Friday, January 30, 2015

Page 971

The Tunnels themselves were rather difficult to miss. There were three of them, right in a row, and they were so massive that Hector wasn’t sure they qualified as tunnels anymore, particularly because he could see buildings inside them. There were restaurants, gas stations, a few office buildings, and even what looked like residential housing. Sure, they were a bit crammed together--some being partially embedded into the walls or serving as a foundation to an immense support column--but Hector could still hardly believe his eyes.

Most of all, though, Hector admired the vast inlaid stonework. Perhaps it was because he’d recently been trying his own hand at construction back at Warrenhold. The sheer volume of individual bricks that lined the walls here astounded him.

The Elroys observed alongside him, though did not seem particularly surprised. No doubt, they had already known of this place or even been here before.

Garovel offered Hector some context in private. ‘The Lyzakks made these tunnels. You remember them, right?

Your people,’ said Hector.

Yep. The Waress Mountains stood between them and the Armans. But instead of going over, they punched through.

Hector scratched his head. ‘So I guess these were servant-made?

Servants in conjunction with slave-labor.

Oh. That’s... kind of horrible.

Yeah. It was a different time. A time full of shitheaded motherfuckers.’


Not that we have a shortage of those nowadays.

A tunnel seems like a dangerous way for us to go,’ said Hector. ‘It’s, um... like, a pretty obvious funnel point, isn’t it? I mean, won’t the Vanguard be guarding it?

Garovel shook his head. ‘The Waress Tunnels are more than just the three you see here. Just in Sair alone, they number in the hundreds. The Vanguard would have a hell of a time trying to block them all. But yes, in the off chance that the Vanguard picked one of these three, Dimas has taken a scouting party ahead.


From their vantage point atop a southern bluff, Hector could see all the different roads convening in front of the Tunnels. It seemed like some kind of major intersection, what with all the directional signs about, but there wasn’t very much traffic to speak of. Only a handful of cars dotted the road. Hector wondered if it was always like this or if the Rainlords had evacuated the place while he’d slept.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Page 970

Hector sighed through his nose. ‘Why do you have to torture me like this?

Shits and giggles, primarily.


Oh, come on. This is adorable. Just try thinking about something else. Like why we’ve stopped or where Dimas went.

Hector hesitated. He hadn’t even noticed that the man was gone. He couldn’t hear the rain anymore, either.

You’ve all been out for a while,’ Garovel went on. ‘We’ve already reached the Waress Mountains.

...I’ve heard of those, I think.

I should hope so. They divide the whole friggin’ continent.


Also, we flew over them when we left Kuros.


We’re gonna have to get you an atlas or something when we get back to Warrenhold. Oh, or you could craft a big iron globe! That could be a neat project. Make it big enough for people to walk into and look at from the inside. I saw a globe like that once. It got destroyed in a fire, though. Yeah, I should definitely have you recreate it. Could be good for tourism, too. Though, if it’s for tourism, then it might be best to put it above ground somewhere. Hmm. It’d look good underground, too, I’m sure. Maybe we could just have--

Uh, Garovel?


Where DID Dimas go?

Oh, he’s scouting ahead to make sure the Tunnels are safe.


Yup. That’s the other reason why I woke you up. You haven’t seen them before, have you? The Waress Tunnels?

Hector tilted his head. ‘Uh...

C’mon, then. Get out of the car.

But I’ll wake up Ramira if I move...

Eh, I think you can avoid waking her. C’mon.

Slowly, Hector pulled himself away from the little girl. He tried not to jostle her too much.

She woke up, anyway.

Hector threw Garovel a look.

The reaper shrugged. ‘Well, maybe she’ll want to see them, too.

Hector tried to apologize to Ramira, but she didn’t seem too concerned about it, and then Marcos and Emiliana began to stir as well. In the end, they just exited the vehicle together.

And finally, Hector could see what all the fuss was about.

A rocky cliff face towered before the entourage of limousines. It shot up at such a steep angle that, if not for its eroded ridges, Hector would have thought it was manmade. And yet, even with how tall it was and how much of his vision it consumed, the mountain peaks behind it were still more gigantic.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Page 969

Ramira yawned and then prodded him with another question. “So how did you become a lord in your country if you weren’t born into it?”

“Ah, uh... it’s a recent thing. And kind of a long story.”

Her big gray eyes seemed to be telling him that she was ready for a long story.

He hesitated, of course, but he gave it a go, beginning with how he met the Queen and giving the highlights from there. And before long, he could see the little girl slowly drifting off to sleep. He didn’t really blame her, though. He wasn’t so great at this storytelling thing, and in spite of all her energy, Ramira had looked pretty tired even since before leaving Luzo. And it actually made the story easier to tell, he found. There was less pressure to get it right when it felt like she was hardly even listening.

At length, Ramira was out cold. And the mask made it hard to tell, but judging from Emiliana’s breathing and the fact that she hadn’t moved her head at all in the last few minutes, she seemed to be out, too. Marcos, as well, had fallen asleep on Dimas’ shoulder.

We might as well get some rest, too,’ said Garovel. He attached himself to Hector’s shoulder, and Hector fell quickly into unconsciousness.

The warm darkness washed over him. Familiar and welcome and gone too soon.

He awoke to the realization that the limousine was no longer moving. Garovel was awake, too, but the Elroy children were still asleep.

And Ramira was leaning against his shoulder.

He tensed up, having to resist the impulse to jump out of his seat. If not for a very potent concern that he would accidentally hurt the poor girl, Hector was pretty sure that he would have ended up ripping one of the doors off the vehicle while trying to escape.

Garovel floated in front of him. ‘You okay there, buddy?

Hector just glared at the reaper with a clenched jaw.

Just relax,’ Garovel said privately, unable to hide his laughter completely. ‘She’s not going to hurt you.


Think of this as practice. Y’know, for when you have to touch someone who is actually conscious.

You did this on purpose...

Hey, I didn’t make her fall asleep on you. She did that on her own.

You woke me up.

Oh, did I? My hand must have slipped.


I do have hands, don’t I?

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Page 968

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“Ah... sorry. My name is Hector Goffe. I’m from a country called Atreya.”

“Where is that?” Ramira asked.

“It’s, uh... to the southwest of here.”

“Why did you come to Sair, then? To help us?”

“Er... s-sorta...”

“And why are you helping us, huh?”

“Oh, um, because my reaper is the brother of Emiliana’s reaper.”

Ramira squinted at him. “So you’re the servant... of the brother... of the reaper of my sister?”

“Y-yes... I think.”

“That’s really hard to remember.”


Emiliana decided to pitch in. “Perhaps it would be easier to think of Lord Hector as a very distant cousin.”

“Ah--” He raised a hand slightly. “Lord--um--you don’t have to--I mean, I’m not really a... er...”

“Oh, I am sorry,” she said. “Was I mistaken? I thought you were an Atreyan Lord.”

“Well... I am, technically.”

Emiliana tilted her masked head at him. “Then what is the problem?”

“Ah, uh, sorry.” He could feel himself losing what little composure he had. He needed to concentrate and find his footing again. “I’m just, er--I’m just not a-accustomed to it, I guess. Because I wasn’t born into it, I mean. So, um, please, um. Please j-just call me Hector. Please.” There were way too many pleases in there, he realized.

Emiliana just stared at him a moment. “Very well...”

Ramira eyed him another time. “Cousin Hector, huh? Mmkay.”

And he was abruptly reminded of having that same thought when he first saw their pictures. Cousins. The memory made him blush, and he had to hide it by rubbing his face, as if out of exhaustion. Thankfully, he actually was exhausted, so that wasn’t too much of a stretch.

He could hardly believe they’d said that. And agreed about it. Cousins. Family. When the thought had been his own, he’d chalked it up to wishful thinking and dismissed it, but now... now, it actually had a sense of legitimacy. Of reality.

But maybe he was overreacting. In fact, he definitely was, he decided. These were Rainlords. They probably had more distant relatives than they could keep track of. One more cousin wouldn’t be a big deal to them, surely, so he shouldn’t let it be a big deal to him, either.

But it was. In spite of himself, it was. And he had no idea what to do about it, because it embarrassed the living shit out of him.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Page 967

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A friend of ours was able to tell us some of Warrenhold’s history,’ said Garovel. ‘It’s our understanding that the castle caused trouble for some folks who were looking to kill a few kings, yes?

Yes,’ said Shenado. ‘Those kings needed to die in order for several of the Rainlords’ allies to seize power and provide much needed aid during the Uprising. Many of the Rainlords themselves were dispatched to help take the castle, but instead of the swift victory that they were expecting, they encountered a struggle that lasted decades.

Ah, well, perhaps Axiolis will be pleased to know that Hector bears no relation to any of Warrenhold’s previous occupants,’ said Garovel.

Shenado tilted her skull to the side. ‘He said if it weren’t for Warrenhold, the Rainlords would have had all the support they needed in a dozen other key battles across the continent and wouldn’t have suffered such heavy losses.

Mm. Then... hopefully, he’ll be pleased to know that it is now occupied by a friendly face.

He also said that it was cursed.

Oh, well, that’s not--

He said, even after it was taken, the castle drove people mad and caused all manner of political turmoil.’

Axiolis is mistaken. I would be happy to--

You tryin’ to invite us to some cursed pile of dog shit?’ said Chergoa. ‘The hell is wrong with you?

It’s not cursed! It’s just misunderstood!

Uh-huh, sure it is. I bet it’s just teeming with ghosts ‘n shit.

Ghosts aren’t real,’ said Garovel.

You don’t know that.

Actually, I do. And so do you.

If ghosts aren’t real, then what do you call us?

Reapers aren’t ghosts!

Aren’t we, though? I mean, we’re people who’ve died, right?

It’s not the same!

It kinda is.

Garovel sighed. ‘Okay, so by that logic, you are therefore worried that Warrenhold is teeming with reapers.

Well, I was more worried about the dog shit part.

There’s no dog shit!

So you say...

Ugh. Whatever. You’ll see it for yourself when you visit.

I don’t wanna visit a place filled with that much dog shit.

Chergoa, I will end you.

She just laughed.

Hector would have kept listening, but Ramira poked him in the face with her iron spider. She’d insisted that he sit next to her, and he couldn’t very well refuse. And besides, sitting next to a little girl was way less intimidating than sitting next to anyone else in this car. Except maybe Dimas, who was sitting on Hector’s other side.

“What’s the matter?” Hector asked.

“You never told me your name, you big lump.”

She was right, he realized. The reapers had handled all the introductions, which she obviously hadn’t been able to hear.

Page 966

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“I have been there several times,” Jada was saying in that faint Valgan accent. “Raml’hahl is always very nice. Or--I think they call it Dunehall in Mohssian?” She looked to Atalim, her reaper. “Is that right?”

It is, yes.’

Dunehall?’ said Garovel. ‘Is it a fortress?

It used to be,’ said Atalim. ‘It weathered many assaults during its day, but now it serves as home to the local steward, who takes care of it for whenever Hahl Najir visits.’ The reaper gave a laugh. ‘I imagine he will not be very pleased to see us with so many unannounced guests.’

Will that be a problem?’ asked Chergoa.

Oh, not at all. He would never disobey Asad. That would jeopardize his cushy job.

Garovel threw a glance Hector’s way. ‘Speaking of fortresses,’ he said publicly, ‘Hector was given a really nice castle by the Queen of Atreya.

Hector felt compelled to interject. “Nice might be the wrong word for it, Garovel...”

Okay. We have a really interesting castle. You guys should come visit. And perhaps stay awhile.

Uh,’ said Chergoa, ‘we’re kinda busy with things here in Sair, in case you haven’t noticed.

Busy? Are you planning on getting kidnapped a second time?

Hilarious. We’re not going anywhere without Emiliana’s family.’

Well, I didn’t mean right this second. And they’re all invited, too, of course. Warrenhold has plenty of room.

I wasn’t questioning its spaciousness. Most castles are pretty big.

Ours is a little TOO big, actually. Enough so that we’re not really sure what to do with it all. It’s possibly the largest castle I’ve ever seen, now that I’m thinking about it.

Chergoa cocked a skeletal eyebrow. ‘Ever?

Maybe. I’m not sure. You definitely have to see it for yourself, someday. It would be a great place to lay low, if needed, and we would certainly welcome you, despite all of your horrendous character flaws.

Thank you,’ Chergoa said flatly.

Did you say Warrenhold?’ asked Shenado. She’d been mostly quiet up to now, which seemed to make everyone more interested in hearing what she had to say.

I did,’ said Garovel. ‘You know of it?

Not from personal experience, but I’ve heard Axiolis talk about how much he hates that place,’ said Shenado.

Garovel let out a laugh. ‘Really? Why? It wouldn’t have anything to do with the Redwater Uprising, would it?

Ah, so you know about that.’

Page 965

The Rainlords had stopped on one of the larger bridges Hector had seen for a brief refueling break. The two gas stations on either side of the road looked a bit overwhelmed by the dozen vehicles that had suddenly arrived. Hector and Dimas walked together as they made their way back to the head of the entourage.

Now that they were away from the aberration, Hector was more interested in talking. “Well, that was... different than I expected.”

“Indeed,” said Dimas.

“What do you think?” asked Hector.

Dimas nodded lightly. “I think he seems genuine. You?”

“I don’t know...” Hector frowned at being the cynical one. “Have you encountered many aberrations before?”

“Two,” said Dimas. “I doubt that qualifies as many.”

“What were they like?”

“They both tried to kill me within about ten seconds of meeting me.”


“What about you? You seem strangely interested in them.”

“Me? Oh... I’ve only met one, but... but, ah...”

Dimas waited patiently.

A part of Hector still wasn’t ready to talk about it. A part of him would never be ready. But a different part urged him to. It wanted him to tell this person. Dimas would understand, Hector thought. Just about any Rainlord would, probably.

So he tried. “The aberration I met... he, uh... he killed my dad. And... many of my friends.”

Dimas was briefly quiet. “I am very sorry to hear that,” was all he said.

Hector hadn’t really been expecting anything more from the man. In fact, that was probably why he decided to tell him. He didn’t want to be asked a dozen questions and end up reliving that nightmare.

He tried to think of something else to talk about, but nothing came to mind, and soon enough, they were back with the Elroys. Zeff was still asleep, and now, so was Asad. Asad’s daughter Jada had since joined them as well, along with his sister Imas, and with Hector and Dimas added in, the limousine was nearly at maximum occupancy.

The conversation never reached higher than a low murmur. Most everyone seemed either too tired or just not in the mood to talk much, but through the relative quiet, it was clear enough to Hector that Jada knew the Elroys pretty well. She kept the topics light and infrequent, Hector noticed, bringing up things like pets and food and a bit about what Moaban would be like.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Page 964

Hector didn’t much care for the aberration’s enthusiasm. Even if it wasn’t carrying malicious intent, it still reminded him of Geoffrey.

Eventually, Ibai rounded on Hector and Dimas.

“So what are your names?” he asked. “You never did tell me. Mine’s Ibai, but I bet you knew that, eh?”

Hector didn’t feel like answering, and apparently, neither did Dimas.

Ibai’s smile lessened somewhat. “Mm. You don’t like me. I get it. Some of my own family members don’t like me very much, either. Fidel, for instance. I always beat him when we thumb wrestle. He hates that.”

Was that supposed to be a joke? Or did he actually think that way? Hector honestly couldn’t tell. Maybe it was a bit of both.

At their continued silence, Ibai shrugged. “You two don’t like to talk much, do you? I understand. And I don’t want you to worry, either! I thought this might happen, so I came prepared!” The man reached behind his seat and began pulling out several long, flat boxes.

They were all board games, Hector realized.

Hector didn’t need to refuse to talk anymore. He was genuinely speechless. This fucking guy had brought board games to play with the two people who would kill him if he did anything wrong.

“See?” said Ibai. “This way, you don’t have to talk. You can let the game speak for you!”

Hector couldn’t decide if this was one of the stupidest ideas he’d ever seen or one of the most brilliant.

“What should we play? Hmm, maybe not Monopoly. Probably shouldn’t have brought that one...”

What followed was, without a doubt in Hector’s mind, the most uncomfortable game of Snakes and Ladders that had ever been played on the face of Eleg.

The second game was slightly less tense. For the third, they switched to Parcheesi; and for the fourth, they played a game called Waterwall, which Hector had never even heard of. The objective was to trap all of one’s opponents by building dams and rerouting water, which moved every turn and was represented by a cluster of squiggly-lined pieces.

Ibai won every single game. It didn’t seem to matter whether the game was skill- or luck-based. Horatio almost beat him once, but every other time was a complete trouncing.

Hector kept Garovel apprised of everything that was happening--or not happening, rather--and by the time Hector and Dimas’ shift ended, Hector was even more confused than when they had started.

Page 963 -- CX.

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Agh, holy oasis!’ said Qorvass. ‘I knew your memory wasn’t the best, but wow! Even for you, this is a new low. You’re only forty-five years old, man. Are you already going senile? Should I stop you from aging any further?

I... I’m sure I would’ve remembered it if things had ever become too desperate.

Oh, you mean like when we were fighting off three people at once? Or when Darktide was stomping the hell out of all of our comrades?

Hey, everything worked out in the end, didn’t it?

Yes, and if things had gone differently, you would have let us both die like idiots.

You’re partly to blame, too. We were sharing memories for quite a while there, and you didn’t remember, either.

How was I supposed to know that you had forgotten something so important?!

You should have checked. You just said that you knew I had a bad memory.

I cannot believe you, right now... Agh. If it is that powerful, then you should have just put it on and never taken it off.

I was afraid it might blow up.

It’s a ring. Why would it blow up?

Because Haqq made it.

The reaper hesitated. ‘Okay, fair point. But why did you not test it, then?

There wasn’t time! He gave it to me as I was leaving!


Would you stop saying that? I apologized!


Asad pursed his lips and looked over the Rainlords and Hector another time. ‘...Let’s never tell anyone about this.


Chapter One Hundred Ten: ‘O, curious devil...!’
Click to display entire chapter at once -- (mobile link)

Hector didn’t let Garovel anywhere near Ibai. Lord Dimas kept the unconscious Iziol on his back the whole time, but Hector didn’t have that much confidence. He had Garovel stay with Chergoa and the Elroys, instead.

The reason he’d volunteered was to see for himself whether or not this aberration could be trusted, but so far, there was little clarity to be found. Ibai didn’t do or say anything particularly volatile or dangerous, but perhaps that was only because they were all stuck in a limousine together as their host of Rainlords embarked on the long trip to Moaban.

The Blackburns had chosen Horatio and Silvia for their two bodyguards, and Ibai seemed to enjoy their company greatly, talking about all manner of subjects with them, asking their opinions about what would be fun to do together. Ibai acted like they were all going on a pleasant trip to an amusement park or something.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Page 962

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Asad eyed the young Lord Goffe. “Are you sure?”

Hector’s expression suggested he was. “I just... I would like to know more about this aberration.”

“I see no problem with that,” said Salvador, slapping a huge hand against Hector’s shoulder. “He held his own against Darktide, didn’t he? And myself, of course. I’d say he qualifies.”

The lone Sandlord frowned. Salvador and the others didn’t know about the shield, but Asad recognized his brother’s work well enough. Hector and Garovel hadn’t explained the details--which was their right, of course--but it still left Asad slightly concerned for them.

He held his tongue, though. He certainly understood the desire to keep one’s true strength a secret. He’d been able to do something similar in his youth, thanks to his tattoos. Without a doubt, they were the greatest gift his mother had ever given him, though he certainly hadn’t thought so while receiving them.

And while Asad reminisced to himself and watched the Elroy children hovering around their sleeping father, his hands drifted into the pockets of his still-tattered robe.

Something metallic was there, he realized. Small and round. A ring.

He pulled it out and stared at it with wide eyes. It was simple enough in design--featureless tungsten carbide on the outside, concealing a row of tiny black spikes on the inside. They would tear into his skin if he put it on, Asad knew, but it was indeed meant to be worn on either one of his middle fingers.

Qorvass noticed the item. ‘A new ring?’ he said privately and in Valgan. ‘When did you get that?

...Before we left Kuros,’ Asad said, also in Valgan.

And what does this one do?

It enhances the effects of my tattoos.

The reaper paused. ‘Enhances how, exactly?

It allows them... to absorb more damage and reflect it back at my opponent.

What?! You had something that useful on you this whole time?! Why didn’t you ever use it?!

...I forgot about it.

Asad! Are you kidding?! Do you know how helpful that would have been?!

I... yes.

Why didn’t you just show it to me when you first got it?! I would’ve remembered it for you!

...I’d already forgotten by then.

That quickly?! Asad!

I’m sorry! I remembered it later, on the plane to Rheinhal, but then I forgot again!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Page 961

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Four servants will remain with Ibai at all times,’ said Qorvass. ‘Two will be chosen by House Blackburn, and two will be chosen by us. This way, if anyone steps out of line, be it Ibai or one of his guards, someone else will be there to help keep things in order.

Or to help escalate things,’ amended Mevox.

That is why I advise everyone to pick your guards wisely,’ said Qorvass. ‘But I believe this may well be the only fair solution, and since we are pressed for time, I ask that you decide quickly.

“Very well,” said Ismael. “I can agree to those terms.”

“As can I,” said Abel.

Salvador nodded, and Mevox gave a relenting sigh.

“Go and bring Ibai here,” said Abel. “We will have our two guards chosen by the time you return.”

The Blackburns departed immediately, and shortly thereafter, so did Lady Amaya along with a few of the other Sebolts.

Mevox sighed another time. ‘Agh. Why do I always end up being the asshole?

Salvador smirked. “Perhaps it is just your natural state of being.”

So you’re saying I should embrace it? Alright. Salvador, you have a tiny head.


You look like a little dude piloting a big dude’s body.

That earned a chuckle from Asad.

“Don’t just do it to me!” said Salvador. “Asad is standing right there!”

Asad, you’re bald, and your tattoos look like doo-doo.

Okay,’ said Qorvass, ‘Perhaps we should go now. Always a pleasure, Mevox.

Same to you, Qorvass, you pile of cancerous dog balls. You son-of-a-bitch-baby’s shit-filled diaper. You stupid-name-having motherfucker. You--

Everyone was staring.

...I’m really sorry. I got too excited.

A beat passed, and then Qorvass said, ‘I don’t think we should allow Mevox anywhere near the aberration. Agreed?




I hate you all.

“So who should we choose?” asked Salvador. “I would volunteer myself, if not for this guy.”

Oh, whatever! I can control myself, if I want!

Asad can take a later shift, if need be,’ said Qorvass, ‘but he needs to rest first.

Dimas stepped forward. “I volunteer, at least until Xuan is awake.”

Asad blinked at the man. “That could be days.”

“I will be fine.”

“Dimas has chronic insomnia,” said Lord Abel, eyeing his son. “That does not stop him from becoming tired, however. I will allow you the first shift.”

Dimas nodded.

Well, that’s one,’ said Mevox. ‘Who else? How about Lorenzo?

Hector stepped up. “I, uh... I volunteer, as well.”

Page 960

“Do we have any of the Garzas with us?” asked Abel.

“A few, yes,” said Amaya. “Cousin Carlos is quite close with Socorro’s daughters.”

“So is Lorenzo,” said Salvador. “I remember wondering if he was going to ask one of them to marry him.”

Amaya smiled weakly. “Those two boys. I would not be surprised if they intended to have a double wedding.”

And for a time, no one seemed able to find anything else to say.

Asad hadn’t known Socorro very well at all, but it was enough just witnessing the impact that the news of her death was having. These people were well-acquainted with death, of course, but Socorro was one of their peers, someone they had grown up with--not just kin, but an old friend as well.

And this was the second time. Perhaps the Vanguard could claim Mariana’s death as incidental, but not so here. Parson Miles had killed Socorro in cold blood.

Asad wished he could do more for these people. Most of all, he wished his own kin could see them the way he did. Maybe things wouldn’t have turned out this way.

At length, the conversation resumed as they remembered the sense of urgency. Amaya spoke of finding Socorro’s daughters to deliver the news personally. Abel spoke of finding a private place for Ezura to regenerate Evangelina. And they gradually began to disperse.

It was Mevox who stopped everyone. ‘Ismael. We never settled the matter of your son.’

“I suppose we will have to discuss it further in Moaban,” said Ismael.

Not sure that’s good enough,’ said Mevox. ‘What if your son hurts someone during the journey?

“He won’t.”

If only it were that simple,’ said Mevox. ‘I’d like to believe you; I really would. You probably think I’m just a cynical jackass trying to cause problems for you, but we have to keep your boy under guard. You must be able to understand that much, right?

“I do,” said Ismael. “That is why House Blackburn will be the one doing so.”

That’s not good enough, and you know it. How can we trust your people to do what is necessary to stop him?

“How can I trust that your people will not harm him?”

Qorvass floated forward. ‘Might I propose an apparent compromise?

They waited for him to explain.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Page 959

The Rainlords were briefly silent until Mevox piped up.

Why Moaban?’ the reaper asked.

Qorvass chimed in now. ‘We have a summer home there which can accommodate you all comfortably. It is a lovely place. Asad and Imas grew up there. We would invite you to Kuros, but we are not sure how our kin would react to your presence.

“If you stay in your own territory, the Vanguard will be more likely to find you,” said Asad. “But my involvement in your affairs is still a secret, no? Therefore, I think it would be best if you relied on me in this case.”

“What are we supposed to do once in Moaban?” said Salvador. “Wait around and hope the Vanguard has a sudden change of heart? They have our kin!”

“It is a bad situation,” said Lord Abel, “but our priority now should be to regroup. We can determine our next move later. I believe we should accept Lord Asad’s hospitality and leave Luzo immediately.”

“Agreed,” said Amaya. “In fact, I believe we have already wasted too much time here arguing. The sooner we leave, the better.”

Lord Salvador grumbled but conceded a nod.

Alright, fine,’ said Mevox. ‘But what about--?

The reaper stopped talking when the east door opened and a young attendant rushed up to Lord Abel and whispered something to him.

Abel stood up instantly. “I have just been told that the Lord Zeff Elroy has arrived in Luzo.”

Hector heard a chorus of gasps, but for his part, he was mainly just confused.


The group gathered beneath the wide overhang of the modest building’s front entrance. Zeff and Axiolis lay unconscious in the back of a parked limousine while the reaper Ezura recounted the tale of what had happened to them and her servant, the Lady Evangelina Stroud.

Asad was still having trouble believing that was really Zeff lying there. A part of him had thought he would never see his old friend again, and these were strange circumstances in which to be proven wrong. But after listening to Ezura, it was difficult to feel very relieved.

The ruling Rainlords stood there alongside him, as did the Elroys and Hector. Everyone else who’d been present for negotiations had since dispersed, given instructions to prepare for an immediate departure.

Once Ezura was done talking, Lord Salvador eyed the Blackburns. “It seems you were not lying about Parson Miles.”

Lord Ismael merely returned a grim look.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Vol. 3 ebook is now available

Took a while, since the Ninth Oath was so ridiculously long, but yep. The Volume Three ebook is now available for $2.99 at both Smashwords and Amazon. If you want it, go ahead and grab it. Reviews would extremely welcome, also.

So Volume One was ~88,000 words. Volume Two turned out to be ~103,000 words. And Volume Three slapped the shit out of them both with ~131,000 words. I knew it would be longer, but holy monkey balls, that was surprising.

So yeah. TZk is well over 300K words now. That's pretty neat. But it does make me wonder how long Volume Four will end up.

By the way, the page for today was posted a little while ago. Careful not to skip it.

Page 958

Lord Abel spoke next. “What do you hope to gain by telling us this information? I presume you intend to propose some new course of action for us to take.”

“Now that you know about my son, Parson holds no leverage over us,” said Ismael. “I have no reason to lie. And yes. I propose we leave Luzo immediately.”

“You would come with us?” said Abel.

Ismael nodded. “If you allow it, yes. I do not know what Parson would do if he arrived to find only my family here.”

“We cannot simply flee,” said Salvador. “If our kin are held captive, we must retrieve them. Vanguard or not.”

“I understand that,” said Ismael. “Perhaps you do not believe me when I say this, but I do feel similarly. If we had strength, I would agree with you. But you must realize that our forces need time to rest. Melchor and Xuan are both unconscious, and without them, we stand very little chance against Parson--assuming it is he who arrives and not Sanko.”

The Lady Amaya Sebolt nodded. “For all we know, Parson could arrive within the day. I believe the Blackburns speak the truth. Surely, they would not wish to accompany us otherwise.”

Hmm,’ mused Mevox. ‘I suppose Ammie has a point. I can’t imagine you Blackburns would abandon Marshrock just to convince us.

“Exactly,” said Ismael. “The only problem is where do we go? I do not think retreating to Intar would be wise, given how strong the Vanguard’s presence is there.”

Not to mention the Intarian Rainlords,’ said Mevox. ‘Those dickholes haven’t lifted a finger to help us. They might turn on us if we show up on their doorstep.

“To be fair,” said Abel, “would we have gone to their aid?”

Of course not. They’re dickholes.

Abel returned a calm stare, as if waiting for the reaper to realize the hypocrisy there, but it didn’t seem to have much effect on Mevox. Hector was fairly certain that Mevox understood what he’d said perfectly well and just didn’t give a shit.

And then, it occurred to Hector that if these people needed a place to lay low for a while, he could provide exactly that. But it could also be a terrible idea, another thought argued. He didn’t actually know the Rainlords very well, and offering them refuge might well steer an angry Vanguard toward Atreya. What would the Queen think?

Before he could give the matter any more consideration, however, Asad beat him to the punch.

“I invite you all to Moaban,” the Sandlord said.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Page 957

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Ismael Blackburn stood. “Before moving forward on that subject, I must tell you all about Parson Miles of the Vanguard. I am sure most of you are familiar with him, but I do not think any of you know him the way I do.”

I know he’s one of the more powerful assbags we’re up against,’ said Mevox. His nonexistent bones had a darker glow than any other reaper Hector had seen so far. It made him easier to pick out of a crowd.

“Zeff, Evangelina, and I trained under him for several years,” said Abel Sebolt. “As did Santos, though only for the few months before Lawrence took Parson’s place.”

“Let me guess,” said Ismael. “You think Parson is a fool?”

Abel tilted his head. “He is a fool. But I was never able to determine if that made him bad at his job.”

“Then I give you credit for seeing that much,” said Ismael. “But Parson Miles is more than a fool. I am convinced that he intends to destroy each of our houses. He knows of Ibai’s existence, and he used that knowledge to coerce us into kidnapping the Elroy children.”

How convenient,’ said Mevox. ‘Someone to take the blame for you.’

Horatio stood up with Ismael. “We do not pretend to be blameless, but please try to understand our reasoning. Ask yourselves: what did we have to gain by abducting the children? If we wanted them for our own nefarious purposes, then why would we keep them in Marshrock, where we knew you would come looking for them?”

Maybe that’s where you keep your freaky torture devices,’ said Mevox.

Horatio’s expression slackened. “This is hardly the time for jokes. The children will confirm that we did not harm them.”

Mevox shrugged. ‘Fine, then, what was your reason?

“Because the whole point was to draw you away from Rheinhal and keep you occupied,” said Horatio.

“He speaks the truth,” said Ismael. “Parson wanted to divide your forces so that he could deal with you more easily. And given the recent news of Rheinhal, it appears his plan is working. He promised that he would come to Luzo after Rheinhal was secured and rescue us from your siege. Our task was merely to hold out. His only miscalculation seems to have been Lord Asad over there, whose presence allowed you to push your siege more quickly than anticipated.”

The whole room looked to Asad, who just kind of flattened his mouth and scratched his cheek as he observed all the stares.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Page 956 -- CIX.

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In time, they arrived at their destination. It was a modest building overlooking a muddy river with Marshrock standing in the distance. And since he hadn’t been paying attention to what everyone had been saying, Hector wasn’t sure why they were here.

Once they were inside, Asad stopped to address everyone.

“Before we go any farther,” the Sandlord said, “there is something I must tell you all.”

His audience gave him their attention.

“Earlier, I received word that the siege in Rheinhal has failed.” Asad let the murmurs pass before continuing. “I’m afraid the details are still unclear, but at the moment, everyone there is being presumed captured or killed. I’m very sorry. I felt you should know now, because I’m sure it will come up during negotiations.”

None escaped?’ said Shenado.

We don’t know,’ said Qorvass. ‘It’s possible, but unlikely. There were a handful of messages that came in at once, all saying that Sanko was attacking the Rainlords. And since then, we’ve received no further contact from anyone.

There were no other questions after that. Everyone seemed to need time to process what they’d just heard. Hector was tempted to ask what they planned to do now, but then he realized that was why they had come here. He saw the Lord Ismael in the front lobby with an entourage of Blackburns around him. Ibai was there, as well.

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

The negotiations were taking a while, but Hector wasn’t complaining. He still just felt privileged for being allowed to observe.

Abel Sebolt and Salvador Delaguna headed up their side of proceedings, though for Salvador’s part, it was his reaper Mevox who did most of the talking. Various others voiced their opinions as well, including Asad and Amaya Sebolt. Naturally, though, Chergoa and Emiliana’s testimonies proved the most crucial.

That was the heart of the issue--how to handle the presence of this aberration. Even now, the Blackburns gave very little ground. They offered testimony from a variety of people, all claiming that Ibai could be trusted, which of course just made everyone on the other side of the table skeptical. At a few different points, Hector grew worried that another fight might break out. And when the arguably more pressing subject of Rheinhal came up, a resolution to the problem of Ibai had still not been reached.

Page 955

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“That’s way too skinny,” said Ramira. “The abdomen has to be fatter.”

“Abdomen?” said Hector.

“You don’t know what an abdomen is? It’s the butt!”

“Ah, okay...” He annihilated his work and tried again. “Is this closer?”

“Better. But the legs are too long. And there aren’t enough eyes. And can you add some hair?”

He gave it another shot. “How about now?”

“Agh, here, just give me your phone. I’ll find you a picture on the internet.”

Hector did as he was told.

The group continued on together, and Hector just kind of followed mindlessly along as he and Ramira became absorbed with creating the perfect spider for her. She found multiple pictures for him to work from, but they were all different species and so bore variations that kept tripping him up. At length, though, he came up with something quite realistic-looking, even down to the fine hairs on its back like Ramira had asked for.

“Wow, there you go!” she said. “You’re really good at this! It’s perfect!”

He handed it to her. “You sure? It’s not too heavy? I can make it smaller, if you want.”

“No, no, it’s cooler this way! I can beat people with it!”


“Just kidding.” She prodded him in the stomach, pretending the spider was biting him. “Bragh! I like it a lot! Thank you!”

“Ha... you’re welcome.”

She turned it over in her hands. “You know, it’s kind of like a Melchor action figure.”

Hector blinked at that. “You’ve seen him fight?”

“Yep. It was really scary.”

“Oh. I’m sorry...”

“It was really cool, too.” She frowned, though. “But I don’t think I want to see it again...” She made the spider bite him on the arm this time.

Hector wondered how many terrible things she’d seen already. She didn’t look traumatized, but who could say what effect everything actually had upon her?

What an unfair world it was. He’d known that all along, of course, but it seemed different now, maybe because he felt so powerless again. For a long time now, he’d felt strong, like he at least stood a chance against the problems he saw before him. If someone was in danger, he could just save them. Simple enough. But this little girl here was caught up in a conflict so far out of his reach that he couldn’t even imagine how he might genuinely help her. She and Marcos and Emiliana--they needed more than some stupid lump of iron.

Page 954

After a fashion, the chatter among their group began to return, but something else cut through it before long.

Oh.’ Chergoa abruptly stopped moving, which made everyone else do the same. Her skeletal grin widened, and she looked to Emiliana, then nodded down an adjacent side street.

They all turned in time to see a little girl rush up to Emiliana and hug her.

Hector recognized Ramira Elroy from her photograph, along with Marcos Elroy following not far behind. Asad and Qorvass were there, too, as was an unfamiliar reaper.

Chergoa handled introductions. ‘Garovel, Shenado. Shenado, Garovel.

The brother?’ said Shenado. ‘What an unexpected pleasure.

It is very nice to meet you,’ said Garovel. ‘I was sorry to hear about everything your family has had to endure. Axiolis told me all about it.

I see, thank you,’ said Shenado. ‘Ah, and this is Marcos Elroy. Say hello, Marcos.

The boy looked exhausted. “H-hello...”

Hello there,’ said Garovel. ‘This is Hector Goffe.

Hector offered him a handshake, and Marcos took it. “It’s, ah... nice to meet you,” said Hector.

Marcos just returned a polite nod. When Dimas offered him a handshake, however, the boy dove in for a hug, instead. “You came back for us,” he mumbled into Dimas’ torso. “You kept your promise...”

Dimas was slow to return the hug, but after a moment, Hector saw the man’s face soften.

Next up for introduction was Ramira, and Hector stiltedly made his way through it. But soon afterward, the adults and the reapers began conversing, and Hector and Ramira were left standing there with nothing to do. He didn’t mind being excluded himself, but he felt a bit bad for Ramira. She didn’t appear to have a reaper of her own, which meant she couldn’t even hear half of what was being said.

After a period of deliberation and brainstorming, Hector knelt down next to her and with effort, forced himself to ask, “...What’s your favorite animal?”

She stared at him with big gray eyes, perhaps wondering what he was getting at. But then she smirked and said, “A trapdoor spider!”

Hector’s expression faltered. “Uh... really? Not, like, a giraffe or something?”

“Psh. Can a giraffe camouflage itself to take its prey by surprise, and then eat them by liquefying their body with its venom? Because a trapdoor spider can.”

“Ah...” Hector had to laugh a little. “Okay, then, tell me what a trapdoor spider looks like...” He materialized a generic spider figurine in the palm of his hand.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Page 953

“Ah... perhaps I am not the best person to consult,” said Emiliana. “I have never met any other aberrations.”

“But you know of them,” said Hector.

“Yes... I know they are supposed to be vicious creatures without humanity. And I have hardly spent any time with him, so I cannot claim to know him very well. But Lord Ibai--he had an opportunity to kill several reapers and consume their souls, yet he chose to spare them. He even had assurances that no one would ever find out. His own men were encouraging him to eat them so that he would grow more powerful. But he did not do it.”

It’s true,’ Chergoa confirmed. ‘If I hadn’t seen it myself, I probably wouldn’t believe it.

Hector’s brow lowered. “Could it have been a trick?”

Emiliana bobbed her head to the side. “I suppose so... but to my mind, that was a genuine display of mercy. And if aberrations are truly all inhuman monsters, then I cannot imagine one of them doing what Lord Ibai did.”

He had the opportunity to kill me as well,’ said Chergoa.

What?!’ said Garovel.

I had nowhere to run or hide. I was completely at his mercy. But he didn’t hurt me. And when his father asked him to, he let me go.

For a time, no one said anything further, perhaps needing a moment to digest that information.

Hector didn’t know what to think. He’d been told that all aberrations were violent and dangerous, but maybe that was wrong. He’d only met one other aberration before, so how could he presume to know what the rest of them were like?

But it wasn’t that simple, either. As much as Hector tried to separate his own feelings from the subject at hand, his memories wouldn’t be ignored. Memories of Geoffrey Rofal. So much had happened since Hector killed that son of a bitch, but not much actual time had passed. Only a few months. Those old wounds, they hadn’t healed. They’d barely begun to feel like scars in his mind.

Still, it wasn’t up to Hector to decide what to do with Ibai, and for that, he was glad; but he also wondered how the Rainlords would handle the situation. When it came to aberrations, he doubted he was the only one who’d had bad experiences.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Page 952

Bah,’ said Iziol. ‘Dimas just doesn’t know anything about comedy. He and I have been together for more than twenty years, and I’ve only heard him laugh four times. Four! Can you believe that?!

Hector could.

Dimas made no retort.

Chergoa spoke up for the man, though. ‘He’s not wrong, Iziol. That joke was horrendous. In fact, if comedy were a human being, you would have just committed murder.

Iziol hesitated a moment. ‘Darn it... Ah! I’m sorry. Please excuse my language. I’m just frustrated.

Hector saw the other two reapers exchange looks.

Don’t feel bad,’ said Garovel. ‘Chergoa and I will share our secrets with you.

Better just leave it to me,’ said Chergoa. ‘Garovel will only teach you how to insult people.

That’s not even remotely true. Hector, tell her how hilarious I am.

Hector opened his mouth but no words came out.

Buddy, c’mon!

“G-Garovel is... very funny...”

Chergoa busted into a laugh. ‘What an endorsement! Clearly, you’ve awed him with your comedic genius!

That’s just Hector’s personality! You already know he has trouble speaking!

Oh, sure, blame it on Hector.

Alright, fine. Hey, Emiliana, how funny is Chergoa?

Oh god no. Em, you know that I--

“She is quite awful.”

Agh! How could you?!

Thank you for your honesty,’ said Garovel.

I just haven’t had enough time to win her over!’ said Chergoa. ‘She’ll appreciate my humor eventually!

I’m sure that’s it,’ said Garovel.

Em, we are gonna have a long talk about this later.

“I will look forward to it.”

As they walked, Chergoa and Garovel soon returned to their bickering, and Garovel had to privately remind Hector to be sociable again. ‘Talk to Emiliana.’

Hector racked his brain in search of a topic. When nothing immediately sprung forth, he tried taking a step back and thinking about everything that had happened, and then the most pressing question in the world smacked him in the face. “Emiliana,” said Hector, abruptly sterner, “please tell me more about this... aberration that you were with.”

That grabbed Garovel’s attention. ‘Wait a minute, what? You were with an aberration?

Oh yeah,’ said Chergoa. But she didn’t elaborate, perhaps wanting to let Emiliana participate more.

“Yes,” the young woman said. “Lord Ibai Blackburn. He is... quite different.”

“Go on,” urged Hector.

Page 951

Hector’s memory of that meeting was foggy at best. Garovel had translated it for him, since they had been speaking in Valgan, but Hector did recall that odd feeling Garovel was talking about now, like the air was slightly thicker. It wasn’t until later that Garovel had explained how very powerful souls could affect the physical atmosphere. And while he was certainly grateful that Lord Abbas had permanently soul-strengthened Haqq’s shield, Hector was not in any hurry to encounter someone like that a second time--especially now, after witnessing what Xuan and Melchor could do.

Chergoa and Garovel continued speaking, but Garovel spared a private moment for Hector. ‘You should express your gratitude to Dimas for saving our asses.’

Much as he would have liked to remain silent, Hector knew the reaper was right, so after taking a moment to gather his courage, he went for it. “Uh, um, Lord Dimas, uh... thank you for your help earlier. Darktide would’ve definitely, er... I mean, if you hadn’t... uh... Y-you and Lord Salvador saved us. So... er...”

The man’s expression was as unreadable as ever. “...Think nothing of it. Rather, I should be thanking you for protecting Duvoss and my idiot uncle.”

“Ah, uh... heh...” Hector thought better of wading into that territory and instead chose to change the subject. “Are you, um... aren’t you tired? From using pan-forma, I mean?”

“I use pan-moc,” Dimas corrected.

“Oh. Right.”

“...But yes, I am exhausted.”

“You... uh... you don’t really look like it.”

“I will not be sleeping until Xuan is awake.”

I will, though,’ said Iziol. ‘In fact, I think I’ll do that right now. Pardon my snoring.

Hector exchanged looks with Dimas. “Can reapers actually snore?”

“No. Iziol was attempting to tell a joke. He is not very good at them.”

Hey. I... I’m... I’m mediocre at them, at least.

Dimas met Hector’s gaze and just shook his head with silent honesty.

Here, let me tell a real joke,’ said Iziol.

And for the first time, Hector saw Dimas lose composure as a haggard expression flashed across his face.

Two clowns walk into a bar. The bartender says to them, “Hey, none of your funny business in here!”

Then there was dead silence. Even Chergoa and Garovel had stopped bickering.

Well?’ said Iziol. ‘What did you think?

Hector had still been waiting for the punchline. “Uh--er, that was... um. Wow.”

Dimas was less kind. “That was possibly the worst joke I’ve ever heard in my life.”

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Page 950

Luzo had a strange charm to it, Hector felt. When he’d first arrived, the place had seemed kind of ominous and horrible to him, perhaps because the thunder had been so loud before, but now that it had mellowed out into a series of faint rumblings, he was beginning to enjoy himself. Combined with the constant drumming of rain and the moderate temperature, Hector found this place actually quite relaxing. Though, the ceasefire had surely contributed to that feeling as well.

Still, he was beginning to understand why people might choose to live here, despite the threat of floods and lightning. At least a third of the buildings on this street had been crowned with huge metal spires, and the road didn’t seem to have any trouble draining all the water. Hector could only imagine how insanely efficient a Rainlord sewage system needed to be.

So why were you in Kuros?’ Chergoa asked. ‘And how in the world did you end up crossing paths with Axiolis?

We were escorting Atreyan royalty,’ said Garovel.

Chergoa paused. ‘Are you joking?

Nope. Prince Meriwether of House Lumenbel. We’re on pretty good terms with his sister, the Queen, so she asked us for a favor.

Huh.’ Chergoa allowed a beat to pass. ‘There must not be very many servants in Atreya.

Rude. You don’t know how strong Hector is.’ Garovel also allowed a beat to pass. ‘You’re right, though. I only know of like three others.

Ha. So this prince didn’t mind you just abandoning your duty to come help us?

He had another bodyguard to rely on, and we were only doing it as a favor, anyway. Also, I don’t think he was particularly worried for his safety once he made it inside the Golden Fort. He’s married to one of the Saqqaf women, after all.

Ah,’ said Chergoa. ‘Woulda been nice to have those folks on our side. Are the Saqqafs as impressive as their reputation suggests?

We didn’t meet any of them personally. The Lord Abbas Saqqaf, though--we saw him speak during a meeting, and his soul was strong enough that Hector could actually feel his presence a little bit, which suggests to me that he’s even older than Melchor and Xuan. So just from that, I would have to say, yes, Hahl Saqqaf was quite impressive.

Page 949

We parted ways with Axiolis at Rheinhal,’ said Garovel. ‘He said he wanted to be there when your father and brother were freed. But Asad and Qorvass could’ve told you that much. You should’ve asked them.

Emiliana gave a muffled sigh. “If only I’d thought to.”

Chergoa looked around. ‘Where’d those two go, anyway?

Don’t ask me,’ said Garovel. ‘You’re the ones who’ve been awake this whole time.

Hector knew the answer to that one and knew that he should probably make more of an effort to contribute after the less-than-stellar first impression he’d made. “Er--uh... Asad said he was going to, ah... t-to see about retrieving the other hostages.”

Oh,’ said Chergoa. ‘Let’s go find him again, then.

They started moving through the Sebolt encampment as a small group, which meant leaving the hotel lobby they’d been waiting in. As ever, it was raining outside, and the thunder had returned as well, but before they even made it five steps, a familiar man descended from the heavens with folded arms.

“...Why are you leaving the hotel?” asked the Lord Dimas Sebolt.

Dimas, that was way too imposing,’ said Iziol, clinging to the man’s back. ‘You have to sound friendlier, or they’ll get the wrong idea about us.

“...I am here to ensure the young Lady Elroy’s safety. If there is something you require, I will send someone to fetch it for you.”

Okay, that was a little better, but, eh...

Chergoa decided to chime in. ‘We were just wondering when we would be able to see Marcos, Ramira, and Shenado again. Do you know? It’s been a couple hours since the ceasefire began, and Ismael said he would release them.

“They will be brought to you as soon as we have them,” said Dimas.

Eh, let’s just go with them,’ said Iziol. ‘We might be able to see Diego sooner, too. Besides, with Melchor down for the count, there’s no one here who can really threaten you.

Lord Asad might argue that point,’ said Garovel.

Iziol returned a laugh. ‘Thankfully, he’s on our side. But you know, if it came down to it, I bet Dimas could take him.

Well, I admire your confidence,’ said Garovel.

That made Iziol laugh again, and with the two added members, their party of six proceeded onward together. Emiliana tried to share her umbrella with Dimas, but he was so much taller than her that she almost poked his eye out. The man chose to hold the umbrella for the both of them, instead.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Page 948

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Hey!’ Chergoa yelled. ‘Are you finally awake, you big doofus?!

Garovel gave a weak laugh, still sounding exhausted. ‘Good to see you, baby sister.

Chergoa snorted and nodded to Hector and Emiliana. ‘Told you, didn’t I?

What did you tell them?’ said Garovel.

That the first thing you’d do would be reassert your status as the older sibling.

Agh. Gimme a break. I’m tired, and I was expressing how pleased I am to finally see you again. And you ARE my little sister, aren’t you?

Yeah, by like one year! One out of--’ She hesitated. ‘How old are we again?

Three thousand something, I think.

See? You don’t even know.

Don’t need to. Even if you were infinity years old, I’d still be infinity plus one.

What the hell are you doing here, anyway?

Did Hector not tell you?

No, he didn’t. Great servant you got here, by the way. Can’t even answer a simple question.

Hey. Don’t make fun of Hector. I didn’t make fun of your freaky-lookin’ mutant girl.

Whoa! Take that back, you asshole!

Or what?

“Garovel,” said Hector, realizing he should intervene before this escalated into another four hundred years of them not seeing each other. “Apologize.”

Garovel required a moment of reluctance before granting an admissive nod and turning to Emiliana. ‘Ah... I’m sorry, young lady. You aren’t a freaky-looking mutant. In fact, you actually look kind of badass with that mask on. I was just upset because your reaper is a terrible person who eats babies and steals from the poor.

Alright, that’s enough,’ said Chergoa. ‘Tell me what you’re doing here, already.

We’re here for YOU, you dingus. We ran into Axiolis in Kuros, and he informed us of the monumental shitstorm you’ve gotten yourself involved in. And naturally, being the wonderful, selfless people we are, we decided to--

Okay, okay. Hector, thank you for all your help. Garovel, go fuck yourself.

Wow, watch your language. There are young people present, you know.

You literally just said “shitstorm.”

Yeah, but when I swear, it’s funny and endearing. When you do it, it’s inappropriate and childish.

She glanced at Emiliana. ‘See this? See what I have to put up with?

But Emiliana seemed more interested in something else Garovel had said. “You met with Axiolis? Do you know where he is?”

Page 947 -- CVIII.

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I remember the last time some jerkhead crashed it,’ said Parson. ‘Agh! That was such a pain in the butt to fix!

Exactly,’ said Overra. ‘I mean, sure, we have other folks safeguarding that sort of thing nowadays, but eh. Whatever. Two birds, one stone.

I gotcha. Though, the Garzas certainly won’t be happy when Zeff tells them what we did.

Yeah, well. Greater good ‘n all that.

So how upset do you think Sanko will be with us?

What do you mean? We didn’t do anything wrong. Socorro wanted to surrender, but Zeff and Angie went crazy and killed her for betraying them.


In fact, they went SO crazy that they achieved emergence multiple times, which is what allowed them to wound us and escape.

Hmm. You really think she’ll buy that?

Almost definitely not. But she won’t be able to prove anything. And that woman is all about the proof. At the very least, we should be able to avoid a court martial. And if not, well, Lamont’ll help us out.

He’d probably be even angrier than Sanko.


Chapter One Hundred Eight: ‘Thy ancient likeness...’
Click to display entire chapter at once -- (mobile link)

It had taken a while for the hostilities to finally end. Informing everyone of the ceasefire had been proven quite the undertaking. Without any working phones or coms, they had to search Marshrock for their allies and inform them in person, and they encountered a few Blackburns along the way who had definitely not gotten the news yet. Not that it was too big a problem. Hector and Emiliana didn’t have to do anything other than carry their unconscious friends, while Asad participated in a series of civilized discussions that definitely didn’t end with anyone being splattered against the ceiling like a bag full of chicken bones and a very old curry.

In time, they found a platoon of Sebolts with working coms, and from there, word of the ceasefire began to spread much more quickly.

Not long into their venture, however, Chergoa realized that one of the unconscious reapers in Hector’s grasp was her brother. But Hector’s thoughts had been so preoccupied with the new aberration he’d seen that he’d nearly forgotten about Garovel’s sister, and when she started bombarding him with questions, the young Lord Goffe found himself settling into old habits and falling painfully silent.

She didn’t seem to appreciate that much.

Thankfully, though, after only three hours of awkwardness, Garovel began to stir.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Page 946

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Wow,’ the reaper said privately. ‘That went even better than planned!

I know, right?! I thought for sure we’d have to let him escape!

Dang. When was the last time ANYTHING went better than planned?

Hmm, not sure. Lac’Vayce went really well... until everyone died.

Yeah, but that one wasn’t even our plan,’ said Overra.

I know, but I still feel kinda responsible.

Mm. But anyway! How about that triple emergence from Zeff, eh?! I know he hates us, but I’m so proud of him!

Oh, I know! I really didn’t think he had it in him! Frankly, I was happy with just the double. I only kept pushing him ‘cuz we had so much extra time on our hands, and then he went and did THAT. Just--agh! Beautiful.

And he was even smart enough to flee instead of trying to fight us! That was one of my biggest concerns!

Oh yeah! It would’ve been so annoying if he’d just decided to throw his life away!

Overra laughed. ‘Ah, Zeff, you darling boy. Now I feel kinda bad for all those mean things we said to him.

Yeah. But nobody ever got stronger by listening to comforting lies.


They arrived at the crumbling bridge that the Rainlords had been using to escape. Parson had been taking Zeff away from Rheinhal, rather than toward it. It would have been annoying if Sanko interrupted them, after all. Now that the bridge was out, however, he had to briefly merge with Overra again in order to fly over it. They resumed walking afterwards, knowing that they would tire themselves out if they used pan-rozum for too much longer. Parson stuffed his hands in the pockets of his ragged white overcoat and began whistling the tune to Turkey in the Straw.

By the way,’ he said, ‘why did we decide to kill Socorro? I can’t remember.’ Now that he wasn’t sharing his mind with Overra, all knowledge that had been acquired during the hyper state had been split between the two of them.

Oh, that was mainly to rile Zeff and Angie up--but also, because platinum materialization is way too risky to leave unattended. That woman could’ve crashed the Continental Market by herself if she’d wanted to.

Ah, right. Good call.

With everything else going on right now, we really didn’t need that as an extra variable. And with their backs to the corner, who knows what the Rainlords would’ve done?

Page 945

The burst of water seemed to catch Parson off guard and ripped into the man’s air currents, including the ones composing his own body. The water didn’t touch Zeff, but the shock wave that it created did, and the Rainlord found himself suddenly falling.

But he was free. Finally. And he could see the two reapers, as well. Parson had lost his grip on them, since they had not been affected by the purely physical blast. Zeff had bought them precious few moments. The reapers could try to flee, of course, but as Parson had proved earlier, they did not possess the speed to escape this enemy.

Zeff, however, could. Or at least, his instincts told him that he could. Fighting Parson and actually winning? Certainly not. The difference in soul power was too great. But escaping? With the power of emergence coursing through him and with a head start of a few seconds, that seemed abruptly possible.

He raised an upward-moving platform of ice beneath himself. And kept raising. “To me!” he called out, and both reapers rushed to meet him. He grabbed one with each hand as he shot past them on his growing platform, bending it horizontally.

By now, he had more speed, but it still wasn’t enough for him. He could do more. He knew he could. And when he pressed his mind harder, the jump in acceleration was so violent that he felt a dozen bones snap at once.

And then he was flying. On an icy rocket that arched across the sky, he was flying.

Still, he knew that he could do more.

He removed the cooling aspect from the ice so that he could focus everything on velocity. Water exploded forth on a sideways geyser, growing perpetually forward so as to never lose any of its initial power or momentum.

Then, he finished merging with Axiolis. The added control that pan-forma afforded him was the final push. The speed jumped another time, and Zeff felt the punch of the sonic boom as he rocketed toward the rain clouds in the distance.


Wide-eyed and grinning, Parson watched Zeff zoom away. He didn’t bother giving chase and instead chose to land. Overra melted out of his body, and Parson let out a weary breath, wiping the sweat from his brow. He started the long walk back toward Rheinhal as Overra kept pace behind him.

Page 944

Thankfully, Axiolis was there to ask the question that Zeff couldn’t. ‘Parson, what are you saying?

Parson abruptly stopped flying. “I’m saying... well, I’m sure you’ve been wondering, right? Why all of this suddenly happened to you and your family? Why it seemed like the Vanguard just betrayed you out of nowhere? What I’m saying is... it was me. I fabricated the entire incident with Gema’s apparent treason and subsequent disappearance. I mean, she’s good, but there’s no way she could’ve avoided the Vanguard this whole time without a bit of help from someone with clout, right?”

Zeff shut his eyes. He focused on the old well as he listened. Focused on his anger and hatred and everything wrong with the world. Focused on what he needed.

“Well, Zeff? Do you understand what I’m saying? I set this all in motion. Oh, but perhaps you’re still wondering why? Like I said earlier, there are multiple reasons, really, but the primary reason is because you have wicked blood in you. And even though I don’t have a problem letting you live--because I know you’re a good guy--I still can’t really take that same risk with your children. They could become real problems when they get older, see? So I have to make sure they die before that happens--preferably without being labeled a child killer, myself. For the greater good, you--”

But by now, Zeff had stopped hearing him. And for the third time that day, he felt it. The response. Fiercer, perhaps, than ever in his life. The old well was gone. It had exploded, and now a volcano of steam and water resided there in its place.

A wave of power and clarity coursed through him, urging him onward, telling him to do something impossible.

The air currents held him fast, even more so than before, preventing the slightest movements of his arms and legs and neck and back, preventing even his lungs from contracting.

But he could still move his face. He could still blink. So that’s where he poured his concentration.

A huge volume of water materialized. But it was all packed into a single point. He didn’t press his soul into it, but he did press as much velocity into it as he could possibly muster. And for the direction in which the water would move, Zeff chose all of them. Three hundred and sixty degrees.

The result, just as he’d imagined, was an explosion.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Page 943

As he writhed there, Zeff could not understand why the bastard was taking so long to kill them. Parson had always been an absurd motormouth, but Zeff had never known the man to gloat. This was pure cruelty and stupidity. Ridiculous. All it did was make the old well boil another time.

“I know it’s a bit late for a lecture,” Parson was still saying, “but I hope some of this is sinking in. Oh, but I should commend you for one thing, at least. In spite of all the other mistakes you’ve made, you were correct to not allow Sanko to investigate you. That would not have gone your way. I assure you. For many reasons. One of which is named Blackburn. But I suppose that’s neither here nor there. Let’s see, what else did I want to talk about? Umm... hmm...”

Evangelina’s whole body began to sizzle and burn at once. She might have been immobilized and weakened, but the explosive potential of sulfur transfiguration was not to be ignored, even by Parson. If she empowered the blast with her soul, he would die along with the rest of them. And of course, if Parson was going to kill them anyway, then the Rainlords didn’t have much to lose.

And by the sudden look in the Cpt. General’s eyes, Parson understood these facts instantly. A surge of wind propelled the woman away at the very last moment, and the explosion detonated in a searing flash, ripping through one of the bridge’s center columns. Dozens of cables snapped free at once and whipped around like giant snakes as Parson and all of his captives went soaring across the crumbling structure, pursued by a trail of smoke.

But captives, they still were. Parson retained his grip on Zeff, Axiolis, and even Evangelina’s reaper.

“Whew!” said Parson. “So impatient! Always was her problem! And what a temper!” He’d regained control and started flying with Zeff stuck in front of him. “Not like you, Zeff. In fact, you had too much patience, didn’t you? Never did learn how to strike while the iron was hot. Always needed that extra push.”

Still, Zeff tried to attack with ice. And still, it was fruitless.

“Well, it’s okay,” said Parson. “Because Gema isn’t like you. She’s better than you ever were.”

And Zeff stopped attacking and just stared with hard, wide eyes at the man’s deceptively young face.

“That’s right, Zeff. Gema works for me. I know exactly where she is. I’ve known all along.”

Page 942

Socorro doubled over onto the pavement, hands spread wide as her breathing turned irregular and the muscles in her body began to twitch. Then a blade of wind split her head down the middle, and a gale picked her body up and sent it flying over the side of the bridge, leaving her to fall into the empty gorge below.

The old well erupted once more, and Zeff felt the response another time. He clenched both fists at once, and a boiling tidal wave fell upon Parson, converting to steam in midair as it tried to melt the man alive.

A whirlwind blew it all away.

And Parson smiled. “There’s that devil’s blood in your veins! A second emergence!”

Spikes of ice now. Hundreds all at once, shooting at Parson from every conceivable direction as if fired from hundreds of invisible guns. A whirlwind took them, too, and then came for Zeff and Evangelina, propelling them both skyward and holding them there with pressurized air currents.

“Too bad it’s still not enough,” said Parson, rising to look him in the eye. “Story of your life, eh? Always a step behind. Always needing someone to hold your hand and protect you, despite acting like you’re the one doing the protecting. And Angie--oh, you’re even worse than him!”

Hardly able to move, Zeff clenched his teeth and finally just yelled, “Why are you doing this?! Parson! What possible reason could you--?!” But the sentence went unfinished as oxygen flew directly into his lungs and filled his chest nearly to the point of bursting.

And Parson gave a snort. “Reason? Singular? Dear boy, you really did learn nothing from me, didn’t you? Never run with any plan in which there is only one desirable outcome. Fundamentals, Zeff. There’s no substitute for a good grasp of the fundamentals.”

Zeff and Evangelina both struggled there in vain. The soul-strengthened air currents might as well have been concrete.

But of course, Parson wasn’t done talking. “Ah, well. It doesn’t really matter, anyway. Because it’s not about the plan. It’s never about the plan. It’s about what you do when the plan blows up in your face--how you react to unexpected problems. Because plans fail all the time, especially the complicated ones. That’s why it’s so important to leave yourself some wiggle room--so that you can improvise later. You understand?”

Friday, January 9, 2015

Page 941 -- CVII.

--Wednesday donation bonus (Page 3/3)--
Chapter One Hundred Seven: ‘Thy strangling breath...’
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The fight came quickly. And ended nearly as fast.

The objective wasn’t to win. With only the three of them, a battle against Parson Miles was unfavorable, to say the least. And so, if defeat was all but guaranteed, then the most important task at hand was to ensure someone was able to escape to Luzo and warn everyone else. With that goal in mind, the trio of Rainlords stopped using pan-forma all at once and let their reapers flee underground in separate directions.

This was a mistake, they soon realized.

Rather than attacking them, Parson whipped his own body into a tornadic fury, becoming a veritable blade of gale force winds that carried the strength of his and Overra’s soul. And with that blade, he barreled straight into the ground, kicking up a cloud of swirling dust that became a whirlwind unto itself.

No more than a minute later, Parson returned to surface with all three reapers in his clutches.

Parson descended slowly, accumulating into the form of a man once more and watching the Rainlords carefully as he landed on the bridge with them. Perhaps he was waiting to see if they would force him to kill their reapers right then and there. They didn’t.

“Have you all calmed down?” Parson asked.

None answered.

“Mm. Really, though, you should have known better. Lady Garza, sure, you have the excuse of never having been Vanguard, but Zeff and Angie? We spent years together. And yet even now, you underestimate us?”

Zeff could feel the old well boiling again.

“But then again,” Parson went on, “Rainlords never do make very good tacticians. All that honor and bloodlust mixed together. Small wonder why you always seem to make the wrong decisions.”

Evangelina Stroud kept her voice level. “If you are going to take us prisoner, then please get on with it. I know how much you love to talk, but I would honestly rather be stuck in a holding cell for the next twenty years than listen to you yammer on for another five minutes.”

Parson chuckled with two voices. “Oh, Angie. Silly girl. Now that the Gargoyle isn’t watching, we can do as we please. Naturally, we’re not going to take you prisoner.”

Socorro’s reaper burst apart in a sudden gust of wind and evaporated into nothing.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Page 940

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At the speeds that Rayen’s body moved, a normal human would have been rent to dust. If it weren’t for Zeff’s passive soul defenses, he knew that he and Axiolis would not have survived, either.

Such were the limits of Rayen’s ability. She could move within one of two speed ranges: that of an unaided human, or that of pure light. Everything in between those two extremes was impossible. And unfortunately, this also meant that Rayen could not bring any of the weaker servants here without maiming or killing them. Even carrying reapers by themselves would not work because it was impossible for her to maintain a strong enough grip on them. If she tried, her soul would simply tear through the reaper, instead.

Moreover, the speed was a danger to Rayen herself, Axiolis knew, on top of being difficult to control. If she went too far with a single leap, her own body would break down, taking the merged souls with it. It was the same for every “light-wielder” who dared to use pan-rozum.

For now, Zeff would have to stifle his anger at Rayen for forcing him to retreat. He understood why she had done it, of course, but still. His and Axiolis’ collective pride wanted to rush back to the battlefield at that very moment.

But he didn’t. Reason won out as he helped the regenerating Evangelina to her feet and then did the same for Socorro. He tried to explain the abrupt change in circumstances.

And he remembered Rayen’s words. Twenty seconds, she had said. That didn’t seem like nearly enough time to wait before deciding on a full retreat. Zeff wasn’t even done talking to Socorro and Evangelina before time expired.

Nonetheless, they waited, and it very quickly became clear that Rayen was not going to return.

They had a decision to make.

“We must not delay,” said Socorro. “Rayen gave us the opportunity to run. We should trust her judgment and go.”

Zeff wanted to argue, and so did Evangelina, by the look on her face. But neither did. Difficult as it was to admit, Socorro was probably correct. Even if it meant abandoning all of their forces. Abandoning Francisco...

Socorro started walking, and after a fashion, the Lady Stroud and the Lord Elroy followed.

They had taken too long, however.

Zeff and Axiolis sensed someone approaching from the sky, moving at jet speed. Captain General Parson Miles was not going to let them flee so easily, it would seem.

Page 939

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The black shadow swirled around Octavia in a mad frenzy, dicing up the rocks it could get to; and the ones it couldn’t, it left to Octavia’s magnesium transfiguration. With pan-rozum, the little old woman was no more, replaced with a white hot flame that burned with such intensity as to render Zeff hardly capable of looking at it. Rocks soared into that bright core and were rendered to ash. And intermittently, a singularity would pop up as well and devour a chunk of the Gargoyle’s body.

She was a whirlwind of light and darkness now, exuding more power than Zeff had ever witnessed in a single Rainlord. He couldn’t tell what had become of Evangelina and Santos, but if they had gotten caught up in the middle of that chaos, then they were probably not faring so well right about now.

The ground beneath their fight sunk lower and lower as the Gargoyle continued consuming it, requiring more for her giant form as Octavia kept destroying it. But more and more, the Gargoyle was getting closer to that white hot flame, swarming it with increasing mass. And soon, the heart of the fire was no longer visible, engulfed too greatly in earth.

Then, in a blink, Rayen’s swirling form was there in front of Zeff, wrapping her plump arms around him. And in another blink, Zeff was suddenly standing on a bridge somewhere, confused. Until the acceleration sickness caught up to him. He bent over to retch, and for a moment, every muscle in his body felt like it had disintegrated. Pan-forma struggled to heal him, and Rayen said something, but Zeff didn’t catch it. When he looked up, she was gone, replaced with the half-smashed corpse of Evangelina Stroud.

After a beat, Rayen reappeared with Socorro Garza, who fell to her knees and heaved all over the pavement.

Rayen said something again, and this time, Zeff could actually hear it.

“We are going back for the others,” she said in two voices. “If we are gone longer than twenty seconds, run and do not look back.”

And before he could so much as protest, the woman was gone again, leaving only a trail of faintly visible light to indicate the direction she’d gone. It led toward a cityscape in the distance.

A cityscape. At the foot of an enormous mountain range.

Rheinhal, Zeff finally realized. The hilltop that appeared to be moving must have been Sanko. Rayen had carried the three of them to safety.

Page 938

A glowing cage materialized around Zeff in midair. He immediately felt the radiation degrading his body, slowing his movement, and he knew that it would spell the end for him if he stayed inside it for more than a few seconds. His water drill punched through, and Zeff fell toward the ground again.

Jaws of radium leapt up to meet him, and Zeff responded by filling the open maw with a sudden geyser. The water shot up with enough force to carry Zeff with it, removing him from danger. He caught himself with a twisting slope of ice, allowing him to create a path that brought him right back down to both feet again.

But Lawrence was there now--a figure of blue heat, looming directly in front of Zeff--and the radiation was at its most potent, destroying the Rainlord’s muscles and numbing each of his physical senses.

A platinum wrecking ball slammed into the General, but not before he grabbed Zeff’s arm. Rather than be taken along with Lawrence, however, the limb tore free, spewing blood and melted flesh from the gaping wound.

Even with pan-forma, Zeff needed a few extra moments to recover. The effects of soul-empowered radiation lingered still, and he could see his own skin forming a puddle of slop around his hands and knees. Lawrence, on the other hand, would be requiring no such time.

The Lady Socorro Garza picked up the slack. She hadn’t stopped attacking once, materializing boulder after boulder, pinballing the Vanguardian General around in an effort to keep him off balance. He seemed to have had enough of that, however, and punted the next boulder right back at her. It dematerialized before reaching her, and she started creating multiple boulders at once, all gunning for Lawrence from different directions. Lawrence met each of them with soaring blue lances, sparing one for Socorro as well. She barely managed to sidestep it, but a horizontal blade jumped out of its shaft at the last moment and slashed her neck and arm, very nearly decapitating her.

Then an earthquake interrupted, halting both attackers as they had to stop and steady themselves.

To Zeff’s amazement, the Madame Redwater had not yet fallen. She’d been holding off the Gargoyle for a solid minute without assistance, keeping the endless streams of rock at bay before they could smother and crush her.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Page 937

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Spikes of radium jumped out of Lawrence’s shell, and Zeff met them with a pair of pressurized water drills. Previously, he’d only been able to make them the size of his thumb, but now, the drills were bigger than each hand. So when Zeff pushed them into the spikes, they carved the radium down and left cracking holes in the wall, allowing the Rainlord to do the rest of the work with brute strength alone.

He punched through, and Lawrence was there, right in his face, having caught Zeff’s fist with his own radium-coated palm.

With both men wielding super strength, a brief hand-to-hand struggle occurred, and for a moment, they were able to look each other in the eye.

“I’m sorry for what I am about to do, Zeff.”

“Don’t apologize for dying, Lawrence.”

Zeff coated himself in spikes of his own, aiming to skewer the old man with them, but Lawrence released him and used a sudden block of radium to knock Zeff and his spikes back.

Zeff toppled back, bouncing atop a row of spires. A hail of platinum shards bought him time to find his footing again.

But the General did not press his attack yet, Zeff saw. Instead, Lawrence’s body flashed pristinely white as pan-rozum transformed him into pure radium. And his body did not tarnish with air exposure like normal radium did. Rather, it began to glow fiercely blue, even in this bright daylight.

And Zeff knew what that meant. Lawrence was pushing the radiation to absurd levels with the power of his soul. Already, Zeff could feel its debilitating effects, attacking his flesh on a cellular level, weakening muscles and hindering regeneration. This skill was the reason Lawrence was called the Blue Bear.

But Zeff was not in the mood to be intimidated. He lobbed another tsunami and followed in its wake, preparing to materialize another drill. A rapid series of platinum javelins came flying to his aid as well, providing extra support.

Lawrence’s glowing body pressed through the water, hissing inside a billowing cloud of steam, and the man launched a wall of radium spikes toward Zeff, each one glowing blue as well.

Zeff propelled himself out of their path with a vertical platform and pulled out his two-finger hand guns. Icy bullets burst forth as Zeff sailed through the air.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Page 936

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Before Zeff could press his attack any further, however, a tornado swirled down from the sky and whipped him and the other Rainlords into the air. Zeff coated himself in ice, but the oncoming blades of wind chiseled through it in rapid succession and slashed his flailing body from a hundred different angles.

Then he was free again, left to fall back down to the ground in peace. It was Rayen’s doing, he saw. She and Parson were both practically invisible, but their souls could be seen in direct conflict. A beam of ultraviolet light had gored a swirling vortex through its center, but somehow, the vortex was preventing that same light from escaping. A series of booms rang out as they struggled there in the sky, but Zeff had already turned away from their fight in order to focus on his own.

Evangelina and Santos had gone off to support Octavia, and so it was only Zeff and Socorro now, perched on a field of half-broken spires as they readied to face Xavier Lawrence.

After going up against Sanko and Parson, Lawrence almost seemed like an easy fight. But that was wrong, Zeff knew, and he reminded himself that this was not a man to be underestimated.

A radium dome arrived first, trying to bathe the two Rainlords in soul-enhanced radiation, but Zeff was ready with four enormous pillars of ice--more enormous than he had even intended them to be, in fact--and they knocked the dome away before it could do any damage.

Then came a bed of radium, instead, and Socorro and Zeff both platformed themselves away. Zeff’s platform, however, didn’t let up. It grew upward and sideways and then back down toward Lawrence with increasing speed. It was almost too fast, like flying on a rocket made of ice, and Zeff barely managed to maintain control.

But his reliance on only ice was limiting him, he realized. The decreased temperature made it more difficult to produce. So this time, he reached for water, as much of it as he could create.

And a tsunami appeared.

It reached nearly as high as the Gargoyle’s head and came crashing down on Lawrence, who merely shielded himself with a radium shelter. The water hissed angrily against the white metal, making it jostle from the sheer force of the wave, but the radium held strong nonetheless.

But Zeff already knew what he wanted to do next.