieces, confused.

Bohwanox was quick to take notice. ‘Colt, put Stephanie down.’


Stephanie’s arm began to bleed where Colt was holding her, and she started crying.

Put her down now!’ said Bohwanox.

He set her next to Thomas and stepped away.

I believe your ability has manifested,’ the reaper said.

Page 314 -- XXXVII.

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Of course,’ said Stoker. ‘I wanted to live. I’d have said whatever you wanted me to say.

What?’ said Nize. ‘But... but the oaths...

Yeah. Um. You’re incredibly gullible, by the way. Not sure if you knew that about yourself.

I am not!

Uh-huh. Anyway, you do realize what running means, right?

They will hunt us down, yes. But certain groups among the Vanguard might be willing to shelter us. Assuming we can find them.

Don’t get your hopes up. I think we should just go find a place to lie low.

First, we need an opening to escape. It won’t do to have seven servants chasing after us right from the start.

Yeah, I’d prefer to avoid that, too.

Chapter Thirty-Seven: ‘Avail thyself...’
Click to display entire chapter at once -- (mobile link)

Colt sat feeding Stephanie by the spoonful. She had only puked on him once in the past few days, so he was wondering if this new baby food agreed with her better.

It had been six days since their arrival in Klein. The nights were cold out here, and the warehouse had no electricity or heating, but between the campfire he made and the mountain of blankets Hector brought back, there was ample warmth to go around.

Hector was gone most of the time, even during the day. It seemed like he only ever returned to train or deliver supplies. Colt wasn’t even sure if the kid was sleeping. On the fourth night, he showed up in a bloody shirt with no less than two dozen bullet holes in it and just collapsed in front of the fire. And as soon as he woke up, he went right back out again. On the fifth day, even Garovel was telling him to slow down.

Bohwanox sometimes ventured out with Hector as well, but Colt was quite content to stay with the children around the clock. It wasn’t the most exciting thing, but he’d had his fill of excitement lately. And besides, Hector had brought him a portable television to keep updated on events.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Page 313

Please,’ said Stoker. ‘If you want to leave Abolish, then fine, we’ll do that. But not like this. We have to be smarter.

Nize let his words sink in. She looked at the others. ‘I suppose you are right,’ she told them.

Hoyohté’s gaze lingered, however. ‘You have no complaints, then?

Nize glanced at Stoker. ‘The extra violence didn’t sit well with me, but then, they are all going to die, anyway.

“Your reluctance has not gone unnoticed,” said Karkash. “Are you truly prepared to act as the Void wills us?”

“Of course we are,” said Stoker.

“She demonstrated no such hesitation before. So why does she now?”

“She doesn’t. She understands perfectly.”

Yes,’ said Nize. ‘I was mistaken to speak so unthinkingly.

It took a bit more silence, followed by more reassurances, but Hoyohté and Karkash finally dropped the matter, and at length, the four of them exited the bunker together. Atreyan soldiers paid them frequent stares, no doubt because Stoker’s and Karkash’s sherwani coats stood out so prominently from all the blue-and-white uniforms.

We will flee at the soonest opportunity,’ Nize said to him.

He nearly sighed. ‘What prompted this change of heart, anyway? We’ve been together for almost two years now, and you didn’t start acting this way until a couple months ago.

It was Germal’s doing,’ she said.

Germal? That guy with the horn in his head? Seriously?

He made me doubt the Void--doubt that I can truly feel its presence. And now, I... I’m certain that I can’t. It’s all been a lie. I used to believe it so strongly, but that was only because I wanted to hear it, to know its grandeur. I was pretending--so much so that I even fooled myself. But the Void isn’t real. It’s a mad dream.

Wow. Good thing I never bought into that shit in the first place, then.

What? You didn’t? But you said you did. You took all the oaths and swore your allegiances to me and Abolish.

Page 312

“I’m sorry, but why would I do that?” said the reporter. “Not to be too blunt, but if anything, this visit has confirmed all of my worst suspicions.”

“A moment,” said Karkash. He left the room, then soon returned. With the reporter’s son.

Slowly, the man’s expression became wary.

“You are free to write whatever you like,” Stoker repeated. “But your opinion holds weight with the public. We would appreciate it if your next article spoke fondly of what you have seen here today.”

“This--this is--! You can’t do this!”

Karkash held up the boy’s hand. “Do what?”

The kid looked terrified.

“W-whoa,” said the father. “Just--okay. Please don’t hurt my son. I’ll do as you ask.”

“We ask nothing,” said Karkash. “You do as you like. We do as we like.”

The man nodded shakily. “I understand. Please.”

He says he understands,’ said Hoyohté, ‘but that is doubtful. Break the boy’s finger.’

Karkash did so.

The boy shrieked in pain.

“I said I would cooperate!” the man yelled.

There was no need for that!’ said Nize.

Karkash ignored her. “I am clumsy.” He released the boy into his father’s arms. “In future, I will be more careful. As should you. Leaving city, for instance. Trying to hide. That would be clumsy.”

The man stood in front of his crying son. “I understand,” he said again. “I do. Believe me.”

A brief silence took hold until Stoker broke it. “We are not keeping you here. You may leave whenever you wish.”

They scurried away. After they were gone, however, the quiet returned, stronger than before while Hoyohté eyed Nize.

You are displeased again,’ Hoyohté said in Vaelish. She floated around Karkash. ‘It seems we have a fundamental disagreement. Perhaps it is time we worked it out.

Stoker looked at Nize. ‘Don’t.’

Your methods are needlessly cruel,’ said Nize for all to hear.

Stoker’s posture stiffened.

“I barely hurt the child,” said Karkash, much more fluent now in Vaelish. “And what difference does it make? Why do you think we came to this country?”

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Page 311

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Stoker tried to ignore her remarks, but it was becoming increasingly difficult. She held his life in her hands, after all. If she truly ended up defecting from Abolish, he would have no choice but to follow her, lest she release him and find someone else--not that it would make much difference, if he had to fight Karkash. That was one thing he wanted to avoid at all costs.

Karkash was busy with their guest--a local reporter who had been badmouthing the government’s sudden, unexplained increases in military expenditures. Stoker and Karkash had invited the man here to show him precisely where the money was going.

The bunker’s old storage facility was a maze of ceiling-high shelves and crates, all containing decommissioned equipment that had been quietly imported from various foreign powers. It was still a work-in-progress by their Morgunov comrades, but Stoker was impressed nonetheless. He’d browsed the wares earlier and spotted a few RPGs and so forth, but the most appealing sight had been the pair of anti-aircraft batteries tucked away in the corner. Of course, such equipment was not strictly needed, given his and Karkash’s abilities, but he quite appreciated the extra firepower. And from what he heard, more were on the way, which had not pleased Nize, of course.

To Stoker, Nize and the other reapers were large, hulking dragons--though, in truth, they looked like snakes, but given their propensity for flight, he had come to think of them more as dragons.

“I was surprised when I received your invitation,” said the reporter. He gave a curt laugh, though it retained a nervous hint. “I’m still rather curious as to why you’ve showed me all of this. Are you two trying to blow the whistle on your bosses or...?”

“Not quite,” said Stoker. “You are free to write whatever you like about what you see in this place, but we were hoping that you would change your views after this visit.”

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Hector spent the rest of the night and morning practicing--or perhaps, playing--with metal. He made a sphere without any trouble, growing it into a wrecking ball. He hollowed it out, rendering it a mere wireframe, and climbed inside, wondering if he could push it around like some kind of giant hamster ball. The frame was not structurally sound, however, and collapsed on top of him.

He also made a dome over the entire sandlot, which seemed to impress Garovel, especially when Hector demonstrated that he could empower it with his soul so that the reaper couldn’t phase through.

After a while, though, he moved on to weapons. He reforged the same sword and shield that he had used against Geoffrey, same jagged edges and spikes. They were so much heavier than he remembered. Garovel helped him out with enhanced strength.

The sword and shield were both very crude, of course. He wondered how he might be able to rework them. The sword’s jagged edges seemed somewhat useful, but they gave it more tearing power than cutting. He smoothed the blade out and detached it from his gauntlet. It fell tip-first into the sand. He gave it a metal hilt and picked it back up.

Hmm. You don’t have any training with a blade, do you?

“Uh, n-no...”

Want a few pointers?


Stoker tried to keep his gaze nonchalant as he looked around the room another time. Karkash and Hoyohté were right there next to him. He eyed Nize again. ‘You’ve gotta stop talking like this,’ he told her in Vaelish. ‘If Karkash hears you...

I know,’ she said privately, also in Stoker’s native tongue. ‘But I can’t take this anymore. Everything I’ve done--made my servants do--in the name of the Void. Purposeless brutality. Three hundred years, blindly doing whatever--

I get it,’ said Stoker ‘You’re having a crisis of faith. But it will pass if you just relax and follow our orders.

She stared at him. ‘Such promises are a fool’s comfort.’

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I understand what you were thinking,’ said Garovel. ‘But no, that’s not the way it works. If you wanna create a machine--or any complex structure for that matter--then you have to know all the parts of it, as well as where they go. Essentially, a blueprint in your head.


And you should probably know how each piece functions as part of the whole.

“Yeah, okay...”

Also, a basic understanding of how the fucking thing works in the first place might be helpful.

“I get it, geez...”

I can tell you all about catapults, actually. You’ve got the ballista and the springald and mangonel, but those all need rope or twine to operate. Maybe you could figure a creative solution around that, but you’re probably better off going for a trebuchet. Then again, a really good trebuchet would use a sling AND a counterweight, which could be problematic, but hey, if this is just for practice, then what does it matter, right?

“Uh. Th-that’s nice, but I don’t, um...”

Yeah. Not very helpful without diagrams to look at. We can go find a library tomorrow, if you like. I’m sure they’d have plenty of useful reference books, catapults or no.

“Guess I should...”

In the meantime, though, why don’t you try to make something that you actually have a proper idea about?

“Right.” He decided to go for something he’d practiced before. He held his gloved hands up in front of himself and concentrated. The metal gathered quickly and took form--the exact form, this time--and to his surprise, the gauntlets were completed in a fraction of the previous time.

Wow,’ said Garovel. ‘That used to take you fifteen minutes, but just now--that couldn’t have been more than thirty seconds.

Hector waved his arms to see if the metal plates stayed linked together. They did. He added pointed fingertips, stubby metal claws. He grinned.

I am sufficiently impressed. But also curious. C’mon. What else can you do?

Page 308

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Hector’s creations had always been underachieved approximations. Unless he stopped and concentrated hard for several minutes, he could never make anything more than a crude outline of what was in his head. But this was evidence of a change, evidence that his power had grown stronger than perhaps he thought. A frightening thought, in a way... but honestly, he found it more exciting than anything, as if his iron was now stronger than he was. And if that were true, then he only need catch up to it.

He wanted to try again. More elaborate still. Once they’d returned to the warehouse, he set to work. The rear sandlot provided ample space for just about anything he wanted to try, and the tall fences, weathered as they were, would ensure privacy.

His imagination ran wild with the possibilities. “What should I try to make?”

I’m not even sure how powerful you’ve become,’ said Garovel. ‘Why not try for something really outrageous? Something you don’t even think you can do, that is. Establish an upper limit, then work backwards to find where your ability caps out.

“Hmm... uhh... Oh, how about a catapult? You think?”

I was gonna suggest an orbital satellite, but whatever.

He took a deep breath. He imagined a catapult in his head--or at least something that seemed like a catapult--and then pressed his gloves to the sand.

A slew of metal pillars shot up together. They clanged together, trying to connect with one another and failing, and then fell over in a noisy heap.

Huh. Well, that was underwhelming.

“I don’t... think that was my power’s fault...”


“I just... umm... I thought it was simple, but... I don’t really know how a catapult works, to be honest...”

Garovel stared at him a moment. And then burst out laughing. ‘Great! Real smart, Hector!

He flushed with embarrassment but couldn’t help smiling a little. “I thought if I just imagined a catapult-shaped... thing, then it’d just kind of appear, but--agh, stop laughing!”

Page 307

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Rather than simply coating the attacker in metal, Hector decided to try something more elaborate. First, he stomped down the door to the apartment and then forced himself between the two. He earned a hatchet in the chest for his trouble. His lack of concern for it, however, brought the altercation to an abrupt standstill, and he seized the opportunity.

Metal gathered around the attacker’s torso, accumulating and crawling all over the man’s skin like a million fleas before two cylinders took form, one for each arm, with iron rungs binding them together. Gray dust extended down his back and stomach, completing a kind of straitjacket.

It wasn’t the most impressive thing in the world, he supposed, but it was certainly one of the more intricate things he had created. And though not altogether intentional, he had added little protrusions from the neck down. They served no function, and for a moment, he wondered why he even put them there. Then he realized that he had unconsciously mimicked a straitjacket’s buttons.

After the assaulted woman called the police, Hector turned to leave, but Garovel made him wait around a bit longer.

Just being diligent,’ the reaper said. ‘We don’t actually know why this guy attacked her.

Does it matter?

Garovel shrugged. ‘We’re uninformed intruders in this situation. For all we know, she could suddenly decide to kill him after we’re gone.

You think so?

No. But that’s not the point. We’re making assumptions about the situation which are PROBABLY correct, but let’s at least wait until we hear sirens before leaving, eh? Better safe than sorry, y’know.

Hmm. Alright.

Sirens soon arrived as expected, however, and Hector took his leave.

His mind returned to those unintended buttons again. They’d seemed like a minor thing, just a collective error on his part. But as he thought about it, he began to understand; they were not an error. If anything they were the opposite. They were extra. He’d created something which had more to it than expected.

And that had never happened before.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Page 306

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What do we do with the kids while you’re dead?’ said Bohwanox.

“We can take turns.” Colt looked at Hector. “I can trust you to take care of them for a few days, right?”

“Of course, but...”

“But what?”

It might make a difference for you and Bohwanox,’ said Garovel, ‘but for Hector and me, it wouldn’t really matter. It’s not like we’d go live off the grid somewhere afterward.

Colt gave a sideways nod. “Hmm.”

Even if we do your plan, Hector’s just gonna end up drawing attention to himself again. The police would still come after us. They’d just be really confused about it. In fact, it’d probably draw even more attention to Hector. From truly dangerous people.

“I see your point.”

“And besides, uh... I, ah...”


Hector scratched his brow. “I don’t want my mom to believe I’m dead... unless, y’know... I actually am.”

“Fair enough, I suppose.”

But if you two wanna do that, it’s your call, of course. I’d ask you to wait until we’re ready to part ways, though. Otherwise, we might accidentally ruin your cover by leading the police back to you.

Bohwanox eyed them both. ‘You are going to start fighting crime in Klein, now?

Of course. It’s also a good way for Hector to train.

You will only alert the police to our location again.

Probably. Be ready to leave in a hurry when we get back.

And despite Bohwanox’s displeasure, Hector and Garovel soon ventured out into the city. Without a motorcycle, it was slow going. Hector remembered this feeling of having to run everywhere. He didn’t mind it terribly, but he could have done without all the sweat.

It was a long night, but Garovel found him plenty to do. Klein’s criminal element seemed no less active than Brighton’s, but the highlight of the evening was when Garovel stumbled upon an imminent murder--made clear to the reaper by the aura of death surrounding the would-be victim.

Page 305

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“This car is stolen by the way,” said Colt, eyes on the road. “We’ll have to get a replacement soon. Maybe we can find you a new bike, too.”

Hector frowned. “I’d, uh... I’d rather not steal anything...”

“Most thieves would probably say the same thing, y’know. And besides--you telling me that bike wasn’t stolen?”

“It was a gift.”


They passed through Reese, Norca, and stopped in Rizo for a day, briefly debating crossing the Atreya-Rendon border. Hector and Garovel demonstrated their resolve to stay in Atreya, and Colt and Bohwanox soon acquiesced. They headed toward Klein next, taking their time in Battonburg and Tulma. Colt was adamant about maintaining a full stock of supplies.

All the while, Hector and Colt held thrice daily training sessions--two for sparring, one for meditation, the latter of which Colt absolutely despised. Though in all honestly, Hector wasn’t enjoying them as much as before, either. Any long period of silence left him unsettled. Whenever he tried to relax his mind, it became all too easy to remember everything that had happened. Nathan. Micah. Dad. It varied from day to day, which of those three hurt the most. Sometimes, it was difficult to remember if he had even been able to protect anyone at all.

Sleep became difficult, as well. Hector often stayed up with the reapers to watch the kids sleep, catch up on news, or just practice creating metal.

They found a vacant warehouse on the outskirts of Klein and, after exploring the place thoroughly, decided to squat in it for a while. Apart from being a steady drain on funds, motels were always a bit chancy with all the people around.

“Maybe we should get the cops to kill us,” said Colt.

Everyone gave him a look.

“No, listen. We go down in a hail of bullets, let them confirm everything and bury us, and then you two resurrect us. If we do it right, then all this heat will completely die down, yeah?”

Page 304 -- XXXVI.

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The serving girl cast her eyes down to the floor and said nothing.

“Haven’t seen you around before,” said Desmond.

Still, she persisted in silence.

“What’s your name?”

“Leave the poor girl alone,” said William. “Go on,” he urged her. “You are dismissed.”

Desmond frowned but let her go. “Pretty little thing like that should be careful around here.”


The serving girl shut the door behind her and leaned with her back against it for a second. She took a long, quiet breath, trying to steady her nerves again. That had been more interaction than she bargained for.

Gina knew that Roman would be upset if he knew she’d come here. She was starting to regret the decision herself. But the bug she had just planted in the King’s office would make it all worth it. Roman and the others needed someone to gather information on the enemy, and even though it scared the hell out of her, even though she knew that any one of the servants could kill her in a heartbeat, she was quite certain that there was no one better suited to the task than her.

Regaining herself, she straightened and proceeded down the hallway with her empty tea tray. She tried to avoid eye contact as much as possible. She especially avoided spying on the servants directly. There were beings around which she couldn’t see, and if they found her trying to eavesdrop on someone’s conversation, that would be the end for her, without a doubt. Which was why she had been putting listening devices around the castle all morning, instead.

Now it was time to get the hell out of this place.

Chapter Thirty-Six: ‘O, restless ones...’
Click to display entire chapter at once -- (mobile link)

Over the next few days, Hector and Colt did not stay anywhere for long. Several of the small towns they happened across had police cars waiting by the main road. After a brief confrontation with a beat cop, Hector learned that the police were on the lookout for his motorcycle and ended up having to abandon it.

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“Don’t waste our time,” said Stoker. “Hurry up and sign them.” His accent was much fainter than Karkash’s, and his voice had a rougher base to it.

“I do not sign things without reading them first,” said William.

Desmond rolled his eyes. “Don’t make this harder than it needs to be, Your Majesty. I can’t rip off your other arm, but I’m more than happy to find creative alternatives.”

Please,’ said one of the reapers, ‘there is no need to hurt him.’ It was Nize.

Everyone but the King turned to look at her, even her own servant.

Look at him,’ she said. ‘He will do as you say. Just have a bit of patience.

The King picked up his pen, but a remnant of his stubbornness still lingered. “Please, just tell me what I am signing...”

“No.” Karkash placed a hand on the desk’s varnished wood. “Sign now, or I will bring your children here. I will torture them in front of your eyes.”

The King met his gaze evenly. “I do not have children.”

Desmond snorted, earning a glare from Karkash.

“I will find someone else,” said Karkash. “Whoever you care for. They will suffer. Until you sign.”

Nize left the room on her own. Stoker eyed the others hesitantly before following her.

“What’s with them?” said Desmond.

Do not concern yourself with them,’ said Hoyohté.

“Uh. No. That’s sorta my job here.”

It is not your place,’ she said. ‘We will see to the matter ourselves.

The door opened again, but instead of Stoker and Nize, a little blond serving girl appeared. She paused when she saw the King’s guests and then proceeded with the offerings of tea. Desmond took a cup, but Karkash, having now acquired the King’s written approval, ignored her and left without another word.

William accepted a cup, as well.

Desmond eyed the girl. Her long bangs hid her face rather well, but he liked what he saw. “You’re a cutie.”

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--donation bonus (day #14, post 1/5)--
There were currently eight servants in Sescoria, including himself. Whenever Moss finally returned, it would be nine, but Desmond was starting to wonder if that would even happen. He’d tried calling Geoffrey, as well, but to no end. Normally, he would be tasked with hunting them down and confirming their deaths, but he was told that the mission took precedence this time.

Desmond turned when he heard the door open.

Two men entered, each with a reaper at his back. Stoker was the taller man with a shaved head and swirling tattoo on the side of his face. Karkash had bronzy skin and a thin beard, as well as one of the most penetrating stares Desmond had ever seen. Their female reapers were Nize and Hoyohté, respectively--which, to Desmond’s eyes, were wispy, black-cloaked entities with white masks instead of faces.

These four were different from the other reinforcements. They were on loan from the other side of Abolish--the 32nd Anti-Air Division under Dozer, to be precise. They had been added to the mission at the last minute, supposedly as “goodwill ambassadors,” but Desmond would have sooner proceeded without them if he could have. The key difference, he had always found, between the Morgunovs and the Dozers, was that the Morgunovs knew how to have a good time, while the Dozers were a bunch of uptight, joyless shitbags. And these ones here had yet to prove themselves as exceptions.

Still, they were allies, so he put on a smile for them. “How are the air defenses?”

“Will be completed soon,” said Karkash. His thick accent put a roll in his l’s.

“What brings you back here, then?” said Desmond.

Karkash reached into his sashed coat and retrieved a gray folder. He nodded toward the King. “Need stamps and signatures.”

Desmond shrugged and made way for them.

Karkash tossed the folder on the King’s desk. “Sign.”

William opened it slowly and began reading.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Page 301

Their breakfast began to arrive in increments, the waiter apologizing for additional delays on certain dishes. Hector welcomed the distraction, and apparently so did Colt.

At length, however, Garovel revived the topic. ‘I hate to ask this, but who else knows about your wife?

“We never married,” said Colt. “And why do you ask?”

Because you might make enemies who would use her against you,’ said Garovel. ‘Her mental state would only make her more appealing to Abolish as a potential servant. If they learn about her connection to you, then you could find her trying to kill you one day.’

Colt snorted. “I would enjoy that.”


“It’d give me more than enough of a reason.”

A silence fell after that, but Garovel’s words began to nag at Hector. He soon turned to meet the reaper’s gaze, deciding to keep his next question just between the two of them. ‘Abolish will go after people we care about?


But then... Garovel, I...

Your mother will be fine. For now.

...And what about later?

Depending on how things go, and if she’s still unwilling to listen when we return for her, then. Well. You may have to kidnap her for her own safety.

Aw, man...


Desmond Grantier scratched his chin, eyeing the checkerboard in front of him. It was not a complicated game, but Desmond liked to take his time in deciding his moves.

The person across from him did not seem interested in playing.

“More of a chess man, huh?” said Desmond. “How’s the pain today?”

The King of Atreya merely returned a haggard expression. The man’s silky white shirt hung loose over his missing left arm. Most of the shoulder was gone as well.

“We can get you more meds, if you like. Just no hospital. You need to look strong and presentable.” At William’s continued silence, Desmond shrugged.

Ezmortig had gone off to discuss strategy with the other reapers, leaving Desmond by himself on babysitting duty. It was a dull job and not one he would have chosen for himself, but none of the other reapers wanted to leave their servants alone with the King.

Page 300

Bohwanox looked at Hector. ‘If you have something to say, then say it.

He held his tongue. It didn’t sit well with him, but Hector already knew where their priorities lay. Even if Bohwanox were willing, Colt would surely not want to leave his children behind to go fight in some war with an enemy he’d never met. And for that, at least, Hector could not fault him.

Garovel picked up the conversation, first looking at the children, then at Colt. ‘I’ve been meaning to ask--where is their mother?

Colt took his time answering. “She’s in an institution for the criminally insane.”

Hector blinked at that. He noticed the reapers exchange glances.

“And now you’re wondering why,” said Colt. “It’s because she tried to kill the children.”

“...W-why would she do that?”

“Doctors said the pregnancy made her snap, but I don’t know. She had always been violent with me. I just put up with it. And that was obviously a mistake, because one night, she decided to grab a knife. Attacked me first, then moved on to the crib. She managed to cut Thomas under the arm here.” Colt pulled the boy’s shirt up, revealing a scar along the right side of his ribcage. It was not a small scar. “I just about killed that bitch.”

Hector could only stare, mouth half-open.

“It went to court. My case didn’t play very well to the jury. I did beat the shit out of her, after all. Wasn’t hard for her to make it look like I was the one who cut Thomas.”

Everyone just listened.

“She was about to get full custody. I was about to go to prison. And that’s when Rofal showed up, telling me he could make sure I won the case.” Colt’s eyes fell to the table, and he scratched his forehead. “I’m still not sure how much of it he’d planned. He had her lawyer and the judge in his pocket. I suspected members of the jury, too.”

And then he quietly got a hold of your children?’ Garovel asked.

Colt nodded. He seemed like he was done talking. He merely watched Stephanie play with his thumb.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Page 299

Garovel floated around Hector. ‘How much do you two know about what’s happening in Sescoria?

Are you referring to that incident a few weeks back?’ said Bohwanox.

“I know the Queen’s gone missing,” said Colt. “Why do you ask? Don’t tell me you plan on getting mixed up in all that.”

“We already are,” said Hector.

Hector and I were there when Belgrant Castle was attacked. We helped the Queen escape.

Colt and Bohwanox shared equal surprise.

The attack was Abolish’s work, which I’m sure they’ve kept quiet. They’re looking to seize control of Atreya--or rather, I suppose they already have. As far as we know, the Queen has been looking for reinforcements in order to retake the capital.

“Abolish?” said Colt.

A very powerful group of reapers and servants,’ Bohwanox explained. ‘Assholes, the lot of them, but not the kind of people we’re prepared to fight.’

Then you’ll have to leave the country, because they plan on destroying this one.

“What the fuck?” said Colt. “What are you talking about?”

You already know, don’t you, Bohwanox? Abolish only wants to cause as much destruction and misery as possible.

Bohwanox confirmed Colt’s inquiring glance with a nod. ‘You and Hector intend to do, what exactly?

Hector will train while we observe the situation. We don’t know the details of Abolish’s plans, but supposedly, we have a few months before things will really start to get bad. Even if you don’t intend to fight them with us, it could be quite helpful if Colt and Hector trained together.

Ah. I see.

I’m sure you want Colt’s power to grow as quickly as possible, too.

Bohwanox hesitated. ‘That would be agreeable. And I have never had a servant before. I could benefit from your insight into the matter.

Very well.

But I do not intend to have Colt fight Abolish.

Hector furrowed his brow at the other reaper.

Page 298 -- XXXV.

Chapter Thirty-Five: ‘Tremulous friends, be wary...’
Click to display entire chapter at once -- (mobile link)

A pair of waiters scurried between tables, attending to the truck stop diner’s morning rush. The place was busier than Hector might have expected. Perhaps being in the middle of nowhere worked in its favor. There were maybe two other places to eat over the next hundred kilometers or so.

Colt sat across the table, his kids right next to him.

“What are their names?” Hector asked.

“Stephanie and Thomas.” He poked at the baby girl, and she grabbed his index finger. “Thank you for keeping them safe, by the way. Didn’t get the chance to say that before.”

A waiter arrived before Hector could respond. The man began to look rather concerned as they told him their orders, scribbling through several pages of his notepad. He advised them that it would be a long wait and disappeared again.

Hector struggled with finding something else to say. Colt wasn’t exactly his favorite person right now, but the man was an ally, and Garovel had reminded Hector at length about how important that could be. Yet even still, Hector couldn’t come up with anything that wouldn’t surely start another argument, so he decided to remain quiet. Colt didn’t seem too worried about keeping up a conversation, either.

Thankfully, the reapers soon returned from scouting the area.

Didn’t find any cops,’ said Garovel. ‘You?

I saw a pair of highway troopers a few hundred meters north of here, but nothing else.

“So we can relax,” said Colt.

Yeah.’ A beat passed as Garovel looked between the other reaper and servant. ‘I’m curious to know what your long-term plans are.

Colt and Bohwanox exchanged glances.

I have none,’ said Bohwanox. ‘Other than following Colt for my own protection, my only intention is to continue reaping souls as I normally would. Why? What are your plans?

Friday, October 18, 2013

Page 297

Well now,’ said Feromas, ‘do you intend on avenging our grandson?

Damian scratched his jowly cheek and shrugged. “Eh. I’d rather not. Unless you feel strongly about it.”

Doesn’t matter to me. But without Geoffrey, there is not much reason to stay in Brighton--or in Atreya, for that matter.

“Perhaps it’s a good time to leave the country,” he said.

Abolish has started moving here, too. It’d be annoying if they found us. And at that point, we’d have to leave anyway, as well as cover our tracks.


What are you thinking?

“This whole family business thing hasn’t really worked out for us, has it?”

That’s because you have trouble sticking to plans. You let your family run wild and do whatever they want. You could have fostered greatness in them, but now they are just normal people whom you barely ever see.

“You’re right. Of course, you’re right. And I got a bit too comfortable in that community home, didn’t I?”

Ugh, don’t remind me. I almost released your soul because of that fucking place.

“I’m gonna miss that pudding. And the board games. Oh, and that Nurse Beatrix.” He thought a moment. “Hey, you wanna go back there?”

No, goddammit! I’ll kill you!

“Fine...” He stretched his neck. “I guess I’ll go gather the kids up, then.”

Really? They are not going to just abandon their lives and leave with you.

“Who said I’d give them a choice?”

And abruptly, a broad grin split the reaper’s face. ‘Now that is more like it.’ He eyed Samuel Goffe’s body. ‘Don’t forget to scrap Geoffrey for parts, too.

“Right.” Damian turned to the coroner. “I need a body bag for this one.”

The man blinked at him. “E-excuse me?”

“I’m taking--what was it, Mr. Goffe? I’m taking him with me.”

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What the--?’ Hector blinked. ‘Why didn’t you just say that from the beginning?

And pass up an opportunity to impress you with my wealth of knowledge? No way.

...That was supposed to impress me?

Oh, fuck right off.

For a moment, Hector was able to crack a meager smile.


Damian Rofal picked his nose as he watched the coroner pull back the sheet, revealing Geoffrey’s pallid face.

Must you do that right now?’ said Feromas.

Do what?’ To Damian’s eyes, the reaper looked like a sour-faced jester. The colorful, motley attire had never matched Feromas’ personality very well.

Forget it.

“Yeah, that’s him,” Damian told the coroner. “Except, it’s not him, is it?”


Feromas floated over the body. ‘Hmm. Did we ever learn what Geoffrey’s power was?

“It was Domination,” said Damian, thoughtless of the other person in the room. “Don’t you remember all the puppets he left behind?”

Right, of course. So he really could have body jumped, then.

Damian tilted his head. “How many other bodies arrived yesterday?”

“Oh, um--” The coroner stiffened and adjusted his glasses. “There were quite a few, actually. Would you care to see them, Mr. Rofal?”


They entered a much larger room. A good three dozen tables stood from wall to wall, and upon each was a body. Damian and Feromas took separate aisles, searching.

“Most of them appear to have died via suffocation,” said the coroner. “But there were also a few cases of dismemberment and disembowelment. Are you, perhaps, looking for one in particular, sir?”

Damian ignored the man. “Ah! Found him!”

Feromas floated over. ‘So he really is dead after all.

“Shame,” said Damian. “I had high hopes for him.”

This changes things,’ said Feromas.


“Ah, that one is--umm--” The man flipped the card by the foot to read. “--Samuel Goffe.”

“I don’t care,” said Damian. “Please be quiet.”

The coroner backed away without another word.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Page 295

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I’ve spent a fair amount of time researching the growth process,’ said Garovel. ‘The study of “emergence,” they call it. There was a time when the prevailing theory was that emergence could be achieved via a strong enough outpouring of emotion, but that’s only part of it. The real key stems from a sense of need--a powerful rejection of the immediate circumstances, as well as a strong desire to change them. The confusion about it being completely dependent on emotion comes from how the initial manifestation of the ability can be hastened by a sudden outburst, but that doesn’t extend to the growth cycle. Which, of course, caused all sorts of essential problems with experimentation, delaying our understanding of emergence for quite--

You’ve lost me, Garovel...

Oh. Ah. Sorry. But it is pretty fascinating, y’know.

Yeah, okay, uh... what can I actually do about it, though? Is there anything?

Well, in theory, the trick is to find a way to manage your expectations so that emergence can occur when you need it to. Ideally, you would have no expectations at all, but that’s easier said than done. Merely acknowledging the possibility of emergence will create some degree of expectation, even if it’s very small. Which might make you think that me even bringing this up in the first place is a bad idea, but on the other hand, NOT acknowledging emergence will definitely build up a subconscious expectation naturally, which is far more--

You’re losing me again...

The reaper sighed. ‘Well. Okay. In simplest terms, you just can’t rely on your ability to suddenly grow more powerful and save you all the time, because the minute you start relying on it is the minute it stops working.

Yeah, I understood that part. I wanna know how I can manage my expectations or whatever.

Fuck, I don’t know! It’s a subtle art of individual psychology! You have to figure it out for yourself!

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I’m glad you’re able to keep a clear head about things,’ said Garovel.

Hector took a long breath and listened to the motorcycle’s clanging engine. After a few minutes, a new question occurred to him. ‘Garovel...


My iron ability, um... will it always be able to grow stronger when I’m under stress? Because when I confronted Geoffrey, I was... I was in a really bad spot, and for a minute there, it felt like... like my power wasn’t going to grow... like I was just fucked... and everyone was gonna die and...

That’s precisely the heart of the problem,’ said Garovel. ‘Your power can grow by leaps and bounds during a moment of extremely high stress. But such moments become increasingly difficult to achieve--and not because the amount of stress needs to increase. Rather, it’s because of your own mind. Over time, you become complacent--you begin to expect your power to suddenly grow and save you at the last moment. And guess what happens, then? Those very expectations reduce your level of stress, which in turn means that your power doesn’t grow when it otherwise would.

Oh, what the--my expectations? What do I even do about that?

That is the question, isn’t it? It’s a nasty psychological cycle, and I’ve known a lot of servants and reapers who’ve struggled with it. There’s been all sorts of research and experimentation with it, trying to figure out concrete ways around it. Some even believe that such growth can be instigated artificially if a scientific solution is found.


Oh yeah. Imagine it. If you could force a servant’s ability to grow whenever you wanted, then the possibilities are--well. Personally, I find that prospect terrifying. If it could be done on a large scale, then the war between Abolish and the Vanguard would either finally come to an end, or escalate worse than ever before.

Holy shit...

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“What the hell?” said Colt, panting. “I beat the crap out of you, so why am I the only one about to collapse here?”

Hector wiped the blood from under his eye. “I’ve had a lot worse than this.”

You should both rest,’ said Garovel. ‘And get something to eat. Hector, you must be starving by now.

“Ah... yeah...” He looked at Colt another time. Hector had calmed down, but he didn’t feel like apologizing for what he said--not when Colt had never apologized for killing Melissa. But for now at least, he decided he would just try not to think about it. “The kids... probably need to be fed, too, right?”

Colt hoisted himself up. “Yeah.”

They took to the road together, Colt’s car out front with Hector’s motorcycle following close behind. It wasn’t long before Garovel struck up another conversation.

How’re you holding up?’ There was a weak echo to his voice, and Hector recalled that being indicative of the reaper speaking privately.

I don’t know,’ said Hector. ‘I just... it feels like I’m... like I’m angry at... just... everything.’ He squinted hard at the road ahead. ‘Am I losing my mind...?

On the contrary, I think that makes you quite sane.

He frowned. ‘How did all this happen, Garovel...? Could I have... done something different? Was I careless?

Hector. You can’t blame yourself.

Maybe... those text messages... if I hadn’t been so trusting--if I’d been more suspicious of the possibilities--

We couldn’t have known. We had every reason to think those messages were from Colt.

If we’d thought to... work out some sort of... texting code with Colt beforehand... or something...

Garovel opened his mouth but stopped himself. After a moment, he gave a small sigh. ‘Maybe you’re right. Maybe we could have been more cautious.

We respond... by becoming better.

Heh. You remember.

Of course...