Hidden 3 mos ago Post by Scarifar
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Scarifar Presto~!

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Serenis sat down at the base of Arae's Familial Tree, taking a well-deserved rest after performing routine maintenance on the Trees. Every day took up a large portion of gardening the trees and recording the various bonds with each other, and with more and more trees growing from both the Pantheon and the rest of Spekatha's Familial Lakes, her workload was increasing with no sign of stopping. She let out a long and deep sigh, resting her face on her arms as they lay on her knees. An explosion sounded off, followed by the crackling of falling twigs and branches. Serenis merely raised her head, recognizing the signs. Another Familial Tree had discharged a bolt of energy at a neighboring one. This time it had been Arya's tree assaulting Shengshi's. Serenis got back onto her feet, which were quite unsteady already, only to witness another discharge of energy, this time more powerful than the last, from Vakk's tree towards Li'Kalla's. Distraught, Serenis dropped to her hands and knees, tears forming in her eyes, and began to yell in frustration. She just wanted to perform her duty, but she couldn't fathom why it had to be so difficult. Every time a problem came up, Serenis rose to the occasion, but it was as if 3 more problems sprang up the moment she tried anything. There was no end. She continued to cry to herself for a few minutes, until she finally fell asleep from exhaustion.




MP: 7 | FP: 8


It was dark in Spekatha when Arae returned, climbing out of the Pantheon's lake. Almost immediately, Arae felt that something was off. Serenis would have normally greeted her by now. It was then that Arae saw Serenis' figure, face-down on the grass. Alarmed, Arae rushed over to inspect her, but she soon calmed down when she realized that Serenis' life didn't seem to be in danger; she was merely asleep. Not wanting Serenis to be any more uncomfortable, Arae transformed into her human form and sat down in a seiza position, then brought Serenis over to use her lap as a pillow. She would do this for as long as she had to.

As the band of light began to rise over Spekatha's horizon, Serenis' eyes fluttered open. Arae was directly above her face, smiling down upon her. "Good morning, Serenis," Arae greeted Serenis. At first, Serenis didn't know who was above her, but her senses began to register and she soon realized where she was and who she was resting on. She quickly rolled off Arae in a panic, standing up but realizing that perhaps it was a bit rude to be standing up while Arae was still sitting down and sat down in front of Arae. "My lady! Please, e-excuse my rudeness! I-I just needed-" Serenis began to say before Arae cut her off with a chuckle. "Serenis, it's ok. You've done nothing wrong," Arae reassured her. "If you needed to rest, you're free to do so anytime."

"But there's no time for that, and there's so much to do," Serenis sighed. "I can't afford to rest too much, between the trees trying to destroy each other and maintaining health and observations of all of them. Forgive me, but I must get back to work." Serenis got up and turned around to face the Familial Trees, but stumbled as soon as she took the first step. She managed to recover her footing, but was still rather unsteady. Nevertheless, Serenis continued to persevere, and was about to take another step when she was stopped by Arae. She had put her arms around Serenis' waist, hugging her tightly. "Serenis," Arae began. "It's ok. Don't work yourself so hard. You deserve your rest." Serenis reached out towards the Familial Trees, each shining and glittering their various colors. "But... the families..." Serenis said. "Are not as important as one so overworked that she can't perform her duties properly," Arae finished. "Sit down. Rest."

The two stood still in silence for a short while, until Serenis finally conceded and rested as Arae ordered. Arae smiled at Serenis, but she could not return the expression, instead looking away in shame. "I'm sorry, my lady. You're taking the time to deal with me... my failure," Serenis said.

Arae's smile faded, and she shook her head. "No, Serenis, dear. The failure lies with me." Serenis returned her gaze to Arae, whose smile returned but was tinged with sadness. "I should have seen it sooner. The system I set up was flawed from the start. I set you on a task that was impossible for you to complete. I wanted a pair of eyes that would keep watch over my Sphere, which was why you were created. What I didn't realize was that you were an individual with a mind of your own, not just an extension of my power. This task was meant for a machine, not for a mind like yours. I placed too much of a burden on you. For that, I should be the one that's sorry."

"My lady..."

"I have an idea. You should visit Galbar. See the world for yourself, not just watch the inside of Spekatha for eternity," Arae suggested happily.

"What? But... ho-how would I get to Galbar? I can't travel through the Pantheon like you can, my lady," Serenis asked.

"That's why I'll create something for you," Arae said, standing up. Raising one hand, Arae lifted up a stream of water from the Pantheon into the air. With a wave of the other, various sticks and leaves from the Familial Trees were whisked away, as if blown around by a gust of wind. Arae twirled around, the large volume of debris revolving around her as she danced. Then, with a clap of her hands, the mixture condensed itself into a tiny ball, small enough to be held in her hand. As it floated in one spot, Arae continued to dance. She spread her arms apart, creating wings. A wave of her hand wile bending low created a tail, while rising back up made the head.

Serenis watched with silent awe and wonder as Arae created this new creature. Finally, as Arae cupped the creation in her hands, she began to blow, breathing her divine essence into it while blowing away the outer layer of bark and water, revealing a small serpent-like dragon. It began to look around, seemingly curious about its surroundings. It spotted Serenis, and it began to fly over to her. Serenis flinched in surprise, but soon learned that it meant her no harm when it landed on her head. The dragon wandered around her head and shoulders for a moment before finally making itself comfortable by coiling itself around her neck like a scarf.

"He will be your guardian and transport while you're in Galbar," Arae explained.

"I see..." Serenis said, looking down at the dragon, who was currently nuzzling her neck and chin. Looking back up, she asked, "But... what is his name?"

"That's for you to decide." Arae answered.

"Eh?!" Serenis exclaimed in surprise. The dragon extended itself out to look up at Serenis, curious by the sudden noise. The two began to stare at each other before Serenis scratched him on the chin, prompting the dragon to squeak in delight.

"'Kree'. That'll be your name," Serenis said. Kree then climbed onto the top of her head and cawed.

"It seems like he likes that name," Arae said, smiling. "Good for you, Serenis."

"But this still doesn't explain how Kree is going to bring me out of Spekatha," Serenis pointed out.

"Which is why he has a few tricks in his arsenal," Arae said. She clapped her hands twice, and Kree was at attention. He leapt into the air, soaring high into the sky, and landed back down having grown massively in size. He was now several meters long, much larger than the two foot length he was before. His scales glimmered as he moved, and a large pair of horns extended from his head. Kree lowered his neck down to Serenis, who was gazing at him in awe.

"He is your ride to Galbar," Arae said, gesturing grandly at him. "Now go on, and see the world created by the gods with your own eyes."



Serenis gazed down at the ocean from atop Kree's back. It was so vast, and the bird's eye view made it more spectacular. It was nothing like Spekatha, which only housed an endless grassland. Who knows what other wondrous sights she would discover.



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Hidden 3 mos ago Post by Lauder
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Lauder The drunk kind of hero

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Ya-Shuur





Tracking was a tiring business, as was it a business that made the beast hunger for anything it could get its jaws on. It moved through trees and fields, thoroughly distracted from its original task as it sniffed the air and finding a moderate cluster of souls in the distance. The beast stalked a herd of goats and a pack of wolves, both of them equal parts food as they were significantly smaller than the beast. From the air it dropped to its belly, slowly moving forward to be above them.

Suddenly, it dropped on a wolf, crushing it instantly as its tail flicked to club a goat and snap its neck. A paw reached out and caught another by the tail before its jaws clasped around the furred animal and shook it until it was dead. The others all ran away by then, thoroughly frightened by the massive beast that had dropped from the sky. Vakk’s hunter did not give chase, thoroughly fine with what it had caught. It swallowed the wolf in its mouth whole before it moved on to swallow up the crushed one. Only with the goat did the beast decide to play with its food, tearing out its horns and gingerly tossing them to the side.

Ya-Shuur had not been paying complete attention to his herd. He had become fairly sure of the ability of the wolves to take care of the goats. This was even if some of them did end up eating a goat sometimes. But he was drawn from his thought by the sounds of worry and fear that the goats and wolves made. He ran down to investigate and found a monstrous creature ripping apart a goat’s carcass. “Hey! Hey!” he shouted as he waved his stick around threateningly. The monster was very big though. It was bigger than anything Ya-Shuur had seen before. It could have eaten him whole with one bite! He knew that if it did turn on him the best he could do was turn and run away and hopefully distract it from the other animals. He picked a stone up from the snow and threw it at the monster and continued his shouting.

The beast looked up at Ya-Shuur after the rock was thrown at it, cocking its head curiously. It raised itself up and shook its hairless hide before moving towards the Demigod without hostility or intent to kill. Ya-Shuur took a few steps back. “Uh. Go back! Go!” He waved his stick around again. The animal did not seem aggressive to him. Ever since the incident when he saw the goat confronting the darkness he had felt he could read animals better and this animal didn’t seem like it wanted to hurt him. “Go on! Stay there!”

The animal stopped in its tracks and laid on its stomach, heeding the order given to it by the kin of its master. It made a yapping noise in a slight act of disobedience, before laying its head down to merely gaze at Ya-Shuur. A wagging tail flowed across the ground, dragging a heavy club at the end of it effortlessly as it seemed to await another order. Ya-Shuur stared at it in surprise. He had not expected it to actually obey him. He frowned and looked at the stick. He knew it was nothing special. He had waved it at many wolves and bears before and they had not obeyed him. He looked at the monster again.

The only thing he could think of was that this creature was actually already tame. He took a step towards it and tried to test this. “Uh. Bring me that,” he said as he pointed at the half-eaten carcass of the goat. He paused and realized that he did not sound very confident. So he spoke again more sternly to make it feel that it had done something bad. “Go and fetch me that goat corpse!”

The beast obeyed, lifting its massive body to walk slightly back towards the goat only to gingerly lift the carcass up. Its frame was slim, easily turning despite what would be expected from its size. The carcass was dropped directly in front of Ya-Shuur before it sat down, still towering over the demigod. Ya-Shuur took a step back and looked at the huge creature warily. With his stick gripped in two hands he looked at the carcass and grimaced. Its horns had been broken off and the beast had chosen to play around with it. He looked at the beast angrily before whistling. Immediately a few wolves ran near. They gave the beast frightened looks and would not come too close. So Ya-Shuur took the goat to them and told them to eat. They nibbled at the goat a bit. They were still scared of the big beast watching them and that had just eaten two of them. But when they saw that it was not attacking them they got to efficiently tearing the goat to bits until eventually there was nothing but bones. He turned to the beast and pointed at the leftovers. “That’s what you do when you are hungry. You don’t play with your food. Hunt to eat. Eat respectfully until your hunger is sated. Now you will sit here and you will not eat until you have learned that lesson. If you move then- uh-” He realised that he had no way of punishing a monstrosity like this. But he would try. “Then I will not allow you to eat anymore goats!” He said with all the confidence he could muster before turning and walking away.

He travelled around with the herd for a week before returning to the same spot. He looked around for the beast. It remained there, simply awaiting a new order. Ya-Shuur approached it with two goats and placed them in front of it. “Well done for staying put.” He praised it. “Now show me that you have learned.” And he gestured to the goats who were staring at the beast with a mixture of curiosity and fear and bravado.

The towering beast suddenly pounced and snapped up a goat, swallowing it while the other goats simply ran away. It watched them run without giving chase instead moving back to the side of Ya-Shuur, looking at him with its small black eyes. Ya-Shuur smiled and touched the creature for the first time. He stroked its rough head and praised it for the swift and clean way it had hunted and eaten the goat. “When you hunt next time remember this. Be kind. The goat shows kindness to you because it dies so you can live. So you show kindness to it by eating only what you need and being swift when you do it. Kindness is rewarded with kindness.” As he stroked the beast he noticed how sharp its teeth and claws were. He also noticed its tail and its very tough skin. “My but you are a scary creature. What were you made to fight with such sharp teeth and claws? And with such a bludgeon-like tail.” But he knew that a monster like this could not talk even if it could understand him.

He told it to come with him and introduced it to the herd. The goats all scurried away from it and the wolves growled and snarled. But over the course of a few days they grew more and more accustomed to it. When Ya-Shuur noticed a bear or another predator trying to attack a goat he shouted for the beast to go and it leaped into the air with amazing speed and agility and scared it off. When it did this right Ya-Shuur was full of praise. When it accidentally slew the predator he scolded it and repeated to it that it should be scaring the predators off and not killing them. Soon it did this without Ya-Shuur having to tell it every time and Ya-Shuur was very pleased.


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Hidden 3 mos ago 3 mos ago Post by Goldeagle1221
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Goldeagle1221 I am Spartacus!

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Xiaoli
&
Hermes
&
Others


Ashalla’s blue ocean faded quickly as the red stretches of Tendlepog came into view. The pair began to slow down as the coast disappeared. The sweet scent of the plains took over the salty brine that clung to the pair. Hermes’ eyes scanned the grasslands below, quickly zipping to a flat stone rock. As they landed, Xiaoli couldn’t help but feel a lingering divinity covering the flat heliopolis soaked rock.

In the distance cloudlings popped around the flowers of the trip vines, and distant herds of trees stampeded, the Tree-Eaters biting at their heels. Hermes put her hands on her hips and sucked in a long breath, “Home.”

Xiaoli dusted herself off and walked over to hug Hermes from behind. “Home,” she echoed softly. She took a moment to cast a glance at the rock they stood on, prodding it sheepishly with her right foot.

“Where did you bring us?”

“The plains,” Hermes announced, “Something doesn’t feel right about building a house right next to Limbo, but then again, maybe that would be a better place? I never did this before.”

Xiaoli hummed pensively. “The biggest threat to our house would likely be the stampeding trees, so we would want to stay out of their migratory routes, I think. Do you know of such a place?”

“Only the forests around Limbo, hills and the mountains,” Hermes bit her finger in thought, “Between the mountains and Limbo, I think we can find a spot. It’ll be close but not too close to either the moving mountains or the stone ring. How does that sound?”

Xiaoli nodded. “Yeah… Yeah, that can work! Oh! How close is it to a source of water? We need a place to drink from…” She sniffed and giggled. “... And for you to bathe again.”

“There are little brookes that cut through the forest and rivers that swivel around the changing mountains,” Hermes nodded, “They have fish, even--”

“Bathe?” Hermes suddenly stopped and sniffed her shirt, “Oh my.”

Xiaoli’s giggle turned to a chuckle. “It’s fine, dear. We’ll see to it when we find the spot. Maybe I’ll teach you to cook the fish, too, hmm?” She released Hermes from her embrace and put her hands on her hips.

“Well, shall we get going?”

“I don’t see why not,” Hermes smiled and wrapped Xiaoli back up in her arms before darting off. Their flight was quick, blasting over the grinding mountains and down into the forested valley that conquered the center of Tendlepog. Carefully zipping through the trees, Hermes finally stopped in a shady glade. A babbling brook maybe a meter thick and a third deep snaked the edge of the clearing, and beds of moss covered everything, even the sides of the gnarled trees. Lengths of thread like moss hung from the branches and the entire setting smelt of wet soil, giving the air sort of melancholic yet electric taste. Here and there, little rounded stones poked from the ground like headstones, smoothed and pocked with patches of cold mud.

“What do you think?” Hermes smiled wide.

Xiaoli admired the glade in awe, her eyes wide and crystalline. She walked over to the sandy-bottom brook and dipped her finger in it. She looked back at Hermes with a grin.

“The water is happy here… And possibly a little inebriated,” she mused. “Hermes, this is perfect! I’ll start measuring the dimensions of our house!” With that, Xiaoli got to her feet and zoomed left and right, using lines of water to draw up lines in the mossy grass. She also sampled the various rocks lying around.

Hermes watched with a curious amusement, eventually trailing behind Xiaoli and watching her process with big eyes. She eventually peaked over and up at Xiaoli, “What should I do?”

Xiaoli, whose arms were now full of pebbles in various sizes and shapes, let out a strained groan, followed by a pensive hum. “How about you, um…” She paused again. “... How about you chop down a tree for us, hmm? We will need wood!”

A wide smile broke across Hermes’ face as she hefted her club from her pack, “Of course!”

She pranced out of Xiaoli’s view, leaving the river-girl to her machinations. Suddenly there was a loud whooshing sound and then an explosive crack followed by the creak of an angry tree. A soft --yet somehow devious-- laugh sounded accompanied by an impressed popping.

Xiaoli looked up from her pile of rocks with a raised brow. “Hermes?” she called out with concern in her voice.

“I got us a tree!” Hermes called back, adrenaline in her voice.

“Is-... Is that really what cutting down a tree sounds like here?” she asked loudly.

“It is when all you have is the God of War’s club,” Hermes teased, “Don’t worry though, only the base of the tree is messy.”

Xiaoli shuffled over with careful steps, taking a look at the brutally murdered arborous creature. “W-well… Uhm…” She cleared her throat. “Well done, dear. Now, we may need some sand… Could, uhm, could you be a dear and fly over to the nearest beach or desert and bring back a backpack full of sand, please?”
“Of course,” Hermes nodded with a smile, clearly excited over the whole house building idea, “I won’t be too long.”

Poppler zipped into Hermes’ hair as the woman took off into a blur. Xiaoli let out a sigh.

“She’s like a rainbow when she soars off like that,” she mused dreamily. She then rubbed her hands together and began lining up some stones along the watery outlines in the grass.




Upon Hermes’ return, the outline had been reinforced with stones and sticks to denote material type for specific parts of the house. Next to the early foundations, Xiaoli had set up a wooden board upon which were painted an architectural plan for the finished product: a mansion in the style which she had described to Hermes on Dragon’s Crown. Xiaoli was dabbing the last additions onto the board with an inked brush.

“You’re so quick,” Hermes said in awe, placing a sand filled backpack on the ground, Abanoc’s book safely tucked under her arm, “Productive.”

Xiaoli finished up the plan and took a step back to observe it from a distance. “I am merely doing my job, dear.”

“I guess you could say you’re doing God’s work,” Hermes mused with a curled grin.

Xiaoli suddenly let out a snort and a giggle, covering her face with her sleeve. “Oh, by the Architect, Hermes,” she said under her laughter and punched her shoulder playfully. Hermes’ grin grew and playfully punched back.

“I got you something,” Hermes pulled some of the scarlet red sweet grass from her pocket, “It’s nothing like the pastries we packed, but I figured a little Tendlepog sweetness was in order.”

Xiaoli gasped and plucked a few straws from Hermes’ palm. “Oh, Hermes, you shouldn’t have!” She put the straws in her mouth and chewed happily until her pebble-teeth took on a pinkish hue. “Oh, I love these!” She snatched a few more. Hermes watched happily as Xiaoli devoured the entirety of the sweet grass. Poppler buzzed around the pair, disappointedly before whizzing off to go find a flower or two of his own.

Xiaoli let her eyes run up and down Hermes and she furrowed her brow with a wry smile. “You always get so messy when you fly.” She swallowed the grass in her mouth and began tugging and pulling at Hermes’ wrinkly shirt.

Hermes cocked her head as she watched Xiaoli fuss, “Xiaoli, are you upset with how I look?”

Xiaoli blinked. “Upset? No! No, no, no.” She paused, straightening out the last leftover weariness in the clothing from their recent exposure to blinding speed. “It’s just… You look better when your shirt is all nice and neat - like so!” She took a step back and smiled.

Hermes gave a weak smile, “I know, I just -- well lately I feel like I’m always messy to you and I don’t want to be.”

Xiaoli’s smile waned a little, too, and she reached out to grab Hermes’ hands. “Well, I could teach you to take better care of your clothing and style, if you’d like. It’s not hard!”

“That sounds like something I should know how to do without you telling me,” Hermes smile was gone, but her fingers laced with Xiaoli’s, “I’ll just try to be more mindful.”

“It-... It comes with habit, you know? If you just straighten out your clothing and your hair after you travel, you’ll have worked it into your fingers in no time!” Xiaoli did her best to sound optimistic.

Hermes gave Xiaoli a half-cheek smile, “I know, thank you.”




After some time, Xiaoli had managed to stack and line all the necessary materials for the central courtyard, with three rectangles of wood placed neatly in the damp grass around a central square of pebbles and gravel. She gave the schematics another lookover, measuring the placements of the materials with her thumb. She let out a pensive hum as she begun to draw up the inner wall with sand.

Hermes watched as she shook out the last of the grains of sand from the fabric of her bag. She sat squat on a rock and gave the bag a whipping shake before flinging it over her back, book secured inside. She had been quiet, not wanting to bother Xiaoli too much, but as the minutes went by of doing nothing, she couldn’t help but feel anxious.

She squirmed slightly in place, feeling energetic yet useless. Finally she spoke up, “Um, Xiaoli?”

Xiaoli seemed preoccupied with the measuring, but let out an absent-minded “yes?” without turning around.

Hermes leaned to the side, watching Xiaoli’s eyes until it was clear she had memorized her counting, “Is there anything you need me to do?”

For a moment, she made no sound. Then, once she had made a little indentation in the wall-like sand pile, she turned around and brushed her uncharacteristically messy bangs out of her face and gave a wry smile.
“Sorry, could you repeat that for me, please?” she asked as she clapped the excess sand off her slightly less sandy hands.

“Is there anything you need me to do?” Hermes sat up from her slouch.

She let out a pensive hum and rubbed her chin. “No, not that I can think of. How about you relax for a bit, hmm?” She flexed her right arm playfully. “I’ve got this.”

“Oh,” Hermes gave a small smile, “I guess I’ll go-- relax then.”

She stood up and stretched her arms up, her back popping from sitting. Letting them fall to her sides she gave the scene another look, “I’m gonna go find Poppler, he’s probably by Limbo soaking in a trip vine or two; be back in a few?”

“Unless-- you need me before then, then just give me a shout?” Hermes leaned forward expectantly.

“Oh yeah, don’t worry about it. This is divine work, after all. Take your time, dear.” She smiled and looked back to the schematic.

“Divine,” Hermes blinked, “Oh, of course.” Xiaoli did not seem to notice the shift in tone, being too busy with stacking pebbles.

The dreamer shoved her hands into her pockets and slowly slouched away, her feet kicking idle stones as she exited the glade. She mumbled to herself, most of her words not really words. The trees began to thicken and she lost her rock. Her eyes searched lazily until she found a particularly rotten branch to kick instead.

“What’s divine if there is nothing mundane to compare it to,” Hermes finally grumbled, “Then again what even is mundane in a divine world.”

She kicked the branch extra hard, the small twig exploding into rotten specks, “Useless.” She huffed and kicked another branch, “Stupid.”

Sucking in a heavy breath, she stopped, having found the clearing where Limbo sat, her eyes downcast. The words of K’nell soaked in her brain, his praise and philosophies battling her own frustration and anxiety; the argument eventually turned into an eloquent debate fighting against a stubborn denial.

A pulse of light caused her thoughts to freeze, and she looked up. Her eyes couldn’t quite describe it to her, but a gentle --yet throbbing-- light hovered over the black platform that comprised Limbo. Hermes’ brow furrowed in curiosity and she stepped past the trip vines with care, her eyes glued to the sight.
She approached, her wet sandals leaving tiny marks on the smooth stone platform. Her eyes were thin lines as she squinted at the overwhelming light, the pulsing spectrum mere feet away now. Hesitantly she reached out, her eyes starting to close, and as her fingertips gently brushed the warm light everything changed.




Hermes’ eyes were shut closed, but a million lights pulsed through her eyelids. Her body felt like it was being thrown in every direction possible, and her ears screamed as countless languages yelled at her, and despite this she felt completely alone. She could hear every thought she ever had, see every memory, and ones she never even knew she had were relieved all in an instant.

“Stop,” She finally managed to command, and as if this strange existence she now found herself in understood, it all stopped. She opened her eyes, but she couldn’t see anything. She turned her head, but she couldn’t hear anything. Her voice was gone -- she was gone.

There was a loud ripping sound, and then all at once light returned. Being flung through an impossibly small speck of white light, Hermes suddenly found herself diving headfirst into a pile of yellow leaves.

She stared dizzily as she laid in a sea of leaves, tall elm trees towering above her, sprinkling their foliage atop her head. Birds chirped, insects buzzed, and squirrels foraged. A fall breeze blew between the trees that surrounded her. She went to sit up, but as she did, a great pain formed in her chest.

She retched, her stomach convulsing. She heaved, a loud gurgling coming from her throat, and then finally she threw up. A pearl the width of a thumb flew out of her mouth, covered in slimy bile. Hermes watched, her body weak and mind confused as it arched to the leafy forest floor. She clamored towards it, her legs feeling too much like noodles to use properly.

Before she even got halfway, a strange creature appeared. It was short and stout, maybe two feet in height. It wore crusty rages that covered a slightly human body, but it stood on cloven hooves, had only three fingers, and the face of a pig. Large cone like teeth grinned at her as it scooped up the pearl greedily.

“Hey!” Hermes yelled, her voice hoarse. The Piggut squealed and made a waddling retreat into the forest. Hermes slanted her brow and used all four of her limbs to scramble forward, eventually finding her legs again and standing up, but by then the creature was long gone. She didn’t know why, but she felt devastated, as if a piece of her was missing. She rubbed her forehead in worry, pacing back and forth as anxiety welled in her stomach. Where was she, what was that, what’s going on?

Suddenly the sound of creaking wood caught her attention. She turned to her left and began to wander towards it. The leaves crunched under her sandals and the trees began to disperse, and before long she was staring at a wagon, moving quietly along a dirt road, two men walking alongside it. She squinted at the blonde one, “Kalmar?”

The men stopped and one of them groaned at the other, a curly accent filling the air, “Have you been using fake names again?”

D’Bran opened and shut his mouth, “I-- uh.”

Hondros squinted, “Who is she?”

Hermes backed away a little.

“I don’t know,” D’Bran raised his hands defensively, despite towering over the shorter man, “I don’t remember.”

“Good heavens, man!” Hondros growled.

A dark haired man peaked from the wagon, the entire vehicle coming to a stop with a simply “hut!” from an unseen driver. Renevin slid from the wagon, “What’s going on?” He approached the other two.

“I need help,” Hermes butted in, her eyes wide and scared, her own heart in her throat.

The three men looked at each other with incredulous stares. Hondros tapped his black armor, “‘tis what we do.”

Renevin hummed in thought, his eyes studying Hermes, “What’s the problem?”

“A- pig stole my- thing.” Hermes muttered, clearly bewildered.

“D’Bran!” Hondros hissed, the Sandy cheeked man huffed, giving Hondros a knowing glare. Hermes shook her head.

“No, sorry. A pig person took my jewel,” Hermes explained slowly.

“A piggut stole your gem,” Renevin thought out loud, “I hate to say it, but you may need to count your luck. Once they are out of sight, they are most likely cozy and safe in the foothold they have a few stretches from here.”

“Harmony knows,” D’Bran nodded, “Sorry miss.” Hermes looked down at the news, her mind turning a mile a minute in thought.

“Well now,” Hondros tapped his chin, “Those cannibalistic thieves have been an issue for a while now.”

Renevin looked at Hondros like he had spouted some great wisdom, “We have three bodies, for once, and no other task.”

“Well the dragon,” D’Bran began.

“As optional as this,” Renevin explained, “We can do both.”

“I like it,” Hondros smiled wide.

“Me too,” Hermes was suddenly right next to the three men. The group turned to her.

“It might be safer if you stay back,” Renevin offered, “We can return to you once we get your object.”

“You don’t know what it looks like,” Hermes offered.

“We’ll bring all the objects,” D’Bran countered.

“I want to come,” Hermes explained, “I’m not useless.”

Renevin rubbed the side of his eye and looked at Hondros expectantly, the man pinching his mustache in thought, “Okay.”

Hermes’ face glew, “Great.”

Renevin looked at Hermes’ massive club and then at Hondros, giving an approving nod. Hondros turned to the wagon, “Hold by, we will be back.” A gruff voiced replied and the vehicle began a slow grind to the side of the road. The mustachioed soldier pointed to the forest, “Follow me, I’ll lead point.”

D’Bran shifted behind Hermes and Hondros, “I’ll cover the rear.”

Renevin shoved the sandy cheeked man forward with the flat of his gauntlet, “It’s secure; move on.”




Xiaoli stabbed the final wooden pole into the sand. There! The four corners of the outer wall were set! She took a moment to admire her work, only to find that it hadn’t really changed all that much since the beginning, except that the water lines had been replaced by wooden sticks and piled sand. She let out a quiet huff as she wiped her forehead of some moisture. She smacked her lips together a bit and frowned, so she went over to the brook to have a short break. Xiaoli poked her sandy finger into the water and let out a satisfied sigh as fresh, cool water travelled up her arm and into her form. She then realised she was feeling peckish, or more specifically, in the mood for something sweet.

“Hermes? Would you like a pastry?” she called out into the empty woods. The calling elicited no response, save for a couple of bird chirps, all of which were telling Xiaoli they were dieting, but would be satisfied with the crumbs. The river-girl pouted and bit into a red bean cake.

“Hermes?” she called again. Yet again, no one responded. A frog ribbited something about seeing her walk off in a direction that it spectacularly failed to point towards, losing its balance on the leaf it was resting on with even the slightest movement. Xiaoli sighed and sniffed the air. The familiar scent of her beloved drifted faintly in the deeper reaches of the woods, it would seem. Xiaoli shrugged and began following the trail.

The woods once again oozed that feeling of nostalgia, only this time, she was certain she had been here. She reasoned that Limbo was close. Looking down, she noticed skid marks and dents in the dirt, the wavy pattern of woven grass fibers being a common sight in many of them. Had Hermes been sleep walking? How long have I been working, Xiaoli thought in bewilderment.

A moment later, she came upon the familiar black platform of Limbo. A sudden flush overcame her body and the river-girl fell to her knees and kowtowed before the holy monument. She took in the scents of the grass and the soil - they oozed an almost nauseating divine scent. She felt herself doubt her right to be here, but this -was- were Hermes said she was going.

“H-Hermes?!” she whispered loudly, as if the platform before her was a sleeping beast she under no circumstances wished to wake up.

There was no response.

Xiaoli cursed under her breath and scuttle a little closer to the platform.

“Hermes!” she repeated in the same loud whisper, though a smidge of voice broke out on the first syllable. She grimaced and bowed to the black rock as an apologetic gesture of sorts - only to notice the bright light on top of it.

Xiaoli looked to her left.

Xiaoli looked to her right.

“Deeply sorry, Your Holiness…” she whispered under her breath before she slowly climbed on top of the platform, her dress making the affair rather clumsy-looking. In fact, as she got her left leg on top of the platform, there was a heart-wrenching rip. Xiaoli’s eyes became crystalline saucers with a singular black speck in the centre as she slowly inclined her head forwards to survey the damages. The tear was quite significant, reaching from her left foot all the way up to her knee.

“Noooooo…” she pouted. “That was my favorite!” She let out a somber huff as she rolled onto the platform and sat up. She took a minute to examine her dress again.

“Great, and of course I left my needle and thread on Jiangzhou - great job, o wise advisor, not planning for clothes maintenance!” she grumbled angrily to herself. “I suppose I could just--...” She shook her head. “No, no, I need my power to build our house. Everything must be saved.” She took a deep breath; then, she took another one.

“Hermes, where are you?!” she boomed in frustration. A flicker in the corner of her eye caught her attention. She turned to face the blinking, alluring orb floating an arm’s length away.

“How did I not…” she mumbled, rising to her feet. The light twinkled warmly and Xiaoli could not help but find it just a little… Entrancing. Guided by curiosity, her arm slowly reached out and dipped a sandy hand into the warm light.

Her vision blurred in the ensuing flash; then, the flash disappeared.




The chaos that followed shook the river-girl to the core. Never since her creation had so much information been blasted at her, striking at her senses like waves against a small rock. She had no bones, but she felt their groans, her simulated muscles’ cries. After what felt both like an eternity and an instant, Xiaoli finally managed to collect her distressed mind adequately enough to produce a pulse of power from her soul. The bright wave washed outwards from her spirit and body, taking with it the numbing nebula of noise and visions. Xiaoli’s feet finally felt solid ground and she collapsed to the ground, landing on her right hip and balancing her torso with her arms. She let out some distressed pants and looked around.

The scenery had morphed from a clearing in a mushroom forest to the deep corner of an elm forest, it would seem, its wildlife oddly familiar, yet frighteningly dissimilar. Xiaoli took a deep breath and got to her feet.

“Alright, so His Holiness K’nell has set up a gateway of sorts to-...” Her eyes widened. No, this was no place on Galbar… Yet it was. She looked around with quick movements. There, in the distance, she heard the familiar trickle of a small beck. She rushed over and put her hand into the water.
Her hypothesis was confirmed - this water was not from Fengshui Fuyou. It was very real, yet it was evidently fabricated. It flowed through her fingers like a liquid mist, being incredibly close to reality, yet such a colossal step away from it.

Xiaoli rose back up. Hermes had to be in here. She would definitely have poked that funny orb, that curious little-...

Xiaoli felt her heart bump against her chest and she could not help but smile.

That curious little angel.

A scent tickled her nostrils. It was not Hermes’, no. It smelled similar to those funny, brown clumps of fur that snorted around in the mud in the Nanhe jungle. Boars, she believed they were called. She followed the smell until she came upon a pinkish humanoid with cloven feet, three fingers and a very frightened face centered around a porcine snout. Xiaoli quickly adjusted her messy bangs and put on her best smile.

“Hello there, mister! You wouldn’t happen to have seen a very colourful young lady pass by recently?”

The piggut let out a horrible, rotten smelling, belch followed by a curdled squeal. The small beastie dropped a half eaten rabbit to the forest floor and took off in a surprisingly nimble sprint, arms flailing.

Xiaoli retched at the stink and felt the pastries from before very nearly come back out, but she persevered. Her keeling forward had, however, directed her eyes to a strange pattern in the leaves at her feet - a puddle of a gross, yet oddly familiar goo. Reluctantly, Xiaoli knelt down and, facing away from the act, stuck her finger into the ooze with a whimpering “ew…”

A sensation pulsed through her on contact. In an instant, her nose caught wind of Hermes’ scent, somewhere in the direction that the boar man had headed. She discreetly wiped her finger with her sleeve, let out a sigh, and set off along the trail.




“Where are you from?” Renevin suddenly asked, breaking the silence as the group made their way through the woods. D’Bran looked as if he was suddenly relieved.

“I’ve never met someone so -- colorful,” D’Bran added.

Hermes, who had been wearing the same color as the leaves in her hair and eyes turned her head to the soldiers, “Oh, Tendlepog.”

“Tendlepog,” Hondros mouthed in confusion.

Renevin’s brow slanted, “Befurian?”

“Befurian?” Hermes echoed, ducking under a low branch. Renevin cocked his head to the side at that, before glancing at the others who shrugged. The group fell in silence once again, each one of them hopping over a small beck in turn.

Renevin tucked his scabbard close to him as he squeezed by a few tightly packed trees, only looking behind him to get another look at Hermes, “The north? Charlin?”

“Bit short for a Charlinite,” Hondros muttered, Renevin nodded in agreement.

“I’m from Tendlepog,” Hermes blinked, “That’s all there is to it.”

Renevin raised his brow, “I didn’t mean to offend.”

The group spreaded out as the trees became less dense. Hermes shook her head, “No, I’m not offended. This is all just-- stressful. I don’t really feel myself right now.”

“Robberies can do that to a person,” Renevin offered. Hermes shrugged, a hollow feeling was next to her heart, the sensation only growing with every beck they hopped.

“You know what I do when I’m upset?” D’Bran piped up, causing Hermes to look up at the man.

“What?”

“I think about all the funny adventures I’ve been on, and then try to slowly make them more and more ridiculous in my head,” He put his hands in front of his face as if holding one, “I twist it here, add a little color there,” He started moving his hands as if moulding clay, “and then bam! A comedy to rival the theatre’s” He laughed to himself, as if a grant joke had been told.

Hermes seemed to take the advice more to heart than the others. She stood up straight as she walked, her eyes glazing over as thoughts of Xiaoli popped in her head, along with dancing Shengshi’s and deep voiced Popplers. A tiny smirk appeared on her lips as she slowly twisted the images into crazier and crazier scenarios; Poppler was crowned king of the Cloudlings, only to declare Galbar in a serious state of emergency, needing endless festivals immediately. Kalmar had fallen in love with his own reflection, bringing it along with him to the dances. Suddenly Hondros held up a hand, knocking her from her reverie.

In front of them stood a rooted hill, the dangling roots covering the maw of a hand dug cave. All around them the forest was quiet except for the patter of falling leaves. Tiny rasps sounded as the soldiers’ swords exited their scabbards, all save for D’Bran’s. D’Bran simply hefted a mighty spadone from his back, the long sword looking like more of a chisel with a point in his hands.

Renevin slipped his shield onto his right arm, and Hondros slipped his to his left. The three looked expectantly at Hermes, who produced her mace and nodded. Hondros and Renevin disappeared into the rooted cave first, Hermes and D’Bran following just behind.

Much to Hermes’ surprise, the cave was a lot bigger than she expected. Soil caked the walls and roots held the ceiling in place, but after the initial dip to get in, it was high enough for even D’Bran to stand upright. Hermes opened her mouth, “W-”

“Shh,” Renevin quickly silenced her. Pointing a gloved finger forward, sword. Following his finger, Hermes could make out a mass of silently breathing figures in the deep of the cave, their pot bellies rising and falling, emitting a horrible rotting smell. All around them there were bones of different shapes and sizes, some even looked as if they belonged to unfortunate children. She scrunched her nose in disgust and looked expectantly at Renevin.

The man gave her a look, as if cautioning her to silence. The group crouched slightly as they advanced, hoping not to wake the slumbering masses -- when all of a sudden a screaming piggut came running in, smears of rabbit gore on its face.

The entire cave exploded into violent pig like screams. The small beasts swarmed the group, their evil eyes glittering like the jewels they were sleeping on. Jagged and crude weapons of pain held firm in their hands.

Renevin swung his blade, the edge cutting a piggut down mid flight with a horrible rip. He pivoted, catching a chipped axe on his shield with a resounding bang. Pushing forward, he knocked a tightly packed group of pigguts over. Hondros slipped next to Renevin, his blade striking forward and skewing a babbling Piggut through the throat, turning it into a bloody gurgle.

“Clear!” D’Bran roared, and the two other soldiers split apart methodically. With a mighty overhead swing, D’Bran brought his spadone down in violent arc. The blade cleaved through the skull of a piggut, splitting the beast in half with a explosion of gore. Following example, Hermes quickly did the same, through gritted teeth she swung, her mace caving in the head of a piggut with a wet crunch.

The force vibrated up to her arms, and as she was winding her next swing, a massive piggut bowled forward, splitting the piggut swarm apart like waves. The warlord held a large hunk of metal pounded into a cruel cleaver. With a shaking roar, he charged Hermes.

Hermes felt her sandals flutter and in an instant she had burst away from the warlord, falling backwards into a pile of dead pigguts. A hard thwack smacked the side of her head and her vision blurred. She jerked away, a knotted club just missing her face. Pain tinged her temple and she felt a trickle. Heart pounding with adrenaline, her vision quickly returned.

She rolled to her feet, but the club holding pigguts who were before her quickly scattered as Renevin appeared. The edge of his shield cracked across the back of one of their necks, his sword swinging at another. Hermes felt a cloud of blood spray across her face as D’Bran’s spadone swung broad, ripping through two pigguts at once.

Shaking her head and turning to a fast approach group of pigguts, she held her mace to bear, Hondros covering her flank; his blade dripped with scarlet. The group lunged.

D’Bran pushed to the right of the cave, Renevin slamming into the horde with his shield beside him. Hondros covered their rear, his blade shooting like a piston from behind his shield over and over, collecting gurgled squeals with each wet stab. Hermes turned on her heel, the space between the group growing as she focused her mace on a small group.

She heaved her shoulder, the mace slamming into a pigguts chest with a loud crack, sending the beastie flying through the cave. She slammed into another, the spikes of the mace ripping their chest open. She went to swing again, but then suddenly a warm sensation entered her left leg and then a shot of pain.

The pigguts had surrounded her, cutting her off from the others. She spun, a small jagged knife sticking out of her calf. She brought her mace down on the perpetrator with a loud smack, but then she felt a cut across her back, a shiver growing in her chest as blood streamed out. She spun again, and again.

Her eyes grew with worry as she became overwhelmed, her skin tingling as it paled. Renevin gave out a shout, but he was too far away, the mass of pigguts having moved between them She could see D’Brans sword trying to cut a path to her, but her heart was already in her ears.

A club slammed into her knee, causing her to kneel in pain. She brought her mace up in time to deflect a rusty meat cleaver. Her sandals fluttered, but there wasn’t any room in the cave for flight. Her eyes grew with worry, the warlord towering behind the pigguts that surrounded her.

There was a blood-curdling slice and the pigguts tripped forward, though something was missing - where their heads had been squirted sad fountains of nasty, red ichor. A glinting, flat and thin, straight blade balanced all those heads on its fuller before tilting upwards and allowing them to drop down onto the corpses of their owners. The blade pulled back towards the cave entrance, seemingly pulled by a tendril of water. Finally, it rested in the grip of a clear, transparent, liquid humanoid, and only then did the blade’s sand-like appearance become evident. Xiaoli was steaming, made more visible now from the lack of her sandy skin.

“Keep your disgusting fingers off of my woman,” she seethed. Hermes quickly scrambled through the opening with a slight limp, lifting herself to her feet besides Xiaoli.

The warlord broke through the now thinning group of pigguts, the tusked beast charging the avatar.

Xiaoli let her eyes fall upon the bleeding Hermes for a minute, her face paling in shock. The river-girl’s eyes themselves began to boil and her hair spiked in every direction as she scowled at the stampeding warlord. With a furious scream, she sucked the blade of sand into her wrist, then blast it out through her opposite hand in the form of many, razor-sharp glass arrows.

Renevin and the others could be seen, eyes wide as they dove to the ground, shields up. The crystalline arrows glittered for a fraction of a second, the barrage quickly turning into a explosion of gore. Blood misted and pigguts screamed horribly. Flesh tore from the group and holes peppered the body of the warlord, his frame only being held up by the continuous impact of the arrows.

The arrows stopped, leaving nothing but a cave of mush, three wide eyed soldiers, and a shocked Hermes. Her gaze was struck in awe at Xiaoli, who immediately knelt down by Hermes and began to inspect the damages.

“Hermes, my love, are you alright?!” she said through desperate whimpers. Had she had skin, her cheeks would be awash with tears. Her transparent hands fell on Hermes’ stab wound and she reached one hand to her dress and began to rip off thin and wide strips. She enclosed the stab wound with the knife still in it.

Hermes left eye was closed, the blood from her forehead irritating it, but she managed to look at Xiaoli with a twinkle in her right, “I'll be okay, just-- I'm glad you're here.”

Xiaoli sniffed and leaned in to give her a peck on her bloody cheek. “Yeah, I’m here. Now brace yourself. This will be painful.” She closed her free hand around the hilt of the knife, looking up at Hermes to acknowledge her readiness, though not really waiting long enough.

“Oka-” Hermes’ voice turned into a squeal of pain. Xiaoli ripped the knife out swiftly and closed her free hand around the wound. Then she pulled out a strand of her hair and put it into her water hand. The strand snaked its way to the wound and dug itself into Hermes’ skin in a zig-zagging manner, slowly closing the wound. Finally, Xiaoli wrapped a wide strip of her silk dress tightly around Hermes’ leg. A metal boot landed next to the pair.

“What in Harmony was that!?” D'Bran all but barked, Hondros and Renevin running up to capture their red faced friend. The angry man wiped flesh splatter from his forehead and flicked it on the ground, shards of sand sticking in one of his pauldrons.

Xiaoli ignored him and placed two careful hands on Hermes’ head, patting her skull gently, yet firmly, to survey the damage. She simultaneously used her liquid hands to wash the blood away from Hermes’ face.

“Hey! La-” Renevin shoved D'Bran back, Hondros now kneeling besides Xiaoli and Hermes, watching intently. Hermes gave him little mind, her eyes now both stuck on Xiaoli, happy if not tinged with pain and a mild concussion.

Xiaoli wrapped a longer strip around Hermes’ head to cover up the headwound and finally gently bent her forward to tend to the back wound. This one appeared to be superficial, but was still a wound, so Xiaoli washed it and wrapped it in a silk bandage. The river-girl took a moment to survey Hermes’ one final time before placing her hands on her shoulders.

“Hermes, I-...!” She took a deep breath. “You-! Why were you-?!” She straightened her mouth and looked down. “Okay, I want to start off by saying I am not-...”

Hermes cocked her head, and slowly snaked her arms around Xiaoli, pulling her close into a hug. The slightly delirious Dreamer stayed like that, arms tightening. Hondros looked up at Renevin who shrugged, hands still holding a now curious D'Bran back.

Xiaoli stopped her yappering and wrapped her arms around Hermes’ back. “I’m sorry… I just don’t want you to leave me - not like this. I don’t know what I-...” She squeezed tighter, her form soaking through her and Hermes’ clothes.

Hermes didn't seem to mind as she kept Xiaoli as close as possible, “You're not going to lose me.” She all but whispered, the adrenaline leaving her body. Xiaoli rubbed her wet face against Hermes’, her cheeks a texture similar to the tongue of a little dog.

“So,” Hondros suddenly spoke, his armor painted red, “What exactly -- or rather -- who exactly are you people and what was that?”

“Uh,” Hermes trailed, slowly letting go of Xiaoli, “I'm from Tendlepog, remember?”

“Yeah,” Hondros tucked his lower lip in and nodded, “Yeah except not only do I not know that place, you, or what your jewel was, but your nymph friend just wiped out a cavern of pigguts with as much as a thought.”

“Nymph, you think?” D'Bran furrowed his brow.

“Too pretty for an elemental,” Hondros called back, soliciting an evil glare from Hermes and a head shake from Renevin.

Xiaoli slowly stopped cuddling Hermes. She rose to her feet and dusted off what remained of her dress.

“Maybe,” Renevin walked over, kneeling to join the talking trio, “We find your gem,” he looked at Hermes, “Walk you out of the cave, and split ways.”

D'Bran opened his mouth but then shut it, “curiosity tempts the voiceless I suppose.”

“Wait, what gem?” Xiaoli asked, folding her arms over her bosom. “And also, I suppose you could call me a nymph, in some senses of the word - oh, pardon me a moment.”

Xiaoli strolled over to a corner of the cave and stuck her hands in a bloody pile of sand. The water almost effortlessly pulled the grains over itself until she once again had her familiar exterior, albeit quite a bit redder and dirtier. She grimaced and let out a long groan.

“Ugh, it’s like wearing dirt,” she grumbled as the soldiers looked on with bewilderment. “Hermes, can we find a beach or something on the way home, please? Even a saltwater beach will do at this point.” She licked her lips with her flower petal tongue and her face contorted. Finally, her eyes fell back on the soldiers.

“Oh, pardon all that, please.” She bowed. “An honour to make your acquaintances. I am Xiaoli, first advisor to His Lordship Shengshi. Who do I have the pleasure of addressing, may I ask?” She smiled, revealing all her pebble teeth of various sizes and colours.

Hondros tilted his head, eyes squinting, “We are of the Praxian Storm Guard,” He looked at Hermes, “Contracted to help recover a precious jewel from the pigguts.”

D’Bran mounted the name ‘Shengshi’ at Renevin, who gave him a bewildered head shake. Hermes limped up to Xiaoli, “I found them, can you believe it?” There was a slight excitement in her voice, “Dreamers, hidden away.”

“Dreamers?” Xiaoli voiced with a hint of skepticism as she eyes the soldiers up and down.

“You must have us confused,” Hondros shook his head, “I’m Taranesian, he’s Garthillian,” he pointed to Renevin, “And that guy is-- Void be damned, where are you from again?”

“Somewhere North,” D’Bran nodded, “But I grew up here, so.”

“Two Garthillians and a Taranese,” Hondros counted, “Don’t get me wrong, I love a good dream now and again, but I wouldn’t define myself as a Dreamer.” Hermes face seemed to shadow at this.

Xiaoli noticed Hermes’ face and frowned. “What is your species called, then? You look and act similar enough, so I reckon Taranesian and Garthillian are nationalities, though to my knowledge…” She interrupted herself and motioned for the soldiers to go ahead.

“Human,” Renevin kicked aside one of the piggut corpses in search of something, “We are human.”

“Human, Hinan, Smooth skin, dark eyes, small ear, round nose,” D’Bran listed what could have been slurs. Hondros sighed.

“I just want to say,” The man began, “I’m sorry if any of us seem impolite, but we -- at least I-- am not fond of surprises. If you could tell us now if we are getting involved in something either illegal or way over our heads, I’d appreciate that.”

Xiaoli shook her head. “Oh, that’s quite alright, sir. I’ve learned to be patient around mortals throughout my lifetime.” She winked playfully. “As for the risk your involvement poses, we have no requirements beyond recovering this… Gem, that you’ve mentioned. After that, you will likely never see us again - oh, and I mean that in its literal meaning - no murderous connotations and the likes…” She sighed. “Okay, what I’m trying to say is-...” She let out a ponderous hum. “You will be fine.”

“Mortal?” Renevin seemed to have been caught by the word, looking up at Xiaoli. He pondered something and then walked over, studying the woman with slanted brows, “You know who we are?”

Xiaoli frowned. “Alright, when I said I was patient, I did not mean that as an invitation to oogle, you know.” She pouted. Hermes who had been stuck in thought since the mention of humans suddenly looked up from her reverie, slightly moving between the two.

“I’m sorry,” Renevin said, his eyes flickering away and he returned to kicking over the corpses, “I just don’t often encounter people calling other people ‘mortals’.”

“He’s religious,” D’Bran rolled his eyes, “But don’t worry, I get it. Powerful wizard” He waved his hands, “Misewell be a higher being.”

“Ah,” Hondros suddenly exclaimed, fingers sticky with gore as he held up Hermes’ pearl from a pile of scrap metals stole from local farms, “Is thi-” He gagged slightly as old bile fermented into the air, “This it?”

“Yes!” Hermes went to run over but nearly tripped on her bad leg, opting to limp instead.

“Don’t strain yourself, dear! Just because I stitched it does not mean it won’t be painful to fall.” Xiaoli then turned to Renevin. “I’m sorry to hear that - the sight of a god is truly magnificent to behold… And terrifying.”

“So says the tales,” Renevin agreed as he watched with disgusted face as Hermes took the bile pearl from Hondros.

Hermes excitedly held the crusty gem to her face and then frowned, “I don’t know how it works.”

“Let me take a look,” Xiaoli said as she stepped over the stinking corpses. She reached out to take the pearl from Hermes; then, just as her fingers touched the orb, there was a blinding flash.




The chaos was familiar - colours of every spectrum assaulting her eyes to the rhythm of a billion symphonies - only this time, she felt a constant sensation in her hand. This comfortable warmth brought her a sense of concentration that let her focus on stabilising the absurdity of her surroundings. Like before, she dove into her spirit and released a pulse that stilled the chaos.

The light parted to reveal the familiar mushroom-ringed clearing. They stood upon the black platform, the orb Hermes and Xiaoli had been holding a mere minute ago nowhere to be found. Xiaoli blinked a few times and patted her face and torso with her free hand, just to see if everything was still in place.

Hermes had her eyes shut hard, her face clearly portraying the pulsing pain of her concussion. She all but leaned against Xiaoli, “I don’t think I can bring you to the beach.”

”ZZT”

A really angry Poppler zapped from the tree line and aggressively swirled around the pair, popping with concern and anger. It seemed to focus on Hermes for a while before gently poking her wounded areas with its fluffy body, the dress bandages collecting dew. Content with the rehydration, the cloudling landed on Xiaoli’s head, crackling with relief.

“Oh, Poppler, I’m glad you’re alright, at least,” Xiaoli said with a weak giggle. “As for you, my little adventurer,” she squeezed Hermes and scooped her carefully into her arms with the disproportionate strength of a God. “You can take me some other time.” She gave her a playful wink and a grin.

Hermes seemed too weak to protest, her eyes dazing in and out of consciousness. Eventually the woman shoved her face into Xiaoli and just simply stayed there.




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Kalmar





The meeting with Phystene had lifted Kalmar's spirits. It was good to know that, even as the rest of their kind began to turn on each other, there was somebody he could trust and rely on. It gave him a sense of security and reassurance. There was another feeling too, but he was not sure it was the right time.

He had made two guardians, and even now they carried out his will. Kalmar had not granted them capacity for advanced communication, but they could still send a telepathic sense of alarm to him that would signify warning or distress. By now, Gorm had likely killed and consumed several ghouls, and Fenris would no doubt be familiarizing himself with the region he was supposed to protect. Kalmar did not have any immediate plans for the Hunter's Eye, yet it was a region that he wanted to ensure remained protected.

Speaking of regions, he couldn't help but frown at the distinct lack of diversity on the continent. Aside from the jungle itself, it was mostly forests. There were mountains, which had become capped with snow since the continent's creation, and now produced some smaller natural rivers, but that was all. It was entirely suitable environment for hunting, yet variety was needed.

Hoping that Phystene would understand, Kalmar floated above the Hunter's Eye, and focused.

From the Eye to the Coast, the forest almost seemed to recede into the ground, leaving only grass, creating a vast expanse of field and hills, with the odd pond here and there. The grass, in turn, then grew taller and more wild. The soil beneath became more fertile. Other, newer plants grew as well, many bearing edible leaves or berries.

The animals, astonished at this, froze in terror. But soon enough they began to recover. Those nearby the forest ran for the cover of the trees, and the rest would surely migrate there as well - either that, or adapt to the new surroundings. Either way, newer, better-suited animals would be needed. First he created the prey - bison, rabbits, ferrets, toads, elk, deer, mice, just to name a few. Then he made the predators - badgers, wolves, coyotes, bobcats, snakes, hawks, and more. And of course, the insects - bees, grasshoppers, worms, ants...

The marsh surrounding the Hunter's Eye, as well as the island in the middle, were completely unchanged. Fenris looked up at him with confusion. Kalmar sent him a telepathic message to continue patrolling the region. He realized the lack of trees would make it easier for the wolf to be aware of the surroundings. The wolf himself would be more visible, but in the forests his vast size had already been impossible to miss, so far more was gained than lost.

His work done, the hunter smiled, and set himself down in the waist-high grass. There was a certain sense of freedom, standing in a vast open space like this, but he knew a lesser creature would have felt vulnerable - one may be able to see everything, but everything would also be able to see them, and unless they were small there were few places to hide. The only choice would be to run or fight.

Kalmar walked. He heard the angry rattle of a snake, but ignored it. A group of elk perked its head up, saw him, and fled. He passed by a small pond of water and ran a hand through it. Then he plucked some berries off a nearby bush and tossed them into his mouth. This was not unlike his dream all that long ago, he realized. Was that where he found the inspiration?

He hoped Phystene would understand why the change needed to be made, then suddenly felt what was either regret or guilt, as if he should have talked to her about it first. Kalmar thought back to his old life, which already felt like a distant blur, yet he knew that not once had he ever shown remorse for his actions back then.

Sadness, concern, frustration, regret, guilt. Things he had not felt until he had been granted godhood, or if he had they had not gone to this extent. Were they a weakness? Was that the price of being so strong? Or was it the price of higher thought?

He stopped, pondered the question for a moment, and looked around. He realized it didn't matter.

It had been worth the trade.








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Tal

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By now Ya-Shuur could see how useful this beast’s skills were in protecting the herd. It could fly. It was huge. It was very obedient. It was extremely fast so it alone could protect a huge herd. But he had an odd feeling that it would not be staying with him for long. The fact that it was already tame and understood commands meant it had another master. It would obviously have to return to him at some point. He also saw it staring off into the distance a lot. It was as if there was something it had to go and do. So Ya-Shuur was thinking to himself that he could try breeding it with another animal to get a more efficient herder than the wolves so that he did not lose its skill. He decided that this was wise and began trying to do it.

The first problem was that the beast didn’t seem to have any way to reproduce. The second problem was that he did not know what it was exactly. If he could find a creature similar enough to it then he could breed them. He thought back to how Li’Kalla had been able to make things just with her will alone. He had never tried but he thought maybe he should. He started with something simple first. He found the two horns that the beast had torn on its arrival and he focused on them. After a few moments, he released them and found that they were floating. With his will he made them fly towards his head. His hair parted and made space for them. He thought it would hurt but the bonding of the two horn to his head did not hurt at all. For an hour or so afterward his head felt weird and heavy but then he got used to the extra weight and he felt happy that he looked more like the goats he loved. Now that name of Goat Defying the Darkness felt more right.

Now that he knew he had power just like Li’Kalla he went to the beast and stroked its head. Then he focused and tried to give it reproductive organs that were like a male wolf’s. When this was done he inspected his creation to make sure he had done it right. He could not be sure until he saw the results. So he went to the wolves and picked out a strong female. He brought her and inspected her. First, she would need to be bigger to handle the stress of mating with the beast. So he strengthened her and made her bigger. Then he focused hard and tried to make it so she could safely bear children from an exceptional creature like the beast. When this was done he led her to the beast and stared at them. They stared back at him. “Uh. Um. We-well go on.” He said. But they just stared at him. “Uh. I’ll leave you two alone then.” He turned away and left them hoping that they would be able to work it out. Surely the female’s mutations would make her identify a suitable mate? He would wait and see.

Soon enough, the two had returned to Ya-Shuur with the back of the female’s slightly rougher than how it was before but overall the two were fine. The beast looked down upon the demigod before it laid down on its side. He flipped onto his back and looked at the Shepard expectantly, despite its massive size over the young master. His tail went back and forth slightly as it awaited some form of reward. Ya-Shuur rubbed its huge stomach and praised it and he told it that as a reward it could go hunt and play around the island for the rest of the day. When it had leaped into the air and cannoned away he turned to the big she-wolf. She was lying down calmly. When he approached she got up suddenly and began moving away.

Ya-Shuur glanced at the herd and then followed after her. He found her trying to go into a den but she was not big enough. He patted her and gently told her to follow him. Because he had traveled the area a lot now he knew of a good place she could stay and he took her to the cave. It was big enough for her and deep. She settled down and curled up. Everyday Ya-Shuur brought her a goat and he also brought the beast with him to teach him how to be a good mate. Eventually, the beast was taking animals it caught to the pregnant she-wolf every day. She gave birth nearly seventy days later. The creatures were as big as grown wolves even though they were still newborns. They looked a lot like a wolf but their tails were long and had a sharp protrusion for bludgeoning like the beast's. They had a longer face like a wolf but their mouths could open really wide like the beast. They didn't have teeth yet but Ya-Shuur could see that their teeth were going to be something in between their mother and father. They had sharp bones protruding at various parts of their body like the beast. They were deaf and blind for now like wolf cubs when they were born.

Because she trusted Ya-Shuur the she-wolf let him stroke them. They sniffed him and became familiar with him. Every now and then one of them might sneeze and accidentally launch themselves into the air because they could fly like the beast. When they did they their mother gently brought them back down because they could not control their flight yet. Ya-Shuur also watched how the beast interacted with the litter of six.

The beast, upon being introduced to the litter, sniffed the pups and cocked his head curiously at them before he turned away from them. He walked away from them a few steps before laying on his stomach and gaze into the air, seemingly sniffing for something that was not there. It seemed that the beast was distracted before it let out a whimper and laid its head onto the ground. Ya-Shuur found this behaviour odd. He had noticed the beast staring off into the distance as though searching for something many times before. Only his voice seemed to bring it back to doing as he told. But now it seemed disinterested in its own children and that was strange. He walked towards it and stroked its head. “Are you ok? What’s wrong?” He could feel that it was anxious and a bit conflicted.

The beast only let out another whimper looking out to the sky in a very clear distraction. It’s muscles tensed up as it held a clear desire to be on the move, yet it would not move from its position next to Ya-Shuur. Such was it’s prerogative to remain close the kin of its master, even if Ya-Shuur knew not who the beast had come from. However, it did move forwards a little bit, crawling a few insignificant motions before it stopped again. The animal’s actions would confused anyone else. But because Ya-Shuur had become more attuned to animals ever since he discovered the name of Goat Defying the Darkness he understood that the animal wanted to go but that it now felt tied to him. He smiled and encouraged it to go. “Don’t worry. Go on. But visit me when you can.”

Its massive head jerked upwards and turned towards Ya-Shuur, almost as a look of shock before it jumped up to its feet to lick the young demi-god. After the licking, the beast pressed the top of its head against Ya-Shuur as one last symbol of fair before it turned and bounced into the sky. After a while it looked back to the young demi-god and its mate before howling a final goodbye as it quickly began to run away. The she-wolf came out of her den and looked at where her mate was disappearing. She paused somberly for a few moments. Then she howled at the sky. Ya-Shuur left her to be sad and went in to the den with the litter. He thought about the beast and how it had developed a bond and duties towards him. But it also had other duties too. It was a dutiful beast. He had taught a lot about justice but it had also taught him. He looked at the cubs and stroked them and then he spoke. “The fulfillment of duty is laudable. Those who forego their duty are to be shunned. Those who do not forego but are unable to fulfill their duty do no wrong. This is Justice.”


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Li’Kalla


Goddess of Rain
8 FP - 9 MP


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𝔖 𝔢 𝔦 𝔥 𝔡 𝔥 𝔞 𝔯 𝔞




Time: The Day the Gods Came


When Seihdhara finally woke up, the memory of all her dreams hung heavily over her like a cloud that spat lightning and rain, but was also immediately at peace blowing in a blue summer sky. As individual memories came to her, she found herself brooding over that strange mice dream. It frustrated her that she had not been able to get to the sword - for the sword was the problem. The sword that always tore her from her loved ones. She looked down at her palm, and there about it was that familiar golden hue and the ghost of a silver-bladed short-sword boasting a pommel in the shape of a furious roaring bear head. It was called Ursus Mater, the sword her son had created and gifted to her. When sheathed it simply dissipated into a golden sheen around her. She had come through into this world along with her sword, for it was attached to her soul.
But had it truly been the sword in the dream? After all, it had all been a lie, and she had known it to be a lie and chosen - at last - to bask in it even so. Bringing her hands about her knees, she looked around the room she was now in. For a few moments she thought her eyes were deceiving her, but then it became apparent that the Purlieu and cave she had fallen asleep in was indeed no longer there. She reasoned that Urhu had likely moved her here at some point.

She remembered the sight of Urhu’s sleeping face beside her, utterly at peace, and the memory of that brought calm and joy to Seihdhara’s heart. She closed her eyes, lingering there and treasuring that memory; committing it to the depths of her mind so that even if she was utterly destroyed that memory would gain a life all its own and live on. Exhaling, she rose to her feet. Urhu’s boat, the Nyeothay Tag, felt like home already to the goddess and she wandered about it until she was on deck. She looked at the various animal effigies on top of the great cabin-like structure on the boat, and her eyes were drawn to the canines. Dogs, she had instinctively known them to be, although she had never seen them in her home world and no one had deigned to create them in the previous universe. In the memories of her hair, however, she could find wild dogs roamings all the forests of her making, which she decided would not be called forests or jungles like other forests, but weihrds. She thought once more of that sleeping Urhu in the cave, and she wondered where her beloved was now. She continued staring at the canines, and an idea came to her, causing her green eyes to light up immediately with inspiration and her hair to brighten so that it seemed like embers lay in the endless fiery mess. Her lips broke into that characteristic full-toothed, hearty smile.

The goddess rose into the air until she was up top by the canines, and - gently - she tapped the two large effigies. They creaked. She tapped them again, and they shivered, their heads gaining greater definition as the two dogs stretched. Then - before she could tap them a third - they had leapt from the cabin and were growing in size down on the deck. Seihdhara jumped down after them and, to either side of the saffron-haired goddess, they lost their golden metallic quality and each grew a thick, harsh, and rough coat of black and grey on their body, head, and legs. It was especially long and wiry around their eyes and under the jaw. Before long they were so big that their heads reached her chest.



Horton, Irish Wolfhound/Wolf Cross. Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary. © Georgina De Caigny.
Twin Dogs of the Fray: Seihdharid Wolfhound


She stroked the two, and they yapped and pranced about her, and one of them - the stud - reared up and placed his forelegs on her shoulders and got to licking her face. She scrunched her face up and moved her head away.

‘Hey now big boy, I don’t know you that well.’ She said, laughing and pushing his head from her until he was off her. She then turned to the bitch and stroked her also, bringing her in for a hug. She decided then that she would give one of them to Rhu-rhu, a constant companion for her wherever she went during her endless travels and adventures, a second pair of eyes to witness all the tremendous things only the Wanderer could. Seihdhara considered this thought for a few moments. Could it be that Rhu could see the world in a way that no one else could? Could it be that her domain over wandering meant she could appreciate the novel and the beautiful in ways that no other god did? Seihdhara smiled absentmindedly. No wonder she loved travelling so much! She looked at the stud who was wandering all over the deck and she laughed. It was clear that that one was a curious wanderer too, so she decided that she would give him to Urhu so that she would never be lonely on her travels again.
The female dog ambled over and stared out over the side of the Neothay Tag, her intelligent eyes alight with curiosity. Seihdhara bent down to her knees and placed a hand on the wolfhound’s head, and both looked out for some time. ‘Hehewuti is a fitting name for you.’ She murmured, and the large canine turned her head towards the goddess and whined.

The goddess then looked over the side of the boat some more. She was not sure where on Galbar they were. And where was Urhu? ‘RHU-RHU!’ she shouted at the top of her voice.

The wanderer had returned to her own ship for a while, yet the non-euclidean interior of the vessels were large enough for the two goddesses to miss themselves, especially when Urhu was in the deeper rooms, sorting her store. “Oh… seems like she finally woke up!” the wanderer said before quickly going up the stairs, soon appearing near Seihdhara, donning her new outfit of gold, fine strings and leather. “Good morning! Seems like you finally escaped that bed.” she told her with a smirk. Seihdhara laughed and scratched her head in embarrassment.

‘I was out for a long time wasn’t I? I blame the bed. That softness is almost criminal!’ As she spoke the two wolfhounds ambled about the goddesses and Seihdhara pointed to the male. ‘Look Rhu, I got you a dog to keep you company! Those two weren’t doing anything up on the cabin, and now you’ll never be alone again while adventuring and exploring.’

“I did make those figures as an alarm and guidance system, so, uh, first of all, I will need to get some new ones since otherwise I might ram the ship into a mountain, but second, I wonder if it kept some of those traits.” she said, looking down at the canine, before smiling and rubbing its head, noticing its reactions to see how he preferred it. “But thanks! He is very cute, all doggies are.” Seihdhara seemed wholly pleased with Urhu’s reaction, though her eyes did widen guiltily at the mention of the navigational uses of the effigies. She looked at the dogs and thought it an interesting thing indeed if the dogs had some unique abilities due to their previous purpose.

‘How can we test if they do have some special ability?’ She asked the other goddess. Then she turned and looked out at the land before them. ’Do you know where we are now?’ It was a heavily forested place - forested, now that Seihdhara thought back with a frown, by her own hair. It had never done that kind of thing before. Perhaps its baptism by fire and experiences to date had caused it to develop a level of independence greater than in the past. Seihdhara did not mind all too much, but she did wonder at what that meant for her whenever her hair did decide to go off again. As if to reassure her, a few strands stroked her cheek. Shaking herself from her reverie she looked over at Rhu. ‘S-sorry, did you say something? Didn’t quite catch that.’

“I was saying we were near that Kalmar guy’s continent. Didn’t meet the guy yet, though he is my sphere neighbour, I think, makes sense to, we are kinda similar, I guess…?” she shrugged. “The island we are near to, however, doesn’t have his unique quirks in its landscaping, meaning its the act of another god, can’t guess who though.” Seihdhara nodded and smiled at how Rhu could already identify the quirks of this Kalmar’s landscapes. If only she could be as perceptive!

‘Alright! I’m ready to explore, fight, and meet more gods. I’m feeling in a fighting mood. Do you think we should ambush whoever made this place? You know, for a bit of fun.’ She looked mischievously over at Urhu, reaching out and touching the goddess’ pretty new dress with sudden interest.

The wanderer, in turn, looked back at Seihdhara for a long moment. “No.” she sighed. “But you are already sneaking out of the ship to do that, aren’t you?”
‘I, uh, n- noo?’ Seihdhara was a terrible liar and she knew it, so she slowly took a few steps from Urhu as if preparing to escape a potential telling-off. But then she stopped and pointed a finger at Urhu, ‘Hey! I wouldn’t trust that you could watch my back if we were going to ambush someone! In fact, we won’t be ambushing any gods until you’re in fighting shape! While your new dress is very pretty,’ she looked at it again, still impressed by how delicately and beautifully the gold and strings were wrought together with the leather, before getting back to what she was saying, ‘it won’t do you any good in a fight. So here.’ She reached into her hair and rummaged around with her right hand until she drew a short golden blade to match Rhu’s attire. It was an ever so slightly curved cutlass, though its blade was thin and elegant (which, Seihdhara knew, was not the norm: for this was meant to be a brutish blade).



A piece of her heart for the goddess dressed in gold


The goddess extended her right hand and leg in front of her, leaving her left foot in line with her shoulder, then swiped easily over and across with the sword. She moved it to and fro in a loose grip between her thumb and forefinger and seemed satisfied with its balance. Turning it over, she presented the hilt to Urhu. ‘For you,’ she said simply. Once Urhu had taken it, the battle goddess manifested Ursus Mater. Rather than its usual shortsword form, it too was now a cutlass.

“Huh? For me? What are you on about…? A sword?” The wanderer looked at her weapon with confusion. She had never been a sword user, so this was surprising, she couldn’t say she did not like the look of the weapon. She searched for the other goddess to try to understand what she was planning.

Walking away from the side of the boat, Seihdhara turned to Urhu with a flourish and took up a guarded position. There was a knowing smile dancing about her lips and a mischievous excitement in her eyes. She had missed this. She gestured for Urhu to take up the same stance.



En garde!


‘First things first - your weapon. As you can see it has two main parts. This here is the blade and this is the hilt. If you feel here, you’ll see that the lower half of the blade is not sharp - you use this part for parrying, not cutting. The upper half has a sharpened edge though, and it tapers to a point. The back edge at the top here is sharpened as well. This provides you with a greater degree of flexibility as to how to go about attacking. When a conventional slash,’ the goddess slashed downward, ‘or stab,’ she lunged suddenly, ‘won’t work, a surprise backward slash like so can subdue an opponent who is not expecting it - here I’ll do it slower: bring it around, like this, and it wraps round to strike at angles an opponent is not anticipating. Don’t worry about remembering that for now, we’ll go over it properly in a bit.



To know the blade


‘So the hilt here protects your fingers - yours has a basket-hilt, mine here has a cupped guard; both function in the same way. They prevent the opponent’s blade from getting to your fingers. But these guards are also useful if an opponent gets up close and personal: if they get very close you can easily punch at them, the guard acting as a metal glove. You can also hammer down with the butt of the blade. So a good punching and bashing weapon if the need arises. It’s pretty nifty overall and should serve you well if you master the technique.

‘Now you don’t want to wrap your fingers fully around the hilt - this isn’t a club, you want something that’s fluid in your hands, a true extension of your arm so that you have complete control of the blade at all times.’ She moved her wrist fluidly, causing the blade to jump back and forth with ease, though she did not even move her arm or wrist. ‘So use a pivoting grip like so - you see? Thumb on the back of the grip, aligned with the back edge of the blade, so you are easily able to squeeze and release into the palm of your hand. This allows you a great deal of flexibility and you can very swiftly change your angle of attack or quickly defend and counterattack as the need arises. So if you hold the weapon up straight in the grip, it's completely straight, then a simple squeeze into your palm and the grip pivots in your hand so that the blade moves forward without any great movement or exertion on your part. Minimum energy input, maximum output.’



To be the blade


The other goddess clumsily started to follow the torrent of advice she was being given. However, as a goddess, she was still able to get the hang of things quite quickly, especially when being instructed by none other than the goddess of combat herself. Soon she had her weapon raised in a confident manner, for many this weapon design had an air of elegance and trickery, though when wielded by the wanderer it had a sleek aura of swiftness to it, with a stiff stance and the unmoving eyes of a hunter observing their surroundings. “Like this?” she questioned, wondering if she had successfully followed instructions. Seihdhara’s sword dissipated as she inspected Urhu’s form. She tapped her back leg and told her to bring it back slightly and ensure her foot was facing outward.
‘It gives you a firm foundation, see? And the knees, keep them bent. Like this you’re strong, you can step forward quickly and retreat easily, and you’re in a good position to lunge and recover.’ With that said she inspected the Wanderer’s arms, bringing her elbow in slightly, ‘a tucked in elbow ensures your opponent doesn’t have an easy target. Like this it’s in line with the rest of your body, behind your guard. And here, you want the front edge of the sword to be facing towards your outside, like… so.’ With that said she expressed satisfaction at Urhu’s posture and got back in front of her, sword in hand.
‘Now, to the defence! With a short blade like this there are three basic parries you can make. There are others we can get to if you wish, but these basic three will serve you well. You begin with the guard position - sword in front, elbow tucked in, knees bent. Good. If someone cuts towards your leading shoulder, you want to gently move your blade from centre to cover that line, to deflect the blade around you - this one we’ll call the ‘first’. If someone cuts towards the other side, towards your chest, you bring the sword back and cover that line in the same way - this one we’ll call the ‘second’. If someone cuts for your head you simply lift and provide that protection - we’ll call this one the ‘third’. As much as possible you want to meet the strike of an opponent with the lower half of your blade. The closer to your sword’s hilt the blow lands, the stronger your defence - and if you’re clever and swift, you will know how to catch your opponent’s blade just so.’



The three basic parries: The ‘first’, ‘second’, and ‘third’


With those basic defences explained, Seihdhara now moved onto the six cuts one could make from a guard position or as a riposte from a parrying position with a sword of this nature and with this particular sword fighting style. ‘So the first two cuts are downward strikes - one comes down from the right and the other comes down from the left. The second two are upward from the right and upward from the left. And the final two are straight from the right and left. You could also cut down vertically and up vertically, making it eight cuts. Once you get used to the movements you should be able to very easily flow from one cut into another without moving anything but your wrist - no big swings, no elbow leaping all over the place, just a simple wrist movement. Now if you combine this simple wrist movement with a swift step forward, similar to what you do when lunging, then you give the cut extra power and lethality. The twisting motion of the wrist makes it difficult to predict what angle you are coming at until the last moment - and you can easily change from cutting into lunging, thus utilising the point of your blade. You lunge like… so.’



The lunge


‘Come, let us practise this. If you can master these basics then you will be well able to protect yourself - and then... well, then you can create and innovate!’ She waved her hand, and immediately the two blades lost their sharp edges. ‘Sharpened weapons are for killing, not sparring.’ She commented in a casual manner, extending her own sword and taking up the fighting form. Then she shouted for Urhu to begin.

Urhu was somewhat lost in the flash flood of words, Seihdhara was one of few words, yet suddenly she was delivering upon the wanderer very complex and conceptual ideas, though also with a strong practical backbone as the constant repositioning of Urhu’s body under Seihdhara’s command seemed displayed. Still, the goddess of travel could not help but to pout slightly, even though she was doing her best to follow everything that was being said, being strictly under such a strong set of rules was definitely not her style.

“Well then, let’s see how it goes! For sure the goddess of combat is in her home as we fight, but… in the end, what is fencing but trying to find a passage through your enemies’ defence?” the wander said, before slashing forward at the other goddess at a decent speed, her first moves followed Seihdhara’s instructions. But they never landed for the goddess willingly stopping her blade before it met the rival blade, relocating it as the shock of the lack of the expected sensory input was still in the mind of her rival, trying to do a sudden side lunge at Seihdhara, who smoothly lifted her blade so that the lunge was redirected up and above her head.
‘That’s a good lunge. When someone lunges at you, the parry to use depends on where the lunge is striking at. For a high lunge like this one, you take their blade and redirect it above - the third parry. Then you can riposte!’ She twisted her wrist so that the blade went from a third parry into a downward cut towards Urhu’s head, but as she had been speaking the wanderer had already assumed her guard position and could easily parry in return. ‘Remember Rhu, once you master the basic principles you can begin to be more creative. It’s like… hmm, like, if you know where you’re going right? If you know where your destination is then you can be creative as to the routes you take to get there. For now you’re not sure about the destination so I’m showing you a simple route. But once you master this route and know where the destination is, then you’ll be able to explore, find new routes, and create your own. Does that make sense?’

“I get that, and I am grateful, however, I still can find that time in which I am stuck to the old roads to be a bit boring. No matter, I will make sure to get used to it fast so I can take the more unusual paths.” she said, deciding to tone down her trickery for the moment.

The two goddesses danced around one another for some time, practising the different cuts and parries. It was slow and cautious at first with many stoppages and comments. Then the comments grew less and less, and they were not stopping anymore but easily parrying and riposting, stepping back and forth as now Urhu gained ground and as now Seihdhara pushed her back. Seihdhara lost track of how long they practised for, but by the time she allowed Ursus Mater to dissipate Urhu seemed well able to take care of herself in a fight. She had already started getting creative and coming at the combat goddess from novel angles that would have almost certainly gotten the better of less skilled opponents. The wanderer was of course no match to the military might of the other goddess, but she knew how to use her aspect of travel to pull-off distracting attacks and parries, taking the battle out of the conventional. It was a necessity when she did not have the stamina to keep up with a conventional battle for as long as the warlike gods. Nevertheless, Seihdhara would feel Urhu had truly understood the basics and was not merely moving adlib but had actual battle plans.

Still, Seihdhara wished for her beloved’s complete safety and knew that having her uncover her soul-name would go some way to increasing her natural martial skill. Then she realised that she had never told Urhu about soul-names. ‘Rhu! Did I ever tell you that I made soul-names?! Mine is Bear Over Red Water - we have to go find out what yours is! Maybe when we’re exploring the island?’ She looked at the wanderer with wide, excited eyes. The relatively level-headed instructor from before seemed to have completely disappeared.

“Soul name? Isn’t Urhu… or well, Rhu, good enough?” she laughed, clearly tired after such intensive training. “Seems… curious. Perhaps it will help me to understand my past better. You have a peculiar soul name, Seihd, for some reason, I always noticed the connection you have with bears.” she added offhandedly. Seihdhara seemed surprised at this, but then she smiled and her face reddened.
‘I guess it shows. I grew up with bears back home. The part of my soul that was true bear may have been torn away, but a bear’s a bear in the end.’ There was a slightly distance in her eyes as she remembered, but it swiftly disappeared as she took Urhu’s sword in her hands and passed her fingers over it so that it returned to its sharpened state. ‘So I guess our souls do hold memories that open the door towards knowing what is forgotten! When we get into those weihrds there-’ she paused and looked at the endless forests on the island. She could not quite get over the fact that she had created those even though she had never willed it, ‘when we get there you just need to be on the lookout. Eventually it will come to you!’ She returned the sword to Urhu. It was now in a beautifully decorated scabbard, lined with silver and red gold. Here and there gems were embedded - they seemed to be making a route round and round the sheathe. ‘Let’s rest a while and then we can head out. All that jumping and swinging seems to have tired you out.’



They had walked into the mist covered forest for a while now, after a quick rest in Nyeothay Tag. Urhu didn’t exactly plan to ‘ambush’ the god of this land, whoever it was, though a test of her sneaking skills would be interesting. She was mostly tagging along to make sure Seihdhara would not get herself blown up, killed, or eaten again. The wanderer’s hand was gently staying near her sword, which she had named Sheoneg Yin, Summer’s Horizon. She had yet to identify the owner of this land, as so far she had not seen these design peculiarities elsewhere in the world and the hints were not obvious, especially because she had just kept an eye on the more aggressive looking gods. It was a damp land however, almost depressing, the sky was oftenly overcast and colors gave away to the grey of mist. Despite Seihdhara’s weihrd being somewhat young, moss already crept up many trees and rocks.

“Oh, sorry, I am hurrying forward again.” the wanderer said, slowing her steps. “This thick fog is not as distracting to me, well, it is, but it's impossible for me to stray from my path.” Seihdhara caught up, though there was a frown and a concerned look on her face.
‘It’s alright - just… be careful Rhu. Something’s… off.’ She looked up ahead where yet another puddle had formed due to the incessant raining. She did not know why, but there was something just off about all these puddles. Like… there was something watching. She could not see anything, but she could feel it - a concentration of soul energy around some of the puddles. And it was not normal soul energy at that.

The wanderer, less sensible to the pain of souls, looked around confused, even glancing at the reflection of the damp spots but completely missing the ‘terror’ in the air. Instead, she focused on her surroundings, and there she found nothing, even if she reached with her godly senses. “Hmm. I will stay alert. If you spot anything weird do tell me.” the wanderer continued.

Going deeper into the island, the duo would soon notice the sound of thunder, as rain started to fall upon the land. The goddesses could simply will themselves dry, but it was another sensory distraction as they braved unknown lands. Soon, the trees would disappear, along with the shrub and grass, as they walked into what seemed like a very shallow lake. Looking down, Urhu saw her reflection perfectly along with Seihdhara’s, reaching down and taking some of the ground and sampling it with her tongue. “Salt. Seems like we are in a salt flat. Too bad it's raining and the mist is so thick, when its not, these things look like huge mirrors.”

Thousands of little ripples distorted the reflection of the shallow water. On the other side, nothing could be seen but an overcast sky and the falling rain. Seihdhara took a step forward, and when the water stilled enough to show a reflection, the two goddesses were no longer visible in it. Instead below them was a woman with long, black hair, dressed in an ornate white and golden gown, drenched in rainwater. She was standing, looking up at her sky. That is, until she gasped and turned around. Seihdhara slowly got to her knees, her hand hovering just above the strange reflection, her eyes were wide and pupils dilated and she seemed unable to peel her eyes from the black-haired woman. Her shadowed face couldn’t be seen in the reflection, but she balled up her gloved fists and walked away into the ripples of the rain. And then she had disappeared and Seihdhara was looking here and there, her hands passing above the water as if to draw her out once more. Soon there emerged after her a great lumbering shadow that blocked out the entire reflection, seemingly chasing after the woman. Its size and weight seemed to threaten breaking through the reflection but it never happened and when the shadow was gone, the reflections of the two Goddesses looked back at them as if nothing had happened.

Seihdhara stared at the puddle for a few moments more before rising to her feet and looking around with hard eyes. Her nostrils flared and her eyebrows furrowed. She could smell it on the air, feel it on her skin, taste it. Somewhere not far from here death-battle had been given. Her eyes were cold as Ursus Mater materialised in her right hand, once more in its short-sword form. She looked over at Urhu, and her frown seemed to deepen momentarily. She extended a hand to the shorter woman and placed it on her shoulder, squeezing ever so slightly. She glanced down at Urhu’s hand, resting on the hilt of her cutlass. ‘It may be so that the time of drawing that has come,’ Seihdhra said in a low, gentle voice that was at complete odds with the animalistic focus in her eyes and on her face. Her nostrils flared once more and her eyes suddenly attached themselves to one unseeable spot ahead of them, off in the midst of the fog and mist. ‘There she is.’ And with that, she began stalking forward. Every now and again she paused and looked behind her to ensure that Urhu was close by, even though it was more likely for Seihdhara to get lost in the fog and rain than the lady of travel.

The wanderer had no seen as much as Seihdhara on the reflection, but by now even she could understand that this was no normal misty island, she nodded reassuringly at Seihdhra and smirked, as if to lighten the mood. “So much for ambushing this god, eh, Seihdh?” she said, drawing Sheoneg Yin, but not raising it, still keeping it near her hip as they walked forward. Seihdhara could not help but chuckle at Urhu’s words. It was rather ironic how swiftly this had turned from an attempt to pull a prank on some unwitting god to something… far more sinister. She looked back to her sister, relief washing over her when she saw that she was still there. Urhu raised an eyebrow each time Seihdhara looked back at her, as if telling her, ‘yes I am still here, yes I am still whole, there is no need to stop now.” And then she looked back again and Urhu was suddenly not there.

Seihdhara froze, her eyes widening. She looked first in one direction, then in the other, trying to penetrate the fog with her sight. For one reason or another, she found that she could not bring herself to shout out her name. A moment passed. Her grip on Ursus Mater tightened. She shifted, turning her body so that she was now facing where Urhu had been not moments before. A quick glance here and there followed… and then she took a step.
Almost immediately the goddess found herself bathed in blinding sunlight, and a great screech ripped through the deathly quiet and incessant rain of the island. Seihdhara instinctively raised a hand to shade her eye from the sudden light, but before her hand could do any shading she found that a shadow fell across her face. Looking up, she beheld a great hawk flying right out of the eye of the sun. Her eyebrows rose, and her mouth fell ever so slightly open. And then Urhu was by her side again. Seihdhara looked at her quizzically, then back up at the single spot of clear sky and sunlight that had suddenly arisen in all the fog, and the hawk.

Urhu had notice the opening in the clouds, for a moment she even thought she had been the one to call for it, with some innate passage powers or something similar, but it wasn’t the case. A bird seemed to have taken the opportunity of the opening to dive towards the bogs bellow, aided and coated by the sunlight. The wanderer rubbed her arm seeing the creature, in particular, a spot on her forearm. “Ah, this makes me quite nostalgic, and I don't even know why.” the itch continued, and she followed the hawk’s dive with her eyes, now the bird was cloaked among the mist, catching an unsuspecting lizard before scanning the area. Gold met gold, and almost instinctively Urhu raised her right arm in a stiff position at the height of her shoulder, the bird understood the invitation and flew towards the goddess, landing on her forearm.

Four golden eyes stared straight at Seihdhara, Urhu smiling as wide as she could. “Hey, look at this.” she said with an easy to notice tone of adrenaline-fueled eagerness. “Seems like we got a new ally, and just when we most needed one.” With the sun bathing them in its light, the danger and strangeness of the island seemed to slip away suddenly, and the wary Seihdhara relaxed and approached Urhu and their new friend. Smiling curiously, she extended a hand to the hawk and stroked the top of its head with a finger. As she stroked the bird of prey, she cast a sidelong glance at Urhu.
‘You realise this is no coincidence, don’t you?’ she grinned, her eyes gleaming as though she had just secured a mighty triumph, ‘do you feel something? Did something come to you when you first saw the bird?’ The small bird of prey extended its wings and ruffled them slightly, shaking its head and releasing a screech before settling back down on Urhu’s hand, who looked at both Seihd and the hawk and closed her eyes. “Outside of this feeling of familiarity?” she questioned.

“It's not the first time I see this image on my head. I guess I also saw it when I was creating the symbol I would use as my signature. The sun is about to set, but still fully visible, strong colors fill the sky, then, I notice a hawk in the eye of the sun, approaching, diving quickly towards the dark lands below along with the sunlight.” she told, opening her eyes. “Gah, it feels silly to talk about such things.” Seihdhara turned towards Urhu more fully, fixing her green gaze on her.
‘And what’s wrong with silliness Rhu? Go on, tell me. I want to hear all the silly things.’ She stroked the hawk again, which then turned its beak against the goddess and pecked without fear, causing Seihdhara to half-smile. ‘And a hawk in the eye of the sun is no silly thing at all. It is fearsome, powerful, sure! It sees everything, the world bows before it for miles and miles and its claws dispatch death or allot life. And it can, if it wants, descend from on high and fraternise with gods.’ She smiled and raised an eyebrow at the hawk before returning her attention to Urhu. ‘So tell me the silly things.’

The other goddess shrugged. “What is there more to say? I already told you the flights of my mind, now there is no more to say beyond what has been said already, I guess… Well, I like contrast, the bird in the eye of the sun is living contrast, it stands in the center of the light yet it turns into a pure black shadow. Though, there is more to that, I do not like dualities, people see night and day as the two opposing halves, yet sunsets and dawns are worlds of their own… Should we truly be talking about my mind in this situation? There are surely better topics! Such as, for a quick example, survival!” Seihdhara looked around, the strange spell that had descended broken. The ray of of sun quickly disappeared and clouds returned, and rain. She nodded wordlessly and moved off. Eventually their walking brought them to a ring of marble suspended in mid-air. It was ejecting a constant plume of clouds and steam, and not too far from it was an utterly ruined manor beside a bubbling lake. Seihdhara surveyed the area for a few moments, a deep frown on her face, then sighed.

‘There’s nothing here. Whatever fight took place is over, and it seems that the ones fighting are gone too. I don’t think we’re going to find any gods here Rhu. Shall we keep heading north? I’m sure there are all kinds of creatures and landmarks about. Or shall we head back to the Nyeothay Tag?’ But a few moments after the words had left her lips she looked at the ring of marble ejecting the constant plume of smoke. It seemed to her like the soul trail she was following disappeared into that. She looked at Urhu and gestured towards it and, kicking off easily into the air and leaving her hair behind so Rhu could clamber onto it like a staircase, she rose up to investigate the ring. ‘It’s weird. There are plumes coming out of it from this side but… there are none going in from the other side.’ She placed a hand on the ring and then stuck her foot into the thick plumes. For a few moments nothing happened, and then she found herself being drawn in. Her hair, with Urhu on it, was swept into the ring.

With Urhu safe in the grip of her hair, Seihdhara surveyed the familiar landscape. It was extremely similar to what they had seen on the other side of the ring. There was the ruined manor and the steaming lake. But unlike the other side, this place wreaked of conflict and blood was everywhere. Below them was what appeared to be a giant lizard, asleep. Seihdhara glanced at Urhu before placing her on the ground and releasing her. She landed softly and walked over to the sleeping lizard. There was a flower on its snout, which caused Seihdhara to raise an eyebrow. Already she could see that the winged lizard was severely hurt. Seihdhara could identify marks of damage no doubt caused during a fight on it. Its soul was deeply frayed and… had actively been broken? Bits and pieces of it were missing in ways that did not seem to have come about from a natural fraying process. Idly she picked up the flower from its snout and fiddled with it before placing it on her head where her strands latched on to it.

The souls before her seemed to have been split in two, the smaller part taking on the form of a shard embedded in the side of the larger mass. She extended her consciousness to feel around the shard ever so gently, trying to coax its consciousness to speak to her.

To Urhu it had been shocking Seihdhara had not reacted with more caution upon seeing this situation, so shocking it made the wanderer believe the other goddess had her reasons, being far more sensible to the world of the supernatural than her. The brown haired goddess, however, was still very much in the visible realm, and there was a lot to be investigated while Seihd focused on the beast, which she could identify as a god, though Urhu did not recall any god like that ever exist.

Looking around, two types of ichor could be found, raw ichor was easy to identify, Vakk and Li'Kalla , yet three godly trails were found, she could sense K’nell. Rubbing under her chin, Urhu tried to replicate the situation. Was this the shifty dream god’s doing? It could be possible. It was then she noticed something, a broken door in the ruins of the mansion, the goddess of passages could immediately notice this door was not ruined in the same way as the rest of the mansion, which had been broken from within, debris outside, the door had been broken from outside. Lowering her hands, she touched the door. The same way Seihdhara had an affinity to souls, Urhu had an affinity to passages, and it just happened one of the acts committed on this ruined land had been trespassing. She could see in the door, the wish for it to stay closed, the wish for it to bring safety, then the break-in. Someone had been a bad guest, an uninvited one, and now Urhu knew his name. Behind her, Urhu sensed the monster begin to stir.

There was a low rumble as the Monstrous lizard covered in blue scales and vines twitched, scrunching up its snout. Behind its closed eyelids, its eyes started moving rapidly and violently, and a green glow started to seep through the very flesh covering the eyes. Then, its eyes opened. Like two spotlights of green light, they focused immediately on Seihdhara. It tensed up the muscles in its limbs, and let out a small growl when it tried to stretch its wings, the broken one of course not moving.

It got up, never taking its eyes off Seihdhara, and with a slightly open maw, extended its long, rough, and saliva soaked tongue toward the Goddess and licked her. Seihdhara could not help but laugh at this, the peals infectious and free. She placed a hand on the lizard’s snout and stroked it, and even as she touched it the physical wounds that had been inflicted on it began to heal and its wing snapped back into shape. ‘That’s better now,’ she murmured with a motherly love. It would take a lot more to see to the lizard’s soul however. Again she extended her consciousness towards the lizard’s soul and towards the shard, attempting to coax any consciousness out with assurances and consolation, remaining calm, still, and unthreatening. ‘Talk to me missy,’ she continued.

The monster regarded the strangely haired Goddess curiously, its tongue running over her more and more intensely, savoring the taste and scent. It stretched its wings and flapped them numerous times, sending immense gusts of wind that knocked over rubble and lesser trees. Seihdhara brought her hair beneath her to steady her as the lizard continued its oral gymnastics more and more insistently. It seemed to her that the small shard lodged into the greater soul mass was attempting to call to her - it was a muffled cry, however, terrified and uncertain. The greater mass seemed to be actively preying on it, and even now Seihdhara could feel the shard losing a shred here, a piece there. Like a giant parasite eating up what remained of its once-host, the soul of the lizard was destroying the shard.

Aware now of the lizard’s essentially predatory nature, Seihdhara could not help but view its tonguely ministrations with some caution. But there did not seem to be any reason to think that it intended to go from its relatively benign licking to anything more aggressive. She hummed a small tune for a few moments, and then began singing in a low voice, to keep the lizard calm and passive as she worked on loosening the shard enough to work out the best course of action for the soul as a whole.

‘This one is for my children. I haven’t seen them in a long time see? So it goes - listen now, or you might miss it… it goes…’ she took a deep breath and sang softly. ‘My children lie over the ocean… my children lie over the sea.. My children lie over the ocean… oh bring back my children to me!’
She felt the shape of the shard, felt where it began and where the rest of the lizard’s soul ended. It did not seem like it was sealing anything in. Simply removing it did not seem like it would have any destabilising effect on the rest of the soul.
‘Bring back, bring back, oh bring back my children to me, to me.. Bring back, bring back, oh bring back my children to me, to me!
O blow ye winds over the ocean, o blow ye winds over the sea.. O blow ye winds over the ocean, and bring back my children to me!’
Slowly she isolated the shard from the predatory aspects of the lizard’s soul, preventing anymore of it from being consumed. She listened. It was still difficult to make out what the consciousness within the soul shard was saying, only that its terror was now all the greater.
‘Bring back, bring back.. Oh, bring back my children to me, to me! Bring back, bring back.. Oh, bring back my children to me!
Last night as I lay on my pillow.. Last night as I lay in my bed.. Last night as I lay on my pillow.. I dreamt that my children were dead!’
She tugged gently at the shard. The soul seemed to exhale. She paused.
‘Bring back, bring back.. Oh, bring back my children to me, to me.. Bring back, bring back.. Oh, bring back my children to me!
The winds have blown over the ocean.. The winds have blown over the sea.. The winds have blown over the ocean.. And brought back my children to me…’
She did not tug this time, but drew in a slow, certain, and clean motion - and the shard was out, hanging between her ethereal hands. She froze.
‘Bring back, bring back.. Oh, bring back my children to me, to me.. Bring back, bring back.. Oh, bring back my children to me…’
As the last word left her lips, she drew back from the lizard and looked up to it with a great smile. She stroked its snout with one hand, her other gripping the ethereal shard. No anger or pain came from it. Instead, it was simple curiosity. Its wide open eyes regarded Seihdhara closely before it opened it maw wider and the muscles in its jaw tensed.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, a sound came from deep in the Monster’s throat. It resembled a growl, but words snuck their way into it every now and then.

“... GIVE… I WANT… SHE...”

The words came slowly, and eventually gave way to an aggressive growl. It closed its mouth and blew hot air onto Seihdhara from its nose, a snarl forming on its snout. Seihdhara bathed in the heat for a few moments. It was a nice sensation all things considered. ‘You want me to do that too?’ She asked. Nodding, she took a few steps back then took a deep breath of her own and sent a warm breath towards the great lizard. The breath had a distinct orange colour and seemed to be almost aflame, but it was nothing of the sort. It bathed the lizard in a sunset glow and was as a gentle evening breeze after a long summer’s day at the beach. With that Seihdhara bounded a few steps into the air and looked at the lizard. It had shown some signs of aggression this was true, but a part of Seihdhara felt that it just wanted some company. Someone to have fun with. She laughed again and sent a mischievous strand of hair to tickle its snout.

The tickle made the beast recoil and sneeze, and then it stomped its clawed feet onto the ground in frustration and roared. The roar was strong and bone rattling, the earth shattering and the mist dissipating.

After a few moments, it fell silent. Its wings still outstretched menacingly and its legs twitching, it leaned closer to Seihdhara and licked her again, its large tongue subtly making its way around her arm and trying to pry open the hand gripping the shard. The saffron-haired goddess frowned. She knew now what the lizard was after. So it had felt the removal of the shard after all.

She tightened her grip around the shard until it cut into her. She tightened it further and suddenly it was no longer in her hand. Rhu, catch! She spoke directly into the other goddess’ mind. The shard emerged in Seihdhara’s free hand and she threw it in Urhu’s direction in one swift motion. Even as she did she opened the hand the lizard was trying to pry open. ‘My hand? See, there’s nothing in it. Lick it all you like!’

The Monster licked the palm and froze, then it withdrew its tongue and roared, stomping the ground. In a split moment it snapped its head towards Seihdhara, maw open and ready to devour her even as its eyes followed the trajectory of the shard through the air. The battle goddess sensed the change in the lizard’s disposition almost immediately, and the hair that had been idling about on the ground and in the air suddenly flared like a second heliopolis. Seihdhara’s gaze, playful and motherly not moments before, had become terrible visage, as steel, and her mouth set in a small grim line. Swift were the strands that caught the monster’s jaw and muzzled it so that its mouth snapped shut just before it reached Seihdhara. And when it reached her, she placed her hands on its snout and looked into its eyes. She sent calming waves into its soul, trying to avoid a confrontation with the creature. ‘There now,’ she spoke firmly, ‘you have no need to fight me. Settle down, calm. We were having fun.’ She glanced briefly at Urhu - while the Monster struggled and resisted against the bonds of her hair - to see whether she had caught the shard.

Unknowing to Urhu, she had slowly developed a dark cloak around her body as she watched Seihdhara approach the beast. She trusted her sister to know what she was doing, though many times she had tensed up to jump in and help, she was allowing the other goddess to lead. When she was finally given the command, she swiftly moved forward, grabbing before staring forward, at the beast, who seemed to have followed the path of the throw all the way to the goddess of passage. Confused with what she had in her hand, Urhu looked down, pressing it slightly, trying to not lose her sight of the monster, however.

There was a sharp stab of pain in Urhu’s hand and when she looked back down, the shard had disappeared and a gentle glow extended throughout her body before disappearing. At that moment, she could feel it. It was as if a foreign entity had reached her core, and she could feel what it felt. Hopelessness. A distant, muffled sobbing that died out every few seconds. But also relief and gratitude towards the Goddesses. The wanderer looked around trying to find the sobbing, clawing over her chest lightly as she felt that foreign sense of melancholy. “Who… is there?” she asked, not knowing what else to do, it was disorienting to hear the echoes of sobs and feel her body react to emotions that were not her own, a gut wrenching sensation within though she felt no fear.

”I-I’m sorry, I… I just thought- That maybe- I’m… Li’Kalla.” A soft voice whispered inside her head, but quickly fell into silence and the sobbing continued.

The wanderer stopped, looking to the side, as if trying to stare at her own ears. “Uhh… maybe? Usually you don’t guess who you are. Though Li’Kalla was a good guess.” crossing her arms, the wanderer started to understand a bit more of what was happening. “Hey, you don’t need to worry, you are no longer inside that beast. How did this even happen though? Did the creature consume or absorb you somehow?”

“This can't be real, but- but, why does it feel so vivid…?” the voice said, falling silent once more. This time, after a tense moment, it spoke again. ”it got angry at him, Vakk, and I couldn't control my body anymore. I was trapped in there… inside my own body. I had no idea I could be this… well, this.”

“So the creature is part of you…” Urhu took a moment to weigh up those words, she wanted to ask more about Vakk, but she assumed it would not be a pleasant topic for the broken soul. “We need to calm it somehow, Vakk is gone, there is nothing to be angry at!”

”T-That’ll be difficult…! She’s terrified, of everything. I felt her… So much anger, she thinks she’s defending herself.” A feeling of deep seated disgust washed over Urhu suddenly, and she could hear the voice groan, ”I’d say let her tire herself out, b-but… She’s a Goddess now.”

Urhu shook her head, not so much to disagree but instead to try to shake off that foreign disgust making her sick “Well, I reckon Seihdhara can tire her out, but I would rather not risk so much.”

”Seihdhara! That’s the one that’s keeping her tied up? W-Wait, look! A wing-” At that moment, the ground exploded into a wave of dirt and grass and the large form of the beast, having freed its wings, flapped into the sky, Seihdhara in tow as she still tried to apprehend it. As the great winged lizard flew free Seihdhara’s hairs snaked about its arms and legs, but she did not attempt to bring it back down. The goddess glanced at the ring that they had come through. Uh, Rhu. Not sure if it’s a good idea to stick around. Maybe if we leave the lizard will go back to sleep or something. I can’t get through to it and I don’t see any reason to hurt it.

The wanderer jumped close to Seihdhara, placing a hand over her shoulder as she also looked towards the monster. “What a change of heart. But you are right, for now it seems to be worthless to stay here any longer, we will just be hurting it and ourselves.” she added, before taking Seihdhara’s hand and running away from the clearing where the ruined mansion stood. Seihdhara released the flying lizard from her hair’s bonds and, tightening her grip on Urhu’s hand, leapt forward and shot very suddenly towards the ring in an attempt to effect a swift, clean escape. Her hair erupted behind her like a comet’s tail and roiled.

A loud rumble echoed through the Sphere as the Monster flapped its powerful wings. The thick mist thickened even further, perhaps trying to defend itself against the onslaught of wind blowing it away. Waves took form on the surface of the boiling lake.

It roared, and its roar died in its throat as a loud CRACK echoed. It shut its jaws with all its strength around the comet-like tail of Seihdhara’s hair and pulled her back, its eyes boring a hole into the back of her head as it let itself drop onto land to get better leverage. The hair flexed at the attempted assault, but for all its pulling the lizard could not seem to be able to pull the goddess back. The hair seemed endlessly long and Seihdhara disappeared along with Urhu into the ring. The hair did not move or attempt to repel the maddened godlizard’s bites for a few moments, but when it became clear that it was not going to give up the hair began to thicken and churn and bristle angrily. Burning tendrils slipped around the lizard’s neck and the base of its wings and tightened. Other strands crawled about its face and aggressively assaulted the innards of its snout to force it to open its mouth. Within its mouth strands leapt fearlessly down its gullet in an attempt to cause it to retch and convulse and open its jaws.

The Monster recoiled and bit and growled, but the hair kept moving, assaulting it. It's wings tensed and it gagged. Once, twice, until eventually it bowed its head and vomited. Tons of material was expulsed from its gut. Leaves, acid, wood, as well as dirt, copious amounts of a dark, almost black Ichor and chunks of godflesh. The foul mix seeped and mixed with the hair.

The strands recoiled, partly in disgust at the spew and partly due to having secured freedom from the monstrous jaws. Whipping here and there to get the ejecta off, the hair quickly retreated towards the stone ring. It was immediately noticeable, however, that a significant portion of Seihdhara’s signature red hair had become stained a dark green as though Seihdhara had dyed her hair ends. The last of the hair made it through the stone ring gateway and the great lizard was finally - truly - alone, left retching and growling.

On the other side, Seihdhara did not stop outside the gateway but took off into the air. She held tight onto Urhu’s hand and made for the Nyeothay Tag. The hawk from earlier swung alongside them, having waited vigilantly outside the sphere. When they got to the boat it perched up on the main cabin and watched with disinterest as the goddesses were excitedly greeted by their two wolfhounds. Seihdhara patted Hehewuti, but her eyes were distant. She then seemed to remember something and turned to Urhu. ‘The small shard of soul. Is it ok?’

Urhu had commanded the ship to start flying away, she stopped, and nodded though she didn’t seem quite too sure. “Well, I am no soul specialist, but it seems to be fine… well, fine enough. Its sobbing a lot, and its sending a lot of emotions to me I’d rather not deal with, but overall, she doesn’t seem to be fading away or something.” Seihdhara raised an eyebrow at this information and approached Urhu.

‘Odd. It wasn’t very responsive with me before. Probably because of the lizard. Let’s see.’ She released her soul and extended her reach towards the shard, finding that it was now snugly embedded in Urhu’s soul. It was of no danger to Urhu and the reverse was also true, but Seihdhara found that she could now hear the soul clearly. While the proximity between the shard and Urhu’s soul made the movement of emotions and thoughts easier, Seihdhara reckoned she could bolster the barrier so that communication between them could only take place telepathically and with active will from either. Urhu did not seem to appreciate the constant influx of foreign thoughts and emotions. She considered asking Rhu if she would like it bolstered, but she took pause. Urhu was very closed off and it was not easy for her to open up. Maybe an experience of this sort would be good for her? And the shard was closed off from the world, to close it off further so it could no longer feel the warmth of another soul’s presence would likely be harrowing. Yes, best leave the connection between the two permeable and natural. Maybe they would even become good friends!

With that thought, Seihdhara nudged the shard slightly in an attempt to get its attention. Hello there. How are you doing? Nothing to be afraid of anymore.

At those words, a gentle mist seemed to emit from the soul shard. A thin, nearly invisible thing that spread before finding its direction. It flew upward, outside and onto Urhu’s shoulder, and there it congealed into the transparent, easily disturbed by wind and breeze image of a fair-haired, beautiful maiden dressed in an ornate white dress. Her irises were a striking silver in color and, even though weakened and darkened with sorrow and sadness, its core shone brightly and beautifully, and filled Seihdhara with pleasant feelings in her tummy. ”H-Hello, Miss S… Seihdhara…? We’re okay? We escaped?”

The saffron-haired goddess grinned and nodded. Yep, it was a glorious escapade. They’ll sing of it round fires for years to come. She declared with pomp and ceremony, then chuckled. It was easy enough. That little beastie in there had a wee bit of a tantrum, but nothing a bit of firmness couldn’t deal with. What’s the story anyhow? How’d you come to be huddled in there all curled up on yourself?

”Easy?! Did you hear how it growled and roared, Ms. Seihdhara? That was terrifying!” The little apparition gasped for breath, even though she had no lungs to breathe with, ”And, forgive my cowardice, b-but… I was scared. I didn’t want to face my s-situation. I didn’t want to acknowledge where I was. Like before...” She trailed off, looking down at the ground far below her perching spot on Urhu’s shoulder. After a while, the maiden looked up at Urhu and did her best to smile, a shaky grin forming on her face.

”T-Thank you.”

The wanderer rubbed behind the back of her neck. “Oh… uh… you are welcome. Always out to help a sister, especially one that was stuck inside a beast.” she then turned to face Seihdhara, placing a hand over her mouth before whispering. “There is a little person inside my body, what the… We need to find a way to bring her back to her own body safely.” The maiden’s forced grin slowly vanished and her image wavered before dissipating completely. Seihdhara watched as she dissipated, and she sympathised with the poor woman. She had not even learned her name, but she decided to leave her with some words before returning to Urhu.
Here Missy. There's no shame in fear. But understand this - the coward is ruled by fear, while the hero rides it like a wild stallion. Heroes are people who face down their fears. It is that simple. A child afraid of the dark who one day blows out the candle; a woman terrified of the pain of childbirth who says, "It is time to become a mother". Heroism does not always live on the battlefield - why, that is seldom the fear we face! Fear... it is like a fire in your belly. Controlled, it warms you and keeps you alive, a small fire burning that heats the muscles and makes you stronger. It can be good because it makes us cautious and aids survival. But uncontrolled it is panic and terror - it burns and destroys you, consuming all courage and pride. Then it is like slow poison; it paralyses the limbs and blurs the mind. Consider fear to be your friend - but it is a cowardly friend. You should heed it, but know that if you afford it the chance it will sink its claws into you and drag you down into the deep dark pit where it dwells. And with those words, Seihdhara’s soul placed an ethereal kiss on the little shard and returned to her body.

She turned to Urhu with a grin. ‘Yeah, I noticed your little person. She’s cute! And she’s a brave hero, I can tell.’ She paused and thought for a few moments. The little Missy was only a shard, a fragment of a soul, and it was not clear where her body was exactly. Even if they did create a new body for her and place the shard in it, it was doubtful whether the shard alone would be sufficient. ‘I’m not sure if we should remove her from you for the time-being. I think you should try speaking to her more and working out what happened to the rest of her soul. She’s incomplete. If the rest of her soul can be tracked down then there may be a possibility of returning her to a body. It’s possible that the lizard ate it all. Either way, until a solution is found, you’ve just become someone’s guardian angel.’ She said the last sentence tongue-in-cheek, but it held truth in it.

“I don’t think that is how it works, I mean, I am all about hospitality and the likes, but making my own body someone else’s home is a whole lot to take… I mean, what if next it's Chopstick here, following the real estate opportunities.” the goddess jested, laughing at her own joke. Seihdhara’s laughter rang out loudly and she punched Rhu’s shoulder playfully. She seemed to find the joke genuinely funny and muttered something about real estate opportunities as she wiped a tear from her eye.

‘W-well-’ in that case you- you,’ Seihdhara paused and tried to get a grip before continuing, ‘in that case you’ll have to tell that Meatchops to get the bloody hell off of your turf!’ She chuckled for a few moments more before acknowledging the seriousness of Urhu’s concern. ‘Look, I know it’s probably really uncomfortable for you. You like your emotions to stay your own and you certainly don’t declare them to every bird and dog in sight like yours truly, but consider that the little Missy is depending on you. She was embedded in another soul before and that kept her anchored. I imagine if we remove her from you now she’ll be swept off to that Cat-head. And look at her, so lonely and sad - she needs the warmth of a friendly presence after so long in that lizard. This is about more than hospitality, this is about protecting what little of her yet remains and strengthening it. Even heroes stumble. Be her support now. And…’ she looked at Urhu and took her hand, ‘and maybe she’ll be good for you too.’ She allowed the words to hang between them until Hehewuti got up and started vying for the saffron-haired goddess’ attention. Seihdhara was only too happy to spoil her.

She walked her around the deck for a while and then stared out at the world below. It was all stunningly beautiful - far more than it had been when her strand had flown over. Now there were mountains and rivers and greenery, and there was another great landmass. It was great! There would be so much to do, so much for them all to do and enjoy, together. And- Seihdhara’s eyes widened as she recognised the river from that single strand’s memories. She shouted for Urhu to make for the river and the lake that was its genesis.

When the Nyeothay Tag had landed, Seihdhara leapt off and made her way through a forest of strange moving trees. They seemed to recognise her and did not disturb her and Urhu - and Hehewuti - as they made their way through to the lake.

With Hehewuti by her side, Seihdhara stared at the blood lake, her face impassive. So this was where her body had made landfall. Somewhere in the depths of this seething mass part of her original body lay still, gushing blood eternally. The thought caused her breath to catch in her throat for a few moments.
She turned back to Urhu, her eyes glistening. ‘H-hey,’ she managed as she leaned in and wrapped an arm around Urhu, brushing her lips against the other’s cheek. Strands wrapped around the wanderer’s wrist and waist as if it to keep her forever near.
Then Seihdhara spoke softly; words that she had spoken thoughtlessly long before - she spoke them thoughtfully now. Her brush with death had taught her something - not all things could last, not even her. Powerful as her form was, mighty and fearless as she was - even Seihdhara could fade away, perish, die; at the stroke of a fickle and capricious universal pen. That was all it would take - what was she, truly? What was her defiant but ultimately imagined strength and eternality when the hammer of petty tensions far beyond her was brought down and the pen wrote and unwrote as it pleased?
And so she spoke simple words as her lips brushed her lover’s cheek; ‘hey, Rhu… don’t forget me,’ and barely had the words left her mouth before she turned away. In one swift motion she disappeared into the depths of the burning blood lake, her hair whipping the heavens for a time before eventually following her into the depths below. Hehewuti followed after her and, by the will of the goddess alone, passed through safely into the Seal.

She remembered this place from the dream. She walked through the verdant and virile land until she reached the stone circle at the centre and the great oak with leaves aflame. There she conjured up a rocking chair, just like the one an old man with an endless white beard once sat in, and she sat on it and began to rock. A fire erupted before her and her hair snaked here and there - on the ground and in the air, about stone pillars and in the flaming tree. Hehewuti lay down by her, guarding her creator. There erupted from the goddess two great apparitions - the first was a mighty werebear and the second was a great formless spirit. Each took up their positions atop two of the stone pillars. Seihdhara rocked gently, firmly, and the warmth of the fire carried to her sweet memories and laughter. And even the tears, even the pain, was oh so sweet to her. She rested back and closed her eyes.

And when she opened them again, she was nowhere and everywhere.



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Kalmar





Perched on a rock along the coast of the Hunter's Isle, Kalmar had resolved to complete one of his many unfinished tasks.

He pulled out the chunk of wood and continue carving.

On and on he worked, cutting, chipping, and whittling away with the Knife of Friendship, occasionally stopping to think about the next step, and imagining the final result in his head. Wood shavings littered the grass, and there were few sounds save for the scrape of metal on wood and the gentle lapping of the lake. It was quite peaceful, a peace which was only broken when he made a critical mistake that ruined his work, forcing him to toss it aside and start again.

On his fourth attempt, he finally finished. He inspected the work, and when satisfied with the final result, he pocketed it.

Afterward, he sat and reflected.

One thought which kept returning was in regards to how the other gods had created mortals. Hermes, Arya, Liana, this 'Atalantia.' Some of them even went so far as to consider them their own children. Kalmar was not certain why. Arryn, for example, was no more his offspring than a troll or a griffin. Neither was that angel he helped Asceal create.

Their relationships with their creators aside, however, Kalmar couldn't help but note that he had assisted in the education of no less than two of them. Hermes, briefly, and for a much longer period of time, Arya. And he had enjoyed teaching. Besides, even putting enjoyment aside, Liana and Atalantia were acting as advisors to their own respective masters, and Kalmar wondered if perhaps even he could benefit from such an advisor as well.

With that, the Hunter rose to his feet, and went to work.




Day One


The Mortal opened his eyes. Where was he? Who was he? What was he? How was he? The light was so bright. There was water nearby, and a forest, and standing before him was... a man.

The man was tall, equal to him in height, with blond hair, dark green eyes, and a moustache. The man wore a series of pelts and animal skins, and in each hand he held a long, straight stick. Somehow he knew that this man had created him.

The Creator tossed one of the sticks to him. He was barely able to catch it, and when he did he looked back at the Creator in confusion.

Then the other stick slammed into his stomach, knocking the wind out of him. He dropped his own weapon and doubled over onto the ground.

"Defend yourself," his creator barked sharply.

"I... uh..." he began to speak, only for his creator to whack him lightly on the leg.

"Defend yourself!"

So he did. He gripped the staff, rose to his feet, and maneuvered the staff to block into the path of an incoming strike. He succeeded, but his creator merely pushed it aside and then landed a sharp blow on his left shoulder.

"Try again."

He didn't. He turned and ran.

But his creator was far faster than he could ever hope to be, and suddenly appeared in front of him, swiping out his legs with a single swing. Once again, he hit the grass, hard.

"It is wise to avoid a fight with a stronger opponent. It is not wise to expose your back to a faster one. Stand, and try again."

Once again, he retrieved his weapon, and stood. Thrice more he was sent to the ground, exchanging a blow or two before he was swiftly bested. He was sore all over, his body covered with grass, dirt, and mud, yet his creator kept insisting that he stand, and stand he did. Frustration and anger began to build up inside him.

On his next attempt, he was able to block three blows in quick succession, and then, with a shout of rage, he swung wildly for his creator's head. It was a simple enough matter for his Creator to redirect the strike, and suddenly the butt of a staff was inches away from crushing the Mortal's throat.

"That was better." The staff came away. "There is strength in you."

"Who... who am I?" His voice came out, weak, gruff, and hoarse. "What is this?"

"This is life. I made you so you could experience it. In order to experience it, you must survive. And in order to survive, you must be able to defend yourself."

"Why!?" he demanded angrily. The staff came, faster than ever before, and once again he was off his feet. His creator loomed over him.

"I am Kalmar. As for who you are... I will give you a name when you earn it. Go. Drink water and wash yourself off."

So he did. It was only after he drank that he realized he had been thirsty, and as he washed himself the water on his skin was soothing. He looked at his reflection in the water - wild and unkempt dark brown hair, deep blue eyes, pointed ears, a clean shaven face. Aside from those features he was almost identical to his Maker.

When he stepped out of the water, he noticed that his Creator was sitting on a rock, completely silent, his eyes closed. Even as the Mortal came within a few feet, his Creator remained silent and unmoving. The staff was on the ground next to him. Gingerly and as stealthily as possible, the Mortal picked up the staff, reared back, and swung at his Maker's head.

A hand shot out and stopped the staff midswing, gripping it tight. The Creator's eyes had opened, and fixed him with a hard glare. His own eyes widened in fear. "My focus may be miles away, but I am not completely senseless." Then the staff was wrenched from his grip. A blow caught him in the stomach, and as he bent over another struck his back, collapsing him onto the ground.

"Why?" he pleaded again.

"I told you. You need to defend yourself. If you suffer now you will avoid suffering in the future. I do this to make you stronger."

"But why? Why do I need to defend myself!?"

"Because the world has dangers," the Creator spoke bluntly. "If you can't defend yourself, they will kill you."

"But why? Why are there dangers!?"

"To make you stronger. To help you grow. Every challenge you overcome makes you more powerful. You can't see it now, but in time you will. If you want your life to be more than pain, you need to protect yourself."

The Mortal recalled the soothing feeling of the water, and realized that there was in fact more to life than being relentlessly beaten by a chunk of wood. "But what else is there?" he asked, still prone on the ground.

"That is for you to find out." His creator knelt, and extended a hand. The Mortal flinched, only to realize that it did not carry a weapon, but was instead an open palm. "Take my hand."

The Mortal took the outstretched hand, and was helped to his feet.

"Come. It is getting dark. I will show you how to start a fire."




Day Two


It had taken several attempts and much time, but in the end, the Mortal had managed it. He went to sleep warm, in some semblance of comfort.

He woke with the sunrise shining in his eyes. He turned away, and realized that his Creator had been tending the fire all through the night. Yet, as soon as his Creator realized he was awake, the fire was summarily extinguished by a flurry of stamps and kicks. "Get up. Your training continues."

The mortal grumbled, but did as he was told. Yet to his surprise he did not face more staff-fighting. His Creator only carried one staff, and a sharpened stone had been fixed to its end. He felt a fear well up inside him, but instead the spear was handed to him. "You need to eat," his Creator said with customary bluntness. "Wade into the water and stab a fish."

And so he did. Or at least, he tried. He waded in waist deep, stood perfectly still, and waited for a fish to come within spearing range, yet he kept failing. He looked back at the shore, where his Creator still waited and watched. "Why can't you help me..." he muttered under his breath.

"If I did, you wouldn't be able to survive without me," his Creator's voice rang through his mind, startling him. He froze, then slowly turned back to his task, and continued waiting. More minutes passed. Then, a shape. He thrust at it, and to his astonishment, he struck true.

"I... I did it..." he waded back toward shore, the fish impaled at the end of his spear.

"Well done," his creator said, the rare compliment filling him with a sense of pride. Yet with the next instruction, his heart fell. "Now make a fire. Without my help."

Eventually he managed that as well, and then, after cooking the fish, he was finally free to eat it. It tasted good, and he felt ravenously hungry. Once he was done, he looked up at his creator for further instruction.

"You did well. Now pick up that staff. The sparring continues."

Oh no...

They sparred throughout the day. He was still no match for his master, but he realized his skills were improving. Instead of only blocking two or three strikes, he now blocked as many as four or five. Instead of going down after one or two hits, he managed to stay on his feet and push the pain aside. Yet as the fighting continued, he felt the familiar rage begin to build up, and lashed out with greater aggression.

His Creator sidestepped one such attack, and tripped him up with the staff. "Anger, and aggression, can be useful. But they can also be a hindrance. Master your anger. Do not let it master you." Then the fighting continued. It continued until he was so tired that he simply couldn't. The staff became too heavy to carry, his became liquid, his vision faded, and he was on the ground, blackness closing in.

When he awoke, it was dark, save for a fire that crackled nearby. His Creator looked at him, then through him a freshly cooked fish. "I will name you Karamir."

Karamir was so hungry that at first he didn't even care. It was only several mouthfuls later that he realized it. He had a name.




Day Three


"Karamir. Come with me." Kalmar extended his right hand, a spear in his left.

Karamir had only just finished eating breakfast - fish, yet again, not that he minded the taste. He didn't have anything else to compare it to. He looked up at Kalmar, and took the outstretched hand.

Then, they began to fly.

Karamir's eyes widened as the expanse of trees and waters passed beneath them. They were leaving the island! And he no longer had anything solid beneath him!

"Master your fear," Kalmar told him, cutting through his thoughts. "Listen to it, respect it, but do not let it rule you. It is another obstacle you must overcome. If you can't, you die."

Karamir took a deep breath, and steeled himself.

They made it to the other end of the lake, and Kalmar set him down in a vast grassland. "Die?" Karamir asked in confusion as they walked, though somehow he already knew that it meant some sort of an end. A permanent one too.

"When you stop living. Everything dies at some point. Even if you go your entire life without going hungry or taking a scratch, eventually your body will wear out and your soul will decay."

Karamir blinked. That was... depressing. And terrifying. "Why? What is the point in living if it all ends?" he asked.

So, Kalmar told him. They existed to continue existing. Existing brought suffering, but also success. The success was what they lived for; the suffering was merely what helped them appreciate it. To give up was to lose, to survive was to win. They all lost in the end, but they would win as many victories as possible to meet their fate. Death, destruction, and suffering were all natural parts of life, to be resisted and overcome. They could not be permanently kept at bay, and even if they could, that would only bring weakness and stagnation. All this, Karamir learned, and he nodded along. It made sense, he realized. And so he resolved to learn, so he could succeed, and live as long as he can. But there was a more pressing issue.

"Why are we out here?" Karamir asked.

"To continue your training." Kalmar said, then stopped. "Look."

Up ahead was a pack of five wolves. Kalmar handed him the spear. "Prepare yourself." And with those words Kalmar pulled out his bow and loosed an arrow. It struck one of the wolves in the throat. The other three came running at them, but Kalmar kept calm and loosed another. Three remained. Another arrow was loosed, and another fell, but then the wolves were upon them. Or more accurately, upon Karamir.

Karamir didn't run. The wolves were faster than he was, and if he turned his back he would die. Instead he raised the spear and skewered one of them... only for the final wolf to leap on top of him and pin him to the ground. Yet just before the beast could rip his throat out, an arrow struck it in the side of the head.

"It is unwise to fight foes that outnumber you." Kalmar informed him, kicking the wolf off.

"Then why did you have me fight them!? Karamir yelled in frustration, rising to his feet.

"To teach you a lesson. Normally you shouldn't seek out fights like that, but you did well. You stood your ground and you killed one. If it had been a lone wolf you wouldn't have needed my help." Kalmar told him. "And I also wanted you to know what it is like to face something that actually wants to kill you," he added flatly. "Now let me show you how to skin these."

Half an hour later, they walked away with armloads of pelts and meat. "This is the last place you want to fight a pack of wolves," Kalmar explained. "You can't outrun them, and they have superior numbers. I only brought you out here so you would know what it is like to come face to face with death - when something charges at you with intent to kill."




Day Four


They had feasted on wolf meat, and Kalmar had told him how to handle the skins of recently killed animals. In the morning, Karamir had a wolf cloak of his own.

Now, it was back to sparring. Karamir's skills continued to improve, but of course, he was no match for his creator. It continued throughout the day, stopping only for meals and short periods of rest. It was exhausting. Karamir tried to do what Kalmar said, to master his anger. He used his rage to put more force behind his strikes, but he did not allow himself to make excessively reckless swings. Kalmar gave him advice and pointers, on how to position his feet, how to avoid leaving himself open, and reminding him to watch his opponent.

When it the sparring ended, they sat down by a fire, and Kalmar began to tell him about the gods. How they were beings of immense power, who were brought by the Architect to make and shape the world. One by one, Kalmar touched a finger to his forehead and transmitted what he knew of each.

There was Kalmar himself, God of the Hunt, who only wanted a world where all creatures could survive and better themselves by overcoming adversity, without succumbing to stagnation.

There was Phystene. Kalmar's most trusted friend and ally, and perhaps Kalmar had unintentionally shown him too much, because there seemed to be more to it than that.

There was Parvus, the aloof, cautious god of insects. Kalmar respected him, but did not count him as a friend or even an ally.

There was Orvus, the God of Desolation, Kalmar's enemy, whom he had sworn to kill. And for good reason, Karamir knew.

There was Narzhak, the God of Conflict, who thrived on adversity and competition, just like Kalmar. Yet Narzhak drew it into excess and did not seem to think of the consequences, and thus did far more harm than good.

There was Asceal, the Goddess of Light. Idealistic, principled, perhaps a bit too quick to judge.

There was Li'Kalla, a shy timid creature when Kalmar first met her, yet if stories were true, Vakk had made her into a monster. Vakk was not to be trusted.

And more, yet those were the ones Kalmar thought were most important for him to know about.

He told him of the mortals, too. "To my knowledge, Hermes was the first mortal," Kalmar revealed. "I did not spend long with her. She beat me in a race using magical sandals, and I taught her how to fish." He shrugged. "Then there was Arya. She was with me the longest. But I might have been too light on her. I don't think she truly grasped the way of the world, and she does not have full mastery over her emotions. This is why I have been so strict." The Hunter explained, and Karamir couldn't help but feel a twinge of annoyance at this 'Arya', as though she was somehow responsible for this.

"Asceal has Liana. I don't know who she is, or what she does, but she exists. And Phystene has Atalantia, who seems to be her advisor on tactics and names." Kalmar continued. "I haven't met Atalantia yet, so I don't know fore sure. I do know that the mortals I've met were all women, which might make you the first man. Unless someone else has made one before me." He was silent for a few moments, to let Karamir process this.

"There... there are so few of us?" Karamir asked in surprise. "What are we to the gods?"

Kalmar pondered that for a moment, as though he wasn't sure of the answer himself. "Depends on the god. Some might see their creations as their children. Others might see you as tools. Some might simply see you as any other animal. There are few of you now, but some day there will be more."

"But individually... we're nothing compared to them." Karamir asked, melancholy heavy in his voice.

"Not nothing. Besides, your life has just begun. There is no telling how far you might rise, how strong you might become. Or you might fail, and end up lower than where you started. Not even I know. What I do know is that you have already come a long way."

"I..." Karamir wasn't sure what to say to that. Could he become a god? Or even something comparable to a god? And could he truly end up lower than he was already? There were so many questions. How long would it take him to become more powerful? What would he need to do? What challenges must he overcome? What fate awaited him if he failed? But instead, he asked: "What am I to you?"

"Go to sleep." Kalmar said, turning away.




Day Five


"You said that, even if I never hunger or take an injury, my life will still end."

Kalmar stopped and looked back. He had taken Karamir out to the forest, and had been teaching him how to forage. At length Kalmar had told him how foraging was often safer than hunting, but it still carried dangers. Other things could hunt them, of course, and not everything they foraged would be safe to consume. He told him which plants were poisonous and which were not. He pointed out animal tracks, and emphasized the importance of keeping eyes on the ground, while still being aware of everything else.

"I did."

"How long?"

Kalmar shrugged. "A few thousand years? More? I only made one of you, so it wasn't hard to give you a long life. Most of my other creations won't even see a fraction of that."

"You said there might be more of me. How?" Karamir questioned, coming to a stop.

"We gods will make more mortals, and those mortals will reproduce," Kalmar answered simply. He too had stopped and seemed somewhat annoyed.

"Reproduce?"

"Yes. With most species, it requires a male and a female. One parent cares for the child, while the other provides for them. There might be exceptions, but that is usually the case. When the child comes of age, and can live on its own, it is expected to care for itself." Kalmar lectured.

"And I can do that?"

"No."

"What?"

"No."

Karamir blinked in disappointment. He was silent for some time. "Why?" he finally asked.

"It would have taken more out of me." Kalmar answered.

"That... that's it?" Karamir asked. His surprise faded, and gave way to anger. "You deprived me an important ability... because you didn't want to put in the extra effort!?" He yelled.

"Control your anger," Kalmar snapped.

[colour=yellow]"No! You-"[/color]

"Control your anger!" Kalmar repeated, his tone more forceful. "You do not have the ability to reproduce yet. I may give it to you later. Or some other god might. Why would you even need such an ability when you have no one to reproduce with? And how could you expect to care or provide for your young when you're still learning to provide for yourself?"

Karamir fell silent. He knew that his creator was right, as he had been about so many other things. He did not need such an ability, it was true. Not yet. Kalmar took the silence as compliance, and continued walking. After a moment, Karamir followed. A bitterness still rested within him, yet he focused on the lesson. If he would not be given such a power he would earn it, and if he was to earn it he would need to learn.




Day Six


More sparring. Karamir was beginning to enjoy it, despite the bruises. The only thing he had to compare himself to was a god, who was deliberately holding back, but he believed he was good at. He asked if Arya had been this good at fighting, but Kalmar told him to worry about himself instead. If he met this Arya, he would have to test his skill against hers.

In between sessions, Kalmar took the time to explain his philosophy. He should not kill for pleasure or without reason. He should use as much of what they kill as possible, in order to prevent waste. He should never make unnecessary war against their own kind. Karamir thought back to the wolves. "Did they die for no reason?"

"No. We ended up using them, and they taught you a lesson as well. Their deaths were not in vain. What we left behind would have been consumed by other animals, but don't always assume that will be the case."

"I see."

"Good. Now pick up your staff."




Day Seven


"There is something I think you are ready for," Kalmar said, as Karamir picked himself off the ground for the fifth time that day.

"What? What is-" Karamir asked, but was quickly cut off as Kalmar pressed a finger against his forehead, imbuing his mind with a strange power.

"An ability of mine. You can see through the eyes of predators. Your range will be nowhere as great as mine, but you do not need to see that far. It will still be immensely useful."

Karamir was taken aback. "How?"

"Focus."

That wasn't helpful. But focus he did. He grit his teeth and shut his eyes. What was he supposed to focus on!? Then, he began to sense it. The minds of hundreds of creatures scattered around, and mentally he reached out to one. He found himself staring through the eyes of an eagle, soaring far above the open field, and he could see for miles.

Kalmar slapped him and he came back. "You don't have the same awareness as I do," he observed. "You will have to be careful where you decide to use that. Try it again."




Day Eight


On the eight day, Kalmar began teaching him something different. How to use a bow.

It was difficult.

Kalmar refused to let him use the magical bow. Instead, the Hunter had crafted one overnight from wood and strung it with a strong vine. At least he allowed Karamir to use the parrot-feathered arrows, though there didn't seem to be anything overtly magical about them. Perhaps the arrows flew swifter? He didn't know - there was nothing to compare it to beyond the bow that was already powerful to begin with.

They took shots at trees, with Kalmar lecturing him on his stance, posture, and aimed. As the day went on, his aim improved considerably. "I think you're ready," he finally said, after several hours had passed.

"Ready for what?"

"To shoot a live target." And with those words, Kalmar grabbed him and they once again flew out over the lake and toward the fields. By now Karamir had mastered his fear of flight, and the height no longer disturbed him. He and Kalmar landed on a small hill, overlooking a herd of deer. "Shoot one," Kalmar instructed.

Karamir followed the steps as he remembered them. In the light of the setting sun, he assumed the proper stance, notched an arrow, took a breath, drew the string back, aimed slightly above that which he wished to hit, and loosed.

The arrow struck true, but it did not kill. Kalmar quickly resolved that, sending another arrow into the animal's skull as it limped away. "Well done, for only a day's practice. Your aim will improve. Now we skin it." And so they descended the hill. Kalmar pulled out the Knife of Friendship, and proceeded to butcher the deer for meat and skin while Karamir observed their surroundings. They then returned to the island, and after a meal of venison, Karamir went to sleep, using his wolf pelt as a blanket.




Day Nine


When Karamir awoke, there were clothes waiting for him. "What are these?" He asked Kalmar, who sat on a log with an unknown object clenched in his fist.

"I fashioned them from the deer we killed yesterday. They will keep you warm and shield you from the elements. Put them on." Kalmar answered, staring at his fist.

So, he did. Equipped with his rough tunic and wolfpelt cloak, he turned to look at his maker. "Why are you giving me this?"

"I just told you." The Hunter answered indifferently.

"But why now?" Karamir demanded impatiently.

Kalmar looked up, and for a moment Karamir thought he saw an emotion he could not quite place. "It's time for you to leave," Kalmar answered.

"What? Why? When will I be back?"

"I taught you the essentials, but I can't guide you forever. You must learn to survive without me watching over you. You must be able to learn on your own."

"But... I did everything you said." Karamir protested, his tone more confused than hurt.

"You did. And now you must apply what I have taught you."

"But why!? Why did you create me if you're just going to send me away!?" Karamir demanded, suddenly angry. "You expose me to pain after pain, you tell me it's for a reason, you tell me I can become stronger if I listen to you, and then you cast me out!?"

"Casting you out is how I make you stronger. But I will never be away from you. Not truly. If you need my guidance, simply clear your mind and think of me, and I will talk to you. I would prefer that you rely on your own judgement. Also..." suddenly the metal Knife of Friendship appeared in Karamir's hand. "I loan you my knife."

"That's it?" Karamir asked. His rage had faded somewhat, yet this felt like a poor reward for all he had been through, and it hardly left him content to go roam the wilds with no purpose beyond 'survive to become stronger.'

"No," Kalmar rose from the rock, and picked up a nearby spear - this one was fashioned with bone. He pressed the spear into Karamir's other hand, and once again pressed a finger against the young Mortal's head. Once again, Karamir felt filled with power. "I enhance your combat abilities. Few can match you with a spear. I make you odorless - your body, the clothes you wear, and the items you carry will no longer carry an odor. I enhance your awareness - you will rarely miss a detail; your eyes will rival a and your nose will rival a wolf."

Karamir was taken aback. "I... wha..." Between the news and all these gifts, how was he supposed to react. Somehow, he composed himself. "Why didn't you give me these things when you created me!?" he demanded. "What was all that training for?"

"So you would not take your abilities for granted." Kalmar countered. "If you had been created with them, you would be unable to appreciate how much effort other creatures must go to in order to even come close to your skills. You would have become arrogant and impulsive." Kalmar opened his fist, and pressed something into the hand that also held the knife. Before Karamir could see what it was, Kalmar gripped him by the wrist, and flew him across the lake before more questions could be asked. Then, Kalmar set him down, but did not land alongside him.

"I... no! You don't know that!" Karamir shouted.

"It doesn't matter what I know or don't know. It is what it is. I gave you the skills you need, one way or another. What happens next is up to you. Go. Survive, adapt, experience. And don't die. It will make me sad." With those words, Kalmar turned and flew away.

Karamir watched his creator depart with mixed feelings. Gratitude, happiness, sadness, regret, anger, confusion, shock. Too many emotions to process.

He looked down at the final gift Kalmar had pressed into his hand. A wooden carving, of... a wolf. That was what Kalmar had called them. For a moment, he turned it over curiously. Then, he threw it into the sea. It was a useless trinket. It would not help him survive. With that, he turned away, still not certain how he should feel. But there was thing he was certain of.

He would survive, he would adapt, he would experience.

He would not be a failure.






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As Azura flew up and away from Ihokhe and his companions to join Luis the eclipse whale who had been exploring their surroundings while she and the mortal had conversed.

“Hello Luis. I’m back. Sorry you couldn’t join it. Hope you weren't to bored?” she said one she had flown up to

”No I’m good. I met some others like me in the sea while you were chatting. Not the best conversationalists, but they were nice nonetheless. They were very impressed by my size and flying ability apparently.” he said

“Wait what… oh! Someone made regular whales.”

”Is that what they where? Ashalla apparently made them. Not sure why. So anyway, how did it go?” he said

“Some good. Some bad.” she said before recounting the conversation to Luis. In her opinion it had been a useful source of information, but she had bungled her part of the exchange fairly badly in places. “I hadn’t really expected to have to explain all this to mortal races yet. The gods are all racing ahead of my expectations and ability to deal with the consequences it seems. Not that I can blame them I suppose, it’s not like I want to make our plans public knowledge lest we alert Katharsos to them.”

”It’s out there now though right? Or will be soon. This Ihokhe fellow knows and you’re going to to tell the rest of his kind about it.” he said

“Yeah… Time runs short. I do need to tell the rest of them, but after that we’d best be prepared as soon as possible, because it’ll get out to the rest of the gods before long. To Ohannakeloi first if he hasn’t been told already… I’ll need to think of a better way to get my point across before long.” she said thoughtfully

”Do you want help with that? We could pre-prepare what you will say? I think that would probably help you alot.” Luis suggested tentatively.

“mmmm…. like a speech! Haha yes we can wright one up and then I can present it to the world!” Azura said elatedly, performing an excited barrel roll in the air as she did

”Then why don't we slow down our trip and think one up. I’m more than happy to help there”

And so that was exactly what they did. The pair spend some time bouncing ideas off each other, writing and rewriting the explanation of soul crystals and the nature of death. Things where going smoothly till they came across K’nell’s magpies during their trip. Their story both shocked Azura and agitated her greatly. Fortunately retelling the tale to Luis forced her to reflect on the tale rather than storm of blindly into the night to find Li’kalla’s lost souls, storm off to confront K’nell about the truth of his story or enter a rage and go to try and stab Vakk.

”Well that’s messed up” Luis responded matter of factly ”So what are you going to do?”

Rather than dwell on the regret of having left Li’kalla alone to be molested by evil tentacles Azura focused on what she could do right now. “I’ll call her” she told Luis

With that Azura reached out with her mind and tried to contact Li’kalla. What she got in response was silence that lingered ominously until a feeling of rage, hatred and hunger lunged out of the silence at her mind. Azura reeled in shock and slammed the connection shut before the feelings of the dragon overwhelmed her.

“Ok. Something is very wrong. I got nothing but rage. She was such a sweet girl, I have no idea where that might have come from.” she told Luis after taking a few moments to recover.

”So this K’nell’s probably telling the truth. Or some of it at least?”

“Seems so and we have just the tools for the job of finding these fragments of her soul if they exist and have somehow resisted the pull of the vortex. If you don’t mind, I’ll need to borrow some of your Alma” she said as she landed on one of Bruna’s temples.

Some of the Alma Luis was carrying to come out of the structures littering his armored back and meet her at his behest. The bird gathered around her as she picked at their minds, adapting their ability to detect intelligent souls in general to the task of finding a specific intelligent soul. As she got into the zen of editing the gems to find Li’kalla, the same zen that had let her miss the goddess's initial cries for help, she modified some of the others at the behest of the memory lock in her mind without her conscious mind being recognising that that was what she was doing. Since she had arrived in the Architect's universe from the Void the lock and her had formed a working relationship as they got used to begin alive again. It plucked information from the depths of her memory, scrubbed clean of any context and then presented her with knowledge she had used to make sense of the world without having experiences to base her understanding on. She did her best to ignore its existence, as she was supposed to, while still accepting its knowledge which is what had let it create its own little soul seeker without her noticing.

Once she was done most of the birds scattered to the winds to begin scanning Galbar for signs of the goddess’s shattered soul. The lock modified ones returned to Luis unnoticed. They would need to wait, for their target was to be found high above and was unreachable by mortal means.

“If K’nell is telling the truth then those will tell us soon enough. For now let’s keep going. Time grows short.”

”Alright then… if its short why don’t we take a leaf out of K’nells book. Spread this speech through the Alma. There might be other mortals by now right?” Luis said, having had time to reflect on their situation while Azura worked on the Alma

“hmmm. That’s a good idea. But let’s see how it lands first?” she suggested. It wouldn't do to have their speech sent out only for its first retelling to be a flop.

”Onwards to Ohannakeloi then?”

“Onwards”




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&


The snake woke up by the river bank. He could not tell how long he had been asleep, though he quickly realised it had been long enough for a couple of frogs to decide that he made for decent cover in the rain - rain… The Nanhe jungle often experienced the few remains of the west clouds from the Saluran Mendidih, so this was rather common these days. He was surprised it had not awoken him sooner. He still felt far from rested, however - was that perhaps a divine plight?

A question he would likely ponder several times in the future, he mused. Regardless, now that the first waves of larger fauna and even some flora had been brought to these woods, he could return to the second mission he had set upon himself before he left Jiangzhou: He would send a gift to his friend K’nell on Tendlepog.

He scratched his chin as he slithered into the water and began his swim towards Jiangzhou. How would he send him this gift, he wondered. He felt powerless to sail the ship through the sky all the way to Tendlepog, and he felt it would be a little impolite, perhaps, to demand such a feat of Xiaoli, seeing as she had a guest over. As the snake climbed back onboard, he snapped his fingers and a servant came up and kowtowed before him.

“This servant awaits its command, Your Lordship,” he said. The snake nodded.

“Good. Have fifty servants of the Strong and fifty of the Noble gather as much water and wine as they can carry - then I want them to take thirty from the Skilled and fashion boats from the trees below. They are to bring the wine to Limbo on Tendlepog.” The servant tipped even deeper.

“Of course, Your Lordship. Anything else?” the servant said.

The snake rubbed his chin. “Give me the name of their leader once they have been gathered up. That will be all.”

“Your will be done, Your Lordship.” The servant got to its feet and walked backwards with an inclined torso until it turned the corner. The snake hummed and looked over the side of the ship at the jungle. Very well, he had decided the Servants would travel in his stead, though Shengshi slowly began to feel like he had forgotten something.




The Servants soon began to chop down the smaller trees at the edge of the jungle, and the snake quickly began to realise what he had forgotten. He jumped overboard and went over to the closest lumberjack.

“You there,” the snake called out. The lumberjack turned, dropped her axe and kowtowed.

“This servant awaits Your command, Your Lordship,” she said dutifully. The snake nodded and looked to the log the servant had been chopping at. It had reached the point where it could be salvaged as a poor excuse for a canoe, but would likely turn into firewood upon further processing.

“What are you making, servant?” the snake inquired. The servant stood up and bowed.

“As His Lordship requested, this servant is building a boat,” the servant responded quickly. The snake gave the ‘boat’ another runover with his reptilian eyes. He raised his gaze and saw similar results along the riverbank. He let out a shameful sigh - Phystene was going to despise him for this.

“I have changed my mind. Go to every lumberjack in the area and tell them to cease production. These boats will not do, I am afraid.”

The lumberjack looked heartbroken for a moment, but then nodded, bowed and sprinted off to spread the news. A silly mistake by his own hand, the snake thought angrily to himself. He felt himself still much too weak to give his servants the aid they deserved, too.

Although, the snake pondered, it did not necessarily have to be him.




After a while, the snake had ascended to the top of his tower. He sat down on the veranda with his harp, a bowl of wine and his wonderful little cage of birds. This idea seemed rather silly, though it could technically work.

“I just hope Urhu is nearby…” the snake mumbled to the birds, who began to tweet, sing and squawk. Shengshi tried his best to play his harp along to the bird song - perhaps Urhu had had the birds for so long before she gave them away that her mind would remember their melody?




In some distant side of the continent, Urhu was gazing upon a beach, Nyeothay Tag anchored by the shore. ”Perhaps a tower of stone… no, too cliche. A waterfall? It would be quite a lot of work. I could shape that rock to look like the head of a dragon, but it certainly wouldn’t be noticeable at night…” she sighed, setting up landmarks was hard work. Tired of thinking so hard, the goddess found a fallen palm tree and sat on it, sighing loudly, trying to unwind her tension. As she did so, she couldn’t help but notice the bustling jungle to her left, it was always relaxing to hear so much life at once… though something quickly got her attention, the birds sang a melody that felt so similar to her.

The birds she once housed in Nyeothay Tag usually sang not only in repeating patterns individually but had some sense of order among the group as well, perhaps a reminiscent of Asura’s influence, as such, they had a very easy to recognize repertory and this was undoubtedly it, albeit echoed through the land. It took her some thought, but she soon realized what could be the cause of this.




The snake spotted a small, rapidly growing dot in the distance and grinned. Had his plan worked against all odds? He plucked harder at the harp strings and sent the melody dancing between the jungle foliage along with the birdsong.

Since the message seemed to odd in its sneakiness and done in such a hurry, Urhu was assuming the worst, that the god had been kidnaped or was about to be executed by some of the more warlike gods or worse, she flew Nyeothay Tag at its smallest size and at its fastest speed, hair flowing as the supersonic speeds were enough to mess even the hair of a goddess, her sword, a gift from Seihdhara, in hand. She was able to deduce Shengshi’s location by the way the bird song was spreading like a splash on water, though by now she could spot the gold glint of Jiangzhou.

Nyeothay Tag approached it with the speed of a falling meteor, the goddess didn’t wait for the ship to be fully stopped before she jumped out, wielding her sword, falling quickly towards the roof but landing gently. Her eyes raced around searching for possible sources of trouble… and then met Shengshi playing music on his harp. The snake stopped the second Urhu slammed into the rooftop of his tower; he recoiled backwards and hugged his harp like a stuffer animal. She stopped and stared at him from the roof for a moment, before casually walking up the slop and jumping into the veranda, stopping by the railing. “Uhm… Is everything alright? Did you call for me?”

The snake blinked a couple of times before clearing his throat. “A-uhm! Yes, I did indeed intend to summon you, my dearest sister Urhu!” The snake got up and kowtowed before the goddess. “It is truly a joy to see you again.”

She let out a sigh, greeting him back with a nod, perhaps her attempt to imitate him. ”Ah, I completely misunderstood your message, I thought… Well, that it could be a matter of life and death.” casually she placed her sword back on her belt and smiled. ”It has been a long while since we last met. Did you notice my seasons? I finally managed to finish that project and I cannot thank you enough for helping me with that.” another noticeable change was the goddess’ attire, from crude lizard hides to fine linen and gold, it almost made her look like a different being entirely.

The snake stood back up again and grinned. “Yes, it has indeed been too long! I -have- noticed a chill in the air, as well as a heat on the wind, both changing throughout time - I am so happy that your project came to fruition, my dear. Oh, and I certainly hope my harp playing was not so bad as to sound like a cry for help.” The snake chuckled sheepishly, with a slight hint of self-consciousness in his voice. “Oh, and may I add: I adore your new attire. Such a wealthy, beautiful style - did you make it yourself?”

”What made me suspicious was how cryptic it was, a bit uncharacteristic, but let's move past what is already solved. Ah, yes, I made this outfit myself, had to spend some time crossing the entirety of the world multiple times to get gold from one continent, dyes from other and textile from here, it was tiring, but I am the goddess of travel, so there is no more fitting way to get my materials.” she smiled and walked into the veranda fully, jumping to the floor.

“My, such a journey for clothing - well, I should not be one to talk! For such magnificent craftsmanship, I, too, would have made an equally arduous journey, I confess.” The snake put his hand on his heart with a grin. “Would you like a little something to drink, perhaps? Perhaps a bite to eat?”

“Always! … I mean, yes, I would enjoy it. Thank you very much.” she grinned, starting to move along with Shengshi when she noticed a servant. ”Huh, your guys are looking a bit different now. More… hairy and… limby?”

The servant, who had seemingly been dusting off a porcelain vase, cast himself to the floor before Urhu. “Ten thousand years and more to both Her Holiness Urhu and His Lordship Shengshi!” he shouted diligently into the floor. “Yes, Your Holiness. His Lordship recently blessed us all with true, free forms - now we are able to fulfill His Lordship’s and His Lordship’s guests’ every wish.”

The snake nodded. “Please have the cooks make my exalted sister some fried rice, some soy-braised carp and some mango pudding; then have the winemasters find us a bottle of our finest apple spirits.”

The servant somehow pressed his forehead deeper into the ground. “His Lordship’s will be done!” Then he stood up, bowed and walked backwards until he reached the door, which he promptly exited.

“Oh, they all talk as well now? And with such clear diction, how incredible. Though with bodies of mud, I wonder if they’d serve the baths as well as the pure water ones.” the last bit was told in a bit of self-reflective whispers. “And the banquet sounds quite amazing already, eons will pass but I do not think your hospitality can be matched… albeit, should we really be drinking spirits? That seems a bit… unfortunate to those souls.”

“Hmm? Oh!” The snake let out a loud chuckle. “Quite a good pun, that one - I cannot believe I have not thought of that one before.” He snickered and put some drumming fingers on his chin. “As for the servants, their skin types differ depending on the concentration of mud to sand. The one that was tending to the porcelain had skin of mud as to not scratch the surface of the porcelain - a sand-skinned servant may have been so unfortunate, you see. Likewise, the bathhouses are managed by sand-skins alone, as mud-skins sadly cause such a mess in there due to all the steam. A sad truth, but a truth nonetheless.” He sighed. “I hope the order I placed for you was satisfactory? I apologize for not consulting your opinion first.” He bowed apologetically in her direction as they descended the stairs.

Urhu laughed along with Shengshi as he noticed the pun and then nodded thoughtfully as he explained the way his servants adapted to each task. “That is a very elegant solution, I should have guessed you had everything in mind. About the food though, you should not worry, I believe a good guest should allow their hosts to serve any meal they see fit, even if it crosses their comfort zone, barring, of course, some justified philosophical objections. Not that any of the mentioned meals do that, on the contrary, it all seems to be of my taste.”

The snake bowed again. “How fortunate. I am glad.” As they turned the final swing of the spiral staircase, the two were greeted by the familiar sight of the golden banquet hall - however, this time was quite different from Urhu’s last visit: Along the walls stood servants, all bowing at a forty-five degree incline towards the two gods, a pattern that continued along the bottom of the staircase down into the banquet hall. As one mighty voice, all the servant simultaneously spoke, “Ten thousand years and more to Her Holiness Urhu - welcome aboard Jiangzhou!” The snake snapped his fingers and the red paper lanterns in the hall flared up with a warm glow that danced in the golden edifices of the gold and silver around the hall. The scents and fragrances that felt nearly as tangible as they food they rose from permeated the atmosphere. From the hall beneath sounded gentle music from harps, flutes and drums.

“Magnificent, is it not?” the snake said proudly and clapped at the servants’ performance.

Urhu rose an eyebrow at the synchronized chanting of the servants, it was definitely not the aesthetic she would have gone with, but all else was truly majestic, the room’s decoration and lights, the aroma of the banquet and the music, it was nice to have musicians around, she recognized, no wonder Seihdhara had been trying to teach her how to perform. ”It is indeed wonderful,” she told gently.

“They are always incredibly thankful for praise,” the snake noted and smiled at a nearby servant who bowed even deeper. “They may not smile back as many others would, but they are still quite appreciative of everything they receive. A truly wonderful species, if I may be so arrogant and say so myself.” As they arrive at the banquet table, Shengshi pulled out Urhu’s dedicated chair for the goddess to sit in. Urhu’s plate with steaming hot, deliciously smelling food had already been placed on the table in front of the empty chair, a pair of chopsticks flanking the plate on the right side. The goddess’ glass was already filled to the brim with apple wine.

“Please, have a seat, dear sister.”

The goddess nodded and did so with a smile, adjusting her position on the table, clearly eyeing the alcoholic beverage above all, licking her lips as she took the first sip. ”Ah! This tastes so different from the one I have in Nyeothay Tag’s holding bay. It has a lasting taste, it's quite nice.” she distracted herself focusing only on her palate for a moment before smiling, eating some of her meal as well, then looking with a quizzical expression at Shengshi. ”Great food and drinks aside however, I cannot help but be curious at this invitation. I do think a visit was long overdue on my part, but I assume there is something specific you’d like to talk about?”

The snake slithered over to his own chair, a gold-framed, throne-like piece of furniture with patterned red silk upholstering. He took up his own glass, sipped it just a little and rolled the wine around in his mouth before swallowing.
“I missed you dearly, dear sister, so I thought I could call you over for a visit.” He gave her a wink. “Furthermore, I have a proposition that could benefit us both - one that is not only limited to another gift of all the wine you can drink. Speaking of, how much remains of the batch I gave you the first time? Was it to your liking?” He grinned and had another sip.

“Some still remain, I have been hosting Seihdhara in my ship and she is a heavy drinker, something must be said about your generosity when even the fury of the goddess of combat is not enough to end all of your gift over seasons worth of heavy drinking.” she said laughing. “And yes, it was to my liking, without it, I would never had thought about seasons, or perhaps I would have reached a simpler, less interesting, result.”

The snake gave a warm chuckle. “How absolutely stellar! To think my wine would have the honour of being shared with Seihdhara!” His smile waned a little and he grumbled, “... Even if her blood river did pollute Beihe… Though I am certain that was not intentional. Such is water flow, after all.” He took another sip. “But yes, the proposition.” He sat his glass down on the table and snapped his fingers. A servant came over to Urhu with a scroll of rice paper, rolled up neatly with a red ribbon and carried on an exquisite gold plate. The servant bowed her head and knelt down, lifting the plate up to Urhu.

“This is the oddest dish served so far.” she jested, taking the scrolls and opening it, spending some time reading about the situation and nodding slowly as she came to understand it. “Of course I could help, I have been sailing in Nyeothay Tag for such a long time that I could not help but to think of new ways to deal with boat building from now on… That said, are you sure the situation is as bad as you describe?”

“Oh, I likely exaggerated with some flairy and dire adjectives and such for effect, but the general gist is such - as it stands, my schedule is much too full to undertake a journey to Tendlepog, and I fear what power I had gathered after reforming the servants, was spent on spreading life throughout my jungle.” He gestured to the paper. “Therefore, I beseech you, dearest sister, to aid me in building ships for my servants so they may send dear brother K’nell a gift of wine and spirits, and - if it would not trouble you - watch over them as they journey northwards. Theirs will be the first sea voyage on this world - it is certain to be perilous.” His smile turned into a grim frown for a moment and he bowed his head.

With a nod, Urhu seemed to get very interested in what Shengshi was proposing. “Of course, it would be my pleasure to look over the first mortal sea travelers. It will surely be a perilous journey, but not an impossible one. With that said, may I see the work already done towards these ships? I want to see what changes will need to be made…”

The snake grimaced a little, but conceded with a nod. “They are no ships, I concede. Though that is my mistake - I sent my servants to do a task they were unequipped with the knowledge to finalise. The result lies on the riverbank below. Please, follow me.” The snake rose from his seat and walked over to Urhu’s chair, offering her a courteous hand to help her up. The goddess awkwardly took the hand, not wanting to be rude but not used to being lead by hand unless she was flying as Seihdhara ran at a fast speed. The snake nodded and let go of her hand as soon as she was at her feet, moving back up the the stairs. The servants lined up as usual, bowing their farewells to their lord and guest.




As the two made landfall on the western riverbank of Nanhe, they were greeted by the sight of the abandoned ‘ships’. The arguably prettier examples of these sad excuses for canoes were the ones which had not been chopped into sizable firewood logs. These had no apparent bow or stern, nor anything that seemed eligible to be called seating - the finest examples being chipped indents into the tops of some larger tree trunks. Most of the trunks, however, had been utterly mutilated rather than carpentered.

The snake let out an ashamed sigh and grimaced at Urhu as he gestured to the wooden mess.

“This is sadly the result of their hard work. The Wise are true in their words - a writer with no brush cannot write; neither can a novice with one.”

“Uh… Hmm. Perhaps some of those adjectives were warranted after all.” she sighed, before starting to walk a bit closer to the examples. “Also, it's so interesting, these are unlike the servants that I expected, they seem more… autonomous?”

The snake nodded. “I figured their impeccable service - as well as inconvenient bodies - warranted a rebirth with better circumstances. They are sapient, beautiful and powerful - truly, a lord could not wish for better helpers. They live to serve, and will satisfy my guests’ every wish and demand to the best of their ability.” He glanced back at the boats. “Their wisdom and skill, however, is bound to the ship; without Jiangzhou and all its assets, the Servants will likely find themselves regressing into a most primal existence. I would not want that for them - not for all the riches in the world. So to summarise, they are autonomous in the sense that their spirits have transcended their previous, simple forms.”

Some of those meanings had been lost to Urhu, but she believed she understood Shengshi, “I see. Well, I think there are a few problems we are dealing with here, one is the size, second is… everything else. I believe their ancestry in the Jiangzhou calls for something more, uhm, complex, than canoes. They could manage larger ships as a group, and I do think larger ships are better for sea travel, as they can carry more goods. Now, there are a few basics I will teach to them, especially the sail, as I do such, could you prepare samples from local materials so I may adapt the designs of the ships?”

The snake raised an eyebrow. “A sail?” he inquired and looked at Jiangzhou, specifically its lack of such a feature. “Well, I suppose they ought to learn it to manage mortal ships. Your help is dearly appreciated, sister Urhu.” He bowed again. “When it comes to materials, I reckon the Xishan grassplains may have certain species of flax that could be spun into linen, then into sails…” He hummed a little more. “I will gather the samples. I will be back in a moment.” He nodded and dove into the river, rocketing upstream like a crimson torpedo.

The goddess sighed, looking around at the amphibian-like creatures near her, the goddess of travel clapping her hands. “Alright, let’s get this started while I wait for Shengshi. But first, let me prepare some material examples of the concepts I will teach.” she would start building up model ships to show some principles, rubbing under her chin as she wondered what sort of wood would be the best and how she would deal with mortal needs such as food and water in a non-divine vessel.




After a moment, the snake returned with the samples. Albeit a little damp, he presented Urhu with Xishan flax, soft jungle wood and grass fibers. “Are these samples satisfactory, dear sister? If they are, I will promptly gather some more.”

Urhu looked at the examples. “The flax is great, the fibers will do well for ropes, albeit they could be better, the wood…” she pressed it and shook her head. “It won’t do in a rough sea, especially for a large ship. Let me see what can be done about that.” the goddess looked around and placed the sample on a clearing she found, soon, a large tree had sprouted and matured, seeding other similar trees until a clearing had formed. These trees were tall and twisted, with soft bark of a strong sand-like color. “The bark can be used for the hull while the wood can be used for the structure, however, there are very specific structures you need to build for a ship of this wood to be seaworthy, it was designed to not need tools but mastery, and the ships it makes will be unmatched navigators for eons, though not many ships can be made from it.” she explained, and then sighed. “I hope they are great at rope making. Speaking of which, I should also bless the flax and the fibers, especially the fibers, to be better suited for the long journey. Could you show me where you found them?”

The snake admired the tree with an amused grin. He poked at the soft bark and marveled at the little indentation he had made. However, he quickly gathered himself and nodded at Urhu. “Naturally. Follow me, please.”

The two began to move northwards through the jungle.




The snake and Urhu had been quick to travel through the undergrowth and overgrowth - occasionally passing by some frog monkeys who gave some startled ooks. They also ran past a farmer ape who was happily gnawing on a stick of bamboo and, upon seeing the speeding deities, croaked in confusion. Now the snake and the traveller were gazing at an endless landscape of tow-coloured grass that glistened in the sun - apart from the grass, however, the plains were empty, save for the occasional boar. Shengshi raised an eyebrow and put his hands on his hips.

“They really do thrive anywhere, huh…” he mused. A brown, snouted ball of brown fur in the distance gave a puzzled oink at the funny figures standing at the jungle border.

Urhu pondered for a while, before touching the ground again, the grass went from fields of green to slowly spreading purple. Being the goddess she was, she had decided to do that in a hidden valley, making sure the keep the purple grass rare. “The grass from this color should make the best, most reliable ropes. Its exclusive to this region, you can harvest most of it, but leave some for later. In second thought, the flax we have is good for the sails, I think we have the materials your servants need to build the ship.”
The snake bowed. “You are much too generous, dear sister. Let us be swift, then, so the servants can begin post-haste.” With that, he began to round up as much flax as he could carry, making certain, however, not to take it all. He rolled it together into a bale and swung it over his back and began to slither back into the jungle.

“It just would be a shame for such a travel to end in disaster. I am trying to balance generosity with a true challenge. Speaking of which, perhaps it would be best for the servants to not know the goddess of travel is at their side, don’t you agree?”

The snake let out a ponderous hum. “Perhaps it would be. While I doubt they would grow overconfident, they are still quite new to this sensation of consciousness - that could very well pose a threat as well as an opportunity, as you say.” Eventually, he nodded. “So be it. They shall be oblivious to your protection.”

With a smile, the goddess nodded in agreement. “I will write instructions on the basics of shipbuilding when are back at Jiangzhou. For the more specific instructions we need, such as how to use the special materials… Hmm, do you think the servants have some sort of leader figure?” she rose her hand and a dark cloak appeared over her clothes, hiding her in the warm shadows of the subtropical forest.

The snake let out another hum. “I will have them elect one when we are back.”




It did not take long for the Servants to organise themselves into labour teams, several groups of twenty individuals quickly felling the proper trees and sorting flax. They began to separate the bark from the wood, and the carpenters began to shape and form the wood into proper planks, which were bound together using the fibers that would not be spun into linen. A thousand servants sat in a row, spinning thread and sewing sails like a well-oiled machine. A thousand more began constructing the ship frames with great precision and skill. Urhu’s instructions had been divine in quality, albeit Shengshi had to translate her writing.

As the Servants worked tirelessly on the river bank, Shengshi slithered back into the jungle. “Your schematics were immaculate, dear sister,” he spoke seemingly into nothingness. “I hope they were not too much trouble to produce.”

“I hope they were not too much trouble to translate! I do not have trouble producing them, but I do tend to get lost in my explanations.” she said, clad in the shadows. “You made sure they would not throw the ‘useless’ bark away, correct?” she questioned.
“Certainly,” he said. “The bark will be used to make and reinforce the hull, as instructed. I will shortly as them to find themselves a leader. I only pray that they are not frightened by such autonomy.” He paused for a moment before bowing.

“Your help has been beyond my expectations, dear sister. If there is anything I can do in return, know that I will do whatever in my power to do it.”

“Oh, you know exactly what I want! To refill and to add more variety to the wine racks of Nyeothay Tag…” she then remembered her ship, and pondered, thinking back at how pristine Shengshi’s palace always was. “And if it is not too much to ask, my friend, would it be possible for you to lend me a servant? Seihdhara is prone to making a mess out of things and I tire of cleaning my ship’s countless rooms.”

The snake hummed pensively. “The wine is yours - as much as you would like. As for the servant…” He tapped his chin. “Very well. You may have one if you so wish. It shall be loyal and faithful, diligent and tireless. Would you like me to select one for you or would you like to pick it yourself?”

“I am no good with this servant thing, if you stop to think about it, we are almost polar opposites of each others. Which of course, isn’t a problem, the world needs night and day, but still, I trust your ability to choose someone for the job more than my own.”

The snake nodded. “So be it. I will have one ready for you upon our return.”

“I wish I could help more with it, but while I recognise the social problems of sharing a ship for months, I do not know as many answers, yet you have been managing your palace for a long while now, perhaps there are lessons from a divine ship that are applicable to a mortal ship.” the goddess said, in particular, she suspected a strong hierarchy would be helpful. “And while you were away teaching your servants, I have been thinking about food. Taking away the moisture might actually help to avoid rotting, its lucky that all the way along the path there is land to re-stock, but some solutions will need to be devised, for now though, here is a list of foods that should be fit for the travel.”

Handing the list to Shengshi, the goddess couldn’t help but to laugh. “I must be the only person on this land who thinks planning for travels is not a chore but the opposite.”

The snake let his eyes zoom across the list. “That will likely not be necessary. The servants do not require food for nourishing purposes - their love of food is merely a result of the pleasures of flavour and texture. I suppose I could send along some food to break the monotony of water, however; though they are only reliant on fresh water to survive. Speaking of… Will it be possible to light fires aboard this ship? They will have to boil seawater to survive longer trips.”

For the first time since the discussion started, the goddess felt somewhat startled by a problem. “A fire? I could devise a way for a small one to happen, but anything too large will be an issue.” she said. “There are rivers along the way, I could expand the water carrying capacity of the ship… though it would be too much water in a still state…” rubbing behind the back of her neck, the goddess broodingly stared at the distance.

“The rivers will sadly not be there for long. The only viable route to Tendlepog from here is from the south tip and then to sail north along the continent. That blasted Boiling Sea will likely damage the hulls beyond repair. Do we have a method to keeping the waters moving?”

Walking from one side to the other, the cloaked goddess pondered. “What if we used two tanks? One in the upper tower of the ship, and a larger one bellow, the water traverses the whole ship before reaching the bottom." she said. “You just need to find a way for water to go upward, just tell the flow to stop being picky about its directions or something.”

The snake thumbed in approval. “You are as creative as ever. How about a pump of sorts? Something that would not need to be manned at all times. Powered by… By…” He drummed his fingers pensively on his chin. “... By the wind?”

“Oh, we could attach a sail to a pump.” yet as she tried to explain how, no drawing of her seemed to convey this properly. “I guess I will need to build this one myself, if you could help me with the pump, I could get this done on the finished ship.” she told.

The snake nodded. “We will make this as the ship is completed, then.”




The snake arrived to a scene of carpentry and shipcraft and nodded in approval. The river bank was filled with servants carrying planks, attaching bark to the frame and taring the cracks. A group of five came over to the snake. They all stopped and kowtowed before the god, the first one in the group being the very same servant Shengshi had spoken to on the ship. The servant spoke:

“Your Lordship - we have elected a leader for this expedition.”

The snake nodded approvingly. “Very good. Present yourself.”

The kowtowing servant in the middle of the group stood up, bowed and then looked back up at Shengshi with his hands extended in front of himself, left hand covering the right fist.

“Ten thousand years and more to His Lordship, Shengshi of the Thousand Streams,” he began. “This servant is named Qiang Yi and is a poet of the Wise.”

The snake raised an eyebrow. “The Wise, you say? You seem quite young. Have you perhaps no interest of donning the grey hairs like your peers tend to do?”

The servant tipped his torso again. “Your Lordship is too kind. This servant was fortunate enough to be selected into the Wise after His Lordship gave us the true mind. This servant is indeed still quite young and has much to learn, and is therefore eternally grateful for being allowed the honour of bringing His Lordship’s gift to Tendlepog.”

The snake nodded approvingly. “I am certain you will do stellarly, young Qiang Yi.” The snake rolled the name around on his tongue. “Qiang Yi… ‘strong and resolute’. I expect you to live up to that name.”

Qiang Yi got back on his knees and kowtowed. “His Lordship’s will be done!” The servants around him echoed the statement. The snake nodded and slithered over to inspect the ship. It was large - not nearly as large as Jiangzhou, but still quite large. He reckoned it could hold a crew of a forty strong.

The snake brought along Qiang Yi and slithered over to the master shipwright, a servant of the Skilled by the name of Zhou Desong. The servant greeted the snake with a kowtow as usual. The snake looked to the both of them.

“How have you planned to get to Tendlepog?” the snake inquired. Zhou Desong nodded at Qiang Yi, who rolled out a map of the world based on Shengshi’s and Xiaoli’s descriptions, as well as vague memories from their times as water blobs. He reached for a stick of charcoal and drew some lines on the map.

“Our route has two possibilities, Your Lordship. The first is that we sail out to see from Nanhe and follow the coast up to the Kick. From there, we will navigate towards Dragon’s Crown and then finally sail northwest to Tendlepog.” The snake nodded.

“The other option being across Saluran Mendidih, then.” he asked.

“Correct. The other option is faster, Your Lordship, though not by much.” Qiang Yi drew a line across the continent up to the mouth of Beihe. “We will travel up to Giant’s Bath by boat, then drag them across land and set them on Beihe, from where we will proceed to cross the Saluran Mendidih and make landfall at the Kick. According to her Ladyship, there are now enough trees on the Kick to make more ships to take us to Tendlepog.”

The snake plucked at his beard. “The second option seems much riskier than the first. Your ships are not capable of withstanding the waters of the Saluran Mendidih as Jiangzhou is. You are to take the long route around the continents, is that clear?”

The two servants bowed. “His Lordship’s will be done,” said the two of them. The snake nodded.

“Good. Now pardon me for a moment. There is something I must tend to.”

He turned and slithered back into the woods.

“They figured out the paths on their own. How promising,” he mused. “The ship will likely be completed soon, Urhu. I will have them gather aboard the ship and distract them while you attach the windmill. Does that seem like a plan?”

The cloaked figure nodded, her cloak now looking more like fog than shadow “I believe they will assume its a gift from you, let’s see what happens. Its lucky morning mist still covers the land.”

With that, she moved away, towards the ship. The processed bark had turned it white, while the light purple ropes shimmering lightly against the sunlight, almost like strands of fine cloth. Quickly, Urhu jumped to the top of the tower and assembled the parts she was carrying into the panemone windmill linked to the pump Shengshi had provided. She hoped the servants would make sure to take good care of it, because once broken this could only be repaired by the goddess herself.

With the last task done, the goddess sank into the mist and moved back to the forests near the river port.




Aboard Jiangzhou, Shengshi said his blessings to the brave men and women who were about to set sail. He selected the wines they would bring aboard and made certain to give them as many barrels of water as he could. As they approached the new ship, the servants saw the windmill aboard and marveled. The snake had the servants fill the water tanks in the ship, and then topped them off with some water from the river.

“I reckon the tank will last you long enough to reach Tendlepog - however, it is likely that you must refill before returning home.” The snake stood on the river bank next to Qiang Yi, watching the wine casks being loaded aboard.

Qiang Yi nodded, taking notes on some sticks of bamboo. He quickly completed his scribblings and looked to the snake. “Your Lordship, this servant has a question, if Your Lordship would be willing to answer it.” The snake nodded, and Qiang Yi continued, “what would His Lordship like His vessel to be named?”

The snake regarded the ship, then turned back to Qiang Yi. “You are its captain. Its name is yours to pick.”

Qiang Yi blinked and suddenly looked sheepish and embarrassed. The snake raised an eyebrow. “T-this servant cannot possibly have the authority of naming something blessed by the Exalted Creators. This servant insists that His Lordship names the vessel.” There was shame and embarrassment in his voice.

The snake hummed pensively. “So be it, then. It shall be known as Zhengwu, the travelling gift. Immediately, Qiang Yi’s mood was restored and he bowed.

“An exceptional name, Your Lordship. This servant shall strive to sail it with all the impeccability that Your Lordship would have.”

The snake nodded. “You do that,” he said. “I wish you all the best of luck on your journey.”

The servant kowtowed before the snake before finally climbing aboard the ship. The snake then turned to Jiangzhou. He climbed aboard and snapped his fingers. A servant came over and bowed.

“Bring me our best butler and our best maid. Prepare for each of them a bag of clothes and several water gourds.” The servant bowed again and ran back into the palace.

A moment passed before two figures returned, one tall male servant with a short, pointed mustache and a short, pointed goatee, and one tall female servant with a long, black ponytail. Both got down on their knees and kowtowed before the snake.

“Ten thousand years and more to His Lordship Shengshi of the Thousand Streams!” they said simultaneously. The snake nodded.

“Be at ease, faithful servants. Present yourselves.”

“This servant is called Yong Ying of the Noble,” said the man, his face still facing the floor.

“This servant is called Shen Ai of the Noble,” said the woman in an equal manner. The snake nodded.

“Very good.” He faced the side of the ship. “Urhu! You may board the ship now.”

Urhu suddenly let out a small laugh, resting against the wall opposite of where Shengshi was looking towards. “Done. Are these the servants?”

Both the servants attempted to push their foreheads even further into the ground at Urhu’s arrival. The snake nodded at the goddess.

“You may select one of these to join you aboard the Nyeothay Tag. They will serve you as they have served me.”

“Ah, well, since it is me and Seihdhara who live there, I guess it would be more comfortable for Shen Ai than for Yong Ying to be in there.” she said in a casual tone, trying to not add sound indelicate to either of the servants.

The snake hummed. “That should not be an issue for them. Both are equally qualified to work with guests regardless of gender. However, if the two of you would be more comfortable with a woman, then Shen Ai will accompany you.”

“Thanks again, Shengshi. Oh, and don’t worry, my ship has sources of freshwater, so Shen Ai will be quite comfortable.” she added, lowering Nyeothay Tag to be at a similar level to Jiangzhou. The snake nodded happily.

“I am glad.” He turned to Shen Ai, who remained prostrated as Yong Ying slowly shuffled backwards back into the palace.

“From this day forward, you are no longer a subject of mine, dear Shen Ai - your loyalty now belongs to Urhu. You shall obey her every command within reason and follow her as you would follow me. Are your orders understood?”

“This servant understands her orders, Your Lordship,” Shen Ai said. The snake nodded and turned to Urhu. He snapped his fingers and, after a moment, the palace doors swung open to reveal a train of servants carrying wine casks.

“Will there be anything else, then, dear sister?” Shengshi asked with a smile.

“I believe this is all at the moment. I hope everything goes well with you servant’s journey, I will be watchful, though I cannot make up for them should they make mistakes along the way.”

“That is just how it should be. Your aid alone is appreciated immensely. I wish you a safe journey on, and please do take good care of dear Shen Ai.” The snake bowed.




Qiang Yi ascended to the stern of the ship, placing his hand on the long tiller leading to the rudder. Behind him came his first mate, a young lady of the Noble named Zhen-zhen.

“Are we ready to sail, then, Captain?” she asked carefully. Qiang Yi nodded.

“We will set a course once we make it to the coast. For now, we will test these sails within the safety of Nanhe’s embrace.” Zhen-zhen nodded. Qiang Yi walked to the centre of the ship and started yelling respectful commands in every direction. The crew stirred to life and began to unfurl the sails. It was foreign to them, but Shengshi’s instructions had been clear. Soon, the Zhengwu was drifting gently across the surface of the water, onwards to greatness.




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Hidden 3 mos ago 2 mos ago Post by Tal
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Tal

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The winter-spirits that Ya-Shuur called iceflies were taking a lot of interest in Ya-Shuur's herder-wolves this cold season. Swarms of the little ice insects were swarming them. This caused some of the herder-wolves to bark and roar. Their barks were extremely loud and were usually enough to scare off predators. But the iceflies did not seem to register them. Now and again a herder-wolf would whips its tail around and accidentally hit a few of them or snap its jaws swiftly and destroy others because they were very aggressive towards anything foreign and unfamiliar and this was the first time they had seen iceflies. There were also a lot around the big she-wolf and around Ya-Shuur. They flew around his horns and some of them sat on it and started making little sculptures on them. Ya-Shuur looked at them. They were made of snow and ice and had wings of ice crystals with a span of one foot and they flew very easily. They looked around from two spindly protrusions on their heads and walked around on small legs that looked a bit like icicles. Some of them had two wings and some had four and some had more but they were always and even number. It was the same with their legs and with their eyes as well. They had made a lot of little sculptures around the landscape of flowers and grass and sometimes little creatures.

In the trees there were some crows with eyes of glowing coal that watched Ya-Shuur and his herd. They followed them everywhere. They had followed them down to the south when they went into the Forestlands and then again when they visited the Mud Spires. And they had kept following them when they went again to the Lakelands. And they had come with them again here to the Snow-Lowlands. Ya-Shuur had grown used to them but found them very strange as they didn't really have any reason to be following them. They did not need him for protection and they did not eat from him. They just followed him and his herd everywhere. It didn't help that there was something odd about their shape. They seemed almost like shadows and not real.

His herder-wolves were now all grown up. They were huge creatures and Ya-Shuur was easily able to ride one. From snout to tail-tip they were 8.8 metres long and 2 metres tall on average. Some were entirely white and some were entirely black and some where mottled. Their skin was very hard and difficult to cut and their bones were strong. None of them had ever broken a bone even though some of them had leapt from huge heights. But maybe that was also because they could fly and that had something to do with it. They were very good trackers and had tracked lost goats across the island. They were also very fast both when running and when flying though they were much faster when flying. Their bite and teeth were very strong like their sire's and they could open their jaws far wider than was normal for a wolf. They were digitigrade and their claws were also thick like their sire's. Unlike wolves their huge claws were protractible and their paws were more versatile. Most importantly though they were very obedient to Ya-Shuur and very intelligent. So with good training they had become brilliant herding animals though Ya-Shuur was sure that they would excel in other things if they were reared to do them instead. On the other side to their absolute loyalty was their suspicion and hostility to anything foreign. Anything other than Ya-Shuur, the goats, and the fellow wolves immediately received hostile attention from the herder-wolves. Because Ya-Shuur had trained them not to kill but scare off potential predators they knew not to attack immediately. But their natural suspicion set in if a stranger did not go away after being warned in which case they became lethal. They were strong on their own but were even more effective together because they were natural pack animals because of their wolf ancestry. Like wolves they were monogamous unless their partner died in which case they got another partner.

Ya-Shuur was now able to leave the herd completely unwatched for weeks and know that his herder-wolves would be able to take care of them.

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Hidden 3 mos ago 3 mos ago Post by Goldeagle1221
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Goldeagle1221 I am Spartacus!

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Hermes
&
Xiaoli


Xiaoli sat outside against the wall of the small room. The fight had drained more of her powers than she would have expected. With what little she had had left upon the trio returning to the mansion site, she had with great effort shaped a single room in what would one day become Hermes’ (and hopefully her own) sleeping quarters - her love needed shelter to rest properly, after all. However, for all her efforts and expenses, the river-girl deflated to the grass like a punctured balloon. She lifted her gaze and it fell upon the odd little birds in the trees on the edge of the clearing. She smiled weakly and hummed softly along to their songs. No one could possibly fault her if she let herself rest for a minute or three, right?

She rolled her head to the side and peered into the small room. There laid Hermes, snoring quietly in that same cute way she always did. Xiaoli found her smile broadening. It was almost too tempting to go and lie down next to her. She could just… Quietly sneak up and get comfo- No! No, no, I should let her rest, Xiaoli thought to herself and turned back to the birds, which now seemed to have flown. She let out a quiet sigh and looked down at her dress.

“I sorely need a new attire,” she mumbled to herself with a pout. She scowled at her hands, black and crimson with soil and blood. “... And new skin.”

A gentle murmuring came from the room as Hermes rolled over followed by an upset crackle. She must’ve rolled over on her cloudling friend. There was another pop and a “Zzt” and then suddenly a grumpy yelp from Hermes. With a gentle groan, the Dreamer came stumbling out of the room, rubbing her messy head and yawning. Without much else, she walked over to Xiaoli and plopped down next to her, fingers straightening her hair idly.

“How long was I out for?” She said through a sleepy voice.

Xiaoli smiled at her and let out a thoughtful, drawn-out hum. “Half a day, I reckon. You were exhausted. Here.”

Xiaoli offered her a stone cup of something sweet-smelling and red. Hermes glanced over the cup with a thirsty look and greedily took the cup with a smile.

“Turns out ground sweetgrass mixed with water yields a rather nice refreshment. It’s probably also my new favorite thing. I think I have had four cups already.” She giggled innocently.

With a monstrous gulp, Hermes drank the sweetgrass juice. She gave a smug, pink stained smile at Xiaoli and nudged her with her elbow, “I told you.” She licked the sugar off the edges of her mouth and closed her eyes.

“Leg’s all better,” Hermes announced, flickering her eyes open, “I think my back has a bit of a scar though, and my head is still pounding.”

“You should rest some more,” Xiaoli cautioned. “Still, I’m surprised your leg healed so fast. His Holiness K’nell must be keeping a close eye on you.” She winked playfully. “Also, don’t worry about the scar. Scars can be…” She hesitated and cleared her throat. “Yeah, don’t worry about it.”
Hermes gave Xiaoli a knowing look along with a wry smile. Her face changed as a thought crossed her mind, “Do you think God is going to be mad at us when he finds out we used Limbo?”

“Well… It was an accident, right? A good master shouldn’t punish its servants for mere accidents… Ideally, anyway.” She pulled Hermes’ sack, which was resting comfortably next to the room wall, over and reached inside, grabbing a jelly tart. She then offered one to Hermes.

“Have something to eat, too.”

“You’re probably right,” Hermes nodded, taking the tart from Xiaoli. She took a bite and chewed in thought. After a moment she swallowed, “Xiaoli?”

“Hmm?” Xiaoli replied through a thick wall of dough and jelly in her mouth. She bowed her head to excuse herself, swallowed and repeated herself: “Yes?”

“What do you think it is to be a mortal?” Hermes looked over with curious autumn eyes.

Xiaoli froze for a moment. “W-well…” she began, but seemed unable to continue the sentence for a short period of time. Finally, she nodded and started over. “Well, I think that to be mortal is to live and explore the world the gods created - to be given choice of who one would like to serve or what one would live for; then, to one day be only a memory to the ones who love you.” Her head sank. “I’m sorry, it’s not a good answer,” she confessed somberly.

“I like it,” Hermes reassured her, “It’s close to what K’nell told me. I have another question, too, though.”

Xiaoli, now seemingly sporting a slightly more melancholic look, turned to Hermes and smiled wryly. “Sure, go on.”

Hermes paused for a moment, her eyes softening in an almost apologetic manner as she asked, “Do you think mortals are lesser beings?”

Xiaoli blinked and turned to Hermes, though her eyes refused to meet with hers. “I-... I wouldn’t go as far as to call them… Lesser beings. That’s such a-...” She hesitated, Hermes brow slanting. “Maybe not as-... Oh, do I have to answer?” She pleaded.

“No,” Hermes said quickly, her arms crossing as she turned slightly away, “I guess you don’t.”

“Hermes, I-...” She reached out to grab her arm. “‘Mortals’ is such a broad category! There are who ranks and classes within! You, for example, are not like other mortals!” Her eyes betrayed her forced smile.

Hermes turned back to Xiaoli, her form flickering to its original alabaster, “But I am a mortal.” She pursed her lips, “You’re not, but I thought we were equal.”

“We are! The relationship between lovers is different!” She had perhaps said that a little louder than intended. She pouted quietly. “It’s not the same…”

Hermes’ eyes shimmered with tears briefly before she turned her head away so Xiaoli couldn’t see. Xiaoli felt a nasty clump in her throat and shuffled a little closer.

“I wish I didn’t feel this way, you know,” she started.

“No,” Hermes cut her off and turned to her, “It was an unfair question.” The Dreamer wiped her eyes and scooted against Xiaoli, “I just have all these thoughts swimming in my head, all these questions. I don’t mean to take it out on you-- I shouldn’t.”

Xiaoli leaned back against her, arms slowly wrapping around the colourless woman. “No, I understand. You don’t need to apologise, my love. These questions are, well… Likely questions all mortals would ask of the gods… I’m sorry, I cannot lie to you. I wholeheartedly think of you as my equal, Hermes, but-... We are of two separate worlds. The best we can do is just… Be who we are, I think.”

Hermes nodded and leaned into Xiaoli’s hug, “But there is one thing mortals can create just as strongly as the Gods themselves, and it’s probably why you see me as an equal.”

She looked up at Xiaoli, “Those feelings you feel for me, the ones I feel for you. The reasons the questions come into my head and the reason I ask. We are creators too, just of a different type. Even when we fade away, we leave these things behind forever, you said it yourself.”

Xiaoli smiled. “I sometimes find it hard to believe that you are the same person that showed up on our ship and pointed your club at His Lordship, asking ‘friend or foe’.” She giggled softly. “You’re right, Hermes. Mortals are, without a doubt, the most integral part to the existence of the divine. Even now, without anything to revere us or hate us, we are purposeless, weak. You, however…” She leaned over and pecked Hermes on the cheek. “You are greater than any god or goddess I know.”

“You're going to give me a bigger ego than Poppler,” Hermes smiled bashfully. “Also,” Her brow fell and smile grew, “In my defense, I had just met Narzhak and he scared me with promises of fights and enemies AND THEN Shengshi comes out of nowhere asking me all sorts of things I didn't understand with that little down the nose glare he does.”

“Yeah, he does do that a lot.” Xiaoli chuckled sheepishly. “He really likes you, you know… Your constant glee cheers him up in these uncertain times.” She ran her hand through her hair and gave her a playful wink. “Even if your manners are a bit... Improvised.”

“They got me you,” Hermes stated matter-of-factly, “Should count for something.”

Xiaoli giggled. “Oh, stop it, you.” She planted another wet kiss on her cheek and left her head on her shoulder. “I’m happy I was created.”

“I couldn't imagine a Galbar without you,” Hermes pressed her cheek against her head, “Nor do I want to.”

“Me, neither,” Xiaoli said with a happy sigh. After a prolonged pause, she squeezed Hermes’ hand.

“Hey, Hermes?”

“Mmm?” Hermes said with a content breath, her eyes closed.

“You said your leg’s all better, right?” Xiaoli gently caressed Hermes’ leg in question.

Hermes opened her eyes, “Mhm, why?”

“Could you… Teach me how to dance?”

“Of course,” Hermes said without lifting her cheek from Xiaoli’s head, “But if I could make a suggestion?”

“Of course,” Xiaoli echoed.

“Let’s get you some new sand,” Hermes nose scrunched.

Xiaoli’s face drained at first, but then she chuckled sheepishly. “I suppose I had to be the smelly one some day. Yeah, let’s go do that.”

Hermes lifted her cheek, little bits of sand sticking to her pale face, “Let’s.”




Hermes’ sandals sunk into the white sand below. The duo stood by a calm cliff face just ever so slightly inland, the ocean side bluffs of Tendlepog far too windy and dangerous for such a task as finding new skin for Xiaoli. Lucky for the two, the slashing winds of the coast brought the freshly ground stone with it, depositing the sandy particles at the foot of the cliff they now stood before.

As far as the eye could see, the white powder reigned supreme, with only the inland horizon betraying the red of the grass underneath. Hermes stared expectantly at Xiaoli, her eyes waiting for her reaction to Hermes’ choice of sand.

“It’s really white, just like your original,” Hermes explained, “But- but if you want tan, we can probably find some, I know a sandy river that has darker colors.” As if a catalogue, the woman’s own skinned shifted through different colors of sand.

Xiaoli grinned widely at the vast white shore. Immediately, she shot the dirty muck she was wearing through her right hand, did a neat little twirl and then threw herself into the finely ground sand with a cheerful laughter. She rolled around, letting the warm sand catch her exposed body parts. Then, once she had seemingly had her fun, her body sucked up the sand around her through her hands and feet, covering the rest of her. She let out a happy giggle.

“You have no idea how good this feels,” she teased with a wink. “It’s like taking a bath, but so much more fun!” She tossed a handful of sand into the air and laughed.

“Pbttf” Hermes spat out a few grains that floated by her face and smiled. She squatted, feet flat, and rubbed her hand against the warm sand. With a thud, she let herself fall to the side and rolled over to Xiaoli, stifling a laugh, “it's so warm.”

Xiaoli rolled closer to Hermes and let out a gleeful hum. “Not as warm as you are, my love.” She laced the fingers on her right hand with her left and rubbed her face against hers, the thick, sharp grains from before having been entirely replaced with soft, silky particles.

Hermes’ smile started in her eyes, leaning back to get a good view of Xiaoli's face. She brought her hands over Xiaoli's cheek, her fingertips feeling the new sand, “Do you want to dance?”

Xiaoli smiled shyly. “Sure. Sweep me off my feet, my angel,” she said and bit her lower lip a little.



Slowly standing up, Hermes lightly tugged Xiaoli to her feet. Xiaoli rose obediently and patted her ragged dress a little to get the worst of the sand off. Sparkles of sand clung to Hermes’ hair, but she didn’t seem to mind as she pulled Xiaoli close, wrapping one arm around he and lacing her fingers with her other hand.

Slowly she mimicked the same steps she had shown Xiaoli on Dragon’s Crown, except at a much slower rhythm. “Just step with me,” Hermes said gently, “It’s easier in the palace, the music really helps.”

Xiaoli carefully followed Hermes’ steps, though it was evident that she was unfamiliar with this form of dance, frequently stepping out of rhythm and briefly tripping over her own feet. She did not seem to mind, however; the presence of Hermes kept her grinning from ear to ear despite nearly falling several times.
After a few tries, she grasped the basic steps and found herself able to follow Hermes’ lead. “I… I think we can go faster,” she said carefully while looking down at her feet as if to maintain control.

Smiling wide, Hermes slowly began to spin with Xiaoli, their steps slowly quickening, bobbing back and forth with a gentle flow. “I have to bring you to the palace,” Hermes idly said, her eyes watching Xiaoli’s movements as the made circling steps around the sand.

“I’d love to g-woah…” She misstepped, but quickly regained her composure, inciting a warm giggle from Hermes. “To go! When would we have the opportunity to?”

“Hmm,” Hermes hummed as she lead Xiaoli, “What do you usually see when you sleep?” She pulled her close and they spun around, “Do you dream?”

Xiaoli’s smile faded a bit and she looked at Hermes’ face before and after the pirouette. “I haven’t so far. I know His Lordship has dreamt before, but I haven’t slept enough, I think.” She hummed. “Is there a trick to it?”

“Didn’t you sleep after my blessing?” Hermes’ looked over Xiaoli with concern, the dance slowing.

“I-I mean… I did, but I cannot remember dreaming,” Xiaoli furrowed her brow. Then, as she was about to form her next sentence, her foot kicked against a rock and sent the avatar tumbling to the side, almost instinctively, Hermes turned the tumble into smooth dip, making Xiaoli’s face flush with pink.

“Oh,” Hermes held Xiaoli there for a moment before tipping her back up and stopping. She thought for a moment, “They usually just come to me on their own.”

Xiaoli blinked and looked away, squeezing Hermes’ hands. “You know what? I think I know what it’s like to dream, after all.”

“What do you mean?” Hermes squeezed back, her face betraying confusion.

“Every day with you is a dream, after all,” she said with a shy giggle and bit her lower lip again, leaning in to plant a soft peck on Hermes’ lips. Hermes blinked and patted her lips lightly with her fingers, dusting off the sand residue. Xiaoli let out a quiet “oh” and pulled the sand on her lips underneath the water surface below, giving her a simulated brown lip gloss. Hermes’ smile grew and the two fused lips once more, holding the stance for several seconds, and only adjusting to test each others’ preferences and limits. Tongue met petal; their hands caressed and grasped each others’ hair; breaths grew heavy, yet soft.

Finally, Xiaoli pulled away, placing a tired forehead against Hermes’ chest. Hermes’ face was red, and a smile was stuck on her face. Her arms wrapped around the river-girl and they stood in silence.






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Hidden 3 mos ago Post by Lauder
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Lauder The drunk kind of hero

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Slayer


It had been days since she had awoken on the beach, surrounded by the strange creatures that she had promptly ignored for a time. They were strange and from what she had noticed, they were too innocent to actually know the horrors of what life had to throw at them. In that regard, Atmav liked them, but she had still avoided them for she could not help but feel uneasy towards their joyful nature. Atmav could never trust something that seemed overly happy, it was just too suspicious. However, foraging for berries was a rather hard task as she never had been one to be a survivor of the wilderness.

With a sigh, Atmav knew that the strange people would probably have some food and was tempted to ask them for anything that they may have. Yet, she could not help but feel a tad bit embarrassed being made into a common beggar when she had been a guard for a king. Her wings spread and she swallowed her pride for the moment before she began to fly towards the beach, a short distance for her. Though she knew if she just flew in that she may frighten them off and she would be forced to continuing foraging for berries. As she approached the beach, she landed behind some dunes a small distance away in order to not only mentally prepare herself for dealing with these folk but to also make sure she could formulate some form of fighting strategy in case things went unremarkably south.

Then she heard some strange noises on the other side of the dune, curiously she moved to investigate. What she saw was an act of such indecency between two Selka that she let out a yelp and immediately hid back behind the sand dune to begin the process of purging the images from her mind. Though, her yelp had not gone unnoticed as she heard the two let out a sound of surprise as well. However, the words she heard were ones that she never would want to hear from even her closest of friends.

“Is that you Uraph? You can join in if you want.”

It was at that comment that Atmav could not contain her embarrassment, no longer wanting to hear such words from beings that she did not truly know. She shot to her feet, keeping her face pointed away from the two and putting up a hand to avoid seeing anything else she did not want to see. “Please, for the love of the Talk, never say such words again, Selka,” she said, the Selka giving a sound of shock and fright as they moved away from each other.

“I remember her! The one from the ocean!” the female said.

“Please stop, I just want to ask for some food,” Atmav said, still unwanting to look at the smaller creatures as she heard them shuffle towards her in the sand. With her other hand, she motioned for them to stop before she continued speaking, “I’m sorry I interrupted. Please just point me in the direction of some others not doing what you are doing.”

“You kinda already killed the mood. We’ll take you and see what we have.”

Her disappointment was immeasurable and her day was ruined, merely upon those words and actions being spoken to her. Atmav looked upon the sand as the couple led her down the beach a ways towards the core group who seemed to still be playing games and having much fun. They were a very noisy lot, but at least she could hopefully get some food from them. Luckily, her hunger was gone thanks to the horrid mental images that continued to plague her and would continue to plague her for a good while. Eventually, she looked up, her gaze being a good bit above the Selka that was leading her to their group. It would seem that as they got closer to the group, the more of a crowd formed to gaze upon Atmav, who was a strange creature to them.

“Erm. Hello. My name is, Atmav and I would like to request some food,” she said, not afraid to speak to these beings but it did hurt her pride a little. They were silent, merely looking at her inquisitively before one touched her hand from the side causing an instinctual reaction to move to a defensive stance. She knew they could understand her but that did not stop the feeling of alienness from entering her mind. However, after a moment of them backing away, they seemed to notice something behind her and began to run towards the ocean.

She turned to see massive creature stepping over the sand dunes, a large reptile that had come from the north in search of easier prey. Its massive jaws snapped before it released an incredible roar into the sky, massive legs carrying the beast quickly towards the group of fleeing Selka. However, such a situation was one that Atmav would instinctually react towards as her wings launched her to meet the beast in battle. Atmav let out a battle cry as she flew over the beast and to kick its head.

The force from her kick caused the reptile to lose balance for a moment, shaking its head as it stumbled about to regain its senses. Yet, Atmav continued her attack flying directly into the side of the beast to knock it into the sand, not before attempting to snap at the hero. The reptile’s jaws struck true as it grabbed one of her wings and brought her into the sand with her. Atmav attempted to get up first but could only move quick enough to hold her hands out to stop the creature from enveloping her in his jaws, it’s tongue gently caressing the side of her face.

For a moment, they stayed there with Atmav holding upon the mouth of the beast, slowly giving in as the pressure began to get to her. However, her anger began build, as did her will to survive. With a mighty roar she dug her fingers into the roof of the beasts mouth before she threw its head away. It turned to roar but only received a punch, and another, then another. When it went to strike at her with the talons on its hands, she gripped the beast and proceeded to rip its arms off and throw them to the side. Blood caked the sand as they fought and finally when it went to strike her with its fangs, she wrapped her arm around its neck. It thrashed and thrashed, its weight bringing both of them to the ground as Atmav held on for dear life.

With another roar, Atmav pulled her grip hard enough to fill the air with a loud snap as the beasts body went limp in her grasp. She threw the body to the side, breathing heavily and forgetting about the pain in her wing completely as she focused on recovering. Atmav laid there in the sand for some time, breathing and allowing herself some time to process what had just happened. Yet, her mind went to one thought, at least she now had food. The hero sat up and looked over at the body of the beast, quite dead and quite mangled. Like a savage animal, she jumped upon the fresh corpse and began eating, ripping it open to get to its insides. Atmav eventually was pulled out of her thirst for blood as her belly filled.

With a sigh, lurched forwards onto the side of the corpse before he saw something out of the corner of her vision. Following movement, she could see the Selka moving out of the water and looking at her. She slowly got to her feet to face them as they looked upon her with awe, and that was all she saw until she collapsed upon the ground.


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Hidden 2 mos ago 2 mos ago Post by Tal
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Tal

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Ya-Shuur had taken the mottled black and white herder-wolf that was called Behr-Aat with him. Before him now was the destroyed manor of Li'Kalla. It was pouring with rain and fog was everywhere. Phantasmal crows shifted here and there in the mist and it seemed to Ya-Shuur that even through the fog he could see their coal-black eyes watching him.

He had come here because he wished to be near the place where he received a physical form and look further into his powers by rebuilding the home of Li'Kalla. It was all destroyed and broken and that made him sad. But he believed that he could rebuild it with the powers he discovered he had. He jumped from Behr-Aat's back and walked towards the manor. Li'Kalla was not here and neither was the monster. He closed his eyes and remembered how the manor had looked and then he raised his hands and opened his eyes. "Return!" He commanded with a strong voice. But nothing happened and he frowned. "Arise house!" He shouted. A few rocks from the ruined manor bounced around and he felt a spark of energy jolt through him. But the manor did not return.

He walked nearer to the ruins and Behr-Aat approached it too. She pawed some of broken stones from the ruined manor. Ya-Shuur focused and looked around. He saw the door of the manor and he saw broken glass and wood. He saw bits of Li'Kalla's bed and things from the kitchen. Everything was here but just needed to be assembled in the right way. It was just a matter of moving things and bonding them just like he had done with his horns. He inhaled and tried to fill himself with power and he raised his hands again. His horns seemed to tremble. The earth shook slightly beneath him and Behr-Aat barked. Ya-Shuur groaned and there was sudden movement. Behr-Aat barked again louder.

Everywhere around Ya-Shuur debris and bits and pieces of Li'Kalla's home were in the air. He strained and willed them be shaped according to the vision in his memory. A door rose and all around it broken stones came together to form bricks. Windows were restored and broken grass jumped back into its place. The broken bed stirred and leapt back into itself and the wardrobe and all the furniture. The utensils from the kitchen shook themselves free of the earth and cleaned themselves in the lake and then went back to the kitchen but Ya-Shuur was not able to restore the food as that had mostly become rotten especially because of the incessant raining. His hands were still extended and he looked happily at his success. He lowered his hands and moved towards the door but then Behr-Aat barked loudly and her tail whipped around Ya-Shuur and wrenched him into the air as the herder-wolf took flight. Ya-Shuur was confused but understood when he saw the manor collapsing on itself. He went limp and a bit of gloom overcame him. This was not lightened even when he realized that this was his first time flying.

Behr-Aat placed him gently on her back and he held on to two of her bony protrusions to stop himself from falling. "Go back Behr-Aat." He said as rain and wind whipped his face. The herder-wolf turned around in the mist and darkness and swiftly returned to where the manor finished collapsing. Because everything was wet there was no dust cloud but a lot of mud had been thrown everywhere. Ya-Shuur sighed and walked through the debris and sat on the once again broken and soggy bed and sat brooding there.

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Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Not Fishing
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Not Fishing The Mediocre

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Karamir

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Atalantia





Spear in hand, Karamir trudged into the woods, wincing as leaves and branches crunched and snapped beneath his feet. He slowed his pace, and walked more stealthily, keeping noise to a minimum as he ventured through trees and brush. He had felt exposed on the plains. Perhaps the cover of the forest would make him feel more secure.

It had been perhaps two days since Kalmar had left him. He tossed some berries he had been saving from earlier into his mouth. Where would he go? What would he do? He had been given no instruction beyond survive and explore. It was a vast land, so he had decided to just pick one direction and keep walking.

The ground began to shake slightly, and Karamir froze. Kalmar had warned him that there were massive creatures on the continent. He dove beneath the cover of a nearby bush, and using his hunter’s sight, he slipped into the perspective of some animals who were located in that vague direction, but all were running away from it instead of toward. Thus, he had no idea what was coming.

The shaking became more intense. The sound of trees and foliage crushed under a massive weight steadily grew closer to Karamir. And then there was a roar, the like of which few living beings had yet heard. Flying forms filled the air as birds took flight from their hiding spots in the trees.

As birds and other winged creatures took flight, the towering form of the creature wandered into sight. It was a reptile, of sorts. Scaled skin with some areas covered in bright feathers. It stood on two powerful legs, with two comparatively small arms that were still capable of tearing most of the continent’s creatures apart with ease. And perhaps worse of all was its large head, powerful jaws, and sharp teeth. All in all it was a decisively excessively large and terrifying creature given the continent’s ecosystems.

Strangely enough, if one took the time to look, the form of a humanoid could be seen sitting on the creature’s head. The body language of the humanoid seemed to lack any degree of fear, in fact it seemed relaxed if anything, more interested in what was going on in the forest around the creature than in the creature it was riding.

Birds were not the only animals fleeing from the creature. One, an ordinary wolf, was also fleeing, and it just so happened that Karamir’s hiding spot was directly in the creature’s path of retreat. Karamir wanted to groan in frustration, but such an act would have been foolish. He hoped the creature would change its path, but it kept coming straight-on.

He wasn’t sure what to do. If he moved out of the way or fought it, the larger, more dangerous beast would know where he was. If he stood still, the wolf would step on him, perhaps even try to kill him. Neither situation was ideal. He frowned, and decided to take the risk.

The wolf was nearly upon him. Gripping his spear tightly, he rose and swivelled to face the animal, before thrusting his weapon forward. The wolf had not expected such sudden movement, and the spear went through its chest and deep into its heart, killing it.

When the creature fell, Karamir pressed his foot against the fallen wolf, wrenched the spear free, and turned to run, away from the beast that he was certain would try to pursue him.

The sudden series of shaking and rumbling from the creature’s direction indicated that Karamir’s fears had been realized. Perhaps worse was the fact that they were steadily getting closer. Each rumble noticeably closer than the last. The roar the creature let out was so loud it almost sounded as it the creature’s mouth was right behind him.

There was what sounded like a shout and suddenly the creature make to a halt. Followed by more shouting.

Karamir continued running. Yet, when he realized the shaking had stopped, he looked back, and saw that the creature was no longer pursuing him. He came to a stop, turned around, and assumed a defensive stance with his spear. ”Who are you!?” he shouted at the distant figure atop the beast.

Neither the figure nor creature seemed to notice Karamir now. The humanoid was too busy shouting at the creature, obviously berating him. Strangely enough the massive creature looked subdued, apologetic even. After a moment one of the creature’s eyes locked on to Karamir and it seemed to indicate him by moving its head.

”Ah. Um. Sorry about my friend here.” The humanoid called down to Karamir in a pleasant voice. ”He didn’t scare you too badly did he?”

Karamir remained where he was. He did not lower his spear, and he did not answer her question. ”Who are you!?” he repeated, his tone no less guarded.

”I’m Atalantia. She answered. ”Now perhaps you would care to introduce yourself? Last I checked there were no other intelligent mortals here which means…” By this point she was all but mumbling to herself in thought.

”Atalantia?” Karamir asked, in a tone one of mild surprise. Kalmar had mentioned that name once, though he had also said he hadn’t actually met her. ”My name is Karamir.”

”Yup. Atalantia’s the name. Don’t wear it out. And this big lug here is Pyrdon.” She patted the creature’s head. ”Say hello Pyrdon.

”Hello. The voice rumbled through both Atalantia’s and Karamir’s minds. ”Tiny mortal.

”Fat head.” Atalantia rolled her eyes. ”Now given your name I would imagine you were created by Kalmar, right? He seems to like to name things after himself, though I would have guessed he would have named his first mortal Kalson, son of Kalmar, or some such nonsense. You are the first mortal he made, right?”

”I am,” he replied guardedly. ”and you were made by Phystene?” Before Atalantia could reply, he also added: ”And what’s wrong with my name?”

”Hmmm…? Oh nothing, nothing.” She couldn’t keep the grin off of her face. ”And Phystene is my mother, of course. Thankfully she was gracious enough to allow me to name myself and Pyrdon. She probably would have named him after a flower or something after all.

”You don’t know that.

”Oh? I don’t recall you complaining about me giving you a name at the time. If you’d like we can go find mother and ask her to give you a real name.”

”I like my name.” It almost sounded like the giant lizard was pouting.

”So Karamir, son of Kalamar. Boy, try saying that ten times in a row. Anyways. What brings you to these parts? Got bored? Yearned for the experience of getting chased by a giant dinosaur? Or just out for the view?”

Karamir was confused. Why did she say he was Kalmar’s son? ”I’m not his son, I’m his creation,” he corrected her. ”He trained me for nine days and then sent me out to survive on my own. I’m exploring Kalgrun.”

”Bah. That’s just silly. Strictly speaking any living being he directly makes is his son or daughter.” Her tone my it sound like this was a self evident fact. ”Wait… So he spent nine days making sure you new your ass from your face and then kicked you out on your own? Just cause? With no mission, objective, or role to fill? Just…. ‘Go out and do… hunting things.’ Seriously?” After a moment of silence she added ”I’m sorry.”

Karamir blinked, unsure of how to respond. This was the first person he had spoken to aside from Kalmar himself, and she was riding on top of a dinosaur, and she was apologizing for something. Her words had been more or less true, though not how he or Kalmar would have phrased. ”I will find my own purpose,” he said after a while.

”Well… whatever works for you I suppose. Atalantia said after a moment. ”Do you have any idea what this purpose of yours will entail?”

[color=yellow]”No. That is what I will find out. I need to see and learn more, first.”[color] Karamir answered, remembering Kalmar’s words. ”Survive, adapt, experience, don’t die. If I can do that, I can decide my own fate.”

”Its arguable that the purpose of all life is to reproduce and pass on its genes to its offspring. Its a real pity Kalamar didn’t make any women for you to reproduce with. I suppose if you wanted I could ask mother to make wolves or something compatible with you.” She grimaced. ”It would be really weird though. You might just want to wait for if and when kalamar makes more of… you.”

Karamir winced. ”I couldn’t do that even if there were. He said that might change, but…” the statement trailed off, and suddenly he decided to change subject. ”And his name is Kalmar, not Kalamar.”

”Kalalamar?”

Karamir frowned. ”Atalatalatalatalantia,” he shot back in a dry tone, dragging out her name.

”Kalalalalalalalalalalalalalalalallalalamarama” She returned, unable to keep a stupid grin from appearing on her face.

Karamir did not know what was happening, but he would not yield. ”Atatatatalatalatalatalatalatalatalatalatantianiania.” he countered, his words nearly devolving into giberish towards the end, and he stopped only to breathe.

Atalantia took a deep breath and opened her mouth, but was cut off by Pyrdon. ”Atalantia. Kalson. For the love of all life created by Kalmar and Phystene: SHUT UP!”

”She started it…” Karamir muttered under his breath, causing Atalantia to stick her tongue out at him in response.. ”What were we talking about?”

”You two were discussing the possibilities of fornicating with wolves. Of all creatures why wolves? Such inferior creatures…”

”Why would you even want to do that with a wolf anyways Kalson?”

”You were the one who was interested in fornicating with wolves, not me,” Karamir corrected.

”Really? That’s not how I remember it.” Pyrdon’s eye roll was of massive proportions. ”Oh fine. Guess I’ve had enough fun teasing you. For now. We were talking about your purpose, or lack thereof.”

”Until I can survive on my own, I have no purpose beyond survival,” Karamir said, dropping the subject of wolves for the time being. ”If I can’t survive then I won’t be alive to do anything else.”

”Well… with that morbid thought in mind would you care to accompany me for awhile. Pyrdon and I were just checking out the region. Making sure no nefarious gods had created an army of zombie spiders or something.”

Karamir considered that request for a moment. Although this meeting had been tense, Atalantia was Phystene’s creation. Phystene, who was perhaps the only god that Kalmar fully trusted at this point in time. Surely, no deliberate harm would come to him. ”Alright,” he said at last, and then began to approach the beast.

”Hop on up.” She patted Pyrdon’s head as the massive dinosaur lowered himself fully to the ground. The dinosaur’s eyes latched onto Karamir.

”Behave yourself.” His voice rumbled through Karamir’s mind. Atalantia seemed oblivious that Pyrdon was speaking at the moment. ”If you harm Atalantia or touch her an… inappropriate fashion I’ll swallow you whole and slowly digest you.”

Karamir froze, and stared back at Pyrdon with a confused expression. ”What? Why would I…?” his voice trailed off. Then, against his better judgement, he decided not to question it further, and climbed on top of Pyrdon. He took a seat some distance behind Atalantia.

”Did you say something?”

”No… he did.” Karamir said, still somewhat confused. ”Let’s just get moving.”

”Huh? Well ok. Pyrdon! Let’s go!” The dinosaur slowly rose to his full height, obviously taking care not to jostle or shake Atalantia unnecessarily. As he began to walk Atalantia asked ”Amazing view, isn’t it?”

Karamir looked around. He had lost his fear of heights already, and between that and the fact that he was sitting on an enormous monster, there was a sense of security he had not felt on the ground. He could see a great distance, and he did not even need to rely on the abilities Kalmar gave him. ”Yes it is.” he said at last.





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Hidden 2 mos ago 2 mos ago Post by Goldeagle1221
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Goldeagle1221 I am Spartacus!

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The Selka


Viyoh sat on a small jut of rock overlooking the sandy beach, his friend Hoshaf beside him. The cool sea air kept their noses turnt up and salty, and their eyes stared forever forwards in contemplation. It had been seemingly forever since Kirron had thrown them into their new lives, and many of their kin had separated and spread across the lands as isolated groups, but here the first and the third sat in silence.

Peeling his eyes away from the horizon long enough to stare at the glimmering clumps of quartz and granite at his feet, Viyoh finally spoke, “They say some of the other groups are putting forth leaders, now that the celebration has ended.”

“Oh?” Hoshaf looked to his friend, “What for?”

“I don’t know,” Viyoh answered, “But it looks like Thumfatem and his supporters is going to get his wish, we will have a chief.”

“Oh.” Hoshaf looked at the ground. There was a pause, and only the crashing waves filled the air. Hoshaf looked back to the horizon, “I bet Antorophu would liken to whoever is chief.”

Viyoh perked up at the name of the second, “Antorophu?”

“Yeah,” Hoshaf seemed to stare with a longing, “I was going to ask her, if she would like to be my… well.” The Selka looked around bashfully.

“I-” Viyoh made a face, “I don’t think you should.”

Hoshaf looked up, “Why?”

“She,” Viyoh began, careful with his words, “She has already taken a liken to me, and I with her.”

“What?” Hoshaf looked defeated, his eyes brimming with hurt, “When, why?”

“Don’t ask such questions,” Viyoh hissed back, “Friends don’t ask such questions.”

“Friends don’t steal the others likings!” Hoshaf rose to his feet in anger.

Viyoh stood up, rising taller than Hoshaf, “And the smart should know when they are not likened and just be happy for their friends.”

Hoshaf huffed hot air, his eyes narrowing, “You are no friend.”

Viyoh snorted loudly, “I have done nothing if not helped you since you found your God given feet!”
“And you steal the ground from under me,” Hoshaf gnashed his teeth, “You do not care.”

“Oh!” Viyoh threw his hands in the air, “I do not care, I suppose you’re right, then! Forget my deeds and focus on the time I decide to look out for my own likens.”

He spun and pointed a finger at Hoshaf, “Maybe I shouldn’t stop there, then, if I’m so evil.”

Hoshaff grunted angrily and Viyoh continued, “Yes, you know, I will be chief now that I think of it.”

Hoshaff gritted his teeth but Viyoh kept spouting, “The biggest chief, I am the biggest after all. It makes sense, who else, you? Bah, I am the biggest, the first, and I have the love of-”

Crack!

A large ragged quartz stone smashed into Viyoh’s face. Blood burst from the impact and the larger Selka collapsed to the ground where he laid still. Hoshaf breathed heavily above the body, his face reddened with fury and the white stone stained crimson in his hand. He stood there for seconds and then minutes, until his face paled, “Viyoh?”

There was no response. Hoshaf dropped the rock and fell to his knees, “Viyoh?” He shook the body, getting nothing but a limp corpse in reaction, “Viyoh!” He cried, “Viyoh, please!”

“No, no, no,” He sobbed as he held the dead Selka’s smashed face in his lap, “Oh no, no please.”

“Viyoh!”

“Hoshaf!” A voice called from the thickets, “Hoshaf?”

Horshaf froze, his body trembling and his head light, “Thumfatem?”

A fat bellied Selka emerged from the thickets and into the rubble of the beach, stopping as his eyes soaked in the sight, “What has happened?”

Horhaf broke into a heavy sob, his tears mixing with the blood in the sand. Thumfatem cocked his head, and walked closer to the scene a hand over his own heart, “Hoshaf, what did you do?”

The smaller Selka continued to cry and Thumfatem squatted to examine the quartz stone covered in bits of skin, “Horshaf?”

“He’s dead!” Hoshaf finally called out, his voice turning into a whimper, “I killed him.”

“Why?”

“I didn’t mean to.”

“But why did you do it.”

“I don’t know.” Hoshaf rolled over in the sand, curling up into a ball. Thumfatem sat down next to the smaller Selka and tucked a hand under his chin. The calm Selka seemed to not be phased by the gruesome sight before him, not even when a few black flies found a new home on Viyoh’s split snout.

“It was the will of God,” Thumfatem finally said, causing the sobbing to stop. Hoshaf looked up from his spot, eyes stained red,

“What?”

“It could be nothing else,” Thumfatem explained, “Viyoh opposed a leadership, and yet earlier today I heard others murmuring that he become chief. He was not strong enough to be a true leader, he was not what we needed, and so through you God had struck him down before the damage could be done.”

“It’s the only reason,” Thumfatem eased Hoshaf, “You shall be the chieftain, and I will be your advisor.”

“What?” Hoshaf now sat up in disbelief.

“Don’t think too hard,” Thumfatem explained, “Clearly God had sent me to you after he had used you for holy righteousness so that I could be your guide, your prophet. You will be the chief, and I will translate the workings of our God so you may lead in the likeness that God desires.”

Hoshaf tucked his knees close, “Are you sure?”

“I can feel my own blood flow with the blessings of our God as I speak,” Thumfatem answered, “That’s how sure I am.”

“Oh,” Hoshaf said, “So what should I do now?”

“You’re the leader,” Thumfatem urged.

“I guess I can go tell everyone what I did,” Hoshaf wiped his face against his arm.

“No!” Thumfatem stood up suddenly, “I will tell them, you wash your hands and follow behind me, but do not show yourself until you hear your name.”

Hoshaf wiped his nose with a sniffle and nodded, his chest still frozen with guilt. Dipping his fingers into the sea didn’t make him feel any better, especially with Thumfatem staring at him with an almost hungry smile.

Flies began to buzz around Viyoh by time the two had began their walk back to the others. The walk was long and narrow, but soon they came to a bunch of lean-to shelters made out of twigs and leaves at the beach inwards of a cove. Hoshaf waited in the thickets as Thumfatem made his way down. The other Selka barely paid the him any mind as he made his way to the center of the tiny village of lean-tos.

It was only when he suddenly stood atop a large stone and shouted did they turn to him in confusion, “God has spoken to me!”

The others murmured and quickly surrounded Thumfatem. The fat Selka smiled and lifted his hands to the air, “He has seen how we have separated and split, how others elected leaders and made goals. He saw how our tribe had stagnated and grown quiet and so he has decided to choose a servant of his to guide us in our new life!”

“Who?” The crowd all but shouted.

Thumfatem held up a hand, “He had told me that the chosen shall emerge from the beach of Grottu.”

“That is where Viyoh had gone!” Antorophu cried with glee, and the crowd turned into a roar.

Thumfatem wiggled his nose and grunted loudly, “Two had walked the path of Grottu and two shall meet our God, but only one shall emerge, for the other shall be struck down, having shown a fatal flaw for the divine plan.”

The crowd gasped, their gasp only growing as Harshaf emerged from the thickets, an uneasy look on his face. Antorophu suddenly burst into tears as the crowd grew silent. Thumfatem eyed Harshaf.

“I have heard the council of our God,” Harshaf suddenly said, “He took my hand and with it he struck down Viyoh.”

“Our leader has been declared!” Thumfatem roared, a good portion of the tribe roaring back with wonder, the other portion shaking with confusion and some with tears. Those who roared turned on those who cried and began to shove them and goad them.

“Don’t fight! Please!” Hoshaf said with a shake.

“God has declared our leader and his prophet!” Thumfatem roard over the crowd, his supporters arming themselves with branches as the opposers began to shove and strike back.

Soon the beach turned violent and blood began to splatter as faces were kicked in and ribs were crushed by branch and fist. Some unlucky child was trampled by grappling adults, and one Selka whimpered on the ground, a sharp branch stuck in its stomach. Hoshaf hid near the thickets while Thumfatem remained on his pedestal, arms wide as his supporters either killed or beaten the last of the opposers into submission.

”In blood we are reborn!”





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Hidden 2 mos ago 2 mos ago Post by Crispy Octopus
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Crispy Octopus Into the fryer we go.

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Family


Hope, expectation, and then…

Agony.


Eline cringed at the memory, and not for the first time. She slumped into the crystal chair and held her face in her hands. Her breathing slowed and she let its steady rhythm take her out of that moment. A moment that wasn’t even hers. The blond woman straightened and shed her white tunic. She looked up from her hands and inspected them before examining the rest of her body. Looking for scars that she knew she wouldn’t find.

Because it wasn’t her memory. None of the ones that haunted her were. Mother hadn’t done it to be cruel, Eline knew that, but it was difficult sometimes. Having a Goddess’s memories. Or at least, the ones that Asceal had felt Eline and her siblings needed. The ones that let them know why they'd been born, and what they would be fighting for.

Eline sighed and slipped her tunic back on, pulling her wings against her back so she could get it over her shoulders. The memories came to her when she was alone, so at least the solution was simple enough. She strode to the door before pausing to look back. Her room was, despite its scale, rather barren. Mother had offered her whatever she wanted to decorate it, but, embarrassing as it was to admit, Eline honestly couldn’t think of anything.

Maybe she just needed time to figure out what she liked. She’d just been born, after all. Eline shrugged and stepped through the doorway. The hallway was ornate, but she didn’t pay much attention to it. Every inch of the palace was covered in beautiful geometric mosaics or adorned with ornate crystal statues, after all. It was incredible at first, but it had become normal. Mundane. With every day that passed Eline found herself wanting to return to Galbar, the place she’d been born. She wanted to experience the world. That, and because she wondered if the memories would be easier to ignore there.

Eline stopped as she passed Makabs room to poke her head in, but her brother wasn’t there. He was probably downstairs with Mother. She picked up her pace and made her way to the main hall. When she arrived the first to notice her was Liana, Mothers friend. Or the Gardens steward? Both? Regardless of the vine womans status Eline looked up when Liana called her name, “Eline! Good timing, we’re just having tea.”

Liana winked at her and Eline smiled. It wasn’t much of a joke, really it was just a silly a jab at how besides water tea was essentially all there was to drink, but Eline found it funny enough. At Liana’s introduction her siblings and Mother looked up from the long table they were sitting at. Mother waved, “Eline! I’m glad you came down, I was just going to call you. I have something to say to you and your brothers, but why don't you sit down and eat first?”

“Sure,” Eline stepped up to the table and pulled a chair out for herself, this one with a little pillow on the seat. She surveyed the food arrayed before her and decided to grab a few of a fruit she hadn’t bothered to try yet: a small red berry with green leaves on its top and little dark seeds on its skin.

She popped one in her mouth and chewed. It was good, really, really good. She’d never admit it but it was leaps and bounds better than that strange yellow fruit Mother loved so much. The only issue was the leaves. She was about to pick up another before Makab snatched it off her plate.

She glared at him, but the brown haired man shrugged and spoke, mouth full of crushed berry, “What? It looked good.”

Before Eline could voice her displeasure Akam spoke for her from across the table, “There’s more than enough for you on the serving plate Makab. It’s not like we’re going to run out. Mother is a Goddess.”

“Sure,” Makab agreed, “But those are over there, and Eline’s plate is right here.”

Eline picked up a berry and wordlessly tossed it at Makab’s head, on which it exploded. Her brother jumped in surprise, pulled a bit of berry out of his hair, and ate it. Eline wanted to be mad, but she couldn’t help but giggle. Makab grinned proudly, a bit of leaf stuck to his nose.

Mother sighed and pushed a small square of fabric towards him, “Clean yourself up, and don’t steal your sisters food Makab. As funny as it is to see her pelt you with fruit, I’d prefer not to spend my energy cleaning the palace.”

Makab nodded, but didn’t look particularly apologetic, “Alright. I’ll grab my own fruit.”

“And I’ll stop throwing berries at him,” Eline spoke, still grinning.

Akam, as much as he was trying to keep it off his face, was clearly as amused as everyone else. He grabbed one of the berries from the serving plate and ate it before commenting, “These are good, though.”

“Mmm,” Liana glanced at him, “Good enough to drive even the noble protectors of Galbar to infighting. I think we should be wary of these seeds of chaos.”

Eline rolled her eyes, “I like them. I think they’d be better without the leaves though.” She paused and looked to Mother, “But what was it you wanted to tell me, tell us?”

Asceal, the Goddess of Light, Eline’s mother, suppressed her own little smile and took a deep breath before speaking, “Yes, that. Eline, Akam, Makab, I wanted to ask you three if you think you’re ready to explore Galbar on your own. I know the palace can be… Stifling.” The Goddess gestured to Liana, “Liana made that very clear to me earlier. And beyond that, well I didn’t bring you into the world so you could sit here, as much as I’ve enjoyed being with you.”

Eline’s eyes went wide, and before any of her siblings could reply she boomed, “Yes!”

Her brothers eyed her with amusement, but Makab agreed, “I think we’re more than ready.”

Akam nodded and Asceal stood up and gestured for them to do the same. She gave Akam a hug, and then did the same to Makab and Eline. When she let go of Eline she smiled, “Ok, then it’s settled. I love you all, so be safe. Let me know if you run into any trouble, you know how.”

Eline nodded and for all Makab looked embarrassed she knew he was thankful for the well wish too. For a moment they all exchanged glances before Akam asked, “When should we go?”

It was Makab that answered, “Now, I think?”

Mother looked to him, a mote of concern in her eyes. She raised a hand over the ground and three long protrusions of crystal rose from it. The Goddess smoothed them into long rods with with sharpened points before handing one to each of her children, “I won’t hold you, but at least take these. I’ve shown you how Galbar can be.”

Eline’s smile flattened and she closed her eyes for a second as memories came unbidden. Yes, Galbar wasn’t always a place of beauty and peace. Liana interrupted her reverie by addressing the three from her, still seated, position, “Hey, if any of you three meet Xiaoli or Hermes, could you let them know I said hi? Also, could you ask Xiaoli in particular to bring some new tea? This stuff,” She held a cup of steaming liquid up, “Is getting old.”

Eline was pulled out of the memories and had to stifle a laugh. The tea really was getting to be old. Akam answered the vine woman, “I’ll be sure to let them know Liana. I’m sure they miss you as much as we will.”

Liana decided to let the flattery go without comment, only smiling at Akam. She stood up and gave him a hug of her own before speaking again, “Thanks. I’ll miss you guys too. Come back soon ok?”

With that the three gave their final farewells and headed out of the palace and toward the tower. Eline, for perhaps the first time since her birth, was nervous. There was a whole world for her to explore, and she wanted to explore it, but she also knew it wouldn’t be that simple.

She cradled the sharpened crystal javelin and wondered if, when, she’d have to use it.


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Hidden 2 mos ago 2 mos ago Post by BBeast
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BBeast Scientific

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Ashalla

Goddess of Oceans and Storms


Ashalla roamed the oceans once more, exploring and thinking. She had much to think about. She imagined what the winter-spirits would sculpt. She wondered what the Thunderbird was up to. And she reflected on the story she had heard from the magpies and K’nell. Ashalla inspected every passing cloud to see if any carried a fragment of Li’Kalla’s soul, although she found nothing. She considered going to see Li’Kalla or Vakk in person. She knew the large sandy island where Li’Kalla’s influence was strongest. As for Vakk, though, the only definite signs of his essence that Ashalla had noticed were the music box and the boiling strait which was the Saluran Mendidih, although neither were Vakk’s home.

It was then, as Ashalla was thinking about Vakk, that she came across a strange small island she hadn’t truly noticed before, south of the Great Soul Reef and east of Dragon’s Foot. She had known there was an island there, for she had explored Galbar’s oceans many times over and knew their every feature intimately, but somehow this island had always eluded her full attention and had always been mentally sorted as just another rocky island.

The geography was comparable to the cliffs of Pāṟa, with jagged rock everywhere. Some lichen and mosses had taken root on this stony land, but it appeared that the Gemstone Gardeners had either missed or avoided this place since no other life was present. It might have passed for a mundane island if not for two things: strange whispers could be heard on the edge of Ashalla’s hearing coming from further inland, and Ashalla’s divine senses could detect a distortion in the space between Spheres in this vicinity.

The ocean heaved and surged up the beach of the island as Ashalla made her way towards the anomaly. Ashalla climbed inland, flowing up the rocks and around the cliffs. She soon found one rocky crag which was unlike the others, for Ashalla’s divinely attuned senses could tell that there was something unreal about it. She flowed into that crag and the illusion broke, revealing a dark cave leading into the depths of the earth.

Whispered words wafted up from that cave. Most were incoherent or nonsensical, although one whisper stood out from the others. ‘That which I am speaking of belongs to another, not myself. This may confuse some, though it is clear as day. What do I speak of?’

Ashalla did not think much of it, though, as she proceeded to flow down into the cave. But it was not long before Ashalla realised that she was getting terribly lost. The twists and turns and corners of the cave’s path made navigation difficult and disorienting, and Ashalla knew that the exit to this labyrinthine passageway was very, very far below her. Finding her way through this maze was not worth her effort, so Ashalla turned back and followed her trail of moisture back to the surface.

She did not need to visit Vakk’s Sphere. His audience would suffice. There was a much easier way to gain his attention than climbing through some impossible maze.

A voice like thunder boomed through the passageway and found its way carried by echoes to Sanvādam. “Vakk, are you there? I’d like to speak.”

After some time, the massive head of Vakk emerged from the entrance of the cave, looking down upon the ocean goddess while the rest of his body was shrouded in the darkness of his cave. Vakk, however, did give a smile to Ashalla before he finally began speaking, “Greetings, Ashalla. I believe this the first time that we have met.” His voice was deep and did not display any true emotion towards the goddess as he seemed to inspect her.

“What is it you wish to talk about?” he asked, moving slightly closer to the goddess. Some tendrils moved out of the darkness like large snakes before they rested themselves on the rocky surface of the island.

Seeing the large form of Vakk emerge, Ashalla drew up water from the ocean until she had swelled to be slightly larger than Vakk. “I hear you got into a fight with Li’Kalla,” Ashalla said with a voice like rolling waves, her tone neutral.

“Ah… Yes,” Vakk confirmed before he held up the broken end of one of his tendrils, “She attacked me in defense, yet, the start of the fight was not my fault. Another god had overpowered my mind and compelled me to retrieve an artifact from her. I- I did not want to hurt her.” His voice had begun to crack up as if he were on the verge of crying, unable to cope with the fact that he had to do such a terrible act. As a sign of timidity, he moved slightly back from the ocean goddess and looked to the ground in an act of shame.

“So not only were you beaten in battle by the most timid and frail of the gods, you were also overpowered by another god.” Ashalla gave a derisive wet huff. “Who overpowered your mind?”

Vakk let out a sigh before he looked up at Ashalla, answering in a sorrowful tone, “Eurysthenes… He took control and told me to find the artifact. Harming Li’Kalla was not my fault.” He paused for a moment, allowing a light silence to fill the air between them before speaking once more, “I did shatter her wing, for the record, and she had turned into a rather large beast.”

There was a brief thoughtful rumble from Ashalla. She hadn’t met Eurysthenes outside tasting that one in the Architect’s lake, but she’d have to be careful of Eurysthenes. Although, K’nell’s story had also warned against Vakk, but he was such a pitiful being that he was surely no threat to herself. “I hear that Li’Kalla’s soul was fragmented when she turned into a beast and the fragments scattered. You wouldn’t happen to know more about that, would you?”

He seemed to ponder for a moment, silence dragging by before he replied, “I cannot say I do.” Within a second of silence Vakk had begun to speak again, “The artifact that Eurysthenes was attempting to get was a music box that I called the Box of Orchestration. A mortal named Hermes had apparently stolen the box from Li’Kalla, would you know anything about my box?” he asked inquisitively, tactfully changing the subject, seemingly to avoid talking about Li’Kalla anymore. Whether it was his own fear of the situation or not, was the best any could guess.

Ashalla perked up at the mention of the box. “That’s the other thing I wanted to talk to you about,” Ashalla said, her voice like a flowing current. “I found a music box which tasted of you on the bottom of the ocean between the lands of Li’Kalla and Kalmar, and decided to keep it because it made such lovely music. Hermes said she had lost a music box over the ocean, which was likely the same one.”

“What?” Vakk paused for a moment considering all the trouble he had gone through with making a beast to hunt down the thief, his jaw merely dropping in shock. The Lord of Talk let out a laugh, unknowing of what else to actually do at the appearance of this news, and it was a maddening laugh indeed. Many moments had passed before Vakk contained himself, looking upon Ashalla with a wide and crooked smile.

“May I have it back? I must hide it from Eurysthenes before he can get his filthy hands on it,” he requested, his tendrils slithering further across the ground, towards the goddess.

“I have currently placed the box in the nest of my Thunderbird for safekeeping. Although, if Eurysthenes is after it…” Ashalla rumbled as a thought came to her. “What does the box do?”

Vakk was silent but for a moment, his tendrils shifting around as he began to speak in a low tone, “He sought to make it into a weapon to control people, he knows the music I had made was to induce a soothing feeling. That was the reason I had given it to Li’Kalla, but when I divulged this information to Eurysthenes, he wanted the box like the greedy stain that he is.” Satisfied with this answer, Vakk moved closer, coming out of the shadow of his gateway.

“It will be safe within my sphere.”

Ashalla seemed to hesitate for a moment, then said, “Yes, it would be safer there.” As Vakk came closer, a pseudopod stretched out from Ashalla and brushed against Vakk. “Although, the music did a rather strange and un-soothing thing when Azura listened to it. She was mostly calm, but there was… it was as if something in her, beneath her consciousness, was fighting against the music.”

Vakk gave a shocked expression at the news, shaking his head before he began to speak, ”Perhaps there was something deeply troubling her? I saw Li’Kalla have the same effect, but she grew more at ease as I let the music play, after all, the magic is to remove the stress of a god…” He thought to himself for a moment before he added another suggestion, moving the tendril away from the pseudopod, ”Or the thief, Hermes, had done something with it! Mortals are not to be trusted, Ashalla, they will no doubt do reckless things like damage my box. If that is the case then I must repair it!”

Ashalla let out an extended rumble. “The words of a mortal don’t carry the weight of divinity…” she said slowly. Then she said, “Although, if the effect was due to damage, I would have noticed. Azura was very stressed at the time, so that is the most likely explanation. Although the box could probably do with a little maintenance. I’ve done what I can to keep it clean, but you don’t seem to have designed it for soaking in the ocean.”

“As I have stated before, it was a gift to Li’Kalla, so it is not meant for ocean travel. However, I do appreciate that you have kept it clean and safe for me,” Vakk stated, moving back towards the safety of his cave before asking, “Now, may I have the box?”

Ashalla paused for a few moments. “Very well, I shall return your box to you. It seems to have been running out of new melodies anyway.”

“I thank you. Now, it seems I will also have to ask you something. Who told you that I had attacked Li’Kalla? I feel as if whoever told you would not have known all the facts,” he indulged, continuing to hide in the shadows of his cave.

“I first heard it from some black-and-white birds, magpies. They’ve been flying everywhere telling the story they have. They received their story from K’nell, who told me more about what he knew,” Ashalla stated.

Vakk was silent for a moment, bringing his tendrils back before speaking in a hushed tone, “This seems suspicious. First, Hermes, then K’nell… No…” It was few more silent moments before speaking to Ashalla again, “I may need to speak with K’nell. My anxious mind will be at ease once I recover this box.”

Ashalla began to ebb. “It seems like I should get the box now. Unless you had more you wished to talk to me about,” Ashalla said.

”Perhaps when this matter settled, but for now, I must plan my meeting with K’nell. However, I do hope you will visit once all of this...” he made a general gesture around him, referring mainly to the situation, ”is dealt with.”

“Indeed,” Ashalla said. She started to draw back into the ocean, but stopped just before disappearing. “If you’re meeting K’nell, look out for any fragments of Li’Kalla’s soul. He is trying to restore her lost and broken parts.”

“Very well, and thank you once more.”

With those parting words, Ashalla’s form disappeared with a ripple. As her essence sped off, Vakk was left alone in his island once more, a sinister smile coming across his face before he letting out a singular laugh. It was a laugh of relief that he had managed to get away with his lies. He looked towards the sky and under his breath, said, “I am coming for you, K’nell. And you will be silenced.”

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Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Tal
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Tal

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Ya-Shuur stayed in the ruined manor brooding for a few days. He had sought to rebuild Li'Kalla's home for her because it had been destroyed unjustly. But he had not been able to rebuild it despite the fact that justice demanded it. It demanded it of Vakk specifically this was true but it demanded it generally as well and of anybody willing and able to carry it out and Ya-Shuur was willing but not able it seemed. What did that mean for justice if someone was willing but not able? Did that mean that one was unjust? It was this question that had been on Ya-Shuur's mind for the last few days and at last he thought he had an acceptable answer. He hefted his stick and wrote in the debris. "Every soul is to be allotted its due. It is a general duty on all who can. It is a specific duty on whosoever takes what is due another without good reason. Those who do not fulfill this general duty though they can are shamed. Those who do not fulfill this specific duty are to be hurt until it is fulfilled. This is Justice."

He left it there and went to Behr-Aat and climbed on to her back and they went away. They travelled until the reached the sea and walked along the beach for a few days. Then one day they came across a gray creature that had washed up on the beach. It had a rather long snout and was clicking and whistling. Ya-Shuur could immediately tell that it was distressed and could see that it was trying to get back to the water without success. He went to it and spoke softly to it to calm it down. Then he focused his power and caused the creature to levitate. Then he moved it towards the sea and placed it in the shallows where it was able to swim again. It rose above the waves and clicked and whistled happily before disappearing in the depths.

Ya-Shuur had seen fish before but never up close like that and the ones he had seen were also different from that one because they never whistled or clicked and did not seem as intelligent. When he returned to his herd he sat down with some of the goats by a stream and encouraged them to jump in. They swam about for a while. They were good swimmers but not like a fish. He thought that maybe he could make them better. Maybe when they jump in water they could become more like fish. The idea was interesting and he looked at his goats and wondered how to do it. He brought one goat near and sat in shallow water and he caught a big salmon with his powers and brought it close as well. He inspected the salmon for some minutes before releasing it and he also remembered how that grey intelligent fish had looked and then he started mutating the goat so it was able to swim like a fish and breathe in the water. He released it and it swam around and then rose above the water and bleated. He did this to a few more of them but then noticed that they had begun to swim away. Worried by this he ran along the stream after them. Some stayed in the river but others swam all the way down and disappeared into the sea.

He had wanted it to be so they could jump out of the water and become normal goats again but he now realized that if they were very good swimmers like this they could wander off and he would not know what happened to them so he decided against doing that to more goats. He hoped these water-goats that he had made would be okay in the rivers and the sea.

At that moment Ya-Shuur suddenly felt a jolt of sadness felt by a sudden short-lived anger. He sensed that something terrible had happened. It was an awful injustice of some kind. Not too long after he felt that jolt of sadness again but far greater than before and what came after it was a fury that caused him to throw his stick and hold his head with trembling hands. Something terrible was happening. Crimes and injustice unlike anything before. He got up and ran away suddenly. His goats looked up and bleated in confusion and two his herder-wolves followed after him and so did the crows because the crows were always following. He saw a magpie and it started talking to him but he had heard its story so many times now that he could recite it off by heart and he wasn't feeling in the mood to listen to it so he walked on by it. A bear lumbered by and stared at him but he fixed it with such a look of fury that it mewled fearfully and turned around and went away.

As he went he came across one of the areas protected by those spirit beings. Usually they were friendly to him but this one seemed to sense the anger in him and assaulted him straight away. Ya-Shuur shouted out in surprise and ran until he was out of its area. It sent a few hissing and crackling sounds after him and returned to its area. His fury now gone and replaced with a deep melancholy he continued until he came to a great cliff overlooking the sea and sat down. The two herder-wolves that had followed him were Behr-Aat and Jul-Urr. Jul-Urr was not mottled like Behr-Aat but entirely white and he was slightly bigger. They sat down to either side of him and he placed a hand on their heads and watched the sea sadly. Somewhere (he didn't know where or how) a great injustice had happened and he was not able to stop it just like the last time. He looked at his companions and then looked out at the sea. "I... we could go. We could go and find out and we can make it right." He said to himself.

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Hidden 2 mos ago 2 mos ago Post by AdorableSaucer
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AdorableSaucer Blessed Beekeeper

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Hermes
&
Xiaoli
&
Eurysthenes


Hermes lazily scooted forward, nuzzling her face into the back of Xiaoli's head and taking in her scent. The two had come back to the room without getting much else done, and so it was still rather bare, but Hermes didn't mind. She was surprised that Xiaoli was tired enough to have fallen asleep alongside her, unless she had made it so on purpose. The Dreamer poked her sleeping companion, a tiny smile forming on Hermes’ face, she didn't doubt it.

Poppler buzzed out of Xiaoli's hair, drunk with sleep and crackled on its way to go get fresh air. Hermes shot the cloudling a look before continuing her gentle prodding, “Xiaoli?”

Xiaoli let out a quiet snore, rolling a bit further away from Hermes while hugging a pillow. Hermes leaned up into her elbow and rolled her eyes, at least she might be dreaming.

The woman sat up and patted her lap idly, thinking of what to do. Her eyes drifted to the right until they fell onto her weathered bag, the corner of a particular leather bound book poking out. A wide smile formed and she fell flat onto her stomach, attempting to reach the book without leaving bed. She was half hanging off the bed, one leg up in the air to counter her balance and an arms stretched as far as it could go before she managed to pinch the corner of the book and slide it out.

With a silent “hup” she pulled back to the bed and sat up. Her eyes fell on the sleeping form of Xiaoli, making sure she didn't accidentally wake her. Xiaoli let out some semi-coherent mumbles and then rolled over on her back. She evidently needed a new dress, or at least to mend parts of it, which became especially evident now that she did not focus on the way she carried herself. Hermes made a face, she'll have to figure out a way to get fabric for Xiaoli.

Letting her shoulders fall into the plush of some stacked pillows, Hermes cracked Abanoc's book open. Almost immediately her eyes widened as whispers entered her head. Her eyes scanned the blank pages and her brow furrowed. It only took a few minutes before the Dreamer slapped the book shut, her head buzzing with ideas as everything settled.

A certain confidence overtook her and she slipped out bed, carefully padding over to get her sandals and club. She peeked over her shoulder at the sleeping form of Xiaoli and gave herself a smug smile, having made a successful escape.

Slipping outside, Hermes feet brushed through the dew that gathered in the mossy glade. She wasn't sure why, but she rather liked waking up in the morning more than any other time. There was something peaceful about the world, as if it too was just waking up.

Sucking in a large dewey breath, Hermes smiled and hefted her club in both hands. Her eyes focused, and the images from the book popped into her head: it was basically a dance in its own right. She stepped, her arms weaved through the air, her club following. She stepped, the club came down at a surprising angle. She stepped, it came back up in such an arc to compliment the former. She turned, she stepped, her arms weaved and before she knew it, she had turned her dance into a dangerous one.

Her sandals fluttered and she sped up. She stepped, a blur. She stepped, a danger. She stepped, the club erupted from the blur. She stepped, her imaginary foe was defeated. With a confident smile, Hermes continued her repetitions, turning every facet of her dance into a defensive or offensive maneuver, using the advice of the book to perfect what she had created.

By the time sweat dripped down her chin, she was red faced and only somewhat satisfied. Leaning on her club she let out an expensive exhale and tried to replay the entire dance in her mind; if only she could actually put it to the test. It was fluid and beautiful, but was it effective and deadly? She didn't want to be the laughing end of a fight again, and certainly not when--

She looked down at her abdomen, her shirt clinging to her stomach -- certainly not when it mattered the most.

“Keep it up, my love,” Xiaoli said with a gentle smile. “You’re doing great.” She leaned against a nearby tree and observed Hermes intently while nibbling on some blades of sweetgrass.

Hermes nearly jumped out of her skin. Quickly recomposing herself she swung the club over her shoulder and spun to meet Xiaoli, “I thought it'd be good to learn. You know-- to fight.” She let the club fall head first into the ground and leaned against it, “How did you sleep?”

Xiaoli swallowed a few more blades and let out a hum. “Like Beihe outside the flood season! I didn’t even hear you leave.” The avatar shuffled over and placed her hand on the enormous club. “Is it heavy, may I ask?”

“Probably not for you,” Hermes gave her a smirk and pushed the handle towards Xiaoli, “Any dreams?”

Xiaoli grabbed the club by the handle and picked it up as it if was a stick. “No… Not this time, either,” she said with a huff and swung the club around in the air as if it was a reed, causing minor windshear.

“Hmph,” Hermes grunted and crossed her arms. She watched Xiaoli swing the club around intently, “I was certain you sleeping next to me would let you go to my dreams if you couldn't find any.”

“Oh, you wish I would, don’t you,” Xiaoli smirked and giggled before handing the club back to Hermes, who had to wrap both hands around it to heave it back over her shoulder. Xiaoli took a moment to absorb Hermes’ toned features and glistening skin. She walked over and squeezed her right bicep affectionately.

“I wouldn’t mind if you kept practicing, just so you know,” she said and winked.

“Mhm,” Hermes grunted knowingly, a smug smile toying across her face, “And what are you going to do?”

Xiaoli shrugged. “I made the rest of the house while you were practicing. I guess I will continue with the rest of the mansion.” She looked down at her clothes. “Alternatively, I could spruce up my wardrobe… Actually, I think I’m going to do that.” She let out a sigh. “Would you happen to know if there is any flax on Tendlepog? Any fiberous grass will do, really.”

“Well,” Hermes let the club fall as she thought, “There is the trip vine, but that's no good for covering yourself. Hmm.”

She looked over Xiaoli and then nodded, “it's not a plant, but the tree chasers have pretty fluffy coats.” She perked up, “Oh! If you take their coats, can you make me some clothes too? They look very cozy when they sleep and I'm not going to lie, I get jealous now and again.”

Xiaoli drummed her chin thoughtfully with her fingers. “Hmm.. Yeah, from what I can remember, they do seem rather soft! I’ll be right back, then.” With that, Xiaoli skipped happily into the woods.

Hermes gave a cheshire grin, only turning away once Xiaoli was out of sight. She laughed to herself, content, and swung her club.




Why didn’t she fly, Xiaoli wondered as she strolled through the undergrowth. She was perfectly capable of flight - all she had to do was bend gravity to her will and demand that the winds push her forward in a controlled manner; yet, something about that method felt inherently like… Cheating. She reasoned the birds she would pass by would be awfully jealous, having to flap and flap and flap to maintain lift. It all just seemed a little too cheap to her - besides, the forest was lovely this time of day.

Xiaoli chuckled as she heard the birds sing to each other, but furrowed her brow as soon as she actually paid attention to the lyrics. She decided to merely clear her throat and move on. The occasional chameleon squirrel complained about having ironically camouflaged its nuts too well again, and the avatar sometimes had to dodge patches of curious flying moss that probably thought her hair looked like tasty dead grass.

Eventually, that nice little stroll brought her to the vast open plains of Tendlepog, characterised by the docile flocks of trees crowding around the water holes, only to be ambushed by--
There was one! A tree eater! Xiaoli hurried over, taking cover behind a rock to observe the creatures closer. It was large - likely the size of a farmer ape, or larger - with a colossal mouth and a cozy-looking coat. Xiaoli pondered for a moment - she wouldn’t have to kill to steal its coat, right?

The huge beast had seemingly just managed to snatch one of the elder, sicklier trees, its massive jaws gnawing menacingly on the wiggling wood. Now was her chance!

She snuck a little closer. The beast did not notice her, or did perhaps not care enough - either way, she would not waste this opportunity. She slowly stood up, eliciting a sideways glance from the wooly beast, though little more. She slowly approached and, with a careful hand, reached out to pat the beast. Thankfully, it seemed rather preoccupied with eating. It was likely a beast without many predators - generally calm and sweet, unless one happened to have bark and leaves. The question still remained, though: How on Galbar would she get the pelt without killing, or at the very least maiming, the poor creature?

Xiaoli tugged gently at a handful of strands, eliciting a deep rumble from the chewing beast. Perhaps she could cut it, somehow - shear it, even. Xiaoli looked around for suitable rocks, though she dared now wander too far and lose sight of the tree eater. Eventually, she came upon a stone suitable for sharpening, its shape tending towards oval with an almost natural handle.

As she ran her hand over the blade and sharpened it, however, she heard the unmistakable sound of rustling grass.

“Noooo, no, no, no!” Xiaoli whispered angrily to herself and jogged back to the water hole. The tree eater had finished its meal, leaving only twigs and a sticky pool of sap on the ground. In the distance, a happy beast trundled through the grass.

“Oh no, you don’t!” Xiaoli shouted and gave chase. The beast looked around and, initiating what little fight-or-flight response it was born with, started sprinting away from the knife-wielding avatar.

“Come back here!” Xiaoli shouted again, her knife in one hand and the front of her skirt in the other. The rest of the afternoon on the savannah was characterised with humanoid shouting, animalistic whimpering, and a sudden appearance of slightly nuder tree eaters.




Xiaoli returned to the house with her hands full of colourful striped fleece. But as soon as she turned a tree, entering the glade she stopped in her tracks. There by the newly built house, Hermes was looking up at and talking with the many armed crystalline form of the Lord of Riddle: Eurysthenes. It had reached down with an arm to point at Hermes’ forehead.

”Tell me. This mark, the one of spirals. Does it betray loyalty, or merely showcase it?” it asked in a confusingly straightforward manner.

Xiaoli immediately dropped all the fleece she had in her hands and knelt into a kowtow.

“Y-y-your Holiness! This servant apologises profusely for her insolence in not noticing Your exalted presence earlier!”

The gesture was firm and serious, though it would have looked better had Xiaoli not been shouting into the ball of fleece she had just dropped. Hermes seemed to have been pulled from her finger-biting thoughts and looked over.

A short moment of groveling passed, before Xiaoli felt herself being lifted by her back to her feet. The wool was dangling in the air in front of her.

”Such gestures are unbecoming of an Avatar,” it clicked, and began reeling in its arms, ”What, I would ask of you, is the reason?”

Xiaoli seemed dumbstruck for a moment, slowly picking the fleece out of the air and piling it back up in her arms. “Y-your Holiness, it’s a gesture of respect - to honour Your Holiest of presences. As a student of the Flow, such courtesy is a must, in this servant’s eyes.” She tipped a bow upon finishing her sentence.

The stare of This One was scrutinizing. It patted her on the head. ”Respect yourself and stay on your feet. Better yet, respect your creator and use those feet to hold yourself up. Covering your face with ground is not respect, it is silly.

“Oh!” Hermes spoke up from behind Eurysthenes and in defense of Xiaoli, “She’s not from Swahhitteh-Tendlepog,” The Dreamer started to explain, “These are different customs, it took me a while to understand them, too.”

“Did you really build all of this with K’nell?” Hermes asked the riddle god with wide eyes.

Eurysthenes blinked without eyes at Hermes. Whether this was out of understanding or uncaring was unknown. It tapped her on the forehead, directly on the center of the spiral.

Hermes’ vision swam, and while she was completely sure there was ground underneath her feet, she was soaring above it. There was nothing but ocean in sight. Ocean, a staircase, and the entrance to Limbo. Ever so slowly the massive cogs spiraled into existence. Each rock, ridge, and slope meticulously placed. Each trick of the light curated. Even the parts Hermes thought she knew were hazy.

When she came to, the feeling that she had been gone for years could not escape her, though everything was unmoved. The woman stood in shock, wavering back and forth as it all assimilated into the correct parts of her mind until finally she blinked. Sucking in a huge
breath, all she could mutter was, “Wow.”

A smile formed on Eurysthenes’ face. It was a grotesque thing, though undeniably friendly at its core. ”Do you know what it is at the core? What it is to have been mean. Simply put, have you shown others what?”

“What?” Hermes almost echoed the riddle, her face befuddled.

This One hummed. ”What is brown and sticky?”

“--Sap?” Hermes pondered out loud.

Silence. Eurysthenes scratched it's head. ”That is… not the answer I'm looking for. Tell me, what has layer upon layer, though makes you cry the more you see of it?”

Hermes bit her finger in thought, “Oh! Li’Kalla had some in her kitchen--” She thumped a hand against her head, “Little round plant bulb, flaky outer skin, mushy insides, juice that makes you cry.”

It patted her on the head. ”You know what I speak of, child. Well done.”

Hermes seemed to scrunch a little under the pat but didn’t outright object to being told she was right, “Thank you.”

This One turned as if to go, but stopped halfway. ”But before I leave, tell me, why did K’nell make you?”

“At first,” Hermes said with a shrug, “To experience, but then, to be more than that.”

Eurysthenes nodded. ”And tell me, what is the most worthy thing to experience?”

“I don’t know,” Hermes answered, “And with how experiences tend to go, I don’t think I ever will.”

It stared at her for a second, waved, and left, melding into the surrounding forest. The moment it could no longer be seen, Hermes’ form flickered for a brief second and she blinked in confusion, her face twisting with thought.

Xiaoli appeared as if she had been hiding behind the mountain of fleece in her arms, her face pink with shame and embarrassment.

“D-do you think I insulted him?” she whimpered at Hermes. She lifted her gaze and let her eyes lock on to Hermes’, furrowing her brow.

“Did His Holiness Eurysthenes do anything to you? Your aura is different.”

Hermes’ eyes disappeared and then reappeared, “I can make things seem a way that they are not, it seems.” She seemed shocked, but admittedly less shocked than expected, likely getting used to the blessings. “I like Eurysthenes--” She looked over at Xiaoli’s pout, “I think he liked you too, he is just hard to read.”

Xiaoli blinked and dropped her fleece yet again. She quickly paced over to Hermes and put her hands on her cheeks, squinting as she let her eyes scan her with great detail. “‘Make things seem a way that they are not’,” she echoed. “C-can you show this power now, you think?”

Hermes pursed her lips in thought, and then in an instant Hermes’ face flickered and then the River-girl was staring at a reflection of herself where Hermes’ face should be. Xiaoli jumped back and hid her face in her hands, only peering back through a split opening between two fingers.

“That’s-... Very frightening, I’ll be honest… Also, do I really look that boney in the face?”

Hermes’ face reappeared, “I think you mean to say beautiful.”

Xiaoli’s pale face reddened and she giggled faintly. “... Dumby.” She turned around and picked up the fleece yet again. “Did He tell you anything else, by the way? You seemed a bit… Lost for a moment, there.” She walked over to the house and stored the wool just behind the door.

Hermes peeked at the fleece, “Oh, he said a lot of things, but they were all questions, and I am not sure how well I answered them.”

Xiaoli hummed curtly. “Well, I’m glad His intent was good, either way.” She clapped some dust off her hands.

“K’nell does the same thing,” Hermes observed, taking a few scanning steps towards Xiaoli “Is it a Divinity thing?”

Xiaoli nodded sheepishly. “The Exalted Creators do have a… Less than fortunate tendency to be quite indirect in their ways of speaking… I may be, too, on occasion.”

“Not that,” Hermes chuckled and poked Xiaoli’s nose, eliciting a blink and an ‘oh’ from her, “You all hum when you think.”

“M-maybe we do. I’ve never thought about it.” She began to hum, but then cut herself off. “Is it annoying?”

“I like it,” Hermes shrugged, “I just noticed is all.”

“Oh! Well, I’m glad you don’t mind it.” She winked and poked Hermes’ nose back. “I’m going to find some materials to make a spindle, okay? I won’t be long.”

Hermes gently bit Xiaoli's finger, “Mmkay.” She let go and smiled. Xiaoli grinned and giggled before skipping happily into the woods.

“You seem taken to her,” A grainy voice appeared from the woods.

“Yep!-” Hermes turned and froze. K'nell stood at the border of the glade, a crow on each shoulder, “K'nell!”

The God's smile crecented and he tilted his head, “And I see you have met Eurysthenes.”

“Yes,” Hermes smiled wide, “He was very nice.”

“Good,” K'nell began to walk past Hermes, only to suddenly stop, “I had felt Limbo fluctuate and wane as if someone had stepped into it. Would you know why?” His silver eyes studied the house.

“It was me,” Hermes answered sheepishly, “I had gotten curious.”

K'nell hummed in thought, causing anxiety to split over Hermes’ face, “I see.” He turned to her, “It is good you are okay, such a place is not for idle walks.”

Hermes’ anxiety turned to guilt, “I know-- now.”

“Then I will be wise to keep it closed, and you will compliment by heeding my advice,” K'nell stepped towards the Dreamer. Hermes nodded, and K'nell put a hand on her shoulder, “I wish you luck on your house, and your-” The God smiled, “Your new family.”

Hermes smiled back and with a silvery wink, K'nell had disappeared back into the woods, in the direction of Limbo.




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The Journey to Tendlepog: Chapter 1


The crew aboard Zhengwu had found it surprisingly hard to adjust to the movements of such a smaller vessel. As opposed to the mammoth size of Jiangzhou, the tumultuous waves of Nanhe actually manage to rock the ship quite a bit, inciting a most vile, crew-wide disease - which, upon reaching calmer parts of the river, turned out to merely be a lack of sea legs. The sails had, however, proved worthy of the voyage so far, granting Zhengwu more speed than any oar or current ever could. The southern winds struck diagonally across the curved sail, shooting the boat forward despite it going against the gusts.

A wonderful feat of physics, Qiang Yi though to himself - a grand blessing from the Exalted Creators, surely. The young man sat on deck next to a small table, upon which laid a page of rice paper and a small ink bowl. He dipped his brush, his dearest possession, into the ink, gently brushed off the excess droplets and bore it over to the page. With a stiff arm and a firm grip, he brought the brush down and let it dance across the white surface like a leaf on the wind.

Swish, swish, swish:
The dancing waves below
With pitches high and low,
Guide our journey, O.
Swish, swish, swish.

Tock, tock, tock:
The feet of crew at work,
Their skill without a quirk,
Through darkness and through murk.
Tock, tock, tock.

Drip, dri--


Qiang Yi tipped forward, causing his brush to strike over the characters he had already written, erasing them utterly. He let out a vexed grumble and stood up.

“What happened?” he boomed.

“Apologies, captain! We had to avoid a silt pile!” first mate Zhen-zhen shouted from the helm. Qiang Yi blinked and rose to his feet, hurrying over to the bow. His glistening, blue eyes became saucers as he glanced outwards across the vast, unending blue on the horizon. He was soon flanked by several more crew members, all awestruck by the presence of so much water.

“The Exalted Creators be praised,” one of the deckhands next to Qiang Yi whispered. Qiang Yi grinned and squeezed his shoulder.

“Behold, faithful crew - the ocean!” The crew burst out into loud cheers and clapped their hands. Qiang Yi grinned smugly and turned to the helm. He crossed the deck and ascended the stairs to the ship’s stern. Then, he sat down next to Zhen-zhen, who was manning the tiller. He gave her a nod, which she returned diligently.

“Have you gotten used to steering yet?” Qiang Yi asked with a wry smile. The girl grinned and nodded.

“Yes, captain! The rudder is heavy, but provided the waters are gentle, it shouldn’t be too much of an issue.”

Qiang Yi hummed in approval. “Good. We will keep a steady course along the coast for as long as possible, making certain to avoid the stronger currents closer to the shore while keeping a keen eye on our relation to the continent. If we reach open sea…” The two looked gravely at one another.

“... Prayer shall be our sail,” Zhen-zhen said reassuringly. Qiang Yi pursed his lips and nodded.

“Prayer shall be our sail,” he said ominously. “Keep up the good work, first mate Zhen-zhen.”

“Yes, captain,” she yelled and returned her gaze forwards. Qiang Yi stepped over to the railing at the front of the helmspost and observed the deck: The crew was diligently readjusting and tightening the sails against the strong southern wind; some brough buckets of water around for the deckhands to drink from.

All in all, Qiang Yi thought, the journey had started quite well. He took a moment to breathe in the distant sea air, not yet crowded with the fragrance of the jungle - just pure and clean.

“...tain..”

The sounds - oh, by the Creators, these waves were not like those of the river. Even from here, he heard their thunderous chorus battle with the gentle laps of Nanhe’s delta. Such a foreign, exciting tune.

“...aptain..!”

If he listened ever closer, he could swear that he heard--

“Captain!”

Qiang Yi snapped to and rubbernecked in most directions until his eyes fell on a group of three standing on the stairs to his left. He knew them - not well, but well enough. They were Li Shan and Li Gongxiu, both from the Skilled caste, and Wang Huangxia of the Noble caste. The speaker seemed to have been Wang Huangxia, for he came up the staircase and bowed to Qiang Yi, who bowed back.
“Captain, are you well? You seem a little faint. Would you like to rest for a minute, perhaps?” Wang asked warily. Qiang Yi shook his head.

“Your concern is appreciated, Wang Huangxia. Pardon my reverie - I just felt so inspired by the sights; so many beautiful motifs for poetry, don’t you agree?”

Wang nodded with a cordial smile. “Certainly, captain. Would that I had your eyes and ears for the arts, and by the Exalted Creators, would I record them all with diligence.”

Qiang Yi smiled back and nodded. “A stellar wish, master Wang. Now, if I may ask, did you have something for me?”

“Certainly, captain. I would not have bothered you otherwise. These two gentlemen from the pumping room have a message for you.” He stepped to the side and allowed the two servants to step forth, both bowing to Qiang Yi, who bowed back.

“Captain,” said Li Shan in a deep voice, “we have solved the remaining issues with the windmill pump. Now we are ready to untie it at your command.” Qiang Yi smiled and bowed to them again.

“Stellar work, master Li, master Li. You may tell the rest of the Skilled to stand at the ready in the pumping room for when the strong unfurl the sails at sea. We should break into brack in an hour or so. Shortly thereafter, we should be turning northwards to catch the southern winds. Then, we will release the restraints on the windmill.”

“Yes, captain,” the two Lis said simultaneously and went to work. Qiang Yi turned back towards the bow, only to notice out of the corner of his eye that Wang Huangxia was still present. He turned his head and raised a curious eyebrow at the opposite man.

“Was there anything else, master Wang?” Qiang Yi asked.

Wang Huangxia hesitated, but then nodded. “Forgive me, captain, but did His Lordship tell you anything about how our bodies may react to saltwater?”

Qiang Yi blinked, his smile fading into a frown. “No… No, His Lordship did not, I am afraid.”

Wang looked up with disbelief in his eyes. “B-but His Lordship knows well that our spirits require pure fresh water to subsist. There is no telling what may happen to us if we are exposed to too much salt. Did you not ask him before we left?”

Qiang Yi looked away at the slowly approaching ocean and sucked in a deep breath. “Remain calm for now, if you can. Go out to the crew and tell them to make certain that their undressed body parts are especially well covered with their skin. Do -not- tell them of the unknown risks of saltwater exposure, master Wang. Morale is high for now; we need it to remain that way.”

With a heavy nod, Wang Huangxia let out a sigh and bowed. “Yes, captain.” Then he went down on deck. Qiang Yi felt his breathing accelerate ever so slightly.

“A little salt should be fine, even if it passed through the skin,” Zhen-zhen mumbled from the tiller. “However, to fall overboard--”

“No one will fall overboard,” said Qiang Yi, perhaps a little too firmly. “If we stay the course, the weather should be on our side. His Lordship have traversed the skies several times without experiencing a single storm.”

“Certainly,” Zhen-zhen said in a monotone voice, “though Jiangzhou is a holy vessel, and the skies are bound by different laws from the sea. His Lordship said it himself: Ours is the first sea voyage - we know not what we will encounter.”

Qiang Yi sucked in a deep breath yet again and let out a sigh that morphed into a groan. “I realise this, Zhen-zhen, but we cannot spread fear among the crew. We are the first, after all - the risks are like a menacing shadow in the shrubbery: We cannot see them clearly, but we know they are there. Uncertainty leads to fear, fear leads to panic, panic leads to--”

“Mutiny?” Zhen-zhen suggested. Qiang Yi paused, then looked over his shoulder down to the deck.

“Yes… Mutiny,” he whispered warily. Zhen-zhen shook her head.

“I apologise for my tone, captain,” she confessed. “One should not speak such words aboard a ship - they may bring back luck.” Qiang Yi nodded and shot one more look down on deck. There, the deckhands were jogging to and fro as the vast dark blue approached the bow. Some were retying the mast lines; some were running water rounds around deck; some were taking in the views; and some were staring back at him.

“... Yes… Bad luck,” Qiang Yi echoed quietly.




The brackwater brushed against Qiang Yi’s skin as they reached the lower edges of the delta. It itched, a little like a miniature cut. He stood at the front of the bow with one and on the railing and one shielding his eyes from the heliopolis. He felt his breathing speed up again as the surrounding crew members began to rub and scratch their various exposed parts. This certainly would not grow vexing over time, he thought angrily to himself.

This was, however, no time to think about such nonsense. The grey silt began to vanish from the water surface and give way to darker and darker sea. This was the time.

In an almost rehearsed motion, Qiang Yi turned to face the helm while he raised his hand. The crew simultaneously braced themselves. Qiang Yi shot a glance back at the sea, the abyss below signaling that they had left the delta.
“NOW!” Qiang Yi boomed.

The crew rocked to the side as the rudder was violently jerked to the left, sending the ship on a sharp curve northwards. Some brave individuals let go of whatever they had been holding to turn the sails. Good, Qiang Yi thought. Everything was going according to pla--

There was a blood-curdling snap as the south wind caught the sternward sail harder than anticipated. The rope holding the sail snapped the hook it clung onto straight out of the woodwork, sending it like a morning star-tipped whip straight into the chest of Li Gongxiu, who had been manning that part of the sail. The force tossed the man off balance and against the railing - then another gust rocked the ship and sent him overboard.

Qiang Yi felt the colour drain from his eyes. “MAN OVERBOARD,” he roared and the crew all charged towards the stern to help him. Rope was found and weighted with a stone and tossed after him, but the crew stood in horror as all they saw were the man’s clothes floating emptily on the water surface.

The gusts gave out. The only sounds that coloured the black soundscape were the breezes from the south and west, and the tweets from the jungle back on land. A whimper grew louder and louder.

“Gongxiu-... GONGXIU!”

Qiang Yi let his eyes fall on Li Shan, who knelt in tears by the railing, his shoulders filling with the hands of his fellow crew members. He felt a nauseating clump fill his throat, one he could not seem to swallow for the life of him. He gently pushed his way out of the crowd and up to the helm. He stood at the front of the helmspost, scanning the deck from above. Slowly, the eyes of the crew began to fall on him. Qiang Yi tried once more to swallow, but felt himself choke.

“Did His Lordship know about this?!” came a voice from the crowd. Qiang Yi blinked and looked away.

“H-his Lordship did not inform me of this. We had no idea th--”

“But His Lordship must have known! We should have known! Why were we not told?!”

“I-!” Qiang Yi had to pick his words carefully. “I cannot answer why - for I do not know, either! We must have faith, however, that this is part of His Lordship’s plan!”

“No master should plan their servants’ death!” came a particularly angry voice, this one from a source Qiang Yi could place. Wang Huangxia stepped forth in the crowd. Qiang Yi felt moisture collect on his face, apart from the seabreeze.

“His Lordship certainly did not plan for us to die, but we are th--!”

“Yes, we are the first to sail the sea,” Wang Huangxia continued, “and yet we were not told about this. His Lordship likely hypothesised of this effect, but needed proo-!”

“Wang Huangxia!” came a voice from the railing. Qiang Yi recognised it as Li Shan's, but it was broken with emotion and tears. The red-ringed eyes of the carpenter burned with fury as he walked over and stabbed a finger in Wang Huangxia’s face.

“His Lordship may have left out some details about our bodies, but you will -NOT- stand here and use my friend’s death to speak ill of His Lordship, is that clear?!”

Wang Huangxia stood in shock at the gesture. The crew had similar expressions. Eventually, Wang recollected himself and got down on all fours in a kowtow.

“This servant apologises profusely for its heretical words.”

Li Shan nodded and looked at Qiang Yi with somber, yet determined eyes. “Orders, captain?”

Qiang Yi remained frozen for another second before his mind absorbed and processed the question properly. He blinked a few times and stared at the crew, who were all staring back. There it was, that curséd clump.

“First of all,” he began a little weaker than intended, “get the sternward sail under control. Then ascertain the status of the ship. Then…” Qiang Yi looked at Li Shan.

“Then we will take a moment to remember Li Gongxiu.”

Li Shan’s eyes teared up again and he rubbed them profusely with the sandy back of his hand. As the crew dispersed to perform their tasks, Qiang Yi felt his breath escape him.

“You have a lot of loyal people aboard, captain,” Zhen-zhen mused from her seat next to the tiller. “You’re a lucky man.”

“They’re loyal to His Lordship, first mate Zhen-zhen, not me,” Qiang Yi answered shamefully.

“If you continue to do His Lordship’s bidding, they will be,” Zhen-zhen said with a sad smile. Qiang Yi turned his head and sent her a sideways glance.

He prayed that he would be worthy of such.

He prayed dearly.




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