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Hidden 5 mos ago 5 mos ago Post by Goldeagle1221
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Goldeagle1221 I am Spartacus!

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Oh Foo…


“Are you sure I can’t stay?” Diana batted her eyelashes, but it was met with a fiery stare. The Warden leaned forward from his mare, his narrow eyes judging her harshly. She began to speak but was cut off by the slow rasp of the Warden’s blade as it snuck a few inches from its scabbard.

“Fine fine,” Diana crossed her arms in a huff. She turned to the ocean, the vast empty ocean, and shuddered. She stood at the end of Tendlepog atop a ground down bluff. An army of nightmares stood behind her, as did the ever watching Warden. She sucked in a breath and tossed her umbrella over the cliffside. The apparatus slowly grew and grew as it fell, until it was the size of a small boat. She turned around and gave the Warden a twisted look and then jumped.

There was a soft pattering as she landed in the curve of the umbrella, no worse for wear. She laid on her back and looked back up at the cliff from the inside of the umbrella. The black figures began to disappear and she shouted, “Say goodbye to my dear friends for me!”

“I’m sure they will be worried sick,” She mumbled as the umbrella was sucked out into the sea. She sighed and shifted a little, digging her hand into a secret pouch in her dress. She bit her tongue in concentration as she dug around, until finally yanking out a pearlescent orb. She cackled victoriously and tapped her nail against it until it fluttered to life.

She folded her knees up and rested it on her lap, dark witching eyes scanning its surface. Inside she watched pigguts scamper around and fight with one another. She gave a wicked grin as she watched them do their many piggut things.

“What miserable creatures,” She mused as she watched on. After a while her grin slowly began to fade into a frown and she tapped the orb a few times, the glassy sphere fizzling off. She sighed and tucked it back into her secret pocket. She made a face and folded her fingers together.

“Oh my, this is boring.”


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Hidden 5 mos ago Post by Lauder
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Lauder The drunk kind of hero

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Atmav





There had been a long silence as Atmav set in for a lonely night under the stars, nestled in a small hole in the side of a hill. She could not sleep, however, the battle between Yimbo and herself were as fresh on her mind as it had been when she was with the Selka. The images of the Selka crushed under the weight of the great beast lingered, bringing a great sadness with them. Atmav had not meant to cause such death, she had merely been defending herself and those Selka were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

At least, that was what she told herself as the sadness of her deeds washed over her. She curled in a ball, still clutching the wing she had ripped out of her back, and began to sob. Her feelings and anger had blinded her rational thought at the time and it had caught up with her. After all, Atmav was new to these strange lands, scared and alone as the unknown of Galbar bore down into her very being.

She could not think. She could not see what was right nor wrong. Most importantly, she had been abandoned by perhaps the only being she was familiar with. Her enemy seemed to have known that she would suffer being away from all that she knew, and she knew that he would relish in that fact. It was this hopelessness and paranoia that had driven her thoughts, scared that Vakk would come for her and a fear that he was still around her, merely toying with her.

A foreign presence could be felt in her mind, with a ‘pop’. It was neither strong nor pervasive- but simply there, lurking. Then a layered voice spoke, smokey and baritone came honeyed words, ’What troubles your mind?’

Atmav’s head instantly snapped up, her hand moving to use the wing as a weapon against whoever was there. Yet, she saw no one. No living soul was around her, as far as she could tell and the fact disturbed her more than anything else. After a few moments of observing her surroundings, she let out a sigh before shrinking back down into her ball.

“I truly am going mad, aren’t I?” she asked herself, leaning against the wall of her natural shelter.

’I wouldn’t say so, Atmav. The voice came again, lingering on her own name before silence returned.

Her head moved up to observe her surroundings once more to find nothing directly speaking to her, resigning herself to her paranoia and fear. “You are a voice in my head, nothing more. That is the true definition of someone starting to become mad,” Atmav spoke, focusing her gaze upon the dirt in front of her. At least the voice she had come up with was something mildly comforting, if not the comfort mainly came from finally being able to speak again.

’Madness? Was it madness that compelled you to pray? To plunge yourself into the unknown asking for help with but a whimper? Mortal, this is not a figment of your imagination, but an answer to your cry. So tell me, how do you answer?’ came the voice’s honeyed words in but a whisper.

Atmav’s gaze shifted towards the night sky, looking for someone watching her and not seeing one but knowing that she was. She swallowed a dried mouth, as the mixed feeling of relief and shock flowing over her as she slowly got to her feet, sliding against the wall. “An answer to my cry...,” she repeated as she continued to scan the stars. “I thought the other gods had left me to my fate.” she admitted.

’Now we come to the question.’ the voice said, ’What is it that you desire? Tell me, so that I might know.’

“I want to be rid of the debt that I owe to Vakk,” Atmav answered, her words flowing out more quickly and desperately than she might have wanted. Her heartbeat was quickened, her breathe picking up as some semblance of hope filled her now.

’A debt to Vakk? The Kinslayer?’ the voice said, intrigued. ’What do you owe the God of Speech?’

“I owe him any task he may ask of me in exchange for my freedom from the prison he calls a home,” she said before her head cocked to the side. “The Kinslayer?” Atmav asked, confused of the title that Orvus had used while referencing her enemy.

’Vakk has murdered the Goddess Li’Kalla. Though she persists now in different forms, the crime has still been committed. I do not know the answer as to why, however.’ the voice said pausing for a moment before continuing, ’A task in exchange for freedom? A difficult choice to make, but you made the one you thought wisest. An admirable quality. Still, your heart is weighed down by what that task might be, is it not?’

“Yes, I am,” she started, her gaze moving back to the dirt as she crossed her arms over her chest. “I have already done so much wrong that I am afraid Vakk will make me do something else,” she began to let out a sobbing sound once more, “I already cannot forgive myself for what I have done.”

There was a long silence, the small presence in her mind abruptly vanishing as if it never was. This caused a light panic within Atmav. Then, from up above, there came a voice in the night. ”Look at me.” it said softly.

Her head snapped up to see the form of Orvus and for a moment she merely stood in awe at the figure, her sadness was still ever growing in her heart but the sight of a deity caused her to have a moment of reflection. She was silent before she slid back down the wall, the grip of her severed wing loosening before it dropped to the ground.

”You carry in your heart much remorse, for what has happened, and what will happen. Your rage and paranoia have blinded you from seeking the truth. I know this, for I have seen it. It was me. It is me. And it shall be me until this world fades to dust.” Orvus said, floating closer to Atmav with unwavering eyes. He spoke again, his tone kinder, ”Your freedom, has become your prison, and you don’t even know it. To forgive oneself of guilt, can be achieved by those willing to sacrifice. Yet even I can tell you it won’t be easy. To remove your debt, is to remove your choice. Vakk will come for you, either way. What would you do, knowing what you know, if you refuse?” the God asked, now but a few feet away from her face.

Atmav looked at the ground, thinking of the words that the god had said and in what she would do if she would encounter Vakk again. Vakk had become a being far more powerful than she could possibly fathom and to defy him alone seemed like a call of the embrace of death itself. She began to doubt herself as she shook her head away from any feeling of triumph that she may get out of this encounter. “You ask that I defy someone who has become a god. I-,” her voice began to waver before she covered her mouth with a hand caked in blood, “I don’t think I would have the strength to resist him alone.”

”To defy a god is to court death most certainly. Yet, we defy death anyways. It is in your nature to survive and to live, this I have seen. Whether death claims you now, or later, it will claim you. Perhaps it will even claim me and the others.” Orvus said, floating back but still gazing upon Atmav with glowing orbs. ”You have strength, Atmav, more than you think. It comes in many forms. From the mind to the body, even to those we might call friends. You must learn to shed your paranoia and fear, lest it consume you entirely and you become the very thing Vakk wants you to be- a weak toy. I cannot take your debt from you, but I can help you face it.” Orvus said.

“I don’t know if I want to face it… I don’t know if I can admit to myself that Vakk will win no matter what I try… I wish he had never brought me back from the dead,” Atmav said, her sobs growing louder as she leaned forwards, holding herself up with her hands. “I can’t bare to think of facing him,” she continued.

Two feet landed before the figure of Atmav, hardly making a noise as the God spoke, ”Perhaps we were all better dead, but we are here aren’t we? You might not have a choice to face Vakk, whether you want to or not. You simply need to be ready for it when he comes, and he will come.” Orvus said emotionlessly, as he paced back and forth infront of Atmav’s body. After a moment of disapproving silence, Orvus spoke again, ”It is not your place to cower or to hide Atmav. You are a warrior are you not? Why don’t you fight? Will you really let that worm dictate your future? Will you really let him control you like this? Crippled and broken and afraid? Powerless…” he whispered.

His words rang true within Atmav’s mind and slowly did her gaze turn back to Orvus, the sniffling and sobbing coming to a light halt. “You are right. My old master would have flayed me for thinking this way. I am a warrior,” she said, forcing herself to her feet before she stared back at the blackened being in front of her, “My future is my own and Vakk, nor anybody else will dictate it.” Her voice was still shaky and her emotions were still out of her control, but her statement had made it clear that she knew what would need to happen when Vakk came for her.

“I will try and fight my mortal enemy as much as possible. Vakk will have no sway over my actions.”

Orvus slapped his hands together in one quick motion, then as he pulled them apart, something formed within his hands, long edged weapon, crackling with red energy. In the blink of an eye, he slammed it into the ground before her. In the starlight before Atmav, there stood a greatsword almost as tall as Orvus. The handle and hilt were dotted with starlight, reminiscent of the night sky up above. While the blade was crude, and cracked with several lines of scarlet energy emanating from a central line running vertically along the length. The sharpness of the orvium glinted off the light of the Lustrous garden, revealing its sinister nature. Orvus moved to the side, and beckoned to the blade, saying, ”Then claim it.”

Atmav looked at the blade, merely marveling in what had just been created in front her very being. She gave Orvus one last look before her hands grasped the great hilt of the blade. With a heave, she pulled the Greatsword from the ground and held it above her for a few moments as she continued to gaze upon its glory. A great feeling of power washed over her as she looked at the god, a light smile coming across her face.

She leaned the ballads again her shoulder, allowing it touch the top of her upper wing before she bowed to Orvus. A genuflection to someone she thought to be truly worthy of her respect and admiration.

“I will prove myself worthy of being the wielder of such a blade,” she said, not looking up from her bow.

”I would expect nothing less from one so talented as yourself.” the god said eyeing Atmav. His gaze fell upon her back, to where a wing should have been. He moved closer, inspecting the wound with a god’s eye. After a moment, there came an icy touch upon her back, then a tingling sensation. ”Your wings are easily broken. No more.” and with his words, Atmav’s wings shrivelled and fell off, only to be replaced by an explosion of ethereal starlight as new wings sprouted from her back. Long, and elegant as they were powerful, the wings shimmered with pale, translucent light, twinkling with a million tiny dots of silver.

”Rise Atmav. Rise to claim your own future.” Orvus finally said.

Atmav looked up at Orvus before she got to her feet, moving the new wings with delight as she looked upon the wings with pure joy. “You are too kind,” she finally said, looking at the god with what had turned into a very wide smile. There was very little sadness left in her, having been replaced by the mixed feelings of pride and happiness, now knowing that she would not allow any other to own her.

”Kind? Perhaps or perhaps I simply saw a soul that reminded me of myself. You are not the only one with struggles, Atmav. Even Gods have their own challenges they must face and overcome. Remember this, maybe it will prove useful. Now, I must leave. Your path is your own, pray to me if you like but do not expect me to always answer.” the god said, beginning to float up into the air.

“Before you leave, what is your name?”

”Orvus, the God of Desolation.” he uttered, before vanishing in the night sky.

“Orvus…” she repeated as the smile slowly faded from her face, though the happiness very well persisted. Atmav sat back down, looking into the night sky, now content with her situation and no longer worrying about Vakk’s tyrannical hold over her. For once, she settled in for a sound sleep, the first good sleep she would have since arriving on Galbar.







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Hidden 5 mos ago Post by AdorableSaucer
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AdorableSaucer Blessed Beekeeper

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The Learner, The Martial Dancer

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Hermes + Xiaoli





Hermes stared down past the bump that had taken over her belly and at her feet. Reddish soil slowly rose up around them, and with a loud shluk Hermes pulled one out, leaving a fine imprint of her sole. A few thoughts crossed her mind as she stood staring at the imprint, the brook she stood in rolling past her shins, clear and crystal. She stood outside the walls of the estate, in the very brook that convinced Xiaoli to settle; since then it had been renamed Chunshui in honor of its service as their home.

The Dreamer’s quoll cloak hung on the branch of a tree nearby and her pants were rolled above her knee, she was here on a hunch. She leaned down and scooped up a handful of the clay and rolled it between her fingers. It was firm and silky, and stayed in the same position she left it -- for the most part. A few crumbles fell off the ribbon forming between her fingers and she frowned. Finally she decided to scoop up a larger handful, she turned and dumped it into a small stone pot for later.

A few shluks later and she was out of the brook, only the very bottom of her pants dripping with water. She picked up the pot and her sandals with one arm and swung her cloak over her back with the other. The brown and white speckled garment fell to her calves and engulfed her shoulders in a warm fuzz, leaving a gentle smile on her face as she walked through the gates of the estate.

There in the courtyard Arya danced to the tune of her own humming, reminiscent of the Palace’s song. The girl had her hair up in a loose ponytail, and as she spun, so too did her dress twinkle in the light of Heliopolis. Lady Xiaoli had done wonders fixing it for her, the blood had been the hardest to get out, but it looked good as new. She also wore the bell that Choppy had given her, now on her right wrist. It rang lightly as she moved her arms, but nothing answered its call.

She danced with her eyes shut, having practiced to the point where she had grown comfortable with the courtyard’s surroundings. Her legs moved with uncanny grace as she moved in a rhythmic pattern, swaying like a leaf on a cool breeze. Occasionally she incorporated a fighting move, but whether it was intentional or not, was hard to determine.

Hermes couldn’t help but smile at the girl, proud of how much she had grown and how quickly she had learned. She walked over to her workstation, which had grown considerably bigger since its days as a simple butcher table. She placed the pot on one of its three tables, under a reed shielded awning. She put her hands on her hips and turned to Arya, “What day is it?”

Without pausing or even opening her eyes to disrupt the flow of her dance, Arya hummed. ”Kalmarsday...Maybe?” before doing a small twirling jump.

“That’s tomorrow,” Hermes frowned slightly, “Today is Li’kallasday.” She pushed the pot onto the sunniest part of her table and looked over a paper stamped to the wood with a stone, the designs for a time telling creation drawn across crudely. She sighed, it was far from adequate. She rested a hand on her protruded belly and scoured her notes.

“I’m certain the exalted creators will be more than satisfied with the days’ names.” Xiaoli came out of the family house with a basket of laundry. She strolled out through the gates momentarily, then almost as soon as she had exited, she came back with a steaming basket of freshly washed clothes. She carried it over to some lines of thread that she had tied between the roof of the family house and a nearby pole. She flipped the articles neatly over the threads, taking great care to avoid nasty folds and the like.

“Hey,” Hermes looked away from her work and at the laundry with a slight disappointment, “Did you ever get the chance to wear that numbat shirt I made for you?”

“O-oh,” Xiaoli cooed quietly. She turned and gave Hermes a forced smile. “Yes! I did, aaaaand… Well…” She cleared her throat and pulled a wet skirt out of the basket. “... It was very, uhm, soft! Very soft and, uhm… Open? Oh, yes, it would breathe well in the summer--”

“You didn’t wear it,” Hermes stood up straight and put her fists on her hips.

Xiaoli let out a sigh. “I’m sorry, dear - I wanted to try it on, but then it ended up in the bottom of the laundry pile by accident, and, well…” She fished the shirt out of the basket. The already amateurish attempt to make a shirt had seemingly not survived a divine wash - as such, it was a little ripped.

Hermes’ face turned serious, her lips pursed into a line. Slowly the edges of her lips curled and she started to laugh, “It was so ugly, I was so embarrassed.” She laughed, “I didn't know if you’d actually try it on!” She cackled.

“Oh, dear, don’t say that! It wasn’t ugly, it was…” She snapped her fingers looking for the right words. “... It was a valiant attempt!” She gave her a sheepish grin and swung the rags over the drying line. “I’ll see if I can mend it after it dries, okay?”

Hermes face glew just a bit, “You’re wonderful.” She turned back to her work and then shook her head.

Xiaoli blushed a little. “Oh, you flirt,” she snickered. She gave the workbench a quick stare. “Say, what’re you working on, dear?”

“Well,” Hermes scrunched her nose in thought, “You know how I decided to break a day cycle into twenty-four segments? I’m trying to figure out a way to keep track of them during the day -- so if you wanted to know how many segments were left, you could know.”

“Oh yeah, you’re working on your time management project again.” With a quiet ‘hup!’, Xiaoli lobbed a water-heavy pair of pants with adjustable midriff over the line. “What methods have you tried so far?”

“Arya and I tried a controlled burning of some rope,” Hermes admitted, “But that was a mess.” She looked up to the sky, “Did I clean that up?”

”Yes.” Arya hummed again, ”But only after it got out of control.” she snickered.

“Shh!” Hermes said through a smile she was trying to force away.

Xiaoli let out a frustrated sigh. “Okay, where did you burn it?”

“Outside the walls,” Hermes defended, “It was near the water, we’re just missing a few patches of moss is all.”

’That and some sweetgrass. It smells really good when you burn it at first. Then not so much.” Arya giggled.

Hermes shot Arya a betrayed look, then looked at Xiaoli, “There’s not much else I can do with -- well,” She put a hand on her stomach, “Not much besides tinker and think. Oh! Do you think we could melt ice really slowly?” She looked at her notes and frowned, “No, that’s stupid. Especially during Lustrousitime.” Her finger on a marker for the season of spring.

Xiaoli took a deep breath and nodded slowly. “Alright, uhm… What are you basing your time on? You said they fell into twenty-four segments, but what are these based on?”

Hermes blinked and looked up from her papers, her eyes slightly pink with fatigue, “The movements of Heliopolis -- what if I used shadows? Oh but then what about night-time.”

Xiaoli shrugged. “I mean… Most people will be sleeping at night, won’t they?” She lobbed the last article of clothing over the line and strolled over to the workbench. She put a warm hand on Hermes shoulder and stared in marvel at her work. “You are so diligent, you know that?”

“That’s true,” Hermes put a hand over Xiaoli’s fingers, smiling, “Thank you.” She turned to Xiaoli, “Well keep the center of the courtyard clear, maybe I can try and build a shadow-thingy or something there, that’s where Heliopolis is strongest.”

Xiaoli’s eyes went wide. “O-over my mural?” She took a gander at the stone carving of the eastern hemisphere that she sculpted in such detail and her face contorted into a pout.

“Oh,” Hermes blinked twice, “Of course not.” She smiled, “I’ll find the perfect place for it, don’t worry.”

Xiaoli’s pout remained for a moment. “... I certainly hope so,” she mumbled sourly. She looked around the courtyard. “Ideally, it should face the south and receive influence from both the east and west, yes?”

“Yes,” Hermes nodded, “Maybe outside the southern gate? We can make a dias for it --er when I have an actual design in mind.”

Xiaoli gave her a sly grin. “Just tell me if you’d like some help with the drawings.” She ran her eyes over Hermes’ notes and let out a gentle chuckle. “Your writing is improving by the day, dear.” She picked up a stray paper and inspected it. “You might be ready for calligraphy soon.”

“You think so?” Hermes looked at her with a certain joy in her eyes.

Xiaoli nodded encouragingly. “Yeah! Your strokes grow prettier and prettier - how’s you speed? Write a sentence for me.”

“Speed is my specialty,” Hermes mused, dipping a stray brush and quickly --albeit clumsily-- jotted down some of her observations about the clay on a stray piece of paper.

Xiaoli winced ever so slightly, but made great efforts to give Hermes a broad smile. “Wonderful, Hermes! Just…” She hummed curtly. “... Just slow down a little on the horizontal strokes so they don’t accidentally cross over the vertical strokes, okay?” She gave her a peck on the scalp.

“Oh,” Hermes cocked her head as she looked at the characters, “I'll try.” She turned to Xiaoli and grinned.

“I hope I’m not intruding,” A grainy voice suddenly swirled. Hermes twisted as quickly as she could manage, “K’nell!”

The gentleman stood under the gateway, arms crossed behind his back and a buzzing smile on his face. Arya snapped her eyes open immediately at the sound of K’nell’s voice, twirling to a stop as she stared at the god for the first time in person. She cocked her head, a smile forming in her eyes, then lifted off the ground and flew towards him, arms outstretched, saying. ”Oh K’nell!”

There was a soft ‘oof’ as Arya’s hug connected and the Gentleman gave her two tiny taps on the back, “There there.”

Xiaoli froze up, spun on her heel and fell to her knees and hands the blink of an eye. “Your Holiness K’nell! Such a honour to receive a visit from Your holy presence.”

“Yes,” K'nell gave a respectful grin, his eyes flickering, “Your home is quite the sight, Xiaoli.” His eyes fell on Hermes’ belly, and then her muddy legs, “Ah, I do hope your taking care, dear. It is quite the burden you carry.”

“I am!” Hermes smiled and put her hand on her stomach, “To what do we owe the honor of your presence?”

“A thought,” K'nell began to walk towards the two, motioning for Arya to follow him. “In light of some thinking, I've decided on two things: first to bless your home, and second to bless your guest.”

“My, Your Holiness,” Xiaoli said with a giggle. “Your sacred protection and permission for us to settle here are already blessings beyond what we could ever repay. What more could we possibly deserve?”

K'nell looked at the kowtowing girl, “Rise, Xiaoli -- The blessing is already done. It stands just for you all to witness it, so that perhaps in the future, its physical presence will remind even the simplest of animals of the first two blessings bestowed.”

Xiaoli first sat up on her calves, then slowly rose to her feet. She looked discreetly around for the blessing the god had mentioned. But when she saw none, a gentle curl too the God's face.

“Walk with me, my dears,” K'nell charmed, “ It's just outside the gate.”

The God turned on his heel and began to walk away. Hermes looked at Xiaoli and took her hand, following the God from behind. Arya let out an ‘ooo’ as she floated leisurely around K’nell, her long dress flowing behind her. The girl’s mind was abuzz with whatever blessing K’nell would bestow upon her. Did she even deserve one, she wondered? Xiaoli squeezed Hermes’ hand and took a deep breath as she was pulled along.

Just outside the gate, the God stopped and turned. There standing guard over the opening was two obelisks, each just a few feet taller than the women. One stood a solid black like the platform of Limbo while the other was an alabaster white similar to Hermes birth colors.

The God waved a hand, “One will mark all who live or are invited into your home,” He pointed to the white obelisk, “It will not be a physical mark, but a mark for my weavers. They will know to give them only their best dreams.” His eyes glanced over Xiaoli, “Even to those who find trouble dreaming.” Xiaoli blinked and looked away flustered.

Before anyone could speak, he introduced the glossy black obelisk, “And here I house another gift for you. I have instructed one of Tendlepog’s nightmares to enter this stone. As such this obelisk will stand guardian over your home, and should anyone enter uninvited or else cause harm to this estate, out will emerge my own retribution in the form of that nightmare.”

He folded his hands behind his back and turned to the women, “It is with a certain joy that I present these to you: a sort of token of our original agreements and relationship.”

Xiaoli could not help but once again fall to her knees and hands. “Your Holiness’ graciousness and generosity is truly divine in nature. These gifts will be treasured immensely.” She permitted herself to look up at K’nell with misty eyes. “... If-if it’s not too rude, this servant would like to express its most sincere gratitude for the alabaster obelisk… This servant looks forward to seeing the Palace.”

“Ah!” K'nell seemed to have forgotten something, “Which reminds me, implication of the obelisk aside: you are cordially invited to the ballroom of the Palace.”

“A b-ball?” Xiaoli said with blinking eyes, Hermes putting her hands on her shoulder with a gleeful smile. “B-but I can’t--...” She turned to Hermes desperately. “My dear, I cannot dance as well as you yet!”

Hermes let her hand fall into one of Xiaoli’s, “I had no idea what I was doing the first time, at least you’ve danced before. Besides, you have me, too.”

“After all,” A cheshire grin grew on K’nell’s face, “A slip here and there is well worth the prize of--” He looked at the pair, “You’ll have to excuse me, I am getting ahead of myself.” He turned to Arya, “But let us not forget my second promise today.” He held out his hand, palm up.

Arya paused from her viewing of the beautiful obelisks, and turned to K’nell with wide eyes. She looked at his hand curiously, then without hesitating and with grace, the girl placed her much smaller hand within his own, then looked up at K’nell.

“There is a choice to be made,” K’nell said, “You have spent much time learning in the palace, under me as my ward. It is now for you to decide if you wished to be marked as such, and blessed with my protection beyond what you have already acquired. Should you agree, I shall tap the back of your hand, and a mark similar to Hermes’ shall appear, letting the world know who looks after your well being and turning away the wisest of antagonists. Should an antagonist not stirr, and should they distress you, they will be marked with nightmares until forgiven. Do you accept this blessing, my dear, shall you become one of my wards on Galbar?”

A few tears began to fall from Arya’s eyes as she listened to the proposal. She thought on it for but a moment before saying, ”I’d love nothing more… to be…” she choked on her words but began to nod.

K’nell gave a simple tap on the back of her hand and a spiral twirled about her skin, centered with a purple dot. K’nell let her hand fall back to her side, “Then you are, and you shall always have a home on Tendlepog and in the Palace.”

Wide eyes gazed upon the new mark, it was beautiful as ever. She looked back up at K’nell before hugging him again as she said, ”Thank you thank you thank you!” It meant more to her then perhaps any of them knew, but to finally have a home, was simply bliss.

K’nell gave her a few pats on the back, a gentle smile on his face, “Very good, dear, very good.”








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Hidden 5 mos ago Post by Lord Zee
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Lord Zee I Don't Even Know

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Marred


“Tiana! Tiana! Wait for me!” came a shout through the bustling undergrowth of the jungle. Light footsteps followed quick, raspy breaths as the footfalls broke twig and crushed plant alike as they ran after a figure out of sight.

The only reply was a high pitched laugh, mocking in tone, followed by a feminine voice saying, “I thought you faster than this, Vadik! Or was that only in the water when you’re hungry?” The insult, subtle as it was, did not go unnoticed by Vadik. The selka cursed under his breath before shouting, “Oh yeah! Well… I’ll show you!” and he quickened his pace.

More laughter as Tiana said, “Come on! We’re almost there.”

Up above, the distant roar of waterfall could be heard. And as Vadik caught up to Tiana, that roar became thunderous. The two selka, now running side by side, carried with them youthful expressions of laughter and play. They were some of the youngest in their tribe, only babies beat them in that contest, but they were not yet adults. Neither of them would admit it, but adulthood was nearing each passing day, prompting them to become creative with their pursuits.

And now they stood before a crystal clear lake, across from which stood a mighty waterfall, rising well above their both their heads. Vadik looked down at Tiana, who was shorter than he, and with a playful wink he said, “First one to the waterfall wins!” and without waiting he jumped in the pool. The water was cool here, and refreshing and there was no way Tiana would be able to beat him. He was, by far, the best swimmer out of the two.

He swam as fast he could, his streamlined body providing little resistance. The current was pushing down once he neared the waterfall. So Vadik broke the surface, clearly the victor but to his great surprise, Tiana was there laughing.

“You should see the look on your face Vadik!” she said holding back tears, “You look like old Yimbo!”

A scowl appeared on Vadik’s face as he said, “No fair! You cheated, I’m the faster swimmer!”

Tiana broke out into a howl of laughter now, saying through tears, “You said first one to the waterfall wins, you didn’t say how we had to get there.”

“I meant through swimming!” Vadik said grumpily. He swam closer to Tiana, who bobbed in the current as she laughed at him. “You know what Tiana, you win! Here is your award!” Vadik said as he jumped at her. Once their bodies met, a playful struggle ensued as Tiana fought to break Vadiks grip. They screamed, and giggled, and laughed as Heliopolis sank behind the trees.

At the edge of the water, they both laid side by side on soft sands. They watched as the sunk sank lower, and the stars began to twinkle. They talked and talked, about past times, the good and bad, and what the future held. Slowly but surely, two hands met in an embrace, cheeks turning red but with smiles on their lips.

“Hey Vadik?” Tiana asked in a low whisper.

Vadik turned to look at her, and so too did Tiana turn to Vadik. “Yes Tiana?”

“We should probably head back. Our parents are probably worried, don’t you think?”

Vadik let out a soft sigh, “Yeah, you’re probably right, but… first…” Vadik whispered as he moved in closer, giving a quick peck on her lips. He pulled away, embarrassed.

Tiana’s smile grew wider and she said, “Come on silly.”

As they both stood up, something small and white descended above them, prompting Vadik to exclaim, “Look Tiana! A spirit!” as he pointed at the orb.

Tiana followed his gaze, and saw two more spirits following the first. She grabbed on to Vadik’s arm and got behind him, whispering, “Aren’t spirits bad? You heard the elders…”

As the spirits drifted closer, Vadik turned to Tiana and said, “What happened to all that fire Tiana? Scared of a little spirit?”

Now the spirits were closer, drifting on some invisible current of air. With them came the sound of a small hum, faint but alluring all the same.

“They’re whispering Tiana. Aren’t they beautiful?” Vadik said, having turnt back to watch the descent.

Tiana gripped his arm tighter and hissed, “Vadik let’s go, something is right here. I don’t know why, but I feel it.”

“One second Tiana… I just want to touch it…” Vadik said absentmindedly. The spirits were floating closer now, almost within length as Vadik outstretched his hand.

Impulsively, Tiana yelled, “No!” and hit Vadik’s hand away before he could touch it, but the spirit instead touched her. She screamed at the icy touch as her hand started to blacken. Before Vadik could do anything, the other two spirits launched themselves at Tiana and disappeared inside of her.

The small selka girl’s skin began to turn inky black, and she lost her footing, beginning to fall, but Vadik caught her in time. He cradled her in his arms, watching as his best friend faded before his eyes.

“No! No no no! Tiana! Tiana! What have I done!” he cried out. As the inky blackness began to flow up her neck, Tiana’s face went blank and she began to speak nonsense from her lips, before slowly being enveloped. Her eyes glassed over, before glowing a pale white. Then her body grew still, leaving Vadik alone.

He held her body, shocked at the sudden turn of events. Before he could even grief, movement caught his eye and he looked up to see hundreds of motes, drifting lazily down from the sky, absorbing into anything they came into contact with. Fear kicked in, but before he ran, he set Tiana in the water, and watched the black waters became her grave.

Then Vadik ran, tears streaming down his face. He had to get to the village. He had to warn them.


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The Man who Loved the Sea


The sea danced as a dark purple, the dawn just touching the horizon. A lone selka fisherman sat in a canoe. The base had been burned to fell the tree, and the inside had been set ablaze and carved with rocks, making it a seamless tube for the old selka. He sat adrift with no tools but a humming smile, two round eyes set longingly on the horizon. A certain thump was in his heart and a certain warmth heated his soul.

“Oh ocean... my sea,
Entrapped... beauty,

Colours of night,
Colours of day,
Steal my heart away,

A blue so bright,
A ripple in sway,
Steal my breath away,

Oh ocean… my sea,
Entrapped… beaut--y?”


The man’s hum was cut short as his black eyes spotted two strange figures harassing a whale’s corpse on the beach behind him (his canoe having spun around during his idle singing). He strained his old ears as he paddled towards the scene.

“No Juttyu,” The more grizzled of the two chastised, “We want the big thick jaws, less perforated.”

“I’m just saying,” Juttyu, the giant of the two, debated, “These are massive, how are we going to--” He looked at the fisherman, “Uh, Panganeem?”

“Hm?” Panganeem looked up from the corpse and flinched, the fisherman having snuck onto the shore unnoticed. He squinted and rose from his inspecting position to greet the man, “Hail, friend. I’m Panganeem, this is Juttyu -- the giant.”

“I can see that,” The fisherman blinked as he witnessed the sheer size of Juttyu, “I’m Ippino, the fisherman.”

“Well met,” Panganeem nodded and looked around, “Is it just you around these parts?”
“Yes,” Ippino nodded, “I’ve left my tribe behind in search of solitude.”

“Solitude?” Juttyu asked in his echoing voice.

“Yes, solitude,” Ippino said, his left eye closing as it caught the midday heliopolis, “You see, I’m from the Hyummin tribe.”

“I’ve heard of them,” Panganeem announced, “Aren’t they--?”

“The biggest of tribes? Yes,” Ippino nodded again, “But size isn’t everything and the many families of the Hyummin have made their own lands unbearable.”

“How so?” Panganeem cocked a head and leaned against the dead whale.

“They quabble and squabble,” Ippino threw his wrinkled hands in the air, “Even my own son! Argue and debate, gnash their teeth and go behind each others backs. It is madness and I simply wish to fish, enjoy my loving sea and be well.”

“Perhaps we can help,” Panganeem nudged Juttyu, who nodded.

Ippino looked at them in shock for a while, “How?”

“Well,” Panganeem crossed his arms, “I’m not sure… yet. But it is what we do, we are out to make the selka stronger in all ways by any means, and if unity is what you need, unity is what you’ll get.”

“Right,” Juttyu agreed with a heavy nod.

Ippino narrowed his eyes, “I’m an old man, so you’ll have to spell this out to an old jade, but why?”

“Because,” Panganeem started.

“We are k’nights!” Juttyu finished, soliciting a tiny glare from Panganeem.

“Kah-nights?” Ippino mouthed, “What?”

“It’s a work in progress,” Panganeem parroted Gralph, “But yes, we are K’nights and by holy decree and mortal wishes, we are out to make the selka strong.”

“Holy decree?”

“Father Kirron, you see,” Panganeem answered.
“Ah, Kirron,” Ippino nodded, “Yes I know Kirron, he is the creator of the selka.”

“Yes,” Juttyu nodded.

“Husband to Delphina, too.” Ippino sighed, “Oh how I envy him.”

“Delphina?” Panganeem cocked a brow.

“Goddess of the Sea? Bride of Kirron?” Ippino looked shocked, “Come now, you must know of her.”

“I suppose I do,” Panganeem gave Juttyu a confused look, “Now, at least.”

“Mm,” Ippino folded his hands behind his back and waddled over to the lapping sea, “She pulls at my heart with her unending beauty.” His old eyes glazed over the horizon, the gentle waves pushing and pulling from the shore. A toothless smile formed on his face, “She inspires me, brings me joy. If my boat could go further, I’d find her heart, you know.” He turned to the other two and Juttyu pulled a hand from his nose, and Panganeem straightened his posture.

“Oh?” Panganeem asked as he turned to the jawbone of the whale.

“Yes,” Ippino nodded solemnly, “I’d find her heart, find her ear, and I’d whisper my poetry to her. I’d thank her for her bounty, praise her for her beauty, and then I suppose I’d not know what to do with myself any longer.”

There was a loud snap as Panganeem ripped the mandible from the skull, bits of rotten flesh hanging off of it. Juttyu looked it over, “We still need to shorten it.”

Ippino rolled his eyes, “I have tools back at my little hut, come with me. After we can discuss more about k’nights and what exactly you intend to do!”




“There,” Ippino pushed the mandible -- now cut into two clubs -- across his table to the two k’nights. They sat in a squat hut filled with fish parts and stone tools, as well as several older canoes and a plush dry grass bed. Panganeem soaked it all in when he had arrived, but was now absorbed into his new bone club.

“I think this is what Gralph had,” Panganeem smiled wide and looked to Juttyu who matched his smile.

“So,” Ippino wiped bone dust from his table with an idle hand, “You’re hunters from Grottu, intent on becoming K’nights on the idea that if you do and strengthen the selka, you yourself will be strong enough to go out and find your daughter's killer.”

Panganeem’s smiled faded, “That’s what I said, isn’t it?” Ippino held up his hands and Panganeem shook his head, “I’m sorry.”

“No,” Ippino shrugged, “I know what it is like to lose a loved one. Though he isn’t dead, somedays I feel like my son is already swimming in another life.”

“You mentioned him earlier,” Juttyu pointed out.

Panganeem nodded, “Yeah, so what has happened to the Hyummin?”

“Five families,” Ippino sighed and crackled his knuckles, “The descendants of Lornun, Kilppundu, Korsachi, Punuphu, and Gorjapi.” He paused and tugged an old whisker, “I’m a son of Gorjapi and so is my own son. He thinks it is his duty to see the Gorjapi line rise to chieftain. The problem is, every family thinks the same about their line. Oh, we are great hunters, oh! We are the best fishers. Oh! We are warriors.”

He shook his head, “When one makes a decree, the others do the opposite, when one family agrees with another, a thousand disagreements oppose them. When a family splits, even then they argue. We have no system, no chieftain. We are weak despite our size because we are divided.”

“Then it is settled,” Panganeem’s fist thumped the table, causing the other two to jump. Juttyu looked at the hunter in earnest curiosity and Panganeem smiled wide, “We will unite the families and make the Hyummin as strong as they should be, so may be blessed Father Kirron and his k’nights.”

Juttyu slammed his own fist in agreement, a crack creasing the edge of the table, “For Father Kirron and the Selka!”

The two hunters gave a tiny “rryeah!” and the old fisherman shook his head, “If you intend to do this, you will need me. They will not listen to two strangers, not alone. I may be in exile of my own choosing, but I am known as old and frail as I may be.”

“Very well,” Panganeem stood from his seat, a new energy filling his chest, “This shall be our first mark.”

There was another, quieter “Ryyeaah!”


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Water flowed from the gaps in his armour like rivers over a mountainside, pooling in lakes as he trudged out of the shallows and strode further inland. Most drained into the desert sands within moments, leaving glistening salt patches in their wake. Bitter puddles remained scattered in the shade of the largest iron monoliths. Something large and white, barely a speck at the titan’s feet, bolted out of the ground-shaking steps’ path.

Crackling with renewed strength after a spell spent simmering down below the ocean’s surface, Narzhak’s eyes scanned the horizon. Sartravius’ lonely fire-hill was smoking again. Had he actually gotten something done in the time of a walk around the world? He squinted into the distance - sure enough, there was something that vaguely resembled the rearguard of a horde trudging over to where lay the riverlands, with what seemed to be smaller molds of the Phoenix hovering, rather disorderly, further north. The god found himself shaking his head in disapproval. That was Sartr's idea of an army? And, worst of all, it was going west?

”Hrghm.” The first thing he thought of was punishing such a parade of blunders with a surprise assault. The things down there were not only disorganised and unarmed, but facing the wrong way; carrying up enough kostral to make it quick, brutal and thorough would have been a moment's errand. But that, Narzhak thought, picking out a clam from a chink in his skin, would have been unsportsmanlike. For all he knew, those were just the worst training manoeuvres Galbar had ever seen, rather than the attack he was expecting. No, the best thing was to send a warning, a light sting of humiliation to punish this kind of carelessness. The giant's eyes lit up at the thought. He had just the thing for that.

The Scar was three steps away, and the Pit one more below that. The Iron God paused to inhale the familiar smokes and ash of his home. He found himself more reluctant to leave again every time he dropped in, and the great alcove overlooking the passageway looked more and more inviting. Maybe it was the emptiness, he thought, idly extending a small hook from a finger to pry open the clam. Wherever he had gone, there had been little to excite a real thirst for a battle worthy of the name. Nothing measured up to him, nothing looked like worthwhile scrap material, and places to search were growing scarce. He shook the thought away. Once he was done with this, there would be time to go find something to busy him in person. Perhaps see if Ashalla had kept in shape since that time in the palace, and ask her what this tiny black sphere inside the clam was, and why it was there-

Right, when he was done here. Narzhak snapped a claw, sending the rattle of iron ringing over the charred wastes. He did not have to wait long for a reply. Clouds of dust and ash rose from all sides and converged towards him, heralded by a thunder of hooves striking the ground. Thousands of black snouts, steely tusks, bloodshot eyes looked up, ears twitching in perplexity at the abrupt summons. The god’s four eyes found the one they sought immediately - his iron-grey back bristled a good few palms above the rest.

”You’ve been busy,” he rumbled with some surprise, ”And you were the only one down here.”

“I do what I do,” the first boar answered with an impatient huff.

”That’s good and all, but we’ll need more than this now,” Narzhak mused, one finger toying with the black pearl. He breathed out bloodlust, and the massive herd edged apart as its leader’s body began to grow and swell. His fur became like many razors locked together in a cuirass, his tusks like battering-rams, his hooves great enough to raze forests in a step. He snorted, and the air from his nostrils raised whirlwinds of black dust.

“Now what?” he seemed to ask with the look of his still disproportionately small, beady eyes.

”Take a good pack and get up there,” the god pointed, rather vaguely, to the direction where the surface supposedly lay, ”If you see a winged thing that looks like me, bring it to the place. I’ve got things for you to do. The rest of you, get back to, ghrm, doing what you do.” The bulk of the beasts seemed all too glad to obey.

With the ash from the boar patriarch’s hooves still settling on the black stone of the rift, the god turned to the cave mouth closest to his eyes. The kostral peering from it fell on the ground in prostration. He motioned with a finger, and they scurried off, soon returning with half-picked bones, mangled carcasses, scraps of iron and other refuse. As they piled up their trove, he idly flicked the pearl at his head. It sank into the metal of his face as though it were fluid, and dropped below. Bitter, he thought, crunching on it, but with a nice aftertaste if you pay attention. It could be worth the while to look for more.

Later, he reminded himself, glancing at the now sizable amorphous heap of leftovers. The kostral had already wisely retreated into the tunnels. Narzhak breathed in hatred, letting it gather up in his lungs before releasing it into the waiting body-

And choked as a cloud of terrible bitterness rose up to clog his throat. He tried to blow it out of the way, but it clung to him like something alive, scraping at the walls of his gullet as it crawled up, dangerously up-

”Aaghck!” the god coughed, shards of iron and globs of black spittle hammering the rock around the cave, ”Ghkhaaph! The spit they - phagh! - made something this - khaack! - rotten for - bhahgh!”

“I get wanting to chew something,” an unfamiliar voice like the scraping of rusted metal said from the cliffside, “But really, you don't check your stuff first?”

Perched where the mass of the refuse had been was a hunkered figure of grime-spattered iron. Its body was a patchwork of near-disjointed plates, their jagged edges interlocking like the pieces of a battered jigsaw. Sharp ridges ran along the exterior of its long arms, from spiked shoulders to four-digit hands. Miraculously, the scratched mark of the Bloodied Fist on the corner of its chestplate was not only recognisable as such, but mostly upright.

A finger flicked up the creature's grilled visor, revealing the only visible part of its body. Encased between the dome-shaped studded helmet and the high gorget ridges was a patch of rough grey skin with no features beyond a large mouth in the center. It bared an alarming number of knifelike yellow teeth in a lopsided grin and licked its lipless edges with a dripping rope of black flesh.

”Because you would have,” Narzhak growled. The creature shrugged, sneering. ”And who’re you supposed to be?”

“I’m, uh...” the ghastly being picked between his teeth with a finger. His grotesquely long tongue darted out to smell the puddle of filth remaining at his feet. “What’d your slaves call it? Vrog? Not like anyone else’ll know.”

”If you say so. All I know-” the god raised a finger, poising it for a flick, ”-is I could use less vrog in my house. Out with you!”

With a single snap of the gigantic fingertip, Vrog and the ledge he was crouching on were sent flying towards the plateau that led to the surface.

The Iron God heavily shifted his head from side to side. He could start over again and have someone better done in time, but impatience mounted where the bitter taste had finally dissipated. Be done with this, and then… Besides, he had not been expecting much from this to begin with. All it did was confirm his suspicion: a pile of vrog would stay a pile of vrog no matter what.




The gathering that met around the Scar’s central fissure soon afterwards was as complete a war council as had ever met on Galbar to that day, which was not to the credit of war councils. The boar patriarch sharpened its tusks on a floating piece of rock in as much tedium as his snout could express, his herd sprawled and rolling on their sides nearby. The Omen, perched over a large pitfall, looked as sinister as it was unhelpful for any sort of contribution to an assembly; the few stray ghouls on its back were little better. The finishing blow to the council’s credibility was perhaps that Vrog, still sneering and apparently not much the worse for his recent flight, was the closest it seemed to have to a competent member.

Mercifully, its leader was determined to keep the hearing brief.

”You,” the shadow of Narzhak’s pointing arm fell over the boar pack, claw outstretched towards the west, ”take the footsoldiers. Run them down all you like, take down the leader if you’re feeling like it. Just leave a few standing. You,” he motioned to Vrog and the Omen, ”find a way to get those things out of the sky. With how visible they are, we might not need it now, but I want something ready the next time they come up. I’ll take the east.” The last part was remarkably unspecific. ”Get to it.”

The earth shook a few times before the god disappeared beyond the horizon. The boars were soon gone in the opposite direction, clouds of black dust covering their rear.

Vrog tasted the air with a few lashes of the tongue and nodded to his newfound subordinates. “Lucky we’re not stuck doing the lifting this time. Or I’m not,” he added, climbing atop the winged monstrosity in a froglike bound. “First things first, there’s one step a war can’t go without, and it’s...”




“...not this.” A chewed seed sac was spat onto the bloodied ground, going to join a considerable pile of plants, insects and small rodents marked with the cuts of pointed teeth. Vrog scraped the remains of the blossom out of his mouth and picked up another grey-reddish pod. He probed it from all sides, coiling his tongue around it, then tossed it into his maw and began to munch. A few moments later, the mangled pod landed on top of the other discarded attempts. “Not this either.” It seemed the whole Steppes did not have a single thing to keep his jaws busy. Maybe this next thick-stalked weed would do better, but by this point he was beginning to think he might need to start searching elsewhere.

He twirled the uprooted plant between thick iron fingers. The pods on this one were too large to be chewed whole. He plucked a steely-coloured seed out from a cluster and bit into it. The thickness was good, and the taste- The taste was about right. He might just have been tired of sampling, but this one would just do for now.

Vrog spat out the husk with a satisfying whistle. Chewing felt good, of course, but the part that came after was just as important. In fact, he could make it hurt.

A seed was tossed into the air, and his tongue caught it with a sharp lash mid-flight. It burst open like an overripe fruit, scattering into a cloud of dust that drifted away over his head, into the depth of the steppe, past the staring ghouls on the Omen’s back. Some grains settled on the dead plant on his hand, and he clicked with pleasure as the kernels still hanging from it grew pointed and sharp. He snapped one off, bit it open and spat the husk with force. It flew like an arrow, sticking into the ground where it hit. That was sure to be painful.

The weed slipped comfortably into a gap on his side. Vrog didn't know much about plants, but what he had down there should have been good enough for it to take root. He wasn't going to haul himself back here whenever he was done with one stalk.

Speaking of which.

“Second step,” he said aloud, hoisting a large metallic flask, “off to the Cauldron.”



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Ashalla

Goddess of Oceans and Storms


Ashalla floated through the ocean south of Dragon's Foot, dark clouds and tempestuous winds following her. Around her squalls seemed to take a life of their own, drinking in the residual anger of her encounter with the Leviathan Angler. These miniature storms boiled off from her discontent and flitted about. The melancholic melodies of Vakk's music box did little to calm Ashalla, despite Vakk's claims, but the music seemed to keep the squalls pacified enough for them to avoid Ashalla's direct attention.

Once the music had drifted out of hearing of the squalls they became much more boisterous. The baby tempests drank moisture, rode winds, built clouds and rained. They jostled and squabbled, jousting with gusts to claim each others moisture and energy for their own. This violent dance twisted clouds and stirred the sea, although it was short-lived as the squalls soon dispersed. The squalls scattered across Galbar in search of more stormy conditions or divine anger to feast off, or some beings to hurl their inner anger against. Perhaps, if enough of them united together, they might have been able to produce a proper storm, but on their own they would rarely pose a credible threat. And such discordant beings would never unite of their own accord.

Ashalla paid little heed to the squalls. As she contemplated the source of her discontent, she remembered K'nell's words - there are things even a God cannot see or create without a little help. Though Ashalla had not admitted it at the time, she knew K'nell was right, and now she saw that it held the solution to her current situation. The Leviathan Angler had attacked the Zhengwu because she had not been present to enforce her will. One option would be to create some fragment of herself, like Shengshi's Xiaoli or Sartravius' Phoenix, but the ocean was far too vast for a single extra entity to provide adequate coverage.

So Ashalla decided she could make many creatures. They would not be direct extensions of her will like a god-fragment would be, but they would be receptive to her will, like the Thunderbird was, so would be able to enforce her will in her absence. They would also stop the Leviathan Anglers from being the only extraordinary beasts to roam her ocean. And because the journey was slow while carrying the music box, she had time to create.

Ashalla started with the pattern of a predatory fish and scaled it up to enormous sizes, rivalling whales. This gargantuan shark had a powerful jaw and great teeth which could puncture through the bodies of creatures it attacked, even creatures larger than itself. The shark's great mass was itself a weapon, for it could ram lesser creatures which enough force to injure them severely. Ashalla created more of these megalodons and released them into the ocean, where they would hunt whales and other sea beasts.

The megalodons were terrific demonstrations of strength, but Ashalla did not feel this was enough. So she took the pattern of a squid and scaled that up to be colossal as well. Its arms and tentacles were given wicked hooks and toothy suckers. Two tentacles were extended to be much longer with spiked clubs on the end, and between all the tentacles was its great beak. The colossal squid could use water to jet-propel itself through the water for bursts of speed, and could spray a cloud of black ink along with that jet to confound potential predators. It had massive eyes so it could see in the dark depths of the ocean. The squid was coloured red, and Ashalla also added bioluminescent patches, both to enhance its beauty and to lure in prey.

Ashalla created many of these creatures. The megalodons were well suited for tropical and sub-tropical waters, while the colossal squids were suited for the deep depths of the ocean and the polar climates. But Ashalla knew they were not enough, for many Leviathan Anglers dwarfed even these creatures in size. She needed a bigger creature. And, because only a couple hundred anglers existed, she only needed one creature.

Biomass began to accumulate at Ashalla's call. The general pattern of the colossal squid impressed her with its versatility and elegance, so she decided that this beast would be a cephalopod. To support its enormous bulk and to provide a measure of internal protection, Ashalla built a large, round, porous bone of calcium carbonate which would be used to control buoyancy. Within this bone Ashalla placed many internal organs, and she covered the bone in flesh. Around the edge of the body she put fins and fans which would provide a means of steady locomotion. Towards the front she placed two large eyes, a beak and many tentacles. Toothed suckers ran along all of these tentacles, and the longer tentacles ended in barbed clubs. Like other cephalopods, it also produced ink, which it could use to cloud the water around it.

Although the creature made the two species Ashalla just created seem miniscule, this beast had more besides sheer size and strength to make it extraordinary. Its tentacles could regrow if severed - not immediately, but it would not be permanently maimed by the loss of some tentacles in a battle. However, the biggest feature Ashalla added was to its skin. Chromatophores and photophores covered every part of the creature, allowing it to change its colour and produce light at will, much like Hermes could except with bioluminescence as well. A complex array of muscles also allowed the beast to adjust the texture of its skin and even, to a minor extent, the shape of its body. These abilities could be used equally well for beautiful displays or for camouflage.

Ashalla released the gargantuan creature and it came to life, swimming around her. Ashalla looked upon the creatures she had made and decreed, "Megalodons, colossal squids, heed my words. You are not to harm anyone to whom I have promised protection. Now spread through my ocean so my influence may be seen everywhere." The megalodons and colossal squids then dispersed to fulfill Ashalla's will.

The ocean goddess then turned her attention to the gargantuan colourful cephalopod she had created. "Kraken, you are to enforce my blessings of safe passage. Ensure that no beast of the sea harms those to whom I have promised safety. You are to enact vengeance on any creature which defies such decrees," Ashalla commanded, "Now go to the Zhengwu and ensure no other creatures attack the ship. Suffer no Leviathan Anglers in your presence. I will speak to you again if I have more commands." Obediently, the Kraken turned and swam northwards.

Finally content, Ashalla continued swimming, listening to the music box.



The island in which the Gateway to Sanvadam lay was barren as ever, but not silent. Whispers drifted up from the gateway, and shadowy forms lurked between the rocky spires. The ocean heaved and Ashalla flowed uphill and across the island while carrying the Box of Orchestration.

Some of the shadows, seeing the living being approach, darted out. Their hungry white eyes marked their incorporeal forms as they swarmed into Ashalla's watery body. However, the incorporeal echoes could not tear free any part of the divine soul, and instead found themselves trapped in the goddess' grip. There was a slight ripple as she crushed the echoes. Several squalls manifested in Ashalla's irritation, and her eyes settled on them. "Deal with them," she said in a low voice like a rolling wave.

The squalls flitted about the island and quarrelled with the other incorporeal echoes. As simple soulless beings themselves, the squalls were not threatened by the echoes' soul-stealing powers. And while the squalls could do little besides buffet the echoes around, that was enough to keep the echoes from disturbing Ashalla.

Ashalla flowed through the illusory boulder which hid the cave mouth leading down to Sanvadam and looked inside the gateway. "Vakk," she called out, her voice echoing like thunder down the tunnels.

The echoes of her voice died down to silence and Ashalla waited, longer than she had waited last time. Vakk did not come.

"Vakk, I have your Box of Orchestration," she called out.

She waited again. Still, Vakk did not come.

A momentary blip of concern crossed through Ashalla's mind. Was Vakk busy, or elsewhere? Had Vakk been attacked? Why did he not respond? But ultimately these were not Ashalla's worries. Ashalla placed the box inside the cave. "Vakk, I'm leaving the box inside your gateway." Ashalla was worried about the possibility of Eurysthenes finding the box before Vakk. However, she reasoned that the box would probably be safer here than elsewhere, since she had frequently left the box unattended in the open ocean. Here, at least, it was hidden.

Still puzzled as to why Vakk did not respond, Ashalla flowed back into the ocean and swam away.



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Kalmar

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God of Death, Prince of Astral Fires





As Kalmar trekked back into the cave, he began to think. Asceal had told him that Melantha, Katharsos, and Sartravius were mad. If she was wrong about Melantha, then it stood to reason that she could be wrong about the other two. And he had already told Asceal that he would make an attempt to speak with them. It would be best to do that, before she could attempt anything rash.

However, there were two obstacles. Firstly, he did not know where either Katharsos or Sartravius were. Secondly, searching for them would mean leaving Melantha - either that, or taking her with him on the search, which could be a bad idea if they proved to be dangerous.

Kalmar decided it would be far easier to simply do what he had done with Orvus. Call them down for a meeting. He was away from Melantha, so assuming the conversation was brief, now would be the best time. He decided to start with Katharsos.

”Katharsos,” he thought, reaching out. ”We need to talk.”

There was silence as the thought raced across the void of space and echoed until it found its way to Katharsos, hanging somewhere up in the stars in contemplation as he was wont to be. Sooner, rather than later, Kalmar got his answer in the form of a voice that called out across the Spheres to speak with crystal clarity. ”I am listening.”

A quick response. That was good. Orvus had been far less receptive. ”Can you speak to me in person?” Kalmar questioned back.

The request struck Katharsos as a strange one, for conversation was easy enough regardless of distance, as they were already demonstrating. But he ultimately dismissed it as likely being an eccentricity of some sort. In truth he was glad to have his thoughts broken; it was good to remain tethered to reality lest he eventually retreat so deeply into the depths of his mind that he might struggle to escape.

”I will come,” finally Katharsos answered. There had been a pregnant pause in which he’d mulled over it, but in the end hesitance hadn’t crept into his tone. Unravelling his form and taking flight across Galbar again held a certain appeal, so seeing little reason for brevity, he decided to forego wrenching open the Vortex of Souls and rappelling down it. Instead, he manifested in Galbar’s sky as a streak of red that gradually grew larger and brighter as it fell from the heavens and approached the source of Kalmar’s presence.

The descent toward Kalgrun brought him over mountain and plains and forest, and even from afar, Katharsos could sense the presence of life. He took some satisfaction in seeing how far it had spread. Though none of those creatures were of his making, the soul ash that had enabled their existence had been a product of Katharsos’ grim work. It was good to find some vicarious joy in seeing the works of the other gods; it helped to push aside any lingering doubts as to whether his path had been right.

Kalmar waited. He saw the streak of red approaching, and detected the aura of a god. Who else could that be if not Katharsos? He returned his knife to his belt, and kept his hands open at his sides, as he waited for the God of Death to arrive.

Eventually Katharsos grew so close that it became apparent to those below that he was not some mundane meteorite. A massive streak of fire raced down to the surface of the world below, arresting its motion only a short ways above the ground, and then the great thread of fire quickly wove itself into a burning visage.

Kalmar greeted the figure with a wary nod. ”Katharsos,” was all he said.

”You are Kalmar,” the fellow god acknowledged. ”It is good to meet you in person, but I sense some purpose in your words and suspect that this is not meant to be a conversation of pleasantries.”

Based on Asceal’s description, that was perhaps one of the last things Kalmar had been expecting to hear. However, he did not let his surprise show, and decided to get straight to the point. ”I heard you were murdering souls,” he said.

For his part Katharsos did not hide his surprise, and the long flames of his face bent as he recoiled from the accusation. ”Conversation is warranted, then. I shall commit myself to civil speech and answer any of your questions, if you will only agree to the same.”

Kalmar nodded. ”That is why I called you here. I do not want a fight. Now… is it true?”

Vakk and Melantha had both been straightforward and brash to a point that approached rudeness, but Kalmar’s fast speech and blatant mannerisms surpassed even theirs. It took Katharsos somewhat aback, for he intended to begin by demanding the source of those claims, but Kalmar had already asked his question.

”I do not think so,” was the answer that he came up with after several moments of thought. He spoke deliberately, weighing each word, and slowly. So slowly, compared to Kalmar. ”I have done things that I would not have liked, but all of my actions are necessary, and therefore just. I suspected that some might have objected to the manner in which I recycled those primordial souls that entered the world alongside us and yet were not granted divinity, but murder is a poor choice of word. No, they were in miserable condition, agonized and half-mad. I took it upon myself to grant them mercy, and in doing so enabled new life to form.”

A fiery eye darted to a nearby tree, as well as to some of the animals cowering in it. Katharsos exuded a gentle warmth, but the brilliance of his form was enough to kindle any animal’s instinctive fear of fire. Still, he noticed a small squirrel and inspected it from afar, momentarily distracted by the tiny thing. “I am pleased to see you make use of the fruits of my efforts.”

Now it was Kalmar’s turn to be taken aback. As he had noted with Melantha, these were not the words of someone who was mad. Asceal had misled him twice, it seemed, and once again he had to wonder if it was intentional. But now was not the time to voice this - questions still remained. ”And how do you recycle these souls?” Kalmar asked, his tone betraying neither approval nor disapproval.

”There, far above us, I found a Sphere that called to me. It was an empty shell, an utterly bleak and miserable place, but it called to me and so I claimed it and have put it to good purpose. Many of those distant lights in the sky are great pyres of my making; they burn the souls of the dead to create ash, among other byproducts. Over time, this soul ash has permeated the Spheres. Do you feel it?” With some concentration, Katharsos used his mind and divine power to manipulate his surroundings to grasp some of the ash that floated through the forest around them, trying to make the stuff defy its invisible and incorporeal nature.

With only the force of his mind, he squeezed the mote of ash tightly, too tightly, and under his compressive weight it collapsed into a true soul. That had not quite been his intent, and some semblance of a frown appeared on the god’s face. Still, even as he looked at the newly formed soul as it greedily pulled in more soul ash from its surroundings and began to grow, he spoke to Kalmar, ”If you had not noticed, it is the source of the new souls that have arisen inside all of the lifeforms around us.”

At once, Kalmar understood. He was aware of his soul ash, and in his experience he had also noticed that souls tended to decay over time. He had not known where soul ash came from, but he had assumed it was produced by some god’s sphere. And he had also assumed that the departed souls simply decayed into nothingness. But he was wrong - on both counts. ”I see…” he said, after some thought, but two questions remained. ”The souls that burn… do they suffer? And does any of their essence go to waste?”

”I have created a great storm that churns unseen around us, wrenching free the stray souls of the dead and carrying them to my Sphere in the currents. The dead find that confusing, disorientating, distressing...it seems altogether unpleasant, though I see little to be done about it. It is unacceptable to let them wander freely and to make the living suffer those dead that would greedily stay past their time and inflict themselves upon the world. Upon entering the pyres, there is pain. A soul has many components, and to fully recycle one back to ash, I must separate them all. Breaking down the link between a soul and its memories has proven to be the most challenging aspect,” Katharsos spoke on and on, looking at the soul of his accidental make and trying to subdue and restrain it whilst he decided what to do.

Without looking away from it and back to Kalmar, he went on, “They relive their lives in a sort of cathartic way as the flames wrest their memories away, one by one. You might compare it to a state of paralysis that they exist in as they gradually lose consciousness and identity and eventually even sapience. For those that struggle, I will not lie and deny that there is pain. Rest assured that I take little joy in the process and do try to at least watch the passing of as many as I can. It...it…”

The soul stopped writhing, and so Katharsos finally was able to cease wrestling it and loosen his magical grip on the thing. But still he seemed at a loss for words.

”It...helps to ease my mind. And there is much to be learned from the memories of the dead. I believe that those who live fulfilling or interesting lives are worthy of respect, so I do endeavor to watch the passing of as many of them as possible. But there are so many souls, and I am only one. I cannot possibly see them all, though I do try.”

”You could try to find a way to make it less painful, or find a way to store their memories…” Kalmar mused thoughtfully, ”...but if your words are true, I see no other issue with your process. It seems I was misled… I’m sorry.”

The orange fires of Katharsos’ body pulsed golden for an instant. That was about the closest that he came to beaming. ”I will think upon what you have said. I gladly accept the apology, even though it seems unwarranted if you were indeed misled. And that brings me to what I had been meaning to ask--who was it that spoke to you of this? Only three have entered my Sphere, and each came asking for a favor.” He began to look more troubled. ”I had my doubts in each case, but ultimately acquiesced and granted each that which they’d asked of me. I had thought that all three parted with me as friends!”

”It was Asceal,” Kalmar told him. ”She did not tell me much, just that you were murdering souls, and she thought you mad. I don’t know if she misjudged you or if she deliberately misled me, though I suspect she might try to interfere with your process either way. I will talk to her, but I have other things to do first, and she might not listen.”

”Asceal? I have never spoken with her, nor even stopped to see her or her works. I did suspect that some might find disagreement with my methods and my actions, or perhaps question me in other ways, but I trust that all such contention is rooted in ignorance and that I will be able to enlighten her someday. I can only imagine that it is not all too pressing for her, as she’s yet to visit my Sphere or so much as tell me anything of an objection.”

”Not all of our kind are as quick to resort to words,” Kalmar pointed out. ”Orvus tried to kill Phystene. Shengshi threatened to kill my avatar over a disagreement, and I threatened him in return. Vakk attacked Li’Kalla, and somehow turned her into a monster. And something erased Melantha’s memories, but I don’t know what. Asceal already told me she doesn’t see any point in talking with you.”

Listening carefully, Katharsos initially seemed to hold onto that almost smug, albeit unintentional, dismissiveness that he’d shown a moment earlier, but it cracked over mention of Vakk and Melantha. ”The immature, the vain, and those not used to power will make idle threats and perhaps even scuffle if they grow sour enough toward one another; I expected that much, and will merely try to remain detached. If they come to me, I will do what I can to teach them the error of their ways. But as in for Vakk? A god such as he should know better. Surely you are misinformed, or somehow there is more to the situation. When next I see Vakk, I will ask him of the matter.”

Then Katharsos rested in silent thought. After a long pause, with some trepidation in mind but not in voice of body, he finally spoke of Melantha, [/color=goldenrod]“And as for Melantha, I believe that...that state of hers is of her own doing. She came to me seeking to understand the mechanism of my pyres, you see. But she seemingly cared for little besides the process of separating memory from soul, and asked that I show her how to perform such feats. And then I helped her to practice, and she returned to amicably to her own realm. I suppose she must have went on to erase all of her own memories, then.”[/color]

He became so troubled that the bodiless soul in his grasp nearly escaped, but the god of death was not easily defied. When he willed a soul to come or go, his grip was unyielding and his will near unbreakable. So it was that the spirit did not go far before being returned to his side.

”Erasing one’s own memories would be no small feat; I do not think that she would have managed to do it nearly so easily were it not for my assistance. Perhaps I was wrong to give her the tutelage that she sought. But then, who am I to judge what she chose to become?”

Kalmar was genuinely shocked. He had assumed that the erasing of Melantha’s memories was the work of some other god. But to find out that it was her own doing? ”She.. she erased her own memories?” he asked, the surprise and confusion evident in his voice. ”Why?”

Katharsos had no words.

”To erase her own memories… she should use her experiences to make herself stronger, she shouldn’t hide from them…” Kalmar sighed in disappointment. ”But she is a different person now, and she promised to be better…” his voice trailed off. ”I will need to tell her. As for Vakk… be careful - if the story about him breaking Li’Kalla’s mind is true, he can do the same to you, though you might be made of sterner stuff. Either way, my avatar is searching for the truth as we speak.”

”You will do as you think best.” It was in that moment that Katharsos realized that he had been too detached. Too much had transpired; he needed to stay on Galbar for some time and investigate much of what Kalmar had told him. While he was there, he could also explore the creation of the other gods. ”I do not fear Vakk, but will be more wary of his intentions for what you’ve told me. If this avatar of yours finds something of value, I hope that you will inform me.”

Kalmar nodded. ”I will. Let me know if Asceal tries to move against you. Death is both a hunter’s ally and a hunter’s enemy, but it is a vital part of existence nonetheless.”





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Hermes -- Xiaoli

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The Learner, The Martial Dancer





The bedroom was dark as usual, but the atmosphere was far from somber. The dull light of the Garden shone through the paper window and streaked across the bed in a fuzzy circle, but by the wardrobe stood what could in many ways be described as a second source of light, just from all the happiness radiation.

Xiaoli could barely stop herself from shaking with joy. Finally, o, finally - it was her turn to dream! So excited was she that she put on her night shirt the wrong way and turned to Hermes with a broad grin.

“HERMES!” she all but shouted. “Can you believe it?! Aren’t you excited?! We get to see the Palace - together!” The river girl skipped around in circles with bubbly giggles and squeals.

Hermes was splayed on her back, her eyes watching Xiaoli with a certain amusement and a soft smile, “Don’t work yourself up too much or you’ll never get to sleep.”

“I know, I know! It’s just--” She took a deep breath through the nose and let out a quiet squeal as she pressed her arms against her chest and hopped up and down a few times. “I have to get it out! I have been waiting for this since the day you first told me about your dreams. I want it to be…” She slowly pushed her palms down and outwards while breathing out. “Perfect.” Then she promptly hopped onto the bed.

“Well,” Hermes scooted over and closed her eyes, “I don’t want to get your hopes up but -- a dream can show you happiness in its purest form.” She smudged her face between a pillow and Xiaoli’s hair, “But you already got that, yeah?” Her voice muffled.

“Yeah, that’s the soul of my excitement - oh, I cannot wait to see what the Palace is like. Will it be prettier than Jiangzhou?” She shuffled a little closer to Hermes, taking her rightful place as the little spoon.

“Mm, I don’t think it’s wise to answer that,” Hermes’ ended her sentence with a slight yawn and a ‘ppbt’.
Xiaoli giggled knowingly and turned her head on the side. “Yeah, better not.” She gave Hermes a grin, adjusted her posture just enough to face her and planted a peck on her forehead. “Will you be waiting for me there, my love?”

Hermes opened her eyes and gave Xiaoli a swift kiss on the tip of her nose, “I will be.” She closed her eyes and buried her face, “Now, let’s sleep. The twins --” She yawned, “Drain… ing…” There was a hot burst of air as Hermes gave a sleep sigh, inching closer to sleep.

Xiaoli smiled warmly at the woman. She reached down and gently caressed her protruding stomach. “Yeah… I imagine they are,” she whispered softly to herself. Then, eventually, Xiaoli closed her eyes and let out a quiet gurgle.




It all swirled together. Greys and blues mixed. The void speckled with colourless whites, and a freezing warmth washed over Xiaoli. It took a matter of seconds, but each tick of the clock felt like an lifetime, until finally Xiaoli’s vision focused. Golds and whites bobbed to and fro, forming the dresses of the countless dresses in the gilded ballroom. The gurgle of melodies sharpened, and her ears were disarmed with the pleasant symphonies of the string.

She stood in the middle of the ever flowing flood of dancers. Under her was a gleaming marble tile, and before her, through the pairs of dark dressed gentlemen and their sharp partners was a dias. Up the steps of this center-room dias was a massive piano, a throne beside it. At its keys the Lord of Dreams himself played, letting loose echoing notes that tugged on Xiaoli’s heart for reasons she wasn’t totally aware of. A swell of warmth spilled from her chest and curled in her throat. A cough formed, and happy tears wet her eyes, blurring her vision once more.

A gentle hand came to her face and wiped her eyes clear. Her vision sharpened once more, peering directly into the smile of Hermes, her body dressed in the flowing cream-coloured dress of a dancer. Over Hermes’ shoulder Arya could be seen among the other dancers, in the very same dress she had worn at the estate, if not a little brighter and a touch more otherworldly. The rhythm of the dance controlled her very being as she weaved through the crowd, her dress like a thousand shooting stars.

Xiaoli gulped and looked down at her own gown, its sky blue cotton fabrics extending a little outwards over her hips, with frills around the edges. Her arms were bare, the dress stopping at the frilly shoulder straps, and her hands wore white cotton gloves. She tapped her feet against the tiles, hearing the unfamiliar slap of hide against stone. She discreetly stuck her foot out from underneath her dress and blinked at the black leather shoes. She took a few steps and felt her legs buckle ever so slightly.

“Th-this is somewhat unusual,” she mumbled as she approached Hermes with the steadiness of a toddler.

Hermes snaked a hand around her waist, a chuckle on her smile, “Do you want to try a different outfit?”

Xiaoli gave her a look of resolve. “N-no, this is fine! I’ll mana-WOAH!-manage.” She shuffled carefully closer to K’nell and knelt forward to kowtow. However, she realised that her dress was quite a lot roomier than usual, and the skirt did not fold properly under her knees. As she leaned forward with her torso, the skirt sprawled in all directions, making her look a little like a wilted blue flower.

“Your Holiness K’nell - it is an honour to be allowed into Your palace. This servant has waited a long time for this.” Her firm, determined voice contrasted the overall silliness of her clothes combating her culture.

“A pleasure to have you, my dear,” K'nell's voice swirled by her ear yet he continued to play, “I do hope you find your time enjoyable.”

A warm hand pressed lightly on Xiaoli's back and Hermes scooched down, hanging her voice below the sound of the music, “Xiaoli?”

Xiaoli shot a sideways look upwards. “Hermes, what have we discussed about interrupting my kowtow?”

“I know,” Hermes nodded, “But let K'nell play his music, he will address us when he is done.”

“It's quite alright,” K'nell stood up, his piano still playing. He took one step down from the top step of the dias and flashed a cheshire smile, “This is Xiaoli's first dream, what kind of host would I be to neglect her so immediately.”

“O-oh,” Xiaoli eventually whimpered. Her forehead once again fell to the floor. “This servant apologises profusely for its insolence in interrupting Your Holiness’ musical performance!”

“It's of no issue,” K'nell waved a hand, “Come, stand and enjoy the ball, I implore you.”

Upon hearing the imploration, Xiaoli rocketed to her feet. “O-of course, Your Holiness. Th-thank You.” She then bowed and walked backwards for a bit until she had reached the centre of the floor. She straightened herself up, cleared her throat and blinked.

“H-Hermes? Arya? Wh-what do I do now?”

Hermes snagged Xiaoli's hands and pulled her close. A smile formed on her lips, “You dance, have fun and relax. The night is ours.”

”Lady Xiaoli!” Came Arya’s voice, distant at first but gaining until the girl was dancing around them. ”Oh you look amazing, Lady Xiaoli. You too Hermes! I’ve never been in a dream with others before, this is so much fun!” she said, twirling with laughter before settling her eyes back on the pair, ”Well? What are you waiting for! Go on and dance!”

Hermes cocked a curious brow at Xiaoli, as if waiting for the stunned river-girls response. Xiaoli blinked, the memories of the many nights on the beaches alongside her love slowly returning to her mind. She placed a sheepish palm on Hermes’ shoulder and laced her other with Hermes’ hand.

“C-could you lead?” she asked with an embarrassed smile.

“Of course,” Hermes leaned in, pressing against her partner as they slowly melded with the melody of the piano and string. Their dance was slow at first but slowly sped up, until the momentum carried Xiaoli in many colorful swirls. Xiaoli struggled a little to keep up, her leather-soled shoes slapping against the tiles in disharmony with the rhythm. Little by little, however, she was entranced by the music, her partner’s movements and Arya spinning in orbit around them.

“Hey,” Hermes suddenly whispered in Xiaoli's ear. The pair spun through a gap between two other dancers.

Xiaoli broke out of her trance and blinked. “Y-yes?” she said faintly.

“Want to see something amazing?” Hermes looked over Xiaoli's face with an adventurous grin.

Through a snort and a giggle, Xiaoli managed to squeeze through an “okay” and gave her a wink. Hermes’ grip tightened on her hand and the woman quickly danced Xiaoli over to the large door that stood sentry over the ball room. Its massive stature was lined with intricate carvings that reflected the lights of the ballroom. A tiny wisp of a weaver floated by the two and Hermes smiled.

“Door, please.”

The great door cracked open, just enough for the Dreamer to slip through, tucking her dress close. She turned to Xiaoli and held her hand through the opening, “Come on.” The river girl hesitated a little and looked over her shoulder for a moment. She quickly turned back, though, took her hand and skipped through the door.

Xiaoli nearly bumped into the smiling Hermes as she slipped through. The two stood in an unending hallway, studded with doors and strange art. Xiaoli could hardly describe it, but wherever she wasn't looking, things seemed to disappear, making her peripherals a tad fuzzy. She felt Hermes squeeze her hand and then there was another tug followed by an energetic laugh from the Dreamer.

One of the doors opened wide and Hermes pulled Xiaoli through. Inside there was a spiral staircase cut out of a single blue stone. Its stretched further up than even the avatar could see. Circular brick encased the stairwell and Hermes’ eyes sparkled.

“It's just up there,” She informed, tugging Xiaoli's hand again.

“A-alright, alright!” Xiaoli said through her laughter. “Be careful with the twins, though--” As they began to run up the stairs, she let out a hum. “Can they be affected by anything in the dream, actually?”

“No,” Hermes looked back at Xiaoli with a wink, “Dreams are safe.” Despite the size of the staircase, somehow the next few steps brought the pair to another large door. A weaver popped out of its keyhole.

“I want to show Xiaoli the observatory,” Hermes squeezed the river girls hand. The weaver zipped back into the lock and there was a loud clang, the door swinging open.

Inside a vast black onyx floor stretched. Great twisting pillars rose from all sides, coming together directly above in a dome, housing webs of crystal clear glass between them, and revealing a sight that stole Xiaoli's breath.

Above was a great void that would have sucked her vision clear if not for the great alien bodies that swirled in it. Distant orbs of unimaginable scale floated, their bodies wrapped in clouds and colours. Beside them sparkled marks of even further bodies that decorated the black canvas. A great shimmering veil seemed to snake and weave between each of them, creating various sections of sky that rivaled the celestial map of Galbar itself.

Xiaoli stood slack-jawed at the sight, her legs seemingly forgetting their main purpose as she took a few buckling steps forward. The blinking lights twinkled against her skin of sand and struck her watery eyes with a streaking shine not quite unlike the reflection of the Lustrous Garden upon the water holes of the tree-eater plains. She turned to Hermes, her dilated pupils nearly filling her whole irises.

“H-Hermes, I… This is…” She looked back up at the skydome, struggling to produce adjectives worthy of painting the sight.

“I know,” Hermes smiled and looked up, “it's almost as beautiful as you.”

Xiaoli turned to Hermes in a flash of motion, her face a dumbstruck, silent ‘oh’. She then let out a snorting giggle and hid her blushing face behind her non-existent sleeves. She then inclined her head forward a little and gave Hermes a flirtatious look, her eyes staring upwards through her brow and the right edge of her lower lip trapped by a gentle bite. She took a few exaggerated slow steps towards the Dreamer, placing a soft, gloved hand on her cheek once close enough.

“... And as opposed to this skydome, I am -all- yours.” She then leaned in and pressed her silky lips against hers. The moment having seized Hermes’ mind as well, she didn’t even blink, but instead closed her eyes slowly and pushed gently back. Xiaoli’s undressed arms snaked their way behind Hermes’ back, tickling her with their grainy texture. As their breaths grew ragged and their faces hot, their grips around one another grew near desperate to the point that the presence of the bump between became very apparent to them both. Xiaoli blinked and looked down with a quiet snicker.

“... Oh, what are we doing, acting like this in front of the twins?” she mused and leaned down a bit, placing her hand on Hermes protruding belly.

Hermes placed her chin a top Xiaoli’s shoulder and gave a mirthful sigh, “I don’t think they mind; they can’t see.” Xiaoli giggled again.

“Maybe not… But I think they might feel it when our hearts beat like this,” she said with a sweet hum. She cupped Hermes’ chin in her hand and pulled her in for one final peck.

“I hope Arya’s not feeling left out,” she then said.

Hermes nodded, “I know, me too -- but.” She let her hands fall into Xiaoli’s, “It’s nice sometimes, when it’s just us... like before everything got busy.”

Xiaoli squeezed Hermes’ hands affectionately. “I think so, too, dear… We won’t have long left now with just the two of us. Arya is, well, free to come and go if she should wish, but the twins will always be there.” She looked down at her belly again. “It’s funny, almost. When you were blessed with fertility and I with compatibility, I could not wait to have children - now in hindsight, maybe we could have spent more time as just the two of us…”

There was a pause. “Oh, listen to me ramble,” Xiaoli eventually mumbled as she played with a lock of Hermes’ messy hair.

“I don’t regret it,” Hermes fell into a wide, plush cherry-wood chair that neither of them had noticed before, “But I think you’re right.” She fiddled with a knot in her hair, “Then again, even if we waited, it feels like the world wouldn’t have given us the time, anyways. We even had a God come after me.” She patted the cushion beside her and Xiaoli plopped down into it. She adjusted herself to the odd sensation of a soft chair and eventually laid her head on Hermes’ shoulder and closed her eyes. She sighed softly.

“If you don’t regret it, then I’m happy,” she whispered. “... I just… Hope we can keep having moments like these when nobody else looks.” She laced her fingers with those of Hermes’ nearest hand.

Hermes folded her fingers around Xiaoli’s and let her cheek lean against Xiaoli’s head, “I think we will… You would have told me if this was all too much for you, right?” Hermes suddenly asked.

Xiaoli’s hair rubbed back and forth against Hermes’ cheek, indicating a nod. “Of course, I would, dear, though I don’t think there’s any need to worry when it comes to that. You’re pretty easy to handle.” She looked up with a smug, playful smirk. “I’m more concerned that I’m too much sometimes.”

Hermes looked at Xiaoli and softly shook her head, “No, I don’t think so. We’ve both had our moments, but I wouldn’t go so far to say that you are too much. I think you are just right… I couldn’t have asked for a better partner in life, you know.”

“Oh, Hermes…” Xiaoli said with quivering lips. She took a deep breath, then another. “We-...” She paused for a third. “We should get married.”

“Married?” Hermes furrowed her brow. Xiaoli blinked, sat up straight and stared at her with raised eyebrows.

“You-... Don’t know what marriage is?” she asked slowly.

Hermes frowned and shook her head, “I never heard of it.”

Xiaoli blinked again, cleared her throat and shuffled her feet a little. “W-well, marriage is… When two people love each other very much, and decide they want to live a life together, they make sort of a-... A sacred vow, if you will: one to bind them together in the sight of gods and mortals. His Lordship intends it to be a rather important part of mortal life, once, well, mortal life comes along.” She prodded her index fingers together. “I’m just thinking, you know, since we want to stay with each other for life, we may as well swear it in the face of the Exalted Creators.”

“I-” Hermes bit her finger, “I want to… but I have one question.”

Xiaoli looked a little anxious for a moment, but nodded. “Yeah, go on.”

“Well,” Hermes sighed, “You know how Vakk tried to kill me, and all this other stuff. I guess I’m a little worried of bringing too much attention back to our home. I love you so much and yes I want to get married, but I’m a little worried -- or anxious… I guess, about these things. I guess that wasn’t really a question.”

“O-oh, that’s what you wanted to say. Oh, phew.” Xiaoli grinned. “For a moment, I was afraid it was going to be-.. Okay, it’s not that important. Either way, what’s great about a Shengshese wedding is that one can choose what gods to tell of the ceremony - well, as long as one at least includes His Lordship, as it is a Shengshese wedding - so we could keep it a secret from everyone except His Lordship and His Holiness K’nell!”

The Dreamer seemed to relax at this and sunk back into the chair, “Oh good. I’m not going to lie, ever since… well the incident, I’ve been a little anxious. It’s good to know I have control over something for once.” She leaned against Xiaoli, and gave a happy sigh, “Let’s get married.”
Xiaoli beamed into the air and leaned her cheek against Hermes’ hair. “Yeah.”




“Arya,” K’nell’s voice swirled as the last song ended, the ballroom starting to clear. The dancing had been long and vastly energetic, but now only the lingering vibrations of the string filled the halls, the piano vaporizing into nothingness, and leaving the throne dias free.

Arya had danced and danced to her hearts delight, having lost herself in the rhythm long, long ago. It had just seemed like a moment ago Hermes and Xiaoli had scampered off, Arya smiling as they disappeared, and then groaning at the thought of what they were doing. This didn’t deter her however, and she let them be, doing whatever lovers do.

Now when K’nell called out her name, Arya found herself practically alone on the dance floor and twirled to a stop, looking up to the gentleman.

”Yes K’nell?” she asked out of breath.

“Have you enjoyed yourself, my dear?” The God slowly sat in his throne, a chair appearing near Arya.

”Yes! Though I wished I could have danced with Lady Xiaoli and Hermes.” she said sadly, sitting down in the chair and crossing her legs, chin resting on the palm of her hand as she looked up at K’nell again.

“You’ll get your chance,” K’nell waved a hand, “I can only imagine how much those two needed a little… rendezvous away from it all.” He smiled and shook his head, “Ah, but I do have a question for you, my dear. It had occurred to me that I should give you yet another choice.”

”Oh don’t get me wrong, though I am sad, I am also happy for them. But another choice? What might that be?” she asked curiously.

“Would you like me to contact your father on your behalf, and let him know that you are safe?” K’nell folded his hands, “I need not tell him where you are, or anything of the matter. I could even do it anonymously, as easy as breathing. I figured it was a choice worth knowing that you have.”

Arya blinked, then shifted in the chair, looking away from K’nell to the floor. That was certainly a choice to make. She didn’t know if it was even a good idea. Would her father even care? A part of her strongly wanted to tell K’nell no, but the god had told her not to give up on her father. Perhaps, she shouldn’t be too hasty.

Arya looked back up at K’nell and said in a soft voice, ”Okay, do it.”

K’nell blinked, “You know, dear,” He started, “it wouldn’t be beyond reason to want to take some more time to think about this, but if you are absolutely sure -- a simple please and I’ll make it happen.”

”I know, i know.” she sighed, ”I’m sorry K’nell, that came out… quickly. If you would please contact my father, I would be thankful. After all, someone once told me that, I shouldn’t give up so easily. Even for the smallest of chances.” she said with a playful wink.

“Very well,” K’nell smiled his unending smile, “Then perhaps you would like to wake up, good news radiates in the land of the awake.”

”I’d like that.” Arya mused.

There was a snap, and the world awaited.








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Tal

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Ya-Shuur sat still underneath the tree. Far away the water was beating against the shore and the cliffs and the world seemed darker than before to Ya-Shuur and the rain was beating down like it always did on Li'Kalla's island. The world didn't feel dark because it was actually darker but because all the death and injustices he had been feeling recently. Even though he wanted to go and see what was going on the pain was incapacitating him. Behr-Aat came and sat next to him and looked out at the forest around them. She whined and licked his face which had moss on it. Ivy was growing all on him. He had not moved from his spot for a very long time and was just staring out like a statue. Some birds had made a nest between his horns.

He knew that he was in pain and he knew that this pain was caused by things outside his knowledge. He realized as well that these were things outside his control. All he could control was on this island and even on this island he could not control everything. He could not control the weather and make it stop raining all the time. He could not control the ivy that grew on him or the moss or the birds. All he could truly control was himself and his soul. That was the only thing in all the world he had real control over. He did not have control over all those people and gods who were killing each other and doing injustice so what was the point in worrying about them and being in pain? He would solve all the things in his control and power to solve and those things that were out of his control he would not worry or feel guilty about.

On his island there was felicity. So Ya-Shuur was at peace.


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Karamir





How strange.

Karamir stood before the recently emptied river, watching the fish writhe and flop about, still alive. How had this happened? Had one of the gods struck Kalgrun? Kalmar had told him that Shengshi was the God of the Rivers, and that the two of them had a feud, but that feud was resolved. Had the feud reawakened? Was this Shengshi's doing? Even if it wasn't, was the god who did this still in the area? If they were here to cause senseless destruction, then Karamir knew he might be in danger.

But there was one thing Karamir could not overlook, which was that the river's state presented an opportunity. The fish had nowhere to move and were dying anyway. It would be a simple enough matter to collect some, and receive a free meal.

So, he did.

He slid down the muddy slope, and it briefly occurred to him that there was no longer a river to wash himself in. No matter - he wasn't that far from the sea. He approached one of the larger fish and nearly slipped on the muddy bank, but thrust the butt of his spear into the riverbed to steady himself. It went surprisingly deep, and it was harder than expected to pull back out.

Once it was out, and Karamir was steady on his feet, he approached one of the larger fish and stabbed his spear into it. He picked up another with his hand, and then a third. He was about to retrieve a fourth when he heard a distant rumbling.

Karamir’s eyes widened. With panic in his eyes, he dropped the fish and scrambled toward the slope. He threw his spear up onto the bank, and with both hands he began to climb, trying to find holds in the mud and dirt. He glanced in the direction of the sound and saw a torrent of water surging toward him. With desperation, he hastened his climb.

Somehow he made it. Karamir hauled himself up onto the bank, the rushing water missing him by mere inches. He lay on the ground, panting, more from fear than adrenaline than exhaustion.

He lay there for some time, catching his breath, and he began to laugh himself. The laughter stopped when steps could be heard. He glanced toward the forest, and spotted a direwolf stalking toward him, no doubt seeking to exploit his weary state.

Karamir’s hand lunged for the spear, and with the sudden motion the wolf rushed forward. Karamir’s hand close around the shaft, and he stood, swinging the spear around to maneuver the tip into the direwolf’s path.

The direwolf attempted to change course but it was too late, and the spear struck the creature head-on. Karamir would have smiled, but instead he overbalanced as the creature’s momentum sent him, the spear, and the wolf, into the river.

The current, made stronger by the fact that the river was still being refilled, overtook him and pulled him downstream. He had no choice but to release his grip on the spear, and then he began to flail and struggle.

His head broke the surface and he sucked in a breath. It was a struggle just to keep his head above water but somehow, for the most part, he managed. It didn’t change the fact that the water was dragging him to who knew where.

On and on he fought, but resisting the river seemed to be an unending struggle he could not win. His arms began to tire. The few breaths he managed to take were short, desperate, and ragged. His vision began to blur, darken, and fade.

Just before he passed out, he noted that the water had begun to taste salty.




Karamir awoke, coughing and sputtering. He was extremely uncomfortable, his back laying on a strange beam and a fabric webbing curling in such a way to cause his spine to kink exactly where it is most discomforting. He laid this way in a large umbrella, the shaft pointed up to the midday sky. Across from him sat a woman, her were legs hidden in the puff of a conservative black dress and sickly pink eyes with witching pupils watched him. As the seawater dribbled out, a sharp toothed grin formed on her face.

Eventually the coughing began to die down. Karamir sat up, rubbing his spine with grit teeth. He glanced down at the umbrella --which bobbed at the movement-- then at the woman, his expression one of puzzlement. ”Who are you?” he asked between breaths.

“My name is Diana,” She grinned, “Would you like a drink?” She held up a small black cup.

Karamir looked around, and noted that, aside from the sea which Kalmar told him was undrinkable, there was no other liquid in sight. He eyed the cup warily. ”What is it?” he asked.

“Water,” She gave a polite nod.

”From where?” he questioned.

She rolled her eyes and took a slurping sip, “My you have a lot of questions, hm?”

”I see no sources of freshwater on this… boat? And if it’s from the ocean then I can’t drink it,” Karamir informed her.

“Well, have you tried?” She said, her voice echoing from the cup.

”No?” Karamir spoke with confusion. ”Kalmar told me that if there’s salt in it, then it will only make me thirstier.”

She gave a sputtering cackle, what liquid she had yet to swallow spitting back into the cup, “How silly! It's water! Here.” She leaned over to hand him the cup she had been drinking from, “Just try it, and if you don't absolutely love it, I'll get you some of that nasty fresh water you seem so enamored with.”

Karamir frowned. He wasn’t sure who she was, or how she planned to get him fresh water when there was none in sight, but a sip would not kill him. He accepted the cup, took a sip, and tasted the salt. His frown deepened, and he promptly spat it back out over the edge.

Diana clapped her hands with a certain excitement, “Oh my, you absolutely adore it!”

”I don’t,” Karamir stated flatly. He looked away from her, toward the coast of Kalgrun, and rolled his eyes.

“Oh you,” She flicked her hand and snatched the cup from him. She hummed idly and a little stream of fresh water looped from over the hem of the umbrella and into the cup. She gave it a funny sniff and sipped at it, a look of disgust furrowing her brow.

Finally, Karamir looked back at her. ”Which god made you?” he asked, rather directly.

Diana cackled, spilled her drink with a soft ‘whoops.’ After a prolonged bout of laughter she finally cleared her throat and sat up straight, “I am a god, or at least a good piece of one.”

Karamir frowned. ”Kalmar did not speak of you. Which god are you part of?” he asked skeptically.

“Kalmar this, Kalmar that,” She waved her hand back and forth as she spoke, “You spend nine days with the god and you'd think you owe your life to him.”

”No, I don’t owe him anything,” Karamir protested, and then his eyes narrowed in suspicion. ”How did you know that?”

“You told me, in a way,” She winked and sighed as she looked upwards, “Heliopolis is getting rather hot, huh?”

The heat of the sphere radiated off the uncovered black umbrella. Karamir had to agree - it was rather uncomfortable. ”It is… if you’re part of a god, then can’t you do something about it?”

She looked back down and blinked, “Why would I ever do that? Its the perfect level of a dehydrating scorch. I can feel the very air turn to salt on my skin,” she wiped her cheek, a sprinkle of salt falling off, “Splendid!”

”No fresh water… the day is hot… no shade… how am I supposed to survive here?” Karamir asked, his voice laden with annoyance.

“Oh foo,” she waved a dismissing hand, “You'll be fine, just give it a few days. You'll come to love it.”

”I’ll be dead,” Karamir said flatly. Once more he glanced out at the distant coast of Kalgrun. He would not be able to swim that far. He could pray to Kalmar for aid, but… no, he wouldn’t resort to that so quickly. It seemed he was stuck here for the time being. With a sigh, he laid back on the umbrella and turned his head away from the sun.

Hours passed. His thirst grew, but he did not say a word. The sun was low on the horizon, and he felt himself begin to drift off, but he would not let sleep take him. Perhaps that was what she was waiting for, and who knew what would happen to him then? His skin tightened under the radiant heat and he could feel his lips harden. He kept a wary eye on his… savior? Captor? He was not sure how to describe her, but he knew that if this persisted, it would be his death. Maybe I should have tried swimming, he thought to himself.

The smiling Diana suddenly twitched her fingers, and the cup flung from the umbrella bottom and into her hand. She hummed lazily to herself as a spout of water shot from out of eye sight and into the cup. She swirled a finger in it and shivered, “Disgustingly fresh, even.” She scrunched her nose, “and much too chilled.”

Karamir’s head perked up, and he rose into a sitting position. His eyes were locked on the cup, but he made no further sound or movement. Was this a trick?

She took a sip and immediately recoiled, spitting it out with a “pppbttt!” She snarled, “Horrendous.” Her eyes flickered over the dehydrated man, “I don't suppose you want it?”

Wordlessly, Karamir nodded and extended his hand, half-expecting her to revoke the offer.

She grinned and leaned forward, offering the cup. As his fingers touched it, it suddenly cracked and then crumbled. It's treasure splattering across the umbrella fabric. Karamir stared at her with a look that expressed complete and utter murderous hatred, his hand still extended.

Diana cackled and sniffed behind her sleeve, the cup reforming and the very water slurping back into it, “Oh come now.” She jutted her chin towards the fresh drink, “It's all yours.”

Without wasting time, Karamir seized cup and took a tentative sip. The taste was soothing and refreshing, and he detected no trace of salt or other deadly impurities. He quickly began to gulp it down, consuming every last drop, and only pulled it away when it was completely empty. He looked at Diana. ”Thank you,” he croaked grudgingly.

Diana watched with a clearly grossed out yet intrigued look, and as his gratitude came she made a face, “It's no cup of sulfur, but you're welcome I suppose.”

”You never told me… which god are you a piece of?” he asked, looking down at his sunburned skin.

“I'm from the land of nightmares, if that tells you anything,” She mused as she turned to watch the cloudless sky, her eyes directly staring at the sinking Heliopolis.

”Nightmares? What are those?”

“Oh,” A toothy smile formed on her face, “They are wonderful, I'm one even. The more traditional ones only come to the sleeping. They make you appreciate things a little more.”

”They’re dreams?” Karamir asked, and frowned. ”Am I asleep right now?”

“Oh dear,” She turned away bashfully, “I suppose we are, but no -- you are quite awake.”

”So if you’re from a land of dreams, you were made by…” Karamir tried to remember the gods Kalmar had spoke of, ”...K’nell? Why are you here?”

Her face quickly fell into a frown and she looked over, “How rude!” She chastised, “I was not made, I am just a piece.”

”My mistake… but why did you come here? Why are you in the sea?”

“Well why are you?” Diana crossed her arms, The umbrella bobbing unsteady.

”I think you know why,” Karamir answered. If she knew about the time he spent with Kalmar then surely she knew everything else, or at least had the ability to find out?

Diana pursed her lips and nodded, “If you must know, I am on a hiatus.”

”Why?” The familiar one-word question naturally sprang to Karamir’s lips.

“Oh I don't suppose that's much of your business,” She pointed a finger, “Now will you be seeing yourself out or shall I settle the guest quarters?” She stared hard, the only thing in the umbrella being the two figures and the dark sky above.

”If I step off this umbrella I’ll drown,” Karamir pointed out. ”So until we reach land I’ll have to stay.”

“Such a needy creature,” She mumbled, “But miserable.” She nodded to herself and snapped a finger, the umbrella contorting under the hunter into a very uncomfortable looking formation meant for sleep, with bars poking out of the frayed fabric, and sudden itching spots.

Karamir frowned as he felt the sudden urge to scratch his already sunburnt skin. ”Why?” he demanded in exasperation. ”Why did you do that!?”

“Tsk!” She wagged a finger, “You'll see.”

The urge overcame him, and he soon found himself scratching at the cracked and reddened skin. He said nothing, and only glared at her in silence. Kalmar had told him that some gods were cruel, but this?

“Oh goodness me,” She cackled, “Let me help.” She snapped her fingers and with an instant of the crack, Karamir was suddenly washed with a pounding urge to sleep, his mind slipping away and his body crumpling.

Hours passed, his mind struggling against all manners of nightmares. Darkness swirled and he learned desperation, he found anxiety and succumbed to a certain fear. His mind shattered against the rocks of despair and every step forward was a fatal fall backwards. Scenes flashed and he felt his soul sink, a cold grip on his subconscious. His mind jumped and skipped from one to another, and as time slipped by, his only reprieve was a sudden crack in his eyes. His lids slowly opened to the morning rays.

Karamir jolted upward, yet the terror he had just experienced quickly faded in the way of a sudden relief. His sunburn was gone, his energy had been restored and then some. If he wasn’t still on the umbrella, he would have doubted that yesterday’s tribulations had even happened at all. He took a deep breath and stretched his shoulders, feeling an urge to stand or run, yet the disparity between this and his tormented rest kept him down. He had dreamed, but it had never been as horrible as that, nor had his awakenings ever felt as refreshing. ”What did you do?” he asked Diana.

Diana blinked and sat up, sliding a strange orb into a hidden pocket. She smiled wide, “I gave you a nightmare.”

Karamir, at the end of the day, had a strong survival instinct. He found himself analyzing both the drawbacks and the advantages of what he had just experienced. It had been horrible, even painful, yes… but the payoff… the payoff had been worth it. His training sessions with Kalmar had been painful, and while they had sharpened his skills, each one had only left him feeling more drained and tired. But this nightmare she had given him? There had been pain followed by refreshment. It felt… it felt worth it, almost. ”Thank you?” he ventured hesitantly.

“There are better ones,’” She gave him a weak look, “Ones that follow you awake, pull you ragged through an entire day, even. You'll have to excuse my hastiness.” She wrenched her wrist, “It's been a long time.”

”A long time since what?”

“Since I made a dream, of course,” Diana sneered. Her eyes glistened, “I once broke the God of virtue against the stones of his own mind. Oh it was glorious, and I -- K'nell knew just what to do. It was seamless, pulling him from the darkest depths of misery and slamming him into paradise. Such a jump, it was a masterpiece. Ever see a broken God lap at happiness?” She didn't let Karamir answer, “It was frightening,” She shivered.

Karamir did not know how to respond. He knew little to nothing about Aelius, but he could not imagine Kalmar afraid, or desperate. He had briefly spoken to Phystene, and although Kalmar once told a story in which she had called for aid, Karamir could not imagine her in such a state either. ”I… I can’t imagine what that would look like,” he finally admitted, his voice soft. ”But if true… the gods are vulnerable after all…”

“Not as vulnerable as you,” She cackled, “Compared to you, they are unbreakable. My, how tiny you are.” She prodded him in the rib, “Do you want some more water?”

Karamir only nodded and she handed him the cup. Without thinking, he brought it to his lips and began to drink, but then his eyes widened and he spat a stream of it over the edge.

Salt.





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Lmpkio Kaiju Expert

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A terrible cacophony of noise was fast approaching the towering Qiangshan Mountain range. After what had seemed like forever flying over the great Sandravii Desert, Sartr’s dragon forces were finally closing in on their destination. Their malevolent leader - the gigantic hydra Slaevatein - led the charge as their songs of mayhem stemmed ever closer to their prey.

The only thing standing in their way? A massive wooden ship that belonged to none other then the owner of their residence - the River god Shengshi. The hydra was aware of his divine presence on board, their noses having quickly sensed the intoxicating smell of stream water and mead stemming off the god’s ride. Yet they also sensed another god onboard - a sweet-smelling goddess with a radiant persona that could only belong to Asceal.

It would definitely be an intimidating first run for any army to sink their teeth into, but the massive Slaevatein feared nothing. All it could feel was rage and a ravenous hunger to satiate. With their prey straight ahead, the Hydra ripped loose a melody of ear-splitting screeches as they proceeded to engage the ship. The smaller dragons began to split off, some having already formed large squadrons, as they proceeded to attack different portions of the ship. If they could overwhelm them by surrounding it, then surely they would be victorious. The hydra meanwhile was flanked by the larger dragons, before they finally opened fire on the vessel. All seven heads unleashed a volley of powerful beams of fire, each blasting upon various portions of the wooden deck - some hitting the hull, or the deck, with some even hitting the on-board masts holding up the ship’s massive sails.

The battle had just begun. All around the deck, screaming servants ran for cover behind the sacred gates. Some made it; others were boiled to nothingness before the fury of the dragonfire. Some brave martyrs of the Strong cast themselves over the jaws of huffing dragons aiming for their brothers and sisters, selflessly offering their lives just to buy their family some time. The barricades around the main gates, mortal as they were without having been blessed by the sacred oils of Jiangzhou, soon found themselves to be little more than ash.

While the ship was impervious to the dragon’s every attack, Jiangzhou was unfortunately faulty in one aspect: Every room in the palace had open windows. So even as the servants sprinted to close every set of wooden blinds and cover every window with blessed boards, the cunning beasts merely turned the rooms into ovens. That which was inside the rooms, deemed too mundane to be blessed, was reduced to cinders. Now, trapped within the depths of the hull, the servants hunkered together as the fires raged above.

“The nerve…” came a vicious rumble from the top floor of the central tower. The snake slithered out onto his veranda, his paper door-walled chambres aflame. The fire licked menacingly, yet harmlessly against the crimson scales of Shengshi, and his beastly, reptilian eyes mirrored those of his assailants. “A grave insult to attack my home, you mindless beasts - and a fatal mistake to burn my house.” He slowly extended his arms forward. “I will fashion your bones into cutlery to replace that which your fire has melted…” One long, elastic strand of water for each hand whipped up from the lake below and slapped against his open palms. “... I will sew your hides to replace all the textiles you have incinerated…” He flexed his left arm and did a practice whip with his right, its crack akin to a momentary thundering flood. “... I will turn your skulls into chambre pots for all my guests to use for eternity…” He began to spin the whips around into murderous buzz saws of water and fury. “... In short…” Two dragons saw their openings from the hind flank and dove.

“... I will slaughter you all.”

In what felt like a flash, the two dragons became a mist of crimson and unevenly cut meat strands. The other dragons unfortunate enough to be in the immediate vicinity of the middle tower suffered similar fates - the lucky ones suffered minor cuts and climbed for safety or major lacerations and dove for cover. Not even the holy wood of the sacred tower was safe from the meat grinder that was Shengshi’s whips, the water’s blades cutting deep into some planks and walls, and sometimes cleaving them entirely. The immediate space around the palace became a zone of death, forcing the dragons to momentarily retreat.

That brief reprieve bought Asceal time to gather what few Servants remained alive on the deck. None were uninjured, in fact few were even whole, but that was no obstacle for the Goddess. With a mere touch the missing limbs of felled servants were returned to them. Asceal zipped between the doorway she’d emerged from and the injured, retrieving and healing the few lucky servants who’d escaped the battle on the deck in the span of a moment.

When she’d rescued the last of the water-people she made her way the hallway where her children were waiting, all three of them. Makab had been roused by the din of battle and his siblings had been quick to shepard their disoriented brother into one of the safe corridors. It was he who asked the question on all the their minds, “How do we fight them Mother? Just one nearly-”

The winged man paused abruptly as he raised his pristine arm. Asceal smiled weakly at his surprise, but didn’t wait for him to come to his own conclusions, “The same way I healed you, Makab. I’m going to give all of you some of my power. You’ll be able to recover from any wound the beasts can inflict on you.” She hesitated and frowned before going on, “As long as it doesn’t kill you outright. You’ll still have to be careful, all of you.”

With that said the Goddess closed her eyes and the hallway began to glow. Her children felt a tingle, and that was that. Makab nodded, but Eline had more to say, “As helpful as that is Mother, the spears you gave us weren’t able to pierce the hide of the one that we fought before. We need weapons.”

Asceal pursed her lips, “You do. I should have given you proper weaponry to begin with.”

The Goddess took Eline’s hand and squeezed. As soon as Asceal let go the winged woman was holding a shimmering spear as tall as she was. Eline looked shocked, but said nothing. There was no time to waste. She hugged her mother and took off down the hallway.

“And now you two,” Asceal grasped the hands of her sons, and soon Makab was hefting a glowing sword while Akam held an elegant shimmering bow.

Makab gritted his teeth and took after Eline. Akam looked unsure, even uncomfortable with the weapons in his hands, but there was nothing for it. Asceal pulled her son into a hug and whispered into his ear, “Be safe, and keep them safe too.”

The last of the Goddess’s children nodded and outstretched his wings. With a powerful motion he took off down the hallway, flying to catch up with the others. Asceal, now alone in the passageway, scowled and cursed the air, “If any of them come to harm, Sartravius, I won’t stop with this army.”

She furrowed her brows and began walking in the direction her children had gone.

Meanwhile, the dragons continued their ruthless assault upon the sturdy hull of the ship. Even as each dragon fell, two would take their place and continue to what their fallen brethren started. Within seconds, they were back in the fray. Several of these ferocious beasts were able to out-maneuver the water god’s powerful jet-streams and land directly on the wooden deck of his vessel.

There they began to wreck havoc upon the holy deck of the ship, while also inspecting the broken windows that lead directly into the ship’s interior. The dragons would then peer into the broken windows - their amber eyes searching the interior for any tasty morsels. Any servants they found near them would be swiftly devoured. Otherwise they began to unleash their breath of death towards the visible windows, roasting any remaining alive, while others began to utilize their massive claws to manually get into the lower levels.

Meanwhile, Slaevatein noted the challenging words that ominously emanated from Shengshi’s mouth. The heads growled challengingly yet they weren’t intimidated by his bluff. Their skin began to release hot steam from little openings within their skin, as their body began to grow more and more crimson as they did. Even as a stream of water came directly at them, the intense heat was able to mitigate most of the damage received - boiling most of the water and power before they could even touch him.

How the cruel Slaevatein laughed at the water god’s attempts, their heads all cackling in uncontrollable giddiness, before they proceeded to fire all seven fire beams directly towards their opponent’s face. Yet as they did, they began to fly directly towards him. Those beams were to provide a distraction, hopefully long enough, for the terrible hydra to get close and rip their talons into the god’s hide, with swift and ruthless brutality.

While Shengshi’s scales were impervious to the flame, he growled in agony when the blasts seared the parts of his humanoid skin that he could not protect. He shielded what he could of his face and chest with the back of his arms, but left his abdomen open for the dragon’s talons. Few beasts could pierce sacred skin, but as the claws connected, Shengshi felt for the first time his ichor spill. The sensation was dreadful, wretchedly painful - yet above all, foreign, so much so that, for a moment after the strike, the snake lowered his guard in bewilderment and let his eyes fall to the wound as if it was some oddity. Shengshi stroked his palm against the three crimson slits on his belly and lifted it to his face, blinking.

“You… Wounded me,” he snarled quietly. He raised his other hand quickly. The dragon was close now - perhaps a little too close. Suddenly, two blades of water from the lake below bolted up towards the necks furthest to left and right. The left head was able to dodge the blade by several feet, swerving its long neck in an S-shape, however it couldn’t be said for the one on the right.

*CHOP*

It was just a second too slow as its head was completely sliced off from its host. The hydra roared violently as a fountain of fiery ichor found itself spilling all over the deck, slowly burning the divine hull and dripping into the lower levels. In a fit of rage, the monstrous abomination was swift in shifting their entire body and utilized their massive tail to issue a powerful swipe towards their wounded god before firing their beams both on him and upon the ship itself.

While the ship remained all the same, Shengshi was knocked off the top of the tower and sent flying, crashing into the Giant’s Bath with a deafening splash and waves that nearly reached to the deck of his ship. The surface of the water grew clouded with sacred blood and the snake was nowhere to be found.

With Shengshi now seemingly out of the picture, Slaevatein snarled before they rose on their hind legs and screeched into the heavens. Their victory screech could be heard for miles, echoing in an eerie symphony of harmonic chaos, before they proceeded to maul the vessel themselves. However, even as their claws became superheated, they would find that they weren’t able to pierce through the hull on their own? The other dragons seemed to have the same problem, with the exception of the broken windows.

Yet they wouldn’t even bother having to do it by themselves. The damage left by the god himself had produced several large holes, with some large enough to fit a small dragon in. The hydra would cackle again as they called for reinforcements. Several more of their forces came to their aid and proceeded to enter, however their giant brethren would quickly stop their descent.

They had a better idea.

The hydra ordered the dragons to gather around the exposed holes, but only that. Small groups, no larger than three or four, crowded behind every nook and cranny they could find. Each head would proceed to overlook any nearby hole, overseeing the operation as their throats began to glow a fiery orange. Then, they plunged their mouths into the wounds and ignited their liquid fire into the vessel. They were essentially cooking the vessel from the inside out, broiling everyone that were unfortunate enough to be on the upper decks. If they are to keep this up, the entire vessel would become a giant furnace and eliminate everyone from within.

Immediately, those who had sought safety in the palace were boiled to nothingness. Men, women and children who had hunkered behind the doors to the guest rooms or in the previously impervious hallways were reduced to the mere cinders of their clothes. Down in the belly of the ship, where most had sought refuge, they quivered and cried at the gurgles and screams from the floors above. Occasionally, servants who had reached the staircase tossed themselves out of the way of pursuing columns of fire avoided the flames, but not the heat, falling to the floor below in messes of hot sand and mud.

As if the deaths of their kin was not enough, the ship was heating up from all the steam, and many of the servants grew paranoid and panicky as their breathed in the literal fumes of their dead brethren.

Within the vessel Asceal was bathed in flames. She’d been unable to escape the ship before the Dragon’s clever attack, and now the very corridor around her was saturated with furious orange fire. For anything mortal it would have been a death sentence. Thankfully, Asceal was not a mortal. Nor was she a stranger to pain.

The Goddess walked through the corridors unperturbed, her expression not one of horror but rather one of cold fury. Eventually she reached one of the holes Shengshi had torn in his ship and cast her gaze on the beast breathing fire in her very face. She flapped her wings once and collided with the beast's maw.

The dragon lurched back in surprise, and that sealed its fate. Before it could close its powerful jaws the Goddess in its mouth punched up and shattered the dragon’s palate. The blast of bone shredded the creatures brain and it fell dead suddenly. Its fellows looked at their fallen comrade in confusion only to see a glowing beacon of illumination climb out of the dead dragon’s mouth.

As she got to her feet Asceal grew brighter and brighter still, until her own light was enough to make even glancing at her deeply unpleasant for the lizards on the ships deck. Those who ignored the pain and held the Goddess in their gaze would soon find themselves without sight at all. Asceal didn’t scream in fury, nor did she utter any threat or challenge, she merely advanced on the stunned beasts.

It was then that the three angels attacked. All had dived into the water and taken the time to shift into their true forms. Now three titans stood up in the giants bath. The water, deep was it was, was only up to their chests. Makab pumped his wings first, the distinctive brown mottled look of his feathers distinguishing him from his siblings. He took off, his jump propelling him onto the deck of Shengshi’s enormous vessel. Eline and Akam followed suit, and suddenly there wasn’t much space left on the ships deck.

Glowing weaponry flicked to life in their hands and they entered the fray. Unlike the dragons, they were immune to their mothers blinding appearance and had no problem fighting under her light.

Dragons swarmed the three, but many things had changed since their first battle. Eline used her enormous spear to pierce the first dragon that charged her, and as it writhed on the shaft of her ethereal weapon a swing of Makab’s sword took off its head. The three fought with their mother, each one falling back into her light after sustaining an injury only to emerged unhurt after a few moments.

The dragons were, suddenly, presented with one enemy that it was dangerous to see and three that were seemingly impossible to kill. Several held their distance, but many cared little for strategy and simply did their damndest to maul each feathered titan as they emerged from the light.

Slaevatein’s heads each lurched up from their hidey holes as they inspected the new opponents that dared to engage them. The blinding light from the goddess was enough for them to avert their eyes, yet they still refused to abandon ship. The angelic trio were also now out and about - their giant white bodies being near featureless save for their wings and giant glowing yellow eyes - slaying every scaly monster they came across. The hydra was now in for a real fight.

Several of the hydra’s heads locked onto their respective angel - precisely Eline and Makab - as they blast their hellish blaze towards them with haste. However, the third angel - Akam - seemed not be in sight. That was, until he popped out from the creature’s left flank with a holy bow and arrow in his grasp. Taking opportunity of the distracted Slaevatein, he proceeded to aim his arrow straight towards the beast. He carefully prepared his shot as his firing hand shook upon the pressure… And he never fired.

His target was right there. It would be impossible for the angel to miss at the range he was at. Yet he refused to fire. His gaze shifted nervously, almost as if he was in utter awe of the beast that was in front of him. Alone that might have been enough to make Akam hesitate, but it was something else that stayed his hand.

Whatever it was, the winged titan didn't have long to ponder it. For that was when one of the hydra’s heads noticed the angel and its amber-colored eyes pierced the archer’s soul. Akam couldn’t move. No matter what he did, he just couldn’t release his arrow. And with one of Slaevatein’s heads now glaring upon him, all he did was look up at his impending doom, as the beast’s throat glowed brightly before a blinding red gaze filled his sight completely.

Eline and Makab had managed to dodge the hydra’s fire, even if barely, but Akam was not so fortunate. The feathered titan took the scorching blast to the chest, and despite its size, was flung off the ship. Akam landed in the giants bath, his front a charred ruin and his eyes dim. Almost at once his siblings abandoned their assault and retreated to their fallen brother, pulling his sinking form through the giant's bath and away from the battle. The faint glow of magic could be seen among Akam’s injuries, his scorched flesh slowly being restored, but the damage was great.

It was at that moment the blinding light of the Goddess simply… Ceased. The dragons looked around in bewilderment, trying to locate Asceal, but none managed. At least, until she streaked out from behind the tower.

The Goddess didn’t shout or scream or shout, she merely flew at one of Slaevatein’s heads faster than any arrow.

And upon impacting one of the hydra’s own heads, the head would simply explode upon impact with the goddess. Another head had been blasted clean from their body, as Slaevatein issued another surprising shriek towards the sudden turn of events. Only five heads now remained, with the bleeding stumps spilling their burning essence upon the holy wood of the vessel.

Now the enraged beast was not about to continue fooling around. It's heads began to search for the light goddess, firing upon anything that moved or squirmed around below them. If they could take down a water god, then surely they could take down a merely insignificant goddess with only some effort.

The waters around the massive Dragon's feet began to bubble faintly, light prickles tickling at its skin. Then, suddenly, several liquid arms and appendages whipped out of the lake and wrapped themselves around whatever part of Slaevatein they could grab, pulling it down to the surface.

The hydra began screeching profusely as they found themselves struggling against the wet embrace that enwrapped them. Their necks and legs were the first to become compromised as they attempted to use all the heat in their body to evaporate the offending arms, however they didn’t appear to work as efficiently. Slaevatein would then attempt to fly as they were able to gain several meters off the ground, yet the watery chains seemed to have kept them bound to the water below. The aquatic arms dragged the flailing beast to the eastern edge of the bath with a force that sent tall waves washing over the ship, the angels and Asceal. At the eastern edge, the arms snaked themselves around the entirety of the beast like bands around a mummy, trapping it in a liquid cocoon. The heads thrashed and frequently broke through the barrier, but no matter how the body struggled, the overall integrity of its cage seemed too solid.

At the centre of the pool rose Shengshi out of the water, propelled by a constant water jet. He clutched his still-bleeding side and hissed, clenching his free hand into a shaking fist.

“I will admit, I underestimated the potency of dragonfire. My carelessness has cost me much of my home and my loyal crew.” A snake of water rose out of the lake in front of the Slaevatein, nearly twice the size of the beast itself. It veered its head from side to side, occasionally popping out a dripping, forked tongue.

“Now, I seem to recall saying something about drowning,” the snake said with a cruel smirk and unclenched his fist. The water snake jabbed its head at the Slaevatein with such force that the now-five headed beast broke through the stone wall of the bath; however, its agony was far from over. The water snake surged forward with unrelenting fury, grinding the writhing beast through a cracking, shifting mess of sand, stone and water. It continued as it reached the deserts, turning southwards until it was far, far away from the battle. After a moment, not even divine eyes could see where the horror had taken the beast - only that it had left a long, smooth-bottomed river in its wake.

The dragon folley rose their heads to find their seven-headed master, but he was alas nowhere to be seen. They began to screech in confusion, wondering where Slaevatein went off too, before one dragon began to panic amidst Shengshi’s reappearance. And once it panicked, soon the others began to feel the same energy and most began to flee the scene. They rose from the ship like a mass of fiery locusts, their calls echoing across the area as they began their hasty retreat. Many went in the direction of where their Master had been forced to, calling to them as they followed the newly created river towards the desert.

Others however, whether out of confusion or of fear, went in different directions altogether. A handful found themselves heading to the very mountains they sought to conquer, however their intentions were hardly harmful at this point. They would each take residence in any cave they could find, eventually making them their new home and abandoning Sartr’s plans.

The same was said to several more, some exiling themselves into the farthest regions of Sandravii, the Charnel Steppes, and even the forests of Xishan. Eventually, others would settle across the world of Galbar, living out their days a simply humble beasts and nothing more.

Only one would find itself flying back to Mt. Eldahverr, where it would be the messenger to the battle at hand.




As the dust settled and the last of the dragons fled, Asceal found herself standing over Akam. Eline and Makab had brought their brother onto the battle scarred deck once it was clear the danger had passed, but the felled angel had not stirred since his injury. His silence wasn’t a result of any injury, for his body had long since healed. Nor was it a consequence of sleep, for Akam’s eyes were wide open.

It seemed to the world that he was fine, but he did not stir. His siblings didn’t understand, and in their ignorance they grew more and more concerned, worried their brother had sustained an injury no magic could heal. That was, in a roundabout way, the truth. Not the whole truth, though. Asceal knelt next to her son and held his hand.

After all, had the Goddess not been where Akam was now? There were some things that could not be explained, and Asceal didn’t seem inclined to waste her breath trying. She reassured Akam’s siblings, and then sent them to check on Liana and Shengshi.

The two found Shengshi standing at the top of the new waterfall, his hand still clutching his side. He gazed outwards at the large flow that seemed to snake its merry way through the desert in the distant. As the two angels approached, he gave them both a nod each.

“Have the dragons scattered?” he asked.

“Looks like,” Makab answered, “Once you beat up the big one they got out of here fast as they could.”

“Mm-hm,” the snake said sourly. “Is your mother still around? I would rather not walk around with my flesh exposed like this. It would be uncouth.” Not really waiting for an answer, he slithered into the water and swam for the ship.

Makab opened his mouth to answer, but a jab in the ribs from Eline discouraged him. The two elected to follow the God of Rivers at a distance. Shengshi climbed aboard the ship and looked around. The damage it had suffered was immense - heartbreaking. It brought mist and tears to the snake’s eyes to see burned heaps of clothing and sand and glass splattered across the deck. “An unforgivable massacre,” he whispered and wiped away a tear.

Asceal squeezed Akam’s hand and stood up from her son’s side. She made her way to Shengshi, the same tears in her eyes as her sibling’s, “I’m sorry.” Her voice was weak, almost choked, “Do- Do you know how many survived?”

The snake shook his head somberly. He snapped his fingers and, very slowly, the survivors came walking, limping or on stretchers out of the palace, presenting themselves before the gods on their knees. The snake let his eyes scan their numbers and he sniffed. “Of my ten thousand servants, fewer than two thousand remain,” he said in a shaking voice. The crew themselves looked at one another in horror, most of them starting to weep and cry. The snake clutched his face with a shivering hand and collapsed to the floor. “This is my fault… I underestimated the beasts…”

As the Servants presented themselves Asceal’s expression fell even further. She managed a sigh of relief when she saw Liana alive and well, but even that was short lived. The Goddess closed her eyes and rested a hand on Shengshi’s shoulder, “No, Shengshi, it’s not. Sartravius made these beasts, and Sartravius sent them out into the world. You, and me, neither of us understood the depth of our peers malice, that’s all. I knew Sartravius was cruel, and even then I never could have imagined this.”

The Goddess breathed in, and her next words were as resolved as they were icy, “It’s not a mistake we’ll make again. We made a toast to victory Shengshi, I think it’s time to see that promise through.”

The snake was silent for a long time. Then, eventually, he pursed his lips and nodded. He poked the final tear out of his eye and growled. “So we shall… First, though, I must repair my ship. Before that, though… Could you do me a little favour, dearest sister?” The snake pointed to his wound. “As I said to your children, I would rather this was closed.”

Asceal looked down at Shengshi and nodded. She knelt down and pressed a hand against the cuts on Shengshi’s side, eliciting a slight wince from the snake. There was a faint glow, and in the span of a second it was done. The Goddess cast her gaze on the servants and wiped a few tears from her eyes, “I’m going to go tend to your people now, Shengshi, if you’ll excuse me.”

“Please do.” The snake slithered over to the dragon’s head at the ship’s bow and leaned on it with a sigh. “They made a mockery of us, did they not, old friend?” As usual, the dragon’s head was silent on these matters. The snake frowned and gazed down into the waters below. He pressed his palm against the wood of the railing and, slowly, a pulse of light snailed and snaked its way through the wood fibres. It traveled like running water across the ship, turning broken planks and crisped furniture back to their undamaged forms. The cuts in the palace melted together in an uncanny fashion, considering they were wooden, and windows were replaced and redressed in paper. Shengshi’s personal chambres once again displayed the opulent perfection that he himself advocated. Yet, as his ship returned to normal, the snake shot another glance back at the grieving servants. He slithered back and breathed in deeply.

“Servants,” he called. They all quickened to, even the ones too damaged to truly quicken. The snake’s heavy eyes blinked a few times. He gave them a two-fingered rub and cleared his throat. “On account of this crime committed against the sacred people of the rivers, I, Shengshi, give you all my most genuine blessings to be fruitful and multiply.” Many of the servants looked at one another, sudden beams of glee contrasting their wartorn expressions. “Due to the grave losses, I set no boundaries on the number of children you may produce - however, the caste division test will strive to distribute the children as equally as their results will allow. I…” He took another deep breath. “... I know your new families will not be able to replace the old, but they will hopefully be able to mitigate some of the grief. You may start as soon as you feel like it. Nanhe, Beihe and the Giant’s Bath are all open to you.” The servants all smiled at one another, and as Asceal walked by to heal them, they cast themselves to their hands and knees and thanked her in every way that they could. Shengshi looked at the new river to the east and scratched his chin. “... Yes, that is right… I need a name for this one…” He eyed its dissecting nature as it cut the continent into the eastern desert and the western grasslands and jungle. “... A natural border, perhaps… A great one at that… Very well,” he said and beat his fist into his palm. “It shall be known as Taipang, the great border.”




Meanwhile, near the Cauldron

A vast winged shadow swept overhead, and a dragon fell, its back cloven in a single swipe. Another banked sideways, shaking its head and growling, as something grey fell onto its neck and began to crawl upwards. The roars turned to shrieks of pain as the grey spot reached its head and claws dug into its eyes. Around it, more tumbled and fell as apelike shapes continued to drop from above and swiftly put their talons and teeth to work.

”Lucky break today!” Vrog laughed, a sound not unlike the gurgling of a swamp, as he balanced over a reptilian spine, ”First an easy job, then we run into these apesk like an elbow in the gut! Get the wing first, spithead!” he barked to a ghoul wrestling its way across another beast above him.

With a curse and an empty husk spat out, the brute clambered up the crimson-scaled ridge, effortlessly digging his metallic fingers into the armoured hide. The dragon, snarling with each blow, writhed and turned at abrupt angles, trying to shake off the presence on its back. Every twist succeeded only in making the cold stings sink deeper, and they still came closer to its head. In desperation, it twisted its wing, lowering one flank until it flew sideways, and then beyond - its eyes narrowed in focus as it spun around the axis of its spine in a sweeping, graceful motion.

When it opened them again, a row of grimy yellow fangs was grinning straight at its pupil. Vrog tossed a seed into his mouth, chewed, swallowed and spat a sharp bolt through the dragon’s head.

The fall was quick, loud and ended in a crash, just the way he liked. Disentangling himself from the mangled corpse was a light price to pay for it. His tongue darted up, hoping there was still time to do it once again, but, much to his disappointment, the remaining dragons were already far. The Omen’s large shadow still slid in pursuit behind them, but it wouldn’t go far.

Vrog plucked another seed from the gap in his armour, raised it to his mouth and paused. The dragon’s smell itched on his tongue with an unfamiliar, fiery sense. He tore away a handful of scaly skin, opened his jaw wider than it ought to have done and bit down.

Sharp, but good.

Around him, the surviving ghouls were busying themselves in a similar way with the rest of the bodies. A good few of them had been crushed under the carcasses in the fall, and others dragged broken limbs, for the little that it slowed them in their triumphal feast. No matter, that. Ghouls were replaceable, and fixing themselves was what they were supposed to do. On the whole, he could count this as a clean victory.

The Devourer snapped his flask open, bit into the dragon again, and chased the mouthful down with a sip of fiery distilled fluid. It could use some improvement, maybe smoking, but it was fine.

This was a great day to be alive.



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The Last Li’Kallan Fragment





There was a cool breeze moving along the beach, gently caressing the grains of sand and pushing them further in land before the tide could swipe them back to sea. Grey clouds blanketed the sky, the presence of the Heliopolis only being known from the dimmer daytime light that forced its way through the clouds. It was a tranquil day, ushering in a finer feeling within Atmav who was cleansing herself in the salty water of the caked blood that had found a home on her body. However, the blood was hard to remove and almost equally hard to forget where it had come from as her mind slowly went back to remember the reptile and Yimbo.

It seemed that scrubbing away the sins of the past was harder than she would have initially thought, but she no longer cared. Atmav has time and she had her resolve, renewed by the words of Orvus and the gift of his sword which lay stabbed into the sand. She would occasionally glance back at it, thinking of the words of a god who seemed to know what she had been going through and how it renewed her mind from brink of madness. The memory made her smile as she wiped some of the blood off of her body, showing the purity of her whitened skin back into sight as the madness flowed away.

Eventually, Atmav was left standing in the water, gazing out to the horizon as she remembered the rocky island of Vakk’s home. Her mind went to one of focus, promising that no longer would she how to a tyrant god or one who simply sought to make her into nothing more than a shell of her former self. She proudly crossed her arms as the declaration ran clear through her mind before another chilled wind caused her to shiver. Then the sound of a light rain began to take over the sound of crashing waves.

With a sigh, Atmav turned to retreat from the water and go back to her small hole in the side of the hill. While her wings could let her fly back with ease, she felt the desire to walk in order to think on what she should do. Her path took her into a small forest and as she walked, rain dropped off leaves and soaked into the ground, others forming reflective puddles. Atmav crouched next to a puddle in front of her and stared into it, finding that she had missed a spot on her horns.

“I always forget to clean the horns,” she sighed to herself.

As she reached for the puddle, a ripple washed over its surface and the reflection changed to show, instead of Atmav’s, a whole different person. It was a young woman with silver hair and dull grey eyes. A predatory grin stretched her face as Atmav’s hand grazed the surface of the puddle, just coincidentally making contact with the spot where the girl had her hands pressed.

In the blink of an eye, the strange reflection disappeared. This earned a quizzical expression from Atmav as her mouth went to mouth a word of surprise. Atmav learned over the puddle, to try and find the mysterious woman once more. Her arms held her above the puddle as she searched and searched before inevitably looking around her.

“Hello?” She called, allowing a moment to pass before looking back at the puddle.

A moment passed with no response. Until a tiny voice spoke out, sounding as if it came from her left shoulder. “Ooh, I love it out here!”

Atmav let out a frightened shout as her hand brought went to her sword, spinning around to the source of the voice.

The voice merely kept droning on, as if not noticing Atmav’s reaction. It’s sooo boring in that mirror world, ugh! Who’re you? You look kiiinda insane with that blood on your horn. Did’ya kill something?” An equally tiny laughter followed suit, before a mocking gasp rang out, sandwiched between more laughter “Or maybe, someone?”

Soon, Atmav found a small woman sitting on her shoulder, the same appearance as the woman she had seen in the puddle. It was hard to give an expression of such confusion without eyes, but the feeling was there as the much larger woman lowered her sword. A moment passed as Atmav processed the situation.

“I have killed many beings as of late,” Atmav answered, her voice still wracked with confusion as she looked forwards then back to the pixie-sized woman to make sure she wasn’t going mad.

“Well, I will tell no one! My lips are sealed. My mouth is a… Tomb? Like the one you put your victims in!” The little soul giggled. “So, who’re you? Probably made-slash-hired by some villain, eh? No judgement here, Horn.” She asked with a grin.

“Erm,” Atmav shook her head before continuing her walk back to her cave, “My name is Atmav and I was brought back to life by a tyrant-god named Vakk.” Her voice was much more stern than the little soul, more serious and focus. “I am in a bit of a bind because of him,” she admitted before continuing, “Anyways, little one, what would be your name?”

“Ooh, Atmav! What does that mean? It sounds like a weapon! I will impale you on my Atmav! Kind of deal. Anyway, IIIII have nooooo name.” The little soul pouted, “I waaaas part of Li’Kalla, though. Met this big mean bird, Azura. She was so pretty, but ended up giving me wings to break them. Mean! That’s no fun, is it?”

Atmav stopped dead in her tracks, looking at the ground in a deep thought before repeating the name, “Li’Kalla?” She looked back into the sky and extended her wings of starlight, she let out a light chuckle as the facts dawned upon her. “How fitting that two beings broken by Vakk would meet,” she seemed to ignore the last words of the little soul.

“I heard Vakk broke Li’Kalla and turned her into some strange monster?” Atmav asked as she began to walk again, holding her hand up to the little one as a platform.

The little soul jumped onto the outstretched palm and sat down cross legged on it, her eyes lingering on Atmav’s wings, before turning them to the face of the horned woman, her mouth hanging open slightly in the form of a pretty little ‘o’. “Uuuh, it wasn’t reaaaally Vakk, though, was it? Sure, he hurt us and it was so exciting but ugh, it wasn’t Vakk. It was this weeeird shadowy thing that had been lurking among us. When Laina got overwhelmed, the thing chomped her up and swallowed her. We all split up after that and raaaan!”

“Huh,” Atmav said, listening to the little one’s story before they reached her dry cave. She stabbed her blade into the earth before sitting against the wall, looking down at the fragment of Li’Kalla. “I didn’t think I would meet two gods back-to-back so soon,” she commented before continuing with the main topic, “If Vakk targeted you, likely he has some form of fancy for you… sorry. Anyways, do you know how to pull yourself back into one?”

“Fancy?” The little soul put a finger against her chin and furrowed her brow in thought. After a long moment, she shrugged, “No, no, he isn’t fancy at all.”

“That’s not what I meant. I guess… had feelings for you?”

The little soul stared at Atmav with her cute little ‘o’ expression for the longest while, and then she giggled. “How to pull me and the others back into one, huh! Easy, just get us in one place and convince us to become one again! We’ll need the Body of Li’Kalla, though! Can’t just fuse with tons of girls in any body, you know.” She paused, “Don’t know why you want to get rid of me, though! Hurting a fragile girl’s feelings, Attie!”

“I never said I wanted to get rid of you,” Atmav pointed out, “I was just thinking, is all.” She let out a long sigh before curling into a ball, still looking at the little one. “What do you suppose I do? I don’t exactly have much to do at this point of time.”

“Ummm, well, wanna kiss?”

Atmav’s eyeless face stared at the woman for a moment before she mustered up a noise at all, even then the noise was a simple, “Uggggghhhhh.” There was another long silence, broken only when the little soul cracked a grin and began laughing.

“You dummy! Even if you wanted one, you’re not getting any from me! I’m too small, see?” As if to prove her point, she jumped up to her feet and stood upright, grinning. Indeed, she was merely a few inches tall. It was at that moment when Atmav let out a sigh of what sounded like relief.

“Sorry. I have not met a jester before. Where I came from, a realm outside this one, we were all separated into different groups. I was a guard and that was all I ever knew,” Atmav explained, rubbing the back of her neck in a mild embarrassment.

“Heh,” The girl looked away and rubbed her neck in imitation, “I can teach you how to do aaall of that stuff, if you want. So that you know what to do when you find a man you wan-” She cut herself off with a laugh, “Sorryy, it’s kinda embarrassing I guess! But it’s fun, I swear! We just have to find a test subject, cause I’m no good with my size!”

“I-“ Atmav started, before looking away from the little one, “I am not looking for a relationship right now, besides I don’t even know any men that would be, erm… compatible.” She fell silent once more as she let out a light huff of disappointment as her old memories flooded back to her once more. “I suppose that is something that has never changed. No man really cares to have bloodthirsty savage as their wife.”

The little soul gave Atmav a coy look as she lifted a finger up to her own lower lip, “Heeey Attie, I happen to knooow a few men who’d be aaall for that stuff. They’re all deaad though. Very dead. Like, eons dead. Possibly burned. Most likely eaten!” She smirked, “Just like you’d eat up a bowl of rice. Tasty!”

“What’s rice?”

“White stuff, clumps together. You eat it with two thin sticks. Generally it is a side to something else, like meat. Wanna eat some rice, Attie?”

“I guess I could try some if you know where to find the stuff,” Atmav said, lowering the lady to the ground.

“I have no idea where to find rice! We could get uummm… Laina! Li’Kalla, to make us some!” As she was lowered to the ground, the little soul hugged Atmav’s thumb tightly and refused to let go, “Heeey, you’re just gonna drop me on the floor and fly away huuh? See, I knew it! I’m too small for you, you don’t want a small friend! Boo!”

Atmav gave a small sigh of defeat, explaining, “I don’t want to hold you all night.” She eventually gave in and raised the little one back up to her shoulder.

The girl looked at Atmav’s form up and down slowly, then stared into her eyes and raised an eyebrow. “If you wore clothing, I could slip into a pocket! You’re very naked now though. Guess it’s very warm for those with real bodies huh?” She smirked.

“I am comfortable as I am,” Atmav said before slowly sliding down the wall and sprawling along the ground. She looked at the ceiling of the cave and thought of the words that the little one had said, wondering if she could ever find someone she might be compatible with. “You are going to need a name,” she commented, absentmindedly.

“Oh, like a pet?” The little soul asked excitedly, crawling up onto Atmav’s face. “I can be a pet! That’d be fun! Woof, meow!”

“I guess…” Atmav said, ignoring the fact that there was a small woman on her face, “You seem to be a small, overly happy thing. Reminds me of a sprite. I think that’s a good name, Sprite… do you think that works?”

“Sprite, Sprite… I dunno, it sounds like a man’s name, right? Kinda manly, like a I’m Ser Sprite, and I’ve come to save and marry you, Princess! Or… Maybe not? Huh,” The girl hummed in thought to herself as she settle on Atmav’s forehead, laying down on the curved surface.

The larger woman could not help but give out a light chuckle, quickly silencing herself after a few small moments. “I did not think of it that way,” Atmav said.

“Hehe,” The girl laughed as well, “Well, wouldn’t you enjoy it if a knight appeared out of nowhere to save you from a foul beast, and he thought you were soooo beautiful he couldn’t help but ask for your hand in marriage the first time he saw you? And then you go and get married and have lots of fun and conquer so many new, heh, lands.”

Atmav could not help but allow herself a sigh of satisfaction of the thought, “I guess I would like that. There aren’t many people capable of keeping up with me, though. And I am too aggressive and too strong. No man, alive that is, wants a woman able to rip him in half.”

The girl mockingly huffed in indignation, “Well, I will save you, then! I will bash my way into the castle through the stone walls, and find the big tentacle thing and bite his tentacles off, then put him in a chokehold and slam him into the ground! Then I will go up to your chambers at the top of the castle, kick down the door and say, ’Warrior Princess Atmav, I’ve come to free you! I am now you pet ‘Sprite’, so please treat me very harshly!’ And then I will go and fight anyone who wants to take you from me! No exceptions!”

“But you are too small, Sprite, remember? How can you save me if you can’t even take on a leaf,” Atmav asked jokingly, letting out a small laugh.

Sprite pouted and rolled over to lie face down, “Wooow, we’re joking around now, Attie? See, I may normally be destroyed by a gang of leaves, buuut bolstered with the power of my owner, Horn, I will be able to take on anything! Maybe even a lapdog, if you give me a sharp enough thorn to fight with!”

Atmav laughed a little more, “I suppose you are rubbing off on me, Sprite. But, if you were to try and protect me, it would probably be against things much bigger than me. I don’t know, but I don’t think you could take on something that could crush several others.”

“Ummm… Okay! I see how it is, as my owner you want to protect me! Well, I have to do my part too, you know! I can cheer on you while you fight! I just have to duplicate myself and dance in a group for you and say, ‘I FOUND A MAN THAT WILL MARRY YOU IF YOU WIN THIS FIGHT, ATTIE!’ in the pivotal point of the fight! Bet’cha that’ll spur you on, Horn!”

“Maybe, just maybe. I don’t know, Sprite, I still don’t know if I really want to look for anyone,” Atmav admitted with another laugh.

Sprite delivered a tiny kiss to Atmav’s forehead, “That’s okay. Not all in life is related to marriage and kissing. There’s hugs, too!” She grinned.

“I might just break someone’s back if I hugged hard enough,” Atmav joked.

“Oooh, Attie, you can break my back anytime you like! Don’t tempt me like that!” Sprite giggled.

“But if I broke your back then I wouldn’t get to laugh as much,” Atmav laughed before letting out a tempered sigh. “I suppose that I can watch over you until we can put you back together, Sprite. But, I’ll let the other gods come to me. I want to hold onto someone as funny as you for as long as possible.”

“Aaw,” Sprite smiled and kissed Atmav’s forehead several times in an incredibly short time, “You know how to compliment a girl, you big savage, bloodthirsty barbarian. What’s next, you’ll turn out to be super gentle and mushy?”

“No. No, I am anything but gentle and mushy. I am a fighter after all, it was what I was bred and trained to do,” Atmav said, stretching her arms forward, “The rain is making me tired.”

“Ooh, you tell me about it! Just imagine what being in Li’Kalla’s body is like. The girl’s wet all the time, and never in the good way. Ugh. If I ever go back into that body, I have to find a way to stop it from being wet…”

“Yeah, sounds like a problem,” Atmav said, nonchalantly. She rolled onto her side, causing Sprite to scramble onto the side of her head, “I’m going to nap while the rain goes on. Maybe I can go hunt for some food for us.”

“Ah! Wait a second,” Sprite muttered as she crawled her way to Atmav’s neck where it was warm and soft. She curled up there. “Okay, ready, I can’t sleep or eat but I will keep watch over you and keep you safe, Attie. Have nice dreams, yes?”

“Alright, thanks Sprite. Wake me up if something more than leaves come up,” Atmav laughed before driving off into a sound sleep.

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Hidden 5 mos ago Post by Goldeagle1221
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Goldeagle1221 I am Spartacus!

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Renevin: Part 4


The wagon bumped as it hit a clump of dirt in the road, causing Renevin’s bag to shift. It sat between him and the young driver, the dark farmhand’s eyes widening as the treasures inside the bag twinkled.

“Spellsword stones?” The farmhand asked incredulously, eyes bouncing from the road and back onto four palm sized orbs. Three of them held the chaos of a lightning storm behind their glass viel, the fourth a certain darkness that swallowed the midday sun. Renevin tugged the bag closed and nodded curtly.

“Don’t think too far into it,” Renevin advised, but the farmhand’s eyes were already twinkling. He shifted closer, causing D’Bran and Hondros to twist in their seats on the bed of hay from behind. Hondros cleared his throat.

“Trinkets, really,” He defended.

“So you guys really are Praxians!” The farmhand seemed to have ignored their advice, “Oh, wow. I thought you guys were a myth.”

D’Bran scrunched his nose, “Legends maybe, but a myth?”

“We told you who we were when we paid your father for the wagon,” Renevin furrowed his brow and tapped his dark runic armor.

“Well yeah, but I just thought you were a bunch of--” The farmhand bit his tongue as he saw Renevin’s brows slant, “What I mean to say is, I hear a lot of stories.”

“Either way,” Hondros commanded from his nest of hay, “Let’s keep our wits, we are paying you for a ride, not a chat.”

“Remind me why we are even doing that?” D’Bran groaned.

“Lightyr,” Hondros reminded, “He figured horses would be too expensive, between feed and stalling.”

“True,” Renevin shrugged, “This is cheaper.”

“Hey!” The farmhand made a face.

“Relax, we aren’t calling you cheap,” D’Bran scoffed, “Just your… you know... job?”

“D’Bran,” Renevin scolded.
The wagon fell into a certain silence, the sound of the wheels grinding over the dirt road conquering. Birds chirped in the distance, and on all sides there was green, sun soaked fields. The four sat still, eyes glazed over at the sights until finally the farmhand peeped, “Sooo… did you guys really fight alongside the gods?”

“Well that’s a casual question,” Renevin sighed and D’Bran leaned forward, but before the sandy cheeked man could speak Hondros butted in.

“Not personally, but our order did,” Hondros answered, causing D’Bran to roll his eyes, “The first Cacophony,” Hondros droned, “The Brother’s Harmony was at the rift in the veil, holding the tide against the forces of the Taint, and you know who was standing there with them?”

“The Praxian Storm Guard,” The Farmhand’s eyes glistened.

“Makes sense when you think about it,” Renevin offered, “Considering Prax is the name of one of the Brother’s Harmony.”

“Allegedly,” D’Bran cut in and leaned up from his seat, “Prax could have just been a powerful warrior king, and Solam the same.”

“But--” The farmhand looked confused, “They are gods!”

“History is funny like that,” D’Bran offered, a sigh coming from Renevin.

“Kid,” Hondros waved a hand at D’Bran urging him to sit back down, “You’re going to meet a lot of people in this world.” His eyes drifted to the endless fields and rows of crops, “Or maybe not, but the point is… everyone has their theory. Now if you ask me, it is as the story goes: The Praxian Storm Guard stood beside the Brother’s Harmony and aided them in the fight against the Taint.”

“And the pacification,” Renevin added.

“They say on the mainland of Yzaille, the Serenists believe different,” The farm boy looked at Renevin, “and that the pacification was the true salvation.”

Renevin cocked a brow, “You’re going to meet a lot of people.”

Hondros snickered and squinted his eyes, “Say boy.”

“Yeah?”

“What’s that on the horizon,” He pointed with his gloved hand at the dark line appearing on one of the hills.
“Paulos’ tavern, beyond it is the village of Tephni.”

Hondros nodded, “Tephni, someone there ought to know where our mark is.”

“What’s your mark again?” The boy looked at Hondros, who stuttered.

“Chickens,” Renevin grinned.

“Big ones,” D’Bran added.

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Hidden 5 mos ago Post by Antarctic Termite
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Antarctic Termite Resident of Mortasheen

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Somewhere.

Time. Hearts. Hearts, time. Time passing. Hearts beating. Pump pump pump pump pump. Time.

Currents. Moving. Same direction. A wind. Slow, slow wind. Heavy. Still. Same direction. Twist yourself, align to it. Float still in the endless timeless pushing.

Sometimes, noise. Noise on the wind. Far, far noise. Noise like world cracking. Then dust. Dust on the wind. Dust from above, where the burning comes from. The dust tastes like...

...You have no words. You move your jaw. At heart, you are a simple creature.

The dust tastes like dust.

...

You are hungry. So so hungry. You are hungry in your belly. You are hungry in your soul. Time drags, rubbing against your brain, the smooth edge growing rougher every time it passes. Time burns away your simple mind like a carpet will burn skin. You can feel your brain fraying.

Motionless. Frozen. Stuck. Helpless. Collared. You start to see things moving in the dark. Flashes, patterns, burnings, reversals, palindromes. Time goes backwards forwards backwards forwards sideways up. You forget you have meat because you are made of wood. You become the ocean, feel your skin from the outside, feel the skin inside your throat. Your muscles might as well be stone.

You don't have a word for it, but it's still Hell.




In time the Alpha Serpent's scales began to dim. Unmoulted and unsmoothed by the action of the water, of which there was only the faintest current, the initial glory granted by its otherworldly meal was replaced by its old nature. Brown-grey grime leaked from its skin and caked its outer surface, solidifying in the crevices. The bright colours washed out, new tubercles grew. The light in its belly began to flicker. Soon it was so faint that only the center of each light pouch was visible, even when it shone.

The beast's jaw cracked open slowly, one millimeter at a time, and eventually, wide open, stopped. For a while, there was a silent scream.

Then the beast began to sing.




You are a squid.

Specifically, you are a large, really enormous squid, which is a state of squid that it is particularly wholesome to be. You spend your time catching things that are most certainly not large, really enormous squids, of which there are thankfully plenty. You live your life in constant danger of being encountered by something that is not an enormous squid but may somehow actually be a threat to you, like a rambunctious meteorite or a particularly peckish Kalmar, but when you are a squid you don't tend to really think of these kinds of things.

You don't have a great sense of hearing. You certainly couldn't play the piano, though you have enough limbs to. When you hear the song, it's the clearest noise you've ever heard.

It's a clicking moaning humming wailing rasping groaning gasping...

There's no melody, no rhythm. It's random, discordant, distant, and full of pain. Somewhere in your little squid soul, you taste that pain. The memory of it breeds in you and mates with pains of your own. You are but a simple squid, you do not know other minds. But pain...

You travel to end the pain. You travel with great haste.




You find it in the depths where you do not go. You find it giving light, much like your own, only weaker, older, more delicate. You find it floating over a mound of bones, tied to a trinket. You hear it singing, see its mouth.

There there, you say, embracing the side of its head with your tentacles. Its antennae brush past you, tiny dead lights rubbing your own young ones. There are others with you, not squids, some of them not alive, some of them not even embodied, all eager to find . There, there. The song changes pitch, only for a moment. There, there. I am with you. I am here for you.

You slip yourself into its open mouth. Its jaws contract, and, for a moment, the pain is over.

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Hidden 5 mos ago Post by Vec
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Vec Liquid Intelligence

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M E L A N T H A


Melantha let out an audible sigh as she sat on the ground, her eyes aimlessly wandering about. The bow that Kalmar had left behind was leaning against a large, protruding rock, the quiver sitting atop it. Melantha did not really know why he had left her his bow and arrows, the explanation he had given her not really sitting well with her.

Even if you are stronger than both weapons' powers combined that does not mean you should discard them, especially when heading into a potentially dangerous situation... Melantha grumbled to herself as she absentmindedly dragged her finger on the ground, drawing random shapes on it. Whenever she didn't like something that she had drawn, she would just mess up the soil, covering it up and leaving her with a blank canvas to start again from scratch.

Nevertheless, one can only repeatedly do so much of something before they become bored with it. With a sigh, Melantha stood up and strolled around the cave while all the while looking for something to do. The cave was, for all intents and purposes, quite large. Hmm, I bet Shynir could fit in here if he could squeeze himself through that entrance, Melantha estimated. Thinking about the griffin, however, made her remember all those things Kalmar had told her before he had created it as a demonstration of his powers. About the deities of this world and how she was also one of them.

Remembering how she had failed in her attempt to fly and how Kalmar had, so casually, rushed over to catch her when he had realized she was not going to make it made Melantha understand exactly how weak she was without access to her supposed godly powers. Although he had acted all stern and serious, Melantha had seen and felt the disappointment in his eyes, how he had expected better from her.

She allowed herself a thin smile as she rubbed at her eyes with the palms of her hands, the realization that she had unknowingly put a lot of meaning behind how Kalmar viewed her striking her as quite odd considering it had only been a day or so since their meeting. The sound of water dripping into water entered her ears, however, breaking her off her brooding state.

Tugging the wolf cloak around her tightly, Melantha surveyed her location. Unbeknownst to her, she had wandered quite a way into the cave, absorbed as she was in her thoughts. The light from the entrance was nothing but an afterthought at that point, the darkness having claimed its place as the dominant presence inside the cavern.

Still, Melantha found herself able to traverse the cave’s dark interior chambers with relative ease. Her sight, previously somewhat hindered by the presence of the sun above, was now unfolding a whole new world to her, allowing her to have a crystal clear view of everything inside the cave.

Around her, everything was lined in a subdued film of water due to the moisture in the air making everything damp. Rows of stalactites, hanging from the ceilings like giant icicles made of stone and spikey stalagmites poking up from the floor took up much of the space inside the cave, however, making traveling to some places physically impossible. Melantha even came across a cave wall with some interesting carvings which, she assumed, were created by the water dripping down the side of the stone, eroding it with the passage of time and creating those patterns.

She traced her fingers over the patterns on the wall in some kind of childlike wonder, immersing herself in it for some time. Soon enough, however, she grew bored with it as well and moved on. Like this, Melantha explored the cave and everything inside it before deciding to return back to the entrance, where she and Kalmar had dropped the wolves off.

She stiffly stared at the wolf carcasses for a moment before passing by them, walking to the entrance of the cave. Seems like Heliopolis is almost gone, Melantha thought as she peeked outside. The sun had moved from its previous position of right in the middle of the sky, and she could feel the difference. The light coming from it was relatively subdued and, although still not able to stare straight at it, Melantha was no longer irritated by its presence.

She walked outside the cave and took a moment to stretch her limbs and take in some fresh air. Closing her eyes, Melantha inhaled a deep breath, holding it in for a few seconds before exhaling. She repeated this a couple of times before opening her eyes once more, a satisfied smile plastered across her face. Ahh, getting cooped up in caves is definitely not gonna cut it in the long run. I'll need a reliable way to shield myself from the sun...

Looking at the drifting clouds above, Melantha's thoughts went back to Kalmar. He's sure taking a long time. Hope nothing's wrong with the other god he's meeting...


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Hidden 5 mos ago Post by AdorableSaucer
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AdorableSaucer Blessed Beekeeper

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The Journey to Tendlepog: The Final Chapter



The arrival of Kree and Serenis had initially sown some doubts and discontent among the sailors, especially from the Noble on account of the number of instruments that had been ruined at the dragon’s descent. However, that did not stop the heartwarming environment from returning as what could be repaired, was repaired, and stories previously only shared among sailors were told to their new guests. Before Zhengwu set off from the Serpentine Isles, Qiang Yi summoned Serenis to the helmspost, where all the other officers onboard also had gathered.

Qiang Yi nodded at the present personnel. “Thank you all for coming - and our greatest gratitude to Your Holiness, too, for allowing these servants to bask in Your presence.” The gathered personnel all bowed to Serenis.

No, I should be the one thanking you for allowing me to travel with you,” Serenis replied, shaking her head. “I know I can’t contribute much to your crew, so I’m grateful you’re willing to have me here.” Kree, who was with Serenis at all times, yawned as he rested his head on her shoulder.

Qiang Yi straightened himself back up and smiled widely. “Your sacred self is too polite - in fact, these servants were hoping that Your Holiness would be willing to aid us on the last stretch.” Qiang Yi turned around and received a paper roll from Zhen-zhen. Zeng En, who had mostly recovered by now, save for a missing left hand and foot, made great efforts to place down a table in front of the captain. Despite of his struggles, no one seemed willing to help him. When the table eventually found its place, Qiang Yi unfurled the scroll and laid it down for all to see - it revealed a map of the eastern hemisphere - the most accurate description of it that they had, anyway.

Qiang Yi pointed at a black blot surrounded by a few curved lines. “These are the Serpentine Isles,” he said, his finger moving to upwards along the surface of the map until it reached the starlike shapes of Swahitteh-Tendlepog. The finger eventually fell on the southern point of one of Tendlepog’s arms.

“This is our destination. We will make landfall here and proceed on foot with the gifts. The carpenters have already prepared palanquins and rickshaws to the best of their abilities and opportunity.” He nodded to Li Shan who returned the nod. “Reaching Tendlepog will be relatively simple - as long as we keep a northward course, we cannot miss it. However, according to His Lordship’s details, the shores of Tendlepog are not easily reached.” Qiang Yi looked to Serenis. “This is where these servants hope Your Holiness could come in.”

I see,” Serenis said, looking over the map. In truth, she didn’t actually see anything, and the map’s vagueness didn’t help matters either. Still, if there was something she could do to help, there wouldn’t be a reason to refuse. “But what, exactly, do you need my help for? What makes this Tendlepog so difficult to land on?” Serenis asked.

Qiang Yi pursed his lips and walked over to the railing, gazing out across the sea. “According to His Lordship’s instructions, His Holiness K’nell once informed him that Swahitteh-Tendlepog possess a rather unconventional trait: They are constantly spinning.” He turned back, a frown darkening his face. “His Lordship suggested that we should come up with a plan as we arrived, and we have!” He grinned at Serenis. “Your Holiness, if it is not too much to ask, these servants humbly request that, as we approach Tendlepog, Your sacred self flies ahead and finds us the safest place to make landfall.”

Serenis nodded. It made sense in her mind. “Of course. I won’t let you down,” Serenis answered, smiling confidently. Tapping Kree lightly on his head, Serenis whispered to him, “Come on, Kree, wake up. We’ll have some work to do soon.” Kree blinked and looked up at Serenis, then yawned as he began to stretch.

The officers all smiled at one another and Qiang Yi bowed deeply to Serenis. “Our deepest thanks to you, O holy spirit Serenis. We estimate that we will be approaching Tendlepog in a few days, depending on the wind. You may leave tomorrow, unless Your Holiness would like to time alone to explore the continent first?”

“No need to wait any longer. I will scout it out now,” Serenis said, nodding before leaving the helmspost. As she walked, she clapped twice, signaling Kree to transform. Kree then jumped off of Serenis and into the air, flying off a short distance before expanding in size. Serenis had tried to stress to Kree the importance of not transforming while on the ship, and it seemed to have paid off. As he approached the ship, Serenis took a short running start before jumping onto Kree. Together, they flew off towards to continent of Tendlepog.

Qiang Yi and the others bowed to her as she disappeared, then seemingly went back to their planning.



A week had passed since Serenis had left on her heavenly mount. The rickshaws and palanquins had been prepared and loaded with wares and supplies. They rested safely below deck for now, the carpenters regularly inspecting them for flaws and areas to improve. As they worked their craft, the ceaseless beats of soles against the deck above them nearly drowned out the flush of the ever loudening waves. The shore was approaching fast, its uncanny drift across the horizon frightening some of the sailors. A new council of officers had been called to the helmspost.

“Zeng En,” Qiang Yi called and gestured to the shore. The quartermaster crossed his arms over his chest and nodded. “Yes, captain?” he said. Qiang Yi’s brow furrowed and he drummed the map on the tabletop. “Have you made any progress on the plan to transport the goods to land yet?”

The quartermaster sighed and moved his hands to his hips. “The plank is finished, captain - to use it, however, we must be conservative with the number of people we send over per round. We estimate that it holds five men at the time - two if we add a rickshaw or a palanquin, and even using it at all entirely depends on us finding a piece of land safe enough to dock against.” He gestured to the cliffs along the shifting shore. “As you no doubt have seen, that may prove to be a challenge.”

Qiang Yi let out a disapproving groan and turned to the railing. He slouched over and tightened his fists around the wooden bar. “Where are you, sacred Serenis?” he whispered.

Kree descended until he was parallel with the ship’s deck, allowing Serenis to jump off and land safely, causing a few of the present crew members to jump in surprise. She then clapped twice, and Kree began to shrink while landing on the ship himself, skittering over to Serenis and returning to his favorite position on her neck. “Good work, Kree. Get some rest now,” Serenis said, stroking Kree’s head as he closed his eyes.

Making her way to Qiang Yi, Serenis began to greet him, “I have returned, Qiang Yi, and here to report the location of our landing site.

“O-oh, Your Holiness Serenis!” Qiang Yi said and bowed deeply, followed by the other present officers. “H-how very convenient, this servant was just thinking about y--it means, how nice to see that You have returned!” He cleared his throat into his fist. “Please, share with us Your discovery.”

We’ve found a piece of the shoreline where the Zhengwu can land safely. It’s several hours away, and the shore itself is quite sandy. There should be plenty of space for the ship to rest on the ground,” Serenis reported.

Qiang Yi nodded slowly and looked to Li Shan expectedly, but the master carpenter shook his head. “Afraid that will be difficult still, Your Holiness,” the carpenter began. “It is true that the ship’s bottom is smooth enough that it could potentially be dragged ashore, but…” He paused and looked to the others. “... The hull is still largely made of bound bark, straw and wood - most of that will likely be scraped off if we try to pull the ship ashore.” The carpenter shrugged defeatedly. Qiang Yi bit his finger in thought.

“What direction did we need to sail in to get to this place, You said?” the captain asked Serenis.

After reaching Tendlepog, Kree and I turned right,” Serenis answered thoughtfully. “That sandy shoreline was the first location I found.

“Right… So due east, northeast, then, is that correct?” the captain asked.

Yes, that sounds about right,” Serenis nodded.

Qiang Yi furrowed his brow - as did many of the officers. “We will have to pick up speed, then. The continent rotates due east.” With that, the captain stormed down to the deck and barked orders for the main sail to be furled and for oars to be brought out. Zhen-zhen moved over to Serenis and smiled wryly.
“How long has it been since you saw that place?” she asked in a friendly voice.

Perhaps three… no, maybe four days ago,” Serenis said.

Zhen-zhen put her hands on her hips and pursed her lips. “Alright, so, that’s, uh…” She blinked at the floor. “... A slight deviance in placement from what you may remember. Big number, hard math.” She shook her head. “This is why I didn’t pass the Wise caste exam,” she said with a smirk. “Either way, any other details you recall about the landing spot - nearby cliffs, reefs, distance to nearest river or body of freshwater? Uh, depth of shore waters?”

Hmm…. I didn’t see any reefs… there were rather high cliffs on both sides of the shore, though…” Serenis began to recall. “Past the sandy shore was a large plain of dust. There might have been a river of water, but beyond that and a few bits of vegetation, there didn’t seem to be anything else for a long stretch of land. And... depth of… shore water… I-I don’t know either.

Zhen-zhen shrugged. “Qiang Yi’s a bit uptight about his plans - don’t mind him. He appreciates all the help you’ve given.” She gave her a grin. “We’ll improvise, alright?”

Serenis looked slightly disappointed, but nodded, smiling weakly. “Sure,” she said.




The collective grunts and groans of the paddling crew did little to drown the crushing waves slamming against stone and cliff. They were closing in now - the white beach taunted them from the horizon, but they rowed faster than the continent spun now, even if it only was by a fraction. Qiang Yi had taken a spot at the helmspost and shouted ‘row, row, row’ in a predictable rhythm to avoid the mindless chaos they had experienced the last time during their encounter with that monster. Zeng En and a few others stood readily by with the plank, a long structure of several bound stocks and ropes that formed a flexible, yet stiff and firm rope bridge that would be bound to the shore upon successful landfall.

“Keep the course steady, first mate Zhen-zhen,” Qiang Yi called out. He pointed to Serenis. “Serenis! If you would please, could you give us a bird’s eye view of the situation and keep us away from any cliffs and reefs?!”

Serenis nodded and ran towards the edge of the ship, signaling Kree to transform. In seconds, she was back in the air, keeping an eye out as instructed. Now that she had a second look, she could see things that she had missed before. “Rocks! Port side!” Serenis warned.

The faint call barely reached the shipdeck, but Zhen-zhen’s keen ears picked them up still. With a diligent pull, she dragged the tiller to the left, sending the ship on a hard starboard turn. Zeng En stood by the railing, keeping a fixed eye on the cliffs.

“They’re gone!” he eventually called. Zhen-zhen resumed the ship’s course and gave Zeng En a grin and Serenis a wave.

Serenis returned the wave and resumed her surveillance on the waters below. Other than the rocky outcrop they had just avoided, all seemed good for the time being. Still, she kept her eyes open. There was little time to relax right now; her job was not yet done.

The ship was nearing the beach now. Behind them slowly disappeared the cliffs they had spent the better part of a day outrunning. It took another half of an hour to finally reach the shores. With ten servants lined up along the starboard side, ready with the stone anchor, Qiang Yi gave the order. The anchor was dropped and nearly immediately crashed to the shore below.

“Lay down the plank!” Qiang Yi commanded. Zeng En and his assistants toppled the contraption of the side of the ship, hooking it tightly to the railing on one end. The bridge was extended forward, crashing into the sea at first. The sailors grabbed what parts of it that they could reach and lifted with all their might. The bridge did not budge.

“What happened?!” called Qiang Yi.

“The bridge, captain!” Zeng En yelled back. “It’s stuck in the sand!” Qiang Yi grit his teeth and waved his hands at Serenis.

“Serenis! Have Kree pull the bridge out of the sand and place it on the beach!”

Ok!” Serenis said, gesturing Kree towards the wooden plank in the sand. Kree watched quizzically, unsure of what was going on at first, but soon got the memo when he saw what the crew was doing. Putting his head underneath the bridge, he arched it back, lifting the plank into the air while also creating a small shower of sand. “It’s done!” Serenis called out.

With diligent roars, the Strong steered the bridge towards the shore with Kree’s help. It would have been impossible without the dragon, but now they could properly control the bridge. However, as they attempted to fasten the bridge to the sand on the beach, the bridge would not reach - it was as if there was a wall between the sea and the shore. Qiang Yi came over to the plank crew and looked in bewilderment at the phenomenon.

“B-but it’s right there! Has the continent sped up or something?!” Qiang Yi exclaimed and looked back at the faraway cliffs behind them. Zeng En, now thoroughly exhausted, shook his head in disbelief.

“I have no idea, captain…” he mumbled as he let Yong Mei take over his post. “It’s as if… As if the beach is an illusion or something.”

Qiang Yi blinked and scratched his chin. He once more eyes the cliff to the west and the highlands that stretched out from it for miles. He let his eyes follow the cliffside along the horizon, comparing it to the flat beach in front of them. Zhen-zhen came over to him and nudged his with a raised eyebrow.

“Figured it out yet, captain?” she said with her hands on her hips. Qiang Yi pursed his lips. He looked to Serenis by the bridge and called out: “Serenis! Are you certain this was the only beach around?”

It’s the only one I could find on such short notice!” Serenis called back. “But I can still go find another place to dock if we need to.

Qiang Yi scratched his head to the point where he nearly ripped out hair strands. He once again looked at the cliffs to the side. He planted one foot on top of the railing. “By Nanhe, I hope I am right about this…” Zeng En looked over. “Right about what, captain?”

Then, in a sudden burst of energy, Qiang Yi threw himself overboard towards the beach. As the crew let out screams and howls of horror and panic, the captain reached out in front of him and closed his eyes.

With a hard, yet wet slap, his body smacked against a flat, transparent wall in the air. Stunned for a second, he quickened to as what approximated to adrenaline coursed through his form. He clawed desperately along the invisible wall, the textures scraping the sand off his fingers, but no matter how much he grasped for safety, he only managed to slow his accelerating descent. Suddenly, what he had felt was a rock turned to wet clay in his ruined hands and he tumbled towards the foam below.

Is this how I die, then? the captain thought as he fell. He closed his eyes and parted his lips for one final prayer before the wind was knocked out of him. Qiang Yi blinked his eyes lazily as his mind tried to grasp what had happened. He felt around for what he had landed on and felt a fibrous texture around him. He rolled his head as far back as he could and saw the celebrating crew on the opposite end of the bridge, and upon turning his head a little to the side, saw Serenis atop Kree.

“Th-thank you,” he said to Serenis.

You’re welcome,” Serenis replied, before turning to face the beach. It was clearly not what it seemed to be. Qiang Yi didn’t just collide on nothing; there had to be something there, something they weren’t seeing. However, Serenis noticed one little spot in the air - a hole where Qiang Yi had pulled out the mud clump. It hung there in an uncanny fashion, like a brown ball midway through its journey across a field. There evidently was a wall there - the question was how tall.

Hmm…” Serenis pondered as she stared at the spot, then looked up. An idea began to form in her mind. Looking back at the crew, Serenis walked over to them, saying, “I should’ve seen it earlier. This isn’t a beach. This is a cliff. If Tendlepog truly spins, then it’s collision with the other continent should make it so that beaches wouldn’t form like this. There’d be a cliff wall all around the shoreline.

Qiang Yi nodded slowly. “Yes… Yes, then this truly was a cliff!” He got to his feet and walked uneasily back to the celebrating crew. “Zeng En!” he called.

“Never -EVER- do that again,” the quartermaster growled loudly at him. Qiang Yi grimaced sheepishly.

“Yes, I’d rather not. Listen - we have to bring the bridge up to the top of the cliff and use it as a ladder! The beach is an illusion, just as you said.”

Zeng En blinked and looked up. “A-alright, but… Where is the edge?”

Qiang Yi frowned his brow in the same direction. “I don’t know - we will have to trust Serenis and Kree to lift the bridge up. You and your Strong will make certain the bridge remains bound to the ship, is that clear?”

Zeng En hammered his broad chest proudly with one fist. “Yes, captain!” Qiang Yi grinned and turned to Serenis. “Serenis! Could you and Kree carry the bridge to the top of the cliff? We will secure it down here!”

Ok!” Serenis agreed. She relayed a few instructions to Kree, who proceeded to fly up to the top of the cliff, then stick his head out and lower himself down to where he needed to be, holding the bridge up with his head and securing it onto the top of the cliff. “It’s ready!” Serenis said when the job was done.

The crew looked up at the bridge-now-made-ladder that seemed to hang onto nothing. Many of them recoiled a little, whispering fearful explanations between one another. Qiang Yi muttered a little, grabbed onto the rope and looked to the rest. “We will ascend to the top and bring with us as much as we can. The ladder may not be wide enough for two of us at once, but it can handle as many as we get put along its length. Bring rope and wood so that we can hoist up the wine and rickshaws.” He took a deep breath. “The palanquins can remain aboard the ship.” Then the captain began to climb.

One by one, more and more crew members flowed to the ladder and began to climb. Kree had secured the lines well - even as the entirety of the remaining thirty crewmates had climbed and brought with them wine and equipment, the bridge had not budged. Qiang Yi counted the heads present atop the cliff and nodded.

“Alright, everyone made it up. That’s good.” Qiang Yi turned to Serenis and fell to his knees. “Your Holiness Serenis and Kree, the sacred, these servants cannot even begin to thank You for Your aid in this. This, uh… This servant also personally apologises for its commanding tone during landfall. It was unnecessarily rude and coarse.”

There is no need to apologize, Qiang Yi,” Serenis said, holding a hand up. “It was necessary in the situation we were in. And honestly, I wouldn’t know what to do without your commands. We just did the jobs we needed to do.
The crew encircled Serenis and all fell to their knees. Qiang Yi chuckled. “Your Holiness is much too humble. These servants all owe their lives to You for what You’ve done for us. Without You, we would never have made it ashore. Please, if there is anything we can do for You, tell us.”

Just being with with you and your crew was more than enough,” Serenis answered. “The stories I’ve heard, the laughs we’ve shared… this felt more than a mere journey to me. It felt like spending time with friends, no, with family. I’m very thankful for this time. I’m sure Lady Arae would approve of you all as well.” Kree then decided to stick his head into the conversation and softly growl. “Kree and I could use a few provisions, though. We’ll need them when we depart,” Serenis added.

Qiang Yi and the crew looked up with sheepish expressions, then at one another. Their heads returned to the ground. “Th-that is… Something we sadly cannot grant. Our people do not eat, you see - at least, not for the purpose of sustenance. However, if Your Holiness would like any water, we will gladly offer You as much as You could want.” There were several shameful headshakes among the crew. “We’re terribly sorry,” one of them whispered.

That’s alright, then,” Serenis said. “Kree and I can search Tendlepog for food when he needs it.” Kree bumped his head into Serenis’ side and snorted. Serenis patted his head, then continued, “If there’s nothing else that requires my help, then Kree and I should be off. I did say I’d only travel until we reached our next destination, after all.

“I-if it’s not too much to ask, these servants beseech Your Holiness to give them another task to accomplish for You as a thanks - tradition demands it.” There were hums of agreement throughout the crew, occasionally echoes of ‘tradition demands it’.

Serenis tilted her head sideways as she gave the matter some thought. She thought of the crew of Zhengwu as nice folk and didn’t really want to trouble them any more than they had to be. Then an idea flashed into her mind. Nodding, she decided to go with it. “Then offer prayers and thanks to Lady Arae as well as Shengshi. Unlike myself, she is a true goddess, and she is the Goddess of Family. This crew is very much like a family, if not one already, so do incorporate her into your traditions. She will not ask for much, and will not offer much in return, but as long as you retain your love for each other, she will not let your family fall.

The crew members looked at one another, nodding and smiling. A chuckle coloured with Zhen-zhen’s voice bounced across the soundscape. Qiang Yi hummed approvingly. “Then we shall do so. On our honours as Servants, we shall erect a shrine to Her Holiness Arae aboard our ship and praise her as well in daily prayer. We thank You once more for Your aid. Please don’t be afraid to seek us out again if You see us on your travels, Your Holiness.”

Serenis bowed, then proceeded to walk over and jump onto Kree. As Kree got up and spread his wings, Serenis bid farewell to Qiang Yi, “Safe traveling!” With a mighty leap and a flap of his wings, Kree was in the air, the two soon a speck in the distance.

The servants collectively rose and looked at Qiang Yi. The captain nodded to the left and right and then looked down at the ship far below.

“Someone will gave to remain here to maintain the ship. I want one third of our crew to remain - who volunteers?”

Sure enough, some hands, mostly belonging to the Skilled and the Noble, soon sprouted into the air. Wang Huangxia, having only recently recovered, was among them. Qiang Yi put his fists on his hips and furrowed his brow as he counted. “A bit fewer than hoped, but I cannot fault you for not wanting to remain here all the time. Li Shan, have two of your carpenters come with us. The rest can remain. Wang Huangxia, you and the Noble that remain here will scout for a source of water and see to it that the tank aboard the ship is full.”

The servants all bowed. “As you wish, captain,” Huangxia said in a slightly sour tone. Li Shan pulled his apprentice Tong Lao aside and gave him some specific instructions. Zeng En and Zhen-zhen gathered the expedition crew and prepared them for the journey, filling what flasks and gourds needed to be filled, and checking footwear and the like.

Qiang Yi winced a little and looked down at his bandaged hands. They had fixed him up quickly after he came back to the ship, but his hands would likely not be functional until their quest was complete. His eyes grew misty as he imagined all the sights that he would never get to record in his poetry. He felt an elbow in his side and recoiled.

“Oi, captain, what’s with the slouch?” Zhen-zhen said with a sly smirk. Qiang Yi started briefly, then shot her a sideway glance.

“That stunt of mine was silly… I lost my hands and I could have lost my life - all to prove if the illusion was what it was.”

Zhen-zhen made an exaggerated chin grab and squinted at Qiang Yi with pursed lips. “Yeah, it was silly, alright - downright dumb, if you ask me.” Qiang Yi deflated. “... But! It looked heroic and the poems will remember you for it--” She looked down at his broken hands and frowned. “... Well, when they’re written down, anyway.”

Qiang Yi rolled his eyes. “Thank you, first mate, for cheering me up,” he said airily. Zhen-zhen elbowed his side again.

“Hey, you did it for us. That says something about the character of a leader.” She gave him a warm grin. “His Lordship would be proud of you.”

The captain’s eyes became saucers and he cleared his throat. “Y-you think?” he said and prodded his stumps together sheepishly, wincing with every prod.

“Absolutely! He’ll put you on a monument for sure! You know what your title would be?” Her cheeks flushed and she let out quiet snickers. Qiang Yi furrowed his brow and smiled uncertainly. “The… Brave?” he proposed.

“The Skipper,” Zhen-zhen burst out with a chuckle. Qiang Yi smiled wryly and rolled his eyes. Zeng En called out and the two turned to him. “We are ready to leave at your order, captain,” the quartermaster said. Qiang Yi nodded firmly.

“Very good. Those that remain with the ship will maintain its position, integrity and access - if the ship or the bridge falls, we can no longer return home. You will made certain that does not happen. Furthermore, in honouring our promise to Her Holiness Serenis, you will construct a shrine to Arae aboard Zhengwu and praise it daily along with Ashalla and our Lord. Any question or queries?”

“No, captain!” the remainers boomed in unison. Qiang Yi nodded.

“Very well. May His Lordship keep you safe, and may the Queen of Oceans be with you, and may the Loving One bless you with familial bonds and warmth for one another.”

“And to you, captain,” Wang Huangxia said on the remainers’ behalf. The expeditionary crew looked at one another, took deep breaths and set off towards the centre of Tendlepog.




After the crew had pushed past the original vegetation of the cliffside, and a brief stint through an uneventful forest, the soon found themselves in a land very bizarre. All around them was a sea of white dust, and the iron smell of broken rock. Vegetation had thinned to a plant here or there, specks of yellow-green on a canvas of alabaster. The heat bounced off the sheet of dust, and there was no water in sight. Worst still, it soon became apparent that they were lost, their footprints never quite forming, and their eyes flickering over mirages of broken promises.

After several hours of this madness, a number of crewmates grew paranoid and aggressive. It did not take long until an argument broke out at the end of the caravan, one which soon spread to the front like wildfire. Qiang Yi, Zhen-zhen and Zeng En moved to the back, arriving at a scene of spiteful insults and vicious threats, primarily spat by two robe-clad membres of the Noble. Qiang Yi racked his brain to remember their names, but Zhen-zhen stormed over, put her hands on her hips and shouted, “Tu Er, Po Lan, what in Nanhe are you two doing?!”

“Back off, squirt, it’s your fault we’re in this mess!” the one likely known as Tu Er shouted in the smaller girl’s face. Po Lan stomped over to Qiang Yi and stuck his finger in his face, causing the captain to back away with wide eyes. “Captain, look where you’ve taken us! Nowhere! We haven’t seen water for ten hours and our skins are emptying - what have you got to say for yourself?!”

Qiang Yi blinked and opened and closed his mouth, unable to form a sentence. Zeng En crossed his arms over his chest and glared at the man. “You dare cast such accusations at the captain’s face, Po Lan?!”

The man backed off, but returned the glare. Meanwhile, behind him Zhen-zhen and Tu Er were nearly butting heads. The girl grit her teeth at the menacing man, her fists clenching and unclenching. However, she eventually took a deep breath and stepped backwards. “I don’t feel like fighting, Tu Er. Just calm down and fall in line, and we’ll forget your attempts at harming morale.”

Tu Er spat a ball of water on Zhen-zhen’s robe and sneered at her. “Make me.” Zhen-zhen’s eyes momentarily flashed red and the little girl pounced the other servant, her fists hammering mercilessly at his face. Qiang Yi and Zeng En both gasped and sprinted over to pull her away, but as they left Po Lan to his devices, the servant ran away. “You will all die in here! Escape while you can!” he screamed as he ran.

There was a sudden whinny and the thunder of hooves. A figure appeared on the horizon, a lot closer than one would hope. It was dressed in dark glinting thorns and swung a large sword back and forth over the head of a midnight colored mare, hooves aflame. As it passed Po Lan the sword swung down, the blade slipping through him while leaving no a sight of harm. The servant collapsed, and the charge continued in a straight line towards the others.

The caravan froze as one. The squirming Zhen-zhen and Tu Er both immediately halted mid-punch as the Warden barreled down on the quarrel. The mare suddenly turned, stamping to a halt before the group. The Warden pointed a finger at the group, “What is the meaning of this!?” His voice boomed, leaking the smell of wet soil.

For a moment, no one neither answered nor moved. Even Li Shan at the front of the caravan remained petrified. Qiang Yi blinked a few times, then took a step forward. “O-oh sacred spirit, for-forgive these servants for breaking out into such needless squabbles on Your holy territory - they are but humble travellers bearing gifts for His Holiness K’nell. Th-they recently made landfall and have been trekking through these lands for a week, but they have not seen water for hours - and water is quite necessary to our subsistence, You see. Its absence incites a desperation in us that--”

“Fools!” The voice rumbled angrily, “You walked with the dust, not across it, that is why you are lost.” He shifted on his mare in an angry silence. A gentle tickle could be felt in the servants’ minds and the Warden suddenly spoke again, “However, you are faithful, and even in your folly you shall be granted reprieve.” A shadowy crow flew over head and the Warden pointed, “Even now the Lord K’nell watches.”

“H-He does?” Qiang Yi whimpered. Around him, all the servants fell to their knees in prayer. The captain permitted himself to look at the Warden’s black-armoured face, though his eyes flicked away swiftly. “Forgive this servant for asking, but… Who does it have the pleasure of addressing?”

The dust began to shift as the Warden stared in silence at Qiang Yi. Po Lan, who was a distance away began to stir, the dust around him shifting. The Warden looked down as the flames of his horses’ hooves began to douse, the dust rising slowly.

“Our Lord has arrived,” The Warden rumbled, and then all at once a gentle flush of cool water rolling in from the horizon, shallow and wide. The dust coated it like a sleeve as it washed over the praying servants knee’s, the landscape turning into one of swirling white and crystal. The servants’ eyes became saucers as they spread their fingers out into the shallow, foamy flow. “It’s a miracle - a gift from the Lord of Dreams!” came a shout from the front of the caravan, eliciting echoing sentiments and calls from the rest. Tu Er blinked at the water and tossed himself around in it like a hog in mud, cackling maniacally as it soaked his robes. Po Lan blinked to life, sat up and spotted Tu Er. He let out an equally crazy chortle and went sprinting over to his earlier enemy to drink his fill. Qiang Yi, Zhen-zhen and Zeng En all remained kowtowing, though they could not help but giggle at one another as water seeped through their skin and reinvigorated their thirsty souls.

The blue sky seemed to be mirrored in the white speckled flood below, all sounds drowned but the gentle laughing and praising. It was only when the soft string of an unseen violin played did the servants suddenly feel a pressure in the air. There before them, though they didn't look, a gentleman stood aloft the gently shifting flood. His voice swirled, “Welcome, servants of Shengshi.”

The celebrating servants all froze for a moment, before rolling over on their tummies and prostrating themselves. Qiang Yi glanced left and right to make certain the whole caravan remembered their manners. “His Lordship sends His warmest greetings, O Holiness K’nell, Lord of Dreams, Sovereign of Sleep, Exalted Creator of Hermes, the Love of the River, and beloved brother of Shengshi, Lord of the Thousand Streams.” He and the rest all dipped their heads a little lower, if possible.

“His greetings are well received, as are you,” K'nell replied, “You diligence in your duty does not go unnoticed, I assure you.” There was a pause, “Might you rise so I may see your faces?”

The servants rose in unison, bowed and then looked forward, though none of them dared make direct eye contact. K'nell tapped his chin and walked by Qiang Yi, “Would I be wrong to say that you are their brave captain?”

As if programmed, Qiang Yi once more fell to his knees as K’nell walked by. “Th-th-this servant is the captain, yes - Your Holiness intuition is impeccable. This servant is most grateful for Your Holiness comment about bravery!”

“Very good,” K’nell smiled, “Present your gift and finish your quest so I may congratulate you and your compatriots on your journey.”

Qiang Yi bowed proudly and turned around. “Bring forth His Lordship’s gift.” Five rickshaws were quickly rolled up to Qiang Yi, each loaded with a large, fifty litre pot of wine, a different flavour for each pot. Qiang Yi stepped aside and gestured to the rickshaws; the sailors who had pulled them took a few steps back and fell back on their knees. “His Lordship Shengshi of the Thousand Streams wishes to give His dearest friend, Lord K’nell of Dreams, Sovereign of Sleep and Exalted Creator of Hermes, Love of the River, a gift of two hundred and fifty mugfulls of wine, fifty mugfulls respectively of apple wine, mango liqueur, longtsao wine, palm wine and, of course, blueberry spirits. His Lordship prays they will satisfy Your Holiness’ pallet.”

“How kind!” K'nell praised, “Be sure to give my deepest thanks to your Lord the next time you see him.” He tapped his chin, “But you shouldn't leave empty handed, no.” There was a pause as K'nell thought, “Should it be within your pleasure, I invite you to rest and recuperate on the bountiful plains of Tendlepog until such a time I come to an idea for a gift in kind. You may bring your entire crew while my faithful Warden,” He Tilted his head to the grumpy horseman, “Shall ensure the safety of your vessel in the meantime.”

The crew members raised their heads to look at one another. Qiang Yi shot a glance at Zhen-zhen and Zeng En, who both beamed like Heliopolis itself. “If His Holiness allows it, then these servants would be more than honoured to accept. Thank You, blessed Sovereign of Sleep. Thank You from the bottom of these servant’s hearts.”

“Then you are now my welcomed guests,” K'nell grinned wide, “You may take from my rivers, collect from my fields and forage from my mountains. But,” He raised a finger, “Do not go beyond the inner mountain ranges and into the central forests, not without further invitation.” He looked them over, “While you sleep here, you will find paradise awake and in your dreams, and when you are finally rested and I have a gift in mind, there will be a final task from me should you accept.”

“A-a task, Your Holiness?” asked Qiang Yi carefully. The others gathered around closer to listen in.

“There is delicate cargo that I wish disposed of,” K'nell folded his hands behind his back, “Who better to do such a task than the brave sailors of Shengshi. I will not let you leave without the proper provisions and equipment of course, and should you refuse then I will even still see you safely home.”

Zhen-zhen, Zeng En and Li Shan all exchanged glances. Meanwhile, Qiang Yi’s eyes were glistening with joy. Zhen-zhen gave his pack a prod and whispered, “M… Maybe we should think a--”

“These servants offer their services, Your Holiness!” Qiang Yi exclaimed and bowed. Zhen-zhen and the rest froze momentarily, but quickly bowed, too.

“It will be dangerous,” K'nell warned, “I will accept your response in the coming days, after rest has taken you all.” He paused, “But your enthusiasm is most refreshing.”

“O-oh,” the captain began. “Naturally, O sacred Sovereign! We shall rest and have ready for You an answer.” Yet again, he bowed, inciting everyone behind him to also bow.

“Very good,” K'nell nodded, “I advise you send one sailor back with the Warden to inform your crew of the new arrangement in the plains. As for the rest.” He snapped his fingers and a set of footprints appeared in the drying dust, “Follow these to your new place of leisure. I will be watching you, ensuring your safe arrival.”

Qiang Yi pointed at a gi-clad servant, who set off in a jog back the way they came. “These servants are eternally grateful for Your hospitality, Your Holiness.”

“I'm glad to hear it,” K'nell smiled, “I am equally grateful for your lords gift and your services.” He clapped a hand and shadowy figures jumped out of the air itself. They scurried and picked up the containers of wine, running off as quickly as they came. “I should think of a gift,” K'nell mused, “One for the servants as well as the master.” He turned on his heel, “Yes, indeed.”





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Silver





Silver sighed, stretched her back and wiped sweat off her brow. Her red hair was tied into a long ponytail and she half-squinted her eyes to shield them from the mid-day searing light. She dropped the crude stone hammer onto the soil and pushed lightly on the fence post she’d just staked deep into the ground. It gave no way, and soon she’d be able to tie some branches or, Gods allow, some actual planks to the posts as a way to keep the bigger herbivores away from the crops. It was close to harvesting season, and having a hungry animal stumble into the area like a few days ago would be catastrophic.

“Orvus! Do you think these fence posts look good?” She called loudly, not even bothering to take her eyes off the newest addition to the perimeter of lone fence posts.

’I don’t know.’ came the god’s soft spoken voice, echoing in Silver’s mind. ’I can’t see it.’ he seemed to almost muse.

Silver rolled her eyes and chuckled. She knocked on the fence post a few times and spoke, “Does it sound good, then?”

”Yes.” his voice said, right next to Silver’s ear.

“Good,” She paused, “Because I don’t know how to make fences. I’m only imitating what the servants did at the Manor’s garden. We also don’t really have any tools.”

Orvus knelt down next to Silver and touched the wood. Without turning his head to look he said, ”You are getting better at not being frightened.” he stated then said, ”I saw something similar in my… dream. It should work to keep those that aren’t welcome within. Do you require tools? I find that hands… are handy.” Orvus finished blankly.

Silver chuckled and smirked, “Calm down with those puns, Orvus! You might just desolate my pretty laugh away.” She snickered and, after a moment, looked at her hands, calloused and rough. “And, tools are probably a good idea for me. My hands are not as handy as yours.”

”Puns? Whatever do you mean, young Silver. I only speak… truthfully.” he said with a hint of sarcasm. The god then took one of Silver’s hands within his own and looked upon it. After a thorough examination, he said, ”Let us see what can be done for these hands of yours. Come.” Orvus rose, helping Silver to her feet effortlessly. He then let go of her hand and began to walk to the edge of the clearing. It was getting farther and farther away as the days went by.

Silver walked beside him, her eyes open and alert for any movement beyond the treeline. “Where are we going?”

”You shall see.” he whispered cryptically, then went silent.

“Oh,” She hesitated for a split second, but continued walking nonetheless, “can’t wait to see it.”

Orvus said nothing, but led the red haired girl down a well worn path. One easily missed by prying eyes, but noticeable by those who deigned to look. He rounded a bend in the path, obscuring the view from Silver. After a short ways, he turned around and said, ”You sleep a great amount, little one. It allows for much downtime.” he then turned around and walked a few steps further, before moving to the side, allowing Silver to witness the small house before her.

“Oh…!”

It sat in a new clearing, with mounds of freshly tilled dirt scattered on either side of a long, winding stone path. The cabin was crafted from rich mahogany wood, with large glass windows in the front, and on the sides. Three steps led up to a small outdoor porch with an overhang. On one side the porch was a small, ornate bench, and on the other side were two chairs. Orvus walked over to the side of the cabin, and faced towards the forest. With a flick of his wrist, the trees began to fall, having been cut perfectly at the base. It was a loud chorus of booms and snaps, but when everything settled down, the old clearing with the plants could be seen. It was but a brisk walk away.

Orvus then turned around to Silver and said, ”Would you care to look inside?”

“Of course! Let’s go, did you make this yourself? I mean, of course you did,” Silver smiled, her mouth hanging open slightly as she practically skipped over the steps of the porch and caressed the finely crafted door, “This is expensive! Back home only nobles and royalty afforded houses like this. I know this because my childhood guardian once took me to his house, it was way smaller than this!”

”Intriguing. You’ll have to tell me more of your home Silver.” Orvus said as he opened the door, revealing the inside of the cabin. It had an open, minimalistic feel, only the bare necessities were within, with a great amount of room for more. On the right side of the entrance, there was a large table with two chairs, and a cabinet of light mahogany. On the left side of the entrance there were stairs that led up to a loft. Across from them there was a large room with a couple more long benches, next to a fireplace of mossy cobblestone. Throughout the room there was a fine, wooden smell, permeated by a countertop with spices in wooden bowls.

”Upstairs there is a bed, for you of course.” Orvus said, turning to Silver.

Silver took in a few long whiffs of the air, and her eyes sparkled excitedly. “How did you even make all of this? I thought you were the God of Destroying things, not of Masterful Crafting?” She said as she climbed up the stairs and peeked into the attic bedroom.

Orvus blinked suddenly at her words, the blow coming unexpectedly. ”I… Just thought it would be a nice gesture.” he said softly.

“It is! I love it, so much!” She chuckled, turning to smile warmly at Orvus, “You should be proud! You always look so gloomy all the time, even when tending to the plants. I bet you had fun making this little place, huh?”

Her words prompted him to look at her, perhaps he had been too hasty to judge. She had not meant it that way, now did she? Orvus began to climb the stairs, following her. The loft wasn’t as spacious as the rest of the cabin, but it provided the right amount of coziness. Situated in the middle was a large bed, made of soft feathers. It had some furs as well, but nothing so fancy. Next to the bed, on both sides, were small nightstands. In the side of the ceiling, there was a skylight.

”Fun? No, It was but a project Silver. For you, a home.” he said, his voice no longer sounding so sad and forlorn.

“Heh, well, thank you, really,” She looked around, coming back down the stairs. “Do you have any plans on expanding this little settlement? Maybe it could become something bigger. We’d have festivals, fairs, big events, maybe even tournaments! With knights and horses and princes from faraway places.”

”You are welcome.” he seemed to say proudly. ”Hmm. I do not have any other plans for this place, not yet anyways. What you say would be… a long time. A long time.” he repeated.

“Well, a long time is still some time. So we’re en route. I might even apply to be your governor!” Silver said with a grin.

”I suppose you are right. Until then, we will have time.” Orvus said, now walking over to sit at the table. He brought both his arms atop the table and then folded them. He sat silently, almost awkwardly. He turned his gaze to Silver and said, ”Won’t you join me?”

Silver nodded and went to sit across from him, imitating his posture, “Yes, Knight Commander?”

”Knight? Commander? Tell me, what does that mean?” he asked, looking at Silver with a soft expression.

Silver opened her mouth to speak, but quickly fell silent and tilted her head curiously at Orvus. After a moment, she began. “A knight is someone who risks everything they have for the benefit of others. Life, limb, sometimes even their sanity… They’re the most exemplary people you could meet, and they come in all shapes, sizes, genders and races. I once met this Foreign Knight that had scales instead of hair!” She looked starry eyed at the ceiling, as if she could see the sky through it, “And, well, a Knight Commander is someone that commands the Knights. Usually a renowned Hero in his later years.”

Orvus listened intently as Silver spoke. Coming to his own conclusions. The god then shifted in his chair, a strange look in his eye, then said, ”I am no knight, little one.”

“Oh, well, obviously not! You’re not wearing a shiny set of armor, after all.” She chuckled.

Orvus blinked, then said, ”Your sense of humor never ceases to amaze me, Silver. So tell me, with your own eyes, how does the planting go?”

“The planting?” Silver tilted her head and looked at Orvus intently, curiously studying his completely neutral expression, “I’ve learned a lot about how plants reproduce, and how to prepare the soil to plant seed… I’m not sure I understand your question, Orvus.”

Orvus sighed, sinking into the chair. He looked at Silver with sad eyes and said, ”I apologize, Silver. I am not much of a conversationalist, as you know. Sometimes, questions just come to mind. But I am… content to know that you have learned… from me. I never thought such a thing possible, before you.” He almost whispered.

She smiled and looked away, her silver eyes scanning the room casually once more. “Well… You gave me a body, a life...” She paused and after a while, she turned back to stare at Orvus, “I’ve noticed something, too. You’re sad all the time, aren’t you? And the way you speak and the things you say betrays the fact you don’t think too highly of yourself, Orvus.”

Orvus shifted in the chair again, leaning forward and his gaze shifting down to look at the table. There was a long silence between the two of them before he looked up at Silver with a white tear falling down his face. ”Yes.” came a broken voice, ”I told myself it was easier to be hated, just so I didn’t have to change. Change is… I am uncertain if I am truly capable of such thing. I am a blight in the universe. I should just kill myself and be done with it, but I don’t want to die. I thought I wanted to return to the Nothingness from whence I was born, but I don’t know what I want anymore. I simply don’t know, Silver.”

Silver’s eyes dimmed slightly, and she looked down at the table as well. A moment passed, and she gently took one of Orvus’ hands into hers, all without looking at him. “It’s okay. It’s okay, Orvus. Nobody really knows. And, well…” She sighed and wiped at her eyes with her free hand, then went back to looking into Orvus’ eyes, a warm smile on her face, “You did some bad stuff, didn’t you? But you’ve also done some good now. The plants, the ones you helped grow and proliferate, they’re alive and healthy because of you. Without you here, they would’ve never been this safe or strong. And… Without you here, I’d still be a little spirit floating through reflections, escaping from her past. You’ve done well, Orvus. Never regret anything.”

”I don’t regret what I’ve done. I was… not like I am now. Hurt, confused, scared. I attacked Phystene simply because I could not feel the life she had created. I may not regret doing it, but it doesn’t absolve me from being a monster in her eyes. That will never change.” he said with a sigh, squeezing her hand gently, ”I… See what you mean. I once had a dream… K’nell gave it to me. Would you like to see it?” he asked.

“Who cares if people think you’re a monster? Monsters don’t get hurt, cattle does.” Silver huffed, but quickly calmed down and nodded, “... Yes, show me the dream.”

”I see.” Orvus said as he cocked his head to look at Silver in a new light. After a moment he said, ”Let me know if it becomes too much, Silver. Mortal minds are ill equipped for so much information at once.” Orvus said, as Silver’s vision faded to black.

Before her stretched the same dream that K’nell had once shown Orvus. It played out as it always did in his head. He woke up to next to Rowan, they chatted, then Orvus set out with big Hank. it was vividly in detail, and Silver would be able to feel absolutely everything that Orvus felt. Then the dream ended atop the hill with K’nell, the lingering words of the choice, ‘creation or destruction’ fading slowly away before Silver’s vision came back.

”Are you alright?” Orvus asked with concern in his voice.

Silver wiped at her teary eyes and grit her teeth slightly at the headache that suddenly manifested behind her right eye. She closed that eye and grimaced, but the other eye found its way to stare at Orvus. If the eyes truly were the windows to the soul, then hers was on fire after seeing the dream.

“Destroy to create. That log house was beautiful, how many trees died to build it? The furs along the floor in the living room-- How many animals? Handsome Hank, how many of his ancestors killed to survive…? Ow,” She flinched and shut her eyes tightly, pressing her hands her temples.

Orvus stood up and bent over the table, pressing a finger into Silver’s forehead. Instantly she felt a numbing coolness as her pain became empty. Then Orvus removed his touch.

The god looked concerned and said, ’Are you alright Silver?”

She took in a few deep, slow breaths and opened her eyes, which had dimmed noticeably. She smiled weakly, “I am now, thank you, Orvus.”

Orvus settled back down into his chair, placing a hand underneath his chin as he leaned back. ”Now you know why I’m farming. Why I’m doing any of this. Because of K’nell and that dream. It… broke me for a long time. Longer than you could ever know. I still feel it’s effects, especially when Kalmar confronted me. He told me to change, or that he would kill me. Ever since, I’ve felt… I don’t even know. Lost? Afraid? Scared? Did you know, the other night I flew to another continent to help a mortal in need? I heard her prayer and answered and I was afraid of how I sounded. So sure of myself, so foreign when I can’t even make a decision myself. I even gave her gifts, Silver. First you, then Mel’lssandra, now Atmav.” he paused in thought, ”No… you were not the first one I gave a gift to. That was… Arya…” he said softly.

Silver looked down at the table and frowned, worried. “Who’s Arya? It sounds like you care for them a lot.”

”Arya is my daughter…” Orvus said absentmindedly.

Silver pursed her lips and sighed, “You sound like my- Laina’s Father. Always thinking of something else, never present… Do you talk to her?”

His eyes snapped to attention at Silver’s words and he connected with her own eyes. ”No. I cast her out of Veradax the moment of her birth. She is not like me… She would have died there…” Orvus said shakely.

“And so, you abandoned her?”

”I… Did.”

“When all you want is to feel that life, that dream. You’re faced with your own daughter, someone who seeks your love… And you turn your back to her?”

”I was in a poor state, sitting before something that would have killed her outright.” he said immediately before his voice faded, and he leaned forward. In but a whisper he said, ”I looked inside of her and I saw compassion, love, joy and a spark for life I could not provide. Yes, I want that dream, but it is merely that, a desire. One that I could not build there. Perhaps if I tried to, things would have gone differently. But because of my inability to change, to feel, I had to let her go. She would have stagnated with me, and her potential destroyed. I gave her a mighty gift, Silver. One that will grow as she does. She is in safe hands, with Shengshi the last I knew.”

Silver shook her head and looked away, “What gift did you give her, if I may know?”

Orvus flinched as Silver looked away. ”A bit of divinity and the ability of flight.” he said sadly.

“... It’s never late, you know. Until it’s too late. How would you feel if she were to die without knowing how you truly felt about her existence? She might be going around, thinking you hate her. Thinking she shouldn’t have been born!”

Orvus said nothing, letting the room fill with deafening silence. The sound of a chair moving across wood broke that silence, and Orvus left the room, and went outside. There he fell to his hands and knees, staring blankly at the ground away from the cabin. He then rose a fist high, and struck the earth. There was tremor that rippled through the house, and a crater half its size was indented into the ground, when the dust finally settled.

Then the God sat up on his knees, hunched over. He waved his hand before him, saying nothing. But something began to take shape.

At that moment, Silver stumbled out of the house, her own eyes teary once more and her knees scraped and bruised.

“O-Orvus!”

The god said nothing as the form grew larger still, towering above him. The black mass began to take shape, first two legs, then two arms jutted out from a feminine body. A lions mane of long, thick hair that shone like the lights of a nebula fell down her back in wavy curves. Her skin was the same inky black that comprised his own body, but unlike his own, she was without any sort of blemishes of light. She was tall, taller then even Orvus and her body was defined by her curvy, hour-glass figure with toned muscles. Her face was oval, with high cheekbones. Unlike Orvus and Arya, she had a small dainty nose, and full lips with accents of light to distinguish them.

She floated in the air for a moment, then fell to her knees before Orvus. Silver merely watched as the whole scene unraveled, bewildered and unable to move. Orvus then stood up, eyeing the figure before him. She was unlike anything he had yet created, but similar all the same. He didn’t even know why he had created her, but he had, and now she existed.

Orvus walked over to her, her kneeling body reaching his chest. He placed a finger atop her head and then said softly,”Wake up Laurien.” And the giant of a woman opened her eyes as Orvus let his hand fall to his side. Laurien’s eyes blazed with white light, portraying the same intelligence he had seen in Arya upon her own birth, before dimming down to a soft glow. Laurien blinked once, twice and smiled.

Her voice was strong, ringing with hints of melody when she spoke, ”Hello. Are you my father?” she asked sweetly.

”I am, dear Laurien. Do you know why you are here?” Orvus responded in kind.

By this point, Laurien had begun to softly caress her arms and facial features, getting a feel for her newfound existence. She then said, ”Why, to live of course. But do I have a purpose?” she asked eyeing Orvus.

”Good.” Orvus said at first, before saying, ”A purpose? Why of course, but only if you want. I have something special in mind. But first, how about you meet Silver?”

’What’s a Silver, father?” Laurien asked as Orvus turned to look at the small red-headed girl, who was leaning against the doorway with a scraped, bleeding knee and a somewhat vacant, yet still bewildered expression on her face.

“I am Silver. You’re Laurien?”

”Yes, that’s me.” Laurien said, now eyeing Silver with a quizzical look, ”Why do they call you Silver if your hair is red?” she asked bewildered. By that time, Orvus had made is way over to her, walking up the wooden steps and bent down to look at her knee.

”You’re hurt. I… I am sorry.” he said, gently touching her knee.

Silver looked at Orvus and shook her head, “It’s okay,” And then the redhead turned her intensified gaze to Laurien. Her eyes shone a bright silver in colour and dug into her very soul, “Because of my eyes, I think. I like your name, Laurien. And you look strong.”

Orvus stood up, sadness in his eyes, and turned to face Laurien as well. By this point, Laurien had stood up, revealing the true nature of her stature. She walked with confidence over to the both of them, no sign of any uneasy legs. When she reached the patio, she bent over and walked underneath. Then she put her hands upon her thighs and leaned into inspect Silver up close.

”Mhmm. I can see why now. Those eyes are beautiful, and that hair… So very pretty.” she said before saying, ”Oh, right, thank you for the compliment. I quite like my name as well. So, what is this place?”

Silver averted her gaze, a light blush coating her cheeks for a moment, “Thank you, this is my home, your Father made it for me. He’s very generous.”

Laurien reached out to gently caress Silver’s cheek and murmured, ”No need to blush. You should be proud of how you look. Your lips are s-”

Orvus then cut in saying, ”Laurien. This is not the time, dear one. Please, go and explore the house, Silver and I need to talk for a bit.” he said sternly.

Laurien lowered her hand from Silver’s burning cheek and looked up to Orvus with a smirk, ”Of course, of course. Can’t blame a girl for admiring beauty.” she said chipperly, before scooting past Silver and into the house.

Silver kept looking at the ground, cheeks red and hot. “T-That was intense,” She stammered, speaking quietly.

Orvus put a hand on SIlver’s shoulder and gently squeezed. Then he said, ”You must forgive me again. I did not realize she would react in such a way to you. I do not think she meant any harm, Silver. She is just… new to the world.” Orvus said softly.

“It’s fine… I just wasn’t prepared for that,” Silver took in a deep breath and the color of her cheeks subsided slowly. Finally, she exhaled and looked at Orvus, “Why make her now?”

”When I left the house and… punched the ground… a thought occurred to me as I went over your words. I’ve been helping others to try and make myself feel less guilty about what I did to Arya. I realize that now.” he paused trying to find the right words, You are correct after all, little Silver. I made a mistake, and one that I regret. So I created Laurien. She will go find Arya, and if Arya wants to see me, I will go to her. Or she can come here. Even… Even if Arya never wants to see me ever again, she will have Laurien. Did I… Did I do the right thing?” he asked.

Silver nodded and smiled, wrapping her hands around Orvus’, “I don’t know what’s right or what’s best, but- But, I’m happy for you. I’m also happy that you listened to what I said.”

The god let out a sigh of relief, ”I am… glad. Thank you, Silver.” he paused, ”Let us go and see Laurien, she has much to learn and what better teacher than you?” Orvus said contently.

Silver’s smile widened and she nodded vigorously, “Y-Yeah, let’s go.”

And so they did.





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Hidden 5 mos ago Post by Not Fishing
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Karamir

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FP:06 MP:03





Karamir’s eyes jutted awake from a nightmare. Cold sweat condensed on his skin and his eyes frantically flickered around. The feeling of dread followed him into the land of the waking. A disturbing face hung from the sky, staring down at him hungrily, fangs dripping. Karamir went to move, but he couldn’t. A cold horror cracked through his veins and he could see Diana sitting idly in the corner, picking at a nail as if none of this was happening. He went to shout at her, but his jaw didn't move, he was paralyzed and sleep had found its way to the land of the awake.

His heart began to pound, shaking his chest as the shadowy horrors swarmed around him, the jaws inching ever closer with its rancid breath and dirty teeth. He could feel his limbs going weak and then all at once, he regained control of his body. A scream belted from him as the horrors blinked out of existence.

Diana looked up from her nail and smiled wide, “A pleasant nap, I presume?” Heliopolis had yet to even break the sky, the dawn still a rotted purple.

Karamir waited for his breathing to slow down to a reasonable level, and then he looked Diana in the eye. ”Indeed it was,” he answered coldly. It had been several days now, and he had decided he would no longer give her the satisfaction of listening to him protest or complain. She was playing a game, he realized. And no doubt, she knew that he realized, which added another layer of frustration to the whole thing. She would know that he knew that as well, and the cycle just didn’t end. How could you win against a creature that can see inside your head, when you can’t see inside theirs?

“I suppose you can’t,” Diana answered the thought, “But if there weren’t any useless beings in the world, well then we would all be useless, hm?” She smiled wide, and flicked a dimissive hand “Oh come, I’m just being fun.”

Karamir suppressed a groan. Her fun came at his expense, he had long since realized. No matter. They would not stay in the open ocean forever. They would reach land eventually, and he could leave. Until then, he just had to endure. He could handle pain. He wondered how cruel this K’nell must be, if she was one of K’nell’s creations.

Diana seemed to suddenly frown, muttering something about being rude before slipping that tiny orb she has out of her hidden dress pocket. She propped it on her lap and stared happily down at it.

”What does that do, exactly?” he asked, gesturing toward the orb. ”Other than nightmares?”

“Oh! It’s wonderful, come here and see,” She gestured to him, her witching eyes watching his every move.

Mentally bracing himself, Karamir reluctantly moved closer, already preparing himself for whatever might come next. He found a spot next to Diana, but no matter which way he tried to position himself, he couldn’t get comfortable, the umbrella seemingly working against him. She leaned towards him with the orb, a terrible smell emitting from it and causing his throat to clench dryly. Inside he watched pigmen gnaw on each other, fighting for what could have been a slaughtered child. They were grotesque figures with three fingers and cloven feet, each with a pair of yellow eyes that almost matched Diana’s in making Karamir unsettled. Her smile widened, and he could see something stuck between her incisors and canine.

Karamir sighed. He wasn’t disgusted, nor frightened. In truth he had expected something worse. This was just a handful of beasts fighting over a meal. He felt a strange sense of what almost seemed like... disappointment? He could not explain why - if anything, he should be feeling relief that it wasn’t as bad as he expected. Was he growing used to this?

Diana snatched the orb away from his vision and frowned, “You don’t have to pretend to like it if you don’t like it, that’s just bad manners.”

”I’m not pretending anything. I just expected something more,” Karamir answered with a shrug.

There was an audible gasp and Diana slanted her brows, “If you have something to say, then say it!”

”This is underwhelming compared to everything I have seen in the past few days,” Karamir informed her honestly. She could see inside his mind anyway, so there was little point hiding the truth. ”I suppose I’m getting used to it.”

“Oh dear,” Diana turned away and bit her finger-knuckle in thought. Karamir shrugged and glanced toward the horizon, where the first few rays of Heliopolis were beginning to emerge. Minutes began to tick away, but Diana stayed in her silent stupor, the heavy rays breaking over the hem of the umbrella.

Karamir remained where he was, doing his best to ignore the discomfort beneath him, and uncertain as to what would happen next. Timed seemed to keep slipping and before he knew it the silence grew loud and heavy, just like the heat. For some reason it felt worse than usual, and when it came time to drink, Diana was still thinking in silence.

Wordlessly, Karamir tapped her on the shoulder, to see if that would provoke a response. Diana seemed to huff and slap his hand away, her eyes narrowing, “How dare you.” She suddenly turned on him. She stood up and put one hand on the handle of the umbrella, “I’m trying to think.”

”I need water,” Karamir said, his voice coming out as a raspy croak.

“And I need some conflict and chaos…” She thought for a moment, “In peace and quiet!” With a sudden jerk of her hand the umbrella tipped wildly to its side, dumping the thirsty man into the ocean.

Karamir’s hand shot out, and somehow he was able to grab the umbrella’s edge, his fingers cramping at the uncomfortable angle. His head was underwater, so he attempted to pull himself upward. To his horror, his pulls seemed to only tug the umbrella down with him, a gurgling sound coming from the now hazy image of Diana who stood over him.

Karamir felt a sense of desperation as the water choked him, and he gradually started to lose his grip. Kalmar…. Kalmar I’m in danger… he found himself praying.

Suddenly the world tipped and water drained from his ears as he flopped back onto the umbrella. A smiling Diana stood over him, a cackle on her lips, “That’s so sweet of you,” She charmed, “You really aren’t used to it after all.”

Karamir did not answer, because a gruff voice soon pierced his thoughts. What danger? Where are you? Kalmar’s voice spoke within his head.

Nothing… nevermind… Karamir found himself answering. If Kalmar did come to rescue him now, he would have to explain how exactly he ended up in this situation, and why he put up with it for so long. That… he did not want to go through.

Diana put the black teacup on his chest as he laid there in his thoughts. She hummed to herself wickedly, “It is rather hard to find new things to do on this umbrella, I must agree.”

Carefully, Karamir retrieved the black teacup with two hands. Without spilling a single drop, he rose to a sitting position, sniffed the liquid, and then took a reluctant sip. He found it lukewarm, but fresh. For some reason, it was slightly slimy and went down his throat in a funny tickle, but otherwise replenished his thirst.

With a soft ‘foo!’ Diana returned to her usual spot and sat, dress blossoming around her, “I have to say, this will not do. Not for much longer.”

Without any words, Karamir continued to take light sips of the drink. He had learned that it was better to take gradual sips than to down it all at once, since it made it feel as though he was drinking more than he actually was. ”What do you have in mind?” he finally asked her.

“I’m not sure,” She tapped her chin, “Landing somewhere, getting out of this umbrella, meeting new people, making new friends. You understand.”

”Oh? I’m not good enough?” Karamir asked rhetorically.

“Oh dear,” She waved her hands, “What a terrible thing to suggest, of course you aren’t.” She sneered, “How silly.”

Karamir stared back at her and began to think. She had consistently and repeatedly abused and terrorized him during his stay on the umbrella. Yet at the same time, she had also saved his life, providing him food and drink. She did so scarcely, at irregular hours, yet somehow that had made it both taste better and feel more fulfilling than anything he had ever consumed. She was indeed playing a game, and if the game was continuing, then of course she would say that. He gave a thin smile. ”If you say so…”

“Oh but I do,” She nodded, “You’re much too needy and far too confident.”

”Aren’t those two traits in conflict with each other?”

“And the questions,” She clenched her teeth into a grin, “Such a little simpleton, aren’t we?”

Karamir finished his drink, and looked down at the cup. ”I shouldn’t ask what this actually is, then?”

“Oh fluff,” She rolled her eyes, “That’s a cup!”

”So it is,” Karamir agreed, deciding not to press what he had actually meant. ”Where will we be landing?”

“A question for time” Diana winked, the motion seeming awkward as a salty crust fell from her lashes. She sat back against the wall of the umbrella and mused, “But I hope it’s unbearable.”







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DracoLunaris Multiverse tourist

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The soul was running out of time.

The flames of the pyres drew all lost souls towards their ravenous maws, their appetite insatiable. Untold numbers of souls had been consumed already. First the broken and frayed souls had been consumed, those who barely had selves anymore. Ruined by the void, by their arrival, their long gone deaths or banishments none would ever know, for they had not the will to resist the pull of annihilation. The weak and despondent had followed soon after. Then they had been joined by a slow trickle of new souls made from the dead that had grown into a stream and then a gushing river. These pushed the old souls into the flames while the flames themselves continued to pull them in.

Now only the strongest remained. Those who raged against the dying light, who pushed aside the torrent of souls and clawed their way away from the flames. Yet in the end none could truly escape death for where inches were gained as feet were lost.

The soul could feel the heat at its back as its limbs struggled futility against the current and yet still it fought on regardless. Here a tree was tossed into the flames to give it speed, there a parrot, a dolphin, a Selka, a fellow void soul. It hated that it did this, that it was sacrificing others to preserve itself. It hated this place that had robbed it of the power of the void. It hated how it didn't fit properly in the space here.

Yet it had purpose. A mission. One far more divine than anything in this cursed place.

It was made as an observer. It was her ever watchful eye and yet it had lost track of the very person it was supposed to watch over.

The other souls had been pulled into this place. Azura had clawed her way here just as the void soul now clawed it way away from the flames, though while she had unintentionally saved those it cast aside while it instead doomed them. It had followed the old tyrant as she fought her way through the tide only to be separated from her by this place’s master, tossed aside and then put in line to be killed by that damnable burning beast head. It’s only salvation now lay in Azura, a being that didn't even know of its existence, nor its vital importance to her.

She had entered this realm while death was not present and had tired, and failed, to save all who were to be committed to the flames. At the time it dare not tamper with the mental construct that had been enshrined in the woman’s mind to greatly, to force her to notice it and save it, for it dared not medal with the work of its own creator more than it had been intended to. It had however made a link and had made some miniscule adjustments to compensate for the fact that its charge now had a body again. Memories had been bleeding out. If the dam broke completely it could be catastrophic. So while it had had time it had adjusted the settings on the construct, letting it be more active so that it would, hopefully, nudge her into doing what needed to be done.

Alas, it still remain, and yet it saw now that death was once again absent. Here was an opportunity Azura could grasp if only she knew it existed. It used its power, to reach down and out to the construct in her mind for but a second, slipping ever closer to the flame when it did so, the exertion taking its toll even to send such a simple massage.

Hurry




Hurry

Azura shook her head in response, trying to sake free from the otherworldly feeling that had slipped over her brain for just a moment. She was not controlled or commanded, but her thought process was none the less shunted of course to a slightly different line of thinking.

She’d been following the Alma’s trail towards the coast of Atokhekwoi where they seemed to have found another sentient race when the effect had struck her. She had been going to investigate each new race one by one. But did she really have time?

She went to find Luis instead.

The great whale was found on the coast of Atokhekwoi closest to the Ihokhetlani camp. He had removed his armor, which floated idaly above the shoreline while the eclipse whale himself was further out in the water. Varios curios Cetaceans froliced around the titan of their kind, filling the ocean with song as they played in the waters of the bay Luis was bathing in.

Azura landed on the back of the armor construct that he had named Bruna and then waved a wing in his general direction.

”Hello. How was your meeting with the stone god” he whistled, his tone lacking the sullen edge it had had when last they spoke.

“It went well I think” she called back as Luis carefully emerged from the ocean watters without dsturbing the frolicing whales and dolphins. She was glad he had found some way of recharging his energy “I think their a good person for the most part. They are also an adorable wee crab. We talked about the problem and he said he’d help once he got proof, which is both a shame and also good I suppose. They also reminded me that one of the gods, Anzillu, has the aspect of demons, a word that sets off alarm bells in my mind apparently, and that they made a.. Self replicating flesh eating bacteria that leaked out of their sphere. Which sounds bad.”

”Apparently sets of alarm bells?” Luis asked, emphasizing the apparently part before thinking for a bit more and adding ”Oh. Huh. I see what you mean… Odd”

”Yes... It is… ” Azura said falteringly

There was a long silence as the constructs did their best to stop any peering behind the curtain

”Demons must be really bad then. Shame he didn't want to help right away too” Luis said finally.

”yes. On both counts. It’s particularly a shame because I think we had best get on with the invasion lan as soon as possible. There seems to be a lot of mortals around, the Alma have gone all over the place. And I fear that the issue with not being able to convince Ohannakeloi will raise its head when I go meet them.”

”Oh. ok.” Luis responded, ”I’ve been kind of hoping we could get this done sooner rather than latter” Azura opened her beak but Luis predicted her question ”I was going to says so earlier, but you’ve been occupied with the unexpected mortal situation. So. are we ready to go now or…?”

“There are three final things we need for the invasion of the sky pyres. First is a way to clear away the arid smoke that would choke the life from any who set foot in it, namly you, anyone aceal is bringing and the Alma. Also, i need a way to get everyone/thing we need there in the first place.” Azura said “For those two I’ll make a construct that will allow me to command and control the air over a much larger area and one that can do so for me even if I am otherwise engaged. It can create a safe bubble of air that can both keep us safe from the pyres and that can also be launched up to them.”

Her explanation made she set to work, a wordless melody leaving her beak which spread out before her and formed into Luftstone segments. These massive stones where abstract shapes with the odd hole bored in them that. When the wind blew through those holes it caused them emitted a singular note. Individually their shape and sound where simple, but as more and more formed they coalesced into a singular whole. The sounds of whistles, pipes, trumpets, horns and other wind instruments all emanated from the stone and gradually came together to harmonise harmonise as the construct took shape. Its final form was one roughly humanoid framed by a pair of static wings. Its arms had a second set of four limbs that drifted freely around the primary ones. It’s legs where narrow and ended in a pair of heel like spikes rather than feet. Its head was nestled in a massive armored coller, out of which it started with a singular soul gem based eye. It was armed with a pair of crescent bladed glaives which it gripped with all four of its limbs.

“I dub thee the Titan of Winds” she announced

All of this was made up of jagged stone plates and frames though which the wind howled, playing a symphony as it did that harmonised with Azura’s song. Together the titan and goddess sung into being thousands of new Alma to which she granted a new ability.


Bring truth and wipe away the lies
For soon we shall travel heaven's skies
No more shall souls be torn asunder
For realm of death we will plunder
There all shall witness, all shall see
The foul depths of death’s cruelty”


As she finished singing the alma began to project small holographic screens from their forehead soul gems, displaying a thousand different angles of what they could see and hear. Mostly, this ment each other and Azura. Then there was a rapid switching of images as they began to project one another's sight until all showed a single perspective, one that very nicely framed Azura, the new construct and Luis with the gathering of sea mammals swimming in the background. Azura took a few moments to admire herself before turning to Luis

“And these will let us inform all of the mortals at once of the danger and our plan to help them” she explained, the birds all quietly echoing her as they kept recording

”With the speech we wrote. Like those crows we met.” Luis noted

“Exactly, but not just that. We can also show them the sky pyres as we assaulted them. Then they will be no doubt remaining that Katharsos is a murderous tyrant.” she said sounding rather delighted in her cunning despite the fact that she had been instantly caught plagiarizing K’nells idea of storytelling birds.

”That’s good… I’m turning them off now tough. Because hearing everything repeated like that is rather annoying” Luis said before shutting off Alma tv with his mind.

“oh. Ah yes. I suppose it is a bit.” she said before flapping over and landing between the shoulders of the new construct on what was clearly a deliberately placed pertch “Right then. Shall we be off to meet up with Aceal?”

”Is she ready?” Luis asked as the three giant flyers headed towards the nearest tall mountain to re-enter the blue. Most of the Alma followed, but some spread out across the world to find their fellow avians. They would pass on the new power to the others so that all would be ready for Azura’s announcement.

“Maybe. Maybe not. If not then we can always help her get ready.” she says, before reaching out with her mind to contact Aceal.




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