Hidden 1 yr ago Post by Not Fishing
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Not Fishing The Mediocre

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An arrow embedded itself in a tree trunk. Four more followed in quick succession. The five Selka looked at each other, to make sure every arrow had been loosed, and then stepped forward to retrieve their ammunition.

From a distance, Anhaf observed the practice in silence, his arms crossed. He turned to the bird who was perched on a low hanging tree branch. "It's been five days," he said.

"And?" came the bird's response.

"Five days," Anhaf repeated. "All we have done is shoot at trees. We still hunger."

"Do you expect to learn a skill overnight? Most of your people have figured out the correct stance and the proper draw. All that is left to improve is their accuracy. If you expect an immediate solution, I will not provide it. You need to learn how to survive on your own, without depending entirely on gods. Or else there will come a day when you need aid, and it will not be provided. On that day, you will die."

Anhaf did not respond. He continued to observe the training practice. Many of the Selka had made a game out of it. With sharp stones they carved targets into the bark of the trees, and each round became a contest to see who could hit closer to the mark. They wagered small, useless treasures - pearls, shells, strangely coloured rocks. Arryn had seen no value in such trinkets, yet for many of the Selka they served as an incentive other than hunger.

Several minutes passed, and finally Anhaf spoke again. "You said there were other gods?" he asked.

"I did," Arryn confirmed.

"Who are they?"

"Phystene is the Goddess of Plants. Ashalla is the Goddess of Oceans. Parvus is the God of Insects. Asceal is the Goddess of Light-"

"A seal is the Goddess of Light?" Anhaf's expression brightened. He glanced up at the sun, shielding his eyes.

"Yes... have you encountered her?" Arryn asked.

"No, but I would like to!" Anhaf said, not averting his gaze from the sky.

"You should know that not all the gods have your interests at heart. The ones I spoke of are my master's allies. But others... Orvus, the God of Desolation. He tried to kill Phystene, and only when my master confronted him did he begin to change his course. Narzhak, the God of Conflict... he made some of my master's creations eat and kill each other, just to fulfill his own amusement. Then there is Shengshi, the God of Rivers - a vile, wretched, and spiteful creature." The bird's usual monotone voice was suddenly filled with a venom that took Anhaf off guard.

"Are they dangerous?" Anhaf asked.

"Probably," Arryn said. "If you encounter them, be on your guard, but do not try to provoke them. There is little you can do against them, except pray to another god for protection."

"You just said we shouldn't rely on the gods to survive," Anhaf pointed out.

"I did. You shouldn't rely on them to solve mortal problems, like famine or disease. But if another god is threatening you? Only a god can match another god. At that point you will need to swallow your pride and call for aid. If a god can create you, another god can destroy you just as easily."

Anhaf nodded, and once more the two fell into a long silence. This time, it was Arryn who broke it. "In two days, I will take five of the best into the forest and teach them how to track. They will pass that knowledge on to the rest of you."

Time passed. The Ubbo tribe continued to improve. Only one or two could consistently hit the center, but most were at least able to land their shot within the target. When two more days had gone by, it was a simple enough matter for Arryn to pick out the five best, and lead them into the wild.

There, he taught them how to notice the signs that an animal was present in the area. Which direction it had gone, and how recently it had passed through. He emphasized the importance of remaining silent, and always keeping an ear out for new sounds. At first, it did not go well. The Selka were noisy, somehow managing to snap every single twig and unable to resist laughing and joking with each other as the day dragged on. However, after Arryn snapped at them a few times, they began to take it more seriously. They did not catch anything that day, but the Selka were now capable of moving silently, their skill somewhat bolstered by a subtle blessing.

The next day, they went out once more. After an hour, one of them quietly pointed out a flock of birds roosting in some trees. Arrows were loosed, and two of the creatures fell. Arryn pursued them and pinned one to the ground. Three birds in all. The Selka collected them, and the hunt continued. No luck for the next three hours, but then they happened across a rather large boar.

Once more, five arrows flew, and four found their mark in the leg, shoulder, neck, and rear. The boar squealed and ran, limping heavily, and then collapsed after ten paces. The Selka cheered, and Arryn flew forward to cut the boar's throat with its talons. "Now we carry it back," he told them.

It took four to do so, but carry it back they did. On the journey home they also came across some berry bushes. Between that, the boar, and the birds, they had plenty of food. Upon their return the village greeted them with cheers, and the food was quickly divided up. Anhaf grinned at the sight. Added to the meager fish catch of the day, there was easily enough to feed the entire village.

The first piece of meat was offered to Anhaf, but he turned it away. "Only when everyone else has had a piece," he declared. Then he turned to Arryn. "Thank you, Avatar of Kalmar."

"It does not end here. Your people still have room for improvement. You will also need to know how to craft your own bows and arrows, for when the ones you have now fall into disrepair. I still need to teach you that."

"So you're staying for a little longer?" Anhaf asked with a smile. "Good!"

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Hidden 1 yr ago Post by AdorableSaucer
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AdorableSaucer Blessed Beekeeper

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Hermes & Xiaoli (Supported by Wenbo and Chagatai)


The Learner, The Martial Dancer

Xiaoli sat by the small river with a basket full of variously-sized baby clothes. Her eyes shifted lazily between the basket and the dazzling water, but she seemingly could not bring herself to start. She sat there, occasionally dropping small sighs as she leaned her cheek on her propped-up fist, looking up at the foliage at the edge of the clearing. She blinked at a small bird nest in one of the taller trees. A blue, fluffy-faced sparrow nestled and cleaned some squeaking chicks. Xiaoli’s sigh turned into a saddened groan and she grabbed one of the sweaty shirts from the basket, giving it a good old rub in the river.

”What’s the matter, Lady Xiaoli?” Came Arya’s voice as she floated down from the sky, landing next to the river girl, and then sitting down on her knees. She looked at Xiaoli with a soft expression in her eyes, as she cocked her head slightly.

Xiaoli looked up and smiled somberly. “Speak of the flood and flood, it will… Hey, Arya. No, nothing’s the matter, really. I was just thinking to myself. Would you mind helping me with the laundry, dear?” Xiaoli lifted the shirt out of the water and waved it once through the air, the moisture in it evaporating near-instantly. She deftly folded it together and put it neatly by her side.

”Of course.” Arya hummed, and without saying anything else, the girl took a small shirt and dipped it into the water- giving it a ferocious scrub. After a moment of silence Arya then asked, ”What’s on your mind, Lady Xiaoli?”

Xiaoli remained quiet until she had neatly folded the towel she had been washing. “So you’ve made up your mind about leaving?” she said without looking at her, instead grabbing another article of clothing and scrubbing it in the water.

”Yes.” she said softly, still washing the clothes. ”I…” her voice fell silent and she began to scrub harder.

“No, no need to feel bad about it. It’s your right to go out and… Be an adventurer and save the world… It-... It’s an honour to do the Exalted Creators’ bidding, after all. We are happy that you’ve been given this opportunity, dear.” Xiaoli folded a woolen shirt.

Arya folded the shirt she was so rigorously working on, and placed it gently on the pile. She then moved her hand to grab another piece of dirty clothing, but stopped midway, her fist balling up and then falling to the side as she looked at Xiaoli, tears falling down her cheeks. ”Then why does it feel so wrong to leave?” she said beginning to cry.

Xiaoli looked away a little more, a somber sniff betraying her collected demeanour. “All daughters fear the moment they leave their families - yet--” Another sniff escaped her. “-- Yet we shouldn’t think of this as leaving, alright? You’re just going on a quick trip, and then you’ll be back home again. Nothing more.” She scrubbed a cloth diaper with valiant strokes.

Suddenly feeling embarrassed, Arya looked away from Xiaoli. And as quickly as the girl had began to cry, she wiped away her tears with sniffles, saying, ”O-Okay.” she took a deep breath trying to compose herself, ”Y-Yeah… Just a quick trip. They… They need my help.” she said unsure of herself. ”I…” but once again her voice faltered, and without saying anything else, she got on her feet and began to hurry away else she break down again.

“Arya! Arya!” Xiaoli called after her. As the girl turned the corner, Xiaoli huffed in defeat and dabbed at her moist eyes with the piece of cloth in her hand, wincing a little upon realising what it was. She shook her head and gave it another wash.

“Oh big man with the spoon, doesn't have to listen to his mother,” Hermes taunted, a defiant Wenbo looking up at her with a curious scowl. He waved a tiny wooden spoon aggressively, whacking Hermes’ arm. She kneeled on the floor overlooking her personal bed, both babies laying in their backs.

“Oh that's it,” Hermes teased and poked her fingers into his belly, “I'mma getcha!” The baby gurgled a laugh as she did it again, “I'mma getcha!”

There was a loud “Gah!” from Chagatai and Hermes poked him too.

“Jealous baby,” Hermes goaded and then whispered with a smile, “Wonder who you got that from, yes I do-”

It was the crying that altered Hermes, to another’s presence, and for once it wasn’t her babies. In the doorway there stood Arya, arms folded as she tried to calm herself down to no avail. As soon as Hermes turned around Arya spoke, ”I...I tried to… Xiaoli. She said- She said it was going to be okay… but she… said it so…” Arya took another ragged breath, ”Like she…”

Hermes turned from Chagatai and leaned back against the bed, a soft thwack coming from Wenbo's spoon. The mother rubbed the back of her head, “You tried to -- what? Xiaoli? Arya, housework can be confusing but there is no need to cry about it.” She teased and patted the floor next to her.

She took a gulp, and shook her head before sitting down next to Hermes. She composed herself as she looked to the babies, then said, ”No...I just… Ever since I arrived here, Lady Xiaoli and I have… Not had the closest… connection, I guess. I thought I’d try to remedy that before I left...She’s just so kind and all the Servants are and they just… They’re just them and I should be used to it, but I’m not. They try so hard to hide their emotions… and I… Just wanted to see if Lady Xiaoli would… Tell me how she really felt… But instead she just said It would be a quick trip and that you both were happy for this opportunity to do the ‘Exalted Creators’ bidding.” Arya said defeated.

“Awh Arya,” Hermes nudged the girl's shoulder, “Lady Xiaoli is very private with her feelings, despite her very big Shengshese heart that you see erupt now and again.” She paused and thought for a moment, “Don't take it the wrong way, we both see you as our daughter and a part of this family, even if words don't say it.”

Arya gave out a small, happy sigh, and then said, ”You always know what to say, Hermes. It means a lot to me… You know, to be apart of something. To have… A family. I’m very thankful. Ever since I was cast out of Veradax, I didn’t have a place to go. I was just… A wanderer I guess, going from one place to another. Then I found this place… Or I guess it found me and ever since, I’ve just been really happy.” she said with a smile.

“I'm happy to share it with you,” Hermes smiled, “I was a wanderer too, but I always knew where to land in the end. Building this home was just a way to mark where I wanted to be, and I can’t think of a better use of it than to share it with the people I care about. It'll always be here for you, and I will too.” She tapped her forehead and then the back of Arya's hand, “And even then, you will always have the Palace and K'nell.”

Arya’s eyes seemed to sparkle at her words, ones she already knew, but ones she needed to hear again. ”Thank you, Her-” she paused and then her eyes grinned wide, before she said, ”Mom.”

Hermes smiled wide and then shivered, “Oh I'm going to have to get used to that.” She gave Arya a gentle embrace, “And when you get back, we can start working on your own house so you won't have to sleep in the guest rooms.”

Aya returned the embrace with a tight squeeze, then pulled away to look at the babies, ”Just wait until they start saying it.” she giggled before turning back to Hermes, ”A house? My own house? That’d be wonderful.” she mused.

“Well yeah,” Hermes stood up to check on the babies, taking note of the now missing spoon. “You can't live in the guest house when you're not a guest anymore. I'll talk to Xiaoli about it--” She looked over at Arya quizzically, “Shengshi taught you the flow, right?”

”Yeah...You’d be surprised what you can forget when it’s…” her voice turned into a hushed whisper, ”Not really applicable.” she finished with a laugh.

“Oh I've likely sustained more lectures than you,” Hermes winked, “But do you remember if daughters still need to use ‘lady’ or not because this is going to get clumsy fast if you and the babies are using it or only you are or only they are. I need to talk to Xiaoli.” Hermes sighed, “She's my star, and I support her philosophies readily and with all that I can, but damned if it can be confusing sometimes.”

”Agreed.” Arya said standing up and stretching, ”Now, how about we feed these boys.” she said playfully.

Hermes gave her a shocked look and then began to laugh, “I'll take care of that, don't worry. I'll meet you in the dining house after, maybe a little lunch before you head out.”

Arya cocked her head, slightly confused, ”Don’t they eat food?” she asked.

“Uh huh,” Hermes smirked and snatched Abanoc's book off her nightstand. Gently guiding Arya out of the room by the shoulders she handed her the book, “If you really want to know, take a peek in here.”

”Well… If you say so.” Arya said, gripping the book tightly. She then turned around, looked at Hermes and then walked away. Hermes waved as she closed the slider door.

Hermes let out a puff of air as she entered the dining room. The smell of stewed bilby and vegetables thickened the air. Arya and Xiaoli looked over to her, Arya already seated in front of an empty bowl and Abanoc's book. Xiaoli waited by the stirring pot. Hermes jabbed a thumb behind her, “Sorry, it took me a little to get them asleep.”

“Nothing to worry about, dear,” Xiaoli mumbled absent-mindedly as she lobbed a fistfull of chopped leeks into the stew. She then added an improvised mix of local spices and herbs and stirred a few turns. “What would you two like to drink?”

Arya shuffled awkwardly before piping up, ”I'll just have water, Lady Xiaoli.” her voice was quiet. She then turned to Hermes and shoved the book closer towards her. She then looked Hermes in the eye with embarrassment in her eyes, ”Never again.” she groaned.

Hermes laughed and took the book, putting it on the lap of her pants, “Well now you know.” She looked over at Xiaoli and thought for a moment, “Do you have any of your special tea all done up?”

Xiaoli chuckled quietly and turned to smile at the two. “Yeah, I do. A spot of Yong'ai would be wonderful right about now.” She left the pot bubbling lazily on the stove and went over to a shelf on the opposite side of the room. From there, she grabbed a circular wooden pot which neck was wrapped in cloth. She undid the wrapping, sat the pot down by the table and went back to the shelf to fetch a tea set. “Arya, dear, would you join us for some tea?”

Arya shuffled where she sat and then said, ”Okay.”

Xiaoli hummed and nodded. She filled the teapot with water from a jug and snapped her fingers. In an instant, the water reached near boiling temperatures and Xiaoli waited a moment before discarding the water. Then she added a carefully measured amount of tea into the hot pot. “Oh, the stew!” she quickly said, rushing over to the hearth again. She grabbed three bowls, filled them all and carried them to the table. “Here you go. Eat while it’s hot. No need to wait for me.” She then went back to preparing tea, adding new hot water to the pot and quickly discarding it.

“You do so much,” Hermes picked up a spoon, “Maybe I can cook for you tomorrow?”

“Oh, Hermes, there’s no need! I have everything under control. Thank you for your concern, though, really.” She flashed a warm smile as she poured the freshly brewed tea into the serving cup.

“But what if I wanted to?” Hermes smiled back, “It can be my treat -- oh Arya, you'd miss it.” Hermes frowned, “I make a really good everything soup.”

Arya picked at her stew, taking a few small bites here and there. She looked up at the mention of her name and said, ”Aw, that's really too bad, but I think I'll manage.” she said with a sly wink at Xiaoli.

Xiaoli winked back and offered the other girls their cups and sat down. “Here, drink it while it’s hot.”

Hermes slumped and ate a spoonful of her stew before taking a careful sip of the hot liquid, “I was thinking about going hunting tomorrow,” She changed the topic, “Finally stretch my limbs.”

“Oh? Hunt where?” Xiaoli said as she elegantly spooned up some soup and brought it to her lips.

“I don't know yet, not too far,” Hermes thought as she held her teacup below her lips, “Will you be okay alone with the twins?”

Xiaoli gave her a smug grin. “Oh, please, I took care of His Lordship when He was drunk - Wenbo and Chagatai are in good hands.”

“Alright but you said it not me,” Hermes winked, “But thank you, I know I'm ageless and all but not doing anything makes me feel flubby.”

Xiaoli looked her up and down a little and made a flat hum. “So, Arya, how’s the tea?” Hermes frowned and looked down at her lap.

”Oh, um.” Arya let out, reaching for her cup and taking a sip. She began to nod her head as she drank the hot liquid, ”Oh delicious, as always Lady Xiaoli.” she said sheepishly before putting down the cup and looking back down at the stew.

“Arya, is everything okay?” Hermes asked without looking up, patting at her own stomach. Xiaoli put her teacup down and gave Arya a somber smile.

Arya looked back up at the both of them and said, ”Yeah of course, I'm fine. Just enjoying the meal is all.”

“Oh,” Hermes looked up and smiled. She hummed for a second and then poked Xiaoli’s knee, “Arya called me ‘Mom,’” She smiled wide, “Isn’t that wonderful?”

“O-oh. Sh-she did?” Xiaoli’s stare grew empty for a moment. She quickly recovered, however, and put on the best grin she could. “Y-yes! Much overdue, actually, considering how much you’ve doted on her.” She chuckled perhaps a little too enthusiastically.

“Okay,” Hermes let her spoon fall into her stew, “What’s going on.” She stared at Arya and then Xiaoli, “You’ve been giving Arya the run around.” She nudged her chin at Arya, “And you are doing more than just enjoying your meal.” She looked at Xiaoli again, “And you think I’m fat, but let’s save that for later.” Her smile was a flat line by now, “You two need to discuss what this is.”

“Not fat, dear, just--”

“Up bup bup!” Hermes’ eyes narrowed, “Arya and you first, I don’t even want to get started on the fat one right now, and definitely not here.”

Xiaoli’s mouth became a line. She sucked in a breath through her nose and gave Arya a small smile. “Alright. Please, dear Arya, speak your mind.”

Arya blushed a pink and avoided their gazes by looking down at the bowl. She silently stirred her stew, no longer hungry as a sigh escaped her. ”There is nothing wrong between us. You explained it earlier Hermes and I understand. It's… Okay.” she said softly.

Hermes nodded “I know,” she looked at Xiaoli, “But I think it is important that Xiaoli also knows what’s been bothering you. Whenever Xiaoli and I had different thoughts on something, we always talked about it and it always worked out in the end. I’m glad you came to me, but I think we need to mend this between all of us.” Hermes sighed, “Xiaoli?”

Xiaoli folded her arms, looking rather bewildered. He adjusted her seating a little bit and looked down. “Arya, if you would enlighten me as to what you feel I have done wrong to you, I will naturally apologise and do my best to make amends - yet as of now, I fear I do not understand what’s weighing on your heart. Even as you ran earlier, I was uncertain as to whether my words or tone had offended or hurt you. Is that the reason?”

”Okay.” Arya whispered softly before sitting up to look at Xiaoli with a sad expression, ”Yes… and no,” she began, ”Ever since I came here I always wanted to become closer to you. It was easy with Hermes, but I tried with you, never knowing if I was doing the right thing. You are so kind, but I never know when you truly mean to be kind, or if you meant something else entirely. You just do so much for the household, there always seems to be something that needs fixed or made or cleaned; I never had enough time to try harder. I left you at the river because… Because I didn’t know what else to say.” she paused, taking a deep breath before saying, ”I want to call you mom too, you know, I just don’t know if you’d like that.” she finished, glancing away.

Xiaoli listened patiently, her face straight-mouthed and emotionless. Occasionally, she pursed her lips and nodded politely. When Arya finished, Xiaoli waited momentarily before sucking in a breath through her nose. “I see,” she said curtly. She refilled the teacups in the ensuing silence, causing Hermes to squirm uncomfortably for a moment. She went to open her mouth, but decided against it.

“So,” Xiaoli began, “you ran away from the person you would like to be your mother instead of confiding in her, because you ran out of things to say?” Xiaoli shook her head slowly and looked away. “I’m starting to think I may not be mother material after all, Hermes,” she said with a frown. “I frighten our daughter, even.”

”That’s not- That’s not what I meant.” Arya said bewildered. ”I just--”

“No, no, no need to clarify. I know I can be stern. I was just… Surprised that I was -this- difficult to approach. You called me ‘lady Xiaoli’ and everything… I thought you wanted to remain at a non-familial relationship.” She huffed and gave Arya a sad frown while Hermes hid behind a slurp of her stew.

Arya’s eyes went wide with disbelief, and she said, ”I didn’t know when to stop.”

“Our relationship is closer than that of strangers, Arya, so it’s fine to ask. Did you forget about the five relationships during your time away from His Lordship?” She gave her a sly smile.

Once again Arya’s face lit up in pink and she looked back down at her cold stew. ”I… Did.” she finally said before looking up at Xiaoli and wiping away a tear.

Xiaoli sighed and put her hands on her hips, leaning forward with a playful smile. “My, you’re going to have so much fun aboard that boat.” She gave her a sly wink. “But yes, to be perfectly clear, our relationship matches that of the parent and the child - tradition expects us both to be mutually respectful, but not like a servant and a master or a mortal and a god. You, Arya, are our daughter, and may address us as ‘mother’, preferably. The rest of the customs can be discussed later, if you would like me to refresh your memory on those.”

She began to nod, ”O-Okay. I’d like that, mother.” she said with a smile.

Xiaoli smiled back. “Very good, Arya.”

“And there,” Hermes clap her hands once, “All done, all better.” She wiggled her fingers, and smiled, “Almost like magic.”

“I see His Lordship may not be the teacher he claims to be. I should send him a critical letter.” She scowled at the outside world for a moment.

“Maybe after we finish our meals and part ways for a time. I'd like to end on a happy note,” Hermes nodded, “Dreamer tradition.”

“And a good one at that,” Xiaoli giggled and had some more tea.

Arya gave a content sigh as she relaxed back into her pillow chair, looking at both of her mothers, and for the first time in a long time, she knew everything was going to be okay. This is what home felt like, and what a family was supposed to be, after all. An hour of bliss later (cut only by a few moments of Hermes running out to check on the babies), and a few tight hugs Arya departed. As Arya walked out the gate to join the Servants waiting for her on the outside, the mansion’s population was once more reduced to Hermes and Xiaoli - with the children, of course.

The dining room fell to silence, save for the clatter of the plates being tucked away for washing. A brief hum came from the river-girl and she finally said, “So that’s that, huh.”

“You think I'm fat,” Hermes suddenly jumped in, a deep frown on her face.

Xiaoli shot her a sideways glance. “I never said that,” she said quietly and drummed her fingers together.

“You didn't have to,” Hermes put a pile of plates in the wash basin and folded her arms, staring intently.

Xiaoli sighed in defeat and ran her eyes up and down Hermes again, her frown growing. “I don’t think you’re fat, sweetgrass! Just…” She paused and rubbed her hand over her mouth. “... Your appetite -was- elevated during the pregnancy.”

Hermes gasped, “Xiaoli!” She lifted her shirt over her stomach, revealing a long stretch mark on her left abdomen, and what remained of the pregnancy fat. Underneath, her muscle had remained unchanged, “You had to check!?”

Xiaoli shrugged carefully. “It may have just been your baggy shirt! L-looks normal to me! And again, I never said anything. You accuse me of thinking you’re fat, when I never did - ever.” She folded her arms and huffed.

“You look at me like you think I'm disgusting,” Hermes pouted and pulled her shirt down, “I saw the look you gave me during dinner.”

“What look? Come on, Hermes, you know I could never see you as disgusting.” She approached quietly, arms held out in an embracing manner.

“You know the look,” Hermes took a step back, “You know I've been sensitive about the changes since the twins and when I said I felt fat doing nothing you examined me like I was one of your projects and then changed the subject.”

Xiaoli’s brow furrowed. “You’re overthinking this, Hermes. There was nothing to that look. The subject was sensitive, so I chose to avoid it - like you do when you are eating dinner.” Her voice grew stern and sharp.

Hermes narrowed her eyes, “Well fine, but you don't have to get mad at me.”

“Oh, -I’m- the one getting mad. Alright.” She sucked in a deep breath. “Let’s just drop this for now, okay? There are chores to be done.”

Hermes crossed her arms, “Fine.” The room fell silent. Xiaoli passed by Hermes and sat down by the washing basin. She filled it with water and began to scrub the dishes.

“It's my thighs, isn't it,” Hermes suddenly piped up, looking up from the table and the washcloth in her hand.

Xiaoli groaned. “Hermes, we agreed to drop it, didn’t we?”

“Yup!” Hermes scrubbed vigorously, a scowl on her face. She stood up and tossed the cloth onto the table, “I need to get a breath of air real quick.”

Xiaoli sighed. “Hermes?”

“Yes?” Hermes looked over, halfway to the door.

“It’s the thighs,” she conceded with a defeated look and put down the plate she was scrubbing.

Hermes looked down at her legs and frowned, “R-Really?”

The river-girl nodded slowly. “I don’t think it’s disgusting - just…” She bit her lower lip. “It’s new,” she mumbled.

“Well you can't expect me to be perfect right after giving birth,’” Hermes huffed with a hurt look in her eyes.

“I know, I know! It’s just my perfectionism acting up again and it ended up hurting you and--” She closed her eyes and calmed herself. “I love you, Hermes. Nothing has changed. I’m just being… A bit too much like myself.”

Hermes stared at Xiaoli, her brow a slant and her eyes clearly upset. Finally she said, “I love you too.” Almost doubling over her words she quickly added, “It's going to go away. Do I need to be worried every time I have a child? It's not even that much!”

“You don’t need to worry! I won’t comment on it again. Really, there is no reason to think this will affect anything.” Xiaoli picked up a plate again and began to scrub.

Glancing at Hermes’ face now and again Xiaoli recognised the flicker in Hermes’ eyes, one that would eventually come after her temper and her more emotional moments. Finally Hermes sighed, her voice a shade calmer, “Well, at least you told me.”

“You know how I hate being direct, meanie,” Xiaoli pouted and stacked the final plate onto the tower of pottery before standing up and moving to wipe the table.

“I know and it really nags at me sometimes,” Hermes rolled her eyes, “Tables already wiped.”

Xiaoli gave it a quick lookover. “So it is. I’ll clean the floor, then,” she said and grabbed the broom by the wall. She then began to sweep together the dust and refuse that they had pulled inside.

Hermes sighed, “Xiaoli?”

“Hmm?” Xiaoli hummed.

The dreamer cleared her throat, as if swallowing her temper, “I do appreciate it when you do tell me things, or like when you talked with Arya. I know it’s not your favorite thing to do.”

“Yeah…” Xiaoli mumbled and wrinkled her nose. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but it won’t exactly be the norm.”

“I know,” Hermes admitted, “And I’m not asking you to change, just know that I do notice it when you do, and it makes things a little easier. Now that I know what’s been on your mind about the Arya thing, and my own weight issues, it doesn’t seem as pressing as before.”

“They aren’t--” She cut herself off. “... Don’t call them issues - it implies they must be fixed.” She swept the gathered dust and litter out the doorway past Hermes. “Like you said. It’s natural and nothing to be ashamed about. I’m happy I’ve made it easier on you, but… Could-... Could we drop it now?” Her face was pink with embarrassment, or possibly shame.

“Okay,” Hermes nodded and slumped onto one of the cushions. There was a pause and Hermes eyes flickered down in thought.

Xiaoli began putting the plates and cups back on their shelves, quiet all the while. She also put the tea container back on the shelf. Hermes brought a hand up to her chin and pinched it, her brow lowering as her thoughts deepened.

Xiaoli added a few more logs to the hearth and sighed. “What are you thinking about, dear?”

“Well,” Hermes started and let her hand fall to her side, “I was just thinking -- with my massive thighs, how are you going to fit on the bed?” The side of her lips curled slightly as she attempted to remain serious.

Xiaoli’s lips flattened and her brow sank low over her eyes.

“I’m joking!” Hermes stood up, a small laugh in her throat, “Oh Xiaoli,” She walked over to the river-girl.

Xiaoli crossed her arms over her chest, her teeth gritting against one another, causing Hermes to stop and flinch. She took a deep breath through the nose. “Are you really just going to keep rubbing it in my face until I grovel or something?”

“No!” Hermes chest sank, “I’m sorry, Xiaoli.”

“I’ve asked you to drop it, I don’t know how how many-- No, no. I’m not mad. I am -not- mad. I started this, so I should naturally be shamed for it. Yes, naturally.”

“Nonono” Hermes shook her head, “Don’t worry about it, really. I won’t bring it up again.”

“Right, won’t you, now? Sure.”

“I don’t even know what it is anymore,” Hermes gave a single nod, “All done.”

Xiaoli walked over to her, leaned forward and prodded her chest with her index finger. “That’s right. All done. I will go see to the boys. Would you gather us some more firewood in the meanwhile, please?”

Hermes rubbed her chest and nodded, “Of course, sure. If Wenbo is awake, don’t let him have his spoon.”

“Yes, and keep anything smaller than a fist away from Chagatai’s mouth.” She dusted herself off a little and went to walk out the door.



“Maybe tomorrow instead of hunting... you, me and the boys go for a walk?”

Xiaoli blinked, then smiled warmly with a single chuckle. “I’d like that,” she said affectionately.

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Hidden 1 yr ago Post by Strange Rodent
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Strange Rodent Rodent of Unusual Size

Member Seen 3 mos ago

The form was bubbling away from Eurysthenes’ grasp. Every second took a turn pushing This One further down. Down to the places within itself dominated by indescribably enlightening, yet titanically terrifying images. The Ë̷̮́ņ̴͗i̵͔̋g̷̗̚m̷̼̊a̴̡̚.
As it shrank, Vakk grew.

A tingle rent the spine that would usually belong to Eurysthenes.

”This a shameful display, Eurysthenes. I expected you to at least fight for the control of your body,” the many voices of That One rang through the shared body. Vakk followed the statement with a cruel, mocking laugh, pushing the soul of Eurysthenes down as the body began to twitch and convulse. It was a painful process, each separate piece having to submit to Vakk’s control as they moved to connect to a different point.

Where there was seven arms became two, as each separate piece connected and each excess formed a covering over the legs that now belonged to Vakk. The short, yet excruciating time was over as Vakk surprised Eurysthenes and inspected new hands, moving the pieces around before the many voices gave another sadistic laugh as it appeared to look into itself. The soul of Vakk, seemed to look right into the that of Eurysthenes as it cracked a neck that no longer belonged to its former master.

”You know, Eurysthenes. I find it funny how you were so eager to kill me, yet you barely fought to protect your own body,” Vakk mocked once more.

It heard the words as one would through thick fog, if fog obscured hearing. They were drowned, desaturated. Devoid. And though very little sound entered the fog, less left. A reply was attempted, but it was fruitless.

One thought cut through the rest, and shoved Eurysthenes with gusto. What would Vakk do with this control?

The silence was a deafening thing, a silence that Vakk was all to used to from its past life but facing it again made it anxious. There was a moment as Vakk awaited some reply, any reply at all, but there was nothing that came from the subdued soul of Eurysthenes. That One waited longer and longer, standing upright as it searched for any sign that Eurysthenes was going to attempt to take back control of the puzzling body. However, all that Vakk was met with was that continued silence before the voices would speak once more, a worried tone coming over them, urging a reply from Eurysthenes.


Nothing came and a tension grew within Vakk as it began to move, pacing back and forth within the maze for a moment. The concern was not for Eurysthenes, but rather it was the unknown of not knowing what to actually do now that it had control of the body. That One merely stood there, moving its head around before settling watching the Aroiox from a distance. Perhaps, Eurysthenes had meant for Vakk to go to them and guide them? Was this all meant for That One to practice its new life without anger?

Even then, that did not explain why Eurysthenes had said nothing as Vakk took control of the body so effortlessly. They both knew that Eurysthenes was as strong as Vakk. They both knew Vakk was as strong as Eurysthenes. There was no rhyme or reason to the silence when had spoken to the jester before they had created the Aroiox.

”Speak! I command thee to speak!” Vakk demanded, no anger present in the many voices as it continued the inward search.


”I did not do this to keep you silent, Eurysthenes. I know you. You are resistant and cunning. Come, try to retake the body. Lest I escape the maze and make a new body for myself, I know you have the power. Remember when you had me at your mercy when I was first within the maze? This is your home. Would you allow me to reform my body and break your great containment further?”


So the worst was to come of its failure to contain Vakk. Eurysthenes slumped. It seemed that even a moment of lapse was enough for this… thing to take control. It had only wanted to watch the Maze in silence and without worry.

Vakk kept saying how This One hadn’t put up a fight. It had, but the fight was over before it even started. Something had given way somewhere, and it had lost.

It raised its head in a meek kind of defiance as it sank yet further.

That One waited and waited, the overbearing silence finally sinking its mind like an anchor sank into sand. Vakk let out a sigh before turning its attention back the Aroiox, watching them for many moments as they did nothing but squabble and attempt to display dominance over one another. It seemed that they did not care to leave the maze, content to stay in one spot even though Vakk knew Galbar would be better for them. However, Vakk was conflicted, knowing that moving into the affairs of mortals was a way to get the ire of other gods.

The idea struck as suddenly as the conflict had, a new way to perhaps get a rise out of Eurysthenes in the new creation they shared. The idea drove Vakk to move towards the Aroiox, standing over them as they became surprised at the sudden appearance of their creator god. He was silent as he looked upon them, stepping between them and inspecting each individual.

”I am Vakk,” the many voices of That One spoke, the Aroiox looking upon the form with awe, curiosity, and reverence. Vakk stopped in the center of the population before speaking once more, ”I am your creator, just as Eurysthenes is. It is your duty, as bestowed by the divine, that you are to go to Galbar. Leave this maze and settle upon a new land. You have been gifted with capabilities to navigate the maze; wings to move faster than those who walk and cunning to solve the many riddles and puzzles that Eurysthenes has made.”

Vakk leaned down to see two brothers, side by side and very much holding a bond that Vakk was unfamiliar with. The god looked between the other Aroiox before standing upright once more. ”Lead yourselves and prove to Eurysthenes and I that you are ready for Galbar.” With those words, Vakk disappeared from their view, leaving the avians to their own devices to only watch from a distance.

It took some time for the population to organize themselves, one of them taking charge with promises that the gods shall love them for their cunning. The two brothers Vakk had seen earlier rallied behind the leader and soon so had the others, all of them moving as one to navigate the maze.

”Here is your new purpose, Eurysthenes. We shall guide them, just as I had said earlier,” Vakk said, a disdain coming over the voices. With another sigh, That One began to lose focus on the body as it spoke to the absent Eurysthenes, ”You may have your body back. I grow bored with it anyways.”


Deep in the fog, Eurysthenes heard the mute sound of Vakk’s voice. It was telling This One to take the body back. Surely this must be a trick. A deception of Vakk, designed with vicious disdain.

Only, the pressure was lifting, and like ink in water, Eurysthenes began to spread back through the body. Each piece painlessly accepting its return, welcoming it even. Whether this painlessness was due to its previous ownership over this body or Vakk’s willing relinquishment would remain a mystery.

The unease did not slip away when This One gained a foothold, nor when it regained control. The nagging doubt at the back of its mind held on in the places that neither Vakk nor The Enigma could.

With a quiver in it’s voice, Eurysthenes said ”You don’t… you don’t spend all your time there, do you?”

”Do I spend all my time where?” Vakk inquired, truly unknowing to what Eurysthenes had been pushed into.

”The cold part,” Eurysthenes said. As it spoke, images flashed through Vakk’s mind, answering the one question, but paving the way to a million others that it wouldn’t even know to ask yet.

Vakk grew silent, unknowing of what to do with the information that it had just been given despite now knowing what Eurysthenes was on about. ”I do not know that place. I am next to you, observing and speaking,” That One stated before the soul seemingly moved away from Eurysthenes, who stood in silence.


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Hidden 1 yr ago 1 yr ago Post by Not Fishing
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Not Fishing The Mediocre

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Anhaf loosed the arrow, and it nearly found its mark. Alongside him, the other Selka did the same. It had been nearly five days since that first hunting trip - two weeks since the bird arrived at the village. Now, every day, Arryn led a party of hunters out to gather food. And just yesterday, he had decided that one of the hunters was fit to lead a hunting party of their own. Now they had two teams on the hunt instead of just one.

The rest of the Selka kept busy by continuing their archery practice, or stubbornly going out to find what fish still remained. Anhaf had decided to join in on the practice, as a means of encouraging his people. He had not claimed the title of chief through blood or force; the tribe had elected him. Thus, it was important that he be held in high regard. He had the best intentions for his people, but if they had no faith in him, he could be deposed, and then someone less worthy might take his place. His people had already begun to doubt his leadership when the shortage began, and even more doubts had emerged when he so readily began listening to the bird, but now that the hunters were beginning to consistently bring back food those doubts had been erased.

He glanced over at the shrine of Kirron - a boulder, flat side facing up, covered with blood and topped by a skull. It had not come from a creature they killed themselves, but rather one they found dead in the wild. With all the meat on it, they had believed it to be a gift from Kirron. They had poured its blood on a rock and mounted its skull on top to create a place of worship. Many in the tribe prayed there daily.

The most common worshiper, aside from Anhaf himself, was Tohash - an older Selka. Tohash was respected for his age, knowledge, and faith. He had even been a contender for chief, but had accepted his loss with grace. Lately, however, he had proven problematic. He stubbornly refused to learn the bow, instead spending all his time praying or fishing. Tohash still believed that, with enough patience and faith, Kirron would bring the fish back. He had even gone so far as to refuse to consume any meat other than fish, and Anhaf could not grasp why. When asked, Tohash refused to answer.

Anhaf had decided to leave the older Selka be. Tohash still brought in fish, which meant he was still contributing, and therefore there was little practical reason to force him to pick up a skill he had no interest in.

Anhaf glanced over at a group of Selka who, sharp stones in hand, carved away at sticks. They were crafting more arrows, as Arryn had taught them. The arrows Arryn had given them were more or less just smaller, better balanced versions of the wooden spears they used to catch fish. Given how often they ended up lost, broken, or bent beyond use, it had been a sensible decision to craft more. Indeed, the bird had been nothing but useful. Arryn had taught them valuable knowledge, and even now led a hunting party to help bring them more food. The Avatar had never asked for anything in return, but Anhaf knew that the Hunting God and his Avatar had to be repaid.

Then he had an idea. He ordered the six Selka with him to lower their bows. "Follow me!" he said, and then led them into the forest. Tohash looked up from prayer and caught his eye, furrowing a brow in suspicion, but then turned back to the altar.

They emerged from the forest a short while later, carrying a stone boulder. They brought it to the beach, where they washed the worms and mud from the bottom, and then they carried it back to the village. They did not place it directly in the center, but instead near the western edge, close to the tree where the hunters practiced their archery. They positioned it so that the flat side faced the sun, and then Anhaf considered what to put on it.

Arryn had told him the importance of ensuring they used as much as what they killed as possible. And Anhaf had done his best to follow that, making sure that every edible morsel of meat was consumed.

That gave him an idea. What better way to show that they were honouring Kalmar's teachings than to decorate the altar with proof? So, he retrieved the skull and bones of last night's meal - a great antlered beast that had been brought down. Its bones were more or less picked clean. He brought them to altar, placed the skull on top, and then began to arrange them in a neat pile.

"Anhaf! What are you doing?" Tohash's voice demanded from behind him.

Anhaf turned to see the Selka standing, with spear in hand. It was the first time Tohash had spoken to him in days. "I'm building an altar," he answered.

"We already have an altar to Kirron. Why do we need two? And where is the blood?" Tohash inquired, his eyes narrowed.

"This altar is not for Kirron," Anhaf answered. "It is for Kalmar."

Tohash clenched his fists, a look of outrage on his face. There was a tense silence. He sucked in air, and his eyes bore into Anhaf's. Then, he almost seemed to explode. "NO!" he shouted. If they entire village wasn't already paying attention to the spectacle, they were now. "You allow the servant of a false god into our village. You accept his teachings, you get us to turn against our old ways, all while spending less and less time praying at Kirron's shrine. Then you go and build... this!" he waved a frustrated hand to indicate the shrine. "You've gone too far!"

Anhaf glanced at the villagers. Only one or two seemed to share Tohash's anger. They were still on his side. Good. He looked back at Tohash and met the older Selka's gaze, raising his voice so that all his people could hear. "I don't know about you, but there is more than enough room in my heart for two gods. Anyone here may worship only Kirron, or only Kalmar, if they want, but there is no reason we can't worship both!" he declared. Many of the Ubbo nodded along to his words.

Tohash was not satisfied. "Ingrate!" he shouted in rage, stepping forward and pointing his spear at Anhaf. "Kirron is our creator! He made us! No gifts and no lessons can compare to that! Had you been patient, had you kept faith, we would not have needed the bird's help in the first place!" Tears began to form in his eyes, but the anger in his voice did not dull. "There is still hope. Tear down this shrine, send the bird away, burn those weapons, and Kirron might return to us."

Anhaf raised an eyebrow. "You're the one who accuses Kirron of abandoning us, and you say I lost faith?" he challenged.

Tohash shook his head. "Don't you see? Why do you think the fish disappeared? It is because Kirron was displeased with us! It was meant to remind us how much we need him, to bring us closer to him! Instead, you ignored this lesson and steered us into the shadow of a false god!"

"The fish are gone, either because we caught too much or because they chose to move elsewhere." Anhaf answered.

Tohash sighed, and closed his eyes. "The bird told you that, didn't he? That is what he wants you to think!" Then he opened his eyes, and his resolve hardened. "You are no longer fit to lead," he declared and then stepped forward, so that his spear was only an inch from Anhaf's throat. "You will step down, and give-"

Anhaf's hand lashed out and grabbed the spear. He pointed it away from his throat and ripped it from the Tohash's grip, then jabbed the butt of the weapon into the older Selka's stomach. Tohash fell to the ground, gasping, but before the old man could get back up Anhaf had already turned the spear around and pressed the tip against his elder's throat.

"To threaten the chieftan is to threaten the entire tribe," Anhaf declared. "You know that as well as anyone." He pulled the spear back as if to strike, and then thrust it into the dirt next to Tohash's head. "From this day forth, you are no longer Ubbo, and you are a Selka only in name. You are exiled, and you may never return."

Tohash's rage redoubled, and he leapt to his feet. "You cannot stand for this!" he shouted to the rest of the tribe. "This is blasphemy! Stand with me, and we can set things right!"

There was silence. Then, one Selka stepped forward - Tohash's son, Yulaf. Moments passed, and then two more came forward. A few seconds later, one of them quickly scooted back it when it became clear nobody else intended to offer support. Nonetheless, those who were willing to stand with him walked right up to Tohash's side. In response, the six hunters who had helped set up the shrine appeared next to Anhaf.

Anhaf looked at the two Selka were evident disapproval. "If you wish to join Tohash in exile, you may." They glared back at him, and when he realized they had nothing to say, he continued speaking. "You have one hour to leave." One hour to say their goodbyes and gather their belongings. And so they turned away to do exactly that.

The other Selka went back to their business, and once he was no longer the center of attention, Anhaf let out a deep breath. Had he made the right decision? He had decided to put faith in both Kirron and Kalmar, but what if Tohash's words had been true? And even if they weren't, had banishing him been the right move? He had lost three of his people, including his best fisherman, and who knew how many others secretly disagreed with his decision?

Part of him also felt like he had failed. He had liked Tohash, and respected him. Perhaps he could have tried harder to convince him, or asked for the rest of the tribe's consensus before building the new shrine.

He rubbed his temples. Times were simpler, back when the fish were plentiful and he only knew of one god. But times had changed. He had accepted that, and Tohash had not.

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Hidden 1 yr ago 1 yr ago Post by Lord Zee
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Lord Zee There must always be... A Zee

Member Seen 17 hrs ago




Silver felt a comfortable weight lifted from her mind, and her eyelids fluttered open. After a few moments of looking at the ceiling with half-lidded eyes and the occasional yawn stretching her beautiful features, her hearing came back. Footsteps from below, in the kitchen. Heavy, fearless footsteps.

Laurien. The woman thought.

She rubbed the remaining sleep off her eyes and sat up, letting the furs fall off her pure, nude body. A very pleasurable stretch of her arms and back later, she groaned happily and left her comfy bed. She went to her new wardrobe and slipped on her usual heavy duty trousers, leather boots and cotton shirt and vest. She messed with her hair and when satisfied she was presentable, she went down the stairs and turned to enter the kitchen. Sure enough, there was Laurien, back turned and fiddling with something on the counter. Silver moved straight to an empty seat at the dining table, and then stared intently at the back of her head, a placid, tired smile finding its way onto her face as she supported her head on her arms, which were propped on the table.

”Careful now, little chickadee.” Came Laurien’s voice as she gave Silver a side glance, ”A smile like that is all sorts of enticing.” the woman mused before turning her attention in front of her. Silver blushed and looked away. Laurien paused briefly, then turned around to reveal one small wooden bowl, and a larger bowl. She beamed a smile at Silver and went to sit in her chair, one Orvus had crafted to accommodate her size.

”This morning I thought you might enjoy some breakfast in bed, but here you are.” Laurien said, placing the bowl in front of Silver. ”Fresh fruit, just as you like it. Do enjoy.” Laurien then picked up an oversized spoon and dug in, taking a few bites.

Silver smiled gratefully and took her bowl of fruit eagerly. She wasn’t hungry at all. Her skin crawled, there were ladybugs in her stomach, and she wanted to hide under the comfy furs of her bed. Every word that Laurien said made her feel that way. She hated it, and loved it at the same time.

“I actually am not that hu--” She stole a glance at Laurien’s face and immediately looked away again, gingerly taking a slice of apple and nibbling on it. “The fruit you make for me always tastes great.”

Nauseating. Silver’s head was swimming. Was her body not designed to deal with this clash of feelings? Perhaps it was her soul...

Laurien was about to take another bite when her eyes fell upon Silver, the woman cocked her head slightly as she squinted her eyes at her small friend’s posture and face, as if dissecting every part of her.

“H-Heh, don’t look at me like that…! Oh,” Silver gasped and frowned, “Did I forget to fix my hair when I woke up?” Muttered the fire-haired woman, running her hands numerous times through her locks of wavy hair.

Laurien said nothing, but set her spoon on the table beside her bowl. Then the woman stood up, grabbed her chair, and walked over to where Silver sat. Laurien then placed her chair next to Silver, and sat down, placing her elbow on the table as she leaned to look at Silver again, who seemed to physically shrink, hiding her face behind her hair. There was a playful smile on her face as she said, ”Your hair could be messy or not, I wouldn’t mind. Now,” Laurien placed her free hand on the table close to Silver, ”What’s a matter? I can tell something is up.” she said warmly.

Silver grabbed a single grape and looked at it, then set it back down. She gulped and breathed in deeply. She had never felt such a raging mix of emotion. Usually, she had everything under control, but this woman… This Goddess, she couldn’t keep herself composed in her presence.

“Y-You can’t fool me anymore, Laurien!” She said suddenly, some fire to her voice, even though she was still blushing and most of her face was hidden in the shadow of her hair. “You have to be using some kind of magic, some divine manipulation of my feelings! It’s the only answer. I’m a mortal, so it makes sense! T-That when presented with a Goddess I-I’d feel so…” Vulnerable, is what she’d have liked to say, but her pride was too strong. “So weak. I’ve never blushed before, how does someone that came from Orvus have this strange power?!”

Laurien did not move her gaze from Silver as she spoke, but her smile turned softer as Silver went on. When Silver was finished speaking, Laurien used her free hand to gently move the hair obscuring SIlver’s face. She tucked the long red locks behinds the girls ear, then whispered, ”There, much better.” After a moment of inspection from Laurien she spoke again, ”I’m flattered you would call me a goddess, but come now, you were there when I was created. I think you know I have no such powers of manipulation or magic that entices the soul. Nor is this something my Father anticipated. No, I think you know exactly what’s happening.” Laurien finished in a murmur, now gently caressing Silver’s burning cheek. She leaned in closer and said softly, ”You’re not weak, you’re just afraid and you know something? That’s okay,” Laurien moved even closer to Silver, their legs now touching as she bent her head towards Silver’s, the smaller woman turning her face to look directly at Laurien, her eyes wide, heartbeat strong and lips slightly parted. Then from Laurien’s lips escaped a whisper, ”For the heart wants, what the heart wants, chickadee.”

A palpable tension filled the room. All Silver could hear was her own heart thumping angrily at her eardrums, and her breath was shallow. Her whole body trembled. An intense warmth washed over her, and she half-closed her eyes.

In a single, quick movement, the redheaded woman leaned forward and planted a soft, fleeting kiss on Laurien’s lips.

The kiss was exhilarating for Laurien, and made her body feel giddy with excitement. A large smile fell upon her lips as her eyes beckoned to Silver. The tall woman then attacked Silver’s lips with her own. With deep passion and tender care. She wrapped her arms around Silver, her grip strong but comforting as they found their way to the floor. Outside, the birds were chirping.

Heliopolis began to set, soon the world would be enveloped in dark and cold, but in the small cabin, on an island in the vast ocean- Laurien with Silver, wrapped up in furs, welcomed the night. They laid a top Silver’s bed, comfortable in the silence of soft breathing. But such comfort seldom lasts.

It was Laurien who broke the silence. She twirled SIlver’s hair with her fingers as she spoke, ”Mhmm. What a fun day. I had no idea you knew so much.” she mused.

Silver bit her lower lip and shrugged, at least as well as she could while having her arms wrapped around Laurien. “Is that a bad thing, Laurie?” She broke the intimate embrace to stretch, moaning softly into Laurien’s ear. A moment later, she sighed happily and let her arm wrap around Laurien’s.

”No, not at all.” Laurien purred, letting the room flood back to silence. The type that made you sleepy. But Laurien knew she couldn’t sleep that night. She let out a soft sigh before turning her head to look at Silver, ”I’m leaving, Chickadee. I have to go find Arya, bring her home... I wonder what’s she like.” she said thoughtfully.

Silver smiled sadly and nodded. “I understand. Divine quest, huh. Maybe I can play the part of the farm girl that eagerly awaits the return of her brave knight. Maybe I should stay awake until late each night in the hope that I’d see you walk into view. What do you think?” Silver asked with a smirk, squirming and moving under the furs until she smoothly slid onto Laurien’s body, straddling her waist and pressing her nose against hers. “What do you think?” She repeated.

With a free hand, Laurien began to stroke Silver’s back as a grin appeared on her lips. She planted a kick kiss on Silver’s cheek before saying, ”I think that you should do just that. Wait up for me, night after night,” she said dramatically, ”And when you at last see your brave knight come into view-”

“-I will drag them up to the bedroom and ‘coerce’ them into making up for making me wait for so long.”

”Oh will you now, little chickadee?” she giggled, beginning to tickle Silver on her sides, ”I’d like to see this coercion take place.” she said laughing playfully.

Silver let her lips graze against Laurien’s and closed her eyes. Feeling her lover’s breath caress her face made her shudder, “Do you really have to leave? We’re having so much fun…”

Laurien gave Silver a tight hug, and said softly, ”I know, I know. But I have to go.” she placed another kiss on Silver’s lips, then pulled back to look at her eyes. ”Silver, you've been the best part of my short life. Leaving you is like… Leaving all I know behind and I don't even know when I'll be back. I'd like this moment to last forever, but I know I have a duty to perform. So for now, let's have this night and in the morning I'll be gone.” she lulled happily.

Silver looked back into Laurien’s eyes and tilted her head. A duty, huh? She thought, I nearly forgot my own...

Silver smiled sadly and got off of Laurien, plopping back down onto the bed and embracing her lover tightly. “Can we stay like this, then? We’ve already done quite a bit of... ‘Exercise’,” Silver said with a chuckle, before yawning and nuzzling her face against Laurien’s shoulder. “And, I want to find out if you snore as passionately as you do all other things, Laurie.” She said softly, her eyes nearly closed.

”Of course little Chickadee, of course.” Laurien whispered intimately, wrapping her arm around Silver as they laid there. Laurien then began to hum a little tune, one that even escaped her. It was sad but calming and after a short while, then two drifted off to sleep.

When morning at last came, Laurien carefully untangled herself from Silver, and gently placed her in the center of the bed. Next, she covered the small woman’s body underneath the furs, revealing only her head. Gently, and with a sad expression, Laurien leaned in close and placed a kiss a top Silver’s brow.

She lingered, watching the girl sleep peacefully, without a care in the world. Then Laurien spoke, ”Goodbye, Silver. We will meet again.” and with that, she made her way down stairs, taking caution to not make a noise. Laurien then donned her cloak, put her pendant on, and grabbed her weapons. She exited the house, shutting the door quietly behind her.

When she turned around, Orvus was waiting for her. The god sat upon the wooden steps, facing the jungle. Laurien sat down next to him and waited. After a moment of the morning chorus, Orvus spoke. ”So the journey begins.” he said, ”But I have one last gift.” Orvus then took her hand within his own. Immediately her head began to spin as memories became her own. She could briefly see the entire world, then all of the landmasses set in the vast ocean. As quickly as they flooded her mind, it was over but the rush lingered.

”The last time I saw her, she was with Shenghsi, upon the continent that resembles a foot. Be weary of that one, Laurien, he is stout in his beliefs and you would do well to refer to him, as ‘His Holiness’.” Laurien gave him a quizzical look but nodded. ”His home is a massive boat, hard to miss as it sits upon the water. You’ll know when you see it.”

Laurien nodded once more, waiting for anything else to be said, but when nothing did she began to stand, and made her way down upon the earth. She turned back to Orvus and said, ”Farewell Father. Do keep good care of Silver for me?”

Orvus looked at her with a blank expression, before it softened and he said, ”Goodbye Laurien. Do not worry about Silver, she will be waiting for you.”

Laurien then turned around and walked a short ways, before taking off into the sky.

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Hidden 1 yr ago 1 yr ago Post by AdorableSaucer
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AdorableSaucer Blessed Beekeeper

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The Wuhdige Tribe

The sea breeze tickled at the late autumn leaves of the tall trees by the beach. Birds tweeted their sweet songs to the rhythm of the wind and either looked diligently for places to rest for the winter, or had begun their trek northwards to warmer climates, their feather coat simply too thin for the winters this far south. In the woods, the bears were fattening up for the incoming seasonal change and looking around for caves to hibernate it. Deer, boars and other prey of the forest were biting and digging at the last grass and roots of the year, trying their best to scrape together enough fat to survive the cold. The weather around the island grew sourer and sourer in this time, with cold rains and bitter winds cutting at hide and fur like icy knives. The tall trees walled off some of the storms, yet only the hills in the island centre provided any shelter from the northern gusts. A curious, small hound, one of the few that existed on this island, scraped its weak legs against the grey sand on the southern beaches. It had not eaten for days - its competitors snatching far larger chunks of that rabbit they had found the other day. The starving hound had hoped to find a bird’s nest or perhaps a rotting fish on the beach, but it seemed like no such luck would grace the dog today. The weight of its body grew unbearable, and it collapsed onto the grainy shore, letting its black eyes stare out across the sea, fragmented between ice sheets. It heightened its gaze to see the familiar shadow of tall mountains keeping the true winter winds locked at the pole. The dog panted for air, knowing its minutes were numbered now. A fragile existence - finally broken by the force of nature. It closed its eyes and breathed out.

Waves crashed against the shore. The ear-shattering sound of ice sheets colliding filled the soundscape momentarily, then disappeared completely. The wind ran past the hound’s ear, then grew stiller than set snow. An anomaly broke the pattern of the waves.

“Look!” came a high-pitched voice. The hound’s crusted eyes would not open at first - it was as if even those muscles were spent. The muffled sound of steps in sand approached it - they were many. Perhaps it was his pack, or a rival pack. The hound found itself beginning to whimper, yet no sound exited its mouth. Fruitlessly, it attempt to kick off and run, but it barely managed to move its paws, even.

“You think it’s dead?” another voice said.

“‘Course it ain’t! It just moved!” said another slightly louder. Were they challenging one another for the chance to bite into it, the dog pondered. An odd way to go - barely a scrap of meat on its bones, yet it would be fought over like it was a fat boar. Oh, how the hound longed for the taste of boar…

“Oi, chief. Could we spare a fish for it? I think Odante wants to keep it.”

“W-well, it’s cute!” came a particularly high-pitched voice.

The hound finally managed the strength to open its eyes, but the image remained unfocused. All it saw were surrounding shadows, perched over it like vultures over carrion. It decided to close its eyes again - no use staring such a pathetic death in the eyes, anyway.

There came a rumbling grumble. “Let us hope that it will remember the faces of its helpers, then.” There came a high-pitched giggle before something crashed into the sand before the dog’s snout with a wet slap. A stink filled his nose - a strong one, for certain, but an intoxicating one. The hound began to salivate and its mouth parted to unleash its tongue upon the object. It was slimey and sandy, with a rough, scaley texture. The dog concluded that it had to be some form of food, so with its remaining strength, it parted its jaws again, leaned it head forward a little more in the sand, and bit into the object. Oily blood squirted forth into the hound’s mouth, recharging its energy in a flash. The next bite was eager; the next after that, even more so. Before long, the clouded vision became clear and the hound’s belly was, for the first time in days, full. Not even the fish bones remained as the dog happily licked its lips and looked at its saviours. They were tall and furry, most notably bipedal with a strange legs stick out of their shoulders that did not end in feet or paws at all. One of the creatures reached forth one of those funny limbs and began to scratch it behind the ear. It was an odd sensation, but not an unwelcome one - not that that very ear had been filling with sand for longer than it could recall.

“Oh, look at hiiiiiim! He sho cuuuute!” came the very high-pitched voice again, the source being the creature patting him affectionately. “What should we call him?”

“It’s your pet,” came the gruffy voice from before. “You will name it yourself.”

“Oh, really! Hmm…” The creature lifted its other arm. The hound grew uncomfortable at the attention - the crowd around it grew ever thicker.

“I think I will call it Hodinki!” said the voice. The volume was loud, louder than the dog had anticipated it being. It pulled itself from the creatures grasp and sprinted for the woods. It ran and ran, even as more calls and shouts hounded at ever quieting volumes. Finally, as it had come deep enough into the whitening woods, it dared turn and look back. They had not pursued. The hound looked forward again. Its pack was not far. Perhaps it could join them for a hunt tomorrow, now that it had eaten again. The hound looked back again. Then again, perhaps there would be more fish for it if it ever went back to those strange creatures.

The hound looked forward again and began to trot back to its pack. Silly to think strange creatures would just give away food for free like that.

“WAAAAAAAA-HA-HAAAAA!” Odante cried as she knelt into the sand. Behind her stood her brothers Jokuanhe and Tokuhe laughing their blubber off. The gruffy grumbles of their father managed to silence their chortles, however, and the large selka knelt down to pat his daughter on the shoulder.

“Such things happen, daughter,” the selka said. “It was starving, but we helped it out. Now, it has probably gone home to its own family.”

“Buh-but…” The selka child rubbed the tears out of her large eyes and sniffed. “I wanted it…”
“You can’t own living things, daughter. They have lives and families of their own. Another one will surely come to greet us in time.”

Odante wiped some snot out of her whiskers and let out a single, “hmph”. The larger selka squeezed her shoulder and stood up. He turned to his sons.

“Take Yupu and Aga and find us a cave or something. The wind is mean today.” The brothers nodded, slapped the other selka in question on the back and set off in a wobbly trot along the coast. “Okako’e, come here.”

A chubby selka female dragging one white and grey selka toddler by her one arm and carrying a white-furred pup on her other, came over to the chieftain. “What is it, husband?” she asked softly. The large selka’s lips curved into an affectionate smile and he caressed the small pup nuzzled up against her bosom.

“Did everyone make it ashore?” His gruff voice carried in it a gentle warmth. Okako’e returned the smile and looked down at the pup. The toddler holding her hand stuck his other hand in his mouth and sucked on it absentmindedly.

“Yeah, as far as I can see. The Yupas, the Dondwehs, the Agohs, the Elus, all have made it.”

The large selka furrowed his brow. “What about the Wogwehs?”

Okako’e shook her head. “They never left the shore, my love.”

He grumbled and shook his head. “I see they weren’t too sure about the long swim. I hope the winter will be easy on them regardless. The shores should still be brimming with fish - they can still gather some before the white sheets form again.”

Okako’e nodded and looked outwards to the sea. “On that note, we should probably fill our stores, too. When our sons come back, we'll take the tribe to our new home. Send some of the men and scout the waters. We need to make certain there will be fish there for the winter.”

The large selka nodded with a gruff ‘mhm’. “Odende, Yupe, Yuge, Yupi, Dondo’e, Donwah, Agu’e, Agu’yo, Elop, Eliap, Jo’eliap and Eliul - to me.” The twelve males of varying ages, the youngest, Eliul, being barely a teenager, and the eldest, Yupe, whose fur had begun to whiten again, all came up to the large selka. He nodded at them. “I know you are tired from the journey, but we only brought with us enough fish to live on for maybe…” He counted his fingers. “... A few days! Therefore, we gotta get more. Yupe, take your sons west and see what you can find where the sheets end.”

“Yes, chieftain,” Yupe said and beckoned along Yuge and Yupi, who both ended up supporting the old selka as he waddled away slowly.

“Odende, take your sons and the Agoh boys and fish in the waters from where we came. There, at least, we know there is some food.”
“Right away, chief,” said Odende with a grin and pulled along Dondo’e and Donwah. Agu’e and Agu’yo looked to their mother, Agoi, who gave them each a quick hug.

“You two be careful, alright? Remember what the waters can ho--”

“Let the boys go fish, for Kirron’s sake,” the large selka said with a wry grin. Agoi stared daggers at him before kissing her sons goodbye, both of whom reluctantly accompanied the Dondwehs with sheepish frowns on their faces.

“They ain’t gonna grow up to be proper boys when you treat them like pups all day, Agoi,” the large selka grumbled.

“How I treat my boys is none of your business, Tokuanhe,” the woman said in a surly manner, stomped over to a rock and sat herself down. Tokuanhe rubbed his nose and put his hands on his hips.

“Maybe it ain’t, but all I know is that we all have to work together to survive - and boys reluctant to fish make for poor partners.”

Agoi pouted and looked away. Tokuanhe let out a gruff sigh and pointed to the final four males. “Elu brothers, you will take the western waters. Don’t walk too far - we still don’t know this island very well.”

“Got’cha, chief,” the four brothers said in varying voice pitches. The eldest, a young male named Elop, picked up Eliul and placed him on his shoulders, much to the younger brother’s displeasure. “Let me down, Elop!” he shouted angrily, kicking and waving his arms about to the sound of the surrounding laughter. The brothers all set off westwards in a slow stroll.

The wind began to blow again and the toddler holding Okako’e’s arm began to whimper. She looked down at him and then at the toddlers and pups in the arms of the other surrounding females.

“Yukuanhe and the others are getting cold,” she said. “How long does it take to find a cave?”

Tokuanhe shrugged. “There are usually quite a few of them by the sea - granted, this is not a particularly rocky island. The caves are bound to be further in.” The women turned to him with varying degrees of frowns.

“How far away from the sea?” Agoi asked bitterly. Tokuanhe shrugged again.

“Dunno. I suppose we will have to wait until the boys return. Aga’s probably slowing them down.” The large male smirked smugly at Agoi, whose face turned a dark shade of purple.

“Why, I have neve-- You take that back right now, Tokuanhe!” The surrounding females all began to chuckle and chortle, waking a few of the groggy, sleeping pups. The chieftain crossed his arms over his chest and let out a loud guffaw. Agoi stomped over to him and began to slap at his large arms fruitlessly, further fueling the laughter.

“What’re we all laughing at?” came a voice behind them. The group turned in a hurry to face a grinning Jokuanhe. Tokuanhe grinned back and walked over to squeeze the shoulder of his son tightly and give his chest a light bump with his fist.

“We’re laughing at how you outran Aga like the beached seal he is!” the chieftain said and looked over the shorter selka’s head. “You did outrun him, right?” he whispered.

“Pa, of course, I did! He didn’t even come with! The rest are in the cave making preparations.”

“Oh,” Tokuanhe mumbled, seemingly a little disappointed. “Well, you -did- outrun him on the way there, right?”

Jokuanhe’s smile turned wry and he sighed. “Yes, pa, I sure did.”

“Haha! That’s my boy,” the chief exclaimed and bumped him again. “Now, where’s the cave?”

“Right, the cave. Come on, I’ll show ya.” Jokuanhe headed back into the woods. Tokuanhe gathered up the females and children and began to shepherd them after Jokuanhe.

“Oh, Agoi - you’ll stay here and wait for the others.”

“Why me?!” Agoi exclaimed in outrage.

“Because someone needs to guide your boys to their new home, that’s why,” he said with a smirk and walked off. Agoi stood dumbstruck for a moment before she angrily kicked a pebble and seated herself on the rock again.

Okako’e shook her head with a wry smile. “That was a little too far, my love. I would gladly have stayed behind.” Tokuanhe shook his head and dove under a snow-covered branch.

“She’s the only one without any pups - unless you count her grown sons. The children come first, simple as that.”

“I suppose so,” Okako’e conceded with a sigh. “Jokuanhe, how far away is it?”

“Just over here,” Jokuanhe answered as he skipped over a fallen trunk and into a dip in the terrain, which at one end led to a wide cleft between two small, stoney hills, floored with a small stream. “In there,” he said and pointed. “The ceiling curves inwards on the inside - makes for good cover against both snow and wind.”

Tokuanhe nodded. Tokuhe came running out of the cave with a wide grin on his whiskered face. “Ma, pa, you came! Come on in! Yupu’s gathered some dry leaves and made the ground all soft!” The young selka then went inside again. Tokuanhe grinned at Okako’e. “We have such great boys, don’t we?”

“What about me?” Odante pouted.

“Oh, and daughter, of course,” the chieftain added and rubbed the young selka’s furry little head. Then, they entered.

The cave was vast on the inside despite the small opening, with a ceiling tall enough that the selka would not have to squat most of the time - at least in the centre. Tokuanhe wagered it could fit the whole tribe plus a few more. The floor was flat and relatively even, with only a few bumps and shelves interrupting the mostly smooth texture. The top of the ceiling had a long crack in it that split the room in two with a long, thin wall of light that extended to the entrance. The stream in the middle of the cave was small, but could probably provide drinking water for the whole tribe. Tokuanhe carved out a spot for his family and sat himself down against the wall, his long back forcing him to slouch. Okako’e handed him the pup and wrapped her arms around the curious toddler who was seemingly testing its fangs’ effect on a pebble. Odante let out a loud ‘ah!’ and tried to pull the pebble out of her little brother’s mouth before he swallowed it. Jokuanhe and Tokuhe both grinned at the spectacle alongside their father. Meanwhile, the other families begun to settle in, dividing the cave up among the five families. The Yupas and Dondwehs settled closest to the chieftain’s family, whereas the Agohs, spearheaded by surly Agoi, placed themselves the furtherst away. The Elus, being the largest family, took up space on both sides of the lightwall.

The fishermen that had returned with Agoi brought varying amounts of food, the Yupas who travelled to the west coast having brought the most. The sons of Dondweh and Agoh had brought some fish, but it was clear that the ice sheets in the southern strait made it difficult to fish there. The Elus who travelled down the east coast told similar stories of unbreakable ice sheets that no doubt hid bounties of fish underneath.

“Well, then I suppose we must spend the winter figuring out how to break the ice,” Tokuanhe mumbled with a mouth full of fish. Yupu pulled at his long whiskers and pursed his lips.

“We could use big stones to smash the ice,” he proposed. “It should be weak in some parts, and then once the hole is big enough, we hop in and fish as normal.”

“Won’t that be a little dangerous?” Elop asked with a raised hand. “What if the ice freezes again?”

“The boy has a point,” said Odende. “The southern ice sheets almost stretch to the shore now - but late winter, they will be lying on the beach, too. If someone goes fishing under the ice, someone else must remain on the surface, ready to smash apart the ice if it should freeze again.”

“Hear, hear,” said Yupu. Tokuanhe rubbed his blubbery chin. “Aga, anything to add?” he asked at he looked to the opposite side of the cave.

Aga, who was currently reluctantly being inspected for parasites by his mother, grumbled and shook his head. “Ma--Ma! It’s fine, tru-- No, sounds very good as is! Ma, I’m good now!” He pushed her away gently and shuffled a little closer to the other males. “Ahem… Nothing to add.”

Tokuanhe nodded. “That settles it, then. The western sea will be our main fishing grounds for the time being. If the sheets take them, we’ll knock them open with rocks.” He took a deep breath and looked at the surrounding selka with a smile. “Look around you, friends - we, the Tokuan, the Yupa, the Dondweh, the Agoh and the Elu, have finally found a home after all these days and nights, weeks and months of travel. Now, we can rest and build a good place to grow up for our children, eh?”

There were smiled and nods among the tribesmen. Even Agoi’s lips curled a little. “By Kirron,” Tokuanhe continued, “the Wuhdige tribe will grow big, and our kids will have fish to eat every day! This, as your chieftain, I swear to you by Kirron!”

The tribesmen chuckled and clapped her hands in applause. This was it - the start of a whole new chapter in their lives. Life on Wuhdige Island had begun.

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Hidden 1 yr ago Post by Frettzo
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Frettzo Summary Lover

Member Seen 2 days ago

FP: 06 MP: 02

& Laina, Elegance and Girl.

A lone figure sat hunched over a boulder. Her chest heaved with each sob, and her tears dissolved into the air as soon as they dripped from her chin. She hadn’t chosen this spot out of a twisted desire to break down, no. She had been left there by the one she’d thought of as her saviour. Someone beautiful.

The tiny woman sobbed and shuddered. It was a long time before she fell into silence. She held her knees against her chest, her almost-silver blonde hair obscuring her face and bloodshot silver eyes.


The woman weakly lifted her head to look at the crow through her straight locks. It stared at her through phantasmal eyes sparkling with intelligence. It pecked at the ground briefly, letting out a faint ‘caw’. It looked back up and flew away, leaving the figure in somber solitude once again.

Heliopolis sank and as it did, the dusk came. On the tail of the evening, not only did it drag night along, but also a lone gentleman who now stood in the stretches of the world’s shadows. The black figure stood in front of the crying woman, hands in its pockets. Slowly two pale hands slipped out, and one reached into his jacket, pulling out a silk handkerchief. With a flick of his wrist, K’nell presented it to Laina.

The small projection took the handkerchief, even though it looked like a King's chambers' curtain in her arms. She wiped her face with it and sighed, "H-Hello, K'nell. I'm sorry, I would have tried to prepare myself had I known you were coming… "

“That's quite all right, I'm simply here to help,” K'nell knelt down to her level, and gave her a welcoming smile.

"The others abandoned me when I needed them the most… I don't think I deserve to live. I was too weak to lead them."

“Oh, I don't think so,” A cushion appeared under K'nell and he sat down, arms propped on bent knees, “You see dear, you are quite strong; perhaps more so than myself. The only issue here is that you're measuring your strength with the wrong ruler.”

" Strong? You keep saying that everytime we meet," Her voice shook and her lip quivered, "And yet look at me, broken."

“Your life is precious, and every speckle of yourself is important, no matter the state you may perceive it to be in,” K'nell laced his fingers together, “If not for polite company, I'd almost challenge you to show me otherwise.”

Laina offered K'nell a little, sad smile. "Always nice, K'nell…" and then she shuddered, "P-Polite company?"

“Colloquialism,” K'nell explained, “Don't ponder too much on it, my dear; I'm just happy to have found you. If it's any comfort to you, I have also located two of your others.”

Laina perked up and raised both her eyebrows, her sorrow dissipating in the blink of an eye. "Really?! Which ones? Did you find the red-haired one?"

“I’m afraid I have yet to collect her aid, but on me now I have your Elegance and your Childish charm,” K’nell offered.

Laina's whole body stiffened and she leaned back, "C-Childish?! I'm not childish!" She huffed and crossed her arms indignantly. A few moments later, she relaxed a little and opened her eyes, "... Am I? I really shouldn't be… I'm royalty."

“Ah,” K’nell shook his head politely, “You misunderstand me, my dear. I have simply found a shard of you that encompasses your childhood memories and attributes, an early augmentation to your development into who you have become. The tic before the toc, in a way.”

Laina stared at K'nell until understanding dawned onto her eyes. "Oh," She muttered, before sighing in relief and chuckling, "Oh."

"Where are they? If I remember correctly, they took human forms."

K’nell reached into his jacket pocket and withdrew a tiny pearlescent orb coupled with an icy shard, “They rest in here.”

As if on cue, the tiny orb began to glow and from it, the misty figure of a small girl formed. Translucent much like Laina, with short hair in the same platinum blonde colour and a black blindfold over her eyes.

"Big Sis!" The girl shouted suddenly, beginning to bounce and jump on K'nell's palm. "I thought the monster ate you! You should be soul poo by now!" She snickered, while Laina flushed and stammered.

"H-Hey, watch your language. Royalty can't be speaking like that-"

"I agree." Came a sophisticated voice from the icy shard. In a tame flash of light, the translucent form of a beautifully dressed woman materialised next to the girl, who immediately groaned and sat down cross legged, pouting.

K’nell watched with a certain amusement before shaking his head, “Very good then,” he looked to Laina. “Excuse my directness, but would it be too bold of me to assume that perhaps it would be best if you decided on our collective next step?”

The three fell silent, until Laina spoke. "Uhm, where's my-" The girl glared at Laina and the woman huffed indignantly, "Our body?"

“I had last seen it in your very own sphere, but there is not telling if it had stayed put,” K’nell offered, “Give me while and I shall locate it for you, of course.”

"Oh," Laina put a finger on top of her lips for a moment as she thought, "We should get it back, shouldn't we?"

“Unfortunately, my dear, that choice is yours,” K’nell noted, “Our forms aren’t exactly defining, but I do concede it would perhaps be best to reign in your lost body.”

"In any case," the Elegant woman began, "We'll need every shard in order to stand a chance at recovering the body from the Beast, won't we?"

"... And who knows what'll happen if we mix our strength like that?" Laina continued.

"It'll be cool, like a mind mage battle!" the girl said with a grin.

“Then it’s settled,” K’nell agreed, “We will unite all of the shards before attempting a corporeal recovery.”

"Yay!" The Girl jumped in excitement and hugged K'nell's pinkie finger, before dissipating back into a tiny orb.

"We'll have to be careful," Elegance said, frowning slightly.

"And quick, I can't bear to think what that monster is doing with our body… Ew." Laina scrunched up her nose.

Elegance smiled at Laina, "Fret not, I will make sure we do a thorough grooming after we take back our body." She then looked at K'nell and bowed her head, "Apologies for the topic, Mr. K'nell. Rather important matters I must say." She said with a hint of amusement in her smile.

“Think nothing of it,” K’nell offered a polite smile, “If not lost in my own thoughts, I’m adrift in one of my own daydreams anyhow.”

"You lose yourself in your dreams?" Laina asked, tilting her head.

“A figure of speech, my dear,” K’nell apologized, “You’ll have to excuse me.”

Laina chuckled, "Heh, I know it's a figure of speech, K'nell. I just wondered if there was anything else to it."

“I see,” K’nell folded one arm behind his back, he other still held out and flat as a stage for the other two shards, “In that case, then yes. I have from time to time been known to cloister myself away in the land of dreams.”
Laina pursed her lips and Elegance immediately let out a short laugh. "And you thought all that reading was unnecessary."

Laina eyed K'nell and then Elegance. Her eyes moved between the two a few times before she blushed slightly and leaned toward Elegance, whispering. "Uncle Jin'Kalla made me read dozens of boring dusty books and I never came across the word 'cloister'!"

Elegance covered her mouth with a delicate hand, but the way she tilted her head back, looked down on Laina and her eyes glinted mockingly made Laina shrink slightly.

A few moments passed. "Wow. Just wow. Didn't take you for a bitch." Laina whispered, crossing her arms.

"H-How dare-" Elegance recoiled, but quickly regained her composure and shook her head, "Apologies, Laina. I got carried away. It means to seclude oneself, or take sanctuary."

Laina huffed and turned toward K'nell, her expression slightly frazzled. "C-Cloistering yourself in your dreams, huh? Why would someone like you do that? I mean, what does a God of Dreams dream about?"

K’nell looked between the two before clicking the roof of his mouth, “Ah, yes a valid question. The truth of the matter is a lot more confusing than I’d like, but to put it simply I don’t dream. My sphere exists in… dreams. It itself is a dream in a way, and what I meant by cloistering myself away in the land of dreams was in fact that I prefer a good amount of alone-time in the nexus of all dreams, my Palace, where I can think and study and otherwise do all the things that whereas on Galbar would be much too noisy to do.” He paused, “I do hope that makes a crumb of sense.”

Laina squinted her eyes and tapped her lips as she processed the new information, but eventually she perked up and nodded, “Ah, I understand now. Thank you for explaining, K’nell. So,” Laina looked around and her eyes settled on Elegance, who smiled at her and dissipated back into her shard. Finally she looked at K’nell again, “Shall we get going?”

“But of course,” K’nell nodded and lurched off of his cushion and leaned forward, “I know it goes without saying, but -- do you mind?” His fingers stopped by the shard that sat beside the projection.

“Oh, go ahead.” Laina said before dissipating her projection. K’nell snatched the shard and quickly dropped it into his pocket as he stood up. A crow came down from the sky and landed on his shoulder. He turned away from the scene and step after step, continued his walk.

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Hidden 1 yr ago 1 yr ago Post by Scarifar
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Scarifar Presto~!

Member Seen 15 hrs ago

Might: 10 | FP: 14

Arae flew in a circle, staring down at the various Familial Trees that littered the landscape of Spekatha. There was much to be improved on here, but what was first needed was a system, a way for the Sphere to be fully and automatically maintained. She dived downwards, transforming into her humanoid form when she landed. It was time to work. She got into form and began to dance, her movements dictating the flows of energy to take the forms she desired.

First came the vessels. She would need suitable servants to fully realize her plans. At first, she had intended to create servants in her image. The general shape and form came naturally. Wings, tail, 4 legs. Then the real problems arrived via functionality. Being able to serve their purpose to maintain these trees and lake water together proved to be difficult to visualize. It was more than a matter of just waving their arms and magicking everything to full health. There should be a process to put it together. Now that she thought about it, it also felt a little odd to give this new life so much power, even if it was only within her sphere. Arae sighed in frustration. She knew what the problem was: she was thinking too simplistically. There was only one creature being created to serve too many purposes. It was fine when it came to Serenis and Kree; they were singular beings, but it was very different when it came to an entire race of beings. These things needed balance.

But how to go about this? She stared at the glowing silhouette of her dragon construct for a long time, trying to brainstorm a solution to her conundrum. She tried to alter the form, providing molars in addition to sharp canines, making their horns and claws with sharp edges, but often shook her head as she reversed the changes. She tried creating different forms to allow different beings to accomplish different roles, but while she did see a bit of a breakthrough, she felt the drain on herself becoming too much to bear and quickly halted the process. She lay down on the grass, absentmindedly staring at the sky as she continued to think. She was so close, but there was still something holding her back. It was too unbalanced, too inefficient, maybe even too dangerous.

She knew there was at least one solution, and she just needed to find one. It was also a matter of finding a solution that she could be satisfied with. As she thought, an ember came drifting into her face before fading away. When she looked up, she realized that the embers were dropping from Sartravius' Familial Tree. Looking at her glowing dragon silhouette and back at the trees, an idea popped into her mind. If she did this correctly, then it just might work. After erasing her dragon silhouette, Arae leaped back up and switched to another style of dance, much more energetic than before.

As she moved to Seihdhara's tree, she faltered, saddened to see it in such a state. It was not in such a near-death state like last time, but it certainly wasn't brimming with life either. Still, Arae pulled herself together and continued. This was no time for regrets; it was time for work. Making a flowing motion with her arms, she extracted a globule of energy from it, taking care not to drain it more than necessary, then left the tree alone. Arae then carefully cultivated the energy until it seemed capable of sustaining itself and maintaining its own shape. She nodded. Now it was time for the next step.

Looking at Asceal and Sartravius' tree, Arae began siphoning off a stream of energy from each of them. The energy compressed itself into a ball, which she placed above the essence from Seihdhara's tree. Pouring the energy from the ball into the essence, Arae fueled the process with her own, slowly mixing it together even as it began trying to split. Arae merely compressed it further, keeping the essence together until it mixed finely with itself, the swirling energies eventually equalizing itself. With the mixture complete, Arae began to mold it into a small disc, placing it near her Familial Tree. A spark leaped from Arae's fingertip into the disc, and a small fire ignited. A ring of rocks sprouted up from the ground, surrounding the fire and keeping it contained. Arae gently blew into it, letting it flare up and rise a meter high before it settled down again, but still blazed strongly.

Soon, the flame made a snapping sound, and from it sprang a spark that landed in the grass. It began to spread a bit, which Arae watched carefully should it get out of control, but the spreading soon stopped and the flames began to condense into a little ball with wispy tendrils and two glowing eyes. More pops and cracks sounded off, the fire birthing more little fireballs like the first. The firstborn looked up at Arae, who knelt down and cupped the little fire spiritii in her hands, lifting them up to face height.

"Welcome to Spekatha, little ones," Arae said to the young fire spiritii. "You have much work ahead of you."

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Hidden 1 yr ago Post by Lmpkio
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Lmpkio Kaiju Expert

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Driven away by the massive flying ark, Vulkandr and his forces retreated to avoid reaching severe casualties. Rather than retreating straight back to Mt. Eldahverr like cowards, the fire titan and his Jotundar army proceeded to hug the massive Cauldron’s base and swing back to the forests from the south. They encountered nearly no resistance among the way, or any that would definitely harm them. The river that Shenghsi brought upon the Sandravii desert was situated too far for the army to even see, thus they were unaware that they had been cut-off by this raging river.

As soon as they reached the forest, Vulkandr bellowed to his forces to run amok and set fires to the surrounding timber. Still, the fire titan was cautious this time, making sure that the skies were clear and that no other distractions would lead them astray from their mission. Soon, the outer perimeter was up in flames and it burned deeper into the forest at a rapid pace. At this point, Vulkandr indeed expected the inhabitants to flee or feebly attempt their hopeless battle against he and his forces.

Terrified ooks, squeaks and howls sounded from the woods as birds and beasts retreated from the smoking edge of the jungle. Panicking boars and primates were trapped by the flames and reduced to charred cadavers before the fury of the fire giants. The massacre rampaged through the woods for a long time; however, as if the giants had crossed an invisible border, a quaking roar boomed through the air as they entered deeper into the jungle, followed by equally menacing tremors through the soil that grew stronger and stronger as a great moving mountain blotted out Heliopolis.

The jotundar forces felt the effect the most prominently, swaying to and fro, from the massive tremors that threatened to topple them over. Yet with his massive pillar-shaped legs, Vulkandr seemed nigh affected by them. While he could feel them resonating within his body, vibrating the rock and and rippling the magma ichor within, the fire titan refused to fall over. He grimaced over the lush forests, trying to find the potential source of the quakes, yet was unable to see anything. Perhaps the threat lurked directly underground.

A sure sign of cowardliness.

Vulkandr rose one of his massive legs high into the air, still being kept balanced by the weight of the stable one, before crashing it down on a fresh grove of young trees. The sudden impact rippled across the forest, rivaling the opposing tremors in raw power. Large cracks began to form from ground zero, large enough to easily swallow animals, as they ran deep into the wilderness. Suddenly, magma began to shoot up from the cracks, forced up to greet the virgin air, as they surged high into the sky and onto the trees below. The timber and wildlife that were closest to the surges were instantly melted into oblivion, with the ground instantly becoming dry and infertile as they were given a molten bath of desolation. The giant hollered loudly into the air - bits of lava leaving his gaping maw - while he awaited to challenge the threat which dared to cease his fiery march.

A second ear-shattering roar challenged Vulkandr’s, the shadow of the moving mountain becoming apparent through the smoke and foliage. It was soon evident that it had been no mountain at all, but rather the towering shell of a colossal turtle that dwarfed the jotundar. As it walked, the earth shook and the trees quivered; the beasts of the woods all cowered behind its massive form. The turtle’s crusty eyes squinted in the flames and the monster let out another deep roar. Its glare fastened on the lava inching its way through the trees and the turtle began to retch. After a few gulps, it vomited out a small lake’s worth of water, near all of which evaporated to cool the lava.

The monster testudine’s size was immeasurably gargantuan - both in height and more so in width. It’s size easily dwarfed the barge that the fire giants had encountered in the northern expanse. Both sides were guarded and both by two different beasts of burden. However, Vulkandr wasn’t going to back down - not even from a creature of such unprecedented proportions. He knew enough about what he was combating, unlike Shengshi’s barge - that he had no visible knowledge of - and while it was strong, it surely was not a god. And if it wasn’t immortal…

It could be killed.

Such a task wouldn’t be easy, but it already gives the fire titan a chance, no matter how small, in potentially beating it. As the giant turtle regurgitated its surging flow, Vulkandr could see his fellow Joutndar brethren bracing for impact, as the water began to slowly cool the lava. The fire titan was not going to let this slide. He hastened its speed, revealing a surprising amount of speed that many would not consider possible. His pillared legs took enormous strides, stomping upon chunks of jungle woodland, while his body temperature began to rapidly rise. He halted directly in front of his forces, using his body to separate both the giants and the surge of water pouring their way.

Then, his flaming arms began to extend back, before clapping his hands together in a brunt holler. Just as the water reached him, the rapid disturbance of the air exploded as powerful flames formed an umbrella-like force-field to keep the water from advancing upon them. The aquaforce simply surged around them, only taking a few straggling joutndar that were too far in the back or beyond the perimeter of the shield, but Vulkandr was nonetheless undeterred.

As the water began to subside, the Fire Titan planted his bulky arms into the ground and released his fiery ichor into the ground. The bubbling magma bolted towards the turtle underground, before opening large holes underneath the giant turtle’s front feet. The lava underneath would then gush like a surging geyser, burning into the creature’s soles. They would rapidly begin to grow larger and larger in diameter, potentially to the point where they could engulf its feet entirely. If he could eliminate the creature’s ability to move, it could allow him to rally his troops to the creature’s side and backend, allowing the jotundar to commence their assault.

In the meantime Vulkandr began to bolt towards the water turtle, quaking the ground with each step. It set its sights upon the creature’s occupied front limbs, attempting to climb it once he’d get his hands on it. He was going to punch the living crap out of this monster, even if it’ll kill him in the end.

The turtle’s stone-skinned feet were large and heavy - too heavy to dodge the lava traps. It rumbled in pain as it tried to pull its forelimbs out of the holes, snapping its monstrous, beak-like jaw at the approaching Vulkandr, but due to its impairment, the turtle could not move in any angle that would reach him. Instead, it wrestled and pulled at the ground, ripping and cracking it with gruesome forces, all the while snarling at the little too brave jotundar who wanted to follow their master’s charge.

With his movement compromised for the moment, Vulkandr leapt upon the reptilian’s right leg and plunged his molten fists into its leg. Then it proceeded to climb, each time pouring molten magma into the creature’s body, all while the joutundar below began to circle around the titanic beast. The Titan climbed before reaching the turtle’s vulnerable head, its eyes glowing a frozen blue underneath its purplish-grey armored eyebrows. The very top of the head was otherwise exposed. And then the Fire Titan rose his fists into the air, glowing a hot yellowish-orange. With a thunderous grunt he bashed them upon his beast’s cranium, with impressive explosive force.

And then he proceeded to do it again…

And again…

And again…

Molten residue flew off Vulkandr’s fists with every pounding, each attempting to burn into the skull and melt through the tough scales. The helpless beast thrashed and shook its huge head, desperately trying to shake the giant off. However, even as it shook, other jotundar began to close in around it. As its head swung from side to side, pulling with it destructive windshear, its seared feet finally pulled out of the ground. The turtle craned its head backwards with a thunderous roar and began to charge forward, dragging its head along the ground to shake off Vulkandr.

The joutndar horde right infront of the charging beast would feel the worst of it, as many were flattened by the huge lumbering head. Only those that were able to flank the turtle’s body would survive the massacre of their brethren. The Fire Titan, meanwhile, held on to dear-life as he found himself being dragged alongside the crusted ground below. His grip was indomitable, but it wouldn’t last forever. He was already beginning to slip, already reaching the tip of the turtle’s left eyebrow.

Vulkandr bellowed as he rose one of his fists in the air - the magmatic ichor spewing from his vacant fist - only to reform into a large blade-like weapon. Engraved in strengthened obsidian crust, with a fiery core within, the Titan proceeded to inject it into the creature’s body. He aimed for around the creature’s eye, however the blade would strike just underneath the eyelid. He latched on for a few more seconds as the molten poison surged into the creature, before the blade broke and he found himself falling back onto the ground below.

The turtle’s enormous eye closed at the pain, and while the beast did not look to be blinded, the molten sword formed a black spot on the otherwise water-like, blue eye. The stone-skinned eyelid closed over the wounded orb and the beast nearly tumbled over. Now, it began to slow down, turning around to face its adversary, though it was evidently warier now than before. With ragged breathing and one closed eye, it stood still and calculating, waiting for its enemies to strike first.

Vulkandr’s efforts were not in vain, yet he knew all too well that this battle isn’t over just yet. His efforts need to be concentrated on either blinding the turtle beast completely or, more directly, in blasting open the turtle’s vulnerable head from the wound he caused. But with his opponent looking more wary upon the situation at hand, the Fire Titan needed to plan his attacks carefully. So as long as it remained on the creature’s blindside, could he have a chance in beating it.

Vulkandr formed his hands over his chest, as a fiery substance began to charge up in the space provided. Then, with a sudden release, the Titan fired it at the creature’s head. It needed to know what else this creature could do before it could continue its assault. The turtle had not been particularly fast, but in this, at least, the angle was satisfactory to allow a simple turn to put the magma ball on a trajectory towards its shell rather than its head, upon which the magma splattered like a rotten fruit. The stone shell glowed red at the heat, but the turtle seemed unharmed overall and shot Vulkandr a hateful glare - however, it kept its position all the same.

The Fire Titan continued to eye the turtle carefully. Surely fire of any kind will prove useless against it, but it seemed that the defender was keeping up its defensive position. Unsatisfied, Vulkandr injected his burly arms back into the ground as magma rushed underneath. This time, they seemed to surge around the beast, as cracks could be seen forming on the surface. Suddenly, large mounds began to rise from the ground, each forming at a diagonal position. All nine that had formed would be facing the massive guardian - their cauldrons armed and ready like battle cannons. The beast shoot quick looks where it could, quickly placing its armoured underside on the ground in preparation.

Then another surge of energy from the titan forced the volcanic batteries to fire their concentrated beams of magma fire upon the giant. They curved at an angle, each finding their mark upon the turtle’s hardened shell. Smart was the defender for shielding its vulnerable underbelly from taking more unwarranted damage, yet the lava would still find itself slowly burning into the colossal shell.

This wouldn’t do for Vulkandr.

But with the beast becoming distracted by the make-shift cannons, the giant proceeded to make another mad run towards the creature’s lowered head. At the height were it was situated, he could jump onto it with little effort at all. Meanwhile, several of the joutundar proceeded to find themselves running towards the colossus itself and attempting to leap back onto its head to issue more explosive hits.

Several would find themselves at the base of its shell and began to make the perilous climb up its shell like mere ants. They may not be able to hurt the beast directly, but that won’t stop them from figuring out how to if at all.

The beast rumbled and Vulkandr suddenly found himself slowly closing in on the shell, as if he had sat himself on a large moving belt. Soon, however, it became clear that the head was retracting in under the stoney shell, along with its limbs.

The titan’s projection fell short as the turtle’s head began to retreat into its shell. Vulkandr would only find itself punching the ground below him and while it attempted to run towards it, it would be fruitless. By the time he got anywhere close, the head had already found refuge within its fortress of a body. Even as he attempted to brute force into it, he would find it fruitless to enter. The joutundar would also find themselves being pulled in by the turtle’s retracting limbs, forcing most to hop off. But to those who would find themselves still latching onto them, they would be instantly squashed by the claustrophobic conditions from within, turning them into a reddish-orange paste of molten ichor.

The turtle had essentially turned into a massive mountain of a fortress.

Their lava could barely scratch the surface of the beast’s nigh-destructable shell and with all of the weak-spots being safe-guarded within, it had virtually became invulnerable. Vulkandr roared infuriatingly, pounding both fists together, as he took a big step back to think about the next point of action. Hurting it directly didn’t seem to work. Brute force would hardly scrape it and lava would only find itself flowing down its shell or solidifying to become one with the turtle - adding the armor to its arsenal. Even the jotundar would have an even harder time scouting the massive kilometer-wide shell for any breaks in the carapace. Perhaps given a hundred years or so they could eventually break through, but no time of that caliber was available to them.

The titan needed some additional support.

But in order to secure their chances, they needed to first completely immobilize the turtle from just standing up and walking away. So the Fire Titan plunged his fists into the ground once more, but proceeded to make an ever-expanding hole underneath the beast. It was nearly equivalent to that of his initial plan, only it planned to bring the entire creature down with it. Once it encompassed the shell’s diameter, could it fall into the molten substance.

With it seemingly becoming compromised, Vulkandr rose back onto its feet and rose its arms into the heavens. There it began to issue a variety of different bellows, grunts, and hisses, in various different pitches and tones as if it was chanting to the skies above. But it was not the aether gods that he was appeasing to…


Sartr’s raged seethed ominously upon hearing the humiliating defeat with Slaevatein and his dragon army. He kicked over a large boulder as it was launched itself into one of Muspellheim’s many lava pools, dissolving slowly within. He then proceeded to sulk upon his throne, with a solid grimace planted firmly on his fiery face. To say that he was utterly displeased was an understatement, yet one that didn’t cause him to go fully ballistic.

Sartr knew deep down that these first few battles was to test the air for what the gods could do, not necessarily as assured victories. They were simply test runs and nothing more. Still, the fact that his proud hydra was close to victory, only for it to be snagged away by the vile Shengshi had him smoldering nonetheless. If the hydra and the dragons could lose so brutally to foes like the ones on the River God’s ship, he feared the worst that could befall on the giant Vulkandr and the jotundar as a whole.

Then his ears picked up something - a faint rumbling in the air. The fire god rose to get a better ear to the noise, before recognizing the call of the Fire Titan himself. What a coincidence for the two to be thinking about one another at the same time. Sartr continued to listen, eventually recognizing that it was a chant for assistance. They had secured a giant turtle guardian in place, but need further assistance in wanting to exterminate it.

The flame god’s frown turned to a gleaming smile, with his fires flickering even more so in excitement.

”Oh valiant Vulkandr,” Sartr rumbled praisingly, ”How your loyal prayers shall be answered generously. The great river god Shengshi had blighted my mood just mere moments before, but alas I shall not let his victory go undeterred!

The flaming god proceeded to step off his throne before plunging his massive arms into the ground.

”Let the fires ruin the dobbling beast for its foolish attacks.” he announced pridefully, ”Let his cowardliness become his utter downfall. Let the guardian of the Nanhe feel the wrath of the mighty Sartravius!””


On the surface, a massive quake began to violently rock the entire battlefield before it. Vulkandr’s chanting had long since ceased by then, as he ordered his forces to makeway for whatever their fiery god had planned for them. Their prayers will be answered. Their savior was coming to help them. And as they watched patiently for their reinforcements to arrive, the shaking suddenly seemed to stop.

That was until the lava surrounding the turtle monster began to bubble. And then, it would feel something big pierce through its underbelly as a jagged spear of rock and obsidian emerged from the molten pool. Rising from the depths of molten ichor, the spear-tipped mound began to rise continuously, stretching for hundreds of meters into the air. It was as if a mountain was forming right in front of them - a mountain that was engulfed in hellish flame. It towered over the battlefield, with large fiery debris falling off its rocky hide. It rose higher and higher, until four gargantuan legs fully pulled itself from its lava bath. Its venomous yellow eyes opened itself to the world with utter malice, and once it rose to its full height, even it dwarfed Shengshi’s proud turtle beast.

And with an earth-shattering roar, the massive creature bellowed out a cry that would resonate for miles. The wrath of Sartr had been unleashed, in the form of his own walking mountain of fire - the “Molten-Fortress”.

The turtle, which had been tipped onto its back from the impact and then - thankfully - gathered enough momentum to roll back onto its feet again, fixed its functional eye on the mountain and the ever-encroaching jotundar. It shot Vulkandr an icy-eyed, hateful glare, but it was short-lived; more important was inspecting his flanks, one of which contained a volcano on legs and the other of which filled with what remained of the fire giants. The turtle looked ahead - its earlier charge had put the army of fire between it and the forest. A gamble was to be made for survival - one that counted on the walking mountain adhering to the normally slow movement speed of stone. The fire giants could be shaken off - even Vulkandr, and so the turtle made its decision. With a roar that could shatter rock, the colossal turtle charged straight towards the Nanhese jungle with speed unforeseen - for a turtle, that is.

The fiery mountain slowly turned to face this petty turtle, but by the time it could even turn its head the creature had already retreated into the bush. So there it stood, over a sea of burning green, looking down at what it was left with. The creature bellowed another roar of victory before it proceeded to lay down. Vulkandr simply laughed at their glorious victory, roaring to his fellow jotun brothers that they had won the battle thanks to their glorious fire god. They in turn would raise their arms and shout victoriously as they rallied to their leader’s position.

Then, from atop the living mountain, the Molten-Fortress’ summit - already slightly chipped off from impacting the guardian’s underbelly - began to glow before a powerful explosion blew off a huge chunk of its top. It bellowed lava and fiery debris everywhere, until leaving only a mere crater in the middle. But it wasn’t a mere random act of self-destruction.

Rising from atop the volcanic fortress, Sartr rose to greet his proud warriors with his hands straight in the air.

”“You’ve done your fire god well!” he boomed with a hearty laugh, ”I have nothing but praise for my valiant warriors of Sartr. Fellow Slaevatein had failed me today, but you all have done me proud! Let this mark as a glorious day for the start of our glorious conquest!”

Vulkandr and his forces stood to attention and cheered at their master’s statement.

”But!” the God continued more composurely, ”. We must prepare for the next stage of our conquest, along for the battles yet to come. Head westwards and establish a camp with our new pet. More allies will come to your aid in due time, including the Hydra and his forces. For no doubt the gods will be scrambling to hit us next, but we will be ready for them! We won’t move an inch! This is only just the beginning - And we will not surrender to my pitiful brothers and sisters!”

Sartr then proceeded to return to Muspelheim, along with the massive turtle burrowing underground with him. Vulkandr soon bellowed out to his joutndar army and they proceeded to head westward to assemble and plan their next attack. The clock was ticking.

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Hidden 1 yr ago Post by Oraculum
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Oraculum Perambulans in tenebris

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Streams of ichor and flakes of rust drifted over the ocean's surface as Narzhak stepped into the water from the sheer cliffside, raising waves that crashed against the sides of the peaks behind him. While the image he had of the course to hold was vague at best, this first step was clearly inevitable, faintly disagreeable as he had come to find wading through the expanse of saltwater. The layers of corrosion that spread over his skin after a while of trudging across the ocean floor irked him, and he could almost feel himself grow brittle. Drawing fresh iron from beneath his feet gave only a momentary respite from the nuisance.

It was all the worse this time, now that he lacked even the broadest notion of a tangible goal. He had little faith remaining in the risen lands offering anything worthwhile, which left finding Ashalla as the most promising plan; and, vast as he recalled her being, she was still only one being. After pacing around the best part of Galbar, he had not come over anything resembling her, or for that matter any other god, even once. The world was certainly greater than he had expected, and right then he was far from certain this was for the best. More room to cover, more work to do.

Then a stern voice like rolling waves spoke to Narzhak, originating from the ocean all around him. “You are leaking in my ocean.”

The god raised an arm and looked at it. The water flowing from it was thick with dark blood. “It's not any better than that finger, is it?” He remembered the one time he had heard that voice before, and the words he had given it in turn. “I can't do much about it, but it might help if you draw some of it yourself. It's an entirely different feeling from just being bled on.”

The ocean around Narzhak huffed as a mountain of water rose in front of the mountain of iron and flesh. It drew up to be level with Narzhak, and Ashalla formed a face to speak to Narzhak with. “It won’t make it taste any better,” she said in a voice like a waterfall. “This is not the first time your trail has polluted my waters. Katharsos was able to cleanse the soul ash he was dropping into the ocean near here, so are you sure you cannot do anything about your mess?”

The four fiery eyes narrowed in thought. Provoking the goddess of the ocean would have been certain to deliver a satisfying struggle, but he was not there for that alone. Talks called for concessions, and this was a small one. “I can’t stop it at a whim, but there might be something we can do if you’ll indulge me for a moment.” The edges of his iron plates stretched and widened, sliding to cover the gaps in his armour. Although streaks of black fluid still filtered between their loose rims, the bulk of the flow was staunched. “Do you have anything with a healthy taste for blood on hand?”

There was a brief rumble from all around Narzhak. “I can provide something.” From every direction around Narzhak came sharks, called by Ashalla and drawn to the Iron God’s blood. Made ravenous by the scent of blood, they began to drink the little streams of dark ichor, and would have likely attempted to consume Narzhak’s outer flesh if he had not covered it with armour. “Are these adequate?”

“They will do.” The god nodded with a heavy grinding sound. He glanced at one of the sharks, whose hide seemed to have slightly hardened where the clouds of ichor had brushed against it, but an oddity in what Ashalla had said soon distracted him from it. “You said Katharsos cleared his ash away from here? I haven't kept a close eye on him, but I found his waste scattered everywhere,” his hand swept broadly through air and water, “and though my senses aren't as keen as yours, I doubt it can bother anyone who's not already smelling for it.”

“It was not so much the soul ash, but the impurities in the ash, which was the problem,” Ashalla explained, “North-east of here is where Katharsos’ Sphere deposits the most soul ash, beneath his ethereal Vortex. The burning that happens up in the stars to recycle souls into ash leaves a bitter deathly taint in the ash. We created a reef with oysters which purify the soul ash and convert the impurities into an insoluble form.”

“Bitterly tainted oysters,” Narzhak mused, scraping the point where the pearl had sank into his mask, “This would explain why that one tasted so offensive. A constant rain of it would’ve killed my appetite for the rest of this world’s life.” If Ashalla had endured that, he had to admit her grievance with blood in the water was that much more understandable than he had given it credit for. “I’ll do what I can to keep more filth away from the seas. There are other hungers, though, that ash can't dampen as easily.” Which was, perhaps, unfortunate. He stretched his arms and restlessly flicked his clawed fingers. “Have you ever felt that there’s too much strength in you to contain, and nothing to release it on? That a need to move, grasp and break is tearing you from within and you can’t be rid of it?”

Ashalla gave Narzhak a curious look and a thoughtful rumble. “Yes, I have, in my own way. I know the desire to unleash my power upon the world, to use my strength rather than keep it hidden. I sate it by creating.”

“Creation is one way,” the Iron God assented, his right hand still rhythmically contracting into a fist before loosening again, “The greatest one. Still, not the only one. Look at us.” The fist rose over the waves, bladed edges jutting out from it. “We can split continents with one hand. If we wanted, we could tear the sky down into the ocean. We’ve been given a power to destroy besides creating, and we have no target to release it on. I feel it being wasted every moment, but there’s not a thing in the world that’d warrant using the least part of it.” His fiery eyes gazed pensively into Ashalla’s features. “Unless we turned it against itself.”

Ashalla rumbled again. “What are you suggesting?”

“We lock it in a prison of attrition, the two of us, with combat in the flesh.” Narzhak opened the fist and extended his hand towards Ashalla’s form. “And water. No one I’ve seen is as mighty as us. We can wear out this strength against each other without risking to topple the spheres, and it would be well spent.” He reclined his head to one side and added after a moment’s thought, “If you so will.”

“A fight, without malicious intent, but to test each other’s strength against the other?” Ashalla said, then rumbled long and hard. The rumbling stopped, and all the fish nearby, including the sharks, turned and swam away at some silent command. “There is nothing of value nearby to be senselessly destroyed by such a fight. I accept your offer.” Then the mountain of water which was Ashalla’s form collapsed into the ocean with a colossal ripple.

Narzhak’s eyes flared up in surprise as he raised his right arm to bear over the now shapeless waves. She had certainly wasted no time settling into the situation, and, with a solid visage to look at, he had almost forgotten where they were and what that meant. Maybe riling her temper or not did not make such a difference after all. The field was hers in either case, and for him that meant an uphill struggle. It was not unwelcome. This was what he had come for.

The hand held over the surface tightened into a great metallic sphere, spikes rising from it at all angles. The plates on its wrist lengthened into immense blades protruding from both sides of the limb. Those on the left forearm did not stop there, molding themselves into a great bulwark lined with wave-breaking edges and angles. Water was a fickle thing to strike and parry, but as long as he could feel something under his hand, it would be subject to the same laws as all that could be broken and crushed.

The water around Narzhak’s feet began to flow, a torrential current which scoured the sea floor and threatened to destabilise Narzhak’s stance. Behind Narzhak, where the water was flowing to, the water rose up into a mountainous tower. As the water continued to flow, the tower struck forwards and slammed into Narzhak’s head, stupendous amounts of water trying to push the Iron God over.

The giant buckled under the immense blow, almost toppling forward as his feet, already loosened by the draft, dug through the ocean floor. His shoulders, and then head disappeared under the surface as he fell to one knee. However, he had not yet touched down when his shield-bearing arm rose against the watery mass, cutting through it to block its center. With a roar, the god shoved himself up to his feet, pushing upwards into the great wave.

The water shattered against the bulwark and Narzhak, and for a brief moment the watery assault abated. Then all around Narzhak rose massive pseudopods which slammed into the Iron God. He staggered, too slow to respond immediately, and the plates of his armour bent under the blows. Soon, though, his shield slammed down to cover some of the liquid arms, while his maul swept against the others in a wide arc, felling the pseudopods.

The water between Narzhak and his shield then rose up. The growing mountain of water swelled and applied pressure to Narzhak and the shield, trying to pry them apart. He tugged back and forth against it for some moments, then abruptly shifted the shield sideways, leaving the water open to erupt into the remaining tendrils. Those pseudopods collapsed too as the mass of water wavered to regain its balance, then leaned back into Narzhak with all her weight. The god was forced a step backward under the pressure, his feet being pushed over the submerged sand even as he tried to hold in place. His right arm, whose maul was stretching and flattening itself into a broad blade as it moved, swung about, aiming to sever the bulk of water from its base. The blade cut into that water which was Ashalla, but the water pushed back, and with so much water to cut through the blade slowed down as the ‘wound’ sealed itself behind the strike.

Narzhak rumbled as he tried to pry his hand from the fluid trap, to little avail. Gathering his weight on his back leg, he pushed forward shoulder-first into the towering ocean. His right hand, though still sealed, tightened into a clump of spikes and locked fingers which struggled to puncture through its prison. The spikes did nothing to deter Ashalla, and Ashalla flowed with Narzhak as he pushed forwards while maintaining her grip on his arm. More pseudopods blossomed out from her and flailed against the Iron God. Forced ahead by his momentum, Narzhak raised his left arm to fend off the blows while maintaining his balance. That was, until he careened downward and plunged into the waves underneath him, sliding under the surface to bring himself entirely below Ashalla’s form.

Or so he thought. However, as Narzhak felt the pressure of the water grow around him, he realised that he had actually dove straight into Ashalla. Armour plates buckled and tore as the water which was engulfing Narzhak turned against him. Shaking his head in anger, he tried to propel himself upwards, but found his way blocked by the immense pressure. His iron skin, now cracked in places, frantically flowed to mould itself into slender, sharp dynamic ridges, as his hands joined together in a wedge. He raised the tip overhead and pushed towards the surface, meeting the crushing weight of the sea with focused strength. The iron mountain breached through the waves, ichor-tainted water cascading down his sides as he returned to his feet.

From the rippling tsunamis radiating away from Narzhak came a voice. “I can’t say that blood spilled myself tastes any sweeter, but this has been satisfying nonetheless.” A mound of water rose up to face Narzhak, although Ashalla was not as large as she had been before their fight.

“It has, hasn’t it?” The Iron God ran his hands along his arms and body, smoothing over the ridges and sealing the gaps and breaches once more. Several plates were left visibly thinner in places where the metal had been drawn from them to mend the damage. “This is what I would call force well spent. I already feel lighter for it.” He inclined his head forward in an appreciative nod. “Thank you.”

Around him, the spilled ichor hung in the water as a dark cloud. “I’m sure something will appreciate the spoils, too.”

“Indeed,” Ashalla said. Already, sharks were returning, their hardened hides marking them as those who had drank of Narzhak’s ichor before.

The god looked pensively at the flocking beasts, scratching the side of his head in thought. “You know, with how rambunctious some of us are, they may need to make a habit of it. I wouldn’t be surprised if I was not the last to spill and shred in here. Not that I am even the first.” His mind went back to the tide of crimson blood he had found on the Foot, and he winced as he remembered that the river he had carved from there to the sea was tainted with more than one colour. “And I doubt all of them will be as considerate. If you’ll allow, I can give them a hand with it.”

“Yes, that would be helpful,” Ashalla replied.

Narzhak’s hand swept over the gathered sharks, and the blackened water became an opaque grey, swallowing them in a metallic fog. When it faded moments later, the fish were all but unrecognisable. While their bodies had not been stiff before, they now twisted with wormlike flexibility, sliding through the water more similarly to serpents than fish. Their thick skin was replaced with a slender metallic shell which stretched to follow their movements flawlessly, yet whose strength was manifest in the layered, spiked ridges that interlocked at sparse points over their bodies. The fins were almost entirely gone, with only vestigial protrusions left to mark where they once had been. For all this, though, the most startling change had come over their eyes - the four blood-red slits, mirroring those of the Iron God, pierced the sea with a gaze of cold, ravenous purpose.

“Those should do for now,” he nodded as he surveyed his handiwork, “Though they’ll need to grow in numbers eventually. I did what I could for their noses, but they won’t smell a spill on the other side of the world.”

Ashalla lifted one of the creatures into a raised globule of water as she inspected it. “Yes, these will function nicely,” Ashalla commented, “Although their aesthetics are dull.” The water rippled around the creature, and it adopted subtle changes in hue. The metallic shell gleamed with iridescence, and the exposed flesh took on tones of crimson. The creature was lowered back into the ocean and at Ashalla’s touch the other creatures adopted similar colours. “There, that’s better.”

Narzhak scraped his head perplexedly, but said nothing as part of the beasts slithered away to the northwest. The rest remained circling him, content with draining the last traces of the struggle.

“They’re a ready response,” he mused, “Though it’s not enough on its own. Gods aren’t the only things that can make water filthy. A good preventive strike is enough to deal with most of the smaller nuisances, but I haven’t seen much around the ocean that could be good for that.” From what he remembered of their first moments, Ashalla’s water was something Sartr disliked over all else. He had already turned ice against his heat; now, if the ocean had something in store that could be aimed against it, he would have been remiss to not at least ask. “Is there anything in your domain that can keep pests away?”

“I’ve recently made a few sea beasts to reinforce my dominion over the ocean,” Ashalla said.

“Good defenses start at home,” Narzhak assented, “But, as I said, striking first can save you trouble. Most of the dirtiest things live on dry land, and sea beasts wouldn’t reach them until it’s too late. You need something to remind them of your power, no matter where they are.”

Ashalla rumbled thoughtfully for a few moments. “I have a few patterns which would work well for that.” A tendril of water stretched up next to Narzhak and brushed against some of his armour plates. “Some of your patterns would probably be beneficial for such a creature, too. Perhaps we could make this creature together?”

“We could.” His gaze flickered as he looked down over where droplets flowed down his body from the touch. He ran a finger along the locked edges of a gap in the metallic skin. “We should, I’d even say. A battle-worthy shell would weigh down something much larger than these sharks, but if it needs to be able to get out of the water...” He nodded and glanced at Ashalla. “A challenge of creation isn’t any worse than one of destruction. Let us to it.”

“Excellent. Follow me, I know a good place to make this creature,” Ashalla said.

The Abyssal Rift was a hole in the bottom of the ocean which dwarfed even Narzhak. The descent through the rift plunged the gods into darkness and subjected them to enormous water pressure. While the pressure was no obstacle to the gods, it was deadly to creatures used to the surface. Ashalla adapted some of the blood-drinking sharks to handle the Abyssal pressures so they could clean up after Narzhak.

The bottom of the rift opened into the vast expanse which was the Abyss, lit gently from below by incandescent magma. Turbulent currents buffeted around them. Magma bubbled beneath them. Spires of dark igneous rock dotted the dark submarine landscape.

Narzhak reached the bottom, and his feet slowly sunk into the magma which made the floor of the Abyss. The ocean around him spoke with the sound of swirling currents, “Welcome to the Abyss.”

The god’s eyes coursed over his surroundings, glimmering appreciatively at the vistas of gnarled stone and distant fiery reverbs. “Nice place,” underwater, his voice sounded out deeper yet than usual and surrounded with a faint churning noise, but, oddly, did not spread any worse than through air, “if a little quiet. A good retreat if you ever need one. Though I can’t but notice,” he looked around, unquenched flames piercing the abyssal penumbra, “there’s not much life for us to work with.”

There was a moment of thoughtful rumblings. “Perhaps I could correct that some time…” Ashalla mused. The currents of the Abyss then shifted, and stray plankton and fragments of fish carcasses were gathered near the two deities, the gathered detritus of ocean life. “But we have enough biomass to work with for now. This creature will draw its power from the magma of my Sphere, hence why we are here. Now, let us begin.”

The gathered biomatter coalesced and morphed under Ashalla’s influence, taking the form of a colossal crocodilian with six legs. Narzhak reached forward with a hand, chiselling knots and ropes of flesh into the bulk. His fingertips punctured its skinless surface, injecting rivulets of rapidly solidifying metal into its bones. The outer layers of the body were flattened and etched with shallow grooves for armoured skin to cling to.

As the body came into shape, Ashalla drew up magma from beneath them. Tiny threads of red incandescence snaked around the creature and injected into the creature’s veins, infusing the being with enough heat to cause the water around it to boil, although the flesh was unharmed by the extreme temperatures.

It was still churning as Narzhak laid down plate after iron plate over the being, locking them together like a mesh of reptilian scales. Made malleable by the heat, the metal twisted to flow around the curves and creases of the flesh like the skin it lacked, encasing it in an impenetrable cuirass. Molten droplets ran down and stretched from its underside, where they were caught and moulded into sharp, jagged ridges. The loose edges at the back of its head were lengthened into a spike-topped shield-like crest, and two long, curved horns that were like iron pillars ran from its lower corners to flank the head.

The body floated there in the water for a few moments for the two gods to inspect its ironclad steam-wreathed form. Then the creature’s body expanded as it was given its first watery breath. The creature’s eyes opened and peered through the near-darkness around it. The creature’s six legs and tail wriggled in sequence for it to swim lazily in the water of the Abyss.

“What shall we name it?” Ashalla asked.

His hands still coursing with the energy work brought, Narzhak scratched on his wrist. “It’s... imposing,” he pondered, “more than most of what walks on land. A sign of wrath. Leviathan from the deep.” He was quiet for a moment in uncharacteristic contemplation. “Leviathan,” he repeated, “it’s worthy of not having any more as a name, don’t you think?”

Ashalla rumbled. “The ocean already has Leviathan Anglers. Leviathan of the deep would make this the Abyssal Leviathan.”

“They do?” One of his eyes widened with an absent gaze. The rest remained focused ahead. “They must not be as impressive. I’ve yet to see one. But that’s unsurprising. What could match something we’ve both set hand to? If it is to show its might to the world, it’s but fitting its name should be a reminder of where it came from.”

“Indeed,” Ashalla said. There were no words for a few moments as a thoughtful rumble echoed between the two. “There is the matter of where to send it first. I am not too familiar with the lands of this world. I have explored one region, the blood-stained land of giant creatures on the vast continent, but I have already placed a mighty creature of my own there.”

“The one with a coast longer than the island Kirron brought up twice over? I haven’t seen much of it. There were some small, speaking things near the sea the last time I passed by, though,” Narzhak reminisced, eye still distant, “One was a very good listener. They wouldn’t need another show of power. But someone else -” his gaze snapped to the present in its entirety, “In that same place I just came from, a flaming rabble was making itself an annoyance not long ago. If they reach the forests they were headed for, there’ll be ash to spare for the whole ocean. I couldn’t think of a better opportunity for the Leviathan to show both purpose and strength.”

At the mention of the forests, there was a sudden change in the water. Although Ashalla had no face beneath the water, the agitation of the currents was enough to indicate Ashalla’s feelings. Phystene’s forests! Ashalla thought in alarm. Then she said in a voice like a coming storm, “Yes, that is an ideal location. Thank you for bringing it to my attention. Leviathan, with me!” The Abyssal Leviathan, which had been wading in the magma below, perked up at the command. With surprising speed for a creature of its size it swam upwards through the rift above, following behind the flowing current which was Ashalla. They had an army to face.

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Hidden 1 yr ago 1 yr ago Post by Lord Zee
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Lord Zee There must always be... A Zee

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The stretch of ocean was seemingly endless. On every horizon there was but blue and the white of distant clouds. The water was mysterious as it was inviting, full of deep secrets and answers best left alone. But to Laurien, iIt was miserable and boring and the anticipation for land became a driving instinct. The promise of solid ground, and blessed shade were the only things to look forward to as days turned to night and back to day, over and over again. She flew above storms and watched the lightning streak like a viper striking, and she listened to the thunder and for once in her life, she felt small. Then at last, upon a dreary and downcast day, she finally saw it in the distance, an outline of something dark. Like a fever dream, a stretch of land came into view, vibrant and enduring as she grew closer. It was where Laurien made a beeline too, and when she landed upon beige sands, she collapsed in a bout of laughter. Any of who saw her would think the woman mad, but Laurien simply did not care.

She stayed in that place for a long time, recuperating and gaining strength as she made her way across the land, flying occasionally but walking or running mostly. She had arrived upon the northern tip of the continent south of the Eye. She knew not its name, only that it was a blessing, and teeming with life. All of it was new and like a child, she grew giddy with excitement each and every time something caught her attention. From the animals, to the plants, Laurien marveled at it all. What drew her attention most was the the large mountain to the south. It was alone, yet stood above everything with pride. Like a father, watching over its children. Laurien wanted to go explore it, but she knew her duty was elsewhere and so she pressed on, but the prospect never left her mind. As such, she moved with diligence, only stopping for food and rest and at last arrived upon the eastern coast, where the ocean returned to greet her. Uncaring as always.

Laurien frowned at the sight, and rubbed her black pearl, hoping to get an inkling of inspiration from the dark orb. She knew she had to cross the waters again, and she knew it was the only way to Shengshi. Begrudgingly, after a long moment of reflection, she took off, mumbling about having to leave dry land again.

This time, the trip was even more unproductive. There was occasionally clouds and even a storm or two, but the ocean here was much the same as it was everywhere else. Blue, and ongoing. She began to wish her Father had given her faster flight, that way she wouldn’t be left alone with her thoughts. They were but questions upon questions and she never had the answers. What was her sister like? Would she still be with Shengshi? If she wasn’t, would the god even know where she had gone? When would she see land again? These were just a few of the questions she asked herself, none of them getting her anywhere in particular as the days went on. Once she thought she saw something red in the distance, same height as her, but she blinked and then it was gone. It left her wondering if her mind was playing tricks with her eyes. But then she saw the same distant outline of land, as she had so long ago and a faint smile crept on her lips.

When the land became more defined, she could make out white sands as the water became shallower. With crystal clear clarity, she couldn’t take her eyes off the abundance of color and life she saw below. When she landed on the beach, she took a moment to spread her feet in the sand, then she took off her cloak, laid her weapons upon it and basked in the gentle warmth of the sun. As he put her hair into a long ponytail, she slowly crept to the water's edge. Then Laurien placed a foot in to test the warmth, and it felt wonderful. Satisfied, she walked in the calm waves until the water reached her chest, then she kicked off with her feet and began to swim.

In an instant, she entered a new world unlike anything she had seen before. She was taken aback by just how much life she had failed to notice flying. It was everywhere and so colorful. She was greeted by a multitude of fish, ranging in sizes as they swam to meet her, staying an arms length away but she could tell they were as curious as she. Every time she reached to try and grab one, they darted away, only to return within a moment. This elicited a playful smile upon her lips. Then Laurien swam closer to the sea floor, finding that the coral acted as homes for all of the fish as they darted to hide from her presence, only to peek out to look at her from time to time.

As the sun began to set, Laurien swam back to shore, having spent a majority of the afternoon simply enjoying herself. For she was one to indulge in such activities, it was just how she was and flying was just so dull. She undid her ponytail, letting her nebula of hair fall down her back, dripping wet. It probably wouldn’t dry fully until the next day, unless she got a fire going. But Laurien knew that wouldn’t happen, for she was tired and wanted only to sleep. So Laurien laid down next to her belongings, bundling the cloak up as a pillow. She watched the sun set, and slowly, fell asleep upon the soft sands.

When Laurien awoke, the world was just beginning to wake up, and with a long yawn, so too would she continue her journey. She donned her cloak, strapped her sword upon her back, and wrapped her dagger up in her cloak as well. Then she took off at a brisk jog, following the coast. She knew that it would lead her to the mouth of the river, one way or another.

Half a day later and the verdant land started to become sparse with vegetation. Trees became fewer and far in between, growing at odd angles and with dark leaves, almost black in coloration. The once colorful landscape became dull with and muted. There was hardly any grasses here, or flowers, or anything other than large bushes with prickly thorns. Even the sand became corse and biting. She began to float a ways off the ground when the sand became too much, and the land did not improve. She flew higher, hoping to see something familiar, but when she did not, Laurien flew further up still. It was only then did she see the faintest hint of something blue running up the land, but below her, the world was scarred. Only on the outskirts of the blight, and here and there was there any sign of green. Her expression furrowed as she thought what could have caused such a thing. The land here was ugly, and broken, not like anything she had seen before.

Then a glimpse of movement caught her attention, something red that shimmered in the light of the sun. Oddly enough, it looked like it was getting closer and as she squinted to get a better look, Laurien realized it was getting closer. Yet she made no move to flee, she instead wanted to see what the creature was. And as seconds became minutes, she began to discern what was coming.

She began to speak aloud in a cold, calculating way, ”Red and black scales covering a large body. Tough skin? Probably. Looks like its held aloft by wings twice its size, makes sense. Hmm. Spikes along its back, long tail for balance? No, more so for flying and maneuvering. Yeah. Powerful limbs with sharp claws. For gripping prey?” The creature was getting closer by the second now, she could hear its powerful wing beats. Laurien began to go for her sword as she continued speaking, ”Long snout with big teeth, hungry teeth. Oh and those eyes, so fiery! Not goo-” She was cut off as the beast fell upon her, snapping it’s teeth in her direction. Bits of saliva flew in her direction, coating her cloak in a foul smell as Laurien flew backwards in a burst of speed, narrowly avoiding the dangerous maw.

Laurien flew to the side, narrowly avoiding the bite as she brought her blade forward. There was a frown on her lips as she flew backwards still, watching the reptile chase after her. She spoke with an annoyed voice now, ”Was that necessary? Do you really wish to fight me? You have one chance to turn around!” and to respond to her decree, the creature opened its mouth wide. Laurien furrowed her brow as she watched a flame form, then erupt in a mighty torrent, right in her direction. She cursed, the flames briefly lickering her as she began to fall to avoid them.

At the rush of air, she noticed the her cloak was on fire, and she he went to put them out she groaned, ”It can shoot fire as well. Great, just great.” she then sighed, looking back up as the reptile pulled its wings in close for a dive, and it began descending at a frightening speed, ”Guess I got my answer.” Laurien then righted herself, and took off towards land, spouts of fire following after her as the creature gained. The heat was uncomfortable to say the least, and the smell of brimstone followed. Laurien’s heart began to race as adrenaline pumped into her veins. Each second could be her last she knew, but dwelling on that was useless. The creature had made its choice, and it was her turn to strike.

She looked behind to see fiery eyes not ten feet away from her feet. Good. She took a deep breath, with her sword gripped loose, but firm as she held it close. Then the girl dove. She knew the reptile was at home in the sky, as if it was an extension of it’s being. But two could play at that game, and as much as she disliked flying, she was still not to be underestimated. And as she also knew, the dragon would follow and it did. Once again it curled its wings around it’s body and followed. A coy smile fell upon her lips as they both built momentum. There was no turning back now as they both raced to the land below. It was getting closer, neither of them willingly to yield to the other as the land grew into focus. Laurien then ground to a halt, using her momentum to spin around and awaited the jaws of death. The beast began to unfurl its wings and outstretch it’s claws but Laurien was ready. The woman flew to the side, and as the dragon went past her, she plunged her blade into the creatures side, just above its front leg. There was a howl of pain, deep and guttural that emanated from it’s chest but it was not over. Laurien tried to pull the sword out, now falling with the dragon, but before she could, the creature struck at her with it’s back claws, sending her flying as she fumbled the blade.

There was a flash of pain along her left side, and tattered cloth that flew off into the void, now stained with glowing white. Blood, her blood. She gritted her teeth as she corrected herself from crashing into the earth, but just barely. She landed fast, and the momentum sent her legs running before she fell over them and onto the dry earth. Then she heard roaring and a loud crash as the ground shook.

Clutching her side with one hand, her other went for her dagger as she stood up. Not far from her, the reptile began to stir. As it stood to face her, she could see one of its wings was crushed, bone jutting out at odd angles and thick blood covering its scaled. There was a look of pure malice in its eyes, reflected by her own. Her sword was still lodged above it’s leg, and that was how she was going to kill it. With a snarl from Laurien and a roar from her opponent, they charged each other.

She had to get to the sword, and all the dragon had to do was bite her. She couldn’t let that happen. Then the beast stopped running at her, and reared its ugly head up high. She knew what was coming as it let out another torrent of hot flame. She dodged to the right, doing a somersault as she went, continuing on her feet as the fire began to follow her. She got close, the fire stopped and the reptile lunged it’s head at her, snapping at nothing as Laurien slid. She barely got to her feet when she felt a physical blow hit her from behind. It sent her reeling and knocked the wind out of her. She had forgotten about the tail, and it had cost her. She got up, trying to run, but the dragon pinned her down with it’s front left claws. It loomed over her as she squirmed. The grip was crushing, but she was not without hope. With dagger in hand, she stabbed the hand that held her, watching as the ethereal blade entered into a scale with no resistance.

The reptile recoiled, and went silent before it began to convulse. It let go of her as it tried desperately to remove the dagger, but alas, try as it might it was unable to do so. Laurien half crawled, half ran backwards as she got away from the flailing dragon. She watched as it’s eyes began to glow, it’s moving becoming steadily more erratic as it breathed fire at things that were not there. Her own face was grim at the sight, but that quickly changed when the creature turned on her once more. It came at her with viciousness, clawing the ground with deep ruts. It was now or never, as Laurien got to her feet, and ran at the creature again. It was easier to dodge its claws now, and as it failed to bite her again, Laurien grabbed it’s spike jutting from it’s jaw, and as the creature lifted it’s head high with a snap, Laurien let go. She flew in the air for a ways, before she began to fall, the horned beast raised its eyes to meet her own but before it could breath it’s death upon her, she flew faster. With fire behind her, and a the beast before her, there was no going back. She grabbed her sword again, with both hands, and willed it to unleash itself.

There was a sickening crunch, and the reptile screamed, enough to make even Laurien’s blood curl. As the scales around the impact sight began to darken to ash, the dragon renewed it’s flailing before it fell to the ground for the last time. From the other side of the body, there was a hissing sound, then a beam of energy erupted from its side, having disintegrated all in it’s path. The creature breathed for the last time, then stilled. Laurien shut off the blade, then pulled it out as she fell to the ground in a heap.

Her breathing was heavy and ragged but she was alive, and the girl began to laugh. She had done it, and had proved to herself just how capable she was. Though her pain was great, she smiled through it as she retrieved her dagger. Laurien then pulled away to look at the creature in full. It had put up a great fight, but a part of her still wished it didn’t have to die. She placed a hand upon its snout, gave it a pat and said, ”Rest now, creature of flame and scales. The next journey awaits.”

Laurien then left the body behind, as she made her way ever on. Duty called.

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Hidden 1 yr ago Post by Not Fishing
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Not Fishing The Mediocre

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The Exiles

“We’ve been walking for days.”

Tohash stopped and turned. His son, Yulaf, and other Selka, Dikjonsun, were closed behind him. Dik was the one who had spoken. Tohash’s expression hardened into a glare. “What did you expect? We’re exiled. Walking is all we can do.”

“Maybe we’ll find another tribe,” Yulaf suggested.

“One that still has faith, I hope,” Tohash grumbled bitterly as he turned and continued, using his spear as a walking stick. His age was catching up to him. He was no longer built for this sort of travel, but he refused to let it show. The hours passed. They came across more than a few animals, but none that could threaten them. They stopped briefly to fish for their meal. Then, with Jonsun on watch, Tohash and Yulaf fell asleep.

In the morning Jonsun was gone. Tohash cursed. “Why did that fool even come with us?” At least he had the decency to leave them their possessions. They rose to their feet and continued onward.

The days of travel had begun to wear down Tohash’s senses. Nobody could remain vigilant for hours on end. Thus, his mind began to wander, and it was Yulaf who had to point out the structures that had been built up ahead. They were small, structures made of interlocking branches that seemed to just be stuck into the ground. However, they seemed almost haphazard, as if those who had built them did not truly know what they were doing and constructed in a sloppy manner as the smaller structures were built in a seemingly random fashion. But it soon became clear that they were trying to mimic the tall structure sitting atop a sand dune, made from wood and leaf just as the others had, but it seemed far more deliberate and sturdy than the others.

Soon enough, there was movement through the village, other Selka moved through the village, some moving towards the water and others to the nearby forest.

It was something, at least. Perhaps they might be willing to help two exiled travellers. Tohash advanced forward. “Hello there!” he called out when they came within earshot. Both he and Yulaf waved in greeting.

Some of the selka turned their heads towards the approaching pair, before they looked at each other and spoke in hushed whispers. One of them began moving at a quickened pace towards the massive structure atop the sand dune as three of the other approached, looking to one another nervously.

The trio stopped a distance away, looking at Tohash and Yulaf before one began speaking, “Who are you and why have you come?” The voice was rough, and upon his shoulder was a singular scar. Though it seemed that he was the leader of this tribe with how he carried himself in confidence.

They stopped waving. “My name is Tohash! This is my son, Yulaf! We were unjustly driven from our tribe, and now seek a home elsewhere,” Tohash replied.

“I do not believe you want to make your home here,” the man said, looking to those who stood behind him before back to Tohash. He stepped forward, approaching them as he looked back at the tall structure, and spoke in a hushed whisper, “You should go before she comes.”

Tohash furrowed his brow. “Who?” he questioned, following the Selka’s gaze at the tall structure, which prompted even more curiosity. “How did you build such a thing?”

“We didn’t,” he spoke as a tall woman of white emerged from the structure with the Selka who had entered, massive wings that looked of the night sky stretched as the selka pointed to the ground. “She did,” the male finished before stepping away from Tohash and looking at the sand. A singular flap of wings sounded as the woman moved towards the group.

She landed behind the trio and gaze upon the father and son, a mostly featureless face unmoving as she stepped past the three. The male seemed to lower himself in her presence.

“Welcome,” the woman said as she approached, something in the sand trailing behind her. It was a massive blade, blackened and rippling with scarlet energy. As she stopped in front of them, she planted the blade in the sand in front of her, her hands never leaving its hilt. “Johas, who are the two?” she asked.

“They are exiles seeking refuge, my queen. Tohash and Yusaf are their names,” spoke the now submissive male.

“Is this true?” she asked the two in front her, her eyeless face unmoving as she spoke.

Tohash eyed the seemingly eyeless ‘queen’ warily. Then, he nodded. “It is. We were cast out because we refused to accept the worship of a false god.”

The woman turned her head to the trio for a moment before giving the attention back to Tohash, “Such is the nature of those who seek to force their beliefs upon others,” she said, pausing for a moment, “Forgive me, I am Atmav, God-Queen of the Aspasia. You may rest here for as long as you like.” She gave them a small smile as her head moved between the two.

“God-Queen?” Yulaf spoke up, adopting the same wariness as his father.

“Indeed,” Atmav confirmed, nodding her head to Yulaf.

“The only god we worship is Kirron,” Tohash said. “It is why we were exiled from our tribe in the first place.”

“Then you may worship Kirron. I do not care about worship, so long as you respect my authority,” Atmav noted, leaning on her blade. “I understand that your kind have a strong connection to Kirron and I will not interfere with that.”

“Thank you,” Tohash said, not truly feeling thankful but realizing it would do him no good to make her an enemy. “We can stay for a day or two, but after that we must move on.”

“And where would you be travelling? If you do not mind me asking, that is,” Atmav asked inquisitively.

“I don’t know. I wish to find a tribe that only worships Kirron,” Tohash answered. “He is the only god I have ever worshiped, and I wish to find Selka who feel the same.”

Atmav was silent for a moment, thinking before letting out a disappointed sigh, “There is the Grottu, but they are savages as far as I am aware and they are my enemies. Yimbo defends them, but I have bested Yimbo. It is that sign that I do not believe the Grottu have Kirron’s favor.” Her voice became colder and colder as she looked down upon Tohash a frown coming upon her face before letting out a laugh. “But who am I to deny two traveller’s their wishes,” she spoke as she hefted the blade over her shoulder, “I will have a feast ready by the night if you two wish to join us!”

With that she turned and flew off, leaving the duo in the care of Johas, who kept his gaze down and approached them. “We welcome you, please come with me to my home” he said in a defeated voice.

“She… she bested Yimbo?” Yulaf spoke in disbelief. Tohash clenched his fists in outrage, but said nothing. “Yimbo is supposed to be our protector! Why did she fight him?” Yulaf continued.

“I suppose it was to prove that he is unworthy as a protector,” Johas stated, his voice saddened before continuing, “It was said that she threw him upon Grottu and killed many. I cannot imagine how Yimbo must feel for being used to murder those he was tasked to protect…” He let out a sigh before looking up at the two. “But I suppose the Queen is right, if she bested Yimbo and the Grottu, I do not believe they have Kirron’s favor.”

“Blasphemy…” Tohash hissed. “If they did not have Kirron’s favour, then why would Yimbo have defended them? Why do you follow that murderer?”

“Were you not listening? She would kill us if we did not submit, we cannot hope to fight her,” Johas said, flinching from the words of Tohash. “I do not wish to see all those who I know and love be slaughtered just so we can hold onto our views.”

“Pray to Kirron for aid,” Tohash urged him. “He cannot allow this to happen.”

“If he did not want this to happen, then why would it?” Johas shook his before turning away from Tohash. “Would you not protect your son, even if it meant you had to turn your back to the divine? That is the choice I had to make for my people. There is no fighting it,” he continued.

“I would not abandon Kirron,” Tohash insisted. “I follow my heart and I take what comes. That is how we are meant to live.”

“If that is what you want to believe. I will not allow my people to die just to solely believe in Kirron,” Johas stated, stepping away from Tohash before he continued, “I would recommend you become more open-minded, if not for yourself, then for your son’s sake.”

“You see no alternative other than serving a demon, and you say I need to be more open-minded?” Tohash asked, clearly affronted, but doing his best to keep his voice hushed.

“I am surviving. Just as Kirron would want. I am sure that he would find my judgement to be sound,” Johas sighed, turning away from Tohash. “Perhaps I am as stubborn as you are. But like I said, I am not allowing my people to die just so we can worship Kirron.”

Johas began to step away, moving back to the tribe of crudely made structures. The two who had came with him to greet Tohash gave the father and son one last look before turning to follow Johas, leaving them to their own devices.

“What do we do?” Yulaf asked after they were out of earshot.

“The last time I tried to inspire others, they turned against us, and they were our own tribe,” Tohash recounted bitterly, then he sighed. “We will have no luck if we try the same here. And we cannot make this place our home.”

“What if he tells his ‘queen’ what you said?” Yulaf asked.

“Then we’re doomed,” Tohash answered. “She can fly. We can run now, and she will catch us. We can sneak away during the feast, but she will notice our absence, and catch us. No. We go to this feast, and leave in the morning. We must pray to Kirron that this Johas still has a shred of decency.” With those words he walked into the village, briefly glancing up at the sky.

Kirron protect me.

The sky had become a mixture of orange and blue as the sun began the process of setting in the horizon, bringing a time of silence upon the tribe as the people began to assemble outside the great house that Atmav had built. They all sat in one giant half-circle as their queen brought out several deer from her building and ocean-hunters brought fish by the handful. For the tribe, it was a bountiful amount of food, given there were only thirty adults in the village, but many more young mouths to feed. It was due to this abundance of food that there was a mixed expression of both happiness and fear.

Atmav gave a smile before her she ripped the hind leg of the deer clean off the body before using her massive blade to carve out portions of meat. She handed the meet to the children who sat in the front, fish also being passed to them as the adults merely watched from behind. It was silent as this happened, clear that the people were still more fearful of the giant woman more than they were happy of the abundance of food.

Once the children were fed, Atmav distributed food to the adults, the first of which being Tohash. “I hope you have been having a pleasant day,” she said, a smile across her face.

“I have,” Tohash said as he accepted a piece. He was not sure what to make of the atmosphere. Though she was a false god and a demon, Atmav had been nothing but friendly. Yet if the stories were true, she had also murdered countless Selka and fought the Selka guardian. Furthermore, everyone was clearly terrified of her. Was this all a show, then? “Do you have feasts like this often?” he asked.

“As often as I can manage, though sometimes Sprite keeps me from going to hunt,” Atmav answered before handing a piece to Yulaf. She still held her smile before calling for Johas to take over food distribution, not leaving her guests for the moment. “I think the people appreciate the gesture, though I suppose they are still wary of my strength,” she said absentmindedly.

“Who is Sprite?” Yulaf questioned after taking a bite of his piece.

“Sprite is my little friend, about this tall,” Atmav said, holding up her hands a few inches apart before continuing, “She is my right hand. Though I do question her leadership skills sometimes.” The Queen allowed herself to laugh a bit at her own words as she looked back to Tohash as her laughter faded a bit.

She is mad, Tohash realized. She thinks her own hand speaks to her.

“I try my best to keep the people happy,” She said, going back to their original conversation.

“With food?” Yulaf asked. By the look on his face, his thoughts were similar to Tohash’s - contrary to Atmav’s friendly demeanor and the plentiful food, none of these people actually seemed to be happy.

“Well… yes. A full belly is always something to boost the morale of a group, at least, that was my experience before I came to Galbar,” she looked back at the people who talked to one another, quietly and in hushed tones. Atmav only gave a saddened sigh, “Galbar is proving to be different than my old home.”

“Food will not always be plentiful,” Tohash warned her between bites. “My own tribe suffered a shortage.”

“That is… unfortunate. Though we have yet to suffer such a blight here, I will keep that in mind,” Atmav said, raising her hand to her chin and going into thought. She shook her head to return to her duty of entertains the guests, giving a soft smile. “Did your people overcome such a challenge?”

“They did,” Tohash answered bitterly. “At the cost of their faith. It is why we were exiled.”

“You people and your faith to Kirron. The Grottu felt the same way, probably still do,” Atmav commented, her own disdain coming to her voice, “I swear, if he did as horrible things as Vakk does then you would question the divine as I have.”

She allowed a finger to run across the blade of her greatsword before speaking in a softer tone, “But not all the gods are bad, I suppose.”

“You called yourself God-Queen,” Yulaf pointed out.

“A title Sprite bestowed upon me, with, perhaps, a modicum of truth. In this realm, I have been strengthened and made into something more powerful than what you could comprehend,” Atmav explained, still tracing her finger along the blade of her weapon.

“What do you mean by that?” Yulaf asked, his own wariness giving way to curiosity.

Atmav gave some thought for a moment before answering, “Well, the strength that I have been gifted allows me to do great things, like lift up the massive weight of Yimbo. I can drag trees. But that is not what makes my power terrifying to your kind, when in battle I have been known to fly into a rage so powerful that I lose the ability to feel pain.” She allowed herself to laugh a bit at the last sentence before continuing, “The Grottu threw rocks upon me and I felt nothing. I held open Yimbo’s mouth and I did not feel his teeth graze me.”

Atmav grew silent for a moment before shifting the hold of her blade to Yulaf, “Go on. Lift this blade.”

Reluctantly, Yulaf set down his food, and although Tohash shot him a warning look, he reached forward with both hands to grip the sword. When Atmav let go, the blade nearly dropped, but Yulaf tightened his grip, grit his teeth, and strained to keep it upright. His hands shook, and the tip of the blade wavered like a branch in a storm.

“My divine strength allows me to effortlessly wield that sword,” Atmav said, watching the young man exerting himself to hold up the sword. She crossed her arms and gave a wide smile, laughing a bit before commanding, “Is that all you can lift it? Come now, show me your inner fire, boy! Lift it!”

Tohash shook his head slightly, but Yulaf either did not notice or did not heed the warning. With an audible groan he raised the blade higher. The blade continued to shake, his eyes closed, beads of sweat rolled down his face, and his muscles bulged. Then he stopped, and it looked as though he could not go any further. A second passed, and his groan turned to a yell as he raised it as high as he could, pointing it directly at the ceiling. He held that pose for a few seconds more before the weight toppled him from his seat and onto the floor.

After a while, he rose to his feet, leaving the weapon on the floor.

Atmav’s eyeless face merely stared at the boy with her wide grin. “That is the fire I wanted to see!” She explained before clasping his shoulder as a hearty laugh rolled over her. “You will be strong in the future, boy! I can tell! A fine build for a warrior!”

Yulaf said nothing. His muscles ached, and he was exhausted. To say that he ‘sat back down’ would be inaccurate; he allowed himself to fall back onto his seat. He looked to Atmav and nodded.

“I think my son could use some rest,” Tohash suggested, shooting Yulaf a reprimanding look.

The Queen gave a disappointed huff. “If you say so,” Atmav sighed, moving to pick up her blade before stopping by Yulaf. “I can teach you a thing or two about being a warrior, all you need to do is ask,” she whispered into his ear before moving to her seat at the back of the building.

“Wait,” Yulaf managed to speak up between heavy breaths. He took a moment to collect himself, and then continued. “How strong can I become?”

“Yulaf…” Tohash began in a disapproving voice.

Atmav stopped, turning to Yulaf, “You can become as strong as you desire, so long as you work for that strength.”

“And you say you can show me how?” Yulaf asked.

“I could, but it takes time, and dedication,” Atmav informed, still holding a smile.

“We have nothing else to do,” Yulaf said, sitting taller on his seat.

“Yulaf!” Tohash repeated, in a sharper tone. He looked to Atmav. “We will be leaving tomorrow morning.”

“Now, now,” Atmav began, looking back at Tohash, “Tell me, where does Yulaf sit? With the adult or the children?”

Tohash returned her gaze, though there were no eyes to stare into. It was Yulaf who spoke next. “Father… that Bird of Kalmar who came to our tribe. He did not force us to change, he did not force us to worship his master, he did not take away our right to worship Kirron. Anhaf accepted his help willingly, and you were the only one who objected when they built a shrine. I went with you into exile not because I agreed with you, but because you were my father, and I thought we would find another tribe. We walked for days until we found this one, and it changed as well. When do we stop walking?”

“When we find a tribe that still holds it faith,” Tohash answered, turning his glare onto his own son.

“And what if they all changed? What then? Do I bury you in the woods and then die alone?” Yulaf shook his head. “The Selka are changing, father.”

“You are, in fact, welcome to stay with us,” Atmav reminded.

“And they have food here,” Yulaf added. “The bird was right. Our shortage had nothing to do with Kirron.”

Tohash looked from Yulaf, to Atmav, and then to Yulaf again. For a moment, he hesitated. Then, his expression darkened, and he looked away. “You are no longer my son,” he said in a defeated tone. Without another word, he stood and walked out the door.

Yulaf rose to his feet as well. He took three steps to follow and then stopped, hesitating.

Atmav’s footsteps came from behind Yulaf and when she spoke, her voice bared anger this time, “How dare he?” She came up next to him, her mouth curled into an angered grimace. “You did nothing wrong and this is how he treats you? If that were my father then I would confront him and show him what happens when you disown family.”

“Nothing will come of it…” Yulaf muttered. “He had me, our tribe, and his faith. Now he only has his faith, and he won’t give that up. There’s… there’s no point in picking fights with old men.”

“If that is what you believe,” Atmav said, rolling her head for a moment before asking Yulaf, “And what will you do?”

“The bird said that we should look for ways to better ourselves,” Yulaf answered sadly. “And Kirron taught that we should find our fun where we can. Maybe I can do both. You said I can stay?”

“Indeed, you can,” Atmav confirmed, nodding her head as she took a singular step forward to look out of her home. “We could always use more hands, but they must be loyal hands,” she said before turning to Yulaf.

She saw tears in his eyes. With one hand, the Selka wiped them away. “Then I will stay,” he decided.

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Hidden 1 yr ago Post by Muttonhawk
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Muttonhawk Let Slip the Corgis of War

Member Seen 1 hr ago

Goddess of Water
14 MP 16 FP


Up north, a ways past the Pan but not quite inside Ashalla, there was an impressive mountain chain. At least, it was impressive to the Beast. All it had seen in its short life had been annoying rivers, annoying mazes, and recently an annoyingly large lake. Along the way here, it had also seen and tasted not-so-annoying things. Its favorite had been the tasty lake and river. It’s what the Beast could only imagine the annoying lady that made it vomit would have tasted like, had it managed to plop her into its maw.

A low, tired growl escaped its throat. It wasn’t tired. It couldn’t get tired, but… Eating so many weak things was seriously tiresome.

It already had to empty its stomach several times just on the way to this tall mountain, and the path it had taken to get here was evident by how much of a mess it left everywhere it passed by.

It couldn’t be bothered to eat all parts of its prey, could it? There was no joy in licking up deer blood.

Its form was large, so normal-sized caverns were not suitable for it. From afar, it had noticed a large cave opening on the side of this mountain, and now it had reached it. With just a few more paces, some more climbing and a powerful flap of its wings, it landed on the protruding stone and looked deep into the darkness of the cavern.


It could bring back tons of prey here and eat it slowly. Here, nothing would interrupt its feeding rituals-

Growling. Low, dangerous, and most importantly… Not the Beast’s.

Its wide open, spotlight eyes narrowed, and their green light shone down the cavern. Within the far shadows, far beyond the reach of its light, the Beast saw shadows writhe and shuffle.

Big prey. The forms looked well developed, and they smelled like smoke. And they were big! There was so much flesh to them! The Beast’s maw dropped open slightly, and drool began to drip onto the stone ground.

There was a hiss and a whimper. Parts of the mass of shadows stepped further back and disappeared into the darkness. Others, came forward. As they stepped into the unnatural green light, the Beast realized it was two individuals. A quick sniff revealed them to be a male and female, recently mated, and with the stench of numerous, more tender smelling beings clinging onto them. Offspring.

The growling one was the male. It lowered its head and bared its sharp teeth dangerously. the baser beast knew of the dangerous situation. It was half the size of the intruder, after all. But a dragon’s pride could not be trampled, not even by the Gods! Not while his mate was relying on him.

The female stood a few hesitant paces behind the male, but it hissed and held its wings outstretched in the enclosed space. The Beast assumed to prevent it from seeing the offspring. Unfortunate, for the Beast’s nose was exceptional and had already caught whiff of the tasty little things.

It salivated in anticipation. Its hardened heart beat harder and quicker, its mouth hung open wider, and a dangerous glint came to its eyes.

The male recoiled back a pace and fell silent.

The Beast looked at it and snarled. No movement.

And so, it leaned its large head closer to the male, opening its maw more and more until it looked as if it could swallow the male dragon’s head whole.

It happened in a flash.

The whole cavern lit up in a ball of fire. A wave of fire spilled out of the side of the mountain, melting stone and vaporizing passing birds.

A wave crashed against the dark stone.

Kirron stopped walking to take another look down the broad, craggy cliffs of the northern coast. He popped another sunflower seed into his mouth and ground it between his teeth. The waves were a powerful sight when crashing against such a sudden obstacle. Even if there was little life here save for some grass and a few sea birds, it would be a shame to see it weathered out of its present glory in the coming ages.

"I should stroll around the coast of this place more often," he mumbled to himself. "Always something new."

Another wave crashed, spraying upwards with a loud hiss. The salty air burned softly in Kirron's nostrils. He smiled, readjusted the tree-trunk club over his shoulder, and continued.

With his leisurely pace, he did not expect much to jump out at him or for some great new discovery to be made. A break now and then was refreshing, especially after the teething issues with the selka, as he liked to think of it.

He put another bunch of seeds into his mouth. But when he chewed, his face scrunched up and he was still. He slowly crunched. It wasn't right. He pulled the remains of one seed off his tongue and looked at the moosh on his hand.

"Not that..." he said to himself. He stood up straighter, looking around and sniffing at the air. He grumbled to himself.

He followed the taste in the air. Relying on his nose, he kept his eyes to the distance. Up the narrow mountain trail he went until his foot wetly squelched into something. He looked down, lifting his foot to find it covered in blood, grass, fur, mud, and more. Chewed, smelly, and left abandoned.

He grumbled in thought again.

A thunderous roar cracked the stone. Several mountains couldn’t take the pressure, and landslides ran rampant. Valleys were erased, life was snuffed out in moments.

There, just past this next mountain!

Two more roars echoed throughout the mountain range. Pained, but proud and strong!

The sky seemed to catch fire, as a torrent of yellow and orange erupted from behind the mountain, followed by the two graceful shapes of fully mature dragons. They flew as one, and as one they released another torrent of fire onto their enemy. Heavy movements dispersed along the cracked ground, and the torrent of fire was blown away and back towards the two dragons.

The dragons were unhurt, their forms smoking and glowing like molten ore. The larger of the two let out a mighty roar, and dove. Its partner following closely. They were soon obscured by the mountain, but roars and panting and the ripping of flesh and scales could be heard.

Kirron vaulted another boulder and strained his head up to get a closer look. "There's no way I'm seeing this. No way!" He emptied his lungs in a single large laugh. "Ha! But I'm not gonna miss it either!"

He swung his free hand forward, squat down, and then launched himself off the rock face towards the brawl. He flew through the air for many seconds before he was pulled back down through the air, skidding to a long stop on his feet over the obscuring mountain.

"It is her! Hahahah!" He bellowed.

Far down in a small valley was a large Beast. It was missing several scales, panting wildly and showing several bloodied injuries along its left eye. Its golden ichor leaked slowly over the writhing shape of the smaller dragon. The Beast’s jaws were clenched tightly around its neck, thick dark blood coating its face. The dragon screamed out in anguish as the other took the opportunity to pounce onto the Beast’s back and bite into the back of its neck. Dark blue scales went flying and a growl escaped the Beast’s throat.

In an instant, it released the bloodied female’s neck and tried to shake the male off her back as it sunk its claws into whatever spot of exposed flesh it could find.

Kirron didn't just want to sit back and watch this time. He leapt and slid down into the valley. A trail of dust tore up under his heels all the way down onto semi-level ground. He walked out of the grey cloud with a broad, shark-toothed grin across his face. "Li'kalla!" He shouted at the fight. "I didn't take you for the wrestling type! What a fun transformation you've had!"

Another roar. This one more pained than the last. The Beast shook more violently, until the dragon on its back was finally dislodged. It flew over Kirron and crashed against the mountain above him. He strained his neck and stepped to follow its movement.

Immediately, the Beast turned its eyes toward Kirron and in an unrefined tone, it growled, “KIRRR… ON”

"Yes." Half of his grin curled upward at the Beast. "Doesn't it feel so much better to really throw your weight around? To shout out with a mighty voice!?" He lifted one arm out with his palm up. "You are strong now!"

The Beast closed the distance between it and the God as he spoke, and when he was finished, it flicked its tongue at him, still covered in the female dragon’s blood. Kirron's eyes scrunched shut. It licked the God forcefully and pushed him with its tongue, its eye wounds closing up quickly.

Kirron laughed and stepped up to pat the Beast's head. "Well met for sure, little sister." He paused. His smile faded.

Perhaps not little sister. Not completely. At the very least not just because of the new size. It licked him again, pressing its snout against him and blowing out an impressive amount of hot air.

"You're different," Kirron realised with some confusion. "Are you hiding some part of you away, Li'Kalla?"

The Beast did not find its words easily.

”RUN… FROM… GREEN GOD VAKK... SCARED… TINY ONES… WANT EAT AZURA...” It managed to grunt out as it sat down.

"She'll probably object to that," Kirron let himself a small guffaw. "D'you stand up to Vakk?" He placed down his club and lowered himself cross-legged beside the Beast, clutching his knees with his hands.

The Beast grunted in satisfaction and drooled a little over Kirron as it went to lick him again, ”VAKK TASTE GOOD. EAT TENTACLE. KIRRON TASTE GOOD. I EAT IF KIRRON WANT.” It opened its mouth as if to invite the God in.

Kirron leaned away from the Beast, but his bemusement was short lived. He pointed a finger at it. "If you eat me, Li, it won't taste as good coming back up the other way. I stepped in the messes you left on the way here."


The sunken eyes in Kirron's face lit up as if an idea had struck. He carefully stood himself up and braced himself. "...Don't mistake me; it's a bad habit to vomit up what you eat. But, I want to see if it's just water in there or if there are some tiny ones you're hiding away." He slouched and beckoned with both his arms. "Now open wide again, I want you to eat me!"

The beast recoiled slightly and stared coldly at the God, as if suddenly hesitating. Still, it opened its maw and leaned close to Kirron. He was already running. He jumped straight in, fists first, and disappeared straight down the Beast's gullet.

He tasted of blood and sunflower seeds.

The Beast felt full, really full, all of a sudden. And so it lied down and relaxed. It listened as the female dragon’s pulse slowed and faded, and also as the male dragon tried to dislodge himself from the mountain and ended up spearing one of his broken ribs into his heart. No threats anymore. It would eat them and their offspring later, it reasoned, once it felt like it had savored the God enough.

No Might spent
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Hidden 1 yr ago 1 yr ago Post by Goldeagle1221
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Goldeagle1221 I am Spartacus!

Member Seen 12 days ago

The sign hanging from the exterior of Paulos’ tavern swung in the gentle breeze, the old wooden building an ancient grey. The smell of smoke snuck out through the loose plank wood door, the entrance hanging two stone steps from the ground. The clay tiles shuffled on the roof of the story high building and as the three Praxians approached, D’Bran gave it a disapproving look. Before he could say anything, Hondros suddenly let out a hot sigh.

“Chickens?” He glared, “Now we are going to have some bright eyed kid running around telling every chicken farmer in the area we are looking for a flock.”

“Better than tipping off the mark,” Renevin gave a curt nod and adjusted the bag around his shoulders. Hondros rolled his eyes and secured a crossbow to his back and fidgeted with his sword belt.

“Come on.” Hondros pushed through the door of the tavern and immediately the interior air rushed to exit. They were slapped with the stale breath of a midsummers alcohol and damp tobacco. Renevin wiggled his nose and D’Bran smiled.

“Smell that?”

Renevin nodded slowly, giving D’Bran a conspiratory look, “Oh I do.” The pair scanned the room. It was unremarkable with an empty hearth, the wooden windows flung open to let in what little air dared to ooze in from the outside. A humid warmth stagnated around the creaky floors and unpainted walls. The chairs were neat, at least, and not a speck was left on the tables. The bar itself was a different story, holding the grizzled failures who occupied their alcoholistic tendencies in the middle of a work day. Most were slumped over or arguing about the local politics. Garthilians experienced a good amount of freedom, with estate owners like Nopoitis controlling the rural job markets, but otherwise work was optional and not enforced by local lords. Still, one would wonder what the local lord would think of this mess, let alone their opinions, as for Renevin, who was he to judge; his eyes focused on a still smouldering cigar of tobacco sitting by a dirty dressed man who held his face down against the bar and his arms wrapped around as if he was sleeping.

“D’Bran,” He nudged the sandy haired man and the larger man turned and squinted before smiling. The pair slowly floated over to the far end of the bar where it sat, forcing Hondros to follow as the older man continued to scan the room. They barely caused their stools to creak before the bartender was on them.

“What can I get-” He stopped as he soaked in the heavily armed trio, “Am I interrupting a siege I didn’t know about?”

“Oh,” D’Bran waved a hand, “No, we are just out looking for chickens.” Hondros pinched the bridge of his nose.

“If ye want good hens,” A drunk gargled in the distance, “My cousin always has a good stock.”

“Thank you but,” Hondros shook his head, “I think we are all set.”

“Not good enough fer ye, eh?”

Renevin let a small smile form on his face as the two men continued their latest debate. He jabbed a finger into the sleeping mess next to him, “Hey.” The drunk squirmed angrily and grumbled but didn’t get up, “Hey.” Renevin jabbed him again, “You going to finish your smoke?”

The drunk waved a shooing hand without looking up and Renevin shrugged. He flicked the smoke up to his lips and took in a heavenly puff. D’Bran skipped his stool closer and shouldered Renevin, “How bout a puff for old D.B.?” He pleaded.

Renevin pinched it out of his mouth and handed it over, “Dumb Bastard?”

“You’re a natural comedian,” D’Bran jeered with a cloud of smoke, “Maybe you should think about changing jobs.” He sucked in a greedy pull, the embers glowing a hot red s it traveled up the paper. Renevin swiped it from D’Bran’s mouth and plucked it back into his own, causing the man to groan. Renevin waved him off and turned back to Hondros and the bartender.

“-- just a ways up the road, roosting in one of those old abandoned Praxian forts.”

“Which one?” Hondros asked, elbows on the bar as he leaned in. They were all but whispering.

“Orriyix,” The bartender offered, “Local Lord hasn’t caught wind of it yet, I only know because my niece saw it land.”

“And you didn’t tell anyone?” Renevin cut in, “Why not?”

“Not my place, and I don’t really care,” The bartender shrugged, “Besides, I’d hate to be the one responsible for the slaughter of a strange and mystical being.”

“Yet you told us,” D’Bran raised his brow.

“I guess I did,” The bartender gave him a hard stare and put a glass on the table with a hard glass clang, “You boys drinking?”

“Pissing,” Hondros corrected and stood up, “I’ll be back, should probably check on the wagon boy anyways.”

The other two watched as Hondros left and as he did they swiveled back to the bartender. D’Bran held up two fingers and the bartender shrugged and turned to fetch some mugs. Renevin rubbed his forehead, “It’s not even the afternoon.”

“Yeah, but we aren’t working today,” D’Bran defended.

“We--” Renevin sat up straight, smoking cigar hanging from his mouth, “What the hell do you think we are doing right now?”

Two mugs slid down to D’Bran and he lifted one, “I don’t know, drinking?”

“You’re a genius, I hope you’re aware of that,” Renevin scrunched his nose at his drink.

“And don’t you forget it.”

Eventually D’Bran finished his drink, all the while Renevin’s grew warm and untouched. Beady eyes stared at them the whole time from across the bar. An old man who wore anxiety in his forehead couldn’t take his eyes off the two. Eventually Renevin noticed the man and nudged D’Bran, who slowly turned to look. Instant regret washed over the duo as the old man’s eyes brightened when they made accidentally contact with the Praxian’s gazes.

“Void be damned.” They swore as the old man made his way to them. As he approached he grew happier and happier until-

“Praxians!” A smile formed on his thin lips, “By Harmony, you are Praxians!” His face was beat red with intoxication and his breath wasn’t much better. Renevin leaned back.

“We are,” He scanned the man, “What of it?”

“My son,” The man squeezed Renevin’s arm, causing the man to shake him off, “You have to save my son.”

“What are you talking about?” Renevin stood up, forcing the man to stagger backwards. D’Bran stood next to Renevin.

“If your son needs saving, why don’t you do it,” D’Bran snapped, “Instead of hauling away in the drunkhouse.”

“I couldn’t watch,” He started to sob, “The Lord’s men are there, but I don’t think they can save him.”

“What happened,” Renevin finally asked.

“I--” The man choked on his confession, “I’ve done some bad things. I angered a lot of people and now they are at my house, holding my son -- knife to throat -- in hopes I pay a ransom.”

“Sounds like you should pay your ransom,” D’Bran gave the man a cold stare.

“Or at the very least, not bring your work home with you,” Renevin added.

“Please, this is my son!”

Renevin closed his eyes and let out a silent breath, “Why do you need us if the Lord’s men are already there?”

“They are brutes, dumb sword happy brutes. They’ll make the wrong step and get my son killed,” He slammed his fist into his palm.

D’Bran looked at Renevin, who returned his stare. After a few seconds of wordless debate, the two looked back and Renevin exhaled the last of his cigar, “Alright, show us the way.”

The small man hurried to the door, the Praxians lumbering behind. Hondros nearly walked into the group as he was entering the bar, “Woah, leaving so soon? Did I miss the dinner bell, what’s going on?”

“We got hired to be nanny’s” D’Bran answered.

“Well, not nanny’s. Nanny’s keep babies out of trouble, this one is already in trouble,” Renevin corrected.

“Post-nanny’s?” D’Bran was cut off by Hondros.

“D’Bran, Renevin!”

“We are saving this drunk’s son from some thugs,” Renevin clarified, “We can hop onto Orriyix after.”

“I don’t remember you getting promoted,” Hondros crossed his arms, “But you must’ve with all these orders you’re taking and giving.”

“Hondros,” Renevin pleaded, “It’s literally written in stone; we help.”

“Doesn’t say anything about stretching ourselves thin, though,” Hondros sighed and waved for the old man to continued walking, “Let’s just make this quick.”

Up the road a ways and down a steep grassy slope was a large wheat plantation. The sun glinted over the horizon, threatening to set in the next few hours and casting a long shadow over the front of the stone and lime building. A windmill creaked in the distance and a group of four soldiers stood silent by the door of the estate. The Praxian’s footsteps were muffled by the growing wind, giving them an almost ghost like descent to the soldiers. Finally a stray twing snapped under Hondros’ boot and everyone looked at each other.

“What’s going on?” Hondros opened with.

“Who are you?” A bearded knight answered.

“We are Praxians, the old man sent us,” Hondros nudged at the shivering father.

“A heap of faith, that one,” the knight cursed, “We have this under control.”

“Our client thinks otherwise,” Hondros pressured, “What’s the situation?”

“You have no jurisdiction in this matter, mercenary,” the Knight pressured, “This is a case of banditry on Lord Hephatos’ fife, not some stray pigguts who stole a cat.”

Hondros and the knight stared at each other, eyes like daggers. Eventually Hondros cleared his throat and Renevin sighed, “What’s your plan, then?”

“That’s not for yo-” The knight began.

“We are going to storm it,” one of the other soldiers cut him off meekly and the knight gritted his teeth

“You can’t!” The father huffed, “My boy is in there.”

“And I bet they have him by knifepoint,” Renevin added, “Waiting for you to storm. As soon as they see you they are going to cut the boys throat and run.” He paused, “But you already know that, don’t you? Why else would you still be waiting outside looking at your feet.”

Hondros grinned as the knight’s face turned red with anger and shame, “By void, fine. What do the most holy and great Praxian’s suggest?” He sneered, “Scare them away with bedtime tales?”

Hondros groaned loudly, “I don’t have time for this!” He pushed past the knight and walked up to the estate. He slammed a fist on the door, “Hey assholes! Give in now or face punishment!”

“Fuck your mother!” Came from past the door and Hondros shouted back.

“So be it, then!”

The Praxian ripped the crossbow off his back and looked at Renevin, “Use the stones, wait for my shot.”

“The stones?” Renevin’s eyes widened.

“Braman is going to kill us if he knows this is what we used his stones for.” D’Bran added.

“You wanted the job, we are doing it right. Use them,” Hondros pushed past the others and disappeared around the flank of the building. The knight and his two squares stared at the Praxians and Renevin shrugged of his bag. He produced one of the lightning filled orbs and handed it to D’Bran. The blue glow caused the onlookers eyes to grow wide with wonder. D’Bran ripped his short sword from his belt and nodded. Renevin procured the dark inky orb and ripped his own blade free.

In the distance there was a sudden twang and a fleshy thud. Renevin crushed the glassy orb with a squeeze of his fist, the glass dissipating into nothingness. A dark, light stealing miasma began to spill from his hand.

Inside the estate, a group of seven men listened carefully. One scraggly bearded bandit stood near the back of the large foyer, a young dark haired man tied to a chair. The bandit held a large curved knife to the sitting man’s neck, the nervous shaking of the bandit causing the blade to nick his throat. The man whimpered, eyes closed. The other six stood near the door, maces, woodcutting axes and even two swords held ready. The entire room was turned upside down, with furniture flipped, and estate papers everywhere. Shafts of light cut through the many --albeit very thin-- windows, motes of dust dancing in the skinny spears of the sun. A servant lay slumped against one corner of the room, dead and bloody. Without warning a accented voice suddenly erupted past the door.

“Hey assholes! Give in now or face punishment!”

One of the bandits near the door looked at the others, who gave him a resolved look. He sucked in a breath, “Fuck your mother!”

“So be it then!” The voice called back, and then footsteps faded from the door. The bandits tightened their grips, leather straps straining. The bearded bandit by the tied up man sucked in a breath and held his blade firm against the tied up man’s neck, pressing it in dangerously. A few silent seconds passed, the only noise being the haggard breath of the hostage.


Suddenly a bolt smashed through one of the windows, miraculously slipping by the thin frame and slamming into the ear of the man with the knife. There was a skull cracking snap and his head snapped to the side, the bolt all but disappearing inside his head with an explosion of gore. The bandit slammed into the ground, dead on impact. The blood covered hostage screamed and the other bandits’ hearts lurched.

The door flew off its hinges with a loud slam, and instantly an inky blackness swallowed the room. The bandits yelled as they rubbed at their eyes trying to see. There were two faint sounds of glass shattering and suddenly two swords cut through the darkness, crackling with blue electricity. Electric eyes stared past them and they began to cut through the bandits. The blades hummed as they passed by the first bandit, the cutting edges cleaving into his neck. The other bandits fumbled their weapons forward in the magical darkness, but it was too late.

With mechanical precision the blades found their openings in the pitch black. Unseen blood was burnt to the gruesome wounds by arcing electricity, muscles spasmed uncontrollably and blackened burns jumped over the bandit’s seizing bodies. Two by two they fell in a matter of seconds, their corpses wriggling on the ground, until all that remained was one tied up man struggling against his constraints and two crackling blades of blue. One of the blades arced down, slicing the ropes from the man’s wrists, the other swipe the horizontally, the tip snagging and cutting loose the bonds on his ankles. The rescued man yelped and scurried forward in the darkness, blind but free. A gruff hand wrangled the collar of his shirt and hauled him to his feet. With a hard push, he was thrown into the outside.

Light assaulted the man’s eyes as he landed in the sunny grass of the outside. He turned behind him to see Renevin and D’Bran emerged from an inky black miasma that held the estate in its grip. Their eyes buzzed with electricity for a moment before fading to normal. Suddenly the man’s father jumped out from behind a knight and two squires.

“Basil!” The father cried and Basil scampered to his feet, dodging the embrace.

“F-father!” Basil looked at everyone with wide eyes.

“The Praxians came, boy, they saved you,” The father tilted his head at Renevin.

“O-Oh,” Basil stammered, and as the father once again went to hug his son, Basil retreated, “Uhm, that’s okay.” He put his hands up, “I need to-- process.” He turned around and walked off towards the fields, hands gripping his hair.

“He’s an odd one,” Hondros remarked as he rejoined the group, his fingers unstringing his crossbow.

“Takes after his mother,” The father grunted, “But thank you, I don’t know what would’ve happened--”

“The very same thing,” The knight defended, “I will be adding this gross display of insolence to my report.” With little else he turned on his heel, “You will learn your place.” As he began to walk, one of the squires secretly pumped Hondros’ hand.

“Thank you, I will make sure our lord hears the real story,” He smiled and Hondros bowed his head.

“Squire!” The knight barked and the young soldier hurried off. Once everyone was out of ear shot, Renevin turned to the father.

“I suppose that’s it then.”

“I suppose it is,” The father hummed and tilted back and forth on his heels, “I suppose it is.”

“No need to PAY us,” D’Bran hinted loudly.

“Our order doesn’t require payment, but it does enjoy DONATIONS,” Hondros cleared his throat.

“Ah very good then,” The father smiled a thin lipped grin and began to toddle off, “I’ll make sure everyone knows the kindness of Ampexida’s oldest heroes!”

“VERY GOOD,” Hondros all but growled. The group grumbled as the old man slammed the door behind him, having retired to his estate, the miasma having disappeared. They stood there for a moment in wonder, and then Basil reappeared from around the corner of the estate.

“Hold,” Basil ordered as he jogged up to them with a small bag in his hand.

“Better not be a-” D’Bran began but was cut off by the young man as he hefted the heavy bag into his arms.

“Consider it a donation my crazed father would never give,” Basil conspired, “I’d give you more, but the rest is for me. I got to get the void away from here before the old madman’s dealings get me into another mess.”

The young man shook his head with exasperation and once again wandered off seemingly aimlessly. Renevin blew an exhale through his lips, “Must run in the family.”

“Look at this,” D’Bran suddenly huddled over the bag as if protecting it from outside view. The other two bent their heads to see, their eyes growing wide. A small pile of golden coins stared back at them. D’Bran shut the bag quickly, as if they were about to fly away.

“Add that to the dragon ransom, and we have a refreshed order,” Hondros smiled greedily.

“And finally some real food,” D’Bran grumbled.

“New pillows,” Renevin added and the others groaned, all three chanting in admiration, “New pillows.”

On their way back to get to wagon from the stables, the day dreaming trio was suddenly stopped by a strange looking man.

“Hold, Praxians,” The mustachioed gentleman commanded, “I hear tell that you are in the market for grade A chickens!” He beamed a white smile, with only one tooth missing from the back.

Hondros glared at everyone involved and sucked in a deep breath, “SON OF A--

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Hidden 1 yr ago Post by Muttonhawk
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Muttonhawk Let Slip the Corgis of War

Member Seen 1 hr ago

Before Kirron’s encounter with the Beast

The air fluttered through Kirron’s white mane as he directed himself through the air. His last jump had been from the middle of a cold, dry, rocky land far from any ocean. Just a step for him. This jump was bringing him over clouds, and only just over another colossal range of grey mountains. Ohannakeloi’s land never seemed to end. Kirron loved it.

Finally over the mountains, Kirron could see the ocean glinting at the edge of the other end of the continent. Plenty of greenery was before him, but he wanted to take in the view from a high vantage point.

Just as well the ground was rising again to welcome him back.

"WooooOOOOAAAAAH!" His cheeks puffed up as he yelled from the sheer force of wind against his direction of travel. The source of his exclamation came in the form of a large bank of scree that readily swallowed him all the way up to the abdomen and slowed his momentum with force enough to slam his arms and face against its surface. His tree trunk club whizzed past him with a smooth sheeouuuu! as it surfed in a line all the way down, causing a small landslide of stone onto the forest beneath it.

The dull THONK of the club’s end stopping hard upon a boulder startled Kirron out of his daze. He sat up and shook the pebbles out of his beard like a wet dog. "Who had the time to pile up all these tiny rocks!?" He thought out loud. "Bah! May as well have a look around while I’m here."

Kirron lifted his arms and slowly waded his way out of the scree. He inevitably caused another landslide which he gracefully walked down, taking care to keep his balance. At the base of the embankment, he pulled his club out of the gravel with an effortless heft and marched on.

Embalek loved the colour of the stones this far into the south. He had made his family from those stones, and he held affection for each one of them.

Henakjao was the first he made. A rough character from a hodgepodge of materials, but that gave a wise angle of perspective that made Henakjao a valuable counsellor as well as a friend.

Ulam was the next, made with help from Henakjao. Ulam was better planned in body shape – much better balanced. Such a friend was always the type to run ahead.

But Ihokhetlani such as they had no reason to resent their different shapes and sizes. To have one another was more important. To pay respect to the gods and to shape the stones well. Embalek tore another large plate of dark slate from the outcrop before him and held it up by the edges with his large hands. "And you will have your own shape as well," he said to himself, regarding the stone with the glowing optical hole in his head.

"Embalek, look what I found," Ulam held a round orange stone up above himself. It was bigger than Ulam’s head. "Our new friend will make good use of a foot like this."

Embalek lowered the slate and lumbered around to face the orange rock. "Hmm. A good find, but too big and brittle for a foot. Try knapping it down into a head shape."
"A head!?" Ulam brought the stone in front of his eye. "But…but that is the most important part. Are you sure?"

"Yes. It is a good find, Ulam." Embalek gestured with a palm up towards him. "We needed a head for our newest friend. I want you to shape it."

"I’m honoured, Embalek! Thank you!"

Henakjao clomped his feet on the soil around a tree and gruffly lifted a flint and obsidian hand holding a sturdier speckled red stone. "Found a foot," he announced.

Embalek’s eye glinted. "Aha, Henakjao you are a sharp one as always. Good work! With this slate for a shoulder blade and Ulam having found a head, we are ready to put our friend together already."

Henakjao tersely nodded. Ulam lifted the yellow stone above his head and waddled forth, leading the way back around the mountain trail.

Clack, clack, clack, clack, clock!

A chunk of yellow stone sheared off its larger counterpart and thudded onto the grass. Henakjao reverently lifted up the larger remains between his flint fingers; a smooth block of orange stone with a shallow hole dug out of the top. He placed it softly at the edge of a larger pile of stones of all different shapes, sizes, colours, and patterns. Together, the heap made the rough shape of a four-limbed creature with a head, much like the rest of them.

"The pyres and Asceal’s comet are bright tonight," Embalek said to the clear night sky above. "And the breeze is soft. A perfect time."

"How do we do this, Embalek?" Ulam said eagerly.

"Calling a new Ihokhetlani comes naturally." He pat Ulam’s smooth marble shoulder. "Just follow our lead. Our friend will wake up before you know it."

Heavy footsteps parted the grass nearby. All three of the Ihokhetlani turned their heads. Coming up the grassy hillock towards them was a stranger. Half their height but the same shape as them. Hairy and fleshy like an animal but carrying a stripped tree over one shoulder. Its eye was a strange, flesh-flapped thing too low on his face and did not glow at all. It could only have been one thing based on description alone, if quite different from the rare statues made of him.

The stranger’s eye hole parted to show a set of triangular teeth. "’Scuse me for eavesdropping, but I was wondering…" The stranger pointed at the stone heap, circling his finger at it. "Do you fellas make friends out of piles of stones often?"

The Ihokhetlani looked at each other. Embalek faced the stranger and replied with a deep bow. The others bowed as well. "Greetings. We do not make friends often, I must say. Tonight is a special night. We have been gathering the choicest stone to make this body for our new friend and we are finally ready to call him." Embalek gestured to the heap. "You humble us with your presence, stranger, and forgive me for my presumption, but if I am not mistaken, we are visited by a god tonight, are we not?"

"Bleah," Kirron rolled his eyes. "Yeah. You’re not Sheng’s buddies are you? You sound kinda like him."

"I am afraid I do not know the name Sheng. Perhaps you refer to the god of-"

Kirron waved dismissively. "Whatever, whatever. The name’s Kirron. I am blood and strength. Who are you lot?"

"Your most noble self is a blessing to our humble presences. We are Ihokhetlani, Embalek…" Embalek placed his fingers on his chest, and then onto the shoulders of his companions in turn. "…Henakjao, and Ulam."

"Hmph," Kirron harrumphed. "Sounds like fun to make a new friend. How long did that take you?"

Embalek had to think on how to answer. "Time passing is not something we Ihokhetlani pay close attention to. The snowy dark that takes the south on occasion has passed…five times since we began, I believe? That was when Ulam was born."

Kirron’s brow lowered and he tilted his head. "Really? Huh. Is it a challenge, doing all this rock gathering?"

Embalek clasped his brown stony hands, sensing a reason to be nervous. "We thank Ohannakeloi every day for the strength and fortitude he gave us, for such a task is only a matter of patience and judgement."

"So it’s easy, huh?"

"Not always. Our new friend’s lower leg had to be dislodged from a rather tight ravine." Embalek’s stony head glanced to Henakjao and back. "It…took us fifteen nights to lever it out."

Kirron curled his lips inward. The way his mouth tsked as he showed his teeth again gave across a most unimpressed disposition. He faced the yellow stone head Ulam had found and Henakjao had carved.

The blood god intoned with severity: "This night is not special. Not as it is. It was not earnt through enough adversity to appreciate." He stepped between the Ihokhetlani and grasped the yellow stone with his free hand, lifting it up off its place.

Ulam tightened a pale marble fist.

"If you want this friend of yours, I’m going to take his head up to the top of that mountain over there." Kirron pointed to a snow-capped peak in the near-distance, his index finger lifting from the stone even as he held it aloft in his hand without any trouble. "To scale it, you will have to face a deadly challenge. Something worthy. If it bests you, you might even die, but only those kinds of risks are really special." A dreadful grin spread across Kirron’s face. "But if you don’t come to collect, that challenge is going to come to you, and all the rest of you Ihokhetlani. So, you’d better not be the cowards you made yourselves out to be here to me today…"

"Oh, god of blood and strength, Kirron, please," Embalek spread his arms and fell to his knees desperately. "Do not curse us! We are only creatures of nature! We did not dream to offend you!"

"Too late, stoneman!" Kirron snarled. "You are no better than this heap of lifeless rocks if you never use the gifts your creator gave you! Step up from your base nature or your precious peace will turn you back into stone." He walked several paces towards the mountain and stopped to look over his shoulder. "Heed my words, Ihokhetlani."

He crouched, tensed, and launched himself off the ground towards the mountain, kicking up a heap of grass and soil in his wake.

The three Ihokhetlani were left in stunned, fearful silence. The soft breeze was suddenly much louder to their senses.

Ulam punched the soft ground. "That bully!" He shouted. "He can’t just steal our friend’s head after all that time finding it!"

"Ulam, be at peace-"

"No!" Ulam bounded away, down the hill and towards the mountain. "I’m going to get that stone back!"

"Ulam, wait!" Not even Henakjao’s deep voice could stop the quick companion. Henakjao and Embalek dropped into a thunderous jog to keep up with Ulam.

"Time to make a challenge."

High up the mountain, blood melted through ice and seeped into the cracks of the stone.

Green and black veins hissed and bubbled in the earth.

A glowing blood of red and bright yellow oozed like a burst scab and was drawn up in four misshaped metallic pillars.

The great body of bronze was cast at their summits.

Wild eyes blazed.

Heat blasted from its nostrils.

Hooves slammed the ground.

It had no mouth to say its name. Kirron granted one as one last gift.


It huffed with fury.

"Awaken them to death."

Ihokhetlani did not tire easily. Ulam knew this, yet in his indignant anger he ran further than he knew he was capable of. The theft felt petty. It felt unfair. There was plenty of other stone around if Kirron wanted some. Kirron may have been a god but he had no right to take away their friend before he was born. That was the stone Ulam had found especially for him! They had carved it for his head!

"Ulam! Do not be rash!"

Embalek’s voice was faint behind him. He did not want to slow down. He was not far from the mountain now. The trees had given way to gravel and grass a short while ago.

Henakjao yelled out as well. "It is not the place of mortals to meddle with gods! You don’t know what you’re heading into, Ulam!"

How hard could this challenge be anyway? Ulam thought. They were Ihokhetlani, prey to no creature and unstoppable given enough time. If some little challenge was all it took to prove themselves to Kirron, Ulam would complete it out of spite no matter how long it took.

Ulam’s heavy footfalls slowed as the incline of the mountain’s base presented itself. He jumped up over boulders and hefted himself up the rises.

"Ulam! Turn back! I beg of you!" Embalek spoke with a renewed fear.

"No!" Ulam stopped at the top of a flat boulder half his height and turned around. "We are proud, strong, and intelligent! Ohannakeloi could not have created us just to be pushed around!"

Embalek and Henakjao finally slid to a stop near the boulder. Embalek pleaded with his arms outstretched. "Please! We must respect the gods. If we are not prepared for a deadly challenge, we will be punished for it!"

"I cannot give my respect to a god that cannot respect us!" Ulam punched the stone beneath him. "We had peace before he walked up! Who does he think he is to force us to change?!"

"You don’t know what you are doing, young one…" Henakjao slowly raised a hand towards Ulam. "Come, leave with us. That Kirron is dangerous. He could smite you whenever he likes."

Ulam pointed back. "You’re too scared to think! If he could just smite us, why didn’t he do so before!?"

A hot breeze passed them by, flicking the grass tufts in the direction of their travel and back. They all felt a presence. A dreadful, monstrous presence. Ulam rotated his head and upper body to see the glinting shape of a creature he dared not to conjure into his imagination.

Two red flames stared at him from the height of a stony ridge. Framed in a silhouette highlighted by lines of light reflected from the moon as if its skin was a yellow mirror, those eyes laid housed in the body of a four-legged giant in the shape of a cattle bull. It easily overshadowed the Ihokhetlani even without its perch overlooking them. Instead of the usual two horns, the beast sported only a single, short, blunt, reflective horn that angled slightly down. It had an aura to it that made the surface of Ulam’s stony skin crawl.

"Ulam…" Embalek said cautiously. "Get down from there slowly."

Ulam remained standing. He could not move.

"We’re right here. Come down and it might not see us."

"I…" Ulam’s voice shook with fear. "I can’t…"

He knew he could move if he wanted to. Feeling terror for the first time in his life, he could not shake himself from the paralysis. Ulam’s first nightmare was here, staring at him, and he did not know he was awake.


Jets of steam blew from the cattle monster’s nostrils and it broke into a sudden charge down the ridge. The lustrous garden’s light in the night showed more of the creature barrelling towards them. Its entire body glinted with angular skin of yellowed bronze. It had no mouth, but its nose continued trailing steam. As it neared a boulder in its path, the bull thrashed its horn into it, causing the stone to explode into chunks. Its momentum was not slowed.

"Ulam, run!"

While Ulam turned to sprint away, the bull was too fast. He saw his companions running for their own lives an instant before he felt a thud against his back.

His soul experienced the painful reality of being thrown from his violently shattered body.

Stones rained down ahead of Embalek and Henakjao’s path. Pieces of their young friend filled their hearts with grief and dread as they escaped from the great bronze bull.

It did not give chase, but they ran as hard as they could.

Morning came to Embalek and Henakjao. They both sat like still stones, their eye holes flickering gently with a draining grief.

Neither of them wanted to talk. They did not know what to say. They could not make sense of their loss.

The only clue as to what had happened was the one piece of broken stone. Henakjao had snatched it up from the shards of Ulam while they retreated.

It was not broken. The fractures were too smooth, and the faces of them covered with a drying red liquid.

"I think…" Henakjao managed to find just enough energy to speak. "…I think the priests should be warned of this."

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Hidden 1 yr ago Post by Lord Zee
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Lord Zee There must always be... A Zee

Member Seen 17 hrs ago

”Of the Heavens”

The news came down from the north, shattering the quiet peace that had been and ushering in new unrest. An Ihokhetlani had been killed, by a beast that the Divine Kirron had created. One of their own, gone from the world. It had never happened before, and many knew not how to process such an event. Emotions that the Ihoketlani had never thought to know, or want had come to rear their ugly heads. There was pain, resentment, loss, confusion but most of all, anger.

One such band of Ihokhetlani, bickered amongst each other under the setting sun. They were far from the places of their birth, and all belonged to the same generation. The newest of the Ihokhetlani, but learning the ways of the world and from the words of the priests. They had trusted the priests with stout souls, but the news of the killing had shook several to their core. Doubt trickled into their souls like a steady stream, wearing down even the toughest of stone. For not one had seen a divine, for Azura had come and gone when they were but feet. Nor had Ohannakeloi, the creator, blessed them with his presence. As such, they only relied on the teachings of the priests and then Kirron had come.

“Raskhet! There is no need for anger, let stone guide you back to peace. I beg you! Ioko, help me.” came the sound of gravel given voice. The Ihokhetlani who spoke was a patchwork of white marble, red granite and chert.

“No, Takhio. Raskhet has every right to be angry, as do I and Haboket. I don’t see how you could even think to be so calm after what’s happened!” came a pointed finger of white marble. Ioko was composed completely of white marble streaked with gold and black, expect for her many adornments of small, river worn pebbles. Ioko had gone on to call herself, ‘her’ after she had learned of he differences, though nothing was truly discernible. She stood a little shorter than the rest of them, and perhaps her eye was a bit smaller as well, but her voice carried weight and Takhio seemed to shrink in figure before turning his eye upon a giant of quartz.

“What about you Embio? Do you feel the same as the others?” Takhio questioned.

Embio, having been gazing up at the setting sun, turned his eye upon Takhio and spoke in a voice like falling stones, “I am saddened at this loss, but angry? There is great confusion in my soul. What is right and what is wrong?”

“I too feel confusion, but we must not grow angry, Embio. It is wr-” Takhio was interrupted by a new voice, this one carrying the sounds of clashing stones.

“It is right! To feel angry at what has been done, is the only course of action.” said Raskhet, a giant of grey chert and red jasper. “There is nothing to be confused about, the divine Kirron stole from the Ihoketlani, then murdered the one who tried to retrieve it! Embio, do not let Takhio and the priests dictate your thoughts! Can you not see how everything changes now? You must leave your sadness and peace behind. Only when we destroy this beast and retrieve what is rightfully ours can we begin to feel such things.”

There was stunned silence on the rocky plains that they inhabited. Takhio turned his head in shame, while Embio looked at Raskhet in a new light. As the sun finally sank below the horizon, allowing the Lustrous Garden to illuminate the world in a soft glow, did they finally speak again.

“I agree with Raskhet, Takhio.” Embio said softly.

“As do I.” said Haboket, a giant of basalt and calcite. He was adorned with sticks and dirt, and an Alma made its home within hole on his right shoulder. The strange soul construct slept peacefully, having grown use to the Ihoketlani. Haboket’s voice resembled the sound of boulders grinding.

“There you have it, Tahkio.” Ioko said, “Will you not join us?” she asked crossing her arms with a scraping sound, before silence returned.

Tahkio shuffled awkwardly, looking at his peers before shaking his head. “I cannot join you. This is not the teachings of Ohannakeloi! We do not go about seeking revenge or making the Divines angry! Peace! We must be at peace! A solution will come, we must not be hasty! Please, I beg you all, rethink this course of action!” the giant pleaded.

All of them turned their heads away from Takhio expect for Raskhet, who walked up to Takhio and said, “Where is Ohannakeloi? Where was the Supreme Divinity when Kirron came? Where was the Holy one when the Ihoketlani, Ulam, was killed?” he spat.

“I… I... Don’t know, Raskhet.” Tahkio whispered.

“Go. If you will not help us, then you have no purpose here. Let us be.” Raskhet then turned around, beckoning the others to follow.

‘W-Wait!” came Takhio’s voice. Raskhet turned his head around to gaze upon Takhio expectantly.

Takhio looked down before saying, “I’ll help.”

With Veradax high over head, the group had settled on what they were going to do. Much to Raskhet’s disapproval, they were going to ask for a Divines help. There were many to choose from, but only a few suited their needs. There was Narzhak the Fell Colossus, Kalmar of the Hunt, Sartravius the Bringer of Flame, Seihdhara of the Red Hair and Orvus, the Desolate. Each had been chosen for what they held dominion over. Kalmar was quickly eliminated, though they knew his teachings might help them, there was no need to hunt the creature down. Sartravius quickly followed, for what could flame do to such a monster? Seihdhara was next, for though combat was wise, the Ihoketlani were unsure how good of students they could be.

It fell down to Narzhak and Orvus. Narzhak was war, and to go to war against the creature was a sound idea. Orvus represented desolation, the darkest of all the gods. They barely had a shrine of him, though they knew his name. But what was more useful, war or destruction? It came down to a vote.

Embio and Haboket cast their lot in with Narzhak, while Raskhet and Ioko voted for Orvus. As all eyes fell upon Tahkio, it was up to him to make the final decision. The god they would pray too, the one who could change their fate.

Tahkio thought long and hard upon the choice before he finally said, “I choose Orvus. If you really want to make the beast pay, war will not help you. I fear only destruction can truly bring the creature down.”

There was solemn nods of agreement before Raskhet said, “Very well. Let us pray to then.”

So they did, and Orvus heard their pleas, and the God came.

He arrived with a great roar as he descended from the sky, yet the god had not spoken. As all of them knelt, even Raskhet reluctantly, he bid them to speak of their problem, and they did. When at last they had finished, the Divine one agreed to help, asking them in return to have open minds and an exchange of names. Relief washed over the band, but Tahkio still held doubts.

Raskhet spoke first, “I am Raskhet, Holy one, the Bringer of Stone.”

“I am Ioko, Keeper of Pebbles.”

“They call me Haboket, Lifter of Boulders. And this,” Haboket pointed to the Alma, “This is Little Wind.”the giant said, pointing to the sleeping Alma. Orvus cocked his head at this, but said nothing.

“Embio.They call me Embio, Holy one. Watcher of Stars.”

“And I am Tahkio, Holy Orvus, Last of the Fall.” Takhio said humbly.

The god seemed to stare into their very souls then, looking over them all with a blank expression. Then he said, ”You know my name, now listen and we shall begin.”

The god worked quickly, bringing them a new material to work with, one he called Orvium. He explained that it was not a rock, but something more. What that was, he did not say, but Orvus taught them how to work it without the Orvium exploding. What frightened them at first was how Orvus brought the material to them. He called it ‘Moon Falls’ but Embio questioned if they were actually stars. Orvus simply said that the Pyres would never fall, but pieces of Veradax would. After several nights of this, the Ihoketlani became unphased, they needed the material. But more curiously, was that the Orvium did not explode. For it was encased within the lunar rock. Pieces of grey, black, and white. Muted of any color but those, it was a mystery to them.

For several days and nights, they honed their new skills, forming feet, arms, hands, and a head out of orvium. Each day, Orvus vanished, only to return at night. He oversaw their work and guided their hands on occasion, but for the most part, the god was silent. As the new Ihokhetlani neared completion, a new day dawned and Orvus vanished like always. He had given them instructions not to awaken the new ihokhetlani unless he was there, but calm minds seldom prevaled. By the time dusk had come, many wee growing impatient.

It was Raskhet who wanted to awaken their ‘brother’ as he called it, with or without Orvus. This prompted another flurry of heated debate. Embio and Tahkio were against the idea, reinforcing the Divine’s words. Ioko and Haboket agreed with Raskhet, bolstering the stone giant.

“Why wait when we can do this now! Surely you don’t trust Orvus? How can we trust any god after Kirron? We don’t know what else he will do!” Raskhet spoke hastily.

Tahkio grew angry as he shouted, “Orvus has done nothing but been trustworthy! He asked for nothing and in return taught us great things! You judge to quickly and without reason. This rage with Kirron has blinded you!”

Raskhet let out a howl, before he charged Tahkio and they collided with a sound like thunder. They fell to the ground and a tremor shook the earth as they grappled and wrestled another for dominance. When Takhio was gaining the upper hand, Rashket shouted, “Do it! Place the final piece Ioko!” before grappling Tahkio by the legs.

Tahkio roared with fury but it was no use. Haboket subdued Embio, as Ioko placed the Orvium head a top of the statue.

Using the bits that were shaven or broken off, they had built the new blackened Ihoketlani, or as Orvus called it, the Desolate Form. It stood the same height as them, smoothed to precision. It’s hands were carved into claws, each foot was broken in two, forming into points at the front. The face was oval, with a slot ready for the soul eye. The new Ihokhetlani was a marvel, and before they knew it, soul ash began to coalesce around it as Tahkio and Raskhet stopped struggling to gaze upon their brother.

It’s souleye then burst into light, glowing a crimson red. Slowly the new Ihoketlani began to move, first the arms, then it’s head, looking at everything wildly.

Then it roared like an explosion, ”What is this?”

It was Ioko who responded, ”This is Galbar, young one, and you are new. We shall teach you the ways of the Ihokhetlani.”

The black giant snapped it’s hateful gaze at Ioko, then with a powerful swing, it struck Ioko across the chest, sending her backwards to the ground. The new giant reared back it’s head and let out another roar before it began to move towards Embio and Haboket. Raskhet quickly pushed off Tahkio, who gave no resistance and went to Ioko’s side as Tahkio got himself up and began to race towards the other two.

Haboket and Embio had began to back away from the approaching menace, whose gaze was unwavering. Before it could swing a clawed fist, Tahkio tackled it from behind, and the two fell to the earth in a heap.

“Get away! Go!” Tahkio shouted to to them as their brother growled. Tahkio’s grip was like a vice, but the black giant below him was stronger. With a mighty bellow the creature broke Tahkio’s grasp and dug into the Tahkio’s right arm. His claws punctured the stone, breaking it to dust and chunks, before completely severing the arm. Tahkio’s soul screamed at the loss but before he could react further, the creature flung him off, then assaulted him with his own arm. Bow after blow came, relentlessly until his arm crumbled. Tahkio’s torso and head were cracked, and then the world went black as the creature punched his head, shattering the stone. There was a strange feeling, then Tahkio felt himself being whisked away.

It was then that the night fell, and the black giant melted with the darkness, the only thing visible was the glowing eye. It faced the others now, who crowded behind a Raskhet who was frozen. It began to advance, but before it could go any further, Orvus returned. He blocked the path to them, and with a single wave of his hand, the creature stilled.

The god then turned to them and shook his head. ”If you had waited, this would not have happened. You went against my word and as such, have lost Tahkio to the Pyr-.” the God paused, looking at Haboket’s empty shoulder, ”Tahkio is gone. This Desolate Form needed my guidance the moment it awoke, but I can now not to trust anxious mortals. This can never happen again, and it won’t. Your punishment, is this.” Raskhet attempted to speak, but before he could, Orvus waved his hand over them. And the four Ihokhetlani began to change. The fragments of lunar rock flew at them, their forms cracked and creaked as spikes of crude stone began to erupt from their shoulders. Their stones began to warp, growing muted in color and flakey with chips. They screamed in pain as the process went on, as their familiar parts washed away in a torrent of pain.

When at last the creaking and groaning stopped, before him on their hands and knees, were abominations of Ihokhetlani. They vaguely resembled what they once were, having grown dark and twisted. Their souleyes glowed red as the turned their postures into kneeling.

”There. It is done. Do what you want now, I no longer care.” he then turned back to the Desolate Form and said, ”I should destroy you, return you back to my sphere. But I won’t. The world is full of choices, after all. What will you choose, Kalani, Of the Heavens?” Orvus then flew off without another word. Leaving the odd group behind.

Kalani followed Orvus as he left, before losing him in the sky. He then turned back to the four… the four Ihokhurs, for they were no longer Ihokhetlani. He snarled at them before saying, ”Get up! We have work to do.”

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Hidden 1 yr ago 1 yr ago Post by Oraculum
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Oraculum Perambulans in tenebris

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Another rotten one.

Vrog bit off half of the large femur bone, sucked the marrow from the piece still in his hand and crunched on the mouthful, clicking his tongue as he savoured the thing’s vaguely ashen taste. The traces of dust were, strangely, not as pronounced as in the smell. Maybe because they were not quite physical. The bitter, bilious flavour more than made up for it, but even it was getting old.

The horned creature lying at his feet, now reduced to a mostly dismembered skeleton, but still clearly and jarringly alien to its surroundings, was not the first of its kind he had tasted. It might as well have been, though, with how each was perfectly identical to the previous one. The third might have been a little larger than the rest, but the difference was barely noticeable. While this took away from the surprise of every meal, it made following the trail connecting the beasts much easier.

Happening over the first of them had been mostly a matter of chance. Had he not decided to leave the Omen, ghouls and all, to its own devices for a few days to see if he could catch things that would otherwise have seen him coming, Vrog doubted he would have caught its smell, extraordinarily strong though it was. The reek of a putrid soul carried far, but even that had its limits, and someone with a less discerning tongue would not have noticed it at all. Better - he did not want competition over such a meal.

He swallowed the last crumbles of horn, tossed in a seed to follow them and probed the air again. The trail had led him further north from a point already past the Foot-splitting river, up the foot of what he was fairly sure must have been the land’s northernmost mountains. It was hard to tell from how the forest did not thin around him, but from the ups and downs of the ground under his feet he could tell he had wandered well up and into the range. Well, from that, and how the things jumped out at him more and more often. Wherever it was they came from, he was getting close.

Then as quickly as the attacks had come, over and over again, they suddenly ceased. Giving way to a uneasy reprieve, if one could call it that. The chorus of the jungle began to grow distant as Vrog continued on his trek, tongue darting and seeds littering his path, quieting down until the only thing that remained was the sound of a calm breeze gently brushing the tops of the trees. Now in the shadow of the mountain, there came the distinctive sound of water running and beyond that, the rumbling beginnings of a waterfall. Shortly, that rumbling grew louder and louder, till it came into view. There, seeming to split the rock in half, was a stream of water falling down the mouth of a cave. The stream that flowed here was corrupted with the stench of death, rotting decay and the white of broken bones. A grisly sight by any others standards.

He licked the tips of his teeth, taking in the flavours of the scene. This was the first time he felt such a mass of putrescence outside of himself, and for a moment it made him forget his appetite. Something like this could comfortably be just left pooling and stagnating, seasoning the air. A whole land, no, a whole world like this, that would have been a grand thing. Maybe Narzhak was not so far off after all; a little effort now and then was well worth it if it could have fruits like these.

The black tendril stretched out from his mouth to dip into the rank water. Like with the beasts, the taste was not fully as good as the smell. It did not feel like much over his own mouth. Fresh things were better, ones he could sense being rotted and ruined by his breath like their bones broke under his teeth. It was the same with the air, Vrog considered. The stench from the uncleanness tainted the dull chaos of woodland smells. Every lick of wind that passed over it took some of the reek with itself, and who knew where they would go. Maybe to places where someone was expecting fresh wafts, that would have been fun. All because of some beast’s careless eating.

Right, the beasts. Not that they let themselves be forgotten so easily. Just beyond the smell of the corrupted stream, their bitter track was almost overwhelming. The curiosity of finding where they made their lair was joined by that of how he would find it. If the entrance was already so filthy, the den itself was sure to be loathsome. And, he could hope, there might even be some fresh prey left. Sniffing the air ahead, he trudged through the waterfall and into the cave.

The cave was surprisingly devoid of the carnage outside, only the overwhelming smell of something vile lingered in the air, growing stronger as the descent was made. Long claw marks could be seen on the walls, the roof and the floor of the caves, fresh to the world and deep. Slowly the pitch blackness gave way to the glowing of red, numerous heartbeats and a quiet humming. Almost inaudible to mortal ears, but he was not mortal. Upon closer inspection the red glow gave way to rows and upon rows of strange looking pods, each containing an animal or other beast in various states of change.

Vrog snapped his teeth, smelling his discovery in wonderment. Each of the creatures in the sacs, no matter what it was, was clearly becoming one of those things. Some were almost complete. If that was how they were made, he doubted they had just sprung up with the woods when someone planted them. Nothing else he had come across around them, or anywhere for that matter, worked anything like this. Making things bigger and stronger. Like with the ghouls, but he could not taste any godly trails nearby.

He brought his fingers on one hand together in a line, letting the metal flow around them into a wide, thin blade. With a quick, natural motion he plunged it through the fleshy shell of a pod, slicing the grotesquely stretched and deformed ape-frog inside it across the throat. Maybe they did not wake up until they were ready, but he was not about to listen to more croaking screams after days in the woods. The inside of the sac felt like grasping around living entrails. Veins, layers of skin folded over each other. Elaborate. No, someone was sure to have set this up on purpose.

The warped ape-frog tasted strange. The rot was not total like in the completely transformed ones, but he could feel it spreading almost as he chewed. Maybe they grew more in the body as they hollowed out. No waste. The boss would have liked this. And if he found out, Vrog considered, licking the pod’s ichor from his hand, he would like it enough to stay off his back for a while. Thinking this made his steps a little faster as he advanced further into the cavern. Whatever was in there was worth a lot.

As Vrog continued on, the cave began to widen even further with each hurried step. The only signs of life were the vacant eyes of creatures changing and the only noise was the humming, now growing in volume. Then at last, the stretch of tunnel opened up into a large cavern. Here there was but pitch blackness, and four burning eyes glowing in the deep. The air was still here, and surprisingly clean. A malevolent presence could be felt in the direction of the eyes however, unwavering and defiant. Soon it was joined by smaller eyes, on the walls and the ceiling- hundreds of eyes all pointing at Vrog.

His tongue darted around, soaking in the miasma of decay that floated about the chamber. It was everywhere, as though every wall had been smeared with rot, but most of it could barely be felt over the foulness of the thing in the darkness. Large and hungry, like a huge living hole, or a mouth that did not need a body. Vrog grated his teeth bemusedly. Between that sense and its four-eyed fiery gaze, the entity looked uncannily familiar. Had it not been for the lack of that tell-tale metallic tinge, he could have thought it might have crawled out of the same pit as himself. Perhaps it was still close enough to understand a sound argument, though the reek of malice seeping from it made him suspect it was unlikely.

It was worth a try, at any rate.

”Bad day to die, isn’t it?” he hailed the shadows, ”Like they all are. Lucky for you, I’m being generous today, so I’ve got a deal. You call off your walking carrion and come out here to talk, and I’ll let you see if tomorrow’s better. If you’re good, I’ll keep the deals coming, too. You get me?” He spat, keeping the trajectory safely close to his feet, and prepared another seed.

If it all the creature understood, it made no move to respond. The air became palpable with tension, thick with anticipation. Then the humming stopped, for a short time, but renewed with intensity, a dark and violent rhythm. Slowly the eyes began to advance upon Vrog and then, from behind something lunged into him! He lurched forward with a snarl, more out of surprise than from the weight of the assailant, great though it was. Though abrupt at first, his motion transitioned into a smooth forward swing as he reached back with his claws to grasp the creature, seeking to hurl it over his head. There was a deep howl as the creature was thrown forward into the advancing eyes, and when it hit, the room exploded into fury. From all sides they came, the creatures in the dark and unmoving in the distance, were the first set of eyes.

In a moment, Vrog found himself in the midst of chaos. Massive claws scraped and struck at him, grazing off his armour but buckling his swollen form inward under the weight of the hulking bodies. With a gnarled sneer, he shoved away a beast pressing down on his right arm and lashed out with claw and foot, tearing into the rough hide of his foes wherever he found an opening. He began to gather up for a charge against the looming eyes ahead, but stopped when a renewed assault gave him a moment to consider it. If he struck at the creature behind this, there was a hefty risk he would kill or maim it beyond usefulness, especially in this darkness and cacophony of rotted smells, which would wipe out any merit from the discovery. Reluctant though he was to do it, it seemed he would have to pass on the best part of this fight. Grumbling in disappointment, he spun about-face, clawing away at the fiery-eyed mass that blocked his way out of the chamber, and began to inch back towards the mouth. He would at least make it last as long as he could.

Step by step, foot after foot. He had to recognise these beasts had hard heads. The ground under his feet was slick with their blood, and they still kept coming, with broken limbs and shredded skin. Even outside the last chamber, past the fleshy sacs that lined the tunnel leading to it, up to the very mouth of the cavern. The passage was soon too narrow for more than one of the pursuers to fit, and the first in line felt the full brunt of his claws. Held back by what was soon a ragged corpse, the rest growled and pushed in furious bursts, but, behind the new obstacle, they could not keep up. The last few paces to the exit passed without trading blows.

After the choking stench of the lair, the fresh air, even mitigated by the rotting stream, was almost nauseating. Vrog spat the husk he had been holding in his mouth all the while in disgust and turned to face the opening. Whatever the thing in there was, it now knew it had been found. Maybe it was confident enough that it would stay put there regardless, but he knew that was a gamble. If it fled before Narzhak came by or sent someone else to collect it, he might as well have only found a week-old track in the dirt, and there was little glory in that. The best he could do now was make sure it did not go anywhere, and if it still did regardless, at least he would have tried.

With a few movements of almost surreal agility in spite of his bulk, he clambered over the sheer mountainside near the cavern, fingers digging into the stone like soft wood. Cracks ran through the rock, and he pushed them apart. Dust and pebbles began to fall to the ground as the surface gave way with a grinding rumble, before a large part of the natural wall collapsed, with Vrog on top, in front of the fissure. Water splashed and bones crunched as he pulled himself to his feet, surveying his handiwork through the tapping of fingertips. The remaining opening should have been large enough for the smaller creatures to crawl through, but, if the height of those eyes had been any indication of their leader’s size, it was as good as trapped.

Snapping through a seed satisfiedly, he trudged back into the foliage. With this, another few months without control were assured, maybe even a year. There were some places he thought he’d go smell in that time. Where had he left the Omen now?

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Hidden 1 yr ago 1 yr ago Post by AdorableSaucer
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AdorableSaucer Blessed Beekeeper

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The Wedding

Wenbo gave a battle cry as he ripped his hat off his head and tossed it. Chagatai clapped in support of the movement, having tossed his first. The babies cheered like victorious soldiers and Hermes planted her hands on her hips.

“It's treason, then,” Hermes frowned, “And after all that time Momma Xiaoli put into making them.” Her eyes grew wide with hurt, but the babies seemed immune to the guilt trip, gurgling with laughter.

“Huh,” Hermes poked Chagatai's belly, “That usually works on me.” The little warrior grabbed her finger tightly and she smiled. Wenbo seemed to immediately get jealous and he let out a yell. Hermes poked his belly with her other finger and he giggled. She stood there in front of the bed, both babies on their backs, dressed in their best clothes, a finger on each belly and herself wrapped in a very fine dress. It was a gentle creme, just a shade sweeter than her alabaster skin.

The sliding door exploded and in came Xiaoli, dressed in the finest robes she owned - blue and pink like early twilight, with her characteristic long sleeves nearly reaching her feet. “Uh oh, Momma Xiaoli is coming!” Hermes whispered to the two boys and gave them each a tickle. Xiaoli giggled and walked over to squeeze Hermes’ shoulder.

“Are we ready to begin?” she asked softly and leaned her head against hers.

“Uh huh,” Hermes turned and put an arm around Xiaoli, “Just no hats, apparently.”

“No hats? But Wenbo loves his woolen cap!” Xiaoli picked up the sad, black leather hat and treaded it over the reluctant baby’s head. Wenbo wriggled and wrung about on the bed, whimpering angrily as it reached for the sat to struggled against his mother. Xiaoli huffed and Chagatai giggled.

“Come on, it looks so good on yo--Hey!” Wenbo lobbed the hat off the bed again and gave Xiaoli a scowl. Xiaoli returned the scowl and pursed her lips. “You will not get any mash after the ceremony, is that clear? Nada!” Wenbo frowned and turned his head to the side. Xiaoli sighed.

“I wish they understood me sometimes…” she mumbled.

“You can't let them gang up on you,” Hermes gave a pointed look at Chagatai, “He is the silent leader, goading.” She poked his belly, “Mischievous.”

Hermes scooped Chagatai up, “I bet if Chaggie wore his hat, Wenbo would, too.”

Xiaoli’s frown fell on Chagatai. She snapped a finger and the baby’s hat hopped up from the floor and strolled over to Chagatai’s head. It patted him gently on the forehead, inciting a curious and somewhat horrified coo, and placed itself on his head. Chagatai seemed at first very reluctantly to being trapped underneath a hat again, but as the hat near magically started stroking at his head like a caressing hat, his complaints turned to happy gurgles. Wenbo looked on with jealousy and Xiaoli smirked at him.

“D’aaaw, wookie who wants his hat now, huh…” She booped him playfully on the nose and stroked his tiny face.

Hermes held Chagatai against her shoulder and watched the hat. “I guess being a Divine mother has its perks,” She gave Xiaoli a sly smile, “I'd give Baby Wen-Wen his hat now though, don't need him crying; we have a wedding to go to.”

Xiaoli pulled the leather hat onto Wenbo’s head, inciting a happy coo, and pick him up in her arms, rocking him from side to side as they exited the building together.

The courtyard had been decorated with bouquets of flatland flowers, woven wool carpets and symbols and characters cut from coloured leaves. Centered in the middle were two pillows facing the dining hall, flanked on the left by a small twin cradle and flanked on the right by a steaming teapot and four cups. The dining hall doors were covered with large fronds cut into the characters for “pair” and “joy”. Xiaoli went over to the cradle and deposited Wenbo. She then put her hands on her hips and sighed. Hermes walked by and placed Chagatai down, turning as Xiaoli began to explain.

“Right, so… Normally, the ceremony would have, uhm, a lot more people - including our parents, who would officially unite us together. However, as His Lordship sadly couldn’t make it due to… An unfortunate incident with the Despot of Flames, and His Holiness K’nell being unreachable, we will have to improvise a little…”

“Nonetheless, have no doubt in my mind that it will be as splendid as any other marriage, if not tenfold in truth and love,” K'nell suddenly announced, the Gentleman under the gateway at the start of the courtyard.

“WAH! Your Holi--” Xiaoli exclaimed before she tossed herself to the ground like a soldier avoid artillery. “Your Holiness, forgive this servant for assuming Your sacred self did not receive the invitation.”

“Think nothing of it,” K'nell waved a hand, “But please, stand. I cannot bear to think of the bride wearing dust on her otherwise beautiful robes.”

Hermes seemed to finally thaw from her surprise and a massive cheshire grin overtook her face, “K'nell!”

The god easily matched her cheshire grin, “In the flesh --or well-- you understand, surely.”

Xiaoli rocketed to her feet and dusted off the robes. “W-well, this is.. Perfect! Your Holiness could legitimise the bond!”

“I can, and will, my dear,” The god strolled into the courtyard, “You will have to do one thing that I fear is unorthodox in both Shengshi and my own's thinking, however.”

“What is it?” Hermes asked.

“I cannot bear to bring myself to inflict an inconsistency on this cultural occasion,” K'nell explained, “And thus Xiaoli will have to grant me instruction on how such a wedding is legitimized in the Shengshese manner.”

Xiaoli froze. She raised a shivering hand and pointed to herself and looked between K’nell and Hermes. “W-wait… Your Holiness surely cannot be suggesting--...” Xiaoli looked down. “Th-this servant has never addressed any superior in the manner a teacher would a student - well, save for His Lordship on occasion… With all due respect, Lord Sovereign of Sleep… This…” She looked one more time at Hermes who gave her a supportive nod. “This servant is not certain it can act in such a manner.”

“Very well,” K'nell took a step forward, “Then with your permission, I shall accustom myself to the tradition vis a vis a shallow look into…” He tapped his head, “With your permission, of course.”

“O-oh.” Xiaoli cooed uncertainly, but then she nodded. “Of course, Your Holiness. That goes without saying.” She knelt down into a seiza position and inclined her head. K’nell extended to hand and put a finger on her forehead. A moment passed and the finger retracted.

“Thank you, dear,” K'nell motioned with a hand, “Let us see this marriage through.” Hermes smiled wide and clasped a hand onto Xiaoli's. Xiaoli nodded and hurried off to the gateway. She turned the corner and a quick moment passed, ended by the slow entrance of Xiaoli. While they had initially planned for there to be an absence of music due to a lack of personnel, K’nell’s mere presence brought with it the familiar orchestral aura of the Palace, filling the air with the pipes and flutes needed to complete the atmosphere. A mist of cloudlings lead by Poppler himself danced and bobbed around the ceremony.

Xiaoli’s cheeks flushed and she gave her betrothed a playful, grinning stare. As Xiaoli approached, Hermes took her place behind the pillow on the left - Xiaoli stood by the pillow on the right. Together, they knelt down and inclined their heads to K’nell who, with excellent enthusiasm, spoke his lines:

“Hermes, my daughter, what would you ask of your father on this occasion?”

While she was trying her best, Hermes kowtowed rather clumsily onto the pillow due to her dress. She paused for a moment as she adjusted her knees properly, but resumed the ceremony with vigour. “Father, I bring the woman I want to take as my wife. She has been my rock, my support throughout, well, most of my existence by now. I ask for your permission to marry her.”

K’nell nodded and eyed Xiaoli up and down with a playful smile. “And what would the lady offer my family?”

Xiaoli kowtowed near mechanically onto her pillow. “Father. This-...” She looked to the side and took a deep breath. “... I am of Shengshese blood and bond. Our two families would have much to gain from the union and, well, Hermes is my everything. I live for her now - her and our children.” She felt her eyes moisten a little and cleared her throat. She turned right and poured some tea into one of the cups. She cupped it in both her hands and offered it to K’nell with a bowed head.

“Father, I offer you tea to honour you and to wish you good health and a long life.”

K’nell took the cup and sipped it elegantly. “Yes… This is quite good. You honour me with your filial piety, daughter. It is true that our two families united as one would bring us much, but I would rather you two marry for the love you share between you. You have my permission.” He put down the cup.

“I believe that concludes the ceremony?” he said and folded his hands together. Xiaoli nodded.

“That would be it! Now we are married, Hermes!” Xiaoli exclaimed and tossed her hands around her neck. Hermes seemed to burst with joy, rocketing into Xiaoli's embrace and planting a massive kiss on her cheek before trapping her into a tight squeeze. The dancing cloudlings erupted into pops of praise and Poppler buzzed around the newly weds. K'nell flashed a big smile and gave a soft clap of his own.

“I'm so happy,” was all Hermes managed, her face hidden from Xiaoli, but the tone cracked with tearful joy.

“I am, too!” Xiaoli squeezed through happy sulks. She rubbed her face so hard against Hermes’ that she nearly could have scraped up her cheek.

“I’ll always be yours,” Hermes all but whispered, “Always.”

“And I, yours. Always.” The embrace lasted long enough to be interrupted by impatient gurgles from the cradle. A hat that no longer seemed willing to massage, but was instead quite ordinary again, flew out of the cradle and onto the stone tiles of the courtyard. Soon enough, another hat flew out on the other side. Xiaoli huffed a little.

“Well, I suppose someone had to demand the wedding banquet be served. I’ll go and set the dishes, dear. Fath-- I mean, Your Holiness, will You be joining us for dinner?” Xiaoli asked as she slowly pulled out of Hermes’ wrestling-like grip.

“I don't see why I shouldn't,” K'nell answered, “This feels like the perfect occasion to utilize Shengshi's own gift of fine spirits.”

Hermes let her arms fall away from Xiaoli, “Then it's settled.” Her smile was nigh permanent. She quickly tugged Xiaoli back close for a moment, “Oh Xiaoli.”

The Dreamer snuck a hand down the collar of her own dress for a moment and procured a small trinket. In her now open palm was a small coil of dark woolen yarn, fit to be worn around the neck, with a rough fingertip sized pebble of dark swirling colors tied off to one end. She pushed the gift towards Xiaoli, “I wanted to make a small symbol, so even when we are off doing our own chores you can look down and know I'm thinking about you.”

Xiaoli clasped her hands over his mouth as her eyes widened into teary saucers. “Hermes! It’s so beautiful!” She took it slowly and bound it around her neck. She looked down and lifted it up from her neck to see. “How does it look on me?”

“Everything is beautiful on you,” Hermes soaked in her newly wedded wife and smiled almost drunkenly. Xiaoli bit at her lower lip and gave her a wet peck on the lips.

“As it so happens, I have a gift for you, too. It’s in the dining hall.” She leaned her forehead against hers. “I was supposed to keep that a secret, but you’ve made me all giddy now…” She looked to the side to see K’nell again, her brow sweating a little. She pulled slightly away and cleared her throat. “S-so, want to see your gift?”

K'nell seemed to avert his gaze with a certain amusement as Hermes nodded vigorously, “Show me?”

Xiaoli stood up with a smile. She went over to the cradle to pick up the children, though Chagatai seemed a little more reluctantly to being carried on a single arm. Xiaoli huffed. “Hermes, would you take Chagatai, please?” She held the cooing Wenbo against her shoulder and went to the paper doors of the dining hall.

As she pulled them apart, a thousand sweet, savoury and flowery scents filled their noses. The fragrance of the food and drink filled every nostril with almost intoxicating effects. The centre table nearly overflowed with plates and pots of food and jugs of drink, and behind the table stood a wooden mannequin. It was dressed in a fine, brown leather vest, adorned with embroideries in a multitude of colour. The inside was laced with a thin layer of linen stuffed with wool. Along with the vest was a pair of linen pants with leather kneecaps and a belt to hold it up. Xiaoli put one of her hands on her hip and hoisted Wenbo up, inciting a gurgle as he turned his curious head around to inspect the foods lying around.

“It was hard to make that without you seeing it. What do you think?”

Hermes juggled Chagatai over to her other shoulder so she could lean forward and soak it in, “Xiaoli, it’s wonderful!” Her eyes drifted to the food and her smile grew, “Mmm, perks of a divine wife, huh?” She winked.

“I suppose, though concealing the fermented cabbage was especially tricky. I’m happy you fell for my bluff earlier - you know, when I told you Chagatai farted like never before.” She gave her a sly smirk.

“Mhm,” Hermes made a concerned face, “Maybe leave fart talk out of the dining room, though? I want to enjoy your food with the cleanest palate possible.”

“Well, uh, of course! A silly joke, was all.”

“I know,” Hermes rubbed her back with her free hand, “Let's eat?”

“Sure! Take your seats, please! Everything is ready and waiting!” Xiaoli waited for the others to enter before she entered herself and put Wenbo in a tiny baby chair fashioned from sticks. He gurgled curiously and wafted his hands towards the food, not quite able to reach due to the chair. Xiaoli then poured drinks for everyone from a pitcher.

Hermes plopped Chagatai down as K'nell took a seat. Poppler zipped into an extra cup filled with sweetgrass juice and crackled happily. The sleep God lifted his own drink, “I suspect you four are--” He raised a brow at the cloudling for a moment, “Five are finding Tendlepog to be quite hospitable?”

“Oh, most hospitable, Your Holi--... This is going to take some getting used to… Most hospitable, Father,” Xiaoli said with a sheepish, uncomfortable grin and stroked Wenbo’s down-like hair. Hermes seemed a little uncomfortable at the mention too, sipping at her drink. It took a second of thought but K'nell eventually broke the awkwardness.

“I suppose I have taken to quite a fatherly role lately,” K'nell supported Xiaoli, “The title is appropriate, think nothing of it.” Hermes seemed to relax at this, putting a hand over Xiaoli's.

“It’s just… It’s customary for the married couple to address their partner’s parents as if they were their own. It’s a… Nice tradition, I think.” Her cheeks blushed and she squeezed Hermes’ hand back. “O-oh, by the way, please eat, You--Father!”

“Oh I understand, and I agree,” a bowl slid in front of K'nell and he procured a silver spoon out of thin air, scooping the broth. He swallowed, “I expected nothing less than perfect, and I got what I expected. Very well done, Xiaoli.”

“So I have a question,” Hermes suddenly piped up after falling silent for a while. All eyes turned to her and she cleared her throat, “Does this mean that you are my parent?”

“This is tricky,” K'nell held up a finger, “My respect for you two goes far, much too far for me to simply say yes and leave it at that. Hermes, as you know our original arrangement stands as it ever did, I suspect it has never left your mind?”

“You are my God and I am your creation,” Hermes nodded almost mechanically.

“Quite so,” K'nell continued, “Now as your God and creator it would be absolutely malicious of me not to resemble some sort of guiding figure, in this case that of a loving God towards my creation -- to which I do and to which I am. You may call me father in the same breath as you may call me your God and you may claim me as a parent in the same breath you can claim my unconditional love for you. There is little difference in this case, but know that this form of parentage is beyond a simple parental arrangement. Does this make sense?”

“It's… Greater?” Hermes strained in thought.

“Precisely,” He turned to Xiaoli, “Hermes has had the liberty of pondering this arrangement of God and creation since the very first of ages. I suspect this could be slightly less obvious to you, forgive me if I'm incorrect, but do not hesitate to ask a question should it be so.”

“Believe me, Y--Father, I am already incredibly confused about the possible ways this whole arrangement breaks with the five relationships. You are simultaneously a God, to which a lowly being like this servant owes unconditional respect and worship; yet, in the ceremony, You filled the role of Hermes’ father, making You mine as well. A parent is, naturally, also owed unconditional respect and even love, but the ways of addressing and acting are so--...” She sighed and picked some pieces of food onto her plate. “... It’s just a bit perplexing.”

“Then forgive me as I add to the confusion when I say: I represent what best makes sense to those onlooking. I am exactly who I am, and nothing more and nothing less -- but what that is…” He trailed off as he noticed Hermes’ eyes glaze over, “I am as far as you may see, my dears.”

Xiaoli blinked. “I… I see,” she said curtly and mashed up some soft carrots, noodles and cabbage into a yellowish mash which she scooped up into a spoon and fed to Wenbo. “As far as we may see,” she mumbled to herself quizzically.

“Well,” Hermes shook her head as if jumbling her thoughts, “That's quite a lot to-- well think about.” K'nell smiled politely and Hermes touched Xiaoli's arm, “You'll have to tell me what it means later.”

“I apologize for such a breach on this day,” The God spooned some soup, “Just know that I am proud of you both.”

“Oh! Nothing to apologise for, F-Father! Your presence truly finalised the ceremony! We are truly thankful that You came.” She grinned from ear to ear and accidentally poked the spoon into Wenbo’s cheek, inciting a confused gurgle. Chagatai grasped at the air in Wenbo’s direction, whining in jealousy at the food. “Chagatai, I’ll be right there,” Xiaoli sighed.

“Oh, I got him, Xiaoli,” Hermes leaned over and grabbed a tiny bowl and mashed up some food. Xiaoli nodded with a smile and wiped the mess off of Wenbo’s face, who waved his hands around frantically while he chewed the resistance-less mass of vegetables.

Chagatai let out a demanding yell, silenced by a sudden spoon to his mouth. He clamped down and Hermes smiled, “Very goooood.” She cooed.

K'nell rubbed his chin, “Very good, indeed.”

Wenbo blurted out a ‘wah’ to answer Chagatai, causing half the mouthful of food to spill onto his shirt. Xiaoli huffed and cleaned the mess up with a rag. “Such a messy little boy…” she mumbled with a wry smile. “I wish His Lordship was here. He hasn’t met the children yet,” Xiaoli said with a sad sigh.

“Oh yeah!” Hermes dabbed the end of a spoon at Chagatai’s closed lips, “He’d love them, I’m sure. Oh, I can’t wait to take them out on the plains when they are older.”

“Hopefully, they will be better at chasing tree-eaters than I am,” Xiaoli said with a chuckle and had a sip of her drink. She caressed Wenbo’s round cheeks tenderly and the child looked curiously at her, releasing a ‘prrt’ through his lips.

“If I may,” K’nell seemed to be stifling a small chuckle behind a smile, “Well, firstly I’m delighted to know that my beasts of the plains have been given such a direct yet charming name. But more importantly, I should mention that your children will be doing much better than simply being better at chasing those beasts.”

Xiaoli raised a brow. “Pardon my asking, but what do you mean?” She pinched a piece of cabbage with her chopsticks and put it in her mouth.

“I suppose in concert with my previous musings, that may better be left to secret ponderings,” K’nell said, “Just know that I did not come to your wedding without a gift of my own, one that your sons will benefit from as they grow and thrive on my lands.” The god looked over at each of the boys, and they fell silent as they stared back for all but a moment, a gentle twinkle in each eye. Eventually Chagatai broke the stare with a mirthful laugh, inciting Wenbo into a concert of giggles.

Xiaoli’s eyes went wide. “A-a gift, Father? For our boys?” She shuffled a little away from the table and bowed forward into a kowtow. “Your generosity is legend.”

“Thank you,” Hermes recited, “Thank you so much.”

“But of course,” K’nell finished his soup and let the silver spoon lay in the empty bowl. He slowly went to stand up, “And a final word if I may: I plan on taking the Shengshese drinks back to Limbo as no good gift is wasted, yes? But please,” K’nell insisted, “Help yourself to a few pots of the liquor you have been storing for me, especially on such a night as this.”

“Oh, we couldn’t possibly! You are much too generous, Father!” She shot a quick scowl over at Hermes and folded her arms together. “Besides, Hermes is prohibited from taking in inebriating substances.”

“Even on our wedding night?” Hermes gave her a guilty look, slowly standing so K’nell wasn’t the only one up. Xiaoli kept the frown, though it slowly began to break into a wry smile. She sighed.

“Well, I suppose this -is- a special occasion… But I set the limit on the number of cups you can drink, is that clear?” Xiaoli got to her feet, as well.

“Very clear,” Hermes smiled wide, a glisten in her eye. K’nell folded his hands and cleared his throat.

“Very good, then,” He nodded, “It was a pleasure to see you two legitimized in marriage, and a pleasure to both meet your sons and eat your supper, but I must be going now.”

“So soon?” Hermes looked over and K’nell nodded.

“I’m afraid so.”

Xiaoli nodded somberly. “Well, please know that You are always welcome here at the manor whenever You may wish to come. Our table will always have a seat for You, Father.” Xiaoli bowed deeply.

“Of course, thank you dear,” K’nell tipped his forehead and turned, “Until next time.” The babies cooed as he left, the door sliding behind him. Hermes looked over at Xiaoli and a smile began to creep across her face.

“I get to try Shengshese drinks,” She nearly sang.

”Pop!” Poppler erupted from his cup and danced beside her head, clearly just as excited.

“One glass to start off. If that doesn’t knock you out after thirty minutes, you may have another,” Xiaoli said sternly.

“Should-- should we wait for the babies to go to sleep first?” Hermes asked. A disagreeing crackle sounded from the cloudling, and Wenbo let out a curious ‘wah’, soliciting a echoe from Chagatai.

“We can put them in their cradles first, yeah,” Xiaoli agreed. She picked up little Wenbo who looked around quizzically and held him against her shoulder. She then slid the door back up and walked towards the family house.

Poppler zipped into Hermes’ hair as she quickly followed behind holding the other baby. A giddy laugh was in her throat, causing baby Chagatai to giggle along with her.

The small group entered entered the family home, the bedroom all tidy and neat. Hermes looked down at Chagatai, “You sleepy, Chaggie?”

The baby looked up with a scowl and Hermes rolled her eyes, “C'mon you must be full and drowsy after alllll that food.” Chagatai’s scowl slowly faded as his eyelids grew heavy, and disappeared completely as the result of a wide-mouthed yawn.

Hermes blinked and look up at Xiaoli, “Well that's never been that easy before.” She put Chagatai in his crib and outstretched her arms to take Wenbo. Xiaoli gently placed him in Hermes’ arms and she deposited him in his crib.

Hermes put her hands on her hips as she looked down at the blinking baby, “Sleep time, Baby Wen-Wen.”

The baby seemed reluctant at first but after a few minutes into the staring match he conceded with a yawn and rolled onto his stomach. Hermes rubbed his back until he fell into a slow breathing rhythm. Xiaoli then promptly rolled him back onto his back, though she was careful to not wake him.

“He breathes better this way,” she whispered and squeezed Hermes’ hand. “Now… Would you like to celebrate our marriage?” She smiled and bit her lip slightly.

“You owe me a drink first,” Hermes poked Xiaoli's side.

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Hidden 1 yr ago Post by Solotros
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The wall shook as Atlas drove a colossal fist into it, yet for all the weight that the titanic cyclops could put behind the crushing blow, the crystalline surface was hardly even marred. A low rumble of frustration escaped his throat, and he glared balefully at the hazy wall in some futile attempt to peer through the great translucent and catch a glimpse of whatever lay beyond his cage; all the other assembled cyclopes just gawked at the scene.

Synros spared a glance over his shoulder as the giant made another attempt to break their temporary prison. He had hoped that he would have heeded his advice immediately, for his trust and belief in the Creator was absolute, but he should have known better. With a slight shake of his head he returned to the task he had assigned himself, walking among his people and bestowing names upon them. He felt it was his duty to do so, an obligatory part of being their assigned leader. He knew in time they may have chosen their own, but the act of being given a name had been the catalyst to making him alive. The other Cyclopes deserved to feel the same sensation.

Steropes. Brontes. Belos. Abydos. Ariphron. Mikon. The names came one by one and felt natural, as if they weren't being bestowed or invented but had been there all along and were simply now being revealed by Synros. Each of the cyclopes accepted their given name.

A soft throbbing called upon Atlas to unfurl his fist and lift up his great brawny hand to inspect it. The dull grey stone of his fingers had suffered no obvious damage, but a few tiny fissures and cracks had formed. They would take time to heal, and with that realization Atlas reluctantly yielded. That had been the third (and would be the final!) attempt that he made to batter his way out of their vessel. He finally turned around, and his great eye swept over the heads of all the other cyclopes and singled out Synros among the crowd. "You were right," he admitted. "Got to wait until Creator thinks it time." Though he'd finally accepted it, he was still anything but pleased. Atlas slumped down against the wall and sat for the first time since his birth.

"As I said, he would not create us just to leave us stranded within a cage. However I am impressed with how sturdy he made these walls if even your fists cannot break through." He turned away from their kin to face Atlas properly, who while seated might have been mistaken for a large boulder were it not for that glowering look he wore on his eye. "I am certain that our journey is nearing its end. At least this portion of it." Silence punctuated Synros' claim.

Eventually the light of Heliopolis struck their crystal vessel at just the right angle, and the chamber that housed the journeying cyclopes was suddenly awash with cascades of prismatic color. The scintillating light exploded into rainbows that dazzled and awed the cyclopes, at least for a time. The colors were all so grand, so exciting, and so welcoming compared to the utter darkness of the place where they'd been born, or the normally monochromatic glassy surface inside the crystal. It seemed as though it was another personal gift, sent to them by their Creator; it represented a promise that there was something waiting for them, something grand and vibrant and unknowable and exciting. But then the crystal gradually shifted such that the light no longer struck it at that perfect angle, and the beauty of that sight was gone.

Synros remained stunned for several moments after the brilliance of the rainbows had finally faded away, his singular eye opening and closing slowly. Even with all the information that he had been given by the Architect he could hardly fathom the beauty that had just graced him and his people. When the awe finally faded to a simple appreciation, and desire to witness it once again, his attention once more fell onto Atlas. "Could you ask for a surer sign that our Creator favors us Atlas? Why else would he give us such a magnificent sight, something that was nothing less than divine?"

Yet Atlas seemed a stubborn and shortsighted friend. "Can touch steel. Can feel Creator and Creator's decrees. But that? Can only see for few seconds. Was nothing."

He remained sullen and slumped against the wall, and for the first time in their lives, some of the other cyclopes began to murmur. They look to their nearest neighbors and instinctively called to one another by name, mulling over whose philosophy was right. If Atlas noticed them talking, he certainly didn't care. He didn't even move, and something about the silent giant was daunting enough that none of the other cyclopes approached him, much less addressed him directly.

A frown formed upon the face of Synros, provoked not only by the words of his friend but also the spark that had been created in their wake. There was no question in his mind that the Creator was watching them and always would, he simply could not understand the disbelief that had begun to grow in some of his kin. Eventually it would have to be addressed and dealt with, but for the time he had no inclination on how to go about it.

The assembled crowd found themselves so preoccupied with this conversation that as their great crystal vessel drew nearer to Galbar and hints of light from the Blue creeped through the smoky walls, the subtle change went unseen. But then there was a more brilliant hue as brazen orange began to wreathe the crystal, its descent so fast that it set the air aflame and cut through the sky as a fiery wound.

At this point they had been descending for longer than they had been within the home of the Architect and Synros was far from unaffected by this fact. Frustration had made itself known to him and he briefly entertained the idea of mimicking Atlas's earlier attempts to free them. This idea was quickly quenched, partially due to the fact he did not believe he would be any more successful than the giant had been and because he had no idea what waited beyond. He could only hope they would make landfall soon for the sake of all of the cyclopes. That thought was interrupted by a rumble as the entire crystal trembled, punctuated by a sharp crack as some of its outermost surface flaked off in the atmospheric drag. The turbulent descent made Atlas instinctively find purchase for his hands upon the wall behind him, and he clutched onto it with the same crushing grip that he'd earlier demonstrated to Synros.

The demigod was quick to follow the example of his friend, planting all four of his hands onto the wall to stabilize himself. Despite the chaos of the present situation he could not stop his lips from lifting into a smile, for to him it was as if his thoughts had been transformed into a prayer heard by the Creator who answered near immediately.

Many of the cyclopes also ran to the walls and clung to them, whilst others grasped at crevices or uneven parts of the floor, but still some were left standing in a daze with nothing to take hold of in sight.

Then the impact happened. Nothing could have prepared them for it. It was as though the entire world was engulfed in a blinding flash, and then there was an unending hail of dirt and rocky shards and even bits of crystal that had been near instantaneously pulverized to sand. Choking dust filled the air, and sound lost all meaning entirely as their ears and minds alike were nearly shattered by the boom. They were thrown every which way and utterly engulfed in storms and waves of debris, as helpless and overwhelmed as a fallen autumn leaf swept up in a tornado. Were it not for the resilience and power and might of their stony bodies, and perhaps even for something like luck of destiny, they would have all died. As it was, many of them did die, but their deaths were at least as close to instant as one could ever hope for.

But many of them survived.

Synros was among those who survived the explosive landing. When the crystal vessel had began breaking apart he maintained his grip on the chunk of wall he had been holding. He refused to let go even as he was launched away from his kin, sailing through the air with the crystal locked firmly below him. His flight, which felt like it lasted ages, eventually came to a close with him landing skidding along the ground upon his impromptu shield. By the time he came to a complete stop the crystal had finally sustained enough damage to break into smaller pieces, the four largest still held within his grasp and now they possessed jagged edges. Slowly he pushed himself to his feet, his glowing eye swinging towards the direction he had came from where he could just make out what remained of his former cage.

For a moment he was transfixed by the sight, but he was broken free of this hypnotism as pain burst from his entire back. Craning his head as far around as he could he stared down and saw dozens of shards embedded within his stony exterior, though most failed to penetrate very deeply. With many of them out of his reach he had no choice but to push the pain into the depths of his mind, he had a task to attend to after all. Besides a few chunks of cyclopes around him, including the head of Abydos which brought him a measure of sadness, none of his kin were anywhere to be seen. The need to regroup with his people burned in his chest and he knew his best bet would be to start from the object that was their ride down. With a destination in mind Synros began the trek back towards the crystal ship, or what remained of it anyway.

As the dust slowly settled, the sounds of the wildlife reluctantly returned. Here, there was a tree that had been shorn in half and practically reduced to a heap of splinters. Right beside it was one that had survived, and beneath its branches was a mighty cavity where great Atlas had struck the earth and by his own weight half-buried himself. They were of course far, far from where the crystal had landed, on the rim of the crater.

A small bird dared land on a branch of that tree and look down at the strange boulder below. The mundane creature had a simple mind, so it soon turned its attention elsewhere and chirped its favorite song. Below it, Atlas stirred.

To his ringing ears, the shrill song was sharp and painful as a lunging spearpoint. The shivering agony voice awoke a great rage in his heart and summoned him back from his slumber, and with a bellow he tore himself free of the ground and was in an instant ripping the branch free from the tree and pulverizing the queer morsel that had tormented him with its sound. The tree's great trunk shifted when the hulking cyclops then rested his back upon it.

His head was still throbbing, so he sat in silent contemplation and willed the pain to trouble him no more. Atlas' will was iron, but not even it could work so fast. So his eye peered out across the crater from where he rested beneath the tree. He saw the shattered corpses of some of his brethren; it seemed as though they had been made of weaker stone than he. Some were still whole, though none of them yet moved. Atlas let out no more than one grunt as he suffered the agony in his head and waited. Heliopolis, that strange burning light in the sky, pestered Atlas nearly as much as the bird had. Fortunately for Heliopolis, it was too far away for the Might of the Cyclopes to reach out and crush. Atlas nonetheless offered it a baleful glare, and it returned the stare, but eventually it shrank away to hide beyond the horizon like the cowardly thing it was. In the dying light of dusk, Atlas perceived the silhouette of one lone cyclops in the crater below, walking towards the remnants of the crystal.

It could be only one--Synros. Atlas heaved himself back onto both feet, shrugged off the pain, and began to march down the pulverized hillside and into the great crater. As the air grew dark and cooler, some of the other cyclopes began to stir and awaken. 'Good,' he thought, 'maybe spear still has head.'

His kin lay scattered around him, some beginning to show life but far too many exhibiting the stillness that one can only achieve in death. He wanted nothing more than to fall to his knees in the sight of his failure, it was his duty to watch over and protect the children of the Creator, yet he knew that such an emotional display was not a luxury afforded to him. Synros had no choice but to remain strong for those of his people that had survived. Upon seeing the hulking behemoth that was Atlas he sent a silent prayer to the Creator, the survival of his friend was a small blessing in the face of the devastation that had claimed the lives of dozens.

With great care, stepping around the bodies of the dead, he made his way toward the giant cyclops. "Thank the Creator you survived, Atlas. When I first saw what had happened to our prison I feared I was the sole survivor. I should have known it would take more to fell you." As he spoke he gave his ally a firm clap on the back before turning towards the others who had finally found their feet. He had had little time to prepare a proper speech and instead decided to follow his gut.

"Cyclopes look around you, see those who will never rise again. They were weak, unsuited to see the beauty of the world our Creator made. Those of you who still stand, who still draw breath, you have proven yourselves worthy. Worthy to gaze upon this land and worthy to call yourself a cyclops. You have the strength needed to survive, the drive to claim what you want as yours. Weakness means death. Let the corpses that surround you cement that fact into your very core. Every single one of us must be strong, stronger than the stone we were born of, stronger than any obstacle that tries to slow us. Those who falter or fall behind will be forced back in line or they will be forgotten. For now we are wanderers, but this shall not last forever. We shall find a place to call home and claim it as ours."

Synros turned away from his people and turned his gaze skyward, his upper arms extending outwards with his palms up. "See your chosen Creator, we survived our brutal arrival upon your world. The weak were culled and only the strong remain. Mentally we are prepared to face all challenges, yet we lack the material to put your gift to use. Hear me Synros, the First Cyclops, and deliver what we need to fulfill our purpose."

As if in answer, the sky was suddenly aglow with a meteor shower. Atlas was the first to notice it, but the other quickly followed his gaze and witnessed a thousand falling stars streak down to land somewhere close. With little more than a low growl that rumbled from his chest and throat, the giant trudged at a leisurely pace (made swift by his giant strides) towards the near horizon. "This way," he told Synros and all the others.

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Hidden 1 yr ago 1 yr ago Post by Crispy Octopus
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Crispy Octopus Into the fryer we go.

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The Question Of Souls

High above the world the flock hung in the Blue. Innumerable Alma hovered and circled around the titanic Luis. Upon his armored back where hundreds of vaults ready to be filled with the souls of the dead. Hovering just above him was the Titan of Winds, a sentinel and guardian of weightless stone that played faint melodies even as it rested. At the head of the flock was Azura who would soon lead them all to the stars. Below them, past frolicing sky slugs and slowly drifiting temples Galbar was splayed out before them, flattened and maplike, its terrain looping infinitely into the distance. Down there where uncountable mortals, living out their lives in ignorance of what fate awaited them. She allowed herself but a moment to dwell on this as she looked for the destination Asceal had described to her.

Then she dropped like a stone.

The flock dropped out of the blue a short way’s away from Shengshi’s ship, finding themselves above a continent Azura had yet to visit. The sound of wing beats was deafening as the birds slowed their fall, only to go quiet as they settled down on every available perch on the continent blow, painting it with a rainbow of colors visible for miles around. Of the flock’s three titans only one landed, the titan of wind settling down to guard the Alma while Luis and Azura made their way towards the ship.

As the Luis drew closer it became clear just how massive the eclipse whale was, for he dwarfed the Jiangzhou by orders of magnitude. It was as if an entire prot-city had hoisted itself out of the ground to go meet the dragon vessel. As they drew near Azura briefly landed on the tip of the massive horn like crystal protruding from Luis’s armor and waved a wing towards the ship while shouting “Hello there” in greeting. The servants aboard the ship all stood on the side of the deck, as if they had been waiting for her. In unison, they all fell to their knees and yelled as one:

“Ten thousand years and more to the holy Azura, Divine of Winds, and her companions!”

“Good grief. Not this again” Azura groaned quietly before shaking her head. “Priorities Azura, priorities. Souls first, hearts and minds later” she told herself before taking flight again for the last leg of the journey. Luis parked himself up and to the side of the vessel, and then sent an Alma down with Azura as she flew down to land on a clear region of its deck.

“Greetings, ten thousand years to you all also.” Luis said though the Alma. He had set one up to take a portrait view of himself that the Alma he was speaking though displayed with a small holographic image to indicate who was talking. Another sat on his nose and recorded/transmitted what he said to his Alma emissary while a final one sat next to ne of his eyes to display what the emissary saw. This setup stopped him shouting at the boat, let him go inside it and solved the language barrier, the Alma granting comprehension similar to that of the gods to those listening to them.

“It’s good to meet you all.” Azura said to the gathered water people “I’d love to get to know some of you some time, but I was told Asceal was to be found here, so could one of you direct me to her, if you’d be so kind?” she asked.

One of the present servants crawled a little forward. “Naturally, O sacred All-Able Avian! These servants have already relayed to Her Holiness Asceal the message of Your blessed arrival - His Lordship, too, has been notified.”

If parrots were capable of cringing Azura would have done so. As it was she took a few moments to get control of her emotions to avoid them bleeding into her voice before responding stiffly “Thank you...that will be all? Please go about your day?” Azura was unsure as to how to dismiss the servants so they'll be able to stop groveling on the deck. The servants all stood up in unison, bowed and walked backwards, torso inclined all the same, back to their duties.

Azura let out a sigh of relief at once they had left. “Safe to say you don’t like this one bit.” Luis noted via Alma. “No. Not one bit.” Azura muttered back in response. “But like I said. Priorities. From Asceals mention of a dragon attack I fear that our trip to the Pyres is timely indeed.”

“Looks like it. I’ve been skimming through the Alma’s sight as they get the recording/sending power and there seems to be a number of mortal races.” the projection of Luis’s face quickly switched to show a brief shot of some Selka playing on a distant beach, followed be the much closer sight of fire giants burning their way through forests. “and that’s just this continent and the one we just left.”

“Wait. I didnt think about using them for that when I made them.” Azura said as the fire giants disappeared to be replaced with the whale’s face once more.

“An added bonus then. Same with this translation setup I’ve got going.” Luis commented. “It’s not exactly optimized for keeping an eye on things but it can be useful if you take the time to troll through all the ones eating or starting at nothing.” the screen flashed a couple examples of picturesque landscapes, close ups of fruit, a quickly skipped over courtship dance and the vision of a bird deftly maneuvering to escape a dragon.

“Not entirely sure we should use that ability for, well spying.” Azura said, her tone concerned

“It’s not very good for that anyway.” Luis insisted “But it has let us know that there are mortals who are working with the dragons and other fiery creatures, which may cause issues when it comes to retrieving their souls in future. Particularly if we end up opposed to whichever destructive god who created them.”

Azura took a moment to think before responding. “The Alma need to be neutral, so that no one interferes with their task, but I can't be. That is going to be tricky to set up, if it is even possible.”

“And gods who oppose us might well comand their mortals to not give themselves over to us when the time comes. They might fear we would use them against us or deny their salvation out of spite.” Luis added.

Their contemplation was interrupted when they spotted Asceal making her way through the ship’s palace door and waves of bowing and kowtowing servants onto the colossal deck. Walking alongside the luminous goddess were her three winged children. Asceal made her way to Azura and and gestured to the flock around them before she spoke, “I see you’ve been preparing, Azura.”

“Asceal! Good to see you.” Azura responded, her mood swinging to chipper at the sight of the light goddess “And yes, I have. I’m excited to tell you all about it but I should give Introductions first.” She said, before pointing up with a wing at the great whale who floated above them. “This is my good friend Luis”

Luis himself spoke through the Alma’s projection, the translated speech of the bird talking over the soft distance sounds of his actual words. “It’s lovely to finally meet you Asceal. Azura has spoken quite highly of you.”

“Has she?” Asceal smiled, “Well, I hope I live up to any expectation. It’s good to meet you, Luis.”

The radiant goddess glanced to her children and went on, “And these three are my children. Eline, Akam, and Makab.” Makab waved at Azura, but none of the three spoke. Their attentions, forgivably, seemed more occupied by the flock that had surrounded Jiangzhou and darkened the very light of Heliopolis.

“Children?” Azura cocked her head momentarily and made the kind of huh sound that someone makes in response to hearing an interesting idea that they had not thought about before. The misgivings she had developed about that kind of creation were put aside for the sake of expediency and to avoid being rude to the children themselves. “It’s a pleasure to meet you three as well.” she said to them simply.

Eline wrenched her gaze from the Alma, who were perched on every available surface in site, and nodded to Azura, “Likewise. Mother told us we could always count you as a friend.”

“Then I too have expectations to live up to.” she replied cheerfully, accompanied by the soft swishing sound of her tail feathers being happily flapped up and down behind her.

“Dearest sister Azura!” came a booming voice from the tower above. “We finally meet. Welcome to my most humble home. I hope the journey has been kind to you.” Standing with his arms spread apart in a welcoming manner, the snake smiled warmly at Azura and her flock from atop his palace.

Azura blinked a few times in surprise, their host’s booming voice having caught her off guard, before she turned her head to gaze up and beheld him. She was quite sure the looking up part was intentional. “Shengshi, I presume? It was a pleasant flight with an interesting destination. One that seems to have been attacked.”

“A lot of the continent also seems to be, or have been, on fire” Luis noted in a rather detached manner.

”What happened here?“ She asked.

“A gruesome, unwarranted strike from the Flame Demon, it is. Even now, his forces sear my precious woods like cinders in a haystack, bringing wanton destruction upon this cradle of life upon Galbar.” He paused and shook his head. “In my hour of arrival after my skirmish on Tendlepog, my ship was assaulted by vile dragons - the wretched, unwashed spawn of the Demon. Had it not been for the presence of our precious sister Asceal and her so valiant children, I fear the worst may have befallen my home and its people. Truly, some of our siblings have no wish but to end prosperity and harmony for all eternity.” He clenched his fist and sighed, snapping his fingers. A trail of servants came out the slider doors behind him with trays of cups.

“Can I offer some refreshments while you are here?”

”Thank you but no. I don't drink.“ she told him, before bombarding him with questions and information ”By ‘demon’ I assume you mean Sartravius and not Anzillu? I should warn you that latter’s sphere was leaking rapidly multiplying flesh devouring bacteria according to Ohannakeloi, so I dread to think what else they have been cooking up in there. Was anyone hurt in this attack and what is this skirmish at Tendlepog you mentioned?“

The snake nodded somberly. “Several thousand servants lost their lives during the attack - turned to steam and glass by the cursèd flames of the demonspawn - and I do mean Sartravius…” He smacked his lips together as if saying the name left a bitter taste in his mouth. “The servants will recover in time, but the tragic loss is nonetheless gruesome in the gravest meaning of the word.” He crossed his arms over his chest. “As for the skirmish to Tendlepog, I aided our brothers K’nell and Eurysthenes in defeating the maddened Vakk - he planned to murder the mortal known as Hermes, and that was simply something we could not allow him to do. Unfortunately, he did not repent in his final moments, and we were forced to end his existence.” He shook his head. “Such a shame. Death is a gruesome destiny, most of all for gods.” At those words Asceal’s eyes widened and she shot Shengshi an incredulous look, but held her tongue.

”Several thousand...“ Azura replied, aghast at the devastation divine conflict had already wrought. She was silent for a few moments as the words sunk in, before she spoke to everyone, god and mortal alike ”Death is a destiny that Kartharsos has made far more gruesome, but there is still time to save them from his flames. The birds that flock with me are Alma. They are made to seek out intelligent life, turn soul into crystal to save them from the pyre’s pull and can transport these crystals to places of safe keeping. With the Titan of winds I can carry a great number of them up to the pyres to save those who have been taken to that infernal place. He will resist this invasion, but to free his victims death must be overcome“

She turned to the goddess of light and asked her ”Are you still ready and willing to accompany me, Asceal?“ before asking more generally ”I ask you all the same, because I could really use the help.“

“Of course,” Asceal nodded even as she ran a hand through her hair, “The task is even more urgent now that new mortals have begun to... Perish. If you’ll permit it though, I’d prefer to leave my children with Shengshi. I’d feel better knowing they’re here to keep Sartravius in check.”

“They are welcome to stay for as long as you wish!” the snake called from above.

”I see.“ she responded, a touch of disappointment staining her tone, before she asked Shengshi ”Will you join us, or will you be staying for the same reason?“

“Oh, I will remain, I am afraid. This land is my realm, and as its lord it is my duty to defend it. You are welcome to drop by again for a drink or two after your little…” He paused to look for words, flicking his tongue pensively. “... Quest.”

“I’m with you” Luis butted in before Azura’s mood could be sour any further. “Obviously” he added, acknowledging the statements redundancy

”Yes. Good. Well then.“ Azura said while pointlessly glancing at the servants. ”Let’s get going?“

“Forgive me, sisters, but are you leaving so soon? To pay Katharsos a visit? To procure souls from his sphere? Ought you not at least ask him for permission first? You are aware that this act will upset the balance of the world, correct?” The snake put his hands on his hips and flattened out his mouth.

“Katharsos already did that when he murdered every soul that followed us to this world, Shengshi,” Asceal shut her eyes for a moment and took a breath, “But you didn’t know that, did you? Katharsos found all the souls that followed us into this universe and set about destroying them all as soon as we arrived, Shengshi. Decayed, intact, he didn’t discriminate when he tossed them into his fires and burned them down to soul ash. All that saved us from that fate was the Architect’s favor.”

The Goddess gestured to Azura, “Aelius, Azura, and I have resolved to keep whatever souls come into being, souls like your servants, from Katharsos’s cruelty. Azura devised a means to crystalize a soul, to preserve it until a more permanent solution may be found, and this is what we mean to do to whatever thinking souls we find in Katharsos pyres. Your perished servants among them.”

The snake furrowed his brow and sneered. “With all due respect, dearest sister, I am well aware of how soul ash is created. I am also quite well aware that it is an absolutely necessary ingredient to all life. Are you telling me that you will lock up all souls that you can get your hands on, thus limiting the amount of soul matter we can use to create life, until you can find a potential future alternative to an already functional system?”

“Functional?” Asceal’s expression fell, “What Katharsos is doing is murder. The soul of a mortal is no less alive than that mortal was Shengshi, it thinks, it feels, and to destroy it simply because it is expedient is an atrocity.”

The snake sucked in a deep breath through the nose. “Your tone is unbecoming of you, sister. I am merely stating that freezing souls until a better solution can be found, is not a solution. Katharsos’ work is a necessary part of the harmony between life and death - life is born, it lives, it dies, and is then born anew. It is a delicate cycle which destruction could cast the world into chaos. You understand this, yes?”

The Goddess scowled, “That ‘cycle’ exists only because Katharsos and others have decided it should. It, like everything else in this world, is a construction, Shengshi.” She paused for a moment and ran both her hands through her long hair, “You are right about soul crystals not being a solution, but they are infinitely preferable to inaction. How many thinking souls would you have suffer in Kathasos pyres while we dawdle? If Katharsos weren’t the monster he is we might have had the time to find a proper solution, but the existence of the Pyres leaves Azura and I no choice.”

“A construction,” the snake muttered and let out a hot sigh. He hopped off the side of his tower and landed in front of the goddesses with a surprisingly low smack. “Harmony is founded on the principles of equal parts good and evil, Asceal - too much of either will be a detriment. Our brother’s work is a fundamental necessity to the continuation of the world. The nature of souls is not a construct, dear - souls need to be purged to attain a new identity. Otherwise, we will be recycling unfit souls for eternity. It is no solution to keep the dead alive.”

As the Titan of winds slowly drew closer to the ship, and the Alma gathered around Luis, Azura interjected herself into their debate ”Then when the time comes you too will gladly let Katharsos destroy your soul? To have everything you ever were washed away by his flames? I expect it would be a rather lengthy process for those who would live as long as we will. And as for this ‘balance between good and evil’ where you not just ranting and raving about the fiery demon who burned your home? Those destructive flames you cannot stand yet the distant ones in the sky you can? Even if we accept your vision of harmony, what gives you the right to decide which evil is permissible and which is tolerable?“

“Yes, when my time comes, I will gladly step into the flames of the Pyres so that my soul can be used to nourish countless new lives - to further life’s mission towards prosperity.” He pointed a clawed finger at Azura. “The forest was already in balance - the Flame Demon’s wanton destruction upsets that same balance with unnecessary death. Finally, my right to decide what is right and wrong is legitimised by the structure of the universe - the rebirth of souls in fire is the only way to bring about the renewal of life. You two can deny that all you want, but one can ask oneself who truly is--” He stopped himself. “... I do not wish to sow the seeds of conflict between us, sisters, but surely, you must see that you cannot halt the cycle of life just because a certain step of that cycle is painful!”

”The burning of souls is not ‘part of the universe’. It was a decision, made by a single person, that ended the lives of billions. As far as we know he didn’t even consult anyone else when making this decision, and yet now we are stuck with his system and everyone will have to suffer the consequences. Unlike you I will not sit idle while a monster who was given supreme power seemingly at random dictates the final fate of every person in this universe.“ Azura retorted

“... ‘Unlike you’, she says…” the snake hissed. “Sister, I have attempted to remain as civil as I can in this discussion, but your disrespectful, nigh-aggressive tone - in my own house, no less - is most unbecoming. Now, I believe you two have a quest to get on with. If you would like any provisions, I will of course have the servants prepare some for you - though, please, do not let me keep you.” He put on a poisonous smile and his eyes flashed reptilian.

Before Azura could issue another retort Asceal deftly stepped between her and Shengshi. The Goddess of Light frowned slightly, but when she spoke it was without rancor, “Very well Shengshi. I’m sorry we can’t come to an agreement regarding this matter, but I do hope you’ll take the time to consider our position while we’re away. You say Katharsos flames are the only way life can be renewed, but how do you know that? Have you tried another, kinder, method? Has anyone? Katharsos instituted his system before any of us had even created life, so I feel confident asserting that he, at least, did not exhaust his options before burning the primordial souls.”

Asceal pursed her lips, “Perhaps our crystallizing mortal souls will be a problem one day Shengshi, but for now it is only a kindness. There is an abundance of souls in this world and we seek to save only the barest fraction. We have all the time we need to discuss this.”

The snake’s scowl turned to Asceal and became a saddened smile. “Oh, dearest Asceal, you do have a gentle way with words. However, I must again apologise profusely and recommend a different course of action. I will not stop you, of course, but please just consider once more the gravity of your actions.” He reached out to grab Asceal’s hands. “Please.”

The Goddess sighed and held Shengshi’s hand for a moment, “I have, Shengshi. I understand that there is a cost, but there is always a cost. No cruelty and no kindness is without consequence. And I accepted the consequences of what I must do a long time ago. I only wish you could understand.”

“I am sorry, dear. I cannot support you in this endeavour. Truly, I am deeply, thoroughly sorry. I wish you all the best; however, I cannot pray for your success.” The snake bowed deeply.

Asceal met Shengshi’s gaze for a moment, frowned, and held her tongue. She nodded sadly and turned away from the Lord of Rivers and towards Azura and her flock. The Goddess of Wind’s army had gathered around the ship and she was more than ready to leave.

Azura gave no farewell to the contemptible serpent and instead silently launched herself up and away towards Luis’s vast form. Meanwhile the great whale’s messenger bid farewell to the angels, with whom he had been quietly conversing while their parents argued with their host, and then released the Alma from its duty so that it could rejoin the flock.

Asceal waved to her children and beat her wings. In a flash she, like the rest of the flock, was far overhead. As one the congregation turned away from Jiangzhou and began to ascend. Their target was far above, after all.

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