Friday, July 31, 2020

Page 2500

((The Mon/Wen/Fri Double -- page 2 of 2))
The attendants offered to take them to a proper dining location, but the Rainlords preferred the relative privacy of this place. They didn't even take their iron masks off while anyone outside of the group was around.

Roman, Carlos, and Voreese returned in the middle of the meal, and so even more food was ordered. It was like a miniature banquet, if that made any sense. They moved furniture around or just sat on floor so that they could all gather in the middle of the room and eat together.

Salvador, in particular, did not hold back, and Hector felt a little bad for the waiters bringing all this food into their room. The man's gigantesque physique had not been achieved through a lack of eating, apparently. Hector watched him devour half a turkey by himself, along with dozens of other entrees and side dishes.

Hector began to wonder if part of that appetite was supernatural. It would make sense. He'd definitely noticed a difference in himself. After a big fight, he always ate way more than he usually did. And Salvador could no doubt eat more than most people, so maybe the effect on him was amplified even further.

Whatever the case, it was fantastic. Hector ate his fill, and then kept going, anyway. The crab legs were especially difficult to stop eating, he thought, and then the desert afterward with vanilla ice cream and fudge? He thought he might burst once he was finally done.

Thankfully, he didn't have to worry about being too engrossed in his meal to listen to the reapers' discussion regarding the war. They seemed to be the most interested with this news that Lorent had advisors from both Abolish and the Vanguard.

On the one hand, that seemed like a recipe for major conflict brewing in this country, but on the other, perhaps they were balancing each other out. Hector was curious to meet whoever this Vanguardian advisor was, but obviously, such a meeting would be a bit sketchy while the Rainlords were still hanging around.

Which was another of the reapers' concerns.

Page 2499

((The Mon/Wen/Fri Double -- page 1 of 2))
Hector didn't plan on using the checklist, though. They were basically giving him a free pass to abuse their hospitality, but aside from food and clothing, he didn't really want anything.

'Heh, maybe you should try writing down the Dagger of Amordiin just to see what happens,' said Garovel privately.

Hector knew the reaper was joking, but the thought was honestly a bit tempting. Lorent was a pretty big nation. There was a decent chance that the government here had something like that in its possession without even realizing it.

Really, though, it just made him curious about what manner of reward they were planning to give him. It could be just about anything, he supposed. And maybe he was being greedy or narrow-minded, but he was kinda hoping for the obvious answer.


A big infusion of cash would be immensely helpful, right now. Warrenhold needed it. The Bank needed it. Sure, his financial situation was looking a lot better than it had a few months ago, but things were still in flux. He couldn't shake the feeling that the whole thing could come crumbling down at any moment with just a bit of bad luck.

Hell, even if the reward money went straight into the Atreyan treasury, he'd be cool with that. Atreya needed it, too, and that would probably help the Bank out tangentially.

As advised, he called the Queen, but she wasn't available. Her personal secretary answered instead and told Hector that Her Majesty would get back to him as soon as she could.

'Not surprising,' said Garovel. 'Busy lady, that Helen. Especially now.'

Yeah. Hector didn't need him to be more specific. Even with all this craziness going on, it was hard to forget that there was still a giant war raging across the continent.

The reapers discussed that very subject while the servants had dinner.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Page 2498

'Hmm, good question,' said Garovel. 'If we want to hang around P.J. for a few more days and enjoy this hospitality, then there's no real reason to meet the President tonight. But if we're in a rush to get back to Warrenhold, then the sooner the better.'

'I say we take a load off and relax,' said Mevox. 'Surely, after a battle like that, we deserve it.'

"You barely even did anything," said Salvador dryly.

'It's not about the quantity of one's contribution, my dear boy, but the quality.'

"Oh, shut up."

'Maybe you should call the Queen and ask for her input,' said Garovel. 'She might want us to stay longer for political reasons.'

'Oh, good excuse!' said Mevox. 'Yeah, let's do that!'

He heard Salvador sighing, but Hector actually agreed with the reapers on this one. The Queen's opinion was pretty important here, he felt.

They decided to go through the other papers in the folder first, though. One of them handwritten letter from the President himself, Hector discovered with widening eyes.

It was quite wordy, but it essentially just seemed to be thanking him for his service to the country.

Wow. He should probably frame this and put it on his wall or something, shouldn't he? That would be the proper thing to do, he supposed.

He honestly wasn't sure that he was going to, though.

The final piece of paper was just a blank checklist with a short passage at the top explaining that the Riverton Hall staff would bring him any item that he wrote down. This, it clarified, would be in addition to the actual reward for killing the Beast of Lorent--which would be formally presented to him by the President and the Secretary of the Treasury.

All in all, it was pretty damn generous.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Side Story #1 - Colt - Page 49

That was caveat behind this "offer" of theirs, he supposed. It was an absurd proposal to begin with, that they would install him, a man they barely knew anything about, as the sheriff of their own town, a place that they all presumably had some manner affection for, even if only as a plaything for their amusement.

But that proposal made more sense to Colt now that they were admitting that it was no "guarantee" that he would win. They could promise to back him, but if he ended up losing, then it was no skin off their noses, was it? Hell, they would probably prefer that, unless he managed to give them the impression that he would be an obedient little lapdog.

Colt had served under men of this type before--in both the sad joke that was the Atreyan military and as a cop. So he could already tell. More than anything else, they wanted loyalty.

And sure, loyalty wasn't necessarily a terrible thing to ask for. He didn't mind being loyal. Some of his superiors had deserved it. Earned it.

But some didn't.

And given everything else that had happened to him over the years, everything that he had done, Colt was most assuredly not inclined to extend that amount of trust to these crusty old fuckers. Did they actually think that they were making a favorable first impression on him?

Hmph, they probably did. Or maybe they just didn't care.

"Isn't there a deputy who should already be in line for the position?" said Colt.

"There is," said Richardson. "Unfortunately, Mr. Hart has been on an extended leave of absence for some time now. Family issues, I heard. It's unclear when--or even if--he intends to return."

"Anyone tried calling him up?" said Colt. "Telling him what happened to his boss?"

"Tried and failed," said Davinworth. "The man can't be reached, apparently."

How convenient. "And that doesn't strike you as strange, given the circumstances?" said Colt.

The men were all quiet a moment as they exchanged looks with one another.

Fred Millerman was the one to speak up again. "Rex's relationship with Mr. Hart was strained. I believe he was looking for a replacement deputy at the time of his death. I hadn't thought it odd before, but now that you bring it up, the timing does seem a bit peculiar..."

That was new information. "What was the cause of this strain in their relationship?" asked Colt.

Fred glanced at the others and seemed suddenly hesitant. "Well, I... that is, Rex did not go into detail, but... the impression I got was that it was a financial matter."


"I think Mr. Hart wanted a raise, and Rex did not want to provide one," said Fred. "But that is just my guess. They seemed cordial enough whenever I saw them together, but there was a distinct... coldness between them that had not been there a year ago, I felt."

Colt really didn't want to have to hunt down this Chadwick Hart motherfucker, but it was beginning to sound like he might have to. Ugh.

"Needless to say, we have our own questions for Mr. Hart," said Richardson. "Even if he did suddenly return now, I am not sure he would be sheriff for very long. It would only be a stopgap until the next election, if that is what you are worried about."

"Mm," said Cree. "And the longer he's gone, the worse his chances of winning become."

Colt scratched his nose as he eyed them all again. He wanted to ask if it had occurred to any of them that the reason for Mr. Hart's "extended leave of absence" might be because he was fucking murdered, too.

But he resisted that urge. Other than trying to gauge their reactions, he didn't see much advantage to playing that card, right now, especially since he didn't know how dangerous these men here actually were. If Chadwick Hart was dead, then that would make this case about a thousand times worse. The cops in Lagoroc probably wouldn't be able to keep that quiet, and their investigation would very likely turn into something much serious than it currently was.

Unless they really were just corrupt as shit. Which was certainly possible, Colt supposed.

"So what do you say?" said Richardson, looking slightly more serious now. "Are you interested in taking the job? As our own personal investigator into this matter? "

Ah. Moment of truth, huh?

Frankly, this whole thing sounded like a mess and a half, and he would've preferred to just flatly refuse them. Problem was, he didn't yet know if these were the kind of guys who would actually be willing to take no for an answer. Colt had a feeling that the safest course of action here might just be to tell them yes and then skip town.

But was the safest course of action also the wisest? He didn't trust this offer of theirs at all, but dammit if it didn't still sound tantalizing. He'd invested several months into this damn town, already. The prospect of integrating into the town as its new sheriff, having a safe and welcoming community to raise the kids in...

Not to mention, a steady paycheck as well...


He could play along, for now.

"...I can't make any promises," said Colt, "but yeah, I could look into it for you."

"Aha! Excellent!" said Richardson. If things ever got too bad, Colt was prepared to pull the rip chord and just leave for good. It was a big world. He'd started over from scratch before, and he could do it again.

Richardson finally teed off. His form seemed pretty good to Colt's untrained eyes, and he sent the little white ball flying far afield. "In that case," said Richarson, "why don't we split up and take turns talking to Mr. Thompson here?"

"Good idea," said Davinworth, setting up for his own turn at the tee. "That way we won't we keep the game going in the meantime."

"Alright," added Cree.

"I'll go first, then," said Fred.

The other three men all looked at him.

"Oh?" said Richardson. "That's unlike you, Fred. Taking the initiative on us."

Page 2497

((The Mon/Wen/Fri Double -- page 2 of 2))
A group of attendants arrived to check on them, and when they noticed that Hector was awake, they presented him with a blue folder and retreated without another word.

Fidel and the reapers seemed as curious about its contents as Hector was, so he tried to open it for everyone's viewing. As it turned out, there were several papers inside. He handed a couple off to Fidel.

The first few that Hector read were all part of a dinner menu. He wasn't even familiar with half or more of the listed options, but he could already feel his mouth beginning to water. If Riverton Hall was anything like Bosliat Palace, then the food here was probably pretty amazing, wasn't it?

And he was certainly famished.

"Lord," said Fidel, handing one of the papers back to him. Hector took it, but Fidel explained what it said for him, anyway. "They're looking to arrange a time for your meeting with the President."

Sure enough, Hector saw several times listed in the documents, one of which was this very night.

'Quite accommodating of them,' said Mevox from over Hector's shoulder. 'That's good. I've known more than a few of these political types who were so far up their own ass that they always tried to make everyone else work around their schedule, no matter how important their guests were.'

'I have to agree,' said Garovel. 'This is something that takes more than just money to do right. It speaks well of their consideration for us.'

"Or their fear of us," remarked Salvador, who had apparently woken up.

Mevox chuckled lowly. 'Well, that has its uses, too.'

"Don't even start with that," said Salvador, rolling his shoulders and breathing deeply.

Hector had a feeling that Mevox would start with that, regardless of what anyone else said, so he intervened with a change of subject. "What time would you say is best for us, then?"

Page 2496

((The Mon/Wen/Fri Double -- page 1 of 2))
Hector supposed that would make sense. He slipped the sash on and fiddled with it and the Scarf for a while. This thing wasn't inside out, was it? Garovel didn't seem to think so, so it was probably fine.

He had to admit--it was kind of cool. And also very weird. When he exited the bathroom, he realized that Fidel's new clothes didn't include a sash.

Hector almost asked the man why that was directly before thinking better of it and asking Garovel.

'Hector.' The reaper's private voice sounded disappointed with him. 'C'mon. Do you really need me to explain that to you?'

'Uh... I mean...' Well, now he wanted to say no, but frankly, he was even more confused than before.

'As far as Lorent is concerned, they're just your subordinates. That sash is meant to make YOU more distinguished, not them.'


Hector didn't like hearing that. These brave men here obviously weren't his subordinates, and they deserved just as much recognition as him, if not more.

But that was impossible, of course. There was a bigger picture to worry about.

He was really starting to hate this whole charade. It seemed like so many things were just falling into his lap, lately. Like nothing he was doing was earned. Everyone was just bending over backwards for him, because for one reason or another, they had no real choice in the matter.

And worse, it felt like nobody but him could see it.

The Rainlords were too nice to say anything, but they must have been profoundly sick of this whole arrangement already. And Garovel--wow. Garovel played it cool in front of others, but Hector could tell that the reaper was taking a certain delight in it all.

Ugh. He had to get his head on straight. This meeting with the President of Lorent was important for Atreya. If he said or did the wrong thing, it would reflect badly on an entire country.

Oh, man.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Page 2495

Still, it would've been rude to refuse them, and he didn't really have any other options at the moment, anyway. He entered the bathroom to got changed.

This place, too, was quite extravagant. The Lorentians really seemed to like their wooden beams and vaulted ceilings, and the white tiles below his feet were so polished that he could almost see his reflection in them.

That wasn't really the most desirable trait in a bathroom floor, he felt, but whatever.

The clothes, despite not exactly being to his tastes, were obviously quite well-made. The fabrics were soft to the touch, and the golden buttons seemed like they might actually have been crafted from real gold. The tie, at least, was black, though he wasn't sure how well it went with the bright gray coat. He still had a little trouble tying it, but he managed. He was slowly getting accustomed to wearing these things.

And then there was...

Wait, what was this thing? Some kind of long, silky blue strip of cloth with white fringes? It couldn't be a second tie, right? And it was too big, besides. How was even supposed to wear this?

He decided to be stubborn for a couple more minutes, trying to solve this puzzle himself, before finally asking Garovel for help.

'Oh, that's a sash,' the reaper said privately.

'Oh,' said Hector. 'Uh... really?'

'Why do you sound so surprised? You've never seen a sash before?'

'I mean... probably.'

'In fact, I know you have. Some of the Hun'Kui in the Undercrust were wearing them.'

'Uh... oh yeah. Those didn't look like this, though.'

'Well, yeah. The one you're holding is probably a hundred times more expensive.'


'Plus, I could be mistaken, but I think that one is specifically for foreign officials. Those are Atreyan colors. That sash's real purpose is probably to help the people around here tell where you're from with just a glance.'

Monday, July 27, 2020

Page 2494

((The Mon/Wen/Fri Double -- page 2 of 2))
Sluggishly, light began to return as Hector's eyes opened. Fog blanketed his thoughts as his consciousness reoriented itself.

'Hey there, buddy,' came an echoing voice.


'That's me.'

Hector sat up in his giant guest bed and rubbed his face. Damn, he hadn't even changed his clothes before going to sleep, and there was still blood on them. "Uh..."

'Did you have a nice rest?' asked Garovel. 'Was it pleasant? And totally normal? Not different at all? Hmm?'

Hector blinked dully a few times. Obviously, he intended to tell the reaper about meeting Rasalased again, but Garovel's tone was making him curious first. '...Why are you asking?'

'You were talking in your sleep. Well. Mumbling, really.'


'Yeah. You were kind of weirding everyone out. I thought about waking you up, but then I started to find it funny and decided not to.'

He scratched his chin. 'Ah...'

The Rainlords were all still in the room with him, as were the reapers.

No, wait, Carlos Sebolt and Olijas were missing. Salvador and Matteo were asleep, but Fidel was looking at him.

"Good morning, Lord," said Fidel, softly enough to not wake the others.

"Is it morning?" said Hector, getting out of bed.

"Ah. No. It is evening again."

Hector nodded. "Where's Carlos?"

"He went for a walk with Roman and Voreese. I think he intended to meet up with the others, as well." Fidel stood up and retrieved a stack of clothes from a bureau by the bathroom. He handed them off to Hector. "Here, Lord. These arrived for you a few hours ago. Gifts from Secretary Karr, according to the attendant who brought them."

Hector took them and then noticed that Fidel had already changed his own clothes. A sharp suit, not entirely dissimilar to what the man had been wearing before, but certainly lighter in color.

The clothes that he'd been offered also shared the latter feature. Fashion had never really been Hector's forte, but neither were bright colors. He wasn't quite sure how to feel about these, honestly.

Page 2493

((The Mon/Wen/Fri Double -- page 1 of 2))
Hmm. Hector was disappointed, but if Rasalased couldn't tell him anything, then that was that. And there were plenty of other subjects to ask about. "Okay, well, do you know anything about Sparrows? Or auras, maybe?"

"Ah... you speak of the Wrobels. Yes. You are lucky. The one you are traveling with seems trustworthy."

"Really?" Wow. If Pauline had Rasalased's approval, then that was no small thing. Hector felt like maybe he should give her more credit than he had been so far.

"I believe so. But take my judgment of her character with a degree of caution. Wrobel souls are more difficult to read than that of our kind. And they are incredibly dangerous creatures."

"Ah..." Dang.

"As allies, they would of course be helpful, but you must be cautious. They are, perhaps, the worst of all possible enemies."

"Uh..." Hector found that a little hard to believe. "You really think so? I mean, I wouldn't exactly put them in the same threat level as something like an emperor-level servant or a feldeath."

"Ah. You may be right. The ones you have met do seem like a mere shadow of the Wrobels that I remember."

"Wait, they were more powerful in the past?"

"Were they? Yes, I believe they were. Or perhaps yours are merely playing at being weaker than they truly are."

Now there was a discomforting thought. "I don't think so," said Hector. "Pauline is one thing, but Hanton Gaolanet had plenty of reason to not hold back against me."

"Perhaps so."

"Can you tell me anything about auras?"

"Yes. But this headspace of yours is fading. You will wake soon."

"Wha? Already? It feels like I just went to sleep."

"Indeed. So allow me one last word: be wary of pretenders. They are..."

"...Pretenders? What do you mean?"

No response came.

And he could feel the warm darkness shifting. "Aw, fuck..."

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Side Story #1 - Colt - Page 48

"In case you cannot already tell," said Richardson, "Nick over here has his reservations about this whole thing. Don't let his dour words dampen your mood. It's a good offer, if you're willing to hear us out."

"Why are you asking me, of all people?" said Colt.

Richardson smirked and looked across his peers. "See that? He's not asking us who we are to be hiring someone for a job like this. The man already knows." He looked at Colt again, smiling fully now. "You've done your research, haven't you?"

Colt did his best not to scowl. That had been an amateurish mistake. Bah.

"That's good," said Richardson, gesturing broadly with both hands. "We want someone who is thorough. Someone who thinks."

"And someone who is discreet," added Davinworth.

Colt had an inkling of what the answer to his next question might be, but he decided to ask it, anyawy. "How do you know I'm discreet?"

"Because somehow, you managed to move into our humble little town without my knowing about it," said Davinworth. "That's not a feat that can be accomplished clumsily."

A bit full of himself, wasn't he? They probably all were when it came to their respective areas of expertise. "Still doesn't explain why you're asking me and not someone else. You barely know anything about me."

"Well, admittedly," said Richardson, "our options are a bit limited on that count. Yes, there are private detectives in the capital, as well as a few security firms that would no doubt be happy to take our money, but Lagoroc has its own... larger problems that we would care to avoid."

"The capital is full of its prying eyes and nosy people," said Cree. "It is best to assume that anyone we might hire out of there would be compromised."

Compromised how, Colt wondered? Could they be referring to the Muetts? Or the government, maybe?

"And of course, the police in Lagoroc are proving themselves quite unreliable in this matter," said Richardson. "In a perfect world, they would have cracked this case already and put the matter to rest, but to say that they are dragging their feet is an understatement."

"They're probably compromised, too," added Cree. "Red tape, corruption, incompetence--any or all of those problems could be present. And maybe more."

"You, on the other hand," said Davinworth, "seem like a truly independent man. And not on very many people's radar, either. Perhaps it's worth giving you a shot, at least. See how things go."

Colt wasn't feeling terribly convinced. Was this all just some big game to these assholes? What did they hope to gain from this investigation, exactly? He considered asking, but he doubted he would get a straight answer--and worse, he felt like it might provoke these motherfuckers in some way.

"You are free to refuse," said Fred Millerman.

And that was all he said. As flatly as could be.

"In that case, I think I'll be exercising that freedom," said Colt. And he began turning the stroller around.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa," said Richardson. "You haven't even heard our offer, yet."

Colt stopped but didn't say anything. He half-turned back toward the men, just waiting.

"A thousand marcks," said Richardson. "All you need do is bring us the name of the murderer with proof--or at least compelling evidence of their guilt."

"Laughable," said Colt, and he started walking. It was shame that he wouldn't be getting those free supplies from Kevin, but oh well.

"Alright, two thousand," said Richardson.

Colt just kept walking. He could hear them following.



"Five," said Davinworth.

"Still not interested."

"Ten thousand," said Nicholas Cree.

Colt stopped.

Ten fucking thousand marcks? And from Cree, too? He'd seemed like he was against it.

Maybe that wasn't much money to these guys, but still. It wasn't nothing. And he fully intended to keep investigating, anyway. Wouldn't hurt to get something extra out of it.

But money was an interesting motivator in this case. It hadn't escaped Colt's notice that these guys had yet to mention the missing money that those two Muett thugs had been looking for. The money that had previously been in Janet's and possibly Rex's possession.

So did these old bastards just not know about it? That was possible.

Or was that their real motive in this? If the missing money was sizable enough, then yeah, ten thousand might be a worthwhile investment.

Whatever their game here was, Colt's paranoid instincts didn't like it. No amount of money was worth getting himself and his kids tangled up on the spider web that these guys had made.

Before he could tell them no another time, however, Davinworth spoke up with again.

"Perhaps you would be more interested in a proper job. A long-term, steady paycheck? And not beholden to any of us here? A position like that did become available, recently, did it not?"

"You're not referring to--" tried Fred.

"As a matter of fact, I am."

What were they even talking about?

"I think Sheriff Thompson would have a nice ring to it, don't you?" said Davinworth.

Colt turned away from them again and blinked a few times. Was this guy insane?

Richardson chimed in now, too. "Ah, of course. Orden does need a new lawman, after all. Perhaps you would be a good fit, Mr. Thompson. And if you are at all hoping to integrate into our little community, then there may be no more perfect job than that."

Colt could still hardly believe what he was hearing. These fuckers were either desperate for any help they could find, or this was just some kind of twisted form of entertainment for them. He wished he could tell which it was.

Hmm. On second thought, maybe leaning into this bullshit a little would help him learn more about the situation here--as well as the larger situation around Orden as a whole.

"...The job of sheriff is normally chosen by vote, isn't it?" said Colt.

"That it is," said Davinworth. "And with our backing, your chances of winning would go up tremendously. If you are interested, that is."

"It wouldn't be a guarantee, of course," said Richardson. "The voting process is a sacred institution. But we would be good friends to have if you decided to run."

Page 2492

Hector still had his doubts, quite frankly, but he wasn't about to argue with the Dry God over it. In fact, now that he was thinking about it, he felt like he needed to thank Rasalased before doing anything else. "Thank you for your guidance before," he said. "Again, I mean. I don't think I could have gotten through to Leo if you hadn't told me what you did."

"Ah, the sheep. Yes. You are welcome. And I must thank you for rescuing my successor."

"...You can just call him Asad, you know."

"Asad? Is that the new Lion's name?"

"What? How could you not know his name already? You know, like, everything."

"Names... are difficult for me to perceive from afar."

"They are? Why?"

"A name is not a soul, and a soul is not a name. A brain may regard itself by its name, but a soul does not. A soul's identity is something deeper. More piercing. Illustrative. And truthful. A brain may lie to itself and often does. A soul, however, has no capacity for deceit. It simply is. And names, in some sense, are a part of that deception."

"Huh... it kinda sounds like you just don't want to perceive their names."

"Hmm. That may also be true. It matters little."

Hector supposed he was right. There were plenty of other subjects he wanted to discuss. "...How much do you know about my current circumstances?"

"You encountered an entity of Chaos," said Rasalased.

"Yeah. Chortomo... something or other. Chort. Have you ever seen anything like that before?"

"Perhaps. Or perhaps not."

Hector wanted to frown. "Rasalased..."

"You speak of the unreal made real. Have I seen the unreal before? Everyone has. In their mind's eye, if nowhere else."

"...Okay, but have you ever seen a monster like that in the real world before?"

"I... am not certain. Chaos is, by its very nature, difficult to perceive. I feel as though I have, but the memories may be blended with dreams and nightmares."

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Page 2491

Hector felt abruptly uncomfortable. Which was especially weird, because the warm darkness was still comfortable, too. Somehow, everything was fine and wrong at the same time.

Was this a dream, then? He never really dreamed much. He'd been that way his whole life. Unless... he just always forgot his dreams the instant he woke up? He supposed that was possible, but...

No, he didn't think so. This wasn't normal. His thoughts were too clear. He may not have dreamed very often, but he did still know what they were like, and this definitely wasn't it. Or maybe this was just a lucid dream? He'd only ever heard of those before. Was this what they were like?

Eh. Hmm...

Well, now what? How much time was passing? Was he just stuck here? Could he wake himself up? Did he want to? Not really. He needed his sleep.

Agh. So confusing. What the hell should he--?

"Young Hector," came a familiar voice.

And he stopped. He hadn't even been doing anything, but he stopped. "Rasalased?"


"Uh. Hi..."

"You are confused."

"Yes, I am..."

"That is understandable. I see you have changed again."

"...I have?"

"Of course. Change is the most natural thing in the world, is it not?"

"Maybe. This doesn't feel very natural, right now, though..."

"Yes, I must agree."

"...How are we even speaking, right now?"

"A good question."

"One you don't have an answer for, I take it?"

"Perhaps. Perhaps not."


"I believe your two blessings of Focus and Domain are interacting with one another. And so you have created this... headspace, so to speak."

Hector might've blinked if his eyes weren't already closed. "Wait, what? I did this? I thought it was your doing."

"No, it was not I."

"But how I could I have...? Uh... I mean, I was just trying to sleep."

"Not every accomplishment is made intentionally, Young Hector."

Friday, July 24, 2020

Page 2490

((The Mon/Wen/Fri Double -- page 2 of 2))
Voreese looked like she was more than prepared to keep arguing, but Garovel managed to yank the conversation away from the two of them again.

'Well, in any case, I think Hector's heart was probably stopped by some kind of venom from the Beast's spawn.'

"Hmm." Hector mulled that possibility over in a background thought process.

Venom, huh? How many other tricks had Chort been concealing? Even now, Hector still didn't really understand how that bastard had managed to teleport everyone around against their will. And it was particularly mysterious, because as far Hector remembered, Chort hadn't used teleportation during the fight at all.

Why was that, he wondered?

Could the auras that Pauline talked about have had something to do with it? Damn. There sure were a lot of things he wanted to talk to her about, but he figured they would be able to wait until after had finally gotten some rest.

Meanwhile, the reapers were discussing Garovel's venom theory among themselves. All of the other servants had taken a few licks from the spawn as well, but none of them had been "killed" in the same way because--unlike Hector--all of their reapers had been able to invoke their regeneration in the middle of the fight.

In the end, it didn't seem like any real conclusion was going to be reached, and Hector began to drift off as he listened to the reapers talk. How were they able to do that? Just go on and on, endlessly? They never ran out of energy unless they were wounded, did they?


Man, this sleep felt good. Warm darkness. So familiar and soothing. A hot spring for the mind. And the soul, too? Maybe. Why was this so great, he wondered? Sleep never did get old, did it?


He was asleep now, wasn't he?

Page 2489

((The Mon/Wen/Fri Double -- page 1 of 2))
Salvador had been relaxing lengthwise on the couch, but now he was sitting up at full attention. "How did you die? Did the Beast get you?"

"...I'm actually not sure," said Hector. "Some of its spawn landed a few hits, but they weren't that bad. Or at least, I didn't think they were."

"Clearly, they didn't slow you down," said Salvador.

'I think I can explain,' said Garovel. 'But first, let's take precautions...' He looked toward Carlos and Fidel by the door.

Fidel seemed to understand and began to coat the entrance in copper, along with the ventilation in the ceiling and the large window on the far end of the room that had previously offered a nice view of the building's inner courtyard. The man pressed his hand against his work, too, and after a few moments, he spoke up again. "We're reaper-proofed," he said.

'Thanks.' Garovel rounded on Hector again. 'Something caused your heart to stop beating, and it doesn't look like it was blood loss. You didn't get struck by lightning, did you?'

Madly, Hector actually had to stop and think about that for a second. "No... but I did have some close calls with that, I think. And now that you mention it, I'm pretty sure that Pauline got hit by a stray lightning bolt."

'Oh, right, the Sparrow,' said Mevox. 'Is she still around?'

Hector allowed a beat to pass, half-expecting her to chime in suddenly from wherever she was. When that didn't happen, he tried to explain. "I believe she is, but she probably can't hear us while the room is protected by soul infusion."

'Aha,' said Voreese. 'So reaper-proof also means Sparrow-proof, eh? Good to know.'

'Why didn't she talk to us during the car ride here?' said Mevox.

'Maybe because you never shut up,' said Voreese.

'Hmm, maybe. But I seem to recall you being quite the blabbermouth, yourself.'

'Yeah, but people love it when I do it.'

'Really? Would these people happen to exist outside of your own delusions?'

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Page 2488

'Hey, don't make fun of him,' said Mevox. 'He's not wrong, y'know. All you ever do is waste time.'

'Oh, shut the fuck up!' said Voreese, though she was laughing.

Hector exhaled a tired breath and began slowly dematerializing his armor while the reapers continued bickering. As he'd expected, his clothes were torn in several places and spotted with blood. He'd brought some luggage with him for this very reason, but the last time he saw it was in the cargo hold of Roman's chartered airplane. And the last time he saw that airplane, it was in separate pieces.

Oh well. He doubted the Lorentians would mind lending him some new clothes tomorrow.

"Lord Goffe..."

Hector looked up, unsure who had just spoken to him. Ah.

Fidel Blackburn was looking at him from the corner of the room by the door. And the expression on the man's face was one of mild surprise.

Hector didn't know why that was, though. "What's the matter?"

Garovel answered, instead. 'Ah. You're dead.'

Hector blinked but resisted the urge to say anything else. His normally dark brown skin was looking grayer than usual, and he realized that his chest felt a little odd. His breathing, too, was somehow off.

'That's strange,' said Garovel as his gangly hand found his shoulder. 'Your injuries don't seem that bad.'

The typical vigor didn't surge through him, as his tiredness remained as it was, nor was his strength being enhanced. He could only feel his wounds tightening themselves and closing. There was a stirring in his rib cage as his heart started back up.

How weird. Hector often forgot that the regeneration, the removal of fatigue, and the undead strength were all separate abilities. Garovel usually used them in conjunction with one another, excepting only when the reaper was trying to help him correct his sleep schedule. It was especially rare for the reaper to ever invoke the regeneration without anything else.

And it felt a little strange to realize that he'd been a literal walking corpse this whole time.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Side Story #1 - Colt - Page 47

On the whole, Colt had to admit that this was probably a more valuable opportunity than just about anything he could have possibly hoped for; but still, he found it profoundly difficult to trust the seemingly friendly disposition of these men. That may have just been the sickeningly pleasant nature of small townspeople shining through, but he had to doubt it. Orden's sheriff had just been murdered. This wasn't just any small town, right now.

And he was beginning to wonder if it ever was.

"Couple o' cutie pies ya got here," said Davinworth. He was poking at them from afar with a white-gloved index finger, as if he were standing right there in front of them.

It was a harmless gesture, Colt supposed, but he still wanted to tell the guy to cut it the fuck out. If the man had taken a few steps closer, Colt honestly might've. "Thanks," he said. "But I should really be getting them back home soon. Like I said, I wasn't planning on staying here long."

Davinworth waved a younger man over, whispered something to him, then pushed him toward Colt like some sort of offering. "Any supplies you need, just say the word and my man Kevin here will fetch them for you."

Colt's stony face grew stonier, and he said nothing.

"Don't worry," said Davinworth. "He has experience in caring for children. He's looked after my grandkids many a time. Isn't that right, Kevin?"

"Yes, Mr. Davinworth."

And the older man's smile broadened.

"...You buyin'?" said Colt.

"Of course," said Davinworth. "You think I'd charge you for my own imposition? The thought alone hurts me."

"You're very insistent, y'know that?" said Colt.

Davinworth chortled. "Guilty as charged. I have grown quite accustomed to having things my way. I hope you won't begrudge me that. My wife already has that avenue covered, I assure you."


Well. Okay. His alarm bells were still going off--as they almost always were--but this was actually a fantastic offer. Colt's funds were limited, and if he could get his hands on some free diapers, then he was honestly inclined to to agree to just about anything.

"...Got a pen and paper?" said Colt.

Kevin whipped out a phone and an accompanying stylus.

Right. Money.

Colt rattled off a few items and resisted the urge to turn it into a full blown shopping list. Davinworth was obviously going out of his way to be courteous for some reason, but Colt still didn't think it wise to take advantage too much.

Kevin scurried off, and then they proceeded farther into the facility. The branching path that they took through the main building was clearly for VIPs, and it only seemed to grow fancier as they walked. They passed through a large bar and dining area with almost no one else around, then arrived at a long line of golf carts.

Between the five of them and the stroller for the twins, they ended up needing three carts total. The stroller fit surprisingly snugly into the back Colt's cart, and he was able to fasten it with cords that were probably meant to be used on clubs. It seemed pretty safe, but he pulled the twins out anyway in order to carry them in his arms. He especially didn't want to risk Thomas crawling out on his own and falling of the cart.

Phillip Richardson drove the cart while Colt sat in the passenger seat, and the man struck up a conversation while they were en route to the first hole.

"I must admit, I have also been a bit curious to meet you."

Instead of asking the obvious question of why, Colt just cocked an eyebrow at him.

"I have heard that you used to work in private security. Any truth to that?"

"Where'd you hear that?" said Colt. Seeing as he'd only told that to one person, Malcolm Beaumont, Colt didn't actually need an answer to the question he'd just asked, but he still wanted to see how Richardson would handle it.

"Oh, I have my sources," he said. "But a man can never be too certain of whatever idle gossip he hears in passing."

It wasn't a very long ride, and the cart eased to a stop alongside the other two.

"So," said Richardson. "Is it true?"

"Is what true?" said Davinworth.

"I was just asking if our new friend here worked in private security," said Richardson.

Davinworth's eyes widened a bit. "Oh?"

The others were staring at him now, too.

Hmm. No point in being overly secretive or combative when they were being so generous, Colt supposed. "It's true. Why do you ask?"

"Well," said Richardson, sizing up the driver in his hands as he prepared to tee off, "I was wondering if, perhaps, you had some sort of... professional curiosity about the recent murder of our local sheriff."

Colt paused momentarily as he was returning the twins to their stroller.

"The police never confirmed that it was a murder," said Nicholas Cree.

"Hmph, maybe not officially," said Richardson, "but I have it on good authority that many of them believe it to be one. And the fact that it hasn't been ruled a suicide after all this time should tell you something."

"Be that as it may," said Cree, "you shouldn't mislead the man with your own wild assumptions." His dark brown gaze settled on Colt. "Especially if you plan on hiring him."

Colt's head reared back a little upon hearing that. "Excuse me?"

"Bah," huffed Richardson. "Why do you always have to ruin everything, Nick?"

"Why do you always have to be so transparent?"

Richardson clicked his tongue and addressed Colt again. "I apologize for my tactless friend here. We had hoped to work our way up to that proposition a bit more gracefully."

"...We?" said Colt, looking across all four older gentlemen.

They each took turns either nodding or shrugging, apart from Fred, whose scarred expression seemed more grim than usual.

"We understand if you're not up for it," said Cree. "It is a ridiculous idea, dreamt up by a bunch of silly old men with too much time on their hands."

Page 2487

((The Mon/Wen/Fri Double -- page 2 of 2))
Voreese arrived, too, phasing through a different wall. 'Hey, keep it down in here. Roman's trying to sleep, and your conversation is louder than the clapping of your ass cheeks when you walk.'

'There are so many stupid things about what you just said that I don't even know where to begin,' said Mevox.

'Relax, I was just joking,' said Voreese. 'Nothing could be louder than your ass cheeks.'

'Good to see you, too, by the way,' said Garovel.

'Aw, shut up,' said Voreese. 'We saw each other like a day ago.'

'Yeah, and you almost died since then,' said Garovel.

'Pfft, so what?' Her hollow eye sockets widened a little. 'Oh, or are you telling me that absence has made your heart grow fonder?'

'Perhaps if I had a heart.'

'Don't try to play coy now, you big flirt.'

'I fucking hate this conversation,' said Mevox.

'That supposed to be our problem?' said Voreese.

'This is all very entertaining,' came the voice of one of the other three reapers in the room who had thus far remained quiet, 'but we have more pressing matters to discuss, do we not?' That was Olijas, the reaper of Carlos Sebolt.

Hector couldn't remember if he'd even heard the reaper say a single thing since getting pulled here to Lorent. It was a little strange to him when quieter reapers like Olijas and Ernivoc were around. Maybe spending so much time with Garovel made them seem weirder than they actually were, though. And the presence of Mevox and Voreese probably didn't help in that regard, either.

'We're aware,' said Mevox, 'but the walls have ears, as they as they say. These two louts just proved it.'

'So have one of your servants soundproof the room against reapers,' said Olijas. 'You're wasting time.'

'Oh, no!' said Voreese. 'Not time! What will a bunch of immortal beings like us do without more time on our hands?!'

Page 2486

((The Mon/Wen/Fri Double -- page 1 of 2))
"Heh. Somehow, that does not surprise me," said Ravi.

'Ooh, ouch,' said Mevox. 'Is that a bit of backbone I spy? If so, I'm glad. It's pretty discouraging how many servants allow us reapers to just walk all over them. Bunch of doormats, the lot of you.'

Ravi's reaper shook his skull. 'Perhaps they realized that the easiest way to deal with exceptionally rude individuals is to simply tell them what they want to hear and then move on with their day.'

'Hoho. Maybe so. But the quickest way to tell if a barrel is empty inside is to kick it, know what I'm sayin'?'

'Not in the slightest.'

'Ah, well. Never you mind your empty little head, then.'


'Hmm? Something wrong?'

It soon became clear that the reapers were not going to stop arguing, so Hector decided to just head into one of the rooms already. Salvador had to drag Mevox along, too.

Ravi joined them but only briefly to wish them a good rest before pulling his own reaper away.

The room was plenty spacious, but it was clearly meant for only one or two guests, since there was only one bed.

The Rainlords chose to stay, anyway. Salvador took the couch, while Carlos and Fidel both sat down by the door.

Hector wanted to just go to sleep immediately, but now that they were all alone with no Lorentians around, he felt like they needed to discuss a few things. Before he could even open his mouth, however, Garovel phased through the wall.

'About time you showed up,' said Mevox. 'How long were you planning to listen to me shit talk that Abolish reaper?'

'Oh, I could've listened to that all day,' said Garovel.

'Eavesdropping is unbecoming for us reapers, you know.'

Garovel snorted. 'Tell any other lies today?'

'Probably. I forget.'

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Page 2485 -- CCXXXII.

The other reaper's skeletal face did not seem amused by that remark.

Ravi began ushering the other Lorentians away, telling them that he would tend to the guests himself for the time being. His small group of followers, however, remained by his side. None of them appeared to have reapers accompanying, but that was far from conclusive evidence that they weren't servants, Hector knew.

'As it so happens,' the unnamed reaper said, 'there is another. He is the advisor that Stoutamire was about to mention before Ravi interrupted him. You could say that we do not get along.'

'Ah. A case of competing advisors, is it?'

'Something like that, yes. You would do well to be wary of him and his reaper, though I suspect you will not be.'

Hector doubted that part immensely.

'What makes you say that?' said Mevox.

'Because he is of the Vanguard.'

Chapter Two Hundred Thirty-Two: 'The land of masks...'
Click to display entire chapter at once -- (mobile link)

A significant period of silence arrived.

'...Lemme get this straight,' said Mevox. 'The President of Lorent currently has two different foreign advisors, one of which is a servant of Abolish, and the other, a servant of the Vanguard.'

'That is correct,' said the unnamed reaper.

More silence.

Until Mevox broke it again. 'What a clusterfuck.'

Ravi released a small chortle, though Hector couldn't tell if it was sarcastic or not. "It certainly has its difficulties. But I think the President appreciates hearing a variety of opinions. He is a wiser man than I first gave him credit for."

'You don't have to suck up to your boss,' said Mevox. 'He's not here, right now.'

That made Ravi laugh more strongly, which did sound genuine this time. "I have not met a reaper with such a sharp tongue in quite some time. Might you be so kind as to tell me your name?"

'Eh, I'm not really known for my kindness.'

Monday, July 20, 2020

Page 2484

((The Mon/Wen/Fri Double -- page 2 of 2))
Silence drew out as Hector considered everything he'd just heard. He certainly had more questions about this so-called Freeman Fellowship, but this didn't seem like the appropriate place to ask them. That, and he wasn't even sure where to begin. He would've liked Garovel's input right about now.

Ravi took the opportunity to move on from the subject entirely. "In any case, allow me to thank you for your wonderful service to this great country. It seemed like this Beast was becoming more and more of a problem with each passing day. It is a relief to know that it has finally been taken care of, and I am sure the citizens of Lorent will be able to sleep easier now." And he gave a short bow.

This guy sure talked a good game. It made sense that he would be involved in politics, Hector thought.

"I am sure you will be wanting to return to Atreya soon," said Ravi, "but I hope not too soon. You must allow Lorent the time to show you her appreciation in full. Physical rewards are all well and good, but hospitality is important, too. I am sure the President will be asking you to extend your stay here for as long as you like. And if he doesn't, then I shall be recommending that he do so." Ravi's smile had a mischievous charm to it, perhaps accented by his scar.

Hector still didn't quite know how to respond, though. Was simple politeness appropriate here? It probably was, right?

Mevox interjected again. 'Are there any other servants we should know about while we're here?'

Ravi's reaper hovered around to the man's other shoulder. 'You're quite a straightforward one, aren't you?'

'It's one of my better features, I think. Thanks for noticing. Now are you going to answer my question? Or are you just working your way up to telling me to go fuck myself?'

Page 2483

((The Mon/Wen/Fri Double -- page 1 of 2))
"There are a number of reasons," said Ravi. "For one, our primary objective is to change Abolish from within. Now, I am sure that seems impossible from the outside looking in, so I will just say this: Abolish has existed for over three thousand years. And the Vanguard has been at war with it all that time. At this point, I think an ideological solution may just be the better option."

Damn. When he put it like that, Hector found it hard to disagree.

Mevox sure didn't, though. 'Hah! That's been tried before, kiddo. Many times.'

Rather than defending himself, Ravi's reaper spoke up for him. 'We are aware of that. But past failure is no reason to give up. And if you know your history, then you will also know that some of those revolutions came quite close to succeeding.'

Mevox laughed. 'Y'know, they say that every revolution needs a bunch of naive fools at its heart, else it will never even get off the ground. Looks like you've got that part covered, at least.'

'We shall take that as a compliment,' said the unnamed reaper.

'Yeah, why wouldn't you? It was meant as one.'

Ravi picked the conversation back up. "I feel that I must also admit, however, that there are other, less noble-sounding reasons why we maintain our ties to Abolish."

"Like?" said Hector.

"The recognition and influence," said Ravi. "Stained though it may be, the name Abolish still allows certain doors to be opened that might otherwise remain closed to us. At times, it is much easier to befriend someone who fears you, than it is to befriend someone who has no idea who you are. I doubt I would have acquired my position as advisor to the President, otherwise."

Was that really true? Hector wasn't so sure, but maybe that was just because he didn't want it to be. He was still quite new to politics, after all, especially the international kind.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Side Story #1 - Colt - Page 46

He wondered if he shouldn't just leave. If this conversation continued on in the same manner, then Colt highly doubted that it would be able to provide him with much help with the investigation.

That, and he just wanted to get the fuck out of here.

But the damn cop in him wouldn't allow it. Maybe it was a waste of time, but that was what it meant to investigate just about anything. Following leads that were probably just dead ends. Trying not to let any details escape.

And if that meant listening to a pair of women crying their eyes out for the next half hour, then... well, he'd been stuck in worse positions, he supposed.

Which was exactly what happened.

Genevieve and Alice kept trading apologies and weeping together, barely ever saying anything beyond that. By the end, it was obvious as shit that there was something in Genevieve's past relationship with Rex that was bothering her immensely, but Alice hadn't been able to pull the details out of her for Colt--probably because Alice hadn't actually been trying to do that.

It was unfortunate, of course, since he felt like he'd wasted the whole damn morning, but Colt couldn't feel too bitter about it. Alice wasn't his co-conspirator or anything. She was clearly just concerned about Genevieve and didn't want to push the woman to talk about anything that she didn't want to.

Which was smart, in its own way. Alice was playing the long game, in other words. The slow and steady approach.

Colt could respect that. Maybe he wouldn't be the only member of the congregation to show up next weekend.

Wait. Dear goddess, was he actually planning to be here next weekend, too?

He supposed he was.


Well, whatever. If Alice could get Genevieve to show up again, then maybe Colt would get another crack at her. He didn't see another way to reenter their conversation today, and continuing to eavesdrop seemed like it wasn't even going to be very helpful, either. No need to risk irritating them with his unwanted presence when the reward wouldn't be worth it, he figured.

He gathered the kids up and quietly slipped out of the chapel. He threw a last glance toward Alice, maybe hoping for a nod of acknowledgment at least, but she wasn't even looking at him.

That was fine. He headed back into town while he considered his next move. A decent meal sounded good. He didn't want to waste money when he didn't have to, but after enduring that whole scene, he felt like he deserved it. And he could chalk it up to familiarizing himself with the town more.

There was a nice little taco shop that he'd been wanting to try. So he did. And it wasn't bad.

As he was eating, he figured that he could probably still get something else accomplished before heading home again. It was only midday, after all.

He decided to check out the golf course that Fred told him about. He figured that even if Fred wasn't there today, it would still be useful to familiarize himself with the place a bit. Plus, he'd only ever gone golfing once, as part of a high school trip, so maybe a bit of practice wouldn't hurt. He was supposed to be making Fred believe that he was interested in the sport, after all.

However, Fred was there, better or worse. He was one of the first people Colt saw, in fact, greeting him at the rather extravagant entryway. The pristine white archways, perfectly cut grass, dirt-free concrete path, and expensive cars in the parking lot were all making Colt think twice about this visit Fred called out to him.

"Ah, Mr. Thompson! Welcome! Following up, just as you said you would, I see." The bloated scar on his face was slightly more concealed than usual thanks to the brim of his sports cap, and he offered Colt an energetic handshake.

The man was not alone, either.

"Mr. Thompson, was it? I don't believe I've had the pleasure."

"Nor I."

"Introduce us, Fred."

And Fred did so, not knowing how unnecessary it was. Thanks to his early recon work on Orden, Colt had known who all these men were for months.

Fred Millerman, John Davinworth, Phillip Richardson, and Nicholas Cree. These were the richest men in town. The big fish in this little pond. The only one missing, arguably, was the damn mayor, and even he probably couldn't hold much of a candle to the influence that these guys wielded, especially together.

Davinworth was the local real estate mogul. Colt learned that very early on, back when he'd considered trying to find a normal house to live in rather than the then-rundown cabin that belonged to his grandfather. Here and now, Colt felt like Davinworth was probably the one he wanted to be the most careful of, because that man probably knew every single new resident in Orden by name and street address. Except for Colt, of course.

Richardson was the owner of a trucking company that delivered all sorts of things in and out of the country but especially between Orden and Lagoroc. Colt had little doubt that it was Fred's relationship with this man that allowed his store called 'ANYTHING' to actually live up to its name.

Cree, though, was a little more mysterious. All Colt had managed to discover about him was that he'd supposedly made his fortune through investments, which was pretty vague. On the other hand, though, Lagoroc did have a famous stock exchange in the heart of the city, so maybe it wasn't that crazy.

Needless to say, Cot hadn't planned on encountering all these motherfuckers during this visit. And despite his best efforts, it seemed a bit late to gracefully extricate himself from this situation.

"You'll join us for a few rounds, won't you?" said John Davinworth with an unwelcome tinge of curiosity in his wrinkled face.

"Oh, uh, that's very kind of you to offer," said Colt, "but truth be told, I didn't even bring any clubs. I just came here to check out the facility."

"Nonsense!" said Davinworth. "You can share mine. It's no trouble at all."

Page 2482

~~((The National Ice Cream Day Special -- page 15 of 15))~~
"In the interest of full disclosure, there is something I should tell you." Ravi held up his hands defensively. "I suspect you will find it alarming, but I assure you, my intentions are entirely peaceful. So please do not attack me. I mean you no harm, nor anyone else here. In fact, my objective as advisor to the President is to help Lorent avoid precisely that type of conflict."

Hmm. Hector just waited.

"I am a member of the Freeman Fellowship," said Ravi. "Which, if you are not already aware, is a sect of Abolish. Among other things."

Hector's eyes widened inside his helmet, and he could sense the Rainlords all shifting behind him.

Ravi seemed to notice their discomfort as well and waited a moment before continuing. "I understand that your country, like many others at the moment, has quite a strained relationship with Abolish. I am not going to try to convince you that you are wrong. I will certainly acknowledge that Abolish has many, many problems."

What the hell? Hector eyed the onlooking Lorentians as he considered how to respond. None of them seemed terribly surprised by this revelation. Did they not know what Abolish was? "...You just admitted to being affiliated with an organization that commits genocide," said Hector.

Ravi frowned and nodded. "I am very aware. And just so it is clear, we fully condemn such actions, as well as any other that is considered a crime against humanity."

Needless to say, Hector was far from convinced.

Ravi scratched his nose and bobbed his head. "Our sect's relationship with much of Abolish is... complicated, to say the least."

Hector was incredulous. "If your intentions really are peaceful like you say, then why don't you just disassociate yourselves from Abolish entirely?"

Page 2481

~~((The National Ice Cream Day Special -- page 14 of 15))~~
Stoutamire interjected before Hector could respond. "Astute as always, Mr. Zaman. This is our esteemed guest from Atreya." He turned to Hector. "And Lord Goffe, this is Ravi Zaman of Palei. He is currently serving as a special advisor to the President, along with one other gentleman named--"

"Let's not spoil this conversation before it even begins by speaking of him," said Mr. Zaman. He had quite the enormous scar down the right side of his face, and his eyes were so darkly colored that they just looked like black marbles. He walked right up to Hector and offered him a handshake. "It is a pleasure to meet you, Lord Goffe."

Hector saw no reason to be rude. "Likewise, Mr. Zaman."

"Ah, please, call me Ravi. I prefer it." He shot Stoutamire a look. "Not you, though. You have to keep calling Mr. Zaman."

Stoutamire merely returned a smile.

Ravi looked over the masked Rainlords next. "This is quite a group you have here. These are all your followers, hmm?"

Hector didn't much care for that question, but he didn't want to ignore it, either. "Something like that."

"Might you tell me their names, as well?" said Ravi.

Okay, that one, he did want to ignore. "What kind of advisor are you, exactly?" he asked instead.

"The foreign affairs kind," said Ravi. "In fact, it was I who advised the President to send ol' Stoutamire to request your help. Quite the persuasive fellow, is he not? I might have gone myself, but alas, my duties keep me here."

Hector made no response. The questions he most wanted to ask were about the man's apparent reaper, but the small crowd of non-servants around them made him hold his tongue. He supposed the reaper could've been partnered to one of the others in Ravi's entourage, but there was something in the way this guy carried himself that made Hector doubt that possibility very much.

Somehow, he just seemed like a servant.

Page 2480

~~((The National Ice Cream Day Special -- page 13 of 15))~~
The group arrived at a line of ornate doors, and Stoutamire was saying one thing or another about how wonderful these rooms were. The attendants started trying to guide everyone into different ones. The Lorentians in their party were the first to depart, followed by Roman and Voreese.

The Rainlords, however, did not budge.

Salvador, Carlos, Fidel, and Matteo all remained exactly where they were, looking toward Hector with their iron masks on.

A suddenly awkward tension was in the air as Stoutamire and the guides all seemed uncertain as to what was happening.

Hector had a fair idea, though, and Mevox confirmed it for him.

'We ain't leavin' your side, bucko,' the reaper said. 'Not until there are cameras to worry about or until we're sure it's safe here.'

Hmm. Should he tell them to just relax? He doubted there was any real danger here--and even if there was, he'd be more worried about everyone other than himself. Somehow, though, he didn't think that saying as much would convince these guys to leave him alone.

As he was mulling his options over, a new voice arrived from behind him.

"Excuse me, but would you happen to be Lord Goffe of Warrenhold?" It was a man's voice, somewhat hard and raspy.

Hector turned to see another small group of people.

And an unfamiliar reaper among them.

That sight alone made Hector's posture shift slightly. He might've been tired, but it was time to be fully attentive again.

The same voice spoke up again, and Hector saw that it belonged to the man standing closest to him. "You must be him, no? Or is that armor you're wearing meant to throw us off?"

Indeed, Hector was still wearing his armor. He'd been receiving a few odd looks because of it, but that wasn't terribly abnormal, and he was mainly just concerned about hiding the light wounds that he'd received from Chort's spawn. There wasn't that much blood, but it would probably still be alarming to anyone who saw him if he dematerialized his armor.

Page 2479

~~((The National Ice Cream Day Special -- page 12 of 15))~~
It was almost like a biosphere. The trees behind the main building were large enough that their collective canopy created a dome of leaves, allowing the late morning sun to shine through only in sparkling fragments.

The party entered through a pair of enormous double doors, and large group of sharply dressed attendants were already there waiting for them.

Secretary Karr was moving a bit sluggishly, which was certainly understandable after all they had been through. Her clothes were scuffed and dirtied all over, and most of the feathers that had adorned her red coat were now missing.

She said her farewells and then ventured off with her bodyguards and a couple of newly attached attendants. The other Lorentians were also escorted away, presumably to a place where they could finally get some rest.

Ambassador Stoutamire, however, remained with Hector's group. And he did not stop talking as they all walked together.

"Allow me to serve as a temporary guide," he said. "I imagine you all must be quite tired after such a grueling night. Oh, or perhaps you aren't? Now that I think about it, that wouldn't surprise me. Myself, I am absolutely destroyed. Barely staying on my feet, truth be told. Ah, here we have the western corridor. These rooms are primarily offices, and in them, you will find many meticulous individuals. The type to go through more papers in a single day than I see in a month, searching for discrepancies and the like. Organizing them, too, I'm sure. And ahead are the guest rooms, which I'm sure you are--"

Honestly, Hector was pretty damn exhausted, too. Even after devoting an entire parallel thought process just to listening to Stoutamire, he was finding it difficult to actually pay attention.

It certainly wasn't the most tired he'd ever felt--or even close to it--but still. Right now, a bed sounded like paradise.

Page 2478

~~((The National Ice Cream Day Special -- page 11 of 15))~~
It was a little weird to imagine, but the forces in Warrenhold must've been getting a bit thin by now. Hector had confidence that as long as Ms. Rogers was there, things would continue to run smoothly, but he was still somewhat uncomfortable with how scattered their fighters were, at the moment.

Which was an absurd notion to even occupy his mind, he realized. The Rainlords were guests. Obviously, they had no obligation to protect Warrenhold specifically. They could go wherever they pleased.

The scenery outside began to change when they passed through a checkpoint, and Hector realized that they had entered a massive estate. There were still trees everywhere, of course, but they were slightly fewer in number now, and he could actually see between them.

Gardeners were tending to said trees, as well as several very long rows of flowering bushes. A large statue of the sun lay straight ahead, marking the apparent entrance of the building behind it.

The vehicle eased to a stop, and Secretary Karr stepped out of the car first with her black-and-white suited bodyguards. She beckoned Hector to follow. "Welcome to Riverton Hall, Lord Goffe."

He'd never heard of this place before, but seeing it now, he felt like maybe he should have. It wasn't a castle, but it was still a gorgeous structure, to be sure. It, too, had trees growing out of it, and they were clearly well-maintained.

The tall, triangular windows were a distinguishing feature, Hector thought, as was the black coat of paint. Very uncommon for a political building, assuming that was what this place was. Hell, even just in general, black was rarely used because of how much sunlight it absorbed, making it more difficult to keep a building cool in the summer. Maybe that wasn't an issue for them, though, thanks to the shade from all these trees.

Page 2477

~~((The National Ice Cream Day Special -- page 10 of 15))~~
'Why not?' said Garovel. 'It's a perfectly good reason.'

'No, it isn't,' said Hector. 'How did you get here so fast?'

'Okay, well... I may have already been with the reinforcements when they initially left to go help you.'

Hector rubbed his right temple. 'You mean right after I told you that everyone had mysteriously gone missing? When the situation was still super fucking dangerous?'

'I mean, what qualifies as "super fucking dangerous," really? That was just your own interpretation of events, y'know?'

'Yes, the events that I was there for and that you weren't. I'm pretty sure that makes my interpretation more valid than yours, Garovel.'

'Well, now you're just being closed-minded.'

'What the hell were you thinking? There was no reason to take a risk like that. You should've stayed at Warrenhold.'

'Look, I would've kept my distance and provided observational support from afar. I know you think that your new Scarf buddy is better than me, but I can still be helpful in a fight, okay? Can your Scarf provide you with thousands of years of experience and wisdom? I don't think so.'

'Garovel, I don't think the Scarf is better than you.'

'Your brain may say that, but your heart is saying otherwise.'

'Oh, you can read my heart now?'

'Yes. That's also an ability I have.'

'One that you've kept secret from me all this time for no apparent reason.'

'Okay, stop poking holes in my lies. It's really obnoxious.'

'You're right. I'm sorry.'

In the end, Hector supposed it didn't matter all that much, since the situation had been resolved before Garovel could even show up, so he decided to let the issue drop. For now, at least.

According to Garovel, the reinforcements consisted of Dimas Sebolt and Zeff Elroy, along with several lesser known members of Houses Sebolt, Delaguna, and Blackburn.

Page 2476

~~((The National Ice Cream Day Special -- page 9 of 15))~~
It seemed to be quite the common feature here, though. Even many of the skyscrapers had branches protruding out of the sides of them. Some were themselves vaguely tree-shaped. Instead of going straight upward, whole sections of the buildings jutted out like stubby branches.

It was certainly beautiful, but Hector couldn't imagine that maintaining all this stuff was very easy. Clearly, the people of this country valued their trees, but at some point, trees needed to be trimmed down for reasons of safety, didn't they? If drivers couldn't see around the corner of an intersection because the trees there were overgrown, then that seemed like a pretty big problem. Or if a security camera's view was blocked by branches. Not to mention, when all those leaves started falling, how much could that interfere with...?

Hmm. Maybe he was becoming a little too security conscious.

'Oh, hey,' came Garovel's private words. 'I can sense you now.'

Hector blinked. 'Wait, what? You came to Lorent, too?'

'Yep. What, did you think I would let you talk to all those Lorentian politicians without me?'

'I, uh... hmm...'

'Wow. You could try sounding a LITTLE excited that I'm here. I mean, I'm not saying you're being a bad friend or anything, but y'know, it was kind of a long trip, and I think a GOOD friend would be excited to see me, so...'

'Garovel,' laughed Hector. 'Why didn't you just tell me you were coming?'

'It's been a while since I was able to hit you with a surprise. Honestly, this feels a little overdue.'

Hector exhaled another muted laugh through his nose. But then a thought him him. 'Garovel...'

'Yeah, buddy?'

'You got here kinda fast...'

'Did I?'

'We just arrived in the capital, and you're already here.'

'Oh, hmm. How weird.'


'Guess you guys were driving pretty slow, huh?'

'Don't think that's the reason, Garovel.'

Page 2475

~~((The National Ice Cream Day Special -- page 8 of 15))~~
Hector wondered if Matteo was ever going to say something to him. What a weird problem. He'd spent so much time with the guy now, and yet he still barely knew anything about him.

Maybe Hector would have to be the one to initiate a conversation.


Or maybe not. Even without words, he felt like there was a silent understanding between them. Sort of.

As for Pauline, Hector wasn't too sure what she was going to do now. After that fight, he wanted her to get checked out by a doctor, but how exactly did Sparrows handle that, he wondered?

Plus, while he was stuck in a car, he couldn't sense where she was, anymore. He figured she was probably just following their little convoy toward P.J., but he couldn't be sure. He had a fairly strong feeling that she would want to observe his meeting with the Lorentian president, though. He may not have known her for very long, but it was quite clear that she was the nosy type.

When they arrived at the capital, Hector found himself gawking. Just as expected, it was built right in the middle of the forest, but he still hadn't expected it to be this thoroughly integrated with it. The density of the trees wasn't even that different from the rest of the forest. Hector could see many buildings that had trees growing out of them.

From an architectural standpoint, that seemed like a huge pain in the ass. He supposed the trees could also double as structural support, but that only went so far. The way that they shifted and moved as they grew would also mean that the structural stability of the building would become compromised if it relied on them too greatly. And the holes needed for the trees would definitely make it more complicated to regulate the temperature inside.

Page 2474

~~((The National Ice Cream Day Special -- page 7 of 15))~~
'That's actually true,' said Voreese. 'I'm able to get along with just about anyone, if they give me a fair shake.'

'I'm sure,' said Mevox. 'From what I've seen, you absolutely crush every social interaction you encounter.'

'Hmm, I'm getting the impression that you might not be entirely sincere when you say that.'

'Not at all. It's your best quality. Your ability to obliterate a conversation is matched only by the quaintness of your intellect.'

'Wow. Y'know what, Mevox? Maybe you're right. You're clearly way too smart for me. In fact, the power of your mind is so impressive that I think you might even have the ability to lower people's IQ just by talking to them. I definitely feel stupider every time I hear you say something.'

That one had earned laugh from Mevox.

Their back-and-forth continued throughout the trip, pausing only when one of the non-servants who couldn't hear them said something to Hector or Roman.

The topic of Salvador's recognizablility got brought up again, and the other reapers chimed in with their opinions as well, ultimately coming to the conclusion that Salvador, Carlos, and Fidel should all withdraw from Hector's side once they reached the capital and join up with the reinforcements.

The Rainlords were still wearing the iron masks that Hector made for them, but apparently, Mevox thought that it would still be an unnecessary risk if they ended up on television.

'Masks have a way of drawing attention, too,' the reaper said. 'And with Salvador's build, someone in the Vanguard might see the broadcast and put two and two together.'

And considering that Roman also preferred to stay out of the public eye as well, Hector had a feeling that he would be attending this award ceremony--or whatever it was--by himself.

Aside from Matteo Delaguna, he supposed.

Page 2473

~~((The National Ice Cream Day Special -- page 6 of 15))~~
'Yeah, yeah,' said Voreese. 'Always with the noble excuses, eh? You sure you weren't just spoiling for a fight?'

Mevox snorted. 'I guess I shouldn't expect you to understand such difficult concepts as "having your friend's back" or "acting honorably." That would require you to know what camaraderie and integrity actually feel like, wouldn't it?'

'Do they feel anything like having to listen to some loudmouthed douche yammer on self-righteously for ages? Because if so, then I think I'd rather not know.'

'Tell me, Voreese. Are you an insufferable bitch to everyone you meet, or am I just special?'

'Well, you're definitely not special, so it must be the first one.'

'I can believe that. But y'know, when you tell me I'm not special, it kinda makes me think that I am.'

'Oh yeah?'

'Yeah. As in, perhaps the lady doth protest too much, hmm?'

'Hah! And he's a narcissist, too! Talk about putting a shit-flavored cherry on top of a turd sandwich.'

'I'll have you know that I am extremely humble.'

'Oh, my apologies, then. If you say you're humble, then I guess it must be true.'

'No, no, I said EXTREMELY humble. Important difference.'

'If by "important," you mean the exact opposite of that, then yes.'

'Well, if you were paying attention, then the exaggeration would've made it clear to you that I was joking.'

'Yeah, but were you? Just because you joke about your own massive flaws doesn't mean they stop existing.'

'Hmm, I guess you would know all about that, wouldn't you?'

'And what the fuck is that supposed to mean, huh?'

'Oh, just that you're full of horrible characteristics that I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy.'

'Ah, and I bet you've got plenty of enemies to choose from, now don't you?'

'Heh, well, we can't all be as warm and cuddly as you are, my dear.'

Page 2472

~~((The National Ice Cream Day Special -- page 5 of 15))~~
As for the reinforcements that the Rainlords back in Warrenhold were sending, Hector was thankfully able to get Garovel to calm them down. With the situation now under control, there was no need for anyone else to show up and make a scene in front of the Lorentians.

With the reinforcements already en route, however, they decided not to simply turn around but to instead go all the way to Riverton, P.J. and link up with everyone in secret.

With the way Secretary Karr and Ambassador Stoutamire were talking, it seemed fairly obvious that Hector would soon be meeting with the Lorentian President and probably several other important political figures.

Mevox expressed concern about the Rainlords being present for this meeting.

'Especially if it's gonna be televised,' the reaper had said.

'What, are you camera shy?' said Voreese.

'Oh, yes. I'm the most withering little wallflower you ever did see. It doesn't have anything to do with the fact that my gigantic, highly-visible buddy over here is also one of the most recognizable Rainlords in the world. I'm not at all worried that the Vanguard might see him standing next to the Atreyan hero over here and think something is fishy.'

'In that case, why the hell did you even come along in the first place? Did you not think that the Lorentians might want to hold some type of award ceremony for this gigantic favor that we were doing for them? Because that just seems like a profound lack of forethought on your part. Or as I like to call it: a severe case of dumbassery.'

'As it so happens, I did think about that possibility. And I also thought about the possibility of something terrible befalling our good friend--y'know, the one who is graciously hosting us in his home despite how incredibly fucking dangerous it is?'

Page 2471

~~((The National Ice Cream Day Special -- page 4 of 15))~~
After Chort's apparent death, all of its spawn had been rendered inert. There was discussion among the reapers about taking some of them captive for study, and Hector could see the logic in doing that. Chort was still a very mysterious entity. Performing an autopsy on it and its spawn was a tempting idea. The things that they might be able to learn from such creatures... Hector couldn't really blame Ernivoc for advocating that course of action.

But he couldn't in good conscience allow it. After having witnessed Chort's history firsthand thanks to Pauline, having seen the horrific experiments that Chort had been subjected to and the terrible consequences that had followed, there was no way in hell that Hector was going to let that same thing happen again. Even if he did trust the Rainlords to not do such fucked up and idiotic experiments, he just didn't think it was worth the risk of bringing something so chaotic and dangerous back to Atreya.

So Chort and its spawn had all been destroyed. With Salvador's assistance, Hector had melted their flesh down into puddles of goo. And then that, too, was gathered up and cooked again, even hotter until it was finally nothing more than ash and vapors.

It had taken quite a while. And the stench. The Lorentians hadn't complained, but Hector was quite certain that they had not enjoyed that long period of miserable waiting.

They did, however, seem relieved once it was all over; and they made sure to thank the young lord from Atreya another time.

From there, it was just a matter of finding a cellphone signal. The vastness of the Imara Forest made that a rather tedious endeavor as well, but Pauline again proved to be a very helpful guide, and soon enough, a military escort arrived from the capital to take them the rest of the way.

Page 2470 -- CCXXXI.

~~((The National Ice Cream Day Special -- page 3 of 15))~~
Something about the way he was looking at her now made her lose most of her poise. She thought twice about continuing down this avenue of conversation.

Questioning his motivations was one thing. His reasoning. His logic. He was clearly forthcoming with those types of explanations.

But questioning his strength...

Perhaps that was different. The sudden shiver down her spine was telling her that perhaps the ice she was treading on here had become too thin.

And yet.

A part of her still wanted to push onward, anyway. Gohvis would give her a proper warning if she truly said anything out of line, right? Maybe she was just getting inside of her own head.

"I was just saying," she tried, "hypothetically... in the scenario you're talking about, your opponents will have presumably wiped out the entirety of the Vanguard... as well as every other powerful servant in the world... so... how can you so casually say that you would be able to kill people like that?"

Gohvis stood up and began returning the giant ant farm to its previous position in the corner of the room. "Because the world is on my side," he said.

"...What do you mean?" she asked.

But this time, the Monster of the East truly did not answer her.

Chapter Two Hundred Thirty-One: 'A heroic welcome...'
Click to display entire chapter at once -- (mobile link)

The trip to the Lorentian capital of Riverton, P.J. had thankfully gone without further incident. All the way up to their arrival in the city, everyone seemed a bit on edge--and understandably so, Hector thought. After such a chaotic battle, there was a lingering feeling that the Beast of Lorent might not be entirely dead, somehow.

But to the best of their ability, they had made sure that it was.

Page 2469

~~((The National Ice Cream Day Special -- page 2 of 15))~~
Emiliana growled with exasperation and scratched her eyebrow. "If you're so concerned about humanity's long-term survival, then how can you ally yourself with Abolish? They're actively working against humanity's short-term survival!"

"Mm. The answer to that is more complicated."

"Oh, is it?! Well, I'm all ears!"

"Part of the answer, I mentioned before. I acknowledge that my solution may be wrong, that it may simply be impossible to achieve the kind of change in human nature that I am looking for. And if that is the case, if I am wrong, then Abolish's solution may be the only thing left that will save the universe from humanity."

Emiliana put her face in both hands and sighed. Hearing all of this, she didn't know what else she had expected. She wanted to keep arguing, but this was starting to give her a headache.

"And the other part of the answer," said Gohvis, "is that my plan does not require humanity as we know it to survive. It is debatable that mutants should even be considered human in the first place."

She blinked and looked at him again with incredulity. "Are you saying that you think Abolish will spare our kind?"

"Oh, of course not," said Gohvis. "If it ever came to that, and only mutants remained, I am sure that the true zealots of Abolish would consider us a final obstacle to the fulfillment of their dream."

"Then I don't understand. What would you do in that case?"

Gohvis just stared at her for a moment. "Kill them." His flat voice sounded so utterly unconcerned by that prospect that Emiliana couldn't help being taken aback a little.

"...You're confident you would be able to?" she said, fully realizing that she was probably starting to push her luck now.

Gohvis made no response, however.

Page 2468

~~((The National Ice Cream Day Special -- page 1 of 15))~~
"It makes an enormous difference," said Gohvis. "The growth rate of humanity is unlike anything else in the known universe. To our knowledge, human civilization has only existed for a few thousand years, but look at all the power that it currently wields. Enough to wipe itself out--and perhaps even to take the planet with it."

Emiliana's gray eyes went to the table in front of her while she listened.

"And this trend is not going to change," Gohvis went on. "If anything, it will accelerate. So how powerful do you think humanity will become in another thousand years? Powerful enough to destroy the sun? The solar system? The galaxy? What about in ten thousand years? Or a million?"

"...You're worried about a million years into the future?" she said.

"The foundations we lay now could have consequences that resonate throughout the rest of human civilization," said Gohvis. "And as immortal beings, our responsibility over the future is two-fold. I don't know about you, but I would like to see how it all plays out. This cosmic game we find ourselves in."

Geez. She wasn't sure she had a response for that.

But still. She pressed her lips together as she tried to reevaluate his words another time. "...This is a completely different argument to what you said a minute ago. You said growth was a problem because of finite resources, not this."

"I said it was self-evidently a problem because of finite resources, yes. Which is still true. Growth demands innovation, and innovation discovers new ways to exploit resources, which can slow the decay; but in the very long term, the finite nature of the world will continue to be a problem that demands a direct solution. And that is what I am most concerned about: the long term."

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Page 2467

"A hive mind might eliminate corruption by eliminating freedom," said Gohvis. "All would be done for the good of the whole. And each brain could be used in parallel with the others to achieve a level of collective creative potential that is heretofore unheard of. But yes. The individual mind may become lost in the shuffle. Hypothetically."

"...Only hypothetically? That sounds more like a certainty to me."

"No. A true hive mind among beings with human-level intelligence has never been observed. The actual consequences of such a network are, at this time, unknowable." His glowing red gaze shifted to Emiliana.

She felt like he had more to say on that point, but he remained silent. "...Why are you telling me all of this?"

"Because you wished to know, did you not?"

Hmm. Was is really that simple? Maybe it was. Not everything had to be complicated. But he could still be lying. He may have acted like he was above it, but she still remembered when Gohvis showed up at Dunehall and tried to lie to the Salesman of Death.

Emiliana wanted to keep pushing, to see if she could find some fault in his explanations. "...This seems like quite a lot of trouble to go through just because you dislike the concept of growth for some reason."

"For some reason, you say?"

"Yes. Trees grow. Animals grow. I don't see you trying to wipe them out of existence."

Gohvis's eyes narrowed. "I am not trying to wipe humans out of existence."

"But Abolish is."

"Some among them, yes."

"And you don't have a problem with it."

"I do. But not as much as you do, I suspect."

"Then my point still stands."

"Comparing human growth to that of virtually anything else on the planet is absurd. Trees and animals have not developed the ability to become the arbiters of their own destruction."

"Why should that make a difference? Especially if you're apparently okay with Abolish wiping everyone out, anyway?"