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Hidden 7 mos ago Post by Tal
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Tal

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Ya-Shuur





Ya-Shuur was starting to like Li’Kalla. It was nice watching her playing in the snow and making friends. But he also noticed that this island she had found was burnt and many souls had been suffering. It made him want to do something about it. All he could do for now was comfort some of the souls as they went away. Then Li’Kalla went home and started playing in her bedroom. He did not want to spy on her when she was in her room. So he decided to leave the mansion and explore her sphere some more. There were many things in this world and he wanted to see more. But then he heard a strange sound and felt a criminal presence.

Vakk screamed at Li’Kalla and torturd her, and Ya-Shuur was horrified. He tried to come close so he could tell him to stop, but he could say nothing. And getting close to the fighting gods was hard. But soon he was close enough and tried to reach for one of Vakk’s tentacles so he could help Li’Kalla. But it was too late and there was suddenly blood everywhere. It splattered all over him even though he was not a physical creature. He felt it reacting and mixing inside him. It was the blood of the both of the gods. And then Li’Kalla turned into a monster. Vakk’s words had driven her to madness. “No…” Ya-Shuur murmured, and there were tears in his eyes. He blinked and reached for his face, and he realized that his face was transforming. An energy wave from the fighting gods came at him and he was flung back.

He saw Vakk running away then. Li’Kalla was eating something. He realized with horror that it was that mud creature she had befriended. He was not safe here anymore. The longer he stayed, the more physical he became, the more likely it was that the monster would find him. Sadly he turned and ran away from all the crimes.

Outside of the So’E he looked at his newly formed hands and found that they looked like Li’Kalla’s before she became a monster. Horror tore through him at the idea that he might have accidentally taken away her kind shape and turned her into a monster when the blood spattered him. “No no. It wasn’t me. It was Vakk.” He told himself. But the doubt would not go away. He looked into a puddle. A kind bearded face looked back at him. His beard was brown and long. His hair was the same. It curled down until it reached his shoulders. His skin was darker than Li’Kalla’s. He shook his head. It could not be that he had stolen Li’Kalla’s kind form. He looked nothing like her.

Somewhat assured (but a small doubt was niggling at the back of his head still) he began walking through the mud and rain. There was a deep frown and sandness in his brown eyes. He kept looking back behind him. Even though he wanted to help he was completely helpless and lost. If Li’Kalla could not help herself (and she was such a powerful creature) how could he hope help himself let alone her? The thought made him sad and he walked away.


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Hidden 7 mos ago 7 mos ago Post by Lord Zee
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Journey





Something dark swam underneath blue waves. A long body went to and fro cutting through waves like a fish, but it wasn’t a fish, was it? Spiked horns broke the surface tension here and there, alluding to a dark omen upon the world. A stain, that moved and blighted where it went, humming as it did. Humming. Such a creature did not think as others did, no, it’s mind was sharpened with purpose, with want. That purpose was all it knew, but it hungered for more. It always hungered.

It was a she, and she swam for days through endless water. She did not stop to rest, for she was driven to find land. Only then could she rest, somewhere dark and quiet, away from the prying eyes of the sun. This it knew, this it wanted. And there came a time when deeper waters gave way to shallow, rocky shores full of little fishes. Useless souls, but they were a harbinger of white sands, sparkling in the light. And the form that was her, fell upon dry land at last with silent thuds.

Her claws dug into the soft soil, scales absorbing the heat from the sun, as she shook her blackened body dry. Four eyes, intelligent eyes, surveyed the area before her. Nothing but green and brown and red. Red. The color of blood. The color of hunger. Instinctually, she entered the dark tree line, for there was much to be done and a home was needed for her spawn. As her tail vanished into the giant trees, the beach left empty except for tracks, all that could be heard was a hum.

Azadine had arrived in the Great Hooflands.




Likewise, across the sea, Ansara scaled a mighty cliff. From the vast ocean below, a wall of rock jutted out to meet her and so she climbed. Claws struck stone with mighty blows, as the Reaper ascended. The rock was familiar to her, like a dream from long ago, and it provided her safe passage to the top. Then there before her was a vast ocean of green, split apart by a variety of rock and crevices. Tentatively, she reached the trees and began her journey into the unknown.

As the sun set, time and time again, Ansara became restless. Though she had found many suitable locations for her spawn, there was not enough life to sustain her, nonetheless her unborn. So she scoured the land, finding nothing but mundane life in her pursuit. That was until she reached the edge of the continent, and a new opportunity presented itself. Across the water that hissed and steamed, she saw the vaguest shape of land and the promise of a new future.

It was a risky decision, but the Reaper could not tarry in land that would not provide. Thus, with a mighty leap, the water of the Saluran Mendidih welcomed her in its embrace. This water was warmer, but not painfully so to the massive creature that she was. What proved to be a challenge, was the turbulent water. The currents were wild, and her tail was put to the extreme as she swam. But swim she did.

Upon arriving on the other side of the strait, Ansara climbed another cliff, shorter than the first. Once she pulled herself up on solid ground she took in this new land, like before. It was green, richly so, and before her there were mountains. Home.





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Hidden 7 mos ago Post by BBeast
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BBeast Scientific

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Ashalla

Goddess of Oceans and Storms



FP: 01 MP: 00


The wet soil of Atokhekwoi served as a blotched and dark sky as K’nell walked upside down, his boots stepping on the invisible veil of the sky as if he were walking upright. Any blue that the sky held was long gone, now cloaked in dark clouds that threatened rain. K’nell didn’t seem to mind; he sucked in a few deep breaths, and exhaled the electric soil tinged air, leaving a metallic taste to cover his tongue.

Truth be told there was too much on his mind to really take in the wonders of life, his hand firmly grasping the dream orb. The task of walking upside down did not in fact ease his thinking, he sighed, and suddenly fell to the ground. With a gentle shmuk he hit the wet soil, his boots standing firm yet somehow avoided collecting the mud. He pressed onward, a soft hum coming to his lips.

As he hummed in thought, his eyes returned to the image of a bird, one that had been following him for quite some time. He had seen it when it broke the horizon hours ago, but only now was it in danger of landing on his own shoulder.

He stopped. The black and white bird was the size of his forearm and held curious eyes that scanned the god many times over. A harsh mimicking hum came from the bird, matching K’nells own. A smile broke across K’nell’s face, “Ah.”

“Ah,” The magpie mimicked, soliciting a bigger smile from K’nell.

“It is a coincidence that you can speak,” K’nell feigned wonder, “Because I have a story, one about the very God of speech.”

“It’s ah!” The bird echoed.

K’nell held out his arm, and the bird landed, it’s tiny feet somehow not even bringing one wrinkle to his jacket. K’nell hummed gently and the bird copied. The two stood like that for hours, until hundreds and hundreds of Magpies flocked the skies. The humming stop and K’nell cleared his throat.

“Ah, very good,” He started, “Now with a proper audience, I shall relay to you a tale of my own eyes and mind.”

K’nell continued to speak, his words exiting his mouth as wisps of glowing white. The wisps held the story of Li’Kalla’s cry for help and the sudden appearance of Vakk’s deadly tentacles, ending it on the story of the subsequent coming of the beast and the splitting soul, and how through these acts Li’Kalla had been broken, only to eventually be saved.

The wispy words flew snugly into the bird’s ears, and before long the flock erupted in a cacophony, their bird tongues twisting as they all retold the story over and over, the moral of the story clear yet unsaid; the God of Speech is not to be trusted.

On and on they talked and on and on they told the story. K’nell nodded at the irony of the situation, his mind twisting with ideas, “A tale for the magpie, for all generations; let it never fade and let the moral stand. With this, I bless your family.”

He lifted his arm, sending the magpie off into a flurry. Without much more, K’nell shoved his hands into his pocket and continued on his way. The roaring flock broke into all directions above him, their voices thunder as they retold the tale of Vakk and Li’Kalla.



The walk was uneventful; the stormy clouds remained, as did K’nell’s many thoughts. His eyes fixed downward, and only after a few taps of his chin did he finally look upwards from the muddy plains. His eyes shot upward at the storm, it’s dark haze hiding the sky. K’nell squinted, noticing a large and familiar soul floating along with the clouds -- no -- was the clouds.

An orb of lightning lit up the area around K’nell like the sun. The orb was joined by a second orb, then the impression of a face formed with the two orbs in the place of eyes. "K’nell, we meet," Ashalla’s voice boomed like thunder.

The power of the voice called K’nell to blink as the wind pushed past. Taking a moment to readjust himself, he gave a curt nod, “It would seem so.”

There was a pause, only the sound of rain, wind and distant thunder between them. Ashalla was the first to speak. "I noticed a flock of black-and-white birds telling a rather peculiar story not long ago. Would you have had anything to do with that?"

“Yes,” K’nell took his hands from his pockets, “Did they disturb you?”

"No, although the story raises some questions," Ashalla said, "Where did the beast come from, and whose is it?"

“Li'Kalla,” K'nell answered simply, “In all regards.”

Ashalla rumbled thoughtfully. "Of the battle between Li’Kalla and Vakk, I assume there was a physical counterpart. What was the outcome?"

K'nell had been finger deep in a small silver tin he had produced from his jacket as the question was poised. Quickly snagging a small finger long cigarillo he snapped the tin shut and slid it into his pocket.

“Ah,” K'nell said as if to hold his place in the conversation, “There was no living sign of Vakk, it appears he had fled.”

A wet huff issued from somewhere within Ashalla. The God placed the cigarillo between his lips and deftly lit it with a phantom flame. His eyes flickered upward and he went to reproduce the tin, “I'm sorry dear, how rude of me. Would you care for a cigarillo?”

The great orbs of lightning which were Ashalla’s eyes flickered imperceptibly as they looked at the miniscule tin and cigarillo. "No," Ashalla said. She then continued with her questioning. "If you only witnessed the aftermath of the battle, how do you know these things?"

The end of the cigarillo glew as K'nell took a long vanilla scented pull, he seemed to ponder the question for a moment. Finally he slid the cigar from his mouth and slowly blew a thick stream of smoke.

The smoke turned and floated upwards. As it did, the wisps of grey took on new shapes and eventually colors, until Ashalla was seeing --and somehow hearing-- K’nell’s own memories from the moment he had found the puddles, to the conclusion of his time within the dreams of Li’Kalla. The images were in such dimension as to match the many visions of a God, so much so that it is likely any mortal would have been driven mad attempting to see the story in the smoke. K’nell puffed out a ring of smoke, the new miasma ending the story with the image of the bright blue rose he had placed upon the sleeping beast’s snout.

Another thoughtful rumble echoed through Ashalla, this rumble bouncing off the landscape and lasting for some time. "You now seek to restore the lost parts of Li’Kalla," she eventually said.

K’nell flicked the stub of his cigarillo, the brown wrap disappearing into nothingness before it could hit the ground, “It would appear so.”

"I shall inform you if I happen to locate one of these parts," Ashalla said.

“That would be appreciated,” K’nell nodded with a respect smile, “Thank you.”
There was a lull in the conversation between the two. Ashalla broke the silence. "I met your creation Hermes not long ago."

“And how did you take to her?” K’nell seemed to crane is neck upwards in interest.

"She is a wonderful dancer and appreciates beauty, although her hubris is perhaps slightly greater than what is appropriate for a mortal and your design for her was lacking in a couple key details," Ashalla said.

“It is unfortunate that you feel that way,” K’nell replied with a polite smile. He paused in a humming thought, “Might I ask; how would you create a mortal?”

"If I am creating a fleshy creature, I bring together biomatter and transmute it to form a living creature," Ashalla said, "If you refer to design, the key differences is that I would include a means for the mortal to reproduce and I would include colour."

“Understandable and forthright,” K’nell nodded, “If I may perpetuate the hypothetical; what shall be the purpose of your new creation?”

"You are implying an intelligent mortal being similar to Hermes?" Ashalla said. There was a pause. "I do not know. I was speaking of living things in general."

“As was I,” K’nell smiled upwards, “Forgive the confusion.”

"I created a large bird very recently, near the north-eastern tip of this continent. I gave the bird wind in her voice, lightning in her plumage, thunder in her wings, and midnight blue feathers with a dash of azure. I made it to stand above the large beasts Kirron had made in that region."

“Beautiful,” K’nell’s voice began to swirl away from him, “but if I may ask, why?”

Ashalla seemed to be taken aback by the question. "To show my strength through my creations, of course."

“Of course,” K’nell nodded, his smile unending. A grainy hum swirled around the God for a moment, “Show to who?”

Ashalla rumbled for a moment, then answered, "Everyone."

At this point, K’nell’s smile had arced into a cheshire grin, his head bobbing in understanding, “I’m sure everyone will see.”
Ashalla’s cloudy face gave a nod. "Have you seen Hermes recently?"

“I have,” K’nell’s voice hung between them.

"Did you like my addition to her?" Ashalla asked expectantly.

“I did,” The God of Sleep’s smile flashed again, his voice returning to his mouth.

The clouds above K’nell burbled happily. "So, why did you create Hermes?"

“To see,” K’nell answered cryptically, “We are damned as well as divine. Tied to a purpose and driven by our own means; there are things even a God cannot see or create without a little help.”

Ashalla simply gave a wet huff in response. A smile cracked on K’nell’s face and he slid the tin back from out of his jacket, “Until next time, then?”

"Until next time, K’nell," Ashalla replied. The face in the storm disappeared, and the clouds blew away.




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Hidden 7 mos ago 7 mos ago Post by Tal
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Tal

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Ya-Shuur





The rain was unending and Ya-Shuur was drenched. His hair was plastered to his face and his beard was leaking onto his chest. It was also quite cold. This form was not very good at keeping him warm. He remembered that Li'Kalla had placed stuff on top of it, and she had housed it in the mansion to protect it. Ya-Shuur thought that it would be good for him to do the same. He gathered leaves from all the trees and stared at them blankly. He collected twigs too, but he was not sure how he could turn a pile of wet twigs and leaves into clothes. He watched some of the creatures on the island. There were bears with thick coats. There were mud pillars that did not need clothes. There were birds with feathers. He found a few carcasses and dragged them to the pile he was collecting. He unfeathered the birds and then stared at the bear, trying to work out how to use its fear. He picked at it like he had picked at the feathers, but that did not seem to help. At last he left it, deciding that it was not going to be very useful.

He twisted the wet twigs together messily. They barely held. Then he began tying the leaves to it. Some broke, but some held. He decorated the mess with the feathers and attempted to tie it around his hips. It fell off and fell apart. Ya-Shuur frowned and looked at his poor attempt. He had nothing to properly bring the different parts together so they would not fall apart on use. He stroked his beard as he thought. He touched his beard a bit more with both hands. “Maybe that would work...” he said to himself. But he did not have enough hair to make experimenting a good idea. He looked at the shaggy carcass of the bear. That could work.

So he got to tearing off the bear's hairs and tying them together until they made decent enough string. Then he began tying the twigs and feathers and leaves together. When he was done he was able to cover his waist well with it. Ya-Shuur was satisfied and now set to finding a shelter that would keep the rain away. The place he chose was near the sea so that he could see it, but it was also in the forests. There was a stream flowing by. Not too far away was a rocky formation that created a tiny enclave in the rock. It was just deep and large enough for him to be able to sit down in it and bring his legs in so that they were safe from the pouring rain. He was satisfied with this and sat down there staring out through the trees and rain.

Now that he was clothed and out of the rain, he could think more clearly about what had happened. He knew that what had happened was bad and should not have happened. It was bad because it had caused suffering. It had caused Li'Kalla to suffer, Vakk to suffer, the mud clump to suffer, and him to suffer. But despite that Vakk seemed to have been happy with it when he left, so Ya-Shuur thought that maybe Vakk had gained something from it. So that made it good for Vakk somehow? If it was good for Vakk then why should Vakk not do it? Ya-Shuur thought about this and was uncomfortable with it. It was selfish. He knew selfishness was bad but he could not think of why. Wasn't it normal for someone to want what was best for themselves? But if everyone acted like that... it would lead to bad things for everyone wouldn't it? Yes. But if everyone was aware of this and so tried to not be selfish, that meant that selfishness became viable again since only a few people would do it. They would be able to take advantage of everyone else who was unselfish. Ya-Shuur scratched his drying head.

Maybe he was thinking about it wrong. Vakk had hurt Li'Kalla. Li'Kalla should be able to hurt him back surely. But that did not benefit either Li'Kalla or Vakk. It did not undo the hurt done to Li'Kalla. Ya-Shuur thought about this. Undoing the hurt was a good thing. Perhaps if Vakk undid the hurt then there would be no need for Li'Kalla to hurt him in return. But could such a hurt be undone? Li'Kalla had been turned into a monster after all. And could Vakk be convinced to undo it? He had no incentive. He was happy about what had happened and seemed to have benefited from it in some way. Ya-Shuur rubbed his head. He could have an incentive... Li'Kalla would not hurt him. So fear of retribution. Fear of punishment.

Ya-Shuur placed his finger in the mud and wrote: “Hurting others is evil. Those who hurt others are to undo the hurt they have done. If they do not do this then they are to be hurt.” He thought about this. This could easily become circular if no caveat was put in place. So he wiped it away and wrote again: “Hurting others for no good reason is evil. Those who hurt others for no good reason are to undo the hurt they have done. If they do not do this then they are to be hurt.” He looked at the words as they were slowly wiped away by the rain. What would he call this? He thought for a few moments then wrote again in the mud: “This is Justice.”

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Hidden 7 mos ago 7 mos ago Post by Muttonhawk
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Muttonhawk Let Slip the Corgis of War

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Kirron


THUD! The heavy, grey-skinned quadruped flailed its horns and brayed into the sky it flew across. It had never flown before. The ground flattened in a streak where it landed, skidding into a tumble in the dirt. It desperately righted itself and thundered away before it could even stop.

"Nice try, fat boy!" Kirron hefted his club -- a stripped tree trunk -- back over his shoulder. His growling shout followed the flat-footed creature behind it. "Try better next time or I'll swing hard enough that you won't hit the ground! Heh heh heh..."

Kirron wiped some spittle off his lip with his forearm. The fight would stay in these creatures. It was just a matter of knowing who was boss.

The thought shrank Kirron's smile. He turned to continue on his walk, humming thoughtfully to himself. "Hrmmmnm. Each one dies. Might not learn. Will keep relearning..." He snapped his fingers. "I ought'a try something else."

He let images pass through his mind as he strolled through the Hooflands. He knew there was a solution somewhere.



Wildlife only attacked Kirron a few more times before he approached the east coast again. Most was just territorial or defensive behaviour now that most of the blood had dried or soaked into the ground. The genuine predators followed curiously for a while, but could not quite overcome their reluctance to challenge a tree trunk.

Kirron's reflection distracted him still. As highlights of red became less frequent in the flora and fauna around him, he wondered whether he would be constantly adjusting forever. As sun lost its power to biting cold winds and clouds, the thought of slowing down to stop his work became less appealing anyway. He swam across the flow of a broad and refreshing river with no new ideas yet. There had to be inspiration somewhere. It wasn't until his feet finally felt sand and his eyes looked up to peer across the horizon that he stopped and scrunched up his face.

"Wait..."

Kirron saw Heliopolis was leaning a little too far to his left. He had been going south-east.

He paused for a moment. And then he lifted his brow and shrugged. "Whatever. Not like I'm in any..."

A sound carried across the beach that trailed Kirron off. A high groaning sound, almost like an amused yell. Kirron turned his head to the source.

"...Rush..."

Down the beach to his right were what looked to be a crowd of irregularly placed smooth rocks. Some of them moved, using little limbs to throw sand upon their backs. One of the stones was not a stone at all, but some blubbery grey mass pushing itself along by two little paws and its half-curled tail end. It had two big dark eyes on its head and a handful of thick straight whiskers springing back from under its nose. A closer look revealed all of the stones to be these blubbery smooth creatures, napping lazily on the sand.

Intrigued, Kirron approached the creatures. More little grunts and belches sounded from them. One by one, the sounds dimmed as their heads quirked up to look at the blood god with big curious eyes.

Kirron stopped and asked the nearest creature. "Hey, you," he pointed. The creature was reclined on its side and holding its bemused head back. "What're you?"

The creature opened its mouth, revealing a big pink tongue and a set of healthy teeth. "I'm a seal. What're you?"

"Call me Kirron." He tilted his head to one side. "Why are you all laying about here?"

The seal turned to look at its friends and back to the blood god. "Because our tummies are full and the sand feels nice."

Kirron harrumphed. His brow quirked as something pieced together inside his head. "S’that so? Hm…I need to think about this. Scootch over, seal."

The seal wobbled itself out of Kirron's way as he set down his huge club and lay down on his back, looking up at the sky. He even did as the seals did and threw some sand on his legs and torso.

It did feel nice, he thought as he frowned.



Shhhhhhhwhuf! The heavy, blubbery seal flailed its fins and brayed into the sky it flew through. It had never flown before. The sea water smacked and gave way to his body, leaving his skin stinging as he remembered which way was up. Looking about, more seals fell into the water, each with a CHOOM and a cloud of bubbles before the liquid slowed them. Each shook their heads as they came to their senses.

The seal blinked hard. They looked strange. He blinked and shook his head as he registered what he saw; the seals around him had their tails split into two thick limbs, and their fins had grown longer, with curling fingers at the end of each. He recoiled in horror as he looked down and found his own body changed in just the same way. Some panicked swimming took the seal closer to shore in a similar manner to his friends. His rear limbs took a moment to get used to but he could thankfully still swim as well as before.

His head poked out of the surface of the water. Left and right, many of his friends and family were looking to shore as well. They appeared confused.

"Get up! Enough sleeping!" Kirron grasped another pair of bewildered seals by the tails in each hand and flung them one after the other into the sea. "If you've got time to relax, you've got time to have fun! Come on! Get ready!" The blood god was grinning from ear to ear with his shark-like teeth.

The seal looking on followed the arcs of his flying friends. Their flapping tails parted into the strange hind-limbs as they flew.

Kirron threw quite the number of seals into the ocean this way. Many retreated to the water before he could grab them, of course. Some tried to bite but were just taken by the heads and tossed into the water without so much as a second look.

"Don't miss out! This'll be great, I promise!" Kirron laughed. He was unstoppable.

After enough seals were thrown into their new forms, Kirron stood up straight and dusted the sand off his hands. "Alright, listen up everyone! This is your celebration! I've got some gifts for each of you!"

He turned, took a deep breath and blew a gust of wind from his pouted lips. The sand flew violently inland, revealing under the beach a neatly arranged pile of fresh dead fish, all coloured a deep lustrous red.

Kirron turned back to the seals and beckoned with one hand. "Come and get them, then we'll celebrate. If you're content to stay, just turn around and swim away. You'll be back to your old forms before you can even remember this happened."

Some of the further seals' heads ducked under the water in fear, retreating as they did back into their tail-and-finned forms. Others glanced back and glanced at each other.

The seal looking on felt his heart race. He was hungry and curious. A deadly combination. When he ducked under the water, he swam towards the god. His body slid to a stop on the sand. An immediate attempt to shuffle his way up the beach cause his new hind-limbs to bend effortlessly on a middle joint. He propelled himself and stumbled. He god a face full of dry sand. Undeterred, he kept trying. His hind-limbs propelled him up. His heart beat too fast for him to consider turning back. He overstepped and held his new, long, fingered forelimbs out. He barely balanced himself.

Heavy feet crunched on the sand in front of him. Kirron stepped up to the standing seal. The seal lifted his eyes to the towering red god.

"Here." Kirron held out one of the fish.

The seal bent down to try to bite it. He overbalanced and felt his fore-limbs grab at the blood god's wrist. They were good at holding, these new hands. After another abashed glance, the seal grabbed the fish with one of his new fore-limbs and stuck it in his mouth.

"Now tell me," Kirron said in his low-pitched voice. "What're you?"

As the seal chewed and swallowed the delicious, warm, and tender red fish, he thought about the question. He thought about it until he knew he was thinking. He thought unlike he had when he first met the approaching blood god. With a small gasp, the seal looked up to Kirron. "I'm a...a...selka. That's what I am, Kirron."

The selka felt a tingle in his throat. He had spoken to the blood god. Not like he had before. He spoke with sounds from his mouth that fit together like rubble.

Kirron clapped a hand on the selka's shoulder and grinned. "Sounds correct to me. My gift to you is the name Viyoh." He pushed Viyoh behind him. "Now go have fun, Viyoh."

Viyoh spun to look behind him as he rebalanced. In front of Kirron now were the carefully approaching seals from the water. All of them were still transformed -- they were selka, like him, he knew. When one reached the spread of fish and ate one, Kirron gave her a name. Antorophu. Antorophu's eyes lit up when she heard her name.

"Now go have fun, Antorophu."

She was unceremoniously, or perhaps ceremoniously, shoved along.

Kirron attended to each selka.

A selka who was taller than the others found her hind-limbs more easily. Uraph. "Now go have fun, Uraph."

Another who crawled half the way on his still rotund middle and sprinted the rest of the way ate a fish while catching his breath. Hoshaf. "Now go have fun, Hoshaf."

None of them really knew what to do. They had a feeling it meant something other than standing around wordlessly.

One selka managed to navigate the whole way across the beach propped up on her hind-limbs. Ephrish. "Now go have fun, Ephrish."

Ephrish was enlightened like the rest, but her balance remained imperfect. She stumbled her way across the uneven sand until Viyoh and Antorophu reached out to hold her. The higher centre of balance took them all by surprise as they staggered his way and that. They all laughed. Viyoh even had the temerity to pull them into another stumble together for the thrill.

"Now go have fun, Dheansaff."

Seeing the laughter, the other selka started to giggle. They joined in by grabbing and shoving one another in play.

"Now go have fun, Hulphay."

The selkas settled into their playfight as a collective on their new land legs.

"Now go have fun, Felsoff."

Before long it was more fun to see who could stand up for the longest, rather than see who could throw the other down. They made rules with their new words, speaking in ways that fit together.

"Now go have fun, Nevuah."

Of course, standing still was never the fun way to win such a game.

"Now go have fun, Nuhuansoph."

They put spins on the game. Some raced across the beach, shoulder to shoulder. Some joined in a circle and spun.

"Now go have fun, Thumfatem."

The crowd of movement laughed into the day.

"Now go have fun, Ethrevith."

With no more coming out of the water, Kirron turned around and put his hands on his hips. A satisfied smile crept onto his face at the scene. The selka were all having fun. They learned one another’s names and spoke with a new language. They danced, and wrestled, and discussed, and went swimming, and ate some more of the fish. Kirron could not help but to step up and join in the revelry.

This was a day of celebration.



At the end of the day, Kirron sat facing the ocean with his arm on his propped-up knee. He made sure to scare off any creature wishing to interrupt the party, but now all the selka slept on the beach behind him. Each had a smile on their seal-like face. The experience left them exhausted.

Kirron did not expect to see another seal waddle itself out of the water. It was an old, spotty seal, peering up at Kirron with a grumpy scrunched nose.

"You're too late to be a selka now." Kirron told the seal. "You had your chance."

The seal grunted as only the old, wise, and indignant could. "They'll be very hungry in the morning, you know!" The seal told him, still speaking like an animal.

Kirron frowned. "So what?"

"They'll be too overwhelmed by all this thinking and words to catch any fish!"

The blood god rolled his sunken eyes. "They'll work it out. Hell, if they want to have fun like that again, they’ll have to work it out. Why do you care, anyway?"

"Because I'm the oldest seal there is!" The seal barked up at Kirron. "I want to see them live happy and healthy lives! And you just messed it all up!"

Kirron craned his head forward, scowling at the old seal. The seal stood its ground. The staring contest continued. The level of quiet intolerance between the two remained neck and neck. Kirron narrowed his eyes. The old seal narrowed its eyes. They both started to grumble in unison, escalating in volume and speed.

The crescendo ended as Kirron halted and straightened. He spoke flatly. "You want to protect them."

"Yes!" The seal barked.

Kirron drew in a long, thoughtful breath. "You know they must face their own challenges."

"Of course I know!" It snorted and lowered its voice. "All guardians know this."

The corner of Kirron's mouth quirked upwards. "What if I gave you the ability to protect them all? Would you let them face their own challenges then?"

Thinking was hard for the seal, but his wisdom was cultured from a long and eventful life. He barked after a pause to say. "I would. Many challenges are beyond them. I would protect them until they can face those challenges themselves."

"Good," Kirron said slowly. He stood up to his feet. "Then do that with my blessing...Yimbo, Selka Guardian."

The wise old seal felt a bloated, flushed feeling. The blood god shrank as the rest of the beach shrank around him. He felt his teeth grow and snap together with razor edges. He felt his skin and fur thicken around his blubber until he could barely feel the lapping of the waves. He felt his muscles and tendons fall at ease with which they propped up his old bones, stronger than ever. When he finally towered over the bluffs around the beach, he let out a guttural, echoing roar.

All the selka started from their sleeps and beheld their guardian’s friendly, beastly face.

He felt as though he could bite the land and tear the continent in half. He felt he could protect his seals and his selka from anything.

"And with that, my new friends," Kirron shouted to all the Selka, "I have to go! Never lose sight of what is important to you! Earn all the fun you can!"

Kirron bellowed out a loud laugh and sprung himself down. When he leapt away into the sky, laughter echoing behind him and sand send flying in a plume, the selka felt such a grief strike their hearts.

All the selka and all the seals wept that day, for they knew they would never have such fun as when Kirron came to gift them. But even though they could not stop weeping, they could still earn their fun. They never would forget the blood god’s words.




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Freedom


For a time, there was a silence in Sanvādam as a mutual hatred formed between Atmav and the Echoes that forced her to stay where she was. Having no bearing of time, Atmav only watched the Echoes moved back and forth, their white eyes burning into her very being. She could give a growl back as she fought the temptation to try and break free from her prison. However, restraint was the key to the situation as rushing to would merely lead to the swarm of soulless wretches attacking her from all sides, even if they certainly seemed a bit dull.

They were nothing more but mere animals, incorporeal animals, but animals all the same. They would slash at another of one came to close which indicated some territorial nature between them, likely some personality that Vakk and they shared. Atmav learned much about this species, however, her mind was also thinking of how it was possible of how Vakk had become so powerful. She remembered how his form was not this gargantuan, or ugly for that matter, nor did he have the ability to will creatures to life. It was a strange chain of events that she could not fully comprehend since she simply missed whatever process had made Vakk into what he was.

Her thoughts stirred as she heard utterances of words, the Echoes spreading a single word around themselves like a wildfire. “Talk,” they said. Their voices were hushed and many had stopped their movement to look in a singular direction. For a moment, she could only see the darkness of Sanvādam, then there cake the gargantuan form of a worm. Such a being was hard to forget, especially the form of the one that had brought her to life.

“Hello, Vakk. Find what you were looking for?” Atmav asked, her voice was sarcastically indifferent towards the being she faced. Such bravado was something only fools would dare to do in a captive situation, but she knew that Vakk wanted her alive for the time being, even if it was just for torture.

”Unfortunately, I have run into a problem and as such my item has been lost.” Vakk stated, looking down upon the still kneeling form of Atmav. ”Have you had time to realize the position that you are in?” he asked, some tendrils gesturing to the numerous creatures that surrounded both of them. It was clear where the Lord of Talk was going with the conversation. Such talk was no surprise to Atmav, she had heard all the same from him before.

“Yes. Though I must say, this reminds me of one of our first encounters. When I was merely a war-slave who was subjected to a war that I nor my brothers and sisters wanted,” Atmav reminisced, similarly indifferent to memory before she let out a yawn. She had thought about what to do, things that may get her freedom.

”Do not try to change the subject, Atmav,” Vakk interrupted her thoughts. He leaned his head down a bit, before he continued to speak, ”Why do you resist my will? You know your loyalty to your old master was waning by the time our final fight had come.”

Atmav shook her head for a moment, knowing what Vakk was trying to do and unable to say anything about it lest he starts torturing her again. “I made a promise to protect him until my death,” she said before she began to feel cold. She knew what was going to come next, knowing that Vakk was going to use her words against her.

”But you have already died. It was by my mercy that you were resurrected. I am giving you a chance, a chance to live a normal life in this place. The only price is that you do what I ask when I need you.”

His offer seemed tempting, but she could not put things together properly. Hadn’t he last said that he planned to get them home? Perhaps he changed his mind and wanted to stay? She couldn’t think properly. There was too much noise around her, the Echoes had begun to repeat part of their conversation and they wouldn’t stop. She just needed them to be quiet. Atmav needed silence

”You will love the life you want. The Talk, nor I, will have any say in what you do.”

All she wanted was freedom and here it was. She looked up before rising to her feet, slowly gauging his response.

”Do you accept?

She silently nodded.

With that she was whisked away, Vakk’s tendril wrapping around her and navigating her through Sanvādam. The darkness gave way to light. She felt salt water spray on her face from the crash of waves against rocks, she could finally see a new world before she was forcibly thrown onto the ground. Despite her treatment, she was happy to just experience something other than torture and the coldness that had surrounded her. Atmav took in a breath of the air, slowly getting to her feet once more. Her four wings stretched out, finally being able to escape the cramped nature of her hell.

”You are free to go.”
She stopped taking in the scenery for a moment, turning to face the gargantuan form of Vakk, she cocked her head to the side, “But I do not know where we are. Where do would I go from here?”

”It is your life. Figure it out for yourself.”

“Can I at least have something to defend myself with?”

Vakk seemed to think to himself for a moment. ”No. Figure it out yourself, you were one a guardian. Now, I will remind you that I will call upon you when I need you. Other than that, you are free.”

“How will I know you need me?”

”I will send an animal to fetch you.”

With that Vakk retreated back into the depths of his sphere, leaving the woman where she was with no clue as to where to go. She looked around and saw a storm brewing in the distance. However, as she had time to properly think, she could not understand why she so quickly agreed to the offer Vakk gave. Was she really that desperate to lead her own life? Or was it something that worm did to her mind? Atmav did not know, but she was at least happy to earn a modicum of freedom even if she would occasionally have to do things for someone who had once been her enemy.

She let out a sigh and flapped her wings, taking her body into the air.

Her mind continued to go back to the conversation, how it seemed like Vakk was able to achieve what he wanted so easily. It bothered her, it bothered her immensely. However, what was she able to do? He held the power in that situation and he made a deal that she could not have achieved otherwise.

The storm grew closer, but she did not care. The winds grew, but she did not care.

She couldn’t think straight and soon the storm was on top of her.

The noise was everywhere. The rushing wind, the lightning, the rain.

She was unaware of it all until she hit the sea water.




The sound of splashing awoke her.

“Is it okay?” “Do we even know what it is?” “I think it’s just an animal.” “Can we please just get back to the fun?”

She moved her arms to push herself up, what she saw was a strange people that moved away from her upon her stirring. They seemed frightened even though she had been at their whim only a few moments before. Atmav slowly got to her feet and looked around, there was only them.

“Should we get Yimbo?” one asked another.

“Please, stop talking.” Atmav requested, the beings giving a shocked impression that she could speak. She looked them over, gauging their attitude. They certainly did not seem hostile, but she was always the cautious one and preferred to take no risks. Atmav took a single step towards them, they moved back. Another step, another few back. It seemed that they were cautious of her as well.

“Who are you,” Atmav asked.

“We’re the Selka,” one answered.

Atmav stepped to the side. “Okay.”

There was an uncomfortable silence between the two for a few moments. Atmav charged at them before she took flight, causing them to give shrill screams and running away. She could see that there were quite a few of these beings, most of them doing some form of celebration. However, as she climbed into the air, she could see no other sign of civilization and even then those Selka had no shelter. This caused her to let out a sigh before she looked back down at the Selka, they seemed to be pointing at her. Some seemed worried, others seemed enthused to see her.

She would have to keep an eye on them, but for the time being, she needed to find food.



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Arryn


Arryn had been told to travel, and so he did.

His course took him south, toward the Eye of Desolation, the birthplace of those parrots whom he had found to be rather delicious. He had yet to actually go there himself, however, so this seemed a perfect time.

The isles came within sight, and when he reached he swooped down to get closer to the trees, peering down into the dense jungle. And then he came across a strange sight in a peculiar clearing…

The land seemed to be broken along several lines. Upon closer inspection, those lines became perfectly straight rows of rich brown soil. The length of a tall tree, perhaps more. There were only three tracts of rows like this. In the center of each there could be seen something small breaking through the dirt. Small and green. Upon the far side of the clearing, there resided a fallen tree, stripped of its branches and leaves. All that remained was a log of teal wood, and a stump, covered in shade. Sitting on that stump, unmoving and like a statue, was a God Arryn had been warned about.

His name was Orvus.

Orvus? This close to Kalgrun? The thought filled Arryn with both concern and interest. The falcon had no idea what had been done to the ground, but whatever it had been, it could not be good. Yet, although Orvus was significantly more powerful than him, the God did not seem to be so focused on the surroundings. That combined with his duty to warn his master of any potential threats was enough to compel Arryn to take a closer look.

The bird landed in a tree close to the god, and peered down inquisitively. What was he doing?

Waiting. That’s all there was too it. He had completed his duty, he had given them a home, an environment unlike his own home. Rich soil, sunlight, and plenty of water. He knew not what to plant, only that he needed to grow something. Thus, Orvus had scoured the island, searching every nook and corner for the right specimens. He knew not why he was even doing it, but he was, and he had to see it to completion. Maybe then… Maybe then something would happen. Now he was wholly focused upon the farm, waiting. Though his seedlings had taken root, he knew not how long they would take to fully mature. But he could wait and think. It seemed thinking was the only thing he did anymore, and he wasn’t even good at it.

This was not to say that he was unaware of his surroundings. In fact, he had become familiar with the area, and watched the comings and goings of the wildlife frequently. He had learned of which ones would come and try to steal what he had worked on, and of the ones who gazed with curiosity. Now it came as a surprise, a bird he had never seen in the area before land close by. Though he did not turn to gaze upon it, he could still see, and this bird looked strangely familiar.

Arryn observed the god in silence for several seconds. Was he asleep? Was he distracted? He knew not. Deciding to risk investigating further, the bird came off the tree branch and swooped down, landing in one of the dirt rows and investigating one of the green seedlings which poked through the earth.

Still, Orvus did not move as he watched the bird fly down into the rows. He was trying to place where he had seen it before. Like a distant memory, on the tip of his mind.

The bird bent down and poked once at the dirt with his beak, testing its firmness. He glanced at the seedling again. Orvus had… planted things? Yet it was so strange - why were they in such neat, organized rows? Why had they all been planted at roughly the same time? Whatever grew from this would surely look unnatural. He turned his way toward the god once more. Why had Orvus engaged in such a strange activity?

When the bird turned his head to look at him, Orvus knew its name, for he had seen such a look before. From Arya’s memories, this one had been a friend, until they parted ways. She had regretted such a thing. No mater. In but a flash of movement, he was above Arryn, gazing down impassively.

”Arryn.” he said quietly.

The bird withheld his alarm, and perked up at the mention of his name. He still held that same curious, inquisitive look, but inside he knew he was in danger. ”How do you know my name?”

”Does it matter? A god knows many things, little avatar. Now, why have you come?” he asked flatly.

”I ask the same of you,” Arryn replied guardedly. ”My master told me to explore the world.”

”I believe you.” he told Arryn, then said, ”Before you existed, and in a time when this world was but water, an asteroid struck the planet. It was created out of anger, and deflected out of love. Thus is hit, and here, to be precise. This place belongs to me.”

”But why are you here?” Arryn pressed further. ”What are you doing?”

Orvus was silent for a moment, before saying, ”I do not know why I am here, but I am.” he floated upwards and then outstretched his hand to display his work, ”This is something that will be called farming. The growing of plants. Whether to be used for food, or simply to do.” He finished, looking back down at Arryn.

Arryn did not see the point in that. ”But there are already plants,” he said, ”And you are a god. Why grow anything naturally?”

”So?” he said, ”Can one not add more? Take away?” he inquired. ”I may be a god, but why should I use my powers when I can simply wait all the same. Surely one such as you relishes the hunt, before the killing blow. You do not simply will your prey to be dead. Where is the enjoyment in that?” he finished.

Arryn decided to abandon that line of conversation. ”How did you know my name?” he repeated. ”I have never met you, and my mind is shielded from your gaze.”

”Your mind may be shielded, yes. But Arya’s was not.” he said impassively, before saying, ”You showed her kindness. Know that she regrets what she did. Greatly.” with a hint of softness in his voice.

That caught Arryn off guard, enough that his eyes widened and his beak open slightly. He regained his composure. ”Where is she? My master said she left Shengshi, but he did not tell me more.”

Orvus said nothing for a moment, the news was interesting. ”I do not know.” he finally said.

”When you saw her, what else did she say?” Arryn asked.

”She said nothing. Sleep was her calling when last we met.” Orvus stated.

”You did not speak with her?”

”No.” was all Orvus said.

”Why not?”

”I did not want to.”

Arryn paused. ”What if she wanted to?” he countered.

’Then she did not get to.” Orvus floated back down to the ground.

Hmm. The god would not budge, Arryn realized. Yet there was still one question, one that his own master had wondered. ”Why did you create something only to cast it aside?”

”You would not understand. Now leave this place, you have tarried here long enough.” Orvus said, before turning back around towards the stump.

Arryn left. Although Orvus and his master were enemies, Orvus had shown no aggression, and there was no reason for a fight. The god’s answers had been confusing, and he was not sure he believed all of them, but nothing could be gained from further questioning. Besides, at some point he would have to tell his master what happened.

He flew for some time, before landing on another tree. Only a few seconds later, another bird, this one black and white, landed on a tree nearby. Arryn looked at it curiously, and then, it began to speak.

When it was done, Arryn took flight once more, the news heavy on his mind. There was another potential threat he would need to tell his master about, it seemed.





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Hidden 7 mos ago 7 mos ago Post by Commodore
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Ihokhe was having a good day, he saw the ocean for the first time, well the first time with his own senses to be more accurate. Ohannakeloi had shared some images of the sea when Ihokhe had first asked, but coming here, was well worth it to see the warm sea. He had spoken extensively with Ohannakeloi and the god had named him a priest, and then explained what that meant. Ihokhe had learned many things from the god, he was given a purpose and told of the other gods and goddesses. At first, their differences and what that had meant were confusing but it grew clear in time. Ihokhe had taken to calling himself a ‘he’ after the god, few others had taken up such conventions however. Although, there were a great many other things he had not seen before either, plentiful species of birds and the numerous small creatures which ran so far when the Ihokhetlani approached.

He turned his head the other Ihokhetlani, he knew they were still there as he could sense them, but looking at them was polite as Ohannakeloi had laid down. They were more awestruck by the sea than himself, as they should be for something by the Supreme Divinity, and that they had never seen such water in such quantity before. His two companions were quite young, young for the Ihokhetlani at least, all must be young compared to the divines. The companions, Ihena and Iaro, had not met Ohannakeloi, they were what was most of the Ihokhetlani, isolated from that first generation which had walked with him. Now Ohannakeloi spoke mostly through his priests, Ihokhe got updates every now and then when he prayed.

Although his awareness was dim far away from himself, Ihokhe felt something familiar interrupt his musings. He looked to the sky and the focus of his soul-eye made his confusion clear, another Divine watching over from above! “Ihena, Iaro, look above and gaze upon Azura most fair, Divine of the Wind!”

When they turned their gazes the distant bird she seemed to react, her exploratory gaze shifting down to them. Even at this distance, he could feel that their gazes had met. Moments later she began to dive down towards them and as she did, the sky behind her moved to follow her. What he had thought to an ordinary sky temple was instead something very much alive dotted with other things whose souls were very strange indeed. They had an odd rigidity to them that he had not seen, nor been told of before. It was one thing to know that your maker did not know all, and another to see it before you that which they did not know. Living, for what else had a soul? Yet still rigid beyond anything known, Ihokhe was not sure what this was, and not sure what he should think.

The pair descended rapidly. The great moving temple stopped some way above them until but Azura herself continued downwards until she landed gracefully a little ways away from them. She peered at them with what might have been curiosity before greeting them with a cheerful “Hello there.”

Ihokhe kneeled, after a sort as knees were not exactly a matter of his physiology, the other two hurried to emulate him. Ihokhe responded, “Greetings Great Goddess of Wind and Sky! We are humbled in your divine presence. How may such humble creatures such as ourselves please your magnificence?”

“You can tone down the reverence just a touch if you want for a start. Or a lot actually. I have no need for such platitudes, that I can assure you. Please stand or sit or whatever makes you comfortable.” she said, her tone invitational rather than instructional “I mostly wish simply to talk with you, to learn about you and your kind if that’s alright with you. What are your names first of all?”

“As you wish Holy One, we shall comply. I am Ihokhe, priest and first of my race, the Ihokhetlani.” He paused.

“Ah, I am known as Ihena, gatherer of stones, Great Azura.”

“And I am Iaro, first of the westward journey, Holy Azura.”

Ihokhe spoke again, hoping curtness would be more favorable, “We will answer as we are able.”

The great bird let out a barely audible sigh before she continued speaking just as she had been “It is good to meet you, Ihokhe, Ihena, and Iaro. You know who I am it seems but let me introduce my friend here as well” she pointed a wind upwards at the great structure. Then she shouted something unintelligible at it, at which point a number of stone limbs upon it moved aside at its front, revealing a fleshy creature’s gargantuan mouth. The creature spoke to him and his companions directly ”'S toil leam gur coinneachadh.” Needless to say he could not understand a word of what it said.

Azura seemed to quickly pick up on this lack of understanding “Ah. Language issues. One moment.” she said before engaging with a brief conversation with this Luis creature after which it floated up and away from them. Luis spent most of the rest of their conversation exploring the area from above “Sorry about that, I’ll fill him in later. Your creator and I don't share a common language it seems. That’s not a problem for us, but that may end up producing problems for mortals like you in future. I’ll have to make note of that. Speaking of which, I’d like it if could tell me a bit about who made you and why? Are they treating you well?”

Ihokhe looked to the other two before he replied, turning back with a downwardly averted gaze.

“First I was made by the Great Divine Ohannakeloi, blessed be his name, he taught me many things that he knew about the world and its gods. Then he showed me how I was made and taught how to make more of the Ihokhetlani. He gave us, me and the other Early Ones names, and taught us and warned us of dangers we might face. He withdrew, I and the other priests still commune with him, speak and learn, but he does not show himself much anymore. We taught those who came after us such as these two here, all that we knew and we all continued to learn as we could from the world.”

Ihokhe paused briefly, he had not told the others outside of the early ones this but it was a Divine asking the question.

“As for why we were created I have asked only once for it was something he did not tell us, he did not tell me then and I have not asked since. He has told me things that we must do, be kind to each other, hold respect for one another, spread across the land and always respect the Divines, but he has never told me that.”

Ihokhe lifted his head to look at the Goddess before him.

“For your last question, I cannot answer you. I believe with all my being that Ohannakeloi is good, I do not know what you would consider good treatment.” He paused before taking a chance. “If I may be so bold, are those souls in rigid structure above treated well? Our souls are not like that I can see, we are not treated like that if that is what you ask.”

Azura had been nodding alone approvingly for most of his explanation but stilled upon being asked his question. “It’s quite alright to ask. I should begin by saying that, apart from Luis who wears the structure, those specific souls are not people like you, but are instead things that I call Constructs.” she explained carefully as if what she was saying might upset them “They are like you physically this is true, at least when compared with most other life on this world which is made of flesh and blood rather than stone. Their souls are solidified but this isn’t unique to my Constructs, or won’t be anyway. Their minds, however, are far simpler, akin to those of insects. They have no imagination and exist only to follow instructions and carry out specific predefined tasks. I made them as tools and weapons to help and protect people not as, well, people. If they were people the way I use them would not be considered good treatment.”

“In contrast,” she said, returning to her original cheerful tone “from what you have described of Ohannakeloi’s treatment it seems good overall. Any misgivings I have with it are minor at best. He made you fine forms, has taught you well, imparted upon you good ethics and has, most importantly, respected your freedoms by not enforcing a set purpose upon you. He has done well by you in my opinion.”

“Great Azura, may I speak to you as I would another of my kith and kin, would you pledge not to punish for the questions I may ask?”

“By all means.”

“I do long to ask about misgivings you have with the treatment from my creator but I dispense with that for I do not understand. All things that live, plants, animals and we Ihokhetlani have souls, we can see this, but as far as I can tell insects do not. They have something different which is beyond me and Holy Ohannakeloi has not explained it although I suspect he knows something more. These constructs of yours do have a soul, like all things that live, but you say they are not like other life. You say that it is most important to not enforce a purpose on a person, but have you not enforced purpose on that soul which could have been a person? Please Great, Holy Azura, I do not mean to disrespect but I do not know, and I feel I must understand these things if I am to be a Priest and fulfill a duty to my people.”

“I am more than happy to answer. Taking those questions one at a time” Azura said as she turned her focus to what he saw was an ant hill in the grass some way off “Hmmm. That is odd. I was not aware that that was possible. I can sense Parvus’s essence all over them however, so perhaps that is taking the place of the soul. I am afraid I’d have to ask to know for sure.”

“Anyway” she said, turning her focus back to them “moving back to questions I actually have answers for. As I said my only complaint was a minor one, namely the lavish praise you must have been instructed to heap upon the gods. Some gods presumably desire such praise and might even be offended if it is not paid, so it's probably wise that you give them such dues lest you anger them, but personally I dislike it. Despite our differences in power, we are both people Ihokhe, and I find the idea of people lording over one-another unnecessary at best and dangerously abusive at worst. I haven’t spoken to Ohannakeloi, so I can't judge why he wanted you to act way, but from your brief description I imagine he had good intentions even if I disapprove with this one aspect of his teachings.”

“As for your last one, that is a question I have wrestled with myself and one that I and Luis have discussed. To be honest boiling down personhood itself into an exact definition is a difficult task. Nearly impossible in fact. However, we gods can see the minds of all beings, which makes judging personhood a lot easier. It’s a sliding scale of self-awareness, intelligence and so on. You and I are clearly people. An ant is not. It acts purely on instinct and does not have a consciousness of any kind, and neither do my Constructs. In between, you have a petty fuzzy sliding scale that I wouldn’t worry too much about. I recommend being kind to all living things just to be on the safe side. As for the person and possible people situation, we decided that actual people should take priority over potential people. We gods have limits, and we should focus our efforts where they could do the most good. Also making all things people is somewhat cruel. Imagine having your mental capabilities and yet being stuck as a tree. Blind, alone and unmoving. Or to be created with a set task in mind that you had to adhere to, despite your ability to imagine and yearn to do other things.” she explained, though it was clear she was not entirely confident her reasoning was coming through.

“Perhaps it is easier if I let you see the mind of a construct for yourself. It is a thing made entirely of rules and directives, complex though they may be.” as she said this a bird flew down to their meeting spot, one with orange, red and pink feathers with a white mask on its head and metal bands on its wings, both of which contained the solidified souls Azrua had spoken of. “This is an Alma. With your permission, I could give you the ability to see its mind and command its actions.”

“I should know more, you have my permission.”

With those words Azura nodded her head in confirmation, it would only take but a moment. She pressed a small portion of power to him, easy almost to do so to a being whose essential soul and being was partially opened to the world, and Ihokhe could feel the Alma in a different way. He reached out.

Greetings came a void in his mind. He followed it to its source and found that he could sense the soul of the bird far better than he could moments ago. Its very being was laid bare before him. Most of it anyway. There where 5 soul crystals which all were linked to the still unknowable regular soul of the bird their stone and metal frames were attached too. The collective had a symbiotic relationship, all of them performing different functions described in text and words, spoken words that he recognised as the same ones Azura and Luis had spoken with before. Now however he understood it perfectly and it appears that the soul gems consisted primarily of verses of songs that doubled as instructions and rules. An unfathomable amount of them there might have been, a veritable symphony of symphonies, but each individually made near perfect sense. There was no mind in here, he could see that clear as day, only an unending list of reactions to certain stimuli, situations or tasks as Azura had described.

The whole construct was… ...strange to be sure, less thought as he knew it and very procedural. Connecting through it now was strange, he had touched another's mind before when the Creator had first taught him and this was not at all like that. As Ihokhe examined this creature or thing, more grew clear about its form, its capabilities but its lack of a mind was strange yes, a rigid form, but not a still one.

He withdrew his thoughts from it. “I have seen enough for now, and understand my lack of understanding far better.” This had given him much to think about, as he now had to answer his own question from his own thoughts from this knowledge.

“You may retain this ability if you wish. The Alma will be sticking around to... Well. Tell me, has Ohannakeloi spoken of what happens to the souls of the dead?” Azura asked him

“Thank you, Holy one. No, he has said that he does not know.”

“I thought not, but thought it best to check nonetheless. Very well then, let me tell you a tragic tale.” she said. Then she told them a story, of untold souls brought to this realm by the hand of the Architect. How he had plucked a scant few souls from this mass and made them gods, while the rest were put to the torch by Katharsos, turned into ash that had then formed into the souls of all that now lived on Galbar. How their very souls and lives were owed to this slaughter, and how when their mortal lives came to an end they too would be drawn upwards, like moths to a flame, where they would be burnt to a cinder in the name of Death’s endless cycles of destruction and creation. She explained how the of light, virtue, and wind had met and sworn to oppose the suffering this cycle caused and how she had made the Alma to rescue the souls of the dead, crystallizing them in a solid form that could resist the pull of the vortex until such a time where they could be born anew.

“These soul crystals, are not like the ones in the Alma or in Luis’s armor, which I call Soul Gems.” she clarified at the conclusion of her story “Those were blank slates that I shaped into tools. Soul Crystals are a person’s soul turned into a different state and then placed in a stasis of sleep. They are people, even if they cannot express that fact until I create a way to reawaken them.”

“I see, forgive me Holy Azura, it is a lot to take in at once.” Ihokhe paused, the other two were doing far worse at accepting this information than he although their outward appearances would have given little signature, their thoughts, however, were without much sense of order. He continued, “I have one question if you do not mind it. I appreciate the knowledge it is far better to know than to not, but what would you have of us?”

“Your consent.” she said explained “I want to make sure people know what is happening to them and that they let it happen when their bodies fail them. I’ve made sure that the Alma can't force anyone to accept their crystallization. A great injustice has been brought upon you, and I wish to grant you the tools to save yourselves from Katharsos’s infernal flames. Yet it would be an abuse of my power to take what has not been given. So please” Azura bowed her head low “Let me help you.”

“Ah, O Holy Azura, I plead forgiveness but I do not have the right to give unto you that which you seek! I am pledged to serve all the Gods and I am pledged to serve my people, my mind is in turmoil I cannot know which way should I lean, let alone what path my people should follow. I have no idea which path is right. I know you speak of injustices done upon my people, but I would do another if I spoke in reply without proper consideration, not just of my own mind and thought made clear but that of my people.”

“I. But...” the goddess of the wind rose quickly from her bow. Though he feared she might lash out Azura instead took a deep breath “You’re right.” she admitted after having calmed the emotions had coursed through her mind in response to his rejection ”You’re right. I’m sorry for trying to force a decision, and that I let the urgency of the situation get ahead of me. I’ll not intrude for much longer then. This conversation has given us both... us all, a great deal to think about it seems.”

“Great Azura, may I suggest that you head further south and to the east, on the base of the western mountains are the majority of my people, they stick around to continue building my race. There are most of the priests, first ones, and most of my people if you seek a decision prevail upon them for one after due time for consideration. I doubt any can provide a decision on such a choice to any satisfaction but there you may come the closest. Ohannakeloi is somewhere near there as well, but I cannot say where that may be, perhaps he can grant you more than I could.”

Azura nodded. “Thank you Ihokhe. It was good to meet you and your friends.” she said. Ihokhe bowed his head in response and the other two followed after quickly, “It will always be a pleasure to have the company of the Divine of Wind. I am always, humbly, at your service Great One.”

Azura seemed to want to object and then thought the better of it. Instead, she bid him farewell. “Never stop asking questions Ihokhe. Till we meet again.” before launching herself skywards, flying up and away to floating Luis above and leaving behind the her blessing and the Alma that continued to watch them with its crystalline souls.



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Kalmar

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Chopstick Eyes





Back on Kalgrun, Kalmar considered his options.

He had confronted Shengshi. That was done. He had talked to Asceal. Also done. He needed to talk to Arae, but that could wait. What to next? Asceals warning about Melantha, Sartravius, and Katharsos still hung in his mind. He was not sure if her account was completely accurate, yet if true, he would need more allies.

Then he remembered something.

On his way to confront Shengshi, he had heard a rather strange announcement, from the creature known as Chopstick Eyes. He did not recall the specifics, but it seemed like some sort of deal, or maybe an offer of an alliance. What was he supposed to do? Call… call something. Choppy’s… Choppy’s Business Hotline, was it?

So that was what he did. ”Choppy’s Business Hotline!” he called out.




Chopstick Eyes sat at a squat amidst the many frogs of the island, imitating their pose. Her relations with the moist amphibians may not have gotten off on the right foot, so to speak, but things certainly seemed to be improving. On the whole, she had developed a fairly healthy respect for the way these beings conducted their business.

A frog inflated its throat and croaked loudly. So did she.

A frog leaned in to a bug and lunged at it with a sticky, pink tongue. So did she.

It was a good way to live.

The only problem was that the frogs were entirely too edible, and delicious. Lately she had tried to remedy that by seizing some of the curiously animate mud clumps, thickening them with soul ash, shaping them into a hopefully froggy shape, and pumping them full of inedible gunk. These new animals didn’t hop so well and were certainly browner and wrinklier, but she felt like she’d really achieved something. She ambled across the mud, mimicking their ungainly, plodding stride.



Ribbit.



Oh, an order, thought Chopstick, hopping off in the appropriate direction. I wonder what it’s for?




Eight days later…

The troll roared and swung. Effortlessly, Kalmar ducked underneath the swinging arm and delivered a swift, mighty punch into the creature’s chest. His fist punched straight through flesh and ribs. Kalmar felt the creature’s heart pumping in his hand. Then, with a single squeeze, he crushed it.

The monster’s eyes went wide, and then it fell, landing backward with a thud. Kalmar maintained his grip on the crushed heart, which was yanked free from the troll’s chest due to the creature’s own weight.

There he stood, hand soaked with blood, heart still clenched in his fist, and he sighed. He really wasn’t in the mood to eat a troll right now - the beast had attacked him, not the other way around - yet he was obligated to if he didn’t want it to go to waste.

Fortunately, it seemed that someone else was already making plentiful use of the behemoth’s corpse.

There was a squelching sound, and the cracking of cartilage. With a plop, a single, skinny arm shot out of the hole in the troll’s chest, a single finger raised, as if to say ‘please hold’. A second later, a skewer-eyed figure thrust its blood-soaked head out of the wound.

“Hi! Thank you for calling Choppy’s Business Delivery Hotline, how can I help you?”

What.

Kalmar blinked. For a second, he didn’t even know what the strange creature was talking about. Then he recognized her, and he remembered. ”What...” he repeated aloud, his mind still befuddled.

He quickly recovered. ”What are you doing in there?”

“Meeting you,” she said matter-of-factly. One by one she dragged her limbs out of the corpse, shaking off blood like a wet dog. Then she stuck out her hand. “Sorry for not introducing myself! I have chopstick eyes. I deal in goods and services. Would you like a catalogue?”

Kalmer dropped the heart. He then took her misshapen bloodstained hand with his own equally gorey hand and shook. His hand was shortly clasped by several enthusiastic others. ”I’m Kalmar,” he said. There was a confused pause. ”Why didn’t you just send me a message?”

“...There’s a postal service?” Chopstick Eyes looked around, as if expecting to see a mailbox standing beside a nearby rock.

Kalmar had no honest idea what a postal service was, but it probably wasn’t what he was actually referring to. His eyes narrowed. ”You do know we can speak to each other telepathically?” he asked her.

Chopstick stared at him blankly. “...What’s ‘telepathically’?”

”Uh…” Kalmar paused. It wasn’t that he lacked answers. Far from it. But the Architect had bestowed such knowledge upon them when they were first brought here. Had she forgotten? Had she not been told? ”We can speak to each other across vast distances, using only our minds,” he said in the way of clarification.

“That sounds really silly. I’m sure there’s a postal service,” said Chopstick Eyes, who had scuttled off to scratch in the dirt looking for something. After throwing a few clods of earth around, she took hold of something big and firm buried under the dirt, and started yanking at it. “If you just… Hgrgrnng… Get this bit… Out hereWHOOP-” with a sudden jolt, a big, hollow iron cylinder in a coat of glossy green paint erupted from the earth, striking Chopstick square in the belly. A narrow slit, like a mouth, marked the only way into the tube.

She raised a finger from where she had collapsed on the gravel and explained. “...Like this,” she said. “You write down a message, shove it in this thing, and eventually I get my hands on it. Nothing simpler.”

”I see,” Kalmar said, not truly seeing. He glanced down at the troll corpse, and the gaping hole in its chest. ”I’m going to cook that troll. While we eat we can discuss why I called you.”

“Sounds dandy,” said Chopstick Eyes, who had never eaten troll before, but was frightfully keen to try. “Just give me a second. Rain please!” With a clap of her hands, a passing cloud divulged the entirety of its water, washing her from head to toe. “Alright, let me get dressed and I’ll be right down.”




About an hour later.

Kalmar sat near the troll corpse. He had assembled a fire from branches, twigs, leaves, and logs. A stick was in his hand, and impaled at the end of it was a generous slab of troll meat. He held it over the open flame, roasting it. It was almost done. Chopstick Eyes watched, drooling visibly.

For her part, she had not stood idle, though her interest in Kalmar’s peculiarly rustic method had prevented her from interfering with the cooking process itself. Instead she’d set up a table for two, with neatly folded napkins, a scented candle, a welcoming tablecloth, and a splendid display of cutlery, none of which she intended to use.

“This whole… Bushmeat thing. This is kind of your deal, right, Kalmar? Mph, sorry.” She wiped her mouth on her sleeve.

Kalmar looked at her blanky. ”I’m the God of the Hunt, so yes.” He pulled the troll meat close, and sniffed it. Yes, it was done. He stood and carried it over to the table, uncertain why gods like her and Shengshi went to so much trouble over a simple meal. He pulled the troll meat off the stick, split it in two, and dropped a piece on each plate. ”You know you could have picked up a stick and cooked a piece as well?”

“Didn’t want to steal your thunder,” said Chopstick, who had kicked aside one of the expensive chairs and was sitting on an old log instead. “Better to watch people do their thing, maybe learn a trick or two. Y’know?” She gnawed at the meat, smacking her lips.

Kalmar bit into the troll meat as well. In truth, his own eating habits were little better than Chopstick’s. The meat was tough and strong, yet had a surprisingly delicious flavour to it. He noted that the objects which passed for her eyes were similar to the utensils Shengshi used for eating. It made him wonder if she had gotten into a dispute with the snake, and perhaps Shengshi stabbed her in the eyes, but then he recalled she had looked that way at the Architect’s palace as well.

As far as eyes went, it seemed a practical choice - if she could still see out of them, there were no real drawbacks, and if the ends of the chopsticks were sharp enough then they could be weaponized too. Not many creatures could stab people with their eyes.

”What services do you offer?” Kalmar asked between bites.

“Oh yeah, the catalogue. Thought you might be after that,” said Chopstick, wiping her fingers (but not on her dress; she seemed to have at least that much sensibility), and producing a large stack of brown paper from her bag. On the front page as an ink scribble loosely identifiable as herself, and some vaguely meaningful squiggles down the margins. She flicked through the pages, revealing more crude finger-paintings.

“Catering, cleaning, sorting, sales, analysis, animals, animals in hats, animals in big hats, skydiving, spacediving, personal training, weather control, loving friendship, ear washing, dynasty planning, delivering those little cushions you stick pins in, assassination, custom dakimakuras, luggage security… Yeah, I think that’s basically it,” she said.

”Assassination?” Kalmar asked.

“If it seems like harmless fun,” she shrugged. “I don’t like taking jobs that need me to be… rude.”

Kalmar wasn’t sure what she meant by that, but decided not to question it. ”Do you offer alliances?” he asked instead.

This was a curious question. An alliance, Chopstick knew, was a military term, a bond formed from a thin layer of sentiment sprayed upon a core of practical need. “...I did say loving friendship, didn’t I?” she said eventually, with hesitation. “But, hey, I can write you a custom contract, no problem. Were you looking for an alliance? What for?”

Kalmar nodded, his expression grim. ”Some of the other gods would like to see all of us dead, and our creations destroyed. I, Phystene, Ashalla, Shengshi, and Asceal have formed an alliance to protect each other against these threats. We are looking for new members. Do you want to join?”

The chopstick eyes pointed off to where the stars were rising in the distance, and stayed there for a little while. She put the papers down on the log. She was not frowning, but she was no longer smiling, either.

“To strike back as a whole when a single member is struck is the essence of many an alliance. To join together to monopolise violence upon a subject is the essence of many others. It’s a line that blurs easily. It’s collusion.” Her foot drew circles in the dirt. She still hadn’t looked back at Kalmar.

“Phystene and Asceal… Other gods? I haven’t met them. I’ve met Ashalla, but I don’t know her. I know Shengshi, a little. I don’t know you. Gods with… bad intent… I haven’t met them, either. You haven’t even given me their names. It doesn’t matter too much, I guess. Still...” She looked back.

“I can write you a contract. No problem. I’ll do my best to defend you and a list of assets from harm so long as you don’t start shit. Or, even if you do start shit... You’ll have to say which assets, and what you mean by harm. And when you intend to renew the contract, obviously. I can scale the price, too, to defend however much you’re willing to pay for the safety of… But as it stands, no. No alliances for me. Only friendship.” Then, after a moment, she realised the nature of what she had said, and chuckled. “Wow. Feels weird to do actual business.”

Kalmar thought he vaguely understood what she meant, and considered accepting her offer… but the idea of paying additional and continuous costs for what was supposed to be a simple mutually beneficial agreement did not sit well with him either. He wasn’t even certain if her definitions of ‘friendship’ or ‘alliance’ were the same as his. ”I see,” he said neutrally. ”Friendship… you will still come to my aid? What is your price?”

She shrugged. “Just be a good dude. I won’t stop a good fair fight for a good fair reason, for sure, but sometimes people are impolite. It’s rude to be impolite.” She picked up the paper and ruffled it for a second, humming, then threw it on the wavering fire. “You really should give the contract idea a think-through, though. I’m not unreasonable. Heck, I’d probably fight someone for fun if you paid my travel expenses, and they didn’t take it too seriously. You have skills that I don’t. I’m sure you could get yourself at least some basic insurance without stressing your accounts too much.”

”You’re a god,” Kalmar pointed out, ”Travel costs nothing.”

Slow travel costs nothing,” she corrected.

”Slow as in flying across the world, or slow as in hiding yourself inside a troll and waiting for the right moment to climb out?”

She cocked her head. “What the devil makes you think I can fly?”

”We can all fly,” Kalmar told her with another look of confusion.

Chopstick stared in complete bewilderment, then raised her arms. “With… my hands?”

”Just… concentrate on flying, and fly.” Kalmar suggested.

The little gremlin god took a deep breath, stretched out numerous arms, crouched, and leapt, flapping earnestly. There was a crash from above.

“...No luck!” came a yell from a nearby bough.

Kalmar frowned, unsure of how he was to adequately explain one of their most basic and natural abilities. It was so simple, so taken for granted, that he was simply unable to put it into words. He took another bite of the troll meat, and in silence he waited for her to come back down. She did so shortly, in a crash of leaves. Shaking herself out and taking another deep breath, she crouched again, readying her arms.

”Wait…” Kalmar cut in, holding up a hand. He decided to turn the conversation back to business. ”I can offer you the rest of that troll corpse, the heart, and this direwolf cloak on my shoulders,” he frowned. ”But first I need to hear what goods you offer too.”

“Goods! Thought you’d never ask.” Choppy cracked her knuckles, her ill-planned flying ambition apparently forgotten. “I’m afraid I can’t offer an impressive price for the cloak or more troll. Though it is fashionable... But you made these trolls, didn’t you?”

”I did,” Kalmar admitted, unsure where she was going with this.

“And the griffins, and the forest?”

”The griffins, yes. The forest, no.” Kalmar answered.

“Hm. That’s fine. Can you,” she asked, “Help me catch a fish?”

”I can,” Kalmar told her, not understanding why she couldn’t do such a thing herself. Then again, she couldn’t even figure out how to fly either. He felt as though he was wasting his time, but there was something amusing about her. ”What would I get in return?”

“Keep your cards close to your chest, don’cha?” Chopstick smirked. “Well. You’re looking for goods that will keep you, and your friends, safe. So you say. That’s fine. You don’t seem to know who’s coming for you, how, or when, or at least you’re not letting on. That’s fine too! For me, anyway.”

Chopstick Eyes reached into the collar of her dress and from it flourished a delicate scarf, glowing with the unmistakable sheen of fine silk. Upon it was printed the image of a knife, emerging from the ellipsoid cylinder of an ivory sheath.

“I can’t fight what I don’t know. But I can make sure that, when the threat comes, neither you nor your pactmates will ever be caught without a blade. If I make this knife in your name, it will always be there for anyone you would see protected. When their guns have jammed and their swords are dull, it will be waiting. When the ambush falls, they will find it in their hand. When the prison gates lock, they will lock on a prisoner armed. Only one friend of yours will ever hold it at a time, but methinks that friend will be very, very grateful.” She grinned.

“All you have to do is collar me a fish.”

In truth, when Kalmar had mentioned goods, all he actually meant was furniture for his lodge. The knife, however, seemed far more useful. ”What else does this knife do, and is there a specific fish you need?” he questioned.

“I will teach it to cut gods,” said Chopstick Eyes, “And, um, yes. There is a specific fish.” She paused, tapped her foot, and looked at the sky through the canopy. “You can fly fast, right? Take me to the deepwater basin west of the continent shaped like a foot. I’ll… You’ll see.”

Kalmar considered her words, and he believed he knew which area she was referring to. Yet the thought that he would have to carry her all that way, when he was certain she should have been capable of flight on her own, did not sit well with him. Then, an idea came into his head. ”The knife will be payment for the fish. For the price of carrying you there, I need something else.” He looked her square in the eye, and the next words he spoke were absolutely serious.

”I need furniture for my home.”




”We’re here.”

Kalmar floated in the sky, carrying Chopstick with one hand. She dangled like a limp kitten. The coastline of Dragon’s Foot was to the east, the far larger coastline of Atokhekwoi to the west, and several hundred meters beneath them was the vast, dark blue sea. ”What fish are you looking for out here?” he questioned.

“A big one,” said Chopstick, who had started to squirm. “It’s better if I show you. Besides, it’ll probably come when I call… Uh… Lemme just… Whoop!” She slipped out of her dress, and, with a flip, plummeted to the ocean below. There was a very distant plop.

“The water’s nice!” she exclaimed from below, and disappeared, diving deep into the black abyss.

Kalmar frowned, and allowed himself to fall. At this height, he struck the water with a colossal splash, and he realized the impact might have killed him had he not been a god. He sank dozens of feet, before forcing himself to a stop. His frown remaining, he scanned the surrounding water for Chopstick Eyes, or the unknown fish she had come here to catch.

It was only his divine vision that allowed him to catch a glimpse of her through the brine. With the practice of someone who had spent some time following the deep currents already, Chopstick Eyes was diving, descending, burying herself in crushing water, heading straight for the bed where the darkness lay.

The speck below him turned for a second, and beckoned; Her dress and satchel followed her, zipping into the abyss as if realising they were late. By the time Kalmar had reached the seabed, she had dressed, and was wrangling something like an enormous umbrella from her purse. Enough time had passed to cover the bedrock in a layer of siliceous ooze, and she stood ankle deep in it, looking up to greet him.

Glubglub glubglubglub, she said, releasing a stream of bubbles from her mouth. In a spare arm, a paper lantern on a stick burned with jolly disregard for pressure or air. Nothing else moved.

Sighing internally, Kalmar waited in the darkness, taking care to remain aware of his surrounds and thus capable of dealing with any sudden threat. He began wondering why she had brought him out here, to this place, and perhaps she did not wish to catch a fish after all. Perhaps it was a trap for him instead. He did not know.

A moment’s grunting pinged through the water, and with a flap, the umbrella finally whooshed open. Glub glub! Chopstick Eyes fitted it into its stand. Beneath it, the water disappeared, like rain, or sunlight beneath a parasol. The boundary was imperceptible, but it was suddenly clear that she was standing in dry air.

“Okay, so, here’s the deal,” she began. “There’s a special Route that goes to my place, right? Like a shortcut. And it cuts through all sorts of places on Galbar. Now, while I was on my way to fill your order, I was working my way through it, trying to see if I could use it as a shortcut to anywhere else,” she said, waving the lantern about and peering into the distance. “Turns out you can’t. At best, it chucks you through an empty demiplane that just leads to some random spot on the surface. So, so much for that.” So much for arriving on time, for that matter.

“But,” she continued, “While I was getting jostled, I found this place. And I thought, hey, isn’t this Ashalla’s pad? So I went around yelling for Ashalla, but for some reason, she wasn’t down here at all. So I was alone in the deep water, and, well, I got a little frisky.”

Chopstick had stopped glancing. Her gaze was focused on a single point in the distance.

“I went looking, and found a big fish with a light on its head,” she continued, “That smelled like Orvium and forests. And this light was pretty. Really, hella pretty. And I followed it, for a while, and saw other things chasing it, and the big fish ate those things. And I thought, hey, wouldn’t that make a great marketing tactic?”

That glow, in the distance- was it… sunrise?

“So I popped into the Bazaar again, real quick, and got some, uh, fish meal, some real aquarium-grade stuff… I think. And I coul- I… Didn’t read the label all that well. And, uh...”

She looked back at Kalmar as the monster began to grow vast in the distance. Her lantern was useless now.

“...I think I overfed it.”



What.

”Why?” the irritated message rang through Chopstick’s head. But there was no more reason to give.

The creature had once been one of Orvus’s. One of the abominations created in the fight against Phystene. The fight which had set so many events in motion. What Kalmar now floated before was yet another byproduct of that fight, brought about by Chopstick’s ill-planned meddling. This was what she wanted him to catch, and although it was well within his power, that didn’t mean it wasn’t a nuisance.

”I will deal with this.”

With a resigned sigh, Kalmar surged forward to meet the beast head-on. It shifted its gaze away from Chopstick and barreled toward him instead. Then, at the last minute, Kalmar darted upward, and as the creature passed, the force of the water swept Chopstick into the current, threatening to push him further away. Instead Kalmar grabbed one of its head fins with one hand and held on.

With the other hand, Kalmar began punching the beast in the back of the head; he did not punch hard enough to cause severe damage, but it was enough to sting, to taunt. The punches persisted, while the creature flailed, thrashed, and raged beneath him, but he held his grip. It began to slam and drag itself against the ocean floor, its immense body pushing through the silt and grinding against the bedrock, but Kalmar’s grip was unyielding.

After several several minutes, the creature began to tire. Its speed slowed, its thrashes were less forceful. Kalmar, illuminated by the creature’s glow, maintained his grip and the punches continued.

But the tired beast was not yet finished. With an almighty spasm, it unhinged its jaw, and screamed light into the void, the energy of its stolen souls escaping in a wave of sound and magic. Kalmar’s ragged hand finally dislodged from the spine, and began to flee.

GLUB

A smooth flat surface spun through the water behind Kalmar, momentarily giving him something hard to push off from. He leapt onto the creature’s fin, seized it with both hands, and sent it charging head-first directly into the sea floor.

Clouds of sand and silt billowed outward, obscuring Kalmar, the fish, and anything else within a hundred feet. Then, just as the dust was beginning to settle, Kalmar emerged from the cloud, dragging the unconscious creature toward Chopstick.

”This is what you wanted?” he asked telepathically, gritting his teeth. One of his handwraps and both of his footwraps had been torn away in the struggle. His vest was ragged, yet somehow his wolf fur cloak was mostly fine. His face and clothes were smudged with sand particles.

Chopstick Eyes did not have time to pull out another umbrella. For once, though, she seemed to be prepared. She navigated the eddies briskly with her thousand arms, joining Kalmar, carrying a long collar in her fist. It seemed to be pure steel, woven like silk.

Glubglubglub glub glubglub glub, she glubbed urgently, taking one end of the collar and motioning for Kalmar to take the other. It stretched without the slightest distortion, and they met on the other side of the creature’s neck to snap it shut.
”That’s it?” Kalmar asked, wondering what sort of enchantment the collar possessed that would keep the beast contained. It had put up quite the fight, and though he had little love for the species Orvus had created, it was almost a shame to see such a powerful creature bound like this. ”What are you going to use it for?” he asked her. Choppy bubbled, then realised that this was inconvenient, and paddled off to go find her umbrella. A cord-like chain trailed behind her, woven into the collar at a dozen places.

Not yet conscious, but dreaming, the neon leviathan contracted its sleeping muscles as if to follow the god.

“Nothing,” she shouted from a few dozen meters away, having apparently retrieved the cleaver she’d thrown for Kalmar as well. “Nothing yet. But… I don’t want the others to take it from me. And I don’t want it to go hurting them or their things, either.”

”Fair enough,” Kalmar admitted. From what he had seen thus far, he had not expected such a level of responsibility. ”It’s the right choice. Now, what about our deal?”

“I have it right here.” Chopstick untied her hair and started rummaging in it. Dozens of arms disappeared into the kelpy mass, their elbows bustling about outside. “I keep a lot of knives here… I like knives. I feel like I have an… Affinity for them. I sharpened my cleaver for this, by the way. Made it something more than a big mushroom partitioner. In case I had to… Y’know.” Her sticks were splayed, slightly, no longer focused on Kalmar.

“Point is,” she said finally, her arms flowering out of her hair, surrounding her like a halo, each bearing a different blade. “I like knives.”

”Knives are useful,” Kalmar agreed.

The two foremost hands presented a sleek ivory tube with a copper seam in the middle. Chopstick Eyes drew the blade, bright as silver, sharp as a razor, and put it in her mouth. Wincing hard but unable to blink, she pulled it to the edge of her lips and drew it out, dragging it through the left corner of her mouth, opening her face that much wider. When it was done, she buckled, clutching her stomach, and made it a bow.

"Th-there," she said, wiping the blood into a streak. "I've taught it to cut gods." She offered him the knife.

Kalmar took the knife with a nod of thanks, and then arched an eyebrow quizzically. ”Why didn’t you just cut your mouth?” he asked her. But before she could answer, he continued speaking. ”Thank you.”

“You’re welcome!” she mumbled, saluting, smiling with the good side of her face. She set about trying the monster’s chain to the shaft of the umbrella, making sure it was firmly anchored. “And… Experience is the best teacher, right?” Her sticks shifted away for a second, but soon they came back and she was smiling again, covering her lips with a spare hand. “Hey… do you think this thing has a name?”

”Probably not,” Kalmar answered, taking another moment to size the creature up. ”The Alpha Leviathan?” he suggested with a shrug.

“The Superb Slippery Soul Serpent,” Chopstick confirmed. There was movement on the end of the line, faint, though it still raised an impressive cloud of silt. “I’ll have to find some way to feed it soon. I’m thinki-”

“...” Chopstick’s eyes were splayed, and her skin was paling. “...I have to go,” she said, grabbing her cleaver, kicking off the momentary stupor. “Li’Kalla’s in trouble.”

She blurred through the deep, casting a long shadow before her in the light of the serpent, and was gone.







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Li’Kalla


Goddess of Rain
8 FP - 9 MP


&

K’nell

FP: 00 MP: 00





It was cold. All one could see was white. White for the overcast sky, and white for the sheet of snow that stretched beyond the horizon. There in the biting cold of the white lands, a single frozen lake rested for eternity. Covered in a sheet of meters of thick ice, its waters would most likely not manage to taste the warmth of the sun ever again.

A gentle snow fell upon the land. A shadow flew through the whiteness, its eyes melting the peaceful snow. Upon seeing the frozen Lake, it dipped its flight and landed. Soon, a small puddle had formed around the crow, and in that puddle’s reflection, a woman sat regally. On her knees, with her gloved hands placed in an ‘o’ shape just in front of where her bellybutton would be was she not wearing an ornate, white and golden gown. Her eyes were closed and she seemed to be taking in deep, slow breaths.

The phantasmal crow cawed loudly and pecked the snow near the image. It paused and cawed again, cocking its head in bird-like wonder. It stiffened and suddenly flew away.

Time seemed to pass slowly in the land of snow and sorrow. The puddle was left to its own devices for what could have been an eternity, an eternity interrupted by the fresh crunch of snow. K’nell placed his feet firmly in the snow by the puddle and leaned forward. His eyes sparkled and he smiled wide, “Hello, my dear.”

The woman’s eyes fluttered open, and slowly focused on K’nell’s face. She showed the gentleman a smile, warm yet not too wild. It was like she’d recognized him.

In time, the woman had released her hands from their odd position, and pressed her palms against the reflection, looking at K’nell expectantly.

Kneeling down, K’nell hovered his hand over the water, careful not to break the reflection. His face twisted in sudden thought. The woman seemed to laugh silently, and uttered a word slowly and clearly. ’Gently’.

Very gently K’nell placed his hand on the water, on top of the woman’s. It felt like normal ice cold water.

“Hello, Mr. K’nell. I have to say, I didn’t expect to see you around these parts,” The woman said, her words clearly enunciated and dripping an intangible air of elegance and class. “There’s not that many things that sleep around here, you see.”

“Puddles aren’t my choice of a sitting room,” K’nell winked, “Would you care for a relocation?”

“I’m quite comfortable here,” She said and looked around her, “and it doesn’t seem to have followed me. Where do you propose we go?”

“Well my dear,” K’nell began, “I’m inclined to regroup you with your other residents in an attempt to make a whole. Call me selfish if you must, but I rather miss our dances already.”

The woman covered her mouth and looked away with a slight blush to her cheeks, but the spaces between her fingers showed a playful smirk. Quickly, she shook her head and nodded. “So be it, I’ll reunite with the others. I rather like slower dances. They’re much more intense, don’t you think, Mr. K’nell? They channel something that usually never… Really sees the light of day.”

“I would agree,” K’nell smiled wide, “Gentle rain gives time for flowers to bloom, after all. Shall we?” He looked down at his hand.

She nodded with a chuckle and looked down at her own hand. A ripple went through the puddle and she disappeared. A moment later, K’nell’s hand gave off a soft glow and a particularly large snowflake fell into his palm, and then the glow traveled to the snowflake and that in turn became a crystal-like shard.

K’nell gave a cheshire smile and rolled the shard around in his hand for a second. Content, he slid it into his pocket, the shard clinking gently against the dream orb. He patted his pocket carefully and with a twist of a boot, returned to his stroll, a thoughtful hum on his smiling lips.



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Hidden 7 mos ago 7 mos ago Post by Darkspleen
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After taking her leave of Asceal, Phystene spent some time wandering the island. She wanted to take in her new creations. Enjoy their unique light while observing how the acted. But that was but one reason, and a minor one at that, as to why she spent time leisurely wandering about. She needed time to think. To work on some of the problems she had found herself with. Orvus was certainly the first, and largest, of those issues but some of the things Asceal said had helped nudge Phystene’s mind into considering other sources of trouble. She had completely forgotten about Melantha. At the same time she had never considered Melantha to be as great a threat as Asceal seemed to consider her, at least not yet. Phystene could understand Melantha’s actions and couldn’t fault the goddess for seeking a balance between light and dark. Katharsos was a deity Phystene hadn’t even considered up until Asceal had mentioned him. She wasn’t quite ready to deem him a threat. Death was, after all, an important component of nature, thus Phystene couldn’t find any fault with him overseeing that aspect. Assuming that was all. If he was anything like Orvus, seeking only to spread death and destruction with no regard for the balance of nature and the suffering of others….

Phystene needed to gather more power and strengthen the life of Galbar if nature was to defeat Orvus and the other forces of destruction. And, as she had previously discussed with her fellow god, Kalmar’s continent would serve as the base from which she created that strength. It was past time she returned. And it was past time she stopped simply running from continent to continent.

She gathered some of her power, refining it before merging it back into her being. All plant life on Galbar was linked, in one way or another, through the World Tree. If she were to merge her essence with a nearby plant, it was possible that she could travel along that link to another plant to a distant location. Traveling in this method would still take a measurable amount of time, but it was certainly going to be faster than running. The other issue was that she couldn’t merge with any random plant. It would have to be something sufficiently large enough to house her essence in, no matter how fleeting her presence would be. She would have to use trees. But that was fine, trees were almost everywhere on Galbar now.

She turned to a nearby tree, its glowing leaves swaying gently in the wind. Leaning against the tree, she let herself fade into it. For a moment she and the tree were one being, inseparable in every way it matter, and for that moment she felt as she had before the Architect had summoned her. But then the moment passed, and with it behind her she stretched out her senses towards Kalmar’s continent and the trees that called it home. Finding a tree near where she went out she reached towards it and in doing so separated her essence from the tree she had melded with.

The sensation was… odd, but not necessarily uncomfortable. As her essence traveled between the two trees, she technically didn’t exist. Well… that wasn’t entirely true. Her essence, her soul, certainly still existed, but not in a way it could interact with Galbar in any way. She didn’t know how long or fast she had traveled, but on some level Phystene could sense she was moving at a speed that far outstripped her running speed. With a jarring suddenness her essence all but crashed into the tree she had set as her destination.

“That,” Phystene commented to herself as she slowly separated herself from the tree, “is going to take some getting used to.”

She took a moment to gather herself before moving on to the next task. She had to think of a way of combating Orvus, but her mind simply didn’t work that way. She was a being of nature and her mind naturally defaulted to fight or flight, not sustained campaigns of attrition. As much as she hated to admit it, the greedy ones from her original world would have felt right at home waging war on Orvus. In a sense she had spent centuries observing the greedy ones and should have been able to use that knowledge of her own ends, but it wasn’t quite that easy. Before the Architect had summoned her she was in a more dream-like state than anything, aware of what was going on in the world, but not truly cognizant. On top of all that her mind simply didn’t work in the right way. It was like she had been a child watching ants. She could observe them, but had no real understanding of why they did what they did.

But that didn’t mean Phystene couldn’t make a being whose mind did work that way. She hadn’t missed how the mortal Xiaoli helped Shengshi. He had called her an… advisor. Yes, that was what Phystene would make. An advisor!

This mortal would be special. And not just because she was to be Phystene’s advisor. She would serve as a means for Phystene to experiment with ideas for any future race she might want to create. And she would be the first being made from Phystene’s blood.

She bit her thumb, intentionally drawing blood. She let a few drops of her ichor fall from the wound onto the ground before healing the injury. Then she focused on the ichor. The ichor responded to her will, drawing a few materials from the forest floor around it as it began to grow and assume a more solid consistency. As it grew it took a more definite shape, emulating the two arms and legs form Phystene herself possessed. But once the ichor had assumed the general shape of an adult female humanoid, that was were its similarities to Phystene began to end. Instead of feet the new being grew hooves. Her wooden antlers quickly thickened and took a shape similar to the horns of a ram. And her skin and hair were closer to silver or white than anything else.

Phystene couldn’t help but smile as the new being, her daughter, took her first breath. And then Phystene proceeded to cram as much of her knowledge and observations of the greedy ones as she could into her daughter’s head. It was only after her daughter had fallen to her knees and let out a scream in pain that it occured to Phystene that the mind of a mortal couldn’t handle quite as much as that of a deity.

“Are you alright?” Phystene asked as she knelt down next to her daughter.

“I… just give me a moment.” Her daughter gasped out. Phystene put a comforting hand on the mortal’s shoulder and patiently waited. After a few moments the mortal said “I… think I’ve sorted everything out.”

“I’m sorry.” Phystene said. “I should have known better than to do that to you.”

“You should have.” The mortal said, although the lack of heat in her tone and small smile took any bite out of the agreement. “The least you could have done was give me a name first. Actually don’t. Please. I’ll come up with my own name.” The hurt look Phystene gave the mortal quickly had her adding “Not that I think your name is bad or anything. It works for you, I just think I should come up with my own name.”

“Is my naming sense really that bad?”

“Eh… do you really want me to answer that.” Phystene simply stared at the mortal for a moment before closing her eyes and shaking her head. “So I was thinking Atalantia would be a great name for myself.”

“And you think I have a bad naming sense?”

“Oh shut up.” The two women stared at each other for a moment before both cracked a grin and shared a short laugh.

“Do you understand why I created you?” Phystene asked after the moment had passed.

“Honestly? No. You were a little too busy cramming knowledge about a species dooming its own world to bother with a minor detail like that.”

“Well I’m glad sarcasm is working well as a coping mechanism” Phystene commented with a raised eyebrow. She then described to the mortal the state of the world, the other deities, her interactions with Orvus, and her revelation that she needed an advisor.

“I believe you need a strategist more than an advisor.” Atalantia stated once Phystene was done.

“What’s the difference?”

“In this case? Thankfully none” Atalantia slowly spun in place as she gathered her thoughts. “From your previous confrontation with this Orvus character it's clear that he has a distinct advantage on you. You really aren’t set up for combat to begin with, but the interaction between your powers and his is far worse. Facing him head on will simply result in you creating more warriors for him. Thus” She stopped spinning and faced Phystene, “you’ll need to make your own warriors to combat him in your place. Or at the very least to support any deities who may fight him on your behalf.”

“I have an idea for the first such warrior.” Phystene said after a moment. She looked around the surrounding forest for a moment before spotting one of the many lizards that called it home. “Come here child.” She beckoned and the lizard happily scurried to her. “Are you willing to be a champion of nature?” The lizard pondered her question for a moment before feeling sorrow that it was not strong enough to be a champion of anything. It was barely strong enough to keep itself alive. “Fear not,” Phystene said with a smile. “I’ll give you the strength you need.”

She poured her strength into the small lizard and as she did so it grew in strength. And its size and shape changed to meet that strength. Its back legs grew larger and strong enough to support its full body weight, causing it to have a more upright appearance. Its head grew larger too, large enough that it matched, if not surpassed, Shengshi’s boat in size, with powerful jaws and sharp teeth to match. Its scales became tough and color feathers grew to cover small portions of its body.

“That’s… one big lizard.” Atalantia commented.

“Big and durable.” Phystene said. “He’ll possess at least some ability to resist Orvus’ vile aura.”

Towering over Atalantia and Phystene, the now massive creature lowered his head to get a better look at his two companions. He looked at Atalantia with a massive eye as his telepathic voice commented “So tiny.”

“Only from your perspective, Pyrdon” Atalantia shot back.

“Pyrdon. I… like it.” The massive creature responded.

Phystene gave Atalantia a bemused smile. Atalantia responded with a smile of her own. “We both know you would have tried to name him after a flower or something. I simply could let that travesty occur.”

Phystene rolled her eyes before turning her gaze towards Pyrdon. “You are to protect this continent and Atalantia from all who would cause them harm.” The massive lizard, Phystene had to admit that Pyrdon was probably a better name than anything she would have come up with, gave a single nod of his massive head. “As for you,” She turned towards Atalantia, “continue… strategizing.”

“Sure.” Atalantia gave a shrug. “It would help a lot if I wasn’t contained here though. As nice as this continent is, staying here won’t give me much of an idea as to what your peers are up to.”

Phystene frowned for a moment before nodding slowly. “I suppose so.” She placed her hand on Atalantia’s head. “I shall grant you the power of treewalking then.”

“Treewalking? Really?”

“You can stay on this continent for all of your existence if the name bothers you so much.”

“Oh no no. That won’t be necessary.” Phystene gave her daughter a small smile.

“Do as I have ordered and enjoy life while you are at it. I’ll stay in contact.”

And with that said she melded with a nearby tree and was gone.



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Hidden 7 mos ago Post by BBeast
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Ashalla

Goddess of Oceans and Storms


The storm which was Ashalla rolled over the northern coast of Atokhekwoi. While it was far easier for her to travel over land as a storm cloud, the sheer vastness of Atokhekwoi tired even her. It was ultimately the dry climate in the middle which made her turn away, for she had begun to lose water faster than she could recover it from the environment. So Ashalla returned to the ocean where she was most at home.

The storm rained heavily over the sea, the cloud slowly shrinking and lightening. A few hours later there were only a few stray cumulus clouds and strands of cirrus, and Ashalla was the ocean once more. Immediately she began to plan her next creation.

Kirron's mega-fauna and the smaller beasts of the forests elsewhere had inspired her. Many of these creatures were warm-blooded, breathed air, gave live birth and produced milk. This mammalian template appeared to be popular, so Ashalla decided she would attempt her own variation on the theme.

Ashalla began to coalesce some biomatter into several new creatures. While they would not be fish, their general form was quite similar to that of a fish, for that form was optimised for ocean life. The basic mammalian physiology needed a few adaptations. Respiration was the biggest modification. The lungs needed to be much more efficient, as did the storage and usage of oxygen. An extra nostril was routed through to their top-sides so they could breathe at the water's surface more easily. The salt balance in the bodily fluids needed to be adjusted so as to allow these creatures to drink sea-water as fish could. They were given extra layers of fat to keep warm in cold waters. A few other modifications were made, such as enhancing their hearing to make good use of water's ability to carry sound, and adjusting their sleep cycles to ensure they did not drown.

This was the basic template for her new life-forms, but she could still fit a lot of variety within this template. She made a few of them massive, larger than Kirron's dinosaurs, because given the buoyancy of the ocean she could do that without complication. The pattern was similar to the Eclipse Whale, but that was mostly by coincidence. The only thing abundant enough in the global oceans to feed such vast creatures was plankton, so these giant swimming mammals were given wide mouths and bristles of keratin in place of teeth with which they could filter out nutritious drifters from the water.

Ashalla also made smaller swimming creatures, although still much larger than most fish. These ones she decided would feast on fish, so she gave them teeth. She also ensured their eyes were near the front of their snouts so they had binocular vision, and their enhanced hearing was combined with the capacity to make sharp clicks so they could locate objects and prey using sound.

Ashalla painted their skin the colours of the ocean. As she inspected the creatures she had made, though, she felt unsatisfied. They were so utilitarian. Adapting a land-based physiology for life in the open ocean had been a fun exercise, but her creations needed a bit of artistic flair. So Ashalla taught them to sing and dance. They would call through the ocean, their thunderous voices carrying their songs for vast distances. They would swim around each other and leap from the water with great splashes. They would be social and have fun doing so.

Satisfied at last, Ashalla gave the creatures life. She named them whales and dolphins, or cetaceans collectively, and sent them throughout the ocean. Ashalla also created new species of fish which would swim in the open ocean in great schools for the dolphins and toothed whales to eat. These fish ate plankton and smaller fish. In their great schools the light would shine off them in dazzling ways as the group danced in their own manner in an attempt to appear larger and more intimidating towards predators. Not that it would stop them from being eaten, but it would give them some defence, and it made them more impressive. These fish Ashalla spread throughout the ocean with the cetaceans.

In roaming the world creating her new life-forms, Ashalla came to the north pole. She glanced at the ice sheet and reflected on it for a few moments. Then she made a decision. Fog rose from the ocean and a storm began to brew.



The great storm which was Ashalla billowed over the ice sheet at the northern end of the world. The cloud hung low, a blizzard raging across the ice and stirring up snow. She looked over the ice formations and sculptures, feeling them with her fog and snow. Most of them were different to how she had remembered them. Time, weather and sunlight had eroded away many of the original sculptures and new ones had taken their place. But these new ones contained only abstract forms with no sense of coherence, for the processes creating new sculptures were blind and dumb. Ashalla found it disappointing that the beauty of this place had faded over time.

But Ashalla was not one to wallow in defeat and disappointment. Rather, she was a creator. So she would create a solution. She would create creators to maintain the sculptures and create new ones, and she could marvel in their creativity. She just had to figure out what these sculptors would be.

Shards of ice and snow stirred around within Ashalla. The ice sheet was inhospitable to organic life, but Ashalla had seen from the Curators, cloudlings and Xiaoli that there were other ways to make life. A being of ice crystals and frilly snow formed within Ashalla's clouds. This entity would draw energy as a heat engine, converting heat flow between it and its environment into work and potential energy. Of course, as a construct of ice, it would only survive for long periods of time in areas which were freezing in temperature.

This entity was to be a sculptor of ice, so it would need an affinity for ice. Ashalla granted the entity the power to shape ice with its touch, melting and refreezing the water it touched with its spindly limbs to make the ice malleable. In this way the entity would be able to make ice sculptures and other structures of frozen water with relative ease. With the physical design established, Ashalla began to form more of these icy beings.

While these beings would be safest in the North Pole, if they stayed in the North Pole forever they would have no inspiration for new creations. So Ashalla gave these beings a migratory instinct, such that they would fly south during winter and return to the North Pole in the summer. She gave them a few more instincts to maximise their creativity, tying those instincts to their methods of reproduction.

Finished making these icy beings, Ashalla breathed life into their frozen forms, which accepted souls from the invisible soul ash around them. Then Ashalla withdrew her fog and the beings basked in daylight for the first time. The delicate ice crystals of their wing-like limbs shimmered in the light of Heliopolis, the beings fluttering about with their foot-wide wingspan. Spindly stalks of optically clear ice curled away from an orb at the head of their bodies, twisting and looking at the world around them. Icicle-like legs allowed the beings to land on the ice sheet and rest their wings. Soon all the beings had landed, basking in the sunlight as little rivulets of water ran up their legs and froze on their thoraxes.

After they had drunk their fill and were fat from the ice, a great breeze blew across the ice sheet and picked up the beings, carrying them southwards. Ashalla's voice was also carried on that breeze. "Fly, winter-spirits. Learn and create."




The warmer seasons were resting in the Purlieu, leaving winter on Galbar. Many of the higher latitudes were receiving snow from the So'E at this time. The usual greens and browns of nature gave way to a blanket of pure white.

With the snow-falls came the winter-spirits. On the northern parts of Kalgrun, Kalgrun's mountains, Li'Kalla's Island, and even patches of Swahhitteh and Tendlepog the winter-spirits found perches in the snow-covered landscapes. They sat in the branches of trees made bare, having shed their leaves over autumn, or on mounds of snow or frozen ponds, but never in the shade. Their snow-dust wings spread out collecting the sunlight, providing them with the energy needed to replenish ice lost during their migration. During night time, once the winter-spirits had cooled to ambient temperatures, they were inactive, so some sought to find a safe perch out of the way of wandering animals before nightfall. Their actions were also sluggish when the weather was overcast, but when the sun was shining the winter-spirits fluttered about, studying the world around them with their sensory ice-stalks.

The winter-spirits had a curious nature, and flew up to inspect an interesting creatures they saw. And there were many interesting creatures. Kalgrun had griffons, trolls, dire wolves and bears along with a menagerie of other creatures and plants. On Li's Island were Parvus' beautiful insects, frogs and lilies, along with the strange creatures of mud, the beings of the salt-depths, and the monsters which lurked in the caves. On Tendlepog there were walking trees, cloudlings, exotic insects and numerous marsupials. On Swahhitteh, besides what had migrated from Tendlepog, there was also a great forest with muscular undergrowth and clear cords for trees which twisted the light in inspiring patterns. Some of the winter-spirits were crushed or eaten by the subjects of their study, as the winter-spirits were fragile beings, but as agile and harmless creatures with no nutritional value they usually avoided drawing undue attention.

The winter-spirits also practiced shaping ice. They mimicked the flora, fauna and terrain around them in their sculpting. They even built new perches for themselves. In this way ephemeral ice sculptures appeared across the northern latitudes during winter.

Once winter started its journey back to the Purlieu and the first signs of spring were beginning to enter into Galbar, the winter-spirits fattened themselves on the melting snow-patches before taking flight and migrating north. Like giant snowflakes in a snow flurry the winter-spirits carried themselves through the sky and over the ocean until they reached the northern ice sheet.

On the ice sheet the winter-spirits set to work sculpting the ice into shapes they had seen. Each winter-spirit claimed a patch of ice to shape its own sculpture, often using worn down unclaimed sculptures as a base to save on work. The process of sculpting was slow for the winter-spirits were not large, but over time a vast plain filled with art took shape. The forms of the beasts and plants of Kalgrun, Swahhitteh-Tendlepog and Li's Island were common, but other forms also emerged. Some created chimeric fusions of the forms they had witnessed. Some attempted abstract forms, playing with shapes or light. Some shaped landscapes and maps.

For each winter-spirit, the creation of elaborate art had an important purpose. As the sculptures were finished, the winter-spirits took off to inspect the sculptures of others. When a winter-spirit found a sculpture which impressed it, it waited around that sculpture until it could find that sculpture's creator. That second winter-spirit would follow the first back to its sculpture. If the second winter-spirit was not impressed, it would return to its sculpture, leaving the first winter-spirit. But if it was impressed, the two winter-spirits extracted a droplet of water from each others' abdomens and together they sculpted a new winter-spirit. In this way new winter-spirits were made from the best sculptors among them.

And so the cycle was established. During winter, winter-spirits flew south to study the world and gain inspiration. During summer, winter-spirits nested at the north pole, breeding and creating new sculptures from the inspiration they had learned in the previous season. Thanks to the work of the winter-spirits, Ashalla's ice sheet would never be lacking in beautiful sculptures.



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Hidden 7 mos ago 7 mos ago Post by Tal
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Ya-Shuur





After sitting and staring into the rain for a long time Ya-Shuur decided that he would travel. There was only so much he could see while staying in one place. Travelling would grant him knowledge. So he stood and walked through the rain until he came to the beach. Here it was raining as well. He stared out into the fog and unknown and he felt scared. The sea was endless and dark and the clouds were overcast. Staring out into it he felt truly insignificant and weak. He shook his head and turned away. Maybe travelling was not for him after all. It was not a good idea to go blind into the unknown. At least here he was on stable land. The unending rain was frustrating it was true but it was no reason for him to leave. He looked out again at the sea. Despite his terror it still held an allure. But he was not ready for it. This was his home and he would stay here.

As he walked back in the forest he felt that something was watching him. He looked around for a while but saw nothing that was unusual. But the feeling didn't go away so he looked harder. At last he saw some kind of creature taking shelter under a tree. He paused and looked at it but could not quite make out its features so he approached. It was a small horned animal that bent its head down and bit into the greenery every now and then. It looked very unhappy about all the rain. Ya-Shuur smiled at it and waved his hand. "Hello little horned creature. What are you doing there?" It looked at him for a few moments then released a terrifying screech that made Ya-Shuur jump and back away quickly. To his surprise it followed after him. He sped up into a jog and he saw that it stopped by a tree and stared at him. Relieved that it had stopped chasing him he returned to his cave. It seemed like the world was full of terrible things!

Some days later as he was exploring the up the stream near his cave he came across the same creature. Only this time it had two others with it. Ya-Shuur stared at it from across the stream and it made a sound at him that sounded like a "baaa". It was nothing like the strange screech from the first time. He laughed and thought they looked almost cute from here. Nothing like from up close when they turned into monsters and started chasing you. He continued up the stream and was shocked to find they started walking up with him. Terror gripped him and he turned around and began running back to his cave. The little horned creatures didn't give chase this time. Ya-Shuur was relieved about that.

Not long after that he was walking along the beach. He had been walking aimlessly for some time when he realized that he was searching for something. What he was searching for he did not know. But he kept looking until eventually he spotted the very same creature from that day he had decided not to leave! It was confronting something in the woods. He could not really see it. But that moment seemed to last forever. Ya-Shuur stared at the animal as it defied the unknown darkness. "Goat..." he said to himself, "Goat Defying the Darkness." He thought there were tears in his eyes but they might have been rain. As he watched a huge bear emerged from the forest and growled at the stubborn goat. Instinctively he ran forward. He picked up a stick and shouted. The bear looked at him and roared. "Here! Here!" he shouted and the bear did not like it. It stood on its hind legs and lashed out with its paws to warn him off. By this time the goat had scurried away. Ya-Shuur stopped and found that his heart was beating stupendously in his chest. His hand was frozen in fear around his stick so he couldn't drop it even as he turned and ran away. The bear stared after him and roared in victory. Then it looked around and realized the goat was gone and it mewled in confusion.

When he was back in his small cave Ya-Shuur found himself trembling. That had been a terrible experience and he would never do anything like it again. A sound disrupted his fearful mind and he looked up aghast. Coming towards the cave was the goat and maybe six others. The first goat came right up to him and baa'd gently. Ya-Shuur chuckled nervously and patted it between its horns. "Y-yeah. You were very brave back there." He leaned back and looked at the goats. He looked at the stick and smiled. He remembered the name that had come to him in that strange moment. Goat Defying the Darkness. He liked it.

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Hidden 7 mos ago Post by AdorableSaucer
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Hermes suddenly woke with a start, her heart racing. Xiaoli was seemingly asleep by her side, though she stirred a little and nuzzled further into Hermes’ armpit, giving off a gentle hum. Hermes relaxed at the touch, only a little confused to when Xiaoli had joined her, their sleep cycles being drastically different; Hermes needing around ten hours, and Xiaoli needing-- well none.

She shook her head, her dream coming back to her. She sat up, her motion causing a small frown to form on the sleeping Xiaoli, the river-girl’s head plopping onto one of the pillows. Hermes’ shirt and jacket were wrinkled heavily, having fallen asleep in the same clothes she wore to dinner. Looking down at Xiaoli she urgently patted her shoulder, having to tell someone.

As Xiaoli stirred to life at the distinct lack of cozy heat by her side, she blinked at Hermes before smiling softly. “I cannot believe I actually fell asleep! What a curious sensation,” she mused quietly and reached out to caress Hermes’ back. “What is it?” she asked.

Hermes formed a quick smile that then faded, “Li’Kalla is in trouble-- God wasn’t in my dreams, not the usual way. The weavers, they gave me a message.”

Xiaoli’s smile grew into a gasp of worry as she sat up. “Oh no… We must tell His Lordship!” she exclaimed and cast her legs over the side of the bed, tying her sandals on her feet with an uncharacteristic clumsiness. Hermes popped off the bed, her outfit was twisted this way and that, and extremely wrinkled. A discolored splotch had dried where the blessing had happened and what was at least ten hours of sleep sweats conquered her shirt.

She looked around, her eyes settling on the white shoes from yesterday. Quickly slipping them on and pressing her discolored skirt in an attempt to get rid of the wrinkles, she frowned, “Do you have any pants I can borrow?”

Xiaoli let out a frustrated sigh and quickly shuffled over to the wardrobe. She opened it swiftly and dug through the heaps of clothing until she produced a pair of white gi pants, which she tossed gently towards Hermes. “Here, these ought to do the trick.”




The two were soon outside the snake’s chambres. The hallway was silent apart from the two girls’ pants and the faint sound of harp music from the other side of the door. Xiaoli took one look over at Hermes, then walked over and began to pull at and adjust her clothing.

Hermes squirmed in place, but after a while she straightened up, “Let’s go in, I’ll feel a lot better knowing he knows.”

“No, no, your hair is all messy! Just let me-!” She reached up to adjust Hermes’ sleep knotted hair.

“In the circumstances, I don’t think Shengshi will mind; we can fix it after,” Hermes pleaded.

Xiaoli stopped and let out a sigh. “Fine, you’re right,” she said curtly and promptly went over to push the doors open. The room was empty as usual, complemented with melancholic harp cords from the outside. Xiaoli stormed out the door and turned the corner, Hermes quick at her heels.

There, the snake sat plucking at the strings of his guzheng, facing the bow of the ship. Beside him floated Poppler, who was popping along to the harp cords and the snake’s snickers. “I truly misjudged you, little one, the first time we met. Your language is unrefined, but my, do you have some interesting thoughts bubbling in that… Head of yours,” the snake mused as he gave Poppler a grin. Xiaoli stood panting behind him, taking the time to do a quick bow.

“My lord, we have urgent news!”

The snake held up one finger. “Just a moment! A crescendo is coming up.” He lowered his hand again and started running his claws up and down the harp, producing increasingly louder cords. Xiaoli was dumbstruck for a moment and then frowned.

“My lord, they truly are urgent! Her Holiness Li’Kalla is in danger!”

The snake nodded solemnly, the harp quieting down momentarily. “Yes, I am aware. Some sweet birds came by a few hours ago and whispered to me K’nell’s warning. A tragic occurrence, that.” Then the music resumed.

“Oh,” was all Hermes could muster for a while, before reforming her thoughts, “K’nell continues to walk Galbar, intent on fixing the mess before returning to his Palace, but he believes Galbar to be in a state of danger beyond mortal capacity until such things are fixed.”

Hermes looked at Xiaoli, “The only places he trusts that we are safe from the concussion of the event is here and Tendlepog. He doesn’t restrict, but he does advise.”

Xiaoli looked back at Hermes, then at Shengshi. “Well, my lord? What will you do now that you know?”

The music stopped again. The snake sighed and slithered away from the guzheng, turning to face the two girls. “I will lend him whatever aid I can, naturally - but my power is still recovering after the creation of Chuanwang. I will seek him out as soon as I feel confident that I can be of assistance to him. A question remains, however: What will the two of you do?”

Xiaoli blinked at the snake, then at Hermes. “W-well, His Holiness K’nell recommended that we remain here or travel to Tendlepog, so I reckon we will do either of those. Hermes, what do you think?”

Hermes bit a finger in thought, “Well… I want to get to Tendlepog and start building a new home, but--” Hermes shook her head, “You just got back to yours, and I’m a little too woozy for the sandals still.”

Xiaoli shook her head. “Don’t worry about that, dear, we-... We will go to Tendlepog at start building your house, okay? You can rest up while I pack us something for the journey, okay?” Xiaoli reached out to squeeze Hermes’ hands affectionately. Hermes took her hands and squeezed back with a smile.

“You’re so good to me.”

”Crackle?”

The snake sighed. “Poppler, that was unnecessarily crude.” Xiaoli flushed with red and scowled at the cloudling. The snake -- and Hermes -- snickered quietly.

“So be it. I will have the servants make you some snacks for the journey. The washroom should have cleaned your clothes by now. They are waiting for you in your room, I reckon - we took the liberty of washing your backpack as well, Hermes. Rest assured, the contents have also been maintained to the best of our ability - the fishing spear will likely dull if you do not do so more often.”

Hermes made a guilty face, “Oh, right. I’ll do that.” She nodded quickly, “Thank you so much, Shengshi.”

The snake smiled wryly and gave a curt, upwards nod. “You two be on your way now. Don’t forget to write every now and then.”

“Once either Xiaoli or Abanoc’s book shows me how, of course I will,” Hermes smiled wide, “Poppler, let’s go.”

The cloudling ‘turned’ to Shengshi and let out two quick pops before buzzing over and disappearing into Hermes’ hair. The Dreamer grinned at the familiar feeling and turned to Xiaoli, “Speaking of the book, I want to try it before we leave.”

Xiaoli smiled. “Sure! Let’s!”

“Xiaoli - oh, pardon me, but could you remain for a minute or so?” Shengshi asked.

Xiaoli blinked at him. “O-of course, my lord.” She turned to Hermes. “I’ll be right with you, okay?”

Hermes nodded happily, “I’ll take a peek at the book while I wait.” She gave the room a smile before walking off to her own devices.




Xiaoli smiled at Hermes as she left before turning back to Shengshi.

“What is it, my lord?” she asked.

The snake let out a sigh, seemingly constructing and deconstructing sentences as he kept opening and closing his mouth. Finally, the snake spoke:

“I just-... A part of me wants you to know that you will always have a home here with someone who will always be happy to see you.”

Xiaoli recoiled and then giggled a little. “Okay, where is this coming from?”

The snake grimaced sheepishly. “It’s just-... I have made great efforts to change myself since you left the first time - when I truly realised what a fool I had been acting like. Therefore, I pray that you still think of Jiangzhou as your home - that I did not ruin that perception for you.”

Xiaoli blinked again, her smile fading. She felt her eyes grow misty and looked back up at the snake. “It-... It’s fine, my lord. I see how different you are now and… And it warms my heart deeply. I’m… I’m really happy you are letting me leave, though. That truly shows how far you’ve come.”

The snake’s eyes glistened in the heliopolis. He let out a hacking sigh. “Good. As long as we are clear.” He stood up and slithered over to Xiaoli. Then, against all her expectations, he embraced her. Xiaoli stood frozen for a moment before her mind finally urged her to return the gesture.

“I will miss you,” the snake whispered. “To me, you will always be that beautiful little brook in the forest. Be safe.”

Xiaoli let out a quiet sob, nodding into the snake’s chest. “... Yeah.”




Xiaoli made her way back to the room after noticing Hermes was missing. A slight red stained under her eyes but was fading quickly as she walked. On the way, she grabbed their items and food and packed them in Hermes’ backpack. The halls of the boat flickered by and eventually she came to Hermes’ room, the door was slightly ajar. Peeking in she saw Hermes frozen still on the bed, her eyes as wide as saucers, staring at the blank pages of Abanoc’s book.

Xiaoli walked over and sat down by Hermes, observing her odd posture. She put a hand on her stomach and lightly stirred it to get her attention.

Hermes almost jumped out of her skin, the book snapping shut as she flinched. Her eyes immediately looked drained and she shook her head heavily. She weakly leaned into Xiaoli, “I can read.” Was all she muttered.

Xiaoli gave her a concerned smile and caressed her head softly. “That is wonderful, dear! I’m so proud of you! Although, are you alright? Did you even close your eyes as you read?”

“I-” Hermes stuttered, “I don’t know. Twenty-”

“Twenty six letters of the old language, forty eight of the new, eighty seven of the southern, the east uses characters,” She muttered, her eyes sliding closed, “I can see them all in my head. Runes, the north uses runes.”

Her voice continued to murmur, “Beetles can be used for ink, quills for writing, or stylus and wax. Bristle hair brushes-- sea life also produces ink. Chisel and stone. Foldable books, hieroglyphs.”

“Woah, slow down a little!” Xiaoli said, her eyes growing increasingly anxious at the seemingly entranced Hermes. Hermes’ eyes opened and she looked up at Xiaoli, having fallen into her lap, “I saw yours too.”

Xiaoli let out a sigh and pouted a little. “I could have taught you that, you know…”

“I know,” Hermes answered, “I didn’t ask the book, it just showed me. It showed me everything I needed to know-- well, to read.”

Xiaoli took a deep breath. “Well… At least you are well.” She caressed her cheek gently. “Just… Make sure to take regular breaks when you use that book, okay? You’ll need those eyes to see your future children, you know.” She giggled playfully.

“We can teach them your style of reading,” Hermes smiled up at Xiaoli.

Xiaoli’s giggled turned into a chuckle. “Yeah… Let’s do that.”

The moment lasted for a little longer, a quiet atmosphere blessed with an affectionate warmth permeating the room. The only sounds were the two girls breathing softly as they took in each others’ sights. Finally, Xiaoli spoke: “I’ve packed, by the way. When would you like to head off?”

Hermes slowly sat up, “We can leave now, I think the head rush scared away the nausea.”

“Wonderful!” Xiaoli said and clapped her hands. She got to her feet and picked up Hermes’ backpack, handing it to her.

Quickly slipping the bag over he back she looked around, eyes settling on her winged sandals. She kicked off her shoes and slipped the sandals on, tightening their clasps. She hopped in place a few times, a big smile growing on her face, “I missed my sandals.”

Looking up at Xiaoli, Hermes nodded, “Let’s go, I can tell you my dream on the way.”

Xiaoli raised an eyebrow and then chuckled. “Alright, sure.” She got to her feet and the trio exited the room.




On deck, the snake was waiting, standing atop the dragon’s head, and surrounded by almost every servant aboard the ship. The snake grinned from horn to horn and the servants all bowed to the trio, exclaiming:

“Ten thousand years of love and harmony to our most esteemed guests! We pray Your journey will be safe and glorious!”

Xiaoli giggled at the message. Hermes flashed a cheshire grin, “Hopefully more than even ten thousand.” Xiaoli flushed.

“H-Hermes! We’re in public!” she whispered loudly.

Hermes looked at Xiaoli, her brows furrowed, “Did I do something wrong?”

Xiaoli blinked a few times and then leaned in closer as the snake began to speak. “I’m really happy we feel like this for one another, you know, but it’s a private matter, right?” she asked rhetorically.

“Oh,” was all Hermes managed, “Okay.”

“... upon the wondrous journey that you two are about to undertake. Are you set to leave, then?” the snake asked. Xiaoli snapped to.

“Y-yes!” she blurted out, perhaps a little louder than necessary. The snake nodded.

“Very well, then. Safe travels!”

Xiaoli smiled at Hermes. “Shall we head off, then?”

“Yes,” Hermes broke from her own thoughts and quickly wrapped her arms around Xiaoli. The trio slowly levitated for a moment, Hermes calling out, “Thanks again, Shengshi!” Before suddenly turning into a flash of color, leaving nothing but a loud boom in her wake.




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Hidden 7 mos ago Post by Tal
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Tal

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Ya-Shuur





Ya-Shuur spoke softly to the pregnant goat as she bleated. He rubbed her back and massaged her stomach as slowly her baby emerged into the world. He gripped the small creature's head and guided its passage into the world. This had been weird for him to do the first few times, but he had grown used to it now. In fact he was proud of every time he helped a goat give birth with success. He was able to take care of his flock and protect them.

In his travels around Li'Kalla's island he had discoverd that he occupied the south. This area was full of cold forest and was where Li'Kalla's manor was. It was also where he had run away from when he got out of her sphere. So there was a lot of forest in this area. The goats liked the abundance of food here and the easy shelter from the rain. They didn't like the abundance of predators though and Ya-Shuur had to keep running bears and other predators off so that they didn't eat any of his flock. As he travelled with his flock to the east he found that the forest disappeared. They gave way to huge spires made of clay and mud that left small valleys between each other. This area was damp and muddy but there was plenty of grass for his goats to graze in the valleys. The rain was unceasing and they could not find any shelter from it. The goats looked miserable and wet despite all the fresh grass. So he took them back to the forest where they stayed for some time and were safe from the rain.

After that Ya-Shuur wished to explore more so they headed west. Here there were ponds covered in beautiful strange flowers and moss. The area was inhabited by frogs, ladybugs, butterflies, dragonflies, and other seemingly harmless insects. The goats seemed to enjoy the new place bereft of dangerous predators and full of greenery and water. But like the east there was nowhere to take shelter from the rain here either and after some time Ya-Shuur led them back to the forests where they wandered around for some time and Ya-Shuur chased off some bears that took an interest in the goats.
By this time there were now many goats and Ya-Shuur noticed with worry that they were eating everything. Because he kept them safe none were being eaten. But they were eating everything. There was now an imbalance. This worried Ya-Shuur but he put off thinking about it too much for now. He took the herd north this time. Here they found a mix of snowy forest and a sprawling network of canyons filled with seawater. The goats took to the snow very happily. They ran here and there and played with one another and seemed very happy that they had found a place without rain. Ya-Shuur found it very cold though with nothing but his poor excuse for a loincloth.

He sat thinking one day as he watched the goats prancing in the snow chasing strange butterflies that had wings that were one foot in length. One such butterfly flew right up to him and observed him. He was hunched up with a frown on his face because of all of his thinking and the cold. The herd had now gotten enormous and he knew that the bigger it became the worse things would be for the environment here. He had to find a way to balance things out. Many animals needed goats to survive. Him protecting them meant those animals had lost their food. This saddened Ya-Shuur especially because he knew that the goats were not in danger of being killed completely if some of them were eaten. And it would be better for the balance of the island overall.

He thought about this. His goats were alive. They desired to continue living. There was no reason to take away their lives. His maxim covered this: “Hurting others for no good reason is evil.” This raised the question of what was good reason when it came to hurting his goats. The first was the reason the bear had. The bear hunted goats to subsist. The bear also desired to live, just like the goat. To live it had to eat. To eat it had to kill. If it did not do so it would die. So subsistence seemed like a good reason that was covered by the maxim to Ya-Shuur. In the same way the goat had to eat. To eat it destroyed plants. If it kept eating without anyone to hunt it then it could destroy life on the island entirely. So there had to be a balance. The bear ate the goat to live, so he hurt it with good reason. Then the goat ate the plant so it could live, hurting it within reason for good reason. That made sense to Ya-Shuur.

There was also another reason in his mind why hurting a goat could be considered to be for good reason. Too many goats could end up eating too much and destroying what Li'Kalla had created on the island. So it would be justice for him to kill some goats to prevent them from destroying life on the island. This destruction would even affect the goats eventually if no one intervened to create a balance. So it was right for the bear to kill so it could eat. And it was also right that the bear should kill to preserve the natural balance of the island.

Ya-Shuur held his stick and placed it in the snow. How could he word these into a maxim? “The desire for subsistence is natural. Those who hurt within reason so as to subsist do no wrong. Those who transgress beyond necessity have done evil. They must undo what they have done. If they do not do this then they are to be hurt. This is Justice.” He looked at this maxim and was satisfied. Then he placed the butt of his stick elsewhere and wrote another maxim. “The maintenance of harmony is good. Intentionally hurting some to preserve the well-being of the whole is a necessary evil. It leads to good for all. It is to be done. This is Justice.” He looked at this third maxim for a long time. He knew that he would have to return to it and think about it more. For now though he would hold to it.

The next day Ya-Shuur gathered ten of his goats and led them to the forest. He left them there for the bear and the wolf.

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Hidden 7 mos ago 7 mos ago Post by Crispy Octopus
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Crispy Octopus Into the fryer we go.

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Iron and Ice


The snow had buried her head some time ago. It wasn’t an unpleasant feeling, in fact Mel’Issandra found it rather refreshing, but it did give her reason to question just how long it would be before Li’Kalla returned. Waiting here with only her lizard as company had already gotten to be rather boring. There had to be other ways to pass the time. The ice woman heaved a sigh like a cold breeze and began to extricate herself from the snowy tomb.

Pulling herself to the surface wasn’t too difficult, and Mel’Issandra noted that she didn’t sink into the loose snow when she stood on it. That was convenient. The little lizard on her shoulder chirped when it saw the cloudy sky for the first time in what felt like an age and she scratched its chin. Little snowflakes still fell all around her, but without Li’Kalla stoking it the storm was lackluster.

Well, even if the Goddess was taking a while to return it didn’t mean Mel’Issandra had to be bored. With that in mind the ice woman looked up to the island’s little peak and resolved to climb it. It was, she found, a remarkably easy hike. Now that the rocky outcrop was covered in snow Mel’Issandra seemed to find sure footing with every step, a fact which she was rather thankful for. Shattering once had been unpleasant enough.

Once she’d summited the mountain, or if she was being honest, glorified hill, she looked out at the ocean beyond the storm. It seemed to her like the water stretched out forever in every direction. Well, all but one. There appeared to be another little island not too far from this one. Mel’Issandra found it difficult to focus on, almost as if it was shifting in the distant waves, but when she did she went still. The peculiar little island was burning.

Had the Phoenix returned? She looked up and scanned the grey sky above even as she dug herself into the snow below her. When she heard no cries or wing beats she allowed herself to relax, but only for a moment. Once her eyes found the little island again she found herself more worried than she’d been before.

After all, islands didn’t have shoulders. And fires didn’t squint so much like eyes.

As she looked, it did not even seem so little anymore. It was as big as the one she was standing on, if not more, and it kept getting bigger. The light of Heliopolis danced on it in spots, like on ice, but it was dim and grey, not luminous and clear. Waves rolled around it as if it were moving - and move it did, in long, steady pulls. Like enormous steps.

The sea churned, and a clawed hand that could have covered her entire island emerged alarmingly close. It went up, blotting out the sky, then dove back down with a thunderous crash that sent water spraying in a column. Moments later, the ground under Mel’Issandra’s feet rocked, and darkness suddenly fell over her as what was clearly not an island pulled itself up from the ocean. From above a towering mass of jagged grey, four flaming pits stared down at her, horridly and unmistakably alive.

”Ghrm.” A sound that was less like a voice than a thunderclap rattled the air around her. ”This doesn’t look like a place for ice to be.”

Mel’Issandra stayed very, very still. At least, she did before a rain of salty slush pelted her. It so happened that salt was terribly, nauseatingly, infuriatingly, itchy. She did her best to weather the fallout of the giants emergence from the ocean, but in the end it was hopeless.

She threw herself from the mountain in the opposite direction of the giant and rolled down the snowy slope, scouring the wretched salt off her glassy skin. By the time she reached the bottom and got to her feet she felt she could breathe a sigh of relief, short lived as that feeling was. The giant still stood there, towering above the stunted mountain, following her with those appalling burning eyes. She reflected upon her short life and decided it hadn’t been so bad. She was glad she’d met Li’Kalla.

Mel’Issandra stared back at the giant and waited for it to make the first move. If it was Sartavius, if he’d come to finish what his Phoenix couldn’t, then the least she could do was make it difficult for him.

With a loud grinding sound accompanied by the rumbling of a cataract, the colossal body slid down into the sea, sending waves rolling all around it. As soon as its head had sunken noticeably, it abruptly stopped. The eyes now glared at her from just a little above the height of the hilltop.

”So,” the voice rumbled again, now so close that ice crystals tinkled against one another under its blow. For all its magnitude, impatience could plainly be heard creeping into it. ”It seems I need to spell this out. Are you going to tell me what’s something like you doing in the warmest waters I’ve been through yet, or keep rolling around like a hog in the mud?”

“Oh,” The ice woman remarked. She seemed to relax, her arms falling to her sides, “So you’re not Sartravius?”

The titan was quiet for a moment, the dancing of flames in his eyes the only movement about his form. Then, with a suddenness that sent the ground quaking, he burst into a deafening cacophonous laugh. The waves were whitened with foam far around the island.

”Sartravius? Me?! This is a good one!” He almost seemed to choke on his cachinnations. ”That’s the first time someone’s taken me for that bag of hot air!” The laughter died down, though something still gurgled in the giant’s cavernous throat. ”Make sure it’s also the last. He hasn’t earned a comparison that flattering.”

An immense gleaming fist rose from the waters. ”I am Narzhak, lord of strife, sovereign of blood and iron.” The colossus sounded unabashedly pleased with himself. ”Now,” with a light motion, the fist came to rest right above Mel’Issandra’s head, ”are you finally going to make yourself worth my time?”

It was then that Mel’Issandra realized, rather abruptly, that being Sartravius was not the only quality that made a person dangerous. It wasn’t, on reflection, a shocking conclusion. The ice woman racked her mind in an effort to remember the enormous god’s earlier question, he’d asked her what she was doing here right? Because it was… Warm?

Mel’Issandra hadn’t known there were colder places. She’d have to see them for herself. If she survived, of course. The ice woman figured the best way to accomplish that was to be honest with the god holding a mountain sized fist over her head. She spoke carefully, her voice a great deal quieter but no less unnatural than the titan’s, “I’m here because I was born here. After Sartavius killed me.”

She paused and thought to add, “I’m glad you’re not him. Now we don’t have to fight each other.”

”I wouldn’t say fight in either case.” The earth-shaking laugh, having briefly died down with Narzhak’s question, flared up again in a subdued rumble. ”But, if he’s your enemy, we have that much in common.” With as slight a shift as the one that had raised it, the gargantuan fist moved aside and disappeared into the sea, lifting its shadow from the islet.

”Knowing who you fight is a fine start,” the god mused, mirth lingering in his words, ”But that’s all it is. What do you do to battle the one who killed you?” He gazed blankly at her, as if waiting for an answer, but then spoke again, as an obvious afterthought, ”Better, what can you do?”

What could she do? Mel’Issandra pondered that question for a moment. She knew she was sustaining the storm Li’Kalla had brought to the island, and she knew she could reshape her body, but what else? She recalled the little statue she’d made. She could reshape more than her body, couldn’t she?

The ice woman carefully sunk a toe into the soft snow she seemed to float on. For the first time she realized she could feel the snow all around her almost as intensely as she could feel her own body. All it took was trying. She focused on a specific patch of snow and pulled.

Almost at once an ice spike as thick as an old tree trunk erupted from the ground and stretched into the sky. The spike was clean, a perfect cone, and it stood taller than any of the burned or living trees left on the island. She smiled, “I can do that.”

On her shoulder Kalla, the undead lizard, chirped at her. She looked over to it and held up a hand, which it climbed onto. She looked at the little creature and amended her previous statement, “And this. I can also do this.”

Narzhak’s right lower eye narrowed appreciatively at the monstrous icicle. The tip of a clawed finger, like a gleaming metallic rock, prodded out near the shore. The iron on its peak grew and stretched like an animate fluid, lengthening into a narrow, tapering barb that reached the base of the spike. It tapped on the ice with apparent lightness, though cracks spread through the cone where it touched down.

”Not bad,” the god nodded, before another of his eyes fell on the lizard. ”You’ll need more than that, but it’s something. This, though...” The spike swung away from the icicle and pointed at Kalla and rose further, poking it before stopping. The lizard glared at Narzhak and gave an indignant chirp before crawling up Mel’Issandra’s arm and into her gown of snow. ”Strange one. Can you do this to bigger things? Many of them?”

“I don’t know,” Mel’Issandra admitted with a little shrug, “I don’t see why not though. It was easy, I only had to touch Kalla to do it. He’s better now. You think I should make others better?” She asked.

”Making things better is how you prove you’re worth a spit. What’s more, better for us is worse for Sartr. Let’s try it now.” The spike withdrew, and the god’s bulk slowly careened to one side, as if he were reaching for something below the surface. After some splashing stirred by his fumbling in the water, eerily contrasted by the stillness of his shoulders, the rock-like fingertip emerged again. This time, it did not stop by the shoreline, but slid all the way up to where Mel’Issandra stood. A part of its summit had been hollowed into a concave bowl, in which swam a large silvery fish.

”Improve this.”

Mel’Issandra cursed internally. Did she really have to stick her hand in to that water? That salt water? She reached out only to hesitate at the edge of the bowl. She recalled the trick the giant god had shown her with his finger and on a whim decided to imitate him. A thin needle of ice grew out of her index finger and she dipped it into the water. It still itched, but it wasn’t so bad.

With a grin she pricked the fish and then snapped the needle off the end of her finger with her other hand. It fell and shattered on the edge of the bowl. Within the water the silver fish began to swim erratically, panickedly, until it suddenly stilled.

Its eyes became a milky white like Kalla’s and the water around it began to freeze. It started to swim again before it was encased, leaving a thin trail of ice that floated to the surface behind it. Mel’Issandra watched it circle the bowl for a moment and resolved to never do that to a fish again. It must have been terribly itchy.

She glanced up at the giant and only recoiled slightly when she met his fiery gaze. “I made it better, like you asked.”

The iron expanse that passed for his face sank and rose in a nod. He lifted the finger to his eyes, and the hand followed, running with small torrents of seawater. Apparently satisfied with what he saw, he swept it downward, dropping the fish into the island’s snow and shaking most of the half-frozen water onto the shoreline.

”Not bad. Keep doing it to everything you find, and the whole world will be better for it.” The edges of his eyes flickered, or perhaps it was merely the gleam of the sun on his visor. ”You couldn’t have found that fish on your own. Doing good like this is much easier when you have someone helping you. Can you tell the things you make better what to do?”

“Maybe?” She answered, glancing at the frozen fish doing its best to swim in the fluffy snow. She was glad Narzhak hadn’t dumped it into the sea. That would have been unpleasant for it.

She looked back at the titan and considered the question. She hadn’t tried asking Kalla to do anything before. Her icy eyes flicked to a part of her arm hidden by snow and she spoke kindly, “Come on out, Kalla.”

The only response she got was a defiant little chirp, muffled by the snow of her gown. Well, that answered that. She couldn’t help but giggle, her laughter more like the soft clinking of icicles than anything recognizable as mirth. She let the lizard be and explained, “Kalla stays with me, but I never asked him to. I think he likes me though.”

”So you can’t.” Judging by his tone, which was as flat as a giant’s rumbling could be, Narzhak was thoroughly unimpressed. ”We can fix that, if you give me a piece of yourself.” He pointed a finger as long as an islet at Mel’Issandra. From its tip grew, like unnaturally fast, metallic stems, three rods tipped with sharp hooks, arranged in the likeness of a clawed hand. They reached towards her face, expectantly clicking together.

Mel’Issandra dearly hoped the giant god didn’t want her face. She liked her face. It would be nice to tell things she made better what to do though. She worried about them running loose. What if they got hurt without her there? What if Sartravius found them? She wanted what Narzhak was offering, but if it was possible she’d rather regrow a finger than a face.

She snapped a finger off her left hand and handed it to the god. She stared at him expectantly as she regrew the appendage. The hooks retreated, holding their prize. The god bent his finger upwards, bringing the fragment out of sight, while the other three digits on his hand went to work on something of their own. They twisted in toward the palm, rubbing together in a series of quick, precise short motions. From below, she could not see what exactly they were doing, but their rapid though steady pace gave a clear impression of purpose.

After mere moments of activity, the hand unfolded again, dropping something into the snow at Mel’Issandra’s feet. A curious iron-cast shape glittered in the light of Heliopolis. Lined along the interior of a circular hoop slightly larger than her head were four long, narrow blades, slanted slightly so that, had they been larger, they would have converged at a spot below the circlet’s center. Each of them had two slightly uneven edges and, strangely, two tips; the object could only be safely held by the hoop. The ice finger or its remains were nowhere to be seen.

Narzhak nodded lightly, spreading a tide of shadow over the island. ”Put this into your head.”

Into her head? Well, at least it wasn’t her face. The ice woman gingerly bent over and picked up the peculiar iron object before placing it on her head. It was unpleasantly warm, but that changed quickly. It cooled as it sank into her and by the time the band rested neatly on the top of her head it was totally white with frost.

She brought a hand up to feel the strange construct. It was sharp, but she couldn't be cut. Still, she’d have to be careful when she saw Li’Kalla next. The very last thing she wanted was to poke the Goddess’s wings by accident. The frost would help with that though. She could ‘feel’ the crown, but much more weakly than even the snow around her. Finished with her examination of the crown she looked up to Narzhak.

“This will make them listen to me?” Mel’Issandra questioned the iron titan.

”It should.” A spike emerged from the finger to distantly motion at Kalla. ”Try it now.”

She again looked to the spot under her snowy gown here Kalla was sitting. She still spoke softly, but this time with an authoritative edge, “Kalla, come out.”

The lizard obliged. It crawled out of the snow and onto her shoulder, where she scratched its chin. The ice woman grinned, “It works. Thank you!”

”I do what’s got to be done.” The god propped himself up on both arms from the island’s submerged side, leaning back into the ocean. ”I’m sure you’ll figure out how to use it well. Just be fast about it. If I know Sartr, he’ll start polluting the face of the world with monstrosities of his in a short time. I might’ve provoked him the last time we spoke, and he’s got a temper.”

He turned his head sideways with a resonating grinding sound, glancing at the sky with his upper eyes. The lower ones remained fixed on Mel’Issandra. ”Watch out for for a loud-mouthed scaly bird, it’s one of his servants. Nasty one.”

“Yes. I know it.” The ice woman's smile fell flat and a slight scowl crept onto her face. She wanted nothing less than to wring the life out of that flying abomination, but she knew she couldn’t. Not yet, anyway.

Narzhak’s gift was a start, though. She sighed and whispered to Kalla, letting him know he could hide in her gown again. Mel’Issandra didn’t want to command him if she didn’t need to. Of course, if the enormous god was being truthful, and she didn’t see why he would lie while helping her, then she would need to command others like Kalla soon enough.

It wasn’t a pleasant realization, but it didn’t disturb her. She would need help, and if her helpers were anything like her or Kalla they wouldn’t mind exterminating Sartravius’s spawn. She nodded slowly, “I’ll be ready. Thank you again.”

”Good. Watch yourself.” In two immense steps, the giant receded, most of his body disappearing under the waves. The water rose considerably along the island’s shore, flooding the snowy cline up to a short distance from her feet. With slow, ponderous motions that could only be guessed at, Narzhak turned about-face and resumed his advance, eyes to the northwest. Soon, his head was once more a distant island fading into the horizon.

Mel’Issandra watched him go, eyeing the encroaching water with concern. She took a few steps away from the flood to be safe. It was only when it receded that she realized it had washed her fish away. She looked around panickedly before spotting the flopping creature in a little pool of water not far from the islands beach.

She ran over to it, feet itching all the while, and pulled it out of the little pool. Putting her hands into the water was decidedly unpleasant, but at least she managed to extract the animal. She cradled it and jogged back to her snowy refuge. Narzhak was alright, but he needed to be more considerate. Especially of fish.

The ice woman wiped her hands and feet off in the snow, and instructed the fish to do the same. It… Tried. She eventually had to scrub it with snow herself. She brought it over to a snow drift a few feet deep and let it go there knowing it was the most she could do for the poor creature.

That done, she sat down and ran her hand over the snow in front of her. A thick sheet of reflective ice formed, and she eyed her new hat. No, that was wrong. It was a… Crown? That sounded right. It was pretty, but she wasn’t a fan of how visible it was inside her transparent head. She forced the ice that made up her head to turn an opaque whitish blue and smiled at the result. That was better. Now the frosty crown looked good on her.

“And now I wait.” She muttered to herself. She was holding out hope Li’Kalla would be along soon, but she knew she couldn’t wait forever. Not while Sartravius was preparing to unleash more of his horrors.




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and


Kalmar


A step shook the ground, crushing dozens of trees under a pitiless iron heel. Then another. And another. A long trail of vast patches of trampled vegetation stretched back to the very coastline, now distant beyond even divine sight.

Flaming eyes swept the green expanse that covered the earth from sight to all sides but that one. All things considered, Narzhak thought, forests were little better than the plainlands he had once found so dull back on the Dragon’s Foot. The various sizes and shapes of the trees were slightly more interesting than nothing but grass as far as he could see, yes, but it took a very short time to see what that variety really counted for. A tree was a tree, as much as that. Small differences in how bent the branches on this or that one were did not change anything worthy of his attention about them. As for everything else that grew under those trees, he could barely even notice it down there. Mushrooms were the best there was, and that said it all.

The things that moved, at least until his foot came down on them, were hardly an improvement. There were different kinds of wolves, to say nothing of all the rest, but none of them did anything more than the trees, as far as he cared. They ate, slept, took up space, that was all. Not once had he seen any do anything else. And those were the best things here, no place left for anything above them! He could have sworn that this corner of Galbar had been lazily left by everyone to overgrow with useless life. Lucky that he had found it now.

Narzhak rotated his head, gazing over the horizon from left to right. To one side, he could see nothing but more forests. He had about had enough of those. To the other, the indistinct shapes of mountains towered in the distance. He did not have high hopes for the mountains either - all of them so far had been nothing but barren rock - but they were a change, and that would have to do for now.

A distant animalistic roar could be heard, followed by what Narzhak would perceive as a light ping! ping! sound directly beneath him.

Looking down, he saw a shaggy, grey, apelike creature, furiously pounding away at his foot, undaunted by his vast size.

This was already much, much better.

Leaning down heavily, he pointed a finger at the strangely ferocious being. Large hooks shaped themselves from its tip, followed by dizzyingly long, thick chains. Moving as though animated with snakelike life, they clawed into and coiled around the beast, which continued to bellow and struggle as though there were nothing unusual - for one like itself - about it.

Narzhak lifted his captive to his eyes. Whatever it was, it clearly improved on everything he had gone over so far. Strength, yes, but also this fury, which he thought he could call ambitious, and… He looked closer. The creature was not bleeding where his hooks had bitten into its thick hide. He pulled one out, and stared: the shallow wound closed under his eyes, and in brief it was almost invisible under the matted fur.

”Wherever you come from, there’s a lot in you,” he mused, more to himself than to the beast, which was less than interested in soliloquy. In a few steps, the mountains had grown much closer. His four gazes scattered over them, eyes ranging over craggy stone faces, far from one another. It did not take him long to spot more of the curious beings - here was one, crouching in ambush over a cliff; there another, more interested in what it was eating than the new mountain standing nearby; and another there, and more…

”And I think I’ll bring it out,” he concluded his earlier thought. ”Hold still.” His eyes converged on the being, and for an instant they blazed crimson. As on command, the creature froze, arms raised in flailing and features painted with outrage.

Hundreds more chained hooks sprouted from Narzhak’s hand, and went to work. They moved quickly, in spasming, yet precise jolts, hurrying before the prodigious healing overtook the ways they cut open into the captive’s body. Skin hardened, bones stretched, black ichor dripped into improvised funnels. Draw the nails out some more, pull the mouth wider, the frame taller. More teeth, less fur, it gets in the way. Make sure the blood seeps well into its belly. Like that.

The god drew most of his hooks back into their fingers and admired his handiwork. The thing he held was taller and leaner than before, long arms ending in matchingly long, viciously sharp claws. Its fur was spread in mangy patches over its stony, almost squamous skin, none reaching higher than the shoulders. The head, after all, should be free to dive into carcasses, and this head was made for just that. It was nothing but mouth, large, wide and toadlike, filled with more teeth than the finest sight could hope to count. Strong teeth they were, too. No bone would stop them, nor any shell. Two squat, rapacious eyes, alight with greed and cunning, surmounted the horrid maw, flattened nostrils barely visible below them.

”You’ll make a perfect ghoul, you will,” Narzhak nodded, his voice brimming with self-satisfaction. The monster stirred, blinked, then snapped its many teeth. Ghoul or no ghoul, there seemed to be only one thing it cared about.

However, its maker was not yet finished. Holding the newly-named ghoul chained upright on one finger, he glared at it again with all four eyes, which were suddenly much brighter than the usual. So much brighter that the whole mountainside was bathed in their orange glow, as though a second, hellish Heliopolis had lit up straight before it. The whole of it, that is, except the spot where the creature’s shadow fell. A strangely large shadow, if one looked at it. It should not have covered the whole peak, or the foot below it, and certainly not the entire mountain range.

The shadow washed over every cave and every crag, and in a moment both it and the glow were gone. So was every one of the hairy, brutish creatures on that side of the massive. Instead of them, a horde of long-clawed, wide-mouthed horrors loped over the rocks, hailing each other with gurgling cries. Some set upon one another, biting and grasping large stones and tree branches the better to smash the enemy’s head in. Others hurried down into the forest or over the passes, in search of easier prey, or, what was harder, but tastier, their former kind. Some few, already busy with something’s meat, did not seem to notice the change at all; at least, until their meals were gone much faster than expected, leaving them with a torturous craving for more.

This Narzhak carelessly set down the first ghoul, which minded it less than its sudden appetite, ”is what you call an improvement.”

”No.”

The ghoul, the first of its kind, fell, an arrow punched clean through its eye and out the back of its head.

Kalmar levitated in the air, expression as cold as stone, as he stared down Narzhak. A new arrow was already notched in his bow as he awaited a response.

After his misadventures with Chopstick, he had cleaned himself up, replaced or mended the clothes which had been lost or torn, and then returned to his continent, only to find that some titanic creature had run roughshod over his forests. The destruction had been immense, and for no real reason, and so it had to end. He had followed the trail here. Now, the God of the Hunt floated face to face with the God of Conflict himself.

Heavily, Narzhak swung around to face the much smaller god. ”Hrghm.” His voice had become one of annoyance. Fiery pits large enough to swallow scores of Kalmars many times over blazed with displeasure.

”You’re...” he scraped his jagged chin with a ghastly screeching sound, sifting through what he remembered of his divine family, ”Kalmar, aren’t you? What’s your problem with this? Isn’t it what you’re all about yourself?”

Kalmar glared back. ”My problem is that it is not sustainable. Your ‘improvements’ will be their downfall. At this rate most of the new species will wipe itself out with infighting, but not before killing or driving out all other animals in the area. I don’t just exist to hunt things, I exist to ensure that the hunting can continue. Reverse what you have done,” he demanded.

”Or else what?” Notes of mockery sounded through the giant’s rumbling. ”You’d do better to look closer, and maybe learn from my work. These ghouls” he motioned widely with a finger, sending a whistling breeze towards the mountains, ”don’t have a stable balance, no. That is the point. They’ll find a better one, if they want to last, but that’s far from now. What they have for a start is enough. They’d spread to consume everything, but that same infighting will keep them in check. They’d tear each other to pieces to the last, but there’ll be easier prey to distract them. This way, they’ll keep growing right as much as needed, until they become better.” He glanced sideways with one eye. ”A plan for centuries started in less than a day. Don’t you have any of your own to mind?”

”There is logic to your words,” Kalmar grudgingly conceded, ”yet there was never any need to make them this way to begin with. They were already strong, they already competed with each other, they already faced adversity. I had plans for them and you threw those out of balance. There is no sense in infighting, nor cannibalism - those ultimately make them weaker. The threats that keep them in check should be on the outside, not within.”

”That was not enough.” Jarringly, the deep rumbling ended in a sharp snapping click. ”They needed more. A hunger to drive them, a wit to make them adapt. If all change had to come from outside, we’d be running ourselves out around the whole world. I, for one, have better things to do with my time. Instead, I set the path, and anyone who wants to live will follow it. To get the most out of them, you need to push them from everywhere. That way, even the best will always have a challenge. The greatest one, because it’s just like them.” Narzhak expressively lifted a half-clenched claw. ”Infighting kills off the weak in the breed. The strong become stronger by consuming them. They’ll be fewer, maybe, but better. Besides, numbers won’t be a problem for them anytime soon.” He abruptly gestured to the side. ”And that’s just the ones I found. There’s got to be plenty more of your things further in the mountains.”

In many ways, Narzhak’s philosophy echoed Kalmar’s own. The disagreement was on how to implement it. ”There is truth in what you say. Yet they already had that hunger and that wit, you only drove it into excess. Infighting doesn’t just kill the weak, it also kills the strong.” he paused for a few moments. ”I will watch and observe your creatures. If you are correct, there will be no issue. If you are wrong, then I will remove them,” he stated flatly.

One of the upper fiery eyes narrowed. ”That would defeat the point. If they fail” he laid particular weight on the word ‘they’, ”they’ll be condemned either way. If you suddenly decide they’re not good enough, who’s to say you’re right? I can’t play keeper for everything I leave wherever I go.” He swivelled his head back towards the mountains, half of his eyes remaining fixed on Kalmar. ”And I’m not about to lose my work to your whims. The finest I’ll take with me. You can sit here and learn from the rest.”

Narzhak reached for the plates on his chest with both hands, dug his fingers into the gap where two of them met and pulled. The armoured segments came apart with a groaning, squelching sound, spraying torrents of fetid black blood to all sides.

Something stirred in the shadowy depths of the god’s interior. Slowly, almost agonisingly, a shape began to emerge from the cavernous opening. It began with what looked, at best, like a caricature of a skull, mouthless and stretched into a horned triangular shape. Orbs of molten metal burned in its iron sockets, scorching the black gore the misshapen head was coated in to a filthy crust.

The head was followed by a wide, sturdy back, surmounted by a ridge akin to a bony, ribbed spine. Vast leathery wings tipped with grasping claws emerged alongside the shoulders and latched on to the edges of the gap, pulling the rest of the creature through. Malformed taloned stumps came in the stead of the rear legs, and a barbed, blade-edged tail gave the last push against the iron cage.

The Iron God pushed his armour closed as though nothing unusual were the matter and indicated the ghoul-infested mountainsides to the colossal gargoyle. The monstrosity lowered its body to the ground, glared forward and - waited. It did not wait long, as almost immediately a mass of grey shapes vaulted and rolled down cliffs and out of cave mouths. The ghouls moved quickly, but in an oddly orderly way, without even a stray swipe or gnash at a neighbour’s flank. They clambered over the leviathan’s sides, agile hands finding easy purchase in its uneven skeletal iron hide. As soon as its back was covered with a stony sheen, the monster leapt up on its surprisingly strong legs, beat its wings once, twice, and soared off, leaving bent and cracked trees in its wake.

”There,” Narzhak followed it with his other two eyes, until it was a dark spot among the clouds, ”You can fret less about your forests now. Speaking of those forests, has it ever occurred to you to make them more productive?”

”That is what I have been working on,” Kalmar snarled. ”Now begone.”

”You need to work harder, then,” satisfied with his accomplishments, the Iron God’s mood had rapidly lifted, ”I barely noticed a thing on my way here. I’ll leave you to that.” He moved, slowly and deliberately, to face the east, and lifted a foot for an immense, likely destructive stride. ”So long, what were you again - yes, huntsman.” One step, and his rumbling laughter faded into the distance.

Kalmar watched him leave, frowned and turned away, ruminating on the meeting. The titan would likely return, he realized, and he would need to be ready. Preparations would need to be made. Then there was the matter of this new species - something would need to to keep them in check. That wasn’t even beginning to get into what Chopstick had said to Li’Kalla - he would need to look into that as well.

”Master,” Arryn’s voice cut into his thoughts.

”Arryn?”

”I have news to report, master,” the falcon said, and then relayed the story he had heard from one of the peculiar talking magpies.

When the story ended, Kalmar cursed, throwing his fist into a nearby tree. So many threats, so much to do. Why couldn’t things be simple? ”Find out where Li’Kalla is, and tell me her location,” he ordered.






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Hidden 7 mos ago Post by Lauder
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Lauder The drunk kind of hero

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There was a great silence over Sanvādam as it’s lord had begun to reminisce, there was nothing else he could do but that. It was something he remembered he liked to do before he had come to this realm, good times when he was but a mere prince to his father’s throne. It was certainly a good life that he had been living, of course that was before something within him had changed and set him down a path that he would never return from. Yet, he could not remember what caused the change of how he got to where he had been. The memory seemed to have escaped him.

Then all he could remember was massive form coming from a lake, it’s head was beyond large and many tendrils came. Vakk had hid by burying his face in his legs, but then his deep voice had begun to speak; a terrible and deep voice that only frightened him further. However, it seemed to calm him and a certain sway had brought his head up to look at the being. It asked what he liked; thinking upon it Vakk had said that he liked music. It responded by spinning a music box that played a terrible melody, all he could remember was his mind shattering.

Vakk had shook himself free from this memory and allowed confusion to wrack his mind before his head craned so that he may see his own magnificent form. It was this form that he remembered, the form that he was most certainly frightened over and he could not fully understand how he had seen this from such a small and feeble view. Such a strange occurrence was of a mild concern to Vakk, he was not one to be afraid of himself so the reason was beyond him.

He let out a sight and began to delve back into his memory, this time remembering when he had eaten some of Chopstick Eyes delicious food. That was such a good time and he felt a happiness knowing that he would be able to see her again soon, just for that food as well. However, Vakk’s confusion only worsened from that point as Vakk knew he didn’t consume food like a mortal, a god was above such things. It took some time for him to shake himself free of the confusion to see if there were any other strange memories that did not exactly make sense.

One memory stood out in particular, the dance with K’nell. It was a soothing memory but a memory that he knew was false as Vakk knew that he had never truly met the dream god. Nothing made sense and he did not immediately have an answer for what such questions that he did have before a hellish realization came upon him. It was something that he had only briefly thought of in the moment, but had never truly considered.

Li’Kalla’s memories were integrating with his own, causing conflict with things that he had been doing at the time. He drew a deep, shaky breath as these memories took hold of his mind and he felt as if he had lived two different live. Vakk looked around him, seeing the Echoes that he had created, all of them moving about to find some soul that perhaps strayed into their territory. He did not know what to think at the moment.

”No,” Vakk growled, his tendrils slamming themselves against the reflective floor of Sanvādam. He would not allow for these false memories to influence him, at least not willingly and not as long as he could contain the memories. Yet, he knew that merely suppressing them memories would sever precious information that may be useful against the other gods. It was certainly a conundrum that Vakk could not leave unattended. He mumbled for a moment as he thought to himself.

It was but a few silent moments before Vakk had thought of a probable solution, simply deal with it. It would be a hard enough task, however, he would have to spend some time to sort through the memories to figure out which was his and which was Li’Kalla’s. That was something the ever impatient Vakk would have to slave over, yet, it would at least be an ease to his torture. Such a thing was not something Vakk would do, as his impatience would cause him to drift away from his original task.

He remembered yelling for help, his wing hurt, and no one would come to him. Then, the cursed speech began, much to his ire, as it spoke. Vakk could not help but feel broken, betrayed, and afraid before the being set two tendrils on either side of his head and suddenly the memory ended. Vakk only growled as a result before he looked to the Echoes around him, knowing that memory was Li’Kalla’s.

He needed to find a way to escape the hell he created for himself.


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Hidden 7 mos ago Post by Tal
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Tal

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Ya-Shuur





Ya-Shuur had now managed to dress himself better. It had happened by accident when he was inspecting a goat's carcass and noticed that its bones and muscles were kept together with very strong sinew. As he was digging around in the carcass (which was very disgusting) he realized that it was quite easy to pull the hide off. Excited by this he began wrestling with it and trying to get the hide off but it was hard to get it off the feet. He tried ripping it. It took a while but eventually he was able to. He thought that if he could find some way to cut it rather than rip it then things would be much easier. He looked at the goat's horn and felt it. It was not very sharp but its point could be used to cut things. He tried to break one off but it was too thick and strong so he gave up on that.

He washed the goat's hide in a stream and got rid of all the blood and gore. Then he left it to dry. Over the next few days he did the same with four more goats until he had five goat pelts. He also had sinew he had managed to remove and dry at hand. He used some thorns to make tiny holes in the hides and then tied them together using the sinew strands. It was a difficult and lengthy process but by the end of it he had a long poncho made of goat hide. He wore it so that the goat hair was against his skin. This kept him warm and also meant that the waterproof side protected him from the rain. Ya-Shuur was extremely happy at his success and showed his new clothes off to the goats. They bleated curiously. One of them stared at him angrily and he felt a bit guilty.

Ya-Shuur had now begun to recognize some of the wolves. One pack in particular stalked him and his herd but never attacked. Instead it waited on him to come out with a few goats. Sometimes he had even seen members of this pack chasing off bears and other wolves trying to attack his herd. Ya-Shuur found this very interesting. Whenever he saw them doing this he praised them with words. Sometimes he even took a goat to the specific wolves right after they guarded his flock.

As his herd grew Ya-Shuur had realized that he would not be able to protect them all the time. Goats were very curious and were prone to wandering off. Sometimes large groups wandered off and it was many days before he could find them. Sometimes he only found their bones because one predator or another had eaten them. The wolves had been watching him and just like he did they had started running at goats or yelping at them when they saw them running off. But wolves were wolves and they sometimes got over-excited and attacked the escaping goats. Ya-Shuur punished the ones who did this and did not feed them for some time.

One day a large group of goats broke off and Ya-Shuur began to head towards them with the rest of the herd. He shouted to get their attention and bring them back. But they were not listening and were off. After some time he was surprised to find them running back with three wolves yelping and barking at them. Ya-Shuur was extremely pleased and walked towards the wolves. They looked at him with caution as he approached. He brought his hand close to one of them and it snarled. But he spoke gently and eventually managed to pat it on its back. "Well done. You did very well. Well done."

As he sat one a rock one day watching the wolves protecting and herding his goats for him Ya-Shuur could not help but smile. He took his stick and wrote in the snow: "Kindness is done to to whoever does kindness. Those who reward kindness with unkindness are to undo their unkindness. If they do not do this then kindness is to be withheld from them. It shall be withheld until they repent and undo their unkindness. This is Justice."

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Hidden 7 mos ago 7 mos ago Post by Darkspleen
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Phystene

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Kalmar




After having taken her leave of Atalantia and Pyrdon, Phystene had leasurily wandered the forests of Kalgrun, letting her mind wander as her body did. She would certainly have to keep tabs on her new daughter, but felt confident that simply contacting her every once in awhile would suffice. Atalantia was no fool and had Pyrdon to watch her back, at least on this continent. Of course Pyrdon posed a small problem in and of himself.

He was massive. Massive creatures, unfortunately, required massive amounts of food. And in Pyrdon’s case that food had to be meat. For now he was fine, especially if he wasn’t too active, but Phystene would have to be sure to work quickly to provide him with that food. Thankfully the continent was literally covered in forest, which could be, in a sense, converted into meat.

And it was with that train of thought that Phystene found herself stepping into an area lacking trees. Or more precisely she had stepped into an area of crushed trees and other plants. She raised an eyebrow as she looked around her, seeing that the area was actually quite large. Stretching out her senses, she could tell that there were other similar such clearings that stretched out in a line. ”What the?”

It was almost as if a large creature, something the size of if not larger than Pyrdon, had been stomping around the place. Had Kalmar made such a creature? Phystene was slightly annoyed by the destruction, but the surrounding forest was already beginning to reclaim the spaces and Phystene’s mere presence was speeding up that process.

The cleared areas were not a concern, but the… -creature?- that had made them certainly made the need for large sources of food more of an immediate concern. It wouldn’t do for the large creatures of the continent to go extinct simply because their creators had failed to provide them with food.

With that in mind Phystene went to work. Simple lizards would form a good basis for what she wanted to create. So, much like with Pyrdon, she took that template and made it larger, much larger. Only the largest of these creatures would rival Pyrdon in size, but their sheer numbers would be enough to keep him and other large creatures fed. Of course it wouldn’t do if these new creatures ate all of the plant life on the continent. There was a simple solution to that, of course. She would just have to make it so that each of these creatures possessed an aura of fertility, much like the Branch of the World Tree possessed. And so she added that to the template she was working with, nodding in contentment with her work before bringing the new creatures to life, sprinkling the continent of Kalgrun with them.

”Phystene,” Kalmar seemed to appear from nowhere. He emerged from the trees, his aura invisible until now. He glanced up at one of her newest creations. ”We need to talk.”

”Kalmar, how good it is to see you.” Phystene greeted her peer. “What do you think of my latest work? I think these will serve nicely as prey for the large creatures we are sure to make in the future.” She frowned for a moment before adding “I don’t suppose you would have any good name suggestions for these creatures?”

Kalmar continued to examine them, stroking his chin. He noted that the forest was beginning to slowly mend itself with their presence. They were more than just prey, he realized. ”I’m not sure.... Vitasaurs?” he said with a shrug.

“That sounds like a good name.” Phystene said. She couldn’t but help and wonder, drly, if Atalantia would agree with her. She looked at the nearby vitasaur for a moment before shaking her head softly and turning towards Kalmar. “I spoke with Asceal not too long ago. She agreed to support our efforts against Orvus and his kind.”

”I spoke to her as well,” Kalmar informed her, before his expression turned grim. ”Much has happened since I last saw you, and most of it isn’t good. I don’t know where to start.”

“Just go in chronological order then.”

Once again, Kalmar stroked his chin in thought. He sat down on a nearby boulder. ”Well… Orvus has a daughter.” he decided to open up with. Phystene’s eyes narrowed, but she didn’t interrupt Kalmar. ”She’s nothing like him, though. Might even be the opposite. He cast her out, didn’t even give her a name. My avatar rescued her, and I named her Arya.” he shrugged. ”I did my best to teach her to avoid her father’s path, and I think I succeeded, but she left.”

“I fail to see how Orvus could create anything other than some twisted abomination.” Phystene commented after a moment. “Are you sure she truly was what you believed her to be?”

”I was surprised too, and then I looked inside her head. There were no signs of hostility or thoughts of betrayal. Unlike her father, she enjoys creation. If she has any failings, she is naive, hot-tempered, and perhaps a bit too trusting, but she is not her father. If you encounter her, I would request that you don’t hold her father’s actions against her.” Kalmar advised, his tone guarded.

“I don’t believe that.” Phystene said flatly. She held a hand up to forestall any argument Kalmar might start. “I’m not saying that you are lying or even incorrect, I just can’t believe Orvus could create such a being. Not without seeing her for myself. It… defies his nature.” Her gaze shifted towards the sky in thought. “Perhaps Atalantia might be able to shed some light on this for me.... I’ll have to ask her later.”

”Who is Atalantia?” Kalmar asked. He noticed a thick broken branch on the ground nearby. He picked it up, then pulled out the knife that Chopstick had given him. He cut off a fist-sized piece, and then began to carve away at it.

“She is my daughter.” Phystene answered with a grin that only an overly smug parent could possess. “I realized I needed an advisor, much like Shengshi’s Xiaoli, to help me combat Orvus. Atalantia insists that she is more of a strategists than an advisor, but I honestly don’t understand what the difference is.”

”So many gods are making children,” Kalmar noted. ”It’s good that you have a second opinion. That’s part of why I made Arryn, though I don’t consider him my child. But back to Orvus… I confronted him not too long ago.”

“It is the nature of life to propagate and leave offspring.” Phystene commented. “And Atalantia is of my blood, but at the same time a fully separate being. It only makes sense to consider her my child.” She shrugged. “But more importantly: how did this confrontation of yours go? Surely you fared better against Orvus than I.”

For a moment, Kalmar was silent. When he spoke, it was not to address the more pressing question. ”I feel like it loses something when you can snap your fingers and will a being into existence, knowing what it already needs to know…” he continued whittling.

”As for Orvus… I half-expected it to come to a fight, but it didn’t. We only talked. I asked him why he wanted to destroy all life. He said it was because he wanted to die. His soul was frayed, and he said he would do the same to everyone else’s soul so they would wish for death just like him. It was madness, so I called him out. I told him that he was making excuses - that he wished to live, and that if he did not change, I would kill him.” Kalmar shrugged. ”I don’t know what effect my words had. He left without saying anything. So we must assume the worst and continue to prepare.”

“Of course” Phystene agreed. “Orvus is mad and nothing the two of us say to him will change that.” She let out a long sigh. “I just wish I had an inkling as to why the Architect summoned such a being. Does he have some kind of plan or does he simply not care?” She shook her head slowly. “And so after your confrontation with Orvus what happened next? Is that when you went to speak with Asceal?”

Once again, Kalmar did not immediately answer the more pressing question. This was not like him. ”I wondered that myself. Maybe he did not know what he was summoning. Maybe he chose us based on some quality other than our intentions. Maybe he thought we needed challenges to overcome - and our challenges don’t end with Orvus.”

Kalmar turned the piece of wood over in his hand and began whittling the other side. Something was beginning to take shape. [colorr=orange]”While I was talking to Orvus, I had sent Arryn and Arya to explore Dragon’s Foot - I wanted them to learn more about the world beyond what I had told them, and I also wished for them to develop independence. But when they arrived, Shengshi captured them and forced them aboard his ship.”[/color]

“What? Why?”

Kalmar began to put more force behind his cuts. ”I don’t know. Though he forced them onboard, he still extended a welcome. He kept asking Arya questions, and when my name came up his attitude changed. You might remember that he and I did not get along during that first meeting. He called my teachings wrong, insulted me, and accused Arryn of spying on him. Arryn told him to hold his tongue. Then, Shengshi threatened to kill Arryn if he did not leave. Arryn was ready to attack, but Arya stepped in and offered to serve Shengshi so Arryn could go free. After that, Arryn came back to me and told me what happened. I couldn’t let Shengshi’s threats go unanswered.”

“I don’t understand Shengshi. He’s supposed to be a deity of nature.” Frustration crept into Phystene’s voice. “Instead he acts like some damned avatar of civilization. I had thought the issues between the two of you were a minor thing, but apparently Shengshi hadn’t seen it that way. So… how did your fight go? I’m guessing you established your dominance over him?”

”Until Arryn came back to me, I didn’t even know I had any issue with the snake. I don’t understand him either. When I arrived I was furious, and though he tried to dance around the issue, he surrendered quickly enough. He agreed to never again threaten me or my followers, he would never come within sight of Kalgrun without my permission, and he would give Arya her freedom if she wanted it.”

Kalmar paused, remaining silent for a few seconds, and what he said next came out as somewhat embarrassed. ”I had him bow, too. I was petty and I regret it. The other concessions had been enough. After that, Arya found out he had lied to her about something involving her father, so she blew a hole in his ship and left. As for Shengshi… somehow he and I parted ways on friendly terms, I think.”

“You have certainly been through a lot my friend.” Phystene commented after a moment of silence. “Let us hope that the matter between you and Shengshi has been settled once and for all.” She let out another sigh. “Please tell me you didn’t have any other… run ins with our peers while I was away.”

Kalmar sighed. ”My stories don’t end there. I wish they did, but they don’t. After I resolved the issue with Shengshi, I went to meet Asceal - she had comforted Arryn after he was sent away by Arya, and I think that if not for her, Shengshi might not have been so willing to yield. She told me that some of the other deities - Sartravius, Katharsos, and Melantha - have gone mad. I told her to let me speak with them before she made any rash judgements, and I still need to do that. In the name of our alliance, I also helped her create some creatures that would carry out her will. And I suspect that she has even more difficulty naming things than we do,” he commented drily.

“I had much the same conversation out our peers with her as well.” Phystene said. “And to be honest I would take her judgements with a grain of salt. I don’t think she’s trying to mislead us or has any maliciousness in mind, but I feel quite certain that she is using a different set of criteria than you and I do. Melantha, for instance, is by her nature the very opposite of Asceal, yet I am very reluctant to call her evil or insane.” She shrugged. “Still it wouldn’t be a terrible idea to keep an eye on those deities. Also…” She let out a long sigh, “I must warn you that Atalantia will almost certainly end up mocking you at some point over your naming sense. She’s already done so to me.” She stated dryly.

Kalmar gave his small smile. ”My thoughts exactly. I’ll need to find a way into the Celestial spheres in order to meet Melantha and Katharsos. Perhaps Asceal has misjudged them, or perhaps not. A question - did you name Atalantia, or did she name herself?”

“She was rather insistent on naming herself.” Phystene answered dryly. “And she also named Pyrdon before I could give him a name.”

”This Atalantia shouldn’t be so quick to judge. Pyrdon is fine, but her own name is a mouthful.” Kalmar said, his tone matching Phystene’s in dryness. ”But back to more serious conversation. After that, the next deity I encountered was Chopstick Eyes. She is… strange, and unpredictable. One of her creations got loose, so I helped her recapture it. In return she gave me this knife…” he paused his carving and held up the Knife of Friendship for Phystene to see, ”and although she did not join our alliance, she agreed to help me fight aggressors.”

Phystene’s eyes latched on to Kalmar’s knife and although she didn’t step back, it was evident that she had to resist the urge to do so. “I don’t trust this Chopstick Eyes. And you shouldn’t either. She is a deity of civilization. Worse yet one of greed. She will stab you in the back the moment it becomes profitable She spoke the word with utter disgust, “to do so. And she won’t shed a single tear as she converts your blood into her wealth.”

Kalmar raised a surprised eyebrow. His impression of Chopstick had, overall, not been a positive one, yet Phystene spoke of her with loathing. ”She did not strike me as reliable, no. I won’t be sharing any plans with her, and I won’t involve her unless for some reason her help becomes absolutely necessary. Anyway, there is another god I must tell you about. Narzhak.”

“Wait… is he the one who put a bunch of holes in our forest?”

”Yes… and more.” Kalmar said. ”He stomped through this area without a care for what was beneath him, not bothering to fly or adopt a smaller form. Then, he found my trolls.” The Hunter’s tone was bitter. ”He changed them. They were already angry, aggressive, and hungry, but he took those traits and drove them into excess. He made them kill for pleasure, and made them unafraid to feast upon their own. Those two things combined may be the death of the entire species. And I was unable to stop any of it - by the time I found him, the damage was already done.”

“He’s not still in the region is he? It would be most… unpleasant if he did the same thing to my vitasaurs.” Her expression turned into a scowl. “What was the point in even doing such a thing to your… trolls you called them? Why would he want to intentionally push a species towards extinction?”

”He doesn’t think they will go extinct. He thinks he has made them stronger. What he fails to realize is that in order for a species to survive, strength must rest in more than just the individual. Infighting does strengthen the individual, but it weakens the pack. I do not think he thought it through as much as he claims. He does not care for consequences.” Again, Kalmar sighed. ”No, he is not still in the region. He took some of the creatures - ghouls, he called them - for himself, and then left. But he might come back.”

“Pyrdon is here now and while he probably isn’t strong enough to hold any deity off on his own, he should be able to buy enough time for either you or I to come back him up.” Phystene crossed her arms over her chest and leaned against a nearby tree. “Still it would probably be a good idea to come up with some other countermeasures. And we will need to do something about these ghouls. I’m concerned about them causing even greater damage to the ecosystem. I could task Pyrdon with hunting them down, but he’s a bit big to be truly efficient at doing so. And it would be an inelegant solution to the problem anyways.”

”I have some ideas,” Kalmar said. He stopped carving, closed his eyes, and focused. For a full minute he was unresponsive. Inside his head, visions flashed. One second he was a direwolf stalking a deer. The next, he was one of Narzhak’s abominations, mauling a troll. After that he was a griffin, carrying a carcass back to its nest. He flipped through countless other perspectives. Then, his eyes opened. ”I have just granted myself a new ability. It will allow me to monitor the continent, by seeing through the eyes of any predator. Even if we can’t respond to all incursions, we will at least know that they happened.”

“Can you see through Pyrdon’s eyes?” Phystene asked, leaning forward slightly. ”It’d be great to check in on him every once in a while since I tasked him with protecting the continent.”

”I can try,” Kalmar answered, then frowned. ”Where is he, and what does he look like?”

”He’s…. A massive lizard with a large head and some feathers. And she shouldn’t be too far away actually. He’s likely with Atalantia at the moment, unless she has decided to leave the continent.” Phystene paused as an idea occurred to her. She sent a mental message to Pyrdon and was rewarded a moment later with a distant roar. “That was him.”

Kalmar nodded, and once again he focused. He could sense the presence of multiple beings in that area. The strongest one, he assumed was Pyrdon. He attempted to enter Pyrdon’s mind, and then frowned, as he found himself blocked, as if he was hitting a wall. ”I… can’t,” he spoke aloud. ”You made him intelligent? His mind might be too advanced. Tell him to let me in.”

“He’s about as intelligent as Atalantia.” Phystene confirmed. She sent another mental message to Pyrdon before giving Kalmar a nod of her head. “He’ll try to let you in.”

Kalmar tried again, and this time, succeeded in slipping into the creature’s mind. ”It’s working.” What Pyrdon saw, he saw. It was immediately clear that Pyrdon was a massive beast. His gaze naturally rested well above the treeline, making it all too easy for him to see a few vitasaurs in the distance. Pyrdon gazed at them for a moment before his gaze shifted towards the forest floor, where a being who seemed similar and yet distinctly different to Phystene was waving at Pyrdon, or perhaps she was waving at the being looking through Pyrdon’s eyes.

Kalmar shifted his focus to a nearby bird that was watching Pyrdon, so he could see what the beast actually looked like. ”I’m impressed, he said to Phystene, as he stepped out of the bird’s mind. ”He’s a mighty beast.”

“As is befitting of my champion.” Phystene agreed. “He will protect Atalantia and this continent. And I believe he will do so well.”

”I don’t doubt it. I should create such a creature myself. But first, there is one more thing I must tell you about. Vakk, the God of Speech, and Li’Kalla, the Goddess of Rain.”

“Please tell me they didn’t do something insane and destructive as well.”

”I know only what I heard. Arryn tells me that there is a species of bird going around screaming it to all who can hear. As the story goes, Vakk attacked Li’Kalla. Somehow, he was able to fragment her soul and transform her into a monster. Before I parted ways with Chopstick Eyes, she had said that Li’Kalla was in trouble, and rushed to her aid. Knowing what I know now, I should have went with her.”

“Of course. Because its not bad enough that half of our peers have to be destructive and insane. The other half has to be made destructive and insane.” Phystene brought a hand up to message her now aching forehead. “How… why... This is getting out of control. I think we need to make a few companions for Pyrdon. Or strengthen him. Or both.”

”Arryn is searching for Li’Kalla as we speak. I will find out the truth about this, one way or another. But yes, Asceal had the right idea - we need to create creatures to carry out our will. And if that doesn’t work, at least we will have each other to rely on.” Kalmar rose to his feet. He sheathed the knife and pocketed the half-finished carving. ”Shall we begin?”

“Atalantia said much the same thing, though that was specifically about me fighting Orvus. It was why I made Pyrdon in the first place.” She pushed herself away from her train and walked over to Kalmar. “Do you have any specific ideas in mind?”

”I do.” Kalmar nodded. He floated into the air. ”Come with me.” With that, he turned and flew to the southwest.

The minutes passed, and, rather annoyingly, he noticed Phystene was not following him. But he did not wait. The idea had taken root in his head and he wanted to see it carried out. He came upon the lake he had made - the Hunter’s Eye, and flew to the island in the middle, which was now well-forested after so much time had passed. He landed, and briefly he glanced out across the water to see if Phystene had decided to follow him after all.

“So what’s this idea of yours?” Phystene asked, her voice coming from behind Kalmar. She was leaning against a nearby tree, having materialized behind him as if she had possessed some kind of secret passageway. In a sense she did.

Kalmar was mildly surprised at Phystene’s reappearance, but kept it hidden. ”Right now, nothing over the top. Just a larger version of something I have already made.” He looked out to the lake, extended a hand, and closed his eyes.

A black-coated wolf appeared above the water, indistinguishable from an ordinary direwolf. But then, it began to grow. And grow. And grow. Nearly one hundred meters in length, the wolf stood before them. And it stood. Its feet rested upon the water as if it was solid ground. The wolf reared its head back and let out a howl that could be heard for miles.

”Fenris, Guardian of the Hunter’s Eye!” Kalmar proclaimed with pride. ”You will protect this island, this lake, the marsh, and the surrounding forest, from those who seek to destroy it. That is your duty!”

“And a fine guardian he is. Though,” She lowered her voice, “mine is bigger than yours.” She gave Kalmar a wink to ensure he knew she was joking. Raising her voice she continued “I’m sure Pyrdon will be overjoyed to learn he has a new and powerful comrade.”

Kalmar smiled back. ”There are more important things than size,” he tried, and failed, to say in a serious tone. ”I will not stop with his creation. Meet me in the mountains to the north.” And with that, Kalmar moved to take flight once more.

Phystene placed a restraining hand on his shoulder. “Do you have a specific location in the mountains in mind or is anywhere in the general region fine?”

”Anywhere,” Kalmar answered.

Phystene smiled at him as she literally pulled him into a nearby tree. Their essences hurled towards the mountains in the north at incredible speeds, although quite reduced from what Phystene could have achieved on her own. Seconds later she pulled Kalmar out through another tree and gestured at their new vantage point from the peek of a mountain. “Will this location fit your needs?”

Kalmar nodded, impressed by her display of power. ”Yes.” And as he had before, he extended a hand into the distance, closed his eyes, and focused.

This time a troll appeared before them, suspended in the air. Not one of Narzhak’s ghouls, but a proper troll. It expanded in size, reaching eighty meters in height, its muscles bulging, and tusks grew from its mouth. Then, Kalmar allowed it to fall. The earth shook from its impact, but the creature was undamaged. It looked up at Kalmar and Phystene, as if awaiting instructions. ”Gorm, the Alpha Troll!” he named it. ”You will hunt Narzhak’s monsters, you will shield your kind from their excesses, and you will save your species from extinction. Go forth and do so!”

“Hopefully he’ll prove to be up to the task.” Phystene said as the alpha troll turned and left. “I’ll have Pyrdon provide what aid he can, of course, but as I stated earlier, he’s not exactly set up to hunt creatures that much smaller than he.”

”No,” Kalmar said. ”Fenris and Gorm are more localized. Pyrdon must guard where they are not, in order to ensure maximum protection. I will create more at a later date to make it easier for him.”

“Very well.” Phystene said after a moment. “I’ll be making other large creatures like Pyrdon in the future as well, but I’m going to wait and see how effective he is at his job first before doing so. Might as well ensure that any future creatures I make are best equipped for their tasks after all.”

Kalmar nodded. ”That would be best.” He turned to Phystene and then, with that slight smile of his, he extended a hand. She tilted her head to the side slightly before extending her own hand towards his. Kalmar clasped it, and then after a moment he pulled her in and wrapped an arm around her. ”Thank you,” he stated firmly.

“You are most welcome” She answered, giving his back a light pat. “We nature deities have to stand together after all.”











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