Monday, March 19, 2018

Page 1619

((Triple Monday -- Page 2 of 3))
Agh,’ growled Hector. ‘Tell Diego to stand still for a minute.

Hmm? Okay. Hey, Diego! Quit moving around so much! Hector’s trying to do something!

The Lord Redwater looked confused but acquiesced.

That was better.

He vanished the legs of the giant table as they neared the highway, and then he slapped a coating around the bottom of the remaining platform. But it wasn’t just a normal coating. It was a hovering stabilizer, of sorts.

Hector couldn’t simply have the platform itself hover, because the platform needed to remain stationary so that everyone didn’t slide off of it like a moving walkway. This hadn’t been issue before, because on the ground, he could have the top of the platform remain still while everything below it grew and pushed onward. In midair, though, there was no longer anything to push against, which was why this new, floating “holster” for the platform was necessary.

And it worked, just as he thought it would. The platform soared over the rushing cars below and up into the night sky.

Hector, holy shit!

It was actually quite difficult, Hector discovered. Even now, with everyone staying still, he was having trouble keeping the encased platform fully stable. That, and every little jostle was worrisome in its own way, threatening each time to destroy his concentration, which he very much needed right now.

The others were talking more loudly now, perhaps even to him, but he still couldn’t make out their words over the wind. And he was busy trying not to panic and drop everyone, anyway.

Why the hell had he thought this was a good idea? There were two non-servants in their group. They would surely die if they fell from this height or at this speed.

Hector, we’re going the wrong way now,’ said Garovel.

Agh. Shit.

The wind was becoming a problem. The higher they went, the more intense it got. And it was somehow easier to make the platform ascend than descend. Probably because in the beginning, he’d been most worried about crashing into the ground and killing everyone, so he’d decided to err on the side of upward movement, just in case.

The idea of descending was simply more frightening. That was the problem, Hector realized. It wasn’t that it was actually more difficult to pull off. He was just more afraid to do it.

But now he didn’t have a choice. They’d have to go back down eventually. And at this height, going back down a little was no big deal, right?

Goddammit. This whole thing was way more nerve-wracking than he thought it would be. He had to get a hold of himself. They were flying. Under their own power.

He tried to ease up. He had to weaken the force that he’d applied in order to counter gravity.

It worked. They began to lose altitude. But not without more turbulence. Considerably more. He heard a feminine shriek.

Sorry, Elise.

He stabilized his work and course-corrected.

Yeah. This was a better altitude. Still maybe a little too high, but the wind wasn’t so crazy, at least.

He opened his eyes. When had he even closed them? He’d been relying on the Scarf completely, he realized. Thankfully, he’d made sure to keep it wrapped snugly around his neck after removing his armor earlier.

Everyone was staring at him.

Not knowing what to do, he tried to pretend like he didn’t notice.

It didn’t work.

Diego started walking over to him, though he was obviously being slow and deliberate about it this time, which Hector appreciated. It was much easier to account for the balance changes.

Page 1618

((Triple Monday -- Page 1 of 3))
Garovel, are you being serious?,’ said Hector. ‘You’re NOT useless! How could you even think that?!

I wonder.

Hector couldn’t believe what he was hearing. The reaper had done so much for him. He had to know that, right?

I’m not trying to sound depressed or pessimistic,’ said Garovel. ‘Rather, it’s the opposite.

What do you mean?

Hector, c’mon. You’ve kinda been on a tear, lately. If I don’t start working harder to step my game up, then you’re probably just gonna leave me in the dust.

I...’ Was that really how Garovel saw things? What was he even supposed to say to something like that?

It’s a GOOD thing, is what I’m saying. I want to make sure that I’m not holding you back.

Holy shit. That might have been the most flattering thing anyone had ever said to him. ‘I... you’re not... Garovel, that’s not true.

Oh, shut up. Yes, it is. Anyway, forget about it.

What the--?! How am I supposed to forget about it?!

I dunno. Maybe I shouldn’t have even brought it up. Point is, we need to stay focused on our objective. Also, there’s a highway coming up soon, so you should probably adjust your platform so that you don’t squash any of the cars or the people inside them.

That was a good idea.

Hector wondered briefly if he could make his iron move seamlessly around a group of cars in motion. He felt like he could, but something about the notion of experimenting with other people’s lives struck him as something he probably shouldn’t do.

Instead, he came up with a much safer experiment, something he’d been wanting to try for a while now.

As soon as he sensed the highway that Garovel was talking about, Hector slowed the pace of his iron, much to Zeff’s expressed chagrin. Hector eliminated most of the platform below them, keeping only a comparatively thin layer for everyone to continue riding on and four tall legs.

His work was suddenly much more akin to a giant, moving table.

The shift in weight caused a bit of turbulence, which seemed to alarm the others, rather understandably, but Hector got it under control.

He wanted to eliminate the legs entirely. He wanted the platform to simply float, like one of his cubes in orbit.

It was similar, in theory, but the weight differential made for quite the leap in difficulty. The larger the mass, the more impact gravity had on his work--and therefore, the more he needed to counter its effects. With just an iron platform, that was straightforward enough, but there were people here, too, and they were weighing the platform down in different places. The same kind of “balance” that he used for his cubes in orbit had to be greatly adjusted here.

And Diego certainly wasn’t helping, what with the way he was walking around, talking to everyone without a care in the world. The man probably had to get up close so that they could hear him over the wind, but still, at the moment, Hector was finding it rather obnoxious.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Page 1617

Why are you only telling me about this now?’ said Garovel.

Well, I--uh. I was still figuring it out. And I didn’t even think it was related to Rasalased’s blessing until I heard Malast mention it.


And, I guess, uh... I guess I kinda thought it was just natural. Er, uh, I mean, I thought it was because of all the meditating I do...

Hmm. That’s reasonable enough, I suppose. And your meditation should be improving your concentration, too. But yeah, maybe not to THAT extent.


Still. Your concentration was pretty good already. I’ve always thought you were a little absurd when it came to meditation. So if you got a boost ON TOP of that, then... Hmm. Hey, wait a minute. Is that why you’re able to just “tune me out,” sometimes? Like I’m some kind of friggin’ radio broadcast?

Uh... I don’t know...

It’s really obnoxious when you do that, by the way. Dunno if I mentioned that earlier.

Ah. Sorry. But, I mean, it’s not like I do it for no reason.

You could just ask me to be quiet. Y’know, politely. Believe it or not, I AM capable of that.

...I find that hard to believe.

And here comes the sass. Alright, fine. Maybe I do OCCASIONALLY talk a little too much, but c’mon, if we’re in a life and death situation, and you need to concentrate, then just say so!

Oh, you mean like when a worm is trying to eat us?

What? Oh. Hey. Look. You managed just fine, didn’t you? And sometimes--MOST times, even--I have insightful things to say. Which is my job, by the way. As a reaper, that is. I’m tasked with imparting all manner of mind-blowing wisdom.


I am a waterfall of knowledge, Hector. Trying to stem the tide of information that flows out of me is quite frankly impossible.

So in other words, I should just ignore you, sometimes.

...Yeah, probably.

Hector let a breath of laughter slip out, but the others didn’t seem to notice, no doubt because of the howling wind rushing past as they traversed the top of the forest.

Hector had added a guardrail, of sorts, to the platform, as well as a ridged grip for the floor so that everyone didn’t have to worry so much about sliding around.

If we’re being completely serious, though,’ said Garovel, ‘then you really shouldn’t make a habit out of ignoring me during battle. I can provide observational support, which could very well save our asses, someday. Granted, now that you’ve got that spiffy Scarf, you might not actually need all that much observational support, but the basic principle that two heads are better than one still applies, I think.

That’s... true.

I’m glad you think so.

We should probably work on that, though. I feel like we’re, maybe, not working together in combat as... efficiently as we could be.

...Maybe so,’ said Garovel. ‘And I’ve certainly been feeling a bit useless, lately. It would be nice to change that.

Hector blinked, because it didn’t sound like the reaper was joking. ‘What? You’re not useless.

Garovel made no response.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Page 1616

((The 17 pages of St. Patrick's Day + Triple Saturday -- Page 20 of 20))
Regardless, Hector wanted to try something more difficult, but he was reluctant to get too crazy with his experimentation. He wasn’t the only one riding this thing, after all.

“How long will it take to reach Warrenhold?” said Zeff.

At this pace?’ said Garovel. ‘Maybe three or four hours.

Zeff didn’t say anything to that, but he was probably still displeased with their current speed, Hector figured. Hector wouldn’t have minded increasing it even further, but Elise and Mr. Sheridan probably wouldn’t appreciate that very much, and their safety was most important.

Then again, as Hector thought about it, Mr. Sheridan had seemed like kind of a lunatic, so maybe he would have liked to go even faster.

Whatever. This pace was plenty fast, Hector felt, and four hours was making good time, considering their current location in the Carthrace Nature Reserve was on the opposite side of the country to Warrenhold.

But that was Atreya for you. He’d almost forgotten how tiny it was. After gallivanting all over Sair with the Rainlords, it was nice to be back home, where traveling didn’t take so damn long. That trip from Luzo to Moaban had been a little ridiculous.

Mr. Sheridan was eyeing him quite a bit, Hector noticed.

Hmm. Nervous, perhaps? Maybe because he wasn’t sure if Hector had completely forgiven him for trying to kill him during the tournament?

Good. Because Hector hadn’t. Nor did he intend to. Obviously, it was no big deal as far as Hector himself was concerned, but what about other people? How was he supposed to trust that Mr. Sheridan wouldn’t just up and shoot somebody else in Warrenhold? Someone who couldn’t simply regenerate?

Maybe Mr. Sheridan really did know better. Maybe he would never do such a thing to a non-servant. But after that incident, “maybe” wasn’t good enough for Hector. As soon as they reached Warrenhold, he meant to send Mr. Sheridan on his merry way back to Intar or wherever the hell he came from.

So,’ said Garovel in the echo of privacy, ‘any idea yet about what this second “blessing” is?

...I was kinda hoping YOU would know something,’ said Hector.

Bah. Wish we had more time to figure it out.

Might not even matter right now. Malast said it would take a while to grow.

True. But still. Can’t say I’m not curious. “Domain,” huh? And you already had this “Focus” thing from Rasalased, too? Do you have any idea what that one does, by the way?

He did, though he wasn’t quite sure how to explain it. ‘Uh...

I thought Rasalased just granted you the ability to materialize Haqq’s shield as you please, but that doesn’t sound like something that would be called Focus, to me.

Yeah, about that, ah... I think that’s because I can... kind of... concentrate on multiple things at once...

Garovel paused. ‘...Excuse me?

I mean, I’m still, uh... trying to figure it out. And maybe it’s not that simple. But, um... yeah. My concentration seems better overall, lately, I guess...

Page 1615

((The 17 pages of St. Patrick's Day + Triple Saturday -- Page 19 of 20))
Which way?’ Hector asked.

Garovel pointed to his left, and Hector grew the platform forward and then curved it around so that they would all be facing the direction that they were going.

He’d never used such a large volume of iron as method of transportation before. It was a bit strange but not difficult. In fact, the Scarf of Amordiin was making it rather easy.

Due to its ability to help him sense the movement of air all around him, Hector had a very clear picture of even the densest parts of the forest. He could sense where all the tree trunks were, where the leaves were, the underbrush, the rocks, and even the animals. A snake here, a rabbit there, a couple bears, a wolf, a group of monkeys, and tons of insects--though those were perhaps too small to sense individually. Maybe if he concentrated on them, but now wasn’t the time for that.

He focused on his platform. Because the open air was telling him so much, Hector could see all the gaps in the forest--and therefore, all the places in which he could materialize iron without crushing anything. Well, except maybe a couple shrubs here and there. They’d probably be fine, though.

It was helpful, because he didn’t want to obliterate the ecosystem. The area of the forest immediately around Rathmore’s Gate was still plenty ruined already. Hell, even now that he’d carried them some distance away from it, he could still sense entire trees that had been uprooted or splintered in half. He noticed one tree that wasn’t touching the ground. Instead, it was lodged horizontally in the canopy, dangling in midair. Some birds had made a nest on it.

All in all, it made for a type of training that he had never done before. Navigating the forest with a building-sized block of iron, creating and destroying his work around every single object and leaving it all unscathed--it certainly demanded attention to detail. And without the Scarf of Amordiin, he didn’t think he would have been able to do this, not without simply flattening everything in their path.

But after a while, Hector started to get the hang of it a little too well, he felt. Even as he increased the speed to accommodate Zeff, Hector found himself thinking that this wasn’t really challenging enough.

Even without his most recent emergence, he felt like he could have pulled this off as long as he had the Scarf. That was what really made this feel trivially easy. He could simply conceptualize his iron as if it were squeezing its way through all the holes in the forest, like a wave of iron jelly. Or iron sludge, perhaps.


Maybe that fight with the worm had more of an effect on his perception than he’d thought. He could visualize the beast’s movements pretty damn well now, after having followed it so attentively over such an extended battle.

Page 1614

((The 17 pages of St. Patrick's Day + Triple Saturday -- Page 18 of 20))
Well,’ said Garovel at length, ‘now we can get to Capaporo safely. It may take us another day or two, but at least there isn’t a feldeath and an army of worms in the way. As far as I know, that is.

Zeff stepped forward, trailing rocky dust behind him. He was quite the ragged picture, what with his wild and mussed hair that looked like it would fight any comb that tried to put it back in order. “Lead on, then,” he said, and he raised everyone up on a short platform of ice. “I’ll carry us to our destination as quickly as I am able.”

Hector intervened, wearing normal armor now instead of the cooling variant. “Wait, um--”

The expression on Zeff’s face did not suggest that the matter was open for discussion. “What?” he said flatly.

Hector held his ground, though. “Let me do it.” And he raised a platform of iron on top of Zeff’s. “You’re supposed to be keep a low profile, remember?”

Zeff did not look like he cared.

Axiolis floated up behind the man. ‘This is Hector’s territory. Let’s defer to his discretion.

At that, the Lord Elroy seemed to relent, and everyone felt the iron platform sink a little as the ice beneath it dematerialized. “Go quickly, then. Everyone is waiting for us.”

Hector knew it. Better than Zeff did, probably. He hadn’t forgotten Rasalased’s words. That Asad was being held prisoner.

He was going to have to tell Zeff about that. And soon, too. For the moment, though, he focused on his materialization. If nothing else, it would be a good opportunity to test his new limits. A giant platform moving over a forest? That would take some doing. But Hector was--

“Hold on,” said Manuel Delaguna, which took a bit of the wind out of Hector’s sails. “Is someone missing?”

Everyone stopped to look around at one another.

The Hun’Kui weren’t with them anymore, of course, but that didn’t seem like cause for the concern in Manuel’s voice. Aside from them, Hector counted the four servants, the four reapers, Elise, and Mr. Sheridan.

Shit. Manuel was right.

Carver,’ said Yangera. ‘He’s not here.

Eleyo--or Royo, I suppose--must have decided to keep him behind,’ said Garovel.

Why would he do that?’ said Lorios.

Any number of reasons,’ said Garovel. ‘At a guess, though, I’d say it has something to do with this “Ettol” figure we’ve been hearing about. Royo seemed interested in him before, and Carver claimed to be related to him.


There’s not much we can do about it now,’ said Garovel. ‘And if Royo wants him for information, then I doubt he’ll hurt him. He is probably not in danger.

Hector wondered about that. He honestly didn’t know what to make of Royo anymore.

“Hector,” said Zeff, sounding annoyed again. “Hurry up. We can move while they talk.”

The man wasn’t wrong, Hector knew. So he set to work, raising the platform up higher and higher until it cleared the canopy of trees.

Page 1613 -- CLXXIV.

((The 17 pages of St. Patrick's Day + Triple Saturday -- Page 17 of 20))
Royo looked around again, perhaps waiting for someone to answer him, but when no one did, he kept talking. “Allow me to expedite your journey for you.” He turned to Malast, who was going back to his chair. “Might I borrow the Staff of Unso for a moment?”

Malast had rested the Staff against his chair earlier. After he sat down again, he shrugged, grabbed it, and flung it over to Royo.

Royo caught it with one hand. “Much appreciated, old friend.”

And it was fleeting, but for a moment, Hector thought he saw Malast actually smile.

“Now.” The pendant around Royo’s neck began to glow along with the tip of the Staff. “Should you ever decide to return to the Higher West Layer, seek me out. I will give you a hero’s welcome.”

Arcing sparks jumped from the Staff to the four corners of the chamber, as they had done previously, and Hector’s vision started to distort familiarly as well.

“Ah, but if possible, I would prefer you not bring your Dragon next time. Farewell.”

Everything blurred and smeared into itself, and Hector lost all sense of direction and space.

The floating sensation lasted noticeably longer this time, however. It was disorienting, to be sure, but Hector was almost able to regain his bearings before it finished. And when it did, he wasn’t nearly so confused as he might have otherwise been.

He saw sky.

For the first time in what felt like ages, he could see stars, twinkling in the night, and a full, lustrous moon.

“What in the--?” someone said. Elise Garza, Hector recognized after a moment.

“Where the hell are we now?” said Diego. “Oh, hey, I can talk again.”

Hector?’ said Yangera. ‘Do you know?

He wasn’t sure why she had singled him out to ask, but in fact, he did know. While the Scarf of Amordiin wasn’t revealing their exact location in a GPS-like sense, it was revealing the shape of a familiar, two-pronged monument that was standing behind everyone’s back. Hector might not have remembered it so clearly if Garovel hadn’t reminded him of it only a couple days ago.

“...We’re in Atreya,” said Hector.

Chapter One Hundred Seventy-Four: ‘An untimely arrival...’
Click to display entire chapter at once -- (mobile link)

It took a while for everyone to get a handle on what had just happened. The lingering blue sparks around Rathmore’s Gate seemed to help them conceptualize it, somewhat, but even so, the fact that they had apparently teleported over such a tremendous distance was no small matter.

Hector might’ve been right there with them in their confusion, if he wasn’t so distracted with something else--or rather, someone else.

Eleyo. Or, no. Not Eleyo. Royo Raju. Reborn with the remains of the God of Growth.

The fact that it was Royo who had teleported them all just now was what concerned Hector. Granted, he’d used some sort of magical artifact or something in that “Staff of Unso,” but would he have been able to do that before?

And the way he spoke...

It had certainly sounded like Royo had some sort of plan. Hector wondered what it was.

Page 1612

((The 17 pages of St. Patrick's Day + Triple Saturday -- Page 16 of 20))
Everyone just listened, and Hector wondered where this was going. Despite what Royo had just admitted to--or perhaps even because of it--Hector didn’t get the sense that Royo was going to attack them.

“I am indebted to you all,” said Royo. Then he pointed at Manuel Delaguna. “Especially to you. And I do not take my debts lightly. Know that they will be repaid, in time. And know that I do not think of you as my enemies or wish harm upon any of you.”

And there was silence again.

Everyone, presumably, was trying to process everything that they had just heard.

Malast broke the quietude with a yawn. “Oh. Hey.” He walked over to Hector and handed the items he’d dropped earlier back to him. “Here.”

It was quite a collection, Hector realized as he started taking them. The Scarf of Amordiin, the Shifting Spear of Logante, that weird orb on a tuning fork, and the Shard.

Wait, where was the Egg of Prosperity? Where was his one million troa? It hadn’t gotten destroyed in the fight with the worm, had it?

Or, hold on. Did he even pick the Egg up in the first place?

...Had he really forgotten to grab it? Even after Garovel pointed it out to him?

Well, fuck.

He wondered if this was how Asad felt all the time.

When it came around to returning the Shard, Hector’s hand grabbed it, but Malast didn’t let go.

“What is this thing, by the way?” said Malast. “It seems a little different to the others.”

And Hector locked gazes with the God of the Underworld. Silently, he again considered telling Malast that the item he was holding contained the very same Rasalased that he had expressed an interest in earlier.

He considered it. And then, he decided to actually do it. “This is a Shard of the Dry God,” said Hector. “Rasalased is inside it.”

Hector, what the fuck?!’ said Garovel privately.

Malast’s eyes widened. The perpetually glazed look on his face went away.

Hector didn’t let go of his end of the Shard, though. “...Actually, I just talked to him again. He said he wouldn’t mind meeting you, but he didn’t seem to know how to make contact.”

“...Huh,” said Malast. “Interesting.”

And to Hector’s surprise, Malast let go of the Shard.

“I guess I’ll have to look into that later,” said the Idle God. Then that glazed look returned. “Agh. That’s gonna suck. I hate having to learn new things.”

Hector returned the Shard to its previous place inside his armor.

Did you really just talk to Rasalased?’ said Garovel, still privately.

Yep.’ A beat passed, and then he added, ‘I think. I guess I could’ve been dreaming or something.


Royo’s words cut him off. “Perhaps I can do something for you, right now.” He held up something in his hand. Some kind of orb? “I do not think this will make up for my debt, but as I understand it, you are all trying to return to the surface, no?”

When did he learn that, Hector wondered? Did someone tell him?

Page 1611

((The 17 pages of St. Patrick's Day + Triple Saturday -- Page 15 of 20))
A good ten minutes or so,’ said Garovel.

Hector tried to pick himself up and found it difficult.

Oh, right. He couldn’t feel pain at the moment, but he didn’t have his cooling armor on, so the heat of the Undercrust was trying to melt his body again, competing with his regeneration and sapping the strength from his muscles.

He focused and remade the armor. It materialized quickly and easily, requiring less concentration than he recalled.

Right. Emergence.

Someone else was saying something. They’d been saying something, he realized.

“--Iron One?”

Ah. Must’ve been Malast.

Sure enough, when Hector looked up, there the Idle God was. Along with the Hun’Kui man, Eleyo.

Eleyo looked normal enough. But the jar that had been in Malast’s hands before was now in his, instead.

And it was open.

“Feeling better, Senmurai?” said Eleyo.

The man had two voices, Hector noticed, like that of a servant in a hyper-state.

Hector finally stood up fully. “Did you already...?” He didn’t know how to end that sentence.

“Yes,” said Malast. “It is done. Secho is reborn.”

Hector looked over the others. Diego, Yangera, Carver, Elise, Manuel, Lorios, Mr. Sheridan, and the three other Hun’Kui, one of whom was unconscious and had been so all along.

They looked okay, all things considered--a bit awestruck and frightened, perhaps, but unharmed at least. Zeff and Axiolis were still in the viewing window above Malast’s head as well, though they did not look nearly as calm. If Hector hadn’t been so certain that he’d finished off that worm, then the silent mayhem in the viewing window might’ve made him worried that Zeff was fighting it now.

“We were waiting for you to awaken,” said Eleyo. Or was it Secho, now?

Hector was almost reluctant to ask, but he did so anyway. “...Why?”

“Before that,” said Eleyo, “I feel I should confess something. My name is not Eleyo. And I do not mean that it is no longer Eleyo. I mean it never was. I deceived you. And I wish to apologize.”

Hector had no response.

“My name is Royo Raju. Remember it well, for it will soon belong to a king.”

A chorus of unsettlement rose up from the two other conscious Hun’Kui in the room. They recognized the name, Hector figured.

“But there is more I should tell you,” Royo went on. “And perhaps you have realized this already, or perhaps you would have in the future, but I would like to say it now, regardless. It was I who caused your train to derail. It was I who brought those worms down upon us.”

Now it wasn’t just the Hun’Kui who were unsettled.

Hector thought back. Through all the chaos, the question of why the worms had first attacked had never really occurred to him. He hadn’t thought it was anyone’s fault.

But apparently, it was.

Royo Raju wasn’t done. “I have wronged you. I know this. I did what I had to do to escape a fate as wretched as any I can imagine, and you were all caught up in the dire consequences that followed.”

Page 1610

((The 17 pages of St. Patrick's Day + Triple Saturday -- Page 14 of 20))
This conversation wasn’t going how Hector hoped. That seemed to be a running trend, of late.

Given who he was talking to, he’d thought that he would be able to learn something important, but if anything, it seemed like Rasalased was the one acquiring new information here, not him.

Pretty weird, Hector felt. The notion that he could tell a “god” anything that they didn’t already know.

Malast had been the same way, though, now that he was thinking about it. He supposed that supported Garovel’s belief that they were not truly “gods”--at least not in the sense of being all-powerful or all-knowing.

“I suppose that means you can’t tell me anything about what Domain does, either,” said Hector.

“Ah, is that what he called your second blessing?”


“Fascinating.” And that was all Rasalased had for him, apparently.

Yeah, alright, fine. What was something that the Dry God might actually be able to tell him?

Hmm. Maybe something about the Sandlords? Or maybe just--oh yeah.

“...Do you know where Asad is, right now?”

“My successor.”


“He is in the town of Capaporo.”

Wow, a straight answer. And exactly the one he had been hoping for, too. That was a relief.

“You should hurry to him,” added Rasalased. “He is a prisoner.”

That was much less of a relief. “Prisoner?! But--wha--how?! Who’s holding him prisoner?!”

“Hmm. A good question. A lost sheep, it seems to me.”

“...Say what?”

“That is who is holding him prisoner.”

“A sheep.”


“...Like a literal sheep, or...?”

“Perhaps. Or perhaps not.”

“Ugh... could you give me a name, maybe?”


“...Fair enough, I guess.”

“He is much confused and struggling to find himself. Full of regret. His mind is in such disorder that he does not even notice when I probe for his emotions.”

“...Are we talking about Asad or the sheep now?”

“The sheep. This is why I believe he is lost.”


“I hope you will help my successor one more time.”

“I’d love to, but, uh, h-how do I do that, exactly?”

“I do not know.”


“Good luck to you, Young Hector.”


“And goodbye.”

“Wait, what?! I still have more questions!”

“As do I. I hope we will be able to speak again.”


He felt the world shift. The cabin disintegrated, and a vast calmness enveloped him. It felt simultaneously like a gentle wind, a warm sea, and a familiar set of clothes.

Hector awoke, wincing. His throat felt hoarse; his body felt like rubber; and he was so dizzy that it took him a minute to realize that he was face down on the ground.

Slowly, he picked himself up.

Hector!’ came Garovel’s soundless and private, but nonetheless very loud, voice. ‘You okay, buddy?!

...Yeah,’ he finally managed to say. He could feel the undead vigor coursing through his body again. No pain anymore, either. ‘How long have I been out?

Page 1609

((The 17 pages of St. Patrick's Day + Triple Saturday -- Page 13 of 20))
“Curious,” said Rasalased. “The God of Impulse was said to have been been consumed by the Void in the earliest days of humanity. Even in my time, the name Ettol was all but forgotten.”

That information was surprisingly coherent for Rasalased, Hector thought. He almost wanted to make a crack about time not being time, but he felt like it might ruin his chances of learning anything else here. “...Do you know more about Malast?”

“No. Only stories. That is why I would quite like to meet him.”

“Right...” The more he thought about it, the more questions came to mind. “How many... beings who can grant blessings are there? Do you know?”

“I do not.”

“Can you tell me anything about Sermung? Or Dozer? Or any of the servant emperors, really?”

“Only that they are very powerful. Perhaps if I were to meet them, I could learn more.”

“Hmm. What about Cocora? Do you know if she exists?”


“What about Avar? Or Lhutwë?”

“Lhutwë?! Of course he never existed! Only a fool would believe in such nonsense!”

“W-whoa... okay.”

Oh, right. Rasalased was a Sandlord--and probably from a time when they hated the Rainlords. The Dry God had been nice enough to Emiliana, as Hector recalled, but he supposed it wasn’t so surprising that there was still lingering animosity there.

He tried to think of more things to ask, but after that string of failures, his enthusiasm had waned somewhat, and the most pressing question that he could think of was, “How much time do I have here with you?”

“Time is not time.”

Well, he walked right into that one, Hector supposed. He decided to rephrase and try again. “...Am I stuck in here?”


“So... how do I get out, then?”

“When your blizzard is calmed, you will return.”

Right, the blizzard. It was still raging “outside” of the “cabin” that they were currently taking shelter in. “Do, uh... do you know how long that’s going to take?”

“As long as it must.”

Hector wanted to sigh and laugh at the same time. “...I’ve missed you, Rasalased.”

“Is that so?”


“Then I thank you.”

“You’re welcome. I guess.”

“I have a question for you, Young Hector.”

“I can’t wait to hear it.”

“What do you intend to do with these blessings?”

“Uh...” That was one hell of a question. “I... I think I’d have to know more about them before I could figure out what do with them. Which, uh--which reminds me. Malast said that the blessing you gave me was called Focus.”

“Did he now?”

“...Yeah. I heard him myself.”


“...Could you maybe tell me a little more about what Focus actually does?”

“I do not think so, no.”


“I did not think my blessing would have a name. Hmm.”

Page 1608

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“Why, uh...? Why was I was going insane, though?”

“Your blessings are conflicting with one another.”

“Oh. So... it’s kind of your fault that I was going insane in the first place, then...”

“That is true, yes. I might have warned you against this, but I did not think that you would ever acquire a second blessing--and certainly not so quickly.”

“Yeah, me too...”

“But there is no cause for concern. Though I am the problem, I am also the solution.”

“Ah... yeah. Thanks again, by the way. And not just for what you’re doing, now. Ivan would’ve killed everyone in Dunehall, if you hadn’t helped me the way you did.”

“That is also true, yes. But so too would they have died, if you had done nothing. If you must thank me for my help, then I must thank you for yours.”

Hector didn’t know what to say to that.

Rasalased pitched a different subject at him. “Who is it that granted you this new blessing, Young Hector?”

“Ah... you mean, you don’t already know?”

“Hmm? Perhaps I do. I would like you to tell me, nonetheless.”

“Uh. Alright. It was Malast.”

“Ah. Indeed. So it is the God of the Underworld who is holding one of my Shards, then.”

Hector might’ve blinked. That was right, wasn’t it? The Shard had been in his armor, along with the other items he’d stored there. So when his armor had been destroyed... right in front of Malast...

“...Is that gonna be a problem?” said Hector.

“I do not think so. It seems as though he does not sense my presence. I am still dormant within the Shards, after all. Only here, in your mind, am I awake.”

“...Hmm.” Hector wasn’t sure he understood, but that was nothing new when it came to Rasalased, he supposed.

“It is a pity,” said the Dry God. “I might have enjoyed speaking to him. He is far older than me.”

That, Hector had a hard time believing. “Really? He’s older?”

“Very much so.”

“But, uh... I mean, compared to you, he struck me as kinda... childish, in some ways.”

“Indeed? How curious. Now I would like to speak to him even more.”

Hector couldn’t even imagine what that encounter would be like. He didn’t entirely want to imagine it, either. “...Are you sure that wouldn’t, like, bring about the end of the world or something?”

Rasalased laughed again. “I am quite certain that it would not.”

“Hmm.” That brought another question to mind, something that he’d wanted to ask Malast about but hadn’t gotten the chance to. “Do you, uh... do you know anything about Ettol?”

“The God of Impulse?”


“I am afraid I do not. Why? Do you?”

Hector wasn’t expecting a reversal like that. “Uh... no, it’s just. I’ve been hearing his name a lot, lately.”

Page 1607

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There was no compartmentalizing his thoughts this time. No way to disassociate himself from the confusion and agony. His mind was consumed in full, and he thought he saw all manner of things which defied comprehension or even visual cohesion.

Monsters with faces. Humanoid but distorted. Distended. Burning with light or fire or energy or some other thing that he couldn’t even conceptualize. The colors, the fury, the chaos, the madness. Raw emotion made flesh. Raw flesh made emotion.

It was too much. Far, far too much. And he was naked against it. No armor to protect him. Not even a body to contain him. Just everything--everything pouring through his mind and his soul, carving through him like a million knives, until suddenly--


Suddenly, it wasn’t. Suddenly, there was nothing.

No. Not nothing. It was all still there. But it felt like it was “outside,” somehow. As if he’d found shelter. Like a little cabin in a blizzard.

And then, as if the very thought manifested itself into truth, it was a little cabin in a blizzard.

It wasn’t quite right, perhaps. Still blurry and wispy and ethereal. But a cabin, nonetheless.

“Interesting choice,” came an encompassing voice. A familiar one, too.

Hector was still trying to process everything, though. He hadn’t gone insane, he was pretty sure. “W-wh... a-ah...” The words died in his fumbling mouth.

Did he even have a mouth?

He couldn’t tell.

“How are you, Young Hector?” the voice said, all full of comfort and certainty--two things that Hector very much appreciated, at the moment.

“I... I don’t... ah...”

“It is alright. You are well. You are having a difficult moment, but you are well.”

Whose voice was that? It felt so clear and familiar to him. It felt like it should have been obvious. But he was still so confused. He’d just come in from the blizzard. He needed to warm up. To center himself.

“Take as long as you need.”

He tried to focus. To find his thoughts. To hold them.

And he did. He had no idea how long it took, but he did.

“I am glad,” the voice said.

“Who...?” As soon as the word left his thoughts, Hector realized the answer. “...Rasalased.”


Hector thought he felt himself smile. “...How are we speaking like this?”

“We are not. And yet perhaps we are.”

Maybe he should have seen that response coming. “...What?”

“Does the method matter?”

“...Why wouldn’t it?”

Rasalased laughed. “I am but a shadow of myself here. In your mind. The piece of me which I placed within you in order to make up for the piece I took.”


“You are feeling better.”

It wasn’t a question, Hector realized. It was an observation. “Yeah, I guess I am...”

“That is good.”

“Rasalased, what the hell is happening, right now?”

“I am preventing you from losing yourself to insanity.”

“...Oh. Uh. Well, thank you, in that case.”

“You are welcome.”

Page 1606 -- CLXXIII.

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And with reluctance that was visible in his body language, the Senmurai did so. “W-what are you going to do?” he asked as the Idle God’s hand found the pate of his helmet.

Malast ignored the question in favor of a long period of silence, instead. “Mm... yes... I see. As I thought. You possess the blessing of Focus.”

“What?” said Hector.

“Granted to you, I presume, by that ‘Rasalased’ you mentioned before. Your prize, then, shall be a second blessing to complement that one. I shall grant you Domain.”

“Uh... er, what does that do?”

Malast spared Royo a sidelong glance. “I do not think I would be doing you any favors by explaining its workings in front of the Hidden One.” He allowed a beat to pass. “Also, I hate explaining things. I’m no good at it. I’m sure you’ll figure it out on your own. You’ll have to be patient, though. Like your first blessing, and like Secho’s power, it will require time to grow.”

“Ah, um, okay...”

There was another long period of silence.

“...Hmm,” said Malast.

“Uh,” said Hector. “Everything going okay up there?”

“Oh, sure. Of course. Sorry. It’s just. I’ve only ever granted a blessing once before. It’s a little weirder than I remember. Probably because you already have one. It’s fine, though. Don’t worry.”

“...Are you sure? Because you sound a little worried, yourself.”

“I said it’s fine. I’ve got this. I mean, it might start to hurt here in a little bit, but that’s how you’ll know it’s working.”

“Wait, what?”


“What?! What does uh-oh mean?!”

“No, it’s fine. Might want to brace yourself, though.”

“For what?! I don’t--!”

The Senmurai’s armor exploded, and Hector went flying backward, all the way to the other side of the chamber, and slammed against the wall. He wasn’t dead, though, judging from the screams of agony that were coming out of him.

A few items had fallen out of his obliterated armor and landed at Malast’s feet.

“Oh, you dropped some things.” The Idle God bent down to pick them up, bundling them adjacent the Urn of Growth in his other hand.

Hector was apparently too busy enduring pure hell to respond, however.

Malast gave a nod. “I’ll just hold onto them for you, I guess...” Then his gaze turned toward Royo.

Suddenly, Royo wasn’t so sure that he wanted to become a god, anymore.

Chapter One Hundred Seventy-Three: ‘Ascension in body and spirit...’
Click to display entire chapter at once -- (mobile link)

It wasn’t just pain. It was existential confusion. Where he was. Who he was. What he was doing. All of that knowledge escaped his mind and danced around it like teasing little gremlins, poking and prodding him, daring him to chase them in vain as Hector stumbled around in his own head.

Oh, but it was pain, too. There was still plenty of that, to be sure. More than he’d ever felt, possibly. It was hard to judge when every fiber of his being was on fire and imaginary horrors were beginning to rear up in his mind, parting the turbulent ocean of his thoughts and terrorizing him in ways that he had never known previously.

Page 1605

((The 17 pages of St. Patrick's Day + Triple Saturday -- Page 9 of 20))
Yes! But Royo kept his weary eyes on Hector, wary of becoming too hopeful.

“Do you think the Hidden One will abuse Secho’s power?” said Malast.

And to Royo’s surprise, Hector did not immediately say yes.

Instead, the Senmurai hesitated. “I... ah...”

Royo was confused to see such apparent meekness from him, but he didn’t let the opportunity escape. “You needn’t worry. I give you my word that I will not abuse Secho’s power.”

Malast regarded Royo with a flat look. “Maybe you will, maybe you won’t. But if that is the Iron One’s concern, then I can understand it. And though the tournament seems to have reached a premature end, I believe it is obvious enough that the Iron One would have been the victor.”

Roy wished he could’ve argued with that, but he could imagine that if he did, Malast would call his bluff and force them to go fight. And that was precisely what Royo had been trying to avoid this whole time.

“As such,” the Idle God went on, “since I will be giving his prize to another, the Iron One deserves a different prize. A prize which may one day serve to check yours, Hidden One, should you ever decide to misuse it.”

Royo Raju exchanged looks with the Senmurai.

They said nothing. It felt as if they didn’t need to.

For his part, Royo sensed a kind of silent understanding between them.

A prize to check his own.

Royo wasn’t in love with the idea, but he doubted he would ever get a better offer. And though he didn’t know what was going through the Senmurai’s head right now, he had a feeling that Hector felt the same way.

But it felt like more than that, too. Somehow.

He had never put much stock in prophecies, but he was a believer in destiny. He had never thought that mere mortals could--or even should--see what awaited them in the future. Destiny was important and meaningful, but spending one’s time trying to predict it was folly, he felt.

Yet now, he did not know how else to explain this feeling. Perhaps it was because there were more than just “mere mortals” present. Whatever the case, it made him feel as if his destiny was being inextricably bound to this person. As if, one day, the Senmurai would become either his greatest ally or greatest foe.

He wondered if the Senmurai was feeling similarly in this moment. He almost considered using the Piercing Eye to try to find out.

Then, after the moment passed, the Idle God, He Who Sits, did something that no one was expecting him to do.

He stood.

“Alright,” said Malast as walked over to the Senmurai, “let’s see here...” He reached out with one hand.

The Senmurai, rather understandably, recoiled away from him.

Malast took notice and paused there. “Fear not. I will do you no harm. Allow me to place my hand upon you.”

Page 1604

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“...If that’s really all he wants,” said Hector, “then why hasn’t he done it by now?” He looked toward Malast again. “How many years have you been down here, holding onto that thing?”

Malast bobbed his head, having regained some composure, apparently. “...It has been quite a long time, I suppose. But then again, time is not time.”

“Oh, please, no,” said the Senmurai. “Don’t even start with that shit...”

“Bearers of the Supreme Will are quite rare,” said Malast. “And on top of that, finding one who is agreeable makes the task even more difficult. I tried in the past to find a suitable vessel for Secho, but to no avail.”

“...Did you really try that hard?” said Hector. “Are you sure you didn’t just get bored and lazy?”

“I... that’s...” Malast grit his teeth, and then added force to his next words. “Be silent.”

“...No,” was all Hector said, unfazed.

“Agh... Supreme-Will-having bastard...” He broke for a familiar sigh. “Look. The point is, I had just about given up hope of ever seeing my friend reborn when Ettol finally arrived and said that he would help me out.”

That piqued Royo’s interest--and the Senmurai’s, by the look of it.

Royo spoke up first, however. “Why did Ettol decide to help you?”

“I don’t know,” said Malast. “That guy never explains himself. And I honestly thought he was full of crap, until the three of you showed up.”

“Three?” said Hector.

“Three suitable vessels. You, the Hidden One, and the Angry One.”

Royo didn’t need to ask. He had a pretty good idea of who the Angry One was. And Malast was probably right to think that the one called Zeff would not be very agreeable to his offer. Not in these circumstances, at least.

“Hmm,” hummed Hector. “How did Secho die, anyway?”

Malast paused at that, shifting somewhat in his tall stone chair. “The Void rended him from existence.”

Royo felt the air grow abruptly more tense when Malast said that, almost as if the Idle God’s sheer animosity had been made physical.

A curious sensation, Royo thought.

“The Void?” said Hector while Royo was distracted. “You’re telling me the Void is real, too?”

Malast seemed confused by that question. “Real? Of course not. How could the Void be real? The Void is all that is not. Non-existence cannot be real.”

“...Excuse me?”

Royo didn’t quite follow that, either.

“Whatever,” said Malast. “I’m not good at explaining things, okay? Can we just get back to resurrecting Secho, please? I’d like to get a nap in later, and this annoying conversation is really eating into my me time.”

Royo saw the opening and took it. “It should be clear by now that I am your only reliable option. You must know beyond doubt that I will absolutely revive Secho for you.”

“Hold on--” tried Hector.

“No, he’s right,” said Malast. “He is far more agreeable than you are, Iron One.”

Page 1603

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“You see?” said Hector. “Just because you have the power to do things like that to people, doesn’t mean you should. Especially not without asking their permission first. I mean, you’re a god, aren’t you? Have a sense of responsibility or something!”

“I... I do have a sense of responsibility...”

Rather than responding, the Senmurai just stared at him, waiting for elaboration.

“I--” Malast looked over his audience. “Ugh. Why do you think I never intervene in the affairs of your kind? Despite constantly being asked to, no less? It’s because I have a responsibility to let you be the makers of your own fate.”

“...Is that really true?” The Senmurai probably could not have sounded more doubtful if he tried.

“Yeah,” added the one called Diego. He was sitting cross-legged on the ground with his ghost in his lap. “Seems like you intervened pretty hard with this little tournament of yours.”

You, return to silence,” said Malast.

And again, the one called Diego found himself unable to speak.

“Was that really necessary?” said Hector.

“I find that one’s voice particularly irritating for some reason.”

Hector folded his armored arms. “He’s not wrong, though. You did intervene in our affairs, didn’t you?”

Malast’s expression twitched. “That’s. Because. Secho. Secho is an exception.”


“Because!” said Malast with uncharacteristic fervor. “I told you before! He is my only friend! The only thing I have ever liked!”

“Okay,” allowed Hector. “But then, doesn’t that mean that the real reason you don’t intervene in our affairs is just because you don’t feel like it? Because we don’t interest you? I mean, you are the God of Boredom, after all.”

“I... well... that’s... true, but...”

“I mean, you can rationalize it all you want, but you can’t honestly say that you have a sense of responsibility if you’re really just doing what you feel like doing.”

And Malast appeared to be lost for words.

This was getting out of hand, Royo felt. He had no idea what the Senmurai’s game here was, but it didn’t seem like a good idea to just let it go unchecked.

He would have to challenge Hector himself, if there was to be any hope of rescuing Malast from him.

“Senmurai,” said Royo, gaining everyone’s attention. There was no point in pulling his punches. He needed to turn the conversation into favorable territory. “If Malast gives you the Urn of Growth, will you use it to merge with Secho’s remains? Or will you simply take it and do nothing with it?”


Good. That seemed to have removed some of that momentum.

“Why are you asking?” said Hector.

An easy question to answer. “Because it is highly relevant to achieving a desirable resolution from our current circumstances. Malast wants nothing more than his friend to return to him.” He spared the Idle God a pitying glance. “Now, perhaps the manner in which he has gone about it... has been less than ideal, but he never claimed to be a perfect being, despite whatever biases you and I may possess toward the term ‘god.’”

Page 1602

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The Senmurai noticed Royo there immediately, and the two exchanged looks.

“Eleyo,” came the surface-dweller’s armor-tinged voice. “Are you okay? You don’t look so good...”

The answer to that, of course, was no. He felt like he might collapse if he lost focus for even a moment, but that was neither here nor there.

Even now, the Senmurai was making metal hover around himself, as if to intimidate Royo, as if to imply that he wasn’t even tired after that grueling fight that everyone had just witnessed.

These damn supermen...

“Iron One,” interrupted Malast. “Why do you wish to become a god?”

The question seemed to surprise him. “Uh... I don’t.”

Malast looked over at Royo.

Yes. That was the ideal answer.

“Then why did you apparently risk your life fighting that worm?” said Malast.

There came a long period of silence.

Then Hector finally said, “...Wait, what? I could’ve surrendered against it?”

Malast blinked dully at him. “Of course you could have. Are you stupid?”

“Hey, I... What? The last time I checked, none of the contestants were giant slime monsters. I didn’t think that qualified as a proper match or whatever. I thought--agh... I--just... agh...”

“Mm. So in other words, you were fighting for your life, not to win the tournament.”

“Yes! But wait a second! Are you really saying you would’ve teleported us out of there, if we’d asked you to?!”

“Of course I would have.”

“What?! Why?!”

“What do you mean, why?”

“I thought you didn’t care!” said Hector. “You kept on telling us about how much you don’t care about anything, so I thought Garovel and I were just screwed!”

“Ah... hmm.” Malast scratched his chin thoughtfully. “Well, I can understand why you would think that, but still, you could have at least asked, no? It would have been in perfect accordance with the rule I established before the tournament. And I mean, c’mon. I’m not entirely without empathy.”

“Oh yeah? Is that why you forced everyone into a tournament without even asking us if we wanted to participate first?”

“What need was there to ask?” said Malast. “If you didn’t want to participate, you could have just surrendered in the first round.”

“Malast.” The Senmurai broke for a groan of exasperation. “It’s not that simple. Some of these people are my allies, you know. Friends. But others--we barely even know each other. And not to mention, we have completely different levels of strength, too. Pitting us against each other made no sense...”

“Sure it did,” said Malast, though he offered no counterargument.

“It was also kind of cruel,” Hector added.

“What? Cruel? I don’t see how.”

“It was really dangerous and confusing!” The Senmurai was looking around now. “Is everybody okay, by the way?!”

There were a few words of acknowledgment thrown out from everyone else.

“The only casualty in the tournament was that of Seyos,” said Malast.

Hector paused. “So it was dangerous and someone did die.”

“Ah... well... yes.”

Royo wasn’t sure what was happening. Why did it suddenly sound like the Senmurai was winning this argument? And why did the Idle God sound like a child being scolded?

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Royo grimaced. There was no good way to answer that question directly. So he avoided it. “You must know by now that I will use your gift. I will not let it go to waste. Your friend Secho would be reborn with me, absolutely.”

And Royo saw Malast hesitate.

The one called Elise chimed in. “Why don’t you just admit that you’re too scared to fight Lord Darksteel and surrender?” she said.

What an obnoxious woman--and made all the more so, because he knew that she wasn’t wrong.

He didn’t have the energy to argue with her, though. What would be the point? To keep up appearances? Everyone present must have been able to tell that he was an exhausted wreck.

Besides, it didn’t matter. He wouldn’t achieve victory here by winning her over. Or any of these other interlopers, either. They were inconsequential. It was only Malast whom he needed to convince.

And judging from the Idle God’s expression and sudden quietude, Royo felt like that might just be possible, after all. Malast probably didn’t care one iota about any of these people or their opinions. Malast only wanted his friend back.

“Do you truly wish to see Secho again, or do you not?” said Royo.

“Ugh, you’re not really listening to this, are you?” said the surface-woman. “He is obviously just--”

“Be silent,” said Malast, with familiar force.

And she was. Her mouth continued to open, but no words came out.

The one called Zeff grabbed Malast by the throat. “What have you done to her?!” he roared.

“Begone with you.” The Staff of Unso shined in Malast’s hand.

And the one called Zeff vanished into thin air along with his ghost.

Royo blinked, thinking for a second that Malast had just annihilated the two of them. But then he saw them appear in the viewing window, alongside the Senmurai, whose body language suggested that he was quite surprised to see them.

Silence fell as no one else dared speak.

Even Royo was hesitant.

At length, Malast finally asked him something. “...Why would the Iron One believe that you would abuse Secho’s power?”

A dangerous question, that one. “Because he is mistaken,” said Royo, hoping that wasn’t a foolish thing to say. Perhaps that could be helped with a qualifying follow up. “But of course, I cannot read his mind and know his reasoning with complete certainty. Perhaps he merely thinks that none should wield such power.”

Malast sighed that familiar sigh of his. “Well, he wouldn’t be the first.”

Madly and impulsively, Royo wanted to say that Malast should simply ask Hector himself, but he was fortunately able to stop himself. No good would come of bringing Hector into this conversation, he felt.

“I think I’ll ask him,” said Malast.

It took everything Royo had not to scowl as he watched Hector and his ghost vanish from the viewing window and reappear in front of Malast.


Page 1600

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He’d encountered games like this before. Hell, he’d helped make a few of them. So he knew that there was really only one thing, besides surrendering, that players could do when they found themselves besieged from all angles like this.

Change the game.

Everyone was staring at Royo now, waiting for his response

Royo kept his gaze locked on Malast as he chose his next words very carefully. “...What will you do if the Iron One, as you call him, actually wins this tournament?”

“What do you mean?” said Malast. “I’ll give him Secho’s remains, as I said I would.”

“...And what if he accepts Secho’s remains, but decides not to use them?” said Royo.

Malast made no response.

“What if he elects not to become a god,” said Royo. “What will you do, then?”

“That wouldn’t make any sense,” said Malast, though he sounded uncertain. “He could have surrendered at any time. Why would he have fought so hard in this tournament, if he didn’t wish to win?”

“He does wish to win,” said Royo. “He simply does not want the prize. At least, not to use.”

“What does he want it for, then?”

“He wants to keep it so that none may use it,” said Royo. He didn’t actually know that, of course, but as long as it supported his cause and sounded convincing, then it didn’t matter whether it was true or not. As long as he said it with complete and utter confidence, then maybe Malast would believe it. “His goal is not to harness the power you are offering. His goal is to prevent anyone else from harnessing that power for evil--or what he views as evil, at least.”

Malast smacked his lips but didn’t say anything.

“Ask him yourself, if you want,” said Royo, in truth hoping that Malast wouldn’t do that. Perhaps this wasn’t the time for such a simple trick as reverse psychology, but he did have something to follow it up with. “Just don’t expect him to tell you the truth. Obviously, he would not want you to realize that he has no intention of doing as you want him to.”

The one called Zeff intervened. “What the hell are you talking about? What is all this nonsense about becoming a god?”

This was precisely what Royo didn’t need, right now. Why couldn’t this problematic fool have just stayed where he was back in Himmekel? Royo didn’t even know how the hell the one called Zeff had managed to get here.

“I thought you already knew all about that,” said Malast. “That’s what this whole tournament is for. Wasn’t that why you wanted to join?”

“I didn’t want to join your moronic tournament!” said Zeff. “I just want my people back! Either bring Hector here now or take me to him so that I can bring him back myself!”

“The tournament isn’t over yet.” Malast’s eyes returned to Royo. “Or is it?”

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Such was the essence of life. Unfairness. That was a lesson he had somehow refused to learn as a child, despite being confronted with all the evidence in the world.

Even now, a part of him still wanted to refuse. It didn’t care how impossible the feat was or how drained he felt or even how close to dying he’d come on several occasions now.

That part of him was telling him that, sure, maybe he couldn’t beat the Senmurai, but maybe he could still outwit him. Maybe the Senmurai didn’t have what it took to be truly merciless in this tournament. Maybe he could just refuse to surrender, to force the Senmurai to make a choice of either killing him in cold blood or losing the tournament.

That was the one rule that Malast had specified, after all. Victory was achieved when one’s opponent either died or surrendered.

It was a foolish plan, to be sure, but that part of him was telling Royo to try it, anyway. To be bold and unrelenting. To be himself.

But there were at least two major problems with that plan that Royo could think of. The first was, of course, what if Hector really did just kill him? While it was true that Royo’s instinct was telling him that the young surface-dweller wouldn’t be able to do it, he also didn’t really know him well enough to gamble with his own life so confidently.

The second problem was that--even if Royo’s instinct was correct and Hector couldn’t bring himself to kill him--the choice was a false dichotomy. Hector wouldn’t actually HAVE to surrender to Royo. The fight could simply become an indefinite stalemate.

And the Senmurai was immortal, while Royo was not.

If Hector really wanted to, he could just wait Royo out, even if it took years. More likely, though, it would only take until Royo starved to death in this godforsaken place.

So, yes. Royo could no longer see a realistic path to victory in this game they were playing.

“Well?” came the voice of the Idle God. “Hidden One? Are you going to fight the Iron One or not? I may be the most patient being in all of Creation, but if you plan on surrendering, then there’s no need to draw things out.”

Royo was having a hard time just keeping his eyes open. Every muscle in his body ached. The cut on his chest that he’d received from Seyos was just an extra helping of pain, as was the freezing burn that he’d received accidentally from the one called Zeff a couple days ago. And really, he just wanted to go to sleep. To let his weary mind rest.

He had about a thousand reasons to surrender, right now. It would’ve been so easy.

And yet, he couldn’t bring himself to say the words.

Instead, he was thinking that this game was all wrong. Surely, if there was no means by which a player could achieve the proposed objective, then that was no game at all, was it? It was a foregone conclusion. Rigged.

Page 1598 -- CLXXII.

((The 17 pages of St. Patrick's Day + Triple Saturday -- Page 2 of 20))
Chapter One Hundred Seventy-Two: ‘Thine ambition, grasp firmly...’
Click to display entire chapter at once -- (mobile link)

Royo Raju frowned tiredly. He didn’t know what to do now.

Frankly, when he’d been teleported into that chamber with Hector and a giant worm, seeing them both seconds away from crushing him like an insect, Royo had not wanted any part of it. Fighting human opponents was one thing. Even superhumans, he could deal with. But a damn worm, too?

He had lived in the Undercrust all his life. He knew only too well what those abominations were capable of.

So he had fled. He had used the Pendant of Unso and gotten the hell out of there. It was one of the wiser decisions he’d made lately, Royo felt. He had hoped that the worm would eliminate the Senmurai for him, especially considering the worm wasn’t an actual competitor in the tournament, meaning that Royo would win by default as the last man standing. In theory, anyway. He wasn’t sure if Malast would have made him fight the worm anyway, but presumably not, if the Idle God genuinely did want a successor for Secho.

Not that it mattered now, of course.

He and everyone else had witnessed Hector’s battle, thanks to Malast--or rather, thanks to the Staff of Unso.

An artifact, according to the Piercing Eye, which was capable of creating traversable rifts in space when used in conjunction with Heartstone. Created 1,348 years ago by Unso.

What Heartstone was, Royo had yet to work out, nor did it seem as though he would know anytime soon.

Fatigue had reared its ugly head after that reading. Certainly, the battle with Seyos had been exhausting, but this was beyond merely that. It was a side effect of using the Piercing Eye so much, he was convinced.

So he had stopped using it, despite very much wanting to. He had managed to catch a glimpse of the absolute abyss of information that was sitting right there in front of him, in the form of the Idle God.

Royo didn’t know what would happen if he tried to wade into that territory. If he didn’t already feel on the verge of passing out, he might have been more tempted to try it.

And so, here he now was, sitting on the ground and trying to recuperate--or at least think of some sort of plan, maybe--while he observed the Senmurai finishing off that monster.

He could hear the one called Zeff laughing faintly. “Impossible,” the man was saying, sounding equal parts amused and incredulous.

Only minutes ago, the man had been shouting at Malast--and even threatening and grabbing him by the neck. He didn’t seem to understand or perhaps even care that he was speaking to a god.

Malast had only sat there, however, telling him that it wouldn’t be fair to let him join the tournament this late, even though he would make a suitable vessel for Secho.

The one called Zeff had seemed as though he were about to become violent, until suddenly, the Senmurai started winning.

It was so profoundly unfair.

Confident as he was in himself, Royo didn’t think he was a match for the Senmurai. Certainly not now. Not after what he’d just seen.

Page 1597

((The 17 pages of St. Patrick's Day + Triple Saturday -- Page 1 of 20))
Hector went to work while he could, boxing up every bit of isolated sludge that he could sense. It was everywhere, but so was his spatial awareness, and iron clapped together in rapid succession. He pulled them all toward him. More for the collection. So much more. It was almost complete now.

He hit the ground floor just after his arm did.

You alright?’ he asked.

Yeah,’ said Garovel, though he sounded a little shaken and followed it up with a sigh.

Only a few puddles of sludge were left after all that, and Hector could sense exactly where they were while he retrieved his shield and reaper. His arm was still regrowing, so Hector took his time but never stopped keeping track of his opponent, even in its weakened state.

Hector felt like Garovel could use some encouragement. Without a doubt, that had been one of their closest brushes with death, just now. ‘Ah... you were right about the worm absorbing the power of the Moon’s Wrath.

Mm. Looks like you didn’t need that mirror, though.’

Hector eyed the iron-encased mirror as it orbited past his field of view. ‘It’ll make a good souvenir. Or maybe we can sell it. It looked expensive.

Would you mind just finishing the fight, already? You’re making me nervous.’

His arm still had a bit more to go, but maybe he didn’t need it.

The last bit of sludge had managed to reaccumulate into a cow-sized lump, and it was hiding behind a pile of debris on the other side of the room.

That was too big to add to his collection, so he’d have to break it up.

With a wave of his hand, Hector dropped a cluster of deeply frozen javelins on it. They exploded and blew the worm to pieces.

He boxed the final remnants up and started gathering them. Little iron boxes, sliding across the uneven ground toward him, pushing themselves along a track in the same way that he had made his iron do many times before.

And he completed his worm collection.

He exhaled a ragged breath. Dozens upon dozens of iron boxes floated around him in synchronous orbit, crowding up the space around him with so much mass that it completely block his normal vision, at times.

And they were all clear to him, in his mind. There were seventy-two of them there, including the larger, hotel-like one that he’d made earlier. And a couple discs, as well, which he now decided to dematerialize.

Well done, my friend.

Relieved as he felt, Hector was also a little confused now. Was the fight over? He was pretty sure he’d won. The worm couldn’t break free of its many tiny cages, even if it wasn’t technically dead.

Uh... so now what, Garovel?

Good question. I figured Malast would’ve teleported us by now.


Do you think you can destroy the little chunks of the worm, one at a time?

Uh... yeah, probably.

Try that, then. It might take a while, but you’ll work your way up to destroying ninety percent of its body mass eventually, right?

Alright.’ He set to work.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Page 1596

The command had to be impassioned when it came to temperature. Not angry or anything like that. Just emotionally stronger in relation to the degree of desired change.

At least, that was the easiest way for him to conceptualize it.

The next boulder that he dropped on the worm was well below freezing, but it was still only enough to make it crack audibly. It did seem to annoy the worm a little more, though, so that was something.

The beast reared its head back and vomited lightning all the way up toward him.

Hector was already dodging. The explosion rocked the third floor, but he was well out of it blast radius and only had to endure a few pebbles bouncing off his armor.

Third time was the charm, he felt. The next boulder was even colder still, and it did explode as it materialized above the worm’s body.

The blast splattered the worm across the bottom floor, and he could see the sludge bubbling with what he thought might be irritation.

So he annihilated the scattered chunks of iron and did it again right as the worm was reforming.

After that, the worm didn’t even bother fully reforming before it started sloshing its way upward like a vertical tidal wave.

Yeah, he was pretty sure he’d pissed it off now.

He leapt up, above the enormous chasm in the third floor, and loosed another disc at max speed. The knockback from the sonic boom was enough to send him up higher through the air and touch the ceiling briefly as he watched the disc cut through the sludge like a knife through warm butter.

He took advantage of his position and bounced off the ceiling in order to shoot himself straight downward, eager to pick up more boxes of sludge for his collection.

The glaring crackle of lightning got in his way, however, and he only had a split second’s warning to materialize a lightning rod for himself there in midair. He only just managed to ground it against the rock wall before it exploded right in front of him.

Haqq’s shield took the brunt of impact for him, and he continued through, smote black and covered in iron dust but no worse for wear.

Then he saw the laser.

It was too fast to react to, appearing all at once, as lasers do. He only knew that it originated from straight ahead.

The shield took the brunt of it. But not all of it. The beam was just a little too broad, and everything immediately around the shield got hit with the beam as well.

Hector’s body was split in two. The beam cut through his armor like it was nothing, making his shield-arm separate from the rest of him.

The same arm that was holding Garovel.

And it was falling into an ocean of sludge.

Hector reacted without even thinking, loosing every disc he’d had in waiting while simultaneously growing a half-dozen more.

And the ocean parted.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Page 1595

He didn’t want to rush in and attack the worm directly. He had a feeling that that would be playing into its slimy, nonexistent hands and would probably get himself counterattacked in some way. And at this distance, simply launching more discs probably wouldn’t do much. They were fast, sure, but the worm’s reactions were pretty fast, too, from what he could tell, and he wanted to save the discs anyway for an opportune moment. Right now, they were probably his best means of getting out of a very bad situation.

So he decided to go for something different--something that would allow him to easily harass the beast from afar and hopefully piss it off.

He’d been wanting to try using temperature manipulation offensively since the beginning of the fight, but he knew that it was still unstable here in the Undercrust. The moment he materialized any freezing iron, the ambient heat would cause it to weaken or even explode. Not particularly useful for caging a worm--and having endured one of those explosions himself, he was pretty sure they wouldn’t have enough force behind them to actually damage this monster.

It might be enough annoy it, though. And he wanted to see if he could make the explosions any more powerful now, too.

He materialized a frozen boulder of iron, as big as the worm itself, and let it drop on the beast’s head.

It didn’t do much. It certainly didn’t explode. It must’ve had too much mass for the heat to compromise its structure that quickly. The worm didn’t seem particularly bothered by it, either, and just oozed out from below it and continued on its merry way, gobbling up debris.

Dammit. He annihilated the boulder.

Maybe this wouldn’t even work. He was going to have to figure out the optimal mass for these particular atmospheric conditions, and how many guesses would that require?

Or maybe...? Maybe he could keep the mass the same and just keep decreasing the temperature?


Surely, the lower the temperature of his iron, the more intensely the heat of the Undercrust would clash with it.

Worth a shot, he supposed. He had no idea how low he could push the temperature now. Hell, he didn’t even know that before the emergence. He hadn’t had the occasion or the notion to find the exact limitations of his ability to manipulate temperature.

But now was as good a time as any to find out.

Temperature manipulation was a funny thing. He’d come to realize that it wasn’t like other techniques. He couldn’t achieve it by just visualizing it in his mind the way he did when he was creating shapes or adding iron to things. With temperature, it was more like a command, as if were giving his iron an order that it had no choice but to follow.

Velocity states were similar in that regard, but still not quite the same. With velocity, spatial awareness was as equally important as the command was, but with temperature, it was more... emotional.

Yeah. That was exactly what it was, Hector was beginning to realize.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Page 1594

((Triple Wednesday -- Page 3 of 3))
There were so many moving parts. The shifting armor with its cooling effect. Twenty-four boxes in orbit. And five more discs, orbiting at a much higher speed, ready to be let loose.

Yet he wasn’t struggling to maintain it all. He felt as if he could handle much more than this, even. But he did want to organize it a bit more. So he started allowing the twenty-four boxes to collide and attach themselves to one another. The walls of each of the cubes were maintained, however. He only wanted to group them together, like miniature hotels, perhaps. Each piece of sludge stayed where it was, in its own room, but now the rooms were grouped together horizontally.

He found it even easier to keep track of, and perhaps most importantly, it freed extra space in orbit around him. He was going to be needing that soon, he felt.

The worm below had amassed itself back into a single beast again. It appeared to be biding its time, searching for debris to devour and absorb while it waited for Hector to come for it.

Somehow, he didn’t much care for that. At this point, he almost would’ve preferred it to keep acting like a rabid animal.

And perhaps that was why it wasn’t doing that.

The thing wasn’t nearly as stupid as he might have hoped, Hector knew. If it wanted him to attack first, it was probably going to try something sneaky. And it hadn’t used its lightning in a while, either, as it had been divided.

That was going to be a problem, with all this iron swirling around him. He’d have to be even more mindful of it.

Hector, wait a minute,’ said Garovel.

What?’ He’d been just about to leap down there.

The treasure pile over there. There are a few mirrors in it. I want you to grab one. The largest you can carry unhindered.

Hector saw the pile he was referring to and started making his way over. It was a bit scattered compared to when they’d first arrived but still mostly intact. He still had to ask, though, ‘Why a mirror?

Just a precaution,’ the reaper said. ‘The worm ate the Moon’s Wrath, remember? And there are rumors that these bastards can absorb powers.

Hector understood. It would be like the time he fought Harper, in other words. Thinking back on that experience, he very much hoped it didn’t come to that.

He found a mirror that seemed suitable, if maybe a bit expensive-looking with its bejeweled and golden paneling. According to the Scarf of Amordiin, it was the largest one here, being slightly taller and wider than Haqq’s shield. He decided not to carry it, though, wanting to keep his right hand free, and instead chose to encase it in iron and add it to his orbital collection.

Garovel chuckled. ‘That’s pretty handy.

Hector could only agree.

He started back toward the worm, going over his next plan in his head.

Page 1593

((Triple Wednesday -- Page 2 of 3))
Moving with his iron was easier than ever. He hardly even had to think about it. He only had to know where he wanted to go and how he wanted to get there, and his iron carried him as if on the nose of a train--or in the mouth of a snake, perhaps, considering how trivial it was to weave in between piles of rock and eager slime. And the Scarf of Amordiin was certainly helping in that regard, too. Being able to sense the worms attacking before Garovel even had a chance to warn him was immensely valuable.

Another of the worms dove in mouth-first, and Hector slid out of its path on a suspended railway of iron. The opening was clear, and he took full advantage, loosing another sawblade. He had tried to evolve it another step, though, and added a second, perpendicular disc to it. So instead of splitting the worm in two, it split in four.

He didn’t let up on the pressure, either. His next work was three sawblades melded into one, and he loosed it on one of the four sections he’d just made, dicing it up even more.

Those looked small enough. He boxed all the little sludgy chunks in iron and added them to his orbital collection as he readied still more discs.

These six new boxes were clearly much more stable than the first two, Hector sensed. They weren’t shaking nearly as much and--

Yeah, the the sludge was already breaking through the larger two, drilling holes into them and trying to goop its way out.

He could’ve just added more iron to the boxes to try and keep the troublemakers where they were, but he didn’t want to do that. Instead, he saw an opportunity with the next worm lunging after him.

Hector annihilated the first two boxes and allowed the sludge therein a blissful moment of freedom right as the nearest worm dove in and missed. Then a multi-sawblade sliced through all of them at once, creating an fresh new batch of collectible sludge.

That was twelve more little boxes in orbit. And after another two discs for the worm that had so graciously offered itself up to him, Hector had another batch of six on top of that, bringing him to a grand total of twenty-four boxes so far, all orbiting around him as he eased himself onto the third floor.

Even with all of that work, there was still plenty more slime sloshing around below. Math wasn’t really his forte, but from his estimation, it looked like he’d reduced its overall mass by maybe a third or so.

However, the sludge that remained seemed to be thinking twice about chasing him now.

Sweet Cocora,’ said Garovel. ‘Hector, that was... I’m not even sure what to...

Hector didn’t want to be too pleased with himself. ‘It’s not over yet.’ He double-checked the boxes in orbit around him. They were trembling a little but holding, nonetheless.

Page 1592

((Triple Wednesday -- Page 1 of 3))
The iron boulder shot forward with a thick gust of wind that was strong enough to knock him clean off his platform. Its shape distorted in midair, and it hit the worm dead on, causing as much of an explosion as the beast’s own lightning had earlier.

Hector, what the fuck was that?! How did you just--?!

He was only half-listening to the reaper. He was still a little disoriented from the blowback. Even though he’d tried to brace himself, he hadn’t expected it to be quite that powerful.

Garovel was still talking, saying something about wind speed, but Hector needed to maintain his focus.

The worm needed time to recover, too, which was already more of an effect than a simple impact from his iron had previously had, but there was no doubt in Hector’s mind that it would recover--and soon.

That was a good test run. A good foundation from which to build. Now he needed to refine and improve it.

Two more cubes appeared in orbit around him. And this time, he changed their shapes preemptively as he grew them. He knew they would begin to distort as they left his control, but he still wanted them to be less boxy.

He wanted them to be blades.

From everything he’d come to know of worms in his multiple encounters with them, he knew that the bigger they were, the more they could withstand blunt force and explosive impacts. He needed to cut it down to size.

And fortunately enough, the worm had already split itself up into three again. No doubt, it wanted to replicate its previous success with that strategy, but it was going to be sorely disappointed.

He started bounding away on rising platforms and waited for them to try to surround him.

It didn’t take long.

He made it up to the second floor, which was now mostly gone, and sure enough, one of the worms rose up right in front of him while the other two chased from behind. Its mouth was already wide open as it lunged at him.

He loosed one of the blades--a circular disc with a saw-tooth edge--and cleaved the worm in two from mouth to tail. He chased the half that splattered off to the right and loosed the second disc, bisecting it again.

Those two chunks splattered against the wall, and Hector immediately boxed them in with iron while also readying more discs for the worms at his heels.

His strategy didn’t end there, however. He knew from earlier that just boxing the little ones in wouldn’t be enough, not when the big ones could free them.

So he brought them with him.

The two boxes full of sludge--he launched them toward himself and put them into orbit along with the still-growing discs.

The boxes were unfortunately still rather cumbersome. He could see them shaking as the sludge tried to free itself, which it probably soon would, Hector figured. But he would be ready.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Page 1591 -- CLXXI.

Chapter One Hundred Seventy-One: ‘The Lord of Darksteel...’
Click to display entire chapter at once -- (mobile link)

The overwhelming sensation of emergence in that particular moment was not immediately helpful. If anything, it made matters worse, because the feeling took him by surprise while he was mid-swing with the Moon’s Wrath.

Which threw Hector off balance.

Instead of smashing cleanly through the wall of sludge in front of him, the mace stopped halfway and got stuck there. It had still managed to make an opening for him to launch himself through, which he did, but in doing so, the Moon’s Wrath slipped from his grasp and was swallowed by the amassing sludge.

Hector flew farther than he expected to, as well. His iron had launched him with much more strength than he’d intended it to, and he ended up hitting the wall on the far end of the chamber, though he did at least manage to catch himself on it instead of slamming into it face first.

He slid back down the ground, armor scraping against rock, and turned around to observe the worm.

It had stopped chasing him, for the moment. It was perhaps impossible to know what the beast was thinking or feeling--assuming it could do either of those things--but Hector got the impression from the way it was sloshing up and down that it was quite pleased with itself.

Pleased with its prize.

It’s okay,’ Garovel was saying. ‘Don’t panic.

Hector wasn’t. As much as he might’ve liked to hold onto the Moon’s Wrath, losing it didn’t bother him terribly. Not now, at least.

Instead, he was already thinking about what he was going to do next. What he could next.

Just before the emergence, there had been something he had wanted to try, something he had done a while ago but had yet to properly integrate into his fighting style. And now, well...

He was certain that he could get it to work.

A single iron cube appeared in orbit around him.

He added to it, doubling its mass. Tripling it. Quadrupling it. Increasing it still further, larger than anything he had yet tried to put it in orbit. It became so big that he had to raise himself up on a platform so that the cube didn’t scrape against the ground.

Soon enough, it was the size of a car.

The worm, having concluded its little celebration, finally noticed him again and started sloshing toward him.

Hector ramped up the speed of the cube’s orbit. Faster. Faster. Still faster.

He added his soul to the boulder, though of course he knew that he couldn’t compete when it came to soul-strengthening. It was just for that little bit of extra oomph. Because really, he intended to make up for that difference in power with sheer physical force.

So he didn’t stop increasing its speed, even when the giant cube began whipping up a whirlwind around him, even when he could feel himself beginning to lose control of it. That was the ultimate goal, after all. He just had to focus and allow himself to lose control of it at just the right moment.

And he did.