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Hidden 4 mos ago Post by Tal
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Tal

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Zer-Du

The Hunter




When Vakk's monster woke up after being knocked unconscious by Kalmar it found itself in pain. It whined and tried to stand but couldn't so it fell back down. After a few moments it tried again and managed to drag itself to its feet and take a few careful steps. Its head was pounding and it was still injured because of the fight with the huge wolf but it was otherwise unharmed. It made its way to running water and lapped up the water and washed in the stream. It lay in there for nearly a day and let the water wash away the pain and dirt. Then it got up and flew into the air and followed the scent of Hermes.

It flew for a long time and sometimes it went down and floated in the water to rest because the injuries were not healed yet. When it was resting like this once it felt a disturbance and woke up. The hunter looked around sleepily and then suddenly felt itself in great danger. Beneath it the water bulged and a shadow darkened and then the water exploded in great fury! A powerful and terrifying creature blew up from the water with its jaws open wide and lots of jagged and razor teeth in its maw coming right for the hunter:


Vakk's monster screeched loudly and was already in the air but the megalodon was also in the air because it had jumped. Its mouth and teeth were closing in around the monster's tail and with a desperate attempt it moved its tail and thwacked it right on the snout. The megalodon snapped its mouth shut and seemed shocked by the strike and it landed back in the water with an enormous splash. Vakk's monster quickly rose higher into the air and looked behind it in case the megalodon could actually fly. After that it did not go back to the water and just kept flying and whenever it saw a small island it landed on it to rest and lick its wounds. Then at last it reached a huge island with lots of glowing forests and plenty of creatures for it to hunt and eat. It hunted some deer and ate them right up and then it stalked away under a tree in a dark forest and it looked around for a while before falling asleep.

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Hidden 4 mos ago Post by Lord Zee
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Lord Zee I Don't Even Know

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The Learner, The Martial Dancer





Heliopolis was nothing by a hint in the sky. A reddish purple that dipped below the tree line and out of sight. The evening birds had began to return, their sounds giving way to the chorus of crickets and the gentle swishing sound of flying sphagnum. The wind was silent, leaving Hermes alone with her thoughts.

She sat back against the wall of her private house. She had squatted down to pick something up, but eventually found herself sitting and standing up again to be too much of a hassle for her and her burden. She chewed on her cheek as she flipped a particularly shiny pebble between her fingers. Her eyes were unblinking, but her lids her heavy, a strange throbbing pain coming and going in her back. She sat in quiet contemplation of nothing in particular. Now and again she looked up to the sky and wished she had done more that day. The feeling of laziness had been troubling her lately.

Sighing, she looked over the courtyard. Arya had retired to her room, and Xiaoli had cloistered herself away in the study, busy drawing up ‘hypothetical’ permanent houses for Arya. Hermes held the stone up to her face and squinted at it. Her ideas were far from where she sat, and out of nothing but pure curiosity she secretly poked the stone with the tip of her tongue.

“WHHKK!” A guttural yet scratchy sound sliced her from her thoughts. Hermes tossed the stone in panicked embarrassment and turned her head to the owner of the sound. A hazy figure stood, its outline flickering uncannily with reality. In its long arms it held a crate of wines, “WHHKK!”

Hermes exhaled, “Oh.” She rubbed an eye, ignoring a sudden cramp in her side, “Just put it there. I'll move it later.”

The guardian nightmare placed the crate down and shimmered off. Suddenly a crowd more appeared from where it had disappeared to, each with crates of beverages. Quickly the single crate turned into a neatly stacked wall of alcohol. Hermes watched with wide eyes as they finished their job. After a moment or two, all but one nightmare had left. This one turned to Hermes and inclined what could have been where a head might be, “WHHKK!”

“Thank you,” Hermes gave a weak but scheduled smile. The nightmare turned and wisked off into nothingness. Hermes sucked in a breath and used her hands to push herself to her feet, stumbling once but using the wall to get herself standing. With a long exhale she waddled over to the crates.

Peeking in she slid out a bottle, it's body wrapped with a strip of paper and marked in Shengshese. She smiled, “Must be a gift.”

Xiaoli came out with a stack of papers in her hands, staring intently at the top page. “Hermes, dear, I think if we went for a tower or something similar, we could--” Her eyes fell on the crates and pots and she let out a loud gasp. “W-where did those come from?!”

Hermes turned with the bottle in hand, presenting it for review, “Shengshi!”

Xiaoli blinked in bewilderment and slowly shuffled over to touch one of the large, barrel-like claypots, its throat covered tightly with several layers of cheesecloth. “... So it is… B-but how did it get here? Did His Lordship come by? A-and who’s it for?” She poked the cheesecloth sheepishly and frowned a little.

“WHHKK!” A nightmare appeared next to Xiaoli, “Whhkk whhkk!” Hermes seemed to jump a little at first.

“O-oh. A gift for His Holiness K’nell, you say?” She blinked down at the wine again. “Well, I think we could squeeze it into the larders… Or possibly behind it. The temperature right now may actually be decent for storing wine outside.” She drummed her chin in thought. “Hermes, remind me to make us a cellar some time…” She picked up one of the fifty litre pots as if it was a rock and put her free hand on her hip.

Hermes put a hand on her back, with a tiny wince and nodded, “Sure.”

Xiaoli made a face and sighed. “Are you alright, sweetgrass?”

“My back has been hurting me since this morning,” She suddenly cocked her head and gave a small smile, “Did you just call me sweetgrass?”

Xiaoli blushed. “W-well, you know… You’re sweet and so is sweetgrass, and I love sweetgrass - and you! It’s a nickname! … It’s weird, isn’t it?”

“I like it!-- ah!” Hermes’ hand migrated from her back to her side, “Wanna help me over the step? I'm getting those cramps again.”

“Yeah, of course!” Xiaoli put the pot back down and hurried over to help her partner. “... I’ve got you, dear,” she whispered as she guided Hermes along. “You’ve been huge, lately. How much longer do you think it’ll be?”

“Huge!?” Hermes gasped and then winced, her foot falling back off the step, “Ow! you know what.” She breathed in and held her sides, “Give me a second.”

“N-not in a bad way, dear,” Xiaoli encouraged and gently massaged the dreamer’s shoulders. “The maternal look suits you, I think - the world’s most well-groomed mother.” She gave her a knowing wink. “Feeling better?”

Hermes’ hands squeezed her sides and she shook her head silently, eyes closed hard. She exhaled through gritted teeth, “It's getting worse.”

Xiaoli frowned. “Come here, I’ll take you to bed and make you some tea.” Xiaoli snuck her head under her arm and began to support her into the private house.

Hermes stumbled a little but got over the step. Her breath was a little shaky and she groaned, “I'm getting…” She sucked in a breath, “real tired of these cramps.”

Xiaoli gave her a sympathetic smile. “They’ll be over soon enough, dear.” She pulled aside the slider door to their room, brought Hermes inside and helped her carefully lay down on the bed.

Hermes scooted up against the headboard and closed her eyes in pain, fingers pressing into her sides. Suddenly she jerked as a pang of pain radiated from her abdomen. Her head fell back onto the headboard and she groaned, “Xiaoli?”

Xiaoli turned in the doorway. “Yeah?”

“I don't think it's going to go away,” She hissed through clenched teeth.

Xiaoli blinked and frowned. “What do you mean? Would you like me to get you anything? Would you like me to stay?”

“Come here, come here,” Hermes said quickly between pained squirms, her hand reaching out to Xiaoli. Xiaoli hurried over and quickly took Hermes’ hand in her own. As she felt the distress of her partner course through the dreamer’s body, her eyes widened in realisation. “Oh-... Oh, by Shengshi… Arya! ARYA! Come in here!”

“No!” Hermes squeezed Xiaoli’s hand tight, “I don’t want her to--” Hermes took a deep shaky breath, “See.”

“Okay, okay - let’s just do this, the two of us, then. Remember what the book said about deep, controlled breaths, alright? Keep a steady rhythm and I will--” She furrowed her brow and wiped it dry of moisture. “... We will get through this.” She squeezed Hermes’ hand back and snapped the fingers on her free hand. Out of thin air materialised towels. Bowls and basins came rolling into the room like stray wheels. They stacked on top of each other neatly by the wall and Xiaoli filled one with hot water. She then filled a gourd with cold water, corked it and laid it next to Hermes’ pillow. She quickly finished up the remaining preparations and placed herself at the end of the bed. She gave her partner a look of stress and swallowed.

“Are you ready, my love?”

A pained laugh came from Hermes and she sunk into the bed, “Give me some time, it’s not quite--” She sucked in a breath, “quite time.” She held out an arm, “Come here for now?”

Xiaoli once more flashed a sympathetic smile, skipped over and laid down carefully next to Hermes. She wrapped her arms around Hermes’ right arm and rubbed her ‘sweaty’ face against hers. She hummed softly and then looked up. “Hey, Hermes?”

“Yeah?” Hermes tilted her head to face Xiaoli.

Xiaoli’s skin began to warm up slowly and the river girl reached out with her hands and slowly began to massage what parts she could reach. The heat was soothing, yet not so strong as to be painful - it was even a little weaker than usual to account for the pain Hermes was feeling.

The dreamer seemed to melt into the river-girl, a content smile forming on her face, only to suddenly bungle in pain. She hid her face in the crook of Xiaoli’s neck and stayed there. Time went by, and now and again she’d seize in pain, and only after an hour or two did the painful jolts suddenly increase and increase, until it was one long continuous pain. A few shouts later and quickly the scene turned to chaos.




Arya paced outside the private home, her face worn with surprise at the volume of Hermes’ screaming and Xiaoli’s anxious yelps. Despite her curiosity, she had a good inkling of what was happening, even without the Warden’s ‘help’. The thorn plated man sat atop his horse, the great mare blocking the way into the private home.

After a moment of contemplation on her part, Arya stopped pacing and looked up at the Warden. Why he was even there boggled her mind. She knew of him and had learned about him from Hermes, but even with all the practice, his mere presence unnerved her. Still, she needed to know why.

”So, why are you here, Warden?” came her small voice.

The creature growled, the aroma of wet soil following his voice, “The Dreamer is not to be disturbed.”

She let out a sigh and continued pacing, ”I understand. Every precaution is a good one. Hopefully everything is going to be alright.” she finished in but a whisper.

“It will be; our Lord’s will demands it,” The Warden’s voice was booming, and not at all comforting -- but perhaps it wasn’t meant to be, or maybe it was.

Arya paused to look at the Warden again, arms crossed and tight to her chest. She nodded her approval after a moment and continued to pace, worry creeping into her heart.

There was a scream and the sound of something clattering loudly to the floor, but the Warden didn’t move from his spot. The mare hooved the ground and the Warden’s voice rolled out again, “All shall be well, ward.” There was another loud yell, “All shall be well.”

Arya looked up, but then back down with worry. She paced and paced, and the Warden sat and sat until after what seemed like an eternity, there was a shout of joy by Xiaoli and almost instantly after, the wail of a baby. There was some muffled groans and then suddenly a loud pained yelp. All went silent for a while, and then -- another baby.

Arya’s heart fluttered with joy at the sound of tiny screams, and her pace quickened as she eyed the Warden, waiting for him to move, or do anything for that matter. She could hardly contain her excitement at the thought of little ones, and now they had finally arrived! A wonder to the world, and she was privileged to be one of the first ones to meet them. She wondered what names they would pick, if they would be two girls, two boys or a combination! Oh how she hoped there was a baby girl, not that there's anything wrong with two boys, but who then could she teach to dance her dance? Who’s hair could she braid?

She began to hum a tune, slow stepping a dance as she patiently waited for the Warden to move, or for Xiaoli to usher in. She couldn’t wait any longer, but the Warden seemed stalwart until --

“Our sons are here!” Xiaoli all but screamed in a joyous squeal as the slider door was nearly ripped apart in her excited attempt to open it. The Warden moved out of the way as newcsquealed, “Our Wenbo and Chaghatai are finally born and are healthy and happy!” She paused to beckon Arya inside. “Come in and see!”

Arya couldn't help but erupt with a peel of laughter as she heard the news. She took off in an instant, flying after Xiaoli.

As Arya passed through the inner door, her eyes immediately fell on Hermes and the two bundles she held. Stained alabaster peered out of the speckled towels. Hermes’ looked about ready to pass out, sweat plastered across her face and her hair in a frizz. A blanket covered her lap, and a smile covered her tired face.

“Come see,” she whispered. Xiaoli knelt down by Hermes and held the water gourd to her lips, allowing the water to pour slowly into the dreamer’s mouth, all the while smiling affectionately at her.

Arya's approach slowed as she neared the bed, her feet touching down upon the wood with a soft creak. Her eyes were wide with joy as she sat on the bed upon her knees and leaned in to view the newcomers.

Two alabaster faces peered up at her, eyes closed. Chaghatai had a thin blue stripe following his left cheekbone, while Wenbo had a large orange spot around his left eye, about twice the size of the eye itself.

Arya looked down at them, tears forming in her eyes as she whispered, ”They're beautiful…”

Hermes smiled and held them closer, “They are…”

A cloudling came buzzing into the room, haggard and crackling. Hermes looked up from her babies, “P-Poppler?”

The cloudling zipped on over and rested on Wenbo's forehead, it's pops soft and quiet. The baby grimaced and let out a loud, high-pitched scream as it begun to wriggle around with the limited moves it could make. Hermes pulled the baby against her, shushing it softly. Poppler crackled and zipped away into Hermes’ hair, apparently disappointed.

Xiaoli chuckled softly and gave Hermes a wry smile. “We better keep his cradle a little closer. Something tells me Wenbo is a little wary of others.” She moved her hand over and gently caressed Chaghatai’s tiny face. “Oh, Hermes, they are beyond anything I could have imagined… You have done so well.”

“I couldn't have done it without you,” Hermes answered.










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Hidden 4 mos ago Post by Goldeagle1221
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Goldeagle1221 I am Spartacus!

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Dawn of Blood: Part 5


“You’ve go to run!” Yupilgo hissed, the skinny hunter’s face red with adrenaline. Antorophu nearly dropped the fish she was descaling. She sat outside her dwelling, a pit dug in the ground and covered by reeds. The salty sea air screamed in bursts around them, kicking up dirt from the rocky shoreline.

“What?”

“I overheard,” Yupilgo puffed for air, “They are coming for you -- going to kill your children.”

“What!?” Antorophu stood up in horror.

“They’ve gone too far,” Yupilgo pushed past Antorophu, “Thumfatem is dead, Hoshaf wants you -- clean.” The hunter tore off the reeds, revealing two scared looking selka pups, one barely a toddler and the other standing with wide worried eyes. Antorophu quickly rushed between her children and the hunter.

“How do you know all this, what’s happening?”

Yupilgo grabbed Antorophu by the shoulder and held her tight, her face paling, “Grab you children and ru-”

A spear whizzed by, clanking off the stones, and in the distance a group of shouting selka were running. Yupilgo pushed Antorophu and the woman clamored for her youngest, scooping him up in her arms. Yupilgo wrestled the squirming and scared older son in his own, enduring several nasty bites.

“Dradinku,” Antorophu went to correct her child, but a stiff hand from Yupilgo pushed her forward, “Move!”

The two began to run. The rocks shifted under their feet, but their trained legs quickly found new ones as they bolted. The shouts grew and the occasional spear whizzed by, but Yupilgo wove in zig zags, goading Antorophu to do the same. Their shins shredded as they cut into the thickets on the edge of the beach. Boughs slapped at them and they ducked their heads, covering the children and their own eyes. The sounds of the other selka erupted as they too entered the thickets, their voices louder and closer.

The two dodged trees, juking left and right. Antorophu began to slow down, while Yupilgo kept his hunter’s pace. Then there was a curdled scream and Yupilgo skidded to a halt and turned. HE saw Antorophu on the ground, her body covering her baby, blood pouring from her thigh. The white of her bone was exposed, and a stone tipped spear laid next to her, having rebounding out of the wound. Yupilgo dashed towards her but hesitated as her eyes met his. The group behind her was closing in and he could see her wishes. He sucked in a breath and held Dradinku close. Sending a shivering gulp down his throat, he turned and ran.

The group of warrior selka quickly surrounded Antorophu as she sat up. She held her motionless baby in her lap, and the spear in her arms, blood pooling off of her. One of the selka took a step forward, and with hate in her eyes, she plunged the head of her spear into her stomach. She coughed, eyes wide as the other selka stared on in shock. Slowly she slumped over to her side, her child slipping off her lap, as motionless as her.




Yupilgo’s legs began to tire but he kept running. He couldn’t see or hear them anymore but he didn’t want to try his luck. One leg after the other he ran and ran. Thoughts raced through his mind, and just as he thought he may be in the clear, he heard a shout and his blood ran cold. Not wanting to see where the shout came from, her kept his eyes forward and pumped his legs.

The ground flew by underneath him as he ran, trees cutting past his vision and his face red with strain. Branches slapped at his arms and cut up his legs, but he kept Dradinku safely tucked under his forearms. Foot after foot, leg over leg, he ran, until suddenly the ground was gone. He broke through a dense thicket, only to find that he had ran off a small bluff. He felt his heart in his throat as the world slowed down. All he could feel was air rush past him, air and the tiny heartbeat he held safely against him. Closing his eyes, he tucked his body into a fetal position, attempting to maneuver Dradinku to the safest place he could think of. The wind howled, and there was a splash and a crack.




Loud crying woke Yupilgo up, a warm pool forming on the back of his head. His fingers ran through what he could guess was the moss of a river bank. He could hear the water, but he couldn't see it. He opened his eyes, but they were already open. He reached around, brow furrowing. The world was colorless, Dradinku was crying.



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Hidden 4 mos ago 4 mos ago Post by Lmpkio
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Lmpkio Kaiju Expert

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Traveling west, the twin Dragonborn had been hugging the edge of the Qiangshan Mountains. The world around them was still, save for the wind that howled ruthlessly above them. Life around these parts were sparse, with little foliage and even fewer creatures to be found. One could even call this side of the mountains as a dead wasteland. Rain rarely came to this portion of the land and even when it did, it would ruthlessly hammer upon the surface to the point where they would wrought mudslides. But alas, an event of that caliber had not happened in many months.

However, Michalis and Minerva remained rather contempt upon the jagged rocks they walked upon. Both didn't dare to go near the hostile sands of the Sandravii desert, nor did they had the strength and knowledge for what laid on the other side of the great peaks. Yet their keen senses had detected the faint aroma of fresh grounds, one that seemed to call for their very well-being. A welcoming forest was within their range, yet a journey that would take hours, if not days, to complete.

Yet compared to where they currently found themselves, it would be a safe-haven.

Yet in between their destinations, pockets of life could still be found clinging to life on the edge. Scrubland bushes remained firmly attached the the mountainous terrain in small groups, retaining enough moisture for their dark-green leaves to last several more months. Some even contain bright red berries that could be forged for food - something the Dragonborn didn't take for granted. It only gave them menial sustenance - never enough to fill their groaning bellies.

Minerva found herself lagging a little behind as she found herself grasping her belly. She'd occasionally pinch herself with her sharp claws in order to keep up with Michalis' more rugged pace. Her brother, however, would notice this and always make sure he didn't walk too far ahead. He'd always be in sight of his sister, waiting for her to keep up, before moving on. Yet they both shared one crucial concern.

"We... must eat something... big."

Minerva's voice was already rather wobbly as she stopped to take a breather. Her partner was quick to steady her, his massive hands carefully keeping her upright.

"Don't worry..." Michalis replied assuringly, "We'll find... something - I swear it."

Michalis knew fully well on what she meant. Berries will not sustain them for very long. They need something richer, some much more in precious nutrients to keep their bodies going. They had a savory affection for foods high in protein...

Meat shall do them well.

But where to find it in such a desert landscape? Michalis began to scour the slopes for anything worth of value. Nothing could be found near the base and nothing could be seen lurking near the top. However, as he scoped to the very edge of the rocks, he saw a large cliff side just cornering their current line of sight. Atop it, a bunch of twigs could be seen hanging slightly over the edge. More curiously, there appeared to be something in it. The dragonborn's ears picked up upon seeing this unusual sight as he nudged Minerva to look.

"There is something..." he said, pointing at the cliff, "Up there. You see?"

It took her a second to figure out what he meant, but upon seeing the mound of twigs she nodded.

"I do..." she confirmed before looking back at him, "Is it food?"

"I... do not know." Michalis unsurely admitted, "But there's only one way to be sure. Come."

He signaled Minerva to come as they began to slowly ascend towards their destination. They climbed through the steep facing rocks and leapt over small gaps in between each platform. Yet despite the lack of danger near the top, both would begin to crouch as if by mere instinct. A fog cloud was rolling in, and while it gave them some cover, they wouldn't know what to expect until they;d get real close. Eventually they made it upon the solid cliff-face and curiously glanced over towards the pile of branches. Yet they found that it was far from being empty. It held what appeared to be two large white ovular shapes, both being nearly half as large as their own torsos.

"What... is this?" Minerva asked cautiously.

They both began to crawl closer to this unusual set up and began to smell the air around it. They could smell the scent of rotting meat and faint droppings emanating around the two objects. Minerva began to slowly approach one of the ovals and slowly placed her hand on it. Upon doing so, a flood of knowledge surged into the dragonborn's mind before she slowly withdrew her hand from it. Her eyes widened upon the sudden realization.

"These..." she muttered softly to Michalis, "Are edible."

Her partner looked at her curiously before he too proceeded to touch the object. His grunt confirmed Minerva's evaluation.

"Yes." he replied, "They are eggs... Big eggs. They will surely satiate our hunger."

Michalis reached out to one of the eggs and carefully lifted it up with his might. Even for him, it was an unnaturally dense egg, and one he could barely carry.

Yet as soon as he got a good grip, the duo suddenly heard a screech howling in the distance. They froze upon hearing it, with Michalis almost dropping the egg right there and then, as they attempted to process the sudden noise. They were both feeling uneasy regarding the situation

"What was that?" Minerva asked cautiously as she tried to look around the corner, "Did you hear that, Michalis?"

He nodded silently. The two waited before they heard the screech again, this one being closer than the last. Michalis was quick to connect the dots as his eyes widened in horror. At this stage there's little that they could do here. He's too encumbered to run with such a giant egg in his possession. Surely, it would catch him. He looked down at the cliff edge and without warning grabbed Minerva's arm as the two headed off the cliff-face!

"Hang on!" he called as they suddenly seemed to have disappeared within the thick fog.



Footsteps could soon be felt, alongside heavy breathing, as a massive creature soon came into view. At first, it seemed to seamlessly blend in with the fog around it, save only for a faint dark shadow that masked its presence. Then a clawed foot speared into the harsh rock as the creature revealed itself - a large bird-like theropod creature covered in a snowy-white plumage. It's massive toothy beak held a chunk full of bloodied guts and innards, signaling that it had just came back from hunting.

Underneath him, a large crevice formed underneath the cliffside - exactly where the Dragonborn were silently cooped up in. Their eyes were wide in fear and their hearts pumping furiously, as they tried to stay as quiet as possible. Now Minerva had the egg in her possession and they had a mighty hunch at what was going to happen next.

The creature's eyes briefly surveyed the area, sniffing the air above him, before it checked the nest itself. Yet it would instantly realize that something was wrong. One of its eggs was missing. It's beak seemed to unhinge in utter blasphemy, as the meaty chum landed bluntly upon the nest. Its eyes squinted before furiously issuing an ear-splitting screech in utter rage, echoing across the mountains. Both offenders struggling to keep their bearings, closing their eyes in a feeble attempt to drown out the sound.

Minerva was struggling to keep herself from muttering any noises, as Michallis rose his finger up to her's demanding that she remained silent. The creature was once again sniffing the air around it. It would tilt its head closer to the edge of the cliff, before getting a whip of something... odd. It was a foreign smell - a smell it didn't recognize. The creature began to slowly crawl over towards the edge, slowly trying to track down the origin of the scent. It's head was literally hugging the edge at that point...

And the Dragonborn were now fearing for their lives.

"T-This... this is it." Minerva inaudibly whispered to herself in utter terror, "I-Is this how we die...?"

"Over an egg?"


Michallis remained silent as they once again closed their eyes, held their breaths, and prayed to the heavens that they would get out of here alive...

Until they heard something. The sound of heavy grunting. The bird-creature would immediately raise its head to get a better stance in which to hear. It would chirp curiously as it turned its full attention towards the animal in question. Emerging from the fog, a four-legged beast slowly emerged from the white fog.

It revealed itself to be a simple boar - not even bigger than a small boulder.

The brown-furred quadruped at first seemed to be oblivious to the predator that happened to be several meters away from it, as it continued uplifting rocks for any tasty mushrooms and other morsels. It's work would be soon rewarded as it suddenly found a truffle hidden underneath a large lichen-covered rock. Once eating it, it continued to search for more food, walking in an almost straight line before hitting its head upon a fuzzy tree log. It snorted rudely as it proceeded to head-butt the thing right in front of it...

Only to quickly realize that it wasn't a tree log at all!

The boar looked up to see the bird-creature glaring down at him with eyes laced with venomous intent. Realizing its error, the poor piglet squealed in surprise before the bird's massive beak descended upon him. Luckily, its quick reflects allowed for him to dodge the initial jab, as it proceeded to high tail out of there. Furious, the bird screeched as it proceeded to give chase against the foolish animal, both proceeding to quickly disappear into the thick fog beyond until one could hardly hear their conflict.

Once they felt like the coast was clear, both Michalis and Minerva began to loosen their stance while breathing a heavy sigh of relief. Then they found themselves beginning to snicker to one another. Then it evolved into chuckle. Until the two found themselves bellowing in laughter as they both embrace one another in absolute relief.

"O-Oh Michalis..." Minerva managed to say as she slowly began to calm down, "T-That was a close one..."

Her partner chuckled before scratching his head.

"Yes..." he agreed, "That was... too close. If that thing didn't distract the beast, we would've surely become her next meal."

The two then stood up and removed themselves from underneath the crevice. Michalis then proceeded to carry the burden off Minerva's shoulders and found himself carrying the egg once more. The woman would then motion her partner to follow her.

"Come. Let us find a place to prepare that egg." she suggested casually as he found herself skipping down the mountain in glee.

Michalis could only smile as he began to follow suit. The two will definitely not go to bed hungry tonight.



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Hidden 4 mos ago Post by Leotamer
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Virgo laid down on a silk mattress. Master Parvus had returned briefly. He turned his hand and watched as ants tended to a newly planted flower in the corner of his room. He had brought new plants from the other world, Galbar, and had created ants to grow more of them. He stated that he liked that particular type of flower, and so his master had ordered them to plant them within his room.

The concept of owning a room was still foreign to him. He understood that Parvus had dominion over the Hive and that there were other spheres owned by different gods. He still struggled with the idea of owning a part of the Hive. It was easier to view it as the room where he went to sleep. Sleep was also a new concept. He had experienced it multiple times, but he did not know what was occurring. Parvus has explained it to him, but he still did not understand it.

He raised one of his hand into the light of the moss and examined the ring which his god had gifted him. It was a simple golden ring with runes inscribed around it. He could not read them. Parvus told him that they meant, "Protection to the Faithful. Toxins shall not harm the dutiful wearer." Some of the plants were poisonous and that this ring would protect him from them.

He showed his god his work. However, he seemed less interested in the blue paste he had been working on, and more interested in the strange, stony beetle. It upset him, but he didn't understand why.

The new plants excited him, but he was told to wait. Unlike the insects of the hive, they were not numberless. If he was not careful, he could deplete this limited resource. He was excited to continue his experiment, but for the time being, K'nell pull began to become irresistible.



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Hidden 4 mos ago 4 mos ago Post by Antarctic Termite
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Antarctic Termite Resident of Mortasheen

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Chopstick Eyes dragged herself sodden from the whipping waves of a grey ocean with rage in her heart, and a great knife in her hand. With the same pace at which she had marched across the depths of the silent sea, she advanced across the island.

* * *


The densest cloudbank had taken some time to find, hidden behind its lower, lesser kin. The portal was in there: Chopstick Eyes could sense it behind the endless, pelting grey of the rainlands. She remembered its smell.

Trudging through the mud to ascend a boulder directly beneath the stone ring, Chopstick crouched, and threw herself in a single bound, needle-straight, through the portal in the sky.

Her environment changed. She somersaulted, landed feet first upon the edge of the ring. Through the haze, she could see the shattered manor.

Oh no.

* * *


Chopstick Eyes raised the gnawed plastic to her face and took a deep sniff, then pocketed the oversized toy. The saliva was dry, but it smelled like rain. It was the tooth-marks that worried her.

She stormed out of Eurysthenes’ border-march, back to the So’E.

* * *


“Li’Kalla? Li’Kalla?

The Wand of Loudspaken shot her voice all through the realm, but there was only rain.

“Li’Kalla!”



* * *


The molves stirred when they noticed the foreign presence in the rain, one that was getting closer to the goats and to the other domesticated animals in Ya-Shuur’s enclosed lands. A few of them swiftly ran and barked at the goats to herd them deeper into the lands while others went to see what the foreign presence was and to warn it off.

Two of them approached and spotted the strange creature that was walking through the forest. In all their existence they had never seen a creature like this and when they saw that it was heading right towards Ya-Shuur’s lands they loosed loud barks. These were far louder than any wolf’s bark and were meant to scare off creatures.

Not far away Ya-Shuur heard the barks and he stirred. Ivy and moss were growing all on him and there was a bird nest on his head. He moved carefully to not disturb the nest and released himself. Then he went to investigate what his faithful molves were barking about. Behr-Aat was next to him. The voice, when it called, was tired.

“Hello?”

For the first second, the knife wasn’t visible, its polished surface reflecting too perfectly the mulch of the woods below. Chopstick changed her stance slightly, and the giant blade shifted, showing in its reflection the face of the molf that was hounding her. The beasts kept themselves low on the ground, growling and barking and cornering her, but the little godling didn’t move, did not so much as look at them. Her sticks were pointed squarely at Ya-Shuur.

“I… found your dogs,” she began. “They found me.”

Ya-Shuur looked at her and blinked in shock. It had been so long since he heard speech from anything other than those droning magpies. And the other shock was that Chopstick Eyes was quite scary in appearance. When he had shaken away the shock he told the molves to back away. They did this and quickly got behind Ya-Shuur but they shot Chopstick Eyes suspicious looks and growled slightly when she scratched the back of her neck.

“I am sorry if they scared you. They don’t take kindly to strangers.” Unfamiliar with knives, he looked at the strange sharp thing in her hand and held his herding stick warily. “Who… who are you? I have never seen you before. And… and what’s wrong with your eyes?” A look of concern was on his face and he grimaced in pain a bit as he looked more closely. “Don’t they hurt?”

Chopstick considered for a moment, one edge of her mouth tightening slightly. “...Don’t yours? They’re round and slippery. Must be a real pain to shed them.” She breathed in, exhaled.

Ya-Shuur was lost in thought for a few moments as he thought of what the strange creature had said about eyes. He had only ever seen Li’Kalla’s eyes and those of Vakk and then all the creatures that dwelled on the island. None of them had sticks coming out of their eyes unless they were injured in some way.

“Never mind. Forget the dogs, they don’t bother me. I’m looking for someone.” Her gaze had wandered, but she returned it now. “How long have you been here?” Ya-Shuur frowned and tried to work out what she meant by that.

“How long? Well… I have been here very long. I was here when Li’Kalla still lived in her manor but now there is only a terrible dragon there. I was here when it was all ruined and I was here when the goats were wild and alone and the bear and the wolf preyed on them. I was here before I saw that goat defying the darkness and felt that name was mine and then I was here after that too. I was here before the wolves befriended me and after that and also when the great beast called Zer-Du came and ate my friends.”

Chopstick’s knuckles whitened on the knifehilt.

“And I was here before I had horns and then after that as well. And before there were molves and after that. And I was here before water-goats and after water-goats and before they ran wild and after some of them were placed in the lake and became tame. And I was here when the cat was wild and when the ass was wild as well. I was here before the magpies learned to talk and after. That long! I used to count how many times the light came up but then it came and went so many times and I lost count.” Ya-Shuur was very excited to meet someone who could speak and understand him, so he had gotten ahead of himself a bit, but then he blinked and realized that the other person had not answered any of his questions.

“Oh, but you didn’t tell me who you are. I have never seen you before and I have travelled all over the island many many times. How long have you been here? Why have you come? Who are you looking for?”

“I’m the god with chopstick eyes,” said the god with chopstick eyes. “I’ve been here… I don’t know. A few weeks, maybe. Before that I was here for a long while. I’m looking for... a friend.” She shifted her weight a little. “Who are you? ‘Goat Defying the Darkness’? Tell me about the dragon, and the beast, Zer-Du. And tell me about the bear.” Ya-Shuur would have showed that he found her name delightful, but he could see now that she seemed a bit troubled and serious, so he kept his own face serious too.

“Okay.” He said, nodding. “I will tell you about all these things, but let’s get out of the rain. Come with me and we can go to my home and talk more.” He looked at her giant knife again, both curious about it and afraid at the same time. “But please don’t use that on me or my friends.”

“I… won’t,” said Chopstick Eyes. She licked rainwater off her lips, tongue running for a moment across the scar in her mouth. Even she could taste the naivety before her. “Let’s go.”

Ya-Shuur led the way through the lands he had enclosed.

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Hidden 4 mos ago Post by Lauder
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Lauder The drunk kind of hero

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Sprite & Atmav





It was quiet. Very quiet. In the distance, a single cicada sang its song, another responding with some delay.

Sprite was laying face down on Atmav’s toned belly, her face in between two of the abs. She mumbled and blew onto Atmav’s skin, then giggled quietly when Atmav moved her hand and put it on top of her, pressing her tightly against the warmth of her belly.

Atmav groaned lightly in her sleep and mumbled something, but quickly she went back to normal. Her hand remained heavily on top of Sprite, though. The body of the large woman shifted a bit, the hand moving away from Sprite’s small body before stretching into the air. Her body lurched upwards only a small bit as Atmav yawned, groggily rubbing her hand over the front of her face. The toned arms held her up, not enough to disturb Sprite’s little spot, but enough.

She gazed down upon Sprite before cocking her head to the side, inspecting what Sprite was doing in her stomach. “Sprite, what are you doing?”

Sprite looked up for a split moment before pressing her face back against Atmav’s skin, this time playfully biting into it. However, there was no immediate reaction from Atmav this time.

“Why are you biting me?” Atmav asked with a light laugh.

Sprite chuckled and looked up again, then crawled all the way up to Atmav’s chin and rested her own tiny chin on top of it. “I have successfully tamed youu! I bit you suuper violently and you did nothing but laugh, Attie! Now, heed my order my pet! Pet me!”

“You didn’t even break my skin, Sprite,”Atmav chuckled before scooping the small one up in her hand, sitting up in the process. She gazed upon the little one with a smile before crossing her legs, shaking her head with a laugh. “You continue to make me laugh, Sprite,” the warrior said lightly as her gaze eventually shifted to outside the cave.

Sprite merely gave Atmav a coy smile as she hugged the woman’s thumb and pressed her tiny body against it. “Boo, getting distracted by looking outside the window when you have a pretty girl wrapped around your thumb!”

“A pretty girl cannot do much with other than talk to,” Atmav observes before her stomach let out a light growl of attention. The winged one could not help but let out a sigh before looking back at Sprite with a more neutral face. She shook her head once more, this time not in a playful manner but in a way to focus herself on an important task. “I will need to go get food,” she said, her voice losing the playful hint that Sprite had heard.

Sprite pursed her lips and frowned, before nodding. “Okay, where are we going?”

“You are not going anywhere, Sprite. You are too small and I don’t want to risk you getting lost. I will hunt alone,” Atmav said sternly. Slowly, lowering the hand to the ground, Atmav gestured for Sprite to move off.

Sprite looked at Atmav, mortified. She went pale and stammered, “B-But-!”

“I won’t be gone for long. I just don’t want that risk to be present and I would take you with me, but if something were to happen to you, I think I might slip back to a dark place that I do not want to go back to,” Atmav said before looking around the ground. She picked up several stones and moved them about, stacking them on one another before holding Sprite to it. A small hut made of rock against the wall of the cave. “When I get back, I will do whatever you say. Okay?”

Sprite pouted, but nodded and stepped off of Atmav’s hand, “Okay, but don’t take too long!”

“I promise,” Atmav said lightly before standing, tuning and walking to the entrance of the cave before looking back at Sprite one last time. Her hand brought the orvium blade out of the ground, dragging it across the dirt as she walked. “I promise,” she repeated before her starlight wings spread to launch Atmav into the air. She soared above the trees and out of sight in a matter of moments, leaving Sprite by her lonesome.




It had been a really long while. So long, in fact, that the shadows cast by the pretty light of day had shifted position!

She couldn’t stand it any longer. She had to do something, anything. And so Sprite paced in front of the rock hut made for her by Atmav. After some seconds, she froze and nodded to herself. She looked into her own translucent body and saw in the center of it all, her core. A solid fragment of a soul.

“Good! I’m so smart, very smart! I bet the others never thought of carrying their cores inside of their own projections. That’s ‘cause I’m reaaally smart, aren’t I?” She asked no one in particular, expecting an answer. After a few moments, she giggled and turned and walked toward the exit of the cave.

She walked and walked, passing by huge. normal-sized rocks, and then bathing in the warm light, and the delving into the waist-high maze of grass leaves.

Eventually, she reached the foot of a tree and looked up. Her eyes lit up and she stretched her arms upward. Of course, that made no difference.

“Ooh, that apple looks good! Maybe I could get it for Atmav!” She muttered to herself, chuckling.

Of course, reaching for it made no difference, as one would have to stack dozens of Sprites to even graze the skin of the red, juicy fruit. She realized this soon and drooped sadly.

“Wait-”

She perked back up, eyes sparkling with an intense silver glow and mouth contorted into a proud smirk, “My core is floating inside me, so… Maybe…” She closed her eyes and focused, and indeed! After a moment, Sprite began floating too. “Yay!”

From then on it was smooth sailing. Sprite flew up to the apple and dislodged it, making it fall to the ground far below. It might get a little bruised, but it didn’t matter to her. Food was food, and her best friend was hungry!

When she flew back down to the apple and stood on it, she noticed something… Odd.

The skin seemed to be bubbling, and something was pushing at it from inside the apple.

“Something inside… Apple… Squirming…” Sprite hummed and pressed a finger against her lips in thought. “Oh no… A wor-”

At that instant, a huge worm burst forth, bits of juicy apple flying everywhere! Sprite gasped and fell backwards, off the apple and onto the grassy ground. “Ahh!” She yelped before landing in a thick patch of grass.

She could barely see the apple, but she knew. She caught snippets of it.The green, absurdly long insect wiggled and shook and squirmed out of its hole. Sprite caught glimpses of it sneaking about on the surface of the apple.

It was terrifying, and Sprite knew.

She had to tame it.

She crouched behind a wide blade of grass and waited for the worm to slither near her, and when it did… She jumped onto it!

“Aagh, take this you big juicy bug!” She screamed and growled, wrapping her arms and legs around the insect as hard as her projected body could.

The worm froze and then immediately started wriggling and jerking around. At one point, it started rolling, crushing tiny silver under its weight numerous times, until she let go, panting.

“H-Hey, you beat me you fat sorry excuse of flesh… I give up…” She said breathlessly as the worm recovered its composure.

In this moment of calm, Sprite saw its true size. It was easily over a foot long. “... How did you even fit inside that apple, you freakdo? Wa-Wait! Don’t come any closer…!” She gasped and sat up as the worm slowly made its way toward her.

“C-Come on now, we can negotiate! I don’t have a reaaal body, so I’m not tasty!”

It rudely ignored her, and Sprite huffed and crossed her arms, “Figures, take a girl for the ride of her life and then ignore her. Boo!”

The worm started struggling. It tried to get closer to Sprite, but it only managed to do jerky motions. That’s how Sprite noticed… it was getting pulled back!

“What! No way!” She gasped, jumping up to her feet and running around the worm. She saw it, a long tongue wrapped around the worm’s midsection.

“Oh boyy! You’re about to get eaten, wormie! How do you feel about thaat? Scared? Excited? Scared and excited, perhaps? That’s the best combination I assure you!” She giggled and slapped her hand on the huge worm’s back. It shuddered and redoubled its efforts at resisting the pull of the tongue, which disappeared well above the ceiling of thick grass leaves.

“Oh, you don’t wanna be eaten? Ugh, fiiine, I’ll help you out, but ooonly if you let me ride you.” The worm didn’t respond. “Oh goooooods, you’re a such a lobcock. Fiiine.” She groaned and rolled her eyes.

Near them, there was a mature rose. So Sprite walked over to the flower and broke off the longest thorn she saw, then calmly walked back to the scene of the epic struggle between the worm and the tongue. In a lame, lazy movement, she pierced the tongue with the thorn.

Blood gushed out, a high-pitched cry came from nearby, and the tongue retreated.

The worm calmed down and, after a long moment, turned to Sprite. It slithered its large head towards her, but in a different manner this time. More docile than before. Sprite smirked and, once the worm’s head bumped into her, she pet it.

“Hah, recognizing your master now! You’re mine, Wormie! And I will call you… Worm… ox. Wormox shall be your mighty name! My steed! Hah hah hah!” She laughed proudly, hands on her hips as she struck a power pose. an intense ray of light seemed to shine upon her in that beautiful, intense moment…

Until Wormox bumped into her again and she tripped and fell on her bum.

“Ouchie.”

She stood up, patted at her clothes even though that was not necessary given she was merely a projection, and mounted her new steed. Wormox the Worm.

“To the Atmavian Cave, Wormox!”

It immediately set off for the apple it had burst forth from. Sprite groaned.




By the time Atmav had arrived, carrying her sword and carrying the corpse of a buck which had a blood running down its neck. What she saw confused her, random objects littered the cave and she cocked her head before looking around for Sprite, not initially seeing her among the clutter. She saw flower petals, twigs, a ruined apple, leaves, and somehow a mud pile. Despite the confusion, Atmav stabbed her blade into the ground before hoisting the deer up.

Cautiously, Atmav stepped over the clutter, before depositing the corpse at the back of the cave. Her head swiveled around to inspect the clover, walking over it slowly as she scanned for her small friend, growing worried when she could not see her. Atmav began to show signs of panic, not wanting to be left alone to her own mind once more.

“S-Sprite?” Atmav called with a slightly worried voice.

The silence grew thick. It could almost be touched, and its walls encroached into Atmav’s territory, little by little, until…

“PWAHH!” Atmav jumped at the noise.

Sprite burst forth from under the mud pile, with her a rather large worm. She was sporting a huge grin on her face as she turned to look at Atmav. The worm retreated back into the mud pile.

“Oh hey, Attie! I brought all these things for you! I give them to you, a symbol of my undying loove.” She drew out the last word, forming a heart with her fingers and placing it against her own chest. She and her clothes were spotless in spite of being in a mud pile.

Atmav let out a sigh of relief before kneeling down Sprite, a soft smile present on her face. “You are cute, I will give you that,” Atmav said with a light laugh before she moved back to the buck, beginning to rip fur off of the corpse to expose the bloody insides of the creature. The winged one took a sizable piece of meat out of the body, turning to Sprite and taking a large bite of it. Her lips smacked as she chewed on the raw piece of meat.

“You didn’t have to get me anything, Sprite,” Atmav said, speaking with a full mouth though still clearly happy.

Sprite watched Atmav eat, her mouth open in a little ‘o’. After a while, closed her mouth and tilted her head, “You like raw meat? People cook their food generally, probably.”

Atmav stopped eating for a moment, swallowing what she had in her mouth before looking away in an embarrassed manner. “I- I don’t know how to start a fire,” she admitted before she took another bite out of the lump of meat.

“Oh,” Sprite chuckled and shrugged, “I don’t know either! Let’s call one of your servants to have them start it for us! SERVANT!”

“I don’t have any servants,” Atmav commented with a light laugh as she ripped another lump of meat out of the buck. She shrugged before continuing, “Not like I need one or anything, I know how to take care of myself,” she said through another bite.

“But you don’t know how to make a fire, silly! Besides, you end up covered in blood and yucky stuff. I think you like feeling dirty.” Sprite smirked and floated over to Atmav, the worm suddenly popping out of the mud pile and following her on land.

“I wouldn’t say that,” Atmav said, her head looking up at the roof of the cave in thought before continuing, “I guess I am just used to being covered in blood.” She took another bite, blood from the meat, dripping onto her chest. She did nothing to clean it off, allowing it to sink into her skin as she ate. “Besides, if I feel as if it’s too much I can just go wash myself.”

“Or, I could wash you.” Sprite said with a grin, pressing herself against the posterior of Atmav’s right shoulder, peeking out of the top to watch her eat.

“I suppose you could. Though, I do not see why I would need another to wash me,” Atmav said, looking at the body of the buck before letting out a huff. “Shame I cannot eat all of that. It’s a lot of meat that’s going to spoil,” she complained, as she finished stuffing herself. Atmav licked the blood off of her hands, the crimson being taken away to reveal her sturdy white hands.

“You can’t reach you back, can you? I can make that suuper clean for you.” She said, her tiny, bright eyes looking up at Atmav’s face.

Atmav seemed to think for a moment, nodding head, “You have a point… Maybe I can stop by the ocean when I get rid of the body.” She finished lapping the blood off her hands before holding up a hand for Sprite to step on to, which Sprite happily did, sitting down cross legged in the center of Atmav’s palm.

“What do you do with bodies? Do you have a private ditch to throw them in? Maybe an entire graveyard? That’d be kinda creepy, but interesting, and…” Sprite didn’t stop speaking, droning on and on for ages.

Atmav merely listened on to the droning words of Sprite, finding mild entertainment from her friend’s little rant. Eventually, she set Sprite back upon her shoulder, silencing her for a mere moment as Atmav got to her feet in silence. “I will show you,” Atmav stated before picking up the buck by its throat and dragging it to the cave entrance.

“Hold on tight,” Atmav advised.

Both hands gripped the skin of the beast tightly as Atmav began to spin, the speed slowly increasing until the corpse took little effort to keep lifted. Then, Atmav released the body and sent it soaring into the treeline, the sound of crashing branches and surprised birds came shortly after. The larger woman gave a small laugh before turning her gaze to Sprite’s position on her shoulder, “Do you think that was a good throw?”

Sprite had the widest, biggest, shiniest grin ever plastered on her face. Her hair was disheveled, her eyes wide and shaky with excitement, and she was breathing heavily, “W-Wow, Attie, you really are strong!”

Atmav has an equally large smile on her face at the compliment, letting out a light laugh as she went over to her normal sitting spot. “I don’t want to gloat, but I did lift a giant beast much heavier than that,” she stated proudly before sitting down, having to push some rubbish out of the way. She looked at Sprite before continuing, “The sword is also pretty heavy. So there’s that.”

Sprite’s eyes went over to the sword, but quickly turned back to Atmav, where she let her jaw hang open slightly, “Oooah… So that explains why you can carry me so easily! Aw, my big strong owner! Is calling you ‘owner’ weird? I think that’s a bit weird, but I like it. Owner, bestie... Same thing, really!” Sprite chuckled and cuddled up against Atmav’s neck.

“You can call me whatever you want, Sprite,” Atmav said softly, leaning her head over the soul fragment and putting a hand around her. It was a simple gesture that amounted to a hug, but it was a sign of Atmav’s favor nonetheless.

Sprite smiled and closed her eyes, “I’m having fun, are you?” She asked softly.

“Much,” Atmav answered, continuing her previous tone before letting out a sigh of satisfaction. “I would be happy to stay like this until Vakk destroys me,” she continued, a light hint of sadness coming to her voice as she knew that her joy would end once Vakk came for her. It was almost too good to last, in her mind.

“Ah, you dummy,” Sprite sighed and shook her head, “Vakk will never destroy you! I’m here to protect you, so is Wormox! And we can get many more loyal servants to protect you! All hail Queen Atmav, or something.”

Atmav gave out a chuckle before looking at the ceiling of the cave, a simple thought formulating in her head and burrowing deep into her core. She gave a wide smile before she spoke with a certain joyful lust clouding her tone.

“Queen Atmav… I rather like the sound of that.”



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Hidden 4 mos ago Post by Goldeagle1221
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Goldeagle1221 I am Spartacus!

Member Seen 24 hrs ago


&



The Learner, The Martial Dancer

&

boatgang





Qiang Yi, Zhen-zhen and Zeng En sat drinking happily around the water hole, cupping their hands into the still lake and slurping loudly as they marvelled in the odd sights of the continent. The first mate sat staring smugly as the quartermaster playfully chewed out the captain, who dove for cover behind his hands.

“Look, I respect your enthusiasm, cap’n, but you can’t make such decisions on behalf of the crew - we ain’t even landed for five minutes and already you’re sendin’ us out again.” He snickered and slapped the captain on his boney back, eliciting a dry gasp from Qiang Yi. The captain grimaced a little at the smirking two.

“It is a god-given quest - of course, I accepted! His Holyness K’nell won’t receive a ‘no’ from us little becks just because we’ve just set foot on land again! No… No, no, no, we are taking on this second quest - I will accept no--”

“My, always so serious, captain,” Zhen-zhen snickered. Qiang Yi deflated and rolled his eyes. “We will go, of course,” the first mate laid down in the pink grass and continued, “but there’s no need to hurry everything along. This is our first break since we left the ship - let us have it without thinking of what comes after, alright?”

Zeng En grunted in agreement and laid down, as well. Qiang Yi sat upright between them, eyeing the two with furrowed brows. “You two are much too relaxed. I know that’s what His Holyness K’nell ordered us to do, but--”

“The Sovereign of Sleep did not order us to do anythin’ except to never travel to the centre of the continent. You’re thinking too seriously again, cap’n,” Zeng En mumbled with a smile. Qiang Yi straightened his lips, shrugged and got up. “I will take a walk - gather some inspiration for the poetry I will write once my hands grow back.”

Zeng En waved and pulled his banana down over his eyes. Zhen-zhen squeezed Qiang Yi’s calf and clicked her tongue. “Have a nice walk, captain,” she said giddily. Qiang Yi looked down at her with a raised brow, blinked twice and slowly began to shuffle off towards the outer plains.

The servants had organised themselves into small circles around the water hole, occasionally being visited by curious trees or critters. Voices grew loud for a few seconds as one of the trees presumably tried to dig its roots into the body of one of the servants, but these shouts were quickly replaced with laughter as the trees were chased off. Some of the Noble had brought along their instruments and played soft tunes that complemented the dancing shine of Heliopolis across the rosy grasslands. A group of the Strong were practicing their martial arts in the caressing breeze, their gis and belts moving as much with their movements as with the wind. They jabbed, kneed and hammered at the air in front of them in a controlled and impressive dance. At the end of every fifth or so strike, they spun around and began boxing and kicking the shadows in the opposite direction. The Skilled had found themselves some sticks to whittle and mostly sat drawing schematics in the mud by the water hole. The captain scanned his crew with a content, wry smile before he strolled into the woods.

As Qiang Yi crossed into the wood border, he found himself under the assault of a flying piece of moss. At first, the captain nearly tossed himself to the ground to avoid it, but then found himself chuckling as the moss slapped against his arm and began to lick at his sandy skin. Qiang Yi pulled his moss off with ease and lobbed it aside, chortling to himself.

“Is anyone there?” came a feminine voice. Qiang Yi sucked in a silent breath and froze, rolling clumsily into a bush behind him. Footsteps approached. “Hello? Please, come out and show yourself. I mean you no harm.”

Qiang Yi peeked out slowly. He took a deep breath, closed his eyes and stood up. When he opened his eyes, his jaw dropped. Opposite from his was none other than Xiaoli, her hands full of fleece and her eyes wide as saucers. The captain cast himself to the ground and Xiaoli felt her brow moisten.

“O holy First of the Court, this servants named Qiang Yi greets You with utmost humility.” Xiaoli blinked and bowed uncertainly.

“A-and I greet You with utmost respect,” Xiaoli returned, seemingly not quite over the initial shock. “H-has His Lordship sent you?”

“He did, My Lady. We came by ship, the Zhengwu, to deliver a most sacred gift to His Holiness K’nell.” Xiaoli nodded slowly. “The crew is currently resting on the plains beyond the woods.”

“The crew, huh… How many are you?” she asked carefully and adjusted the wool in her arms a little.

“We are thirty individuals on the plains, My Lady,” the captain said swiftly. Xiaoli gaped.

“... I see…” Xiaoli said and made a frown, mumbling something to herself. Qiang Yi blinked. “Forgive this servant, My Lady, it did not catch that last part.”

“What is your rank, Qiang Yi?” Xiaoli asked.

“This servant is the captain of the vessel, My Lady.”

“I see. Do you have any lieutenants, captain?”

“Three, My Lady: Zhen-zhen of the Noble, my first mate; Li Shan of the Skilled, the master carpenter; and Zeng En of the Strong, the quartermaster.”

Xiaoli nodded. “Bring those three here, please.” Qiang Yi looked up with a raised eyebrow, but was not about to question a request. He got up, bowed and set off into a sprint.

In mere moments, he was out of the woods again, charging towards the water hole with gasping breaths. Zeng En was the first to look up as he presumably heard Qiang Yi’s loud stomps. The quartermaster scratched the head under his bandana. “Is everythin’ alright, cap’n?” he asked uncertainly.

“Yes! I mean, no! I mean, absolutely! Have you seen Li Shan?”

The quartermaster made a face and pointed a finger to his left. “Y-yeah, he’s right over there. Did anythin’ happen--?”

“No time to explain. Wake up Zhen-zhen and head for the forest border! I’ll fetch Li Shan!” With that, Qiang Yi set off over towards Li Shan. Zeng En watched the captain zoom off and shook his head briefly. He poked the small, curled up girl, who only seemed to curl up tighter as a result. Zeng En grunted and jabbed his finger into her side.

“Ow!” Zhen-zhen exclaimed and nearly flew into the air. Zeng En squeezed her shoulder and stood up. “Cap’n wants us to head to the woods,” he rumbled. Zhen-zhen smacked her lips together and stretched. “Did he find a funny frog or something?” Zeng En shook his head and helped the girl to her feet. “Doubt it. This seemed to actually excite him.”

Zhen-zhen scratched the side of her face, which was covered in pink grass. “Frogs excite him, don’t you know? In a real funny way, too.” She gave him a smirk, which was returned with a frown. “I did not need to know that,” Zeng En muttered at Zhen-zhen’s smug smile. “Yes, you did,” she snickered as the two strolled off towards the woods.




Qiang Yi stood panting next to a ring of rather confused carpenters, among whom Li Shan sat sketching some sort of contraption that likely could not be realised.

“Li Shan,” he managed through his heavy breaths. “You must come with me.”

“Is-... Is anything wrong, captain?” said the carpenter

“No, nothing is wrong! Just come along now.”

Li Shan looked at the others and shrugged. He stood up and followed the captain towards the woods. “So… Captain,” he began, “care to share what’s on your mind?”

“Lady Xiaoli is here,” Qiang yi said quietly.

“LADY XIA--”

“SSSHHH! Be quiet! We cannot let the others hear. She only invited the officers.”

The carpenter nodded slowly. Soon, they came upon the already kowtowing Zeng En and Zhen-zhen and a smiling Xiaoli. “There you are,” she said softly. Li Shan gaped for a second before he, too, cast himself to the ground.

“Blessed Lady Xiaoli, First of the Court,” Li Shan said into the ground. Xiaoli nodded. “You must be Li Shan. The others have already presented themselves. An honour to meet you.”

The carpenter nodded. “Likewise, O sacred spirit.”

Xiaoli eyed the servants. “Well, it would seem that we are all here. Come along now. I’m certain you’ve missed the taste of food.”

The servants all looked at one another with wide eyes and suppressed their giddy giggles. They followed Xiaoli over stock and stone, under tree and branch, until they came upon a clearing broken apart by a tall wall. They marveled at the construction as Xiaoli turned the corner. When they followed suit, they were greeted by a colossal black obelisk. A small stone bowl had been placed in front of it, little colorful pebbles offered into it. The servants recoiled a bit upon seeing the menacing structure, but Xiaoli beckoned them along.

“They’re with me,” Xiaoli said to the obelisk. “Come on in. Mind your head in the doorway, master Zeng En.” She entered through the mansion gates.

There came suddenly the sound of a door closing shut and then, exiting the master house, came a girl of white light holding a basket full of clothes. She wore a simple white dress, fashioned by Xiaoli. Arya did not notice them at first and began to walk towards the gates before her eyes met Xiaoli and the strangers. Where then she stopped in her tracks like a statue. She did not move, nor blink, nor even breath (if she actually breathed at all). Zhen-zhen stopped in her tracks and looked back, inciting Zeng En, Li Shan and Qiang Yi to halt as well. Xiaoli slowed down a little ahead, eyed the four individuals and sighed.

After several moments of this, tears began to well up in her eyes and she dropped the basket onto a stone tile. The girl then fell to her knees and kowtowed towards the newcomers. She then spoke in a shaky voice, her words Shengese, ”This servant is so, incredibly sorry for what she did. She does not deserve to be in the presence of those whose kin she murdered without thought of consequence. This servant has shamed herself, and can only ask for forgiveness from those she hurt, if they have any to spare, oh the most noble servants of his Holiness. This servant apologizes profusely.” Arya finished, daring not to move.

Qiang Yi and Zeng En looked at one another quizzically. “M-my Lady, You may have us confused fo--”

“No… She knows who we are.” Zhen-zhen put on an uncharacteristic somber tone. “You three used to work in the palace before the Gift, right?” Qiang Yi nodded. “Well, technically, I worked in the larders,” Zeng En corrected. “Kitchens,” said Li Shan. Zhen-zhen grit her teeth and sucked in a deep breath.

“Few of us remember anything from before the Gift, My Lady,” she said as she squatted down in front on Arya, her arms leaning on her thighs. “It’s weird to think back on it, actually. It was like dreaming, but also a bit like being drunk…”

“We didn’t really have what can be called ‘minds’, you see,” Qiang Yi added. “We were more like one simple consciousness divided among ten thousand individuals, giving each of us very little actual cognitive ability.” He put his hands on his hips and looked at Zeng En. “... I cannot believe we used to explode upon standing still…” The quartermaster nodded with his arms crossed. “Was always a wet mess on the kitchen floor…” Li Shan mumbled with a headshake.

“Yeah, what he said.” Zhen-zhen thumbed over her shoulder. “Now, having said that, there is one thing I strictly remember - one event that shook the ship deck so severely that not even the individual servant could forget it.” She pointed a lazy, bent finger at Arya’s downfacing head. “That would be your tantrum,” she said flatly.

Arya's body visibly trembled as her worst fear began to realize. They remembered what she had done and the pit inside of her deepened.

“Zhen-zhen!” Qiang Yi exclaimed. “Be quiet! We are their guests!” Xiaoli crossed her arms over her bosom and frowned.

Zhen-zhen remained unmoving, though moisture had seemingly found its way into her eyes, condensing as tears in the corners. “A lot of good souls swam ahead that day… Simple souls, sure, but good. I reckon I'd be one of them if not for…” She scratches her chin and made a pensive face. “Huh… I don't even remember what kept me away from my post in the guestrooms. Probably some errand.” She shrugged. Qiang Yi stormed over and pulled Zhen-zhen to her feet, receiving surprisingly little resistance from her. Zeng En and Li Shan flanked them on each side.

“That's enough, Zhen-zhen!” he snarled at her expressionless face. “You have no right to scold our host that way. On your knees and apologise this instant!”

It was then that Arya spoke, not even lifting her head up to view them. Her voice was meek and strained, ”No. She has every right to scold this servant. For this servant is merely a guest in Lady Xiaoli’s house. This servant does not deserve an apology, for there is no offense.”

The captain blinked first at Arya, then at Xiaoli, who approached slowly with her arms still crossed. Zhen-zhen looked up at her, then glanced to the side. Xiaoli gave her a sad smile and squeezed her shoulder. Zhen-zhen looked back up, then turned to Arya and sighed. “You know, while you did almost kill me, I--... No, we actually ought to thank, no, be appreciative, no… Show some gratitude.” She smiled wryly, nearing her usual smirk. “Had it not been for your tantrum--” Zeng En poked her hard in the side. “... Apologies, your accident, His Lordship may not have given us the Gift before much later.” She hesitated. “... If ever.” Qiang Yi raised his fist, but Zeng En grabbed it and shook his head, joined by a frowning Li Shan. The captain backed away a little and muttered.

Arya looked up at Zhen-Zhen, black tears staining her face. With sad eyes she took a gasp of air and began to break down. ”I-I'm so s-sorry.” she cried softly, ”It w-was a m-mistake and I hate myself b-because of it.”

Zhen-zhen shrugged. “I once almost killed the whole crew because I was reading on steering duty.” She strolled over and sat down on her knees in front of Arya. “I haven't forgiven myself for that, either. I kind of hate myself for it, too.” She leaned forward and squeezed Arya's shoulder. ”Talking about it helps, though, so if you ever need to talk about what you did, I can be there for you to listen.” She smiled. ”I'd rather that happen than see you break down like this every time you'd lay eyes on my people. Seriously, stand up, it's weird for someone to kowtow to -us-.” Zhen-zhen stood up and reached out a hand.

Arya took a deep breath, trying to calm herself. She wiped her tears away from her face and began to nod her head. ”O-Okay.” before taking Zhen-Zhen's hand. Once standing up she dusted off her dress. She then looked at Zhen-Zhen and then others with a soft smile in her eyes and said, ”Thank you. I...This helps, in more ways than you know.” Zhen-zhen gave her a wry smile.

A loud wail pierced the air followed by a second one and a very loud groan, “XIAOLI!”

Xiaoli winced and sighed. “Alright, you four can move to the dining hall. I'll be there shortly. Arya, dear, could you make them some tea? COMING, SWEETGRASS!” With that, the river girl jogged swiftly into the private house.

Arya composed herself then said, ”Please, follow me. Lady Xiaoli and Hermes are rather… occupied at the moment.” she finished with a smirk.

As the servants lined up to follow, they stared quizzically at the private house. “Forgive me for asking,” Qiang Yi began, “but what were those noises?”

Arya giggled, ”Why, they're babies of course! Lady Xiaoli and Hermes welcomed two baby boys not long ago. The first dreamers, twins! Wenbo and Chagatai are their names. They're quite healthy and precious little gems, but they're always fussing.” Arya mused.

“Oh, what a stellar miracle!” the captain exclaimed, throwing his arms into the air. “Congratulations are in order when the Ladies join us, for certain!”

“Babies already? My, eagerness if I ever saw it,” Zhen-zhen mused with a smirk.

“How did you even make it into the Noble, Zhen-zhen, I must ask,” Zeng En said with a snicker. Zhen-zhen shrugged. “No idea, but I've reasoned that His Lordship is secretly making a special impolite servant unit for those who cannot adjust to the Flow's ways.”

“Those exist?” Li Shan asked with a raised brow. Zhen-zhen nodded ominously. “Apparently so… Imagine that! Guests who don't want you to kowtow and obey their every order.” The other three shuddered. ”I'd rather not imagine that,” Qiang Yi muttere. ”Lady Arya, if I may ask, what is your perspective on all this, being a non-Servant student of the Flow?”

”Hmm,” Arya began, walking inside to the dining room, ”In my travels, I've met those that do not understand the Flows inner workings. What to do, what not to do, what to say, what not to say and the list goes on. Some gods prefer the politeness of servants, others do not, or care not for such things. As such, you learn quickly to do what you can to please others, even if it means going against the flow. Sometimes, you just have to imagine that you're talking to an equal. As we are, now.” she said softly before gesturing for the servants to sit.

”Make yourselves at home, I'll make the tea. Have you tried the sweetgrass yet? Just wait until you drink it.” she said smirking again.

The servants sat down in seiza positions. “No, I don't think so,” Qiang Yi said. ”Is it a local speciality?” Zeng En, Li Shan and Zhen-zhen all seemed to be waiting intently for something.

”You could call it that.” Arya mused. ”Here,” Arya began, walking over to the table with a handful of grass. ”Try it, it's very good.” before she went back to making tea.

The servants did not move, though they occasionally looked at one another, the grass pile, and then back to Arya. Zhen-zhen shuffled around her position a bit. Zeng En scratched his neck sheepishly and grunted. Li Shan and Qiang Yi both stared holes in the grass, yet none of them touched it.

Arya noticed the awkward silence in the room and the grass that still layed untouched. She squinted her eyes at the four of them before saying, ”What's the matter? Can't eat or something?” she said with a laugh, before it began to dawn upon her. Her laughing stopped and she suddenly sighed, ”You can't eat can you?”

All four of them make varying faces between frowns and smirks. “N-no, rest assured, we are perfectly capable of eating,” Qiang Yi said with a sheepish smile. “We do it all the time! Breaks up the monotonous taste of water,” Zeng En added.

Arya frowned, ”You'll have to forgive me, but what might be the problem then? Please speak freely.” she said crossing her arms.

“Well… As you are no doubt aware, having studied the Flow diligently, we may not begin to eat until the Ladies of the house arrive,” Qiang Yi explained. “Tea is fine, but the law dictates that we cannot eat until the most important individuals are seated.” The other three nodded.

Arya shifted her feet and said, ”Oh, of course. Silly me, I guess it slipped my mind.” she paused going back to making the tea, ”We’ve never had guests before, and I've always eaten with them. Thank you for the reminder. Now, let's get the tea then! I'm sure you'll love it.” she finished chipperly.

The servants all patiently waited as the tea first was poured through a makeshift filter into the serving cup, then from the serving cup into the drinking cups, the portions quite small. The four picked the cups up in unison, briefly wiffed the steam, hummed and took a sip. They rolled the tea around in their mouths and swallowed simultaneously.

“Quite good, lady Arya,” Qiang Yi said happily.

“I like the, the sweetness,” Zeng En said with a blush.

“Better than what Zhen-zhen makes, that's for su-Oof!”

Zhen-zhen shook the pain out of her fist and gave Arya a satisfied smile.

Satisfied with their compliments, Arya sat down as well. She poured no cup for herself but looked at them with curiosity. After a moment she said, ”So, tell me about yourselves. What brings you to Tendlepog?”

“A sacred mission, my lady. We were tasked with bringing a gift of wine to His Holiness K'nell. It's been a long and arduous mission, but we finally made landfall roughly a day ago.” Qiang Yi smiled proudly.

Zhen-zhen sighed and smirked. “Well, the whole story is a bit longer…”




Xiaoli pushed through the interior sliding door. Inside the room was messy, with a set of clothes on the ground and a few stained towels. Hermes sat on the edge of the bed in a wrinkled gown, a baby in each arm and all three of them crying. Hermes turned to Xiaoli, eyes red and the twins screaming, “I just got them to sleee…” she sobbed helplessly.

Xiaoli huffed and went over, taking Chagatai in her arms and rocking him gently from side to side. She hummed softly, if not a little pleadingly, to the screaming child. “Have they eaten?”

“Plenty,” Hermes sniffed, “They were just about to slip off when there was shouting outside.” She rocked Wenbo in her arms, the baby turning towards Hermes.

“One goes off and they both do,” Hermes used her shoulder to wipe the side of her face.

Xiaoli pursed her lips at the tiny baby in her arms. “D'aaaw, widdle Chaggy so angwy… Yesh, he is…” Chagatai paused momentarily, but then began to wail again. ”... So demanding…” Xiaoli muttered and leaned him against her shoulder and she bobbed her torso up and down.” Do you want me to get the flute?”

“Careful,” Hermes eyed the clump of clothes on the ground, “He's been very.. Spit-uppy.” Wenbo seemed to calm down, rolling close to his mother. Chagatai let out a scream and Wenbo seemed to respond with his own new flurry of wails, “Okay!” Hermes frowned, “Flute time.”

Xiaoli smirked and went over to deposit Chagatai in his crib. She wiped his mouth a little with the sleeve of her shirt and took a moment to smile at the confused little creature with a face like a red plum and wildly kicking legs. “Chagatai will be a runner, I'm sure of it!” she said happily and looked at Hermes. “Oh, right, flute.” She strolled over to her drawers, pulled out the top one and rummaged about. “Should be in here somewhere…”

“Back left,” Hermes peeked over, leaning to put the struggling Wenbo in his own crib. Xiaoli dug a little more to the left and eventually pulled out the silvery instrument. “Ah! Here it is!” She dusted off the top and blew some test breaths through it. “Alright, here goes.”

Xiaoli began to play a sweet lullaby, one that likely would have been sleep inducing even without the magical effect. The near liquid notes filled the room like a tranquilising fog, making limbs and eyelids heavy. A cloudling fell out of Hermes’ knotted hair and the screaming instantly stopped. A second later and there was a tiny chorus of soft baby breaths and sleeping pops. Hermes put her hands on her hips and looked to Xiaoli, ragged and worn, “Is this cheating?”

Xiaoli waved dismissively. “It's creative use of a sacred gift. The children should feel honoured!” She walked over to Wenbo's crib and stared affectionately at him. “Ooh… Look at his little hands… Can't stay frustrated at something like that…” she whispered with a grin.

“I guess not,” Hermes admitted with a exhale and plopped onto the bed, hands folded on her lap. She blew at a long strand of hair, “What was with the noise outside? Did you bring a tree-eater home with you or something?”

“Hmm? Oh! No, I found some Servants in the tree-eater fields and invited them home to have dinner with us. They found Arya outside and, well…” She sighed and folded her arms. “You know her story with His Lordship and the way she left…”

“Ohh,” Hermes whined as she rubbed her face, her tangled hair curtaining her visage, “Xiaoli your generosity stole my heart but I swear to you now I'm not putting on pants.” She sighed and looked up, “How's Arya?”

“She's better. The servant who remembered the incident the most vividly seems to have offered the cup of peace, so I reckon that they will be friends soon enough.” She gave Hermes a wry smile and eyes her up and down. “You certain you'd rather not be with us? The air in here is pretty close, and you…” She paused and sniffed the air. ”... Could use some time outside.”

“Fine,” Hermes poked a finger, “but no pants.” She stood up and shuffled over to her dresser, “Think anyone would notice if I just tossed my cloak over my gown?” She asked as she flicked through the woolen apparel.

“Why do you insist on no--... Alright, fine, just look presentable. I'll do your hair.” Xiaoli went back to the drawers and pulled out a stone comb.

“Says the River-Girl who never wears pants,” Hermes looked at Xiaoli's skirt and raised a brow. The dreamer pulled out a long fur trimmed dress and pressed it against herself “Pbbt, good enough,” she raspberried and threw it over her head, wiggling her arms through the elbow length sleeves. She pressed it over her lap, and presented it to Xiaoli, “And no more gown to be seen.”

Xiaoli eyed her up and down again and shook her head hopelessly. “Well, if you didn't care about appearances before… Well, it'll do for a crowd of lesser rank, especially this kind. Come on, they're waiting.” Xiaoli beckoned Hermes towards the door, which she slowly pushed open to avoid waking their sons.

Hermes tugged at a knot in her hair and narrowed her eyes at Xiaoli. She picked up the comb Xiaoli had discarded and made quick work of her tangled hair. When done she gently placed the comb back down. Her hair changed to the colour of midnight and her tired face magically changed to one of perky alertness, cheeks filled with a touch of color. She slipped out of the room, her hand catching Xiaoli's on the way out.

“Doesn't care,” She mimicked with a tiny teasing jeer.

Xiaoli rolled her eyes playfully. “Right, hair… Sorry.” They hurried over to the dining hall, mostly due to Xiaoli’s incessant pulling, and shoved the doors aside.

“... And that’s how we ended up here,” Zhen-zhen finished with a smile. Qiang Yi, Zeng En and Li Shan all blinked at the arriving two, shuffled away from the table and kowtowed. “Ten thousand years and more to the First of the Court and the Love of the River!” Zhen-zhen scrambled into a quick excuse for a similar position and echoed the words at a slight off-beat. Xiaoli blushed and scratched her head sheepishly.

“It’s… Really weird to hear that here… Not unwelcome, though,” she added with a grin.

“Oh for you,” Hermes nudged Xiaoli gently and smiled wide at her guests, “Did you all leave a pebble for the house guardian?”

“Pebble?” the captain blurted out quizzically

Xiaoli gulped and rubbed her face with her palm. “Right… Pebble… I’ll be right back.” She hopped out of the building again and headed for the gate.

“I was hoping it would catch on,” Hermes watched her partner hurry off and smiled to herself.

“If I may, Lady Hermes, is it there a question of a toll? If so, I’m certain we have brought stones along to offer,” Qiang Yi proposed. Li Shan stuck a hand in his pocket and pulled out a stick of charcoal with a shrug. Zeng En produced a shiny black grain with a grin. Zhen-zhen patted her dress with a frown.

“I like to think of it more as a gift,” Hermes explained, “To show appreciation to the guardian, give it something to wonder at.” She paused, “On your way out, maybe, to show thanks.”

“Oh, of course! Only natural for guests to leave gifts,” the captain said with a smile. “Oh, forgive these servants - we have yet to introduce ourselves. This one is named Qiang Yi; that girl is Zhen-zhen, my first mate; then we have Zeng En, the quartermaster; and finally, Li Shan, master carpenter. We are honoured to be invited to Your holy abode, lady Hermes.”

“It’s nice to have you,” She smiled and looked out to the door. Xiaoli stepped back into the house and dusted herself off a little.

“There, found some nice piece of granite for him.” She sat herself down by the table and let out a content sigh. Hermes pulled her dressed under and sat down next to Xiaoli.

“Oh good, I like to think he likes the shinier ones,” She mused. Xiaoli shrugged and smiled.

“He said it looked nice, at least. Now, uhm… Dinner, right!” Xiaoli got back to her feet and straightened out her skirt. “Oh!” She snatched a piece of sweetgrass and put it in her mouth. “Please! Feel free to try some!” The servants all grinned from ear to ear and grabbed varying amounts, from a single blade to a handful. They smelled them, licked them and tasted them respectively, all in unison like creatures of one mind.

“Mmm! Truly, your recommendation was warranted, lady Arya,” the captain said with a smile. Zeng En and Li Shan both helped themselves to some more. Zhen-zhen put some in her tea and slurped quietly. Qiang Yi’s eyes blinked suddenly. “Oh! Yes, this servant wishes to express its most joyous congratulations to the Ladies of the house on the birth of your children.” He bowed sitting.

“Oh, how kind! Thank you so much!” Xiaoli said with a grin as she peeled a radish with a stone knife. Hermes beamed.

“If they weren’t sleeping I’d say you should take a look at them, they are beautiful.”

“I have no doubts about that. The children of two pinnacles of beauty such as the two of you are bound to reach standards unequalled in other races,” the captain proclaimed proudly.

Zhen-zhen snickered. “Would you not agree, lady Arya?”

Arya had simply been sitting quietly, smiling as the servants chatted with Xiaoli and Hermes. Her mind however was abuzz with thought at the fact their ship had been attacked by a leviathan angler, one of the creatures her father had made. Kalmar had explained to her well enough what they were capable of. She was just glad they were fortunate enough to escape.

So when Zhen-Zhen spoke to her, Arya snapped back to attention suddenly and said, ”Beauty? Huh, I suppose they are. But their souls are far more beautiful, and pure. And that’s all that really matters.” she finished softly with a warm smile.

“Awh,” Hermes patted Arya’s hand, and gave her a smile “That’s so nice of you. I’m glad we have you around, too.”

”I'm just happy to be here.” Arya replied in a kind voice.

“You've been wonderful to have around the house lately,” Xiaoli giggled from the stove. “With the children having been born, having you do the laundry really frees me up.” She chopped up some cabbage and chives and lobbed them into the bubbling pot. “I hope it's not too much to ask.”

Arya turned to Xiaoli and said, ”Of course not Lady Xiaoli. Both of you took me in when I needed help. Helping the both of you, is the least I can do.” she paused then said, ”It's nice to be… a part of something.”

Qiang Yi slowly sipped his tea, eyeing Arya intently. “Say… Lady Arya, are you fond of adventures?”

Arya caught Qiang Yi’s gaze and giggled, ”Life is an adventure! It's been a journey just to get here and even that was an accident. You never know where it's all taking you. So yes I suppose I do.”

The captain nodded. They other sailors looked at him expectantly. “How stellar. You see, we have received another mission - one on which we would need to increase our numbers. Tell me, have You ever wanted to be part of something legendary? Something which will be remembered in poetry and songs until the end of time?” Hermes brow furrowed slightly and she looked over at Arya.

Arya looked at the captain quizzically, her mind abuzz with emotions and thoughts. She turned her head to look at Hermes, with a calm look in her eyes. She then turned away to look back at Qiang Yi and took a deep breath before saying, ”I'll do it.”

“Are you sure?” Hermes squeezed Arya's hand.

Arya returned Hermes squeeze and said, ”I'm sure.” she turned to look at Hermes, again saying, ”I need to do this, Hermes. If they need help, then who am I to refuse? Besides, I've always wanted to sail on the ocean.” a sad smile crossed her face but her determination was absolute.

“Alright,” Hermes resigned with a sigh, “Just don't forget to come home, okay?”

Arya scooted closer to Hermes and gave the woman a tight hug, ”Thank you. I won't forget, not ever.”

With a small smile Hermes wrapped her arms around the girl and gave her a loving squeeze, “Good.”

Xiaoli sighed into the casserole. “Are you certain you wouldn’t want more time to think about this, Arya? Life away from home can be quite daunting and… Well… Dangerous. Are you willing to risk your life bringing… What is it you’re bringing?”

“His Holiness K’nell did not specify and it was not this servant’s right to inquire further,” Qiang Yi answered diligently. The others nodded - as did Xiaoli.

“Naturally, yet the fact remains that lives will be at risk… Are you certain you’re willing to do that?”

Hermes seemed to pale slightly at the mention of risk and she looked over at Arya almost pleadingly.

”I know, perhaps we all do, that life is unpredictable and dangerous. But I'm willing to risk my own, in debt to those no longer with us and for those going. It’s the right thing to do.” Arya said passionately.

“Her life will be paramount, naturally,” Zeng En added.

“And please, do not consider it a debt to our people. Do not feel bound to join us if guilt is what drives you,” Qiang Yi insisted.

“It ain’t a good motivator,” Zhen-zhen said as she inspected her nails.

She listened to them speak and knew in her heart what they said was true. Her guilt was a driving factor, but that was not the only thing. The servants were but a group of mortals in a world with gods and dangers so great they could be wiped out in an instant. They needed her help, for Arya knew that quests gods gave, were seldom without challenge. Xiaoli and Hermes could not join them, not with the twins. It was up to her. She had to prove herself, and not just to them…

”Even without my guilt, I would join you, Captain. Quests are a challenge, I know all too well what they bring. It'll be fine. I'll be fine. “ she finally said.

“I guess we can't stop you, if this is what you want to do,” Hermes sighed, “I'm sorry, it's just -- you're like a daughter to me, and I'd hate for anything to happen.” She looked over at Xiaoli as if asking for help, “Maybe Arya can use the flute until she gets back, just in case?”

At the mention of daughter, Arya's eyes went wide and she attacked Hermes again with a hug, burying her face into the woman's chest, causing the Dreamer to give a startled yelp. Hermes brought her arms around Arya and gave her another squeeze.

”I'll be fine. I have something to come back too, after all.” Arya murmured.

“And you always will,” Hermes tightened her grip and then released the girl, “Right, Xiaoli?” She looked over at her partner with a mirthful grin.

Xiaoli faced away from the group, but could not help but let out a somber sniff. “Y-yeah, you always have a home here, dear…” Xiaoli turned around, revealing a pair of misty eyes, and fished the flute out from her dress. “Here… You’ll need this on the journey.” She sat down next to her and offered it with two open hands.

Arya tentatively reached out and took the instrument. It was smooth, she found, and light.

”Thank you, Lady Xiaoli. I will make sure to keep good care of this. It’s very beautiful.” she said with wide eyes.

“It will put dangerous beasts to sleep,” Hermes patted her partner’s back, eyes on the clearly upset Xiaoli, “Use it as often as you want, please. Better safe than sorry, too!” Hermes paused, “Oh no, I sound like…”

“A mother?” Xiaoli proposed with a sad smile.
“Yes,” Hermes gave a wink and looked back at her guests, “I’m sorry to put you all between family matters, uh.” She looked over at the casserole Xiaoli had been working on and slowly began to rise to her feet, but Xiaoli rose up faster.

“Don’t worry, dear, I’ll get it.” The river girl shuffled over to the casserole, grabbed a stone spoon and stirred around a little.

The captain waved in a friendly, dismissive matter. “Oh, no! Nothing to worry about. We hope we are not intruding.” He put his teacup down and smiled warmly at Arya. “We are more than grateful for your aid, my lady. Of course, Your quarters shall be the finest aboard the ship. Li Shan will personally make you a proper bed.”

With a happy heart, Arya turned to the captain and said, ”Though I have no doubt of Li Shan’s expertise, all I require is modesty. I do not need my quarters so fine, I’m perfectly happy making do with what you all use.”

Li Shan hung his head. Both Zhen-zhen and Zeng En made brief, slight frowns. Qiang Yi blinked at the carpenter and sighed. “W-well, if that is Your wish, then of course, you, too, shall have a hammock - though I estimate that you may be a little too…” He rubbed his fingers together pensively. “... Tall to fit.”

Arya flinched at their responses and mentally sighed. Right- Servants. ”Hmm, well, if that’s the case, then a bed will have to do.” she said looking at Li Shan with a smile.

The carpenter beamed. “It shall be a work worthy of Your holy being,” he said with a seated bow. Xiaoli by the stove snapped her fingers and bowls floated from the shelves on the walls over to the table and placed themselves comfortably in front of each seated guest. Xiaoli picked up the large casserole and patrolled around the table, serving a bowlful of a reddish-brown stew to each guest.

“Hermes, would you fetch a bottle of strawberry juice from the shelf over there, please?” She pointed to a shelf on the opposite wall crowded with bottles as she replaced the casserole on top of the dying embers of the stone hearth.

“Yup yup,” Hermes chimed as she rose to her feet and quickly swiped the bottle. She pinched a cluster of thin stone cups together and brought the entire assembly to the table. She passed everyone a cup and handed Xiaoli the bottle, “There you go!”

“Thank you, sweetgrass,” Xiaoli said with a loving smile and unwrapped the cloth cover around the mouth of the bottle. She poured everyone’s glasses approximately seventy percent full with mechanical accuracy.

“Oh, Hermes! We should begin to plan the wedding feast! We ought to start preparing food and drink.”

“O-oh,’” Hermes froze mid-sit and slowly descended, “Right…” She looked embarrassingly at the eyes that now bore into her. She weakly smiled and cleared her throat, “What, uh. What's it suppose to be like?”

“A wedding feast?!” Qiang Yi blurted out with a grin; Zeng En sighed happily; Li Shan joined in; Zhen-zhen smirked. “To think we would have the honour of hearing such--”

“Captain Qiang Yi,” Xiaoli said warmly, though her voice was tainted by a cold, stern tone. “If you and your lieutenants would be so kind and cooperative as to not share these news with anyone, we would be eternally grateful.”

Qiang Yi looked dumbstruck for a second. “B-but My Lady, tradition encourages--”

“One to invite peoples of all four winds - yes, I am quite aware of the tradition. However, we…” Xiaoli sat down next to Hermes and put her arm around her hip. “... Have our reasons to keep the guest list as short as possible. So we are thankful for your willingness to keep it a secret.”

Qiang Yi shook his head and frowned. “With all due respect, My Lady--”

“We are thankful - for your willingness - to keep it a secret,” Xiaoli said with ice in her voice. The captain gulped and put his teacup to his lips, his eyes darting all about to avoid the murderous stare of the river girl.

“N-naturally, My Lady,” he eventually mumbled. “Not a soul shall hear of it from our lips.”

Xiaoli smiled warmly. “Fantastic. So, Hermes, we, of course, need to provide wine and meats in great quantities. I reckon that if we set perhaps a few barrels of cider to brew over the next few months, we could have a decent tasting welcome drink for when the guests arrive - however, as the feast likely will last a day or three, we will naturally need much more than that…”

Hermes put her hands over Xiaoli's grasp and nodded, eyes still flecked with concern over the guests, “Hey Xiaoli?”

“Hmm?”

“Remember when I said food was stressful?” She mused with an overwhelmed sigh, “Maybe we can talk about it later, in our room. We do have guests.” She defended.

Xiaoli blinked over at the nigh-shivering captain and sighed. “Alright, you’re right. Forgive my tone, captain. I should not have brought it up.”

“Th-there is nothing to forgive! Th-this servant stepped out of line and inquired too much. It should ask for forgiveness.” He tipped forward curtly. Xiaoli nodded.

“Well, let us eat some, shall we?” she said and ate a spoonful of stew. Upon seeing her eat, the sailors all dug in with gusto. Hermes let out a relieved sigh and in tandem with Arya, they all began to eat.






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Hidden 4 mos ago 4 mos ago Post by Not Fishing
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A Troll Who Fled





A massive ape lumbered through the woods, as quickly as his arms and legs could carry him. He smashed through branches and bushes as though they were leaves in the wind, not even acknowledging the obstacles in his desperate attempt to escape. There were half a dozen cuts and lacerations on his body, cuts which were nearly finished healing and oozing their last drops of blood. Despite his extraordinary stamina, his breath was running short, and he knew that even in a fully healed and energized state he would be no match for his pursuers.

Every instinct had compelled him to fight back, to charge the attackers despite the odds. Yet after watching his entire pack get torn to shreds, and taking half a dozen wounds himself, he had defied those core instincts and done what they had not; he fled.

Two of the attackers had pursued him, while the rest stayed behind to devour his kin. Two more of the creatures had spotted the chase and decided to join in. The four of them had been slowly gaining, and now, he knew, they were mere feet behind him. He did not look back, for such an action would slow him down. He knew they would catch him anyway. All that could be done was delay the inevitable.

Then the earth began to shake. There were massive thundering sounds, accompanied by the cracking and splintering of trees. He knew not what it was; the beasts behind him presented a far more immediate threat, and the sudden noises did not appear to throw them off their bloodthirsty chase in the slightest. One of the ghouls pounced on him from behind, and the two rolled in the dirt, the troll doing the best he could to fend off the slashes from its distant claws. The other ghouls surrounded the two, beating their chests or roaring in excitement.

A claw slashed into his shoulder, and the troll knew he would not prevail - even if he defeated this attacker, the other three would tear him to shreds and then eat them both.

Suddenly, the thundering noises were not so distant, and finally the three ghouls halted and looked up from the brawl. Then one of them simply ceased to exist. It was replaced by a massive fist, which arrived with an earth-shattering slam that threw the other two off their feet. The other ghoul was too focused on the troll, and it didn't truly understand the severity of the situation until two huge fingers plucked it from its prey. After that it was gone; a distant spec against the light of the Lustrous Garden.

Only then did the two remaining ghouls abandon their game. They ran. Then the trees and bushes began to shake, and half a dozen trolls appeared as if from nowhere. One pinned the ghoul down, and another three proceeded to beat and mash it into a gory pulp. The other two trolls set their gaze on the remaining ghoul, and lunged toward. The last ghoul knew it was outmatched, and so it turned back around to run in the other direction...

...only to be intercepted by the fist of its former victim. The punch struck its face head-on, and the sheer force knocked it onto its back. But the wounded troll did not relent. It gripped the fallen ghoul by the top of its head, lifted it up, and then slammed its face into the bark of a nearby tree. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. He did it until the bark was broken and gone, and tree itself seemed almost on the verge of falling over. Then he threw the wretch to the ground, its head little more than a shattered skull of crushed brain and splintered wood.

When the rage faded, the troll became aware of his surroundings. At least two dozen other trolls had emerged from the woods, their eyes on him, and a massive beast loomed over them all. It was tall - taller than the trees, even. But it had the look of a troll - more troll than ghoul, at least - and it was not hostile.

It stared down at him for what felt like ages, before at last it made a sound. "Follow."

With that scant word, it turned and lumbered away, the other trolls leaving with it. With them they took the two ghoul corpses that were still usable. The Troll Who Fled looked on in confusion, and then, after a moment's thought, he followed.




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Hidden 4 mos ago 4 mos ago Post by Goldeagle1221
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Diana and the other dude, plus some reptile


Another nightmare ended, and once more Karamir jolted awake. He found himself on his belly, facedown, a thin string of drool connecting him to the umbrella’s fabric.

With a groan, he rolled onto his back, and then rose into a sitting position. His eyes immediately met Diana’s. Her eyes were wide and staring, a small curl at the edge of her mouth, as if she had something to say but was holding it in. Karamir frowned. He met her gaze and held it for several long moments. And then, at last, he spoke.

”What did you do?”

“Nothing!” Diana’s face broke into a big smile, “I did nothing, and you can count on that.” She gave him a reassuring nod.

”That is the last thing I can count on,” Karamir muttered. ”What did you do?” he repeated.

“Oh come!” She flicked her hand, “You shouldn't accuse a lady like that.”

”And you shouldn’t keep secrets from someone you spent weeks at sea with,” Karamir argued.

“Well I never,” Diana scoffed, “I told you I didn't do anything, and so I haven't.” She crossed her arms, “However, since you bring up secrets, I suppose the umbrella has one that you may find tantalising.”

Karamir was silent. And then a realization dawned on him. Perhaps nothing had been done, and this was merely an attempt to make him think that something had happened. That was a definite possibility - did she seek to drive him paranoid? Or had she actually done something after all? Karamir realized he might have no way of knowing. He decided not to voice the concern. ”What is it?” he asked instead, moving on to the topic of the secret.

“Oh my,” Diana pressed a hand to her face, as if hiding her smile, “You really don't know, do you?”

Karamir’s frown deepened, and he gave her a hard stare. At least her previous attempts had been upfront. But this?

“Listen,” Diana scooted close and cupped her hand to her own ear, as if instructing him to do the same.

Karamir did, unsure of what he was supposed to be listening for. It trickled in slowly, but he heard it faintly: waves crashing, a distant bird call. Diana's smile widened and a light cackle came from her throat, “You hear it?”

Karamir’s eyes widened in surprise. ”I do.” An uncertain pause. ”How long until we get there?”

Diana cackled and shivered with a certain joy, “That's the best part.” She let her cackle die down and hummed a small smile, “We've been stuck on a little reef for a day now.”

”Fuck!” Karamir fell backward. He sighed in frustration, and then stared at the sky in resignation.

“There he is,” Diana teased and sat up proudly, “You've been having so much fun, I couldn't bring myself to dislodge it.”

”I thought you wanted off this umbrella as well?” Karamir asked, not getting up. His eyes focused on a small distant cloud.

“I'm not one to ruin the fun,” Diana shrugged. She placed her palm flat on the umbrella next to her and there was a small smacking sound and the umbrella lurched.

”How long until we get there?” Karamir repeated.

“Again with the questions,” Diana rolled her eyes. She looked down, “Oh!”

”What?” Karamir asked, unmoving.

“My nail,” She held up her fingers to her face, “It's even.” She slipped her finger between her teeth and started nibbling on her nail. A few clipping sounds later and she gave a satisfied sigh.

Letting her back rest against the wall of the umbrella, Diana closed her eyes and smiled, “Isn't this just splendid? I just adore the long anticipation.”

”I suppose I didn’t have anything better to do before I came here,” Karamir responded, finally sitting back up. ”At least here I feel like I’m moving somewhere, even if I don’t know where.”

“Oh foo,” Diana didn't even open her eyes, “It's all the same, I suppose.”

”In what way?” he asked.

“Well,” The Deviless opened her eyes and tucked her knees up, placing her dream orb on her lap. Her fingernails clicked against it, “What do you mean when you say ‘I’m moving somewhere’?”

Karamir’s eyes widened. ”If we are back at Kalgrun, I will throw myself into the sea,” he vowed.

“Oh my!” Diana looked up from the orb and at Karamir with a pleasantly surprised face, “I wish I had thought of that, that would have been absolutely grand, don’t you think?”

Karamir was suspicious. Surely she knew that he had wanted to be away from Kalgrun? She had known everything else. If her goal was solely to make him miserable, then she would have in fact brought him back there, but she hadn’t. So he had to assume she didn’t truly want to go to Kalgrun either, which implied that she had a specific destination in mind. Either that, or they were actually back at Kalgrun, and this was all a build-up to the inevitable disappointment when he figured it out himself. Which one is it… he wondered to himself as the waves grew louder.

Diana hummed over his thoughts, her witching eyes boring into him. Suddenly she stopped short and tucked her orb into her hidden pocket. She laced her fingers together over one knee and a curl took her lips.

”What?” he asked her, after it had gone on for what he felt was far too long. Diana rolled her eyes and a second later, the umbrella suddenly made a soft scraping sound. Diana hopped to her feet and stretched her arms to the sky, a seagull flying overhead.

“End of that chapter, I suppose,” She let her arms fall back to her sides with a slap.

Karamir was astonished. His previous question forgotten, he rose to his feet, and walked over to the side of the umbrella to peer over the edge. Stretching far inland was a long shallow beach of sand. Shells of all shapes and sizes littered it, and the calls of the gulls crowded the air. For the first time in weeks, the scent of fresh plants was carried on the salty breeze, a treeline of green in the distance.

The umbrella suddenly shook and shivered, forcing Karamir to scurry over it’s webbed wall, falling into the warm sand. Looking back he saw Diana swing a regular sized umbrella over her shoulder, its fan hiding her face from the rays of heliopolis.

Karamir picked up a handful of sand, and watched it fall through his fingers. Was this a dream? Once again, doubts began to set in. Was she building up to another act of cruelty? Giving him hope before she could rip it away? How could he be sure? He looked to her, as if he was about to voice his thoughts, but instead remained silent.

Diana remained under her protection of shade, her pointy smile flashing. “How sweet of you,” She mused, “You’re going to miss me.”

That took Karamir aback. ”Miss you?” he asked, his eyebrows raised in puzzlement. ”What do you mean?”

“Oh?” Diana asked, “I suppose I simply assumed you were going to scurry away.”

”And if I don’t ‘scurry away’? What happens then?” Karamir asked. Strangely enough, despite his resentment at the weeks of misery, nightmares, and abuse, he didn’t quite feel ready to leave. He couldn’t explain it.

“I suppose that means we can keep having fun together,” Diana beamed, “Oh, and with so many new things around us I’m sure we will get into many little situations.” She suddenly scrunched her nose, “Now if only the weather would cooperate.” She pulled her umbrella closer, blockading herself from the smooth midday breeze and its summer smells.

Karamir considered his options. Assuming that this was not truly Kalgrun, then he was in an unfamiliar land, which meant unfamiliar plants, unfamiliar animals, and unfamiliar dangers. Miserable as it might have been, none of what he went through with Diana had been fatal. Therefore, it stood to reason that he would be safer, if perhaps less comfortable, with her than he would be without her. At least for the time being.

Karamir rose to his feet. After weeks on the umbrella, his legs were shaky, and unsteady. They nearly threatened to give way beneath him, but he managed to stand somewhat firm. He took a few tentative steps, and then, confident that he could still walk, he turned to Diana. ”Let’s go.”

“Of course, of course!” Diana tugged on her dress with one hand, lifting the hem from the sand as she walked inland, “Oh I hope they have nettles and little biting things.”




Flying over the great green forest a massive red figure could be seen with its wings outstretched. Fleeing from the disaster that was the battle of Shengshi’s arc, a lone dragon found itself flying for miles on end from the east. It hadn’t stopped for a break, let alone had anything to eat, and it was utterly exhausted. Yet it wanted to fly as far away from the massacre as possible, less it vowed for certain death by the gods. It already abandoned the giant hydra’s authority and had ultimately deserted from the grasp of the mighty Sartr.

Now it was alone. It had no idea where others could be found, yet it didn’t care. It wanted to achieve only one thing. Peace. And if it meant that it’ll had to issue a traitorous withdraw then so be it.
With its wings growing ever so tired, the famished dragon slowly descended into the tree line as it issued a groan of discomfort. It needed to find food immediately. Yet even as it walked upon a sea of noise and commotion, none of the immediate animals around him would suffice his hunger pains. They were either too small or out of reach, or in some cases both. It was already smaller than most of the dragon companions it fought alongside with, but alas it was still too bulky to run after these smaller critters. The dragon began to sniff the air, attempting to catch the scent of anything of value around it.

And then it caught whiff of a certain smell. It was a foreign smell, yet one that smelled just a familiar. It smelled of those white pale apes that were on Shengshi’s boat. It had heard that they were called “Servants” and it had shared a morsel with another one of its fellow dragon, literally ripping it in half as they both bit both sides of the creature. It was a only small morsel, but it tasted like soggy sand. But this one smelled different. It smelled as if blood was on its hands. But whether it would have to relive the grinding taste of sand or not, it wasn’t going to give up on this opportunity.

It followed its nose northwards, periodically sniffing the air, before stumbling upon a sandy beach. And from the deep foliage, it could see two figures walking upon the sands… alone. The dragon’s mouth opened slightly as its long tongue licked the chops of his mouth. For mere snacks, they looked rather tasty. And the best part, one of them seemed to be walking at an unnatural pace - as if its legs were wobbling around. It could hardly stand.

Yes. This one would be easy pickings.

The dragon began to slowly move through the bush, lowering his body as he attempted to be as stealthy as possible. Despite his rather large size, it could still maneuver efficiently through the foliage with minimal disturbance. It continued to eye the crippled man as it locked onto him with pinpoint accuracy.

Once in position, it rose its back legs, crouched its torso on the ground with its tail held up high…

And pounced at the vulnerable Karamir!

There was a gentle “Whoopsie” and the world turned black.

The dragon peeled its eyes open, and a woman’s face was inches away. Her skin was pale and held a sickly blush, her lips revealing a toothy grin. Over her head she held her umbrella. It took the dragon short time to realize he was laying on his belly, a grainy burn from a skid rashing his underscales and a mouthful of sand clogging his maw. His brain buzzed, and he knew that feeling, he had just woken up from a sudden, very uncomfortable, nap.

The brown-haired man stood several feet behind her. ”It’s bigger than most creatures I’ve seen…” he noted in an analytical tone. ”But I’ve seen at least one beast that was larger.”

“But it’s adorable,” Diana defended, poking a finger at the beast’s yellow teeth, “So hideous.”

”Kalmar might like it. I don’t know if he would call it adorable, though. I’m not sure I would either...”

“Oh huff and fluff.” Diana waved her hand dismissively.

The dragon groaned weakly as a light stream of fire steamed from its nostrils. It bore its teeth as it struggle to get up on its feet, yet it felt too weak to get up even a foot off the ground. It wobbled from side to side, hoping to gain a good position, but all it could do was release another screech straight into Diana’s face, her smile widening.

“I think it likes me,” She charmed. Diana paused in thought for a moment and turned to Karamir, “Do you think we should take it with us?”

”Can we?” Karamir asked skeptically. ”It just tried to attack us.”

“Oh foo,” Diana huffed, “I suppose you’re right.” She sighed and ran her chipped nails down its scaly cheek, “Oh well.” She suddenly perked up, “A parting gift then.” With a sneering smile she tapped the beasts forehead, a red spiral forming, “So you never forget me.”

The dragon’s teeth snarled out of their gums as it struggled to break free from his dazed state. He flinched when he felt something forming upon his scaly forehead, jerking his head as he nearly snapped at Diana’s hand. Still, it was simply too sleepy to battle the two properly, as it continued laying on the shore with disgruntled growls emanating from its maw.

Diana gave it a friendly wave of her hand and looked over at Karamir. With a big smile she ushered him onward, inland to the Dragon's Foot.






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Hidden 4 mos ago Post by LokiLeo789
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LokiLeo789 Nigerian Prince

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A N Z I L L U




SHEOL writhed. Like a fetus, the thing kicked at its cage and flesh screaming to be molded. Yet, the tissue of THE ABHORRENT was utterly still. Gluttonous organisms tore at its epidermis in futility, divine flesh just beyond the grasp of its structure to taste godly sapidty.

Above the sub-program moved of its own accord. Communication faltered. Possible malfunctions in THE OUTERMOST EXTEMITY’s programming? Likely disciplinary measures were required. Minor adjustments to command protocols in later instances where also required. Due to sub-program faltering, Project JOMM only fell further and further behind schedule.

”Unsatisfactory.” the thing rasped in a tone that disturbed micro-organisms within its space.

The bastard god moved, and as it shifted so did the spark of divinity within the flesh of its soul start. Formulas blazed. Parameters were observed and acceptable. Blueprints were drafted and prototypes were synthesized. Protein capsid layering, transmutable lipid membranes, icosahedral gene capsules and a helical transmutation and motion apparatus’. Separate from this instance, a second set of appendages synthesized the processor/command helix. This one 1000 times more complex then the ARCHON 002 command system.

Hundreds upon hundreds of intelligence-based systems where added to the helix. Biological algorithms relating to predictive amino acid sequencing, protein structure organizetion, and genetic operations like selection, mutation, and crossover, creating an enclosed form of biological computing.

Assembly followed. Appendages fit parts into one other with deftness ease until the multitude of singular pieces became but one complex, viral micro-organism.

Project SHEOL> 75% complete_ARCHON 003 instance stabilized.
PRIMARY OBJECTIVE> 4% complete_Sheol infrastructure.
>command instance ARCHON 003_catylizer instance ARCHON 002_biomass instance ARCHON 001.
>ARCHON TRINITY PROGRAM complete

MODEL 1 Program code uploaded into ARCHON TRINITY.
ARCHON TRINITY_run MODEL 1 Program.

Immediately the ARCHON 003 instance came to life, divine energy abuzz within the micro organism and lines of code where self-synthesized according to ABHORRENT formulas within its capsid capsule. Moments passed and SHEOL’s stillness was broken. Breathing biomass being a living bio-factory, the flesh within the sphere’s center screaming as a section of metal-like tissue became black and veiny upon the A003’s invasion.

A003 invanded cells. System motherboards were hijacked and re-programmed, DNA rewritten according to ENGINEER formulas. Protein synthesizers were activated and began the transmutation process, turning raw energy into biomass as the plasma membrane buckled under the assembly of secondary A003 instances. Instead of simply exploding and spreading, the flesh baked and boiled, rising and lifting out of the mass until a sack full of squirming entities jutted from the fleshy factory.

>10%

”Adaquate.” the bastard hummed as it’s attention shifted to other matters of interest.

Data from past campaigns forced THE ABHORRENT to make several additions to the equation. Mortal-based design at many times acted as a secondary demonic unit when given the opportunity. Demonic cults proved essential to the success of the Primary Objective in the past. As was such, infestations were in order.

The bastard god took its middle finger and dragged it across the surface of space, etching into it sigils in the language of a dead reality. Another equation. It calculated the power of a mortal soul from past realities–although this could only be approximated due to the lack of no live specimen–the maluablity of reality in accordance to divine will, scaled it down to mortal capacity, utilizing the soul as a catalyst, as the divine spark acted for gods, and established parameters within current universal bonderies.

No solution.

Secondary adjustments. No solution. More adjustments. No solution.

The bastard worked, the red scrawl growing larger and larger. Adjustments were made to funnel energy into demon-based sigils writings, allowing for words of power to define action rather then cause the likely destruction of flesh. No solution.

More appendages joined in now, a solution would be found.



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Hidden 4 mos ago Post by Goldeagle1221
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Dawn of Blood: Part Six


Hoshaf looked down at his hands. His right knuckle was crusty with scabs, and a sharp pain radiated whenever he made a fist. He had smashed it repeatedly in anger that morning, having heard of Antorophu’s suicide. To him, he knew it wasn’t because she didn’t want to be with him, but because she knew she wasn’t clean enough for him, not worthy of his strength; it was that and nothing else. Others had started to become scared of him, he could feel it -- he could see it in their eyes, and they had every right to be, he was strong -- he was the chosen leader.

He sucked in a breath and let his hand fall, he had been waiting. All around him was flattened grasses, he stood on top of a sandy sloped hill overlooking the tribe of the Opporu -- the Grottu’s southern neighbor. It was a smaller tribe, with tiny pits dug into the sandy bay. Reeds and piles of grass covered the pits and served as sleeping huts for the selka. A purple ocean pushed and pulled at the flat sandy beach, old fish bones and scales scattered about.

Beside Hoshaf stood two of his most zealous followers, their bodies wrapped in the skin of sharks, and in their hands were the pikes of the bloodkin. Blood still covered their fingers, having put down naysayers only hours after the news of Antorophu. Hoshaf’s only regret was how thin his tribe has become over his time spent as chieftain: but today he was going to make it bigger, and stronger, like himself.

“Kirron’s smile on us,” A wrinkled Selka approached from below. He, like most selka, was naked and would have been indistinguishable if not for the patterns of dull purple painted on him from old berries -- a strange Opporu custom.

“More than just his smiles, Chieftain Jorhuffa” Hoshaf grinned a toothy grin and his zealots chuckled, “Kirron and his bloodkin have offered us tools of strength, and gave us the right to lead.”

“Oh,” Jorhuffa furrowed his grizzled brow, “Well, strength to you, then.” He paused and eyed the weapons with a certain mix of fear and wonderment, “And- and what have we the Opporu done to… well why are you here?”

“The Grottu have been given a purpose,” Hoshaf answered, “We are to unite the selka into one tribe, one tribe guided by one chieftain.”

“But Hoshaf,” Jorhuffa gestured with his hands, “We selka are already one tribe, with Kirron as our chieftain.”

Hoshaf narrowed his eyes, “I don’t know who told you that, but it is a lie. I am the strongest, the Grottu are the strongest, and Kirron and his bloodkin themselves granted us that strength to unite the selka under the Grottu and the Grottu’s chieftain -- me.”

“Are you sure this is about Kirron?” Jorhuffa asked suspiciously.

“What are you say-” Hoshaf scoffed and grabbed one of the pikes with his left hand and shook it, the zealot still holding on, “Do you think I had made this? It is not wood, it is not stone, it is the bones of Kirron’s bloodkin themselves.”

“Perhaps to use in fis-”

“Do you think me stupid,” Hoshaf jabbed a finger into Jorhuffa’s chest, “You are greedy, you want the Opporu all to yourself. Willing to deny holy gifts for it. Guilty.” The zealots eyed Jorhuffa with dangerous intent and the old chieftain stumbled on his words.

“I- this is-! What-- by Kirron!” He slanted his brow, “Leave, this is not the land of Grottu. I will hav-”

“Just you or all the Opporu?” Hoshaf pushed the chieftain backwards.

“None of us would ever follow a leader such as you,” Jorhuffa hissed.

“Then you oppose Kirron’s will.”

“This is not Kirro-”

“And now you deny his chosen,” Hoshaf glared. The scene fell silent as Jorhuffa’s jaw hanged, looking for more words to say. Hoshaf chewed his cheek in thought.

“Go down to the village,” Hoshaf finally spoke, “Talk to your people, and if they feel as you do, snap a stick in half and hold both ends up for me to see. If they do not feel as you do, hold up a single stick.”

“Hoshaf.”

“I will wait here.” Hoshaf’s crazed eyes dug into Jorhuffa. The old selka scoffed and stomped away, but before he was down the slope, Hoshaf called out.

“Jorhuffa.”

The old selka turned and Hoshaf tossed him a long branch, “Tell them the truth.”

“Oh I will,” Jorhuffa narrowed his eyes as he caught the branch, “I will.”

Hishaf watched the selka skid down the rest of the hill, leaving two ploughs in the sand. His eyes squinted as Jorhuffa became surrounded by other grey figures. They all began to talk and Horshaf turned to one of his zealots, “Kirron is with us,” he all but whispered, “Yes or no, the Opporu will bend to his will.”

“The others are ready and willing,” the zealot nodded before turning back to watch the scene. In the distance Jorhuffa turned back to face the zealots on the hill. With a satisfied look on his face he held up the branch as high as he could shove it into the air. A smile began to form on Hoshaf’s face, only to turn into a disgusted frown as Jorhuffa threw the branch on the ground and stomped it in half. Other Opporu selka stood beside Jorhuffa, chests puffed and fists clenched.

“As if he expects me just to leave,” Horshaf’s brow furrowed and his thoughts raced. As if he expects me to lay down, as if he expects Viyoh, Thumfatem and Antorophu’s deaths to be meaningless and without a divine purpose. As if he thinks I’m weak. The chieftain grit his teeth.

“Show them the will of Kirron.”

The zealots leveled their weapons and began to hollar as they sprinted down the hill. From the brush behind Hoshaf the rest of his zealots suddenly bursted out, clubs, spears and pikes of iron in hand. The swarm of Grottu warriors spilled down the hill and Jorhuffa’s face seemed to lose its colour. The army of Hoshaf was almost as numerous as the tiny tribe of Opporu alone.

Down on the beach some of the selka began to run in retreat while others grabbed whatever was close to them. Driftwood, rocks, sticks, the Opporu braced themselves. They threw stones, some catching the faces and heads of the Grottu, some hitting knees and causing them to stumble, but those who were spared broke the foot of the hill even and scattered through the village.

Screams grew next to the roar of the Grottu as iron weapons slinked and stabbed through rubbery flesh. Crimson flew as thick clubs beat in skulls and hobbled limbs. Jorhuffa was the first to fall when four Grottu ran him over with spears pointed. Though he lay dead on the ground, the flurry of stabs didn’t stop, the sand churning with blood and gore.

Suddenly from one of the pits, an abnormally tall selka emerged. He wore the purple of the Opporu and in his hand was a notched club. The giant charged, club swinging madly a curdled battlecry on his whiskered lips. Before he could get close, he was hedged by the Grottu pikes, a point sifting through his gut and stabbing at his spine. Another sliced through his thigh, severing his artery. He screamed in pain, only to have a third pike slam through his open mouth and out the back of his head.

The rest of the Opporu scattered, some being chased down and beaten to death, others mauled by stabbing points, while fewer still actually managed to evade the onslaught. It was only when the sand was pink and crusty did Hoshaf descend from the hill, hands up. His warriors ceased and those yet still alive looked up, eyes missing and teeth knocked out.

“Let all of selka know,” Hoshaf declared, “That the Grottu are the chosen and the strong. All may join our tribe, or perish as is the will of Kirron.”

There was a great cheer that broke the wails of the dying and Hoshaf smiled, if only Antorophu could have seen him now.


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Not Fishing The Mediocre

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Arryn





In his flight along the coasts of Atokhekwoi, Arryn had noticed a number of oddities. Crude structures of wood and mud had been erected by the sea, similar to those that Panganeem and his hunting party had been built. And indeed, they were populated by the same species as the hunters. These were the Selka, the supposed children of Kirron.

At first, he had ignored them. They were irrelevant to his task. A distraction, nothing more. Yet he kept seeing more and more of them, his task seemed increasingly fruitless, and taking the time to investigate would surely not cause a significant delay? After all, the search could take months if not years. What was an hour or two?

Finally, the bird's curiosity got the better of him. He came across another village, an assortment of crude shelters - holes dug into the earth with roofs of sticks and leaves placed overhead to keep out the elements. A scant handful were not dug into the ground, but instead free standing, in the loosest sense of the word. Rather than simply fly by, he decided to pay a closer visit.




At the center of the village, a lone Selka knelt in prayer before a flat stone slab covered with dried blood. In the center of the slab was the skull of a great beast. It was on this slab that Arryn landed, perching himself atop the skull and glancing down at the Selka with an inquisitive expression. The creature wore a necklace of shark teeth, strung together by some sort of hair.

There was silence. The Selka did not notice the bird, immersed as he was in prayer. Then, finally, he looked up, and his expression widened in alarm. "Shoo!" he urged. Arryn did move. The Selka rose to his feet. Others in the village had already begun to take notice, but a bird perching on the shrine was hardly unheard of. Arryn noted that these Selka were somewhat thinner and gaunter than the ones that had been seen previously. "Shoo!" the worshiper urged again, waving a hand in an attempt to scare the bird off.

"No."

The word took the worshiper aback. Selka throughout the village began to look at each other with mixtures of confusion and curiosity. They too had heard the voice. "Who said that?" the worshiper demanded loudly, looking around for answers. The observers merely shrugged, just as confused as he was.

"I did."

The Selka turned toward the bird, which had not moved, and continued to stare. Arryn's gaze was unyielding, and unblinking, almost like a statue. "Y-you?"

"Yes."

The Selka fell to his knees. "An omen from Kirron. A thousand apologies, holy bird. I am not worthy-"

"Enough," Arryn cut him off. "I am not from Kirron. I am from Kalmar." The Selka once again seemed to be confused, so Arryn continued. "Your god Kirron is the God of Blood. But he is not the only God. Kalmar is the God of the Hunt, and I am his avatar."

"Oh... I... I see..." the Selka said, glancing up. "I am Anhaf, chieftan of the Ubbo Tribe. What does your god want from us?" he asked in an apprehensive tone.

"Kalmar wants nothing from you. I want to know about you and your people."

"I can tell you," Anhaf answered, rising to his feet and regaining his resolve. He was taller than any Selka Arryn had seen, and now that he wasn't kneeling in prayer or begging forgiveness, he had the look of a natural leader. "But first, you must come down from the Sacred Altar. Even if you are what you say you are, we will only respect your god if you respect ours."

With a flap of his wings, Arryn was on the ground. "Fair enough. Now talk."




Anhaf talked. Sat upon a log within his hut, he told Arryn of the Selka's history, short as it was. He spoke of the formation of the Ubba Tribe, and how he had been elected chieftan. He told the bird what he knew of Kirron, the Selka's creator, and of Yimbo, the Selka's guardian. Then Arryn pressed for more information.

"How did you know to build shelters?"

Anhaf shrugged. "We saw some other tribes doing it and decided to do the same. It took time, but we figured it out.

"What do you eat?"

Anhaf's face fell. "We used to eat fish. Until... our luck changed. Those who we send out return with fewer fish each day. We had to rely more on berries and plants. Once our plant-gatherers found an animal being eaten by a beast; they chased the beast off and took the animal for themselves. But it's not enough. Every other day, a parent in this village must ask themselves: 'should I eat, or should my children eat?' It's usually the children, but then the parents go hungry and it becomes even harder to find more food. I was praying to Kirron for aid when you arrived."

The two fell into a silence. Arryn was deep in thought, while Anhaf projected an air of melancholy. "This is my tribe," Anhaf suddenly spoke, his voice hardening with resolve. "I will lead them through this, one way or another. I only need some guidance from Kirron..."

"You're praying to the wrong god." Arryn stated, as a blunt observation.

Anhaf's eyes narrowed. "I told you to respect-"

"I am not disrespecting Kirron. I am stating a fact. Kirron is not the God of Oceans, or the God of Fish. He is the God of Blood."

"Kirron is the God of the Selka!" Anhaf insisted. "If I am faithful and patient, he will guide me through this crisis. He made us. Everything we have, everything we are, we owe to him! Why would he create us only to let us starve?"

"You are wrong," Arryn told him harshly. "Kirron made you, but he did not make the sea. He did not make the land, he did not make the plants, he did not make the animals, he did not make the fish, he did not make the air, and he did not make the sun. That was the work of the other gods. Without them, Kirron never would have been able to create you in the first place. You owe your existence to them as much as Kirron."

"And who are these other gods?" Anhaf challenged. "They have not made themselves known to us. Even Kalmar sends a messenger instead of-"

Arryn slapped him with a wing. The suddenness of the attack took Anhaf aback, the surprise nearly knocking him off his chair. "I am more than a messenger. If you want my help, you will remember that."

Anhaf returned the bird's glare, and for several long seconds the two stared each other down. Then, at last. Anlhaf broke his gaze. "I will not turn down a way to help my people," he said at last.




Nearly the entire village had assembled outside Anhaf's hut. They had all heard the strange bird speak, and the news of a second god brought an air of excitement. Some were afraid, while others were hopeful. They made nervous conversation among themselves. It had been more than an hour. What were they discussing? Was the chieftan alright?

Then at last, their leader emerged, carrying armloads of curved sticks. Where they came from, or how they were made, the tribe did not know. The bird was perched on his shoulder. Wordlessly, he set the sticks down on the ground. Those at the front of the crowd noted that the two ends of each stick were connected by some sort of taut string. One of the older Selka stepped forward to pick one up, examining it in her hands, pressing a finger against the string. "What are these?" she asked.

"Gifts," Anhaf answered. "From Kalmar, the God of the Hunt." His people remained silent; confusion and uncertainty still ruled the air. Then Arryn spoke, his voice cutting through their thoughts.

"You can't hunt in the sea? Hunt on land instead."






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Hidden 4 mos ago 4 mos ago Post by AdorableSaucer
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AdorableSaucer Blessed Beekeeper

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Shengshi

MP: 2/FP: 6


The snake sat in his restored chambres with his face in his hands. While his furniture and possessions all had come back at the snap of his fingers, a scar stretched out across his pride like a crack in barren soil. While he had routed the dragons eventually, the battle of the Giant’s Bath had been anything but a victory. To think that a god such as himself, one who had fought against the maddened Vakk and triumphed alongside his allies, struggled against that many-headed newt. His hand fell on the three-striped scar on his belly - the first wound on his person to ever draw forth his divine blood. It excreted a disgusting aura about it, not visible to the eye or smellable by the nose, but observed through the much more sophisticated mind.

He, Shengshi, could be wounded.

While Vakk’s death proved that gods were not entirely immortal, it still irked him that even mortal creatures could strike at sacred skin and inflict a form of damage. Naturally, he thought, he would never have died from the wound, regardless of the fact that it looked rather more dire than it actually was. Still, a cut was a cut, and any such scar could potentially be seen as a weakness. Besides, it looked ugly.

Shengshi shook his head and rubbed his eyes with two fingers. He needed to get all this dragon madness off his mind, lest he would go insane. He rose up and slithered out on his veranda, taking in the sights of the jungles to the south, interrupted by the faint shadow of Xishan in the far edges of the horizon. Below his palace tower, down on the deck of the ship, the cries and coos of servant children formed an unfamiliar cacophony. He let his eyes fall upon the odd sight: a small battalion of miniature servants, none of whom could walk, but were regardless brought onto deck by their parents for collective lessons on just that. The snake smirked as nearly five hundred children dressed in tiny, unicoloured silk robes were picked up by the arms and placed on their feet, only to fall down flat on their bellies and let out a high-pitched cry, much to the dismay of the parents. Shengshi found his mood heightened a little bit and let out a quiet snicker. He looked to the west, along the length of Beihe towards bubbling sea, constantly enshrouded in mists. Shengshi shook his head in disapproval and gazed back at his precious river. Despite Beihe being his first creation, the waters were still quite barren - the only life there a result of the natural growth of forests over time. He cleared his throat and rubbed his chin pensively. He had found his distraction.

The snake snapped his fingers. A moment passed before a servant approached him through the slider doors and kowtowed.

“Ten thousand years and more to His Lordship. What may this servant assist His Lordship with?”

The snake bowed back. “If my sister Asceal or any of her children ask for me, tell them that I am out for a walk. Otherwise, continue your fantastic service.”

“Of course, Your Lordship. Have a safe walk.” The servant rose to her feet, bowed and walked backwards back into the chambres and through the doorway. The snake turned back to the railing, took a deep breath and jumped high up into the air, diving for the waters below. He pierced the surface with a near-silent plop and swam towards the Beihe waterfall.

As he drifted lazily down the river, he noticed that it inundated over the usual banks - flood season was in effect. He noted the contrast between the Beihese and Nanhese floods: Whereas Nanhe would drag with it anything and everything foolish enough to not flee the rumbling waves, or simply too inanimate to do so, Beihe had a calmer aura about it, its floods merely brushing up against the surrounding vegetation and caressing them affectionately. The river near doubled in width, yes, but it did not leave the wake of destruction of its southern brother. Instead, it filled the surrounding valley with nutritious silt and clay that make the trees grow exceptionally green. Still, though, the river and the surrounding lands were largely empty. He heard the faint ooks and howls of frog monkeys on the edges of the southern jungle, even seeing one squatting casually in a nearby tree, nibbling on a banana. The occasional boar trundled over to the riverbank to slurp its waters. One of them gave the snake a confused oink.

The snake swam on for a little longer, rolling onto his back and letting the current carry him on. What kind of life would he create here? Naturally, the rivers should be bountiful with all the usual creatures: fish, amphibians, insects and birds. Yet he wanted to do something new… Something symbiotic. He looked back to the farmer apes. He had been quite satisfied with that creation - a creature codependent on another, like an eternal brotherhood in which one would always thrive if the other did.

“Harmony,” he mumbled happily to himself.

He would repeat this formula: a creature living in symbiosis with another and the two working together to prosper. Although… What if the creature was dependent on something else? Not a mortal creature that could one day fail it, but an immortal natural phenomenon that was relatively stable? The snake swam over to the river bank, scaring away a few squealing boars in the process. He scooped his hand into the muddy bank bed and extracted a handful of silt. He dipped two fingers from his other hand into the silt and rubbed it between his fingers. Yes, yes… The life of Beihe would not only benefit from the floods - they would prosper!

The snake picked a few surrounding reeds, seeds, flowers and rocks. He rubbed the silt all over a handful of reeds. The reeds sprouted rows of white seeds in one end, big, nutritious and crunchy seeds encapsulated in green leaves for protection; the length of the reed grew until it could stand in the flood without endangering the seeds. The snake grinned and stabbed the reed into the soil. Soon, thousands like it sprouted up from under the water surface on both banks, following the length of the river downwards and upwards.

“Rice… While I have eaten much of you aboard my ship, you are the first of your kind on Galbar. You will begin to grow in spring and spread your seeds in the flood season, so that you may prosper all across the river and feed the fish which corpses also feed you. Speaking of…”

The snake rubbed the rock with some river silt and smashed it with his fish. He cast the muddy dust into the surrounding waters. After a moment, fish heads, frog heads, bird heads and more popped up from under the surface with confused quacks and croaks. The snake harvested some rice seeds and threw them into the river before them, inciting a mess of splashes and sploshes as the creatures scrambled for the food. After they all had eaten their fills, the snake smirked and gestured to the river.

“All this and more will be yours in exchange for your servitude to Beihe,” he said to the creatures, who looked at him quizzically. “This whole river will be full of food and richest for you to eat and covet, yet a price is to be paid: Your waste, and ultimately your bodies, will go to nourishing the surrounding life. Do this, and your lives are yours to govern.” The animals looked at one another, then made what sounds they could to show their agreement. The snake nodded and took the seeds in his hand. He rubbed them in with clay as with the others and tossed them into the yellow, silt-rich waters. The seeds grew small fins and began to swim towards the edges of the water, were they became all manner of green, yellow and brown reeds and grasses that flourished along the banks.

“You will serve as the homes and houses for the life in the river,” he spoke to the reeds. “You will be the forests for those under the water, hiding them from predators. Do this, and the floods will bring silt aplenty for you to thrive in.” The reeds and grasses danced in the wind as if voicing their will. The snake grinned and looked at the final item in his hand: a flower. He rubbed it in with silt, snapped it in half and tossed one half to the left and the other to the right. They fell down on opposites sides of the river, immediately sprouting into a visual symphony of colours on the riverbanks. Merely seconds after peeking up from the soil, the flowers sprouted, filling the local atmosphere with sweet, fruity scents. The snake walked over to one of them and dipped his fingernail into the gooey centre of one of the blooms - it popped quietly and shot forth a small squirt of sweet nectar. The snake raised his finger to his face and inspected thoroughly the green, sweet slime. He dabbed the nail on his tongue and rolled the flavour around.

“Ah… A longtsao relative, I see,” he mused with a smile. “So be it. Like the rice, you flowers shall bloom at certain times in the seasonal cycle - you shall open your petals for pollinators in the spring and truly reveal your scents and colours when the floods come. Your nectar will support those that drink it, just as they will support you by spreading your pollen, and your deaths will support the river. Do this, and the silt shall run thick for you.”

The air grew even sweeter as the flowers oozed their will. Though the snake was a little unsatisfied. Who would drink from these flowers? The fish could not reach up; the frogs were too heavy to sit on the petals; the birds were too large to stick their beaks inside most of them…

He thought back to the insects in Nanhe and Lihe. He was certain he had seen some of them zoom about in the air before - and some that had sat themselves on top of a blooming longtsao and drunk deep in its ginger-like juices. The snake took a ball of silt in his hand and slapped it onto the river bank. Then he took another ball and added it. He poked a hole in the bottom front and snapped his fingers.

A moment passed. Then another. Then, however, a small, furry, six-legged insect with orange and black stripes along its back and a large, white spot on its bottom came clumsily crawling out of the hole, followed by several others who were slightly smaller. They whizzed their wings free of moisture and looked at the snake quizzically. The snake smiled at the little bumblebees.

“Hello there, little ones. Your existence shall revolve around drinking the nectar of these flowers and carrying their pollen on to their neighbours. You will live in moist silt hive in the flood seasons, and for this, I make you both capable diggers and swimmers.” He pointed to the largest of the bumblebees. “When the flood nears its end, you will use what little nectar remains to feed your queen so that she may fly on to a new home next season. Remain true to your tasks, though, and the queen will always find a home.”

The bumblebees buzzed eagerly in agreement before the queen trundled back into the silt hive and the drones flew off to gather nectar. The snake grinned from horn to horn as he gazed out across the blossoming Beihe. The north would perhaps be a little too moist and hot for many of these creatures, but at least the middle of the river would be safe and temperate.

The snake sighed as he gazed to the Saluran Mendidih once more. Such a gruesome sabotage, but not a deterring one. Life would blossom on this continent regardless of the cruelty of other gods. He would see to that.

The snake turned to the Giant’s Bath. He had been gone long enough. It was about time he returned home to his guests.




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Lauder The drunk kind of hero

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Eurysthenes





Eurysthenes pondered. With one so hateful and hated trapped within, would it become more so? Or would the opposite happen? There was a hesitancy within This One to whether a being of such atrocity could change from any attempts to sway it over. That was the reason they had ended the likes of Vakk, unredeemable and unwilling of compromise. However, Vakk was now in a powerless situation, Eurysthenes knew this much and it was with this that it might be able to demand That One to some form of change. Eurysthenes’ mind went over the dissonant thought of a reformed Vakk before the idea was quickly cast aside at the memories of past pain Vakk had committed.

Yet, the simple of idea of reforming and reforming such a loathsome being continued to persist, and Eurysthenes knew that Vakk would seemingly do whatever it needed in order to survive. It knew that Vakk had not come to This One out of choice, but rather a despair of survival and sheer unwillingness to accept defeat. That much was clear, and it was with such desperation that made Eurysthenes believe that there could be some hope for Vakk. Though, the doubt still plagued its mind, unknowing if Vakk would trick This One or use the same magic to control its mind like it had before.

As thoughts began to formulate once more, the chiming voices of That One came back, ”You have been silent for some time, Eurysthenes.”

This One would have glared at Vakk if one could cast such a thing to something which occupied the same eye space. ”To you, yes. Why do you speak?”

”I am trapped in your body for the time being. I’d rather not allow myself to go mad through silence,” Vakk chimed, selfishly wanting Eurysthenes’ attention just so it did not suffer. The soul was right next to Eurysthenes own, pushing for the further scrutiny that the other had just given in to giving Vakk.

There was only a moment of silence before the voices spoke once more, ”Do you really think that you can ignore me and expect me to go away?”

Eurysthenes denied the observance of Vakk with a thought. [color=8ao886]”Longing and expecting are two different things, Vakk. Which raises the subject of when you get a new form and leave.”[/color]

”I will leave when I please,” Vakk said simply.

”No you won't,” This One said, forcing Vakk to feel the very real boundaries that kept it strapped into the form it hated so. The suffocating bonds of a foolishly heavy will to live.
”One doesn't abandon their problems so easily.”

There was a stubborn silence for a few brief moments before That One let out what sounded like many sighs at once. ”You may be right, but we both do not desire to be bound together. We both have plans that need to be tended to. You have.... Whatever it is you do in this maze, and I have a thief to give punishment to.”

As Vakk mentioned punishment, Eurysthenes caught sight of what That One really intended.
”Alas, Vakk, the terms I propose run parallel to your… punishment. Would one who witnessed it call it that.” it said. The words “terms I propose” hung between them, coaxing Vakk to acknowledge them.

”Terms? What terms?” Vakk questioned, many voices giving various levels of displeasure to the word. Its soul moved needlessly closer to inquire about what Eurysthenes may have meant with those ‘terms’.

Holding Vakk at arm's length, This One said, ”You will change your ways. I'm not asking for a new Vakk entirely, rather than one lacking spite and hatred. You will treat others as you would like to be treated, and show restraint when appropriate.”

There was a scoff followed by an insidious laughter that showed no end to whatever hysterical joke That One found. ”I did not take you for a jester, Eurysthenes,” Vakk said, some voices still laughing in the background. For a few moments, Vakk was calming itself, chuckling a light bit more before finally speaking with a many winded asserting, ”I did not change for K’nell when he offered me death. What makes you think that I will submit to you, jester?”

It seemed that ‘Jester’ was going to be a new nickname for Eurysthenes, giving Vakk much apparent satisfaction as the voices continued to giggle and laugh in their deceptive ways. This One frowned, not a thing of sadness, but one of disappointment.

”This,” it said, gesturing to the two souls in the one body, ”Would death not be better?”

The laughter of the voices suddenly came to halt, a moment of contemplation fell up them with the silence Vakk brought. ”I suppose not…” That One took a few moments of sickening thought, the soul feeling around the form of Eurysthenes for a bit, clearly looking for a nonexistent exit. When it was done, the soul meandered back to its spot next to Eurysthenes, who smiled smugly at it. Small victories.

”And how do you suppose I mend my ways?” Vakk asked.

This One sighed and took a step back. ”Oh Vakk, where would one start when correcting something so thoroughly wrong?” it asked, defeatedly. ”Your problems are… greater than the Architect. Tell me. What's something you think would be reprehensible?”

There was a long pause of silence, Vakk thinking for a good bit. It let out a long drawn out sigh before it admitted one of the many faults That One, ”I suppose my anger could be improved upon.” There was a light touch of Vakk’s soul against Eurysthenes own, pushing closer and closer as it seemingly bore into the very puzzling nature of the god, and felt nothing but tension.

”Perhaps if I could control my impulses, I would become one who is not tormented by ‘spite and hatred’ as you put it.”

”This is indeed a place to begin, though you must see more clearly, go with decisiveness,” it said. To Vakk, it would be clear that it was talking of trying and doing, advising the path of action rather than ifs and buts.

”But I am already decisive in nature, or so I thought,” That One contemplated, taking a moment to think of its past deeds and actions that were made out of blinded anger. Vakk let out a huff, the soul slowly moving away from Eurysthenes before settling down with a clear hit of impatience and annoyance.

This One significantly relaxed as Vakk moved away. The distance, while small, was welcome right now. ”Not so in the decisions to change,” it said.

”That is because I am being forced,” Vakk said in a simple manner, before sighing at the situation that it was in. If That One could shake its head it would, impatience growing as time seemed to drag on for the two.

”Now, how do we begin?”

”Practice,” it said, scooping some material out of the wall as if it were sand and silt.

With the wall material was combined the idea of something where there is nothing, claws, feathers, and finally, the subtle inclusion of anger where emotion had not yet existed. It was the combination of these things that made the Aroiox. Great colourful wings unfurling from a feathery torso, scaly appendages with angry claws. From the face, a proboscis-esque beak, filled with rows of quill teeth.

”And patience and fairness must be shown to these beings,” Eurysthenes said.

”And so I shall, because I no longer will have to worry about my anger,” That One commented, its voices far more relaxed and neutral as it observed the creatures that the two had made. They were not large beings, but Vakk’s anger made them stronger than one may perceive above the colorful plumage of the people. Even now, it could see see some of them fighting amongst each other like savages to display their dominance over the other.

Vakk could not help but feel a twinge of regret for pawning off its aggression into beings so new to this world, forcing a saddened sigh to emanate from Vakk. ”Without the anger, I can feel my own sadness and regret. I do not like the things I have done, Eurysthenes, the things anger has caused.” That One said, its words far more nuanced as the voices spoke in harmony.

A subtle shift in This One could be perceived. An uncertainty, perhaps of Vakk’s intentions, perhaps of its previous judgement against it. ”And so you must. This is the key to forgiveness and reformation. A sighting of the slight, even when it is ever so slight.”

That One could not help but watch them, the Aroiox flashed their teeth to one another and fought one another. However, through the brute strength and anger, there could be a sly cunning as the eyes focused on potential advantages. They were children of two cunning gods, capable of great anger yet also tempered by what seemed to be an endlessly tactical mind. Vakk felt a great pride towards their creation.

”I will speak to them. And we shall guide them.”

”And when you are new, they shall be let into Galbar in order to remind you why a change was made.”





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Lord Zee I Don't Even Know

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God of Death, Prince of Astral Fires

&

Laurien





Night had fallen upon the island, painting the landscape in shades of black, dotted with the faint glows of light here and there. The jungle buzzed with the chorus of the nocturnal, for night was but their domain and they kept an ever vigil watch. In the clearing that stood as a testament to growth, plants were ready for harvest, and flowers like the color of rainbow slept under the Lustrous Garden’s eye. Nothing disturbed that place, not anymore.

Across the clearing, over fallen trees, sat the house that Orvus had built. One small light flickered within, before it too, slept. Not long after, Orvus exited the house, Laurien in tow. Their feet never making a sound upon the mahogany steps. The pair wandered off into the jungle, past a newly filled hole, and disappeared into the undergrowth.




”Do you think Silver has good dreams?” Laurien asked as she followed her father through the undergrowth. She had grown fond of Silver as the days passed, growing closer to the small red-head out of desire and fascination. Silver and her father had taught her a great deal of the world and what to expect, but as she had quickly found out, there was always going to be more to learn. It was never ending.

”Yes,” came Orvus’ voice from up ahead, ”I have no doubt that she has the best of dreams. She deserves nothing less, Laurien.”

”Mhmm,” she hummed, ”That’s good to hear. She sure does sleep a lot doesn’t she? Just wasting away the nights like it’s nothing. That’s no fun.” Laurien mused aloud.

”Different mortals require different amounts of sleep. Silver is no exception to this, like you are.” Orvus stated.

Laurien stretched her arms and said, ”Yeah. I suppose that’s true. I just wish she’d stay up a bit later. Maybe then we could watch the stars together. That’d be nice.”

”Under a night sky, anything is possible.” Orvus said cryptically.

Laurien frowned at his words. She didn’t know what she was expecting from her father, but it wasn’t veiled words. Things went a lot smoother when people were just honest with that they meant, how they acted, and what they felt. And she hardly even knew people.

The tall girl bent down to avoid a tree limb and sighed, ”So, where are we going exactly? You never did tell me, and don’t just say,” she imitated Orvus’ voice, You’ll see. She then grumbled, ”You always say that.”

”We will get there, when we get there.” Came her father’s reply, and Laurien, if she could, rolled her eyes.

Their trek through the dark jungle seemed to go on for hours before the trees began to thin out, and the vegetation grew sparsely as dirt gave way to rock, then sand. Water lapped in the distance as they broke through the final trees, coming face to face with a large stretch of beach. The sand here was unnaturally dark, streaked with white and in the light of the Lustrous Garden, the beach seemed to absorb the light.

Laurien watched as Orvus trekked out onto the sand, before him stood something strange, she couldn’t quite figure out what it was. Orvus then turned back to her and said, ”Come now child, are you afraid of the sand?” he said in jest.

Laurien scowled at him, and began to walk. The feeling was like any other sandy beach, but strangely cold. ”Afraid? Hardly, I’m simply wondering why you’ve brought me here.” Laurien said proudly.

”Look and you shall see.” Orvus said, raising a finger towards the object while still looking at Laurien. Her vision snapped to the objects, and as they became clearer she could begin to make them out. A large garment of some sort was draped over a spire, at the base was a lightsource.

”Gifts for you, Laurien.” Orvus said, placing a hand upon upon the garment, where he then pulled to reveal a a sword of orvium. Her eyes went wide as she took in the gift. Orvus then knelt, and picked up the ‘lightsource’ which happened to be a beautiful dagger, whose blade was ethereal stars, but molded to a sharp point. Orvus held it out to her, and she took it gladly, the metal cold in her hand. Orvus then displayed the garment, it to being dark and shining with stars, as Laurien twirled the dagger in her hand.

”A sword. A dagger. And a cloak.” Orvus said, ”The cloak to wear, providing comfort in night’s embrace. A dagger to wield, the soul it shears. A sword’s twin, great and devastating. But this is not all.” Orvus said, as he helped Laurien into the cloak.

”What more could you possible give me?” Laurien said flabbergasted. The gifts, a god’s gifts, were wonderful to behold. Their beauty could be appreciated by all, and at the same time, they were powerful relics.

”A choice. I have one more power to give, but it is up to you to decide.” Orvus said, moving to stand in front of Laurien as she gripped the sword’s handle within her right hand, finding the fit to be perfect. She then looked at Orvus, their gazes meeting.

”The power to halt Soul Decay. The type of decay that has been brought into the world unnaturally. The withering that I have brought to Galbar.” he said sadly, his voice full of remorse.

Laurien held his gaze, but furrowed her brow. ”Father… What do you mean ‘you brought’?” she asked.

”I shall show you.” he said, outstretching his palm towards her. ”Place your finger within my hand, if you would.” he said softly.

Laurien almost hesitated, but slowly she outstretched her finger, and at the moment of contact, her vision blurred. Before her came images of a giant monstrosity, a leviathan angler. How did she know that name? Next came a tree in a place of twilight, the Mar tree and its fruit of temptation. Then flashed creatures of dark beauty, the Reaper Mothers, Ansara and Azadine. Then a brief image of herself holding the dagger. Then her vision returned, her breathing heavy and her head pounding. But she knew what all of those images had in common, they decayed souls.

With short quick breaths Laurien said, ”Why? Did you. Create. All of that?”

Orvus let his hand drop to his side, ”I created them because I should be hated and despised. Not loved, or thought of as a friend, or even a father. I have done evil, terrible things, Laurien. But there are two beings I managed to do alright with. You and Arya.” the god said somber tones. ”I am trying to rectify these mistakes, Laurien, to the best of what I am capable. So I ask, will you take this gift onto yourself and help those that are worthy enough to be saved?”

Laurien blinked, digesting what her father said. It was a lot to take in and even she wasn’t sure of what to do. She pursed her lips, furrowing her brow even more as she contemplated. Her father had done terrible things, yet there he stood, giving her gifts and treating her with respect. Was it a cry for help, in his own way? Or maybe, he was changing for the better. Laurien had never seen what he was like before the moment of her arrival, but if those images were anything to go on, he would have been a challenge.

She let out a soft sigh, before saying, ”Very well, but only for those I say.” she said, closing her eyes. She felt a warm feeling rush into her, that quickly silenced to cold, before abating altogether. She opened her eyes, looking at Orvus.

”It is done, Laurien.” Orvus said, ”Now, I have but one more thing to ask.” he said, ”Will you go and find your sister?”

Laurien began to smile. She had learned much about Arya, or what little Orvus knew of her. She was small, much smaller then she was, but had a heart bigger and brighter than any Orvus knew. She felt a connection already, it was hard to explain, but she needed to see her.

”That sounds exciting!” she said enthusiastically, before frowning, ”That means I’ll leave you and Silver though.”

”There is no easy paths in life, daughter. Finding Arya is no simple task, for I know not where she even is. But for one such as you, I think you able.” Orvus said.

”I’ll do it.” she said, ”But first, I’m going to say goodbye to Silver.”

”Of course, you may leave whenever you like, and when you find Arya, tell her I wish to speak with her, tell her, that even if she never wants to see me again, that I am sorry for what I did. Please.” Orvus said sadly.

Taken slightly aback by the outpouring of emotions, Laurien blinked before saying, ”I… Of course, Father. I’ll let her know.” she said stoutly.

Orvus nodded, ”Thank you, Laurien. I know I do not deserve it. Now, shall we retur-” his voice dropped suddenly as he turned away to look at the horizon.

Laurien followed his gaze, and asked, ”What is it father?”

Orvus did not speak for several moments, then when there was bit the faintest hint of red in the night sky, he said, ”We are not alone.”




Here, a verdant carpet of green that sprawled across the land, over there mountains...a beautiful tapestry of creation was sprawled out across the canvas below him, but the mournful god paid it little heed. It was just a blur as he raced across a night sky, a single nameless and formless companion in tow.

He raced, faster and faster, trying in vain to defy the weight of the burdens that plagued him now. Since leaving Kalmar he had intended to bear witness to the beauty of Galbar, but instead he was trapped in his mind as he ruminated over what he had learned. This was the same prison that he found himself locked in when he gazed into the depths of the pyres above and fell into years, nay, aeons of meditative trances. At least this time there was a change in the scenery of the physical world that was just out of reach, inches beyond the bars of this cage he’d wrought around himself.

There were many things that plagued his mind. The thoughts circled around him and brayed, like a pack of ravenous wolves, and if he ever tried to counter or push back one, it would merely circle around to the recess at the back of his mind whilst another one rushed to the forefront to continue the unyielding assault. There was some regret at the fate that had befallen Melantha, and doubt over whether he should have taught her what she sought, and further doubt over whether he was right to reveal her motivations and intentions to Kalmar. In the moment he had been dubious about violating the privacy of what had been her innermost thoughts and he knew that he should have remained silent, and yet some foolish part of him had wanted to help and reveal all. So he’d taken some worthless and futile half-measure, revealing the truth to Kalmar but in such a way as to make it seem as though it were only speculation…

...and Kalmar had warned him of Asceal’s own feelings and words. Mad, she had called him. It cut at him deeper than any could know. Surely her intentions were not so grim as Kalmar had thought, and her opinions not so extreme, for Kalmar was clearly one with a mind that dwelled in a realm of absolutes…

...yet even Kalmar had winced at the details of the fate of the dead, and pleaded for mercy and for him to do what he could to assuage the suffering of the souls. He was right, of course. That there were now naught but animal souls entering his realm had allowed him to justify leaving, coming down to Galbar now that there were none whose minds were capable of appreciating any kindness or feeling any gratitude that he would be there to escort them to the end. But they could still feel pain, and so by all rights, he should have remained where he was and taken action to resolve that, not ventured down here. Kalmar summoned me to speak in person. But I could have refused him, for the sake of my duty.

And with that, Katharsos almost made the fateful decision to return to his sphere right then and amend what mistakes he could, but then his mind flickered to the next mistake; this one was more substantial than the others, for he carried it quite literally. The soul that he had created by mistake back there, in Kalgrun--what was he to do with it? To destroy and recycle it before it had even had the chance to experience life seemed profoundly wrong, unjustifiably evil. The thought of forcing it into some ill-fitting corpse or other form was so profane that it didn’t even cross the god’s mind, and the idea of abandoning it to a pointless life of wandering and misery was nearly so horrific. He would have to create some sort of body for it, though he knew not how. It was a large and great soul, one with potential, one that could never be contained in something so small and simple as the likes of the soul oysters. And even those creatures had been created almost entirely by Ashalla, for Katharsos knew that his own touch was fire and death and that it was best that...best that life never spring from it. The living were not his concern, creating life not his task, living not even his--

”Katharsos!” came a layered voice that resonated in the very air, yet Katharsos was so deep into that reverie that for a moment he thought that the all too real (albeit unfamiliar) voice to be yet another one of his own, nagging at him and braying its way closer to the forefront. It almost blended in perfectly to the point that he didn’t even register its presence, just accepted it as one might accept the soothing hum of insects at dusk.

But then came an unmistakable body, matching the speed that Katharsos flew, against the backdrop of night. Two white eyes, glowing eyes, peered at the God of Death, as Orvus flew alongside him. This was enough to elicit some surprise and attention. The god spoke again, his voice softer and more composed, ”Katharsos. Might you stop for a moment? I don’t believe we’ve met, after all.”

It took only an instant for the streak of fire lighting the sky to come to a violent stop. Disheveled fire coalesced slowly into the likeness of a bat’s visage, but even as it was only halfway formed the words started to pour forth, ”Greetings, Orvus. Please take no offense in my nearly passing you by, for I was distracted and meant you no slight.” There was something else with Katharsos--that strange little soul he’d been dragging about since his encounter with Kalmar days prior--but with no more than a thought, the deathly god drew that entity in close and tucked it away somewhere behind the glare of his own incandescence.

Orvus said nothing for a moment as the two ground to a halt. Rather, he inspected what he saw before him with emotionless eyes. Katharsos took an odd appearance, unlike the siblings he had met with so far, but his looks were of little concern. Curiously, Orvus did spot a soul quickly tucked away, but said nothing about it. Instead, Orvus said, ”There is no need to apologize.” Before beginning to fly around Katharsos, taking in the full extent of his bending and flickering likeness. ”In fact, I’m hardly offended. Simply curious. I think it odd, how we Celestials seem to be drawn to Galbar. Like insects attracted to lights.” Orvus whispered, before coming to a halt before Katharsos’ burning gaze. ”So, what light attracted you here?”

”I was summoned not by a light, but by a voice,” he answered. His voice was more powerful now that the bat’s odd visage was complete. ”The one called Kalmar requested my presence, so I set aside my sacred charge for a time and came. The curiosity that you spoke of is what has kept me here longer.”

Orvus began to nod, ”It seems Kalmar did not stop at summoning me, then. But our talk was not like your own, I’m sure.” the god paused and squinted his eyes at Katharsos, ”And pray tell, Katharsos. What exactly is your ‘sacred charge’? I know you to be the God of Death, but what does death do when the living die? I have seen the Great Pyres above Veradax and I have witnessed the soul ash in its descent. Is that what became of all those souls who came with us here? Burned to but ash?” he said emotionlessly.

”Naught but ash and memory. Your estimation is true: mine is to preside over the burnings. Just as you must preside over…” Katharsos squinted for a moment then, searching for words, ”another sort of unmaking.”

”Unmaking, how kind of you.” Orvus mused, crossing his arms. ”You can say it, I do not mind. Long have I struggled and struggle I will continue to do with my choice.” he said absentmindedly before focusing on the bat head before him. ”I reside over desolation itself and now, the decaying of the soul. If what you say is true, and I have no doubt that it is, then when the living die they burn to be renewed? Hmm, it seems my promise will have to be broken. Oh well.”

”Is a mountain ‘renewed’ when the wind and waves grind it to dust and scatter the remnants across across the world? There is no renewal for souls, only recycling. There is no choice, either; only an illusion of it. You, like myself and all the rest of us, are a product of circumstance. I would not presume to judge you for anything.”

Orvus bowed his head a little as he thought upon Katharsos’ words. ”I understand.” he said looking up at the head, ”Your task is a grim one, but necessary. I will not judge you for it. But dear Katharsos, I will say this and no more of the subject; I once thought that there was no choice either, perhaps I still do, but even we can learn and grow to make new ones. If the mortals have taught me anything so far, it is that they value choice for themselves and if they have such thoughts, why cannot we? Come, I would like to show you something.” Orvus said, before flying off in the direction of distant land. A river of orange fire reluctantly followed across the sky in his wake.

After but a moment for the two, they arrived upon a blackened beach to a lonely figure wrapped in a flowing cloak. Orvus landed aside the figure and beckoned to Katharsos, ”Katharsos, I would like you to meet one of my daughters, Laurien. Against my own nature, I gave her life and she is… perfect.”

At the mentioning of her name, the tall woman put her hood down and looked up in wonder at Katharsos. After a moment she gave a small bow and said, ”Never did I think I would meet another God, or at least a full god. It is an honor to meet you, Katharsos.” came her strong voice.

”All things have their chance to meet me, eventually.” The meaning of those cryptic words probably evaded her, he realized an instant later, but he made no attempt to explain or bridge the difference. Instead he kept himself at a safe distance, ever mindful of the effect that his proximity caused. But she was not ignored! His fiery eyes searched her up and down, finding the answers to all the hundreds of questions that the god had wondered and yet hadn’t needed to ask.

Laurien held her gaze upon Katharsos as the god seemed to bore into her soul. Orvus in the meantime looked back and forth, wondering what the silent exchange held. Then Laurien spoke with a smirk upon her lips, ”Shall I take me cloak off so that you might have a better look, Katharsos?” she said slyly. Orvus then sighed mentally and waited to see how the god might react to such a question.

The color of Katharsos’ flames didn’t even blush or pulsate. ”It would make no difference. Clothing hides nothing and is intangible before our sight. But I do hope that my gaze was not distressing.”

Now he addressed Orvus, ”So you believe that her existence, or her mannerisms, indicate the presence of choice? Of free will?”

Laurien snickered to herself but said nothing else as she watched the two Gods. Orvus stood a little taller as Katharsos asked his question and then said, ”I do. I did not tell her what to say, or what to ask, she simply did so by reacting to your very own presence. Surely you did not think that we could not create life with higher functioning? I once thought the same way, until Arya came. Now I know better.”

As he was wont to sometimes do, Katharsos fell silent for a long time. Neither Laurien nor Orvus said anything as they waited to hear what he might say. Finally, he spoke again, ”I do not think you understood, but don’t allow my musings to trouble you. It is good that you feel something beyond a simple purpose.”

”What do I not understand?” Orvus replied softly, ”What is it that you allude to?” he asked.

The flames woven into the bat’s face bent and grew just a little bit paler and darker. ”In many cases, knowledge does not bring happiness,” he cautioned.

”That may be true,” Orvus said, ”But I am willing to learn what you think, regardless of the outcome.” Though his face remained pointed at Orvus, his eyes bent in strange ways to peer sideways through their fiery sockets and give Laurien a lingering glance.

’And her?’ they asked.

Orvus followed his odd gaze, and found his way to Laurien, who had an inquisitive look upon her face. ”Laurien? Would you like to stay or leave?” She shifted her feet and looked at Katharsos and said, ”I’ll stay.”

So then Katharsos looked right at her again. ”I hope that you find serendipity and that you live a good life, and that regret and misfortune never plague you. But I do not think that you actually have free will or any choice in the matter. You are a product of your circumstances and will forever be so. Events beyond your control will present themselves, and you will react according to your nature and your past experiences. Were there to be a mirror so grand that its reflections were as real as the likenesses that they copied and mocked, and were that mirror to create another world just like this one, you would act in every way the exact same. I think that freedom is only an illusion.” Then to Orvus, he concluded, ”And the same can be said for you and I. For all things. It is why I do not judge.”

It was not Orvus who spoke first, but Laurien- who shook her head, ”I thank you for your words, but I also find what you say to be… sad. I am sorry you feel that way, truly, I think my father would say the same. If you truly believe that everything we have done, and will do, is predetermined without any free will or choice, then I pity you. You will never be able to live if you are shackled by such weights, but who am I to say such things? I am merely a mortal, talking to a god.” she finished softly.

She didn’t perturb him. ”Live? You know my name, but do you not know who I am?” Somehow the bat betrayed the slightest hint of amusement. ”I never lived in the sense that you imagine it. Not here, and not before. But I must concern myself with death, not life. I never said that your life was meaningless. Find what joys you can, for there will be no more to have afterward.”

Laurien shook her head again, ”Have you even tried to live? Without life there can be no death. You tell me that I should find what joy I can, but what of yourself? If you are so concerned with death then how can you tell me to live? Do you have any idea what life there is in the world? I have been alive for such a short time, and already I am full of wonder and joy at the smallest of lizards, to the largest of trees. You seem so set upon what is, without even knowing what’s out there.” she said, a hint of anger in her voice. By that point, Orvus had set his hand upon her shoulder, and gave her a concerned look before turning back to Katharsos, but he said nothing.

The bat visage warped into that of a smiling dog. ”You have passion and heart, a vibrancy that reminds me of...another. Do not waste it on concern for me. I have my duties to give me purpose, and that is enough. But I too have been looking at the lizards and trees, little one, and I too feel some joy from their existence.”

Laurien smiled at the dog and said, ”I am glad that you have, uncle. I will respect your wishes, but know I will think of you from time to time. Maybe I’ll even pray.” she giggled, before falling silent. The dog’s smile drooped, almost imperceptibly so, at the mention of prayer, but he too remained silent. He was content with only the quiet sounds of the land around them.

It was Orvus who finally broke the silence. ”Well, that was very enlightening Katharsos. Thank you for that.” he mused before continuing with, ”I have been meaning to ask you, when we first met, you had a soul with you. Why?”

Whatever remained of the dog’s ephemeral smile vanished at that question. The god of death was quiet while his flames displayed a range of muddied colors. Somewhere amidst the long silence, Katharsos procured the soul in question and looked at it again. ”It is a mistake, the product of an accident on my part,” he finally confessed. ”Behold a soul formed without a body. It will not be able to find one, it...will not be able to live. And yet to burn it back into ash so soon seems a horrific waste and far too cruel. I do not yet know what to do; I was contemplating that when you first called out to me.”

Orvus squinted at Katharsos in confusion. After a moment of this, Orvus said, ”Nothing is ever an accident, Katharsos. Why do you not simply give it a body? That seems the only logical thing to do, if you wish it not to burn.” Orvus then unfolded his arms, and let them fall to his side as he shifted his feet.

”When new life arises, a soul forms within its body. The reverse is most unnatural.”

Orvus nodded, ”That is correct, but the opposite, no matter how unnatural, can still be done. It is within our power, after all.” he said flatly.

And it had been a long time since Katharsos had been at such a loss, and the chromatic display of fire illustrated his racing thoughts quite readily. He fell quiet for several minutes, but to their disappointment, he shattered the silence by declaring, ”I do not feel it to be my place to commit such an act. I think...I think that perhaps this one should exist outside of life and death, just like myself.”

A soft look crossed Orvus’ face as he spoke, ”Katharsos, it matters not what it becomes. If it breathes, eats, and sleeps or if it does none of those things. All you need to do is give it a purpose. It’s that easy.” he finished softly.

”Is it?”

Ultimately the question seemed an uncharacteristically facetious one. Katharsos didn’t wait long enough to receive an answer, he simply opened the mouth of his fiery head and blew. A wave of heat and ash blasted outward, but this was no mere bellow’s breath. The ash was soul ash, awakened and stirred from its sleep as it drifted dormant. The raw soul ash and the heat struck the soul, wreathed it, became one with it. And soon there was a smaller fiery being not so different from its maker.

Laurien was unmoving upon where she stood, but the woman did grip her sword tighter as she saw the creature come forth. As Orvus watched, he cocked his head but nevertheless, his expression became blank. Soon enough he said, ”Well done.”

”It shares in my dissatisfaction. It has intelligence, but lacks in a name and a purpose.”

”You must be the one to give it such things, Katharsos. Else others do for you. Unless, that is what you wish?” Orvus inquired. ”This task is mine, but to bestow a calling upon it, I must first find a worthy purpose.”

”And what purpose might that be? You have many options, depending upon your view of the creature.” Orvus stated.

”Many options? And what are these charges that you might entrust unto it, were you in my position?”

At this Orvus thought for a moment before saying, ”If I were the God of Death, and had a sphere so vital, I could entrust it with protecting the Pyres. Or I could give it the task of seeing that life, upon death, completes its journey to the Pyres. I could have it safeguard an area of my choosing, or have it wander the world making sure the cycle is undisturbed. These are but a few options I can think of, Katharsos.” he finished. Laurien by this point, had loosened her grip upon the sword entrusted to her, and now instead spun the soul knife in her hand as she watched the two gods debate.

”All far too great a burden to lay upon one soul. But this one needn’t be alone.” A clump of soul ash manifested nearby, and once again Katharsos subjected a mote to his crushing grip and forged it into a great soul. Once more he used his breath to give a soul form, and now there were two fiery spirits beside their maker.

”The last one of those suggestions appealed to me, Orvus--I cannot, and will not, wander across Galbar often or for long. But others can, and they can ensure that all continues as it should.”
He looked at the elder one. ”Balam,” he named it, and the likeness of a snarling jaguar took shape somewhere within the soul’s fiery shape. Then he looked to its brother to declare a second name, ”...and Zotz.” That one manifested with the familiar face of a bat.

Laurien turned to Orvus and gave him a funny look, and Orvus seemed to smirk for an instant, before returning to his blank expression. He then looked to Katharsos and said, ”I am glad to be of some assistance then. They seem to be… fine creatures.” and then an idea came to mind, ”Perhaps I can be of more assistance and help you create more?”

”Yes,” he breathed. ”My gratitude would be immense. It occurs to me that I should have an intermediary, and I think that Balam would be well suited for this. Zotz and...another partner could roam Galbar and ensure that all is well.”

”Then pick which you would rather have. Desolation, or Soul Decay and I shall lend my hand.” Orvus said.

”I would have one that understands souls and is attuned to their decay, better than Zotz or perhaps even myself. Such an affinity would prove very useful.”

”Very well. Let us begin.” Orvus said as he outstretched his hand. Katharsos had neither hands nor limbs nor even flesh with which to match the gesture, so instead he concentrated and conjured another soul just above Orvus’ expectant palm. When he saw the soul, he began to pour into it the intricate process of how the soul decays and from this, it grew. Katharsos’ long breath fell upon the nascent soul, and then there remained only one thing to do.

”Ku,” he named it, and its face was one of jest and mockery. He was a laughing, happy monkey. But his eyes were black voids that hid the true extent of what the spirit knew.

”It is done then.” Orvus said, ”Ku shall serve his purpose well, with all the knowledge I have gathered and more, now at his disposal. Laurien has a similar gift. Now, if at all you ever need more, simply ask and I shall help.” he finished with a nod.

Laurien then said, ”To do what you both just did, and to make it look so easy… I am amazed. To create just like that… it’s a miracle if I’ve ever seen one.” she said dumbfounded.

”You indeed witness a rare thing,” Katharsos told her. ”Slow but sure moves the might of the gods. It is rare, and taxing, to be suddenly stricken by such inspiration.”

The soul ash all around slowly came to life, forming a far larger (yet spraser) cloud than those that had become Zotz and Ku. Grey flecks of ash manifested like snow, but these strange snowflakes didn’t fall. Instead they bled, tiny tiny black motes breaking free from the grey before those flakes of ash vanished and became ethereal once more. All of those wretched impurities drifted to converge at one point, and there Katharsos finally forced them together. They was a flash of white light, and then where the impurities had been floated only an ebony pearl so beautiful and lustrous that its unmarred surface scintillated with the light of the stars as brilliantly as any diamond ever could. A pendant readily formed about the stone, as did a tiny cord of black thread.

His words might have struggled to convey to Laurien the meaning of what she’d seen, but perhaps she would one day know. And he felt tired now, so tired. So he offered it to her plainly and whispered, ”A gift. Look to it when all seems lost, and know that beauty and perfection hide within the muck.”

Laurien’s eyes went wide with awe as she took the pendant within her hand. It was a beautiful gift and one she would treasure always. As she placed it around her neck, feeling the coolness of the pearl upon her skin, her lips formed into a smile. Next she looked up at Katharsos and said, ”Thank you Katharsos, it’s so beautiful. You flatter a girl with such a fine gift, but I will treasure it always.” she said happily.

Orvus gave a nod of approval at Katharsos than said, ”This was enlightening Katharsos, and I think we both got something out of this exchange. Not to be rude, but we should be going now. We have… Someone to check up on, and I do not wish to keep you any longer from your travels. Until next time, Katharsos.” Orvus said before turning to Laurien. The girl then said, ”It was nice meeting you, God of Death. Also not to be rude, but I hope I don’t see you for a long time… If you know what I mean.” she said with a giggle. ”I’d hate to die so soon. But for now, I bid you a very fond farewell.” she said giving a little bow.

”Farewell,” was his simple goodbye. AS they began to take their leave, his eyes wandered to the patient (at least, thus far) forms of the first of what might one day be his many eyes and hands.





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K'nell and Archibald


K'nell stood in a vast emptiness, or at least that's what it looked like to the untrained eye. A certain emotion was in his soul and a certain thought was on his mind as he snapped his fingers. Slowly the world around him changed. While the world remained a certain black, rock formed under his feet and far in unseen distances. He could hear the dripping of water, an ocean forming around his stony island. If not for his godly perception, he would have been lost in a creation of his own. He went to sit down, and as he did, a porcelain throne came forth to greet him. He jutted his chin upwards, and a much larger throne appeared opposite of him. He patted his jacket, finding his tin. Pulling it out, he knew only one thing was missing.

"My dear Architect of Galbar," K'nell said out loud, to seemingly no one, "You have my cordial invitation to what I can only hope is what you find to be an adequate setting for -- well nothing but a chat, I suppose."

The words echoed through the endless hall, the dreamscape a perfect replica of the Architect's own throne room save for one detail--here, the wound in the ceiling above yet remained, and the night sky was still exposed. Though the echoes soon died and a disappointing silence seemed to be K'nell's only answer, there soon manifested a gigantic and disembodied eyeball. It came from somewhere up there in the skies above above, dangling in the air for a few moments before finding its place not upon the greater throne but directly above K'nell. And It stared. K'nell's smile remained as strong as it was polite, with only his eyebrows betraying his surprise. He cleared his throat.

" Welcome to the palace," K'nell offered, sliding his silver tin back into his pocket.

The Eye had strangely distorted perceptions. It (and the emptiness and darkness of the air around it, if air was truly what dreamers breathed) seemed to flit in and out of existence as if the dream struggled to reconcile itself with the presence of whatever outside force gazed in. But the Architect's speech remained clear. 'You desire answers.'

"In a way," K'nell looked down, his form flickering. Slowly he looked back up at the eye, his eyes spirals and his smile unending as it wrapped around a pale skull. He looked as he did when he entered Galbar for the first time, purple dots dilated at the vortex of his eyes, "Before I get to that, would I be mistaken to assume you have seen my works?" His voice swirled between them.

'My gaze has never left you.'

"Then you know that I have trapped myself," K'nell offered, "That through my birthing stupidity, I gave into my own damnation and I have committed a grave sin. In the first eons I created a life with no plan beyond my own weakness, and she named herself Hermes. I granted her the one boon of not knowing her birth, and through her actions I had built myself. Though my initial reasons were selfish, I grew to love her as my own child, but as my compassion grew, so too did my awareness of my own sin. I have done what you had done, except I am not wiser for it, nor do I have the answer to it: I had created life for my own purpose, but gave them no end and no escape." K'nell's eversmile shrank a little, "She now dwells in a world that hates her as much as it loves her, and I am to blame for any of her suffering."

The Eye did not blink, and nor did the void of its giant black pupil betray emotion. 'That one has nonetheless served my purposes well. She is an entity of value, sufficient to carry out your will as well as my own. Whatever happens afterward may happen.'

"I see," K'nell composed himself, "Then I suppose I should ask: do you feel love?"

'Why should you ask such a thing?'

There was a gentle pop of light as K'nell took the form of an experienced Dreamer gentleman. He wiggled his mouth, as if shaking off the strain of his previous eversmile and then raised his brows, "If you could pardon my inference but if this is not a topic you are comfortable or willing to discuss, we may bury it. I am not on a mission, as it were, to force words and complicate emotions."

The Eye continued to bombard K'nell with its stare, but for all its unwavering and unblinking watch, there was a tiny and almost imperceptible twitch. 'Many questions cannot simply be asked and answered, for there are some truths that words and thoughts could never convey. One must come to realize such truths of his own accord.'

"One such being the..." He mulled over his words carefully, "Status, as it were, of your sense of love and all that it entails?"

In an unprecedented feat of generosity, perhaps rooted in a mere whim, the Architect offered K'nell a morsel. 'Every entity is sustained by something.'

"I suppose it would be foolish of me to ask what you mean by that," K'nell pondered out loud. Silence answered and K'nell cleared his throat, "By which I mean to say, I suspect we are now talking of metaphysics rather than your capacity to feel or, dare I say, be love. I do not assault the topic change, of course, but I am merely pointing out an observation."

Though it wasn't readily visible, from the perturbations in space and reality (or whatever equivalent existed within the land of dreams) there formed a Maw. From above there came the sensation of falling water droplets, but of course, the Eye was not crying. It could not cry. Thunder came into the form of words, from deep within the maw above rather than from some stormcloud, "Your actions have been acceptable, and your role fulfilled to my satisfaction."

"Forgive me, but are you suggesting that my actions sustain you?" K'nell stared into the Maw.

"I offered the answer to another question. I was here long before you. I did not need you to sustain me then. and I do not now! Your discerning mind will eventually realize the reason behind my works here, but it will not come from any words. You would not understand."

"I suppose that's it then," K'nell folded his hands, "And in time perhaps I will come to realize greater things, but then again, perhaps not. Who's to say how much time I have left, let alone time to think."

And the Eye dissolved into tears that the Maw drank, and then the Maw devoured itself and all was silent.


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Hidden 4 mos ago Post by Tal
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Tal

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When Zer-Du woke up there was a great roar. He got to his feet and looked around and he realized he felt better than before thankfully even though he was not back to full health. He also noticed that there were some things different about him like his body had become bigger and his tail was thicker and he felt more powerful. Zer-Due didn't know this but it was because of Ya-Shuur's blessing of fertility and the hormones and testosterone that now made him a true alpha male.

He saw from where the great roar had come and saw a giant red beast flying in the air with giant flame wings. There was smoke coming out of its nostrils and its claws and teeth were huge. Zer-Du turned and began running but because he was a big target and was now out of the dark forest the huge dragon spotted him right away and flew towards him and breathed a stream of fire. Zer-Du roared in pain before shooting right into the air and avoiding anymore of the flames. His back was hard and strong and protected him but he was still burnt and he flew up at a huge speed to the dragon and thwacked it with his spikey tail right on the head. It screeched and fell for a few seconds before rising back up with magma blood coming out of its head and it struck Zer-Du right out of the air until he smashed into the ground and left a huge trench.

Zer-Du moaned and got up injured and tried to get away but one of his legs was broken. Because of this he jumped into the air and flew higher and higher. The dragon followed him but it was too slow and Zer-Du flew very fast. The dragon still flapped after him and then Zer-Du flew through some clouds and all of a sudden he found himself in a place full of shining vines. This was because he had come through some clouds and accidentally entered into Asceal's sphere. Zer-Du looked around in fear and tried to see where the dragon was. He saw some trees with interesting orange fruits and tried to eat one of them but then he remembered that he didn't eat fruits and spat it out in disgust. When he saw that there was nobody in this place and it was safe he landed and limped until he found somewhere to lie down and he went back to sleep. Every now and again he would open his eyes suddenly to perk up and look around in case the dragon had come but it never was there. So he would go back to sleep.

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Hidden 4 mos ago 4 mos ago Post by Crispy Octopus
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Crispy Octopus Into the fryer we go.

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Reflections





It played out in his head again and again. Every time he drew the arrow, every time he lined up his shot, and every time he froze. The pain he’d experienced after that was long gone, and he didn't even bear a scratch to tell of it, but each time he relived the experience in his mind he felt it. The searing heat, the force of the blast, the crash into the water. His body tensed and his breath grew laboured as he remembered.

It was a horrid experience. In some ways it reminded him of the memories Mother had imparted to him, but in others it was new. New, and harrowing. To remember an injury was one thing, but to know that injury was something that happened to him and not another? To know it was his fault. The winged man grit his teeth and held his face in his hands.

Each time he revisited the memory he tried to discern what had stayed his hand, and each time he realized he already knew. The endless repetition was little more than desperate masochism. He didn’t shoot because he, even after seeing all the destruction it had wrought, simply didn’t want to shoot. He didn’t want to kill.

It was a sentiment at odds with his very purpose, his reason for being. He relieved the memories not in a quest to understand his action, but in the hope he’d recall some detail that would absolve him. He failed to act, and people died. He nearly died. Surely there was some other reason, some mitigating factor.

Of course, on some level, Akam knew there wasn’t. He had made a choice, and both he and others had paid for it. He had been unable to do the one thing he existed to do. He was a failure. Perhaps that was the real reason why he had stayed in the little room, remembering. The mere physical pain he’d ensured was insufficient punishment for what he’d done, what he’d failed to do.

A knock at the door distracted him from his dour musings. He didn’t reply, but it made no difference. The knock was merely a warning, and a moment later Mother stepped into the room. She wore an expression of worry, but she didn’t waste time asking him how he was. She knew.

Akam sighed, and greeted her, “Mother.”

“Akam,” She sat on the bed beside him and half heartedly embraced him with one arm. He didn’t shy away, but he didn’t lean in either. After all, who was he to deserve affection? He’d failed Mother, and more besides.

The two sat there for a time, and Akam began to wonder why Mother, a Goddess, was so content to waste time in her effort to comfort him. She had responsibilities, and yet she was here. With him. He almost felt worse for it. His failure was so absolute it was occupying her time, and between the two of them she was undoubtedly the one whose time mattered.

Eventually that train of thought reached a head and he blurted, “Why?”

Asceal eyed him, and for a moment he wondered if she’d bothered to read his mind. If she did, it didn't show when she asked, “Why what Akam?”

The wing man shrugged off her arm and stood. He looked down at his mother and very nearly yelled, “Why are you here!? I failed. You made us to serve a purpose and I couldn’t, I can’t. Why are you wasting your time on me?”

For a moment the glowing Goddess was silent, the only indication of her understanding presenting as a slight widening of her eyes. She opened her mouth and hesitated before speaking, “Because you’re my son, Akam. No time I spend with you is wasted, ever.”

Akam wanted to scream at her for that, but his words turned to ash in his mouth when he looked at her. There was no pity in her eyes, only concern. Even now, even when he was shouting at her because of the things he’d done, she didn’t think he was worthless. When he managed to speak again it was barely a whisper, “I failed you, I failed them. They’re burning in the pyres because of me Mother, how can I be your son?”

She held out a hand and gently pulled him back to sit on the bed when he took it. She looked into his eyes and spoke with a somber conviction, “We all fail Akam. You’ve seen my failures, but you don’t wonder how I can be your mother do you? You’re my son because I made you, I love you, and nothing can change that. As for purpose…” The Goddess pursed her lips, “I once told someone that we’re more than what we’re meant to do Akam. Failure to fulfill your purpose doesn’t imply that you are a failure.”

The winged man took his time, letting the words sink in. Eventually he slumped and leaned into his mother, who pulled him in with both arms. Tears began to fall from his eyes, “But what if it happens again Mother? I couldn’t do it this time and people died. What if I can’t shoot next time? Will Eline die? What about Makab? I didn’t want to kill, and people died because of it.”

Asceal held him and spoke softly, “Nobody should want to kill, Akam. That you were there, that you had the choice and didn’t, that isn’t failure. It’s proof you’re good.” She sighed, “But you’re not wrong. Your siblings will need to rely on you Akam. I won’t force you to fight, nobody will make you to do that, but if you want my opinion? If you choose to rejoin your brother and sister you won't hesitate again. I didn’t.”

Akam wiped the tears from his face and straightened his back before returning the embrace. He eventually let go and nodded, “I.. I’ll trust you, then.”

The Goddess smiled weakly, “You value life Akam, perhaps more than most gods. That will always be a good thing, I think. Your siblings will need you for that as much as for your bow. You’ve learned all you need to about the consequences of killing, and choosing not to.”

“Thank you,” Akam spoke with a mote of new confidence. His insides still felt tangled, his throat swollen, but in his mother's words he found some stability. Solid ground, an island in a stormy sea. It wasn’t much.

But it was enough.





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Hidden 4 mos ago Post by Lauder
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Lauder The drunk kind of hero

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Sprite & Atmav





It was a brisk early morning, the ocean breeze moving along the beaches as the Heliopolis began to cast its warming light along Galbar. The Selka were just beginning to stir as the light pierced their eyes, forcing them to begin another day of hunting for fish and doing not much else. The sounds of crashing waves was all there was, a cloudless sky to make the day’s forecast seem all too pleasant for the simple desires of the Selka. However, tales of growing aggression and inner turmoil from the Grottu ran up and down the coast, along with the tale of the woman who seemed to have bested the mighty Yimbo.

Yet, that was all those were, tales to make other worried, which the Selka were mostly certainly not. They were merely too carefree in their lives to be so worried about things that may not come to them, though the story of an aggressive tribe were more pressing than the latter.

As the Selka rose and began to conduct their daily activities, a tall being appeared on a dune with white skin and a dark sword. Wings of a starry night extended, contrasting against the morning sky and the beings own form. It was then that the Selka gathered together and pointed, whispering to each other on the strange horned woman that appeared before them. Then they heard the creature speak in a hushed tone, nearly inaudible to the group.

“Are you sure that this plan will work, Sprite? I don’t think you thought this through all the way.”

“Shush, just wait and see!”


“A-hem,” A tiny, high pitched voiced cleared its throat. From behind the mighty form of the woman, a small, translucent girl flew out. She stopped suddenly in front of the woman and turned to the crowd of Selka, her face grim and serious. Her posture was stiff and proper, even though she was flying.

“Behold, mortals, the First Queen, the Ageless Ancient, the Royal… Royalty, Goddess Atmav.” The tiny woman paused, her eyes scanning over the crowd coldly, “She, in her endless splendor, has decided that you may, in fact, hold the smallest potential to improve. And so, in her great generosity, she has decided to take you under her wing made of stars. You will be under her protection, and none shall ever lay a finger on you.”

The Selka gave a collective confused look as murmurs ran up and down the crowd. They looked to each other, unsure of what to make of the display of the tiny one. However, one stepped forward, holding his head high and giving an angered look at the little one and Atmav. It seemed that he was the leader of this tribe and he bared his teeth and his hands clenched into fists.

“I have heard stories of the lady of white. She is a murderer! We do not need the protection from her! We only need the mighty Yimbo to protect us and she will not beat him twice!”

The words made Atmav shift a bit, her own hands clenching as it seemed that she stared into the very soul of the Selka who opposed her. Her wings spread to all they could and she held up her blade, the scarlet energy moving with it as her face morphed into one of disgust.

“A murderer? Foolish mortal.” Sprite spat out the words in disgust, “Every single action the First Queen takes is merely a step in a thousand kilometre path, a path toward salvation. Her Holiness Atmav only purges those who have been foreseen to carry a great evil inside their souls. Now, spout no more blasphemy, Male.”

Another murmur ran through the crowd, talk of the aggression of the Grottu and whether to believe the likes of the small creature that they have never seen. However, the male did not move, continuing to hold his proud posture, letting out a hiss before looking back to his people. He seemed to think for a moment.

“Then what of the many of our kind that she killed in her bout with Yimbo?! That does not change that she killed those who did not deserve such a death. I heard that children died that day!”

“You pretend to impose your shortsighted mind upon that of the Great Queen? You hold so much hubris in your heart that you would think yourself wiser than the Gods? Perhaps, Lady Atmav, we should leave these vermin to r-”

The tiny woman froze and turned her head around to look at the mighty woman. The smaller one shook and shivered, “B-But, Queen Atmav, w-!” She fell silent again, and after a moment, took in a deep breath and turned back to the Selka. “Male,” She began and exhaled, her posture drooping a little, “Queen Atmav appreciates the strength of your will. She sees potential in you, and grants you the benefit of asking one question to her. She will answer in her own voice. Rejoice, mortal. You may ask whatever it is you wish to know, now.”

The male’s proud seemed to falter for a moment as he looked at the sand for a moment, eyes shifting before his gaze went back to the mighty woman. “Is it true that you bested Yimbo?,” he asked, his voice silencing any talk that may have been in the crowd. Many seemed to show a look of expectation, awaiting the answer.

“Indeed, I have” Atmav said, her voice conveying power as she began to step down the sand dune, dragging the great blade behind her. “I have bested Yimbo. And I have deemed him unworthy to be your protector. I shall take to that role myself, all that I require is a show of loyalty that you may not make the same mistakes the Grottu have. They are lost, sheep hiding behind a tyrant. I am merciful, the Grottu are not.” She stood over the male, not bothering to move her head down to meet his gaze. Atmav raised her blade up and rested it on the male’s shoulder, the weight causing the man to wince.

“You will not make the mistake the Grottu have,” Atmav said, sliding the blade of his shoulder, leaving a small cut.

The male merely gave a desperate look between the mighty woman and her small companion, unsure of what to do.

The small woman merely looked dispassionately at the male and nodded, “On your knees, all of you.”

The Selka gave one last look before falling to his knees. Shortly, the others began to fall to their knees, one by one as Atmav looked over them. A smile came to her face as she looked at the crowd before her head turned to Sprite for a moment, having to hold in laughter before she steadied herself. A moment passed before Atmav rested her hands on the hilt of her sword.

“You may rise,” she said, the Selka obeying and slowly getting to their feet, some showing signs of fear and shock. “Now, go about your daily business,” Atmav ordered, turning away from the Selka and bringing the blade of her sword to rest upon her shoulder as she approached Sprite.

”How did that work?” She asked, holding in laughter.

Sprite kept her watchful gaze on the Selka as they dispersed, and then turned around as well and cracked a wide grin and muffled her own laughter, “C-Come on! Let’s go home! T… They can’t see us like this!” She said amongst chuckles and giggles.

“But a Queen can’t abandon her subjects, right?” Atmav giggled, looking around to make sure the Selka were doing whatever it was that they normally did. It seemed that they were just doing things to have fun, or at least have as much fun with the likes of Atmav around. Her head swiveled back to Sprite, letting out a light laugh.

A few moments passed and eventually the muffled snickering subsided, and now there was only silence as the two stood there, higher than the Selka.

“... Well this is awkward,” whispered Sprite in Atmav’s ear, “What do we do now?”

“I don’t know, I’ve never been in charge before,” Atmav whispered back, looking down for a moment to try and think of something suitable to do. “What are some queenly things to do?” She asked is a hurried whisper, looking back at the Selka.

“Well, uh… Order the construction of a house! A palace! Or… Recruit a personal guard? Or, or, organize a feast! With yummy food!”

“... I like your thinking,” Atmav said with a light laugh before turning her body to the Selka, clearing her throat. She inspected the Selka before shaking her head a bit, however, her eyes did spot the familiar figure of the male she had given a cut. Her feet moved through the sand, her presence demanding the attention of the nearby Selka and as she approached, the male gave a frightened look before falling upon his knees once more.

“Gather your strongest men, today, we will build me a proper place to rule from,” she commanded, the male looking up with a looking of confusion. It was almost as if she did not make herself clear and she gave a frown as he did not make move another muscle. She planted her sword in the sand in front of him, causing him to jerk backwards out of fear. “I will await at the top of the dune,” Atmav stated before turning away from the group and walking back to her position.

When she reached Sprite once more, she gave a curious motion before asking, “I hope I did not overdo it.”

“Naaah, you did just fine, Attie!” Sprite whispered back excitedly, flying up to Atmav’s shoulder and perching herself there.

Suddenly, the male and a group of five others approached Atmav, looking up to the massive woman who merely stared at them with her eyeless face. She seemed to give a look of disappointment, looking each of the few over before shaking her head with a sigh. The men looked to each other and shifted nervously, as Atmav pushed past them and cleared her throat.

“My people! I have a task for us all. Those who are not hunting today will help in my construction,” Atmav said, her voice clear and powerful as she turned toward the nearby forest and began walking. The Selka gave a confused look before a majority began to follow her off the beach, moving inland a bit farther than they would on any normal day. When they reached the edge of the forest, they could see their new Queen already hacking into a tree with her sword. Each swing took a larger part of the tree and soon enough the tree come crashing to the ground.

Atmav turned to the Selka, watching with mixed expressions of curiosity and fright, before she gave an order. “Drag it back to the beach and when you do come back and grab another,” she commanded before moving to another tree to repeat the process. The entire tribe moved forward, cautiously before their hands gripped the fallen tree and began the arduous process of dragging it back the beach.

Five more times did they do this and six times did they begin to break the branches off of the trees before their queen returned to help. She commanded and led, digging large holes into the sand and standing the trunk of the trees into them where they would stand tall and proud. It would be Atmav who did most of the work, the lifting and the aligning larger branches between the great trunks. She would bend branches around each other, interlocking them to form a roof and walls. It was said that she became so entranced in the construction of her great structure that she did not realize that the Selka merely watched, observing her and doing what their daily routines of hunting and playing.

Her building of green and brown stood at the top of a dune, gazing upon the ocean as it rolled in and out.

Eventually, she began to dig up wet sand and place it along the woven walls of home, building it along the interior between the trunks. It was dusk by the time she finished building and Atmav stood at a hollow doorway, beaming with pride at the building. There was a moment of silence as she stared into it before turning to the Selka, many of which had dispersed back along the beach but had not moved with the schools of fish out of fear of the woman hunting them down.

“My people! This house is where I shall rule from! You are all allowed to share it with me to stay out of whatever harsh weather may come our way or to consult me on any matters,” Atmav announced, only met with a stunning silence from the people.

At that moment, Sprite flew in front of Atmav and huffed, “Tsk, you mortals! Show respect for the great achievements of your Queen Atmav! She has begun the process of taming these lands, all for your sake and salvation. Rejoice! Long Live Queen Atmav!” The Selka watched Sprite, and she frowned and her eyes narrowed, she balled up her tiny fists and stomped on the air, before raising her fist to the air and then bringing it down with extreme conviction to her chest, “Repeat with me, mortals! Long Live Queen Atmav!

Slowly the crowd began to follow the example of Sprite, chanting words as Atmav beamed with pride as their chants became the only thing she could hear. She raised up a hand to bring the crowd to silence, her smile still showing as she began to speak, “My people, this is the dawn of a new age! Our lands will flourish and our expansion will come, both by land and sea. Tonight you may rest, but tomorrow we shall feast and celebrate the rise of a new dynasty!”

The crowd began the chant again, “Long live Queen Atmav!” It was in this moment that Atmav allowed herself to be taken by their reverence, knowing that she was no god but feeling as an idol of worship. Eventually, she turned and walked into her home, dragging her sword all the way to back of the structure before sitting. She was very much happy.

“Sprite, you make me the happiest, y’know that?” Atmav said.

Sprite looked around the hall and toward the entrance for a few moments, and turned with an excited grin to face Atmav when she realized no one had followed or was watching. In a flash, she flew and pressed her head against Atmav’s cheek, wrapping her arms around her face. “Aaaw my big strong bestie, I love you too!” She said happily, giving Atmav several small kisses.

Atmav let out a light laugh, accepting Sprite’s appreciation without any resistance before she leaned against the wall of her home. “I have no clue how any of this worked,” she admitted crossing her arms as she let out another small laugh.

Sprite made a little happy noise and flew a few inches away, putting her hands behind her back, “Me neither! Dummies, I guess. On the other hand, you’re now a Goddess, apparently!”

“I think they obeyed out of fear, in my opinion,” Atmav said her head turning away from Sprite for a few moments as she thought to herself. “I... don’t know what to do now. I have never been a leader before,” she continued, her smile fading a bit as the situation began to settle into her mind.

“Huh,” Sprite brought a finger up to her mouth in thought, “Maybe, make sure they’re safe? We did say we’d save them, or something.”

“Then that is what I will do, thank you, Sprite,” Atmav said, her light smile coming back at the suggestion. She leaned forward, her head close to Sprite before speaking once more, “Promise me that you will help me lead so long as I may live.”

“Of course!!! Who do you take me for?? Someone who’d cheat on you with the first rival king we meet?” Sprite giggled and sat down cross legged on top of Atmav’s head, “They’d have to give me tons and tons of things for me to even consider cheating on my Atmav!”

The larger woman leaned back, smiling widely before she said, “Thank you.”


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