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

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Hermes
Xiaoli


The trio fell into a rhythm. Xiaoli spent her day making a wardrobe for herself and Hermes, while the Dreamer kept working on her martial art, even going so far as to bug Xiaoli for paper she had pressed from the local trees so that she could attempt to draw the formations she was practicing. Poppler would buzz in and out at leisure, living his secret life from the prying eyes of the duo. The day came to a close as quickly as it started, and night flew by just as quick.

Hermes was the first to retire to the bedroom, but not before a dip in the brook, which she did with concerned privacy. She happily slipped into the new cloths Xiaoli had made specifically for sleep and disappeared into the room and under the sheets. Xiaoli spent a few more hours by herself, taking in the sensations of Tendlepog and occasionally being accompanied by Poppler. Finally, she too decided to sleep, slipping in next to Hermes. Hours passed, and the insects of Tendlepog buzzed their early morning songs, calling forth a humid day.

Xiaoli’s gentle snore turned into a sudden snort, causing Hermes’ eyes to snap open. She blinked and leaned up on her elbow to look at her partner with tired eyes. Xiaoli smacked her lips and turned to her side, still very much asleep. Hermes rubbed an eye and let herself fall back onto the bed with a whoosh of air puffing from her pillows. The Dreamer groaned for a while, whining to herself before rolling onto her side, face looking down from the bed.

“Better be dreaming,” She muttered as she reached down and snatched her book from her bag (which she had kept much closer to the bed this time). Falling back onto her pillows she shimmied her shoulders down until she was nearly engulfed in the blankets, using the spine of the book to keep the blanket off her face as she stared upwards at the empty pages.

Slowly Hermes eyes widened as she stared at the pages. She froze, her eyes scanning the blank book over and over, pages flipping every now and again. Her eyes began to dry as she stared, until all at once she had fallen completely still, stuck in a trance of some sort. Her eyes remained glued, and a frown stretched across her face.

With a low, drawn-out groan, Xiaoli stirred from her sleep and let out a “hmmph?” at the rocking movements in bed.

“What time is it?” she muttered partially into the pillow.

The book closed, “We never defined times,” Hermes said in a defeated voice, pulling what she remembered from a previous stint through the book, “but it is morning.”

Xiaoli rolled over to face Hermes and furrowed her brow. “Oh, dear, not having defined time is nothing to be upset about. It’ll happen eventually!” She gave a smile and moved her hand over to caress Hermes’ closest cheek.

Hermes leaned her head into the palm of Xiaoli’s hand but didn’t smile, “It’s not that.”
Xiaoli’s smile faded and her expression grew grave. “What? What is it? Did something happen?”

“Look,” Hermes opened the book to a nondescript blank page and showed Xiaoli. The Dreamer seemed to shrink as she presented it.

Xiaoli raised an eyebrow and sighed. “Hermes, my love, the page is blank. Did it stop working, is that why you’re upset?”

Hermes flicked the book back to her and scanned the empty page and groaned, slapping the book shut and letting it slip back into her bag, “No.” She sat up, “I was reading about-- well, being a mother.”

“Ooooh… Yeah, children do tend to be a little messy in the beginning, but--” Xiaoli scanned her look again and her face paled. “Oh… You were reading about pregnancy, weren’t you?”

“Uh,” Hermes face strained, “There seems to be a detail that Kalmar had left out.” She sighed, “I need another Dreamer to make… Dreamers, but I’m the only Dreamer.”

Xiaoli’s face lost whatever colour was left and her eyes emptied of joy. “... Oh…” was all she could muster for a moment as her head slowly keeled forward. She clutched her left arm with her right, now staring into her lap. Then, after a long pause, she looked back up, newfound colour entering her eyes and spreading outwards around the face.

“That may not be a problem,” she said with a pensive look. She put a finger on her chin and, almost reluctantly so, said: “We… Could pray to one of the Exalted Creators to make you a…” She rolled the words around in her mouth as if they were poison. “... A reproductive partner…”

“I… uh,” Hermes’ pang of anxiety turned to embarrassment, “Well, a few things.” She protested, putting a hand on Xiaoli’s arm, “I- I saw what that would be like.” She shook her head, “I don’t want that… besides… the Dreamers are my creation, and I want to be able to create them with someone whom I choose.”

“Oh, thank the Crea-! I mean…” Xiaoli cleared her throat and cast her arms around Hermes’ neck and pulled her in for a tight hug. “That’s beautiful, my love, but I can’t… You know…” She cleared her throat yet again and patted Hermes’ stomach.

“I don’t have the… Necessary assets.”

“I know,” Hermes brow slanted, “-Wait.”

She cocked her head and scooted close, eliciting a slight recoil from Xiaoli, “Did you-” Hermes mulled over on her words, “Are you saying you want to help create the dreamers.” She shook her head, “Like, you know, really help -- as in -- be a parent?”

Xiaoli blinked and blushed. “W-w-well, I thought that was obvious! I want to be with you, Hermes, and I want to be there when your children are born, and see them grow to be as beautiful in both body and soul as their mother.” She leaned in and pecked her on the cheek.

Hermes smiled with a glowing contentment before suddenly shouting a little loud, “What about Arae!?”

Xiaoli blinked and recoiled slightly again. “What about Her Holiness Ara--” Her eyes widened along with her smile. “Hermes, you are a genius.”

“Yeah!” Hermes all but hopped out of bed, “We are going to do this!”

Xiaoli hopped after, skipping around next to Hermes like a firecracker. “We’re going to be mothers!” she exclaimed, her arms shooting up into the air.

After a few hops, she calmed down and pointed at Hermes. “Pack your things, Hermes! We are leaving immediately!”

Hermes swung her bag over her woolen shirt and quickly slipped on her sandals, “We shouldn’t be long, after all.”

Xiaoli let out a hum. “... Alternatively, we could try prayer. According to His Lordship, prayer should be the most convenient way for mortals to contact the gods. Maybe, just maybe…”

Xiaoli stormed out the house without hearing Hermes’ opinion on the matter. She began to grab rocks and sticks from the mansion’s building material pile and put them by the forest border at the southeastern edge of the clearing. Clapping her hands together, the stones began to fuse into a single large rock, which she pushed into an upright position. Then, she arranged the sticks in a roughly circular manner before pointing her finger at them. The sticks began to sprout smaller branches as if they were alive. The branches arranged themselves into the symbol of the Dragon Mother - at least as well as she remembered it from the carpet in Arae’s room aboard Jiangzhou. Once the symbol was complete, she stuck it to the stone, shuffled a few paces back and prostrated herself before the stone.

“Oh, most blessed and kind of all the gods, Your Holiness Arae - the Dragon Mother. Please take a minute to hear this humble one’s prayer…” Xiaoli paused to take a deep breath. “My love and I have travelled far and struggled much to achieve fertility for her, only to realise that our plan was flawed from the beginning. We are incapable of creating a family as we are - therefore, we beseech Your Holiest of beings with utmost humility to answer our prayers so that we may bring our children into this world.” She looked up at the shrine. “Thank you,” she said and bowed her head again.

This raises a lot of questions,” Arae spoke to them telepathically.

Xiaoli nearly jumped to her feet, but quickly realised what was going on. “Y-your Holiness! Forgive this servant’s insolence in contacting You like this, but… Well, the matter is dire. Whatever questions Your Holiness may have, these servants will gladly answer.” Xiaoli blinked over at Hermes who had wandered out as if to see if she, too, was receiving the mental messages. Her wide eyes seemed to verify.

The first I shall ask is perhaps the most important: How does Hermes intend to get pregnant? How do you wish for all of this to happen? You two already know there are no others of Hermes’ species, and you, Xiaoli, are, well, of the same gender.

“Arae,” Hermes knelt down by the stone, “My mind is yours for you to peer into, that is where my desire is held.”

A peer into Hermes’ mind, and the truth was clear to Arae. “I see…” Arae said. “Your love for each other is strong. While this is rather unorthodox, I shall grant you your wish.” Xiaoli then began to feel a warm sensation wash over her. This lasted only for a few seconds before fading away. “Now then, do try not to have too much fun,” Arae said mischievously. Soon after she said this, her presence from their minds vanished, leaving the two of them in peace. Xiaoli blinked.

Hermes blinked back and looked at Xiaoli, “Is it done?”

Xiaoli let her hands pat her body a little and she looked at Hermes. She clutched her head. “Well, that was a strange sensation. I don’t even know if anything’s different about me - w-well, I mean, it should be, but...” She looked down at her hands.

Hermes copied Xiaoli's hum and took her hands, squeezing them gently. Xiaoli looked up and smiled weakly at Hermes. “... I guess we can find out?”






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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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The Journey to Tendlepog: Chapter 2


The crew had gathered on deck around a neatly stacked pile of what remained of Li Gongxiu’s belongings. Like any other servant, he had not owned much apart from the bonds forged with his peers, but what he had brought along were his carpenter tools, a copy of a Shengshese dictionary, and stacks of rice paper, a few pages of which had been painted with the motifs of Lower Nanhe.

“... He was always a creative soul, he was,” said Li Shan with a sniff. Qiang Yi stood next to him with his hands folded. He gave Li Shan a nod, and the carpenter continued, “My friend was… He was blessed with both skills of hand and skills of art, and had he… Still been here in a few years, he-...” He cleared the sobs from his throat. “He definitely would have been worthy of joining the Wise.” Qiang Yi, Li Shan and the surrounding crew bowed inwards towards the pile of belongings.

“A servant of stellar ability has passed in the line of duty - no fate is more unfortunate to befall our kin,” Qiang Yi spoke. “We will treasure his memory and adapt as the streams would in face of obstacles, to ensure no one else must suffer his fate.” There was a pause.

“Our companion swims downstream ahead of us. We will miss him, but our task yet remains - we will continue northwards to Tendlepog and bring the Lordship’s divine gift to His Holiness K’nell. However, to ensure that this tragedy is not repeated, no one will attempt to fix or solve any dangerous task alone - always have a crewmate to accompany you.”

The crew sounded their agreement and they all straightened back up. Qiang Yi placed a hand on Li Shan’s shoulder, receiving a determined nod from the carpenter.

“Very well, then,” said the captain. “We sail onwards to Tendlepog. His Lordship’s will be done!”

“His Lordship’s will be done!” the crew echoed and scattered back to work. Qiang Yi remained alone on the middle of the deck for a moment before moving up to the helmspost. He took his usual spot at the front by the railing overlooking the entire deck and scouted past the sails at the seemingly never-ending coastline ahead.

“Well, morale is doing a little better now, at least,” said Zhen-zhen from the tiller. She leaned lazily against the horizontal pole, apparently reading a book. Qiang Yi turned and furrowed his brow.

“Are you paying attention to our course sitting like that?” the captain asked monotonously. Zhen-zhen shot him a sideways glance and, while it was mostly covered by the book, Qiang Yi swore he could see a smug grin.

“Of course, captain. The coastal waters aren’t too intense, yet not too docile. With a little weight on my end, the rudder figuratively never moves. We can keep the course without any worry.” She closed the book around her thumb. “Besides, I look up occasionally.”
Qiang Yi found himself frowning skeptically, but she had not let him down before. He turned back to face the ocean ahead. Such a magnificent blue landscape; such grandness, such--... Yes, such. This warranted a poem, Qiang Yi decided firmly.

He grabbed his trusty table, his brush and some paper. To get the best view, he reasoned, he had to place himself at the very tip of the bow - well, as far ahead as possible. So he did just that, placing the table down against the railing that separated him from the sea and began writing.

Behold, my dear aboard the ship of Jiang,
A blue so fair and great, beyond our kind.
I sit aboard the ship of Gifts, with luck
I see the waves approach, approach, approach--


Why was the water approaching?

The Zhengwu lurched as the waves rolled under it. The ship began to tilt slightly towards port as the ocean itself began to rise on the starboard side. A great mass of water loomed above the railings and cast a shadow across the deck as it blocked the morning Heliopolis from view. In this mass of water formed the face of a woman, looking down at the ship and its crew.

The entire crew dropped whatever they had in their hands, creating some noise and hushed cursing as tools fell onto the deck and people’s feet. They slowly congregated on the centre of the deck, fronted by Qiang Yi. For a moment, all they did was stand and stare in awe. However, quickly realising that this likely was one of the creators, they all nearly simultaneously fell to their knees and hands.

“Ten thousand years and more to the Queen of the Ocean, the Exalted Creator of the Sea, Her Holiness Ashalla!” they all remarkably managed to say in a somewhat harmonious unison.

Ashalla looked down at the kowtowing water-humanoids with a feeling of smug satisfaction. These mortals recognised her and gave her the respect due to her. Several seawater pseudopods slithered across the deck and gently brushed against several servants. They flinched from contact with the salt water, but Ashalla needed only minimal contact to verify that these beings had been made by Shengshi and, unlike Xiaoli, were mere mortals with no divine spark.

"Mortals created by Shengshi in the image of Xiaoli, why are you in my ocean?" she asked, her voice booming like a crashing wave. Even as she spoke, her narrow pseudopods crept below deck.

Some of the crew shivered at the thunderous voice. Someone gave Qiang Yi’s sole a push, quickly supported by jabs and pokes from other directions, too. The captain took a deep breath and, while still facing the ground, spoke as loudly as he could.

“O greatest divine of the sea, Your Holiness Ashalla, Queen of the Ocean - Your most sacred glory is awestriking to behold. These servants are quite literally specks compared to Your Holiness’ impeccable presence. Forgive these servants for their trespassing - they have been instructed with a task by His Lordship Shengshi, Lord of the Thousand Streams, the Host of Plenty, to bring a gift of wine and cider to His Holiness K’nell of Dreams, Lord of Sleep. These servants pray dearly that they have not caused Your Holiness any inconveniences.” Qiang Yi attempted to push his forehead through the floor.

Ashalla’s pseudopods slithered around below deck and tasted everything they found as Qiang Yi spoke. She could even see with the pseudopods, for there was nothing limiting her form to just two eyes. She found the fermented beverages which Qiang Yi had spoken of, as well as the windmill pump which appeared to be well beyond the craftsmanship of everything else on the boat.

"Your meagre presence could not possibly inconvenience me. Rather, it is a curiosity," Ashalla eventually said, "From where did this floating construct of wood come from?"

Still talking to the floor, Qiang Yi answered: “These servants are infinitely grateful that they are not vexing to Your Holiness. As for the ship, it was built using wood, bark, linen and rope with the aid of His Lordship and His schematics. These servants do not possess Your sacred affinity for salt water, and require as such a vessel to take them to Tendlepog.”

Ashalla rumbled. The ship lurched again as Ashalla gave it an experimental push. "The Maelstrom produces many storms between here and Tendlepog," Ashalla stated.

Qiang Yi’s eyes widened. The members of the crew permitted themselves to look at one another in fear. The captain heard the careful, hushed whispers around him and felt his breathing accelerate. “Forgive this servant for asking, Your Holiness, but is there any way to circumvent these storms?”

"If you travel the other way around the continent, you can avoid the Maelstrom’s storms," Ashalla said. A pseudopod licked one of the servants again as Ashalla measured up the water tanks. "That would take more time, though, and there are many rocks near the coast on the other side of this continent," she added.

Qiang Yi stole a glance behind him at the quartermaster, Zeng En, who looked up at him and shook his head. Qiang Yi grit his white pebble teeth and turned back to face the floor.

“Your Holiness, forgive this servant for stating what Your Holiness already knows, but we have not the sufficient amounts of water to make the trip around the other side. The tanks will barely hold to Tendlepog.” He paused for a moment. “If-... If this servant could show such horrid insolence and… Make a request, would Your Holiness deem it worthy of a listen?”

There was a pause, before Ashalla said, "You may state your request."

“Thank you, o thank you, blessed Queen of the Ocean. These servants merely wish to request a window in the storm - just a smidge for us to pass through, so the winds do not take us all. Please, these servants will do whatever in their power to repay such a gracious favour.” The crew seemingly redoubled their kowtow.

"It is within my power to offer such a favour," Ashalla said, then rumbled thoughtfully. "What could you offer in return?"

Qiang Yi felt a shiver, his open palms slowly curling into fists. “F-forgive this servant, Your Holiness, but it firmly believes that it is incapable of imagining anything worthy of one of the Exalted Creators - not even its poetry will be adequate for this, this servant feels.” The other crew members mumbled similar sentiments. “H-however, these servants will naturally complete any task Your Holiness may have in mind for them!”

Ashalla rumbled again. "I seek beauty," Ashalla finally declared. "Hermes danced. Xiaoli played the flute. If you can impress me with some act of artistry, I shall bestow this favour upon you."

“A-an act of artistry, Your Holiness?” Qiang Yi said in a hushed voice. There was a poke in his side and he shot a glance to the right. There, Zhen-zhen was glaring at him. ‘Write. Her. A. Poem.’ she mouthed desperately. Another jab, this time from the left. It was Wang Huangxia who wore a similar expression. More pokes, jabs and outright punches eventually caused Qiang Yi to rise to his feet and bow.

“Th-then… If Your Holiness will allow this servant, it shall produce a poem in Your divine name.”

Ashalla gave a slight swish. "Yes, that sounds good. Do that."

The servants all immediately got to their feet and began fetching Qiang Yi’s tools of the trade. They placed the small table on the middle of the deck, facing starboard and Ashalla. They placed a neat little silk pillow where Qiang Yi would be sitting, a fresh ink bowl on the right side of where the page would lie, and then a page of white rice paper exactly in the centre of the table, making sure that it aligned perfectly with the four edges of the table itself. Qiang Yi straightened out his robes and sleeves, pulled his brush from the ribbon around his waist and slowly sat down on the pillow in a seiza position. The ocean stilled as he slowly dipped the brush in the ink and began to write. The brush danced gracefully across the paper, its hairs twisting and swinging as the characters bent and curved. Black lines thickened and thinned as the calligraphic stanzae grew downwards in columns like stalactites in a cave. It was slow work, incredibly slow, yet the dance could not be hurried - nor would one really want to. The brush’s steps and hops across the white surface left behind a painting with meaning, with everything from emboldened blots to near-unintelligible scratches.

Finally, after what felt like an eternity, Qiang Yi dusted the paper to help the ink dry and stood up.

“The work is completed, Your Holiness. Will Her Holiness permit this servant to read it?”

"Yes," Ashalla said. Qiang Yi cleared his throat and began to read slowly.

The rivers of the jungle fill my mind
As I recall the times aboard His ship;
A part of me will not leave that behind,
Regardless of me sailing on this trip.

The rivers flow with beauty unforeseen;
With nature much too fine to truly paint.
A crystal ribbon through the endless green,
A paradise that evil cannot taint.

However, there’s a challenge from the coast:
A landscape with no land nor trees nor grass,
Unmatched in beauty, yes, outshining most:
A span of colours and creatures enmasse.

I truly praise the gods for this journey,
For I can lay my eyes upon the sea.


Qiang Yi sucked in a deep breath, awaiting the goddess’ reaction. A burbling sound came from Ashalla. "What a wonderful poem!" she praised.

Qiang Yi stood dumbstruck for a second. The crew looked at each other with wide smiles. “R-really, Your Holiness?” Qiang Yi asked with honeyed droplets of hope in his voice.

"Yes. I shall remember this poem you have written about me and your journey so far," Ashalla said. She then lifted her gaze towards the northern horizon. "No storm shall harm you on your voyage to Tendlepog. I grant you safe passage through my ocean."

The aura of the ship filled with near-explosive joy as the crew members simultaneously bottled up their cheers, opting instead to fall to their knees before the goddess.

“Thank You, O Holiest Queen of the Ocean, Ashalla!” they all burst out in joyous harmony.

Ashalla took a few moments to soak up the praise. Then she asked, "What is the name of this servant who writes poetry and speaks on behalf of the other servants?"

Qiang Yi rose to his feet slowly and bowed. “That would be this servant, Your Holiness,” he said diligently. “This servant is named Qiang Yi and is a poet of the Wise caste among the servants. It also serves as captain of this vessel.”

Ashalla nodded, then said "May you and your fellow servants have a safe voyage, Qiang Yi."

The ship lurched again as the wind caught in the sails and the waves once again yielded to the ships’ motion. Ashalla stood and watched as the Zhengwu continued its journey. The servants all headed to the stern of the ship and bowed towards Ashalla until her form collapsed back into the ocean.

The crew remained silent for a moment. Then, they burst into a thunderous cheer. The ship nearly rocked more from the collective jumps than the waves, and crewmate embraced crewmate with laughter and song. Qiang Yi stood frozen for a moment, but was quickly stirred to life as the crew grabbed his every limb.

“Wait, what are y-!” he barely managed to exclaim before he was lobbed into the air. “Qiang Yi, Qiang Yi, Qiang Yi!” sounded the crew. The captain tried his best to twist himself in the air, but failed spectacularly and was forced to endure the victory for a little longer. After a while, he felt himself starting to enjoy it.

A minute or so later, he was finally let back down on deck and his shoulders filled with the squeezing hands of proud crewmates. Zhen-zhen stepped over and patted him on the back. “Well done, captain! It seems your skill actually paid off! Who’d have known that you’d actually get to save us all with poetry of all things?”

Qiang Yi appeared to still be dumbstruck, so Zhen-zhen punched him lightly in the side. He twitched and gave her a frown, which she returned with a grin. Qiang Yi looked down at the paper in his hand.

“Li Shan,” he called. The carpenter pushed his way through the crowd and gave Qiang Yi a bow. Qiang Yi bowed back.

“Take your fellow carpenters and craft a shrine to Ashalla. Her favour is key to our voyage - we ought to make certain we can earn it.” Li Shan nodded and gathered the necessary workers before heading below deck.

“The rest of you, good work,” Qiang Yi continued, “though I must request that you poke me a little softer next time.” There was a wave of giggles throughout the crowd.

“Well, you wouldn’t react, so…” Zhen-zhen said with a smug smirk. Qiang Yi smiled wryly back at her.

“We press on. Back to work, everyone.”






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Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Lauder
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Lauder The drunk kind of hero

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Mr. Vakk and Mr. K’nell





There had been a silence, even in the crashing of the ocean against the rocks of the small island, as Vakk merely stared into the air in a deep thought. The thoughts of K’nell spreading his attack amongst the gods deeply troubled him, knowing that any future plans would be destroyed if all the gods were rallied against this minor offense. He had not thought that Li’Kalla would have been allied to any other god given her seemingly anti-social disposition, apparently she had been deceptive.

The Lord of Talk let out a sigh before he retreated to the depths of Sanvādam, mentally preparing himself for what may happen in his meeting with the likes of K’nell. The Dream God was an unknown entity and Vakk knew that he would have to tread carefully, past experiences shaping his plans and easing what was a natural aggression. The darkness of his realm allowed him to concentrate, looking back into Li’Kalla’s memories to find the essence of K’nell and grow familiar with it. A mental lock had been made as Vakk came out of the false memories, preparing to speak through Galbar and directly into the other god’s mind.

”Vakk wishes to speak with you, dreamer.”

Vakk’s word ran through Galbar, silent to all others except for K’nell’s mind. With that, Vakk relaxed his senses, his muscles, and his thoughts as he simple let go of reality for a moment to attempt to drift to sleep. However, as much as he tried to deceive himself of this relaxation, Vakk felt that he could not sleep as it was not in his nature. The power he would be surrendering was what concerned him, there would be no escape if K’nell meant him harm, but it was a gamble he would have to take. Knowing the price, the Lord of Speech let out a relaxed breath before the whispers of his Echoes faded into the background.

Sleep had come.




A black plastic telephone rang sharply. The secretary's veteran hand came down quickly and scooped it up to her ear. She nodded and carefully placed the phone back down, standing up from her cushioned computer chair, “Mr. K’nell will see you now.”

Vakk blinked, his form having been replaced with that of a brown haired man in a simple brown suit who sat in a cotton seated chair. The smiling secretary stood by a door across a thin blue carpet, her freshly painted fingertips on the copper knob. Other people who were waiting in their own chairs looked at Vakk expectancy.

The Lord of Talk looked around, exceptionally confused at the sight that surrounded before he looked down at himself, only adding more to his confusion. He looked over his hands, he remembered having those once but it had been a long while since he had the experience of opposable thumbs. Perhaps, all would bring them back into fashion. Vakk shook himself out of his stupor before standing from the seat.

Vakk straightened his tie, something that came naturally to a foreign object. His steps rang against the hard floor as Vakk felt truly nervous approaching the door, making sure his hair was slicked back correctly and that his suit didn’t have any wrinkles. How Vakk knew to do these things, he did not know nor did he exactly have the mind to care. The secretary pushed the door open for Vakk and the man stepped through.

There was a click as the door closed behind him. In front of him was a wide, spacious office with long and low cabinets and drawers on one end, and a bookshelf on the other. In the middle sat a squat yet regal desk, with floor to ceiling windows behind it, revealing the twinkling city skyline amid the purple dusk sky. A wide smiling man sat at the desk. He was dressed in a midnight black suit with an equally black tie and a freshly shaven face. Combed silvery white hair sat atop his head and sparkling eyes were held underneath a creased brow, “Mr. Vakk!” A grainy smooth voice called to the Lord of Talk, “Please take a seat.” His hand motioned to a padded chair facing the desk.

“Could I get you anything? A coffee, perhaps a drink?” The smiling man lifted a tiny tin, “Smoke?”

Vakk skeptically moved forwards, giving a suspicious look. He stepped towards the desk as he began to speak, ”For someone who slanders me, you are remarkably… generous.” There would be a silence following before Vakk rubbed the lower part of his nose as he glared upon K’nell, eyes narrowing further. ”Why?” he asked, leaning back into his chair.

“Ah,” K’nell let out the sound as he pulled the tin towards himself, “Before we get into it, I don’t suppose you mind if I smoke, then?”

”By all means,” Vakk said, making a nonchalant motion for K’nell to do what he wanted.

“Very good, then,” K’nell said as he stubbed a brown cigarillo between his lips and struck a match. He brought the glowing stick to the end of the cigarillo and let out a few puffs, his hands illuminating as the cigarillo caught. Exhaling, he let out a smooth cloud of smoke.

Vakk watched silently for a few moments, before he spoke, ”Now, onto business.” His voice was cold and calculating as both men knew what the subject was about, only there being the matter of who went first. It was Vakk’s initiative that dove him to go first, asking a most curious question, ”What is your relation with the goddess, Li’Kalla?”

K’nell dabbed the end of his cigarillo onto an ashtray and sat up, “Now, Mr. Vakk, it has come to my attention that you had filed a complaint in regards to the process against you for the harassment of a Miss Li’Kalla. As you are aware, I have approved your hearing and have been provided the security VHS for review, but as always, I’m here -- for you.”

“Please,” K’nell folded his hands together and smiled, “I’m all ears.”

Vakk blinked a few times, ”VHS?”

“Yes, you might remember that one of our stockholders’ is avidly against betamax, now please,” K’nell leaned forward and wiggled his nose free from some lingering wisps of smoke, “I’d like to hear your complaint.”

The Lord of Speech gave K’nell a confused look for a second longer before clearing his throat and playing along with whatever K’nell was on about, ”These accusations are unjustly placed on me. You do not know enough to divulge such a conclusion, as ludicrous and outlandish as the situation may seem.” He cocked his head before meeting K’nell’s gaze, his voice going into a more professional tone, ”I would like to see the evidence of this harassment.”

K’nell smiled behind steepled fingers. He let his arms fall to his desk and furrowed his brow, “I think we are getting ahead of ourselves. First could we define the situation you are referring to so we can both work on this issue, together.”

”I believe we both know the situation..” Vakk stated before a smile came to his face, before he continued in a voice most familiar to K’nell, ”Mr. K’nell.”

“Ah, I hope you will understand; this is all for the sake of clarity,” K’nell raised a hand, “Before we move into the details of the processing case, it would benefit us both if you could define the situation you believe you are in, and how you see it.”

Vakk leaned back into his chair, his smile still across his face before he spoke in his normal voice, ”Very well. I believe that the situation I have been placed in is one of sabotage and greed. For you see, I do not deny having harassed Li’Kalla, I will say that I had been tricked and controlled. It was Eurysthenes who had ordered my assault and it was him who was pulling the strings. He was in control of me and I had no power to stop him. It was not until the brief fight between Li’Kalla and I that I had broken free of his control.” His eyes went over K’nell’s form once more before he asked a more off topic question, ”What exactly is this place? I am not familiar with any of these… things.” Vakk made a general gesture around him before resting his head in a hand.

K’nell sat back in his chair, “I see, now please correct me if I am misrepresenting your story: Mr. Eurysthenes had taken control of your body and forced you upon Miss Li’Kalla, to which only during physical violence between you two did you regain control and-- then what?”

”I ran. She had become... something else. Also, it should be made clear that Eurysthenes was after an artifact, a box that he sought to weaponize and take control of additional gods.”

“And what box was that?” K’nell steepled his fingers.

”A music box to soothe, Li’Kalla. She found my form to be quite terrifying and I could see she was anxious. I made it as a gift to calm her” Vakk fiddled with his tie again, finding it mildly uncomfortable, ”You will have to excuse my motions, I am not used to this form.”

K’nell waved a hand, “Don’t worry, I understand that these sorts of situations can be stressful.” He opened a lower draw on his desk and looked up, “If you’d forgive me, but before we go any further, I was hoping you wouldn’t mind if I took a few notes to better aid the process?”

Vakk motioned for K’nell to continue with a smile. K’nell gave Vakk a thankful nod and pulled out a pad of yellow paper and a pen. He clicked the pen and pressed it against the first leaf on the pad, “Right, so you had made a music box for Miss Li’Kalla in order to soothe her anxiety around you, correct?” He started to jot his words on the paper. Vakk nodded in response.

“And Mr. Eurysthenes had confronted you and told you he wished to turn this box into a weapon?” K’nell peeked up from his notepad.

”Indeed, he thought I would comply. As you could guess, I did not.”

“Certainly not,” K’nell agreed with a wide smile, “As I said, we are here for you. Now, did Mr. Eurysthenes explain how he planned to turn a music box of soothing anxiety relief into a mind control device?”

Vakk sighed, growing more annoyed at K’nell’s antics as time wore on, ”We are gods K’nell. He would most likely have used some of his divine magic to transform it.”

“I see,” K’nell scribbled something down and cleared his throat, “So upon denying him access to your box, he did what?”

”Overpowered my mind and compelled me to assault Li’Kalla.”

“Okay,” K’nell continued to write, “So, if I have this correctly. You had created a music box for the purpose of soothing miss Li’Kalla’s anxiety. Mr. Eurysthenes desired this music box and asked you to give it to him so he may weaponize it into a mind control device, upon your refusal he took control of you mind regardless and forced you to assault Li’Kalla, to which you were broke from your reverie when she had transformed into something different. Does this sound correct?”

”It may sound like madness, but yes.”

“This is a safe space, Mr. Vakk, no one here is accusing you of madness,” K’nell gave a reaffirming grin, “Now if you please, what are your prior relationships with Mr. Eurysthenes and Miss Li’Kalla before these incidents took place?”

”Eurysthenes has been… troublesome to me. I tend to try and avoid it most times, but there is something about him I am drawn to. It could be the mystery and cryptic nature of it that I would like to solves,” Vakk said before he looked down and gave a sorrow filled face. Some tears welled up in his eye but none of them would fall, ”Li’Kalla is a kind girl. I like to talk to her, K’nell, she is such a lovely being to be around. To hurt her… it makes me…”

He stopped speaking a turned away from K’nell, wiping his face on his sleeve ”Forgive me.”

“It’s quite alright, Mr. Vakk,” K’nell produced a handkerchief from his front pocket and handed it over the desk, “Would you like to take a break?”

Vakk accepted the handkerchief, wiping away his tears, ”No… no… I must see this through without interruption.”

“Very well,” K’nell nodded, “You are strong to do so, do not doubt that for a second. Now if you don’t mind, could you go into detail about what you mean when you say that you and Mr. Eurysthenes have had a troubled past together?”

”He trapped me in its maze and nearly drove me to insanity, is what itdid. That’s how it was able to easily take control of my mind, driving me to unending agony by being forced to complete his puzzles and riddles. Yet, it is my fault for going back to it to try and solve the true enigma that is Eurysthenes.”

With a furrowed brow, K’nell tapped his pen against his chin, “And how did this scenario end, on what terms between you two?”

”It made me sacrifice part of myself to escape. It made me attack myself. I am sure you could imagine I am not very fond of it.”

“Certainly not,” K’nell agreed once more, “So would you say this scenario ended with you two as enemies?”

”Yes.”

“And how long after this incident did he approach you to reveal his machinations?” K’nell looked up.

”Not too long after. I was a bit broken at the time so the timing of things was… strange, I did not know what to think other than to try and get away from it.”

“And if you could, what were his exact words to you when he revealed his grand scheme,” K’nell placed his pentip on the paper in preparation.

”Please, do not make me relive the memory, K’nell. I do not wish to have a healing wound, reopened,” Vakk detested, clearly looking quite emotionally spent from having talked about the subject.

“Mr. Vakk,” K’nell let his pen rest on the pad and he leaned his elbows against the desk, “While I won’t force you, I want to remind you that I am here for you, and this would only serve to improve the process. Would you like to give it a try, or should we continue without this statement in particular?”

Vakk kept silent for a few moments, merely looking at K’nell before letting out a drawn out sigh. The next time he would speak would be in a quite maddened voice, one much different from, ”Vakk. What is the desire that I possess? It is material yet not, corruptible and able to control thought? What is it?” His voice went back to normal, ”Those are the only words I can explicitly remember. Though I remember the answer was music. After that, it gets harder to remember until I was assaulting Li’Kalla.”

“So he never explicitly mentioned the box itself?” K’nell flipped a page in the notebook, hardly looking up.

”No, but I see no other reason for it to send me to Li’Kalla it other than to retrieve the music box. But it was not there, for it had been stolen by a ‘Hermes’.” Vakk said, remaining unblinking at K’nell, watching him write.

“I see,” K’nell looked up, “So his capture and plans for the music box is an assumption?”

”I suppose, but it would be a strong assumption, given our rivalry.”

“Of course,” K’nell nodded, “And so to recap so far: you have a rivalrous relationship with Mr. Eurysthenes to which the last time you spoke, he mentioned a riddle denoting neither a plan nor substance to which afterwards you found yourself assaulting Miss Li’Kalla and then so on.” He waved his pen and flipped the page, “What brought you to the conclusion that he had taken over your body in explicit desire to retrieve your music box from Miss Li’Kalla?”

”Because it was all I could think about during the assault. I could not control what I was doing to the poor girl before I came back into control.”

“Oh,” K’nell sat up, “So during your loss of control, he was feeding you his plan mentally?”

”More or less, feeding instructions to me. Basic ones to where I eventually could piece it together.”

“Ah!” K’nell nodded in agreement,” So it wasn’t an assumption?”

”Given that he is not directly state his intentions, it would still qualify as an assumption. At least, as far as the weaponization goes.”

“And how did he come to know about your music box?” K’nell bit the end of the pen, “Did he ever say?”

”No. I do not know how it knew of the box, but it did.”

“I see,” K’nell paused for a bit, “Do you think --to the best of your knowledge-- that Mr. Eurysthenes and Miss Li’Kalla have had social interactions before this encounter?”

”No.”

“Very good,” K’nell put his pen down and folded his hands together, “Could you by any chance, describe the events of the actual assault, both leading up to it and during.”

”I remember it vividly. I had gone up to her mansion, no doubt my aggression at the time had scared her into hiding so my tendrils invaded her home before dragging her out. I asked where the box was. She said she did not know, so I tortured her. I- I broke one of the wings Azura gave her. When she told me that Hermes had taken it, I remember getting out a single warning to her, not to trust anyone. It was those words that broke her, I-I didn’t mean for it to come out the way it did but I was not in control! I- I… I fled the moment I could gain control of myself.”

Vakk looked at the floor, keeping his head in his hands before repeating a few words to himself. ”I am a coward.”

“Now, now,” K’nell comforted, “What did you do as soon as you regained your composure?”

”Like I said, I ran,” Vakk said before continuing on with his repetition of the word ‘coward’.

K’nell finished catching his notepad up with a quick swipe of his pen. He let the pad fall to his lap and steepled his fingers, “Mr. Vakk with your permission, I’d like to lead us through a hypothetical.”

Vakk looked up, breathing a little before shakily nodding his approval. K’nell inclined his head and began, “Let’s say --as horrible as it may be-- that you succeeded in your assault and came upon the music box. With it in hand you return it to your rival; why do you suspect they needed the box to control minds, and how would it be used to do such a thing?”

”Music can sway the hearts and minds of those who listen to it, my box is technically the same in that it soothes the listener. Yet, if Eurysthenes got a hold of it, no doubt he would have the melody be of control, the box could be used to amplify his powers to work on multiple gods, simultaneously.”

“So the box was already somewhat of a manipulation, if you will, and Mr. Eurysthenes would simply alter it to make that manipulation suit him?” K’nell tapped his chin in thought.

”I suppose,” Vakk shrugged.

“Is this not a correct statement?” K’nell picked up a small white vial, “Wouldn’t Mr. Eurysthenes in this hypothetical simply be altering the manipulative nature of the device to serve a devious purpose?”

”Yes,” Vakk nodded.

“Good,” K’nell put the vial back down and put the pen back to the paper, “Pardon another hypothetical, but let’s say you had the box and were of a similar ire of Mr. Eurysthenes; in this case, what would be your end goal, or in other words, the reason you felt the need to torture Miss Li’Kalla and steal away a box of manipulation in an attempt to control the Gods?”

”I cannot think of such things, K’nell. I will not discuss the possibility,” Vakk stated, shaking his head to dismiss the subject.

K’nell placed his pad down and leaned back in his chair. After a moment or two he laced his fingers together and smiled, “Mr. Vakk, I must say I am inclined to believe your story.”

Vakk allowed a small, restrained smile to come across his face before he spoke in a more grateful tone, ”This brings much happiness to my heart. Does this mean you will recall those ‘magpies’?”

“I’m sorry,” K’nell steepled his fingers, “What I mean to say, Mr. Vakk, is that I believe your story, up to the point you claim it was not of your own doing. In other words, Mr. Eurysthenes was never involved.”

”Do you suspect another god?”

K’nell blinked, “You. I believe by your own admission that you had assaulted Li’Kalla with no further help from any other God, in an attempt to retrieve your box of manipulation to which you planned nefarious deeds.”

“You see,” K’nell picked up the pad and began to flip through it, “Mr. Eurysthenes has no history with the box or Li’Kalla, and your story is ever changing up until the assault, to which you define and describe in match with other evidence. You admit to the assault. You admit to the creation of the box. You admit it is a tool of manipulation. You pose plans beyond Mr. Eurysthenes that match your own mindset, in other words, since Mr. Eurysthenes is not a possible character in this incident, these ideas and machinations are your own. You further go on to claim Mr. Eurysthenes is your rival and then accuse him of atrocious crimes in your own defense, creating a bias that cannot be ignored and on top of that you denied being able to think of such things after directly posing and assuming them yourself.”

Vakk’s eyes narrowed, any form of emotion draining from his face, ”You dare to assume I intended to harm Li’Kalla? You dare?” He raised himself from his chair and put his hands on the desk before, he lowered his voice to a growl. ”This is an insult to me, Dreamer.”

K’nell raised his brows and looked up at Vakk, “Did you intend to harm Li’Kalla?” He folded his hands.

”I would never,” Vakk growled, moving his face closer to K’nell’s face as anger and rage began to fill his expression. Then, the feeling passed causing Vakk to turn away from the other god, his hands behind his back. ”Very well. But considering this insult, I must remind you,” he began before his voice went to that Li’Kalla’s before speaking in a cold and sinister tone, ”Hermes. She will be trampled like a flower in my path when the time comes. Like you. It was your creation who caused this thus the true fault is to be put upon you, Mister K’nell. Justice will be served for her thievery, whether it is paid in her blood or your own, I care not. For soon, the box will be mine once more.” With those parting words, Vakk calmly walked towards the door, to leave.

“You're as contradicting as the day is long, Mr. Vakk,” K'nell rose from his seat, his voice still unusually stalwart “I'm afraid this won't look very well on the final report.”

”And I am afraid that any peace between us has been burned. Yet, what could I have expected of a god of dreams? That is where you live, your own deluded world. It is that deluded world that will be your fall, dreamer.” Vakk stated, before opening the the door and slamming it behind him. He could hear gentle laughing from behind the door, the other people sitting in shock as they looked up from their seats.

Then.

He awoke.


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The Journey to Tendlepog: Chapter 3


The shrine they erected for Ashalla displayed the wonderful skill of the carpenters aboard, Qiang Yi thought. Due to spatial constraints, they sadly could not make it larger, but they made due with a one metre tall carven effigy made to resemble her awestriking appearance: It started thin at the bottom, then grew in width and bulk until a humanoid female form sprouted with its arms raised to the sky. It has no clear face, but its skin was etched with wavy lines and sea motifs. Hopefully, it would have been satisfactory in her eyes.

It had made sense to place it at the bow - should they encounter her again, it would be the first thing she would see. No loss in appealing to the gods, the crew had reasoned. This quite literal figurehead would guide them along the shore of the Dragon’s Foot as surely as Her Holiness Ashalla herself would have.

Qiang Yi stood at the bow, admiring the figurehead as well as the surrounding ocean. He had spoken the truth in his poem - the sea truly did mirror, if not, dared he say, outmatch the rivers. There was a sobering monotony to it, yet a luring mysticism.

“I pray there will be more trips after this,” he said to no one in particular.

“Yes, it -is- quite a sight, cap’n.” Qiang Yi turned around. Zeng En, the quartermaster and a servant of the Strong, gave him a wink as he crossed his arms over his chest. “I reckon you’ll be sent on numerous voyages like this ‘un.”

Qiang Yi gave him a wry smile. “I would, actually, though the waves do make it difficult to write poetry.”

Zeng En smirked back and gave him a gentle pat on the shoulder. “You’ll get used to it, cap’n. I, for one, love it ‘ere. Don’t get me wrong, the work aboard Jiangzhou is rewardin’ and all, but…” He sucked in a lungful of sea air. “This sensation of discovery - this joy in my spirit; these, I will miss when we return to Jiangzhou.”

Qiang Yi gave him a warm smile. “Then we must insist that His Lordship send more gifts.”

Zeng En nodded. “Now pardon me, if you would,” he said, “My fresh air break is over, I’m afraid, so below deck again, I go.”

“Of course,” replied Qiang Yi. The two bowed to one another and Zeng En walked off. Qiang Yi stared ahead again. Yes, magnificent waters. Oh, he should just grab his brush and a page and start writing about the fantastic motifs as sea meets shore and--

Wait, where was the shore?

Qiang Yi shot a glance eastward. In the distance, he saw some faint green and the simplistic glitter of snow atop a very, very distant Xishan. He stormed up to the helmspost in a hurry.

“Zhen-zhen! What’s our course?!” he boomed. The first mate quickened to, nearly lobbing her book overboard.

“D-due north as usual, captain!” she said obediently.

“Yes, I realise that, but -why- are we so far away from the shore?!” Qiang Yi replied furiously.

“No need to yell, captain. We had to avoid some reefs earlier, so we turned a little far portside. Not to worry, though!” She dragged the tiller to the left, sending the ship back towards the shore. “There! That wasn’t so hard, right?”

“Silence your smug, Zhen-zhen. You are the helmsman - you are supposed to keep the course, not--!”

A pulse went through the water and brushed against the ship - very distant, but ominously audible.

“Did you hear something?” Qiang Yi asked. Zhen-zhen nodded, her face draining of colour.




As Galbar’s lands had grown wonderous from the works of gods, day’s turning to night and back again in an never ending cycle, so too, had something grown in the ocean. Now almost forgotten, save for those few that remembered.

Many had perished to cannibalism, and lack of food, but the few who survived had been rewarded with delicacies of the living. Growing fat and mighty. That hunger they held, was as deep and vast as the ocean, and would never end. Not until they were all but dead.

Now, something unfathomably old swam in the deep, heralded by the ethereal beauty of starlight. Such a light beckoned all that would look upon it, for it’s glow was but temptation, and it had found something new. Something with souls. It let out another rumble from it’s maw. The pulse ran through the water again, much, much closer now.




The pulse nearly shook the crew members off balance. Heads were beginning to turn and voices began to whimper. Qiang Yi boomed orders in every direction: “Bring out oars! Furl the stern sail, it slows us down! Faster, people, we need to MOVE!”

Servants ran, tripped, slipped, crawled - the deck was a chaotic mess as oars were brought out and put to use. The panic caused uneven distribution of oars on each side, inciting Zhen-zhen to call for support at the helmspost to keep the ship from setting a course into deeper sea.

“Equal number of oars on each side! Less flight, more fight!” she shouted angrily.

Even as the rowers distributed themselves equally on each side, the ship could not seem to pick up speed quickly enough. Meanwhile, Qiang Yi went below deck with Zeng En and began to look for any weapons.

“What tools can we sacrifice in a crisis, Zeng En?” Qiang Yi said, digging desperately through a toolbox.

“If necessary, we can repurpose the saws into axes - the hammers should function well as is.”

“Anything with reach?” Qiang Yi asked and grabbed a saw. Zeng En threw him a wooden pole.

“Grab a knife and sharpen this - or tie the knife to it. Either way, arm those that ain’t rowin’ or furlin’ the sails,” Zeng En said. Qiang Yi nodded and ran upstairs.

“There are weapons below,” he boomed. “If you aren’t working the oars, the helm or the sails, arm yourselves!”

He stepped to the side to allow the remaining crew members to descend below deck. Then Qiang Yi stepped over to the stern to see if he could spot the pursuer.

It was large, larger than even the ship, and grotesquely foul. The leviathan swam in circles under the boat, as if trying to figure out what the creature it hungered for was. The leviathan’s light, beautiful as ever, glowed softly in the deep. Ever so alluring…

Qiang Yi spotted the light. My… Was there no end to the beauty of the ocean? He dropped his axe and leaned forward over the railing.

Maybe he could get a closer loo--

With a solid tug, he was pulled back on deck. Zhen-zhen and two others held him by the ribbon about his waist.

“Captain, are you insane?!” Zhen-zhen screamed at him.

“... But… But the light…”

“Huuuh?! Light?! Have you gone panic blind or something?!”

“No, there-... There was a-...” Qiang Yi pointed weakly to the railing.

“Oh! How nice, there was a light. Did you also see the shadow that is TWICE AS BIG AS THE DAMN SHIP?!” Zhen-zhen slapped him across the head from behind and pushed him to his feet.

“Grab your saw and keep the crew safe, captain! Make sure they don’t fall for the same trick you did!”

Qiang Yi staggered over to railing, over which he saw what was unmistakably a black blot below them - or more specifically, a part of one. He gasped through his teeth, snatched his saw off the floor and sprinted down to the deck, nearly tripping down the stairs.

“Everyone! Keep away from the railing! Rowers, double, no, TRIPLE time!” The rowers struggled against the pain as they tugged the oar back and forth as fast as they could.

The creature brushed itself against the ship with two long tentacles. The vibrations through the ship sent similar chills through the spines of the increasingly panicky crew. It continued it’s almost lethargic like pace, now swimming wide circles below the ship. It then suddenly broke this circling and swam off.

Qiang Yi and Zeng En stormed over to the railing and stuck their heads over the side. “Wh-where did it go?” Qiang Yi said in a shivering voice. Zeng En squeezed the handle of his hammer.

“I don’t know, but we’re likely not out of the woods yet. Keep up the speed, people! We’ll be safe once we reach coastal waters.”

The coast was not too far away now. Xishan stabbed the sky dome in the distance, and the green forests of the central Foot began to break through the fog pouring out of the Saluran Mendidih. In the distance to the north were the faint marks of a second continent. The water should not be too deep here. Perhaps… Perhaps they had made it.

From the port side of the ship, out in the deeper waters, something broke the water’s surface. First it was the beautiful glow, stifled by the blue sky but still dangerous nonetheless, then behind that long stalk of flesh, came a massive mouth full of rows and rows of sharp teeth, that were about the size of the servants themselves. And those teeth, were coming right for the ship.

The crew burst into screams. Some collapsed to the floor and curled up as if that would help them. Others began to row faster than the rest, striking into the oars in front of and behind them. Zeng En and a group ran to the stern, roaring their fanatical war cries and praises to Shengshi, as if it would be their last. Qiang Yi stood frozen on deck, clutching his saw. As he saw the jaws approaching, he felt his lips and knees quiver in unison. This could not be how their journey would end. They hadn’t even made it to the Kick, damn it!

“CAPTAIN!”

The call snapped him out of his shock and he saw a frantically waving Zhen-zhen at the helmspost towards the stern, flanked by several others throwing improvised harpoons at the monster. Qiang Yi could not gather himself in time, but time was something he did not have. He stormed downstairs and grabbed a new armfull of wooden poles, bringing them up to the stern in a rush. There, Zeng En took them in his arms and gave them to Li Shan, who proceeded to sharpen them swiftly with his knife. Zeng En picked up a newly sharpened pole, tested its weight and sent it in an arc towards the glowing eyes of the horrendous beast behind them.

“The eyes! Aim for the eyes!” he roared at his companions.

The creature, struck by several harpoons, dove under water. Blood began to flow, staining the waters inky black. The leviathan, scraped the bottom of the boat with its body. The water was getting shallower, and with it, the prey was escaping. With a burst of speed, the creature began another attack, and this time, was unphased by the harpoons.

That was until, something sharp punctured it’s left eye. There was a sickening sound, almost like a pop, then the creature bellowed. The air it sent out was rank with rot and the creature slammed into the ship before disappearing into the black waters.

The ship was cast several hundreds of metres forward, the cracks of breaking wood and whistles of flying splinters sounding from the stern like a lethal orchestra. All the crew members there were flung forward over the edge of the railing, the fortunate ones crashing to the deck in front.

The unfortunate ones…

Hammering steps against wood. Qiang Yi lifted his dizzy head off the stair step. Below him laid another bundle of wooden poles. He blinked, squeezing his eyes together as he painfully pulled his arm out from under the poles. It had nearly been severed as his body weight, spurred on by the momentum of the ship, had pressed it between the stairs and the poles. Thankfully, the arm reformed into its regular shape, his ripped sleeve being the only casualty. He quickly staggered to his feet and sprinted back up.

He ascended to find that the ship had stopped moving, and all around him were crewmates running to and fro with tools, materials, water and sand. Wait, sand? Qiang Yi turned to his right and gasped, dropping the wooden poles.

Zhen-zhen laid clutching her stumped arm next to a sandy puddle. A little further away, Li Shan was attended to by two others, one who was slowly giving him water from a cup and another who was patting sand over the slowly regrowing legs. Zeng En laid broken against the railing above, his body reduced to a singular, mushy blob that four crewmates desperately tried to save with water and sand. Qiang Yi was pushed to the side by two crewmates charging up the stairs carrying a stretcher, upon which laid what he assumed where the clothes and partial body of Wang Huangxia.

Qiang Yi stood in shock, his lips forming sentences, yet his voice failing to give sound to them. He laid his eyes on Zhen-zhen again, only to notice that she was glaring back.

“C-... Captain,” she hissed through the agony. Qiang Yi hurried over and uncorked his water gourd, putting it to her lips. Her skin had begun to crack.

“Shh… Drink now, the beast is gone.”

Zhen-zhen’s pained eyes began to swell, tears bubbling up despite her lack of fluids.

“I-... I’m s-s-sorry, c-captain,” she whimpered. “Th-this is all my-...”

Qiang Yi shook his head and silenced her with the water gourd. “No, no… Don’t worry about that, Zhen-zhen… Just drink and live.” Zhen-zhen’s quivering lips spilled a lot of the water, but she eventually managed to properly drink. Qiang Yi looked around.

“Somebody give me a report! Is it still after us?! How is the crew?! How is the ship?!”

One of the Noble servants, one Qiang Yi knew as Fa Ye, stepped up hurriedly and bowed. “Captain, the beast has stopped chasing us, but not without a heavily toll. Our crew has suffered heavy casualties, with eight crew members severely wounded, ten minorly wounded and four missing. We-... We saw clothes on the water surface behind us… We fear they may have swam ahead of us…” Fa Ye lowered her head; Qiang Yi did, as well.

“What about the ship?” the captain asked.

“There has been a breach under deck towards the stern. Luckily, the pump and tank seem to be functional, still, but we are still trying to repair the breach below. However, the saltwater is making it difficult. As misfortune would have it, the rudder was also damaged.”

Qiang Yi looked somberly down at his lap in which Zhen-zhen laid, exhausted from all the pain. He then looked up and noticed the foreign woods on the shore.

“Where are we?” he asked.

“The lands are foreign, yet we did not drift far. We therefore estimate that we have made it to the Kick.”

Qiang Yi felt a clump form in his throat, one of both sorrow and joy. He looked down at the sleeping Zhen-zhen.

“Did you hear that, Zhen-zhen? We made it to the Kick. We’re almost halfway there!” The first mate remained unresponsive. Qiang Yi felt his skin moisten. He looked up at Fa Ye.

“Have someone tend to her. I will see to the rest of the ship.”

“Yes, captain,” Fa Ye said and called over some help. Qiang Yi carefully lowered Zhen-zhen’s head to the floor and stood up. He walked over to the bow and looked at the figurehead. Luckily, the tribute to Ashalla had not suffered any damages, it would seem. He raised his head at scanned the empty forest behind the beach ahead. It was eerie, a forest with no life - yet perhaps also a blessing in disguise.

“Fa Ye!” he called. After a moment, the girl came running over, dusting her hands free of excess sand.

“Yes, captain?” she answered with a bow.

“Have the carpenters use what materials we have left to repair the ship. If we do not have enough, we will acquire some from the Kick.”

“Of course, captain,” Fa Ye said and ran off to spread the word.

Qiang Yi looked back down at the figurehead. Would she hear him if he prayed, he wondered. Would Shengshi hear them if they prayed?

Qiang Yi got down on his knees at the bow and prostrated himself. “O Holiest spirit of the Sea, Ashalla. Your grace and power are second to none in the ocean - as such, this servant asks that Your sacred boon follows us still as our voyage progresses. Thank You for everything.”

Had she heard him, he wondered again. If she could, then he had to pray to Shengshi, as well.

“O lord of rivers and host of hosts, Shengshi, much has happened since this voyage began. We have seen much that we could not even have fathomed of back home, and among that, there has been great suffering. This servant cannot lie, Your Lordship - it feels fear, dreadful fear. This servant is uncertain of what to do, Your Lordship. Please, if it may be so insolent, this servant asks You to offer it counsel.”

Nothing happened. Qiang Yi felt his heart sink and sat back up, letting out a sigh.

“Is this Your Holiness way of saying that we are on our own?” he mused somberly. He got to his feet, bowed to the figurehead and turned to attend to the ship.




Atop of the floating palace of Jiangzhou, in the central tower overlooking the endless green jungle, the snake plucked a melancholic melody on his guzheng. His heart felt heavy, but he knew that he could not stand in the way of what was to be among the first great accomplishments of mortal life.

“I am sorry, my most loyal servant,” the snake said in a shivering voice. He felt something in the corner of his eye and wiped it away. “I trust you do be able to do this by yourselves. If I am right, you will be historical; if I am wrong…” His harp sounded a sharp crescendo.

“Then I am the worst lord in this world.”




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Together Azura and Luis had flown deeper into the interior of Atokhekwoi, discussing and planning as they went until, at last, they arrived at the location that Ihokhe had told Azura about, the current home of the Ihokhetlani, first of the mortal races.

This was rocky and rough lands on the edge of the great mountains, in the distance, the towering western mountains ran as though a massive wall from the northern horizon to that of the south. Small hills dominated the rough lands, often more made of exposed stone then was found in other areas, although likely why the Ihokhetlani were here. They saw the great numbers of the Ihokhetlani, groups of them dotting every hill and around every rock, gathering great masses of stone to form new members of their race. Soul ash was thick here, constantly flowing into new bodies and even a curious interaction with the Ihokhetlani themselves.

There were only a few structures of any kind, and those mostly appeared to be crude approximations of various deities, some of the Ihokhetlani groups crowded near them. Notably, Ohannakeloi’s statue was much better formed than any of the others, although still crude and not really evident of divine work in any sense available to Azura.

Azura could also see that a large number of the Alma she had created which had arrived here after their flight from the pole. Their bird brains were in command at the moment as the first mortals having been made to last and lacking any natural predators meant that seemingly none had died or were at risk of doing so. So instead, the Alma where mostly loitered in the area, staying out of the Ihokhetlani‘s sight and way to avoid intruding on their lives when they were not needed while engaging in a spot of foraging to keep their biological parts running optimally.

Azura did, however, note that not all of the Alma were here. Some had left to seek out sights, and presumably mortals, unseen. Fortunately, they were capable of propagating updates to their abilities and directives between one another and indeed the Li’Kalla seekers had included such an update that they would hand over to any Alma they found, instructing them to stay their hands when it came to claiming people’s souls without permission. Once she was happy with her speech other Alma would do the same with it, bringing her words across the globe to all mortal ears.

”They’re building more of themselves” Luis noted as the pair slowed to a stop above the home of the first race. ”Can your constructs do that?”

“So they are. I was wondering how they were going to make more of themselves. The Alma can, but they produce normal eggs and then the young birds have the construct parts grown onto them by the adults when they mature.” she explained “It made sense to re-use natural systems. I did not even consider that machines could make other machines… or that rock people could make other rock people in this case. I wonder how the ash can tell the difference between the Ihokhetlani they are making and the statues of Gods.”

”Could I do that? Make more?” Luis asked

“More constructs, more Ihokhetlani or of you?”

Luis thought about this for a while before answering simply ”Yes, no, yes”

“You can't make new types but you could have nests of Alma in... Bruna” she did not like calling it that“If you like, maybe I can teach you later when there’s more time? As for more of you. Um. Well there are other whales now I suppose but there are size and intelligence issues there...” she said, the lock seemingly doing its best to give her as little as possible related to reproduction in anything but the abstract “Let's so just say no for now.”

”oh. ok.” Luis responded a touch dejectedly

“It’s a good thing to want to do I think. Fairly certain that I didn’t put that in there either. Se even though I want to table this conversation, for now, I’m more than happy to bring it up later ok? The idea of you, or other mortals, making constructs is an interesting one to think about. For now, though let's stick to the task at hand?” She said gently as she could

”alright....” Luis responded, ”so what now?”

“I’m going to see if they know where Ohannakeloi is and see if I can arrange a meeting with them and him in a bit. You can join in with the conversation with the Ohannakeloi if you like.”

”We’ll see.” he responded, before drifting off from her. Azura sighed softly at her continued lack of social graces before she began to descend towards the area with the statues.

The groups around the statues began to coalesce as they realized Azura’s descent down upon them. As she grew closer a few differences could be made apparently between these Ihokhetlani and those with Ihokhe, decoration primarily, feathers of various kinds, many kinds of plants all placed in between the stones of their bodies. The most decorated few stood apart and in front of the majority, a receiving party.

One spoke after they had gotten into a semblance of order, as the Ihokhetlani prostrated themselves. “O Mighty Azura, Divine of the Wind, how may we humble priests be of service?”

While this reverence once again irked Azura this time she attempted a little tact more in her dismissal of it and with her conversing with the priesthood “I am honored by your greeting dear Ihokhetlani, but rest assured that I do not require you to maintain such a posture as we speak. Please know that while your reverence is appreciated I do not demand it. I have come to tell the Ihokhetlani something and in regards to this announcement, I have two requests. First off I’d appreciate if you could organise a gathering of the people so that I might address them collectively. This need not be speedily arranged as I intend to speak with Ohannakeloi while you get this planned. Do you perchance know where his located at this present moment?”

The group rose to a kneel, the less decorated kept this gaze to the ground. The speaker replied, “While we cannot be certain O Holy One, we believe that he is to be found in the mountains nearby, we have not located him such but the rock formations change too much with too much purpose for it to be otherwise. And we will, of course, accede to your most reasonable request for a gather of the people, may I be so bold to make a request?” A few of the other most decorated Ihokhetlani snapped their focus to the speaker but said nothing at this question.

“Thank you, and by all means.”

“While none would be so foolhardy or unreasonable to not accord to your request, it would no doubt ease some to know what the prime matter of this gathering would be…?”

“The fate of the souls of the dead.” She explained solemnly “That leads us neatly into my second request, that you provide me with council before I speak with all your kin. As you might imagine, it is an important and potentially uncomfortable topic so I would appreciate your assistance in deciding the appropriate way of conveying it to your people.”

The speaker started, “I would be glad to provide any assistance that my mortal abilities could impart to you, Great One. Truly-” Another one of the decorated group spoke, “Truly we would all be honored to provide this assistance O Holy Azura, we first ones are the group before you, except Ihokhe, the progenitor, he is out on a mission and is regrettably far by this time. I fully comprehend the delicacy of the situation and our present council would be delighted to assist on such a worthy and holy task.”

“I would be eternally grateful for your aid.” Azura bobbed her head with this thanks before continuing “I met Ihokhe and his traveling companions earlier. It was he who directed me here. They seem to all be doing well you’ll be glad to hear, and where in sight of the ocean last I saw them. Do you have any place you’d prefer to discuss this?” she finished by asking

“We have no sites more holy than this Great Azura, but it would perhaps be best to hold the great gathering here and discuss elsewhere, we know of a hill just a short distance that would give more privacy to our discussion Holy One.” The second speaker continued, “If your own most holy being would permit it we could go there now and the priests assembled could guide their congregations to gather when the time is right, and prepare them for such a meeting in the meanwhile?”

“This would be most helpful thank you.” she said while interlay growing more and more uncomfortable with each honorific the priest expressed. “Let us proceed there.”

“At once Divine Azura,” the first speaker replied. The journey was short as promised and only the decorated group of five beings came from the Ihokhetlani, the other priests had gone to see to preparations for the gathering. The hill, however, was well situated, well risen and fairly isolated, its sides were quite sheer but that did not seem to impair the Ihokhetlani too much for they had their great height.
“Now then. Death, and the fate of souls.” Azura began, before taking an uncharacteristic moment to find the right words “ The Ihokhetlani are uniquely positioned in that if I understand it correctly, I don’t need to explain the existence of souls to you. You see them and you know that is what you are: a soul dressed in stone. Correct?”

“Of course Holy Azura, as much as any mortal thing is a soul dressed in some kind of body, whether stone, meat, or anything else that the Divinities should see fit to enliven.”

Azura nodded in response and then explained that “This soul can also persist without a body, as all who die do, yet continues to have a conscious mind. The gods, along with untold of other souls that the Architect brought to this realm came from a place where souls existing without bodies is the norm. A place called the void. Here, however, bodiless souls are captured by a Gateway known as the Vortex of Souls and are sent to the stars where Katharsos burns them until they suffer a second death and nothing is left of them but ash.”

A third of the Ihokhetlani spoke, “That would explain where the soul ash comes from at least.” The other four looked askance at the lack of deference but none spoke after. They continued, “Better to have a body of some kind at least, please continue Divine Azura.”

Once again Azura was surprised by their lack of a reaction to the prospect of being annihilated. “Tell me, have any Ihokhetlani ever died?” she asked realising she might know why.

“No, Great Azura. Nothing has yet caused so great a harm to any one of our race’s bodies nor have we experienced deterioration of much of any kind,” the first speaker replied, “Ohannakeloi has explained the concept but we have no experience yet O Powerful One.”

“Ah. While that is good, it does explain why you are taking this news so... casually.”

“Holy Azura, we understand that death will come, we have not yet seen what that is but it will come, that we do know.” The second speaker replied. The third speaker broke in, “Divine Azura, I would urge you to your point, death may be worse than we hoped but it is better than was to be feared. Clearly, you have an issue with the current state of affairs and explaining the current state will lead to some other point that will shock us or otherwise lend purpose to this whole conversation.”

This time the looks received were perhaps a great deal less of askance, and more of questioning the third speaker’s sanity. The third speaker replied, “The Divinity said it was not required and asked for council, I give as I would any who did similarly, clearly this one is not one of the ones Ohannakeloi had great concern over.”

Despite them calling out her attempts to lead them by the nose Azura liked the third one. “You’ve foreseen my aim astute one, so I’ll get to my point. I want to offer the people of Galbar an alternative. I created these constructs” at her command one of the loitering avians flew to their meeting place and presented itself to the mortals “called Alma. If given permission they can crystalise the soul of the deceased into a solid form that can resist the pull of the vortex. To be crystallised is to enter a deep dreamless sleep which I am currently devising ways to awaken the sleeper from. Ensuring that mortals are not lost to the pyres is my priority at the moment, however, so currently, I intend to hide the souls from those that might abuse them in a secret and defendable location.”

The first speaker replied, “Ah, Holy Azura, do you undertake this great work alone among the Divinities? I mean no disrespect of course but it seems odd that the Divinity of Wind is in contestation with the Divinity of Death, and to contest on his own ground and terms seems to be difficult, I would think at least in my own mortal understanding.”

“If I had to I would stand alone in this but fortunately I have the aid of Aseal and also of Aelius, though Virtue currently committed to guarding the sun. I and Asceal aim to gain the aid of others, though the lady of light has spoken with more promising candidates than I sofar. We have been being careful however, to ensure Katharsos does not learn of our opposition before we are prepared to act. That time is almost up now, but I would still appreciate if you kept this to your kind if possible. To yourselves and Ohannakeloi at least. I do not want you to put yourselves in danger to protect this secret, but I believe it would be for the best that we don’t spread this plan around lest it ends up in the wrong ears.” she explained

“As for my lack of cohesion between my domain and my task…” There was a certain importance to this she realised. Patterns were important, they had power in both magical and mundane ways. “The winds are free to roam and do as they please and so should we all be. Free from fear, from pain, from death. Free from tyrants who decide the fates of others without consulting them. As for the power imbalance, the gods are not static in regards to their aspects. I’m Azura of the wind, it is true, but I am also Azura of Soul Crystals and I will use that dominion and all my power to keep those who put their souls under my wing from Death’s embrace”

The second speaker spoke, “Great Azura, I do not believe you will like what I would say, but I shall state it anyway as you and Hase have pointed out the need for getting to the point as it were. If you wish to get the consent of the most of the Ihokhetlani you will need to lie or at least misrepresent the truth, not because of any failing in the Divine, of course, merely mortal fears.”

“I can understand softening or restructuring my telling of this news somewhat to be less. Shocking. But to lie to them? That seems unnecessary and grossly unfair” she responded, more than a touch incredulous at the prospect. Then, realising the damage she might have just done to their working relationship she added more softly “Kindly explain to me your reasoning.”

“Well, truly to be caught in a Divine feud is a terrifying concept to grasp, even more to band to one side of such a conflict, there may be fears of retaliation to a degree. As well while we are no doubt convinced of your ability to find a way to decrystallize a soul, and much better than the other alternative of course as you have spoken, and your protection will no doubt have an unimaginable perfectio-” the second speaker was interrupted by the third speaker or Hase as it were. “My apparently immoral friend here is trying to say that without being able to undo such a thing it sounds a lot like the same second death just without the suffering or contributing to further life on Galbar. I believe they are trying to make a point based on necessity, which only your Divine being may be the judge of I suppose. As we are rather isolated here you do have little need to be concerned over what we might try to say contestation if you chose my fellow’s path.”

The first speaker spoke, “Really now, while we may have some concerns, Holy Azura is in the right here, we are charged to serve the Divines and this is the best action to serve her goals, I’m sure the people would forgive once it is over, they would be safe. To not do so and let their fears rule them now, and potentially allow them to truly die- would that not be the more immoral option?”

“Ok. A lot to digest there.” Azura said slowly, trying to buy time as she mulled over their various points. She started with what was more or less a tangent “So. First off with the soul decrystallization and the resulting state, as a halfway measure it would be relatively straight forward I might be able to combine your own body structure with the construct technology and make a form a soul crystal can control. But apart from that... Yes. I suppose those who become crystallized will need to have faith in me, in us” she left who us was ambiguous “ that a system that can reliably service the demand for revival can be put in place. As for the lies...”

Azura made a strained “Hmmmm” giving away her discomfort with the situations as she worked through it slowly like Luis might, glancing periodically over at his distant form as she did so. Ultimately she was actually less well equipped to make this decision than they were. Certainly, she could understand the fear of being at the mercy of battles waged by those far stronger than yourself but when it came down to it she had little idea how these mortals would react exactly because she did not know them yet. Would bliss of ignorance outway the crime of the lies? It also felt wrong to hand over the decision upon the priests, to give up responsibility for it in the process. She was not sure they would even accept such a state of affairs either. Not all of them. Not yet. She understood the distance between her and mortal people better now at least. It was a sad thing to understand.

“What would you suggest we tell them?” she asked finally, going for a half and half approach of responsibility. Maybe the lie wouldn't have to be that bad of a lie. One of omission rather than deception.

“Speak to them of the concord you have with other Divines in this opposition to Katharsos, Divine of Death. Speak of your decrystallization that it is safe, do not speak of the current lack of means. Give your assurance of protection, you are a Divine, they will believe you and believe your path is right, give them little need for concern and they will take little preferring to trust. We know them well, we taught most of them.” The second speaker finished, the first speaker had nodded in agreement, the third was actively distancing themselves. The other two Ihokhetlani spoke, the fourth, “I agree that what they say is true, they will follow if you speak and give them little reason to turn to the priesthood and ourselves.” And the fifth, “As well we will follow what you decide regardless Holy Azura, we serve and are interested in the other partial crystallization you have suggested as a potential solution.

Hase, the third speaker spoke, “I would not be apart of this, I also know I could not oppose you Divinity, but I must serve my people as well as all the Divines. I urge you to tell them your truth and let time tell on their individual decision, as I do not trust my fellow priests here to make such entirely for them. The problem lies in that you must choose which is more important saving them, as you believe it, or acting with fairness and respect.

“I have no choice in the matter, if you want to save them more then you will override us with ease, whether now or after we’re long dead passed along into whatever matter state follows and what urgency drives you, builds. If you want to act with respect and fairness, then you will inform the people, and then leave them to their decisions as to do otherwise you still choose for them. You care for us mortals a great deal while being so far beyond us that in your love you may crush us. Take what path you will, it was never really our choice, to begin with, we are here and we live by divine decision, we die by divine decision, and we may be saved by divine decision.

“You have asked for council, to convince our people that they should do as you wish, you are not going to have the option to have an unbiased choice on their part, an individual one as informed as they can is the best you can hope for, anything else is searching for something that cannot exist in this world that the Divines have made.”

The words of the four made sense in the long run. It was the easier path, the more supported path, the one that let her achieve what she desired though just a few simple white lies. There would be consequences eventually, but for now, the obedience of the priests would speed up her work. She was doing the right thing after all so what was the price of such a concession in the name of the greater good?

everything

Azura stood utterly still before the assembled four and one for several moments. She failed to process what had just happened, she wasn't allowed too, but it left an impact all the same.

“Thank you for your council.” she finally said, bowing her head in gratitude to the four, before raising and looking at the one, “Hase”

“Yes, dear Divine Azura?”

“Your voice is my voice. Tell them what they need to know. You’ll do a better job than I ever could”

Hase was right. What was the point of saving people if they could not be free? How could they be free if she couldn’t trust them to make their own decisions? After all, having power in the world made her no better at making those decisions than them. She could never forget that. She almost had.

Hase spoke, “I will Divinity. Although, what will you do now? Look for Ohannakeloi?”

Azura nodded. “You know my mind well. I’ll come back after just to check in on things. If you need any more information, don’t hesitate to ask me via prayer. Oh also take the Alma with you if you wish. It will help you however you need.”

“Thank you Divine Azura, I hope your meeting goes well, give him our regards.” Azura nodded and took off, ascending once more into the sky, heading off to see a certain crab.



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A Li’Kallan Soul Fragment





Time went on as Orvus sat and watched his plants grow. A heavy weight burdened him, Arryn’s questions still wracked his mind. He had not told the truth, even to himself. But it didn’t really matter anymore, Arryn was gone. He was alone again, in solitude. So the days turned to night, over and over again, and the plants grew along with it. Slow and with determination, an admirable quality.

In this time, not many disturbed him, save for a strange bird. One who spoke of a fight between his siblings, Li’Kalla and Vakk. A pang of sadness hit him, but quickly dissipated. Whether to believe the story was questionable and Orvus practically dismissed it. He had other concerns to worry about, but still...

The bird flew away shortly after, once again leaving Orvus to his thoughts.

At least, until a raincloud passed overhead, pouring rain down onto the land. The plants relished in the liquid, but their relief soon gave way to fear and threat of death as the rain poured and poured.

Orvus was indifferent to the rain at first, it helped serve a purpose, but as it continued, so too did his mood shift. First from sadness, to anger and when it stopped, to grief. He had lost a row of plants to the torrent of rain, the others were in need of repair, but that was when he found something else entirely.

A particularly large depression in the landscape had filled up with rainwater. It was only a few inches deep when the rain suddenly stopped, the cloud turning from dark gray to white, and then dispersing.

A ripple originating from the center of the shallow rainwater puddle stretched, carefully and deliberately, over the entire surface, and wherever the ripple passed, the reflection of the water changed. It no longer reflected the sky above Orvus, with its lonely passing clouds and pale blue coloring. No. In fact, all reflection was gone, and one could see straight to the bottom without a problem. The water was almost invisible.

He floated over to the strange puddle, and gazed upon it.

As he peered over the edge, so did a hazy, shadowed figure. It was clearly a woman, but her silhouette was hard to make out and her face was distorted beyond clarity.

Without a suggestion, she pressed her palms aggressively against the surface of the water, looking like a distorted shadow trying to reach out to another person on the other side of a glass panel.

Orvus looked upon the strange sight impassively. His head cocked to the side as he watched the shadow figure try and try to reach up. What trickery was it? He drew closer, orientating his body to be parallel with the pool.

”Can you hear me?” he asked it inquisitively.

It was barely perceptible, how the shadow woman cocked her head to the side, as if emulating Orvus. The closer he got to her, the more of her features he could make out. First were her hands. With cuts and scratches and scars along the palm. It was the same along her arms. She was dressed in trousers and a gambeson, her feet bare and sporting the same scars and injuries as the rest of her body. Her face, however, was smooth and clear. Her impassive yet determined eyes were silver and she kept them trained on Orvus for what seemed to be a long while.

It was then that she broke the gaze and looked down at her hands. As if to make a point, she slammed her palms against the surface of the water again.

There was something about the way she looked, something familiar, but Orvus could not place it. What he did know, was that whatever he saw before him, was pitiful and he pitied her. However, he fell upon that look within her eyes. It was one of persistence, and resolve. The want, that need for a purpose and finally, resolution. Orvus knew what she wanted then.

To be free. But from what?

Slowly, he reached out his right arm, and with but one finger, he touched the pool.

The ripple expanded throughout the surface and the strange phenomenon disappeared. The woman was nowhere to be seen. A lone crystal fell from the skies at that moment, right onto Orvus’ head. It bounced off and fell into the shallow depths of the pool. It was a dark brown in color, but light reflected beautifully off it.

Orvus recoiled immediately as the woman disappeared, leaving him perplexed by what had occurred. Then something hit his head, and fell into the water. He saw it after a moment of searching, a small crystal, not unlike the one from the Lustrous Garden, but colored brown. He thought it odd, and recognized that it most likely had something to do with what he had just witnessed.

Orvus reached out and grabbed the small crystal, feeling its ridges and smooth faces. Inside of it, Orvus could feel a damaged soul. It was very slightly frayed, and most of the damage came from what looked to have been a violent fragmentation event. This was merely a fragment of a complete soul.

As he contemplated the crystal, a heavy, dark mist was emitted from the crystal, congealed around the crystallised soul fragment and eventually reforming into the shape of a pocket-sized woman. Dressed in combat trousers and a gambeson, with scars along her body but a beautiful face with striking silver eyes and blood red hair. Her intense and still somehow impassive eyes looked up at Orvus, and she spoke in a soft voice heavily tinted with caution. It was Li’Kalla’s voice, but with different mannerisms.

“... Orvus, was it? We met you before.”

”We, little soul?” he asked softly, seemingly unphased by the small women in his hands.

“We, me, it’s a strange situation. We used to be… We. And then something happened, and I became I. Laina, poor girl, couldn’t take the abuse. I tried to help her. Now she’s been eaten and probably digested by the Beast.” The little soul said, tsking her mouth and rolling her eyes to nobody in particular, “You wouldn’t happen to know how to mend souls, Orvus?”

”Laina?” he pondered aloud. The name was familiar, so was the little soul’s voice. Where had he heard it before? Then the Magpie’s words came to him, and without a shadow of a doubt Orvus understood what the little soul was apart of.

”You are apart of Li’Kalla.” he stated. ”That means something happened to her. That means Vakk…” his eyes seemed to grow angry for a split second before returning to his impassive stare.

”I am sorry, little soul, but I lack the power to mend anything right now. We would require the other pieces anyways, and I know not where they might be. But tell me, what can you remember of this beast? Does Vakk ring any bells?” he inquired.

“That’s unfortunate,” The little soul sighed and sat on her crystal, using her core as a seat. “I know Vakk. The others spoke bad things of him. Apparently he was scary… Then again, they said you were scary, and here you are helping us. I’m sorry if I seem vague. Laina never really channeled me through and so I never got to see or experience much. She was always meek and submissive after… After, well, things.”

”I see.” Orvus said quietly, almost a whisper. It seemed Li’Kalla was gone, a tragic fate, for a sad soul. He then asked, without really thinking, ”What do you wish now?”

“Help me find the others and help us recover our body. We need to get rid of the Beast. I remember a name, Katharsos, God of Death, from the Beginning. I’m the only one of us who paid attention. He should be able to somehow kill the part of us that’s the Beast, for good. Or, you could take the Beast soul for yourself and do whatever you want with it, as long as it never finds its way back to our body.” The little woman pressed a finger against her chin in thought and hummed for a moment, her eyes never leaving Orvus’ impassive ones. “Could you?”

”No.” he said flatly. ”Look around, little soul, I must fix my plants from the rain damage and insure they survive until they are mature. I am… sorry. I can’t leave this place, not yet.” he paused, his eyes growing sad, ”I… Will help… But only after this is done.”

The little soul looked around, her gaze focusing on some of the dead crops.

“I understand priorities. It is a shame, though. I’d like to request you take me to Katharsos. I can repay the favor when our body is safe once more.”

Orvus let out a sigh, before saying, ”Katharsos is far, far away little one. The trip would be long, and I would not be able to see this place grow.” he paused and looked around. With downcast eyes he looked back at her and said, ”Let me… Let me fix what I can… Then I will take you.” he said.

The little soul looked at Orvus and shook her head. “I can see this bothers you. Take me instead to K’nell. That should be easier, and quicker. Plants don’t grow in the span of a few hours, so you won’t miss much of anything.”

Orvus seemed to recoil at the mention of the name, his eyes suddenly growing fierce. ”It bothers me not.” he said with a hint of anger, ’I shall fix this place, and we shall leave to Katharsos.” he then floated over to his stump, with the small woman in hand. He placed her on the wood then said, ”Stay.” before beginning to float towards his small plot of land. The crystal, of course, couldn’t move and stayed on the spot, the small apparition of the little soul disappearing as he got further away from her.

Orvus quickly got to work, frustrated at these new turn of events. He had almost forgotten about K’nell, or had forced himself to forget about that name. Either way, he did not want to speak to him, nor even see him. Orvus knew what would happen, he would lose himself to anger for what the God of Sleep had caused him to feel. That also meant K’nell was somehow involved in this ordeal. He let out an angry sigh as he worked the dirt around a plant, only for the plant to wither and die before him.

He stopped working, and gingerly touched the now ash like leaves, and bowed his head in shame. What was he doing? He blinked, and looked around at the life around him. Life. Then he looked back down to see the plant turn to dust in his fingers. He couldn’t do this… Not like this. He knelt down for a long time, then stood up. Leaving his failure behind, Orvus walked over to the shard and looked at it with a great sadness in his eyes.

”What is your name?” he asked.

The image of the woman materialised quickly once Orvus came back to her, and she cocked her head curiously. “My name…?” She blinked, looked away and closed her eyes as she took in a deep breath. “I don’t have a name. I’m not a real person, I think, so I don’t deserve one. I’m just a part of a bigger whole. A part that ran away when she should’ve stayed…”

After a moment, she sighed and looked back at Orvus, her eyes softening a little. “Orvus, you’re sad. Is it because you can only help life find its end, but not its beginning? I saw you turn that plant to ash.”

He knelt down before the little woman, and his eyes seemed to peer into what little soul she had. He was silent, then said, ”I shall call you Silver.” he paused, taking in the subtle, fleeting sparkle in the little soul's silver eyes, before saying, “I once made the mistake of not naming someone. She was a person, just like you are. You are real, just like she is. Do not blame yourself for running, sometimes it is the best course of action one can take.”

Orvus let out a sigh before looking down at the floor, ”No, little Silver. I have started plenty of life, profane as it might be. My problem, is that I don’t know what I want to be. What I want to do. I am conflicted by a choice, creation or destruction.” he paused then snapped his head back up to look at Silver, and idea coming to mind.

When next he spoke, his voice no longer sounded quite as forlorn, ”You are conflicted as well and you don’t even know it. You think because you are not real, that you don’t deserve to live. That you must be reunited to become whole. I disagree. You may be a part of something else, but you are still you, Silver. And all life, deserves to make its own choices. I learned that… from her.” he paused. ”So tell me, do you really wish to be reunited, to be locked away again? To be unable to experience the world and all it holds? To not have an opinion when it matters most? If this is what you wish, simply say so, and I will take you to Katharsos. Or, if you desire to live your own life, and have the ability to make your own decisions, your own choices, and experience the world through curious eyes- so say it and it shall happen.” Orvus finished, looking at the little soul before him expectantly.

Her lips were closed tightly, spread into a thin line as her face took on a more severe expression. She looked at the palms of her hands and, after a long while, she looked up at Orvus. “I-I… I don't know. I don't know what I want…” She muttered, but soon she straightened her back and shook her head, “Yet I know what I must do. I've been with them… Us… for my entire life. And yes, they can be annoying and stubborn and outright dangerous, but they're me, aren't they? I'm them… And I can't fathom what it would feel like if one of them gave up on me.”

”I see, your aspiration is noble. But little Silver, I fear it is the unknown that truly binds you to inaction. The ‘what if’ of being on your own, without them. But I understand. Familiarity is what we all crave, in the end. This life is like a puzzle, and all we can do is try and put the pieces together, even if those pieces are missing.” Orvus then slowly stood up and outstretched his hand, beckoning Silver to join him. He then said, ”If this is the choice your soul desires, then I shall take you to Katharsos.”

Silver looked at him, her eyes widening almost imperceptibly and a small twitch manifesting in the index finger of her left hand. She crossed her arms, and spoke, in a much softer manned than before, “I-I'm not sure, I don't know… All I've ever been is… You know, them. Me. How could I become something so… Different?”

”Different?” It was then that Orvus realized something, as he paused, lowering his hand slightly. It took him a moment to register what was going on. Then he knew exactly what to say, ”On the path to be becoming what we are truly meant to be, we become different, yes. We change and grow. I will not lie to you, but at the same time little Silver… we can stay the same. For better or for worse, that is… life… I suppose.” Orvus finished softly, reflecting on those words.

The little soul looked at her feet, neatly placed beside each other, and sighed. She hung her head low for a long moment, and eventually she wiped some nonexistent sweat off her forehead and looked at Orvus, “Then, I want to stay with you. For a while.”

”Then it shall be so.” Orvus stated, ”But first… a gift.” With his lowered hand, Orvus waved it over Silver.

”Souls are an interesting phenomena. So much is unknown, but so much is known already. To make whole is difficult. To fray the soul takes time. To give a fragment a life, now that is but a thought.” He said, taking a step back. And is if on cue, Silver began to grow, eliciting a gasp. The once small soul, took upon the form of a grown woman, now sitting upon the stump before Orvus. She slowly and carefully looked at herself. She touched her arms, legs, face, and finally she looked at Orvus with a nervous grin on her face.

“I have never felt things so vividly before. What’s this? Is this how she felt all the time…? Can I touch you?”

The god said nothing for a moment, his impassive stare bearing down upon her new form. Then Orvus blinked and said, ”You may.” and outheld his hand.

Silver looked at his hand, her brow furrowing. Her gaze alternated between his palm and his impassive stare, and she reached for his hand with both of hers.

His skin was cold, unnaturally so and the texture was unlike anything that could be described. So too, could Orvus feel Silver. This was surprising to him, and he blinked again, his expression going wide with curiosity. It seemed that he could physically feel her, but how? Her soul was not frayed… but at the same time… it was not complete, now was it? It was a very strange occurrence, and one that he could not fathom.

With his other hand, he slowly reached out and began to feel her skin. She did the same, bringing his hand to her face and feeling it’s strange texture against her cheek, smelling it and, in a sudden movement, licking it to get a taste.

If the god thought it strange what she did, he made no move to stop, or pull away. The only thing Orvus did was cock his head and look at Silver with a soft expression. ”You are now you, Silver. I… hope this new form is to your liking.” he said, now wrapping his fingers within her scarlet hair.

The new woman smiled and nodded, “I feel… Good. Really good! And now we don’t have to leave your plants, do we? Teach me how to care for them.”

”I… I can do that.” Orvus whispered, his eyes expressing a very small smile.





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Xiaoli and Hermes


Xiaoli had no idea what to do with the last piece of yarn. For a moment, she pondered whether or not it would be enough to knit baby clothes. She blinked. Oh, that was something that she would have to do soon, actually. She hoped the tree eaters would let her… Harvest their wool like last time - though she feared they may not be as oblivious of her presence next time.

She sat on the edge of the bed, wearing her new beige woolen shirt, a yellow skirt with brown embroidery held up by a hemp rope. While it could not even be considered in the same league as her exquisite silk dress, she had attempted to make it as beautiful as she could have with the tools on hand.

It itched a bit, though.

She let out a sigh and put the yarn ball down on the bed before rising to her feet. She stretched her arms over her head and groaned quietly, taking a moment to absorb the dark interior of the bedroom. She looked at the round, wooden-framed paper window over the bed and furrowed her brow. The window didn’t let much light in apart from at dawn - perhaps she would consider adding another one on the opposite side.

She exited the bedroom into a small hallway with two additional slider doors: One which was open and led out, and another which led to a currently empty bedroom. She put her sandals on and jumped out the slider door. There was a slight drop between the entrance and the ground - while she hadn’t experienced much rain here on Tendlepog yet, she’d rather not take any chances. She strolled out on the soon-to-be courtyard and shot a glance to the right.

Their private quarters were on the eastern side of the four-part mansion. The next building that she should make them was the house for the dining hall and the study - naturally placed to the north. She grabbed a few armfulls of sticks and happily strolled over to the marked building site. Stacking the sticks around the rectangular site, she continuously compared the layout to the schematics on the wooden board in the centre of the courtyard.

Nothing less than perfection for her family.

“Xiaoli!” Hermes came trudging in from the treeline, arms full of the strange mountain fruit that grew on the hems of the mushroom trees --to which Hermes decided to name snapfruit. Sprinkled on top of the snapfruit were bunches of shelled walnuts from the forest and a generous handful of sweetgrass.

“Hermes!” Xiaoli said happily. She put down the sticks and turned to see the bounty she had brought along. Her eyes shone and she skipped over. “Oh, Hermes, you shouldn’t have! Need any help carrying those, by the way?”

“I think I got it,” Hermes shifted the weight around, “I had an idea that I wanted to try. See, I like the walnuts and the snapfruit, but they can be a little bitter -- so I was thinking of smooshing up the snapfruit, mixing it with the walnuts and then sweetening it with the grass.”
Xiaoli let out an approving hum. “Yeah! Hang on, I’ll…” She grabbed a nearby rock and, with a flash and a ‘poof’, she turned it into a bowl. “Here! Makes the ordeal a little cleaner.” He handed the bowl to Hermes with a smile.

Hermes shuffled it onto the pile and nodded, “Thanks,” She paused, “Mind if I do it out here while you work? I want to watch.”

“Oh! Uh, of course! Don’t know how chatty I’ll be, but feel free.” Xiaoli turned and strolled back to the northern house. She picked up the sticks again and began to stack them upwards into flat walls, though merely two-three sticks tall ones. The building site looked to be roughly 7 metres in width and twice as long, seen from the south, though little could be said about the actual building. Xiaoli placed down a few more sticks, placed her finger on her chin and turned to look at the schematics in the distance.

Hermes shuffled next to Xiaoli and offered the stone bowl without much of a word, inside was a yellowish brown concoction with sprinkles of red and about half already eaten. A small red stained grin hovered on Hermes’ lips as she looked on expectantly.

Xiaoli gave her a wry smile, took the bowl and poked around the mush a bit. “How was it?” she asked as she scooped a fingerful out and inspected it.

The Dreamer swallowed and wiped the red from her mouth, “Little too sweet but I think I’m onto something.”

Xiaoli pursed her lips, shrugged and tasted some. There was a bright twinkle in her eyes for a moment, and then the bowl was suddenly empty. Xiaoli’s bloated cheeks normalised quickly as she swallowed and gave Hermes a wide-eyed look.

“... Sorry,” she said and covered a quiet burp with her palm.

Hermes gave her a knowing look and a happy smile, “Mhm.. now if only the grass grew here as well, I wouldn’t have to go so far.” She nudged Xiaoli, “I think it may be your favorite.”

“... Maybe,” Xiaoli said innocently and looked away as her cheeks reddened. “In that respect, I’m glad my teeth are made of stone.” She gave Hermes a wink. “It seems they’re not all drawbacks after all.”

“I like your teeth,” Hermes defended, “I like all the colors,” She smiled, her own teeth suddenly turning into a motley of mineral colors.

“I’m glad someone does,” she said and leaned over to give Hermes a quick peck on the cheek before standing back up straight and walking over to the schematics. She let out a pensive hum as she shot glances back and forth between the fancy drawings and the stacking project she had going on behind her.

“... More stone, then, I suppose,” she mumbled to herself. She strolled over to the stone pile and started eye-measuring the different rocks and pebbles. She settled on an armful of head-sized stones, though an armful in her case translated to two. She ended up walked about four trips before she was satisfied.

Plopping onto one of the few headstones that remained in the glade, Hermes watched on, “Which building is this one?”

Xiaoli carefully placed a stone in the southwesternmost corner of the rectangle and clapped her hands free of dust. “This is the house where we will have the dining hall and the study. It’ll be the largest building on the mansion grounds save for the walls. I’m still uncertain of the ration of dining hall to study, however… If we divide it in half, we can’t have a slider door in the middle…” She let out a hum and turned to face Hermes. “Hermes, would it annoy you if we had a dining hall flanked by one study on each side?”

“I don’t think so,” Hermes tapped her chin, “But what would we do with two studies?”

“Well, we need rooms for our children to study and learn and read, don’t we? And for you and I to wooork, and for you to read that book His Holiness Abanoc gave you… And to store such books… The list is quite long.” She placed down a stone in the southeasternmost corner. “It’s a very essential room, and with two, one of us can teach while the other works!” she added.

“Hummm,” Hermes thought out loud, “Then I don’t see why not, it’ll be nice to have extra space for learning.” She put her hands on her hips, “And a dining room in the middle?”

“Yeah, that’s what I’m thinking. That way, we can have an open slider door to the courtyard so we can receive great amounts of light while upholding the pleasing aesthetics of a middle-angled view on the rest of the mansion grounds.” She put down a stone in the northeasternmost corner. “You know,” she said and let out a tired ‘phew’, “I think we will do it like that.”

Hermes blinked, “Our children are going to be so smart with a mother like you.” She walked over to the schematics and squinted, “Very smart.”

Xiaoli giggled and walked over to the schematics to view them with Hermes. “Maybe, but you’ll be the one to make them lovable.” She gave her a sideways wink and looked back at the schematics, glancing between them and Hermes’ expression. “Would you like me to explain it to you?” she asked.

“Yeah,” Hermes said, if but a little insecure.

Xiaoli nodded and pointed first to the top of the large standing rectangle that covered the whole mansion grounds on the schematics. “This is north, like on a map. The mansion is surrounded by a wall, which we will call the outer wall - even though there really is only one layer, for the most part. I will likely make that last - we have no immediate need for a wall at the moment, and carrying the stone is heavy work.” She rolled her eyes at the nearby stone pile and pointed then to the southernmost part of the rectangle, a wall which would be 20 metres long according to the schematics.

“This will be the gate to our mansion. The gate itself will be here.” She pointed to a spot on the left side of the southern wall. Then she pointed to a 3 metre thick wall between the southern wall and the courtyard which, according to the schematics would create a walkway between them also roughly three metres wide.

“This is the inner wall - which is also where the kitchens and servants’ quarters will be. The servants’ quarters will take up six tenths of the wall, the kitchens will take three tenths, and the gate to the inner mansion, one tenth. Seems fair, yes?”

“Yes,” Hermes cocked her head, “But I do have a question.”

Xiaoli nodded. “Ask away, dear.”

“Who is going to be the servants?” Hermes looked up at Xiaoli.

Xiaoli raised an eyebrow and let out a curt hum. Then pursed her lips and nodded to herself. “I’m certain His Lordship would gift us some when our children are born,” she said with a smile. “Don’t worry, he’ll help us out with that.”

“Oh,” Hermes nodded, brow still furrowed, “Do you think they like being servants?”

Xiaoli raised an eyebrow again. “Well, why wouldn’t they? It’s what they were made to be.”

“I don’t know,” Hermes looked over Xiaoli, ”I was just asking. This is all sort of-- new to me”

“But then again, most things are,” She said with reluctance and sighed.

Xiaoli put a hand on Hermes’ cheek and smiled. “It’ll come to you in time, my love. Now, as I was saying, they will get twelve steps of width, and considering the wall will be three metres thick, their living quarters will be rather sizable, indeed.” She pointed at the room in question, a 36-square metre rectangular room complemented with six beds and small squares that almost looked like chests.

Hermes narrowed her eyes as she stared, as if she was attempting to suck up the information directly to her head, “Okay, I understand.”

“Perfect. Moving on to the courtyard, I decided that we will have three houses, as tradition dictates - one for us,” she pointed at the easternmost house on the drawing, then at the house with their bedroom just a few metres away. “... One for guests,” she said and pointed to the westernmost house on the drawing, then at the space opposite of the courtyard from their sleeping quarters - the current location of the stone pile. “... And finally, our dining hall and studies,” she said and pointed at the largest rectangle which on the drawing laid parallel to the northern and southern walls. “Oh, wait,” she quickly said and grabbed her piece of charcoal which she had been writing with. She carefully added two lines to the large house, separating it into three parts, two four metre wide rooms flanking one one metre room. “There - and that’s the whole mansion! What do you think?”

“I like it,” Hermes gave Xiaoli a grin, “It’s a lot to take in, but it sounds like it’ll be great. I’m just really excited to be starting a family, and to become a teacher-- and mother of course.”

Xiaoli smiled warmly and wrapped her arms around Hermes squeezing tightly. “Me, too, my love.” She held the hug for a few second before letting go. “Have you given any thought to how our lives will change when they do arrive, actually?”

Seeming to relax into Xiaoli’s hug and then straightening out when it ended, Hermes pondered, “I don’t really know what to expect, to be honest. It’s not like there ever was a baby Dreamer before, let alone a family. I should have consulted Abanoc’s book about it today, but, well, I wasted my daily read on culinary art.”

She crossed her arms, “But if I’ve learned anything from watching the Tree-Eaters, I’m going to have to stay really really close to home for a while and take care of them until they can effectively chase down trees on their own,” She added the last bit with a wink.

Xiaoli nodded in approval. “That’s good, but have you given any thought to how long that may last? Mortals tend to be helpless for quite a while after birth. Then again, maybe Dreamers will be different.” She hummed. Then again, she thought, when Hermes was younger, she wasn’t exactly… She shook her head and smiled.

“I don’t know,” Hermes shrugged, “Tree-Eaters are like that maybe for maybe three hand counts of days, the numbats -- well they have pouches so i don’t think they count, so I figure it can’t be much longer than that.” She bit her finger in thought, “I’ll consult the book tomorrow though, I want to be prepared.”

Xiaoli made a face and furrowed her brow. “It… Just might be a while longer than a few days, dear. Mortals are complex and their minds require time to form. It will likely take years before they can even speak.”

“Years?” Hermes seemed shocked, “To speak?”

Xiaoli nodded. “Most likely. Speaking of, I’ll be teaching them to read Shengshese as early as I can. I’ve planned the syllabus and everything.” She reached for her waistband, only to find that she did not have a waistband anymore, but a length of rope about her waist. She pouted. “Okay, I don’t have it with me, but it’s in the bedroom.”

“That's a good idea,” Hermes agreed, “I could help, I know how to read. Oh! And I could show them all the different things Tendlepog and Swahhitteh have--” She started listing different plants and animals, “--and how to use those utensils we used at Shengshi's feast--” The excited Dreamer continued, “I can show them all the corners of Galbar, teach them everything I learned.”

Xiaoli giggled. “All that and more, my dear, though I certainly hope you plan on bringing along soap so you can wash their clothes while travelling - and their bodies, for that matter.” She folded her arms over her bosom and gave her a wry smile.

Hermes made a face, “Yeah, of course.” She didn't sound very sure, “That's no problem.”

“They probably won’t be able to hunt or gather food on their own for a while, either. I could probably plant a small garden outside the mansion and grow some vegetables, though.” She looked back at the schematics with a curled finger on her chin, grabbed the charcoal and noted down ‘maybe farm’ in the corner.

“Oh, we need an outhouse, too.”

“Outhouse?” Hermes looked up from her feet.

“Yeah, you know…” Xiaoli cleared her throat. “... A place for you to… Relieve yourselves? Though I expect that the children won’t be using it for the first few years.”

“Why not?” Hermes winced.

Xiaoli furrowed her brow and tilted her head to the side. “They likely won’t be able to, dear. Was I perhaps a little unclear earlier? They won’t be very, how to say this, capable to begin with, and part of this lack of capability means that we, as parents, will have to… Clean up after them, to put it that way.” Her wry smile became a straight face with concerned brows.

“For years?” Hermes looked helpless.

“Yes, Hermes,” Xiaoli said somewhat impatiently. “I’m sorry, but the first few -years- of our children’s lives will not be filled with adventuring and the like, but with house work and a lot - a lot of patience.”

Hermes pursed her lips in silence, “I think I'm going to go for a little walk, just,” She paused, “I need to think a bit.”

Xiaoli sighed. “Alright. Be back before bedtime, okay?”

“Of course,” Hermes gave a weak smile and trudged off, deep in thought.




Hermes’ sandaled feet swished through the long red grass of the plains. Mountains were grinding in the distance and newly sired Tree-Eaters were braying to their mothers, causing Hermes to wince. A cloudling emerged from a trip vine flower and buzzed around Hermes with concern.

“Hey Poppler,” Hermes moped, stringing her thumbs under her rope belt Xiaoli had made. Poppler let out a pop and Hermes sighed, kicking a tiny rock hidden next to a clump of grass, “I don’t know, I guess I just don’t feel ready.”

”Zzt.”

“Okay, so I do feel ready, but-- I don’t know,” Hermes shrugged and kept walking.

”Pop.”

“Yeah, I guess,” She looked up and stopped, “It’s just a lot, and sometimes I’m not sure if I really made it that far from where I started. What if I mess this up?”

She turned to the cloudling, a cold knot forming in her chest “If I messed up at the beginning, it was just me who would be hurt. If I mess up now, Xiaoli would be hurt, and in the future -- my own kids would suffer for it.”

”Crackle.”

“I still feel stupid,” Hermes admitted, “I want to be this great teacher but I feel so stupid. Xiaoli knows all these thin-”

”Zzt!”

“I know,” Hermes looked at her feet in guilt, “I shouldn’t be comparing myself, but sometimes it sneaks up on me.”

She sighed, “I can’t imagine doing this with anyone but her, but at the same time I guess I’m a little afraid of being the dumber parent.”

”Pop.”

“Well yeah I could talk to her about it,” Hermes started walking again, “But it’s so silly and insecure and not real, I know this.” Poppler crackled.

“It’s still real and a valid emotion, I get that,” Hermes turned away, “And she’d want to know, but it’s not just the stupid insecurities that are on my mind.”

”Zzt..”

“I’m--” Hermes choked up for a moment, swallowing a little. She looked at Poppler, the little cloudling bobbing to and fro. Hermes gave him a soft somber smile and turned back towards the direction she came from, Poppler zipping by next to her.



Xiaoli placed down the final headstone and wiped her brow. Her expression was flat, if not a little regretful. Had she been too direct, perhaps? All this seemed to obvious to her, everything from the most likely development speed of the children to their most likely needs - but that was of course something Hermes didn’t know. Oh no, she had definitely been too strict and stupidly direct and--

Could she maybe act as if something wasn’t too obvious, she thought as she began to pump her divine essence into one of the the great hall’s four ‘walls’ composed of piles of sticks through one hand and into a headstone through the other. As the sticks almost melted together and grew upwards into a tall, flat wall and the stones along the wall, into pillars, she shook her head.

No, Hermes would realise she was intentionally playing stupid. Then, then maybe she could just work on her tone as she explained things. Okay, well, she was already doing that, she hoped, although it was evidently not working. She moved on to the next wall. As the wall extended upwards along the growing stone pillars, she decided to practice a bit.

“... That’s good, Hermes, though there’s more to it than-...” No, no, that sounds patronising.

“What?” Hermes piped up, having silently walked over and behind Xiaoli.

“Oh, hi, Herme-WAH! Hermes!” Xiaoli nearly jumped out of her skin, large swathes of sand dusting off and falling to the ground. Luckily, the wall had managed to grow properly before-

Xiaoli shot a glance at the wall, which appeared fine, but realised that the stone pillar had grown much too tall.

“N-nothing, dear. Just let me fix this first.” She put her hand on the pillar and watched it shrink down to the same size as the others. She then turned to Hermes.

“Alright. Yeah, hi, how was your walk?” she said innocently.

Hermes seemed to ignore the question and tightly wrapped her arms around Xiaoli, “I’m nervous.”

Xiaoli blinked and was uncertain of what to do for a split second before her arms eventually embraced Hermes back. “Oh, Hermes, my love… That’s entirely understandable…” She placed her chin on Hermes’ shoulder. “You’re embarking on a journey no other mortals in this world have, to my knowledge. I’d be shocked if you weren’t nervous. You want to talk about it?”

“Yeah,” Hermes squeezed, “I think we have a few things we should talk about.”

Xiaoli hummed in agreement. “Let’s sit down. I’ll make us something to drink, okay?”
“Sure,” Hermes looked around, letting her arms fall. She discreetly wiped something away from her eye and found a stone to sit on.

Xiaoli went into the bedroom and fetched a teapot she had made some days prior, as well as two cups. She then went down to the creek and filled the pot with water. She didn’t really feel like making a fire right now, so as she walked over to Hermes, she dipped a finger into the water in the pot and used the ripples to instantly cause it to boil. She placed the pot down in the moss in front of Hermes along with the two cups and went into the bedroom again, exiting with a leather bag of tea leaves.

“So, what do you feel the most nervous about?” she said as she sprinkled some flowers into the teapot.

“Well, no,” Hermes said, “I mean, I’ll get to that, but first.” She sighed, “I think I have a lot of insecurities and I don’t want them to ever impact our relationship,” Hermes began, “Sometimes I feel stupid and get frustrated, and I don’t want you to ever think it’s your fault; you’ve been nothing if not patient with me. I mean we come from very two different places, have very different minds, and -- it can be daunting, but I know you’re always just trying to help and I never find myself not appreciating that.” She pursed her lips, “I guess what I’m saying is I appreciate all you do, and I just have a few insecurities I’m working through.” There was an approving pop from Hermes’ hair.

Xiaoli froze for a moment before carefully placing the lid on top of the teapot. “I see,” she said curtly. “I was actually thinking about this just before you came back. I-... I know I can be a bit patronising, at times, and I-...” She paused for a moment and stirred the teapot around as if searching for a distraction. “In truth, Hermes, I struggle, occasionally, with knowing what to say and what, well, not to say - as you mentioned, we are from completely different worlds and, in truth, I do not really… Understand mortality yet. So many things are so obvious to me, except for what actually should be quite obvious, like the fact that you-...” She paused, followed be a faint snicker. “See? I’m doing it again - looking for words so I won’t sound like such a know-it-all.”

“You shouldn’t have to tip-toe around me,” Hermes sighed, “We are going to be parents together, we could already be parents together for all we know. Just speak, and I’ll learn to control my insecurities.”

“Well, maybe you could at the very least tell me when you feel like I’m being a bit too much? As it stands, I don’t really know when I cross that line - your face is an indicator sometimes, but if you could tell me, I could try to improve myself. Does that should alright?” She poured some tea in both their cups.

“I can do that,” Hermes gave a soft smile, a curious Poppler emerging in search of something sweet to bump into. Hermes sipped at her tea, “Am I ever too much?”

“Too much?” Xiaoli pursed her lips and slurped her tea as she shot an upwards glance. “No, you’re fine… You might be a bit…” She paused, but then quickly opened her mouth again. “Oh curses, I did it again!” She took a deep breath. “You might be a bit too direct towards the Exalted Creators, in my view,” she said as if the words felt poisonous.

Hermes sipped loudly, then slowly put the cup down, “I guess I did ask,” She rubbed her face, “So, Xiaoli.” She looked at her partner carefully, “Don’t get upset with me -- but.” She turned her head and bit the inside of her cheek, “Hm.”

“What? What?!” she said, her brow furrowing and her lips straightening.

Hermes scooted off the rock and close to Xiaoli, as if sharing a secret, “Not all of the Exalted Creators are creators, and -- I respect and cherish and hold the Gods who have far above me, and my children will be praying their thanks to them, but not just because they are Gods, but because they are our Gods who have entered this relationship of God and Mortal. Shengshi, K’nell, Arae, and others, I can call them God and mean it with every fiber of my body because I not only know that they are divine but that they are what it is to be a God as well, and they have treated me and mortals with equal respect -- but I can’t in my blank-starting mind force myself to pray to a divine who has done nothing but acquired the means and will to squash me at their earliest convenience. So I am careful to who I give the title God to, and those who are Gods are the Exalted Creators, but those who are just Exalted above mortality, I don’t know what to think of them.” Hermes paused, “I’m sorry if this seems like a lot.”

Xiaoli’s face had lost all colour. Her lip was quivering, as was the hand holding her teacup. Her empty eyes fell to her lap and she put her teacup down on the ground. “O-oh…” she said faintly.

“Xiaoli?” Hermes face turned to one of worry.

“H-Hermes, you… You shouldn’t say such things,” she finally said. “It’s… Ungrateful.” She looked to the side, tears beginning to well up in her eyes.

“I’m sorry,” Hermes brow furrowed apologetically, her hand snaking towards Xiaoli’s “Maybe I was too direct-- again.”

Xiaoli wiped her eyes with one of her sleeves and took Hermes’ hand in her free one. “Do you know why I act as I do the Exalted Creators?” she said and sniffed.

“No,” Hermes admitted, concern stretched clear across her visage, “Tell me?”

“It’s a concept in the teachings of the Flow - one called filial piety. It stresses loyalty to one’s elders and masters above all else, with the expectation that the relationship will be respectful from both sides. It combines with His Lordship’s dream of harmony, where if every servant acted with complete loyalty to its master, and every master showed great respect for its servants - there would be no conflict. It’s not a perfect concept, but it is one I believe in. If one treats others with the respect they deserve, they will hopefully be inclined to return the respect, at least to a degree.”
She snickered faintly. “Saying it out loud makes it sound awfully idealistic, right?”

Hermes squeezed Xiaoli’s hand, “In better words, I think you said what I was trying to say, except maybe I took it a little farther to those masters who don’t respect their servants. It is idealistic, but it’s also beautiful-”

“No, it’s more than that,” Xiaoli suddenly said. “If one part chooses not to return the respect, that still does not legitimise disrespect from both parts - a servant is loyal to a foul lord, a great master is respectful to a poor servant. Likewise, we should respect all gods, regardless of the horrors they commit, because…” She looked Hermes in the eyes. “They are our masters.”

Hermes let out a puff of air, “Even if they never portray a single quality of a master?”

Xiaoli nodded solemnly. “Loyalty above all - even to the worst of scum,” she said quietly.

It was Hermes turn to look shocked, “But,” She racked her brain, “What does that accomplish? What if giving in to the worst causes more bad things, what if it causes me to hurt, or you, or our children?”

Xiaoli’s eyes welled up again and she pulled her knees to her chest. “I… I don’t know…” She let out a few hacking whimpers and planted her forehead on her kneecaps, Hermes hand found her back and rubbed in circles. “... Somewhere along the line, it-...” She sniffed. “... It’s supposed to lead to harmony, but…” She raised her head and gave Hermes a weary look with red-ringed eyes.

“Now I don’t know anymore… Eurysthenes’ reaction, my master’s actions in front of Kalmar, your words… It’s all so-...” She turned back and grabbed the sides of her head with her hands. “confusing!

Hermes let her hand fall and sighed, “I know how you feel-- We’ll figure it out, together. The world is young, it would be a little strange if one of us had all the answers.”

Xiaoli sniffed again and let her head fall back. As she stared skywards, she let out a single ‘hah’. “A mortal and an avatar starting a family together… Had His Lordship told me about this upon my conception, I would have thought him insane.”

She took a deep breath. “I am certain of one thing, though.” She reached out to take Hermes’ hand.

“You have my loyalty forever, Hermes.”

Hermes took her hand and held it close to her heart, “You have my loyalty, and more.”

Xiaoli smiled and leaned it to peck her on the cheek. “Thank you…” she whispered.



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Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Tal
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Tal

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Ya-Shuur didn't go in the end and he stayed on his home island. He went into the forest and got a strong sharp stick and started to turn the ground in a place that was clear of trees but was covered so the rain didn't fall through. He dug a great amount and started shaping the place to be a bit like a room in Li'Kalla's manor. He covered the room-sized hole in wet mud and then waited for to dry so it all had a smooth surface without any bumps or holes and also so that the earth didn't stick to his feet when he was inside. Then he brought big logs and covered the room he had dug into the ground and he brought lots of grass and covered the logs. Then he brought earth and covered the grass. The entrance was a hole in the ground leading down some earth steps. He covered it in a cover made from twigs tied together and covered in grass and when a person looked at the house it looked like there was nothing there except earth and grass. (He does it like the first place in this video).

Ya-Shuur was satisfied with this because he now had his own home just like Li'Kalla. It was a good sign because it made him different from other creatures that were always outside. He had made one part of the room slightly raised like a bed like he saw in Li'Kalla's house where she used to close her eyes for a long time. He lay on it like she used to and closed his eyes for a few hours. He moved around every now and then as he thought about things. Then when he felt enough time had passed he opened his eyes and got out of the house.

He remembered that he had thrown his stick away when he got angry and now he wanted to find it again. So he retraced his footsteps with the help of the two molves with them him and eventually found it. It had become all soggy from the rain so he took it back to his home and put it inside and watched it until it became dry. When it became dry he picked it up and inspected it then he lay down again on his bed.

It was only now that he had started to notice how alone he was even though the island was full of different kinds of life and the strange sensation made him frown. On his bed in his dark cosy home he closed his eyes again to meditate like he used to see Li'Kalla doing. He felt weak for now but when he opened his eyes again he would be stronger and he would do something about this loneliness.

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Hidden 2 mos ago 2 mos ago Post by Vec
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M E L A N T H A


Norsvold had seen no changes during Melantha's absence to visit Katharsos' realm and as such, she found it just as she had left it upon returning. The same dark soil covered the land, not at all differentiating from the solid ground beneath it. No light fell upon these dark lands, no sound echoed through the valleys and canyons. There were no rivers, no lakes. The cold grasp of the dark ore that made up the floating landmass gave little to no chance for warmth to emanate from it. Nothing could take root and grow and thus nothing could really flourish in such a barren land.

And yet, Melantha always found herself distracted by the simple beauty of such scenery. At first, she would walk aimlessly amidst the rocky landscape, pondering on things beyond her control. She would do that for what would seem a long time to her, but to a mortal would be like thousands of lifetimes. Her walks would usually take her all over Norsvold, from its deepest crevices to its highest points, but there was one particular location she cherished the most. In the past, it had been the grandest peak of Norsvolds largest mountain range, but due to a particular event, it was reduced to a measly second-grade mountain with a peculiar flat top. Nevertheless, although there were higher peaks from where she could see more of Norsvold, Melantha liked this peak for this is where she had made her resolve to forget clear to herself.

Sparing one last glance upon the bare but picturesque to her eyes - now healed and able to see once more - land of Norsvold below, Melantha turned around and walked towards the centre of the tableland, having readied herself for what was to come. As she walked, the darkness around her thrummed silently as if it was alive and worried about her safety. It curled and coiled around her form, tightening its grip on her, softly urging her to not go through with it. Nevertheless, Melantha simply smiled bitterly, and after a split second of hesitation, waved the darkness off.

For the first time since her awakening, Melantha found herself completely naked. Although being a deity had its perks in that she was naturally impervious to many hazards that would kill mortals a thousandfold, the protection her coat of darkness provided had been more of the mental variety rather than something physical. It had been there for practically all of her existence since her awakening, not once leaving her side. It was a reminder and the last mental barrier she had to overcome before she allowed herself to continue with her plan.

Her slow and deliberate stride gave her a chance to reflect upon what had happened thus far. How she had visited Katharsos' realm and finding out about souls and the afterlife he had created, to revealing her secret ambitions to him in order to gain his trust and help, all culminating in her learning from him how to erase the memories off of a soul. Thinking back to it, Melantha could not help but imprint this favour of his to her heart. "Once he decided to help, he gave his undivided attention to our lessons, something that speaks volumes for his character. Thanks to him I am now capable of attempting this with some measure of certainty, but just because he personally taught me doesn't change the fact that I can and may still fail in this endeavour..."

Soon Melantha came to a stop after reaching the center of the flat-top. She made a circle around herself absentmindedly, her eyes closed, her pitch-black hair flowing behind her lazily. In the end, when she realized that she could not stall any longer, she decided to just go for it. Her preparations were ample, her determination was set.

With a deep breath, she found herself hovering high above the mountain range. Her eyes shot wide open, pupils dilating so far as to cover the whole of her irises. She felt the energy circulating through her body, from her toes to her legs, to her torso and arms and finally, her head where her soul, the seed and root of her existence resided.

A deep and excruciating pain immediately erupted the moment she let the energy breach into her mind. Melantha gritted her teeth, however, and persevered through it. She knew that something like this was bound to happen as she had practised the same thing with Katharsos numerous times. A brute force attack to the soul's defences was needed in order for them to be weakened enough for the Pyres to infiltrate the soul and burn away its memories. Of course, something like that was already difficult enough to do with a normal mortal soul, much less one that had been inundated with divine essence since its birth. Such a soul, through the passage of time, would undoubtedly come to absorb and be moulded into a more resilient and more powerful version of its former self.

The exact moment the energy infiltrated her soul it started eating away at everything it came upon. Melantha followed the teachings of Katharsos and wielded her powers in order to reign in the rampaging energy, quickly taking control of it. Under her guidance, the now somewhat tamed energy washed over her soul, which had by now started faintly glowing with a faint orange hue, a sign of the soul burning process having commenced.

On the outside, a fine sheen of sweat had covered Melantha's body. The soul burning ritual's effects had never been tested on a soul with a live body, of course, and as such Melantha had no way of knowing what would happen to her body in this state. As she progressed deeper into her well of memories, the glowing of her soul increased in intensity exponentially, and so did the physical phenomena resulting from the ritual. Soon enough, the heat emitted from Melantha would become strong enough to vaporize her sweat into steam that would slowly rise up and spread around, binding with the dark energy of the Sphere to create something unexpected.

Nevertheless, the goddess of darkness did not have the luxury to think about anything other than maintaining her control over the ritual. She mentally materialized in form along the soul burning energy waves, flying one step ahead of them and scanning each and every memory cluster she passed, making sure to erect a protective bubble over the ones that were not to be erased by the ritual. The flames rushed over, quickly engulfing the protected clusters and battering the shields with force, unlike anything Melantha had ever seen before. Melantha felt both excitement at the prospect of finally being free of what troubled her, as well as a certain level of fear towards the power of what Katharsos had created. The principles of the ritual were very closely tied to the actual way the Pyres worked, just on a smaller scale.

Eventually, after a long, gruelling amount of time, Melantha finally reached the end as well as the beginning of where it all had started. After passing countless clusters of memories, protecting some while seeing others burn into ashes, Melantha arrived in front of the cluster that contained her memories of the first moments of her awakening. She plunged right into the memory bubble and was immediately returned to that time. She could feel, hear, smell and taste everything as if she had returned to the past, but her sight was dislocated from her body, placed high above where she could see everything that was transpiring, akin to what an outsider, a spectator if you will, would see.

The awakening of her fellow gods and goddesses was not something that had particularly intrigued Melantha enough to pay attention to at the time, but her mind still processed the sensory inputs from that time and stored them as memories, enabling her to now once more see the events as they unfolded. Narzhak, Urhu, Parvus, Li'Kalla, Vakk, Anzillu, Aelius, Kalmar, Azura, Seihdhara, Orvus and many more, Melantha watched as deities sprouted here and there, each and every one different from the other, each and every one with their own little unique reaction to their awakening. Image after image, Melantha watched them taking their first steps, meeting their fellows and forging relationships. And then there was her, alone and distanced from the rest of the deities. Looking at her past self's face, Melantha could feel those same emotions she felt at that time emerge once again. Overwhelmed by mostly confusion, as well as a sense of loss at what to do drove Melantha of that time to ask that fateful question.

'Why?'

Over and over again, that word, as well as the answer that followed it echoed through her mind. 'What could you hope to know of such things? Your mind could not fathom what I am.' The Architect's sole eye rolled around as he replied before addressing the rest of the pantheon. 'My cause is beyond your understanding, but my instructions are not. When I give them, I expect that they will be obeyed.'

Even though what she was seeing was nothing more than a recording of the past, Melantha could not help but mentally shiver at hearing those words once more. For a split second, she came very close to losing control of the soul burning energy, however after quickly regaining her wits and with that, her resolve to finish what she started, her ethereal form restructured itself and exited the memory bubble.

"Enough doubting, it's time for action." With that affirmation in mind, Melantha steered the flames towards that specific cluster of memories, concentrating her everything in making sure to wipe it out of her mind for good. The flames rushed like a ravenous scourge towards the unprotected memories, quickly gnawing away at them, incinerating them into ash that slowly drifted away. One by one, the scenes of the gods' first steps disappeared from Melantha's memories, and while the burning of smaller, more insignificant memories did not put much mental strain on Melantha's psyche, this memory was one of the most fundamental memories that made her who she was. Understandably so, the moment the flames first licked the edges of the memory, Melantha was put under an incalculable amount of pain. A pain even worse than what she felt when Asceal and Aelius first lit up their creation that drove away half the darkness in the universe. Melantha let out a prolonged howl of anguish, her body instinctively taking over to abate the pain as much as possible.

Little by little, the flames ate up the memory. At the end, there was only one small part of it left hovering inside Melantha's mindscape, but by that time Melantha felt utterly exhausted and numb. Her sight was blurry, her eyes red from all the tears she had shed. In front of her mental projection was what was left of the Architect's towering body, his large, circular eye. Melantha stared at it with a deadpan expression on her face, and the eye stared back at her equally. And even though Melantha knew that the eye was nothing more than a figment of her imagination and of the past, she could not help but instinctively feel anger welling up inside of her. She did not know why she felt angry anymore, why this eye irritated and disgusted her. She only knew that she had to be rid of it, and fast. She drew upon every remaining ounce of power she had left and reignited the flames of soul burning before turning them towards the last remaining piece of the past she detested so much. This final attack took the form of a spiralling spear of mixed golden-black flames that was backed by both Melantha's power as well as the inherent memory-erasing properties of Katharsos' Pyres.

The impact was monumental. As the flaming spear smashed on top of the Architect's eye, a blinding flash of light instantly covered everything within Melantha's line of sight. Following this, an immense amount of force rebounded towards Melantha, instantly annihilating her mental projection. A shockwave rippled through her soul, vaporizing every and all memories the goddess had previously so naively protected. Outside, her body immediately slouched to the side, but as her Sphere lacked gravity to pull her down to the ground, she just hung there for a few seconds before rapidly fading away from existence. After the light faded out, Melantha's soul was nothing but a dark and empty space, the only thing remaining in it having seemingly replaced the eye, a cryptic set of words that soon faded away to nothing as well.

"I shan't be disobeyed..."

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Hidden 2 mos ago Post by BBeast
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The red-stained trees and plains of the Great Hooflands were overcast with grey clouds delivering tropical rain. Overlooking these plains was Mount Chop, and atop Mount Chop's plateau was the Thunderbird sitting in her nest. Gnawed bones were littered about the nest. Now the Thunderbird rested on top of her warm eggs, her wings stretched out to shelter them from the rain. She had been guarding her eggs carefully ever since the Phoenix had left, being careful to not leave the nest too long while hunting.

Tap.

The Thunderbird shifted slightly as she felt something move under her.

Tap. Tap.

The Thunderbird stood up and looked beneath her.

Tap. Tap. Tap. Crack.

A tiny fracture appeared in one of the sapphire-and-ruby eggs. The Thunderbird nuzzled the egg with her beak.

Tap. Tap. Crack. Tap. Crack. Crack. Tap. Crack.

More cracks appeared in the egg, radiating out from a point as a tiny beak began to break through. The Thunderbird tilted her head to look at the hatching egg up close with an eye.

Tap. Crack. Crack. Tap. Crack. Tap. Tap. Crack. Crack. Crack. Crack.

The tiny hatchling's beak tore apart a line through the eggshell. Then the egg bulged and buckled and the tear propagated as the hatchling pushed against the edge of its egg.

Crack. Crack. Creak. Crack. ... Crack. Crack. ... Crack. "Squawk."

The hatchling finally forced its way out of the egg and fell upon the leaves and branches of the nest. Its bare pink skin was moist with yolk and a few dark-coloured feathers were matted on its back. Two oversized eyes and a beak were on the infant's disproportionate head. It had four limbs with little fingers with under-formed talons, and a stubby tail protruded from its backside.

"Coo." The Thunderbird rubbed the hatchling with her beak. The newborn bird was unphased by the little sparks of static electricity which jumped from the Thunderbird to it. As drops of rain fell upon the newborn, steam rose from the water, heated by its supernaturally warm body.

"Squa squawk," the hatchling chirped and tilted its head up expectantly towards its mother.

The Thunderbird lifted her gaze to the remaining eggs. Already, another egg was starting to rock as the baby bird within prepared to hatch. The rest would hatch soon, and they would be hungry just like the first one. "Caw," she said. She then hopped over the edge of the nest and with a thunderous wing-beat took flight over the Great Hooflands.



Over the following days, the Thunderbird fed her nest of hatchlings. As the Thunderbird was so much bigger than the hatchlings, she was easily able to feed them all, even though there was a large number of them. They were growing up quickly, their plumage growing out and their bodies becoming larger. The feathers of these new avians were dark shades of red, blue and purple. While many of their features were bird-like, their wings had arms incorporated into them with talons, and the avians often walked on four feet like pterosaurs.

Despite their small sizes compared to the Thunderbird (although already they were larger than most birds), their cries were incredibly loud. Their thunderous squawks carried across the land surrounding Mount Chop, so the Thunderbird always knew whether the chicks were hungry or distressed regardless of where she was.

As the avians grew and their plumage came closer to completion, their other powers became apparent. Breezes always swirled about the nest as the chicks played and moved. And occasionally the hatchlings would spontaneously combust, their feathers becoming coated in flames. This fire did not harm the hatchlings, although the nest was not so durable. The Thunderbird layered the inside of the nest with mud to stop it from burning whenever the chicks ignited. And when the chicks were startled or spooked or sometimes just nudged their feathers would flare with dazzlingly bright light.

The flight feathers of the avians grew, and the Thunderbird knew that she needed to encourage them to fly. When she came with food for the fledglings, she stood progressively further away, coaxing them to leave the comfort of the nest. She also held the food higher up, encouraging them to jump and flap their wings to try to reach her beak. In time the avians were not confined to the nest, but roaming about the plateau of Mount Chop. Sometimes they would wonder off the edge of the plateau, sometimes at the prompting of their mother, where they would fall a distance and had to climb their way back up. In this way, the fledglings learned how to fly in order to climb back up to the plateau where their mother waited with food.

It was during this time that a familiar storm rolled over Mount Chop. The Thunderbird looked up expectantly as wind, rain and thunder came her way, and the nest full of fledglings also perked up and started calling out. When the storm was directly overhead, the thunder sounded like words. "What have you got there, Thunderbird?"

"Caw! Coo, caw!" the Thunderbird cried out.

There was a surprised pop of lightning from within the cloud. "A big fiery winged creature... Ironic."

"Squawk."

"I shall not tell. I also desire to see your children prosper," Ashalla answered. Rain fell upon the nest of fledglings and the wind whipped around them in circles. "May the wind blow in your favour, the rain fall when you need it, and the storm always be your friend. This is the blessing I give to you, Pyrgerakia."

The fledglings chirped and squawked happily. Some jumped up to fly in circles in Ashalla's breeze. The breeze then became a strong gale and pushed the fledglings away from the nest. A narrow cone of spiralling cloud and wind snaked down from the cumulonimbus to a specific point in the nest. Mud and twigs were blown outwards as a wooden box was lifted into the air within the miniature tornado. A surge of rain washed the box clean of mud and feces, and the box was pulled up into the cloud. The box had a few scratches and scorch marks on the outside, although the damage was only superficial. Clearly, a nest full of burning baby avians was not the optimal place to store such an artifact.

"I am taking the box away now. I have found a safer home for it," Ashalla explained.

"Caw," the Thunderbird replied.

The wind changed and the storm blew back towards the east from where it came. The Thunderbird let out several peals of thunder in farewell, and the Pyrgeraki fledglings cried out with their own thunderous voices.



It was not long before the Pyrgerakia were grown up and ready to leave the nest for good and claim their own territory. A storm rolled past Mount Chop, and the Pyrgerakia took this as their cue to depart. The cries of the Thunderbird and her children could be heard for many kilometres as the Pyrgerakia caught the wind in their wings and took flight across the Great Hooflands and beyond, trailing fire and light through the skies.

Fully grown, a male Pyrgeraki had an average wingspan of four metres while a female Pyrgeraki had an average wingspan of three metres. All had plumage in various shades of dark blue, red and purple across their bodies, although the males had more red and the females had more blue. The mature males also boasted an impressive feathered crest.

The Pyrgerakia found rocky places in which they could roost, favouring cliffs and mountain-tops. Their winged forelimbs made climbing and navigating sheer cliff-faces easier than for regular birds. The females in particular found good places to build nests, where males could come to court them with songs, offerings of food, and displays of fire and light.

The Pyrgerakia were predators, hunting any creature smaller than themselves. While wing and talon were often enough to catch most creatures, they had another trick to help them catch prey more easily. One or more Pyrgerakia, often male, would burst into flame and fly through the undergrowth, setting it alight. Other Pyrgerakia, often female, would create wind to fan the flames in the direction they desired. The resultant bushfire would drive animals out into the open where the Pyrgerakia could hunt them more easily. They only did this occasionally, otherwise all the forests would be burned down, but when they did they produced a great feast for the participating flock.

The Pyrgerakia spread across Atokhekwoi. They were hungry beasts, so each Pyrgeraki demanded a sizeable territory for themselves and their mate. But they were rarely hard to find, for their calls, particularly the calls of the females, were deafeningly loud from up close and carried for great distances like thunder. In this way thunder and fire were carried across the super-continent.

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Hidden 2 mos ago 2 mos ago Post by Tal
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With his stick in his hand Ya-Shuur climbed out of his house and looked around. The crows were up in the trees staring at him as usual and Behr-Aat and Jul-Urr were laying down not far from his hidden house. When he climbed out they stirred immediately and came to him. He climbed on to Behr-Aat and they went through the jungle. When they came near the herd Ya-Shuur noticed that there was some commotion and when he went near he found a very small animal surrounded by some of the wolves. It was a tiny creature with a long tail. It was growling in a low tone and hissing and its lips were peeled back to reveal very sharp small teeth. Its claws were also out. The wolves seemed to find this small creature curious and were keeping it away from a very young and small goat it had clearly been trying to hunt.

Whenever one of the wolves approached the creature struck out with lightning speed and was very vicious even latching onto the wolf's snout and biting. A few of the wolves were bleeding but they did not seem to be taking the small creature too seriously. Ya-Shuur approached and made the wolves disperse and he spoke softly to the feline creature. "Now now. There there." It hissed at him in warning but he calmed it down with some soft words and brought his hand to its head to stroke it. It did not strike at him because of his ability with animals but it did not let him touch it either. He got up and walked towards one of the larger goats and brought it near and then he spurted some of its milk into his hand and gestured for the cat to come near. It cocked its head curiously but did not move. Ya-Shuur wiped his hand clean of the milk and looked around. He went out into the woodlands and found a fallen branch. He broke a thick bit off and began kneading it with his hands and cutting away at it with his strong and long nails. With his powers he was able to carve it until it was a wooden bowl and then he went back to the goat and put some milk into it and put it out for the feline creature. It approached the bowl and sniffed at the milk and then it began lapping it up. While it did that Ya-Shuur went out to the stream and caught some fishes for the creature and put them next to the bowl and it was happy to dig into them. When it had eaten what it could it took one of the fishes and ran off into the forest and then it came back for the other. On the third time it nudged the bowl towards Ya-Shuur and he filled it up with milk again and then it ran off into the woodland and looked back at him. It waited till he had come after it and then led him to where a a litter of seven of its children lay meowing and he put the bowl near them and they drank. She watched him carefully as he put the bowl down and then stood in front of him in a confrontational way so he left.

It kept coming back and forth from the forest and Ya-Shuur was happy to feed it. Sometimes when he wasn't around it attacked a baby goat and dragged it off to the forest. The molves would watch it impassively as it did this and do nothing because they had seen it so many times with Ya-Shuur. When Ya-Shuur spotted it doing this he would shoo it off. But even then it was still a wild animal and did not learn so quickly so it continued eating some of the babies just like the wolves ate some of the goats sometimes because their hunter instinct was so great. This creature that Ya-Shuur called a cat would took to him so well that one day he returned to his house and found it there. When he opened the door to go inside it leapt inside and he was surprised when it came back out with a small rodent in its mouth. He stroked its head and praised its great hunting skill and speed. When he closed his eyes it was lying next to him and would sometimes even sit on his chest and he would stroke its head or back affectionately.

When he opened his eyes again she had disappeared. Her children were all big enough to look after themselves now and he had seen them going and coming from the herd and drinking from the milk bowls he left out (which the wolves and molves sometimes drank from as well). As he washed his hands in a stream he looked up and saw a water-goat eating some grass on the side of the stream. It was a truly big creature and its water environment allowed its head to be twice the size of a land goat. Ya-Shuur thought they would be very useful creatures to ride in the water the same way he rode the molves on land and in the air. He approached the water-goat but the moment it noticed him it turned around and fled into the water. He tried again with a few others that he saw feeding on banks of rivers or streams but they were very cautious animals and did not approach even when he offered them food.

He thought he would give up and leave them in piece but then a part of him rebelled and he decided he would not rest until he had tamed a few. So he dug a large hole big enough for two water-goats but too deep for them to be able to climb out of and he lay in wait for them. When one came out that he recognized as a male he leapt on it and wrestled with it. It was a powerful creature and a few times it seemed like it would slip from him and escape but at last he caught its horns and dragged it until he reached the pit and then threw it in there. It bleated in terror and tried to climb the sides but it was trapped. He then caught a female and did the same to it.

He continued bringing food to them and ensuring they were well-fed and healthy and in time they produced two litters of three. When the first litter was produced he took the babes to rear them and he did the same to the second litter. At this point 300 days had passed but because he had not interacted with the two adults a lot they were still wild and returned easily to the wild. He reared their goats to be tame around him and when they were old enough he released them into a lake and visited them continuously. If he left them for long periods without visiting some of them became feral again and the new litters that were produced had to be personally broken in so that they were tame. When he was confident enough he began trying to ride them but this did not work with the adults so he started doing it to the young ones as soon as they were capable so they grew used to it quickly.
This worked much better thought he had no way of keeping them above water when he was riding them. He experimented with a few things but eventually found that steering them from their horns was a good way. By pulling their horns backwards slightly he could keep them from diving and also be steering them right and left he could tell them what direction to go. Kicking their side also made them speed up and pulling their horns back not only stopped them from diving but also made them slow down.

For the next period Ya-Shuur continued travelling around the island and taming many animals he came across. He tamed foxes, cows, ducks, horses, buffalos, birds like gemstone gardeners and pigeons and even hawks, reindeers, and asses. This required him to make space around his house so he set about clearing areas and putting up enclosures to protect his domesticated animals from predators. When he was finished a sizeable part of the jungle had become enclosed and protected land that was often patrolled by him or his molves.

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Hidden 2 mos ago 2 mos ago Post by Lord Zee
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Split-Tooth


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Chopstick Eyes (Alpha)





The wastes of Sandravii were surprisingly pleasant to traverse at night. In the daytime, the way ahead was hellish - the ground was scalding, the air choking, and the light reflected from the towering iron monoliths became a blinding maze. Every step over the incandescent sand, or inch flown through the trembling, windless expanse over it, was alone an ordeal. As soon as Heliopolis sank under the horizon, however, it was as though an unseen crushing hand was lifted from over the landscape. The ground was quick to cool, but the inert masses of metal still radiated heat for hours. In the cold of the darkened desert, it became a comfortable warmth. The pale stains of the nocturnal lights formed subdued shimmering patterns on their surfaces.

It was in these early hours of nightfall that the two figures, one crawling, spider-like, over the glassy dunes, the other lightly hovering above the grainy soil, moved the fastest. Unimpeded by either heat or the dazzling glare in the sky, they wove their way between jagged pillars and obelisks, nary a crunching step or trace in the sand betraying them to the shadowy silence. In the calm, lifeless quiet of the barrenness, that was their only witness, except for one thing that obstinately hounded them, night by night.

“So,” Split-Tooth scratched her jaws together, “you know where we’re going?”

”I thought you did.” Arya said, looking at Split. ”You mean to tell me, we’ve been wandering about without a plan?” she said sternly, but she quickly started giggling. Then fell to the ground laughing until tears filled her eyes. She couldn’t believe that she was traveling through the desert again and seemingly nowhere. Something about that just seemed so funny.

Split grunted. “All I know is we had to get away from the pits. There’s not much to find there, unless you count something finding us. This looks far enough.” She winced on one side, remembering how high up Narzhak’s eyes must have been, but said nothing. “I don’t have the faintest of what’s further than that.”

Arya’s laughter quickly died down as she listened to Split talk. She pulled herself up and walked over to stand next to her. Arya too, only had an inkling of what lay ahead. Jungle and more jungle. Then a river.

”Hmm, I don’t think anything will find us out here. So, I guess I could try something. But I’m not sure how you will react. You see, it might end up summoning a... God… to us.” she said hesitantly, looking at the Kostral to see how she might react. Then Arya quickly added, ”Or it won’t!”

One of the creature’s hands quickly went to the grip of her axe, but stopped before gripping it. Her fingers began to idly scratch the metallic haft.

“You said they’re not all bad, didn’t you?” It was hard to say what her growling voice might be coloured with at any time, but now and again it became especially inscrutable. Now was one such a moment. “If it’s not the one who’s sitting down there,” she pointed to the ground with another hand, “or his kind, it’d be…” She gnawed on air, searching for the best words, before finishing, “a smaller risk. You do know who it could be, do you?”

Arya nodded as Split finished, ”Well… I’m not exactly sure. I’ve never met this one but I think her name is Choppy? The one who broadcasted that loud message across the world? She said something about a delivery service. I don’t know what that means, but it sounds like a something that might work.” Arya said.

“She said that?” Split’s features twisted into an odd shape that might have been her way of raising an eyebrow. “If she’s the one who shouted, it means she’s the one that asked for that coffee too.” Her scratching on the axe became, seemingly unknowingly, rhythmical. “Beats me what a service is. Delivery sounds like bringing things somewhere. It’s strange if you think about it. She wants her guards to have something, though. That can’t be so bad.”

A third hand rose to scrape something on her neck. She looked like she might have been absorbed in thought, but then twisted her head sideways as if to nod. “It’d be a hand up from what we’ve got now whichever way. If you’re sure of it…” The axe was slung forward, ready to be lifted in a moment. “I’ll watch, just in case.”

”it is strange.” Arya said, while looking up at the moon. ”But I’m not sure, Split. The way I see it, she never asked how we get them coffee, and for starters, we don’t even know what coffee is. We might as well see what we get, if it even works.” she finished, looking back down and over to Split.

”Here goes nothing.” she said before cupping her hands in front of where her mouth would be and shouting, ”Hey Choppy! We need a delivery!” and her hands fell to her side. Arya looked about, and in every which direction, then back to Split.

”Guess we wait?” she said shrugging.




Bare feet crinkled the smoothgravel sand of a beach on the south side of Pāṟa.

In the nights since she woke up, she had dreamed again. They were fitful dreams, dreams in which she looked up from the corner of Apartment 2B into her own sticks, and saw Daniel’s last moment from his eyes, as she had seen his first. After a few nights of this, Chopstick had resolved not to sleep. To her surprise, it was very soothing.

It is the luxury of gods to stand by and watch the world age around them. Chopstick watched the gemstone gardeners arrive on her island, watched them bring their seeds and sow them between the weeds that were spreading from the Feasting Forest. Some of them sang to her, one of them screamed, and she didn’t answer. In time, they regarded her as a statue, and she trees rise and fall and rot away. Over the course of a dozen years, she lifted her hand, saw moss cover her palm; over another dozen, she lowered it, watching the moss change its shape.

Sleeping wasn’t necessary. She could wait here a time.

Hey Choppy! We need a delivery!

...Or maybe not.




Two weeks later.

Arya and Split waited. Then they waited a bit longer. Then the sun came up, and forced them to move on much to Arya’s displeasure. Surely this Choppy was on her way? But what was taking so long? It was another week before they left the desert behind and Arya realized just how slow waiting for a land-dweller to walk, really was. She didn’t mind though, because they talked along the way, and learned of each other. Well, at least what she could learn from a large, killing machine.

Once in the shade of tall trees, Arya tried several more times to call the God, and this time, they did not move. They held up camp in a small clearing, where the two practiced fighting. Arya, in her haste to leave the Jiangzhou, had forgotten her bow and spear. As such, she had to make another one from the teachings of Kalmar. Her spear was but a long wooden shaft with a sharp rock at the end of it, so too did Split fashion a rudimentary wooden stick to spar with her.

But it was enlightening, and the lessons she learned from her Kostral friend, showed her just how bad she was at fighting. It was a very worrying thought, but she did not let this stop her, and on she went. Arya put her experience from Kalmar to practice, and picked up much more from Split. They practiced nonstop for a week while they waited to see if Choppy would arrive, only resting when night fell and when Arya could no longer go on. Her body was slightly bruised from the Kostral. Split did not go easy on her.

But still they were faced with another choice, to move on or to stay. It had been close to two weeks without a single word from this ‘Choppy’ and Arya was beginning to lose faith. Perhaps not all the Gods cared too much about mortals? It just seemed odd to her that the one who broadcasted herself for this service of hers, was nowhere to be seen! They would have to make a choice soon enough, and as Arya gazed up at the stars, she knew it would be soon.

Under the early morning haze, the two sat around a small, well used fire pit, Arya tentatively fiddled with her spear not paying much mind to what the Kostral was doing. Then she spoke out loud, ”We should probably get moving huh? I think my plan failed, do you have any ideas?”

Split looked up from the pile of small bones left over from her last meal, idly arranged into a lopsided circle. Her empty chewing had gotten a little better since she had found something to bite on, but it still showed in moments of absorbed thought. Her jaws began to move again.

“That’s what we get for trusting a god to do something,” she grumbled flatly, “You’re right, staying still’s no good. Keep moving that way,” a gnarled finger pointed roughly to the southwest. “I don’t know what’s there for sure, but there’s things I remember. Must be this.” She glanced down to the by now darkened brand on her shoulder. “I couldn’t tell you what, but there’s sure to be something that fits in a cup.”

”Yeah.” Arya said defeated, ”It was a chance we took, and it didn’t work out. Sorry Split. It’s been fun though, learning and fighting. Guess it’s time to put that to work.” Arya said standing up.

“...But I literally just sat down,” said Chopstick, warming her hands on the remnants of the last night’s fire.

Arya screamed.

In a blink, Split was on four feet, axe held up over the newcomer’s head. It took her a moment of squinting at the diminutive goddess to slowly lower it.

“Don’t you walk up to people first? Keep doing this, and you’ll get killed someday.”

Saith the Chopstick, “Yeah, nah.”

After she stopped screaming, Arya promptly lowered herself, remembering Shengshi’s teachings and said, ”Y-Your Holiness! You came!” she then stood up and looked at Choppy for the first time. Strange, but not that strange in appearance, though, the eyes were bit a weirder than most.

For her part, Chopstick jumped, spun round, and looked every direction. “Aah! Who? Where?” Her forehead hit the ground in a clumsy imitation of Arya’s stance, snapping several of her facial skewers in the process. “Ow! I mean, forgive me, your holiness! I, uh… Didn’t...” She looked up. Then at Arya.

“...Dude, there’s literally no one here.”

Arya watched the display in shock, then she felt embarrassed, then confused. She squinted her eyes as she looked the Goddess up and down, then she said, ”Err… Right, how stupid of me. Uh… okay.” and she fell silent. It was better to not offend Choppy, or whatever she had just done. Arya would take note of that, perhaps not all Gods enjoyed such etiquette. She looked to Split and shrugged.

The kostral’s side eye had been frowning at the scene all the while. She crouched back down, still visibly tense and without letting go of her weapon. “We’ll need to talk about that later,” she almost whispered in a low snarl at Arya. The front of her head then spun to fully face Chopstick.

“Took you long enough. I’d not be surprised if your people had starved by now. Or if they’ve been eating lichen.” She rumbled, clearly anything but pleased with the situation. “If you’re actually doing what you said, we’ve got…” some chewing accompanied the choice of a difficult word, “business. You said you’d deliver anything?”

“Okay, first of all, said Chopstick Eyes, wagging a finger, “I’d like to see you cross a boiling fucking ocean in two weeks. Secondly, I don’t have ‘people’, and if I do for some reason, I guarantee you they’re eating really, really well right now. Thirdly...” She bowed, from the waist, lifted herself up, and grinned. “Hi! I have chopstick eyes. Wanted deliveries? You’ve come to the right place! How can I help you?”

Arya quickly scooted herself over to stand beside Split, where she then put a hand upon one of the Kostral’s arms. ”Um, forgive my large friend here, she’s not met many others.” Arya said quickly, before changing the subject, ”Deliveries! Yes, that’s exactly why we called you. Or, why we came to you! Yeah! So we need some… Coffee.” Arya said.

“Oh, that’s it?” said Chopstick eyes, pulling a metal flask out of the neck of her dress and handing it to her. “This one’s on the house. You sure that’s all I can get you, uh...” She looked at Arya for a second. “...Inkdrop Eyes?”

Arya took the metal object within her hand. It felt cold, but if this was what coffee was, who was she to second guess a God? She looked back to Choppy and upon hearing the name, inkdrop eyes, Arya blinked.

After a moment, she said ”Uh, thanks. I’m Arya, by the way, and this here is Split-Tooth, but I call her Split.” she pointed to the Kostral. ”Hmm. What else do you… have in there?” Arya asked, now pointing to Choppy’s dress. She was highly curious.

“Oh, you know,” the goddess smirked, squeezing her chest with both hands. There wasn’t much of it. “All kinds of good things. Like, I’ve got...” She reached down again, apparently serious, “A knife, a brush, a needle, a thread, a dialysis tube, two rabbits, half a gun, eight bones, they’re all skulls sorry, a book, a book that has pictures, a harmonic drive, and a really crumpled beret.” The objects formed a pile as they were pulled out and dumped, some of it scuttling off to nibble the scant grass. “And I don’t even keep things in my dress anyway, there’s a lot more in my handbag. So yeah, I can probably get you a lot,” she concluded.

Arya froze at the sight of the two rabbits, her eyes going wide in disbelief at such an animal. They had large ears and big feet and they looked so silly, but at the same time, so adorable. When Choppy dumped them on the ground, Arya stifled a squeal and abandoned the conversation once Choppy turned to Split. She got on her hands and knees, placing the coffee flask on a log next to her. Cautiously, ever so carefully, Arya then touched the nearest one as it ate. The moment her hand touched the bunny, Arya’s heart melted and she scooped it up into her lap and stroked it. The fur was amazingly soft, it was perhaps the softest thing she had ever felt, and her excitement was apparent. Her inky black eyes were squinted into smiles, as she engrossed herself with the small creature.

“How about you, Split-Tooth? Hey- you’re one of Narzhak’s, right? I owe him a knife, but I can get you some dental work, if you’d prefer that. Not that you need it, really. You’re already gorgeous. By the way she was drinking in the Kostral’s anatomy (it was evident in her pose, if not in her pupils), she meant it.

Split’s eyes had been wandering over the heap of eclectic travelling articles, lingering dangerously over the rabbits in particular. Hearing herself addressed, three of them swivelled towards Chopstick.

“He can keep his knife,” she growled dismissively, before her voice softened, if that was at all possible. “My teeth are fine… thanks?” Instinctively, she splayed her middle arms, scraping her nails against each other. Her already bulky frame stretched wide, ribcage poking up under scabby skin. Chopstick wolf-whistled. Split seemed to take a better view of the goddess, squinting a few times, and deflated partways, though her arms remained open. “You don’t look bad either. Just a bit skinny. Do you get to eat properly?”

“Yeah, of course. What do you think the rabbits were for?” She gestured generally to where Arya was fawning over the animals.

Arya looked up at this comment, her eyes full of horror at the thought anyone could eat such fluffy things.

The Kostral nodded. “They look tasty.” Arya immediately shot Split a dirty look. Then as if realising she had gone a fair bit off the track of coffee and delivery, Split waved an upper hand. “Yeah, about eating. Where do we have to bring this?” She tapped a claw on the flask. “You got something that shows which way in that bag?”

“I… what?” for the first time, the goddess seemed genuinely bewildered. “Bring… the coffee? Was it for someone else?” A pause. “Who?”

“You mean…” Split started, then broke into a muttered “Right, god,” with a slightly disappointed look. “I caught you saying that your-” she chewed emptily, recalling the exact word, “security could’ve used some of that. Two weeks back. We thought we’d do it, so we got the coffee.” She scraped at her tooth with a finger. “That, or it was somebody that sounded a lot like you. Does the same things too, by the looks of it. You run these deliveries with anyone else?”

Chopstick stared for a second with her mouth unclosed and her sticks shuffling one way and the other before something clicked, very audibly, inside her skull, and she made a long oooooooohhhh. She sighed, lowering her head and rubbing the sides of her skull. Split blinked and questioningly rotated her head sideways.

“Alright, so. Okay. I have a...” She recalled Split’s difficulty with terms. “A clone, which is a twin sister, except we’re also each other’s mother. There was one of us, and now there are two of us. Two of me. And we each split off to go see the world and do certain things. And, well, we haven’t really kept in touch since then.” She reached into her handbag and removed her purse.

“As far as I know, I don’t employ any real security other than a floating hat with a cudgel. And I have no way of talking to her right now. But we’re incorporated, so I’m just going to, real quickly, check our account...” She tipped the purse upside down.

Out fell a single slip of paper with a big red X painted on it. Her expression morphed, first slowly and then with rock-dropping speed, into horror. She pulled her hands down her face as if to compose herself and raised a single finger: “Excuse me.”

She turned around. A fancy glove was pulled out of her bag, snapped on. She formed a beaky little mouth with fingers and thumb and crossed her other two arms, ‘speaking’ into her own ear. “Skraghnaphgh speaking. Mhm. Mhmm. Yeah, just give me everything big over the last, uh, last financial century, anything that could really dent my wallet. Okay. O… kay. I mean that’s fair, there needs to be some way in. Haze Men? Okay… Good… O- hang on, what? What the FUCK is a ‘knife portfolio’? I- Mm… Yeah, okay, I guess that does sound pretty cool. Alright. Thanks. Bye,” and she took off the glove.

“...Alright, so, you know how I can basically deliver anything?” She was facing them again. “Well, turns out I can’t. Not anything really huge, anyway. I’m kind of… super broke. The only thing I can really do for ya is big animals, they’re deep in the red for some reason and super cheap.” She slapped her hands on her hips and a big stupid smile on her face. “Most important thing is I know what you’re talking about now and also I’m going to beat the fucking teeth out of my clone real soon.”

Split’s head had turned almost completely upside down as she tried to figure her way through there being another Chopstick who was the mother but also the twin of the one she was looking at. It slowly rotated back into its usual place, distractedly tipping a little the other way before she propped it up with two fingers.

“Should’ve done that at the start, but you can’t know if they’ll turn out dumb.” All the movement in her body was concentrated in her top hand, which scraped and cupped around her jaw. “Too bad you had to go over that ocean. We don’t need any big animals, though I get hungry sometimes.”

“Lots of little animals are fine, I can do that too,” Chopstick shrugged.

Arya seemed to shriek at the sound of this, and rose, still grabbing the bunny tightly against her chest. In a flash, she was in front of Choppy with eyes that seemed to be the size of apples.

”A bunny! A giant, fluffy bunny! I need one! Please, please, please!” she asked joyously.

“What’d you need that for?” Split narrowed a side eye at her. “I’ve never even seen you eat.”

”Eat! No! Never! It wouldn’t be for food, but so I…” she suddenly seemed to shrink at the idea, her voice going soft, trickling with embarrassment, ”Could ride it…”

Chopstick Eyes thought idly back to the cauldron of jackalope soup and said, “Sure. With or without horns?”

Once again Arya’s eyes went wide, ”They can have horns?” she said teary eyed, ”Oh my goodness. Please!” she looked to Split with pleading eyes.

The Kostral sat up from her crouch with a grunt. “If you’re doing this, take one that can walk straight. Those just waddle around.” She turned back to Chopstick, who was taking diligent notes on a clipboard. “D’you mind finding one you can bite off a piece sometimes? If it’s got to be big, it’d better be good for more things than one.”

“Roger roger,” said Chopstick.

”Split!” Arya said horrified, ”We don’t eat things we can ride! That would defeat the purpose, if it’s not…” she thought for a moment, trying to put the term in something the Kostral would understand, ”If it’s not well… when we fight! We wouldn’t want a pe- a creature that dies because it’s being eaten alive before a battle. Surely you can understand that?” she said incredulously.

“I didn’t say it’s got to be one that dies,” Split looked at her sideways with an eye now fully open, “One you can eat on the go, but it keeps walking. There’s things like that where I come from. You take off a piece, they just keep going. Sometimes grow it right back. We get one like them, we don’t need to worry about walking or eating either.” The front-eyes facing the goddess blinked. “You got something like that?”

Arya seemed to let out a rather annoyed sigh, but said nothing else.

Chopstick nodded, turning her clipboard around to reveal a doodle of some vaguely quadrupedal blob with two stick figures on top of it. One of them had four limbs, while the other had six, and an open mouth with an arrow drawn to the ‘jackalope’s’ rump. “Something like this? I can do this.” She pulled out the scribble and handed it to them. “So, how were you intending to pay for it?”

”Pay? What's that? Arya asked.

Choppy inhaled but did not drop her smile. “If I give you this eatable jackalope, or edibunny if you will, what are you going to give me in return?”

“Afraid we don’t have much to offer right now,” Split interjected, weighing her weapon in her hands, “All we’ve got is this axe, and I need it, or-” she pointed at the shimmering ring on Arya’s finger, “that shiny thing, and it doesn’t do anything. But we can do it like this. Next time you go see Narzhak about that knife, you take the pay from him. He’ll have all kinds of things down there.” Her eyes glistened with vicious amusement. “That look good to you?”

“Well, I’m not sure if I can trust you to speak for Narzhak, but…” She craned her neck, just slightly. The red fist shone on the kostral’s shoulder. “You do have his trademark. I’ll pay you what I owe him, and that’ll do for your half of the bunny. As for you… She turned to Arya.

“I happen to disagree with your friend about that ring. It does do something. It glows! I love glowy things, and I can make a lantern out of it. If it doesn’t have any other use to you, I’d be more than happy to take it off your hands for the jackalope.” She shrugged. “Whaddya say?”

Arya shuffled awkwardly, looking down at the band of starlight, suddenly wishing that the Kostral had not said anything about her ring.

Without looking at Choppy, she said, ”I… don’t know. It was a gift, from my father. It…” her voice fell silent. They were right, she didn’t even know what the ring did, furthermore, she didn’t even know why she cared so much for it. It had caused her so much grief already. The ring had made her angry in the face of Shengshi and Kalmar, it had ruined their view of her, for no other reason then what the meaning behind it was. Still, maybe it meant that her Father cared about her…

Or maybe he felt guilty, and ashamed of her and this ring simply alleviated his guilty conscience. If he had truly cared, Orvus would have spoken to her. And then when he gave this ring to her, it would have meant so much more. Now… Now it was just a reminder that she just wasn’t wanted. The ring’s beauty was a lie, and one she had fallen for.

Arya’s eyes snapped up to Choppy, as she took the ring off. She outstretched her hand to Choppy, the ring cool in her hand.

”Here. Take it.” she said impassively, before sighing again, ”Just… I don’t want this jackalope to feel pain when… when someone wants to eat it.” she said, giving Split a cold side glance. Arya shouldn’t have felt so upset over something so minor, but it did bother her greatly. But could she really blame the Kostral? It was just in Split’s nature… and would perhaps be of some familiarity in the strange world she found herself in. Something of home.

Arya’s expression softened, and she looked back at Choppy expectantly. The wild god clasped Arya’s hands in all three of her own, warming it. When Chopstick withdrew, the ring was on one of her own fingers, and a little bell rested in Arya’s palm. Like the ring, it was of some material dark, perhaps black, but with faint glitters of white- bright impurities in an Orvite surface.

“Sleep on it,” she advised. “I’ll spend the night around here. If you haven’t changed your mind by morning, the jackalope will come. I’ll be gone before dawn.” She paused, then added, “Oh, and one last thing, Split-tooth: if you see my clone, punch her. That’s part of the deal. Kapische?”

“Got it.” The kostral’s narrow mouth stretched in imitation of a smile. It was a rather unnerving sight to anyone who might care about the wholeness of their body. “But don’t get mad if I can’t tell you apart and smack you instead. If you sound the same, you’re going to look awful similar too. Daughter and twin, that’s two times you’re like each other.”

“I’ll burn that bridge when I come to it,” she shrugged.

”Thank you, Choppy. But- Oh! What about the Coffee? Where do we take it?” Arya asked, looking up from the small bell in her hand. She had almost forgotten about the reason they had summoned the God in the first place, all because of a bunny. Split nodded in agreement with the question.

“Oh, yeah. Just ride the rabbit,” she shrugged. “It knows its way around, you’ll pick up the Route soon enough. I wouldn’t sell you a mount that couldn’t get you to where you were going, now, would I-” A pause. “I... am not selling you a mount that can’t get you to where you are going.”

Arya gave a nod, then said, ”That’s good to hear.” she then clenched her fist over the small bell, the metal cold, before saying, ”Um, you can stay with us here, tonight, if you want. We’d be happy to have you. No need to be a stranger, the fire can keep many warm.” her eyes seemed to smile softly, before Arya, with bunny and bell in hand, went over to sit on a log before the smoldering flames. She had a lot on her mind, and a decision to make- one that had already been made, in fact.

Split started to stand up on four legs to follow, but stopped midway. “Or stay here, the cold’s not bad either. Unless you want to cook that other rabbit.” The discovery that things could be held over a fire to make them taste better had kept her cheerful for the best part of the last two weeks. Her idea of cooked and better-tasting as charred outside, raw inside was not everyone’s, if Arya’s reaction was anything to go by, but Choppy looked kostral-like enough that she might share it. Like the others in the Pit. She would have to show them sometime. “Or sleep, that feels better over there.”

“I don’t sleep any more. But I’ll take you up on the fire and the roast,” she nodded, pulling a throwing knife from her hair and ending the spare rabbit with nary a squeak. “Want me to cook?”

Arya had heard the squeak, and instinctively shut her eyes as she clutched the other bunny tighter. After a moment, she opened them and continued to stroke the now, partnerless bunny.

“Sure.” The novelty of raw-and-charred had worn thin in the latest few days. Trying something else would not hurt, especially from someone who was maybe not seeing a rabbit for the first time. Split-Tooth crawled towards the fire, motioning for the goddess to follow. Settling down almost dangerously close to the flame, she turned an eye to Arya. “We’re making dinner. Want some?” She picked up a half-blackened bone, looked at it and tossed it away, adding “I’m not doing the cooking.”

The small girl looked at Split and shook her head, ”No, I’m not very hungry. Go ahead and eat.” she said somberly. And it was true, she had no appetite for what she had come to adore, it made her sad to see it eaten, but Arya knew it served a purpose that way. She gazed back into the fire, letting the flames dictate her thoughts.

“Alright,” said Chopstick, picking up the rabbit by the feet and briskly opening its hide around the belly as her hair produced a bundle of small vegetables, “I’m just gonna crisp this one up with some oil and garlic, real simple. Here, Split-tooth, build up that fire just a little bit more...”

Chopstick cooked, and they ate.




The jackalope arrived early the next morning.

Branches cracked beneath its padless feet, silencing what scant locusts dared chirp in the scrub of the Sandravii. Aye, the locusts fell quiet, and fell quiet far and wide, for those branches were logs, or had been a long time ago, when perhaps the oases had not yet dried up; and now they were splinters. The jackalope crushed them almost to dust.

It sniffed the air, as rabbits do.

Giant, fluffy, and straight of stride: all things promised, delivered. There was no waddling for this behemoth. Its legs were long and powerful, like those of an eland. Its back bore a cloth of shimmering silk, wide enough for three men to lay at their ease. As it was, Split-tooth and her largest mate could have ridden spaciously on the beast, with room for much luggage beside.

It bent its great head to the form of the demigoddess. Its antlers were more than vast enough to make up for the shattered firewood-tree, and were no less wooden, dry, and leafless. The fruits that hung from them leaned forwards, the whole rack creaking slightly, as it snuffled around Arya’s frame, searching for something.

Arya was immediately struck by the grandeur and the sheer beauty of the jackalope. Once again, she had never seen a creature like it before and was taken aback at how truly incredible it was. The small girl was a dwarf compared to it, and Arya could no longer contain her giddy excitement as it approached her. She jumped up and down with joy, her eyes expressing the most profound sense of joy that there could ever be.

Having said goodbye to her own bunny early in the morning, and away from prying eyes of hungry friends, Arya clutched the small bell in her hand and when the Jackalope came before her, she knew, somehow, that the bell was required.

She then outstretched her hand to show the bell to the Jackalope. It nudged the bell, drawing a distant, hollow clink, and its ears perked up. It clinked the bell again, nuzzling her hand in visible pleasure.

A clawed hand emerged from behind the creature, followed by a many-limbed shape hauling itself onto its back. Split prodded the silken draping, sniffed the jackalope’s fur and tentatively scraped its neck. When the placid beast did not try to shake her off, she clambered over to its horns, stretching her arms to feel its hide in various spots.

“Looks like you were on to something.” She turned her head downwards to peek at Arya from behind the branching horns. “This-” some chewing motions, “-edilope feels useful. The only part I don’t get is which piece is safe to eat. You think it’s this one?” She lightly nibbled one of the jackalope’s impressive ears, making it stir. “Or this?” A quick tasting of the flank drew a similarly irked response. Only then did the kostral’s glance fall on the dangling fruits. In a single movement, one was plucked from its horn and disappeared into a toothy maw.

Some munching, and Split was already reaching for a second. It tasted queer, but perhaps not so queer to her as it would to Arya. It was remarkably meaty, for such a sweet and colourful fruit. She stopped with a hand ready to snap it off and looked down again. “Want one?”

Arya had a hard time paying attention to Split’s words, for she was engrossed with hugging the jackalope’s head and relaxing in the warm, soft fur. After a moment of this, she looked up at Split and then floated up to take the fruit from Split. Hesitantly. She opened her mouth and took a bite, the fruit was savory and sweet.

Arya nodded and then said, ”Oh isn’t she wonderful Split? She’s everything we both wanted!” Arya flew around Split laughing and giggling before landing on the silk blanket. She outstretched herself, amazed at all the space there was. She lifted her head up at Split and said, ”Penelope! That’s what her name should be! What do you think?” she asked with wide eyes.

The kostral paused, fruit held inches from an open mouth. “It’s long, but it says she’s a ‘lope. That makes sense.” She settled down upon the cover in a sprawl, one arm rested on the closest horn bough. Another hand scratched the back of the jackalope’s neck, such as it was. “Now hold on to the fur. I don’t know how fast it is to go to that place, but if it’s like coming up here from down below, it’s going to be a blaze of a ride.” With no better means at hand, poking was the one way she could think of to make the newly named Penelope budge. “Let’s move, down there. We’re going to make a delivery.”




Earlier.

High into the heavens she stared, into the black heart of Veradax, but her mind was elsewhere. Her thumb turned the ring on her finger, slowly, around and around, around and around. Without looking away, she raised her hand, brought her knuckles to her mouth. She wet her lips, and whispered.

“C’mon, baby,” said Chopstick Eyes. “Talk to me.”

The ring started to burn, radiating something that was not heat. She snarled, clenched her fist, as a black miasma whirled around it, ragged and flickering and gone as soon as it had come. She cooled the burnt finger in her mouth and she withdrew it.

Black like charcoal, with that same curious gleam. Her fingers were scorched, like meat in fire. She could see a white hint of bone beneath the ring.

She doesn’t know.

Chopstick smiled in the dark.

“Orvus...”






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Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Lauder
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Lauder The drunk kind of hero

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Broken


Slowly, Atmav’s senses came back to her, the spreading of pain in her left wing and hushed voices as she began to stir in the night’s sand. She moved her head to look her wing, torn and dislocated from the fight with the lizard, a problem she could not afford. However, her head short to see a group of Selka huddled around a large pile of bones, partially rotting meat attracting flies and other carrion eaters. Attempting to lean up, she felt a hand press firmly against her chest, pushing her down.

Instinctively, she grasped the arm with an almost crushing force, causing the Selka that hovered over her to let out a light yelp before trying to retract the hand. Atmav looked at the Selka and gritted her teeth, wincing from the pain that had spread from her wing. The woman leaned back in the sand before the Selka put a finger to its mouth to hush her, something that was met with a bit of resistance as she asked, “What?” The voice she used was perhaps a bit harsher than she had intended, but the feeling of helplessness was not something she liked nor wanted to continue before she shoved the Selka away and sat up.

The pain that spread from her wing was immediately unbearable, and she let out a minor cry as her hand went to grip her shoulder. Atmav turned her head an what she saw was a matter that she did not like, the wing had nearly been pulled out of her back. Her noise had attracted the attention of the Selka who rushed over to inspect her, suffocating her in a crowd that was most troublesome. Moving to stand and pushed through the crowd, Atmav did her best to ignore the pain trying to find some fresh air away from the following Selka. A hand gripped her arm as she moved.

“Stop. You are unwell,” the Selka said, a female, smaller than the others but noticeably more stout.

“I am fine,” Atmav growled ripping her hand from the grasp of the Selka before a man stepped in front of her, holding up his hands to get her to stop.

“No, you are not! Your wing is close to falling off. We have to do something for you, after all, you ran towards danger rather than away,” the male said, earning a light scoff from Atmav as she straightened her form to tower over him. For a moment, it looked as if Atmav would rip the man asunder before she let out a sigh and looked at the ground, knowing that without her wing a lot of her mobility had been compromised.

“Fine, but do not mob me,” Atmav said, slouching as her hand gripped her shoulder harder.

“You heard her go back to doing whatever,” the man said, raising his voice to the crowd. They slowly dispersed to doing differing tasks, some doing strange games and others merely talking, it was a strange sight to Atmav who was very much a stoic warrior. The male grabbed her attention once more and motioned for her to follow back to the place that she had awoken. She sat down to see the male before looking at the ground disgracefully, though of course expressing her dissatisfaction completely was hard given she just had a mouth. The male cocked his head and motioned for her to lie down and she begrudgingly obliged the man.

“My name is Ihorangi,” he said as he looked at her wing, clearly not knowing what to do. He gave her a smile before he asked in a light-hearted voice, “Do you have a name? Or should I just call you, Broken-Wing?”

Atmav scoffed before looking the man over, being silent for a few moments before she answered in a more neutral tone, “Atmav.”

“Well, Atmav. Your fight was quite something to watch, you did not have to do that for us though,” Ihorangi said, moving to touch her wing. Only for the hand to be intercepted by Atmav’s own, wrenching it away from its path.

“I did not do it for you. That thing was probably the only source of food I could find, do you know how long it had been since I had fresh meat?”

“I do-” Atmav interrupted the words of Ihorangi.

“A good while! You are lucky I did not descend upon your tribe too and eat them!” Atmav threatened before releasing his hand, clearly frightening the poor soul. Seeing his shocked and frightened expression made her stop and think for a moment, knowing that they were only trying to help her at this point. “I’m… sorry,” she paused to look into the night sky and watch the stars, the man relaxing in her presence, “I am not used to being in this position. I have come from a place of pain, somewhere I don’t want to go back to.”

Ihorangi gave a solemn smile to her before said, “I am sorry to hear such-”

“You have no reason to be sorry for me,” Atmav interrupted again before her head turned to face that of his again. She saw his whisker twitch as he got annoyed look, having been interrupted twice would have probably done that to anyone. She turned back to look upon the night sky before she spoke in a neutral tone, “I’m sorry.”

“I would like you to know that you can stay with us until your wing is healed,” Ihorangi looked at the wing before meeting her face, “That may be a while.”

Atmav sighed, looking over at the other Selka, watching them dance and play like the innocent beings that they were. She knew that she would disturb this innocence if she stayed, for she was a killer among bystanders that held her in high regard. “I do not want to be a burden,” Atmav stated, moving to get up again before Ihorangi pushed her down, this time not receiving resistance from the wounded one.

“Nonsense,” Ihorangi said, earning a sigh from Atmav who merely turned from on her side, sand clinging to her and staining her feathers. The selka sighed and stood up and in one last display of hospitality said, “Let us know if you need anything.” Then he went off to join the others.

The wounded one felt like crying, letting out a few stuttered breathes and curling into a ball. It was not the pain from her wing that made her feel this way, but it was the kindness that the Selka were showing her that made her feel this way. The unwounded wings on her right side moved over her, acting as a blanket as she let out more stuttered breaths, emotions of mixed happiness and unbelief flooding her. This was the first kindness that had been shown to her in this world ever since she had escaped Vakk and the little hell that he had created. Everything felt wrong though, she did not want to believe such kindness could exist in a world where Vakk called himself a god.

Atmav allowed herself to drift off into a sorrow filled sleep, however, her dreams did not comfort her as they only brought back memories of Vakk filling her pain. Her creation, his words, the endless talking of the echoes in her ears, it was all a hell. Soon her memories turned to that of paranoia, images of Selka stabbing her in her back as she slept drove her dreams to a rampant curse. If it were not for the stabbing pain in her back, she would have likely remained in that hell for the rest of the night.

She jumped, awakening with her heart racing and looking at the sleeping Selka with paranoia racing through her mind that they were a measure Vakk had taken to keep her under watch. Atmav refused to trust them, but she would stay with them to make sure that Vakk did not call for some form of a hunt on her. However, if Vakk truly were a god, surely there were others that would break her from her binds to Vakk, ones that were some form a benevolent or really just not like Vakk. The berserker got to her feet and walked towards the water, going in enough to where she was ankle deep in the ocean.

“If there is any other god out there, release me from my debt.”

She waited for a moment, wondering if anything to happen and after a long while of silence, she released a sigh before she kicked the water up.

“Fine! If it is only you, Vakk! Then- then!” words failed her as she fell upon the water and released a pained cry, no longer knowing what to do with herself. She continued to cry out, hoping for some answer before she felt the hands of someone on her back. Atmav looked up only to see Ihorangi, her emotions ran rampant as she broke down again. Soon, she felt other hands placed upon her, comforting hands that did not hurt her or wish pain upon her.

She knew not what to think.


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

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FP: 00 MP: 00


Arya took a few tentative steps forward. Her feet padded across the tile of the palace hallways, until she came to the great door that lead to the throne room. She could hear a gentle piano dance behind the door, accompanied by a single violin and a lone chello. The hallway was just as she remembered it, slightly dusk, with the peripherals blurring as soon as she stopped directly looking at whatever caught her attention. Even still, the mighty door stood guard before her, the only thing separating her from the room ahead.

Like last time, she couldn’t contain her excitement as she neared the doors. She was anxious to be at the palace again, perhaps this time K’nell would teach her how to dance. It would be nice for a change of pace, ever since she ran away from the Jiangzhou, she had felt tense. Anything but relaxed, in fact, the only reason she was dreaming right now was because her body rested safely upon Penelope’s warm back. What better place to dream then in a place of comfort?

Now she stood before the door, taking a deep breath as she rested her hands upon either door. Then with a silent grunt, she pushed it open. The throne room was bouncing with weavers, all twirling as K’nell sat at his piano, floating instruments floating all around him. The song was soft and gentle, more contemplative than energetic. As she entered, the silver eye’d gentleman spun to greet her, his piano still playing without him, phantom fingers running across it.

“Dream and you shall learn,” He smiled, “I see you have taken to my advice, unless- You are here for something different altogether?”

Once again Arya was momentarily overwhelmed with the sights and sounds of the room, so she paused, taking it all in. It was just as she remembered, but different all the same. Wonderous and beautiful. Her eyes fell upon K’nell after a moment, and as he spun around, Arya began to walk over to him, her eyes expressing giddy joy.

The small girl shook her head and said, ”I dream to learn.” her voice oozed with excitement.

K’nell glanced over her for a moment, “Pardon me, but would you prefer a change of outfit, first?”

Arya looked down at herself. She wasn’t wearing anything, nor had she worn anything since her time with Shengshi. She was hardly embarrassed, but perhaps it would be nice to have clothes again, even if it was just a dream. She looked back up at K’nell and said, ”Yes please!”

The God stood up and took a few steps down from his dias, “Follow me, if you will.”

K’nell walked past Arya, arms crossed behind his back, and approached the great door. As he did, it swung open, but did not reveal the usual hallway. Instead there was a great cavernous wardrobe. The room was gilded softly and the walls painted a deep dark red. All along the walls various outfits hung on poles and hooks, each a variation of the next, or completely alien. There were pants, trousers, dresses, skirts, head wrappings, hats, gloves, and boots -- there was anything one could desire to wear and in just about every color, plus a few new ones that would make even Ashalla blush.

“I’ll let you decide,” K’nell said without turning back to Arya, “Just remember you will need to move, so pick something comfortable.”

The Palace of Dreams never ceased to amaze her, at every turn it dazzled with new scenery and sensations. Now the girl stood before a wardrobe beyond anything she could ever have imagined. Shengshi’s numerous wardrobes paled in comparison to this one. She felt so small and again overwhelmed by all the choices. She quickly walked past K’nell, outstretching her arms and giving a small twirl as she laughed. She then looked at K’nell and said, ”This might take a minute.” before the girl reached out and began to look at the first thing she grabbed.

With so many choices, Arya felt as if she could wear a new outfit everyday for the rest of her life, and still have more to spare. There was endless choices, and everything was just so beautiful. She kept trying on outfits after outfits, every piece seemed to be tailored to fit, but none of them seemed to be the right one. She did not know how much time had passed, but dally she did not want to do for so long and Arya could feel the beginnings of frustration. That was until she stumbled upon a dress that made her freeze. Slowly she reached out and grabbed it.

Minutes passed, and then Arya emerged from the wardrobe, taking a step into the throne room, then another. Her outfit, sparkled in the lights. It was a sleeveless dress, with a grecian neckline resting above an illusion, colored like a deep purple nebula. Silver flowers ran like a belt around her waist, and across her chest. The middle of the dress was matte black and fit tight to her body. The length of the dress running from her waist down was loose and had the same purple nebula colorization, which was further enriched with twinkling stars. Her hair was done up in a messy bun, two curly strands of hair came down on either side of her face. She wore nothing on her feet, shoes she found, simply didn’t feel right to someone who could fly.

K’nell let out three soft approving claps, “Excellent choice, my dear.” He snapped his fingers and the door to the wardrobe shut with a bang, leaving the two in the hollow of the ballroom. The weavers glittered as they waited and K’nell took his place atop the dias and at the seat of his gigantic piano. He tapped a key and shimmering ghosts appeared all about the ballroom, each in a fanciful dress or sharp suit. He tapped another, and another and before long the ballroom dipped and bobbed in a soft and slow dance, punctuated by piano and string.

A ghost reminiscent of Arya herself appeared next to the girl. Arya watched the ghosts take shape and begin to dance, a sense of elegance permeated the air. She took a deep breath as nervousness crept into her heart, then the girl exhaled and determination welled up in her eyes. When her own ghost appeared, Arya was surprised it was herself, and she wondered if that was what she actually looked like in that dress. She walked closer to the image, it was now or never.

The ghost took a few dancing steps, then flickered, returning to its original position only to take the same steps. It repeated this a few times, as if goading Arya to copy. A quizzical expression could be seen in her eyes as she watched her ghost take the steps. It wanted her to copy what it did. Clever. So she did, awkwardly and wrong, stepping one too many times before returning to her standing position.

The spectre shook its head and did the steps again, but a tad slower, as if showing each movement with exaggeration. Not one to be discouraged easily, Arya went again, matching the slow pace of the ghost. This time she thought she did it right. The voiceless ghost seemed to cheer and clap before flickering.

Returning to a standing position, the ghost did the same exact steps, just at a regular pace. Arya went again, again matching the regular pace of the ghost. Her mind focused on getting it right. The happy ghost spun in a controlled pace of steps, her movement in tandem with the dress resembling something of a spring flower in bloom. It flickered, and did it again.

“With grace, my dear,” K’nell droned from the piano, “Do not focus on speed, but the rhythm of the music.”

Arya nodded, knowing that K’nell would see even if he wasn’t looking. She took a deep breath, and shut her eyes. With them shut, she exhaled and took another breath, now listening to the music at it wrapped around her like a scarf. It was slow, demanding grace instead of speed, and the rhythm matched, just as K’nell had said. She exhaled and opened her eyes, then repeated what the ghost had done. She didn’t do it right at first, but upon the third try did she finally manage the correct movement.

“And together,” K’nell coaxed, “his fingers restarting the music from the top.”

Arya returned to her standing position and went again, putting what she learned together to match the music. She let her worries fade as the music took over. No longer did she feel so worried and sad, or even happy. She simply became an extension of the rhythm as it weaved through the music of the palace. Her reveries were stopped here and there as she learned new steps and new combinations, her ghost companion dancing alongside her. Eventually she linked the dance together in all its tiny parts and was truly drowned in the endless ocean of the music, only to reemerge as the song finally ended.

Time had passed, how much didn’t matter, not in a dream. K’nell rested his hands in a steeple and turned to Arya, “A successful lesson! Very good, Arya.”

Her heart was beating fast, and her breath was quick, but there was a smile in her eyes as she looked to K’nell and said, ”Thank you, K’nell. That was… Amazing and so much fun. I can’t wait for the next one!”

“Neither can I,” K’nell smiled, “You’re ability to learn is as refreshing as it is impressive. I do advise you practice your steps on the grounds of Galbar as well, however.” He paused and tapped his chin, “I suppose that concludes today, then?”

At this, Arya’s eyes seemed to frown slightly. She had almost forgotten that she was in a dream, it all seemed too distant but there all the same. She began to nod, then said, ”I… What would you do if you did something you regretted?” her soft voice came.

“A number of things, my dear,” K’nell’s voice swirled, “First, I would admit it and own my deed. Second I’d learn from it, and thirdly I’d avoid ever doing such a thing again -- should that be the lesson learned, of course.” He held up a finger, “But, having done this, I shan't allow regret to own my mind nor steer my heart.”

”That eases my mind, thank you.” she said sincerely. She had already done his three steps, it was the last part that troubled her so. It was difficult for her to realize that, but she would try. She had to.

Arya took a deep breath then looked at K’nell with a certain sadness in her eyes, the kind that comes and goes. ”Did you know Orvus was my father?” she asked him, already knowing the answer, but she needed to hear it.

“I do,” K'nell gave her a soft smile, “Would you like to hear about your father?”

”I… I don’t know. I feel as if it would be better if I simply gave up on him. I got so angry and I hurt Master Shengshi and Kalmar. They probably hate me and the only person I can blame is myself, because I have this desire to see him and to talk to him, to know why he cast me out. To know why he didn’t want me. Arya said, letting it all out quickly. Her eyes began to fill up with tears as she asked, ”Why do I feel this way?”

“Let's start at the top, my dear,” K'nell flicked his wrist and a wooden chair erupted from the stone floor, catching Arya with a soft ‘poof’ as she fell into its cushion.

“Firstly,” K'nell folded his hands, “I would not yet give up on your father. Why yes there is a threshold to which it is better to be without, I do not think it has come to that.” He pursed his lips, “Your father is a good man, he just doesn't know it. He is vastly troubled by indecision and conflicting emotion. He has allowed his own regret and emotions to steer his heart in any which direction, but I have seen how true he can be when he applies and I do think that perhaps someday he might see it himself and perhaps see you there as well. I do not ask you to hold your breath or even hope too hard, but to breathe just a little faith and don't give in just yet, in the end, however, the choice is yours as his choice is his.”

She listened to K’nell, her face blank for the first time in the Palace. It was a lot to take in, but she found that it did help. She had not realized K’nell thought that way about her Father. Kalmar didn’t like him at all, even wanted to kill him and for good reason. She shuddered at the thought of Phystene’s screams. But K’nell didn’t see it that way. Perhaps… Perhaps she had been too hasty in her judgement. Maybe there was still hope, small as it might be.

A small smile crept into her eyes, and she said, ”Okay, I think… I think I can do that. I just… I’ll let him come to me. I can’t get angry anymore trying to get to him. And maybe one day, he will, but I won’t get my hopes up. Not yet at least.” she finished softly.

“Very good,” K'nell laced his fingers together, “I will leave the thought with a few words of disclaimer, then. Firstly, this is all up to you how you go about it, and should one way prove better to you than another, you would be the first to know. What I mean to say, dear, is that you should use your full array of emotion and rationale to formulate the best judgement. I see you have already done that, and very good, but just -- stay smart about it, hm?” He paused before speaking again, “Lastly on the topic, when I say good and claim a man to be so, just remember the sobering knowledge that even a good man can do unwelcomed deeds, but what makes them a better man for it is how their conscious recognizes either guilt or ambivalence and if they desire a change or own a possibility.” He paused again, “I'm sorry, dear, this must be a touch confusing.”

”No, I understand somewhat. We all make choices, good or bad, and we have to live with those choices. We act on choices. I’ll be smart, try not to worry too much.” she said playfully.

”Hey! I almost forgot, do you consider Hermes to be your daughter? I’ve never met her, but Kalmar said you were her creator.” Arya shifted in the chair now leaning forward, she placed the hands under her chin and looked to K’nell.

A grainy hum swirled for a moment before a cheshire grin splattered on K'nell's face, “Not quite in the way that you know, my dear.” He nodded, “But should you ever meet her, I feel she has grown to know exactly how to answer your next question.”

”And what question is that?” Arya asked with a knowing smile in her eyes.

“I suppose now you'll have to ask her,” K'nell's smile grew.

”Mhmm.” she hummed, ”I doubt she’s even heard of me, but could you let her know I look forward to meeting her?” she asked innocently.

“I suppose I can,” K'nell agreed.

”That’s good to hear. I’ll try to find her after this… delivery is done. I think i’m going to a sphere soon.” she said.

“A quest if I ever heard one,” K’nell hummed, “Best of luck.”

”A quest…” Arya seemed to purr, ”Yes! I like that. Thank you K’nell, for everything, again. I suppose I should wake up now?” Arya asked.

“Four things before I let you go, my dear,” K’nell held up four fingers. “If you talk to Shengshi directly and with honesty, he may forgive any transgression you could have committed.” He folded his finger down, “The same may be said for Kalmar.” He folded another finger down, “In fact, such honesty may prompt them to give you insight you hadn’t seen on the matter, or maybe their own thoughts that have been mulling about.” He folded another finger, leaving one.

“And finally, my dear,” K’nell gave a cheshire smile, “Just remember,” he punctuated each word, “the choice is yours.”

There was a ringing snap and Arya’s eyes opened. She blinked a couple of times, slowly her senses and awareness coming back. She was still on Penelope, the giant jackalope rested next to a small stream and Split wasn’t far away, doing Split things. She began to get up, but paused when she felt something shift on her lap. She looked down, momentarily confused, but it registered. It was her dress. Arya lifted it up to view it with her eyes, and though it wasn’t as bright or dazzling as in the Palace, she was touched by K’nells gift. Her eyes widened into smiles, it was going to be a good day.




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Hidden 2 mos ago Post by AdorableSaucer
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AdorableSaucer Blessed Beekeeper

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A month had passed since Arae’s blessing and a certain spring had taken hold of Tendlepog. The gnarled forests of Limbo began to sprout small delicate flowers, almost translucent. Their aroma was subtle but invoked a great nostalgia in tandem with the rest of the strange place. In total it was peaceful, and if not for the random swims of nausea, Hermes might say it was perfect.

The Dreamer held her head, sick of the scents around her. It was like everything was assaulting her nose, she even refused Xiaoli's tea -- even after the reluctant River Girl offered to add Sweetgrass.

Hermes closed her eyes and leaned back against the tree she sat at. Beyond closed lids she could hear Xiaoli putting the finishing touches on the last of the three houses of the estate, and as much as she'd love to watch, she was afraid of further vertigo. Her stomach curled and she said a silent prayer, ever thankful that she was born in a time before food.

Xiaoli clapped her hands free of dust and took a few steps back to admire her work. The guest house looked nearly identical to the bedroom house, and made for quite a satisfying parallel across the courtyard. She let out a sigh and grinned.

“Okay! I’m done! Hermes, what do you think?”

The Dreamer all but peeled her eyes open and squinted from her spot, “It looks wonderful,” her voice lacked enthusiasm but was genuine enough. The woman eventually forced herself to her feet, her brain sloshing forward. It took a couple steps but the nausea began to recede as quickly as it came -- for now; it was a tricky thing.

Hermes stopped next to Xiaoli and examined the house, “Shengshi oughta like it,” She said carefully, “Would- would Shengshi use it? He'll be here any day now.”

“Yes, I think he will.” Xiaoli gave her a sad smile. “Is it the nausea again, dear?”

“Always,” Hermes said fatigued, “So far, I'm not a fan of pregnancy. You know, I was reading about similar--” she paused, “There it is again.” Her colors changed to a dull pea green and she sat herself down.

Xiaoli crossed her arms over her bosom, maintaining the compassionate smile. She then leaned down, picked up a rock and turned it into a cup before strolling towards the creek.

“It's not like we don't have bigger things to worry about,” Hermes cursed as she closed her eyes.

“We do, but I cannot stand seeing you like this. You haven’t eaten for nearly a day.” She filled the cup with some creek water. Then as she walked back over to Hermes, she took a deep breath and blew on the water surface. The water soon began to produce tiny, fizzy bubbles along the walls of the cup. She offered it to Hermes.

“Here. It’s a little better than the sweetgrass juice I made for you yesterday - I hope.”

Hermes hesitated but took the cup and sipped. She furrowed her brow, “Thanks,” her voice sounded slightly irritated, a sound Xiaoli had been getting used to the last few days. The Dreamer tipped the cup and gulped the rest of the fizz and then laid flat on her back and groaned.

“Xiaoliiiii,” Hermes whined.

“What is it, dear?” Xiaoli said patiently and laid down on her belly next to her, propping her head up on her fists.

Hermes rolled so they were face to face, her brow slanted and mouth in a line, “Twenty something all powerful Gods and not one of them thought to do away with this part,” her face fell from serious to misery, “I'm sorry.”

Xiaoli’s mouth was at first a straight line, but promptly turned into a somewhat silly smirk backed up by a quiet giggle. “Nothing to be sorry about, dear - we could write complaint letters to all of them, if you’d like.” She winked playfully and snickered.

Hermes smiled and let her face fall onto the mossy forest floor, “mmmpphh,” she muffled.

“Sssssoooo…” Xiaoli began, casually playing with Hermes’ hair with one of her hands. “Whaaaat should we call it?”

“It!?” Hermes voice muffled, “You mean our baby?”

“Well, yes - we don’t know the gender yet, after all. Let’s ssssaaay it iiis a -boy-! What would you like to call it?” Xiaoli rolled over on her back and tucked her hands underneath her head.

“Ermph,” Hermes thought into the moss, “You go first.”

Xiaoli giggled. “Okay, okay - I’ve given this a lot of thought, but constructive criticism is welcome.” She rolled back over on her stomach and kicked her feet playfully in the air above her.

“Okay, so, if it’s a boy, I would love for him to be called Wenbo.” She wrote the characters in the moss, pouting slightly as the moss bounced back. “Anyway, the character wen means ‘literary talent’ and bo means ‘erudite’. A fitting name for the son of us, right? Oh, oh! But in case that one sounds odd, fear not - I have more.” She tried to write again, this time seeming more annoyed at herself at making the same mistake twice. “What do you think about Rongxuan? ‘Prosperous’ and ‘tall’? Oh! How about Yongfu, ‘eternal wealth’? That one’s not too bad, right?” She gave Hermes a look. “Dear, did you fall asleep?”

“Nuh uh,” Came from the moss, the Dreamer lifted her head and propped her chin up on her fists. She seemed to ponder for a moment, “What does Xiaoli mean?”

Xiaoli beamed at the question. “Well, Xiaoli is composed of the characters xiao and li, each respectively meaning ‘little’ and ‘beauty’.” She caressed herself with playful vanity.

“Hmm,’ Hermes seemed to think, “I think I see it,” she stuck out her tongue.

Xiaoli’s smile vanished. “You -think-?” she said sourly.

Hermes laughed to herself and fell back into the moss, “As if you didn't know how beautiful I think you are.” Her voice muffled with a tiny chuckle, falling into a thinking hum.

“Oh, I know,” she said, her smile reappearing. She rolled back on her belly and continued plucking playfully at Hermes’ hair. “Soooo, what do you think of the names?”

“I like them,” Hermes rolled her head on its side, “Wenbo is my favorite though. I have names in mind but-- well they don't have those special meanings other than I like them.”

Xiaoli’s mouth straightened out. “... Yeah…” There was a pause. “... You can still say them, if you want. We’re in this together, after all. I shouldn’t hog all the names.”

“Well,” Hermes scrunched her face, “We can say they mean things, who says we can't? We are the very first to do this, after all.”

Xiaoli pondered for a while, then slowly nodded. “Yeah… Yeah, you’re right! We can actually do that!” She gave Hermes’ temple a peck. “Okay, what’ve you got?”

A bright smile formed on Hermes’ face, “Well, what about Chinua--” She smiled, “Blessing. Or, Oktai -- understanding.” She lounged on her side, “Maybe even Chaghatai.” She had a buzzing smile, “Our baby.”

Xiaoli let out a humming giggle. “Heh… They’re all so sweet! I really like Oktai and Chaghatai - especially Chaghatai.” Her eyes sparkled with joy. “Though I suspect that he’ll be a bit embarrassed when we tell him the name’s meaning.” She winked. “Okay, we got some boy names. How about girl names?”

“A little embarrassment wouldn’t hurt too much,” Hermes mused happily, before pondering with a buzzing smile, “...Tuya? Ray of light.”

Xiaoli tapped her chin thoughtfully. “Could work… I feel like Her Holiness Asceal would be very satisfied if she heard that. How abooouut… Xihui? ‘Joyful’ and ‘bright’? Or…” She caressed Hermes’ exposed cheek. “How about Yanli after her mother?” She paused and put on a playful smile. “‘Colourful beauty’?” she added with a giggle.

Hermes let her own hand fall ontop of Xiaoli’s, “I like both a lot,” her eyes twinkled, “I’m sure we will get a chance to use all of them.”

Xiaoli’s eyes widened. “I-... I mean… How many do you want, if I may ask?”

Hermes scrunched her nose as if incredulous and leaned up on her elbow, “What did Shengshi say again,” She thought for a moment, “Ten thousand?”

“Y-... You realise he was hyperbolising for effect, yes?” She sat up on her calves and cleared her throat. “I’m not saying I don’t want to have many children, but… Ten thousand may be a bit excessive, no? Both on you and our future food stocks.” She tapped her chin. “Although, I suppose I could just make some more food, in that case… Alright, so our main concern in that case would be your body.”

Hermes sat up and was laughing, “Oh, Xiaoli,” She nudged her shoulder, “I was kidding-- but you should be so lucky as to have a partner willing to make ten thousand babies.” She gave a knowing smile.

“I’m not lucky to have such a partner - I’m lucky to have you,” she snickered and crossed her arms over her bosom. “Although, if -I- were to set a number… How about… Eight?”

“I don’t want to set a number,” Hermes uncharacteristically pouted and crawled over, setting her head in Xiaoli’s lap, “What if I end up wanting more -- or less.”

Xiaoli began to absent-mindedly caress Hermes’ head, her eyes staring forward. “Well, yes, I suppose… We should have enough to fill the whole house, though. It’d be a little quiet here otherwise.” She looked down and brushed Hermes’ bangs to the side. “I wonder what they will be like - how much they will look like you or me; if they will be as colourful as--”

She paused, her eyes widening. “What if they inherit my powers?”

Hermes looked up with a quizzical expression and shrugged, “Do you think they will?”

“I-... Don’t know.” She gave Hermes a slightly somber look. “I’ll be honest - I hope they don’t.”

Hermes furrowed her brow and reached up to cup Xiaoli’s face, “I don’t think it works like that, you don’t need to worry -- from what I gather from our talks, your powers come directly from Shengshi. They -- won’t be coming directly from Shengshi,” Her own eyes widened as she looked off to the side, “No, they won’t.”

Xiaoli looked away for a moment. “That…” She paused. “No… You’re probably right.”

“Mhm,” Hermes closed her eyes and tucked her arms over her chest. “They’ll be colorful though,” She gave a tiny nod, “I can feel it.”

Xiaoli giggled. “They’ll be even more colourful than you, I bet. Our home will look like spilled paint.” Her giggle turned into a chuckle. “Oh, I will definitely teach them to paint. I can just imagine them standing in front of their paintings afterwards and taking on that pallet.”
Hermes smile grew but then suddenly shifted, and tears began to pour from the corner of her eyes, forcing her to turn her head and cover her face with a single hand.

Xiaoli’s pupils shrunk and she raised her hands in confusion. “H-Hermes, what happened?! Did I say something wrong?! Are you feeling sick again?!”

“No,” Hermes sobbed into Xiaoli’s lap, “I’m just scared.”

Xiaoli’s eyes dimmed. She snuck her arms under Hermes’ and pulled her into a hug from behind. “I won’t let him get to you, you hear me?” she whispered almost menacingly.

“I don’t even care about that,” Hermes lifted her face from Xiaoli and sniffled, eyes a beet red, and nose not much better, “I just want my family.” She squeezed Xiaoli with a helplessness the river-girl had never felt before.

Xiaoli felt her eyes water and squeezed back. “I’m not going anywhere, Hermes - no one is. We will--” She sniffed. “We will get through this, and we will have a family, and we will--” She let out a few sobs, pulling away before pressing her head against Hermes’ chest, following by a long wail.

Hermes wrapped her arms around Xiaoli, a gentle stream of tears running down her face, “I want to go to bed.”

Xiaoli pulled away, letting out a curt ‘mm’ of agreement.




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Hidden 2 mos ago 2 mos ago Post by Lmpkio
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&




"The Twin Harbingers of Chaos Collaborate"




Two long hours hung over the great mountain of Eldahverr, as smoke continued to bellow from its smouldering crater. Even after witnessing the conflict settle with the Iron God, the volcano hadn’t completely ceased its dormant activity. Molten lava continued oozing from the cracks within its massive frame, trickling down to the bottom of where the fiery pools collected the bleeding mountain’s essence. The ash above continued to carry their suffocating presence towards the westside for miles, crossing the mild expanse of the blazing desert and over to the lush forests beyond. All the nearby wildlife, within a several mile radius, could feel a disturbing essence radiate from within the volcano. They could all feel the terrible dread that washed over them - a dread that had them fear that the worse of what Mt. Eldahverr had to offer was on its way.

But yet by the time it did arrive, none were ready as to what was about to pop out of that cauldron of fire.

A thunderous boom quickly ignited the air as it vibrated across the iron sands and against the thorny bushes of the western scrubland. This was soon followed by a series of violent tremors that shook the base of the mountain, as a series of additional explosions blew even more holes within Eldahverr’s sturdy frame. When the last explosion rocked through the volcano, it prompted one powerful explosion that sent out a violent gush of molten magma and ash soaring into the sky. Super-heated pyroclastic flows rolled down with rushed haste, gaining more and more mass the father it continued rolling down, burning and suffocating everything that was unlucky enough to be swallowed by the enraptured soil.

And emerging from the erupting mountain, a massive scorching hand peered from the blackened ash and slammed itself upon the rocky rim. Slowly Sartr rose as his flaming appearance began to scorch the very ash and smoke that landed dirtily upon him. He stood upon his mighty creation and looked down upon the virgin lands below. He grinned at the sight beyond, able to vaguely see the distance outlines of the northern mountains and the western patch of faint green peering over the horizon.

”LOOK UPON THE FORTUNE THAT IS RIPE FOR THE PICKINGS!” the flame god roared with a blazing grin, ”AND WITH OUR ENEMIES DISTRACTED, IT IS THE PERFECT OPPORTUNITY TO RELEASE OUR POWERS FOR ALL TO SEE!”

Naked earth unmolested by magma ruptured, penetrated by the squirming tip of something evil. Painted brown, buried in layers of veins that pulsated with fluid, the worm-like appendage lazily arose from its rocky tomb. The grotesque herald of an undulating mass of fleshy branches and sunken faces with gnashing teeth. Freedom within its grasp the toothy abomination’s many limbs rocketed through stone and soil, collapsing the land around it. Tendrils slick with phlegm coiled around jagged rocks and splintered oak; despite its colossal size and immense girth the tentacled monstrosity effortlessly elevated itself skyward. Stone and soil quaked beneath the amorphous giant’s attempts to liberate its gargantuan form until it, at last, slithered upon the surface. Tentacles anxiously rubbed themselves into broken terrain, mucus pooling at its “feet” as the abomination reveled in newfound liberation. A victorious roar escaped the multi-mouthed terror soon after.

“So, this is what the mainland looks like? How quaint.”

Nestled betwixt twin heads sat Ekon, fingers, and legs intertwined, he wore an expression of smug indifference. “Well, if the exploding volcano doesn’t get someone’s attention - the shouting man on fire will. Probably…. then again I suppose a shrieking octopus with human heads isn’t exactly stealthy either.” Guttural noises fled the many throats of the horror upon, which Ekon rode, almost as if it were delighted to be mentioned. Teal orbs cast themselves into the multihued landscape, indifferent to the mewling beast. Despite his perpetual air of cynicism and disinterest, Ekon had only known the infinite nothing offered by Galbar’s oceans and his realm. While his reaction to this new world might have appeared tame, he was in fact genuinely interested in what it might offer. It was, after all, a new place to infest with his poisonous touch.

Wordlessly the great horror twisted its form around to face Sartravis. Evidently, on Ekon’s behalf who spoke once, the fire god was within view. “Sartravis, I believe out of the three of us, you’ve had the most meaningful interactions with our siblings, therefore; I think it is only sensible that you “lead” the charge as it were. After all, I believe it was your phoenix that has battled with numerous deities.” As the last of the Architect’s “children” to manifest Ekon was the least knowledgeable of the other gods’ exploits. A fact he knew too well and so despite his snark and overt sarcasm, the god of fear was all too happy to follow someone else’s lead.

“Onwards and upwards as they say.“ As if on command two slightly smaller shapeless wads of flesh, tendrils, and, snapping jaws erupted from behind Ekon’s vile “chariot.”

Sartr’s grin further intensified upon becoming crowned as the leader of the trio of misfit gods. While he didn’t expect to lead such a valiant crusade over Galbar, he surely didn’t mind it either. If it weren’t for his Phoenix having major disagreements with a few other divine beings, he wouldn’t be standing as proudly on top of his proud volcano.

”SO BE IT!” He roared valiantly as he rose his hands into the sky, ”THEN LET OUR GLORIOUS TRIUMVIRATE OFFICIALLY COME INTO FRUITION - STARTING NOW!”

He bellowed as he plunged his molten hands onto the side of the volcano, its valiant energy spreading deep beneath the earth like a raging torrent. Violent earthquakes shook the surrounding area as a large, charred-black, claw bursted out of a large lava pool, followed by a low-pitched guttural groan. The giant hand began to slowly rise - revealing more of the jagged and rocky body - before placing it upon the ash-covered rock below. As it rose, it revealed a massive golem-esque titan, complete with molten magma covering its exposed portions, and had a mighty horned face to boot. Once fully revealing itself to the world, the massive giant of rock roared as blobs of lava escaped its massive maw. It’s height was comparable to that of Sartr’s - if not slightly smaller - but it’s ferocity was even more fearsome and bad-tempered than its creator.

Once the fire titan placed its rocky pillar upon solid land, another violent tremor occurred suddenly as Mt. Eldahverr erupted once again. Large streams of magma bursted into the ash-ridden skies, infusing with it to produce molten embers from within. Such a violent mixture produced violent streaks of molten lightning that rattled within the bleak cloud of death, however the magma released strangely did not fall. In fact, they stayed floating in the sky, levitating lifelessly before slowly swirling within the ash cloud. The lightning within became more numerous, cackling multiple times per second, before a flash of pinkish-red light pierced through the black cloud.

From within, two massive scarlet wings extended outwards, blocking out the harsh light that illuminated behind it. And then, a chorus of hellish screeches and wails echoed from the inferno - revealing seven pairs of amber-colored eyes from within. Upon a single massive body, seven reptilian heads - each sporting an individual and unique look - peered from the cloud with their necks raised high. Some heads sported elaborate horned-crests and nose horns, while others sported more beak-like mouths, or had a mane of hair instead of spines, but each seemingly having a mind of their own as they twisted and turned in a fury of crimson whilst they wailed their songs of death and mayhem. They proceeded to unify their efforts and flew away from the mountain towards the same direction as the titan.

Two giant beasts - born nearly at the same exact time - had emerged upon the command of the great “Tyrant of Fire” with minimal effort. Sartr laughed maniacally upon the creation of his twin marvels as he watched them advance across the desert.

”MAGNIFICENT!” he boomed proudly, ”GO FORTH MY HARBINGERS! SLAUGHTER ALL WHO GET IN YOUR WAY!”

Repulsive things growled approvingly at Sartravis’ “coronation”. “Good. Now that our leadership has been established we just need to..” Words froze in place as the volcano erupted an angry earth shook and quaked.

Mount Eldahverr, full of fire and fury, quivered beneath the scrutiny of a sentinel forged from magma and rock. Colossal in scale and form the fire-born giant’s presence demanded creation itself look upon it. Even Ekon could not deny the beast his notice, though he did little to show it. Right eye at half-mast, the fear god lazily inspected Sartravis’ work with subdued enthusiasm. “Not bad. Very imposing and powerful. You are a quite the craftsman Sartravis.” Honey words wrapped in a casual tone flowed through parted lips, before they closed with a sly smirk.

This alliance was already off to an interesting start even if it was the fear and fire god spearheading the way. The demon god would pursue his own agendas, and so would they in the meantime. Ekon pondered what future promises this triumvirate might hold and how he might best use it towards his own ends. Sartravis seemed all too pleased with the idea of being granted leadership of the duo. Not that he minded, Ekon held no desire to lead any “factions”, at least until he had more of a grasp of the goings on of his deific counterparts. Besides Sartravis knew even more about the surface than he did. Spending all one’s time in a cave deep underground will leave almost anyone ignorant to the rest of reality.

An earth-shattering roar signaled the conception of Sartravis’ final monster. A many-headed creature covered in crimson scales and born from smoke, heat, and, ash. Ekon applauded at the construction of the great beast, impressed by Sartravis’ knack for creating such destructive entities. “I like you. You are all flashy and dramatic with the monsters and the scary death clouds. I can respect that.” Even the slithering beast upon, which Ekon rode approved of the dragon’s construction. “With such beasts at our command things with certainly be far more interesting.”

“You two, please lend your aid to these noble creatures.” With only a single screech as their reply, the twin nightmares behind Ekon nodded obediently. Wordlessly they plunged their slimy limbs into broken terrain, before submerging into the destroyed earth. Contrary to their appearance they preferred to travel through rock and soil, where it was easier to ambush prey from below.

The flame god’s teeth glowed intensely white upon being complimented by the Fear God. With his monsters undersuit, Sartr could just stop there and have them lead the charge all by themselves. After all, who but the other gods would dare to even oppose them? But even then, the fire god wasn’t finished just yet. For shortly after the massive fire hydra took flight across the barren wasteland, several more draconian creatures popped from the crater of the volcano, or from cracks situated from within. A mass plethora of smaller dragons - most dark-reddish in color - peered over the land with their singular heads. They cackled and bellowed in a cacophony of ominously harmonic cries - each producing a unique variant of different pitches and lengths - as they excitedly began to take flight. These so-called “minions” of the titanic fire hydra proceeded to split up and spread throughout the island, with some following their massive alpha leader in pursuit.

And from the Fire Titan, it’s molten mass continuously dripped onto the ground. It was as if it was continuously “bleeding”, but alas it wasn’t the case at all. For when each of these fiery masses collided with the ground, they would each form a massive arm, followed by a torso, until they would become giant humanoid beings. These would become the lumbering fiery jotundar, closely mirroring their physical forms with that of their god as they groaned and slowly walked behind their creators. They towered roughly around nine to twelve feet tall, making them way smaller than their creator, but still impressively large compared to the ecosystem around them.

Sartr watched joyfully as his great creations marched forth, raising his arms in the air whilst laughing maniacally. Combined with the fear god’s arsenal, surely they’ve made a great head start in their quest for absolute domination. In due time, they might just achieve this goal - but for now, these monstrous bastions will do.

From jagged scars etched into barren earth emerged foul life. Atop innumerable stalks arose a crustacean upper-body from the scars left behind by Sartravis monstrous menagerie. Broken land further ruptured with the emergence of the elephantine abomination. Freed from its subterranean prison the nightmare released a mighty roar. The many tendrils that veiled its face flailed about with each victorious shout. When its plated legs found purchase in new land it awaited its master’s instructions. But this terror would not be the only one to join. More explosions of rock and soil followed suit as similar atrocities erupted from devastated terrain. Roars of accomplishment exiting their collective throats as the horrors stood triumphant. All of whom reached the height of a giant and longed for the taste of meaty prey.

“Excellent. It appears the others have arrived.“ Subdued enthusiasm filled Ekon’s words and escaped his lips. The Black Edifice was already fulfilling its task well, and all on its own. All it cost Ekon was a negligible portion of his own divinity. It would have been fool hardy to waste all his power so quickly. After all, there remained children he’d yet to father, and time was not on the god’s side.

Another bellow signaled the final surfacing of Ekon’s many aberrations. Like before it was a vile parody of a crustacean that shared a primal hunger akin to its brethren. “Very good. Now that all of you are here let’s get started.” Ekon announced from his seat amongst the bulging mass of discolored flesh. Ekon gripped the arms of his “chair” before momentum and chocolate arms pushed him forward. Ekon looked upon the horde with a pride reserved for a craftsman, after completing a great work of art.

“Go forth and serve Sartravis with the same vigor that you would me. Prove to him that you are worthy to stand alongside his creations. And remember, devour, infest, and, spread. Spread your love across, Galbar.” He ended with a chuckle to the cries of the hungry horde anxious to commence their infestation of Galbar. With their directive clear the horde joined alongside the reptilian armada ahead of them.

With their base armies taking shape, the twin gods could now sit back and watch as their precious creations expand across the virgin expanse of the island. The fire giant and most of his jotundar would eventually travel north-west towards the area known as giant's bath, while the hydra and an armada of dragons went for the Qiangshan mountain range. With the other gods being mostly distracted upon other threats, perhaps little would be prepared to engage the new threat that was slowly rising to greet them. Concocted from the fires of Muspellheim and the pits of liquid fear, this combined army would grow ever stronger through the days ahead...





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Between Ya-Shuur's protected lands and the rest of Li'Kalla's island to the east there was a great cave. This cave started outside of Ya-Shuur's lands but it extended underground into it. Ya-Shuur went inside this cave and looked around it and thought it was beautiful and he wanted to leave something there to let those who slept in it who came from outside his lands know that they were under his protection here and that everything in the cave was under his protection as well. He thought he would mark the walls of the cave and he goat charcoal for this. But he thought that maybe charcoal would go away and he wanted something that would stay and in the end he cut himself and he used some of his blood on the charcoal to make it red and then he marked the walls of the cave with many different pictures.

The first picture was a simple one of a red blob with many tentacles and a smaller humanoid form. The blob's tentacles were extended towards the humanoid form. Above them floated a smaller thing that was also slightly humanoid. The second picture was of that same blob with tentacles except that now the humanoid figure was gone and replaced with a fearsome creature that had something coming out of its mouth. The smaller form was now below them and bright red strands were falling down on it.

The next image was of a humanoid form with hair and beard but there was no detail of its eyes. It looked to be undressed but there were no details and its arms were held aloft and extended outwards. Then the next picture was of that same figure except this time he had small horned creature next to him and he had a stick in his hands and they were both facing a great dark cloud. Behind the big dark cloud was a fearsome bear standing on its feet.

The next picture that Ya-Shuur drew was of that same man now dressed. He had a goat one side of him and what appeared to be a wolf on the other. Then he drew another picture of the man facing off against a terribly big creature. And the next was of two great creatures. One a giant wolf and then that same terrible creature and around them were other little creatures. Then the next one was a very big picture of the same man and he had two horns in his hands and they were extended in a dramatic way and all around him there were goats and wolves and there was a big wolf to his left and six of the little creatures now grown up to his right. Around his head there were some rays and he looked like a powerful figure. The next picture was similar except that the horns were now on his head and he was stood on what seemed to be a cliff overlooking a great land with many different animals. Some looked like donkeys and some looked like cows and there were dogs and other creatures. He had a staff in his hand and his other hand was extended up where some birds were flying near him.

Ya-Shuur drew more pictures. Some of them were of little butterfly creatures. These were the iceflies. He also drew the crows that followed him everywhere. He drew bears and he drew the spirits that guarded some parts of the island and never left them. He drew frogs and cats and he drew the sea and rivers and water-goats. He drew Li'Kalla's manor and drew the goddess in it and put great rays around her head and he drew a small humanoid figure floating around her feet. He drew spires of mud. He drew many small humanoid creatures going towards a great fire and all of them screaming in pain. He drew an ice woman playing the snow. He drew fishes and he drew the humanoid figure helping a dolphin back into the sea.

When this was all done Ya-Shuur looked around the cave and all the drawings he had done and he was very satisfied. Anyone who came here would know of him and would know that this was his land and they would see his good works and know that he was good and would have no fear. They would see that he was powerful and would know that they should not do evil things otherwise it would make him angry with their actions. And they would also know things about his life and things he had seen. Very satisfied Ya-Shuur left the cave and went back to his underground house to lie down and meditate.

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Hidden 2 mos ago 2 mos ago Post by Goldeagle1221
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Accidental double post.
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Hidden 2 mos ago 2 mos ago Post by Goldeagle1221
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A Violent Quartet


”Come my children, today we strike the heart of the Dreamer-God. Today, I do away with the mockery!”

Vakk addressed his children, the echoes, anger blinding him and telling him to go forth and take his vengeance against both the thief and her god. He looked around at the echoes, swirling around him in the depths of his realm, getting put into a frenzy by his words as Vakk began to move through them. His towering form moving through the Realm of Talk before he broke through the cave with a thunderous roar, the echoes following as they erupted into the sky like a blackened plague, sending perched shadow crows aflutter. It was this anger that drove him, and that anger which desired the blood of K’nell and those gods who had looked to make a mockery of him.

He watched as his echoes formed a swirling mass around him, a storm of words and hunger had been opened to the world. Vakk released another roar before he thrust himself into the air to make his way north, over the continents of the Dragon’s Foot and the Kick. The mass behind him blocked out light, a blanket of darkness emanating from his realm like a swarm. Vakk had only one target in sight, K’nell and his pet.

It was not until he reached Tendlepog when he stopped in the air, gazing upon the continent and the Echoes forming a massive wall behind him. Vakk gnashed his teeth as he moved forward tentatively forwards, his echoes following close behind him.

It was then he saw it. The God with one thousand pieces, extending upwards, skeletal arms holding it above the rolling red plains below. It looked directly at Vakk. Underneath it was a large tentacle.

Vakk growled, gnashing his teeth as the Echoes restrained themselves to run down the being in front of them. ”Eurysthenes! How lovely it is to see you,” Vakk said, rather sarcastically before he looked at the tendril, the great mockery that continued to haunt him to the day. The Lord of Talk let out another growl, a few moments of silence passing before he sprung towards Eurysthenes, tooth ready to rip into the skeletal frame as tendrils rushed forwards.

The Echoes, stirred by the commotion, gave chase with their master, determined to grab the soul of the enemy.

Only, Eurysthenes wasn't there. As Vakk passed through the illusion, the tentacle on the ground swung upwards and smacked Vakk in the face with great force before flopping to the ground. No culprit could be seen, but there was no doubt it was Eurysthenes.

Vakk’s anger towards this mildly humiliating grew immensely, the Echoes chittering amongst themselves before Vakk gave them a look that made them instantly grow silent. He loosed a deafening roar, determined to find the one he knew was responsible as he looked around trying to find something that wasn’t there, ”EURYSTHENES!” Vakk slammed his tendrils into the ground of the great sweetgrass plains. Tree-Eaters scattered and cloudlings popped in retreat.

”Enough mind games, Eurysthenes. Face me, coward!”

---

Somewhere nearby, resplendent in the radiant anger, Eurysthenes slipped into action yet again. Its home could not be taken over by Vakk.
---


The Echoes froze on the spot, something clearly wrong. There was a moment of stillness where Vakk was not sure what had happened, or why they had stopped. That's when they scattered, each turning in a separate direction and surging forward, crashing into each other with no care except what they saw. This confused Vakk before he realized what was happening, another effort by Eurysthenes to meddle with his plans.

”Stop, you impotent fools!” Vakk shouted, his voice over moving over the plains and into each Echo. One stopping after another but each being confused, they shook their heads attempting to get Eurysthenes out of their heads. However, their animalistic instincts blinded them, each looking in a different direction as Vakk looked for Eurysthenes along the horizon.

”What is cowardly and a fool? What relies on tricks and deception to hide from my sight? What refuses to show its face out of fear?” Vakk mocked, looking around for Eurysthenes.

”What is just witty enough to convince itself of its own cleverness?”
The words rang out, as Eurysthenes rose out of the grass, rushing towards Vakk. Within a second it was close enough that its face was directly in front of Vakk’s, taking up his whole view.

But, on his head he felt two pressures, as if something were standing atop his head. Vakk roared in response, snapping his head forward to try and envelope Eurysthenes while many tendrils shot towards his head in case of trickery. Just as his maw closed, he saw the illusion drop, revealing thousands of teeth. The spines of the toothy creature shredded against the tendrils of the God of Talk, leaving oozing lacerations. Vakk jerked away from Eurysthenes’ trap.

Off to the side of the plains, a great horse suddenly whinnied. The echoes turned away from the God battle in confusion. Charging directly at them was the Warden, his black thorned armor soaking in the evening sun and glistening off him as a bloody red. His mare’s hooves were enveloped in flame, and he held a mighty sword above his head. In an instant, a sea of darkness materialized behind the commander; thousands upon thousands of nightmares appeared, indistinct maws gnashing and unseen claws swinging wildly.
With a horrid scream that could shatter a heart, the army of the night slammed into the echo horde. The phantasmal creatures of both armies clawed angrily at each other, and the Warden paved his way through the enemy, leading his army onwards.

Vakk turned as the phantasmal armies clashed, watching them claw and scratch at one another like the savages they were. ”Was this your plan, Eurysthenes? A petty trap? If so, it was poorly executed,” the god of speech laughed as his tendrils began to weave a ball in front of him, a ball of glowing purple energy.

”ellāṁ marikkuṁ!

āruṁ atijīvikkunnilla.

nilaviḷikkān ātmākkaḷ ayaykkuka!”


The sphere of energy was thrown to the air before it expanded rapidly vaporizing Echo and Nightmare alike. The force of it imploding on itself created a sickened cacophony of noise unlike any other. The screams and roars of the implosion left a space dedicated to the two gods before their battle continued in earnest, only to be halted again by a sudden sound.

There was a thundering rumble in the distance that hammered its way through the hordes of echoes with exponentially louder booms. It was preceded by several bright, violent columns and waves of red and blue flame, spitting out infernal tongues that melted away swathes of echoes. The heliopolis dimmed for a moment, but might as well have been shining all the same - for in its light’s path was a magnificent ship of gold and jewels fronted by the snarling head of a dragon, sailing a constantly shifting river in the sky. Upon closer perception, the fiery path it left behind came from great pots raining from the ship’s deck.

There was another dip in Heliopolis’ light as a shadow dove off the ship which proceeded to sail on to bomb the other flank of the echo forces. The shadow quickly took on a crimson colour before it crashed into the centre of the field, carving out a circle in the chaos for himself and letting out a menacing hiss towards Vakk.

“Do you KNOW how much wine I had to sacrifice to pull that off?!” Shengshi roared as his fins became long barbs; his claws extended; and his pupils became reptilian slits.

While Vakk was distracted by Shengshi, Eurysthenes took its chance. Massive bars leaped up, twisting and knotting around Vakk’s tentacles and pulling him down. Weaving together, they formed a puzzleknot that tightened around the tentacles, dragging Vakk towards the ground.

The Lord of Speech roared, pulling in resistance to bars that attempted to drag him into the ground, heaving chunks of rock and soil. ”Shengshi…” Vakk growled before speaking to the Echoes, ”I want every one of you to focus on that whelp! Eurysthenes is mine!” He heaved against the bar lurching forward, pulling more of ground with him as metal and flesh fought each other.

The Echoes, however, seemed to disengage from the fight with the nightmares almost entirely, a massive flood of darkness moving straight towards the river god. Then, magic shot through them, while nothing happened initially, the nightmares soon found that chasing down the Echoes led to two more spawning in one’s place, though significantly weaker than the original and noticeably smaller. It did serve, however, to spawn more fodder and distract the Nightmares as soon the number of Echoes swelled into a torrent, even climbing aboard the ship with gnashing soul-lust. The Warden roared above the crowd, his blade spinning as a scythe before the wheat, making every attempt to connect with the river god.

Shengshi let out a serpentine snarl, his ear flickering as he heard the Warden’s call. He twisted his hand and the ship in the sky turned violently, heading back towards the shore. He flicked his opposite wrist, and part of the river the ship was sailing on broke off into a tributary, which quickly shot down to the snake like a bullet and splashed into his open palm. Shengshi clapped his hands together around the water and pulled them apart, the water sticking together like a length of rope until it formed a long, menacing whip. With a vicious smirk, he picked some gravel off the ground and sprinkled it over the whip - it stuck to it like sand on a Servant’s skin.

“Did I hear a certain maggot call me ‘whelp’?” he hissed and cracked the whip against a few echoes, its blood-curdling sound akin to water striking burning coals. He let out a snarl and began to carve his way through the Echo horde towards the Warden, his whip churning the shadowy figures into dust and paste.

The Warden seemed to rally, his mass of nightmares forming a large arrowhead, with him at the tip as he drove his wedge into the echoes. The lashing licks of Shengshi on the other side of the echo army coupled with the pointed charge finally broke through, opening a pathway for Shengshi to Vakk.

“Your Lordship,” a voice grumbled behind the thorned helmet as The Warden charged beyond the God and into the thick of the battle.

“Ah, the Warden, I presume? Keep up the momentum! I will remove this pest from your lands,” the snake yelled and slithered through the masses towards the colossal worm.

Eurysthenes materialized opposite Vakk, the great beast of a God pushing against the straining bars, threatening to break free. The Lord of Puzzles slipped over and pressed a palm on Vakk, lines coiling over the skin. They began to glow as the pattern completed, which was just when there was a loud crash! and an ear shattering roar. Vakk violently erupted from his prison, dripping with fury.

The Lord of Talk allowed his tendrilsl to surge all around him, slamming into earth or any creature that dared draw near. However, his massive head was faced towards Eurysthenes, speaking in anger and hate, ”I will tear you into more pieces than is possible to count, Eurysthenes!” Vakk lurched forward, his tendrils soon moving to grab at the one who had attempted to imprison them.

There was an icing snap as several of the tendrils were wrapped in stone-spiked water and nearly sawed off with a gruesome spin of a whip. The snake tugged the line back and waved it around playfully. “Oh, my, it certainly feels wonderful to move about again. Sitting aboard that ship for so long really stiffens up the spine, would you not agree?”

Vakk turned his head to look upon the snake before a sinister smile came upon his face, mocking Shengshi, ”You should have stayed hidden, like the wretch you are!” A free tendril, grabbed Eurysthenes and slammed it into the the ground and threw them at Shengshi before Vakk shot all his tendrils after the river god.

The snake’s whip fell apart and the snake tossed his right arm upwards, sending the water towards Eurysthenes like a slowing buffet, Eurysthenes whirred as it attempted to recollect itself. Spotting the tentacles, Shengshi quickly made an effort to dodge, skipping into the air before diving to the ground and snaking his way towards Vakk. He made certain to keep his distance from the tendrils, his reptilian eyes scanning for an opening.

“My, you are a little upset, I can see that.” The snake suddenly stopped and stood up. He snapped his fingers and a cup with a clear liquid popped into his hand.

“How about a drink?”

Vakk did not respond for a moment, before stating, ”A drink would be nice, a drink of blood from you mangled corpse!” His tendrils shivered towards the snake as the massive maw of Vakk opened and went to snap from the other side, an attack from all angles.

“So uncivilised,” he muttered and raised his cup to the incoming god, downing it in a single gulp. He shuddered at the flavour, smacked his lips a little and smirked. As Vakk’s jaws came to snap him in half, the river god clumsily slithered backwards and snatched the tendrils coming at him from behind. He let out a quiet burp as he reinforced the tendrils’ assault with his own divine strength, sending them straight into Vakk’s gaping mouth.

The tendrils were caught in the teeth of Vakk’s maw, before he retreated them in a roar of pain.

The snake let out a cackle. “YEAH! How’ll you fight me (hic!) now, you f-fiend!” he clapped his hands as he made a considerable effort to stand upright.

Vakk’s anger grew unparalleled for a moment, before tendrils rose from the earth around Shengshi, grabbing the snake before slamming him into the ground over and over before a singular tendril wrapped around the snake’s throat bring him to Vakk’s head. ”Like that, imbecile,” the Lord of Talk growled with an evil chuckle before opening his mouth, moving Shengshi closer.

There was a sudden wail. The sky cracked as a black shatter stretched across it, breaking it into two deep scarlet halves. The wail resounded, and twisted until it was the somber cry of a violin. The world seemed to shimmer as the music approached. Echoes and Nightmares alike suddenly slumped, and the world grew still.

K’nell carefully stepped over the sleeping masses as he approached the gods, a phantasmal violin tucked under his chin and a cruel Narzhakian club on his belt. Great blaring notes blasted forth. His eyes narrowed on Vakk and the violin ripped and shredded a sinister song.

The Lord of Speech did not know what to make of it at first, but when his consciousness began to slip, he thrashed about. Vakk shook his head, attempting to resist the effects of the K'nell. He threw Shengshi and let out a singular roar of defiance before succumbing, his mind spilling into sleep. His form collided with the ground, raising dust and debris.

The toss had knocked Shengshi awake and with a snap of K'nells fingers, Eurysthenes dusted itself off and rose. The trio walked menacingly towards the slumbering fiend. The violin vanished and K'nell hefted the club in a single hand. Walking around Vakk's head, he positioned himself by the temple, Shengshi by his side with the reformed flowing whip. Eurysthenes walked to the opposite side, a spear growing from his form.

“... Are you certain that this is warranted?” the snake whispered uncertainly. “This murder will send an echoing message throughout the cosmos. Some maybe see it as a threat to themselves. Perhaps…” He hiccuped quietly. ”Perhaps imprisonment will be good enough?”

”When atrocities are committed, colours revealed, and there is a certainty for a lack of change, our solutions are few. When other solutions are but food, what is a battle?” said Eurysthenes, staring at Vakk. It twitched the spear.

“Still, it's…” The snake brushed some sweat from his brow, “I was hoping we would have had him surrender.”

This One looked directly into Shenghshi’s eyes, and said ”When one which lies promises the like of that, what does it say?”

The snake hissed. “Untruth, is the answer.” He sighed. “Then the choice is made.”

K'nell looked at the other two, “Gentlemen, Vakk still has but one chance left, and then we will know what is to be done; I ask simply that you prepare for the worst. I'll be back with your answer.” With little else K'nell reached forward, pressing a hand against Vakk, and with a sudden flash, everything changed.

He was now standing in a void of white, with only the snarling Vakk before him. K'nell’ grainy voice called out across the endless void, “I see you have made your choice!”

”You are the one who drove me to this. You mocked me, Eurysthenes mocked me. Hermes, that little bitch committed a crime against the gods! You let her go unpunished and justice had to come. You were her accomplice! You caused Li’Kalla’s fall!” Vakk shook his head for a moment, his teeth snapping. ”I want to go home, K’nell. Not to the place the Architect compelled me to create, but to the home he took me from!”

“I'm afraid,” K'nell began, his face dropping at Vakk’s declaration, “That I am incapable of making your choices for you, just as I am incapable of saving you from those same choices. Regardless of desire, I now see that you are truly lost -- perhaps you will find your home at the end of this, perhaps not.”

K'nell turned from the God, “Hear me as I say: The choice was yours.”

”Strike me down and I will return to cast a plague upon you and your toy. Next time, there will be no saving her nor yourself,” Vakk said, before a sinister smile came to his face, ”I cannot wait to see you again, wretch.”

“Next time,” K'nells voice swirled by Vakk, “Should there be one -- I'll do Galbar the favor of skipping this part.”

There was a snap and K'nell blinked. He stood by Vakk's sleeping head once more. Shengshi looked over at him, and the two shared a solemn nod. As gently as he could, the snake willed the stone-toothed water whip to wrap itself around Vakk’s neck, its teeth pulling at the worm’s skin, but not cutting it. K'nell inhaled and gripped the club with two hands. Holding it over his shoulder, his knuckles creaked white. He locked eyes with Shengshi and the two counted in nods: one, two, three. Shengshi flexed, pulling the whip tight. Simultaneously K’nell swung the club with resounding force. Vakk’s neck popped loudly as the whip sunk through his flesh, and the ground shook as the club connected with his skull.

Vakk’s head was ripped forward, slamming into Eurysthenes’ waiting spear, drenching the God in a plume of gore and ichor. Bone shrapnel bounced off the ground and red drizzled briefly from the sky as the three Gods stood there, each staring with wide adrenaline filled eyes. K’nells club clattered to the ground, bits of stringy flesh stuck on its spikes, “It is done.”

“We have murdered a brother - not one we loved, but a brother regardlessh.” Shengshi stifled a hiccup and cleared his throat.

K’nell looked up from the pile of flesh and squinted, “No murder was done here today.” He picked up the club, and as he did the flesh fell off, making it pristine, “But there would have been. There was no remorse, no inkling of conscious; just hate. Something that failed to be reasoned with, something that made a knowing choice.”

He looked at Shengshi, “So we made our own, and did what had to be done.”

The snake let out a raspy sigh, his quills and claws retracting and his pupils dilating. “As the river barrels through tough obstacles, so must the wise be ready to take up arms against those who see no reason.” He shook his head. “Still, a tragic fate, even for the hateful.”

K’nell brought a clean hand to his chin and rubbed it in thought, “There is a lot of truth to your words,” He looked at Eurysthenes and then back at Shengshi, “You’ve had your say, now I will have mine: let’s rest, the day is done.”

“Agreed,” the snake said wearily. “I shall summon over Jiangzhou - it will have refreshments for all who may w--” He paused, his eyes growing misty. “Oh… Pardon, I forgot most of it was tossed overboard. Will juice be satisfactory?”

K’nell pursed his lips, “Quite so,” he snapped his fingers and suddenly the Warden stirred to life, the nightmares rising as well. He turned to then, “Warden, see this place clean and the ill-welcomed guests-” he looked at the sleeping echoes that remained, “See that they exit the premises.”

“My lord,” The Warden turned to rally his army and K’nell turned back to Shengshi and Eurysthenes. The sky had cleared and the popping of curious cloudlings returned. K’nell folded his arms behind his back and motioned a sweeping arm.

“Shall we?”




After the Gods had drank enough, riddled enough, and talked enough, they split ways. Eurysthenes decided to head back to Swahhitteh, while K’nell walked Shengshi to the Dreamer Estate before splitting off to go back to Limbo (but not before returning the club). It was under the purple evening sky that Eurysthenes climbed the Staircase to the Infinite Maze, where it crumbled into a heap, eager for rest.

But this was not going to happen. Not now. There was something telling it that this isn't right. Maybe this was the pallor of the walls, or the way the eyes focused. Or was it the way thoughts flowed?

And so Eurysthenes walked the walls of the Maze, reflecting. Vakk, dead. He'd never meant much to This One, but it couldn't discount that he was gone. The one that had caused so much pain and hate. The one that it had met before any other, when it made a riddle to lock his sphere on that whispering isle.

Or was that what was wrong? Was there a faint whisper, worming into its consciousness like one of Vakk’s tendrils? Stuttering and slowing when focused on, then rolling and rising in the recesses. Soon enough there was no denying it, there were whispers, and they joined together to speak, countless voices speaking as one,

”We exist together now… two corpses in one grave.”







Presented by: @lauder, @Strange Rodent, [@Adorable Saucer] and myself.

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Ashalla

Goddess of Oceans and Storms


Ashalla floated through the ocean between Atokhekwoi and Dragon's Foot, carrying Vakk's music box with her. The journey was slow by her standards, but she passed the time by listening to the box's melodies. But as she swam, she sensed that something was amiss, although she struggled to identify exactly what. The box failed to soothe her anxiety over this feeling of wrongness. Then she heard Qiang Yi's prayer.

O Holiest spirit of the Sea, Ashalla. Your grace and power are second to none in the ocean - as such, this servant asks that Your sacred boon follows us still as our voyage progresses. Thank You for everything.

Why would Qiang Yi ask for a renewal of her boon so soon after having received it? Had not her word been enough? Unless some event had made him doubt. Then Ashalla realised that what she had been feeling must have been a violation of her blessing, some occurrence which had defied her divine will, and this had led Qiang Yi to doubt her word. Immediately, Ashalla left the Box of Orchestration and swam as quickly as she could towards the Zhengwu.

When Ashalla reached the southern peninsula of the Kick, she could see the dispersing remains of the battle. Sharpened sticks and splintered planks and bark drifted in the sea, along with a few sets of clothing. The Zhengwu floated near the shore, damaged. And in the water, Ashalla could taste a trail of black blood. She recognised the creature it came from. The wind began to pick up and clouds darkened the sky as she saw the proof of what had happened. There would be a reckoning.

But first, there was reparation to do. She looked upon the Zhengwu and inspected it. The crew were wounded but recovering; there was little that Ashalla needed to do there. She noticed with a touch of pride an effigy depicting an oceanic woman on the bow of the ship, which she assumed was a rendition of herself. The most pressing issue for the ship was the breach below deck near the stern, which was allowing seawater to leak into the ship. Several servants were trying to repair it, but as they could not enter the water they were having difficulty.

Although Ashalla knew nothing of ship-building or carpentry, she could help with this. She extended her essence into the ship through the breach, becoming the water which had leaked in, then she pulled out of the ship, taking the water with her and leaving the inside dry. On the outside of the ship, Ashalla froze the water around the breach to stop the influx of water. It was a short-term fix, as the ice would melt in these warm waters, but hopefully it would be enough time for the servants to repair the breach.

Ashalla then turned and swam after the trail of blood, taking the tempest of her simmering rage with her.



The leviathan angler swam lethargically through the depths of the ocean. This angler had acquired a few small scars along its front, and one of its left eyes was missing, leaving an empty socket. Its tentacles were suspended around it, sensing for any vibrations which would indicate an approaching creature. Its light cast an eerie glow through the water, which it hoped would attract something to eat.

Then it saw a school of fish, attracted to its lure. Their iridescent scales flashed in the angler's light as they swam closer. The angler waited, mouth slowly widening as its next meal drew closer. Then, when the school of fish was within lunging range, the creature tensed its fins and tentacles to surge forwards.

But at that very moment, it sensed movement all around it, and as it lunged the water around it grew heavy and thick, immobilising the leviathan angler. The school of fish scattered, but the abomination suddenly had much more pressing matters vying for its attention than food.

"I had promised that ship safe passage through my ocean," seethed a voice like a rumbling storm.

The ocean water held the angler in place with crushing pressure. The angler could not move, and a simulacrum of fear began to emerge from its frayed soul for the first time in its existence.

"Then you attacked that ship, in defiance of my promise." The voice grew in intensity, her fury evident.

The water stilled around the angler's gills despite the surrounding turbulence, denying the angler oxygen. The water pushed into its mouth and the pressure inside the angler began to increase.

"Now they question whether my blessing is still with them."

The water pushed harder into every crevice and facet of the abomination. Its wounds re-opened and oozed black blood into the ocean. The angler was not capable of many feelings, but pain was one of them, and it was feeling pain even worse than when it had lost its eye.

"You have made my words untrue, cast me as a liar!" The voice now roared with the tempestuous fury of a maelstrom.

The angler's gills and other eyes started to bleed, and it could feel indescribable pain as internal organs ruptured.

The voice screamed into a climax. "For that, you die!"

The water surged inwards, and in the blink of an eye the leviathan angler exploded. Shreds of meat and shards of bone billowed outwards in an expanding cloud of black blood and bile. Where the angler once was dwelt Ashalla, her rage peeling off her as turbulent currents which stirred and spread the remains of the leviathan angler. In time the remains had dispersed, and Ashalla's anger had subsided.

"May that be a warning to you," she called out through the ocean to leviathan anglers and other sea beasts. "The ship bearing Shengshi's servants is not to be harmed."

Her retribution complete, Ashalla swam off, returning to the Box of Orchestration.

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