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Kalmar

&


God of Death, Prince of Astral Fires

&
Roog





Kalmar stood upon the shore of the Hunter’s Eye, and threw a stone out to sea. He watched it skip four times before sinking. Wordlessly, he continued walking. He had returned to check on Fenris. It had been weeks since the creature lost its eye, and he needed to ensure that the wolf had actually recovered.

He came upon the site where Fenris had first clashed with Vakk’s beast. Traces of blood still stained the sand, and in the midst of it was a massive eye, scratched and half-crushed. Kalmar’s eyes narrowed in puzzlement. Firstly, Fenris hadn’t disposed of the eye. Secondly, despite all the time spent lifeless and detached from its body… the eye hadn’t decayed.

Kalmar approached it, and as he approached he realized it was almost radiating power. He could even sense what appeared to be a soul forming inside it. It took him aback. The Hunter God had little experience in the manipulation of souls or soul ash, beyond what was required to create life. This was a soul occupying a seemingly lifeless object. He did not know what to make of it.

Perhaps one of his acquaintances would know more. Yet of all the gods he had met, he only knew one whose purpose directly revolved around souls.

Katharsos? he ventured telepathically.

’...Kalmar?’


[color=orange][i]I have found something strange. One of my creations lost an eye. The creature itself is still alive, but the eye is still apart from its body. The eye has not decayed; somehow it carries power, and even has a separate soul inside it. How is this possible?[i][/color]

Then silence. A full minute passed, and Kalmar grew impatient. Do you hear me? he asked.

’Your quandary is acknowledged. I am pondering it.”

Kalmar frowned. Why did it take so long for him to ponder something? Nonetheless, Kalmar waited. After the better part of an hour, Katharsos still knew neither what to think nor what to say, and so he finally answered with some wordless indication that he would come in person.

It was an even longer interim before a red glow on the horizon announced the god’s near arrival, but it was not just the light of one burning streak that lit the sky--three followed behind, smaller and perhaps near invisible to mortal eyes, but easily enough spotted by divine perception.

Katharsos, Balam, Zotz, and Ku all made their descent and came to rest just above the ground, a short distance away from an expectant Kalmar.

Kalmar was perched upon a large stone, working away at a wooden carving. He glanced at the eye which remained inert and unchanged. It almost seemed to pulse or throb every few minutes, but he couldn’t be sure. He looked to Katharsos. ”Who are they?” he asked, waving his knife to indicate Katharsos’s companions, before he turned the blade back toward the task of carving.

The three didn’t answer for themselves and merely followed their master with vacant stares. ”New and loyal servants. In my stead they will care for and watch after this middle sphere,” the god told Kalmar. ”I believe that you already met one of them in some capacity, when last we spoke.”

Not far from Kalmar and his rock and the block of wood that he was etching away at, sure enough there was the mangled and bloodied remnants of a huge eye that had been torn free from its body. Just as Kalmar had said, there was something that pulsed on in what should have been long dead and rotting tissue. Katharsos examined it from afar.

”Sometimes a soul can rub off on something, like an especially prized object...or its own body. Some tiny traces of soul ash linger on in corpses. But as weeks and weeks pass as decomposition of the body takes place, the ash tends to naturally disperse. Instead, here it is greedily drawing in more and growing into some sort of nascent soul, even as the eye rots. It is most unnatural.”

”Then what should be done about it?” Kalmar asked, rising to his feet. He sheathed his knife and stepped closer to the eye.

”I am in principle opposed to allowing the dead to inflict themselves upon the living--and it seems that just such a thing would happen were we to stand by and let this soul form without a vessel and wander about as a disembodied…ghost of something that never truly lived. But just ending it right here and now before it had a chance to live would be an even greater crime, no?” The giant head of flames violently pivoted around to look back at the three smaller spirits behind him.

”It could be made into another one like these, perhaps. The strange soul could prove very useful to me,” Katharsos finished.

”And what would it do?” Kalmar asked, eying one of the creatures and narrowing his eyes.

If Katharsos had shoulders, they’d have been shrugging. ”That remains to be seen. The three behind me--their names are Balam, Zotz, and Ku,” he gestured at the jaguar, bat, and monkey-shaped heads respectively, ”they do not even know their sacred charges yet. Before making preparations to return to my own sphere, I had to mull over what I would ask of them.”

”That one smells of Orvus,” Kalmar spoke suddenly, gesturing toward Ku.

There was a pause as both parties seemed to consider what to say, but Katharsos uncharacteristically broke the silence first. ”Indeed, Orvus offered him a blessing. You did caution me about Orvus and make dire...claims, but by chance he encountered me in the wilds and I found him nothing if not reasonable and friendly. So with Orvus’ help, Ku is especially attuned to souls and their various states of decay. Perhaps he can perceive that with even more clarity than you and I. Such a talent will surely help him with the work that is to come.”

”Hmm… I told Orvus that if he did not change his ways, I would kill him. Perhaps he listened.” Kalmar considered.

”It’s also possible that you were wrong about him all along, no?”

Kalmar shook his head. ”Before I gave him that ultimatum, he told me his intentions himself. He wanted to destroy the world, to fray the souls of all living creatures. He said this to Phystene as well, and I saw the aftermath of their battle. Maybe he did change, but you should not trust him.”

With his perturbed mood came also a souring change of color. Katharsos brilliant reds and oranges became sickly yellows and greens. ”Then maybe I am too optimistic towards the other divines,” he conceded. ”When next I see Orvus, I will inquire as to his intentions. If his motives are still as you say they once were, he will need to be enlightened and turned to another path.”

Ku didn’t have anything to say, though for once the laughing or mischievious hints of a grin upon the monkey’s face were gone. Katharsos was eager for a change of subject. ”Now then, the eye here? And the soul inside of it?”

”You were saying we should give it a body?” Kalmar questioned, before turning his head. A massive one-eyed wolf walked across the lake. In the time since the fight, Fenris’s wound had scabbed over, but the dark hole still remained vacant. The gigantic creature stepped onto land and laid itself down next to the eye, setting a wary gaze on Katharsos and the animal companions. ”As you can tell, this is the eye’s original owner.”

”No, not a body. No flesh. I would bend the ash around it, and breathe upon it, and then it would be a burning spirit like any of those three,” he said gesturing to Balam and his cohorts. ”Just like me.”

Kalmar shook his head. ”A physical form will be better. Easier to interact with the world, and it won’t draw as much attention,” he argued.

”A soul is meant to grow inside of a body, not dragged about and forced into one. To remove it from that rotting eye and put it into something else would be an unnatural abomination!” The god’s jaguar face twisted and grew redder and hotter. The ice of his tone was cracking, and steam was broiling out from the gaps. ”I do not use my powers to form flesh and life, anyways. I have neither affinity nor aptitude for such a thing. Only with Ashalla’s help did I make the simplest of creatures, and that was taxing.”

Kalmar reluctantly nodded. ”If you say so. Go on, try it your way.”

Katharsos gave a tiny nod in thanks, then approached the eye even closer. The jaguar’s visage stretched as its jaw came unhinged to bare gently wavering flames that took the shape of teeth. From somewhere between them there came a few sparks that were pushed along by a warm wind, the gentlest of breaths. They fell upon the eye, and then coaxed into life by his invisible will, they consumed the eye. And there was an almost imperceptible snow of soul ash that quickly became a blizzard as the stuff coalesced and began to swirl around the drying and blackening husk of the eye. But Katharsos frowned, for something was wrong and this soul was not going to be metamorphosed nearly so easily as the past three had been.

The blizzard of soul ash was now more akin to a barrage of hailstones; the god of death was trying to preserve a life by smothering the very fire he’d started using the soul ash, but of course that was like trying to put out a campfire by burying it beneath leaves and sticks.

”KU!” he suddenly roared, and the hapless monkey darted closer to his master. The spirit stood there agape, seemingly confused at what it was supposed to do.

Fenris rose to his feet and began to bark loudly at the sight of his own detached eye aflame.

With three steps Kalmar closed the distance, drew his foot back, and kicked the eye out toward the lake. With a mighty splash it vanished beneath the surface, only to float back up still ablaze, as the water began to bubble and steam around it.

With an annoyed frown, Kalmar extended a hand, and the burning eye flew through the air back toward him, stopping a mere three feet away. The Knife of Friendship materialized in his other hand, and he slid the blade across his open palm before pointing the bleeding hand at the eye. Divine ichor sprayed forth from the newly created wound.

Where water had failed, Kalmar’s blood succeeded. The godly ichor quenched the bulk of the fire, until only a few embers remained on the eye’s charred surface, and then the liquid began to seep into the eye itself. Kalmar closed his hand, and blood dripped onto the sand beneath him.

There was more to that burning stare that Katharsos now gave Kalmar than embarrassment made anger, or envy, or disappointment; no, there was a sort of fear and disbelief in those eyes.

He let out a long sigh, his breath carrying the smell of death. It was not the reek of rot or decaying flesh, but the true smell of death; this was that chilling odor from the magical flames that burnt away even souls. The leaves of the tree closest to him seemed to wither a bit just from the smell. ”In pouring your blood on that eye and smothering it in ichor, do you know what you have done?”




The corpulent mass that was the decaying eye of Fenris-Wolf bubbled and charred in equal measure as blood fed flesh and divine flames stoked the blaze that seemed to burn from the very center of that fey object. As if in response to that heavenly sustenance it had gorged upon the surface of the fleshy globe rippled and shook as meat and gristle parted to reveal great gouges and rents of godly blood and righteous fire. There was a glow that suffused outwards from the numerous wounds generated across its damaged hide, illuminating the area with a baleful radiance.

Like fuel catching light all at once the eye seemed to suck inwards and set ablaze once more, scorching black fire surging from the numerous lesions until the surface hardened, cracked, and collapsed in on itself. The booming wrench of a thunderclap violently sounded its sonorous warcry as the eye imploded in a gout of black flame and horrendous noise, projecting enough force in the process to flatten the flora that grew up along the coastline. As the noise subsided and the flames sputtered and died the eye was revealed, caked black and brittle, with all life to it gone.

The crisp outer casing of the eye’s once-flesh crumbled inwards and what little was left of the meaty core seemed to be slurping within towards a center point. Gristle and gore poured inwards with a life all its own, forming shape in a most dark and twisted divine crucible. First was revealed the outline of something feral, canine in stature, but rapidly the tissue that nourished this most strange birth was absorbed to reveal in detail the creature that was created. The first image was of black fur, so deep as to practically draw light into itself, wet with the creature’s birth. Next came limbs, young in stature but muscular and throbbing with life. At last was revealed the visage of this oddling-born monster; a vicious maw, full of tooth and fang, and eyes of fiery golden-bronze. Black fur seemed to come alight, flickering and dancing as flames that cooked away all that was left of the sacrificial-form offered to the growing creature as fuel.

The creature stumbled then as its limbs were first made to carry it, dropping to its side with an unpleasant grunt followed by an equally uncomfortable gurgle. Its lungs heaved in its chest, gasping for air that it did not need as unnecessary instincts roared to life in its young mind. Its eyes darted wildly, panicking at the sight of its surroundings for a thing not of the mortal realm but so terribly born of it. A hacking growl followed suit with black blood and bile vomiting from the beasts panting muzzle. Laying down in its own birth-fluids and having retched up its own vile insides, the monstrous wolf seemed stunned.

At long last eyes began to calm and take account of what was around the wolf’s prone form, crawling across the sandy beach and up towards the flattened landscape where trees once were to stop on two shapes; one that glowed and another that walked. Light and flesh in equal measure, balanced and seemingly in harmony as they stared down at him. Slowly, cautiously, the creature lifted its head and turned its dreadful visage towards the entities in quiet curiosity. With maw opened enough for moonlit teeth to illuminate his features in the dull light of the early day, the black-blazing wolf echoed His first words.

“I . . . I am Roog . . . ?”

”He already named himself. Seems intelligent,” the one who walked observed in an impassive voice.

”A name . . . ? Yes . . . a name,” came the growling retort from the Wolf as his lips pulled back to reveal a snarl, his eyes looking away from the speaker revealing Roog’s wandering thoughts, MY name . . . It howls at me in my heart. I AM Roog . . . “

”I am Kalmar,” the blond figure said. ”The God of Hunting. And this is Katharsos, the God of Death.”

Roog paused for a long moment as he considered the words spoken to him by the one who identified himself as Kalmar. He was flesh and blood and walked on two legs; an oddity, ruminated Roog as he began testing the strength of his own four limbs. Slowly but surely the wolf stood, rushed with the sense of power. His gaze then travelled away from this Kalmar to the glowing, sun-like form of the other being present at his creation. Even more than the first Roog was struck with the considerable strangeness of this other entity, so-called Katharsos. Mortal instincts warred in Roog’s mind on just how he should feel towards this creature. As the instinctual responses died down in the face of Roog’s divine willpower, Roog addressed the pair.

“God of Hunting . . . God of Death . . . Confusing concepts. The word you use, it carries considerable meaning. Gods are . . . creators, I think? Then I must assume you are my own . . . though I must ask, why?”

And then for the first time, Roog heard the ‘sun’ speak. ”Mortal lifespans are short and fleeting,” Katharsos almost whispered. Gently. ”They come and go, and some leave the world nearly untouched; in the end, those are more ephemeral than the softest breeze. Some others are able to accomplish great things and shake the world, but they too must eventually pass on and make way for new life. This is simply the way of things, and this is what makes mortal lives so beautiful. I envy them, because their limited time makes their every act and breath and thought a thousand times more meaningful, and yet they can just as easily shut their eyes have peace, thinking nothing of their brief stay in this strange existence. In the moment of their brief existence, the reality of destiny seems ever so slightly more palatable, fading into the likeness of a dream.”

Katharsos drifted closer to Roog. ”We do not have luxury. All of us have a purpose, a duty that defines us, and we have all of eternity to pursue its fulfillment. Do you understand why you were created now? It was to serve a purpose.”

As Katharsos spoke Roog paid close attention. His ears pricked up and were rotated towards the fiery god as he explained to Roog the nature of his existence. While he did so his eyes wandered elsewhere, contemplating the creatures behind his Celestial creator. His eyes narrowed as he looked them up and down, took in their scent, and tasted them on the air. By all his senses they were not right, including that of the divine star now borne aloft before him. But, in them he could sense a kinship and there were more similarities than there were differences between them. Roog would need to think long on that particular puzzle.

Roog lifted his gaze back to Katharsos, observing the God’s facial features and their movements before responding. “Mortals and their mortality, and luxurious existences. I think I see why you envy them, shining-one; you make their lives sound worthwhile. I believe I understand. Then . . . What is your purpose? What is mine?”

Katharsos contemplated how best to answer that question. Fenris stared at the much smaller wolf with a mixture of fear and fascination.

Behind Katharsos there was the lake in which Kalmar had just kicked Fenris’ eye mere minutes ago. For all that ordeal the water’s glassy surface looked just as peaceful as before, complete with the sparkling reflection of Heliopolis crowning the tiny waves. Katharsos could perceive all of that without even turning to look at it. ”Living things exist here in this plane, tangible and with flesh and blood,” began his roundabout answer to the question of his own purpose. ”There is more to them than that, though. To be complete, each body has a spirit. The spirit is like the reflection of the sun upon the water behind me: you can look at that reflection and know it to be one and the same with that brightest of lights in the sky, and yet they are not quite the same. One is grand, and corporeal, and warm; the other one is only a ghost. That comparison is flawed, of course; the analogy fails because if Heliopolis were to vanish it would not leave behind its mirrored counterpart, and if the reflection were to vanish then Heliopolis would remain unaffected.” A cloud passed by and blocked the sun for just long enough to prove his words true.

”My purpose is to care for all of those ghosts and reflections, and to recycle those reflections that are trapped beneath the water with their counterpart in the sky having gone dark,” he finished.

The horse-sized wolf seemed to be absolutely enraptured by Katharsos’ response, hanging on every word as he found his way closer to the water, guided by the God of Death and his words. As Katharsos spoke Roog poured his mind into the analogy, turning it over and twisting it in his mind while he observed with considerable interest the reflection on the lake. Occasionally he would look towards Katharsos, dutifully reminding his creator that he was listening, before returning to mulling over and absorbing Katharsos’ words. His ears perked up as Katharsos began to speak regarding his own purpose and the topic seemed to garner even more attention from the godling wolf.

”Your words feel right, face-in-flame; I feel it in my bones that they are true. Life is . . . precious and wondrous. It sounds beautiful in its own way.” Roog paused as he turned his gaze away from the lake and turned to observe, first, the other entities like him before finally settling on the one-who-walks. ”What of you, God of the Hunt? What is your purpose? Why have you both created me and what purpose have I been forged for?”

”Life needs to feed itself,” Kalmar answered, glancing out across the lake for a moment. ”Some creatures either choose or need to feed off of others. That’s hunting. As for you, your purpose remains to be seen.”

Roog seemed momentarily appalled at Kalmar’s statement, perhaps even more so by the instinctual craving he immediately felt for such a concept. Despite his shock at the very idea of such a thing, immediately twisting his image of the world, they spoke to him; clearly, Roog thought, that this path must be natural. If it were not, why have a God of Death and Hunting in the first place?

“Then life is cyclical,” reasoned Roog as the gears of his mind turned nebulously on themselves in a clockwork dance of vast depth and complexity, “If Life is both beautiful and born of necessity, then it must be that there is reason to it. An animal giving its life for another to live must serve a purpose, or you would have never have made it so.”

Roog pondered for a moment before looking up, black brows furrowed in contemplation before he asserted his true thoughts on the matter. “I believe you both are Good; why else would you be Gods? If this is so, then, both of you must be goodly in your intentions; your creations and the cycles that persist in life are valued and worthwhile. It is right to protect them.”

”Not all gods are ‘good’,” Kalmar cautioned. ”In a way we are both gods of destruction, but our destruction serves a purpose. There are others who destroy without reason, and they are a threat to all. But yes, it is right to protect existence.”

”Then, why do these Gods exist? Surely they must have a purpose?” Roog seemed deep in thought as Kalmar spoke, as if somewhere else, and his mind churned and devoured the information they provided him with surprising ease and great voracity, ”And what of these creatures here? Their purposes are Good, then? But . . . they are not Gods, not like you. They smell of you and I see their hearts are as yours. What are their purposes?”

When Roog turned his questioning gaze towards the three silent spirits behind Katharsos, they returned the look but did no more. In truth, they were just as confused as Roog, and Katharsos realized it had come time to bestow a purpose unto each of them. Fortunately, Orvus had sewn the seeds with his earlier suggestions, and the god had some suitable roles in mind.

”That is Fenris,” Kalmar suddenly spoke, pointing to the massive wolf that dwarfed them all. ”I made him to patrol this region and search for threats. You were created from his missing eye, along with my blood and Katharsos’s fire.”

Roog looked up at the vast wolf that stood just behind the grouping, his eyes perusing all that he saw. From Fenris-Wolf’s posture, Roog sensed fear; what could a creature so immense and powerful fear from him, Roog wondered. His eyes trailed back to Kalmar and then down towards his own paws, thinking on their construction and form. At last the wolf’s visage raised, his eyes falling on Kalmar followed by Katharsos.

”Then you are as my fathers; you have created me, and it is by you that I am shaped. You are Gods, Fenris patrols, but what of me? Please, fathers, I wish to know what you would have of me.”

”Creating you does not make me your father,” Kalmar corrected him. Katharsos cast two carmine eyes at the other god, but the emotion upon his alien face was impossible to discern.

”I see,” echoed Roog as his bronze-gold eyes rose to look upon Kalmar with curiosity and, perhaps, the slightest hint of disapproval, ”As you say, creator . . . “

”I would find no offense in being named your father, then,” Katharsos told him. ”I will do what I can to help you realize the ways of the world and find enlightenment, and I will give you a purpose. But first, you must be introduced to your brothers, and they must be given their own purposes, for they have waited for longer than you’ve existed.”

The trio of fiery spirits seemed to have had their interests finally piqued by that. From left to right they’d arranged themselves in order of birth: first Balam, then Zotz, and then Ku. Katharsos addressed the bat-faced one before any others, ”Zotz. The dead must make way for the living; that is the circle of life. I draw their spirits into the heavens that this world is not plagued by ghosts and lost souls and so that new souls may form in their place. Yet there is more to the dead than just the spirits that I handle--their physical husk, their corpse, remains. And it is just as vital to recycle those physical remains and restore their richness to Galbar. No god has taken it upon himself to oversee and carry out such a task, and so it falls upon you.”

From the within the crackling fires that comprised the likeness of a bat’s head, Zotz let out a wordless shriek. ’It will be done,’ the inhuman sound meant.

Before Katharsos there slowly manifested a long and twisted rod, pale as milk. Every last blade of grass that so much as brushed it withered and died and became as dust, until a moment later it rested upon soft and exposed earth. ”Let this staff of bones be your mark and your tool. Never part with it.”

As the fiery spirit manifested a clawed hand to snatch up its prize, Katharsos looked to the monkey. The youngest of the trio advanced. ”Ku, your brother need not toil alone. You will be his partner, and the two of you must work closely and never stray far from the other. Where he must tend to the recently dead, you must find them. And you must ensure that there are no mistakes, and that the power of the Bone Staff is not brought to bear against those whose time has yet to fully pass. Claim this spectral cord of fire, and use it as your mark and your tool.” The Prince of Astral Flames flicked a forked tongue, and from his great infernal maw there emerged a ghostly scourge of pale flames. Ku caught the whip and cackled, flailing it through the air recklessly for a few moments before his master’s glare stilled his arm.

A weary Katharsos glanced right over Balam, to Roog. ”I would have named you Tzi,” he nearly whispered, ”but there is power in a name, and if that ones calls to you, then it is predetermined. Kalmar’s blood has awakened great power in you, and you could use that power to help me. Roog, I would entrust you with not with enabling the circle of life but with guarding its very existence; the spirits of the dead must all be carried through the Vortex of Souls, and the mortals on this plane must never cheat death by stealing more time that what is owed; I task you with keeping a vigil against any who would endanger the natural order and the cycle.”

Roog had been watching with interest from a seated position, both towards the forms of his brothers and their newfound purposes. He felt kinship in that, the discovery of purpose, and with his heavenly-father directing them the roles asserted unto each seemed rightly and good. As Katharsos turned to him Roog rose, ears perking up in visible interest. As the God of Death intoned to Roog what would be his role the wolf’s gaze lowered in deliberation. At last he looked up to meet his Father’s gaze and nodded, his maw opening so his words of acceptance could pour forth.

”It is mine, Father.”

He finally met Balam’s gaze and told the smaller jaguar, ”And for you, Balam the eldest of your kind, there falls a mantle of responsibility. I know that I am…aloof by nature. Try as I might, it is hard to remain anchored and attached to anything below the heights of my own sphere. You must...you must…”

The small jaguar looked at its larger counterpart with what looked like confusion, but which seemed to quickly contort into anger. It snarled and roared, ”I wait for days upon days, and this stammering is all you’ve mustered in that time? All that you’ve to offer?”

A wave of heat swept over them all as Katharsos’ dull red and orange flames were stoked into a fury that was as blue as the ocean, and then white as the ice that crept into his tone when he roared, ”You will learn respect!”

”I, I-”

The smaller jaguar didn’t have the chance to stutter for long. ”You take after my own nature the most,” Katharsos sighed. ”You have a vigor and a youth that left my mind long, long ago. For that reason, I choose you as my second. Speak to me, bear with me, and herd my mind away from the perils of complacency or vacancy. Watch over your younger siblings and fellow guardians, and act as my intermediary.”

A breeze rustled the leaves of a nearby tree gently, and in the silence, the sound of a distant woodpecker cut through the air.

”And my badge of office?” Balam finally ventured.

”I think that you will need nothing more than your tongue and your wit, and my own likeness. You possess all three.”

Balam of course simmered like the blaze that he was, but Katharsos pretended not to see as he addressed them all collectively, ”And as the mortal ones look to me and see the end, the far side of the river of life, so too will they see your lot as incarnations of death. Embrace it, for that is what you are--the Many Deaths that enable life to exist. I vest my power and my trust alike in each of you.”

Kalmar had remained silent throughout this, his expression remaining impassive until Balam’s angry outburst, which Katharsos had answered in equal measure. At that point, for a moment, Kalmar couldn’t help but frown. Then the frown faded, and he looked to Roog. ”Know that there is nothing binding you to either of us,” he informed the god-wolf. ”If you follow Katharsos, you follow him by your own choice, and such choices are not easily revoked.”

Despite the man-god’s assertions, Kalmar’s advice came as fatherly as any. Roog locked gazes with Kalmar to see the truth of his words and watch the deity’s soul twisting and turning on itself within him. He at last broke their locked gazes as his mind wandered on the topic of his own freed will.

”Well then.” Katharsos stiffened in tone if not in body. ”I think that Roog knows his place in the world,” he stated to Kalmar. And I know that his brethren do. Now it is time for my to reexamine my own. I have spent a long time on Galbar, away from my own sphere and distracted from my greatest work. There comes a time when I can no longer justify my continued absence, and I feel that time fast approaching. I would use these last few days to witness as much as I can, for in this time I’ve seen only a fraction of Galbar, and then I will make my way back to the Sky of Pyres. If any of you have need of direction or of counsel,” he softly spoke, turning toward Balam at the end, ”then I ask that you find him.”

And then the God of Death looked to the heavens and the jaguar’s visage in the flames unravelled and he departed as a burning streak in the sky. Balam spat out a glob of some strange soot, and then likewise departed for the hills. Ku ran off cackling and cracking his whip, whilst Zotz muttered something before chasing after his partner.

Kalmar watched Katharsos leave, and then looked back to Roog. ”Remember. You have the power to both create and destroy. If you choose to do either, make sure it serves a greater purpose.”

“As you say, creator,” came the low growl of Roog’s voice as he watched his heavenly-father and siblings depart, eyes turning towards Kalmar one last time, “It is mine to choose. This I will not forget.”




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A Watery Alliance

Collaboratively written by BBeast and Adorable Saucer


The ordeal with Azura had left a bitter taste in the snake’s mouth. Unheard of, he thought, to upset the delicate harmony between life and death over something as simple as the souls of the dead - they were already dead! Why on Galbar would they need to keep living as the soul they are. The whole argument festered in his mind like mould on bread and for a short while, the snake sat atop his tower contemplating various other arguments he could have used to potentially be more convincing. In the end, he cast the thoughts aside, already annoyed by the very existence of such arguments to begin with. He decided he needed to take a breather - a swim would be delightful. Perhaps he could pursue the length of Taipang and inspect the corpse of that foul dragon he so epicly ground to minced meat with a river’s worth of water. Thus, he dove from his tower into the Giant’s Bath below and swam towards the east.

Shengshi followed his newest addition to his portfolio of fine rivers down to the delta and found it distinctly lacking in colossal dragon cadavers. The snake cursed under his breath - he had hoped the monster would have died from wounds sustained by being ground against the rocky lands of the drylands for a distance three fourths that of Nanhe. He would have to put in greater efforts to end that many headed lizard some other day. He gazed to the west, to the smoking borders of his jungle. He felt a large clump in his throat and a need to hasten over there - to slay the intruders and end that fiery demon forever…

He pondered. The minions would be simple enough, yet facing Sartr himself would be… He would have to lay a strategy this time. For all he knew, another reckless attack like the one against the dragons could potentially level his jungle. His eyes fell on the delta again. The delta had sprouted shrubberies, but like any fresh river of his, the waters themselves were without inhabitants. Perhaps that was for the best - the armies of fire would have to cross this river again. It would perhaps be unwise to fill it with life for them to destroy on the way--

A sound brought the snake’s eyes up from the river and outwards to the sea. Turbulent dark storm clouds stretched across the horizon, rolling towards the shore quickly. Waves were driven forwards by the storm, but one wave was approaching at oddly high speeds. Waves and storms in the ocean were naturally no unnatural phenomenon, but these seemed almost guided and unusually fast - intentionally charging at his shores. The snake turned to face them, his mouth in a slight sneer.

The storm closed in on the shore Shengshi was standing on, and he was buffeted by chaotic winds and rained upon by the clouds above. Squalls circled around him, and also duelled in the clouds above which were constantly being torn apart and stitched together by the discordant spirits. The greatest of the waves Shengshi had seen reached the beach, but instead of breaking it stopped and rose up into a towering form which looked down on Shengshi with a watery face. A peal of thunder issued from Ashalla and the squalls harassing Shengshi scattered.

Ashalla did not speak at first, instead opting to look up towards the west. She could taste the smoke even from here, and the clouds of smoke in the west rivalled the swarm of squalls above her.

“Odd how there are still siblings out there that I have not met since the Creation.” Shengshi lowered himself down and kowtowed before the sea goddess. “Welcome to the Dragon’s Foot, dear Ashalla.”

Ashalla turned her face to look at Shengshi again, as if only just properly registering the serpentine god’s presence. “Hello Shengshi. It is indeed odd that we have not met yet, considering the similarity of our domains.” Ashalla looked up at the smokey horizon again, her restlessness manifesting in a few more squalls peeling off from her form.

The snake stood up again and followed her gaze with a raised eyebrow and sighed. “A horrible sight, is it not? If you do not mind me asking - are you here to fight the demon as well?”

“I am here to defend the jungle,” Ashalla stated with a voice like a crashing wave.

The snake nodded. “How splendid - we really do need some reinforcements at the jungle border. Judging from the wanton destruction, my guardian is either sleeping on the job, or…” He frowned. “Regardless, it is good that you are here.”

“Indeed,” Ashalla said with a huff. Ashalla turned her head behind her, watching a stream of churned white which had appeared in the ocean and was heading towards the shore. She looked back to Shengshi. “How much do you know of who is burning the jungle?”

The snake entwined his hands behind his back and squinted at the horizon. “I saw them briefly earlier - tall, yet weak humanoids of Flame, much like any fodder. They are, however led by a much stronger specimen, though I have not seen this creature with my own eyes.” All I know is that they wish for nothing else than senseless death - an inferno for all life on this continent.”

Ashalla rumbled in consideration. As she thought, the stream of bubbles and steam reached to the shoreline, and out from the water burst a colossal beast. Steam rose off the iron plates covering the crocodilian as it barrelled up the beach on its six legs. It then came to a halt nearby, its red eyes inspecting its surroundings and puffs of steam exhaling from its mouth. Squalls dove around it to drink up the moisture.

The snake blinked at first, then leaned in for a closer look. “My, what an interesting specimen. What is it, if I may ask? Some sort of dragon?”

“Narzhak and I call it the Abyssal Leviathan. Born from the magma of the Abyss, the heat of the fiery rabble will have even less chance of harming this creature than their fists, or whatever weapons they have,” Ashalla said.

The Leviathan met Ashalla’s gaze, and she rose a watery arm to point towards the western horizon. “Go. Trample all who burn down those forests,” she commanded with a voice of thunder. The Leviathan turned westwards and with surprising speed it hurtled along the ground, leaving a trail of churned soil and mud. The snake, who had been observing it eagerly, pursed his lips in disappointment at the monster’s sudden departure.

“Leaving right away? No, that is no issue. There are wars to be won, after all…” he mumbled.

Ashalla then lifted her gaze skywards and issued another thunderous command. “Go. Douse all the flames you find. Let them taste my wrath.” The squalls stopped their squabbling upon being issued this divine decree. The wind turned westwards as the squalls flew, carrying the storm clouds with them. The vast storm stretched across the sky, countless multitudes of squalls fuelled by Ashalla’s fury and united in a singular purpose. As quickly as the storm had come, though, it left, receding towards the west.

“Quite the reinforcements, I must say,” the snake mused. “They are most welcome, dearest sister. As are the storms. Will you join in the battle yourself, may I ask?”

Ashalla rumbled briefly. “Perhaps. Although, they should be adequate, especially if the arsonists are mortal. I can inspect their progress later.”

“I believe they are indeed quite mortal - the fire demon cannot possibly possess the necessary power to create an immortal army - not without aid, anyway.” He stared across the ashen wastes left behind by the Jotundar army. “So much death… Nanhe is among the most fertile woods in the mortal world - to lose it would be devastating to the future of the realm.” He collected his hands behind his back. “It will regrow in time, but I cannot help but fear that it will forever live in the toxic smoke of Mt. Eldahverr - within the marching range of the armies of flame…” He looked to the river next to him and his lip quivered for an instant. “Taipang will become a lonely village ripe for slaughter with every attack - any life I form within it will be the first to die in case of an attack from the east, as it will be trapped between the land and the sea. A terrible tragedy,” the snake finished with a sniff.

Ashalla turned her head to peer at the mouth of the river Taipang. “Why should the sea be a barrier?”

The snake raised an eyebrow and put his hands on his hips. “Well, fish of freshwater cannot exactly survive in saltwater, can they? Even brack is too much for their fragile gills.”

“Then we make sturdier fish for this river so they can survive,” Ashalla suggested.

The snake raised a protesting finger, but slowly moved it to tug at his beard instead, humming pensively. “... A valid suggestion, if not a little unorthodox. A river full of life that can potentially vacate to sea if danger approaches…” He looked upwards and pursed his lips. “Nay, why limit it to that? Your seas, dearest sister, are quite substantial in terms of food and nutrients, correct?”

“Indeed. I have occupied my oceans with life to fill all parts of the nutrient cycle,” Ashalla said.

“Then how about this,” the snake said and clapped his palms together. “We will fill the river with life that will not just escape at the sight of danger, but life that will live as citizens of both our two realms, laying their eggs among the safe, tall reeds of the river, and feeding on the bounty of the sea as adults. Their waste will be ferried down from the hatching grounds at the headwaters and nourish the surrounding plant life and insects, and any detritus that is washed out is free game for any sea-dwellers. How does that sound?”

Ashalla rumbled for a few moments as she pondered Shengshi’s proposal. “That sounds like a good idea. Let us make it.”

On cue, a school of ocean-dwelling fish swam up to Ashalla. She modified their physiology and instincts so they could enter the freshwater river. The snake snapped his fingers and from the distant point on the horizon where the river seemingly began came a rolling tide of leaves, reeds, shrubberies and lots of confused amphibians, insects and fish. He splashed them all with a little saltwater and snapped his fingers again. The fish wriggled and twisted as their gills adapted to their new lifestyles; the amphibians grew thicker and firmer skin; the insects’ chitin was reinforced and they morphed into odd, colourful crustaceans that swam just underneath the water surface or dug around in the brackwater sand. The reeds along the riverbanks took on a multitude of colours and seemed to duck underneath the surface whenever curious predators approached; and those at the very edge of the delta combined with wood leaves and grew powerful, girthy roots. Eventually they turned into small mangroves with an exceptionally deep and intricate web of roots that stabbed far into the soil, making them resistant to damage to the trunk itself. Around the roots sprouted saltwater-resistant shrubberies that would lay down in the water to cool off if the temperature got too hot.

As the mangroves took shape, a pod of dolphins swam close, called by Ashalla. These creatures were also adapted to better live in less salty water, and they were made slightly smaller to better fit in the river and cope with the warmer waters. These new river dolphins chittered as they playfully swam and hopped upstream.

“There is much life in the river. Perhaps the land around the river could also support more life,” Ashalla suggested.

The snake pondered skeptically. “The surrounding deserts and wastelands are dry and barren… But the immediate banks could potentially be turned into oases of life.” He picked up a fistful of seaweed from the nearby sea and some clay and rubbed them in with some crushed bark from a nearby mangrove. He then planted the clump into the sand by the river. A moment passed before the ground sprouted a palm tree with bark like hardened pottery and fronds like wavey, brown seaweed, complete with green veins. Underneath the fronds sprouted grey clumps and Shengshi picked one. He took a bite and frowned a little.

“I was hoping it would be sweet, but I suppose it may take better with other fruits.” He picked another one and offered it to Ashalla. “Here. It tasted a bit like a salt cracker, only that it is a little mushy. It is an odd sensation, actually.” Meanwhile, more trees of its kind sprouted around the delta and further inland, taking on greener colours the further in they grew.

Ashalla took the offered fruit in a watery pseudopod. “It is amply nutritious, if not more salty than other fruits,” she stated plainly.

“Then they will need something to eat it with,” the snake agreed. He raised a hand and the colourful reeds were soon joined by fire-resistant strands of sorghum

“There… These may burn up should the menace return, but their seeds will persevere in the ash and rise even stronger - in the spring and autumn, that is.”

Biomatter churned in the waves as more creatures were created by Ashalla’s hand. A few crocodiles crawled up the riverbanks. Numerous varieties of sea birds burst from the water and took to the skies. A few colourful long-legged birds waded through the shallows of the river delta. Shengshi smirked and kicked some rocks and sand into the water. Shadows formed underneath the surface as stone and clay grew to organs and hide. A herd of great, plump quadrupeds waddled out of the deepest parts of the water and settled on the bank, one of them yawning to reveal menacingly long teeth for a herbivore inside an even larger gape. From their nose protruded a single, long horn. A few calves swam about with vigour, and some of the males grew suspicious at the crocodiles. These horned hippos surrounded their young and began to roar territorial threats at all the others. Shengshi then tipped a tree into the sea and splashed it with river water. The tree sprouted four fins, two at the front and two at the back, and a long, razor-toothed jaw. Its bark turned into grey skin and the new predator soon became several and began to stalk around the deeper reaches of the delta.

“Let us see… How about some snails or other mollusks?” the snake suggested.

There was a momentary rumble from Ashalla. The water then swirled and darkened as she created more creatures. Shiny and colourful shells appeared in the mud of the delta, mollusks which would bury themselves at low tide or at any sign of danger, and display their colours and feed when submerged in water. Barnacles sprouted on the roots of the mangrove trees. Several snails with buoyant air-filled shells floated on the water surface, using the currents to carry them along, although they could sink if needed.

“Ah, fantastic!” the snake said happily and put his hands on his hips. He pondered for a moment before looking wryly at Ashalla. “Do you have any other ideas?”

A low rumble followed Shengshi’s question, until Ashalla eventually said, “I think this ecosystem is adequately populated.”

“As do I.” He gazed across the plethora of new species accustoming themselves to mortal life and sighed in satisfaction. “Say, would you like to come by for a drink to celebrate? I know the woods are aflame and the flame demon is burning my home province, but that should not stop us from commemorating this beautiful day of cooperation! What say you?”

Ashalla gave Shengshi a confused look. “Why would I want a drink?”

“... Because it tastes fantastic?” the snake proposed.

Ashalla appeared skeptical, although she said, “I can give it a try. Regardless, we can celebrate our latest creation.”

“My thoughts exactly! Come on, I will take you to the Giant’s Bath.” The snake skipped into the river and torpedoed upstream. Ashalla’s form collapsed into the sea and she flowed upstream after Shengshi.



Not much later than they had begun their swim, the two gods came upon the surprisingly underwhelming Giant’s Bath - a mere 20 metre tall crater of brown earth and hard stone that somehow managed to sprout three of the largest rivers on Galbar. The crater was intimately surrounded by wildlife, fronds and leaves of green harmonising wonderfully with the warm colours of the crater’s soil. The gods entered the lake atop the crater to see the opulent, gold-sparkling ship of Shengshi. The snake hopped aboard, snapped his fingers, and the servants came with pots of wine. As the servants spotted Ashalla, however, they nearly dropped the pots in a mixture of awe and fear. They cast themselves to the floor and thundered in unison:

“TEN THOUSAND YEARS AND MORE TO ASHALLA, QUEEN OF THE OCEAN!”

Ashalla stretched up and towered as tall as the ship, looking down upon the kowtowing servants smugly. Meanwhile, tendrils of water - fresh water here - crawled over the sides of the ship and below the deck, licking against a few servants and inspecting the vessel. A few pseudopods also brushed against Shengshi.

The snake stood like a statue as the watery tongues brushed against him. While his facial expression betrayed a hint of discomfort, he seemingly largely elected to ignore them. He cleared his throat. “Splendid beings, are they not?” Shengshi asked.

“Indeed. You have taught these beings well,” Ashalla replied. The pseudopods then left Shengshi to search elsewhere,

The snake, in the meanwhile, had poured some wine in two cups and offered one of them to Ashalla.

“Here, have a taste.”

Ashalla stretched out a pseudopod which dipped into the cup, mixing the wine into the water. Shengshi was watching her expectantly, so she said levelly, “Fermented fruit juices with heightened ethanol content; a substance which lowers the inhibitions of fleshy creatures.”

The snake lowered one brow over his eye and smiled wryly. “Yes, that is indeed what it -is-, if not a little…” He paused. “Eloquently put. The flavour, though - how is the flavour?”

“The flavour is amicable in small quantities. However, an undiluted body of this stuff would be toxic,” Ashalla said.

“W-well… Naturally, though part of the charm is that inebriating toxicity.” He sucked in a breath through the nose. “Though I suppose quite a lot of it would be needed for you to feel the effects yourself, dear sister.” He sighed. “On another note, what do you think so far of my servants? You commented amicably at their subservience - dare I say you and I may be of one mind when it comes to the mortals’ relations to gods?” His lips split into a grin.

“It would appear so,” Ashalla said, “Us gods are higher beings than mortals, with power over their very existence. It is only proper that they demonstrate the appropriate deference and give recognition to our godhood.”

“As if quoted from my book, dear sister,” he said with a chuckle. “As you can imagine, that very idea pumps through these splendid beings like blood through a fish. I hope, one day, to have them function as my personal messengers. Seeing as the first sailing was a resounding success, I will send them to my various siblings with gifts and messages - adds a slightly more intimate touch than that silly mind speak nonsense, do you not think so?” He tugged at his beard. “Oh, and speaking of the first sailing, I heard through prayers that my precious, loyal servants had been saved by a certain ‘Queen of Oceans’. Thank you, truly, from the bottom of my heart.”

“Your gratitude is appreciated, as is theirs,” Ashalla said. “Qiang Yi also wrote me a wonderful poem.”

“Is that so? My, the servants did indeed pick an able captain. An officer well-versed in the arts is a gift to their crew.” He drummed the railing of the ship in thought. “Have you considered making any personal subjects?”

Ashalla rumbled briefly. “I have not. I might, although attracting worship by deeds rather than creation feels more satisfying.”

“Oh, certainly, certainly. As lovely as they are, there is little satisfaction in being praised by beings fundamentally programmed to, well, praise you. Still, having loyal mortals to run errands and service you makes for quite a comfortable rule.” The snake held out his wine glass and a servant filled it from a pitcher.

“I have made unintelligent creatures to wrest control of the seas, and also to maintain my sculptures on the North Pole. Perhaps if I ever require the loyal service of sapient mortals I can create some. Or, perhaps, I could send off some fragment of myself, as you did with Xiaoli,” Ashalla said.

“Ah, yes… A holy piece of oneself. I can recommend it - it is always fun to have someone close by of near equal stature and power. My, I miss her sometimes… By the way, how did you learn of Xiaoli?” He raised a curious brow.

“I found her flying over the ocean north of the Kick with the Dreamer named Hermes, and a cloudling named Poppler. Hermes impressed me with her dancing. Xiaoli made some lovely music with her flute. Xiaoli also offered me tea, as you had with wine,” Ashalla said, then added with a wry ripple, “Poppler also claims to have beaten you in a drinking contest.”

“Hah,” the snake voiced flatly. “I would rather not discuss that night any further, if you do not mind.”

“That is one of the weaknesses of a fleshy form,” Ashalla commented with a wet huff. Shifting the topic slightly, she asked, “Have you seen Hermes since then?”

“I have, actually,” Shengshi confirmed with a cordial smile. “After the death of that maggot Vakk, we had a celebratory feast at their mansion and I am happy to inform you that both Hermes and Xiaoli are in good health. Last I heard, they have just gone through with one of my latest ideas: marriage. Oh, and they have two young Dreamer boys too, now. Is that not just adorable?”

Several surprised bubbles rose through Ashalla’s face and popped as they surfaced. Shengshi had managed to answer Ashalla’s yet-unspoken question as to whether Hermes had managed to fix her infertility, but he had raised so many more questions. “I have questions. I will start with the smaller one. Are you saying Hermes procreated with Xiaoli?”

“Correct. K’nell and I worked together to form a fertile womb within the Dreamer’s body as a reward - and one she wanted dearly at that - for having, well, been one of the first truly legendary mortals in this world. Then I believe Arae took care of the issue regarding the difference in species. They are now perfectly capable of ‘procreation’, as you put it,” he said with a sly smirk.

Ashalla gave a nod. “The other question: Vakk died?”

“Yes,” the snake said rather more grimly. “Or more specifically, he was slain by divine hand.” He paused and looked shamefully at Ashalla’s approximation of a face. “Two of them were mine. The others belonged to K’nell and Eurysthenes. Vakk was mad, insane beyond redemption - it had to be done!” He gripped the railing of the ship and stared out towards the greener swathes of the horizon. “At least that is what I tell myself,” he added somberly.

Ashalla was still for a few moments, and the entirety of the Giant’s Bath was still with her. “What happened?” she eventually asked.

“There was a great battle on Tendlepog’s grasslands,” Shengshi began. “I remember it well. The Warden’s forces clashing with the demonic wave of Echoes, Vakk’s threats against Hermes and Xiaoli, the final blow… The reason for the battle was so dull, too - all he wanted was some box he accused Hermes of stealing…” He shook his head disappointedly.

Ashalla hesitated. “It was not to retrieve the box. I had the Box of Orchestration, and Vakk knew it. He had called Hermes a thief, so perhaps this was attempted retribution.”

The snake closed his eyes and sucked in a breath of air. “So the whole attack was founded on a misunderstanding… That will certainly haunt me for eternity…” He collected his hands behind his back and slithered over to the dragon’s head, which he promptly mounted.

“So you fought Vakk to defend Hermes and Xiaoli?” Ashalla asked.

He sat down, propped his head on his right fist and sighed. “Yes, it was all for a mortal and a mere part of myself that I could have easily replicated at a later date - all for a bond of love and loyalty. I fought him for Hermes and Xiaoli, and I killed him for Hermes and Xiaoli.” He hummed thoughtfully. “Emotions are interesting, are they not?”

“Vakk attempted to destroy a part of yourself and a being you had promised to aid. Your retaliation is justified. It is Vakk’s foolishness for attempting to fight three gods when he could not even overcome one,” Ashalla said.

The snake flicked his tongue at the air and hummed again. “That is what my reason is telling me, yet the heart remains blue at the thought of being among the first to murder a sibling.” He shook his head. “Let us not speak of it further. My gut can only take so much. Have you seen the Beihese life I created the other day? I think you would like the colours.”

“I have not yet seen it. Perhaps you could show me,” Ashalla said. “Although, I still have another question. Why was Eurysthenes there?”

“Eurysthenes did it for his continent, I believe - after all, he rules Swahhitteh. Furthermore, I believe he had some… Scores to settle with Vakk from earlier, though I could never decipher exactly what those scores were.” He gave Ashalla a weary look. “Will that be all regarding the maggot?”

Ashalla rumbled for a few moments. “Yes, that is all,” she eventually said.

A smile returned to the snake’s lips and he stood up. “Then please, follow me. I am quite certain that you will love this.” With that, he dove into the waters below and began to swim towards the mouth in the crater wall leading to Beihe. Ashalla’s probing tendrils retracted from the Jiangzhou and Ashalla collapsed into the lake to swim after Shengshi.

They entered into the Beihe river and were immediately flanked on each side by a plethora of colours spanning almost the entirety of the visible spectrum. Flowers were beaming in the heliopolis, and bumblebees zoomed about leisurely between the many nectar-dripping blooms. Fish and birds were nibbling on plant detritus and water insects, and frogs sat croaking between the reeds. A farmer ape sat with its hind feet in the stream of the western bank, gnawing on a bamboo stick.

Shengshi stopped and gestured to the surroundings. “What do you think?”

“It is beautiful,” Ashalla said with the sound of a burbling stream.

The snake nodded. “See, I wanted to create an environment with seasonal blooms, much like those wheat plants I added along the Taipang earlier, and make it a changing experience - constant new stimuli for observers.” He pointed to the far end of the river. “Sadly, towards the Dragon’s Strait, the Saluran Mendidih makes the climate much too hot and wet for most of this vegetation… For most vegetation, really.” He put his hands on his hips and cocked his head to the side at Ashalla. “Would it be rude of me to ask if you could do something about the menacing tropical storms over there?”

Ashalla stretched her neck to better peer at the Saluran Mendidih in the distance. “With both the Saluran Mendidih and the Maelstrom, it is not worth me permanently suppressing the storms. I can easily create temporary calms, as I did for the Zhengwu. A useful point for manipulating mortals,” Ashalla said. “As for the boiling strait, that does pose some challenges for creating life nearby. Although, it does boil away most of Seihdhara’s ichor before it can reach the rest of the ocean.”

The snake made the sort of face one would make if someone started discussing cannibalism over dinner. “Please do not even get me started on that abomination of a ‘river’,” he muttered with air-quoting fingers.

There was a brief rumble, then Ashalla suggested, “Perhaps we could do something about that river.”

The snake grimaced. “Like… Touch it, you mean? Dry it out? Remove it entirely?”

“We can cleanse the ichor before it reaches the sea. Narzhak just made some sharks to consume stray ichor and clean up after himself. While sharks are probably not an appropriate solution, the physiology of something which would cleanse the river should be similar,” Ashalla explained.

The snake pursed his lips and tugged at his beard. “... I suppose I could make some sort of seasonal vegetable or grain that would suck the ichor out of the water and collect it in fruits or seeds for the boars to eat.” He counted on his fingers and mouthed silent plans. “Some shrubberies and water lilies could potentially also provide a decent effect.”

“Reeds and mangroves to filter the river. Possibly some animals to keep the plant populations in check,” Ashalla added.

“That could work…” he mumbled and sneered at the mountains. “Well, here we go, then.” With a quick bend of his tail, the snake burst into the air like a red bullet, breaking through the low clouds around the Qiangshan range.

Ashalla watched Shengshi leap away with a huff. Her traversal of those mountains would not be nearly as fast as Shengshi’s. To travel to and across the Seihdhar she would need to be a cloud, but unless she wanted to keep Shengshi waiting a manner to speed up her transformation was in order. A look downstream to the boiling ocean gave her the idea she needed.



Shengshi crashed into the dry, hostile lands of the Charnel Steppes, sending rocks, gravel and dry blood flying in every direction. He surveyed the grey wastes which were only occasionally broken by hills covered in vegetation. Ashen grass that looked more like iron nails stabbed up through the soil, contrasting the red mists that drifted lazily around. The snake sneered.

“How ghastly,” he muttered and looked to the four directions. Ashalla was nowhere to be seen yet - she may have taken the way around, he reasoned. In one of those four directions, or rather more specifically, in front of him, the red Seihdhar cast a stark contrast on the overall deathly greyness about the place. Still, its colour did little to please the snake. He picked up a strand of grass and split it in half with a claw. He dabbed two fingers on his tongue and stroked the inside of both blades before planting them again on the riverbank. Almost immediately, they took on a yellow, sandy colour and grew a metre tall. More like them began to sprout along the river bank, and as the plants drank in the water, they began to redden with an orange glow. Like many of his other plants, Shengshi decided, this one would also be seasonal, as they likely would not be able to handle constantly sucking up divine essence. The first two reeds sprouted seeds and Shengshi picked one to eat.

“Hmm… Dull, flavour-wise, but the blood of a goddess does make it quite rich in nutrients - and energy.” He snickered to himself. “The animals here will grow frighteningly strong.”

At this time a great storm rolled over the north-western horizon. Unlike the discordant storm clouds made from squalls Shengshi had seen earlier, this colossal storm was unified. As the storm came closer, thunder greeted him. “It is a start. But we’ll need more.”

Where Ashalla’s raindrops fell, reeds and moss grew along the Seihdhar, growing thick and strong in the ichor. Mangrove trees also sprouted up, and soon the river of blood was thick with plant-life filtering the fluid. While the ichor this far downstream was fairly dilute compared to the ichor upstream, as the plants sucked the ichor from the water it was concentrated within their sap. The water around the biofilter simmered from the heat of Seihdhara’s blood.

The snake scratched his cheekbone and looked around. Humming ponderously, he dug about in the ashen soil until he found strands of fungi. He pinched a blue fungus string between his claws and pulled it out of the ground. He rubbed it with a few droplets of the Seihdhar which he reluctantly had dabbed on his fingers, and replanted them on the bank. Next to the moss and around the mangroves sprouted thick-stemmed, orange-capped mushrooms that began to absorb excess ichor that the other plants drank from the river. He then patted himself a disc of gray clay and placed it on the water surface, making a water lily which soon sprouted siblings all along the river’s length and also began to redden from drinking divine blood.

“I reckon they will not survive the stronger concentrations further up, but they may reduce the levels of divine essence a little more for the plant life here.” He went over to inspect one of the local sanctuary trees that had already stood here from before they came. A barrier of energy extended around the tree, but Shengshi seemed to pass right through it, albeit with a slight hint of strain on his face. “Do you reckon we could do anything about these?”

A breeze whistled around the sanctuary trees. “These creations of Arae are already well suited for this environment. They may help preserve our biofilter against damage,” Ashalla said. Shengshi nodded with a hum and poked at the shield barrier around him.

The clouds lowered as Ashalla took a closer look at the river so far. “While we want the plants to be thick and prosperous, these plants will become overgrown as they gorge themselves on the rich blood unless we have animals to consume the plants and expend their energy doing things besides growing.”

The snake broke through the shield again and dusted himself off. “Agreed. They ought to be very large, still, as to absorb as much energy as possible without it overbloating and killing them from the inside.” He crossed his arms and glanced across the Charnel Steppes. “They also ought to be able to compete with the… Slightly more savage wildlife around here, I feel.”

Ashalla sent wind to stir up the soil around the river, and from the disturbance emerged many insects who could pollinate the plants of the river. Heavy rain fell over the water, and from the turbulence emerged schools of fish. The smaller of these fish ate moss and plants and hid in the reeds, and a few filtered through the water for traces of ichor which had bled past the many plants. Some larger fish stalked the smaller fish. Their consumption of ichor-laden food led to all the fish being unusually agile, durable and vicious. Some grew blades on their fins, or horns on their skulls, or particularly thick scales. The battles between predator and prey, or between two fish seeking territory or mates, would be fierce and energetic. A few fish also had such martial prowess that they could fire darts of water at insects in the air above them, knocking them down to be consumed.

Meanwhile, the snake had slithered over to the nearby foot of Qiangshan. He patted a tall boulder sticking out of the hillside and beckoned it to follow. Swiftly, the boulder hatched like an egg to reveal a stone-skinned beast with a trunk and two long tusks. It and others from surrounding rock eggs followed along to the river and began to drink the water and eat mangrove leaves. The ichor made them sprout two additional tusks on each side of the trunk, and their legs grew muscular and very swift for a creature of such proportions. These six-tusked elephants were accompanied by birds that perched on their backs and pecked at any curious insects. Water buffalo rose from the waters, their horns becoming antlers, and began to chew river reed cud. One of the water buffalo exited the water for a moment to test the hard ground for the first time, but out of the reeds suddenly came a massive tiger with particularly intense orange stripes and six powerful legs. Finally, smaller critters dared peek out from their hiding spots and began to sample the various grains, mushrooms and leaves around. Squirrels grew wings, tapirs grew thick skulls that could be used to ram predators, mice became bipedal and grew into kangaroo rats, and frogs grew into large, menacing toads with two constantly sneering heads.

Spiralling tornadoes descended from Ashalla and pulled up dirt, red ichor and plants. Out from these twisting winds came birds. Some of the birds possessed a streamlined form, able to plunge into the river like a spear and skewer fish on their sharpened beaks. Some were lightweight and camouflaged, darting with great agility among the plants of the river to eat their fruits while evading predators. And a few avians were colossal birds of prey, hunting all beasts smaller than themselves.

The snake broke off a branch from a mangrove and dipped it in ichor. In his hands the branch became a bundle of red snakes, their backs sporting impressive manes of flowing, golden hair, and their teeth dripping with yellow, nerve-killing venom. He put all but two of them on the ground and watched them slither off. The remaining two, he rubbed with soil and gravel and put down on the ground. The snakes sprouted six legs along their now-thickened central bodies. Their necks shortened and their manes sprouted straight, pointed horns. These maned iguanas sat themselves down by the riverside, basking in the heliopolis light.

The snake wiped his brow and put his hands on his hips. “How stellar! The water is functionally pure as it runs into the sea, now. Maybe in a few hundred years, it will be perfectly clean as it should be,” he said excitedly. “Got any more ideas?”

With her nebulous form it was impossible to tell where Ashalla was looking, but it could be reasonably guessed that she was inspecting their handiwork. “It is good. I think our work here is complete,” Ashalla eventually said.

“Yes, it would seem so… Well, that would be two tasks scratched from my to-do list! Thank you so, so much for your aid with Taipang, and your suggestion to… clean this ‘river’ here. Say, while we are at it, would you like to see what we can do about that Dragon’s Strait, too?”

Ashalla rumbled as she considered the offer. “Perhaps some other time,” she eventually said.

The snake nodded. “Yes, on second thought, I do feel quite drained from today’s endeavours. What will you do now, if I may ask?”

“I will inspect the battle for the jungle. If the fires have not been dampened by now, it will require my direct intervention,” Ashalla said.

The snake nodded. “And for a moment, I had completely forgotten that assaillants are at my doorstep… I will return to Nanhe to see if they have been forced into a retreat yet. If not, then I, too, will join the battle myself.”

A distant rumble of thunder signalled acknowledgement. “Then let us go.”

“I will secure the river itself. If you could defend the eastern forests, I would be in your debt,” the snake said.

“Alright,” Ashalla replied. The wind changed, and the storm billowed southwards. Shengshi once more skipped back over the mountain range and dove into Beihe on the other side, swimming along the stream towards the south.



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Hidden 7 mos ago Post by Lauder
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Lauder The drunk kind of hero

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Atmav’s Friend





There was a silence along the tribe of Aspasia, a normal thing for the people who felt afraid under Atmav’s rule despite her best attempts to get them into a happier mood. However, each time she tried something Atmav was met with failure after failure as the selka still say her as strange and oppressive. It was a feeling that Atmav did not like for she felt as if her options had been exhausted, despite her people having full bellies and shelter. However, it was the council of Sprite that kept the Queen in good spirits.

“No luck today,” Atmav sighed as she stepped onto the now wooden floor of her great home. Sprite had come to know that Atmav found solace in building her home, making it better and better with each passing day.

She took her seat in her normal spot at the back of the house, letting out a long sigh of defeat as she allowed her sword to fall onto its side, clattering against the ground. Atmav buried her head into her knees as she spoke in a saddened tone, “I do not know what to do, it doesn’t seem like they are trying as hard to be happy as I hard as I try to make them happy.”

“Aaah,” Sprite sighed happily as she flew out from behind Atmav’s throne and perched herself on the woman’s shoulder, “If they don’t want to be happy, then whatever. They only exist to cater to our wishes, you know!! I’m sooo disappointed, by the way, all this time and I haven’t seen you bring a single one to your chambers… Wow, Attie, if you continue like that you’ll be a sorry little virgin your entire immortal life.” Sprite giggled.

Atmav gave a small laugh before speaking, “I have no intention of bringing one of them into my chambers, especially if they don’t like me.” The Queen turned her head towards the small one and gave a warm smile to her. “Besides, I don’t want to hurt any of them. I could accidentally break their bones,” she continued with her laugh.

Sprite grinned and shrugged, “Hey, broken bones can be interesting. And some miiiight like that kind of treatment.” She said, looking up at Atmav with cute, wide puppy eyes.

“Well, maybe you might. Most of the Selka probably wouldn’t,” Atmav chuckled, leaning back in her throne. She let out another sigh as she got comfortable in the throne, letting out a yawn before continuing on, “Besides, none of them are worthy enough for me.”

“Oh, yeah. You’re a queen now, I forgot! You have to be quiet about your indiscretions… Maybe we could build a secluded cabin in the woods with a vast basement for a dungeon…” Sprite hummed and fell into deep thought as she started muttering to herself and gently biting on one of her fingers.

“No, no,” Atmav laughed at the suggestion, “Imagine if they found out about that, they would find me even stranger then.”

“Aren’t rulers supposed to be strange? My father never paid any attention to me, and he was the worst. Yet he still was reaaally popular, you know? Maybe, maybe, maybe people like to follow people that are, I guess, ‘brave’ enough to be mean or strange?” Sprite asked, tilting her head and sitting down.

“Hmm, I suppose you are right. The Eternal Talk had many concubines, but I do not know. I think, I want my first time to be with someone who can match me,” Atmav commented, giving a light laugh.

Sprite smiled tiredly and lied down on Atmav’s shoulder, “I give up! But fair enough, I guess.”

Without warning, a dark figure appeared by the nondescript entrance, a phantasmal crow flickering in and out of existence on each shoulder. A cheshire smile slowly stretched across the gentleman’s white, seasoned face causing lines to form in the corner of his eyes as his smile grew. When his eyes fell on Atmav, a brow suddenly perked.

“Good day.”

At the sudden appearance of the man, Atmav leapt to her feet, instinctively scooping up her sword and readying towards the man. Her wings flared out words like an animal attempting to scare off a predator as she stood her ground. Scarlet energy weaved around the sword as Atmav’s eyeless face stared at the man. She remained silent as she studied the man.

“Oh, none of that,” K’nell waved a dismissive hand as he walked off to the side and up to a waist high counter-table that Atmav had never noticed before. He picked up a tall white carafe from it and began to pour a brown liquid into a crystal glass. He brought it to his lips and took a sip, then another. He turned on his heels to face Atmav again, his face now absent of any surprise, “I’m sorry dear, would you like a drink?”

Sprite who had now managed to cling to one of Atmav’s horns for dear life, turned her head to gaze at K’nell and raised an eyebrow, “Ah!! K’nell, why are you here? Are you here to dance? We can dance! Though I think Atmav would like to dance with you first. Trust me, she has some great moves! But seriously, why are you here?!”

Atmav’s stance relaxed a bit as Sprite spoke to K’nell, her sword lowering slightly but continuing to stay where she was.

“I’m afraid you’re asking the wrong person that question,” He gulped the last of his drink and placed the cup gingerly back on the table, a doily appearing under it. He reached into his jacket pocket and procured two shards and a tiny pearl-like orb. He held his hand out flat, as if presenting them.

Sprite pursed her lips and flew over to K’nell, choosing to stand on the tip of one of his outstretched fingers. As if on cue, three shapes materialised around the shards. The fair blonde woman, Laina, spoke first.

“Hello, we’re here t-”

“To get the group back together and take back our body?” Sprite asked, tilting her head.

Laina bit her lip and nodded, “Y-Yes-”

“I’ve been having a lot of fun without a body, though!”

“Truly?” The elegant one commented, a small mocking smile breaking her expression. K’nell tucked his free arm square behind his back.

“W-Well, yeah!!” Sprite crossed her arms.

“I-I remember now, you’re the one who wanted me to take our dance one step further! Without a body, you won’t be able to do such things.” Laina said, stammering. K’nells brow flicked up and he sipped at his drink, watching as Sprite chewed Laina’s words.

“... Fair enough. But I have things to do.” Sprite deflated a little.

“What things, sis, what things?” Asked the youngest of them all, a little girl who held the brightest grin in the room.

“Aaah!!!” Sprite screamed and pounced on the girl, who in turn screamed herself and started giggling as Sprite peppered her face with kisses.

“As much as this seems like a happy little reunion. What is happening, Sprite?” Atmav interrupted, now having moved forward and dropping the previous aggression that had been showing. As she looked between the forms, her eyeless gaze rested on K’nell and skepticism crept from her expression before moving back to Sprite.

After a few more moments of tickling, kissing and rustling, Sprite looked up disheveled at Atmav while the girl gasped for air and sat up, immediately hugging Sprite’s arm. The short cut, white-haired woman grinned. “These are the other me’s. The blonde one is Laina, the fancy, boring one,” Elegance huffed, “Is just I dunno, fancy and boring I guess. And this right here,” Sprite chuckled, hugged the girl tightly and ruffled her hair, “Is the best Little Sister ever.”

There was a short silence, before Sprite spoke again.

“Any questions?”

“I heard they were here to take back your body?” Atmav asked, her voice bringing a heavy disdain towards her own words.

Sprite looked at her, her own grin faltering until she looked away, sighing.

“You are not leaving, end of discussion,” Atmav said, taking a step back before returning to her throne. K’nell knitted his brow but said nothing.

“Sprite made a promise to me. She will stay by my side,” Atmav informed, her hand resting on the hilt of the greatsword as she leaned back into her throne.

“I-I know I made a promise, Atmav, but this…”

Elegance stood, “Sprite, was it? You must be feeling it as well. The pull, the weakness. The desire to go to the stars in the night sky. Even you.”

Sprite looked at the little girl and shook her head, “I know. I tried to ignore it, but… I know. I’m sorry,” Sprite turned to look at K’nell, “I’m sorry, could you give us some time? There’s a glade a few minutes to the northwest. I’ll meet you there soon.”

“By all means,” K’nell finally spoke, placing his glass back on the table and clearing his throat, “Do you require the others here?”

“No, I’ll meet you all there.” Sprite said and flew off toward Atmav, the other shards dissipating once more.

“Very well,” K’nell’s fingers curled over the shards and he began to turn away. In just a few short steps, against the laws of vision, K’nell was gone.




Sprite sat down on her ankles before Atmav’s throne, looking down at the floor. The tiny woman seemed even smaller when compared to the important piece of furniture.

“I have to go with them, Attie. They need me- The beast, it was so… So big, and dangerous you know? And they’re me. If I abandon them now…” She fell into a silence.

“You made a promise, Sprite,” Atmav started, looking down upon her tiny friend before continuing, “Besides, you have been operating just fine without them. You don’t need them.” She let a long, disappointed sigh as her gaze shifted away from Sprite, shaking her head and putting a hand over her mouth.

“After all we have done together, the countless hours…” Atmav’s voice began to break, her grip tightening over the hilt of her weapon.

Sprite's lip quivered and she flew closer to Atmav, planting a tiny kiss on her nose and embracing her face as well as she could. "I think you have the wrong idea, Attie. I will be back, you know? After all that mess is done I'll come back! I just have to help them get the body back…"

Atmav was silent for a few moments before letting out a long sigh as Sprite hugged her face. “I don’t think that this will be something you can just come back from. You are all a part of the same person, right? You’ll just join them in the end,” she said, conclusion running through her mind as her voice fractured towards the end of her words.

“I am not letting you go, Sprite. I won’t let the gods take away anything else of what I cherish,” she spoke.

"'What' you cherish? I know I may be a little weird, but I'm not a toy, you know. And, well, I technically am a God, you know!" Sprite pulled away from the embrace and floated in front of Atmav's face, "Also, it should be noted I've always been myself and not someone else, even before coming to this universe, we were 6 inside the body!"

“That’s not what I meant,” Atmav explained, leaning even further back into her throne before continuing, “Everything that was good in my life was taken from me when I was dragged into this place, I was brought back to life by the one I swore to kill,” she paused as her head faced away from Sprite, “Vakk has taken everything from me and I do not want to lose anyone else.”

The Queen stabbed her blade into the wooden floor before she rose, stepping past Sprite to look out the entrance. Her gaze went over her subjects for a moment, “I cannot let anything else go. You and these people, these are all I have.”

"Atmav…" Sprite followed Atmav and perched herself on the queen's shoulder. There was a silence as the two looked over the selka. "Life is miserable. It's full of loss and sorrow, and it is all guided by change. I used to wallow in self pity, long ago. I used to cry and kick and curse at the world for hurting me so, for not letting me be happy. And you know what? The world didn't care, and the more I fought and the tighter I held onto my memories and my identity and everything, the worse the pain was."

Sprite curled up, resting her chin on her knees.

"I lost so many thing and so many people. Most just got up, went out a door and disappeared. I hated myself for not being able to keep a hold of them. I hated myself."

"Towards the end of the ordeal, when I had nothing left for the world to take away, I realized it. We're not meant to be happy. We're not meant to find love, or friendship. We're only endlessly shepherded by our emotions and bodies. So, if that was the case, should I not cherish the times when I had a lover? Should I not be happy I had a great friend? Instead of mourning and screaming and grasping at something that'll always be out of reach, should we not be grateful for all the connections we were blessed with, nurture those we have, and gracefully say goodbye to them when they are taken from us?" Sprite sighed, wiping her misty eyes.

"... I was betrayed by my father and thrown into a cell, to be used by the nation as a living battery for the war. My dear Knight came to save me, but he was defeated by my father's guard and executed. I can still hear his mighty, furious screams. My handmaiden and best friend told me she'd save me, but after that day I never saw her again. They're all gone…" A small sob escaped her lips, "And now my first real friend in this world seeks to restrict my freedom, to clip my wings…"

Atmav was silent, unable to speak to Sprite as her lip clearly quivered and she shook her head for a moment. Eventually she drew in a long, shaking breath before speaking in a singular word, “Go.” She did not move and her gaze remained focused on her subjects as they went about their daily activities, unaware of what was happening on the top of the hill.

Sprite nodded and wiped her tears once more, hugging Atmav's neck. "No regrets, Atmav. Anything you want to say or do?"

Atmav was silent for a moment before holding up her hand for Sprite to step onto, and for a moment the Queen held her up to her silent gaze. “Never change, Sprite,” she said simply before planting a delicate kiss on the top of Sprite’s head.

Sprite's silver eyes sparkled and she smiled gently at Atmav before flying off, leaving a trail of mist behind.

Atmav watched Sprite flutter off for a moment before she retreated back to embrace of her throne and melting into it. The silence flowed over her as the happy memories she made with Sprite brought a frown across her face.

“I won’t let go of the memories, at least,” she said to herself.




“Yaaay! Go, fishy! Go, go!” Yelled the girl, jumping and pumping her fist in cheer for the fish that zoomed past them in the creek.

“No! My fish is falling behind! Don’t be useless, put your back into it, you legless rat!” Laina screamed into the water, but it was all for naught, as her fish got distracted by a shiny rock and threw the match. The girl won. Laina fell to her knees and took in a deep breath. “NOOOOO!!”

The girl giggled and practically pounced on Laina, hugging her. “Yay, yay, yay! I won, Sis! Now my prize, pleaseeee!”

Laina chuckled and hugged the girl back and kissed her head, “There! A kiss.”

The girl froze and suddenly looked up at Laina’s face, staring coldly into her eyes, “Huh, no sweets?”

Laina grinned nervously.

“You know sweets are bad for your teeth, dear.” Elegance said, sitting gracefully on a small rock near them.

“Bleh!” The girl shrugged and sat up, then her expression turned sour and she stared off into the forest. The other two did the same, and a moment later, a fourth shard flew into view, leaving a thin mist trail behind her. She flew to the other three and plopped down cross legged next to Elegance.

“Okay, I’m here! Let’s get this done, right? I want to come back as soon as possible! I have a Queen to give advise to!” Sprite said.

“A Queen?” Elegance perked up.

“Yeah, Atmav!”

“She was… Nude. A queen cannot possibly be that crude.”

“Whateeever!! So she likes some extra breeze, who cares! I would take off my clothes right now if it wasn’t for the fact you’d hit my head so hard I’d die.” Sprite rolled her eyes.

“Ah, so why weren’t you nude when we first saw you in that building?”

Sprite froze and after a moment, laughed sheepishly, “Got me.”

“She is a Queen by your suggestion,” A grainy voice suddenly swirled around the group, K’nell’s gentlemanly figure standing in the shade of a nearby tree. He raised a polite palm and his voice return to his mouth, “Excuse me for my abruptness, but is this true?”

Sprite nodded even before turning to face K’nell. “Yeah! She’s a Queen alright! Did you see her throne?”

“Oh I see,” K’nell smiled as if suddenly coming to an understanding, “She is a Queen as per her throne.”

“She rules over that group of primitives, ‘Sprite’?” Elegance asked as nicely as she could, but her twitching upper lip revealed what she truly felt about the Selka.

A short silence took over as Sprite turned to look at the Girl, “Hey, do you like the Selka? I bet you do!”

“Big grey puppies!” The girl grinned before going back to drawing on the dirt.
“H-hey!” Elegance huffed, but relaxed as Laina put a hand on her shoulder and smiled disarmingly at her.

“Can you try to be a little bit nicer to her, Sprite?” Laina asked the short-haired shard, who shrugged.

“Sure, if she stops being a huge bitch.”

Elegance looked about ready to explode, so she quickly stood up and walked off a fair distance away from the group, muttering to herself along the way.

“Well.” K’nell clicked his tongue and folded his hands behind his back, “I fear our conversation has deteriorated rather swiftly.”

Laina sighed and rubbed her neck, “I apologise, Sprite and uh, her, don’t get along at all I suppose. Why the sudden interest in Atmav’s royalty status, K’nell?”

“Ah, well the answer to that is rooted in a different question,” K’nell cleared his throat and turned to the tree he had been standing near, “By chance do you remember Li’Kalla’s inquery on what I desire?”

“I do, you mentioned something about sharing your thoughts with the world, didn’t you?” Laina asked, tilting her head.

K’nell peered back over his shoulder at Laina, “Something along those lines.”

He put out his hand and a wooden palm stretched from the tree and into his. His fingers wrapped around it gingerly, and the fingers of the wooden hand did the same. He gently tugged, as if helping someone to their feet, and like liquid a wooden mannequin slurped from the trunk of the tree. It stood there featureless and bald. K’nell let go of its hand and held it out again, only to close it as he looked back at the shards.

“Would I be mistaken to assume that Sprite did not instill the qualities of a leader into her Queen?” K’nell perked a brow, as if he had asked a simple enough question.

“Aaah… Umm,” Sprite frowned and looked down in thought, then perked up, “I taught her the perfect layout for a pleasure dungeon!”

Laina flushed and slapped her palm against her face so hard that the sound echoed through the glade.

K’nell didn’t break his gaze as he spoke, “Damocles.”

The mannequin looked up, wordlessly. K’nell turned to face Damocles, “Take your string, and take your blade.”

The mannequin didn’t move, but above it a strange sword flickered into existence, only to wave in and out of reality. Damocles looked up at K’nell as if waiting for more. The two shared a silent stare and as if suddenly understanding, Damocles lurched a stiff leg forward, then another, then another. The creaking mannequin marched down the glade, his phantom blade hovering above him with every step, its point directed at him.

“There,” K’nell turned back to the shards, “As effective as a dream, one might say.”

Laina watched the mannequin closely, slowly raising an eyebrow, “That’s a rather uncommon type of magic. Where does the mannequin’s name come from? And that sword…”

“Where it all comes from, my dear,” K’nell smiled, “Do not fret, however, this exercise is quite harmless-- just as any other dream.” He paused, “Speaking of which, I happen to have noticed your final component frequenting my very palace as of late. Such visits should lead us right to her, if you are ready and willing, of course.”

“That’s a nice doll, K’nell! Didn’t take you for a doll man, though! I’m sure you could get a nice girl if you asked her out on a nice evening.” Sprite said suddenly, winking at K’nell before stretching. “Aaanyway! Let’s go find this dreamer, yeah! We can’t let her get all the dream action, right? Thank you for that dream by the way, K’nell! I hope you loved the show, I could give you a first-person vers-” Elegance suddenly flashed into the scene and practically slapped her hand against Sprite’s mouth. Unlike her normal self, she was blushing and avoiding K’nell’s gaze.

“D-Don’t mind her empty words, K’nell. She’s only playing, trying to ge-” Elegance suddenly whimpered and a look of disgust crept onto her face. Her eyes glazed over and her whole arm seemed to twitch, “She’s trying to get a reaction… Let us go..” She finished slowly.

K’nell cleared his throat, “I see. While I mean no offense in my rejection, I must decline the implications presented.” He paused, “That said, shall we continue our quest?” He held out his hand to the projections.

Elegance seemed to deflate a bit and nodded, immediately dissipating into a simple shard. Sprite wiped her lips with her hand and grinned smugly, before dissipating. The other two did the same. K’nell gently slid the shards back into his pocket before continuing on his walk.





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Hidden 7 mos ago Post by Lord Zee
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Lord Zee I Don't Even Know

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Laurien


&



Shengshi





The Nanhe was wide, far wider then she had ever imagined. She couldn't even see the other bank from the shore she stood upon. She let a out a shrill whistle, once again amazed at how the gods worked. For who else other then the River Lord had molded such a thing? It was his domain after all.

Much to her disappointment however, she saw nothing but the flowing of water and occasional bird. There was no ‘boat’ as Orvus had called it. It was a stark realization that she had to keep going, on foot this time to avoid any more unwanted attention. Her body still ached from the fight, and her wound was just beginning to close. It would definitely scar, and upon her black skin it showed white. Odd, but nothing she couldn't live with.

So Laurien walked at a meager pace, occasionally resting when she felt the need. She found her thoughts drifting back to the fight. What she could have done differently, how she could have avoided being wounded, and what her dagger had done. It seemed to break the creatures mind, slowly and perhaps painfully. She felt a twang of regret at that but it was either that, or she would have been killed. Probably devoured too. It was a necessary death in the grand scheme of things. The reptile had put up a good fight, after all and Laurien had learned an important lesson, that she was capable of killing.

As night fell upon Galbar, Laurien floated up into a tree. Now resting on a branch that could hold her, she leaned against the trunk and looked out over the river again. So large, and there was no telling how long it was. It'd be so easy to fly but there was no telling what else might attack her and as much as she hated to admit it, she wasn't in the best condition to go at it again. She let out a soft sigh, before drifting off to sleep.




Laurien woke up at a powerful poke to her ribs. As her eyes flared open, she found herself surrounded by ball-like creatures with frog-legs and arms stretching twice as long as they were tall. The closest let out a curious “ook” and poked her again.

Laurien blinked, a smirk falling on her face as she said, ”You're not Silver.” she then poked the nearest one back and said, ”Ook”

The nearest one let out a scream and threw its hands into the air as it retreated behind its friends. The pack began to snort and growl and bang their hands into the tree in a drumming manner. One of them reached out to slap her on the arm, ooking in a taunting manner.

Laurien had began to laugh as they retreated and growled, finding it funny how easily they were offended. But when the slap came, her demeanor changed to a frown. It didn't hurt in the slightest, but now she could tell that they were no longer playing. She let out a sigh then rolled off the tree and floated to the ground with a soft thump. She turned back up to the creatures and said, ”Fine! Have it your way, I'll leave. No sense in playing with grumpy things.”

The creatures calmed down as she dropped from their tree, returning to their curious ooks. However, swiftly thereafter, they skipped off between the branches, wailing and whooping as they went. In between the foliage, rumbling shadows stomped branches and leaves, creating a ruckus. The sky above the trees filled with screaming birds. A few boars ran past her in a hurry.

“Well, now, what do we have here?” came a voice from the nearby river.

Laurien went tense as the animals began to ran, and squeal. She recognized that something was coming, something that disturbed them, gave them alarm. instinctively she went for her sword and at the sound of the voice she turned.

The snake slithered out of the waters with a curious frown and ran his eyes up and down Laurien’s stature. He took a deep breath through the nose and hummed. “Mortal… With a distinct, familiar smell of…” He sucked in another breath and his eyes fell on the scabbard. “Tell me, what are you doing in my jungle, daughter of Orvus?”

Laurien slowly let her hand fall to her side as she eyed the snake like figure of the River Lord. It was different then what she had seen before, but in the good sort of way. A faint smile pursed her lips as she said, ”Why, looking for you of course, your Holiness.” she finished, bowing her head at him.

The snake pursed his lips and slithered a little closer. “It is no kowtow, but in truth, I did not expect my brother to teach you such refined manners. That can wait, however: Firstly, I would like to know your name, dear.” He gestured for her to speak.

She had no idea what a kowtow was, but at least she hadn't greatly offended the God. Not yet anyways. ”My name is Laurien, your holiness. Second of Orvus, and his Celestial Will.” she said with pride.

“Second to Orvus? Please, no mortal may ever consider themself second to a god,” the snake muttered with a sneer. “Surely you mean second -mortal creation- of Orvus.”

At this Laurien laughed, ”Second to a God? Oh no, no. Of Orvus, your holiness. I simply meant as a child. I've seen what the Gods are capable off, and I can scarcely dream of being second to any of them. I am nothing in the face of you, your holiness.” she finished with a sly smile.

“Oh, -of- Orvus. Oh, do forgive me, dear,” the snake said with a smirk and a bump of the eyebrows. “My arrogance filter has been working overtime of late, so I have an unfortunate tendency to make assumptions. I apologise for painting you as such.” He ran his eyes over her form once more. “Now for the second question: Why have you been seeking me?”

”All is forgiven, your holiness. There is hardly a need to apologize. Now, I've been seeking you out for a simple reason really and her name is Arya. Last thing I was told, was that she was with you, your holiness.” Laurien said softly, with a longing look in her eye.

“I see,” the snake said curtly with a pinch of disappointment in his voice. “Then I must sadly admit that I will be of little service: I have not seen Anxin, or Arya as you call her, since she ran away. I did not see the direction she went in, either, I fear. My apologies.” He joined his hands together behind his back and put on a stern frown.

Laurien frowned, bringing a hand to her chin in thought. Looks like her father had outdated information, which meant her journey would be much, much longer. She briefly thought of Silver before her attention fell back on Shengshi.

”Well, this is puts a damper on things. Why'd she run away to begin with?” she asked.

The snake furrowed his brow and poked his teeth with a claw. “She was bombarded with a few too many truths at the time - a young, mortal mind like hers simply could not bear it. Her heart shattered and fury consumed her. In a fit of rage, she tarnished the deck of my ship and soared off. I carry no ill sentiment - anger fits happen, especially to the uninitiated - however, I cannot say the same for the relatives of the servants that died in the explosion. She likely did not return due to the shame being too great. It was indeed quite a loss of face.” He shook his head. “Such a waste…”

Laurien was taken aback by the news, though she did not show it. She could hardly believe that Arya was capable of doing such a thing, but the only knowledge she had was from Orvus’ memories. His memories painted her as a small, fragile thing that needed guidance and protection but also full of wonder and joy, happiness and contentment. Orvus had no shown her the rage, or the anger it seemed, and she was left with many questions, a few she could guess at.

She let out a soft sigh, then said, ”I was hoping this would be easy, but you have my condolences. The loss of life is no easy thing to witness, and to bare it… She must have regretted it the moment she left. I refuse to believe she would not return, her heart is full of compassion. Something must have happened, and no one looked for her? She is but a child, your holiness. Surely you can do something?” Laurien said.

The snake sighed. “Have you met your sister, dear, or did my brother reveal to you his memories of her?”

”Only memories, your Holiness. Some I fear were kept from me.”

The snake nodded solemnly. “Yes, as I thought… You see, dear, your creator Orvus, as he may have told you, has actually spent a terribly short time with his daughter - so short, in fact, that I doubt he would know her at all. She has a compassionate heart, that is true, but know that there is much more than just a child within that soul of hers. Her emotions are beautiful… And volatile.” He sucked in a breath through his nose. “If it is a fragile, aimless infant you are chasing, that you will find nothing of the sort in this world - Anxin is a powerful entity, brave, honest - a tad naive, perhaps.” He flicked his tongue. “Is that helpful?”

”In more ways than you know, your holiness.” Laurien said happily. ”I need to find her, for both myself and my father. But I have no idea which direction to go now, this world is vast and she could be anywhere. Where do I even start?” she said scrunching her nose in thought.

The snake shrugged. “Again, I fear I cannot help you in that respect. I doubt, however, that she would have returned to Kalmar on Kalgrun, so that leaves out one continent. You likely would have found her on Atokhekwoi, and I have not sensed her presence locally. That leaves Istais and Swahitteh-Tendlepog for you to search.” He gave her a sly smile. “Quite the journey, that. Would you like some provisions for the road, perhaps?”

Laurien nodded, ”I understand, I’ll have to think about it some. Now, if you could spare any provisions, your holiness, I would be indebted. Ever since my fight with firebreather, I’ve been taking it slow, haven’t had much time to find any food besides the occasional fruit.”

The snake nodded. “Any guest in need shall always have a seat at my tables.” He snapped his fingers. After a small pause, a growing speck of gold zoomed down Nanhe’s length, quickly growing from a grain on the horizon to a ship larger than any eye could perceive. The snake climbed up the side and beckoned Laurien up. “Come, for all has been prepared.”

Laurien was dumbfounded at the sudden spectacle. It seemed that the boat, had found her, and it was hard to miss. She was impressed by it, for it was a work of art, and she was lucky enough to bare witness. Without wasting any time, she followed the snake up, preparing herself for whatever awaited.

The deck had been decorated with flowers and paper cut-outs of the characters for “joy”, “wealth” and “fortune”. At the centre of the broad deck stood a long table stacked tall with dishes and plates of near-intoxicatingly fragrant food. The palace gates were flanked by two tall barrels labeled with the character for “wine”. On the far edge towards the dragon’s head stood a tall throne upholstered with red silk - on the opposite edge of the table was a lesser throne, but a throne nonetheless. Shengshi slithered over to the largest one and sat down, gesturing to the other seat.

“Please,” he said with a flick of the tongue.

Much like before, she was amazed at the sight, and her eyes went wide as she saw all the food. It made her stomach rumble as she realized just how hungry she actually was. She began to salivate as she neared the table of food, on her way to the throne. When she stood before it, she cocked her head, looked at Shengshi with a wink and sat down. It was very comfortable.

She let out a happy sigh and said, ”My oh my, you sure know how to treat a girl, your holiness.”

“One of my most refined talents, that,” the snake said absent-mindedly as he inspected his claws for dirt. “The role of the host is not one I take lightly, dear - no guest of mine should expect any less than the most abundant luxury attainable. Naturally, however, this necessitates that the guest plays the part.” He snapped his fingers again and six servants exited the gates carrying an unusually long twilight-blue silk dress. “Please, try it on.”

She let out a small ‘ooo’ before standing back up, and placing her sword and dagger next to the throne. She then stripped off her cloak, her long hair falling down her back, once more free to breathe. Perhaps most notably, (besides the giant naked lady), was the gash along her side. As she put on the dress, the wound became hidden, and she turned to Shengshi with a beaming smile. ”How do I look?”

“Stellar,” the snake said with a sly smile. “Did that foul dragon challenge your abilities to a satisfactory level?” He grasped a pair of chopsticks, pinched a piece of fish and put it in his mouth.

As Laurien sat back down, she grabbed the strange wooden utensil and began to attack a plate of sliced pig with them. ”Dragon, huh? That’s a good name. It was a good fight, a challenge, but I’m here, and it’s not. I’ll never forget him though, he made sure of that.” she said absentmindedly, eventually skewering the meat upon the stick, and plopping it in her mouth. She chewed, savoring every little flavor before gulping it down, and attacking it again. ”Who was the one that created them, your holiness?” she asked before skewering another piece.

“That would be Sartravius--” He licked the bitter taste of the name out of his mouth. “Whom I prefer to call ‘the Flame Demon’, for he is nothing else. Also, you pinch the food with the sticks - pinch it.” He snapped his sticks together to demonstrated. “It is no knife, like some certain barbarians use.”

”Well, I have a knife. Are you calling me a barbarian, your holiness?” she huffed playfully before replicating his demonstration. This time she practiced on a slice of fish. She tentatively took a bite, before eating the entire thing. Much like the pork, the fish was delicious and salty.

“Well, your manners and etiquette are lacking, and your tone is pushing the limits between humility and arrogance, but…” He eyed her up and down again. “... You look the part, at least,” he said and smirked slyly.

”Careful now, your holiness. You might just flatter me and we can’t have a barbarian being flattered. All sorts of bad ideas arise.” she said with a wink. It was then that she brought her cup to her lips and tasted the liquid within. A surprised look came on her face, before she downed it all and said, ”Now that, was delicious. What ever on Galbar might that be?” she asked blinking.

“That would be wine, my dear - an invention of mine from, oh my, a long time ago by now. It is a drink made with fermented fruits or grain through the use of yeasts - small fungi that feast on the sugars in these substances and create the most wonderful compound on this world: alcohol. Try that pitcher. No, no, no, that one.” The snake gestured frantically to a golden pitcher shaped like a curved dragon.

She hurriedly poured herself a cup from the golden pitcher and brought it to her lips. The flavour was round and rich, if not a little dry. It carried a powerful fruity foretaste and mellowed into a gentle, sweet, lasting aftertaste. With every sip, the aftertaste grew lighter and softer, like the tender caress of a dozing lover. The snake nodded in approval.

“Comment?”

Once again Laurien finished off the cup and looked at Shengshi with a devilish grin. ”So good, so good. Who could have believed that fruit could taste soooooo good.” she mused, pouring another cup and downing it in one go. ”It's so easy to drink.” she snickered while pouring another cup.

The snake smiled widely. “Please, have as much as you want. There is enough of that particular vintage to fill the main tub of the bathhouse.” He pinched a steamed dumpling, dipped it in some sauce and lobbed it into his mouth. “Oh, and do not be afraid to request anything else. Whatever you may want, you shall have.”

Her eyes seemed to sparkle at Shengshi, a soft but inviting smile crossed her lips as she said, ”Mhmm. A bath with wine sounds heavenly, your holiness.”

“Your wish shall be granted,” the snake said with a soft smile and closed eyes. He snapped his fingers again and two servants came over to Laurien, placed themselves on her left and right and bowed deeply. One held a towel and the other held a white silk bathrobe.

“If The Exalted Guest would follow these ones,” they said in near-mechanical unison.

She giggled, ”Oh how adorable, and so tiny.” but began to follow them. Laurien then turned back to Shengshi and said, ”Oh, anything I want? Then will you join me, your holiness?” she said with soft eyes and wink.

The snake smirked, then let out a soft sigh. “Alas, my dear, I do not bathe with mortals. Not all bodies should be so… Intimate with one another.” He winked. “Enjoy your bath. I will have the servants bring you to your room once you feel refreshed.”

If at all she was surprised by Shengshi's words, Laurien expressed nothing but a small smile. She nodded her head and then said, ”More wine for me then.” she finished with a chuckle before turning to follow the servants.

“Laurien, dear,” the snake called after her.

She spun around and cocked her head at Shengshi. ”Yes your holiness?”

“Flirting with a god is an arduous process. Do not let it discourage you.” He gave her a reptilian wink.

She began to laugh high and sweet. ”Oh I know. I know. You're much more receptive than Katharsos though.” she said playfully.

“I certainly do hope I am,” he answered with a playful scoff. “Run along now. Clean yourself after your night in the woods.”




Laurien was brought into the palace, through the halls covered in beautiful paintings of nature and events, into the feast hall with the thousand surfaces of gold and the warming, red glow of the paper lanterns. She admired the artistry with a buyers eye, slow and meticulous. The servants brought the tall lady to the second floor deck, a veranda overlooking the dining floor at the bottom of the ship’s belly, the god table surrounded by the various thrones specialised for each of Shengshi’s peers. Music danced through the air from harps and flutes below, their gentle tunes painting the air a beautiful, yet almost melancholic of blue. The servants brought her past countless mahogany-doored rooms, each labeled with set of characters, likely denoting room number. Occasionally, they would encounter servant cleaners exiting rooms - there would immediately spot Laurien and bow deeply as she passed. Eventually, the three came to a large wooden gate at the stern of the ship. The servants who had escorted her both stepped up to the doors and grabbed one handle each. They pulled them open to unleash a crashing wave of cozy steam that almost drowned Laurien. Inside, as she squinted, she saw six female servants lined up side-by-side, dressed in white, short-sleeved and legged gis with their hair tied up in knots. Behind them was a colossal pool of steaming water, flanked on both sides with damp mirrors and chairs, and decorated with stone sculptures and carvings.

“Welcome to the bathhouse, Exalted Lady Laurien,” they said in mechanical unison and bowed deeply.

”Oh, how wonderful!” she exclaimed tossing her hair behind her, before ridding herself of the dress altogether. She turned to the six servants, as she entered the warm water, eliciting a pleasurable smile as goosebumps appeared on her body, and then said, ”So, what is it you do here?”

“Well,” one of them said in a voice like velvet and sat down next to the pool. The others followed, some skipping into the water fully clothed, others filling buckets with soap water. “... We offer our Exalted Guests baths, massages and treatments, drinks and refreshments, and, well, whatever the Guest would like to request.” The girl filled her hands with clay from a small jar. “Would our Exalted Guest like us to wash Her hair?”

As she listened to the servant speak, a devious smile crossed her lips. ”Yes, please. While you do so, some wine would be nice and, do tell me about yourselves.” she murmured, sinking down into the water. The only thing that could be seen was her luminous hair, and face.

Three of the servants began to slowly rub the clay into her long mane of hair and around the roots of the strands, while another two brought respectively brought her a tray topped with a single cup and a pitcher. The last one sat down in the water next to Laurien and smiled playfully. “Such an honour to be inquired about by a daughter of the Divines such as Yourself,” she said softly and giggled. “What would our Exalted Guest like to know?”

Laurien closed her eyes as the small hands rubbed her scalp, the feeling was immensely satisfying, but at the smell of something sweet they snapped open, targeting the pitcher. She took the cup, and then a servant graciously filled it. She took a sip and relaxed with a content sigh. She then turned her head to look at the small servant, returning the smile, ”Well, your names for a start. Then, anything that comes to mind. I am very easy to please.” she said softly.

The girl giggled again. “Well, alright, then. This servant is named Ke Ai; the three girls washing your hair are Gu Niang, Xiao Jie and Ai Qing; the ones pouring your wine are Mei Li and Hao Shuang. These servants are all exceptionally happy to be at Your service this fine evening,” she assured her with a wink. “... Now, what is a tall, beautiful woman doing in His Lordship’s jungle, if this one may ask?”

Laurien looked at Ke Ai with hungry eyes, as she took another sip. ”Beautiful names, little ones.” she lulled happily. ”Now, believe it or not, but I am searching for one who you might know. Arya is her name, and she is my sister.” she downed her cup, stretching her arm out for more, eyeing Hao Shuang with an alluring smile as she did. Hao Shuang smiled warmly back with a wink.

“Oh, you are her sister, is that so?” Ke Ai asked softly, though her smile seemed a little forced. “She was quite… Something, that one…” She paused. “Very beautiful, like yourself - though not as…” She giggled. “... Grown.” The other girls all echoed the sweet giggle.

Laurien noticed the forced smile, and took another sip of her now full cup. She licked her lips slowly, then said, ”Small as she may be, she is still my sister. I know what she did aboard this vessel, and for that, you have my condolences.” she then sat up lenig up against the edge of the bath, ”Now, this grown body needs a wash as well, and I know just the perfect little hands to accomplish it.” she mused.

“Of course, My Lady,” Ke Ai said. Gu Niang, Xiao Jie and Ai Qing quickly washed the clays out of her hair and wrapped it in an extra large towel turban. Then they skipped into the water with coarse washcloths in hand. Together with Ke Ai, they each grabbed a limb and began to scrub, perhaps a little intense and harshly, to rid her pure skin of any and all dirt and muck.

”Ladies, ladies.” Laurien said after a moment of scrubbing, ”Rub any harder and you’ll see my bones.” she said with a laugh. ”Gently, but thorough, it will accomplish the same thing, won’t it?” she asked softly.

The girls all giggled. “Is My Lady’s skin a little sensitive still?” Ke Ai smirked. “Sounds to us like our Exalted Guest has not had enough wine.” Hao Shuang and Mei Li came over with the tray and Gu Niang released Laurien’s left arm.

”Mhmm. Very well, more wine it is.” she said, reaching her arm out to grab the pitcher. Before any of the servants could react, she brought it to her lips and began to drink. She finished it with an ‘Ahh’ and placed the empty pitcher back on the tray. She then looked at Hao Shuang and Mei Li warmly. ”If you could, more wine please.” she said, her voice thick with energy. The two bowed deeply.

“As You wish, My Lady,” they said in unison and went to refill the pitcher. Ke Ai grabbed a coarse, flat stone and used it to file the nails on Laurien’s right hand; Gu Niang took the opportunity to file the nails on the opposite hand. Ai Qing and Xiao Jie did the same to her feet.

“So,” Ke Ai opened, “what does a woman like you like to do for fun?”

At this, Laurien’s gaze turned to Ke Ai with an alluring smile. ”I think you can guess, Ke Ai.”

The surrounding girls giggled. Ke Ai smiled warmly and sucked in a slow breath through her nose. “Not many mortals have visited us before, My Lady; however, the trained eye can spot a lover of the finer riches from a mile away - as well as a lover of the most simplistic pleasures.” She gently caressed the now clean, silk-like skin on Laurien’s arm. Her sand-covered fingers left a tingling sensation. The other girls began to do the same on their respective body parts. Laurien shivered softly at the touches, her smile widening.

“Has My Lady been satisfied with her bath?” she asked softly.

The tall woman then leaned forward, growing close to Ke Ai. She then whispered, ”Not quite yet.” before leaning in to place a gentle kiss on her lips, before pulling away. There was a playful smile on her lips, and her eyes beckoned.

Ke Ai blinked, but then put on a saddened smile. “This servant apologises, My Lady, but we unfortunately do not offer… That kind of service.” She continued stroking her arm. “We can provide a deep massage, if it would please.”

Laurien giggled and then settled back down, ”Of course, of course.” she waved her hand, ”I can respect that.” She lulled, ”A massage sounds delightful, darlings. If you would. Oh, and where is that wine?” she said cheerily.




The next morning, Laurien woke up on a down-filled mattress with a pillow softer than a cloud. Covering her long form was a massive twillight-blue silk blanket coloured with beautiful patterns of purple, red and even dots of white to look like the late evening sky. The walls around her room were of mahogany, judging from the rather thin slits one could see of it at the top and the bottom - most of it, though, was covered in chalk white paper painted and calligraphed with lively images and poetry which deft hands had made seem like a painting in itself. The floor was freshly polished and seemed to reflect the light of Heliopolis shining through the windows much like a mirror would. From the roof hung a red paper lantern chandelier that gave off a faint scent of incense. To the bed’s right, up against the wall, was a particularly tall wardrobe, flanked again on its right by a mirror; to the bed’s left was a small table with a gold tray of fruits, biscuits, cakes and small bottles of drink. Directly in front of the bed was a tall, eloquently carved mahogany door.

She thought the room was beautiful but as her eyes fell upon the food, she quickly got up and began to drink the liquid, fruity flavors attacked her palate. She was incredibly thirsty, so much so it felt like her mouth was a desert. As she continued gulping down the drinks, she went over to the tall wardrobe and opened it. There, she was presented with a selection of long dresses, shirts and skirts in various colours, and seemingly as if the winds pulled at the dresses like curtains before a window, they parted magically to reveal her scabbarded, starry orvium sword, her starlight cloak and the wrapped dagger.

Not quite as thirsty as before, Laurien began to try on the clothing, finally deciding on a white shirt with a black skirt. It fit perfectly much to her surprise, accentuating her figure and comfortable to boot. She then wrapped herself up in the cloak, grabbed her things and left the room. Her journey needed to begin in haste, after all. As much as she could indulge herself here, she had her duty to perform.

The veranda outside the door was mostly empty, save for occasional servants hastening to and fro with fresh sheets, buckets of washwater, brooms and many other things. As they passed by Laurien, they stopped, bowed deeply and greeted her, “Good morning, Exalted Laurien,” before moving on. The main hall far below was beginning to light up with activity and music, the faint tunes floating upwards through the belly of the ship. Laurien looked to the left and saw the distant evidence of the main stairs up to the deck. A servant came to her as she noticed, carrying a note. She bowed forward and offered it.

“From His Lordship,” she said. Laurien nodded in thanks, then read the letter.

Dear Laurien,

I trust the snacks left in your room were satisfactory. If you would not mind, I would like a quick word with you in my chambres. They are at the top of the palace tower. I trust you are more capable than your sister at navigating.

Please come at your earliest convenience.

Sincerely,
Shengshi.


Laurien let out a small chuckle, folded the note up and placed it inside her cloak. Then she had the servant lead her outside, the sun rising steadily to welcome the new day. Laurien then looked up at the tower and flew up to the top, spotting the veranda, she landed but before entering the room, she knocked on the wood, announcing her presence. The paper slider doors slid apart to reveal a smirking snake.

“Look at you, thinking outside the box - or the palace, rather. Please, come in.”

”It seemed the easiest route,” she mused as she walked inside, ”You wanted to see me, your holiness?” she asked looking around the rather barren room. Simplicity at its finest she thought.

“Yes, I did. Has the stay in my palace been satisfactory?” He poured two cups of tea from a fresh pot.

”Yes, it's been wonderful. All your little people are so nice and helpful.” she said cheerily before graciously taking a cup.

“Please, if you would not mind, refer to them as ‘servants’. While height is not a particularly self-conscious thing for them, ‘little’ in their culture and that context connotes pettiness. I am certain they would not tell you directly, but it would wound their feelings a little.” He sipped his own cup. “I am truly happy that the stay was of proper standard. Mortal guests are always so interesting.” He then gave her a knowing look. “From what I heard, the bathhouse was particularly interesting.”

She gave a shrug, a sly smirk crossed her lips as she took another sip of the tea. ”You have my word, servants it is from now on. As for the bathhouse, well, my curiosity got the best of me. It was greatly needed, the girls did a superb job, might I add. I haven't felt quite so relaxed since I set out from the Eye.”

“It is what they do. They live to please - just not so far as you imagined.” He winked. “So, will you keep searching for your sister now?”

”Yes, more so than ever now. I owe it to her.” she said softly, placing the tea cup down.

The snake nodded. “Indeed. What will you do if-... Sorry, when you find her?”

Her gaze narrowed briefly at the thought but returned to a more relaxed one as she said, ”Get to know her. Ask if she'd like to see home and father. Be a sister. Maybe even come back here for a time.”

The snake smiled. “Well, dear, you are more than welcome to return whenever you wish. The palace is always open to friends of mine.”

She gave a wide smile at that and said, ”Thank you, your Holiness. For everything. I should get going now, there's a world to search after all.”

The snake chuckled and finished his tea in another two sips. “It was nothing, dear. You make for good company. Please do not remain gone for too long. It does get lonely here without visitors.”

She gave a sad smile at that, he was not the first one to ask such a thing.and it wasn't any easier leaving such pleasantness. ”I won't be gone forever, you have my word. And when I return, I shall want a tub full of wine.“ she said with a laugh.

“Two,” the snake winked. “That is my word.”

”Excellent!” she exclaimed before leaving the snake and his servants, as she led the vessel behind. With a hardy laugh, she flew east.


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AdorableSaucer Blessed Beekeeper

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Serenis and the Wuhdige


It was a frigid morning. The naked branches of the woods were drizzling with snow like salt from a shaker, and the inhabitants had long since tucked away in their homes and holes. The only sound vibrating through the forest soundscape were two adjacent pairs of steps, denting the snow with low crunches. With a broad smile under his whiskers, an emboldened Jokuanhe led his slightly less bold betrothed Julempe, daughter of old Yupe, between the whitened trees. While they held hands, Julempe struggled to keep the pace of her partner, often falling behind a little. Jokuanhe eventually turned and gave her a sympathetic, wry smile.

“Juley, are you getting tired? Did you forget to eat breakfast again?”

The young girl stopped and twiddled her thumbs sheepishly. “It’s just… We’re really far away from the cave. We haven’t really explored the island yet and, well, we don’t really know what’s out here. The mainland had bears and things - the kind that took grampa.” She hung her head. “Maybe we should turn back.”

Jokuanhe sighed and went over to hug her. “Look, it’s not that far left. I told you, it’s the prettiest place I’ve ever seen. It’s got all these icicles and things that the Skylight shines through - it sparkles like the stars!” He pulled away to see Julempe smiling faintly.

“Like the stars?” she asked softly.

“Just like the stars,” Jokuanhe affirmed and tugged her along. “Come on. It’s just over this hill. With newfound vigour, the selka girl followed along. Eventually after climbing the rocky hillside for what to a selka was a frightening amount of time, the two reached a small clearing at the top, surrounded by grey-barked trees. There trees, however, were far from naked, and in the absence of leaves icicles had taken their place, hanging off the branches like a whiskers off selka lips. Julempe stood gaping, letting out quiet gasps. Jokuanhe grinned at her.

“Told ya, didn’t I?”

“Oh, Jokua…” she started and leaned her head on the taller selka’s shoulder. “This is like nothing I could’ve imagined…”

Jokuanhe wrapped his arm around her shoulder. “Happy you like it. Look, if you really squint and look, you can almost see--...” He froze and Julempe frowned at him.

“Jokua, is something wro-Woah!” Jokuanhe pulled her along behind a nearby boulder and put his hand over her mouth. Her eyes widened as she looked up at her partner, who put one finger of his mouth and peeked over the side. There, in the distance, came a great, flying beast.

Serenis shivered, holding her arms close to herself. Even with the protection Kree provided, she could feel the frigid air on her skin. Kree growled curiously as he glanced upward, noticing his companion’s discomfort. Serenis rubbed him gently in response. “I’m alright, Kree. It’s just a little chilly, that’s all.” Things were looking rather depressing for them, though. The tree branches Kree usually ate to stave off hunger were now covered with icicles, making them harder to eat properly. There were few animals they could find to hunt down as well. Serenis wanted to make their journey more comfortable for Kree, but she wasn’t sure what she could do in a situation like this.

Suddenly, Kree began to dive, taking Serenis out of her own thoughts. “Kree? Where are you going?” As they flew closer and closer to the ground, Serenis could see a pair of humanoid seals. Kree landed next to them and began to sniff them, trying to determine if they were edible. The larger of the two stepped in front of the shivering smaller, snarling fiercely at the dragon, yet its eyes betrayed a hint of fear.

“D-don’t touch her!” yelled the larger one.

Kree, stop it!” Serenis yelled. At once, Kree backed away from the two frightened Selka. Serenis slid off of Kree’s back and walked up to them, bowing. “Please forgive us, he hasn’t properly eaten in a few days,” Serenis apologized.

The smaller selka broke out of her cower and the larger one lowered his guard a little. “Wh-what are you? Are you from the western tribes? You don’t look like Selka!”

My name is Serenis, and this is Kree,” Serenis introduced themselves. “We’re… visitors from a foreign land, traveling the world and seeing all that the gods have created.” Kree began to grumble, turning his head left and right in search of food. “Umm… we would appreciate it if we could have some food and shelter. We’ve been traveling for a while now, and could do with some proper rest,” Serenis begged, smiling weakly as she put her hands together.

The larger selka lifted his guard again with a scowl, but the smaller grabbed one of his arms and shook her head. She turned to Serenis and smiled. “I am Julempe, daughter of Yupe, and this is my man Jokuanhe, son of Tokuanhe.” Jokuanhe frowned at her for giving away their identities so quickly, but eventually just sighed. “We are of the Wuhdige tribe,” she continued. “We have fish if you want - lots of it, and a cave nea--”

“No! We don’t know you yet! You could just be like one of-... One of the other tribes that lie to steal our things! How do we know to trust you?”

I’d never do that!” Serenis exclaimed as she took a step back, horrified at the thought. Kree poked his head in and glared at Jokuanhe, instinctively protecting Serenis, but a quick rub on the head calmed him down and he pulled back, returning his attention to the surroundings. “[Please, all I ask for is a place for a day’s worth of rest. I won’t be any bother to you,” Serenis asked again, bowing deeply to them.

Julempe put her right hand in her mouth and looked at Jokuanhe with wide, wet, pleading eyes. The male selka frowned at her at first, though he eventually capitulated with a huff. “Okay, fine,” he groaned and waddled down the hillside. Julempe grinned widely and hopped gleefully in place. She then beckoned along Serenis and Kree.

“Come, friend! The cave is this way!” she said, walked over and eagerly reached for Serenis’ hand to pull her along.

Serenis smiled as she was led along by Julempe. She felt that they were going to get along swimmingly. Kree snorted, then began to follow them. All he could think about was what they were going to eat when they reached their next destination, and hoped it would be something tasty.

The four walked almost two hours, though that was mainly due to the fact that the selka were extremely slow pedestrians. As they broke through the foliage into a clearing not far from the sea, however, Serenis could see between the remaining trees a cave in the cliffside, like a crack down the stone that spread into a triangular doorway into the mountain. A few more selka, mainly females and pups, were playing out in the snow, lobbing snowballs at one another and chasing each other in clumsy gaits. A few of the children came running over to Jokuanhe, who had jogged ahead to greet them. The mothers in the distance smiled at first, but then saw Serenis and froze - they then saw Kree and panicked, hurrying into the cave along with as many pups as they could shepherd. Jokuanhe’s and Julempe’s faces both drained of colour as Tokuanhe, Tokuhe, Yupe, Odende and all of the Elu brothers rushed out with stocks and stones in hand. The eight selka stood snarling and glaring at the newcomers, brandishing their improvised weapons and their sharp teeth.

“Jokuanhe, Julempe! Get behind us! There are two monsters chasing you!” Tokuanhe cried.

“Chieftain, no! They aren’t monsters! They’re actually really nice! Her name is Selenee and the funny dog is named Kolee!” Julempe defended as she picked up one of the pups who were curiously biting at Serenis’ dress, thinking it was a jellyfish. Jokuanhe sighed and shrugged at his father, who still waved his stick as the others lowered theirs with perplexed looks on their faces.

Once again, Kree tried to come to Serenis’ aid, but Serenis was quick to calm him down again. “It’s an honor to be here,” Serenis said, bowing at Tokuanhe and the other Selka who came to confront them. She turned her attention to Kree, realizing that perhaps his large size and threatening appearance would make anyone not used to him uneasy, and came to the conclusion that something should be done about it.

Come on, Kree,” Serenis clapped her hands twice, and Kree began to shrink down. Kree soon found himself half buried in the snow and scrambled over to Serenis, climbing up and wrapping himself around Serenis’ neck more tightly than usual. Serenis could feel how cold he was, and placed a hand on a portion of his body to help spread a bit of warmth to him. “My name is Serenis, and this is my faithful companion Kree,” Serenis introduced themselves to the Selka. “We are visitors from a foreign land, and we hope to appreciate your hospitality.

“Appreciate our hospitality?” Tokuanhe said with his fists on his hips, one of them still clutching his trusty stick. Females and pups were beginning to peak out of the cave at the distinct lack of outside commotion. “Just what have you been telling her, son?” He gave Jokuanhe a stern frown.

“Juley said we should bring them,” Jokuanhe said and threw his arms into the air. Julempe stood next to her man and looked pleadingly at Tokuanhe. Meanwhile, the other males slowly began to approach Serenis and stare in awe at this alien creature.

“Please, chieftain! They said they’re really hungry and really cold! We have lotsa fish still, right? We could--” Her words began to quiet as her demeanour shrank before the large, scowling selka that was Tokuanhe. Even Jokuanhe instinctively began to shuffle up in between his partner and his father. The chieftain’s glare soon left the girl, however, and he pointed a fat, grey-furred finger at Serenis.

“Listen here, you! I’m the chieftain around here, and I made a promise a long time ago to not only protect my own family, but to protect all families that are part of my tribe! As a pa, I will not hesitate to wack you if you try to attack my family, got it?!”

I know about family all too well,” Serenis replied. Placing a hand over her heart, a solemn expression on her face, she added, “I swear neither Kree nor I will harm your tribe, on the honor of Arae, the Goddess of Family.

The selka all looked at one another. Tokuanhe tilted his head to the side. “The goddess of family? Ain’t heard nothing about her, but…” He sighed and eyed the pups still fruitlessly nibbling at the hems of Serenis’ dress. “... If you say you know family, then we oughta make sure you can return to them. After all, what wouldn’t I do to return to mine…” He squeezed Jokuanhe’s shoulder tightly and smiled. “Come on inside. There’s plenty of fish for you to eat and walls to keep the wind out.”

Thank you,” Serenis said, nodding to him. It was then that she finally noticed the little pups around her. “Hey now, that’s not for eating, little ones,” Serenis said gently, grabbing the sides of her dress and pulling the hem away from them. The pups kept hopping around her legs for a quick minute before they realised the dress wasn’t coming back down. They then decided to pounce one another, their game slowly turning into a round of catch as they waddled down to the beach. The selka did everything from grinning to cackling, and some even chased after the pups to play. Tokuanhe shrugged laughing.

“Pups,” he mused. “Come now. You must be freezing.” He and the other selka went to the cave entrance.

Serenis followed them inside. The cave ceiling was perhaps a little too low for a lady as tall as her, and forced her to bend down when standing anywhere but the centre. A beam of light shone in through a long crack in the ceiling that stretched from the opening to back of the cave. The cave was full of selka of all ages, most of whom at first cowered up against the wall at the sight of Serenis, but slowly grew more curious than scared at the funny humanoid. Tokuanhe sat down at the far end of the cave next to a female holding a pup, a small girl playing with a stick and a young boy suckling his fist. Tokuhe and Jokuanhe each offered Serenis a raw, juicy cod.

“Please, have a seat wherever you’d like.”

Serenis sat down in front of them, accepting the fish with a smile. It felt rather slimy on her hands, but she tried not to let the disgust show on her face. Instead, she brought it close so Kree could examine it first. Kree gave it a good sniff, then proceeded to snatch it away from Serenis’ hands and jump down to the floor, ripping apart large pieces of the fish as he ate it. Soon there was only a fraction of its skeleton left, which Kree continued to nibble on to get any remaining scraps out of it. The onlooking selka clapping excitedly. Serenis simply watched Kree with contentment, glad that he was getting what he needed.

Agoi was combing her reluctant son Agu’e’s fur with a jagged shell and gave Serenis a suspicious scowl. “Is the fish not to your liking?” she asked and Agu’e tried to use the distraction to escape.

To be honest, I don’t really need to eat,” Serenis confessed. “Most edible things we’ve been able to find have been given to Kree.” Kree raised his head, but soon realized no one was talking to him and returned to his fish skeleton, scooping out the last eyeball with his tongue and swallowing it whole. Done with his meal, he returned to Serenis and coiled up onto her lap. Agoi sneered and dragged her son back into a tight grip and kept combing him.

“Agoi, stop torturing the poor boy,” Tokuanhe muttered. Agoi stuck her tongue out and rolled her eyes, but Agu’e managed to pull himself out of the hold. “It’s fine, mom, I’m pretty now!” he snapped at her. Agoi put her hands on her hips with an angry frown, but said nothing more.

“So, Selenee,” began the old, quivery voice of Yupe, followed by a pause and the tug of some grey whiskers. “How come you don’t need to eat? Did you eat earlier, perhaps?”

That is a secret I’d like to keep to myself, at least for now,” Serenis said mischievously. “Also, my name is pronounced ‘Serenis’, not, um, ‘Selenee’.

“Se-le-neesi…” Tokuhe attempted quietly before Jokuanhe shook his head and elbowed him gently. “No, silly, it’s ‘se-le-neesh!’” Tokuanhe grumbled. “Boys, you’re being silly. She just said it’s ‘se-ren-yees’. Learn to pay attention.”

O-on second thought, you can just call me ‘Selenee’,” Serenis said hastily, a pained smile on her face. Eager to change the subject, Serenis moved on to say, “So, why don’t you tell me about the families living here? This tribe is quite the sight to behold.
The selka stopped bickering over pronunciation and collected themselves. Tokuanhe stuck a finger in the air and grinned. “Why, naturally! As I am chieftain, I will first present my own family - the Tokuan family! This is my wife, Okako’e, daughter of the Dondweh…” The chubby Okako’e nodded her head. “Pleased to meet you, Selenee,” she said in a silky smooth voice. Tokuanhe pointed at Jokuanhe and Tokuhe. “Those two are my eldest sons, Jokuanhe and Tokuhe. That’s Odante, my eldest daughter, Yukuanhe, my youngest son, and that little furball,” he pointed at the small clump of white fur resembling a rough approximation of a selka, “is my youngest daughter Oka’e. We Tokuans hail from all the way back to the First Beach--!”

“We all do, chief,” came Elop’s snickering voice.

“I know we do, but it sounds really nice to say!” Tokuanhe huffed. “Well, as good a time as any. That one over there is Elop, eldest son of old Elupo who sadly passed on last winter.”

Elop and his siblings hung their heads and beat the chests twice in salute. “Yeah, we miss that old blubber ball sometimes,” he started. “Anyway, I’m Elop. This is my wife, Agoihe.” A timid female, who had been hiding behind Elop while he talked, peeked around him, waved shyly and hid again. Elop sighed and continued, “These here are my brothers Eliap, Jo’eliap and Eliul…” The selka in question all waved excitedly, little Eliul skipping up and down. Elop pointed to six females of various ages. “... And these are my sisters Ego, Egwoi, Yegwa, Agoweh, Aguhe and Ellahe.” The six girls giggled - the oldest two who Elop had identified as Ego and Egwoi were each holding two pups in their arms.

Tokuanhe nodded. “Good kids, the Elus,” he chuckled. “Yupe, share a bit about your kin.”

The old selka shrugged. “Wouldn’t want to overwhelm her either, chieftain, but…” Yupu crossed his arms over his chest and snickered. “Forgive our old man - he’s so careful nowadays, with that hip and all.”

“You be quiet, boy!” Yupe grumbled and wafted his fist at the smirking selka’s face.

“Sure, pa,” he mused. “Anyway, that’s Yupe, my pa. That’s ma, Tuko’e--”

“My sister!” Tokuanhe said and thumbed his chest proudly. Tuko’e shook her greying head and rolled her eyes.

Yupu chuckled. “I’m Yupu, his eldest son. That there is my wife Dondu’e.” A young selka female quickened from her sleep. “Wuh?!” she exclaimed and the surrounding tribesmen cackled. “These are my brothers Yuge, his wife Togo’e, and Yupi, and, uh, our sisters…” He took a deep breath. “Yui, Julempe, Yugege, Joo, Eguyu, Ugu, Yulee and Uyu…”

“You fo’ggot meh!” came a high-pitched squeak from a small, white-furred pup in the back who walked clumsily up to Yupu.

“Oduye, we’re talking about sisters now, not daughters - you’re my daughter.”

“Oh,” Oduye cooed and stuffed her fist in her mouth. “Woopshie…”

“Let’s see, who’s next…” Tokuanhe mumbled. “Odende, you go on. Tell us a bit about the Dondweh!” The muscular selka clicked his tongue between his sharp teeth. He snorted loudly and slapped two beefy males looking to be of equal age on their backs.

“These are my twins boys,” he rumbled. “Dondo’e and Donwah, the strongest boys in the tribe, I say!” The two selka boys hammered their unusually firm chests proudly.

“Now hold it, Odende, I said ‘tell us a bit’, not ‘tell lies’,” Tokuanhe challenged. “You know darn well that Jokuanhe wrestles both of your boys into the sand with his right flipper behind his back!”

“Pa, do you really have to--”

“I ain’t never seen him do no such thing, Tokky - who’s the liar here, HUH?!” Odende boomed and stood up. Tokuanhe also rocketed to his feet.

“We settle this now, you blubber clump,” the chieftain growled.

“You. Me. Outside,” the champion snarled back and stabbed a finger at Tokuanhe’s chest.

“First to fall loses,” the chieftain threatened.

“Prepare to lose, then, ‘chief’,” the champion spat back. The two large selka waddled out of the cave, radiating an oppressively strong aura.

“Oh, joy, here they go again…” Okako’e said and slapped a palm over her forehead.

Serenis greeted each Selka family with a smile and wave, occasionally adding a nod as well. The tribe was very lively, and Serenis could feel the community’s warmth for each other. However, the warm feeling soon disappeared when tensions rose between Tokuanne and Odende. Serenis was left in a panicked bewilderment when they began to leave the cave. “Wait, what?” Serenis said, swiveling her head between the two large Selka and the rest of the tribe. “Wh-what’s going on? What are they doing?

“H-wahn! Tw-hoo! Threee!” came two voiced from the outside. Okako’e lifted her palm from her face and sighed.

“They are seeing who can lift the heaviest rock the most times… They always do this when they disagree over something.” Jokuanhe, Tokuhe, Dondo’e and Dondwah all hurried out after their fathers to watch - as did many of the girls. Okako’e shook her head. “I’m sorry, this must be odd to an outsider.”

Well, I certainly haven’t seen such a custom before,” Serenis admitted. “It is odd, but every community has their ways. My role is simply to observe.” It seemed simple enough, really, but Serenis really wondered how such a custom came to be in the first place. There was just so much to learn.

“Our people didn’t have it easy to start off with…” Okako’e continued as she caressed the small, white face of the pup in her arms. “... After we got off the First Beach, there were a lot of fun things - and a lot of bad things… Tokuanhe’s pa, Tokuan, didn’t like life much with all the raiding and fighting, so he gathered his best friends and their families and went south along the tall mountains.” She pointed at the females of different ages sitting in the general area where Odende and his sons had been sitting. “The Dondwehs are Tokuanhe’s most trusted friends, but they lost a lot on the walk here. Odende was only a pup when old Dondweh and his wife were taken by raiders. It was thanks to Yupe that he survived at all,” she whispered. She then pointed to Agoi who still sat nuzzling her unwilling sons, surrounded by eight females, five of whom looking too young to be considered adults. “Poor Agoi may be a little coo-coo in the head, but she actually had four sons about a year ago, as well as a husband. Her husband and her eldest son got taken by fever. She used to be so sweet and kind… Now she only cares about protecting her boys.” She gave Serenis a sad smile. “Oh, but listen to me ramble. Hearing so many new names and stories must be overwhelming.”

It’s fine, it’s fine,” Serenis reassured her. “And my condolences for your losses,” Serenis put her hands together and bowed slightly.

Okako’e nodded in appreciation. “Thank you, it means a lot to hear that from an outsider, and it’s nice to finally be at peace after so many years of walking and swimming.” The pup on her arm let out a high pitched yawn and smacked its lips. It rolled his head around and stared at Serenis with large, round, black eyes. Okako’e smiled. “She usually doesn’t stare long at people she doesn’t like - I think she thinks you’re pretty.”

Serenis looked at the little pup and gave her a warm smile, reaching over to pat her head, the pup’s fur second in softness only to the expression on its face. “That means a lot to me,” Serenis said. This lasted for a second, then she returned her attention to Tokuanhe and Odende. “How are they doing? Who’s, um, who’s winning?” Serenis asked, gesturing towards the two Selka.

Okako’e peeked out into the daylight just in time to see Tokuanhe smash the large rock into the sand and point at it, shouting some incoherent, yet obviously utterly exhausted, banter at an equally sweaty Odende. The champion squatted down, straightened his back and lifted the rock high above his head, pushing it up and down with strained numbers. Around the two, their sons and many more were cheering them on. Okako’e giggled.

“Odende’s winning. I’ve seen Tokuanhe tired before and I know when he can’t go any longer.” Yukuanhe waddled over to Serenis, plopped himself down next to her and squinted at her pensively. Okako’e smiled wryly. “So, Selenee, what’s your home like?”

Home…” Serenis said as she began to stare off into space. It wasn’t that long ago since she left Spekatha, but already it began to feel like an eternity to her. “There’s… a lot of grass. Grass as far as the eye can see, maybe even farther than that. There were trees, and lakes too, of all different shapes and sizes. They dotted the landscape. There were… a lot of them. It was a lot of work taking care of them, and I imagine there’s a lot more now. And… it was warm. It wasn’t just the temperature; there was love, too. Lady Arae was very kind. I wonder what she’s doing now…

Okako’e smiled warmly, as did many of the other selka females who apparently had gathered around Serenis as she had spoken. Quiet coos from pups and the grunting and cheering from the outside were the only sounds breaking the silence that followed. “Your home sounds like a really nice place,” said Yui, eldest daughter of Yupe. There were hums of agreement.

“Is this Lady Alae your ma?” asked Ego, eldest sister of Elop, with a cock of the head.

Hmm… I guess you could call her that,” Serenis answered. “It’s a little difficult to explain. Lady Arae created my home, and everything in it. Me included. She created the land to track families’ well-beings and maintain them, and I was the land’s sole caretaker.

The surrounding selka all gaped. “Wah,” Julempe went. “Is… Is she like the big Killon? Can she make things out of thin air?” The others’ eyes widened as they looked between Julempe and Serenis.

You are talking about… Kirron, correct?” Serenis said. “In which case, yes, very much so. Lady Arae is the Goddess of Family, much like Kirron is the God of… hmm, I can’t recall... but both of them hold very significant powers as gods.

They sat with their eyes round as discs. In came a triumphantly cackling Odende followed by a shamed Tokuanhe.

“I’m sorry, boys, I lost the f--”

“Your ma is a goddess!” shouted Agoi in a frightened voice and pointed at Serenis. The selka all instinctively firmed up and Tokuanhe and Odende stood gaping.

Serenis looked around, confused. “Is- is that a bad thing?” she asked.

“... N-no! It’s just…” Okako’e started. Tokuanhe pushed himself forward and stood right next to Serenis, his blubbery belly hinting at considerable musculature underneath.

“It’s just that we haven’t ever met someone with a goddess for a ma,” Tokuanhe said. “C-can we have a blessing, please?!”

“Tokky!” Okako’e exclaimed. The large selka shrugged.
“W-well, this is my first time asking!”

A blessing? I’m, uh, well, I-I don’t think I have that kind of power,” Serenis stuttered. “That’s really more of Lady Arae’s abilities than mine. And it doesn’t seem like you need any blessings, either. Just love your tribe and care for them, and I’m sure Lady Arae won’t abandon you in times of need.

“Oh,” the chieftain said flatly. “W-well, any tips on how we can pray to Alae? Anything she likes? Does she like fish?”

“She gotta like fish. Who doesn’t like fish?” Yupe grumbled through his mustache-like whiskers.

“Lady Arae will take anything as long as you have love in your intentions,” Serenis replied.

“Huh… Well, if love between family is enough, Alae will get plenty of it from us!” Tokuanhe said cheerfully, followed by giggles and whoops from the surrounding selka.

Serenis simply smiled. This tribe of Selka was a lively bunch. She began to silent pray, Lady Arae, should these Selka be in a time of need, please help them. They’ve been through enough.


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Lauder The drunk kind of hero

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Two Brothers





There was a silence among the Aroiox as they gathered around a corpse of another, the face of who had been their previous leader being unrecognizable with a broken beak and a shattered skull. Blood had poured around the corpse and a bloodied rock could be found only mere wing-lengths away from the body. It had clearly been a murder, such an act was only to be expected when someone held a position of power or if one had held a grudge against their leader.

“A kill-murder has been done-plotted against him!” the shout a voice came from the crowd of onlookers, a male pushing through standing tall and proud. “It force-brings great sad-anguish upon us! But we must-need to keep fly-moving as the god-divine have willed! Vakk told-commanded us to prove-show that we are worthy!”

The other Aroiox focused on the young male, an odd mixture of curiosity, support, and skepticism showed among their faces. It was almost enough to send young Kavka back into the crowd to hide, but he refused as this was his chance to lead the people through the maze and prove to Vakk that he was worthy as a leader. This moment was his, and he refused to let that moment escape him as he knew some other would likely try and take the glory that belonged properly to him.

Kavka was cunning, just as the rest of his kin was, but he knew that making enemies would be detrimental to his grab for power.

“If any desire to wish-show then pray-tell Vakk to smite-kill me now!” He shouted, raising his hands into the air and looking in the crowd for any who bowed their head to pray. “Those who support-help me seek-find the exit to this maze-puzzle then step-move forwards!”

And one stepped forward.

Yreu was more slightly built than his brother, Kavka, though most among their tribe were. Where Kavka had strength and kindness, Yreu had wit and knowledge. It was bearing this in mind that the other Aroiox listened to him speak.
“All of you which see-behold my brother, consider-think on what could be found on the flip-other side of this maze-puzzle,”

It paused, looking each other of the assembled group in the eye, and spoke again, more slowly this time. “I have been thinking-contacting the god that we have yet-not seen. The other side-form-being to Vakk. It, too, wishes-commands us to escape. If we can-will. With two-one god beings wish-commanding us, how can we refuse-stay?”

Kavka gave a look of pure joy to his brother, a giving a sound of happiness before focusing on the task that had been given to them. “Yes-yes. We must continuing fly-moving!” The smaller brother chirped stretching his wings and stepping forward. “Our creator-masters have commanded it and so it must-will be done.”

He eyed his brother for a moment before walking to Yreu’s side a slinging an arm over the shoulder of the cunning one, who rustled his feathers. “Kin-family,” he said simply looking at the others, “They make-forge us to be strong-tough. That is how-why we will make-move our path-way through this puzzle-maze.”

Yreu simply nods. So it was, and so it was now known. “So lead-tell us, kin-leader. Where to now?”

Kavka looked at the massive walls of the maze, looking left a right and attempting to formulate a plan on the best way to go through the maze. He made a noise before shrugging, “I guess-suppose we move-fly where the maze-puzzle takes-wills us.” It was clear that he did not quite know where they were in the maze of how long the journey would take them, but Kavka had the will to lead his family forward.

---

And from the great Sky-eyes, This One watched the coup. It was intrigued by the creatures. It had never thought that such beings would be so wondrous. But, unfortunately, mere power struggles were not all that Eurysthenes found entertaining.
---


He spread his wings and took flight, following the walls of the maze. Looking back, he could see Yreu and his tribe following close by. A feeling a pride and accomplishment flowed through him as he slowed his pace to fly next to his brother for a short while.

“I thank-appreciate the support-help, brother-kin,” Kavka said wholeheartedly, looking to his brother with joy in his eyes.

Yreu nodded in response, “You are brother-kin, I will support-help no matter what.”

The two shared a look, familial bonds bring them closer and closer before their attention went back to flying. Their eyes scanned for what may be an exit amongst the twists and turns of the maze as their wings carried them. However, something caught their eyes, bringing them to a halt as the brothers shared a more concerned look. Just beyond them sprawled a small pool of water, thin rays of fog filtering upwards through the musty light of the Maze. The fog reached further up than either Yreu or Kavka could see, and the pool stretched to the edge of the wall.

“Fog,” Kavka commented simply, looking at the spread of water and the massive curtain that stood in front of them. The brothers looked up and down before Kavka motioned for the people to land as they curiously looked at massive cloud. It was a few moments of silence as Kavka touched the water and swiped his hand through the fog, never seeing such things before.

Yreu took a step forward looking to his brother before speaking, “Curious think-puzzle by two-face god-divine.” The more intuitive of the brothers began to formulate ideas and solutions, knowing that knowledge was always an answer rather than the violence they were bred with. However, the lack of action from Yreu earned a look from Kavka.

“What do you think-believe,” Kavka asked.

Yreu rubbed a talon along the underside of his beak, thinking of the way around this puzzle.

The hand he swiped through the fog shot pain through his thoughts.
“I think-believe this fog is pain-dangerous, and we cannot go through,” he said, grimacing the way only a beak can. They couldn’t use their wings to fly over, the fog stretched higher than they could see. Wings weren’t the solution here.

“... Unless,” Yreu said, flexing his wings. “Kavka,”

“Yes, brother-kin?” Kavka replied, giving him an odd look.

“Our wings do more than use-fly. Watch-see?” Yreu said. He set his heels into the ground and beat his wings, sending gusts of wind into the fog. At first, when it was just Yreu, nothing happened, though as more Aroiox lent their wings in aid, the fog began to disappear until it was gone completely.

Kavka looked with wonder, giving a look of admiration towards his brother as he stepped forward to look further into the maze. “Great work-job, brother-kin! Now we move-fly into maze-puzzle!” With that Kavka took back control of the situation to fly further into the maze, leading the tribe ever further through the Infinite Maze. With it, much time passed with silence and focus on finding the proper way out of the maze.

Then, the passage they were exploring crashed to a halt. A dead end. They turned, only to find the walls behind them folding in on themselves, trapping the tribe in a small room. The walls grew long, vicious faces and bore down on the inhabitants.

“New puzzle-trap by Vakk,” Kavka spoke, backing up into his brother as he looked between the faces before he picked up a rock and chucked it at the faces. Nothing happened other than the rock harmlessly bouncing off one of the many faces of the wall. He let out a light chirp as nothing but a light shimmer happened in response, but he then looked to his kin. They were as confused as he was, but he would not allow himself to be upended by his brother, needing to prove that he was capable as well.

Little did Kavka know that he had already solved the puzzle as a look of surprise came across Yreu’s eyes. “Brother-kin, you are a genius!” he exclaimed, before picking up a rock himself and hurling it at a face, causing it to shimmer.
Kavka let out another chirp before turning to his people. “Kin-tribe! Throw-hurl rock-things at face-walls!” He commanded before picking up more rocks and throwing them haphazardly at the walls, the others joining in as the faces began to shimmer all around them. A collective click, perhaps exchanged through looks, spurred the rest into action. Soon enough, the walls shifted once more.

This room lay cursed. A foggy chamber with a colossal stone monster on on wall, all tentacles and skin, a hallway too narrow to walk through, a knife, and a severed tentacle.

“New puzzle-trap?” Kavka said, looking towards his brother.

---


Lurking under an illusion, These Ones stood above this murder of Aroiox. For the time these two shared a body, there had never been so much tension. Bitterly cold silence separated the two.

”I realise you do not feel anger at this, as you are incapable. Listen. Though I am difficult to use, I am nothing but breath. A debt that cannot be paid, rather mended may be paid with me. What am I, Vakk?”

There was a short silence from That One after Eurysthenes had spoken, yet it felt like an eternity as the Lord of Speech held its tongue. Soon, there was what felt to be a long sigh as Vakk did away with the silence that it had imposed upon Eurysthenes. ”You humiliated me here, perhaps it was more humiliating than when I allowed myself to be killed. You are sorry, and while it pleases me, I will hold this event in my mind. I may not feel anger, but I do feel disappointment.”

Vakk’s soul seemed to move a bit away from Eurysthenes’ own before it continued, ”Know that while I remain in this maze, the actions that you have done are things that I cannot find amenable by a mere apology… but it is a step in the right direction.”

Eurysthenes hung in silence, eyeing Vakk with odd eyes from across the body. It shuffled a little. This was not supposed to go how it did. This isn’t how apologies work. ”Vakk…” it said. It started, as if to say more, but shut its mouth.

A drawing to the dark center of the soul keened on its senses. From there. Despair creeping, hale, tall, and timber, spindle, and stick. Needles for teeth, no truth and no lie. Laying beside and around.

”I’m sorry…” it choked out.

”Eurysthenes…” Vakk responded, before failing to find words. It allowed a moment to pass in that tense silence which enveloped the both of them. ”You do not need to apologize. Your actions were done because I had decided to use you. The disappointment is for both of us.”

”I suppose. Let’s not have that happen again,” This One said. Oddly simplistic, carrying no extra weight except in that there was none. Merely a promise, an agreement, to not hurt each other.

---


The silence that bore into the Aroiox was like a setting sun.

Something significant happened here, they all knew it. The colossal knife, severed tentacle, and wall-beast told a story that words couldn't, even though they had and will continue to do so.

“Kavka, do you feel-know it?” Yreu asked, breathing in deep. The fog clung to his ankles like a drowning animal.

A short silence passed, before Kavka audibly opened his mouth to speak, “A great torment-loss.”

Yreu closed his eyes and let his mind flow outwards and towards full. “Is that so-how?”

Kavka looked to his brother, speaking, “Yes-yes. Much torment-loss.” He allowed himself to walk up to the severed tendril and ran a hand along it, unknowing of what truly transpired in the past. The leader let out a sigh as he closed his eyes as well and attempted to replicate what Yreu was doing, but lacking in the patience to do so.

“Kin-Tribe, we sleep-nest here,” Kavka said as he opened his eyes and continued to walk along the side the tendril.

“Kavka,” Yreu said, shuffling his feet, “This place is cursed-godly. Methinks this is a bad-deathly idea.”

None of the Aroiox knew it. Not really. They felt it, but feeling is different from knowing. Feeling it is wrong can seem like sickness, however, knowing is an all encompassing, maddeningly complete dread. It's what you get when you are acutely aware that something vital to your survival will be removed. This was the difference between Kavka and Ereu in this moment.

Kavka stopped, looking to his brother for a time before continuing his walk along the tentacle in silence as his hand continued to run along it. “We sleep-nest, kin-brother. Much headway-progress made today. Sleep-nest in presence of divine,” he said absentmindedly as he looked over the sickly green skin of the severed tentacle.

Yreu only watched as his brother disappeared into the fog before retreating back to the other Aroiox all the while the fog set in and the gods watched.









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Hidden 7 mos ago Post by Zurajai
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Zurajai Unintentional Never-Poster

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Roog


Always with night comes the braying of wolves.

The wind that rustled through the canopy above was as music to the young wolf’s ears; for Roog, every new experience was a gift without equal. It had been nearly a month since his creation on that beach from fire and blood. Memories of blackness and charred remains, of conflict and violence perhaps from a past life, marred his thoughts when Roog’s mind was set about itself. Rather than dwell on such things the death-wolf instead immersed himself in this new world he had been unleashed upon; an experience he couldn’t help but revel in.

Perhaps as a quirk of his creation or, more likely, a direct consequence of his creators the wolf had senses almost unmatched. When his nostrils flared his mind was filled with images of the life around him. For each oak and pine he could sense their age, their struggles, the years with drought and the years with rain. Every tuft of hair, fallen feather, or discarded antlers told him stories of the lives these little creatures led. With each breath he could taste them all and experienced a rush of thoughts as feral instincts warred with the mind of something far beyond that mortal ken. His eyes, bronze orbs that seemed to burn internally, swept across the array of sights before him with interest and curiosity that revealed fertile colors of rich brown and deep green. Most of all his senses, however, Roog savored what he heard the most. His ears were filled with sounds from near and far, of birds chirping, of the scrabbling paws of underground animals, of even the sounds of distant paws pressed to the damp earth.

A wet crunch well beyond Roog’s experiences suddenly broke the serene placidity of the arboreal world around him. Roog’s ears perked up and his gaze darted towards the direction from which the noise had come. The wet crunch was swiftly followed by a tinny noise unlike anything Roog could imagine then another wet crunch and the sound of something thick splattering the forest floor. A roar of pain shook the forest creatures from their peaceful lives as they ran to ground, flew from their havens, or perhaps even turned with predatory interest. Deep sobbing followed suit, heavy and oppressive, that seemed to slowly be growing weaker. For a long moment Roog paused, his instincts imploring him to safeguard his own life. Memories jumped to that of his fathers, one willful and one wishing otherwise, and of the words and advice that had gifted him. His steely gaze turned back to the sound, knowing full well what he must do.

The jet black wolf began at a slow stride, paws silently brushing the undergrowth, pacing towards the sounds of pained anguish. As the mewling slowly quieted Roog picked up speed, suddenly loping between trees and crashing through brush with visibly no effort to close the distance with the noises. The serene nature of his world had gone and the images in his mind returned, of pain and suffering that made Roog clench his jaws and lowers his ears in displeasure. Wet gushing filled his ears, like the waters of the Hunter’s Eye where he had first been born, and the quiet thumping of a heart drumming out its last pounding beats. With a grunt Roog placed his paws before him as he arrived at a clearing, leaving great gouts in the ground from his attempt to halt his forward momentum.

Before him was a vision of violence and death that made the wolf’s heart drop. Crimson, arterial blood had sprayed across the once viridian foliage, darkening it red and spoiling the idyllic scene of nature with vitriolic and malicious intent. Three figures lay in the dell before his eyes with two clearly lifeless while the third clung to one of the fallen in desperation. Though he did not know them by the name, Roog watched as an old male troll held its dying mate. The creature to the pair’s side seemed a similar sort but was hideous in its make and outright unnatural. Its skin seemed clothed in a manner similar to Roog’s Man-God creator but with a material that bit the eyes to look at when sunlight struck it. The thing smelled of soot and gore and malice in all things and upon its person Roog noticed a number of implements that could only be used to inflict pain. Worst of all, the bag that hung from its back had disgorged a number of limbs that seemed to be of its own kind, albeit of younger creatures than this one. It’s clothed head, encased in the same material its chest had been, had been bashed in with a rock that now sat bloody and splattered with grey matter off to the side.

Roog’s gaze turned back to the troll weeping in its own way over the corpse of the creature held tightly in its arms. As he watched Roog could see it was not in a way that Roog might understand; these were animalistic cries, simply noise expressing a crushing feeling of grief that the beast could not express in any other way. Roog’s own instincts called at him to howl, to unleash noise in a similar manner. Though Roog’s heart and mind warred with one another his soul knew what he must do as the thoughts of flame overwhelmed his spirit. With that he took his first steps into the glade, slowly walking towards the hunched troll.

Though completely silent in his movement the direction from which Roog closed on the troll was in no way hidden and the troll quickly looked up, its eyes going wild and wide. With a pained grunt the troll hurled a rock in Roog’s direction, the stone clacking against the ground at Roog’s feet. The large wolf looked down at the stone then back to the creature, eyes tightening with curiosity. A large wound was visible on the creature’s neck, pumping blood wildly to paint the Troll’s neck and side with the red liquid. As Roog continued to close, however, he noticed the wound that would truly kill the troll; it’s right leg was missing underneath the knee, no doubt hacked off by the beast dead beside it. Roog’s head turned quizically to the side as he noticed the flesh trying to knit back together though something was clearly affecting the troll’s ability to regenerate.

The smell of burning flesh and charred wood assaulted him, scents he was vastly familiar with, and his eyes caught the sight of a torch laying beside the ghoul. Its weapon, some strange simulacrum of a claw to be held in the hand, had soot on the blade and the very last emanations of heat billowing from its edge. Realization dawned on Roog as he put two and two together; the monstrous creature was hunting them, as Kalmar Man-God hunts, and had used its cleverness to take away the trolls’ ability to regenerate. Contradicting thoughts clashed in Roog’s mind; hunting was natural and good but this creature most certainly was not. As his gaze slowly returned to the troll he noticed its eyes dropping as blood loss began to take its toll.

”I am sorry,” came Roog’s only words, more for himself than for the troll, as his maw opened ever so slightly so that his voice could come tumbling forth. The troll, of course, simply looked up at him with little recognition of any meaning.

By now Roog had been able to close to the troll’s side and no amount of weak flailing could keep him at bay. He stood above the troll, looking deep into its eyes, as the creature’s life slowly left it. The pain Roog drank deep of soured the experience in his mind, reminding him of the words his heavenly-father regarding the beauty of life and the gift of mortality; this did not seem much of a gift, in this moment. His thoughts played a dance in his mind as he considered the options before him and how he might best serve his purpose as well as help this suffering creature in its final moments. In a fit of frustration Roog looked back down at the troll and their eyes met. Between them was shared a moment of understanding as Roog looked through the windows into the troll’s soul.

With its limbs dropping to the side of its mate the troll waited, chest slowly calming from the heaving it had been doing earlier. Some sort of animal acceptance had washed over the creature, like it knew what was coming just from the shared moment between it and the demigod of demise. Roog sat beside it, quietly observing as the troll seemed to take in its world one last time. The calm in its eyes shocked Roog; here was a beast that had lost everything in its meager life but her and now it was ready to let go. This would be a valued memory, considered Roog, as he at last leaned in towards the troll. With one paw he reached forward, gently tapping a moonlit pale claw to the troll’s forehead. Quietly and with no fanfare the troll let its eyes close one last time and entered into the final sleep it would endure in this lifetime.

Roog sat with the cooling bodies of the two trolls and their slain archenemy. This had been the first time in his life that his duty had been presented to him and now, as the souls of the troll drifted upwards to follow that of its mate and the one who took its life, Roog contemplated on the nature of life and death. Though his initial emotions were those of rage and despondence at the unfairness of life and its wanton cruelties he had quickly seen himself have a change of heart. This was the value of life that Katharsos had spoken of at his creation. This troll knew a full life and had no doubt ended the lives of many creatures the same as its last kill. It would feed the cornucopia of animals that would arrive to feed upon it until rot overcame it by natural course of by the Many Death’s hands. And, despite this momentary loss of life, the cycle would continue. That soul so high in the sky would be reborn in a thousand creatures, burned to ash and reincarnated once more in a beautiful and natural cycle. This was exactly what he had been created to see.


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Hidden 7 mos ago Post by Lord Zee
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Lord Zee I Don't Even Know

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&

Silver


&

Jim





The day was a hot one, as Heliopolis let down it’s unyielding rays. As such, the humidity was sweltering, choking the life towards shade and cool ponds. Only the chorus of insects could really be heard, besides the occasional songbird, whistling a tune. Yet, none of this bothered Orvus in the slightest, for the land was at peace with itself, and so was he. For the first time, in such a long time. The god sat upon his porch, leaning back in the chair with a relaxed expression as he gazed out at the land. The vibrancy of the surrounding jungle had dulled to green as the season changed. They had collected from the fruits of his labor, taking from his field, rice, coffee, maize, yams and sweet potatoes.

Though he had no need for such sustenance, the simple fact that he had achieved what he thought impossible, filled him with a sense of accomplishment. A feeling he had never known to be capable of. And as such, being able to teach Silver such was rewarding in its own right. And now the girl was able to fill her belly with the hard work they had labored on together. But Orvus had not just been watching over Silver, for in the night he traveled long and far, answering the occasional prayer and searching for the Alma that eluded him. Ever since his teaching of the Ihokhetlani, and the death of Tahiok, he wanted nothing more then to find where the Alma would take Azura’s soul crystals. But Orvus knew that he could search Galbar for days with nothing, and he did not want to leave Silver alone.

So the god shoved it away from his mind, there were other, more important things to keep him occupied. Soon enough they would have to plant again, and he had plans for more buildings. Silver’s ideas were beginning to stick, and if anything, he needed a house for both Arya and Laurien regardless, once they returned. Those two were constantly on his mind, and he was always listening for their voices if they called in prayer, but there had been nothing, not even a whisper. He wanted Laurien to be successful, and he wanted to be better, for Arya. Hopefully Arya would get along with Silver, it seemed Laurien had well enough.

“...vus…”

“-rvus.”

“Orvus!”

Silver stood in front of the God, hands on her hips with sweat covering every inch of her body. It had been a long day.

“Thinking of your children again? You really are like an old man, you know.” Silver chuckled.

Orvus stirred, looking up at Silver with a soft expression. ”I always think of them, anymore. Now, sit down, I’ve been meaning to talk to you.” he said gesturing to the other chair.

Silver nodded and plopped down on the chair. She stretched and let out a happy sigh before turning to look at Orvus, one eyebrow raised, “So what’s this about, old man? Want to finally plan out some land expansion?”

Orvus gave a half nod, ”I’ll have to build them a house, yes. But before that, I thought about getting you off this island, show you what else the world has to offer. You must be bored. ” he said humbly.

“Bored?” Silver frowned and closed her eyes. After a minute or two, she shrugged. “I mean, yes, somewhat but, is there really anything to see? The world is young. There can’t be any advanced civilizations yet, can there? And spending time with, um, ‘less developed’ brains doesn’t really call for my attention.”

Orvus expression did not change as he listened. ”Suite yourself then, I don’t care either way. I’ve only ever heard of two races. The Selka, and the Ihokhetlani, neither are very advanced.” he went quiet before asking, ”What is your definition of advanced?”

Silver’s eyes sparkled and she sat straight, on the edge of her seat, “Oh! Yes, advanced civilizations, right? Those are the pinnacle of ethical population centers. Philosophy is one of the central tenets of society in such a civilization, and the worship of the true Gods comes second only to the pursuit of Technomagical advancement. All kinds of things are easier in an advanced civilization! Infantry are equipped with rifles that shoot metal bullets, hospitals can heal even the gravest wound if the patient arrives quickly… Ah, it’s great. Also, running water and in my father’s palace’s case, electricity!”

Orvus listened, trying to picture what Silver was saying. It all sounded like a world far from the one Galbar was, or perhaps ever could be. It seemed Li’Kalla truly did come from a world apart. ”Sounds like fantasy, Silver. Perhaps one day this world will see such things, or not. But for right now, this world will have to do as it is. My siblings will have their work cut out for them, if they know of such possibilities.” he said looking out at the jungle before slowly turning to catch SIlver’s gaze. ”Your mind is truly a wonder. To come from a different place, to be fractured into several fragments and yet retain all of that? I am impressed.” he said.

Silver’s excitement faded slowly, and she slumped back onto her chair, staring out at the sky. “I don’t remember everything. For example, my handmaiden’s name. Or my family name. Not that it matters, all of that must be sand by now. Yeah…”

”All that matters,” Orvus started, ”Is that you are here now, Silver. Living freely and I hope, happily.”

“There is something in the back of my mind, and a weight on my heart. I thought it’d go away, you know. It hasn’t. I still feel like a traitor and a coward, leaving the others to their fates. I’m… Happy, yes, but I worry if the others are. And I wonder if I should go look for them.”

Orvus leaned forward, his expression going to his all familiar blank stare. ”You are neither a traitor, nor a coward Silver. You were given the opportunity to live, and you took it. Do not feel burdened by what happened, for this is the choice you made.” he said with little emotion.

Silver scrunched up her nose a little and with her arm propped against the chair’s armrest, rested her chin on her palm. “Yes, that’s true…”

His gaze turned to sadness as he looked at Silver. ”Yet, you still feel the same as you do. Tell me, if we go and search for the others, what then? What will you do if we find that they have not found the same happiness? What will you do if they have found happiness? What will you do, if they desire to be reunited?” he inquired.

“A good question,” A voice swirled around the pair. Instantly Orvus recognized it. A crow suddenly cawed and landed on a gentlemanly figure who stood by a tree. It clung to his shoulder and a smile stretched across his face.

Orvus’ head snapped in the direction of K'nell’s voice with frightening speed. In an instant he stood on top of the stairs, eyeing his fellow god with anger. ”What are you doing here, K'nell?” his voice came with a hint of spite.

“Allowing your companion to answer the very question you posed,” K'nell reached into his pocket and withdraw a fisted hand. He spread his palm flat to reveal the other shards plus a tiny orb.

Though the God did not display it, Orvus’ heart sank at the sight of the shards and orb, for he knew it could only mean one thing. With an icy cold stare at K’nells smile, he slowly turned to look at Silver. His expression changed to one born out of sadness as he looked at her with knowing eyes.

Silver stared at the shards in K’nell’s hand. Her eyes had narrowed. Sweat dripped more frequently from her brow and chin. Her eyes grew misty. In a split moment, she’d turned around and rushed inside her home. The sound of stumbling and breaking furniture followed her, but quickly things fell into silence.

”Silver!” Orvus called after her, beginning to follow, but thought better of it. He slumped as he heard the commotion inside, only to be followed by silence. It was then he spun around again to look at K’nell. He clenched his fists in anger, as he descended the steps. ”Why? Why does your mere presence ruin everything?” he spat at the god.

K'nell looked at the shards with a slight disappointment before looking at Orvus. He crossed his brow and cleared his throat, “Excuse my skirt of the question, but I feel like two other things are more important to mention: namely that your creation, Arya, is safe and is open to reconciling your relationship with her. Secondly that who or what I am and what my presence does is secondary to comforting your friend, Silver, and allowing her to communicate with the rest of Li'Kalla when she is ready. Anything beyond that is--” He smiled a cheshire grin, “Well beyond me, I suppose.”

Orvus froze in his tracks at the mention of Arya, but before he could interject, K’nell kept talking. He felt relief at the fact she was willing to not just talk, but reconcile as well. But his relief washed away like rain cleansing dust in a thunderstorm. He stared at that Cheshire grin with an emotionless stare, and yet, he despised it all the same. This was not the K’nell he remembered, but the smile was all too real. It brought back such vivid memories, ones he wanted to bury. As much as he wished to wipe it clean off his face, to eviscerate it from reality, he could not bring himself to do it. There was too much going on, and the fate of Silver hung in the air. Arya would have to come later.

”I did not make Silver go into the house, nor should I run after her for comfort. I know her better than you ever could, and when she is ready, she will come and I will be there for her.” he said with little emotion. ”I will not keep her from speaking with the other shards, even if I wish the opposite. She is an independent being, capable of making her own choices. Do not think of her as some child that needs to be coddled. She is so much more than that.”

“But of course,” K'nell offered a confused smile under a knitted brow. He hummed to himself and straightened out. With his free hand he patted his jacket all the way to the top pocket, a muffled tap responding to his fingers, “Would you care for a smoke, my good man?”

Orvus blinked at the question, then said, ”I could care less, K'nell, about a ‘smoke’. I would rather find out why you speak for Arya, as Silver is not yet ready.”

“Then you won't mind if I partake in one,” K'nell flicked his wrist and the shards were deposited into his coat. With his other hands he procured a small silver tin with a tiny embossed swirl. He opened it and plucked a cigarillo from a tiny stack and stubbed it between his lips. Returning the tin, the end of the cigarillo suddenly glew with a red coal. He sucked in a hearty pull and let an opaque cloud of smoke exit his nostrils. The shroud nearly engulfed him before he even started on his second pull, stopping only to speak.

“Why she asked me to, of course,” K'nell answered simply, air hissing in from the cigarillo.

”Of course.” Orvus whispered. ”Then where might Arya be?”

“Well,” another cloud of smoke wrapped around the gentleman, a small glowing dot brightening, “If you move quick enough, I would suppose you could catch her on the red plains of Tendlepog. She is quite the adventurer, you know.”

”It is not I who is searching for her at this time. I will inform her sister of this. You…” he paused, letting the silence grow between them before he said, ”I am grateful for the information.”

“You are welcome to it,” K'nell puffed. His eyes glanced all around him for a moment before he plucked the cigarillo from his mouth, “I see you've built yourself a farm, very rustic.”

Orvus shrugged, ”My dream changed me. Either for better or worse, it remains to be decided.” he said cryptically.

“Then it was a good dream,” K'nell put the cigarillo back in his mouth, “And you should be proud.”

”Good? Hardly. Did you know It crippled me for what felt like a lifetime? I sat in the silence of Veradax while Galbar changed over and over again. I'm only here because… because Kalmar wanted to talk.” he stated flatly.

“In this case,” K’nell sucked the last of his cigarillo, flicking the butt away into a shimmer of stardust, “Who is to say what good is and isn't. The point is, my good man, that you thought about it. That's more than most, and then to bring action to your thought-- doubly so.”

”Make no mistake K'nell, I'm not going to forgive you for what you showed me, nor do I expect you to fully understand what you did to me. Those memories of a life I never even lived, haunt me.” he whispered.

“I have to say,” K'nell folded his elbows square behind his back, “That if you can't forgive a picture for being, then why not also forget to forgive the eyes that saw.” He wiggled his nose, “Because it's a useless exercise of paradoxical failure. Perhaps, then, you felt you weren't given a choice in the matter? An easy remedy, I suppose, would be me giving you the choice right here and right now to bring all those memories to reality or not. Once again, I suppose such a choice is yours.”

His eyes went wide at the suggestion. That life… real? Rowan… Ava? Lily? A simple life, an easy life? But his mind fell upon Arya, Laurien and Silver and if he did such a thing, all of that would be wasted and unfulfilled. He could not have his happiness without them. Not yet anyways. He began to shake his head, ”No, not now. Perhaps not ever. I am not worthy of such a life, not yet at least.”

“Very we--”

There was some rustling, ceramic scraping against ceramic, before Silver with slightly reddened eyes walked out, hands behind her back. Her lips were stretched into a thin line and she took in a deep breath once she saw K’nell and the shards. A grim look of determination washed over her face.

“K’nell-”

“I know that voice!” A voice dripping with mirth intervened, and quickly Sprite materialised a projection sitting on K’nell’s palm, “Hey hey, look who it is! If it isn’t good old ‘We have to do something’ and ‘This isn’t right’ girl!” Sprite smirked and crossed her arms. Silver sighed and rolled her eyes. “Wait, wait wait wait, is that an ACTUAL body?! How?!?! I need one!!”

At that moment, Elegance materialised next to Sprite, sitting gracefully on her shard. “You can have as many bodies as you like when we achieve our current goal, Sprite. Is that right, Laina?”

“That’s right,” said a soft voice, one belonging to Laina whom materialised her own projection standing on K’nells forearm. “But I do wonder, how did you obtain a body? One so faithful to what we actually look like?”

Silver squinted her eyes a little and relaxed, “Orvus gave it to me. He taught me how to sow plants, care for them and harvest them, too… This body will get in the way, won’t it?” Silver asked a little sadly.

Orvus said nothing as he watched the conversation between SIlver and the shards. His expression turned to his emotionless stare.

“Not quite,” K'nell suddenly spoke, “You see, as remnants of a god, your corporeal forms are trivial. If it pleased you, I have no doubt that you could simply leave it by the pull of your fellows, or even if you desired, all could occupy that singular body. Should it be needed, the body can be shed easily as well. It is really all your choice so long as you remember that the body does not occupy you but vice versa.”

Laina perked up, “Huh? That easily?”

“That’s waaaay too easy! Anything related to her,” Sprite pointed at Silver, “has never been easy! So, sorry to say, but it’s not going to be easy.” She huffed and puffed her cheeks, but quickly went back to normal once Elegance began speaking.

“Shall we try?”

Silver revealed what she’d been hiding behind her back, a stone knife, and left it on the floor. Then she walked to K’nell, grabbed the shards and went back to the porch. “We shall try.” She said.

“You feel kinda, a little bit, just gross, Sis!” The young girl said, suddenly materialising and grabbing her pearl and floating just above Silver’s hands. Silver frowned and shrugged.

“Suit yourself, girl.”

“I do have to say, touching our skin gives a rather unpleasant feeling. It’s rather difficult to explain it.” Elegance said, a little pale.

K'nell looked disappointed, “I see.” He paused with a thinking hum, “Very well. With your permission of course, I'm sure one of us can simply force the body away. You may be asleep if you like, so you do not feel any unpleasantness.”

“Hold on, K’nell,” Laina said, floating up to face Silver and looking into her eyes. After a moment, she turned to the other shards, “I think we can do it if we work together. Practice for the real deal, right?” She asked the others hopefully. K'nell gave a curt yet approving nod.

Elegance hummed to herself and spoke, “Rather interesting id-”

”No.” came Orvus’ sad voice and K'nell raised his brow. Orvus began to walk towards them. ”It will not work. The four of you lack the strength to do such a thing. I would have a word with her, before…” his voice dropped to silence as he walked up the steps, looking at SIlver with sad eyes. He had listened to them speak, and he realized the only way to get what the shards wanted, was up to him. K'nell folded one arm behind his back and looked on in silence.

Sprite looked as if the gears inside her head finally fell into place and started running, “H-Hey, now wait a second-” The girl however jumped onto Sprite’s back at that moment and whispered something into her ear, which made Sprite smirk and float away toward K’nell.

“I’m glad she’s so easily distracted, being honest.” Silver said and turned to Orvus, her brow furrowed and face twisted into a strange expression.

He stood in front of her now, placing his right hand upon her cheek. ”Is this… Is this what you want?” he asked softly.

“... It is what I must do. My duty.” Silver said, returning Orvus’ gaze, “I won’t abandon myself this time. I’m sorry.” She muttered quietly.

With a dejected look, Orvus nodded then turned to K'nell. ”Leave us for a moment.” he stated before turning back to the shards, ”I ask the same of you three.” he whispered.

Sprite smirked at Orvus, “Hehe, remember not to p-”

SLAP

Sprite’s projection dissipated immediately after the impressive slap Elegance delivered to the back of her head. The woman nodded at Laina, who caught the freefalling shard in her arms.

K'nell closed his fingers around the dissipating shards, “Very well, but--” He looked between Silver and Orvus and let out a tiny exhale and turned on his heel, “I'll be back soon enough.”

After a few moments, Silver was the one to speak as her eyes took in the landscape around them, built by their own hands.

“I’m going to miss this place. The plants, the sun…”

Orvus followed her gaze and said, ”I know. This place… Will not be the same without you.” he mumbled.

Silver turned to stare at Orvus, her eyes glowing brightly. “It will. It will be even better after I’m gone. You, Laurien and Arya will have this place to yourselves and will turn it into a true family home and, perhaps, into a great settlement in the days to come.” Silver smiled, shifting her gaze away slowly, “And yet, even though I know all this, and even though I know I must do this…” Her smile turned into a desolated, wide eyed expression as she lifted a hand to grasp at the fabric covering her chest, right above her heart. “... I’m scared.”

The god turned to look at her, and ever so gently took her free hand within his own. He gave a light squeeze, then said, ”Being scared is only natural. Even I, a being so far beyond such things, is scared. How strange is that?” he said before letting go of her hand and moving it to hold her cheek. ”Do not be afraid, little Silver. Everything will be okay. You… You lived beautifully, and wonderfully. I... I am… I care for you. I… Always will, little Silver. You… brought me purpose and showed me a different view. For that… I am and always will be, grateful.” Orvus said, a fleeting smile in his eyes.

Silver embraced Orvus and sniffled, “Thank you, Orvus… I’m glad I met you. I’m glad I saw your smile.”

He returned the embrace, and with silent tears he whispered, ”You… Are so welcome, Little Silver.” before giving the redheaded girl fond memories, of the time he taught her how to plant her first seeds, to the day she saw her house, to Laurien and then finally her first breathes as a person. Slowly he stripped her of any pain, as a gentle numbness took over. Orvus closed his eyes as Silver’s mind slipped away in peace.

A soft breath escaped her lips, before the girl went limp in his arms. He pulled away to look at her, stroking the hair away from her silver eyes. With a free hand, he shut them, then brought her close, putting his forehead against hers. He then pulled away as her body turned to dust, blowing away in the gentle breeze. Where his hand had rested beneath her heart, a small fragment fell into his once empty palm. The same fragment he had once seen so long ago. Orvus looked at it with an empty expression, before clutching it tightly. The god then slowly turned, making his way to sit on the porch steps. He then buried his face within his hands as tears made of light fell into a thousand little pieces upon the dark wood.

Plat… Plat… Plat…

His tears fell.

Skiff… Skiff… Skoof.

Boots came to a stop before him. There was only silence as K'nell watched on.

Orvus looked up at the sound, his face streaked with white as his gaze met K’nells. He outstretched his hand and from it the small fragment could be seen.

”Go on. Take it.” he uttered hollowly.

“Just know,” K'nell said as he gingerly took the shard from Orvus, “Though you feel pain, you have lost nothing, and gained everything.” He placed the shard into an outstretched palm, snug next to the others.

Orvus lingered on K’nell for a moment, hearing his words, but giving no reaction to them. He then lowered his gaze. He no longer wanted to talk, he just wanted to be left alone. The message would be abundantly clear.

K'nell turned on his heels, stopping only momentarily to poke the empty air. The velvet of reality rippled in such a way that any mortal would likely have been driven mad by the shimmer. An orb appeared floating, wisps of blue mist clouding around it. Giving it little more thought, K'nell walked on, leaving Orvus alone and the orb in its place.




Darkness came and went before Orvus finally moved, a new day heralded by the song of birds focused his mind. He looked up, still at a loss for his grief. This time it was far more real and such a memory would haunt him. K’nell was wrong, he had lost something, and he gained nothing from it. Silver was dead, and if they succeed, it would not be her that became the dominant personality of Li’Kalla. Would the new Li even remember what he did for her?

He stood up, and it was then that the light reflected off the orb, catching his attention. He walked closer to it, wary of what K’nell had left behind. The orb seemed to rotate in place slowly, dressed in a shallow mist that never ventured far. The closer he got, the slower it rotated, until he noticed a tiny stretch of runes illuminate from fractured light. His divine eyes made short work, and its meaning was easily read: “Hello.

He cocked his head, perplexed by the orb’s method of communication. Unsure of what to do, he said, ”Hello?” in response, feeling foolish.

The runes shimmered for a little and then suddenly vanished into the strange translucent orb. Light seemed to get lost and bend inside and then after some time, more runes appeared, “How are you?

”Been better.” he stated after a moment. He’d bite, and find out what the orb was.

Have you?” The runes shifted.

”Yes.” he said softly.

There was another pause as the light swirled around the orb, then finally more runes presented themselves, “Can you tell me about it?

”I’d rather not.” he said.

Again the runes disappeared. The orb rotated gently and light hit it a new way, fracturing into a single short rune, one that sort of looked like a snake that had choked on its own tail, “Why?

”I… Don’t expect an Orb to understand why. Whatever are you? Why did K’nell leave you behind? To torture me? To remind me what I’ve lost?” he said angrily.

The orb seemed to dim for a while, the rune fading. All at once it brightened again, runes flaking across its surface, “What did you lose?

He let out a sigh then said, ”A friend.”

Fracturing new light the orb asked, a single rune akin to a hammer “How?

”I killed her.” came his dejected voice as he looked away from the orb.

Light shifted and the orb dimmed again. This time the pause was much longer, and only after gradually taking back in the light did the bends of fractured color turn back into a long strand of runes, “If you made her stay, would she be just as dead or more?

As the question echoed in his mind, Orvus stood still and silent. After a moment, and in a sad voice, he said, ”More.” before returning his gaze to the orb.

How?” The runes glittered.

”Like a flower, it blooms only for so long but eventually it withers and then dies. She would have withered and died as something much worse.” he replied back at the orb.

The orb seemed to process before illuminating, “So what was lost?

”A flower at the peak of its bloom.” he whispered.

The orb dimmed again, but this time the mist overtook it as it swirled. Time passed but no light managed to fracture it again. Orvus grabbed the orb, the mist seeped through his hands as he gazed upon it. Then, he turned around and walked up the steps into the house. The silence was deafening, and it took him a moment before he could move again. He went over to the table, and set the orb upon the wood.

He looked at it one last time, waiting for a response, but when no swirling of light came he sighed. ”I’ll be back, little orb. One day.” He then turned to leave.

The orb floated above the table but remained dim, rotating and rotating in a sleeve of mist. Finally light fractured and bent into runes, “Where are you going?

He stopped in his tracks and turned around to look at the words. He shrugged, ”The memories of this place are fresh. I need time away to clear my head.”

Growing dim, the orb seemed to accept this answer. It remained floating above the table, cloaking itself back into the mist.

He bowed his head, then left the house, shutting it the front door behind him softly.






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Perilous Woods


Walking was slow, excruciatingly slow. There always seemed to be a branch in the way, or a rock to stub a toe on, and whenever the weather was perfect for a hike, Diana seemed to shrink away and decide it was time to stop. Weather aside, even something as simple as it being just past noon with plenty of sunlight for a safe walk seemed to force her under the sanctuary of a shady tree, especially those with uncomfortable bulbous roots that seemed to snake in the worst places. Even now, with Heliopolis high in the sky, Diana sat under the shadow of a dying oak, her umbrella hiding every bit above her waist.

”I need a spear,” Karamir suddenly muttered, standing under an oak adjacent to Diana’s. He had chosen to neither sit nor lean against it, knowing that she would likely find a way to cause him discomfort - if it was even her who was causing it. Perhaps all the trees in this area were uncomfortable.

“Oh?” Diana said from behind her umbrella, Karamir could just hear her smile, “Whatever for?”

”I’m in an unknown land with at least one species of hostile creature. And I’ve been blessed to be good at using spears or other similar weapons. Why wouldn’t I need one?” Karamir countered.

“Oh foo,” He heard her cackle softly, “You’re in no danger, besides a little stick wouldn’t help you much of any. Don’t be so silly, now.” She pulled the umbrella away so their eyes could meet, a smile hidden in the depths of her sore looking gaze, “Perhaps you should consider a more respectable occupation.”

”Such as?” Karamir raised an eyebrow.

“Hmm,” Diana tapped her chin as she thought out loud. She eventually shrugged her hand back down to her lap and shook her head, “Well you certainly ask enough questions to be a philosopher, but you’re not too bright -- so that’s not a good path for you.”

Karamir’s expression did not change, nor did he respond. Aside from an annoyed sound within his head that vaguely resembled a sigh, there was no sign he had even heard her. A nagging hum seemed to itch his ear and finally Diana asked, “What’s on your mind?” As if she didn’t already know.

”I just told you. I need a weapon,” he answered.

“Oh that’s no fun,” Diana seemed disappointed, “I mean to say, what’s really on your mind? You escaped your birthplace with a certain vigor as ignorant as it may be and devised an insurmountable plan. To your luck you ran into me, and now we are simply walking in --and I mean this quite literally-- a really large circle. As much fun as I am having, I can’t imagine you didn’t think of some sort of next step?” She cackled to herself, “Oh who am I kidding, surely not.”

”I need to learn more about the world if I am to think of a next step. I wasn’t taught anything beyond how to survive.”

“Well I’m hurt!” Diana’s smile betrayed her words, “You didn’t even bother to ask me, after all I’ve done for you?”

”There would be no way to prove what you’re saying, and you seem to enjoy making my life difficult,” Karamir shrugged.

“And yet here you are,” She winked, “Still here.”

He sighed. ”If you’re just going to lead me around in circles, why should I stay?”

“Why should you?” She stared at him.

He shrugged, said nothing, then frowned and wrinkled his nose. ”Are you creating that stench?” he asked her.

“Well I never!” Diana slanted her brow.

Heavy, deliberate steps rustled through the undergrowth nearby, accompanied by a periodic wet clicking sound. The putrescent wafts Karamir had felt grew heavy, then oppressive, then nearly intolerable as a large shadow flitted in and out of sight between the trees. Finally, a young, slim-trunked growth gave way under a forceful push, and a mass of metal, rust and layers of clotted grime thundered into their sight.

“Found ya!” the horror’s abnormally large mouth spluttered, black tentacle of a tongue flicking back and forth with a nauseous whipping noise. Folds of grey skin briefly gathered to cover its forest of teeth, and something small and sharp whistled straight past Karamir’s ear, embedding itself into the bark by Diana’s head with an audible snap. “Warm, alive, not rotting, nothing special. I’ll save you for later.” The tongue shifted to point at the former, then the latter. “But you. I taste the cold and bitter from here. The godly, too. Can’t wait to find out why it’s that the closer, the better.” Malodorous spittle flew through the air as the monstrous jaws snapped together with anticipation.

“Oh my!” Diana perked up, “Why aren't you just delightful!” She shoved her billowy umbrella into the smacking maw, “Just don't forget to mind your manners.”

”What are you?” Karamir asked, having taken a step back. He looked around for something that might be used as a weapon, but there was nothing.

The creature’s mouth strained, and with a crack its teeth closed through the umbrella’s haft. It chewed over the pieces with some more crunching and tearing, lightly pushing the decapitated part still in Diana’s hand away from its face before loudly swallowing. “So eager? I’d rather fight it out first, but if you really can’t resist...” The jaws twisted into a stomach-twisting imitation of a smug sneer.

Thunk!

A fresh umbrella swatted the beasts ‘nose area’ and Diana stood up with a curling smiling, “Now now, this sort of talk is most unbecoming.”

“That’s more like it.” The tongue darted out to point at Karamir again. “I’m Vrog, if you really need to know. Not that it’ll matter much, that or what’s becoming. See, I’m here to eat you.”

Karamir composed himself. ”No you’re not,” he stated flatly.

“Oh how primitive,’ Diana's face melted into boredom, “An overgrown shrew.” She tapped her chin in thought, “Perhaps…” She mumbled to herself, pulling her umbrella open and flicking it over herself as she pondered.

“I’m sure I know what I’m doing better that you,” Vrog retorted, “Anyway, that’s enough talk. I haven’t had a real meal since I started walking. In you go!” His mouth opened, as wide as it could, then wider, and wider still.

“Hup!” Diana suddenly retracted her umbrella and tossed a fruit from her palm into the wide mouth, a devilish smile on her face as she tapped Vrog's chin with her umbrella, edging it to close, “There you are deary, a proper meal you'll find. Next time just ask.”

“Very funny,” somehow, despite the mouth only continuing to open, the words came out with perfect clarity, “Ever told you I hate fruit? Now I just got to chase it.” A dozen black tongues burst out of the now impossibly wide jaws, lashing to grasp her from all sides, before convulsing and curling on themselves. “Bghlah! Sweet!”

“Tut tut,” Diana stepped away from the tendrils, “There is no need to lie.” She put her knuckles on her sides, “Saying you don't like fruit and then showing such affinity for the taste, really you are a terrible liar.”

Vrog’s teeth gnashed and ground together in irritation as something groaned ominously from inside his stomach. “Alright, you’ve had your joke. Now knock it off.” Without warning, the massive brute became a blur of dim metal, his hand shooting forward with impossible speed to reach for Diana’s throat and, it seemed from the vigour of the motion, the tree behind it.

His hand dug into the tree, Diana having tilted off to the side in some divine reflex. She frowned, “Oh, I see. Can't even say ‘please’ can we?” She shook her head, “Let's all just slow down and try this again, shall we?”

As if it had been there the entire time she suddenly held up a metal triangle and a tiny rod, her umbrella in the crook of her arm. She gave the instrument a tiny tap and the rod made a musical clang. Vrog’s claw, emerging from the shattered bark to grasp at her again, stiffened, twitched its fingers, then fell lazily to his side. His snarl broke into a creaking yawn, opening a hellscape of gnarled yellow fangs and unmentionable slimy residue for the world to see.

“You really don’t want to try it in here?” he droned in a heavy voice with a poor imitation of friendliness. Another yawn, and the leaves on the closest branch wilted from the stench. “Come on. You’re going to like it.”

Diana made a face and inspected one of her nails, nibbling on its jagged edge, “I like rain, splinters--” she paused as she discreetly spit a shard of nail from her mouth, “and lice. While I admit the latter could be present about you, I have no idea of what you're talking about much less on.”

“Easiest way to find out is to get in,” a corner of his mouth twisted upwards as though he were winking a nonexistent eye. “I’m sure I’ve got some splinters there,” he drowsily tapped his protruding belly, “Specially after that stick of yours, and rain - it’s of a kind you only have to feel once.”

Karamir, in truth, had little idea what was happening. Over the course of the exchange he had been slowly backing away to a safer distance; deliberately moving slowly to avoid drawing attention to himself. He had expected a fight, and while that had yet to happen, he suspected it might change at any moment. Should he send a prayer? Would Kalmar even make it in time? He doubted it.

“You've had your say, now I'll have mine: you're boring,” Diana gave a curt nod, “You're mind is in your stomach and your fun is somewhere I can't find. I admit while intriguing at first glance, I have grown tired of you.”

She wiggled her nose and suddenly little plops of rain began to fall. She held out her hand, “Well would you look at that? The weather is turning. Karamir, dear, I believe that's our cue to get back to it as the working man would say.”

Karamir wasn’t sure what she meant by ‘working man’, but he nodded regardless. ”Let’s go, then,” he said, turning a wary gaze toward the reeking monstrocity.

“Ah,” Diana turned real quick to face Vrog, “Forgive my manners, a parting gift.” Her smile returned and she flicked her wrist. Nothing seemed to happen and she uncomfortably dug her nails into Karamor's shoulder, ushering him forward like a child. As the two began their first steps the air began to sparkle between the pair and the pile of metal and maw. Suddenly a swirling rift seemed to cut the velvet of reality and without much warning a torrent of swarming pods exploded outwards and directly into the unsuspecting maw. They were quite tasteless if not somehow exactly what Vrog didn't want, and each fleshpod left him slightly hungrier. Little eyes seemed to stare at him in horror as the pressure forced them to their wet grave.

The monster’s mouth, which had just been opening into a “Not so fa-”, found itself clogged with the infuriatingly bland flood. He tried to chew and swallow, then just swallow, then even shut his jaws - a reaction that made him pause in horror as he realised what he was doing - but the steam of wretched things did not leave a single opening.

“The spit’s this?! What the- glurgll-” his curses, all lethargy swept away from his voice, were cut short in a choking gurgling. He snapped his maw close and open, time and again, all semblance of instinct have gone haywire. With a mighty shove, he stood up in all his height, towering over the pair, and clawed into the encroaching fleshy storm, swatting enough aside for a moment of reprieve. “The gut have you done? Eating’s no fun! The clear contradiction in his words made his panic almost audible. And from panic came anger.

A muffled roar came from the swarm of reluctant bodies that had taken the place of Vrog’s head, and he lunged forward, recklessly plowing through the living hail. That was, perhaps, a mistake. Instead of parting before his charge, the flow seemed to intensify. From the inarticulate garglings in its midst, the maw could not resist its urges. What was visible of the creature’s body began to swell beyond its already bloated proportions, inflating like a drowned corpse - no, more than one, more than skin could have held, more that should have held -

Blam!

A wave of eye-stinging foulness swept for yards across, followed by a thick, rancid yellow mist. The flailing noises had fallen still.

”What just happened?” Karamir asked, bewildered by what he had just seen.

Diana seemed to cackle as she floated just above the viscous mess, “He’s just enjoying his gift.”

The pestilential fog stirred, thinning at the edges of the cloud, and a large shadow broke through the vapours. Smooth bladed armour glistened in the sparse spots not caked with filth, scattered, yet larger and more numerous than before. The asymmetries were still there, but most were so subdued one could barely notice a handful at first glance. Perhaps it was that the only slight remaining hunch left fewer incongruities for the eye to settle on; perhaps the fact that the figure was slimmer made them less glaring, if not less abundant. Those that did remain plain, though, had only aggravated, and drew the eye with the pull of morbidity. It was impossible not to stare at those lopsided shoulders, those disproportionately long fingers on one hand, those etched crinkles on a flank that seemed to perfectly follow the contours of gangrenous pustules underneath. The thicker, flatter bands of the lowered visor concealed the spot where the maw had been from sight.

“Alright, you’ve made your point.” Vrog’s voice, at least, had not changed much, aside from being laden with weariness and annoyance. He nodded forward in a short fit of wet coughs, bringing a fist before his helmet despite its faceguard obviating the need for the gesture. Up close, he was clearly shorter than earlier. “Spit, never thought it’s possible to eat too much. First who mentions food gets ripped to handkerchiefs.” He jabbed a hook-tipped finger at Diana. “You can just not bother, I’ve got a special treatment for you anyway.”

“Well, I dare say this is awkward,” Diana's jagged nail prodded Karamir again, “You see I've already said my goodbyes.” She slowly tugged out her orb from its secret bed and placed it before her eyes, “And look! There goes my attention.” Her voice flourished the point and she began to walk away, other hand clamped around Karamir's shoulder. Karamir followed, casting another uncertain glance back at the beast.

“I said-” the pointing finger darted forward. It only then became clear how freakishly long the arm behind it was. “-not so fast!” The recurve claw angled to catch Diana by her collar. “You got some nerve. Blow me up, and you think you can just walk it off?”

His finger hooked and a numbing shiver ran up his arm. Diana snapped around in surprise, but it was too late. A blooming emptiness seemed to shock through Vrog, as if he had sipped at the well of misery itself. Images flashed in his head, memories. A feather haired man stared at him in all but a fraction of a second, and he felt dreadful pangs of anxiety. His fingers went fuzzy, giving him a deep desire to cut them off and throw them away, as if they had somehow betrayed him. A second ticked, it was all gone.

Diana slapped his hand off her collar, causing her to drop her orb into the mud below and for her face to turn to a sickly blush of fury, “How dare you?”

For an instant, Vrog remained still, his fingers slowly flexing as though pursuing an unusual feeling and his head leaning from side to side on its stump of a neck. But that was soon over, and in a step he was looming close over her. The warm, putrid breath would have turned any weaker stomach inside out at that distance.

“How?” A chortling damp cackle came from somewhere much too deep inside the armour. He raised a hand to his head, deliberately, though hastily, sweeping the jagged claws inches from Diana’s face. “Guess I just do.” He tried to push up his visor, but it resisted as though stuck to something beneath it. A stronger tug, and it came loose with a sickening tearing sound.

If Vrog’s features, or lack thereof, had been ungainly before, what had become of them now was nothing short of nightmarish. His grin was contorted almost beyond recognition. Tattered sheets of skin were draped halfway over it, letting loose drops of murky ichor with each quiver. Around it, what had been merely grey and uneven was a shapeless mass of torn grey flesh, pulsing and oozing from a myriad of sores and diseased gashes. Teeth that did not belong to anything haphazardly jutted out from it, while a third jaw seemed to be sprouting from the side, stretching the living wasteland around itself in its vain attempts to snap closed on something.

The mouth cracked open, tearing apart some of its lip, which had merged into a single stretch in places, and a familiar tongue, bar some teeth that had grown along it in odd places, slithered out. It prodded towards her as the monster leaned forward, almost following the contours of her face from a minimally safe distance, before he snapped back up. “And looks I was right to. You smell-” the tongue clicked with sheer sensory pleasure, “-right wonderful when you’re angry.”

At this point Karamir was more impatient than afraid. The beast would not leave them alone. Of course it would be stupid to say anything, since in no way would he be able to fend off the beast’s assault as easily as Diana could, but at this point the creature was just wasting their time. He grit his teeth and looked to Diana, hoping that she would in some way be able to move this along.

Diana peeked over at Karamir and then back at the monstrosity, “I'm sure you'll find that pretty faces and flattering words have little room in conversations that have dragged on for far too long.” She suddenly gave a smile, one a little too similar to another, “So perhaps a little bit of a deal, then?”

The twisted maw scrunched together in surprise, but soon widened to mirror her grin with its own loathsome sneer. “I like deals. The kind that works out, anyway.” He brought up a questioningly gesturing claw. “What’s the hook?”

“You bring one substantial or even minuscule modem of value to this drawn out interaction and I'll give you the speck of attention you seem to desire; otherwise, I think it might be best we part ways,” Diana hissed through an unbreaking smile.

“Attention? The gut I’d do with that? Tell you what,” a lip of molten skin flowed upwards to perplexedly bare the root of a row of slanted fangs, “You said your deal, and I’ll give you mine. You got something I want, I got something you need.” Vrog’s stunted left hand pointed at the woods around them. “Your trail’s a circle you’ve been making loops over long as I tracked it, which tells me you don’t know spit about where you’re going. Me, I know the good places around here. You follow, and I’ll show you things you didn’t dream of.”

There was a fit of cackles from Diana and just as it was ending, she erupted into more. A single tear formed in her right eye as she laughed and finally she leaned forward, propping her hands on her knees for support. Her cackle began to die as she swiped her orb from the mud and stood up straight. She brushed it off and shook her head, “You've had your say--” She interrupted herself with a cackle and cleared her throat, “And now I'll have mine: I am dreams themselves, and I know exactly where I am going.” She waved her fingers at him, “Shall I say goodbye, now?”

Vrog clicked his teeth together and ponderously shrugged, an incongruous sight with his slanted frame. “Suit yourself. Least I’ll be getting my appetite back.” He spat a chewed seed husk from the corner of his mouth. A large metallic flask was suddenly in his hand, though one could have sworn he had held it before now and again. “I’d offer a drink, but I feel you’re in a rush.” He curtly gestured towards Karamir with the container. “Just tell me this. What’s with the ugly slave you got?”

Karamir glared at the mass of filthy metal. ”I am nobody’s slave,” he retorted. ”I was created by Kalmar, God of the Hunt, and my purpose is my own.”

“Huff huff huff,” Diana tapped a finger off of Karamir's head. She looked back at Vrog, “A drink you say? Perhaps you know where a lake of sulfur might be?”

A patch of flesh on Vrog’s simulacrum of a face tore open, revealing a gap lined with teeth where a solid surface had been moments before. The nascent jaws mouthed “you don’t sa-” in Karamir’s direction, before the monster slapped them shut. When he withdrew his claw, no trace was left of the mouth. “I do,” he grinned at Diana, yellowish filaments dripping from between his teeth as a stench of rotten eggs wafted from him, “But I’m sure you do even better, if you’ve dreamed it.”

“Tsk tsk,” Diana shook her head, “And just as you had me, you lost me once again.” She gave him a consoling smile, “Maybe next time then?”

With one hand still on the orb, she hooked the other around Karamir's arm. Chills rippled down his spine and his stomach feel uneasy. Diana began to escort him away from the scene once again, “Perhaps next time.” She echoed as she forced Karamir into a very uncomfortable walking pattern that seemed to speed up when he slowed and slow when he tried to catch up.

“Perhaps.” The voice was eerily close behind them, despite Vrog not having bulged from his crouch. “Watch out for the boss, he’s in a killing mood lately. You don’t want to miss the war down south, though. Just saying.” The words were followed by the creak of an iron lid coming open and a loud gulping of what seemed to be too many throats.

”What boss? What war?” Karamir asked, turning back around. Diana's grip tightened.

“Karamir, dear,” She scolded with a smile, “The conversations already over, mind your manners.”

The foot of the great tree behind them was empty, with nothing beyond sparse claw marks in the wood to show that anything had been there. The gulping intermittently sounded from behind the trunk, then far to the left, then from somewhere ahead of them altogether, before fading in the distance.

“Hmm hmm,” Diana put her hands on her hips, “See?”

”Fine then,” Karamir said. ”Let’s go. Will we actually be heading somewhere this time?”

“Unfortunately,” Diana huffed, “That bloke downright stole the fun out of our little game.”

”A war to the south, and that creature’s… ‘boss’... wants to kill things,” Karamir observed. ”Maybe we should find a different land.”

“Mm… killing is a little too final, this is true,” Diana pondered, “Let's make our way west and see what comes up. I'm sure we can find many delightful things to do on the way.”

”Let’s go, then.” Karamir sighed.



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The Sinner, The Fool, The Simpleton, and The Blasphemer


The village of the Hyummin was nothing like Panganeem or Juttyu had ever seen. On a sandy shore as flat as the horizon, countless huts and sleeping pits dotted the landscape. Large rocks were even rolled onto the beach to mark territories between neighbors, the water of the Hyummin literally leaping with so much fish, the luxury of stability was ever present. As the trio walked into the bustling village, Ippino suddenly grew smug. Far ahead was a blazing fire, contained right next to the largest pile of fish bones the Hunters had ever seen. The bonfire licked at least five feet high and let off a mighty heat.

“You-” Panganeem gawked at the strange sight, “You captured fire?”

“I did,” Ippino smiled wide, “Stolen from the fiery woods of the firebirds themselves. I stole one stick and braved its terrible bite to bring it home. We have bred it with our own beachwood and it has stayed.”

Juttyu and Panganeem stood in awe for a while, but were suddenly pulled from their thoughts as the loudest bark richoteted from the west. Their eyes darted to the perpetrator, and there, standing on a large rock was a Selka clothed in blubbery pink scars and a sheet of sharkskin. His lip was clefted by a scar and his left eye squinted permanently. People stood around him wearing faces of shock, anger, and admiration.

He pointed a powerful finger as he yelled, “Kirron…” He pointed to another Selka, “Delphina!” and another, “Bobbu!” He crossed his arms, “Have abandoned us long ago. They have created us out of malicious humor! We are mere specks in the rivers of this world, and for it we have been struck dumb and complacent.” There were angry shouts as he continued. Ippino seemed to hold himself back as the Blasphemer continued.

“We do and we say, there I did, I am alive, I am of purpose. I say no!” He formed a fist, “We are without truth, and without a drop of intelligence.”

“How can you say such things?” A member of the crowd challenged. A wired smile formed on the blasphemer.

“I have seen such things!” The crowd gasped at his words, “I watch my fellow Selka toil hard and I watch the diligent and the earner’s lives snuff out as easily as the lazy. We are alive, and we do not see past that. We do not see our demise, we are blind to the truth of the end. The gods have not given us what we truly needed, but they sit content because we fill our role without question regardless. We are ignorant, we are simple.

Panganeem scoffed and walked up to the stone. Ippino tugged his arm, “Do not, he is the blasphemer. He is harmless, really. Delphina will see to him in time.”

Panganeem pulled his arm free, and stared at Ippino for a moment before turning to the Blasphemer.

“Blasphemer!” Panganeem called out and the man on the stone turned to him.

“Do you stand in defense of the gods?” The Blasphemer taunted.

“I do.”

“Then bring me the god who cares. Show me the creator who does not for their own whim. Present the divine who knows altruism, and I will eat this stone I stand on.” The Blasphemer challenged.

“Why is your heart so dark?” Panganeem called out, “That you must challenge the very gods, that you must scream at the innocent people.”

“Because we are innocent, by your own words!” The Blasphemer waved a hand over the crowd, “And yet we are done no justice. We live in hunger, or we die full; the gods care not for we lived for them and that is that. We are innocents being used, we serve not our own purpose. Do you know death?”

“I do,” Panganeem’s jaw tightened.

“Then you may stand there and know that it was without reason and fills no purpose beyond the pain it had caused you, not in this world, not in this lifetime.” The Blasphemer pointed finger and those who admired him nodded and jeered.

“You are wrong!” Panganeem’s eyes narrowed, “The death I know served a purpose. Great things are coming, and all it cost was-- something so small yet so great.”

“A catalyst,” The Blasphemer admitted, “Perhaps, but it shall serve not the Selka in the end, for we are doomed by our own creation. It shall serve the gods, and we shall never taste the fruit of that tree.”

“Do you believe this?” Panganeem challenged.

“I do.”

“Then step down from your stone, and follow me, so I can show you how wrong you are.”

The Blasphemer and his followers seemed shocked for a moment, and only after a silent pause did one speak up, “Follow you where?”

“I am a K’night,” Panganeem stabbed a thumb at himself. He waved his hand over Ippino and Juttyu, “WE are the K’nights.”

“K’nights?” The Blasphemer’s brow furrowed, “Of the gods?”

“K’nights,” Panganeem answered, “Of Tyuppa.”

A hush fell over the growing crowd. The Blasphemer’s chest swelled as he thought and then with one mighty leap, he landed on the sand with a thud. He eyed Panganeem warily and nodded his head, “Show me.” He looked back at the crowd, his own followers nodding, “Show us.”



And Another One


I painted the skies

The words flowed pink in the clouds above. Hermes stared up at them in wonder, her eyes deciphering the strange runes that littered them. She was alone, and laid on the greenest grass she had ever seen, each blade plush and comfortable. An azure blue sky stared back down at her, soft rays of an autumn sun beaming down on her and the slope she retired on. She had no idea where she was, but couldn’t find the motivation to care.

Her black eyes scanned the clouds as they floated by, catching the tail end of another jumble of pink streaks.

The heavens bent to my will.

She squinted.

And I gave it all away.

Hermes sat up and a stiff spring breeze cloaked her. Her brow furrowed as the strange words rattled in her skull. She shook her head; this kind of thinking was best left to Xiaoli. She tucked a sandal under her and lifted herself to her feet. A pang entered her chest as she stared out along the valley, the sun hitting the grass in such a way, and the wind rustling it in such a pattern, that more runes were formed in the rudimentary clumps of vegetation. She couldn’t force her eyes away.

I am one of many. You are the Dreamer, we are the Sleepers and we bite our tongue.

Hermes’ eyes widened, “What?” She made a face, the words bouncing off her her mind having no luck in understanding them. She turned away and towards the slope, only to find it gone. She stared in an endless expanse of mossy statues and hazy mist. Trees stood gnarled, and unfortunately for her eyes, in such a way that she could read them.

I am neither happy nor sad. I used to be but now I am lost.

Hermes shut her eyes and slapped a hand over her face. A shiver ran down her spine and she took to the skies. She felt the ground leave her as her sandals buzzed. She sucked in an anxious breath, the whole ordeal overwhelming her greatly. She flew and flew. The air blasted around her and drowned her senses. Hermes was buffeted by the winds and as moments ticked away, she finally exhaled a massive sigh and let her hand fall from her face. Her eyelids turned pink as light hit them. She made a face and slowly opened them.

It was only for a second, maybe less, but her sight was overtaken by a staring mask. It had no mouth, no smile nor nose. Two blank eyes stared at her on a white surface. There was decoration along the edges, and the body was robed in moss and feathers. She went to scream and suddenly her eyes rocketed open.

She sat up quickly, her heart pounding. She was in her bed, with Xiaoli sleeping soundly next to her. The blankets slowly rose and fell to the rhythm of her wife’s breathing. Hermes put a hand over her own heart and felt its rapid beat. The Dreamer shook her head and slunk back into the bed. She groaned quietly and held her head.

“What a dream.”




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Hidden 7 mos ago 7 mos ago Post by Lord Zee
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Lord Zee I Don't Even Know

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The land was bleak, desolate even, and snow covered. Save the mountains that encircled what lay ahead. They were mighty and stout guardians, but the silence was telling. Strange creatures inhabited here, made of rock that floated. At their center was a crystal of a soul. But Orvus saw only an abomination. Turning away from such creatures, what lay ahead was a cavernous entrance, larger than even gods and hoisted in the sky was a building that floated. He had seen such things before, but he already knew who had created such land. The Alma who he interrogated had given him many answers. Orvus learned who was to blame for the crystallization of souls; Azura.

Now he stood at the threshold of the Vault of Souls, having come after leaving the Eye. At first he knew not where to go, his only clue was the Alma who had taken the soul of Tahkio. Soon enough he had found a new Alma, the strange half bird-half construct.

It did not take him long to find what he sought and thus he traveled to the far north. There he found the Vault, where his sister had done the unthinkable. To crystalize the soul, was against the Pyres. How could they be renewed? Why work against Katharsos? Why keep a being trapped for seemingly eternity? What was the point and the purpose? He had to find out what the extent of her meddling had done. Thus he ventured in, wary of defenses or traps as he took his time delving into the earth.

As Orvus walked down he found himself in an expansive room, full of pillars and columns with staircases that connected and weaved throughout, going deeper into the earth. Upon closer inspection, each column held a plaque cataloging a creature and number of present before the entrance of a tunnel. Most had zero, but a soft glow caught his attention and he floated to meet it. Inside the new tunnel he found many crystal souls, each with a plaque of its own detailing aspects of its life before death. It was simple and incredibly basic, but told him that those in that place were but plants.

As he continued in his search he came across mundane animal life, each having died out of needless violence. He picked up a crystal, and opened his thoughts to the soul inside. It was a simple creature, nothing more and nothing less. Such a strange fate to be situated in a place it could never break free from. Thus, he tightened his grip upon the crystal, shattering it. The pieces fell to the floor as he titled his hand, with little tinks. Orvus then left the tunnel, and floated to the middle of the chamber.

He reflected upon what he had seen. Azura was cataloging souls, hoarding them in a vault and stealing them from the purity of the flames. For what end, he did not know, but could only guess. He was not as angry as he thought he would be, but it did not change the fact that Azura was creating a place where souls could endure unabated from time. If these souls were locked in perpetual unending, they would never burn, nor even decay. Thus, he decided that the only course of action, was to show her the consequences of such an action.

And Orvus brought his hand wide apart, then in an instant he gave a mighty clap in the silence of the vault, shaking the very foundations. From this clap his soul decay would spread to some of the crystals, bleeding their colors to be but inky black with streaks of scarlet. Such decayed souls knew no rational thoughts, for they were but mad with insanity and fearful of what they could no longer remember. If they had but any thoughts left, it was simply ‘burn’.

This was but the first step in his plan. Next he took fragment of the crystal he shattered and breathed life into it. It elongated, warped and grew tiny legs. What came to be in his palm was a small creature the size of a small spider. It had six legs, a crystalline arrow shaped body with beady red eyes and sharp biting teeth. It began to hum and as it did, Orvus willed more them.

”I shall name you Soul Fiends. Do your work and multiply.” and he set the creature down, where it and its siblings began to climb upon a new, untouched, gem. It would take them time, but they would begin to decay the soul inside, feeding upon the negative emotions released.

Orvus began to leave then, grim with what he had wrought. Upon his exit of the Vault, he stopped, watching the rock constructs work. Another idea came to mind, and thus he cursed them. They would not be able to detect the damage that he had done, though if anything else ventured in they would see. With a cold stare, he turned round to view the Vault once more, before flying away into the blue sky.



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Hidden 7 mos ago 7 mos ago Post by Goldeagle1221
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Goldeagle1221 I am Spartacus!

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Karamir and Diana

Best Friends Forever


The air was swampy and dense. The two had trekked for what was by Karamir’s standards, far too long -- but at least it had been in a straight line. Wide leaved ferns crushed underfoot as they made their way through a primordial jungle, a cacophony of birds and various tree dwellers taunting them. Diana seemed unmoved by it all, her eyes all but closed as she hummed a strange tune to herself. The hum was new, and to Karamir’s utmost surprise, actually catchy. For once, something that could not be described as unpleasant radiated from the woman, and if not for the itchiness of his own sweat and that uncomfortable feeling her very presence gave him, he may have called it unoffensive.

The hum stopped on a sour note and the mood seemed to sink. Her boot scuffed as she suddenly came to a stop, “That does it.” She suddenly announced, pivoting on her heel to face her companion.

The sudden turn caught him off guard, and he nearly collided into her before he came to a stop as well. ”What?” Karamir asked, in a confused tone.

“This,” She waved her hand as if presenting Karamir, “All of it -- It won’t do anymore. On an umbrella in the sea, maybe. In the forest meeting new people, hardly. Prolonged company with a lady, definitely not.” She crossed her arms, “You’re going to have to learn to be a gentleman and to--” She grimaced at his furs, “Dress like one.”

”What?” Karamir repeated. ”What’s wrong with this?”

“What?” Diana mimicked with a goofy baritone, “What, what.” She shook her head, “Even your confusion is unrefined.” She tapped her chin, “You want to improve, yes?”

”Yes…” Karamir answered with some hesitation, ”...but I don’t see what needs to be improved.”

“I know you don’t, dear,” She shook her head sadly, “You have an affliction known as ignorance, but for your unrefined tastes, let’s just call it stupid eyes.” She walked around him with such a look as if inspecting his very existence.

Karamir narrowed his eyes. ”My eyesight is fine,” he told her.

“So very simple,” She patronized and clasped her hands together, “Do you know what a puppy is?”

”No.”
“I thought not,” She waved the question away. She thought for a moment and then flourished her hand through the air, a round brimmed hat appearing in her grasp. It was a dark velvet with a stiff, flat top and a wide band around the base. She pushed it towards Karamir, “Here, try this on.”

With suspicion in his eyes, Karamir looked at the hat, then up at Diana, then back down at the hat again. Then, he reached forward to take it from her, and after looking inside it to make sure it was empty, he hesitantly put it on his head, anticipating some sort of trick -- but to his surprise, there was none.

“Do you like it?” Diana asked with a evil grin.

Karamir shrugged. ”It’s comfortable, I suppose.” Then his suspicion returned. ”Why? What else does it do?”

“Oh dear,” Diana’s eyes widened and she snapped her fingers, a sudden discomfort coming to his head, the hat sitting tight in some areas and loose in others “I’m so sorry about that. There, all better.”

”Stop that.”

“You’re too kind,” Diana gave him a polite smile, and snapped her fingers again. Karamir seemed to black out for a fraction of a second as reality warped around him, his mortal mind refusing to recognize the fabrics that were torn from Galbar. When it all stopped, he found himself standing extremely straight, his form densely clothed in a strange outfit. He wore slim grey trousers cuffed by sleek black boots, a long white shirt was tucked under it and a clasped belt. Pulled over that was a beige vest and draped over that was a long black jacket, punctuated by a puffy white ascot. In all it was strange, foreign, but not completely uncomfortable -- but he would never admit that.

Karamir took a step back as he glanced downward with a shocked expression. ”What…” he looked toward his new sleeves, then back down at his feet. ”What is this?”

“Real clothes,” Diana huffed and crossed her arms, “And now you look the part of a gentleman, mostly.”

Karamir furrowed his brow. ”Why? What purpose does any of this serve? What do these do that my old clothes didn’t?”

“Such a--” Diana bit her tongue and smiled wide, “Karamir, you just received a gift. A gift from your closest friend, may I add. A gentleman would thank the giver, hmm?”

”Thank you, but I want to know what these actually do.” Karamir said.

“Oh dear, you’re really intent on them serving some grand function, aren’t you?” Diana teased the question.

”I’m not, I just want to know if there is anything they are already capable of.”

“Making you look presentable,” Diana frowned, “It’s it obvious?”

Once again Karamir shrugged. ”I still don’t see what was wrong with my old clothes.”

“Fine,” Diana’s smile returned and she snapped her fingers, but nothing seemed to happen. She gave him a curt nod and smiled, “Now they serve a purpose that ousts your old clothes, can we continue working on your manners, please?”

At the sound of snapped fingers, Karamir flinched. When nothing happened, he looked back up at her. ”Manners? What do you mean?”

“You’re a bumbling fool in conversations and in company. It was amusing at first, but really its boring me.” She crossed her arms, “It’s time you learn to talk.”

”We are talking right now. What makes you think I’m incapable?”

“I say something that confuses you, and what do you usually bark at me?” Diana questioned, raising a finger.

”What, why, something like that. Why is that a problem?”

“It’s just… primitive. You don’t want to be primitive, do you?” Diana glared at him with her bloodshot eyes.

”And what do you mean by ‘primitive’?” he challenged.

Diana cackled, “Stupid, foolish, unbecoming, ignorant, and most importantly: inappropriate.” She mulled a thought and rolled her head on her neck, “Especially for someone with such big plans as yourself, hm?”

Karamir glared at her. ”And how would these ‘manners’ help me?”

“Oh my goodness,” Diana put her fists on her sides, “You’re just difficult every step of the way, aren’t you?”

”You’re the one refusing to answer my questions,” Karamir countered.

“Am I, or do you just never stop?” Diana gritted her teeth into a grin, “Listen to me, you need manners because a world without manners is hardly a world worth living in. You have big plans, and big aspirations, but will harbor absolutely no respect if you go about it with you knuckles dragging and your diction no better than a bunch of misplaced grunts.” She crossed her arms, “Besides the obvious, you’d think you’d want to learn some manners for yours and my own sake.”

Karamir sighed. ”I suppose I don’t have anything to lose. What do I need to know?”

“Oh too much,” Diana nodded solemnly, “This will take a while, but we have plenty of time. Besides, hardly a chore spending quality time with your dearest friends, hm?” She smiled wide.

”Let’s get on with it, then.”

“Mhm,” Diana gave a disappointed grunt, “Well I suppose we should start at your most glaring problem.” She walked around Karamir once more and stopped, “When I say something, and you don’t understand, you do not say ‘what,’ you should say ‘I’m sorry?’ or even ‘Excuse me?’ to show that you are apologetic for your misstep in the conversation. It isn’t their fault you don’t understand --and even when it is-- it is best to be apologetic when asking for clarification. Simply grunting ‘what’” She mimicked his baritone, “Makes you seem like a crude primitive. Do you understand?”

”Fine. What else?” Karamir asked.

“No no no,” Diana shook her head, “I asked you if you understand, you should either acknowledge that you do understand or let me know if you don’t.” She paused, “For instance, say “Yes, I understand’, or ‘No, not quite’-- and if it is the latter, a good gentleman would attempt to clear up any misunderstanding with a polite question, ‘I bet your forgiveness, but could you elaborate’ or in more casual situations a simple, ‘what-ever do you mean?’ could work.” She tapped her chin, “But you are already casual enough.”

Karamir sighed. All of those were just longer ways of saying what was essentially the same thing. ”Yes, I understand. What next?”

“What IS next,” Diana corrected, “Oh foo, this is going to take a while.” She smiled wide, “At least we are having fun, hm?”

Karamir frowned, but remained silent.

“Oh I can just feel your excitement,” Diana cackled, “Very good, very good. Hm…” She started walking away, “Well come on -- a gentleman always walks parallel with his company, a good two shoulders away usually.”

The frown deepened, but he followed, quickening his pace to walk alongside her. With a slight distance, of course. Every now and gain she would swerve a little close, putting his footing off and making the walk anything but pleasant. She didn’t seem to notice, the soft hum returning as she continued their walk. Every now and again she’d toss a hard to swallow piece of advice, or some rule he never thought to give mention to. In between those she’d correct him, and occasionally fix his posture with a commanding thwack to his back. Their walked continued in this way, all the way west.




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Hidden 7 mos ago Post by Not Fishing
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Not Fishing The Mediocre

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Anhaf





Anhaf knelt before the altar. He pushed the second thoughts about his judgement aside. Tohash had departed, the three Selka taking what few possessions they had and leaving. With luck, they would never return. Or else Anhaf would need to dispense an even harsher judgement.

Now, it was time to stop thinking about that. So, he cleared his mind, and focused.

Kalmar, God of the Hunt, hear my prayer…

There was silence. Of course there was silence - there had always been silence when he prayed to Kirron. But his elders had always told him that Kirron would always hear, even if the god chose not to respond. If that was true for Kirron, then perhaps it was true for Kalmar. He continued on.

I thank you for-

Who are you? a voice interrupted his thoughts.

Startled, Anhaf looked around. But he was alone. It was he who had been the first to accept Kalmar, and it had been his idea to build the shrine, so the other Selka had decided to allow him the first prayer in private. Which meant… a god was actually speaking to him!

Who are you? the voice repeated; a twinge of annoyance mixed with a dash of impatience.

Um… I’m, I’m Anhaf! he prayed, pulling himself together. Chieftain of the Ubbo Tribe.

The what?

We are a tribe of Selka, Anhaf explained. The one your-

I don’t even know what Selka is. How do you know my name? the voice questioned.

I… a bird named Arryn arrived in our village two weeks ago. He told us of you, and he taught us how to hunt. You have my tha-

Arryn? Tell me what he taught you.

So, Anhaf did. He started from the beginning - how the village suffered a shortage of fish, and then Arryn arrived, to bestow them with gifts and the knowledge of how to use them. He went on to mention Arryn’s other teachings, such as the necessity of never wasting food. Anhaf then claimed that the bird had been so useful, they had decided to build a shrine in Kalmar’s gratitude and worship him alongside their creator, Kirron.

Hmph, Kalmar’s voice grumbled when it was all over. That bird had other duties to see to. But he taught you well, and he spread my teachings, so I can forgive it. And I accept your worship - just stay true to what you were taught.

I… I will! Anhaf vowed, almost unable to believe what he had just occurred. A god had spoken to him…

And the shrine is unnecessary. But if it’s already built, there’s no point tearing it down.




The God’s words had been blunt, almost harsh. Anhaf had not expected to receive a response at all, but he had always imagined that a god would sound… different. When he told his people of the conversation, there were mixed reactions. Some looked at Kalmar’s shrine with interest or excitement, while others shook their head, muttered under their breaths, or cast their gazes to the shrine of Kirron instead.

A few moved to Kalmar’s shrines at once and began to pray. By their astonished reactions, Anhaf realized that Kalmar must be answering their prayers as well. And that… was troubling. He found himself staring at the bloodstained altar.

In his entire life, Anhaf had not once received a response from Kirron. He had heard that Kirron did sometimes speak to gods, and indeed one or two of his tribe members had claimed to have heard Kirron’s voice, but Anhaf had never heard that voice for himself. Now, a second god appeared, and he answered their prayers immediately, without delay or hesitation. Why were the two so different?

Anhaf advanced toward the altar, and knelt in the dirt. At first he did not pray, he merely thought. How would he phrase this? It probably wouldn’t even be heard of answered. But he had to give it a shot.

Kirron, God of Blood… he began. I have prayed to you all my life, and I have never received an answer. But a second god made himself known to us, and when I prayed to him, he answered. I do not know why he answers while you are silent. I do not need to know why this is, but… can you please offer some sort of sign? That you are there?

Anhaf waited and listened.

He was perhaps not listening expectantly as much as letting the world around him slip away from his senses, as he usually did in prayer. It was all too familiar. Except, this time, the feeling of being listened to was made sore by his little hope of a response melting away.

"Why, Anhaf, I think this time I will."

The words spread across Anhaf's entire body like warm, relaxing water. He looked up in astonishment.

The voice continued. "...Not because you need a sign, mind you. You are doing great on your own. Your tribe has been sounding healthy and hearty! They're earning their fun again. Makes me happy, Anhaf. No, I'm just having one of those days where a good talk will help me...refocus a little. You get me?"

This was completely unexpected, and he had no idea how to respond. I… thank you, he managed at last.

Anhaf could feel a shark-toothed grin watching him. "You're welcome, chieftain. Heh. You know, you remind me how easy it is sometimes to cheer folks up. Just a little nudge can be the strongest thing in the world." The voice grew in volume. "But! We're talking now, so don't think you just get to be all passive and dumbstruck. Tell me! How are you? How's the family?"

I am well, Anhaf answered after a moment’s hesitation, not expecting a conversation with a god to be so candid. I have no family, only my tribe. A few weeks ago we were struggling, but then a messenger of the god Kalmar showed us a new way to find food.

"Really?" The deep voice breathed with fascination. "Kalmar, eh? I had that fellow down for being too awkward for the likes of you lot. I keep underestimating my peers." He laughed. "I'll have to thank him for helping you out."

He was very… blunt… when I spoke to him, Anhaf admitted. But he and his bird have been of great help. There is only one problem… he paused, unsure of how to continue, until finally he asked a question. Are we allowed to worship more than one god? Gods other than you?

The voice grew quiet, though not in a tense way. Anhaf could feel a contemplation that would make sense to any asked such a question. After all, it was a question that demanded an answer of a different nature than its grammar implied.

"Anhaf, you're a responsible selka," the voice said frankly. "If a man or a woman of the Ubbo wants to go and visit another tribe and they come back with a friend who wants to stay, what do you say to that?"

Then I let them stay. But what if others in my tribe do not want them? Three Selka have already left because some of us chose to worship Kalmar, claiming it is not your will, and others are unhappy.

The voice pulled a sturgeon face and nodded, somehow. "So, the blood is heating up. What have you tried so far, chieftain?"

Nothing yet - it happened today. One of them pointed a weapon at me and tried to force me to step down. He knows that is punished with exile, so I exiled him. Two others chose to leave with him. As for the others who are still unhappy… they didn’t choose to leave, so I think they might learn to accept it. I’m not forcing anyone to worship Kalmar, I only encouraged it because of what he did for us.

Anhaf felt stared at. "Chieftain. What do you want?"

What I want? All I want is to keep my people happy and safe, Anhaf answered.

"Bahaha!" The sudden laugh sent a jolt of surprise through Anhaf. "Anhaf! Here's a little secret. You can't keep people happy. You can only allow them to find happiness themselves. And safety? All you need for safety is a game with rules, and you have rules, you've already told me about two already. You have everything you need to make a decision." The voice breathed in deeply though his nose. "Haaaah, but I can't let your little knuckle head think if I keep yammering. Go sit on a rock or something, put your hand on your chin and think it over. I need to get back to helping the rain goddess find pieces of her soul."

Okay, I will… Anhaf prayed. Thank you, Kirron.

"It was nothing, really, you had all you needed!" he reassured. "Oh! And one more thing. Whenever anyone prays to me, I hear every word. Remember that. Earn all the fun you can, Anhaf."

Anhaf rose to his feet. Several of his people were watching him, with confused expressions. They had seen him pray before, but never had he become so immersed. He glanced over to the Kalmar shrine, where a handful still knelt in prayer to the Hunter God. Then he looked back at the Shrine of Kirron, and breathed a sigh of relief, the conversation having erased his doubts. Kirron had not opposed the worship of a second god, which meant the concerns of Tohash and the rest had been moot. It also assured him that his tribe was watched over by two gods instead of one, and with that knowledge he would sleep more peacefully.

Anhaf was about to announce the details of the conversation for all to hear, to settle the remaining doubts, but then… he didn’t. Not all would believe him, and the timing was too convenient. A mortal, who had never spoken with a god before, suddenly speaking to two different gods in one day? No, he would have to convince them by himself, without leaning on Kirron. Not all would listen, and if they chose to leave, then that was their decision to make.

But Anhaf and the rest would have a clean conscience.





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Hidden 7 mos ago 7 mos ago Post by DracoLunaris
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DracoLunaris Multiverse tourist

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An intermission staring the Gemstone Gardeners


On the largest island of the eye of desolation a flock had gathered. It had also gathered here ten years ago, and 10 year before that and so on. They perched on the branches of trees surrounding a clearing, the open ground acting as a round table for the upcoming discussion. Most of those present could not remember a time when they hadn’t met in this manner, but a scant few vaguely remembered it's as the palace of their birth eons ago and the golden era that had come after when the world was young. One of these, an Amber macaw whose fathers had long since grayed and faded to a shadow of their former luster, lead the discussion at these decennial meetings. They had no official title or power, but they did have the respect of their peers and the will to act as a voice for unity and hope when such things seemed to be generally lacking.

“We are gathered here today” the old parrot began “on the day of our kind’s birth” the date was actually chosen randomly, for things like years and seasons where younger than both their race and the speaker “to take stock of the state of the world.”

The loud chatter that had been circling the flock died as the speaker began. Most who had been willing to make the journey held something akin to faith in both their missions and their creator, and so the noramly noisy birds showed deference to the speaker of hope, at least for a little brief moment.

“First, I would like spread the glorious news, that after all this time our mother Azura has been sighted gracing our skies!” the old bird announced, causing an flurry of discussion until one bird, a very young Blood Cockatoo, yelled out “yeah yeah we’ve all heard this by now. A giant parrot flying though the sky above the sky, followed by the missing birds and accompanied by, get this, a giant flying whale. A giant flying whale! It’s pretty ridiculous. If your going to make stuff up to you should probably try a more believable rumor next time.”

Their inflammatory statement caused an uproar among the already nosy birds until the old parrot called out “It is no rumor. Here at this meeting there must be someone who saw this event with their own eyes!”

There was a long silence as the awaited storyteller failed to materialise. Eventually one of the Gardeners spoke up sheepishly “I knew someone saw it, but they got eaten by a big lizard in the hoof-lands a while back”

“I knew someone but they were really sad and disappeared. Said they were going to go ‘up to where Azura is’ last time I saw em” added another.

“The southern land is really stable plant wise and also dangerous animal waise. No one sane lives where this ‘sighting’ happened” the original disodent added, more or less ending the discussion. “Seriously if this whole thing is going to be about being like the depressed birds who keep disappearing so you can join Azura’s ‘heavenly flock’ then I am out” the bird said before spreadings their wings and prepared to take off.

“What? No no no no no!” the old parrot responded, agast by this accusation “my child have you not been to this meeting before? We are about hope! About surviving so that when the end times come we will be ready to rejuvenate the earth. We’re not one of those, bleh, cults. They don’t last very long after all, where as we have been meeting for generations!”

“Oh” responded the heckler, folding their wings back to their side “so what are you here for?”

“New mainly” piped up one of their neighbour “sometimes we go plant that a bit after if someone’s heard of a place to do that. That's always nice.”

“exactly” said the old bird, who was wanting to move on from discussion of the disappearances and suicide cults. “So does anyone have any stories to tell or news to share? Preferably something you can give a first hand account of”

“Istasis is still nice.” commented one

“We know. We basically all live there” retorted another

“I live here not there” butted in the heckler “why is Istasis nice?”

“Well there's not alot of predators and we blend in with the glowing plants, there's these really nice fruits called mangos and it's generally pretty great.” responded the first

The heckler cocked their head for a moment before agreeing that “Alright that does sound nice I guess?”

“Ok anything else?” urged the old parrot, fully aware that the gardeners could natter on about nothing for all eternity

“So what about those birds with the stone masks and metal on their wings? They’ve been following me, following us, all over. They think their fast and sneaky but they really aren't” said an emerald Kea, who had one of the Alma’s feathers decorative stuck in its crest. “I tried to get them to buzz off but they just keep following us. They aint even trying to hunt us or anything. Just stalking us.”

“Don't think we don't know your there ya weirdos!” one of the Gardners then yelled at the not nearly inconspicuous enough Alma who were perched on the branches of a nearby trees.

“Ignore us!” one yelled back

“Try and eat us or just go away, jeez.” complained one of the parrots

“We will do nothing of the sort.” was the response before one of the Alma added “Also have you seen a pale skinned humanoid who is always wet anywhere? Or any bits of her like an arm or eye or something?”

“...no?” responded the parrot who had somehow found itself in a conversation with their stalkers

“Darn.” said the one looking for Li’kalla. “Why are we so bad at this?” asked another on the same quest before a third butted in “wait you are looking for a girl? I thought it was a space squid?”

“Aren't the girl and the space squid are the same thing?” asked a fourth.

“Space squid?” the even more confused parrot asked, only to be rebutted by a unified “Ignore us!”

“Are you the ones taking birds away when we aren't looking?” another parrot asked

“No!” came the reply “we’re not allowed to take people yet.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” they asked only to receive the response “Brain box says ‘classified’” along with the now standard “ignore us!”

Any further questions where met with similar calls and the parrots eventually gave up.

“So anything else?” the old parrot asked

There where a number of recountings of various events on Kalgrun, the eye and Istasis, which ranged from epic tales of divine births, to battles against predators and tips about good nesting sites. Eventually the stream of stories dried up and the speaker decided to bring things to a close.

“So has anyone seen any good places to go do some gardening?” they asked

There were some general mutterings. A fallen tree here, an avalanche there, until one eventualy sugested Li’kalla’s unknamed island. “It’s just kinda underdone at the moment. There's also this abandoned mansion i thought we could pretty up a bit?”

“Hmmm maybe.” responded the old bird. Discussion continued a bit after that, but eventually they settled on Li’s island and the flock set of on their northern journey.

After many days of travel, and several ill fated gryphon attacks during the crossing of Kalgrun, the flock eventually arrived upon the unnamed island. The Alma followed. Gryphon attacks on them resulted in the offending beast being told to fuck of in perfect gryphon before being shot at.

Eventually the birds arrived on the island and decided that yeah, it could do with a bit of sprucing up. There was some nice water lilies, the usual grassy fields and those ebar forests you found everywhere, but that was about it really. There was also the aforementioned mansion, now seemingly abandoned. Some of the parrots gravitated to this place and ended up playing with both its contents and its reflective nature. The rest set about adding some color and variety to the island, using seeds they had previously gathered from all across the globe.

Red sweetgrass from tendle pog and purple rope grass from a hidden valley on Xishan where sowed, creating vibrant patches of grassland while mundane flowers from all across Galbar where used to create colorful, and chaotic, flower arrangements within them. Fire root, carrots, onions and other root vegetables were planted, along with peas and cabbages, to provide future mortals with plenty of things to cook with whenever they arrived on the island.

Glowing flowers, shrubs and regular mango trees from Istais where a prominent and abundant addition, the gardners had plenty of seeds left over from their home turf, as where the plants form the eye, spread here as they had been spread all across the world. Pine trees from northern kalgurn where sown near their homeland in the north while the force field generating Sanctuary Tree and chime-fruit mushroom trees were planted in the eastern clay region and surrounded by spear grass from the charnel steps.

Once they were finished the islands wilds had blossomed with all sorts of exotic foreign vegetation and the mansion was a mess. Pots and pans, cutlery, pillows, cloths and general nicknacks where strew about randomly or constructed into simple art pieces/nests. Parts of the floor and walls had been turned to soil and then planted with seeds, causing it to become quite overgrown in its owner's absence.

The flock, having expended the majority of their seed stocks, gathered on and around the mansion to take in the sight of the early sprouts of their labor and to generally chatter about the planting session and their upcoming plans before they all went their separate ways for the next decade. The Alma where still stalking the vast congregation but had given up on trying to hide and where instead sporadically dotted around the outskirts of the gathering. Most demanded to be ignored, those that did speak turned out to be rather poor conversationalists.

When the assembly seems to be on the verge of breaking up a small group of very late arrivals showed up, having been pointed here from the initial meeting point by a few locals of the eye that hadn't joined the post meeting adventure. Their arrival caused quite the stir as they spread the news of the war on the dragon’s foot.

“Humongous flying fire breathing lizards!” “heat ray shooting giants!” “whole forests burned to ash!”

The news that their work was being undone by Sartravius’s minions caused something of a riot, with the quite literally birds bouncing off the walls of the mansion, squawking and shouting at each other. Over theis the speaker managed to yell “This is glorious news, for we are needed once again! Praise be to Azura, we must depart at once!”

This managed to grasp the attention of most of the nearby birds, though the chaos still continued around them, making an even greater mess of Li’Kalla’s poor home in the processs.

“What are you nuts?” cried the heckler from earlier “You’ll die for sure!”

“Better to die in the service of her holiness than fade away younge one. Gemstone Gardeners! The time of destruction has come and we must all make haste to the Dragons Foot, for its devastated lands must be resown!”

With their proclamation made the old bird took to the skies and a great deal of the flock followed after him, their glowing bodies regaining a luster that had, up until this moment, been lacking. They had a purpose again and it was gloriose. Most of the Alma followed this avians pilgrimage, knowing that once they were permitted to do their duty their own talents would surely be needed. Some Parrots remained behind, valuing their own survival over their commitment to a purpose they had only ever been told about in the songs and stories of their people.

The heckler shook their head at the madness of his kin then let out a sigh. As they pondered what to do now and how they would get home to the eye safely without the protection of the flock one of the remaining Alma hopped closer to them, causing the parrot to flinch.

“So… is this the part where you make me disappear for being a sad sack who doesn't do his duty?” he asked it, slowly edging away from the strange creature.

“Nope” it informed him, pausing its approach. “We don’t do that.”

“Then why are you still here?” they asked

“We are waiting for permission.” it explained

“Who’s?” “yours.” ”Permission for what?” “classified” “dang it”

Attempts to ask for more details only to receive more “classified”s from the Alma

“Ok…. You wanna to go throw pine cones at the weird blob while you wait then?” they finally asked it.

The Alma thought for a few moments before responding “yeah. That would be great”




The clay based proto creature was rather unsure what had caused the change to its environment, but it was happy to have new things to incorporate. It had acquired a coat of spiky grass and had also internalized a bit of a sanctuary tree, letting it create a small energy field below it. It had, more or less accidentally, used this power to gain a new form of movement. Now as it skimmed about on this energy disk the occasional pinecone landed on or around it. It was unsure why this whats happening.,Perhaps it was related to the new plantlife? It cheerfully absorbed them regardless of their origin.

The future, in the opinion of the proto creature, looked bright.


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K A L M A R
M E L A N T H A


As Kalmar ascended the mountain, the cave soon came within sight, and to his surprise, Melantha had taken the liberty of stepping outside of it after all. He held one hand up in a wave, to indicate his approach. "Melantha," he greeted her, coming to a stop before her.

Just as Melantha was wondering where Kalmar was as if on cue, his voice entered her ears. She brought her head back down and looked at the direction the voice came from and lo and behold, there he was. "Kalmar!" Melantha greeted back. "Took your sweet time with that meeting, didn’t you?"

"Whoever I sensed had already moved on," Kalmar answered her. "So I took the time time to add some life to the nearby rivers. Then I made this," he held out a small wooden carving. "I don’t know why. Here."

"Oh? For me?" Melantha stifled a giggle and accepted the offering with both her hands, bringing it closer to her face to see what it was. Hmm, feathers, talons… Some kind of bird… wait a minute...

Then a sudden realization dawned on her that made her eyes light up. Without saying anything to Kalmar, Melantha immediately ran back inside the cave to the spot of one of her better drawings. She had felt especially fond of that one and spent quite some time drawing all the little details on it based on what she remembered. She placed the wooden carving next to her drawing and stood back to observe. Would you look at that...

Kalmar followed her inside the cave and examined her drawing. "Hmm… I noticed that these creatures were active at night, so I thought of you. I didn’t know you had the same idea…"

"Of course you didn’t or else I would have to start worrying… Melantha joked, a laugh escaping her lips. "But thanks for the gesture, she told him with a smile.

Kalmar found himself smiling back. "They’re owls," he informed her.

"Owls huh? With that she turned her head back to the drawing and the carving, staring at them in silence. "Remember when you created Shynir? She asked him out of the blue.

"It was only last night, so I hope I do," Kalmar spoke with unusual sarcasm.

Melantha’s shapely lips twisted into a grin. "Hey, look who’s being cheeky. It has only been a few hours since you were being all grumpy and sad." She teased back before returning on topic. "Anyway, do you think you can teach me how to do that? You did say I am a deity after all…"

"I can and I will," Kalmar promised her. "But there are still some basics you need to learn first, like flying."

Melantha’s face instantly shifted from inquisitive to sullen, the mentioning of flying reminding her once more about her failure. "Yeah, I guess I do need to learn that, don’t I? Silly me…" Melantha half-muttered as she turned her back to Kalmar in an attempt to cover her frustration at his words.

Kalmar put a hand on her shoulder. "You will learn," he assured her with a firm voice.

Melantha tensed for a moment at his touch before relaxing. Her hair brushed over as she turned her head to look at him, her eyes warm with appreciation for his support. From what she had seen, Kalmar was not one to make such a gesture often. "Thanks," she simply said.

Kalmar only nodded, looking into her eyes for a few seconds longer before turning back to the drawing. "There is something else you must know…" he added, his tone reluctant.

Something else?

Melantha turned around to face him once more, her previous inquisitive expression returning as she wondered what he was going to say. "What is it?

"As I said, whatever god passed through this area had already moved on by the time I began my search. I decided to use this opportunity to contact a different god. Katharsos, the God of Death. I only wanted to find out more about him and what his intentions were, but it turns out that he had met you before you lost your memory." Kalmar revealed.

Silence followed Kalmar’s words, leaving Melantha some time for the information to sink in. It didn’t take much, however, for her to put two and two together and understand the underlying meaning behind his words: He had information about her lost memories. Immediately the air surrounding them got a little heavier as Melantha’s eyes homed in on Kalmar. After mentally preparing herself for whatever was to come, one simple word came out of her mouth. "And?

Kalmar was almost taken aback by her sudden shift in expression, but he answered the one-word question nonetheless. "You came to him to learn how to erase a soul’s memories. He taught you how to do it, and you left. Whatever erased your memories, he said it was likely your own doing."

Kalmar’s words were blunt and to the point, not easing into it one bit. The revelation hit her hard, the shock from it enough to make her take a few steps back. Me? I did this to myself? "But why would I ever do that? This doesn’t make sense..."

And then the throbbing started. Deep inside her head, right behind her eyes, an all too familiar sound started creeping up on her. Melantha let out a small moan of pain as she clutched the left side of her head with her hand. She turned to look at Kalmar only to see a blurry blotch covering half of her view. Oh no, not again…

Kalmar recognized what was happening, and this time he was somewhat more prepared. He stepped forward, putting his arms around her to steady her and prevent her from falling. "Stay calm," he said, "Clear your mind," he advised, unsure if that would actually help.

"Clear my mind?! How?! I-" pain shot right through her, drowning out whatever she was trying to say. Her breathing quickly grew shallow and irregular, and she felt as if she was tied down by something, constricting and making it extremely hard for her to regain her composure.

"Focus on me," Kalmar suggested instead. "Focus on the sound of my voice. You are going to be okay. It’s going to be fine. Stay calm." He repeated the last three phrases over and over again in an attempt to make her focus on something in an attempt to stop her mind from trying to recall memories that were clearly not there.

And for the most part, it worked, surprisingly. Melantha followed along with Kalmar as he talked to her, repeating after him in a hushed voice. After a few moments, the pain subsided and she was able to stand on her own feet once again.

"It’s okay… I am fine now… I think," she told Kalmar while rubbing at her temples. She shook off his arms and wobbled near the wall before leaning against it and sliding down with a plop, sitting on the rocky cave floor once again. She brought her legs up, hugging them and burying her face in between her knees, trying to process what Kalmar had told her.

"I did this? She finally uttered, stunned.

Kalmar nodded, and sat down beside her. "That’s what Katharsos said. He could have been lying, or mistaken, but I don’t see why."

"Would he have any reason to lie?"

Kalmar shrugged. "If he was actually the one who erased your memories, instead of you, then maybe. But there’s no reason to assume that."

Melantha shuffled through her hair and groaned, frustration and confusion filling her mind with all kinds of thoughts. "Do you believe him? She said after some deliberation as she raised her head and looked at him straight in the eyes.

"Until we find out more information, I do." Kalmar answered, meeting her gaze.

After a few tense moments, Melantha let out a sigh and buried her head back between her knees. "Fine then, I’m going to trust your instinct on this one, she told him. But I am going to have a talk with Katharsos at some point, that’s for certain…

Kalmar nodded, and the two of them fell into a long silence, which was only broken when Kalmar rose to his feet. "I’m going to start making the clothes," he told her. "I’ll give you some time alone to think."

With those words, he stepped over to the wolf corpses, lifted them, and carried them outside.

Melantha watched him as he walked out of the cave silently. She didn’t really know what to think about his revelation. Her mind was jumbled with all sorts of feelings and thoughts that she never in a million years expected to have to deal with.

Nevertheless, one question rose above all else, and it was a simple ‘why?’ All she wanted now was an opportunity to ask her previous self exactly why she would do such a thing? What could possibly force her to a situation she felt she had no option other than to erase her own memories in order to escape from? And even then, would she be able to handle the truth once she found out what it was?

Melantha opened her eyes to the whistling of wind passing by her ears. An endless sea of white clouds expanded in all directions around her, reaching way beyond the horizon. The sky, light blue with just a tinge of orange, courtesy of the setting sun, blended with the clouds below to form a picturesque scenery that could very well instill a sense of calmness and wholeness to anyone that witnessed it. She stared at the horizon, aptly mesmerized by the simple beauty of what she was seeing.

But then she realized that she was falling. Once again she was plummeting rapidly through the air and towards the ground. Flashbacks of her previous free fall flooded her mind as terror quickly overtook her, and she started screaming once again. She screamed for quite some time, at first pleading for rescue to anyone and anything, only to come up with nothing. There was nobody there to help her, no one but the wind and herself.

Eventually, her pleas turned to random, incoherent shouting which too, soon enough, faded out of existence, mainly because she had somehow managed to shout her voice off. Just as she struggled to reign in her emotions that were all over the place, something peculiar caught her eye. The sea of clouds below was not actually approaching her, even though she was falling towards it. Fear and apprehension turned to curiosity as Melantha wondered what exactly was at play.

However, things were happening too fast for her mind to properly process. From beneath the clouds she witnessed something extraordinary emerge: a gigantic, yellow creature the size of Shinyr soared upwards and towards her falling form, with what seemed to be more of its kind following right behind it. They had no limbs or anything, just consisting of a long, cylindrical body covered in what seemed to be bushy, blond fur.

And they were fast. The two ends of their bodies seemed to function just like a bird’s wings in regards to creating lift, and the sheer size of them allowed for some extreme upwards motion. It hadn’t even been minutes since their appearance and they had all reached Melantha’s location.

They all flew in a circle around her, somehow keeping up with her falling speed and making it seem like they were floating in mid-air. For a few tense moments, the hairy creatures remained as they were, facing her. What were they doing? Watching her? Could they even see her? Those were some thoughts that passed through her mind at that time, but she didn’t get to voice them due to the fact that something even more bizarre happened.

With a flap of its wings, one of the giant, hairy creatures started moving towards her. The turbulence in the airflow created by its wings struck Melantha and would have blown her away if it weren’t for three more of the creatures coming from all other directions, flapping their wings just like the first one and creating a counterflow, helping her stabilize once more.

As she was busy recovering from the shock, Melantha failed to notice that the flying creatures kept moving towards her even after helping her. In a flash, the four appeared right next to her, surrounding her in mid-air. Then, as if straight out of some twisted pit of horrors, sharp incisions appeared all around their bodies that suddenly opened wide to reveal rows upon rows of sharp, pointy teeth. One big eye appeared in the centers of all the creatures’ bodies which immediately homed in on Melantha. Without even giving her a chance to react, the creatures jumped at her, drowning her in a sea of hair and teeth…

Suddenly, Melantha shook and sat up, wide-eyed and hyperventilating. Panicking, she started punching the empty air in front of her with her hands and kicking with her feet in an attempt to fend off an imaginary enemy but soon realized nothing was actually attacking her in the first place. After taking some time to calm down, she wiped the sweat off her forehead, stood up and walked just outside the cave in order to get some fresh air, all the while wondering in her mind “What in the world have I just experienced?”

“Those creatures felt so real… and I was falling, yet not actually falling either. So weird…” Ouch, she winced in pain and rubbed her cheek where she had pinched herself in an attempt to verify if what she was experiencing at that moment was real and not something similar to that… illusion.

And yet, Melantha could not help but feel bitter at the thought that she was not even able to fight off imaginary enemies. Thinking back at those ‘creatures’, they were nothing but a bunch of hair with eyes and mouths, and yet she was powerless to resist them. Was she always going to be like that? “Do I deserve this?” She brought her hands to her face as she felt her eyes start to well up.

“Huh, tears? N-Again? It’s no-Are you really going to cry, Melantha? But… Is this what you are? NO!”

Melantha snapped her eyes open at the sudden thump and resulting rustling noise of rocks falling on the ground. She followed her arm and hand, which had gone from resting on her face to having smashed the rocky face of the mountain cave’s entrance. She slowly extricated her hand from the hole it had formed and looked at the imprint it had left behind in stunned silence. Then a smile slowly crept up her face along with a faint giggle that soon turned to full-blown laughter.

Guess Kalmar was telling the truth, after all… Wiping away tears of joy with the back of her hand, she looked up towards the sky. The sun had long set by now, the day having given way to night. The Lustrous Garden slowly streaked across the starry sky, the flickering stars in the background completing a breathtaking image that imprinted itself in Melantha’s mind.

Scanning the immediate area around the cave entrance, Melantha realized that Kalmar was nowhere to be seen. “Hmm, he’s probably gone deeper into the forest, which means...”

With a spark in her eyes and a grin on her face, Melantha looked up at the mountain behind her. The cave was situated roughly at the middle of it, so there was a lot more of the mountain to explore. With that thought in mind, she set off, the determination in her step pushing her to prove to herself that she was more than what she previously thought she was.

It had not been difficult to make the clothes. It was a simple process of cutting the skin from the wolves, washing away the blood, and using his powers to alter it into a more durable and workable state. From the dark fur, which he made to be thick and firm but also flexible, he made a vest, with another band of looser fur wrapped around the waist that would function as a belt. A pair of vambraces were created as well.

As for the brown fur, he stripped the hair away from it so that it was only skin, and then made that into a pair of pants. He considered what to do about footwear; would she be content with footwraps, like what he wore? Then he had an idea. He created something without using any of the slain wolves, and instead from thin air - a pair of knee-high leather boots, that became sandals once they reached the foot itself. He enchanted them so that the wearer would leave no footprints.

Kalmar considered what else to make. He recalled that Melantha had disliked the sun, so he glanced down at the wolf carcass that was still unused, and he realized it was almost the exact same color and tone as the direwolf cloak. So he fashioned it into a hood, with the intention of attaching it to the cloak itself once he rejoined her.

There was one more thing he wanted to make. He broke a branch from a nearby tree, turned its color to a dark grey, and shaped it into a bow, a white string materializing. Then he poured a small amount of power into it. He pulled the string back, and a black arrow made from energy appeared from thin air. He took aim at a tree, shifted his aim to the right of said tree, but still thought of the tree as his target, and then loosed. The arrow turned in mid-air and struck the tree in the dead center. A moment later, the arrow vanished into nothingness, but its mark was still there.

All of this would be sufficient. He folded up the clothes, put the second bow over his shoulder and the amulet around his own neck. Then he picked up the boots and began making his way back, only to stop and look back at the wolf corpses which had been skinned yet remained uneaten. He would make a detour, he decided, to tell some griffins or perhaps a bear where these wolves were located. At least then they would not go waste.

Only after that would he head back.

Higher up the mountain, bushes replaced most of the trees as the dominant flora. Tiny rocks and gravel lined up the craggy mountain path that she followed, Melantha doubting in her mind if anyone would even call it a ‘path’ considering it was so difficult to traverse. Nevertheless, she found that it was the only feasible way to go up the mountain and as such decided to trek up and see where it would lead her.

Soon enough, however, even the so-called path came to an end, and what an end it was. Melantha peeked over the edge of the cliff in front of her only to see a drop so large it made her take a few steps back in surprise. “That’s… a long, long way down,” she thought to herself, but then remembered that she had seen bigger drops than the one in front of her. A memory of Kalmar urging her to jump off of Shynir’s back flashed through her mind, quickly followed by the memory of her failure to fly that made her grit her teeth in frustration.

“No, that is not me. I can be better, will be better. I promised so to him, and he assured me that I was capable of flight. I can do this…”

Trying her best to reign in her fears, Melantha slowly walked once again towards the edge of the cliff, stopping just inches away from it. Her eyes immediately followed the drop and a sense of vertigo overtook her for a moment, causing her to whip her head back and let out a groan. “Whoa, okay. Let’s relax for once. Maybe breathe? It helped with the headaches…”

Taking in a deep breath in, Melantha closed her eyes and emptied out her mind before letting herself slowly lean forward. When she opened her eyes up once again, she was free falling down the cliffside, This time, however, she did not panic. Without an inkling of a second failure in her mind, she wholly focused herself on one thing only, flight. As she saw the ground rapidly approaching her, she shouted at the top of her lungs, her voice carrying her resolve to succeed. Suddenly, a loud snap echoed through her mind and Melantha felt a flood of energy wash over her, energy she somehow instinctively knew she could control. She poured her will into the flow of energy as she continued to focus on flying in her mind and as if acquiescing, the energy bloomed outwards, counteracting and decelerating her fall. Within a few seconds, she was hovering there in mid-air with an incredulous look on her face.

“I-I did it!” Melantha exclaimed with a shocked look on her face. Although invisible, Melantha could feel the energy course within and outside, mysteriously acting upon the world to transform her wish of flight from a mere thought to a reality.

She let herself hover as she were for a few moments, relishing the feeling of success, before moving to test the newfound power further. Surprisingly, once she got the hang of it, flying became as natural to her as walking was. Testing the proverbial waters at first, she started with simple back, forth, up and down movements, her path through the air wobbly at times but soon enough stabilizing. Like this, she began flying about in the air, all the while the grin on her face getting wider and wider the more she accelerated.

However, things don’t always go as expected. High on success as she were, she failed to notice the griffin that had been stalking her from afar, its eagle eyes tracking her flight path and observing her behavior. Small in size as she was, she looked like the perfect little meal for it. It spread its wings and lifted off the rock it had perched itself, flying silently towards its prey. Its feathers were pitch black and hence offered a measure of stealth as they blended in with the dark backdrop that was the night sky.

Once it got sufficiently close enough, it flapped its wings forcefully and dove down from above, sharp front claws wide open, targeting the unsuspecting Melantha. At the moment of contact, Melantha let out a groan as she was violently grabbed, the force of the impact between the griffin’s claws and her body knocking the wind out of her. The griffin let out a triumphant shriek and clenched its clawed foot tightly around a stunned Melantha.

It took a few moments for her to come to, but when she did she found herself in the clutches of the griffin as it was heading back towards the mountain and, presumably, to its nest. “Oh no…” She immediately started struggling mostly out of instinct, but the griffin would not have that. It tightened its grip around Melantha, eliciting a moan of pain from her that temporarily stopped her from attempting to escape.

But that was just it, temporary. Melantha grit her teeth, stuffing the pain she was experiencing to the back of her mind and started wiggling back and forth once more, her hands making their way between the griffin’s clawed fingers in an attempt to force them apart and release herself. Suddenly, however, there was the flash of steel and a whistling noise of displaced air before a small knife appeared in her hand. ”Use it!” Kalmar’s familiar voice echoed within her mind.

Her first thought was, “How?” But then her mind went back to their wolf hunt. Melantha remembered how Kalmar so skillfully eliminated the wolves that were attacking him with his knife, and so she tried to replicate them to the best of her ability. She wormed her arm through the griffin’s talons with some effort and stabbed it right at the soft tissue in between. The knife cut through the winged beast’s tough flesh effortlessly much to Melantha’s, and the griffin’s, surprise. It let out a pained shriek and loosened its grip on her for just a moment, but that was just what she needed to slip out of its claws and climb its foreleg. Now running on pure instinct, she started slicing at the skin of its legs while holding on to it for dear life as the griffin was not at all pleased by her actions as one would expect. It bucked and tossed around in an attempt to get rid of her, having reconsidered its previous assessment of Melantha as an ‘easy prey’.

Climbing just a bit further up let Melantha grab onto the griffin’s feathers, and that was pretty much what spelled the end for the beast. It desperately tried to do everything in its power to throw her off, but like as if she had been possessed by something, Melantha refused to relent in her pursuit. The hunter had become the hunted, one could very much say. Eventually, she managed to climb onto the griffin’s back and once there, she started mercilessly stabbing it wherever she could. It took several minutes filled with furious screeches filled with pain and anger before the griffin finally succumbed to its injuries before its dead body commenced a final dive towards the ground, Melantha on top of it.

However, she could not find herself to disentangle herself from the dead beast. Her whole body was numb from the sheer exhaustion of the fight, and her mind felt heavy. She looked at her hands, filled with blood and holding a faintly shimmering knife, and her last waking thoughts were Kalmar’s urgent voice calling out to her to use it.

She would awake back in the cave. A fire had been started. Kalmar was nearby, a pile of feathers next to him, and he was meticulously attaching each one to the shoulders of what appeared to be some sort of fur vest. He glanced over to her when he noticed her shuffling about. ”Are you alright?” he asked her.

Opening her eyes to Kalmar was a relieving sight for Melantha. She groaned in discomfort as she sat up, hand on her head and looking at him groggily. “I-I think so,” she said in a hoarse voice. It was then that she noticed the feathers he had on his hands, and her mind immediately remembered all that had transpired. “What happened? After… that.

Kalmar continued his work, now adding feathers to the vest’s waist, but managed to keep his eyes on her. ”I took some feathers from the griffin, then gave its body to some wolves. After that, I carried you back here to finish making the clothes. I’m not sure why you passed out - did you have another headache?”

“No, I would know if I had. The residual pain after one of those is much more pronounced than just this small one.” She got on her knees and shuffled a little further up, coming to sit next to him. She looked at him working for a few silent moments before she talked again, this time in a questioning tone. “Is that knife appearing out of nowhere one of your hunting tricks or something that you just came up on the spot? Also on that matter, do you have a habit of stalking people?”

Kalmar raised his eyebrows. ”I’m a hunter, so stalking things is my job,” he said somewhat drily. “To be serious: no, I don’t make a habit of stalking other gods and goddesses. You weren’t at the cave, and I didn’t know where you were, so I grew concerned and wanted to find out,” he answered with a shrug. “As for the knife, it’s not my trick. I could replicate it if I really wanted to, but I’m not the one who made it. It was created by Chopstick Eyes, Goddess of Markets, who gave it to me in exchange for a service.”

“Chos-chopsick eyes? Chopstick?” It was now Melantha’s turn to raise her eyebrows. “What kind of name is that?” she asked him but retracted a few seconds later. “You know what, don’t answer that. I don’t need to know,” she said and laughed. As her joy trailed off, her eyes settled on his, “Thank you,” she said and continued. “Once again you, I presume, saved me. You didn’t have to, but you did, and that means a lot to me.

She looked forward and into the crackling embers of the campfire, her mind drifting back to the time Kalmar first found her. A smile crept up on her face as she recalled that memory. “Sometimes I wonder what would have been should you had not found me…”

“I’d have a lot more carvings, and fewer people to give them to.” Kalmar answered in a serious tone, before shrugging.

Melantha’s eyes widened in surprise and she looked back at him. “Was that a joke? She asked and laughed out loud. “See?! You can do it if you want to! Keep it up and maybe you can make half the people that hate you re-evaluate their opinion,” she said with a giggle.

Kalmar’s expression turned thoughtful, and for a moment he was quiet. He looked away from Melantha, and then back to her. “Maybe I should,” he said seriously. Melantha looked at him in the eyes for a moment before bursting back into laughter once again. “Definitely needs work, yep!”

Instead of answering, Kalmar looked back down at his work. “I’d say these clothes are done,” he said, before passing her the vest, the pants, and the sandals. “Try them on. And hand me that cloak - there’s something I need to add to it.”

Melantha received the clothes, staring at them and back to Kalmar. “How?”

Kalmar blinked in mild surprise but took the question seriously. “See the vest? Put your arms and your head through the large hole at the bottom, and stick them out through the holes at the top - with your head through the middle one. Do the same with your legs and the pants. For the sandals, just slide them on and tie up the greaves.”

“Alright,” she said with a sigh, she seriously did not think having clothes would change much but she was curious enough to try them at least once. She stood up, dropping the cloak and leaving the leggings and sandals on the ground while handling the vest with an almost exploratory look on her face.

Kalmar took the cloak that was left by her feet and then picked up the hood he had fashioned earlier. With his godly powers, he attached the two pieces of fur together, all the while Melantha was dressing up behind him. After a few moments, she called out to him. “Well, what do you think? It feels a little itchy, to be honest with you…”

Kalmar looked up at her, and then rose to his feet, cloak in hand. “You can use your powers to smoothen it out, then. As for what I think…” he handed her the cloak. “I think you look beautiful,” he said in a serious tone.

”Thanks,” she said with a grin and accepted the cloak. “My powers huh? Hmm…” She closed her eyes and felt out for the power that had allowed her to fly. As if a string reacting to being pulled, she felt the now familiar flow of energy within her surge. She thought about what Kalmar had said and imagined the clothes on her being smoother and more fitting on her body, and as if once again moving according to her will, the energy slightly changed them to match her imagination. She instantly felt the difference in the tightness of the vest around her torso and the pants around her thighs.

“Oh this is nicer now, definitely, she said and moved around, testing her flexibility and movement in her new clothes. Once satisfied, she turned to the cloak Kalmar had handed to her, donning it just like how she had it before its modification. “I suppose this goes over the head?” Melantha asked him as she touched the new furry hood.

Kalmar nodded. “I thought it would help with the sun.” Melantha drew it over her head, but could not see much difference. Of course, they were inside a cave and it was night-time outside. She would have to test it out once the sun rose back up again in the morning. “Great!” she told him with a smile.

“Good to hear that you like it,” Kalmar said, before glancing toward the cave’s exit. “As I said, I’m willing to teach you how to use the rest of your godly abilities. For as long as you’re willing to stay, of course. Do you still want to?”

“Of course! After getting a taste of what I am capable of, I don’t think I would ever pass up on knowing more about my powers. Please teach me, Kalmar!” She said with an excited look on her face.

“Alright then… wait.” he suddenly spoke. “I made something else.” He picked up the dark grey bow that rested against the wall of the cave. “A bow of your own. It can generate its own arrows, and they will…”

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The Birth of Anu




After having taken yet another swim in Taipang, its banks now much, much more beautiful than the last time he swam its length, the snake felt satisfied. The visit from Laurien had been quite something other than what he had been used to, but at the very least, it had taught him that those kinds of mortals existed as well. The snake slithered onto the western bank of his new river and took in the sights of the storms choking out the forest fires in the distance. A smirk formed across his face - the enemy was in full retreat now, and soon they would be trapped by Taipang and be slaughtered like the scum they were. A series of thunderous tremors brought his gaze northwards, however, and his eyes fell upon a massive shadow squatting by the Cauldron, poking its enormous limbs into the bowl-like crater. The snake sneered momentarily - maybe he had yet to be seen. He could just hop back into the river and pretend like-- No, no! Tradition dictated he at least greet his brother, even if it was…

Shengshi slithered a bit closer and bowed. “Narzhak, dear brother! It has been far too long!”

The gigantic head atop the crouching mountain slowly ground to face him, its eyes’ burning gaze sweeping the ground before converging on a single spot. “Shengshi! You’re right, it’s been a while,” the Iron God’s thunderous voice rumbled jovially, “Couldn’t keep from coming back here, either? There’s something in the water you don’t find anywhere else. It’s the best thing to wash away salt.” The lower half of Narzhak’s mask was conspicuously damp and dripping with watery liquid.

“Yes, the cauldron waters were always a little odd, weren’t they. I suppose that is what happens when we create a kilometre wide, lidless distillery - though I suspect most of the alcohol must have boiled away by now…” He hopped onto the edge of the crater and sat down. “How have you been, brother?”

“Busy.” One of the iron hands remained submerged in the steaming waters, sending waves crashing against the metallic banks with its invisible grasping and fiddling. “Keeping apace with what everyone’s doing is more work than filling up the whole world by yourself. It wouldn’t even be that hard if we all had one rule we could hold over each other, but there’s no such luck. You can’t even do your work without someone threatening to cut it short because it might fail.“ He scoffed with a sound like a sudden lash of wind. “It’s not all bad, though. Most of the time there’s agreements to be negotiated. About that, did you see a big herd of boars pass by here lately?”

“Indeed… I do wish we had some ground rules for how to act - like not burning my beautiful woods, for one, the damn flame demon…” Shengshi stared daggers eastwards. “As for boars, I see several all the time, though I do not recall seeing any particularly large herd, I am afraid.”

”They’re taking their good time,” he growled, briefly glancing in the same direction, ”Woods can be replanted, but you know what’s the worst? He’s ridiculously sloppy about it. Wasting precious time on trees, and I’ll swear he knows he won’t be left much of it. He can’t be that stupid.” He seemed to have found something in the Cauldron, his arm stiffening for a moment before resuming its fumbling. ”Tell me you’ve been doing something about it.”

“I did flush a large dragon from the Giant’s Bath to the southern seas, creating Taipang in the process,” the snake said with a shrug. “As for the fire giants, I hope Chuanwang has actually managed to hold them off and not, as one would say, just croaked.”

”That’s something.” The head ground downwards in a creaking nod.

“It looked quite spectacular, I must say. Sadly, though, I did not find its corpse at the delta. I did find Ashalla there, though, and Taipang is now much greener and livelier than when I arrived there.” He smiled. “So, tell me more about these boars of yours - why boars of all creatures?”

”They started as something functional, as the better things do,” Narzhak’s free hand gestured widely to the southwest, ”Remember when there wasn’t much more than grass and worms over there? I needed some hills dug up to make it all less dull, and you’ll have seen they’re good at rooting up things. No accident, that.” He reflexively scratched the back of his head. ”They’ve stuck with me since then, couldn’t tell you why. Maybe it’s the strength, or the fury - I still remember how my first tossed around that flying white crumb! I’ll bet she thought he was friendly, and hah! Knocked that trust right out of her, he did. I wonder where she’s ended up since.”

“White crumb?” the snake inquired. “Narzhak, did you pig hurt my dear Anxin, by chance?”

”Your who? Never heard of that one.” Half of the god’s eyes dimmed unevenly with a perplexed look. ”Unless she had a thing for poking and some kind of cloud bug following her around, it probably wasn’t her. Gave a different name, too - Har, Hersomething. I never did get what she was.”

“Hersomething? Do you by chance mean Hermes?” The snake tapped his chin thoughtfully. “... Now that you mention it, she did use to be quite pale, indeed.” He pursed his lips. “Anyway, brother, I have been meaning to ask: Did you ever manage to recreate that liquour we made together after we made the Cauldron? I did feel quite terrible leaving you without a gift of wine, after all.”

”Not much luck with that.” Narzhak shook his head. ”I have the machinery and hands to work it, but nothing that’s coming out of it is nearly as strong as what we had then, no matter what I put in there. My slaves drink it up regardless, but that’s no measure of anything. I think it’s missing that mould you added to it. I’ve been trying to find some in here, but it looks like it’s been gone for a while now.”

“The yeast, you mean? Have you been distilling non-alcoholic drinks all this time?” the snake said with a sly smirk. “I can understand the lack of potency, in that case.” He slithered up the side of the Cauldron again and rubbed his chin. “Tell you what, how about we use this pit for its original purpose again, and I'll show you just how to do it properly?”

”Well, that explains it,” the giant grumbled to himself, ”That’d be useful for sure. It still feels hot enough, though if you need more-” something under the surface churned, and steam began to rise in far thicker clouds than before, ”-we’ve got it anyway.”

“It ought to be hot enough for the alcohol to evaporate, at the very least. The water from the Bath should be a good indicator - secondly, we will need a surface above the hole to catch the alcoholic vapours and concentrate them in some container - preferably a large pot of some kind. If I provide the surface, can you make us a pot?” The snake snapped his fingers and, sure enough, Jiangzhou soon stood waiting at the northern edge of the crater.

”If I can? Hrah! Remember who dug this thing to begin with!” In a smooth motion, Narzhak dug the tips of his fingers into the soil, and sheets of fluid iron spilled up between them like inverted waterfalls. With deft movements, almost imperceptible for him, but vast enough to shake the ground, he directed the flow into smoothly curving lines, tapping it into firm metallic weave. Before long, a monumental iron pot crushed the surviving grass before him. ”Like this?”

“Quite,” the snake said flatly. He snapped his fingers again and the servants lobbed several silk sheets overboard. The snake gathered them up and rolled them into a ball. As he churned and spun the silk around, it began to fuse into a single blanket, and when the snake eventually unrolled the ball again, he held a colossal square sheet of silk, which he draped over as much of the cauldron hole as he could. To compensate for the insufficient size, he fastened each of the four corners to a rod of hollow bamboo, but left one of the corners hanging lower than the rest - there, the alcoholic dew would turn into droplets that would travel through the rod and fill the metal pot at the end.

“Now for some wine…” he said and went back over to the ship. Servants threw him what pots and barrels they could spare and the snake stacked them by the pit.

“Now, you see, dear brother,” the snake began. “To make wine, you first need a sugary liquid or mash - preferably fruit juice or ground, wet grain. Then you add a bit of yeast to it and wait for it to properly ferment and produce that wonderful stuff known as alcohol.” The snake grinned. “It is as simple as that, really. Keep infections out with a sealed container and your wine is good to go. Naturally, it takes a bit too long create it here and now, so we will just use some finished products for the distillery process, is that fine?”

”It’ll do for an example.” Narzhak followed the preparations with an unblinking gaze, periodically lowering his head for a closer look. ”I’ll have to see what else that works with. Fruits or grain aren’t easy to come by down there.” He pointed a finger towards the ground. ”And this part is the one that gives the pure stuff, yes?”

“Yes, that is correct. As the water below heats, the alcohol will boil first, rising to the top as an inebriating steam - this cold sheet will collect it and collect it in your pot. Normally, filling such a pot would take…” He mumbled a few calculations. “... A while. Luckily, both the sheet and our boiler are quite large, so production may just go smoothly.” He put his hands on his hips. “As for the grain, well, I could plant some for you on the Steppes, if you would like. It is about time something grew there for once, no?”

”That’s a thought!” The giant snapped his fingers together in approval. ”They’re going to need something like that if I’m ever to make anything useful out of them. The only thing you’d have to think of is how it’s not going to be eaten or trampled straight away, but I can deal with that.” His eyes turned back to the distillery contraption. ”As for that taking time, I’m sure there’s some way to cut down on it. Might come at the expense of taste, but who’s going to notice?”

“A connoisseur, perhaps, but something tells me we are not exactly planning on producing the finest quality here,” the snake said flatly with a frowning smirk. “Well, ready when you are.”

”I don’t have many of those, but I do have many,” Narzhak rumbled, ”Go ahead.”

The snake nodded and began to pour wine into the depths. There was a cringing sizzling sound far, far below, and soon the smells of burnt sugar began to drift upwards and fill the crater. Condense gathered on the silk sheet and began to drip down into the iron pot, drop by drop at first, but soon as one constant stream. The snake smiled and put his hands on his hips.

“And now we wait,” he said happily. “How about some good wine in the meanwhile?”

A pleased thundering from above was his answer. ”Bring it out!”




Heliopolis was noticeably lower in the sky by the time the last batch out of a more than fair number was drained, its containers going to join the already sizable heap that had gathered near the shore. The fumes rising to cloak the scene were now quite a bit sweeter, and not all of them came from the basin.

”...let me guess this one,” a thick, resounding voice came from where barrel after barrel had vanished without trace, ”It’s that yellow thing that grows on trees. How do you call it again? An a- no, that’s not it...”

“A p-wear?” the snake said and hiccuped. “Tha’sh what you meant, right?” He flipped his cup over his mouth, but found it empty. “More!” he shouted, and a servant diligently came over and poured him some more wine. “... Or did’sh you mean an ay-pple?”

”That. Or- the other. Haven’t tasted either before. But I’m guessing they’re something like this.” An enormous hand was waved in what was presumably supposed to be an expressive manner, but appeared rather absent instead. ”Tasted… You know what we haven’t tasted? The blood we’ve spilled! I was sure it’s great, but Ashalla didn’t agree, and now I wonder…” Fiery gleams ran about soil, cauldron and barrels, trying to find a focus. ”We’ve got to try it.”

“Wai-wuh? What blood? Did we spill blood?” The snake squinted and began to mumble, “Is this a dagger I see…” as he reached out in the air for a moment. “Wai-, did’sh you mean the wine?”

”The wine?” An iron finger reached out to tap the cauldron’s side. ”Sure, why not the wine? If it really is good, it’ll be clear there.”

The snake shrugged and peered into the pot. It was almost full by now, the pungent liquid creeping up towards the edge at a steadily declining pace due to the diminishing alcoholic vapours. He scooped his cup into the wine and eyed it as its clear colour was contrasted by the nigh oppressive stink.

“Well… Cheers?”

”Rhah!” The finger’s tip lengthened, a relatively minuscule spike ending in a gavel extruding from it and dipping into the fluid. It vanished in the heights, and was soon echoed by an exclamation. ”I’ve got it! What if we make wine that’s also blood? Wine of blood!”

The snake squinted. “Shorry, I must’a gotten some clay in muh ears… Did you just suggest -urp!- a wine of blood?” He stood gaping for a moment.

”Right that!” The makeshift spoon reappeared to tap on the cauldron’s lip. ”Like you do it with fruits and that, but this time it’s real strength! Life, blood. Lifeblood.”

The snake retched. “I c-can… -urp!- think of many, many, many thingsh wrong with that…” he managed through the gulps. “Oh, Architect, I am goin’a be shick…”

”Even better! You need to drink health back in. Even if it’s your own health, and it was in you, and you let it out so you could...” Narzhak seemed to become tangled in his words and quickly shifted the topic. ”It’ll be fine. I’ve eaten a soul, and that was bad, but this’s all alive! Or are you weak? Come on, we’re gods! We can do what we want!”

“W-weak?” the snake deflated a little, but then straightened his back momentarily to answer the challenge. “Shengshyh is -ANYTHING- but weak!” he boomed through slurred mumbles. He held his hand over the pot and cut it open with a claw on the opposite hand, flinching as he watched his sacred ichour drip into the clear liquid. “You’sh are up-puh!” he muttered incoherently.

”That’s the spirit!” the Iron God boomed from overhead. ”This is how we do it!” He held his finger over the container, and its metallic plates parted to allow a thick black rivulet to drip into the brew. ”Now-” the spoon dipped down again, stirred the contents of the pot and ascended with a new load, ”let’s try it together! On my mark, one, two, three-”

Shengshi scooped up a fresh cupfull and downed it in unison with Narzhak. As he made fruitless attempts to swallow, he gagged and spat it out onto the ground, along with what remained of his lunch and breakfast that day. He eventually rolled onto his back and wiped his mouth clean. “Ugh… No more…” he managed through the gulps.

Judging by the disappointed, not to say disgusted grumblings up in the sky, the reaction there was not very different. ”Blagh! Beats me if she was right after all!” The grumbling seemed to persist in spite of the words, now having moved downwards through the god’s immense frame. ”Or maybe we spilled it the wrong way. We’d need a real battle, but lugging that around the field doesn’t-” Two fingertips cautiously pinched the now-defiled cauldron. ”Now the void do we do with this? It’s not good for any but breaking sieges, and I haven’t got any of that on my hands now.”

“Tossh it in de pit… Jush get rid of iiiiiit…” the snake groaned. He propped himself up on his elbows and sneered at the large, brown droplets that had spilled out of the pot on its way to to Narzhak. “Ugh, that ish another month for me without wine…”

”Might as well,” the jagged iron head shook condemningly, ”Maybe it’ll keep the waters strong for a while more. In!” He overturned the pot into the bubbling waters, watching as the murky fluid seeped downwards. ”No use wasting a good pot, though.”

“Preach,” the snake said and stuck a thumb in the air.

As if on cue a terrible rumble from deep in the belly of Galbar wracked the ground beneath their feet. The groaning of shifting sediment and stone gave way to the sound of raging water as if the wrath of Ashalla herself had come to bare upon the foundations of the continent. Rushing like a crashing wave, a great column of the divine tonic escaped from the drainage pit, the sound reverberating over the region as efficiently as a thunder clap.

In that very moment divine ichor and alcohol coalesced with the organic and inorganic, the godly mandate within the respective blood-types taking shape. Bones, muscles and tissue, sprung forth from the massive geyser, knitting itself around the liquid until the entirety of the phenomenon completely disappeared within its new container, a body.

From the air the tiny thing plummeted.

”Look at that,” three of Narzhak’s eyes astonishedly followed its flight, while the fourth remained incongruously fixed on the waters. His voice, while struggling to retain its boast, betrayed his surprise. ”What did I say? This is strength!”

The snake wore a horrified, yet curious expression. “By the Architect,” he whispered and propped himself up as best he managed. “Am I seeing things? Has wine finally dulled my senses to the point of non-function?” His groggy gaze traced the growing speck as it fell towards the earth, and a slight impulse told him it could perhaps be wise to catch it. The snake thus slithered forward, much like an actual snake for once, and held his arms out in the area where his inebriated mind presumed the creature would land.

In a blink of an eye the tiny thing was upon him, tumbling into his outstretched forearms instead of hands and nearly falling through them. The snake’s dulled reaction were still able enough to squeeze his arms together in time, but he quickly fumbled them anyway and dropped the creature onto the ground below, albeit at a much ‘safer’ speed.

A moment passed and the thing remained utterly still, bright yellow pupils pointed directly at him, emotions unreadable.

Then lips curled back, revealing pink gums and slowly protruding canines, and made way for a piercing scream that tore through the air like a great shard of glass, one such scream that it pierced the brain and ignited some primeval pathway.

The snake immediately recoiled and covered his ears as he dunked his head against the ground. “GAH! NARZHAK, MAKE IT STOP! MAKE IT STOP!”

A loud metallic grating joined the bestial screech from above as the Iron God grasped the side of his head with one hand, eyes narrowing to fiery rivers. ”Ngghhr, why’d it have to happen now?” he growled, before glancing at the bellowing creature. ”You down there,” his voice became a snarl of command, ”SHUT IT!” The force of the injunction was such that clouds of loose soil were lifted into the air, and what regrown shrubs had survived until that moment were wholly uprooted and sent tumbling away. The snake struggled immensely to keep his footing - or lying, in this case. The tiny beast on the other hand wasn’t so fortunate, instead being sent tumbling a few spans before sheer willpower grounded it once again.

As the dust settled, the defiant form of the albino creature remained, albeit its fur now matted with specks of dirt and grime. Its mouth was shut, yet it’s eyes were trained solely on the titan, it’s chest puffed out.

With a cacophony of rasping and scraping, Narzhak lowered his body, tilting his head closer to the ground and propping himself up with one arm. His shadow engulfed the ground around the ape, broken only by the still tensed slits of his eyes. ”Good,” he rumbled in a more subdued tone, ”We’ll make something out of this yet. So, who are you?”

Nothing.

The snake sneered and leaned in. He took a deep breath through the nose and squinted his eyes at the creature. “There is a holy fragrance about him… Yet it drowns in the stench of youth and infancy…” As the chaos and cacophonies had scared the inebriation out of his system, the snake stared the creature down with considerably more concentrated eyes.

“It likely has yet to fathom of its own existence, let alone a name.” He regarded the ape with a scanning squint. “It looks quite primal as is, even for a spawn of holy blood.”

”They come out slower every time I do it,” Narzhak grumbled, ”Maybe I really should stick to animals.” One eye flickered. ”Not that it seems to be helping.” The thumb of the hand holding his head slipped under his chin and rasped against its recesses. ”Animal, that must be it. What’s below us is easy to reach.”

He cleared his throat with the sound of immense rusty gears grinding against each other, then produced a series of deep, guttural sounds, unmistakably similar to the call of a primate. While the inarticulate hooting was empty of any complex meaning, its intonation wavered in an interrogative pattern.

Angry eyes darted between the two gods then settled on the titan, staring fixedly at him, the vestiges of sentience within its mind seeming to grasp ceaselessly for meaning within the grating sounds emanating from it.

Suddenly, the ape broke out into a cacophony of similar hoots and hollers, tiny fists banging on its pale chest. A declarative response, one of challenge and boyish incolance.

The snake winced with disgusted grimace and covered his ears. “Must you? My head is banging enough without this choir of beasts.” The snake snapped his fingers repeatedly to grab the ape's attention. He then bowed wordlessly before the creature in greeting.

Slowly, the assault of sound abated, until serenity and peace dominated the landscape again. In the time it took for Shengshi to command its attention and prostrate before the feral ape, the thing had grown exponentially.

What had once been tiny, no larger than the arms of the serpent who’s embrace it had felt for but a moment earlier, now stood at its progenitors chest, considerably taller than before. Eyes that had at one time shown with the crazy and chaotic turns and twists of anger, now was aglow with a new light, albeit one for an instant lost in rumination.

...who are you?

Like the yellow shining of the sun rising from the ground to fill the sky with mighty colours of red and endless rays of pink in early morning, so did the veil of unconsciousness lift ever so slightly from it’s mind, exposing it the the vestiges of self.

Hands soft and cold pressed upon the shoulders of the serpent, urging him upright. Then, the beast itself brought its body low, imitating his greeting.

”This...one, brings low. This...one, is Anu.”

The snake blinked and recoiled ever so slightly. He eyed the ape up and down and tugged ponderously at his long mustache. He patted gently at the hands on his shoulders and nodded slowly.

“Anu…” he whispered as he observed the creature’s behaviour. “... Divine child born with capacity for both fury and honour… How very curious. You may let go of my shoulders now, child.”

Immediately, the ape stepped back sheepishly, not knowing what to do with itself. The snake pursed his lips and looked up.

“Dearest brother, any thoughts?”

Narzhak’s head swayed appreciatively from side to side, his eyes no longer pryingly narrowed. ”This one’s better at names than the last, for sure,” he remarked. ”Brings low, but knows those higher than him. I already like this attitude. Give it a little more structure, and he’ll go far, I can tell that.” Half of his gaze wandered upwards, contemplatively hovering around the horizon. ”The blood really is strong.”

He leaned more heavily still on his arm. The tip of one of his fingers dragged through the earth, leaving a gaping trench behind itself, before coming to rest closer to the newborn divine. Even from the considerable distance left between them, it was immense. ”So, Anu,” his voice bore a querying tone oddly close to that of the animalistic hollering that had come earlier, ”what strength have you taken from it?”

Once again the ape raised himself up, his height on full display, bared his pearlesiant canines, and beat his left pectoral three times with his right fist. His duty was obvious.

”This one brings low and brings up. Bring this one up, so that I may bring all low, then bring up.” it barked sharply, within its voice a strong sense of civility.

“You raise yourself so you may bring all else low?” The snake raised an eyebrow up at Narzhak and shrugged. “Did he inherit my indirect speech pattern and your sense of subjugation?”

”More than that.” The giant’s look gleamed, as far as that could be discerned, with a pleased expression. ”Bring low to bring up. Impose an order, and that order makes everything better. You’re quick for someone who’s just swam up from a cask of wine.” His head tilted slightly towards Shengshi. ”I haven’t seen much of your work with that, but if you’ve got servants you know the right track. Looks like our sense of direction in these things has bled into him.” He chuckled at his own wordplay, a sound as though he had swallowed a thundercloud.

“An order founded on fear leads to a crippled populace - like hares under the rule of tigers. I would like to see this Anu demonstrate charisma - something that goes beyond imposing of order. After all, he must be a tiger that can lead -tigers-!” He pointed a finger. “Anu, what are the greatest qualities of a leader?”

For a moment the ape seemed almost unable to answer, cocking its head to the side in what could only be considered deep thought. Then and the words seemingly came, almost naturally.

”Trust, Respect, and Discipline.”

The snake crossed his arms and drummed his fingers against his biceps. “Those sound more like the qualities of a servant - yet you are not completely off track.” He put a fist to his lips and hummed. “A leader is a servant of its people, in one respect - one that must trust and respect their populace, and maintain self-discipline to be worthy of the people’s trust and respect. You forgot two key-elements, though. Can you guess what those are?”

Anu growled this time, reclining back to his thoughts.

Narzhak’s head shook again, this time less approvingly. ”Servant of the people? Come on, what are you filling his head with?” he grumbled, traces of mirth mixed with reproach, ”Leaders are above people, and over them there’s only us,” he rapped his free hand against his chest, ”But you’re right that these things should be inspired and not held. Trust only those whose will you’ve hollowed out entirely. Respect only those you see are your match, or more. Discipline...” he scratched his head, ”For someone like you, it’s just strength. Stronger than the failings of the body, stronger than the foibles in the mind. Strong enough to hold your lessers to heel.”

The snake hissed sharply and flicked his tongue. “Brother, stuffing his head full of that tyrannical, cynical approach to leadership will shorten his rule considerably. While, yes, I agree that leaders are -above- the led in terms of rank, that is no barrier for mutual respect. Yes, a servant should obviously kowtow before a king, but this is no reason to hold such a…” He pressed his lips together and cleared his throat. “Either way, perhaps a more moderate approach is in order - a leader without discipline is no better than a lowly beast.” He pointed at Anu while facing Narzhak. “... And I believe we can both agree that this one is greater than any beast.”

”You’re right about that,” the Iron God assented. ”A firm hand shouldn’t just be held outwards. Rulership isn’t just power,” he seemed to be addressing Anu as much as Shengshi, ”it has a duty. To us, to the one above us,” he gestured around himself, sending wafts of wind buffeting down to the ground, ”to the world. Failing to build something more than what you found would be failing it and what you are. Don’t accept failure, no matter what’s the cost or who pays it. Not even yourself.”

Despite his neutral expression, Anu’s mind was awash with a million ideas, concepts, and doctrines, none of which he could consider properly in the moment. He was sure of one thing.

”This one will not fail.” he growled, pounding his chest thrice over.

The snake nodded. “Agreed. As you are the spawn of gods, you are to dedicate your life to seeing the world prosper - become a legend among the mortals of this universe. Like Narzhak said, you have a duty. Bring glory to your gods, your followers and yourself, and eternal wealth and power shall be yours. Forget yourself, however…” On the other side of the crater, Jiangzhou, along with the river it was sailing, pulled back to the Giant’s Bath behind the crater wall, leaving the crater itself dry and deserted.

“... And you will find that the world itself will spite you.” He furrowed his brow and flicked his tongue. “So, yes, please do not fail.”

Narzhak winked with a lidless eye. ”But as long as you hold it, it’ll be the best thing in the world.”

With a steady breath, Anu regarded both gods, resolute in stance yet uncertain in mind. ”Your words this one hears and your words this one will apply. Thank you.” he bowed low as he spoke.

Shengshi bowed back, albeit not as low. “Apply them well, and my favour shall be yours, Anu. I will be looking forward to seeing your adventures.”
”Can’t say I’m not curious what you’ll get to,” Narzhak nodded. ”Keep what makes you strong in mind, and you won’t disappoint.”

The finger he had driven into the soil shifted, sending slight tremors running through the ground, and something fell from the sheer iron wall, rattling before Anu’s feet. A great length of chain, with thick, sturdy links and vicious hooks at both ends, lay coiled like a metallic serpent. ”Don’t forget about this kind of strength, either.” The god withdrew his finger. ”And if someone under you does, hit them with this. It’ll help.”

The snake folded his arms and pouted. “Why did you not say we were giving gifts? Do you want me to lose face like this?” He shook his head and snapped his fingers. The canyon in the crater wall once more filled with water, pulling with it the golden frame of Jiangzhou. The ship sailed around the steaming centre and stopped right next to the two deities and Anu. He snapped his fingers again and four servants appeared next to him as if out of thin air. They cast themselves to the ground, first in the direction of Narzhak, then towards Shengshi, and finally facing Anu. The snake gestured to the four.

“These, child, will come along with you on your adventures. They are servants - your servants - but they are also your teachers. They will answer your every need to the best of their abilities, but they will also educate you in the way of the Flow, in writing and in the arts. Exercise true leadership skill, and they will give you their undying loyalty.”

Carefully, Anu kneeled to grasp a cold metal hook in one hand and the rest of the chain link in the other. Quietly, he weight it, slashing it delicately in the air with novice-like apprenticeship that only seemed leave him with every swing. They felt right in the hands of a war-god spawn, but it would only become natural in the hands of a subjugator.

Wrapping the weapon tightly around his right arm, he regarded the servants approvingly. ”Rise, you are of father, and are now of me, you have my respect.”

The four servants all simultaneously rose, bowed deeply, and remained standing with slightly inclined torsos, not looking directly at their new master. “Sacred lord Anu,” said the one furthest to the left, a male dressed in long, black robes with a tall, cylindrical, black hat. “This servant of Yours is named Zhu Rongyuan, a member of the Wise caste. It has been tasked with teaching Your Lordship the ways of leadership and poetry. It awaits its orders eagerly.” He tipped a bow again and the second from the left, a female dressed in a blue linen shirt with brown, tough linen pants, tipped up slightly.

“Holy master Anu,” she began, “This servant of Yours is named Yong Cai, a member of the Skilled caste. It has been tasked with aiding His Lordship in the mastery of craftmanship and architecture. It awaits Your commands, O holy one.”

The third servant, a female dressed in water-blue silk robes with far-too-long sleeves, once more fell to her knees, kowtowed and stood back up. “Divine king Anu,” she began, “This servant of Yours is named Fu Lai’an, a humble member of the Noble caste. It has been tasked with assisting His most honourable Lordship with the development of manners and gentlemanship. Please, O Lord, bless this insignificant one with Your orders.” She fell to her knees again and near-slammed her head against the ground.

The fourth servant, a tall male dressed in a white gi, straightened up and straightened his arms along his sides before bowing near ninety degrees in a quick burst of speed. “Supreme leader Anu,” the tall male began, “This servant of Yours is named Qiang Quan, a warrior of the Strong caste. It has been granted the honour of serving as Your Lordship’s sparring partner, as well as Your advisor on logistics. It prays it will serve You well.” He bowed once more and straightened up.

The snake grinned at Anu. “Is this a worthy gift, dear child?”

Anu regarded each servant, his expression deadpan yet his eyes shown with a passion. He bowed before the serpent and titan.

”This one could not quantify the worth of these gifts. Thank you.” he intoned.

“Very good,” said the snake gleefully. “Just remember that they need water every day - or at the very least, every other day. I would therefore not recommend taking them across the desert any time soon. Anywhere due west is safer if you would like them to live.”

His neck craned westward, the scent of freshwater and rain wafted from their, though it was slightly overpowered by the odor of alcohol. ”West.” he murmured, considering the suggestion. ”It smells of rain, freshwater and...fire.” he nodded with a curled lips. ”Our journey begins there.”

”That’s a good way to start.” Narzhak raised his head and glanced into the distance. ”There’s a bit of a scuffle going on that way, but that’s all for the best. Unrest is the best ground for opportunity if you’re looking to build yourself a dominion.”

Anu nodded, his mission clear and his path liner, no obstacle would slow him down and no stone would stumble him, for Galbar itself would be brought low, as was his mandate. Silenely, the ape gathered himself, and gazed upon the crater of his birth. From this place he came, and to this place he would return.

His eyes returned to those of his fathers. ”I am off.”





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Roog



The winds howled ferociously through the night, their dread wailing enough to creatures in their deepest burrows shiver with fear. It was an unfortunate noise, Roog thought, as he pawed his way through the twilight. The ethereal, divine flames that made up much of his body seemed to flicker and jump at the wind in mockery of natural fire. The sensation mildly amused Roog as he continued his trotting path through the endless forest of Kalgrun, with his vision occasionally blocked by the flicker black fires that made up his thick mane. To Roog there was wonder in all things as most of it was entirely new to him.

A howl in the distance suddenly caught his attention, a noise familiar to the instincts that wormed their way deep within the flesh-heart. The glistening black blood that flowed through his veins pumped quickly through his body as his heart went into overtime, drumming out a pointless beat in an entity that had no need for its heart in the first place. But that noise, oh that noise, called to it so in a most sonorous way. A second howl reverberated off the trees, this time from a different individual, and Roog couldn’t help himself but lean back and let out a resounding reply.

The noise that emanated from the wolf-god’s throat was something alien and odd. The odd-wolf’s howl echoed with twin voices, that of wolf and the voice of men both howling in discordant yet somehow in perfect harmony. That most unearthly tune carried across the forest, bouncing from the trees or whisked quickly in all directions by the wind. It was a howl that came from a heart meant for a simpler life and a mind with far too much in it to howl in such a way. As the final echoes of his howl died down Roog slowly lowered his head, staring out into the night-that-looked-as-day to him, deep in contemplation.

The returning response was tremendous. Dozens of individuals let their voices be heard, howls in all directions being thrown to the four winds to be heard by whatever creature had been the source of the strange voice. Roog listened to them all, ears up and twisting about in all directions to savor the sounds and put memory to each and every one of them. These were the voices of his kith and kin, those who had been created by the same hands that had forged him with the very same flesh that made up his form. If things had been different, perhaps, he would’ve been so similar to them.

A sense of longing came over the odd-wolf then as Roog Death-Wolf, Eye of Fenris, was struck by the ever present idea of being totally and utterly alone. Despite his wanderings he had not once met a creature that shared his intellect beyond that first fateful day with his creators and his three brothers. They had all left him then, no doubt to take part in great journeys and duties bestowed onto them that all Gods, Roog knew, must partake in. He thought he was doing his duty, to the best of his ability at least. Already he had helped the dead and the dying on to the Pyres, the task directed to him, and had left the bodies to be dealt with by his brothers in their own time. What more was there asked of him?

A final howl, suffering and pained, warbled weakly through the leaves and branches to reach Roog’s ears. A lone wolf, Roog knew, for he knew well the sorrow behind that wolf’s howl. But with that unfortunate sound came the telltale notes of something beyond loneliness. That was the cry made by one who was dying and as far as Roog had learned no creature was without the ability to utter such dirges. His duty called, Roog reminded himself, and he quickly stood from the patch of ground to start in the direction of that poor, lone wolf.

Roog had moved swiftly and had covered the distance of several miles in a matter of minutes that could be counted on his paws. He was as death, of course, and death came as quickly as it wished to. Beneath the revealed roots of a vast tree Roog saw the huddled form of an old, haggard, and dying direwolf. Flecks of blood were immediately visible splattered across its teeth and forepaws, no doubt born of the creature’s own dying body. No wounds were visible on its form but Roog could tell with little effort the source of the creature’s suffering. Several large, bulbous protrusions were visible across its hide and at its throat, revealing the immense but decrepit wolf to be in the final grips of a malicious cancer.

”I sympathize with your plight, elder,” came the voice of the god-wolf, noise simply waterfalling from his opened maw with an eloquence and diction having no business coming from that fell visage, ”My apologies if you have suffered long; I shall not prolong your pain.”

The old wolf raised its head weakly, ears perked and directed towards the noise. Roog of course knew that the wolf had no way of understanding the deeper meaning of this encounter, just as the many other entities he’d helped into the afterlife, but despite that limited he made sure to speak to each one of them nonetheless. From their physical movements and the way they observed him he could tell that he imparted his intention with his words and had found they were often calmed by them. As the old wolf struggled to watch him Roog began closing the distance, step by step, to join him beneath the roots. Life flickered in the eyes of the elder-wolf as it snarled in threat, evidently aware of its impending demise and unwilling to accept. Understanding flashed across Roog’s features and rather than step all the way to him Roog simply sat on his hind legs, forepaws set into the ground before him, and waited. The dying beast calmed and set its chin onto hits paws, one eye watching the large, half-spectral wolf.

For many hours it went like that as Roog simply waited and gave the wolf the time it so desired. What little respite he could offer he did, the flames of his body seemingly dulling the pain as they flickered lightlessly beside the wolf. Though Roog knew his directions were to end this wolf’s life it was apparent that death would come sooner rather than later; why should he rush this creature who was not quite ready to die, he asked himself. Let it bask in its final hours of a life well lived and time worthily spent. Let it die as it had lived; strong and defiant to the last. A pained wheeze came from the creature’s lungs and it slowly, with great effort, turned its gaze to the wolf-of-demise. Roog stood, knowing the time had come, and stepped forward with little fanfare and no resistance from the old wolf. Standing above the wolf Roog simply let the heat of his breath blow across the torso of the glorious elder and, with that, life passed from the creature’s body.

Hours passed as Roog simply watched, lost in thought, as the wolf’s soul lifted high into the sky and beyond his reach. Life was precious and glorious, Roog knew, as his father Katharsos had imparted such understanding upon him. This was the blessed gift life had and Roog revelled in it in his own, sombre way. But, Roog ruminated, what of the body left here on Galbar? Roog thought to his own creation, how he was born from the corpse-eye of the Great-Wolf Fenris, his flesh-sire and kin. His soul came from many, pulled in by nature’s will and born from the efforts of the gods. The howl of the wind in his ears seemed almost musical to him as he looked down at the corpse in careful deliberation as gears turned and ideas began to form. Why not with this?

Roog stood and paced back on forth on all fours, eyes darting from direction to direction. Soul ash was here, though not particularly prevalent, and he could see motes of ash flowing in the air. There was work he could do, though outside the purview of his Father’s exact directives, and his mind jumped from possibility to possibility. An almost manic obsession came over him as he realized the potential for something beyond what he had been doing, for creation and reincarnation. The thoughts met a wall in his mind as he considered what Katharsos had said about duty. Morosity seeped into his mind until, like a candle in the darkness, the words of his fathe- creator, Kalmar, echoed in his head.

”It is mine to choose . . . “

Roog immediately set about pulling soul ash to him from all directions with a deathly howl that sung the soul-stuff into being before him. As artificial souls began to form before him as more and more of the ambient soul ash came to him Roog turned to the corpse of the old-wolf. This would be his eye, the flesh that would form his creations as the Eye of Fenris had been his crucible. Black fire formed around the body, parting it and shaping it in grizzly action into simply shapes that could be held and filled and formed by the will of souls being made. The task was bloody and dark in nature but so too had been his birth in the eye; it would require much effort on his part, but effort was all that Roog had in abundance. The great wolf tore at his inner cheek with gnashing teeth before leaning over the flesh-hulks, pouring his glistening black blood upon the hunks of meat, bone, and fur. The oily liquid caught flame from Roog’s flickering hide and set about blackening the forms it had been offered in supplication. At last Roog bid the souls of his own design and creation into the foundries of life he had built for them, reincarnating the many souls that had been burned into ash in these forms as his own birth had arose.

Roog watched for minutes and then hours as the flesh-forms took shape, burning themselves to charred crisps as he had his own. Just as the Eye of Fenris had fallen away, burned to ashes, so too did the scattered remains of the old direwolf. Born from the ashes of divine flame and black blood mixed in mortal flesh came the yips of three pups. Each was clad in midnight as their creator and their fur flickered as his did, moving as if living flames. Their eyes were a mix of natural wolf colors, not bearing the bronze of their father. Of their teeth and claws little of the moonlit clow born by their demigod creator carried through. For all intents and purposes they were as mortal wolves given a touch of the divine. Born in them, however, was Roog’s great desires and expectations for a species he could call his own; as they grew they would be as large if not larger than he was at creation and they would be prodigious hunters as their sire’s creator had bade him be. Each, Roog hoped, would carry even a fraction of the wisdom of Katharsos and the cunning of Kalmar. Though they would not speak and would not hunt as the Man-God, Roog believed they would be intelligent beyond the ken of their wolfen ancestry.

Pleased with his creations, Roog pushed them into the hollow of the roots where their flesh-sire had passed and set about properly securing their new den. He had never been a father but he his instincts scourged him of all desires and thoughts beyond their safety. They would grow fast, so fed by his divine caretaking, but for the first few months they would need his care. No matter, he thought; there were many dying creatures in the wild that required his due diligence and what harm could there be in putting their remains to better use? He could repeat this process with the corpses of Direwolves he found and nourish the youngling beasts with the honored dead. This is exactly how Kalmar would want it, Roog considered, as he turned to his three “children”.

”It is yours to choose, my kith, for you are as I am and our creator bids it so. You shall be Rahn, Lumi, and Dis. One brother, two sisters, and you shall help shape the world.”



Amaruq scrabbled to get the broad and flattened stone underneath the foot of the abalone before the next shift in the water from the tides. It was a big one, juicy and fat, but Amaruq knew full well that it would fight all the harder. No matter, thought the Selka, it would taste all the sweeter for his efforts. His whiskers flowed with the waters and shivered from the oncoming wave above him, his senses warning him he must be fast. With increased determination Amaruq brought the flat bladed stone down and across the surface of the rock in one swift motion, feeling the blade part the foot of the abalone from the submerged boulder ever so slightly. A flash of white teeth in a pleased smile was all the abalone would have seen, if it had been able to see that is, as the Selka pried it from its holdfast with one swift *pop*. Grabbing the massive shell and all its delicious meat in his free hand, Amaruq kicked up to the surface. With a pleased grunt he lifted his basket of abalone up onto the makeshift raft he had brought out past the breakers with him.

The sound of gently crashing waves and the calling of seabirds filled Amaruq’s ears as his head just barely bobbed above the waves. For several long minutes Amaruq simply enjoyed the smells and sounds of the ocean splashing around him in an orchestra of sensory bliss. At last he opened his eyes and looked towards his haul, prideful of his work for the day. Three large baskets were full of abalone that he’d been hard at work pulling from the rocks below, each basket now sitting on top of his simple raft. With a little prodding he found the rope that led down to the simple stone anchor keeping the raft in one place and he wound it up with little effort before placing the modestly sized stone onto the raft, watching it bow in the waves from the added weight. With that he grabbed the lead roped harness and pulled it over his shoulders to drag it behind him as he swam into shore.

A number of other Selka milled about on the beast as he pulled in, dragging his simplistic drift-wood raft up the shoreline and out of the clutches of the hungry sea. It was wise, he knew, to keep things out of the hands of the ocean. It was a hungry thing, shouldermen said, for why else would it have such abundance in its belly? It was greedy too, for it often dragged things right back into its stomach with reaching hands of white water and waves.

“Hoi!”

Amaruq looked up to see the one calling to him, a young girl he immediately recognized as Nuniq. Though she was nearly half the older Selka’s size she was a vigorous little creature and constantly harassed him for stories and tales; some even said she was his biggest fan! The elder Selka smiled and nodded his head faintly, waving her over with a pleased smile. The little selka girl tore across the beach as best as her broad feet would allow, practically hopping to close the distance as fast as possible. She lept into his arms with a joyous little noise, pointing at the large collection of abalone he had caught.

“Amaruq, Amaruq! You caught so many! When will you teach me how to dive for them?”

Amaruq chuckled, his heavily whiskered upper lip bouncing jovially. She had been asking him that since her parents had first set her down on her own two fins and she hadn’t stopped asking three years later. It was a good thing he was her grandfather, Amaruq considered, or he might have become annoyed with the constant pestering. He of course immediately corrected himself; he was far too soft to ever become irate with a child, particularly one as cute and excitable as his granddaughter.

“Soon, Nuniq, soon. But you must be able to carry a prying stone and use it well, so keep working with your mother until you’re big and strong. Then your old, decrepit grandpa will take you out into the waves, little one. Go on, my little minnow; your mother is calling and your Hoi’ has work to do.”

With that the little girl struggled to be set down and was immediately tearing right back up the beach, practically dropping to all fours. Ever the ball of excitement, she was. Amaruq smiled and turned to his haul, picking up all three baskets with some concerted effort and heaving them up the beach towards the large bonfire that had been made. He waved to the firekeeper, a now old woman named Tukkut he had fancied when they were both younger. Alas, his wife had been so much more forceful! A bitter-sweet smile flashed across his face as the elder Selka thought of his departed wife and he offered a momentary prayer to the spirits of his family to keep her close company in the world beyond.

“Ah, Amaruq, I see you’ve been busy,” called a gruff male voice, one he recognized as his son in law, “Though I fear you will eat all of them yourself if we are not careful.”

“Do not worry, Aklaq, for I have no doubt with your youth you will beat me to the feast. Though, I do worry for other things; the rocks were not so plentiful with my quarry, nor were the waters so filled with fish. Mother Ocean seems to have eaten them all, or perhaps whisked them far from here.”

This had, of course, been something of an anxiety that had been plaguing a number of the fisherfolk and gatherers for some time now. Their tribe was modestly sized and spread out across several small encampments across the stretch of beach and they had discovered quite swiftly that the waters around them were becoming more and more depleted. Feasts were a common practice among their people for the ocean had much to give yet it seemed more and more that Mother Ocean was holding tighter to her meals. This had worried some more than others, of course, but it was not something taken lightly by anyone; food was essential as all Selka knew and without ample supplies and thick blubber winters would be made all the harder.

“Yes,” replied Aklaq, shuffling in the sand slightly, “We had been speaking on that. Myself and the fisherfolk from the tribe gathered earlier today as we hunted up on the shoreline for deer. We agree. You should do a throwing, Amaruq; we all wish to see what the spirits say.”

Amaruq looked at Aklaq with a displeased grumble, eyebrows lowered and eyelids tightening as he appraised the young male. Throwings were not so simple and should never be taken lightly; the spirits were loathe to share their secrets they had winnowed from the gods and it was best only to throw when things were at their worst. Besides, what if they caught the spirits at a bad time and they were given false information as punishment for their hubris? The minds of young ones were always so impatient, thought Amaruq, as he looked over the younger male’s shoulder to see a collection of fisherfolk pretending to mind their own business as they listened in. A harumph fitting of his elder-stature thumped from Amaruq’s chest and he waved his hand aside in frustration.

“Bah, fine. A throwing it is. I will need to gather my things… you best bring me your best cut of deer, if you got any! A good Shoulderman never does a throwing for free.”

Night couldn’t come slowly enough as Amaruq gathered his many supplies necessary to take on the role of a shoulderman. Shouldermen were shamans in his tribe, augurs of portents and speakers to spirits. They were so named after the shoulder bones they used for their augury, collected from animals gifted to the tribe by the sea and shore. It was wrong, all Shouldermen knew, to use the shoulderbones of animals hunted or not freely given. Only those that washed up from Mother Ocean’s graces could be used for such things and so the tools of the trade were most rare indeed. The best of course came from seals, at least of the more common varieties, and it was said some Shouldermen had gathered the scapulas of Selka drowned at sea that washed ashore. Those were of course just witch-stories but every Shoulderman secretly wondered the whispers they might hear when using such a powerful icon.

Amaruq stomped out of the sea in proper fashion, splashing and making as much noise as possible to simulate the crashing of waves. Tied around his waist was a simple leather pouch held closed with a sinew tie that bounced against his thigh and over his face as a mask of bones, carved driftwood, shells, and seaweed. This was the face of a Shoulderman, for everyone knew Shouldermen looked as such, and no spirit would ever divulge their secrets to someone they did not know. That was why Shouldermen wore the masks, of course, to trick the spirits into thinking they were the Shoulderman they knew; clever, really, thought Amaruq as he recalled all the information off handedly.

The Selka on the shore smacked hollowed out logs carried by the waves or struck stick to stone or hammered away with bones. It was the thing to do for spirits enjoyed fanfare and it was best to invite them to a party rather than a sombre occasion. A considerable amount of food had been set about, already dug into by the attending Selka, though a flat rock had been placed before the fire to give a proper tablet for the spirit’s meal to be arrayed upon. Beside it sat a modestly adorned stone for the Shoulderman, replete with the aforementioned hunk of cooked deer flank that had been requested. Everything was as it should be as the Shoulderman who was Amaruq came waddling up from the shore, hopping and skipping and spinning and otherwise putting on a right proper show. The music reached a crescendo as he reached the offerings and stopped at its high point, leaving but the sound of the waves and the crackling fire to dominate the ritual.

“Oh, mighty and clever spirits, I beseech you your knowledge stolen from the gods; we humbly offer this feast and many gifts to you for your wisdom. Show me your secrets . . . “

With one hand he undid the simple sinew strapping on his pouch and tugged forth a large scapula procured personally from a bull seal that had washed up on the beach. The creature was large and its scapula sized accordingly, perfect for writing as much information as possible upon it; an excellent choice and one not so freely parted with. In the back of his mind Amaruq considered how fortunate his son-in-law was for having him as a father, for if he was some simple fisherfolk Amaruq may have used a lesser bone. Amaruq tossed the bone into the fire, aiming for it to land directly on the slightly bowed inward mano once used for grinding shells into powder. The almost bowl-like shape caught the large scapula and held it in the flames, the bone charring at the ends and heating up. Cracks and lines began to form on the face of the scapula as the less dense bone parted before the growing heat it was subjected to.

All eyes were on the Shoulderman who was Amaruq as he peered down at the shoulder bone, the flame’s illumination flickering off his mask in a dancing display of raw spiritual power. The crowd was dead silently, knowing full well the powerful magics that were at work here, and not even babies held swaddled in their mothers’ arms uttered a peep. All the while Amaruq kept watching, grumbling and humming and looking on intently at each and every one of the cracks that began to form. He started, practically jumping back, as a massive crack thundered across the flat face with a loud crunch and the crowd gasped in response, most immediately regretting their actions and covering their mouths; a Shoulderman responding like that was never a good sign. As the final cracks formed and the heat simply began to burn the bones Amaruq quickly reached into the fire with a wetted hand, clearly well burned from many trials doing this exact act, and removed the bone. He dropped it onto a platter before him and looked at it with considerable interest.

“What does it say, Shoulderman?” came one voice from the crowd as the ritual finished, followed by more asking for direction and answers to their growing curiosity.

“It says,” came Amaruq’s voice, warbled and changed beneath the mask and by his own intentional acting to appear more spiritual, “That we may not remain . . . Our home is starving for we have stayed too long. We must gather the tribe and confer with the other Shouldermen, but, to me this speaks clearly.”

“We are the Kayuk,” he intoned, standing and looking out from the thin eyeslits of his mask, “And we must go North . . .”



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The land flew by before him in a blur, all of it a simple streaks of green, and blue. He cared not for where he went, for his guilt was great and it clouded his mind with regret. The red haired girl was gone, and she would never return. She was dead, and he had killed her. He had tried to shove it aside, tried to bury it deep as deep as the Vault of Souls, but even that distraction was pointless in the end. It had done nothing but make him angrier. He needed to calm down, but his place of tranquility was but a cruel reminder of fate and so Orvus flew on, hoping to leave the part of him behind that cared.

It did not work.

And then suddenly, the flight was over as the god crashed into a mountain. The land shook in the explosion of rock and stone, as the air hissed. He found himself shooting out on the other side, but he did not care. For his physical pain clouded his mind of his emotional toil. More rocks and stone split as he began to slow down, carving a deep trench within the earth. Part of the mountain began to break into rock, spewing forth like a black lava as it tumbled down the mountain side. Orvus did not care however, his mind screamed with pain, blessed pain.

As the world around him returned to silence, a beating of wings filled the air. With it came dry and hot air and the sounds of something large. Several feet landed nearby with great thumps, then the sounds of sniffing followed. The steps grew closer, but Orvus did not move. Then at once, above the trench he was half buried in, a great eye loomed over. Reptilian, with curiosity. Etched with red, yellow and orange flakes, it was strangely alluring. It looked over him before moving away to reveal a great snout that sniffed, breathing him in. A tongue began to descend before it touched him, before instantly recoiling in pain. There was a scream as several wing beats of disgruntled fellows, followed by more screeching.

It was then that Orvus looked up his own body, and he saw what had caused the creature such pain. His ichor flowed from several gashes upon his chest and stomach. Even now they were beginning to heal, but something about another creature taking his ichor without permission irked him in the strangest way. In a flash, he erupted from the hole. The world before him revealed several of the dragons, their bodies screaming of Sartravius. Then he spotted the one who trampled with pain. He flew to it, and with a single strike, beheaded the creature before the others could even react. When the deed was done, their were several hisses followed by stares of malice. Orvus turned around, only to be struck down by a claw. The dragon managed to tear into an already opened wound, reversing the healing process as his white ichor stained the claw. Then he felt fire wash over him, several fires in fact, but Orvus stood regardless and with a grunt, he tore into the dragon that had clawed him. First he ripped off it’s wing, and as the creature buckled with pain, he tore out it’s tongue before slamming it’s head into the ground with a sickening crunch.

Having seen this, several began to flee but this only drove Orvus to further anger. He cursed as the brave ones descended upon him. But Orvus was intent on enacting punishment. So he willed it with a free hand.

And so it was.

Seven dragons fell to the ground in heaps of writhing flesh. The screamed in pain as their bodies blackened, as their claws and fangs grew sharper, as their alluring eyes fell to but pinpricks of scarlet. Their screams turned to rage, as one by one they stood up, turning gazes of malice in the direction of the other dragons. Then with flames of crimson, they began to fly at the other dragons. A chaotic battle ensued as most abandoned the god before them, turning on their kin. Where fire met fire, the world exploded in the heat of destruction. Only one dragon was defiant enough to face Orvus, a bright red thing with golden eyes. It snapped at him time and time again, like a savage who hungered for blood. It drove Orvus mad, and with a single blow he would have made it’s head into mincemeat, but he paused, a dark thought coming to mind. He then hit it, but with less power, knocking the creature out cold, it’s defiance would cost it dearly.

Then Orvus turned to the dance of dragons above him, and saw how the Desolate Ones, held the upper hand as they tore their cousins limb from limb. But Orvus was not yet done, and he turned his attention to the ones he had slain himself. Their bodies would suffice, they who had sought ichor. He walked over the one who’s head he had shattered and began to tear apart the scales, skin and flesh. Stripping them in great lengths as he coated himself in crimson. When the dragon laid flayed and desecrated, he went to other and began to repeat the process as the last of the red dragons died in the sky. When it was done, he willed the stripped flesh to take shape.

From the flesh of the old, came something new. Snakes took form, in various sizes but all of which looked the same. Their scales were black, with red streaks in a vertical pattern across the length of the body. Their heads were arrow shaped and wide, full of pointy little teeth with four longer ones in the middle. One pair on the upper jaw, the other on the lower. Long barbed tongues flickered with life as dragon-like eyes gazes up at him.

”You are the Dust Eaters. Go.” and he pointed down the mountain the green jungle beyond. Then he found himself in silence, and he turned around to see the Desolate dragons split into pairs, flying off in different directions. All that remained were corpses, and the one who defied him.

He walked over to the unconscious dragon, taking from his almost healed wound a great amount of ichor, and with his free hand he opened the mouth of the dragon and poured his divinity into it. He wanted to watch it suffer, to know pain like he knew it. He wanted it to know just how meaningless it was compared to him. And as he watched it come alive, Orvus realized what he had done, far too late. His anger was quenched as he realized he had overreacted, letting his anger over Silver cloud his judgment. But now, it was far too late to let the dragon go. No, it was time for mercy. He raised his hand to strike the beast, but before he could deliver the fateful blow, the dragon began to change.




The pain was immense as the dragon writhed against the stone which it lay. The creature felt its body twist and change; the scales that once burned a brilliant red slowly changed to an iridescent gold, his snout slowly retracted into its skull and its wings tore and stretched itself to adjust for the being it was becoming. As it once again slammed into the stone, its mind exploded with conscious thought. So much knowledge and information being poured into its mind was overwhelming and it almost drove him to the brink of insanity, until he saw it. As he looked around and saw the flow of some golden substance, he knew that instinctively that it was Mana.

As he turned his attention further he realized that the golden "Mana" was being engulfed by another. It was a torrent of crimson energy which ebbed and flowed like water always agitated, always moving. The being at the center of this mass bore a strange expression that the dragon could not seem to fathom, sadness and despair. As he rose to meet this individual he couldn't help but think that there was something about him that not moments ago drove him to stare at him and give that expression but he couldn't put a talon on it.

As he went to speak he realized that he didn't know anything about himself; his name, his past or who this individual was. And suddenly, as if struck by some divine inspiration a name came to his mind and all he could muster was,

"I am Ikarus...who are you?"

The being before him stood still for a moment, as if a great weight held him down. The silence, overwhelming between the two. Then he at last, he blinked and said, ”I am Orvus.” he said impassively as his glowing eyes stared holes into Ikarus.

"Or...vus. Did you, create me?"

The words stumbled out his mouth as the idea seemed ridiculous to him. Ikarus had memories of his life before this moment, but they seemed so distant and hazy in his mind. His eyes glanced over the area where they stood and witnessed the carnage from some great battle. Almost instantly an uneasy feeling washed over Ikarus as his gazed met with the glowing void that was his creator,

"Was...there a battle here? And where are the others? I remember my brood nested here...where are they?"

The feeling magnified as they stood facing each other, Ikarus unable to tear his gaze away for concern of his life.

The being before him said nothing after his first question. He simply stood still and his gaze was unwavering. After the second question, the God shifted his gaze, looking around at the corpses.

"They are dead or changed, now gone never to return." he said coldly.

The words hung heavy in the air. His heart, while saddened by the news couldn't feel true despair or sorrow. That life had left and Ikarus was born. A fleeting ember of gold passed by his eye as Ikarus began to wonder more about this person,

"So if you created me then that makes you my father...for all intents and purposes. Does that make you a god?"

The question felt silly to ask but the obvious had to stated to move past and start anew. Looking towards the hole in the mountain he stared out upon the vast landscapes and saw the flowing rivers of gold coming from every direction.

"So if your a god, what do you know about all of this?"

The god followed Ikarus’ gaze and said, ”I am a god and you are of me, my son. This place is Galbar, before you is the life the other Gods have thought fit to create.” the words came, oblivious to the true nature of what was asked.

'Galbar…'

This place made sense now. A vast creation of a pantheon vast beyond his understanding. As the gold swirled about the only thing that came mind was,

"Mana...this is mana."

He didn't quite understand it yet but this swirling energy was a source of great power and it's mysteries needed to be unlocked, harnessed somehow he just wasn't sure how. Turning back to Orvus he eyed his "Father" and really took him into perspective. A deity of shadows the weight of the world sat heavily on him as even now the glowing sockets seemed heavy with sadness. The carnage around him showed just how powerful a god was as his brood were no small feat to kill. His Mana was unlike any other that he saw as the torrent of scarlet overpowered everything else around it.

"Father what do you know of Mana? Since you created me that word has been pervading my mind and I have to know what it is. Surely the gods know what it is."

”Mana?” Orvus said, for once sounding confused. ”What are you talking about? What is it that you see?” he inquired to Ikarus.

"Everything. As far as the eye can see nothing but a sea of gold flowing like water…"

Ikarus slowly turned to face his Father and the overwhelming presence that he wielded.

"...except for you. Your Mana is flooding this place with what seems like a never ending storm of scarlet. If you don't know would there be another god who would? Surely one of the divine has heard of Mana."

He turned back to the scenery around him. If the gods haven't heard of this does that mean he was the only one who knew or even see it? Then what did that make him. He had to find out.

"I must discover why I can see this force and what purpose it serves."

Orvus squinted as if trying to see what Ikarus beheld. After a moment, he began to shake his head. ”I have never heard of this mana, before.” he paused in thought, ”But this world is mysterious, and beyond even what even God’s know, save the Architect himself.” he then walked forward, closer to Ikarus and outstretched his hand.

”Show me.” he stated.

Unsure of what to do at that moment Ikarus grabbed hold of the hand and felt a shift in power. In that moment the two linked and shared in vision what was now Ikarus' normality. Out towards the landscape a gentle sea of gold flowed through the world unmoved by wind or nature but simply flowed as if driven by some purpose known only to it and it's creator. In a moment of curiosity Ikarus held out his other hand and thought about fire. A simple ball of flame. Almost instantly a ball of searing fire erupted in his hand and was quickly dismissed by a startled shaking of the hand. Now in awe and amazement Ikarus knew the purpose which Mana served.

"Father!, did you see that! I was able to conjure fire! This must be the purpose of Mana, to fuel such power!"

Orvus blinked, his eyes taking on a golden hue as he view the world of mana. Whether or not he was surprised by a such a thing, he did not show, but looked around nonetheless as if studying it. He raised a hand, looking to his own scarlet color, then blinked again and let go of Ikarus. The god cocked his head at Ikarus and said, ”Yes… Power and potential, my child. This is most interesting to witness. This mana even escaped my view, but now, I see. It seems the Architect did not tell us everything.” he paused then said, ”Go on, do something else. Let us see what this mana is capable of.”

At the nudging of Orvus Ikarus turned his gaze back towards the mountain and closed his eyes to focus his energy on it. He could feel the stubbornness of its mana and the natural resistance to change. "Grabbing" the Mana from afar Ikarus felt the rumble from the earth as the mountain began shaking and finally with a burst of overwhelming willpower his eyes burst open radiating a brilliant gold and rendered the peak of the mountain from its base. As he watched the peak fall to the ground below karus' body gave out and he fell to the floor completely drained from his exertion.

The God watched, his face blank as the peak of the mountain fell with thunderous noise. He turned to Ikarus and floated to stand in front of him once he saw the demigod upon the ground. He made no move to help him but said, "Impressive, Ikarus. Mana has much potential and you will be the one to unlock its secrets. This I know." Then Orvus reached out and pulled Ikarus up by the forearm. As he did so, he imbued him with everything he knew of the gods, their names and spheres, the mortals that he had seen and then finally his sisters, Arya and Laurien. He showed Ikarus their faces but nothing more.

"If you ever meet Arya and Laurien, teach them and they will teach you." he said.

With this sudden imbuement of knowledge Ikarus knew his mission. He had to understand this force and master this power that had been granted him. The knowledge of his sisters brought an interesting idea to learn from those who had come before him. Turning to Orvus he said,

"I will...Father. The next time we meet I will have mastered Mana and will teach you. Until then."

Ikarus unfurled his wings and with a mighty beat he took off into the horizon in search of Mana, not knowing when he would see his Father again. The god gave a simple nod, then looked around at the carnage, bowing his head.







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Hidden 7 mos ago Post by Lord Zee
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Lord Zee I Don't Even Know

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The Learner, The Martial Dancer

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Qiang Yi and Crew





Her heart was heavy as they walked further and further from her home, to the ship that would ferry her away. Those goodbyes had been the hardest ones she had ever given, but the promise of returning was ever on her mind. She simply hoped it wouldn’t be forever, else she would miss the boys growing up, miss their first steps, their first words. Those thoughts were ever present on her mind, but a part of her knew that she could not dwell on what would happen without her. Her priorities were on helping the servants on their quest, then perhaps… Perhaps she would try to find Split and Penelope. If ever there was a right time to do it, it would be after the task at hand was finished.

She tailed behind the small crew, bringing up the rear. She carried with her only the flute, her bell, and the clothes upon her back. She had decided to leave her dancing dress at home, it would serve no place on the trip and she did not want it ruined again. She wore a blank expression on her face, seemingly oblivious to Tendlepog or where they were headed. It wouldn’t be long now, soon the journey would really begin.

“Are you alright, Lady Arya?” asked Qiang Yi softly. He had moved away from the improvised harbour they were currently loading off of and stood beside Arya with a worried frown.

With a start, Arya blinked, coming to the stark realization that the ocean lay ahead of her, far below the tall cliffs. She turned to Qiang Yi, faking a smile she said, ”Yes! Yes, quite fine captain. Just thinking is all. Are we ready to embark?”

“As soon as we get the remainder of the cargo loaded on board. The moving cliffs are not making it easy, but the Warden’s minions are certainly quite the help,” he said cheerfully. “By the way, we have a fantastically soft bed for you to have onboard. The covers are made of the closest we could find to silk around here, and we hope you will enjoy sleeping in it.”

”That's good to hear, I enjoy a soft bed. It reminds me of Penelope.” Arya said chipperly, before turning her gaze to look at the nightmares moving the cargo. It was strange to see and she had no idea what was in them. She turned back to the captain and said, ”What is the cargo, if you don't mind me knowing?”

Qiang Yi shrugged and shook his head. “That information is classified, even to me. All we know is that it is incredibly important that the cargo arrives at its destination unharmed and unspoiled.”

Arya frowned, looking back to the cargo. She had a bad feeling from them, something she couldn’t quite describe. She shivered then said, ”No matter then. Can I get someone to show me around?”

“Naturally,” said Qiang Yi, “actually, please allow me to do so personally!” Without even waiting for a reply, Qiang Yi went on to descend the ladder-like ‘pier’ that the Zhengwu had anchored to. The girl smiled, then followed the captain up the ladder.

“Welcome to the deck of Zhengwu, Lady Arya,” Qiang Yi proudly said and gestured around the seven metre wide at its widest, thirty-two metre long wooden space that was largely only interrupted in its barren cleanliness by two masts and the elevated stern helmspost. The ship had a convex shape, comparable to a relatively straight banana in that the bow was considerably pointier than the stern, yet still the ship bulged along the middle and thinned towards the ends. In contrast with Jiangzhou, Zhengwu was considerably plainer in its appearance; however, it was still a beautifully carven ship. The three most immediately noticeable areas were the very tip of the bow, where Arya could just spot the upper edge of a fantastically fashioned wooden headfigure; the flat wall holding up the elevated helmspost was interrupted by a doorway in its middle to the deck below; the helmspost itself had a tall, serpentine statue at its very back, its eyes overlooking the deck.

“What would Your Ladyship like to see first? The bow, the stern or below the deck?”

”It’s a very beautiful ship Captain,” Arya said, stroking the fine wood as they walked. ”I do not mind what we start with first, show me in whichever order you deem fit.” came her reply.

“Let us start with the ship’s belly, then,” Qiang Yi said and brought her down the staircase. She gave a small nod and followed as they descended. As they went belowdecks, the small hull gave way to a cramped storage area, filled near to the roof with crates, leaving only a small walkway to pass through to get from the stern to the bow. The crates almost became like walls, the servants having stacked them into hollow squares to create approximations of rooms below deck. One in particular stood out, for it was hidden away behind a makeshift bamboo divider. Qiang Yi pushed it aside and gestured to a white-sheeted bed inside an admittedly terribly cramped little room.

“We deeply apologise for the standard of living, Lady Arya. We pray that it will suffice given the circumstances.”

Arya took in everything she saw, and in silence she realized the crates were everywhere, and now closer, she could feel something was off about them, but she did not know what. Qiang Yi’s voice caught her attention and she looked at the small room. She let out a great smile at the sight, for it meant a lot to her that they would go through so much trouble just to please her. She turned to the Captain and said, ”Please, there is no need to apologise!” She then walked in and placed the flute on the bed, as well as a small bag full of food and tea from home. ”It will do just fine, please tell Li Shan that I am humbled by his work.”

Qiang Yi bowed. “Naturally, you need neither worry about theft nor the loss of privacy. While the walls are not particularly thick, the entire belly of the ship will be yours alone should you wish for it. Now, if you would accompany me upstairs again, please.”

Arya gave another small nod, and began to follow.

As they went through the jungle of crates and up to the deck once more, the last of the creates were being loaded on. In addition to those crates, however, there came black, shadowy figures with almost cloud-like, bipedal silhouettes aboard from the mainland. They stopped and stared at Arya for a moment, not a sound escaping them. Arya returned their stares, briefly touching the tattoo on her hand. Qiang Yi then smiled and bowed to the first of the mist-like creatures.

“Ah, welcome aboard, dear Nightmares. Truly, it is an honour to be graced with Your presences on this humble vessel. We already feel much safer!”

The shadows turned to Qiang Yi wordlessly, but the first made a move that approximated a nod and let out an ear-cutting ‘HWWWK!’ for an answer. Several crew members flinched and ducked, thinking the sound was another attack from seaborne beasts. So too did Arya flinch, tightly shutting her eyes before opening them with a couple blinks. Qiang Yi nodded patiently, though his eyes had teared up ever so slightly at the pain.

“Naturally,” he said in the firm, certain way of someone who has completely failed to understand one’s conversation partner. “Well, the ship is yours. You are free to go wherever you may wish.”

The nightmares remained silent again and slowly began to drift towards the hidden nooks and corners aboard. Qiang Yi turned to Arya and smiled as he drilled a pinkie into his ear.

“Very kind of the Warden to offer us some additional protection.”

She nodded her head slowly, ”Yes, hopefully they won’t be needed! Though I’m sure if they are, they could just scream and scare us all away.” she mused. Though their presence did beg more questions than answers. What cargo was so important that they needed the Nightmares as protection?

She looked to Qiang, with a sly look. ”Where were we again?” she asked.

“Ah, yes,” the captain said and snapped his fingers. “Follow me, please.” Together they climbed up the short staircase to the helmspost at the stern which in itself was rather uneventful - being only a slightly elevated platform overlooking the rest of the deck. However, it had three sights that immediately caught the eyes: The first was the tall, intricately carved statue of Shengshi, shaped with near-lifelike precision, albeit considerably shorter than the eight feet height of the actual god. Its pose was stern, yet benevolent, a furrow-browed stare contrasted with a fatherly, extended hand. A sullen expression crossed Arya's face, and she turned her head to look away from the statue, ashamed. Apart from the statue, Zhen-zhen sat smiling at the two of them by the rudder tiller.

“Showing her around, cap’n?” she said and closed her book. Qiang Yi nodded with a wry smile. Arya's face beamed a childish smile at Zhen-Zhen as she saw the servant.

“Yes, it is only fair for her to get a tour of her home for the next few months,” he said and put his arms behind his back.

“Yeah, that sounds fair. How do you like it so far?” she asked Arya with a smirk.

"I love it! I really do. It's nice and cozy and full of noise." she said excitedly.

Zhen-zhen snickered. “Yeah, the noise is something else - ‘specially now that we got the nightmares onboard.” She shrugged. “Buuut we’ll get used to it, probably.” Qiang Yi furrowed his brow at her remark. “Yes, we pray the noise won’t disturb you too much,” he conceded. “The crew is active around both day and night, so we hope you are a heavy sleeper.”

"Don't you worry, when I'm in the Palace, I only wake up when I want too." she giggled, bringing a hand to cover her face where her mouth should've been.

Qiang Yi nodded smiling. “That is very good to hear. Now, this is the bridge. It is where you will find me and Zhen-zhen most of the time. If you would like, you may spend your time here with us as you wish during the voyage. Oh, and we hope you will join us for the daily prayers to Shengshi up here - we arrange them at the times of flood, as opposed to Ashalla’s prayer around the time of ebb.”

Arya looked confused, ”Prayer? What’s that? Does his Holiness and the Exalted Ashalla show up here or something?” she asked innocently.

Qiang Yi and Zhen-zhen looked at each other with raised eyebrows. “My lady Arya, do you not know what prayers are?”

She shrugged, ”I can’t remember if anyone’s ever told me. It doesn’t ring any bells though.”

“W-well…” Qiang Yi began patiently, “it’s the act of honouring a Holy deity at a distance. Of course, it can also be done directly to Them, but we are not worthy of such. Instead, we made figures and statues to represent Their holy visages.” He gestured up at the Shengshi statue. “So, yes, we meet here, the whole crew, and offer our prayers to His Lordship.”

She nodded, looking up at the figure. ”Does… Does he hear you?” she asked softly.

Zhen-zhen shrugged. “We like to think He does,” she said reassuringly.

Arya stared at the figure now as a mix of emotions overcome her. Her thoughts ran rampant as the weight of such a discovery took hold. Had it been that easy all along? She could have told him a long time ago that she was sorry. That she was ashamed of what she had done. The guilt she cared could have been forgiven… Or would it? Could she be forgiven for what she did? She grew anxious, her face growing flustered as she looked away in an instant and to the floor. She took a deep breath trying to calm herself, then looked to the captain and said, ”Oh I’d love too, when is Flood?” she said with a forced smile.

Qiang Yi looked up at the sky and then at the approximation of a beach at the Tendlepoggan coast. “It is still midday, so it will be some time before the flood rolls in. We will notify you when it does. Now, would you like to see the last part of the tour?”

She visibly relaxed at the sound of his words, she still had time to prepare herself. Arya then beamed a smile and said, ”Of course! Please lead the way.” she motioned to Qiang Yi.

Together they once more descended the stairs and crossed the length of the ship, crew members bowing to Arya all along the way. Qiang Yi folded his arms behind his back and looked over his shoulder. “Does it bother you?” he asked, “All the Shengshese manners?”

As they walked, Arya bowed back to the servants, giving each a kind smile. When she heard Qiang Yi speak, she squinted her eyes, unsure of what to say. On one hand, yes, it did bother her but on the other hand, she did not want to offend the servants. ”Would it bother you, if I said yes?” she asked, cocking her head slightly.

Qiang Yi sighed quietly. “I was afraid so - however, I am sad to say that it is as much a part of us as existing. Our souls were made to serve, and we cannot do anything else. We hope therefore that we do not make you too uncomfortable.” He pushed aside the front sail to reveal the bow tip of the ship, complete with the headfigure of Ashalla hanging off the front.

”Do not worry about me.” Arya said quietly, ”It doesn’t bother me nearly as much as you think it does. Besides, I just need to get back into the swing of things, and it will be like you brought another Servant onboard.” Arya went to the tip of the bow, and looked at the headfigure of Ashalla. She had never met the goddess before, but knew her to be of the Ocean itself. She turned to look at Qiang Yi again, ”Don’t take this in the wrong way, I’m simply curious. But, you really can’t do anything else?” she asked with concern.

Qiang Yi squinted his eyes and let out a single ‘heh’. “Forgive me for asking, My lady, but are you suggesting there are other things to do than to serve the Exalted Creators?”

She simply smiled and turned to look out at the ocean. The journey would be long, she was sure. Full of trials and errors, and adventure. A quest for the ages! She took a deep breath of ocean air, then turned around.

”So where are we going?”





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Muttonhawk Let Slip the Corgis of War

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Li'Kalla had not lied to Kirron. The belly of the Beast was not digesting anything. It was merely a warm, dark, enclosed bath with water lapping at the rough walls of the stomach lining. It was putrid, to be sure, and had Kirron needed to see or breathe, he would have plenty of reason to struggle. Though, for now he relaxed, closed his eyes, and reached out with his senses for any errant traces of that partial soul Li'Kalla was missing. Somehow, the lack of any need to use his eyes, ears, nose, mouth, or touch only helped him take in every last detail.

And yet, even within the frame of the Beast's body, Kirron had trouble finding much more than he perceived from the outside. Let alone anything he was looking for.

He asked himself silently what this beastly part was. How could it have come to be except by Li'Kalla's own actions? And what actions would have annihilated -- or at the very least, stolen away -- the rest of her?

The beast was a creature of anger and determination. Hunger. To mention ambition might have had a shred of truth if it had the smarts to be capable of it. Yet it had a common sense, else Kirron's friendly advances would have simply been repaid with an attack. It only attacked threats? Maybe that was it.

Such were Kirron's continuing thoughts, out from between the short break to speak with the selka chieftain, Anhaf. The blood god's search for the soul pieces resumed to double-check any niches and corners of Li's psyche he might have missed. Perhaps Anhaf would pray again, crying that his plan did not work. Kirron hoped Anhaf would not shriek incoherently in pain towards him if he simply was not strong enough. He imagined the high pitch would put a damper on his focus.

Even the thought of it make him scowl. He could not get it out of his head. It persisted for such a time that his finger twitched involuntarily.

"Eh?" Kirron did not remember having trouble clearing his head or keeping his fingers still. He reached around to hold his twitching hand only to feel something bony and scaly wrapped around it. The speculative shriek sounded weakly again, only to bubble and gurgle. It was not in his head at all.

"Oh...Didn't think Anhaf would sound like that anyway," he thought out loud, pulling his hand up closer to his head and dragging whatever was holding it up onto his chest.

The shape was easy for a god to perceive.

"A baby of those beasts Li was fighting, huh?" Kirron asked the suffocating whelp. "Aw, she must have eaten you right up. Hey, Li! Don't go eating babies! That's just mean spirited!"

He swung the side of his fist onto the wall of the Beast's stomach to chastise her. He made sure not to hit too hard, lest he induce a regurgitation too early. The advice came too late, however, as Kirron felt the limp bodies of the whelp's siblings, drowned and prodding up against his sides. He frowned.

But it was not too late for the one biting his finger. Kirron ran his other hand down the dragon whelp's spine, and with it enriched the creature's blood. "There-there, little guy. Stay with me and I'll give you a second chance. The least I can do for not paying attention earlier, huh? I'll call you...Stixis"

The shivering whelp flattened itself against Kirron's front, no longer feeling the reflex of asphyxiation. The god of blood pondered, as he resumed the soul search, the ways he could make use of a little creature like the one in his arms.

He let a little leak of his blood seep from his bitten finger, and the hungry whelp swallowed drip after drip.



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