Colt sat feeding Stephanie by the spoonful. She had only puked on him once in the past few days, so he was wondering if this new baby food agreed with her better.
It had been six days since their arrival in Klein. The nights were cold out here, and the warehouse had no electricity or heating, but between the campfire he made and the mountain of blankets Hector brought back, there was ample warmth to go around.
Hector was gone most of the time, even during the day. It seemed like he only ever returned to train or deliver supplies. Colt wasn’t even sure if the kid was sleeping. On the fourth night, he showed up in a bloody shirt with no less than two dozen bullet holes in it and just collapsed in front of the fire. And as soon as he woke up, he went right back out again. On the fifth day, even Garovel was telling him to slow down.
Bohwanox sometimes ventured out with Hector as well, but Colt was quite content to stay with the children around the clock. It wasn’t the most exciting thing, but he’d had his fill of excitement lately. And besides, Hector had brought him a portable television to keep updated on events.
When the news wasn’t talking about the military budget or international tension between Rendon and Kahm, it was talking about the most wanted criminal in the country gallivanting around Klein without being caught. Colt wondered if all those bullet holes had been the police trying to bring him down.
Of course, the news didn’t seem to care much about all the other criminals that had turned up in jail cells; but perhaps the police were happy enough to take the credit there.
Colt was impressed that Hector had managed to avoid leading his pursuers back here, but regardless, he figured that wouldn’t last much longer. Or he hoped so, because the warehouse didn’t have running water or even a bathtub. Instead, he’d managed to rig up a crude shower, of sorts, consisting of an old hand pump, a broad hose, and several jugs of water from the nearby gas station. It worked, but a single pumping motion equated to a single burst of water. He had never experienced a more annoying method of wash.
He could hear Hector stomping around in the sandlot out back. Every now and then, the ground would shake, making him wonder what the hell the kid was doing. But he stayed put. He wasn’t feeling his best at the moment, and Stephanie needed to finish eating, anyway.
The day’s meditation had left Colt with aching pains in his head and hands both. He wasn’t the type to complain and so kept it to himself, but as the evening drew on, he began to find it increasingly bothersome.
Then a sudden tremor spiked through his fingertips. The spoon in his hand snapped in two. He looked at the pieces, confused.
Bohwanox was quick to take notice. ‘Colt, put Stephanie down.’
Stephanie’s arm began to bleed where Colt was holding her, and she started crying.
‘Put her down now!’ said Bohwanox.
He set her next to Thomas and stepped away.
‘I believe your ability has manifested,’ the reaper said.
Colt looked at the blood on his fingers. It wasn’t a lot, thankfully, but the fact that it belonged to his daughter was already too much cause for concern. “I hurt her? What the fuck did I just do?!”
‘Wait right there. My knowledge here is limited.’ Bohwanox left and soon returned with Garovel and Hector.
Hector went straight for Stephanie.
Garovel floated around Colt. ‘Show me your hands, please.’
He held them out.
‘Hmm. No trace elements. Not materialization. Hector, how is she?’
“Uh… I think she’s okay. It’s just a little cut. The bleeding’s almost stopped already.”
‘A cut?’ Garovel moved to examine the girl’s arm.
Colt was afraid to even get close to her again.
‘Ah,’ said Garovel after a spell. ‘I see. You have a destruction ability.’
‘What does that mean, exactly?’ said Bohwanox.
‘The destruction type is considerably simpler than the other types, because all such abilities are basically the same. Essentially, you have the power to rip space apart.’
Colt cocked an eyebrow. “…‘scuse me?”
‘At the moment, of course, your power is still quite weak, but it is nonetheless dangerous. You shouldn’t hold the children until you’re able to get it under control.’
“How long will that be?”
‘If you focus on your meditation, it shouldn’t be more than a couple days.’
“Um,” said Hector, “sorry to interrupt, but… Colt can rip space apart? Ah, is that…? I mean–how the fuck?”
‘Destruction type abilities make a kind of “path.” That is, a path which should not otherwise exist.’ Garovel eyed Colt. ‘Theoretically, no matter how tough or durable something is, you can still destroy it, because you attack the space it occupies, rather than the thing itself.’
Colt eyed his hands again. “Hmm.”
‘This is also called the “geometric” type by some, because the “path” you make always conforms to some two-dimensional pattern. Right now, it’s too early to tell what your shape is, but it doesn’t really make much difference. Whether you destroy things with squares or circles or some crazy polygon with a thousand sides, the end result is the same. It’s still destroyed.’
“Destruction, huh?” Colt made two fists. “I can work with that.”
‘There are very few things which can withstand spatial distortions,’ said Garovel. ‘And with sufficient development of your power, there will likely be NOTHING that can.’
“Cool. So I need to get meditating, then?”
“Before that,” said Hector, “there’s, uh… something I’ve been meaning to ask. These, ah, servant abilities… how many different kinds are there?”
‘Six,’ said Garovel. ‘That is, there are six broad categories. As for individual abilities, there’s no set number, as far as I know. But the six categories are called materialization, transfiguration, alteration, destruction, mutation, and integration.’
“I remember you mentioning the first three before,” said Hector. “I’m materialization, right?”
‘Right. You already know people with the first four. Desmond is transfiguration; Roman is alteration; and of course, Colt is destruction. As far as the other two types are concerned, mutation is by far the rarest type, so it’s not surprising that you haven’t met someone with it yet.’
“Why is it so rare?” said Hector. “Is it, like, really powerful or something…?”
‘Actually, it’s kinda the opposite problem. The mutation type has a reputation for being weaker than the others–which isn’t actually true, by the way. But a lot of reapers don’t like it, because it’s much more of a double-edged sword than any other type. See, mutation abilities allow the user to make PERMANENT changes to their body. Unlike transfiguration, which changes one’s body chemistry temporarily, mutation will cause the servant’s regeneration power to maintain its changes. This means that even just learning to control the ability is dangerous, because the servant could end up accidentally disfiguring or disabling themself.’
‘Yeah. And even if it’s a problem that normally could be fixed with surgery, the servant will still just regenerate to its mutated state. The only potential solution is to induce a second change which counters the detrimental effects of the first change–and that can easily end up making the problem worse.’
“Damn,” said Colt. “Glad I didn’t get saddled with that shit.”
Garovel nodded. ‘Sometimes, mutation users screw their bodies up so badly that there’s no hope of fixing it anymore. Which can be quite horrific. And at that point, releasing their soul is a mercy. I also know that the general stigma around the mutation type makes it so a lot of reapers won’t even bother with a servant who has it. Because like I said, they see it as weaker than all others and not worth the trouble.’
“Gah… but, ah, how do they change themselves? I mean, like, what’s an example of a mutation type power?”
‘Oh. Um. Admittedly, I’m not too clear on that, myself. Mutation is the one I know the least about. The rarity makes it difficult to study. You’d have to talk to a specialist.’
“Really?” said Hector. “But… you’ve been alive for thousands of years. Not to sound rude, but… you never found the time to learn about it?”
‘Well,’ said Garovel, ‘take materialization, for instance. We know that it’s centered around elements; but of course, before mankind discovered those elements, we had no idea that was the case. That knowledge revealed critical details about the way materialization works. Similar discoveries have been made in relation to all the types. So it’s not like the knowledge has just been sitting around in a book somewhere, waiting for me to read and suddenly understand it all.’
‘Hell, a thousand years ago, we thought the mutation type was some kind of awful disease. Some reapers might even still believe that.’
“I d-didn’t mean to imply you were lazy or anything…”
‘I know. But I’ll admit, in recent years, I haven’t been quite as studious about the abilities as I used to be.’
‘Hmm,’ said Bohwanox. ‘I remember hearing somewhere that alteration types are typically the strongest. Is that true?’
‘I’ve heard that, too,’ said Garovel. ‘I’m not sure how much truth is in it, though. They’re certainly versatile, but strongest? That seems like a useless generalization. Dangerous, too.’
‘Dangerous?’ said Bohwanox. ‘What do you mean?’
‘We shouldn’t try to measure the worth of our servants by the abilities they possess. I despise reapers who discard their servants because they think the ability isn’t good enough.’
“What about the other type mentioned?” said Hector. “What was it? Integration?”
‘Hold on,’ said Bohwanox. ‘I’d still like to know more about why people think alteration is the strongest.’
Garovel hesitated, looking between the two. ‘Well, um. Alteration allows the user to employ a specific force to essentially anything. Depending on what that force is, the results can be quite intimidating. As for integration, that involves the combining of materials. People with integration are very highly valued among the big factions, because they tend to provide support as weapon makers and so forth. They’re generally protected from having to see combat, but I’m sure their abilities could be useful in a fight, too.’
Hector tilted his head. “So… someone like that could be a really useful ally, then.”
Abruptly, Colt realized that Stephanie had stopped crying a while ago. She just seemed to be looking up at Hector as he cradled her in his arms.
“Hey, kid. You’re pretty good at that.”
“That. Look how calm she is.”
Hector looked at her. He winced as she started screaming again, right into his face this time.
Colt squinted against the noise. “Could be wrong, I s’pose.”
They moved on to meditation together. Garovel advised him to focus on imagining a kind of “tunnel,” supposedly representative of whatever his “path” of destruction would be.
‘It’d be helpful to imagine your geometric shape digging the tunnel,’ said Garovel. ‘And since we don’t know what yours is yet, just go through a variety of them in your head.’
“Spray ‘n pray, huh?”
‘Pretty much, yeah.’
His hands still throbbed. If anything, they felt even worse. And when he opened his eyes again, he found his palms covered in blood. The skin was practically shredded.
Bohwanox invoked the regeneration, relieving the pain as well, and Colt returned to meditating.
It was not long before Hector stopped his own meditation and left. Garovel followed, though not quickly.
Colt could imagine what silent conversation the two were having. “Damn that kid. He’s gonna lose his mind if he doesn’t fucking relax.”
Bohwanox’s faceless hood tilted a little. ‘Are you worried about him? I thought you only cared about your children.’
Colt just frowned.