Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Page 1917

'Germal?' said Garovel. 'That's an Ancient Melmoorian folk hero. How do you even know that name?'

"Mugh?" was all Harper had to say.

Darsihm chimed in for him. 'You're very knowledgeable. But as it so happens, Germal is also currently the name of a prominent member of Abolish. Perhaps you've heard of him without realizing it. The Liar of Lyste?'

'Ah, yes, I remember that moniker,' said Garovel. 'Have the two you ever encountered this person?'

'We have not,' said Darsihm, 'but one of our superiors has taken a keen interest in him--an interest which I think has rubbed off on Harper here.'

Harper looked like he wasn't even listening, anymore. He was staring at the bartender, who was busy pouring a glass of wine for a different guest.

'When he's sober, anyway,' the reaper added.

'Hmm. Which superior would that be, if you don't mind my asking?'

Darsihm took a moment to perhaps deliberate whether or not he should share that information with them. 'Captain General Frederick. I'm not at liberty to share any more than that, I'm afraid. I probably shouldn't have even shared that much, honestly, but I feel you've earned a modicum of trust.'

'I understand,' said Garovel. 'Believe me, there's no need to explain yourself.'

The reapers kept talking, but a familiar voice acquired Hector's attention.

"Lord Goffe?"

He turned to see King William standing there, looking quite regal in his formal attire. His coat was mostly white laced with silver, aside from the big blue sash that extended diagonally down his chest. The man's missing arm wasn't all that noticeable if one wasn't looking for it, but Hector was. In fact, it was usually the first thing he thought of when seeing the King, and that probably wasn't going to change anytime soon.

Hector had no intention of ever forgetting the brutality that Abolish had visited upon this innocent man.

Upon his king.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Page 1916

'Mm, sort of,' the reaper said privately. 'We can suppress it temporarily, and we can numb the pain of a hangover, but they just come back stronger later.'

Perhaps Darsihm was guessing what they were thinking, because he said, 'If there's anything important you want to talk about, I can put him back to normal for you real quick.'

"What're you sayin'? I'm not broken. I'm feelin' great, right now. I could talk about anything. I could tell you the secrets of the universe. Ask me whatever you want. I've got an answer."

'Is that right?' said Garovel through mild laughter, and Hector could already tell that the reaper planned to screw with him.

"You're damn right it is," said Harper, sniffing loudly.

'Alright, then I've got a question for you,' said Garovel. 'What is the meaning of life?'

"Oh, duuude. What a great question. Y'know somethin'? You're a great questioner. Anyone ever tell you that? 'Cuz it's true. Hundred percent. So great. If I could give you an award, right now, I would. I'd vote for you, too. Come election time. You'd be a great prezi-p-prezi... m-minister."

'Well, thank you.' Garovel sounded like he could barely contain himself.

"You think I'm kiddin'? I'm not. You'd kill it. I'm sure you could fix. Just. Everything, y'know?"

Garovel was nodding along. 'Do you even remember my name?'

Harper squinted at him. Then he inhaled so much air at once that Hector wondered if he was trying to inflate his whole body until he popped like a balloon. "Yeah, o'course I 'member your name. You're... V... Vvv--?"

'Starts with a "G",' advised Darsihm, who apparently didn't feel like keeping that bit of assistance private.

"Mm." Harper thought for a long moment. "Grant?"

'That's a Vanguardian Field Marshall,' said Garovel. 'Good try, though.'

"Buh..." Harper scratched his head. "Germal?"

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Page 1915

Amelia and her apparent secretary set to work writing up apology letters, including requests to reschedule. It looked like Hector was going to be having sporadic meetings with the rest of the Atreyan lords for the next two or three months.

He wasn't terribly excited by that notion, but at least it freed up what little remained of the evening. He still hadn't even gotten to talk to Harper Norez yet.

When he finally did, however, it was not quite the reunion that he had expected.

'Well, look who it is,' said Darsihm, Harper's reaper. 'A pleasure to finally see you two again.'

'Likewise,' said Garovel, though his hollow eye sockets were drifting towards the unconscious man sitting at the bar. 'Uh...'

'Oh, ah--sorry.' Darsihm tapped his servant on the back of his head, and Harper jolted awake.

"Mugh?!"

Hector caught the stocky man before he fell off his bar stool. When Harper turned and squinted confusedly at him, Hector returned a flat smile. "Hello, Mr. Norez..."

The man needed a moment. "Oh, hey." He stood up without Hector's help and suppressed a burp. "Great to see you guys. How've you been? You look great. Been workin' out? It shows. Me, I'm doin' good, too, thanks for asking. You guys are so thoughtful, y'know that? There's no one better. Y-you--you guys're just the best. I hope you know that, okay? If anyone tells you different, y'just--" He had to steady himself on the edge of the bar. "Y'just send 'em my way. I'll set 'em straight, mkay? And y'know what else? This country of yours is great, too. You should be so proud of all the things that, uh, y'know. You have. Here. It's just great. Everyone's great. I hope we can--"

And the man just kept talking.

Hector was wholly entertained, but he did have a question. 'Garovel, can reapers fix drunkenness in their servants?'

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Page 1914

Hector's next few meetings went a bit more smoothly, perhaps because the Madame Carthrace was present for them. She didn't speak all that much, but when she did, it usually served to point the conversation in a helpful direction.

The meeting with Domitrus Vollier left perhaps the biggest impression on Hector. The wealthiest man in the country certainly did not carry himself like everyone else, but Hector wouldn't go so far as to call him arrogant, either. The man was very collected and polite, and his relationship with Amelia seemed somehow both affectionate and hostile, though maybe that was just some trick of the aristocracy that he didn't quite understand yet.

Oddly enough, Hector ended up kind of liking Domitrus, but he didn't exactly know why.

"He would be a very good ally to have," said Amelia in between meetings. "The Volliers are probably the second most influential family in the nation, at the moment."

Hector wanted to ask about her history with him, but there wasn't much time, and it seemed like there would be a lot to tell.

As the evening drew on, with meeting following meeting following still more meetings, Hector gradually began to feel less like a guest of royalty and more like a prisoner being interrogated.

'How many are left?' he asked Garovel.

'A mere fifty-seven,' the reaper said dryly.

He tried not to sigh audibly. 'Garovel, if I asked you to release my soul right now, would you do it?'

'Maybe if I got to go with you.'

Each meeting was only five to ten minutes, but with so many to get through, it quickly became clear that they were simply not going to be able to finish them all tonight.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Page 1913 -- CXCVII.

'I encourage you to search your memories when you find the time,' said the Weaver. 'One day, you may discover more there than you expect.'

'And what might she discover about you?' said Chergoa.

'I would like to know that myself.'

Chergoa's next words were private. 'She's being evasive again.'

Emiliana was hardly surprised.

Gohvis unfolded his arms, but his tone remained grave. "Whatever the case, you will stop bothering her in her dreams. You will not bother her at all without my permission."

'As you wish, Master.'


Chapter One Hundred Ninety-Seven: 'O, lordly guardian, know thy burdens...'
Click to display entire chapter at once -- (mobile link)

Boy, had there been a lot more that Lionel Carthrace had ended up telling Hector. For all the fuss that the guy had made about not wanting to speak ill of his aunt, once he’d finally gotten going, it was like a dam had burst, and story after story flowed out with such force that Hector eventually began to realize that Lionel probably didn't care so much about changing Hector's mind regarding Amelia as he did about finally having someone listen to him complaining about her.

Which seemed odd in its own way. Surely, his other family members would be happy to listen to him complain, no? Then again, perhaps not. Lionel was the head of House Carthrace, after all. Maybe he didn't want them to think he was weak or something by whining a whole bunch.

It didn't really matter, Hector supposed. After a while, he just kind of tuned the guy out and consulted Garovel about how best to extricate himself from the situation.

In the end, Hector relied on the thankfully good excuse that they had many more meetings to get to before the night concluded, and Lionel became abruptly apologetic, having apparently regained control of himself.

And after all that, Hector still didn't really know what to make of Amelia Carthrace and her family.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Page 1912

'Ah.' The Weaver sounded amused for the first time so far. 'I would not call it reincarnation, no. Rather, I suspect it is a higher form of inheritance.'

'A higher form?' said Chergoa. 'You make it sound like some kind of magic.'

'I cannot help how you choose to interpret my perspective,' said the Weaver.

'Hmph.'

'In the matter of inheritance, the Rainlords of Sair already carry quite a pedigree, would you not agree? The ancient Water Dragon walks among us still, does he not? Is it so difficult to believe that this blood of kings might yet hold more secrets?'

Blood of kings? That was one way of putting it, but Emiliana had to disagree on principle. "You seem to know a lot about about me," she said, "I'll grant you that. But you don't know much about Rainlords, do you?"

'Why do you say that?' the Weaver asked.

"We do not suffer kings. We never have." And Emiliana couldn't explain it, but she had felt an unexpected warmth in her chest when those thoughts had occurred to her--and it only swelled further when she spoke them.

Her entire life, she had never once thought that being a Rainlord was anything special. Despite all the stories and lectures and reapers and powers, she had always thought it was just silly bravado. Masculine posturing.

But here and now, all of a sudden, it made complete sense to her.

She was a Rainlord. And she was proud.

'Call it what you like,' the Weaver said. 'The purportedly divine appointment of the Water Dragon is a kingly quality. But that is neither here nor there. All that matters is your inheritance from Agam. Perhaps we should reconsider the potential of such a gift.'

Emiliana was still listening, but she couldn't help feeling suddenly homesick. Something in this strange conversation was making her wonder if she would ever see her family again.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Page 1911

'HER mind is curious?' said Chergoa. 'What about yours?'

'Ah. Flattery? I have not received that in many years.'

'Wasn't what I was getting at, but sure.'

"You still have not answered my question," said Gohvis. "What did you wish to talk to her about?"

The Weaver gave a telepathic sigh. 'If you must know, I was wondering if she remembered me.'

Emiliana blinked a couple times, and she glanced at both Gohvis and Chergoa in bewilderment. "I've never met you. I'm sure I'd remember if I had."

'As I am now, no, I suppose you would not remember me,' said the Weaver. 'And not you as you are now, either.'

For some reason, those words gave Emiliana a chill. "What is that supposed to mean?"

"Stop confusing her," said Gohvis. "You are mistaking her for Agam."

'No, I am not,' said the Weaver. 'Agam, you may recall, would sometimes remember people whom he had never met previously. Places he had never been before. Knowledge which, by all conventional expectations, should not have belonged to him.'

"And as I said, she is not Agam," repeated Gohvis.

'Hmph. Do not play dumb, Master. Her mind is not Agam's, yes, but does it not remind you of him? That curious complexion? His was not perfectly identical, but is the resemblance not still uncanny? I am sure that is why you have brought her here, no?'

Gohvis made no response.

Emiliana was only growing more uncomfortable, but she didn't know what to say, what question to ask.

Apparently, Chergoa did, though, and she didn't hold back, either. 'Are you talking about reincarnation? As in the true, reaperless variety? Because if you are, then I think you're trying to sell me some bullshit, right now. There are plenty of other explanations for why someone might have memories that they didn't recognize as their own.'

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Page 1910

Gohvis decided to interject. "Why did you wish to speak with her? And more importantly, why did you invade her dreams instead of simply asking me to let you see her?"

'Would you have allowed me such a privilege?' the Weaver said.

Gohvis folded his arms. "She is here now, is she not?"

'With your supervision, yes.'

Gohvis was quiet a moment. "And why would my presence be such a bother?" His tone was only becoming more irate.

'Because, Master, you have a way of stifling discussion with your imposing disposition.'

"Mm, yes. Or perhaps you simply wished to play with her mind."

'Ah.'

Emiliana was liking this conversation less and less by the second.

'Her brain DOES have a curious complexion to it,' said the Weaver, 'but do you think her so malleable as to be my plaything?'

"She is a child," said Gohvis.

'True. But stubbornness knows no age.'

Emiliana didn't much care for the way they were talking about her like she wasn't even present. And now Gohvis was giving her a look, as if he were reconsidering the Weaver's words.

She felt she had to say something before the lull in the conversation disappeared. "Why are you here in the dark, all by yourself?"

'I am sensitive to light,' said the Weaver. 'And it must be said, I am not very pleasant to look at. It is better for everyone this way. I do not wish to be seen.'

Emiliana could believe that. If the Weaver looked anything like that starfish monster from her nightmares, then it made sense. There was another thing that still didn't, though. "Why were you screaming at me in my dreams?"

'Screaming? I was not screaming.'

"Um, yes, you were. It was terrifying."

'Ah. That is very strange. I merely attempted to speak to you, as I am now. Perhaps your mind is even more curious than I thought.'

Monday, November 4, 2019

Page 1909

'What the fuck am I sensing right now?' said Chergoa privately.

The reaper didn't often curse around her, which told Emiliana that Chergoa really was shaken up, right now--and that knowledge didn't do much to ease her own anxious heart.

Continuing to follow Gohvis, it soon became clear that they were heading toward the far end of the chamber, which was largely concealed in shadow. But as they drew closer, Emiliana gradually began to make out a form therein.

And not a humanoid one, either.

The shape just sat there in the darkness, lumpy and pulsing and as big as a rhinoceros. Emiliana had to strain a bit, but she could hear the sound of faintly labored breathing as well. The ground seemed to be damp around it, too.

"Weaver," said Gohvis in a stern tone when they were finally close enough.

'Greetings, Master,' came an unfamiliar voice in Emiliana's head. 'And to you as well, Elroy.'

"Why have you been intruding in her dreams?" the Monster said.

'I wished to speak with her. It seems I only succeeded in frightening her, however. I must apologize.'

Wide-eyed and still mildly horrified, Emiliana couldn't help herself and asked what was probably quite a rude question. "What are you?"

'Ah, yes. A relic, perhaps. One that has lasted long past her usefulness.'

Chergoa decided to chime in now. 'You were human once?'

'You say that as if I no longer am,' said the Weaver.

'No offense, but I'm not sure you are,' said Chergoa. 'I've never met a human, servant or otherwise, who could speak to other humans telepathically like you're doing now.'

'Ah. So you do not consider yourself human anymore, either, then?'

'Not really, no. That's why I meant it when I said no offense.'

'Ah. I see.'

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Page 1908

He didn't stop walking, but he did turn to look back at her. "Hmph. Are you sure you want to do that? You may come to regret it."

She matched his pace, as did Chergoa. "Why? Where are we going?"

"Do you wish to see your nightmare with your waking eyes?"

Admittedly, that did give her pause. "Um... not especially, no."

"Then do as I said."

She gave a wide frown. "Well, I don't want to do that even more."

"That is not a proper sentence," said Gohvis.

"Oh, whatever, just tell me where we are going."

"To see the Weaver."

Emiliana was about to ask who or what that was when Gohvis abruptly stopped in front of a blank wall.

He pressed his huge hand against it, and then it became clear that there was a square-shaped button there, previously imperceptible due to how seamlessly its edges had blended into the rest of the wall's flat gray stone. A deep click resounded, followed by a shunk, and then a nearby section of the wall gave way, revealing a hidden path.

Gohvis went first, though he was too tall and had to duck down.

Emiliana exchanged uncertain looks with Chergoa before following.

The path forked multiple times, and it wasn't long before Emiliana was sure that she would have gotten lost in these musty tunnels for ages if Gohvis wasn't here.

In time, they arrived at a stone door, which lead to another area of the Library that she had never seen before.

It was a cavernous chamber with a vaulted ceiling and not much light. Rows of candles filled several long tables, and the scent of vanilla hung in the air. The atmosphere was strangely pleasant in its own way, but Emiliana's wariness wasn't allowing her to feel much other than creeped out.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Page 1907

She really needed to get some rest. Heh, maybe she should try to sleep and meditate at the same time. That would be helpful.

'You look like hell,' said Chergoa. 'Still haven't been been sleeping well?'

"Yes..."

'So that herbal tea I told you to make didn't work?'

She gave a mild laugh. "I'm afraid not."

'Tsk. I knew that recipe was horseshit. I'm sorry, Em.'

"It's not like it's your fault."

'Have the nightmares changed, at least?'

"I don't think so. It is all a bit murky. It can start normally enough, perfectly pleasant, but it always ends with that weird... starfish monster. Screeching at me." She grimaced a little, just recalling the horrible image.

'Well, that sucks. If it gets any worse--holy shit!'

Emiliana turned to see what Chergoa was reacting to, only to flinch when she saw Gohvis' hulking figure standing there again.

"What were you talking about, just now?" the Monster said with his two voices.

Hadn't he gone off to--? Wait, where had he gone? And why was he back?

'Would you mind not scaring the crap out of us like that?' said Chergoa. 'You just left. Why did you come back so soon?'

"I happened to overhear your conversation," said Gohvis. "Or I thought I did, at least, and it interested me. Mind repeating what you were saying?"

"Uh..." It took Emiliana a second to find her words. "I've... been having nightmares?"

"Mm. About what?"

"A... er... some kind of starfish thing?"

"And these have been preventing you from sleeping soundly?"

"Y-yes..."

"I see." He turned and started walking away again.

Emiliana stood up. "Where are you going now?"

"Return to your quarters and sleep. But don't forget your meditations first."

She was getting really sick of all these unanswered questions. "No. Wherever you're going, I'm going, too." She ran to catch up with him.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Page 1906

Sto was not a cure for the buildup, as the metaphorical "bucket" could still "overflow" if not attended to regularly, but it did serve as an invaluable buffer to further postpone the unintended activation of mutation. And from what Emiliana had been able to tell, the activation could be postponed for quite a long time, depending on how much the user was able to refine Sto.

Needless to say, mastering Sto instantly became Emiliana's top priority.

From the way Gohvis had talked about it, she had expected it to be incredibly difficult, but she was relieved to discover how easy it was. Within a couple hours, she had begun "constructing" it. She could visualize the space as a kind of pocket dimension, to which her own mind was merely a window. She didn't know if that was actually case, though, since it seemed just as likely--if not more so--that space required for Sto simply existed in her own mind. But somehow, thinking about Sto as a different space, separate from herself, seemed to make the whole process easier.

She wondered if it was because of what happened with Rasalased. The so-called Dry God. Perhaps something about that experience was now informing her view of reality or planes of existence.

Regardless, she wasn't complaining. Sure, the construction of Sto was still a rather slow and tedious process, since she wanted it to have as much "capacity" as possible, but she definitely didn't find it difficult. In fact, it was so easy that she had even been able to construct it while performing a general meditation as well.

She could even almost do it while reading.

She had only been attempting that feat for the past couple days, but she felt like it was possible. Perhaps if she wasn't so tired.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Page 1905

((Halloween Special -- Page 4 of 4))
“One thing you must understand immediately,” Gohvis had told her, “is that meditation is more important for us than any other servant class. By far. Especially in the beginning. I believe this is the main reason why, historically, we have suffered so greatly. We and our accompanying reapers have vastly underestimated how much meditation is required for us to achieve stability with our power.”

And indeed, ever since then, meditation had become the largest part of her daily routine. When she wasn’t reading, eating, or sleeping, she was most likely meditating--and she hadn't been eating or sleeping that much.

More recently, she had reached a point where Gohvis finally allowed her to reduce her meditation hours by a small margin, which was why she had time to explore the Library more and talk to the Monster’s followers, but it wasn’t just increasing the amount of meditating that had been important. She had also needed to change how she meditated.

“How familiar are you with the concept of altered states of consciousness?” Gohvis had asked her.

“Um, not very?”

“Then it is time to learn.”

The Monster went on to explain that the primary purpose of meditation for mutation users was to enter into a different state of consciousness so that they could achieve more meticulous management over their own bodies.

Supposedly, there were multiple states that she would eventually be learning, but the first and apparently most important one that Gohvis had taught her was what he had dubbed a “storage” state.

“--or Sto, for short,” he’d explained. “Naming them is helpful for codifying them in your mind over time. It makes them easier to reenter, which speeds up the meditation process.”

The purpose of Sto, she had learned, was to create a space in her mind where she could “store” the problematic buildup of her mutation power. If mutation was like a leaky roof, then Sto was like a bucket in which to catch the dripping water.

Page 1904

((Halloween Special -- Page 3 of 4))
Really?’ said Chergoa. ‘Who?

Gohvis didn’t answer. Instead, he asked, “How did an aberration come to be among the Rainlords?”

Emiliana had no idea how to answer that and so looked to her reaper.

We’re not sure,’ was all she said.

“Mm.”

There arrived an uncomfortable silence before Gohvis picked the conversation back up again.

“Do either of you know how aberrations are created?” he asked.

No,’ said Chergoa for the both of them.

And again, Gohvis fell silent.

Well? Aren’t you going to dispel our ignorance for us?

“No.”

Emiliana saw the reaper’s face twist a little.

Gohvis stood. “I shall leave you to your studies. Make sure you meditate before you fall asleep.” And without waiting for a response, he walked away, silent as a shadow.

That guy can be a real prick when he wants to,’ said Chergoa with privacy.

Emiliana could hardly disagree, but it was hard for her to dislike him too much, given everything he had done for her so far. Even if she was here against her will, a rather large part of her felt like she was probably better off in Gohvis’ care--for the time being, at least.

Before coming here, she’d been terrified of her mutation power. But now? Now, she at least had a grip on it, and that was entirely thanks to Gohvis. He had been personally instructing her in how to safely tap into and moderate her ability.

The key, she had learned, was in the passively “building” nature of mutation. If she went too long without activating it, then it would eventually activate on its own, causing uncontrolled changes to her body. Previously, she had thought that the only way to cope with this problem was to use her ability in small, hopefully harmless ways in order to alleviate the buildup so that it could never activate on its own, but Gohvis had been teaching her a better, albeit more difficult, strategy.

Page 1903

((Halloween Special -- Page 2 of 4))
Ibai,’ said Chergoa with the cadence of a disapproving mother. ‘You can’t be best friends with a building. Especially one that wants you dead.

Ibai, however, seemed oblivious to her tone. “How come?”

Because--that--it just makes no sense.’

“Why?”

You--’ Chergoa paused. ‘Y’know what? You’re right. You can be best friends with a rock, for all I care.

Emiliana squinted and glanced at the reaper. ‘Are you getting jealous of a building?

No,’ she said privately. ‘Shut up.

Ibai was looking inquisitively towards Gohvis. “How can I get on the Library’s good side?”

A beat passed, and the Monster gave a hulking shrug.

“Well, dang.”

Surprising herself, Emiliana had an idea. “Um, maybe you could try writing a book of your own and then give it to the Library as a gift.”

Ibai stopped. And then his face lit up. “That’s brilliant! Ooh! What should it be about?! Wait, no, don’t tell me! It would be better if I figured that on my own, wouldn’t it?! Hmm! Interesting!” He turned around and started back in the direction that he’d just come from. “A book, a book! Fiction or non-fiction? Pictures or no pictures? Hmm!”

And there he goes,’ said Chergoa.

“I wonder how long that will keep him occupied for,” said Emiliana.

No telling,’ said Chergoa. ‘I could see it being ten minutes or ten months, depending entirely on how interested it keeps him.

“Mm,” hummed Gohvis. “I’m more curious about what manner of creation might arise from that brain. I am reasonably certain than no aberration-written book currently exists.”

Chergoa’s next words had the echo of privacy to them. ‘You alright, Em?

The question caught her off guard, but after a moment, Emiliana understood why the reaper was posing it. There hadn’t been many occasions thus far where Emiliana had been alone with Gohvis. ‘Yes, I am fine.

Gohvis was still looking off in the direction that Ibai had gone. “Increasingly, he reminds me of someone.”

Page 1902

((Halloween Special -- Page 1 of 4))
Emiliana knew he wasn’t talking to her, but that sounded like a pretty good idea. The Library must’ve had tons of philosophy books, so maybe she could add some to her reading list.

Ibai opened his mouth again to say something, but a low rumble interrupted him.

Emiliana recognized that sound. She gave Ibai a look. “Have you been checking out too many books again?”

“No,” said the middle-aged Blackburn with all the composure of a child. “I’ve been good, I swear!”

“Hmm,” was all Emiliana said.

“He is telling the truth,” said Gohvis. “The Library simply doesn’t like him.”

Another low rumble arrived, as if in affirmation.

“Oh, no,” said Ibai, “is that really true?”

One more rumble.

Ibai just frowned.

Emiliana felt a bit bad for him. Ever since she had informed him about the death of Ismael Blackburn, his father, Emiliana had become even more uncertain about Ibai’s state of mind than before.

The aberration took the news... pretty well, Emiliana supposed, but he was rather quiet for a few days thereafter, and she had also been seeing him around less frequently.

His current demeanor didn’t seem all that different from normal, but that too was worrisome in its own way. Being an aberration, Emiliana had to wonder if the man knew how to grieve properly--or the more terrible question of if he even felt grief in the first place.

Perhaps that was why Chergoa was spending so much time with him, lately. Emiliana had asked her about him, but the reaper hadn’t told her anything that seemed out of the ordinary.

I wouldn’t worry too much about what a building thinks, if I were you,’ said Chergoa.

“But it’s not just any building,” said Ibai. “It’s my new best buddy! I can’t have my best buddy hating me! That’s not a best buddy at all, then!”

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Page 1901

But she was at least beginning to understand him a bit more. And he certainly wasn’t called the Monster of the East for no reason. As much as she had wanted to believe Germal’s words from before, that Gohvis might actually be some type of hard-working savior of humanity... well, suffice to say, she still wasn’t seeing it.

She considered trying to challenge his assertion that growth required conflict, but wasn’t sure how to go about it. Wait, had he even said that he was against conflict? He must’ve implied it, surely, but then again, he was also a member of Abolish, which instigated all sorts of conflict, so...?

Agh. She needed some sleep, and this was just too confusing for her, at the moment. If only someone else were here to argue with Gohvis for her. She certainly didn’t carry much love for the Vanguard in her heart right now, but wondered what their best and brightest would say about this subject.

“Hey, what’cha guys doing over here?” came the familiarly eager voice of Ibai Blackburn, and Emiliana turned to see him walking towards the table after having apparently teleported first, judging by the fleeting specks of brown shadow behind him. “Strategy meeting? Bonding time? Book club?” His eyes widened a moment, and his smile broadened as a thought seemed to strike him. “Staring contest?!”

“Philosophical discussion,” said Gohvis.

“Oooh! Can I join?”

“No.”

Emiliana spotted Chergoa hovering over as well, now. She wasn’t terribly surprised. Chergoa and Ibai had become quite good buddies, recently. It seemed like the reaper spent almost as much time with him as she did with Emiliana.

“Oh, c’mon, don’t be like that,” Ibai was saying. “I’ll admit, I don’t know a whole lot about philosophy, but I’d love to learn!”

“Go find a book, then,” said Gohvis.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Page 1900

“That has nothing to do with the fact that you apparently think it’s okay to kill innocent people,” said Emiliana.

“It is not ideal, no,” said Gohvis. “But if human nature itself is so flawed, then from a purely logical standpoint, there is no such thing as an ‘innocent person.’ Everyone is contributing to the decline of humanity merely by being alive.”

She took an exasperated breath. “That’s so wrong, though...”

“Mm. Hence why I said that only those who have known hatred for humanity are able to understand it, much less believe it. Try as they might, humans are not purely logical beings.”

Agh...

Emiliana wanted to keep arguing, but she felt like she would only be reiterating her disapproval and dismay in various new ways, and that didn’t seem very helpful.

Her eyes went to Agam’s book again, and another thought occurred to her. “Isn’t there a third option for dealing with the problem of growth?”

Gohvis merely looked at her, again seeming as if he might already know what she was going to say.

Emiliana was not going to let that deter her, however. “Making human growth sustainable. That’s a solution, too, isn’t it?”

“Hah.” The Monster sounded in equal parts dismissive and amused. “I am sure the supposed ‘brains’ of the Vanguard would be pleased to hear you say that. Or they might even be foolish enough to argue that growth isn’t a problem to begin with. But it is all wishful, emotional thinking--unsupported by the science. A dispassionate mind will see reality for what it is, no matter how horrible.”

It seemed they would have to agree to disagree on that point, but Emiliana was afraid to say as much. There was precisely a snowball’s chance in lakefire that she would be able to change Gohvis’ mind on a subject like this, she felt.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Page 1899

“I’m--” A horrified pause came over her as she considered what he might be implying. “I’m... pretty sure?”

“Mm.”

She was hesitant to inquire any further, but there was no point in stopping now, she figured. “Are you really saying... that it is possible to make everyone like us?”

“I’m not saying anything,” said Gohvis. “I’m merely questioning your certitude.”

Emiliana just stared at him, trying to discern something from his unreadable lizard face.

Gohvis didn’t say anything more, however. Even after another minute or so of silence, he seemed perfectly content to let the conversation end there.

She tried to think. She felt like she still had a million questions for him, but there was only one that was dominating her thoughts at the moment. “...Doesn’t it bother you that your supposed comrades in Abolish are trying to kill so many innocent people?”

“Not particularly,” he said flatly.

“But why? You said you don’t believe in what they are doing.”

“Yes,” said Gohvis, “but just because I don’t believe in it, doesn’t mean I don’t understand their perspective. And more importantly, it doesn’t mean that they are incorrect.”

That was not what she had wanted to hear. “What...?”

“The simple fact of the matter is, even if I disagree with them on principle, their logic is still perfectly sound. From a purely objective standpoint, they could be right, and I could be wrong.”

“That’s...” She sighed. “No. They can’t possibly be right. How can you even think that?”

“How can you not?” he countered. “Just because you don’t want something to be true doesn’t mean it isn’t.”

She merely furrowed her brow at that response.

“I don’t actually know if it is possible to change such a fundamental aspect of human nature,” said Gohvis. “Certainly, there is little in the way of historical evidence that such a thing has ever been done before. It may very well be impossible.”

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Page 1898

“The way you’re talking about it,” said Emiliana, becoming mildly hopeful, “you make it sound like you do not believe in that method yourself.”

“That is because I don’t,” said Gohvis.

“I’m glad to hear that.”

“I am more of a believer in the second method,” the Monster said.

“And that is?”

“To change human nature.”

A doubtful expression crossed her face, and she tilted her head. “And how do you plan to accomplish that?”

“I make no claim that it would be easy,” said the Monster. “But there are many in Abolish who are pursuing this same goal, in their own way.”

“But what is your way?”

“Hmph.” He leaned back a little and allowed his gaze to drift away from her. “Take a guess.”

Guess? How would she know how he intended to...?

Her eyes widened a little as the thought struck her. “...Mutation?”

“Indeed.”

“You want to use mutation to change human nature itself?” Somehow, that notion made so much sense and yet none at all, like she’d connected all the dots correctly only to see them create an impossible image.

“Essentially, yes.”

“But... how?”

Rather than answering, Gohvis merely looked at her again. Was he waiting for her to connect the dots again? Or to ask a more specific question? Or was he just done with the conversation entirely?

She wracked her brain for something, anything. “That’s... I mean... you can’t.”

“Why not?” said Gohvis with even more of a knowing calmness than usual.

“Because--you--” It seemed so obvious that she was having trouble even putting it into words. “Because mutation only affects the user. And to change human nature, you would have to change everyone in the world. And everyone in the world can’t be a mutation user.”

“Are you sure about that?”

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Page 1897

Emiliana didn’t understand. “Are you... really trying to tell me that Abolish is helping humanity grow?”

Gohvis shook his huge head. “No. It may be true that Abolish is preventing stagnation on some level, but that is beside the point. What I am saying is that the aspect of humanity which compels growth is itself the problem.”

“What do you mean?”

“It is a fundamental element of human nature to require--and therefore pursue--growth. Without that fundamental element, humans wither and die in agony. But as I said, growth requires conflict. That conflict may mean physical violence. It may mean an entirely psychological process. It may mean something in between. But that conflict is still nonetheless required for growth to occur. That is its nature.”

She touched her forehead, still trying to understand what he was getting at. “So then... are you saying... that Abolish is trying to destroy humanity’s need for growth?”

“Yes. Exactly.”

“But... how does that translate into callously murdering so many innocent people?”

“You don’t see? It could not be more simple. Broadly speaking, there are only two perspectives with regard to solving the problem of growth. The first is the very basic, straightforward method which you just mentioned. Genocide. No human conflict can exist if no humans exist.”

She could hardly believe what she was hearing. “How can you say that so matter-of-factly? That’s horrible...”

“Yes,” said Gohvis. “To believe in such a method first requires a deep hatred of humanity--or perhaps of existence as a whole. And for people such as yourself, who have no doubt never personally felt such hatred, then its logical conclusion of genocide does not seem logical at all. I might as well be trying to describe the beliefs of an alien species. It would be just as relatable to you, I imagine.”

Friday, October 25, 2019

Page 1896

She tried to consider her next words a bit more carefully than her last ones. “What was the nature of your relationship with him?”

Gohvis allowed that question to linger for a while before answering it. “He was like a father to me.”

“...That is difficult to imagine,” she said.

“Then don’t.”

She frowned. “He wasn’t a member of Abolish, was he?”

“No.”

“Were you with Abolish back then?”

“No.”

“Then...?”

“Then, what?” said Gohvis. “Ask a clear question.”

She wanted to, certainly, but she was afraid. She was abruptly on the verge of asking what she most wanted to know, what she had been wondering ever since she’d arrived here and begun learning more about Gohvis. It was perhaps the single most important question that she could possibly ask, but even though she finally found a good opportunity to pose it, she was somehow terrified of what the answer could be. She felt as if everything she knew about the world might be called into question if she heard it, as if such an answer might simply undo her as she currently knew herself.

But...

She still had to ask. She couldn’t stop herself. “Then... why are you with Abolish now?”

“Because Abolish, at least, understands the greater problem facing this planet,” said Gohvis.

“Which is?”

“Humanity itself, of course.”

Emiliana didn’t know what to say to that.

“Abolish has many different ideas about how to deal with the problem of humanity,” said Gohvis. “Some of those ideas, it must be said, are mad. Yes. But such ideas are still attempting to address the problem, instead of merely ignoring it, as the Vanguard does. As everyone does.”

“And what is the problem of humanity, precisely?”

“In a word? Growth.”

She was even more lost than before. That hadn’t been the word she would have expected.

“Humanity requires growth,” said Gohvis. “In all things. Biological, philosophical, technological, psychological. Humanity requires growth. Growth requires struggle. Struggle requires conflict. And conflict? Conflict requires instigation.”

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Page 1895

“Mm,” hummed Gohvis with his low double-voice. He pushed the chair on the other side of the small table out of his way and sat down on the floor instead. He was tall enough that he was still slightly above Emiliana’s eye level. “And the fact that it was written by your own ancestor has no bearing on your interest in it.”

She eyed Agam Elroy’s name on the binding another time. “I didn’t say that.”

“What do you hope to glean from that book?”

That question made her hesitate. “I don’t know...”

Gohvis merely sat there, waiting for her to elaborate.

“What, um...” She felt like she might be treading on thin ice with this next question, but she just couldn’t get it out her mind. “What was Agam like? You knew him, didn’t you?”

The Monster took his time answering. “He was unique.”

It was her turn to wait. That couldn’t have been all Gohvis was going to say about him, surely.

“But he was not someone you should look up to, if that is what you are hoping for,” said Gohvis.

That irked her for some reason, and she couldn’t stop herself from saying, “And you are?”

And for a long moment, the Monster of the East merely looked at her.

Emiliana met his gaze steadily, but she could feel her heart in her throat, and her whole body seemed to become a statue, too scared to even twitch. In her mind, though, she was sure that Gohvis wasn’t going to hurt her.

Mostly sure.

“Agam was more mystic than scientist,” Gohvis finally said. “He was brilliant, to be sure, but superstitious did not even begin to describe him.”

Emiliana breathed again. Then her eyes went to the book in her hands.

“Perhaps it is for the best that you do not understand,” said Gohvis. “His words have a way of seeding irrational thoughts into impressionable minds.”

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Page 1894

She shook her head, not even wanting to go down that particular rabbit hole. She had enough things to worry about already without getting lost in paranoia over things she couldn’t even control in the first place.

She wondered if she should contact Hector again soon. He had mostly been leaving her alone, probably because he’d gotten the impression that she didn’t want to be bothered--which wasn’t exactly inaccurate, of course--but even so, she wouldn’t have minded another update on how her family was doing.

Then again, she was almost afraid to ask. What was that saying? No news was good news? She could see the wisdom in that now. No doubt, Hector would tell her if something really important happened.

Probably.

He was such an... odd fellow. Sometimes, he seemed so meek and fragile, and other times, he became downright obstinate. Of all the people for her to have ended up “bonded” to in this weird way, why was it him?

He was not entirely unpleasant to talk to, though, she supposed. Perhaps she merely needed to get to know him better.

Yes, she would have to--

A monstrous hand appeared suddenly from her peripheral vision and picked up the book that she had put down earlier. She flinched a little at the sight of Gohvis standing there next to her.

While she wasn’t quite as uncomfortable around the Monster of the East as she was when she had first arrived here, she didn’t know if she would ever get used to the way that he could just show up like that. No footsteps, no warning of any kind. How could someone so gigantic move so silently? “Back to this one again, are you?” he said, handing the book back to her.

She took it. “...I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around it.”

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Page 1893

The main reason she felt reading to be the most valuable use of her time was simply because of the Shard of the Dry God in her possession--her one link to the outside world. As far as she had been able to tell, conventional communications technologies didn’t even work here--which wasn’t so surprising, she supposed. The eternal storm that enveloped Exoltha no doubt rendered such things impossible.

But that only made the Shard seem that much more incredible and precious.

For a while, she’d been intensely paranoid that someone in the Library might recognize the Shard and try to take it from her, but at the same time, trying too hard to conceal it also seemed like a bad idea. If someone noticed her hiding it or acting strangely with it, then that might tip them off to its importance. But if she acted like it wasn’t anything special, then maybe no one would be the wiser.

That was what Chergoa had advised her to do, at least. Emiliana had also consulted Hector for Garovel’s opinion on the matter and been told basically the same thing. Apparently, the Shards were not all that widely known about, and even the few who did couldn’t possibly know about their “heretofore unheard of” capabilities as some type of psychic telephone.

She still couldn’t help worrying about it in the back of her mind, though. Most of all, she was worried that Gohvis might take it from her, that he might somehow just... know. A part of her honestly questioned whether it was even truly possible to hide something from him. He had tracked her down from half a world away based on nothing more than some sort of shared “link,” after all.

But surely, if he knew about the Shard, about the full extent of its capabilities, then he would’ve confiscated it by now.

...Right?

Monday, October 21, 2019

Page 1892

She hadn’t forgotten Germal’s warning to her regarding the “honey trap” nature of the Library of Erudition, but according to Gohvis, as long as she followed the Library’s rules, she would be fine. And she was being careful.

But there were other things to do besides read books all day. There was an impressive kitchen on the first floor where a few of Gohvis’ followers had offered to instruct her in the culinary arts. Which was actually quite tempting, honestly. She had no idea how in the world these people managed to keep their food stores so well-stocked, but the skills of the chefs here were undeniable. Virtually every meal she’d had in this place had been an utter delight, and just thinking about next one was beginning to make her mouth water.

Aside from learning to cook, however, there was also the underground training facility where she’d seen people honing various combat abilities. She had yet to even ask if she was allowed to partake in any combat training, but she did plan to give it a go, eventually.

There was also a game room on the second floor, though she hadn’t actually seen anyone using it yet. She might’ve liked to play someone in chess or pool or even foosball, but without any opponents, that didn’t seem like it was going to happen. Maybe she just hadn’t visited that room at the right time of day yet, but she wasn’t getting her hopes up. These people belonged to the Dozer-half of Abolish, after all. She was frankly amazed that this place even had a game room.

All-in-all, this was a strange manner of captivity. So far, she and Chergoa had been free to roam around the building as they pleased, talk to whomever they desired, and seemingly do whatever they wanted.

Except leave, of course. Not that there was any chance of that, what with the Dáinnbolg raging endlessly beyond the Library’s walls.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Page 1891 -- CXCVI.

Chapter One Hundred Ninety-Six: ‘Take root, seedling, and germinate...’
Click to display entire chapter at once -- (mobile link)

Emiliana Elroy sighed as she realized that she had stopped paying attention to what she was reading again. Her lack of sleep was really starting to get to her, it seemed, and it certainly didn’t help that her chosen reading material for the evening was so damn confusing.

The Many Mysteries of Mutation, by Agam Elroy.

Technically, she had read this thing twice already, but even now, she still wasn’t sure that she actually understood any of it. The subject matter seemed complicated enough on its own, but the archaic prose only made it more difficult. And strangely enough, there was quite a bit of poetry in it, too.

That last part might’ve been more discouraging to her, but the book’s normal writing was so incomprehensible to her that she kind of preferred the parts with poetry. She could at least occasionally feel like she understood what the poems were trying to say.

Desires held, promises kept.
The mind, the labyrinthine self, an unconscious adjudicator.
Therein is fulfillment met.

Desires held, promises broken.
The mind, the saboteur of god, a righteous terror.
Therein is misery spoken.
Aimless heart, promises unthought.
The mind, the ceaseless turner, a motivating factor.
Therein is a world of rot.
She’d been staring at this particular passage for the better part of an hour now, feeling somehow stupider with each passing minute. She could’ve sworn that it made sense to her the first time she read it, but the more she tried to deepen her understanding, the less clear it seemed to become.

She set the book down and rubbed her eyes. Maybe she needed a break. She’d been doing nothing but reading lately. It just seemed like the most useful way to spend her time, given the circumstances.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Page 1890

Huh. Suddenly, Hector felt a little bad for him. Not enough to ease up, though. If Amelia Carthrace was going to run some gigantic, nation-rescuing bank for him, then he needed to know more about her.

Lionel took another moment to gather his thoughts. “Well... if I had to put my misgivings with her into words... then I would have to point to her propensity to say one thing and then do another.”

Hmm. That was actually a pretty serious accusation, Hector felt. It spoke of untrustworthiness. He was going to need a hell of a lot more detail, though. “Is there a specific incident that you’re referring to?” he asked.

“More than one, to be sure,” said Lionel, “but off the top of my head, there was the incident in which she promised my sister a position in her company, only to turn around and give the job to someone else.”

Hmm.

“And there was the time,” Lionel continued, “when she claimed to be supportive of a marriage between my nephew and the daughter of Arnold Greenway. She decided to withdraw said support mere hours before our two families were to finalize terms, and when the Greenways caught wind of her change of heart, they decided to call off the entire thing. To the misery of my nephew. He was quite smitten, you see.”

Hmmmm.

“Oh, and of course, there was also the time that she decided to go on a drunken tirade about my late father--her own brother--on the very occasion of his funeral. In front of hundreds of esteemed guests. That was certainly a manner of insult and humiliation that is difficult to simply forgive and forget, let me tell you.”

Okay, now that one did sound pretty bad, Hector thought. But Lionel was far from done, apparently, and as Hector continued to listen, he still couldn’t help distrusting every version of events that this guy was feeding him.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Page 1889

Again, Hector didn’t particularly care for what the man was implying, but he still resisted the urge to jump to any conclusions. It was important to keep a level head here, he felt. He knew only too well about how complex people and their relationships with one another could be. Families even more so. And he supposed the man was trying to pay him a compliment, as well, in his own way.

“In truth, I am relieved,” Lionel went on. “You are your own man, and that is a rarer and rarer thing in this day and age.”

Hector wanted to glance at Garovel but purposely held his gaze still. Ironic, he felt, that Lionel would say such a thing about a servant, of all people.

“I believe this country needs more people like you,” said Lionel. “You are an inspiration to many, you know.”

Boy, this guy sure was generous with the praise. Usually, Hector had a hard time dealing with that, but something about this conversation--or the context surrounding it, perhaps--was preventing any such flustered feelings from reaching him. It was hard to tell how genuine any of Lionel’s words were.

At the protracted silence, Lionel seemed to intuit that Hector was still waiting on him. “Ah, I apologize. I suppose you are wanting an answer to that rather penetrating question that you asked before, no? What underlying values of hers do I dislike? That is a tough one, I must admit. And I do find it very distasteful to speak ill of others. Are you sure you wish to pry these sour feelings out of me? Would it not be best to simply let sleeping dogs lie, as it were?”

Were all of these meetings going to go like this? Hector hoped not. “...Weren’t you the one who just said that old wounds have a way of resurfacing when ignored?”

Lionel paused at that, then smiled. “Aha... I suppose you have got me there.” Then he frowned.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Page 1888

Hector wasn’t sure what to make of the man’s tone. It didn’t sound resentful or even condescending.

Lionel left an opening in the conversation for him to respond, but when Hector again elected not to say anything, the man asked, “What do you think of her?”

For some reason, Hector didn’t want to answer that, but he supposed it was a perfectly fair question, considering he’d just asked it himself. “...I’m not sure yet,” he decided to say.

“Ah. Truly?”

Hector just tilted his head at the man.

“If so, that surprises me,” said Lionel. “I’ve always thought that my aunt was one of those rare people, those charismatic savants who can earn almost anyone’s affection.”

That didn’t track with everything else Lionel had implied, Hector thought. “Then why is your relationship with her so strained?”

“Ah. Because charisma is, at the end of the day, only a superficial element of one’s person. Inevitably, the underlying values that one cherishes are the real judge of someone’s character.”

Hector was trying to remain impartial, but he didn’t much care for what the man was suggesting about Amelia. “In that case... what are the ‘underlying values’ of hers that you dislike?”

Lionel smiled, then frowned. “This is getting quite personal. And rather off-topic, perhaps.”

“Maybe so,” said Hector. “But all the same... it would be helpful to me if you... could provide a more rounded picture of her for me.”

At that, the man paused and leaned back a little in his seat. For a time, he merely studied Hector’s face.

It looked like he wanted to say something, though, so Hector just waited for him.

“Forgive me,” said Lionel. “When I came here this evening, I honestly expected you to have already been quite thoroughly wrapped around her finger, but I see now that this is not so.”