Monday, November 30, 2015

Page 1123

There came a tense period of silence as the two giants of Abolish stared at each other.

Xuan wondered what the others were thinking. Darktide was still maintaining pan-rozum somehow, but he and Zeff were only observing. It did seem like the Monster had come to their aid. Even if it didn’t make any sense, they were probably hoping they wouldn’t have to fight him.

The air shuddered around Gohvis. “You think you can stop me?” Something about the way he said it made it feel like the whole room was shaking.

Ivan seemed nonplussed, however. “Of course I can stop you,” he said plainly. “But that is beside the point. We both know that I do not need to do anything. Unless, of course, you want to make that old man of yours very angry with you.”

“Why would he be angry? I am here on his order.”

Ivan broke for a laugh. “Who do you think you are talking to? Beyond doubt, I know that to be a lie.”

“Is that so?”

“It is. But there’s no need for this dance. Attack me and prove me wrong.”

The Monster made no response.

“As I thought,” said Ivan, looking quite pleased with himself. “Now, why don’t you explain why you apparently care so much about the fate of these people?”

Gohvis did no such thing.

“I’m not unreasonable,” Ivan went on. “If it’s a good explanation, I might let you have them.”

Still, he remained silent.

Ivan nodded and stepped toward Darktide, whose vague mass rose to face him, launching a flurry of frozen javelins.

The Salesman waved his hand, and a translucent wave of blue knocked them aside, along with Darktide himself. Mercury splattered against the wall, and Melchor and Orric melted out separately, finally down for the count.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Page 1122

There was little doubt in Xuan’s mind that the man in yellow was Ivan, the Salesman of Death.

Gohvis, the right hand of Dozer. And Ivan, the right hand of Morgunov. What they were both doing here, Xuan had no idea, but he could feel the whole room change, somehow. Possibly the whole castle. It was like there was some sort of wall all around them, encompassing everyone. Trapping them. Judging from the soul, it was the Salesman’s doing.

It didn’t matter for Xuan so much. He and Duvoss weren’t about to get up and run away. The children, though...

Xuan had to do something. He pressed his palm against the floor, but he still didn’t have the strength to even push himself onto his knees.

Ivan stepped closer to Gohvis. “I believe I asked you not to interfere,” he said. “And yet, here I find you, punching my men--quite literally--into a different time zone. Do you know how annoying that is? Being lied to by your friend?”

The Monster returned a low-toned growl, and for the first time, his lipless, nearly invisible mouth opened. “Release me. Before I release myself.” He spoke with two voices, though they sounded a bit strange, perhaps because one was so inhumanly deep.

“Why? Are you afraid the blowback will harm these nice people here? I presume that is why you--”

“No.” And the Monster disappeared into thin air, only to reappear a few steps over with his huge hand wrapped around the yellow man’s throat.

“Ha.” A blue glow engulfed the Salesman’s neck and loosened the Monster’s grip, allowing Ivan to step back. “One day, you will have to explain to me how you do that.”

“Stay out of my way,” the Monster said.

“Stay out of mine,” the Salesman said.

Page 1121

Four Abolishers remained, but Gohvis stopped mid-punch in front of the next one. The guy blinked at the Monster’s torso in his face and staggered back, falling on his ass and trying to crawl away.

Gohvis didn’t move any more than that, as far as Xuan could tell, but a blue glow had gathered around his whole body. And after seeing what had become of Caster, no one in the room seemed brave enough to ask the Monster what he was doing another time. Instead, Xuan heard the ceiling groan and shift as Dunehall settled.

Xuan noticed that the sound of battle had ceased elsewhere as well. Previously, he’d been able to hear muffled gunfire or explosions, but no longer. That might well have been Gohvis’ doing, too. Even if they didn’t know who it belonged to, every reaper and servant in the building should have been able to feel this soul’s presence.

There came a loud crash from the next room over, and everyone but the Monster turned to look at the half-broken door leading there.

And Xuan blinked, sensing it again. A second one. There was another soul with that same oppressive aura in the building. Had it only just arrived? Or had he simply been too distracted by Gohvis’ soul to realize? Perhaps a bit of both.

The door opened, and a man stepped through. The door snapped from its hinges and fell on the floor. The man spared it a look of mild surprise. “Well, this sure has gotten messy,” he said.

He wore so much yellow that he looked like a banana. His hat, suit, and briefcase were all so bright that they bled into one another. Only his shoes, his thin tie, and the slim band around his hat broke the trend, all by being jet black.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Page 1120 -- CXXVII.

Darktide was having trouble getting back up as well, now. His mercury bristled like fur, trying to retain its shape.

The Abolishers arrived through the cavernous hole in the far wall, even more numerous than before. They moved to engage again.

But then everyone stopped. All at once. And Xuan saw why.

A new figure was standing there in the middle of the chamber. Pitch black and tall. Too tall. Taller than any person should be. And bearing a tail. Along with eyes that glowed deeply crimson.

Primarily, though, it was this pressure that had halted everything. This presence. How had Xuan not sensed it sooner? He should have been able to sense a soul this powerful from a mile off.

Caster was the first to break the silence. “What are you doing?” he asked with two voices. He sounded as confused as anyone.

The figure didn’t respond.

But he didn’t really need to. The Seadevil knew who this was. Practically anyone would. That inhuman physique. This imposing pressure. Those black scales. There could be no doubt.

This was the Monster of the East. This was Gohvis.

Chapter One Hundred Twenty-Seven: ‘O, dire Scourge...!’
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“Please do not ignore me,” said Caster. “I asked you a question. You are not supposed to--”

A huge black fist cut him off, and suddenly the Marauder was gone, sent flying diagonally through the ceiling. The hole he left behind didn’t stop on the next floor, either. Xuan could see blue sky through the rubble and sand.


The Monster moved so quickly that Xuan didn’t even see what happened to the next two Abolishers. They simply vanished into two more holes on either side of the ceiling.

The Seadevil’s eyes did, however, manage to catch the next three strikes. Two punches and a tail swipe. Two of the receiving Abolishers exploded into a cloud of blood and guts on impact, and the third joined the others through yet another hole in the ceiling.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Page 1119

Xuan writhed on the floor, gritting his teeth as he tried and failed to stand. He hated this. More than anything. Only being able to watch? No. He had to get up. He had to fight.

Liquid metal splashed across his vision as Darktide clashed with Caster. But it wasn’t just Caster, he realized. More Abolish trash had arrived. A half dozen unfamiliar souls were in the room with them now, all behind the Marauder. Xuan hadn’t even sensed them. What a failure, he’d become. Useless.

Four of them attacked alongside Caster, flanking Melchor. The lone Rainlord grabbed two and tore them both to pieces, but Caster barreled through the mercury like a bull.

Then came a flash of light. An explosion. Xuan couldn’t hear it, but he could feel it. The ground lifted out from under him, and a vague sense of movement enveloped him. He hit something. Probably the ground again. And when he looked out another time, he saw smaller figures.


His vision focused.

The Elroy kids. They hadn’t gotten out? No, there was a wall of debris in their way. The older girl was trying to punch and claw through it, but she looked unsteady. The younger girl was injured, and the boy was trying to set her down, probably to help the older one.

They needed help. But Xuan couldn’t provide it. He could only lay there, watching.

Darktide came splattering into view. Splotches of mercury hit the broken floor and puddled together, struggling to make their way back to the main body mass.

Zeff, Asad, Dimas, and all of their reapers oozed out of Darktide’s liquid form. Xuan had no idea how Melchor had managed to keep them safe. All but Zeff were unconscious.

The Lord Elroy punched the ground, trying to stand. He’d separated from his reaper, who now sat on his shoulder, apparently out cold like the others.

Page 1118

Xuan tried to concentrate, to understand what was happening, but it was a challenge even to stay conscious. Every muscle felt numb and sluggish, and his vision kept blurring in and out.

They’d pushed themselves too hard, his brain finally realized. He and Duvoss had known this might happen. Of course they had.

But that was how hyper state exhaustion worked, subtle and creeping and numbing. A quiet crevice between the two minds would form, and it was only too common for neither one to realize what was happening until it was too late.

And because he’d drifted, he didn’t know how much time had passed since the fight began, either. It could have been one minute; it could have been twenty.

It couldn’t have been that long, though, because he was still himself. Mostly. He hadn’t totally lost it and started attacking his own comrades, at least. That was something.

But that was definitely where his mind had been headed. He could still feel the lingering weight that had been growing in his soul a moment ago. A twisted mixture of despair and rage. If it had progressed to hunger, too, then...

He didn’t think about it. He needed to focus. What was happening?

He looked around. Everything was a mess. The room was unfamiliar. Had they moved? Of course they had. Where were they now? Too difficult to tell. Who was still fighting?

Asad and Qorvass were down, Xuan saw. The reaper was bleeding out of the Sandlord’s torso.

Zeff and Axiolis were on one knee--still alive and covered in thin trails of fog and ice. But they were struggling to hold it together. Their merge was probably going to end soon, if it wasn’t already happening.

Dimas? Xuan couldn’t see--no. There he was. Him and Iziol. On the ground behind Darktide.

Darktide was still standing? Still fighting? Of course he was. That ridiculous bastard.

Page 1117

Xuan had known people there, of course. He’d visited Melmoore several times in his youth. He’d been fond of Lac’Vayce in particular for its combination of lush tropical vistas and ancient cultural heritage. Sure, it had been something of a tourist trap, but that was probably why the locals were so absurdly welcoming and friendly.

He visited the battleground afterward. The Vanguard had walled the whole island off, but Xuan managed to get inside for a look.

Only a smoldering wasteland remained. Where once had been dozens of skyscraping hotels and office buildings, only a few piles of rubble stood. The very ground itself was mushy under his feet, even smoking and oozing in places. And the stench.

Indescribably awful.

He didn’t know why he was thinking about all this now.

No. On second thought, he did know. This was exactly why he hated being bored. It made him introspective; it brought out the old man in him. And all in all, there just weren’t enough good memories--not when compared with all the bad ones.

What a sour old fart, he’d become.

But wait.

Wait a minute.

This wasn’t supposed to be happening.

His mind was joined with Duvoss’.


It was perfectly fine to multitask.

Concentrate on two things at once.

But drifting like this.

These thoughts shouldn’t have felt so far removed.

This wasn’t right.


Where were Duvoss’ thoughts?

At this very moment, what was the reaper thinking?



Xuan seized control again. Smoke gathered, swirled, and his hand formed. It found his point of control, his merged mind, and pulled.

Duvoss came free, exhausted and unconscious.

The smoke shuddered and dispersed, giving way to Xuan’s small frame. He hit the floor with his reaper in hand and struggled there as his body refused to listen to him.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Page 1116

This was why he was unfit for leadership, Xuan knew. He didn’t have the temperament. Or rather, he didn’t want it. He could keep calm well enough. Think clearly well enough. But the fight was all he really cared about. Because that was what it always came down to. In the end, the fight was what mattered most. Diplomacy might win the day, but there was always tomorrow. The fight was inevitable.

And that was why, he realized. That was why he’d changed. He remembered that lesson well. Field Marshal Kane had tried to teach it to him. It took Abolish for him to truly understand, though.

Quite possibly the greatest diplomatic victory of his life. Working directly under Kane. A very delicate mission in Hoss, Vantalay, and the recently-emerged state of Steccat. All three countries had been flirting with war for a good five years or so, and Abolish had been doing its damnedest to help them make the final push.

Kane’s task force grew by leaps and bounds during that time, learning new tactics, relearning old ones, refitting itself to become one of the most flexible paramilitary units in the world. By the time all was said and done, Xuan had fought Abolish in almost every conceivable manner--as a counter-terrorist, as an ambassador, as a bodyguard, as a propaganda officer, as a spy, as a negotiator, as a mediator, even as a mailman and a deli shop employee.

It was some of the hardest, strangest, and most rewarding work he’d ever been a part of. Without a doubt, Kane and his men saved tens of thousands of lives, if not more.

And the very next week, after returning home to Waterbreak in Roth for the first time in over four years, Xuan heard the news.

Lac’Vayce. A million dead in less than three days of fighting.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Page 1115

The fight with Darktide had been much more satisfying. Now there was a well-rounded opponent. And that name. A bit superfluous, really. “Melchor” was intimidating enough already.

As Xuan recalled, Melchor had gotten that name after going on a number of vengeful killing sprees many years past. For his fallen brethren. That was the kind of man Melchor was, the kind he’d always been. Even as a child. Xuan had only met him a few times in those early days, but he remembered that same severity, the same humorless demeanor.

But now that he was thinking about it, Xuan had been that way, too. They all had, really. Back then, the life of a young male Rainlord was even harder than it was now. None of this waiting until adolescence to become a servant. If you could walk, you could fight. And all the rituals. All the trials. Drowning, studying, fighting, training--all while maintaining the appearance of a sophisticated gentleman, of someone with high moral fiber.

And of course, they had to watch their elders fall in battle. One after another. Year in and year out. Death upon death. Some sacrificed themselves, trying to secure the next generation. Some died honorably in glorious battle. Others were simply murdered in cold blood.

Melchor hadn’t changed. He was a product of his time--perhaps made a bit pricklier by his kin frowning upon homosexuals during his formative years, but still a product of his time nonetheless.

No, it was Xuan who’d changed. And he wasn’t sure when that had happened, exactly. Or why.

Oh, but he was getting lost in thought. He checked back in on Caster.

Eh, it was the same as before. Duvoss was doing a fine job.

Maybe it was just all the loss, Xuan wondered. It certainly made life easier to just embrace the chaos and the blood, rather than letting it bring him down again and again. And again. And still again.

So many friends, he’d had. A hundred years’ worth.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Page 1114

The continuous streams of destruction were certainly impressive as far as demonstrations of skill went, but the thing was, they couldn’t actually destroy smoke. The concussive force of the destruction type was certainly powerful, but it was also slow by comparison to, say, a soul-empowered explosion, which could disperse Xuan’s smoke very rapidly in all directions and thereby shred his soul.

Essentially, the only thing a destruction user could do to Xuan was push his smoke around. The molecular structure of gaseous matter made it a perfect counter to everything the Marauder wanted to do.

And that wasn’t very exhilarating.

The only obstacle to victory here was reaching the Marauder’s mind. Since he’d more or less become a being of living destruction, his one weak point in pan-rozum was going to be well protected.

But that wouldn’t make much difference, either, so long as Xuan kept him smothered.

And so the fight unfolded. Xuan and Duvoss’ two minds sat there in the phosphorus fumes, examining Caster’s body, searching for the weak point. Caster could send waves of destruction through the smoke, which certainly still threatened Zeff, Asad, and Melchor, but Duvoss had them covered. A blatant, arrow-shaped smoke signal would shoot out and warn their comrades whenever an attack from Caster was imminent.

And soon enough, Xuan found the weak point. A speck in the Marauder’s soul. Xuan could attack himself, but Darktide could hit harder, so he created an opening in his smoke and pointed the old bastard to it. Sure enough, soul-empowered javelins of frozen mercury flew into the opening and smashed against the Marauder’s body.

But even with Darktide’s help, this would be slow going. Caster had been declawed, but it would be a while before his defenses crumbled.

Which was why Xuan grew bored so quickly. This wasn’t a fight so much as an exercise in tedium. It was enough to make his mind wander in the midst of it. Duvoss was still there anyway, and he’d always had more patience for these kinds of things.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Page 1113

He decided to accept Ibai’s offer. He had a bit of trouble with the left leg. The whole left side of his body still felt a little sluggish and weird, but he powered through.

Ibai didn’t seem too concerned about having to run around in his underwear. If anything, he looked happier.

Before Hector even realized it, they’d teleported again, and he saw a group of vaguely familiar faces huddled in the corner. Non-servant Rainlords, they were. Sebolts, he was pretty sure.

“By the way,” said Ibai, “I wanted to ask. You seem fairly experienced. Have you been on many adventures?”

The question might as well have been in another language for all the sense it made to Hector at the moment. He just concentrated on gathering the Rainlords around Ibai.


Xuan Sebolt could not have been more disappointed.

When he’d heard Ibai talk about how Caster Egmond was in the building, he’d immediately gotten his hopes up. The famed Marauder of Calthos? Opportunities like that didn’t come along every day. This could have been his most satisfying fight in a dozen years, especially since he wasn’t even fully recovered from Marshrock yet. The desperate and exhausting battles were always the best.

If only the Marauder hadn’t turned out to be a destruction user.

Xuan almost pitied the man. It wasn’t like destruction was a categorically inferior ability or anything. Obviously, it was very potent and deadly, and most servants were right to fear pan-rozum users who had it. But none of that applied to the Seadevil.

Caster hadn’t even seemed to realize it yet. But then, that wasn’t so surprising. There weren’t very many servants in the world who could wield a gas the way Xuan could.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Page 1112

“Hello again, my one black friend,” said Ibai. “You seem to be having a hard time.”

Hector grunted as Ibai set him down. His freshly regenerated lung squished against the stone floor, not yet having a rib cage to protect it.

“I’m sorry it took us so long to come help,” the aberration went on. “I’ve been a bit busy, what with all the sabotage and so forth. But now we’ve got a moment to rest.”

It made sense, Hector realized. “You’re the reason the Marauder couldn’t find Darktide and the Seadevil.”

“The Marauder?”

“That Caster guy.”

“Oh, him. Yes. I figured Abolish would go for them first. They are our strongest combatants, but they were also unconscious and vulnerable. If I didn’t hide them and wake them up, this battle would have been a foregone conclusion, I think.”

Hector understood. He wondered if Ibai’s sabotage hadn’t also had something to do with their assailants no longer being invisible.

“Where is your reaper?” Ibai asked.

Here.’ Garovel’s skull peeked up through the floor.

“Please come with me,” said Ibai.

Where to?

“To gather the non-combatants. I would like to take as many as I can to safety, and your help would be appreciated.”


He’d just about finished regenerating and was trying to find his footing again. In truth, he still felt a little woozy. His thoughts were largely clear, but there was a certain light-headedness that was throwing him off. “Sure,” he said.

“...Are you okay?” said Ibai.

Hector closed his eyes, concentrating. “Yes,” he said. When he opened them again, Ibai had no pants on.

The aberration stood there in his underwear, offering his belted trousers to Hector. “You should have these.”

Hector’s own pants had been shredded, of course, along with his shirt. The left leg was completely gone, and Hector didn’t need to look down in order to tell that half his junk was hanging out.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Page 1111

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Hector started crawling toward Asad through the shower of shattered stone, but the Lord Najir was already standing up again, visibly broken bones shifting back into place with the heightened speed of pan-forma.

The man’s tattoos, however, were flickering. The golden glow had been constant before, so long as Asad was sustaining damage, but now it seemed to be lagging. Fewer of them were leaping from his body, as well, and the look on Asad’s face spoke of disorientation.

And through the fresh hole in the debris, Hector could see the distant Marauder’s translucent form moving toward them.

Hector already knew he wouldn’t be able to do anything, but impulse told him to try anyway. He let go of the shard in order to thrust his hand out and concentrate on a barricade of iron walls. However, even his low expectations were not met, because no wall materialized. With a confused blink, he tried again, and this time, he managed to create a faint spray of dust.

His eyes widened as he realized. This was what Rasalased had meant by being weakened.

Garovel, you need to run,’ Hector thought.

Don’t worry about me,’ the reaper said.

And Hector was about to wonder where Garovel even was right now, but something else stole his attention.

Between Asad and the oncoming Marauder, a flash of brown swirled into existence, then promptly vanished, leaving three figures behind. Hector recognized them immediately.

Ibai Blackburn, Darktide, and the Seadevil.

Hector could only stare, but the two Rainlord juggernauts wasted no time. Billowing smoke and liquid metal charged headlong toward Caster.

Hector braced himself for another explosion, but Ibai was suddenly in front of him, grabbing him by the shoulder, and teleporting him away. Hector barely remembered to scoop the shard back up in time.

The brown shadow dispersed as quickly as it had come, but they were in a new room now. And the explosion did indeed arrive a moment later, shaking perhaps the entirety of Dunehall, but for once, Hector didn’t find himself getting caught in the blast radius.

Page 1110 -- CXXVI.

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Chapter One Hundred Twenty-Six: ‘O, burning Sea...!’
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Hector felt at once as if he were waking from a dream while also sliding off a cliff. Lethargic and rushing. Fleeting sensations of up and down movement. Both pleasant and uncomfortable.

Then reality came bleeding back in. Sight and smell. Taste and touch. Balance and sound and motion and pressure. Everything was there.

He had a body again. Or some of one, at least. A huge chunk of his torso was gone, as if some giant had taken a bite out of him, leaving a cavernous and bloody hole where his left arm, leg, and most of his rib cage should have been.

That wasn’t quite how he remembered leaving it.

But he was still regenerating. He’d become little more than a crumpled heap on the floor, but the vigor hadn’t worn off just yet.

The sound of fighting echoed distantly, shaking the floor, loosening dusty debris from the ceiling.

“Garovel?” he tried. It came out coughing, but he was still mildly surprised by his own voice. It sounded almost foreign to him. And he was pretty sure one of his lungs was missing.

I’m here,’ the reaper said. ‘You don’t look so good, friend.

He felt a shard in his one hand. It made him smile briefly as he wondered how the hell he’d managed to keep hold of it. He rolled over, trying to look around while he waited for his stomach to grow back.

He’d ended up in a cubbyhole of sorts. Whatever this room was before, it was so annihilated now that its walls were just piles of rubble. Maybe it wasn’t even a room. It could’ve been a hallway, for all he knew.

“Alright,” he said, tasting blood in his mouth. “Tell me what to do, Garovel.”


He was interrupted by Asad flying through a wall of debris.

Page 1109

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Emiliana decided to speak up. ‘Do you know what is happening outside right now?


The fighting, I mean. You can sense it? My father and everyone?

Of course.

She hesitated. ‘Do you know who is going to win?

Rasalased fell quiet a moment. ‘No. There are too many choices. But without all of you there, I predict the Marauder will be victorious. He will have much help.

Without us?’ said Emiliana. ‘What difference can we make?

What, indeed.

Hector saw that one coming, though he was surprised there was no mention of holding true or whatever.

I have another question,’ said Emiliana.

The answer is no,’ said Rasalased.

What? But--

You cannot stay here,’ he elaborated. ‘That was your question, no? You wish to stay and meditate. To grow. And return stronger. This is a reasonable desire. But you must not.

Why?’ said Emiliana. ‘If we’re stronger, we can help. And time is slower in here, so--

Time is not time. If you remain with me, my soul will consume yours. You will all disappear.

Oh,’ said Garovel. ‘Well, that’s unfortunate.

Thank you for telling us,’ said Chergoa, ‘rather than letting us find out the hard way.

I suppose that explains why you can read our thoughts,’ said Garovel. ‘Because they’re slowly becoming YOUR thoughts, hmm?

Yes,’ said Rasalased. ‘I must release you now. I wish you well. Each of you.

Anything else to tell us before we go?’ asked Garovel.

You will be weakened.


Resist, but do not fight. Hold true and see.


The world shuddered, blackness and perception trembling together.

And Hector tried to brace himself.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Page 1108

Er, uh,’ Hector tried, ‘you, um... you mentioned someone earlier. Someone you thought was unworthy of your help?

I remember.

W-who was that?

Rasalased took a moment to answer. ‘Ease your mind. It was not the Lion you know. It was his predecessor.

Hector couldn’t deny that he’d been thinking about that. He’d only known Asad for a few days, but in those few days, Hector didn’t think he’d seen anyone show more strength, compassion, and integrity than that man. Remembering it all made Hector worry for him now. Asad hadn’t been doing too well the last time he saw him.

I would like to meet the new Lion,’ said Rasalased. ‘I hope you will help him live long enough.

Uh--I’d like to, but I’m not sure, uh... I mean, how can I help him?

Hold true, see, and understand.

Uh...’ Hector wasn’t too big a fan of these vague instructions, either. It was funny when Garovel was the victim of them, but not so much now. ‘Are you, um... are you really able to see the future?

Do you believe I am?’ said Rasalased.

The question caught him a bit off guard. ‘Uh. I don’t know. Er. I mean, that’s why I asked...

And the Dry God chortled. ‘So it is.

Hector didn’t know what was funny, but he was more surprised that Rasalased could even laugh in the first place. Everything the Dry God said sounded so serious. Apart, perhaps, from that moment when he’d realized that Emiliana was a Rainlord, but even that hadn’t been laughter.

In truth,’ Rasalased went on, ‘no, I do not see the future. I see only the present. But I see it clearly and thoroughly. And the present knows the past. Combined, this knowledge may predict the direction of the world, if only briefly.

...I don’t understand,’ said Hector.

Unsurprising. It is not for the young to perceive.

...Does that mean I’ll be able to see the future when I’m older?

It is not seeing the future.

...It kind of is, though, isn’t it?

Rasalased laughed again.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Page 1107

Brother dear,’ said Chergoa, ‘let’s try not to anger the ancient warrior god who’s able to manipulate our souls, shall we?

That’s a fair point,’ said Garovel. ‘But I don’t think there’s much point in tiptoeing around him. Not when he’s already staring into our souls and passing judgment on us.’

Yeah, well, even so--

You need not fear me,’ said Rasalased. ‘I will not harm you.

See? What a nice guy. Aside from all the interrupting, he’s actually quite--

Young Rainlord.

Um--yes?’ said Emiliana.

What is this shadow on your soul?’ said Rasalased.

It was her turn to sound confused. ‘Uh. I don’t know what you mean.

A dark thread,’ said the Dry God. ‘Something watches you from afar.

What? What’s watching me?

A demon.’ There came a pause. ‘Powerful. He senses me, as I sense him. He blocks my sight. He does not wish me to know his soul. But he comes for you. That much, I could see.

...Does he have a name?’ Emiliana asked. But she didn’t sound especially surprised, Hector noticed.

He hid it from me,’ said Rasalased.

Well, that sounds wonderful,’ said Chergoa. ‘Anything else you can tell us?

You are all caught in a storm,’ said Rasalased. ‘Strength of arms will not avail you.

You don’t say,’ said Chergoa. ‘I don’t suppose you could help us with that somehow, hmm?

I cannot. But hold true, and you will see my blessing.


I advise you: do not fight. Resist, but do not fight. Hold true and see.

Hector just heard Garovel sigh.

A long silence followed--so long that Hector thought that might be the end of it. There was still more he wanted to know, but he wasn’t sure if he should--

Ask your question, Young Hector.

That one was really fucking creepy, Hector felt.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Page 1106

Are you done?’ said Garovel. ‘We didn’t come here to have our worthiness measured.

Yes,’ said Rasalased, ‘you found yourselves here by chance and are now trapped. And you wish me to do something about that, I assume?

Would that even be possible?’ said Garovel.

Of course. I will free you all once your souls have finished tempering.

That left a brief silence in its wake.

...Excuse me?’ said Chergoa. ‘What do you mean “tempering”?

Did you not notice? Garovel, for instance. He was exhausted and unconscious upon his arrival here, and yet now, he is perfectly well.

Wait,’ said Garovel. ‘Your soul was dormant when we arrived. How could you know that I was--?

Time is not time,’ said the Dry God.

Right,’ said Garovel. ‘If that’s true, then why are we “waiting” for this tempering of yours to finish?

We are not waiting. We are talking. The tempering will finish after we are done.

But then--’ said Garovel. ‘Wouldn’t that mean--? What? Does that mean you’re controlling when the tempering finishes?

Am I? Perhaps I am. It matters little. Time is not time.


Chergoa tried to intervene. ‘I’d like to know more about what this tempering--

Young Hector,’ said Rasalased. ‘What is this that you have brought me? I sense its residue in your soul, so it must be yours.

Hector was confused. ‘Uh...?

An offering? Very kind of you. But then, you ARE very kind, aren’t you? I see that, too. A deserving young soul, yours is. In need of help. But I have no use for gifts. I have no use for anything.

Please don’t ignore me,’ said Chergoa. ‘Tell us what you mean when you say our souls are tempering.

Recovering,’ said Rasalased. ‘Simple. You were exhausted. Now you are not. But for the young ones there, it means more.

...Go on.’

You will see.


You may be angry with me at first. But hold true, and you will see.

I’m sorry,’ said Garovel. ‘You’re not being cryptic enough for my tastes. Could you add in something about believing in ourselves when the time is right?

Time is not--

Not time, yeah, I got it, thanks.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Page 1105

Do you remember the last person you talked to?’ asked Garovel.

I remember everything,’ said Rasalased. ‘Al’raml yatahmmaluh.

Ah,’ said Garovel. ‘“The sand endures.” Indeed, it does.

A petulant whelp, the last one was. Believed the blessing alone made him worthy. But I learned my lesson after the three. I looked into his soul and saw him truly. Saw his dreams. His intentions. His secrets. Just like I am doing to all of you now.

Oh,’ said Garovel. ‘Is that so? Well, then. I would say that such a thing is impossible, but... aha, for you, it probably isn’t, is it?

My spiritual kin,’ said Rasalased. ‘Both of you. Very old, indeed.

Mm, you can sense that, huh?’ said Garovel. ‘Chergoa and I were born Lyzakks, yes.

Very troubled, as well,’ said Rasalased. ‘Very concerned. Very earnest. Selfless, in many ways. Ambitious, in others. Deceptive, too. Hungry for power. As all reapers are.



And the two young ones, let me see. Emiliana Eirwen Elroy. How anachronistic. Ha! A Rainlord! All is explained, then.

How do you know my--?

You, too, have a troubled spirit. Aching in all aspects. But also still being forged. Burning away remnants of selfishness. Of naivete, too. And there is deep worry. For yourself. For your kin. A terrible homesickness. You, child, have my sympathy.

Ah, um--

And the last one...

And Hector couldn’t stop himself. ‘Aw, shit,’ he thought aloud.

Hector Alexander Goffe,’ said Rasalased. ‘The mixed heritage of a common mongrel.

What the fuck do--?’ tried Garovel.

And such an incredibly weak soul. Troubled even by its own existence. Twice broken, now mending. Desperately reforging itself. And angry at its own workmanship. In dire search of purpose and fortitude.

Well, that hurt even more than he’d expected.

However,’ said Rasalased, ‘therein dwells supreme selflessness. And a curious strength in weakness. Almost indescribable. How strange, you are.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Page 1104

There came an unfamiliar voice from the abyss, but Hector couldn’t understand anything it was saying. It had to be speaking Valgan, he figured, but it didn’t sound much like when he’d heard Asad speak it.

Garovel answered the voice, also in Valgan, probably.

Chergoa was kind enough to keep them informed. ‘Yeah, that’s definitely the Dry God,’ she said. ‘Garovel is attempting to explain our circumstances, along with who we are.

Hector had about a thousand questions, but he certainly wasn’t going to interrupt.

Now he’s explaining what is presumably still going on outside. I’m not sure that’s wise, though. It might be better to take it slower and just--

Mohssian?’ came the unfamiliar voice. ‘You speak Mohssian?

YOU speak Mohssian?’ returned Garovel, sounding truly shocked.


When did you learn it?’ asked Chergoa.

When is when?


As a child, I learned. An inelegant language. Lazily structured. Full of hard noises.’ His accent was incredibly strong, but Hector had no trouble understanding him. Every word sounded quite deliberately chosen.

Emiliana decided to speak up. ‘How old are you now?

I do not understand the question.

Er...’ She took a second before trying again. ‘You just said that you have memories of your childhood. So do you know how much time has passed since then?

No,’ he said flatly.

Oh,’ said Emiliana.

Time is not time,’ said the Dry God.

What does that mean?’ said Chergoa.

Everything. It means everything.’

No one had a response for that, apparently.

Garovel chose to change the subject. ‘Rasalased. That is your name, yes? Rasalased?

Yes. No. It was. Once. Is it still? It should be. Yes. Time is not time.

Hector was beginning to get the picture.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Page 1103

Even so, he still tried. Maybe it was impossible to think in this state, but there was no harm in trying. Probably. He wasn’t sure of that, either, now that he was thinking about it.

Hold on. He WAS thinking now. And it felt strange. Like he’d wrapped a blanket around his mind, every thought cradled in an intangible headspace. It was strangely easy. But he still wasn’t solidifying each thought yet like he had to do when talking to Garovel privately. Maybe that would be the difference.

...Hmm,’ he tried.

And the whole world resounded with that one syllable. He sensed it--felt it. Each crack reverberated against his soundless voice, stirring all at once for a moment. But only for a moment.

...Is anyone there?’ said Hector.

And the world lit up again, trembling, echoing.

Please,’ Hector went on, ‘if you’re there, say something. Please.

The echo hardened and sustained itself. It grew. And grew. And grew still more. And Hector began to feel like he’d been caught in an earthquake.

On second thought, if you’d rather not be bothered--

The cracks exploded, and a wave hit him, punching him clean out of his meditation.

Hector struggled to regather himself. ‘...Garovel?

Back already?’ the reaper said. ‘That didn’t take very long.

...Did I fuck that up?’ said Hector.


As his sense returned to him, he realized that nothing was different. It was just the four of them there, still.

And then it wasn’t.

An ocean converged on them. From seemingly nowhere, Hector sensed its arrival. Soul power. Endless, as far as he could tell. Crushingly strong, pressuring him from every conceivable direction.

Oh shit,’ said Garovel.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Page 1102

Hector needed a few seconds to process what Garovel had just said.

Are you sure “soul” is the right word for it?’ said Chergoa. ‘It’s not like the guy’s just sleeping. You and I would be able to sense him if that were the case.

You might be right,’ said Garovel, ‘but I think he’s definitely still alive. In some form. And if he is, then maybe we can talk to him.

I suppose it’s possible,’ said Chergoa. ‘But if he hasn’t noticed us by now, then how do we get him to?

Hmm.’ Garovel paused. ‘Jaf’lah! Ai! Jaf’lah!

Truly ingenious.’

Ai! Jaf’lah! Rasalased!’ Garovel kept going, but Hector couldn’t really follow what else he said.

It was a bit strange, hearing Garovel speak in Valgan. The reaper spoke Mohssian so fluently that Hector had never really imagined him speaking anything else. He’d known, of course, that Garovel knew a ton of different languages, but it was different, actually hearing it firsthand.

After a short time, though, Garovel stopped. ‘I don’t think it’s working,’ he said.

Color me surprised,’ said Chergoa.

Yeah, well, it was worth a shot,’ said Garovel. ‘Looks like meditation is our best bet, then. Hector?

Oh, uh. O-okay.

Em?’ said Chergoa.

Very well.’

Hector focused. He settled his thoughts and concentrated on his one sense again.

It was faster this time. He felt his mind plunge down and down and down, felt it become enveloped in that familiar darkness, so thick it felt somehow physical. And soon enough, he was there again, feeling it all again, cracks echoing in space, breathing all around him.

Only then did he realize that he had no idea what he was doing. Was he supposed to ask this bodiless mass a question? He probably should have asked Garovel about that before diving back in. It was difficult even to think. Part of maintaining the meditation meant keeping his mind clear and just soaking in everything, but now his mind wanted to think while meditating. And he wasn’t sure that was even possible.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Page 1101

A clock would be nice,’ said Garovel, ‘but it’s not strictly necessary. I’ve just been counting, instead.

Counting?’ said Hector. ‘Counting what?

The seconds. Ever since we got here, that is.

Hector paused. ‘You can do that? That sounds impossible.

Only needs to be a rough estimate. It’s not as hard as it seems. Plus, I’ve had practice.

Chargoa barked a laugh. ‘Sounds like a story. Why don’t you tell us about that? Seems we’ve got plenty of time for all your long, boring tangents.

Excuse me,’ said Garovel, ‘but as it so happens, it’s not boring at all. It’s actually--

Uh--er, before you get into that,’ said Hector, ‘there’s something else. Er, I think.

We’re listening,’ said Garovel.

Well, um...’ Really, he still wasn’t sure how to begin. ‘When I was meditating, uh... there was, uh... agh. It felt like this place... wasn’t... empty. I don’t know how to explain it, but I sensed something here. I think.

...Can you elaborate?’ said Garovel.

Uh... it was like, space wasn’t... space. Does that make sense?

Not really.

Agh... I just, er--it felt like there was something else here. Or maybe that “here” was something else. I mean, I don’t know how else to... argh. Emiliana, did you sense anything?

Oh. Um. Well, now that you mention it... perhaps I did. I thought I had just fallen asleep, but...

So you both sensed something really weird while you were neck deep in meditation?’ said Garovel. ‘That doesn’t necessarily mean anything. Sometimes, the mind just makes its own...


No. Wait a minute. Did you--? Would that even be--? Hmm. Do either of you sense it now?

W-well, no,’ said Hector.

Me neither,’ said Emiliana.

What are you thinking?’ said Chergoa.

...I think they sensed the dormant soul of the Dry God.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Page 1100

Hector’s concentration shattered. He had to talk to Garovel. His mind yanked itself out of meditation with an intangible shudder. ‘Ah! Garovel!

Hector, holy shit!,’ the reaper said. ‘You came back!

Hector needed a second to gather his thoughts again. The sudden disorientation felt like he’d just been torn out of a dead sleep. Which confused him. Was that what that had been? Had he been sleeping? Dreaming?

He tried to shake it off. ‘...How long was I gone?

It’s been fifty years! We thought we’d lost you forever!

W-what? I don’t--

Only joking. It’s been about a day and a half.

Hector sighed mentally. ‘You asshole... I was really about to freak the fuck out.

See? Didn’t I tell you he had a potty mouth?

You sure did,’ said Chergoa. ‘How scandalous. And in front of a young lady, no less.

Somehow, he’d forgotten that Chergoa and Emiliana were there as well. ‘Uh--I... I didn’t mean to--I’m s-sorry, I just... agh...

Don’t listen to them,’ said Emiliana. ‘You do not need to censor yourself for my sake.’

I wasn’t talking about you, you narcissist,’ said Chergoa. ‘I was talking about me. I know I seem like a stoic monster, but I have the heart of a delicate maiden, and I can’t bear listening to such uncouth language.

Right,’ said Emiliana. ‘Garovel, please tell your sister to fuck off. Oh, nevermind, it seems I managed it on my own.

Mm, I’d like to volunteer my services, anyway,’ said Garovel. ‘Chergoa, fuck off.

To you as well, dearest brother.

Er, uh, Garovel?’ said Hector, realizing he would have to be the one to push the conversation in a relevant direction again. But he wasn’t yet sure how to phrase his biggest question, so instead, he asked, ‘How do you know it’s been a day and a half? I mean, it’s not like we have a clock to go by, so, uh...

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Page 1099

As he focused his mind, Hector could feel something different. Something he’d never felt from meditating before. Slowly, hesitantly, he concentrated harder, allowing his thoughts to be consumed by this world of empty space.

In a way, it was absolutely terrifying. Floating. Forever. Nothing to hold onto. No destination. Neverending darkness. And the more time he spent focusing, the more of it he could sense. A vast ocean of nothingness. This was a pocket dimension? Wasn’t it supposed to be tiny? It felt gigantic beyond reckoning. Or was his mind simply playing tricks on him? Maybe this one remaining sense of his was wrong, somehow. It wasn’t like his normal senses were infallible, either.

If it weren’t for those three other souls there, Hector was sure he would have begun panicking a long time ago. They were his only anchors, the only things keeping him from being completely overcome by this unfathomable place.

Yet still, he lost time. And he could sense himself losing it, too. The strange, disjointed progression of his own nebulous thoughts was how he could tell. Sluggish, fast, sluggish again, then even slower. On and on in varying patterns and speeds.

At length, however, he sensed something else. A glimmer. A crack. In the distance. So far away. Farther than normal sight could have told him, surely.

Then, another one. Another crack. This time in the opposite direction and just as far away.

Then another. And another. And still another. Then five more. Then ten. Dozens. Hundreds? All cracks but all different, too. Each one rippled, pulsed, echoed. Thousands. Maybe even millions. Far too many to count, at least. And they were everywhere around him. Closer than seemed possible. On top of him. Phasing through him.

Where had they come from? Had they been there the whole time? Something told him they had, something in his one sense. Like he’d been looking through a window this whole time without realizing there was glass there. But now he could see the glass. Now he could tell.

This wasn’t emptiness. This wasn’t just space.

Page 1098 -- CXXV.

So you guys don’t even have a theory?’ Hector asked.

Not really,’ said Chergoa. ‘Why? Are you saying that you two whelps do?

Oh, uh, no,’ said Hector. ‘Or at least, I don’t.

We were only teasing you about forgetting to explain something,’ said Emiliana. ‘We didn’t think there WASN’T an explanation.

Hmm,’ said Garovel. ‘Well, anyway, it looks like we’re going to be here a while. We should try to keep ourselves entertained. How have you been, baby sister?

Oh, I’ve been good. Apart from the whole almost-dying-thing, today’s been lovely.

Mm. And Emiliana, how are you?

Ah... confused.

Wonderful. Anyone up for a game? I’m thinking of a number between one and six hundred billion. Take your time answering. No rush.

Chapter One Hundred Twenty-Five: ‘Diligent souls, abide...’
Click to display entire chapter at once -- (mobile link)

Ultimately, the conversation kept going back and forth between serious contemplation of their circumstances and fanciful distraction when no great revelations were uncovered.

At length, even Garovel and Chergoa began struggling to keep talking. Hector had kind of stopped listening a while ago, and without anything to pay attention to, time began to blur into itself. Strangely, it was the realization that no one was talking anymore that brought him back around. Somehow, the silence had become odd.

I guess I’ll just meditate,’ he threw out there.

And it took a second, but then Emiliana said, ‘Good idea. I will, too.

Alright,’ said Garovel.

We’ll try not to leave without you,’ said Chergoa.

Hector tried to focus. Instinctively, he wanted to take a deep breath, but he couldn’t. He wanted to close his eyes, but he didn’t have any. It hadn’t occurred to him how much of a role his own body played in meditating before. This was different. And not altogether comfortable, either. It was almost too easy. He felt like he might lose himself here, like he was falling asleep on the edge of a cliff.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Page 1097

Okay, okay,’ said Hector. ‘I understand everything else you said, more or less. Pocket dimension or whatever. No bodies here, no matter. Only our minds. Right?

Yeah?’ said Garovel.

And uh, I get that we can hear your guys’ thoughts. You’re reapers. You can, er, communicate with souls directly or whatever. That makes sense.

Uh-huh?’ said Chergoa.

But then... why can Emiliana and I hear each other?

Oh, well, that’s...’ And Garovel just stopped.

Hector waited, but the reaper didn’t finish. ‘...Garovel?

Uh... hmm.’ Garovel paused another time. ‘Actually, that’s a really good question.

Chergoa had to chime in now. ‘Er... yeah. Huh. You two shouldn’t be able to hear each other. Your souls aren’t bound together. You should both be able to hear me and Garovel, but you definitely shouldn’t be able to hear one another. That’s... really weird.’ And she waited a second before giving them another, ‘Huh.

I can’t tell if they really don’t know,’ said Hector, ‘or if they’re just messing with us again.’

I think they are being serious,’ said Emiliana. ‘They would not purposely make themselves look ignorant.

Ah, you’re probably right.

Hmm,’ said Garovel. ‘I don’t like how well these two are getting along all of a sudden.’

Me neither,’ said Chergoa. ‘It was a mistake to allow our servants to mingle. We should release them and start over.

Good idea.

So basically,’ said Hector, ‘you two have no idea what’s happening here at all.’

Agh, it must be the shards,’ said Garovel.

You’re just gonna blame everything on the shards, aren’t you?’ said Hector.

It’s the only explanation, really. Stupid soul-catalyst bullcrap. I wonder if even Qorvass understands how they work. I bet he just pretends like he does.

Because that’s what you would do?’ said Hector.

Hell yeah. Bullshitting is a very valuable skill, my friend.

Page 1096

Garovel laughed. ‘You don’t need to worry about Hector’s ears. I know he doesn’t seem like it, but he’s a total potty mouth.

Is he really?

Oh yeah. Drops f-bombs all the time.

Hector!’ said Chergoa. ‘How very dare you! That is no way for a lord to behave, y’know.

Hector decided to ignore that avenue of discussion. Something else was bothering him, anyway, and the reapers had yet to address it. In fact, he had a feeling that they didn’t even realize it yet. ‘...Aren’t you guys forgetting to explain something?’ he asked.

What do you mean?’ said Garovel.

Rather than answering, Hector waited for Chergoa. And when she didn’t say anything, he instead heard Emiliana snickering faintly.

They did forget,’ said Emiliana.

Ah--you realized it, too?’ said Hector.


Realized what?’ said Chergoa. ‘What are we forgetting?

Now Hector had to laugh a little, as well. ‘This is pretty fun.

Isn’t it, though? Is Garovel always as smug with you as Chergoa is with me?

Yeah. He’s always bragging about how much he knows.


Both reapers spoke up in unison. ‘Alright, you two.

Out with it,’ continued Garovel.

Seriously,’ said Chergoa.

Hmm,’ Emiliana hummed, still half-giggling. ‘Should we tell them?

I guess so,’ said Hector. ‘We’d probably... be here forever if we waited for them to figure it out on their own.

That pulled a bigger laugh out of Emiliana.

I’m glad you’re enjoying yourselves,’ said Garovel. ‘Are you done?

Couple of real jerks, our servants.’

It makes sense, though,’ said Hector. ‘That they wouldn’t think of it, I mean. This is how they always talk.

Oh, that is true,’ said Emiliana.

Would you just spit it out already?’ said Garovel. ‘This is getting ridiculous.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Page 1095

Why in the world would that be a good thing?’ Emiliana asked.

Soul-synchronization,’ Chergoa answered. ‘Obviously, it’d be boring as hell, but it would allow us to safely increase our soul power in a relatively short amount of time.

Short amount of time?’ Emiliana sounded confused. ‘You just said it would be decades!

Yes, in here it would be,’ said Chergoa. ‘But out there? Not so much.

I don’t understand.

Time and space are like butter and toast,’ said Chergoa. ‘When there’s a lot of toast, the butter gets spread out really thin. When there’s only a little toast, you end up having to cram a ton of butter on it.

...Wouldn’t you just use less butter?’ said Hector.

No, see, the amount of butter is fixed.

...Why would it be fixed?

Look, I never said it was a perfect metaphor. The point is, time passes more quickly here.

I thought time slowed down near black holes,’ said Emiliana.

This isn’t a black hole,’ said Garovel. ‘Black holes are created by condensed matter. I don’t think there’s any matter here. Only space.


Also, if this were a black hole, we’d probably be dead.

We ARE dead,’ said Chergoa.

Super extra dead, then.

Eloquently put.

H-hold on,’ said Hector. ‘Didn’t you say there was “okay” news, too?

Yeah, that was it,’ said Garovel. ‘In theory, you and Emiliana could grow significantly more powerful in this place. Assuming we don’t go insane, that is.

Eh, we won’t go insane,’ said Chergoa. ‘Not with four of us here. It’d be different if any of us were alone or unable to communicate with each other. Then we’d be fucked--I mean, er, screwed. Emiliana, plug your ears. You, too, Hector.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Page 1094

Garovel brought the conversation back on track. ‘So you think we’re in a pocket dimension. Is that right?

Pretty much,’ said Chergoa. ‘You got a better theory?

Well. “Better” is a strong word. A strong, accurate word.

Uh-huh. Go on then, genius.

I think you’re right. I think this is a pocket dimension. And I think we’re inside the shards, right now.

Yeah, I already put that together,’ said Chergoa.

Shame you didn’t mention it, then. Now the credit’s all mine.

No one cares.

Hector cares. Don’t you, Hector?

...I’m not involved in this conversation.

Expectedly, the discussion derailed for quite a while. The reapers went on and on, back and forth, and Hector was about to just stop listening entirely until Emiliana intervened.

This is all very interesting,’ she said, ‘but how do we leave this place?

And both reapers shut up for a moment.

Well,’ said Garovel. ‘There’s good news and bad news with that.

More like okay news and weapons-grade-terrible news,’ said Chergoa.

Wonderful,’ said Emiliana. ‘Bad news first, then.

Both reapers hesitated again, perhaps waiting for each other to take the liberty of explaining.

Come on,’ said Hector. ‘Tell us.

Okay,’ said Garovel. ‘When we say that we’re stuck here, we mean it. There’s literally nothing we can do besides wait for the pocket dimension to degrade on its own and let us out.

Yep,’ Chergoa added. ‘And the wait could be very long.

HOW long?’ said Emiliana.

Dunno,’ said Chergoa. ‘A few hours, if we’re lucky. A few decades, if we’re not.

DECADES?!’ Hector and Emiliana both said.

We’d have to be stupidly unlucky, though,’ said Garovel.

We ARE stupidly unlucky!’ said Hector.

Eh, I’m sure it won’t be that long,’ said Garovel. ‘Though, even if it were, that could be a good thing.