(reading time: 1 hour, 49 minutes)
The entrance to Peako Dagyvr’s workshop, deep in the stony crevasse of Crosstahl, was sealed off in a most unusual manner. The original door was gone, its frame filled by uneven stones that were held together by a bright, almost luminous, blue adhesive. This barrier had a weak spot, an eye drifting in the adhering slime, but it kept on the interior side. That meant it had to watch everything happening within, occasionally dodging a dagger as it was tossed across the chamber.
Even in the relatively short time since Captain Rob had taken the new recruit Alast there to purchase a weapon, Peako’s output had increased significantly. The walls had always had very little empty space, with shields, spears, and war forks hung everywhere, some even modified into braziers to light the place. It was much more cluttered now, the space shrunk by shields overlapping, like the dermal disorder of a scaly beast.
Any torches that had remained exposed were lit, as it was the middle of the night. Firelight bounced off rich varied colors and emblems, as Peako had never ignored the possible powers of symbolism and heraldry. Every factor had been considered in his quest to design the ultimate weapon. There were three other lights, not counting the bright slime acting as the door, slithering across these symbols, examining their every chip, occasionally disappearing under a shield and reappearing on a different wall.
They were prosites, but they’d done something to their plasm to create a vibrant glow, perhaps to light their way that evening: one green, one pink, and one purple. Each was a soldier, sworn to protect their new home of Rinlatour. The weapon depository should’ve been an incredible playground for them, but as they wandered they were mostly deep in thought, wondering if the skeleton that invited them had told the truth.
Prosites mostly had flawless memory, even owning perfect copies of their parent’s, but with each generation back the recollections grew weaker. Still they had assumed that if such a monumental truth were in their past they would’ve sensed it, a deep rumbling confirmation perhaps, like remembering the sound from the first lighting of the florent.
These bodyguards were free to think it over in relative peace while their employer, Mixomirine, had to deal with the skeleton itself. The prosite was effectively a royal flush, though the title actually belonged to the bergfolk body it inhabited, and had been reluctant to leave its city and meet with the man, but it knew how dangerous it could be to fight the raging current that was Captain Kilrobin Ordr.
“You believe this story?” it asked the green gravefolk. The Captain wasn’t looking it in the eye, instead digging through piles of weapons, tossing away those that displeased him, in search of something. Occasionally this meant a rather dangerous throw, to the chagrin of the fourth bodyguard holding the door together, as its eye felt like a dartboard.
“I do Mixomir. Think of how desperate an already dead god would have to be to go to this effort.” The prosite paced back and forth on its long bergfolk legs. Normally it wore the traditional clothing expected of that folk, but for a meeting with Rob it couldn’t help but leave most of it behind in favor of a sleek armored shell of steel bands. Its single eye was squeezed into the corpse’s skull, two of its pupils lining up with the sockets and eyelids.
The Captain had stepped out of the mirror network, into the palace atop Rinlatour, just a drop ago, and insisted Mixomir join him for a discussion and a chance to save the world. It obliged, but not without bringing its elite personal guard, each prosite from a different strain that had immigrated to the towering city in the drain: Tinnitivale Hergasum, Erbacile Philsium, Reliefix Odorum, and Bocastilite Immunum.
Mixomir regretted the decision slightly now, as it hadn’t expected Rob to drop such a revelation on them. It was supposedly the entire history of their kind after all, and it marked them as the end product of three worlds: the Earth he spoke of, the failed compact world, and now a Porce where a callous god abused their very structure. Each of them was likely experiencing the same tortured thinking it now suffered.
“This changes everything,” it muttered. “I’m not sure how, but I am certain of the change. Every philosophy and doctrine is the end result of its environment, and with this adjustment all the paradigms should collapse. Our poetry has actually always been without meter, and we didn’t even see it.”
“Your poetry is legendarily boring, so I wouldn’t lament the loss too much,” Rob grumbled. “I told you this as a sign of good faith. Not in gods, but in our abilities and determination. We will conserve ourselves, and thus be worth conserving. Will you join me?”
“In an assault on Bombast? What has changed that makes you think it’s possible?”
“It has always been possible, just so daunting that folk couldn’t stand up to him,” the gravefolk argued. “I’ve seen him in battle, and I know his weakness. Even with the power to destroy worlds, he still only has the focus of an ordinary man. Split it and make him vulnerable.” Rob picked up something that looked like a cross between a pair of scissors, a nail file, and an abacus. “Could this be it?” He gently touched a metal switch on its side, only for the contraption to snap shut around his arm. If there had been any flesh it likely would have cut through all of it.
“How does splitting his focus matter when he has that material? It can shield him on all sides or, so I’m told, encase him in fire.” Rob peeled the scissor thing off and tossed it over his shoulder. Mixomir carefully caught it, wise considering it also attempted to ensnare the prosite as soon as it did. Tossing it away didn’t stop it from chattering around a corner and out of sight.
“That material’s supply is limited. Think of how much losing a piece has slowed him. He was furious when he had to use the tiniest speck of it to keep me off his tail. He’ll try every strategy before burning it.”
“The fiend has bested entire armies already, without ever reaching that point. We would stand no chance.”
“Yet he did burn it when flustered,” Rob pointed out. Frustrated, he put his hands together as a plow and waddled forward, tossing armor, weapons, and shields in every direction with an awful clatter. His sockets surveyed the lowest layer for any sign of it. His prize eluded him still, even after leaving a snaking trail across the whole chamber, so he stood and tapped his skull several times with a piercing note. Then he remembered he had been speaking. “We have to thread the needle, and folk have never appreciated how bonepickers are best at that as well.”
“How do you mean?”
“We shall attack him with a small force, one he would never suspect of having enough strength. In it we will concentrate as many strange abilities and skill sets as possible, so that each unit will have a chance of catching him off balance. In that moment, between underestimation and fuel expenditure, we strike the killing blow.”
“Where exactly would it need to land to be a killing blow?”
“The head,” Rob declared, “…I think.” For once there was a clatter not caused by the Captain, as a ceramic short sword stretched out from under the wall-mounted shields on an arm of pink slime.
“Hocestil ultimathrax telumathryl?”
“Tinnit is asking if that’s the one,” Mixomir translated. Rob walked over to the wall, took it, swung it, and then broke the blade over his knee. Then he wandered over to a forge to sift through the ashes. “It is not,” Mixomir translated again, this time from Captain Rob pout into Wide Porcian. The flush was growing just as frustrated. “I still see no chance of success. The disaster at First Toil Rob… was heard around the world.”
“I told you that wasn’t even him,” the Captain snapped. “That was Yugo, and he’s dead and gone now. Took Cardinal Second with him. Any moment now Bombast will recognize the distress that’s causing us. Instead of searching out Peako he’ll seek the tiles, threatening to smash them if someone doesn’t come forward with his missing pieces. We must strike now.”
“Hotil malapram facultatethril!” the green prosite declared, thrusting a serrated trowel out from a pile near Rob’s feet. He snatched it, flipped it over in his hands, balanced it on one finger, and then tossed it into the ashes. Dejected, the prosite sank back into the pile.
“Why are you so sure that Peako succeeded in creating his weapon?” Mixomir asked.
“Because he’d still be on the trail if he hadn’t,” Rob guessed. “He’d be popping in and out of Teal’s mirrors nonstop, looking for ways to use what he stole. No, he has cracked it. I know he has.”
“This workshop has been guarded by the Tandem Flush since we became aware of Peako’s theft. The man hasn’t been back here.”
“You’ll forgive me for thinking your organization fallible,” the Captain said, using a finger bone to encircle one of his sockets, just to make sure Mixomir knew he would roll his eyes if he could. “They couldn’t even destroy me in a timely fashion.”
“Officially we voted against that course of action,” the prosite said.
“And which way did you vote?”
“The exact content of the voting is confidential.” It expected another retort, but Rob picked up a hammer instead and started smashing the brickwork around the forge, searching for anything that might be entombed within. “Rob. Rob! Captain!” The smashing ceased briefly. “If you’re about to attack Bombast, then where is your crew?”
“I won’t be risking their lives on such long and limp odds.”
“But you see fit to risk mine!?”
“Aye. You’re tactical, powerful, and I don’t like you very much. You’re the perfect recruit. You and your assortment of finger paints.” The purple finger paint hung down from the ceiling with a spiked bronze ball stuck in its plasm. Rob smacked the item away, causing the prosite to jiggle back and forth like a rope of snot.
“What makes you think I would agree to such a thing? It’s like you’re not even trying to make the case for your own plan.”
“The facts speak for themselves,” the Captain argued. “If Bombast destroys everything all your efforts to unite folk will be for nothing, and something tells me you think of yourself as the best chance Porce has to survive.” Mixomir’s agreement was apparent in its sudden silence. “Besides, the case for my plan can’t be made without Peako’s weapon. It’s our only chance to truly surprise him.”
Tonk tonk tonk tonk tonk! The knock on the door, a wooden sound even though the reassembled structure was made of stone, surprised them all, most of all Bocastilite, whose slimy body was holding it together.
“Someone’s at the door!” it proclaimed, eye dancing back and forth across the frame.
“We know that!” Rob barked. “You’re the lookout; tell us who it is.”
“Look out there? And get myself stabbed in the eye? Nonsense. I’m the look-in. The only way to see is for me to open it.” Rob turned to Mixomir.
“Are you expecting anyone?”
“No,” the flush said. “I told you I’d call off the other guards and that’s all I did. Are you sure it’s not another recruit for your suicide mission?” Tonk tonk tonk tonk tonk tonk tonk tonk tonk tonk tonk tonk tonk tonk tonk!
“Can we hurry?” Bocast squeaked. “This is giving me a headache.”
“Open it,” Rob ordered, picking up two random weapons on the floor and brandishing them. The knock came again, but Bocast pulled all the stones away from the center, immediately opening a circular portal into the workshop. The knocking offender stumbled inside, slipped on a shirt of mail, and steadied himself with the base of his head hammer. The tilefolk tossed his soaking wet cloak onto the floor, his brown fur mussed into a mess like a feral haund.
“Dlak Garbr!?” Rob boomed. “How unexpectedly unpleasant.” They hadn’t seen each other in washes, not since the Captain had made a fool of him by stealing Cardinal Second out from under his collarbone. “What are you doing here?”
“Dahnadah srych!” he snarled before shaking violently, spraying water droplets everywhere. They landed on the scattered weaponry with the sound of rain on a metal roof. “Peako sah dah loc verd-ryng, mah yus blaa flyyk, mah stanyt flyyk, loc tup, sah undr, flod uyyp! Mah mos! Thraa flyyp tylt. Thraa dah rygg!?”
“A lot of folk got worse than a drenching when First Toil fell,” Rob said in defense of himself. “Consider yourself lucky. And why is it that you assume it happened because of me?”
“Whrr mah da-loc, hylk-dyn fliip-gloh! Crysh-crysh dah loc, mah kanyt crysh sta.”
“You really shouldn’t insult someone in the middle of babbling; it just reflects badly on you. You mentioned Peako. Where is he? Did he have anything with him that looked worth stealing?”
“Peako nyt da-loc, poys stof na. Mah cryy ft dah. Dah grt hund fllo-suub!” Dlak stepped forward and held out his Sweet-talker as if there was a rabid animal locked away in its cranium. He depressed the lever that opened its mouth, and out dripped something. By the time it stuck upright in the floor it didn’t seem like it should have been capable of dripping at all, or fitting inside the head hammer for that matter.
The shape of the sword was exceedingly ordinary, but the substance seemed unparalleled to Mixomir, as he had not observed Bombast’s material directly. Rob had, and so had precedent for the strange pattern of light rippling back and forth in the blade and its hilt. Like the throbbing arteries of a creeping fungal network. Like the tides of a fever in the florent, or perhaps in a light far beyond Porce in distance and time. But something was different now. The light didn’t disgust him, and it was solely because he recognized something in it. The most basic of comforts, yet a thing he hadn’t realized had a shape until now. The arms of the world that never ceased to cradle his being. It was green instead of orange, and it was the light of Porce.
Without a word, all concern for Peako gone from his mind, Rob stepped forward and took hold of the weapon, plucking it from its effortless slit in the stone and holding it up. It wasn’t like any object he’d ever held, as it conformed to the shape of his bony hand so fluidly that he couldn’t feel it change. He came to understand how natural its shifting was. It didn’t use any effort to alter its form because it inherently contained all forms, like a liquid that would deign to fill any container and even honor its memory when it was gone.
“What is that?” Mixomir asked.
“This… is Peako’s ultimate weapon,” the Captain declared. He performed a practice slash, but the sword took him too seriously. The stroke generated an arcing crescent of foggy green light, one that shot directly at Dlak. The tilefolk was forced to duck, and would have lost his head if he’d had one. The crescent continued to the door, which Bocast had to collapse in order to avoid getting hit. Much of it vanished out the doorway, but the edges caught the stone sides, slicing deep into them and producing heated rubble.
“What is it made of!?” Mixomir asked, so stunned that its jaw dropped open in a gawp, worthy of a living bergfolk, so it could look through it with its giant eye and see more clearly.
“This is the material he stole from Bombast,” Rob said, utterly certain of it. “He’s changed it somehow.”
“Dep-loc aker,” Dlak explained.
“Buried it in an aker…” Rob followed one frothy wave of light back and forth, seeing that they never terminated. He couldn’t stop himself from noticing the style of the weapon. Even with its awesome power it still disappointed him. “This isn’t a bonepicker’s sword.”
“Nyt syngl stof, stan stof, so xyst,” Dlak said, explaining the shape-shifting capabilities he had observed. Rob held it straight up, moving it slowly so as not to generate any more destruction, and focused on its shape. With the flick of a thought the blade thickened and bent in the middle, creating the characteristic bug-leg pattern of the bonepicker’s blade.
Dlak mentioned that it made for one very ugly head hammer, unlike his Sweet-talker, but when he glanced at his weapon he saw the terrible truth. Rob’s practice swing had taken off its head and left a blackened smoking stump in its place. He cried out in anguish, accidentally kicking the head and sending it rolling as he tried to pick it up. The bergfolk chased the thing down a corridor and out of sight, cursing expertly.
“How did you do that?” Mixomir asked.
“I just imagined it differently,” Rob said. “I’ll imagine a spear.” The weapon practically shot out of his hand as it extended and straightened. “An ax.” The blade stretched and flattened. “A sewing needle.” Its compression was so swift that it made a sound, like a cave taking a deep breath. It became so small that it almost slipped through his hand bones. “Quite a bit denser,” he noticed. “The mass stays the same.”
“Sharp as it is, a needle can hardly be called a weapon,” Mixomir noted. The other prosites agreed, having stuck their colorful bodies out of the piles to be entranced by the show.
“Bombast could do whatever he wanted with it,” Rob recalled. “It is not limited to weapons. In the hands of someone clever it could even be…” Rob brought it back to a bonepicker’s sword shape, then pulled a small piece from the hilt as if it were made of clay. He held up his hand, watching as the material crept across the bones, expanded like a drinking sponge, and gained all the contours he imagined for it. Knuckles. Swirling fingerprints. A wrinkled palm. He didn’t even know he remembered the exact wrinkles of his palm until he saw them again, having spilled out of his spirit and into the material.
Why just the shape? The gravefolk thought harder, tugging on the chains of memories that had been sinking deeper and deeper into the black waters of the past. Out came the old Rob, the less wry one, the more present one, the one who thought he would never die and thought his reflection was simply such a nice fellow because of a two man social contract.
The background gray of the malleable ore brightened in spreading patches, becoming like skin. It wasn’t perfect, for the green light could still be seen shimmering at the tips of the false hairs, in the deepest wrinkles of the palm, and as iridescent crescents in the nail beds, but at first glance it was entirely believable as a living hand.
“That’s… incredible,” Mixomir gasped. “In all my practice I could never make a prolith hand so true.” Rob copied his actions for the other side. Keep our expectations reasonable. It may not hold multiple shapes without focus. Perhaps only one at a time. The ultimate weapon did not let him down though, giving a second hand as good as the first, terminating in a rocky edge and its original color just past the wrist. He found that by thinking about empty spaces within the sword it could maintain its original dimensions even after he took pieces out and set them to other tasks.
Back and forth he looked at his mitts, waiting for one of them to melt whenever he looked away, but they held perfectly. He tried applauding; it was much louder than the regular variety. Just throwing two stones at each other after all. Another gasp from the prosites, in the form of giant bubbles bursting atop their plasm, alerted him to the most incredible feat yet. In order to applaud he needed both hands, so he had to drop the sword, but the sword had not made the decision to drop. Instead it hung in the air, and it wasn’t the loose drifting of a seed on the wind, but as if it was fixed to an invisible wall. A foam lower. The sword sank and held. Thirty-six bubbles higher. It rose.
“My thoughts are moving it,” he told Mixomir. “You try.” The prosite locked eye on the weapon and held out its bergfolk hand; the slime tipping its fingers stretched. The sword held its position.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if it only liked the thoughts of folk,” Mixomir said dejectedly. “We have always been a different beast.”
“Steady your persecution complex Mixomir, as I don’t think it’s that. This stuff obeys the creature Bombast, and there’s no chance he is folk despite his appearance. I think this obeys its current wielder. All I have to do to maintain control is not give up ownership, which I of course will never ever do.” He marveled at his hands again, still perfect, though they couldn’t return the sensations of touch, heat, or rushing blood. “Bocast, you’re not on the door anymore. Make yourself useful and search Peako’s bedroom for some clothes.”
The prosite didn’t obey until Mixomir nodded, but when it did the blue blob slithered off. Rob’s clothes had been torn from his body in the all-consuming whirlpool, and he hadn’t bothered to put any on since, but he would need them if he was to complete the illusion. This time he didn’t even pluck the piece from the hovering sword, simply willing a ball of it to pinch off and come to him.
It splashed across his skull and clung to its curved surfaces. With a roll of his neck he manipulated it, making sure it didn’t leave a gemstone bald spot on the back. Have we ever seen the back of our own head? In the Reflecting Path, surely, but not long enough to memorize it. Have to settle for an educated guess as to its exact shape. The Captain had no trouble recalling his face, but there were no mirrors near, so he turned to Mixomir.
“You look just as you used to,” Mixomir confirmed. “Though that bald head of yours is much shinier… and you’re clean-shaven.”
“Well that won’t do.” Rob thought harder, imagining a wave of grain sprouting from ear to ear. The ore’s stalks could be as thin as he could imagine, and so even took on the texture of his old facial hair. He ran his new hands through it, but they were forced to stop at his spiked mustache. This doesn’t have to be part of the remodel. With what a lazy stroke did to that doorway, surely we can clip these off our lip with one serious thought. It is a part of us though, and it can’t hurt any longer. Anything conserved can be killed later. We’ll see how much fear it strikes before any permanent pruning.
“Even the beard,” Mixomir muttered before speaking up. “You do look a touch strange as just a head on a rib cage Captain. Like a doll meant to be dressed up.” The Captain informed him it was already being worked on, and would’ve been addressed if Bocast had hurried back. “Yes, but the clothes will look strange as well. They’ll hang off you like an empty skin.”
They absolutely would not, Rob assured him, willing yet another droplet of material to separate from the sword. Filling the weapon up with empty spaces likely degraded its fortitude, so he took as little as he could for this final purpose. He didn’t need an entire hide or muscle underneath it, just a structure capable of holding a man’s shape, so he set the droplet on his sternum and had it spread as a lattice of triangles rather than a single sheet.
It spread across his entire skeleton. Once a limb was covered the lattice lifted, adopting the natural curves of a bicep, a calf, the pectorals… Its suppleness was subject to his approval as well, and though he could make it as sturdy as steel he opted for something with more give, something identical to the natural compression of flesh. He put a hand on the mesh of his false chest, pressing lightly, the way Teal used to when she was pushing off him to get out of bed. There it is. We’re practically a man again… not that we ever were one. Bombast’s material is from another world, and we’re shaping it. This new body is not our stolen blood and not our plagued bones. It is but ours. Our creation. Yes, this is Peako’s truest weapon, splitting us from Porce. Ripping the roots of the past out of our soil and swirling it until all traces are gone.
When Bocast returned it wore an entire outfit as a cape; Rob plucked the moist collar out of it and quickly dressed. The attire was professional, but not fancy in the slightest, with only a single button near the collar and sleeves designed to be rolled up. The shirt was tan and the pants brown, but the color of the accents was all wrong: a dull red meant for the sullen muted personality of Peako.
The Captain tested the flexibility of the material again in order to alter the smoldering color. He took a sheet of the material so thin that it was transparent and applied it to each red piece, then ordered it to change color. A nice mossy green had to be easier than the complex skin tone it had already managed.
“I’m back,” the Captain said to himself, “better than ever. A new trajectory this time. Upwards.” He addressed the royal flush. “What do you say? Will you assist me in the assault? Once we have Bombast beset on all sides I can strike with this.” He lifted the sword, the simple motion making it sing and glisten. “I will suppress its signature as best I can, so he may not even know what’s about to hit him… until it blasts his innards through the nearest world wall.”
“I can’t stand that this is the best plan I’ve heard,” Mixomir grumbled. It ran its fingers across its face, leaving deep grooves in the slime and exposing the old mummified fur to the air.
“That sounds like a yes.”
“Yes, fine. We will fight with you Captain. Only until the moment his frustration turns to fire. After that we will escape by burrowing into the ground. So don’t act surprised when your reinforcements collapse around you into empty shells.”
“If the fight goes on longer than that we’re doomed anyway. All we need to do now is lure him out. We should start by posting challenges all around-” Kunk Kunk. A knock on the stone side of the entryway. Now that the door was rubble they were free to walk right in, helpful since Porcians tended to panic when the bathroom breakers manifested in front of them more directly.
The two who entered were already fully apprised of the situation, and had timed their approach carefully. Captain Rob had his rebirth, and he had the material weapon, so it was time to make their offer. The ones sent were those that had watched him over the course of the whole Bombast situation: Easterly ‘Foodbaby’ Frome and J’teyo. They introduced themselves with handshakes, for some reason announcing that they had just washed their hands moments before.
“So you’re the ones I heard in the mist,” Rob said, more than happy to have a more folkish audience to gaze upon his fresh splendor.
“That’s correct,” Foodbaby confirmed. She was a plump woman of a race that had clearly never existed in Porce, her skin tone a little too red, like the casing of a spiced and smoked sausage. Her hair was shiny and black, done up like an ocean wave and held in place with a curved glass panel ornament. Her burgundy dress was stiff, and as she walked it was clear that it had enough of a will to avoid touching the floor.
“I’ll get us some chairs,” J’teyo said. “This might take a while.” He was dressed in the same color, a color that somehow transferred to his skin in the form of two large scars that ran up his neck and around his eyes like a melting mask. He had one earring hanging off a damaged ear, and it was massive, easily the size of an overstuffed sandwich. It looked like a spray bottle, the glass vibrantly blue, the contents swirling. The breaker plucked it from his haggard lobe and spritzed the contents into the air five times.
The blue mist drifted, the puffs extending in a downward spiral like a water whirl. When each point struck the ground they solidified, creating small stools like crystallized whirlpools. The breakers helped themselves to the seats, groaning as they did so as if they’d just walked ten lathers.
The custom got even stranger, as Foodbaby reached under her dress and pulled her underwear down until it was around her ankles. J’teyo did the same with his pants, but there was simply another pair underneath. The two then proceeded to twist and stretch on their seats, popping their spines and necks until they were as comfortable as they could be. Foodbaby took out a packet of food alien to Porce, but whatever it was it left a cheesy dust on her fingers.
“Rob, who are these folk?” Mixomir asked, disgusted by their behavior even though it’d only been using folk manners since becoming a flush.
“They represent the Thing in the Drain,” the Captain explained, stepping forward and taking his seat in the circle. “A while ago they promised me an offer, and I suppose the time has come. I do very much feel ready to hear offers.” The Captain rocked back and forth on the seat, enjoying the cushioning of his new mesh buttocks. The sensation even got a snort of laughter from him. “So, why don’t you tell me how you do all these strange things you do and what I’m supposed to do for you.”
“If you’ll wait just another minute,” J’teyo said, “until all parties have arrived. That way we don’t have to repeat ourselves.”
“Just a drip,” Foodbaby said after tapping her partner on the shoulder, “they don’t use minutes here remember?” Rob looked at the circle of stools again. One of the empty ones was for Mixomir, but there was no one to fill the other. He held out his hand toward the stool next to him, inviting the uncomfortable flush to take a seat. It did so reluctantly, long arms resting on its high knees.
“We don’t all have to remove our pants do we?” it asked.
“Only if you want to be comfortable,” Foodbaby commented. “Ritual is very important to our way of life. We’re not fans of large scale changes, unless they’re putting in new tile or a shower curtain. That’s why we have to make a counteroffer, and the offer we’re countering should be arriving in four, three, two, one…”
Vyra strolled into the workshop, cloak swishing, roost-spear strapped to her back. Her natural expression was confident, but she took a violent pause, the least sure the Captain had ever seen her of herself, when she spotted the bathroom breakers. Her pupils widened, but unnaturally so, as if something poured rapids of coursing information into her mind. She flashed her sparkling teeth in a tiny snarl, but it curled into a devious smile when she wrested control of her eyes back and laid them on the fresh velour of Rob’s material flesh.
“Well, doesn’t somebody look the captain again,” she crooned, sashaying over to him. Her finger glided up his neck and snagged the bottom of his chin before tugging on his beard. “Can you feel that?”
“Why don’t you try a little harder?” he teased her. The vicious woman was happy to oblige, bending over and kissing him, not waiting to press deeper. Rob had to hastily construct a tongue to complete the exchange. She tested him everywhere, pinching the back of his neck, tugging at the mesh holes of his side, stepping on his toes, and pushing him back and forth to see if he could keep his balance on the stool. The bathroom breakers waited patiently, staring at the ceiling, nowhere near as uncomfortable as Mixomir. The prosite looked as if it regretted ever seeking peace with folk, its eye widened in the terror caused by seeing two clothed individuals go through the motions of copulation regardless.
“There is a seat for you,” Foodbaby said when Vyra came up for air, having donated all of hers to the hollow inside Rob. The emissary of Porce’s gods got off the Captain’s lap, took her spear from her back, and drove it into the stone of the floor with a loud crack. She took a step up onto the shorter handle near its blade and then leaned back on the longer. No assistance was needed from whoever they were. “You can go first,” the bathroom breaker said with a polite smile.
“Who are they?” Vyra asked the Captain rather than acknowledge them.
“The Thing in the Drain,” he said again. Vyra crossed her arms.
“That nonsense is real? Shouldn’t be surprised. The longer I live, the more nonsense turns out to be something forgotten.”
“How did you know I was here?” he asked. “And how did you get out of First Toil so quickly?”
“Hesprid and Qorcneas know where everybody is… except for these two apparently.” She flicked a finger toward the breakers, clearly more than she wanted to give them.
“We’re not spawned from those two,” J’teyo explained, “so we’re not under their purview. We’re a presence in all bathrooms, and Porce is simply one of them. This is also why your gods can’t tell you where to find Bombast right now. He is from elsewhere.”
“Stick your finger through that tissue and hold it,” Rob asked of the breaker before turning to Vyra. “Would the gods of Porce care to share the current whereabouts of Peako Dagyvr? I should like to thank him for devoting his entire life to personally benefiting me.”
“Actually, they can’t,” Foodbaby interjected. “He’s been brought into our organization’s rolls. Fully certified already as a bathroom breaker, beholden only to the Master Bath. I assure you he’ll be happy and fulfilled with us.”
“All the same, I’d like to hear it from him.”
“That won’t be possible. His involvement in this affair would be too close to home, as we say. It would rupture his connection to alone time, pulling him out of Moment’s Peace and dooming him back to this place.”
“I have no idea what all that means, but perhaps your Master Bath can explain it to me.”
“The Master Bath is behind the occupied door, so no.”
“If it says occupied you can’t go in,” J’teyo said with terse finality.
“Are you done being strange?” Vyra snapped. “I thought I was going first.” The breakers held up their hands and leaned back. “That flush ruined our moment together,” she said, smiling at Rob. “It was going to be so deliciously heavy, putting this weight on your shoulders with the cracking and flashing of a Platone concert all around us.”
“Alas,” Rob agreed.
“I trust you remember the scope of the history we share.” She winked. “It was all so you could make an informed choice regarding that sword you’re holding, and I suppose the skin you’re wearing as well, though I’d like to make a few choices regarding that.” Her neck stiffened, something internal urging her to get on with it. “Bombast will destroy Porce. There is no stopping him, as he is the ultimate destructive force, even beyond the first. Keep in mind these aren’t my words Rob.”
“Hesprid believes that if you return his lost material to him, and ask him for a compromise, one may be reached.” The breakers snorted with laughter, J’teyo throwing his hand over his mouth while Foodbaby shuffled her feet and swiveled her stool to look away. Vyra grabbed her spear and leaned forward, bending it audibly in the breakers’ direction. Then she stared with hot intensity until they quieted.
“What kind of compromise?” Mixomir asked to keep itself involved in the conversation. “Let him destroy half the world?”
“Is that a prosite?” Vyra asked Rob after eyeing the flush up and down. He nodded.
“Aye, but the only thing infected is a corpse. Mixomir’s an ally.” Headstrong as she was, Vyra quickly accepted his explanation, leaning back once more and returning to the business of the offer.
“Bombast won’t settle for half the world. He will only accept the total destruction of all physical life in Porce. The first think we can survive as spirits in the Dark Empty.”
“Spirits?” Rob balked. “You mean ghosts? I’m already down to the bone and they want to cut deeper?”
“Hesprid says it is the only way to go on. Spirits can be stored in certain bath beads, but Bombast would find that foundation too solid to allow. So the compromise is that you return his material and he will agree not to seek a method of destruction for the spirits of Porce that remain afterward.” Rob ran his hand over his face. Until that moment he’d completely forgotten the sensations of breath, but the proposal was so frustrating that he tried to sigh through his nose anyway.
“That’s terrible. Just terrible,” he muttered. “Ghosts in the nothingness. We’d all lose our sanity. We wouldn’t even have the noble constitution of a gaseous vapor. We’d mingle worse than water and air do now. I’d have to be a part of everyone else, and everyone else a part of me.”
“Speaking just for little old me,” Vyra said, “I think the two of us could make a go on our own. It’s not certain anybody else has to mingle with us.”
“I’m sorry to do this to you Vyra, but I must ask what Qorcneas makes of the offer. I was under the impression he wanted all life to end. He created an Age of Tragedy over it, so it seems like a sticky point.” Vyra took a deep breath and cast her eyes down, but even they weren’t fully in her control. A bulge moved up her neck rapidly. A vein belonging to her parasite slithered visibly up her cheek, under the skin, and then appeared as a tear of black slime in the corner of her eye. It stretched and grabbed her upper lid, forcing her to wink at him again in a cruel mockery of their banter.
Her infection Lordiceb swelled out of her mouth and took over her face like a mask once more. Its single eye was on her chin this time, stretched as if on a stalk, taking in everyone seated in the circle. Its pupils gathered close together in a pattern like a snowflake when it realized what Mixomir was. The flush was equally taken aback.
“I know you,” Mixomir said darkly. “I’d recognize that tar plasm anywhere: the Mortuum strain. Quilyx agisdil profulax? Tutantryx rithimoril quoqyl carmilax antiquissitril amissithrax depravatulin. ”
“Bardysolin facilina celarix censurix estexcit permedyl illorifiyl, scientenix nonpertinil, quyl quov fictotril arcynatrix artifil. Quodisil esselyx fortisyl locutunit estadril. Tubrill nostifix modyl monstrulax estsin intrantil adilam scilicetin umbrax?”
“Tell me you’re not related to this one too,” Rob said with a curled lip. “And take your tongues out of Coproglossi. This is about my plotting, not yours.”
“Thankfully I am not of its ilk,” Mixomir declared. “My sibling Fixadilaran used infection to gain power, the motive for many of its few remaining uses. But the Mortuum strain… they do it for pleasure. I was merely telling this creature that even in the oldest poems its strain is rhymed only with the depraved and the lost.”
“And I responded thusly,” Lordiceb bubbled, “It is easy for the poets to hide their critique in the medium, knowing we care not for such artificiality. If they were brave they would’ve spoken to us. How can you know a monster if you don’t enter the shadow to see it clearly?”
“That’s exactly what I’m doing,” the Captain said to draw its attention back. “You’re here to represent Qorcneas aren’t you?” Its eye stalk nodded. “Why does he approve of this plan, when his aim is the same as Bombast’s?”
“Because he believes the plan will fail,” Lordiceb stated plainly. “He thinks the spirits will lose their will to live in the void, their pieces drifting away from each other same as the debris of the old world. Striking this bargain allows Bombast to act more swiftly. It will expedite the peace and quiet.”
“This woman is a friend of yours?” Mixomir asked Rob. “Let me take that thing out of her.” The flush stood, tendrils of blue plasm extending beyond its fingers. The Captain held out a hand to stop it.
“They’re acting as emissaries of the eight gods, so I wouldn’t do that. Vyra’s a big bad girl; she can handle herself.” The prosite took its seat. “So one god of hope and the other of defeatism, advocating for the same solution. Their intellects might be of a higher order, but not so high that everything is clear to them… You are dismissed infection.”
The prosite’s features were a drifting jumble, but he thought he caught something like a satisfied grin as the parasite went spiraling down the drain of Vyra’s mouth and back into her lungs where it had made camp for so long. She recovered quickly with a few deep breaths, a growl, and a roll of her neck.
“That’s my job done, for the most part,” she grumbled. “Seems Hesprid still wants me to listen to these two and see what they have to say.”
“I take it our turn is now?” J’teyo asked. Rob crossed his arms and nodded. “Excellent. We shouldn’t have any trouble competing with that, but still, we’d like to start by sharing some information regarding Bombast that your gods conveniently withheld.” He glanced at Vyra, but she didn’t react, simply wearing the expression of a perpetually dissatisfied stone.
“They haven’t told you what Bombast is, have they?” Foodbaby asked. The Captain shook his head. “They probably didn’t want you to know because it would erode any confidence you might have in them. You see, they’ve encountered him before, and it is their own defeat at his hands that makes them so frightened.”
Both gods were enraged by that final word, but their emissaries did their best to keep calm against the tide of their magics. Vyra spun her spear around to hide her face, but it was clear she was bent over, working in concert with Lordiceb to keep him down like a rotten lunch. Hesprid and Qorcneas were used to being obeyed, and even in their death they didn’t want to let the folk use their expertise in discussion.
“What is he?” Rob asked, trying to give Vyra as much room to swallow Qorcneas’s fury as possible.
“Bombast is the same sort of being as those two,” Foodbaby went on. “In fact, he was the first one, the first chip of nonliving matter to become living in the explosion that destroyed Earth.”
“So he’s basically another god!” the Captain barked. “You’re right; I would’ve appreciated a warning to that effect before I roasted myself in an aker’s innards going after him.” Rather than shout more he tapped both points of his mustache, reveling in the silence now that he had flesh on his fingers to stop the crystalline ring. “Hesprid and Qorcneas were… pieces of that world Earth. Pieces of what? And same question posed as to Bombast.”
“Your gods weren’t atoms of any importance,” J’teyo said. “Dirt basically. They had no instilled purpose in the time before their life, so that’s why life itself came as such a shock to them. All the discord that you know stems from that. Every misery you’ve ever felt is because, in the end, you come from dirt.”
“And what of the Thing in the Drain? Do you live an existence without this misery?”
“Our genesis is dirt as well,” Foodbaby admitted. “We just don’t worry about it so much. That’s how we achieve Moment’s Peace, but it’s also why we have to come to you with an offer instead of handling this ourselves.”
“Bombast,” J’teyo continued, “is different. He was a piece of the fissile material within the bomb that broke Earth, and more than half of our viable washrooms.” The news sank in Rob’s head like an anchor in a bucket. The sword in his hands was originally part of Bombast, who was originally a world-ending explosion. The Captain was clothed in power he couldn’t fathom. An errant scratch of his bottom could obliterate the World Floor.
“Bombast retains his original purpose,” Foodbaby elaborated. “That was why he was so affable and carefree before you stole that chunk away. He has never suffered doubt, and is physically incapable of it, at least in regard to what propels him, seeing as he is a propellant of sorts.”
“He’s here to blow up Porce because it’s a piece of Earth?” Rob asked. The breakers nodded.
“As a bomb he was dropped to end life,” J’teyo said. “And while it was mostly successful, he actually had the side effect of creating some. Beings like Hesprid and Qorcneas, barely more than particles, shot out with the debris, but they had the potential to spread. So now he travels from piece to piece in the empty, anywhere where there’s life, ending it.”
“He even knows he can’t succeed,” Foodbaby added. “Every time he expends heat or light energy, like the fires that took your flesh, he loses some of his material reserve. Thus his careful planning, his search for ways to destroy worlds with as little of it as possible. Once he is spent he will be no more.”
“So, what does the Thing in the Drain offer?”
“A functionally permanent stay of execution for Porce,” Foodbaby said. “Bombast won’t destroy this place as long as the material you hold stays lost. He will spend eons looking for it rather than sacrifice it.”
“How would I keep him from eventually finding it?”
“That’s where we come in. We will escort you to Desfosse: the drain of Dry Rin Cliff. We can open the drain as a portal into Moment’s Peace, the space between bathrooms. All you have to do is drop the material in. Where it’ll wind up after that…” She shrugged. “A bathroom of course, but not even we would know where or when. The important thing is that Bombast wouldn’t either. He’d be stuck in a fruitless search. Should he find out it went into the drain, and should he try to pursue it, he would be rejected by our mechanisms because of his abundant purpose, and also wind up someplace else.”
“I assume you estimate a high chance of success, but if that’s the case, why do Hesprid and Qorcneas propose a much worse strategy?”
“Plainly put, they’ve got no idea what they’re talking about,” Foodbaby said with a snort. Vyra’s hands choked her spear handle, but she didn’t turn around. “You can’t blame them. They think they write reality. They’re likely to reject our presence as some kind of insulting illusion. They don’t think what we’re offering is even possible.”
“Alright, everyone’s made their offers?” Rob asked the circle. None had anything to add, though Mixomir was lost in thought, trying to put together all the shards of the story tossed in its direction simultaneously. “Very well.” He clapped his hands on his thighs and then stood. From there he slowly walked around the circle of stools, chin in his hand, contemplating the choices. He hummed, but he was careful to not turn it into a melody. This was humming to rival any commander’s as their forces stood at a standstill in the battlefield below. To rival Hesprid’s as she imagined the shape of her next folk. The actual consideration was long done of course, but it was important to demonstrate that it had actually been done.
“I have made my decision,” he said coolly, having wandered to the center of the circle. The breakers sat at attention. Vyra descended from her spear and approached. Mixomir’s bodyguards hung elongated from the ceiling, their eyes leaning so hard in Rob’s direction that they looked more like painted fingers pointed at him. “I have decided… that all of you have pissed off your mark.”
“Of course you have…” Mixomir groaned, hand wetly slapping its flush’s face.
“You have come to me trying to make deals,” the Captain continued as if the prosite hadn’t spoken. “All of you, powerful as you are, are from polite society. You think everything is solved by deal and compromise, that the only way to survive is for everyone to be equally frightened of each other.
I am not of that stain. I’m a backstabber. A pirate. A taker. A deal is a ruse, to get me close to your belongings so that they may become mine. I tell you that there will be no deal, no negotiating with the bomb just to have it delay its destruction by drips. No deal, but dealing. I will deal with Bombast, the same way I’ve dealt with all my enemies. When he is dealt with, all of our problems will be solved… and you won’t even owe me a thing.”
“I’m not entirely sure what’s going on, but I know this is bigger than you Rob,” Mixomir argued.
“No I think it’s just about my size. I’m tired of my sense of scale being appealed to. Your world is but a water closet, you are but an oily speck from under a giant’s fingernail, you are but a child of your god, a twinkle in their eye. I am a man! And I had to steal just to achieve that! And I will deal with Bombast myself.”
“How do you plan to do it?” J’teyo asked. He didn’t seem bothered by the decision; the breakers were already putting their garments back on and standing. The stools vanished back into mist. It would’ve dumped Mixomir onto the ground if sitting wasn’t already an unnaturally held pose for a prosite; as such the flush was able to hold its folded position until realizing it needed to stand.
“Two ideas,” Rob explained. “The first is that I could jettison this sword out the Black Gap at its highest possible speed, achieved by using up some of its fuel. With Bombast only capable of the same top speed, he should be forced to chase it forever.”
“That would work,” Foodbaby admitted, “but he’d know what you did. Without the chance of getting it back he would finally accept the loss… and immediately destroy Porce.” Rob had adjusted back to facial expressions swiftly, but for a moment he was frozen as if right back down to the bone.
“Right then,” he said as he recovered, “second plan, which was the first anyway. I’m going to best him in man-to-fissile material combat.”
“Even with that new poker you’re likely to get yourself turned into some rain down in the Pipes,” Vyra said, but she was smiling.
“Like I said, I’m ignoring all assessments of scale aside from my own. Besides, I won’t be alone. Mixomir and its ilcky will fight alongside me.” The prosite had gone pale, but it nodded stiffly. It was not a creature to go back on its word, lest it risk splitting into its own offspring.
“Were you to succeed, that would be the best solution,” Foodbaby admitted before turning to confer with J’teyo in whispers. She came back with a grin. “We’ve been keeping peepers on Bombast much of the time. We have his exact location; he’s wading in the river of the last whole tile, just beyond the Flooded Front of Second Toil.”
“What’s he doing?”
“Testing the waters, looking for traces of his lost material, like someone panning for gold. Now would be an excellent time to attack; he’s far from any population centers. If you don’t mind closing your eyes and holding your nose, we can get you there in an instant.”
“Now!?” Mixomir blurted. “If this is how I’m going to die my will could definitely use some revisions first.”
“There is time only to revise your bodies,” Rob allotted. “And there is no better place to do it. Look around you prosites. Surely these, the greatest weapons ever forged, can inspire some truly terrifying prolith armor.”
“That’s where you’re right Captain,” Mixomir said as its bodyguards dropped from the ceiling and splashed noisily into everything cast aside. Axes and daggers clinked and clanked as they swirled together, fusing where they didn’t bond. “I selected them as my protectors because they are the greatest, in and out of the walls, at becoming warriors. Rise my kin; build your strength! Fabricil lupanyl tumin roborax!”
Bocastilite the blue boiled up from brassy bouillon, cloaking itself in suit after suit of armor, stretching each one wider to accommodate its growth. The helmet didn’t need the entire assortment of horns from each of the smaller ones, so they were moved to the spine and shoulders. Any plate that stretched enough to break only revealed chain mail underneath. Thirty gauntlets learned anew how to form a gigantic fist, and thirty more on the other side. Fifty boots stomped the floor, then fifty more, but only as two, only as the base of a hulking shape, vaguely folkish, that stood ten foams tall.
Tinnitivale the pink hoarded the daggers and knives, layering them like glittering fish scales. Swords broke through the hilts around the knuckles, extending like a wolptinger’s retractable claws. A spiral of points stretched out from the head, each layer spinning opposite those above and below, forming a drill best suited to an aker’s bloodletting. Its tip scraped the ceiling with a shriek, but the clamor of the other constructions drowned it out.
Erbacile the purple fancied hammers, and so was the noisiest, with each head clanging as it forced itself into a row of others. They formed a great belt around its middle, an impenetrable safe for the glob within, giving it direct access to each handle, should only one need to be swung as the others exploded outward. It went to to the trouble of making fingers, each tip a hammerhead bigger than Rob’s fist.
Reliefix the green built upon its forming back a deadly pincushion of spears, pikes, harpoons, and halberds. There were many abandoned handles never given a head at all, so the prosite wound them around its arms and legs like strands of muscle, locking them together at the wrists and ankles with a sound like a tree accepting its sudden bent posture.
Not to be outdone by its four massive monsters, Mixomir was more discerning with its choices. The flush kept its bergfolk size, forcing the finest suit of armor left to conform as tightly as possible. It glued two short sword sheathes to its thighs and a broadsword across its back. A sheet of steel lost all forging marks as Mixomir swirled it over its face like quicksilver. Holes appeared across it randomly, and on the back of the head too, so its single eye could jump between them.
They filled up the workshop impressively, though now the walls and floor were somewhat bare. Rob examined them the way he would showhaunds, scrutinizing the shine in their claws and the luster of their coat of arms.
“Your decision is final?” Vyra asked when the air cleared of banging and clinking. Rob nodded; he didn’t want to say anything that might make the gods pull her back. “That means my end of the bargain is done, right Hesprid? I can have what you promised me?” Her eyes wandered around the ceiling as if she watched something scurry across it. Whatever drew her attention seemed to vanish. “Aha! I did it Rob; oh and two twine of topa cleaner than you did it! I’m back!”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that I’m back among the living! Shot out of the Pipes like a pressured clog! For being her messenger Hesprid has rewarded me with Porce above. Now I can throw it all away again, helping you tear Bombast a new bomb chute.” She ran over and embraced him, a hold that he returned wholeheartedly. She kissed his cheeks back and forth, then switched to biting them to see how far his fake flesh would stretch. When it snapped back into place she noticed something with a pout. “You didn’t put it back.”
“Put what back?” the Captain asked. He took a moment to think and successfully remembered. With a tilt of his head and a pulse of green, a kiss-shaped scar appeared on the side of his face. “Better?” She slapped the spot playfully as response before stepping away. Something nagged at him now however. “Vyra I don’t think you’ll be much help, not in the fighting anyway. Now that you’re back to life your bonepicking will be gone.”
“You think you’re the only one that knows when to turn down a bad deal?” Vyra ripped her roost-spear from the ground, spun it, and tossed it into the ceiling where it stuck in the stone. The woman flipped in the air, locking her legs around it and hanging upside down, her thick black braids swinging with the leftover force. “Keeping my picking was non-negotiable.”
Suddenly the glee was gone from her expression. Her mouth opened and her head was forced back by a spasm. A gross guttural sound like a bwag drowning in a gutter emanated. The bulge returned to her throat, but much quicker this time, and rather than burst and spread tar across her face it dripped out of her and splattered on the floor. It left her gasping and scraping her tongue on her sleeve, but she stayed on the ceiling, as far from her expectoration as possible.
“No! I want to live here too!” Lordiceb pleaded in a mad froth. The prosite tried to slither away, but an invisible force held it down and squeezed its eye. “She gets to! It’s not fair! Quarelyx attritil estnobil dicilax nonclax famecil!?” When its second tongue failed it as well it resorted to squeaks and gurgles, but they did no good. The stone under it cracked open, and the black prosite was sucked down into the floor.
“Hesprid’s done with me, but seems Qorcneas wasn’t done with it,” Vyra croaked.
“What did he say at the end there?” Rob asked.
“Why must you consume us when you claim not to hunger,” Mixomir translated.
“Hmm. Now that’s done, let’s go make the world owe us a fav-ahh!” Rob was startled when he turned to the left, suddenly face to face with a horrible demonic vision: bumpy iron skin, eyes painted red, teeth like a deep sea fish, and five tall horns like a dinner fork reinvented to cause more injuries. Vyra chuckled at his flinch.
The frightening visage ended at the chin, continuing down to the floor as nothing but a stick. Dlak pulled the head hammer back and stood proudly next to it. Sweet-talker had served him well, but this one was a Dagyvr weapon. Rob had never seen the man with such a posture, as if the head on the hammer belonged to a commanding officer he tried to impress.
“Mah poss,” the tilefolk said.
“You’re coming as well? I never thought you’d be the type for heroic sacrifice.”
“Mah bruk shyn cla-brang.”
“Oh, you’re just trying out your new hammer. That makes much more sense. I’m sure you can distract Bombast for three or four drips before he skewers you on it and roasts you like a sausage.” He turned to the bathroom breakers. “Whenever you’re ready.” J’teyo pulled his earring bottle out again and asked the warriors to cluster tightly together. He sprayed all around them, but the mist hung in the air this time. “Oh, one more question. Cutting off Bombast’s head will kill him?”
“That’s probably the only thing that’ll do it,” Foodbaby said with a snort. “Everybody close your eyes now. You peek and you’ll lose everything.” The ragtag collection obeyed, all except Dlak’s hammer with its painted pupils. The Captain didn’t think there was any room to wriggle between the proliths around him, yet Vyra’s hand found his and squeezed.
Would we risk Teal the same as we risk her? Different lives, different worlds. Vyra’s been dead with us; she’s felt decomposition in her mind. Teal makes her own decisions as well, but we know what they’d do if they were here. Throw themselves at the problem even though they’re far more fragile than us. That is why we must go now, before she arrives with Bonswario, Dawn, Alast, and all the others. Their deaths would be a waste of their loyalty.
Fountain of Firelight
“Rob, open your eyes,” Vyra said, flicking him in the temple. That constituted opening his pupils as tunnels to the back of his skull, given that the material formed believable eyes rather than functional ones, but the results were the same. He saw a grassy hill descending in front of them, all the way down to the river of the last whole tile: an infamously straight and narrow channel rarely deep enough for boats to avoid running aground.
“We’re here already?” he grumbled. “I thought there would be time for a speech. Where are the breakers?” They looked around, but the mysterious benefactors hadn’t arrived with them. Surely their eyes were present, placing wishes and wagers on their success.
“Look,” Mixomir said, pointing a plated finger down to the water. The fiend was knee deep, facing into the current with his arms crossed. Once again he demonstrated how little he was like folk; Rob couldn’t see a single difference on him from their last encounter. His clothes were the same, without stains or rips. If he’d torn any hair out from frustration he had put it right back. There was no tension in his shoulders and no shivering from the chill of the river.
The orange and white monument stood there while his material did the work of testing the water. He had divided it up into four rectangular sections, each as wide as the channel, and each filled with a wire mesh screen. Every few moments he shuffled them, lifting one out with the flick of a thought and putting it in the middle or the back. The consequences for the river were already clear, as a mound of flopping fish, all too large to make it through the mesh, had built up in the back. Some had already spilled out on the bank and suffocated.
“This is the plan,” Rob said for the benefit of Vyra and Dlak. “We engage together from different directions to split his focus. He obviously can’t sense that this weapon is made of his stolen material, or he would’ve acknowledged us by now.” Just to be safe Rob looked at the blade and thought intensely about suppressing its distinct light pattern. It faded some, weakening on his false flesh as well.
“And you have to have the glory of killing him, right?” Vyra asked.
“Vital. There will come a point where we know he is at his most fearful, when he feels the need to ignite the material and use up some of his destructive potential to fend us off. That is when all of you are to disengage, and when I will attempt to take off his head with an overdose of his own medicine.”
“We’re with you… even though it won’t look it,” Mixomir said. It snapped its bergfolk fingers, a more difficult skill than the infection itself. Bocast, Reliefix, Erbacile, and Tinnit followed the order, burrowing into the ground with impressive swiftness despite their lumbering suits of armor. Mixomir followed, sinking effortlessly as its plasm extended from its feet and pushed the soil aside.
“Mah bruk flup,” Dlak said, opting to casually stroll down the hill toward Bombast. Rob and Vyra followed. Thirty drips later they were well within earshot of their enemy, but he still hadn’t noticed their presence. Dlak picked up one of the dead fish and threw it at him, scoring a direct hit on the shoulder. The otherworldly creature didn’t flinch, but he did finally look over. The mesh screens ceased their shuffling.
“You,” was all he said at first, acknowledging only the Captain. “You know the whereabouts of what was stolen from me.”
“Aye, I am privy. In all this privy you’ll not find one privier than I.”
“Where is it?”
“I have given that information to another party, one whose identity will remain a secret,” Rob improvised as he waded into the water. The trio of fighters circled around behind Bombast, that way they faced both him and the screens of his material behind him, just in case he decided to suddenly turn the panning tools into a volley of arrows. “I have told them that once they see my defeated and mutilated corpse, all hope for Porce will be lost, and they should return it to you.”
“Do I have that straight?” Bombast asked, head tilting in doubt of the statement’s simplicity. “No more hide and seek? If I kill you, my material will be returned?”
“You have my word.”
“I have no idea that your word is worth anything.”
“I know who you are Bombast: bomb and bomber of Earth, relentless death, and merciless in the execution of your flaws.” The fiend was entirely unmoved, except for a slight raise of one eyebrow. “I know that if I cannot defeat you nothing will be able to, and that you will tear Porce apart piece by piece until you find it anyway. I’d rather you kill them all at once instead of terrifying them for an entire defeated generation.”
“Very sensible of you,” Bombast said with a grin. “Maybe I should just introduce myself in these places to save some time.” He finally glanced at the other two members of Rob’s party, but didn’t see fit as to ask their identities. With his singular mind he doubtlessly saw them as mere extensions: Rob’s spear and Rob’s hammer.
Bombast raised his hands, palms to the sky, and his material responded. The mesh screens crumpled and compressed, all the way down to orbs of ore big as a folk torso, that then lined up alongside their master, two to his left and two to his right. With a sound like a giant sword being drawn from its volcano sheath, spikes projected from the orbs in all directions. A drip later they were spinning at such a speed that the eye could not separate them, kicking the water up into a mist all around him.
The shift of the screens had freed the mountain of fish in the direction of the current, but that sent them straight into the spinning teeth of his new creations. The mist turned red, glittering with thousands of scales as well. The smell of it reached his opponents, striking only two of them and scrunching their noses. Do we want to smell that? Is this moment incomplete without it? A fight is a fight, real no matter who does or doesn’t feel which aspect. We clash like rocks, and break like them too.
The slurry of pulped fish reached their ankles, heads and segments of spine bouncing off and flowing around. The whole river was changed by it briefly, to a facsimile of the blood rivers down in the Pipes. Two of them had fought through such death before, and come out unsure what it even meant to be alive, or what responsibilities are lost when which part of death is achieved.
Bombast marched with the current, arms folded behind his back, spinning balls of death keeping pace. This was a trick, the sort of thing the fiend had never enjoyed planning, but his last encounter with Rob had necessitated the painful creative thinking. The balls suddenly shot forward at ten times their previous speed.
Dodging would have been impossible for Dlak without bonepicking to aid him, but he was saved when the orbs veered wide and collided with each other. A giant mitt of bronze, steel, and hammerheads had shot out from under the water and snatched Bombast’s ankle. While it held him in place a flowing dome of fish innards swelled up behind him and exploded as Tinnit’s prolith form threw its entire weight on him.
The Captain charged forward, each bonepicking bound skipping ten foams of water. It was his hope to arrive just as the ball of boulders was complete with Bombast underneath. Mixomir and its guards would surely note his approach and shift their composition, opening a portal straight to Bombast’s neck for him to strike.
He was only halfway there when the strategy fell apart. The larger proliths were partly out of the riverbed when Tinnit rose, suspended by the deceptively powerful arms of Bombast. With little effort he tossed the walking outcropping of armor away and leapt out of the springing trap, landing atop one of his weapons without disturbing its churning whining spin.
“So there was a little hide and seek left after a-” Vyra dropped down on him, the tail end of a hundred foam leap facilitated by a pole vault with her spear. She slashed his shoulder, but there was only gray and orange in the wound, and the beginning of it was sealed before the end of it was made. He slapped her away, but she was able to slow to a standstill thirty foams off and land.
“That’s what all the fuss is about?” she mocked. “Thought he’d be uglier. Or prettier.” One of the balls whined behind her, but she back-flipped over it as it made its was way back to its master. He used them to build a spinning perimeter while he took stock of the expanded enemy force. All of the proliths emerged, Mixomir included, stomping to surround.
“I see,” the fiend said to himself. “A more appropriate configuration then.” The balls ground to a halt, but as a different shape. They made their way to their master’s back, shrunk and elongated. The Captain had not yet seen this level of finesse with the material; Bombast was taking the encounter more seriously than he let on.
The pieces joined into something like a knapsack, complete with straps wrapping around the shoulders. Squares, bars, and diamond pits erupted across the straps, an ornately detailed managing of shock absorption, pressure, weight distribution, and tensile strength. Their stabilization was necessary for the next transformation.
Six spears shot out from the top of the pack and fanned wide like a tail feather mating display. Their tips glowed brightly. Not that bright. He’s drenched and there’s no steam. Despite this show he isn’t burning his reserve. Bombast took two of the spears for himself, but the others remained attached, striking at nothing behind him like venomous stingers trapped in a hunting reflex. He knows we’re trying to split his focus. Those thrusts are random. Brilliant. All he has to do is think ‘strike’ and his blind spots are effectively covered.
Dlak made the next charge, heavy hammer held like a battering ram. Bombast, spear gliding through his wet grip with incredible precision, slipped its head under the water, under Dlak’s feet, and flicked the tilefolk into the air. Dlak didn’t reach the apex before the fiend, fully ambidextrous it seemed, threw the other to skewer him. It was met in midair by a dagger fired from Tinnit’s shoulder. Deflected the spear dove into the water, swam like a serpont, and climbed back into its master’s hand, spiraling around his forearm.
That was when the struggle began in earnest, the righteous defenders of Porce attempting to time two or three attacks simultaneously without interfering with each other. Bombast’s expression remained static until he crossed blades with Rob and Mixomir. His weapons were unbeatable edges, the ultimate in cleaving, yet the metals clashed.
In Mixomir’s case the truth was more complicated. It had seen the effects of the material firsthand back in the workshop, and knew better than to meet it directly. So with each swing it allowed the enemy’s weapon to cut into its blade, manipulating its structure the way it would any substance in the making of its armor. The spear was allowed to nearly pass through before being nudged in a different direction.
Rob was the blunt one, fighting fire rock with fire rock. Bombast knitted his brow, and while he tried to parse the ongoing move combinations Reliefix came up from behind. The random onslaught of the spears was not to be taken lightly, and it was in fact impossible to do so. They struck against Reliefix’s armor like pickaxes, gouging out small chunks whenever the stings didn’t leave a dent.
It tried to clap its massive hands around Bombast, but the strikes weakened its shoulders. Instead it collapsed into a heap so Erbacile behind it could use it as a ramp for another attempt to leap and crush him. When all four back spears felt the weight of the golem they stiffened and moved like levers, tossing the mass straight into the path of Mixomir and Rob, blocking their avenues of attack.
Bocast grappled with him next, grabbing one of the spears in Bombast’s hands. The agitated weapon bent and bit at the armored gauntlet, going for the weaker joints at the wrist and thumb. He succeeded in freeing it. Bocast stood tall, indicating it was backing off the attack, but a great hole opened in its chest, a barrel aimed straight at its foe, and the harpoon that shot through it was Vyra, clung to her roost-spear like a bug on a branch. Briefly her shriek echoed in Bocast’s temporary hollow before she struck Bombast’s sternum and penetrated deep. Vyra, by virtue of attaching herself to her own throw, was already there to react, planting her feet in the water and lifting.
Bombast was hoisted like a flag, where a leaping Dlak struck him on the ankles, spinning the fiend around like a pinwheel. Vyra was about to climb up her spear and have a go at him with her fists, but all the spears shot down and locked their blades into the sediment. Their foe lifted himself off her blade, but while he was stilted at an impressive height Mixomir made up the distance by swimming through the leg, side, and extended arm of one of its guards. It swelled from Erbacile’s palm and swung its fine Dagyvr blade at Bombast’s exposed neck.
Three rays of hottest orange, the color of the florent’s indigestion, shot out from his eyes and mouth. Its shrieking wail, like the breath in a god’s final words, pierced as much as the rays themselves, which passed through Mixomir’s chest and into the river where they instantly boiled the surrounding waters. Up went an impenetrable cloud of steam that forced the attackers to back away.
Mixomir was capable of joining them, for its nucle-eye was centered in its head. The hole could be filled in with any material of its choice, though a certain flushess would not be pleased with the chunk obliterated from her father’s corpse.
“That was it!” Rob was forced to shout, since a few of the others couldn’t see him through the haze. They braced themselves, expecting expertly planned shrapnel to fly out towards them at any moment. Instead the cloud quietly dissipated, revealing a hovering dark mass at its center.
Bombast had encased himself entirely in his material, in a simple diamond shape. It held position five foams away from the water. The Captain recognized the strategy from their first battle within Metal Block. The fiend thought himself perfectly safe inside because no material in any known world, all spawned from the first, could best his. He was right.
You have our permission to use your strength. The edge of Rob’s bonepicking sword began to glow and hum. You may burn, as always intended. Steam billowed from it, bright and green. We will not withhold the fury and hate with which you were dropped. We will not save you for a rainy day; that privilege is ours. Rob barreled forward, and with gravitation-defying spin he sent the blade into the center of the mass. When the stroke first pierced he willed the blade to extend, pushing its tip through the other side.
He stopped suddenly, creating a wave large enough to go over the heads of the proliths, and to wash away a cursing Dlak Garbr. The energies expended could not be halted with a bonepicking will, so a green crescent of dense light continued on into the distance, hopefully not into a populated area. We did launch that at just about head height. There isn’t a folk in the world who doesn’t know how to duck, aye?
There was Bombast, who never thought he’d have to learn such a thing. The diamond was split in half like a nut, its owner scurrying out as it crashed into the water. Gone was his composure, washed away with Dlak, his head now darting about like a tiny nervous bird’s. His lips twitched. Ears swiveled unnaturally like some kind of loosed mechanical disk. There was a long gash across his forearms where he had blocked the surprise strike in his peaceful sanctum.
“How is this… How did you…” His orange irises focused and darkened, looking almost rusty with age. He saw Rob’s sword and finally paid attention to it. There was a light he knew, that had never known another color until now. Green. Spiteful vile green. Hateful greedy green. The emerald of the enemy. Bombast put out his hand and called to it, waving it toward him like an obedient haund. The sick material didn’t budge. The fiend turned his hand into a claw next, dragging it through the air, pulling at gravitation, magnetism, his own spirit, and every other energy across all spectrums to try and coax a response. Yet the green light flowed undisturbed. The Captain rested the sword on his shoulder to show he was similarly untroubled.
“It belongs to me now,” he crowed, sharpening it on the ends of his mustache. Water exploded away from Bombast’s feet as he launched, two halves of the diamond following just behind as if dragged by chains. Rob was barely able to react before the collision. The river was assailed again, another crater of waves obscuring the vision of those fighting for Porce. When they could see again there was no reason to, both bodies now rocketing into the sky.
He wants it to be just us now, nothing else to take his focus. Fine. Just so happens that’s what we want as well. Just you and your reflection Bombast. Just the avaricious glare in your eye staring right back.
Rob pushed upward with his bonepicking as well, adding to their velocity. The dragging diamonds banged into each other as they spun underneath them. The green sword was locked flat against the Captain’s chest as they grappled, snarling and clawing. They tumbled end over end, but the trajectory was true. Up as a geyser. Up as any tower. Up as the walls themselves. They pierced the clouds.
“What did you do to it!?” Bombast demanded over the whistle of the rent air.
“It drank deep from the toil and smacked its lips!”
“What? Reverse it now! Reverse it or I’ll burn every last atom of your family and friends, starting with the soles of their feet and working my way up!”
“We’re already on our way up! Never been this close to the florent myself.”
“Exactly! You’ll be the first to burn, inside your pathetic imitation of a star!” At this Rob had to laugh. With emerald bones protected by the ultimate material he did not fear the fires of the florent. His rumbling, all of it gushing from his mouth instead of sloshing in his chest the way a living laugh would, unsettled the fiend. “You stole it! Thief!”
“Thief? Thief?” Rob let the material recede from his face, nose breaking down like a rotting log, eyes emptying into glimmering treasure holes. The skull of the skull and crossbones. True horror, beyond fear, burgeoned on Bombast’s brow as he realized the Captain was covered in stolen goods, as if he’d melted them all down and bathed in them. “I’m a pirate! I take things!”
Breaking through the other end of the clouds, the tumbling pair was suddenly awash in the heat of the florent. Its shooting rays obscured everything, even to their fleshless eyes that could normally stare at it endlessly. They heard its droning song, one normally reserved for the highest flying stars: brrrrzzzzzzzrrrzzzzrrzzzrzzrrrzrrrzrzzzz…
With wild abandon the Captain realized how fast they were moving, crossing entire civilizations in mere drips. The whole world of Porce was passing them by. These were the speeds Bombast was comfortable with, momentum on the scale of the land Earth where he was dropped.
The fiend hoped that, despite still being a braggart this deep in the navel of the sky, the light and heat would give the Captain pause, just enough to pull the crushing trick. The diamond halves shot up to join them, encircling them both and snapping shut again. Bombast compressed the material in an attempt to crack Rob’s bones.
Rob responded in kind, throwing out lances of the material from all over his body, poking shining holes in the trap. Bombast, when pierced through the left shoulder, was forced to relinquish and open it again. Everything was light and buzz, filling both their heads. Both had underestimated the intensity of the fixture, suddenly finding themselves locked in defensive poses with gritted teeth. The diamond, split down the middle, nevertheless held around them thanks to Rob’s spines skewering them in place.
The buzz became a scream as the florent swallowed them into its blazing corona. The very sound of light pressured them, but they didn’t slow. It seemed almost happy to pull them closer, to welcome them into the fold of events so numerous and energized that their happening was on a different order of magnitude.
The light churns, and it is not just light. It is fire. It is liquid. It is vapor. Solid only in its conviction. No gods of Porce have ever been, not compared to this. This is the creator, the grinding tides of knotted light and heat that throw off such potentialities. It is a knot, aye? Pulling tighter and tighter, throwing more and more, until one day, so far in the distance that the unit of the day has long since decayed, it will pull itself apart in the ultimate catharsis, and care not one bubble, drip, or any sort of smallish thing, that death will befall those relying on it. All that will matter is that the incidental creating is done.
Alast learned every knot across two ships and any pirate that would put up with him. What would he think of this one we wonder? Frustrated he wouldn’t be able to tie it himself. Then we’ll tell him that we figured out how, but that he can’t learn it from us. Maybe not. That would finish turning him into us.
We do know. It takes this material. Lights brighter than eyes can comprehend… vital to the powering of smaller worlds. Creating the illusion of infinity for them.
The binary cluster of terrified rage and calming revelation struck the florent’s shell. The glass was as thick as the ground, but they pushed through, now fully taken by the World Ceiling’s gravitation. They would land in the sky, a feat only previously achieved by Custodians, Oaths, and the gods themselves.
Through the glass that had known its own quakes and cracks was the superheated vapor mantle of the florent. Their thorny cannonball streaked through this as well and finally found something solid enough to stop them. With no knowledge of what actually ate itself to generate the light, Rob could only call it the generator. The florent had tens of thousands of them, each only resting when night came.
Captain Rob’s and Bombast’s impact annihilated the one they struck. Its last wave of light vacated all the vitality from its substance: a tiny flash lost in a sea of them. A permanent speck of darkness, a freckle in the floren’ts visage, was left behind. The sky would never be the same, dimmer, perhaps imperceptibly so if not for the black spot of that pirate who dared shoot himself out of the Pipes so carelessly that he pierced the sky.
What was left around them was nothing at all, save for the ash that had moments ago been so self-absorbed in its own brightness. Dunes of it settled for lathers in all directions, quickly becoming a cooling desert.
Rob’s wits returned more than a hundred foams deep into the ash. He still had his sword clasped in his hand and his artificial flesh clothing him. Visibility was nonexistent, so he bonepicked in the direction of his new upward until he found the surface. Popping out like a cork, he found landing to be the most difficult part of the experience, for the ash was not compacted at all; his legs sank up to his knees.
Its consistency and texture were unique, somewhere between feathers, fluffy seeds on the wind, and typical campfire ash. Its color was an ordinary gray, standing out only thanks to the yellow horizon of the other generators, blasting endlessly in the starkest of contrast. It was such a strange place to be, not at all the idyllic meadow portrayed by various religions. The Pipes were supposed to contain the souls of the damned, but it turned out there were only a few of those and a lot of bones. The florent stood as counterweight, where the virtuous ghosts got to celebrate and reunite endlessly.
Not a single one of them. Not even the phantoms of his childhood pets, whose innocence surely couldn’t have been infected by his budding freebooter ways. Yes, his pet fiddled-fish fingerling had been made to pull his first ship across its bowl, a humble little thing of paper, wax, and pins, but it was hardly responsible.
“Anyone?” he instinctively called out before remembering there should have been at least one. Bombast had to be there somewhere. The fiend wouldn’t leave the fight, not with his material on the line, so he had to be there, under the ash somewhere, plotting the best opportunity to strike.
Rob couldn’t keep on his toes, not with his surroundings soft as they were, so while he surveyed the dunes for signs of the enemy he also split a blob of material from the sword’s hilt, flattening it into a dull curved blade. Nothing but thoughts guided the blade as it glided across the ash, gently pressing down as it spun, compacting the material into something much easier to stand on.
As it went, rolling out their dance floor like dough, the Captain took the additional measure of altering the material on the bottom of his feet. This caused the blackened remains of his boots to fall away. Though every garment was browned at the edges, staying inside the diamond had kept him mostly clothed. There was even enough pant leg to roll up so he could get a good look at the mesh snowshoes he built from the material, should he get pushed out of the arena.
It was easy to see how an opponent might confuse his two other activities with having dropped his guard, something Bombast clearly did when he fired a devastating beam of orange light, bigger around than a set of double doors, out of his hidden vantage point within an ash pile. Its power was great enough to blast straight through a line of ships and the shipyard that launched them, but only equal to its kin.
Rob spun his blade with both hands, generating a swirling shield of green light and force that took the beam head on. It crashed against him, splashing all around as molten dissipating whips: droplets of ethereal lava that mostly didn’t make it back to the ash. As soon as Bombast realized his gambit had failed the beam ceased. Out he sprung from the collapsing black heap where the beam originated, landing on Rob’s compressed dance floor with enough force to shift his side deeper and the Captain’s into the air.
“You’ve just given me the high ground,” he said rather than falter, bonepicking holding him in place.
“This is your final chance!” Bombast roared, fists shaking, something too bright to be spittle spraying out of his mouth with every word. “Return it!”
“And what? You’ll spare me my life and destroy everything else?”
“All will be destroyed! It is my purpose, and the ultimate one, for it contains and consumes all other purposes!”
“Ultimate? Destruction is the least of them, for it’s always been the easiest to perform. Any lead weight can make something tumble down. Trust me, I’ve done plenty of it myself.”
“You would not feel so free to mock me without your ill-gotten arms!”
“Ill? Feeling shipshape actually.”
“Then I am left no choice.” Bombast shuffled his feet apart and locked his elbows just above his hips, channeling his focus and fury. Steam rose from the seams of his clothing and from between the blocks of his perfect teeth.
Up rose the twin halves of the diamond from the ashes on each side. Rob realized Bombast, alone with his shell for countless rests, probably knew a few tricks he wouldn’t be able to puzzle out mid-battle to the death. One of them appeared now as the waves of fungal orange light sped up. They overlapped, emanating heat that distorted the air around them. All the while Bombast’s growl grew louder and deeper, as if exploring a pit with ever thirstier and longer spikes with each level down.
The halves twisted in ten different ways, splitting like worms and spiraling onto their master’s skin where they spread like molten lead across his muscles. His white clothing disappeared completely under the layers as they locked into each other, pulsing, orange, mathematical runes appearing at the seams and sliding along them.
A helm swallowed the fiend’s head, material spreading so thin across his eyes that it formed lenses like the compound eyes of a bug that could see its prey from a household away. Two sets of material mandibles formed on the sides of his exposed mouth, pinching and slashing at the air rabidly. They were joined by thorns, like dorsal fins gliding in and out of the water, that circumnavigated the armor with the speed of mechanical saw teeth.
Lastly a spear formed in his hands, the head of which shuffled through different forms for its blade so rapidly that it became a blurred ball generating its own tossing gusts, strong enough to send ash rippling around him but not enough to dissipate the orb of quivering heat that engulfed him.
“This armor is a hundred million angles of destruction brought to bear! It consumes thermal energy at a constant rate, separate from the bursts of each blow and swing. My dream dies every moment I use it! And all because of you!” A concentrated jet of flame burst from his back, launching the fiend forward.
Captain Rob bonepicked down; the ashen floor bucked and struck Bombast. The ensuing cloud did nothing to slow either of them, weapons clashing in the midst of it. The head of the spear, cycling through memorized possibilities, moved its edge faster than Rob could follow, and so tore away chunks of his sword with every direct hit. Each time the pirate had to think the needles back into place or risk losing them in the endless haystacks of ash.
Bombast swung it with only one arm, bringing in his other hand as swiping torch-tipped claws. He managed to snag the mesh of Rob’s chest, the pirate responding by bonepicking himself upside down and kicking Bombast right in the goggles. That split them up just long enough for him to think.
Blow for blow has us blown apart; he’s far more experienced. That is his advantage. Bonepicking is ours. Put a hand where he wants our spine to be, a head where he expects a knee, and a snowshoe straight up the kiln of his ass.
The ash behaved much like water, and a submerged bonepicker had long been a footnote in the rules of war as a thing never to plunge your forces into. Rob put his weight in his feet, the ground swallowing him up. Bombast swiped through the ash like someone trying to madly sweep up a broken-open bug nest, but the Captain popped back up behind him and delivered a swift kick to the back.
He’d forgotten about the port on the armor’s spine that gave the fiend momentum, and a blast of its flame caught the pirate, tossing him up into the air. Before he’d reached the apex there was already a series of orange crescents, each whining in air-shredding intensity, headed up to meet him. Each swipe ha to be met with a green twin, the collisions forcing him ever higher. Bombast was juggling him, keeping him away from the ash so he couldn’t disappear. We will not be toyed with.
Fully in the swing of it, feeling nothing but the swing, forgetting what the tether of gravitation was even like, Rob dove. His sword was adjusting as well, enough that he never had to do more than half a swing. It would read his intent and change to the angle where the swing would’ve ended, like a hunting haund after a bird before the arrow even struck.
Down he came in a billowing green spiral, drilling toward Bombast, eager to make a fruit peel out of him. They could’ve clashed again, and strategically they should have, but Bombast stepped aside and allowed him to submerge in the ash. Why? We’re invisible now… He heard a whine, by now unmistakable. Beams of it. They came from multiple directions, and his vision was limited to the pillow worth of ash in front of his skull.
By sound alone he navigated them, balling his body up and rolling it over and under the deadly lines as they cut through. Bombast was establishing a sort of grid, firing from all his fingers and toes, closing in like the drawing of a net. Half of bonepicking was understanding exactly where you were, the other why you shouldn’t be allowed to be there. The Captain built a diorama within his skull, carefully following the angles of the orange strings back to their source.
When he was sure everything was in its place he drilled again, straight for Bombast’s feet. His aim was true, but when he emerged the fiend was already ascending, fire under his steps, staying just out of reach. Rob stalled and swung, catching his opponent’s spear. The two drifted back to the ash, striking and blocking in a flurry of metal, heat, and flashing lights.
The entire library of bonepicking maneuvers was put into use, and a few new volumes written in. Rob punched with his legs, slapped with his sword, and headbutted with his knee. He spun like a toothed top, invented a new axis to spin on, and bashed Bombast with the hammer of his upper body.
With the combat art distilled down to its purest he was capable of fully treating his body as an inanimate object, throwing it any way he chose. Up came the sword, dividing himself in half, the back of the blade conforming to his nose, neck, and chest. That made the rest of his body the handle of the hatchet. Conjuring up memories of throwing such things into trees in his youth, splitting them even when they’d been rooted for fifty rests, Rob threw himself.
It was a bloody good throw, end over end, spraying ash with each rotation, but not good enough to actually draw blood. The energies clashed again, orange against green, and neither could trespass against the other. Yet Bombast disengaged, stepped back to reassess. Why!? This is a standstill. Even if we went for drops it is us who would eventually have to sleep… We doubt he has to… What is this reluctance?
Bombast’s eyes were hidden, but they flicked, so much that Rob could see it as a tilt of the helmet. Toward the green blade. Rob examined it himself. The weapon hummed, alive with minute reactions popping within. Steam rose from its length, hues of green like low flames forming the base. Our determination is in it. We do just as he does, expending the material’s energies as we struggle. Using it up. Only it doesn’t matter to us, not as it does to him. We’d rather win.
The captain concentrated. Into that sword went every twist of anguish since the fiend’s meteoric arrival. The defeats. The reflections. The flush. The blazing of his flesh and the washing away of his line. Rob flooded his spirit with pain, quelling his anger, his only defense, to let it ravage. He was only enough of something for the wind to catch and do what it pleased with.
This was life, what could not be conserved, not fully. This was what he still had, what racked and stung, what smothered and went feverish at all the wrong times. Only fools fight pirates. Pirates have nothing to lose but the belongings of others. Into the weapon his torment went, proceeding to burn in a vain attempt to purify. It sputtered as the throbbing glow became sustained and the rising steam quadrupled.
“What are you doing!?” Bombast said breathlessly through his helm. Yes, confusing indeed. With every drip Rob’s ability to match him in combat waned.
“Am I doing something?” the Captain asked flippantly. He glanced at the sputtering furnace in his hand. “Oh would you look at that. Curious.”
“You’re wasting it!”
“Everything is waste in Porce my dear enemy.”
Bombast could not stand to watch as enough energy to break a hundred worlds was tossed away, improperly catalyzed as nothing but common heat and vapor. There went precious percentage points toward the ultimate status of his original mission. Earth had only been ninety-six percent destroyed in his drop, and over the eons he had drawn tantalizingly close with each additional spark, lovingly placed in the most fragile crevices. 96.3… 96.6… 97.2…
Captain Rob was the fuse eternal, burning across the Dark Empty, no payload in sight. Had he stolen enough of it to guarantee failure? There was a threshold that could put Bombast’s projections below ninety-nine. That had been the number that always drove him. It was the best margin of error, allowing for only one erring point in reasonably-sized units. He could die with part of that other one percent lasting, assuming they were the error, that they could never survive on their own.
The green blade disintegrated like wood invaded by flaming boring worms, or like driftwood arriving on a shore, battered by the tide of ages, so that a curious child finding it and lifting it finally broke it in two. What counted, very abstractly, as Bombast’s heart broke at the sight of it.
He rushed to save it. Ending that controlled burn of wild abandon was the highest priority that had existed since the birth of all worlds, he knew. Sacrificing some of his own for a strike with enough power to engulf Rob completely would still save more than ten times that amount in the fading hilt.
His spear and arm fused into a single claw that spun into a great disk of orange energy, the eye of a hateful annihilating cyclone, generated with the sound of the world’s raw elements murdering each other. It was not possible for the thief to escape, no matter how fast.
But escape was not his goal. When the attack was upon him Rob restored the sword in an instant, all of his false flesh flying to it. He redirected the burn into a strike, not to kill, but to cut through Bombast’s smashing wave. Blinded by his own assault, the fiend didn’t notice him roll by, didn’t notice the pivot, didn’t notice the empty emerald eyes of his demise.
Bombast felt something crawling on him. He ceased attacking to swat away whatever pest it was, but it was a whole man, simply able to make the steps of his fingers and toes as light as a falling leaf’s touch. The Captain clambered up the fiend’s trunk, front to back and up and up, dragging the sword behind him like a tail.
The spiral left deep green gashes in the flesh, but at the neck a gash was not good enough. At the neck Rob stopped, rolling his wrist with the greatest of skill, like a god rolling out the dough of a continent, and the sword of Porce obeyed. Around and in and through. The Captain stood, watching. Bombast was still, but not his armor. It collapsed around him. His fingers hung like bodies in nooses.
The green peeling line did not fade, and neither did the verdant choker. Bombast’s mechanical response was jammed in his head, receding into the crown, the mouth a cave vanishing in the distance. This world was so very small already; how was it shrinking? The light on his horizon snuffed out, and in the darkness all his thoughts lost their substance.
His head flew off his shoulders, forced skyward by the pressure of all the strikes he’d planned but couldn’t execute before Rob’s execution. Out came the last steaming dreg of his hostility, a billowing dissipating cloud geyser of rusting orange. A fountain of firelight. When it was done the stump of the neck was just a polished surface like an inkstone. The fiend was his own fissile material, through and through. If he’d made it to those final crumbs of Earth he would’ve been little more than fluttering eyelashes whipping passersby with sparks.
There was no will left to drop him to his knees; he was simply a statue now. The monument to Bombast’s defeat lost its white, its fleshy illusion, and went wholly gray, with only the faintest hints of its light remaining. He fell over, sinking halfway into the ash. Then his head bounced off his shoulders, rolled, and stopped upright on his bottom.
“Figures. Just had his head up his ass the whole time,” Rob muttered as he rebuilt his own self-image. For a while he just stared, waiting for a self-detonating reflex, something that would destroy them all anyway. One hundred drips… two hundred… How long was a man supposed to wait for a reflex? There was no respect for the dead stalling him either, so he stabbed Bombast’s forehead.
Captain Rob, more confident than Porce that he was its avatar, expressed everything he’d ever felt in the water closet world. Every oceangoing breeze that took up his colors. Every meal in his galleys where sweat mixed with herb. Every woman fool enough to knot with him in his monogrammed sheets. That was his life, and it was the only thing he would ever give. The green light spread to Bombast’s head, and from there to the rest of his body and the pile of his armor. All went green, and then all obeyed its master.
With his plunder the Captain built a fine vessel, big enough for one proudly standing folk only, with no mast because it had no need of sails. On its back he guided it through the ocean of ash, drawing the symbol of infinity in the most temporary of substances. Then he sailed into the sky, following the florent’s rays into a world where everyone could finally dunk their heads in a sink and calm down.
Abandon Ship and Take a Seat
There are a few more drops hanging off Rob’s tale, which he proudly kept from between his legs. Just as I did (This is Blaine again; remember me?) in the third bathroom break I will go over a few things for us first. For the most part that was it; we’re finally done with the restroom. It was drawn out, painful, and oftentimes unpleasant, but things never work out if you don’t hold your breath and go through with it.
I think this means that I will never find another story like this left for me. It is the safe assumption that whoever did hand over these documents in the strangest of ways, that they were affiliated with or using the same methods as the bathroom breakers. This explains the methodology at least, as their powers are limited to those areas, and things as inconsequential as giving an unimportant person a very weird book.
The fact remains that there was another force trying to stop them from doing so with similar abilities. Each time they did it we faced greater opposition, and my benefactor was weakened. All I can offer for the identities of these two parties is guesses, and I don’t think any of these guesses are particularly good.
As for my benefactor, I have a suspicion that they were not a proper member of the breakers, and I believe that was communicated to me by several scenes in this fourth break where we become acquainted not only with the breakers but with their strict and regimented protocols. They have a mysterious ruler, tons of restrictions, specialized devices, and even minutes for their meetings, which is never a good sign.
My breaks were inconsistent, weirdly spaced, and different each time. They betray a plan that was thrown together at best and probably not even aimed at me the first time. This breaker was a free agent… or a rogue agent.
There was one character in our four volumes who fits this description, and I don’t see much reason for him to be included if he is not relevant. Blad Weebreakr. You won’t remember him from this break, or even the third. The last and only time we saw him was in Captain Rob Sinks, where he was an often incorporeal bathroom trickster who seemed to have a love/hate relationship with privacy.
He seemed like little more than a mythological figure at the time, appearing to those who desired him and leaving after he’d gotten what he wanted out of them. Could it be him? I think possibly yes, though he didn’t seem overly concerned with good deeds or important work. Or perhaps his story was just to establish that such entities existed, breakers and rule-breakers alike. Trespassers in the ‘employees only’ bathroom as it were.
If so then it could’ve been a number of other minor characters with unknown fates who eventually made their way into Moment’s Peace and through alone time. Another member of the living sixteen? Of Rob’s crew? A Custodian or an Oath? That’s pretty much where guessing becomes little more than throwing glitter into the wind.
Of the opposition I have a better idea, though still uncertain. I think it was the bathroom breakers themselves, or their leader the Master Bath, the one behind the door that says occupied. My reasoning is that in Captain Rob Robs, when I was watched by the enemy, they took the form of a do not disturb sign from my hotel room. There was an eye in the hole meant for the knob. That strategy looked very familiar in the early parts of this volume, when Rob and company noticed eyes appearing on documents and other objects. Eyes that belonged, admittedly, to the breakers.
Why would they want to stop me from getting my hands on books that nobody in my world could possibly take seriously? Again, I can’t say for sure. My best guess is that they were most upset about their protocols being breached by my benefactor, and they were perhaps intervening and punishing in that aspect alone.
And punish they did. I am certain, out of all the things I’m uncertain about, that my benefactor has perished, and that their body existed in some form, though invisible and intangible, in my tub before fading away. It’s the kind of sure you can’t justify to people who don’t live inside your brain. All I can say is that I don’t take baths in that tub anymore. Whoever they were, since time seems like it can be irrelevant sometimes, I wish them well.
That takes us to the point of this entire soiled affair. I’ve told you before that I consider this all true. I now know how it will come to pass. At some point in our future a country, I hate how much it feels like it could be my home states right now, will drop a bomb they invented without understanding and it will kill us all, whoever ‘us all’ is at the time.
From the remains individual atoms of matter and antimatter will animate as physics re-weaves into a slightly new pattern. Gravity will have funny ideas, and so will these tiny new gods as they zip about collecting enough matter to give themselves purpose. The bomb will come for them again, but in the end he will fail thanks to one Captain Kilrobin Ordr.
He looked incredible through the inexperienced misty eyes of Alast, truly a Captain among men, but as time went on he was revealed to be less of a Renaissance man and more of a jackass-of-all-trades who knew just who to sleep with and just who to stab in order to eventually, technically, save the world.
Yet, it doesn’t feel like there’s much to celebrate him for, at least no for us. We’re going to come apart at every seam, and all in one moment too, and there’s no way to tell when it will come. It shouldn’t scare me, all I just described is death, and we’ve always had that, but this sounds like a stupid death, which really is only acceptable to the worst among us.
I’ll avoid pointing fingers at current figures. Oh man, could I point at who I think would be responsible for getting a mess like that all over the floor, one that will necessitate a hundred Custodians. I want any lessons, or more likely entertainment, that come from these volumes to not be easily dated in terms of politics and nationalities. Messages are easier to interpret the more universal they are.
My last piece of input, and this is me, not Blad or Tam-pam or whoever stole these stories for me, is that I think this whole thing was a warning, but not to prevent the destruction of our world. That can’t be done. What can be done is conservation, saving little pieces of it and definitely doing so without permission.
Our institutions won’t help us. By their very nature they forget about the plight of the individual. This was a message to all the rats to abandon ship, and to do so by finding a moment’s peace.
Whenever you lock yourself away in the bathroom with a book or a song, consider the possibilities. If you’re lucky, you might not have to come out. You could break out. You wouldn’t get to matter, but you might get to live.
Safe travels. Hope everything works out okay.
Folk around the world weren’t finished mourning the losses of First Toil, or celebrating the defeat of Bombast, so those aboard the Chokechain had the honor of being guests of one of the first boring ceremonies in the wake of it all. It was Rob’s affair really, so any fun to be had was locked up in his bones, or under that impressive new coat of his.
It was amazing how well he had tamed the fissile material. It stood perfectly still, awash in calming green waves of light, on deck as a prism some twelve foams tall, eight foams wide, and six foams deep. All its faces were flat save one, a small set of four stairs leading to a dark gray throne.
His whole crew was in attendance, as well as several other notable figures, but most of them were forced to both watch at a distance and pay the utmost attention. If they slouched for even a drip he would know. Pity the folk who ruined the pirate’s goodbye party, even if the pile of gems was throwing it for himself.
Many of the personalized farewells had already been handled below decks, so the Captain lined up only the most important in front of his prism. In order stood Bonswario Bucklr, Dawn Shockr, Teal Powdr, Manathan Shuckr, Vyra, Pearlen, and Alast. The Captain wasn’t going to be the captain much longer, only moments in fact, but that didn’t stop him from wearing his fullest regalia, complete with the most ridiculous fur cape he’d ever acquired. Genuine hide of wild windbreakers. No fissile material facsimile would do. He placed a hand with fur-lined glove on Bonswario’s shoulder.
“On this day I have declared that all of you loyal to me will be adventurers even when loosed from my command. You have been asked to think up an adventure to go on as soon as I’m gone. One adventurer’s path is already known,” Rob declared with a booming voice. Tears streamed down Bonswario’s face.
“That adventurer is Bonswario Bucklr. By my side since my before my first true topa sails, when we made our way by waving furs and pelts of pest. Taking more than his fair share. Earning more than his keep. Thank you old friend.” First Mate Bucklr couldn’t contain himself anymore and started sobbing uncontrollably, but still stood at full attention. His spine was never in question. Rob lowered his voice.
“So now I make you captain of the Chokechain. I wish I still had that fancy rod to present to you, but this new Green Sea has it I think. Perhaps it will return on its own and you can present it to yourself.”
“We won’t… be the same… without you Cap’n,” the officer spluttered. They shared an embrace and kisses on the cheeks, as was traditional on Bucklr’s homewall. Next was Dawn, who embraced him before he could even say anything, braids rattling in his face.
“Miss Shockr I hope you and Teal will continue to be some of the finest things aging outside of a bottle.”
“I’ll pickle up even more fearsome Captain,” she said, sadness fully present in her voice despite her leatherflesh throat. Teal was next, and they shared a tepid hug before speaking.
“Teal, there are too many things for me to say here on this deck.”
“I’ve heard them all.” She gave a thin smile, the greatest of gifts, the true unmooring allowing him to depart. “I have love for you Robin, and you for me. I’m glad now that there are no children to see you go. Are you sure this is what you want to do?”
“Aye, absolutely. Miss Foalr taught me the virtue of conservation, and I think conserving myself is a thrilling calling. I’ll pop my head back out when I think this Porce business has blown over.”
“You won’t last, and I don’t mean that badly.”
“Take care of everyone will you? Keep them employed.”
“Yes, though now that you mention the curator I wonder if she’s gone insane. She’s got a zoo down there, ready to replant the entire Green Ring.”
“Not the entire ring,” Rob said, leaning in. The false flesh of his eyes and forehead receded, revealing hollow sockets bursting with life. A garden of tiny plants had affixed themselves to the wall of his skill, though unable to grow where he had lacquered Roary’s note in place. Countless bugs and other minuscule animals crawled all over each other. The sight was horrifying, but he didn’t mean it badly either. His eyes sealed once more.
“What is all that?” she asked, nonplussed.
“The start of a new world I think. Their lives will keep me occupied as the age passes. I will use the material to partition them, solve their problems, and direct their breeding into less and less painful existences.”
“So you’ve got your sights set on being a god?”
“Fixing some old god mistakes that got left lying around,” he corrected as if describing the taking of a forgotten piece of jewelry from a barstool.
“You think you’ll be different?”
“I already know the smaller the world the better.”
“Don’t hurt them.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it, and they live right where my dreams do. As do you Teal.” They embraced again, but she didn’t let it last. Her own ship was likely very behind schedule. Manathan’s chattering helped move things along. He shook Rob’s hand up and down as if pumping his first drink of water in a hundred rests.
“You’re the only one that respects me Captain,” the bony ice master whined. “The only one. The Calcitheater saw you, heard you, put me in charge of them and they’re still putting it to a vote whether I should even be allowed in their chambers Captain.”
“That’s good; if they’re voting on it that means they’ll never decide. They formed that organization just so the voting would give them something to do.”
“Oh, and I was supposed to relay a message for you Captain, from Mr. Mixomir. He said that he thinks this meditation of yours is a good idea, that it might split your lines, whatever that means.”
“You can tell Mixomir that I don’t give a one nostriled sneeze what he thinks, and that I hope he falls off his tower into a pile of dung. As for you, you’ll be alright friend. Believe it or not you can take care of yourself.”
“Can I? Even with your sister heading here as we speak? Surely she wants you in pieces for what happened to… All I mean is she might settle for me when I try to explain-”
“Just say that I threw myself overboard to search the depths for Roary’s bones, and that I won’t return until until I have them. There’s truth in that. She won’t like it, but it should keep her from diving in after me. I have the utmost confidence in you ice master. Goodbye.” Vyra was next, her expression a cocktail of fascination, pouting, and a readiness to be adored.
“This is what you’re going to do with that brick of infinite possibilities? Tie yourself to it and stay over the side until the end of the world? I’m not impressed.”
“It’ll keep this thing in my wrong hands and out of any others,” Rob justified. His eyes followed hers as they pounced and sauntered. Even their quiet moments were a tug of war. “Besides, I’ve just saved the world. I’ll be going down on a high note.”
“I want you to go down on m-”
“It can never work between us Vyra, not now. Our times are not aligned. I’m certain most of what you want to do to me requires nerve endings, which I no longer possess.” She blushed, the man opposite her incapable of imagining the atrocity in her head that made her do so, even with his head full of crawling vermin.
“We would’ve been great.”
“We would have been ravaged.”
“That’s what I said. Go on, before I decide to keep you.” She kissed him, holding his head in place by one end of his gemstone mustache. Only when she was done could he step away, to Alast and his partner Pearlen. The boy was not pleased, and he hadn’t kept it to himself since Rob announced the end of their time together.
“Don’t do this Captain,” he pleaded.
“Alast I’ve done all I can with this here and now. I want some time to myself, and I want that time to be a wholly unreasonable amount. I will come to terms with this bare skull of mine.”
“No you’ll lose your mind! You’re the one who taught me to get out, to go where you shouldn’t-”
“Are you saying I should go the bottom of the Green Sea?”
“You know what I mean. This isn’t an adventure. This is giving up. I’ll… I’ll never forgive you for leaving us like this!”
“When have I ever been after forgiveness!?” he snapped, calming himself quickly. Off his neck came his piece of the Reflecting Path, on its simple black cord. “I would like you to have this.” Rather than take it Alast stormed off, putting himself below decks before things got even thornier. Pearlen was the one who took the piece from his hand.
“I’ll see that it’s safe Rob,” she promised.
“I know it’s a sore gift to give, seeing what happened to his other half. I… don’t know what I’d do without mine.”
“I’m his other half, so he’ll be fine. Besides, he won’t admit it, but we’re planning an adventure on your order. We’re going through the Nether Regions, and into the Bottomless Rot. Rumor has it there’s something there that can regrow a reflection.”
“Excellent,” Rob said with a grin that was a little too wide. “I hope it’s true, that way you don’t have to stuff him in a sack three times over to take him anywhere.” He remembered that he was saying goodbyes and not doing a scoundrel’s science. “Pearlen. So good at holding your breath, especially in moments where speaking would ruin the atmosphere.” She opened her mouth and then closed it again, clacking her teeth. “Good lass.” He took another step so he could say goodbye to Vyra.
“Vyra? Didn’t we just-”
“Obviously I have to have the final goodbye,” she purred, kissing him again, then turning him around. Rob started his march toward his obelisk, but she delivered a swift slap to his bottom that ruined the rhythm of his swagger all the way to the first step of fissile material. He ascended and sat, looking out at those who had given their time, effort, and affection to his varying, and varyingly successful, causes.
“I go now from Porce, into a meditation of rests. Rests well deserved after what I’ve done. Boons to you all, and treasures vast enough to drown. Farewell friends and bedfellows! Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha!” He kept laughing, in case they could hear, as the prism locked him inside. It morphed in shape, from a simple block to a gigantic laughing anchor, its bottom a skull and its two prongs the ends of a mustache.
It threw itself, spinning, off the side of the vessel, rocking it enough to make most aboard lose their footing. With a mighty splash it disappeared and descended. Captain Rob was off. Off to deal, finally, with himself, and without noisy interruptions. Off to plumb new depths.
The History of Porce
(measured in rests)
A.W. – Age of Wonder
A.T. – Age of Tragedy
A.B. – Age of Building
0 A.W. – Hesprid and Yister arrive in Porce. She reignites the florent.
2 A.W. – Qorcneas arrives in Porce, and is fooled by Hesprid into a deep sleep in Youbend.
3 A.W. – Hesprid manipulates a sleeping Qorcneas into impregnating her.
603 A.W. – The gods Plowr and Swimmr are born.
1204 A.W. – The gods Luminatr and Dealr are born.
1805 A.W. – The gods Greetr and Scribblr are born.
2406 A.W. – The gods Howlr and Whispr are born.
2454 A.W. – Hesprid encourages Plowr to create life; he forms eight hundred tilefolk from the tile and plants to sustain and busy them.
2477 A.W. – Hesprid tasks Swimmr with folk creation; she forms eight hundred bergfolk from the flow of a fauce and swimming animals to busy and sustain them.
2493 A.W. – Greetr approaches her mother and requests to create a folk of her own. They come to an agreement, with Luminatr serving as Greetr’s overseer and aid in the process. Together, from the light of the florent and echoes of the past, they create eight hundred lightfolk as well as animals of the land and sky to sustain and busy them.
2496 A.W. – A particularly discordant song from Howlr destroys the second Soapstone Mines, transforming them into the Broken Fix.
2507 A.W. – Hesprid discovers the prosites within the walls and pipes; they agree to leave each other be and live in harmony.
2514 A.W. through 2620 – The gods mingle with the folk, resulting in the births of many Oaths, the majority of whom are tasked with watching over natural formations, civilizations, and family lines. Many Oaths have children of their own who take custody of these tasks, and are called Custodians.
2815 A.W. – A wandering prosite accidentally alerts Qorcneas to the life-filled state of Porce. He is enraged, immediately declaring war on his lover, his children, and their folk. The Age of Wonder ends and the Age of Tragedy begins.
0 A.T. – Qorcneas destroys many prosite cities, sacrificing them in experiments. The end result is a storm, its rain known as the mildew plague, that spreads the first diseases and deaths in Porce.
1 A.T. – Qorcneas begins an offensive with enslaved prosites serving as his armies. His children form armies of their own and conflict intensifies.
3 A.T. – Qorcneas shatters the tiles, incidentally freeing and birthing the akers.
6 A.T. – Luminatr invents powerful light cannons from materials of the Reflecting Path, their beams effectively limiting the spread of Qorcneas’s influence.
13. A.T. – Qorcneas destroys the Reflecting Path, eliminating the means by which his foes moved their forces. From then on it took a piece of the path to use the way.
48 A.T. – Hope diminishes as the war drags across generations. The god Scribblr composes a book, inspired by the Earthly writing upon the stalls, called the toil papers. In it is a tale of hope, of a place too clean for disease to find purchase, and life everlasting. It is pure fantasy, but it gives hope to some and allows them to continue fighting.
66 A.T. – A senile Greetr follows a visiting raft of life out into the Dark Empty, to apologize for the rudeness of her daughter who turned them away. She never returns.
90 A.T. – Dealr proposes an end to the war, with all witnessing the birth of his gravefolk. Made from lightfolk, they serve as a symbol of his proposed covenant, that death and life shall take turns, that the middle path is peace, and that the gods should leave life as much as possible, with the folk to handle themselves.
91 A.T. – With the accord struck, Luminatr begins enacting Dealr’s vision by altering Porce so it can sustain itself without godly influence. From eight fallen akers the cardinal tiles are made, totems of gravitation, that stabilize Porce in the Dark Empty so it will not collide with anything else.
92 A.T. – The florent is given time to rest, to restore its light, creating stable night and day. Longer variations in its brightness creates the seasons.
94 A.T. – After a long period of experimentation, Luminatr settles on a version of aging and death to be implemented into all folk, plants, and animals. The deed is done, and Qorcneas officially recalls his plague.
95 A.T. – In collaboration with Plowr, Luminatr creates the Fith to handle decomposition. From it are spawned the molds and mushrooms of Porce.
96 A.T. – To combat the excesses of folk greed and ambition, Luminatr gives Porce a thinly distributed will, which clumps only when a folk seeks to cause disruptive change. These clumps were the questing beasts, and lived only to battle for balance in the absence of the gods.
100 A.T. – Qorcneas and Hesprid willingly descend into the Pipes, to settle in their graves far from folk. With their presence diminished, the remaining gods, Oaths, and Custodians begin to age and fade more rapidly.
105 A.T. – The nymphs of Greywater clean the Lastern Sea of Second Toil.
113 through 156 A.T. – The remaining gods vanish and the Age of Building begins.
0 A.B. through 7 A.B. – The Fayeblons, unintended questing beasts formed to oppose lingering godly powers, are born, and begin their miserable storied lives.
57 A.B. – The worship of the newest translation of the toil papers, toil papism, begins in earnest. Many cultures forget their gods in favor of the book’s incorrect history and fictional deity.
4538 A.B. – Bombast arrives in Porce.