Chapter Eighty-Nine: ‘Answers ye seek...’

The Lord Haqq Najir had perhaps the strangest eyes Hector had ever seen. They were yellow. And the man’s round glasses only served to magnify them. “Show me this gauntlet of yours,” he said.


Lynn pulled her glove off to reveal the bone wrist guard. She held it out for him to examine.


“Excellent. Come with me.” He ushered them past the guard and into the laboratory. The walls were filled with machinery while the center of the room hosted six full tables with more men in white coats laboring over them.


A particular sight caught Hector’s attention as they passed it. A full suit of armor, it was, embedded into the eastern wall and looking like the most complicated piece of technology in the room.


Hector had a certain appreciation for armor, and he would have liked to stop and examine it, but now didn’t seem to be the appropriate time. However, he was not the only one who noticed it.


What is that thing?’ asked Garovel. ‘Some kind of battle armor?


“Ah,” said Haqq. “Abbas may not look like it, but when it comes to inventing, he is nearly my equal. That over there is a joint project of ours. You should count yourselves lucky if you never learn what it is capable of.”


Hector and Garovel exchanged looks.


Haqq led them into a rear room, much larger and longer than the previous one thanks to the firing range at the back. Ringed targets stood on the far end, and another man in a lab coat was busy fiddling with a bulky firearm.


A new reaper floated up behind Haqq and said something to him in Valgan.


“Yes,” said Haqq. “This is Lynnette Edith and...”


Hector and Garovel. A pleasure to meet you both.’


Likewise,’ said the other reaper. ‘I am Sazandara. I hope Haqq has not been frightening you too much.


On the contrary, I am quite interested in his work,’ said Garovel.


That earned a smile from Haqq before he returned his attention to Lynn. “Now, I shall perform some preliminary tests to gauge how strong your gauntlet is currently.” He tossed a glance at Hector and Garovel. “This may take a while, so you’ll probably want to go do something else.”


It was Hector and Lynn’s turn to exchange looks now.


“I, uh... I think I’ll stick around, if it’s all the same to you...”


Haqq had already moved on. “Please stand by the door and extend your shadow as far as you are able.”


The man had not been exaggerating, however. It did take a while. He measured the maximum length of Lynn’s violet shade, tested how much pressure it could withstand before she felt even the slightest discomfort, gave her instructions on complex shapes to mold it into, timed her speed around the room when using only the shadow to transport herself, and then began asking her questions pertaining to her mental state.


“Have you noticed any increased aggression since you started wearing it?” Haqq asked.


“No... why? Should I have?”


“Oh, no, these are just precautionary questions,” said Haqq. “You understand, yes?”


Lynnette only gave an uncertain nod.


“To be frank,” said Haqq, “we do not want you inheriting any of the psychological tendencies that belonged to the previous owner of those bones. There is no evidence to support the idea that this is even a possibility, but I believe the worry is still quite reasonable, don’t you?”


“I guess...”


“So, no strange or unexplained mood swings since you began wearing it?”




“Good. That is very good.” He scribbled something into his notes.


Behind him, the man with the gun from earlier fired off a rocket that soared across the chamber and obliterated a target dummy with an explosion so large that it shook the whole room. Flames and gnarled metal spikes leapt across the firing range, taking down several additional targets and even bounding back and cracking the safety glass directly behind Haqq.


Everyone turned to the stranger, who seemed quite pleased with himself until he noticed their stares.


“It works,” the man said in his thick accent.


Haqq just glared at him.


“I will go make adjustments.”


“You do that,” said Haqq. He returned to his notes once the other man was gone.


Our apologies,’ Sazandara said to Hector and Garovel. ‘The young ones are always so enthusiastic about their work.


Lynn took the opening to interject with her own question. “So how do I use Incineration?”


Haqq looked up. “Ah, yes. I did promise to tell you. You may not like the explanation, however.”


She merely folded her arms as she waited.


“In order to invoke the secondary ability, you must be in the correct emotional state. Which, simply put, is happiness. You must be enjoying yourself.”


It took Lynn a moment of blinking to respond. “What? I have to be happy?”


“Correct. There are two things required to invoke it. The first is enjoyment, and the second is intent to use it. Rather simple, really. The problem, of course, is that whenever you want to use the power, you will naturally be in the middle of a fight, which is a difficult environment in which to find enjoyment.”


Lynn still didn’t seem like she understood, and Hector couldn’t blame her. “Wait a minute,” she said. “I have to be... so... what?”


“It is the same as how aberrations themselves harness it,” Haqq explained. “They all have a very strong bloodlust. It is part of their nature, which as it turns out, plays a key role in their power.”


“I’m not sure I can do that,” said Lynn. “I’ve always been trained to keep a cool head during a fight. Be as close to emotionless as possible.”


“That is understandable,” said Haqq, “but you see, it is also your problem, not mine.”


Lynn’s mouth flattened.


“Regardless,” Haqq continued, “after your power grows again, I would appreciate it if you paid me another visit so I can take new measurements.”


“I don’t think I’ll be doing that,” said Lynn. “It sounds like your problem, not mine.”


They exchanged irate looks.


And for some reason, no one else seemed to be asking the obvious question, so Hector had to force himself to interject. “Uh... Mr. Haqq, uh... you said, Lynn’s can actually grow? H-how?”


“By absorbing human souls, of course. The same as with aberrations themselves.”


Hector saw Lynn’s expression sour.


“I suppose that I should also mention that your secondary ability is your only means of absorbing souls,” said Haqq. “Incineration, you said it was?”


Lynn nodded. “What does Incineration actually do?”


“It ignites anything your shadow touches. And the ensuing flames cannot be extinguished by any physical means. Only yourself or some overwhelming soul pressure will be able to put them out. And to absorb a soul, you would only need to set a person on fire.”


Would it work on servants?’ asked Garovel.


“No, it cannot absorb a servant’s soul. But the flames will certainly cause them difficulty. And of course, it can still absorb a reaper’s soul. When you set about testing it, I suggest you be extremely careful. If you hurt any innocent people in our territory, accident or not, we will hunt you down and take that gauntlet from you by whatever means necessary.”


Lynn looked rather displeased by all of this information, and Hector didn’t feel much differently. He did not envy her position. If the only way to grow his power was to consume human souls, he wasn’t sure what he would do. Even if someone was a bad person, did they deserve to have their soul eaten?


“What happens to the souls I absorb?” Lynn asked.


Haqq tilted his head slowly. He looked like he wanted to ask what she meant, but after a moment, his expression settled, and he seemed to get her meaning. “There is no scientific evidence to support the idea that the souls you absorb retain any kind of consciousness.”


“So you don’t really know,” said Lynn.


“If it is such a moral quandary for you, then you can simply avoid absorbing souls,” said Haqq. But at Lynn’s persistent look, he added, “Yes, we do not know, because there is currently no way to know. There exist no scientific instruments which can aid us in studying souls.”


None that WE know of at least,’ corrected Sazandara. ‘Haqq is very intelligent, and you should listen to him, but he is also more of a hardware man than anything. We haven’t devoted much time to studying souls other than to observe the enhanced physical properties they may provide for our technology.


Lynn, of course, heard nothing of what the reaper said, and Haqq didn’t seem too keen to reiterate it to her, so Hector had to struggle through it. Sazandara helped him out by repeating a few of the things she said.


In the meantime, Garovel took the opportunity to address Haqq again. ‘I was wondering if you might do me a small favor.


“What sort of favor?”


My servant is a materialization user. Would it be possible for you to confirm his element for us? We believe it to be iron, but we’re not one hundred percent certain.


Haqq eyed Hector with an overwhelming degree of disinterest. Then he held out his hand. “Make a flat disc for me, just small enough to fit in my palm here.”


With hesitance, Hector did so. The metal accumulated in the man’s hand and formed a perfectly smooth and round disc.


Haqq cocked an eyebrow at the metal. Perhaps he’d been expecting something shoddier-looking. Or perhaps he thought Hector wouldn’t even be able to do it in the first place. Haqq lifted the disc to his ear and rapped a knuckle against it, listening to the ring. After a moment, he tossed the disc back to Hector. “You were right. It is iron.”


Hector annihilated the disc instead of catching it.


I was hoping for something a bit more rigorous and definitive,’ said Garovel, eyeing Sazandara. ‘Not that I don’t trust your servant’s ear.


Haqq gave an irritated sigh.


Haqq would be delighted to assist you,’ said Sazandara. ‘He will perform an emission spectrometric analysis for you. Isn’t that right, Haqq?


The man had nothing to say.


Sazandara’s skeletal grin widened. ‘It shouldn’t take him very long. He’s very skilled. Come back tomorrow.


Much appreciated,’ said Garovel.


Hector gave Haqq another metal disc for examination, and the man just pocketed it and returned to asking Lynn questions, this time concerning her family’s medical history. Her very apparent Intarian heritage had not escaped Haqq’s notice, and she had to explain that she was indeed born in Atreya.


Hector’s attention was divided when yet another reaper appeared, this time descending from the ceiling.


Haqq, it’s almost time for the assembly meeting. Asad wants you to join him.


Haqq rolled his eyes. “He still thinks he can convince Abbas?”


He does. And so do I.


“Well, of course you do.”


The reaper’s skeletal face twisted impossibly with annoyance. After a moment, he eyed Haqq’s guests. ‘Hello. I do not believe I have seen any of you here before.


“Agh, don’t bother them, too,” said Haqq.


Garovel jumped at the chance for another introduction. ‘We’re from Atreya. It’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m Garovel, and this is my servant, Hector Goffe, along with our comrade, Lynnette Edith.


Atreya? Interesting. I am not exactly from around here, either. My name is Axiolis.

A note from George M. Frost

Here ends the Eighth Oath and begins the Ninth, Mud and War.

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About the author

George M. Frost


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Jack Blank ago

Our apologies,’ Sazandara said to Hector and Garovel. ‘The young ones are always so enthusiastic about their votes.

Spitting Fire ago

It would be really cool if Hectors metal was an alloy of some kind since they mentioned materialization users being able to use multiple elements

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