He’d never seen the Lorentian countryside. Sunny skies and flat greenery as far as the eye could see. Not even mountains in the distance.
The motorcycle’s roaring engine made it impossible to have a conversation with Lynnette, but Hector didn’t mind so much. It gave him and Garovel a chance to discuss her unique situation. Hector did mind, however, having someone on the motorcycle with him for the first time. When it was just him riding alone, he didn’t have to worry so much about screwing up and crashing. He would survive. Having Lynnette here made him all sorts of uncomfortable, especially with how she had to wrap her arms around his stomach to keep herself steady. He’d never done very well with physical contact.
Still, he did his best to ignore it. If he just focused on the road ahead of him, it wasn’t so bad.
‘I don’t like this,’ said Garovel.
‘I know,’ said Hector. ‘But it’s Lynn. I’m not gonna just leave her out here…’
The reaper had been keeping his distance from Lynnette, and even now, he stayed a ways ahead of the motorcycle as it sped down the road. ‘I suppose if she’s telling the truth, then she’ll be a valuable ally to have.’
‘What can you tell me about her aura or whatever it’s called?’
‘It’s an odd presence. Geoffrey’s the only aberration we’ve ever seen, so our point of reference is pretty limited, but compared to him, her aura is quite different. I can still sense that she’s human. That part of her seems no different from what I saw of her before. I guess that means she really is herself, still.’
‘The wrist guard she’s wearing has a presence of its own. A very potent one, no less. If Geoffrey’s aura was a sword, then that thing’s aura is a stick of dynamite. And because I don’t know how it works, it just makes me very uneasy.’
Abruptly, Hector felt something against his upper back. His grip on the handlebars tightened as he tried not to freak out and run off the road. ‘G-Garovel! What’s she doing?!’
The reaper slowed down to see. And he started laughing. ‘She’s asleep. Looks like she really was tired.’
‘That–! But–! I–! She’s–! Garovel, make her stop!’
‘Just try to relax,’ said Garovel, still chuckling. ‘I bet it’d be easier for you if she did turn out to be a psychotic monster, huh?’
‘Agh! I should’ve left her behind!’
Garovel just laughed harder.
After a while, they approached the border. Crossing it on the way here hadn’t been the easiest thing. The roads all had checkpoints, and he couldn’t just waltz right through them. So like he’d done the first time, he made a ramp and bridge for himself, allowing the bike to go right over the checkpoint on a wave of metal. There were more border guards this time, but they all just kind of stood there and stared at him as he flew over their heads.
The bike jostled as its tires hit the road again, which thankfully stirred Lynnette back awake. And just like that, they were in Atreyan territory. He annihilated the metal bridge as they sped away.
‘Hmm,’ said Garovel, hovering a bit closer to Lynnette now. ‘I’m a little worried what the Vanguard was doing with something like this in the first place.’
‘You think… they have aberrations working with them?’
‘I don’t know enough about aberrations to say for sure, but if all of them are like Geoffrey, then there’s no way the Vanguard would work with them.’
‘How come you don’t know more about aberrations? They seem like, uh… kind of a big deal.’
‘I’m guessing they’re a recent development in the world. When I was a member of the Vanguard, aberrations weren’t a problem we faced. I don’t think they even existed. If they did, then they were hidden extremely well.’
‘I wonder how common they are. Their presence could change everything in the war between the two big powers. Hell, maybe it already has.’
‘You think so?’
‘Well, yeah. Neutrality has always been a big thing. A lot of reapers believe that death is fated and shouldn’t be interfered with or just don’t want to get involved for whatever reason, so they don’t take on servants. That’s never been a problem, because as long as we stay away from big conflicts, we can’t be killed. But if there are these random monsters in the world who can hurt us, then that’s a big deal, like you said. Reapers who’ve never taken on a servant before suddenly have a very compelling reason to.’
‘Ah… like Bohwanox, huh? He only revived Colt after getting wounded by Geoffrey, didn’t he?’
‘Yeah. If that sort of thing happens on a larger scale, it’ll have a huge impact. All those new servants and reapers. Even if most of them try to stay out of the war, some of them are bound to get involved.’
Hector listened to the wind howl past his riding helmet. He’d offered it to Lynnette, but she said she didn’t need it. For anyone else, he would have insisted. ‘I guess you, uh… you don’t agree with those reapers who think death is fated, huh?’
‘Correct,’ said Garovel, ‘though that’s beside the point. Even if I did believe in fate, why should I think that reapers exist outside its influence? If I had you save someone, then why should I not consider you to have been fated to save them?’
‘Uh… I dunno…’
‘Me neither. I don’t understand reapers who think that way. I suppose that’s why I think fate is a useless concept. You can make it conform to anything you want, which is just generally counterproductive to the learning process.’
‘No, I… have no opinion, really.’
Garovel let the matter lie.
It was a ways to the bunker yet. Grassy plains gradually transformed into barren, dirty badlands. Eventually, though, they arrived. Hector opened the door in the ground. Lynnette went in on foot, and he wheeled the bike in after her. There wasn’t much gas left in the tank, he realized. Hopefully, the bunker would have a supply. For the moment, however, he had a fresh question for Lynnette.
“So, ah… how much can, uh… ah…” He faltered, but Lynnette was patient with him. He had to avoid looking her in the face. “H-how much can you tell me about, um… about aberrations?”
“How much do you know about them?” she asked.
“Not much, I guess… Judging from your, uh… your gauntlet, I’m assuming they all have those… death-taffy things…”
She gave him a bemused grin. “Death-taffy?”
“Y-yeah, they’re stretchy like taffy, but… deadlier?”
She laughed faintly, as did Garovel. “Yeah, all aberrations have one of these things. Roman talked about them while we were traveling together. Her Highness had all sorts of questions for him. I mostly just listened.”
“Are all aberrations as, um… as violent and crazy as Geoffrey was?”
“Geoffrey? Oh, is that the name of the one we fought?”
Lynnette rubbed above her eye patch. “Do you happen to know where he is?”
“I’ve been wanting to get revenge for my eye.”
He wasn’t sure how else to say it, so he just said, “I killed him.”
Lynnette blinked. “Oh. What happened?”
But Hector couldn’t bring himself to explain. He knew she was one of the few people who would understand. Hell, she probably understood well enough already. But he just didn’t want to talk about it. He didn’t even want to think about it.
At his strained silence, she seemed to get the idea. “Oh, I didn’t answer your question. From what Roman said, yeah, I think all aberrations are extremely violent. I think his exact words were that aberrations are always looking for amusement. They’re just always amused by killing people, apparently.”
“He said they can’t really be controlled, either, because they tend to just do whatever they want. The only reason Abolish is able to manage them at all is because it lets them run wild.”
“Oh, and they grow stronger by consuming souls. That’s why they all enjoy killing so much.”
Hector just nodded.
She held her gauntlet up again. “I’m not sure if this can grow stronger in the same way. I’m not sure it matters, either. Even if I knew how to consume someone’s soul, it sounds pretty disgusting.”
His mouth twisted. “Egh, yeah… and you wouldn’t be able to consume a servant’s soul, anyway.”
“Our souls are bound to our reapers, so…”
“Hmm. Would I be able to consume a reaper’s soul, then?”
Hector looked at Garovel.
‘I don’t know! Probably! I don’t think I wanna find out!’
Hector offered Lynnette a shrug.
“What else do you want to know?”
‘Ask her for details about what that wrist guard is capable of.’
Hector’s eyes fell upon her gauntlet. “What can that thing do, exactly?”
“Well, it’s malleable,” she said. The shadow took the shape of a small bird perched on her arm. “It seems like it can conform to any shape I want it to. I’m still learning.”
“Does it have like a… maximum range or something?”
“Yes, it does.” The shade shot out toward the garage’s far wall and reached it, then looped back around but stopped halfway. It strained to reach her but could extend no farther. “What would you say that is? Twenty meters or so?”
“Maybe. But, uh…” He turned to look at Garovel, who’d retreated behind him. “Would you mind not doing that so suddenly, though? I think you scared Garovel.”
“Oh! I’m so sorry!” She reeled the shadow back in. “Where is he? I didn’t hurt him, did I?”
“N-no, he’s fine.”
She put her arm back down, keeping it inside her dirty cloak. “The shadow also protects me from harm, but I’m sure you knew that already.”
“It has another power that I haven’t been able to use yet. Something called Incineration.”
He tilted his head. “Incineration?”
“Don’t ask me what it means. That’s just what I heard the Vanguard servants calling it.”
She rolled her shoulders and neck. “Maybe I should just tell you the whole story. Ah–but it might be pretty long. Do you have anything to eat around here first? I’m starving.”
“Oh, sure. Uh–follow me.” He led her to the kitchen. The choices weren’t exactly gourmet. Everything here was meant to last for months without requiring refrigeration.
Lynnette grabbed a bunch of different things and sat down at the small table by the door. Atop the pile, she added the contents of her rucksack: a slab of charred meat and some wild berries. “So we flew to Korgum first,” she said, unwrapping a packet of beef jerky, “and that was a dead end.”
Hector didn’t join her at the table, choosing instead to stand in the doorway with his arms folded.
“The Vanguard in Korgum wouldn’t even have a proper meeting with us, but we honestly couldn’t blame them. We were only there for a few days, but in that time, our plane was shot down, and we were attacked by Abolish patrols four separate times. I’m sure the Queen and I would have both died there if not for Roman.” She shook her head. “And afterwards, he was suddenly muchstronger. Almost like a different person.”
Hector and Garovel exchanged glances. “Roman achieved emergence?”
“Yes. He ended up explaining that at length, too. Do you need me to relay what he said?”
“No, that’s okay… I, uh… I’ve had my own experiences with it.”
Her brow rose at that, but rather than inquiring further, she chose to continue her story. “The Vanguard there wouldn’t help us, because they were clearly dealing with a lot already, but they did point us in the direction of another division, which was in Callum. So we went there next. And without a plane, that trip took a while.
“The group we found was more accommodating than the ones in Korgum, but Her Highness was rather quick to become displeased. Something about her negotiations with them left her quite unhappy. They were kind enough to give us a tour of their facility, which was when I encountered the gauntlet. They were conducting experiments on it, and when the Queen mentioned having fought an aberration before, the person in charge of the study was rather eager to tell us more. Apparently, they were trying to discover the exact mechanism by which its power is made to grow. They thought that artifacts like this might provide insight into emergence in servants.”
‘Ah,’ said Garovel. ‘Even more dangerous than I expected.’
“Did they make any progress on that?” Hector asked.
“No, I don’t believe so. They were very frustrated.”
Lynnette took a hearty swig of water. “The real problems started when it was made clear that we were not allowed to leave the facility. It became delay after delay and excuse after excuse. The Queen’s mood only worsened, and eventually, she told me to try the gauntlet on. I didn’t argue. I was just as curious as she was, really. And from there, the situation descended very quickly into chaos. I wasn’t even sure that she and Roman made it out safely until I spoke with Gina.”
“Seems… kinda reckless on the Queen’s part…”
“Perhaps. But then again, I think Her Highness was planning to have me steal it anyway, but when they started talking about taking off my arm to retrieve it, she accelerated her plans for my sake.”
“And then… you were able to beat a servant? Without any trouble, even?”
She nodded. “I’ll demonstrate how, if you want.”
‘That’s a very good idea,’ said Garovel. ‘You should start sparring with her as soon as possible. With Colt gone, a new training partner is invaluable right now.’
“Uh… Garovel wants me to spar with you…”
‘You should help her gauge how strong the gauntlet really is. And ask her for some pointers on how to use a sword. Oh, and demonstrate your powers to her, too. It’s important that she understands what you’re capable of. Also, maybe you should–’
“Garovel, I get it. We’ve got a lot to do…”
‘I’m just offering suggestions.’
He looked at Lynnette again and immediately regretted it, meeting her gaze for a moment and having to blush and look away. “Ah–uh… you really don’t mind? Training with me, I mean.”
“Sure, but before that, could you tell me about what’s been happening in Atreya? What has Abolish been doing in the capital?”
“Ah, yeah… I needed to tell you that, anyway. Because, um. I’m hoping you’ll accompany me when I go to Sescoria next week.”
Lynnette stopped chewing to raise an eyebrow at him. “You’re going back there?” she said. “Isn’t that incredibly dangerous?”
“Oh,” she said, stiffening in her seat. “You’re going there to pick a fight.” She paused for a rogue’s grin. “Tell me more.”