Monday, April 30, 2018

Page 1721

((Triple Monday -- Page 3 of 3))
Hector tilted his head to the side a little as he considered his next words. He kept his arms folded, because he wanted to be sure that he didn’t give off a false sense of aggression. A servant’s hands were arguably the most dangerous part of their body, after all.

“Do you wanna know why I didn’t attack you while your guard was down?” said Hector.

“Sure,” said Leo.

“It was because you kept all of my Rainlords alive.” That definitely hadn’t been the reason, but it sure sounded good, Hector thought. “You didn’t have to do that.”

Leo’s gaze turned to the floor, and he fell silent one more time.

“I thought... maybe you don’t have to be my enemy. And seeing you sitting there, looking kind of... lost... I thought maybe you needed some help.”

“...Hence why you asked if I was alright,” said Leo.

“Yeah.”

“Well...” Leo bit the inside of his bottom lip for a second. “You weren’t wrong, I s’pose. I have been feeling kinda... lost.”

Chalk another one up for Rasalased, Hector thought.

More than kinda, actually,” Leo continued. “I’m pretty much at the end of my rope, if I’m bein’ totally honest.” He looked up at Hector again. “Did the big cat’s reaper tell you that about me, too?”

“...Big cat?”

“Roman,” said Leo.

Oh, so he did know Roman’s name. “Ah...” Hector couldn’t actually remember if Voreese had mentioned anything about Leo’s state of mind. He didn’t think so, though. He only recalled Rasalased’s words about it. “No, but... his reaper did mention that he was worried about you.”

“...Really?”

No. It was an easy way to score some brownie points for Roman, though. “Really.”

Leo eyed Roman’s encased head.

Hector saw the opening and took it. “...Now, why don’t you give him back to me?”

Leo was quiet again, and Hector could practically see the gears turning in his head. At length, Leo finally said, “What’ll ya give me in return?”

Agh, of course. “What do you want?” said Hector.

“...I’d like your protection as well,” said Leo.

“My...?” The word was left stranded.

“Your protection,” reiterated Leo. “From Sai-hee, specifically. Y’know. The same protection you’re giving to your Rainlords.”

Was this fucking guy serious? Was he being sarcastic? What the fuck was happening, right now?

Silence was all Hector could conjure as a response.

“...Is that a no?” said Leo.

Okay, seriously, what the fuck? It didn’t sound like sarcasm.

Did this guy actually believe everything that Hector had just said? He’d expected considerably more skepticism. Had Roman and Voreese just been that good at talking him up?

“Why so quiet all of a sudden, bro?” said Leo. “You just said you could protect all the Rainlords from her, so why not me, too?”

Ah, wait a minute... This was a test.

Okay.

That made more sense.

Kind of.

Page 1720

((Triple Monday -- Page 2 of 3))
Leo just stared back at him, not saying anything.

Was that... good? Hector couldn’t really tell.

It was probably best to move the conversation along while he had the chance, Hector figured. The fewer lies he was forced to tell, the better. “...Why are you holding my friend captive, by the way? Did he do something wrong?”

Leo took his time answering. His expression seemed different than it was before. Sharper, maybe. Not quite angry, but close. “...He betrayed me. Followin’ your orders, I’m guessin’.”

“Ah...” Hector understood. Leo must have gone back to the warehouses, seen that the Rainlords were missing, and immediately blamed Roman. “That’s a bit hypocritical, don’t you think?”

“...‘Scuse me?”

“I mean... you betrayed him first, didn’t you? He was coming to meet me here in Capaporo, and... then you betrayed his trust in order to capture my Rainlords.”

Again, Leo didn’t say anything.

Oh, man, this was ridiculous. Hector couldn’t help feeling like Zeff would kick him in the teeth if he’d heard what he just said.

Hector knew that he couldn’t let any such feelings show on his face, though. He had to keep it together. Composure might’ve been the only thing preventing Leo from attacking him, right now.

“...Also,” Hector went on, “I’d argue that he wasn’t so much betraying you, as he was just being loyal to me.”

Leo snorted loud enough to draw a couple looks from the other people in the gallery. “The hell difference does that make?!”

“It makes a big difference,” said Hector. “A proper betrayal would be more... malicious. Or selfish, at least. But what he did was the complete opposite of selfish. And... it definitely wasn’t malicious, either. I’m sure he didn’t want to hurt you.”

“Hmph.” Leo did not look convinced, but he didn’t offer a counterargument.

Agh. Was that really it? More silent treatment? Hector racked his brain for another angle of attack. He was having trouble, though. If the guy was just gonna keep shutting down and not responding, then how the hell were they supposed to discuss anything?

At length, however, he did think of something else.

“...Did you really consider him your friend?” said Hector.

Leo’s glare only seemed to be growing more intense with each new question. “Why do you care?”

“Just curious, I guess.” And when it seemed like Leo might not answer him again, Hector decided to add, “I know how difficult it can be to make friends.”

Leo’s expression flickered for a second, though in what way, Hector couldn’t tell. “You offerin’ to be my friend, after all?”

Oh shit, back to this? “Ah... maybe.”

“Maybe? The hell does that mean, man? You wanna be my friend ‘r not?”

Hector allowed himself a small sigh. “You’re kinda pushy, you know that?”

“And you’re kinda annoying.”

“Mm... Too annoying to be friends with?”

“...I didn’t say that.” Somehow, Leo looked a lot angrier than those words or even his tone implied.

Page 1719

((Triple Monday -- Page 1 of 3))
Leo bobbed his head to the side. “S’pose you have a point.”

Not knowing how to respond to that, Hector resorted to silence.

Leo exhaled heavily through his nose. “...Whaddya want from me, man?”

“...Just my friend back, like I said.”

“Well, I don’t wanna give him to you. So what’re ya gonna do about it?”

“...Mm. Tell me. Are you one of those people who... prefers to solve their problems with their fists?”

“Sometimes. When the mood strikes me.”

“...Even when it would put innocent people in danger?”

Leo didn’t answer. Instead, his eyes went briefly to the enormous water tank.

“...Is that why you chose this location?” said Hector. “I assume you’re waiting for Sai-hee to show up. Are you hoping they won’t attack you in a place like this?”

Leo looked around, and so did Hector. There were still a few civilians in the chamber with them, observing the paintings. Two or three of them were glancing in this direction, probably curious about the armored weirdo sitting here.

“If you’d rather fight somewhere else,” said Leo, “I’d be happy to oblige.”

“...That doesn’t answer my question,” said Hector.

“Is that s’posed to bother me?”

Agh. This guy was kind of a prick. Time to change tactics again.

“...Why aren’t you running?” said Hector. “By now, you could’ve been long gone from Capaporo.”

“Oh, is that your game, then?” said Leo. “Get me to run and leave your buddy here behind?”

Hector groaned. “Could you stop trying to read the worst into my motivations and just answer me? I know you may find it hard to believe, but I’m actually interested to hear what you’ll say.”

“I bet you are.”

Agh. Yep. Definitely a prick.

Fine. Time to try yet another approach.

“...Obviously, you don’t have to talk to me,” said Hector. “But... I don’t have to talk to you, either. In fact, I don’t have to do anything. I could just wait for Sai-hee’s people to carry you off. I doubt they’d mind giving me... my friend back.” He’d almost said Roman’s name just then. But given Roman’s tendency to disguise himself, Hector didn’t know if Roman had ever actually told Leo his name. Better to avoid that potential confusion, Hector felt.

“Think they’d be so receptive after I told ‘em about your ties to the Rainlords?” said Leo.

Shit. Hector had been hoping that Leo wouldn’t realize that. What a stupid mistake.

But backing off now wouldn’t project much power. It might even convince Leo of his weakness.

Nothing for it, then. He had to double down.

“...I’m not worried about that,” Hector lied.

“Oh?” said Leo. “And why would that be?”

“...There’s a reason that they came to me for protection, you know.”

Ugh. On a list of things that he might one day regret saying, Hector felt like that would be near the top.

This was Voreese’s fault.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Page 1718

Hector waited, matching the man’s gaze evenly, but when Leo didn’t respond, Hector decided to materialize an iron seat for himself instead of just sitting next to Leo on the bench. He added significantly more detail into the seat than was probably necessary, making it less like a chair and more like a throne.

He felt like he had to project power, lest this conversation would end before it even began.

Hector sat down and folded his arms. “...Hello, by the way.”

“Who are you?” asked Leo, still wide-eyed and attentive.

That was a dangerous question to answer, Hector felt. It was a big risk to reveal the truth right now. Leo could react very poorly to it. But on the other hand, lying could prove just as awful, if not more so. Hector didn’t know if he should try to bullshit his way to victory again.

So he decided to choose a third option.

“...Do you really not know already?” said Hector. It seemed like the best way to gauge Leo’s potential reaction.

“Impossible...” Leo’s expression seemed to tremble for a moment, then he blinked a couple times. His gaze went down to Roman’s captive head. “Ah...” He looked up again. “You must be Hector.”

Hmm. What was all that about, Hector wondered?

“...Yeah,” said Hector. “And you’re Leo, aren’t you?”

“Guess his reaper told you all about me, huh?”

“That’s right.”

“Surprised you didn’t attack me while my guard was down.”

Hector had certainly thought about it. “...You never answered my question.”

“Hmm?”

“...Are you alright?”

Leo let his eyes drift to the side. “This the part where you try to get on my good side? To recruit me? Manipulate me, like everyone else?”

“...Actually, I’m just here for my friend. I’d like it if you gave him back to me.”

“Why should I? He’s my friend, too.”

“Do you normally keep your friends prisoner?”

Leo’s gaze returned to Hector, but he just stared, not saying anything.

Hector felt the air grow abruptly heavier. A familiar sensation.

Yeah, this dude was definitely powerful.

Hector needed to be very careful with his words. Slow and deliberate, he reminded himself. And maybe cool it with the sarcasm, too.

“...Was I wrong?” said Hector. “When I saw you sitting here, I thought you looked... rather... distraught.” That was the right word, wasn’t it? He hoped so.

“Why? You lookin’ to take all my worries away and earn my trust?”

Wow, this guy was pretty blatantly cynical. Hector didn’t think this would go on for much longer unless he did something to change the direction of the conversation. “...I don’t see any reason why I would need to earn your trust,” he said. “If anything, you would need to earn mine.”

Leo’s eyes narrowed a little. “Say what?”

“You attacked and imprisoned my friends. What, you think that makes you trustworthy in my eyes?”

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Page 1717 -- CLXXXIII.

((Triple Saturday -- Page 3 of 3))
He had to take action, Hector felt. He couldn’t just wait around and hope for the best, not when he was responsible for protecting so many people. If nothing else, he had to ensure that the worst-case scenario didn’t come to pass.

That really only left two options, then. Either attack preemptively or try to talk to the guy.

Both of those seemed like they could go horribly.

But... Hector didn’t really want to attack him. Maybe it was just because he felt bad for Leo. Maybe it was softness on Hector’s part. He didn’t want to make an emotional decision here, but at the same time, there didn’t seem to be a rationally best option.

Except, maybe... well, if talking went awry, then Leo would probably capture him. But if fighting went awry, then the water tank would likely get damaged, AND Leo would probably capture him.

Hmm.

Hector supposed that was about as rational as he could hope for, given the circumstances.

He took a deep breath and tried to prepare himself, thinking over the situation one last time.

A thought occurred him.

...Does Leo know what my ability is?’ said Hector.

I’ll ask,’ said Garovel. And there was a pause. ‘He shouldn’t. Voreese didn’t have Roman tell him that.

Interesting.

Okay.

He stepped away from the corner and into the room with Leo.

Hector, what are you doing?’ said Garovel.

Hector tried to explain his reasoning as best he could. It took a little while, and he was mindful of Leo turning around the whole time, but Hector managed to impart the gist of it.

This is a really bad idea,’ said Garovel at length.

Yeah, I know,’ said Hector. ‘But it’s like you said. Sometimes there won’t be a good option left to choose.

Goddammit, don’t throw my own words back at me.

I’m doing this, Garovel. Wish me luck.

Ugh. Good luck.

Hector took a deep breath and then walked up behind the man. When he was close enough, he decided to armor up fully again. It might conceal his identity somewhat, though he suspected that Leo would be able to guess who he was anyway.

Mainly, he wanted the armor for himself. Heavy as it was, he was somehow more comfortable in it. It didn’t make him feel safer, precisely, but maybe just a little more powerful. He could almost pretend to be someone else while he was wearing it. Someone who actually knew what they were doing.

And he was going to need that feeling, he thought.

Then, finally, Hector dared to speak up.

“...Are you alright?” he asked.


Chapter One Hundred Eighty-Three: ‘Thine addled hearts...’
Click to display entire chapter at once -- (mobile link)

Hector saw Leo twitch a little at the sound of his voice. He walked around the bench as his armor clinked noisily with each step, feeling Leo’s gaze on him now. When he reached the other side, however, he noticed that the man’s eyes were wide.

What was he so surprised about, Hector wondered?

Maybe he just hadn’t been expecting to see someone in full plate armor all of a sudden.

Yeah, okay, maybe that made sense.

Page 1716

((Triple Saturday -- Page 2 of 3))
It made almost too much sense, Hector felt. And worse, whether he was killed or captured hardly even mattered at this point, didn’t it? Voreese had of course informed Hector and everyone else of Leo’s troubled relationship with his reaper. So if Leo was captured as a brain, like Roman currently was, then the man’s reaper probably wasn’t going to bother reviving him. Unless Sai-hee ordered it, perhaps.

Regardless, Leo’s circumstances were looking more than a little grim. To Hector’s mind, Leo should have been running for his life right about now, and yet he wasn’t. He was just sitting there, instead. Waiting for judgment and whatever came after.

Hector didn’t know anything about the guy, but he still felt a little bad for him.

And in a strange way, he related to him.

Hector was no stranger to that feeling of giving up. Of utter hopelessness. He hadn’t been letting it win lately, but he certainly remembered a time when he did. In fact, that was probably part of the reason why he hadn’t wanted to let it win. Not again.

Ah, but here Hector was, probably reading way too much into the situation. Leo was way older than him, and his problems were probably way more complicated.

Maybe.

Rasalased had definitely called him a lost sheep, though. And the Dry God hadn’t told Hector to stay away from him, either.

But Hector had also come to learn Rasalased was far from omniscient. So...

There was no telling what the correct course of action here was.

Shit.

Hector was tempted to just walk over and talk to the guy. Try to console him, maybe. Try to reason with him. And perhaps even try to help him.

He was tempted, but... was that actually a good idea?

Leo would doubtless figure out who he was almost immediately. And then he might just try to force Hector to give up the Rainlords so that he could resume his previous plan.

But... so what if he did that? Hector wasn’t going to give up the Rainlords. There was zero chance that Leo would be able to get that information out of him. And if Hector could somehow make Leo realize that, too...

Then...

Hmm.

Oh, and there was also Sai-hee’s people to worry about. There was no telling when they would show up. And if they arrived while Hector was just twiddling his thumbs here, then it would probably become even more difficult to get Roman back--if not straight up impossible.

But wait. That wasn’t even the worst-case scenario, was it?

No, the worst-case scenario would be if Sai-hee showed up, and then Leo told her... that the Rainlords... were now following... someone named Hector...

That was just Voreese’s bullshit, of course, but if Sai-hee actually believed it and then ended up coming to Warrenhold in search of them, then it would still be catastrophic just the same. And if she really did hate the Rainlords, then it would make plenty of sense to go after them now, while they were weakened and no longer had their affiliation with the Vanguard for protection.

Oh. Fuck.

Hector rubbed his forehead and took a deep breath. Waiting for an opening wasn’t looking like such an attractive option, all of sudden.

Page 1715

((Triple Saturday -- Page 1 of 3))
The reapers were being noticeably quiet all of a sudden, Hector thought. When he turned to look at them, he realized they weren’t there anymore.

Oh, right. They’d said they would keep their distance.

Where’d you guys go?’ thought Hector.

We’re about a hundred meters to your right,’ came Garovel’s private answer.

Well, at least they were keeping themselves safe. He still didn’t really like them wandering around on their own when the Undercrust was known for having ardor-fueled weaponry, but Capaporo seemed peaceful enough, he supposed. And they were probably even more wary of such things than he was.

Any idea what you’re gonna do?’ said Garovel.

Not really,’ said Hector. ‘Open to suggestions.

Voreese and I recommend patience. Take your time and wait for an opening to present itself. And stay out of his line of sight.

Not the most compelling plan but probably most reasonable, Hector figured. Certainly more so than attacking Leo in a location where one of the city’s most valuable resources would be put in jeopardy. And that wasn’t even considering what would happen if the attack failed, and Leo counterattacked. Which seemed incredibly likely.

So Hector waited. He waited, and he watched. People came and went from the gallery, often staring at him as they passed. Eventually, Hector resorted to leaning with his back to the wall. He shut his eyes and relied entirely on the Scarf for information instead of staring at Leo around the corner like an idiot.

He wasn’t sure why he’d ever been doing that in the first place. He was just accustomed to relying on his eyes for everything.

Then again, there was certainly still utility in using his eyes. He couldn’t see color with the Scarf, obviously. If he concentrated, though, he could vaguely discern the shape of Leo’s face. The guy seemed to have a pretty big nose. And a trimmed beard.

Most importantly and obviously, however, the Scarf didn’t let him see reapers. Air would simply flow right through them. Definitely still needed eyes for that.

After a while, Hector began to wonder what the hell this guy was doing here. Why was he just sitting there like that? His eyes weren’t closed, according to the Scarf, so he probably wasn’t meditating. He was just staring at the water tank.

Was he waiting for something?

Hold on a second.

...Wasn’t Sai-hee supposed to show up? Or, maybe not her, but at least someone who represented her? That had been Leo’s plan, hadn’t it? To turn the Rainlords over to her and earn her forgiveness?

But Leo didn’t HAVE the Rainlords anymore, so what the hell was his plan now?

Or...?

Hector blinked, remembering Rasalased’s words.

“A lost sheep,” the Dry God had said.

Leo was the lost sheep, clearly. Which meant...

Had Leo simply given up? Was he just waiting for Sai-hee to show up and either kill or capture him?

Friday, April 27, 2018

Page 1714

At least Leo wasn’t looking in this direction. He was just staring at the tank. Perhaps he was thinking about something. Or sleeping, maybe. Hector couldn’t see his face.

Hector considered his options. He had the element of surprise, still. Therefore, the plan to get Roman and escape without being noticed was at least possible. The problem was that hand on Roman’s encapsulated head. As long as that hand was there, Leo would immediately notice if Hector tried to use materialization to move Roman.

So, then... a distraction. How could he distract Leo without revealing himself?

Hector looked around another time. He needed more information.

The Scarf of Amordiin revealed the geometry of the room to him, as well as that of the corridor from which Hector was looking in. The room had a half-circle shape but was mostly featureless beyond that. It seemed to be a gallery of some sort. Paintings hung on all the walls, save the one that was the water tank. A few people dotted the area, apparently admiring said paintings.

Ugh. Not much to go on.

Hector concentrated. Maybe the Scarf could tell him more about Leo himself. He tried to sense the movement of the air around the man, wanting to discern the shape of not just his overall figure but his clothes, too. Was he carrying anything on him? In his coat?

Yes, he was. Something in the inner pocket. A pen. A small key. And some coins. Hmm. What about the other pockets? All empty, as far as Hector could tell. Hard to be sure, though, since the man’s pants seemed to fit him pretty tightly.

Wow. Such useful intel.

Hector wasn’t sure what he’d been expecting. What could the man possibly have been carrying that would help Hector rescue Roman?

Agh. Getting distracted. And discouraged. Not the time for that.

He tried to think. To concentrate. To try again. He just needed a distraction. Something that would make Leo move his hand away from Roman.

As much as Hector thought about it, though, he couldn’t think of anything that could guarantee that.

Except maybe attacking Leo. Cutting the hand off. Or decapitating the guy.

Probably a horrible idea. Probably the literal worst idea, in fact.

Part of Hector felt like he might actually be able to pull that off, though. With the element of surprise on his side like this? Maybe. Hector still recalled Lord Abbas’ fight with Ivan. More specifically, he recalled how quickly it had ended and how Abbas had attributed the victory to catching Ivan off guard.

Oftentimes, with the kind of power that Hector had borne witness to, he felt like defeating a significantly older servant was simply impossible, no matter the circumstances. But perhaps that wasn’t truly so. Abbas had overcome an incredible power gap, thanks almost entirely to favorable conditions. To strategy.

It was an encouraging thought.

And a dangerous one.

Hector didn’t want to attack the guy unless he had no other choice. But that was also a problem, wasn’t it? If it truly reached a point where he had no other choice, then it would probably be too late. In a straight fight, Leo would obviously obliterate him.

Agh...

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Page 1713

Elaborate,’ said Garovel flatly.

I just had Roman mention that Hector looks super young for his level of strength, and... that he’s black.

Garovel lost his composure again. ‘That’s NOT a little bit, Voreese! Hector’s probably the only black person in Capaporo, right now!

Eh, I mean, that’s debatable, isn’t it? The Hun’Kui sort of count as black, right? Ashy gray tones ‘n whatnot.

I can’t believe you.

Hey, it’s not like Leo knows we’re coming. Or what you and I look like. As long Hector stays out of sight, we can still get the jump on him.

This means that if he DOES spot Hector, then Hector can no longer pretend to be someone else. Someone who, for example, is NOT connected to the Rainlords whom Leo is probably very upset about losing track of.

Yeah, that would be a problem,’ said Voreese. ‘But on the bright side, Leo could be too scared to fight Hector now.

Oh, sure, and he might also decide to give us a trillion fucking troas for no reason.

In spite of everything, the party of three soon continued onward and entered the climate-controlled zone. Hector removed his cooling variant armor and decided not to remake it in its normal form. It would be too noisy, he felt, and considering everything that they had just learned, stealth seemed more important than ever. He did remake a few pieces of the armor, though, for modesty’s sake. Walking around half-naked wouldn’t have been very stealthy, either.

After a few more flights of stairs and several white-and-silver corridors, Voreese finally began to slow down.

Leo’s just up here to the left,’ she said.

Hector reached the apparent corner in question and took a breath to gather himself. He poked his head around for a peek.

Thankfully, the crowd wasn’t nearly as dense in this area, so it was easy to discern who Leo must have been. There was no one else around the man with dreadlocks as he sat on a bench in front of a glassy wall.

No. Not just a wall, Hector realized after a moment. A water tank. So big that it spanned that entire side of the chamber. Hector could just barely make out tall shadows in the water. Some type of plant, he was pretty sure.

He searched for Roman but couldn’t see him anywhere. Unless... that pitch black lump under Leo’s hand...

Is that Roman’s head?’ said Hector.

Yep,’ the reaper said privately.

Great.

This was also a very bad location for a fight, Hector thought. He’d been wondering where all the normal people down here were getting their water, and now he had his answer. No doubt, water was an extremely difficult commodity to come by in the Undercrust. The Hun’Sho and the Hun’Kui hadn’t seemed to need it much, if at all, but everyone in these climate-controlled zones obviously did.

So if that tank ended up damaged, somehow...

Hector didn’t even want to imagine how bad the collateral damage might be.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Page 1712

((Triple Wednesday -- Page 3 of 3))
Another long staircase awaited, and Hector descended toward another of the climate-controlled zones. Garovel hovered by his side, and Hector tried to keep him in his peripheral vision, right at the edge of the eye slit in his helmet.

By the way,’ said Voreese, slowing her pace to match Hector’s, ‘there’s something I forgot to tell you.

Garovel answered for the both of them. ‘What’s that?

Um. Well. Okay. First, you have to promise not to get upset.

Voreese... What did you do?

Excuse me, but that doesn’t sound like a promise.

And you’re not gonna get one. What did you do?

Agh. Well. It’s nothing, really. It’s just. You see. I may have. Um. Told Roman to. Tell Leo. A few things.

Uh-huh. What things?

Things about Hector.

Garovel stopped. ‘What?! Why?!

Voreese and Hector both stopped as well.

It was supposed to be part of a backup plan,’ she said, ‘in case Leo caught us in the middle of trying to free your Rainlord pals. I figured fighting in that situation would’ve been less than ideal, so it might’ve been worth a shot to just bluff our way out. If we got him to believe that Hector was some sort of super badass, then maybe Leo would back down. Or join us.

Join us?!’ said Garovel.

Yeah, Roman tried to hire him earlier. Did I not mention that?

No, you didn’t!

Ah. My bad.

Voreese!

Leo said he didn’t want to work for someone who was weaker than him, so I figured, maybe, y’know, with all that crazy shit you were tellin’ me earlier, we could preemptively build Hector up as someone who Leo might think was strong enough to work for.

Garovel groaned but steadied his voice. ‘Why didn’t you tell us this earlier?

I’m telling you now.

This might’ve been nice to know while we were brainstorming on the way here.

Oh, I doubt it would’ve helped. You’d have just gotten mad at me like you are right now, which would’ve made it harder for you to think rationally.

What a load of horseshit.

Look, I’m sorry, okay?! It seemed like a good plan at the time!

How much did Roman tell him, exactly?

Not that much. Just, y’know, about those things you told me. Meeting Ivan. Killing worms ‘n stuff. Also, Leo might be thinking that the Rainlords are, um... following Hector as their new leader.

Hector’s eyes widened, and he stared at her.

Voreese, are you fucking kidding me, right now?’ said Garovel.

Well, Leo had already fought the Rainlords! So obviously, I had to make Hector more powerful than them! Wouldn’t have been believable otherwise!

Ugh...’ Garovel paused for another sigh and perhaps also just to think. ‘Did Roman tell him what Hector looks like?

She hesitated. ‘...A little bit.

Page 1711

((Triple Wednesday -- Page 2 of 3))
Sort of, but not exactly,’ said Garovel. ‘It’s tough to explain in physical terms, but you can kind of imagine the soul as being like water, and the body being like a vessel that it conforms to the shape of. Or in other words, as reapers, we “see” souls in the shape of the body they reside within. So the smaller that body is, the more difficult it becomes to notice, especially in a crowd.

“Huh...”

Also, that’s not a perfect analogy, by the way, because water still has physical volume, and souls do not. At least, not as far as I know. So a smaller vessel would be able to contain less water, but it’s not the same with souls. Your soul doesn’t start leaking out of your arm if you get it chopped off. It just conforms to the new shape of your body.

“Oh. Right...”

Hector navigated his way downward again. There seemed to be more Hun’Kui on these upper levels than there were the last time, and they didn’t all look like they were in the middle of going somewhere this time, either. Many of them were simply loitering and chatting. Maybe they’d all been at work earlier. Or school. He couldn’t really tell if any of the Hun’Kui were teenagers or adults.

Regardless, it was a bit of an inconvenience for him, because it meant more eyes on him. It seemed like he was drawing much more attention than he had before, despite the fact that he’d been part of a rather large party the last time. He would’ve thought it would be easier to keep a low profile, not harder.

Maybe that was just a feeling, though, and not the actual truth. Maybe there’d been plenty of people noticing them last time, but they’d just been too afraid to stare, and now that he was alone, he was much less intimidating.

Hmm.

It only got more crowded as he descended. The elevators were even more jam-packed than before, so he avoided them. He briefly considered leaping over the edge of the pit and catching himself with his iron, but he didn’t think that would help him keep a low profile, which he was having a hard enough time with already.

Ah,’ said Voreese at length, ‘I can sense Leo.

“Leo?” said Hector, trying to whisper so as not to draw the attention of a big Hun’Kui family walking by. It didn’t work. “Not Roman?”

Hmm. Ah, yeah, I can sense Roman, too. He’s with him.

Hector was still confused, though. “But how can you sense Leo? I thought you never met him.”

Those warehouses that he used to imprison everybody,’ said Voreese. ‘He soul-strengthened his material there. I memorized his soul based on that.

“Oh...” Hector wouldn’t have even thought of that.

Follow me,’ said Voreese, taking a path to the right that wasn’t even visible because of the crowd.

Hector gently pushed his way through and went after her.

Page 1710

((Triple Wednesday -- Page 1 of 3))
That is exactly what I am thinking, yes,’ said Garovel. ‘If Hector can find a good opening, he might not even have to get very close to Leo in the first place. Assuming that Roman is just a frozen head or brain at the moment, then Hector could use materialization to punt Roman over to himself like a kickball.

And then we all escape without ever being noticed?’ said Voreese.

Ideally.

Yeah, sure, sounds great. In theory.

Yes. In theory.

Hector might have said the same thing, if not for the howl of the wind rushing past.

The reapers continued to strategize for the length of the journey, and Hector mostly just listened while occasionally sharing his thoughts with Garovel. The consensus seemed to be that it would be best if Leo never even noticed they were there in the first place, but that was also where the main concern lay. If, for whatever reason, Leo did notice Hector, what the hell was he going to do?

They came up with a few different plans for that, though neither of the reapers sounded terrifically confident in them. Part of the reason for that was probably because of how little they actually knew about Leo. None of them had ever even met the guy, so it was hard to guess how he would react to any hypothetical situation.

They did know that he hadn’t permanently harmed any of the Rainlords, however. And that was important, Hector felt. Leo had gone through a fair amount of trouble to make sure that the non-servants were taken care of during their captivity. Even some who were servants, like Marcos Elroy, had not been harmed. Though, perhaps Leo simply couldn’t tell that Marcos was a servant just by looking at him. The boy was extremely young and probably hadn’t participated in the fighting, after all.

All in all, that spoke quite a bit about Leo’s character, Hector thought, when it probably would’ve been so much easier to just kill them.

Unless, of course, Leo knew that Sai-hee would want them all alive for some reason.

Bah.

Best not to assume too much, Hector supposed. If nothing else, though, at least he could take mild comfort in the fact that he wasn’t dealing with another one of those maniacs from Abolish.

When they finally made it back to Capaporo again, Hector eased to a stop near the narrow staircase that led down into the city and looked over the enormous pit again. “Can either of you sense Roman’s location yet?”

If he’s really just a brain right now, then it’ll be tougher to sense his soul,’ said Voreese. ‘But he should be closer to the bottom of the pit, at least.

Hector took the staircase, trying to keep a brisk pace as he looked for the same path downward that they’d used earlier. “Why would his soul be more difficult to sense? Is there, like, less of it or something?”

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Page 1709

Hector thought about it a moment. “If that happens, then... please look after Warrenhold for me. There are, uh... only three people living there, right now. My mother, a woman named Amelia Carthrace, and a man named Jamal Easton. But... ah...”

“I understand,” said Melchor.

It would be our honor to protect them,’ said Orric.

“But not our preference,” said Dimas, which was perhaps the first thing that Hector had heard him say since Capaporo. “Please do not get captured.”

Hector just gave him a nod.

After that, Melchor and Dimas turned to leave, and Orric and Iziol followed suit.

Mr. Easton was probably going to be quite overwhelmed with all of these guests. Hector had never actually told the man directly they would be arriving, but he was fairly certain Mr. Easton already knew. Asad’s wife and son should have conveyed that message when they first arrived.

Probably.

One more thing to worry about later, he supposed.

Only Garovel and Voreese now remained.

Huh,’ said Garovel aloud. ‘Shall we head back to Capaporo, then?

Hector eyed him. “Garovel...”

They don’t need me to guide them. They know the correct direction now, and from here, it’s a straight shot back to Warrenhold.

“That doesn’t change the fact that it’s too dangerous to bring you.”

I’ll keep my distance and observe from afar,’ said Garovel. ‘It’s like you said. Leo doesn’t know who you are. He won’t know who I am, either, or that you’re my servant. Or that you even ARE a servant.

Hector frowned.

And considering how apparently reluctant you were to share your plan with everyone, I have a feeling that you don’t actually HAVE a plan. Or, at least not one that doesn’t sound completely insane. Am I close?

Hector didn’t say anything and just glanced at Voreese.

Voreese was already looking at Garovel, though. ‘You’re not exactly filling me with confidence over here, sayin’ shit like that.

All I’m saying is, it wouldn’t hurt to come up with a sound plan.’

“Do you have some suggestions?” said Hector.

Let’s move while we talk,’ said Garovel. ‘It’ll take a few hours to get back there.

That was a good point, Hector supposed. He still didn’t really want to bring Garovel along, but as long as the reaper intended to keep his distance when the time came, there wasn’t much actual justification for leaving him behind.

This time, he pushed himself for a faster pace. Without all the climate pods in tow, he no longer had to worry about having a delicate touch. He simply let the two reapers attach themselves to him beneath his cooling variant armor, and then they blasted off toward Capaporo again, as fast as his iron could carry him.

So the fact that Leo doesn’t know who you are may be our greatest advantage,’ said Garovel.

Are you thinking Hector can just sneak up and yoink Roman away from him?’ said Voreese.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Page 1708

((Triple Monday -- Page 3 of 3))
One of the several other servants who had been watching but not saying anything up to now decided to speak up. “Well, if Lord Goffe believes he can do it, then...” It was one of the Blackburn women. Silvia, Hector was pretty sure.

He was surprised to hear her say that, as well, considering she’d actually seen him fight, all the way back in Luzo. She couldn’t have been very impressed by his prowess back then, either, considering Asad had done all the heavy lifting in that battle.

Strange. Hector wondered what had changed her view of him.

Though, perhaps it would make more sense if nothing had. Maybe her view of him hadn’t changed at all, and she was simply saying that because she didn’t give two shits about the current situation and just wanted to move things along so that her family could get to safety.

Yeah, Hector found that much more believable. Aside from Melchor and occasionally Horatio, the Blackburns were noticeably different from the other Rainlords. More withdrawn. Even now, Hector could see it in the way they were standing so close together, especially around the Lady Nere. She was wearing full iron armor like everyone else, but Hector could still easily pick her out of the crowd from her body language alone. That slumped posture, the frequently downcast gaze. From what he’d heard, she’d been that way ever since leaving Dunehall.

Dunehall, where her husband Ismael had been killed, and her son Ibai had gone missing, in addition to all of the other casualties her House had suffered.

Hector certainly couldn’t blame the Blackburns for seeming that much more protective of her now.

A few other voices arose in agreement with Silvia, more Blackburns and a few Sebolts as well, until at length, Evangelina Stroud spoke up again.

“Fine.” She tapped Hector on the pate of his helmet with the iron knuckle of her own gauntlet. “We will go. But do not tarry long. Else you give us reason to come looking for you.” She turned and started walking away.

Hector was too busy blinking to come up with a response. She’d actually agreed? He’d expected her to be the most difficult to convince.

The other Rainlords began following her, reapers included, but Dimas and Melchor lingered a bit longer, as did Voreese, Garovel, Iziol, and Orric.

This is moronic,’ said Voreese. ‘You can’t possibly... agh, I mean, I’m grateful, but... Hector, what the fuck?

“I’ll need you to point me toward Roman,” said Hector. “I hope you won’t mind coming with me part of the way, at least.”

Of course I won’t mind, you piece of shit! But--! Argh!

Melchor stepped closer to him. “What if you do not return?”

Hector didn’t know how to answer that.

“If you are captured,” said Melchor, “and if we are unable locate or otherwise retrieve your brain... in such a circumstance, is there something you would like us to do for you? As a final request?”

Oh. Hmm.

Page 1707

((Triple Monday -- Page 2 of 3))
Melchor was the one to break the silence. “...Do you truly believe that you can defeat Leo on your own?”

Absolutely fucking not. But admitting that so bluntly was probably a bad idea, Hector felt. He had the feeling that they wouldn’t let him go if he didn’t act like he knew what he was doing.

So the lie here would have to be convincing. And acting overly confident in his own power would not be convincing, Hector felt. Strong people like Evangelina, Dimas, and Melchor wouldn’t be swayed by boasting. No doubt, they’d seen plenty of people talk a big game in the past and then not be able to deliver.

No, in that moment, Hector felt like he had to strike a particular balance between self-certainty and pragmatism. That was what he had to project, if he was to have any hope of being allowed to go after Roman on his own.

Which meant the question of whether or not he believed he could defeat Leo by himself was a crucial one.

“Maybe,” Hector decided to say, “but I probably won’t bother fighting him. My goal isn’t to test my strength. It’s to get Roman back. And fighting isn’t the only way to accomplish that.”

Darktide just stared at him, not saying anything.

Was that good? Did he buy it? Hector couldn’t tell. Agh. It seemed like every old servant had an incredible poker face.

Evangelina chose to say something now. “If not by fighting, then what do you intend to do?”

Oof. He hadn’t fully figured that out yet, but again, admitting as much seemed like a bad idea.

“I... can’t tell you,” said Hector.

“Excuse me?” said Evangelina, sounding irritated. “Why can you not tell us?”

He decided to borrow a tactic from Asad and Qorvass again. “Trade secret,” he said.

“Ridiculous,” she said. “Tell us your plan now.”

“...No.”

It was bit hard to tell through her faceguard, but she did not look happy.

Okay, maybe saying all of that was a stupid thing to do, but Hector couldn’t help feeling that, of the two options available to to him, it was better to come across as cagey than as lacking a concrete plan.

Everyone was being quiet again.

Hmm. Maybe they needed some reassurance.

“I won’t do anything stupid,” Hector lied, knowing that he was already doing that. “You don’t need to worry. And besides, er, it’ll be easier if I go by myself, because Leo won’t know who I am. If I bring you guys along, he’ll recognize you immediately and probably just attack us.” Huh. That seemed like a surprisingly good point, Hector felt. He had kind of been thinking that all along, he supposed, but it sure would have been nice if he could have articulated it earlier.

Does that mean you intend to negotiate with him?’ said Orric.

Aw, shit. Why did they have to read so much into it?

“Ah... maybe,” said Hector again. “If I have to. Look, uh, that’s not important. Just let me handle this, okay?” And one more lie to top it all off. “I know what I’m doing.”

He was starting to feel like a really bad person with all this lying. And also maybe a dumbass.

Page 1706 -- CLXXXII.

((Triple Monday -- Page 1 of 3))
Orric hovered closer to Hector. ‘If we did decide to mount a counterattack, we would have the element of surprise this time. It would not be like it was before.’

Oh, don’t give me that shit!’ said Voreese. ‘You also don’t have nearly as many fighters as you did before! Or do you plan to go to Warrenhold and get everyone to rejoin us first? All so you can rescue a single servant you know nothing about? A servant whose reaper isn’t even in danger? Get real.

Iziol chimed in now. ‘Are you truly saying that you do not mind leaving your servant behind?

Of course I’m not saying that! But putting yourselves in danger for him makes no goddamn sense! So don’t try and pretend that it does just so you can feel all noble and shit!

“She is right,” said Melchor. “We have no reason to rescue this man, and it would be incredibly dangerous. We have our own people to think of.”

“I agree,” said Evangelina, eyeing Hector now. “Harsh as it may be, I do not think we should get involved. Facing Leo again would be ill-advised, especially so soon after our previous encounter.”

I have to concur as well,’ added Ezura. ‘The risk far outweighs the benefit, and we have already lost far too much in recent days.

At that, no one said anything for a while, not even Voreese.

“...That’s fine,” said Hector, drawing everyone’s gaze one more time. “You guys don’t have a reason to go after him. But I do.”

Hector,’ said Garovel privately. ‘What are you--?

“Honestly, I didn’t want to bring you guys back to Capaporo with me, anyway,” said Hector. “Just head to Warrenhold and get some rest. I’ll take care of this.”


Chapter One Hundred Eighty-Two: ‘O, resolute Iron...’
Click to display entire chapter at once -- (mobile link)

You’ll “take care” of it?!’ said Voreese. ‘Are you fucking kidding me?! I already asked before, didn’t I?! How the fuck do you plan on pulling that off, huh?!

That was a very good question. And since Hector wasn’t entirely sure of the answer, he instead decided to say, “Don’t worry. I have experience with this sort of thing.”

What the fuck?! You have experience with--?! Are you--?! Wh--?!

Amazingly enough, she seemed to be lost for words. Perhaps she was suddenly remembering what Garovel had told her about their recent adventures.

Hector was more concerned about how the Rainlords would react, however. He genuinely had no idea what they were going to do.

Currently, they were simply looking at him, not moving or saying anything.

Hector,’ came Garovel’s private voice again, ‘what the fuck are you doing?

Again, another very good question. He answered it with the only thing that came to mind. ‘I’m not leaving Roman behind, Garovel. It’s my fault he even came here in the first place.

Agh--that’s true, but--

Now Garovel seemed lost for words as well.

Hmm.

Two for two. Hector felt pretty good about that.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Page 1705

What?’ said Voreese. ‘There’s no need for that. I’m sure Roman will manage. He’s a resourceful guy.

“I know,” said Hector, folding his arms. “I’m just... eager to see him again, I guess.” He didn’t remove his eyes from Voreese, however.

“If you are waiting, then I will wait with you,” said Evangelina.

Hector held up a hand. “No, please--I want you all to go get some rest. And some food. Please.”

Melchor stepped toward him now. “It hardly seems appropriate that we should return without our host. You are not concerned we will make a mess of things?”

Yeah, we’re pretty good at making messes,’ said Orric.

No need to worry about that,’ said Garovel, though he was staring at Hector. ‘Warrenhold is a bit of a mess already. We’re in the middle of trying to restore it. That being said, though, we’d prefer it if you didn’t make more work for us.

“Ah--yeah,” added Hector. “Just promise me you’ll behave yourselves.” He meant that as a joke and so tried to force out a meager laugh to make that more apparent, but the sound didn’t quite manifest from his throat properly. Somehow, it ended up sounding more like a sigh.

And for a few moments thereafter, none of the Rainlords responded.

Aw, shit. Had he just pissed them off?

Agh. He should’ve known better than to try and force a joke out in an otherwise serious conversation. That was something he should just leave to the reapers, he decided.

Iziol was the first one to speak up again. ‘Is there some reason to be concerned about the well-being of Voreese’s servant?

Everyone looked at Voreese.

Her head reared back a little at all the sudden attention. ‘I’m telling you, he’s fine. He’s just biding his time.

Everyone looked back at Hector.

“Okay,” said the Lord Goffe. “Then ask him something for me.”

Voreese stared back at him steadily.

“...What did he say to me just before the Battle at Rathmore’s Gate?” said Hector.

Everyone looked back to Voreese again.

Her skeletal face twisted with irritation. ‘Agh! Fuck you, Hector! Why do you gotta call me out like this, huh?!

Hector wasn’t having any of it, though. “Why were you lying?” he said firmly.

Ugh! Why do you think?! For your own good, obviously!

“If Roman needs help, then--”

Then, what?! What, huh?! You’re gonna go help him?! How, exactly?! This Leo guy is one of Sai-hee’s strongest people! One of the strongest people in the whole world, in other words! How do you plan to deal with that?!

Hector didn’t say anything.

I mean, would I like you guys to go and rescue him for me?’ said Voreese. ‘Of course I would! But Leo already made you all his bitches once before!’ After a beat, she added, ‘No offense.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Page 1704

((Triple Saturday -- Page 3 of 3))
They managed to quicken their pace now that they had left the city behind. The lighting was much poorer here, but with so much more open space, Hector was able to carry the whole party forward on a growing platform. It was similar to the technique that Zeff had used to carry the group TO Capaporo earlier that day, though Hector wasn’t trying to make his move at the same breakneck speed that Zeff’s had.

At this pace, it would probably be a few more hours before they reached that same big cavern with all the branching pathways, Hector figured. If they were able to make it that far, though, then it would be a straight shot the rest of the way to Warrenhold.

From the corner of his helmet’s opening, Hector could see Voreese staring at him. She wasn’t saying anything, though, which was certainly unlike her.

He wanted to ask her if something was wrong, but the noise of the rushing wind would have made it impractical, so he asked Garovel to do it for him.

You’re awfully quiet all of a sudden,’ the reaper told her.

She finally moved her empty eye sockets away from Hector. ‘Hmm? Oh. Yeah. Just thinkin’ about stuff. Why? You got something you want to talk about?

More like, I was wondering if YOU did,’ said Garovel.

Not as of yet,’ said Voreese.

Garovel pushed a little more after that, but she would say nothing else.

Hector had a dreadful feeling that he knew what could be bothering her, and as the hours passed, he became increasingly convinced of it. By the time they reached the cavern of split paths, he could hold his tongue no longer and brought the group to a stop.

Everyone was looking at him now, but he was prepared for it.

“Voreese,” he said softly. “Where’s Roman?”

He’s with Leo,’ she said.

“...He still hasn’t managed to sneak away?” said Hector. “It’s been hours since we left Capaporo.”

Well, he can’t just run, now can he? Leo would obviously notice that. So he’s waiting for Leo to go to sleep.

Hector found that strange. “...Will it really be that easy? What if Leo checks on the warehouses and sees that everyone’s gone? He’ll probably suspect Roman immediately.”

...That is a possibility,’ said Voreese.

Why doesn’t he just destroy his own brain?’ said Iziol. ‘It is a grisly tactic, I know, but quite useful for these types of situations.

He’s never done that before,’ said Voreese. ‘He’s worried he’ll screw it up and accidentally let Leo capture him.

I see,’ said Iziol, glancing at his own servant. ‘I suppose it CAN be a little tricky.

“Okay,” said Hector, raising up an iron chair for himself to sit down in. “I’ll wait for him here. Garovel can show you guys the rest of the way. It’s not that far now.”

Page 1703

((Triple Saturday -- Page 2 of 3))
I find you very unpleasant,’ said Iziol.

Been called a lot worse than that, honey,’ said Voreese. ‘Why, even just today. A couple hours ago, my servant called me a moldy bitch.

It sounds like the two of you are made for one another, then.’

Heh. Maybe. He can be a big ol’ shithead, sometimes.

Hmph,’ said Iziol. ‘Have you met Mevox yet? I imagine you and he would either get along famously or try to tear each other to pieces.

Is that so? Mevox, huh? I’ve not yet had the pleasure, but with an endorsement like that, I gotta admit, you’re makin’ me curious. Where is this guy? He isn’t here with us right now, is he?

No, he is not. He is the reaper of Lord Salvador Delaguna, so naturally, he went with the rest of House Delaguna.

Pity,’ said Voreese. ‘I’m always happy to meet a fellow shit talker.

I am sure you will get your chance,’ said Iziol.

As Hector might have expected with so many reapers in such close proximity to one another, the servants ended up not getting much opportunity to chime in. No one seemed to mind, however. The reapers made for pretty good entertainment during the rather long and winding trek back up the great pit of Capaporo.

The group’s progress was a bit on the slow side, due to the many climate pods they were bringing along. Dimas took care of the most impressive portion on his own. His alteration ability to manipulate gravity was pretty much perfect for the task, allowing the man to have a veritable fleet of pods following the group in midair.

Everyone else was carrying at least one pod as well. There were no non-servants walking with the group, as those had all departed earlier with Zeff.

They drew many a strange look from the inhabitants of Capaporo, and fellow pedestrians were quick to make way for them.

One thing that Hector had yet to see in the Undercrust was a car. Aside from trains, he hadn’t noticed vehicles of any sort. He supposed it made sense for Capaporo, given how narrow the streets were here, but what was Babbadelo’s reason? He wanted to ask Garovel about it, but the reaper was already occupied with another conversation.

He did eventually notice a large set of elevators, however--not large enough for the group to comfortably board with all of their climate pods, unfortunately, but it was something, at least. Hector wondered how he hadn’t seen them on the way down earlier, and perhaps the immense crowd in the area was the explanation. He must have missed it because of all the bodies blocking his view.

He was still convinced that this city was in desperate need of some good bridges, though. No amount of elevators would change his mind about that.

Eventually, they reached the top of the giant pit again, and gingerly navigated their way through the even narrower side streets that led back up to the long path toward Warrenhold. There was still a ways to go yet, but they’d finally made it out of Capaporo, at least.

Page 1702

((Triple Saturday -- Page 1 of 3))
That is not entirely true, now is it?’ said Ezura, the woman’s reaper. ‘I vividly remember you putting on Lord Romero’s armor when you were a little girl. Or TRYING to, at least.’ The reaper laughed.

“Oh, I had forgotten all about that,” said the Lady Stroud. She eyed Hector through her dotted faceguard. “I was quite the tomboy in my youth, you know.”

“...Think I’d be more surprised if you hadn’t been,” said Hector.

“Excuse me?!” the woman tittered.

“Ah--uh... s-sorry, I didn’t mean that in a bad way...”

“Hmph! While it may be true that I have not acted in the most ladylike manner of late, I assure you that I have many traditionally feminine qualities.”

“...I, ah, o-okay.”

“Why do you sound so doubtful?”

“I--er--I don’t. This is just how I sound.”

What “traditionally feminine qualities” might you be talking about, I wonder?’ said Ezura.

Evangelina held up a gauntleted finger. “Do not even start.”

I am simply curious,’ said Ezura.

“Don’t listen to them, Angie,” said Melchor, coming up on Hector’s right as they ascended a staircase that was wider than most others in Capaporo. “I have always thought you to be very feminine.”

“Thank you!” she said.

Perhaps YOU can provide examples of such qualities, then,’ said Ezura.

Melchor hesitated visibly.

Evangelina slowed her walking pace a little to put herself in stride with Melchor, looking abruptly even more eager to hear his response than Ezura was.

“Well,” said Melchor. “Obviously. Um. She likes wearing beautiful dresses.”

Uh-huh,’ said Ezura. ‘Is that all?

“Of course not. She also... likes to shop, right?”

“Yes! I go shopping with my friends all the time!”

Okay, that’s two things. What else?

“Ah... She is very... uh... agh, I did not realize this was going to be a quiz.”

“I hate sports! That counts, does it not?!”

I don’t know,’ said Ezura. ‘What does the young Lord Goffe think?

At this point, Hector just wanted to run away. “I... I don’t think anything. At all, really.”

Garovel floated over from a conversation with Dimas and Iziol. ‘Are you guys giving my servant a hard time? I’ll have you know, I don’t appreciate people doing my job for me.

It is mostly Evangelina whom I am trying to give a hard time,’ said Ezura, unable to completely conceal her giggling, ‘but I must admit, your young lord from Atreya is quite the tempting specimen in that regard, as well.

Oh, I know, right?!’ Now it was Voreese’s turn to chime in, apparently. ‘Lemme get in on this action, too! Hey, Hector! If you had to bang any Rainlord right now, who would it be?

Pardon me,’ said Iziol, hovering closer with Dimas behind him, ‘but who is this woman, exactly, and why is she so vulgar?

Didn’t I tell you my name earlier?’ said Voreese. ‘Don’t tell me you forgot already. The fuck kinda reaper are you?

The polite and civilized kind,’ said Iziol.

Oho! Well, la-dee-fucking-da!

Friday, April 20, 2018

Page 1701

Soon, everything was moving. The warehouses were bustling with dozens of servants working together, and there was a feeling that they were finally making good progress. The pods were only being removed from the buildings and placed on the other side of the layer of brown dirt, but it was a start.

He eventually spotted Asad and his family moving among the crowd. They were especially noticeable because of their robes, which Hector was surprised to see were still intact, unlike almost everyone else’s clothes. He would’ve liked to say hello, but they already seemed pretty invested in helping with the evacuation effort. The Lord Najir did take notice of him, however, despite how many other servants were wearing armor similar to his; and when the tattooed man offered him an acknowledging wave, Hector was quite pleased to return one of his own.

As the work continued, Hector also thought to ask Garovel about the threat potential of boron, but the reaper just said it wasn’t a particularly volatile element, as far as he was aware. Then he asked Garovel if anyone present might have some sort of elemental advantage against it, but the reaper didn’t think so.

Maybe if someone here could materialize pure hydrogen,’ said Garovel. ‘Though, that might be more of a double-edged sword than an actual advantage.

The closer they got to completing the evacuation, the more Hector worried that bad news would arrive at any moment. Maybe it was just his natural pessimism, or maybe it was an entirely rational adaptation to his lifestyle, but whatever it was, he kept expecting to hear Voreese suddenly tell everyone that Leo was on his way or that a feldeath was about to rip Capaporo to pieces or something.

But to Hector’s immense surprise and relief, that didn’t happen.

They finished removing all of the climate pods safely from the warehouse--by which time, Zeff and Axiolis had already begun leading a trail of Rainlords back towards Warrenhold. Manuel and Lorios led another entourage shortly thereafter, followed by Diego and Yangéra, and finally Hector and Garovel.

And since he was bringing up the rear, Hector ended up with perhaps more than his fair share of some of those powerful Rainlords in his group, including Melchor and several of the top Blackburns, Dimas and several of the top Sebolts, and Evangelina Stroud by herself. The rest of her family members were still captives of the Vanguard, after all.

The woman seemed to be in relatively high spirits, however.

“I have never worn armor like this before,” she said, clad head to toe in full iron plate like pretty much everyone else in their party. “It is a bit restrictive, but I can see why you appear so fond of it.”

Hector wasn’t sure what to say. Materializing armor that fit the female form had easily been his most harrowing experience today, but he was glad that she seemed to like it. She was even carrying one of his shields.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Page 1700

Oh, I doubt you consider it as much of an honor as I do,’ said Voreese. ‘If I’m being completely honest here, I’m a bit of a fangirl of yours.

Melchor just raised a thick eyebrow at that.

I’m an admirer of a lot of the ass kicking you’ve done, especially against Abolish. I remember hearing news of your exploits a few times over the years, and they were usually pretty damn cathartic. If I still had tits, I’d totally ask you sign them for me, right now.

The man looked briefly at the young Lord Darksteel, but Hector didn’t have anything for him. “Ah... um... I see,” said Melchor. “Thank you for those... kind words.”

Yeah, no problem,’ said Voreese.

The pleasantries didn’t last much longer, and Melchor soon joined the rest of the servants in trying to free everyone. For a second, Hector thought the guy and his reaper might use pan-rozum to aid in the process, but they didn’t. No doubt, they didn’t want to deal with the exhaustive consequences of it, in case they ended up needing to fight soon.

The last few weeks must have been especially crazy and confusing from that guy’s perspective, Hector figured. Melchor Blackburn had probably spent the majority of it unconscious and been continuously woken up just before another fight broke out.

Hector hoped everyone would be getting some well-deserved rest once they finally made it back to Warrenhold. There would still be plenty of things to be concerned about, of course--not the least of which was the other large group of Rainlords who’d been captured by the Gargoyle of Korgum at Rheinhal--but at least they wouldn’t have to worry about being attacked at Warrenhold.

Probably.

The notion of Warrenhold coming under siege, too, had not really crossed his mind before. But it was definitely something that he should’ve been giving some thought to, he now figured.

Lord of Warrenhold, huh? Protecting it was on him. No doubt about that. And with the kind of enemies that could end up knocking on his door, combat strength alone probably wasn’t going to be enough.

At least, not their current level of combat strength.

Hmm.

And of course, there was still the matter of what the hell he was going to tell the Queen. This probably wasn’t something he should try to keep her in the dark about. Hell, she’d been looking for strong allies to help her protect Atreya in the future. Maybe he and Garovel would be able to convince her that this was a positive development in that regard.

There was also the restoration of Warrenhold itself to consider. The glimpse he’d gotten of its repairs had been nice, but he knew there were still quite a few places in total shambles.

Ugh. So much to take care of. He was pretty sure he was forgetting a few things at the moment, too.

Whatever. For now, it was nice to be able to just assist the Rainlords in extricating all these climate pods from the warehouses. The pods were still covered in the myriad of shields he’d made when he had arrived in the Undercrust. Maybe a few had fallen off here or there, but the pods still looked pretty well-protected, all things considered, and the Rainlords weren’t bothering to remove the shields, either, despite how much more unwieldy they made them.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Page 1699

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Hector made his way over to him and observed the slow regeneration of Darktide. “H-hello...”

Ah,’ said Orric. ‘Hello, Lord Goffe.’ The reaper looked around at the warehouse full of armored servants and gave a faint laugh. ‘I see you are building an army of knights.

“It’s--ah, for, y’know--” He stopped and gathered his thoughts. Slow and deliberate speech, he reminded himself. “...I just figured they didn’t all want to walk around in the nude.”

Yes, I thought as much. It is good to see you are well.

“Ah--same to you.”

Melchor’s torso had just about finished regenerating, so Hector materialized an iron breastplate for him and got a head start on making the crotch-guard so as to help preserve the man’s dignity.

Hector had a question in mind for Orric. “...So you and Melchor fought this Leo guy?”

We did,’ said Orric. ‘And by that question, am I to assume he is still at large?

“Yeah,” said Hector. “What can you tell me about him?”

Only that he is frighteningly skillful with materialization, though you might not guess it by looking at him. Not the most physically intimidating of specimens, but not be underestimated, either. Clearly.

“Were you able to figure out what his element is?”

I believe it may be boron, but I could be mistaken. The battle did not last very long.

Boron? Hector didn’t know a damn thing about that element. “...Did he attack you guys without warning?”

Not exactly. He announced himself first, saying that he wanted us to help him with Sai-hee, but we did not find that very agreeable. THEN he attacked. In the middle of his own sentence. I can only presume that he did not like how negotiations were going, but even though we were mostly on our guard, that tactic still managed to catch us by surprise. Like I said, he did not look intimidating.

“I see...”

Melchor’s body was mostly complete, as was the armor that Hector made for him. Darktide sat up with a groan and rubbed his forehead.

How are you feeling?’ said Orric.

“I’ve been better...” Melchor noticed his iron armor. Then he noticed Hector standing there. “Ah...”

“Hi,” said Hector plainly. He offered the man a hand to help him to his feet.

“That is alright,” said Melchor and stood up on his own. “What have I missed?”

Hector struggled his way through an explanation, until again, Garovel and Voreese arrived to help him. At that point, Hector considered returning to the ceiling to help dig out more brains, but from the looks of things, the others had it covered. There wasn’t much ceiling left to dig through, anymore.

So you’re the famous Darktide, eh?’ said Voreese. ‘It’s an honor to make your acquaintance.

“Ah. Likewise.” The man sounded tired. Hector couldn’t blame him. The guy had been through just as many fights recently as Hector had, and he’d been right at the heart of them all, too.

Phew. Thinking about all that made Hector remember how exhausted he was, too.

Page 1698

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At length, a familiar reaper came flying into the warehouse and went straight for one of the brains on the ground. It was Iziol, Hector realized, reaper to the Lord Dimas Sebolt. As soon as the reaper touched the brain, the regeneration began. Veins and tissue and bone all began gradually to appear around the brain.

Hector lowered himself down. Knowing the process as well as he did from personal experience, Hector knew that Dimas was going to be butt naked by the time is was done and so decided to remove his own shirt in preparation for it. Just the shirt alone certainly wouldn’t be enough, given how much taller the man was, but maybe bundled with some iron armor, it would suffice.

Before Dimas could even finish regenerating, however, more reapers began to arrive and resurrect their respective servants. Mevox, reaper to the Lord Salvador Delaguna. Ezura, reaper to the Lady Evangelina Stroud. Olijas, reaper to Carlos Sebolt. And more. The one Hector was really waiting on was Orric, for Melchor Blackburn, but by the time several of the servants were getting up, Orric had still not arrived.

On his feet again, Dimas looked down at the suit of armor that Hector had made for him. It wasn’t a set of full plate like what Hector himself was wearing, but it didn’t look too bad, Hector thought.

“Good to see you again, Lord Goffe,” said Dimas.

Hector had already moved on to the next servant in need of concealment, that being the hulking figure of Lord Salvador. He threw a glance back toward Dimas and couldn’t help smiling a little behind his faceguard. “Would you like a helmet like mine?” he asked.

Dimas seemed to think about it, then looked toward Iziol, who was busy talking to Garovel and Voreese. The man turned back to Hector and shrugged. “Sure.”

Hector was happy to make one for him. It was a little weird, materializing a helmet onto another person, but he didn’t struggle with it. He even decided to try something slightly different with it, making it more angular than his own and gave it a T-shaped opening in the faceguard. He momentarily considered giving the man horns, too, but he figured they might be impractical for combat. No sense in giving an enemy something to grab onto.

“Sorry if it’s a little uncomfortable,” said Hector.

“It is fine,” said Dimas, now with the tinge of metal in his voice. “More importantly, where have you been? And what is happening?”

Thankfully, the reapers chose that moment to arrive, so Hector didn’t have to explain. They were more than happy to bring the Lord Sebolt up to speed, and soon, the man was up in the rafters, digging out more servants while Hector continued providing armor for each newly regenerated arrival.

As the crowd of familiar servants grew, so did their progress, and it wasn’t much longer before Hector finally noticed Orric there, already having located Melchor’s brain, apparently.

Page 1697

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Hector looked between the two reapers. “Uh...?”

Voreese took the initiative. ‘Allotropes are basically alternate versions of the same element. The most famous examples would probably be something like diamond and charcoal. Both of those things are just pure carbon, and yet they don’t exactly look identical, do they? Those are carbon allotropes.

Hector blinked at that. “Huh...” Now that he was thinking about it, he seemed to recall reading about something like this during the research he did a while back. He hadn’t really looked into much further, though, perhaps because it hadn’t immediately clicked for him like some other ideas had. “So, uh... how can a materialization user make different allotropes, then?”

That IS the question, isn’t it?’ said Voreese, turning to Garovel. ‘Do you know?

My understanding is that it takes an absolutely ridiculous level of precision. Which would make sense, because allotropes are only differentiated from one another by their atomic structure. So I imagine that the materializer would have to first be capable of manipulating their element on the atomic level.

Hector’s eyes widened as he tried to imagine that. “That... sounds kinda hard.”

No kidding,’ said Garovel. ‘I’m pretty sure it’s a technique that only extremely old servants would be able to pull off. Otherwise, I would’ve had you trying to do it a long time ago.

“Right...” Hector let the shiny black element fall from his hand and returned to digging.

Asad and Zeff may know more about it, of course. We can try asking them at the next opportunity, but I wouldn’t get my hopes up, if I were you. I know you’ve been improving by leaps and bounds lately, but let’s not get too full of ourselves just yet, eh?

Speaking of,’ said Voreese. ‘What the hell is with all this orbiting stuff, huh? I’ve never seen shit like this before.

Heh, well, perhaps I’ll explain that later,’ said Garovel.

Oh? Why not now?

Eh. Don’t feel like it.

What? Bullshit.

No, it’s true. I really don’t feel like it.

Pfft. You tryin’ to keep this shit a secret or something?

I’m sure we have no idea what you’re talking about. Right, Hector?

Hector just glanced at the two reapers and shrugged before going back his digging. With just a little more oomph, he was pretty sure he’d be able to pull the brain out.

He was a little amazed at how much it didn’t bother him, the sight of a human brain just sitting there in front of his face. It wasn’t pulsating or anything like that, but it was pretty squishy and slimy to the touch. Not to mention the smell.

He supposed he had just gotten used to seeing this kind of thing, though he couldn’t really recall a time when it did disturb him, either.

Hmm.

And abruptly, Hector found himself having one of those moments where he simply wondered how the hell he had ended up in this situation. Trying to dig brains out of a ceiling? That was definitely a new one. Certainly not something he’d ever imagined himself doing.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Page 1696

We also wanted to ask you about how Warrenhold affects children,’ said Garovel. ‘Babies, in particular.

That made Hector pay attention again.

Mm,’ hummed Voreese. ‘You’re worried that Stasya’s pest control mechanism might negatively impact some of these Rainlord kids?

Pretty much.

That won’t be a problem,’ said Voreese. ‘In fact, it’ll have just the opposite effect. Instead of feeling immense discomfort, kids who grow up in Warrenhold will come to have a strong association between that unnatural sensation and “home.” So it might seem a little counter-intuitive, but what ends up happening is that those kids become quite attached to Warrenhold when they’re older.

Wow, really?

That is assuming, of course, that those kids don’t have horrible lives at Warrenhold for other reasons. Basically, whatever kind of overall experience the kids have when they’re very young will be amplified in their minds after their brains begin to mature.

I see. But this doesn’t work for animals?

Nope.

Any idea why?

I think it has something to do with the human brain being much more capable of adaptation and self-protection. It’s probably a combination of things, I imagine.

Interesting. So then, there must be a cut off point in a child’s age, right?

Yes. It’s around thirteen years old, but it can vary a little. After that, you have to explain the effects to them like everyone else or they’ll start freaking out.

Thirteen? That seems rather late. I assume it has something to do with puberty, then?

Yeah, but I couldn’t tell you the exact reason why it works that way. It’s just what I’ve observed.

So that means that Marcos and Ramira Elroy are still eligible for the little “nostalgia boost,” then,’ said Garovel.

That depends,’ said Voreese. ‘Are either of them servants yet?

Oh. Yes. Marcos is.

Then he’s not “eligible,” as you put it, because servants can’t even feel a difference in Warrenhold to begin with.

Right. Okay.

As he continued digging, Hector thought he glimpsed something in the dark material, and when he slammed a small iron spike into it another time, a chunk of the unknown element broke off, and Hector caught in his hand.

And, yep. In the opening it had left, he could see another brain waiting to be dug out. He eyed the material in his hand another time, though.

“Can either of you tell what this stuff is?” he asked. It was black and had a hard, shiny texture to it.

It’s different from the brown powdery material we saw outside the warehouses,’ said Garovel. ‘I suppose that could mean that we’re actually dealing with two materializers, but that’s not likely, is it?

No,’ said Voreese. ‘Roman definitely would’ve mentioned that. Even he’s not so incompetent as to overlook a second opponent.

Then this black stuff and that brown stuff must be the same element,’ said Garovel.

“How can that be?” said Hector.

Because of allotropes,’ said Garovel.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Page 1695

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Of course, none of those brains were going to be particularly helpful until they located the reapers that went with them, but it was a start.

At length, they began to get the impression that there were simply no reapers to be found in this building, so Zeff moved on to the next warehouse over while Hector and Diego continued trying dig out more servant brains.

Hey, Voreese,’ said Garovel after a while.

Yeah?’ she said, floating over to him and Hector.

What’s the name of the passage to the Undercrust beneath Warrenhold?

Oh, I always just called it the Warrenhole,’ said Voreese.

Ha! I knew it! Hector, you owe me money.

“No, I don’t.”

The proper name for the hole, though, is Do’orach,’ said Voreese. ‘Proper name, as in the original one.

Hmm,’ said Garovel. ‘Is that from the Apeirian language?

Close. It’s Nykeirian, actually.

Ah. Haven’t heard either of those languages spoken in, oh, must be almost two thousand years now.

Yeah. They kinda died out with their empires.

You wouldn’t happen to be Nykeirian yourself, would you?

As a matter of fact, I am,’ said Voreese. ‘I was born toward the end of the empire. Never got to see it during its prime, sadly. Stories I’ve heard make it sound pretty wondrous. Though, they were probably overhyping it, the way legends tend to do.

That brought a question to Hector’s mind regarding the builder of Warrenhold, so he stopped working for a moment to turn and look at Voreese. “Was Stasya Orlov, uh... was she N-Nykeirian, too?”

Ah, haven’t forgotten about her, huh? That makes me happy. But no, not exactly. She was a descendant of the then-displaced Nykeirian people, but she was born during the early Mohssian Empire and was therefore a product of the Mohssian culture. The Nykeirian culture disappeared pretty quickly into the larger melting pot that was the Mohssian one. Which sounds a bit sad, I suppose, but it was kind of ideal, actually. When different cultures are forced together but don’t blend and integrate properly... well, that’s oftentimes how we end up with things like institutionalized racism and generations-spanning wars.’

I have to agree,’ said Garovel.

Hector nodded, feeling like he more or less understood, and returned his digging while the two reapers kept talking.

It sure was dark up here, though. The tall lamp in the middle of the warehouse had been useful for a while, but now it was just too far away to help him see around all these hard angles and crevices. If only he had a way to light things up better.

Wait a minute. He did, didn’t he?

He materialized a red hot cube above his hand, using the perpetually falling technique that Zeff and Asad had taught him. It worked pretty well, though it proved difficult to keep it perfectly still while he continued moving independently. Still, it illuminated the small cavern that he’d carved out for himself fairly well.

Page 1694

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It was a breakthrough, but not a large enough one. Voreese immediately volunteered to squeeze through and check on everyone, but Zeff didn’t want any of the reapers going in on their own. So the group waited a while longer before the Lord Elroy finally managed to widen the hole enough to peek through, and ultimately, for a person to fit through.

Zeff made an icy staircase extending up from within the warehouse and connected it to Hector’s platform. They all descended in single file with Zeff in the lead. Hector was slightly worried that a staircase made of solid ice would be rather perilous to walk on and so added a ribbed layer of iron to it.

The light source from within the warehouse turned out to be a tall lamp with several people clustered around it, all wearing climate suits, though none were donning their helmets.

Hector recognized a couple faces from House Sebolt, one from House Delaguna, two from House Blackburn, and after a moment, two from House Elroy. Marcos and Ramira Elroy stepped out from behind the others.

When they saw their father, their eyes lit up, and they ran to him. The man dropped to his knees and hugged both, a child for each arm.

Hector breathed a sigh of relief. It had only been a few days, but it felt like he hadn’t seen them in ages, and it was certainly a load off his mind to finally see that they were okay. Their living conditions didn’t look too bad, either. They had some chairs, the lamp, a pile of books to read, a cart full of food, and a bathroom.

There was still much to be done, however. Just this one warehouse was loaded up with pods full of sleeping Rainlords, and getting them all out of here safely was not going to be an easy task. The first task, everyone agreed, was to find all the captive servants and free them so that they could assist in the effort. Certain servants like Dimas or Melchor might have been a priority, but the problem was that no one knew where any individual servant’s brain was located. They only knew that they were all stored somewhere up in the rafters or in one of the other warehouses--all of which were currently filled with whatever that black material was.

Hector, Zeff, and Diego set to work trying to find and free the servants while Manuel got started removing the plethora of pods from the warehouse.

Hector didn’t much care for the digging. Since they were only looking for servant brains this time, they didn’t have to be quite as careful as Zeff had been earlier, but there was still the concern that they would run across a captive reaper and accidentally kill it. Not to mention all the slumbering Rainlords below could get hurt by any falling debris.

So it was an exercise in precision. And damn this black stuff was tough. Hector couldn’t even put a dent in it without resorting to his orbiting technique, but he was simultaneously afraid of using that technique with the same level of intensity as he had against the worm. It was tricky, trying to find a happy medium. So tricky, in fact, that he only managed to find one brain by the time Zeff and Diego had each found four.

Page 1693

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Yeah, I’m familiar with some of his exploits,’ said Voreese. ‘He snuck into an Abolish fortress and killed two dudes who were pretty infamous at the time. Real malevolent bastards, those ones. I was following their careers because of an awful encounter I had with them several years earlier, so it was quite the pleasant surprise for me when I learned that some guy named Darktide had not only crushed them, but made ‘em look like utter fools, too.

That brought up a question that Hector wanted answered. “How do you sneak into a fortress full of reapers? Wouldn’t they sense any intruders immediately?”

Yep,’ said Voreese. ‘That’s one of the reasons why it was so impressive. According to what I learned, Darktide pretended to be a non-servant and allowed himself to be taken prisoner. Now, Abolish is known for not usually taking prisoners, but in this instance, they were kidnapping locals and using them for experimentation. Pretty horrific stuff, from what I heard. But essentially, Darktide was able to use their own shittiness against them. I always liked that thought. Can’t wait to meet the guy. What’s he like? Is he nice?

“Uh,” said Hector, “y-yeah, I guess. I only talked to him a little bit, but, er, I kinda like him.”

Hector is being modest,’ said Garovel. ‘They hit it off pretty well. I bet they’ll get along famously, if and when they spend more time together.

Ooh, you’re makin’ me jealous,’ said Voreese. ‘I wonder if Roman’ll be able to get along with him, too. Never can tell with that guy. Sometimes, he seems like he can make friends with anyone, but then he’ll surprise you and totally ruin everything.

Are you sure that it is not YOU who has difficulty getting along with people?’ said Axiolis.

Psh, no. Everyone loves my ability to speak the truth in a straightforward and candid manner.

Straightforward and candid are two words that mean the same thing,’ said Axiolis.

Yeah, I know,’ said Voreese. ‘The redundancy enhances the ease of comprehension for the listener. Don’t tell me you’re a grammar purist, too.’

More like a grammar appreciator,’ said Axiolis.

Oh, geez,’ said Voreeze. ‘You must be a blast at parties.

I imagine you must be, as well,’ said Axiolis, ‘on the rare occasion when someone invites you.

And there was silence as Voreese merely stared at him for a moment. The only noise was that of Zeff’s digging.

Then she gave an approving nod. ‘Not bad, you uptight son of a bitch. That one actually kinda stung.

...I apologize if I caused offense,’ said Axiolis.

Voreese laughed. ‘Oh, fuck you! Don’t try to take it back now! Just be proud and own it! That’s what I’d do!

Why would I ever wish to model my behavior after yours?

There, you see?! That’s more like it!

A loud and abrupt crack sound intervened in the conversation, and everyone looked toward Zeff and saw the small breakthrough that he had finally made in the wall of black. They were so deep that the entire platform now fit into the greater hole that Zeff have carved out, but only now could they see light pouring through.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Page 1692

Not a fan of Arkos, huh?’ said Garovel.

He built some cool shit,’ said Voreese. ‘And I never met him, but I always got the impression that he thought he was a lot smarter than he really was.

“I feel like we’re drifting from the subject of Sai-hee,” said Diego, again with his eyes closed.

Oh yeah,’ said Voreese. She looked back at Lorios. ‘I guess I can kinda see your point about this Eric Olmos being only MOSTLY stupid. She did have the kind of reputation you described. And also, I forgot to mention: it definitely seems incredibly unreasonable on Sai-hee’s part to hold a grudge against ALL of you guys, just because of the actions of one dumbass who broke her heart. You sure there’s not more to this story that you’ve neglected to mention?

Oh, the story is not done,’ said Axiolis. ‘Eric Olmos was simply the lightning bolt that struck the forest, so to speak.

Ah, okay. So some serious blood was eventually spilled, then?

Yes,’ said Axiolis. ‘When Sai-hee confronted Eric, matters escalated beyond anyone’s control, and in a single night, her forces slaughtered every male member of House Olmos.

What the fuck?’ said Garovel.

Holy shit,’ said Voreese. ‘I never heard about that. Even the young boys, too?

Yes,’ said Axiolis. ‘And it did not end there, either. Several other Houses were caught up in the mayhem, some of which were from Sair. The Sebolts, Zabats, Blackburns, and Merlos all suffered severe losses that day.

Goddamn,’ said Voreese. ‘What’d you do next?

We gathered our forces and responded in kind,’ said Axiolis. ‘We killed one of her “generals”--or whatever she calls them. A woman named Ariana. She had been present during the initial attack and was responsible for at least thirty of the fatalities, five of whom had been mere boys. It was Rayen Merlo and Melchor Blackburn who ended her life, working in tandem. I witnessed that myself. It was quite the battle.

I can’t imagine Sai-hee was too pleased about that,’ said Garovel.

No, but she seemed to at least acknowledge that Ariana had wronged us and that our battle was justified,’ said Axiolis. ‘We were able to negotiate a fragile peace, but the Intarians didn’t maintain it. They harassed her forces periodically, which cost many more lives even after the Jungle Wars ended. I think that was when those of us from Sair began to feel a greater degree of separation from our Intarian brethren than ever before.

You blamed them for fucking everything up so hard,’ said Voreese.

Axiolis made no response.

Not saying you were wrong,’ said Voreese. ‘They sound like a bunch of fuck-ups.

...Regardless,’ Axiolis went on, ‘our collective relationship with Sai-hee has remained bad ever since then. Melchor Blackburn has a particular hatred for her--or if not her, then her people, at the very least. House Blackburn suffered the worst from those battles, in addition to clashing with Abolish around that time as well. I believe Darktide went on a veritable crusade sometime thereafter. A largely successful crusade, from what I have heard.